The Address of Henry Clay to His Constituents and His Speech at the Dinner Given
Him at Lewisburg, Va. (Louisville, KY: W. W. Worsley, 1827)
MR. CLAY'S SPEECH
AT THE DINNER GIVEN HIM AT LEWISBURG, VIRGINIA.
MR. CLAY'S SPEECH
From the Lewisburg, (Va.) Palladium, of September 11.
LEWISBURG, August 23, 1826.
The Hon. HENRY CLAY,
Sir: - At a meeting of a respectable number of the inhabitants of Lewisburg and its vicinity, convened in the Courthouse on the 22nd inst. it was unanimously determined to greet your arrival amongst them by some public demonstration of the respect which they in common with a great portion of the community, feel towards one of their most distinguished fellow- citizens. It was therefore unanimously resolved, as the most eligible means of manifesting their feelings, to request the honor of your presence at a Public Dinner to be given at the tavern of Mr. Frazer, in the town of Lewisburg, on Wednesday the 30th instant.
In pursuance of the above measures, we as a committee, have been appointed to communicate their resolutions and solicit a compliance with their invitation. In performing this agreeable duty, we cannot but express our admiration of the uniform course which, during a long political career, you have pursued with so much honor to yourself and country. Although the detractions of envy, and the violence of party feeling have endeavored to blast your fair reputation, and destroy the confidence reposed in you by the citizens of the United States, we rejoice to inform you, that the people of the western part of that State which claims you as one of her most gifted sons, still retain the same high feeling of respect, which they have always manifested in spite of the maledictions and bickerings of disappointed editors and interested politicians. We cannot close our communication without hailing you as one of the most distinguished advocates of that system of internal improvement which has already proved so beneficial to our country, and which at no distant period will make even these desert mountains to blossom as the rose.
We have the honor to subscribe ourselves,
Your's with esteem,
J. G. McCLENACHEN, JAMES McLAUGHLIN, J. F. CALDWELL, JOHN BEIRNE, J. A. NORTH. HENRY ERSKINE.
White Sulpher [sic] Springs, 24th August, 1826.
GENTLEMEN: - I have received the note which you did me the honor on yesterday to address to me, inviting me in behalf of a respectable number of the citizens of Lewisburg and its vicinity, to a Public Dinner at Mr. Frazer's tavern, on Wednesday next, which they have the goodness to propose, in consequence of my arrival amongst them, as a manifestation of their respect. Such a compliment was most unexpected by me on a journey to Washington, by this route, recommended to my choice by the pure air of a mountain region, and justly famed mineral waters, a short use of which I hoped might contribute to the perfect re-establishment of my health. The gratification which I derive from this demonstration of kindness and confidence, springs, in no small degree, from the consideration that it is the spontaneous testimony of those with whom I share a common origin, in a venerated State, endeared to me by an early tie of respect and affection, which no circumstance can ever dissolve. In communicating to that portion of the citizens of Lewisburg and its vicinity, who have been pleased thus to favor me, by their distinguished notice, my acceptance of their hospitable invitation, I pray you to add my profound acknowledgments. And of the friendly and flattering manner in which you have conveyed it, and for the generous sympathy, characteristic of Virginia, which you are so obliging as to express, on account of the detractions of which I have been the selected object, and the meditated victim, be assured that I shall always retain a lively and grateful remembrance.
I am, gentlemen, with great esteem and regard, faithfully, your obedient servant,
Messrs. McClenachen, North, McLaughlin, Caldwell, Beirne, and Erskine, &c. &c.
7th. Our distinguished guest, Henry Clay - The statesman, orator, patriot and philanthropist; his splendid talents shed lustre on his native State, his eloquence is an ornament to his country.
When this toast was drank, H. CLAY rose, and addressed the company in a speech, which occupied nearly an hour in the delivery, of which we can only attempt an imperfect sketch.
He said, that he had never before felt so intensely the want of those powers of eloquence which had been just erroneously ascribed to him. He hoped, however, that in his plain and unaffected language, he might be allowed, without violating any established usage which prevails here, to express his grateful sensibility, excited by the sentiment with which he had been honored, and for the kind and respectful consideration of him manifested on the occasion which has brought us together. In passing through my native state, towards which I have ever borne, and shall continue, in all vicissitudes, to cherish the greatest respect and affection, I expected to be treated withe its accustomed courtesy and private hospitality. But I did not anticipate that I should be the object of such public, distinguished, and cordial manifestations of regard. In offering you the poor and inadequate return of my warm and respectful thanks, I pray you to believe that I shall treasure up these testimonies among the most gratifying reminiscences of my life. The public service which I have rendered my country, your too favorable opinion of which has prompted you to exhibit these demonstrations of your esteem, has fallen far below the measure of usefulness, which I should have been happy to have filled. I claim for it only the humble merit of pure and patriotic intention. Such as it has been, I have not always been fortunate enough to give satisfaction to every section and to all the great interests of our country.
When an attempt was made to impose upon a new state, about to be admitted into the Union, restrictions incompatible as I thought with her co-equal sovereign power, I was charged in the north with being too partial to the south, and as being friendly to that unfortunate condition of slavery, of the evils of which none are more sensible than I am.
At another period, when I believed that the industry fo this country required some protection against the selfish and contracted legislation of foreign powers, and to constitute it a certain and safe source of supply, in all exigencies; the charge against me was transposed, and I was converted into a foe of southern, and an infatuated friend of northern and western interests.
There were not wanting persons, in every section of the Union, in another stage of our history, to accuse me with rashly contributing to the support of a war, the only alternative left to our honor by the persevering injustice of a foreign nation. These contradictory charges and perverted views gave me no concern, because I was confident that time and truth would prevail over all misconceptions; and because they did no impeach my public integrity. - But I confess I was not prepared to expect the aspersions which I have experienced on account of a more recent discharge of public duty. My situation on the occasion to which I refer, was most peculiar and extraordinary, unlike that of any other American citizen. One of the three candidates for the presidency, presented to the choice of the House of Representatives, was out of the question for notorious reasons now admitted by all. Limited as the competition was to the other two, I had to choose between a statesman long experienced at home and abroad in numerous civil situations, and a soldier, brave, gallant and successful, but a mere soldier, who, although he had also filled several civil offices, had quickly resigned them all, frankly acknowledging, in some instances, his incompetency to discharge their duties.
It has been said that I had some differences with the present Chief Magistrate, at Ghent. It is true that we did not agree on one of the many important questions which arose during the negociations [sic] in that city, but the difference equally applied to our present minister at London and to the lamented Bayard, between whom and myself, although we belonged to opposite political parties, there existed a warm friendship to the hour of his death. It was not of a nature to prevent our co-operation together in the public service, as is demonstrated by the Convention at London subsequently negotiated by Messrs. Adams, Gallatin and myself. It was a difference of opinion on a point of expediency, and did not relate to any constitutional or fundamental principle. But with respect to the conduct of the distinguished citizen of Tennessee, I had solemnly expressed, under the highest obligations, opinions, which, whether right or wrong, were sincerely and honestly entertained, and are still held. These opinions related to a military exercise of power believed to be arbitrary and unconstitutional. I should have justly subjected myself to the grossest inconsistency, if I had given him my suffrage. I thought if he were elected, the sword and the constitution, bad companions, would be brought too near together. I could not have foreseen that, fully justified as I have been by those very constituents, in virtue of whose authority, I exerted the right of free suffrage, I should nevertheless be charged with a breach of duty, and corruption by strangers to them, standing in no relation to them but that of being citizens of other states, members of the confederacy. It is in vain that these revilers have been called upon for their proofs; have been defied, and are again invited to enter upon any mode of fair investigation and trial - shrinking from every impartial examination, they persevere, with increased zeal, in the propagation of calumny, under the hope of supplying by the frequency and boldness of asseveration, the want of truth and the deficiency of evidence; until we have seen the spectacle exhibited of converting the hall of the first legislative assembly upon earth, on the occasion of discussions which above all others should have been characterized by dignity, calmness and temperance, into a theatre for spreading suspicions and groundless imputations against an absent and innocent individual.
Driven from every other hold, they have seized on the only plank left within their grasp, that of my acceptance of the office of Secretary of State, which has been asserted to be the consummation of a previous corrupt arrangement. What can I oppose to such an assertion, but positive, peremptory and unqualified denial, and a repetition of the demand for proof and trial? The office to which I have been appointed is that of the Country, created by it, and administered for its benefit. In deciding whether I should accept it or not, I did not take counsel from those who, foreseeing the probability of my designation for it, sought to deter me from its acceptance by fabricating anticipated charges, which would have been preferred with the same zeal and alacrity, however I might have decided. I took counsel from my friends, from my duty, from my conscious innocence of unworthy and false imputations. I was not left at liberty by either my enemies or my friends to decline the office. I would willingly have declined it from an unaffected distrust of my ability to perform its high duties, if I could have honorably declined it. I hope the uniform tenor of my whole public life will protect me against the supposition of any unreasonable avidity for public employment. During the administration of that illustrious man, to whose civil services more than to those of any other American patriot, living or dead, this country is indebted for the blessings of its present constitution, now more than ten years ago, the mission to Russia, and a place in his cabinet were successively offered me. A place in his cabinet, at that period of my life, was more than equivalent to any place under any administration, at my present more advanced age. His immediate successor tendered to me the same place in his cabinet, which he anxiously urged me to accept, and the mission to England. Gentlemen, I hope you will believe that far from being impelled by any vain or boastful spirit, to mention these things, I do it with humiliation and mortification.
If I had refused the department of State, the same individuals who now, in the absence of all proof, against all probability, and in utter disregard of all truth, proclaim the existence of a corrupt previous arrangement, would have propagated the same charge with the same affected confidence which they now unblushingly assume. And it would have been said, with at least much plausibility, that I had contributed to the election of a Chief Magistrate, of whom I thought so unfavorably that I would not accept that place in his cabinet which is generally regarded as the first. I thought it my duty, unawed by their denunciations, to proceed in the office assigned me by the President and Senate, to render the country the best service of which my poor abilities are capable. If this administration should shew itself unfriendly to American liberty and to free and liberal institutions; if it should be conducted upon a system adverse to those principles of public policy, which I have ever endeavored to sustain, and I should be found still clinging to office, then nothing which could be said by those who are inimical to me, would be undeserved.
But the President ought not to have appointed one who had voted for him. Mr. Jefferson did not think so, who called to his cabinet a gentlemen who had voted for him, in the most warmly contested election that has ever occurred in the House of Representatives, and who appointed to other highly important offices other members of the same House, who voted for him. Mr. Madison did not think so, who did not feel himself restrained from sending me on a foreign service, because I had supported his election. Mr. Monroe did not think so, who appointed in his cabinet a gentleman, now filling the second office in the government, who attended the caucus that nominated, and warmly and efficiently espoused his election. But, suppose the President acted upon the most disinterested doctrine which is now contended for by those who opposed his election, and were to appoint to public office from their ranks only, to the entire exclusion of those who voted for him, would he then escape their censure? No! we have seen him charged, for that equal distribution of the public service among every class of citizens, which has hitherto characterized his administration with the nefarious purpose of buying up portions of the community. A spirit of denunciation is abroad. - With some, condemnation right or wrong, is the order of the day. No matter what prudence and wisdom may stamp the measures of the administration, no matter how much the prosperity of the country may be advanced, or what public evils may be averted, under its guidance, there are persons who would make general, indiscriminate and interminable opposition. This is not a fit occasion, nor perhaps am I a fit person to enter upon a vindication of its measures. But I hope I shall be excused for asking what measure of domestic policy has been proposed or recommended by the present executive, which has not its prototype in previous acts or recommendations of administrations at the head of which was a citizen of Virginia? Can the liberal and high minded people of this State, condemn measures emanating from a citizen of Massachusetts, which when proposed by a Virginian, commanded their express assent or silent acquiescence, or to which, if in any instance they made opposition, it was respectful, limited and qualified? The present administration desires only to be judged by its measures, and invites the strictest scrutiny and the most watchful vigilance on the part of the public.
With respect to the Panama mission, it is true that it was not recommended by any preceding administration, because the circumstances of the world were not then such as to present it as a subject for discussion. But, during that of Mr. Monroe, it has been seen that it was a matter of consideration, and there is every reason to believe, if he were now at the head of affairs, his determination would correspond with that of his successor. Let me suppose that it was the resolution of this country, under no circumstance, to contract with foreign powers intimate public engagements, and to remain altogether unbound by any treaties of alliance, what should have been the course taken with the very respectful invitation which was given to the United States to be represented at Panama? Haughtily folding your arms, would you have given it a cold and abrupt refusal? Or would you not rather accept it, send ministers and if a friendly and respectful manner, endeavor to satisfy those who are looking to us for counsel for example, and imitating our free institutions, that there is no necessity for such an alliance; that the dangers which alone could, in the opinion of any one have justified it have vanished, and that it is not good for them or for us?
What may be the nature of the instructions with which our ministers may be charged, it is not proper that I should state; but all candid and reflecting men must admit, that we have great interests in connection with the southern republics, independent of any compacts of alliance. Those republics, now containing a population of upwards of twenty millions, duplicating their numbers probably in periods still shorter than we do, comprizing within their limits the most abundant sources of the precious metals, offer to our commerce, to our manufactures, to our navigation, so many advantages that none can doubt the expediency of cultivating the most friendly relations with them. If treaties of commerce and friendship, and liberal stipulations in respect to neutral and belligerent rights, could be negotiated with each of them at its separate seat of Government, there is no doubt that much greater facilities for the conclusion of such treaties present themselves at a point where all being represented, the way may be smoothed and all obstacles removed by a disclosure of the views and wishes of all, and by mutual and friendly explanations. There was one consideration which had much weight with the executive, in the decision to accept the mission; and that was the interest which this country has, and especially the southern states, in the fate and fortunes of the Island of Cuba. No subject of our foreign relations has created with the executive government more anxious concern, than that of the condition of that Island and the possibility of prejudice to the sourthern [sic] states, from the convulsions to which it might be exposed. It was believed, and is yet believed, that the dangers which, in certain contingencies might threaten our quiet and safety, may be more successively averted at a place at which all the American powers should be represented than any where else. And I have no hesitation in expressing the firm conviction that, if there be one section of this Union more than all other interested in the Panama mission and the benefits which may flow from it, that section is the south. It was therefore with great and unaffected surprise that I witnessed the obliquity of those political views which led some gentlemen from that quarter to regard the measure, as it might operate on the southern states in an unfavorable light. Whatever may be the result of the mission, its moral effect in Europe will be considerable, and it cannot fail to make the most friendly impressions upon our southern neighbors. It is one of which it is difficult, in sober imagination, to conceive any possible mischievous consequences, and which the executive could not have declined, in my opinion, without culpable neglect of the interests of this country, and without giving dissatisfaction to nations whose friendship we are called upon by every dictate of policy to conciliate.
There are persons who would impress on the southern states the belief that they have just cause of apprehending danger to a certain portion of their property from the present administration. It is not difficult to comprehend the object and the motive of these idle alarms. What measure of the present administration gives any just occasion for the smallest apprehension to the tenure by which that species of property is held? However much the President and members of his administration may deprecate the existence of slavery among us as the greatest evil, with which we are afflicted, there is not one of them that does not believe that the constitution of the General Government, confers no authority to interpose between the master and his slave, none to apply an adequate remedy, if indeed there be any remedy within the scope of human power. Suppose an object of these alarmists were accomplished, and the slaveholding states were united in the sentiment that the policy of this government in all time to come, should be regulated on the basis of the fact of slavery, would not union on the one side lead to union on the other? And would not such a fatal division of the people and states of this confederacy produce perpetual mutual irritation and exasperation, and ultimately disunion itself? The slaveholding states cannot forget that they are now in a minority, which is in a constant relative diminution, and should certainly not be the first to put forth a principle of public action by which they would be the greatest losers.
I am but too sensible of the unreasonable trespass on your time which I have committed, and of the egotism of which my discourse has partaken. I must depend for my apology upon the character of the times, on the venom of the attacks which have been made upon my character and conduct, and upon the generous sympathy of the gentlemen here assembled. During this very journey a paper has been put into my hands, in which a member of the House of Representatives is represented to have said that the distinguished individual at the head of the government and myself have been indicted by the people. If that is the case, I presume that some defence is lawful. By the bye, if the honorable member is to have the sole conduct of the prosecution without the aid of other counsel, I think that it is not difficult to predict that his clients will be non suited, and that they will be driven out of court with the usual judgment pronounced in such cases.
In conclusion, I beg leave to offer a toast which, if you are as dry as I am, will I hope, be acceptable for the sake of the wine, if not the sentiment.
The continuation of the turnpike road which passes through Lewisburgh, and success to the cause of internal improvement, under every auspices.
He then took his seat amid the repeated cheers of the whole company.
Government and Politics