Life of Henry Clay/20 Clay and Van Buren

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Life of Henry Clay by Carl Schurz
Chapter XX. Clay and Van Buren.

CHAPTER XX.


CLAY AND VAN BUREN.


When Andrew Jackson left office on March 4, 1837, the great financial explosion had not yet occurred. The old hero went out in a halo of glory; but the disastrous conflagration broke out immediately behind him, and seemed to singe his very heels. The man to whom he left his fearful legacy, Martin Van Buren, was the first trained "machine politician," in the modern sense of the term, elevated to the presidency. He had made his studies in the school of New York politics, and had become the ruling spirit of the renowned Albany Regency. His career gave color to the charge that he permitted no fixed principles to stand in the way of his personal advancement. He had been a Clinton and an anti-Clinton man. He had, as a legislator in New York, been in favor of giving colored citizens the right to vote; he had been against the admission of Missouri as a Slave State; he had helped to elect Rufus King, a leader of the Anti-slavery Federalists, to the Senate of the United States; and then he became the foremost of the "Northern men with Southern principles." He had, in the New York Convention of 1821, opposed universal suffrage, and had then become an advocate of the extremest Democratic theories. He had been the finest pattern of the "baby-kissing" statesman, who, as one of his friends described him, "travels from county to county, from town to town, sees everybody, talks to everybody, comforts the disappointed, and flatters the expectant with hope of success." He had, as the "Democratic Review" said in 1848, by "party centralization at Albany, controlling offices as well as safety bank-charters, presidents, cashiers, and directors in all the counties, formed machinery which set every man's face towards Albany, as a political Mecca," and had thus "acquired his title to national honors." He had been a Crawford manager, and had become a Jackson manager. As a member of Jackson's Cabinet, he had won the old hero's especial favor by supporting the cause of Mrs. Eaton; and Jackson selected him as his successor, employing all his tremendous energy in the advancement of the favorite. Every one knew that he owed the presidency solely to Jackson's power. He was a man of scanty education, but of much native ability; smooth, affable, and good-humored; always on good personal terms with his political enemies. As President, he promised "to tread generally in the footsteps of President Jackson;" and his inaugural address contained, by the side of some well-worn generalities, but one positive declaration, that he would inflexibly oppose the abolition of slavery in the District of Columbia against the wishes of the slave-holding states. This man had to take upon himself the troubles left behind by Jackson, — troubles which would have sorely tried the stoutest heart and the strongest mind. He confronted them with unexpected fortitude.

As is always the case under such circumstances, the distressed business community turned to the government for relief. It demanded the recall of the specie circular, which Van Buren firmly refused, and the speedy convocation of Congress in extra session, which he was obliged to grant. The deposit banks having suspended specie payments with the rest, the government funds were locked up, or had to be drawn from the banks in depreciated bank paper. The distribution of the first three installments of the treasury surplus had well-nigh exhausted the resources of the government, and there was a prospect of a deficit, instead of a surplus, before the end of the year. Congress met on September 4, 1837.

The business crisis had brought forth a strong reaction against the administration party, which showed itself in one local election after another. The Democratic members of Congress arrived at Washington in a somewhat dejected state of mind. The Whigs saw their opportunity for a successful opposition, and the spirit in which Clay was ready to lead that opposition had already been foreshadowed in a letter written to his friend Brooke shortly after Van Buren's election. "Undoubtedly," he wrote, "such an opposition should avail itself of the errors of the new administration; but it seems to me that it would acquire greater force by availing itself also of that fatal error in its origin, which resulted from the President elect being the designated successor of the present incumbent. If a President may name his successor and bring the whole machinery of the government, including its one hundred thousand dependents, into the canvass, and if by such means he achieves a victory, such a fatal precedent as this must be rebuked and reversed, or there is an end of the freedom of election. Now I think that no wisdom or benefit, in the measures of the new administration, can compensate or atone for this vice in its origin." This evidently meant systematic opposition, just that kind of opposition which had been waged by the Jackson party against the administration of John Quincy Adams, also on account of its origin, which Clay had then considered extremely unjust.

The subject of the next presidential election, too, was already looming up. Van Buren had hardly slept a night in the White House when Clay's friends in New York held a meeting to consider the means by which Clay's election in 1840 could be secured. The proceedings of that meeting having been communicated to him, Clay wrote in August, 1837, as a reply, one of those stilted letters in which candidates for the presidency, made restless not only by their own ambition, but also by the importunate zeal of their "friends," vainly try to conceal the miseries of their existence. It was too early yet, he wrote, to speak of the presidential election. The popular mind, owing to the prevailing distress, was occupied with schemes of relief. To be sure, the only adequate remedy for existing evils would be a "change of rulers." Too much delay in considering how that change should be effected was as unadvisable as too great precipitancy. There ought to be a national convention to avoid division and lack of harmony; but all proper means should be used beforehand to concentrate public sentiment upon some candidate. He himself was not anxious — rather was "extremely unwilling" — to be "thrown into the turmoil of a presidential canvass." But if he "were persuaded" that a majority of his fellow-citizens desired to make him President, his "sense of duty would exact obedience to their will." And so on. In short, Clay was an aspirant for the Whig nomination for the presidency in 1840, and he desired the preliminary campaign to begin without delay.

Van Buren's message in September, 1837, was a surprise to those who had not considered him a man of courage. He gave a clear exposition of the causes which had brought on the existing distress. He admitted that the policy of depositing the public funds in state banks had proved a failure. He declared himself against a continuation or repetition of the experiment, and as firmly against a restoration of the United States Bank as the fiscal agent of the government. He recommended that the government itself, through its own officers, do its fiscal business, consisting in "the collection, safe-keeping, transfer, and disbursement of the public money." He further recommended the enactment of a bankrupt law applicable to "corporations and other bankers." He declared his determination not to withdraw the specie circular. Nothing but the constitutional currency, gold and silver, or "its equivalent," — notes convertible into specie on demand, — should be taken in payment by the government. He also urged that the distribution of the fourth surplus installment, due on October 1, should be withheld, as there was no available "surplus;" and that the prospective deficit in the Treasury be covered by the temporary issue of treasury notes.

Further measures of "relief" he did not propose, giving as a reason that it was not the office of the government under the Constitution to help people out of their business embarrassments. Neither did he think that the government had anything to do with the "management of domestic and foreign exchange." In his opinion, all the government could do was to furnish to the people a good "constitutional currency," to collect its taxes in good money, and to defray its expenses and pay its creditors in good money. In this respect he did not go far enough to "follow the footsteps of President Jackson," who had made most of his experiments of financial policy, professedly at least, with a view to improving the domestic exchanges. Van Buren recognized no duty of the government regarding these things, beyond the mere regulation of the gold and silver coin.

Immediately after the reading of the message, Clay "could not forbear saying that he felt the deepest regret that the President, entertaining such views, had deemed it his duty to call an extra session of Congress at this inconvenient period of the year." This was characteristic of the spirit of the opposition. It found the recommendations of the President unacceptable or insufficient, but was not able, or did not choose, to offer propositions of its own. The administration party brought forward the President's programme in a series of bills, the first being a bill to postpone the distribution of the fourth surplus installment until further provision by law. The customs revenues, as well as the land sales, having suddenly fallen off, there was a deficit rather than a surplus of revenue in prospect. Indeed, the government could scarcely meet its obligations from day to day. It seems utterly absurd that under such circumstances the distribution of a surplus should have been demanded. Yet this demand the Whigs made under Clay's leadership, for it was Clay who, at a meeting of Whigs at the beginning of the session, had insisted upon the maintenance of the distribution policy. His conduct can be explained, but not justified.

The three surplus installments distributed among the states had in some of them been more or less usefully expended, in others squandered, and in several had led to engagements for future expenditures. In other words, some of the states, having received some money from the federal treasury, had run into debt in anticipation of more. The proposition not to distribute the fourth installment, therefore, called forth a great clamor. It was denounced as a breach of contract and an act of robbery, and the demand was made in all seriousness that, if the government had not the money to be distributed as a surplus, it was bound to borrow the required amount by way of a loan. All these outcries found voice in Congress. The bill to withhold the fourth installment finally passed; but the bulk of the Whig vote, including the names of Clay, Webster, Bayard, Crittenden, Clayton, Preston, and Southard, stand recorded against it. The bill passed with an amendment by which the power of recalling from the several states the distributed "deposits" was transferred from the Secretary of the Treasury to Congress, which was equivalent to an assurance that they would never be recalled. In fact, they have remained on the books of the Treasury down to our days as "unavailable funds." If ever a similar measure should be proposed again, the history of the moral and economic effects produced by the distribution of the treasury surplus in 1837, in the states which received the money, as well as throughout the general business community, may well be studied as a warning example.

The administration party then offered a bill to issue ten millions of treasury notes. It gave the Whigs a welcome opportunity for ridiculing Jackson's financial experiments, which had flourished before the country high-sounding promises of a gold currency, and then resulted in a new issue of "government paper money." Such sarcastic thrusts were certainly not undeserved. But the government needed the money to keep its machinery running; and Clay's opposition to the bill, he preferring a loan, could not carry more than a handful of votes with it. The financial condition of the government was such that several new issues of treasury notes became necessary, continuing until 1843.

But the principal struggle of the session took place on the sub-treasury bill, at the time called the "Divorce Bill," as its purpose was to divorce the government from the banks. It provided simply that all officers receiving public moneys should safely keep them in their custody, without loaning or otherwise using them, until duly ordered to pay them out, or to transfer them either to the central treasury at Washington, or to its branches or sub-treasuries in different parts of the country; and that the officers concerned should be held to give sufficient bond, and to render their accounts periodically, — in one word, that the government revenues, to be collected in gold and silver, should be in the safe-keeping no longer of banks, but of government officers. Calhoun moved as an amendment that the notes of specie-paying banks should be accepted in part payment of public dues, but in decreasing proportion from year to year, until a certain period, when the government should accept only specie.

With regard to the subject involved in the bill, both parties executed some curious marches and counter-marches. The Democrats had, under Jackson, approved of the transfer of the public deposits from the United States Bank to the selected state banks, the funds to be used for the accommodation of the business community. Now they proposed the withdrawal of the public funds from the banks, and the absolute prohibition of their use for private accommodation. The Whigs had violently denounced the "pet bank" system as unsafe and demoralizing; now they insisted that the withdrawal of the public money from the banks was an attack upon the banking system, and would be ruinous to business interests as well as dangerous to free institutions.

The debate on the sub-treasury scheme extended through four sessions. It was one of the most exciting in the history of Congress. At first popular sentiment, stimulated by the influence of the banks, ran strongly against the measure. In the extra session of 1837 the bill passed the Senate, but was defeated in the House. In the regular session of 1837-1838 it failed again. Being pressed with great perseverance by the administration, it passed at last in the session of 1839-1840.

Clay led the opposition to it from beginning to end. In the debate his powers as an orator shone out in all their brilliancy, but they could hardly disguise the weakness of his reasoning. The whole cause of the economic disturbances, according to him, was to be found in Jackson's measures against the United States Bank. These measures, he argued, would have had no excuse had there been no treasury surplus; and there would have been no treasury surplus had not Jackson prevented his (Clay's) land bill, providing for the distribution of the proceeds of the land sales, from becoming a law. The enactment of the sub-treasury bill "must terminate in the total subversion of the state banks," and would place them all at the mercy of the general government. The "proposed substitution of a purely metallic currency for the mixed medium" would reduce all property in value by two thirds, obliging every debtor in effect "to pay three times as much as he had contracted for." Moreover, the public funds would be unsafe in the hands of the public officers. There would be favoritism, and a dangerous increase of the federal patronage. It would immensely strengthen the power of the Executive, and "that perilous union of the purse and the sword, so justly dreaded by our British and Revolutionary ancestors, would be come absolute and complete." The local banks being destroyed, "the government would monopolize the paper issues of the country; the federal treasury itself would become a vast bank, with the sub-treasuries for its branches; a combined and concentrated money power would then be beheld, equal to all the existing banks with the United States Bank superadded. This tremendous power would be wielded by the Secretary of the Treasury under the immediate command of the President. Here would be a perfect union of the sword and the purse, — an actual, visible consolidation of the moneyed power. Who or what could withstand it? These states themselves would become suppliants at the feet of the Executive for a portion of the paper emissions. The day might come when the Senate of the United States would have "humbly to implore some future President to grant it money to pay the wages of its own sergeant-at-arms and doorkeeper." He firmly believed that the enactment of the sub-treasury bill would be "fatal to the best interests of this country, and ultimately subversive of its liberties."

In our days the sub-treasury system, in its essential features as originally designed, having so long been in practical operation, we find it difficult to understand how a mind like Clay's should have looked upon it with such extravagant apprehensions. But it is equally difficult to believe that these expressions of fear should have been mere dissimulation, or oratorical feint. Indeed, the solemnity with which he began his second speech on this subject, on February 19, 1838, stands perhaps without example in the annals of the Senate.

"I have seen some public service [he said], passed through troubled times, and often addressed public assemblies, in this capitol and elsewhere; but never before have I risen in a deliberative body under more oppressed feelings, or with a deeper sense of awful responsibility. Never before have I risen to express my opinions upon any public measure fraught with such tremendous consequences to the welfare and prosperity of the country, and so perilous to the liberties of the people, as I believe the bill under consideration will be. If you knew, sir, what sleepless hours reflecting upon it has cost me, if you knew with what fervor and sincerity I have implored Divine assistance to strengthen and sustain me in my opposition to it, I should have credit with you, at least, for the sincerity of my convictions. And I have thanked my God that he has prolonged my life until the present time to enable me to exert myself in the service of my country against a project far transcending in pernicious tendency any that I have ever had occasion to consider."

Such displays of emotion are so apt to appear ridiculous to the hearer, that a skilled parliamentary speaker will hardly venture upon them as an artifice, especially with so cool an audience as the Senate. Clay was then sixty years old, — too old for experiments in farce. His utterances must therefore be taken as evidence that he profoundly believed in all the horrors he predicted. The old cry about the "union of the purse and the sword" probably had so excited his imagination as to make him overlook the fact that what our "British ancestors" dreaded was that union of sword and purse which consisted in the levying of taxes without law, and the spending of public funds without an appropriation by parliament; and that Martin Van Buren, in proposing the safe-keeping of public funds by government officers, was very far from aiming at such a privilege.

In truth, the only objections of importance to the sub-treasury scheme were those brought forward by Webster in a series of speeches on the sub-treasury bill which discussed the subject of currency and exchange with remarkable grasp of thought, clearness of statement, and brilliancy of reasoning. Webster blamed the President for not recognizing in his recommendations the power as well as the duty of the government to secure to the people a safe and uniform currency, which would facilitate the domestic exchanges, and for not aiding the banks in their efforts to return to specie payments. He expressed the apprehension that the sub-treasury system would temporarily with draw large amounts of money from active employment, — an evil which could be reduced to the smallest proportions by confining the revenues of the government to its current wants, thus avoiding the accumulation of a surplus. But Webster did not see in the sub-treasury system the downfall of republican institutions.

As to the question of remedy, however, Webster and Clay substantially agreed. Their invention did not go beyond the establishment of another United States Bank. That was their panacea. Clay confessed that he felt himself unable to suggest to his friends, who looked to him for a "healing measure," anything that did not "comprehend a national bank as an essential part." At the same time he frankly declared: "If a national bank be established, its stability and its utility will depend upon the general conviction which is felt of its necessity; and until such a conviction is deeply impressed upon the people, and clearly manifested by them, it would, in my judgment, be unwise even to propose a bank." That such a bank could be safe and useful only if the people were generally convinced of its necessity, was a statesmanlike observation; if Clay had only adhered to its true meaning when the time of temptation came! The Senate, as then constituted, certainly did not believe in that necessity, for it passed a resolution adverse to the establishment of a national bank by a majority of more than two thirds.

Neither was the conduct of the old Bank of the United States, which, after the expiration of its national charter, continued to exist under a charter obtained from the State of Pennsylvania, calculated to maintain the prestige of its name. When it was severed from the government, it drifted into unsound operations. In the efforts to resume specie payments, which were made mainly under the leadership of the venerable Albert Gallatin, then a bank president in New York, the United States Bank played an obstructive and in many respects questionable part. Clay offered a resolution in the Senate to promote resumption by making the notes of the resuming banks receivable in payment of all dues to the general government. The resolution was not adopted, but the New York banks resumed, without this aid, in May, 1838; the New England banks followed in July, and then also the Bank of the United States and those of the South and West. The strong, solvent banks maintained themselves without much difficulty. In October, 1839, the Bank of the United States suspended again, carrying the Southern and Western banks with it, while those of New York and New England remained firm. In 1841 the Bank of the United States broke down entirely. Its stockholders lost their whole investment. The catastrophe was charged to corrupt and reckless management. Nicholas Biddle, who had resigned the presidency already in March, 1839, was prosecuted for conspiracy and acquitted. He died in 1844, poor and broken-hearted.

At the time of the debates on the sub-treasury bill the United States Bank still held a powerful position, although its equivocal attitude as to the resumption of specie payments excited suspicions which subsequently turned out to have been but too well justified. It would be unjust to identify the conduct of that institution during its existence as a mere state bank with its conduct while it was the fiscal agent of the general government. Yet these two characters and periods were not kept apart in the popular mind; the final downfall of the institution cast its shadow over the name throughout its whole career, and it long remained a very general impression that the old Bank of the United States under "Nick Biddle" had always been a very corrupt and corrupting concern.

The contests on the sub-treasury bill and the other so-called relief measures brought into public view a rupture in the Democratic ranks. Several prominent Democrats in the Senate and House (Rives of Virginia, and Tallmadge of New York, and others), who believed that the sub-treasury system would destroy the banking interest, joined the opposition and were called "Conservatives." But a more exciting event was the final breaking up of that alliance in which Clay and Calhoun had appeared as companions in arms against Jackson. While Jackson was President, Calhoun had zealously coöperated with the Whigs in their resistance to the "dangerous growth of executive power." Jackson gone, Calhoun appeared as a friend of the Democratic administration. He dissolved the old partnership with a formal manifesto, a public letter, in which he declared that the farther coöperation of those who had been united in opposition to Jackson, namely, the state-rights party and the Whigs, might indeed succeed in overthrowing the administration, but that the victory would redound only to the benefit of the Whigs and their cause; that he and his followers could not consent to be absorbed by an organization "whose principles and policy," as he expressed it, "are so opposite to ours, and so dangerous to our institutions, as well as oppressive to us:" he could therefore not continue "to sustain those in opposition in whose wisdom, firmness, and patriotism he had no reason to confide." This was not only notice of a dissolved alliance: it was a declaration of war.

Such a challenge could not pass unanswered. A "personal debate" succeeded, one of those oratorical lance-breakings in which the statesmen of that period delighted, and which that generation of citizens listened to or followed in the printed reports with bated breath. This time it was a passage at arms between those who were called the giants, — Calhoun on one side, Clay and Webster on the other; but on his side Clay was so much more conspicuous than Webster that the debate was usually called "the great debate between Clay and Calhoun." It started in the shape of great orations, and then, subsiding and breaking out again, it ran fitfully along with the discussions on the sub-treasury and on Calhoun's land bill until January, 1840.

It was a curious spectacle, that of the two contracting parties to the compromise of 1833, now become enemies, settling their accounts in public. But, as is usually the case, these encounters, however dramatic and brilliant, added little to the stock of things worth knowing. They consisted mainly in arduous efforts of each combatant to set forth what he desired the world to think of himself and of his antagonist. Clay opened with a severe criticism of Calhoun's new alliance with the Van Buren administration. Calhoun was especially anxious to establish the consistency of his "record," which he tried to do with great elaborateness, and to prove that the compromise of 1833 had been his victory and Clay's defeat. He drew a picture of himself striking down the protective policy, the American system, by "state interposition," another name for nullification; and of Clay finding himself deserted by his friends and proposing the compromise to save his political life, the compromise then being accepted by Calhoun as the capitulation of a discomfited foe is accepted by the victor. Clay retorted with his version of the story. He had found Calhoun at that period in an untenable, miserable, and perilous situation; he held out the compromise to the unfortunate nullifier as a rope is thrown to a drowning man, almost from mere motives of pity; Calhoun eagerly grasped it as a last chance of escape from Jackson's clutches. He (Clay) desired, too, to save the protective system from greater damage, and the country from an exciting conflict.

This controversy, going through a variety of repetitions, at last culminated in an angry explosion. "Events had placed him (Clay) flat on his back," said Calhoun, "and he had no way to recover himself but by the compromise. He was forced by the action of the state, which I in part represent, against his system, by my counsel to compromise, in order to save himself. I had the mastery over him on that occasion." This set Clay's wrath aflame. "The Senator from South Carolina," he exclaimed, "has said that I was flat on my back, and that he was my master. He my master! I would not own him as a slave!" This retort, although neither witty nor elegant, was at least an emphatic expression of genuine feeling, and much enjoyed by Clay's friends.

On the whole, Clay appeared in this debate to much greater advantage than Calhoun. It was not only the readiness and brilliancy of his eloquence, with its captivating tones, its biting sarcasm, its stirring appeals, and the music of sonorous sentences, that appealed to the hearer and reader, while Calhoun's speech, although compact, precise, and well arranged, was somewhat dry in tone, jerking and rapid in delivery, and without a gesture to enliven it; but Clay was also more truthful, more ingenuous, more chivalrous. His version of the compromise of 1833 certainly accorded more with the facts than did Calhoun's. Clay was, indeed, not justified in representing the compromise as a protection measure. He proposed it to save a little remnant of the "American system," and to settle a difficulty dangerous to the country without leaving the matter to Jackson's violent impulses. But to say that the compromise was dictated by Calhoun and intended to save Clay, was utterly absurd. Calhoun accepted it, and assented to provisions very distasteful to him, in order to escape from a perilous situation without an entire sacrifice of pride and a total surrender of his cause. John Quincy Adams witnessed one of the encounters. "Clay," he wrote, "had manifestly the advantage in the debate. The truth and the victory were with Clay, who spoke of the South Carolina nullification with such insulting contempt that it brought out Preston, who complained of it bitterly. Preston's countenance was a portraiture of agonizing anguish."

To accuse Calhoun of tergiversation and treachery because he left the Whig alliance and went over to Van Buren, was, indeed, unjust. Calhoun had never been a Whig. For many years he had not sworn allegiance to any party except his "state-rights party," and that he expected to take with him wherever he went. It was easily shown, as Clay and Webster did show, that Calhoun had in years long past advocated the United States Bank, internal improvements, a protective tariff, and generally a broad construction of constitutional powers. But he had done that as a young Republican, long before the existence of the Whig party. Since that period Calhoun's mind had gone through that process which became decisive for his whole career as a statesman. He had always been a pro-slavery man. But so long as slavery seemed secure he permitted himself to have opinions upon other subjects according to their own merits. All this changed so soon as he saw that slavery was in danger. From that time all the workings of his mind and all his political endeavors centred upon the preservation of slavery. State-rights principles, nullification, political alliances, all these were to him subservient to his one aim. He modified his theories, as well as his associations, as that one interest seemed to demand. In Jackson he had opposed assumptions of executive power hostile to the state-rights principle, which he considered the essential bulwark of slavery. The ascendency of the Whig party he feared, because it would strengthen the general government in a manner dangerous to slavery. He saw in the breaking up of the alliance with the Whigs "the chance of effecting the union of the whole South."

But there was something crafty and disingenuous in the manner in which Calhoun tried to prove the complete consistency of his political conduct during the first period with that during the second. He worked hard to show that, while he supported the tariff, internal improvements, the United States Bank, and a liberal construction of the Constitution, he never meant what he appeared to mean, — in fact, that he had really never been the man he had induced his associates to believe him to be. His own presentation of himself was calculated to characterize him as a man of mental reservations and secret purposes, with whom it was dangerous to coöperate in full confidence.

Clay, on the other hand, while defending his general consistency with his usual impulsiveness, did not hesitate frankly to admit that once, indeed, on an important subject, he had changed his opinion; and the dashing freedom with which he opened himself as to his career, his principles, and his aims, could scarcely fail to draw to him the hearts of his hearers. One of his most noteworthy utterances in this debate was that upon the tariff: "No one, Mr. President," said he, "in the commencement of the protective policy, ever supposed that it was to be perpetual. We hoped and believed that temporary protection, extended to our infant manufactures, would bring them up, and enable them to withstand competition with those of Europe. If the protective policy were entirely to cease in 1842, it would have existed twenty-six years from 1816, or eighteen from 1824, — quite as long as, at either of those periods, its friends supposed might be necessary."

While the sub-treasury bill was passing through its various stages, Clay was ever active in discussing a variety of other subjects. In 1837 and 1838 there was going on in Upper Canada an insurrection called the "Patriot War," begun for the object of reforming the government of the province. Many citizens of the United States sympathized with the insurgents. A British force came over to the American side of Niagara River and destroyed the steamboat Caroline, which was suspected of being used for conveying men and stores to the Canadian revolutionists. Clay thundered vehemently against the "British outrage," and called for satisfaction, but strongly deprecated war.

When a territorial government for Oregon was proposed, he advised cautious proceedings, in order to avoid complications with England; and as to the settlement of the disputed northwestern boundary, too, his voice was for arbitration and peace. He spoke on a resolution concerning the American claims against Mexico, counseling moderation and justice, and censuring the administration for its bullying attitude. He supported a bill against dueling in the District of Columbia. He opposed the reduction of the price of public lands according to a graduated scale, as well as the preëmption right of settlers, adhering to his old notion that the public lands should be sold at public auction, and be treated as a source of public revenue. But also another and greater question called him forth again, the overshadowing importance of which only gradually dawned upon his mind.