Page:Southern Historical Society Papers volume 25.djvu/204

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200 Southern Historical Society Papers.'

strife on a great organic and economic question, opposing, as he did then, the Secretary's recommendation. I have heard or read this coinage debate from 1874, when it began, till now, over twenty years of parliamentary struggle, and if I were called upon to name a doc- ument which best expounds the true principles of finance and states- manship on this difficult subject, and in a perfectly unanswerable manner, free from ill-temper or bias and full of wise prescience and overwhelming argument, I should name the report made by Robert M. T. Hunter in March, 1852, to the United States Senate, which accompanied the bill proposed by him to regulate the gold and silver coinage.

Mr. Hunter spoke also on foreign affairs as such questions came up. He was conservative by nature and habit. He did not love or desire sectional controversy, but in that trying period of agitation and controversy he stood by the institutions, the civilization, and the constitutional rights of the South. He did this without sectional or personal rancor, but with a firmness, learning, eloquence and argu- mentative power that made him second to none in the debate. The very men who voted against him on these sectional questions never impugned his motives or questioned his ability, and on the fiscal and administrative questions which was especially confided to his care they trusted him far more than they trusted each other. Can you imagine a more splendid triumph of Virginia mind and character.

I have preferred to speak not so much of his stand on party or sectional questions as on measures and policies where he acted with or led men of both parties. This sketch is but a passing glance at a long, laborious and brilliant career. Mr. Calhoun, Mr. Clay and Mr. Webster all left the Senate, or died in the Senate, about 1851 or 1852. When this grand triumvirate had departed, there were yet many strong men who served in that body with Mr. Hunter from 1850 to 1861 who have made a great impress upon our history. I need hardly mention such great names as Senators Mason, Toombs, Jefferson Davis, Benjamin, Stephen A. Douglas, Seward, Sumner, Chase, Trumbull, Bayard, Slidell and Crittenden. Yet I can truth- fully assert that of this list of very able men, not one was superior in general, all-' round ability to Mr. Hunter; not one was his equal in legislative force and influence; not one was so universally confided in and trusted. Since the passing away of Jefferson, Madison, Mar- shall and Monroe, hardly any Virginian has borne so influential a part in political affairs as R. M. T. Hunter, and certainly no Virginian has done so in the Federal Congress, though the Commonwealth has