The American Review: A Whig Journal of Politics, Literature, Art, and Science/Volume 02/December 1845/The Whig Party: its Position and Duties
A WHIG JOURNAL
POLITICS, LITERATURE, ART AND SCIENCE.
THE WHIG PARTY, ITS POSITION, AND DUTIES.
At the moment when the XXIXth Congress is about for the first time to assemble, and when the aspect of our public affairs is troubled and portentous, it cannot be misplaced nor ill-timed, that we should devote some space to the consideration of the position and duties, in its present relation to the country, of the Whig Party.
Of that party it is not needful for us to speak in praise. Identified with it in opinions, aims and hopes, eulogy at our hands could hardly claim the merit of impartiality. Moreover, the office we desire to discharge is not that of a flatterer, who will see no faults,
"Altho' they were as huge as high Olympus,"
but of an earnest, faithful friend, whose aim it is rather. to serve than to please; and who, as one standing without the immediate vortex of the great political whirlpool, is in a condition to discern more accurately than those within its eddying sweep, the drift and tendency of the struggling elements.
The result of the Presidential election, so contrary to the expectations and so disastrous, to the hopes of the Whig party, seemed for a time to stun and overwhelm them. The candidates they had put forth were so eminent in talents and in public service—the issues upon which they went into the contest addressed themselves so strongly to the interests and intelligence of the country, and there was such apparent want of unity and cohesion among their opponents—that success appeared all but inevitable.
The rally, the discipline, and the unscrupulous arts of party, overthrew all these well-founded hopes, and placed in the highest seats of the government, two individuals, whom not one in ten of those who voted for them, if they had been acting on a question where their own individual interests were chiefly concerned, would have hesitated to postpone to their unsuccessful competitors.
The battle was fought and lost; and now in a minority, so far as official returns may be relied on, in the nation—in a minority in both houses of Congress—in a minority in the Legislatures of the States—and without a representative in any prominent official station under the Federal Government—the Whig party has, in the country, none other than a Moral Power.
That, however, is a great power—and, as it is wielded, will be more or less felt for good or for evil.Among the great public issues of the recent contest, the Annexation of Texas, and the Tariff of '42, were most prominent; and, paradoxical as it may sound, both these were affirmed—although the one was supported, and the other was seemingly opposed, by the successful party.
Annexation—unless frustrated by the failure of Texas herself to comply with the conditions presented by our government, and the objections that may yet be raised on the ground of the inadmissibility into our confederation of the constitution she may adopt—is now practically accomplished. The forms indeed in which it was invited, were in derogation of the Constitution—setting at nought both its letter and its spirit; but with the plastic alacrity of popular sentiment in this country in adapting itself to the status quo, opinion is already reconciled to, or acquiescent in, an outrage at once irrevocable and remediless, unless through the contingencies intimated, the possible results from which we shall presently consider. The body of the nation, little understanding, at present, the exact condition of things, is bent upon improving its new possession.
The Tariff of '42—including as it does in its provisions the principle of Protection—must also be said to have triumphed with Mr. Polk, whose ambiguous letter, during the canvass, to Mr. Kane of Pennsylvania, alone enabled him to carry that State and thereby to secure his election. But the struggle for its preservation is yet to come; for, now, firmly seated in the Presidential chair, Mr. Polk has gone back to his original anti-Tariff doctrines, and is to use all the influence of an office obtained under false pretences, to overthrow that principle of which he was claimed as the fast friend.
Other very grave and important questions, of newer and fresher gloss than either Texas or the Tariff—and upon which the sentiment of the country is as yet unascertained, or at least has never been authentically pronounced—and upon the wise and final solution of which, the action of the Whig party must be very influential—will occupy the attention of the nation. We refer to Oregon, and to the claim—recently for the first time distinctly shadowed forth, in a speech in the Chamber of Deputies by M. Guizot, the prime minister of France—of a European right to interpose in the affairs of this Continent, in order to the maintenance of some fanciful balance of power among the nations to which it belongs.
Over and above these large and general questions, there remains for the consideration and action of the Whig party those conservative principles, greatly menaced in the actual condition of the country, which may be characterized as distinctive of that party. We refer especially to its steady and habitual submission to law—its deference for vested rights—and abhorrence of all violent and disorderly attempts to alter or overthrow existing institutions. We propose to examine somewhat at length the obligations in regard to all these topics, imposed upon the Whig party by the circumstances in which they find themselves.
Annexation is in one sense an accomplished fact. Yet there is still to be a recurrence to Congress before the question is finally disposed of; and this will, to a certain extent, re-open the whole subject for discussion. We use the expression "to a certain extent," deliberately—for on some points we hold that the action of Congress cannot be reviewed nor called in question. In so far as the pledge has been given, that, upon acquiescence in the conditions prescribed, Texas should be admitted into the Union, this nation is irrevocably bound, nor is it now competent for any one to inquire into the circumstances under which this pledge was given. In all the forms and guaranties of national action on our part, the resolution of Annexation was adopted. In reliance upon it, Texas has acted, and—dissolving her own nationality and relinquishing her existence as a separate and independent State—has consented to become one of the States of this Union. However, therefore, the mode in which this resolution was adopted be open to censure—and however questionable the right, as questionable it undoubtedly is, either of the Executive or Legislative Department of the Federal Government to invite and admit a foreign independent State into this limited partnership of States—the invitation having been given and accepted, cannot be recalled.
But it is the right, and it will, in our judgment, be the duty of the Whigs in Congress to look narrowly to the conditions prescribed; for thereon hangs all the obligation on our side.
One point of special interest is the nature and spirit of the constitution adopted by Texas. It is not enough that it should be republican in form, if it be not so in essence; and most assuredly the provision which it contains respecting the institution of slavery must appear to every reasoning, liberal and patriotic person, whether in the North or the South, whether possessing slaves or having no interest in such property, open to the most insurmountable objections. We will try to put this point briefly in a clear light. A clause of an Article in the Constitution of Texas (See Art. viii., Sec. 1) holds this language. "The Legislature shall have no power to pass laws for the emancipation of slaves, without the consent of their owners; nor without paying their owners, previous to such emancipation, a full equivalent in money," &c.
Now, let every lover of his own State and of our Confederacy—in whatever section of the Union—fairly consider what is implied in those words marked in italics. They embrace a position and a law, such as should belong to no State in the Union, and such as no State, nor any part of the citizens of any State, could now be persuaded to assume. It will be perceived that, by the construction of the language, the law contained in the clause stands absolute, entirely unconnected with any modification by contingent or supposed conditions (of compensation, general consent, or otherwise,) but nakedly setting forth, that under no possible change of circumstances shall the State dissolve an institution unquestionably subject to constant and unforeseen changes, but shall allow any possible fraction of its original supporters, one-fifteenth, or one-twentieth, (the rest assenting to its dissolution,) to maintain it still in existence—if so determined—and that even though they might be offered a reasonable compensation for the loss of property therein. Now the institution of slavery has been secured to each State of this Confederacy, as long as such State shall choose to continue it, by the most solemn guaranties of the Federal Constitution; and no one has any right to urge its abolition, except through the action of each State by itself. It will also be remembered that, by the Missouri Compromise, the contingency was deliberately provided for of new Slave-holding States arise to within certain prescribed limits—lines of latitude and longitude considerately traced out—within which the same institution should be indefinitely recognized and upheld. But most assuredly the idea would have been scouted then in connection with this Compromise, as it would now by any State in the Union, that it, or any State yet to arise should, in the most solemn constitutional forms, bind itself never to allow the Legislature to act even upon the expediency of abolishing either this or any other social institution or condition of things, so confessedly open to modifications by time and circumstance. It would be considered, as it is, an unwarranted and most dangerous introduction into our Republic, of an entirely new and unrepublican feature. This, then, may undoubtedly furnish occasion, unless Texas remove the clause from her constitution, of re-opening the question to the consideration of Congress. And it is not a point for party discussion. Not only the Whigs will be called upon to consider it, but all of the opposing party, possessing any knowledge whatever of the nature of our confederation, cannot fail to speak strongly upon it. We only hope that, in the discussion to which this provision of the Constitution of Texas may give rise, there will be no angry or unkind feelings of either a party or sectional nature.
Another topic that will provoke no little discussion will be that of the public debt of Texas. The resolution of Annexation expressly stipulates against its assumption by the United States; yet there is a prevailing sentiment, that the new State must not come in with the stigma of repudiation; and, inasmuch as Texas cannot out of her public lands, the only property she reserves, provide the means of discharging the debt, or even of paying the interest upon it with punctuality, it has been suggested, that these lands should be ceded by her in fee to the United States for a sum that will suffice to extinguish the debt. This is a suggestion by no means free from difficulties. Not the least of these is the uncertainty of, and the apparent impossibility of ascertaining the amount of, that debt—so great seems to have been the carelessness of the accounting and recording officers of the Texas Treasury.
Another and perhaps more formidable objection will arise from the very general persuasion that the calculation upon such a provision for the debt of Texas entered largely into the schemings and intrigues which prompted and mainly accomplished annexation. This will be a strong ground of opposition to any arrangement, in any shape, by which the United States shall be made instrumental in redeeming this debt.
The feeling, too, which at the close of our revolutionary war was so strongly appealed to against discharging at par, or dollar for dollar, a debt of which the evidences had been so much depreciated as to pass for not more than one-fourth or one-fifth of the value on the face of them, will not fail to mingle in this question.
It is to this day made a party reproach against Alexander Hamilton, that he devised and carried through the funding system, whereby ample and honorable provision was made for the debt contracted in the struggle for independence, and which was strictly the price of freedom; but which, owing to the pressure of war while it lasted, and after its close, of the poverty and almost anarchy of the confederation, had run down so low as hardly to retain any value in exchange. To have opposed or supported Hamilton's funding system is still occasionally used as a distinguishing test between parties, and the name of republican, or, in more modern phraseology, of democratic, is expressly claimed for the party which resisted that honest measure, and resisted it on the double ground—first, that by funding the debt, a favored class of citizens were raised up, interested in sustaining the government, however administered; because upon that government they were dependent for the payment of their stocks—and secondly, that in redeeming at par a debt which had passed at merely nominal rates from its original holders, from those who had rendered the service into the hands of grasping cormorants, not those who, in reality, had made sacrifices for, and shown their confidence in the cause, were benefited, but those who speculated upon the necessities of the well-deserving patriots, and who, or some of whom, by witholding supplies exaggerating difficulties, and propagating doubts and fears, had been enabled eventually to buy up, for the merest trifle, the certificates of debt.
It will now be seen whether those who claim to be the representatives, at this day, of the anti-Federal party of our earlier annals, will maintain the same line of argument in respect to the debt of Texas; a debt recommended by no such sacred associations and patriotic appeals as that of our revolution, and which, not less than that, has passed almost entirely from the hands of its original holders, into those of mere speculators. From past indications there is little reason to doubt that, in this particular, as in so many others, there will be found a very decided contradiction between the practice of the democracy, and the principles it professes; and that we shall see those who, wearying the popular ear with declarations that they are the true disciples of the original Republican party, will now be foremost—not directly, but by circumlocution and expedients meant to deceive—virtually to assume the debts of a foreign State incurred under circumstances similar to, but certainly not more sacred than, that of their own country, which yet, their great prototypes not only refused to provide for, but stigmatized the honest patriots who did so, as a corrupt stock-jobbing aristocracy.
There is, too, a general impression, which we merely refer to, without any intention of analyzing its justness—that, among the speculators in Texas securities, are included many, who in official stations contributed to annexation, and who were moved thereto at least as much by the hope of personal advantage, as by patriotic solicitude. Of this impression, we repeat, it is not our purpose to examine the justness, but its existence is as general and unquestionable, as it will obviously be adverse to the success of any project of a redemption of these securities through the means or credit of the United States.
From these various considerations it will be readily perceived that, whatever the abstract view of many leading men and presses may be, there are strong, practical and well-grounded reasons for resisting any project of making this country responsible for the debt of Texas. Moreover, some of the States of the Confederacy are suffering the dishonor of repudiation; why not, it will be asked, first go to their assistance? Give them the value of their share of the public lands we already possess, before we add to our untold millions of unproductive acres, many millions more to be paid for out of the present resources of the Union. This seems reasonable, and possibly there may result from these conflicting interests and opinions a compromise which shall substantially satisfy all parties.
For the virtual assumption of the debt of Texas, in spite of the positive disclaimer of the resolution of Annexation, will be most warmly pressed by that party, which has most strenuously resisted every proposition at home, to appropriate the proceeds of the sales of the public lands to the respective states. Is this not an occasion then, when the Whigs may say to their opponents. We will meet you half way. Do for the States now composing the Union what you propose in respect of the new State about to be admitted to it and we will co-operate with you throughout. Engraft on your bill for buying the lands of Texas at a price which will extinguish her debt, the substance of Mr. Clay's bill, and we are ready to vote with you. Less than this the Whig party should not ask, and without such a provision, or some one analogous to it, they will hesitate very long about consenting to pay the debt of a foreign State, while leaving those of several of our own States wholly uncared for.
Questions will arise concerning the boundaries of Texas. These properly belong to the treaty-making power. It appears, nevertheless, that the President has, of his own mere notion and authority, undertaken, to declare, and to seize upon, the Rio del Norte, as the western boundary of Texas. If this be so, and it shall stand, the Senate, as part of the treaty-making power, is, for the second time in this matter, to be ousted of its exclusive prerogative, and Congress must determine whether or not they will sustain the Executive decision, and stand by all the consequences.
If the claim, asserted on our behalf by an army with banners, to the left bank of the Rio del Norte, on the sea-board, is to be extended upward along the course of that river to its source, a large part of what has been hitherto known and acknowledged as New Mexico, including the city of Santa Fé, will, under the name of Texas, be transferred to our dominion. However desirable such an acquisition of territory may seem, and so distinct a boundary as this great river, it will not comport with the scrupulous regard for the faith of treaties, nor with the respect for the rights of others, which distinguish the Whig party, to lend their sanction to the armed occupation and seizure thereof.
Perhaps, too, the discussion of this point may present as favorable an opportunity as is likely to occur to call public attention to, and invoke an authoritative decision upon, the true construction to be given to that clause of our Constitution which declares the Senate coordinate with the President in making treaties.
The language of the clause runs thus (Art. II., Sec. 2, Part 2):
"He [the President,] shall have power by and with the advice and consent of the Senate to make treaties, provided two-thirds of the Senate present, concur," &c. &c.
It has been contended in high quarters that in the practical working of the conjoint or coordinate power of the Executive and the Senate, the tendency to Executive encroachment has been constant, though insidious, and that the history of our government for several years, presents an unbroken series of such encroachments. It has been argued, that the relation in which the President standsthe Senate, when acting under the treaty-making power, is essentially different from the other relations prescribed by the Constitution. He has Executive duties to discharge in which the Legislature have no participation—duties, which ordinarily commence when theirs have terminated. Information in his possession, relating to that branch of his public duties, it is his right to communicate to, or withold from Congress, as in his opinion may best subserve the public interest. By the Constitution, also, the exclusive right of nomination to office is given to him, and the Senate are called on only to approve or disapprove. There, too, he acts distinct from the Senate, and possesses a discretion, though perhaps more limited, than with regard to the communication of information. But with the subject of treaties, the case is evidently different. They are to be made, by and with the consent of the Senate. Upon that subject, every step, preliminary as well as final, ought, in the spirit of the Constitution, to be submitted to the Senate.
Such, we repeat, is the interpretation given, not very long ago, by very high authority to this provision of the Constitution, and the contrary practice of conceding to the Executive the preliminary steps in a negotiation, is accounted for on the score of convenience, and by no means as establishing a right.
It is not a light confirmation of this view of the true meaning and spirit of this Constitutional provision, that the first and greatest President of the United States, George Washington, before commencing any new negotiation, laid before the Senate the views of the Executive, the instructions proposed to be given to ministers, and all the information in his possession, and then asked the benefit of their counsel.
In this singular regard to the coordinate rights of the Senate, it is believed that no succeeding President has followed the great example; but if this be the right construction, the case is not likely soon to occur, when more advantageously than now. it can be re-affirmed and established. For, according to all present appearances and information, the President, antecedent to negotiation, has decided the issue of that concerning which negotiation was to be had; and when diplomatic intercourse with Mexico shall be restored, and the President shall have occasion to ask the consent of the Senate, either to the appointment of ministers to Mexico or to any treaty that may be framed with that country, he will have forestalled both their judgment and action by a sweep of the Executive sword.
This surely must be deemed an "encroachment," even by those who may not dislike the result thus attained, and therefore, we say again, an opportunity is presented under very favorable circumstances, of reviewing and revising, if so it shall be deemed wise, the practice under this provision of the Constitution.
Some subordinate questions connected with Annexation will occasion discussion. Among these is the pretension that officers of the army and navy of Texas shall be transferred with like rank to our service. This seems a claim at once so impudent and so preposterous, that we do not know that it will be seriously urged. If it should be, it will, it is quite safe to assume, be summarily rejected.
At a time when hundreds of our own highly educated and accomplished young army officers, who have not thought it necessary to qualify themselves for true allegiance and conscientious and intelligent service to their own country, by taking up arms in another land and in a quarrel not their own, are eagerly waiting their time to exchange their brevets for commissions—and when, in the naval service, midshipmen are growing gray for lack of promotion, and when no degree of past service or present merit can advance an officer a single grade, and when, notwithstanding such discouragements, the applications for warrants are counted by hundreds, not to say thousands, for every vacancy,—at such a time to propose to incorporate with our military and naval corps, composed of picked men—educated, intelligent, moral, modest and brave—a promiscuous band of soldiers of fortune, who, looking upon war as a trade, and indifferent in what cause, or in what service, or with or against whom it is waged, so only that the trade flourishes, and its wages are to be duly paid—to poison our gallant and patriotic service with an admixture, on any fooling, of such ingredients, were a crime alike against Honor, Justice and Courtesy. With such a crime,, the Whig party can, under no circumstances, have any participation.
It is, however, plain, from the considerations thus hastily enumerated, that although to a certain extent accomplished and irrevocable. Annexation yet presents many questions that will seriously occupy Congress, and that will appeal to the Whigs in particular for their most considerate attention and fearless judgment.
The next great issue of the Presidential election, which, it is now insisted, was determined against the Whigs, is the Tariff. We hold still, as during the contest we held, and without abating one jot, that Protection—direct Protection—is a legitimate object of legislation; and the merit of the existing Tariff in our eyes is, that it is directly, and not merely incidentally Protective. Others may hold a more qualified doctrine on this head; but, deriving ours, both from the justice and necessity of the case, and from the explicit avowal of those who framed the Constitution, and of those who sat in the first Congress under it, that it was designed and desired to lay duties for the encouragement and protection of domestic manufactures, we shall not, even on the ground of expediency, take up with the equivocal phraseology of the day about a tariff for revenue with incidental protection.
According, however, to the manifestations of the party papers, except in Pennsylvania, even incidental protection is now to be denounced and renounced, and the favorite theorem of the ultra free-trader is to be adopted, that revenue, and revenue only, is the legitimate object of a tariff, and that, if there be any discrimination, it should be against, and not in favor of, articles produced or manufactured at home.
While writing these remarks there are indications that Pennsylvania—whose interests in coal and iron made and keep her a Tariff State, and who voted for Mr. Polk upon assurances; who was credulous enough to believe that he was a tariff man—is becoming alarmed at the signs of the times; and meetings are in progress, affirming that the undivided voice of the State is against any interference with, or disturbance of, the existing tariff.
To these manifestations, it may be found politic to yield; and if so, it will be easy enough, on the score of the increased expenditure rendered necessary by the military and naval movements in Texas and the Gulf of Mexico—and by the preparations that cannot longer be postponed with safety for eventual, and not very distant, war—to hold on yet a little while longer to a system which, "with all its alleged injustice to consumers, fills the national coffers, while stimulating branches of home industry.
Who, indeed, but a forty-bale theorist, can look around the country and fail to see, that all is well—that labor meets with ready employment and remunerating wages—that agriculture, pursued with the skill and the diligence which alone command success in other pursuits, is flourishing—that the mechanical arts and manufacturing industry are prosperous—and that commerce, the nursery of the navy—the improver, the civilizer and refiner of nations—is abroad on every sea, and only asks at the hands of government, permanency in all legislation which is to affect it? To the eye of common sense, and of comprehensive patriotism, all is well in these various pursuits—yet the abstractions of theorists, always the most obstinate and impracticable of men, and the ignorant clamors of ward-meetings appealing to a fancied shibboleth of party, are aiming to disturb this general prosperity, and to substitute therefor a system, which, abandoning the care of our own labor, and preferring, by deliberate avowal, the workshops of Manchester to those of Lowell, would open our ports to the unchecked competition of a world which shuts its ports against competition from the products of our skill and industry.
There can be no error in assuming, that the Whigs in united phalanx from north to south will be found in opposition to experimental philosophy such as this, and will resist to the utmost every effort to break down the legislation which scatters blessings and abundance through the land.
The subject of Oregon, though here introduced after others, is in truth likely to be that one which will take precedence of all others, if treated as now there seems reason to suppose it will be, by the Administration.
Into the history of this question, and of our claim to the territory known by the name of Oregon—extending westward from the Rocky Mountains to the Pacific, and from the 42d degree of north latitude to 54° 40'; comprehending an area of nearly 400,000 square miles—it is not now our design, nor within the limits prescribed in this paper would it be possible, to enter. It is sufficient for our present purpose to say that, although our title to the whole of that region is certainly as good as that of any other nation, and probably better, we have ourselves, on repeated occasions, virtually admitted that it was not so complete and unquestionable, as to preclude all other claims to any portion of it.
In 1818, in 1824, and in 1826, weto settle the disputed title to this region between us and Great Britain, by prolonging beyond the Rocky Mountains and to the Pacific Ocean, the line which divides our possessions on the hither side of those mountains, the 49th parallel of north latitude. For reasons of her own, Great Britain on each of these occasions declined the proposed arrangement, and for thirty years the territory has been open to settlement and joint occupation by the citizens of both nations, without prejudice to, or preference of, the rights of either. These reminiscences seem abundantly to prove that we ourselves have heretofore been willing to negotiate for the quiet and undisturbed possession of that to which, nevertheless, the President in his inaugural message, declares we have a full and undoubted title. What, then, has occurred to change the relation of the country to this question, or to render it a duty of patriotism to insist upon immediate and entire occupation of the whole territory? We are at a loss to answer this interrogatory satisfactorily.
It is, indeed, sometimes assumed that among the issues determined by the Presidential election was that of Oregon; and that it is only in conformity with the popular behest, that the President has adopted such a positive tone.
In confirmation of this view, we are referred to the resolutions adopted at Baltimore by the Convention which nominated Mr. Polk, and which, it is contended, were received and acted upon, as the articles of the Democratic creed. But this argument, if it proves anything, proves too much; for if the resolution put forth by that Convention respecting Oregon, is to be considered as having, by the result of the Presidential election, been adopted and ratified by the people, then is negotiation of any sort in relation to this subject forbidden and foreclosed.
That resolution is in these words:
"Resolved, That our title to the whole of the territory of Oregon is clear and unquestionable—that no portion of the same ought to be ceded to England, or any other power, and that the re-occupation of Oregon and the re-annexation of Texas, at the earliest practicable period, are great American measures, which the Convention recommend to the cordial support of the democracy of the Union."
In his first message, President Polk adopted verbatim and repeated the first paragraph of this resolution, and for so doing he is vindicated, on the ground that the fact of his election upon the doctrines put forth at Baltimore, is to be taken as conclusive evidence that they expressed the popular will. But if so, why did the message stop short with the first paragraph, and why is not the second as obligatory, according to this logic, as the first? If the people of the United States meant to be understood, in electing Mr. Polk, as declaring that "our title to the whole of the territory of Oregon is clear and unquestionable," they must be considered as in like manner declaring "that no portion of the same ought to be ceded to England." But the message made no such declaration. So far, indeed, is Mr. Polk from entertaining any such view, that he has actually entered into negotiation with Great Britain concerning the very territory, which he could not have done if he considered himself bound in no event "to cede any portion of it to Great Britain."
It is therefore illogical, upon the premises relied on, to contend that the President is only carrying out the popular will as indicated by this resolution.
But were it otherwise, and that it could be made out satisfactorily that in all points the resolutions of a party meeting were suffered by the President of the United States to control his official views and conduct, in respect of great national interests—interests involving the honor, happiness and peace of the whole country, possibly those of the civilized world—would the case be in any wise better for him?
The President, when he takes his seat, makes solemn appeal to Heaven, that he "will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will to the best of his ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States."
It is nowhere said that he shall be the President of a party, and it is nowhere written in the Constitution, which is to be the guide, the measure, and the rule of his conduct, that the President must, or should, or honestly can, shape his course by the lights of conventions unknown to that Constitution. It is therefore a wrong alike to the theory of our institutions, to the sworn fidelity of the President, and to the high and solemn responsibilities of his office, to assume, or to assert, that in shaping the foreign policy of the nation, or in any other great national manifestation, the Executive head of this Republic acknowledges any other obligation, any other allegiance, than to the whole people of the United States, and to the Constitution, which is their common defence and law.
For this government is one of compact and mutual agreement, where all, numerically, at least, have equal rights and an equal interest; and it is not a device whereby a party majority shall have the right to dispose at pleasure of the interest and happiness of others.
Party, indeed, under institutions like ours, will ever mingle, and, within reasonable limits, may without danger mingle, in the contests for the possession of power, and of the fruits of power after it is acquired; but beyond that, it can never rightfully go. More especially in our relations with foreign nations and in the suggestion or adoption of our foreign policy, is it plainly manifest that Party should always be contemned as an unwise and unworthy counselor.
It is the great blot in the career of Mr. Van Buren, that when Secretary of State of the United States, he degraded the country in whose name he spoke, by disavowing the acts of the Administration to which that whereof he formed part succeeded—and sought favor from a foreign government by representing as unfounded pretensions which the then President hastened to recall—the honest assertion by his predecessors, of claims, which were only distasteful to that foreign government, because they were as clear as they were honest.
The overwhelming and disastrous popularity of General Jackson covered up and glossed over this enormity, as it did so many others; but in the future annals of the country, it will be recorded to the lasting discredit of Mr. Van Buren, that he, for the first time in our diplomatic intercourse with another nation, introduced and sought to make party capital out of our domestic differences.
In the actual posture of the Oregon question, therefore, it is, above all things, desirable that party should not be permitted to determine the issue, and that all mere appeals to partisans as such should be discouraged.
There is need of the considerate wisdom and patriotism of all to give to this question a proper direction, and to insure to it a satisfactory solution.
It cannot, we would fain hope, be wrong to assume that the nation does not seek to do injustice—nor prefer the ways of violence, to those of moderation—nor wish for war, while war can be honorably avoided.
Upon this hypothesis the anxiety which undeniably now agitates the public mind respecting Oregon, can only arise from distrust of the administration. We confess ourselves to share in this distrust, and yet the course for us is so plain and smooth for escaping all difficulties on the subject, by persevering in what Mr. Calhoun so justly characterized as "a wise and masterly inactivity," that we cannot comprehend, on any sound principles of reasoning, why the country should be urged to deviate from it.
We do not want the territory merely as territory; and if we did, it would be no more accessible to us, nor as far as can be discerned, any more tempting for settlers, than now it is. For many years after the renewal in 1828 of the convention for the joint occupation of that territory by the citizens of both countries without prejudice to the rights of either, there was no attempt at, or tendency to, emigration and permanent settlement there from the United States. The first colony for settlement that went forth was in 1834. It consisted of a band of Methodists, under their ministers, and they established themselves in the valley of the Willamette river, where a few retired servants of the Hudson Bay Company, (British) were previously residing. Next in order, according to Greenough, colonies of Presbyterians or Congregationalists were planted in the Walla Walla and Spokan countries. In 1839, a printing press was set up in Walla Walla, on which were struck off the first sheets ever printed on the Pacific side of America north of Mexico. The Jesuits from St. Louis soon after sent out missionaries to that region to convert and instruct the Indians; but, according to the usage of that order, they ma le no settlement.
Since that period, emigration to Oregon has received a great impulse, and now there are some thousand American settlers in its different valleys, outnumbering, in the proportion probably of six to one, the English and all other European colonists.
In this one fact, if duly weighed, is to be found an argument conclusive, it would seem, against any change in a policy respecting that region, which is working so well, and by natural causes is tending to bring about, without shock or violence, but peacefully and surely, that result, which some among us seem so intensely to covet, as to be willing to rush into war for its attainment.
A new element, moreover, has recently entered into the speculations and calculations concerning Oregon—the possibility that, while the United States and Great Britain are debating to whom it shall belong, the actual occupants of the country may claim it for themselves, and seek to establish there a great Pacific Republic—bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh, and yet not identified with us. In such a contingency, who is there prepared to say that it would not be for the best that the controversy should be thus resolved?
Is there not much to excite and soothe the patriotic mind, in the idea of a new Republic—planted by our hands on the opposite side of the continent, bound to us by descent, by language, by similarity of institutions, by multiplying interests of mutual intercourse—growing up to greatness under the shadow of our Eagle's wings—and ready, when need shall come, to unite its arms with ours, in defence of the institutions, the principles and liberties, alike dear, and alike common to both; and especially for the assertion of that great American principle which shall forbid the intervention of European nations in American affairs?
We do not say that the people of Oregon would be more likely to prefer being a Republic by themselves to becoming a part of this Union. But we do say, it would be altogether wiser and more liberal, to let that people determine this matter for themselves. It is more honorable for all concerned—but especially for ourselves. There would be, in such a solution of the question—and this is a point of view which we gladly entertain—a triumphant refutation of the charge which, not England only, but France, and, indeed, Europe, seem disposed to bring against us, of seeking unlimited territorial aggrandizement. If it shall appear that, with claims so strong to Oregon as we think those of this country, it shall yet acquiesce in, and not only acquiesce in, but encourage, promote and protect, the formation there of an independent nation, bound to us by none other than moral and natural ties, there can be none to gainsay the disinterestedness of the act.
Whether during the sitting of Congress this inchoate project of the inhabitants of the valleys of the Columbia river to assert their right to self-government and independence, will be sufficiently matured to be made a matter of serious deliberation, it is impossible now to conjecture. Meantime, the appearances are, that the party which professes the greatest respect for the doctrine of the right of self-government, will be found discouraging, if not resisting, the exercise of that right, in its full extent, by the ultra-montane Americans, and that it will be desired rather to hold them as colonists, whose fate must ultimately be united with ours under one and the same government, than to assist or encourage them in asserting their own separate nationality and entire independence.
In every aspect, therefore, which this subject may assume, it will appeal strongly to the feelings, the principles, the sound judgment, the wise forecast, and the unshrinking tirmness of the Whig party.
In throwing out the reflections we here present, we design them as suggestions merely—not counsels—for the occurrences of the next hour may overthrow, in an instant, all present combinations in calculation.
One point only may, we think, be stated as incontrovertible, and upon that point we trust the Whigs will be found united to a man—and that is, that war for Oregon, unless an attempt be made to wrest it forcibly from our possession, is an absurdity at once and a crime.
There still remains one great question for examination which has not fallen within the domain of ordinary politics or of merely local or domestic interests, and presents many new and complicated features. It is that of the independence of the American Continent from the control, political or physical, of European nations.
It is now almost a quarter of a century since this idea was first formally enunciated on this side of the Atlantic, and then it seemed to speak the general sentiment of the country. Circumstances connected with the emancipation of the Spanish American colonies from the dominion of the mother country, and with the long, and for a time uncertain, struggle which some of them were called upon to maintain, led to an apprehension in this country that, under the plea of putting a stop to the waste of human life, and to the bloody and remorseless warfare which characterizes in a special manner civil contests among the Spanish race, some of the leading European governments might offer their aid to Spain for the purpose of pacifying or reducing her revolted colonies. Such an interposition in the affairs of this hemisphere, could not be regarded with indifference by the government of the United States—the great power of this Continent, with all its sympathies naturally enlisted in behalf of a neighboring people struggling for their freedom—this government had nevertheless studiously maintained its neutrality between Spain and her revolted colonies. Having thus evinced its own self-denial and its scrupulous respect for the principle, that to each people it belongs to decide upon and adopt the form of government best suited to it, and that no foreign nation can rightfully control by arms such free choice and decision, the American government was manifestly in a position to say authoritatively to Europe, that the principle of non-intervention, so faithfully, and under such trying circumstances, observed by it, must not be departed from nor violated by other governments, especially by those removed by position out of the American system. Utterance was accordingly given to this sentiment by the then President, Mr. Monroe, in his seventh annual message to Congress, in this passage:
"Of events in that quarter of the globe with which we have had so much intercourse, and from which we derive our origin, we have always been anxious and interested spectators. The citizens of the United States cherish sentiments in favor of the liberty and happiness of their fellow men on that side of the Atlantic. In the wars of the European powers, in matters relating to themselves, we have never taken any part, nor does it comport with our policy so to do. It is only when our rights are invaded or seriously menaced, that we resist injuries or make preparations fur our defence. With the movements in this hemisphere, we are of necessity more immediately connected, and by causes which must be obvious to all enlightened and impartial observers. The political system of the allied powers is essentially different in this respect from that of America. This difference proceeds from that which exists in their respective governments. And to the defence of our own, which has been achieved by the loss of so much blood and treasure, and matured by the wisdom of their most enlightened citizens, and under which we have enjoyed unexampled felicity, this whole nation is devoted.
"We owe it therefore to candor, and to the amicable relations existing between the United States and those powers, to declare, that we should consider any attempt on their part to extend any portion of their system to this hemisphere, as dangerous to our peace and safety. With the existing colonies or dependencies of any European power, we have not interfered, and shall not interefere. But with the governments who have declared their independence and maintained it, and whose independence we have on great consideration and on just principle acknowledged, we could not view any interposition for the purpose of oppressing them, or controlling in any other manner their destiny, by any European power, in any other light than as the manifestation of an unfriendly disposition towards the United States.
"In the war between those new governments and Spain, we declared our neutrality at the time of their recognition, and to this we have adhered, and shall continue to adhere, provided no change shall occur, which, in the judgment of the competent authorities of this government, shall make a corresponding change on the part of the United States indispensable to their security."
In a subsequent part of the same message the President, after referring to the then recent armed interposition by the Allied Powers, "on a principle satisfactory to themselves," in the internal concerns of Spain, contrasts therewith the policy of the United States in regard to Europe, and distinctly intimates that we should require a like policy towards this continent from Europe. This is the explicit language used:
" Our policy in regard to Europe, which we adopted at an early stage of the wars which have so long agitated that quarter of the globe, nevertheless remains the same—which is, not to interfere in the internal concerns of any of its powers; to consider the government de facto as the legitimate government for us; to cultivate friendly relations with it, and to preserve those relations by a firm, frank and manly policy; meeting in all instances the just claims of every power, submitting to injuries from none. But in regard to these continents, circumstances are eminently and conspicuously different. It is impossible that the allied powers should extend their political system to any portion of either continent without endangering our peace and happiness; nor can any one believe that our Southern brethren, if left to themselves, would adopt it of their own accord. It is equally impossible, therefore, that we should behold such interposition in any form with indifference."
The nation seemed generally to adopt these truly American sentiments—appealing as they did, and do, to a feeling of comprehensive nationality, founded on position or similarity of political features, and identity of political aims. As a matter of fact, in South, as in North, America, the new nations were all of European origin; had been planted as colonies, oppressed as colonies, as colonies had rebelled; and through much carnage and suffering had turned rebellion into successful revolution. Everywhere the rights of human nature, and the capacity of men for self-government, were asserted, and made the basis of the new forms of government; and hence there arose a common American interest to oppose any and every attempt, on the part of European powers, other than Spain, to reduce or revolutionize the country.
"Fortified by the concurrence of public opinion, at the next session, in December, 1824, President Monroe, in the last annual message he delivered, thus returned to the subject:
"The disturbances which have appeared in certain portions of that vast relations with every power, and on conditions fair, equal, and applicable to all. But in regard to our neighbors our situation is different. It is impossible for the European governments to interfere in their concerns, especially in those alluded to, which are vital, without affecting us; indeed, the motive which might induce such interference in the present state of the war between the parties, if war it maybe called, would appear to be equally applicable to us. It is gratifying to know that some of the powers with whom we enjoy a very friendly intercourse, and to whom these views have been communicated, have appeared to acquiesce in them."have proceeded from internal causes, which had their origin in their former government, and have not yet been thoroughly removed. It is manifest that these causes are daily losing their effect, and that these new states are settling down under governments elective and representative in every branch, similar to our own. In this course we ardently wish them to persevere, under a firm conviction that it will promote their happiness. In this, their career, however, we have not interfered, believing that every people have a right to institute for themselves the government which, in their judgment, may suit them best. Our example is before them, of the good effect of which, being our neighbors, they are competent judges, and to their judgment we leave it, in the expectation that other powers will pursue the same policy. The deep interest which we take in their independence, which we have acknowledged, and in their enjoyment of all the rights incident thereto, especially in the very important one of instituting their own governments, has been declared, and is known to the world. Separated as we are from Europe by the great Atlantic Ocean, we can have no concern in the wars of European governments, nor in the causes which produce them. The balance of power between them, into whichever scale it may turn in its various vibrations, cannot affect us. It is the interest of the United States to preserve the most friendly
It is apparent, from the language here used, that the feeling of an American system—as distinct from, and independent of, the European system—had made progress; and that, as this hemisphere interposed, neither by counsels nor by arms, in the arrangements of the allied European powers, it had a right to expect, and meant to require, that Europe should be, in like manner, abstinent in respect of America.
From the concluding paragraph, moreover, it is obvious that the views expressed in the preceding message had been made the subject of diplomatic communication to some of the friendly powers of Europe, and been, apparently, acquiesced in by them.
It was not from any sudden or inconsiderate impulse that the government of the United States assumed this attitude; nor without ample evidence that some such European interposition as Mr. Monroe, in his message, foreshadowed and reproved, had been contemplated.
As early as 1818, the American government had invited that of Great Britain to cooperate with it, in acknowledging the independence of Buenos Ayres—the only one of the Spanish-American states which at that time had succeeded in entirely expelling the Spanish forces from its soil. It did not comport with the policy of Great Britain to unite in this measure; but the fact, that it was meditated, and indeed determined on, by the United States, exercised an important influence on the deliberations of the congress of Aix-la-Chapelle, held in October, 1818.
The purpose of the United States to acknowledge, as governments de facto, such of the new South American states as should succeed in driving out and keeping out the Spanish forces, did, there is reason to believe, disconcert projects which were entertained at that congress, of engaging the European alliance in actual operations against the South Americans; as it is well known that a plan for their joint mediation between Spain and her colonies, for restoring them to her authority, was actually matured, and finally failed at that place, only by the refusal of Great Britain to accede to the condition of employing force, eventually, against the South Americans, for its accomplishment.
Desirous of so shaping the policy of this government both towards the new nations springing up on this continent, and towards Spain, with which our relations were those of friendship, as to avoid just cause of offence to either, the President, early in March, 1822, in an explicit declaration to Congress, expressed thethat "the time had arrived when, in strict conformity to the law of nations, and in the fulfilment of the duties of equal and impartial justice to all parties, the acknowledgment of the independence declared by the Spanish American colonies could no longer be withheld." Congress, prepared by information communicated in answer to its calls, acted on this declaration, and, in May of the same year, appropriated funds for such missions to the independent American nations as the President should determine to institute.
In this actual recognition of those nations, this government took precedence of all others; and it was a necessary complement of the just policy then proclaimed, that in the following year the President should distinctly make known to Europe and the world, that the nations thus recognized by us as independent, and the continent which we and they inhabit, were no longer to he looked upon as subject to European colonization.
It has been already stated, that the people of the United States adhered to and approved the ground thus taken by the Executive, and that the European powers to whom it was explained apparently acquiesced in it and its moral effects.
The influence, at the time, of this high and manly course, and its moral effect, upon the counsels of allied Europe, and upon the destinies of the new States of America, cannot probably be exaggerated.
If it have lost much of its weight and consideration, as it would seem yo have done from the speech of the French premier, M. Guizot, about a balance of power on this continent, to be superintended and maintained through European intervention, and yet more decisive- ly from the actual armed , now in progress, by the combined French and British forces, in the affairs of the La Plata—the responsibility must, it is feared, be traced in part to the flinching of what calls itself the democratic party from the legitimate consequences of the American policy declared by Mr. Monroe. For when, in the succeeding administration of John Quincy Adams, that sound American proposed to send ministers from this republic to the congress of ministers from the other republics of this continent, about to assemble at Panama, there to discuss the general principles of public policy to be pursued with regard to European interference—as well as questions of mutual friendly and commercial intercourse among each other—thus giving reality and substance, as it were, to what before was a significant but barren formula—the whole democracy rallied as one man against the proposition, and Mr. Adams was represented as transcending his constitutional power, in accepting the invitation of our American neighbors to meet them in friendly consultation about American interests—in jeoparding our peaceful relations with Europe—and in seeking, by entangling engagements with the new states, to erect an American confederacy, as a counterpoise against the influence of the Holy Alliance of Europe.
This chapter of our political history may be instructively re-opened and perused at the present juncture; and we propose, therefore, in the next number of this Review, to recall and examine it in some detail. Suffice it here to say, that, throughout the discussion—first, in secret session of the Senate on the appointment of ministers; and secondly, in the House of Representatives on the bill making appropriations for the mission—sentiments, the most offensive to the new American republics, were uttered, and apprehensions, not the most manly, indulged, of European resentment, if we should aim to establish an American system as a counterpoise to that of Europe, by the leaders of that party which now, through its official organ, seems so full of defiance towards the Old World, and so resolute that no European foot shall ever tread in sovereignty on any part of the New World now emancipated from colonial dependence.
Whatever the justice of the conjecture that the European pretension, and its actual practical operation in the Rio de la Plata, to interfere in the affairs of this continent for the maintenance of a fancied balance of power, or under any other pretext, derived confidence from the course of leading American politicians in the Panama Mission, it may be assumed, we apprehend, as the almost universal sentiment of this country, that the language of Mr. Monroe in 1823 and in 1824, on this subject, does embody its actual feeling and determination; and that, whether in Oregon, in California, in Cuba, or in the River Plate, the United States will not see with indifference the attempt permanently to establish a European influence, much less a European colony—nor fail to resist it, if persevered in, after frank and friendly remonstrance.
It is not in the spirit of, nor with a view to, territorial aggrandizement, that this course is indicated as that which the nation should pursue, but simply as the wise and necessary precaution of self-defence. In the existing relations of the different governments and peoples of this continent to each other, or to ourselves, we seek to effect no change. We neither desire nor claim the right of interposing in their domestic affairs, content to leave them, as we require ourselves to be left, to decide all such affairs as suits those whom they immediately concern and are primarily to affect. If then we, belonging to the same hemisphere, and in many respects identified with these American nations, abstain scrupulously from attempts at influencing or coercing the course or conduct of their governments, we are entitled to expect and to require like abstinence on the part of distant Europe.
So again, as to large portions of territory lying within the nominal jurisdiction of some of the other American governments—either unsettled, or so sparsely settled, as hardly to be considered under the subjection of any authority—we seek not to possess ourselves thereof, content to leave to time and opportunity, and the character of their future population, the arbitration of their destiny. But we cannot, with due regard to our own safety and relative preponderance, consent that the system of European policy—of European institutions—or of a balance of power of European device and maintenance—shall be fastened upon-those territories, thence to be radiated, it may be, to the derangement or the overthrow of our systems. Europe has her systems, in which America seeks not to interfere: America should have her systems, with which Europe might not interfere.
The Whigs, in every event, and by all their antecedents, are bound to these doctrines; and we hope to see during this session some formal and authentic declaration proposed from the Whig side, to the effect that no European interference in the international concerns of this American continent will be looked upon with indifference by the United States.
Their power, as has been said before, at present is solely a moral power. They must take heed that it be not in any wise impaired in their hands, either by omission or commission. They must neither do nor advocate what is questionable in good faith and in sound morality, nor abstain from earnest opposition thereto, if proposed by others. In the lust of territorial aggrandizement, which, revived in our day and among our people, from their Norman-Saxon ancestry, seems neither less audacious nor less rapacious —in terrorem upon the public sentiment of this day, and operates most mischievously upon the sound judgment and moral feelings of the country. It is an old artifice of executive usurpation, to foment such exasperation, and to insist that when foreign danger menaces, all domestic dissension should cease.—than when described of old by the Romans—and in the lawlessness of reasoning by which this lust is to be justified—the Whigs must hold the high ground of moral arbiters. Not indifferent certainly, on the one hand, to the just claims of their country—but not averse to assert the robber plea, that we want, and have the power to take—they will be looked to by the good and the wise to promote moderation and justice, and especially to maintain peace and uphold the right, at whatever hazard of transient popularity. There is, we fear, what must be termed a degree of pusillanimity among public men and the public press, about seeming to be found, on any great topic of foreign controversy, in opposition to their own country, if they should frankly and honestly follow out the principles they nevertheless deem right. The discredit attached, even yet, to those who opposed the war of 1812, acts
The Address to the people of Virginia, accompanying the resolution of '98—drawn up by Mr. Madison—thus refers to the claim of those in power that, in n the face of foreign danger, we are not to scan too nicely domestic usurpation.
"It would be perfidious not to warn you of encroachments which, though clothed with the pretext of necessity, or disguised by arguments of expedier.cy, may yet establish precedents, which may ultimately devote a generous and confiding people to all the consequences of usurped power. Exhortations to disregard domestic usurpation until foreign danger shall have passed, is an artifice which may be forever used, because the possessors of power, who are the advocates of its extension, can ever create national embarrassments, to be successively employed to soothe the people into sleep, while that power is swelling silently, secretly, fatally."
These warnings, from one of the Fathers of the Republic, find a ready application to the course of the Executive, in seizing, under the plea of "expediency," upon the Rio del Norte as the western boundary of Texas, to the language of the last message and that anticipated in the forthcoming message respecting Oregon, combined with the denunciation by the official paper at Washington, and its echoes—as enemies to their country, and advocates of the foreign cause against that of their own land—of all who insist that the President should not, and constitutionally cannot, assume thus to forestall the action of Congress, and commit both it and the nation, in the face of the world, to acts and opinions which their deliberate judgment might dissent from and disapprove.
On the Whigs it will devolve to uphold the Constitution in this regard, as in so many others; and they must not flinch from any part of this great duty, even though called upon by what may seem public opinion to acquiesce. An honest party cannot, any more than an honest man, bend its conscience to the clamor of others, however numerous; nor in the great account which each, both here and hereafter, must give for himself of his acts, will the
be admitted as any justification for him or them who knowingly do wrong.
Popularity is not to be contemned—party success is surely desirable; but far beyond success, and far above popularity, are to be ranked consistency, honor and justice. These are the professed aims of the Whig party—let them be inflexibly its guides—and leaving the event where those thus influenced, thus
"To fine issues finely touched,"
should without distrust be content to leave it, let the Whigs abide their time.