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SPEECH OF HENRY CLAY,
BILL PROPOSING THAT TWENTY THOUSAND MEN SHOULD BE ADDED TO THE EXISTING MILITARY ESTABLISHMENT,
DELIVERED IN THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES OF THE UNITED
JANUARY 8, 1813.
MR. CHAIRMAN, I was gratified yesterday by the recommitment of this bill to a committee of the whole House, from two considerations; one, since it afforded me a slight relaxation from a most fatiguing situation ;* and the other, because it furnished me with an opportunity of presenting to the committee my sentiments upon the important topics which have been mingled in the debate. I regret, however, that the necessity under which the chairman has been placed of putting the question,t precludes the opportunity, I had wished to enjoy, of rendering more acceptable to the committee any thing I might have to offer on the interesting points, on which it is my duty to touch. Unprepared, however, as I am to speak on this day, of which I am the more sensible from the ill state of my health, I will solicit the attention of the committee for a few moments.
I was a little astonished, I confess, when I found this bill permitted to pass silently through the committee of the whole, and not selected, until the moment when the question was about to be put for its third reading, as the subject on which gentlemen in the opposition chose to lay before the House their views of the interesting attitude in which the nation stands. It did appear to me, that the loan bill, which will soon come before us, would have afforded a much more proper occasion, it being more essential, as providing the ways and means for the prosecution of the war. But the gentlemen had the right of selection, and having exercised it, no matter how improperly, I am gratified, whatever I may think of the character of some part of the debate, at the latitude in which, for once, they have been indulged. I claim only, in return, of gentlemen on the other side of the House, and of the committee, a like indulgence in expressing my sentiments with the same unrestrained freedom. Perhaps, in the course of the remarks which I may feel myself called upon to make, gentlemen may apprehend that they assume too harsh an aspect: but I have only now to say, that I shall speak of parties, measures and things, as they strike my moral sense, protesting against the imputation of any intention, on my part, to wound the feelings of any gentlemen.
* Mr. Clay was, at this time, speaker of the House of Represen. tatives.
† The chairman had risen to put the question, which would have cut Mr. Clay off from the opportunity of speaking, by carrying the bill to the House.
Considering the situation in which this country is now placed,-a state of actual war with one of the most powerful nations on the earth,-it may not be useless to take a view of the past, and of the various parties which have at different times appeared in this country, and to attend to the manner, by which we have been driven from a peaceful posture to our present warlike attitude. Such an inquiry may assist in guiding us to that result, an honorable peace, which must be the sincere desire of every friend to America. The course of that opposition, by which the administration of the government has been unremittingly impeded for the last twelve years, is singular, and, I believe, unexampled in the history of any country. It has been alike the duty and the interest of the administration to preserve peace. It was their duty, because it is necessary to the growth of an infant people, to their genius and to their habits. It was their interest, because a change of the condition of the nation, brings along with it a danger of the loss of the affections of the people. The administration has not been forgetful of these solemn obligations. No art has been left unessayed; no experiment, promising a favorable result, left untried, to maintain the peaceful relations of the country. When, some six or seven years ago, the affairs of the nation assumed a threatening aspect, a partial non-importation was adopted. As they grew more alarming, an embargo was imposed. It would have accomplished its purpose, but it was sacrificed upon the altar of conciliation. Vain and fruitless attempt to propitiate! Then came a law of non-intercourse; and a general non-importation followed in the train. In the meantime, any indications of a return to the public law and the path of justice, on the part of either belligerent, are seized upon with avidity by the administration. The arrangement with Mr. Erskine is concluded. It is first applauded, and then censured by the opposition. No matter with what unfeigned sincerity, with what real effort administration cultivates peace, the opposition insist that it alone is culpable for every breach that is made between the two countries. Because the President thought proper, in
ccepting the proffered reparation for the attack on a national vessel, to intimate that it would have better comported with the justice of the king, (and who does not think so?) to punish the offending officer, the opposition, entering into the royal feelings, sees in that imaginary insult, abundant cause for rejecting Mr. Erskine's arrangement.
On another occasion, you cannot have forgotten the hypercritical ingenuity which they displayed, to divest Mr. Jackson's correspondence of a premeditated insult to this country. If gentlemen would only reserve for their own government half the sensibility, which is indulged for that of Great Britain, they would find much less to condemn. Restriction after restriction has been tried; negociation has been resorted to, until further negociation would have been disgraceful. Whilst these peaceful experiments are undergoing a trial, what is the conduct of the opposition? They are the champions of war; the proud, the spirited, the sole repository of the nation's honor; the men of exclusive vigor and energy. The administration, on the contrary, is weak, feeble and pusillanimous,—“ incapable of being kicked into a war.” The maxim, « not a cent for tribute, millions for defence,” is loudly proclaimed. Is the administration for negociation? The opposition is tired, sick, disgusted with negociation. They want to draw the sword and avenge the nation's wrongs. When, however, foreign nations, perhaps emboldened by the very opposition here made, refuse to listen to the amicable appeals, which have been repeated and reiterated by the administration, to their justice and to their interests; when, in fact, war with one of them has become identified with our independence and our sovereignty, and to abstain from it was no longer possible, behold the opposition veering round and becoming the friends of peace and commerce. They tell you of the calamities of war, its tragical events, the squandering away of your resources, the waste of the public treasure, and the spilling of innocent blood.“ Gorgons, hydras and chimeras dire.” They tell you that honor is an illusion! Now we see them exhibiting the terrific forms of the roaring king of the forest: now the meekness and humility of the lamb! They are for war and no restrictions, when the administration is for peace. They are for peace and restrictions, when the administration is for war. You find them, sir, tacking with every gale, displaying the colors of every party and of all nations, steady only in one unalterable purpose, to steer, if possible, into the haven of power.
not fail, by cunning sarcasm or sly innuendo, to throw out the idea of French influence, which is known to be false, which ought to be met in one manner only, and that is by the lie direct. The administration of this country devoted to foreign influence! The administration of this country subservient to France! Great God! what a charge! how is it so influenced? By what ligament, on what basis, on what possible foundation does it rest? Is it similarity of language? No! we speak different tongues, we speak the English language. On the resemblance of our laws? No! the sources of our jurisprudence spring from another and a different country. On commercial intercourse? No! we have comparatively none with France. Is it from the correspondence in the genius of the two gov. ernments? No! here alone is the liberty of man secure from the inexorable despotism, which every where else tramples it under foot. Where then is the ground of such an influence? But, sir, I am insulting you by arguing on such a subject. Yet, preposterous and ridiculous as the insinuation is, it is propagated with so much industry, that there are persons found foolish and credulous enough to believe it. You will, no doubt, think it incredible, (but I have nevertheless been told it as a fact, that an honorable member of this House, now in my eye, recently lost his election by the circulation of a silly story in his district, that he was the first cousin of the emperor Napoleon. The proof of the charge rested on a statement of facts, which was undoubtedly true. The gentleman in question, it was alleged, had married a connexion of the lady of the President of the United States, who was the intimate friend of Thomas Jefferson, late President of the United States, who some years ago, was in the habit of wearing red French breeches. Now, taking these premises as established, you, Mr. Chairman, are too good a logician not to see that the conclusion necessarily follows ! Throughout the period I have been speaking of,