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collisions ripening, through influences and events which we may be unable to control, into open warfare. I should deeply deplore such a result. The interests of humanity, great principles of political right, self-government, freedom, individual rights, all suffer when the voice of the law is silenced by the tumult of war. "Inter arma silent leges" is an adage, of the truth of which history has furnished too many fatal proofs. I would do much to avert such a calamity. I would do anything not inconsistent with the public honor, to avoid a contest which would be disastrous to both parties, no matter what should be its final issue. But beyond this I never can go. And if exemption from war can only be purchased by a surrender of our just rights, I cannot consent to make the purchase. But if war cannot be averted, I trust we shall not commit the great error of undervaluing our adversary. With some opportunity of observing the condition of Great Britain near at hand, I have no hesitation in saying that she was never capable of greater efforts than she is at the present moment. I know that her inordinate distention contains within itself an element of vital weakness. It is not in the order of human society that so extended a dominion should remain long unbroken. But I have not yet been able to detect, in the condition of her body politic, the unerring symptoms of that decay which precedes and works out the dissolution of empires. She has great abuses to struggle against. The Senator from Ohio has well and graphically described them. She has enormous burdens to sustain; but she has great strength to bear them. Her soldiers are not like those of Rome in its latter days, enervated in vigor and relaxed in discipline. You will find them in every quarter of the globe: under the fiery heat of the equator, and amid the frosts of the arctic circle, braving the elements, and setting danger and toil, in every form, at defiance. But, sir, I pretend not, with my narrow foresight, to look into the future. It is possible that her hour may be near at hand. But we know that the last struggle of the strong man is always the most desperate, and sometimes the most dangerous to the antagonist who has brought him to the ground.
I say this in no spirit of timidity. I say it in a spirit of prudent forecast, with the desire that we may go into the contest, if it shall come, with the assurance that we have to deal with a strong adversary and not a weak one, and that our preparation may be commensurate with the means of offence to which we shall be exposed. I have no doubt of our ability both to defend ourselves and to give back effective blows in return. We were never so strong as we are at the present moment: strong in our position, strong in our means, strong in the spirit and energy of our people. Our defenceless condition has been greatly overstated. We have been told that our coast is denuded. I have heard, whether on this floor or elsewhere I do not know, that there is scarcely a gun mounted for the defence of the commercial metropolis of my own State. There cannot be a greater error. There are hundreds of guns, of heavy calibre, in the city of New York, ready, at the very hour in which I speak, to receive an assailant, and as many more which can be placed in position in an emergency, and this independently of guns afloat. In thirty days I believe the city might be rendered, with a skilful engineer, and with the means which might be placed at his command, prepared — well prepared — against a maritime assault. But, sir, I turn away from all these forebodings of evil. I have confidence in the continuance of peace. I believe the good sense of both countries will revolt at a contest which can bring no good to either, and secure an adjustment of existing difficulties on terms honorable to both. Such is my conviction. But, sir, if I am deceived, then I have only to say, that, while I would be constrained by nothing but overruling necessity to take up the sword, yet, if the necessity shall come, I trust we shall never consent to lay it down until the rights and the honor of the country shall have been fully vindicated.
On the Bill to provide for the Satisfaction of Claims of American Citizens for Spoliations on their Property committed by the French prior to the Ratification of the Convention with France, of September, 1800.1
Having been appointed a member of the Select Committee to which the subject under consideration was referred, and having, after the most careful examination I have been able to give it, come to conclusions adverse to those at which the majority of the committee have arrived, I deem it incumbent on me to state to the Senate the grounds on which my conclusions rest. Nothing but a sense of duty, arising from the position in which I have been placed, would induce me to trespass on the attention of the Senate. I yield my reluctance to take part in the debate, not merely to the fact that I am a member of the committee specially charged with the examination of the subject, but to the consideration that I am one of the minority of the committee, and, therefore, in some degree, bound to assign the grounds of my dissent from the opinion of the majority. I regret that the distinguished Senator from North Carolina, on the other side of the House,2 who constitutes with myself the minority of the committee, has not undertaken the performance of this duty, assured, as I am, that the Senator's longer experience and greater familiarity with the subject would have enabled him to present it to the Senate much
i Delivered on the 27th of April, 1846.
more satisfactorily than I can hope to do. But the task has devolved on me, and I will perform it to the best of my ability, though fully conscious of the great disadvantage under which I shall labor in following the Senator from Delaware,1 to whose able argument the Senate had the pleasure of listening on the last two days it was in session.
The Senator commenced his remarks with the observation, that no portion of our fellow-citizens of equal number had less interest in this application than his constituents. No one can appreciate better than myself the enviable position which the Senator occupies in this respect. I wish most sincerely I were in the same position. But, unfortunately, it is quite otherwise. A large amount of these claims is held in my own State, an amount supposed to be equal to one third of the whole; so that, if this supposition Were true, and this bill should pass, about seventeen hundred thousand dollars, of the five millions proposed to be appropriated in satisfaction of the claims, would be paid to my constituents. Under these circumstances, it is natural that the subject should have been pressed upon me, not improperly — far from it — but with an earnestness proportioned to the magnitude of the interest at stake. It has been, in some instances, by personal friends for whom I entertain the sincerest regard, and in others, by gentlemen of high standing in the city of New York; — by some who are deeply interested in the claims, and by others who, without any interest in them, believe they constitute a valid demand on the public treasury. I have felt the strongest inducements, therefore, — the inducements of respect and personal regard for some of the claimants, — to take the most favorable view of the subject consistent with overruling considerations of public duty. I have endeavored to do them full justice in my examination of it. I requested them, before I had read a word on the subject, to present their case to me. They did so. I have read all the argu1 Mr. John M. Clayton.
merits on their side of the question: reviews, reports, and speeches; and among others the very able and condensed statement of their case contained in a speech made to the Senate on the 12th of January, 1835, by the distinguished Senator from Massachusetts,1 who was then, as he is now, the chairman of the select committee appointed to investigate the subject. I have read all these arguments carefully, and with a sincere desire to allow them the full weight to which they are entitled, not only on account of the high sources from which many of them emanated, but from the ability and force with which the subject has been treated.
Having performed this act of justice to the claimants, I felt that I had also a duty to discharge to the public, — a duty to be fulfilled only by a careful examination of the official documents relating to the case. Those documents are contained in the volume I hold in my hand, — a volume of 840 pages, consisting of "A Message from the President of the United States, transmitted to Congress on the 20th of May, 1826, in compliance with a resolution of the Senate; with copies of instructions to the Ministers of the United States to the Government of France, and of the correspondence with said government, having reference to the spoliations committed by that Power on the commerce of the United States anterior to September SO, 1800." I have read this volume, though it is probable that, in the examination of so voluminous a mass of papers, — an examination constantly interrupted by the pressure of other official duties, — much may have escaped me which I ought to have noticed; and it is equally probable that I may not have drawn from the parts which I consider particularly relevant to the subject, the most proper conclusions in all cases. But it has been my aim to do so; and if I have erred in any respect, I will most cheerfully correct my error whenever it shall be clearly pointed out.
1 Mr. Webster.