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LETTER 66 FROM CHIEF JUSTICE MARSHALL TO
January 23, 1831. DEAR SIR:
I have just received the copy of you “ Speeches and Forensic Arguments,” and am much flattered by this mark of your attention. I beg you to present my compliments to Mrs. Webster; and to say that I think myself, in part, indebted to her for it. At all events, she has, I perceive, had some agency in conferring the favor.
I shall read the volume with pleasure, and preserve it with care.
Will you allow me to say that, on looking over the contents, I felt at the first moment some disappointment at not seeing two speeches delivered by you in the first Congress, I believe, of which you were a member. With great and respectful esteem,
I am, your obedient,
One of the first acts of Mr. Webster on entering Congress was to introduce certain resolutions calling upon the Executive for information respecting the time and mode in which the repeal of the French Decrees had been communicated to our Government. As this whole matter stood before the public at the time of the declaration of war, it appeared that our Government had been deceived by the French Ministry, or that they were in possession of a repealing decree when the war was declared, and had withheld it; for no such degree had made its appearance until after the declaration had passed through Congress. Mr. Webster considered that the reputation of this country was at stake in this affair, because the French foreign secretary had declared to the American Minister at Paris, on the ist of May, 1812, that a copy of the repealing decree had been furnished to his predecessor, and that another had been transmitted to the French Minister at Washington at the time of its date, which was April 28, 1811. Mr. Webster, therefore, for the purpose of eliciting all the facts, and in order to have them placed in their true light before the country, so framed his resolutions that, if they were 65“ Life of Daniel Webster,” Curtis, Vol. I, p. 110.
answered at all, the whole matter must be disclosed. The resolutions were introduced by him on the roth of June, 1813, accompanied by some temperate remarks concerning the doubt in which this matter was then enveloped. What Mr. Webster said on this occasion strongly attracted the attention of Chief Justice Marshall.
Nearly twenty years afterward, when Mr. Webster's collected speeches were first published, we see by the above letter that the Chief Justice was greatly disappointed at not finding the speech, here alluded to, in the volume.
On the same day that the above letter was written to Webster by Marshall Judge Story wrote one to Webster also, which further explains the above letter, and also verifies it in an excellent manner, and shows the aged Chief Justice, now seventy-five years old, to have a freshness of memory very unusual. The letter from Judge Story to Daniel Webster was as follows:
WASHINGTON, January 23, 1831. MY DEAR SIR:
After the Chief Justice (Marshall) had received the volume of your speeches this morning, he came into my chamber, and told me he had been looking over the index, and noticed two omissions of speeches which he remembered you had made in Congress at an early period of your public life, and which he had then read. One was on some resolutions, calling upon President Madison for the proof of the repeal of the Berlin and Milan Decrees; the other on the subject of the Previous Question. He observed: “I read these speeches with very great pleasure and satisfaction at the time. At the time when the first was delivered, I did not know Mr. Webster; but I was so much struck with it, that I did not hesitate then to state that Mr. Webster was a very able man, and would become one of the very first statesmen in America, and perhaps the very first."
Such praise from such a source ought to be very gratifying. Consider that he is now seventy-five years old, and that he speaks of his recollections of you some eighteen years ago with a freshness which shows you how deeply your reasoning impressed itself on his mind. Keep this in memoriam rei.
Yours very truly, The Hon. DANIEL WEBSTER.
LETTER 66 FROM JOHN MARSHALL ON THE MODE OF
SELECTING A PRESIDENT James Wilson of Pennsylvania, one of the ablest and wisest men of the country, in the Convention that framed the Constitution (as appears in the “ Debates ” of that body, reported by Madison,) on the 24th of July, 1787, said the great difficulty seems to spring from the Mode of election. He suggested a mode, that the Executive be elected for six years, by not more than fifteen members of the national legislature, to be drawn from it by lot, and to make the election without separating, thus avoiding intrigue in the first instance, and also diminishing dependence.
James Hillhouse was one of the strong men of the first age of the Republic. On the 12th of April, 1808, he introduced in the Senate of the United States certain articles of amendment of the Constitution, which included a reduction of the term of office of the President to one year, of Senators to three years, Congressmen to one year, and also the abolition of the office of Vice-President.
Nothing came at the time from the proposals of either Mr. Wilson or Mr. Hillhouse. The plans of these two distinguished statesmen, like other truths, cannot be made acceptable, by any force of reason or persuasion, but only by experience. Upham in his Life of Pickering says: Experience long ago wrought a conviction in the best minds known in our history, that such a mode of selecting a President as Mr. Hillhouse, following Mr. Wilson, had urged, ought to be adopted.” After the former had retired from public life, and more than twenty years had intervened, he opened a correspondence on the very same subject with some of the most eminent of his former associates and acquaintances. Chief Justice Marshall, writing in 1830, says his views of this subject had changed a good deal since 1808.” He also says: “ Your plan comes in conflict with so many opposing interests and deep-rooted prejudices, that I would despair of its success, were its ability still more apparent than it is.” Again, “We must proceed with our present system, till its evils become still more obvious." His views are fully presented in the following passage:
66 “ Life of Pickering,” Vol. III, pp. 108, 109.
“My own private mind has been slowly and reluctantly advancing to the belief that the present mode of choosing the Chief Magistrate threatens the most serious danger to the public happiness. The passions of men are inflamed to so fearful an extent, large masses are so embittered against each other, that I dread the consequences. The election agitates every section of the United States, and the ferment is never to subside. Scarcely is a President elected, before the machinations, respecting a successor, commence. Every political question is affected by it. All those who are in office, all those who want office, are put in motion. The angriest, I might say the worst, passions are roused, and put into full activity. Vast masses united closely, move in opposite directions, animated with the most hostile feelings towards each other. What is to be the effect of all this? Age is, perhaps, unreasonably timid. Certain it is, that I now dread consequences that I once thought imaginary. I feel disposed to take refuge under some less turbulent and less dangerous mode of choosing the Chief Magistrate; and my mind suggests none less objectionable than that you have proposed. We shall no longer be enlisted under the banners of particular men. Strife will no longer be excited, when it can no longer effect its object. Neither the people at large, nor the councils of the nation, will be agitated by the all-disturbing question, Who shall be President? Yet he will, in truth, be chosen substantially by the people. The Senators must always be among the most able men of the States. Though not appointed for the particular purpose, they must always be appointed for important purposes, and must possess a large share of the public confidence.
If the people of the United States were to elect as many persons as compose one Senatorial class, and the President was to be chosen among them by lot, in the manner you propose, he would be substantially elected by the people; and yet, such a mode of election would be recommended by no advantages which your plan does not possess. In many respects, it would be less eligible.
Reasoning a priori, I should undoubtedly pronounce the system adopted by the Convention the best that could be devised. Judging from experience, I am driven to a different conclusion.”
Chancellor Kent wrote as follows: “ The popular election of the President (which, by the way, was not intended by the framers of the Constitution) is that part of the machine of our government that I am afraid, is doomed to destroy
“Our plan of election of a President, I apprehend, has failed of its purpose, as it was presumed and foretold that it would fail, by some of the profoundest statesmen of 1787 . has already disturbed and corrupted the administration of the government, and cherishes intrigue, duplicity, abuse of power,' etc.
LETTER 07 FROM CHIEF JUSTICE MARSHALL TO
JAMES K. PAULDING
RICHMOND, April 4th 1835. SIR:
Your favor of the 22d of March was received in the course of the mail, but I have been confined to my room, and am only now resuming my pen.
The single difficulty I feel in complying with your request arises from my repugnance to anything which may be construed into an evidence of that paltry vanity which, if I know myself forms no part of my character. To detail any conversation which might seem to insinuate that General Washington considered my engaging in the political transactions of the United States an object of sufficient consequence to induce him to take an interest in effecting it, may look like boasting that I held a more favorable place in the opinion of that great man than the fact would justify. I do not, however, think that this, perhaps, fastidious feeling would justify a refusal to answer an enquiry made in terms entitled to my sincere acknowledgments.
All who were then old enough to notice the public affairs of the United States, recollect the arduous struggle of 1798
General Washington, it is well known, took a deep interest in it. He believed that the real independence, the practical self government of our country, depended greatly on its issue – on our resisting the encroachments of France.
I had devoted myself to my profession, and, though actively and zealously engaged in support of the measures of his ad
67 Lippincott's Magazine, Vol. II, pp. 624-625.