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Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891.
Vols. IX–XI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 1861–1889

A Plea for Peace and Loyalty

By DeWitt Clinton (1769–1828)

[From a Speech on the Navigation of the Mississippi. U. S. Senate, 3 February, 1803.]

AS a young nation, pursuing industry in every channel, and adventuring commerce in every sea, it is highly important that we should not only have a pacific character, but that we should really deserve it. If we manifest an unwarrantable ambition, and a rage for conquest, we unite all the great powers of Europe against us. The security of all the European possessions in our vicinity will eternally depend, not upon their strength, but upon our moderation and justice. Look at the Canadas; at the Spanish territories to the south; at the British, Spanish, French, Danish, and Dutch West India Islands; at the vast countries to the west, as far as where the Pacific rolls its waves. Consider well the eventful consequences that would result, if we were possessed by a spirit of conquest. Consider well the impression which a manifestation of that spirit will make upon those who would be affected by it. If we are to rush at once into the territory of a neighboring nation, with fire and sword, for the misconduct of a subordinate officer, will not our national character be greatly injured? Will we not be classed with the robbers and destroyers of mankind? Will not the nations of Europe perceive in this conduct the germ of a lofty spirit, and an enterprising ambition which will level them to the earth, when age has matured our strength, and expanded our powers of annoyance—unless they combine to cripple us in our infancy? May not the consequences be, that we must look out for a naval force to protect our commerce. That a close alliance will result. That we will be thrown at once into the ocean of European politics, where every wave that rolls, and every wind that blows, will agitate our bark? Is this a desirable state of things? Will the people of this country be seduced into it by all the colorings of rhetoric and all the arts of sophistry; by vehement appeals to their pride, and artful addresses to their cupidity? No, sir. Three-fourths of the American people, I assert it boldly and without fear of contradiction, are opposed to this measure. And would you take up arms with a mill-stone hanging round your neck? How would you bear up, not only against the force of the enemy, but against the irresistible current of public opinion? The thing, sir, is impossible; the measure is worse than madness: it is wicked, beyond the powers of description.

It is in vain for the mover to oppose these weighty considerations by menacing us with an insurrection of the Western States, that may eventuate in their seizure of New Orleans without the authority of Government; their throwing themselves into the arms of a foreign power—or in a dissolution of the Union. Such threats are doubly improper: improper as they respect the persons to whom they are addressed—because we are not to be terrified from the performance of our duty by menaces of any kind, from whatever quarter they may proceed; and it is no less improper to represent our western brethren as a lawless, unprincipled banditti, who would at once release themselves from the wholesome restraints of law and order, forego the sweets of liberty, and either renounce the blessings of self-government, or like the Goths and Vandals, pour down with the irresistible force of a torrent upon the countries below, and carry havoc and desolation in their train. A separation by a mountain, and a different outlet into the Atlantic, cannot create any natural collision between the Atlantic and Western States. On the contrary, they are bound together by a community of interests, and a similarity of language and manners; by the ties of consanguinity and friendship, and a sameness of principles. There is no reflecting and well-principled man in this country who can view the severance of the States without horror, and who does not consider it as a Pandora’s box which will overwhelm us with every calamity; and it has struck me with not a little astonishment, that on the agitation of almost every great political question, we should be menaced with this evil. Last session, when a bill repealing a judiciary act was under consideration, we were told that the Eastern States would withdraw themselves from the Union if it should obtain; and we are now informed, that if we do not accede to the proposition before us, the Western States will hoist, the standard of revolt, and dismember the empire. Sir, these threats are calculated to produce the evils they predict; and they may possibly approximate the spirit they pretend to warn us against. They are at all times unnecessary—at all times improper—at all times mischievous—and ought never to be mentioned within these walls. If there be a portion of the United States peculiarly attached to republican Government and the present administration, I should select the Western States as that portion. Since the recent elections, there is not a single senator, or a single representative in Congress, from that vast country, unfriendly to the present order of things; and except in a part of the Mississippi Territory—and its whole population did not by the last census reach nine thousand souls—there is scarcely the appearance of opposition. To represent a people so republican, so enlightened, and so firm in their principles, as ready, without any adequate cause (for no Government could watch over their interests with more paternal solicitude than the present upon the present question), to violate their plighted faith and political integrity; to detach themselves from the Government they love, and to throw themselves under the protection of nations whose political systems are entirely repugnant to their own, requires an extent of credulity rarely equalled—certainly never surpassed.