The World’s Famous Orations.
America: II. (1818–1865). 1906.
Robert Young Hayne
On the Foote Resolution
If this system is carried much farther, no man can fail to see that every generous motive of attachment to the country will be destroyed; and in its place will spring up those low, groveling, base and selfish feelings which bind men to the footstool of a despot by bonds as strong and enduring as those which attach them to free institutions. Sir, I would lay the foundation of this government in the affections of the people—I would teach them to cling to it by dispensing equal justice, and above all, by securing the “blessings of liberty” to “themselves and to their posterity.”
We are ready to make up the issue with the gentleman, as to the influence of slavery on individual and national character—on the prosperity and greatness, either of the United States or of particular States. Sir, when arraigned before the bar of public opinion, on this charge of slavery, we can stand up with conscious rectitude, plead not guilty, and put ourselves upon God and our country. Sir, we will not consent to look at slavery in the abstract. We will not stop to inquire whether the black man, as some philosophers have contended, is of an inferior race, nor whether his color and condition are effects of a curse inflicted for the offenses of his ancestors. We deal in no abstractions. We will not look back to inquire whether our fathers were guiltless in introducing slaves into this country. If an inquiry should ever be instituted in these matters, however, it will be found that the profits of the slave-trade were not confined to the South Southern ships and Southern sailors were not the instruments of bringing slaves to the shores of America, nor did our merchants reap the profits of that “accursed traffic.”
But, sir, we will pass over all this. If slavery, as it now exists in this country, be an evil, we of the present day found it ready made to our hands. Finding our lot cast among a people whom God had manifestly committed to our care, we did not sit down to speculate on abstract questions of theoretical liberty. We met it as a practical question of obligation and duty. We resolved to make the best of the situation in which providence had placed us, and to fulfil the high trusts which had devolved upon us as the owners of slaves, in the only way in which such a trust could be fulfilled without spreading misery and ruin throughout the land. We found that we had to deal with a people whose physical, moral and intellectual habits and character totally disqualified them from the enjoyment of the blessings of freedom. We could not send them back to the shores from whence their fathers had been taken; their numbers forbade the thought, even if we did not know that their condition here is infinitely preferable to what it possibly could be among the barren sands and savage tribes of Africa; and it was wholly irreconcilable with all our notions of humanity to tear assunder the tender ties which they had formed among us, to gratify the feelings of a false philanthropy.
What a commentary on the wisdom, justice, and humanity of the Southern slave-owner is presented by the example of certain benevolent associations and charitable individuals elsewhere! Shedding weak tears over sufferings which had existence only in their own sickly imaginations, these “friends of humanity” set themselves systematically to work to seduce the slaves of the South from their masters. By means of missionaries and political tracts, the scheme was in a great measure successful. Thousands of t se deluded victims of fanaticism were seduced into the enjoyment of freedom in our Northern cities. And what has been the consequence? Go to these cities now and ask the question. Visit the dark and narrow lanes, and obscure recesses which have been assigned by common consent as the abodes of those outcasts of the world—the free people of color. Sir, there does not exist on the face of the whole earth a population so poor, so wretched, so vile, so loathsome, so utterly destitute of all the comforts, conveniences, and decencies of life, as the unfortunate blacks of Philadelphia, and New York and Boston. Liberty has been to them the greatest of calamities, the heaviest of curses.
Sir, I have had some opportunities of making comparison between the condition of the free negroes of the North and the slaves of the South, and the comparison has left not only an indelible impression of the superior advantages of the latter, but has gone far to reconcile me to slavery itself. Never have I felt so forcibly that touching description, “The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man hath not where to lay his head,” as when I have seen this unhappy race, naked and houseless, almost starving in the streets, and abandoned by all the world. Sir, I have seen, in the neighborhood of one of the most moral, religious and refined cities of the North, a family of free blacks driven to the caves of the rocks, and there obtaining a precarious existence from charity and plunder.
When the gentleman from Massachusetts adopts and reiterates the old charge of weakness as resulting from slavery, I must be permitted to call for the proof of those blighting effects which he ascribes to its influence. I suspect that when the subject is closely examined, it will be found that there is not much force even in the plausible objection of the want of physical power in slave-holding States. The power of a country is compounded of its population and its wealth, and in modern times, where, from the very form and structure of society, by far the greater portion of the people must, even during the continuance of the most desolating wars, be employed in the cultivation of the soil and other peaceful pursuits, it may be well doubted whether slave-holding States, by reason of the superior value of their productions, are not able to maintain a number of troops in the field fully equal to what could be supported by States with a larger white population, but not possesed of equal resources.
It is a popular error to suppose that in any possible state of things the people of a country could ever be called out en masse, or that a half, or a third, or even a fifth part of the physical force of any country could ever be brought into the field. The difficulty is not to procure men, but to provide the means of maintaining them; and in this view of the subject it may be asked whether the Southern States are not a source of strength and power and not of weakness to the country—whether they have not contributed, and are not now contributing largely to the wealth and prosperity of every State in this Union. From a statement which I hold in my hand it appears that in ten years—from 1818 to 1827, inclusive—the whole amount of the domestic exports of the United States was $521,811,045. Of this, three articles (the product of slave labor)—viz., cotton, rice, and tobacco—amounted to $339,203,232, equal to about two-thirds of the whole. It is not true, as has been supposed, that the advantages of this labor are confined almost exclusively to the Southern States. Sir, I am thoroughly convinced that at this time the States north of the Potomac actually derive greater profits from the labor of our slaves than we do ourselves. It appears from our public documents that in seven years, from 1821 to 1827 inclusive, the six Southern States exported $190,337,281, and imported only $55,646,301. Now the difference between these two sums (near $140,000,000) passed through the hands of the Northern merchants, and enabled them to carry on their commercial operations with all the world. Such part of these goods as found its way back to our hands came charged with the duties, as well as the profits of the merchant, the ship-owner, and a host of others, who found employment in carrying on these immense exchanges; and for such part as was consumed in the North we received in exchange Northern manufactures charged with an increased price to cover all the taxes which the Northern consumer has been compelled to pay on the imported article. It will be seen, therefore, at a glance how much slave labor has contributed to the wealth and prosperity of the United States, and how largely our Northern brethren have participated in the profits of that labor.
There is a spirit which, like the father of evil, is constantly “walking to and fro about the earth, seeking whom it may devour”: it is the spirit of false philanthropy. The persons whom it possesses do not indeed throw themselves into the flames, but they are employed in lighting up the torches of discord throughout the community. Their first principle of action is to leave their own affairs, and neglect their own duties, to regulate the affairs and duties of others. Theirs is the task to feed the hungry and clothe the naked of other lands, while they thrust the naked, famished, and shivering beggar from their own doors—to instruct the heathen while their own children want the bread of life.
When this spirit infuses itself into the bosom of a statesman (if one so possessed can be called a statesman), it converts him at once into a visionary enthusiast. Then it is that he indulges in golden dreams of national greatness and prosperity. He discovers that “liberty is power,” and, not content with vast schemes of improvement at home which it would bankrupt the treasury of the world to execute, he flies to foreign lands to fulfil obligations to “the human race,” by inculcating the principles of “political and religious liberty,” and promoting the “general welfare” of the whole human race. It is a spirit which has long been busy with the slaves of the South and is even now displaying itself in vain efforts to drive the government from its wise policy in relation to the Indians. It is this spirit which has filled the land with thousands of wild and visionary projects which can have no effect but to waste the energies and dissipate the resources of the country. It is the spirit of which the aspiring politician dexterously avails himself when, by inscribing on his banner the magical words, Liberty and Philanthropy, he draws to his support that class of persons who are ready to bow down at the very name of their idols.
But, sir, whatever difference of opinion may exist as to the effect of slavery on national wealth and prosperity, if we may trust to experience, there can be no doubt that it has never yet produced any injurious effect on individual or national character. Look through the whole history of the country from the commencement of the Revolution down to the present hour; where are there to be found brighter examples of intellectual and moral greatness than have been exhibited by the sons of the South? From the Father of his Country down to the distinguished chieftain who has been elevated by a grateful people to the highest office in their gift, the interval is filled up by a long line of orators, of statesmen, and of heroes, justly entitled to rank among the ornaments of their country, and the benefactors of mankind. Look at “the Old Dominion,” great and magnanimous Virginia, “whose jewels are her sons.” Is there any State in this Union which has contributed so much to the honor and welfare of the country? Sir, I will yield the whole question—I will acknowledge the fatal effects of slavery upon character, if any one can say that for noble disinterestedness, ardent love of country, exalted virtue, and a pure and holy devotion to liberty, the people of the Southern States have ever been surpassed by any in the world.
The senator from Massachusetts tells us that the tariff is not an Eastern measure, and treats it as if the East had no interest in it. The senator from Missouri insists it is not a Western measure, and that it has done no good to the West. The South comes in, and in the most earnest manner represents to you that this measure, which we are told “is of no value to the East or the West,” is “utterly destructive of our interests.” We represent to you that it has spread ruin and devastation through the land and prostrated our hopes in the dust. We solemnly declare that we believe the system to be wholly unconstitutional and a violation of the compact between the States and the Union; and our brethren turn a deaf ear to our complaints, and refuse to relieve us from a system “which not enriches them, but makes us poor indeed.” Good God! Mr. President, has it come to this? Do gentlemen hold the feelings and wishes of their brethren at so cheap a rate that they refuse to gratify them at so small a price? Do gentlemen value so lightly the peace and harmony of the country that they will not yield a measure of this description to the affectionate entreaties and earnest remonstrances of their friends? Do gentlemen estimate the value of the Union at so low a price that they will not even make one effort to bind the States together with the cords of affection? And has it come to this? Is this the spirit in which this government is to be administered? If so, let me tell gentlemen the seeds of dissolution are already sown, and our children will reap the bitter fruit.
What, sir, was the conduct of the South during the Revolution? Sir, I honor New England for her conduct in that glorious struggle. But great as is the praise which belongs to her I think at least equal honor is due to the South. They espoused the quarrel of their brethren with a generous zeal which did not suffer them to stop to calculate their interest in the dispute. Favorites of the mother country, possessed of neither ships nor seamen to create a commercial rivalship, they might have found in their situation a guaranty that their trade would be for ever fostered and protected by Great Britain. But trampling on all considerations either of interest or of safety, they rushed into the conflict, and fighting for principle, periled all in the sacred cause of freedom. Never was there exhibited in the history of the world higher examples of noble daring, dreadful suffering, and heroic endurance than by the Whigs of Carolina during the Revolution. The whole State, from the mountains to the sea, was overrun by an overwhelming force of the enemy. The fruits of industry perished on the spot where they were produced, or were consumed by the foe. The “plains of Carolina” drank up the most precious blood of her citizens! Black and smoking ruins marked the places which had been the habitations of her children! Driven from their homes into the gloomy and almost impenetrable swamps, even there the spirit of liberty survived, and South Carolina (sustained by the example of her Sumters and her Marions) proved by her conduct that tho the soil might be overrun, the spirit of her people was invincible.
I come now to the War of 1812—a war which I well remember was called in derision (while its event was doubtful) the Southern War, and sometimes the Carolina War, but which is now universally acknowledged to have done more for the honor and prosperity of the country than all other events in our history put together. What, sir, were the objects of that war? “Free trade and sailors’ rights!” It was for the protection of Northern shipping and New England seamen that the country flew to arms. What interest had the South in that contest? If they had sat down coldly to calculate the value of their interests involved in it, they would have found that they had everything to lose and nothing to gain. But, sir, with that generous devotion to country so characteristic of the South, they only asked if the rights of any portion of their fellow citizens had been invaded; and when told that Northern ships and New England seamen had been arrested on the common highway of nations, they felt that the honor of their country was assailed; and acting on that exalted sentiment “which feels a stain like a wound,” they resolved to seek in open war for a redress of those injuries which it did not become freemen to endure.
Sir, the whole South, animated as by a common impulse, cordially united in declaring and promoting that war. South Carolina sent to your councils, as the advocates and supporters of that war, the noblest of her sons. How they fulfilled that trust let a grateful country tell. Not a measure was adopted, not a battle fought, not a victory won which contributed in any degree to the success of that war to which Southern councils and Southern valor did not largely contribute.
It will be recollected, sir, that our great causes of quarrel with Great Britain were her depredations on Northern commerce and the impressment of New England seamen. From every quarter we were called upon for protection. Importunate as the West is now represented to be on another subject, the importunity of the East on that occasion was far greater. I hold in my hands the evidence of the fact. Here are petitions, memorials, and remonstrances from all parts of New England, setting forth the injustice, the oppression, the depredations, the insults, the outrages committed by Great Britain against the unoffending commerce and seamen of New England, and calling upon Congress for redress.
Well, sir, the war at length came, and what did we behold? The very men who had been for six years clamorous for war, and for whose protection it was waged, became at once equally clamorous against it. They had received a miraculous visitation; a new light suddenly beamed upon their minds, the scales fell from their eyes, and it was discovered that the war was declared from “subserviency to France”; that Congress, and the executive, “had sold themselves to Napoleon”; that Great Britain had, in fact, “done us no essential injury”; that she was “the bulwark of our religion”; that where “she took one of our ships, she protected twenty”; and that if Great Britain had impressed a few of our seamen, it was because “she could not distinguish them from her own.” And so far did this spirit extend that a committee of the Massachusetts Legislature actually fell to calculation, and discovered to their infinite satisfaction, but to the astonishment of all the world beside, that only eleven Massachusetts sailors had ever been impressed.
Never shall I forget the appeals that had been made to the sympathies of the South, in behalf of the “thousands of impressed Americans” who had been torn from their families and friends, and “immured in the floating dungeons of Britain.” The most touching pictures were drawn of the hard condition of the American sailor, “treated like a slave,” forced to fight the battles of his enemy, “lashed to the mast, to be shot at like a dog.” But, sir, the very moment we had taken up arms in their defense, it was discovered that all these were mere “fictions of the brain”; and that the whole number in the State of Massachusetts was but eleven; and that even these had been “taken by mistake.” Wonderful discovery! The secretary of state had collected authentic lists of no less than six thousand impressed Americans. Lord Castlereagh himself acknowledged sixteen hundred. Calculations on the basis of the number found on board of the Guerriere, the Macedonian, the Java, and other British ships (captured by the skill and gallantry of those heroes whose achievements are the treasured monuments of their country’s glory), fixed the number at seven thousand; and yet, it seems, Massachusetts had lost but eleven! Eleven Massachusetts sailors taken by mistake! A cause of war, indeed! Their ships, too, the capture of which had threatened “universal bankruptcy,” it was discovered that Great Britain was their friend and protector; “where she had taken one, she had protected twenty.” Then was the discovery made that subserviency to France, hostility to commerce, “a determination on the part of the South and West to break down the Eastern States,” and especially (as reported by a committee of the Massachusetts Legislature) “to force the sons of commerce to populate the wilderness,” were the true causes of the war.
But let us look a little further into the conduct of the peace party of New England at that important crisis. Whatever difference of opinion might have existed as to the causes of the war, the country had a right to expect that when once involved in the contest, all America would have cordially united in its support. Sir, the war effected in its progress a union of all parties at the South. But not so in New England; there, great efforts were made to stir up the minds of the people to oppose it. Nothing was left undone to embarrass the financial operations of the government, to prevent the enlistment of troops, to keep back the men and money of New England from the service of the Union—to force the president from his seat. Yes, sir, “the island of Elba! or a halter!” were the alternatives they presented to the excellent and venerable James Madison.
Sir, the war was further opposed by openly carrying on illicit trade with the enemy, by permitting that enemy to establish herself on the very soil of Massachusetts, and by opening a free trade between Great Britain and America with a separate custom-house. Yes, sir, those who can not endure the thought that we should insist on a free trade in time of profound peace, could without scruple claim and exercise the right of carrying on a free trade with the enemy in a time of war; and finally, by getting up the renowned “Hartford Convention,” and preparing the way for an open resistance to the government, and a separation of the States. Sir, if I am asked for the proof of those things I fearlessly appeal to contemporary history, to the public documents of the country, to the recorded opinion and acts of public assemblies, to the declaration and acknowledgments, since made, of the executive and Legislature of Massachusetts herself.
As soon as the public mind was sufficiently prepared for the measure, the celebrated Hartford Convention was got up; not as the act of a few unauthorized individuals, but by authority of the Legislature of Massachusetts; and, as has been shown by the able historian of that convention, in accordance with the views and wishes of the party of which it was the organ. Now, sir, I do not desire to call in question the motives of the gentlemen who composed that assembly—I knew many of them to be in private life accomplished and honorable men, and I doubt not there were some among them who did not perceive the dangerous tendency of their proceedings. I will even go further and say that if the authors of the Hartford Convention believed that “gross, deliberate, and palpable violations of the Constitution” had taken place, utterly destructive of their rights and interests, I should be the last man to deny their rights to resort to any constitutional measures for redress. But, sir, in any view of the case, the time when, and the circumstances under which that convention assembled, as well as the measures recommended, render their conduct, in my opinion, wholly indefensible.
Who, then, Mr. President, are the true friends of the Union? Those who would confine the federal government strictly within the limits prescribed by the Constitution; who would preserve to the States and the people all powers not expressly delegated; who would make this a federal and not a national Union, and who, administering the government in a spirit of equal justice, would make it a blessing and not a curse. And who are its enemies? Those who are in favor of consolidation—who are constantly stealing power from the States and adding strength to the federal government. Who, assuming an unwarrantable jurisdiction over the States and the people, undertake to regulate the whole industry and capital of the country. But, sir, of all descriptions of men, I consider those as the worst enemies of the Union who sacrifice the equal rights which belong to every member of the Confederacy to combinations of interested majorities, for personal or political objects.
Thus, it will be seen, Mr. President, that the South Carolina doctrine is the republican doctrine of ’98—that it—that promulgated by the fathers of the faith—that it was maintained by Virginia and Kentucky in the worst of times—that it constituted the very pivot on which the political revolution of that day turned—that it embraces the very principles, the triumph of which at that time saved the Constitution at its last gasp, and which New England statesmen were not unwilling to adopt, when they believed themselves to be the victims of unconstitutional legislation. Sir, as to the doctrine that the federal government is the exclusive judge of the extent as well as the limitations of its powers, it seems to me to be utterly subversive of the sovereignty and independence of the States. It makes but little difference, in my estimation, whether Congress or the Supreme Court is invested with this power. If the federal government, in all or any of its departments, is to prescribe the limits of its own authority, and the States are bound to submit to the decision, and are not to be allowed to examine and decide for themselves when the barriers of the Constitution shall be overleaped, this is practically “a government without limitation of powers.” The States are at once reduced to mere petty corporations, and the people are entirely at your mercy.
I have but one more word to add. In all the efforts that have been made by South Carolina to resist the unconstitutional laws which Congress has extended over them, she has kept steadily in view the preservation of the Union by the only means by which she believes it can be long preserved—a firm, manly, and steady resistance against usurpation. The measures of the federal government have, it is true, prostrated her interests, and will soon involve the whole South in irretrievable ruin. But even this evil, great as it is, is not the chief ground of our complaints. It is the principle involved in the contest—a principle which, substituting the discretion of Congress for the limitations of the Constitution, brings the States and the people to the feet of the federal government, and leaves them nothing they can call their own. Sir, if the measures of the federal government were less oppressive, we should still strive against this usurpation. The South is acting on a principle she has always held sacred—resistance to unauthorized taxation. These, sir, are the principles which induced the immortal Hampden to resist the payment of a tax of twenty shillings. Would twenty shillings have ruined his fortune? No! but the payment of half twenty shillings, on the principle on which it was demanded, would have made him a slave. Sir, if in acting on these high motives—if, animated by that ardent love of liberty which has always been the most prominent trait in the Southern character—we should be hurried beyond the bounds of a cold and calculating prudence, who is there, with one noble and generous sentiment in his bosom, that would not be disposed, in the language of Burke, to exclaim: “You must pardon something to the spirit of liberty!”