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INAUGURATION AS PRESIDENT-SELECTION OF A CABINET-THE DISTURB
ANCES IN KANSAS-MR. BUCHANAN'S CONSTRUCTION OF THE KANSAS-
ROM the communication which has been furnished to me
by Mr. James Buchanan Henry, I select the following account of the period preceding the inauguration of his uncle as President, on the 4th of March, 1857:
Soon after Mr. Buchanan's election to the Presidency, he sent for me-I was in Philadelphia, where I had begun the practice of the law-to come to Wheatland. He then told me that he had selected me to be his private secretary, and spoke to me gravely of the temptations by which I should probably be assailed in that position. Soon afterwards prominent men and politicians began to make their way to Wheatland in great numbers, and the stream increased steadily until the departure of Mr. Buchanan for Washington.
In addition to personal attendance upon the President-elect, I soon had my hands full of work in examining and briefing the daily mails, which were burdened with letters of recommendation from individuals, committees and delegations of various States, in regard to the cabinet appointments and a few of the more important offices. Mr. Buchanan was also preparing his inaugural address with his usual care and painstaking, and I copied his drafts and recopied them until he had it prepared to his satisfaction. It underwent no alteration after he went to the National Hotel in Washington, except that he there inserted a clause in regard to the question then pending in the Supreme Court, as one that would dispose of a vexed and dangerous topic by the highest judicial authority of the land. When the time came to leave Wheatland for the capital, preliminary to his inauguration, Mr. Buchanan, Miss Lane, Miss Hetty and I drove into Lancaster in his carriage, escorted all the way to the railway station by a great and enthusiastic crowd of Lancaster citizens and personal friends, with a band of music, although it was very early on a bleak winter morning. I remember his modestly remarking upon the vast crowd thus doing reverence to a mortal man. At the station he was met by an ardent personal and political friend, Robert Magraw, then president of the Northern Central Railroad, and received into a special car, built for the occasion, and the windows of which were in colors and represented familiar scenes of and about Wheatland. After receiving ovations all along the way, especially at Baltimore, the President-elect and party arrived safely in Washington. We were somewhat fearful that Mr. Buchanan might be seriously embarrassed during the inaugural ceremonies from the effects of what was then known as the National Hotel disease, a disorder which, from no cause that we could then discover, had attacked nearly every guest at the house, and from the dire effects of which many never wholly recovered. Dr. Foltz, a naval surgeon, whose appointment in the ser. vice, many years before, Mr. Buchanan had assisted, was in constant attendance upon him, and I remember that he and I went together to the Capitol in a carriage just behind the one that conveyed the retiring President and the President-elect, and that he had occasion to administer remedies. The inauguration ceremonies, the ball, and the first reception at the White House by the new President, were very largely attended and successful. It happened that they took place during a short era of good feeling among all shades of politics and party, but unhappily an era of peace destined soon to terminate in bitter discord over the Lecompton Constitution, or Kansas question, and by the more disastrous following appeal to the passions of the two great political sections of the North and the South, which so nearly ended the administration in blood. The dinners at the White House, during the first year, were attended by Republicans as well as Democrats, with great seeming friendship and good-will.
The Inaugural Address of the new President was as follows:
FELLOW-CITIZENS: I appear before you this day to take the solemn oath “that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will, to the best of my ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States."
In entering upon this great office, I most humbly invoke the God of our fathers for wisdom and firmness to execute its high and responsible duties in such a manner as to restore harmony and ancient friendship among the people of the several States, and to preserve our free institutions throughout many generations. Convinced that I owe my election to the inherent love for the Constitution and the Union which still animates the hearts of the American people, let me earnestly ask their powerful support in sustaining all just measures calculated to perpetuate these, the richest political blessings which Heaven has ever bestowed upon any nation. Having determined not to become a candidate for re-election, I shall have no motive to influence my conduct in administering the government except the desire ably and faithfully to serve my country, and to live in the grateful memory of my countrymen.
We have recently passed through a presidential contest in which the passions of our fellow-citizens were excited to the highest degree by questions of deep and vital importance; but when the people proclaimed their will, the tempest at once subsided, and all was calm.
The voice of the majority, speaking in the manner prescribed by the Constitution, was heard, and instant submission followed. Our own country could alone have exhibited so grand and striking a spectacle of the capacity of man for self-government.
What a happy conception, then, was it for Congress to apply this simple rule—that the will of the majority shall govern—to the settlement of the question of domestic slavery in the Territories ! Congress is neither “to legislate slavery into any Territory or State, nor to exclude it therefrom, but to leave the people thereof perfectly free to form and regulate their domestic institutions in their own way, subject only to the Constitution of the United States." As a natural consequence, Congress has also prescribed that, when the Territory of Kansas shall be admitted as a State, it “shall be received into the Union, with or without slavery, as their constitution may prescribe at the time of their admission."
A difference of opinion has arisen in regard to the point of time when the people of a Territory shall decide this question for themselves.
This is, happily, a matter of but little practical importance. Besides, it is a judicial question, which legitimately belongs to the Supreme Court of the United States, before whom it is now pending, and will, it is understood, be speedily and finally settled. To their decision, in common with all good citizens, I shall cheerfully submit, whatever this may be, though it has ever been my individual opinion that, under the Nebraska-Kansas act, the appropriate period will be when the number of actual residents in the Territory shall justify the formation of a constitution with a view to its admission as a State into the Union. But be this as it may, it is the imperative and indispensable duty of the government of the United States to secure to every resident inhabitant the free and independent expression of his opinion by his vote. This sacred right of each individual must be preserved. That being accomplished, nothing can be fairer than to leave the people of a Territory free from all foreign interference, to decide their own destiny for themselves, subject only to the Constitution of the United States.
The whole territorial question being thus settled upon the principle of popular sovereignty-a principle as ancient as free government itself-everything of a practical nature has been decided. No other question remains for adjustment; because all agree that, under the Constitution, slavery in the States is beyond the reach of any human power, except that of the respective States themselves wherein it exists. May we not, then, hope that the long agitation on this subject is approaching its end, and that the geographical parties to which it has given birth, so much dreaded by the Father of his Country, will speedily become extinct? Most happy will it be for the country when the public mind shall be diverted from this question to others of more pressing and practical importance. Throughout the whole progress of this
agitation, which has scarcely known any intermission for more than twenty years, whilst it has been productive of no positive good to any human being, it has been the prolific source of great evils to the master, the slave, and to the whole country. It has alienated and estranged the people of the sister States from each other, and has even seriously endangered the very existence of the Union. Nor has the danger yet entirely ceased. Under our system there is a remedy for all mere political evils in the sound sense and sober judgment of the people. Time is a great corrective. Political subjects which but a few years ago excited and exasperated the public mind have passed away and are now nearly forgotten. But this question of domestic slavery is of far graver importance than any mere political question, because, should the agitation continue, it may eventually endanger the personal safety of a large portion of our countrymen where the institution exists. In that event, no form of government, however admirable in itself, and however productive of material benefits, can compensate for the loss of peace and domestic security around the family altar. Let every Union-loving man, therefore, exert lis best influence to suppress this agitation, which, since the recent legislation of Congress, is without any legitimate object.
It is an evil omen of the times that men have undertaken to calculate the mere material value of the Union. Reasoned estimates have been presented of the pecuniary profits and local advantages which would result to different States and sections from its dissolution, and of the comparative injuries which such an event would inflict on other States and sections. Even descending to this low and narrow view of the mighty question, all such calculations are at fault. The bare reference to a single consideration will be conclusive on this point. We at present enjoy a free trade throughout our extensive and expanding country, such as the world has never witnessed. This trade is conducted on railroads and canals-on noble rivers and arms of the sea—which bind together the north and the south, the east and the west of our confederacy. Annihilate this trade, arrest its free progress by the geographical lines of jealous and hostile States, and you destroy the prosperity and onward march of the wbole and every part, and involve all in one common ruin. But such considerations, important as they are in themselves, sink into insignificance when we reflect on the terrific evils which would result from disunion to every portion of the confederacy-to the north not more than to the south, to the east not more than to the west. These I shall not attempt to portray; because I feel an humble confidence that the kind Providence which inspired our fathers with wisdom to frame the most perfect form of Government and Union ever devised by man will not suffer it to perish until it shall have been peacefully instrumental, by its example, in the extension of civil and religious liberty throughout the world.
Next in importance to the maintenance of the Constitution and the Union is the duty of preserving the government free from the taint, or even the suspicion, of corruption. Public virtue is the vital spirit of republics; and history shows that when this has decayed, and the love of money has usurped its
place, although the forms of free government may remain for a season, the substance has departed forever.
Our present financial condition is without a parallel in history. No nation has ever before been embarrassed from too large a surplus in its treasury. This almost necessarily gives birth to extravagant legislation. It produces wild schemes of expenditure, and begets a race of speculators and jobbers, whose ingenuity is exerted in contriving and promoting expedients to obtain public money. The purity of official agents, whether rightfully or wrongfully, is suspected, and the character of the government suffers in the estimation of the people. This is in itself a very great evil.
The natural mode of relief from this embarrassment is to appropriate the surplus in the treasury to great national objects, for which a clear warrant can be found in the Constitution. Among these I might mention the extinguishment of the public debt, a reasonable increase of the navy, which is at present inadequate to the protection of our vast tonnage afloat, now greater than that of any other nation, as well as to the defence of our extended seacoast.
It is beyond all question the true principle, that no more revenue ought to be collected from the people than the amount necessary to defray the expenses of a wise, economical, and efficient administration of the government. To reach this point, it was necessary to resort to a modification of the tariff; and this has, I trust, been accomplished in such a manner as to do as little injury as may have been practicable to our domestic manufactures, especially those necessary for the defence of the country. Any discrimination against a particular branch, for the purpose of benefitting favored corporations, individuals, or interests, would have been unjust to the rest of the community, and inconsistent with that spirit of fairness and equality which ought to govern in the adjustment of a revenue tariff.
But the squandering of the public money sinks into comparative insignificance as a temptation to corruption when compared with the squandering of the public lands.
No nation in the tide of time has ever been blessed with so rich and noble an inheritance as we enjoy in the public lands. In administering this important trust, whilst it may be wise to grant portions of them for the improvement of the remainder, yet we should never forget that it is our cardinal policy to rescrve these lands, as much as may be, for actual settlers, and this at moderate prices. We shall thus not only best promote the prosperity of the new States and Territories by furnishing them a hardy and independent race of honest and industrious citizens, but shall secure homes for our children and our children's children, as well as for those exiles from foreign shores who may seek in this country to improve their condition, and to enjoy the blessings of civil and religious liberty. Such emigrants have done much to promote the growth and prosperity of the country. They have proved faithful both in peace and in war. After becoming citizens, they are entitled, under the Constitution and laws, to be placed on a perfect equality with nativeborn citizens, and in this character they should ever be kindly recognized.