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THE WAR WITH MEXICO.
A SPEECH DELIVERED IN THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES OF THE
UNITED STATES, IN COMMITTEE OF THE WHOLE ON THE STATE OF THE UNION, JANUARY 8, 1817.
If I could have selected my own time for addressing the committee, I would not have followed so closely in the wake of my honorable and excellent friend from Georgia, (Mr. Toombs,) who has just taken his seat. But, after watching and strug. gling for the floor for three or four days, I cannot forego the opportunity of saying what I have to say now, even to avoid the disadvantage of placing my remarks in immediate contrast with a speech, which has attracted so large a measure of attention and admiration.
I am not prepared to vote for the bill now under consideration. I certainly cannot vote for it in its present shape. I doubt whether I can be brought to vote for it in any shape, under the present circumstances of the country. But, before dealing with its particular provisions, or with the principles and policy which it involves, I desire to submit a few considerations of a more general and comprehensive character.
I am not one of those, Mr. Chairman - if, indeed, there be any such in this House - who think it incumbent on them to vote against all supplies in a time of war, because they do not approve the manner in which the war was commenced, or the spirit in which it is conducted. Regarding war as an evil which no language can exaggerate; deprecating nothing more earnestly than a necessity of rendering myself in any degree responsible for its existence or continuance; desiring nothing so sincerely as an opportunity of contributing in any way to the peace of my country and of the world; I yet acknowledge that there are many cases in which I should feel constrained to vote men and money for prosecuting hostilities, even though they had originated in measures which I utterly condemned. I may say, in a word, and without further specification, that I am ready to vote for the defence of my country, now and always; and, when a foreign army is on our borders, or a foreign squadron in our bays, I shall never be for stopping to inquire into the merits of the quarrel, or to ascertain who struck, or who provoked, the first blow, before doing whatever it may be in my power to do, to drive back the invaders, and to vindicate the inviolability of our soil. Nor do I forget that it may be sometimes necessary for our defence to carry the war into the enemy's country, and to cripple the resources, and crush the power, of those who may insist on disturbing our peace.
When such a necessity exists, and is clearly manifested, I shall not shrink from meeting its responsibilities.
And here, Mr. Chairman, let me say to the honorable member from Ohio, (Mr. Giddings,) that I cannot acknowledge the entire applicability to the present issue, of those British precedents which he held up for our imitation a few days ago. I am not ready to admit that there is any very close analogy between the struggle of the American colonies in 1776, and that of the Mexicans now. Still less analogy is there between a vote of the British House of Commons, and a vote of the American House of Representatives. A refusal of supplies in the Parliament of Great Britain is, generally speaking, equivalent to a change of administration. No British Ministry can hold their places in defiance of such a vote. A successful opposition to supplies in time of war, is thus almost certain to result in bringing forthwith into power a Ministry opposed to its further prosecution; and the kingdom is not left to encounter the dangers which might result from a conflict, upon such a subject, between the executive and the legislative authorities. It is not so here. No vote of Congress can change our administration. If it could, the present administration would have expired on Saturday last, when a tax, which they had solemnly declared was essential to furnish them with the sinews of war, was so emphatically de
nied. If it could, the present administration would have gone out on Tuesday last, when their demand for a Lieutenant-General, was so unceremoniously laid on the table. No British Ministry, in these days, could have survived for an hour two such signal defeats. · But our Executive is elected for a term of years, and his Cabinet are quite independent of our votes. A refusal of all supplies might hamper and embarrass an Executive, and give an enemy the advantage of divided counsels, but could hardly enforce a change of policy, or secure a concerted action in favor of peace. Certainly, it does not seem to be the mode contemplated by our Constitution for putting an end to a war, when it has once been commenced. The people alone can apply the potent styptic, the magical Brocchieri, for stopping the effusion of blood, if it be the Executive will that blood shall continue to flow. It is their prerogative to change the administration, and the day is coming, though farther off than some of us might wish, when they will have the opportunity of exercising it.
While, therefore, Sir, I yield to no one in admiration of the illustrious statesmen of Old England, whose names have been introduced into this debate - Burke, Barrè, Fox, and Chatham
and honor them especially for their noble efforts in behalf of American rights, I do not see my way clear to making their conduct in the British Parliament in 1776, the exact model of my own conduct here and now. I turn rather to the example and authority of American statesmen, hardly less distinguished, and no less worthy of admiration and imitation. If ever there was a man of pure life, of stern integrity, of exalted patriotism in our country, it was John Jay; a member of the first Congress of the United States, and the author of one of those masterly papers, emanating from that body, which called forth the wellremembered commendation of Lord Chatham himself; the first Chief Justice of the United States, and of whom it has been beautifully said, that " when the spotless ermine of the judicial robe fell on John Jay, it touched nothing not as spotless as itself.” He was no friend to war in general, or to the last war in which this country was involved in particular. But in writing to a kindred spirit during the existence of that war, he ex.
pressed sentiments in which I so heartily concur, that I cannot forbear reading them to the committee:
JOHN JAY TO TIMOTHY PICKERING.
"BEDFORD, November 1, 1814. " It is not clear to me that Britain did then expect or desire to conclude the war quite so soon. As to her present or future disposition to peace, or how far it has been, or may be affected by a settled or by a still fluctuating state of things in Europe, or by calculations of our becoming more united or more divided, cannot now be known. If we should change our rulers, and fill their places with men free from blame, the restoration of peace might doubtless be more easily accomplished. Such a change will come ; but not while the prevailing popular delusion continues to deceive and mislead so great a portion of our citizens.
“ Things being as they are, I think we cannot be too perfectly united in a determination to defend our country, nor be too vigilant in watching and resolutely examining the conduct of the administration in all its departments, candidly and openly giving decided approbation or decided censure, according as it may deserve the one or the other.”
MR. GIDDINGS. Will my friend from Massachusetts permit me to offer one word of explanation ?
THE SPEAKER. Does the gentleman from Massachusetts yield the floor?
MR. WINTHROP. Certainly, Sir.
MR. GIDDINGS. The gentleman from Massachusetts will distinctly understand that, in so many words, I expressed the opinion that, if the army should be withdrawn within the legitimate limits of the United States, there would be but one voice in the country in favor of a war to repel invasion.
MR. WINTHROP. I cheerfully give the gentleman from Ohio the benefit of the explanation, and had not the slightest intention of casting any reflection upon his conduct.
Sir, I concur entirely in both the propositions contained in this paragraph which I have just read from the correspondence of Mr. Jay. I think “we cannot be too perfectly united in a determination to defend our country," wherever that defence may be involved, directly or indirectly, in this war and in all other wars; and I think that “ we cannot be too vigilant either in watching and resolutely examining the conduct of the Administration in all its departments, candidly and openly giving decided approbation or decided censure, according as it may deserve the one or the other.” For, while I am not willing to class myself with those who are for refusing all supplies, even under the present circumstances of the war in which we are engaged; while I maintain that some provision must be made for the support of our armies and the defence of our country, as long as a foreign nation is in arms against us, declining all overtures of peace; I must also disavow all sympathy with those who proclaim their intention to sanction all the measures of the Administration, blindly and implicitly, and to vote for whatever amount of money, and whatever number of men, they may see fit to demand. I cannot regard such a course as either called for by patriotism or consistent with principle. Still less do I acquiesce in the doctrine, which would impose silence upon all who cannot approve the conduct and policy of the Administra. tion. I have no faith in the idea that it is necessary for us to hold our peace, in order that the Executive may make peace with Mexico. I believe, on the contrary, that, if this war is ever to be brought to an end, it is time for those who desire that consummation, to speak out in language not to be misunderstood.
Indeed, Sir, I know of nothing of less favorable augury for the destinies of our country, than the disposition which has been manifested by the Administration and its friends to stifle inquiry, to suppress discussion, to overawe every thing like free comment and criticism, in regard to the war in which we are now involved.
When any one of the vessels of our Navy meets with a disaster at sea, is wrecked in a gale, or stranded on a lee-shore, a court of inquiry is forthwith instituted as to the circumstances of the catastrophe. Her officers demand it. The Government exact it. It is considered due to the country, as well as to all concerned, that it should be clearly seen whether there has been any carelessness, or any culpableness, on the part of any of those to whom she has been intrusted; and, if so, who is the guilty party.
But now, when the ship of State has been involved in the deepest disaster which can befall her, when she has been arrested on that track of tranquil liberty for which she was designed, and has been plunged into the vortex of foreign war, we find her commander and his officers and pilots all denouncing