Part 20



April 24, 2020


We started talking about Daniel Webster yesterday, and I was concerned that the discussion would take up a whole lot more time than I wanted to spend for the day so we'll finish up talking about him today.

We finished the day with a portion of his December 1820 speech to the Massachusetts Constitutional Convention; and in a minute, we'll go back to it for some more.

There were a couple of rather significant highlights of his career that I missed yesterday.  It's impossible to talk about Daniel Webster without discussing these items since they laid some important constitutional foundations in our nation's history.

The year was 1807.  Thomas Jefferson was President of the United States.  Despite the fact that Jefferson had been an avowed Federalist, he was taking some actions that were decidedly non-Federalist -- most notably the issuing of the Embargo Act of 1807.  It seems that England, in its efforts to deal with the Napoleonic Wars, was in dire need of more soldiers to fight its wars with France.  George III was King of England, and he chose to vent his displeasure against America's recent independence by seizing American shipping and conscripting sailors and merchants of British birth into his armies.

These seizures and conscriptions were non-declared acts of war against his former colonies.  Rather than call for Congress to declare war against England, Jefferson thought he could discourage this English piracy with a trade embargo against all English goods and the imposition of extreme tariffs.  He told Congress that this "peaceful coercion" would stem British and French aggression.

Many New Englanders, including those of Daniel Webster's home of Portsmouth were reliant on trade with England for their livelihoods and were subsequently thrown into economic hardship.  Being much more negatively impacted by Jefferson's policies than British imperial and commercial interference, New England shippers vehemently protested against the Embargo; and in 1808 Webster penned an anonymous pamphlet attacking it.

Nevertheless, the succeeding years saw a continuation of those violations of America's neutral rights, and as one commentator put it, "the rest of the nation eagerly turned Jefferson's "peaceful coercion" into Madison's War of 1812."  It was one of the factors that led Webster to reconsider his association with the Federalists.

As the War of 1812 unfolded, he was asked to give an address to the Washington Benevolent Society.  His speech decried the war and the violation of New England's shipping rights that preceded it.  Widely disseminated throughout Washington society and New England, that speech led to Webster's selection to the Rockingham Convention in Rockingham, New Hampshire which sought to formally enunciate and declare New England's grievances with President Madison.

While capturing much of the same tone of his speech to the Washington Benevolent Society, it (uncharacteristically of Webster's normal speech and mannerism) contained a threat of secession, "If a separation of the states shall ever take place, it will be, on some occasion, when one portion of the country undertakes to control, to regulate, and to sacrifice the interest of another."

That statement became part and parcel of the New Republican Party's (the Whig Party) stance against Federalism as it argued for a more republican form of government and states' rights.  The concept that a Federal government could impose its will in controlling and regulating the interests of one part of the nation at the sacrifice of another became anathema within republicanism.

That said, it takes no great genius or rocket science to figure out that the republicanism of Daniel Webster's day scarcely represents the convictions of many today who call themselves "Republicans."

It was only a few years later that Webster signaled his support for Henry Clay's "American System" -- an economic policy based on Alexander Hamilton's capitalistic principles.  It contained three core policies: (1)protection of industry through selective high tariffs, along with some subsidies; (2)government investment in basic infrastructure creating internal improvements (particularly in transportation); and (3) a national bank with policies that promote the growth of productive enterprises.  The "American System" differs from the concept of "Free Trade" and a "Free Market System" in that it provided for tariffs and subsidies, whereas "Free Trade" and "Free Markets" impose no tariffs and provide no subsidies.

To the absolute astonishment of his American System colleagues, most notably Henry Clay and John C. Calhoun (**who was then Vice-President of the United States), Webster took what they thought was an uncharacteristic stance in opposition to the tariffs and subsidies.  Clay and Calhoun were trying to protect what they saw as the manufacturing interests of this nation.  Webster, seeing the practical (and negative) impact in his home region of New England stood up in the House of Representatives to argue that, "the tariff's great object was to raise revenue, not to foster manufacture," as well as it being against "the true spirit of the Constitution" giving "excessive bounties or encouragements to one [industry] over another."

(**I thought it might be of interest for you to note that Della is directly related to John C. Calhoun, and the Calhoun family is a rather large part of her family heritage.  We attended a family reunion a few years ago in which the Calhoun family figured prominently.  They take pride in the fact that John C. Calhoun is among the family forbears.)

Yesterday, we talked about the Massachusetts Constitutional Convention, convened when the state of Maine was separated from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and the controversy that arose when some of the delegates sought to modify the wording in such a way "that a profession of belief in the Christian religion no longer be required as a qualification for office."

 Over the years, Daniel Webster had given some notable and some phenomenal speeches.  He had never argued anything for the sake of political expediency, and his convictions were certainly foremost in the ears of his peers as he delivered one of his most forceful arguments for retaining the necessity of Christian faith as a requirement to hold office.

We quoted a portion of his speech yesterday.  Here's more.

There are certain rights, no doubt, which the whole people, or the government as representing the whole people, owe to each individual in return for that obedience and personal service, and those proportionate contributions to the public burdens which each individual owes to the government. These rights are stated with sufficient accuracy, in the tenth article of the Bill of Rights, in this constitution. " Each individual in society has a right to be protected by it in the enjoyment of his life, liberty, and property, according to the standing laws." Here is no right of office enumerated; no right of governing others, or of bearing rule in the State. All bestowment of office remaining in the discretion of the people, they have of course a right to regulate it by any rules which they may deem expedient. Hence the people, by their constitution, prescribe certain qualifications for office respecting age, property, residence, and taxation. But if office, merely as such, were a right which each individual under the social compact was entitled to claim, all these qualifications would be excluded. Acknowledged rights are not subject, and ought not to be subject to any such limitation. The right of being protected in life, liberty, and estate is due to all and cannot be justly denied to any, whatever be their age, property, or residence in the State.

These qualifications, then, can only be made requisite as conditions for office on the ground that office is not what any man can demand as matter of right but rests in the confidence and good-will of those who are to bestow it. In short, it seems to me too plain to be questioned that the right of office is a matter of discretion and option, and can never be claimed by any man on the ground of obligation. It would seem to follow, then, that those who confer office may annex any such conditions to it as they think proper. If they prefer one man to another, they may act on that preference. If they regard certain personal qualifications, they may act accordingly, and ground of complaint is given to nobody. Between two candidates otherwise equally qualified, the people at an election may decide in favor of one because he is a Christian and against the other because he is not. They may repeat this preference at the next election on the same ground and may continue it from year to year."

"Now, if the people may, without injustice, act upon this preference, and from a sole regard to this qualification, and refuse in any instance to depart from it, they have an equally clear right to prescribe this qualification beforehand as a rule for their future government. If they may do it, they may agree to do it. If they deem it necessary, they may so say beforehand. If the public will may require this qualification at every election as it occurs, the public will may declare itself beforehand and make such qualification a standing requisite. That cannot be an unjust rule, the compliance with which, in every case, would be right. This qualification has nothing to do with any man's conscience. If he dislike the condition, he may decline the office in like manner as if he dislike the salary, the rank, or any thing else which the law attaches to it.

But however clear the right may be (and I can hardly suppose any gentleman will dispute it), the expediency of retaining the declaration is a more difficult question. It is said not to be necessary, because in this Commonwealth ninety-nine out of every hundred of the inhabitants profess to believe in the Christian religion. It is sufficiently certain, therefore, that persons of this description, and none others, will ordinarily be chosen to places of public trust. There is as much security, it is said, on this subject, as the necessity of the case requires. And as there is a sort of opprobrium incident to this qualification - a marking out, for observation and censorious remark, of a single individual, or a very few individuals, who may not be able to make the declaration - it is an act if not of injustice, yet of unkindness and of unnecessary rigor, to call on such individuals to make the declaration and to exclude them from office if they refuse to do so.

There is also another class of objections which have been stated. It has been said that there are many very devout and serious persons, persons who esteem the Christian religion to be above all price, to whom, nevertheless, the terms of this declaration seem somewhat too strong and intense. They seem, to these persons, to require the declaration of that faith which is deemed essential to personal salvation; and therefore not at all fit to be adopted as a declaration of belief in Christianity in a more popular and general sense. It certainly appears to me that this is a mistaken interpretation of the terms; that they imply only a general assent to the truth of the Christian revelation and, at most, to the supernatural occurrences which establish its authenticity. There may, however, and there appears to be, conscience in this objection; and all conscience ought to be respected. I was not aware, before I attended the discussions in the committee, of the extent to which this objection prevailed.

There is one other consideration to which I will allude, although it was not urged in committee. It is this. This qualification is made applicable only to the executive and the members of the legislature. It would not be easy, perhaps, to say why it should not be extended to the judiciary if it were thought necessary for any office. There can be no office in which the sense of religious responsibility is more necessary than in that of a judge; especially of those judges who pass, in the last resort, on the lives, liberty, and property of every man. There may be among legislators strong passions and bad passions. There may be party heats and personal bitterness. But legislation is in its nature general: laws usually affect the whole society; and if mischievous or unjust, the whole society is alarmed and seeks their repeal. The judiciary power, on the other hand, acts directly on individuals. The injured may suffer without sympathy or the hope of redress. The last hope of the innocent, under accusation and in distress, is in the integrity of his judges. If this fail, all fails; and there is no remedy on this side the bar of Heaven. Of all places, therefore, there is none which so imperatively demands that he who occupies it should be under the fear of God, and above all other fear, as the situation of a judge. For these reasons, perhaps, it might be thought that the constitution has not gone far enough if the provisions already in it were deemed necessary to the public security.

I believe I have stated the substance of the reasons which appeared to have weight with the committee. For my own part, finding this declaration in the constitution and hearing of no practical evil resulting from it, I should have been willing to retain it unless considerable objection had been expressed to it. If others were satisfied with it, I should be. I do not consider it, however, essential to retain it as there is another part of the constitution which recognizes, in the fullest manner, the benefits which civil society derives from those Christian institutions which cherish piety, morality, and religion. I am clearly of opinion that we should not strike out of the constitution all recognition of the Christian religion. I am desirous, in so solemn a transaction as the establishment of a constitution, that we should keep in it an expression of our respect and attachment to Christianity - not, indeed, to any of its peculiar forms but to its general principles."

I have underlined certain pertinent arguments raised by Daniel Webster in this speech.  That his arguments would today fall on deaf ears in many of our legislative arenas and courtrooms is without doubt.  Nevertheless, Webster clearly delineates that portion of our nation's heritage the leftists and liberals are so anxious to eliminate from the public consciousness.

Tomorrow, we'll wrap up our discussion on Daniel Webster with a portion of one more speech he gave on the topic of Faith in Jesus Christ before taking a look at the life of one of his (former) fellow-Federalists, Alexander Hamilton.

In case you are missing out on real fellowship in an environment of Ekklesia, our Sunday worship gatherings are available by conference call – usually at about 10:30AM Pacific.  That conference number is (712) 770-4160, and the access code is 308640#.  We are now making these gatherings available on video usingZOOM.  If you wish to participate by video on ZOOM, our login ID is 835-926-513.  If you miss the live voice-onlycall, you can dial (712) 770-4169, enter the same access code and listen in later.  The video call, of course, is not recorded – not yet, anyway.

Blessings on you!




Regner A. Capener

Temple, Texas 76502

Email Contact: CapenerMinistries@protonmail.com


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