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me”; but he was deceived when he added that it all conduced to his benefit. Every mind that was both just and well-informed warmed toward the object of such pitiless and demoniac wrath ; but in what land are minds just and well-informed a majority ?
It was not only the appointments and removals that were aimed at Mr. Clay. The sudden expulsion of gray hairs from the offices they had honored, the precipitation of hundreds of families into poverty, — this did not satisfy the President's vengeance. He assailed Henry Clay in his first Message. In recommending a change in the mode of electing the President, he said that, when the election devolves upon the House of Representatives, circumstances may give the power of deciding the election to one
“ May he not be tempted,” added the President, “ to name his reward?” He vetoed appropriations for the Cumberland Road, because the name and the honor of Henry Clay were peculiarly identified with that work. He destroyed the Bank of the United States, because he believed its power and influence were to be used in favor of Mr. Clay's elevation to the Presidency. He took care, in his Message vetoing the recharter of the Bank, to employ some of the arguments which Clay had used in opposing the recharter of the United States Bank in 1811. Miserably sick and infirm as he was, he consented to stand for reelection, because there was no other candidate strong enough to defeat Henry Clay; and he employed all his art, and the whole power of the administration, during his second term, to smooth Mr. Van Buren's path to the Presidency, to the exclusion of Henry Clay. Plans were formed, too, and engagements made, the grand object of which was to keep Clay from the Presidency, even after Mr. Van Buren should have served his anticipated eight years. General Jackson left Washington in 1837, expecting that Martin Van Buren would be President until 1845, and that he would then be succeeded by Thomas H. Benton. Nothing prevented the fulfilment of this programme but the financial collapse of 1837, the effects of which continued during the whole of Mr. Van Buren's term, and caused his defeat in 1840.
Mr. Clay accepted the defiance implied in General Jackson's
conduct. He reappeared in Washington in 1831, is the character of Senator and candidate for the Presidency. His journey to Washington was again a triumphal progress, and again the galleries were crowded to hear him speak. A great and brilliant party gathered round him, strong in talents, character, property, and supposed to be strong in numbers. He at once proved himself to be a most unskilful party leader. Every movement of his in that character was a mistake. He was precipitate when he ought to have been cautious, and cautious when nothing but audacity could have availed. The first subject upon which he was called upon to act was the tariff. The national debt being within two or three years of liquidation, Calhoun threatening nul. lification, and Jackson vetoing all internal improvement bills, it was necessary to provide against an enormous surplus, Clay maintained that the protective duties should remain intact, and that only those duties should be reduced which protected no American interest. This was done ; the revenue was reduced three millions ; and the surplus was as threatening as before. It was impossible to save the protective duties entire without raising too much revenue. Mr. Clay, as it seems to us, should have plainly said this to the manufacturers, and compelled his party in Congress to warn and save them by making a judicious cut at the protective duties in 1832. This would have deprived Calhoun of his pretext, and prepared the way for a safe and gradual reduction of duties in the years following. Such was the prosperity of the country in 1832, that the three millions lost to the revenue by Mr. Clay's bill were likely to be made up to it in three years by the mere increase in the imports and land sales.
Mr. Clay's next misstep was one of precipitation. General Jackson, after a three years' war upon the Bank, was alarmed at the outcry of its friends, and sincerely desired to make peace with it. We know, from the avowals of the men who stood nearest his person at the time, that he not only wished to keep the Bank question out of the Presidential campaign of 1832, but that he was willing to consent, on very easy conditions, to a recharter, It was Mr. Clay's commanding influence that induced the directors of the Bank to press for a recharter in 1832, and force the
President to retraction or a veto. So ignorant was this able and high-minded man of human nature and of the American people, that he supposed a popular enthusiasm could be kindled in behalf of a bank! Such was the infatuation of some of his friends, that they went to the expense of circulating copies of the veto message gratis, for the purpose of lessening the vote for its author! Mr. Clay was ludicrously deceived as to his strength with the masses of the people, the dumb masses, those who have no eloquent orators, no leading newspapers, no brilliant pamphleteers, to speak for them, but who assert themselves with decisive effect on election day.
It was another capital error in Mr. Clay, as the leader of a party, to run at all against General Jackson. He should have hoarded his prestige for 1836, when the magical name of Jackson would no longer captivate the ignorant voter. Mr. Clay's defeat in 1832, so unexpected, so overwhelming, lamed him for life as a candidate for the Presidency. He lost faith in his star. In 1836, when there was a chance of success, just a chance, he would not suffer his name to appear in the canvass. The vote of the opposition was divided among three candidates, - General Harrison, Hugh L. White, and Daniel Webster; and Mr. Van Buren, of course, had an easy victory. Fortunately for his own happiness, Mr. Clay's desire for the Presidency diminished as his chances of reaching it diminished. That desire had never been morbid, it now became exceedingly moderate ; nor do we believe that, after his crushing defeat of 1832, he ever had much expectation of winning the prize. He knew too well the arts by which success is assured, to believe that an honorable man could be elected to the Presidency by honorable means only.
Three other attempts were made to raise him to the highest office, and it was always Andrew Jackson who struck him down. In 1840, he was set aside by his party, and General Harrison nominated in his stead. This was Jackson's doing; for it was the great defeat of 1832 which had robbed Clay of prestige, and it was General Jackson's uniform success that suggested the selection of a military candidate. Again, in 1844, when the Texas issue was presented to the people, it was by the adroit use of
Genei al Jackson's name that the question of annexation was precipitated upon the country. In 1848, a military man was again nominated, to the exclusion of Henry Clay.
Mr. Clay used to boast of his consistency, averring that he had never changed his opinion upon a public question but once. We think he was much too consistent. A notable example of an excessive consistency was his adhering to the project of a United States Bank, when there was scarcely a possibility of establishing one, and his too steadfast opposition to the harmless expedient of the Sub-treasury. The Sub-treasury system has now been in operation for a quarter of a century. Call it a bungling and antiquated system, if you will ; it has nevertheless answered its purpose. The public money is taken out of politics. If the few millions lying idle in the “Strong Box" do no good, they at least do no harm; and we have no overshadowing national bank to compete with private capital, and to furnish, every few years, a theme for demagogues. Mr. Clay saw in the Sub-treasury the ruin of the Republic. In his great speech of 1838, in opposition to it, he uttered, in his most solemn and impressive manner, the following words :
“Mr. President, a great, novel, and untried measure is perseveringly urged upon the acceptance of Congress. That it is pregnant with tremendous consequences, for good or evil, is undeniable, and admitted by all. We firmly believe that it will be fatal to the best interests of this country, and ultimately subversive of its liberties."
No one acquainted with Mr. Clay, and no man, himself sincere, who reads this eloquent and most labored speech, can doubt Mr. Clay's sincerity. Observe the awful solemnity of his first sentences :
“I have seen some public service, passed through many troubled times, and often addressed public assemblies, in this Capitol and else. where; but never before have I risen in a deliberative body under more oppressed feelings, or with a deeper sense of awful responsibility. Never before have I risen to express my opinions upon any public measure fraught with such tremendous consequences to the welfare and prosperity of the country, and so perilous to the liberties of the people. as I solemnly believe the bill under consideration will be. If you
knew, sir, what sleepless hours reflection upon it has cost me, if you knew with what fervor and sincerity I have implored Divine assistance to strengthen and sustain me in my opposition to it, I should have credit with you, at least, for the sincerity of my convictions, if I shall be so unfortunate as not to have your concurrence as to the dangerous character of the measure. And I have thanked my God that he has prolonged my life until the present time, to enable me to exert myself, in the service of my country, against a project far transcending in pernicious tendency any that I have ever had occasion to consider. I thank him for the health I am permitted to enjoy; I thank him for the soft and sweet repose which I experienced last night; I thank him for the bright and glorious sun which shines upon us this day.”
And what was the question at issue? It was whether Nicholas Biddle should have the custody of the public money at Philadelphia, and use the average balance in discounting notes ; or whether Mr. Cisco should keep it at New York in an exceedingly strong vault, and not use any of it in discounting notes.
As the leader of a national party Mr. Clay failed utterly; for he was neither bad enough to succeed by foul means, nor skilful enough to succeed by fair means. But in his character of patriot, orator, or statesman, he had some brilliant successes in
When Jackson was ready to concede all to the Nullifiers, and that suddenly, to the total ruin of the protected manufacturers, it was Clay's tact, parliamentary experience, and personal power that interposed the compromise tariff, which reduced duties gradually instead of suddenly. The Compromise of 1850, also, which postponed the Rebellion ten years, was chiefly his work. That Compromise was the best then attain. able; and we think that the country owes gratitude to the man who deferred the Rebellion to a time when the United States was strong enough to subdue it.
Posterity, however, will read the speeches of Mr. Clay upon the various slavery questions agitated from 1835 to 1850 with mingled feelings of admiration and regret. A man compelled to live in the midst of slavery must hate it and actively oppose it, or else be, in some degree, corrupted by it. As Thomas Jefferson came at length to acquiesce in slavery, and live contentedly with it, so did Henry Clay lose some of his early borror of the
his later years.