New states from territories

1788-06-13 - Patrick Henry


Mr. Chairman: I hope, sir, as the honorable gentleman on my left set the example of debating the merits, that whatever may result as consequences of that example, it may not be attributed to me. I hope that I shall be indulged in offering a few words in addition to what has been said. Gentlemen may do what they will. Their reflections will have no influence on me. It is said that we are scuffling for Kentucky votes, and attending to local circumstances. But if you consider the interests of this country, you will find that the interests of Virginia and Kentucky are most intimately {352} and vitally connected. When I see the great rights of the community in real danger, the ideal dangers which gentlemen speak of dissipate. A union with our western brethren is highly desirable, almost on any terms; a union with them, alone, can lessen or annihilate the dangers arising from that species of population of which we have been reminded in the catalogue of dangers which were dwelt upon. They are at present but few in number, but may be very numerous hereafter. If that fatal policy shall take place, you throw them into the arms of Spain. If Congress should, for abase purpose, give away this dearest right of the people, your western brethren will be ruined. We ought to secure to them that navigation which is necessary to their very existence. If we do not, they will look upon us as betrayers of their interest. Shall we appear to care less for their interest than for that of distant people? When gentlemen tell us that the change of system will render our western brethren more secure, and that this system will not betray them, they ought to prove it. When a matter which respects the great national interests of America is concerned, we expect the most decided proofs. Have they given any? Unless you keep open the Mississippi, you never can increase in number. Although your population should go on to an infinite degree, you will be in the minority in Congress; and although you should have a right to be the majority, yet so unhappily is this system of politics constituted, that you will ever be a contemptible minority. To preserve the balance of American power, it is essentially necessary that the right of the Mississippi should be secured.

But, said the honorable gentleman, the Eastern States will wish to secure their fishery, and will, therefore, favor this right. How does he draw the inference? Is it possible that they can act on that principle? The principle which led the Southern States to admit of the cession, was to avoid the most dreadful perils of war. But their difficulties are now ended by peace. Is there any thing like this that can influence the minds of the people of the north? Since the peace, those states have discovered a determined resolution to give it away. There was no similar danger to compel them to yield it. No, sir, they wished to relinquish it. Without any kind of necessity, they acted in conformity to their natural disposition, with respect to emigrations going {353} on in that quarter. This, thought improbable, may be so. But to say that, because some settlements are going on in New York, Massachusetts will form a connection with the Mississippi, is, to my mind, most wonderful indeed. The great balance will be in the southern parts of America. There is the most extensive and fertile territory. There is the happiest geographical position, situated contiguously to that valuable and inestimable river. But the settlement of that country will not be warranted by the new Constitution, if it will not be forbidden by it.

No constitution under heaven, founded on principles of justice, can warrant the relinquishment of the most sacred rights of society, to promote the interest of one part of it. Do you not see the danger into which you are going, to throw away one of your dearest and most valuable rights? The people of that country now receive great and valuable emoluments from that right being protected by the existing government. But they must now abandon them. For is there any actual security? Show me any clause in that paper which secures that great right. What was the calculation which told you that it would be safer under the new than under the old government? In my mind, it was erroneous. The honorable gentleman told you that there were two bodies, or branches, which must concur to make a treaty. Sir, the President, as distinguished from the Senate, is nothing. They will combine, and be as one. My honorable friend said that ten men, the senators of five states, could give it up. The present system requires the consent of nine states. Consequently, its security will be much diminished. The people of Kentucky, though weak now, will not let the President and Senate take away this right. Look right, and see this abominable policy — consider seriously its fatal and pernicious tendency! Have we not that right guarantied to us by the most respectable power in Europe? France has guarantied to us our sovereignty and all its appendages. What are its appendages? Are not the rivers and waters, that wash the shores of the country, appendages inseparable from our right of sovereignty? France has guarantied this fight to us in the most full and extensive manner. What would have been the consequences had this project with Spain been completed and agreed to? France would have told you, "You have {354} given it up yourselves; you have put it on a different footing; and if your bad policy has done this, it is your own folly. You have drawn it on your own heads; and, as you have bartered away this valuable right, neither policy nor justice will dell on me to guaranty what you gave up yourselves." This language would satisfy the most sanguine American.

Is there an opinion that any future projects will better secure you? If this strong government contended for be adopted, seven states will give it up forever; for a temporary cession is, in my opinion, perfectly the same thing. The thing is so obviously big with danger, that the blind man himself might see it.

As to the American secretary, the goodness of his private character is not doubted. It is public conduct which we are to inspect. The public conduct of this secretary goes against the express authority of nine states. Although he may be endowed with the most brilliant talents, I have a right to consider his politics as abandoned. Yet his private virtues may merit applause. You see many attempts made, which, when brought into actual experiment, are found to result from abandoned principles. The states are geographically situated so and so. Their circumstances are well known. It is suggested, this expedient was only to temporize till a more favorable opportunity. Will any gentleman tell me that the business was taken up hastily, when that vote was taken in Congress? When you consider the ability of the gentlemen who voted in Congress on that question, you must be persuaded that they knew what they were about. American interest was fully understood. New Jersey called her delegates from Congress for having voted against this right. Delegates may be called and instructed under the present system, but not by the new Constitution. The measure of the Jersey delegates was adverse to the interest of that state, and they were recalled for their conduct.

The honorable gentleman has said that the House of Representatives would give some curb to this business of treaties respecting the Mississippi. This is to me incomprehensible. He will excuse me if I tell him he is exercising his imagination and ingenuity. Will the honorable gentleman say that the House of Representatives will break through their balances {355} and checks, and break into the business of treaties? He is obliged to support this opinion of his, by supposing that the checks and balances of this Constitution are to be an impenetrable wall for some purposes, and a mere cobweb for some other purposes. What kind of Constitution, then, can this be? I leave gentlemen to draw the inference. I may have misunderstood the gentleman, but my notes tell me that he said the House of Representatives might interfere, and prevent the Mississippi from being given away. They have no power to do this by the Constitution. There will be a majority against it there also. Can you find on the journals the names of those who sacrifice your interest? Will they act so imprudently as to discover their own nefarious project? At present you may appeal to the voice of the people, and send men to Congress positively instructed to obey your instructions. You can recall them if their system of policy be ruinous. But can you in this government recall your senators? Or can you instruct them? You cannot recall them. You may instruct them, and offer your opinions; but if they think them improper, they may disregard them. If they give away or sacrifice your most valuable rights, can you impeach or punish them? If you should see the Spanish ambassador bribing one of your senators with gold, can you punish him? Yes, you can impeach him before the Senate. A majority of the Senate may be sharers in the bribe. Will they pronounce him guilty who is in the same predicament with themselves? Where, then, is the security? I ask not this out of triumph, but anxiously to know if there be any real security.

The gentleman here observed, what I would not give a single pin for. The doctrine of chances, it seems, will operate in our favor. This ideal, figurative doctrine will satisfy no rational people. I have said enough to answer the gentleman as to retaining the navigation.

Give me leave to tell you that, when the great branch of the house of Bourbon has guarantied to us this right, I wish not to lean on American strength, which may be employed to sacrifice it. This present despised system alone has reserved it. It rests on strong grounds — on the arms of France. The honorable member then told us that he thought the project would not be revived. Here, again, the doctrine of chances is introduced. I will admit that the honorable gentleman {356} can calculate as to future events. But it is too much for him to say that it will not be taken up again. The same disposition may again revive that nefarious project. I can inform him of this — that the American ambassador advises to let it rest for the present, which insinuates that it will be resumed at a more favorable opportunity. If this be the language or spirit which causes its suspension, this nefarious, abominable project will be again introduced the first favorable opportunity. We cannot fortify the Atlantic Ocean. The utmost we can do, is to become formidable to the westward. This will be prevented, if this abominable project be adopted. Mr. Henry then added, that, in treating the subject at large, he followed the example of other gentlemen, and that he trusted he should be permitted to consider it generally again.