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Speech on the Wolf and Jackson Administrations,
March 3, 1834 in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives

    On the motion to print one thousand copies of the Report of the Committee of Ways and Means in English, and five hundred in German

 

    Mr. Stevens: Mr. Speaker. There can be no mistaking the secret, the force, and the means used to enforce the system of keeping light from the people, by those who rule the destinies of Pennsylvania. Sir, numerical force may suppress light, may resist reason, but it can never suppress free investigation or discussion. The question before the House has opened the whole merits of the question that has been introduced into the Debate, and I shall briefly enter into the discussion of men and measures. It is well to understand the difference between the technical “usual number,” spoken of, and the number of the report of the committee of Ways and Means usually and uniformly printed. This is necessary in order to understand the extent of the outrage about to be committed by those who “feel power and forget right.” The technical “usual number” is one hundred and fifty copies. The common number usually printed by order of the Legislature for many years past, is 3,000. This number has heretofore been ordered without objection, as a matter of courtesy to the committee, if not of right. (When last year the committee of Ways and Means made a report abounding in sophism, and false and delusive conclusions, 3000 copies were ordered to be printed without objection;) but no sooner is this able and elaborate report read than one of the members of that committee takes the extraordinary and unprecedented course of moving to print the common number!

    And even that is too many for the gentleman from York (Mr. Donnell) who is desirous of keeping the people in total darkness, as to the affairs of the Commonwealth. He avows his objection to it, because it is calculated to change the opinion of every man in the state. Change their opinions of what? Of men or principles? If its statements and reasoning be true, it is time their opinions should be changed, of those who have brought them to the brink of ruin. If false, are the gentlemen afraid to trust its detection to the people? Are they not as capable of reasoning and judging, as politicians who aspire to govern them?

    Sir, said Mr. S. the usual course for the minority is to make a counter report. Why did they not do so, and send them both out before the public, for their decision. Either the contents of the report are true and ought to be known, or the minority of the committee are too indolent, or too stupid to detect its fallacy. (It is their province to give argument to argument, and reason to reason; but instead of this the only reason and the only argument offered to combat it is the force of numbers? What sir, have the days of darkness come over the people? Must the truth be kept from them lest they see the errors of their rulers?) Sir, the real objection of this report, is the true picture it gives, of the ruined state of the Commonwealth. Yes, Sir, the Commonwealth is ruined. She is overwhelmed with debt, and entirely destitute of credit. A spend thrift Administration, regardless of everything but the wants of their needy favorites, have squandered her treasure, deranged her finances, and loaded her people with burdens, which they cannot bear. And they are to be kept in ignorance of the facts until they are still further plundered?

    At the commencement of his Administration the Governor and his Canal Commissioners informed the Legislature that all the canals and railroads now projected would cost less than eight millions of dollars. That the canals would be made at less than $10,000 per mile, and the railroads at less than $20,000 per mile. But your canals have already cost more than $20,000, and your rail roads $44,000 per mile. (A chain of gold – a bar of silver sufficiently large to run cars on, might have been made of the money expended through folly and corruption.) The Executive and his officers must either have been grossly stupid and unfit for the duties of their office, or they must have designedly misrepresented for the purpose of deceiving the Legislature and the people. And still they are to be further deceived, lest they should rise in just indignation and hurl their faithless stewards from their posts. The Commonwealth already owes more than $20 millions. She has no other means of paying either principal or interest, than by borrowing or taxation. The toll of the canals for the next ten years will not pay the repairs and the toll gatherers. These items this year amount to more than HALF A MILLION of dollars. You must either borrow money to pay the interest, or tax the people severely. The demagogues, who have brought us into this difficulty, dare not lay a tax lest it should awaken the people. We must then borrow to pay the interest; as well as ten millions more of principal to complete the schemes, as devised. TEN MILLIONS more at least, and then the hungry cormorants of office and plunder will hardly be sated! Thus paying compound interest on $30,000,000 of debt in the next eleven years will swell it at 60 millions; and in twenty-two years to 120 millions. If our affairs continue to be managed as they now are, most of us in this House are young enough to live to see the lands of our citizens mortgaged for a debt of ONE HUNDRED AND TWENTY MILLIONS of dollars! And yet because, the Throne has ordered otherwise, the Executive and Legislature of Pennsylvania refuse to take the only step in their power to re-instate the currency, restore the confidence and revive the credit of the state!

     But we are told that this is all clamor. Sir, let the people here the clamor. Are they not to be trusted, that you wish to keep it from them? If you have not power to smother the clamor you have the privilege to meet and confront it.

    We are also told that this will die away “like the mist before the morning sun.” Sir, can they tell us how it is to be dispelled? It is true Pennsylvania is a great and powerful state. Great in the extent of her territory, in the fertility of her soil; in the riches of her minerals; and in the industry of her inhabitants. Great, yea mighty beyond a parallel, in the wastefulness and profligacy of her extravagance; and little only in the intellect and political honesty of her rulers. Sir, there would have been some consolation if she had sunk beneath a mighty enterprise nobly conducted. If you fall beneath the lordly prowess of the monarch of the forest, you have at least the melancholy satisfaction of falling with dignity. But it makes the soul of the patriot die within him to see the hearts blood of this great state, sucked by the creeping vampires, and her bones crushed by the Hyenas and Jackals of party! 

    Gentlemen tell us that they cannot vote for this motion lest they should act inconsistently in countenancing what they are opposed to. What their views were heretofore, we can tell. What they are now, or will be tomorrow, it would puzzle themselves to know. But one gentleman says that none but a fool never changes his opinions. I think, Sir, none but a fool ever changed his mind without reason. Year after year has the present Executive in his messages, supported the U.S. Bank; the tariff; the land bill; and internal improvements by the general government; and as often, almost unanimously, have the Legislature passed resolutions in their favor! Two years ago, with but seven dissenting votes, and last year equally unanimously; but now, when they have received commands to the contrary, with the suppleness of eastern slaves, without a murmuring word, they wheel to order. Talk of consistency! Why sir, they have turned so often that the pivot on which they whirl is worn as smooth as glass, and the least breath, from a certain point of the compass, will now blow them round. They are all now trimming their sails to catch the breeze that is setting in from the Empire State. I confess the symptoms are alarming. That very trimming is ominous of evil; for the dullest animals are very acute in their instinct of danger. Heretofore they have worshipped the Hickory. (referring here to President Andrew Jackson. Ed.) Now they bow down to a more fatal Idol. A wily serpent (referring to Martin Van Buren, Jackson’s Vice President. Ed.) has coiled around that supporting History, until he has raised his head above its topmost branches, whence he is peering down with basilisk eyes, blighting everything beneath him.  

    The reasoning of the Governor’s Message is as weak and absurd as its positions are insincere and corrupt. He tells us that the present distress and want of credit in the Commonwealth, is owing to the U.S. Bank – to her unjustifiable curtailments. Is the Governor ignorant of the fact, or does he willfully conceal it, that the bank has curtailed her discounts less by several millions, during the last four months, than the amount of deposits which have been drawn with it? One reason assigned for the illegal removal of the deposits is, that it is time for the bank to wind up its concerns – preparatory to dissolution. But if it were to continue, even to the end of its charter, to curtail twice as fast as it has done since the removal of the deposits, it would still have much outstanding. And yet George Wolf, Governor of Pennsylvania, after having joined the very man (Jackson) who compelled this result, and approving of his measures, has the unblushing effrontery to lay the blame on the bank! So long as that institution was unmolested by the tyrannical power which now assails it, did it produce any distress? Up to that time the money market was easy, and the credit of the Commonwealth sound. I would thank any of the wise financiers of the dominant party to point out any other cause of our gloomy condition, than that illegal act. Sir, the removal of the deposits was a plain violation of the spirit, if not the letter of the law. They could be legally removed only by Congress; or the Secretary of the Treasury, in case an emergency occurred before the meeting of Congress. To judge of that emergency is no part of the duty of the President. Much less to control the judgment of the Secretary in a matter for which he alone was responsible. Urgently to attempt it would be indelicate; to enforce it would be tyranny: -- to displace any officer for disobeying him when he has no right to command; and to appoint another because he would obey, if not usurpation, is a gross and dangerous abuse of the appointing power. As well might he remove the commander of the Army or Navy, for refusing to march to Washington and imprison Congress, if they prove refractory, or turn their bayonets against the liberties of their country. Such doctrine would at once lead to a dictator. Yet it is said that he was induced to do this to protect the morals of the people!

    But Pennsylvania is so patient under tyranny, that slavery seems well to become her. She adheres to Jackson although he has opposed all her principles – prostrated all her favorite measures, and persecuted her favorite sons. His first Secretary of the Treasury, selected from our most prominent statesmen, was rudely thrust from office, not because he was incompetent or unfaithful, but because he would not become the slave and parasite of his favorite’s favorite. And how did the spirit of Pennsylvania resent the insult and injury thus cast upon her through one of her most esteemed citizens? By deserting and proscribing him who had thus been wantonly injured. Yes, you who before were proud to seek his favor, then shunned him as you would a leper. Even in this boasted republic, he was found, and we have seen, “how wretched is that poor man that hangs on princes’ favors!” The moment the master frowns, his subjects punish and abuse. But the lawless conduct of ambitious men is not the most alarming symptom of the times. What is most calculated to make discerning men despair of the republic is the subserviency of the people, the facility with which they abandon their own principles for those of their rulers. Principles which but a few short months ago, were deemed by all Pennsylvania ruinous and absurd, have now, at one man’s command, become a leaf from holy writ. Caesars and Cromwells are the growth of every age. But it could hardly have been expected, that when we had been free scarcely half a century, a whole nation would become willing slaves. Let it not be thought that I intend these remarks to apply exclusively to any particular party. They are, unfortunately, of too general application.

    The Statesman of the West also has changed his position with his interests – abandoned the American System – laid violent hands on his own child. Out of hatred of a successful rival, joined the rebel nullifiers, and became their apologist, if not their advocate; and thus gave strength and dignity and future hope to triumphant treason. And yet the admirers of that statesman have suddenly discovered all their former errors, and can now see nothing of his course but patriotic motives and correctness of judgment – lately, when he traversed our country, his journey was a triumphal march over the prostrate and submissive victims of his vacillating policy. Caesar and Anthony and Lepidus, once gave up their brothers, benefactors, and bosom friends to proscription and death, to gratify their lust for power. So have the dearest interests of our country: the system of internal improvements by the National Government; the Bank of the United States; the encouragement of domestic industry by a protective tariff, all been sacrificed to rival hatred, and rival ambition. And yet the authors of the evil are applauded for their very faults, because they had formerly done “some service to the State.” It was thus that ancient republics dealt with those who even rendered temporary service, and gained splendid victories in disobedience to the commands, and in violation of the laws of their country. Instead of returning to enjoy triumphs and ovations, they received exemplary punishment from precautionary justice. But, Sir, the whole course of the National Executive towards Pennsylvania has been a studied experiment upon the tameness of her spirit. You have not, I presume, forgotten the treatment of another of her favorite sons who belonged to the other political party, which then existed, and which, let me add, is now dominant in the National councils. He had ventured to give honest evidence, when called upon the stand to testify against our Monarchs rival. For a while, his fate hung in painful suspense. The clouds gathered and the storm was lowering. He saved himself from being ground into atoms, only by falling prostrate on the ground, and fawning at the feet of power. I speak it not in censure. What politician can be found even among this pure and virtuous body, who would sacrifice himself to proud and stern and useless political virtue? It was doubtless mortifying to a lofty spirit; but by a little timely and dutiful yielding, he so far regained the favor of his master, and of our master, as to be graciously permitted to cool his blushes in the snows of Russia. – Yes, Sir, of his master, and of our master! There is not a freeman in America. The will of one man is the law of millions. We are only free when we follow his dictations. Do you not Sir, even in this Hall, hear the clanking of their chains? Well may we say with the mortified and indignant Roman, “I would rather be a dog and bay the moon, than such a freeman.” Let it not be said that we are free because we have our National and State Legislatures, chosen by ourselves to enact our laws. When Rome was the sport of a despot, she had all the forms of freedom. Her Senate – her Tribunes and Aediles. But her Senators were the tools, and her Tribunes and Aediles the slaves of Caesar.

    But the not least wound which he inflicted on freedom, not the least indignity which he cast upon the State, was his treatment of the late Secretary of the Treasury. Called to that office with the unanimous approbation of all parties; admitted by all to possess a strong, well-disciplined intellect, and incorruptible integrity, he was scarcely installed into office, before he was required to become the instrument, of what he deemed, lawless usurpation. He refused. He was found among a few in power in the present day, who prefer their allegiance to their country to their allegiance to party, and the Idols of party. He stood manfully at the threshold of the Treasury, and the President entered it over his body. For his unbending honesty, his fate is fixed. He is a doomed man: The mandate for his destruction has gone forth. The blood hounds of the palace are unchained, and are fleshing their fangs in this moral and political reputation. Truly may American Senators and Statesmen now feelingly exclaim, “There is but a step from the Capital to the Tarpian Rock!” Sir, I do not expect these sentiments to be uttered or approved by those who can see no merit but in a majority – by those who have enlisted for good or for evil, for right or for wrong, under the banners of party. Nor by the higher class who wear the badges of power, and for support lean against the throne.

    It would be unkind to ask it of them, for it would be sure to bring down upon their heads the ruthless vengeance of him whose “tender mercies are cruelty.” But there are still enough, I trust, among us, unshackled by party, to raise a warning voice to a slumbering nation. Those with whom I have the honor to act, are free from such fetters. For myself, my sphere has been too humble to be thus enchained. I have never basked in the sunshine of political favor, nor hung upon the arm of power. Nor will I ever ask, nor if I should, would I receive a favor from any man, who in secret or in public ever wore a regal diadem, or swayed a Masonic scepter.

    But why pursue this subject further? Expose as you will the evils, the errors, the faults and dangerous usurpations of Andrew Jackson, and the satraps of power immediately surround them with glory of the Eighth of January. (the date of General Jackson’s victory over the British at New Orleans during the War of 1812. Ed.) The victory if New Orleans so dazzles the eyes of freeman that they can scrutinize no further. If new crimes call for new exposures, his armor bearers again interpose the battle of Orleans between him and his assailants. Hitherto it has proved tougher than the seven fold shield of Ajax. Heaven grant that victory many not prove the ruin of our country!

 

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