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And how have they lost their liberties? If we could transport ourselves back to the ages when Greece and Rome flourished in their greatest prosperity, and, mingling in the throng, should ask a Grecian, if he did not fear that some daring military chieftain, covered with glory, some Philip or Alexander, would one day overthrow the liberties of his country? The confident and indignant Grecian would exclaim, no! no! we have nothing to fear from our heroes; our liberties will be eternal. If a Roman citizen had been asked, if he did not fear that the conqueror of Gaul might establish a throne upon the ruins of public liberty, he would have instantly repelled the unjust insinuation. Yet Greece has fallen, Caesar has passed the Rubicon, and the patriotic arm even of Brutus could not preserve the liberties of his devoted country! The celebrated Madame de Stael, in her last and perhaps her best work, has said, that in the very year, almost the very month, when the president of the directory declared that monarchy would never more show its frightful head in France, Bonaparte, with his grenadiers, entered the palace of St. Cloud, and, dispersing, with the bayonet, the deputies of the people, deliberating on the affairs of the state, laid the foundation of that vast fabric of despotism which overshadowed all Europe. I hope not to be misunderstood; I am far from intimating that general Jackson cherishes any designs inimical to the liberties of the country. I believe his intentions to be pure and patriotic. I thank God that he would not, but I thank Him still more that he could not, if he would, overturn the liberties of the republic. But precedents, if bad, are fraught with the most dangerous consequences. Man has been described, by some of those who have treated of his nature, as a bundle of habits. The definition is much truer when applied to governments. Precedents are their habits. There is one important difference between the formation of habits by an individual and by governments. He contracts it only after frequent repetition. A single instance fixes the habit and determines the direction of governments. Against the alarming doctrine of unlimited discretion in our military commanders, when applied even to prisoners of war, I must enter my protest. It begins upon them; it will end on us. I hope our happy form of government is destined to be perpetual. But if it is to be preserved, it must be by the practice of virtue, by justice, by moderation, by magnanimity, by greatness of soul, by keeping a watchful and steady eye on the executive; and, above all, by holding to a strict accountability the military branch of the public force. We are fighting a great moral battle for the benefit not only of our country, but of all mankind. The eyes of the whole world are in fixed attention upon us. One, and the largest, portion of it is gazing with contempt, with jealousy, and with envy; the other portion, with hope, with confidence, and with affection. Everywhere the black cloud of legitimacy is suspended over the world, save only one bright spot, which breaks out from the political hemisphere of the west, to enlighten and animate, and gladden the human heart. Obscure that, by the downfall of liberty here, and all mankind are enshrouded in a pall of universal darkness. To you, Mr. Chairman, belongs the high privilege of transmitting, unimpaired, to posterity, the fair character and liberty of our country. Do you expect to execute this high trust by trampling, or suffering to be trampled down law, justice, the constitution, and the rights of other people P By exhibiting examples of inhumanity, and cruelty, and ambition? When the minions of despotism heard, in Europe, of the seizure of Pensacola, how did they chuckle, and chide the admirers of our institutions, tauntingly pointing to the demonstration of a spirit of injustice and aggrandizement made by our country, in the midst of amicable negotiation. Behold, said they, the conduct of those who are constantly reproaching kings. You saw how VO L. III. 17
... those admirers were astounded and hung their heads. You saw too, when that illustrious man, who presides over us, adopted his pacific, moderate and just course, how they once more lifted up their heads, with exultation and delight beaming in their countenances. . And you saw how those minions themselves were finally compelled to unite in the general praises bestowed: upon our government. Beware how you forfeit this exalted character. Beware how you give a fatal sanction in this infant period of our republic. scarcely yet two score years old, to military insubordination. Remember that Greece had her Alexander, Rome her Caesar, England her Cromwell, France her Bonaparte, and, that if we would escape the rock on which they split we must avoid their errors. How different has been the treatment of general Jackson and that modest but heroic young man, a native of one of the smallest states in the union, who achieved for his country, on Lake Erie, one of the most glorious victories of the late war. In a moment of passion he forgot himself and offered an act of violence which was repented of as soon as perpetrated. He was tried, and suffered the judgment to be pronounced by his peers. Public justice was thought not even then to be satisfied. The press and Congress took up the subject. My honorable friend from Virginia, (Mr. Johnson,) the faithful and consistent sentinel of the law and of the constitution, disapproved, in that instance as he does in this, and moved an inquiry. The public mind remained agitated and unappeased until the recent atonement so honorably made by the gallant commodore. And is there to be a distinction between the officers of the two branches of the public service P Are former services, however eminent, to preclude even inquiry into recent misconduct? Is there to be no limit, no prudential bounds to the national gratitude 2 I am not disposed to censure the President for not ordering a court of inquiry or a general court martial. Perhaps, impelled by a sense of
gratitude, he determined by anticipation to extend to the general that pardon which he had the undoubted right to grant after sentence. Let us not shrink from our duty. Let us assert our constitutional powers, and vindicate the instrument from military violation.
I hope gentlemen will deliberately survey the awful isthmus on which we stand. They may bear down all opposition; they may even vote the general the public thanks; they may carry him triumphantly through this House. But, if they do, in my humble judgment, it will be a triumph of the principle of insubordination—a triumph of the military over the civil authority—a triumph over the powers of this House— a triumph over the constitution of the land. And I pray most devoutly to heaven, that it may not prove, in its ultimate effects and consequences, a triumph over the liberties of the people.
SPEECH OF GEORGE POINDEXTER,
DELIVERED IN THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES OF THE UNITED states, FEBRUARY 1, 1819.”
I rise, Mr. Chairman, under the influence of peculiar sensibility, to offer my sentiments on the subject before the committee. We are called upon to disrobe a veteran soldier of the well earned laurels which encircle his brow, to tarnish his fame by severe reproaches, and hand down his name to posterity, as the violater of the sacred instrument which constitutes the charter of our liberties, and of the benevolent dictates of humanity, by which this nation has ever been characterized and distinguished. Were the sacrifice of this highly meritorious citizen the only evil with which the proposed resolutions are fraught, I should derive some consolation from the reflection, that there is a redeeming spirit in the intelligence and patriotism of the great body of the people, capable of shielding him against the deleterious consequences meditated by the propositions on your table. But there is another, and a more serious aspect, in which the adoption of these resolutions must be viewed ; the direct and infallible tendency which they involve, of enfeebling the arm of this government, in our pending negotiation with Spain; of putting ourselves in the wrong, and the Spanish monarch in the right, on the interesting and delicate points which have so long agitated and endangered the peace of the two countries. I wish not to be understood as attributing to honorable gentlemen, who advocate the measure, such motives: they are, doubt
* See page 93.