Слике страница
PDF
ePub

held over their heads. It is the nature of everything that is great and useful, both in the animate and inanimate world, to be wild and irregular; and we must be contented to take them with the alloys which belong to them, or live without them. Genius breaks from the 5 fetters of criticism; but its wanderings are sanctioned by its majesty and wisdom, when it advances in its path. Subject it to the critic, and you tame it into dullness. Mighty rivers break down their banks in the winter, sweeping away to death the flocks which are fattened on 10 the soil that they fertilize in the summer; the few may be saved by embankments from drowning, but the flock must perish for hunger. Tempests occasionally shake our dwellings and dissipate our commerce; but they scourge before them the lazy elements which, without 15 them, would stagnate into pestilence. In like manner Liberty herself, the last and best gift of God to his creatures, must be taken just as she is : you might pare her down into bashful regularity, and shape her into a perfect model of severe, scrupulous law, but she would 20 then be Liberty no longer; and you must be content to die under the lash of this inexorable justice which you had exchanged for the banners of Freedom.

If it be asked where the line to this indulgence and impunity is to be drawn, the answer is easy. The liberty 25 of the press, on general subjects, comprehends and implies as much strict observance of positive law as is consistent with perfect purity of intention and equal and useful society. What that latitude is cannot be promulgated in the abstract, but must be judged of in the 30 particular instance; and consequently, upon this occasion, must be judged of by you without forming any possible precedent for any other case; and where can the judgment be possibly so safe as with the members of that society which alone can suffer, if the writing is calculated 35 to do mischief to the public? You must, therefore, try the book by that criterion, and say whether the publication was premature and offensive; or, in other words, whether the publisher was bound to have suppressed it 5 until the public ear was anticipated and abused, and every

avenue to the human heart or understanding secured and blocked up? I see around me those by whom, by and by, Mr. Hastings will be most ably and eloquently defended;

but I am sorry to remind my friends that, but for the 10 right of suspending the public judgment concerning him

till their season of exertion comes round, the tongues of angels would be insufficient for the task.

Gentlemen, I hope I have now performed my duty to my client-I sincerely hope that I have ; for, certainly, 15 if ever there was a man pulled the other way by his in

terests and affections, if ever there was a man who should have trembled at the situation in which I have been placed on this occasion, it is myself, who not only love,

honor, and respect, but whose future hopes and prefer20 ments are linked, from free choice, with those who, from

the mistakes of the author, are treated with great severity and injustice. These are strong retardments; but I have been urged on to activity by considerations which

can never be inconsistent with honorable attachments, 25 either in the political or social world – the love of jus

tice and of liberty, and a zeal for the Constitution of my country, which is the inheritance of our posterity, of the public, and of the world. These are the motives which

have animated me in defence of this person, who is an 30 entire stranger to me; whose shop I never go to; and

the author of whose publication - or Mr. Hastings, who is the object of it - I never spoke to in my

life. One word more, gentlemen, and I have done. Every human tribunal ought to take care to administer justice 35 as we look hereafter to have justice administered to ourselves. Upon the principle on which the AttorneyGeneral prays sentence upon my client- God have mercy upon us! Instead of standing before him in judgment with the hopes and consolations of Christians, we must call upon the mountains to cover us; for which of us can 5 present, for omniscient examination, a pure, unspotted, and faultless course ? But I humbly expect that the benevolent Author of our being will judge us as I have been pointing out for your example. Holding up the great volume of our lives in his hands, and regarding the 10 general scope of them — if he discovers benevolence, charity, and good-will to man beating in the heart, where he alone can look; if he finds that our conduct, though often forced out of the path by our infirmities, has been in general well directed; his all-searching eye will as- 15 suredly never pursue us into those little corners of our lives, much less will his justice select them for punishment without the general context of our existence, by which faults may be sometimes found to have grown out of virtues, and very many of our heaviest offences to 20 have been grafted by human imperfection upon the best and kindest of our affections. No, gentlemen, believe me, this is not the course of divine justice, or there is no truth in the Gospels of Heaven. If the general tenor of a man's conduct be such as I have represented it, he may 25 walk through the shadow of death, with all his faults about him, with as much cheerfulness as in the common paths of life; because he knows that, instead of a stern accuser to expose before the Author of his nature those frail passages which, like the scored matter in the book 30 before

you, checker the volume of the brightest and bestspent life, his mercy will obscure them from the eye of his purity, and our repentance blot them out forever.

All this would, I admit, be perfectly foreign and irrelevant if you were sitting here in a case of property be- 35 between man and man, where a strict rule of law must operate, or there would be an end of civil life and society. It would be equally foreign, and still more irrelevant, if

applied to those shameful attacks upon private reputation 5 which are the bane and disgrace of the press; by which whole families have been rendered unhappy during life by aspersions cruel, scandalous, and unjust. Let such libellers remember that no one of my principles of de

fence can, at any time, or upon any occasion, ever apply 10 to shield them from punishment; because such conduct is

not only an infringement of the rights of men, as they are defined by strict law, but is absolutely incompatible with honor, honesty, or mistaken good intention. On such men

let the Attorney-General bring forth all the artillery of 15 his office, and the thanks and blessings of the whole puh

lic will follow him. But this is a totally different case. Whatever private calumny may mark this work, it has not been made the subject of complaint, and we have

therefore nothing to do with that, nor any right to con20 sider it. We are trying whether the public could have

been considered as offended and endangered if Mr. Hastings himself, in whose place the author and publisher have a right to put themselves, had, under all the

circumstances which have been considered, composed and 25 published the volume under examination. That question

cannot, in common sense, be anything resembling a question of law, but is a pure question of fact, to be decided on the principles which I have humbly recommended. I

therefore ask of the Court that the book itself may now 30 be delivered to you. Read it with attention, and as you

shall find it, pronounce your verdict.

DANIEL WEBSTER.

REPLY TO HAYNE; IN THE UNITED STATES SENATE,

JANUARY 26, 1830.

| MR. PRESIDENT, When the mariner has been tossed for many days in thick weather, and on an unknown sea, he naturally avails himself of the first pause in the storm, the earliest glance of the sun, to take his latitude, and ascertain how far the elements have driven him from his 5 true course. Let us imitate this prudence, and before we float farther on the waves of this debate, refer to the point from which we departed, that we may at least be able to conjecture where we now are. I ask for the reading of the resolution before the Senate. 1 The Secretary read the resolution, as follows:

10

Resolved, That the Committee on Public Lands be instructed

to inquire and report the quantity of public lands remaining
unsold within each State and Territory, and whether it be
expedient to limit for a certain period the sales of the pub- 15"
lic lands to such lands only as have heretofore been offered
for sale, and are now subject to entry at the minimum price.
And, also, whether the office of Surveyor-General, and some
of the land offices, may not be abolished without detriment
to the public interest; or whether it be expedient to adopt 20
measures to hasten the sales and extend more rapidly the
surveys of the public lands."

* We have thus heard, Sir, what the resolution is which is actually before us for consideration; and it will readily occur to every one that it is almost the only subject 25.

« ПретходнаНастави »