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time being her favorite; and none who beheld her moving in what seemed to be her appropriate sphere, will hesitate to join in the hope, that she may long be spared, like the wife of Madison, to perpetuate the memory of him whose name she bears, and to witness the impartial verdict which history will ere long record, in justice to his fame.
tic affairs of the White House. But,” continued he, directing her attention to her husband, as for that young gentleman there, I cannot say as much. There is,” said he, “some little difference of opinion in regard to the policy of his course.” “‘Indeed,” said Mrs. Polk, “I am glad to hear that my administration is popular. And in return for your compliment, I will say that if the country should elect a Whig next fall, I know of no one whose elevation would please memore than that of Henry Clay.” “‘Thank you, thank you, Madam.” —“‘And I will assure you of one thing. If you do have occasion to occupy the White House on the fourth of March next, it shall be surrendered to you in perfect order, from garret to cellar.” “‘I’m certain that 2 “But, the laugh that followed this pleasant repartee, which lost nothing from the manner nor the occasion of it, did not permit the guests at the lower end of the table to hear the rest of Mr. Clay's reply. Whether he was “certain that’ he should be the tenant of the President’s mansion, or whether he only said he was “certain that’ whoever did occupy it would find it in good condition, like the result of the coming contest for the Presidency, remains a mystery.”
Chosen a Member of Congress—Repeated Rečlections—Opposition to Mr. Adams’ Administration—The Panamá Mission and the American System—Support of General Jackson and Mr. Van Buren—The Tariff Question—Internal Improvements—The Pension Laws—United States Bank— Independent Treasury.
IN the spring of 1825, Mr. Polk offered himself to the electors of the sixth or Duck river district, in which he resided, as their candidate for Congress. At this time the subject of internal improvements was attracting unusual attention in Tennessee, owing, probably, to the examinations recently made by the Board of Engineers, under the act of 1824, of the country between the Potomac and Ohio rivers. Indeed, it was the only political question of importance,—except the manner in which General Jackson, whom Mr. Polk had ardently supported, had been defrauded, as was alleged by his friends, of the presidency, that was then agitated or discussed; for, although there had been several candidates voted for at the late presidental election, they all claimed to belong to the same party.
The views of Mr. Polk, at this period, as has been intimated, were at least friendly, if not entirely favorable, to the construction of works of internal improvement by the national government. He had doubts and misgivings; but in accordance with what appeared to be the prevail
ing sentiment throughout the Union, he felt inclined to yield them. In a circular letter addressed to his constituents, on the 10th day of May, 1825, he said: “How far the general government has power to make internal improvements, has been a question of some difficulty in the deliberations of Congress. It has been a question long and ably controverted by our wisest statesmen. It seems, however, to have been lately settled by the three great departments of the government in favor of the exercise of such a power. * * * The expediency of making internal improvements is unquestioned; it is only on the question of power that doubt has arisen. They are calculated to promote the agricultural, commercial, and manufacturing interests of the country; they add to the wealth, prosperity, and convenience of the great body of the people, by diminishing the expenses, and improving the facilities for the transportation of our surplus products to market, and furnishing an easy and cheap return of those necessaries required for our consumption. A judicious system of internal improvements, within the powers delegated to the general government, I therefore approve.”
1— It is very evident from the general tenor of these extracts,
and from the cautious mode of expression made use of by the writer, that he feared lest the powers of the general government should be unduly enlarged by a latitudinarian construction of the federal constitution; and as a thorough-going and consistent states’-rights man, he had a natural dread of conceding anything by way of implication. It is one of the faults, among the numberless blessings, of a written constitution, that those who origo 1825–39.] views on INTERNAL IMPRoveMENTs. 59
inate it, and for whose protection it is, or should be framed, are sometimes lulled into a false security. Having thrown every conceivable safeguard around it, they are too apt to fancy themselves perfectly protected against the assaults of open or secret enemies. The greatest wrong a people can do, is to sleep on their rights, and by so doing, afford crafty and designing men the opportunity, but too frequently seized with avidity, of blinding and betraying them. The exercise of power by delegated agents is in its nature aristocratic, and like all aristocracies, seeks to increase its influence, and to perpetuate its existence. Nothing can be safely relied on to counteract these natural tendencies, but the closest care and scrutiny on the part of the principals who have delegated the power. In a government constituted like ours, encroachments on the rights of the states by the national authorities, are always to be feared. Freemen as we are, each man individually a sovereign, proud of our independence, and of the privileges and immunities that have been handed down to us by our forefathers, we are too prone to forget that “eternal vigilance is the price of liberty;” that the first great duty which we owe to our country, to ourselves and our posterity, is to see that the purity of the government is maintained. Direct attempts to subvert the principles of the constitution—to overawe the free and full expression of the popular will ; open and undisguised acts of tyranny and injustice, are rarely known among us, because their bearing is at once perceived and understood, and they are sure to be immediately resisted and condemned. Designing and ambitious men, however unprincipled, rarely, if ever, resort to overt acts for the accomplishment of their deep-laid schemes. On the contrary, adopting the motto of Talleyrand, that “language is given to man to conceal his thoughts,” their chief dependence is on their ability to hide their plans, and to practice successful deception. Their whole system of tactics is indirect in its operations; they do nothing directly,–they work secretly and in the dark. They never aim to secure an important position by a single bold stroke; everything is effected by a series of slow but sure advances. If they are able to bring about the adoption of a single measure, without attracting attention to the secret motives that originated it, another of the same rurport, but a little stronger in its character, is certain to be proposed. These two secured, their authors are encouraged to prosecute their measures, in a regular gradation, till they reach the final result sought to be attained. That once accomplished, the victims may struggle vainly and ineffectually in the toils so cunningly devised to entrap them. The history of the American government, and of its legislation in particular, abounds in illustrations that will confirm and enforce the correctness of these views. Although Mr. Polk, like many other young men belonging to the republican party, was disposed, in 1825, to adopt the impression that the authority to construct works of internal improvement was comprehended in the money-power conferred by the Constitution, further re. flection and experience convinced him of his error.”