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sending of ministers, on the part of the United States, to take part in the deliberations of the Congress of South American nations, at Panamá, would be a total departure from the uniform course of policy pursued by this government, from the adoption of the Federal Constitution to the present period; and might, and in all probability would, have a tendency to involve the nation in ‘entangling alliances,’ and endanger the neutrality and relations of amity and peace, which at present happily subsist between the United States and the belligerent powers—old Spain and the southern republics of this continent.”
Mr. Polk defended his resolutions, and enforced his views upon the question, in an able and argumentative speech. He maintained “ that the proposed mission to Panamá was without a precedent in our history; was novel in its character, and, in his judgment, dangerous to the best interests of the country.” “We are about to depart,” he added, “from our ancient and plain republican simplicity, and to become a great and splendid government; new projects are set on foot; we are called upon by the President to change the whole policy of the country, as adopted by our fathers, and so happily pursued by their posterity down to the present period. He called on gentlemen, before they abandoned the present safe policy of the country, to ponder well what they are about to do.” “The sound and sober judgment of the people of the United States,” he further contended, “had not been brought up to the conclusion that we could in any event make common cause with the repub1825–39.] GENERAL REVIEW OF H.s course. 67
* Congressional Dabates, vol. ii., p. 2166.
lics of the South, or involve ourselves in the calamities of war in their behalf: all our sympathies, all our good o feelings, were with them : we wished them success: but / self-preservation is the first law of nature and of nations: we were, then, as he hoped, we still were, unprepared to depart from our settled policy.” “From this time, Mr. Polk’s history,” says an eloquent review of his course in Congress, “was inseparably interwoven with that of the House. He is prominently connected with every important question; and upon every one, as by an unerring instinct of republicanism, took the soundest and boldest ground. From his entrance into public life, his adherence to the cardinal principles of the democratic creed has been singularly steadfast. During the whole period of General Jackson's administration, as long as he retained a seat on the floor, v/ he was one of its leading supporters, and at times, and on certain questions of paramount importance, its chief reliance. In the hour of trial he was never found wanting, or from his post. In December, 1827, two years after his entrance into the House, Mr. Polk was placed on the important Committee of Foreign Affairs, and some time / after was appointed, in addition, chairman of the select committee to which was referred that portion of the President’s message calling the attention of Congress to the probable accumulation of a surplus in the treasury, after the anticipated extinguishment of the national debt. As the head of this committee, he made a lucid report, replete with the soundest doctrines, ably enforced, deny
* Congressional Debates, vol. ii., pp. 2475,2489.
ing the constitutional power of Congress to collect from the people, for distribution, a surplus beyond the wants of the government, and maintaining that the revenue should be reduced to the exigencies of the public service. “The session of 1830 will always be distinguished by the death-blow which was then given to the unconstitutional system of internal improvements by the general government. We have ever regarded the Maysville road veto as second in importance to none of the acts of General Jackson's energetic administration. It lopped off one of the worst branches of the miscalled “American system.” Mr. Polk had assailed the bill before its passage with almost solitary energy; and one of his speechses,” in which he discusses the general policy of the “American system' in its triple aspect of high prices for / the public lands—to check agricultural emigration to the West, and foster the creation of a manufacturing population—of high duties or taxes for protection, and excessive revenue—and of internal improvements, to spend this revenue in corrupting the country with its own money, should be perused by every one who wishes to arrive at sound views upon a question which has so much agitated the public mind. When the bill was returned by the President unsigned, a storm arose in the House, in the midst of which the veto was attacked by a torrent of passionate declamation, mixed with no small share of personal abuse. To a member from Ohio, whose observations partook of the latter character, Mr. Polk replied in an energetic improvisation, vindicating the patriotic
* On the Buffalo and New-Orleans road bill.
resolution of the Chief Magistrate. The friends of State rights in the House rallied manfully upon the veto. The result was that the bill was rejected, and countless “logrolling’ projects for the expenditure of many millions of the public treasure, which awaited the decision, perished in embryo. “In December, 1832, he was transferred to the Com-vo mittee of Ways and Means, with which his connection has been so distinguished. At that session the Directors of the Bank of the United States were summoned to Washington, and examined upon oath, before the committee just named. A division of opinion resulted in the presentation of two reports. That of the majority, which admitted that the Bank had exceeded its lawful powers, by interfering with the plan of the Government, to pay off the three per cent. stock, was tame, and unaccompanied by pertinent facts, or elucidating details. "Mr. Polk, in behalf of the minority, made a detailed report, communicating all the material circumstances, and presenting conclusions utterly adverse to the institution which had been the subject of inquiry. This arrayed against him the whole bank power, which he was made to feel in a quarter where he had everything at stake, for upon his return to his district, he found the most formidable opposition mustered against him for his course upon this question. The friends of the United States Bank held a meeting at Nashville to denounce his report. The most unscrupulous misrepresentations were resorted to, in order to prove that he had destroyed the credit of the West, by proclaiming that his countrymen were unworthy of mercantile confidence. The result, however,
was, that after a violent contest, Mr. Polk was reëlected by a majority of more than three thousand. Fortunately for the stability of our institutions, the panics which ‘frighten cities from their propriety,” do not sweep with the same desolating force over the scattered dwellings of the country. “In September, 1833, the President, indignant at the open defiance of law by the Bank of the United States, and the unblushing corruption which it practiced, determined upon the bold and salutary measure of the removal of the deposits, which was effected in the following month. The act produced much excitement throughout the country, and it was foreseen that a great and doubtful conflict was about to ensue. At such a crisis it became important to have at the head of the Committee of Ways and Means, a man of courage to meet, and firmness to sustain, the formidable shock. Such a man was found in Mr. Polk, and he proved himself equal to the occasion." Congress met, and the conflict proved even fiercer than had been anticipated. The cause of the Bank was supported in the House by such men as Mr. McDuffie, Adams and Binney, not to mention a host of other names. It is instructive to look back in calmer times, to the reign of terror, known as the Panic Session. The Bank with the whole commerce of the country at its feet, alternately torturing and easing its miserable pensioners as they increased or relaxed their cries of financial agony ; public meetings held in every city with scarcely the intermission of a day, denouncing the President as a tyrant, and the enemy of his country; deputations flocking from the towns to extort from him a reluctant submis