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has all these sanctions; it is another, on this floor, in the high court of the people's privileges, to advocate its repeal on the ground that it is an invasion of their rights. The embargo laws have unquestionable sanction. They are laws of this land. Yet, who shall deny to a representative of this people the right, in their own favorite tribunal, of bringing your laws to the test of the principles of the constitution ?
Is there any principle more wise, or more generally received among statesmen, than that a law, in proportion to its pressure upon the people, should have its basis in unquestionable authority, as well as necessity. A legislature may sport with the rights of an individual. It may violate the constitution to the ruin of whole classes of men. But once let it begin, by its laws, to crush the hopes of the great mass of the citizens; let it bring every eye, in the land, to the scrutiny of its laws, and its authority—to be permanent, those laws must possess no flaw in their foundation.
I ask, in what page of the constitution you find the power of laying an embargo? Directly given, it is no where. You have it, then, by construction, or by precedent. By construction of the power to regulate. I lay out of the question the common-place argument, that regulation cannot mean annihilation; and that what is annihilated, cannot be regulated. I ask this question, can a power be ever obtained by construction, which had never been exercised at the time of the authority given; the like of which had not only never been seen, but the idea of which had never entered into human imagination, I will not say, in this country, but in the world? Yet such is this power, which by construction you assume to exercise. Never before did society witness a total prohibition of all intercourse like this in a commercial nation. Did the people of the United States invest this House with a power, of which, at the time of investment, that people had not and could not have had any idea ?-for even in works of fiction, it had never existed. But we have precedent. Precedent is
directly against you. For the only precedent, that in 1794, was in conformity to the embargo power, as it had been exercised in other countries. It was limited. Its duration was known. The power passed from the representatives of this House only for sixty days. In that day, the legislature would not trust even Washington, amid all his well earned influence, with any other than a limited power. But away, sir, with such deductions as these. I appeal to the history of the times, when this national compact was formed. This constitution grew out of our necessities, and it was, in every stage of its formation, obstructed by the jealousies and diverse interests of the different states. The tlemen of the south had certain species of property, with the control of which they would not trust us in the north. And wisely, for we neither appreciate it as they do, nor could regulate it safely for them. In the east, our sentiment concerning their interest in commerce, and their power to understand its true interests, was, in a great degree similar. The writings of that period exhibit this jealousy, and the fears, excited by it, formed in that portion of the United States a formidable objection to its adoption. In this state of things, would the people of New England consent to convey to a legislature, constituted as this in time must be, a power, not only to regulate commerce, but to annihilate it, for a time unlimited, or altogether ? Suppose, in 1788, in the convention of Massachusetts, while debating upon the adoption of this constitution, some hoary sage had arisen, and with an eye looking deep into futurity, with a prophet's ken, had thus addressed the assembly.
Fellow-citizens of Massachusetts, to what ruin are you hastening! Twenty years shall not elapse, before, under a secret and dubious construction of the instrument now proposed for your adoption, your commerce shall be annihilated : the whole of your vast trade prohibited. Not a boat shall cross your harbor, not a coaster shall be permitted to go out of your ports, unless under permis.
sion of the distant head of your nation, and after a grievous visitation of a custom-house officer ?" Sir, does any man believe, that, with such a prospect into futurity, the people of that state would have for one moment listened to its adoption? Rather would they not have rejected it with indignation ? Yet this, now, is not prophecy. It is history. But this law is not perpetual, it is said. Show the limit to it. Show by what terms, it can be made more perpetual.
The universal opinion, entertained in New England among commercial men, of the total imbecility of this law, as a measure of coercion of either belligerent, is another cause, pregnant with discontent, in that coun
It may do well enough to amuse ourselves with calculations of this kind on this floor ; but intelligent merchants, masters of vessels, seamen, who are acquainted with the West Indies, and with the European dominions of both powers, speak with sovereign contempt of the idea of starving either of these powers into submission to our plans of policy. The entire failure of this scheme, after a trial of eleven months, would, I should suppose, have satisfied the most obstinate of its hopelessness. Yet it is revived again at this session. We are told, from high authority, of the failure of the wheat harvest in Great Britain, and this has been urged as a further reason for a continuance of this measure. Have gentlemen, who press this argument, informed themselves, how exceedingly small a proportion our export of wheat bears to the whole consumption of the British dominions ? Our whole export to all the world, of wheat in its natural and manufactured state, does not amount to seven millions of bushels. The whole consumption of the British dominions exceeds one hundred and fifty millions. Let gentlemen consider what a small object this amount is, in a national point of view, even could the attainment of the whole supply be assumed, as the condition of her yielding to the terms we should prescribe. Are not the borders of the Black Sea, the coast of
Africa, and South America, all wheat countries, open to her commerce ?
But the embargo saves our resources. It may justly be questioned, whether, in this point of view, the embargo is so effectual as, at first, men are led to imagine. It may be doubted if the seed-wheat for this harvest is not worth more than the whole crop. I say nothing of the embarrassments of our commerce, of the loss of our seamen, of the sunken value of real estate. But our dead, irredeemable loss by this embargo, during the present year, cannot be stated at less than ten per centum, on account of interest and profit on the whole export of our country—that is, on the one hundred and eight millions, ten million eight hundred thousand dollars.
Nor can our loss upon a million tons of unemployed shipping, be stated at less than at twenty dollars the ton-twenty millions of dollars. Thirty millions of dollars is a serious outfit for any voyage of salvation ; and the profit ought to be very unquestionable, before a wise man would be persuaded to renew or prolong
Besides, is it true, that the articles the embargo retains, are, in the common acceptation of the term, resources ? I suppose, that by this word, so ostentatiously used on all occasions, it is meant to convey the idea, that the produce thus retained in the country, will be a resource for use, or defence, in case of war, or any other misfortune happening to it. But is this true? Our exports are surplus products—what we raise beyond what we consume.
Because we cannot use them, they are surplus. Of course, in this country they have little or no value in use, but only in exchange. Take away the power of exchange, and how can they be called resources ? Every year produces sufficient for its own consumption, and a surplus. Suppose an embargo of ten years ; will gentlemen seriously contend, that the accumulating surplus of fish, cotton, tobacco and flour, would be a resource for any national exigencies? We cannot consume it,
because the annual product is equal to our annual consumption. Our embargo forbids us to sell it. How, then, is it a resource? Are we stronger or richer for it? The reverse, we are weaker and poorer. Weaker by all the loss of motive to activity, by all the diminution of the industry of the country, which such a deprivation of the power to exchange, produces. And what can be poorer than he, who is obliged to keep what he cannot use, and to labor for that which profiteth not?
[Mr. Quincy here remarked upon the unequal operation of the embargo in different parts of the union. He then proceeded.]
It is in vain to say, that if the embargo was raised, there would be no market. The merchants understand that subject better than you; and the eagerness with which preparations to load were carried on previous to the commencement of this session, speaks, in a language not to be mistaken, their opinion of the foreign markets. But it has been asked in debate, 66 will not Massachusetts, the cradle of liberty, submit to such privations ?" An embargo liberty was never cradled in Massachusetts. Our liberty was not so much a mountain, as a sea-nymph. She was free as air. She could swim, or she could run. The ocean was her cradle. Our fathers met her as she came, like the goddess of beauty, from the waves. They caught her as she was sporting on the beach. They courted her whilst she was spreading her nets upon the rocks. But an embargo liberty; a hand-cuffed liberty; a liberty in fetters; a liberty traversing between the four sides of a prison and beating her head against the walls, is none of our offspring. We abjure the monster. Its parentage is all inland.
The gentleman from North Carolina, (Mr. Macon,) exclaimed the other day, “ where is the spirit of '76 ?" Aye, sir, where is it? Would to heaven, that at our invocation, it would condescend to alight on this floor. But let gentlemen remember, that the spirit of '76 was not a spirit of empty declaration, or of abstract propo