Sunday, November 18, 2007

John C. Calhoun, Nationalist II

On Tuesday February 4, 1817, Representative John Caldwell Calhoun gave a speech in a favor of internal improvements. The following passage is simply stunning in its beauty. Imagine you are Calhoun, standing there on the floor of the House of Representatives one hundred ninety years ago, and declaim it as he might have.

To improve readability (and recitability), I have added additional paragraph divisions and removed phrases such as “Mr. C. said.”
But on this subject of national power, what . . . can be more important than a perfect unity in every part, in feelings and sentiments? And what can tend to more powerfully produce it, than overcoming the effects of distance?

No country, enjoying freedom, ever occupied anything like as great an extent of country as this Republic. One hundred years ago, the most profound philosophers did not believe it even to be possible. They did not suppose it possible that a pure Republic could exist on as great a scale even as the island of Great Britain.

What then was considered chimerical, . . . we now have the felicity to enjoy; and what is most remarkable, such is the happy mould of our Government, so well are the State and general powers blended, that much of our political happiness draws its origin from the extent of our Republic. It has exempted us from most of the causes which distracted the small Republics of antiquity.

Let it not, however, be forgotten, let it . . . forever be kept in mind, that it exposes us to the greatest of all calamities, next to the loss of liberty, and even to that in its consequence – disunion. We are great, and rapidly – [I] was about to say fearfully – growing. This . . . is our pride and danger – our weakness and our strength. Little . . . does he deserve to be intrusted with the liberties of this people, who does not raise his mind to these truths.

We are under the most imperious obligation to counteract every tendency to disunion. The strongest of all cements is, undoubtedly, the wisdom, justice, and, above all, the moderation of this House; yet the great subject on which we are now deliberating, in this respect, deserves the most serious consideration.

Whatever . . . impedes the intercourse of the extremes with this, the centre of the Republic, weakens the Union. The more enlarged the sphere of commercial circulation, the more extended that of social intercourse; the more strongly are we bound together; the more inseparable are our destinies.

Those who understand the human heart best, know how powerfully distance tends to break the sympathies of our nature. Nothing, not even dissimilarity of language, tends more to estrange man from man. Let us then . . . bind the Republic together with a perfect system of roads and canals. Let us conquer space. . . .

So situated . . . , blessed with a form of Government at once combining liberty and strength, we may reasonably raise our eyes to a most splendid future, if we only act in a manner worthy of our advantages. If, however, neglecting them, we permit a low, sordid, selfish, and sectional spirit to take possession of this House, this happy scene will vanish. We will divide, and in its consequences will follow misery and despotism.

To legislate for our country . . . requires not only the most enlarged views, but a species of self-devotion not exacted in any other. In a country so extensive, and so various in its interests, what is necessary for the common good, may apparently be opposed to the interest of particular sections. It must be submitted to as the condition of our greatness.

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