Front Page Titles (by Subject) THE WHIG EMBASSY TO WASHINGTON, AND ITS RESULT - Democratick Editorials: Essays in Jacksonian Political Economy
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Search this Title:
THE WHIG EMBASSY TO WASHINGTON, AND ITS RESULT - William Leggett, Democratick Editorials: Essays in Jacksonian Political Economy 
Democratic Editorials: Essays in Jacksonian Political Economy, Foreword by Lawrence H. White (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1984).
About Liberty Fund:
Liberty Fund, Inc. is a private, educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.
The copyright to this edition, in both print and electronic forms, is held by Liberty Fund, Inc.
Fair use statement:
This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.
THE WHIG EMBASSY TO WASHINGTON, AND ITS RESULT
May 13, 1837.
Text abridged and extracts deleted.
. . . The manifesto1 takes openly the highest ground of aristocratick doctrine. It asserts, with startling frankness, the fundamental principal of that creed which rests on deep distrust of popular intelligence and virtue. It affirms that moral and pecuniary worth go together; that property is the touchstone of merit, and the only true and permanent basis of government. It in effect repeats the celebrated dogma of Mr. Webster, “Take care of the rich, and the rich will take care of the poor,” a sentiment so revolting to the general sense, that he was fain to disavow it, though it was well known he had uttered it; but it is now put forth by this whig committee of no partisans with a boldness that indicates an intention of withdrawing it no more, but rather of shouting it louder and louder, as their chief and most exciting battle-cry. “In a great majority of cases the possession of property is the proof of merit.” This is the ground on which they take their stand. They give a new reading to the old saying that “worth makes the man, and want of it the fellow.” Worth with them is not moral and intellectual worth, shown by any other index than dollars and cents. He is most worthy who is worth the most money; and he the most base who is worth none. Property is the proof of merit; and according to the inevitable converse, poverty is the proof of vileness and degradation.
But property, we are told, as a general rule, cannot be acquired, in a country of free laws and equal rights, without industry, skill, and economy. This, however, is not a country of free laws and equal rights. The principle of man’s natural and unalienable equality of rights is admitted in the abstract, but is widely departed from in practice. It is for endeavouring to conform the practice to the theory that the whigs raise all this no partisan clamour against Mr. Van Buren. They want a National Bank, to make the rich richer and the poor poorer; to set at naught the just influence of the poor man’s equal suffrage; and place the government under the absolute control of a sordid, fluctuating, paper money aristocracy. “Property cannot be acquired without industry, skill and economy?” How, then, in heaven’s name, did the pseudo rich men of the last two years acquire their wealth? Did it rain upon them from the clouds, or spring up under their feet spontaneously from the bosom of the earth? Was it an exercise of “industry, skill and economy” to lay out cities in the prairies, project railroads over mountains, and devise all sorts of impossible schemes, and then, counting upon the realization of these visionary projects, to assume the loftiest port of affluence, and riot in the most wasteful excess? Was it “industry, skill, and economy,” that supplied the gorgeous equipages and sumptuous tables of the thousands, who now, overtaken by the inevitable consequences of their own folly, declaim against the specie circular, lay the blame of their wild and most immoral extravagance to the account of the government, and demand its assistance to rescue them from the bankruptcy they have brought upon themselves? Under a code of really equal laws, property would, indeed, to a certain extent, be an evidence of sagacity and prudence, but under a system of special privileges, it is as much a proof of successful gambling, as of steady enterprise employed in objects useful to mankind. Under a federal bank, property would soon become the badge of an exclusively privileged order, and poverty and vassalage the irremediable doom of the great majority of men.
We rejoice, however, that the whigs take their stand, openly and boldly, on their true distinctive principles. They now show themselves in the native hue of aristocracy. They no longer attempt to slubber over their real motives of action, or the ultimate objects which they hope to achieve. They no longer deny that a National Bank is their shibboleth and that the protection of a privileged order is the chief end of government. On this ground we are willing to meet them, and, proclaiming with equal distinctness and sincerity the principles for which we fight, we close with them in the struggle, and trust the issue to the merits of our cause. We hold that all men have equal political rights. That the sole object of government is the protection of those rights; and that whatever impairs or infringes them, whatever gives privileges to the few, which are withheld from the many, or superiour immunities, in any respect, to any particular rank or class of men, is an abuse of power, contrary to the great ends of political organization, and calling for prompt correction through the influence of equal suffrage.
“Those who believe that the possession of property is an evidence of merit will be the last to interfere with the rights of property of any kind.” We beg our readers to mark the terms and purpose of this pledge to the slaveholders of the south. There is no ambiguity in this part of the manifesto. The solemn promise is given by the northern whigs to the southern slaveholders, that they will respect, to the utmost extent, the rights of property in slaves, and discourage, as a cardinal measure of party, every attempt to discuss the great scheme of emancipation. The maxim, so boldly asserted, that “property is the proof of merit” includes, it seems, property in fellow beings, not less than property in things. Slaves cannot be acquired, any more than houses and lands, without “industry, skill, and economy,” and he
“Is wisest, virtuousest, discreetest, best,”
who is the uncontrolled possessor of the greatest number of human creatures. The kidnapper, on the coast of Africa, with the noisome recesses of his vessel crowded with suffocating wretches, stolen from their homes and their country, must be a man of supereminent virtue and intelligence, according to the creed which recognizes property of all kinds as “the proof of merit;” and the craven man-seller, who drives his herd of poor negroes through the streets of the federal metropolis of this great empire of freemen, and sells them to the highest bidder under the very walls of the capitol,
—where freedom waves
Her fustian flag in mockery over slaves,2
is a citizen far more meritorious than the humble denizen, who, respecting the equal rights of his fellow men, and trusting solely to “industry, skill, and economy,” has no proof of merit to offer that will stand the test of the whig touchstone of desert.
Mere party newspapers, of the northern and eastern states, have been endeavouring, for a long time past, to heap on their antagonists the odium of abolitionism. In that contemptible and degrading spirit of misrepresentation, which too much distinguishes the political press, they have sought, by mutual criminations and reproaches, to convince the south that the ordinary line of political demarcation also divided opinions on the question of slavery. The whigs have charged abolitionism on the democracy, and the democracy have retorted the charge upon the whigs. But we have now the formal declaration, adopted, as we are assured, by unanimous acclamation, at an immense assemblage of the whigs of this great city, that they are the friends and advocates of slavery; that they consider the possession of slaves the proof of merit; and that they will discourage every effort to discuss the evils of servitude. We ask of our readers to ponder this declaration. We ask of those, more particularly, to give it their most serious heed, who think with us as to the detestable wickedness and ruinous consequences of slavery. And we ask, most particularly, of those who coincide with us in regard to slavery, but differ on questions of politicks—we ask of whig abolitionists, to read this bill of sale which consigns them over to the task-masters of the south; which surrenders their inestimable right of free discussion; which forbids them to yearn and pray for the emancipation of three millions of their fellow men from abject bondage; but pledges that they shall witness, uncomplainingly and complacently, without raising an arm or exerting a voice, whatever enormities that meritorious class who hold their black brothers as property may choose to perpetrate on the human commodity. We ask the American, which has heretofore been a vigorous and efficient asserter of the sacred right of free discussion, if it consents to this sweeping measure of propitiation to the south? We ask the Express, which has shown some touches of human sympathy for the poor negro, and some natural horrour of the institution of slavery, if it will be a party to so base a compact? We ask of every friend of human rights, whatever may be his opinions on questions of temporary expediency, whether he will countenance this unholy league?
But let slavery and aristocracy, between which there is a natural affinity, plant their banners on the same height, and wage war with their united forces against the democracy. Strong in the clear justice of that cause which asks for nothing but equal rights, we shall encounter the shock with unshrinking confidence, and our efforts will lose none of their energy from the reflection that, not our own freedom only, but freedom to the slave, depends on the result.
[1 ]Leggett refers to the published comments of a committee of New York Whigs on a letter from President Van Buren. The President wrote in response to requests presented to him in Washington by the committee.—Ed.
[2 ]A line from Thomas Moore, London Examiner satirist.—Ed.