HOW IT PARALYZED BUSINESS
A whole people is laboring under a most grievous oppression. All the business of the nation is deranged. All its active hopes are frustrated. All its industry stagnant. Its numerous products hastening to their market, are stopt in their course. A dam is thrown across the current, and every hour the strength and the tendency toward resistance is accumulating. The scene we are now witnessing is altogether unparalleled in history. The tales of fiction have no parallel for it. A new writ is executed upon a whole people. Not, indeed, the old monarchial writ, ne exeat regno, but a new republican writ, ne exeat republicâ. Freemen, in the pride of their liberty, have restraints imposed on them which despotism never exercised. They are fastened down to the soil by the enchantment of law; and their property vanishes in the very process of preservation. It is impossible for us to separate and leave such a people at such a moment as this, without administering some opiate to their distress. Some hope, however distant, of alleviation must be proffered; some prospect of relief opened. Otherwise, justly might we fear for the result of such an unexampled pressure. Who can say what counsels despair might suggest, or what weapons it might furnish? . . .
The embargo power, which now holds in its palsying grip all the hopes of this nation, is distinguished by two characteristics of material import, in deciding what control shall be left over it during our recess. I allude to its greatness and its novelty.
As to its greatness, nothing is like it. Every class of men feels it. Every interest in the nation is affected by it. The merchant, the farmer, the planter, the mechanic, the laboring poorall are sinking under its weight. But there is this that is peculiar to it, that there is no equality in its nature. It is not like taxation, which raises revenue according to the average of wealth; burdening the rich and letting the poor go free. But it presses upon the particular classes of society, in an inverse ratio to the capacity of each to bear it. From those who have much, it takes indeed something. But from those who have little, it takes all. For what hope is left to the industrious poor when enterprise, activity, and capital are proscribed their legitimate exercise? The regulations of society forbid what was once property to be so any longer. For property depends on circulation, on exchange; on ideal value. The power of property is all relative. It depends not merely upon opinion here, but upon opinion in other countries. If it be cut off from its destined market, much of it is worth nothing, and all of it, is worth infinitely less than when circulation is unobstructed.
This embargo power is, therefore, of all powers the most enormous, in the manner in which it affects the hopes and interests of a nation. But its magnitude is not more remarkable than its novelty. An experiment, such as is now making, was never beforeI will not say triedit never before entered into the human imagination. There is nothing like it in the narrations of history or in the tales of fiction. All the habits of a mighty nation are at once counteracted. All their property depreciated. All their external connections violated. Five millions of people are encaged. They can not go beyond the limits of that once free country; now they are not even permitted to thrust their own property through the grates. I am not now questioning its policy, its wisdom, or its practicability: I am merely stating the fact. And I ask if such a power as this, thus great, thus novel, thus interfering with all the great passions and interests of a whole people, ought to be left for six months in operation, without any power of control, except upon the occurrence of certain specified and arbitrary contingencies? Who can foretell when the spirit of endurance will cease? Who, when the strength of nature shall outgrow the strength of your bonds? Or if they do, who can give a pledge that the patience of the people will not first be exhausted.
1 Josiah Quincy, who is now best remembered as President of Harvard College (1829-1845), was a member of Congress during Jefferson's administration, and perhaps the most prominent of the extreme Federalists who opposed Jefferson. His opposition to the Embargo was intense.
Hart, who prints this article in his "Source Book of American History," explains that the Embargo, which prohibited the departure of vessels with cargoes for foreign ports, was an act of retaliation against England and France. New England ship-owners and Southern planters were alike vigorous in their clamorous outcries against it. Bryant's poem is now the best known expression of the feeling it aroused in New England. The act was repealed in 1809.
Josiah Quincy a few years later (during the War of 1812) was a delegate to the famous secret Hartford Convention in which the doctrine of secession was promulgated. He went further than to favor it in the convention, inasmuch as he openly supported it in Congress, in a speech in which oc curred these words: "I am compelled to declare it as my deliberate opinion that, if this bill passes, the bonds of union are virtually dissolved; that the States which compose it are free from their moral obligations, and that as it will be the right of all, as it will be the duty of some, to prepare definitely for a separation-amicably if they can, violently if they must." Quincy early saw the danger that lay in the extension of the slave power, and the speech from which this extract is taken pertained to that subject. An account of the Hartford Convention by James Schouler will be found in Volume V.
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