The Great Speeches and Orations of Daniel Webster: With an Essay on Daniel Webster as a Master of English Style

By Edwin P. Whipple; Daniel Webster | Go to book overview

THE APPOINTING AND REMOVING POWER.

DELIVERED IN THE SENATE OF THE UNITED STATES, ON THE 16TH OF FEBRUARY, 1835, ON THE PASSAGE OF THE BILL, ENTITLED "AN ACT TO REPEAL THE FIRST AND SECOND SECTIONS OF THE ACT TO LIMIT THE TERM OF SERVICE OF CERTAIN OFFICERS THEREIN NAMED."

MR. PRESIDENT,--The professed object of this bill is the reduction of executive influence and patronage. I concur in the propriety of that object. Having no wish to diminish or to control, in the slightest degree, the constitutional and legal authority of the presidential office, I yet think that the indirect and rapidly increasing influence which it possesses, and which arises from the power of bestowing office and of taking it away again at pleasure, and from the manner in which that power seems now to be systematically exercised, is productive of serious evils.

The extent of the patronage springing from this power of appointment and removal is so great, that it brings a dangerous mass of private and personal interest into operation in all great public elections and public questions. This is a mischief which has reached, already, an alarming height. The principle of republican governments, we are taught, is public virtue; and whatever tends either to corrupt this principle, to debase it, or to weaken its force, tends, in the same degree, to the final overthrow of such governments. Our representative systems suppose, that, in exercising the high right of suffrage, the greatest of all political rights, and in forming opinions on great public measures, men will act conscientiously, under the influence of public principle and patriotic duty; and that, in supporting or oppos- ing men or measures, there will be a general prevalence of honest, intelligent judgment and manly independence. These presumptions lie at the foundation of all hope of maintaining governments entirely popular. Whenever personal, individual, or selfish motives influence the conduct of individuals on public questions, they affect the safety of the whole system. When these motives run deep and wide, and come in serious conflict with higher, purer, and more patriotic purposes, they greatly endanger that system; and all will admit that, if they become general and overwhelming, so that all public principle is lost sight of, and every election becomes a mere scramble for office, the system inevitably must fall. Every wise man, in and out of government, will endeavor, therefore, to promote the ascendency of public virtue and public principle, and to restrain as far as practicable, in the actual operation of our institutions, the influence of selfish and private interests.

I concur with those who think, that, looking to the present, and looking also to the future, and regarding all the probabilities that await us in reference to the character and qualities of those who may fill the executive chair, it is important to the stability of government and the welfare of the people that there should be a check to the progress of official influence and patronage. The

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