From the New York Observer
Feb. 15, 1831
Messrs. Editors.- I went to the House of Representatives yesterday in expectancy of hearing Mr. Everett on the Indian question. The privilege he claimed of discussing the merits of a petition on its presentation was out of the usual course, and met with a prompt and determined opposition- not probably so much from a conscientious regard to order, as on account of a fixed aversion to the admission of the subject for discussion. After about an hour's vigorous squabbling, speaker and all, like so many wrestlers, it was decided, 101 to 93, to consider Mr. Everett's motion of reference, 'c. The merits of the petition were then open to debate-Mr. Everett upon the floor. He made a very decent and satisfactory apology for urging this debate out of the usual course, viz: the momentous importance of the subject, as demanding instant attention, and the well known impossibility of introducing it in any other form. Mr. Everett spoke two hours and ten minutes, and the House adjourned.
There is something worthy of notice, in the getting up, or getting in of this discussion. And now it is in, it is to be hoped it will not come out, till something shall have been said and enacted to relieve the almost hopeless prospects of the Indians. I cannot say, however, that I have much faith that anything saving will be within reach.
But to the peculiar features of the introduction of this discussion. Mr. Everett had declared his purpose yesterday week, by a formal notice to the House. And in the meantime every possible device and all possible strength had been organized to defeat Mr. Everett's intention-' of course to bar all discussion on the Indian question, the present session. And it was discovered, (imagined to be discovered) that a question of order might be so framed from the rules of the House, as to answer all the purpose of a bar,-relying upon a majority to disposed to stand in the way. 'Will the House now consider?'- the petition motion, or proposition of the gentleman from Mass (Mr. Everett?)--So, that whatever ground, or form Mr. Everett might choose to assume, he could be met by the question of 'consideration;'- in other words, by the temper of the majority at the instant. Mr. Everett at first appealed from the decision of the chair--denying that the existing rules of the House relied on, comprehended the pending question. At the instance of his own friends, however, and for other purposes than a conviction of his error, he withdrew his appeal, and threw himself directly on the temper of the House-and the House sustained him, as I have stated. So that the device, so ingeniously manufactured, failed.
It was curious, and rather portentous, to see the working of the moral elements- of the nation, I may say, in its representative capacity-on this great question-all reduced to so narrow a circle, a glance of the eye. It required but little imagination-nay none at all- nought but the soberest, the commonest observation to read the strong and unequivocal symptoms of the scene, so rapidly, not to say, wildly enacting. Here at a glance and in an instant, were to be seen and felt the quick pulsations of the wide community, on the question sought, on the one side, to be agitated, on the other to be avoided. The quick and fiery glances of the eye, the hurried manner, the whispering groups--holding rapid converse-the earnest labor even of the chair to exclude the disagreeable theme--all had a language in it not to be mistaken. When the ayes and noes were finally announced, the buzz ceased, and the conflicting elements seemed reduced to the condition of obeyance to whatever challenge might happen to fall upon them.
Mr. Everett was heard with fixed and deep attention. But there were men, who took him down-his words, I mean-to hold him to account. Not unfrequently, in the progress of his speech, members would start suddenly from their seats, and make a hurried conversation with other members.
There are times when one feels a deep and thrilling interest in passing events. There are times, when a word means nothing. And then again there are times, when the same word means everything-everything momentous. For instance: the word impeachment. The same tri-syllable may, under certain circumstances, be bandied about in every one's mouth-it may be sounded even by a noisy declaimer in a parliamentary assembly, and that in a menace of elevated men;-and still be inoffensive-innoxious-when the conscience of all concerned are clear, and all hearts strong.
But in the present instance there has been at least a questionable assumption of power. It will not be readily granted by this whole community, that the Judiciary of this nation is set up for nothing-and that the head which controls the Executive arm of the law, is at the same time a Court to determine the law-to pronounce unconstitutional, statutes and ordinances, which have been in force for generations-to suspend their operation-and virtually to enact other regulations-and that to the derangement of customs affecting the vital interests of whole communities. The plea of conscience, as controlled by opinion, can never be admitted in vindication of such a course. For the only conscience allowed to an executive officer of government, or by which he is bound in the discharge of his offices, is to maintain the law. No matter what his private opinion may be. He must either do his duty, as thus prescribed-or vacate his place. Admitting a long established usage of state to be unconstitutional. Usage has given it sanction and authority. And for an Executive, to suspend that usage, at his own discretion, is enacting law against law-- or against usage, which nothing but the authority of the Judiciary could annul.
How nearly within this mooted case comes the current treatment of our Government towards the Indians, in withdrawing from them the protection guarantied by Treaties, and for ages afforded from the same source, without even a question, is sufficiently evident. Existent covenants and hitherto unbroken usage are known to be set aside-at the will of the Executive;-and the machinery necessary to the keeping of those covenants, constructed for that very purpose, and long time in actual operation--withdrawn. And this without consulting the Judiciary--without giving the Judiciary time to speak-or allowing it is a matter that concerns them. The Judiciary is forestalled and precluded. Here, indeed, is made a very grave question. The conflicting interests on the one side-the lovers and advocates of good faith on the other-and the bold measures of Government, deciding questions the alone and most sacred trust of the Judiciary-such interests, and such sympathies, and such high proceedings coming together-meeting at a single point, after having been for months and years collecting their forces, might well be supposed to light up a blaze at the moment of contact.
The advocate of Indian rights, being admitted to speak, unfolds the simple history appertaining to the question-draws the line, with unerring hand, and with the light of a sunbeam, between Executive and Judiciary prerogative-and then, when every ear is attent (sic), and every pulse beats high with passion, there drops incidentally--only incidentally- from his lips, though in a connection not unintelligible, the word, Impeachment. It is he who speaks, his own circumspection, the classical purity and precision of his diction, the time, the circumstance, the question-which give significancy and importance to the word. And I dare to say-that no single word was ever uttered in that Hall of such mighty and portentous import. It came upon the deep feeling of the rapt listeners, like the voice which rends the summer stormy cloud. The murmurs of discontent which ran through the Hall, and the and the startled apprehensions of those, who felt there was too much truth in the story to be so plain--told unequivocally what fearful elements that word embodied in such connection.
Doubtless, the whole subject matter, or the supposed errors have been carried too far to be conveniently disposed of. Will the aggressors on the sanctity of public covenants ' on the holier elements of the Constitution, tread back?- There is no hope of such a result. Will the people endure the violence done to their faith-and to the sacred institutions? This can hardly be expected. Evidently, there is but one step more between the present and the crisis; a decision of the Supreme Court. By that time, it is devoutly hoped, that sobriety will have chastened intemperate passion-that those who have exceeded propriety will halt-that the rest will forgive-and all bow in submission to the supremacy of law.
What this discussion in the House got up in this way will come to, I know now. It will be in order only on Monday of each week. Mr. Everett will doubtless occupy next Monday-and the only remaining Monday of this session will hardly suffice for the Georgians and others to discharge themselves of the kindling and burning fires within them. It is not unlikely, therefore, that they will suspend the rules of the House, and devote most of the remainder of this session, after Monday next, to the Indian question. And so it should be. For to sleep upon it, is death-death to the hopes of Indians, and unatonable offending on the part of the nation.
Simultaneously with this movement in the House, a resolution was offered in the Senate by Mr. Frelinghuysen, calling for information of the President-whether the intercourse law of 1802 had been duly observed between the Government and the Indians; and if any parts of that law had been suspended-what might be the reasons. I quote the substance-not having the resolution before me. It was agreed to on Tuesday (next day) by a vote of 43 to 3. The President will probably delay his answer, so as to exclude a discussion of this question in Senate from the present Congress. I am sorry to have lost the discussion on the resolution having understood there was some animated debate--in which Mr. Frelinghuysen was conspicuous-and that he did himself much credit. Mr. Forsyth is represented to haave said:- that he (Mr. Forsyth) had spared that gentleman (Mr. Frelinghuysen) heretofore--(last session) and that it now depended on his good conduct, whether he should realize the same favors in future!