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Jan 25 1812: Speech of Josiah Quincy


On January 25, 1812, Representative Josiah Quincy of Massachusetts rose to speak in favour of the establishment of a navy. Josiah Quincy, a Federalist, was a representative from Massachusetts  (March 4, 1805-March 3, 1813).
James Fisk of Vermont responded to Quincy arguing against a navy. He stated  that he had originally been inclined to vote for a small increase of the Naval Establishment but it now appeared that what was being considered was "a great system a system which he feared if carried into execution might change the Government." He added that he considered standing armies and navies as dangerous to liberty.
Excerpts from Josiah Quincy's speech can be follow below. The grand rhetoric of the speech, much admired at the time, may seem overly ornate to our ears.  
Mr. Speaker, — I rise to address you on this occasion with no affected diffidence, and with many doubts concerning the expediency of taking any part in this debate. On the one hand, the subject has been discussed with a zeal, industry, and talent, which leave but little scope for novelty either in topic or illustration. On the other hand, arguments from this side of the House in favor of this question are received with so natural a jealousy that I know not whether more may not be lost than gained by so unpropitious a support. Indeed, sir, if this subject had been discussed on narrow or temporary or party principles, I should have been silent. On such ground I could not condescend to debate; I could not hope to influence. But the scale of discussion has been enlarged and liberal, relative rather to the general system than to the particular exigency; in almost every respect it has been honorable to the House and auspicious to the prospects of the nation.- In such a state of feeling and sentiment, I could not refrain from indulging the hope that suggestions, even from no favorite quarter, would be received with candor, perhaps with attention…
...The object I shall chiefly attempt to enforce is the necessity and duty of a systematic protection of our  maritime rights by maritime means. I would call the thoughtful and intelligent men of this House and nation to the contemplation of the essential connection between a naval force proportionate to the circumstances of our sea-coast, the extent of our commerce, and the inherent enterprise of our people ; — I say, sir, I would call them to the contemplation of the essential connection between such a naval force and the safety, prosperity, and existence of our Union. In the course of my observations, and as a subsidiary argument, I shall also attempt to show the connection between the adoption of the principle of a systematic maintenance of our maritime rights by maritime means, and relief from our present national embarrassments.
... Among States, the only sure and permanent bond of union is interest; and the vital interests of States, although they may be sometimes obscured, can never, for a very long time, be misapprehended. The natural protection which the essential interests of the great component parts of our political association require will be, sooner or later, understood by the States concerned in those interests. If a protection, upon system, be not provided, it is impossible that discontent should not result. And need I tell statesmen that, when great local discontent is combined in those sections with great physical power and with acknowledged portions of sovereignty, the inbred ties of nature will be too strong for the artificial ties of a parchment compact?
... It seems sufficient to observe that commerce is, from the nature of things, the leading interest of more than one-half, and that it is the predominating interest of more than one-third, of the people of these United States. The States north of the Potomac contain nearly four millions of souls; and surely it needs no proof to convince the most casual observer that the proportion which the   commercial interest bears to the other interests of that great section of the Union is such as entitles it to the denomination of a leading interest. The States north of the Hudson contain nearly two and a half millions of souls; and surely there is as little need of proof to show that the proportion the commercial interest bears to the other interests of that northern section of the Union is such as entitles it there to the denomination of a predominating interest. In all the country between the Potomac and the Hudson, the interest of commerce is so great in proportion to the other interests that its embarrassment clogs and weakens the energy of every other description of industry. Yet the agricultural and manufacturing interests of this section are of a nature and a magnitude, both in respect of the staples of the one and the objects of the other, as render them in a very considerable degree independent of the commercial…
... Enough has been said to convince any one who will take the trouble to reflect upon the subject that the interest is, in its nature, eminently local; that it is impossible it can be systematically abandoned without convulsing that whole section of country; and that the States interested in this commerce, so vital to their prosperity, have a right to claim and ought not to be content with less than efficient protection….…And will it be seriously contended that, upon the basis of a commerce, like ours, thus treading upon the heels of British greatness, we are absolutely without the ability of maintaining the security of our sea-board, the safety of our cities and the unobstructed course of our coasting trade?
By recurring to the permanency of this interest, the folly and madness of this negligence, and misplaced meanness, for it does not deserve the name of economy, will be still more distinctly exhibited. If this commerce were the mushroom growth of a night, if it had its vigor from the temporary excitement and the accumulated nutriment which warring elements in Europe had swept from the places of their natural deposit, then, indeed, there might be some excuse for a temporizing policy touching so transitory an interest. But commerce, in the Eastern States, is of no foreign growth, and of no adventitious seed. Its root is of a fibre which almost two centuries have nourished. And the perpetuity of its destiny is written, in legible characters, as well in the nature of the country as in the dispositions of its inhabitants…
...It has been said, by some philosophers of the other hemisphere, that nature in this new world had worked by a sublime scale; that our mountains and rivers and lakes were, beyond all comparison, greater than any thing the old world could boast; that she had here made nothing diminutive except its animals. And ought we not to fear lest the bitterness of this sarcasm should be concentrated on our country by a course of policy wholly unworthy of the magnitude and nature of the interests committed to our guardianship? Have we not reason to fear that some  future cynic, with an asperity which truth shall make piercing, will declare that all things in these United States are great except its statesmen; and that we are pigmies to whom Providence has intrusted, for some inscrutable purpose, gigantic labors?.. ... If you had a field to defend in Georgia, it would be very strange to put up a fence in Massachusetts. And yet how does this differ from  invading Canada, for the purpose of defending our maritime rights? I beg not to be understood, Mr. Speaker, by this remark as intending to chill the ardor for the Canada expedition. It is very true that, to possess ourselves of the Canadas and Nova Scotia and their dependencies, it would cost these United States, at the least estimate, fifty millions of dollars; and that Great Britain — national pride, and her pledge of protection to the people of that country, being put out of the question— would sell you the whole territory for half the money. I make no objection, however, on this account. On the contrary, for the purposes of the present argument, I may admit that pecuniary calculation ought to be put out of the field when spirit is to be shown or honor vindicated. I only design to inquire how our maritime rights are protected by such invasion. Suppose that, in every land project, you are successful. Suppose both the Canadas, Quebec, Halifax, every thing to the North Pole yours by fair conquest. Are your rights on the ocean therefore secure? Does your flag float afterwards in honor? Are your seamen safe from impressment? Is your course along the highway of nations unobstructed? No one pretends it. No one has or can show, by any logical deduction or any detail of facts, that the loss of those countries would so depress Great Britain as to induce her to abandon for one hour any of her maritime pretensions. What, then, results? Why, sir, what is palpable as the day, that maritime rights are only to be maintained by maritime means...
... Our capacity to defend our commerce against every one of these powers is undeniable. Because we cannot maintain our rights against the strong, shall we bear insult and invite plunder from the weak? Because there is one leviathan in the ocean, shall every shark satiate his maw on our fatness with impunity?...
...The strong ties of every people are those which spring from the heart and twine through the affections. The family compact   of the States has this for its basis, that their heroes have mingled their blood in the same contests; that all have a common right in their glory; that, if I may be allowed the expression, in the temple of patriotism all have the same worship...
...It is impossible for European nations not to know that we are the second commercial country in the world; that we have more than seven millions of people, with less annual expenditure and more unpledged sources of revenue than any nation of the civilized world. Yet a nation thus distinguished — abounding in wealth, in enterprise, and in power — is seen flying away from "the unprofitable contest; " abandoning the field of controversy; taking refuge behind its own doors, and softening the rigors of oppression abroad by a comparison with worse torments at home. Ought such a nation to ask for respect? Is there any other mode of relief from this depth of disgrace than by a change of national conduct and character?
..The general effect of the policy I advocate is to produce confidence at home and respect abroad. These are twin shoots from the same stock, and never fail to nourish or fade together. Confidence is a plant of no mushroom growth and of no artificial texture. It springs only from sage councils and generous endeavors. The protection you extend must be efficient and suited to the nature of the object you profess to maintain. If it be neither adequate nor appropriate, your wisdom may be doubted, your motives may be distrusted, but in vain you expect confidence. The inhabitants of the seaboard will inquire of their own senses and not of your logic concerning the reality of their protection...
...But let the opposite policy prevail; let the essential interests of the great component parts of this Union find no protection under the national arm; instead of safety let them realize oppression, and the seeds of discord and dissolution are inevitably sown in a soil the best fitted for their root, and affording the richest nourishment for their expansion. It may be a long time before they ripen; but sooner or later they will assuredly burst forth in all their destructive energies. In the intermediate period, what aspect does an union thus destitute of cement present? Is it that of a nation keen to discern and strong to resist violations of its sovereignty? It has rather the appearance of a casual collection of semi barbarous clans, with the forms of civilization, and with the rude and rending passions of the savage state: in truth, powerful; yet, as to any foreign effect, imbecile: rich in the goods of fortune, yet wanting that inherent spirit without which a nation is poor indeed: their strength exhausted by struggles for local power; their moral sense debased by low intrigues for personal popularity or temporary pre-eminence; all their thoughts turned, not to the safety of the state, but to the elevation of a chieftain. 
A people presenting such an aspect, what have they   to expect abroad? What but pillage, insult, and scorn? The choice is before us. Persist in refusing efficient maritime protection; persist in the system of commercial restrictions: what now is, perhaps, prophecy will hereafter be history.

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