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There are here many who, by a too flattering estimate of my capacity, decided me worthy of the office of chief magistrate, and, during the last presidential canvass, honored me with their support
. To them I take this occasion to say, that, if instead of the present abused chief magistrate, they had obtained the preference, the measures of the administration would not have been, in any essential particular, different from those which have been adopted. All the principal acts and measures of the existing administration, have met with my humble and hearty concurrence.
Cultivating a farm in Kentucky, and having other objects of private concern, I have found it necessary, both on that account, and the relaxation from official business, indispensable to the preservation of health, annually to visit this quarter of the union, during the period of my connection with the executive of the United States. In these visits, I have frequently met large portions of my fellow-citizens, upon their friendly and pressing invitations. My object has been called in question, and my motives assailed. It has been said, that my purpose was electioneering. If it be intended to charge me with employing improper or dishonorable acts, to secure my election, I deny the charge, and disclaim the purpose. I defy my most malignant enemies to show that I ever, during any period of my life, resorted to such acts to promote my own election, or that of any other person. I have availed myself of these assemblies, and of other opportunities, to defend myself against an accusation, publicly made, and a thousand times repeated. I had a right to do this by the immutable laws of selfdefence. My addresses to the public, heretofore, have been generally strictly defensive. If they have ever given pain to any of my adversaries, they must reproach themselves with its infliction. There is one way, and but one way, in which they can silence
My traducers have attributed to me great facility in making a bargain. Whether I possess it or not, there is one bargain which, for their accommodation, I am willing to enter into with them. If they will prevail upon their chief to acknowledge that he has been in error, and has done me injustice, and if they will cease to traduce and abuse me, I will no longer present myself before public assemblies, or in public prints, in my own defence. That is one bargain which I have no expectation of being able to conclude ; for men who are in a long-established line of business, will not voluntarily quit their accustomed trade, and acknowledge themselves bankrupts to honor, decency, and truth.
Some who have persuaded themselves that they saw in my occasional addresses to the people, incompatibility with the dignity and reserve belonging to the office I hold, I know not according to what standard, (it can hardly be any deduced from a popular representative government,) these gentlemen have regulated their opinions. True dignity appears to me to be independent of office
or station. It belongs to every condition ; but if there be a difference between private and public life, the more exalted the station, the greater is the obligation of the public functionary, in my humble judgment, to render himself amiable, affable, and accessible. The public officer who displays a natural solicitude to defend himself against a charge deeply affecting his honor and his character, manifests, at the same time, a just respect for the community. It is, I think, an erroneous judgment of the nature of office, and its relations, to suppose that it imposes the duty on the officer, of abstracting himself from society, and a stiff and stately port. Without, I hope, forgetting what was due to myself, my habit, throughout life, has been that of friendly, free, and frank intercourse with my fellow-citizens. I have not thought it necessary to change my personal identity in any of the various offices through which I have passed, or to assume a new character. It may not be easy to draw the line, as to the occasions in which a man should remain silent, or defend himself. In the general, it is better, perhaps, that he should leave his public acts, and the measures which he espouses or carries, to their own vindication ; but if his integrity be questioned, and dishonorable charges, under high and imposing names, be preferred against him, he cannot remain silent without a culpable insensibility to all that is valuable in human life.
Sir, I feel that I have trespassed too much, both upon you and myself. If prudence were a virtue of which I could boast, I should have spared both you and me. But I could not deny myself the gratification of expressing my thanks to my Cincinnati friends, for the numerous instances which I have experienced of their kind and respectful consideration. I beg you, sir, and every gentleman here attending, to accept my acknowledgments; and I especially owe them to the gentlemen of the committee, who did me the honor to meet me at Louisville, and accompany me to this city. Whatever may be my future destiny, whilst my faculties are preserved, I shall cherish a proud and grateful recollection of these testimonies of respect and attachment.
ON RETIRING FROM OFFICE.
AT WASHINGTON, MARCH 7, 1829
[At the close of Mr. Adams's administration, Mr. Clay, having resigned his office of secretary of state before the inauguration of general Jackson as president of the United States, was invited to meet his friends at Washington city, and others from various parts of the union, at a public dinner, which he accepted. while preparing to return to the place of his residence at the west. On this occasion the fifth toast was:
Healih, prosperity, and happiness to our highly valued and esteemed guest and fellow-citizen, Henri Clay. Whatever the future destination of his life, he has done enough for honor, and need desire no higher reward than the deep seated affection and respect of his friends and his country.”
This having been received with much feeling and applause, Mr. Clay arose and addressed the company as follows:]
In rising, Mr. President, to offer my respectful acknowledgments for the honors of which I am here the object, I must ask the indulgence of yourself and the other gentlenien now assembled, for an unaffected embarrassment, which is more sensibly felt than it can be distinctly expressed. This city has been the theatre of the greater portion of my public life. You, and others whom I now see, have been spectators of my public course and conduct. You and they are, if I may borrow a technical expression from an honorable profession of which you and I are both members, jurors of the vicinage. To a judgment rendered by those who have thus long known me, and by others though not of the panel, who have possessed equal opportunities of forming correct opinions, I most cheerfully submit. If the weight of human testimony should be estimated by the intelligence and respectability of the witness, and the extent of his knowledge of the inatter on which he testifies, the highest consideration is due to that which has been this day spontaneously given. I shall ever cherish it with the most grateful recollection, and look back upon it with proud satisfaction.
I should be glad to feel that I could with any propriety abstain from any allusion at this time and at this place, to public affairs. But considering the occasion which has brought us together, the events which have preceded it, and the influence which they may exert upon the destinies of our country, my silence might be misinterpreted, and I think it therefore proper that I should embrace this first public opportunity which I have had of saying a few words, since the termination of the late memorable and embittered contest. It is far from my wish to continue or 10 revive the agitation with which that contest was attended. It is ended, for good or for evil. The nation wants repose. A majority of the people has decided, and from their decision there can and ought to be no appeal. Bowing, as I do, with profound respect to them, and to this exercise of their sovereign authority, I may nevertheless be allowed to retain and to express my own unchanged sentiments, even if they should not be in perfect coincidence with theirs. It is a source of high gratification to me to believe that I share these sentiments in common with more than half a million of freemen, possessing a degree of virtue, of intelligence, of religion, and of genuine patriotisin, which, without disparagement to others, is unsurpassed, in the same number of men in this or any other country, in this or any other age.
I deprecated the election of the present president of the United States, because I believed be had neither the temper, the experience, nor the attainments requisite to discharge the complicated and arduous duties of chief magistrate. I deprecated it still more, because his elevation, I believed, would be the result exclusively of admiration and gratitude for military service, without regard to indispensable civil qualifications. I can neither retract, nor alter, nor modify, any opinion which, on these subjects, I have at any tiine heretofore expressed. I thought I beheld in his election an awful foreboding of the fate which, at some future (I pray to God that, if it ever arrive, it may be some far distant) day, was to befall this infant republic. All past history has impressed on my mind this solemn apprehension. Nor is it effaced or weakened by contemporaneous events passing upon our own favored continent. It is remarkable that, at this epoch, at the head of eight of the nine independent governments established in both Americas, military officers have been placed, or have placed themselves. General Lavalle has, by military force, subverted the republic of La Plata. General Santa Cruz is the chief magistrate of Bolivia; colonel Pinto of Chili; general Lamar of Peru; and general Bolivar of Colombia. Central America, rent in pieces, and bleeding at every pore,
from wounds inflicted by contending military factions, is under the alternate sway of their chiefs. In the government of our nearest neighbor, an election, conducted according to all the requirements of their constitution, has terminated with a majority of the states in favor of Pedrazza, the civil candidate. An insurrection was raised in behalf of his military rival; the cry, not exactly of a bargain, but of corruption, was sounded; the election was annulled, and a reform effected by proclaiming general Guerrero, having only a minority of the states, duly elected president. The thunders from the surrounding forts, and the acclama
tions of the assembled multitude, on the fourth, told us what general was at the head of our affairs. It is true, and in this respect we are happier than some of the American states, that his election has not been brought about by military violence. The forms of the constitution have yet remained inviolate.
In reasserting the opinions which I hold, nothing is further from my purpose than to treat with the slightest disrespect those of my fellow-citizens, here or elsewhere, who may entertain opposite senti
The fact of claiming and exercising the free and independent expression of the dictates of my own deliberate judgment, affords the strongest guarantee of my full recognition of their corresponding privilege.
A majority of my fellow-citizens, it would seem, do not perceive the dangers which I apprehended from the example. Believing that they are not real, or that we have some security against their effect, which ancient and modern republics have not found, that majority, in the exercise of their incontestable right of suffrage, have chosen for chief magistrate a citizen who brings into that high trust no qualification other than military triumphs.
That citizen has done much injustice - wanton, unprovoked, and unatoned injustice. It was inflicted, as I must ever believe, for the double purpose of gratifying private resentment and promoting personal ambition. When, during the late canvass, he came forward in the public prints under his proper name, with his charge against me, and summoned before the public tribunal his friend and his only witness to establish it, the anxious attention of the whole American people was directed to the testimony which that witness might render. He promptly obeyed the call and testified to what he knew. He could say nothing, and he said nothing, which cast the slightest shade upon my honor or integrity. What he did say was the reverse of any implication of me. Then all just and impartial men, and all who had faith in the magnanimity of my accuser, believed that he would voluntarily make a public acknowledgment of his error. How far this reasonable expectation has been fulfilled, let his persevering and stubborn silence attest. But my relations to that citizen by a recent event are now changed. He is the chief magistrate of my country, invested with large and extensive powers, the administration of which may conduce to its prosperity or occasion its adversity. Patriotism enjoins as a duty, that whilst he is in that exalted station, he should be treated with decorum, and his official acts be judged of in a spirit of candor. Suppressing, as far as I can, a sense of my personal wrong; willing even to forgive him, if his own conscience and our common God can acquit bim; and entertaining for the majority which has elected him, and for the office which he fills, all the deference which is due from a private citizen; I most anxiously hope, that under his guidance the great interests of our country, foreign and domestic,