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The meeting at which the following speech was delivered was one of the largest and most enthusiastic ever held in the city of Philadelphia. Besides the inhabitants of the city, there was a great attendance from the eastern counties of the State. The United States Gazette of the 2d of October, 1844, gives an animated account of the celebration, of which the following is an abridgment: —
"Philadelphia has been the scene of many gallant displays, — heartcheering and evincing the fulness of enthusiasm. Brilliant processions have swept through her streets; shouts have arisen from living masses congregated to evince their attachment to principles or to men; and multitudes have gathered to listen to the inspiring eloquence of some favorite orator. There have been great occasions and great displays in honor of them; but there never was one which, in grand and imposing effect, as an evidence of attachment to great principles, and to the great men who advocate them, can at all compare with that of yesterday.
"Never have we seen the population of Philadelphia so completely, either marshalled into a procession, or poured into the streets through which it passed. Business was completely at a stand, for it was felt by the mass of the population that the time had come when it was necessary for all to make a sacrifice of private interest to the public good.
"The previous evening gave promise in various ways of the stirring interest of the ensuing day. At the earliest dawn the work of preparation was visible. In many streets flags and streamers were stretched across from house to house. Market Street presented a forest of flags and pennons. Fourth Street, Front Street, and the shipping at the wharves, were adorned in the same way. The sky was without a cloud.
"The crowds soon increased to throngs. The houses in the streets through which the procession was to pass were filled, many of the windows being occupied by ladies. The masses in the streets were so compact, that it was at times difficult for the procession to make its way.
"From the beginning to the end of the route, there was a continuous mass of people; and when at last the procession poured into the fields, where the meeting was to be held, a most magnificent spectacle was presented. When the meeting was organized, it was estimated that at least fifty thousand persons were assembled on the ground.
"Hon. John Sergeant was chosen President of the Convention, and introduced the business of the day by an appropriate and eloquent address. The following speech was then delivered by Mr. Webster."
WHIG CONVENTION AT PHILADELPHIA.*
Fellow-citizens Of Pennsylvania: — I am happy to be with you, in this assembling of ourselves together, to manifest the interest I feel in the great cause which has convened you, and my deep concern for the issue of the election now pending. But I come with no expectation of adding any thing of information or argument to the side which you and I espouse. The questions at issue have been discussed, by persons of abilities, all over the country. Most reading men have had opportunity to examine for themselves; and most thinking men, time to mature their judgments. Yet, Gentlemen, if this meeting shall have the effect of awakening what may remain of listlessness and indifference, and of inspiring new activity and new firmness of purpose, an important end will be accomplished, and much good done. Political friends are cheered, we are all cheered, by manifestations of common feeling and a common resolution. We take courage from one another; we obtain new impulses from sympathy. If this meeting shall arouse public attention, if unthinking men shall be made by it to think and to observe, if we shall find ourselves prompted by new zeal, and resolved on more vigorous efforts, then we have assembled for good, and may congratulate ourselves that a duty to our country has been performed.
Gentlemen, although there are two great parties in the country, with distinct and opposing candidates for high office, and avowing and maintaining, in genera], different and opposing principles and opinions, yet in this great Commonwealth of Pennsylvania there is something quite peculiar in the pretensions and conduct of one of these parties, in regard to the principles which it claims for itself, or assigns to its candidates. I pray permission, Gentlemen, to invite your attention to this peculiarity. A singular stratagem seems to be attempted; the putting on of a new face, the speaking with a new voice, and the assumption of quite a new deportment and behavior. This is worthy of close observation and regard. Generally speaking, the two parties, throughout the whole country, are divided and opposed upon one great and leading question of the times, I mean the subject of Protection, as it is called.
* Speech delivered at a great Whig Convention at Philadelphia, on the 1st of October, 1844.
Vol. II. 22
The Whig party maintain the propriety of protecting, by custom-house regulations, various pursuits and employments among ourselves. Our opponents repudiate this policy, and embrace the doctrines of what is called free trade. This is the general party line. The distinction is not a local, but a party distinction. Thus, while the Whig States of New England are all in favor of a protective tariff, New Hampshire and Maine, which are not Whig States, are opposed to it. And south of the Potomac, it would be difficult, I suppose, to find any men, but avowed Whigs, who favor the tariff policy.
Tariff or no tariff, protection or no protection, thus becomes a great leading question. All Whigs are on one side, and, generally speaking, all who are not Whigs on the other. But then arises the peculiarity in the state of things in Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania is a strong tariff State. Among her citizens, the protective policy overrides the general division of political parties, and men who are not Whigs support that policy, firmly and ardently. This is clear. Every body knows it, and it needs no proof. Well, then, what has happened in consequence of this well-known state of opinion in Pennsylvania?
Does the party here act against the tariff? Does it speak the same language which it speaks in Carolina? O, no! nothing like it. In Carolina, and other States, the whole party exists, principally, for the purpose of putting down the tariff, and rooting it out to the last fibre. They call it the "black tariff"; they denounce it as cruel and oppressive; and they openly intimate the idea that a disruption of the bonds of our national union would be a less evil, than the establishment and continuance of protective principles. But lo! when they come into Pennsylvania, all is changed. Here they themselves are professed tariff men. Mr. Polk, their candidate for the Presidency, is declared to be a supporter of the tariff, a protectionist, a thorough Pennsylvanian on all these subjects. This is, at least, a bold stroke of policy. I will not say how respectful it is to the intelligence of Pennsylvania; I will only say it is a bold, a very bold, political movement. In every State where the anti-tariff policy is predominant, or in which the party holds anti-tariff opinions, there Mr. Polk is pressed upon the confidence of the people as an anti-tariff man, and because he is an anti-tariff man; an anti-tariff man, as they commonly say, "up to the hub." But in Pennsylvania his claims to confidence and support are urged with equal zeal on the opposite ground, that is to say, because he is a tariff man, and a tariff man equally "up to the hub." Here the whole party, their speakers, their writers, their press, adopt fully, and support warmly, the tariff principles of the Whigs, the tariff principles of Pennsylvania. Here they sail under the Whig flag, they would get into the Whig ship, seize the Whig rudder, and throw the old crew overboard. Or, if they keep in their own craft, they still hoist false colors, give their vessel a new name, and destroy the old log-book.
Gentlemen, I think if Mr. Polk were in a circle of friends, composed partly of citizens of Carolina, and partly of those of Pennsylvania, he would find himself in a curious dilemma. It would be a wonder, if he did not set these two sorts of friends at once by the ears. The Carolina gentlemen would shout, "Polk for ever, and down with the tariff of 1842!" The Pennsylvania gentlemen would say, "Polk and the tariff of 1842 forever!" And what would Mr. Polk say? Why, uttering his own well-known opinions, he would say to his Carolina friends, "Gentlemen, you do me no more than justice. I am opposed to the tariff of 1842, and think it ought to be repealed. In the canvass against Governor Jones, in Tennessee, last year, I made more than one hundred speeches against it. I am for bringing all duties down to the point they were at in June, 1842; that is to say, to one uniform rate of twenty per cent . You know I have agreed with you throughout on this great question of tariff for protection. I have opposed it by my speeches, by my pledges, by numerous and repeated declarations, and by my votes. All show what I have thought, and what I think now. I now repeat my opposition, and renew my pledges."