March 16, 1815
Popular favor has always been with me, a secondary object. My first wish, in political life, has been to be useful to my country. Yet I am not insensible to the good opinion of my fellow citizens; I would do much to obtain it; but, I cannot, for this purpose, sacrifice my own conscience, or what I conceive to be the interests of my country.
These principles have prepared me to receive, with just satisfaction, the address you have presented. The first wish of my heart, the safety of your country, has been accomplished, and it affords me the greatest happiness to konw that the means taken to secure this object have met the approbation of those who have had the best opportunities of judging of their propriety, and who, from their various relations, might be supposed the most ready to censure any which had been improperty resorted to. The distinction you draw, gentlemen, between those who only declaim about civil rights and those who fight to maintain them, shews how just and practical a knowledge you have of the true principles of liberty-- without such knowledge all theory is useless or mischievous.
Whenever the invaluable rights wheich we enjoy under our own happy constitution are threatened by invasion, privileges the most dear, and which, in ordinary times, ought to be regarded as the most sacred, may be required to be infringed for their security. At such a crisis, we have only to determine whether we will suspend, for a time, the exercise of the latter, that we may secure the permanent enjoyment of the former. Is it wise, in such a moment, to sacrifice the spirit of the laws to the letter, and by adhering too strictly to the letter, lose the substance forever, in order that we may, for an instant, preserve the shadow? It is not to be imagined that the express provisions of any written law can fully embrace emergencies which suppose and occasion the suspension of all law, but the highest and the last, that of self preservation. No right is more precious to a freeman than that of suffrage, but had your election taken place on the 8th of January, would your declaimers have advised you to abandon the defense of your country in order to exercise this inestimable privilege of the polls? Is it to be supposed that your general, if he regarded the important trust committed to his chage, would have permitted you to preserve the constitution by an act which would have involved constitution, country and honor, in one undistinguished ruin?
What is more justly important than personal liberty; yet how can the civil enjoyment of this privilege be made to consist with the order, subordination and discipline of a camp? Let the sentinel be removed by subpoena from his post, let writs of habeas corpus carry away the officers from the lines, and the enemy may conquer your country, by only employing lawyers to defend your constitution.
Private property is held sacred in all good governments and particularly in our own, yet, shall the fear of invading it prevent a general grom marching his army over a cornfield, or burning a house which protects the enemy?
These and a thousand other instances might be cited to shew that laws must sometimes be silent when necessity speaks. The only question with the friend of his country will be, have these laws been, was to made to be silent wantonly and unnecessarily? If necessity dictated the measure, if a resort to it was important for the preservation of those rights which we esteem so dear, and in defense of which we had so willingly taken up arms, surely it would not have been unbecoming in the commander in chief to have shrunk form the responsibility which it involved. He did not shrink from it. In declaring martial law, his object and his only object, was to embody the whole resources of the country for its defense That law, while it existed, necessarily suspended all rights and privileges inconsistent with its provisions. It is matter of surprise, that they who boast themselves the champions of those rights and privileges inconsistent with its provisions. It is matter of suprise, that they who boast themselves the champions of those rights and privileges whould not, when they were first put in danger by the proclamation of martial law, have manifested that lively sensibility of which they have since made so ostentatious a display. So far, however, was this form being the case, that this measure not only met, then, the open support of those who when their country was invaded thought resistance a virtue, and the silent approbation of all-- but even received the particular recommendation and encouragement of many who now inveigh the most bitterly against it. It was notuntil a victory, secured by that very measure, had lessened the danger which occasioned a resort to it, that the present feeling guardians of our rights discoered that the commanding general ought to have suffered his posts to be abandoned through the interference of a foreign agent-- his ranks to be thinned by desertion, and his whole army to be broken to pieces by mutiny; while yet a powerful force of the enemy remained on your coast and within a few hours sail of your city.
I thought and acted differently. It was not until discovered that the civil power stood no longer in need of the military for its support, that I restored to it its usual functions; and the restoration was not delayed a moment after that period had arrived.
Under these circumstances, fellow soldiers, your resolution to let others declaim about privileges and constitutional rights, will never draw upon you the charge of being indifferent to those inestimable blessings-- your attachment to them has been proved by a stronger title-- that of having nobly fought to preserve them. You who have thus supported them against the open pretensions of a powerful enemy will never I trust, surrender them to the underhand machinations of men who stand aloof in the hour of peril, and who, when the danger is gone, claim to be the “defenders of your constitution.”
An honorable peace has dissolved our military connection; and, in a few days, I shall quit a country endeared to me by the most pleasing recollections. Among the most prominent of these, gentlemen, are the those I shall ever entertain of the distinguished bravery, the exact discipline, the ardent zeal and the important services of your corps. The offered friendship of each individual composing it, I receive with pleasure and sincerely reciprocate. I shall always pride myself on a fraternity with such men, created in such a cause.
Maj. Gen. Com'dg 7th military dist.