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State of Massachusetts, I was elected on the nomination of the regular Democratic party, and of the American party of the district. The American party was very largely in the majority. I avowed my sentiments freely and fully.” He soon, however, transferred to the newly-organized Republican party whatever sympathies he had had with the Democratic, and has been twice re-elected to Congress, serving through the Thirty-Third, Thirty-Fourth, and a portion of the first session of the ThirtyFifth Congresses..
The Congressional career of Mr. Banks brought him into striking prominence before the whole country. It is not remarkable for the number of his speeches so much as for their pith and point, and for, the effect they produced on his compeers.
He forcibly opposed the Nebraska-Kansas Bill and its nonintervention principles, arguing (May 18, 1854) that wherever the Government obtained the right to acquire territory, there they got the right to control it. He contended that the then Congress could not say upon what terms additional territory should be acquired. The people hereafter would determine the question for themselves. He would let the past stand, and let the future, when it came, be decided by the people who should then have the power and control. They were called upon to repeal the Missouri Compromise because it was said to be unjust to the South. All he had to say in reply was, that the South made it; and he denied that it was unjust or unequal as regarded the South. Every Southern man had the same right to carry his property to these Territories as the North had. But then Southern gentlemen said that they had a class of property which was only made so by local or municipal laws, and that they were prohibited from taking this kind of property to these Territories. On this he would only say, that the prohibition was their own, and for this prohibition they had already received their advantages. They of the North did not believe it was the right of the Southern States, under the Constitution, to carry this species of property to these Territories unless there was a statute there, either of Congress or of the people, establishing it. He was anxious that the people of the United States, and not an isolated Territory, should solve this problem ; alluding to which, and his own political course and that of his State thereon, Mr. Banks said,
“I desire to say, Mr. Chairman, in reference to my own political course, that I have not heretofore advocated this policy on the part of Congress. In the local politics of my own State, I have sustained the policy I thought best adapted to promote its welfare. In national politics, I have supported the policy of the Democratic party. I advocated the annexation of Texas in 1844. I supported the doctrines of the • Nicholson' letter in 1848, that Congressional legislation was unnecessary to exclude slavery from the Territories of New Mexico and California. I ucquiesced in the adjustment measures of 1850. But I go no farther in that direction. I will stop where I am. I will begin no new crusade until I know where it is to end. It will not be expected of me that I should defend every legislative act of my native State. She needs no defence. Massachusetts is a progressive and just Commonwealth. Whatever has been wrong in her policy she has labored to reform. And whatever remains of that character she will have wisdom and strength to remodel and change. She has been wise and patriotic in her day, and will, I trust, still retain her high position in the column of free States as time advances."
He held that the just cause of complaint was with her, and not with the States that condemn her course on the Slavery question. He complained that Government was changed from its original purposes, not merely to a recognition, but to a propagandism, of slavery. Every question of finance, trade, foreign relations, elections of officers, or the enlargement of our boundaries, had been seized upon to strengthen and expand an institution unacceptable, if not offensive, to a vast majority of the American people.
He argued to prove the constitutionality of the Missouri Compromise of 1820, and said that although the bill before the House admitted the right of the people to govern themselves, it practically denied them the power to do so.
In July (17th) of the same year, Mr. Banks supported an amendment offered by Hon. Mr. Staunton, of Kentucky, for the repeal of all laws authorizing the appointment of military officers to superintend operations at the national armories, and the appointment of well-qualified civilians to such offices.
The armories at Springfield and Harper's Ferry were established, upon the recommendation of General Washington, in 1794. The only officers provided for by the Act of April 2 of that year were a superintendent and one master armorer for each establishment.
Until 1841 the superintendents were elected from among citizens; and the change was then made by Mr. Bell, at that time Secretary of War, because there were officers of the army who had no employment.
Mr. Banks was in favor of the abolition of military supervision, because the armories were not military, but mechanical, establishments. He did not see any more connection between the manufacture of arms and the military departments of Government, than between the manufacture of the cloth for uniforms, or of the paper on which the bulletins were printed, and the same departments. He showed that the Government wanted officers, and they were not wanted at the armories. In reply to inquiries by Hon. L. M. Keitt, of South Carolina, the gentleman from Massachusetts took the 'ground that the substitution of military men for civilians educated to the business was not economical, and instanced in favor of his position the course pursued by England, showing that its great military depots and magnificent steam navy were not the creations of military or naval officers, but of practical artisans and ship-builders.
Hon. Wm. S. Barry, of Mississippi, seized an opportunity on the 18th of December, 1854, to avow his opinions relative to what, “in common parlance, was called Know-Nothingism,” then recently sprung into existence. He had some difficulty in finding out the purposes and character of the new society. It was not like other political organizations here, avowing principles, and meeting and daring the responsibility of the avowal; and if, in attempting to find out the purposes of the Order, Mr. Barry did it injustice, he desired to be corrected by any members holding the new faith. He was willing and anxious to be supplied with the information. What he knew of it led him to condemn it as intolerant, offensive, and tending to narrow the liberty of man.
On the same day, Mr. Banks replied to the gentleman from Mississippi; and his speech is regarded by his friends as one of his best and most prominent Congressional efforts.
Although Mr. Banks was not altogether prepared to participate in such a debate, so suddenly called up, yet he did not regret its introduction, as the subject embodied the great questions of government, touched the fundamental rights of the people of this Union, and went to the heart of every nationality on the face of the earth. He started by taking issue with Mr. Barry on the proposition that a man in the United States was bound to promulgate his political views. The Government springs from the people, is republican in its nature; and Mr. Banks held that no man who discharges his duty as a member of the social compact, and, according to the forms of law, impresses
his convictions upon the political institutions under which he lives, is accountable for his actions or opinions to any
other He is not even accountable to the Government. He is accountable to God alone. A citizen voting for President, or any officer of delegated trust, has the right to give his vote in pro
The association spoken of, he said, was composed of people of the United States. It was popular in its nature, and every citizen had a right to join what society he pleased. After discussing the right of secrecy, though he would not say he approved of it, Mr. Banks said he had no objection to any man of the Catholic Church or faith :
“ It cannot concern me," said he, “and it can concern no man, that, as a matter of faith, any person cherishes the doctrine of transubstan tiation, accords the full measure of Catholic veneration to sacred relics or images, and accepts every article of the Nicene Creed. Each man is accountable for his own faith, as I for mine."
It was a current belief, however, that the Pope, as vicar of God, had temporal control over the allegiance of his spiritual followers. He was aware it was disputed ground. It was asserted in England under Henry VIII. and Elizabeth, and was never disavowed there, nor in Spain, nor in any other land, Catholic or Protestant, by the authority of the Roman Church. If the Pope had such power, it was not strange that men should hesitate to support his followers. “I,” said Mr. Banks, “would not vote for any man holding to that doctrine.” He had no enmity to foreigners; but if they understand that their interests are separate from those of American citizens, if they take direction from their spiritual guides in political matters, they have no claim for support. He would not stop the tide of immigration ; but the pros
pect was that such people as the Chinese would pour in, like swarms of locusts. There may be uses for them in the economy of God's Providence, but they had not a Christian character adapted to the nation. “Would you,” he asked, “endow them with citizenship at the end of five years ?” Mr. Banks held that the Constitution was proscriptive, even when immigration did not attain more than fifty thousand in ten years. Its framers unanimously declared that, after a brief period, no man but a native could be President; that nine years' citizenship should be required for eligibility to the United States Senate, and seven to the House of Representatives. They took from the States the power to confer citizenship, which the States then exercised. “There is nothing,” he continued, "to show that they entertained the idea advanced here, that foreigners had a right to participate in the highest prerogatives of the Government.” He was not for the repeal, but for the revision, of the statutes of naturalization, and was not sure but that an extension of the term of residence to twenty-one, twelve, or ten years, would be justified.
Hon. Lawrence M. Keitt, of South Carolina, made a very able speech (January 3) in reply to Mr. Banks, and in review of his positions on “American” politics, religious toleration, and “KnowNothingism;" from which, however, but a brief extract, on a point of considerable historical interest, can be made:
“Are Catholics under civil subjection to the Pope, as the member from Massachusetts intimated? What is there in the Catholic creed to warrant this imputation? In 1789, Mr. Pitt, then Prime Minister of England, before he would relax the disabilities of the Irish Catholics, propounded to the great Catholic universities the following inquiries:
"1. Has the Pope, or Cardinals, or any body of men, or any individual of the Church of Rome, any civil authority, power, jurisdiction, or pre-eminence whatsoever, within the realm of England ?
“2. Can the Pope, or Cardinals, or any body of men, or any individuals of the Church of Rome, absolve or dispense his majesty's subjects from their oath of allegiance, upon any pretext whatsoever ?
66-3. Is there any principle in the tenets of the Catholic faith, by which Catholics are justified in not keeping faith with heretics, or other persons differing from them in religious opinions, in any transaction, either of a public or a private nature ?'
“ The Universities of Paris, Louvain, Alcala, Douay, Salamanca, and Valladolid declare that neither the Pope, Cardinals, nor any individuals in the Catholic Church have any civil authority; nor can they dispense