IV. The “Greek Question” As An Issue of U.S. Foreign Policy

B4. George Cary's Opposition to Daniel Webster's Resolution

(Robinson, pp. 94-98)

Mr. Cary of Georgia, rose, and said that he felt himself under some embarrassment, in reconciling the circumstances in which he was placed, with the sentiments he was about to utter. If he should say to the committee, that the circumstances, and nature, of the pre- sent subject of debate, pregnant with the most important consequences, had pressed with peculiar weight upon his mind, he feared that he should be laughed at, because he had rushed into the debate with all the precipitate ardor of an ancient Lacedæmonian. But, after the subject had been debated, day after day; when the discussion of it had elicited the most splendid talents of this House, and of the nation; when the subject of the Grecian struggle for liberty occupied the whole country-when taste, when letters, when beauty and fashion have all enlisted in the subject, and evinced the most ardent zeal on behalf of Greece-it was not surprising that he should feel, very sensibly, his won inadequacy, and his need of the indulgence of the committee, while he expressed his decided dissent to the policy of the resolution now proposed, notwithstanding the very high source from which it had proceeded. When the distinguished mover of that resolution, at the close of the speech, in which he had supported it, took his seat, surrounded with all the splendor of genius and all the glories of eloquence, the concluding sentences of that speech had powerfully impressed Mr. C's mind. The gentleman had said, that whatever might be the issue of the present struggle of Greece, it would be to him a theme of no regret, that he had asked in the name of seven millions of suffering freemen, one word from this House, of cheering and of sympathy. No, sir, he need not regret it; he had advocated the cause of Greece in the spirit of Greece; he had spoken, as if the mantle of Pericles had fallen upon him, and in the finest language of the Saxons he had evinced the spirit of the Saxon race. While he was speaking, Mr. C. could not but think, that even if he failed, it would be glory enough to have made such an effort to succeed. Sir, that gentleman has engrafted himself on the imperishable column of Grecian eloquence-but that my conscience tells me I shall evince, upon this floor, the spirit of my own country: that I feel as an American, and that I speak as one.

In endeavouring [sic] to support those views which I entertain on this subject, it will be necessary to direct myself chiefly to what has been advanced by the gentleman from Massachusetts, since he stands the solitary Corinthian pillar in the Grecian cause, and supports, with so much ability and dignity, the arch on which rests our finest literature, and so many of our most valuable social blessings; and I will therefore proceed to show, out of that gentleman's own mouth, that the measure he proposes to this House ought not to be adopted. In the opening of his speech, that gentleman had said, that the subject was one on which it was difficult to avoid being carried away by an enthusiastic ardour [sic]: a single glance of his experienced and well disciplined mind was sufficient to tell him, that, in legislating on this question, feeling was not to be our guide. He knew, as a statesman, though not as an orator, that a corporate or a deliberative body has no soul-that it has, so to speak, no heart-that it must deliberate with sternness, with precision, on all the relation of the country. The gentleman conceded this when he said that our feelings would need to be “chastised.” And what was that chastisement? It was in the nature of a sort of duel, in which the judgment fought down the feelings till it brought them to submit to an exact, sober, mathematical estimate of our relations with the rest of the world. In that spirit, Mr. Cary said, he should endeavour [sic] to investigate the present question, and would present his views of it in as concise and simple a manner as he was able.

The gentleman from Massachusetts had gone into an able, a minute, and an attic examination of the principles of that combination of crowned heads, which threatened the safety of popular liberty in Europe; and he showed, in a forcible manner, the ominous and dark forebodings to which that combination led every thinking mind. He said, that the spirit of the Stuarts, (I, Mr. Chairman, would rather call it the spirit of power,) had again appeared and claimed the right to tyrannize over man, by a divine delegation. He connected, in a most elegant manner, with the development of these principles, the fall of that military ruler who trampled for so long a period upon the world, and had jostled the earth from its equilibrium: he said, that society had its origin in a sort of family com-pact, in which the independence of each nation was secured by a combination to pre-vent the strong from oppressing and swallowing up the weak; but that, in the principles of this confederacy all these securities were merged and lost by an admirable and impressive figure. He represented society (if I understood him rightly) as divided, not perpendicularly, into nations, but horizontally-all the monarchs being above, and all the people below. Well, be it so. Such was, unhappily, the state of the fact. But, Sir, does it result because this is the fact, that it augurs any danger to us? I say no, Sir; and if you ask me where is my authority for such a denial, I answer, in the gentleman's own declaration. He said, that, ever since the diffusion of that light in Europe which had produced the French Revolution, that vast political Ætna, whose every eruption made Europe tremble and turn pale, and the furious tide of whose burning lava threatened to over, whelm every nation of the continent, there had been an intelligence at work at the root of society, an inextinguishable spark thrown among its elements, which rendered it impossible that men should long submit to a system so monstrous, both in theory and practice, as that of the Holy Alliance. Sir, we believe this. It cannot last, Sir. That horizontal division of society, of which the gentleman had so strikingly spoken, must and will be broken up: those glittering pageants who now appear in the upper section, rely upon it, sir, are more formidable in appearance than in reality. The materials are already in existence; they are present in the lower section, which must ultimately blow up this state of things, and prostrate these high dignitaries into proportionate degradation. Whenever we see a combination of bad men, (whether monarchs or others, we may always conclude, on the general principles and history of human things, that the combi-nation will ultimately be crushed. The alliance of these confederated monarchs is a rope of sand-it rests on principles false and selfish, and its continuance will, of necessity, be temporary and transient. As soon as one of the confederated powers becomes over-grown, the combination will split to pieces-and when that happens, Europe will have too much work at home to look elsewhere.

Sir, the speech of the gentleman from Massachusetts was a string of truisms; each of these was incontroversible, each of them made a mellow and deep impression on my own mind; but, sir, I differ wholly from that gentleman in the application that he made of them. It does not follow, because I felt and acknowledged the truth of each of the facts and opinions he stated, that the whole, as combined, produced an equal conviction. Mr. Chairman, I am a common place man-I can boast of no effect of inspiration-I have not dived far into the wells of science, nor have I been touched by the wand of any of the magicians of learning or genius-I am of those who believe that there is no mode to receive light from heaven but that which is common to mankind; and that, as in the physical world, the orb of day illumines alike the various districts of our country, shines equally on the South as he does on the North, and on the West as the East, so does the great Orbit of uncreated Light illumine alike the world of intellect. But, sir, this is a question that has a native tendency to unbase the mind, to throw it completely off its balance; and its discussion is therefore to be approached and conducted with the utmost caution. And, Sir, let us not forget that this Government is one calculated not for to-day, or to-morrow, but that its benefits and effects are to endure, and to diffuse them-selves ultimately over the whole world. I listened with interest to the historical detail, so ably and beautifully given by the gentleman from Massachusetts, respecting the treatment of the Greek nation by the monarchs of Europe. The story was interesting, from its manner; but, sir, it was not new. We all know that power cares nothing for right; that it treads on every thing; that, in its eagerness for acquisition, it grasps at more than it can hold, and, by grasping at too much, unnerves itself by its own cupidity. But, Sir, let it go on to grasp; let it go on to accumulate; let it continue to pursue its crooked, trans, verse, and contracted policy; it is now nothing to us. We have got through all that; we fear it no longer. But, Sir, is it therefore, necessary or proper for us to do even what the modest and very moderate resolution of the gentleman from Massachusetts proposes? Are we called to step out of our character and mingle again in the turmoil of European politics? Above all, Sir, shall we approach the struggling Greeks with fair words and a smiling countenance, but with nothing in our hand to aid them? I know, Sir, that there is much in manner. I know, that the great orator of antiquity, when he was asked what was the first requisite in an orator, answered “manner,” and when asked what was the second, answered “manner;" but I fancy, Sir, if that immortal example and teacher of eloquence were an auditor of our present discussions, and should be asked what was chiefly required in the intercourse of this nation with Greece, he would answer some, thing else than “manner;" he would advise some proof of our sincerity. What is the lan-guage of Mr. Luriottis? He tells you that he looks to this country for friendship and assistance. Surely he means substantial assistance. He does, indeed, with the politeness of a cultivated man, intimate that even one word of encouragement will be received with gratitude; but, if I understand him, he does not seem to understand our principles of neutral policy. But, Sir, admitting him to mean what he says, would it not be disgraceful to this country and government to take for our standard of action the modest and stinted demands of a polite correspondent, instead of granting the measure of full and manly aid: But, Mr. Chairman, this is not all. I did once think that we might open a commercial intercourse with that country; but I am now more than ever convinced, that even this would be a dangerous intercourse. Sir, if Greece be indeed so lovely, so beautiful, so exquisitely touching in her distress, who can approach her with the tears upon her cheek, and not be carried away by his pity into every extreme of imprudent zeal in her cause? Sir, the measure now proposed will only prove an entering wedge to more: if we once go a wooing up the Archipelago, we shall ere long find ourselves where it will be too late to stop. If we look at the history of our country thus far, we find no precedent to justify it; we find nothing in the writings of any of our greatest and wisest men. That immortal man who save the republic by his galor [sic] in the field, and saved it a second time by his wisdom in the cabinet, he who seemed to possess a mind formed for the whole universe, even Washington himself, seemed to have had a foreboding that one day a case like this might present itself, and, in his parting address, warns us against the danger. Was he not right? Yes, surely. We had won our independence by arms: a wide ocean separated us from the old world: he knew that we were a peculiar people and peculiarly situated-that we live alone; and he advised us to keep ourselves free from embarrassing connexions [sic] with the governments of Europe (all of which had their origin in the dark ages, and still bear the impress of that origin) and to cleave to the ark of our own liberties. Was this unbenevolent? Was this too little a conduct for Washington to recommend: No, sir; we had bought our freedom with our won blood-and we were surely doing enough for the world, if, while we surrounded the temple of our liberty with a wall of fire from all enemies, we made an opening in that wall to receive whoever would come to us as a friend. Yes, sir; I repeat it-this government, by its example alone, has conferred a benefit on the whole human family. that example brooded over the mind of France till it produced a revolution which threatened, and had, at one time nearly accomplished, the downfall of tyranny: that same example is still impregnating the mind of continental Europe, and it will sooner or later bring forth freedom. Surely, Sir, if we open this fair land, which all its signal privileges, as a refuge for the oppressed from every land, we do, on that subject, all that we are called to do. Should we, in a spirit of vain adventure, attempt to do more, may not the oppressed have reason, some day, to say to us, you left your home and let your house burn down, where not only you might have remained safe, but we too found a refuge?

Mr. Cary in concluding, said, that he trusted and believed he had now expressed the sentiments which became an American. Let us, in our private capacity as men, as freemen, as Christians if you please, feel for them, cheer them, and aid them too; but as a nation, as a government, let us not mingle ourselves with the embroiled policy and the endless disputes of Europe. He had not, he said, troubled the committee with historical details—yet there were some lessons on this subject to be learned from the history of the Greeks themselves. When Demosthenes was labouring [sic] to shave the Athenian state, he advised his fellow citizens, instead of running about the Forum, asking where is Philip? what is Philip doing now? is Philip dead?—to look after their own affairs. The affairs of Europe are to us this Philip; and the advice of the immortal orator is for us to pursue. He trusted neither the resolution nor the amendment would prevail-the latter, he said makes a promise to the ear, but breaks it to the understanding. In the name of candor and (he felt inclined to add) in the name of God, if you do not intend to go farther, give nothing that may be welcomed as a pledge.

(Hatzidimitriou 242-247)

Source: Constantine G. Hatzidimitriou, Founded on Freedom and Virtue: Documents Illustrating the Impact in the United States of the Greek War of Independence, 1821-1829 (New Rochelle, New York: Aristide D. Caratzas, 2002).