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

B6. Sam Houston's Speech Supporting Recognition of Greek Independence

(Writings of Sam Houston, 1823-1825, vol. I, pp. 21-24)

Mr. HOUSTON was aware that he might be trespassing upon the patience of the House, in protracting this debate, as it was not the first or the second day of the discussion; but still he felt so deeply impressed with the importance of the subject, that he hoped every member, who wished it, would be allowed time to express his opinion. If he could see the evil consequences which gentlemen had anticipated from the adoption of this resolution, he certainly would not have risen to advocate it. But as he did not perceive that such difficulties could result from it, and as he did not see its incompatibility with the policy of this or other nations, he was disposed to give his feeble aid to the subject. Some gentlemen seem to think, that if we recognize the Greeks in the manner proposed by this resolution, it would have a tendency to stimulate the European Powers to hostility against them. He could not believe that so far as this proposition goes, it could have any such effect. If it were the policy of the European nations to aid Ottoman Power, they will pursue that course without reference to us. And can it be supposed that the passage of this resolution will bare another Turkish scimetar against the Greeks? No. The Greeks are struggling for their liberty, and the Turk is determined to exert all his power to prevent it, all the force of his empire is at his disposal, and it will all be turned against that devoted people. They have determined to stand manfully, and perish before they submit. Let us, then, as far as we can, consistently with our relations with foreign nations, hail them as brethren and cheer them in their struggle. The screams of this agonized and suffering people have reached us, and penetrated from one end of the continent to the other. So far as our policy will allow, let us encourage them. What sentiment has the President expressed upon this subject? Does he say that we should not interest ourselves for the Greeks? Does he not, rather, express the deepest solicitude concerning their affairs? Is there not a spontaneous feeling in their behalf among the people: And shall this House, which represents the people be silent on the subject? and for fear of offending the crowned heads of Europe, shall we not act? We should not be disposed to regard them much. If they have determined to crush the Greeks, will they not do it in defiance of us? And we have little need to care for the Porte. Has he ever paid any regard to us? Has he ever rendered us any service as a nation? Does our flag protect our proper-ty upon the Bosporus? Has not our commerce rather been protected by the Greeks? Will he who has totally disregarded the laws of nations care for any policy but his own? We can expect no justice from that quarter, but what we acquire from their fear.

Mr. H. said if he could believe that this resolution would bring war upon our country, he would be the last member to support it. No one could deprecate the horrors of war more than he did. He did not wish to provoke war with the Ottoman Power, nor with the crowned heads of Europe. If it was the policy of the other nations to oppose or support the power of the Porte, they would do it. The Allied Powers have sufficiently proved that they are not very solicitous to preserve the rights of other nations. The Chesapeake proclaimed to us that one of them was not more careful of those rights than even the Ottoman.

Are we to expect any advantage from not expressing our opinions. It is declared that we should not enter into an alliance with the Greeks. Nor should we wish to do it; we wish to preserve our regard for the rights of other nations. It is said that this measure would be of no advantage to the Greeks. Mr. H. said he differed from this conclusion. It would be an advantage to show them they are not an isolated people. It will be telling them that America, the freest and happiest country in the world, has heard of Greece, and sympathizes with her, in the midst of her misfortunes. It will be encouraging them to stand like freemen, and to fall, if they must fall, like men. And there is yet Grecian blood left to thrill with joy and quicken its circulation at this cheering reflection. Hearts that have bled for years, under oppression, will be touched with sympathy. It will tell to Greece, that, while the Holy Alliance is standing, with hands off, and the Porte is butchering her armies, her venerable sires, borne down by the weight of years, her matrons, her unviolated virgins, and helpless infants, it will tell her, by the declaration of Congress, that we regard their situation; and that, although our own policy interdicts us from acting on her behalf, yet we recognize her among the nations of the earth. Were we not the first to acknowledge the independence of South America? Did we wait until the Holy Alliance had authorized us to do that? Or did we extend a helping hand, like men, towards those States? Why may we not pursue the same policy now? The principle is the same. Principle remains unchanged and eternal. The distance of the people from us does not alter the principle.

If this resolution is adopted, the President will be left free to exercise his sound discretion on the subject. He will be able to compare and analyze the business, and to act as circumstances may require. The House is not about to say to him that he must dispatch an agent to the Greeks to-morrow, but that he must use his judgment on the subject. If the resolution is rejected, it will seem like a want of confidence in the Executive. By his long experience he is amply entitled to this confidence; and we may rest assured that he will not exercise it inconsiderately, nor do any thing to involve the country in a war.

Then, if there is nothing hostile in the resolution, we may venture to give this authority to the President. Mr. H. said he entertained a high regard for the Greeks, and felt as much zeal in their cause as was consistent with the purposes of legislation. He wished that she should know that the American nation felt for her. He would not that this Government should send her munitions of war, for that would amount to an open act of aggression; but no such construction, he thought, could be put upon this resolution. The people of Greece had expressed a wish to alter their Government, and according to the fundamental principles of our institutions, they have a right to do it. If they rise, in their majesty, and determine to be free, will an American Congress say that they must wait for our acknowledgment of her independence until the Allied Powers have seen fit to acknowledge it? They will not be disposed to do it soon. It is this very dissemination of freedom that is planting thorns in their pillows. We can pursue principles of justice, independent of all their alliances.

We have been told that we should have a care how we look for glory-that glory is the deathwatch of liberty. Mr. H. said he did not know how this remark was meant to be applied. If he understood what was the true meaning of glory, it was that noble attribute of man that appealed to the whole community to give force to heroism and patriotism. If that were the death-watch of liberty, he wished to hear it resound throughout the country. It was false glory that bade a man seek self-aggrandizement; and this description of glory was indeed to be dreaded.

Mr. H. apprehended no danger from the crowned heads of Europe, on the subject before the House. He considered it a very important expression of sympathy in favor of a people that held the strongest claims upon us. After the principle we had adopted in regard to South America, he thought we could not be regardless of the cause of Greece. He did not expect an unanimous expression of this opinion; but as it could be productive of no evil consequences, he hoped the resolution would pass the House.

(Hatzidimitriou 254-257)

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).