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Entered, according to Act of Congress, in the year one thousand eight hundred and forty-eight, by
HARPER & BRoth ERs,
in the Clerk’s Office of the District Court of the Southern District of New York.
The condition of affairs in the United States, on the accession of President Harrison to office in the spring of 1841, was difficult and critical, especially as far as the foreign relations of the country were concerned. Ancient and modern controversies with England existed, which seemed to defy adjustment. The great question of the northeastern boundary had been the subject of negotiation almost ever since the peace of 1783. Every effort to settle it had but increased the difficulties with which it was beset, by exhausting the expedients of diplomacy. The Oregon question was rapidly assuming a formidable aspect, as emigrants began to move into the country in dispute. Not less serious was the state of affairs on the southwestern frontier, where, although a collision with Mexico might not in itself be an event to be viewed with great anxiety, it was a matter of course, as things then stood, that it would have brought a war with Great Britain in its train.
To the uneasiness necessarily growing out of these boundary questions, no little bitterness was added by more recent occurrences. The interruption of our vessels on the coast of Africa was a frequently-recurring source of irritation. Great cause of complaint was sometimes given by boarding officers, acting on frivolous pretenses or in a vexatious manner. At other times the public feeling in the United States was excited by the exaggerations and misstatements of unworthy American citizens, abusing the flag of the country to cover a detestable traffic which is made a capital felony by its laws. The affair of the “Caroline,” followed by the arrest of M'Leod, created a degree of discontent on both sides, which discussion had done nothing to remove, but much to exasperate. A crisis had arisen, which the minister of the United States in London (Mr. Stevenson) deemed so serious, as to make it his duty to communicate
with the commander of the American squadron in the Mediterranean, on the assumption of the immediate danger of war.” Such was the state of things when General Harrison acceded to the Presidency, after an election more strenuously contested than any former political struggle, and by a larger popular vote than had ever before been given in the United States. As soon as the result of the election was known, he addressed a letter to Mr. Webster, offering him any place he might choose in his cabinet, and asking his advice as to the other members of which it should be composed. The wants and wishes of the country in reference to currency and finance having brought about the revolution which placed General Harrison in the chair, he was rather desirous that the Department of the Treasury should be assumed by Mr. Webster, who had studied those subjects profoundly, and whose opinions were in full concurrence with his own. Averse to the daily drudgery of the Treasury, Mr. Webster gave his preference to the Department of State, without concealing from himself that it might be the post of greater care and responsibility. In this anticipation he was not disappointed. Although the whole of the danger did not at once appear, it was evident from the outset that the moment was extremely critical.f Still, however, the circumstances under which General Harrison was elected were such as to give to his administration a moral power and a freedom of action, as to pre-existing controversies, favorable to their settlement on honorable terms. But the providential dispensation which called the new President from his high position when just entering upon the discharge of its duties, changed the state of affairs in this respect. The great national party which had called him to the helm was struck with astonishment. No rallying point presented itself. A position of things existed, not overlooked, indeed, by the sagacious men who framed the Constitution, but which, from its very nature, can never enter practically into the calculations of the enthusiastic multitudes by which, in times of difficulty and excitement, a favorite candidate is borne to the chair. How much of the control which it would otherwise have possessed
* Senate Papers, 27th Congress, 1st session, No. 33. # Mr. Webster's speech at Faneuil Hall, 30th September, 1842.