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ON THE BILL MAKING APPROPRIATIONS FOR THE CIVIL AND DIPLOMATIC SERVICE FOR THE YEAR 1839. DELIVERED IN THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES, FEBRUARY 19, 1839.
'HE bill making appropriations for the civil and diplomatic service for the year 1839 being under consideration, in Committee of the Whole on the state of the Union; and the question being on the amendment to strike out the appropriation for the pay of the Commissioners of the Navy
Mr. Kennedy addressed the Chair as follows:
Mr. Chairman: When I obtained the floor at the close of the last sitting of the committee, it was not my purpose to address my remarks particularly to the amendment under consideration. I wished to carry the debate into a wider field, and to look at the general condition of affairs under the present administration.
It seemed to me that both the time and the mode of abolishing the Navy Board, which was the design of this amendment, were singularly inopportune. The House had neither the information proper to its action in this matter, nor the leisure, so near the end of the session, to give the subject the consideration it deserved. The debate itself has disclosed the want of accurate knowledge essential to the just determination of the question, and has demonstrated, I think, the impropriety of acting upon it at the present time. It is true, great complaints are abroad against the efficiency of the Board, and opinions unfavorable to its continuance are enter
tained by many judicious persons. I am not insensible to the weight of these opinions, and incline, in advance of all inquiry, to think that the duties assigned to the Board might be more advantageously discharged under individual supervision. As a practical rule, I would rather intrust to a single head those functions which require much energy and judgment for their performance, than to any board, no matter how intelligent. Still, sir, this is a question of experience; and I should be loath, on the instant, to assail an organization which has been in existence for twenty years, without the amplest investigation and advice. I am glad to see that the House has fallen into this opinion. The resolution submitted by the gentleman from Virginia (Mr. Mallory), this morning, and adopted by the House, referring this question to the Secretary for a formal report at the next session, indicates a design to act only upon full information, and, for the present, must dispose of the amendment.
I concur, Mr. Chairman, in the remark which fell from the venerable gentleman from Massachusetts (Mr. Adams), that much of the complaint which has been raised against the Commissioners of the Navy, would perhaps, upon examination, be found to lie more justly at the door of the head of the Navy Department-even, perchance, of the President himself. It seldom happens in a well-ordered Government that the subordinates fail to perform their duty when they have an efficient head. The navy has been sadly in want of direction for the last four or five years. No branch of the administration has been so much left to chance, or to the guidance of a feeble hand; and it is, therefore, not to be wondered that complaints should be rife against the management of this Department of the service throughout all its branches. Something, sir, of the common discontent which is said to exist against the Board is due to this cause.
I still more cordially agree with the remark of the same honorable gentleman to whom I have just alluded, that a thorough examination of each and all the Departments of the
Government would lead to results eminently beneficial to the public welfare. Never was there an administration, in this country at least, or perhaps in any other, more likely to reward the toil of those who should devote themselves to an investigation of its doings. From the glimpses of abuse with which we have occasionally been favored, we may infer a great amount of concealed malversation.
Sir, we know nothing of the real condition of the Departments, but from these glimpses. The people are permitted to learn only by accident the state of the administration concerns. Now and then some pampered favorite of “the party,” some conspicuous and much-trusted friend of the ruling power, perpetrates a larceny and flies-and the fact, too notorious for concealment, bursts on the public view: now and then a defaulting sub-treasurer grows contumacious to the reiterated supplications and prayers of the Secretary, and prefers exposure with its profits to settlement and the smiles of the chief—and thus again the people are indulged with a development: now and then, upon the calls of this House, in flagrant cases, which not even party hardihood can brave, some reluctant confession, beyond the art of stratagem to evade, is vouchsafed to the nation-and we again get glimpses of the truth.
It seems indeed, sir, to be a premeditated plan of "the party" in this House to resist, upon various pretexts, these calls for information touching the conduct of the Departments in matters where abuse may be supposed to exist. It is now six weeks since I myself having reason to believe that some irregularity at least some extravagance perhaps—or some favoritism existed in the manner in which the supplies of articlęs, not enumerated or reported in the yearly published contracts, were furnished to the different navy yards-submitted a resolution to call on the Secretary for information as to the prices at which these articles had been procured during the past year. It did not enter into my thoughts, when I submitted that resolution, to charge any officer of the Government with inten
tional abuse I knew nothing calculated to awaken suspicion, except that very extravagant prices were alleged to have been paid; and I did not doubt that the House, respecting the obvious motive of the call, and acknowledging its propriety, would have treated it as an ordinary movement of sound and wholesome legislation-that the call would have been granted, sir, as a matter of course. Yet, it was refused, not by a direct vote, but by a refusal to suspend the rules; as if the House could not afford the time from other business for this light matter. I renewed my motion day after day, praying the House to grant me this favor. Other resolutions were taken up and passed, by the suspension of the rules, almost every morning of the session; mine was always refused, and refused at every trial by mere party votes. I found very early that the proposition excited uneasiness among some prominent friends of the administration. I was even informed that, by a private application to the Secretary, I might procure the information I wished; while those who suggested this, either voted against my resolution or refused to vote at all. Such an opposition to an ordinary inquiry, as I deemed it, could not but excite suspicions against the integrity of the management of that branch of service to which it referred. During the pendency of this question, I have received letters from different quarters, which assure me that great and flagrant abuse will be found in the distribution of these unpublished contracts, whenever the administration shall be disposed to favor the people with a knowledge of its own proceedings. An honorable gentleman from Kentucky (Mr. Underwood), has fared no better than myself. He offered, some days ago, a resolution for inquiry into the mode in which supplies are furnished to the army in Florida. that information by a party vote. quires two-thirds of the House to agree to take up such resolutions for consideration, has, in both of these cases, enabled the administration party on this floor, although in a minority, to frustrate our endeavors to learn something of the transac
He too has been denied The absurd rule that re
tions of the Government in the matters to which they referred. It is apparent that we may indulge but little hope, during the present organization of this House, to penetrate into the secrets of the administration; but the time, I would fain believe. is not very remote when a searching inspection of the hidden. machinery may no longer be parried by the tactics of party. Another year, and this duty will fall into the hands of those who, whatever may be their imputed want of qualification in other respects, will not be charged, even by their enemies, with a suspected favor or affection for the delinquents. The fruits of such an examination cannot be otherwise than wholesome.
From this investigation, Mr. Chairman, whenever it shall be undertaken, I am not unprepared to expect the disclosure of flagrant errors and misdeeds in the management of the public concerns. The calm, impartial judgment of the country rests with a deep and melancholy consciousness upon such an expectation; nay, sir, even the friends of the predominant power itself are alarmed by it, and writhe under it. The errors of this administration are the necessary products of that state of things which brought it into power. Its misdoing is not less its misfortune than its fault-attributable in as large a degree to its want of sagacity as to its evil inclinations: it is the natural offspring of INCAPACITY.
It is now just ten years since the elevation to the Presidential chair of the most remarkable man of our times ;-remarkable as much for the intrinsic properties of his character, as for the singular good fortune that attended him through life. The era of his election to the Presidency was once called the ERA OF REFORM. Some still affect to call it by that name. To my mind, it is chiefly memorable as the commencement of a great delusion-an imposture conducted with no ordinary ability, and propagating its principles by troops of political Islamites as fervent, as obsequious, and as numerous as the faithful who swarmed beneath the grotesque banner of the Eastern prophet. Ten years have gone by since that eventful