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Title: "Should the Office of Chief Magistrate Be Awarded to One Distinguished for His Military Services Rather Than to One Distinguished for His Civil Services?" Debate Speech of William W. Avery for the Dialectic Society, June 22, 1836: Electronic Edition.
Author: Avery, William Waightstill, 1816-1864
Editor: Erika Lindemann
Funding from the State Library of North Carolina supported the electronic publication of this title.
Text transcribed by Erika Lindemann
Images scanned by Mara E. Dabrishus
Text encoded by Sarah Ficke
First Edition, 2005
Size of electronic edition: ca. 38K
Publisher: The University Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Chapel Hill, North Carolina
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The electronic edition is a part of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill digital library, Documenting the American South.
Languages used in the text: English
Revision history:
2005-03-15, Sarah Ficke finished TEI/XML encoding.
Part of a series:
This transcribed document is part of a digital collection, titled True and Candid Compositions: The Lives and Writings of Antebellum Students in North Carolina
written by Lindemann, Erika
Title of collection: Dialectic Society Records (#40152), University Archives, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Title of document: "Should the Office of Chief Magistrate Be Awarded to One Distinguished for His Military Services Rather Than to One Distinguished for His Civil Services?" Debate Speech of William W. Avery for the Dialectic Society, June 22, 1836
Author: William W. Avery
Description: 12 pages, 12 page images
Note: Call number 40152 (University Archives, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill)
Topics covered:
Politics and Government/Constitution of the United States
Politics and Government/Government and Governing Bodies
Examples of Student Writing/Debating Society Writings
Social and Moral Issues/Other Social and Moral Issues
Editorial practices
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For more information about transcription and other editorial decisions, see Dr. Erika Lindemann's explanation under the section Editorial Practices.

Document Summary

Avery's debate speech favors the statesman rather than the soldier for the office of President. The statesman understands the science of government, has not been corrupted by life in military camps, and has resisted the historical tendency to become despotic or hungry for power.
"Should the Office of Chief Magistrate Be Awarded to One Distinguished for His Military Services Rather Than to One Distinguished for His Civil Services?" Debate Speech of William W. Avery for the Dialectic Society, June 22, 18361
Avery, William Waightstill, 1816-1864

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"Should the office of President of the U. States be awarded to an Individual pre'eminent for skill in civil affairs, or to one distinguished for military services–"

Mr. President,

The American People present to an admiring world a more sublime and magnificent spectacle than has ever been exhibited by any preceding nation, But a few brief years have passed away since the ancestors of those who now compose this widely extended confederacy, were wandering Pilgrims upon the shores of America, seperated from each other by the intervention of wide extent of Country, exposed to the depredation of wild beast and savage, destitute of many requisites indispensible for the sustenance of life, and subjected to the domineering power of a Government from which they were dissevered by the broad expanse of the ocean—A Government claiming the exclusive privilege of regulating their affairs with a view to their own interest, a Government which had before succeeded in crushing the mangled remains of Poland, and disguised under the pretext of humanity was then attempting the subjugation of every soil that bore a germ of liberty—Yet little more than half a century has intervened since that period, and how different the aspect that this Country presents to the world—A population of fourteen millions now occupy the soil once inhabited by a few despairing deserters from the land of Tyranny and oppression—Wealth, peace and plenty pervades every cottage, every hamlet—Our commercial relations extends over every sea, the legislative Councils

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of our nation are filled with men eminently distinguished for Genius and intelligence—The influence of our free institutions felt in every clime, in every Country illumined by the lights of cvilization, exciting the apprehensions of some, But commanding the respect and admiration of all—thus revelling in all the luxuries that can render life desirable, that can make it a blessing rather than a curse, we enjoy a degree of happiness and prosperity exceeding the anticipations of the patriot in the moments of his wildest Reverie—how imperative, how manditory then is the duty which devolves on of every American citizen, in whose bosom there glows one feeling of national pride, the pulsations of whose heart vibrates to a single sensation excited by patiotism and love of Country; to preserve and perpetuate unsullied and unimpaired the free institutions of our Country, to be ever on the watch [t]owers2 of liberty vigilantly guarding against encroachments on our rights from within as well as without—Our Government is in it priniciples, its tendencies, its effects not speculatively but practically Republican—all power, all sovereignty resides in and is derived directly from the people; through their Representatives in congress who are if I may use the term, But the echo of the voice will of the people, all our political relations internally and externally are transacted, they are thefore for a period of time of vested with a portion of the sovereignty of the people. Yet this sovereign power is so limited and circumscribed that they cannot infringe the inherent rights of the people with out violating the letter and spirit of that instrument in conformity to which they have sacredly and solemnly sworn to regulate their actions—

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Yet these agents at all times have the reins of Government sufficiently under their controul to undermine and subvert by a common combination, the liberty and independance of this Country—it is therefore of momentous importance in order to ensure the security and permanency of our Republican institutions that every American should exercise Judgment and circumspection in the selection even of subordinate officers of Government and how much more imperiously are we called upon to dvest ourselves of all personal predilections, to sarifice all local prejudices, all selfish considerations on the shrine of our Countrys Good, in the selection of an Individual to occupy the preeminently distinguished station of chief Magistrate of this Country, the highest gift in the hands of the people, approaching nearer to supreme and dic[t]atorial3 power than any other officer recognised by the constitution, the office comprising within itself one of the coordinate Branches of this Government.
It is with regard to the prudence to be exercised in the selection of this executive Officer that I propose to submit a few Brief remarks—The querry offered for our discussion presents two characters the Statesman and Military cheftain from which two classes it is customary for Republicks to elect their presiding chief Magistrate—I maintain unhestatingly and with entire confidence in the validity of my position that the distinguished Statesman is more justly entitled to the suffrages of a free and enlightened4 people than the ambitious and aspiring Military despot—Before I proceed to adduce the arguments upon which this assertion is substantia[t]ed,5 it may not be foreign to the subject to enumerate a few of those

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characteristical qalifications which render an individual competent to discharge the important functions of President, in order that we may determine by this standard, after an examination of the respective merits of each, to which the precedence must be awarded—The first interrogatory of an American when enquiring with regard to the competency of an Candidate for the presidential office should invariably be this—Iis he honest? is he capable? Iis he faithful to the constitution and laws of his Country, and should consider him incompetent unless he sustains this character—The term honest here used, here used does not imply that vague and indetermined sense, merely securing us against pitiful frauds in the ordinary transactions of life, But it is that determined and fixed principle, interwoven with our very existence which preserves the mind pure and uncontaminated in the hour of political tempta[t]ion,6 when the glittering and fascinating prize is suited to the taste, apparently worthy an immense hazard, and for the attainment of which so many noble beings have sacraficed [t]ruth7 and honour and principle—To be capable, at once suggests all those high natural endowments and artificial acquirements which can possibly distinguish man from man—a higly cultivated, and comprehensive intellect, extended and diversified information on the science of Government, unimpeachable integrity—highly virtuous and moral sentiments, and above all and unprejudiced and impartial decision of Character—these are indispensible qualifications, and I will proceed in the first place to demonstrate that the intellectual and in[t]elligent8 statesman must as a necessary consequence ever maintain the ascendancy in these lineaments of [fine] character over any military chieftain—

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To become proficient in any art or science it is absolutely necessary that we thoroughly understand its primary and fundamental principles, and there is no profession to which man addicts himself where this is more essential than in the persuit of arms—it is therefore customary for the minds of young men destined for the Army to be engaged at an extremely early period in the investigation those studies preparatory for a military life, and soon as they attain years of discretion that age when the habits the character and the mind recieve their indelible impress to remove them from the restraints of the paternal roof and throw them inexperienced and vacillating in character into a corrupt and dissolute camp, where vice corruption and licen[t]iousness9 reign predominant arrayed in all the charms and decorations with they can be invested, their horrid deformeties concealed by the manly appearance which they seem to give to the dissipated libertine—And although the youthful Officer may resist for a time the allurements and blandishments held out for his distruction, yet his mind becomes ultima[t]ely10 familiarised to such scenes by their continued presentation, and yielding to the naturally buoyant impulse of youthful feeling, he becomes at first perhaps a reluctant but finally a willing participant, thus are many noble minds composed of elements of extroardinary might and Grandeur, perverted and ruined; however successfully their11 possessors may conceal their moral degradation from the public eye—

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But even admitting that they should escape this dark abyss ever yawning for their reception, yet the constant occupation of their minds by their military duties and the laborious discipline to which they are ever subjected, will inevitably prohibit them from acquiring that extensive and diversified information which render an Individual capable of discharging the duties of a civil Officer—Amidst the disorder confusion and revillry of the camp, they seek, not they find not an interval of time to devote to the cultivation of those high and enobling studies, which exalt and dignify man, which elevate him in conception, in sentiment in feeling above the common hero, and which invest him almost with the attributes of the deity—these are far too refined and su too sublimated to accord with their vicious and perverted tastes, rendered cruel and sanguinary by the nature of the profession they persue, their Bosom dvested of almost every moral and virtuous feeling, they are influenced and governed in all their movement by the most brutal vilest passions of our nature—thus ignorant, licentious vindictive and aspiring they bow in homage at no shrine; save that of ambition and personal aggrandizement, imbibing the bilief from its universal prevalence amongst military Characters that self advancement should be the main spring to human action; they exchange the reputation of their Countrys benefactor for that of her destroyer and tyrant with all the suddenness of chance and fickleness of Caprice—

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The greatest danger to be apprehended from the accession of military chieftains to the office of President is their inevitable tendency to become arbitrary and despotick—Experience incontestibly proves that no country can accomplish any great and noble achievements by means of armies, unless the personage who acts in the capacity of Generallisimo of the forces be empowered to exercise supreme control over the subordinate officers and common soldiery, and that he must invested temporarily with almost sovreign power—and there is no Individual so entirely freed from the common frailties, of mankind as not to be elated by this unfettered, untrammeled power of exacting implicit obedience from all who surround him—The feeling of exaltation it excites induces him to exert his authority merely for the purpose exhibiting its extent and its latitude, until a belief of his own infallibility his own inherent right to command and to govern becomes a permanent and fixed principle of his nature Remove him from warlike scenes, throw around him the glittering mantle of executive chief magistrate yet his nature, his principles will remain unchangeably immutably the same—the constitution of the United States having clothed him with the right of removal from office, he rewards by immediate dismissal the services of those refusing to obey his imperious mandates, and substitutes in their place sycophantick and servile minions,12 who willingly, humbly acquiese in all his dictations, who are conducted in their

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meanderings through the political labyrinth by no light, save the brilliant coruscations emitted from the executive mansion, bright and dazzling indeed, yet serving like transient gleams of lightening or a dark and [t]empestuous13 night to lead them farther and farther astray—this commingling poison with the water at the fountain head, he consummates the objects of his wishes, by annihilating the liberty and independence of his Country—A brief reference to the history of bygone and even existing nations conclusively prove the truth of the above assertion that military cheftains will become tyrants and despots—The Roman Republick became and remained supreme mistress of the world, whilst she entrusted the administration of her cvil affais to wise learned and sagacious statesman—But no sooner had she removed from these the badge of office, and reposed confidence in the professions of military Chieftains,14 than she fell from her lofty pinnacle never to rise again—
The first of the Caesars at the head of an invincible army having subdued the enemies of Rome and extended her conquests to every clime, returned triumphant to the seat of empire, amidst the acclimations of his Countrymen—The infatuated multitude dazzled by the pomp and pageantry of his triumph, and intimidated by his show of power, tendered for his acceptance the glittering diadem—the temptation was irresistible—yet ere he recieved the proffered prize, the poniards of twenty patriots had penetrated his bosom—But their noble efforts could not revive their expiring Country the auspicious moment was seized and despotism established on the wreck of Roman liberty—

Page 9
The efforts of the French patriots of 1798 to exterminate despotism were partially successfully, and aided by our example, success might have crowned their glorious undertaking, had there not suddenly arose amongst them a spirit, born it would seem to ride the whirlwind and direct the storm—Whilst the Friends of liberty throughout France were exulting in their apparent emancipation from the shackles of despotick authority— Napoleon Bonaparte made his appearance on the arena, professing himself to be an enthusiastick advocate for constitutional liberty, and promising to restore the rights of an injured and oppressed people, he was recieved with open arms, and having soon developed the powers of his extroardinary intellect he was elected commander in chief of the United forces of France—After his elevation victory followed victory in rapid alternation, conquest marked the progress of his footsteps, and he became so resistless and powerfull that nothing short of absolute and supreme power both civil & military could satiate his ambition; his usurpations were at first gradual but increasing in proportion to his victories, he was finally crowned Emperor of France—thus was that Country again enslaved by the very power which she had created for the preservation of her liberties—had Bonaparte consented like the immortal Washington after having subdued the enemies of his Country to re[t]urn15 his delegated trust to those who gave it, a monument of everlasting renown might have been rected as commemoration of his actions; But victory at the Marengo of his fortunes urged him to destruction at their Moscow 16

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I have selected from the History of nu numerous others the creer of these two celebrated personages, as strikingly illus[t]rative17 of the danger to be apprehended in elevating a military chieftain to the highest office in a Government—But unfortunately for Americans Mr. President it requires no reference to the History of Bygone nations to prove the direful effects of reposing confidence in the declarations of a military chieftain,—The last few years have afforded us oracular demonstration too plain and too palpable to remain impercieved by even by those whose vision either mental or physical is the most obtuse— The Hero of New orleans crowned with laurels nobly won, was elected to the office of Pres President by the almost unanimous voice of his Countrymen, economy and simplicity, retrenchment and reform were the words as his motto, and the political milennium was predicted as being already at hand But how wofully how sadly have the patriots of our land been dissapointed—the first prominent measure which charaterised his administration, was an attempt to prostrate by a military edict one of the sovreign states of this Union—The second important act knowing full well that money is power, was the removal of the public monies from the place where Congress had deposited them; which excercise of power has been pronounced by the wisest Body of men collected in the world a flagrant violation of that instrument which he had solemnly sworn to protect and defend—already have we narrowly escaped a sanguinary controversy with one of the most powerful nations of

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Europe, the contest brought on and maintained by the impatient and fiery spirit of this infatuated old man—and last but not least he has assumed the highest prerogative of princely potentates, in nominating as if by hereditary right a successor for the elevated state which he now occupies—thus has this military chieftain assumed & practically maintained the power inherent right of determining as to the extent of his own powers—thus has he passed the first stage of his progress towards despotism by rendering the executive department of our Government paramount to the constitution to congress and to the hightest tribunals in the land—these Examples which I have adduced, is are to my mind evidence as confirmatory as proofs of holy writ, that it is impolitick, that it is inimically dangerous, for Republicks to elect their presiding officer, from that class of eminent men styled military Heroes,—the peculiar circumstances under which they solicit the suffrages of a free and a grateful people renders their popularity too extensive and unlimited the influence they exercise is too uncontrouled—the people are blinded and dazzled by their admiration for their servises18 and are unable to make an impartial decision, with regard to their errors and defects—it is true that their popularity springs from one of the noblest principles implanted in the heart of man—Gratitude to the deliverer or defender of his Country, yet we would assuredly be acting in direct opposition to the intentions of him who bestowed upon us this grateful sense of sensation of gratefulness—if we we were to confer upon him who rendered the important service the power of inflicting a tenfold injury—

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To prevent all these calamities let our President be chosen from the distinguished statesman of our land, from those gifted spirits who adorn and render illustrious the legislative Councils of our nation the whole tenour whose lives have19 been a continued preparation for the occupance of this elevated of this elevated station—it is the the statesman who in every age in every country has been the first to signalise himself in attempting to dethrone the Tyrant and the despot—it is to him in hours of great national peril, that all classes resort as one who is capable of deciding on the destiny of nations—it is he who in the midst of cvil commotion and discord s[t]ands as firm and undunted as "a rock in the ocean that stems a thousand wild waves on the shore"20—and it is he that we should and must elect as President of these United States—Let Americans then adopt this as a cardinal unperishable maxim, and they may confidently hope that our free institutions will coextensive coeternal with the existence of the world, But should they continue as the Symtoms of the times too plainly indicate, to elect individuals distinguished for naught save courage and intrepidity in deeds of noble daring, to use the lan impressive language of the greatest orators of this or any other age, "there now exists the Individual who will write the history of the Republick from its commencement to its close—"


1. Dialectic Society Address, UA. Among the few complete four-speaker debates that survive in the papers of the Dialectic Society, this debate among four juniors was held in the Society's hall during commencement week. Society minutes for June 22, 1836, indicate that the debate was decided in the affirmative, that is, for a president skilled in civil affairs (Vol. 8, UA). The debate was followed by a valedictory address given on behalf of the Dialectic Society's senior class by William Wilberforce Hooper (1816-64), then-president of the Society and son of Professor William Hooper .

2. Avery wrote lowers.

3. Avery wrote diclatorial.

4. Avery wrote enlightened on top of enlighted.

5. Avery wrote substantialed.

6. Avery wrote temptalion.

7. Avery wroteluth.

8. Avery wroteinlelligent.

9. Avery wrote licenliousness.

10. Avery wrote ultimalely.

11. Avery wrote their on top of they.

12. Avery wrote i on top of e, changing men to minions.

13. Avery wrotelempestuous.

14. Avery wrote C on top of f at the beginning of Chieftains.

15. Avery wrote relurn.

16. Napoleon I (1769-1821) defeated the Austrians at Marengo, Italy, on June 14, 1800, and was forced to retreat from Moscow on October 19, 1812.

17. Avery wrote illuslative.

18. Avery wrote services on top of servises.

19. Avery wrote have on top of has.

20. Thomas Campbell, "Lines Written on Visiting a Scene in Argyleshire," lines 30-31 (1800): "Be strong as the rock of the ocean that stems/A thousand wild waves on the shore!"

21. Avery's signature is underlined with a flourish.