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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 Alexander D. Swann for the Dialectic Society, June 22, 1836: Electronic Edition.
Author: Swann, Alexander D., b. 1819
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. 36K
Publisher: The University Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Chapel Hill, North Carolina

No Copyright in US

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 Alexander D. Swann for the Dialectic Society, June 22, 1836
Author: Alexander D. Swann
Description: 7 pages, 8 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

Swann's debate speech reminds the audience that the President represents only one branch of government and that civil powers should never be subservient to the military. War would occupy a government headed by a military chieftain, whereas the statesman studies the arts of peace.
"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 Alexander D. Swann for the Dialectic Society, June 22, 18361
Swann, Alexander D., b. 1819

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Should the office of President of the U.S. be awarded to an individual preeminent for skill in the civil affairs, or to one distinguished for military Services?

Mr Pres.

We have two characters presented for discussion—the civil & military. And as I advocate the claims, which the eminent Statesman has upon the suffrages of a Republican People, I will proceed, at once to examine the arguments of the Gen [tleman]., who last addressed the House, urging those of the military Chieftain. A After some general ascribing to a chief-magistrate the general & abscract qualities of "firmness & decision of character"—and "promtitude of action", as inestimable virtues, rendered inherent from long military Service—He asks, with admirable gravity, "What would we presage to be the fate of a government—devoid of these most essential qualifications"—Sir, it is a beautiful arrangement of our polical system, that, so far from the President's being in his individuality, the government of these United States, he is but one of the co-ordinate branches; and even if a President, elected that class of distinguished public men styled Statesman, was so entirely deficient in those qualifications, which the Gen. arrogates exclusively his Hero, with that spirit of liberty, which he told us was a jealous one, fying to rescue, at the last approach on an enemy towards its citidel and animating the bosom of every American—while that can be preserved from executive encroachments [whil] within the immediate Representatives of the People, will be sufficiently watchful to preserve them from insult and agression from without. Further, Mr. Pres., if we could be fanciful en enough, to suppose, that, the government, in our sense of the word +comprising in fact the whole people + could be so cursed with pusalinimity, as the Gen. leaves us to infer by his question then, Sir, indeed would be answered by presenting to a grieving world, the very gloomy picture, which History under similar circumstances has shown in its "unerring sheep"—the "dismal brain of "calamity"—"bloodshed" and devastation"—which would ensue. Now, the Gen.s position seems to be this—that there are certain quaities both of the mind and and acquired by profession, peculiar to the each of Class of individuals, concerning whom we are discussing; but with

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great unfairness, he argues the inconsistency of the Statesman possessing in the least degree, any of those he so liberally ascribes to the military Chieftain. And what Sir, would all this end in? I, with equal propriety, might suppose that the military Chieftain in the same manner destitute of the others abilities; and thus like the contest between bruin and the aligator2 "the hardest fend off"—we could never attain an ajusment of the contr[o]versy or arrive at any conclusion. But, Sir, "the combination of the civil, and military powers of a government, constitute the basis of its national freedom", as the Gen. remarks. How then can the civil power of a government be administered without military provisions, and how can the military power be supported in the abscence of resources, furnished by a wise civil administration. If, in the choice of a Pres., we can it would be inconsistent to look for this combination, as the Gen's argument leads him to conclude, then if we could exist at all as a government in that situation, he argues for that most certain and alarming step toward despotism, to3 make the civil power subservient to the military. Is there any one in our Republic who could for a moment contemplate such a state of things with complacency? my Country forbid it! Sooner leave the scepter in the hand of one just man than, and warrent us protection from the civil laws, than to subject the happy people to the domineering insolence, of an unrestrained soldiery. Mr Pres. my friend from Burke [Mr. Avery] , has shown conclusively, that, both from the natural disposition, and subsequent education of a military commander when elevated to the chief magistracy of our union he will eventually overturn the its liberties of and establish a despotism on its ruins. I must confess, I was a amused at the arguments used by the Gen. who followed him [Mr. Taylor] , in refutation of this position. Was then the dagger of the patriot Brutus stained in blood of an incocent man? Yes says the Gen's argument, the patriots noble deed was the result of passion and 4 the liberties of Rome was were 5 gone before Caesar crossed the Rubicon,—Was the stern and virtous Cato so given to private animosity, or so unskilled in condition, and politicks of the Roman Republic, as to brave the conquerer of Gaul with distroying the last vistage

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its liberty without being firmly convinced that such was the case? Yes, Sir, the Gen's ingenuity has come too late to stay the suicidal hand of the last of the Roman Senate. Bo[unrecovered]naparte too was no usurper! Yes, Napolean an ocean of penetential tears could not wash away the black ingratitude which you have suffered from a, hitherto, missjudging world! But Mr. Pres. to be serious let us examine, the argument 6 as offered by gentleman, and leave to imagination, the wonderful discoveries, which the argument 7 if successful, it might have 8 developed to an admiring world—He endeavours to show that in Republican Governments and ambitious– aspiring man can mot transgress the delegated powers assigned to him, unless the people over whom he placed, have previously lost their liberty. Liberty is the exercise of certain immunities—laws are established for the security of these reserved rights—and officers chosen to put these laws into force—The question then is, what can be the danger of entrusting the execution of these laws—(and consequently the keeping of the vestal flame of our liberty) to a chief magistrate, flushed with victory "bearing his blushing honours thick around him",9 and in what manner he can extinguish that flame, with admitting the argument. Sir, the danger is here that you might as soon expect the "leapard to change his spots and the Ethiopean his skin"10 as to hope that the military Chieftain will so soon forget the exciting hour of conflict—spirit-stirring danger, the [t]rumpet11 and drum, the roaring of cannon, and the gratifying hour of triumph.!. The damper of State rooms—and musty documents, is but ill replace that spur to exertion, that incentive to action, furnished, by the sympathy of a thousand flashing eyes urging on to join the deadly strife, the enthusiasm of gazing on the Star-spangled banner, as it floats proudly over his victorious army. And, Sir, are to expect a self-denying self-devoted Washington, in every Chief, whom we elect? That would "hoping against hope"—and nothing will satisfy morbid appetite for excitement, but plunging his country in a war of some kind foreign or intestine war. circumstances growing out of either the disasters or success of that war

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call for stronger measures—more unlimited command cautiously conceded at first, having been induced to beleive that these trust-powers would be silenced, when the immediate occasion for them should have been cesased—a people thus going on—untill finally all is lost—the ballance of power is in the hands of the exective12 which backed by an affectionate army, becomes superior to all laws—and Lord-protector—Emperor—or Autocrat, is substituted, for the homely and republican term President. But, Mr Pres, whatever may been the fortuitous concurrence of circumstances, which conspired to assist the ursupations of Cromwell or Bonaparte, yet Sir the fact is undoubted that they did take advantage of those circumstances and if not "ab initis"13 gave the finishing blow. the liberties of the people. we have it then granted, that, when the people themselves are carried away by any transient excitement so, as for a while to forget what is due to their liberties, [a] military executive will be apt to destroy them entirely. Must we, sir, choose the executive of our laws, made for the security of our liberties from men distinguished for military services, when we see that Are we not, then, inverting the very purposes of government by electing by electing a Chief magistrate, distinguished military services [?] we throw into the hands of a man the execution of laws made for preserving our liberties, who, from natural disposition, and long established habits of implicit obe[unrecovered]dience from all claims every perogative of power which a too-confiding will not people might yield in any an emergency? History will answer. I pass over what might be said in relation to our present Chief magistrate ; and ask where are the liberties of Mexico? She is in deed a "fallen Iberia"—The spirit of Montazuma and the Inca's now mourn together. A Hero whom she loved to honour, was rewarded with the chief magistracy—his exploits gained the affection and confidence of the army, and following the maxim "with men, all get money" he seized the treasury—and thus weilding a bloody sword in one hand and the corrupting gold in the other, Santa Anna with a shout of triumph proclaimed himself Autocrat of Mexico. Shall we not profit by her example? Yes. Sir, a despotism must be the consequence of electing to the

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principal office in our government, a military genius. If not the distraction of our liberties, another consequence equally to be apprehended is this In the buisness of a nation war is a contingency, a probably one it is true, but still it is a contingency; but Sir elect a warlike president, and what regarded in a national point of view, is the most calamitous of evils being his na[t]ural14 element, and darling occupation—war, and preperation for war becomes the rulling measure of his administration—
"In every heart
Are swon sown the sparks that kindle fiery war,
Occasion need but fan them, and they blaze"15
Let us revert for one moment to the peculiar relation which our country bears to the rest of the world, and see which class of Individuals presented16 for discussion would support that relation most credibly. Peace and the arts of peace now occupy the attention of evry civilized people—Nations17 have ceased to amuse one another by with gladiatorial exhibitions, merely it would seem to gratify the vanity, or humor the caprice of some way-ward monarch. Since we have been a nation these arts and employments of peace have received new zest, and if we do not equal the most advanced in the march of improvement, we excel the most greater number—inexhaustable natural resources are at hand in reach, ready to advance us still higher in the scale of Republics, and all that is wanting is the plastic hand genius of an energetic Exective, to give a tone, and direction to the latent energies of a free people. Who so appropriate for that office as an american statesman? The draught which he has taken at the Classic fount of his Alma Mater, arouses an interest in works of art and literature and fits him properly for entering in life—the study of Civil & constitutional National laws political economy prepares him for serving his fellow citizens in the state, legislature or Congress. Then his well trained mind is brought into contact with the intricate, but important subjects of banking, and finances, and here he learns what relation there be as to the different agricultural

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and commercial interest, of this widely extended confederacy, and practice too as a debater enables him to rescue simple truth from the tissue of network sophisty, so ingeniously thrown around it by parlamentary niceties—[Naval] Military and foreign affairs come, necessarily, under his cognizance, and his personal and diplomatick correspondence with foreign ambassadors renders him familiar with the policy and genius of other governments. Such we may presume would be the acquirements of an idn individual to be embraced in the question, Now Sir, I do not maintain, that some or all of these qualifications are necessary wanting to the military Chieftain. But I do contend that a full developement of them in the Statesman, together with the eminent advantages of a military education, and the high Character reputation of our officers are more indispensable for continuing the prosperity the union; than the highest grade, of military tallent, with at least but a slight acquaintance with them such subjects. The Gen has applied to our feellings, not to suffer to reward the veteran for services rendered. It has already been shown how impolitic, and dangerous it might be to internal elevate such characters to the Presidency: but even admitting there to be no danger of despotism, if the system once becomes established, how long could that high, enobling sentiment of disinterested patriotism, animate the breast of an American Officer? Instead of living embalmed in the hearts of a gratefull people, with the assuran[ce] of their respect, and love, they would enter the vexed arena of politicks, and that high military bearing, once synonymus with honourable bearing, would soon degenerate into drivelling intrique, and thus convert the army into a school of corruption. Moreover Mr Pres., who does not deprecate the precedent to which such a course would lead. One instance will do to show the absurdity of which would follow. Who does not see what is likely to ensue, in times of deeper corruption, from what appears about to take place at the next presidential election. Yes, Sir that brilliant border exploit, which

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inspired the purely republican doggerel of
—"Rumpsy dumpsy
Col. Johnston killed Tecumseh"—18
is to draw tears of gratitude in our eyes, and the second office in the gift of the people is to be awarded to one, even below the mediocrity of intellects, by which he is surrounded. What a comment political advancement! If every thing else connected with that man's character was even as fair, and unclouded in asspect, as the authenticity of that deed, the American people might have less cause to blush for their Choice.—
If as the Gen. argues, ample remuneration must be the meed of military services, why not promote him in the profession in which the service was rendered? Because, says the Gen it would be increasing the labours of the soldier in his arduous occupation. Indeed! And does he suppose the office of Pres. such a holiday buisness—so free from care and trouble, that the constl 19 incumbent can turn to officers and say
Now are our brows bound with victorious wreaths;
Our bruised arms hung up for monuments;
Our stern alarums turned to merry-meetings,
Our deadful marches to delighful measures.—?20
Far from it Sir. If would be more like transplanting the hardy oak from his high nativ its dry soil, the hardy oak already white with the moss of ages, into the hot-bed of a metropolitan garden. In the down-hill of life physical as well mental depression breaks up the constitution, and what between the mental distraction occasioned by party animosity and and personal attention to buisness, the retirer would wish himself into honourable retirement or at least he would prefer the highest promotion in the profession to which he was accustomed21

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2. In folk tales, the bear and alligator are considered equally skilled combatants. A fight between them depends on where it takes place—on land or in water.

3. Swann wrote to on top of thi.

4. Swann inserted "the patriots noble deed was the result of passion and" in pencil; the rest of his speech is in ink.

5. Swann inserted were in pencil.

6. Swann inserted "the argument" in pencil.

7. Swann inserted "the argument" in ink, then crossed it out in pencil.

8. Swann inserted have in pencil.

9. William Shakespeare, King Henry VIII, III.ii, line 354 (1623).

10. Jeremiah 13:23: "Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots? Then may ye also do good, that are accustomed to do evil."

11. Swann wrote lrumpet.

12. Swann wrote execlive.

13. "ab initis": from the begining.

14. Swann wrote nalural.

15. William Cowper, "Book V. The Winter Walk," The Task , lines 205-07 (1784).

16. Swann wrote presented on top of several unrecovered characters.

17. Swann wrote N on top of n at the beginning of Nations.

18. Nicknamed "Tecumseh Killer," Johnson claimed to have killed the Shawnee chieftain Tecumseh at the Battle of the Thames in Ontario, Canada, in 1813.

19. Swann wrote consll .

20. William Shakespeare, Richard III, I.i, lines 5-8 (1597).

21. Written in another hand on the verso of the last page of the speech is "A D. Swan's debate."