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Early environments.

Mr. Hunter was born in this little county on the 21st April, 1809. It is a country neighborhood, without a city or a large town, sparsely settled in his time and ours. I am aware, and probably you are, that there is a modern school of thought which assumes that for an intellectual growth a man should be born and reared in a city or a closely settled neighborhood—a hothouse, so to speak, in which his brain and energies are to be stimulated to the highest degree. But history gives little warrant for such an assumption. The great men of this country certainly were nearly all of them country bred. Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, Calhoun, Patrick Henry, John Marshall, George Mason, John Randolph, Henry Clay, Henry A. Wise, Abel P. Upshur, William C. Rives, Silas Wright, Thomas H. Benton, Andrew Jackson, Francis P. Blair, Abraham Lincoln, William J. Bryan, and many more I could adduce were the product of country life—of plantation life—and almost without exception had not only the plantation manners, in which dignity and good breeding were happily blended, but possessed also the genius and force in affairs which plantation life and duties and contact with Nature rather than with the mob tended to develop. You do not find the best trees among those which are crowded close together. Individuality, self-reliance, decision, thoughtfulness, study, gentleness, charity, truth, purity of morals—all these noblest adjuncts to mental growth and distinction flourish on the farm far better than in the heat and dust and turmoil of the great city, with its wealthy few and unfortunate multitude. Born on the plantation, loving Nature and honest country folk, our great statesman was, through his entire public career, always happy and eager to return to his home and native air in Essex. He did not linger in Washington or even Richmond longer than his public functions absolutely required.

So, if I were called on to specify the formative influences of Mr. Hunter's character, I should certainly include country life, plantation life and influences, association and sympathy with the country people of Virginia, the fireside and historical traditions of the old Commonwealth, the study of history, and especially of Virginia history, and of the character and teachings of her great men. He was proud of them all in his own modest, gentle way, and to the last, very proud of the Commonwealth which had called him so often to [196] her service, and called him because he represented perfectly and fully the best type of Virginia character and principles.

Mr. Hunter was indeed fortunate in those surroundings and early associations which go so far to shape character, and to develop a sure and healthful growth of every faculty. He was extremely fortunate also in being an alumnus of that grand institution of learning, the University of Virginia—the favorite child of the illustrious Jefferson, the first university of this country, and very long the only one, and the first as I conceive, to embody in our land, the breadth, wise liberality, thoroughness of culture, and high standards of scholarship and character, which were needed to equip a young man for a great professional or political career. This scholastic training, the fruits of which pervade all Mr. Hunter's public addresses, was followed by the study of law at Winchester, under the invaluable direction of Judge Henry St. George Tucker.

His public life began when he was twenty-five years of age. He was elected a member of the General Assembly of Virginia. Young as he was, we find him discussing the more serious and difficult questions of finance and banking. The great political questions on which parties were dividing, also came before the Legislature, as they had done often in the old days. Mr. Hunter met these issues upon a consistent theory of constitutional construction and policy, yet one of perfect independence from extremes of party bigotry and dictation. He aimed only to get the truth and to be right. At the very outset and in the very flush and ardor of youth, he displayed the moderation and equipoise which characterized his career to the close.

He was then, as always, an advocate of a strict construction of the Federal Constitution and of States' Rights. He regarded these ideas as the very foundation-stone of political liberty and good government. The special friends of that creed first elected him to Congress in the year 1837. He took a part in the debates of the House. How well he bore himself may be judged by the fact that at the very next Congress he was chosen Speaker of the House of Representatives. He was then only thirty years of age. Among his predecessors in this very high office were Nathaniel Macon, Henry Clay, Langdon Cheves, Philip P. Barbour, Andrew Stevenson, John Bell and James K. Polk. Polk was his immediate predecessor as Speaker. To the next Congress Mr. Hunter was again chosen a representative. In this body he had occasion to discuss all the great party questions of the day which preceded the sectional question— [197] the last a mere cloud in the sky at that day, but destined soon to loom up and obscure the entire horizon. Thrown by a new apportionment into a partially new congressional district, he was beaten as a candidate for the Twenty-eighth Congress by a small majority; but two years afterwards he was easily elected to the Twenty-ninth Congress. This was the first Congress of Mr. Polk, whom he had helped to elect to the presidency. In this Congress he promoted the establishment of the Independent Treasury—a measure strongly opposed, but which vindicated itself and soon ceased to be a party issue. He also earnestly supported the celebrated revenue tariff bill of 1846, known in after years as the Walker tariff; and he also favored the warehouse system. The last measure was largely, if not wholly, his work. Its vast importance and place in modern commercial transactions is known to every merchant in the land; but how few of them know and are grateful to the statesman who did most to give it a permanent place in our fiscal system! On the subject of the tariff, Mr. Hunter followed the teachings of Adam Smith, Ricardo, McCulloch and the great political economists of Europe, whose works have built up the doctrine of free exchange of products, upheld in this country by Jefferson, Calhoun, Silas Wright, and numbers of our greatest thinkers and patriots, and held abroad by Peel, Cobden, Bright, Bastiat and Gladstone.

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