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Alexandria Retrocession.

In the same Congress he actively and most wisely promoted the retrocession of Alexandria to Virginia—a policy dear to every heart in the Commonwealth, and destined, as I hope, never to be surrendered at the bidding of alien speculators and jobbers. The long and dangerous contention with England over the Oregon boundary was also settled at this Congress by the wise and patriotic statesmanship of Webster, Calhoun and Benton. In this patriotic work Mr. Hunter co-operated. But it required no common nerve and sagacity for a public man to take then a position which all can now see and admit was the very essence of wisdom and state-craft. It was a race for empire, and our country, with greatly inferior naval power and no easy land communication at that hour across the continent, has won the race. We sacrificed a pawn to win a queen. A war with England at that time might have cost us Oregon and the whole coast.

By this time—1846—the war with Mexico had begun, and the slavery agitation had broken out afresh by the claim of the antislavery [198] agitators to apply the Wilmot proviso interdicting the carrying of slaves to any country which might be acquired from Mexico as the result of a successful war. Mr. Hunter cherished the Union of the States, and he loved peace always; but, pacific as he was by nature, and principle, he would not consent to any measure that destroyed the equality of the Southern States in the Federal Union. At that very hour two-thirds of the soldiers imperilling their lives for the country in the Mexican war were from the South, and more than half the others were Democrats who disapproved of the abolition crusade. Perhaps, however, I ought to bear in mind that ingratitude is the cardinal principle of modern politics.

In 1846 Mr. Hunter was elected by the General Assembly, to the United States Senate. He took his seat in December, 1847. As a result of the reputation he had already achieved in the other branch of Congress, he was placed on the Finance Committee—by far the most important committee of the Senate, and the one having charge then, not only of all revenue measures, but also of all the appropriations of the National Government. At the session of 1850-51, Mr. Hunter became the chairman of the Finance Committee. ‘The revenue is the State,’ said a great statesman of the Old World.

Mr. Hunter's tastes and studies fitted him especially for all this class of questions, To recount his work upon them would be impossible. He filled this position up to the spring of 1861, when he left the Senate. On all the questions and topics belonging to this committee he had the unbounded confidence of his brother Senators of every party and section. His integrity, purity, and knowledge of affairs, gave him an almost absolute veto on everything corrupt, base or dangerous in fiscal legislation. He was deemed a safe, conservative man; a watch—dog of the Treasury—not a mere barking dog, but a faithful and incorruptible sentinel. He shaped and carried through the compromise tariff bill of 1857—a measure supported not only by the Democrats, but by many prominent northern Republicans, by William H. Seward, Henry Wilson, N. P. Banks, Salmon P. Chase, and others. They were content to follow a Virginian of the Virginians. His statement of what any provision in a bill he had in charge, meant or effected was enough. His candor and truth were a power and a pillar of fire. You have to-day at Washington, a great court to examine and consider claims against the United States Government. The government creditor, instead of vainly hanging around Congress and growing gray-haired in a hopeless quest for justice, has his ‘day in court.’ Search the history [199] of this court and you will find its sure prop and pillar, the life tenure of its judges, is the proposition of your man of Essex. He helped to breathe into it the breath of life and to organize it upon an enduring and impregnable basis of judicial impartiality and independence.

You hear much nowadays of ‘civil-service reform,’ and of applying the merit system to all minor and clerical employments of the Federal government. Who was the first man to move in this matter? I answer that one of the first to agitate the subject, the one who made it a hobby from year to year, and who finally formulated a wise and practical measure to effect it, was again your man of EssexR. M. T. Hunter. It passed in his very words, and thus became the law of the land. It is a sound, sensible, moderate and constitutional measure. If it were the law to-day, and duly enforced, and had never been tampered with by demagogues and ignorant men, it would secure efficient employees for the government, protect their tenure better than your present law, protect also the best interests of the government, and it would be an admirable substitute for the present bastard system of cant and hypocrisy, doubtful in its constitutionality, and almost universally regarded as having sunk into evasion, trickery and fraud, with features that no sensible business man, no president of a bank or manager of a business establishment ever acts upon in private life. I say, therefore, that we are indebted to Mr. Hunter for the only good law ever passed upon this subject.

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