The story of Laura Bridgman is a tale told in many languages. The deaf and blind girl whom Doctor Howe taught to read and to think soon became as celebrated as Franklin or Webster. She was between seven and eight years old when he first discovered her near Hanover, N. H., and for five years and a half she had neither seen nor heard. It is possible that she could remember the external world in a dim kind of way, and she must have learned to speak a few words before she lost her hearing. Doctor Howe taught her the names of different objects by pasting them in raised letters on the objects about her, and he taught her to spell by means of separate blocks with the letters upon them. She then was taught to read after the usual method of instructing the blind, and communicated with her fingers after the manner of deaf mutes. Doctor Howe said in his report of the case:
"Hitherto, the process had been mechanical, and the success about as great as teaching a very knowing dog a variety of tricks. The poor child had sat in mute amazement and patiently imitated everything her teacher did; but now the truth began to flash upon her; her intellect began to work; she perceived that here was a way by which she could herself make up a sign of anything that was in her own mind, and show it to another mind, and at once her countenance lighted up with a human expression; it was no longer a dog or parrot,—it was an immortal spirit, eagerly seizing upon a new link of union with other spirits!"
Finally she was educated in the meaning of the simplest abstract terms like right and wrong, happy and sad, crooked and straight, and in this she evinced great intelligence, for she described being alone as all one, and being together all two,—the original meaning of alone and altogether, which few persons think of. In trying to express herself where she found some difficulty she made use of agglutinative forms of speech. [Footnote: Like the Aztecs, Kanackers and other primitive races.]
The education of Laura has rare value as a psychological study; for it proves incontestably that mind is a thing in itself, and not merely a combination of material forces, as the philosophers of our time would have us believe. Laura Bridgman's mind was there, though wholly unable to express itself, and so soon as the magic key was turned, she developed as rapidly and intelligently as other girls of her age. She soon became much more intelligent than the best trained dog who has all his senses in an acute condition; and she developed a sensibility toward those about her such as Indian or Hottentot girls of the same age would not have done at all. She soon began to indicate that sense of order which is the first step on the stairway of civilization. If these qualities had not been in her they never could have come out.
Why is it that so many superior women remain unmarried, and why do men of superior intellect and exceptional character so often mate themselves with weak or narrow-minded women? That a diffident man, with a taste for playing on the flute, should be captured by a virago, is not so remarkable,—that is his natural weakness; but it is also true that the worthiest man often chooses indifferently. This thing they call matrimony is in fact like diving for pearls: you bring up the oyster, but what it contains does not appear until afterward. A friend of Sumner, who imagined his wife had a beautiful nature because she was fond of wild- flowers, discovered too late that she cared more for botany than for her husband.
Chevalier Howe met with better fortune. He waited long and to good purpose. It was fitting that such a man should marry a poetess; and he found her, not in her rose-garden or some romantic sylvan retreat, but in the city of New York. Miss Julia Ward was the daughter, as she once styled herself, of the Bank of Commerce, but her mind was not bent on money or a fashionable life. She was graceful, witty and charming in the drawing-room; but there was also a serious vein in her nature which could only be satisfied by earnest thought and study. She went from one book to another through the whole range of critical scholarship, disdaining everything that was not of the best quality. She soon knew so much that the young men became afraid of her, but she cared less for their admiration than for her favorite authors. Above all, the deep religious vein in her nature, which never left her, served as a balance to her romantic disposition. Her first admirer is said to have been an eloquent preacher who came to New York while Miss Ward was in her teens.
Another man might have crossed Julia Ward's path and only have remembered her as a Sumner friend. Doctor Howe recognized the opportunity, and had no intention of letting it slip. His reputation and exceptional character attracted her; and he wooed and won her with the same courage that he fought the Greeks. Her sister married Crawford, the best sculptor of his time, whom Sumner helped to fame and fortune.
Doctor Howe's wedding journey, which included a complete tour of Europe, seems to have been the first rest that he had taken in twenty years. Such wedding journeys are frequent enough now, but it is a rare bride that finds the doors of distinguished houses opened to her husband from Edinburgh to Athens. Was it not a sufficient reward for any man's service to humanity?
For that matter Doctor Howe's lifelong work received comparatively slight recognition or reward. A few medals were sent to him from Europe,—a gold one from the King of Prussia,—and he was always looked upon in Boston as a distinguished citizen; but his vocation at the Blind Asylum withdrew him from the public eye, and the public soon forgets what happened yesterday. What a blaze of enthusiasm there was for Admiral Dewey in 1899, and how coldly his name was received as a presidential candidate one year later!
Doctor Howe was once nominated for Congress as a forlorn hope, and his name was thrice urged unavailingly for foreign appointments. He certainly deserved to be made Minister to Greece, but President Johnson looked upon him as a very "ultra man",—the real objection being no doubt that he was a friend of Sumner, and the second attempt made by Sumner himself was defeated by Hamilton Fish. Doctor Howe was fully qualified at any time to be Minister to France, and as well qualified as James Russell Lowell for the English Mission; but the appointment of such men as Lowell and Howe has proved to be a happy accident rather than according to the natural order of events. What reward did Doctor Morton ever obtain, until twenty- five years after his death his name was emblazoned in memorial hall of Boston State House! It is an old story.
Yet Doctor Howe may well be considered one of the most fortunate Americans of his time. Lack of public appreciation is the least evil that can befall a man of truly great spirit,—unless indeed it impairs the usefulness of his work, and Edward Everett, who had sympathized so cordially with Doctor Howe's efforts in behalf of the Greeks, could also have told him sympathetically that domestic happiness was fully as valuable as public honor. Fortunate is the man who has wandered much over the earth and seen great sights, only the better to appreciate the quiet and repose of his own hearth-stone! The storm and stress period of Doctor Howe's life was over, and henceforth it was to be all blue sky and smooth sailing.
Sumner expressed a kind of regret at Doctor Howe's marriage,—a regret for his own loneliness; but he found afterwards that instead of losing one friend he had made another. His visits to South Boston were as frequent as ever, and he often brought distinguished guests with him,— English, French, and German. There was no lady in Boston whom he liked to converse with so well as Mrs. Howe; and if he met her on the street he would almost invariably stop to speak with her a few minutes. He sometimes suffered from the keen sallies of her wit, but he accepted this as part of the entertainment, and once informed her that if she were president of the Senate it would be much better for the procedure of the public business.
George Sumner also came; like his brother, a man much above the average in general ability, and considered quite equal to the Delivery of a Fourth of July oration. He was the more entertaining talker of the two, and in other respects very much like Tom Appleton,—better known on the Paris boulevards than in his native country. Instead of being witty like Appleton he was brilliantly encyclopaedic; and they both carried their statements to the verge of credibility.
Doctor Howe organized the blind asylum so that it almost ran itself without his oversight, and as always happens in such cases he was idolized by those who were under his direction. There was something exceedingly kind in his tone of voice,—a voice accustomed to command and yet much subdued. His manner towards children was particularly charming and attractive. He exemplified the lines in Emerson's "Wood-notes":
"Grave, chaste, contented though retired, And of all other men desired,"
applied to Doctor Howe more completely than to the person for whom they were originally intended; for Thoreau's bachelor habits and isolated mode of life prevented him from being an attractive person to the generality of mankind.
It was said of James G. Blaine that he left every man he met with the impression that he was his best friend. This may have been well intended, but it has the effect of insincerity, for the thing is practically impossible. The true gentleman has always a kind manner, but he does not treat the man whom he has just been introduced to as a friend; he waits for that until he shall know him better. It is said of Americans generally that they are generous and philanthropic, but that they do not make good friends,—that their idea of friendship depends too much on association and the influence of mutual interests, instead of the underlying sense of spiritual relationship. When they cease to have mutual interests the friendship is at an end, or only continues to exist on paper. Doctor Howe was as warm-hearted as he was firm-hearted, but he never gave his full confidence to any one until he had read him through to the backbone. His friends were so fond of him that they would go any distance to see him. His idea of friendship seemed to be like that of the friends in the sacred band of Thebes, whose motto was either to avenge their comrades on the field of battle or to die with them.
He did not like a hypocritical morality, which he said too often resulted in the hypocritical sort. He complained of this in Emerson's teaching, which he thought led his readers to scrutinize themselves too closely as well as to be too censorious of others; and he respected Emerson more for his manly attitude on the Kansas question than for anything he wrote.
He always continued to be the chevalier. He was like Hawthorne's gray- haired champion, who always came to the front in a public emergency, and then disappeared, no one knew whither. When the Bond Street riot took place in 1837, there was Doctor Howe succoring the oppressed; in 1844 he joined the Conscience Whigs and was one of the foremost among them; he helped materially toward the election of Sumner in 1851, and for years afterwards was a leader in the vigilance committee organized to resist the Fugitive Slave law. He stood shoulder to shoulder with George L. Stearns in organizing resistance to the invasions of Kansas by the Missourians; and again in 1862 when Harvard University made its last desperate political effort in opposition to Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation; but when his friends and his party came into power Howe neither asked nor hinted at any reward for his brilliant services.
Edward L. Pierce, the biographer of Sumner, was not above exhibiting his prejudices as to certain members of the Bird Club, both by what he has written and what he neglected to write. He says of the Chevalier: "Dr. Howe, who had a passion for revolutions and civil disturbances of all kinds, and had no respect for the restrictions of international law or comity, was vexed with Sumner for not promoting the intervention of the United States in behalf of the insurgent Cubans."
This reminds one of Boswell's treatment of Doctor Johnson's friends. Like John Adams and Hampden, Doctor Howe was a revolutionary character,—and so were Sumner and Lincoln,—but he was a man in all matters prudent, discreet and practical. He was as much opposed to inflammatory harangues and French socialistic notions as he was to the hide-bound conservatism against which he had battled all his life. Like Hampden and Adams his revolutionary strokes were well timed and right to the point. Experience has proved them to be effective and salutary. It was the essential merit of Sumner and his friends that they recognized the true character of the times in which they lived and adapted themselves to it. Thousands of well-educated men lived through the anti-slavery and civil war period without being aware that they were taking part in one of the great revolutionary epochs of history. That Doctor Howe and Senator Sumner differed in regard to the Cuban rebellion is a matter of small moment. Howe considered the interests of the Cubans; Sumner the interests of republicanism in Spain and in Europe generally. Both were right from their respective standpoints.
At the beginning of the war he was sixty years of age,—too old to take an active part in it. This cannot be doubted, however, that if he had been thirty years younger he would either have won distinction as a commander or have fallen on the, field of honor. The best contribution from the Howe family to the war was Julia Ward Howe's "Battle Hymn of the Republic." The war was a grand moral struggle, a conflict of historical forces; and neither Lowell, Emerson, nor Whittier expressed this so fully and with such depth of feeling as Mrs. Howe. There are occasions when woman rises superior to man, and this was one of them. It was evidently inspired by the John Brown song, that simple martial melody; but it rises above the personal and temporal into the universal and eternal. Its measure has the swing of the Greek tragic chorus, extended to embrace the wider scope of Christian faith, and its diction is of an equally classic purity and vigor. The last stanza runs:
"In the beauty of the lily Christ was born across the sea, With a glory in his bosom that transfigures you and me. As he died to make men holy let us die to make men free; As we go marching on."
This was the fine fruit of Mrs. Howe's early religious faith. It welled up in her nature from a deep undercurrent, which few would have suspected who only met her at Sam G. Ward's dinner parties and other fashionable entertainments. Yet, there was always a quiet reserve in her laughter, and her wittiest remarks were always followed by a corresponding seriousness of expression. Although she studied Spinoza, admired Emerson, and attended meetings of the Radical Club on Chestnut Street, she never separated herself from the Church, and always expressed her dissent from any opinion that seemed to show a lack of reverence.
On a certain occasion when a member of the club spoke of newspapers as likely to supersede the pulpit, Mrs. Howe replied to him: "God forbid that should happen. God forbid we should do without the pulpit. It is the old fable of the hare and the tortoise. We need the hare for light running, but the slow, steady tortoise wins the goal at last." Religious subjects, however, were not so much discussed at the Radical Club as philosophy and politics,—and in these Mrs. Howe felt herself very much at home.
On another occasion, when a member of the club said that he was prepared, like Emerson, to accept the universe, Mrs. Howe interposed with the remark that it was Margaret Fuller who accepted the universe; she "was not aware that the universe had been offered to Emerson." She said this because Margaret Fuller was a woman.
Once, when writing for the newspapers was under discussion, Mrs. Howe remarked that in that kind of composition one felt prescribed like St. Simeon Stylites by the limitations of the column.
One of the best of her witty poems describes Boston on a rainy day, and is called "Expluvior," an innocent parody on Longfellow's "Excelsior," which, by the way, ought to have been called Excelsius.
"The butcher came a walking flood, Drenching the kitchen where he stood. 'Deucalion, is your name?' I pray. 'Moses,' he choked and slid away. Expluvior,"
is one of the most characteristic verses; but in the last stanza she wishes to construct a dam at the foot of Beacon Hill and cause a flood that would sweep the rebel sympathizers out of Boston.
The office of the Blind Asylum was formerly near the middle of Bromfield Street on the southern side. This is now historic ground. Between 1850 and 1870 some of the most important national councils were held there in Dr. Howe's private office. It was the first place that Sumner went to in the morning and the last place that Governor Andrew stopped before returning to his home at night. There Dr. Howe and George L. Stearns consulted with John Brown concerning measures for the defence of Kansas; and there Howe, Stearns, and Bird concerted plans for the election of Andrew in 1860, and for the re-election of Sumner in 1862. It was a quiet, retired spot in the midst of a hustling city, where a celebrated man could go without attracting public attention.
Chevalier Howe outlived Sumner just one year, and Wilson followed him not long after.
THE WAR GOVERNOR.
Sebago is one of the most beautiful of the New England lakes, and has been celebrated in Longfellow's verse for its curiously winding river between the upper and the lower portion, as well as for the Indian traditions connected with it. John A. Andrew's grandfather, like Hawthorne's father, lived in Salem and both families emigrated to Sebago, the former locating himself in the small town of Windham. At the time when Hawthorne was sailing his little boat on the lake, at the age of fourteen, John Andrew was in his nurse's arms,—born May 31, 1818. Like Hawthorne and Longfellow he went to Bowdoin College, but did not distinguish himself there as a scholar,—had no honors at commencement. We are still in ignorance concerning his college life, what his interests were, and how he spent his time; but Andrew never cared much for anything which had not an immediate and practical value. Greek and Latin, merely for their own sake as ancient languages, did not appeal to him; nor did the desiccated history and cramping philosophy of those days attract him more strongly. Yet he ultimately developed one of the finest of American intellects.
He was admitted to the Suffolk bar at the age of twenty-two. He had already formed decided opinions on the slavery question. The practitioner with whom he studied was precisely the opposite of Andrew,—a brilliant scholar, but formal and unsympathetic. Although a young man of fine promise he was soon excelled by his less learned but more energetic pupil. At the age of twenty-six we find Andrew presiding at a convention of Free-soilers, the same which nominated Dr. S. G. Howe for Congress. Why he did not appear in politics between 1844 and 1859 is something of a mystery, which may be explained either by his devotion to his profession or his unwillingness to make politics a profession. He was in constant communication with Charles Francis Adams, Frank W. Bird, and other leading independents, and played a part in the election of Sumner as well as at various nominating conventions; but he apparently neither sought office nor was sought for it. It may have been a modest conscientiousness of his own value, which prevented the acceptance of public honors until he was prepared to claim the best; but the fact is difficult to account for on any supposition.
Neither was his success at the bar remarkable. He never earned a large income, and died comparatively poor. There were few who cared to meet him in debate, yet his legal scholarship was not exceptional, and his political opinions may have proved an impediment to him in a city which was still devoted to Webster and Winthrop. Moreover, his kindness of heart prompted him to undertake a large number of cases for which he received little or no remuneration. As late as 1856 he was known as the poor man's lawyer rather than as a distinguished pleader. One cannot help reflecting what might have been John A. Andrew's fortune if he had been born in Ohio or Illinois. In the latter State he would have proved a most important political factor; for he was fully as able a speaker as Douglas, and he combined with this a large proportion of those estimable qualities which we all admire in Abraham Lincoln. He had not the wit of Lincoln, nor his immense fund of anecdote, which helped so much to make him popular, but the cordial manners and manly frankness of Andrew were very captivating. He would have told Douglas to his face that he was a demagogue, as Mirabeau did to Robespierre, and would have carried the audience with him. It certainly seems as if he would have risen to distinction there more rapidly than in old-fashioned, conventional Boston.
Governor Andrew was an inch shorter than the average height of man, and much resembled Professor Child in personal appearance. He was a larger man than Professor Child, and his hair was darker, but he had the same round, good-humored face, with keen penetrating eyes beneath a brow as finely sculptured as that of a Greek statue, and closely curling hair above it. He was broad-shouldered, remarkably so, and had a strong figure but not a strong constitution. His hands were soft and as white as a woman's; and though his step was quick and elastic he disliked to walk long distances, and was averse to physical exercise generally.
He also resembled Professor Child in character,—frank without bluntness; sincere both formally and intellectually,—full to the brim of moral courage. He was not only kind-hearted, but very tender-hearted, so that his lips would quiver on occasions and his eyes fill with tears,—what doctors improperly call a lachrymose nature; but in regard to a question of principle or public necessity he was as firm as Plymouth Rock. Neither did he deceive himself, as kindly persons are too apt to do, in regard to the true conditions of the case in hand. He would interrogate an applicant for assistance in as judicious a manner as he would a witness in a court room. He never degenerated into the professed philanthropist, who makes a disagreeable and pernicious habit of one of the noblest attributes of man. "A mechanical virtue," he would say, "is no virtue at all."
The impressions of youth are much stronger and more enduring than those of middle life, and I still remember Andrew as he appeared presiding at the meeting for the benefit of John Brown's wife and daughters in November, 1859. This was his first notable appearance before the public, and nothing could have been more daring or more likely to make him unpopular; and yet within twelve months he was elected Governor. His attitude and his whole appearance was resolute and intrepid. He had set his foot down, and no power on earth could induce him to withdraw it. A clergyman who had been invited to speak at the meeting had at first accepted, but being informed by some of his parishioners that the thing would not do, declined with the excuse that he had supposed there would be two sides to the question. "As if," said Andrew, "there could be two sides to the question whether John Brown's wife and daughters should be permitted to starve." Thomas Russell, Judge of the Superior Court, sat close under the platform, clapping his hands like pistol shots.
John A. Andrew's testimony before the Harper's Ferry investigating committee has a historical value which Hay and Nicolay, Wilson, and Von Holst would have done well to have taken into consideration; but the definitive history of the war period is yet to be written. There was no reason why Andrew should have been summoned. He had never met John Brown but once—at a lady's house in Boston—and had given him twenty-five dollars without knowing what was to be done with it. Jefferson Davis and the other Southern members of the committee evidently sent for him to make capital against the Republican party, but the result was different from what they anticipated. Andrew told them squarely that the Harper's Ferry invasion was the inevitable consequence of their attempt to force slavery on Kansas against the will of its inhabitants, and that the Pottawatomie massacre, whether John Brown was connected with it or not, was not so bad in its moral effect as the assault on Sumner. It was what they might expect from attempting to tyrannize over frontier farmers. It is not to be supposed that such men will be governed by the nice sense of justice of an eastern law court.
His testimony in regard to the personal magnetism of John Brown is of great value; but he also admitted that there was something about the old man which he could not quite understand,—a mental peculiarity which may have resulted from his hard, barren life, or the fixedness of his purpose.
Andrew had already been elected to the Legislature, and had taken his seat there in January, 1860. Almost in an instant he became the leader of his party in the House. Always ready to seize the right moment, he united the two essential qualities of a debater, a good set speech and a pertinent reply. Perfectly fearless and independent, he was exactly the man to guide his party through a critical period. There were few in the house who cared to interfere with him.
Andrew was chairman of the Massachusetts delegation at the Chicago Convention in May, and although he voted for Seward he was directly instrumental in the nomination of Lincoln. It is said to have been at his suggestion that the Massachusetts delegation called together the delegations of those States that defeated Fremont in 1856, and inquired of them which of the candidates would be most certain to carry their constituencies; and with one accord they all answered Lincoln. Thus Lincoln's nomination was practically assured before the voting began.
It has been repeatedly asserted that the nomination of Andrew for Governor was the result of a general popular movement; but this was simply impossible. He was chiefly known to the voters of the State at that time as the presiding officer of a John Brown meeting, and that was quite as likely to retard as to advance his interests. He had, however, become a popular leader in the Legislature, and the fact that Governor Banks was opposed to him and cast his influence in favor of a Pittsfield candidate, left a sort of political vacuum in the more populous portion of the State, which Frank W. Bird and Henry L. Pierce took advantage of to bring his name forward. Sumner and Wilson threw their weight into the scales, and Andrew was easily nominated; but he owed this to Frank W. Bird more than to any other supporter.
In the New York Herald of December 20, 1860, there was the following item: "Governor-elect Andrew, of Massachusetts, and George L. Stearns have gone to Washington together, and it is said that the object of their visit is to brace up weak-kneed Republicans." This was one object of their journey, but they also went to survey the ground and see what was the true state of affairs at the Capital. Stearns wrote from Washington to the Bird Club: "The watchword here is 'Keep quiet,'" a sentence full of significance for the interpretation of the policy pursued by the Republican leaders that winter. Andrew returned with the conviction that war was imminent and could not be prevented. His celebrated order in regard to the equipment of the State militia followed immediately, and after the bombardment of Fort Sumter this was looked upon as a true prophecy. He foresaw the difficulty at Baltimore, and had already chartered steamships to convey regiments to Washington, in case there should be a general uprising in Maryland.
Both Sumner and Wilson opposed the appointment of General Butler to the command of the Massachusetts Volunteers, and preferred Caleb Gushing, who afterwards proved to be a more satisfactory member of the Republican party than Butler; but, on the whole, Andrew would seem to have acted judiciously. They were both bold, ingenious and quick-witted men, but it is doubtful if Gushing possessed the dash and intrepidity which Butler showed in dealing with the situation at Baltimore. That portion of his military career was certainly a good success, and how far he should be held responsible for the corrupt proceedings of his brother at New Orleans I do not undertake to decide.
It is likely that Governor Andrew regretted his choice three weeks later, when General Butler offered his services to the Governor of Maryland to suppress a slave insurrection which never took place, and of which there was no danger then or afterwards. A sharp correspondence followed between the Governor and the General, in which the latter nearly reached the point of insubordination. For excellent reasons this was not made public at the time, and is little known at the present day; but General Butler owed his prominence in the war wholly to Governor Andrew's appointment.
Another little-known incident was Andrew's action in regard to the meeting in memory of John Brown, which was held on December 2, 1861, by Wendell Phillips, F. B. Sanborn and others, who were mobbed exactly as Garrison was mobbed thirty years earlier. The Mayor would do nothing to protect them, and when Wendell Phillips went to seek assistance from Andrew the latter declined to interfere. It would be a serious matter to interfere with the Mayor, and he did not feel that the occasion demanded it. Moreover he considered the celebration at that time to be prejudicial to the harmony of the Union cause. Phillips was already very much irritated and left the Governor's office in no friendly mood. Andrew might have said to him: "You have been mobbed; what more do you want? There is no more desirable honor than to be mobbed in a good cause."
Governor Andrew's appointments continued to be so favorable to the Democrats that Martin F. Conway, the member of Congress from Kansas, said: "The Governor has come into power with the help of his friends, and he intends to retain it by conciliating his opponents." It certainly looked like this; but no one who knew Andrew intimately would believe that he acted from interested motives. Moreover it was wholly unnecessary to conciliate them. It is customary in Massachusetts to give the Governor three annual terms, and no more; but Andrew was re-elected four times, and it seemed as if he might have had as many terms as Caius Marius had consulships if he had only desired it.
His object evidently was to unite all classes and parties in a vigorous support of the Union cause, and he could only do this by taking a number of colonels and other commissioned officers from the Democratic ranks. For company officers there was no better recommendation to him than for a young man to be suspended, or expelled, from Harvard University. "Those turbulent fellows," he said, "always make good fighters, and," he added in a more serious tone, "some of them will not be greatly missed if they do not return." The young aristocrat who was expelled for threatening to tweak his professor's nose obtained a commission at once.
Another case of this sort was so pathetic that it deserves to be commemorated. Sumner Paine (named after Charles Sumner), the finest scholar in his class at Harvard, was suspended in June, 1863, for some trifling folly and went directly to the Governor for a commission as Lieutenant. Having an idea that the colored regiments were a particular hobby with the Governor, he asked for a place in one of them; but Andrew replied that the list was full; he could, however, give him a Lieutenancy in the Twentieth Massachusetts, which was then in pursuit of General Lee. Sumner Paine accepted this, and ten days later he was shot dead on the field of Gettysburg. Governor Andrew felt very badly; for Paine was not only a fine scholar but very handsome, and, what is rare among hard students, full of energy and good spirits.
Governor Andrew tried a number of conclusions, as Shakespeare would call them, with the National Government during the war, but the most serious difficulty of this kind resulted from Secretary Stanton's arbitrary reduction of the pay of colored soldiers from thirteen to eight dollars a month. This, of course, was a breach of contract, and Governor Andrew felt a personal responsibility in regard to it, so far as the Massachusetts regiments were concerned.
He first protested against it to the Secretary of War; but, strange to say, Stanton obtained a legal opinion in justification of his order from William Whiting, the solicitor of the War Department. Governor Andrew then appealed to President Lincoln, who referred the case to Attorney- General Bates, and Bates, after examining the question, reported adversely to Solicitor Whiting and notified President Lincoln that the Government would be liable to an action for damages. The President accordingly referred this report to Stanton, who paid no attention whatever to it.
Meanwhile the Massachusetts Legislature had passed an act to make good the deficiency of five dollars a month to the Massachusetts colored regiments, but the private soldiers, with a magnanimity that should never be forgotten, refused to accept from the State what they considered due them from the National Government. At last Governor Andrew applied to Congress for redress, declaring that if he did not live to see justice done to his soldiers in this world he would carry his appeal "before the Tribunal of Infinite Justice."
Thaddeus Stevens introduced a bill for the purpose June 4,1864, and after waiting a whole year the colored soldiers received their dues. Andrew declared in his message to Congress that this affair was a disgrace to the National Government; and I fear we shall have to agree with him. [Footnote: At this time there were not less than five thousand officers drawing pay in the Union armies above the requisite proportion of one officer to twenty-two privates.]
Sixty years ago Macaulay noticed the injurious effects on oratory of newspaper publication. Parliamentary speeches were written to be read rather than to be listened to. It was a peculiarity of Andrew, however, that he wrote his letters and even his messages to the Legislature as if he were making a speech. In conversation he was plain, sensible and kindly.
He made no pretensions to oratory in his public addresses, but his delivery was easy, clear, and emphatic. At times he spoke rather rapidly, but not so much so as to create a confused impression. I never knew him to make an argumentum ad hominem, nor to indulge in those rhetorical tricks which even Webster and Everett were not wholly free from. He convinced his hearers as much by the fairness of his manner as by anything that he said.
The finest passage in his speeches, as we read them now, is his tribute to Lincoln's character in his address to the Legislature, following upon Lincoln's assassination. After describing him as the man who had added "martyrdom itself to his other and scarcely less emphatic claims to human veneration, gratitude and love," he continued thus: "I desire on this grave occasion to record my sincere testimony to the unaffected simplicity of his manly purpose, to the constancy with which he devoted himself to his duty, to the grand fidelity with which he subordinated himself to his country, to the clearness, robustness, and sagacity of his understanding, to his sincere love of truth, his undeviating progress in its faithful pursuit, and to the confidence which he could not fail to inspire in the singular integrity of his virtues and the conspicuously judicial quality of his intellect."
Could any closer and more comprehensive description be given of Andrew's own character; and is there another statement so appreciative in the various biographies of Lincoln?
The instances of his kindness and helpfulness were multitudinous, but have now mostly lapsed into oblivion. During his five years in office it seemed as if every distressed man, woman, and child came to the Governor for assistance. William G. Russell, who declined the position of Chief Justice, once said of him: "There was no better recommendation to Andrew's favor than for a man to have been in the State's prison, if it could only be shown that he had been there longer than he deserved."
Andrew considered the saving of a human soul more important than rescuing a human life. That he was often foiled, deceived, and disappointed in these reformatory attempts is perfectly true; but was it not better so than never to have made them? For a long time he had charge of an intemperate nephew, who even sold his overcoat to purchase drink; but the Governor never deserted the fellow and cared for him as well as he could.
This is the more significant on account of Andrew's strong argument against prohibitory legislation, which was the last important act of his life.
In February, 1864, there was a military ball at Concord for the benefit of the Thirty-second Massachusetts Regiment. Governor Andrew was present, and seeing the son of an old friend sitting in a corner and looking much neglected while his brother was dancing and having a fine time, the Governor went to him, took him by the arm and marched several times around the hall with him. He then went to Mrs. Hawthorne, inquired what her husband was writing, and explained the battle of Gettysburg to her, drawing a diagram of it on a letter which he took from his coat pocket. Years afterwards Mrs. Hawthorne spoke of this as one of the pleasantest interviews of her life.
He would come in late to dinner at the Bird Club, looking so full of force that he seemed as much like a steam-engine as a man. They usually applauded him, but he paid no attention to it. "Waiter, bring me some minced fish with carrots and beets," he would say. His fish-dinner became proverbial, but he complained that they could not serve it at fine hotels in the way our grandmothers made it. He said it did not taste the same.
His private secretary states that Governor Andrew's favorite sans souci was to take a drive into the country with some friend, and after he had passed the thickly settled suburbs to talk, laugh and jest as young men do on a yachting excursion,—but his talk was always refined. There was no recreation that Professor Francis J. Child liked better than this.
Andrew's valedictory address on January 5, 1865, which was chiefly concerned with the reconstruction of the Southern States, was little understood at the time even by his friends; and in truth he did not make out his scheme as clearly as he might have done. He considered negro suffrage the first essential of reconstruction, but he did not believe in enfranchising the colored people and disfranchising the whites. He foresaw that this could only end in disaster; and he advised that the rebellious States should remain under military government until the white people of the South should rescind their acts of secession and adopt negro suffrage of their own accord. There would have been certain advantages in this over the plan that was afterwards adopted—that is, Sumner's plan—but it included the danger that the Southern States might have adopted universal suffrage and negro citizenship for the sake of Congressional representation, and afterwards have converted it into a dead letter, as it is at present. Andrew considered Lincoln's attempts at reconstruction as premature, and therefore injudicious.
For nearly twenty-five years John A. Andrew was a parishioner of Rev. James Freeman Clarke, who preached in Indiana Place Chapel. In 1848 Rev. Mr. Clarke desired to exchange with Theodore Parker, but older members of his parish strenuously opposed it. Andrew, then only twenty-seven years old, came forward in support of his pastor, and argued the case vigorously, not because he agreed with Parker's theological opinions, but because he considered the opposition illiberal. After this both Andrew and Clarke would seem to have become gradually more conservative, for when the latter delivered a sermon or lecture in 1866 in opposition to Emerson's philosophy, the ex-Governor printed a public letter requesting him to repeat it. It is easy to trace the influence of James Freeman Clarke in Governor Andrew's religious opinions and Andrew's influence on Rev. Mr. Clarke's politics. Each was a firm believer in the other.
The movement to supersede Sumner with Andrew as United States Senator, in 1869, originated in what is called the Back Bay district. It was not because they loved Andrew there, but because they hated Sumner, who represented to their minds the loss of political power which they had enjoyed from the foundation of the Republic until his election in 1850, and have never recovered it since. Andrew's political record and his democratic manners could hardly have been to their liking.
The Boston aristocracy counted for success on the support of the Grand Army veterans, who were full of enthusiasm for Andrew; but it is not probable that the ex-Governor would have been willing to lead a movement which his best friends disapproved of, and which originated with the same class of men who tried so hard to defeat him in 1862. Moreover, they would have found a very sturdy opponent in Senator Wilson. It was Wilson who had made Sumner a Senator, and for fifteen years they had fought side by side without the shadow of a misunderstanding between them. Under such conditions men cannot help feeling a strong affection for one another. Besides this, Wilson would have been influenced by interested motives. Sumner cared nothing for the minor Government offices—the classified service—except so far as to assist occasionally some unfortunate person who had been crowded out of the regular lines; and this afforded Wilson a fine opportunity of extending his influence. If Andrew were chosen Senator in the way that was anticipated Wilson knew well enough that this patronage would have to be divided between them.
Andrew could not have replaced Sumner in the Senate. He lacked the physical strength as well as the experience, and that extensive range of legal and historical knowledge which so often disconcerted Sumner's opponents. He had a genius for the executive, and the right position for him would have been in President Grant's cabinet. That he would have been offered such a place can hardly be doubted.
But Governor Andrew's span of life was over. He might have lived longer if he had taken more physical exercise; but the great Civil War proved more fatal to the statesmen who were engaged in it than to the generals in the field. None of the great leaders of the Republican party lasted very long after this.
Andrew's friends always felt that the man was greater than his position, and that he really missed the opportunity to develop his ability to its full extent. His position was not so difficult as that of Governor Morgan, of New York, or Governor Morton, of Indiana; for he was supported by one of the wealthiest and most patriotic of the States. It was his clear insight into the political problems of his time and the fearlessness with which he attacked them that gave him such influence among his contemporaries, and made him felt as a moral force to the utmost limits of the Union. No public man has ever left a more stainless reputation, and we only regret that he was not as considerate of himself as he was of others.
THE COLORED REGIMENTS
The first colored regiment in the Civil War was organized by General Hunter at Beaufort, S. C., in May, 1862, without permission from the Government; and some said, perhaps unjustly, that he was removed from his command on that account. It was reorganized by General Saxton the following August, and accepted by the Secretary of War a short time afterwards. Rev. T. W. Higginson, who had led the attack on Boston Court House in the attempt to rescue Anthony Burns, was commissioned as its Colonel.
In August also George L. Stearns, being aware that Senator Sumner was preparing a speech to be delivered at the Republican State convention, went to his house on Hancock Street and urged that he should advocate in it the general enlistment of colored troops; but Sumner said decisively, "No, I do not consider it advisable to agitate that question until the Proclamation of Emancipation has become a fact. Then we will take another step in advance." At a town meeting held in Medford, in December, Mr. Stearns made a speech on the same subject, and was hissed for his pains by the same men who were afterwards saved from the conscription of 1863 by the negroes whom he recruited.
Lewis Hayden, the colored janitor of the State House, always claimed the credit of having suggested to Governor Andrew to organize a colored regiment of Massachusetts Volunteers. William S. Robinson, who was then Clerk of the State Senate, supported Hayden in this; but he also remarked that Representative Durfee, of New Bedford, proposed a bill in May, 1861, for the organization of a colored regiment, and that it was only defeated by six votes.
As soon as the Proclamation of Emancipation had been issued the Governor went to Washington for a personal interview with the Secretary of War, and returned with the desired permission. Mr. Stearns went with him and obtained a commission for James Montgomery, who had defended the Kansas border during Buchanan's administration, to be Colonel of another colored regiment in South Carolina. Colonel Montgomery arrived at Beaufort about the first of February.
Governor Andrew formed the skeleton of a regiment with Robert G. Shaw as Colonel, but was able to obtain few recruits. There were plenty of sturdy negroes about Boston, but they were earning higher wages than ever before, and were equally afraid of what might happen to them if they were captured by the Confederate forces. Colonel Hallowell says: "The Governor counselled with certain leading colored men of Boston. He put the question, Will your people enlist in my regiments? 'They will not,' was the reply of all but Hayden. 'We have no objection to white officers, but our self-respect demands that competent colored men shall be at least eligible to promotion.'" By the last of February less than two companies had been recruited, and the prospects of the Fifty-fourth Massachusetts did not look hopeful.
When Governor Andrew was in doubt he usually sent for Frank W. Bird and George L. Stearns, but this time Mr. Stearns was before him. To the Governor's question, "What is to done?" he replied, "If you will obtain funds from the Legislature for their transportation, I will recruit you a regiment among the black men of Ohio and Canada West. There are a great many runaways in Canada, and those are the ones who will go back and fight." "Very good," said the Governor; "go as soon as you can, and our friend Bird will take care of the appropriation bill." A handsome recruiting fund for incidental expenses had already been raised, to which Mr. Stearns was, as usual, one of the largest subscribers.
He arrived at Buffalo, New York, the next day at noon, and went to a colored barber to have his hair cut. He disclosed the object of his mission, and the barber promised to bring some of his friends together to discuss the matter that evening. The following evening Mr. Steams called a meeting of the colored residents of Buffalo, and made an address to them, urging the importance of the occasion, and the advantage it would be to their brethren in slavery and to the future of the negro race, if they were to become well-drilled and practiced soldiers. "When you have rifles in your hands," he said, "your freedom will be secure." To the objection that only white officers were being commissioned for the colored regiments he replied: "See how public opinion changes; how rapidly we move forward! Only three months ago I was hissed in a town meeting for proposing the enlistment of colored troops; and now here we are! I have no doubt that before six months a number of colored officers will be commissioned." His speech was received with applause; but when he asked, "Now who will volunteer?" there was a prolonged silence. At length a sturdy-looking fellow arose and said: "I would enlist if I felt sure that my wife and children would not suffer for it." "I will look after your family," said Mr. Stearns, "and see that they want for nothing; but it is a favor I cannot promise again." After this ten or twelve more enrolled themselves, and having provided for their maintenance until they could be transported to the camp at Readville, he went over to Niagara, on the Canada side, to see what might be effected in that vicinity.
In less than a week he was again in Buffalo arranging a recruiting bureau, with agencies in Canada and the Western States as far as St. Louis—where there were a large number of refugees who had lately been liberated by Grant's campaign at Vicksburg. Mr. Lucian B. Eaton, an old lawyer and prominent politician of the city, accepted the agency there as a work of patriotic devotion. Among Mr. Stearns's most successful agents were the Langston brothers, colored scions of a noble Virginia family,— both excellent men and influential among their people. All his agents were required to write a letter to him every evening, giving an account of their day's work, and every week to send him an account of their expenses. Thus Mr. Stearns sat at his desk and directed their movements by telegraph as easily as pieces on a chess-board. The appropriation for transportation had already passed the Massachusetts Legislature, but where this did not suffice to meet an emergency he drew freely on his own resources.
By the last of April recruits were coming in at the rate of thirty or forty a day, and Mr. Stearns telegraphed to the Governor: "I can fill up another regiment for you in less than six weeks,"—a hint which resulted in the Massachusetts Fifty-fifth, with Norwood P. Hallowell, a gallant officer who had been wounded at Antietam, for its commander.
The Governor, however, appears to have suddenly changed his mind, for on May 7th Mr. Stearns wrote to his wife:
"Yesterday at noon I learned from Governor Andrew by telegram that he did not intend to raise another regiment. I was thunderstruck. My work for three weeks would nearly, or quite, fall to the ground. I telegraphed in reply: 'You told me to take all the men I could get without regard to regiments. Have two hundred men on the way; what shall I do with them?' The reply came simultaneously with your letter: 'Considering your telegraph and Wild's advice, another regiment may proceed, expecting it full in four weeks. Present want of troops will probably prevent my being opposed.' I replied: 'I thank God for your telegram received this morning. You shall have the men in four weeks.' Now all is right."
The Surgeon-General had detailed one Dr. Browne for duty at Buffalo to examine Mr. Stearns's recruits, and if found fit for service by him there was presumably no need of a second examination. This, however, did not suit the medical examiner at Readville, who either from ill will or from some unknown motive, insisted on rejecting every sixth man sent there from the West. Thus there was entailed on Mr. Stearns an immense expense which he had no funds to meet, and he was obliged to make a private loan of ten thousand dollars without knowing in the least how or where he was to be reimbursed.
Finally, on May 8, Mr. Stearns made a remonstrance against this abuse to Governor Andrew in a letter in which he also gave this account of himself:
"I have worked every day, Sunday included, for more than two months and from fourteen to sixteen hours a day; I have filled the West with my agents; I have compelled the railroads to accept lower terms of transportation than the Government rates; I have filled a letter-book of five hundred pages, most of it closely written."
This letter is now in the archives of the State House at Boston, and on the back of it Governor Andrew has written:
"This letter is respy. referred to Surgeon-General Dole with the request that he would confer with Surgeon Stone and Lieutenant-Colonel Hallowell. It is surprising, and not fair nor fit, that a man trying as Mr. Stearns is, to serve the country at a risk, should suffer thus by such disagreement of opinion.
"JOHN A. ANDREW."
Shortly after this Mr. Stearns returned to Boston for a brief visit, and was met in the street by a philanthropic lady, Mrs. E. D. Cheney, who asked: "Where have you been all this time, Mr. Stearns? I supposed you were going to help us organize the colored regiment? You will be glad to know that it is doing well. We have nearly a thousand men." Mr. Stearns made no reply, but bowed and passed on. This is the more surprising, as Mrs. Cheney was president of a society of ladies who had presented the Fifty-fourth Regiment with a flag; but the fault would seem to have been more that of others than her own. At the celebration which took place on the departure of the regiment for South Carolina, however, Wendell Phillips said: "We owe it chiefly to a private citizen, to George L. Stearns, of Medford, that these heroic men are mustered into the service,"—a statement which astonished a good many. [Footnote: The statement made by Governor Andrew's private secretary concerning the colored regiments in his memoir of the Governor would seem to have been intentionally misleading.]
The Governors of the Western States had never considered their colored population as of any importance, but now, when it was being drained off to fill up the quota of Massachusetts troops they began to think differently. The Governor of Ohio advised Governor Andrew that no more recruiting could be permitted in his State unless the recruits were assigned to the Ohio quota. Andrew replied that the Governor of Ohio was at liberty to recruit colored regiments of his own; but the Massachusetts Fifty-fifth, having now a complement, it was decided not to continue the business any further, and Mr. Stearns's labors at Buffalo were thus brought to an end about the middle of June. He had recruited fully one- half of the Fifty-fourth, and nearly the whole of the Fifty-fifth regiments.
He now conceived the idea of making his recruiting bureau serviceable by placing it in the hands of the Government. He therefore went to Washington and meeting his friend, Mr. Fred Law Olmstead, at Willard's Hotel, the latter offered to go with him to the War Department and introduce him to Secretary Stanton. They found Stanton fully alive to the occasion, and in reply to Mr. Stearns's offer he said:
"I have heard of your recruiting bureau, and I think you would be the best man to run the machine you have constructed. I will make you an Assistant Adjutant-General with the rank of Major, and I will give you authority to recruit colored regiments all over the country."
Stearns thanked him, and replied that there was nothing which he had so much at heart as enlisting the black men on a large scale; for no people could be said to be secure in their freedom unless they were also soldiers; but his wife was unwell, and had suffered much from his absence already, and he did not feel that he ought to accept the offer without her consent. In answer to the question how funds for recruiting were to be obtained without any appropriation by Congress, Mr. Stanton said they could be supplied from the Secret Service fund.
When Mr. Stearns and Mr. Olmstead were alone on the street again, the latter said: "Mr. Stearns, go to your room and sleep if you can."
Having returned to Boston, to arrange his affairs for a prolonged absence, and having obtained his wife's consent, Mr. Stearns ordered his recruiting bureau to report at Philadelphia, where he soon after followed it.
The battle of Gettysburg had stirred Philadelphia to its foundations, and its citizens were prepared to welcome anything that promised a vigorous prosecution of the war. Major Stearns was at once enrolled among the members of the Union League Club, the parent of all the union leagues in the country, and was invited to the meetings of various other clubs and fashionable entertainments. A recruiting committee was formed from among the most prominent men in the city. Camp William Penn, while the colored regiment was being drilled, became a fashionable resort, and fine equipages filled the road thither every after-noon. By the middle of July the first regiment was nearly full.
Fine weather does not often last more than a few weeks at a time, and in the midst of these festivities suddenly came Secretary Stanton's order reducing the pay of colored soldiers from thirteen to eight dollars a month. This was a breach of contract and the men had a right to their discharge if they wished it; but that, of course, was not permitted them. Such an action could only be excused on the ground of extreme necessity. The Massachusetts Legislature promptly voted to pay the deficiency to the Fifty-fourth and Fifty-fifth regiments; but the one at Philadelphia was in organization, and Mr. Stearns found himself in the position of a man who has made promises which he is unable to fulfil.
Hon. William D. Kelley and two other gentlemen of the committee went with Major Stearns to Washington to see Stanton, and endeavored to persuade him to revoke the order. Kelley was one of the most persistent debaters who ever sat in Congress, and he argued the question with the Secretary of War for more than an hour,—to the great disgust of the latter,—but Stanton was as firm as Napoleon ever was. Major Stearns never had another pleasant interview with him.
The Secretary's argument was that some white regiments had complained of being placed on an equality with negroes, and that it interfered with recruiting white soldiers. There was doubtless some reason in this; but the same result might have been obtained by a smaller reduction.
The next morning some one remarked to Major Stearns that it was exceedingly hot weather, even for Washington, and his reply was: "Yes, but the fever within is worse than the heat without." He talked of resigning; but finally said, decisively, "I will go and consult with Olmstead."
He found Mr. Olmstead friendly and sympathetic. He spoke of Secretary Stanton in no complimentary terms, but he advised Mr. Stearns to continue with his work, and endure all that he could for the good of the cause,— not to be worried by evils for which he was in no way responsible. Mr. Stearns returned to Willard's with a more cheerful countenance.
In the afternoon Judge Kelley came in with the news of the repulse of the Fifty-fourth Massachusetts regiment at Fort Wagner and the death of Colonel Shaw.
There was a colored regiment in process of formation at Baltimore, and another was supposed to be organizing at Fortress Monroe.
Both were nominally under Mr. Stearns's supervision, and he inspected the former on his return trip to Philadelphia, and sent his son to investigate and report on the latter. Not the trace of a colored regiment could be discovered at Fortress Monroe, but there were scores of Union officers lounging and smoking on the piazza of the Hygeia Hotel. Mr. Stearns thought that business economy had better begin by reducing the number of officers rather than the pay of the soldiers. On July 28 Major Stearns wrote from Baltimore:
"I am still perplexed as to the mode in which I can best carry out the work intrusted to me. It is so difficult to adjust my mode of rapid working to the slow routine of the Department that I sometimes almost despair of the task and want to abandon it."
No private business could succeed if carried on after the manner of the National Government at that time, and this was not the fault of Lincoln's administration at all, but of the whole course of Jackson democracy from 1829 to 1861. The clerks in the various departments did not hold their positions from the heads of those departments, but from outside politicians who had no connection with the Government business, and as a consequence they were saucy and insubordinate. They found it to their interest to delay and obstruct the procedure of business in order to give the impression that they were overworked, and in that way make their positions more secure and if possible of greater importance.
Major Stearns had found himself continually embarrassed in his Government service from lack of sufficient funds, and the continual delay in having his accounts audited. The auditors of the War Department repeatedly took exception to expenditures that were absolutely necessary, and he was obliged to advance large sums from his own capital in order to provide the current expenses of his agents. In this emergency he returned to Boston and held a conference with Mr. John M. Forbes and other friends; and they all agreed that he ought to be better supported in the work of recruiting than he had been. A subscription was immediately set on foot, and in a few days a recruiting fund of about thirty thousand dollars was raised and placed in charge of Mr. R. P. Hallowell.
On September 1, Secretary Stanton transferred Major Stearns to Nashville, where he could obtain recruits in large numbers, not only from Tennessee but from the adjoining States. Fugitives flocked to his standard from Alabama, Mississippi, and Kentucky. For the succeeding five months he organized colored regiments so rapidly that it was with difficulty the General commanding at Nashville could supply the necessary quota of officers for them. His letter-writing alone rarely came to less than twenty pages a day, and besides this he was obliged to attend personally to innumerable details which were constantly interfering with more important affairs. Serious questions concerning the rights and legal position of the freedmen were continually arising, and these required a cool head and a clear understanding for their solution.
Edward J. Bartlett, of Concord, who was one of his staff in Nashville, stated afterwards that he never saw a man who could despatch so much business in a day as George L. Stearns. He says:
"I shall never forget the fine appearance of the first regiment we sent off. They were all picked men, and felt a just pride in wearing the blue. As fast as we obtained enough recruits they were formed into regiments, officered and sent to the front. When men became scarce in the city we made trips into the country, often going beyond the Union picket line, and generally reaping a harvest of slaves. These expeditions brought an element of danger into our lives, for our forage parties were fired into by the enemy more than once, but we always succeeded in bringing back our men with us. The black regiments did valuable service for the Union, leaving their dead on many a southern battle-field. Mr. Stearns was a noble man, courteous, with great executive ability, and grandly fitted for the work he was engaged in."
At this time Major Stearns's friend, General Wilde, was recruiting a colored brigade in North Carolina, and General Ullman was organizing colored regiments in Louisiana.
Major Stearns's labors were brought to a close in February, 1864, by the eccentric conduct of Secretary Stanton,—the reason for which has never been explained. He obtained leave of absence to return to Boston at Christmas time, and after a brief visit to his family went to Washington and called upon the Secretary of War, who declined to see him three days in succession. On the evening of the fourth day he met Mr. Stanton at an evening party and Stanton said to him in his roughest manner: "Major Stearns, why are you not in Tennessee?" This was a breach of official etiquette on the part of the Secretary of War and Major Stearns sent in his resignation at once. His reason for doing so, however, was not so much on account of this personal slight as from the conclusion that he had accomplished all that was essential to be done in this line. His chief assistant at Nashville, Capt. R. D. Muzzey, was an able man and perfectly competent to run the machine which Mr. Stearns had constructed.
The importance of his work cannot readily be measured. It was no longer easy to obtain white volunteers. With a population ten millions less than that of France, the Northern States were maintaining an army much larger than the one which accompanied Napoleon to Moscow. General Thomas's right wing, at the battle of Nashville, was formed almost entirely of colored regiments. They were ordered to make a feint attack on the enemy, so as to withdraw attention from the flanking movement of his veterans on the left; but when the charge had once begun their officers were unable to keep them in check—the feint was changed into a real attack and contributed largely to the most decisive victory of the whole war.
In his last annual Message President Lincoln congratulated Congress on the success of the Government's policy in raising negro regiments, and on the efficiency of the troops organized in this way. It seems very doubtful if the war could have been brought to a successful termination without them.
In 1898 the Legislature of Massachusetts, at the instance of the veterans of the Fifty-fourth and Fifty-fifth regiments, voted to have a memorial tablet for the public services of George Luther Stearns set up in the Doric Hall of Boston State House, and the act was approved by Governor Walcott, who sent the quill with which he signed it to Major Stearns's widow.
EMERSON'S TRIBUTE TO GEORGE L. STEARNS.
Delivered in the First Parish Church of Medford on the Sunday following Major Stearns's death, April 9, 1867.
"We do not know how to prize good men until they depart. High virtue has such an air of nature and necessity that to thank its possessor would be to praise the water for flowing or the fire for warming us. But, on the instant of their death, we wonder at our past insensibility, when we see how impossible it is to replace them. There will be other good men, but not these again. And the painful surprise which the last week brought us, in the tidings of the death of Mr. Stearns, opened all eyes to the just consideration of the singular merits of the citizen, the neighbor, the friend, the father, and the husband, whom this assembly mourns. We recall the all but exclusive devotion of this excellent man during the last twelve years to public and patriotic interests. Known until that time in no very wide circle as a man of skill and perseverance in his business; of pure life; of retiring and affectionate habits; happy in his domestic relations,—his extreme interest in the national politics, then growing more anxious year by year, engaged him to scan the fortunes of freedom with keener attention. He was an early laborer in the resistance to slavery. This brought him into sympathy with the people of Kansas. As early as 1855 the Emigrant Aid Society was formed; and in 1856 he organized the Massachusetts State Kansas Committee, by means of which a large amount of money was obtained for the 'free-State men,' at times of the greatest need. He was the more engaged to this cause by making in 1857 the acquaintance of Captain John Brown, who was not only an extraordinary man, but one who had a rare magnetism for men of character, and attached some of the best and noblest to him, on very short acquaintance, by lasting ties. Mr. Stearns made himself at once necessary to Captain Brown as one who respected his inspirations, and had the magnanimity to trust him entirely, and to arm his hands with all needed help.
"For the relief of Kansas, in 1856-57, his own contributions were the largest and the first. He never asked any one to give so much as he himself gave, and his interest was so manifestly pure and sincere that he easily obtained eager offerings in quarters where other petitioners failed. He did not hesitate to become the banker of his clients, and to furnish them money and arms in advance of the subscriptions which he obtained. His first donations were only entering wedges of his later; and, unlike other benefactors, he did not give money to excuse his entire preoccupation in his own pursuits, but as an earnest of the dedication of his heart and hand to the interests of the sufferers,—a pledge kept until the success he wrought and prayed for was consummated. In 1862, on the President's first or preliminary Proclamation of Emancipation, he took the first steps for organizing the Freedman's Bureau,—a department which has since grown to great proportions. In 1863, he began to recruit colored soldiers in Buffalo; then at Philadelphia and Nashville. But these were only parts of his work. He passed his time in incessant consultations with all men whom he could reach, to suggest and urge the measures needed for the hour. And there are few men of real or supposed influence, North or South, with whom he has not at some time communicated. Every important patriotic measure in this region has had his sympathy, and of many he has been the prime mover. He gave to each his strong support, but uniformly shunned to appear in public. For himself or his friends he asked no reward: for himself, he asked only to do the hard work. His transparent singleness of purpose, his freedom from all by-ends, his plain good sense, courage, adherence, and his romantic generosity disarmed first or last all gainsayers. His examination before the United States Senate Committee on the Harper's Ferry Invasion, in January, 1860, as reported in the public documents, is a chapter well worth reading, as a shining example of the manner in which a truth- speaker baffles all statecraft, and extorts at last a reluctant homage from the bitterest adversaries.
"I have heard, what must be true, that he had great executive skill, a clear method, and a just attention to all the details of the task in hand. Plainly he was no boaster or pretender, but a man for up-hill work, a soldier to bide the brunt; a man whom disasters, which dishearten other men, only stimulated to new courage and endeavor.
"I have heard something of his quick temper: that he was indignant at this or that man's behavior, but never that his anger outlasted for a moment the mischief done or threatened to the good cause, or ever stood in the way of his hearty co-operation with the offenders, when they returned to the path of public duty. I look upon him as a type of the American republican. A man of the people, in strictly private life, girt with family ties; an active and intelligent manufacturer and merchant, enlightened enough to see a citizen's interest in the public affairs, and virtuous enough to obey to the uttermost the truth he saw,—he became, in the most natural manner, an indispensable power in the State. Without such vital support as he, and such as he, brought to the government, where would that government be! When one remembers his incessant service; his journeys and residences in many States; the societies he worked with; the councils in which he sat; the wide correspondence, presently enlarged by printed circulars, then by newspapers established wholly or partly at his own cost; the useful suggestions; the celerity with which his purpose took form; and his immovable convictions,—I think this single will was worth to the cause ten thousand ordinary partisans, well-disposed enough, but of feebler and interrupted action.
"These interests, which he passionately adopted, inevitably led him into personal communication with patriotic persons holding the same views,— with two Presidents, with members of Congress, with officers of the government and of the army, and with leading people everywhere. He had been always a man of simple tastes, and through all his years devoted to the growing details of his prospering manufactory. But this sudden association now with the leaders of parties and persons of pronounced power and influence in the nation, and the broad hospitality which brought them about his board at his own house, or in New York, or in Washington, never altered one feature of his face, one trait in his manners. There he sat in the council, a simple, resolute Republican, an enthusiast only in his love of freedom and the good of men; with no pride of opinion, and with this distinction, that, if he could not bring his associates to adopt his measure, he accepted with entire sweetness the next best measure which could secure their assent. But these public benefits were purchased at a severe cost. For a year or two, the most affectionate and domestic of men became almost a stranger in his beautiful home. And it was too plain that the excessive toil and anxieties into which his ardent spirit led him overtasked his strength and wore out prematurely his constitution. It is sad that such a life should end prematurely; but when I consider that he lived long enough to see with his own eyes the salvation of his country, to which he had given all his heart; that he did not know an idle day; was never called to suffer under the decays and loss of his powers, or to see that others were waiting for his place and privilege, but lived while he lived, and beheld his work prosper for the joy and benefit of all mankind,—I count him happy among men.
"Almost I am ready to say to these mourners, Be not too proud in your grief, when you remember that there is not a town in the remote State of Kansas that will not weep with you as at the loss of its founder; not a Southern State in which the freedmen will not learn to-day from their preachers that one of their most efficient benefactors has departed, and will cover his memory with benedictions; and that, after all his efforts to serve men without appearing to do so, there is hardly a man in this country worth knowing who does not hold his name in exceptional honor. And there is to my mind somewhat so absolute in the action of a good man, that we do not, in thinking of him, so much as make any question of the future. For the Spirit of the Universe seems to say: 'He has done well; is not that saying all?'"
This monograph was printed in the Boston Commonwealth, April 20, 1867, and has never been republished. It is exceptional in Emerson's writings as the account of a man with whom he was personally and intimately acquainted.
The influence of Ohio in the United States of America during the past half century may be compared to that of Virginia during the first forty years of the Republic. All of our Presidents, elected as such since 1860, have come from Ohio, or adjacent territory. Cleveland came from beyond the Alleghenies, and Lincoln was born on the southern side of the Ohio River. General Grant and General Sherman came from Ohio; and so did Salmon P. Chase, and John Brown, of Harper's Perry celebrity. Chase gave the country the inestimable blessing of a national currency; and even the Virginians admitted that John Brown was a very remarkable person.
The fathers of these men conquered the wilderness and brought up their sons to a sturdy, vigorous manliness, which resembles the colonial culture of Franklin, Adams, and Washington.
Sitting in the same school-house with John Brown, in 1816, was a boy named Elizur Wright who, like Brown, came from Connecticut, and to whom the people of this country are also somewhat under obligation. Every widow and orphan in the United States who receives the benefit of a life- insurance policy owes a blessing to Elizur Wright, who was the first to establish life insurance in America on a strong foundation, and whose reports on that subject, made during his long term as Insurance Commissioner for Massachusetts, have formed a sort of constitution by which the policy of all life-insurance companies is still guided. His name deserves a place beside those of Horace Mann and William Lloyd Garrison.
Apart from this, his biography is one of the most interesting, one of the most picturesque, when compared with those of the many brilliant men of his time. His grandfather was a sea captain, and his father, who was also named Elizur, was a farmer in Canaan, Connecticut. His mother's name was Clarissa Richards, and he was born on the twelfth of February, 1804. In the spring of 1810 the family moved to Talmage, Ohio, making the journey in a two-horse carriage with an ox-team to transport their household goods. Their progress was necessarily slow, and it was nearly six weeks before they reached Talmage, as it was generally necessary to camp at night by the way-side. This romantic journey, the building of their log- cabin, the clearing of the forest, and above all his solitary watches in the maple-orchard (where he might perhaps be attacked by wolves), made a deep poetic impression on young Elizur, and furnished him with a store of pleasant memories in after life.
They lived at first in a log-cabin, and afterwards his father built a square frame-house with a piazza and veranda in front, which is still standing. The school where Elizur, Jr., met John Brown was at a long distance for a boy to walk. He does not appear to have made friends with John, remarkably alike as they were in veracity, earnestness, and adherence to principle; but John was somewhat the elder, and two or three years among boys counts for more than ten among grown people. In later life, however, Mr. Wright told an interesting anecdote of young Brown, which runs as follows:
John was the best-behaved boy in the school, and for this reason the teacher selected him to occupy a vacant place beside the girls. Some other boys were jealous of this, and after calling Brown a milk-sop, attacked him with snowballs. John proved himself as good a fighter then as he did afterwards at Black Jack. He made two or three snow-balls, rushed in at close quarters, and fought with such energy that he finally drove all the boys before him.
Elizur Wright may have taken note of this affair, and it served him when he entered Yale College in 1822. He had never heard of hazing, and when the Sophomores came to his room to tease him, he received them with true Western cordiality. He found out his mistake quickly enough, and at the first insult he rose in wrath and ordered them out with such furious looks that they concluded it was best to go.
He helped to support himself during his college course not only by teaching in winter, but by making fires, waiting on table, and ringing the recitation bell. In spite of these menial services, he was popular in his class and had a number of aristocratic friends,—among them Philip Van Rensselaer. He was one of the best scholars in his class,—first in mathematics, and so fluent in Greek that to the end of his life he could read it with ease.
He did not wait for graduation. In May, 1826, the Groton Academy suddenly wanted a teacher, and Elizur Wright was invited to take the position. The college faculty sent him his degree a month later,—which they might not have done if they had known how little he cared for it. In his school at Groton was a pretty, dark-eyed girl named Susan Clark, who, for two years previously, had been at school with Margaret Fuller and was very well acquainted with her. Elizur Wright became interested in Miss Clark, and three years later they were married.
One day, while he was living at Groton, Mr. Wright went by the Boston stage to Fitchburg, and on his return held a long conversation with a fellow-passenger, a tall, slender young man with aquiline features, who gave his name as Ralph Waldo Emerson. Mr. Wright found him an exceedingly interesting gentleman, but of so fragile an appearance that it seemed impossible that he should live many years.
From this time the paths of these two young scholars diverged. Emerson became an idealist and an ethical reformer. Elizur Wright became a realist and a political reformer. Realism seems to belong to the soil of Ohio.
Ill health came next in turn, a natural consequence of his severe life at Yale College. He was obliged to leave his school, and for an occupation he circulated tracts for the American Congregational Society, making a stipulation, however, which was characteristic of him, that he should not distribute any that ran contrary to his convictions. In this itinerant fashion he became sufficiently recuperated at the end of a year to marry Miss Clark, September 13, 1829, and accept the professorship of mathematics at Western Reserve College, at Hudson, Ohio. There he remained till 1833, strengthening himself in the repose of matrimony for the conflict that lay before him,—a conflict that every justice-loving man feels that he will have to face at one time or another.
This probably came sooner than he expected. Some anti-slavery tracts, circulated by Garrison, reached Western Reserve College and set the place in a ferment. Elizur Wright became the champion of the anti-slavery movement, not only in the town of Hudson but throughout the State. What Garrison was in New England he became in the West. In the spring of 1833 he resigned his professorship and spent the next five months delivering lectures on the slavery question. In December of the same year the first national anti-slavery convention met in Philadelphia, and Elizur Wright was unanimously chosen secretary of it. After that he went to New York to edit a newspaper, the Anti-Slavery Reporter, remaining until 1839. During the pro-slavery riot in New York he was attacked on the sidewalk by two men with knives, but instantly rescued by some teamsters who were passing. When he reached his home in Brooklyn he found a note from the Mayor advising him to leave the city for some days; to which he replied advising the Mayor to stop the New York ferry-boats. Meanwhile, as Mrs. Wright was too ill to be removed, he purchased an axe and prepared to defend his house to the last extremity. The Mayor, however, adopted his advice, and by this excellent stratagem Brooklyn was saved from the fury of the mob. In 1837 he moved to Dorchester, Massachusetts, to prosecute a similar work in Boston.
Nothing is more remarkable in Mr. Wright's life than his perfect self- poise and peace of mind during such a long period of external agitation. It is doubtful, in spite of his highly nervous temperament, if he ever lost a night's sleep. When he was editing the Chronotype, and waiting for the telegraphic news to arrive, he would sometimes lie down on a pile of newspapers and go to sleep in less than half a minute. For mental relaxation he studied the higher mathematics and wrote poetry— much of it very good. His faith in Divine Providence was absolute. He had the soul of a hero.
During his first years in Boston, Elizur Wright translated La Fontaine's Fables into English verse,—one of the best metrical versions of a foreign poet,—and it is much to be regretted that the book is out of print. It did not sell, of course, and Elizur Wright, determined that neither he nor the publisher should lose money on it, undertook to sell it himself. In carrying out this plan he met with some curious experiences. He called on Professor Ticknor, who received him kindly, spoke well of his translation, offered to dispose of a number of copies, but—advised him to keep clear of the slavery question.
He went to Washington with the twofold object of selling his book and talking emancipation to our national legislators; and he succeeded in both attempts, for there were few men who liked to argue with Elizur Wright. His brain was a store-house of facts and his analysis of them equally keen and cutting. One Congressman, a very gentlemanly Virginian, said to him: "Mr. Wright, I wish you could go across the Potomac and look over my district. I think you will find that African slavery is not half as bad as it is represented." Elizur Wright went and returned with the emphatic reply: "I find it much worse than I expected." Having disposed of more than half of his edition in this manner, in the spring of 1842 he went to England, and with the kind assistance of Browning and Pringle succeeded in placing the rest of his books there to his satisfaction. Having a great admiration for Wordsworth's poetry, he made a long journey to see that celebrated author, but only to be affronted by Wordsworth's saying that America would be a good place if there were only a few gentlemen in it. With Carlyle he had, as might have been expected, a furious argument on the slavery question, and "King Thomas," as Dr. Holmes calls him, encountered for once a head as hard as his own. The Brownings, Robert and Elizabeth, received him with true English hospitality. More experienced than Wordsworth in the great world, they recognized Elizur Wright to be what he was,—a man of intellect and rare integrity. Mr. Wright always spoke of Browning as one of the most satisfactory men with whom he had ever conversed.
In 1840, as is well known, the anti-slavery movement became divided into those who still believed in the efficacy of "moral suasion" and those who considered that the time had come for introducing the question into practical politics. The Texas question made the latter course inevitable, and Elizur Wright concluded that moral suasion had done its work. As he expressed it, in a letter to Mrs. Maria Chapman: "Garrison has already left his enemies thrice dead behind him." He was a delegate to the convention of April 1, 1840, which nominated James G. Birney for the Presidency, and took an active share in the Free-soil movement of 1844,— a movement which produced exactly the opposite effect from that which was intended; for the defeat of Henry Clay opened the door for the Mexican war and the annexation of a much larger territory than Texas. If Clay had been elected, the history of the United States must have been different from what it has proved.