"It is a great and dangerous error to suppose that all people are equally entitled to liberty. It is a reward to be earned, not a blessing to be gratuitously lavished on all alike;—a reward reserved for the intelligent, the patriotic, the virtuous, and deserving; and not a boon to be bestowed on a people too ignorant, degraded, and vicious to be capable either of appreciating or of enjoying it."
Mr. Calhoun does not tell us who is to bestow this precious boon. He afterwards remarks, that the progress of a people "rising" to the point of civilization which entitles them to freedom, is "necessarily slow." How very slow, then, it must be, when the means of civilization are forbidden to them by law!
With his remarks upon England, Mr. Calhoun terminates his discussion of the theory of government. Let us grant all that he claims for it, and see to what it conducts us. Observe that his grand position is, that a "numerical majority," like all other sovereign powers, will certainly tyrannize if it can. His remedy for this is, that a local majority, the majority of each State, shall have a veto upon the acts of the majority of the whole country. But he omits to tell us how that local majority is to be kept within bounds. According to his reasoning, South Carolina should have a veto upon acts of Congress. Very well; then each county of South Carolina should have a veto upon the acts of the State Legislature; each town should have a veto upon the behests of the county; and each voter upon the decisions of the town. Mr. Calhoun's argument, therefore, amounts to this: that one voter in South Carolina should have the constitutional right to nullify an act of Congress, and no law should be binding which has not received the assent of every citizen.
Having completed the theoretical part of his subject, the author proceeds to the practical. In his first essay he describes the "organism" that is requisite for the preservation of liberty; and in his second, he endeavors to show that the United States is precisely such an organism, since the Constitution, rightly interpreted, does confer upon South Carolina the right to veto the decrees of the numerical majority. Mr. Calhoun's understanding appears to much better advantage in this second discourse, which contains the substance of all his numerous speeches on nullification. It is marvellous how this morbid and intense mind had brooded over a single subject, and how it had subjugated all history and all law to its single purpose. But we cannot follow Mr. Calhoun through the tortuous mazes of his second essay; nor, if we could, should we be able to draw readers after us. We can only say this: Let it be granted that there are two ways in which the Constitution can be fairly interpreted;—one, the Websterian method; the other, that of Mr. Calhoun. On one of these interpretations the Constitution will work, and on the other it will not. We prefer the interpretation that is practicable, and leave the other party to the enjoyment of their argument. Nations cannot be governed upon principles so recondite and refined, that not one citizen in a hundred will so much as follow a mere statement of them. The fundamental law must be as plain as the ten commandments,—as plain as the four celebrated propositions in which Mr. Webster put the substance of his speeches in reply to Mr. Calhoun's ingenious defence of his conduct in 1833.
The author concludes his essay by a prophetic glance at the future. He remarks, that with regard to the future of the United States, as then governed, only one thing could be predicted with absolute certainty, and that was, that the Republic could not last. It might lapse into a monarchy, or it might be dismembered,—no man could say which; but that one of these things would happen was entirely certain. The rotation-in-office system, as introduced by General Jackson, and sanctioned by his subservient Congress, had rendered the Presidential office a prize so tempting, in which so large a number of men had an interest, that the contest would gradually cease to be elective, and would finally lose the elective form. The incumbent would appoint his successor; and "thus the absolute form of a popular, would end in the absolute form of a monarchical government," and there would be no possibility of even rendering the monarchy limited or constitutional. Mr. Calhoun does not mention here the name of General Jackson or of Martin Van Buren, but American readers know very well what he was thinking of when he wrote the passage.
Disunion, according to Mr. Calhoun, was another of our perils. In view of recent events, our readers may be interested in reading his remarks on this subject, written in 1849, among the last words he ever deliberately put upon paper:—
"The conditions impelling the government toward disunion are very powerful. They consist chiefly of two;—the one arising from the great extent of the country; the other, from its division into separate States, having local institutions and interests. The former, under the operation of the numerical majority, has necessarily given to the two great parties, in their contest for the honors and emoluments of the government, a geographical character, for reasons which have been fully stated. This contest must finally settle down into a struggle on the part of the stronger section to obtain the permanent control; and on the part of the weaker, to preserve its independence and equality as members of the Union. The conflict will thus become one between the States occupying the different sections,—that is, between organized bodies on both sides,—each, in the event of separation, having the means of avoiding the confusion and anarchy to which the parts would be subject without such organization. This would contribute much to increase the power of resistance on the part of the weaker section against the stronger in possession of the government. With these great advantages and resources, it is hardly possible that the parties occupying the weaker section would consent quietly, under any circumstances, to break down from independent and equal sovereignties into a dependent and colonial condition; and still less so, under circumstances that would revolutionize them internally, and put their very existence as a people at stake. Never was there an issue between independent States that involved greater calamity to the conquered, than is involved in that between the States which compose the two sections of the Union. The condition of the weaker, should it sink from a state of independence and equality to one of dependence and subjection, would be more calamitous than ever before befell a civilized people. It is vain to think that, with such consequences before them, they will not resist; especially, when resistance may save them, and cannot render their condition worse. That this will take place, unless the stronger section desists from its course, may be assumed as certain; and that, if forced to resist, the weaker section would prove successful, and the system end in disunion, is, to say the least, highly probable. But if it should fail, the great increase of power and patronage which must, in consequence, accrue to the government of the United States, would but render certain and hasten the termination in the other alternative. So that, at all events, to the one or to the other—to monarchy or disunion—it must come, if not prevented by strenuous or timely efforts."
This is a very instructive passage, and one that shows well the complexity of human motives. Mr. Calhoun betrays the secret that, after all, the contest between the two sections is a "contest for the honors and emoluments of the government," and that all the rest is but pretext and afterthought,—as General Jackson said it was. He plainly states that the policy of the South is rule or ruin. Besides this, he intimates that there is in the United States an "interest," an institution, the development of which is incompatible with the advancement of the general interest; and either that one interest must overshadow and subdue all other interests, or all other interests must unite to crush that one. The latter has been done.
Mr. Calhoun proceeds to suggest the measures by which these calamities can be averted. The government must be "restored to its federal character" by the repeal of all laws tending to the annihilation of State sovereignty, and by a strict construction of the Constitution. The President's power of removal must be limited. In earlier times, these would have sufficed; but at that day the nature of the disease was such that nothing could reach it short of an organic change, which should give the weaker section a negative on the action of the government. Mr. Calhoun was of opinion that this could best be done by our having two Presidents,—one elected by the North and the other by the South,—the assent of both to be necessary to every act of Congress. Under such a system, he thought,—
"The Presidential election, instead of dividing the Union into hostile geographical parties, the stronger struggling to enlarge its powers, and the weaker to defend its rights, as is now the case, would become the means of restoring harmony and concord to the country and the government. It would make the Union a union in truth,—a bond of mutual affection and brotherhood; and not a mere connection used by the stronger as the instrument of dominion and aggrandizement, and submitted to by the weaker only from the lingering remains of former attachment, and the fading hope of being able to restore the government to what it was originally intended to be,—a blessing to all."
The utter misapprehension of the purposes and desires of the Northern people which this passage betrays, and which pervades all the later writings of Mr. Calhoun, can only be explained by the supposition that he judged them out of his own heart. It is astounding to hear the author of the annexation of Texas charging the North with the lust of dominion, and the great Nullifier accusing Northern statesmen of being wholly possessed by the mania to be President.
Webster, Clay, and Calhoun,—these were great names in their day. When the last of them had departed, the country felt a sense of bereavement, and even of self-distrust, doubting if ever again such men would adorn the public councils. A close scrutiny into the lives of either of them would, of course, compel us to deduct something from his contemporary renown, for they were all, in some degree, at some periods, diverted from their true path by an ambition beneath an American statesman, whose true glory alone consists in serving his country well in that sphere to which his fellow-citizens call him. From such a scrutiny the fame of neither of those distinguished men would suffer so much as that of Calhoun. His endowments were not great, nor of the most valuable kind; and his early education, hasty and very incomplete, was not continued by maturer study. He read rather to confirm his impressions than to correct them. It was impossible that he should ever have been wise, because he refused to admit his liability to error. Never was mental assurance more complete, and seldom less warranted by innate or acquired superiority. If his knowledge of books was slight, his opportunities of observing men were still more limited, since he passed his whole life in places as exceptional, perhaps, as any in the world,—Washington and South Carolina. From the beginning of his public career there was a canker in the heart of it; for, while his oath, as a member of Congress, to support the Constitution of the United States, was still fresh upon his lips, he declared that his attachment to the Union was conditional and subordinate. He said that the alliance between the Southern planters and Northern Democrats was a false and calculated compact, to be broken when the planters could no longer rule by it. While he resided in Washington, and acted with the Republican party in the flush of its double triumph, he appeared a respectable character, and won golden opinions from eminent men in both parties. But when he was again subjected to the narrowing and perverting influence of a residence in South Carolina, he shrunk at once to his original proportions, and became thenceforth, not the servant of his country, but the special pleader of a class and the representative of a section. And yet, with that strange judicial blindness which has ever been the doom of the defenders of wrong, he still hoped to attain the Presidency. There is scarcely any example of infatuation more remarkable than this. Here we have, lying before us at this moment, undeniable proofs, in the form of "campaign lives" and "campaign documents," that, as late as 1844. there was money spent and labor done for the purpose of placing him in nomination for the highest office.
Calhoun failed in all the leading objects of his public life, except one; but in that one his success will be memorable forever. He has left it on record (see Ben on, II. 698) that his great aim, from 1835 to 1847, was to force the slavery issue on the North. "It is our duty," he wrote in 1847, "to force the issue on the North." "Had the South," he continued, "or even my own State, backed me, I would have forced the issue on the North in 1835"; and he welcomed the Wilmot Proviso in 1847, because, as he privately wrote, it would be the means of "enabling us to force the issue on the North." In this design, at length, when he had been ten years in the grave, he succeeded. Had there been no Calhoun, it is possible—nay, it is not improbable—that that issue might have been deferred till the North had so outstripped the South in accumulating all the elements of power, that the fire-eaters themselves would have shrunk from submitting the question to the arbitrament of the sword. It was Calhoun who forced the issue upon the United States, and compelled us to choose between annihilation and war.
[Footnote 1: Mr. Calhoun had still Irish enough in his composition to use "will" for "shall."]
In June, 1861, Dr. Russell, the correspondent of the London Times, was ascending the Mississippi in a steamboat, on board of which was a body of Confederate troops, several of whom were sick, and lay along the deck helpless. Being an old campaigner, he had his medicine-chest with him, and he was thus enabled to administer to these men the medicines which he supposed their cases required. One huge fellow, attenuated to a skeleton by dysentery, who appears to have been aware of his benefactor's connection with the press, gasped out these words:
"Stranger, remember, if I die, that I am Robert Tallon of Tishimingo County, and that I died for States' Rights. See, now, they put that in the papers, won't you? Robert Tallon died for States' Rights."
Having thus spoken, he turned over on his blanket, and was silent. Dr. Russell assures his readers that this man only expressed the nearly unanimous feeling of the Southern people at the outbreak of the war. He had been ten weeks travelling in the Southern States, and he declared that the people had but one battle-cry,—"States' Rights, and death to those who make war upon them!" About the same time, we remember, there was a paragraph going the rounds of the newspapers which related a conversation said to have taken place between a Northern man and a Southern boy. The boy happening to use the word "country," the Northerner asked him, "What is your country?" To which the boy instantly and haughtily replied, "SOUTH CAROLINA!"
Such anecdotes as these were to most of us here at the North a revelation. The majority of the Northern people actually did not know of the existence of such a feeling as that expressed by the Carolina boy, nor of the doctrine enunciated by the dying soldier. If every boy in the Northern States old enough to understand the question had been asked, What is your country? every one of them, without a moment's hesitation, would have quietly answered in substance thus: "Why, the United States, of course";—and the only feeling excited by the question would have been one of surprise that it should have been asked. And with regard to that "battle-cry" of States' Rights, seven tenths of the voters of the North hardly knew what a Southern man meant when he pronounced the words. Thus we presented to the world the curious spectacle of a people so ignorant of one another, so little homogeneous, that nearly all on one side of an imaginary line were willing to risk their lives for an idea which the inhabitants on the other side of the line not only did not entertain, but knew nothing about. We observe something similar in the British empire. The ordinary Englishman does not know what it is of which Ireland complains, and if an Irishman is asked the name of his country, he does not pronounce any of the names which imply the merging of his native isle in the realm of Britain.
Few of us, even now, have a "realizing sense," as it is called, of the strength of the States' Rights feeling among the Southern people. Of all the Southern States in which we ever sojourned, the one that seemed to us most like a Northern State was North Carolina. We stayed some time at Raleigh, ten years ago, during the session of the Legislature, and we were struck with the large number of reasonable, intelligent, upright men who were members of that body. Of course, we expected to find Southern men all mad on one topic; but in the Legislature of North Carolina there were several individuals who could converse even on that in a rational and comfortable manner. We were a little surprised, therefore, the other day, to pick up at a book-stall in Nassau Street a work entitled:
"The North Carolina Reader, Number III. Prepared with Special Reference to the Wants and Interests of North Carolina. Under the Auspices of the Superintendent of Common Schools. Containing Selections in Prose and Verse. By C.H. Wiley. New York: A.S. Barnes and Burr."
The acute reader will at once surmise that the object of this series of school readers was to instil into the minds of the youth of North Carolina a due regard for the sacredness and blessed effects of our peculiar institution. But for once the acute reader is mistaken. No such purpose appears, at least not in Number III.; in which there are only one or two even distant allusions to that dread subject. Onesimus is not mentioned; there is no reference to Ham, nor is there any discourse upon long heels and small brains. The great, the only object of this Reader was to nourish in the children of the State the feeling which the boy expressed-when he proudly said that his country was South Carolina. Nothing can exceed the innocent, childlike manner in which this design is carried out in Number III. First, the children are favored with a series of chapters descriptive of North Carolina, written in the style of a school geography, with an occasional piece of poetry on a North Carolina subject by a North Carolina poet. Once, however, the compiler ventures to depart from his plan by inserting the lines by Sir William Jones, "What constitutes a State?" To this poem he appends a note apologizing for "breaking the thread of his discourse," upon the ground that the lines were so "applicable to the subject," that it seemed as if the author "must have been describing North Carolina." When the compiler has done cataloguing the fisheries, the rivers, the mountains, and the towns of North Carolina, he proceeds to relate its history precisely in the style of our school history books. The latter half of the volume is chiefly occupied by passages from speeches, and poems from newspapers, written by natives of North Carolina. It is impossible for us to convey an idea of the innutritiousness and the inferiority of most of these pieces. North Carolina is the great theme of orator and poet.
"We live," says one of the legislators quoted,
"in the most beautiful land that the sun of heaven ever shone upon. Yes, sir, I have heard the anecdote from Mr. Clay, that a preacher in Kentucky, when speaking of the beauties of paradise, when he desired to make his audience believe it was a place of bliss, said it was a Kentucky of a place. Sir, this preacher had never visited the western counties of North Carolina. I have spent days of rapture in looking at her scenery of unsurpassed grandeur, in hearing the roar of her magnificent waterfalls, second only to the great cataract of the North; and while I gazed for hours, lost in admiration at the power of Him who by his word created such a country, and gratitude for the blessings He had scattered upon it, I thought that if Adam and Eve, when driven from paradise, had been near this land, they would have thought themselves in the next best place to that they had left."
We do not aver that the contents of this collection are generally as ludicrous as this specimen; but we do say that the passage quoted gives a very fair idea of the spirit and quality of the book. There is scarcely one of the North Carolina pieces which a Northern man would not for one reason or another find extremely comic. One of the reading lessons is a note written fifteen years ago by Solon Robinson, the agricultural editor of the Tribune, upon the use of the long leaves of the North Carolina pine for braiding or basket-work; another is a note written to accompany a bunch of North Carolina grapes sent to an editor; and there are many other newspaper cuttings of a similar character. The editor seems to have thought nothing too trivial, nothing too ephemeral, for his purpose, provided the passage contained the name of his beloved State.
How strange all this appears to a Northern mind! Everywhere else in Christendom, teachers strive to enlarge the mental range of their pupils, readily assenting to Voltaire's well-known definition of an educated man: "One who is not satisfied to survey the universe from his parish belfry." Everywhere else, the intellectual class have some sense of the ill-consequences of "breeding in and in," and take care to infuse into their minds the vigor of new ideas and the nourishment of strange knowledge. How impossible for a Northern State to think of doing what Alabama did last winter, pass a law designed to limit the circulation in that State of Northern newspapers and periodicals! What Southern men mean by "State pride" is really not known in the Northern States. All men of every land are fond of their native place; but the pride that Northern people may feel in the State wherein they happened to be born is as subordinate to their national feeling, as the attachment of a Frenchman to his native province is to his pride in France.
Why this difference? It did not always exist. It cost New York and Massachusetts as severe a struggle to accept the Constitution of 1787 as it did Virginia. George Clinton, Governor of New York, had as much State pride as Patrick Henry, orator of Virginia, and parted as reluctantly with a portion of the sovereignty which he wielded. If it required Washington's influence and Madison's persuasive reasoning to bring Virginia into the new system, the repugnance of Massachusetts was only overcome by the combined force of Hancock's social rank and Samuel Adams's late, reluctant assent.
On this subject let us hear Samuel Adams for a moment as he wrote to a friend in 1788:—
"I confess, as I enter the building I stumble at the threshold. I meet with a national government instead of a federal union of sovereign states. I am not able to conceive why the wisdom, of the Convention led them to give the preference to the former before the latter. If the several States in the Union are to be one entire nation under one Legislature, the powers of which shall extend to every subject of legislation, and its laws be supreme and control the whole, the idea of sovereignty in these States must be lost. Indeed, I think, upon such a supposition, those sovereignties ought to be eradicated from the mind, for they would be imperia in imperio, justly deemed a solecism in politics, and they would be highly dangerous and destructive of the peace, union, arid safety of the nation.
"And can this National Legislature be competent to make laws for the free internal government of one people, living in climates so remote, and whose habits and particular interests are, and probably always will be, so different? Is it to be expected that general laws can be adapted to the feelings of the more eastern and the more southern parts of so extensive a nation? It appears to me difficult, if practicable. Hence, then, may we not look for discontent, mistrust, disaffection to government, and frequent insurrections, which will require standing armies to suppress them in one place and another, where they may happen to arise. Or, if laws could be made adapted to the local habits, feelings, views, and interests of those distant parts, would they not cause jealousies of partiality in government, which would excite envy and other malignant passions productive of wars and fighting? But should we continue distinct sovereign States, confederated for the purpose of mutual safety and happiness, each contributing to the federal head such a part of its sovereignty as would render the government fully adequate to those purposes and no more, the people would govern themselves more easily, the laws of each State being well adapted to its own genius and circumstances, and the liberties of the United States would be more secure than they can be, as I humbly conceive, under the proposed new constitution."—Life of Samuel Adams, Vol. III, p. 251.
This passage is one of the large number in the writings of that time to which recent events have given a new interest; nor is it now without salutary meaning for us, though we quote it only to show the reluctance of some of the best citizens of the North to come into a national system. Suppose, to-day, that the United States were invited to merge their sovereignty into a confederation of all the nations of America, which would require us to abolish the city of Washington, and send delegates to a general congress on the Isthmus of Darien! A sacrifice of pride like that was demanded of the leading States of the Union in 1787. Severe was the struggle, but the sacrifice was made, and it cost the great States of the North as painful a throe as it did the great States of the South. Why, then, has State pride died away in the North, and grown stronger in the South? Why is it only in the Southern States that the doctrine of States' Rights is ever heard of? Why does the Northern man swell with national pride, and point with exultation to a flag bearing thirty-seven stars, feeling the remotest State to be as much his country as his native village, while the Southern man contracts to an exclusive love for a single State, and is willing to die on its frontiers in repelling from its sacred soil the national troops, and can see the flag under which his fathers fought torn down without regret?
The study of John Randolph of Virginia takes us to the heart of this mystery. He could not have correctly answered the question we have proposed, but he was an answer to it. Born when George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, George Mason, and James Madison were Virginia farmers, and surviving to the time when Andrew Jackson was President of the United States, he lived through the period of the decline of his race, and he was of that decline a conscious exemplification. He represented the decay of Virginia, himself a living ruin attesting by the strength and splendor of portions of it what a magnificent structure it was once. "Poor old Virginia! Poor old Virginia!" This was the burden of his cry for many a year. Sick, solitary, and half mad, at his lonely house in the wilderness of Roanoke, suffering from inherited disease, burdened with inherited debt, limited by inherited errors, and severed by a wall of inherited prejudice from the life of the modern world, he stands to us as the type of the palsied and dying State. Of the doctrine of States' Rights he was the most consistent and persistent champion; while of that feeling which the North Carolina Reader No. III. styles "State pride," we may call him the very incarnation. "When I speak of my country," he would say, "I mean the Commonwealth of Virginia." He was the first eminent man in the Southern States who was prepared in spirit for war against the government of the United States; for daring the Nullification imbroglio of 1833, he not only was in the fullest accord with Calhoun, but he used to say, that, if a collision took place between the nullifiers and the forces of the United States, he, John Randolph of Roanoke, old and sick as he was, would have himself buckled on his horse, Radical, and fight for the South to his last breath.
But then he was a man of genius, travel, and reading. We find him, therefore, as we have said, a conscious witness of his Virginia's decline. Along with a pride in the Old Dominion that was fanatical, there was in this man's heart a constant and most agonizing sense of her inferiority to lands less beloved. By no tongue or pen—not by Summer's tongue nor. Olmstead's pen—have more terrible pictures been drawn of Virginia's lapse into barbarism, than are to be found in John Randolph's letters. At a time (1831) when he would not buy a pocket-knife made in New England, nor send a book to be bound north of the Potomac, we find him writing of his native State in these terms:—
"I passed a night in Farrarville, in an apartment which, in England, would not have been thought fit for my servant; nor on the Continent did he ever occupy so mean a one. Wherever I stop it is the same: walls black and filthy; bed and furniture sordid; furniture scanty and mean, generally broken; no mirror; no fire-irons; in short, dirt and discomfort universally prevail; and in most private houses the matter is not mended. The cows milked a half a mile off, or not got up, and no milk to be had at any distance,—no jordan;—in fact, all the old gentry are gone, and the nouveaux riches, when they have the inclination, do not know how to live. Biscuit, not half cuit; everything animal and vegetable smeared with butter and lard. Poverty stalking through the land, while we are engaged in political metaphysics, and, amidst our filth and vermin, like the Spaniard and Portuguese, look down with contempt on other nations,—England and France especially. We hug our lousy cloak around us, take another chaw of tub-backer, float the room with nastiness, or ruin the grate and fire-irons, where they happen not to be rusty, and try conclusions upon constitutional points."
What truth and painting in this passage! But if we had asked this suffering genius as to the cause of his "country's" decline, he would have given us a mad answer indeed. He would have said, in his wild way, that it was all Tom Jefferson's doing, sir. Tom Jefferson abolished primogeniture in Virginia, and thus, as John Randolph believed, destroyed the old families, the life and glory of the. State. Tom Jefferson was unfaithful to the States' Rights and strict-constructionist creed, of which he was the expounder and trustee, and thus let in the "American system" of Henry Clay, with its protective tariff, which completed the ruin of the agricultural States. This was his simple theory of the situation. These were the reasons why he despaired of ever again seeing, to use his own language,
"the Nelsons, the Pages, the Byrds, and Fairfaxes, living in their palaces, and driving their coaches and sixes, or the good old Virginia gentlemen in the Assembly drinking their twenty and forty bowls of rack punches, and madeira and claret, in lieu of a knot of deputy sheriffs and hack attorneys, each with his cruet of whiskey before him, and puddle of tobacco-spittle between his legs."
He was as far from seeing any relation of cause and effect between the coaches, palaces, and bowls of punch, and the "knot of deputy sheriffs," as a Fenian is from discerning any connection between the Irish rackrenting of the last century, and the Irish beggary of this. Like conditions produce like characters. How interesting to discover in this republican, this native Virginian of English stock, a perfect and splendid specimen of a species of tory supposed to exist only in such countries as Poland, Spain, Ireland, and the Highlands of Scotland, but which in reality does abound in the Southern States of this Union,—the tory, conscious of his country's ruin, but clinging with fanatical and proud tenacity to the principles that ruined it.
Dear tobacco, virgin land, and cheap negroes gave the several families in Virginia, for three generations, a showy, delusive prosperity, which produced a considerable number of dissolute, extravagant men, and educated a few to a high degree of knowledge and wisdom. Of these families, the Randolphs were the most numerous, and among the oldest, richest, and most influential. The soldiers of the late army of the Potomac know well the lands which produced the tobacco that maintained them in baronial state. It was on Turkey Island (an island no more), twenty miles below Richmond; close to Malvern Hill of immortal memory, that the founder of the family settled in 1660,—a Cavalier of ancient Yorkshire race ruined in the civil wars. Few of our troops, perhaps, who rambled over Turkey Bend, were aware that the massive ruins still visible there, and which served as negro quarters seven years ago, are the remains of the great and famous mansion built by this Cavalier, turned tobacco-planter. This home of the Randolphs was so elaborately splendid, that a man served out the whole term of his apprenticeship to the trade of carpenter in one of its rooms. The lofty dome was for many years a beacon to the navigator. Such success had this Randolph in raising tobacco during the fifty-one years of his residence upon Turkey Island, that to each of his six sons he gave or left a large estate, besides portioning liberally his two daughters. Five of these sons reared families, and the sons of those sons were also thriving and prolific men; so that, in the course of three generations, Virginia was full of Randolphs. There was, we believe, not one of the noted controlling families that was not related to them by blood or marriage.
In 1773, when John Randolph was born, the family was still powerful; and the region last trodden by the Army of the Potomac was still adorned by the seats of its leading members. Cawsons, the mansion in which he was born, was situated at the junction of the James and Appomattox, in full view of City Point and Bermuda Hundred, and only an after-breakfast walk from Dutch Gap. The mansion long ago disappeared, and nothing now marks its site but negro huts. Many of those exquisite spots on the James and Appomattox, which we have seen men pause to admire while the shells were bursting overhead, were occupied sixty years ago by the sumptuous abodes of the Randolphs and families related to them. Mattoax, the house in which John Randolph passed much of his childhood, was on a bluff of the Appomattox, two miles above Petersburg; and Bizarre, the estate on which he spent his boyhood, lay above, on both sides of the same river. Over all that extensive and enchanting region, trampled and torn and laid waste by hostile armies in 1864 and 1865, John Randolph rode and hunted from the time he could sit a pony and handle a gun. Not a vestige remains of the opulence and splendor of his early days. Not one of the mansions inhabited or visited by him in his youth furnished a target for our cannoneers or plunder for our camps. A country better adapted to all good purposes of man, nor one more pleasing to the eye, hardly exists on earth; but before it was trodden by armies, it had become little less than desolate. The James River is as navigable as the Hudson, and flows through a region far more fertile, longer settled, more inviting, and of more genial climate; but there are upon the Hudson's banks more cities than there are rotten landings upon the James. The shores of this beautiful and classic stream are so unexpectedly void of even the signs of human habitation, that our soldiers were often ready to exclaim:
"Can this be the river of Captain John Smith and Pocahontas? Was it here that Jamestown stood? Is it possible that white men have lived in this delightful land for two hundred and fifty-seven years? Or has not the captain of the steamboat made a mistake, and turned into the wrong river?"
One scene of John Randolph's boyhood reveals to us the entire political economy of the Old Dominion. He used to relate it himself, when denouncing the manufacturing system of Henry Clay. One ship, he would say, sufficed, in those happy days, for all the commerce of that part of Virginia with the Old World, and that ship was named the London Trader. When this ship was about to sail, all the family were called together, and each member was invited to mention the articles which he or she wanted from London. First, the mother of the family gave in her list; next the children, in the order of their ages; next, the overseer; then the mammy, the children's black nurse; lastly, the house servants, according to their rank, down even to their children. When months had passed, and the time for the ship's return was at hand, the weeks, the days, the hours were counted; and when the signal was at last descried, the whole household burst into exclamations of delight, and there was festival in the family for many days.
How picturesque and interesting! How satisfactory to the tory mind! But alas! this system of exhausting the soil in the production of tobacco by the labor of slaves, and sending for all manufactured articles to England, was more ruinous even than it was picturesque. No middle class could exist, as in England, to supply the waste of aristocratic blood and means; and in three generations, rich and beautiful Virginia, created for empire, was only another Ireland. But it was a picturesque system, and John Randolph, poet and tory, revelled in the recollection of it. "Our Egyptian taskmasters," he would say, meaning the manufacturers of Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, and New England, "only wish to leave us the recollection of past times, and insist upon our purchasing their vile domestic stuffs; but it won't do: no wooden nutmegs for old Virginia."
His own pecuniary history was an illustration of the working of the system. His father left forty thousand acres of the best land in the world, and several hundred slaves, to his three boys; the greater part of which property, by the early death of the two elder brothers, fell to John. As the father died when John was but three years old, there was a minority of eighteen years, during which the boy's portion should have greatly increased. So far from increasing, an old debt of his father's—a London debt, incurred for goods brought to a joyous household in the London Trader—remained undiminished at his coming of age, and hung about his neck for many years afterward. Working two large estates, with a force of negroes equivalent to one hundred and eighty full field hands, he could not afford himself the luxury of a trip to Europe until he was fifty years old. The amount of this debt we do not know, but he says enough about it for us to infer that it was not of very large amount in comparison with his great resources. One hundred and eighty stalwart negroes working the best land in the world, under a man so keen and vigilant as this last of the noble Randolphs, and yet making scarcely any headway for a quarter of a century!
The blood of this fine breed of men was also running low. Both the parents of John Randolph and both of his brothers died young, and he himself inherited weakness which early developed into disease. One of his half-brothers died a madman. "My whole name and race," he would say, "lie under a curse. I feel the curse clinging to me." He was a fair, delicate child, more like a girl than a boy, and more inclined, as a child, to the sports of girls than of boys. His mother, a fond, tender, gentle lady, nourished his softer qualities, powerless to govern him, and probably never attempting it. Nevertheless, he was no girl; he was a genuine son of the South. Such was the violence of his passions, that, before he was four years old, he sometimes in a fit of anger fell senseless upon the floor, and was restored only after much effort. His step-father, who was an honorable man, seems never to have attempted either to control his passions or develop his intellect. He grew up, as many boys of Virginia did, and do, unchecked, unguided, untrained. Turned loose in a miscellaneous library, nearly every book he read tended to intensify his feelings or inflame his imagination. His first book was Voltaire's Charles XII., and a better book for a boy has never been written. Then he fell upon the Spectator. Before he was twelve he had read the Arabian Nights, Orlando, Robinson Crusoe, Smollett's Works, Reynard the Fox, Don Quixote, Gil Bias, Tom Jones, Gulliver, Shakespeare, Plutarch's Lives, Pope's Homer, Goldsmith's Rome, Percy's Reliques, Thomson's Seasons, Young, Gray, and Chatterton,—a gallon of sack to a penny's worth of bread. A good steady drill in arithmetic, geography, and language might have given his understanding a chance; but this ill-starred boy never had a steady drill in anything. He never remained longer at any one school than a year, and he learned at school very little that he needed most to know. In the course of his desultory schooling he picked up some Latin, a little Greek, a good deal of French, and an inconceivable medley of odds and ends of knowledge, which his wonderful memory enabled him to use sometimes with startling effect.
Everywhere else, in the whole world, children are taught that virtue is self-control. In the Southern States, among these tobacco-lords, boys learned just the opposite lesson,—that virtue is self-indulgence. This particular youth, thin-skinned, full of talent, fire, and passion, the heir to a large estate, fatherless, would have been in danger anywhere of growing up untrained,—a wild beast in broadcloth. In the Virginia of that day, in the circle in which he lived, there was nothing for him in the way either of curb or spur. He did what he pleased, and nothing else. All that was noble in his life,—those bursts of really fine oratory, his flashes of good sense, his occasional generosities, his hatred of debt, and his eager haste to pay it,—all these things were due to the original excellence of his race. In the very dregs of good wine there is flavor. We cannot make even good vinegar out of a low quality of wine.
His gentle mother taught him all the political economy he ever took to heart. "Johnny," said she to him one day, when they had reached a point in their ride that commanded an extensive view,
"all this land belongs to you and your brother. It is your father's inheritance. When you get to be a man, you must not sell your land: it is the first step to ruin for a boy to part with his father's home. Be sure to keep it as long as you live. Keep your land, and your land will keep you."
There never came a time when his mind was mature and masculine enough to consider this advice. He clung to his land as Charles Stuart clung to his prerogative.
All the early life of this youth was wandering and desultory. At fourteen, we find him at Princeton College in New Jersey, where, we are told, he fought a duel, exchanged shots twice with his adversary, and put a ball into his body which he carried all his life. By this time, too, the precocious and ungovernable boy had become, as he flattered himself, a complete atheist. One of his favorite amusements at Princeton was to burlesque the precise and perhaps ungraceful Presbyterians of the place. The library of his Virginian home, it appears, was furnished with a great supply of what the French mildly call the literature of incredulity,—Helvetius, Voltaire, Rousseau, Diderot, D'Alembert, and the rest. The boy, in his rage for knowledge, had read vast quantities of this literature, and, of course, embraced the theory of the writers that pushed denial farthest. For twenty-two years, he says in one of his letters, he never entered a church. Great pleasure it gave him to show how superior the Mahometan religion was to the Christian, and to recite specimens of what he took delight in styling Hebrew jargon. The Psalms of David were his special aversion.
Almost all gifted and fearless lads that have lived in Christendom during the last hundred years have had a fit of this kind between fifteen and twenty-five. The strength of the tendency to question the grounds of belief must be great indeed to bear away with it a youth like this, formed by Nature to believe. John Randolph had no more intellectual right to be a sceptic, than he had a moral right to be a republican. A person whose imagination is quick and warm, whose feelings are acute, and whose intellect is wholly untrained, can find no comfort except in belief. His scepticism is a mere freak of vanity or self-will. Coming upon the stage of life when unbelief was fashionable in high drawing-rooms, he became a sceptic. But Nature will have her way with us all, and so this atheist at fifteen was an Evangelical at forty-five.
His first political bias was equally at war with his nature. John Randolph was wholly a tory; there was not in his whole composition one republican atom. But coming early under the direct personal influence of Thomas Jefferson, whose every fibre was republican, he, too, the sympathetic tory of genius, espoused the people's cause. He was less than twenty-two years, however, in recovering from this false tendency.
Summoned from Princeton, after only a few months' residence, by the death of his mother, he went next to Columbia College, in the city of New York, where for a year or two he read Greek with a tutor, especially Demosthenes. At New York he saw the first Congress under the new Constitution assemble, and was one of the concourse that witnessed the scene of General Washington's taking the oath on the balcony of the old City Hall. It seemed to this Virginia boy natural enough that a Virginian should be at the head of the government; not so, that a Yankee should hold the second place and preside over the Senate. Forty years after, he recalled with bitterness a trifling incident, which, trifling as it was, appears to have been the origin of his intense antipathy to all of the blood of John Adams. The coachman of the Vice-President, it seems, told the brother of this little republican tory to stand back; or, as the orator stated it, forty years after, "I remember the manner in which my brother was spurned by the coachman of the Vice-President for coming too near the arms emblazoned on the vice-regal carriage."
Boy as he was, he had already taken sides with those who opposed the Constitution. The real ground of his opposition to it was, that it reduced the importance of Virginia,—great Virginia! Under the new Constitution, there was a man on the Western Continent of more consequence than the Governor of Virginia, there were legislative bodies more powerful than the Legislature of Virginia. This was the secret of the disgust with which he heard it proposed to style the President "His Highness" and "His Majesty." This was the reason why it kindled his ire to read, in the newspapers of 1789, that "the most honorable Rufus King" had been elected Senator. It was only Jefferson and a very few other of the grand Virginians who objected for higher and larger reasons.
In March, 1790, Mr. Jefferson reached New York, after his return from France, and entered upon his new office of Secretary of State under General Washington. He was a distant relative of our precocious student, then seventeen years of age; and the two families had just been brought nearer together by the marriage of one of Mr. Jefferson's daughters to a Randolph. The reaction against republican principles was at full tide; and no one will ever know to what lengths it would have gone, had not Thomas Jefferson so opportunely come upon the scene. At his modest abode, No. 57 Maiden Lane, the two Randolph lads—John, seventeen, Theodorick, nineteen—were frequent visitors. Theodorick was a roistering blade, much opposed to his younger brother's reading habits, caring himself for nothing but pleasure. John was an eager politician. During the whole period of the reaction, first at New York, afterward at Philadelphia, finally in Virginia, John Randolph sat at the feet of the great Democrat of America, fascinated by his conversation, and generally convinced by his reasoning. It is a mistake, however, to suppose that he was a blind follower of Mr. Jefferson, even then. On the question of States' Rights, he was in the most perfect accord with him. But when, in 1791, the eyes of all intelligent America were fixed upon the two combatants, Edmund Burke and Thomas Paine, Burke condemning, Paine defending, the French Revolution, the inherited instincts of John Randolph asserted themselves, and he gave all his heart to Burke. Lord Chatham and Edmund Burke were the men who always held the first place in the esteem of this kindred spirit. Mr. Jefferson, of course, sympathized with the view of his friend Paine, and never wavered in his belief that the French Revolution was necessary and beneficial. A generous and gifted nation strangled, moved him to deeper compassion than a class proscribed. He dwelt more upon the long and bitter provocation, than upon the brief frenzy which was only one of its dire results. Louis XIV. and Louis XV., picturesque as they were, excited within him a profounder horror than ugly Marat and Robespierre. He pitied haggard, distracted France more than graceful and high-bred Marie Antoinette. In other words, he was not a tory.
There was a difference, too, between Mr. Jefferson and his young kinsman on the points upon which they agreed. Jefferson was a States' Rights man, and a strict constructionist, because he was a republican; Randolph, because he was a Virginian, Jefferson thought the government should be small, that the people might be great; John Randolph thought the government should be small, that Virginia might be great. Pride in Virginia was John Randolph's ruling passion, not less in 1790; than in 1828, The welfare and dignity of man were the darling objects of Thomas Jefferson's great soul, from youth to hoary age.
Here we have the explanation of the great puzzle of American politics,—the unnatural alliance, for sixty years, between the plantation lords of the South and the democracy of the North, both venerating the name of Jefferson, and both professing his principles. It was not, as many suppose, a compact of scurvy politicians for the sake of political victory. Every great party, whether religious' or political, that has held power long in a country, has been founded upon conviction,—disinterested conviction. Some of the cotton and tobacco lords, men of intellect and culture, were democrats and abolitionists, like Jefferson himself. Others took up with republicanism because it was the reigning affectation in their circle, as it was in the chateaux and drawing-rooms of France. But their State pride it was that bound them as a class to the early Republican party. The Southern aristocrat saw in Jefferson the defender of the sovereignty of his State: the "smutched artificer" of the North gloried in Jefferson as the champion of the rights of man. While the Republican party was in opposition, battling with unmanageable John Adams, with British Hamilton, and with a foe more powerful than both of those men together, Robespierre,—while it had to contend with Washington's all but irresistible influence, and with the nearly unanimous opposition of educated and orthodox New England,—this distinction was not felt. Many a tobacco aristocrat cut off his pig-tail and wore trousers down to his ankles, which were then the outward signs of the inward democratic grace. But time tries all. It is now apparent to every one that the strength of the original Democratic party in the South was the States' Rights portion of its platform, while in the North it was the sentiment of republicanism that kept the party together.
Young politicians should study this period of their country's history. If ever again a political party shall rule the United States for sixty years, or for twenty years, it will be, we think, a party resembling the original Republican party, as founded in America by Franklin, and organized under Jefferson. Its platform will be, perhaps, something like this: simple, economical government machinery; strict construction of the Constitution; the rights of the States scrupulously observed; the suffrage open to all, without regard to color or sex,—open to all, but conferred only upon men and women capable of exercising it.
John Randolph agreed upon another point with Mr. Jefferson: lie was an abolitionist. But for the English debt which he inherited, it is extremely probable that he would have followed the example of many of the best Virginians of his day, and emancipated his slaves. He would, perhaps, have done so when that debt was discharged, instead of waiting to do it by his last will, but for the forlorn condition of freedmen in a Slave State. His eldest brother wrote, upon the division of the estate, in 1794:
"I want not a single negro for any other purpose than his immediate emancipation. I shudder when I think that such an insignificant animal as I am is invested with this monstrous, this horrid power."
He told his guardian that he would give up all his land rather than own a slave. There was no moment in the whole life of John Randolph when he did not sympathize with this view of slavery, and he died expressing it. But though lie was, if possible, a more decided abolitionist than Jefferson, he never for a moment doubted the innate superiority of a Virginia gentleman to all the other inhabitants of America. He had not even the complaisance to take his hair out of queue, nor hide his thin legs in pantaloons. He was not endowed by nature with understanding enough to rise superior to the prejudices that had come down to him through generations of aristocrats. He was weak enough, indeed, to be extremely vain of the fact that a grandfather of his had married one of the great-granddaughters of Pocahontas, who, it was believed, performed the act that renders her famous at Point of Rocks on the Appomattox, within walking distance of one of the Randolph mansions. It is interesting to observe what an unquestioning, childlike faith he always had in the superiority of his caste, of his State, and of his section. He once got so far as to speak favorably of the talents of Daniel Webster; but he was obliged to conclude by saying that he was the best debater he had ever known north of the Potomac.
This singular being was twenty-six years of age before any one suspected, least of all himself, that he possessed any of the talents which command the attention of men. His life had been desultory and purposeless. He had studied law a little, attended a course or two of medical lectures, travelled somewhat, dipped into hundreds of books, read a few with passionate admiration, had lived much with the ablest men of that day,—a familiar guest at Jefferson's fireside, and no stranger at President Washington's stately table. Father, mother, and both brothers were dead. He was lonely, sad, and heavily burdened with property, with debt, and the care of many dependants. His appearance was even more singular than his situation. At twenty-three he had still the aspect of a boy. He actually grew half a head after he was twenty-three years of age.
"A tall, gawky-looking, flaxen-haired stripling, apparently of the age of sixteen or eighteen, with complexion of a good parchment color, beardless chin, and as much assumed self-consequence as any two-footed animal I ever saw."
So he was described by a Charleston bookseller, who saw him in his store in 1796, carelessly turning over books. "At length," continues this narrator,
"he hit upon something that struck his fancy; and never did I witness so sudden, so perfect a change of the human countenance. That which was before dull and heavy in a moment became animated, and flashed with the brightest beams of intellect. He stepped up to the old gray-headed gentleman (his companion), and giving him a thundering slap on the shoulder, said, 'Jack, look at this!'"
Thus was he described at twenty-three. At twenty-six he was half a head taller, and quite as slender as before. His light hair was then combed back into an elegant queue. His eye of hazel was bright and restless. His chin was still beardless. He wore a frock-coat of light blue cloth, yellow breeches, silk stockings, and top-boots. Great was the love he bore his horses, which were numerous, and as good as Virginia could boast. It is amusing to notice that the horse upon which this pattern aristocrat used to scamper across the country, in French-Revolution times, was named Jacobin!
It was in March, 1799, the year before the final victory of the Republicans over the Federal party, that the neighbors of John Randolph and John Randolph himself discovered, to their great astonishment, that he was an orator. He had been nominated for Representative in Congress. Patrick Henry, aged and infirm, had been so adroitly manipulated by the Federalists, that he had at length agreed to speak to the people in support of the hateful administration of John Adams. John Randolph, who had never in his life addressed an audience, nor, as he afterwards declared, had ever imagined that he could do so, suddenly determined, the very evening before the day named for the meeting, to reply to Patrick Henry. It was an open-air meeting. No structure in Virginia could have contained the multitude that thronged to hear the transcendent orator, silent for so many years, and now summoned from his retirement by General Washington himself to speak for a Union imperilled and a government assailed. He spoke with the power of other days? for he was really alarmed for his country; and when he had finished his impassioned harangue, he sunk back into the arms of his friends, as one of them said, "like the sun setting in his glory." For the moment he had all hearts with him. The sturdiest Republican in Virginia could scarcely resist the spell of that amazing oratory.
John Randolph rose to reply. His first sentences showed not only that he could speak, but that he knew the artifices of an old debater; for he began by giving eloquent expression to the veneration felt by his hearers for the aged patriot who had just addressed them. He spoke for three hours, it is said; and if we may judge from the imperfect outline of his speech that has come down to us, he spoke as well that day as ever he did. States' Rights was the burden of his speech. That the Alien and Sedition Law was an outrage upon human nature, he may have believed; but what he felt was, that it was an outrage upon the Commonwealth of Virginia. He may have thought it desirable that all governments should confine themselves to the simple business of compelling the faithful performance of contracts; but what he insisted upon was, that the exercise by the government of the United States of any power not expressly laid down in the letter of the Constitution was a wrong to Virginia. If John Adams is right, said he, in substance, then Virginia has gained nothing by the Revolution but a change of masters,—New England for Old England,—which he thought was not a change for the better.
It was unnecessary, in the Virginia of 1799, for the head of the house of Randolph to be an orator in order to secure an election to the House of Representatives. He was elected, of course. When he came forward to be sworn in, his appearance was so youthful, that the Clerk of the House asked him, with the utmost politeness, whether he had attained the legal age. His reply was eminently characteristic of the tobacco lord: "Go, sir, and ask my constituents: they sent me here." As there was no one present authorized by the Constitution to box the ears of impudent boys on the floor of the House, he was sworn without further question. It has often occurred to us that this anecdote, which John Randolph used to relate with much satisfaction, was typical of much that has since occurred. The excessive courtesy of the officer, the insolence of the Virginia tobacconist, the submission of the Clerk to that insolence,—who has not witnessed such scenes in the Capitol at Washington?
It was in December, 1799, that this fiery and erratic genius took his seat in the House of Representatives. John Adams had still sixteen months to serve as target for the sarcasm of the young talent of the nation. To calm readers of the present day, Mr. Adams does really seem a strange personage to preside over a government; but the cairn reader of the present day cannot realize the state of things in the year 1800. We cannot conceive what a fright the world had had in the excesses of the French Revolution, and the recent usurpation of General Bonaparte. France had made almost every timid man in Christendom a tory. Serious and respectable people, above forty, and enjoying a comfortable income, felt that there was only one thing left for a decent person to do,—to assist in preserving the authority of government. John Adams, by the constitution of his mind, was as much a tory as John Randolph; for he too possessed imagination and talent disproportioned to his understanding. To be a democrat it is necessary to have a little pure intellect; since your democrat is merely a person who can, occasionally, see things and men as they are. New England will always be democratic enough as long as her boys learn mental arithmetic; and Ireland will always be the haunt of tories as long as her children are brought up upon songs, legends, and ceremonies. To make a democratic people, it is only necessary to accustom them to use their minds.
Nothing throws such light upon the state of things in the United States in 1800, as the once famous collision between these two natural tories, John Adams and John Randolph, which gave instantaneous celebrity to the new member, and made him an idol of the Republican party. In his maiden speech, which was in opposition to a proposed increase of the army, he spoke disparagingly of the troops already serving, using the words ragamuffins and mercenaries. In this passage of his speech, the partisan spoke, not the man. John Randolph expressed the real feeling of his nature toward soldiers, when, a few years later, on the same floor, he said: "If I must have a master, let him be one with epaulets; something which I can look up to; but not a master with a quill behind his ear." In 1800, however, it pleased him to style the soldiers of the United States ragamuffins and mercenaries; which induced two young officers to push, hustle, and otherwise discommode and insult him at the theatre. Strange to relate, this hot Virginian, usually so prompt with a challenge to mortal combat, reported the misconduct of these officers to the President of the United States. This eminently proper act he did in an eminently proper manner, thanks to his transient connection with the Republican party. Having briefly stated the case, he concluded his letter to the President thus:
"The independence of the legislature has been attacked, and the majesty of the people, of which you are the principal representative, insulted, and your authority contemned. In their name, I demand that a provision commensurate with the evil be made, and which will be calculated to deter others from any future attempt to introduce the reign of terror into our country. In addressing you in this plain language of man, I give you, sir, the best proof I can afford of the estimation in which I hold your office and your understanding; and I assure you with truth, that I am, with respect, your fellow-citizen, John Randolph."
This language so well accords with our present sense of the becoming, that a person unacquainted with that period would be unable to point to a single phrase calculated to give offence. In the year 1800, however, the President of the United States saw in every expression of the letter contemptuous and calculated insult. "The majesty of the people," forsooth! The President merely their "representative"! "plain language of man"! and "with respect, your fellow-citizen"! To the heated imaginations of the Federalists of 1800, language of this kind, addressed to the President, was simply prophetic of the guillotine. So amazed and indignant was Mr. Adams, that he submitted the letter to his Cabinet, requesting their opinion as to what should be done with it. Still more incredible is it, that four members of the Cabinet, in writing, declared their opinion to be, that "the contemptuous language therein adopted requires a public censure." They further said, that,
"if such addresses remain unnoticed, we are apprehensive that a precedent will be established which must necessarily destroy the ancient, respectable, and urbane usages of this country."
Some lingering remains of good-sense in the other member of the Cabinet prevented the President from acting upon their advice; and he merely sent the letter to the House, with the remark that he "submitted the whole letter and its tendencies" to their consideration, "without any other comments on its matter and style."
This affair, trivial as it was, sufficed in that mad time to lift the young member from Virginia into universal notoriety, and caused him to be regarded as a shining light of the Republican party. The splendor of his talents as an orator gave him at once the ear of the House and the admiration of the Republican side of it; while the fury of his zeal against the President rendered him most efficient in the Presidential canvass. No young man, perhaps, did more than he toward the election of Jefferson and Burr in 1800. He was indeed, at that time, before disease had wasted him, and while still enjoying the confidence of the Republican leaders and subject to the needed restraints of party, a most effective speaker, whether in the House or upon the stump. He had something of Burke's torrent-like fluency, and something of Chatham's spirit of command, with a piercing, audacious sarcasm all his own. He was often unjust and unreasonable, but never dull. He never spoke in his life without being at least attentively listened to.
Mr. Jefferson came into power; and John Randolph, triumphantly re-elected to Congress, was appointed Chairman of the Committee of Ways and Means,—a position not less important then than now. He was the leader of the Republican majority in the House. His social rank, his talents, his position in the House of Representatives, the admiration of the party, the confidence of the President, all united to render him the chief of the young men of the young nation. It was captivating to the popular imagination to behold this heir of an ancient house, this possessor of broad lands, this orator of genius, belonging to the party of the people. He aided to give the Republican party the only element of power which it lacked,—social consideration. The party had numbers and talent; but it had not that which could make a weak, rich man vain of the title of Republican. At the North, clergy, professors, rich men, were generally Federalists, and it was therefore peculiarly pleasing to Democrats to point to this eminent and brilliant Virginian as a member of their party. He discharged the duties of his position well, showing ability as a man of business, and living in harmony with his colleagues. As often as he reached Washington, at the beginning of a session, he found the President's card (so Colonel Benton tells us) awaiting him for dinner the next day at the White House, when the great measures of the session were discussed. It was he who moved the resolutions of respect for the memory of that consummate republican, that entire and perfect democrat, Samuel Adams of Massachusetts. It was he who arranged the financial measures required for the purchase of Louisiana, and made no objection to the purchase. During the first six years of Mr. Jefferson's Presidency, he shrank from no duty which his party had a right to claim from him. Whatever there might he narrow or erroneous in his political creed was neutralized by the sentiment of nationality which the capital inspires, and by the practical views which must needs be taken of public affairs by the Chairman of the Committee of Ways and Means.
These were the happy years of his life, and the most honorable ones. Never, since governments have existed, has a country been governed so wisely, so honestly, and so economically as the United States was governed during the Presidency of Thomas Jefferson. Randolph himself, after twenty years of opposition to the policy of this incomparable ruler, could still say of his administration, that it was the only one he had ever known which "seriously and in good faith was disposed to give up its patronage," and which desired to go further in depriving itself of power than the people themselves had thought. "Jefferson," said John Randolph in 1828, "was the only man I ever knew or heard of who really, truly, and honestly, not only said, Nolo episcopari, but actually refused the mitre."
For six years, as we have said, Mr. Randolph led the Republican party in the House of Representatives, and supported the measures of the administration,—all of them. In the spring of 1807, without apparent cause, he suddenly went into opposition, and from that time opposed the policy of the administration,—the whole of it.
Why this change? If there were such a thing as going apprentice to the art of discovering truth, a master in that art could not set an apprentice a better preliminary lesson than this: Why did John Randolph go into opposition in 1807? The gossips of that day had no difficulty in answering the question. Some said he had asked Mr. Jefferson for a foreign mission, and been refused. Others thought it was jealousy of Mr. Madison, who was known to be the President's choice for the succession. Others surmised that an important state secret had been revealed to other members of the House, but not to him. These opinions our tyro would find very positively recorded, and he would also, in the course of his researches, come upon the statement that Mr. Randolph himself attributed the breach to his having beaten the President at a game of chess, which the President could not forgive. The truth is, that John Randolph bolted for the same reason that a steel spring resumes its original bent the instant the restraining force is withdrawn. His position as leader of a party was irksome, because it obliged him to work in harness, and he had never been broken to harness. His party connection bound him to side with France in the great contest then raging between France and England, and yet his whole soul sympathized with England. This native Virginian was more consciously and positively English than any native of England ever was. English literature had nourished his mind; English names captivated his imagination; English traditions, feelings, instincts, habits, prejudices, were all congenial to his nature. How hard for such a man to side officially with Napoleon in those gigantic wars! Abhorring Napoleon with all a Randolph's force of antipathy, it was nevertheless expected of him, as a good Republican, to interpret leniently the man who, besides being the armed soldier of democracy, had sold Louisiana to the United States. Randolph, moreover, was an absolute aristocrat. He delighted to tell the House of Representatives that he, being a Virginian slaveholder, was not obliged to curry favor with his coachman or his shoeblack, lest when he drove to the polls the coachman should dismount from his box, or the shoeblack drop his brushes, and neutralize their master's vote by voting on the other side. How he exulted in the fact that in Virginia none but freeholders could vote! How happy he was to boast, that, in all that Commonwealth, there was no such thing as a ballot-box! "May I never live to see the day," he would exclaim, "when a Virginian shall be ashamed to declare aloud at the polls for whom he casts his vote!" What pleasure he took in speaking of his Virginia wilderness as a "barony," and signing his name "John Randolph of Roanoke," and in wearing the garments that were worn in Virginia when the great tobacco lords were running through their estates in the fine old picturesque and Irish fashion!
Obviously, an antique of this pattern was out of place as a leader in the Republican party. For a time the spell of Jefferson's winning genius, and the presence of a powerful opposition, kept him in some subjection; but in 1807 that spell had spent its force, and the Federal party was not formidable. John Randolph was himself again. The immediate occasion of the rupture was, probably, Mr. Jefferson's evident preference of James Madison as his successor. We have a right to infer this, from the extreme and lasting rancor which Randolph exhibited toward Mr. Madison, who he used to say was as mean a man for a Virginian as John Quincy Adams was for a Yankee. Nor ought we ever to speak of this gifted and unhappy man without considering his physical condition. It appears from the slight notices we have of this vital matter, that about the year 1807 the stock of vigor which his youth had acquired was gone, and he lived thenceforth a miserable invalid, afflicted with diseases that sharpen the temper and narrow the mind. John Randolph well might have outgrown inherited prejudices and limitations, and attained to the stature of a modern, a national, a republican man. John Randolph sick—radically and incurably sick—ceased to grow just when his best growth would naturally have begun.
The sudden defection of a man so conspicuous and considerable, at a time when the Republican party was not aware of its strength, struck dismay to many minds, who felt, with Jefferson, that to the Republican party in the United States were confided the best interests of human nature. Mr. Jefferson was not in the least alarmed, because he knew the strength of the party and the weakness of the man. The letter which he wrote on this subject to Mr. Monroe ought to be learned by heart by every politician in the country,—by the self-seekers, for the warning which it gives them, and by the patriotic, for the comfort which it affords them in time of trouble. Some readers, perhaps, will be reminded by it of events which occurred at Washington not longer ago than last winter.
"Our old friend Mercer broke off from us some time ago; at first, professing to disdain joining the Federalists; yet, from the habit of voting together, becoming soon identified with them. Without carrying over with him one single person, he is now in a state of as perfect obscurity as if his name had never been known. Mr. J. Randolph is in the same track, and will end in the same way. His course has excited considerable alarm. Timid men consider it as a proof of the weakness of our government, and that it is to be rent in pieces by demagogues and to end in anarchy. I survey the scene with a different eye, and draw a different augury from it. In a House of Representatives of a great mass of good sense, Mr. Randolph's popular eloquence gave him such advantages as to place him unrivalled as the leader of the House; and, although not conciliatory to those whom he led, principles of duty and patriotism induced many of them to swallow humiliations he subjected them to, and to vote as was right, as long as he kept the path of right himself. The sudden departure of such a man could not but produce a momentary astonishment, and even dismay; but for a moment only. The good sense of the House rallied around its principles, and, without any leader, pursued steadily the business of the session, did it well, and by a strength of vote which has never before been seen.... The augury I draw from this is, that there is a steady good sense in the legislature and in the body of the nation, joined with good intentions, which will lead them to discern and to pursue the public good under all circumstances which can arise, and that no ignis fatuus will be able to lead them long astray."
Mr. Jefferson predicted that the lost sheep of the Republican fold would wander off to the arid wastes of Federalism; but he never did so. His defection was not an inconsistency, but a return to consistency. He presented himself in his true character thenceforth, which was that of a States' Rights fanatic. He opposed the election of Mr. Madison to the Presidency, as he said, because Mr. Madison was weak on the sovereignty of the States. He opposed the war of 1812 for two reasons:—1. Offensive war was in itself unconstitutional, being a national act. 2. War was nationalizing. A hundred times before the war, he foretold that, if war occurred, the sovereignty of the States was gone forever, and we should lapse into nationality. A thousand times after the war, he declared that this dread lapse had occurred. At a public dinner, after the return of peace, he gave the once celebrated toast, "States' Rights,—De mortuis nil nisi bonum." As before the war he sometimes affected himself to tears while dwelling upon the sad prospect of kindred people imbruing their hands in one another's blood, so during the war he was one of the few American citizens who lamented the triumphs of their country's arms. In his solitude at Roanoke he was cast down at the news of Perry's victory on the lake, because he thought it would prolong the contest; and he exulted in the banishment of Napoleon to Elba, although it let loose the armies and fleets of Britain upon the United States. "That insolent coward," said he, "has met his deserts at last." This Virginia Englishman would not allow that Napoleon possessed even military talent; but stoutly maintained, to the last, that he was the merest sport of fortune. When the work of restoration was in progress, under the leadership of Clay and Calhoun, John Randolph was in his element, for he could honestly oppose every movement and suggestion of those young orators,—national bank, protective tariff, internal improvements, everything. He was one of the small number who objected to the gift of land and money to Lafayette, and one of the stubborn minority who would have seen the Union broken up rather than assent to the Missouri Compromise, or to any Missouri compromise. The question at issue in all these measures, he maintained, was the same, and it was this: Are we a nation or a confederacy?
Talent, too, is apt to play the despot over the person that possesses it. This man had such a power of witty vituperation in him, with so decided a histrionic gift, that his rising to speak was always an interesting event; and he would occasionally hold both the House and the galleries attentive for three or four hours. He became accustomed to this homage; he craved it; it became necessary to him. As far back as 1811, Washington Irving wrote of him, in one of his letters from Washington:
"There is no speaker in either House that excites such universal attention as Jack Randolph. But they listen to him more to be delighted by his eloquence and entertained by his ingenuity and eccentricity, than to be convinced by sound doctrine and close argument."
As he advanced in age, this habit of startling the House by unexpected dramatic exhibitions grew upon him. One of the most vivid pictures ever painted in words of a parliamentary scene is that in which the late Mr. S.G. Goodrich records his recollection of one of these displays. It occurred in 1820, during one of the Missouri debates. A tall man, with a little head and a small oval face, like that of an aged boy, rose and addressed the chairman.
"He paused a moment," wrote Mr. Goodrich,
"and I had time to study his appearance. His hair was jet-black, and clubbed in a queue; his eye was black, small, and painfully penetrating. His complexion was a yellowish-brown, bespeaking Indian blood. I knew at once that it must be John Randolph. As he uttered the words, 'Mr. Speaker!' every member turned in his seat, and, facing him, gazed as if some portent had suddenly appeared before them. 'Mr. Speaker,' said he, in a shrill voice, which, however, pierced every nook and corner of the hall, 'I have but one word to say,—one word, sir, and that is to state a fact. The measure to which the gentleman has just alluded originated in a dirty trick!' These were his precise words. The subject to which he referred I did not gather, but the coolness and impudence of the speaker were admirable in their way. I never saw better acting, even in Kean. His look, his manner, his long arm, his elvish fore-finger,—like an exclamation-point, punctuating his bitter thought,—showed the skill of a master. The effect of the whole was to startle everybody, as if a pistol-shot had rung through the hall."—Recollections, Vol. II. p. 395.
Such anecdotes as these, which are very numerous, both in and out of print, convey an inadequate idea of his understanding; for there was really a great fund of good sense in him and in his political creed. Actor as he was, he was a very honest man, and had a hearty contempt for all the kinds of falsehood which he had no inclination to commit. No man was more restive under debt than he, or has better depicted its horrors. Speaking once of those Virginia families who gave banquets and kept up expensive establishments, while their estates were covered all over with mortgages, he said: "I always think I can see the anguish under the grin and grimace, like old Mother Cole's dirty flannel peeping out beneath her Brussels lace." He was strong in the opinion that a man who is loose in money matters is not trustworthy in anything,—an opinion which is shared by every one who knows either life or history. "The time was," he wrote,