In view of the approaching presidential election, the legislature passed a law, which was signed by the governor, providing machinery for the soldiers' vote. New York had at that time between three and four hundred thousand soldiers in the field, who were scattered in companies, regiments, brigades, and divisions all over the South. This law made it the duty of the secretary of state to provide ballots, to see that they reached every unit of a company, to gather the votes and transmit them to the home of each soldier. The State government had no machinery by which this work could be done. I applied to the express companies, but all refused on the ground that they were not equipped. I then sent for old John Butterfield, who was the founder of the express business but had retired and was living on his farm near Utica. He was intensely patriotic and ashamed of the lack of enterprise shown by the express companies. He said to me: "If they cannot do this work they ought to retire." He at once organized what was practically an express company, taking in all those in existence and adding many new features for the sole purpose of distributing the ballots and gathering the soldiers' votes. It was a gigantic task and successfully executed by this patriotic old gentleman.
Of course, the first thing was to find out where the New York troops were, and for that purpose I went to Washington, remaining there for several months before the War Department would give me the information. The secretary of war was Edwin M. Stanton. It was perhaps fortunate that the secretary of war should not only possess extraordinary executive ability, but be also practically devoid of human weakness; that he should be a rigid disciplinarian and administer justice without mercy. It was thought at the time that these qualities were necessary to counteract, as far as possible, the tender-heartedness of President Lincoln. If the boy condemned to be shot, or his mother or father, could reach the president in time, he was never executed. The military authorities thought that this was a mistaken charity and weakened discipline. I was at a dinner after the war with a number of generals who had been in command of armies. The question was asked one of the most famous of these generals: "How did you carry out the sentences of your courts martial and escape Lincoln's pardons?" The grim old warrior answered: "I shot them first."
I took my weary way every day to the War Department, but could get no results. The interviews were brief and disagreeable and the secretary of war very brusque. The time was getting short. I said to the secretary: "If the ballots are to be distributed in time I must have information at once." He very angrily refused and said: "New York troops are in every army, all over the enemy's territory. To state their location would be to give invaluable information to the enemy. How do I know if that information would be so safeguarded as not to get out?"
As I was walking down the long corridor, which was full of hurrying officers and soldiers returning from the field or departing for it, I met Elihu B. Washburne, who was a congressman from Illinois and an intimate friend of the president. He stopped me and said:
"Hello, Mr. Secretary, you seem very much troubled. Can I help you?" I told him my story.
"What are you going to do?" he asked. I answered: "To protect myself I must report to the people of New York that the provision for the soldiers' voting cannot be carried out because the administration refuses to give information where the New York soldiers are located."
"Why," said Mr. Washburne, "that would beat Mr. Lincoln. You don't know him. While he is a great statesman, he is also the keenest of politicians alive. If it could be done in no other way, the president would take a carpet-bag and go around and collect those votes himself. You remain here until you hear from me. I will go at once and see the president."
In about an hour a staff officer stepped up to me and asked: "Are you the secretary of state of New York?" I answered "Yes." "The secretary of war wishes to see you at once," he said. I found the secretary most cordial and charming.
"Mr. Secretary, what do you desire?" he asked. I stated the case as I had many times before, and he gave a peremptory order to one of his staff that I should receive the documents in time for me to leave Washington on the midnight train.
The magical transformation was the result of a personal visit of President Lincoln to the secretary of war. Mr. Lincoln carried the State of New York by a majority of only 6,749, and it was a soldiers' vote that gave him the Empire State.
The compensations of my long delay in Washington trying to move the War Department were the opportunity it gave me to see Mr. Lincoln, to meet the members of the Cabinet, to become intimate with the New York delegation in Congress, and to hear the wonderful adventures and stories so numerous in Washington.
The White House of that time had no executive offices as now, and the machinery for executive business was very primitive. The east half of the second story had one large reception-room, in which the president could always be found, and a few rooms adjoining for his secretaries and clerks. The president had very little protection or seclusion. In the reception-room, which was always crowded at certain hours, could be found members of Congress, office-seekers, and an anxious company of fathers and mothers seeking pardons for their sons condemned for military offenses, or asking permission to go to the front, where a soldier boy was wounded or sick. Every one wanted something and wanted it very bad. The patient president, wearied as he was with cares of state, with the situation on several hostile fronts, with the exigencies in Congress and jealousies in his Cabinet, patiently and sympathetically listened to these tales of want and woe. My position was unique. I was the only one in Washington who personally did not want anything, my mission being purely in the public interest.
I was a devoted follower of Mr. Seward, the secretary of state, and through the intimacies with officers in his department I learned from day to day the troubles in the Cabinet, so graphically described in the diary of the secretary of the navy Gideon Welles.
The antagonism between Mr. Seward and Mr. Chase, the secretary of the treasury, though rarely breaking out in the open, was nevertheless acute. Mr. Seward was devoted to the president and made every possible effort to secure his renomination and election. Mr. Chase was doing his best to prevent Mr. Lincoln's renomination and secure it for himself.
No president ever had a Cabinet of which the members were so independent, had so large individual followings, and were so inharmonious. The president's sole ambition was to secure the ablest men in the country for the departments which he assigned to them without regard to their loyalty to himself. One of Mr. Seward's secretaries would frequently report to me the acts of disloyalty or personal hostility on the part of Mr. Chase with the lament: "The old man—meaning Lincoln—knows all about it and will not do a thing."
I had a long and memorable interview with the president. As I stepped from the crowd in his reception-room, he said to me: "What do you want?" I answered: "Nothing, Mr. President, I only came to pay my respects and bid you good-by, as I am leaving Washington." "It is such a luxury," he then remarked, "to find a man who does not want anything. I wish you would wait until I get rid of this crowd."
When we were alone he threw himself wearily on a lounge and was evidently greatly exhausted. Then he indulged, rocking backward and forward, in a reminiscent review of different crises in his administration, and how he had met them. In nearly every instance he had carried his point, and either captured or beaten his adversaries by a story so apt, so on all fours, and such complete answers that the controversy was over. I remember eleven of these stories, each of which was a victory.
In regard to this story-telling, he said: "I am accused of telling a great many stories. They say that it lowers the dignity of the presidential office, but I have found that plain people (repeating with emphasis plain people), take them as you find them, are more easily influenced by a broad and humorous illustration than in any other way, and what the hypercritical few may think, I don't care."
In speaking Mr. Lincoln had a peculiar cadence in his voice, caused by laying emphasis upon the key-word of the sentence. In answer to the question how he knew so many anecdotes, he answered: "I never invented story, but I have a good memory and, I think, tell one tolerably well. My early life was passed among pioneers who had the courage and enterprise to break away from civilization and settle in the wilderness. The things which happened to these original people and among themselves in their primitive conditions were far more dramatic than anything invented by the professional story-tellers. For many years I travelled the circuit as a lawyer, and usually there was only one hotel in the county towns where court was held. The judge, the grand and petit juries, the lawyers, the clients, and witnesses would pass the night telling exciting or amusing occurrences, and these were of infinite variety and interest." He was always eager for a new story to add to his magazine of ammunition and weapons.
One night when there was a reception at the executive mansion Rufus F. Andrews, surveyor of the port of New York, and I went there together. Andrews was a good lawyer and had been a correspondent in New York of Mr. Lincoln, while he was active at the bar in Illinois. He was a confidential adviser of the president on New York matters and frequently at the executive mansion. As the procession moved past the president he stopped Andrews and, leaning over, spoke very confidentially to him. The conversation delayed the procession for some time. When Andrews and I returned to the hotel, our rooms were crowded with newspaper men and politicians wanting to know what the confidential conversation was about. Andrews made a great mystery of it and so did the press. He explained to me when we were alone that during his visit to the president the night before he told the president a new story. The president delayed him at the reception, saying: "Andrews, I forgot the point of that story you told me last night; repeat it now."
While Mr. Lincoln had the most logical of minds and his letters and speeches on political controversies were the most convincing of any statesman of his period, he rarely would enter into a long discussion in conversation; he either would end the argument by an apt story or illustration enforcing his ideas.
John Ganson, of Buffalo, was the leader of the bar in western New York. Though elected to the House of Representatives as a Democrat, he supported the war measures of the administration. He was a gentleman of the old school, of great dignity, and always immaculately dressed. He was totally bald and his face also devoid of hair. It was a gloomy period of the war and the reports from the front very discouraging. Congressman Ganson felt it his duty to see the president about the state of the country. He made a formal call and said to Mr. Lincoln: "Though I am a Democrat, I imperil my political future by supporting your war measures. I can understand that secrecy may be necessary in military operations, but I think I am entitled to know the exact conditions, good or bad, at the front."
Mr. Lincoln looked at him earnestly for a minute and then said: "Ganson, how clean you shave!" That ended the interview.
The first national convention I ever attended was held in Baltimore in 1864, when Mr. Lincoln was renominated. I have since been four times a delegate-at-large, representing the whole State, and many times a delegate representing a congressional district. Judge W. H. Robertson, of Westchester County, and I went to the convention together. We thought we would go by sea, but our ship had a collision, and we were rescued by a pilot boat. Returning to New York, we decided to accept the security of the railroad. Judge Robertson was one of the shrewdest and ablest of the Republican politicians in the State of New York. He had been repeatedly elected county judge, State senator, and member of Congress, and always overcoming a hostile Democratic majority.
We went to Washington to see Mr. Seward first, had an interview with him at his office, and dined with him in the evening. To dine with Secretary Seward was an event which no one, and especially a young politician, ever forgot. He was the most charming of hosts and his conversation a liberal education.
There was no division as to the renomination of Mr. Lincoln, but it was generally conceded that the vice-president should be a war Democrat. The candidacy of Daniel S. Dickinson, of New York, had been so ably managed that he was far and away the favorite. He had been all his life, up to the breaking out of the Civil War, one of the most pronounced extreme and radical Democrats in the State of New York. Mr. Seward took Judge Robertson and me into his confidence. He was hostile to the nomination of Mr. Dickinson, and said that the situation demanded the nomination for vice-president of a representative from the border States, whose loyalty had been demonstrated during the war. He eulogized Andrew Johnson, of Tennessee, and gave a glowing description of the courage and patriotism with which Johnson, at the risk of his life, had advocated the cause of the Union and kept his State partially loyal.
He said to us: "You can quote me to the delegates, and they will believe I express the opinion of the president. While the president wishes to take no part in the nomination for vice-president, yet he favors Mr. Johnson."
When we arrived at the convention this interview with Mr. Seward made us a centre of absorbing interest and at once changed the current of opinion, which before that had been almost unanimously for Mr. Dickinson. It was finally left to the New York delegation.
The meeting of the delegates from New York was a stormy one and lasted until nearly morning. Mr. Dickinson had many warm friends, especially among those of previous democratic affiliation, and the State pride to have a vice-president was in his favor. Upon the final vote Andrew Johnson had one majority. The decision of New York was accepted by the convention and he was nominated for vice-president.
This is an instance of which I have met many in my life, where the course of history was changed on a very narrow margin. Political histories and the newspapers' discussions of the time assigned the success of Mr. Johnson to the efforts of several well-known delegates, but really it was largely if not wholly due to the message of Mr. Seward, which was carried by Judge Robertson and myself to the delegates.
The year of 1864 was full of changes of popular sentiment and surprises. The North had become very tired of the war. The people wanted peace, and peace at almost any price. Jacob Thompson and Clement C. Clay, ex-United States senators from the South, appeared at Niagara Falls, on the Canadian side, and either they or their friends gave out that they were there to treat for peace. In reference to them Mr. Lincoln said to me: "This effort was to inflame the peace sentiment of the North, to embarrass the administration, and to demoralize the army, and in a way it was successful. Mr. Greeley was hammering at me to take action for peace and said that unless I met these men every drop of blood that was shed and every dollar that was spent I would be responsible for, that it would be a blot upon my conscience and soul. I wrote a letter to Mr. Greeley and said to him that those two ex-United States senators were Whigs and old friends of his, personally and politically, and that I desired him to go to Niagara Falls and find out confidentially what their credentials were and let me know."
The president stated that instead of Mr. Greeley doing it that way, he went there as an ambassador, and with an array of reporters established himself on the American side and opened negotiations with these two alleged envoys across the bridge. Continuing, Mr. Lincoln said: "I had reason to believe from confidential information which I had received from a man I trusted and who had interviewed Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederacy, that these envoys were without authority, because President Davis had said to this friend of mine and of his that he would treat on no terms whatever but on absolute recognition of the independence of the Southern Confederacy. The attention of the whole country and of the army centred on these negotiations at Niagara Falls, and to stop the harm they were doing I recalled Mr. Greeley and issued my proclamation 'To Whom It May Concern,' in which I stated if there was anybody or any delegation at Niagara Falls, or anywhere else, authorized to represent the Southern Confederacy and to treat for peace, they had free conduct and safety to Washington and return. Of course, they never came, because their mission was a subterfuge. But they made Greeley believe in them, and the result is that he is still attacking me for needlessly prolonging the war for purposes of my own."
At a Cabinet meeting one of the members said to Mr. Lincoln: "Mr. President, why don't you write a letter to the public stating these facts, and that will end Mr. Greeley's attacks?" The president answered: "Mr. Greeley owns a daily newspaper, a very widely circulated and influential one. I have no newspaper. The press of the country would print my letter, and so would the New York Tribune. In a little while the public would forget all about it, and then Mr. Greeley would begin to prove from my own letter that he was right, and I, of course, would be helpless to reply." He brought the Cabinet around to unanimous agreement with him by telling one of his characteristic stories.
This affair and the delays in the prosecution of the war had created a sentiment early in 1864 that the re-election of Mr. Lincoln was impossible. The leaders of both the conservative and the radical elements in the Republican party, Mr. Weed, on the one hand, and Mr. Greeley, on the other, frankly told the president that he could not be re-elected, and his intimate friend, Congressman Elihu B. Washburne, after a canvass of the country, gave him the same information.
Then came the spectacular victory of Farragut at Mobile and the triumphant march of Sherman through Georgia, and the sentiment of the country entirely changed. There was an active movement on foot in the interest of the secretary of the treasury, Chase, and fostered by him, to hold an independent convention before the regular Republican convention as a protest against the renomination of Mr. Lincoln. It was supported by some of the most eminent and powerful members of the party, who threw into the effort their means and influence. After these victories the effort was abandoned and Mr. Lincoln was nominated by acclamation. I recall as one of the excitements and pleasures of a lifetime the enthusiastic confidence of that convention when they acclaimed Lincoln their nominee.
Governor Seymour, who was the idol of his party, headed the New York delegation to the national Democratic convention to nominate the president, and his journey to that convention was a triumphal march. There is no doubt that at the time he had with him not only the enthusiastic support of his own party but the confidence of the advocates of peace. His own nomination and election seemed inevitable. However, in deference to the war sentiment, General McClellan was nominated instead, and here occurred one of those little things which so often in our country have turned the tide.
The platform committee, and the convention afterwards, permitted to go into the platform a phrase proposed by Clement C. Vallandigham, of Ohio, the phrase being, "The war is a failure." Soon after the adjournment of the convention, to the victories of Farragut and Sherman was added the spectacular campaign and victory of Sheridan in the Valley of Shenandoah. The Campaign at once took on a new phase. It was the opportunity for the orator.
It is difficult now to recreate the scenes of that campaign. The people had been greatly disheartened. Every family was in bereavement, with a son lost and others still in the service. Taxes were onerous and economic and business conditions very bad. Then came this reaction, which seemed to promise an early victory for the Union. The orator naturally picked up the phrase, "The war is a failure"; then he pictured Farragut tied to the shrouds of his flag-ship; then he portrayed Grant's victories in the Mississippi campaign, Hooker's "battle above the clouds," the advance of the Army of Cumberland; then he enthusiastically described Sheridan leaving the War Department hearing of the battle in Shenandoah Valley, speeding on and rallying his defeated troops, reforming and leading them to victory, and finished with reciting some of the stirring war poems.
Mr. Lincoln's election under the conditions and circumstances was probably more due to that unfortunate phrase in the Democratic platform than to any other cause.
The tragedy of the assassination of Mr. Lincoln was followed by the most pathetic incident of American life—his funeral. After the ceremony at Washington the funeral train stopped at Philadelphia, New York, and Albany. In each of these cities was an opportunity for the people to view the remains.
I had charge in my official capacity as secretary of state of the train after it left Albany. It was late in the evening when we started, and the train was running all night through central and western New York. Its schedule was well known along the route. Wherever the highway crossed the railway track the whole population of the neighborhood was assembled on the highway and in the fields. Huge bonfires lighted up the scene. Pastors of the local churches of all denominations had united in leading their congregations for greeting and farewell for their beloved president. As we would reach a crossing there sometimes would be hundreds and at others thousands of men, women, and children on their knees, praying and singing hymns.
This continuous service of prayer and song and supplication lasted over the three hundred miles between Albany and Buffalo, from midnight until dawn.
IV. GENERAL GRANT
The fairies who distribute the prizes are practical jokers. I have known thousands who sought office, some for its distinction, some for its emoluments, and some for both; thousands who wanted promotion from places they held, and other thousands who wanted to regain positions they had lost, all of whom failed in their search.
I probably would have been in one of those classes if I had been seeking an office. I was determined, however, upon a career in railroad work until, if possible, I had reached its highest rewards. During that period I was offered about a dozen political appointments, most of them of great moment and very tempting, all of which I declined.
Near the close of President Grant's administration George Jones, at that time the proprietor and publisher of the New York Times, asked me to come and see him. Mr. Jones, in his association with the brilliant editor, Henry J. Raymond, had been a progressive and staying power of the financial side of this great journal. He was of Welsh descent, a very hardheaded, practical, and wise business man. He also had very definite views on politics and parties, and several times nearly wrecked his paper by obstinately pursuing a course which was temporarily unpopular with its readers and subscribers. I was on excellent terms with Mr. Jones and admired him. The New York Times became under his management one of the severest critics of General Grant's administration and of the president himself.
I went to his house and during the conversation Jones said to me: "I was very much surprised to receive a letter from the president asking me to come and see him at the White House. Of course I went, anticipating a disagreeable interview, but it turned out absolutely the reverse. The president was most cordial, and his frankness most attractive. After a long and full discussion, the president said the Times had been his most unsparing critic, but he was forced to agree with much the Times said; that he had sent for me to make a request; that he had come to the presidency without any preparation whatever for its duties or for civic responsibilities; that he was compelled to take the best advice he could find and surround himself with men, many of whom he had never met before, and they were his guides and teachers; that he, however, assumed the entire responsibility for everything he had done. He knew perfectly well, in the retrospect and with the larger experience he had gained, that he had made many mistakes. 'And now, Mr. Jones,' he continued, 'I have sent for you as the most powerful as well as, I think, the fairest of my critics, to ask that you will say in your final summing up of my eight years that, however many my errors or mistakes, they were faults of judgment, and that I acted conscientiously and in any way I thought was right and best.'
"I told the president I would be delighted to take that view in the Times. Then the president said that he would like to show his appreciation in some way which would be gratifying to me. I told him that I wanted nothing for myself, nor did any of my friends, in the line of patronage. Then he said he wanted my assistance because he was looking for the best man for United States district attorney for the district of New York. With my large acquaintance he thought that I should be able to tell him whom among the lawyers would be best to appoint. After a little consideration I recommended you.
"The president then said: 'Mr. Depew supported Greeley, and though he is back in the party and doing good service in the campaigns, I do not like those men. Nevertheless, you can tender him the office and ask for his immediate acceptance.'"
I told Mr. Jones what my determination was in regard to a career, and while appreciating most highly both his own friendship and the compliment from the president, I must decline.
General Grant's mistakes in his presidency arose from his possession of one of the greatest of virtues, and that is loyalty to one's friends. He had unlimited confidence in them and could not see, or be made to see, nor listen to any of their defects. He was himself of such transparent honesty and truthfulness that he gauged and judged others by his own standard. Scandals among a few of the officials of his administration were entirely due to this great quality.
His intimacy among his party advisers fell among the most extreme of organization men and political machinists. When, under the advice of Senator Conkling, he appointed Thomas Murphy collector of the port of New York, it was charged in the press that the collector removed employees at the rate of several hundred per day and filled their places with loyal supporters of the organization. This policy, which was a direct reversal of the ideas of civil-service reform which were then rapidly gaining strength, incurred the active hostility of civil-service reformers, of whom George William Curtis was the most conspicuous.
When General Grant came to reside in New York, after his tour around the world, he was overwhelmed with social attentions. I met him at dinners several times a week and was the victim of a characteristic coldness of manner which he had towards many people.
One St. Patrick's Day, while in Washington, I received an earnest telegraphic request from Judge John T. Brady and his brother-in-law, Judge Charles P. Daly, president of the Society of the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick, saying: "The Sons are to have their greatest celebration because they are to be honored by the presence of General Grant, who will also speak, and it is imperative that you come and help us welcome him."
I arrived at the dinner late and passed in front of the dais to my seat at the other end, while General Grant was speaking. He was not easy on his feet at that time, though afterwards he became very felicitous in public speaking. He paused a moment until I was seated and then said: "If Chauncey Depew stood in my shoes, and I in his, I would be a much happier man."
I immediately threw away the speech I had prepared during the six hours' trip from Washington, and proceeded to make a speech on "Who can stand now or in the future in the shoes of General Grant?" I had plenty of time before my turn came to elaborate this idea, gradually eliminating contemporary celebrities until in the future the outstanding figure representing the period would be the hero of our Civil War and the restoration of the Union.
The enthusiasm of the audience, as the speech went on, surpassed anything I ever saw. They rushed over tables and tried to carry the general around the room. When the enthusiasm had subsided he came to me and with much feeling said: "Thank you for that speech; it is the greatest and most eloquent that I ever heard." He insisted upon my standing beside him when he received the families of the members, and took me home in his carriage.
From that time until his death he was most cordial, and at many dinners would insist upon my being assigned to a chair next to him.
Among strangers and in general conversation General Grant was the most reticent of men, but among those whom he knew a most entertaining conversationalist. He went over a wide field on such occasions and was interesting on all subjects, and especially instructive on military campaigns and commanders. He gave me as his judgment that among all the military geniuses of the world the greatest was General Philip Sheridan, and that Sheridan's grasp of a situation had no parallel in any great general of whom he knew.
I was with General Grant at his home the day before he went from New York to Mount McGregor, near Saratoga, where he died. I learned of the trip and went immediately to see him, and was met by his son, General Frederick D. Grant. I said to him: "I learn that your father is going to Mount McGregor to-morrow, and I have come to tender him a special train."
After all the necessary arrangements had been made he asked me to go in and see the general. Before doing this I asked: "How is he?" "Well," he answered, "he is dying, but it is of infinite relief to him to see people whom he knows and likes, and I know he wants to see you. Our effort is to keep his mind off from himself and interest him with anything which we think will be of relief to him, and if you have any new incidents do not fail to tell him."
When I entered the room the general was busy writing his "Memoirs." He greeted me very cordially, said he was glad to see me, and then remarked: "I see by the papers that you have been recently up at Hartford delivering a lecture. Tell me about it."
In reply I told him about a very interesting journey there; the lecture and supper afterwards, with Mark Twain as the presiding genius, concerning all of which he asked questions, wanting more particulars, and the whole story seemed to interest him. What seemed to specially please him was the incident when I arrived at the hotel, after the supper given me at the close of my lecture. It was about three o'clock in the morning, and I went immediately to bed, leaving a call for the early train to New York. At five o'clock there was violent rapping on the door and, upon opening it, an Irish waiter stood there with a tray on which were a bottle of champagne and a goblet of ice.
"You have made a mistake," I said to the waiter.
"No, sir," he answered, "I could not make a mistake about you."
"Who sent this?" I asked.
"The committee, sir, with positive instructions that you should have it at five o'clock in the morning," he answered.
"Well, my friend, I said, is it the habit of the good people of Hartford, when they have decided to go to New York on an early train to drink a bottle of champagne at five o'clock in the morning?"
He answered: "Most of them do, sir."
(Nobody at that time had dreamed of the Eighteenth Amendment and the Volstead law.)
With a smile General Grant then said: "Well, there are some places in Connecticut where that could not be done, as local option prevails and the towns have gone dry. For instance, my friend, Senator Nye, of Nevada, spoke through Connecticut in my interest in the last campaign. Nye was a free liver, though not a dissipated man, and, as you know, a very excellent speaker. He told me that when he arrived at one of the principal manufacturing towns he was entertained by the leading manufacturer at his big house and in magnificent style. The dinner was everything that could be desired, except that the only fluid was ice-water. After a long speech Nye, on returning to the house, had a reception, and the supper was still dry, except plenty of ice-water.
"Nye, completely exhausted, went to bed but could not sleep, nor could he find any stimulants. So, about six o'clock in the morning he dressed and wandered down to the dining-room. The head of the house came in and, seeing him, exclaimed: 'Why, senator, you are up early.' Nye replied: 'Yes, you know, out in Nevada we have a great deal of malaria, and I could not sleep.' 'Well,' said the host, 'this is a temperance town. We find it an excellent thing for the working people, and especially for the young men, but we have some malaria here, also, and for that I have a private remedy.' Whereupon he went to a closet and pulled out a bottle of brandy.
"After his host had left, Nye continued there in a refreshed and more enjoyable spirit. Soon his hostess came in and, much surprised, said: 'Why, senator, you are up early!' 'Yes,' he said, 'out in Nevada we have a great deal of malaria, and while I am on these speaking tours I have sharp attacks and cannot sleep. I had one last night.'
"'Well,' she remarked, 'this is a temperance town, and it is a good thing for the working people and the young men, but I have a touch of malaria now and then myself.' Then she went to the tea-caddy and pulled out a bottle of brandy. The senator by this time was in perfect harmony with himself and the whole world.
"When the boys came in (sons of the entertainer) they said: 'Senator, we hear that you are an expert on livestock, horses, cattle, etc. Won't you come out in the barn so we can show you some we regard as very fine specimens?' The boys took him out to the barn, shut the door, locked it, and whispered: 'Senator, we have no live stock, but we have a bottle here in the hay mow which we think will do you good.' And the senator wound up his narrative by saying: 'The wettest place that I know of is a dry town in Connecticut.'"
The next day General Grant went to Mount McGregor and, as we all know, a few days afterwards he lost his voice completely.
V. ROSCOE CONKLING
For a number of years, instead of taking my usual vacation in travel or at some resort, I spent a few weeks in the fall in the political canvass as a speaker. In the canvass of 1868 I was associated with Senator Roscoe Conkling, who desired an assistant, as the mass meetings usually wanted at least two and probably three hours of speaking, and he limited himself to an hour. General Grant was at the height of his popularity and the audiences were enormous. As we had to speak every day and sometimes several times a day, Mr. Conkling notified the committees that he would not speak out of doors, and that they must in all cases provide a hall.
When we arrived at Lockport, N. Y., the chairman of the committee, Burt Van Horn, who was the congressman from the district, told the senator that at least twenty thousand people from the town, and others coming from the country on excursion trains, had filled the Fair Grounds. Conkling became very angry and told the congressman that he knew perfectly well the conditions under which he came to Lockport, and that he would not speak at the Fair Grounds. A compromise was finally effected by which the senator was to appear upon the platform, the audience be informed that he would speak in the Opera House, and I was to be left to take care of the crowd. The departure of the senator from the grounds was very dramatic. He was enthusiastically applauded and a band preceded his carriage.
For some reason I never had such a success as in addressing that audience. Commencing with a story, which was new and effective, I continued for two hours without apparently losing an auditor.
Upon my return to the hotel I found the senator very indignant. He said that he had gone to the Opera House with the committee; that, of course, no meeting had been advertised there, but a band had been placed on the balcony to play, as if it were a dime museum attraction inside; that a few farmers' wives had straggled in to have an opportunity to partake from their baskets their luncheons, and that he had left the Opera House and returned to the hotel. The committee coming in and narrating what had occurred at the Fair Grounds, did not help his imperious temper. The committee begged for a large meeting, which was to be held in the evening, but Conkling refused and ordered me to do the same, and we left on the first train. The cordial relations which had existed up to that time were somehow severed and he became very hostile.
General Grant, as president, of course, never had had experience or opportunity to know anything of practical politics. It was said that prior to his election he had never voted but once, and that was before the war, when he voted the Democratic ticket for James Buchanan.
All the senators, representatives, and public men who began to press around him, seeking the appointment to office of their friends, were unknown to him personally. He decided rapidly whom among them he could trust, and once having arrived at that conclusion, his decision was irrevocable. He would stand by a friend, without regard to its effect upon himself, to the last ditch.
Of course, each of the two United States senators, Conkling and Fenton, wanted his exclusive favor. It is impossible to conceive of two men so totally different in every characteristic. Grant liked Conkling as much as he disliked Fenton. The result was that he transferred the federal patronage of the State to Senator Conkling.
Conkling was a born leader, very autocratic and dictatorial. He immediately began to remove Fenton officials and to replace them with members of his own organization. As there was no civil service at that time and public officers were necessarily active politicians, Senator Conkling in a few years destroyed the organization which Fenton had built up as governor, and became master of the Republican party in the State.
The test came at the State convention at Saratoga. Senator Conkling at that time had become hostile to me, why I do not know, nor could his friends, who were most of them mine also, find out. He directed that I must not be elected a delegate to the convention. The collector of the port of New York, in order to make that decree effective, filled my district in Westchester County with appointees from the Custom House.
Patronage, when its control is subject to a popular vote, is a boomerang. The appointment of a citizen in a town arouses the anger of many others who think they are more deserving. I appealed to the farmers with the simple question whether old Westchester should be controlled by federal authority in a purely State matter of their own. The result of the appeal was overwhelming, and when the district convention met, the Custom House did not have a single delegate.
The leader of the Custom House crowd came to me and said: "This is a matter of bread-and-butter and living with us. It is nothing to you. These delegates are against us and for you at the convention. Now, we have devised a plan to save our lives. It is that the three delegates elected shall all be friends of yours. You shall apparently be defeated. A resolution will be passed that if either delegate fails to attend or resigns, the other two may fill the vacancy. One of these will resign when the convention meets and you will be substituted in his place. In the meantime we will send out through the Associated Press that you have been defeated." I did not have the heart to see these poor fellows dismissed from their employment, and I assented to the proposition.
When we arrived at the convention Governor Cornell, then State chairman, called to order. I arose to make a motion, when he announced: "You, sir, are not a member of this convention." My credentials, however, under the arrangement made in Westchester, convinced him that he was misinformed. The Conkling side selected for their chairman Andrew D. White, and the other side selected me. Upon careful canvass of the votes we had a clear majority.
There were several delegations which were controlled by federal office-holders. It is at this point that patronage becomes overwhelmingly effective. Several of those office-holders were shown telegrams from Washington, which meant their removal unless they did as directed by Senator Conkling. When the convention met the next day, the office-holders kept their heads on their shoulders, and my dear and valued old friend, Andrew D. White, was elected chairman of the convention.
I asked the leader of the federal crowd from Westchester how he explained my getting into the convention. "Oh," he said, "that was easy. Our people gained so many delegates by offers of patronage and threats of removal that when I told them you had bought my delegates away from me, they believed it without question, and we are all safe in our places in the Custom House." My success was entirely due to the farmers' indignation at federal dictation, and the campaign did not cost me a dollar.
Roscoe Conkling was created by nature for a great career. That he missed it was entirely his own fault. Physically he was the handsomest man of his time. His mental equipment nearly approached genius. He was industrious to a degree. His oratorical gifts were of the highest order, and he was a debater of rare power and resources. But his intolerable egotism deprived him of vision necessary for supreme leadership. With all his oratorical power and his talent in debate, he made little impression upon the country and none upon posterity. His position in the Senate was a masterful one, and on the platform most attractive, but none of his speeches appear in the schoolbooks or in the collections of great orations. The reason was that his wonderful gifts were wholly devoted to partisan discussions and local issues.
His friends regarded his philippic against George W. Curtis at the Republican State convention at Rochester as the high-water mark of his oratory. I sat in the seat next to Mr. Curtis when Conkling delivered his famous attack. His admirers thought this the best speech he ever made, and it certainly was a fine effort, emphasized by oratory of a high order, and it was received by them with the wildest enthusiasm and applause.
The assault upon Mr. Curtis was exceedingly bitter, the denunciation very severe, and every resource of sarcasm, of which Mr. Conkling was past master, was poured upon the victim. His bitterness was caused by Mr. Curtis's free criticism of him on various occasions. The speech lasted two hours, and it was curious to note its effect upon Mr. Curtis. Under the rules which the convention had adopted, he could not reply, so he had to sit and take it. The only feeling or evidence of being hurt by his punishment was in exclamations at different points made by his assailant. They were: "Remarkable!" "Extraordinary!" "What an exhibition!" "Bad temper!" "Very bad temper!"
In the long controversy between them Mr. Curtis had the advantages which the journalist always possesses. The orator has one opportunity on the platform and the publication the next day in the press. The editor—and Mr. Curtis was at that time editor of Harper's Weekly—can return every Saturday and have an exclusive hearing by an audience limited only by the circulation of his newspaper and the quotations from it by journalistic friends.
The speech illustrated Conkling's methods of preparation. I used to hear from the senator's friends very frequently that he had added another phrase to his characterization of Curtis. While he was a ready debater, yet for an effort of this kind he would sometimes devote a year to going frequently over the ground, and in each repetition produce new epigrams, quotable phrases, and characterizations.
There used to be an employee of the State committee named Lawrence. He was a man of a good deal of receptive intelligence and worshipped the senator. Mr. Conkling discovered this quality and used Lawrence as a target or listening-post. I have often had Lawrence come to my office and say: "I had a great night. The senator talked to me or made speeches to me until nearly morning." He told me that he had heard every word of the Curtis philippic many times.
Lawrence told me of another instance of Conkling's preparation for a great effort. When he was preparing the speech, which was to bring his friends who had been disappointed at the convention to the support of General Garfield, he summoned Lawrence for clerical work at his home. Lawrence said that the senator would write or dictate, and then correct until he was satisfied with the effort, and that this took considerable time. When it was completed he would take long walks into the country, and in these walks recite the whole or part of his speech until he was perfect master of it.
This speech took four hours in delivery in New York, and he held the audience throughout this long period. John Reed, one of the editors of the New York Times, told me that he sat on the stage near Conkling and had in his hands the proofs which had been set up in advance and which filled ten columns of his paper. He said that the senator neither omitted nor interpolated a word from the beginning to the end. He would frequently refer apparently to notes on his cuffs, or little memoranda, not that he needed them, but it was the orator's always successful effort to create impression that his speech is extemporaneous, and the audience much prefer a speech which they think is such.
Senator Conkling held an important position in a critical period of our country's history. If his great powers had been devoted in the largest way to the national constructive problems of the time, he would have been the leader of the dominant party and president of the United States. Instead, he became the leader of a faction in his own State only, and by the merciless use of federal patronage absolutely controlled for twelve years the action of the State organization.
All the young men who appeared in the legislature or in county offices who displayed talent for leadership, independence, and ambition were set aside. The result was remarkable. While prior to his time there were many men in public life in the State with national reputation and influence, this process of elimination drove young men from politics into the professions or business, and at the close of Senator Conkling's career there was hardly an active member of the Republican party in New York of national reputation, unless he had secured it before Mr. Conkling became the autocrat of New York politics. The political machine in the Republican party in his Congressional district early in his career became jealous of his growing popularity and influence, both at home and in Congress. By machine methods they defeated him and thought they had retired him permanently from public life.
When I was elected secretary of state I received a note from Mr. Conkling, asking if I would meet him. I answered: "Yes, immediately, and at Albany." He came there with Ward Hunt, afterwards one of the associate justices of the Supreme Court of the United States. He delivered an intense attack upon machine methods and machine politics, and said they would end in the elimination of all independent thought, in the crushing of all ambition in promising young men, and ultimate infinite damage to the State and nation. "You," he said, "are a very young man for your present position, but you will soon be marked for destruction."
Then he stated what he wanted, saying: "I was defeated by the machine in the last election. They can defeat me now only by using one man of great talent and popularity in my district. I want you to make that man your deputy secretary of state. It is the best office in your gift, and he will be entirely satisfied."
I answered him: "I have already received from the chiefs of the State organization designations for every place in my office, and especially for that one, but the appointment is yours and you may announce it at once."
Mr. Conkling arose as if addressing an audience, and as he stood there in the little parlor of Congress Hall in Albany he was certainly a majestic figure. He said: "Sir, a thing that is quickly done is doubly done. Hereafter, as long as you and I both live, there never will be a deposit in any bank, personally, politically, or financially to my credit which will not be subject to your draft."
The gentleman whom he named became my deputy. His name was Erastus Clark. He was a man of ability and very broad culture, and was not only efficient in the performance of his duties, but one of the most delightful of companions. His health was bad, and his friends were always alarmed, and justifiably so, about him. Nevertheless, I met him years afterwards in Washington, when he was past eighty-four.
At Mr. Conkling's request Mr. Clark made an appointment for a mutual visit to Trenton Falls, a charming resort near Utica. We spent the week-end there, and I saw Mr. Conkling at his best. He was charming in reminiscence, in discussion, in his characterization of the leading actors upon the public stage, and in varying views of ambitions and careers.
When the patronage all fell into his hands after the election of General Grant, he pressed upon me the appointment of postmaster of the city of New York. It was difficult for him to understand that, while I enjoyed politics and took an active part in campaigns, I would not accept any office whatever. He then appointed one of the best of postmasters, who afterwards became postmaster-general, but who was also one of the most efficient of his lieutenants, General Thomas L. James.
When Mr. Conkling was a candidate for United States senator I was regarded as a confidential friend of Governor Fenton. The governor was one of the most secretive of men, and, therefore, I did not know his views to the candidate, or whether he had preferences. I think he had no preferences but wished Conkling defeated, and at the same time did not want to take a position which would incur the enmity of him or his friends.
One night there was a great public demonstration, and, being called upon, I made a speech to the crowd, which included the legislature, to the effect that we had been voiceless in the United States Senate too long; that the greatest State in the Union should be represented by a man who had demonstrated his ability to all, and that man was Mr. Conkling. This created an impression that I was speaking for the governor as well as myself, and the effect upon the election was great. Mr. Conkling thought so, and that led to his pressing upon me official recognition.
How the breach came between us, why he became persistently hostile during the rest of his life, I never knew. President Arthur, Governor Cornell, and other of his intimate friends told me that they tried often to find out, but their efforts only irritated him and never received any response.
Senator Conkling's peculiar temperament was a source of great trouble to his lieutenants. They were all able and loyal, but he was intolerant of any exercise on their part of independent judgment. This led to the breaking off of all relations with the two most distinguished of them—President Arthur and Governor Cornell.
A breach once made could not be healed. A bitter controversy in debate with Mr. Blaine assumed a personal character. In the exchanges common in the heat of such debates Blaine ridiculed Conkling's manner and called him a turkey-cock. Mutual friends tried many times to bring them together. Blaine was always willing, but Conkling never.
Conkling had a controversy which was never healed with Senator Platt, who had served him long and faithfully and with great efficiency. During the twenty years in which Platt was leader, following Senator Conkling, he displayed the reverse qualities. He was always ready for consultation, he sought advice, and was tolerant of large liberty of individual judgment among his associates. He was always forgiving, and taking back into confidence those with whom he had quarrelled.
One summer I was taking for a vacation a trip to Europe and had to go aboard the steamer the night before, as she sailed very early in the morning. One of my staff appeared and informed me that a very serious attack upon the New York Central had been started in the courts and that the law department needed outside counsel and asked whom he should employ. I said: "Senator Conkling." With amazement he replied: "Why, he has been bitterly denouncing you for months." "Yes, but that was politics," I said. "You know the most brilliant lawyer in the United States might come to New York, and unless he formed advantageous associations with some of the older firms he could get no practice. Now, this suit will be very conspicuous, and the fact that Senator Conkling is chief counsel for the Central will give him at once a standing and draw to him clients." His appearance in the case gave him immediate prominence and a large fee.
Senator Conkling's career at the bar was most successful, and there was universal sorrow when his life ended in the tragedy of the great blizzard.
VI. HORACE GREELEY
While secretary of state of New York, the decennial State census was taken, and the appointment of three thousand census takers involved as much pressure from congressmen, State senators, assemblymen, and local leaders as if the places had been very remunerative and permanent. I discovered what a power political patronage is in party organization, because it developed that the appointment of this large number of men, located in every town in the State, could easily have been utilized for the formation of a personal organization within the party.
I was exceedingly fond, as I am still and always have been, of political questions, issues affecting the general government, the State, or localities, party organizations, and political leaders. So, while devoted to my profession and its work and increasingly enjoying its labor and activities, politics became an interesting recreation. With no desire for and with a determination not to take any public office, to be called into party councils, to be at an occasional meeting of the State committee and a delegate to conventions were happy relief and excursions from the routine of professional work, as golf is to a tired business man or lawyer.
The nomination of General Grant for president by the Republicans and of Horatio Seymour by the Democrats had made New York the pivotal State in the national election. John T. Hoffman, the most popular among the younger Democrats, was their nominee for governor. The Republicans, with great unanimity, agreed upon John A. Griswold, a congressman from the Troy district. Griswold was the idol of his colleagues in the New York delegation in Congress, and his attractive personality and demonstrated business ability had made him a great favorite with politicians, business men, and labor. The canvass for his nomination had been conducted with great ardor by enthusiastic friends in all parts of the State, and the delegations were nearly all practically pledged to his nomination. No one dreamed that there would be an opposition candidate.
On the train to the convention John Russell Young, then managing editor of the New York Tribune under Mr. Greeley, came to me and said: "Mr. Greeley has decided to be a candidate at the convention for the nomination for governor. You are his friend, he lives in your assembly district in Westchester County, and wishes you to make the nomination speech."
I tried to argue the question with Young by portraying to him the situation and the utter hopelessness of any attempt to break the slate. He, however, insisted upon it, saying that all pledges and preferences would disappear because of Greeley's services to the party for so many years.
When we arrived at Syracuse and stated our determination to present Mr. Greeley's name, it was hilariously received as a joke. Efforts were made by friends of Greeley to persuade him not to undertake such an impossible task, but they could produce no effect.
Mr. Griswold was put in nomination by Mr. Demers, one of the most eloquent young men in the ministry of the State, and afterwards an editor of power, and his speech filled every requirement.
Then I presented Mr. Greeley. At first the audience was hostile, but as the recital of the great editor's achievements grew in intensity and heat, the convention began to applaud and then to cheer. A delegate hurled at me the question: "How about Greeley signing the bail of Jefferson Davis?" The sentiment seemed to change at once and cheers were followed by hisses. Then there was supreme silence, and I immediately shouted: "There are spots on the sun."
The effect was electrical. Delegates were on their feet, standing on chairs, the air was full of hats, and the cheers deafening for Greeley for some minutes. Mr. Demers, the preacher delegate, lost his equilibrium, rushed up to me, shaking his fist excitedly, and shouted: "Damn you! you have nominated him and beaten Griswold."
A recess was taken, and when the convention reconvened the ballot demonstrated that if the organization is given time it can always reform its shattered lines and show the efficiency of discipline.
When I met Mr. Greeley soon after, he said: "I cannot understand why I desired the nomination for governor, nor why anybody should want the office. There is nothing in it. No man now can name the ten last governors of the State of New York."
Having tried that proposition many times since on the average citizen, I have found that Mr. Greeley was absolutely right. Any one who does not think so can try to solve that problem himself.
The meeting of the Electoral College at the Capitol at Albany in 1864 was one of the most picturesque and interesting gatherings ever held in the State. People came from all parts of the country to witness the formality of the casting of the vote of New York for Abraham Lincoln. The members of the college were, most of them, men of great distinction in our public and civic life.
Horace Greeley was elected president of the college. The meeting was held in the Senate chamber. When Mr. Greeley took the chair, the desk in front of him made only his bust visible and with his wonderfully intellectual face, his long gray hair brushed back, and his solemn and earnest expression, he was one of the most impressive figures I ever saw occupying the chair as a presiding officer.
One of the electors had failed to appear. Most of us knew that under pressure of great excitement he was unable to resist his convivial tendencies, but no one supposed that Mr. Greeley could by any possibility know of his weakness. After waiting some time one of the electors moved that the college take a recess for half a day. Mr. Greeley turned very pale and, before putting the question, made a little speech, something like this, in a voice full of emotion, I might almost say tears: "My brethren, we are met here upon the most solemn occasion of our lives in this crisis of the republic. Upon the regularity of what we do here this day may depend whether the republic lives or dies. I would, therefore, suggest that we sit here in silence until our absent brother, who is doubtless kept from us by some good reason, shall appear and take his seat."
The effect of this address upon the Electoral College and the surrounding audience was great. Many were in tears, and the women spectators, most of whom were in mourning for those lost during the war, were all crying.
As secretary of state it was my duty to have the papers all prepared for execution as soon as the college had voted, and to attach to them the great seal of the State, and then they were sent by special messenger to Washington to be delivered to the House of Representatives. Mr. Greeley, at the opening of the session, said to me: "Chauncey, as I am not very familiar with parliamentary law, I wish you would take a seat on the steps beside me here, so that I can consult you if necessary." After this effective and affecting speech he leaned down until he was close to my ear, and said: "Chauncey, how long do you think it will be before that d—— drunken fool will be able to return and take his seat?"
General Grant's administration soon aroused great opposition. Carl Schurz, Charles Francis Adams, and other leaders became very hostile to the administration and to a second term. The country was longing for peace. The "carpet-bag" governments of the South were full of corruption and incompetence and imposed upon the Southern States intolerable burdens of debt. The feeling was becoming general that there should be universal amnesty in order that the best and most capable people of the South could return to the management of their own affairs.
This led to the calling of a convention of the Republicans, which nominated Horace Greeley for president. I had no desire nor the slightest intention of being involved in this controversy, but was happily pursuing my profession, with increasing fondness for private life.
One day Commodore Vanderbilt, who had a strong friendship for Mr. Greeley, but took no interest in politics, said to me: "Mr. Greeley has been to see me and is very anxious for you to assist him. If you can aid him in any way I wish you would."
Afterwards Mr. Greeley called at my house. "Chauncey," he said (he always called me Chauncey), "as you know, I have been nominated by the Liberal Republican convention for President of the United States. If I can get the indorsement of the Democratic party my election is assured. My Democratic friends tell me that in order to accomplish that I must demonstrate that I have a substantial Republican following. So we have called a meeting at Rochester, which is the capital of the strongest Republican counties of the State. It is necessary to have for the principal speaker some Republican of State and national reputation. I have selected you for that purpose."
To my protest that I did not wish to enter into the contest nor to take any part in active politics, he said, very indignantly: "I have supported you in my paper and personally during the whole of your career. I thought that if anybody was capable of gratitude it is you, and I have had unfortunate experiences with many." I never was able to resist an appeal of this kind, so I said impulsively: "Mr. Greeley, I will go."
The meeting was a marvellous success for the purpose for which it was called. It was purely a Republican gathering. The crowd was several times larger than the hall could accommodate. Henry R. Selden, one of the judges of the Court of Appeals and one of the most eminent and respected Republicans of the State, presided. The two hundred vice-presidents and secretaries upon the platform I had known intimately for years as Republican leaders of their counties and districts. The demonstration so impressed the Democratic State leaders that at the national Democratic convention Mr. Greeley was indorsed.
There were two State conventions held simultaneously that year, one Democratic and one Liberal Republican. In the division of offices the Democratic party, being the larger, was given the governorship and the Liberal Republicans had the lieutenant-governorship. I was elected as the presiding officer of the Liberal Republican convention and also was made unanimously its nominee for lieutenant-governor. The Democratic convention nominated Francis Kernan, one of the most distinguished lawyers of the State, and afterwards United States senator.
If the election had been held early in the canvass there is little doubt but that Mr. Greeley would have carried the State by an overwhelming majority. His difficulty was that for a quarter of a century, as editor of the New York Tribune, he had been the most merciless, bitter, and formidable critic and opponent of the Democratic party. The deep-seated animosity against him was fully aroused as the campaign proceeded by a propaganda which placed in the hands of every Democrat these former slashing editorials of the New York Tribune. Their effect upon the Democratic voters was evident after a while, and when in the September election North Carolina went Republican, a great mass of Republicans, who had made up their minds to support Mr. Greeley, went back to their party, and he was overwhelmingly defeated.
In the early part of his canvass Mr. Greeley made a tour of the country. There have been many such travels by presidential candidates, but none like this. His march was a triumphal procession, and his audiences enormous and most enthusiastic. The whole country marvelled at his intellectual versatility. He spoke every day, and often several times a day, and each speech was absolutely new. There seemed to be no limit to his originality, his freshness, or the new angles from which to present the issues of the canvass. No candidate was ever so bitterly abused and so slandered.
A veteran speaker has in the course of his career original experiences. The cordiality and responsiveness of his audience is not always an index of their agreement with his argument. During the campaign Mr. Greeley came to me and said: "I have received encouraging accounts from the State of Maine. I have a letter from such a place"—naming it—"from the principal of the academy there. He writes me that the Congregational minister, who has the largest church in town, the bank president, the manufacturer, the principal lawyer, and himself are lifelong readers of the Tribune, and those steadfast Republicans intend to support me. He thinks if they can have a public meeting with a speaker of national reputation, the result might be an overturn in my favor in this community, which is almost unanimously Republican, that it may influence the whole State, and," continued Mr. Greeley, "he suggests you as the speaker, and I earnestly ask you to go."
When I arrived at the place I was entertained by the manufacturer. The audience crowded the largest hall in the town. The principal of the academy presided, the Congregational minister opened the exercises with a prayer, and I was introduced and received with great cordiality.
For such an audience my line of talk was praising General Grant as the greatest general of modern times, and how largely the preservation of the Union depended upon his military genius. Then to picture the tremendous responsibilities of the presidency and the impossibility of a man, however great as a soldier, with a lifetime of military education, environment, and experiences, succeeding in civil office, especially as great a one as the presidency of the United States. Then came, naturally, a eulogium of Horace Greeley, the maker of public opinion, the moulder of national policies, the most eloquent and resourceful leader of the Republican party since its formation. The audience cheered with great enthusiasm all these allusions to General Grant, and responded with equal fervor to my praise of Horace Greeley.
When I concluded they stood up and gave me cordial cheers, and the presiding officer came forward and said: "I now suggest that we close this meeting with three rousing cheers for Horace Greeley." The principal of the academy, the manufacturer, the minister, the lawyer, a very few of the audience, and several women responded. After this frost a farmer rose gradually, and as he began to let out link after link of his body, which seemed about seven feet tall, he reached his full height, and then in a voice which could be heard a mile shouted: "Three cheers for General Grant!" The response nearly took the roof off the house. I left the State the next morning and told Mr. Greeley that he could not carry Maine.
Among the amusing episodes of the campaign was one which occurred at an open-door mass meeting at Watertown, N. Y. John A. Dix had been nominated for governor on the Republican ticket, and I was speaking of him and his career. He had changed from one party to the other five or six times in the course of his long career, and each time received an office. There was great doubt as to his age, because in the American Encyclopaedia the date of his birth was given as of a certain year, and in the French Encyclopaedia, which published his biography when he was minister to France, a widely different date was given. In the full tide of partisan oratory I went over these changes of political activity, and how each one had been rewarded, also the doubt as to his age, and then I shouted: "I have discovered among the records of the Pilgrim Fathers that when they landed on Plymouth Rock they found John A. Dix standing on the rock and announcing that unless they made him justice of the peace he would join the Indians." An indignant farmer, who could not hold his wrath any longer, shouted: "That's a lie! The Pilgrims landed more than two hundred and fifty years ago." I saw that my interrupter had swallowed my bait, hook, and line, bob and sinker, pole and all, and shouted with great indignation: "Sir, I have narrated that historical incident throughout the State, from Montauk Point to Niagara Falls, and you are the first man who has had the audacity to question it."
Another farmer stepped up to the heckler and said: "Here is my hat, neighbor. You can keep it. I am going bareheaded for the rest of my life." In his uproarious laughter the crowd all joined. It was years before the questioning farmer could visit Watertown without encountering innumerable questions as to when the Pilgrims landed on Plymouth Rock.
The last meeting of the campaign was held at Mr. Greeley's home at Chappaqua in Westchester County. We all knew that the contest was hopeless and defeat sure. I was one of the speakers, both as his neighbor and friend, and accompanied him to New York. A rough crowd on the train jeered him as we rode along. We went to his office, and there he spoke of the lies that had been told about him, and which had been believed by the public; of the cartoons which had misrepresented him, especially those of Tom Nast, and of which there were many lying about. Leaning upon his desk, a discouraged and hopeless man, he said: "I have given my life to the freeing of the slaves, and yet they have been made to believe that I was a slave driver. It has been made to appear, and people have been made to believe, that I was wrong or faithless, or on the other side of the reforms which I have advocated all my life. I will be beaten in the campaign and I am ruined for life." He was overcome with emotion, and it was the saddest interview I ever had with any one. It was really the breaking of a great heart. He died before the votes were counted.
There was instantly a tremendous revulsion of popular feeling in the country. He had lost his wife during the campaign, and the people woke up suddenly to the sorrows under which he had labored, to his genius as a journalist, to his activity as a reformer, and to a usefulness that had no parallel among his contemporaries. The president-elect, General Grant, and the vice-president-elect, Schuyler Colfax, attended the funeral, and without distinction of party his death was universally mourned.
After the election, in consultation on railroad affairs, Commodore Vanderbilt said to me, "I was very glad you were defeated," which was his way of saying that he did not want me either to leave the railroad or to have other duties which would impair my efficiency.
With the tragic death of Mr. Greeley the Liberal Republican movement ended. Most of us who had followed him resumed at once our Republican party relations and entered actively into its work in the next campaign. The revolt was forgiven, except in very few instances, and the Greeley men went back to their old positions in their various localities and became prominent in the official life of the State. I, as usual, in the fall took my vacation on the platform for the party.
VII. RUTHERFORD B. HAYES AND WILLIAM M. EVARTS
It is one of the tragedies of history that in the procession of events, the accumulation of incidents, year by year and generation by generation, famous men of any period so rapidly disappear.
At the close of the Civil War there were at least a score of generals in the North, and as many in the South, whose names were household words. About fifty-five years have passed since the war closed, and the average citizen knows only two of them—Grant and Lee.
One of the last acts of General Grant was to tender to Senator Conkling the position of chief justice of the Supreme Court of the United States. Conkling had gained from the senatorship and the leadership of his party a great reputation, to which subsequent service in the Senate could add little or nothing. He was in his early forties, in the prime of his powers, and he would have had before him, as chief justice of this great court, a long life of usefulness and distinction.
Conkling was essentially an advocate, and as an advocate not possessing the judicial temperament. While there was a great surprise that he declined this wonderful opportunity, we can see now that the environment and restrictions of the position would have made it impossible for this fiery and ambitious spirit. It was well known that General Grant, so far as he could influence the actions of the national Republican convention, was in favor of Senator Conkling as his successor. The senator's friends believed, and they made him believe, that the presidency was within his grasp.
When the national convention met it was discovered that the bitterness between the two leaders, Blaine and Conkling, made harmony impossible. The bitterness by that time was on Conkling's side against Blaine. With the latter's make-up, resentment could not last very long. It is an interesting speculation what might have happened if these two leaders had become friends. It is among the possibilities that both might have achieved the great object of their ambitions and been presidents of the United States.
The outstanding feature of that convention in the history of those interesting gatherings was the speech of Colonel Robert G. Ingersoll, nominating Mr. Blaine. In its effect upon the audience, in its reception by the country, and by itself as an effort of that kind, it stands unprecedented and unequalled.
As usual in popular conventions, where the antagonism of the leaders and the bitterness of their partisanship threatens the unity of the party, the result was the nomination of a "dark horse," and the convention closed its labors by presenting to the country General Rutherford B. Hayes.
President Hayes, although one of the most amiable, genial, and companionable of our presidents, with every quality to attach men to him and make warm friendships, was, nevertheless, one of the most isolated. He inherited all the business troubles, economic disorganization, and currency disturbances which grew out of the panic of 1873. He was met with more bankruptcy than had ever occurred in our business history.
With rare courage and the most perfect good nature, he installed essential reforms, which, in the then condition of party organization and public sentiment, practically offended everybody. He threw the extreme radicals of his party into a frenzy of rage by wiping out the "carpet-bag" governments and restoring self-government for the South. He inaugurated civil-service reform, but in doing so antagonized most of the senators and members of the House.
When he found that the collector of the port of New York, Chester A. Arthur, and the surveyor, Alonzo B. Cornell, were running their offices with their vast patronage on strictly machine lines, and that this had the general approval of party leaders, he removed them and appointed for their successors General Edwin A. Merritt and Silas W. Burt, with instructions to remove no one on account of politics, and to appoint no one except for demonstrated efficiency for the place. He pursued the same policy in the Internal Revenue and Post-Office Departments. This policy threatened the primacy of the Conkling machine.
President Hayes had a very strong Cabinet. The secretary of state, William M. Evarts, and the secretary of the treasury, John Sherman, were two of the ablest men in the country. Evarts was the leader of the national bar, and in crystallized mentality had no equal in the profession or outside of it. Sherman was the foremost and best-informed economist, and also a great statesman. In close consultation with Sherman, Hayes brought about the resumption of specie payment. The "green-backers," who were for unlimited paper, and the silver men, who were for unlimited coinage of silver, and who were very numerous, joined the insurgent brigade.
While Mr. Hayes retired from the presidency by what might be called unanimous consent, he had created conditions which made possible the success of his party in 1880.
It was a refreshing experience to meet the president during these troublous times. While everybody else was excited, he was perfectly calm. While most of the great men at the Capitol were raging, he, at the other end of the avenue, was placid and serene. He said once to me: "It is a novel experience when you do what you think right and best for the country to have it so generally criticised and disapproved. But the compensation is that you expect antagonism and disapproval and would think something was the matter with your decisions if you did not receive them."
The general abuse to which he was subjected from so many sources affected the public's view of him. After he had left the presidency he told me that he thought it was the duty of an ex-president to utilize the prestige which belonged to the office in the aid of education. "I have found," he said, "that it helps enormously in colleges and schools to have lectures, lessons, etc., in history and patriotism, and behind them the personality of an ex-president of the United States."
As an illustration of how distinguished men, when out of power, no longer interest our people, I remember I met Mr. Hayes one day in front of a fruit display of a well-known grocery establishment, and after greeting said to the groceryman: "That is ex-President Hayes. Don't you want to meet him?" The groceryman replied: "I am not interested in him, but I have the finest collection of pears in the city and want to sell you some."
The Capitol was full of the rich and racy characterizations, epigrams, and sarcasms which Senator Conkling was daily pouring out upon President Hayes, and especially Secretary Evarts. By all the rules of senatorial courtesy in those machine days, a member of the Cabinet from New York should have been a friend of its United States senator. Mr. Evarts was too big a man to be counted in any other class or category except his own. Of course, all these criticisms were carried to both the president and the secretary of state. The president never mentioned them, and I never heard Evarts, though I met him frequently, make any reply but once.
Dining with Mr. Evarts, who entertained charmingly, a very distinguished English jurist among the guests, here on a special mission, said: "Mr. Secretary, I was at the Senate to-day and heard Senator Conkling speaking. His magnificent personal appearance, added to his fine oratory, must make him one of the most formidable advocates at your bar and in your courts." The English judge thought, of course, that Mr. Evarts, as the leader of the American Bar and always in the courts, would know every lawyer of distinction. Mr. Evarts dryly replied: "I never saw Mr. Conkling in court."
It is always dangerous to comment or narrate a racy story which involves the personal affliction of anybody. Dining with Mr. Evarts one night was also a very distinguished general of our Civil War, who had been an important figure in national politics. He was very curious to know about Mr. Tilden, and especially as to the truth of a report that Mr. Tilden had a stroke of paralysis, and appealed to me, as I was just from New York. I narrated a story which was current at the time that Mr. Tilden had denied the report by saying to a friend: "They say I cannot lift my left hand to my head." He then put his right hand under the left elbow and shot the left one easily up to his face and said: "See there, my left has reached its goal."
I saw that Mr. Evarts was embarrassed at the anecdote and discovered afterwards that the distinguished guest had recently had a similar stroke on his left side and could propel his left arm and hand only with the assistance of his right.
My old bogie of being put into office arose again in the senatorial election of 1882. The legislature, for the first time in a generation, was entirely leaderless. The old organization had disappeared and a new one had not yet crystallized.
Mr. Evarts was anxious to be senator, and I pledged him my support. Evarts was totally devoid of the arts of popular appeal. He was the greatest of lawyers and the most delightful of men, but he could not canvass for votes. Besides, he was entirely independent in his ideas of any organization dictation or control, and resented both. He did not believe that a public man should go into public office under any obligations, and resented such suggestions.
A large body of representative men thought it would be a good thing for the country if New York could have this most accomplished, capable, and brilliant man in the United States Senate. They urged him strongly upon the legislature, none of whose members knew him personally, and Mr. Evarts would not go to Albany.
The members selected a committee to come down to New York and see Mr. Evarts. They went with the idea of ascertaining how far he would remember with gratitude those who elected him. Their visit was a miserable failure. They came in hot indignation to my office and said they did not propose to send such a cold and unsympathetic man as their representative to Washington and earnestly requested my consent to their nominating me at the caucus the next morning.
The committee telephoned to Albany and received the assent of every faction of their party to this proposition. Then they proposed that when the caucus met, Mr. Evarts, of course, should receive complimentary speeches from his friends. Meanwhile others would be nominated, and then a veteran member, whom they designated, should propose me in the interest of harmony and the union of the party, whereat the sponsors of the other candidate would withdraw their man, and I be nominated by acclamation. My answer was a most earnest appeal for Mr. Evarts. Then Mr. Evarts's friends rallied to his support and he was elected.
I place Mr. Evarts in the foremost rank as a lawyer, a wit, and a diplomat. He tried successfully the most famous cases of his time and repeatedly demonstrated his remarkable genius. As a general railway counsel and, therefore, as an administrator in the retaining of distinguished counsels, I met with many of the best men at the bar, but never any with such a complete and clarified intellect as William M. Evarts. The mysteries of the most complicated cases seemed simple, the legal difficulties plain, and the solution comprehensible to everybody under his analysis.
Mr. Evarts was the wittiest man I ever met. It is difficult to rehabilitate in the sayings of a wit the complete flavor of the utterance. It is easier with a man of humor. Evarts was very proud of his efforts as a farmer on his large estate in Vermont. Among his prizes was a drove of pigs. He sent to Chief Justice Morrison R. Waite a copy of his eulogy on Chief Justice Salmon P. Chase, Waite's predecessor, and at the same time a ham, saying in his letter: "My dear Chief Justice, I send you to-day one of my prize hams and also my eulogy on Chief Justice Chase, both the products of my pen."
The good things Mr. Evarts said would be talked of long after a dinner. I remember on one occasion his famous partner, Mr. Choate, who was a Harvard man, while Evarts was a graduate from Yale, introduced Mr. Evarts by saying that he was surprised that a Yale man, with all the prejudices of that institution against the superior advantages of Harvard, should have risked the coats of his stomach at a Harvard dinner. Mr. Evarts replied: "When I go to a Harvard dinner I always leave the coats of my stomach at home."
Mr. Evarts once told me when I was visiting him at his country place that an old man whom he pointed out, and who was sawing wood, was the most sensible philosopher in the neighborhood. Mr. Evarts said: "He is always talking to himself, and I asked him why." His answer was: "I always talk to myself in preference to talking to anybody else, because I like to talk to a sensible man and to hear a man of sense talk."
VIII. GENERAL GARFIELD
The triumph of the Democrats in Maine in the September election, 1880, had a most depressing effect upon the Republicans and an equally exhilarating one upon the Democrats. The paralyzing effect of the simple utterances in popular elections almost makes one think that every candidate should follow Matthew Quay's famous advice to his candidate for governor: "Beaver, keep your mouth shut."
In the campaign when General Winfield Scott ran for the presidency, he began an important communication by stating that he would answer as soon as he had taken a hasty plate of soup. That "hasty plate of soup" appeared in cartoons, was pictured on walls, etc., in every form of ridicule, and was one of the chief elements of his defeat.
When towards the close of the canvass Garfield had succeeded in making the tariff the leading issue, General Hancock was asked what were his views on the tariff. (You must remember that the general was a soldier and had never been in politics.) The general answered: "The tariff was a purely local issue in Pennsylvania." The whole country burst into a gale of laughter, and Hancock's campaign had a crack which was never mended.
There never were two more picturesque opponents than General Garfield and General Hancock. Hancock was the idol of the Army of the Potomac, and everybody remembered McClellan's despatch after one of the bloodiest battles of the Peninsula campaign: "Hancock was superb to-day." He was an exceedingly handsome man and one of the finest figures in uniform in the whole country.
General Garfield also presented a very fine appearance. He was a large man, well-proportioned, and with very engaging manners. He also had an unusual faculty for attractive public addresses, not only on politics, but many subjects, especially education and patriotism. I never can forget when the news of Lincoln's assassination reached New York. The angry and dangerous crowd which surged up and down Broadway and through Wall Street threatened to wreck the banking and business houses which were supposed to be sympathetic with the Confederates.
Garfield suddenly appeared on the balcony of the Custom House in Wall Street and succeeded in stilling the crowd. With a voice that reached up to Trinity Church he urged calmness in thought and action, deprecated any violence, and then, in an impassioned appeal to hopefulness notwithstanding the tragedy, exclaimed impulsively: "God reigns and the Republic still lives."
I was requested by some friends to visit General Garfield and see how he felt on the political situation, which during the campaign of 1880 did not look hopeful. I took the next train, spent the day with him, and was back in New York the following day.
When I left the train at Cleveland in the morning the newsboys pushed at me a Cleveland Democratic daily, with a rooster's picture covering the whole front page, and the announcement that the Democrats had carried Maine. The belief was universal then that "as Maine goes so goes the Union," and whichever party carried that State in the September election, the country would follow in the presidential contest in November.
I took the next train to Mentor, the residence of General Garfield. I found at the station a score or more of country wagons and carriages waiting for passengers. I said to the farmers: "Will any of you take me up to General Garfield's residence?" One of them answered: "We will all take you up this morning, but if you had come yesterday you would have had to wait your turn."
It was a startling instance of the variableness of public opinion. Delegations from everywhere, on their way to extend greetings to the candidate, had read the morning papers and turned back, deciding not to go.
I found Garfield struggling bravely to overcome the depression which he felt. He was in close touch with the situation everywhere, and discussed it with discrimination and hopefulness.
The most affecting incident occurred while I was talking with him. His mother passed through the room and, patting him on the back, said: "James, the neighbors think it is all right; they are raising a banner at the corner."
Two old soldier friends came in, and the noonday dinner was a rare intellectual feast. The general was a brilliant conversationalist. His mind turned first to the accidents of careers. He asked me if there was not a time in my early struggles when if Providence had offered a modest certainty I would not have exchanged the whole future for it, and then continued: "There was a period in my early struggles as a teacher when, if I had been offered the principalship of an endowed academy, with an adequate salary, with the condition that I must devote myself to its interests and abandon everything else, I am quite sure I would have accepted."
Of course, the hopeful application of this incident to the Maine defeat was that, no such offer having been made or accepted, he had made a glorious career in the army, rising to the head of the General Staff, and for twenty years had been the leading figure in the House of Representatives, and was now a recently elected United States senator and chosen candidate for president.
Then he turned to the instances where victory had been plucked from defeat in battles. After citing many instances he gave a word picture of the Battle of Chickamauga which was the finest thing of the kind I have ever heard or ever read.
After his two comrades left I told him of the interest which my friends were taking in his canvass, and that I would add their contribution to the campaign committee. The general instantly was exultant and jubilant. He fairly shouted: "Have I not proved to you all day that there is always a silver lining to the cloud, and that the darkest hour is just before dawn?"
It was one of the sources of General Garfield's success as an orator that he was very emotional and sentimental. He happily carried with him amid all struggles and disappointments, as well as successes in the making of a career, the buoyant, hopeful, companionable, and affectionate interests which characterize the ambitious senior who has just left college to take his plunge into the activities of life.
So far as our State was concerned, a great deal turned upon the attitude of Senator Conkling. His great and triumphant speech of four hours at the Academy of Music in New York brought all his friends into line, but the greatest help which General Garfield received was from the generous, unselfish, and enthusiastic support of General Grant.
General Grant had been the leading candidate in the convention which finally nominated Garfield, but he voluntarily appeared upon the platform in several States and at Garfield's home. His brief but most effective speeches gathered around Garfield not only the whole of the old-soldier vote but those who had become disaffected or indifferent because of the result of the national Republican convention.
There probably was no canvass where the Republican orator ever had so many opportunities for the exercise of every faculty which he possessed. His candidate had made an excellent record as a soldier in the field and as a statesman in Congress, as an educator and a popular speaker on questions of vital interest, while the opposition presented abundant opportunities for attack.
After the presidential election came the meeting of the New York State legislature for the choosing of a United States senator. The legislature was overwhelmingly Republican, and the organization or machine Republicans were in a large majority. The assembly was organized and the appointment of committees used to make certain the election of an organization man.
A very unusual thing happened. The forces of the organization were divided between two candidates: Thomas C. Platt and Richard Crowley. Mr. Conkling had not declared his preference for either, as they were both devoted friends of his, though he had the power to have made a selection and have that selection accepted by the legislature. Vice-President-elect Chester A. Arthur appeared as manager for Mr. Crowley. Platt conducted his own canvass.
I was called to a meeting in New York, where Mr. Blaine, secretary of state, was present. Mr. Blaine said that administration managers had made a thorough canvass of the legislature and they had found that I was the only one who could control enough anti-organization votes to be elected, and, therefore, General Garfield and his friends had decided that I must enter the race. I did not want to do it, nor did I want the senatorship at that time. However, it seemed a plain duty. A canvass showed that Mr. Platt, Mr. Crowley, and myself had about an equal number of votes. Of course, Mr. Blaine's object was, knowing that Senator Conkling would be hostile to the administration, to prevent his having a colleague who would join with him, and thus place the State of New York against the policies of the incoming president.
After the canvass had been going on for some time, Mr. Platt came to me and asked why I was in it. I told him frankly that I was in it to see, if possible, that the senator-elect should support the administration. He said: "Very well, I will do that."
I immediately called together my supporters. Mr. Platt appeared before them and stated that if elected he would support the president and his administration in every respect. He was asked if he would vote for the confirmation of appointees whom the president might select who were specially in disfavor with Senator Conkling, conspicuously Senator William H. Robertson. Mr. Platt said, "Yes, I will." My friends all went over to him and he was elected.