Knowing Roosevelt as I did, I was determined not to speak, but the fair management and the audience would not be denied. I paid the proper compliments to the president, and then, knowing that humor was the only possible thing with such a tired crowd, I had a rollicking good time with them. They entered into the spirit of the fun and responded in a most uproarious way. I heard Roosevelt turn to the president of the fair and say very angrily: "You promised me, sir, that there would be no other speaker."
When I met the president that evening at a large dinner given by Senator Frank Hiscock, he greeted me with the utmost cordiality. He was in fine form, and early in the dinner took entire charge of the discussion. For three hours he talked most interestingly, and no one else contributed a word. Nevertheless, we all enjoyed the evening, and not the least the president himself.
I used to wonder how he found time, with his great activities and engagements, to read so much. Publishers frequently send me new books. If I thought they would interest him I mentioned the work to him, but invariably he had already read it.
When my first term as senator expired and the question of my re-election was before the legislature, President Roosevelt gave me his most cordial and hearty support.
Events to his credit as president, which will be monuments in history, are extraordinary in number and importance. To mention only a few: He placed the Monroe Doctrine before European governments upon an impregnable basis by his defiance to the German Kaiser, when he refused to accept arbitration and was determined to make war on Venezuela. The president cabled: "Admiral Dewey with the Atlantic Fleet sails to-morrow." And the Kaiser accepted arbitration. Raissuli, the Moroccan bandit, who had seized and held for ransom an American citizen named Perdicaris, gave up his captive on receipt of this cable: "Perdicaris alive or Raissuli dead." He settled the war between Russia and Japan and won the Nobel prize for peace.
Roosevelt built the Panama Canal when other efforts had failed for five hundred years. As senator from his own State, I was in constant consultation with him while he was urging legislation necessary to secure the concession for the construction of the canal. The difficulties to be overcome in both Houses seemed insurmountable, and would have been so except for the marvellous resourcefulness and power of the president.
When the Republican convention met in 1908, I was again delegate at large. It was a Roosevelt convention and crazy to have him renominated. It believed that he could overcome the popular feeling against a third term. Roosevelt did not think so. He believed that in order to make a third term palatable there must be an interval of another and different administration. When the convention found that his decision was unalterably not to accept the nomination himself, it was prepared to accept any one he might advise. He selected his secretary of war and most intimate friend, William Howard Taft. Taft had a delightful personality, and won distinction upon the bench, and had proved an admirable administrator as governor of the Philippine Islands. After Mr. Taft's election the president, in order that the new president and his administration might not be embarrassed by his presence and prestige, went on a two years' trip abroad.
During that trip he was more in the popular mind at home and abroad than almost any one in the world. If he reviewed the German army with the Kaiser, the press was full of the common characteristics and differences between the two men and of the unprecedented event of the guest giving advice to the Kaiser.
When he visited England he told in a public speech of his experience in Egypt, and recommended to the English Government that, if they expected to continue to govern Egypt, to begin to govern it.
All France was aghast and then hilarious when, in an address before the faculties of Sorbonne, he struck at once at the weak point of the future and power of France, and that was race suicide.
XV. UNITED STATES SENATE
My twelve years in the Senate were among the happiest of my life. The Senate has long enjoyed the reputation of being the best club in the world, but it is more than that. My old friend, Senator Bacon, of Georgia, often said that he preferred the position of senator to that of either President or Chief Justice of the United States. There is independence in a term of six years which is of enormous value to the legislative work of the senator. The member of the House, who is compelled to go before his district every two years, must spend most of his time looking after his re-election. Then the Senate, being a smaller body, the associations are very close and intimate. I do not intend to go into discussion of the measures which occupied the attention of the Senate during my time. They are a part of the history of the world. The value of a work of this kind, if it has any value, is in personal incidents.
One of the most delightful associations of a lifetime personally and politically, was that with Vice-President James S. Sherman. During the twenty-two years he was in the House of Representatives he rarely was in the City of New York without coming to see me. He became the best parliamentarian in Congress, and was generally called to the chair when the House met in committee of the whole. He was intimately familiar with every political movement in Washington, and he had a rare talent for discriminatory description, both of events and analysis of the leading characters in the Washington drama. He was one of the wisest of the advisers of the organization of his party, both national and State.
When President Roosevelt had selected Mr. Taft as his successor he made no indication as to the vice-presidency. Of course, the nomination of Mr. Taft under such conditions was a foregone conclusion, and when the convention met it was practically unanimous for Roosevelt's choice. Who was the best man to nominate for vice-president in order to strengthen the ticket embarassed the managers of the Taft campaign. The Republican congressmen who were at the convention were practically unanimous for Sherman, and their leader was Uncle Joe Cannon. We from New York found the Taft managers discussing candidates from every doubtful State. We finally convinced them that New York was the most important, but they had gone so far with State candidates that it became a serious question how to get rid of them without offending their States.
The method adopted by one of the leading managers was both adroit and hazardous. He would call up a candidate on the telephone and say to him: "The friends of Mr. Taft are very favorable to you for vice-president. Will you accept the nomination?" The candidate would hesitate and begin to explain his ambitions, his career and its possibilities, and the matter which he would have to consider. Before the prospective candidate had finished, the manager would say, "Very sorry, deeply regret," and put up the telephone.
When the nomination was made these gentlemen who might have succeeded would come around to the manager and say impatiently and indignantly: "I was all right. Why did you cut me off?" However, those gentlemen have had their compensation. Whenever you meet one of them he will say to you: "I was offered the vice-presidency with Taft but was so situated that I could not accept."
One evening during the convention a wind and rain storm drove everybody indoors. The great lobby of Congress Hall was crowded, and most of them were delegates. Suddenly there was a loud call for a speech, and some husky and athletic citizen seized and lifted me on to a chair. After a story and a joke, which put the crowd into a receptive mood, I made what was practically a nominating speech for Sherman. The response was intense and unanimous. When I came down from a high flight as to the ability and popularity to the human qualities of "Sunny Jim," I found "Sunny Jim" such a taking characterization, and it was echoed and re-echoed. I do not claim that speech nominated Sherman, only that nearly everybody who was present became a most vociferous advocate for Sherman for vice-president.
The position of vice-president is one of the most difficult in our government. Unless the president requests his advice or assistance, he has no public function except presiding over the Senate. No president ever called the vice-president into his councils. McKinley came nearest to it during his administration, with Hobart, but did not keep it up.
President Harding has made a precedent for the future by inviting Vice-President Coolidge to attend all Cabinet meetings. The vice-president has accepted and meets regularly with the Cabinet.
Sherman had one advantage over other vice-presidents in having been for nearly a quarter of a century a leader in Congress. Few, if any, who ever held that office have been so popular with the Senate and so tactful and influential when they undertook the very difficult task of influencing the action of a Senate, very jealous of its prerogatives and easily made resentful and hostile.
Among my colleagues in the Senate were several remarkable men. They had great ability, extraordinary capacity for legislation, and, though not great orators, possessed the rare faculty of pressing their points home in short and effective speeches. Among them was Senator Frye, of Maine. He was for many years chairman of the great committee on commerce. Whatever we had of a merchant marine was largely due to his persistent efforts. He saved the government scores of millions in that most difficult task of pruning the River and Harbor Bill. He possessed the absolute confidence of both parties, and was the only senator who could generally carry the Senate with him for or against a measure. While wise and the possessor of the largest measure of common sense, yet he was one of the most simple-minded of men. I mean by this that he had no guile and suspected none in others. Whatever was uppermost in his mind came out. These characteristics made him one of the most delightful of companions and one of the most harmonious men to work with on a committee.
Clement A. Griscom, the most prominent American ship owner and director, was very fond of Senator Frye. Griscom entertained delightfully at his country home near Philadelphia. He told me that at one time Senator Frye was his guest over a week-end. To meet the senator at dinner on Saturday evening, he had invited great bankers, lawyers, and captains of industry of Philadelphia. Their conversation ran from enterprises and combinations involving successful industries and exploitations to individual fortunes and how they were accumulated. The atmosphere was heavy with millions and billions. Suddenly Griscom turned to Senator Frye and said: "I know that our successful friends here would not only be glad to hear but would learn much if you would tell us of your career." "It is not much to tell," said Senator Frye, "especially after these stories which are like chapters from the 'Arabian Nights.' I was very successful as a young lawyer and rising to a leading practice and head of the bar of my State when I was offered an election to the House of Representatives. I felt that it would be a permanent career and that there was no money in it. I consulted my wife and told her that it meant giving up all prospects of accumulating a fortune or independence even, but it was my ambition, and I believed I could perform valuable service to the public, and that as a career its general usefulness would far surpass any success at the bar. My wife agreed with me cordially and said that she would economize on her part to any extent required.
"So," the senator continued, "I have been nearly thirty years in Congress, part of this time in the House and the rest in the Senate. I have been able on my salary to meet our modest requirements and educate our children. I have never been in debt but once. Of course, we had to calculate closely and set aside sufficient to meet our extra expenses in Washington and our ordinary one at home. We came out a little ahead every year but one. That year the president very unexpectedly called an extra session, and for the first time in twenty years I was in debt to our landlord in Washington."
Griscom told me that this simple narrative of a statesman of national reputation seemed to make the monumental achievements of his millionaire guests of little account.
Senator Frye's genial personality and vivid conversation made him a welcome guest at all entertainments in Washington. There was a lady at the capital at that time who entertained a great deal and was very popular on her own account, but she always began the conversation with the gentleman who took her out by narrating how she won her husband. I said one day to Senator Frye: "There will be a notable gathering at So-and-So's dinner to-night. Are you going?" He answered: "Yes, I will be there; but it has been my lot to escort to dinner this lady"—naming her—"thirteen times this winter. She has told me thirteen times the story of her courtship. If it is my luck to be assigned to her to-night, and she starts that story, I shall leave the table and the house and go home."
Senator Aldrich, of Rhode Island, was once called by Senator Quay the schoolmaster of the Senate. As the head of the finance committee he had commanding influence, and with his skill in legislation and intimate knowledge of the rules he was the leader whenever he chose to lead. This he always did when the policy he desired or the measure he was promoting had a majority, and the opposition resorted to obstructive tactics. As there is no restriction on debate in the Senate, or was none at my time, the only way the minority could defeat the majority was by talking the bill to death. I never knew this method to be used successfully but once, because in the trial of endurance the greater number wins. The only successful talk against time was by Senator Carter, of Montana. Carter was a capital debater. He was invaluable at periods when the discussion had become very bitter and personal. Then in his most suave way he would soothe the angry elements and bring the Senate back to a calm consideration of the question. When he arose on such occasions, the usual remark among those who still kept their heads was: "Carter will now bring out his oil can and pour oil upon the troubled waters"—and it usually proved effective.
Senator George F. Hoar, of Massachusetts, seemed to be a revival of what we pictured in imagination as the statesmen who framed the Constitution of the United States, or the senators who sat with Webster, Clay, and Calhoun. He was a man of lofty ideals and devotion to public service. He gave to each subject on which he spoke an elevation and dignity that lifted it out of ordinary senatorial discussions. He had met and knew intimately most of the historical characters in our public life for fifty years, and was one of the most entertaining and instructive conversationalists whom I ever met.
On the other hand, Senator Benjamin Tillman, of South Carolina, who was an ardent admirer of Senator Hoar, was his opposite in every way. Tillman and I became very good friends, though at first he was exceedingly hostile. He hated everything which I represented. With all his roughness, and at the beginning his brutality, he had a singular streak of sentiment.
I addressed the first dinner of the Gridiron Club at its organization and have been their guest many times since. The Gridiron Club is an association of the newspaper correspondents at Washington, and their dinners several times a year are looked forward to with the utmost interest and enjoyed by everybody privileged to attend.
The Gridiron Club planned an excursion to Charleston, S. C., that city having extended to them an invitation. They invited me to go with them and also Senator Tillman. Tillman refused to be introduced to me because I was chairman of the board of directors of the New York Central Railroad, and he hated my associations and associates. We had a wonderful welcome from the most hospitable of cities, the most beautifully located City of Charleston. On the many excursions, luncheons, and gatherings, I was put forward to do the speaking, which amounted to several efforts a day during our three days' visit. The Gridiron stunt for Charleston was very audacious. There were many speakers, of course, including Senator Tillman, who hated Charleston and the Charlestonians, because he regarded them as aristocrats and told them so. There were many invited to speak who left their dinners untasted while they devoted themselves to looking over their manuscripts, and whose names were read in the list at the end of the dinner, but their speeches were never called for.
On our way home we stopped for luncheon at a place outside of Charleston. During the luncheon an earthquake shook the table and rattled the plates. I was called upon to make the farewell address for the Gridiron Club to the State of South Carolina. Of course the earthquake and its possibilities gave an opportunity for pathos as well as humor, and Tillman was deeply affected. When we were on the train he came to me and with great emotion grasped my hand and said: "Chauncey Depew, I was mistaken about you. You are a damn good fellow." And we were good friends until he died.
I asked Tillman to what he owed his phenomenal rise and strength in the conservative State of South Carolina. He answered: "We in our State were governed by a class during the colonial period and afterwards until the end of the Civil War. They owned large plantations, hundreds of thousands of negroes, were educated for public life, represented our State admirably, and did great service to the country. They were aristocrats and paid little attention to us poor farmers, who constituted the majority of the people. The only difference between us was that they had been colonels or generals in the Revolutionary War, or delegates to the Continental Congress or the Constitutional Convention, while we had been privates, corporals, or sergeants. They generally owned a thousand slaves, and we had from ten to thirty. I made up my mind that we should have a share of the honors, and they laughed at me. I organized the majority and put the old families out of business, and we became and are the rulers of the State."
Among the most brilliant debaters of any legislative body were Senators Joseph W. Bailey, of Texas, and John C. Spooner, of Wisconsin. They would have adorned and given distinction to any legislative body in the world. Senator Albert J. Beveridge, of Indiana, and Senator Joseph B. Foraker, of Ohio, were speakers of a very high type. The Senate still has the statesmanship, eloquence, scholarship, vision, and culture of Senator Lodge, of Massachusetts.
One of the wonders of the Senate was Senator W. M. Crane, of Massachusetts. He never made a speech. I do not remember that he ever made a motion. Yet he was the most influential member of that body. His wisdom, tact, sound judgment, encyclopaedic knowledge of public affairs and of public men made him an authority.
Senator Hanna, who was a business man pure and simple, and wholly unfamiliar with legislative ways, developed into a speaker of remarkable force and influence. At the same time, on the social side, with his frequent entertainments, he did more for the measures in which he was interested. They were mainly, of course, of a financial and economic character.
One of the characters of the Senate, and one of the upheavals of the Populist movement was Senator Jeff. Davis, of Arkansas. Davis was loudly, vociferously, and clamorously a friend of the people. Precisely what he did to benefit the people was never very clear, but if we must take his word for it, he was the only friend the people had. Among his efforts to help the people was to denounce big business of all kinds and anything which gave large employment or had great capital. I think that in his own mind the ideal state would have been made of small landowners and an occasional lawyer. He himself was a lawyer.
One day he attacked me, as I was sitting there listening to him, in a most vicious way, as the representative of big corporations, especially railroads, and one of the leading men in the worst city in the world, New York, and as the associate of bankers and capitalists. When he finished Senator Crane went over to his seat and told him that he had made a great mistake, warned him that he had gone so far that I might be dangerous to him personally, but in addition to that, with my ridicule and humor, I would make him the laughing-stock of the Senate and of the country. Jeff, greatly alarmed, waddled over to my seat and said: "Senator Depew, I hope you did not take seriously what I said. I did not mean anything against you. I won't do it again, but I thought that you would not care, because it won't hurt you, and it does help me out in Arkansas." I replied: "Jeff, old man, if it helps you, do it as often as you like." Needless to say, he did not repeat.
I have always been deeply interested in the preservation of the forests and a warm advocate of forest preservers. I made a study of the situation of the Appalachian Mountains, where the lumberman was doing his worst, and millions of acres of fertile soil from the denuded hills were being swept by the floods into the ocean every year. I made a report from my committee for the purchase of this preserve, affecting, as it did, eight States, and supported it in a speech. Senator Eugene Hale, a Senate leader of controlling influence, had been generally opposed to this legislation. He became interested, and, when I had finished my speech, came over to me and said: "I never gave much attention to this subject. You have convinced me and this bill should be passed at once, and I will make the motion." Several senators from the States affected asked for delay in order that they might deliver speeches for local consumption. The psychological moment passed and that legislation could not be revived until ten years afterwards, and then in a seriously modified form.
I worked very hard for the American mercantile marine. A subsidy of four million dollars a year in mail contracts would have been sufficient, in addition to the earnings of the ships, to have given us lines to South and Central America, Australia, and Asia.
Shakespeare's famous statement that a rose by any other name would smell as sweet has exceptions. In the psychology of the American mind the word subsidy is fatal to any measure. After the most careful investigation, while I was in the Senate, I verified this statement, that a mail subsidy of four millions a year would give to the United States a mercantile marine which would open new trade routes for our commerce. This contribution would enable the ship-owners to meet the losses which made it impossible for them to compete with the ships of other countries, some having subsidies and all under cheaper expenses of operation. It would not all be a contribution because part of it was a legitimate charge for carrying the mails. The word subsidy, however, could be relied upon to start a flood of fiery oratory, charging that the people of the United States were to be taxed to pour money into the pockets of speculators in New York and financial crooks in Wall Street.
We have now created a mercantile marine through the Shipping Board which is the wonder and amazement of the world. It has cost about five hundred millions. Part of it is junk already, and a part available is run at immense loss, owing to discriminatory laws. Recently a bill was presented to Congress for something like sixty millions of dollars to make up the losses in the operations of our mercantile marine for the year. While a subsidy of four millions under private management would have been a success but was vetoed as a crime, the sixty millions are hailed as a patriotic contribution to public necessity.
A river and harbor bill of from thirty to fifty millions of dollars was eagerly anticipated and enthusiastically supported. It was known to be a give and take, a swap and exchange, where a few indispensable improvements had to carry a large number of dredgings of streams, creeks, and bayous, which never could be made navigable. Many millions a year were thrown away in these river and harbor bills, but four millions a year to restore the American mercantile marine aroused a flood of indignant eloquence, fierce protest, and wild denunciation of capitalists, who would build and own ships, and it was always fatal to the mercantile marine.
Happily the war has, among its benefits, demonstrated to the interior and mountain States that a merchant marine is as necessary to the United States as its navy, and that we cannot hope to expand and retain our trade unless we have the ships.
I remember one year when the river and harbor bill came up for passage on the day before final adjournment. The hour had been fixed by both Houses, and, therefore, could not be extended by one House. The administration was afraid of the bill because of the many indefensible extravagances there were in it. At the same time, it had so many political possibilities that the president was afraid to veto it. Senator Carter was always a loyal administration man, and so he was put forward to talk the bill to death. He kept it up without yielding the floor for thirteen hours, and until the hour of adjournment made action upon the measure impossible.
I sat there all night long, watching this remarkable effort. The usual obstructor soon uses up all his own material and then sends pages of irrelevant matter to the desk for the clerk to read, or he reads himself from the pages of the Record, or from books, but Carter stuck to his text. He was a man of wit and humor. Many items in the river and harbor bill furnished him with an opportunity of showing how creeks and trout streams were to be turned by the magic of the money of the Treasury into navigable rivers, and inaccessible ponds were to be dredged into harbors to float the navies of the world.
The speech was very rich in anecdotes and delightful in its success by an adroit attack of tempting a supporter of the measure into aiding the filibuster by indignantly denying the charge which Carter had made against him. By this method Carter would get a rest by the folly of his opponent. The Senate was full and the galleries were crowded during the whole night, and when the gavel of the vice-president announced that no further debate was admissible and the time for adjournment had arrived, and began to make his farewell speech, Carter took his seat amidst the wreck of millions and the hopes of the exploiters, and the Treasury of the United States had been saved by an unexpected champion.
The country does not appreciate the tremendous power of the committees, as legislative business constantly increases with almost geometrical progression. The legislation of the country is handled almost entirely in committees. It requires a possible revolution to overcome the hostility of a committee, even if the House and the country are otherwise minded. Some men whose names do not appear at all in the Congressional Record, and seldom in the newspapers, have a certain talent for drudgery and detail which is very rare, and when added to shrewdness and knowledge of human nature makes such a senator or representative a force to be reckoned with on committees. Such a man is able to hold up almost anything.
I found during my Washington life the enormous importance of its social side. Here are several hundred men in the two Houses of Congress, far above the average in intelligence, force of character, and ability to accomplish things. Otherwise they would not have been elected. They are very isolated and enjoy far beyond those who have the opportunity of club life, social attentions. At dinner the real character of the guest comes out, and he is most responsive to these attentions. Mrs. Depew and I gave a great many dinners, to our intense enjoyment and, I might say, education. By this method I learned to know in a way more intimate than otherwise would have been possible many of the most interesting characters I have ever met.
Something must be done, and that speedily, to bridge the widening chasm between the Executive and the Congress. Our experience with President Wilson has demonstrated this. As a self-centred autocrat, confident of himself and suspicious of others, hostile to advice or discussion, he became the absolute master of the Congress while his party was in the majority.
The Congress, instead of being a co-ordinate branch, was really in session only to accept, adopt, and put into laws the imperious will of the president. When, however, the majority changed, there being no confidence between the executive and the legislative branch of the government, the necessary procedure was almost paralyzed. The president was unyielding and the Congress insisted upon the recognition of its constitutional rights. Even if the president is, as McKinley was, in close and frequent touch with the Senate and the House of Representatives, the relation is temporary and unequal, and not what it ought to be, automatic.
Happily we have started a budget system; but the Cabinet should have seats on the floor of the Houses, and authority to answer questions and participate in debates. Unless our system was radically changed, we could not adopt the English plan of selecting the members of the Cabinet entirely from the Senate and the House. But we could have an administration always in close touch with the Congress if the Cabinet members were in attendance when matters affecting their several departments were under discussion and action.
I heard Senator Nelson W. Aldrich, who was one of the shrewdest and ablest legislators of our generation, say that if business methods were applied to the business of the government in a way in which he could do it, there would be a saving of three hundred millions of dollars a year. We are, since the Great War, facing appropriations of five or six billions of dollars a year. I think the saving of three hundred millions suggested by Senator Aldrich could be increased in proportion to the vast increase in appropriations.
There has been much discussion about restricting unlimited debates in the Senate and adopting a rigid closure rule. My own recollection is that during my twelve years unlimited discussion defeated no good measure, but talked many bad ones to death. There is a curious feature in legislative discussion, and that is the way in which senators who have accustomed themselves to speak every day on each question apparently increase their vocabulary as their ideas evaporate. Two senators in my time, who could be relied upon to talk smoothly as the placid waters of a running brook for an hour or more every day, had the singular faculty of apparently saying much of importance while really developing no ideas. In order to understand them, while the Senate would become empty by its members going to their committee rooms, I would be a patient listener. I finally gave that up because, though endowed with reasonable intelligence and an intense desire for knowledge, I never could grasp what they were driving at.
XVI. AMBASSADORS AND MINISTERS
The United States has always been admirably represented at the Court of St. James. I consider it as a rare privilege and a delightful memory that I have known well these distinguished ambassadors and ministers who served during my time. I was not in England while Charles Francis Adams was a minister, but his work during the Civil War created intense interest in America. It is admitted that he prevented Great Britain from taking such action as would have prolonged the war and endangered the purpose which Mr. Lincoln was trying to accomplish, namely, the preservation of the Union. His curt answer to Lord John Russell, "This means war," changed the policy of the British Government.
James Russell Lowell met every requirement of the position, but, more than that, his works had been read and admired in England before his appointment. Literary England welcomed him with open arms, and official England soon became impressed with his diplomatic ability. He was one of the finest after-dinner speakers, and that brought him in contact with the best of English public life. He told me an amusing instance. As soon as he was appointed, everybody who expected to meet him sent to the book stores and purchased his works. Among them, of course, was the "Biglow Papers." One lady asked him if he had brought Mrs. Biglow with him.
The secretary of the embassy, William J. Hoppin, was a very accomplished gentleman. He had been president of the Union League Club, and I knew him very well. I called one day at the embassy with an American living in Europe to ask for a favor for this fellow countryman. The embassy was overwhelmed with Americans asking favors, so Hoppin, without looking at me or waiting for the request, at once brought out his formula for sliding his visitors on an inclined plane into the street. He said: "Every American—and there are thousands of them—who comes to London visits the embassy. They all want to be invited to Buckingham Palace or to have cards to the House of Lords or the House of Commons. Our privileges in that respect are very few, so few that we can satisfy hardly anybody. Why Americans, when there is so much to see in this old country from which our ancestry came, and with whose literature we are so familiar, should want to try to get into Buckingham Palace or the Houses of Parliament is incomprehensible. There is a very admirable cattle show at Reading. I have a few tickets and will give them to you, gentlemen, gladly. You will find the show exceedingly interesting."
I took the tickets, but if there is anything of which I am not a qualified judge, it is prize cattle. That night, at a large dinner given by a well-known English host, my friend Hoppin was present, and at once greeted me with warm cordiality. Of course, he had no recollections of the morning meeting. Our host, as usual when a new American is present, wanted to know if I had any fresh American stories, and I told with some exaggeration and embroidery the story of the Reading cattle show. Dear old Hoppin was considerably embarrassed at the chafing he received, but took it in good part, and thereafter the embassy was entirely at my service.
Mr. Edward J. Phelps was an extraordinary success. He was a great lawyer, and the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States told me that there was no one who appeared before that Court whose arguments were more satisfactory and convincing than those of Mr. Phelps. He had the rare distinction of being a frequent guest at the Benchers' dinners in London. One of the English judges told me that at a Benchers' dinner the judges were discussing a novel point which had arisen in one of the cases recently before them. He said that in the discussion in which Mr. Phelps was asked to participate, the view which the United States minister presented was so forcible that the decision, which had been practically agreed upon, was changed to meet Mr. Phelps's view. I was at several of Mr. Phelps's dinners. They were remarkable gatherings of the best in almost every department of English life.
At one of his dinners I had a delightful talk with Browning, the poet. Browning told me that as a young man he was several times a guest at the famous breakfasts of the poet and banker, Samuel Rogers. Rogers, he said, was most arbitrary at these breakfasts with his guests, and rebuked him severely for venturing beyond the limits within which he thought a young poet should be confined.
Mr. Browning said that nothing gratified him so much as the popularity of his works in the United States. He was especially pleased and also embarrassed by our Browning societies, of which there seemed to be a great many over here. They sent him papers which were read by members of the societies, interpreting his poems. These American friends discovered meanings which had never occurred to him, and were to him an entirely novel view of his own productions. He also mentioned that every one sent him presents and souvenirs, all of them as appreciations and some as suggestions and help. Among these were several cases of American wine. He appreciated the purpose of the gifts, but the fluid did not appeal to him.
He told me he was a guest at one time at the dinners given to the Shah of Persia. This monarch was a barbarian, but the British Foreign Office had asked and extended to him every possible courtesy, because of the struggle then going on as to whether Great Britain or France or Russia should have the better part of Persia. France and Russia had entertained him with lavish military displays and other governmental functions, which a democratic country like Great Britain could not duplicate. So the Foreign Office asked all who had great houses in London or in the country, and were lavish entertainers, to do everything they could for the Shah.
Browning was present at a great dinner given for the Shah at Stafford House, the home of the Duke of Sutherland, and the finest palace in London. Every guest was asked, in order to impress the Shah, to come in all the decorations to which they were entitled. The result was that the peers came in their robes, which they otherwise would not have thought of wearing on such an occasion, and all others in the costumes of honor significant of their rank. Browning said he had received a degree at Oxford and that entitled him to a scarlet cloak. He was so outranked, because the guests were placed according to rank, that he sat at the foot of the table. The Shah said to his host: "Who is that distinguished gentleman in the scarlet cloak at the other end of the table?" The host answered: "That is one of our greatest poets." "That is no place for a poet," remarked the Shah; "bring him up here and let him sit next to me." So at the royal command the poet took the seat of honor. The Shah said to Browning: "I am mighty glad to have you near me, for I am a poet myself."
It was at this dinner that Browning heard the Shah say to the Prince of Wales, who sat at the right of the Shah: "This is a wonderful palace. Is it royal?" The Prince answered: "No, it belongs to one of our great noblemen, the Duke of Sutherland." "Well," said the Shah, "let me give you a point. When one of my noblemen or subjects gets rich enough to own a palace like this, I cut off his head and take his fortune."
A very beautiful English lady told me that she was at Ferdinand Rothschild's, where the Shah was being entertained. In order to minimize his acquisitive talents, the wonderful treasures of Mr. Rothschild's house had been hidden. The Shah asked for an introduction to this lady and said to her: "You are the most beautiful woman I have seen since I have been in England. I must take you home with me." "But," she said, "Your Majesty, I am married." "Well," he replied, "bring your husband along. When we get to Teheran, my capital, I will take care of him."
Mr. Phelps's talent as a speaker was quite unknown to his countrymen before he went abroad. While he was a minister he made several notable addresses, which aroused a great deal of interest and admiration in Great Britain. He was equally happy in formal orations and in the field of after-dinner speeches. Mrs. Phelps had such a phenomenal success socially that, when her husband was recalled and they left England, the ladies of both the great parties united, and through Lady Rosebery, the leader of the Liberal, and Lady Salisbury, of the Conservative, women, paid her a very unusual and complimentary tribute.
During John Hay's term as United States minister to Great Britain my visits to England were very delightful. Hay was one of the most charming men in public life of his period. He had won great success in journalism, as an author, and in public service. At his house in London one would meet almost everybody worth while in English literary, public, and social life.
In the hours of conversation with him, when I was posting him on the latest developments in America, his comments upon the leading characters of the time were most racy and witty. Many of them would have embalmed a statesman, if the epigram had been preserved, like a fly in amber. He had officially a very difficult task during the Spanish War. The sympathies of all European governments were with Spain. This was especially true of the Kaiser and the German Government. It was Mr. Hay's task to keep Great Britain neutral and prevent her joining the general alliance to help Spain, which some of the continental governments were fomenting.
Happily, Mr. Balfour, the British foreign minister, was cordially and openly our friend. He prevented this combination against the United States.
During part of my term as a senator John Hay was secretary of state. To visit his office and have a discussion on current affairs was an event to be remembered. He made a prediction, which was the result of his own difficulties with the Senate, that on account of the two-thirds majority necessary for the ratification of a treaty, no important treaty sent to the Senate by the president would ever again be ratified. Happily this gloomy view has not turned out to be entirely correct.
Mr. Hay saved China, in the settlement of the indemnities arising out of the Boxer trouble, from the greed of the great powers of Europe. One of his greatest achievements was in proclaiming the open door for China and securing the acquiescence of the great powers. It was a bluff on his part, because he never could have had the active support of the United States, but he made his proposition with a confidence which carried the belief that he had no doubt on that subject. He was fortunately dealing with governments who did not understand the United States and do not now. With them, when a foreign minister makes a serious statement of policy, it is understood that he has behind him the whole military, naval, and financial support of his government. But with us it is a long road and a very rocky one, before action so serious, with consequences so great, can receive the approval of the war-making power in Congress.
I called on Hay one morning just as Cassini, the Russian ambassador, was leaving. Cassini was one of the shrewdest and ablest of diplomats in the Russian service. It was said that for twelve years he had got the better of all the delegations at Pekin and controlled that extraordinary ruler of China, the dowager queen. Cassini told me that from his intimate associations with her he had formed the opinion that she was quite equal to Catherine of Russia, whom he regarded as the greatest woman sovereign who ever lived.
Hay said to me: "I have just had a very long and very remarkable discussion with Cassini. He is a revelation in the way of secret diplomacy. He brought to me the voluminous instructions to him of his government on our open-door policy. After we had gone over them carefully, he closed his portfolio and, pushing it aside, said: 'Now, Mr. Secretary, listen to Cassini.' He immediately presented an exactly opposite policy from the one in the instructions, and a policy entirely favorable to us, and said: 'That is what my government will do.'" It was a great loss to Russian diplomacy when he died so early.
As senator I did all in my power to bring about the appointment of Whitelaw Reid as ambassador to Great Britain. He and I had been friends ever since his beginning in journalism in New York many years before. Reid was then the owner and editor of the New York Tribune, and one of the most brilliant journalists in the country. He was also an excellent public speaker. His long and intimate contact with public affairs and intimacy with public men ideally fitted him for the appointment. He had already served with great credit as ambassador to France.
The compensation of our representatives abroad always has been and still is entirely inadequate to enable them to maintain, in comparison with the representatives of other governments, the dignity of their own country. All the other great powers at the principal capitals maintain fine residences for their ambassadors, which also is the embassy. Our Congress, except within the last few years, has always refused to make this provision. The salary which we pay is scarcely ever more than one-third the amount paid by European governments in similar service.
I worked hard while in the Senate to improve this situation because of my intimate knowledge of the question. When I first began the effort I found there was very strong belief that the whole foreign service was an unnecessary expense. When Mr. Roosevelt first became president, and I had to see him frequently about diplomatic appointments, I learned that this was his view. He said to me: "This foreign business of the government, now that the cable is perfected, can be carried on between our State Department and the chancellery of any government in the world. Nevertheless, I am in favor of keeping up the diplomatic service. All the old nations have various methods of rewarding distinguished public servants. The only one we have is the diplomatic service. So when I appoint a man ambassador or minister, I believe that I am giving him a decoration, and the reason I change ambassadors and ministers is that I want as many as possible to possess it."
The longer Mr. Roosevelt remained president, and the closer he came to our foreign relations, the more he appreciated the value of the personal contact and intimate knowledge on the spot of an American ambassador or minister.
Mr. Reid entertained more lavishly and hospitably than any ambassador in England ever had, both at his London house and at his estate in the country. He appreciated the growing necessity to the peace of the world and the progress of civilization of closer union of English-speaking peoples. At his beautiful and delightful entertainments Americans came in contact with Englishmen under conditions most favorable for the appreciation by each of the other. The charm of Mr. and Mrs. Whitelaw Reid's hospitality was so genuine, so cordial, and so universal, that to be their guest was an event for Americans visiting England. There is no capital in the world where hospitality counts for so much as in London, and no country where the house-party brings people together under such favorable conditions. Both the city and the country homes of Mr. and Mrs. Reid were universities of international good-feeling. Mr. Reid, on the official side, admirably represented his country and had the most intimate relations with the governing powers of Great Britain.
I recall with the keenest pleasure how much my old friend, Joseph H. Choate, did to make each one of my visits to London during his term full of the most charming and valuable recollections. His dinners felt the magnetism of his presence, and he showed especial skill in having, to meet his American guests, just the famous men in London life whom the American desired to know.
Choate was a fine conversationalist, a wit and a humorist of a high order. His audacity won great triumphs, but if exercised by a man less endowed would have brought him continuously into trouble. He had the faculty, the art, of so directing conversation that at his entertainments everybody had a good time, and an invitation always was highly prized. He was appreciated most highly by the English bench and bar. They recognized him as the leader of his profession in the United States. They elected him a Bencher of the Middle Temple, the first American to receive that honor after an interval of one hundred and fifty years. Choate's witticisms and repartees became the social currency of dinner-tables in London and week-end parties in the country.
Choate paid little attention to conventionalities, which count for so much and are so rigidly enforced, especially in royal circles. I had frequently been at receptions, garden-parties, and other entertainments at Buckingham Palace in the time of Queen Victoria and also of King Edward. At an evening reception the diplomats representing all the countries in the world stand in a solemn row, according to rank and length of service. They are covered with decorations and gold lace. The weight of the gold lace on some of the uniforms of the minor powers is as great as if it were a coat of armor. Mr. Choate, under regulations of our diplomatic service, could only appear in an ordinary dress suit.
While the diplomats stand in solemn array, the king and queen go along the line and greet each one with appropriate remarks. Nobody but an ambassador and minister gets into that brilliant circle. On one occasion Mr. Choate saw me standing with the other guests outside the charmed circle and immediately left the diplomats, came to me, and said: "I am sure you would like to have a talk with the queen." He went up to Her Majesty, stated the case and who I was, and the proposition was most graciously received. I think the royalties were pleased to have a break in the formal etiquette. Mr. Choate treated the occasion, so far as I was concerned, as if it had been a reception in New York or Salem, and a distinguished guest wanted to meet the hosts. The gold-laced and bejewelled and highly decorated diplomatic circle was paralyzed.
Mr. Choate's delightful personality and original conversational powers made him a favorite guest everywhere, but he also carried to the platform the distinction which had won for him the reputation of being one of the finest orators in the United States.
Choate asked at one time when I was almost nightly making speeches at some entertainment: "How do you do it?" I told him I was risking whatever reputation I had on account of very limited preparation, that I did not let these speeches interfere at all with my business, but that they were all prepared after I had arrived home from my office late in the afternoon. Sometimes they came easy, and I reached the dinner in time; at other times they were more difficult, and I did not arrive till the speaking had begun. Then he said: "I enjoy making these after-dinner addresses more than any other work. It is a perfect delight for me to speak to such an audience, but I have not the gift of quick and easy preparation. I accept comparatively few of the constant invitations I receive, because when I have to make such a speech I take a corner in the car in the morning going to my office, exclude all the intruding public with a newspaper and think all the way down. I continue the same process on my way home in the evening, and it takes about three days of this absorption and exclusiveness, with some time in the evenings, to get an address with which I am satisfied."
The delicious humor of these efforts of Mr. Choate and the wonderful way in which he could expose a current delusion, or what he thought was one, and produce an impression not only on his audience but on the whole community, when his speech was printed in the newspapers, was a kind of effort which necessarily required preparation. In all the many times I heard him, both at home and abroad, he never had a failure and sometimes made a sensation.
Among the many interesting characters whom I met on shipboard was Emory Storrs, a famous Chicago lawyer. Storrs was a genius of rare talent as an advocator. He also on occasions would make a most successful speech, but his efforts were unequal. At one session of the National Bar Association he carried off all honors at their banquet. Of course, they wanted him the next year, but then he failed entirely to meet their expectations.. Storrs was one of the most successful advocates at the criminal bar, especially in murder cases. He rarely failed to get an acquittal for his client. He told me many interesting stories of his experiences. He had a wide circuit, owing to his reputation, and tried cases far distant from home.
I remember one of his experiences in an out-of-the-way county of Arkansas. The hotel where they all stopped was very primitive, and he had the same table with the judge. The most attractive offer for breakfast by the landlady was buckwheat-cakes. She appeared with a jug of molasses and said to the judge: "Will you have a trickle or a dab?" The judge answered: "A dab." She then ran her fingers around the jug and slapped a huge amount of molasses on the judge's cakes. Storrs said: "I think I prefer a trickle." Whereupon she dipped her fingers again in the jug and let the drops fall from them on Storrs's cakes. The landlady was disappointed because her cakes were unpopular with such distinguished gentlemen.
Once Storrs was going abroad on the same ship with me on a sort of semi-diplomatic mission. He was deeply read in English literature and, as far as a stranger could be, familiar with the places made famous in English and foreign classics.
He was one of the factors, as chairman of the Illinois delegation, of the conditions which made possible the nomination of Garfield and Arthur. In the following presidential campaign he took an active and very useful part. Then he brought all the influences that he could use, and they were many, to bear upon President Arthur to make him attorney-general. Arthur was a strict formalist and could not tolerate the thought of having such an eccentric genius in his Cabinet. Storrs was not only disappointed but hurt that Arthur declined to appoint him.
To make him happy his rich clients—and he had many of them—raised a handsome purse and urged him to make a European trip. Then the president added to the pleasure of his journey by giving him an appointment as a sort of roving diplomat, with special duties relating to the acute trouble then existing in regard to the admission of American cattle into Great Britain. They were barred because of a supposed infectious disease.
Storrs's weakness was neckties. He told me that he had three hundred and sixty-five, a new one for every day. He would come on deck every morning, display his fresh necktie, and receive a compliment upon its color and appropriateness, and then take from his pocket a huge water-proof envelope. From this he would unroll his parchment appointment as a diplomat, and the letters he had to almost every one of distinction in Europe. On the last day, going through the same ceremony, he said to me: "I am not showing you these things out of vanity, but to impress upon you the one thing I most want to accomplish in London. I desire to compel James Russell Lowell, our minister, to give me a dinner."
Probably no man in the world could be selected so antipathetic to Lowell as Emory Storrs. Mr. Lowell told me that he was annoyed that the president should have sent an interloper to meddle with negotiations which he had in successful progress to a satisfactory conclusion. So he invited Storrs to dinner, and then Storrs took no further interest in his diplomatic mission.
Mr. Lowell told me that he asked Storrs to name whoever he wanted to invite. He supposed from his general analysis of the man that Storrs would want the entire royal family. He was delighted to find that the selection was confined entirely to authors, artists, and scientists.
On my return trip Mr. Storrs was again a fellow passenger. He was very enthusiastic over the places of historic interest he had visited, and eloquent and graphic in descriptions of them and of his own intense feelings when he came in contact with things he had dreamed of most of his life.
"But," he said, "I will tell you of my greatest adventure. I was in the picture-gallery at Dresden, and in that small room where hangs Raphael's 'Madonna.' I was standing before this wonderful masterpiece of divine inspiration when I felt the room crowded. I discovered that the visitors were all Americans and all looking at me. I said to them: 'Ladies and gentlemen, you are here in the presence of the most wonderful picture ever painted. If you study it, you can see that there is little doubt but with all his genius Raphael in this work had inspiration from above, and yet you, as Americans, instead of availing yourselves of the rarest of opportunities, have your eyes bent on me. I am only a Chicago lawyer wearing a Chicago-made suit of clothes.'
"A gentleman stepped forward and said: 'Mr. Storrs, on behalf of your countrymen and countrywomen present, I wish to say that you are of more interest to us than all the works of Raphael put together, because we understand that James Russell Lowell, United States Minister to Great Britain, gave you a dinner.'"
One other incident in my acquaintance with Mr. Storrs was original. I heard the story of it both from him and Lord Coleridge, and they did not differ materially. Lord Coleridge, Chief Justice of England, was a most welcome visitor when he came to the United States. He received invitations from the State Bar Associations everywhere to accept their hospitality. I conducted him on part of his trip and found him one of the most able and delightful of men. He was a very fine speaker, more in our way than the English, and made a first-class impression upon all the audiences he addressed.
At Chicago Lord Coleridge was entertained by the Bar Association of the State of Illinois. Storrs, who was an eminent member of the bar of that State, came to him and said: "Now, Lord Coleridge, you have been entertained by the Bar Association. I want you to know the real men of the West, the captains of industry who have created this city, built our railroads, and made the Great West what it is." Coleridge replied that he did not want to go outside bar associations, and he could not think of making another speech in Chicago. Storrs assured him it would be purely a private affair and no speeches permitted.
The dinner was very late, but when they sat down Lord Coleridge noticed a distinguished-looking gentleman, instead of eating his dinner, correcting a manuscript. He said: "Mr. Storrs, I understood there was to be no speaking." "Well," said Storrs, "you can't get Americans together unless some one takes the floor. That man with the manuscript is General and Senator John A. Logan, one of our most distinguished citizens." Just then a reporter came up to Storrs and said: "Mr. Storrs, we have the slips of your speech in our office, and it is now set up with the laughter and applause in their proper places. The editor sent me up to see if you wanted to add anything." Of course Lord Coleridge was in for it and had to make another speech.
The cause of the lateness of the dinner is the most original incident that I know of in historic banquets. Storrs received great fees and had a large income, but was very careless about his business matters. One of his creditors obtained a judgment against him. The lawyer for this creditor was a guest at this dinner and asked the landlord of the hotel if the dinner had been paid for in advance. The landlord answered in the affirmative, and so the lawyer telephoned to the sheriff, and had the dinner levied upon. The sheriff refused to allow it to be served until the judgment was satisfied. There were at least a hundred millions of dollars represented among the guests, packers, elevator men, real-estate operators, and grain operators, but millionaires and multimillionaires in dress suits at a banquet never have any money on their persons. So it was an hour or more before the sheriff was satisfied. Lord Coleridge was intensely amused and related the adventure with great glee.
Several years afterwards Lord Coleridge had some difficulty in his family which came into the courts of England. I do not remember just what it was all about, but Storrs, in reading the gossip which came across the cable, decided against the chief justice. Lord Coleridge told me he received from Storrs a cable reading something like this: "I have seen in our papers about your attitude in the suit now pending. I therefore inform you that as far as possible I withdraw the courtesies which I extended to you in Chicago." In this unique way Storrs cancelled the dinner which was given and seized by the sheriff years ago.
I met Storrs many times, and he was always not only charming but fascinating. He was very witty, full of anecdotes, and told a story with dramatic effect. Except for his eccentricities he might have taken the highest place in his profession. As it was, he acquired such fame that an admirer has written a very good biography of him.
XVII. GOVERNORS OF NEW YORK STATE
There is nothing more interesting than to see the beginning of a controversy which makes history. It is my good fortune to have been either a spectator or a participant on several occasions.
William M. Tweed was at the height of his power. He was the master of New York City, and controlled the legislature of the State. The rapid growth and expansion of New York City had necessitated a new charter, or very radical improvements in the existing one. Tweed, as chairman of the Senate committee on cities, had staged a large and spectacular hearing at the State Capitol at Albany. It was attended by a large body of representative citizens from the metropolis. Some spoke for civic and commercial bodies, and there were also other prominent men who were interested. Everybody interested in public affairs in Albany at the time attended. Not only was there a large gathering of legislators, but there were also in the audience judges, lawyers, and politicians from all parts of the State.
After hearing from the Chamber of Commerce and various reform organizations, Mr. Samuel J. Tilden came forward with a complete charter. It was soon evident that he was better prepared and informed on the subject than any one present. He knew intimately the weaknesses of the present charter, and had thought out with great care and wisdom what was needed in new legislation.
From the contemptuous way in which Senator Tweed treated Mr. Tilden, scouted his plans, and ridiculed his propositions, it was evident that the whole scheme had been staged as a State-wide spectacle to humiliate and end the political career of Samuel J. Tilden.
In answer to Tilden's protest against this treatment, Tweed loudly informed him that he represented no one but himself, that he had neither influence nor standing in the city, that he was an intermeddler with things that did not concern him, and a general nuisance.
Mr. Tilden turned ashy white, and showed evidences of suppressed rage and vindictiveness more intense than I ever saw in any one before, and abruptly left the hearing.
I knew Mr. Tilden very well, and from contact with him in railroad matters had formed a high opinion of his ability and acquirements. He had a keen, analytic mind, tireless industry, and a faculty for clarifying difficulties and untangling apparently impossible problems to a degree that amounted to genius.
In reference to what had happened, I said to a friend: "Mr. Tweed must be very confident of his position and of his record, for he has deliberately defied and invited the attacks of a relentless and merciless opponent by every insult which could wound the pride and incite the hatred of the man so ridiculed and abused. Mr. Tilden is a great lawyer. He has made a phenomenal success financially, he has powerful associates in financial and business circles, and is master of his time for any purpose to which he chooses to apply it."
It was not long before one of the most remarkable and exhaustive investigations ever conducted by an individual into public records, books, ledgers, bank-accounts, and contracts, revealed to the public the whole system of governing the city. This master mind solved the problems so that they were plain to the average citizen as the simplest sum in arithmetic, or that two and two make four.
The result was the destruction of the power of Tweed and his associates, of their prosecution and conviction, and of the elevation of Samuel J. Tilden to a State and national figure of the first importance. He not only became in the public mind a leader of reforms in government, municipal, State, and national, but embodied in the popular imagination REFORM ITSELF.
Mr. Tilden carried this same indefatigable industry and power of organization into a canvass for governor. His agencies reached not only the counties and towns, but the election districts of the State. He called into existence a new power in politics—the young men. The old leaders were generally against him, but he discovered in every locality ambitious, resourceful, and courageous youngsters and made them his lieutenants. This unparalleled preparation made him the master of his party and the governor of the State.
After the election he invited me to come and see him at the Executive Mansion in Albany, and in the course of the conversation he said: "In your speeches in the campaign against me you were absolutely fair, and as a fair and open-minded opponent I want to have a frank talk. I am governor of the State, elected upon an issue which is purely local. The Democratic party is at present without principles or any definite issue on which to appeal to the public. If I am to continue in power we must find an issue. The Erie Canal is not only a State affair, but a national one. Its early construction opened the great Northwest, and it was for years the only outlet to the seaboard. The public not only in the State of New York, but in the West, believes that there has been, and is, corruption in the construction and management of the Canal. This great waterway requires continuing contracts for continuing repairs, and the people believe that these contracts are given to favorites, and that the work is either not performed at all or is badly done. I believe that matter ought to be looked into and the result will largely justify the suspicion prevalent in the public mind. I want your judgment on the question and what will be the effect upon me."
I then frankly answered him: "Governor, there is no doubt it will be a popular movement, but you know that the Canal contractors control the machinery of your party, and I cannot tell what the effect of that may be upon what you desire, which is a second term."
"Those contractors," he said, "are good Democrats, and their ability to secure the contracts depends upon Democratic supremacy. A prosecution against them has been tried so often that they have little fear of either civil or criminal actions, and I think they will accept the issue as the only one which will keep their party in power."
It is a part of the history of the time that he made the issue so interesting that he became a national figure of the first importance and afterwards the candidate of his party for President of the United States. Not only that, but he so impressed the people that popular judgment is still divided as to whether or not he was rightfully elected president.
Once I was coming from the West after a tour of inspection, and when we left Albany the conductor told me that Governor Tilden was on the train. I immediately called and found him very uncomfortable, because he said he was troubled with boils. I invited him into the larger compartment which I had, and made him as comfortable as possible. His conversation immediately turned upon the second term and he asked what I, as a Republican, thought of his prospects as the result of his administration. We had hardly entered upon the subject when a very excited gentleman burst into the compartment and said: "Governor, I have been looking for you everywhere. I went to your office at the Capitol and to the Executive Mansion, but learned you were here and barely caught the train. You know who I am." (The governor knew he was mayor of a city.) "I want to see you confidentially."
The governor said to him: "I have entire confidence in my Republican friend here. You can trust him. Go on."
I knew the mayor very well, and under ordinary conditions he would have insisted on the interview with the governor being private and personal. But he was so excited and bursting with rage that he went right on. The mayor fairly shouted: "It is the station agent of the New York Central Railroad in our city of whom I complain. He is active in politics and controls the Democratic organization in our county. He is working to prevent myself and my friends and even ex-Governor Seymour from being delegates to the national convention. It is to the interest of our party, in fact, I may say, the salvation of our party in our county that this New York Central agent be either removed or silenced, and I want you to see Mr. Vanderbilt on the subject."
The governor sympathized with the mayor and dismissed him. Then in a quizzical way he asked me: "Do you know this agent?"
"Yes," I answered.
"What do you think of him?"
"I know nothing about his political activities," I answered, "but he is one of the most efficient employees of the company in the State."
"Well," said the governor, "I am glad to hear you say so. He was down to see me the other night; in fact, I sent for him, and I formed a very high opinion of his judgment and ability."
As a matter of fact, the governor had selected him to accomplish this very result which the mayor had said would ruin the party in the county.
When the New York Democratic delegation left the city for the Democratic national convention they had engaged a special train to leave from the Grand Central Station. I went down to see that the arrangements were perfected for its movement. It was a hilarious crowd, and the sides of the cars were strung with Tilden banners.
Mr. Tilden was there also to see them off. After bidding good-by to the leaders, and with a whispered conference with each, the mass of delegates and especially reporters, of whom there was a crowd, wished to engage him in conversation. He spied me and immediately hurried me into one of the alcoves, apparently for a private conversation. The crowd, of course, gathered around, anxious to know what it was all about. He asked me a few questions about the health of my family and then added: "Don't leave me. I want to avoid all these people, and we will talk until the train is off and the crowd disperses."
Life was a burden for me the rest of the day and evening, made so by the newspaper men and Democratic politicians trying to find out what the mysterious chief had revealed to me in the alcove of the Grand Central.
I was very much gratified when meeting him after the fierce battles for the presidency were over, to have him grasp me by the hand and say: "You were about the only one who treated me absolutely fairly during the campaign."
I love little incidents about great men. Mr. Tilden was intensely human and a great man.
Doctor Buckley, who was at the head of the Methodist Book Concern in New York, and one of the most delightful of men, told me that there came into his office one day a Methodist preacher from one of the mining districts of Pennsylvania, who said to him: "My church burned down. We had no insurance. We are poor people, and, therefore, I have come to New York to raise money to rebuild it."
The doctor told him that New York was overrun from all parts of the country with applicants for help, and that he thought he would have great difficulty in his undertaking.
"Well," the preacher said, "I am going to see Mr. Tilden."
Doctor Buckley could not persuade him that his mission was next to impossible, and so this rural clergyman started for Gramercy Park. When he returned he told the doctor of his experience.
"I rang the bell," he said, "and when the door was opened I saw Governor Tilden coming down the stairs. I rushed in and told him hastily who I was before the man at the door could stop me, and he invited me into his library. I stated my mission, and he said he was so overwhelmed with applications that he did not think he could do anything. 'But, governor,' I said, 'my case differs from all others. My congregation is composed of miners, honest, hardworking people. They have hitherto been Republicans on the protection issue, but they were so impressed by you as a great reformer that they all voted for you in the last election.' The governor said: 'Tell that story again.' So I started again to tell him about my church, but he interrupted me, saying: 'Not that, but about the election.' So I told him again about their having, on account of their admiration for him as a reformer, turned from the Republican party and voted the Democratic ticket. Then the governor said: 'Well, I think you have a most meritorious case, and so I will give you all I have.'"
Doctor Buckley interrupted him hastily, saying: "Great heavens, are you going to build a cathedral?"
"No," answered the clergyman; "all he had in his pocket was two dollars and fifty cents."
Governor Tilden had many followers and friends whose admiration for him amounted almost to adoration. They believed him capable of everything, and they were among the most intelligent and able men of the country.
John Bigelow, journalist, author, and diplomat, was always sounding his greatness, both with tongue and pen. Abram S. Hewitt was an equally enthusiastic friend and admirer. Both of these gentlemen, the latter especially, were, I think, abler than Mr. Tilden, but did not have his hypnotic power.
I was dining one night with Mr. Hewitt, whose dinners were always events to be remembered, when Mr. Tilden became the subject of discussion. After incidents illustrating his manifold distinctions had been narrated, Mr. Hewitt said that Mr. Tilden was the only one in America and outside of royalties in Europe who had some blue-labelled Johannisberger. This famous wine from the vineyards of Prince Metternich on the Rhine was at that time reported to be absorbed by the royal families of Europe.
Our host said: "The bouquet of this wonderful beverage is unusually penetrating and diffusing, and a proof is that one night at a dinner in the summer, with the windows all open, the guests noticed this peculiar aroma in the air. I said to them that Governor Tilden had opened a bottle of his Johannisberger."
The governor's residence was on the other side of Gramercy Park from Mr. Hewitt's. The matter was so extraordinary that everybody at the table went across the park, and when they were admitted they found the governor in his library enjoying his bottle of blue-labelled Johannisberger.
When Mr. Tilden was elected governor, my friend, General Husted, was speaker of the assembly, which was largely Republican. The governor asked General Husted to come down in the evening, because he wanted to consult him about the improvements and alterations necessary for the Executive Mansion, and to have the speaker secure the appropriation. During the discussion the governor placed before the speaker a bottle of rare whiskey, with the usual accompaniments. In front of the governor was a bottle of his Johannisberger and a small liqueur glass, a little larger than a thimble, from which the governor would from time to time taste a drop of this rare and exquisite fluid. The general, after a while, could not restrain his curiosity any longer and said: "Governor, what is that you are drinking?"
The governor explained its value and the almost utter impossibility of securing any.
"Well, governor," said Speaker Husted, "I never saw any before and I think I will try it." He seized the bottle, emptied it in his goblet and announced to the astonished executive that he was quite right in his estimate of its excellence.
The governor lost a bottle of his most cherished treasure but received from the Republican legislature all the appropriation he desired for the Executive Mansion.
It has been my good fortune to know well the governors of our State of New York, commencing with Edmund D. Morgan. With many of them I was on terms of close intimacy. I have already spoken of Governors Seymour, Fenton, Dix, Tilden, Cleveland, and Roosevelt. It might be better to confine my memory to those who have joined the majority.
Lucius Robinson was an excellent executive of the business type, as also were Alonzo B. Cornell and Levi P. Morton. Frank S. Black was in many ways original. He was an excellent governor, but very different from the usual routine. In the Spanish-American War he had a definite idea that the National Guard of our State should not go into the service of the United States as regiments, but as individual volunteers. The Seventh Regiment, which was the crack organization of the Guard, was severely criticised because they did not volunteer. They refused to go except as the Seventh Regiment, and their enemies continued to assail them as tin soldiers.
General Louis Fitzgerald and Colonel Appleton came to me very much disturbed by this condition. General Russell A. Alger, secretary of war, was an intimate friend of mine, and I went to Washington and saw him and the president on the acute condition affecting the reputation of the Seventh Regiment.
General Alger said: "We are about to make a desperate assault upon the fortifications of Havana. Of course there will be many casualties and the fighting most severe. Will the Seventh join that expedition?"
The answer of General Fitzgerald and Colonel Appleton was emphatic that the Seventh would march with full ranks on the shortest possible notice. Governor Black would not change his view of how the National Guard should go, and so the Seventh was never called. It seems only proper that I should make a record of this patriotic proposition made by this organization.
Governor Black developed after he became governor, and especially after he had retired from office, into a very effective orator. He had a fine presence and an excellent delivery. He was fond of preparing epigrams, and became a master in this sort of literature. When he had occasion to deliver an address, it would be almost wholly made up of these detached gems, each perfect in itself. The only other of our American orators who cultivated successfully this style of speech was Senator John J. Ingalls, of Kansas. It is a style very difficult to attain or to make successful.
David B. Hill was an extraordinary man in many ways. He was governor for three terms and United States senator for one. His whole life was politics. He was a trained lawyer and an excellent one, but his heart and soul was in party control, winning popular elections, and the art of governing. He consolidated the rural elements of his party so effectively that he compelled Tammany Hall to submit to his leadership and to recognize him as its master.
For many years, and winning in every contest, Governor Hill controlled the organization and the policies of the Democratic party of the State of New York. In a plain way he was an effective speaker, but in no sense an orator. He contested with Cleveland for the presidency, but in that case ran against a stronger and bigger personality than he had ever encountered, and lost. He rose far above the average and made his mark upon the politics of his State and upon the United States Senate while he was a member.
Levi P. Morton brought to the governorship business ability which had made him one of the great merchants and foremost bankers. As Governor of the State of New York, United States Minister to France, Congressman, and Vice-President of the United States, he filled every position with grace, dignity, and ability. A lovable personality made him most popular.
Roswell P. Flower, after a successful career as a banker, developed political ambitions. He had a faculty of making friends, and had hosts of them. He was congressman and then governor. While the Democratic organization was hostile to him, he was of the Mark Hanna type and carried his successful business methods into the canvass for the nomination and the campaign for the election and was successful.
Passing through Albany while he was governor, I stopped over to pay my respects. I was very fond of him personally. When I rang the door-bell of the Executive Mansion and inquired for the governor, the servant said: "The governor is very ill and can see nobody." Then I asked him to tell the governor, when he was able to receive a message, that Chauncey Depew called and expressed his deep regret for his illness. Suddenly the governor popped out from the parlor and seized me by the hand and said: "Chauncey, come in. I was never so glad to see anybody in my life."
He told me the legislature had adjourned and left on his hands several thousands of thirty-days bills—that is, bills on which he had thirty days to sign or veto, or let them become laws by not rejecting them. So he had to deny himself to everybody to get the leisure to read them over and form decisions.
"Do you know, Chauncey," he said, "this is a new business to me. Most of these bills are on subjects which I never have examined, studied, or thought about. It is very difficult to form a wise judgment, and I want to do in each case just what is right." For the moment he became silent, seemingly absorbed by anxious thoughts about these bills. Then suddenly he exclaimed: "By the way, Chauncey, you've done a great deal of thinking in your life, and I never have done any except on business. Does intense thinking affect you as it does me, by upsetting your stomach and making you throw up?"
"No, governor," I answered; "if it did I fear I would be in a chronic state of indigestion."
While he was governor he canvassed the State in a private car and made many speeches. In a plain, homely man-to-man talk he was very effective on the platform. His train stopped at a station in a Republican community where there were few Democrats, while I was addressing a Republican meeting in the village. When I had finished my speech I said to the crowd, which was a large one: "Governor Flower is at the station, and as I passed he had very few people listening to him. Let us all go over and give him an audience."
The proposition was received with cheers. I went ahead, got in at the other end of the governor's car from the one where he was speaking from the platform. As this Republican crowd began to pour in, it was evident as I stood behind him without his knowing of my presence, that he was highly delighted. He shouted: "Fellow citizens, I told you they were coming. They are coming from the mountains, from the hills, and from the valleys. It is the stampede from the Republican party and into our ranks and for our ticket. This is the happiest evidence I have received of the popularity of our cause and the success of our ticket."
Standing behind him, I made a signal for cheers, which was heartily responded to, and the governor, turning around, saw the joke, grasped me cordially by the hand, and the whole crowd, including the veteran and hardened Democrats on the car, joined in the hilarity of the occasion.
He came to me when he was running for the second time for Congress, and said that some of the people of his district were anxious for me to deliver an address for one of their pet charities, and that the meeting would be held in Harlem, naming the evening. I told him I would go. He came for me in his carriage, and I said: "Governor, please do not talk to me on the way up. I was so busy that I have had no time since I left my office this afternoon to prepare this address, and I want every minute while we are riding to the meeting."
The meeting was a large one. The governor took the chair and introduced me in this original way: "Ladies and gentlemen," he said, "I want to say about Chauncey Depew, whom I am now going to introduce to you as the lecturer of the evening, that he is no Demosthenes, because he can beat Demosthenes out of sight. He prepared his speech in the carriage in which I was bringing him up here, and he don't have, like the old Greek, to chew pebble-stones in order to make a speech."
Governor Flower in a conservative way was a successful trader in the stock market. When he felt he had a sure point he would share it with a few friends. He took special delight in helping in this way men who had little means and no knowledge of the art of moneymaking. There were a great many benefited by his bounty.
I was dining one night with the Gridiron Club at Washington, and before me was a plate of radishes. The newspaper man next to me asked if I would object to having the radishes removed.
I said: "There is no odor or perfume from them. What is the matter with the radishes?"
After they were taken away he told me his story. "Governor Flower," he said, "was very kind to me, as he invariably was to all newspaper men. He asked me one day how much I had saved in my twenty years in journalism. I told him ten thousand dollars. He said: 'That is not enough for so long a period. Let me have the money.' So I handed over to him my bank-account. In a few weeks he told me that my ten thousand dollars had become twenty, and I could have them if I wished. I said: 'No, you are doing far better than I could. Keep it.' In about a month or more my account had grown to thirty thousand dollars. Then the governor on a very hot day went fishing somewhere off the Long Island coast. He was a very large, heavy man, became overheated, and on his return drank a lot of ice-water and ate a bunch of radishes. He died that afternoon. There was a panic in the stocks which were his favorites the next day, and they fell out of sight. The result was that I lost my fortune of ten thousand dollars and also my profit of twenty. Since then the sight of a radish makes me sick."
XVIII. FIFTY-SIX YEARS WITH THE NEW YORK CENTRAL RAILROAD COMPANY
Heredity has much to do with a man's career. The village of Peekskill-on-the-Hudson, about forty miles from New York, was in the early days the market-town of a large section of the surrounding country, extending over to the State of Connecticut. It was a farming region, and its products destined for New York City were shipped by sloops on the Hudson from the wharfs at Peekskill, and the return voyage brought back the merchandise required by the country.
My father and his brother owned the majority of the sloops engaged in this, at that time, almost the only transportation. The sloops were succeeded by steamboats in which my people were also interested. When Commodore Vanderbilt entered into active rivalry with the other steamboat lines between New York and Albany, the competition became very serious. Newer and faster boats were rapidly built. These racers would reach the Bay of Peekskill in the late afternoon, and the younger population of the village would be on the banks of the river, enthusiastically applauding their favorites. Among well-known boats whose names and achievements excited as much interest and aroused as much partisanship and sporting spirit as do now famous race-horses or baseball champions, were the following: Mary Powell, Dean Richmond, The Alida, and The Hendrick Hudson.
I remember as if it were yesterday when the Hudson River Railroad had reached Peekskill, and the event was locally celebrated. The people came in as to a county fair from fifty miles around. When the locomotive steamed into the station many of those present had never seen one. The engineer was continuously blowing his whistle to emphasize the great event. This produced much consternation and confusion among the horses, as all farmers were there with their families in carriages or wagons.
I recall one team of young horses which were driven to frenzy; their owner was unable to control them, but he kept them on the road while they ran away with a wild dash over the hills. In telling this story, as illustrating how recent is railway development in the United States, at a dinner abroad, I stated that as far as I knew and believed, those horses were so frightened that they could not be stopped and were still running. A very successful and serious-minded captain of industry among the guests sternly rebuked me by saying: "Sir, that is impossible; horses were never born that could run for twenty-five years without stopping." American exaggeration was not so well known among our friends on the other side then as it is now.
As we boys of the village were gathered on the banks of the Hudson cheering our favorite steamers, or watching with eager interest the movements of the trains, a frequent discussion would be about our ambitions in life. Every young fellow would state a dream which he hoped but never expected to be realized. I was charged by my companions with having the greatest imagination and with painting more pictures in the skies than any of them. This was because I stated that in politics, for I was a great admirer of William H. Seward, then senator from New York, I expected to be a United States senator, and in business, because then the largest figure in the business world was Commodore Vanderbilt, I hoped to become president of the Hudson River Railroad. It is one of the strangest incidents of what seemed the wild imaginings of a village boy that in the course of long years both these expectations were realized.
When I entered the service of the railroad on the first of January, 1866, the Vanderbilt system consisted of the Hudson River and Harlem Railroads, the Harlem ending at Chatham, 128 miles, and the Hudson River at Albany, 140 miles long. The Vanderbilt system now covers 20,000 miles. The total railway mileage of the whole United States at that time was 36,000, and now it is 261,000 miles.
My connection with the New York Central Railroad covers practically the whole period of railway construction, expansion, and development in the United States. It is a singular evidence of the rapidity of our country's growth and of the way which that growth has steadily followed the rails, that all this development of States, of villages growing into cities, of scattered communities becoming great manufacturing centres, of an internal commerce reaching proportions where it has greater volume than the foreign interchanges of the whole world, has come about during a period covered by the official career of a railroad man who is still in the service: an attorney in 1866, a vice-president in 1882, president in 1885, chairman of the board of directors in 1899, and still holds that office.
There is no such record in the country for continuous service with one company, which during the whole period has been controlled by one family. This service of more than half a century has been in every way satisfactory. It is a pleasure to see the fourth generation, inheriting the ability of the father, grandfather, and great-grandfather, still active in the management.
I want to say that in thus linking my long relationship with the railroads to this marvellous development, I do not claim to have been better than the railway officers who during this time have performed their duties to the best of their ability. I wish also to pay tribute to the men of original genius, of vision and daring, to whom so much is due in the expansion and improvement of the American railway systems.
Commodore Vanderbilt was one of the most remarkable men our country has produced. He was endowed with wonderful foresight, grasp of difficult situations, ability to see opportunities before others, to solve serious problems, and the courage of his convictions. He had little education or early advantages, but was eminently successful in everything he undertook. As a boy on Staten Island he foresaw that upon transportation depended the settlement, growth, and prosperity of this nation. He began with a small boat running across the harbor from Staten Island to New York. Very early in his career he acquired a steamboat and in a few years was master of Long Island Sound. He then extended his operations to the Hudson River and speedily acquired the dominating ownership in boats competing between New York and Albany.
When gold was discovered in California he started a line on the Atlantic side of the Isthmus of Darien and secured from the government of Nicaragua the privilege of crossing the Isthmus for a transportation system through its territory, and then established a line of steamers on the Pacific to San Francisco. In a short time the old-established lines, both on the Atlantic and the Pacific, were compelled to sell out to him. Then he entered the transatlantic trade, with steamers to Europe.
With that vision which is a gift and cannot be accounted for, he decided that the transportation work of the future was on land and in railroads. He abandoned the sea, and his first enterprise was the purchase of the New York and Harlem Railroad, which was only one hundred and twenty-eight miles long. The road was bankrupt and its road-bed and equipment going from bad to worse. The commodore reconstructed the line, re-equipped it, and by making it serviceable to its territory increased its traffic and turned its business from deficiency into profit. This was in 1864. The commodore became president, and his son, William H. Vanderbilt, vice-president. He saw that the extension of the Harlem was not advisable, and so secured the Hudson River Railroad, running from New York to Albany, and became its president in 1865. It was a few months after this when he and his son invited me to become a member of their staff.