HotFreeBooks.com
Political Recollections - 1840 to 1872
by George W. Julian
Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6
Home - Random Browse

After the adjournment of the Forty-first Congress in March, 1871, I visited New York, where I called on Greeley. We took a drive together, and spent the evening at the house of a mutual friend, where we had a free political talk. He denounced the Administration and the San Domingo project in a style which commanded my decided approval, for my original dislike of Grant had been ripening into disgust and contempt, and, like Greeley, I had fully made up my mind that under no circumstance could I ever again give him my support. After my return home I wrote several articles for the Press in favor of a "new departure" in the principles of the party. Mr. Vallandigham had just given currency to this phrase by employing it to designate his proposed policy of Democratic acquiescence in the XIV and XV Constitutional Amendments, which was seconded by the "Missouri Republican," and accepted by the party the following year. The "new departure" I commended to my own party was equally thorough, proposing the radical reform of its Tariff and Land Policy, and its emancipation from the rule of great corporations and monopolies; a thorough reform of its Civil Service, beginning with a declaration in favor of the "one-term principle," and condemning the action of the President in employing the whole power and patronage of his high office in securing his re-election for a second term by hurling from office honest, capable and faithful men, simply to make places for scalawags and thieves; and the unqualified repudiation of his conduct in heaping honors and emoluments upon his poor kin, while accepting presents of fine houses and other tempting gifts from unworthy men, who were paid off in fat places. I did not favor the disbanding of the party, or ask that it should make war on Gen. Grant, but earnestly protested against the policy that sought to Tammany-ize the organization through his re-nomination.

Returning to Washington on the meeting of Congress in December, I conferred with Trumbull, Schurz and Sumner, respecting the situation, and the duty of Republicans in facing the party crisis which was evidently approaching. During the session, I listened to the great debate in the Senate on Sumner's resolution of inquiry as to the sale of arms to the French, and was delighted with the replies of Schurz and Sumner to Conkling and Morton. My dislike of the President steadily increased, and his disgraceful conduct towards Sumner and alliance with Morton, Conkling, Cameron, and their associates rendered it morally impossible for me any longer to fight under his banner. The situation became painfully embarrassing, since every indication seemed to point to his re-nomination as a foregone conclusion. But I clung to the hope that events would in some way order it otherwise. In February, I was strongly urged to become a candidate for Congressman at large under the new Congressional apportionment; and although failing health unfitted me for active politics, to which I had no wish to return, I really wanted the compliment of the nomination. The long-continued and wanton opposition which had been waged against me in my own party led me to covet it, and in the hope that General Grant's nomination might yet be averted I allowed my friends to urge my claims, and to believe I would accept the honor if tendered, which I meant to do should this hope be realized. I saw that I could secure it. My standing in my own party was better than ever before. The "Indianapolis Journal," for the first time, espoused my cause, along with other leading Republican papers in different sections of the State. The impolicy and injustice of the warfare which had long been carried on against me in Indiana were so generally felt by all fair-minded Republicans that Senator Morton himself, though personally quite as hostile as ever, was constrained to call off his forces, and favor a policy of conciliation. It was evident that my nomination was assured if I remained in the field; but as time wore on I saw that the re-nomination of General Grant had become absolutely inevitable; and, as I could not support him I could not honorably accept a position which would commit me in his favor. The convention was held on the 22d of February, and on the day before I sent a telegram peremptorily refusing to stand as a candidate; and I soon afterward formally committed myself to the Liberal Republican movement. I could not aid in the re-election of Grant without sinning against decency and my own self-respect. I deplored the fact, but there was no other alternative. If it had been morally possible, I would have supported him gladly. I had no personal grievances to complain of, and most sincerely regretted the necessity which compelled my withdrawal from political associations in which I had labored many long years, and through seasons of great national danger. If I had consulted my own selfish ambition I would have chosen a different course, since I knew by painful experience the cost of party desertion, while the fact was well known that the prizes of politics were within my reach, if I had sought them through the machinery of the Republican organization and the support of General Grant. Had the party, having accomplished the work which called it into being, applied itself to the living questions of the times, and resolutely set its face against political corruption and plunder, and had it freely tolerated honest differences of opinion in its own ranks, treating the question of Grant's re- nomination as an open one, instead of making it a test of Republicanism and a cause for political excommunication, I could have avoided a separation, at least at that time. I made it with many keen pangs of regret, for the history of the party had been honorable and glorious, and I had shared in its achievements. My revolt against its discipline forcibly reminded me of the year 1848, and was by far the severest political trial of my life. My new position not only placed me in very strange relations to the Democrats, whose misdeeds I had so earnestly denounced for years; but I could not fail to see that the great body of my old friends would now become my unrelenting foes. Their party intolerance would know no bounds, and I was not unmindful of its power; but there was no way of escape, and with a sad heart, but an unflinching purpose, I resolved to face the consequences of my decision. My chief regret was that impaired health deprived me of the strength and endurance I would now sorely need in repelling wanton and very provoking assaults.

I attended the Liberal Republican Convention at Cincinnati on the first of May, where I was delighted to meet troops of the old Free Soilers of 1848 and 1852. It was a mass convention of Republicans, suddenly called together without the power of money or the help of party machinery, and prompted by a burning desire to rebuke the scandals of Gen. Grant's administration, and rescue both the party and the country from political corruption and misrule. It was a spontaneous and independent movement, and its success necessarily depended upon the wisdom of its action and not the force of party obligation. There were doubtless political schemers and mercenaries in attendance, but the rank and file were unquestionably conscientious and patriotic, and profoundly in earnest. I never saw a finer looking body assembled. It was a more formidable popular demonstration than the famous Convention at Buffalo, in 1848, and gave promise of more immediate and decisive results. There was a very widespread feeling that the Cincinnati ticket would win, and the friends of Gen. Grant could not disguise their apprehension. The thought seemed to inspire every one that a way was now fortunately opened for hastening the end of sectional strife and purifying the administration of public affairs. The capital speech of Stanley Matthews, on accepting the temporary chairmanship of the Convention, was but the echo of the feeling of the Convention, and its confident prophecy of victory. "Parties," said he, "can not live on their reputations. It was remarked, I believe, by Sir Walter Raleigh, in reference to the strife of ancestry, that those who boasted most of their progenitors were like the plant he had discovered in America, the best part was under ground." He declared that "the time has come when it is the voice of an exceedingly large and influential portion of the American people that they will no longer be dogs to wear the collar of a party." All that now seemed wanting was wise leadership, and a fair expression of the real wish and purpose of the Convention.

The principal candidates were Charles Francis Adams, Horace Greeley, Lyman Trumbull, David Davis, and B. Gratz Brown. Mr. Chase still had a lingering form of the Presidential fever, and his particular friends were lying in wait for a timely opportunity to bring him forward; but his claims were not seriously considered. The friends of Judge Davis did him much damage by furnishing transportation and supplies for large Western delegations, who very noisily pressed his claims in the Convention. With prudent leadership his chances for the nomination would have been good, and he would have been a very formidable candidate; but he was "smothered by his friends." The really formidable candidates were Adams and Greeley, and during the first and second days the chances were decidedly in favor of the former. On the evening of the second day Mr. Brown and Gen. Blair arrived in the city, pretending that they had come for the purpose of arranging a trouble in the Missouri delegation; but their real purpose was to throw the strength of Brown, who was found to have no chance for the first place, in favor of Greeley, who had said some very flattering words of Brown some time before in a letter published in a Missouri newspaper. This new movement further included the nomination of Brown for the second place on the ticket, and was largely aimed at Carl Schurz, who was an Adams man, and had refused, though personally very friendly to Brown, to back his claims for the Presidential nomination. It seemed to be a lucky hit for Greeley, who secured the nomination; but the real cause of Mr. Adams' defeat, after all, was the folly of Trumbull's friends, who preferred Adams to Greeley, in holding on to their man in the vain hope of his nomination. They could have nominated Adams on the fourth or fifth ballot, if they had given him their votes, as they saw when it was too late. Greeley regretted Brown's nomination, and afterward expressed his preference for another gentleman from the West; and he had, of course, nothing to do with the movement which placed him on the ticket.

I was woefully disappointed in the work of the Convention, having little faith in the success of Greeley, and being entirely confident that Adams could be elected if nominated. I still think he would have been, and that the work of reform would thus have been thoroughly inaugurated, and the whole current of American politics radically changed. The time was ripe for it. His defeat was a wet blanket upon many of the leading spirits of the Convention and their followers. The disappointment of some of these was unspeakably bitter and agonizing. Stanley Matthews, illustrating his proverbial instability in politics, and forgetting his brave resolve no longer "to wear the collar of a party," abruptly deserted to the enemy. The "New York Nation" also suddenly changed front, giving its feeble support to General Grant, and its malignant hostility to Greeley. The leading Free Traders in the Convention who had enlisted zealously for Adams became indifferent or hostile. Many of the best informed of the Liberal leaders felt that a magnificent opportunity to launch the work of reform and crown it with success had been madly thrown away. With the zealous friends of Mr. Adams it was a season of infinite vexation; but for me there was no backward step. The newborn movement had blundered, but Republicanism under the lead of Grant remained as odious as ever. It was still the duty of its enemies to oppose it, and no other method of doing this was left them than through the organization just formed. That a movement so suddenly extemporized should make mistakes was by no means surprising, while there was a fairly implied obligation on the part of those who had joined in its organization to abide by its action, if not wantonly recreant to the principles that had inspired it. The hearts of the liberal masses were for Greeley, and if he could not be elected, which was by no means certain, his supporters could at least make their organized protest against the mal-administration of the party in power.

I attended the Democratic State Convention of Indiana on the twelfth of June, which was one of the largest and most enthusiastic ever held in the State. The masses seemed to have completely broken away from their old moorings, and to be rejoicing in their escape, while their leaders, many of them reluctantly, accepted the situation. Both were surprisingly friendly to me, and their purpose was to nominate me as one of the candidates for Congressman-at-large, which they would have done by acclamation if I had consented. I was much cheered by such tokens of union and fraternity in facing the common enemy. The State campaign was finely opened at Indianapolis on the eleventh of July, where I presented the issues of the canvass from the Liberal standpoint; and I continued almost constantly on the stump till the State election in October, having splendid audiences, and gathering strength and inspiration from the prevailing enthusiasm of the canvass. The meetings toward the close were real ovations, strikingly reminding me of the campaign of 1856. Up to the time of the North Carolina election I had strong hopes of victory; but owing to the alarm which had seized the Grant men on account of Greeley's unexpected popularity, and the lavish expenditure of their money which followed, the tide was turned, and was never afterward checked in its course. They became unspeakably bitter and venomous, and I never before encountered such torrents of abuse and defamation, outstripping, as it seemed to me, even the rabidness which confronted the Abolitionists in their early experience. At one of my appointments a number of colored men came armed with revolvers, and breathing the spirit of war which Senator Morton was doing his utmost to kindle. He had been telling the people everywhere that Greeley and his followers were all Rebels, seeking to undo the work of the war, to re-enslave the negro, and saddle upon the country the rebel debt; and these colored men, heeding his logic, thought that killing Rebels now was as proper a business as during the war, and would probably have begun their work of murder if they had not been restrained by the more prudent counsel of their white brethren. Even in one of the old towns in Eastern Indiana which had been long known as the headquarters of Abolitionism, a large supply of eggs was provided for my entertainment when I went there to speak for Greeley; and they were not thrown at me simply because the fear of a reaction against the party would be the result. The Democrats in this canvass were rather handsomely treated; but the fierceness and fury of the Grant men toward the Liberal Republicans were unrelieved by a single element of honor or fair play.

This was pre-eminently true in Indiana, and especially so as to myself. The leaders of Grant, borrowing the spirit of the campaign, set all the canons of decency at defiance. "Sore head," "Renegade," "Apostate," "Rebel," and "deadbeat," were the compliments constantly lavished. Garbled extracts from my old war speeches were plentifully scattered over the State, as if we had been still in the midst of the bloody conflict, and I had suddenly betrayed the country to its enemies. Garbled and forged letters were peddled and paraded over the State by windy political blatherskites, who were hired to propagate the calumnies of their employers. In fact, my previous political experience supplied no precedent for this warfare of my former Republican friends. But I was not unprepared for it, and fully availed myself of the right of self-defense and counter attack. I would not make myself a blackguard, but I met my assailants in every encounter with the weapons of argument and invective, and stretched them on the rack of my ridicule; while their prolonged howl bore witness to the effectiveness of my work. My whole heart was in it. The fervor and enthusiasm of earlier years came back to me, and a kindred courage and faith armed me with the strength which the work of the canvass demanded.

The novelty of the canvass was indeed remarkable in all respects. The Liberal Republicans had not changed any of their political opinions, nor deserted any principle they had ever espoused, touching the questions of slavery and the war; and yet they were now in the fiercest antagonism with the men who had been politically associated with them ever since the organization of the party, and who had trusted and honored them through all the struggles of the past. They were branded as "Apostates" from their anti-slavery faith; but slavery had perished forever, and every man of them would have been found fighting it as before, if it had been practicable to call it back to life; while many of their assailants had distinguished themselves by mobbing Abolitionism in the day of its weakness. How could men apostatize from a cause which they had served with unflinching fidelity until it was completely triumphant? And how was it possible to fall from political grace by withdrawing from the fellowship of the knaves and traders that formed the body-guard of the President, and were using the Republican party as the instrument of wholesale schemes of jobbery and pelf? To charge the Liberal Republicans with apostasy because they had the moral courage to disown and denounce these men was to invent a definition of the term which would have made all the great apostates of history "honorable men."

They were called "Rebels"; but the war had been over seven years and a half, and if the clock of our politics could have been set back and the bloody conflict re-instated, every Liberal would have been shouting, as before, for its vigorous prosecution. No man doubted this who was capable of taking care of himself without the help of a guardian.

It was charged that "they changed sides" in politics; but the sides themselves had been changed by events, and the substitution of new issues for the old, and nobody could deny this who was not besotted by party devil-worship or the density of his political ignorance.

They were called "sore-heads" and "disappointed place-hunters;" but the Liberal leaders, in rebelling against their party in the noon-day of its power, and when honors were within their grasp, were obliged to "put away ambition" and taste political death, and thus courageously illustrate the truth that "the duties of life are more than life." The charge was as glaringly stupid as it was flagrantly false.

But the novelty of this canvass was equally manifest in the political fellowships it necessitated. While facing the savage warfare of their former friends Liberal Republicans were suddenly brought into the most friendly and intimate relations with the men whose recreancy to humanity they had unsparingly denounced for years. They were now working with these men because the subjects on which they had been divided were withdrawn, and the country had entered upon a new dispensation. The mollifying influence of peace, aided, no doubt, by the organized roguery which in the name of Republicanism held the Nation by the throat, unveiled to Liberals a new political horizon, and they gladly exchanged the key-note of hate and war for that of fraternity and reunion. They saw that the spirit of wrath which had so moved the Northern States during the conflict was no longer in order. The more they pondered the policy of amnesty and followed up the work of the canvass the more thoroughly they became reconstructed in heart. They discovered that the men whom they had been denouncing with such hot indignation for so many years were, after all, very much like other people. Personally and socially they seemed quite as kindly and as estimable as the men on the other side, while very many of them had undoubtedly espoused the cause of slavery under a mistaken view of their constitutional obligations, and as a phase of patriotism, while sincerely condemning it on principle. Besides, Democrats had done a very large and indispensable work in the war for the Union, and they now stood upon common ground with the Republicans touching the questions on which they had differed. On these questions the party platforms were identical. If their position was accepted as a necessity and not from choice, they were only a little behind the Republicans, who, as a party, only espoused the cause of the negro under the whip and spur of military necessity, and not the promptings of humanity. In the light of such considerations it was not strange that the Greeley men gladly accepted their deliverance from the glamour which was blinding the eyes of their old associates to the policy of reconciliation and peace, and blocking up the pathway of greatly needed reforms.

Soon after the State election I resumed my work on the stump, which included a series of appointment in Kansas, where I addressed by far the most enthusiastic meetings of the campaign. My welcome to the State was made singularly cordial by the part I had played in Congress in opposing enormous schemes of land monopoly and plunder, which had been concocted by some of her own public servants in the interest of railway corporations and Indian rings. On my return to Indiana the signs of defeat in November became alarming, and they were justified by the result. It was overwhelming and stunning. Democrats and Liberals were completely dismayed and bewildered. The cause of Mr. Greeley's defeat, speaking generally, was the perfectly unscrupulous and desperate hostility of the party for which he had done more than any other man, living or dead; but the disaster resulted, more immediately, from the stupid and criminal defection of the Bourbon element in the Democratic party, which could not be rallied under the banner of an old anti-slavery chief. Thousands of this class, who sincerely hated Abolitionism, and loved negro slavery more than they loved their country, voted directly for Grant, while still greater numbers declined to vote at all. Mr. Greeley's own explanation of the result, which he gave to a friend soon after the election, was as follows: "I was an Abolitionist for years, when it was as much as one's life was worth even here in New York, to be an Abolitionist; and the negroes have all voted against me. Whatever of talents and energy I have possessed I have freely contributed all my life long to Protection; to the cause of our manufactures. And the manufacturers have expended millions to defeat me. I even made myself ridiculous in the opinion of many whose good wishes I desired by showing fair play and giving a fair field in the 'Tribune' to Woman's Rights; and the women have all gone against me!"

Greeley, however, received nearly three million votes, being considerably more than Governor Seymour had received four years before; but General Grant, who had been unanimously nominated by his party, was elected by two hundred and eighty-six electoral votes, and a popular majority of nearly three quarters of a million, carrying thirty-one of the thirty-seven States. To the sincere friends of political reform the situation seemed hopeless. The President was re-crowned our King, and political corruption had now received so emphatic a premium that honesty was tempted to give up the struggle in despair. His champions were already talking about a "third term," while the Republican party had become the representative and champion of great corporations, and the instrument of organized political corruption and theft.

And yet this fight of Liberals and Democrats was not in vain. They planted the seed which ripened into a great popular victory four years later, while the policy of reconciliation for which they battled against overwhelming odds was hastened by their labors, and has been finally accepted by the country. They were still further and more completely vindicated by the misdeeds of the party they had sought to defeat. The spectacle of our public affairs became so revolting that before the middle of General Grant's second term all the great Republican States in the North were lost to the party, while leading Republicans began to agitate the question of remanding the States of the South to territorial rule, on account of their disordered condition. At the end of this term the Republican majority in the Senate had dwindled from fifty-four to seventeen, while in the House the majority of one hundred and four had been wiped out to give place to a Democratic majority of seventy-seven. No vindication of the maligned Liberals of 1872 could have been more complete, while it summoned to the bar of history the party whose action had thus brought shame upon the Nation and a stain upon Republican institutions.

After the presidential election I went to Washington, where I met Chief Justice Chase in the Supreme Court and accepted an invitation to dine with him. He looked so wasted and prematurely old that I scarcely knew him. He was very genial, however, and our long political talk was exceedingly enjoyable. It seemed to afford him much satisfaction to show me a recently reported dissenting opinion of his in which he re-asserted his favorite principle of State rights. I only met him once afterward, and this was at the inauguration of General Grant. I called on Mr. Sumner the same evening, and found him in a wretched state of health, which was aggravated by the free use of poisonous drugs. He seemed very much depressed, politically. He had lost caste with the great party that had so long idolized him, and which he had done so much to create and inspire. He had been deserted by the colored race, to whose service he had unselfishly dedicated his life. He had been degraded from his honored place at the head of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, and for no other reason than the faithful and conscientious performance of his public duty. He had been rebuked by the Legislature of his own State. His case strikingly suggested that of John Quincy Adams in 1807, when the anathemas of Massachusetts were showered upon him for leaving the Federalist party when it had accomplished its mission and survived its character, and joining the supporters of Jefferson. I sympathized with him profoundly; but his case was not so infinitely sad as that of poor Greeley, over whose death, however, the whole Nation seemed to be in mourning. He had greatly overtaxed himself in his masterly and brilliant campaign on the stump, in which he displayed unrivaled intellectual resources and versatility. He had exhausted himself in watching by the bedside of his dying wife. He had been assailed as the enemy of his country by the party which he had done more than any man in the Nation to organize. He had been hunted to his grave by political assassins whose calumnies broke his heart. He was scarcely less a martyr than Lincoln, or less honored after his death, and his graceless defamers now seemed to think they could atone for their crime by singing his praises. It is easy to speak well of the dead. It is very easy, even for base and recreant characters, to laud a man's virtues after he has gone to his grave and can no longer stand in their path. It is far easier to praise the dead than do justice to the living; and it was not strange, therefore, that eminent clergymen and doctors of divinity who had silently witnessed the peltings of Mr. Greeley by demagogues and mercenaries during the canvass now poured out their eloquence at his grave. What he had sorely needed and was religiously entitled to was the sympathy and succor of good men while he lived, and especially in his heroic struggle for political reconciliation and reform. The circumstances of his death made it peculiarly touching and sacramental, and I was inexpressibly glad that I had fought his battle so unflinchingly, and defended him everywhere against his conscienceless assailants.

CHAPTER XVI. CONCLUDING NOTES. Party changes caused by the slavery issue—Notable men in Congress during the war—Sketches of prominent men in the Senate and House —Scenes and incidents—Butler and Bingham—Cox and Butler—Judge Kelley and Van Wyck—Lovejoy and Wickliffe—Washburne and Donnelly —Oakes Ames—Abolitionism in Washington early in the war—Life at the capital—The new dispensation and its problems.

In the early part of the period covered by the preceding chapters our political parties were divided on mere questions of policy and methods of administration. Trade, Currency, Internal Improvements, and the Public Lands were the absorbing issues, while both parties took their stand against the humanitarian movement which subsequently put those issues completely in abeyance, and compelled the country to face a question involving not merely the policy of governing, but the existence of the Government itself. When the slavery question finally forced its way into recognition it naturally brought to the front a new class of public men, and their numbers, as I have shown, steadily increased in each Congress from the year 1845 till the outbreak of the Rebellion in 1861. The Congress which came into power with Mr. Lincoln did not fully represent the anti-slavery spirit of the Northern States, but it was a decided improvement upon its predecessors. In the Senate were such men as Collamer, Fessenden, Doolittle, Baker, Browning, Anthony, Grimes, Hale, Harlan, Sherman, Trumbull, Sumner, Wade, Henry Wilson, Chandler, Lane of Indiana, Harris of New York, Andrew Johnson, B. Gratz Brown and Howard. In the House were Conkling, Bingham, Colfax, Dawes, Grow, Hickman, Kelley, Potter, Lovejoy, Pike of Maine, Ashley, Rollins of Missouri, Shellabarger, Thaddeus Stevens, Elihu B. Washburne, Isaac N. Arnold and James F. Wilson.

During the Rebellion and the years immediately following, Ferry of Connecticut, Creswell, Edmonds, Conkling, Morgan, Morton, Yates, Carpenter, Hamlin, Henderson, Morrill of Maine, and Schurz, were added to the prominent men of the Senate and Boutwell, Blair, Henry Winter Davis, Deming, Jenckes, Garfield, Schenck, Banks, Orth, Raymond, Butler, Hoar, McCrary, to the list in the House. During this period the Democrats had in the Senate such men as Bayard, Garrett Davis, Hicks, Saulsbury, Buckalew, Hendricks, Bright, Reverdy Johnson, Thurman, and F. P. Blair; and in the House, S. S. Cox, Crittenden, Holman, Kerr, Pendleton, Richardson, Vallandigham, Niblack, Voorhees, Brooks, Randall, and Woodward. The men who controlled Congress during these years of trial were not the intellectual equals of the famous leaders who figured in the great crisis of 1850, but they were a different and generally a better type. They were summoned to the public service to deal with tremendous problems, and lifted up and ennobled by the great cause they were commissioned to serve. It did more for them than it was possible for them to do for it. It took hold on the very foundations of the Government, and electrified all the springs of our national life; and although great mistakes were made, and the fervor of this period was followed by a sickening dispensation of demoralized politics, it was a great privilege to be permitted to share in the grand battle for the Nation's life, and the work of radical re- adjustment which followed.

I have already referred to several of the conspicuous characters whose names I have grouped. Such men as Collamer, Fessenden, Browning and Trumbull, were among the famous lawyers and conservatives on the Republican side of the Senate. They were conscientious and unflinching partisans, but were studiously anxious to save the Union according to the Constitution, and deprecated all extreme and doubtful measures. Opposed to them stood Sumner, Wade, Chandler, and their radical associates, who believed in saving the Union at all hazards, and that not even the Constitution should be allowed to stay the arm of the Government in blasting the power of the Rebels. It was perhaps fortunate for the country that these divisions existed, and held each other in check. Mr. Collamer was the impersonation of logical force and the beau ideal of a lawyer and judge. There was a sort of majesty in the figure and brow of Fessenden when addressing the Senate, and his sarcasm was as keen as it was inimitable; but his nature was kindly, and his integrity perfect. Trumbull was a less commanding figure, but he greatly honored his position as chairman of the Judiciary Committee of the Senate, and his memory will be held in perpetual remembrance as the author of the Civil Rights Bill and of the XIII Amendment to the Constitution. Sumner, I think, was the purest man in the Senate, if not the ablest. He was pre-eminently the hero of duty, and the servant of what he believed to be the truth. No man could have made a more absolute surrender of himself to his country in the great conflict which threatened its life. His weary and jaded look always excited my sympathy, for he seemed to be sacrificing all the joys of life, and life itself, in his zeal for the public service. I knew Wade more intimately than any man in the Senate, through my association with him as a member of the same Committee for successive years, and was always interested in his personal traits and peculiarities. He was "a man of uncommon downrightness." There was even a sort of fascination about his profanity. It had in it a spontaniety and heartiness which made it almost seem the echo of a virtue. It was unlike the profane words of Thaddeus Stevens, which were frequently carried on the shafts of his wit and lost in the laughter it provoked. Edmunds, now so famous as a lawyer, and leader in the Senate, and so well known by his reputed resemblance to St. Jerome, was simply respectable on his first appearance; but his ability, industry, and constant devotion to his duties soon gave him rank among the prominent men in that body. Grimes of Iowa was one of the really strong men of this period, while Harlan, his colleague, possessed a vigor and grasp of mind which I think the public never fully accorded him. Lane of Indiana was full of patriotic ardor, and like Baker of Oregon, had the rare gift of eloquent impromptu speech. Henry Wilson earned the gratitude of his country by his unswerving loyalty to freedom, and his great labors and invaluable services as chairman of the Military Committee. Howard ranked among the first lawyers and most faithful men in the body, and no man had a clearer grasp of the issues of the war. Henderson was a strong man, whose integrity and political independence were afterward abundantly proved. Doolittle was a man of vigor, and made a good record as a Republican, but he naturally belonged to the other side of the Senate, and finally found his way to it, through the quarrel with Johnson.

Garrett Davis was always an interesting figure. His volubility of talk bordered on the miraculous; and whenever he began to swathe the Senate in his interminable rhetoric it awakened the laughter or the despair of everybody on the floor or in the galleries. Bayard and Thurman were recognized as the strong men on their side of the Senate in the Forty-first Congress. Buckalew was one of the really sterling men of his party, but he was a modest man, and only appreciated by those who knew him intimately. As a leading Democrat, Hendricks stood well in the Senate. He was so cautious and diplomatic in temper and so genial and conciliatory in his manner that he glided smoothly through the rugged conflict of opinions in which his side of the chamber was unavoidably involved. B. Gratz Brown was known as an intense radical, but he made little mark in this crisis. He wrote out elaborate and scholarly essays which he read to the Senate, but they received slight attention from members, and seemed to bear little fruit. Carpenter, Schurz and Morton took their seats after the war, and were not long in finding honorable recognition. Carpenter was as brilliant and versatile in intellect as he was naturally eloquent in speech and wayward in morals. Carl Schurz displayed ability in the famous debate with Morton and Conkling on the sale of arms to the French, and his political independence in 1872 gave him great prominence as a Liberal Republican leader; but that virtue has been less conspicuously illustrated in later years. Morton became famous soon after he entered the Senate. The "logic of events" had revolutionized the opinions so vigorously espoused by him only a few months before, and his great speech on reconstruction, in which he avowed and defended his change of base, brought him into great prominence, and multiplied his friends in every section of the country.

In the House, Roscoe Conkling was recognized as a man of considerable talent and great self-esteem. I have elsewhere referred to his passage at arms with Blaine. He never linked his name with any important principle or policy, and was singularly wanting in the qualities of a party leader. No one questioned his personal integrity, but in later years he was prompt and zealous in the defense of the worst abuses which found shelter in his party. Mr. Sherman was shrewd, wiry and diplomatic, but gave little promise of the career he has since achieved through ambition, industry and favoring conditions. Shellabarger was one of the ablest men in the House, and was so rated. He was always faithful and vigilant, and I have before given an instance of this in his timely action on the question of reconstruction. Mr. Blaine, during the first years of his service, showed little activity. He spoke but seldom and briefly, but always with vigor and effect. He steadily grew into favor with his party in the House as a man of force, but without seeming to strive for it. I think his abilities were never fully appreciated till he became speaker. His personal magnetism was as remarkable as his readiness to serve a friend was unfailing; but, like Mr. Conkling, he never identified himself with any great legislative measure.

Henry Winter Davis was the most formidable debater in the House. He was full of resources, while the rapidity of his utterance and the impetuosity of his speech bore down every thing before it. The fire and force of his personality seemed to make him irresistible, and can only be likened to the power displayed by Mr. Blaine in the House, in his later and palmier years. When Gen. Garfield entered the Thirty-eighth Congress there was a winning modesty in his demeanor. I was interested in his first effort on the floor, which was brief, and marked by evident diffidence. He was not long, however, in recovering his self-possession, and soon engaged actively in general debate. His oratory, at first, was the reverse of winning, owing to the peculiar intonation of his voice, but gradually improved, while his hunger for knowledge, unflagging industry, and ambition for distinction, gradually revealed themselves as very clearly defined traits. During the first years of his service the singular grasp of his mind was not appreciated, but it was easy to see that he was growing, and that a man of his political ambition and great industry could not be satisfied with any position of political mediocrity. His situation as a Representative of the Nineteenth Ohio District was exceedingly favorable to his aspirations, as it was the custom of that district to continue a man in its service when once installed, and its overwhelming majority relieved him of all concern about the result. He could thus give his whole time and thought to the study of politics, and the mastery of those historical and literary pursuits which he afterward made so available in the finish and embellishment of his speeches.

As a parliamentary leader, Mr. Stevens, of course, was always the central figure in the House. No possible emergency could disconcert him. Whether the attack came from friend or foe, or in whatever form, he was ready, on the instant, to repel it and turn the tables completely upon his assailant. He exercised the most absolute freedom of speech, making his thrusts with the same coolness at "unrighteous copperheads and self-righteous Republicans." In referring to the moderate and deprecatory views of Colfax and Olin, in January, 1863, he said he had always been fifteen years in advance of his party, but never so far ahead that its members did not overtake him. His keenest thrusts were frequently made in such a tone and manner as to disarm them of their sting, and create universal merriment. When Whaley of West Virginia begged him, importunately, to yield the floor a moment for a brief statement, while Mr. Stevens was much engrossed with an important discussion, he finally gave way, saying, "Mr. Speaker, I yield to the gentleman from West Virginia for a few feeble remarks." When he lost his temper and waged war in earnest his invective was absolutely remorseless, as in the example I have given of it in a previous chapter.

I have before referred to the oratory of Bingham. He was a reader of books and a master of English. He loved poetry, and was one of the most genial and companionable of men, but he was irritable and crispy in temper, and a formidable customer in debate. He had several angry bouts with Butler, in one of which he spoke sneeringly of the "hero of Fort Fisher," to which Butler replied that the gentleman from Ohio had shown his prowess in the hanging of Mrs. Surratt, an innocent woman, upon the scaffold. Bingham retorted that such a charge was "only fit to come from a man who lives in a bottle, and is fed with a spoon." He was often dogmatic and lacking in coolness and balance, but in later years he showed uncommon tact in extricating himself from the odium threatened by his connection with the Credit Mobilier scheme.

One of the really strong men in the House was John Hickman, of Pennsylvania, who had been a prominent figure in Congress during Buchanan's administration. He was a man of brains, courage, and worth. Potter was a true and brave man, whose acceptance of a challenge from Roger A. Pryor, and choice of butcher knives as the weapons of warfare, had made him very popular at the North. Rollins of Missouri was an eloquent man, of superior ability and attainments, and large political experience. Pike of Maine was one of the first men in the House, but too honest and independent to sacrifice his convictions for the sake of success. Deming of Connecticut was a man of real calibre, and on rare occasions electrified the House by his speeches, but he lacked industry. One of the finest debaters in the House was Henry J. Raymond. He displayed very decided power in the debate on Reconstruction, and very effectively exposed the weakness of the Republicans in practically dealing with the Rebel States as if they were at once in and out of the Union. Among the most striking figures in the House were Butler and Cox, whose contests were greatly relished. They were well matched, and alternately carried off the prize of victory. Butler, in the first onset, achieved a decided triumph in his reply to a very personal assault by Cox. "As to the vituperation of the member from New York," said he, "he will hear my answer to him by every boy that whistles it on the street, and every hand-organ, 'Shoo, fly, don't bodder me'!" Cox, for the time, was extinguished, but patiently watched his opportunity till he found his revenge, which Butler afterward frankly acknowledged. For a time there was bad blood between them, but they finally became friends, and I think so continued.

General Banks was always a notable personality. His erect figure, military eye, and splendid voice secured for him the admiring attention of the galleries whenever he addressed the House. Ashley of Ohio who took the lead in the impeachment movement, in which he was so zealous that he became known as "Impeachment Ashley," was another picturesque figure. His fine physique, frolicsome face, and luxuriant suit of curly brown hair singled him out among the bald heads of the body as one of its most attractive members. Boutwell impressed the House as a man of solid qualities, and a formidable debater. He acquitted himself admirably in his defense of Butler against a savage attack by Brooks. Blair was a man of ability, independence, and courage, of which his record in the House gave ample proof. Wilson of Iowa was a young man when he entered Congress, but soon gave proof of his ability, and took rank as one of the best lawyers on the Judiciary Committee. Judge Kelley, since known as the "Father of the House," and one of the fathers of the Greenback movement, first attracted attention by the wonderful volume and power of his voice. It filled the entire Hall, and subdued all rival sounds; but to the surprise of everybody, he met with more than his match when he was followed, one day, by Van Wyck, of New York, who triumphantly carried off the palm. Kelley's voice was little more than a zephyr, in comparison with the roar and thunder that followed it and called forth shouts of laughter, while Kelley quietly occupied his seat as if in dumb amazement at what had happened.

James Brooks was always a conspicuous figure on the Democratic side of the House. I first knew him in the log cabin days of 1840, and afterward served with him in the Congress of 1849. He was a man of ability, a genuine hater of the negro, and a bitter partisan; but I never saw any reason to doubt his personal integrity, and I think the affair which threw so dark a cloud over his reputation in later years was a surprise to all who knew him. Michael C. Kerr was one of the very first men in the House, and a man of rare purity and worth. Randall, like Garfield, was a growing man during the war, and through his ambition, natural abilities, and Congressional training, he became one of the chief magnates of his party. Pendleton was counted an able man, and made his mark as a Bourbon Democrat and the champion of hard money; but he subsequently spoiled his financial record by his scheme for flooding the country with greenbacks. Vallandigham was conspicuous for his intellectual vigor, passionate earnestness, and hatred of Abolitionism. He had the courage of his opinions. The Republicans hated him consumedly. He was a member of the House Committee on Public Lands, which reported the Homestead Bill, and I remember that no Republican member, except the chairman, showed the slightest disposition to recognize him. After the war was ended, however, and the work of reconstruction was accomplished, his temper and qualities seemed to have spent much of their force. He was among the very first to plead for acquiescence and the policy of reconciliation; and if his life had been spared I believe his catholic spirit and active leadership in the "New Departure" would have re-instated him in the sincere regard of men of all parties. Lovejoy was the most impassioned orator in the House. His speeches were remarkable for their pungency and wit, and when the question of slavery was under discussion his soul took fire. He hated slavery with the animosity of a regular Puritan, and when he talked about it everybody listened. Wickliffe of Kentucky was one of the most offensive representatives of the Border State policy, and whenever he spoke Lovejoy was sure to follow. As often as Wickliffe got the floor it was noticed that Lovejoy's brow was immediately darkened in token of the impending strife, while his friends and enemies prepared themselves for the scene. Wickliffe was a large, fierce-looking man, with a shrill voice, and quite as belligerent as Lovejoy; and their contests were frequent, and always enjoyed by the House, and for some time became a regular feature of its business.

Elihu B. Washburne was conspicuous as the champion of economy. He rivaled Holman as the "watch-dog of the treasury" and the enemy of land-grants. He was a man of force, and rendered valuable service to the country, but he assumed such airs of superior virtue, and frequently lectured the House in so magisterial a tone as to make himself a little unpopular with members. This was strikingly illustrated in 1868, in his controversy with Donnelly of Minnesota against whom he had made some dishonorable charges through a Minnesota newspaper. Donnelly was an Irishman, a wit, and an exceedingly versatile genius, and when it became known that he was to defend himself in the House against Washburne's charges, and make a counter attack, every member was in his seat, although the weather was intensely hot and no legislative business was to be transacted. Donnelly had fully prepared himself, and such a castigation as he administered, has rarely, if ever, been witnessed in a legislative body. He kept a ceaseless and overwhelming fire of wit, irony, and ridicule, for nearly two hours, during which the members frequently laughed and sometimes applauded, while Washburne sat pale and mute under the infliction. The tables were turned upon him, although portions of Donnelly's tirade were unparliamentary, and indefensible on the score of coarseness and bad taste. No member, however, raised any point of order; but the friends of Mr. Washburne afterward surrounded Donnelly, and by artful appeals to his good nature prevailed upon him to suppress a portion of the speech, and to proffer statements which tended to destroy its effect and to restore to Washburne the ground he had lost. The House had its fun, while Washburne deigned no reply except to re-affirm his charges, and Donnelly's friends were vexed at his needless surrender of his vantage-ground. It was an odd and unexpected denouement of a very remarkable exhibition.

Oakes Ames was one of the members of the House with whom I was best acquainted. I thought I knew him well, and I never had the slightest reason to suspect his public or private integrity. Personally and socially he was one of the kindliest men I ever knew, and I was greatly surprised when I learned of his connection with the Credit Mobilier project. It first found its way into politics through a speech of Horace Greeley near the close of the canvass of 1872, but it had been fully exposed by Washburn of Wisconsin in a speech in Congress in the year 1868. The history of its connection with American politics and politicians forms an exceedingly interesting and curious chapter. The fate of the men involved in it seems like a perfect travesty of justice and fair play. Some of them have gone down under the waves of popular condemnation. Others, occupying substantially the same position, according to the evidence, have made their escape and even been honored and trusted by the public, while still others are quietly whiling away their lives under the shadow of suspicion. The case affords a strange commentary upon the principle of historic justice.

One of the most remarkable facts connected with the first years of the war was the descent of the Abolitionists upon Washington. They secured the hall of the Smithsonian Institute for their meetings, which they held weekly, and at which the Rev. John Pierpont presided. It was with much difficulty that the hall was procured, and one of the conditions of granting it was that it should be distinctly understood and announced that the Smithsonian Institute was to be in no way responsible for anything that might be said by the speakers. This was very emphatically insisted on by Professor Henry, and was duly announced at the first meeting. At the following, and each succeeding lecture, Mr. Pierpont regularly made the same announcement. These gatherings were largely attended and very enthusiastic; and as the anti-slavery tide constantly grew stronger, the weekly announcement that "the Smithsonian Institute desires it to be distinctly understood that it is not to be held responsible for the utterances of the speakers," awakened the sense of the ludicrous, and called forth rounds of applause and explosions of laughter by the audience, in front of which Professor Henry was seated. Each meeting thus began with a frolic of good humor, which Mr. Pierpont evidently enjoyed, for he made his announcement with a gravity which naturally provoked the mirth which followed. These meetings were addressed by Wendell Phillips, Gerrit Smith, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Dr. Brownson, and other notable men, and were enjoyed as a sort of jubilee by the men and women who attended them.

The services in the Hall of Representatives each Sabbath formed the fitting counterpart of these proceedings. The crowds in attendance filled every part of the floor and galleries, and were full of enthusiasm. The most terrific arraignment of slavery I ever listened to was by Rev. Dr. George B. Cheever, in the course of these services. He was a man of great ability, unquenchable zeal, fervid eloquence, and an Old Testament Christian who was sometimes called the Prophet Isaiah of the anti-slavery cause. He carried his religion courageously into politics, and while arraigning slavery as the grand rebel, he also severely criticised the management of the war and the Border State policy of the President. The most pronounced anti-slavery sermons were also preached in the Capital by Dr. Boynton, Mr. Channing and others, while the Hutchinson family occasionally entertained the public with their anti-slavery songs. All this must have been sufficiently shocking to the slave-holding politics and theology of the city, whose slumbers were thus rudely disturbed.

There was a peculiar fascination about life in Washington during the war. The city itself was unattractive. Its ragged appearance, wretched streets, and sanitary condition were the reproach of its citizens, who could have had no dream of the Washington of to-day; but it was a great military as well as political center. Our troops were pouring in from every loyal State, and the drum-beat was heard night and day, while the political and social element hitherto in the ascendant, was completely submerged by the great flood from the North. The city was surrounded, and in part occupied by hospitals, and for a time many of the principal churches were surrendered to the use of our sick and wounded soldiers, whose numbers were fearfully swelled after each great battle. The imminent peril to which the Capital was repeatedly exposed, and the constantly changing fortunes of the war, added greatly to the interest of the crisis, and marked the alternations of hope and fear among the friends and enemies of the Union. But notwithstanding the seriousness of the times, there was a goodly measure of real social life. Human nature demanded some relaxation from the dreadful strain and burden of the great conflict, and this was partially found in the levees of the President and Cabinet ministers, and the receptions of the Speaker, which were largely attended and greatly enjoyed; and this enjoyment was doubtless much enhanced by the peculiar bond of union and feeling of brotherhood which the state of the country awakened among its friends. The most pleasant of these occasions, however, were the weekly receptions of the Speaker. Those of Speaker Grow were somewhat marred, and sometimes interrupted, by his failing health, but the receptions of Mr. Colfax were singularly delightful. He discharged the duties of his great office with marked ability and fairness, and was personally very popular; and there always gathered about him on these occasions an assemblage of charming and congenial people, whose genuine cordiality was a rebuke to the insincerity so often witnessed in social life.

But I need not further pursue these personal details, nor linger over the by-gones of a grand epoch. We have entered upon a new dispensation. The withdrawal of the slavery question from the strife of parties has changed the face of our politics as completely as did its introduction. The transition from an abnormal and revolutionary period to the regular and orderly administration of affairs, has been as remarkable as the intervention of the great question which eclipsed every other till it compelled its own solution. Although this transition has given birth to an era of "slack-water politics," it has gradually brought the country face to face with new problems, some of which are quite as vital to the existence and welfare of the Republic as those which have taxed the statesmanship of the past. The tyranny of industrial domination, which borrows its life from the alliance of concentrated capital with labor-saving machinery, must be overthrown. Commercial feudalism, wielding its power through the machinery of great corporations which are practically endowed with life officers and the right of hereditary succession and control the makers and expounders of our laws, must be subordinated to the will of the people. The system of agricultural serfdom called Land Monopoly, which is now putting on new forms of danger in the rapid multiplication of great estates and the purchase of vast bodies of lands by foreign capitalists, must be resisted as a still more formidable foe of democratic Government. The legalized robbery now carried on in the name of Protection to American labor must be overthrown. The system of spoils and plunder must also be destroyed, in order that freedom itself may be rescued from the perilous activities quickened into life by its own spirit, and the conduct of public affairs inspired by the great moralities which dignify public life.

These are the problems which appeal to the present generation, and especially to the honorable ambition of young men now entering upon public life. Their solution is certain, because they are directly in the path of progress, and progress is a law; but whether it shall be heralded by the kindly agencies of peace or the harsh power of war, must depend upon the wise and timely use of opportunities. The result is certain, since justice can not finally be defeated; but the circumstances of the struggle and the cost of its triumph are committed to the people, who can scarcely fail to find both instruction and warning in the story of the anti-slavery conflict.

INDEX. [omitted]

THE END

Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6
Home - Random Browse