The high-bred Creole lady is a model of refinement—modest, yet free in her manners; chaste in her thoughts and deportment; generous in her opinions, and full of charity; highly cultivated intellectually and by association; familiar from travel with the society of Europe; mistress of two, and frequently of half a dozen languages, versed in the literature of all. Accustomed from infancy to deport themselves as ladies, with a model before them in their mothers, they grow up with an elevation of sentiment and a propriety of deportment which distinguishes them as the most refined and polished ladies in the whole country. There is with these a softness of deportment and delicacy of expression, an abstinence from all violent and boisterous expressions of their feelings and sentiments, and above all, the entire freedom from petty scandal, which makes them lovely, and to be loved by every honorable and high-bred gentleman who may chance to know them and cultivate their association. Indeed, this is a characteristic of the gentlemen as well as the ladies.
These people may have a feud, and sometimes they do; but this rarely remains long unsettled. No one will ever hear it publicly alluded to, and assuredly they will never hear it uttered in slanderous vituperation of the absent party. I may be permitted here to narrate an incident illustrative of this peculiarity.
A gentleman, knowing of a dissension between two parties, was dining with one of them, in company with several others. This guest spoke to the hostess disparagingly of the enemy of her husband, who, hearing the remark, rebuked his officious guest by remarking to him: "Doctor, my lady and myself would prefer to find out the foibles and sins of our neighbors ourselves." The rebuke was effectual, and informed the doctor, who was new in the country, of an honorable feeling in the refined population of the land of his adoption alien to that of his birth, and which he felt made these people the superior of all he had ever known.
No one has ever travelled upon one of those palatial steamers abounding on the Mississippi, in the spring season of the year, when the waters swell to the tops of the levees, lifting the steamer above the level of the great fields of sugar-cane stretching away for miles to the forest on either bank of that mighty river, who has not been delighted with the lovely homes, surrounded with grounds highly cultivated and most beautifully ornamented with trees, shrubs, and flowers, which come upon the view in constant and quick succession, as he is borne onward rapidly along the accumulated waters of the great river. This scene extends one hundred and fifty miles up the river, and is one not equalled in the world. The plain is continuous and unbroken; nor hill nor stream intersects it but at two points, where the Plaquemine and La Fourche leave it to find a nearer way to the sea; and these are so diminutive, in comparison with all around, that they are passed almost always without being seen.
The fringe of green foliage which is presented by the trees and shrubs adorning each homestead, follows in such rapid succession as to give it a continuous line, in appearance, to the passers-by on the steamer. These, denuded of timber to the last tree, the immense fields, only separated by a ditch, or fence, which spread along the river—all greened with the luxuriant sugar-cane, and other crops, growing so vigorously as at once to satisfy the mind that the richness of the soil is supreme—and this scene extending for one hundred and fifty miles, makes it unapproachable by any other cultivated region on the face of the globe. Along the Ganges and the Nile, the plain is extensive. The desolate appearance it presents—the miserable homes of the population, devoid of every ornament, without comfort or plenty in their appearance—the stinted and sparse crops, the intervening deserts of sand, the waste of desolation, spreading away far as the eye can reach—the streams contemptible in comparison, and the squalid, degraded, thriftless people along their banks, make it painful to the beholder, who is borne on his way in some dirty little craft, contrasting so strangely with the Mississippi steamer. Yet, in admirable keeping with everything else, all these present a grand contrast to the valley of the Mississippi, and only prove the latter has no equal in all that pertains to grandeur, beauty, and abundance, on the globe. To appreciate all these, you must know and mingle with the population who have thus ornamented, with labor and taste, the margin of this stream of streams.
As this great expanse of beauty is a fairy-land to the eye, so is the hospitality of its homes a delight to the soul. In this population, if nowhere else in America, is seen a contented and happy people—a people whose pursuit is happiness, and not the almighty dollar. Unambitious of that distinction which only wealth bestows, they are content with an abundance for all their comforts, and for the comfort of those who, as friends or neighbors, come to share it with them. Unambitious of political distinction, despising the noisy tumult of the excited populace, they love their homes, and cultivate the ease of quiet in these delicious retreats, enjoying life as it passes, in social and elegant intercourse with each other, nor envying those who rush into the busy world and hunt gain or distinction from the masses, through the shrewdness of a wit cultivated and debased by trade, or a fawning, insincere sycophancy toward the dirty multitude they despise. By such, these people are considered anomalous, devoid of energy or enterprise, contented with what they have, nor ambitious for more—which, to an American, with whom, if the earth is obtained, the moon must be striven for, is stranger than all else—living indolently at their ease, regardless of ephemeral worldly distinctions, but happy in the comforts of home, and striving only to make this a place for the enjoyment of themselves and those about them.
To the stranger they are open and kind, universally hospitable, never scrutinizing his whole man to learn from his manner or dress whether he comes as a gentleman or a sharper, or whether he promises from appearance to be of value to them pecuniarily in a trade. There is nothing of the huckster in their natures. They despise trade, because it degrades; they have only their crops for sale, and this they trust to their factors; they never scheme to build up chartered companies for gain, by preying upon the public; never seek to overreach a neighbor or a stranger, that they may increase their means by decreasing his; would scorn the libation of generous wine, if they felt the tear of the widow or the orphan mingled with it, and a thousand times would prefer to be cheated than to cheat; despising the vicious, and cultivating only the nobler attributes of the soul.
Such is the character of the educated French Creole planters of Louisiana—a people freer from the vices of the age, and fuller of the virtues which ennoble man, than any it has fallen to my lot to find in the peregrinations of threescore years and ten. The Creoles, and especially the Creole planters, have had little communication with any save their own people. The chivalry of character, in them so distinguishing a trait, they have preserved as a heritage from their ancestors, whose history reads more like a romance than the lives and adventures of men, whose nobility of soul and mind was theirs from a long line of ancestors, and brought with them to be planted on the Mississippi in the character of their posterity.
Is it the blood, the rearing, or the religion of these people which makes them what they are? They are full of passion; yet they are gentle and forbearing toward every one whom they suppose does not desire to wrong or offend them; they are generous and unexacting, abounding in the charity of the heart, philanthropic, and seemingly from instinct practising toward all the world all the Christian virtues. They are brave, and quick to resent insult or wrong, and prefer death to dishonor; scrupulously just in all transactions with their fellow-men, forbearing toward the foibles of others, without envy, and without malice. In their family intercourse they are respectful and kind, and particularly to their children: they are cautious never to oppress or mortify a child—directing the parental authority first to the teaching of the heart, then to the mind—instilling what are duties with a tenderness and gentleness which win the affections of the child to perform these through love only. Propriety of deportment toward their seniors and toward each other is instilled from infancy and observed through life. All these lessons are stamped upon the heart, not only by the precepts of parents and all about them, but by their example.
The negro servants constitute a part of every household, and are identified with the family as part of it. To these they are very kind and forbearing, as also to their children, to whom they uniformly speak and act gently. A reproof is never given in anger to either, nor in public, for the purpose of mortifying, but always in private, and gently—in sorrow rather than in anger; and where punishment must be resorted to, it is done where only the parent or master, and the child or servant, can see or know it. This is the example of the Church. The confessional opens up to the priest the errors of the penitent, and they are rebuked and forgiven in secret, or punished by the imposition of penalties known only to the priest and his repentant parishioner. Is it this which makes such models of children and Christians in the educated Creole population of Louisiana? or is it the instinct of race, the consequence of a purer and more sublimated nature from the blue blood of the exalted upon earth? The symmetry of form, the delicacy of feature in the males, their manliness of bearing, and the high chivalrous spirit, as well as the exquisite beauty and grace of their women, with the chaste purity of their natures, would seem to indicate this as the true reason.
All who have ever entered a French Creole family have observed the gentle and respectful bearing of the children, their strict yet unconstrained observance of all the proprieties of their position, and also the affectionate intercourse between these and their parents, and toward each other—never an improper word; never an improper action; never riotous; never disobedient. They approach you with confidence, yet with modesty, and are respectful even in the mirth of childish play. Around the mansions of these people universally are pleasure-grounds, permeated with delightful promenades through parterres of flowers and lawns of grass, covered with the delicious shade thrown from the extended limbs and dense foliage of the great trees. These children, when wandering here, never trespass upon a parterre or pluck unbidden a flower, being restrained only by a sense of propriety and decency inculcated from the cradle, and which grows with their growth, and at maturity is part of their nature. Could children of Anglo-Norman blood be so restrained? Would the wild energies of these bow to such control, or yield such obedience from restraint or love? Certainly in their deportment they are very different, and seem only to yield to authority from fear of punishment, and dash away into every kind of mischief the moment this is removed. Nor is this fear and certainty of infliction of punishment in most cases found to be of sufficient force to restrain these inherent proclivities.
Too frequently with such as these the heart-training in childhood is neglected or forgotten, and they learn to do nothing from love as a duty to God and their fellow-beings. The good priest comes not as a minister of peace and love into the family; but is too frequently held up by the thoughtless parent as a terror, not as a good and loving man, to be loved, honored, and revered, and these are too frequently the raw-head and bloody-bones painted to the childish imagination by those parents who regard the rod as the only reformer of childish errors—who forget the humanities in inspiring the brutalities of parental discipline, as well as the pastoral duties of their vocation. They persuade not into fruit the blossoms of the heart, but crush out the delicate sensibilities from the child's soul by coarse reproofs and brutal bearing toward them. The causes of difference I cannot divine, but I know that the facts exist, and I know the difference extends to the adults of the two races.
The Anglo-American is said to be more enterprising, more energetic and progressive—seeks dangers to overcome them, and subdues the world to his will. The Gallic or French-American is less enterprising, yet sufficiently so for the necessary uses of life. He is more honest and less speculative; more honorable and less litigious; more sincere with less pretension; superior to trickery or low intrigue; more open and less designing; of nobler motives and less hypocrisy; more refined and less presumptuous, and altogether a man of more chivalrous spirit and purer aspirations. The Anglo-American commences to succeed, and will not scruple at the means: he uses any and all within his power, secures success, and this is called enterprise combined with energy. Moral considerations are a slight obstacle. They may cause him to hesitate, but never restrain his action. The maxim is ever present to his mind: it is honorable and respectable to succeed—dishonorable and disreputable to fail; it is only folly to yield a bold enterprise to nice considerations of moral right. If he can avoid the penalties of the civil law, success obviates those of the moral law. Success is the balm for every wrong—the passport to every honor.
"His race may be a line of thieves, His acts may strike the soul with horror; Yet infamy no soiling leaves— The rogue to-day's the prince to-morrow."
This demoralizes: the expedient for the just—that which will do, not that which should do, if success requires, must be resorted to. This idea, like the pestilence which rides the breeze, reaches every heart, and man's actions are governed only by the law—not by a high moral sense of right. Providence, it is supposed, prepares for all exigencies in the operations of nature. If this be true, it may be that the peculiarities of blood, and the consequence to human character, may, in the Anglo-American, be specially designed for his mission on this continent; for assuredly he is the eminently successful man in all enterprises which are essential in subduing the earth, and aiding in the spreading of his race over this continent. Every opposition to his progress fails, and the enemies of this progress fall before him, and success is the result of his every effort. That the French Creoles retain the chivalry and noble principles of their ancestry is certainly true; but that they have failed to preserve the persevering enterprise of their ancestors is equally true.
Emigration from France, to any considerable extent, was stayed after the cessation of Louisiana to the United States, and the French settlements ceased to expand. The country along and north of Red River, on the Upper Mississippi and the Washita, was rapidly filled up with a bold, hardy American population, between whom and the French sparsely peopling the country about Natchitoches on the Red, and Monroe on the Washita River, there was little or no sympathy; and the consequence was that many of those domiciled already in these sections left, and returned to the Lower Mississippi, or went back to France.
There had been, anterior to this cession, two large grants of land made to the Baron de Bastrop and the Baron de Maison Rouge, upon the Washita and Bartholomew, including almost the entire extent of what is now two parishes. These grants were made by the European Government upon condition of settlement within a certain period. The Revolution in France was expelling many of her noblest people, and the Marquis de Breard, with many followers, was one of these: he came, and was the pioneer to these lands. A nucleus formed, and accessions were being made, but the government being transferred and the country becoming Americanized, this tide of immigration was changed from French to American, and the requisite number of settlers to complete the grants was not reached within the stipulated period, and they were, after more than half a century, set aside, and the lands disposed of as public lands by the United States Government. Had the government continued in the hands of France, it is more than probable that the titles to these tracts would never have been contested, even though the requisite number of settlers had not been upon the lands to complete the grants at the specified period; and it is also probable there would have been, in proper time, the required number. But this transfer of dominion was exceedingly distasteful to the French population.
The antagonism of races itself is a great difficulty in the way of amalgamation, even though both may belong to the same great division of the human family; but added to this the difference of language, laws, habits, and religion, it would almost seem impossible. In the instance of Louisiana it has, so far, proved impossible. Although the French have been American subjects for more than sixty years, and there now remain in life very few who witnessed the change, and notwithstanding this population has, so far as the government is concerned, become thoroughly Americanized, still they remain to a very great extent a distinct people. Even in New Orleans they have the French part and the American part of the city, and do not, to any very great degree, extend their union by living among each other. Kind feelings exist between the populations, and the prejudices which have so effectually kept them apart for so long a time are giving way rapidly now, since most of the younger portion of the Creole-French population are educated in the United States, and away from New Orleans; consequently they speak the English language and form American associations, imbibe American ideas, and essay to rival American enterprise. Still there is a distinct difference in appearance. Perhaps the difference in bearing, and in other characteristics, may be attributable to early education, but the first and most radical is surely that of blood.
The settlements upon the Red and Washita Rivers did not augment the French population in the country; it has declined, but more signally upon the latter than the former river. There remain but few families there of the ancient population, and these are now so completely Americanized as scarcely to be distinguishable. The descendants of the Marquis de Breard, in one or two families, are there, but all who located on the Bayou Des Arc (and here was the principal settlement), with perhaps one family only, are gone, and the stranger is in their homes.
The French character seems to want that fixity of purpose, that self-denial, and steady perseverance, which is so necessary to those who would colonize and subdue a new and inhospitable country. The elevated civilization of the French has long accustomed them to the refinements and luxuries of life; it has entered into and become a part of their natures, and they cannot do violence to this in a sufficient degree to encounter the wilderness and all its privations, or to create from this wilderness those luxuries, and be content in their enjoyment for all the hardships endured in procuring them: they shrink away from these, and prefer the inconveniences and privations of a crowded community with its enjoyments, even in poverty, to the rough and trying troubles which surround and distress the pioneer, who pierces the forest and makes him a home, which, at least, promises all the comforts of wealth and independence to his posterity. He rather prefers to take care that he enjoys as he desires the present, and leaves posterity to do as they prefer. Yet there are many instances of great daring and high enterprise in the French Creole: these are the exceptions, not the rule.
ABOLITION OF LICENSED GAMBLING.
BATON ROUGE—FLORIDA PARISHES—DISSATISFACTION—WHERE THERE'S A WILL, THERE'S A WAY—STORMING A FORT ON HORSEBACK—ANNEXATION AT THE POINT OF THE POKER—RAPHIGNAC AND LARRY MOORE—FIGHTING THE "TIGER"—CARRYING A PRACTICAL JOKE TOO FAR—A SILVER TEA-SET.
That portion of Louisiana known as the Florida parishes, and consisting of the parishes east of the Mississippi, was part of West Florida, and was almost entirely settled by Americans when a Spanish province. Baton Rouge, which takes its name from the flagstaff which stood in the Spanish fort, and which was painted red, (baton meaning stick, and rouge, red, to Anglicize the name would make it red stick,) was the seat of power for that part or portion of the province. Here was a small Spanish garrison: on the opposite bank was Louisiana; New Orleans was the natural market and outlet for the productions of these Florida settlements.
When the cession of Louisiana to the United States occurred, these American settlers, desirous of returning to American rule, were restless, and united in their dissatisfaction with Spanish control. They could devise no plan by which this could be effected. Their people reached back from the river, along the thirty-first degree of north latitude, far into the interior, and extended thence to the lake border. On three sides they were encompassed by an American population and an American government. They had carried with them into this country all their American habits, and all their love for American laws and American freedom; to the east they were separated by an immense stretch of barren pine-woods from any other settlements upon Spanish soil. Pensacola was the seat of governmental authority, and this was too far away to extend the feeble arm of Spanish rule over these people. They were pretty much without legal government, save such laws and rule as had been by common consent established. These were all American in character, and, to all intents, this was an American settlement, almost in the midst of an American government, and yet without the protection of that or any other government. It was evident that at no distant day the Floridas must fall into the hands of the American Government. But there was to these people an immediate necessity for their doing so at once. They could not wait. But, what could they do? Among these people were many adventurous and determined men: they had mostly emigrated from the West—Tennessee, Kentucky, Western Pennsylvania, and Virginia; and some were the descendants of those who had gone to the country from the South, in 1777 and '8, to avoid the consequences of the Revolutionary War. This class of men met in council, and secretly determined to revolutionize the country, take possession of the Spanish fort, and ask American protection.
They desired to be attached to Louisiana as a part of that State. This, however, they could not effect without the consent of the State; and to ask this consent was deemed useless, until they were first recognized as part of the United States. In this dilemma, a veteran of the Revolution, and an early pioneer to Kentucky, and thence to West Florida, said: "'Wherever there is a will, there is a way:' we must first get rid of the Spanish authority, and look out for what may follow."
They secretly assembled a small force, and, upon a concerted day, met in secret, and under the cover of night approached the vicinity of the fort. Here they lay perdu, and entirely unsuspected by the Spanish Governor Gayoso. As day was approaching, they moved forward on horseback, and entered the open gate of the fort, and demanded its immediate surrender. The only opposition made to the assault was by young Gayoso, the governor's son, who was instantly slain, when the fort surrendered unconditionally. Perhaps this is the only instance in the history of wars that a fort was ever stormed on horseback. Thomas, Morgan, Moore, Johnson, and Kemper were the leaders in this enterprise. They were completely successful, and the Spanish authorities were without the means to subdue them to their duty as Spanish subjects.
The next step in their action was now to be decided. If the Government of the United States attempted their protection, it would be cause for war with Spain; and it was deemed best to organize under the laws of Louisiana, and ask annexation to that State. This was done. Members of the Legislature were elected in obedience to the laws of this State, and appeared at the meeting of that body, and asked to be admitted as members representing the late Florida parishes, then, as they assumed, a part and portion of the State.
When asked by what authority they claimed to be a part of the State, they answered, succinctly: "We have thrown off the Spanish yoke, and, as free and independent Americans, have annexed ourselves and the parishes we represent to this State, and claim as our right representation in this Legislature: we have joined ourselves to you, because it is our interest to do so, and yours, too; and we mean to be accepted." At the head of this representation was Thomas, who was the commander of the party capturing the fort; associated with him was Larry Moore. Thomas came from the river parishes; Moore from those contiguous to the lakes; both were Kentuckians, both illiterate, and both determined men. They did not speak as suppliants for favors, but as men demanding a right. They knew nothing of national law, and, indeed, very little of any other law; but were men of strong common sense, and clearly understood what was the interest of their people and their own, and, if determination could accomplish it, they meant to have it.
There were in the Legislature, at the time, two men of strong minds, well cultivated—Blanc and Raphignac; they represented the city, were Frenchmen—not French Creoles, but natives of la belle France. They led the opposition to the admission of the Florida parishes as part of the State, and their representatives as members of the Legislature. They were acquainted with national law, and appreciated the comity of nations, and were indisposed to such rash and informal measures as were proposed by Thomas and Moore. The portion of the State bordering upon this Spanish territory, and especially that part on the Mississippi, were anxious for the admission and union; they were unwilling that Spain should participate in the control and navigation of any part of the river; and, being peaceable and law-abiding, they wanted such close neighbors subject to the same government and laws. The influence of Blanc and Raphignac was likely to carry the majority and reject the application of the Floridans.
The pertinacious opposition of these men inflamed to anger Moore and Thomas. The matter, to them, was life or death. By some means they must get under the American flag, and they saw the only preventive in these two men. Moore (for it was a cold day when the decision was to be made) was seen to place the iron poker in the fire, and leave it there. Thomas was replying to Blanc in a most inflammatory and eloquent address; for, though rude and unlettered, he was full of native eloquence, and was very fluent: if he could not clothe his strong thoughts in pure English, he could in words well understood and keenly felt. They stimulated Moore almost to frenzy.
At that critical moment Raphignac walked to the fireplace, where Moore had remained sitting and listening to Thomas. Warm words were passing between Thomas and Blanc, when suddenly Moore grasped the heated poker—the end in the fire being at white heat—and calling to Thomas with a stentorian voice, "General Thomas! you take that white-headed French scoundrel, and I'll take blue-nose," and, brandishing his hot poker over his head, he charged, as with the bayonet, pointing the poker at the stomach of Raphignac. "Tonnerre!" exclaimed the frightened Frenchman, and, lifting both hands, he fell back against the wall. Moore still held the poker close to his stomach, as he called aloud, "Take the question, General Thomas! We come here to be admitted, and d—- me if we won't be, or this goes through your bread-basket, I tell you, Mr. Raphy Blue-nose!" Raphignac was a tall, thin man, with a terribly large bottled nose. At the end it was purple as the grape which had caused it. The question was put, and the proposition was carried, amid shouts of laughter. "Oh!" said Raphignac, as the poker was withdrawn, and Moore with it, "vat a d—- ole savage is dat Larry Moore!" Thus a part of West Florida became a part of Louisiana.
From that day forward, many of these men became most prominent citizens of the State. The son of Johnson—one of the leaders—became its Governor. Thomas was frequently a member of the Legislature, and once a member of Congress, from the Baton Rouge district, where he resided, and where he now sleeps in an honored grave. Morgan and Moore were frequently members of the Legislature. But of all the participants in this affair, Thomas was most conspicuous and most remarkable. He was almost entirely without education; but was gifted with great good sense, a bold and honest soul, and a remarkable natural eloquence. His manner was always natural and genial—never, under any circumstances, embarrassed or affected; and in whatever company he was thrown, or however much a stranger to the company, somehow he became the conspicuous man in a short time. The character in his face, the flash of his eye, the remarkable self-possession, the natural dignity of deportment, and his great good sense, attracted, and won upon every one. In all his transactions, he was the same plain, honest man—never, under any circumstances, deviating from truth—plain, unvarnished truth; rigidly stern in morals, but eminently charitable to the shortcomings of others. He was, from childhood, reared in a new country, amid rude, uncultivated people, and was a noble specimen of a frontier man; without the amenities of cultivated life, or the polish of education, yet with all the virtues of the Christian heart, and these, perhaps, the more prominently, because of the absence of the others. It was frequently remarked by him that he did not think education would have been of any advantage to him. It enabled men, with pretty words, to hide their thoughts, and deceive their fellow-men with a grace and an ease he despised; and it might have acted so with him, but it would have made him a worse and a more unhappy man. He now never did or said anything that he was ashamed to think of. He did not want to conceal his feelings and opinions, because he did not know how to do it; and he was sure if he attempted it he should make a fool of himself; for lies required so much dressing up in pretty words to make them look like truth, that he should fail for want of words; and truth was always prettiest when naked. In the main, the General was correct; but there are some who lie with a naivete so perfect that even he would have deemed it truth naked and unadorned.
Larry Moore was a different man, but quite as illiterate and bold as Thomas, without his abilities; yet he was by no means devoid of mind. He resided upon the lake border, in the flat pine country, where the land is poor, and the people are ignorant and bigoted. Larry was far from being bigoted, save in his politics. He had been a Jeffersonian Democrat, he knew; but he did not know why. He lived off the road, and did not take the papers. He knew Jefferson had bought Louisiana and her people, and, as he understood, at seventy-five cents a head. He did not complain of the bargain, though he thought, if old Tom had seen them before the bargain was clinched, he would have hesitated to pay so much. But, anyhow, he had given the country a free government and a legislature of her own, and he was a Jefferson man, or Democrat, or whatever you call his party. He had been sent to the Legislature, and volunteered to meet the British under General Jackson.
From Jefferson to Jackson he transferred all his devotion; because the one bought, and the other fought for, the country. Some part of the glory of the successful defence of New Orleans was his, for he had fought for it, side by side with Old Hickory; and he loved him because he had imprisoned Louallier and Hall. The one was a Frenchman, the other an Englishman, and both were enemies of Jackson and the country.
Now he adored General Jackson, and was a Jackson Democrat. He did not know the meaning of the word, but he understood that it was the slogan of the dominant party, and that General Jackson was the head of that party. He knew he was a Jackson man, and felt whatever Jackson did was right, and he would swear to it. He was courageous and independent; feared no one nor anything; was always ready to serve a friend, or fight an enemy—a fist-fight; was kind to his neighbors, and always for the under dog in the fight. It would, after this, be supererogatory to say he was popular with such a people as his neighbors and constituents. Whenever he chose he was sent to the Senate by three parishes, or to the House by one; and in the Legislature he was always conspicuous. He knew the people he represented, and could say or do what he pleased; and for any offence he might give, was ready to settle with words, or a fist-fight. Physically powerful, he knew there were but few who, in a rough-and-tumble, could compete with him; and when his adversary yielded, he would give him his hand to aid him from the ground, or to settle it amicably in words. "Any way to have peace," was his motto.
There was, however, a different way of doing things in New Orleans, where the Legislature met. Gentlemen were not willing to wear a black eye, or bruised face, from the hands or cudgels of ruffians. They had a short way of terminating difficulties with them. A stiletto or Derringer returned the blow, and the Charity Hospital or potter's field had a new patient or victim. These were places for which Larry had no special penchant, and in the city he was careful to avoid rows or personal conflicts. He knew he was protected by the Constitution from arrest, or responsibility for words uttered in debate, and this was all he knew of the Constitution; yet he was afraid that for such words as might be offensive he would be likely to meet some one who would seek revenge in the night, and secretly. These responsibilities he chose to shun, by guarding his tongue by day, and keeping his chamber at night. Sometimes, however, in company with those whom he could trust, he would visit, at night, Prado's or Hicks's saloon, and play a little, just for amusement, with the "tiger."
Now, in the heyday of Larry's political usefulness, gaming was a licensed institution in the city of New Orleans. The magnificent charity of the State, the Hospital for the Indigent, was sustained by means derived from this tax.
It was the enlightened policy of French legislation to tax a vice which could not be suppressed by criminal laws. The experience of civilization has, or ought to have taught every people, that the vice of gaming is one which no law can reach so completely as to suppress in toto. Then, if it will exist, disarm it as much as possible of the power to harm—let it be taxed, and give the exclusive privilege to game to those who pay the tax and keep houses for the purpose of gaming. These will effectually suppress it. Everywhere else they are entitled to the game, and will keep close watch that it runs into no other net. Let this tax be appropriated to the support of an institution where, in disease and indigence, its victims may find support and relief. Make it public, that all may see and know its habitues, and who may feel the reforming influence of public opinion. For, at last, this is the only power by which the morals of a community are preserved. Let laws punish crimes—public opinion reform vices.
Larry was a lawmaker, and though he loved a little fun at times, even at the expense of the law, he was very solicitous as to the health of the public morals. In several visits at Prado's, he was successful in plucking some of the hair from the tiger. It was exceedingly pleasant to have a little pocket-change to evince his liberality socially with his friends, when it did not trench upon the crop, which was always a lean one on the sand-plains of St. Helena; for, like the great Corsican, Larry had a desolate home in St. Helena.
On one occasion, however, he went too close to the varmint, and returned to his little dirty apartments on the Rue Rampart minus all his gains, with a heavy instalment from the crop. His wonted spirits were gone. He moped to the State House, and he sat melancholy in his seat; he heeded not even the call of the yeas and nays upon important legislation. Larry was sick at heart, sick in his pocket, and was only seen to pluck up spirit enough to go to the warrant-clerk, and humbly insist upon a warrant on the treasurer for a week's pay to meet a week's board. On Monday, however, he came into the Senate with more buoyancy of spirit than had been his wont for some days; for Larry was a senator now, and had under his special charge and guardianship the people and their morals of three extensive parishes.
The Senate was scarcely organized and the minutes read, when it was plain Larry meant mischief. The hour for motions had arrived, and Larry was on his feet: he cleared his throat, and, throwing back his head, said: "Mr. President, I have a motion in my hand, which I will read to the Senate:
"'Resolved, That a joint committee, of one from the Senate, and two from the House, be appointed to report a bill abolishing licensed gaming in the city of New Orleans.'"
Larry had declared war, for he added, as he sent his resolution to the clerk's desk: "At the proper time I mean to say something about these damnable hells." Throughout the city there was a buzz; for at that time New Orleans had not the fourth of her present population. Any move of this sort was soon known to its very extremes. The trustees of the hospital, the stockholders in these licensed faro-banks—for they were, like all robbing-machines, joint-stock companies—and many who honestly believed this the best system to prevent gaming as far as possible, were seen hanging about the lobbies of the Legislature. Each had his argument in favor of continuing the license, but all were based upon the same motive—interest. The public morals would be greatly injured, instead of being improved; where there were only four gaming establishments, there would be fifty; instead of being open and public, they would be hid away in private, dark places, to which the young and the innocent would be decoyed and fleeced; merchants could not supervise the conduct of their clerks—these would be robbed by their employes. As the thing stood now, cheating operated a forfeiture of charter or license: this penalty removed, cheating would be universal. "What would become of the hospital?" the tax-payer asked. "God knows, our taxes are onerous enough now, and to add to these the eighty thousand dollars now paid by the gamblers—why, the people would not stand it, and this great and glorious charity would be destroyed."
To all of these arguments Larry was deaf; his constituents expected it of him; the Christian Church demanded it. They were responsible to Heaven for this great sin. The pious prayers of the good sisters of the holy Methodist Church, as well as those of the Baptist, had at last reached the ears of the Almighty, and he, Larry, felt himself the instrument in His hands to put down the d——d infernal sons of b——, who were robbing the innocent and unsuspecting.
There was no use of urging arguments of this sort to him: if the Charity Hospital fell, let her fall, and if the indigent afflicted could not find relief elsewhere, why, they must die—they had to die anyhow at some time, and he didn't see much use in their living, anyhow; and as for the taxes, he was not much concerned about that: he had but little to be taxed, and his constituents had less. "I, or they, as you see, are not very responsible on that score. By the God of Moses, this licensed gambling was a sin and a curse, if it did support seven or eight thousand people in the Charity Hospital every year: that was the reason so many died there, the curse of God was on the place; for the Scripture says, the 'wages of sin is death,' and I see this Scripture fulfilled right here in that hospital, and the moral and religious portion of my constituents so feel it, and I am bound to represent them. And the d——d gamblers were no friends of mine or of the Church."
There was one, a little dark-moustached Spaniard, who was listening and peering at him, with eyes black and pointed as a chincapin, and, murmuring softly in Spanish, turned and went away. "What did that d——d black-muzzled whelp say?" Larry asked. "I don't understand their d——d lingo." An unobtrusive individual in the background translated it for him. He said: "He who strikes with the tongue, should always be ready to guard with the hands!" "What in the h—- does he mean by that?" asked Larry. "Je ne sais pas!" said one whom Larry remembered to have seen in the tiger's den, and apparently familiar there, for he had been on the wrong side of the table.
"I suppose they mean to shoot me." The Frenchman shrugged his shoulders most knowingly. Larry grew pale, and walked from the lobby to his seat. Here he knew he was safe. He laid his head in his palm, and rested it there for many minutes. At last, he said sharply: "Let them shoot, and be d——d."
The committee was announced. Larry, who was the chairman, and two from the House, constituted this important committee. One of these loved fun, and never lost an opportunity to have it. The meeting of the committee soon took place, and the chairman insisted that the first named on the part of the House should draft the bill. This was the wag. He saw Larry was frightened, and peremptorily refused, declaring it was the chairman's duty. "I do not wish to have anything to do with this matter any way. It was a very useless thing, and foolish too, to be throwing a cat into a bee-gum; for this was nothing else. This bill will start every devil of those little moustached foreigners into fury: they are all interested in these faro-banks. It is their only way of making a living, and they are as vindictive as the devil. Any of them can throw a Spanish knife through a window, across the street, and into a man's heart, seated at his table, or fireside; and to-day I heard one of them say, in French, which he supposed I did not understand, that this bill was nothing but revenge for money lost; and if revenge was so sweet, why, he could taste it too. Now, I have lost no money there—have never been in any of their dens, and he could not mean me."
"Gentlemen, we will adjourn this meeting until to-morrow," said Larry, "when I will try and have a bill for your inspection." The morrow came, and the bill came with it, and was reported and referred to the committee of the whole House. On the ensuing morning, Larry found upon his desk, in the Senate chamber, the following epistle:
"MR. LARRY MOORE: You have no shame, or I would expose you in the public prints. You know your only reason for offering a bill to repeal the law licensing gaming in this city is to be revenged on the house which won honorably from you a few hundred dollars, most of which you had, at several sittings, won from the same house. Now, you have been talked to; still you persist. There is a way to reach you, and it shall be resorted to, if you do not desist from the further prosecution of this bill."
The hand in which this epistle was written was cramped and evidently disguised, to create the impression of earnestness and secrecy. It was a long time before Larry could spell through it. When he had made it out, he rose to a question of order and privilege, and sent the missive to the secretary's desk, to be read to the Senate. During the reading there was quite a disposition to laugh, on the part of many senators, who saw in it nothing but a joke.
"What in the h—- do you see in that thar document to laugh at, Mr. Senators? D—- it, don't you see it is a threat, sirs!—a threat to 'sassinate me? I want to know, by the eternal gods, if a senator in this house—this here body—is to be threatened in this here way? You see, Mr. President, that these here gamblers (d—- 'em!) want to rule the State. Was that what General Jackson fit the battle of New Orleans for, down yonder in old Chemut's field? I was thar, sir; I risked my life in that great battle, and I want to tell these d——d scoundrels that they can't scare me—no, by the Eternal!"
"I must call the senator to order. It is not parliamentary to swear in debate," said the President of the Senate.
"I beg pardon of the chair; but I didn't know this Senate was a parliament before; but I beg pardon. I didn't know I swore before; but, Mr. President, I'll be d——d if this ain't a figure beyant me: for a parcel of scoundrels—d——d blacklegs, sir!—to threaten a senator in this Legislature with 'sassination, for doin' the will of his constituents."
"The chair would remind the senator that there is no question or motion before the Senate."
"Thar ain't? Well, that's another wrinkle. Ain't that thar hell-fired letter to me, sir—a senator, sir, representing three parishes, sir—before this House? (or maybe you'll want me to call it a parliament, sir?) It is, sir; and I move its adoption."
This excited a general laugh, and, at the same time, the ire of Moore.
"By G—, sir; I don't know if it wouldn't benefit the State if these hell-fired gamblers were to 'sassinate the whole of this House or parliament."
The laugh continued, and Moore left the Senate in a rage.
The next morning found a second epistle, apparently from a different source, on Moore's table. It was written in a fine, bold hand, and said:
"LARRY: You splurged largely over a letter found on your desk yesterday. I see you have carried it to the newspapers. I want you to understand distinctly and without equivocation, if the bill you reported to the Senate becomes a law, you die. Verbum sapientis."
Larry had not returned to his seat during the day; but the next morning he came in, flanked by several senators, who had come with him from his quarters. There lay the threatening document, sealed, and directed to the "Honorable Larry Moore." In a moment the seal was broken. This he could read without much trouble. After casting his eyes over it, he read it aloud.
"Now, sir, Mr. President, here is another of these d——d letters, and this time I am told if this bill passes, I am to die. Maybe you'll say this ain't before the Senate."
"The chair would remind the senator that the simple reading of a private letter to the Senate raises no question. There must be a motion in relation to what disposition shall be made of the paper."
"I know that, sir. Mr. President, I'm not a greeny in legislator matters. I have been here before, sir; and didn't I move its adoption yesterday, sir? and wasn't I laughed out of the house, sir? and I expect if I was to make the same motion, I should be laughed out of the house again, sir. Some men are such d——d fools that they will laugh at anything."
"The chair must admonish the senator that oaths are not in order."
"Well, by G—, sir, is my motion in order to-day? I want to know; I want you to tell me that."
"Order, Mr. Senator!"
"Yes, sir, 'order!' Mr. President, that's the word. Order, sir; is my motion in order, sir?"
"The chair calls the senator to order."
"Ah! that is it, is it? Well, sir, what order shall I take? I ask a question, and the chair calls me to order. Well, sir, I'm in only tolerable order, but I want my question answered—I want to know if I'm to be threatened with 'sassination by the hell-fired gamblers, and then laughed at by senators for bringing it before the Senate, and insulted by you, sir, by calling me to order for demanding my rights, and the rights of my constituents, here, from this Senate? This, sir, is a d——d pretty situation of affairs. If General Jackson was in your place, I'd have my rights, and these d——d gamblers would get theirs, sir: he would hang them under the second section, and no mistake."
The laugh was renewed, and the President asked Larry if he had any motion to make.
"Yes, sir," said Larry, now thoroughly aroused. "I move this Senate adjourn and go home, and thar stay until they larn to behave like gentlemen, by G—!" and away he went in angry fury.
For four consecutive days, this scene was enacted in the Senate. Each succeeding day saw Moore more and more excited, and the Senate began to entertain the opinion that there was an intention to intimidate the Legislature, and thus prevent the passage of the bill. These daily missives grew more and more threatening, and terror began to usurp the place of rage with Moore. He would not leave the Senate chamber or his quarters without being accompanied by friends. In the mean time the bill came up, and Moore had made a characteristic speech, and the morning following there were half a dozen letters placed upon his table from the post-office. Their threats and warnings increased his alarm. Some of these purported to come from friends, detailing conversations of diabolical character which had been overheard—others told him only an opportunity was wanting to execute the threats previously made.
The city became excited—a public meeting was called, strong indignation resolutions were passed, and highly approbatory ones of the course and conduct of the intrepid senator, pledging him countenance and support. A subscription was taken up, and a splendid silver tea-set was presented him, and in this blaze of excitement the bill became a law—and the city one extended gambling-shop. The silver set was publicly exhibited, with the name of the senator engraved upon it, and the cause for presenting it, and by whom presented.
Moore was contemplating this beautiful gift with a group of friends: among them were the three individuals who had been the authors of all this mischief, when one of them asked Moore, "Where will you put this rich gift? It will show badly in your pine-pole cabin."
"I intend having the cabin, every log of it, painted red as lightning," said Moore. "The silver shan't be disgraced."
Originally it had been intended by those getting up the joke, when it had sufficiently frightened Moore, to laugh at him; but it took too serious a turn, and Moore died a hero, not knowing that every letter was written by the same hand, and that the whole matter was a practical joke. All, save only one, who participated in it, are in the grave, and only a few remain who will remember it.
Larry Moore was a Kentuckian by birth, and had many Kentucky characteristics. He was boisterous but kind-hearted, boastful and good at a fist-fight, decently honest in most matters, but would cheat in a horse-trade. Early education is sometimes greatly at fault in its inculcations, and this was, in Moore's case, peculiarly so. Had he not been born in Kentucky, these jockey tricks perhaps would not have been a part of his accomplishments. For there, it is said, no boy is permitted to leave home on a horse enterprise until he has cheated his father in a horse-trade. Moore left the State so young that it was by some doubted whether this trait was innate or acquired; but it always distinguished him, as a Kentuckian by birth at least.
He was remarkable for the tenacity of his friendships. He would not desert any one. It was immaterial what was the character of the man, if he served Moore, Moore was his friend, and he would cling quite as close to one in the penitentiary as in the halls of Congress. It made no difference whether he wore cloth or cottonade, lived in a palace or pine-pole cabin, whether honest or a thief, the touchstone to his heart was, "He is my friend, and I am at his service." Not only in this, but in everything else, he strove to imitate his great friend and prototype, General Jackson. He lived to be an old man, and among his constituents he was great, and made his mark in his day in the State. There was some fun in Larry, but he was the cause of much more in others. Larry, rest in peace, and light be the sand that lies on your coffin!
THREE GREAT JUDGES.
A SPEECH IN TWO LANGUAGES—LONG SESSIONS—MATTHEWS, MARTIN, AND PORTER —A SINGULAR WILL—A SCION OF '98—FIVE HUNDRED DOLLARS FOR A LITTLE FUN WITH THE DOGS—CANCELLING A NOTE.
The Legislature of Louisiana, forty years ago, sat in New Orleans, and was constituted of men of varied nationalities. It was common to see in close union, Frenchmen, Germans, Italians, Englishmen, and Americans, with here and there a Scotchman, with his boat-shaped head and hard common sense. The Creole-French and the Americans, however, constituted the great majority of the body.
When the cession to the United States took place, and the colony soon after was made a State of the Union, the Constitution required all judicial and legislative proceedings to be conducted in English, which was the legal language. But as very few of the ancient population could speak or read English, it was obligatory on the authorities to have everything translated into French. All legislative and judicial proceedings, consequently, were in two languages. This imposed the necessity of having a clerk or translator, who could not only translate from the records, but who could retain a two-hours' speech in either language, and, immediately upon the speaker's concluding, repeat it in the opposite language.
This complicated method of procedure consumed much time, and consequently the sessions of the Legislature were protracted usually for three months, and sometimes four.
This fact caused many planters, whose business called them frequently to the city during the winter, to become members of the Legislature. At this time, too, representation was based on taxation, and the suffragist was he who paid a tax to the State. The revenues of the State were from taxation, and these taxes were levied alone upon property. There were no poll taxes, and very few articles except land, negroes, and merchandise were taxed. The consequence was, the government was in the hands of the property-holders only.
The constituency was of a better order than is usually furnished by universal suffrage, and the representation was of a much more elevated character than generally represents such a constituency.
Party spirit, at that time, had made little progress in dividing the people of the State, and the gentlemen representatives met cordially, and constituted an undivided society. There was no division of interest between different sections of the State, and the general good was consulted by all. The Legislature was then composed of substantial men. The seat of government being in the city, and the sessions held during the winter and spring months, men of business, and especially professional men, might represent the city constituency, and yet give a good portion of their time to their usual avocations.
Good laws were the consequence; and the Bench being filled by executive appointment, with the consent of the Senate, and their tenure of office being for life or good behavior, insured the selection of proper men for judges. The Supreme Court was composed at that time of three judges, Matthews, Martin, and Porter. Matthews was a Georgian by birth, Martin was a native of France, and Porter an Irishman: all of these were remarkable men, and each in his own history illustrative of what energy and application will effect for men, when properly applied in youth.
Chief-Justice George Matthews was the son of that very remarkable man, Governor George Matthews, of the State of Georgia. He was born in Oglethorpe County, Georgia, and received only such education as at that time could be obtained in the common country schools of the State. He read law in early life, and was admitted to the Bar of his native State. His father was Governor of the State at the time of the passage of the celebrated Yazoo Act, alienating more than half of the territory of the State.
This act was secured from the Legislature by corruption of the boldest and most infamous character. Governor Matthews was only suspected of complicity in this transaction from the fact that he signed the bill as governor. His general character was too pure to allow of suspicion attaching to him of corruption in the discharge of the duties of his office of governor.
At the period of passing this act, the United States Government was new. The States, under their constitutions, were hardly working smoothly; the entire system was experimental. The universal opinion that the people were sovereign, and that it was the duty of every public officer to yield obedience to the will of the majority, clearly expressed, operated strongly upon the Executives of the States, and very few, then, attempted to impose a veto upon any act of the Legislatures of the different States. Tradition represents Governor Matthews as opposed individually to the act, but he did not feel himself justified in interposing a veto simply upon his individual opinion of the policy or propriety of the measure, especially when he was assured in his own mind that the Legislature had not transcended their constitutional powers; and this opinion was sustained as correct by the Supreme Court of the United States in the case of Fletcher vs. Peck.
The great unpopularity of the transaction involved the Governor and his family. Men excited almost to frenzy, never stay to reflect, but madly go forward, and, in attempts to right great wrongs, commit others, perhaps quite as great as those they are seeking to remedy. Governor Matthews, despite his Revolutionary services and his high character for honesty and moral worth, never recovered from the effects of this frenzy which seized upon the people of the State, and is the only one of the early Governors of the State who has remained unhonored by the refusal of the Legislature, up to this day, to call or name a county for him. This unpopularity was keenly felt by the children of Matthews, who were men of great worth.
William H. Crawford was at this time filling a large space in the public confidence of the people of Georgia, and gave to Governor Matthews his confidence and friendship. It was he who persuaded George Matthews, the son, to emigrate to Louisiana. He frankly told him this unpopularity of his father would weigh heavily upon him through life, if he remained in Georgia. "You have talents, George," said he, "and, what is quite as important to success in life, common sense, with great energy: these may pull you through here, but you will be old before you will reap anything from their exercise in your native State. These prejudices against your father may die out, but not before most of those who have participated in them shall have passed away: truth will ultimately triumph, but it will be when your father is in the grave, and you gray with years. To bear and brave this may be heroic, but very unprofitable. I think I have influence enough with the President to secure an appointment in Louisiana—probably the judgeship of the Territory, or one of them."
Matthews feared his qualifications for such an appointment, and so expressed himself to Crawford. The civil law was the law of Louisiana, and he was entirely unacquainted with this. Crawford's reply was eminently characteristic. The great principles of all laws are the same. Their object is to enforce the right, and maintain impartial justice between man and man. In hearing a case, a judge of good common sense will generally find out the justice of the matter. Let him decide right, and do substantial justice, and he will, ninety-nine times out of one hundred, decide according to law, whether he knows anything about the law or not. And such a judge is always best for a new country, or, in truth, for any country. The appointment was secured, and George Matthews left his native State forever.
Soon after reaching Louisiana, he married Miss Flower, of West Feliciana—a lady in every way suited to him. She was of fine family, with strong mind, domestic habits, and full of energy. They were very much attached to each other, and were happy and prosperous through all the life of the great judge. Mrs. Matthews still lives, and in the immediate neighborhood of her birthplace, and is now active, useful, and beloved by all who know her, though extremely old.
When the Territory was organized into a State under the Constitution, Matthews was appointed chief justice of the Supreme Court by Governor Claiborne—an office he held through life, and the duties of which he discharged with distinguished ability, and to the honor of the State and the entire satisfaction of the Bar and the people.
The mind of Judge Matthews was strong and methodical. His general character largely partook of the character of his mind. He steadily pursued a fixed purpose, and was prudent, cautious, and considerate in all he did. There was no speculation in his mind. He jumped to no conclusions; but examined well and profoundly every question—weighed well every argument; but he never forgot the advice of Mr. Crawford, and sometimes would strain a point in order to effect strict and substantial justice. As a judge, he was peculiarly cautious. However intricate was any case, he bent to it his whole mind, and the great effort was always to learn the right—to sift from it all the verbiage and ambiguity which surrounded and obscured it, and then to sustain it in his decision. Upright and sincere in his pursuits, methodical, with fixity of purpose, he was never in a hurry about anything, and was always content, in his business, with moderate profits as the reward of his labor. As a companion, he was gentle, kind, and eminently social; but he gave little time to social entertainments or light amusements. In his decisions as a judge, he established upon a firm basis the laws, and the enlightened exposition of these, in their true spirit. A foundation was given to the jurisprudence of the State by this court, which entitles it justly to the appellation of the Supreme Court, and to the gratitude of the people of the State.
The life of Judge George Matthews was one of peculiar usefulness. Learned and pure as a judge, moral and upright as a citizen, affectionate and gentle as a husband and father, and humane and indulgent as a master, his example as a man was one to be recommended to every young man. Its influence upon society was prominently beneficial, and was an exemplification of moral honesty, perseverance, and success. He won a proud name as a man and as a jurist, and accumulated a large fortune, without ever trenching upon the rights of another. He secured the confidence and affection of every member of his wife's family—a very extensive one—and was the benefactor of most of them. He was beloved and honored by all his neighbors, through a long life. In his public duties and his private relations he never had an imputation cast upon his conduct, and he died without an enemy.
Francois Xavier Martin was a native of France. In early life he emigrated to the United States, and fixed his residence at Newbern, North Carolina. He was poor, and without a trade or profession by which to sustain himself, or to push his fortunes in a strange land. He labored under another exceedingly great obstacle to success: though pretty well educated, he could not speak the English language. But he had a proud spirit and an indomitable will. He sought employment as a printer, choosing this as a means of learning the English language. Though he had never fingered a type in his life, he had that confidence in himself which inspired the conviction that he could overcome any difficulty presenting itself between his will and success.
He found the editor of the newspaper kind, and apparently indifferent; for he asked no questions relative to his qualifications as a printer, but, requiring help, gave him immediate employment. He went to work—was very slow, but very assiduous and constant, never leaving his stand until he had completed his work. There was a compositor near him, and he watched and learned without asking questions. Owing to the little English he knew, no questions were asked; but it was observed in the office that he was rapidly improving in this, and in the facility of doing his work. The paper was a weekly one, consequently he had ample time for his work, and he improved every moment. The many mistakes he made in the beginning were attributed to his ignorance of the language, and it was not until he became the most expert compositor in the office that it was known that he had never, until he entered this office, been in a printing-office. He was so abstemious in his habits that those about the office wondered how he lived. He rarely left the composing-room, and, in his moments of rest from his work, was employed in studying the language, or reading some English author. A bit of cheese, a loaf of bread, some dried fish, and a cup of coffee constituted his bill of fare for every day, and these were economically used. He never spoke of home, of previous pursuits, or future intentions. He held communion with no one—his own thoughts being his only companions—but steadily persevered in his business. No amusements attracted him. He was never at any place of public resort. He was the talk of the town, though none had seen him unless they visited the little, dirty, inky office in which he was employed. He never seemed to know he was an object of curiosity, and when—as sometimes was the case—half a dozen persons would come expressly to see him, he never turned his head from his work, or seemed to be conscious of their presence.
In this office his progress was very rapid, and it was not very long before he became the foreman in the composing-room. He continued in that capacity until he became the owner of the entire establishment.
Not content with the life of a printer, he disposed of his printing establishment and paper, and came to New Orleans. Before leaving France he had read some law, and now he applied himself closely to its study. In a short time he rose to distinction, and was in a lucrative practice. It was a maxim with Judge Martin never to be idle, and never to expend time or money uselessly. He found time from his professional duties to write a history of Louisiana, which is, perhaps, more correct in its facts than any history ever written.
Early deprivations, and the necessity of a most rigid economy to meet the exigencies of this straitened condition, created habits of abstinence and saving which he never gave up. On the contrary, like all habits long indulged, they became stronger and more obdurate as life advanced. Before his elevation to the supreme Bench, he had accumulated a fortune of at least one hundred thousand dollars, which he had judiciously invested in the city of New Orleans. The tenure of his office was for life, and his ambition never aspired to anything beyond; but he devoted himself to the duties of this with the assiduity of one determined, not only to know, but faithfully to discharge them. Judge Martin was conscientious in all that he did as a man, and remarkably scrupulous as a judge. He was unwilling to hasten his judgments, and sometimes was accused of tardiness in rendering them. This resulted from the great care exercised in examining the merits of the case, and to make himself sure of the law applicable to it.
The peculiar organization of the Supreme Court of Louisiana imposes immense labor upon the judges; they are not only charged with the duty of correcting errors of law, but the examination of all the facts and all the testimony introduced in the trials in the District Court. In truth, the case comes up de novo, and is reviewed as from the beginning, and a judgment made up without regard to the proceedings below further than to determine from the record of facts and law sent up, holding in all cases jurisdiction as well of facts as law—and in truth it is nothing more than a high court of chancery.
Judge Martin was fond of labor, but did not like to do the same labor twice; hence his particularity in examining well both facts and law, in every case submitted for his adjudication. He wished the law permanently established applicable to every case, and disliked nothing so much as being compelled to overrule any previous decision of the Supreme Court. His mind was eminently judicial; its clear perceptions and analytical powers peculiarly fitted him for the position of supreme judge. But there was another trait of character, quite as necessary to the incumbent of the Bench, for which he was altogether as much distinguished. He was without prejudice, and only knew men before his court as parties litigant. It was said of him, by John R. Grymes, a distinguished lawyer of New Orleans, that he was better fitted by nature for a judge than any man who ever graced the Bench. "He was all head, and no heart."
This was severely said, and to some extent it was true, for Judge Martin appeared without sympathy for the world, or any of the world. He had no social habits; he lived in seclusion with his servant Ben, a venerable negro, who served him for all purposes. These two had been so long and so intimately associated, that in habits and want of feeling they seemed identical. Ben served him because he was his master and could compel it. He tolerated Ben because he could not well do without him. He kept an interest account with Ben. He had paid for him six hundred dollars, when first purchased. Ten per cent, upon this amount was sixty dollars. His insurance upon a life policy, which risk he took himself, was one hundred dollars. His services were regularly valued by what such a man would hire for. Ben accompanied him on the circuit, and died at Alexandria. When this was told him, he immediately referred to this account, and declared he had saved money by buying Ben, but should be loser if he paid his funeral expenses, which he declined to do. Judge Martin was very near-sighted, and it was amusing to see him with his little basket doing his marketing, examining scrupulously every article, cheapening everything, and finally taking the refuse of meats and vegetables, rarely expending more than thirty cents for the day's provisions. His penurious habits seemed natural: they had characterized him from the moment he came to the United States, and were then so complete as not to be intensified by age and experience. For many years, he had no relative in this country, and he created no relations, outside of his business, with the community in which he lived. His antisocial nature and his miserable manner of living kept every one from him. Secluded, and studious in his habits, he never seemed solitary, for his books and papers occupied his entire time. His thirst for knowledge was coequal with his thirst for money—and why, no one could tell. He never made a display of the one, or any use of the other but to beget money. There seemed an innate love for both, and an equal disposition to husband both. He seemed to have no ulterior view in hoarding—he endowed no charity, nor sought the world's praise in the grave, by building a church or endowing a hospital. With mankind, his only relations were professional. He never married, and had no taste for female society—was never known to attend a ball or private party, to unite himself with any society, or be at a public meeting—never indulged in a joke or frivolous conversation, and had no use for words unless to expound law or conclude a contract; strictly punctual to every engagement, but exceedingly chary in making any.
As Judge Martin advanced in years, his habits became more and more secluded. He had written for a brother, who came to him from France. This brother was quite as peculiar as himself—they lived together, and he in a great degree substituted Ben, at least so far as society was concerned. Now he was rarely seen upon the street, or mingling with any, save an occasional visit to some member of the Bar, who, like himself, had grown old in the harness of the law. During the early period of the State Government he reported the decisions of the Supreme Court: these reports are models, and of high authority in the courts of Louisiana.
Judge Martin's mind was one of peculiar lucidity and extraordinary vigor; its capacity to acquire, analyze, and apply was quite equal to that of the great Marshall; its power of condensation was superior to either of his compeers, while its capacity for application was never surpassed. It had been trained to close and continuous thought, and so long had this habit been indulged that it had become nature with him. His phlegmatic temperament relieved him from anything like impulsiveness in thought or action; all work with him was considerately approached and assiduously performed. His habits were temperate to austerity, and his mode of life penuriously mean; but, as said of another judge, this may have been the result of habit growing from extreme necessity—though the same characteristics were conspicuous in his brother: like the Judge, he was unmarried, and, though but little younger, was always spoken to and spoken of as his boy-brother. Like his confrere, he remained upon the Bench until he died, which was in extreme old age.
It has been asserted by some that Judge Martin soiled his reputation in his will. It was a very simple and brief will, giving all he possessed to his brother, and was autographic—that is, written in his own hand, and signed, dated, and sealed up, and upon the back of the document written, "This is my autographic will," and this signed with his own proper hand. Such a will is almost impervious to attack under the laws of Louisiana.
The law of Louisiana levies a tax of ten per cent, upon all estates or legacies made to leave the State for foreign countries. The brother of Judge Martin, as soon as his will was administered and the proceeds of his estate were in hand, left the United States for France, carrying with him three hundred thousand dollars, the entire amount of which the Judge died possessed; and it was subsequently ascertained that he had left written instructions with his brother to dispose among his European relatives this sum in obedience to this secret letter of instructions. This was considered as his will proper; and it was contended that the transaction was a fraud, to deprive the State of the legal percentage upon the amount going out of the country. An attempt was made to recover this amount from his executor, but failed; and the attorney for the State was rebuked by the Supreme Court for attempting an imputation dishonorable to the character of the deceased Judge—a legacy bequeathed to the State, in the distinguished services rendered to her by him and through so many years of his life. The facts are as stated. It is true, the will was a clear bequest of all his estate to his brother, a resident of the State, and the memorandum a mere request, and this might have been destroyed or disobeyed with impunity. The will alone was the authoritative disposition of his estate; the brother claimed under this, and the property once in his possession, it was his to dispose of at pleasure.
The death of Judge Martin was regretted by every one as a serious loss to the State, though he had attained very nearly to the age of fourscore. He had failed, from the entire want of social and sympathetic attributes in the composition of his nature, to fasten himself upon the affections of any one, though he commanded the respect of all for the high qualities of his intellect, his public services, and the consistent honesty of his life. He was followed to the grave by the entire Bench and Bar, and most of the distinguished people of his adopted city. But I doubt if a tear was shed at his funeral. He was without the ties in life which, sundered by death, wring tears and grief from the living who loved and who have lost the endeared one. All that the head could give, he had—the heart denied him all: in life he had given it to no one, and his death had touched no heart; and no tear embalmed his bier, no flower planted by affection's hand blooms about his grave. Still he has left an imperishable monument to his fame in his judicial career.
Alexander Porter, the junior by many years of Matthews and Martin, his associates on the Bench, was an Irishman by birth, and came in very early life to the United States. He was the son of an Irish Presbyterian minister of remarkable abilities and great learning. As a chemist, he was only inferior to Sir Humphrey Davy, of his day. During the troubles of 1798, (since known as the rebellion of '98,) he was travelling and delivering lectures upon chemistry through Ireland. He fell under suspicion as being an emissary of the Society of United Irishmen, who was covering, under the character of a scientific lecturer, his real mission to stir up and unite the Irish people in aid of the views of those who were organizing the rebellion. To be suspected was to be arrested, and to be arrested was wellnigh equivalent to being executed—sometimes with the mockery of a trial, and, where evidence was wanting to fix suspicion, even by drum-head court-martial. This latter was the fate of the accomplished and learned Porter. The wrath of the Government visited his family. The brother of the sufferer collected his own and the children of his murdered brother, consisting of two sons and several daughters, and emigrated to America. A number of emigrants from their immediate neighborhood had selected Nashville, Tennessee, as a home in the New World, and thither he came.
The education of Alexander, the eldest of the sons, had progressed considerably in Ireland, and was continued for some years at Nashville. Being poor, he was compelled to employ some of his time in pursuits foreign to study, in order to supply him with the means of pursuing the latter. This education was irregular, but was the foundation of that which in maturer life was most complete. He studied law when quite young, intending at first to remain at Nashville. The competition at the Bar in that place was formidable, and he could not hope to succeed as his ambition prompted, without patient application for years. Louisiana had just been ceded to the United States, Mississippi was filling with population: both these Territories would soon be States. Already they were inviting fields for enterprise and talent, and soon to be more so. Pondering these facts in his ardent mind, and riding alone on one occasion to a justice's court in the country to attend to some trifling matter, he chanced to overtake General Jackson. He had been frequently importuned by Jackson to remove to Louisiana. Jackson was, to some extent, familiar with the country, had frequently visited it, and at that time was interested in a retail store at Bruensburg, a place situated at the mouth of the Bayou Pierre, immediately on the bank of the Mississippi River. Mentioning his wish to emigrate to some point or place where he might expect more speedy success in his profession, Jackson, with his accustomed ardor and emphasis, advised him to go to one of these new Territories, and in such colors did he paint their advantages and the certain and immediate success of any young man of abilities and industry, that Porter's imagination was fired, and he immediately determined to go at once to one of these El Dorados—there to fix his home and commence the strife with fortune, to coax or command her approving smiles. Returning to Nashville, he communicated his intentions to his uncle; they met his approval, and in a short time he was ready to leave in search of a new home.
He was about to leave every friend, to find his home in the midst of strangers, without even an acquaintance to welcome and encourage him. But he was young, vigorous, and hopeful; alive, too, to all he had to encounter, and determined to conquer it. Still, to one of his natural warmth of feeling, the parting from all he had ever known, and all on earth he loved, wrung his heart, and he lingered, dreading the parting that was to come. His kind and devoted uncle, his brothers he loved so tenderly, his sisters, and the friends he had made, all were to be left—and perhaps forever. There were then no steamers to navigate the waters of the West. He might float away, and rapidly, to his new home; but to return through the wilderness, filled with savages and beset with dangers, was a long and hazardous journey, and would require, not only time, but means, neither of which were at his command.
He met General Jackson again. "What!" said he, "Alick, not gone yet? This won't do. When you determine, act quickly; somebody may get in before you. And remember, Alick, you are going to a new country—and a country, too, where men fight. You will find a different people from those you have grown among, and you must study their natures, and accommodate yourself to them. If you go to Louisiana, you will find nearly all the people French; they are high-minded, and fight at the drop of a hat; and now let me tell you, it is always best to avoid a fight; but sometimes it can't be done, and then a man must stand up to it like a man. But let me tell you, Alick, there are not half the men who want to fight that pretend to; you can tell this by their blustering. Now, when you find one of these, and they are mighty common, just stand right up to him, and always appear to get madder than he does—look him right in the eye all the time; but remember to keep cool, for sometimes a blusterer will fight; so keep cool, and be ready for anything. But, Alick, the best way of all is to fight the first man that offers, and do it in such a way as to let everybody know you will fight, and you will not be much bothered after that. Now, Alick, you will hear a great deal of preaching against fighting—well, that is all right; but I tell you the best preacher among them all loves a man who will fight, a thousand times more than he does a coward who won't. All the world respects a brave man, because all the better qualities of human nature accompany courage. A brave man is an honest man; he is a good husband, a good neighbor, and a true friend. You never saw a true woman who did not love a brave man. And now do you be off at once, look for a good place, and when you stop, stop to stay; and let all you say and all you do look to your advantage in the future."
Long years after this parting scene, and when Porter had become a national man, he used to love to recount this conversation to his friends, and the impression it created upon his mind of the wonderful man who had so freely advised him.
When Porter came, he explored the entire country, and selected for his home Opelousas, the seat of justice for the parish of St. Landry. To reach this point from New Orleans, at that time, required no ordinary exertion. He came first to Donaldsonville, where he hired a man to bring him in a small skiff to the courthouse of the parish of Assumption. There he employed another to transport him through the Verret Canal to the lakes, and on through these to Marie Jose's landing, in Attakapas; then another was engaged to take him up the Teche to St. Martinsville, and from there he went by land to Opelousas. This route is nearly three hundred miles.
The banks of the Teche he found densely populated with a people altogether different in appearance, and speaking a language scarcely one word of which he understood, and in everything different from anything he had ever before seen: added to this, he found them distrustful, inhospitable, and hating the Americans, to whose dominion they had been so recently transferred.
He used to relate an anecdote of this trip, in his most humorous manner. "I had," he said, "been all day cramped up in the stern of a small skiff, in the broiling sun, with nothing to drink but the tepid water of the Teche. I was weary and half sick, when I came to the front of a residence, which wore more the appearance of comfort and respectability than any I had passed during the day. It was on Sunday, and there were a number of decently dressed people, young and old, upon the gallery or piazza, and there were great numbers of cattle grazing out on the prairie. Here, I thought, I may find some cool water, and perhaps something to mix with it. I landed, and went to the front gate, and called. This was quite near the house, and I thought some one said, 'Come in.' I opened the gate, and started for the house. At this juncture, a tall, dark man, wearing a very angry look, came from the interior of the house, and stopping at the gallery door, looked scowlingly down upon me as I approached the steps. 'Arretez!' he said, waving his hand. This wave I understood, but not the word, and stopped. He spoke to me in French: I did not understand. I asked for water: this he did not understand, as it was pronounced with considerable of the brogue. Turning abruptly round, he called aloud, 'Pierre!' and a negro man came out, who was directed to ask me what I wanted. I told him, water: this he translated for his master. He spoke again angrily to the negro, who told me there was water in the bayou. 'Then, can I get a little butter-milk?' I asked. As soon as this was translated to him, he flew into a violent rage, and commenced gesticulating passionately. 'You better run, sir,' said the negro, 'he call de dogs for bite you.' I heard the yelp in the back yard, and started for the gate with a will: it was time, for in a moment there were a dozen lean and vicious curs at my heels, squalling and snapping with angry determination. I fortunately reached the gate in time to close it behind me and shut off my pursuers, amid the laughter and gibes of those in the gallery. I took my boat, and a few miles above found a more hospitable man, who gave me my dinner, plenty of milk, and a most excellent glass of brandy. I inquired the name of the brute, and recorded it in my memory for future use. Ten years after that, he came into my office, and told me he wished to have my services as a lawyer. He had quarrelled with his wife, and they had separated. She was suing him for a separation, and property, dotal and paraphernal. If she recovered, and there were strong reasons for supposing she would, he was ruined.
"'Why do you come to me?' I asked.
"'Ah! Advocat Porter, my friend tell me you de best lawyer, and in my trouble I want de best.' He stated his case, and I told him I would undertake it for a thousand dollars.
"'Mon dieu!' he exclaimed, with a desponding shrug, 'it is not possible to me for pay so much.'
"'Then you must employ some one else.'
"'But dere is none else dat be so good like you. Monsieur Brent is for my wife—Got damn!—an' you is de best now, so my friend tell me.'
"'Very well, then, if you want my services, you must pay for them; and you had better come to terms at once, for here is a note which I have just received from Mr. Brent, telling me he wishes to see me, and I expect it is to engage me to assist him in this very case.'
"'O mon dieu! mon dieu!' he exclaimed, in agony. 'Vell, I shall give you one thousand dollar.'
"I immediately wrote a note for the amount, payable when the suit was determined; but it was with great difficulty I could induce him to sign it. At length he did, however, and I gained his case for him. He came punctually to pay his note. When I had the money in hand, I told him I had charged him five hundred dollars for attending to his case, and five hundred for setting his dogs on me.
"'I been tink dat all de time,' he said, as he left the office."
There were then several men of eminence at the Bar in the Opelousas and Attakapas country—Brent, Baker, Bowen, and Bronson. The superior abilities of Porter soon began to be acknowledged. His practice increased rapidly, and when a convention was called to form a constitution for the State of Louisiana, Porter was elected from Opelousas as a delegate. Still very young, and scarcely known in the city or along the coast parishes, he came unheralded by any extraordinary reputation for abilities. Very soon, however, he was taking the lead amid the best talent in the State.
In every feature of this Constitution the mind of Porter is apparent; and to-day, to one who has witnessed the forming and passing away of many constitutions, and their effect upon public morals and the general interests of the country, it appears the best that was ever given to a State in this Union. To those who were most active in the formation of this Constitution, and who had most at heart the protection of every interest in the State, the judicial system was most interesting. The preserving of the civil law as the law of the land, and which was guaranteed by the treaty of cession, and at the same time to engraft American ideas upon that system, was a delicate and difficult matter. The French and the French Creoles were desirous of retaining as much of French law and French ideas as possible. To these they had always been accustomed: they thought them best, and were very loath to permit innovations. A written constitution was to these people entirely a new thing. Accustomed to almost absolute power in the hands of their Governors, with his council—these being appointed by the Crown, to which they owed allegiance—they could hardly comprehend a constitutional representative form of government, and, naturally distrustful of the Americans, they feared every move on their part. Porter was an Irishman, and they distrusted him and Henry Johnson less than any others of the convention speaking the English language. Where a difference of opinion seemed irreconcilable between the two interests, Porter was generally the referee, and he was always successful in reconciling these disputes, and bringing both parties to the support of his own views, which were those generally between the two extremes. In this way he succeeded in having a constitution framed as he wished it, upon the organization of the State Government. Under this Constitution, with Matthews and Martin, he was placed upon the Bench of the Supreme Court. Here he remained for many years; but his ambition sought distinction in the councils of the nation, and he resigned his seat to become a candidate for the Senate of the United States.
He had, years before, married the sister of Isaac L. Baker, of the Attakapas country, by whom he had two daughters. One of them had died in early life; the other—a most lovely woman—was under the care of his maiden sister, who resided with him, and had charge of his household until her death. Subsequently to the death of this lady, this only child was married to Mr. Alston, of South Carolina, but survived her marriage only a short time, dying childless.
He was successful in his canvass for the Senate, and in that body he soon became prominent as an orator of great powers, and as a most active business man. It was here the long-existing acquaintance with Mr. Clay ripened into deep friendship. Porter had always been the supporter of the views of Mr. Clay, and during his six years' service in the Senate, he gave a hearty and efficient support to the measures representing the policy of that great statesman.
After the expiration of his senatorial term he retired with an exhausted constitution to his elegant home in the parish of St. Mary, where he devoted himself to his planting interest, now very large. After the death of his daughter, his health declined rapidly; yet, notwithstanding his debilitated condition, he was chosen by a Democratic Legislature, a second time, as senator to the United States Congress; but he never took his seat. Just before the meeting of Congress, he visited Philadelphia for the purpose of obtaining medical advice. Dr. Chapman made a thorough examination of his case, which he pronounced ossification of the arteries of the heart, and which was rapidly progressing. He advised the Judge to return immediately home, and not to think of taking his seat in the Senate, as he was liable to die at any moment, and certainly must die in a very short time. He left immediately for his home.
Some years before this, Mr. Clay found himself so embarrassed that it was necessary for him to apply to his friends for aid. Judge Porter came forward and loaned him a large sum, for which he held his note. Upon reaching Maysville, in descending the Ohio, on his return from Philadelphia, Porter debarked, and went, by stage, to Lexington, where he visited Mr. Clay, and spent one night with him. Finding his disease increasing, and fearing, unless he hurried, that he might never reach home, he declined a longer visit. When in the carriage, (so it was stated at the time, but I do not vouch for the fact,) he took the hand of Mr. Clay, and, pressing it tenderly, said, "Farewell until eternity!" and bade the boy drive on. Mr. Clay found his note left in his hand, marked across the face, "Paid."
On reaching home, his health seemed for a short time to rally; but he began again to sink. Finding it impossible to lie down to sleep, he anticipated speedy dissolution. As a politician, he had been greatly harassed by a dissolute press, and, as a lawyer and prominent man, he had made some enemies. Among these was Thomas H. Lewis, a distinguished lawyer of Opelousas, who, of all his enemies, he hated most, and he was an honest hater. A clergyman was spending some time with him, and apprehending that he might pass suddenly away, remained, in company with Mr. James Porter, his brother, almost constantly with him. Only a day or two anterior to his death, after some conversation upon the subject of the great change, leaning back in his reclining easy-chair, he seemed to forget the presence of these two, and, after remaining for more than an hour entirely silent, without moving or opening his eyes, he commenced to speak, as if communing with himself. "I have," he said, "retrospected all my life, and am satisfied. Many things I have done I should not; but they were never from a bad motive. I have accomplished more than my merits were entitled to. To the inconsiderate generosity of the people of Louisiana I owe much of the success of my life. I have filled the highest offices in their gift, the duties of which I have faithfully discharged to the best of my abilities, and, I believe, to the satisfaction of the people of the State. I have differed with many of my fellow-citizens, and some of them are my enemies; but from my heart I have forgiven them all, as I hope to be forgiven by them, and by my God, before whom I must in a few hours appear." He paused many minutes, and then emphatically added: "Yes, Lord, even Tom Lewis."
The opinions of Judge Porter in the reports of the decisions of the Supreme Court are magnificent specimens of learning, logic, and eloquence. Of every question he took a bold and comprehensive view, and the perspicuity of his style and the clearness of his ideas made all he wrote comprehensible to the commonest capacity. In his decisions he was merciless toward a suitor where he discovered fraud, or the more guilty crime of perjury. His wit was like the sword of Saladin: its brilliancy was eclipsed by the keenness of the edge. In debate he was brilliant and convincing; in argument, cogent and lucid; in declamation, fervid and impassioned, abounding in metaphor, and often elucidating a position with an apposite anecdote, both pointed and amusing. His memory was wonderful, and his reading extensive and diversified. He had so improved the defective education of his youth as to be not only classical, but learned. Impulsive and impetuous, he was sometimes severe and arrogant toward his inferiors who presumed too much upon his forbearance. In his feelings and social associations he was aristocratic and select. He could not tolerate presumptuous ignorance; but to the modest and unobtrusive he was respectful and tolerant. For the whining hypocrisy of pretended piety he had the loftiest contempt, while he gave not only his confidence, but his most sincere respect, to him whose conduct squared with his religious professions. He was a Protestant in religion, as his father had been; but was superior to bigotry or the intolerance of little minds and lesser souls. Like all men of exalted genius, he was erratic at times, and uncertain in his temper. He died without pain, bequeathing his large estate to his brother, with legacies to his sister in Ireland, and to some friends there. To Mr. Clay he left his great diamond ring. He had, at his death, attained only to the age of fifty-seven years. Like Judge Martin, his besetting sin was love of money; but he was not a miser. To his slaves he was remarkably kind and indulgent, never permitting them to be persecuted by any one, and always treating them with paternal kindness—attentive to their comfort, furnishing them with good houses, beds, and an abundance of food and clothing—indeed, with everything which could contribute to their comfort or happiness. His hospitality was not surpassed by any gentleman in all the land. All who have visited at Woodlawn, the beautiful and beautifully improved residence of Judge Porter, will remember the warm Irish welcome and luxurious hospitality of its accomplished and talented master.
Thus have I attempted a slight sketch of the characters, minds, peculiarities, and services of these eminent men and jurists, who reduced to order and form the jurisprudence of Louisiana. It was the eminent abilities and extensive legal learning for which they were so eminently distinguished, as well as the stern integrity of each one of them, which prompted the executive of the State to select them for this delicate and onerous position. At this time, there were not three other men in the State combining so fully all these traits. Their long continuance in office systematized the law and the proceedings in the courts, making order out of chaos, and building up a jurisprudence not inferior to that of any country. Under the peculiar circumstances, this was no very easy or enviable task. The country was now American, and it was important that the judicial system should approximate as nearly as possible to the American system, and, at the same time, preserve the civil law as the law of the land. This law is a most beautiful system of equity, and is disrobed of many of the difficulties which surround the common law, and which oblige in every common-law country a separate and distinct system of equity.