"Burr's term as Vice-President terminated on the fourth of March, 1805. The odium which attached to his name found universal utterance after the duel. It was not simply the killing of Hamilton; this merely gave occasion for the outburst of public indignation. His private character had always been bad. As a member of the Legislature, he had so conducted himself as to excite general suspicion of his integrity. His desertion of the party elevating him to the Vice-Presidency, and lending himself to the opposition party to defeat the clearly expressed views of his own party, all combined to make him extremely odious to the populace.
"In the canvass for the Presidency, he had been mainly instrumental in carrying the State of New York for the Republican party. In this he had triumphed over Hamilton; but in the more recent contest for Governor of the State, he found that the Republican party adhered to principle, and refused to be controlled by him, repudiating his every advance; and learned, also, that the Federal party would not unite in accepting him. Defeated on every side, in all his views, and mainly through the instrumentality of Hamilton, he determined, after killing his rival, if possible, to destroy the Government.
"There was nothing unfair, or out of the ordinary method of conducting such affairs, in this duel. Hamilton's eldest son, but a little while before, had been slain, in a duel, on the very spot where his father fell, and the event created little or no excitement; and when Burr saw himself met with universal scorn, he knew it was the eruption of an accumulated hatred toward himself, and that all his ambition for future preferment and power was at an end. Immediately he left for the West, and commenced an abortive effort to break up the Union.
"The Allegheny Mountains opposed, at that time, an obstacle to free communication with the East. The States west were politically weak, and, supposing their interests were neglected by Congress, were restless and dissatisfied. This was especially true of Western Pennsylvania. There were very many young and ambitious men in all the Western States and Territories. Tennessee, Kentucky, and Ohio were rapidly populating from the Eastern and Middle States. Their commercial communication with the East was attended with so many difficulties as to force it almost entirely to New Orleans.
"Geographically, it seemed that the valley of the Mississippi was, by nature, formed for one nation. The soil and climate promised to enterprise and industry untold wealth. The territorial dimensions were fabulous. The restless and oppressed multitudes of overstocked Europe had already commenced an emigration to the United States, which promised to increase to such an amount as would soon fill up, to a great extent, this expanded and promising region. The Mississippi furnished an outlet to the ocean, and a navigation, uninterrupted throughout the year, for thousands of miles, and New Orleans, a market for every surplus product. Burr saw all this, and determined to effect its separation from the Union, and there to establish a new empire, which should, ere long, control the destinies of the continent. It was the conception of genius and daring, but required an administrative ability which he had not, to consummate this conception. He miscalculated his material. The people of the West were vastly more intelligent than he had supposed them. They were not so simple as to receive his views, and blindly adopt and act upon them. They canvassed them, and concluded for themselves. At Pittsburgh he found a number of adventurous young men (who had nothing to lose, and who were ripe for any enterprise which promised fame or fortune,) to unite with him.
"He found Henry Clay in Kentucky, and Andrew Jackson in Tennessee, young, enterprising, and full of spirit and talent. He supposed them to be the men he sought, and approached both, cautiously revealing his views; but, to his astonishment, the grievances of the West had not so warped their patriotism as to dispose them to engage in any schemes which threatened the dismemberment of the Union. Clay listened and temporized, but never, for a moment, yielded assent. Jackson, more ardent, and a military man by nature, was carried away with the idea for a time. He was well acquainted with the people of the West, and especially with the population on the Lower Mississippi, and was the man who recommended Burr to make first a descent upon Mexico, as I have been confidentially informed, and sincerely believe. I have also been informed that he dissuaded Burr from any attempt to excite a war of the West with the East; but first to make Mexico secure, which they and Wilkinson believed would be an easy matter. It was when Burr, having abandoned his first enterprise, descended the Mississippi, that he was arrested. This arrest was made by the acting Governor of Mississippi, and at some point in that Territory, where Jackson had a store or trading establishment. He was, with three of his aides, on his way to meet Wilkinson, for the purpose of arranging matters. He escaped, and finding things prepared for his interception, he made his way across the country; but was finally arrested, on the Tombigbee, by an officer of the United States army. When on his trial at Richmond, Jackson went there, and was found on the street haranguing the people in Burr's favor, and denouncing the prosecution and the President. Subsequently, however, he denounced Burr, and pretended that he had deceived him. Humphrey Marshall, Pope, Grundy, and Whitesides united with Clay in condemning the entire scheme. There was a crazy Irishman, an adventurer, named Blannerhasset, residing on the Ohio, who at once entered into his views, embarked all his fortune in the enterprise, and, with Burr, was ruined. He was tried for treason, and acquitted. Soon after, he left the country, and remained away for many years, returning to find himself a stranger, and almost forgotten."
Some months subsequent to this conversation, Colonel Burr came up from New York to visit his brother-in-law, Judge Reeve, and an opportunity was thus afforded me to see and converse with him; but no allusion was made to the past of his own life, save an account of some suffering he underwent in the Canadian campaign, with General Montgomery. He had contracted, he said, a rheumatism in his ankle, during the winter he was in Canada, and that he had occasional attacks now, never having entirely recovered. He was not disposed to talk, and still he seemed pleased at the attentions received from the young gentlemen who visited him occasionally during his short stay. I do not remember ever having seen him on the street, or in the company of any one, except some of the young men who were reading with Judge Reeve. Some years after this, I met Colonel Burr in the city of New York, and spent an evening with him. At this time he alluded to his trip down the Mississippi, and made inquiry after several persons whom he had known. There were then living three men who, as his aides, had accompanied him upon his expedition. I knew the fact, and expected he would allude to them, but he did not. He seemed to desire to know more of those who had been active in procuring his arrest.
It was Cowles Mead (who was acting Governor of the Territory of Mississippi at the time) who arrested Burr at Bruensburgh, a small hamlet on the banks of the Mississippi, immediately below the mouth of the Bayou Pierre. "Mead," he said, "was a great admirer of Jefferson, because, I suppose, when he had been unseated by the contestant of his election, (a Mr. Spaulding,) Jefferson, to appease his wounded feelings, had appointed him secretary to the Mississippi Territory. He was a vain man of very small mind, and full of the importance of his official station." I remarked that he was a brother-in-law of mine. "I was not aware of that, but I am sure you are too well acquainted with the truth of the statement to be offended at my stating it." I remarked: "Colonel, I am thoroughly acquainted with General Mead, and equally as well acquainted with all the circumstances connected with your acquaintance with him. The adventure of Bruensburgh has been, through life, a favorite theme with the General, and I doubt if there is living a man who ever knew the General a month, who has not heard the story repeated a dozen times." He dryly remarked: "I should have supposed the episode to that affair would have restrained him from its narration;" and the conversation ceased.
I shall have much more to say of these two in a future chapter. At this time Colonel Burr was old and slightly bent, very unlike what he was when I first met him; still his eyes and nose, brow and mouth, wore the same expression they did fifteen years before. About the mouth and eye there was a sinister expression, and he had a habit of looking furtively out of the corner of his eye at you, when you did not suppose he was giving any attention to you.
CHANGE OF GOVERNMENT.
GOVERNOR WOLCOTT—TOLERATION—MR. MONROE—PRIVATE LIFE OF WASHINGTON— THOMAS JEFFERSON—THE OBJECT AND SCIENCE OF GOVERNMENT—COURT ETIQUETTE —NATURE THE TEACHER AND GUIDE IN ALL THINGS.
During the year 1820 I was frequently a visitor at the house of Governor Oliver Wolcott, who then resided in Litchfield, Connecticut. Governor Wolcott was a remarkable man in many respects. He was originally a Federalist in politics, and enjoyed the confidence of that party to an unlimited extent. His abilities were far above ordinary, and his family one of great respectability. He was a native of Connecticut, and after Alexander Hamilton retired from the Treasury bureau in the Cabinet of Washington, he succeeded to that position. He filled the office with credit to himself, and to the satisfaction of his chief. He had, after considerable time spent in public life, left Connecticut, to reside in New York. Subsequent to the war, and when the Federal party had abandoned its organization under the Administration of Mr. Monroe, there grew up in his native State a party called the Toleration party. In reality it was a party proscriptive of the old Federal leaders, and it grew out of some legislation in connection with religious matters, in which, as usual, the Puritan element had attempted to oppress, by special taxation, for their own benefit, all others differing from them in religious creed. Governor Wolcott favored this new organization, and he was invited to return to the State and give his aid to its success. He did so, and in due time was made Governor by this party. At the time of which I write, he was as bitterly and sincerely hated by the old Federal party as ever Jefferson was, or as Andy Johnson now is by the Radical party, which is largely constituted of the debris of that old and intolerant organization, and which is now eliminating every principle of the Constitution to gratify that thirst for power, and to use it for persecution, that seems inherent in the nature of the Puritan. By the hour I have listened to the abuse of him, from the mouths of men whose lives had been spent in his praise and support, simply because he had interposed his talents and influence to arrest the oppressor's hand. They said he had deserted his party, that he would live to share the fate of Burr, and that he was as great a traitor.
The bitterness and injustice of party is proverbial, and its want of reason is astonishing. Men who are cool and considerate on all other subjects, are frequently the most violent and unreasonable as partisans. It seems akin to religious fanaticism, and proscribes with the same bigotry all who will not, or conscientiously cannot, act or think with them. It prescribes opinions, and they must be obeyed by all who belong to the organization, and without reservation or qualification. Its exactions are as fierce and indisputable as the laws and regulations of the Jesuits. These are changed with party necessities, and not unfrequently are diametrically antagonistic to the former creed; yet you must follow and sustain them, or else you are a traitor, and denounced and driven from the party, and often from intercourse socially with those who have been your neighbors and friends from boyhood. In this method party compels dishonesty in politics, and is eminently demoralizing, for it is impossible to familiarize the conscience with political dishonesty without tainting the moral man in ordinary matters pertaining to life. Once break down the barrier which separates the right from the wrong, that success may come of it, and every principle of restraint to immoral or dishonest conduct is swept away. For this reason men of stern integrity never make good politicians. They are very often the reliable Statesmen, never the reliable politicians.
Governor Wolcott had through his life sustained an unimpeached reputation. He had filled to the full his political ambition. Again and again he had been honored by his people who had grown up with him. He had been honored by the confidence of Washington, and the nation. He was wealthy, was old, and only aspired to do, and to see done, justice to the whole people of his native State. In doing this he came in conflict with the unjust views and iniquitous conduct of an old, crushed party, and he was denounced as a traitor, and ostracized because he would be just.
This was the disruption forever of the Federal party in Connecticut; for though it had ceased to exist as a national organization, it still was sufficiently intact to control most of the New England States. Mr. Monroe's Administration had been so popular that in his second election he received every vote of every State in the Union, save New Hampshire: one man in her electoral college, who was appointed to vote for him, refused to do so, and gave as his reason that he was a slave-owner. New interests had supervened, old issues were dead—they had had their day—their mission was accomplished; old men were passing away, the nation was expanding into great proportions, and men of great talents were growing with and for the occasion; old party animosities were dimming out, and the era of good feelings seemed to pervade the national heart. Even John Adams and Thomas Jefferson were amicably corresponding and growing affectionate at eighty. It was but the lull which precedes the storm—the sultry quiet which augurs the earthquake.
Upon one occasion I ventured to ask Governor Wolcott to tell me something of Washington. We were strolling in his garden, where he had invited me to look at some melons he was attempting to grow under glass. He stopped, and turning round, looked me full in the face, and asked me if I had not read the "Life of Washington."
"Not the private life," was the reply.
"Ah! a very laudable curiosity in one so young. I knew him well, and can only say his private was very much like his public life. I do not suppose there ever lived a man more natural in his deportment than Washington. He did nothing for effect. He was more nearly the same man on the street that he was in his night-gown and slippers, than any man I ever knew; I can't say I was intimate with Washington; no man can or ever could have said that. His dignity was austere and natural. It was grand, and awed and inspired a respect from every one alike. You breathed low in his presence—you felt uneasy in your seat, before him. There was an inspiring something about him, that made you feel it was a duty to, stand in his presence, uncovered, and respectfully silent. I have heard this sternness attributed to his habit of command; not so—it was natural, and he was unconscious of it. Most men, however stern, will unbend to woman. There is in woman's presence a divinity which thaws the rigor of the heart and warms the soul, which manifests itself in the softening of the eye, in the glow upon the cheek, and the relaxation of manner. It was not so with Washington. In his reception-rooms he was easily polite and courteously affable; but his dignity and the inflexibility of his features never relaxed.
"I remember to have heard Mrs. Adams say 'she did not think he was ever more than polite to Mrs. Washington.' With all this he was very kind, and if he ever did let himself down it was to children, and these never seemed to feel his austerity, or to shrink away from it. It is said that it is the gift of childhood to see the heart in the eye and the face. It is certain they never approach an ill-natured or bad man, and never shrink from a kind and good one. In his intercourse with his Cabinet, he was respectful to difference—consulted each without reserve or concealment, and always weighed well their opinions, and never failed to render to them his reasons for differing with them. He was very concise and exact in stating a case, and never failed to understand well every question before acting. He had system and order in everything. In his private affairs, in his household, as well as in his public conduct, he observed strict rules, and exacted their obedience from all about him. In nothing was he demonstrative or impulsive; but always considerate and cool.
"I know nothing of his domestic matters. There were malicious persons who started many reports of discord between Washington and his lady. These I believe were all false. Mrs. Washington was a high-bred woman, a lady in everything; and so far as my observation or acquaintance extended, was devoted and dutiful. Of one thing I am very sure: she was a proud woman, and was proud of her husband. She certainly had not the dignity of her husband; no one, male or female, ever had. She was less reserved, more accessible, and not indifferent to the attentions and flatteries of her husband's friends. In fine, she was a woman. Washington's deportment toward his wife was kind and respectful, but always dignified and courteous. Toward his servants he was uniformly kind.
"He was an enemy to slavery, and never hesitated to avow his sentiments. His black servants were very much attached to him. The peculiar nature of Washington forbade those heart-friendships demanded by a narrower and more impulsive nature. He kept all the world too far from him ever to win that tenderness of affection which sweetens social life in the blending of hearts and sympathy of souls. But he commanded that esteem which results from respect and appreciation of the great and commanding attributes of his nature, which elevated him so far above the men of his age. He wanted the softness and yielding of the heart that so wins upon the affections of associates and those who are in close and constant intercommunication. Are not these incompatible with the stern and towering traits essential to such a character as was Washington's? Like a shaft of polished granite towering amid shrubs and flowers, cold and hard, but grand and beautiful, he stood among the men and the women who surrounded him when President.
"General Washington was cautious and reserved in his expressions about men. He rarely praised or censured. At the time I was in the Cabinet, he had abundant cause for dislike to Mr. Jefferson, who, in his Mazei letter, had represented him as laboring to break up the Government, that upon its ruins a monarchy might arise for his own benefit. He spoke of this letter more severely than I had ever heard him speak of anything, and said no man better knew the charge false, than Mr. Jefferson. Some correspondence, I believe, took place between them on the subject. I believe they never met after this. Upon one occasion I heard him say that it was unfortunate that Jefferson had been sent to France at the time that he was, when morals and government alike were little less than chaos, for he had been tainted in his ideas of both."
"You knew Mr. Jefferson?" I asked.
"Come into the house, and I will show you something," said the venerable man, then tottering to the grave. I went, and he showed me some letters addressed to him by persons in Virginia, presenting, in no very enviable light, the character of Jefferson. When I had read them, he remarked: "You must not suppose I am anxious to prejudice your youthful mind against the great favorite of your people. It is not so. You seem solicitous to learn something of the men who have had so much agency in the establishment of the Government and the formation of the opinions of the people, that I am willing you should see upon what my opinions have, in a great degree, been formed. Mr. Jefferson is still living, and still writing. His pen seems to have lost none of its vigor, nor his heart any of its venom. You will hear him greatly praised, and greatly abused. I knew him at one time, but never intimately, and may be said only to know him as a public man; what of his private character I know, comes from the statements of others, and general report. You have just seen some of these statements. I knew the writers of these letters well, and know their statements to be entitled to credit, and I believe them. They assure me that Mr. Jefferson is without moral principle. His public conduct must convince every one of his want of political principle. His whole life has been a bundle of contradictions. He has had neither chart nor compass by which to regulate his course, but has universally adopted the expedient.
"That he has a great and most vigorous intellect is beyond all question; but most of its emanations have been the ad captandum to seize the current, and sail with it. He saw the democratic proclivity of the people, he concentrated it by the use of his pen, and he has aided its expansion, until it threatens ruin to the Government. He knows it, and he still perseveres. Under the plea of inviting population, he advocated the extension of the franchise to aliens, and was really the parent from whose brain was born the naturalization laws, making citizens of every nationality, and giving them all the powers of the Government, extending suffrage to every pauper in the land, increasing to the utmost the material for the demagogue, and thus depriving the intelligence of the country of the power to control it. The specious argument that if a man is compelled to serve in the militia and defend the country, he should be entitled to vote, was his. Its sophistry is as palpable to Jefferson as to every thinking mind. Government is the most abstruse of the sciences, and should, for the security of all, be controlled by the intelligence of the country. During the world's existence, all the intelligence it has ever afforded, has not been competent to the formation of a government approximating perfection.
"The object of government is the protection of life, liberty, and property. The tenure of property is established and sustained by law; it is the basis of government; it is the support of government; in proportion to its extent and security, it is the strength and power of government, and those who possess it should have the control of government. In a republic, there can be no better standard of intelligence than the possession of property, and to give the greatest security to the government, none should, in a republic, be intrusted with the ballot, but the native, and the property-holder, or the native property-holder. The complications of our system are scarcely understood by our own people, and to suppose that ignorant men (for such constitute the bulk of our emigrant population) shall become so intimate with it, and so much attached to it, as to constitute them, in a few years, persons to be intrusted with its control, is supposing human intelligence to be of much higher grasp than I have ever found it. Most of these emigrants come here with preconceived prejudices toward the institutions of their native lands. This is natural. Most of them speak a foreign language. This has to be overcome, before they can even commence to learn the nature and operation of our system, which is so radically dissimilar to any and all others. These men, as the ignorant of our own people, naturally lean on some one who shall direct them, and they will blindly do his bidding. This is an invitation to the demagogue; these are his materials, and he will aggregate and control them. Such men are always poor, and envy makes them the enemies of the rich. This creates an antagonism, which we see existing in every country.
"The poor are dependent for employment upon the rich; the rich are dependent upon the poor for labor. This mutual dependence, it would be supposed, would tend to create mutual regard; but experience teaches the reverse. The poor have nothing to sell but their labor, and there are none to buy but the rich. Each, naturally, struggles to make the best bargain possible, and take advantage of every circumstance to effect this. Very few are satisfied with fair equivalents, and one or the other always feels aggrieved. Here is the difficulty. Well, endow the laborer with the ballot, and he usurps the government; for to vote is to govern. What is to be the consequence? We now have, with all the means of expansion and facilities a new country of boundless extent gives to the poor for finding and making homes, many more without property than with it. This disproportion will go on to increase until it assimilates to every old country, with a few rich and many poor. These many will control; they will send of their own men to legislate; they will favor their friends; they will levy the taxes, which the property-holders of the country must pay; they will make the laws appropriating these taxes; all will be for the benefit of their constituency, and the property, the government, and the people are all at their mercy. Jefferson sees this, and is taking advantage of it, and has indoctrinated the whole unthinking portion of our people with these destructive notions. It made him President. His example has proven contagious, and I see no end to its results short of the destruction of the Government, and that speedily. Mr. Jefferson's fame will be co-existent with the Government. When that shall perish, his great errors will be apparent. The impartial historian, inquiring into the cause of this destruction, with half an eye will see it, and then his true character will be sketched, and this great, unprincipled demagogue will go naked down to posterity. He has always been unprincipled, immoral, and dissolute. These, accompanying his great intellect, have made it a curse, rather than a blessing, to his kind.
"The world has produced few great statesmen—Washington and Hamilton were the only ones of any pretensions this country has produced. It was a great misfortune that Hamilton did not succeed Washington. Mr. Adams, now lingering to his end at Braintree, was a patriot, but greatly wanting in the attributes of greatness. He was suspicious, ill-tempered, and full of unmanly prejudices—was incapable of comprehending the great necessities of his country, as well as the means to direct and control these necessities. He had animosities to nurse, and enemies to punish—was more concerned about a proper respect for himself and the office he filled, than the interest and the destiny of his country. He quarrelled with Washington, was jealous of him, who never had a thought but for his country. Adams was all selfishness, little selfishness, and earned and got the contempt of the whole nation. Jefferson was turning all this to his own advantage; and the errors and follies of Adams were made the strength and wisdom of Jefferson. He had but one rival before the nation, Burr—he whom you saw yesterday, the crushed victim of the cunning and intrigue of his friend Jefferson.
"Washington had died—despondent of the future of his country. The prestige of his name and presence was gone. He had committed a great error in bringing Jefferson into his Cabinet and before the nation with his approbation. He knew every Cabinet secret, and took advantage of every one, and had placed himself prominently before the people, and with Burr was elected. The defect in the law as existing at the time, enabled Burr, when returned with an equal number of electoral votes, to contend with Jefferson for the Presidency. It was in the power of Hamilton, at this time, to elect. The States were divided, six for Burr, eight for Jefferson, and two divided. There was one State voting for Jefferson, which by the change of one vote would have been given to Burr: the divided States were under his control. He was, during the ballotings, sent for, with a view to the election of Burr; but he preferred Jefferson—thought him less dangerous than Burr, and procured his election. It was a terrible alternative, to have to choose between two such men. The consequences to Burr and the country have been terrible—the destruction of both.
"I suppose much I have said cuts across your prejudice, coming from the South. I have sought to speak sincerely to you, because you are young, impressible, and anxious for knowledge; and it is better to know an unwelcome truth, than to find out by-and-by you have all your life been believing an untruth. Nothing is more sickening to the candid and sincere heart, than to learn its cherished opinions and dearest hopes have been nothing but fallacies; and when you are old as I am, you will have been more fortunate than I have been, if you do not find much that you have loved most, and most trusted, a deceit—a miserable lie. Come and see me at your leisure: I shall always be glad to see you, and equally as glad to answer any of your questions, if these answers will give you information."
Governor Oliver Wolcott was short in stature and inclined to corpulency; his head was large and round, with an ample forehead; his eyes were gray and very pleasant in their expression; his mouth was voluptuous, and upon his lips there usually lurked a smile, humorous in its threatening, provoking a pleasing dimple upon his cheek. In society, in his extreme old age, for I only knew him then, he was less gay than the general expression of his features would have indicated. He was a man of strong will and most decided character. His individuality was marked and striking, and his tenacity of purpose made his character one of remarkable consistency.
Governor Wolcott was one of the old-school Federalists, a thorough believer in Federal principles. He believed in the capacity of the people for self-government, if the franchise of suffrage was confined to the intelligence and freeholds of the country, but reprobated the idea of universal suffrage as destructive of all that was good in republican institutions. Succeeding Alexander Hamilton as Secretary of the Treasury, he found all matters of finance connected with the Government in so healthy a condition and arranged upon such a basis as only required that he should be careful to keep them there. During the four last years of the Administration of Washington, this prevented any display on his part of any striking financial ability. The administration of his office was entirely satisfactory to the country, though it seemed he was only there to superintend the workings of the genius of Hamilton. Once in my hearing he remarked, he had only to work up to the scribings of Hamilton to make everything joint up and fit well.
He held Washington in higher esteem even than Colonel Talmadge; and differed from him in many particulars relative to his character. It was my good fortune to sit and listen, more than once, to discussions between these venerable men. It was always amicable and eminently instructive. Wolcott was an admirer of Mrs. Washington, Talmadge was not. Talmadge was a military man, and saw a healthy discipline only in obedience to superiors, and exacted in his own family what he deemed was proper in that of every man. Accustomed himself to a strict obedience to the commands of his superiors, and deeming Washington almost incapable of error, he thought hardly even of Mrs. Washington when she manifested a disposition the slightest to independence of her husband. Wolcott did not see her in the camp, but only as the wife of the President of the United States—mistress of the Presidential mansion, and affably dispensing the duties of hostess there—receiving, entertaining, and socially intermingling in the society admitted to the Presidential circle.
At that period there was more of ceremony and display in the higher circles of official society than at this time. The people had seceded from a monarchical government, and established a democratic one; but the prestige of titular and aristocratic society still lingered with those high in office, of distinguished position, and wealth. Many of those most prominent about the Government had spent much time in Europe, and had imported European manners and customs, and desired to see the court etiquette of the mother country prevail at the court of the new Government. Time and the institutions of democracy had not effected that change in the practices of the people, which the Revolution and the determination to control and direct their own government had in their sentiments.
Mr. Jefferson affected to despise this formal ceremony, and the distinctions in society encouraged by monarchical institutions, and sustained by authority of law—though coming from a State and from the midst of a people whose leading and wealthiest families had descended directly from the nobility and gentry of England, and who affected an aristocracy of social life extremely exclusive in its character, while professing a democracy in political organization of the broadest and most comprehensive type. His sagacity taught him that the institutions of a democratic government would soon produce that social equality which was their spirit, in the ordinary intercourse of the people—that he who enjoyed all and every privilege, politically and legally, given under its Constitution and laws, possessed a power which ultimately would force his social equality with the most pretentious in the land. In truth, the government was in his hands, and he would mould it to his views, and society to his status.
The institutions of government everywhere form the social organization of society. Men are ambitious of distinction in every government, and aspire to control in directing the destinies of their country—are justly proud of the respect and confidence of their fellow-men, and will court it in the manner most likely to secure it. Now and then, there are to be found some who are insensible to any fame save that given by wealth—who will wrap themselves up in a pecuniary importance, with an ostentatious display of their wealth, and an exclusiveness of social intercourse, and are contented with this, and the general contempt. Such men, and such social coteries, are few in this country. Fortunately, wealth which is only used as a means of ostentatious display is worthless to communities, and its possessor is contemptible. "Wealth is power" is an adage, and is true where it is used to promote the general good. Without it no people can be prosperous or intelligent, and the prosperity and intelligence of every people is greatest where there is most wealth, and where it is most generally diffused. This is best effected by democratic institutions, where every preferment is open to all, and where the division of estates follows every death. No large and overshadowing estates, creating a moneyed aristocracy, can accumulate, to control the legislation and the people's destinies under such institutions. No privileged class can be sustained under their operation; for such a class must always be sustained by wealth hereditary and entailed, protected from the obligations of debt, and prohibited from division or alienation.
Mr. Jefferson had studied the effects of governments upon their people most thoroughly, and understood their operation upon the social relations of society, and the character and minds of the people. He was wont to say there was no hereditary transmission of mind; that this was democratic, and a Caesar, a Solon, or a Demosthenes was as likely to come from a cottage and penury as from a palace and wealth; that virtue more frequently wore a smock-frock than a laced coat, and that the institutions of every government should be so modelled as to afford opportunity to these to become what nature designed they should be—models of worth and usefulness to the country. Every one owes to society obligations, and the means should be afforded to all to make available these obligations for the public good. Nature never designed that man should hedge about with law a favored few, until these should establish a natural claim to such protection, by producing all the intellect and virtue of the commonwealth. This was common property, and wherever found, in all the gradations and ranges of society, should, under the operations of law, be afforded the same opportunities as the most favored by fortune. "In all things nature should be teacher and guide."
These doctrines are beautiful in theory, and are well calculated to fasten upon the minds of the many. They have been, time and again, incorporated into the constitution of governments, and have uniformly produced the same disastrous results. They are equally as fallacious as the declaration "that all men are born free and equal," which, with those above, has won the public approbation in spite of experience. The equality of intellect is as certainly untrue as the equality of stature; the one is not more apparent than the other. Transcendent intellect is as rare as an eclipse of the sun. It manifests itself in the control of all others—in forming the opinions and shaping the destinies of all others. This is a birthright—is never acquired, admits of great cultivation, receives impressions, generates ideas, and makes wonderful efforts. Cultivation and education gives it these, but never its vigor and power. In whatever grade or caste of society this is born, it soon works its way to the top, disrupts every band which ties it down, and naturally rises above the lower strata, as the rarefied atmosphere rises above the denser. This higher order of intellect will naturally control, and as naturally protect its power. From such, a better government may always be expected; and without this control, none can be wholesome or permanent.
ORIGIN OF PARTIES—FEDERAL AND REPUBLICAN PECULIARITIES—JEFFERSON'S PRINCIPLES AND RELIGION—DEMOCRACY—VIRGINIA AND MASSACHUSETTS PARTIES —WAR WITH FRANCE—SEDITION LAW—LYMAN BEECHER—THE ALMIGHTY DOLLAR— "HAIL COLUMBIA" AND "YANKEE DOODLE."
The Federal and Republican parties of the nation had their rise and formation out of the two principles of government—the one descending, as by inheritance, from the mother-country, and the other growing out of the formation of the governments established in the early organization of the colonies. A republican form of government was natural to the people. It had become so from habit. They had, in each colony, enjoyed a representative form; had made their own laws, and, with the exception of their Governors and judicial officers, had chosen, by ballot, all their legislative and ministerial officers. Most of the principles and practices of a democratic form of government, consequently, were familiar to them. The etiquette of form and ceremony preserved by the Governors, conformed to English usage. This was only familiar to those of the masses whose business brought them in contact with these ministerial officers and their appendages.
These were continued, to some extent, for a time; but Jefferson saw that they must soon cease, and yield to a sensible, simple intercourse between the officials of the Government and the people. This was foreshadowed in the Declaration of Independence, drafted by him. Immediately upon the success of the Revolution, and the organization of the General Government, he enunciated the opinions and principles now known as Jeffersonian or democratic. It has been charged upon him, that he borrowed his principles from the leaders of the French Revolution, as he did his religion from Voltaire and Tom Paine.
Jefferson was an original thinker, and thought boldly on all subjects. He had studied not only the character and history of governments, but of religions, and from the convictions of his own judgment were formed his opinions and his principles. His orthodoxy was his doxy, and he cared very little for the doxy of any other man or set of men. His genius and exalted talents gave him a light which shines in upon few brains, and if his religious opinions were fallacious, there are few of our day who will say that his social and political sentiments were or are wrong. As to his correctness in the former, it is not, nor will it ever be, given to man to demonstrate. This is the only subject about which there is no charity for him who differs from the received dogmas of the Church, and to-day his name is an abomination only to the Federalists and the Church.
Jefferson was made Secretary of State by General Washington, and was at once the head and representative man of the democracy of the country. There was, however, no organized opposition to the Administration of Washington. But immediately upon the election of Adams it begun to take shape and form, under the leadership of Jefferson. The two parties were first known as the Virginia and Massachusetts parties. Jefferson had been elected Vice-President with Adams, and before the termination of the first year of the Administration the opposition was formidable in Congress. Governor Wolcott was of opinion that Adams destroyed the Federal party by the unwise policy of his Administration. He said he was a man of great intellect, but of capricious temper, incapable from principle or habit of yielding to the popular will. He certainly saw the palpable tendency of public feeling, and must have known its strength: instead of attempting to go with it, and shape it to the exigencies his party required, he vainly attempted to stem the current, defy it, and control it by law. He disregarded the earnest entreaties of his best friends, counselling only with the extremists of the Federal party: the result was the Alien and Sedition Laws. Pickering warned him, and he quarrelled with him. He would not conciliate, but punish his political foes. He loved to exercise power; he did it unscrupulously, and became exceedingly offensive to many of his own party, and bitterly hated by his political enemies. The Alien and Sedition Laws emanated from the extremists of the Federal party, and were in opposition to the views of Adams himself—yet he approved them, and determined to execute them. He knew these laws were in direct opposition to the views and feelings of an immense majority of the people; and with these lights before him, and when he had it in his power to have conciliated the masses, he defied them.
Mr. Adams was unaccustomed to seek or court public favor; his associations had never been with the masses, and he understood very little of their feelings; when these were forced upon him, he received their manifestations with contempt, and uniformly disregarded their teachings. All these defects of character were seized upon by the opposition, to render odious the Federal party.
Mr. Jefferson placed himself in active opposition, and was known at an early day as the candidate of the opposition to succeed Adams. Our difficulties with France, and the action of Congress in appointing Washington commander-in-chief of the American forces, brought Washington into contact with Adams on several occasions; and especially when Washington made his acceptance of the office conditional upon the appointment of Hamilton as second in command, Adams thought he had not been respectfully treated, either by Congress or Washington; and there were some pretty sharp letters written by Washington in relation to the course of Adams.
Jefferson was opposed to the French war. The aid afforded by France in our Revolution had made grateful the public heart, and the people were indisposed to rush into a war with her for slight cause. The pen of Jefferson was never idle: he knew the general feeling, and inflamed it, and what the consequences to the country might have been, had not the war come to an abrupt and speedy end, there are no means of knowing. The trial and conviction of Lyon and Cooper under the Sedition Law, aroused a burst of indignation from the people. Still it taught no wisdom to Mr. Adams. He was urged to have their prosecutions abandoned, but he refused. After conviction, he was seriously pressed to pardon these men, in obedience to the popular will, but he persistently refused, and Lyon was continued in prison until liberated by the success of the Republican party, and the repeal of the offensive and impolitic laws soon after.
Adams professed great veneration for the character of Washington, and he was doubtless sincere. Yet he never lost sight of the fact that it was he who had seconded the motion when made in Congress by Samuel Adams to appoint Washington commander-in-chief of the armies of the Revolution, or that it was he who suggested it to Samuel Adams, and that he sustained the motion in a speech of burning eloquence. He felt that this conferred an obligation and that Washington was at times unmindful of this. He was more exacting than generous, and more suspicious than confiding. In truth, Adams had more mind than soul; more ambition than patriotism, and more impulse than discretion. Yet the country owes him much. He was a great support in the cause of the Revolution, and his folly was to charge too high for his services. The people honored him—they have honored his family, and will yet make his son President. He received all they could give, and his littleness crept out in his desire for more.
General Washington's estimate of men was generally correct. He understood Adams, Jefferson, Hamilton, and Burr. I do not think he was personally attached to any one of them; yet he appreciated them as the public now do. He had need of the talents of Hamilton and Jefferson. The organization of the Government required the first minds of the country; and Washington was the man to call them to his side. In nothing did he show more greatness than in this. He knew Jefferson was without principle, but he knew that he was eminently talented; he could forget the one, and call to his aid the other. His confidence in the integrity of Hamilton was stronger, as well as in his ability. Upon all matters of deep concern to the country he consulted both, and these consultations often brought these two men into antagonistical positions before him, and upon important public matters—one of which was the constitutionality of a United States Bank. To each of these, when the charter of the bank was before him, he addressed a note requesting their opinions upon its constitutionality. Jefferson replied promptly in a short, written opinion, not well considered or ably argued, as was his wont; denying the constitutionality of such an institution. This opinion was handed to Hamilton, who pleaded public duties as the cause of delay on his part, for not furnishing an opinion. It came at last, and was able and conclusive, as to its constitutionality. But it was terrible in its slashing and exposure of the dogmatical sophisms of Jefferson. From that time forward there were bitter feelings between these two eminent men.
Intellectually, Hamilton had no equal in his day. It is ridiculous to compare him with Burr, which is often done by persons who should know better, because they have all the evidence upon which to predicate a conclusion. The occasion was open to both, equally, to discover to the world what abilities they possessed. They equally filled eminent positions before the nation, and at a time when she demanded the use of the first abilities in the land. What each performed is before the world.
Men having talent will always leave behind some evidence of this, whether they pass through life in a public or private capacity. Flippant pertness, with some wit, is too often mistaken for talent—and a still tongue with a sage look, will sometimes pass for wisdom. But wherever there is talent or wisdom, it makes its mark.
The evidences of Hamilton's abilities are manifested in his works. They show a versatility of talent unequalled by any modern man. He was conspicuous for his great genius before he was fifteen years of age; he was chief-of-staff for General Washington before he was twenty, and before he was thirty, was admitted to be the first mind of the country. As a military man, every officer of the army of the Revolution considered him the very first; as a lawyer, he had no equal of his day; as a statesman, he ranked above all competition; as a financier, none were his equal, and an abundance of evidence has been left by him to sustain this reputation in every particular.
What has Burr left? Nothing. He still lives, and what his posthumous papers may say for him, I cannot say; but I know him well, and consequently expect nothing. As a lawyer, he was mediocre; as a statesman, vacillating and without any fixed principles; as an orator, (for some had claimed him to be such,) he was turgid and verbose—sometimes he was sarcastic, but only when the malignity of his nature found vent in the bitterness of words. His private conduct has, in every situation, been bad. He was one of the Lee and Gates faction to displace Washington from the command of the army. He decried the abilities of Washington. He violated the confidence of General Putnam, when his aide, in seducing Margaret Moncrief, (whose father had intrusted her to Putnam's care.) He violated his faith to the Republican party, in lending himself to the Federal party to defeat the known and expressed will of the people, and the Republican party, by contesting the election before Congress of Mr. Jefferson. In the Legislature of New York, his conduct was such as to draw on him the suspicion of corruption, and universal condemnation. Contrast his public services with his public and private vices, and see what he is—the despised of the whole world, eking out a miserable existence in hermitical seclusion with a woman of ill-fame.
There resided as minister of the Congregational Church, at that time, in Litchfield, Lyman Beecher. He was a man of short stature; remarkable dark complexion, with large and finely formed head; his features were strong and irregular, with stern, ascetic expression. He was naturally a man of great mind, and but for the bigoted character of his religion, narrowing his mind to certain contemptible prejudices and opinions, might have been a great man. Reared in the practice of Puritan opinions, and associated from childhood with that strait-laced and intolerant sect, his energies, (which were indomitable) and mind, more so perverted as to become mischievous, instead of useful. He was a propagandist in the broadest sense of the term—would have made an admirable inquisitor—was without any of the charities of the Christian; despised as heretical the creed of every sect save his own, and had all of the intolerant bitterness and degrading superstitions of the Puritans, and persecutors of Laud, in the Long Parliament. In truth, he was an immediate descendant of the Puritans of the seventeenth century, and was distinguished for the persecuting and intolerant spirit of that people. He seemed ever casting about for something in the principles or conduct of others to abuse, and delighted to exhaust his genius in pouring out his venom upon those who did not square their conduct and opinions by his rule. At this time, 1820, the admission of Missouri into the Union gave rise to the agitation of the extension of slavery. This was a sweet morsel under and on his tongue. He at once commenced the indulgence of his persecuting spirit, in the abuse of slavery, and slave owners. His own immediate people had committed no sin in the importation of the African, and the money accumulated in the traffic was not blood-money. The institution had been wiped out in New England, not by enfranchisement, but by sale to the people of the South, when no longer useful or valuable at home; and all the sin of slavery had followed the slave, to barbarize and degrade the people of the South. The fertility of his imagination could suggest a thousand evils growing from slavery, which concentrating in the character of those possessing them, made them demons upon earth, and fit heritors of hell, deserving the wrath of God and man.
It was palpable to the scrutinizing observer, that it was not the sin of slavery which actuated the zeal of Beecher. The South had held control of the Government almost from its inception. The Northern, or Federal party, had been repudiated for the talents and energy of the South. Its principles and their professors were odious—the conduct of its leading representatives, during the late war, had tainted New England, and she was offensive to the nostrils of patriotism everywhere. Her people were restless and dissatisfied under the disgrace. They were anxious for power, not to control for the public good the destinies of the country; but for revenge upon those who had triumphed in their overthrow. Their people had spread over the West, and carried with them their religion and hatred—they were ambitious of more territory, over which to propagate their race and creed; yet preparatory to the great end of their aims, and the agitation necessary to the education of their people upon this subject, they must commence in the pulpit to abolish some cursing sin which stood in their way. They had found it, and a fit instrument, too, in Lyman Beecher, to commence the work. It was the sin of slavery. It stood in the way of New England progress and New England civilization. New England religion must come to the rescue. There was nothing good which could come from the South; all was tainted with this crying sin. New England purity, through New England Puritanism, must permeate all the land, and effect the good work—and none so efficient as Beecher. The students of the law-school had a pew in his little synagogue—it was after the fashion of a square pew, with seats all around, and to this he would direct his eye when pouring out his anathemas upon the South, Southern habits, and Southern institutions; four out of five of the members of the school were from the South.
It was his habit to ascribe the origin and practice of every vice to slavery. Debauchery of every grade, name, and character, was born of this, and though every one of these vices, in full practice, were reeking under his nose, and permeating every class of his own people; when seven out of every ten of the bawds of every brothel, from Maine to the Sabine, were from New England, they were only odious in the South. I remember upon one occasion he was dilating extensively upon the vice of drunkenness, and accounting it as peculiar to the South, and the direct offshoot of slavery, he exclaimed, with his eyes fixed upon the students' pew: "Yes, my brethren, it is peculiar to the people who foster the accursed institution of slavery, and so common is it in the South, that the father who yields his daughter in wedlock, never thinks of asking if her intended is a sober man. All he asks, or seems desirous to know, is whether he is good-natured in his cups." Before him sat his nest of young adders, growing up to inherit his religion, talents, and vindictive spirit. Instilled into those from their cradles were all the dogmas of Puritanism, to stimulate the mischievous spirit of the race to evil works. Admirably have they fulfilled their destiny. To the preaching and writings of the men and women descended from Lyman Beecher has more misery ensued, than from any other one source, for the last century. "Uncle Tom's Cabin" has slain its hundreds of thousands, and the sermons of Henry Ward Beecher have made to flow an ocean of blood.
The example of Pymm, Cromwell, Whaley, and Goff, and their fate, has taught the Puritans no useful lesson. They seem to think to triumph in civil war, as their ancestors did, regardless of the danger that a reaction may bring to them, is all they can desire. The fate of these men has no warning. Reactions sometimes come with terrible consequences. They cannot see Cromwell's dead body hanging in chains. They will not remember the fate of Whaley and Goff, whose bones are mouldering in their own New Haven, after flying their country and, for years, hiding in caves and cellars from the revengeful pursuit of resentful enemies. The Pymms and the Praise-God-bare-bones of the thirty-ninth Congress may and (it is to be hoped) will yet meet the merited reward of their crimes of persecution and oppression.
At the time of which I write, there were many remaining in Connecticut who participated in the conflicts and perils of the Revolution. These men were all animated with strong national sentiments, and felt that every part of the Union was their country. They idolized Washington, and always spoke with affectionate praise of the Southern spirit, so prominent in her troops during the war. The conduct of the South (and especially that of Georgia toward General Greene, in donating him a splendid plantation, with a palatial residence, upon the Savannah River, near the city of Savannah, to which he removed, lived, and in which he died,) was munificent, and characteristic of a noble and generous people.
But these were passing away, and a new people were coming into their places. The effects of a common cause, a common danger, and a united success, were not felt by these. New interests excited new aspirations. The nation's peril was past, and she was one of the great powers of the earth, and acknowledged as such. She had triumphantly passed through a second war with her unnatural mother, in which New England, as a people, had reaped no glory. In the midst of the struggle, she had called a convention of her people, with a view of withdrawing from the Union. Her people had invited the enemy, with their blue-light signals, to enter the harbor they were blockading, and where the American ships, under the command of one of our most gallant commanders, had sought refuge. They were sorely chagrined, and full of wrath. They hated the South and her people. It was growing, and they were nursing it. Even then we were a divided people, with every interest conserving to unite us—the South producing and consuming; the North manufacturing, carrying, and selling for, and to, the South. The harmony of commerce, and the harmony of interest, had lost its power, and we were a divided people. The breach widened, war followed, and ruin riots over the land. The South was the weaker, and went down; the North was the stronger, and triumphed—and the day of her vengeance has come.
In that remote time, the chase after the almighty dollar had commenced, and especially in New England, where every sentiment was subordinate to this. Patriotism was a secondary sentiment. Hypocritical pretension to the purity of religion was used to cover the vilest practices, and to shield from public indignation men who, praying, pressed into their service the vilest means to make haste to be rich. The sordid parsimony of ninety-hundredths of the population shut out every sentiment of generosity, and rooted from the heart every emotion honorable to human nature. Neighborhood intercourse was poisoned with selfishness, and the effort to overreach, and make money out of, the ignorance or necessities of these, was universal. These degrading practices crept into every business, and petty frauds soon became designated as Yankee tricks. There was nothing ennobling in their pursuits. The honorable profession of law dwindled into pettifogging tricks. Commerce was degraded in their hands by fraud and chicanery. The pernicious and grasping nature everywhere cultivated, soon fastened upon the features. Their eyes were pale, their features lank and hard, and the stony nature was apparent in the icy coldness of manner, in the deceitful grin, and lip-laugh, which the eye never shared, and which was only affected, when interest prompted, or the started suspicions of an intended victim warned them to be wary. The climate, and the inhospitable and ungenerous soil, seemed to impart to the people their own natures.
The men were all growing sharp, and the women, cold and passionless; the soul appeared to shrivel and sink into induration, and the whole people were growing into a nation of cheats and dastards. Such was the promise for the people of New England, in 1820. Has it not been realized in the years of the recent intestine war? The incentive held out to her people to volunteer into her armies, was the plunder of the South. The world has never witnessed such rapacity for gain as marked the armies of the United States in their march through the South. Religion and humanity were lost sight of in the general scramble for the goods and the money of the Southern people. Rings were snatched from the fingers of ladies and torn from their ears; their wardrobes plundered and forwarded to expectant families at home; graves were violated for the plates of gold and silver that might be found upon the coffins; the dead bodies of women and men were unshrouded after exhumation, to search in the coffins and shrouds to see if valuables were not here concealed; and, in numerous instances, the teeth were torn from the skeleton mouths of the dead for the gold plugs, or gold plates that might be found there. Nor was this heathenish rapacity confined to the common soldier; the commanders and subalterns participated with acquisitive eagerness, sharing fully with their commands the hellish instincts of their race.
They professed to come to liberate the slave, and they uniformly robbed or swindled him of every valuable he might possess—even little children were stripped of their garments, as trophies of war, to be forwarded home for the wear of embryo Puritans, as an example for them in future. Such are the Yankees of 1863-4, and '67. They now hold control of the nation; but her mighty heart is sore under their oppression. She is beginning to writhe. It will not be long, before with a mighty effort she will burst the bonds these people have tied about her limbs, will reassert the freedom of her children, and scourge their oppressors with a whip of scorpions.
Such men as Talmadge, Humphries, and Wolcott are no more to be found in New England. The animus of these men is no longer with these people. The work of change is complete. Nothing remains of their religion but its semblance—the fanaticism of Cotton Mather, without his sincerity—the persecuting spirit of Cotton, without the sincerity of his motives. Every tie that once united the descendants of the Norman with those of the Saxon is broken. They are two in interest, two in feeling, two in blood, and two in hatred. For a time they may dwell together, but not in unison; for they have nothing in common but hatred. Its fruit is discord, and the day is not distant, when these irreconcilable elements must be ruled with a power despotic as independent, whose will must be law unto both. It is painful to look back fifty years and contrast the harmony then pervading every class of every section with the discord and bitterness of hate which substitutes it to day. Then, the national airs of "Hail Columbia" and "Yankee Doodle" thrilled home to the heart of every American. To-day, they are only heard in one half of the Union to be cursed and execrated. To ask a lady to play one of these airs upon the harp or piano, from the Rio Grande to the Potomac, would be resented as an insult. The fame of Washington and John Hancock mingled as the united nations; but the conduct of the sons of the Puritan fathers has stolen the respect for them from the heart of half of the nation; and now, even the once glorious name of Daniel Webster stirs no enthusiasm in the bosoms which once beat joyfully to his praise, as it came to them from New England. Those who from party purposes proclaim peace and good will, only deceive the world, not themselves, or the people of the South. Peace there is; but good will, none. When asked to be given, memory turns to the battle-fields upon Southern soil, the bloody graves where the chosen spirits of the South are sleeping, and the heart burns with indignant hatred. Generations may come and pass away, but this hatred, this cursed memory of oppressive wrong will live on. The mothers of to-day make for their infants a tradition of these memories, and it will be transmitted as the highlander's cross of fire, from clan to clan, in burning brightness, for a thousand years. The graveyards will no more perish than the legends of the war that made them. They are in our midst, our children, the kindred of all are there—and those who are to come will go there—and their mothers, as Hamilcar did, will make them upon these green graves swear eternal hatred to those who with their vengeance filled these sacred vaults.
We are expected to love those whose hands are red with the blood of our children; to take to our bosoms the murderers and robbers who have slain upon the soil of their nativity our people, and who have robbed our homes and devastated our country; who have fattened Southern soil with Southern blood, and enriched their homes with the stolen wealth of ours. Are we not men, and manly? Do we feel as men? and is not this insult to manliness, and a vile mockery to the feelings of men? We can never forget—we will never forgive, and we will wait; for when the opportunity shall come, as come it will, we will avenge the damning wrong.
This may be unchristian, but it is natural—nature is of God and will assert herself. No mawkish pretension, no hypocritical cant, can repress the natural feelings of the heart: its loves and resentments are its strongest passions, and the love that we bore for our children and kindred kindles to greater vigor in the hatred we bear for their murderers.
CONGRESS IN ITS BRIGHTEST DAYS.
MISSOURI COMPROMISE—JOHN RANDOLPH'S JUBA—MR. MACON—HOLMES AND CRAWFORD—MR. CLAY'S INFLUENCE—JAMES BARBOUR—PHILIP P. BARBOUR—MR. PINKNEY—MR. BEECHER, OF OHIO—"CUCKOO, CUCKOO!"—NATIONAL ROADS— WILLIAM LOWNDES—WILLIAM ROSCOE—DUKE OF ARGYLE—LOUIS McLEAN—WHIG AND DEMOCRATIC PARTIES.
It was at the last session of the fifteenth Congress, in the winter of 1820-21, when the famous Compromise measure, known as the Missouri Compromise, was effected. A portion of that winter was spent by the writer at Washington. Congress was then composed of the first intellects of the nation, and the measure was causing great excitement throughout the entire country.
Missouri, in obedience to a permissory statute, had framed a constitution, and demanded admission into the Union as a State. By this constitution slavery was recognized as an institution of the State. Objection was made to this clause on the part of the Northern members, which led to protracted and sometimes acrimonious debate. At the first session of the Congress the admission of the State had been postponed, and during the entire second session it had been the agitating question; nor was it until the very end of the session settled by this famous compromise.
The debates were conducted by the ablest men in Congress, in both the Senate and the House of Representatives. In the Senate, William Pinkney, of Maryland; Rufus King, of New York; Harrison Gray Otis, of Massachusetts; James Barbour, of Virginia; William Smith, of South Carolina, and Freeman Walker, of Georgia, were most conspicuous. In the House were John Randolph, of Virginia; William Lowndes, of South Carolina; Louis McLean, of Delaware; Thomas W. Cobb, of Georgia, and Louis Williams, of North Carolina, and many others of less note. Henry Clay, of Kentucky, was Speaker of the House during the first session of the Congress; but resigned before the meeting of the succeeding Congress, and John Taylor, of New York, was elected to preside as Speaker for the second session. Mr. Clay was absent from his seat during the early part of this session; and notwithstanding the eminent men composing the Congress, there seemed a want of some leading and controlling mind to master the difficulty, and calm the threatening excitement which was intensifying as the debate progressed. Mr. Randolph was the leader in the debates of the House, and occupied the floor frequently in the delivery of lengthy and almost always very interesting speeches. These touched every subject connected with the Government, its history, and its powers. They were brilliant and beautiful; full of classical learning and allusion, and sparkling as a casket of diamonds, thrown upon, and rolling along, a Wilton carpet. It seemed to be his pleasure to taunt the opposition to enforce an angry or irritable reply, and then to launch the arrows of his biting wit and sarcasm at whoever dared the response, in such rapid profusion, as to astonish the House, and overwhelm his antagonist.
His person was as unique as his manner. He was tall and extremely slender. His habit was to wear an overcoat extending to the floor, with an upright standing collar which concealed his entire person except his head, which seemed to be set, by the ears, upon the collar of his coat. In early morning it was his habit to ride on horseback. This ride was frequently extended to the hour of the meeting of Congress. When this was the case, he always rode to the Capitol, surrendered his horse to his groom—the ever-faithful Juba, who always accompanied him in these rides—and, with his ornamental riding-whip in his hand, a small cloth or leathern cap perched upon the top of his head, (which peeped out, wan and meagre, from between the openings of his coat-collar,) booted and gloved, he would walk to his seat in the House—then in session—lay down upon his desk his cap and whip, and then slowly remove his gloves. If the matter before the House interested him, and he desired to be heard, he would fix his large, round, lustrous black eyes upon the Speaker, and, in a voice shrill and piercing as the cry of a peacock, exclaim: "Mr. Speaker!" then, for a moment or two, remain looking down upon his desk, as if to collect his thoughts; then lifting his eyes to the Speaker would commence, in a conversational tone, an address that not unfrequently extended through five hours, when he would yield to a motion for adjournment, with the understanding that he was to finish his speech the following day.
He had but few associates. These were all from the South, and very select. With Mr. Macon, Mr. Crawford, Louis Williams, and Mr. Cobb, he was intimate. He was a frequent visitor to the family of Mr. Crawford, then Secretary of the Treasury, where occasionally he met Macon and Cobb, with other friends of Crawford. Macon and Crawford were his models of upright men. He believed Mr. Crawford to be the first intellect of the age, and Mr. Macon the most honest man. The strict honesty of Macon captivated him, as it did most men. His home-spun ideas, his unaffected plainness of dress, and primitive simplicity of manner, combined with a wonderful fund of common sense, went home to the heart of Randolph, and he loved Macon in sincerity.
Macon and Crawford humored his many eccentricities, and would always deferentially listen to him when the humor was on him to talk. It was at such times that Randolph was most interesting. He had read much, and to great advantage; he had travelled, and with an observant eye; he knew more, and he knew it more accurately, than any other man of his country, except, perhaps, that wonderful man, William Lowndes. In his talking moods all the store-house of his information was drafted into service. His command of language was wonderful. The antithetical manner of expressing himself gave piquancy and vim to his conversation, making it very captivating. He was too impatient, and had too much nervous irritability and too rapid a flow of ideas, to indulge in familiar and colloquial conversation. He would talk all, or none. He inaugurated a subject and exhausted it, and there were few who desired more than to listen when he talked. Two or three evenings in the week there would assemble at Mr. Crawford's a few gentlemen, members of Congress. This was especially the case pending the Missouri question, when Mr. Randolph, Mr. Macon, Mr. McLean, Mr. Holmes, of Maine, (a great admirer of Mr. Crawford,) Mr. Lowndes, and sometimes one or two gentlemen from Pennsylvania, would be present. At these meetings this question was the first and principal topic, and Mr. Randolph would engross the entire conversation for an hour, when he would almost universally rise, bid good-night, and leave. At other times he would listen attentively, without uttering a word, particularly when Crawford or Lowndes were speaking. These, then, almost universally, did all the talking. The diversity of opinion scarcely ever prompted reply or interruption. In these conversations the great powers of Crawford's mind would break out, astonishing and convincing every one.
It was upon one of these occasions, when discussing in connection with the Missouri question, the subject of slavery, its influences, and its future, that Mr. Crawford remarked: "If the Union is of more importance to the South than slavery, the South should immediately take measures for the gradual emancipation of the slaves, fixing a period for its final extinction. But if the institution of slavery is of more vital importance than the perpetuation of the Union to the South, she should at once secede and establish a government to protect and preserve this institution. She now has the power to do so without the fear of provoking a war. Her people should be unanimous, and this agitation has made them so—I believe. I know the love of the Union has been paramount to every other consideration with the Southern people; but they view, as I do, this attempt to arrest the further spread of slavery as aggressive on the part of Congress, and discover an alarming state of the Northern mind upon this subject. This with an increasing popular strength may grow into proportions which shall be irresistible, and the South may be ultimately forced to do, what she never will voluntarily do—abolish at once the institution." It was urged by Mr. Holmes that the Constitution guaranteed slavery to the States, that its control and destiny was alone with the States, and there was no danger that the North would ever violate the Constitution to interfere with what they had no interest in.
"Never violate the Constitution!" said Randolph, in an excited and querulous tone. "Mr. Holmes, you perhaps know the nature of your people better than I do. But I know them well enough not to trust them. They stickle at nothing to accomplish an end; and their preachers can soon convince them that slavery is a sin, and that they are responsible for its existence here, and that they can only propitiate offended Deity by its abolition. You are a peculiar people, Holmes, prone to fanaticism upon all subjects, and this fanaticism concentrated as a religious duty—the Constitution will only prove a barrier of straw. No, sir; I am unwilling to trust them. They want honesty of purpose, have no sincerity, no patriotism, no principle. Your dough-faces will profess, but at a point will fly the track, sir; they can't stand, sir; they can't stand pressing. Interest, interest, sir, is their moving motive. Do you not see it in their action in this matter? Missouri is a fertile and lovely country; they want it for the purpose of settlement with their own people. Prohibit slavery to the inhabitants, and no Southern man will go there; there will be no competition in the purchase of her land. Your people will have it all to themselves; they will flock to it like wild geese, and very soon it is a Northern State in Northern interest; and, step after step, all the Western territory will be in your possession, and you will create States ab libitum. You know the Constitution permits two-thirds of the States to amend or alter it: establish the principle that Congress can exclude slavery from a territory, contrary to the wishes of her people expressed in a constitution formed by them for their government, and how long will it be, before two-thirds of the States will be free? Then you can change the Constitution and place slavery under the control of Congress—and, under such circumstances, how long will it be permitted to remain in any State?
"Your people are too religious, sir; eminently practical, inventive, restless, cold, calculating, malicious, and ambitious; invent curious rat-traps, and establish missions. I don't want to be trapped, sir; I am too wary a rat for that; and think with Mr. Crawford, now is the time for separation, and I mean to ask Clay to unite with us. Yet, sir, I have not spoken to the fellow for years, sir; but I will to-morrow; I will tell him I always despised him, but if he will go to his people, I will to mine, and tell them now is the time for separation from you; and I will follow his lead if he will only do so, if it leads me to perdition. I never did follow it, but in this matter I will. I bid you good night, gentlemen." He waited for no reply, but taking his hat and whip, hurriedly left the room.
"Can Mr. Randolph be in earnest?" asked several.
"Intensely so," replied Mr. Crawford. "Mr. Holmes, your people are forcing Mr. Randolph's opinions upon the entire South. They will not permit Northern intermeddling with that which peculiarly interests themselves, and over which they alone hold control."
There was a pause, the party was uneasy. There were more than Mr. Holmes present who were startled at both Crawford's and Randolph's speculation as to the value of the Union. They had ever felt that this was anchored safely in every American breast, and was paramount to every other consideration or interest. It was a terrible heresy, and leading to treason. This was not said, but it was thought, and in no very agreeable mood the party separated for the night.
Mr. Clay had just arrived from Kentucky. There had been many speculations as to what course he would pursue in this delicate matter. Many had suspended their opinions awaiting his action. The members from Ohio were generally acting and voting with those of the East and North. Some seemed doubtful, and it was supposed Mr. Clay would exercise great influence with all the West, and those from Ohio, especially. Hence, his coming was universally and anxiously awaited. But now he was in Washington, all were on the qui vive.
Randolph's declaration was whispered about in the morning, and little coteries were grouped about the hall of the House of Representatives. Randolph was in conversation, near the Speaker's chair, with the clerk, who was pointing and calling his attention to something upon the journal of the House. The hour of meeting was at hand, and the crowd was increasing upon the floor. Mr. Taylor was in conversation, near the fire-place, on the left of the Speaker's chair, with Stratford Canning, the British Plenipotentiary, Harrison Gray Otis, and Governor Chittenden, of Vermont. Mr. Clay entered in company with William S. Archer, a man whose only merit and sole pride was the having been born in Virginia; whose pusillanimous arrogance was only equalled by the poverty of his intellect, and who always foisted himself upon the presence of eminent men, deeming he was great because of his impudence and their association. All eyes were turned to Clay, and the members flocked about him. Releasing himself from these he came up the aisle toward the Speaker's chair. Mr. Randolph stepped into the aisle immediately in front of the chair. At this moment Clay discovered him and, towering to his full height, paused within a few feet of him whose eye he saw fixed upon his own.
Randolph advanced and, without extending his hand, said: "Good morning, Mr. Clay." Clay bowed, and Randolph immediately said: "I have a duty to perform to my country; so have you, Mr. Clay. Leave your seat here, sir, and return to your people, as I will to mine. Tell them, as I will mine, that the time has come: if they would save themselves from ruin, and preserve the liberties for which their fathers bled, they must separate from these men of the North. Do so, sir; and, though I never did before, I will follow your lead in the effort to save our people, and their liberties." Mr. Clay listened, and without apparent surprise remarked, with a smile: "Mr. Randolph, that will require more reflection than this moment of time affords," and bowing passed on.
But a bomb had fallen on the floor, and consternation was on every face. All turned to Mr. Clay. All saw a crisis was at hand, and that this matter must be settled as speedily as possible. Archer filed off with Randolph, who affected to pet him, as some men do foils for their wit, in the person of a toady.
A few days after this occurrence the famous Compromise measure was reported, and the first speech I ever listened to from Mr. Clay was in its advocacy. About him was gathered the talent of the Senate and the House. The lobbies and galleries were filled to overflowing. Mr. Pinkney, of Maryland; Landman, of Connecticut; Rufus King, William Lowndes, Otis, Holmes, Macon, and others, all manifested intense interest in the speech of Mr. Clay. How grandly he towered up over those seated about him! Dressed in a full suit of black, his hair combed closely down to his head, displaying its magnificent proportions, with his piercing, gray eyes fixed upon those of the Speaker, he poured out, in fervid words, the wisdom of his wonderful mind, and the deep feelings of his great heart. All accorded to him sincerity and exalted patriotism; all knew and confided in his wisdom; all knew him to be a national man, and into the hearts of all his words sank deep, carrying conviction, and calming the storm of angry passions which threatened not only the peace, but the existence of the Government. All the majesty of his nature seemed as a halo emanating from his person and features, as, turning to those grouped about him, and then to the House, his words, warm and persuasive, flowing as a stream of melody, with his hand lifted from his desk, he said:
"I wish that my country should be prosperous, and her Government perpetual. I am in my soul assured that no other can ever afford the same protection to human liberty, and insure the same amount. Leave the North to her laws and her institutions. Extend the same conciliating charity to the South and West. Their people, as yours, know best their wants—know best their interests. Let them provide for their own—our system is one of compromises—and in the spirit of harmony come together, in the spirit of brothers compromise any and every jarring sentiment or interest which may arise in the progress of the country. There is security in this; there is peace, and fraternal union. Thus we may, we shall, go on to cover this entire continent with prosperous States, and a contented, self-governed, and happy people. To the unrestrained energies of an intelligent and enterprising people, the mountains shall yield their mineral tribute, the valleys their cereals and fruits, and a million of millions of contented and prosperous people shall demonstrate to an admiring world the great problem that man is capable of self-government."
There beamed from every countenance a pleased satisfaction, as the members of the Senate and the House came up to express their delight, and their determination to support the measure proposed, and so ably advocated. There was oil upon the waters, and the turbulent waves went down. Men who had been estranged and angered for many months, met, and with friendly smiles greeted each other again. The ladies in the gallery above rose up as if by a common impulse, to look down, with smiles, upon the great commoner. One whose silvered hair, parted smoothly and modestly upon her aged forehead, fell in two massy folds behind her ears, clasped her hands, and audibly uttered: "God bless him."