Politics

THE fate of the Washington Treaty has for many months been as uncertain as that of the hero in Charles Reade’s novels. It has been left for dead and rescued so many times, that the public have ceased to take much interest in its condition. Thrice has it been saved by the masterly inactivity of Mr. Gladstone, thrice by the presence of mind of General Schenck, and latterly the tribunal of arbitration at Geneva has been saving it, when it was supposed to be utterly and hopelessly dead. Exactly how this final restoration to life will turn out does not quite appear, nor whether it is yet safely past all its perils ; whether

Malice domestic, foreign, tory, naught
Can harm it further,

or whether General Butler and Earl Russell still have power to vex and torment it. Many humane persons had hoped that a vote in the House of Commons or another ultimatum from Washington (say the tenth) would finally put the poor sufferer out of its misery, and leave the way clear for a permanent settlement on a better basis. But apparently this is not to be. It is so manifestly the wish of both governments to have the skeleton at least of the treaty preserved, its complete failure would be such a political dead loss to both, that it has long been plain no pains would be spared to keep it alive at least till the close of the parliamentary session, and of our Presidential campaign. Whether the decision of the arbitrators, throwing out the indirect claims, will do more than prolong its existence until Congress meets again, will depend somewhat on the result of our election. After all that has passed, the downright refusal of the English nation to submit a part of our case to arbitration at all, followed by so much petty and higgling negotiation, and by several very questionable letters and declarations of General Schenck, it is by no means so certain as it once was that the United States, under a new administration, would accept an unfavorable decision by the arbitrators as final. Mr. Greeley is understood to be utterly opposed to the whole course of our government, on this question and every other, since he was nominated for the Presidency. Should he be elected, and should his election happen to place Mr. Sumner in the State Department, all that has yet been done to save the unlucky treaty might still prove useless. The re-election of General Grant, we presume, would be held to indorse all the acts of his administration which it had not then repudiated ; but as it is not probable that Mr. Fish and Mr. Bancroft Davis will continue in office, if General Grant does, there is no certainty that the new Secretary of State will follow in the steps of his predecessor. However gratifying, therefore, the complete settlement of our controversy with England might be, and however well disposed the Geneva tribunal may be to settle it, we cannot see that they are likely to do so, at their present rate of activity, before the November election shall come on, perhaps to give the question an entlirely new aspect. But it seems to be decided that each portion of the treaty is to stand or fall by itself; so that, whatever may be the disposal of the Alabama claims, the other matters at issue may perhaps go on to a complete settlement while this Gordian knot is still as fast tied as ever. The Geneva arbitrators have kept their own counsel since their first decision, ruling out the indirect claims, was made public ; and though we have rumors that they are reducing very much our claims for direct damages, there is as yet no certain information on the subject. Apathetic as our people have become respecting the treaty and its practical results, it is far from certain that they would acquiesce in a verdict at Geneva by which — to quote the coarse but expressive language ascribed to Mr. Evarts, one of our counsel — we should both lose our money damages and be “ chiselled out of our grievance.” This new danger to the “ amicable settlement ” which the treaty aims at has already begun to excite the apprehensive minds of the Tory newspapers in London, and ought not to be quite overlooked on our side of the ocean. Whatever the final result may be, the poetry and sentiment of the treaty negotiation have long since evaporated in the handling, and we have come down to the boldest prose in our treatment of the matter on both sides. American diplomacy is largely responsible for this fine example of natural disillusion; it lost a great opportunity to be magnanimous, to secure the good-will of other nations; and the curse of a granted prayer may yet be keenly felt by our negotiators when they come to sum up, a year or two hence, the whole result of their long labor. But we will hope for better things ; partly because Mr. Adams has now quite as much voice in the decision as Mr. Fish has.

ALTHOUGH the country has seen, in the twenty Presidential elections that have occurred since Washington’s first term ended, almost every phase of political contest of which it was deemed capable, we are having this year a new campaign, of which the beginning and progress have been unlike anything before seen. At first, Presidential candidates were taken from a small list of the Revolutionary leaders, and were selected neither by conventions nor congressional parties, but indicated by their own prominence before the country. Washington, Adams, and Jefferson are examples of this ; the first and perhaps the grossest illustration of the modern doctrine of availability, however, appeared in the union of the Federalists in 18001 upon Aaron Burr in opposition to Jefferson. After Jefferson’s administration the custom prevailed of making the Secretary of State a candidate for the Presidency, and this had become important enough in 1827, when Henry Clay was Secretary, to call out from the partisans of Jackson a protest against handing down the office in this way, by a sort of legitimate succession. Amos Kendall, then editing a Kentucky newspaper, and a bitter enemy of Clay, spoke of him and John Quincy Adams as “mayors of the palace,” who in the Presidency of their chief, had plotted to gain the sovereign power for themselves. The danger was not a very alarming one, and since Adams’s time very few Secretaries of State have risen to be President. Van Buren did, but after a long interval, and so did Buchanan, who was Mr. Polk’s Secretary ten years before he was elected over Fremont, in 1856. But neither Harrison, nor Polk, nor Cass, nor Taylor, nor Scott, nor Pierce, nor Fremont, Lincoln, Douglas, Breckenridge, Bell, McClellan, Grant, nor Seymour had been Secretary of State, and only two or three of them had been in the Cabinet at all when they were candidates for the Presidency. Nor did Webster, or Calhoun, or Marcy, or Seward — all able Secretaries — ever come to be Presidential candidates, in the modern sense of the word, after 1828 ; that is, they did not obtain the sanction of a party caucus or convention. The national convention, properly speaking, is but thirty-two years old, for it did not become an established institution till 1840, when Harrison was nominated over Clay and Webster, as Taylor was in 1848, and Scott over Webster in 1852. Such a convention opens a lottery in which the real leaders of a party are as likely to draw blanks as prizes, and which is not favorable to the selection of great men as Presidential candidates. With the exception of Clay in 1844, and Lincoln in 1860 and 1864, no first-rate man has received the nomination in such a convention of either party ; the ordinary result being men, like Polk and Pierce, or Scott, Taylor, McClellan, and Grant, who were either mere party instruments, or men with a military reputation, but of unknown political qualities. This year the cut-and-dried partisan conventions were anticipated by the irregular and eccentric Cincinnati gathering, which, by a sort of accident, put in nomination a man as unique as the occasion of his appearance. For Mr. Greeley had been a party leader for thirty years, and yet had no party when he was nominated ; he is not a first-rate man, though the equal in ability of any of our later Presidents save Lincoln; yet he defeated Mr. Adams, who is one of the few trained statesmen of the country, and caused every Democratic aspirant for the nomination to vanish from the field ; so that the Baltimore Convention literally did nothing but ratify the proceedings at Cincinnati. Mr. Greeley has developed unsuspected strength as a candidate, so that, as we write, the election is as doubtful as any that the present generation of voters can remember. It has become quite common to say, in view of the rapid and apparently firm concentration of parties on Mr. Greeley’s support, that, “ unless something unforeseen should happen,” he is in a fair way to be elected. This may be true; but the unforeseen is sure to happen this year, and from the present aspect of the campaign no safe conclusion can be drawn.

In fact, if ever the Horatian virtue of nil admirari and the Indian’s resolution not to be surprised at anything were in request, it is in this year of 1872, which has been one succession of surprises, politically speaking, from the beginning until now, and which promises to surprise us still more in various ways. We began with open-mouthed wonderment over England’s reception of our “case” under the treaty; the unexpected growth and still more unexpected result of the Cincinnati movement surprised the country more yet; but its greatest astonishment has been the course and attitude of the Democratic party since the Cincinnati nomination. Steady-going old political prognosticators have been quite thrown out of their reckoning ; the ancient landmarks have not only been removed, but have taken to waltzing up and down and all about in a most confusing manner; and of the political situation that seemed to exist a year ago, “naught doth endure but mutability.” Fancy the laughter that would have greeted the prediction, twelve months since, that the Democratic National Convention, by a vote of more than ten to one, would nominate Horace Greeley for President, and that the whole effective force of that party in stubborn, unchanging regions like New Hampshire and Kentucky would rapturously applaud the nomination ! And yet this is what the month of July bore witness to. Less remarkable now, but quite as extraordinary a year ago, would have seemed the harmonious combination between these Democrats and such Republicans as Trumbull of Illinois, Julian of Indiana, Blair of Michigan, Sedgwick of New York, and Bird of Massachusetts. Not less surprising in the last-named State is the cordial union in the new Greeley party of prohibitionists and imbibitionists, (to coin a muchneeded word,) of Butler men and anti-Butler men, and every shade, in fact, of the thousand-fold opinions that Massachusetts permits her citizens. Driven to his wit’s end for an explanation of these things, the observer is forced to conclude that there is a cause far deeper than those ordinarily suggested. When the compass-needle varies greatly this way or that, the surveyor suspects local attraction, and is generally right; but when it traverses irregularly and inexplicably, he gradually understands that he is in the midst of a magnetic storm, of which the current cannot be calculated. Something analogous to this is happening politically this year ; we have reached one of those periods of upheaval, when it is futile to predict anything but change, and perfectly safe to predict that.

One thing seems certain at this date and it is quite as unexpected as any part of the year’s record. The campaign is not likely to turn on the personal fitness or unfitness of either candidate. Mr. Sumner might have spared his speech against Grant, and the caricaturists and editors may as well give over their onset against Greeley’s eccentricities of dress, opinion, conscience, and manners. The contest, such as it is, is fought above or below the range of arguments of this sort; the Republicans would support a much worse man than Grant is even supposed to be, rather than give up the government of the country; and the Democrats and disaffected Republicans would vote for a more objectionable man than Greeley, if one could be found, rather than not change the present administration. All this, too, while the platforms of the two contending parties are in essentials the same. The real question is one of confidence in the administration, and on this the issue is making up. Thousands, perhaps even hundreds of thousands of citizens will abstain from voting at all, because they believe both candidates personally unqualified or disqualified for the Presidency; but the election will be carried for or against the administration on its general merits, and on the strength or weakness of the popular demand for a change, “for the sake of change,” as Mr. Webster once said.

The great difficulty in Mr. Greeley’s way is the dread and disgust which the country still feels at the thought of the old Democratic party, whose nominee, under a change of policy, Mr. Greeley has become ; and in pressing the Democrats with their old iniquities the Republicans do well and make a decided impression on the voters, especially at the North. But, on the other hand, he has an advantage in the apparent disposition, not only at the South, but with the war Democrats and many of the Republicans, to close the war record and open new books. It is even possible that the military renown of General Grant, which secured his first election, will prove a hinderance in this contest, since it was gained in a civil war. Mr. Greeley’s trophies, such as they are, belong to more pacific and bucolic contention ; and if Mr. Sumner’s letter to his colored friends has the effect to be anticipated for it from their reliance upon his counsels hitherto, we may yet behold the amazing spectacle of the rebel lion and the colored lamb lying down together, and sweetly submitting themselves to the childlike guidance of Mr. Greeley, while the wicked spectres of race-prejudice and kukluxery fly dismayed from this most unexpected result of that leader’s life-long empiricism.