Reminiscences of Washington


THE inauguration of General Andrew Jackson as the seventh president of the United States was the commencement of a new chapter in the social as well as the political chronicles of the capital. Those who had known his predecessors in executive authority as educated and cultivated gentlemen, well versed in the courtesies of private life and of ceremonious statesmanship, saw them succeeded by a military chieftain, whose life had been “ a battle and a march,” thickly studded with personal brawls and duels ; who had given repeated evidences of his disregard of the laws when they stood in the way of his imperious will; and who, when a United States senator, had displayed no ability as a legislator. His election was notoriously the work of Martin Van Buren, inspired by Aaron Burr, and with his inauguration was initiated a sordidly selfish political system entirely at variance with the broad views of Washington and of Hamilton. It was assumed that every citizen had his price; that neither virtue nor genius was proof against clever although selfish corruption ; that political honesty was a farce ; and that the only way of governing those knaves who elbowed their way up through the masses was to rule them by cunning more acute than their own, and by a knavery more subtle and calculating than theirs.

Before leaving his rural home in Tennessee, General Jackson had been afflicted by the sudden death of his wife. “ Aunt Rachel,” as Mrs. Jackson was called by her husband’s personal friends, had accompanied him to Washington when he was there as a senator from Tennessee. She was a short, stout, unattractive, and uneducated woman, endeared to General Jackson because he had with difficulty secured her separation from her first husband, married her two years before she was legally divorced, and ever defended her reputation with chivalric devotion. While he had been in the army, she had carefully managed his plantation, his slaves, and his money matters, and her devotion to him knew no bounds. Her happiness was centred in his, and it was her chief desire to smoke her pipe in peace at his side. When told that he had been elected president of the United States, she replied, “ Well, for Mr. Jackson’s sake I am glad of it, but for myself I am not.” A few weeks later, she was arrayed for the grave in a white satin costume which she had provided herself with, to wear at the White House. Her sorrow-stricken husband came to Washington with a stern determination to punish those who had maligned her during the preceding campaign, and those who eulogized her always found favor with him. Her young relatives were cherished by him with paternal love.

The inauguration of General Jackson as president was, for the first time on such occasions at Washington, a military pageant. A band of the veterans of the Revolution formed his body-guard, bayonets bristled on Pennsylvania Avenue, martial music resounded over the metropolis, and salutes of artillery were fired at different points in the environs to announce that the oath of office had been administered. An immense concourse of people joined in the shouts with which the “ Hero of New Orleans ” was greeted, as he rode on a spirited horse from the Capitol to the White House. “ I never saw such a crowd,” wrote Daniel Webster to a friend. “ Persons have come five hundred miles to see General Jackson, and they really seem to think that the country is rescued from some dreadful danger.” Hunters of Kentucky and Indian fighters of Tennessee, with sturdy frontiersmen from the Northwest, were mingled in the throng with the more refined dwellers on the Atlantic slope, and the impetuous people of the South, who had all the virtues and the faults arising from their peculiar social institutions. Arriving at the White House, the motley crowd clamored for refreshments, and soon drained the barrels of punch which had been prepared, in drinking to the health of the new chief magistrate. A great deal of china and glass ware was broken in the struggles for ice-creams and cakes, and the East Room was filled with a noisy mob. At one time General Jackson, who had retreated until he was pressed against the wall, could be protected from injury only by a number of his friends, who linked arms and formed a living barrier about him. Such a scene had never before been witnessed at the White House.

The democratic press of the country was also well represented at the inauguration ; for General Jackson’s election had hardly been proclaimed before a considerable number of those who had given him their editorial support hastened to Washington, attracted by this semi-official declaration in the Telegraph : “ We know not what line of policy General Jackson will adopt. We take it for granted, however, that he will reward his friends and punish his enemies.”

The leader of this editorial phalanx was Amos Kendall, a native of Dunstable, Massachusetts, who had by pluck and industry acquired an education, and migrated westward in search of fame and fortune. Accident made him an inmate of Henry Clay’s house, and the tutor of his children ; but many months had not elapsed before the two became political foes, and Kendall, who had become the conductor of a democratic newspaper, triumphed, bringing to Washington the official vote of Kentucky for Andrew Jackson. He found at the national metropolis other democratic editors who, like himself, had labored to bring about the political revolution, and they used to meet daily at the house of a preacher politician, the Rev. Obadiah Brown, who had strongly advocated Jackson’s election. Mr. Brown, who was a stout, robust man, with a great fund of anecdotes, was a clerk in the post-office department during the week, while on Sundays he performed his ministerial duties in the Baptist church.

Organizing under the lead of Amos Kendall, whose lieutenants were the brilliant but vindictive Isaac Hill, of New Hampshire, the scholarly Nathaniel Greene, of Massachusetts, the conservative Gideon Welles, of Connecticut, the jovial Major Mordecai M. Noah, of New York, and the energetic Dabney S. Carr, of Maryland, the allied editors claimed their rewards. They were not to be appeased by sops of government advertising, or by the appointment of publisher of the laws of the United States in their respective States, but they demanded some of the most lucrative public offices, as their share of the spoils. No sooner did General Jackson reach Washington than they made a systematic attack upon him, introducing and praising one another, and reciprocally magnifying their faithful services during the canvass so successfully ended. The result was that soon after the inauguration nearly fifty of those editors who had advocated his election were appointed to official federal positions, — not, generally speaking, because of their superior qualifications for those places, but as rewards for political services rendered, and as the means of punishing others who, being in office under the administration of President Adams, had not joined in the combination to put it down.

Up to that time, the national elections in the United States had not been mere contests for the possession of federal offices, — there was victory and there was defeat; but the quadrennial encounters affected only the heads of departments, and the results were matters of comparative indifference to the subordinate official drudges, whose families depended on their pay for meat and bread. A few of these department clerks were revolutionary worthies ; others had followed the federal government from New York or Philadelphia; all had expected to hold their positions for life, unless they should resign to accept a more lucrative employment. Some of these desk slaves had originally been federalists, others democrats ; and while there was always an Alexander Hamilton in every family of the one set, there was as invariably a Thomas Jefferson in every family of the other set. But no subordinate clerk had ever been troubled on account of his political faith by a change of the administration, and the sons generally succeeded their fathers when they died or resigned. Ordinarily, these clerks were good penmen and skillful accountants, toiling industriously eight hours every week day, without dreaming of demanding a month’s vacation in the summer, or insisting upon their right to go to their homes to vote in the fall. National politics was to them a matter of profound indifference, until hundreds of them found themselves removed by newly-appointed secretaries and chiefs of bureaus. The greater number of those thus decapitated by the democratic guillotine had entered the public service when young, and found themselves without qualifications for any other employment, had the limited trade of Washington afforded any. Many of them were left in a pitiable condition, but when the Telegraph was asked what these men could do to ward off starvation, the insolent reply was, “ Root, hog, or die ! ” Some of the new political brooms swept clean, and made a great show of reform, notably Amos Kendall, who was appointed fourth auditor of the treasury, and who soon after exulted over the discovery of a defalcation of a few hundred dollars in the accounts of his predecessor, Dr. Tobias Watkins. Dr. Watkins had been appointed by President Monroe. and was highly esteemed in the social circles at Washington, it was asserted by his friends that, while his accounts, which had been kept without balances or checks, disclosed a deficiency, it was because he had not kept the public moneys separate from his private funds, and that there was no evidence of any intention on his part to embezzle or to defraud the government. The doctor was nevertheless prosecuted with great vindictiveness, and was finally sentenced to a brief imprisonment in the criminal ward of the city jail.

Postmaster General McLean, of Ohio, who had been avowedly a Jackson man while he was a member of Mr. Adams’s administration, rebelled against the removal of several of his most efficient subordinates because of their political action during the preceding presidential campaign. At last, he flatly told General Jackson that if he must remove those postmasters who had taken an active part in politics, he should impartially turn out those who had worked to secure the election of General Jackson, as well as those who had labored to reelect Mr. Adams. To this General Jackson at first made no reply, but rose from his seat, puffing away at his pipe; and after walking up and down the floor two or three times he stopped in front of his rebellious postmaster-general, and said, “Mr. McLean, will you accept a seat upon the bench of the supreme court ? ” The judicial position thus tendered was accepted with thanks, and the post-office department was placed under the direction of Major Barry, who was invited to take a seat in the cabinet (never occupied by his predecessors), and who not only made the desired removals and appointments, but soon plunged the finances of the department into a chaotic state of disorder.

Prominent amongst those “ Jackson men ” who received lucrative mail contracts from Postmaster General Barry was “ Land Admiral ” Reeside, an appellation he owed to the executives ability which he had displayed in organizing mail routes between distant cities. He was a very tall man, well formed, with florid complexion, and red hair and side whiskers. Very obliging, he once had a horse, belonging to a senator, taken from Pittsburgh to Washington, tied behind a stage, because the owner had affixed his “ frank ” to the animal’s halter. He was the first mail contractor who ran his stages between Philadelphia and the West, by night as well as by day, and Mr. Joseph R. Chandler, of the United States Gazette, said that “ the admiral could leave Philadelphia on a six-horse coach with a hot johnnycake in his pocket, and reach Pittsburgh before it could grow cold.”

Mail robberies were not uncommon in those days, although the crime was punishable with imprisonment or death. One day, one of Reeside’s coaches was stopped, near Philadelphia, by three armed men, who ordered the nine passengers to alight and stand in a line. One of the robbers then mounted guard, while the other two made the terrified passengers deliver up their money and watches, and then rifled the mail bags. They were soon afterwards arrested, tried, convicted, and one was sentenced to imprisonment in the penitentiary, while the other two were condemned to be hung. Fortunately for one of the culprits, named Wilson, he had some years previously, at a horse-race near Nashville, Tennessee, privately advised General Jackson to withdraw his bets on a horse which he was backing, as the jockey had been ordered to lose the race. The general was very thankful for this information, which enabled him to escape a heavy loss, and he promised his informant that he would befriend him whenever an opportunity should offer. When reminded of this promise, after Wilson had been sentenced to be hanged, Jackson promptly commuted the sentence to ten years’ imprisonment in the penitentiary.

While Admiral Reeside was carrying the mails between New York and Washington, there arose a formidable organization in opposition to the Sunday mail service. The members of several religious denominations were prominent in their demonstrations, and in Philadelphia chains, secured by padlocks, were stretched across the streets on Sundays, to prevent the passage of the mailcoaches. The subject was taken up by politicians, and finally came before the house of representatives, where it was referred to the committee on post roads, of which Richard M. Johnson, of Kentucky, was then the chairman. The Rev. Obadiah B. Brown, who had meanwhile been promoted in the post-office department, wrote a report on the subject for Colonel Johnson, which gave “ the killer of Tecumseh ” an extended reputation, and was the first step towards his election as vice-president, a few years later.

Admiral Reeside was on very intimate terms with David Crockett, then a representative from Tennessee, who was a good specimen of the backwoods congressmen,— distinguished by their stalwart frames, unpolished deportment, and vigilant minds, ever ready to aim their rifles at a foe, or to drink a social glass of whisky with a friend. Originally a Jackson man, he espoused the cause of Mr. Clay, and was made a lion of when he visited New England, making his quaint speeches and telling his backwoods stories. Crockett was an excellent shot, and was very proud of his skill with the rifle. He had one manufactured for him by a noted gunsmith, named Derringer, of Philadelphia, and used to go with parties of congressional friends to the commons in the northern part of Washington (now covered with houses), where he would fire it at a mark with great skill. A case of dueling pistols was then a part of the outfit of the Southern and Western congressmen, who used to spend more or less time in practicing. A notch cut with a penknife in the handle of one of these weapons denoted that it had been used in a duel, and a small groove cut entirely around the handle was evidence that it had inflicted a mortal wound. The dueling “code” was carefully studied, and the latest “ affair of honor ” was a favorite topic of conversation among ladies as well as gentlemen.

The construction of the Baltimore and Ohio railroad, with a branch leading to Washington, was commenced in the early part of General Jackson’s administration, and it was ridiculed by some, while others were positive that it would never be of any practical use. At first the cars were drawn by horses, and for a time a car was propelled by sails, which with a fair wind made fifteen miles an hour ; but finally a locomotive was constructed and driven by Mr. Peter Cooper, now of New York. It was a combination of belts and cogs, with a blower kept in motion by a cord attached to one of the wheels. English locomotive builders had asserted that no engine could be built to turn a curve of less than nine hundred feet; but some of the curves on the Baltimore and Ohio railroad were only two hundred feet, yet Mr. Cooper’s engine ran around them. Among other evidences of the excitement caused by this successful introduction of “ the iron horse ” was an operetta called The Rail Road, written by George Washington Park Custis, the grandson of Mrs. Washington, and the adopted son of pater patriœ. The following song, which was sung by Mr. Jefferson (whose son now graces our stage), will give an idea of the dramatic capabilities of the owner of Arlington, who used to sing it occasionally himself at festive boards ; —


Of each wonderful plan
E’er invented by man,
That which nearest perfection approaches
Is a road made of iron,
Which horses ne’er tire on,
And traveled by steam, in steam coaches.


And we ’ve no longer gee up and gee ho,
But fiz, fiz, fiz, off we go,
Nine miles to the hour,
With thirty horse power,
By day time and night time,
Arrive at the right time,
Without rumble or jumble,
Or chance of a tumble,
As in chaise, gig, or whisky,
When horses are frisky.
Oh! the merry Rail Bead for me!
Oh! the merry Rail, Rail Road for me!
At the inns on our route,
No hostler comes out
To give water to Spanker or Smiler,
But loll’d at our ease,
We ask landlord to please
Put a little more water in the boiler.


And we've no longer gee up and gee ho, etc. Contractors won’t fail,
When they carry the mail,
Where the coachman ne’er loiters or lingers;
And should robbers approach
Our smoking mail coach,
They 'll rather be apt to burn fingers.


And we ’ve no longer gee up and gee ho, etc.

Songs of this character, the most attractive feature being a rattling chorus in which all present could join, were highly prized at the jollifications in which the new political element of Washington society indulged. In former years, the wildest gentlemen used to spend their evenings in decorously playing whist, with frugal suppers of broiled oysters, bread and cheese, and a glass or two of madeira. The rollicking Jackson men substituted poker for whist, and indulged in frequent libations of whisky, while their supper tables were graced — according to the season—with a baked raccoon, garnished with fried sweet-potatoes, or canvas-back ducks, or shad broiled before a hickory fire on an oak board. Plantation tobacco was freely smoked in pipes, but few, except the members of the diplomatic corps, indulged in cigars.

Assemblies were held once a week between Christmas Day and Ash Wednesday, to which all of the respectable ladies in the city who danced were invited. It was also customary for those of the cabinet officers and other high officials who kept house to give at least one evening party during each session of Congress, invitations for which were issued. The guests at these parties used to assemble at about eight o’clock, and after taking off their wraps in an upper room they descended to the parlor, where the host and hostess received them. The older men then went to the punch-bowl, to criticise the “brew” which it contained, while the young people found their way to the dining-room, almost invariably devoted to dancing. The music was a piano and two violins, and one of the musicians called the figures for the cotillons and contra-dances. Those who did not dance elbowed their way through the crowd, conversing with acquaintances, and the men frequently taking another glass of punch. At ten the guests were invited to the supper table, which was often on the wide back porch which every Washington house had in those days. The table was always loaded with evidences of the culinary skill of the lady of the house. There was a roast ham at one end, a saddle of venison or mutton at the other end, and some roasted poultry or wild ducks midway ; a great variety of home-baked cake was a source of pride, and there was never any lack of punch, with decanters of madeira. The diplomats gave champagne, but it was seldom seen except at the legations. At eleven there was a general exodus, and after the usual scramble for hats, cloaks, and over-shoes the guests entered their carriages. Sometimes a few intimate friends of the hostess lingered to enjoy a contra-dance, or to take a parting drink of punch, but by midnight the last guest departed, and the servants began to blow out the candles with which the house had been illuminated.

Theatricals were not well patronized at Washington, although the small theatre was always crowded when the elder Booth would occasionally come from his Maryland farm to delight his audiences with his matchless renderings of Richard III., Iago, Sir Giles Overreach, Shylock, and Othello, which his resonant voice, his impassioned action, and his expressive gestures interpreted with wonderful sincerity. Then there were minor amusements elsewhere. The circus paid its annual visit, to the joy of the rural congressmen and the negroes, who congregated around its saw-dust ring, applauding each successive act of horsemanship, and laughing at the repetition of the clown’s old jokes ; a daring ropedancer, named Herr Cline, performed his wonderful feats on the tight rope and on the slack wire ; Finn gave annual exhibitions of fancy glass blowing; and every one went to see “ the living skeleton,” a tall, emaciated young fellow named Calvin Edson, compared with whom Shakespeare’s starved apothecary was fleshy.

The gradual introduction of anthracite coal led to the substitution of grates and stoves for wide, deep fire-places, and the brass andirons were banished to garrets or sold to the junk-dealers. Candles also gave way to lamps in which whale oil was burned, although at entertainments they were used to give additional light, often dropping melted spermaceti on the clothes of the guests. Massive mahogany furniture, upholstered with hair-cloth, was very generally used, with heavy window curtains of crimson damask or moreen, trimmed with silken fringe. Every dining-room had its long and large sideboard, to visit which all the gentlemen guests were invited at all hours. At the Capitol, an innocent beverage called “ swichell,” composed of molasses, ginger, and water, was provided, and the materials purchased were charged under the head of stationery. To this a representative one day made objection, while the appropriation bill was being discussed. “If,” said he, “ syrup is charged as stationery, I wish that the sergeant-at-arms would purchase some good whisky for those who prefer it to swichell, and charge the same to the appropriation for fuel.”

The White House, over the furniture of which so many shafts from political quivers had been aimed at Mr. Adams, and which had been described as having been fitted up in too palatial a style for the chief magistrate of a republic, was refurnished, at a cost of twelve thousand dollars, soon after General Jackson became its occupant.

The East Room was adorned with four mantel-pieces of black Italian marble, each one surmounted by a large mirror in a heavily gilded ornamental frame. The floor was covered with a rich Brussels carpet, and there were three large cut-glass chandeliers hanging from the ceiling. Gilded sofas and chairs were upholstered with blue damask; there were heavy window curtains of blue and yellow moreen ; and French china vases, filled with artificial flowers, adorned the mantel - pieces and the three marbletopped centre tables.

General Jackson cared not for this exhibition of costly furniture, but passed the greater portion of his time up-stairs in his office, smoking a corn-cob pipe with a reed stem, and discussing politics with his henchmen. He was at the time of his inauguration sixty-two years of age, tall, spare, with a high forehead, from which his gray hair was brushed back, a decisive nose, searching, keen eyes, and when good-natured an almost child-like expression about his mouth. A self-reliant, prejudiced, and often very irascible old man, it was a very difficult task to manage him. Some of his cabinet advisers made it a point to be with him, to prevent others from ingratiating themselves into his good-will, and they were thus chronicled in a ballad of the time : —

“ King Andrew had five trusty squires,
Whom he held his bid to do;
He also had three pilot-fish,
To give the sharks their cue.
There was Mat, and Lou, and Jack, and Lev
And Roger of Taney hue,
And Blair the book,
And Kendall chief cook,
And Isaac, surnamed the true.”

Mat Van Buren was secretary of state, Lou McLane was secretary of the treasury, Jack Branch was secretary of the navy, Lev Woodbury was his successor, and Roger B. Taney was attorney-general. Blair, Kendall, and Isaac Hill were also known as “ the kitchen cabinet.”

Francis P. Blair had been the partner of Amos Kendall in the publication of the Frankfort Argus, and they had both deserted Henry Clay when they enlisted in the movement which gave the electoral vote of Kentucky to General Jackson, and joined in the cry of “ bargain and corruption ” raised against their former friend. It is related that the first interview between Clay and Blair after this desertion was a very awkward one for the latter, who felt that he had behaved shabbily. Clay had ridden over on horseback from Lexington to Frankfort, in the winter season, on legal business, and on alighting from his horse at the tavern door found himself confronting Blair, who was just leaving the house. “ How do you do, Mr. Blair?” inquired the great commoner, in his silvery tones and blandest manner, at the same time extending his hand. Blair mechanically took the tendered hand, but was evidently nonplused, and at length said, with an evident effort, “Pretty well, I thank you, sir. How did you find the roads from Lexington here?” “ The roads are very bad, Mr. Blair,” graciously replied Clay, — “ very bad; and I wish, sir, that you would mend your ways.”

Mr. Blair established The Globe, which became a model political organ, and had the name of every federal office-holder whose salary exceeded a thousand dollars on its subscription list. While he defended in its columns General Jackson and the acts of the administration, right or wrong, he waged merciless warfare against those who opposed them. When Colonel W. R. King, of Alabama, once begged him to soften an attack upon an erring democrat, Mr. Blair replied, “ No ! Let it tear his heart out.” With all his political insolence, however, he possessed a remarkable kindness of heart, and a more indulgent father was never known in Washington. Personally, Mr. Blair was very ugly, and General Glascock, of Georgia, used to tell how a wager was once made between some Georgians and Kentuckians of an oyster supper for thirty, to be paid for by the citizens of that State which could produce the ugliest man. The evening came, the company assembled, and Georgia presented a fellow not naturally very ugly, but who had the knack of wonderfully distorting his features. Kentucky was in despair, for their man, who had been kept cooped up for a week, was so hopelessly drunk that he could not stand. At the last moment a happy thought occurred to a Kentucky representative, named Albert G. Hawes. Ordering a hack, he drove to the Globe office, and soon returned with Mr. Blair as an invited guest, saying, as they entered the room, “ Gentlemen, this is Mr. Blair, the editor of the Globe, and if he will only look as nature has made him, Kentucky wins.” The Georgians at once expressed their willingness to pay for the supper.

Mrs. Anne Royall was at that time the only “ interviewer ” and the only female writer for the press at Washington. She was the widow of a Tennessee revolutionary officer, and she first visited the capital to secure a pension ; but failing in that, she devoted herself to personal literature. Then she managed to secure an old Ramage printingpress and a font of battered long-primer type, with which, aided by runaway apprentices and tramping journeymen printers, she published, on Capitol Hill, for several years a small weekly sheet called The Huntress. Every person of any distinction who visited Washington received a call from Mrs. Royall, and if they subscribed for The Huntress they were described in the next number in a complimentary manner, but if they declined she blackguarded them without mercy. When young she was a short, plump, and not bad-looking woman, but as she advanced in years her flesh disappeared, and her nose seemed to increase in size ; but her piercing black eyes lost none of their fire, while her tongue wagged more abusively when she lost her temper. John Quincy Adams described her as going about “like a virago - errant in enchanted armor, redeeming herself from the cramps of indigence by the notoriety of her eccentricities and the forced currency they gave to her publications.”

Mrs. Royall’s tongue at last became so unendurable that she was formally indicted by the grand jury as a common scold, and tried in the circuit court before Judge Cranch. His honor charged the jury at length, reviewing the testimony, and showing that if found guilty she must be ducked, in accordance with the English law in force in the District of Columbia. The jury found her guilty, but her counsel begged his honor the judge to weigh the matter, and not be the first to introduce a ducking-stool, which had been obsolete in England since the reign of Queen Anne, as the introduction of such an engine of punishment might have the effect of increasing criminals of this class. If the Greek legislators would not enact a punishment for a crime not known to them, lest it should induce persons to commit that offense, the court should not permit the introduction of the ducking-stool, lest it might lead to an increase of common scolds. This argument had weight, and a fine was imposed on Mrs. Royall, which was duly paid.

When the twenty-first Congress assembled, on December 7, 1829, General Jackson sent in a message which naturally attracted some attention. Meeting his old and intimate friend General Armstrong the next day, General Jackson said, “ Well, Bob, what do the people say of my message ? ” “ They say,” replied General Armstrong, “ that it is first-rate, but nobody believes that you wrote it.” “ Well,” good-naturedly replied Old Hickory, “don’t I deserve just as much credit for picking out the man who could write it ? ” Although the words of this and of the subsequent messages were not General Jackson’s, the ideas were, and he always insisted on having them clearly expressed. It was in his first message, by the way, that he invited the attention of Congress to the fact that the charter of the United States Bank would expire in 1836, and asserted that it had “ failed in the great end of establishing a uniform and sound currency.” This was the beginning of that fierce political contest which resulted in the triumph of General Jackson and the overthrow of the United States Bank.

The senate of the twenty-first Congress has probably never been surpassed, if equaled, in point of ability and oratorical talent, by any representative body of its size, and an unimportant resolution, introduced early in 1830 by Senator Foot, led to a general debate which was “ the battle of the giants.” The discussion embraced all the partisan issues of the time, especially those of a sectional nature, including the alleged right of a State to set the federal government at defiance. The state-rights men in South Carolina, instigated by Mr. Calhoun, had been active during the preceding summer in collecting material for this discussion, and they had taken especial pains to request a search for evidence that Mr. Webster had shown a willingness to have New England secede from the Union during the second war with Great Britain. The vicinity of Portsmouth, where he had resided when he entered public life, was, to use his own words, “ searched as with a candle. New Hampshire was explored from the mouth of the Merrimack to the White Hills.”

Nor had Mr. Webster been idle. He was not an extemporaneous speaker, and he passed the summer in carefully studying, in his intervals of professional leisure, the great constitutional question which he afterwards so brilliantly discussed. A story is told at Providence about a distinguished lawyer of that place, Mr. John Whipple, who was at Washington when Webster replied to Hayne, but who did not hear the speech, as he was engaged in a case before the supreme court when it was delivered. When a report of what Mr. Webster had said appeared in print, Mr. Whipple read it, and was haunted by the idea that he had heard or read it before. Meeting Mr. Webster soon afterwards, he mentioned this idea to him, and inquired whether it could possibly have any foundation in fact. “ Certainly it has,” replied Mr. Webster. “ Don't you remember our conversations during the long walks we took together last summer at Newport, while in attendance on Story’s court ? ” It flashed across Mr. Whipple’s mind that Mr. Webster had then rehearsed the legal argument of his speech, and had invited criticism.

As the debate on the Foot resolution progressed, it revealed an evident intention to attack New England, and especially Massachusetts. This brought Mr. Webster into the arena, and he concluded a brief speech by declaring that as a true representative of the State which had sent him into the senate it was his duty, and a duty which he should fulfill, to place her history and her conduct, her honor and her character, in their just and proper light. A few days later, Mr. Webster heard his State and himself mercilessly attacked by General Hayne, of South Carolina, no mean antagonist. The son of a revolutionary hero who had fallen a victim to British cruelty, highly educated, with a slender, graceful form, fascinating deportment, and a well-trained, mellifluous voice, the haughty South Carolinian entered the lists of the political tournament like Saladin to oppose the Yankee Cœur de Lion.

When Mr. Webster went to the senate-chamber to reply to General Hayne, on Tuesday, January 20, 1830, he felt himself master of the situation. Always careful about his personal appearance when he was to address an audience, he wore on that day the whig uniform, which had been copied by the revolutionary heroes, — a blue coat with bright buttons, a buff waistcoat, and a high white cravat. Neither was he insensible to the benefits to be derived from publicity, and he had sent a request to Mr. Gales to report what he was to say himself, rather than to send one of his stenographers. The most graphic account of the scene in the senate-chamber during the delivery of the speech was subsequently written virtually from Mr. Webster’s dictation. Perhaps, like Mr. Healey’s picture, it is rather high-colored.

Sheridan, after his forty days’ preparation, did not commence his scathing impeachment of Warren Hastings with more confidence than was displayed by Mr. Webster when he stood up, in the pride of his manhood, and began to address the interested mass of talent, intelligence, and beauty around him. A man of commanding presence, with a wellknit, sturdy frame, swarthy features, a broad, thoughtful forehead, courageous eyes gleaming from beneath shaggy eyebrows, a quadrangular breadth of jawbone, and a mouth which bespoke strong will, he stood like a sturdy Roundhead sentinel on guard before the gates of the constitution. Holding in profound contempt what is termed spread-eagle oratory, his only gesticulations were upand-down motions of his arms, as if he was beating out with sledge-hammers his forcible ideas. His peroration was sublime, and every loyal American heart has since echoed the last words, “Liberty and union — now and forever — one and inseparable ! ”

Mr. Webster’s speech, carefully revised by himself, was not published until the 23d of February, and large editions of it were circulated throughout the Northern States. The debate was continued, and it was the 21st of May before Colonel Benton, who had been the first defamer of New England, brought it to a close. The Northern men claimed for Mr. Webster the superiority, but General Jackson praised the speech of Mr. Hayne, and deemed his picture worthy to occupy a place in the White House, thus giving expression to the general sentiment among the Southerners. This alarmed Mr. Van Buren, who was quietly yet shrewdly at work to defeat the further advancement of Mr. Calhoun, and he lost no time in demonstrating to the imperious old soldier who occupied the presidential chair that the South Carolina doctrine of nullification could but prove destructive to the Union.

Mr. Calhoun was not aware of this intrigue, and in order to strengthen his state-rights policy he organized a public dinner on the anniversary of Jefferson’s birthday, April 13, 1830. When the toasts which were to be proposed were made public in advance, according to the custom, it was discovered that several of them were strongly anti tariff and state rights in sentiment, — so much so that a number of Pennsylvania tariff democrats declined to attend, and got up a dinner of their own. General Jackson attended the dinner, but he went late and retired early, leaving a volunteer toast, which he had carefully prepared at the White House, and which fell like a damper upon those at the dinner, while it electrified the North : “ The federal Union, — it must and shall be maintained ! ” This toast, which could not be misunderstood, showed that General Jackson would not permit himself to be placed in the attitude of a patron of doctrines which could lead only to a dissolution of the federal government. But the committee on arrangements toned it down, so that it appeared in the official report of the dinner, “Our federal Union, — it must be preserved ! ”

This was a severe blow to Mr. Calhoun, who had labored earnestly to break down Mr. Adams’s administration, without respect to its measures, that a democratic party might be built up, which would first elect General Jackson, and then recognize him as the legitimate successor to the presidential chair. His discomfiture was soon completed by the publication of a letter from Mr. Crawford, which informed the president that he had, when in the cabinet of Monroe, proposed that “ General Jackson should be punished in some form ” for his high-handed military rule in Florida. Van Buren secretly fanned the flames of General Jackson’s indignation, and adroitly availed himself of “a tempest in a tea-pot” to complete the downfall of his rival.

The woman used as a tool by Mr. Van Buren is a somewhat picturesque figure in the political chronicles of the capital. Her maiden name was Margaret O’Neill, although she was known when a girl as Peg, and she was one of the daughters of the keeper of a tavern at which General Jackson used to put up before his election to the presidential chair. She had the lithe form, the fair skin, the dark red hair, and the keen, cat-like gray eyes of her Milesian ancestry, while she was as full of fun, frolic, and flirtation as the typical damsel on the banks of the Lake of Killarney. Caressed and teased by the guests at the tavern, she grew up to be pert, piquant, and audacious, and General Jackson, who had always admired her when she was a child, was delighted when he learned, years afterwards, that his “little friend Peg” —then the Widow Timberlake — was to be married to his old comrade, General Eaton. There was much scandal at Washington about the death of her first husband and her marriage to the second ; but General Jackson paid no heed to it, and when he became president he appointed General Eaton secretary of war. Washington society was horrified, and it soon became known that Mrs. Calhoun, with the wives of other members of the cabinet, did not intend to call on Mrs. Eaton, or to invite her to their houses. She carried her griefs to the White House, where Mr. Van Buren had paved the way for them, and the gallant old president swore “by the Eternal” that the scandal-mongers who had imbittered the last years of his beloved wife Rachel should not triumph, over his “little friend Peg.”

This was Van Buren’s opportunity. He was a widower, keeping house at Washington, and as secretary of state he was able to form an alliance with the bachelor ministers of Great Britain and of Russia, each of whom had spacious residences. A series of dinners, balls, and suppers was inaugurated at these three houses, and at each successive entertainment Mrs. Eaton was the honored guest, who led the country-dance, and occupied the seat at table on the right of the host. Some respectable ladies were so shocked by her audacity that they would leave a room when she entered it. She was openly denounced by clergymen, and she found herself in positions which would have covered almost any other woman in Washington with shame. Mrs. Eaton, who did not apparently possess a conscientious or an honorable scruple as to the propriety of her course, evidently enjoyed the situation, and used to visit General Jackson every day with a fresh story of the insults paid her. Yet she gave no evidences of diplomacy nor of political sagacity, but was a mere beautiful, passionate, impulsive puppet, held up by General Jackson, while Mr. Van Buren adroitly pulled the strings that directed her movements.

Mr. Calhoun, whose wife was foremost among those ladies who positively refused to associate with Mrs. Eaton, said to a friend of General Jackson’s, who endeavored to effect a reconciliation, that “the quarrels of women, like those of the Medes and Persians, admitted of neither inquiry nor explanation.” He knew well, however, that it was no women’s quarrel, but a political game of chess played by men, who were using women as their pawns, and he lost the game. Van Buren and Eaton next tendered their resignations as cabinet officers, which General Jackson refused to accept; whereupon the cabinet officers whose wives declined to call on Mrs. Eaton resigned, and their resignations were promptly accepted. The whole city was in a turmoil. Angry men walked about with bludgeons, seeking “ satisfaction ; ” duels were talked of ; old friendships were severed : and every fresh indignity offered his “little friend Peg ” endeared her the more to General Jackson, who was duly grateful to Van Buren for having espoused her cause. “It is odd enough,” wrote Daniel Webster to a personal friend, “ that the consequence of this dispute in the social and fashionable world is producing great political effects, and may very probably determine who shall be successor to the present chief magistrate.”