THE JACKSON ADMINISTRATION, 1829—1837.
THE rejection of Martin Van Buren as minister to Great Britain, by the senate, was an act of retributive justice, carried out on the very spot where, five years before, he had formed the combination which overthrew the administration of John Quincy Adams. John C. Calhoun, who was the organizer of the rejection of Mr. Van Buren, thought that he had obtained pledges of a sufficient number of votes ; but just before the ayes and noes were called, Mr. Webster left the senate chamber, and going down into the supreme court room remained there until the vote had been taken. Mr. Calhoun consequently found himself one vote short, and had to give the casting vote, as president of the senate, which rejected the nomination of his rival, who was already in England, where he had been received with marked attention.
Returning to the United States, Mr. Van Buren was warmly welcomed at the White House as a victim to Mr. Calhoun’s opposition to the president, and he was soon recognized by the democratic party as their heir apparent to the presidency. His appearance at that time was impressive. He was short, solidly built, with a bald head, and with bushy side-whiskers which framed his florid features. He added the grace and polish of aristocratic English society to his natural courtesy, and it was his evident aim never to provoke a controversy, while he used every exertion to win new friends and to retain old ones. After he had been elected vice-president, he sat day after day in the chair of the senate, apparently indifferent alike to the keen thrusts of Calhoun, the savage blows of Webster, and the gibes of Clay. He well knew that General Jackson would regard every assault on him as aimed at the administration, and that his chances for the succession would thereby be strengthened. Charges of political chicanery were brought against him in shapes more varied than those of Proteus, and thick as the leaves that strew the vale of Vallambrosa ; but lie invariably extricated himself by artifice and choice management, earning the sobriquet of “ the Little Magician.” He could not be provoked into a loss of temper, and he would not say a word while in the chair except as connected with his duties as presiding officer, when he spoke in gentle but persuasive tones, singularly effective from the clearness of his enunciation and his well-chosen emphasis.
Mr. Van Buren, who was then a widower, kept house on Pennsylvania Avenue, about half-way between the White House and Georgetown, where he not only gave dinner-parties to his political friends, but entertained their wives and daughters at evening whist-parties. Gentlemen and ladies were alike used for the advancement of his schemes for the succession, and for retaining his position in the estimation of General Jackson. On one occasion he said to Mrs. Eaton that he had been reading much and thinking deeply on the characters of great men, and had come to the conclusion that General Jackson was the greatest man that had ever lived, — the only man among them all who was without a fault. “ But,” he added, “don’t tell General Jackson what I have said. I would not have him know it for the world.” Of course, it was not long before Mrs. Eaton repeated the conversation to General Jackson. “ Ah, madam ! ” said Old Hickory, the tears starting in his eyes, “ that man loves me; he tries to conceal it, but there is always some way fixed by which I can tell my friends from my enemies.”
To ingratiate himself further with General Jackson, and to strengthen the democratic party, whose votes he relied upon to elevate him to the presidency, Mr. Van Bureu organized the war against the United States Bank. General Jackson was opposed to this institution before he became president, and it was not a difficult task to impress upon his mind that the bank was an unconstitutional monopoly, which defied the legislative acts of sovereign States, which was suborning the leading newspapers and public men of the country, and which was using every means that wealth, political chicanery, and legal cunning could devise to perpetuate its existence. All this the honest old soldier in time believed, and it was then not difficult to impress him with a desire to combat this “ monster,” as he called the bank, and to act as the champion of the people in killing the dragon which was endeavoring to consume their fortunes.
The democratic politicians and presses heartily seconded their chieftain in this war, promising the people “ Benton mintdrops instead of rag-money.” Jackson clubs were everywhere organized, having opposite to the tavern or hall used as their head-quarters a hickory-tree, trimmed of all its foliage except a tuft at the top. Torch-light processions, then organized for the first time, used to march through the streets of the city or village where they belonged, halting in front of the houses of prominent Jackson men to cheer, while before the residences of leading whigs they would often tarry long enough to give six or nine groans. Editors of newspapers which supported the administration were forced to advocate its most ultra measures, and to denounce its opponents, or they were arraigned as traitors, and if satisfactory excuses could not be made they were read out of the party. Among those thus excommunicated was Mr. James Gordon Bennett, who had edited the Philadelphia Pennsylvanian, but who was unceremoniously ousted from that post for his lack of pliability of conscience, he having refused to obey the written orders of Mr. Amos Kendall to abuse and misrepresent the supporters of the United States Bank.
Nicholas Biddle, of Philadelphia, who as the president of the United States Bank became the antagonist of General Jackson, was a gentleman of rare ability as a statesman, a financier, and a scholar. He was at that time in the prime of life, of medium height, well proportioned, and somewhat stout. He had a large head, a full face, a high forehead, dark hazel eyes, and a mouth and chin that indicated great firmness. One secret of the power which he then possessed was his perfect imperturbability; his feelings had either been well schooled, or nature had given him an entire control over them. “ Calm as a summer’s morn,” no thought or excitement was ever permitted to ruffle the placid exterior of Mr. Biddle’s face, or to give sign of what was passing within; and by the invariable cheerfulness of his temper he baffled his opponents and sustained his friends. For several successive years torrents of bitter and malignant calumny were poured out on him by the democratic orators and newspapers, who endeavored to make it appear that he was personally responsible for the financial difficulties into which the country had been plunged. Year after year he tried to counteract the evils growing out of the various experiments tried upon the currency, and it is now admitted by financiers that he managed the affairs of the Bank of the United States with consummate ability. His trials in the bitter contest waged against him and the institution which he represented were almost as manifold as those that tested the patience of Job; and he bore them with equal meekness so far as temper was concerned, but when duty required he never failed to meet his opponents with decision and effect.
The debates in the senate on the bank and attendant financial questions were very interesting, but the audiences were necessarily small. The circumscribed accommodations of the senate chamber were insufficient, and while the ladies generally managed to secure seats, either in the galleries or on the floor, the gentlemen had to content themselves with uncomfortable positions, leaning against pillars or peeping through door-ways.
Mr. Clay was the recognized leader of the whig senators in debate, for he would recognize no leader. His oratory was persuasive and spirit-stirring. The fire of his bright eyes, the sunny smile which lighted up his countenance, the compass and variety of tone of his musical voice, his perfect articulation, and the graceful gesticulations of his long arms all added to the attractions of his able arguments. But he was not a good listener, and he would often sit, while other senators were speaking, eating sticks of striped peppermint candy, and occasionally taking a pinch of snuff from a silver box that he carried, or from one that graced the table of the senate. Mr. Clay was fond of a joke, and often indulged, in an under-tone, in humorous comments on the remarks by other senators.
Daniel Webster was a grim humorist. On one occasion, when a senator who was jeering another for some pedantry said, “The honorable gentleman may proceed to quote from Crabbe’s Synonyms, from Walker arid Webster” — " Not from Walker and Webster,” exclaimed the senator from Massachusetts, “ for the authorities may disagree ! ” At another time, when he was speaking on the New York fire bill, the senate clock suddenly began to strike, and after it had struck continuously for about fourteen or fifteen times Mr. Webster stopped, and said to the presiding officer, “ The clock is out of order, sir, — I have the floor.” The occupant of the chair looked rebukingly at the refractory time-piece, but in defiance of the officers and rules of the house it struck about forty before the sergeant-at-arms could stop it; Mr. Webster standing silent, while every one else was laughing.
On another occasion, while Mr. Webster was addressing the senate in presenting a memorial, a clerical - looking person in one of the galleries arose, and shouted, “ My friends, the country is on the brink of destruction ! Be sure that you act on correct principles. I warn you to act as your consciences may approve. God is looking down upon you, and if you act on correct principles you will get safely through.” He then deliberately stepped back, and retired from the gallery before the officers of the senate could reach him. Mr. Webster was of course surprised at this extraordinary interruption ; but when the shrill voice of the enthusiast had ceased, he coolly resumed his remarks, saying, “As the gentleman in the gallery lias concluded, I will proceed.”
Colonel Benton, of Missouri, familiarly called “ Sir Boreas ” by his associates, was the champion of General Jackson’s administration in the senate. When a young man, Colonel Benton and his brother had a personal conflict with General Jackson and some of his friends in a tavern, when pistols and dirks were freely used; but they became friends when they sat next to each other in the United States senate, and were both members of its committee on military affairs. It was not, however, until near the close of General Jackson’s administration that a bullet was extracted from his arm, which he had received in his tavern brawl with the Bentons, many years before.
Colonel Benton was a large, heavily framed man, with prominent features, black curly hair and whiskers, and a very loud voice. He wore the high black silk neck-stock and double-breasted frockcoat of his youth through his congressional career, varying the materials of which bis garments were made, but never the fashion in which they were cut. He was an industrious student, but he lacked the faculty of condensing the masses of facts and figures which he laboriously obtained. Representing what was then the far West, he professed an earnest sympathy with the pioneers and the plowmen, and he was ever ready to denounce the aristocrats and the capitalists, as he called them, of the Eastern cities. When the editor of a newspaper at St. Louis, before he entered the senate, in expatiating on the future growth of the region watered by the Mississippi and its tributaries, he spoke of the whole tier of the thirteen original States as “ an appendant slope” to the future seat of empire, — and he lived to see his prediction realized.
Mr. Benton did not stay for nice phraseology, as he stood in debate, launching thunder - bolts of hatred, jealousy, or rage, or floundering along in metaphorical illustrations, in which he often became terribly entangled. Outraging every customary propriety of language, wrestling and struggling in fierce attempts to vindicate his assertions, he would rush forward with blind fury upon every obstacle, like the huge wild buffaloes of the Missouri prairies, whose paths, he used to assert, would show the way through the passes of the Rocky Mountains. He was not a popular speaker, and when he took the floor the occupants of the galleries invariably began to leave, while many senators devoted themselves to their correspondence. Now, however, he who was regarded in his life-time as a blatant scavenger is read and respected as the faithful parliamentary chronicler of thirty important years of the history of his country.
Mr. Benton’s great triumph during the Jackson administration was the passage of a resolution expunging from the journal of the senate a resolution censuring General Jackson for the removal of the deposits from the Bank of the United States. This expunging resolution was kept before the senate for nearly three years, and was then passed by only five majority. The closing debate was able and exhaustive, Henry Clay, John J. Crittenden, Thomas Ewing, William C. Rives, William Hendricks, John M. Niles, Richard H. Bayard, and other distinguished men participating, while Daniel Webster read, with characteristic earnestness, a protest signed by himself and his colleague, John Davis. The democrats had provided a bountiful supply of refreshments in the room of the committee on finance, and several senators showed by their actions that they were not members of the then newly organized Congressional Temperance Society, before which Mr. Webster had delivered a brief address. After the final vote — twenty-four yeas and nineteen nays — had been taken, Mr. Benton moved that the secretary carry into effect the order of the senate. Then the secretary, Mr. Asbury Dickens, opening the manuscript journal of 1834, drew broad black lines around the obnoxious resolution, and wrote across its face, “ Expunged by order of the senate, this 16th day of January, in the year of our Lord 1837.”
No sooner had he concluded than hisses were heard, and Mr. King, of Alabama, who occupied the chair, ordered the galleries to be cleared, while Mr. Benton, in a towering rage, denounced the offenders, and demanded their arrest. “ Here is one,” said he, “ just above me, that may easily be identified, — the bank-ruffian.” Mr. King revoked his order to clear the galleries, but directed the arrest of the person pointed out by Mr. Benton, who was soon brought before the bar of the senate. It was Mr. Lloyd, a practicing lawyer at Cleveland, Ohio, who was not permitted to say a word in bis own defense, but was soon discharged, after which the senate adjourned.
John C. Calhoun, who resigned the position of vice-president that he might be elected a senator from South Carolina, differed from his great contemporaries in the possession of a private character above reproach. Whether this arose from the preponderance of the intellectual over the animal in his nature, or the subjection of his passions by discipline, was never determined by those who knew the gifted South Carolinian best; bat such was the fact. His .enemies could find no opprobrious appellation for him but “ Catiline,” which was bis middle name, — no crime but ambition. He disregarded the unwritten laws of the senate, which required senators to appear in dress suits of black broadcloth, and asserted his state pride and his state independence by wearing, when the weather was warm, a suit of nankeen, made from nankeen cotton grown in South Carolina. Mr. Calhoun had a pale and attenuated look, as if in bad health ; his long black hair was combed up from his forehead and fell over the back of his head, and his thin lips increased the effect of the acute look with which he always regarded those around him. His personal intercourse with friends was characterized by great gentleness of manner; he was an affectionate and a devoted husband and father, and Webster truly remarked of him that “ he had no recreations, and never seemed to feel the necessity of amusement.”
In the house of representatives, during the Jackson administration, sectional topics were rife, sectional jealousies were high, and partisan warfare was unrelenting. Andrew Stevenson, of Virginia, who was triumphantly reëlected as speaker for four successive terms, understood well how to keep down the boiling caldron, and to exercise stern authority, tempered with dignity and courtesy, over heated passions of the fiercest conflicting character. When he was transferred from the speaker’s chair to the court of St. James, John Bell, of Tennessee, an old supporter of General Jackson, became his successor for the remainder of that session ; but at the commencement of the nest Congress, Mr. Van Buren secured the election of James K. Polk. Mr. Bell, on his next visit to Nashville, threw down the gauntlet in an able speech, and nominated Judge White. This was the foundation of the White party, which had as its editorial henchman the Rev. Mr. Brownlow, known as “ the fighting parson,” who soon acquired a national reputation by his defiant personalities in debate, and by his trenchant editorial articles in the newspapers of East Tennessee. Mr. Brownlow was at that time a tall, spare man, with long black hair, black eyes, and a sallow complexion. He was devoted to the Methodist church and to the White — afterwards the whig—party, while the doctrine of immersion and the emancipation of slavery were objects of his intense hatred.
While Mr. Stevenson was speaker, General Samuel Houston, who had been residing among the Indians for several years, came to Washington to organize an expedition for the conquest of Texas, thereby extending the area of slavery. Taking offense at some remarks made in debate by Mr. Vance, a representative from Ohio, Houston assaulted and severely pounded him. The house voted that Houston should be brought before its bar and reprimanded by the speaker, which was done, although Mr. Stevenson’s reprimand was really complimentary. That night, a friend of General Houston attacked Mr. Arnold, of Tennessee? who had been active in securing the reprimand, with a bludgeon and a pistol, but the latter had the best of the encounter.
The most prominent member of the house of representatives in the closing years of the Jackson administration was the venerable John Quincy Adams. Having found himself an exile amid the rural quiet of Quincy, the ex-president returned to Washington as representative from that congressional district. He resided in his own house on F Street, where he hospitably entertained his friends and those of his constituents who visited the metropolis, and he occupied his leisure moments in writing verses for ladies’ albums, or in adding to his autobiography, which is not a sketch of his times in which every one appears in the best light, but a daguerreotype with heavy shadows. He was prompt and punctual in his attendance at committee meetings and the sessions of the house, where he would sit in his faded frockcoat, ink-spotted waistcoat and pantaloons, white woolen stockings, and low shoes, apparently paying little attention to what was going on. But let any question come up which afforded an opportunity for gladiatorial display, and he was at once in the arena. His polished bald head would become scarlet, tears would stream from his enrheumed eyes, bis body would sway to and fro, his voice would be so highly pitched that it would at times break, and his agitated index finger would quiver in gesticulation, as he would sarcastically and provokingly take part in the debate. His profound acquaintance with the political history of the country, his wonderful ability for comprehending and reasoning, and his faculty for analyzing a subject to its elements gave him great power in debate, and made him a dreaded adversary. Cold and unsympathetic in his manner, and exhibiting no warmth of feeling in his intercourse even with his most intimate friends, his passions were really violent; and sometimes, when he was discussing some unimportant matter, they would burst forth like a volcano, as if beyond his control.
Mr. Adams’s most uncompromising opponent in the bouse was Robert Barnwell Rhett; and there was an intense sectional animosity between the two, although they were cousins. Mr. Rhett’s name was originally Smith, he having taken the name of Rhett in 1836, and his father’s own cousin, Abigail Smith, was the mother of John Quincy Adams. Mr. Rhett was the champion “ fireeater ” of those days, and after Mr. Calhoun had agreed to support the compromise act he said at a public meeting in South Carolina, “ Before accepting that compromise, I would be shattered into bloody fragments on the battlefield.” He did, however, submit, and when the war between the States finally came he was not a combatant.
Mr. Adams had at one time an able coadjutor in Caleb Cushing, who had returned from extensive travels in Europe, where he had stored his mind with rare acquisitions of knowledge and with much intellectual bricabrac, to take a seat in the house after a protracted contest. He finally secured his election by leaving his bed, after he had retired, and writing a letter to John G. Whittier, in which he pledged himself to the support of anti-slavery measures. At first, he stood boldly forward in the house in the preliminary parliamentary picket fights of the “ irrepressible conflict,” and his defense of New England, in reply to an attack by Mr. Ben. Hardin, of Kentucky, was eloquent and noble. Had he continued as he commenced, Mr. Cushing would have become a leader in the movement afterwards so triumphantly crowned with success. He was then a handsome man, with bright dark eyes and long black hair ; and he was a very effective speaker, using a profusion of words to illustrate a harmonious succession of brilliant metaphors. The decease of his wife, to whom he had been devotedly attached, rendered him somewhat misanthropic, and he preferred rooming alone to joining any of the “ messes.” Even at that time, his company at dinner-parties was much sought, as his remarkable memory and his graphic powers of description made him a fascinating talker.
Another prominent representative at that time was Henry A. Wise, from the Accomac district of tide-water, Virginia. Although then a young man, Mr. Wise dressed like a gentleman of the old school; his long-skirted blue coat hung loosely about his tall, gaunt figure, while a large white cravat added to the sallow pallor of his thin features, which had masses of long, disheveled black hair as a background. He rarely sat in his seat, but he used to stride to and fro in the lobby behind the speaker’s chair, or stop to chat with the groups around the fire-places at either end of it. Possessing brilliant talents, a volatile yet wellinformed mind, and an attractive address, he was remarkably popular among his many friends in the house, and was apparently more interested in conversing with them than in the subject under consideration. But if a democrat — especially a Northern democrat — stepped purposely or accidentally on whig corns, or if any disparaging allusion was made to Virginia, or to its " peculiar institution,” Mr. Wise was at once on the floor, pouring forth, as if discharged from a catapult, terse, snapping sarcasms, hard sayings, and almost insulting queries, while he pointed out the object of his attack.
Edward Everett was one of the wheelhorses of the house. As a chairman of committees his reports were able, and were never attacked except upon absolute differences of political opinion ; for all could understand precisely what he intended to say. So with his speeches on the leading questions of the day : there was no equivocal phraseology or disguised opinions, but he expressed his sentiments in debate with the same sincerity as he had previously in the pulpit or in the professor’s chair, and many respected his course who could not follow it. His appearance was classical, and he had the pallid look of the hard student, with the courteous manners of the polished gentleman.
There were several other able men in the house, among them Tristam Burgess, of Rhode Island, a stalwart old gentleman with snow-white hair and a Roman nose, who was called “ the bald eagle.” Gulian C. Verplanck and Thomas J. Oakley, two members of the New York bar who represented that city, were statesmen rather than politicians. John Chambers, of Kentucky, a gigantic economist, was ever ready to reform small expenditures and willing to overlook large ones. And then there was David Crockett, of Tennessee, who could “whip his weight in wild-cats,” and wbo, when defeated as a candidate for reëlection, went to Texas, where his gallant death roused a spirit of revenge which swept the Mexicans back across the Rio Grande.
The centennial birthday of George Washington was duly honored in the city which he had founded and which bore his name. Divine services were performed at the Capitol, and later in the day there was a dinner at Brown’s Hotel, at which Daniel Webster prefaced the first toast in honor of the Father of his Country by an eloquent speech of an hour in length. In the evening there were two public balls, — one for the gentry at Camsi’s saloon, and the other for mechanics and tradesmen at the Masonic Temple.
Congress had proposed to pay signal homage to the memory of Washington on the centennial anniversary of his birth by removing his remains to the crypt beneath the dome of the Capitol. Mr. Custis, the grandson of Mrs. Washington, gave his assent; but Mr. John A. Washington, then the owner of Mount Vernon, declined to permit the removal of the remains, on the ground that Virginia did not wish to part with them, but prompted, undoubtedly, by a desire to dispose of Mount Vernon, to which they gave additional value, at a high price.
Congress purchased Rembrandt Peale’s portrait of Washington, and the house ordered a full-length picture of him from Vanderlyn, a celebrated New York artist. A commission was also given to Horatio Greenough for a colossal statue of Washington in a sitting posture, to be placed on a high pedestal in the centre of the rotunda of the Capitol. The Washington National Monument Association, after consultation with men of acknowledged artistic taste, selected from among the numerous designs submitted a simple obelisk, five hundred feet in height, for the erection of which the American people began at once to contribute,
Mr. Silas Burrows, a wealthy New York merchant, offered to defray the expenses attendant on the erection of an imposing white marble monument to the memory of Mrs. Mary Washington, the mother of George, at the spot near Fredericksburg where her remains had probably been interred. While General Jackson was on his way to witness the laying of the corner-stone, the steamboat stopped for a few moments at Alexandria, and a Virginian named Randolph, who had just been ignominiously dismissed from the navy because he would not aid in concealing the defalcations of Purser Timberlake, Mrs. Eaton’s first husband, came on board. Making his way into the cabin, where the general sat smoking his pipe, he advanced towards him, attempting at the same time to pull off his right glove. General Jackson, supposing that the stranger wished to shake hands with him, said, “ Never mind your glove, sir ! Excuse my not rising, for my side pains me,” and he extended his hand. Randolph had by this time got his glove off, and he struck General Jackson on one cheek ; but before he could repeat the blow he was seized, a scuffle ensued, and he was escorted on shore.
General Jackson’s blood was up, but he could not get at his adversary before he was hurried away. “ Had I been apprised,” said he, “ that Randolph stood before me, I should have been ready for him, and I could have defended myself.”
“ Sir,” said a citizen of Alexandria, who had come into the cabin, " promise to pardon me in case I am tried and convicted, and I will kill Randolph in less than fifteen minutes.”
“ No, sir ! ” replied General Jackson. “ I want no man to stand between me and my assailants, nor none to take revenge on my account. Had I been prepared for this cowardly villain’s approach, I can assure you that he would never have the temerity to undertake such a thing again.”
No attempt was made to arrest Randolph, and he escaped on a horse which was in readiness. General Jackson proceeded to Fredericksburg, where he was cordially welcomed, and the corner-stone of the monument was duly laid. Soon after the structure was commenced, however, Mr. Burrows experienced pecuniary reverses, and the work on the monument was arrested. It remains to-day in an unfinished condition.
Another attack was made on General Jackson one afternoon as he was leaving the Capitol, where he had been to attend the funeral of a representative, by a journeyman painter named Richard Lawrence. Stepping in front of the general, Lawrence snapped two loaded pistols at him, in rapid succession, the percussion-cap of each exploding without igniting the charge. An investigation proved beyond a doubt that Lawrence was insane, but General Jackson was tempted to believe that the friends of the United States Bank had prompted his assassination.
Personal government was the bane of the Jackson administration, and an overweening idea of his own importance was the foundation of the old soldier’s errors. It should be borne in mind, however, that he was surrounded by flatterers, and that even the government of Harvard College paid homage to him, when he visited Cambridge, by creating him a Doctor of Laws, although he could not write a letter which did not contain errors in orthography and punctuation. “ By the Eternal ” was a favorite phrase with him when he desired to give emphasis to an expression, and he became very profane when he lost his temper ; yet he was a sincere believer in revealed religion, and a constant attendant on the services at the Presbyterian church wherever he happened to be. So far as bis prejudices and his narrowness of judgment permitted he was a kind-hearted man, nor was be averse to some of the pleasures which he had enjoyed in his younger days.
The general always liked the physical excitement of a horse-race, where a large assemblage thrills with but one thought from the word “ Go ! ” until the winning horse reaches the goal, and he was always to be seen at the spring and fall races over the National Course, just north of Washington city. Delegations of sporting-men from the Atlantic cities crowded into the metropolis during the race weeks; there were jockeyclub dinners and jockey-club balls; and the course resounded to the footfalls of noted horses, especially Boston, Sir Charles, Emily, and Blue Dick. In 1836 General Jackson had a filly of his own raising brought from the Hermitage and entered for a race by Major Donelson, his private secretary. Nor did he conceal his chagrin when the filly was beaten by an imported Irish colt named Langford, owned by Captain Stockton of the navy, and he had to pay lost wagers amounting to nearly a thousand dollars, while Mr. Van Buren and other devoted adherents who had bet on the filly were also losers.
Baillie Peyton, of Tennessee, used to narrate an amusing account of a visit which he made to the National Racecourse with General Jackson and a few others, to witness the training of some horses for an approaching race. They went on horseback, General Jackson riding his favorite gray horse, and wearing his white fur hat with a broad band of black crape, which towered above the whole group. The general greatly enjoyed the trials of speed, until a horse named Busiris began to rear and plunge. This stirred old Hickory’s mettle, and he rode forward to give some energetic advice to the jockey, but just then saw that the vice - president was ambling along at his side on an easygoing nag. “ Mr. Van Buren,” he exclaimed, " get behind me, sir ! They will run over you, sir! ” and the Little Magician gracefully retired to the rear of his chief, which, Mr. Peyton used to say, was his place.
Cock-fighting had been one of General Jackson’s favorite home amusements, and he had become the possessor of a breed of fowl that was invincible in Tennessee. He had some of these pugnacious birds brought to Washington, and one spring morning he rode out towards Bladensburg, with a select party of friends, to see “ a main ” fought between the Hermitage and the Annapolis cocks. The birds were not only trained to fight, but were equipped for their bloody work. Their heads and necks were plucked, their tail feathers were closely trimmed, and their natural spurs were cut off and replaced by “gaffs,” or sharp blades of finely tempered steel. Each bird had his trainer, ready to administer stimulants and to sponge the blood from the wounds inflicted by the gaffs. General Jackson was very confident that his favorites would again be victorious ; but there was no fight, to the great disappointment of all present, who doubtless possessed what has been called “ the devil’s nerve,” which thrills with base enjoyment in the visible pain of man, beast, or bird. The long confinement in coops on the stages, or some other unknown cause, appeared to have deprived the Hermitage birds of their wonted pluck, and the Annapolis cocks crowed in triumph.
The social life at the White House, during the administration of General Jackson, was not distinguished for fashion or etiquette. The Nimrod Wildfires from the backwoods of Tennessee, the bear-hunters from the valley of the Big Muddy, and the alumni of Tammany Hall were always welcome guests. Politics was the staple topic of conversation, and the distribution of Federal offices was the great study of an administration which had spared neither age, nor fitness, nor long experience, nor even revolutionary service, and which, to use the words of Daniel Webster, had even “ gone down to low-water mark to make an ousting of the tide-waiters.”
General Jackson was not fond of theatrical performances, but he went — as did nearly every one else at Washington — to witness the widely heralded performances of Miss Fanny Kemble. The niece of Mrs. Siddons and John Kemble, and the daughter of Charles Kemble, she had been trained from early childhood to sustain the reputation of her distinguished theatrical family. A goodlooking young woman, with large dark eyes, a profusion of dark hair, a low forehead, and strawberry-and-cream complexion, she was personally attractive, and gave evidence of a careful stage training which was wonderfully effective. Every movement, gesture, and inflection of voice had been carefully studied, and when making an ordinary remark in conversation, she could deliver her words with a deliberate attempt at stage effect. Her Juliet with her father’s Romeo was her best character, but they failed signally as Lady Teazle and Charles Surface in the School for Scandal.
Gentlemen would often go from dinner-parties to the theatre in an intoxicated condition, and one night the Hon. James Blair, then a representative in Congress from South Carolina, who was on what was denominated “ a spree,” took offense at a remark by one of the actors which he imagined was meant for him, and drawing a pistol fired at the unconscious offender. The ball passed just above Miss Jefferson’s head, and the actors left the stage without ceremony. Mr. Blair was persuaded by his friends to leave the house, and then Mr. Ingersoll, the stage manager, appeared, looking very pale. “ Ladies and gentlemen,” said he, “ if there is to be shooting at the actors on the stage, it will be impossible for the performance to go on.” About three weeks afterwards Mr. Blair, in a fit of delirium tremens, blew out his own brains with a pistol, at his lodgings on Capitol Hill.
The first “ society letters,” as they are called, written from Washington, were by Nathaniel P. Willis, to the New York Mirror. Willis was at that time a foppish, slender young man, with a profusion of long light hair, who always dressed in the height of fashion. He had, while traveling in Europe, mingled with the aristocratic classes, and he affected to look down upon the masses ; but with all his snobbishness he had a wonderful faculty for endowing trifling occurrences with interest, and his letters have never been surpassed. He possessed a sunny nature, full of poetry, enthusiasm, and cheerfulness, — always willing to say a pleasant word for those who treated him kindly, and never seeking to retaliate on those who sneered at and maligned him.
Willis first introduced steel pens at Washington, having brought over from England some of those made by Joseph Gillott at Birmingham. Before this, goose-quill pens had been exclusively used, and there was in each house of Congress and in each department a penmaker, who knew what degree of flexibility and breadth of point each writer desired. Every gentleman had to carry a pen-knife, and to have in his desk a hone to sharpen it on, giving the finishing touches on one of his boots. Another new invention of that epoch was the lucifer match-box, which superseded the large tin tinder-box, with its flint and steel. The matches were in the upper portion of a pasteboard case about an inch in diameter and six inches in length, and in a compartment beneath them was a bottle containing a chemical preparation, into which the brimstonecoated end of the match was dipped and thus ignited.
The mayor of Washington, during the closing years of the Jackson administration, was Peter Force, a noble specimen of those who — before the existence of trades unions — used to serve an apprenticeship to the “ art preservative of arts,” and graduate from the printingoffice qualified to fill any political position. Fond of American history, Mr. Force, while printing the Biennial Register, better known as the Blue Book, from the color of its binding, began to collect manuscripts, books, and pamphlets, many of which had been thrown away in the executive departments as rubbish, and were purchased by him from the dealers in waste paper. In 1833 he originated the idea of compiling and publishing a documentary history of the country, under the title of the American Archives, and issued a number of large folio volumes, the profits going to the politicians who secured the necessary appropriations from Congress. He was emphatically a gentleman, — tall, stalwart, with bushy black hair and large, expressive eyes, which would beam with joy whenever a friend brought him a rare autograph or pamphlet.
When Jefferson was president, his democratic admirers in Berkshire County, Massachusetts, under the guidance of Rev. John Leland, made and sent to the White House, as a gift, the biggest cheese that had ever been seen. Just prior to the expiration of General Jackson’s presidential term, one of his New York admirers, named Meacham, who desired to attract attention to the products of his dairy, sent to the White House a cheese which eclipsed that bestowed upon Jefferson. It was larger in circumference than a hogshead, and about a yard thick, and on the massive box in which it was brought from the Meacham dairy to Washington was a portrait of General Jackson, surmounted by the American eagle.
On the twenty-second day of February, 1837, eleven days before the administration of General Jackson expired, he held a farewell reception, at which the mammoth cheese was cut and distributed in the ante-room of the White House as a parting gift. Two men, with immense knives made from saw blades, cut into the unsavory mass, giving each applicant a piece weighing two or three pounds. Some had provided themselves with paper in which to wrap their portions, but many carried them away in their hands without any covering, and upwards of fourteen hundred pounds was thus distributed, or trodden under foot. After getting past the cheese, thousands of visitors, of high and low degree, elbowed their way into the blue parlor, where they were presented to General Jackson, whose health was so feeble that be remained sitting in his chair. His niece, Mrs. Donelson, stood at his side, while behind him, with a smile for every one of the passing throng, was the president elect, Martin Van Buren.