Reminiscences of Washington
THE TYLER ADMINISTRATION.
“ LE Roi est mort — Vive le Roi! ” John Tyler, having found that his position as vice-president gave him no voice in the distribution of patronage, or in the preparation of apolitical programme, had retired in disgust to his estate in Prince William County, Virginia, when Mr. Fletcher Webster brought him a notification, from the secretary of state, to hasten to Washington to assume the duties of President of the United States.
The cabinet, after due consideration, had arrived at the conclusion that Mr. Tyler should be officially styled “ VicePresident of the United States, acting President,” but he very promptly determined, on his arrival at Washington, that he would enjoy all of the dignities and honors of the office which he had inherited under the constitution. Chief Justice Taney, of the supreme court of the United States, was then absent, so he summoned Chief Justice Cranch, of the supreme court of the District of Columbia, to his parlor at Brown’s Indian Queen Hotel, and took the oath of office administered to preceding presidents. The cabinet officers were soon made to understand that he was the chief magistrate of the republic, and the whig magnates began to fear that their lease of power would soon be abridged or terminated. In conversation with Mr. Nathan Sargent, a prominent whig correspondent, soon after his arrival, Mr. Tyler significantly remarked : “ If the democrats and myself ever come together, they must come to me ; I shall never go to them.” This showed that he regarded his connection with the whigs as precarious.
The extra session of Congress, which had been convened by General Harrison before his death, was not acceptable to his successor, who saw that its legislation would be inspired and controlled by Henry Clay. When the two houses were organized, he sent them a brief message, in which the national bank question was dexterously handled “ with the caution and ambiguity of a Talleyrand.” Mr. Clay lost no time in presenting his programme for congressional action ; and in a few days its first feature — the repeal of the sub-treasury act — was enacted. That night, a thousand or more of the jubilant Washington whigs marched in procession from Capitol Hill to the White House, with torches, music, transparencies, and fireworks, escorting a catafalque on which was a coffin labeled “ The Sub-Treasury.” As the procession moved slowly along Pennsylvania Avenue, bonfires were kindled at the intersecting streets, many houses were illuminated, and there was general rejoicing. On the arrival of the procession at the Executive Mansion, President Tyler came out and made a few remarks, while Mr. Webster and the other members of the cabinet bowed their thanks for the cheers given them. The hilarious crowd of mock-mourners then repaired to the house of Mrs. Brown, at the corner of Seventh and D streets, where MR. Clay boarded, and received his grateful acknowledgments for the demonstration.
The next measure on Mr. Clay’s programme— the bill for the distribution of the proceeds of the sales of the public lands among the States—was also promptly enacted and as promptly approved by the president. Next came the bankrupt act, which was passed and signed by Mr. Tyler; but when a bill creating a national bank was enacted and presented to him for his approval, he returned it with his veto. This created much discontent among the whigs, while the democrats were so rejoiced that a considerable number of congressmen belonging to that party called at the Executive Mansion. The president received them cordially, and treated them to champagne, in which toasts were drunk not very complimentary to the whig party, or to its leader, Mr. Clay.
The Kentucky senator saw that it was of no use to temporize with his vacillating chieftain, who evidently desired to become his own successor, and he determined to force the administration into a hostile attitude towards the whigs, while he stepped to the front as the recognized whig leader. Haughty and imperious, Mr. Clay was nevertheless so fascinating in his manner when he chose to be that he held unlimited control over nearly every member of the party. He remembered too that Tyler had been nominated for vice-president in pursuance of a bargain made by his (Clay’s) friends in the legislature of Virginia, who had joined the Van Buren members in electing Mr. Rives to the senate. This bargain Mr. Clay had hoped would secure for him the support of the State of Virginia in the nominating convention, and although Harrison received the nomination for president, his friends were none the less responsible for the nomination of Tyler as vicepresident. He was consequently very angry when he learned what had taken place at the White House, and he availed himself of the first opportunity to speak of the scene in the senate, portraying the principal personages present with adroit sarcasm.
Some of his descriptions were lifelike, especially that of Mr. Calhoun, “ tall, careworn, with fevered brow, haggard cheek and eye, intensely gazing, looking as if he were dissecting the last and newest abstraction which sprung from some metaphysician’s brain, and muttering to himself, in half uttered words, ‘ This is indeed a crisis ! ’ ” The best word-portrait, however, was that of Senator Buchanan, whose manner and voice were humorously imitated, as he was described while presenting his democratic associates to the president. Mr. Buchanan pleasantly retorted, describing in turn a caucus of disappointed whig congressmen, who discussed whether it would be best to make open war upon “ Captain Tyler,” or to resort to stratagem, and, in the elegant language of Mr. Botts, “ head him or die.”
The mission to Great Britain had been tendered by President Harrison to John Sargent, a distinguished Philadelphia lawyer who had been the candidate for vice-president on the unsuccessful whig ticket headed by Henry Clay in 1836. Mr. Sargent having declined, President Harrison had appointed Edward Everett of Massachusetts, who accepted, and whose name came before the senate for confirmation. Mr. Everett was among the most conservative of New England politicians, but he had once, in reply to inquiries from abolitionists, expressed the opinion that Congress had power to abolish slavery in the District of Columbia. Could this be made a pretext for his rejection. President Tyler could send a Southern man to England, and thus aid in the annexation of Texas.
Fortunately for Mr. Everett, Senator Morehead, of Kentucky, revealed the plot to Thurlow Weed, then the editor of the Albany Evening Journal, after they had passed a social evening together, with a good supply of rare old Bourbon whisky and good cigars. Mr. Morehead said that his colleague, Mr. Clay, only intended to give a silent vote for Mr. Everett’s confirmation, although he was opposed to the plot against him. Mr. Weed saw at once that the rejection of Mr. Everett would add to the sectional agitation just showing itself, and he used his powerful influence to prevent it. When the nomination came before the senate, it was opposed by Mr. Buchanan and Mr. King of Alabama, and advocated by Mr. Choate and Henry Clay. Mr. King, who would have received the appointment had Mr. Everett’s rejection created a vacancy, concluded a bitter speech by saying that if Mr. Everett, holding views in opposition to the South, was confirmed, the Union would be dissolved! Mr. Clay sprang to his feet, and, pointing his long arm and index-finger at Mr. King, said : “And I tell you, Mr. President, that if a gentleman so preëminently qualified for the position of minister should be rejected by this senate, and for the reasons given by the senator from Alabama, this Union is dissolved already.”
The nomination of Mr. Everett was confirmed by a vote of twenty-three yeas against nineteen nays. Every democrat, Northern and Southern, who voted, and two Southern whigs, voted against him, and several Northern democrats dodged, among them Pierce of New Hampshire, Williams of Maine, and Wright of New York. The Southern whigs who stood their ground for Mr. Everett were Clay of Kentucky, Morehead, Berrien, Clayton, Mangum, Merrick, Graham, and Rives. Mr. Weed had also three or four other Southern whigs in reserve, who would have braved the odium of voting for an abolitionist had their votes been needed.
A second fiscal agent bill was prepared in accordance with the president’s expressed views, and he said to Mr. A. H. H. Stuart, then a representative from Virginia, holding him by the hand: “ Stuart, if you can be instrumental in getting this bill through Congress, I shall esteem you as the best friend I have on earth.” An attempt was made in the senate to amend it, which Mr. Choate, who was regarded as the mouth-piece of Daniel Webster, opposed. Mr. Clay endeavored to make him admit that some member of the administration had inspired him to assert that if the bill was amended, it would be vetoed, but Mr. Choate had examined too many witnesses to be forced into any admission that he did not choose to make. Persisting in his demand, Mr. Clay’s manner and language became offensive. “Sir,” said Mr. Choate, “ I insist on my right to explain what I did say in my own words.” “ But I want a direct answer ! ” exclaimed Mr. Clay. “ Mr. President,” said Mr. Choate, “the gentleman will have to take my answer as I choose to give it to him.” Here the two senators were called to order, and both of them were requested to take their seats. The next day Mr. Clay made an explanation which was satisfactory to Mr. Choate.
The second bank or fiscal agent bill was passed by Congress without the change of a word or a letter, yet the president vetoed it. When the veto message was received in the senate, there were some hisses in the gallery, which brought Mr. Benton to his feet. Expressing his indignation, he asked that the “ ruffians ” be taken into custody, and one of those who had hissed was taken into custody, but, on penitently expressing his regret, he was discharged.
President Tyler’s cabinet first learned that he intended to veto the second bank bill through the columns of a New York paper, and such was their indignation, that they all, with the exception of Mr. Webster, resigned. The whigs in Congress met in caucus, and adopted an address to the people, written by Mr. John P. Kennedy, of Maryland, setting forth in temperate language the differences between them and the president, his equivocations and tergiversations, and repudiating the administration. The democracy — said Colonel Benton — “ rejoiced, and patted Mr. Tyler on the shoulder, even those who despised the new party, microscopically small, but potent in the president’s veto.”
Caleb Cushing, who, with Mr. Wise, headed what Mr. Clay had christened “ the corporal’s guard ” of the president’s friends in Congress, issued a counter-manifesto, defending the acts of the administration. It declared that the president, in refusing to sign the financial bills, had “ violated no engagement and committed no act of perfidy in the sense of a forfeited pledge.” Mr. Webster was commended for having remained in the cabinet when “ all the rest had fled,” and the address of the whig congressmen was denounced.
Henry A. Wise had been Mr. Clay’s instrument in securing the nomination of Mr. Tyler as vice-president, and was the most influential adviser at the White House. He was then in the prime of his early manhood, tall, spare, and upright, with large, lustreless, gray-blue eyes, high cheek bones, a large mouth, a complexion saffron-hued from his inordinate use of tobacco, and coarse long hair, brushed back from his low forehead. He was brilliant in conversation, and when he addressed an audience he was the incarnation of effective eloquence. No one has ever poured forth in the Capitol of the United States such torrents of words, such erratic flights of fancy, such blasting insinuations, such solemn prayers, such blasphemous imprecations. Like Jeremiah of old, he felt the dark shadow of coming events ; and he regarded the Yankees as the inevitable foes of the old Commonwealth of Virginia.
Mr. Webster gave to the Tyler administration all of the dignity and character which it possessed, not only directing its diplomacy through the department of state, but counseling the other heads of departments. He wrote Secretary Forward’s report on the currency, and other state papers, besides serving as a balance-wheel to regulate the movements of the ardent Cushing and the fiery Wise. Mr. Webster’s great work, however, was his negotiation of the Treaty of Washington with Lord Ashburton, which he considered as one of the greatest achievements of his life. It settled a vexatious quarrel over our northeastern boundary, it overthrew the British claim to exercise the right of search, and it established the right of property in slaves oil an American vessel driven by stress of weather into a British port. But the treaty did not settle the exasperating controversy over the fisheries on the North Atlantic coast, or the disputed northwestern boundary. Indeed, Mr. Webster was at one time disposed to cede the valley of the Columbia River for the free right to fish on the British colonial coasts of the North Atlantic, Governor Simpson, of the Hudson’s Bay Company, having represented Oregon as worthless for agricultural purposes, and only valuable for its furs. Just then Dr. Whitman arrived at Washington, dressed in the Mackinaw blanket-coat and buckskin leggins in which he had crossed the Rocky Mountains, to plead for the retention of Oregon. “ But you are too late, doctor,” said Mr. Webster, “for we are about to trade off Oregon for the codfisheries. ’ The doctor soon convinced the secretary of state, however, that the valley of the Columbia was of great value, and it was retained, while the settlement of the fisheries question was left to a succeeding generation.
Lord Ashburton, retaining his business habits, brought to Washington not only a diplomatic suite, but a butler and a cook, and rented the spacious mansion of Matthew St. Clair Clarke, near that of Mr. Webster. Much of the preliminary negotiation was carried on at the dinner tables of the contracting parties, and congressional guests were alike charmed by the hospitable attentions of the “ fine old English gentleman ” and the Yankee secretary of state. Lord Ashburton offered his guests the cream of culinary perfection and the gastronomic art, with the rarest wines, while at Mr. Webster’s table American delicacies were served in American style. Maine salmon, Massachusetts mackerel, New Jersey oysters, Florida shad, Kentucky beef, West Virginia mutton, Illinois prairie chickens, Virginia terrapin, Maryland crabs, Delaware canvas-back ducks, and South Carolina rice-birds were cooked by Monica, and served in a style that made the banker-diplomat admit their superiority to the potages, sauces, entremets, ragouts, and desserts of his Parisian white-capped manipulator of casseroles.
Mr, Webster’s papers in the negotiations with Lord Ashburton are models of skillful reasoning, and his letter on impressment is regarded as a diplomatic masterpiece. He not only had to contend with a practical and accomplished diplomat, but to manage a wayward president, an unfriendly senate, a hostile house of representatives, and the state governments of Massachusetts and Maine. When a leading merchant congratulated him on the result, he thanked him, and said: “ There have been periods when I could have kindled a war, but, sir, I remembered that I was negotiating for a Christian country, with a Christian country, and that we were all living in the nineteenth century of the Christian era. My duty, sir, was clear and plain.”
Mr. Robert C. Winthrop was one of the most accomplished gentlemen in the house of representatives. He had succeeded Mr. Abbott Lawrence, a Boston merchant, who, having amassed a large fortune, coveted political honors, and was a liberal contributor to the campaign fund of his party. Astute and observing, he imagined himself a representative of the merchant-princes of Venice under the Doges and England under the Plantagenets, and he spoke in a measured, stately tone, advancing his ideas with a positiveness that would not brook contradiction. On several occasions he had been one of “ the solid men of Boston ” who had contributed considerable sums for the pecuniary relief of Mr. Webster, and this emboldened him to assume a dictatorial tone in advising the secretary of state to resign after the Ashburton treaty had been negotiated. The command was treated with sovereign contempt, and thenceforth Mr. Lawrence looked upon Mr. Webster as ungrateful, and as standing in the way of his own political advancement.
When the extra session had ended, President Tyler had some time to devote to his family. His wife, a Virginia lady (whose maiden name was Letitia Christian) came to the Executive Mansion in feeble health, and did not long survive. He had two grown sons, Robert and John ; two married daughters, Mrs. Jones and Mrs. Semple ; a younger daughter, Alice, and a young sou, Tazewell, a bright lad. The wife of his oldest son, Robert, was a daughter of Cooper, the celebrated tragedian, and it is recorded in Charles Dickens’s Notes that she “ acted as the lady of the mansion, and a very interesting, graceful, and accomplished lady too.”
President Tyler, who was fifty-one years of age when he took possession of the Executive Mansion, was somewhat above the medium height, and of slender figure, with long limbs and great activity of movement. His thin auburn hair turned white during his term of office, his nose was large and prominent, his eyes were of a bluish-gray, his lips were thin and his cheeks sunken. His manners were those of the old school of Virginia gentlemen, and he always invited visitors with whom he was acquainted to accompany him to the sideboard in his dining-room and take a glass of wine, or something stronger. The ceremonious etiquette established at the White House by Van Buren vanished, and the president lived precisely as he had on his plantation, attended by his old family slaves. When Healey, the artist, was invited to reside at the White House while he was copying Stuart’s portrait of Washington for Louis Philippe of France, he was forcibly struck with the absence of all ceremony. The first day of the artist’s sojourn, he accompanied the family to the drawingroom, after dinner, and then said, with a profound bow, “ Mr. President, with your permission I will retire to my work.” “ My good fellow,” replied Mr. Tyler, “ do just what you please.”
When one day the president joked Mr. Wise about his little one-horse carriage, which he styled “ a candle-box on wheels,” the representative from Accomac retorted by telling Mr. Tyler that he had been riding for a month in a second-hand carriage purchased at the sale of the effects of Mr. Paulding, the secretary of the navy under Mr. Van Buren, with the Paulding coat-of-arms emblazoned on the door panels. The president laughed, and gave orders at once to have the armorial bearings of the Pauldings painted over.
President Tyler stopped the dismissal of those clerks in the departments who were democrats to make places for whigs. One day, shortly after he became president, one of the secretaries had sent notices to fifteen of the clerks employed in the department of which he was the head, that their services would not be required any longer by the government. Jemmy Maher, the public gardener, heard of this wholesale official decapitation, and, seeing Mr. Tyler soon afterwards on the portico of the White House, went to him and stated the case. The president immediately sent for the secretary, who came, bringing with him, as authority for what he had done, the record of the political tergiversations of each dismissed clerk. “ That’s all very well,” said President Tyler, when he had heard the secretary’s indictment, “ but you must restore these men. If you don’t, I shall have their wives and children coming to me with sad stories of their starvation, and I am determined not to take part in making people wretched.” The dismissed clerks were accordingly reinstated.
The great number of whigs who had swarmed from Virginia into Washington at the inauguration of Harrison, in search of offices, and who had not been successful, when Mr. Tyler became president were very importunate. Prominent among them was “ Old Dade,” as he was called by all who knew him, who was born near the spot made famous by the surrender of Cornwallis, and who was an applicant for the position of warden of the district penitentiary. Before he received his appointment, President Harrison died, and “ Old Dade ” then began to importune his successor. One day Mr. Tyler said: “ Dade. I should like to appoint you, but they tell me that you drink too much.” “ Is that all they say about me ? ” responded Dade. Mr. Tyler smiled, and observed, “ I think, in all conscience, that is enough.” “ No sir ! ” answered the indignant Dade. “ When people talk about me, I want them to tell the whole truth, sir ! They should have told you, sir, that there is no gentleman in the city of Washington so thirsty as I am.” Mr. Tyler, in the goodness of his heart, could resist no longer, and “ Old Dade ” was commissioned warden of the penitentiary. When he took charge, he had all of the convicts called up, and made this brief speech to them : “ Boys, I’m your boss. If you ’ll behave yourselves like gentlemen I "11 treat you as such, but if you don’t, I ’ll turn every mother’s son of you out! ”
Junius Brutus Booth was occasionally the star at the Washington Theatre, and President Tyler used often to enjoy his marvelous renderings of Sir Giles Overreach, King Lear, Shylock, Othello, and Richard the Third. Booth was short and compactly built, with classical features which strongly resembled the portraits of Michael Angelo, and his bearing was that of a monarch. A slave to intoxicating drinks, he would often disappoint his audiences, yet his popularity remained unabated. He resided on a farm in Maryland, and sometimes he would abandon the stage entirely for rural pursuits, appealing occasionally in Baltimore with a wagon-load of milk, chickens, and eggs, which he would peddle from door to door. Among his other eccentricities, stimulated by drunkenness, was a veneration for animal life equal to that of a Hindoo. He would not eat flesh or fowl, or permit its use in his family, believing as he did in metempsychosis. An eminent divine used to narrate how he was summoned by Booth to his room one night, and found him there in great grief over several hundred pigeons, which had been killed in a shooting-match. Booth welcomed the clergyman, and asked him to read the burial service over the slaughtered innocents, which the reverend gentleman declined to do. Taking a prayer-book, Booth then read the burial-service himself, supplementing it with an eloquent discourse on the inhumanity of man to the beasts and birds over whom he had been given dominion.
Social life at Washington was very agreeable during the administration of President Tyler, as political differences were banished from the drawing-rooms, and those who mercilessly denounced each other in debate would cordially fraternize a few hours afterwards at a dinner-table. But few large parties were given, those of Baron de Bodisco, the Russian minister, surpassing all the others, but there were many small social gatherings. Assemblies were held during the sessions of Congress, under the supervision of managers who issued cards of invitation only to such as were within the exclusive circle. Gentlemen were admitted only in full evening dress, with pumps and silk stockings, unless they belonged to the army, the navy, or the marine corps, and appeared in full uniform. The dancing was commenced at eight o’clock, with a grand promenade, led by the manager who had been selected to act as master of ceremonies, with the reigning belle of the evening. Waltzing was never indulged in, but there was a succession of cotillons and quadrilles, varied by romping countrydances, until eleven o’clock, when the music would strike up a Virginia reel, and the oldest spectators would take their places with the more youthful, going down the outside, up the middle, balancing to distant persons on the other side, and indulging in six hands around with a joyous abandon. When all were tired, good-night was said, and before midnight the hall was deserted. During the evening, ice-cream, lemonade, and port wine negus, with small cakes, were handed around to the ladies, and the gentlemen had rum punch or apple toddy in their dressing-room.
Prominent among the ladies who were in society were Mrs. Madison and Mrs. Hamilton. The widow of the expresident resided in a house facing on Lafayette Square, where on public days she received all visitors who chose to call, wearing a dark velvet dress and a white muslin turban. Her conversational powers were unimpaired by years, and her reminiscences, extending back to the administration of Washington, were always interesting. Mrs. Hamilton, who also kept house, led a more reserved life, but was equally gifted and equally interesting in conversation. She was devoted to the memory of her husband, and expended considerable sums of money in quietly buying up, whenever an opportunity presented itself, copies of his celebrated pamphlet in which he confessed his infidelity to her, to relieve himself of charges of official misconduct while secretary of the treasury. She used to say that General Hamilton wrote the outline of his contributions to The Federalist on board one of the North River packet sloops, on which he used to visit Albany, the voyage from New York usually taking eight or ten days.
One of the most agreeable houses in Washington was that of Colonel Benton, a senator from Missouri, whose accomplished and graceful daughters had been thoroughly educated under his own supervision. He was not willing, however, that one of them — Miss Jessie — should receive the attentions of a young second lieutenant in the corps of topographical engineers, — Mr. Frémont,— and the young couple eloped and were married clandestinely. The colonel, although angry at first, acquiesced in the result, and his powerful support in Congress enabled Mr. Frémont to explore, under the patronage of the general government, the vast central regions beyond the Rocky Mountains, and to plant the national flag on Wind River Peak, upwards of thirteen thousand feet above the Gulf of Mexico. The young " Pathfinder ” had as friends and advisers at Washington Monsieur Nicollet, an accomplished French engineer, the venerable Hassler, father of the coastsurvey, and Colonel Abert, chief of the topographical bureau.
A very different wedding was that of the Baron de Bodisco, Russian minister, and Miss Harriet Williams, a daughter of the chief clerk in the office of the adjutant-general. The baron was nearly fifty years of age, and she a blonde school-girl of “ sweet sixteen,” celebrated for her clear complexion and her robust beauty. The ceremony was performed at her father’s house on Georgetown Heights, and was a regular May and December affair throughout. There were eight groomsmen, six of whom were well advanced in life, and as many bridesmaids, all of them young girls from fourteen to sixteen years of age, wearing long dresses of white satin damask, donated by the bridegroom. The question of precedence gave the baron much trouble, as he could not determine whether Mr. Fox, then the British minister and dean of the diplomatic corps, or Senator Buchanan, who had been minister to Russia, should be the first groomsman. This important question was settled by having the groomsmen and bridesmaids stand in couples, four on either side of the bridegroom and bride. The ceremony was witnessed at the bride’s residence, by a distinguished company, and the bridal party then went in carriages to the Russian Legation, where an elegant entertainment awaited them, and where some of the many guests got gloriously drunk in drinking the health of the happy couple.
A children’s fancy ball was given at the White House by President Tyler, in honor of the birthday of his eldest granddaughter. She received her guests dressed as a fairy, with gossamer wings, a diamond star on her forehead, and a silver wand. Prominent among the young people was the daughter of General Almonte, the Mexican minister, arrayed as an Aztec princess. Master Schermerhorn, of New York, was beautifully dressed as an Albanian boy, and Ada Cutts, as a flower-girl, gave promise of the intelligence and beauty which in later years led captive the “ Little Giant ” of the West. The boys and girls of Henry A. Wise were present, the youngest in the arms of its mother, formerly Miss Sargent of Philadelphia, and every State in the Union had its juvenile representative. The most noticeable feature of the evening was the supper-table, where, opposite the little hostess of three years sat the venerable Mrs. Madison, the only invited guest of adult years honored with a seat, while the other grown people waited upon the children, and aided in the distribution of gifts from the Christmas-tree.
Horatio Greenough had, in 1832, been commissioned to “ execute in marble a pedestrian statue of General Washington, to be placed in the centre of the rotunda of the Capitol.” The price originally agreed upon was $5000, but this had been increased to $30,000 in 1830, when Congress was notified that the statue was finished. It was in Mr. Greenough’s studio at Florence, and after a few learned debates, Congress passed a joint resolution authorizing the secretary of the navy to take measures for its “ importation and protection.” Orders were thereupon sent the commander of the Mediterranean squadron to take it on board one of his men-of-war at Genoa, and send it to Washington.
Meanwhile Mr. Greenough, becoming impatient, had had the statue, which weighed twenty-one tons, drawn from Florence to Genoa by twenty-two yokes of oxen. The ponderous car on which it was placed created a great excitement as it passed along, breaking down bridges, and the peasants, thinking that it was the image of some potent saint, knelt as it passed and repeated their prayers. When it arrived at Florence, it was found that it could not be got down the hatchway of the man-of-war sent to carry it to Washington, and it became necessary to charter a merchant vessel. After some difficulty it was safely stowed in the hold, but the captain then asserted that he had a right to take other freight, and it was only by the payment of an additional sum that he could be induced to sail directly for Norfolk Roads.
When the statue was delivered at the Washington navy yard, the trouble appeared only to have commenced. It was discovered that the “ pedestrian" statue was sitting in a chair, and that it was nearly nude to the waist, and a responsive thrill ran through the country when Mr. Wise declared, in a debate in the house of representatives, that “ the man does not live and never did live, who ever saw Washington without his shirt.” The Latin inscriptions placed by the artist upon the chair were also criticised, and to increase the popular discontent it was found that the eastern door-way of the Capitol was too small by fourteen inches to admit the statue.
After much discussion in Congress, and the publication of many newspaper articles, it was decided to cut away the masonry, and the doorway was so enlarged that the statue was taken to the centre of the rotunda. Hereupon a fresh difficulty soon arose. The weight was so great that the floor began to sink, and it was found necessary to erect a solid pedestal, commencing in the basement. It was soon evident to all, however, that the centre of the rotunda was not the proper place for the statue, as the figure was too large, and the light coming from above threw the countenance and neck into a cross-shadow at all hours of the day.
Congress again discussed the location of the statue, and finally ordered it to be removed to the western side of the rotunda. It was found, however, that this was not practicable, and no action was taken until the following year, when an appropriation was made for the removal of the statue from the rotunda to the grounds east of the Capitol, and the erection of a shelter over it. It was not long before this shelter was removed by Act of Congress, and the statue was left, as was touchingly said in debate, “ with a boundless arch of sky for a canopy.” Since then it has been thrice removed, and unless sheltered from the storms it will soon begin to disintegrate. Some of the accessories have fallen off, and one of the toes has been broken off.
The vaulted arches of the old supreme court room used to echo in those days with the eloquence of Clay, Webster, Choate, Sargent, Binney, Atherton, Kennedy, Berrien, Crittenden, Phelps, and other able lawyers. Their honors the justices were rather a jovial set, especially Judge Story, who used to assert that every man should laugh at least an hour during the day, and had himself a great fund of humorous anecdotes. One of them, that he loved to tell, was of Jonathan Mason, of whom he always spoke in high praise. It set forth that at the trial of a Methodist preacher for the alleged murder of a young girl, the evidence was entirely circumstantial, and there was a wide difference of opinion concerning his guilt. One morning, just before the opening of the court, a brother preacher stepped up to Mason and said, “ Sir, I had a dream, last night, in which the angel Gabriel appeared and told me that the prisoner was not guilty.” “ Ah ! ” replied Mason, “ have him subpœnaed immediately.” Chief Justice Taney, although he seldom told a story, always liked to hear one, and used to enjoy the anecdotes which enlivened the after-dinner consultations of the court, although some of them had made pilgrimages through the whole realm of jocularity.
When Congress met in December, 1841, it was evident that there could be no harmonious action between that body and the president, but he was not disposed to succumb. Writing to a friend, he said the coming session was “likely to prove as turbulent and fractious as any since the days of Adam. But [he added] I have a firm grip on the reins.”
The senate contained many able men. Clay was in the pride of his political power, but uneasy as a caged lion. Calhoun was in the full glory of his intellectual magnificence. Silas Wright, Levi Woodbury, and Robert J. Walker were laboring for the restoration of the democrats to power. Benton stood sturdily, like a gnarled oak-tree, defying all who offered to oppose him. Allen, whose loud voice had gained for him the appellation of “ the Ohio gong,” spoke with his usual vehemence. Franklin Pierce was demonstrating his devotion to the slave-power, while Rufus Choate poured forth his wealth of words in debate, his dark complexion corrugated by swollen veins, and his great, sorrowful eyes gazing earnestly at his listeners.
In the house of representatives there were unusually brilliant and able men. John Quincy Adams, chairman of the committee on foreign affairs, was the recognized leader. Mr. Fillmore, of New York, a stalwart, pleasant-featured man, with a remarkably clear-toned voice, was chairman of the committee on ways and means. Henry A. Wise, chairman of the committee on naval affairs, was able to secure a large share of patronage for the Norfolk navy yard. George N. Briggs (afterwards Governor of Massachusetts) who was an earnest advocate of temperance, was chairman of the postal committee. Joshua R. Giddings, who was a sturdy oppouent of slavery at that early day, was chairman of the committee on claims. John P. Kennedy, of Maryland, an accomplished scholar and popular author, was chairman of the committee on commerce. Edward Stanly, of North Carolina, was chairman of the committee on military affairs, Leverett Saltonstall of the committee on manufactures ; indeed, there was not a committee of the house that did not have a first-class man as its chairman.
But the session soon became a scene of sectional strife. Mr. Adams, in offering his customary daily budget of petitions, presented one from several antislavery citizens of Haverhill, Massachusetts, praying for a dissolution of the Union, which raised a tempest. The Southern representatives met that night in caucus, and the next morning Mr. Marshall, of Kentucky, offered a series of resolutions, deploring the presentation of the obnoxious petition, and censuring Mr. Adams for having presented it.
An excited and acrimonious debate, extending over several days, followed. The principal feature of this exciting scene was the venerable object of censure, then nearly fourscore years of age, his limbs trembling with palsy, his bald head crimson with excitement, and tears dropping from his eyes, as he for four days stood defying the storm, and hurling back defiantly the opprobrium with which his adversaries sought to stigmatize him. He was animated by the recollection that the slave-power had prevented the reëlection of his father and of himself to the presidential chair, and he poured forth the hoarded wrath of half a century. Lord Morpeth, who was then in Washington, and who occupied a seat on the floor of the house near Mr. Adams during the entire debate, said that “he put one in mind of a fine old game-cock, and occasionally showed great energy and power of sarcasm.”
Mr. Wise became the prosecutor of Mr. Adams, and asserted that both he and his father were in alliance with Great Britain against the South. Mr. Adams replied with great severity, his shrill voice ringing through the hall. “ Four or five years ago,” said he, “there came to this house a man with his hands and face dripping with the blood of murder, the blotches of which are yet hanging upon him, and when it was proposed that he should be tried by this house for that crime, I opposed it.” After this allusion to the killing of Mr. Gilley in a duel, Mr. Adams proceeded to castigate Mr. Wise without mercy. At a later period in the debate Mr. Adams replied to Mr. Marshall, the author of the resolution censuring him. He alluded to the friendly intercourse that had existed between the gentleman’s uncle, Chief Justice Marshall, and his own father, President John Adams, and said that “ the slave-power was now his judge, and slave-holders were to sit as jurors. They proposed to treat him with mercy. He disdained and rejected their mercy, and he defied them. Let them expel him if they dared—his constituents would soon return him.” When he at last resumed his seat, whig representatives from the free States crowded around him to offer their congratulations, and a resolution offered by Mr. Fillmore to lay the whole subject on the table was passed by a vote of one hundred and forty-four yeas against fifty-two nays.
At the spring races in 1842 over the Washington course, Mr. Stanly, of North Carolina, accidentally rode so close to the horse of Mr. Wise as to jostle that gentleman, who gave him several blows with a cane. Mr. Stanly at once sent a friend to Mr. Wise, with an invitation to meet him at Baltimore, that they might settle their difficulty, and left for that city. Mr. Wise remained in Washington, where he was arrested the next day under the anti-dueling law, and placed under bonds to keep the peace. Mr. Stanly remained at Baltimore for several days, expecting Mr. Wise. He was the guest of Mr. Reverdy Johnson, under whose instruction he practiced with dueling pistols, firing at a mark. One morning Mr. Johnson took a pistol himself, and fired it, but the ball rebounded and struck him in the left eye, depriving it of sight. Mr. Stanly returned the next day to Washington, where mutual friends adjusted the difficulty between Mr. Wise and himself, but Mr. Johnson was never able to see again with his left eye.
President Tyler was gradually impressed, by those around him, with the idea that the people would elect him at the expiration of his term. It became evident, however, that he had no real following, and that a “ corporal’s guard ” of sycophants was urging him to persist in injuring the whig party, while the democrats were not disposed to support him. But he continued with hardened obstinacy in his mad course, with staggering steps and wavering purpose, as if struck with a providential blindness of judgment. Mr. Webster endeavored to defend him in Faneuil Hall, and defied the Clay whigs, under the lead of Abbott Lawrence. “ I am a whig,” said he, “a Faneuil Hall whig, and if anyone undertakes to turn me out of the pale of that communion, let him see to it who gets out first.”
The president, in his endeavors to form a Tyler party, forgot his previous determination not to remove faithful office-holders that their places might be given to partisans. His organ announced, “ It is not enough that the office-holders do not oppose the administration. We want vigorous and bold men. We want men who are ready to put their shoulders to the wheel, and drive along the car of the administration through every obstacle and every opposition.”
Mr. Wise was nominated as minister to France and rejected, and Mr. Cushing was rejected as secretary of the treasury. Edward Everett was confirmed as minister to China, and had he accepted the transfer, Mr. Webster would have been sent in the recess to Great Britain. But Mr. Everett declined the new appointment, and Mr. Cushing, appointed in his place, left at once for China, hoping that the senate would not reject him after he had entered upon his duties.
Mr. Webster remained in the cabinet until the spring of 1843, when the evident determination of President Tyler to secure the annexation of the republic of Texas made it very desirable that he should leave, and he was “ frozen out ” by studied reserve and coldness. The cabinet was reconstructed, but a few months later the bursting of a cannon on the war-steamer Princeton, while returning from a pleasure excursion down the Potomac, killed Mr. Upshur, the secretary of state, Mr. Gilmer, the secretary of the navy, with six others, while Colonel Benton narrowly escaped death, and nine seamen were injured. The president had intended to witness the discharge of the gun, but he was detained in the cabin by a lady. This shocking catastrophe cast a gloom over Washington, and there was a general attendance, irrespective of party, at the funeral of the two cabinet officers, who were buried from the White House.
One of those killed by the explosion on the Princeton was Mr. Gardiner, a New York gentleman whose ancestors were the owners of Gardiner’s Island, in Long Island Sound. His daughter Julia, a young lady of fine presence, rare beauty, and varied accomplishments, had for some time been the object of marked attentions from President Tyler, although he was in his fifty-fifth year and she but about twenty. Soon after she was deprived of her father they were quietly married at New York, and President Tyler brought his young bride to the White House.