Reminiscences of Washington
THE TYLER ADMINISTRATION, 1843-1846.
THE Tyler administration became odious to the whigs, while the democrats despised it. Mr. Tyler had succeeded in having every vestige of the whig legislation enacted at the extra session of 1841 swept from the statute-book, yet the democrats continued to stand aloof from his administration, until, as a last resort, he advocated the admission of Texas as a State. He was urged to take this step by Henry A. Wise, of Virginia, his favorite adviser, and by the numerous holders of Texas bonds and war-scrip in Washington.
Before the victims on the Princeton were shrouded, Mr. Wise called upon Mr. McDuffie, then a member of the senate, who represented Mr. Calhoun’s interests at Washington, and informed him that the distinguished South Carolinian would be appointed secretary of state. He urged him to write to Mr. Calhoun at once, begging him not to decline the position should he be nominated and confirmed. Mr. McDuffie did not ask Mr. Wise if he spoke by Mr, Tyler’s authority, but evidently believed that he was authorized to make the request, and promised to write to Mr. Calhoun by that afternoon’s mail.
Mr. Wise then went to the Executive Mansion, where he found Mr. Tyler in the breakfast-room, much affected as he read the account of the awful catastrophe of the day previous, which he had found in that morning’s National Intelligencer. Mr. Wise told him rather abruptly that it was no time for grief, as there were vacancies in the cabinet to be filled, that urgent matters then under his control might be disposed of. “ What is to be done ? ” asked President Tyler. Mr. Wise had an answer ready : “ Your most important work is the annexation of Texas, and the man for that work is John C. Calhoun as secretary of state. Send for him at once.”
“ No, sir! ” replied the president, rather coldly. “ The annexation of Texas is important, but Mr. Calhoun is not the man of my choice.” The ladies of the family just then came in, and all sat down to breakfast.
This was rather a damper on the programme of Mr. Wise, as he feared that Mr. McDuffie’s letter would reach Mr. Calhoun about the time some one else was nominated as secretary of state. He eat through a long breakfast, patiently listening to the president’s prolix account of what had taken place on the Princeton, and finally determined to follow Hoyle’s advice to whist-players holding the third hand, and “ play high.” When the party at last rose from the table, and the ladies left the room, he took his hat, and going to where the president was standing said, in his most impressive manner, “Sir! In saying good-morning to you now, I may be taking a lasting farewell. I have unselfishly tried to be your friend for many years, and especially since you have been president. Prompted by friendship for you, I have to-day prevailed upon Mr. McDuffie to write to Mr. Calhoun, and ask him to accept the place of secretary of state from you. If you do not sanction this unauthorized act of mine for your own sake, — not mine, — you will place me where you would be loath to place a foe, much less a friend.”
The president looked surprised for a moment, and then, lifting both hands, said, “Wise ! you are the most extraordinary man I ever saw, the most willful and wayward, the most incorrigible, and I see there is nothing for me to do but yield, No other man would have done what you have done, but you have done It, and I now authorize you to take the office and tender it to Mr. Calhoun.”
But Mr. Wise did not wish to tender it, as he feared that Mr. Calhoun would not accept it. So he insisted, and the president finally consented, that the nomination should be sent to the senate at once. It was accordingly sent, and confirmed without opposition. Mr. Calhoun came to Washington immediately, and was soon installed as secretary of state, with able associates in the other executive departments.
Mr. Calhoun’s course on the annexation of Texas had not been consistent. In 1819, when a member of President Monroe’s cabinet, he had concurred in virtually giving Texas away, to conciliate the antislavery sentiment of New England, by preventing the increase of slave-holding States at the Southwest. But in 1836 he had advocated immediate annexation as calculated to injure the presidential prospects of Mr. Van Buren, and he was prompt in completing the negotiations carried on by Mr. Upshur, his predecessor in the department of state, with Messrs. Van Zandt and Henderson, the envoys sent to place the “ lone star ” in the azure field of the ensign of the republic. It took Mr. Calhoun only from February 28th to April 12th to conclude the negotiations. The treaty of annexation was signed and sent to the senate for ratification, but after a protracted discussion it was rejected by a vote of sixteen yeas against thirty-five nays.
General Jackson had been enlisted in the annexation of Texas, and as an acknowledgment of his services the friends of the measure in Congress passed a law refunding a fine of one thousand dollars which had been imposed on him by Judge Hall, at New Orleans, twenty-five years before. It was for a contempt of court, in refusing to produce, in obedience to a writ of habeas corpus, a citizen arrested by his orders under the martial law which he had proclaimed.
Stephen A. Douglas, who had just entered Congress as one of the seven representatives from Illinois, was prominent in procuring the passage of the bill refunding the fine, and when he afterward visited the Hermitage he received General Jackson’s earnest thanks. “I felt certain in my own mind,” said the general, “ that I was not guilty of violating the constitution. But I could never make out a legal justification of my course, nor has it ever been done, sir, until you, on the floor of Congress, established it beyond the possibility of doubt. I thank you, sir, for that speech.”
This was the first move made by Mr. Douglas in his canvass for the presidency, but he was soon prominent in that class of candidates of whom Senator William Allen, of Ohio, said, “ Sir! they are going about the country like dry-goods drummers, exhibiting samples of their wares.” Always on the alert to make new friends aud to retain old ones, he was not only a vigorous handshaker, but he would throw his arms fondly around a man, as if he possessed the first place in his heart. No statement was too chary of truth in its composition, no partisan manœuvre was too openly dishonest, no political pathway was too dangerous, if an opportunity was afforded for making a point for Douglas. He was industrious and sagacious, clothing his brilliant ideas in energetic and emphatic language, and standing like a lion at bay when opposed.
Mr. Douglas had a herculean frame, with the exception of his lower limbs, which were short and small, dwarfing what otherwise would have been a conspicuous figure, and he was popularly known as “ the Little Giant.” His large round head surmounted a massive neck, and his features were symmetrical, although his small nose deprived them of dignity. His dark eyes, peering from beneath projecting brows, gleamed with energy, mixed with an expression of slyness and sagacity, and his full lips were generally stained at the corners of his mouth with tobacco-juice. His voice was neither musical nor soft, and his gestures were not graceful. But he would speak for hours in clear, well-enunciated tones, and the sharp Illinois attorney soon developed into the statesman at Washington.
The debates in the senate on the treaty with Texas, providing for its annexation, were very acrimonious. Mr. Benton, while he denounced the scheme for the admission of Texas as the work of speculators in scrip and lands, and of political intriguers, showed that disunion was at the bottom of the machination. Under the pretext of getting Texas into the Union, the scheme was to get the South out of it, and to establish a Southern confederacy.
Mr. James Buchanan had always, since he had been a member of Congress, acted with the Southerners, and he sustained the treaty, as did Mr. Levi Woodbury, of New Hampshire, and Mr. Robert J. Walker, a Pennsylvanian by birth, who was at that time a senator from Mississippi. Messrs. Buchanan and Woodbury were ponderous speakers, who always displayed such an unhesitating air of being irrefragably in the right as they proceeded with their elaborate arguments that every word they uttered sounded like the pronouncement of an oracle. Mr. Walker was small, active, ready in retort, and always prepared to produce an array of statistics in support of his position which no one in the senate could contradict.
In the house of representatives, the venerable ex - president, John Quincy Adams, headed the opposition to Texas, while he maintained his defiant attitude on the right of petition. This so exasperated the Southerners that several of them openly indulged in hostile threats towards him ; and one day, when the house was in session, a Virginian named Sangster had “ the old man eloquent ” called out into the lobby by a page. When Sangster saw Mr. Adams, he said, “ You are wrong, — I ’ll kick you,” and made an attempt to seize him, which the old gentleman endeavored to prevent by grasping the wrists of his assailant. Sangster, disengaging one of his hands, then tried to slap Mr. Adams’s face, but was prevented by the somewhat tardy interference of the by-standers, and later in the day he was arrested, but not punished. Mr. Adams, nothing daunted by these brutal demonstrations, persevered in his demonstrations against Southern despotism, displaying the traits which Thackeray has told us were possessed by Fielding : “ He has an admirable love of truth, and the keenest instinctive antipathy to hypocrisy. His wit is wonderfully wise and detective, — it flashes upon a rogue and lightens up a rascal like a policeman’s lantern.”
Joshua R. Giddings was one of the first who came to the aid of Mr. Adams in the house, and he soon attracted attention as a stalwart opponent of slavery. He had succeeded Elisha Whittlesey, with whom he had studied law in Ohio, and during the excitement attendant on the proposition to annex Texas he became so outspoken that a resolution was passed declaring his conduct “ altogether unwarranted and unwarrantable, and deserving the severest condemnation of the country and of the house.” Mr. Giddings eloquently protested against the passage of this resolution of censure without giving him an opportunity to be heard, saying that he would accept of no other privilege and would ask no other courtesy. The house refused to permit him to speak, and passed the resolution by a vote of two to one, whereupon Mr. Giddings resigned. Returning to Ohio, he announced himself a candidate for reëlection, and he was sent back to Washington by a majority of over three thousand, many democrats voting for him. In a few weeks after he had been censured he was again in his seat, indorsed by his constituents, and a more defiant opponent of the slave-power than he was before the attempt to discipline him. He was taunted, rebuked, insulted, and threatened with chastisement, but he never faltered or turned from what he believed to be his path of duty.
The house of representatives, at that period, could boast of more ability than the senate. Among the most prominent members were the accomplished Robert C. Winthrop, who so well sustained the reputation of his distinguished ancestors ; Hamilton Fish, the representative Knickerbocker from the city of New York ; Alexander Ramsey, a worthy descendant of the Pennsylvania Dutchmen ; the loquacious Garrett Davis, of Kentucky ; the emaciated Alexander H. Stephens, of Georgia, who had not apparently a month to live, yet who rivaled Talleyrand in political intrigue; John Wentworth, a tall son of New Hampshire, transplanted to the prairies of Illinois; Andrew Johnson, of Tennessee, a born demagogue and self-constituted champion of the people ; the courteous Thomas H. Seymour, of Hartford, and John Slidell, of New Orleans ; Robert Dale Owen, the visionary communist from Indiana ; Howell Cobb, of Georgia, and Jacob Thompson, of Mississippi, who were then laying the foundations for the Southern Confederacy, “ with slavery as its corner-stone ; ” the portly Dixon H. Lewis, of Alabama, who was so large that he could not occupy the arm-chairs at the Capitol, and had to have wider ones made for his use ; the brilliant Robert C. Schenck, of Ohio ; and the genial Isaac E. Holmes, of South Carolina, who softened tlie asperities of debate by many pleasant comments in an under-tone, not recorded by the reporters.
President Tyler had great faith in the power of the newspaper press, and secured, by a lavish distribution of the advertising patronage of the executive departments, an “ organ ” in nearly every State. The journals thus recompensed for their support of the administration were without political influence, but Mr. Tyler prized their support, and personally looked after their interests. Alluding to them in a letter to a friend, he said, “ Their motives may be selfish ; but if I reject them for that, who among the great mass of office-holders can he trusted ? They give me all the aid in their power, and I do not stop to inquire into motives.” In another letter he complains of an official at New Orleans, saying, “ I have felt no little surprise at the fact that he should have thrown into the Bee [a most abusive paper] advertisements of great value, and refused to hand them to the Republican, a paper zealous and able in the cause of the administration.”
The Washington Globe, after Amos Kendall retired from its editorial chair to amass a fortune as one of the proprietors of the Morse telegraph patent, had been conducted by Francis P. Blair. He was aided by Edmund Burke, then a representative from New Hampshire, whose placid countenance was entirely at variance with his aggressive articles ; by Jesse E. Dow, poet, orator, and paragraphist; and by John C. Rives, his partner and business manager. Mr. Rives was one of the kindest-hearted and shrewdest of men, gigantic in person, rough in his manners, with coarse features, and a shock of sandy hair. He indulged in a rather savage style of writing, and if he did not adorn everything that he touched, he had the gift of Midas in turning printing-ink and paper into gold.
“ Blair of the Globe,” as he was generally called, was about five feet ten inches in height, with an emaciated form and positively ugly features, light hair, and clear, unflinching blue eyes. He wore a broad-brimmed black hat, and his clothes were somewhat of the Quaker cut. He was a trenchant, waspish writer, who apparently sought rather than avoided personal controversies. Although he was almost a skeleton, he once unblushingly called Judge White in an editorial “ Calvin Edson,” — the name of a man who was then being exhibited to prove that a human being could survive after losing nearly all his flesh. In another article he applied to Senator Poindexter — who was a spare man — the sobriquet of the devil’s darning needle;” indeed, he never appeared to realize, when writing one of his ferocious editorial attacks, that he might be assailed for any of his severe strictures.
He was the disciplinarian of the democratic party, and he had no mercy for those who refused to work in partisan harness. Once, when he was about attacking a man whom he respected personally, but disliked politically, he said to his partner, “ Rives, it gives me pain to attack that man, but he is restive and kicking in the traces, and complaining that the collar is too small for him and chafes him. We must whip him in or whip him out at once, before he gets a little crowd to go with him,” Mr. Blair was devoted to Van Buren, as he had been to Jackson, and worked hard to secure his nomination by the democrats in 1844, as an opponent of the annexation of Texas.
The New York Tribune was first published during the Tyler administration by Horace Greeley, who had edited with great success a political newspaper during the preceding presidential campaign, called The Log Cabin. The Tribune, like the New York Herald and Sun, was then sold at one cent a copy, and was necessarily little more than a brief summary of the news of the day. But it was the germ of what its editor lived to see it, — a great newspaper, — and it soon had a circulation at Washington, where the eminently respectable National Intelligencer and the ponderous Globe failed to satisfy the wants of the reading community. A daily penny paper, called The Capitol, was established at Washington, but it was shortlived.
The Congressional Library was then a respectable collection of books, many of which had belonged to the library of Thomas Jefferson, who had sold them to Congress after the burning of the Capitol by the British. Senator Choate and Representative Burke were at the head of the joint congressional committee which selected the books purchased with the small annual appropriation, and the library was the favorite lounging place of the beaux and belles. The genial librarian, Mr. John S. Mehan, was a Washington journalist, who had supported General Jackson, and had received his position in return, displacing Mr. George Watterson, who had been a prominent writer for the anti-democratic press, and had lampooned Mrs. Jackson without mercy. General Cass was at that time the most omnivorous reader, ordering to his room large collections of books of travel and novels. Senator Benton was another industrious reader, and always consulted all available encyclopaedias before he made one of his ponderous and exhaustive speeches.
The electric telegraph was then being made available by Mr. S. B. Morse, who obtained, with great difficulty, an appropriation of $30,000 to aid in its construction. To some members of Congress, who ridiculed the telegraph, it was a chimera, a visionary dream like mesmerism, rather a matter of merriment than to be seriously entertained. The appropriation was passed in the house only by the close vote of eightynine yeas against eighty-three nays, so that a change of three votes would have consigned the invention to oblivion. The first wires, between Washington and Baltimore, were encased in leaden tubes, which were buried under ground, but this mode proved a failure, and the present plan of extending the wires on poles was adopted.
Another prominent inventor at Washington, during the Tyler administration, was Mr., or as he was generally called, Colonel, Samuel Colt. He was a man of fine presence, lavish in his expenditures of time and of money to accomplish any desired results, and of indomitable perseverance. His “ six-shooters” had been practically tested in the war with the Seminole Indians in Florida, but a company formed for their manufacture at Patterson, New Jersey, became bankrupt, after having sunk a capital of $300,000, without any beneficial results, except those gained in the further simplifying the mechanism of the arms, which were improvements on many chambered guns and pistols manufactured in Europe a century before. Disappointed, but not discouraged, Colonel Colt temporarily turned his attention to sub-marine batteries, which he exhibited before the president and a large concourse of officials. A large vessel was started under full sail down the Eastern Branch, opposite the navy yard. As she moved steadily on, the officer and men on board suddenly left her, and in a few moments there was an explosion which threw the doomed ship up on a hillock of water, as it were, until her keel was for an instant in view. Then, the enormous bubble upon which she rested burst, and her spars and rigging were hurled into fragments, while the remaining portion of the hull pitched heavily forward, and settled slowly to the bottom. “ Colt’s sub-marine battery ” was a decided success.
Mr. Edward K. Collins, a wealthy New York ship-owner, established and run successfully for some years what was known as the “ Dramatic Line ” of sailing packets between that city and Liverpool. The vessels of this line, named the Roscius, Garrick, Sheridan, Siddons, and Shakespeare, were the largest merchant packets afloat, and they were well patronized until 1840, when Mr. Samuel Cunard established the line of transatlantic steamers which bears his name. Mr. Collins’s pride and patriotism were touched by this eclipse of his “ Dramatic Line,” and he conceived the idea of building an American line of steamships, to be fitted up in the most expensive manner, and supplied with the choicest fare. To do this, it was necessary to have a subsidy from government; and to obtain this, adroit agents, of both sexes, began long in advance to secure promises of congressional support, by promises of free passages or money. It was the initiation of the lobby-work in behalf of the subsidies voted by Congress to aid railroads and lines of steamships, which have left behind them so many wrecked reputations.
General Scott, after he became commander of the army, established his head quarters at Washington. He had married, when a subaltern, Miss Maria Mayo, of Richmond, at that time the acknowledged reigning belle of the Old Dominion. Each possessed a commanding presence, intelligent features, and great conversational powers, while their only child, Miss Virginia, had inherited the personal and mental charms of her parents.
General Gaines, familiarly known as “ the Hero of Fort Erie,” was not pleased when General Scott was promoted, although he was then upwards of eighty years of age, and unfit for military duty. Tall, spare, and erect, with snow-white hair and keen eyes, he presented a striking contrast to his small, vivacious, and energetic wife, who was at that time commencing one of the most celebrated of the causes celebres of the United States. Amiable, courteous, and affectionate, Mrs. Gaines became a heroic litigant, and went from court to court, seeking to establish her rights as the lawful heir of her father, Daniel Clark. Mr. Clark was in his day one of the most ambitious young men of New Orleans, who divided the confidence and respect of the people with Governor Claiborne. He was a high-spirited, ambitious young Irishman, full of energy, and wealthy. Embarking in politics, he was elected the first delegate to Congress from Louisiana, when he forgot his vows to his wife, who had not, at the time of his marriage to her, been divorced from her first husband, a confectioner named De Grange. Their child was Myra Clark, subsequently Mrs. Gaines. At Washington, he became infatuated with the beautiful Miss Caton, of Baltimore, and he returned to New Orleans, determined to have his marriage with Madame De Grange pronounced illegal, that he might wed Miss Caton. Pecuniary embarrassments fortunately arrested this resolve, and induced a fatal sickness, during which he repented, and sought to make reparation to Myra by making a will in her favor, in which he acknowledged her as his legitimate daughter. When, shortly afterward, he died, this will could not be found, but a previous one was produced which contained no recognition of Myra. Under this will his real estate in the city of New Orleans was administered on and sold. Nor did his daughter Myra, then a child, know anything about her parentage and history, until she had grown up, and become the wife of Mr. Whitney. She at once commenced the prosecution of her claim to be recognized as the legitimate daughter and heiress of Daniel Clark. This she continued, and when, after the death of Mr. Whitney, General Gaines addressed her, she consented to become his wife only after he had promised to second her litigation. The great number of persons interested to defeat her and their large means rendered the contest apparently a most unequal one. But what has been wanting in means, influence, and array of great legal talent has been made up by the singular heroism, pertinacity, patience, and indomitable will of this remarkable little lady.
The Russian Legation at Georgetown became, after old Baron Bodisco’s marriage to the young and beautiful Miss Williams, the scene of brilliant weekly entertainments, given, it was asserted, by the especial direction of the Emperor Nicholas, who had a special allowance made for table-money. At these entertainments there was dancing, an excellent supper, and a room devoted to whist. Mr. Webster, Mr. Clay, General Scott, and several of the diplomatic corps were invariably to be seen handling “ fifty-two pieces of printed pasteboard,” while the old baron, who was not a good player, used, as the host of the evening, to take a hand. One night, when he had thus sat down to play with those better acquainted with the game than he was, he lost over a thousand dollars, and at the supper-table he made the following announcement, in a sad tone : “ Ladies and gentlemens! It is my disagree-able duty to make the announce that these receptions must have an end, and to declare them at an end for the present, because why ? The fund for their expend, ladies and gentlemens, is exhaust, and they must discontinue.”
Ole Bull, then in the pride of manhood, gave a concert at Washington, which was largely and fashionably attended. In the midst of one of the most exquisite pieces, while every breath was suspended, and every ear attentive to catch the sounds of that magical instrument, the silence was suddenly broken and the harmony harshly interrupted by the well-known voice of Felix Grundy McConnell, a representative from Alabama, shouting, “None of your highfalutin, but give us Hail Columbia, and bear hard on the treble! ” “ Turn him out! ” was shouted from every part of the house, and the police force in attendance undertook to remove him from the hall. “ Mac,” as he was called, was not only one of the handsomest men in Congress, but one of the most athletic, and it was a difficult task for the policemen, although they used their clubs, to overpower him. As he was carried from the hall, some of his congressional friends interfered, and secured his release.
Father Mathew, the Irish apostle of temperance, undertook to persuade a number of bibulous congressmen to take the total-abstinence pledge, but he was unsuccessful. He accompanied President Tyler and the Archbishop to the annual exhibition at the Convent Academy at Georgetown, under the direction of the Ladies of the Visitation. The exercises took place in the Odeon, which has since given way to a more pretentious hall, but which was admirably calculated for a favorable display of the musical and other accomplishments of the fair pupils. President Tyler awarded the premium crowns, medals, and books, and he, with his daughter, appeared delighted whenever an honor was conferred on a Virginian.
The congressional “messes” continued to be a feature of Washington society. A party of senators or representatives, or both, generally entertaining the same political views, that confidential matters might always he freely discussed, used to occupy the same boarding-house, into which no other guests were admitted without their consent. Some of the mess-tables were supplied with the choicest cheer and the rarest wines, and occasionally a dinner or a dancing party would he given, that hospitalities received from residents might be reciprocated. One of these parties was given at Mr. King’s, on F Street, by the only boarders there, Messrs. James Buchanan and William R. King, the bachelor senators known as the Siamese Twins. Mesdames Linn and Gaines matronized the party, and Senator Crittenden led off a contra-dance to the tune of Money-Musk, with the beautiful Miss Dawson, of Louisiana, as his partner.
Daniel Webster continued to pass his winters at Washington after he left the department of state, attending to his large practice before the supreme court, He had been coldly received on his return to Massachusetts, after having been the recognized premier of John Tyler’s administration, and he spoke to a friend with some bitterness of some of “the solid men of Boston ” as “ sixty-day fellows, with their three days’ grace.” In his mind’s eye he doubtless saw some of them wondering whether certain promissory notes upon which they had put their names would be paid by him or by them. Nor would he admit that, because of the pecuniary aid given him, he was modestly to retire into the rear rank, and let a wealthy cotton-spinner stand foremost among the whigs of Massachusetts.
The most important case conducted by Mr. Webster was an action brought by the heirs of Stephen Girard, to recover his bequest for the establishment and maintenance of a college. Mr. Webster took the broad ground that the plan of education at the Girard College was derogatory to the Christian religion, contrary to sound morals, and subversive of law. He spoke for three days, but he could not answer the arguments of Messrs. Binney and Sergeant, the ablest lawyers of Philadelphia, who defended the bequest and gained the suit. Mr. Justice Story, in delivering the opinion of the court, said that the case had been “ argued with great learning and ability.”
Mr. Webster entertained a great many visitors, and his demeanor in his own house was delightful. Naturally generous and hospitable, he welcomed his guests “ like a fine old English gentleman,” and had for each a pleasant word, or a reminiscence of the past. Sitting at the head of his table, Mr. Webster always carved the principal dishes with the dexterity of an anatomist, seasoning the repast with witticisms, anecdotes, and quotations.
Henry Clay, when he had found it impossible to save the measures of the whig party from the iconoclasm of John Tyler, formally resigned his seat in the United States senate, and commenced his canvass for election to the presidency in 1844. This wais acceptable news to the staunch democrats, who regarded him as a man — every inch of him — worth fighting and worth beating. They knew that he would not, like the available Harrison, sail under false colors, but that he would nail to the mast the old whig flag, inscribed, “ A national bank, a protective tariff, and the distribution of the surplus revenue from the sale of the public lands.” The whig party was jubilant when their chosen leader again took the field, and the truants flocked back to the standard which they had temporarily deserted to support John Tyler. Harmony prevailed among the recognized leaders and in the ranks, and the whig party was again in good working order.
Martin Van Buren, meanwhile, was industriously seeking the democratic nomination. Although he had only received, in 1840, sixty electoral votes, against the two hundred and thirtyfour electoral votes given for General Harrison, he believed that the people had been deceived by the whig politicians, and that their “sober second thought ” would secure his election in 1844. This result he demonstrated as a mathematician solves his problem, rather than by any calculation based on the popularity of the principles advocated by the opposing parties, and he demanded democratic support. His friends did not entertain a shadow of a doubt that he would be nominated, and his opponents in the democratic ranks had almost lost all hope of defeating him in the convention, when, at the suggestion of Mr. Calhoun, he was adroitly questioned on the annexation of Texas, in a letter written to him by Mr. Hamett, a representative from Mississippi. Mr. Van Buren was too old and sagacious a politician not to discover the pit thus dug for him to fall into, and he replied with great caution, avowing himself in favor of the annexation of Texas, when it could be brought about peacefully and honorably, but against it at that time, when it would be followed by a war with Mexico. This was what the Southern conspirators wanted, and their subsequent action was thus narrated in a letter written a few years afterwards by John Tyler, which has never been published.
“ Texas,” wrote Mr. Tyler, “ was the great theme that occupied me. The delegates to the democratic convention, or a very large majority of them, had been elected under implied pledges to sustain Van Buren. After his letter repudiating annexation, a revulsion had become obvious, hut how far it was to operate it was not possible to say. A majority of the delegates at least were believed still to remain in his favor. If he was nominated, the game to be played for Texas was all as one over. What was to be done ? ”
“ My friends,” Mr. Tyler went on to say, “ advised me to remain at rest, and take my chances in the democratic convention. It was impossible to do so. If I suffered my name to be used in that convention, then I became bound to sustain the nomination, even if Mr. Van Buren was the nominee. This could not be. I chose to run no hazard, but to raise the banner of Texas, and convoke my friends to sustain it. This was but a few weeks before the meeting of the convention. To my surprise, the notice which was thus issued brought together a thousand delegates, and from every State in the Union. Many called on me on their way to Baltimore to receive my views. My instructions were, ‘Go to Baltimore, make your nomination, and then go home, and leave the thing to work its own results.’ I said no more, and was obeyed. The democratic convention felt the move. A Texan man or defeat was the choice left, — and they took a Texan man. My withdrawal at a suitable time took place, and the result was soon before the world. I acted to insure the success of a great measure, and I acted not altogether without effect. In so doing I kept my own secrets ; to have divulged my purposes would have been to have defeated them.”
Meanwhile the national whig convention assembled at Baltimore, and never was a nominating assembly animated with greater enthusiasm or brighter expectations. When ex-Senator B. Watkins Leigh rose to offer a resolution declaring that Henry Clay was the nominee of the convention, he was interrupted by an acclaim which those who were present afterwards confessed their inability to describe. The veterans of the whig party, crowned with gray hairs, stood upon their chairs and waved their hats as they shouted, until they were hoarse, and then sat down, while younger voices continued the acclamations. At the first pause, the presiding officer called upon Mr. Leigh to read the conclusion of the resolution, but it was again interrupted by cheers ; and when it had at last been presented to the convention, and accepted, a scene of jubilant tumult ensued, only arrested by the settling of the floor of the hall, which occasioned a momentary panic. When order was restored, ex-Senator Theodore Frelinghuysen, of New Jersey, was nominated as vice-president. The next day a hundred thousand whigs, from every section of the republic, met in mass convention at Baltimore, with music, banners, and badges, to ratify the ticket. Mr. Webster, with true magnanimity, was one of the speakers, and advocated the election of Clay and Frelinghuysen with all the strength of his eloquence.
Three weeks later, the national democratic convention was held at Baltimore, and remained in session three days. Mr. Van Buren had a majority of votes on the first ballot, but the twothirds rule had been adopted, and there were half a dozen candidates. Stormy debates ensued as ballot after ballot was taken, and on the eighth ballot James K. Polk, of Tennessee, whose name was presented for the first time, received forty-four votes. The Virginia and New York delegations then retired for consultation, and on their return to the convention Mr. Polk was unanimously nominated.
Mr. Morse had just completed his magnetic telegraph line between Baltimore and Washington, and his Washington instrument was in a basement room in the northeastern corner of the Capitol. Here he received frequent dispatches from the convention, which he promptly read aloud from the window to a congregation of politicians assembled outside to learn the news. The tidings that Mr. Polk had been nominated created a sensation, and soon afterwards Senator Silas Wright received a telegraphic announcement that he had been nominated for vice-president. “ Office, not greatness,” said Mr. Benton, “ was thrust upon him,” but he telegraphed back a positive declination. The convention, however, refused to consider information thus conveyed as authentic, and adjourned until the next day, that a committee might proceed to Washington by rail, and ascertain Mr. Wright’s real views. The committee brought back a repetition of the declination received by wire, but did not inform the convention that Mr. Wright had said privately to its chairman that he did not propose to ride behind on the black [slavery] pony, at the funeral of his slaughtered friend, Mr. Van Buren. Mr. George M. Dallas was accordingly nominated.
The presidential campaign of 1844 was very exciting and bitter. The oligarchs of the South were resolved to extend the area of slavery, but their defeat was certain, until Mr. Clay was beguiled by them into writing a letter to his friend Mr. Stephen Miller, of Tuscaloosa, Alabama, in which he estranged thousands of his Northern supporters. Nearly twenty years before, a toast was given at a public dinner in Boston: “John Quincy Adams, — may he confound his enemies,” to which Daniel Webster, who was present, added, “ as he has his friends.” Mr. Clay confounded many of his Northern friends — among them John G. Whittier, Horace Greeley, and Henry Wilson—by sneering in his Miller letter at “ the abolitionists,” and by announcing that he should be glad to see Texas “ annexed without dishonor, without war, with the common consent of the Union, and upon just and fair terms.”
This letter fell like a wet blanket upon the whigs, and enabled the adroit democratic managers to deprive Mr. Clay of the vote of New York, by organizing the liberty party, which nominated James G. Birney, of Michigan, as president, and Thomas Morris, of Ohio, as vice-president. This nomination received the support of the antislavery men, of many of the disappointed adherents of Mr. Van Buren, and of the anti-masonic and anti-rent factions of the whig party in the State of New York, which had been organized by William H. Seward. The consequence was that over sixty thousand votes were thrown away on Birney, nine tenths of them being drawn from the whig ranks.
Mr. Bulk, who had been selected some months before his nomination by the Southern leaders, went into the canvass pledged to secure the annexation of Texas at all hazards, and to make the latitude “ fifty-four forty ” the boundary line between the United States and British Columbia. In the Southern States he was sustained as an advocate of comparative free trade; in Pennsylvania his supporters inscribed on their banners, “ Folk, Dallas, and the tariff of ’42.” The Evening Post, the most respectable democratic newspaper in New York, repudiated the issue of Texas and opposed annexation, while Silas Wright, who had opposed the Texan treaty in the senate, accepted the democratic nomination for governor of the State.
In addition to this duplicity and concealment of the opinions of Mr. Polk, extensive and systematic frauds were unquestionably practiced. In New York, Pennsylvania, and Georgia, some of the offenders were afterwards brought to justice, but the most notorious frauds were in Louisiana, where law was trampled under foot by judges and other officials. Several hundred New Orleans roughs, having voted early and often in that city, were conveyed in steamboats to the parish of Plaquemine, where they went the rounds of. the precincts, voting at each polling-place. It was subsequently proven that, although the parish was legally entitled to less than five hundred votes, the number of ballots deposited was 1044, and of these only thirty-seven were for the whig ticket. It was by such frauds that Mr. Polk received a majority of 669 in the State of Louisiana, in a vote of 26,865. The friends of Henry Clay boldly asserted that he had received majorities of the legal votes in New York, in Pennsylvania, in Georgia, and in Louisiana, in addition to the States reported for him, and that he was legally elected president by an electoral vote of one hundred and eighty-three against ninety-two. But as the returns reached Congress, James Knox Polk had received a majority, and he was declared elected.
At the “ birth-night ball,” on the 22d of February, 1845, President Tyler was accompanied by President-elect Polk, Mrs. Madison was present with Mrs. Alexander Hamilton, and the members of the diplomatic corps wore their court uniforms. A few nights afterwards, President Tyler gave a “parting ball ” at the White House, his young and handsome wife receiving the guests with great grace. Mr. Polk was prevented from attending by the indisposition of his wife, but the vice-president elect, Mr. Dallas, with his crown of white hair, towered above all other guests except General Scott and “Long John ” Wentworth. There was dancing in the East Room, Mrs. Tyler leading off in the first set of quadrilles with Mr. Wilkins, the secretary of war, as tier partner. This entertainment concluded the “ Cavalier” reign within the White House, which was soon ruled with “ Puritan ” austerity by Mrs. Polk.
Near the close of the session of Congress with which the administration of John Tyler terminated, a joint resolution legislating Texas into the Union was introduced. When it had been passed by the house after a determined resistance, it was discussed, amended, and passed by the senate. It reached the president on the 2d of March, received his immediate approval, and the next day a messenger was started for Texas, bearing that portion of it which had oidy to be accepted to secure annexation. Senator Benton and four other democrats declared that the passage of the joint resolution had been accomplished by a fraud, and Mr. Polk was very indignant that the work could not have been left for him. But President Tyler left the White House rejoicing that he had secured for his administration the coveted honor of annexing Texas, for which he had so earnestly worked. The “ Pandora’s Box ” was again opened, and John Tyler returned with his family to his Virginia farm.