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SOMETHING OF MEN I HAVE KNOWN
With Some Papers of a General Nature, Political, Historical, and Retrospective
ADLAI E. STEVENSON
Chicago A. C. McClurg & Co. 1909
Copyright A. C. McClurg & Co. 1909 Published October, 1909 Second Edition, December 17, 1909 The Lakeside Press R. R. Donnelley & Sons Company Chicago
TO MY WIFE Letitia Green Stevenson THE PATIENT LISTENER TO THESE "TWICE-TOLD TALES"
To write in the spirit of candor of men he has known, and of great events in which he has himself borne no inconspicuous part, has been thought not an unworthy task for the closing years of more than one of the most eminent of our public men. It may be that the labor thus imposed has oftentimes enabled the once active participant in great affairs submissively "to entertain the lag end of his life with quiet hours."
Following the example of such at a great distance and along a humbler path, I have attempted to write something of events of which I have been a witness, and of some of the principal actors therein during the last third of a century.
My book in the main is something of men I have personally known; the occasional mention of statesmen of the past seems justified by matters at the time under discussion.
With the hope that it may not be wholly without interest to some into whose hands it may fall, I now submit this slight contribution to the political literature of these passing days.
A. E. S. BLOOMINGTON, ILLINOIS, August 1, 1909.
CHAPTER I. ON THE CIRCUIT II. IN THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES III. AGAIN IN CONGRESS IV. THE VICE-PRESIDENT V. THE SENATE OF THE UNITED STATES VI. A TRIBUTE TO LINCOLN VII. STEPHEN A. DOUGLAS VIII. THE FIRST POLITICAL TELEGRAM IX. ALONG THE BYPATHS OF HISTORY X. THE CODE OF HONOR XI. A PRINCELY GIFT XII. THE OLD RANGER XIII. THE MORMON EXODUS FROM ILLINOIS XIV. A KENTUCKY COLONEL XV. FORGOTTEN EVENTS OF THE LONG AGO XVI. ROBERT G. INGERSOLL XVII. A CAMP-MEETING ORATOR XVIII. CLEVELAND AS I KNEW HIM XIX. THE UNANIMOUS CHOICE FOR SPEAKER XX. A LAWYER OF THE OLD SCHOOL XXI. HIGH DEBATE IN THE MOUNTAINS XXII. THE SAGE OF THE BAR XXIII. "THE GENTLEMAN FROM MISSISSIPPI" XXIV. AN OLD-TIME COUNTRY DOCTOR XXV. A QUESTION OF AVAILABILITY XXVI. A STATESMAN OF A PAST ERA XXVII. NOT GUILTY OF PREACHING THE GOSPEL XXVIII. AMONG THE ACTORS XXIX. THE LOST ART OF ORATORY XXX. THE COLONELS XXXI. REMINISCENCES XXXII. A TRIBUTE TO IRELAND XXXIII. THE BLIND CHAPLAIN XXXIV. A MEMORABLE CENTENNIAL XXXV. COLUMBUS MONUMENT IN CENTRAL PARK XXXVI. A PLATFORM NOT DANGEROUS TO STAND UPON XXXVII. ANECDOTES OF GOVERNOR OGLESBY XXXVIII. THE ONE ENEMY XXXIX. CONTRASTS OF TIMES XL. ENDORSING THE ADMINISTRATION XLI. ANECDOTES ABOUT LINCOLN XLII. FIRST LEGISLATIVE ASSEMBLY IN AMERICA XLIII. A NEW DAY ADDED TO THE CALENDAR XLIV. A MOUNTAIN COLLEGE XLV. DEDICATION OF A NATIONAL PARK XLVI. A BAR MEETING STILL IN SESSION XLVII. THE HAYNE-WEBSTER DEBATE RECALLED XLVIII. IN THE HIGHLANDS XLIX. ANECDOTES OF LAWYERS L. OUR NOBLE CALLING LI. THE "HOME-COMING" AT BLOOMINGTON
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
[facing] PAGE ADLAI E. STEVENSON Frontispiece ADLAI E. STEVENSON AT 30 8 JAMES S. EWING 9 GEORGE F. HOAR 12 SAMUEL J. TILDEN 13 JAMES G. BLAINE 18 ROBERT E. WILLIAMS 19 JAMES A. GARFIELD 22 NATH. P. BANKS 23 WILLIAM R. MORRISON 26 WILLIAM M. SPRINGER 27 SAMUEL J. RANDALL 30 ALEXANDER H. STEPHENS 30 LUCIUS Q. C. LAMAR 30 JAMES B. BECK 30 DAVID DUDLEY FIELD 31 HENRY WATTERSON 33 SAMUEL S. COX 34 LEVI P. MORTON 48 JAMES A. McKENZIE 49 WILLIAM McKINLEY 56 SENATE TESTIMONIAL TO MR. STEVENSON AS PRESIDENT OF SENATE 57 ABRAHAM LINCOLN 82 ANDREW JOHNSON 83 ULYSSES S. GRANT 100 HORATIO SEYMOUR 101 STEPHEN A. DOUGLAS 126 SAMUEL F. B. MORSE 127 WILLIAM M. GWIN 170 JAMES SHIELDS 171 JAMES SMITHSON 174 JOSEPH HENRY 175 JOHN REYNOLDS 196 JOSEPH SMITH 197 R. G. INGERSOLL 226 PETER CARTWRIGHT 227 CLEVELAND AND STEVENSON 240 WILLIAM FREEMAN VILAS 241 WILLIAM M. EVARTS 262 JOE WHEELER 263 DAVID DAVIS 286 S. S. PRENTISS 287 EDWIN BOOTH 304 JOSEPH JEFFERSON 305 RUFUS CHOATE 312 ISAAC N. PHILLIPS 313 WILLIAM JENNINGS BRYAN 316 W. H. MILBURN 317 R. J. OGLESBY 346 JOSEPH W. FIFER 347 LAWRENCE WELDON 352 THOMAS F. MARSHALL 353 MATTHEW T. SCOTT 372 ADLAI E. STEVENSON 373 LYMAN TRUMBULL 382 HOME OF ADLAI E. STEVENSON, BLOOMINGTON, ILL. 383
SOMETHING OF MEN I HAVE KNOWN
I ON THE CIRCUIT
DEVELOPMENT OF THE COUNTRY AFTER THE CIVIL WAR—SLAVERY THE APPLE OF DISCORD BEFORE THE WAR—LINCOLN AS A COUNTRY LAWYER—SOCIABILITY OF THE LAWYERS OF THE PERIOD—THEIR EXCELLENCE AS ORATORS—HENRY CLAY AS A PARTY LEADER—EULOGIUMS ON LAWYERS—LINCOLN'S ADMIRATION FOR GENERAL WINFIELD SCOTT—THE WRITER'S ADDRESS ON THE LAW AND LAWYERS.
The period extending from my first election to Congress in 1874, to my retirement from the Vice-Presidency in 1897, was one of marvellous development to the country. Large enterprises were undertaken, and the sure foundation was laid for much of existing business conditions. The South had recovered from the sad effects of the Civil War, and had in a measure regained its former position in the world of trade, as well as in that pertaining to the affairs of the Government. The population of the country had almost doubled; the ratio of representation in the Lower House of Congress largely augmented; the entire electoral vote increased from 369 to 444. Eight new States had been admitted to the Union, thus increasing the number of Senators from seventy-four to ninety.
The years mentioned likewise witnessed the passing from the national stage, with few exceptions, of the men who had taken a conspicuous part in the great debates directly preceding and during the Civil War and the reconstruction period which immediately followed. By the arbitrament of war, and by constitutional amendment, old questions, for a half-century the prime cause of sectional strife, had been irrevocably settled, and passed to the domain of history. New men had come to the front, and new questions were to be discussed and determined.
To the student of history, the years immediately preceding the Civil War are of abiding interest. In some of its phases slavery was the all-absorbing subject of debate throughout the entire country. It had been the one recognized peril to the Union since the formation of the Government. Beginning with the debates in the convention that formulated the Federal Constitution, it remained for seventy years the apple of discord,—the subject of patriotic apprehension and repeated compromise. The last serious attempt to settle this question in the manner just indicated was by the adjustment known in our political history as "the compromise measures of 1850." These measures, although bitterly denounced in the South as well as in the North, received the sanction in national convention of both of the great parties that two years later presented candidates for the Presidency. It is no doubt true that a majority of the people, in both sections of the country, then believed that the question that had been so fraught with peril to national unity from the beginning was at length settled for all time. The rude awakening came two years later, when the country was aroused, as it had rarely been before, by impassioned debate in and out of Congress, over the repeal of the Missouri Compromise. It was a period of excitement such as we shall probably not see again. Slavery in all its phases was the one topic of earnest discussion, both upon the hustings and at the fireside. There was little talk now of compromise. The old-time statesmen of the Clay and Webster, Winthrop and Crittenden, school soon disappeared from the arena. Men hitherto comparatively unknown to the country at large were soon to the front.
Conspicuous among them was a country lawyer whose home was at Springfield, Illinois. With the mighty events soon to follow, his name is imperishably linked. But it is not of Lincoln the President, the emancipator, the martyr, we are now to speak. It is of Lincoln the country lawyer, as he stepped upon the arena of high debate, the unswerving antagonist of slavery extension half a century and more ago.
His home, during his entire professional life, was at the capital of the State. He was, at the time mentioned, in general practice as a lawyer and a regular attendant upon the neighboring courts. His early opportunities for education were meagre indeed. He had been a student of men, rather than of books. He was, in the most expressive sense, "of the people,"—the people as they then were. For,
"Know thou this, that men are as the time is."
His training was, in large measure, under the severe conditions to be briefly mentioned. The old-time custom of "riding the circuit" is to the present generation of lawyers only a tradition. The few who remember central Illinois as it was sixty years ago will readily recall the full meaning of the expression. The district in which Mr. Lincoln practised extended from the counties of Livingston and Woodford upon the north, almost to the Indiana line—embracing the present cities of Danville, Springfield, and Bloomington. The last named was the home of the Hon. David Davis, the presiding judge of the district. As is well known, he was the intimate friend of Mr. Lincoln, and the latter was often his guest during attendance upon the courts at Bloomington. At that early day, the term of court in few of the counties continued longer than a week, so that much of the time of the judge and the lawyers who travelled the circuit with him was spent upon horseback. When it is remembered that there were then no railroads, but few bridges, a sparse population, and that more than half the area embraced in that district was unbroken prairie, the real significance of riding the circuit will fully appear. It was of this period that the late Governor Ford, speaking of Judge Young,—whose district extended from Quincy, upon the Mississippi River to Chicago,—said: "He possesses in rare degree one of the highest requisites for a good circuit judge, —he is an excellent horseback rider."
At the period mentioned there were few law-books in the State. The monster libraries of later days had not yet arrived. The half-dozen volumes of State Reports, together with the Statutes and a few leading text-books, constituted the lawyer's library. To an Illinois lawyer upon the circuit, a pair of saddle-bags was an indispensable part of his outfit. With these, containing the few books mentioned and a change or two of linen, and supplied with the necessary horse, saddle and bridle, the lawyer of the pioneer days was duly equipped for the active duties of his calling. The lack of numerous volumes of adjudicated cases was, however, not an unmixed evil. Causes were necessarily argued upon principle. How well this conduced to the making of the real lawyer is well known. The admonition, "Beware the man who reads but one book," is of deep significance. The complaint to-day is not of scarcity, but that "of the making of many books there is no end." Professor Phelps is authority for the statement that "it is easy to find single opinions in which more authorities are cited than were mentioned by Marshall in the whole thirty years of his unexampled judicial life; and briefs that contain more cases than Webster referred to in all the arguments he ever delivered."
The lawyers of the times whereof we write were, almost without exception, politicians—in close touch with the people, easy of approach, and obliging to the last degree. Generally speaking, a lawyer's office was as open to the public as the Courthouse itself. That his surroundings were favorable to the cultivation of a high degree of sociability goes without saying. Story-telling helped often on the circuit to while away the long evenings at country taverns. At times, perchance,
"the night drave on wi' sangs and clatter."
Oratory counted for much more then than now. When an important case was on trial all other pursuits were for the time suspended, and the people for miles around were in prompt attendance. This was especially the case when it was known that one or more of the leading advocates were to speak. The litigation, too, was to a large extent different from that of to-day. The country was new, population sparse; the luxuries and many of the comforts of life yet in the future; post-offices, schools, and churches many miles away. In every cabin were to be found the powder-horn, bullet-pouch, and rifle. The restraints and amenities of modern society were in large measure unknown; and altogether much was to be, and was, "pardoned to the spirit of liberty." There were no great corporations to be chosen defendants, but much of the time of the courts was taken up by suits in ejectment, actions for assault and battery, breach of promise, and slander. One, not infrequent, was replevin, involving the ownership of hogs, when by unquestioned usage all stock was permitted to run at large. But criminal trials of all grades, and in all their details, aroused the deepest interest. To these the people came from all directions, as if summoned to a general muster. This was especially true if a murder case was upon trial. Excitement then ran high, and the arguments of counsel, from beginning to close, were listened to with breathless interest. It will readily be seen that such occasions furnished rare opportunity to the gifted advocate. In very truth the general acquaintance thus formed, and the popularity achieved, have marked the beginning of more than one successful and brilliant political career. Moreover, the thorough knowledge of the people thus acquired by actual contact—the knowledge of their condition, necessities, and wishes—resulted often in legislation of enduring benefit to the new country. The Homestead law, the law setting apart a moiety of the public domain for the maintenance of free schools, and judicious provision for the establishment of the various charities, will readily be recalled.
Politics, in the modern sense—too often merely "for what there is in it"—was unknown. As stepping-stones to local offices and even to Congress, the caucus and convention were yet to come. Aspirants to public place presented their claims directly to the people, and the personal popularity of the candidate was an important factor in achieving success. Bribery at elections was rarely heard of. The saying of the great bard,
"If money go before, All ways do open lie,"
awaited its verification in a later and more civilized period. As late even as 1858, when Lincoln and Douglas were rival aspirants to the Senate, when every voter in the State was a partisan of one or the other candidate, and the excitement was for many months intense, there was never, from either side, an intimation of the corrupt use of a farthing to influence the result.
No period of our history has witnessed more intense devotion to great party leaders than that of which we write. Of eminent statesmen, whose names were still invoked, none had filled larger space than did Henry Clay and Andrew Jackson. The former was the early political idol of Mr. Lincoln; the latter, of Mr. Douglas. Possibly, since the foundation of the Government, no statesman has been so completely idolized by his friends and party as was Henry Clay. Words are meaningless when the attempt is made to express the idolatry of the Whigs of his own State for their great chieftain. For a lifetime he knew no rival. His wish was law to his followers. In the realm of party leadership a greater than he hath not appeared. At his last defeat for the Presidency strong men wept bitter tears. When his star set, it was felt to be the signal for the dissolution of the great party of which he was the founder. In words worthy to be recalled, "when the tidings came like wailing over the State that Harry Percy's spur was cold, the chivalrous felt somehow the world had grown commonplace."
The following incident, along the line indicated, may be considered characteristic. While Mr. Clay was a Senator, a resolution, in accordance with a sometime custom, was introduced into the Kentucky House of Representatives instructing the Senators from that State to vote in favor of a certain bill then pending in Congress. The resolution was in the act of passing without opposition, when a hitherto silent member from one of the mountain counties, springing to his feet, exclaimed: "Mr. Speaker, am I to understand that this Legislature is undertaking to tell Henry Clay how to vote?" The Speaker answered that such was the purport of the resolution. At which the member from the mountains, throwing up his arms, exclaimed "Great God!" and sank into his seat. It is needless to add that the resolution was immediately rejected by unanimous vote.
Two-thirds of a century ago the Hon. John P. Kennedy wrote of the lawyers of his day:
"The feelings, habits, and associations of the bar in general, have a very happy influence upon the character. And, take it altogether, there may be collected from it a greater mass of shrewd, observant, droll, playful, and generous spirits, than from any other equal numbers of society. They live in each other's presence like a set of players; congregate in courts like the former in the green room; and break their unpremeditated jests, in the intervals of business, with that sort of undress freedom that contrasts amusingly with the solemn and even tragic seriousness with which they appear in turn upon the boards. They have one face for the public, rife with the saws and learned gravity of the profession, and another for themselves, replete with broad mirth, sprightly wit, and gay thoughtlessness. The intense mental toil and fatigue of business give them a peculiar relish for the enjoyment of their hours of relaxation, and, in the same degree, incapacitate them for that frugal attention to their private concerns which their limited means usually require. They have, in consequence, a prevailing air of unthriftiness in personal matters, which, however it may operate to the prejudice of the pocket of the individual, has a mellow and kindly effect upon his disposition. In an old member of the profession, one who has grown gray in the service, there is a rich unction of originality that brings him out from the ranks of his fellowmen in strong relief. His habitual conversancy with the world in its strangest varieties and with the secret history of character, gives him a shrewd estimate of the human heart. He is quiet, and unapt to be struck with wonder at any of the actions of men. There is a deep current of observation running calmly through his thoughts, and seldom gushing out in words; the confidence which has been placed in him, in the thousand relations of his profession, renders him constitutionally cautious. His acquaintance with the vicissitudes of fortune, as they have been exemplified in the lives of individuals, and with the severe afflictions that have 'tried the reins' of many, known only to himself, makes him an indulgent and charitable apologist of the aberrations of others. He has an impregnable good humor that never falls below the level of thoughtfulness into melancholy."
A distinguished writer, two generations ago, said of the early Western bar:
"Not only was it a body distinguished for dignity and tolerance, but chivalrous courage was a marked characteristic. Personal cowardice was odious among the bar, as among the hunters who had fought the British and the Indians. Hence, insulting language, and the use of billingsgate, were too hazardous to be indulged where a personal accounting was a strong possibility. Not only did common prudence dictate courtesy among the members of the bar, but an exalted spirit of honor and well-bred politeness prevailed. The word of a counsel to his adversary was his inviolable bond. The suggestion of a lawyer as to the existence of a fact was accepted as verity by the court. To insinuate unprofessional conduct was to impute infamy."
I distinctly recall the first time I saw Mr. Lincoln. In September, 1852, two lawyers from Springfield, somewhat travel-stained with their sixty miles' journey, alighted from the stage-coach in front of the old tavern in Bloomington. The taller and younger of the two was Abraham Lincoln; the other, his personal friend and former preceptor, John T. Stuart. That evening it was my good fortune to hear Mr. Lincoln address a political meeting at the old Courthouse in advocacy of the election of General Winfield Scott to the Presidency. The speech was one of great ability, and but little that was favorable of the military record of General Pierce remained when the speech was concluded. The Mexican War was then of recent occurrence, its startling events fresh in the memory of all, and its heroes still the heroes of the hour. The more than half-century that has passed has not wholly dispelled my recollection of Mr. Lincoln's eloquent tribute to "the hero of Lundy's Lane," and his humorous description of the military career of General Franklin Pierce.
The incident now to be related occurred at the old National Hotel in Bloomington in September, 1854. Senator Douglas had been advertised to speak, and a large audience was in attendance. It was his first appearance there since the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Bill. The writer, then a student at the Wesleyan University, with his classmate James S. Ewing and many others, had called upon Mr. Douglas at his hotel. While there the Hon. Jesse W. Fell, a prominent citizen of Bloomington and the close friend of Mr. Lincoln, also called upon Mr. Douglas, and after some conversation with him said in substance, that inasmuch as there was profound interest felt in the great question then pending, and the people were anxious to hear both sides, he thought it would be well to have a joint discussion between Judge Douglas and Mr. Lincoln. To which proposition Mr. Douglas at once demanded, "What party does Mr. Lincoln represent?" The answer of Mr. Fell was, "the Whig party, of course." Declining the proposition with much feeling Mr. Douglas said, "When I came home from Washington I was assailed in the northern part of the State by an old line abolitionist, in the central part of the State by a Whig, and in Southern Illinois by an anti-Nebraska Democrat. I cannot hold the Whig responsible for what the abolitionist says, nor the anti-Nebraska Democrat responsible for what either of the others say, and it looks like dogging a man all over the State." There was no further allusion to the subject, and Mr. Lincoln soon after called. The greeting between Judge Douglas and himself was most cordial, and their conversation, principally of incidents of their early lives, of the most agreeable and friendly character. Judge Lawrence Weldon, just then at the beginning of an honorable career, was present at the above interview, and has in a sketch of Mr. Lincoln given its incidents more in detail.
Courts of justice, and the law as a distinctive calling, are the necessary outgrowths of civilization. In his rude state, man avenged his wrongs with his own strong arm, and the dogma, "Might makes right," passed unchallenged. But as communities assumed organic form, tribunals were instituted for the administration of justice and the maintenance of public order. The progress of society, from a condition of semi-barbarism and ignorance to a state of the highest culture and refinement, may be traced by its advancement in the modes of administering justice, and in the character and learning of its tribunals. The advance steps taken from time to time in the history of jurisprudence are the milestones which stand out on the highway of civilization. All along the pathway of human progress, the courts of justice have been the sure criteria by which to judge of the intelligence and virtue of our race.
Truly it has been said: "With the coming of the lawyer came a new power in the world. The steel-clad baron and his retainers were awed by terms they had never before heard and did not understand, such as precedent, principle, and the like. The great and real pacifier of the world was the lawyer. His parchment took the place of the battle-field. The flow of his ink checked the flow of blood. His quill usurped the place of the sword. His legalism dethroned barbarism. His victories were victories of peace. He impressed on individuals and on communities that which he is now endeavoring to impress on nations, that there are many controversies that it were better to lose by arbitration than to win by war and bloodshed."
It is all-important, never more so than now, that the people should magnify the law. Whatever lessens respect for its authority bodes evil and only evil to the State. No occasion could arise more appropriate than this in which to utter solemn words of warning against an evil of greater menace to the public weal than aught to be apprehended from foreign foe. In many localities a spirit of lawlessness has asserted itself in its most hideous form. The rule of the mob has at times usurped that of the law. Outrages have been perpetrated in the name of summary justice, appalling to all thoughtful men. It need hardly be said that all this is in total disregard of individual rights, and utterly subversive of all lawful authority.
By the solemn adjudication of courts, and under the safeguards of law, the fact of guilt is to be established, and the guilty punished. The spirit of the mob is in deadly antagonism to all constituted authority. Unless curbed it will sap the foundation of civilized society. Lynching a human creature is no less murder when the act of a mob than when that of a single individual. There is no safety to society but in an aroused public sentiment that will hold each participant amenable to the law for the consequences of the crime he either perpetrates or abets. This is the land of liberty, "of the largest liberty," but let it never be forgotten that it is liberty regulated by law. Let him be accounted a public enemy who would weaken the bonds of human society, and destroy what it has cost our race the sacrifice and toil of centuries to achieve.
The sure rock of defence in the outstretched years as in the long past, will be the intelligence, the patriotism, the virtue of a law-abiding, liberty-loving people. To a degree that cannot be measured by words, the temple of justice will prove the city of refuge. "The judiciary has no guards, no palaces, no treasuries; no arms but truth and wisdom; and no splendor but justice."
II IN THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
NOTABLE MEMBERS OF THE FORTY-FOURTH CONGRESS—TRIAL OF GENERAL BELKNAP—THE PRESIDENTIAL CONTEST BETWEEN HAYES AND TILDEN—CREATION OF THE ELECTORAL COMMISSION—THE WRITER'S SPEECH ON THAT OCCASION— PROMINENT MEMBERS OF THE HOUSE DURING THIS CONGRESS—ANECDOTES OF MR. BLAINE—OTHER MEMBERS—ANECDOTES OF MR. HOAR—ELECTION OF THE "BLIND PREACHER"—MR. LAMAR'S ERROR AT TABLE—"BLUE JEANS WILLIAMS"—RETIREMENT OF DR. BUTLER FROM THE CHAPLAINCY—MR. BLACKBURN'S SPEECH AT AN EXECUTION—MR. COX'S READY WIT—PROCTOR KNOTT'S ABILITY AS A LAWYER—HIS SPEECH ON DULUTH—HIS REPLY TO HIS COMPETITOR FOR THE GOVERNORSHIP.
The forty-fourth Congress—the first of which I was a member— assembled December 6, 1875. Among its members were many gentlemen of distinction, some of whom had known active service in the field. Political disabilities had been in large measure removed, and the South was now, for the first time since the war, represented in Congress by its old-time statesmen. Of this number may be mentioned Mr. Stephens of Georgia, Mr. Lamar of Mississippi, and Mr. Reagan of Texas. From the membership of this House were afterwards chosen twenty-six Senators, ten members of the Cabinet, one Justice of the Supreme Court, and from this and the House immediately succeeding, three Vice-Presidents and two Presidents of the United States. The proceedings of this Congress marked an important epoch in our history. During its first session occurred the masterful debate upon the General Amnesty Bill. The very depths of partisan feeling were stirred, and for many days it was indeed a titanic struggle. The speeches attracting the greatest attention were those of Blaine and Garfield upon the one side, and Hill of Georgia and Lamar upon the other. This great debate recalled vividly that of Webster and Hayne, in the other wing of the Capitol, almost half a century before.
This session also witnessed the impeachment of a Cabinet officer, General Belknap, Secretary of War. The trial occurred before the Senate, sitting as a court of impeachment during the closing weeks of the session, and resulted in his acquittal, less than two-thirds of the Senators voting for conviction. General Belknap was represented by an able array of counsel, chief of whom were Judge Black of Pennsylvania and the Hon. Matthew H. Carpenter of Wisconsin. Mr. Knott of Kentucky, Mr. Hoar of Massachusetts, and Mr. Lord of New York, conducted the prosecution in the main as managers on the part of the House of Representatives. The principal contention on the part of the counsel for the accused was that there could be no conviction, inasmuch as Belknap had resigned his office before the article of impeachment had been preferred. This view seems to have been decisive of the final vote of many Senators, and the accused stood acquitted at the bar of the Senate.
When the second session of this Congress convened, in December, 1876, the excitement throughout the country was intense over the pending Presidential contest between Hayes and Tilden. As will be remembered, the electoral vote of two States, Louisiana and Florida, was claimed by each of the candidates. These votes were decisive of the result. As the days passed and the time approached for the joint session of the Senate and the House, for the purpose of counting the electoral votes and declaring the result, the tension became greater, and partisan feeling more intense. The friends of Hayes were in the majority in the Senate; those of Tilden, in the House. With conflicting certificates, both purporting to give the correct vote from each of the States named, and no lawful authority existing to determine as to their validity, it can readily be seen that the situation was one to arouse the grave apprehension of all thoughtful men. The condition was without a precedent in our history. Twice had there been a failure to elect a President by the people, and by constitutional provision the election in each instance devolved upon the House. In the first-mentioned case, in 1801, Mr. Jefferson was chosen; and in the latter, in 1825, Mr. John Quincy Adams. In neither of the cases just mentioned had there been a question as to how any State had voted. It was simply that no person had received a majority of all of the electoral votes cast. The method of settlement was clearly pointed out by the Constitution. As already indicated, the case was wholly different in the Hayes-Tilden controversy. The question then was as to how certain States had voted. It was for the purpose of ascertaining this fact and certifying the same to the joint session of the Senate and House, that the Electoral Commission was constituted. The bill having this end in view originated in the House in January, 1877; the Commission was constituted, and the controverted questions were soon thereafter determined.
The Electoral Commission was an imperative necessity. As such it was created,—consisting of five members each from the Senate, the House of Representatives, and the Supreme Court. Its decisions were adverse to Mr. Tilden from the beginning, and resulted in the finding that all disputed votes should be counted for his opponent. This, it will be remembered, gave Hayes a majority of one on the final count, and resulted in his induction into office. Partisan feeling was at its height, and the question of the justice of the decision of the Electoral Commission was vehemently discussed.
To the end that there might be a peaceful determination of the perilous question, that of disputed succession to the Presidency, I was an earnest advocate of the bill creating the Commission. Upon the question of concurrence by the House of Representatives in the final determination of the Commission, bitter opposition was manifested upon the part of friends of Mr. Tilden, and a heated partisan debate resulted, and during this debate I spoke as follows:
"When this Congress assembled in December, it witnessed the American people from one end of the country to the other divided upon the question as to which candidate had been lawfully elected to the high office of President of the United States. The business industries of the country were paralyzed, public confidence destroyed, and the danger of civil war was imminent. That Mr. Tilden had received a majority of more than two hundred thousand of the popular vote was not disputed. That he had secured a majority of the Presidential electors in the several States, and was lawfully entitled to be inducted into the great office, was the firm belief of fully one-half of the people of this country. The hour was one of great peril to our institutions, and many were apprehensive that we were but entering into the dark night of anarchy and confusion. After many weeks of angry discussion, which resulted in still further arousing the passions of the people, a measure of adjustment was proposed. It was believed that there was still patriotism enough left in the American Congress to secure an honorable and fair settlement of this most dangerous question. We all recall how our hopes revived, and how gladly we hailed the introduction of the bill recommended by a joint committee of conference of the Senate and House of Representatives. It was welcomed as the harbinger of peace by the entire people of our country.
"I gave that bill my earnest support. It had in the House no friend more ardent in its advocacy than myself. I believed it to be a measure in the interest of peace. I believed that those who framed it, as well as those who gave it their support upon the floor, were honest in their statements, that no man could afford to take the Presidency with a clouded title, and that the object of the bill was to ascertain which of the candidates was lawfully entitled to the electoral votes of Florida and Louisiana. I never mistrusted for a moment that statesmen of high repute could in so perilous an hour, upon so grave a question, palter with words in a double sense.
"We who are the actors in this drama know, and history will record the fact, that the Conference Bill became a law, and the Electoral Commission was organized, not for the purpose of ascertaining which candidate had prima facie a majority of the electoral votes; not for the purpose of ascertaining that the Governor of Florida, and the de facto Governor of Louisiana, had given certificates to the Hayes electors. It was never dreamed that a tribunal, consisting in part of five judges of the highest court on earth, was to be constituted, whose sole duty was to report a fact known to every man in the land, that the returning-board of Louisiana had given the votes of that State to the Hayes electors. The avowed object of that bill was to ascertain which candidate had received a majority of the legal votes of those States. The avowed object of the bill was the secure the ends of justice; to see that the will of the people was executed; that the Republic suffered no harm; to see that the title to this great office was not tainted with fraud. How well the members of this tribunal have discharged the sacred trust committed to them, let them answer to history.
"The record will stand that this tribunal shut its eyes to the light of truth; refused to hear the undisputed proof that a majority of seven thousand legal votes in the State of Louisiana for Tilden was by a fraudulent returning-board changed to eight thousand majority for Hayes. The Republican Representative from Florida, Mr. Purman, has solemnly declared upon this floor that Florida had given its vote to Tilden. I am not surprised that two distinguished Republican Representatives from Massachusetts, Mr. Seelye and Mr. Pierce, have in such thrilling tones expressed their dissent from the judgment of this tribunal. By this decision fraud has become one of the legalized modes of securing the vote of a State. Can it be possible that the American people are prepared to accept the doctrine that fraud, which vitiates all contracts and agreements, which taints the judgments and decrees of courts, which will even annul the solemn covenant of marriage—fraud, which poisons wherever it enters —can be inquired into in all the relations of human life save only where a returning-board is its instrument, and the dearest rights of a sovereign people are at stake?
"But we are told that we created this tribunal and must abide by its arbitrament. I propose to do so in good faith. I have, from the beginning, opposed every movement that looked only to delay. I have voted against all dilatory motions. But the decision of this tribunal is too startling and too far-reaching in its consequences to pass unchallenged. That the returning-board of Louisiana will find no imitators in our future history is more than I dare hope. The pernicious doctrine that fraud and perjury are to be recognized auxiliaries in popular elections is one that may return to plague its inventors. The worst effect of this decision will be its lesson to the young men of our country. Hereafter old-fashioned honesty is at a discount, and villainy and fraud the legalized instruments of success. The fact may be conceded, the proof overwhelming, that the honest voice of a State has been overthrown by outrage and fraud, and yet the chosen tribunal of the people has entered of solemn record that there is no remedy.
'O Judgment, thou art fled to brutish beasts!'
"My criticism of the decision of this tribunal rests upon its finding in the cases of Louisiana and Florida; upon the Oregon case I have no criticism to offer. It is true that but two votes of that State could have been given to Hayes had the decision first adopted by the Commission been followed in the case of Oregon. However inconsistent it may be with other rulings of the Commission, standing alone it is in the main correct. The sanctity of seal of State and certificate of Governor applied only to Louisiana and Florida; the Governor of Oregon was not of the household of the faithful.
"The people of Oregon cast a majority of their votes for Hayes, and no vote or act of mine shall stand in the way of its being so recorded. Such have been my convictions from the beginning, and the great wrong done in Louisiana and Florida cannot warp my convictions at this hour.
"We have now reached the final act in this great drama, and the record here made will pass into history. Time, the great healer, will bring a balm to those who feel sick at heart because of this grievous wrong. But who can estimate, what seer can foretell, the evils that may result to us and our children from this judgment? Fortunate, indeed, will it be for this country if our people lose not faith in popular institutions; fortunate, indeed, if they abate not their confidence in the integrity of that high tribunal, for a century the bulwark of our liberties. In all times of popular commotion and peril, the Supreme Court of the United States has been looked to as the final arbiter, its decrees heeded as the voice of God. How disastrous may be the result of decisions so manifestly partisan, I will not attempt to forecast.
"Let this vote be now taken and the curtain fall upon these scenes forever. To those who believe, as I do, that a grievous wrong has been suffered, let me entreat that this arbitrament be abided in good faith, that no hindrance or delay be interposed to the execution of the law, but that by faithful adherence to its mandates, by honest efforts to revive the prostrate industries of the country, by obedience to the constituted authorities, we will show ourselves patriots rather than partisans in the hour of our country's misfortune."
Some mention will now be made of prominent members of the House during this Congress. The Hon. Michael C. Kerr of Indiana was elected Speaker of the House. The vote of the Republican minority was given to the Hon. James G. Blaine, who had been Speaker during the three Congresses immediately preceding. Mr. Kerr was a gentleman of high character and recognized ability. He had been for many years a member of the House, and was familiar with the details of its business. He was in failing health at the time of his election, and died before the close of the first session of that Congress. He was physically unable to preside during the greater part of the session, and was frequently relieved from the onerous duties of the Chair by two new members who were yet to achieve distinction in that body, Mr. Blackburn of Kentucky and Mr. Springer of Illinois.
Mr. Blaine, the leader of the minority, had been for twelve years a member of the House, having been first elected at the age of thirty-three. He was a brilliant debater, well versed in parliamentary law, and at all points fully equipped for the conflict. With the exception of Henry Clay, the House of Representatives has probably never known his equal as a party leader. That he possessed a touch of humor will appear from the following. While the discussion was at its height upon his amendment excluding Jefferson Davis from the benefit of the General Amnesty Bill, Mr. Blaine, looking across to the opposite side of the Chamber, said: "I confess to a feeling of commiseration for some gentlemen upon the other side, who represent close districts. Surrounded by their Southern associates here, and with intense Union constituencies at home, their apprehension, as they are called to vote upon this amendment, is indeed deplorable. It remind me of a Hibernian procession I once saw moving down Broadway, where the serious question was how to keep step to the music, and at the same time to dodge the omnibuses!"
My seat was just across the aisle from that of Mr. Blaine. When introduced, I handed him letters of introduction from two of his college classmates, the Hon. Robert E. Williams and the Rev. John Y. Calhoun. After reading the letters and speaking most kindly of his old Washington College classmates, he brusquely inquired, "What are John Y. Calhoun's politics?"
I answered, "He is a Democrat."
Blaine instantly replied, "Well, how strangely things do come around in this world! When we were in college together, Calhoun was the strongest kind of Presbyterian."
I intimated that his sometime classmate was still of that eminently respectable persuasion. The reply was, in manner indicating apparent surprise, "Is it possible that out in your country a man can be a Presbyterian and a Democrat at the same time?"
I was a member of the Board of Visitors to West Point in June, 1877. Mr. Blaine and Bishop Quintard of Tennessee were also members. General Hancock was with our Board for some days at the little West Point Inn, and delivered the address to the graduating class of cadets. He was then in excellent health, and as superb in appearance as he had been courageous in battle. I have never heard more brilliant conversation than that at our table, in which the chief participants were Gail Hamilton, Bishop Quintard, General Hancock, Senator Maxey, and Mr. Blaine. The last named, "upon the plain highway of talk," was unrivalled.
While the Board was in session, Mr. Blaine and I spent some hours with the Hon. Hamilton Fish, late Secretary of State, at his country home near West Point. Near by was still standing the historic Beverly Robinson House, the home of Benedict Arnold when he was in command of the Colonial forces at West Point. As we passed through the quaint old mansion, Mr. Blaine, whose knowledge of our Revolutionary history was all-embracing, described graphically the conditions existing at the time of Arnold's treason, and just where each person sat at the breakfast table in the old dining-room in which we were then standing, on the fateful morning when the courier from the British camp hurriedly announced to General Arnold the capture of Major Andre.
Mr. Blaine and I were once passing along Pennsylvania Avenue, a third of a century ago, when he remarked that the old building just to our right had once been a high-toned gambling house; that there were traditions to the effect that some well-known statesmen were not wholly unadvised as to its exact location and uses. He then told me that during his first term in Congress he was early one morning passing this building on his way to the Capitol. Just as he reached the spot where we were then standing, the Hon. Thaddeus Stevens came down the steps of the building mentioned, and, immediately after his cordial greeting to Mr. Blaine, was accosted by a negro preacher, who earnestly requested a contribution toward the building of a church for his people. Promptly taking a roll from his vest pocket, Mr. Stevens handed the negro a fifty-dollar bill, and turning to Blaine solemnly observed,
"God moves in a mysterious way His wonders to perform!"
At the time first mentioned, Mr. Blaine was in excellent health, buoyant in spirits, aggressive to the last degree, and full of hope as to the future. The disappointments and bereavements that saddened the closing years of his life had as yet cast no shadow upon his pathway.
Next in leadership to Mr. Blaine, upon the Republican side, was the Hon. James A. Garfield. He possessed few of the qualities of brilliant leadership so eminently characteristic of Blaine, but was withal one of the ablest men I have ever known. Gifted with rare powers of oratory, with an apparently inexhaustible reservoir of information at his command, he knew no superior in debate. At one period of his life he was the recipient of public honors without a parallel in our history. While yet a Representative in Congress, he was a Senator-elect from Ohio, and the President-elect of the United States. For once, it indeed seemed that "fortune had come with both hands full." In the words of the Persian poet, "he had obtained an ear of corn from every harvest." And yet, a few months later, in the words of his great eulogist, "the stately mansion of power had become to him the wearisome hospital of pain, and he begged to be taken from its prison walls, from its oppressive, stifling air, from its homelessness and its hopelessness."
My personal acquaintance with Mr. Garfield began early in January, 1876, when we were members of the House Committee appointed by the Speaker to convey the remains of a deceased member to his late home, Norwich, Connecticut, for burial. Another member of the Committee was Representative Wheeler of New York. It was late Saturday afternoon when we were conveyed by carriages from the crossing at Jersey City to the depot where the Norwich train was in waiting. Our route lay for some distance along Broadway, through the very heart of the great metropolis. As we passed the hurrying throngs that crowded the great thoroughfare that sombre winter evening, Mr. Garfield remarked that it was a scene similar to the one we were then witnessing that suggested to Mr. Bryant one of the most stirring of his shorter poems.
At our request and in tones that linger even yet in my memory, he then repeated these lines:
"Let me move slowly through the street Filled with an ever shifting train, Amid the sound of steps that beat The murmuring walks like autumn rain.
How fast the flitting figures come, The mild, the fierce, the stony face; Some bright with thoughtless smiles, and some Where secret tears have left their trace!
They pass to toil, to strife, to rest, To halls in which the feast is spread, To chambers where the funeral guest In silence sits beside the dead.
Each where his tasks or pleasures call They pass, and heed each other not. There is Who heeds, Who holds them all In His large love, and boundless thought.
These struggling tides of life that seem In wayward, aimless course to tend, Are eddies of the mighty stream That rolls to its appointed end."
Norwich, the home of the deceased member, Mr. Starkweather, and where he was laid to rest, is a beautiful city and one of much historic interest. It was here that Benedict Arnold was born, and the ruins of his early home were still to be seen. Of greater interest was a monument standing in an old Indian burying-ground near the centre of the city,—"Erected to the Memory of Uncas." It was within the memory of the oldest inhabitant that the President of the United States and his Cabinet were in attendance at the dedication of this monument, and deeply interested in the impressive ceremonies in honor of "the last of the Mohicans."
An exceedingly courteous gentleman upon the same side of the chamber was the Hon. Nathaniel P. Banks of Massachusetts. He had been a Major-general during the late war and was an ex-Governor of his State. He first achieved national distinction in the thirty-fourth Congress, when after a protracted and exciting struggle, he was elected Speaker of the House of Representatives. In the body over which he had so ably presided in ante-bellum days, he had again taken his seat. While by no means taking the highest rank as a debater, he was familiar with the complicated rules governing the House, and his opinion challenged the highest respect. He and Mr. Blaine were the only members of that House who had previously held the position of Speaker.
Near General Banks sat the Hon. William D. Kelley of Pennsylvania. He had known many years of legislative service, and was long "the father of the House." One of the features of its successive organization, as many old members will recall, was the administration of the official oath to the Speaker-elect by the member who had known the longest continuous service—"the gentleman from Pennsylvania." When in the fulness of times he passed to "the house not made with hands," his mantle fell upon Judge Holman of Indiana.
The House probably contained no member of rarer attainments in scholarship than Julius H. Seelye of Massachusetts. He stood in the front ranks of the great educators of his day, and was President of Amherst College during the latter years of his life. His political service was limited to one term in Congress. His speech near its beginning upon the General Amnesty Bill challenged the profound attention of the House, and at once gave him honored place in its membership.
The Congressional career of the Hon. George W. McCrary, of Iowa, terminated with this Congress. He was recognized as one of the ablest lawyers of the House, and was one of its most agreeable and courteous members. During the presidency of Hayes he held the position of Secretary of War, and was later a Judge of the United States Circuit Court.
The Hon. Joseph G. Cannon of Illinois, the present Speaker, was just at the beginning of his long Congressional career. For many years he has been an active leader of the House and a prominent participant in its important debates. His characteristic patience and long-suffering courtesy have no doubt at times been sorely tried by attempts to enlarge the sum total of appropriation bills reported by the Committee of which he was chairman. To the important post of "watch-dog of the Treasury," he was, nem. con., the successor to the lamented Holman. In this connection a suggestive incident is recalled. One of the guides of the Capitol, when some years ago showing a visitor through the Vice-President's chamber, called attention to a little old-fashioned mirror upon its walls. The guide explained that this mirror was purchased at a cost of thirty dollars when John Adams was Vice-President, but when the bill for its payment was before the House, Mr. Holman objected. A Western member, who had just been defeated upon a proposed amendment to an appropriation bill, by reason of a fatal point of order raised by the chairman, promptly exclaimed, "I move to strike out Holman and insert Cannon."
The sagacity and untiring industry of Mr. Cannon have elevated him to the Speakership, and possibly yet higher honors await him. It is a significant fact in this connection, however, that notwithstanding the brilliant array of ambitious statesmen who have held the Speakership for more than a century, only one, Mr. Polk, has ever reached the Presidency.
The forty-fourth Congress was the last of which the Hon. William A. Wheeler of New York was a member. He was elected Vice-president in 1876, and the duties of that office have rarely been discharged by an abler or more courteous officer. He was highly esteemed by his associates during his long service in the House. His principle in action seemed ever to be, "there is nothing so kingly as kindness."
Messrs. Hale and Frye of Maine, Aldrich of Rhode Island, Money of Mississippi, Taylor of Tennessee, and Elkins of West Virginia, were members of this House; all of whom are now Senators of marked ability, and well known to the entire country.
A member of this House, who at a later date, and in the other wing of the Capitol, achieved yet greater distinction, was the Hon. George F. Hoar of Massachusetts. At the close of this Congress he was transferred to the Senate, where for more than a quarter of a century he was a prominent leader. His ability and attainments were of the highest, and he was the worthy successor of Webster in the great body of which he was so long an honored member.
In addition to more solid qualities, Mr. Hoar was gifted with a keen sense of humor, as will appear from one or two incidents to be mentioned. In the House, Mr. Springer, in order to prevent the reconsideration of resolutions and debate thereupon under the rules, had frequently cut off the possibility of such debate by the timely interposition of the words, "Not to be brought back on a motion to reconsider." Now, it so fell out that upon a certain day Mr. Springer received a telegram calling him home just as the roll-call was ordered upon an important bill. Earnestly desiring to vote— which owing to the early departure of his train was impossible if he waited until his name was regularly reached upon the roll —he moved to the front of the Speaker, and after brief explanation, asked unanimous consent to vote at once. Permission was of course granted, his name at once called, and his vote given. Grateful for the courtesy, he bowed repeatedly to each side of the Chamber, and, hurrying up the aisle, was about to take his exit, when Mr. Hoar, pointing his finger at the retreating figure, solemnly exclaimed, "Not to be brought back upon a motion to reconsider!"
At a much later day the Senate was "advising and consenting" over the appointment of a distinguished gentleman whose name had just been sent in for confirmation as Ambassador to an important European Court. The gentleman in question had voted for the then incumbent of the great office, but his former political affiliations had been wholly with the opposing party. The nomination was about being confirmed without objection when Mr. Hoar, arising with apparent reluctance, said:
"As this is in some measure a family affair, Mr. President, I hesitate to interfere. If our friends upon the opposite side of the Chamber are satisfied with this appointment, I certainly shall interpose no objection. The gentleman named is well qualified, and has more than once held high place at the hands of the party which he has but recently deserted, and to which he will no doubt return in due time. We have, however, in New England an old-time custom, as sacred as if part of the written law, that if a man is so unfortunate as to lose his companion he will not marry again within one year. Now sir, I have always thought this rule, as to time, might well be applied to the matter of office-seeking. Where a man has been repeatedly honored by his party as this appointee has been, but where, prompted by motives purely unselfish no doubt, he has gone over to the camp of the enemy, I think a due sense of modestly should impel him to serve in the ranks at least one year before being an applicant for high office at the hands of his newly found friends."
Coming over to the Democratic side of the Chamber, well to its front sat the Hon. William R. Morrison of Illinois. By virtue of his position as Chairman of the Committee on Ways and Means he was the traditional leader of the House. Possessing little of the brilliancy of the leader of the minority, Colonel Morrison was none the less one of the ablest and most useful members of that body. He had for many sessions been a member of the House, and had been a soldier in the Mexican and in the Civil War. His record was honorable, both as soldier and legislator. He was the author of the Tariff Bill which was fully debated during the first session of that Congress, and was in some measure a determining factor in the Presidential campaign that soon followed. At a later day, Colonel Morrison was a prominent candidate for nomination as President by the national convention of his party. His personal friendships and antagonisms were well known. It is related of him that during a serious illness, apprehending that the dread messenger was in near waiting, arousing himself to what appeared to be a last effort, he said in scarcely audible tones to a sorrowing colleague at his bedside: "I suppose when this is all over they will have something to say about me, as is the custom, in the House. Well, if Springer, and Cox, and Knott, and Stevenson want to talk, let them go ahead, but if old Spears tries to speak just cough him down."
Never in any political gathering has there been a more effective speech, of a single sentence, than that in which Colonel Morrison presented to the Democratic caucus of the House members the name of the "Blind Preacher" for Chaplain. Three or four candidates were already in nomination when Morrison arose and said: "Mr. Chairman, I present for the office of Chaplain of the House the name of Doctor Milburn, a man who loves God, pays his debts, and votes the Democratic ticket!" Before the applause that followed had entirely died away the names of his competitors were withdrawn, and the "Blind Preacher" was nominated by acclamation.
The Hon. William M. Springer, of the same State, had just entered upon his twenty years of continuous service in the House. He came promptly to the front as a ready debater and skilful parliamentarian. He was thoroughly educated, ambitious, and withal an excellent speaker, and was the possessor in full measure of the suaviter in modo. His personal popularity was great, and a more obliging, agreeable, and pleasing associate it would have been difficult to find. He was optimistic to the last degree. To him every cloud had a silver lining,—the lining generally concealing the cloud. It was said of him by one of his colleagues that when the election returns were coming in, showing overwhelming defeat to his party,— even before they were fully summed up,—Mr. Springer with beaming countenance would promptly demonstrate by figures of his own how we were sure to be victorious four years later.
The Hon. Carter H. Harrison was a prominent member of the Illinois delegation. He soon took high rank as an orator, and never failed to command the attention of the House. Few speeches delivered during that session of Congress were so generally published, or more extensively quoted than were those of Mr. Harrison. At the end of four years' service in Congress he was elected Mayor of Chicago, an office he filled most acceptably for many years. His tragic death, upon the concluding day of the great Exposition, was universally deplored throughout the entire country.
The Hon. John H. Reagan, of Texas, was a Representative in Congress before the war. At its beginning he resigned his seat in the House, and cast in his fortunes with the South. He was early selected a member of the Davis Cabinet, and continued to discharge the duties of Postmaster-General until the fall of the Confederacy. He was a citizen of Texas while it was yet a Republic, and took an active part in securing its admission to the Federal Union. Judge Reagan was a gentleman of recognized ability, and of exceedingly courteous and dignified bearing.
An old-time statesman, on the same side of the Chamber, was the Hon. Fernando Wood of New York. A generation had passed since he first entered Congress. He was a Representative in the old hall of the Capitol while Webster, Calhoun, and Clay were in their prime. Erect, stately, faultless in his attire, and of bearing almost chivalric, Mr. Wood was long one of the active and picturesque personages of the House. At the time whereof we write, his sands were almost run, but, courageous to the last, he was in his accustomed seat but a little time before the final summons came, and he died, as was his wish, with the harness on. All in all, we shall hardly see his like again.
Surrounded by his colleagues near the centre of the hall sat one of the most remarkable men of his day, philosopher, jurist, statesman, orator, Lucius Q. C. Lamar of Mississippi. In his early manhood he was a member of the House, and even then was recognized as one of the most brilliant of the many brilliant men his section had sent to the national councils. During the war his services in field and council were given to the South, and something less than a decade after the return of peace, Mr. Lamar, still in his prime, again took his seat in the hall where his first laurels had been won. His great speech—one that touched all hearts—was not long delayed; the occasion was the day set apart in the House for tributes to the memory of the lamented Sumner. Many eulogies were delivered; that of Lamar still lingers in the memory of all who heard it. "The theme was worthy the orator; the orator, the theme." As a splendid tribute to a great tribune, as a plea for peace,—abiding, eternal, between all sections of a restored union,—it stands unsurpassed among the great masterpieces of ancient or modern eloquence.
Later, Mr. Lamar was a prominent participant in one of the fiercest debates the Senate has ever known. A leading Senator upon the opposite side of the chamber, in advocating the passage of the "Force bill," reflected bitterly upon Mississippi and her Senators. In replying to the personal portion of the speech, Lamar said, "the Senator has uttered upon this floor a falsehood—knowing it to be such. The language I have used, Mr. President, is severe. It was so intended. It is language, sir, that no honest man would deserve, and that no brave man will wear!"
Mr. Lamar was one of the most absent-minded of men. A number of years ago, by invitation of the Faculty, he delivered an address to the graduating class of Centre College, Kentucky. The day was quite warm, the exercises somewhat protracted, and, at the close of his able and eloquent address, he was very much exhausted.
An excellent collation, prepared by the ladies connected with the College, was served in the chapel near by, at the close of the exercises. Seated upon the platform, with Mr. Lamar at the head of the table, were Doctor Young, the President, Justice Harlan, Governor Knott, the Rev. Doctor Bullock, Chaplain of the Senate, Judge McCormick, and others.
At the plate of each guest a large tomato was in readiness and, excellent itself, was, moreover, the earnest of better things to come. Immediately upon being seated, Mr. Lamar "fell to" and, wholly oblivious of the surroundings, soon made way with the one viand then in visible presence. Just as its last vestige disappeared, the President of the College arose and, with a solemnity eminently befitting the occasion, called upon Doctor Bullock to offer thanks. Deeply chagrined, Mr. Lamar was an attentive listener to the impressive invocation which immediately followed. At its conclusion, with troubled countenance, he turned to Knott and said, "I am humiliated at my conduct. I should have remembered that Presbyterians always say grace before meals, but I was very hungry and exhausted, and the tomato very tempting; I have really disgraced myself." To which Knott replied, "You ought not to feel so, Mr. Justice; the blessing of Doctor Bullock's was broad and general; in large measure retrospective as well as prospective. It reminds me of a little incident that occurred on the 'Rolling Fork.' An old-time deacon down there was noted for the lengthy blessing which at his table was the unfailing prelude to every meal. His hired man, Bill Taylor, an unconverted and impatient youth, had fallen into the evil habit of commencing his meal before the blessing thereon had been fully invoked. The frown and rebuke of the good deacon were alike unavailing in effecting the desired reform. Righteously indignant thereat, the deacon, in a spirit possibly not the most devout, at length gave utterance to this petition, 'For what we are about to receive, and for what William Taylor has already received, accept our thanks, O Lord!"
In cheery tones the great orator at once replied, "Knott, you are the only man on earth who could have thought of such a story just at the opportune moment." The temporary depression vanished; Lamar was himself again, and was at once the brilliant conversationalist of the delighted assemblage.
The surviving members of that Congress will recall a little chair that daily rolled down the aisle to the front to the Speaker's desk. It contained the emaciated form of a man whose weight at his best was but ninety pounds—Alexander H. Stephens of Georgia, "whose little body lodged a mighty mind." No one who saw Mr. Stephens could ever forget him. He looked as though he had just stepped out from an old picture, or dropped down from the long-ago. There was probably as little about him "of the earth, earthy" as of any mortal this world has known. Upon his weak frame time had done its work, and, true it is, "the surest poison is time." And yet, his feeble piping voice—now scarcely heard an arm's length away—was potent in the contentions of the great hall when he was the honored associate of men whose public service reached back to the formation of the Government. In the old hall near by—now the Valhalla of the nation—he had sat with John Quincy Adams and contemporaries whose names at once recall the Revolutionary period. After serving as Vice-President of the Confederacy, whose rise and fall he had witnessed, Mr. Stephens, with the shadows falling about him, was, by unanimous voice of his people, again, in his own words, "in our father's house." His apartments in the old National Hotel, as he never failed to explain to his visitors, were those long ago occupied by his political idol, Henry Clay. His couch stood in the exact spot where Mr. Clay had died; and he no doubt thought—possibly wished— that his own end might come just where that great Commoner had breathed his last. This, however, was not to be. His last hours were spent at the capital of his native commonwealth, which had, with scarce a dissenting voice, just honored itself by electing him to its chief executive office.
The Hon. Samuel J. Randall, of Pennsylvania, was the successor of the lamented Kerr as Speaker of the House. As such he presided during the last session of the forty-fourth Congress, and during the two Congresses immediately succeeding. He had long been a member, coming in with Blaine and Garfield just before the close of the war. Able, courageous, and thoroughly skilled in parliamentary tactics, he had achieved a national reputation as the leader of the minority in the forty-third Congress. During the protracted and exciting struggle near its close, over the Force Bill—the House remaining in continuous session for fifty-six hours—Mr. Randall had displayed wonderful endurance and marvellous capacity for successful leadership. He was more than once presented by his State in Democratic national conventions for nomination to the Presidency. He was an excellent presiding officer, prompt, often aggressive, and was rarely vanquished in his many brilliant passages with the leaders of the minority. One incident is recalled, however, when the tables were turned against the Speaker, no one joining more heartily than himself in the laugh that followed. Mr. Conger, of Michigan, with great earnestness and persistency, was urging the consideration of a resolution which the Speaker had repeatedly declared out of order. By no means disconcerted by the decision, Mr. Conger, walking down the aisle, was vehement in his demand for the immediate consideration of his resolution. At which the Speaker with much indignation said, "Well, I think the Chair has a right to exercise a little common sense in this matter." To which Mr. Conger instantly responded, "Oh, if the Chair has the slightest intention of doing anything of that kind, I will immediately take my seat!"
The Hon. David Dudley Field, elected to fill a vacancy, was a Representative from the city of New York during the closing session of the forty-fourth Congress. He was an eminent lawyer, and, at the time, stood at the head of the American bar. His name is inseparably associated with many important reforms in legal procedure during the last half century. He had been instrumental in securing the appointment of a committee of distinguished jurists, chosen from the leading nations, to prepare the outlines of an international code. His report accompanying the plan, to the preparation of which he had given much thought and time, received the earnest commendation of leading publicists and jurists in Europe, as well as in his own country. His untiring efforts, looking to the substitution of international courts of arbitration for war, have given his name honored place among the world's benefactors.
Mr. Field was the eldest of four brothers, whose names are known wherever our language is spoken. The family was distinguished for talents of the highest order. It would indeed be difficult to find its counterpart in our history. One of the brothers, Stephen J. Field, was for a third of a century a distinguished justice of the Supreme Court of the United States. The youngest, Dr. Henry M. Field, was eminent alike as theologian and author. The name of the remaining brother, Cyrus W. Field, is, and will continue, a household word in two hemispheres. After repeated failures, to the verge even of extremity, "the trier of spirits," the dream of his life became a reality. The Atlantic cable was laid, and, in the words of John Bright, Mr. Field had "moored the New World alongside the Old."
The Hon. Henry Watterson, of Kentucky, was a representative during the closing session of Congress. As the editor of a great journal, Mr. Watterson was already well known to the country. His talents were of a high order. In his chosen field he had no superior. For many years he was a recognized leader of his party, and one of the chief managers in all its national conventions. His contributions to the literature of three decades of political campaigns were almost unparalleled. As a forcible, trenchant writer he is to be mentioned with Greeley, Raymond, Prentice, and Dana. His career, too, as a public lecturer, has been both successful and brilliant. The Congressional service of Mr. Watterson terminated with the session just mentioned. His speech, near its close, upon the bill creating an electoral commission to determine the Tilden-Hayes Presidential controversy was listened to with earnest attention, and at once gave him high place among the great debaters of that eventful Congress.
While a passenger on a train to Washington, to be present at the opening of Congress, my attention was directed to a man of venerable appearance, who entered the sleeping-car at a station not many miles out from Cincinnati. He was dressed in "Kentucky jeans" and had the appearance of a well-to-do farmer. Standing in the aisle near me, he was soon engaged in earnest conversation with the porter, endeavoring to secure a berth. The porter repeatedly assured him that this was impossible, as every berth was taken. He told the porter that he was quite ill, and must get on his journey. I then proposed that he share my berth for the night. He gladly did so until other accommodations were provided.
On the Monday following, when the House was in the process of organization, the name of James D. Williams of Indiana being called, my sleeping-car acquaintance, still attired in blue jeans, stepped forward with his colleagues to the Speaker's desk and was duly sworn in as a member of Congress. This was his first term, but he soon became quite well known to the country. As chairman of the Committee of Accounts, having to do with small expenditures, he closely scrutinized every claim presented, and scaled to the lowest many pet measures. His determination to economize, as well as his peculiarity of dress and appearance, soon made him an especial object of amusement to newspaper correspondents. He was the butt of many cheap jokes; one being his alleged complaint that hundreds of towels were being daily used by members at the Capitol, at the public expense, while at his home, on his farm, one towel would last a week, with eleven in the family. Despite, however, all jokes and gibes, he soon became the most popular man in his State. "Blue Jeans Williams" became a name to conjure with; and in the celebrated campaign of 1876, after an exciting contest, he was elected Governor, defeating an able and popular leader, who, twelve years later, was himself elected President of the United States.
No sketch of "the American Commons" during the last fifty years would be in any measure complete that failed to make mention of the man who was nineteen times elected a Representative, the Hon. William S. Holman, of Indiana. Whatever the ups and downs of party supremacy, despite all attempts by gerrymandering to relegate him to the shades of private life, Judge Holman, with unruffled front, "a mien at once kindly, persuasive, and patient," held sturdily on his way. Amid political upheavals that overwhelmed all his associates upon the ticket, his name, like that of Abou Ben Adhem, led all the rest. From Pierce to McKinley—whatever the issues, and howsoever determined—at each successive organization of the House "the gentleman from Indiana" was an unfailing respondent to the opening roll-call. An old English stanza comes to mind:
"And this is law, that I'll maintain Until my dying day, sir, That whatsoever King shall reign, Still I'll be vicar of Bray, sir."
His integrity was unquestioned; his knowledge of public business, phenomenal. With no brilliancy, little in the way of oratory, Judge Holman was nevertheless one of the most valuable members ever known to the House of Representatives. The Lobby regarded him as its mortal foe. He was for years the recognized "watch-dog of the Treasury." Personal appeals to his courtesy, to permit the present consideration of private bills, had, in the main, as well have been made to a marble statue. His well known and long to be remembered, "I object, Mr. Speaker," sounded the knell of many a well devised raid upon the Treasury. It may be that he sometimes prevented the early consideration of meritorious measures, but with occasional exceptions his objections were wholesome. He kept in close touch with the popular pulse, and knew, as if by instinct, which would be the safe and which the dangerous side of the pending measure. It sometimes seemed that he could even "look into the seeds of time and tell which grain will grow and which will not."
It has been said that even great men have at times their little weaknesses. An incident to be related will show that possibly Judge Holman was no exception to that rule. The consideration of sundry bills for the erection of post-office buildings in a number of districts having "gone over" by reason of his objection, the members having the bills in charge joined forces and lumped the several measures into an "omnibus bill" which was duly presented. The members especially interested in its passage, to "make assurance doubly sure," had quietly inserted a provision for the erection of a Government building in one of the cities of Holman's district. When the bill was read, Judge Holman, as he sat busily writing at his desk, was, without solicitation upon his part, the closely observed of every member. Apparently oblivious, however, to all that was occurring, he continued to write. No objection being made, the bill was in the very act of passing when an exceedingly bright member from Wisconsin, "being moved and instigated by the devil," no doubt, rushed to the front and exclaimed, "Mr. Speaker, I desire to call the attention of the gentleman from the fourth district of Indiana to the fact that the Treasury is being robbed!" Unmoved by the appeal, the Judge continued to write, and, as one of his colleagues afterwards remarked, "was chewing his tobacco very fine." After a moment of suspense, and amid applause in which even the galleries took part, the member from Wisconsin, in tragic tones, exclaimed, "Ah, Mr. Speaker, our watch-dog of the Treasury, like all other good watch-dogs, never barks when his friends are around!"
Mr. Blackburn, of Kentucky, began his long and eventful legislative career as a member of this Congress. As the representative of the Ashland District, he was the successor of Clay, Crittenden, Marshall, Breckenridge, Beck—illustrious names in the history of the State and of the nation. He was worthy of the succession, and, at the close of ten years' service in the House, was elected to the Senate. He came within a few votes of being chosen as the candidate of his party for Speaker at the opening of the forty-sixth Congress. He was a born orator. It was as natural for him to speak as to breathe. Wake him up at any hour of the night, and he would be ready upon the instant for an eloquent speech of any length, upon any subject. Thoroughly familiar with all that pertained to our political history, with a voice easily heard above the storm, he was ever in the forefront of the hurly-burly of heated partisan debate. There was little that was conciliatory about him. He neither gave nor asked quarter. A born fighter, he had rather
"Follow his enemy through a fiery gulf, Than flatter him in a bower."
Possessing neither the keen wit of his colleague, McKenzie, nor the profound humor of Knott, he was nevertheless the hero of more interesting narratives than any member who ever crossed the Blue Ridge Mountains.
The incident to be related may have suggested the witty reply of Senator Proctor to the Vice-President when invited by the latter to come into the devotional exercises: "Excuse me, I am paired with Blackburn on prayers." This equals his reply when asked by Senator Hale what he thought of Senator Chandler: "I like him, but it is an acquired taste."
Upon the occasion of the retirement of the Rev. Dr. Butler from the Chaplaincy of the Senate—a position he had filled most acceptably for many years—many of the Senators spoke regretfully of his retirement. The speech of Mr. Blackburn, for beauty of expression and pathetic eloquence, was unrivalled. He spoke most tenderly of the faithfulness of the venerable man of God; how for long years he had gone in and out before us; of his daily walk and conversation; how, like the Blessed Master, his only thought was of doing good; of how he had often invoked the Divine blessing upon us and our loved ones, and lifted us as it were in his arms up to the very throne of grace. The orator seemed inspired, as though his lips were indeed touched with a live coal from the altar. The counterpart of the scene that followed his closing words had never been witnessed in legislative assembly. All were in tears. It was even said that venerable Senators, who had never shed a tear since the ratification of the treaty of Ghent, actually sobbed aloud, and refused to be comforted. At length, amid silence that could be felt, an adjournment was effected, and the Senators passed sadly out to their homes. As he passed the Chair, Senator Vest, in undertone, remarked to the Vice-President, "Jo never saw him!"
The next day, in the absence of his successor, "the blind chaplain," Dr. Butler again, and for the last time, officiated, simply repeating in manner most solemn and impressive, the Lord's Prayer. At its conclusion, Senator Blackburn, who had been a most attentive listener, came forward to the desk and remarked to Vice-President Stevenson: "I tell you, sir, I like that new chaplain of ours. What a splendid prayer! There is something original about that man!"
Thirty years and more ago, when first a candidate for Congress, Mr. Blackburn attended a public execution—in common parlance "a hanging"—in one of the counties in his district. Being a gentleman of great distinction, and a candidate for Congress, he was appropriately invited by the sheriff to occupy a seat with the prisoner and his spiritual adviser upon the gallows. At the near approach of the fatal hour, the sheriff, with watch in hand, amid the sea of upturned faces, stated to the prisoner that he had yet five minutes to live, and it was his privilege if he so desired to address the audience. The prisoner meekly replied that he did not wish to speak. Whereupon Mr. Blackburn, stepping promptly to the front of the scaffold, said: "As the gentleman does not wish to speak, if he will kindly yield me his time, I will take this occasion to remark that I am a candidate for Congress, regularly nominated by the Democratic Convention," etc. This incident being told in the presence of Mr. Marshall, the opposing candidate, the latter remarked that he remembered it well, and could vouch for its truth. He then added that when Mr. Blackburn proposed to speak out the prisoner's time, the latter turned to the Sheriff and inquired who that was. To which the officer replied, "Captain Blackburn." At this the prisoner, who had amid all the exciting scenes of his arrest and trial, and even up to the present moment, with his open coffin beside him, displayed marvellous fortitude, suddenly exhibiting deep emotion, piteously exclaimed, "Please hang me first, and let him speak afterwards!"
When, in the tide of time, will the House of Representatives witness the like of "Sunset" Cox? Beginning a Congressional career, which was to terminate only with his death, when scarcely of the constitutional age, he was in close succession a representative from two great States,—in his early manhood from the Capital district of Ohio, and in his maturer years, even down to old age, the most prominent of the delegation from the great State of New York. Mr. Cox was gifted as few men have been in this world. His literary attainments were of a high order, and some of the books of which he was the author will no doubt furnish instructive and entertaining reading for many generations to come. He was an indefatigable student, and seemed, as did Lord Bacon, to have "taken all knowledge for his province." His accurate knowledge of the history of all countries and times was a marvel, and, all at his instant command, placed him upon rare vantage ground in the many forensic struggles in which he took part. Woe betide the unfortunate antagonist whose record was other than faultless. He was a born debater, full of resources, and aggressive to the last degree. He never waited for opportunities, but sought them. In great emergencies he was often put forward by his political associates for the fierce encounter with the great leaders upon the opposite side of the Chamber. He was withal one of the most kindly of men. He was the soul of personal and official honor. His integrity could know no temptation. It may truly be said of him that—
"Whatever record leaps to light, He never can be shamed."
His sympathies were deeply enlisted for the safety of those "who go down to the sea in ships." For years he was the earnest advocate of a thorough life-saving system. Much of the present efficiency of this humane branch of the public service is due to his untiring efforts. He had travelled to all countries, and even to the islands of the sea. He was of sunny disposition, and believed that "whatever places the eye of Heaven visits are to the wise man ports and happy havens."
Mr. Cox was one of the most genial and delightful of associates. With him and Vance, Knott, and Randolph Tucker as companions for the social hour, the night would flee away like a shadow. His wit was of the rarest order. He would have been on terms of recognized kinship with Sydney Smith and Charles Lamb. He once said of a vinegar-visaged member that the only regret he had on earth was that there were no more commandments to keep; what few there were he kept so easily. As illustrating his readiness and elasticity, whatever the emergency, two instances, out of the many that crowd upon memory, will be given. During an all-night session of the House, amid great confusion, the roll-call was ordered. The first name, "Mr. Archer," was called, and the response "Aye" was given. The clerk, failing to hear the response, immediately repeated, "Mr. Archer," to which the latter, in tones heard above the din of many voices, again answered "Aye." Instantly Mr. Cox exclaimed: "Insatiate Archer, would not one suffice?"
A new member from a district far to the westward entered the House. His advoirdupois was in keeping with the vast territorial area he represented. As a wit, he was without a rival in his section. The admiration of his constituents over the marvellous attainments of the new member, scarcely exceeded his own. Only the opportunity was wanting when the star of the gentleman from New York should go down and his own be in the ascendant. The opportunity at length came. Mr. Cox was the victim of the hour; the recipient of many compliments much more fervid than kind. The seven vials of wrath were opened upon him. A vast storehouse of wit, ancient and modern, was literally exhausted for the occasion. Even the diminutive size of the New York member was mentioned in terms of disparagement. The speech caused much merriment in the House during its delivery, and its author with an air of self-satisfaction rarely witnessed even in that body, resumed his seat. Mr. Cox at once took the floor. No attempt will be made to do justice to his speech. The manner, the tone of voice, which caused an uproar upon the floor and in the galleries, can never find their way into print. Referring to the ill-mannered allusion to his size, he said "that his constituents preferred a representative with brains, rather than one whose only claims to distinction consisted in an abnormal abdominal development." In tragic tones he then pronounced a funeral eulogy over his assailant, and suggested, as a fitting inscription for his tombstone, the pathetic words of Byron,
"'T is Greece, but living Greece no more!"
Soon after the nomination of Tilden for President, Mr. Cox was invited to attend a political meeting at the State capital, and address the Democracy of Vermont. When the scarcity of Democrats in the Green Mountain State is taken into account, the significance of Mr. Cox's reply will readily appear. His telegram was to the effect that pressing engagements prevented his attending, but "if the Democracy of Vermont will drop into my library any afternoon, about four o'clock, I will address them with great pleasure."