« PreviousContinue »
Four years later Mr. Van Buren was a candidate for reëlection to the State Senate. In the interval between the previous and this election, Van Buren had been a most effective champion of the administration of Governor Tompkins in its efforts and sacrifices to support the federal government in the war. He was sitting at the same place as before at the polls when Doctor Younglove came in to vote. The doctor again approached the polls, took off his big white hat with customary deliberation, put his spectacles on his nose, read his ballot with care, handed it to the inspector, and said, bowing at the same time to Mr. Van Buren, "I vote for senator this time."
Mrs. Doctor Younglove seems to have had a more direct and manifest influence in opening the mind and shaping the taste of Samuel during his tenderer years than any other person, his parents not excepted. She was remarkable in many ways. The fearful trials of her husband as a prisoner in Canada; the terrible stories of the massacre of numerous members of her family within the memory of people then living; and the tribute of lives and blood which her family had paid in the war of Independence, and in the war of 1812, had stocked her memory with wonderful experiences, all of a character to impress and thrill youthful imaginations. She had withal a marvellous talent for narration. Mr. Tilden used to say that if she read a story or interesting novel, she could repeat it with such fulness of detail as to consume several hours, to the inexpressible delight of her youthful auditors.
Her memorable experiences had naturally led her to take the greatest interest in political questions. In his genealogical record Mr. Tilden relates that when the letters and papers of Thomas Jefferson were first collected in print in 1829 (the year, by the way, of her husband's death), she purchased a copy, which she covered with tea-colored muslin. This work, particularly the last volume, was a favorite study with her, and she circulated it among the younger
members of the family. "I read them over," says Mr. Tilden, "again and again, and thus became thoroughly imbued with Jeffersonian political ideas."
Mr. Jefferson's political standard more than those of any other statesman, living or dead, were Mr. Tilden's political standards throughout his life. I do not know that anywhere, in so few words, can be found a more clear, compact and comprehensive statement of the obligations of his country to Jefferson than Mr. Tilden gave in a letter which he wrote four years before his death, in reply to an invitation from the Jefferson Club, of New Haven, to be present at the commemoration of the birth of the author of our Declaration of Independence. He describes Jefferson as "among the earliest, most resolute, and most steadfast of the patriots who upheld the popular rights in the incipient struggles of our Revolution, when the part he took required a higher order of courage, of self-denial, and of genius than were necessary at any subsequent period of our history. He penned the immortal statement of the principles that led our ancestors to assert the independent existence of our country, and which has been substantially adopted as a model for every people who have since attempted to establish national independence on the basis of human rights.
"He was first in his day to completely emancipate his own mind from the monarchical and aristocratical traditions which still enslaved most of the best intellects of the country. But the obligations of the world to Mr. Jefferson do not end here. On the completion of the Federal Constitution, Gouverneur Morris, being asked what he thought of it, answered: That depends upon how it is construed.'1 1 Mr. Tilden's allusion to this observation of Morris recalls a passage in one of the letters of Bolingbroke to Drummond:
There is, I dare say, no one disaffected man in the queen's dominions but who will engage to be of no party; to be as hearty as any man where the queen's honor or the nation's good is concerned. These are vague and uncertain propositions which tie him down to nothing, because he is to expound them himself."- Bolingbroke's Works, Vol. I. p. 24.
After the organization of the federal government, a powerful class sought to impress upon it in its practical working the features of the British system. Mr. Jefferson was the great leader of the party formed to resist these efforts, and to hold our institutions to the popular character which was understood to belong to them when the Constitution was ratified by the people."
When elevated to the presidency," adds Mr. Tilden, "he put the ship of state," to use his own expression, "upon 'the Republican tack.' He arrested centralizing tendencies; reinvigorated local self-government; restored the rights of the States, and protected and enlarged the domain of the individual judgment and conscience. For eight years he administered the government, and for sixteen years it was administered by his pupils under his observation and advice. Thus was established a habit which largely shaped the standards for the guidance of the popular judgment, the modes of thinking of statesmen, and the general course of government for sixty years.
"Mr. Jefferson gave to our administrative system an aspect of republican simplicity; he repressed jobbery as well as all perversions of power, and by his precepts, his influence, and his example elevated the standard of public morals. In his personal practice he was not only pure, but, to make his example more effective, he refrained, while administering the greatest of official trusts, from all attempts to increase his private fortune, even by methods open to every private citizen."
The father of Mrs. Younglove represented Duchess county in the State Legislature nine times between the years 1782-1793, a circumstance further calculated to give Mrs. Younglove and her family a more than ordinary interest in political matters.
When young Tilden was about three years old he experienced a severe illness, from the consequences of which, or more probably from the effects of the drugs administered to
him in the course of it, he never entirely recovered. As described by his eldest sister, Mrs. Pelton, he became fearfully nervous; he could not endure the sight or presence of the doctor who attended him, and who was therefore only able to visit him when asleep; he clawed the inside of his mouth with his finger-nails till it bled, and he insisted upon being carried in his mother's arms until she was obliged to lay him down from pure exhaustion. The doctor, at his wit's end, administered laudanum, which gave temporary relief, but left him, of course, with a weakened stomach and impaired digestive apparatus for the rest of his days. This medical treatment had also unfitted the lad for the outof-door exposure and the athletic sports from which boys derive their chief delight, and, to a large extent, their physical symmetry and vigor. He was forced, therefore, to seek his pleasures and recreations within doors, mostly in books, and in the society and conversation of his family, - elderly people, for the most part, from whom he naturally took, to a considerable degree, his habits of thought, tastes, and opinions. It thus happened that he practically had no youth; he scarcely ever knew intimately any young people, nor did he ever possess any of that facility in the use of his limbs and muscles which boys usually acquire in their hours of recreation.
His illness left little of him unimpaired but his intellect, in which all the physical force and muscular vigor with which at his age young men are usually endowed seemed to have taken refuge from the remorseless artillery of the apothecary.
He read the books which his parents and aunt and uncle Younglove read and enjoyed; he pondered the subjects which they discussed, and tried, not without success, to reach the conclusions that are commonly the fruits of experience, without experience. For the dozen or fifteen years succeeding his illness, he was an anachronism. He did little or nothing that is usually expected from one of his
years. The poet-editor, Bryant, used to give a humorous description of a visit from Tilden, accompanied by his father, to the "Evening Post" office while he was yet in roundabouts, and of the comical deference with which the father would turn to Samuel for his opinions, and of the austere deliberation with which those opinions were unfolded.
Martin Van Buren, who during these years was successively United States senator, governor, and secretary of state of the United States, besides being a resident of the same county, was a warm political as well as personal friend of Elam Tilden, to whom he seems to have given his confidence to an extent not usual with him. This relation made Mr. Tilden's house the resort of the leading public men composing what was then derisively denominated by the opposition the "Albany Regency," and especially of Governor Marcy, Comptroller Flagg, Edwin Croswell, the editor of the "Albany Argus," and Silas Wright, then United States senator.
To the conversation of such men as these young Tilden was one of the most patient and conscientious of listeners. It is not strange that under such auspices political life should have seemed to him the ideal life, and that all his thought, study, and aspirations were fixed in that direction at an age when most boys are satisfying their ambition with a hoop or a kite.
It was mainly from such teachers as frequented the house for a quiet and confidential interchange of political views, and from his aunt, Mrs. Younglove, that Samuel received the rudiments of his education.
The schools at New Lebanon were not continuous, nor of a very high grade, nor was Samuel's health such, for four or five years after his illness, as admitted of his submitting to the confinement of a school. His early education, however, if somewhat eccentric, was not neglected. He read Jefferson's writings until he knew them almost by heart; he had read Jonathan Edwards' famous treatise on the