Page images

must have instant thought, instant action. Every day increases the evil until the present system is changed.

" It is not to reproach you, but to try to save you that I recall your attention to the utter fallacy of the calculations of the three or four last half-years in which I have been making advances to carry on temporarily these deficiencies. You ought to be convinced that your calculations in this respect are not to be trusted. You must not rely on them. I shall not. I have no faith whatever left in respect to

. them.

" We must now see and know step by step as we go on. You ought now to feel the propriety of the advice I have so often given you on this subject.”


Constitutional convention of 1867 — Tilden resists the enlargement of the

canals — Resents the imputation of having sympathized with the Rebellion Combats the Tweed ring Joins in organizing the New York Bar Association - Measures for the reform of the judiciary

Elected to the Legislature, 1871 Advice of Horatio Seymour — Impeachment of judges — Letters from Charles O'Conor and William Allen Butler — O'Conor's account of the origin of the New York rings — Seymour’s nomination for the presidency Tilden not sponsible for it Letters to the Tammany society - Declines an invitation to speak at a meeting in Washington for the ratification of Seymour's nomination for the presidency.


MR. TILDEN was elected from the seventh senatorial district of New York city as a delegate to the convention called to revise the constitution of the State in 1867. Ilis colleagues from that district were Judge Anthony L. Robinson, Edwards Pierrepont, and James Brooks. He was a

a member of the committee on the "finances of the State, the public debt, revenues, expenditures, and taxation, and restriction of the powers of the Legislature in respect thereto;" he wasa member of the committee instructed to report " the best practical mode of proceeding to revise the constitution,” and was also a member of a select committee on suppressing official corruption by means of constitutional provisions."

The most conspicuous feature of his service in that body was his successful resistance to a scheme for the enlargement of the Erie canal. His speech on that subject was

. probably the most important deliverance in that convention, as he was unquestionably the highest authority on the subject of canal transportation in that body. To the surprise of most if not all of his colleagues in the convention, he


[ocr errors]

VOL. I.-12

[ocr errors]

demonstrated the folly of incurring an expense of twenty or thirty millions of dollars to enlarge the prism of the canal, by showing that the canal as it was, if properly cleaned and worked, would suffice for double the business that was ever likely to be required of it. " It is,” said he, " an enlargement of the capacity of the men who administer the canal which is now wanted, and not an enlargement of the canal.” He added : 1

"I will undertake to say that if you will appoint, in full charge of the Erie canal, men who can be picked out in this State, and let them manage it upon these principles, practically, they will get a greater reduction of the cost of transportation by the expenditure of a million of dollars, than my friend the gentleman from Erie (Mr. Hatch) will get by his gunboat enlargement if it is carried into effect, at a cost starting with eight millions and culminating in twenty or thirty millions."

These words imported far more than his audience then surmised. No one should attempt to deal officially or unofficially with the management of the canal system of New York without thoroughly mastering the contents of this speech.2

The Republicans were in a large majority in the convention, and the antagonisms of the late war unhappily found too frequent expression in the deliberations, with the result, probably not to be regretted, of the rejection by the people of the constitution which the convention adopted. The extension of negro suffrage became naturally enough one of the burning questions. Mr. Tilden wished that question submitted separately to the people, lest, in the prevailing temper of the public mind of that time, it should imperil the rest of their work. In the course of some remarks upon this subject he made the following statement :

[merged small][merged small][ocr errors]

"Sir, there recurs to me a singular incident illustrating the extent to which our constitutional regulations have been copied in other States. It happened to me in the convention of 1846 that an article on corporations had been balloted to and fro without coming to a result satisfactory to anybody; and it was sent to a select committee of which I was chairman. That committee decided on the adoption of one provision that I was unable at that time to understand. I reported it as they ordered, and it became a part of the fundamental law. A short time after that I was passing through Albany, and I heard a very curious discussion in the Senate as to the meaning of that provision. On my returning to New York I met the author of it, and I found him as much puzzled as the Senate had been or as I had been. But, sir, that article, clause for clause, word for word, and letter for letter, stands in the constitution of seven different States of the Union. It illustrates to what extent our example is likely to be followed in other States. I consider, therefore, that we have a most august and important duty to perform, and for my part, unmoved by any consideration except my desire to fulfil that trust to the utmost of my ability, rising, as I think it does, above all other considerations that could affect the action of men in this body, and remembering that I shall scarcely live under another constitution of this State, and that all those associations and that honorable pride that have clustered around my native State from my childhood · are concerned in the result of our work, I certainly desire to do everything in my power to accomplish that result in the most satisfactory manner. I am not here to question any man's motives or to arraign any man's judgment, but I regret profoundly that this convention has not found itself able, by a little conference among the leading gentlemen who represent the two great parties here, to have come to a result that would have withdrawn this topic from our deliberations. I think it could have been done. I think it is unfortunate that we have not done it. I certainly would be quite content to have a reasonable postponement of this question, provided that postponement did not involve a decision beforehand of the question postponed. But, sir, to be called upon to put the clause in controversy into the constitution, to make it a part of an entire instrument, to vote on its adoption, so that if there be no other

[ocr errors]

action of this body, and no other action is recessary, the question is wholly and completely decided, does not seem to me to be the best way to reserve the question of separate submission. If we are finally to act upon the whole matter, I shall desire hereafter to submit the reasons which govern my vote on the main question.”

In reply to a grossly partisan speech or series of speeches of Waldo Hutchins, of New York, to which some allusions to national politics contributed their bitterness, Mr. Tilden took occasion to denounce the imputation implied, if not expressed, that he, in common with those who acted with him on the finance committee, sympathized with the Rebellion. Mr. Tilden said:

" One other topic deserves a passing notice, and then I have done. The honorable member from the State at large, residing in New York (laughter), has thought it fit, thought it becoming, thought it decent, to describe members of the finance committee, if I understand him correctly, as sympathizing with the Rebellion. Sir, I desire to know of that honorable gentleman, as I am myself a member of that committee, whether he applies any such language to me?”

A MEMBER. " He is gone."

Mr. TILDEN. "Sir, I am sorry that the honorable member is not here to answer. I pass then from this aspersion, simply saying of it that, so far as he may have intended to apply it, either individually or generally, so that I come within the scope of its application, it is an entire falsehood and calumny, in all its degrees and in all its parts. Sir, at the beginning of the Rebellion, called on by distinguished men to take some part in the public measures in the city of New York relating to that subject, I answered that I would give to the public agents, although elected by the opposite party, although I was unable to influence their policy, a support as full, as fair, as candid, and as liberal as I would have given to Andrew Jackson if he had been in the presidential chair in place of Mr. Lincoln; and during the entire war I never deviated from that position. I did often disagree widely with the policy which characterized the administration during the war; sometimes on military

« PreviousContinue »