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CHAPTER IV

Studies law Crosses swords with Senator Talmadge – Complimentary

letter from Silas Wright — Responds to a petition of the Shakers Advises his sister in regard to the choice of a husband — Her death - Van Buren and Harrison campaign - Address in opposition to the re-charter of the United States Bank — His health and the professional problem.

TILDEN entered the Law School of the New York University the year it was organized — 1838 — and was

a member of the first class that graduated. Benjamin F. Butler, who had been Attorney-General of the United States, Judge William Kent, and David Graham, author of the " Practice,” were the lecturers at this period.

While pursuing his professional studies at the university, Tilden was also articled as a law student with Hon. John W. Edmonds, who had recently opened an office in New York. Mr. Edmonds was a native of Columbia county, had practised law at Hudson, had been a member of the State Senate, and was a personal as well as a political friend of the Tildens.

The office did not do a large business, and with that it did, Tilden interested himself but little. He thought well of his instruction at the university, He tells his father of buying "Graham's Practice” for $6, as it was a text-book in the Law School. "It is used constantly,"

" he writes, "and is almost indispensable.” He adds:

"I find so much interruption and irregularity at the office that I prefer to study most of the time in my own room. Attendance in an office is not required, and for the first year or two is of very doubtful advantage. The book I should be obliged to have eventually. I need buy no more at present. I may want one or two additional in the course of this or the next term. Kent's Commentaries' Mr. Edmonds does not own, and when it comes to be the text-book, I must have it. To do justice to the text-reading which is given us keeps us quite busy. This fact and the system and order in our studies, and the necessity of reading with attention, which the examination three times a week imposes, and the effect of the discussions at them and the lectures in fixing in our minds what we read, show the utility of the school in a stronger light, even, than I had anticipated.”

In the fall of 1838 Nathaniel P. Talmadge, then a Senator of the United States from New York, who had separated from the Democratic party and joined the schismaties in opposition to the financial policy of Presidents Jackson and Van Buren, was announced to " speak on the issues of the day” in Columbia county. A meeting had been arranged very quietly at which it was hoped he might exert an influence upon doubtful men, and change the political complexion of the county. The Tildens heard of it about noon of the day upon which it was to be held. They immediately sent word to all the Democrats of the vicinage to be present, and the result was one of the largest meetings that had ever been known in that region. In the course of his speech, Mr. Talmadge labored to convince his audience that it was the Democrats who had changed their position, and that lie and his friends were unchanged. At the close of his remarks one of the Whig leaders of the movement offered a resolution, which passed without opposition, inviting any Democrats in the assembly that might be so disposed to reply to the Senator. The young Democrats, who were mostly gathered in the rear of the hall, regarded the challenge as aimed at them, and shouted for « Tilden." Yielding to the obvious sentiment of the assembly, Samuel came forward and took the place just vacated by the Senator.

After discussing the main questions in controversy, he addressed himself to the personal aspects of the Senatoris speech, and to his statement that the Democrats had changed position while he himself had remained consistent. By way of testing the truth of this declaration, he turned around to the Whigs on the platform and asked them if they who found themselves now in unison with the Senator (who had been opposed to them in the contest for the presidency), if it was they or the Senator who had changed? At last, pointing to the Chairman, Mr. Gilbert, a venerable farmer, almost an octogenarian, in a tone of mingled compliment and expostulation he begged to know if it was he too, instead of the Senator, that had changed. By this direct inquiry the honest old man was thrown off his guard and stoutly cried out "No."

Mr. Tilden skilfully availed himself of this declaration of his venerable neighbor and friend, in a strain of goodnatured banter, which is said to have proved fatal to the objects of the meeting.

Mr. Tilden's father sent some account of this bout of his son with the senatorial Goliath to Silas Wright, Mr. Talmadge's colleague in the Senate, from whom he received the following reply:

SILAS WRIGHT TO ELAM TILDEN.

" WASHINGTON, 26 Dec., 1838. "MY DEAR SIR:

"Your most acceptable letter of the 19th inst. came to me night before last, and was read with great pleasure. You have my thanks for your interesting history of the meeting, and your son deserves and will receive the hearty thanks of all the true Democrats and lovers of their country for his fearless honesty in rebuking a traitor in the midst of his assembled friends, and of those whom it was his design to mislead and deceive. I am not sure that we shall not be driven to this ccurse of addressing the people face to face to counteract the frauds and falsehoods of the swarms of agents which the money of our opponents sends forth

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as lying spirits throughout our State. I am fully satisfied, were our people prepared for such a course, that discussions by our honest and capable men, face to face with these profligate emissaries and traitors from our ranks, would do more than anything else to rebut their falsehoods and restore the public mind to a knowledge of the truth.

"Your suggestion as to some propositions to be made to our Legislature the more effectually to punish frauds, bribery, and perjury at the polls, is a wise and proper one. The President made the same suggestion to me at our first interview after I reached here. I have communicated with some of our friends at Albany upon the subject, and I think the matter will be cared for.

" Whether the President will feel at liberty to advise in relation to the suggestion you make in regard to the election of a Senator, I do not know. I had some conversation with our friends in the Senate upon that subject, as I passed through Albany on my way here, and they were then active in considering that important subject in all its bearings. After what passed between me and them there, I have considered it most wise and proper for me, in the situation I hold, to leave the whole matter in their hands.

"I can tell you, for the information of your friend, that there has been no provision made by Congress for indemnifying our citizens for losses sustained by spoliations upon our commerce by the French prior to the year 1800, and I do not myself believe any such provision will be made. A bill has been before Congress almost every year since I have been a member, to make some provision for these persons, and it has passed the Senate once, and I think twice, but has never yet passed the House. In the present state of the treasury, I do not think it could pass either branch, as the least sum proposed to be appropriated for it is five millions of dollars; and in case the claim is ever admitted, I am one of those who believe that twenty-five millions will not satisfy it. It is but fair, however, that I should inform you that upon the most fair and full investigation I can give the subject, — and I have spent much time upon it, — I entertain the opinion that the claim is not well founded as against our government. ** In great haste, I am, truly yours,

* SILAS WRIGHT, JR.” "

On the 4th of August Tilden wrote his father:

"I have seen Mr. Butlera moment. He tells me that they are going to assign us subjects to write upon as commencement exercises at the beginning of the next term, to be read to the bar and the public generally, after the college fashion. His lectures (which linger a week behind the time) are just closing, and a concluding address will be delivered on Tuesday evening. On some accounts he almost tempts me to stay at least till Monday night. I make it a condition with him that he give me a subject which shall require no reference to a library – least of all a legal one. The sort he proposed to send me, he said, was a general legal, or rather politico-legal, one. Mrs. B. is very reluctant to have me leave till Monday night, and the inclination urges; probably I shall not. If you read my date, you will see the reason of my haste.”

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Tilden wrote no commencement exercise. It was not his wont to write or speak without some pretty definite purpose to be accomplished by it. And it would be very difficult for those who knew him well to imagine him sitting down to write, or standing up to read, a paper merely to show to what extent he had profited by his opportunities as a student.

On the 7th of February, 1839, Tilden writes to his father:

"I have partly written a letter on the Shaker business, but have not been able to complete it. I now regret that you had not been able to oppose your influence to the passage of the bill in Albany. I have no doubt that you could have defeated it. The other day I was in at the 'Evening Post’ office, talking with Bryant about various matters, among them the Shaker bill. I spoke of it — only a word

as an abominable violation of principle, and handed him the pamphlet without requesting him to take any notice of

*Hon. B. F. Butler, who, since his retirement from Mr. Van Buren's cabinet, had come to reside and prosecute his profession of barrister in the city of New York. He was also one of the lecturers in the University Law School.

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