Page images
PDF
EPUB

The

owy romance, no morbid sentimentalism about him. occasional splendor of his illustration proved him, to be sure, possessed of an imagination grand and lofty but exquisitely sensible of the beautiful and the soft, but it was the ally, not the principal; and an ally upon which his sovereign reason, abounding in its own resources, leaned but little and drew but seldom. His fancy drew her inspiration from the natural fountain around and within him. It was not even tinged with the sickly light of modern fiction. His whole mind was eminently healthy. His was the seriousness of determination unmixed with gloom or melancholy. The purity of his language, which was remarkable for its beauty as well as its precision, declared a mind imbued with elegant letters, but there was an antique severity in his taste, a marble firmness as well as smoothness in his style, which spoke of the hardihood and muscle of the Grecian masters, those first teachers and eternal fountains of poetry and eloquence. But neither Mr. Menefee's conversation nor his attainments, nor his talents, eminent as they all were, surprised me so much as the matured and almost rigid tone of his character, the iron control which he exercised over himself, the cool, practical and experienced views which he took of the world, and the elevation, consistency and steadiness of his purposes. These were the qualities which made his talents useful; these were the qualities which, young as he was, gave him such absolute hold and command of the public confidence; these were the qualities which adapted him to the genius and bound him to the hearts of his countrymen, without which he might have been brilliant, but never could have been great.

He had early ranged himself with that great party in politics, whose protracted and arduous struggles have at last found their consummation and whose principles have been ratified by the judgment of the nation in the election of General Harrison to the presidency. He belonged to that class of minds, who, in every country and under every form of government, are found the unflinching advocates of rational and regulated liberty, a liberty founded in principles fixed and eternal, and which is only safe under the shield and cover of a law, changeless and inviolable by the government, equally supreme and binding upon the rulers and upon the people. The imperial

maxim, "Voluntas principis habet vigorem legis," he rejected utterly. He loathed despotism in all its forms, and wherever lodged, whether in the hands of one, the many, or the few. Born in a monarchy, he would have died as Hampden died, in the assertion of legal limitation upon the prerogative. Born in a republic, he clung to the constitutional restrictions upon the rapacious passions of faction. He regarded the courtier cringing at the footstool of a throne, and a demagogue lauding the absolute power of a mob, as equally the foes of freedom and the just object of patriot execration. He understood the term "people" as comprehending every interest and every individual, and looked upon that system alone as free, which protected each against the arbitrary power, even of the whole. He regarded government as something framed for the defense of the weak against the strong, of the few against the many, and considered human rights as only safe, where fixed laws, and not the fluctuating caprices of men and parties, were supreme. Strength and numbers are absolute in a state of savage nature; they need no laws nor magistracy for their support. The rights of the weak and the few can only be secured by the incorporation of the eternal principle of liberty and justice in a constitution impassable to power and immutable by party. The splendid popularity of a favorite chief blinded not his reason, the roar of triumphant faction deafened not his conscience, the proscribing genius of a power which punished with inexorable severity, or rewarded with unbounded profusion, appalled not his moral courage, nor shook for one moment his native integrity. Young, poor, talented and aspiring, still he followed where his principles led him, and battled long on the side of a feeble and almost overwhelmed minority of his countrymen. To the cause which he espoused, through all its fortunes, he adhered with unbroken faith and consistency, and lived just long enough to witness its final and complete success.

*

*

*

*

*

*

The same destiny (for it seemed no less) attended him in Congress, which had marked his entrance upon state legislation. There were no gradations in his congressional history. He comprehended at once, as if by instinct, the new scene in which he was called to act; and no sooner did he appear, than he was recognized as a statesman and a leader. The intrepid

boldness of his character, and the precocious strength of his genius, seemed to have smitten all parties with astonishment. Some of the leading men of the political party to which he was opposed, pronounced him the most extraordinary man of his age, who had till then, appeared in Congress. He encountered hostility in his upward flight, (when did soaring genius fail to do it?) and meaner birds would have barred him from his pathway to the skies. With crimsoned beak and bloody talons, he rent his way through the carrion crew, and moved majestically up to bathe his plumage in the sun. Never did a career more dazzlingly splendid open upon the eye of young ambition than burst upon Mr. Menefee. The presses teemed with his praise, the whole country was full of his name; yet did he wear his honors with the ease of a familiar dress. He trod the new and dizzy path with a steady eye, and that same veteran step which was so eminently his characteristic. Around his path there seemed to have been thrown none of those delusions which haunt the steps of youth and inexperience. All was stern reality and truth. He maintained his character undimmed, and his position unshaken, till the end of his term, and then this wonderful man imposed upon himself his spirit and his ambition, that iron control of which I have spoken, and voluntarily retired from a theater the most elevated and commanding, upon which genius and ambition like his could engage in a gigantic strife for undying honor.

At twenty-nine years of age, Mr. Menefee felt himself upon a summit to which the dreams of youth and hope could scarce have aspired. He alone seemed neither astonished nor confounded by the height to which he had arisen. In 1837, an obscure young lawyer, scarce beyond the precincts of his native highland district; in 1839, he stood forth on the world's greatest theater in acknowledged greatness, the predictions of his first tutor realized, the prayer of his childhood granted. He stood on that eminence so long and so gloriously occupied by the man whose name he once bore and whose fame had been the pillar of fire by which he guided his footsteps through the long, dark, perilous and unfriended night of his boyhood; and he stood there at an age which threw even that example into the shade. The draught which he drank, so far from intoxicating his understanding, served only to refresh and invigorate

his spirit for the work set before him. He surveyed calmly, from the height on which he stood, the prospect stretched beneath him, he quaffed the full beams of the sun of glory which glowed above him, then turning to the gentle flower at his side, which he had vowed to shelter and defend, to her who had loved and trusted him in obscurity and penury, before the world, now ready to do him homage, had learned his transcendent talents and inestimable worth, and folding her, all bright and blushing in the light of her husband's glory, to his bosom, he descended without a sigh to vindicate her confidence and toil for her support.

ESTIMATE OF HENRY CLAY

From The Louisville Journal, November 27, 1851.

I HAVE studied his life, his speeches, his actions, his character; I have heard him at the bar and in the Senate; I have seen him in his contests with other men, when all the stormy passions of his tempestuous soul were lashed by disappointment and opposition to the foaming rage of the ocean, when all the winds are unchained, and sweep in full carcer over the free and bounding bosom of the deep. He owes less of his greatness to education or to art than any man living. He owes less of his commanding influence to other men than any great leader I have ever known, or of whom I have ever read. He consults nobody, he leans upon nobody, he fears nobody; he wears nature's patent of nobility forever upon his brow; he stalks. among men with an unanswerable and never doubtin air of command; his sweeping and imperial pride, his indomitable will, his unquailing courage, challenge from all submission or combat. With him there can be no neutrality. Death, tribute, or the Koran, is his motto. Great in speech, great in action, his greatness is all his own. He is independent alike of history or the schools; he knows little of either and despises both. His ambition, his spirit, and his eloquence are all great, natural, and entirely his own. If he is like any body, he does not know it. He has never studied models, and if he had, his pride would have rescued him from the fault of imitation. He stands among men in towering and barbaric grandeur; in all

of the hardihood and rudeness of perfect originality; independent of the polish and beyond the reach of art. His vast outline, and grand, but wild and undefined, proportions, liken him to a huge mass of granite, torn, in some convulsion of nature, from a mountain's side, which any effort of the chisel would only disfigure, and which no instrument in the sculptor's studio could grasp or comprehend.

OPPOSITION TO THE KNOW-NOTHING

ORGANIZATION

Extract from a Speech delivered at Versailles, Kentucky, June 25, 1855.

THE power claimed by the British parliament to tax the colonies was as every one knows, the question which brought on the War of the Revolution. The grounds upon which the colonies denied the power was, that they were not represented in that parliament. They asserted the principle retrospectively, and contended that the colonies had always been independent of the British legislature, and such was the historical fact. In its grand extension, it embraces and distinctly recognizes the eternal truth, the basis of all liberty, that no legislation can justly bind, unless the subject of it consent to the law by himself or his representative. The principle is cardinal and is absolutely inseparable from the American idea of civil liberty. Tear it away, and the idea and the fact-the principle and the liberty are gone.

From a profound policy, then, as well as an enlarged benevolence, (things which the truly wise have ever held to be identical,) they thought it safer, as well as more humane, to impart to the stranger all the blessings of freedom which they themselves enjoyed. An alien by birth, they determined to make him a citizen by adoption, and to bind him to the country of his choice by the strong cords of gratitude and affection, as well as interest. They did not think it either wise or safe to have a large number of foreigners always foreigners, in the bosom of a republic, always in full view of the most perfect civil liberty, yet deprived of its enjoyment; for liberty is an enjoyment as well as a right. To them it would be no republic. Excluded from office and from honor, with no voice in

« PreviousContinue »