Page images





Concerning the Inauguration of the 50th President of the United States, and the Public Affairs of the 21st Century.

[blocks in formation]

The end of my last letter found us in the middle of an analysis of Congress, in which we were considering the members as subjects of Natural History, and specimens of the genus homo. This is a stand-point from which they are not often examined or noticed by publicists. To us women-kind, it is perhaps the best point of view. For I believe all admit that the worth and dignity of one sex can only be fully estimated by the other. I will therefore, if you permit me, continue the analysis a little farther. Having characterized the first class, the debaters, as men of dominant personal influence, familiar with the rules of business, who eschew long speeches and are contented to stand as exemplars and patrons rather than expounders of important measures: I proceed to consider the second class, the workers. These men occupy in the National Assembly, the place which in the older communities of Europe was filled by the gentry; the burgesses; the people of good, an order which among us is usually denominated


the middle class. This order wherever it exists-and it is a necessary component of all healthful organizations-exercises a constant and powerful influence upon all its correlatives: acting silently in ordinary affairs, it becomes visible only where its effect is required to be supreme.

"Nec Deus intersit, nisi dignus vindice nodus."

Like the atmosphere of our planet, pressing us always with a weight, at once constant, and considerable but unfelt; ministering to our most essential wants and comforts, yet whose full power is only unfolded when it winds itself in the whirlwind or careers in the storm. When the mutterings of this agent are heard either among a people or their representatives, there is no need for the rulers to ask if it be thunder.

In our Congress it is this class who assimilate and digest the immense mass of information which comes before the Legislature, and direct and apply it to the control or improvement of the different administrative bureaus. Their first influence is felt in the Committees, but in all public discussions, either in the chambers or in the country, it is from their reports, and investigations alone that certain and practicable information can be obtained. Whenever to a high capacity for analysis and investigation, these members add personal influence

and a talent for speaking, they become masters of the chamber in which they move: and if they be not tempted to speak too often, and thus lose themselves among the mere formalists and debaters, they soon come to have dominant authority in all public matters. When public opinion divides upon great questions of policy, as to revenue, commerce, currency or internal improvement, such men fall naturally into the place of leaders, and possess from their previous culture and exercise, the magisterium of knowing and feeling their subject; a quality in which the mere debaters-the fuglemen in all ordinary discussions-are very apt to be deficient. A representative of this character sometimes in a single session reaches a position from which his course to the highest honour lies full before him, and there have been several instances where a transition from the lower house to the Presidency has been effected with out passing through the Senate. The workers too have always given the most signal examples of true eloquence. I told you in a former letter that this power is no longer of any use among men; that it has the same function in the Senate as in the play-house; is an excitement and a pleasure merely. Yet it is a healthful exercise, even if it change no vote, to hear now and then a gifted speaker, standing above the low atmosphere of personal politics, with which all ordinary legislation is more or less beclouded, and presenting from this elevation true and comprehensive representations of great national interests, accompanied by earnest appeals to natural and patriotic feelings in their support. These speeches, unfrequent though they be, not only purify the atmosphere, but they refresh and strengthen the language itself. In an age of such rapid progress as that in which we live, there is a strong tendency to technicality of expression, almost amounting to slang; and this peculiarity is no where more visible than in the Senate. There are a set of speakers who cannot call things by their right

names; or, who would make all nouns proper. With them a thing cannot be begun, it must be initiated or inaugurated; or finished, it must be a finality. Lands cannot be given to a road or a college, they must be donated. A house cannot be fired, it must be ignited; nor burned, it must be conflagrated. A man cannot differ in opinion, he must take issue-nor hear an opinion, he must entertain it. A rich grandfather is an antecedent; and a poor cousin a consanguinity. A quit-claim is a muniment of title. A community of interest is a solidarity; and recently for the good old Saxon word, heavy, which sounds as if it had some weight in it-there has been so constant a substitution of the Roman adjective grave, that even State papers and judicial opinions are so full of grave questions, grave reasons and grave considerations, as to gravel an ordinary person's judgment, or put him in mind of the homelier word of the same orthography, signifying that final tenement which we must all occupy. Words are chosen

without even Costard's reason in the play.* "Pray you, sir, how much carnation-ribbon may a man buy for a remuneration." Among such wordiness it is comfortable to hear true men put language to its right use, avoiding slang and cant, and thus giving to their sentiments at the same time plainness and dignity. Such honesty is always appre ciated. So when a working member, the the other day, designated a certain tricksy politician, who has for a goodly number of years sustained himself before the public, by aid of very middling talents coupled with an entire lack of principle, as a clever man, the hit was at once felt and palpable. The adjective is, you know, of equivocal and uncertain derivation, but here it did wonders.

The character and office of those whom I have designated as voters, has also in it something peculiar, and comprehends more than their simple answer in divisions of the house. The voters are always men of ripe age and experience; usually

"Love's Labor Lost."

men of fortune and influence, and intimately acquainted with the interests and feelings of the districts which they represent. It is a part-and no small part either-of the duties of a member of Congress to be the agent and lawyer of his constituents of all classes at the seat of government, and proper attention in this respect is a very valid recommendation. This class of members usually come from the oldest and most populous districts, where family influence has had time to operate and give value to names merely. They are also sometimes from the large cities, in which case they may be either chosen from the magnates, or as more frequently happens, be new men, successful merchants, manufacturers or bankers. In the House of Representatives the voters, including those who make one or two set speeches in a Session, constitute about three fifths of the chamber, the remainder being composed in about equal parts of working men and debaters. In the Senate the division is more unequal and less susceptible of analysis. In both chambers, however, the leading members, those destined to be rulers of the people, come from the middle and rural districts, where the original man is produced in greater strength and perfection, nurtured among purer and holier associations, and sheltered from the vices and dissipations of crowded cities, until he have acquired the ability to contend with and overcome them. In this way the older States come often to have the weakest representatives.

This reminds me of an enquiry in one of your former letters. Why the admission of the new State of Oonalashka was a matter of so much importance, and why the Senators from the new States are generally, if not always, rather above than under the ordinary standard of ability. The latter case, as you say, is not universal, but frequent, for reasons which I will tell you, as I have heard them myself. The admission of a new State has, at all stages of the government, been a matter of much importance, not only because it adds immediately to the patronage of the general government,

but brings at once two new members to the most permanent branch of the Legislature. When this body is nearly equally divided on some cardinal point of policy, and becomes recusant or refractory, it weakens, agitates and makes uncertain the whole action of an administration. In such emergency, adding two or three new States to the Union, is as efficient a corrective as the creation of a batch of new peers in the British house of Lordsan expedient I believe first resorted to, by that most profligate of ministers, Sir Robert Walpole-only in our case the thing cannot be done as readily, but requires forethought and management as well as co-operation.

You know that in the creation of the new States, there has always been an inchoate government or prefecture as a territory. And in the earlier days of the Republic, this preliminary territorial government had always a duration of several years. The hordes of supernumerary population from the old world had not yet been stirred up into those strong currents which were at a later period projected upon the shores of this continent, the territories were therefore populated slowly and continued for a long time in a state of tutelage. They were governed by the laws of the United States, having a governor and judges appointed by the President; a territorial Legislature and a delegate to Congress, chosen by themselves, who was the curator of their interests at the seat of government, having a seat but no vote in the House of Representatives. In this state they continued, becoming gradually more familiar with the customary forms of representative government, until a certain prescribed amount of population had been reached, when, on their appli cation, a law was passed by Congress, called technically an enabling act, by which they were authorized in their primary assemblies to form a State Constitution under which, if consonant with the constitutions of the other States, or in other words, republican and representative in its character, and when the proceedings had been properly authenticated by Congress, they were admitted into the

confederacy as a free and independent State.

For the first thirty or forty years this process went on orderly and quietly, but after the bounds of the country had been enlarged by purchase and conquest; when sectional differences and interests began to make their appearance; and, worst of all, when the question of slavery arose, the North arraying and banding itself against the South, in reference to this domestic institution as it was calledthe process of giving birth to a new State intended by the founders of the government, to be an easy, natural and ordinary proceeding, became a most difficult and dangerous species of parturition, threatening death and dismemberment to the body politic. From the time of the purchase of Louisiana in 1804, this germ of discord became gradually apparent, and when Florida had been added to our domain, the line of party on this subject had become definite and distinct. The question originally had been a fair one, existing between two rival interests; between planter and manufacturer-between land-owner and ship-owner; between cotton and cloth; tobacco and pipe; between producer and consumer.

As such it was an important, and certainly a proper subject for legislation, and did not connect itself with the peculiarities or domestic institutions of either of the contesting parties. The North had as little concern with the swart labourers in the cotton fields of the Carolinas as the South had with the pale faces who minister at the spindles and looms of Manchester and Lowell-unless indeed, they meant (a thing by the way, not altogether unlikely to happen in the end) to substitute steam and iron men, for that peculiar form of humanity which has hitherto been found the only one fitted for agricultural labour in the torrid zone. But as the contest, originally one of interest, waxed warm, bye-words and party cries became necessary-these were chosen, as they always will be, from the most offensive and opposite peculiarities, and hence arose the approbrious epithets of slavery and antislavery-tin-pedlar and negro driver

Yankee and Southerner until the halls of the Capitol were filled with slang and personality, and the controversy itself changed its character, and instead of being one of interest and policy, became one of habits and morals—a sort of controversy always rancorous, illiberal and bitter. Even when the slave question was at its height, all reflecting per. sons saw that it was accident or pretence merely. At the very time when the pulpits of the North were thundering their most terrible anathemas against the slave power as it was called, the United States Marshal found it difficult to prevent slave-ships from being fitted out in the port of New York; and the South, while vindicating their domestic institution as of divine permission, if not appointment, were well aware that it was leaving a remnant of free black population among them which, for some considerable period at least, must be a burden and a plague. Nor was the pretended character of this slave agitation apparent only on this continent. At this time also, when British philanthropists were crying out loudest; when English squires refused West India sugar for their punch, and English ladies rejected it for their tea; when the combined fleets of France and England were cruizing on the coast of Africa, to prevent the slave-ships from plying their traffic, British merchant vessels were importing coolies by thousands into the West Indies-a species of merchandize more detestable and inhuman than that for whose suppression their government had been so long and so absolutely pledged.

When it became evident that the interests of the two sections were to be thus complicated with a question of morals, an attempt was made to settle the difficulty by an amicable agreement, in which it was provided that hereafter, no slave State should be admitted north of the parallel of 36° 40′ of north latitude or the southern boundary of Missouri, while in all territory south of that parallel, slavery was permitted as before. This compact was sanctioned by a law of Congress in 1820,-the act itself containing the gross anomaly of creating a

slave State north of the boundary, by which slavery was hereafter to be limited. This law, known in those times as the Missouri Compromise, was evidently an agreement merely, not recognized or supported by any constitutional provision, and binding only in honour upon the contracting parties. It had the unhappy effect of recognizing and making palpable a geographical division, and marshalling upon it the two great conflicting interests and prejudices against each other. The only object thought of in 1820 seems to have been to divide the public domain equally between the two parties, and let them demonstrate which was the strongest. From this time forth you may conceive that the admission of a new State would become a matter of the very highest importance.

The annexation of Texas in 1845, and the extension of the Republic by conquest and purchase in the three succeeding years, unsettled the basis of the compact of 1820, and produced an increased agitation on the subject of slavery, which the politicians of the day attempted to quiet and educate by another agreement made in 1850. This latter arrangement had but little effect upon the existing disturbance which, as I said before, had been merged in a question of morals. The pulpit and the press had both used it as a proper subject for irritation. In this state of affairs, to-wit: in 1854, a law was passed creating two new territories, Kansas and Nebraska, both of which, by the agreement of 1820 were to be free States, and good faith would seem to have made it obligatory on both parties to admit them as such. Unfortunately at this conjuncture there were interests of another character mingling in the general commotion, and a proviso was added to the law creating the two new territories, advancing the principle that every State had absolute sovereignty over its own domestic institutions, and therefore that the two new territories after they had attained the requisite amount of population, might be admitted as free or slave States at their own election. The rhodomontades written and uttered about this time concerning sover

[blocks in formation]

will continue at least for a period to be curiosities in the way of political literature as voluminous as they are worthless. The effect of this piece of diplomacy (and it was well foreseen at the time) was to convert Kansas-the most southern of the two territories, into a battle-field for the two great parties to fight out their quarrel. Associations were formed immediately after the passage of the law in the North Eastern States to force population from that section into the new territory, while parties of the opposite or southern interest were forced in through the adjoining slave States of Missouri. The consequence was fire raising, murder, fighting on a small scale,-stuffed ballot-boxes and forged lists of the polls, and as near an approach to insurrection and civil war as can ever be made among an intelligent people who have no actual cause of quarrel.

[blocks in formation]

During all this turmoil, the men who were candidates to represent the new State in Congress, were leaders in the preliminary contests, heading mobs, burning houses, breaking types (the new order of iconoclasts) uttering manifestoes and bearing throughout the country soubriquets signifying insurrection and rebellion. This history, which has carried me further than I intended, will serve for answer to your query, why Senators from the new States are in general under favourable circumstances, rather above than under the ordinary standard of ability. They are, almost in every instance, men educated in older communities, who have followed the high tides of emigration, and thus been borne upward to places of trust and eminence without having passed through the lower and intermediate grades of office. They have therefore more freshness, force and

« PreviousContinue »