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[Illustration: Henry Watterson (About 1908)]

"Marse Henry"

An Autobiography


Henry Watterson

Volume I



A mound of earth a little higher graded:
Perhaps upon a stone a chiselled name:
A dab of printer's ink soon blurred and faded -
And then oblivion - that - that is fame!



Chapter the First

I Am Born and Begin to Take Notice - John Quincy Adams and Andrew
Jackson - James K. Polk and Franklin Pierce - Jack Dade and "Beau
Hickman" - Old Times in Washington

Chapter the Second

Slavery the Trouble-Maker - Break-Up of the Whig Party and Rise of the
Republican - The Key - Sickle's Tragedy - Brooks and Sumner - Life at
Washington in the Fifties

Chapter the Third

The Inauguration of Lincoln - I Quit Washington and Return to
Tennessee - A Run-a-bout with Forest - Through the Federal Lines and a
Dangerous Adventure - Good Luck at Memphis

Chapter the Fourth

I Go to London - Am Introduced to a Notable Set - Huxley, Spencer, Mill
and Tyndall - Artemus Ward Comes to Town - The Savage Club

Chapter the Fifth

Mark Twain - The Original of Colonel Mulberry Sellers - The "Earl of
Durham" - Some Noctes Ambrosianæ - A Joke on Murat Halstead

Chapter the Sixth

Houston and Wigfall of Texas - Stephen A. Douglas - The Twaddle about
Puritans and Cavaliers - Andrew Johnson and John C. Breckenridge

Chapter the Seventh

An Old Newspaper Rookery - Reactionary Sectionalism in Cincinnati and
Louisville - _The Courier-Journal_

Chapter the Eighth

Feminism and Woman Suffrage - The Adventures in Politics and Society - A
Real Heroine

Chapter the Ninth

Dr. Norvin Green - Joseph Pulitzer - Chester A. Arthur - General
Grant - The Case of Fitz-John Porter

Chapter the Tenth

Of Liars and Lying - Woman Suffrage and Feminism - The Professional
Female - Parties, Politics, and Politicians in America

Chapter the Eleventh

Andrew Johnson - The Liberal Convention in 1872 - Carl Schurz - The
"Quadrilateral" - Sam Bowles, Horace White and Murat Halstead - A
Queer Composite of Incongruities

Chapter the Twelfth

The Ideal in Public Life - Politicians, Statesmen and Philosophers -
The Disputed Presidency in 1876 - The Persona and Character of Mr.
Tilden - His Election and Exclusion by a Partisan Tribunal


Henry Watterson (About 1908)

Henry Clay - Painted at Ashland by Dodge for The Hon. Andrew Ewing of
Tennessee-The Original Hangs in Mr. Watterson's Library at "Mansfield"

W. P. Hardee, Lieutenant General C.S.A.

John Bell of Tennessee - In 1860 Presidential Candidate "Union Party" - "Bell
and Everett" Ticket

Artemus Ward

General Leonidas Polk - Lieutenant General C.S.A. Killed in Georgia, June
14, 1864 - P. E. Bishop of Louisiana

Mr. Watterson's Editorial Staff in 1868 When the Three Daily Newspapers
of Louisville Were United into the _Courier-Journal_. Mr. George D.
Prentice and Mr. Watterson Are in the Center

Abraham Lincoln in 1861. From a Photograph by M. B. Brady

Mrs. Lincoln in 1861


Chapter the First

I Am Born and Begin to Take Notice - John Quincy Adams and Andrew
Jackson - James K. Polk and Franklin Pierce - Jack Dade and "Beau
Hickman" - Old Times in Washington


I am asked to jot down a few autobiographic odds and ends from such data of
record and memory as I may retain. I have been something of a student of
life; an observer of men and women and affairs; an appraiser of their
character, their conduct, and, on occasion, of their motives. Thus, a kind
of instinct, which bred a tendency and grew to a habit, has led me into
many and diverse companies, the lowest not always the meanest.

Circumstance has rather favored than hindered this bent. I was born in a
party camp and grew to manhood on a political battlefield. I have lived
through stirring times and in the thick of events. In a vein colloquial and
reminiscential, not ambitious, let me recall some impressions which these
have left upon the mind of one who long ago reached and turned the corner
of the Scriptural limitation; who, approaching fourscore, does not yet feel
painfully the frost of age beneath the ravage of time's defacing waves.
Assuredly they have not obliterated his sense either of vision or vista.
Mindful of the adjuration of Burns,

Keep something to yourself,
Ye scarcely tell to ony,

I shall yet hold little in reserve, having no state secrets or mysteries of
the soul to reveal.

It is not my purpose to be or to seem oracular. I shall not write after the
manner of Rousseau, whose Confessions had been better honored in the breach
than the observance, and in any event whose sincerity will bear question;
nor have I tales to tell after the manner of Paul Barras, whose Memoirs
have earned him an immortality of infamy. Neither shall I emulate the
grandiose volubility and self-complacent posing of Metternich and
Talleyrand, whose pretentious volumes rest for the most part unopened upon
dusty shelves. I aspire to none of the honors of the historian. It shall be
my aim as far as may be to avoid the garrulity of the raconteur and to
restrain the exaggerations of the ego. But neither fear of the charge of
self-exploitation nor the specter of a modesty oft too obtrusive to be
real shall deter me from a proper freedom of narration, where, though in
the main but a humble chronicler, I must needs appear upon the scene and
speak of myself; for I at least have not always been a dummy and have
sometimes in a way helped to make history.

In my early life - as it were, my salad days - I aspired to becoming what
old Simon Cameron called "one of those damned literary fellows" and Thomas
Carlyle less profanely described as "a leeterary celeebrity." But some
malign fate always sat upon my ambitions in this regard. It was easy to
become The National Gambler in Nast's cartoons, and yet easier The National
Drunkard through the medium of the everlasting mint-julep joke; but the
phantom of the laurel crown would never linger upon my fair young brow.

Though I wrote verses for the early issues of Harper's Weekly - happily no
one can now prove them on me, for even at that jejune period I had the
prudence to use an anonym - the Harpers, luckily for me, declined to publish
a volume of my poems. I went to London, carrying with me "the great
American novel." It was actually accepted by my ever too partial friend,
Alexander Macmillan. But, rest his dear old soul, he died and his
successors refused to see the transcendent merit of that performance, a
view which my own maturing sense of belles-lettres values subsequently came
to verify.

When George Harvey arrived at the front I "'ad 'opes." But, Lord, that
cast-iron man had never any bookish bowels of compassion - or political
either for the matter of that! - so that finally I gave up fiction and
resigned myself to the humble category of the crushed tragi-comedians of
literature, who inevitably drift into journalism.

Thus my destiny has been casual. A great man of letters quite thwarted, I
became a newspaper reporter - a voluminous space writer for the press - now
and again an editor and managing editor - until, when I was nearly thirty
years of age, I hit the Kentucky trail and set up for a journalist. I did
this, however, with a big "J," nursing for a while some faint ambitions
of statesmanship - even office - but in the end discarding everything that
might obstruct my entire freedom, for I came into the world an insurgent,
or, as I have sometimes described myself in the Kentucky vernacular, "a
free nigger and not a slave nigger."


Though born in a party camp and grown to manhood on a political battlefield
my earlier years were most seriously influenced by the religious spirit
of the times. We passed to and fro between Washington and the two family
homesteads in Tennessee, which had cradled respectively my father and
mother, Beech Grove in Bedford County, and Spring Hill in Maury County.
Both my grandfathers were devout churchmen of the Presbyterian faith. My
Grandfather Black, indeed, was the son of a Presbyterian clergyman, who
lived, preached and died in Madison County, Kentucky. He was descended, I
am assured, in a straight line from that David Black, of Edinburgh, who, as
Burkle tells us, having declared in a sermon that Elizabeth of England
was a harlot, and her cousin, Mary Queen of Scots, little better, went to
prison for it - all honor to his memory.

My Grandfather Watterson was a man of mark in his day. He was decidedly a
constructive - the projector and in part the builder of an important railway
line - an early friend and comrade of General Jackson, who was all too
busy to take office, and, indeed, who throughout his life disdained the
ephemeral honors of public life. The Wattersons had migrated directly from
Virginia to Tennessee.

The two families were prosperous, even wealthy for those days, and my
father had entered public life with plenty of money, and General Jackson
for his sponsor. It was not, however, his ambitions or his career that
interested me - that is, not until I was well into my teens - but the camp
meetings and the revivalist preachers delivering the Word of God with more
or less of ignorant yet often of very eloquent and convincing fervor.

The wave of the great Awakening of 1800 had not yet subsided. Bascom was
still alive. I have heard him preach. The people were filled with
thoughts of heaven and hell, of the immortality of the soul and the life
everlasting, of the Redeemer and the Cross of Calvary. The camp ground
witnessed an annual muster of the adjacent countryside. The revival was
a religious hysteria lasting ten days or two weeks. The sermons were
appeals to the emotions. The songs were the outpourings of the soul in
ecstacy. There was no fanaticism of the death-dealing, proscriptive sort;
nor any conscious cant; simplicity, childlike belief in future rewards and
punishments, the orthodox Gospel the universal rule. There was a good deal
of doughty controversy between the churches, as between the parties; but
love of the Union and the Lord was the bedrock of every confession.

Inevitably an impressionable and imaginative mind opening to such sights
and sounds as it emerged from infancy must have been deeply affected. Until
I was twelve years old the enchantment of religion had complete possession
of my understanding. With the loudest, I could sing all the hymns. Being
early taught in music I began to transpose them into many sorts of rhythmic
movement for the edification of my companions. Their words, aimed directly
at the heart, sank, never to be forgotten, into my memory. To this day I
can repeat the most of them - though not without a break of voice - while too
much dwelling upon them would stir me to a pitch of feeling which a life of
activity in very different walks and ways and a certain self-control I have
been always able to command would scarcely suffice to restrain.

The truth is that I retain the spiritual essentials I learned then and
there. I never had the young man's period of disbelief. There has never
been a time when if the Angel of Death had appeared upon the scene - no
matter how festal - I would not have knelt with adoration and welcome; never
a time on the battlefield or at sea when if the elements had opened to
swallow me I would not have gone down shouting!

Sectarianism in time yielded to universalism. Theology came to seem to my
mind more and more a weapon in the hands of Satan to embroil and divide the
churches. I found in the Sermon on the Mount leading enough for my ethical
guidance, in the life and death of the Man of Galilee inspiration enough to
fulfill my heart's desire; and though I have read a great deal of modern
inquiry - from Renan and Huxley through Newman and Döllinger, embracing
debates before, during and after the English upheaval of the late fifties
and the Ecumenical Council of 1870, including the various raids upon the
Westminster Confession, especially the revision of the Bible, down to
writers like Frederic Harrison and Doctor Campbell - I have found nothing
to shake my childlike faith in the simple rescript of Christ and Him


From their admission into the Union, the States of Kentucky and
Tennessee have held a relation to the politics of the country somewhat
disproportioned to their population and wealth. As between the two parties
from the Jacksonian era to the War of Sections, each was closely and hotly
contested. If not the birthplace of what was called "stump oratory," in
them that picturesque form of party warfare flourished most and lasted
longest. The "barbecue" was at once a rustic feast and a forum of political
debate. Especially notable was the presidential campaign of 1840, the year
of my birth, "Tippecanoe and Tyler," for the Whig slogan - "Old Hickory" and
"the battle of New Orleans," the Democratic rallying cry - Jackson and Clay,
the adored party chieftains.

I grew up in the one State, and have passed the rest of my life in the
other, cherishing for both a deep affection, and, maybe, over-estimating
their hold upon the public interest. Excepting General Jackson, who was
a fighter and not a talker, their public men, with Henry Clay and Felix
Grundy in the lead, were "stump orators." He who could not relate and
impersonate an anecdote to illustrate and clinch his argument, nor "make
the welkin ring" with the clarion tones of his voice, was politically good
for nothing. James K. Polk and James C. Jones led the van of stump orators
in Tennessee, Ben Hardin, John J. Crittenden and John C. Breckenridge
in Kentucky. Tradition still has stories to tell of their exploits and
prowess, their wit and eloquence, even their commonplace sayings and
doings. They were marked men who never failed to captivate their audiences.
The system of stump oratory had many advantages as a public force and was
both edifying and educational. There were a few conspicuous writers for
the press, such as Ritchie, Greeley and Prentice. But the day of personal
journalism and newspaper influence came later.

I was born at Washington - February 16, 1840 - "a bad year for Democrats,"
as my father used to say, adding: "I am afraid the boy will grow up to be a

In those primitive days there were only Whigs and Democrats. Men took their
politics, as their liquor, "straight"; and this father of mine was an
undoubting Democrat of the schools of Jefferson and Jackson. He had
succeeded James K. Polk in Congress when the future President was elected
governor of Tennessee; though when nominated he was little beyond the age
required to qualify as a member of the House.

To the end of his long life he appeared to me the embodiment of wisdom,
integrity and courage. And so he was - a man of tremendous force of
character, yet of surpassing sweetness of disposition; singularly
disdainful of office, and indeed of preferment of every sort; a profuse
maker and a prodigal spender of money; who, his needs and recognition
assured, cared nothing at all for what he regarded as the costly glories
of the little great men who rattled round in places often much too big for

Immediately succeeding Mr. Polk, and such a youth in appearance, he
attracted instant attention. His father, my grandfather, allowed him a
larger income than was good for him - seeing that the per diem then paid
Congressmen was altogether insufficient - and during the earlier days of his
sojourn in the national capital he cut a wide swath; his principal yokemate
in the pleasures and dissipations of those times being Franklin Pierce, at
first a representative and then a senator from New Hampshire. Fortunately
for both of them, they were whisked out of Washington by their families in
1843; my father into the diplomatic service and Mr. Pierce to the seclusion
of his New England home. They kept in close touch, however, the one with
the other, and ten years later, in 1853, were back again upon the scene
of their rather conspicuous frivolity, Pierce as President of the United
States, my father, who had preceded him a year or two, as editor of the
Washington Union, the organ of the Administration.

When I was a boy the national capital was still rife with stories of their
escapades. One that I recall had it that on a certain occasion returning
from an excursion late at night my father missed his footing and fell into
the canal that then divided the city, and that Pierce, after many fruitless
efforts, unable to assist him to dry land, exclaimed, "Well, Harvey, I
can't get you out, but I'll get in with you," suiting the action to the
word. And there they were found and rescued by a party of passers, very
well pleased with themselves.

My father's absence in South America extended over two years. My mother's
health, maybe her aversion to a long overseas journey, kept her at home,
and very soon he tired of life abroad without her and came back. A
committee of citizens went on a steamer down the river to meet him, the
wife and child along, of course, and the story was told that, seated on
the paternal knee curiously observant of every detail, the brat suddenly
exclaimed, "Ah ha, pa! Now you've got on your store clothes. But when ma
gets you up at Beech Grove you'll have to lay off your broadcloth and put
on your jeans, like I do."

Being an only child and often an invalid, I was a pet in the family and
many tales were told of my infantile precocity. On one occasion I had a
fight with a little colored boy of my own age and I need not say got the
worst of it. My grandfather, who came up betimes and separated us, said,
"he has blackened your eye and he shall black your boots," thereafter
making me a deed to the lad. We grew up together in the greatest amity
and in due time I gave him his freedom, and again to drop into the
vernacular - "that was the only nigger I ever owned." I should add that in
the "War of Sections" he fell in battle bravely fighting for the freedom of
his race.

It is truth to say that I cannot recall the time when I was not
passionately opposed to slavery, a crank on the subject of personal
liberty, if I am a crank about anything.


In those days a less attractive place than the city of Washington could
hardly be imagined. It was scattered over an ill-paved and half-filled
oblong extending east and west from the Capitol to the White House, and
north and south from the line of the Maryland hills to the Potomac River.
One does not wonder that the early Britishers, led by Tom Moore, made game
of it, for it was both unpromising and unsightly.

Private carriages were not numerous. Hackney coaches had to be especially
ordered. The only public conveyance was a rickety old omnibus which, making
hourly trips, plied its lazy journey between the Navy Yard and Georgetown.
There was a livery stable - Kimball's - having "stalls," as the sleeping
apartments above came to be called, thus literally serving man and
beast. These stalls often lodged very distinguished people. Kimball, the
proprietor, a New Hampshire Democrat of imposing appearance, was one of the
last Washingtonians to wear knee breeches and a ruffled shirt. He was a
great admirer of my father and his place was a resort of my childhood.

One day in the early April of 1852 I was humped in a chair upon one side
of the open entrance reading a book - Mr. Kimball seated on the other side
reading a newspaper - when there came down the street a tall, greasy-looking
person, who as he approached said: "Kimball, I have another letter here
from Frank."

"Well, what does Frank say?"

Then the letter was produced, read and discussed.

It was all about the coming National Democratic Convention and its
prospective nominee for President of the United States, "Frank" seeming to
be a principal. To me it sounded very queer. But I took it all in, and as
soon as I reached home I put it up to my father:

"How comes it," I asked, "that a big old loafer gets a letter from a
candidate for President and talks it over with the keeper of a livery
stable? What have such people to do with such things?"

My father said: "My son, Mr. Kimball is an estimable man. He has been
an important and popular Democrat in New Hampshire. He is not without
influence here. The Frank they talked about is Gen. Franklin Pierce, of New
Hampshire, an old friend and neighbor of Mr. Kimball. General Pierce served
in Congress with me and some of us are thinking that we may nominate him
for President. The 'big old loafer,' as you call him, was Mr. John C.
Rives, a most distinguished and influential Democrat indeed."

Three months later, when the event came to pass, I could tell all about
Gen. Franklin Pierce. His nomination was no surprise to me, though to the
country at large it was almost a shock. He had been nowhere seriously

In illustration of this a funny incident recurs to me. At Nashville the
night of the nomination a party of Whigs and Democrats had gathered in
front of the principal hotel waiting for the arrival of the news, among
the rest Sam Bugg and Chunky Towles, two local gamblers, both undoubting
Democrats. At length Chunky Towles, worn out, went off to bed. The result
was finally flashed over the wires. The crowd was nonplused. "Who the hell
is Franklin Pierce?" passed from lip to lip.

Sam Bugg knew his political catechism well. He proceeded at length to tell
all about Franklin Pierce, ending with the opinion that he was the man
wanted and would be elected hands down, and he had a thousand dollars to
bet on it.

Then he slipped away to tell his pal.

"Wake up, Chunky," he cried. "We got a candidate - Gen. Franklin Pierce, of
New Hampshire."

"Who the - - "

"Chunky," says Sam. "I am ashamed of your ignorance. Gen. Franklin Pierce
is the son of Gen. Benjamin Pierce, of Revolutionary fame. He has served
in both houses of Congress. He declined a seat in Polk's Cabinet. He won
distinction in the Mexican War. He is the very candidate we've been after."

"In that case," says Chunky, "I'll get up." When he reappeared Petway, the
Whig leader of the gathering, who had been deriding the convention, the
candidate and all things else Democratic, exclaimed:

"Here comes Chunky Towles. He's a good Democrat; and I'll bet ten to one he
never heard of Franklin Pierce in his life before."

Chunky Towles was one of the handsomest men of his time. His strong suit
was his unruffled composure and cool self-control. "Mr. Petway," says
he, "you would lose your money, and I won't take advantage of any man's
ignorance. Besides, I never gamble on a certainty. Gen. Franklin Pierce,
sir, is a son of Gen. Benjamin Pierce of Revolutionary memory. He served in
both houses of Congress, sir - refused a seat in Polk's Cabinet, sir - won
distinction in the Mexican War, sir. He has been from the first my choice,
and I've money to bet on his election."

Franklin Pierce had an only son, named Benny, after his grandfather, the
Revolutionary hero. He was of my own age. I was planning the good time we
were going to have in the White House when tidings came that he had been
killed in a railway accident. It was a grievous blow, from which the
stricken mother never recovered. One of the most vivid memories and
altogether the saddest episode of my childhood is that a few weeks later I
was carried up to the Executive Mansion, which, all formality and marble,
seemed cold enough for a mausoleum, where a lady in black took me in her
arms and convulsively held me there, weeping as if her heart would break.


Sometimes a fancy, rather vague, comes to me of seeing the soldiers go
off to the Mexican War and of making flags striped with pokeberry
juice - somehow the name of the fruit was mingled with that of the
President - though a visit quite a year before to The Hermitage, which
adjoined the farm of an uncle, to see General Jackson is still uneffaced.

I remember it vividly. The old hero dandled me in his arms, saying "So this
is Harvey's boy," I looking the while in vain for the "hickory," of which I
had heard so much.

On the personal side history owes General Jackson reparation. His
personality needs indeed complete reconstruction in the popular mind, which
misconceives him a rough frontiersman having few or none of the social
graces. In point of fact he came into the world a gentleman, a leader, a

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Online LibraryHenry WattersonMarse Henry (Volume 1) An Autobiography → online text (page 1 of 14)