Robert M. (Robert Milligan) McLane.

Reminiscences, 1827-1897 online

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1827 - 1897


Privately Printed




1827 -1889

I VISITED my father in Washington during
the winter of 1827-28, when the final
coalition was effected between the original
friends of General Jackson who had sup-
ported him for the Presidency in 1824, ^^^
the friends of Mr. Crawford, who was the
Caucus nominee of the Democratic Party in
that year. My father, who was a Senator
from Delaware, was living on Seventh-street,
at a well-known Congressional Mess, the
members of which were among the most
influential friends of Mr. Crawford. I re-
member Messrs. Van Buren and Cambreling
of New York, Mr. Forsyth of Georgia,
Colonel Drayton of South Carolina, and

Mr. Archer of Virginia. I remember, in the
same intimate association at this time Messrs.
MacDuffie, Hayne, and Hamilton of South
Carolina, Cuthbert of Georgia, Stevenson
and Rives of Virginia, Buchanan of Penn-
sylvania, White and Eaton of Tennessee,
King of Alabama, and Livingston of

Among the friends of Mr. Crawford, none
exerted greater influence or commanded more
respect than my father and Mr. Van Buren.
They had been his special friends during the
Monroe Administration and pending the Pre-
sidential Election of 1824. Mr. Crawford's
health had removed him from the political
arena, and his friends were divided between
Mr. Adams and General Jackson. Messrs.
Van Buren, Forsyth, and my father, being
recognised leaders of the friends of Mr. Craw-
ford who rallied to the support of General
Jackson in 1828, all three of them, with
Livingston of Louisiana, occupied the chief
places in his administration during his eight
years in the following order: — ist, Mr. Van
Buren ; 2nd, Mr. Livingston ; 3rd, Mr. M'' -
Lane ; 4th, Mr. Forsyth. These four with
the Vice-President, Mr. Calhoun, and those


already named, may be considered the leaders
of the coalition of the Jackson and Crawford
parties in 1828, in opposition to the partisans
of Mr. Adams and Mr. Clay. Each of these
four had contested for the Presidency in
1824 and had been supporters of the Demo-
cratic Party under Jefferson, Madison, and
Monroe. The Federal Party may be said to
have entirely disappeared as a National Party
before the close of Mr. Monroe's Admini-

Our political history, however, furnishes no
parallel to the partisan violence of the Presi-
dential canvass of 1828, when the candidates
were of the same political party. Newspapers
in the cities of New York and Philadelphia
took the lead in the most atrocious and vulgar
abuse of General Jackson, embracing in their
vituperation his most private and domestic
relations ; their example was not without
influence upon the press elsewhere, as well as
upon individuals. The two honourable
gentlemen who were candidates for the
Presidency (Mr. Adams and General Jackson)
were represented to be infamous and dis-
honourable — the one a defaulter and a political
turncoat — the other an adulterer and a mur-


derer. The truth was that they were both
cultivated and gracious gentlemen; the former
a scholar and a man of extraordinary ex-
perience ; the latter a distinguished soldier
and a thorough patriot. I will not revive the
history of that day by stigmatizing, as they
deserve, those who thus abused the liberty of
the Press and the freedom of discussion,
though I rejoice to note the fact that even in
their own day, amid all the partisan passion
of the hour, they were estimated at their
real value, and rarely succeeded in asso-
ciating themselves with the leading men of
the contending parties. The canvass con-
tinued throughout the entire summer of 1828,
the friends of General Jackson claiming for
him the merit of being an original Jeffer-
sonian Republican, while his tolerant and
generous treatment of the Federalists during
the administration of Mr. Monroe was pre-
sented as an inducement to secure their
support against Mr. Adams who had aban-
doned them at an early day to take service
with Mr. Jefferson. These appeals were quite
successful, and the Federalists of the Middle
States rallied to his standard. I attended
one great mass meeting of the citizens of


Maryland and Delaware, which was addressed
by my father, General Samuel Smith, and
George Read, a grandson of one of the
signers of the Declaration of Independence.
Other mass meetings were held throughout
the country ; in New England, Isaac Hill
and Levi Woodbury, both of New Hampshire,
conducted the Jackson canvass ; in New York
Van Buren was the master spirit of the
campaign ; in Pennsylvania, Ingham and
Buchanan were the chiefs of the original
Jackson forces, and General Cass and Colonel
Benton in the West. In the South West,
Kentucky, under Colonel Richard M. Johnson,
F. P. Blair, and Amos Kendal, led the
assault upon Mr. Clay who represented the
Administration of Mr. Adams. In Tennessee,
(Jackson's home), Mississippi, and Louisiana,
the enthusiasm of the people was roused to
the highest pitch, commencing with a won-
derful display on the 8th of January 1828 —
the anniversary of the battle of New Orleans
— and it never abated until the triumphant
election of General Jackson gave the people
a legitimate satisfaction. In Alabama, Colonel
King, afterwards Vice-President, led the
canvass. In Georgia, Forsyth and Barrien


united the Jackson and Crawford forces.
MacDuffie, Hayne, Hamilton and Drayton
did the same in South Carolina. Rives and
Stevenson led in Virginia, with Branch and
Saunders in North Carolina, completing the
circuit of victorious States. In 1828 there
were 261 electoral votes ; General Jackson
received 178, which was a majority, and
Mr. Adams received 83.

In a few weeks after the result of the
Presidential Election was known at the
Hermitage, the name by which General
Jackson afterwards came to be generally
known, and in the midst of the rejoicing
of his near-by friends and neighbours, the
great grief of his life fell upon him, in the
death of his wife, who had for years been
in delicate health. The day of her death —
December 22nd, 1828 — was one of sorrow
and mourning to the people, and to General
Jackson one of supreme grief which he bore
with him to his grave. Six years later, when
I called upon him in Washington to thank
him for my appointment as a cadet at West
Point, having been invited to breakfast with
him I walked from the room in which the
sessions of the Cabinet were usually held,


into the adjoining one, which was his bed-
room. When I perceived the General on his
knees I turned promptly to retire, but roused
by my step he rose from his kneehng posture
and called me by name most affectionately,
and taking the miniature of his deceased wife
from the table told me she was ever present
with him in spirit, and that he always prayed
to be united to her in heaven. Perhaps her
death was the one event more than any other
that ever occurred to tame his fiery nature.
Those who knew him intimately all testified
to its wonderful effect upon him. I shall
never forget myself the touching and noble
sorrow with which he referred to her
virtuous life and trustful death, and the
manly dignity with which he accepted my
interruption of his devotions.

I visited my father again in Washington
in 1829 ^^ witness the inauguration ot
General Jackson, accompanied by my grand-
father Colonel Allen M'^ Lane, a revolu-
tionary soldier who had served under the
immediate orders of General Lafayette at the
Battle of Brandywine in 1777 as the Com-
mander of a troop of horse, and who was
subsequently attached to Lee's Legion and


served to the end of the war, where he
found himself once more under the immed-
iate orders of General Lafayette at the
Battle of Yorktown in 1781. He had been
appointed by General Washington U. S. ^
Marshal for the District of Delaware, and
subsequently Collector of the Port of that
district, to which office he had been re-
appointed by each successive President from
Washington to Adams. He now visited
Washington to congratulate General Jackson
upon his election, and to receive from him
another appointment, which he lived to enjoy
only a few months when he died in his 82nd

The scene of rejoicing at this inauguration
was unexampled in the political history of
our country, and the accounts of it from
every shade of opinion are most striking.
Mr. Webster, in letters to his brother and
other friends in New England, represents it
as a wonderful demonstration of popular
feeling. Unhappily the domestic incidents
and personal abuse that characterized the
canvass had for its immediate effect the
suspension of all courteous intercourse
between the incoming and outgoing Executives.


President Adams retired from the White
House without receiving the visit of President
Jackson, and the latter proceeded to the
Capitol on the 4th March without any
official attendance, and there took the Oath of
Office on the Eastern Portico as administered
by the Chief Justice of the United States
in the presence of thousands of his delighted
and enthusiastic countrymen.

The Cabinet with which he surrounded
himself in the Administration of the
Government had for its chief Mr. Van
Buren of New York, but the Secretaries
of the Treasury and Navy, and the Attorney
General (Messrs Ingham, Branch, and
Barrien) were the devoted friends of the
Vice President Mr. Calhoun. The Secretary
of War, Mr. Eaton, was the devoted
friend of the President himself, and so
was the Postmaster-General, Mr. Berry. My
father was nominated Minister to England,
and in company with Mr. Rives of Virginia,
who was nominated Minister to France,
left in the United States Frigate " Constel-
lation" early in the same year for their
respective posts. Both of them were included
in the original cast of the Cabinet, the


one as Secretary of the Treasury and the
other as Secretary of the Navy, but the
influence of the Vice-President and the
original friends of General Jackson prevailed
in substituting for them respectively Ingham
of Pennsylvania and Branch of North
Carolina. The influence of the Vice-
President who was the recognized Chief
of the original friends of General Jackson
had prevailed in the organization of the
Cabinet, but this success involved intrinsic
difficulties and disagreements which resulted
in an early estrangement between him and
the President. Mr. Forsyth was much more
influential in Georgia than Mr. Barrien
where Mr. Crawford's friends had complete
control of the Democratic Party, and
Mr. Buchanan was superior in talent and
political consideration to Mr. Ingham in
Pennsylvania. In North Carolina, General
Saunders was far more in sympathy with
the masses of the party than Mr. Branch.
These old Crawford men rallied to assert
their ascendency, which they did with effect,
Mr. Forsyth being soon accepted as a
leader in the Senate, and Messrs. Buchanan
and Saunders being at no distant day in


the front rank of the active partisans of the
Administration, while the Vice-President
himself with his immediate friends were
driven into opposition, and finally into a
desperate political antagonism, not only
against the President, but against the laws
he was sworn to administer. This catastrophe
did not occur however, until the Cabinet
itself was disorganized and scattered, and
a new combination formed to sustain the
policy of the Administration and secure
the re-election of President Jackson. The
summer of 1829 did not pass before the
friends who accompanied the President from
the West, notably among them W. B. Lewis
of Tennessee and Amos Kendal of Kentucky,
commenced the canvass which finally separated
the President from Mr. Calhoun, and
obliged all in and out of the Cabinet to
rally to one or other of the political
Chieftains. Duff Green, the Editor of the
official press of the Administration, was a
devoted friend of Mr. Calhoun, and as
every member of the Cabinet was obliged to
disavow any Presidential aspirations, so this
editor was obliged to disavow any intention
or wish to present the Vice-President as a


a rival to the hero who was now the
idol of his party and the country. F. P. Blair
of Kentucky soon joined his friend
Mr. Kendal, and these two experienced
and zealous partisans became the master
spirits of the Party press throughout the
country, and eventually the master spirits
of the Administration.

Meanwhile my father and Mr. Rives
took passage for Europe on the U. S. Ship
of War Constellation; my father to enter upon
his duties as United States Minister in Lon-
don, and Mr. Rives to the same post in Paris.
On board the Constellation — besides my father
and Mr. Rives — was Commander Biddle,
on his way to command the Mediterranean
Fleet. Mr. Rives was accompanied by his
wife and children and private secretary,
Robert Gilmor. My father had no one with
him but Robert Walsh, his private secretary,
and myself. Commander Biddle had his
private secretary, John Chapman of Phila-
delphia. This party composed the cabin mess
and, under the presiding hospitality of
Captain Wadsworth, we had a delightful
voyage of thirty days from New York to
Cowes. In looking back to this gay and


agreeable experience I recall with great
pleasure the accomplished gentlemen who
constituted the staff of the ship's company,
one of them much distinguised throughout
his whole professionnal life was an intimate
friend of my father — the late Admiral
Franklin Buchanan — and another who was
my own companion and schoolfellow,
midshipman Decatur, nephew of the great
naval hero of that name. Buchanan took
special care of my father who was a poor
sailor, sea-sick throughout the voyage, and
grieved greatly in the absence of my mother
and his large family who followed him
to Europe two months later — the birth of
her ninth child, my brother Charles,
having rendered necessary this separation.
My grandfather's death, early in the same
year, contributed to the sadness with
which he entered upon his new duties.
A few days on the Isle of Wight re-
freshed us all, especially my father and
Mrs. Rives, who had been ill for thirty days
at sea. The latter crossed over to France
and we posted to London, where we took
up our headquarters at " Thomas' Hotel,"
Berkeley Square, a most aristocratic Inn


from which the '' vulgar public " was strictly
excluded. The weather was intensely and
unusually hot, the whole month of August
1829 being in England a tropical summer.
The beautiful London parks, however, were
fresh and green, and the nights were com-
paratively cool. Mr. Washington Irving had
arrived from Spain — having left behind him
a scorching heat, he found London delight-
ful. Under his auspices it was charming.
He was then at the height of his
literary fame, and every one that knew him
loved him. He had been many years in
Europe, most of the time in England, and
accepted the office of Secretary of Legation
as a means of returning to his American
citizenship ; he was proud of his country
and proud of his Minister. My father was
called on by the chief literary and social
magnates of London, and invitations to
town and country poured upon him and
his secretary. The Duke of Devonshire sent
for them to Chatsworth, the most sumptuous
and magnificent home in England, and the
poets Moore and Rogers, who were intimate
friends of Irving, formed there an associa-
tion with the American Legation which soon


ripened into great intimacy. Throughout
our residence there Moore's voice and touch
at the piano, singing his own songs, con-
stituted one of the greatest attractions at
the Legation Receptions. The poet Camp-
bell, the American artists Leslie and Newton
were soon added to this charming and
charmed circle. Newton fell in love with a
sweet American girl, and so did Moore ;
though the latter was already billetted with
as much as he could carry in domestic life.
Leslie was married and had a lovely family,
and Rogers was loved by every man and
woman who knew him. It is impossible to
express how much prestige this literary
circle, of which Mr. Irving was the centre,
gave to the American Legation in Society ;
American beauty was then, as now, very
conspicuous. Lady Wellesley was perhaps
the most distinguished of this circle, she
was living with her sister. Miss Gaton, in
a Regent's Park Villa, and there was a close
intimacy between that family and the Lega-
tion during our stay in London. The Duke
of Wellington was very fond of his sister-
in-law, and the gossip of that day was that
she was Marchioness of Wellesley because


there was already a Duchess of Wellington.
The single sister, Miss Betsy Caton, had
been a close friend of my mother from
girlhood ; this intercourse constituted a
charming incident in our life in London.
My mother came out from America in
October 1829, and by her presence and tact
she rendered the house in Chandos Street,
where my father had established the Lega-
tion, one of the most agreeable in London.
She had been my father's constant com-
panion for more than twenty years in
political life in Washington, and as she was
his principal and only support in domestic
life and happiness so was she his best sup-
port in political life, and notably during the
two periods when he was U.S. Minister to
London. In 1829, under General Jackson,
and again in 1845 under Mr. Polk : at both
of these periods the same public men were
in power in England, to wit : — Wellington,
Aberdeen, and Peel ; and with them at each
of these periods he was successful in con-
summating the object of his mission to the
satisfaction of his Government and country-

The immediate object of his mission in

1829 was to obtain from Great Britain the
privilege for American vessels to enter and
trade at their Colonial ports. This pri-
vilege we had never fully possessed since
our colonial days, and sundry retaliatory
statutes had been enacted by the United
States. The object of the mission was fully
and satisfactorily accomplished by an
agreement in the nature of a treaty, though
not technically such. This agreement was
that Congress should empower the President
whenever he should be satisfied that
England would open to us her Colonial
ports, to proclaim our own ports open to
British vessels with the repeal of the laws
of 181 8, 1820, and 1828. Congress authorized
the President in i83o to issue such a
proclamation, and in October i83o he did
so issue it, thus restoring to American
vessels the privilege of trading in all the
British Colonial ports.

Prior to my mother's arrival I was rather
a boss in the household of Chandos Street,
the Legation alone on the first floor being
independent of my authority. Mr. Irving
thought it dreadful to see a youth just rid
of his round-about taking charge of an Eng-


lish butler and ordering dinner. My father
however was no housekeeper, and as he and
I constituted the family, he was delighted
to leave me entire liberty. We breakfasted
early — lunched at 12, and dined at 8 p.m.
Irving, who lived near by, generally came
into dinner, and neither he nor Mr. Walsh
ever complained of the "good cheer" we
furnished them. We had friends almost every
day, but once a week a dinner. Mr. Irving's
circle of literary men always furnished a fair
proportion of guests, and though he hated
boys as much as he loved girls, we managed
to keep the peace and be good friends.
Nevertheless it nearly set him wild that my
father allowed me to ride a pony daily to
Brompton, where I went every morning to
school. I returned in the early afternoon,
and always galloped through Hyde Park at
the height of fashion's hour.

I saw a great deal of the Bates family (the
American branch of the house of Baring), the
son was just my age, and the daughter a
year younger, was beautiful. Naturally it
was easy to fall in love with her, and when
I did this Mr. Irving set it down as another
boyish outrage. He was an old bachelor


about whom several romantic love stories
were told, but no one ever knew his sweet
heart. This young lady in due time escaped
from my boyish passion, and married Mr.
Van der Meyer, the Belgian Minister, and
was in due time the intimate friend of Queen
Victoria ; the relations between the English
and Belgian Courts being very intimate.
King Leopold was in fact the Mentor of the
Queen. Mr. Bates was a very close friend
of my father, and remarkably well informed
upon all questions, and of the more domestic
features of English social life.

At this period English Social Life was
not very nice — the King (George IV.) was
an old rake and roue whose manhood was
pretty well exhausted. Whether at St. James'
in London, or at Windsor, was all the same
— no one but the Duke of Wellington was
able to impress him with any respect for his
Official State and his Public Duties. His
Royal brothers held high places in the State
and lived scandalous and worthless lives,
entirely inconsistent with their rank and

Princess Victoria lived with her mother at
Kensington Palace, and was a girl of an


attractive disposition, but rarely ever seen in
public, and the Duchess had no intercourse
with her uncles or with general society, so
that whatever demoralisation society at large
experienced from the low life of the Royal
Dukes, the domestic circle of the future
Queen was protected. The Duke of Clarence,
who was an Admiral in the Navy and was
to succeed George IV. as King, had a family
of bastards who were living pensioned upon
the State and Society. The Duke of Cum-
berland was a dissolute and dangerous
character whose presence was not permitted
in any well ordered family in England. The
Dukes of Gloucester and Sussex were weak,
almost insignificant in personal consideration,
though not so dissolute as the others : on
the whole however, the Royal Family was
very low, and when they were not bad they
were crazy ! The public press and caricature
shops of London did not spare them, but
lampooned them without measure, and it
seemed impossible at times to administer
decently the Government with such an
Executive ; for the King being subject to
fits ot passion and caprice reasonable inter-
course with him was impossible. All this


of course had great influence upon Society,
and tended greatly to discredit aristocratic
institutions and families. The spirit of re-
form extended itself in every direction, and
in a very few years not only was the suf-
frage greatly extended, but the Government
of England was largely transferred to those
who had sprung from the middle classes,
and though the form of Government was
not changed the popular element was greatly

During this reign and the following oi
William IV. the Duke of Wellington was
a sort of guardian angel for the Monarchy ;
he, and he alone, could preserve decent in-
tercourse with the King. After the death
of George IV. Lord Grey and the party of
reform found it well nigh impossible to
perform their Constitutional duties with the
Sovereign. But whether in or out of office
the presence and influence of the Duke —
sometimes called " King Arthur " — was
always at hand to preserve peace and order.
In the midst of this interesting period, after
Christmas 1829, I left London and passed
the year i83o in Paris; a period not less


uninteresting on the continent, socially and
politically, than it was in London.

I left London the day after Christmas
with Mr. Jonathan Amory of Boston ; we
posted to Dover, and crossing the Channel
to Calais, we posted thence to Paris, where
we took lodgings at Meurice's Hotel, Rue
de Rivoli, the 29th December 1829. We
left the political world in England much
disturbed — the King and Court constantly
in conflict with parliamentary government.
The death of Canning left the Tories with-
out a leader of intellectual force, and but
for the prestige of the Duke of Wellington
the reform element would have taken pos-
session of the Government, and the wildest
spirit of democracy would have prevailed :
as it was the Tories held possession of the
Government until the death of the King,
and for a little while under his successor.
In France the struggle that Charles X. had
maintained for five years against the popular
will and the legal operation of constitutional
government was tottering to its fall, and
from January i83o to the three glorious
days of July the triumph of liberal principles

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Online LibraryRobert M. (Robert Milligan) McLaneReminiscences, 1827-1897 → online text (page 1 of 8)