Chauncey M. (Chauncey Mitchell) Depew.

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Legislature of the State of New York



MARCH 28, 1883.

UNI. ^






Hon. Chauncey M. Depew,


Memorial Services


Legislature of the State of New York,



Assembly Chamber, at Albany,

Tuesday Evening, March 2Sth, 1893.

Senators and Members of Assembly :

In the fall of 1852, I stood upon the campus at
Yale College, a country lad, who had just entered
the freshman class. I had neither a friend nor an
acquaintance in New Haven, and was utterly lone-
some and homesick. A handsome young man, with
brilliant eyes, a mass of wavy auburn hair, flowing

down to his shoulders, and a gay, debonair way,
stepped briskly up to me, and with a cordial grasp,
as if we had been life-long friends, said, "my name
is Husted, I am a Junior, and we are both from
Westchester County." This was the beginning of
our attachment, which remained unbroken amid all
the wonderful changes and vicissitudes of the
future, and ripened and deepened with time, until
our relations were ended by the death of General
Husted, forty years afterwards. The undergraduate
was then developing the qualities which were the
elements of his success. He was not a close student,
but very active in the work of the literary societies.
He was not a factor of importance in the compe-
tition for scholastic honors, but he was a potential
force in college politics. He cared little who was
to be the valedictorian, but was uncommonly
anxious to be the leader of his class. He was an
excellent classical scholar, and always kept up his
easy familiarity with Latin and Greek, but believed
with Pope, that

" The proper study of mankind is man."

Like all the men who have risen to distinction
in our country, he was compelled to work from the
start, and without other assistance, than his own
industry and ability, make his own career. His
remarkable power of lucid explanation made him
an admirable teacher. The Academy which he
taught after leaving college, to secure the means


for prosecuting his law studies, never had a better
principal, and he continued to teach until his ad-
mission to the Bar. He leaped into the political
arena as soon as he received his diploma, and had
won the respect and recognition of the county
leaders before he began practising his profession.
He was faithful to the trusts which he assumed
either as teacher or lawyer, or business man, but
his models were the statesmen of the country, and
his ambitions and aspirations were for public life.
It was thirty-eight years from his graduation until
his death, and as School Commissioner, Deputy
Superintendent of the Insurance Department, Har-
bor Master, Deputy Captain of the Port, Emigra-
tion Commissioner, and Member of the Legislature,
he was for thirty-five years in responsible positions
in our State Government. But he was also, during
this active and busy period, Judge Advocate of
the Seventh Brigade, Major General of the Fifth
Division of the National Guard, and Grand Master
of the Masonic Fraternity of the State of New York.
He served twenty-two terms in the House of As-
sembly, and was six times its Speaker, a record un-
equalled, either in length of service, or in the num-
ber of elections as Presiding Officer of the popular
branch of the Legislature, in the history of the
State. He grasped intuitively the conditions in his
district, and possessed endless fertility of resource
and audacity for attack. In the quickness of his
movements and combinations he resembled General

Sheridan, and the suddeness and brilliancy of his
assault was like a cavalry charge of Murat' s. While
still a law student, he upset tlie calculations and
defeated the plans of the veteran party managers,
and by a creation and coalition as original as it
was bold, carried the Third District of Westchester
and elected himself School Commissioner. Rock-
land County had always been a Democratic strong-
hold. It was in the same Senatorial and Congress-
ional District as Westchester, and General Husted
had frequently canvassed it and was thoroughly
familiar with its people. After he had served nine
terms in the Assembly from Westchester County,
the Republicans of Rockland invited him to come
over and lead the forlorn hope. His quick eye
detected a division in the apparently solid ranks of
the enemy. He accepted the nomination in Rock-
land for Member of Assembly, and to the surprise
of the State and the country, carried the county
twice. He thus accomplished a doubly difficult
task, first in overcoming a majority which had
always been overwhelmingly against his party, and
secondly in succeeding against the strong local pre-
judices which always exist in our constituencies
against a candidate who is not a resident of the

It would greatly strengthen and improve our pub-
lic life if this custom was more elastic. No matter
how able or useful a representative may be, no mat-
ter how valuable to good government, or to the posi-

tion and poAver of his party, his political career is
dependent upon the accidents in the district where
he may happen to reside. If constituencies could
and would choose from candidates without regard
to residence, men like Mr. Blaine or Mr. Thurman
would always be in their proper places, leading their
respective parties, and giving their genius for affairs
and ripe experience to the service of their country.
The statesman who had been beaten by a nobody
upon some local issue could find a constituency
devoted to national questions which, would gladly
return him, and have pride in the fame of their

General Husted entered the field of State politics
at a time when an old dynasty was crumbling to
pieces. New York has been singular in the domina-
tion of her great parties by individuals or cliques.
They have alw r ays been arbitrary and autocratic, and
often tyrannical. It is said of a Parliamentary dis-
trict in London, which will always give a larger ma-
jority for a titled candidate than for a commoner,
that Marylebone dearly loves a lord. So our State
for more than half a century has shown a decided
preference for what partisans call a leader, and the
public a boss. Power is exercised, either in the rec-
ognition and promotion of ability, or in a merciless
crusade against talent and ambition, and the ruth-
less slaughter of independent thought or action.
In the one case the party grows in strength and op-
portunity, and in the other it falls finally into the


hands of a diminishing number until the hardships
of defeat have restored its vitality and vigor. Edwin
Crosswell and the Albany Argus had ruled the
Democratic Party for a long time, and Thurlow
Weed had controlled the Whig, and afterwards the
Republican Party, for more than thirty years.
There was little opportunity for young men in either
organization, and revolts against the leaders were be-
coming more frequent and formidable. The alliance
between Seward, Weed and Greeley, which had ex-
ercised such a powerful and historical influence upon
the affairs of both the state and nation, had been
dissolved by the retirement of the junior member.
Roscoe Conkling and Reuben E. Fen ton were fight-
ing the machine and denouncing machine rule and
machine methods with a force and eloquence which
have never been equalled. The subsequent position
of both these exceedingly able and successful men
on this question, is a remarkable illustration of the
irony of political evolution.

Young men usually find that where the party is
cliqued, the only way to secure favors or recognition
is by making the leaders fear them. But in as-
sociations formed by such considerations there is
neither faith nor fidelity. Thurlow Weed main-
tained his supremacy for a generation because of
the wisdom and liberality of his methods. The rule
usually is to repel assistance, especially from strong
men, because of jealousy, and also on the principle,
that the more numerous the victors the more minute

is the division of the spoils. Mr. Weed, for the
greater part of his long reign, was constantly re-
cruiting his forces. When a young man displayed
conspicuous ability, either in the Legislature, or
State Convention, or upon the platform, his ac-
quaintance was sought and his friendship gained,
This constant replacement of losses, and strength-
ening of his organization with fresh and vigorous
members, made him invincible for a generation.
Horace Greeley was unequalled as a partisan editor,
but he could not contest the leadership with Thur-
low Weed. He was a great thinker and writer, but
the weakest, and most uncertain of political cap-
tains. He was so vacillating in his movements, and
so credulous in his judgment of men, that his selec-
tion of lieutenants was often unfortunate, and some-
times whimsical. In the last years of Mr. Weed's
active control of the party, he changed his policy.
The able men who had acted with, and under him
so long, fearing the vigorous youth, who were forg-
ing to the front, aroused his distrust of these push-
ing ambitions. The result was first revolt, 'and then
revolution within the party, and next its defeat in
the State.

Independence of thought and action have unre-
strained opportunity when a party is in the
minority. Rewards and punishments are no
longer factors in caucusses or conventions, and
influence is proportioned to merit. It was some
years after the fall of Thurlow Weed, before the


party found a new leader. During this period, a
number of young men, of brilliant ability and
great promise, came prominently before the public.
Many of them disappeared afterwards, either los-
ing their constituencies, or being crushed out by
some one of the subsequent machines. General
Husted was one of the few, out of the many pro-
ducts of the period of party liberty, who survived
all the accidents of warring and changing factions.
He was more frequently in opposition to, than in
accord with, the machine. As one was broken and
another constructed, he would still find himself
antagonized by it. He had views and would ex-
press them, and he wanted reasons before he would
obey orders. These qualities made him objection-
able to the leaders as they severally came into
power. They repeatedly thwarted his ambitions
for State office, and for Federal appointments, but
were able only once to dislodge him in his district.
They tried to beat him by third candidates, they
endeavored to defeat his nominations by capturing
his friends with places in the Custom House and
the Post Office, and on several occasions, prefer-
ring a Democrat to a Republican they could not
absolutely control, they furnished secret but sub-
stantial support to his opponent. But nothing
could shake his hold upon his people. They knew
him, and he knew them.

He saw the power of Thurlow Weed pass away,
he held his own during the brief sway of Horace


Greeley, he kept his position under the rule of
Reuben E. Fenton, and the mastery of Roscoe
Conkling, and notwithstanding all the kaleido-
scopic changes following the retirement of Senator
Conkling, he died as he had lived for twenty-two
years, still Member of Assembly for the Third Dis-
trict of Westchester. General Husted's tact, tal-
ents, and unselfish desire to be useful, made him
the selected Mend in the House of Assembly of
every Governor of the State, no matter what the
politics of the Executive. Hoffman, Dix, Tilden,
Robinson, Cornell, Cleveland, Hill, and Flower,
were successively the Chief Magistrates of the
Commonwealth during General Husted's service
in the Legislature, and with each of them his
relations were close and cordial. He was above
small partisanship and cheap politics. He be-
lieved the Governor of the State of New York
occupied a large place, and that the Legislature
should do all in its power to enable him to sustain
its dignity. On strictly party measures, he would
always act with his party. But a Governor can
be annoyed or assisted in numberless ways, which
affect only his personal comfort and legitimate
powers. In such cases, if the Republicans were
in the majority in the Legislature, Husted was the
Governor's most efficient friend, and if the Demo-
crats were in power, he was still the most import-
ant factor in the Capitol. Those who wanted to get
revenge because some bill had been vetoed, or an


appointment to office had not been made, and those
who thought it good politics to cramp the con-
veniences of help, or material for the Executive
Chamber, or the Executive Mansion, found in the
General an alert, able and generally successful
enemy. Governor Tilden's fame and career de-
pended upon his carrying through the Assembly,
while he was a member, his resolution for the im-
peachment of the ring judges. And yet he would
have failed, except for the assistance and consum-
mate parliamentary skill of the member from
Westchester. Mr. Tilden never forgot this service,
and tried in after years in many ways to show his
appreciation and gratitude. He thonght that
Busted, from his associations and intimacies, would
join the Greeley movement, which might peril his
political future, and at great inconvenience and
trouble, he conveyed early information to the
General of the Re|)ublican victory in North Caro-
lina, which virtually decided the contest against
the editor of the Tribune.

Our departed friend saw, as no other public man
has been permitted to observe, the triumphs and
defeats, the hopes and disappointments,the joys and
sorrows, the realities and the romance of political
careers. Every conspicuous figure in either party
during the past quarter of a century has been his
associate and his friend. I have referred to his rela-
tions with the men who received the honors, and at
times controlled the organization of the Republican


party in our state. But lie was with Tilden when
that statesmen was hovering between fame and obli-
vion, and enjoyed his familiar intimacy and confi-
dence during his gubernatorial term. As a veteran
leader in the Assembly, he witnessed the meteoric
advent of Mr. Cleveland in Albany, and divined
the power which has developed such phenomenal
strength in the state and in the country. He was
serving his fourth term in the Legislature, when a
member from Chemung, then scarcely known be-
yond the boundaries of his county, began a career
which has harvested the Lieutenant-Governorship
and Chief Magistracy of our State, and United
States Senator, and made David B. Hill a potent
force in the counsels of his party. Speakers of the
Assembly George B. Sloan and George H. Sharpe,
Titus Sheard and George Z. Erwin, Fremont Cole
and William F. Sheehan, Robert P. Bush and Will-
iam Sulzer, were not only his associates, but they
were his pupils and prize winners in parliamentary

There is no talent more common than the ability
to speak, and none more rare than the gift of speak-
ing so as to command the attention and substantial
assent of the audience. The ordinary talker in a
deliberative body kills time and murders patience,
irritates the indifferent and tires his friends. Real
debating power is a gift, as brilliant as it is useful.
It does not consist in elaborate effort, in the length
of the speech, in superiority of logic, grace of die-


tion, or rhetorical finish. Any or all of these may
prove a detriment, though, with the master, they
are tools to be used, or not, as the occasion may re-
quire. Many a massive structure, which the orator
has spent hours in erecting, has been demolished,
and has buried its author under its ruins, by the
dynamite of a ten minutes speech. Legislatures
fear bores and resent pedagogues. They love good
fighters and hard hitters. Like veteran troops, they
do not want to be instructed, but to be led. They
may sleep through a ponderous oration of Charles
Sumner, and rise with delight to greet an incisive
sarcasm of Thaddeus Stevens. There are occasions
when a labored effort is necessary to outline or de-
fend a policy, or to appeal to the party or the coun-
try. But in the exigencies of daily discussion, it
is the crisp, lucid and direct debater who carries,
or defeats measures. The skillful parliamentarian
knows instinctively the temper of the House. His
greatest triumphs are in humoring its moods. No
member was ever more complete master of this art
than General Husted. No member ever passed or
defeated so many bills. His speeches were rarely a
half an hour in length, and most of them not over
ten minutes. He captured the attention of the
Assembly with his first sentence, and had its ap-
proval before he closed. He was not speaking for
posterity, but to carry his point. The debate would
drag wearily on. The impatient House would have
listened to the dry statistician, and the dreary logi-


cian, to the spread eagle orator careering among the
constellations, colliding with the planets and strew-
ing the floor with star dust, and to the exhaustive
and exhausting essayist with whom all arguments
are alike important, and the quantity of whose mat-
ter obscures its quality. Suddenly, a ringing voice,
shouting "Mr. Speaker," would rouse everyone,
like an electric shock. The flashing eyes of the Bald
Eagle of Westchester would cast a sweeping glance
about the Chamber, and arrest universal attention.
The weak positions taken by his enemy would be
quickly turned, the reasons for his side as quickly
and succinctly stated, a burst of humor would give
the laugh of friends and enemies alike, to one ad-
versary, and a biting sarcasm to the delight of the
audience, pierce another, and the tired and impa-
tient House, hailing him as their deliverer, would
follow his lead.

He was the friend and protector of young mem-
bers. Few positions are more difficult and embar-
rassing than those of a new member, whose consti-
tuency have elected him to pass certain measures.
He is ignorant alike of the rules of the Assembly,
and of Jefferson's Manual. He soon finds himself
lost in a labyrinth from which he can neither ex-
tricate himself or his bills. He is in despair be-
tween his impotency at the Capitol, and his waning
prestige and popularity at home. His colleagues,
as a rule, are too much absorbed in their own mat-
ters to heed or care for his. The veteran member


from Westchester was ever watchful for such signs
of distress. Even while the House was smiling at
the bungling efforts of the proposer of the bill, or
derisively laughing at his mistakes, a masterhand
would take hold of the measure, and its easy and
uninterrupted movement would seem inspired by
the wand of a magician.

The hostility of his party leaders would often
consign him to minor places on the committees,
and the rear rank among his associates, and yet
before the session was half over, his unequalled
talent on the floor, and the devoted following of
new members whom he had assisted or rescued,
would put him in his proper place, and make the
leaders, temporarily at least, his suppliants. He
was so fair a political opponent, and always so ready
to cheerfully help members of the other party on
matters which were not partisan, that they were
only too glad to reciprocate when occasion offered.
This assistance was of great service to him in several
crises of his career. There were times when it
might have been good politics for the Democrats
to have joined with the organization of his own
party to crush the General out. But they never
did. When the question related solely to his per-
sonal fortunes, and his position in the House, they
did what he asked, and often followed his lead in
those sudden and audacious assaults upon his ad-
versaries which totally routed them, and scored for
him a significant individual victory.


And yet this dashing fighter, this fierce cavalier,
this most reckless and daring of combatants, was
incapable of harboring or retaining an enmity. He
never knew the feeling, which is the luxury of some
natures, of hate. If he had not been so buoyant,
supremely hopeful, aud sincere, he might justly
have been charged with regarding politics as a
game, with the gambler's admiration for the winner,
and sympathy for the loser. He was a thorough
partisan, and during all his life did yeoman's service
for his party. He could not understand why dif-
ferences of political faith, or policy, should lead to
personal enmities. The most childish, and the
most frequent exhibition of spleen among politi-
cians, is that of the man in your own, or the oppo-
sition party with whom you have a disagreement
growing out of purely political affairs, who there-
after withdraws from you the honor of his recog-
nition or acquaintance. It shows both the vulnerable
places in that statesman's armor, and an apprecia-
tion by himself of his nod, absurdly disproportionate
to its value. It is a practice, which so grows by
indulgence, that its proud possessor is sometimes
himself in doubt whether the person he meets may
not be on his list of the excommunicated, and
groping helplessly in the Cimmerian darkness which
envelops all those whose atmosphere is' not illu-
mined by his approving smile. It was never neces-
sary for General Husted to consult a memorandum
book before he spoke to a man. He cordially greeted


everybody, and that one the most warmly with
whom he had the last battle. If he was worsted,
he was the first to compliment his adversary upon
his victory, and if he was himself the victor, he
doubly disarmed his enemy by the generosity of his
treatment. He loved to gather about his hospitable
table his legislative, or party opponents, and dis-
cuss the fields they had fought, the feints, the
assaults, the retreats, the false movements, the mis-
taken manoeuvres, and recount with hilarious glee,
the unexpected stroke which had turned the flank
of the enemy, and won the day.

Those who have never been in public life, or
active in politics, know nothing of their exquisite
pleasures, and keen disappointments. It is the
compensations of a career which make life worth
the living. If it was all joy, or all sorrow, there
would be nothing in it. The politician is always
either in paradise or purgatory, and he is ever
struggling to stay in the one sphere, or to get out
of the other. The intensity and strain, the uncer-
tainties and accidents of pjolitics make possible the
warmest attachments among politicians. This is
specially true between those of opposite faith.
They fight only on broad lines, and are free from
the irritations of faction feuds. They generously
appreciate the good qualities and abilities, each of
the other, and are bound together in bonds of closest
friendship. General Husted was peculiarly feli-
citous in making, and happy in retaining these


relations. His most ardent admirers, and steadfast
friends were to be found among the leaders of the
opposition. It was the chivalrous spirit and actions
of the man which won the applause and affections
of his political foes. There were few deeper or
more sincere mourners at his funeral than those
whom he had conquered, or been defeated by, on
many a fair field, and in many a fair fight.

The legislature, and its popular Assembly, con-
centrate the attention of the people much more
than the executive or the judicial branches of free
government. The representatives are in closer re-
lations with the constituencies. It is from the lower
house, as a rule, that the highest honors are at-
tained. Five of General Husted's colleagues have
been Governors, two of them United States Sena-
tors, three Lieutenant Governors, eighteen State
officers, fourteen have been members of Congress,
twelve have been elevated to the Bench, and many
have served with distinction in important positions
under the Federal Government. There is a pecu-
liar fascination about the three chief positions in a
deliberative body. The speaker, the leader of the
House, and the leader of the opposition, are the
great men of the hour, and have rare opportunities
for permanent fame. The very few whose names
we can recall in our century of Congressional life,
who have attained distinction in any of these posi-
tions, indicate how rare is parliamentary ability of
the first order ; and the limited number who were


eminent in all three Departments, illustrate the
genius required to fill them. A successful leader
of the House may prove a poor general for the op-


Online LibraryChauncey M. (Chauncey Mitchell) DepewAddress by the Hon. Chauncey M. Depew → online text (page 1 of 2)