James Ewing Cooley.

Speech of the Hon. James E. Cooley, before the Democracy of Syracuse, in mass meeting assembled, on Tuesday evening, Nov. 1, 1853 online

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Online LibraryJames Ewing CooleySpeech of the Hon. James E. Cooley, before the Democracy of Syracuse, in mass meeting assembled, on Tuesday evening, Nov. 1, 1853 → online text (page 1 of 5)
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SPEECH of the Hon. JAMES E. 00 OLEY before the Democ-
racy of Syracuse^ in inass meeting assembled, on Tuesday
Evening, November 1, 1853.

Mr. COOLEY, being loudly called for, and warm-
ly cheered, addressed the immense assemblage as
follows :

Fellow-Citizens : — I thank you for this warm reception,
and for these flattering manifestations of your kind regard.

Since the commencement of the exciting canvass for local
officers, now going on in this State, I have not opened my
lips publicly, either in commendation of the regular demo-
cratic ticket, on which my humble name happens to appear,
nor in just condemnation of that nominated by the Barn-
burner cabal of Tammany Hall. Not that there would have
been any impropriety in mounting the stump, in imitation of
the high example, in favor of his own election, of the present
executive, Grovernor Seymour; but, however much I might
say respecting the acknowledged fitness for office, and the

high accomplishments of the distinguished democratic nom-
inees with whom I have the honor to be associated, I feel so
much reluctance in seeming even to be the advocate of any-
supposed claims of my own, that I should not now venture
to come before this large and intelligent assemblage, but that
I desire to say a few words about our internal improvements ;
and, moreover, to repel a wanton personal attack made by
the President of the United States through his recognized
organ, the Washington Union, with a view to influence and
control the local elections of this State.

I remember passing over the site of your city more than
thirty years ago. Then it was mostly an uncomely and de-
solate scene, covered with stumps and trees, with decayed
wood, and mud and malaria. Then it had an insalubrious,
ungenial aspect, and, in close proximity to it, were vast tracts
of primitive forests, stretching off majestically beyond the eye's
comprehension, and almost illimitable in extent. Then there
was little attempt at cultivation in the immediate vicinity of
Syracuse, and only a few slightly built houses and shops scatter,
ed here and there, mostly along the banks of the newly exca-
vated canal. Then there were no school-houses nor churches
in the place; and, I believe, only one small public house, and
that was situated on the north or left bank of the canal-
There were a few shops, groceries and porter-houses, and some
stables for canal horses ; but I doubt whether stages began at
that time to run through Syracuse. The roads, only endur-
able in dry weather, were impassable during the rainy season,
in late autumn and early spring. In short, Syracuse had then
but j ust emerged out of the gloomy wilderness, the silence of
which had but recently been broken, and the forest cleared
away, in constructing the canal ; which v/as then so nearly
completed along the middle and eastern sections of it, as to
admit the passage of boats down to the Hudson.

What a wonderful change has been wrought here since
my first visit to Syracuse ! How has this great, populous,
thriving town sprung up here in the " wild woods of the West,"
as this region was called less than forty years ago ! Where
the wilderness, in all its solitude, but so recently and so grand-
ly waved, and so securely sheltered the wild Indian and his

favorite game, we now witness the most animating manifesta-
tions of civilization, wealtli and refinement. A lively and
lucrative commerce crowds your streets and your extensive
warehouses, and presses tbrougli your city by way of the ca-
nals, down to the sea. Your streets are ample, well paved,
and every where compactly built up with dwellings, stores and
work-shops, proudly indicating an industrious, enterprising
and prosperous population.

Your churches seen from afar, attest your devotion to the
Great Giver of every perfect gift ; and your numerous school-
houses and institutions of learning, promise a long and vigor-
ous perpetuity to the incomparable blessings of civil and re-
ligious liberty. Scarcely has one generation passed away,
when, from a scene of desolation, wildness and seclusion, has
sprung up here in the geographical centre of the Empire State,
a great, populous city, and abounding in wealth. On every
hand the seal of prosperity is stamped upon the enterprise and
industry of an intelligent people. The surrounding forests
have long since vanished •,. and a numerous yeomanry pursue
their peaceful occupations upon the mountain sides, and upon
the fertile plains, reaping a generous return for their good
husbandry and careful management. Here, in the city and in
the surrounding country is presented on every hand, the strong-
est evidence of contentment and of a high civilization, con-
trasting so strikingly with its former aspect, that one may justly
inquire into the primary causes of this astonishing change.

Yours is an inland town, situated upon no large navigable
river, nor is it very near to any, by which the redundant
products of a densely populated district might conveniently
be conducted to market. You are 300 miles from the nearest
seaport ; naturally shut out, as it were, by a long and expen-
sive transportation, from the commerce of the world. Why
is it that you have been enabled so completely to overcome
these natural disadvantages— and that you are now nearer in
point of time, to the great commercial emporium of this con-
tinent—the city of New- York— the best market in the world
—than you were, less than forty years ago, to the neighboring
cityofUtica? What has been done for you, or what have
you done for yourselves, to produce this wonderful change in

the present prosperity and bright future prospects of your
large city and its fertile and extensive environs? What has
so soon converted a wilderness into a garden of civilization,
beauty and productiveness — that has raised the price of your
soil from a few cents, to fifty, seventy, and in some instances,
to hundreds of dollars per acre ?

The answer to these important inquiries — deeply important
to every patriotic citizen of this State — is, I doubt not, at this
moment, upon the lip of every intelligent man now within
the sound of my voice. You will say with one united voice
— with one great, earnest, harmonious tone — with a sound that
will echo to the utmost verge of the State, in all directions, in
all places, and at all times, that your prosperity has been, and
must continue to be, attributable to the great Erie Canal ! It
is, indeed, to be attributed to that Herculean enterprise. Had
not that canal been constructed, it is not, I venture to say, too
much to assert, that this city would never have existed ! Had
the enemies of the immortal Clinton succeeded in their fiend-
ish hostility to his enlightened and patriotic plans of internal
improvements, this spot, where we now stand — the surround-
ing country in all directions — the rich Genesee valley, and the
wheat growing plains of the central and western sections of
the State, now so populous, so highly cultivated, so rich, and
so prosperous, would have mostly remained to this day, like
the dense forests of the northern counties, in a state of primi-
tive grandeur and gloom ! Here, but for the construction of
that noble, State-enriching public work — that great civilizing
instrument — which has subdued the wild regions of the west
and filled them with populous towns — which has diffused a
healthful fragrance throughout the land and given unparalleled
vigor, animation and enterprise to our people, the untamed
Indian might yet bask him in the sullen majesty of impenetra-
ble seclusion — the monarch of a woody waste. Yes, my fellow-
citizens, strange as it may seem to some, and doubtful perhaps
to others, who have contested, and will contest against the in-
ternal improvements of this State, which have enriched and
benefited every department of trade, had Clinton, through
the wicked persecutions which he suffered for more than a
quarter of a century, from the enemies of internal improve-

ments, failed of convincing the people of tlieir perfect prac-
ticability and advantage to the public interest, the Erie canal
might never have been achieved ; and this fertile section of
country, now the scene of so much commercial, manufacturing
and agricultural activity and opulence, might have continued
comparatively uninhabited, uncultivated, and unredeemed, for
many long years. The shores of the great inland seas of the
west, and the borders of the large navigable streams north and
south, much of which still remains unoccupied, would all have
been settled long ago. That part of the State bordering the
St. Lawrence, which is now but sparsely populated, would
have presented a more inviting prospect to the interests of the
farmer, the manufacturer, and the merchant, than this, had
the Erie canal not been constructed. The country bordering
the St. Lawrence naturally looks down that noble river to a
market — to an easy, cheap, and direct communication with
Montreal, Quebec, and with foreign countries, through the
connection of that stream, navigable for vessels of all sizes,
with the Atlantic Ocean. This fine river is the natural outlet
of the great and increasing commerce of the west, draining
vast productive territories in the north, as does the Mississippi
on the south.

But happily for the early development of the natural
resources of central and western New- York, for the great and
permanent interest of this and many of the western States ;
indeed, I may say for the Union itself, and for the sacred cause
of humanity, the bad counsels of Clinton's enemies did not
prevail; the Yan Burens, the Eoots, the Youngs, and the
bucktail Barnburners of Clinton's time, were scattered to the
winds, whenever he came before the people. When the
people, through the clear and vigorous intellectual powers of
Clinton, and Morris and Fulton, had become sufficiently well
informed upon the subject to understand its advantages, the
canal was a favorite theme with them, and the more the great
projector of that noble enterprise was persecuted, derided, and
hunted down by his opponents, the dearer did Clinton be-
come in the eyes of the people, and the more confidence was
inspired in the ultimate benefits to be derived from the com-
pletion of the canal. Clinton and Morris sought an easier, a


more direct, a cheaper and a safer communication between the
western regions, which they foresaw must become densely
populated, and the Atlantic, by means of a canal, which
should divert western commerce from the St. Lawrence and
the Mississippi, and conduct it directly down through their
own State to the commercial metropolis, thereby enriching the
whole State, whose entire population was then less, by nearly
one hundred thousand, than that of the city of New- York at
the present time. Virginia, at the commencement of the
present century, when the project of a ship canal first began
to be publicly discussed, had a population larger, by nearly
three hundred thousand, than New- York, and a much greater
valuation of property. Pennsylvania had nearly one hundred
thousand more inhabitants, and North Carolina nearly equalled
it ; while Massachusetts had scarcely one hundred thousand
less, and an amount of available wealth far surpassing this
State. How wonderful the contrast now in favor of New-
York, which has outstripped in wealth, population, and pro-
gressive improvement, every other State in the Union, ever
since the construction of the Erie and Champlain canals,
which have conducted the trade of the west down through
our State ; and the city of New- York has presented a scene
of activity and growth, unparalleled in modern times.

Yet, however great have been the advantages of your
canals to the State, however much they may have contributed
to its settlement, and developed its abundant resources, and
particularly those of the central and western sections of it, and
however much they have contributed to swell the population
and wealth of your cities, these great public achievements were
only urged through to completion by the patriotic Clinton,
after many patient years of ardent struggles against the insane
opposition of those who were really more benefited by these
improvements than himself; but who, nevertheless, ceased
not to persecute him to the day of his death.

The entire delegation in both houses of the Legislature,
from the city of New- York, and the extreme southern and
eastern counties of the State, voted against constructing the
Erie canal. Many patriotic citizens then, as now, looked up
to noisy partisan leaders — who clamorously told the people.


that Clinton's project of a canal was impracticable, and would
involve the State in irretrievable bankruptcy and ruin ! They
represented him as a theorizing, visionary, ambitious political
aspirant ; seeking to ride into power by means of his project
— which they derisively denominated " Clinton's ditch." They
spared neither money nor time in their unremitted and wicked
efibrts, to obstruct the public improvements ; and they resort-
ed to the most despicable means for annoying Clinton. They
even stooped so low — (if such men, in doing a mean act, may
be said to stoop,) as to procure his removal, under the admin-
istration of Grovernor Yates, from the office of Canal Commis-
sioner ; an onerous position, which he had worthily filled, and
with great advantage to the public interests, without receiving
the slightest remuneration for his services.

Van Buren and his hireling clique of unscrupulous intriguers,
after failing in their design to defeat the re-election of Clinton
in 1820, by means of Federal votes — " those high-minded fed-
eralists," who declared, by a public proclamation, that "they had
no longer any grounds of principle to stand upon," — who came
out in a body and voted for Daniel D. Tompkins, then Vice-
President of the United States, who had been dragged out for
the occasion, as the only man in the State that could be nominat-
ed with any probability of defeating Clinton ; these unscrupu-
lous political intriguers against the honest fame of that great
man, after being beaten by him before the people, and driven in
disgrace from the field, with their federal allies and Bucktail
bullies — modernly denominated "short-boys," (a specimen of
whom, a few days since, made their impressive advent into
this quiet and well-ordered city,) sought to break down the
power of Clinton, and hurl him from office, by a revision of
the Constitution.

The Convention, which met for that purpose in 1821, made
many changes in the Constitution of 1777 without materially
improving it; and their illustrious successors, who had
it under review again in 1846, made the matter worse!
The appointing power, which, for forty-three years, had
been exercised by a council of appointment, was, in the
Constitution of 1821, vested in the Governor. It made many
offices elective, which were previously held by appointment ;
and on its adoption, it provided for the vacation of all offices


held by virtue of tlie old Constitution ; and Clinton went out
of office with other incumbents, thus summarily, though con-
stitutionally, dismissed ! His Van Buren and Bucktail perse-
cutors, who had struck hands with their new federal allies,
one of whom, Kufus King, steadily supported by the federal
party from 1789 up to 1814, was re-elected to the Senate of
the United States by the coalition of the federal and Van
Buren Bucktail vote, now were in hopes that they had de-
stroyed the popularity of Clinton — that they had disposed of
their most powerful political opponent, and that they might
now rule the State with a high hand.

They elected Judge Yates governor, who, like the present
incumbent of that responsible position, did not recommend
specifically, in his first message to the Legislature, a single
measure, — He played the weak tool of his wirepulling friends;
made such appointments as the Van Buren men desired, and
aided in the persecutions of Clinton ; who, like Daniel S. Dick-
inson, and those who now sustain his patriotic course, was
then derided and held up to public reprobation by a band of
office-hunting bucktail marauders, not very dissimilar to the
Van Buren, Fowler and Cochrane short-boy slanderers of the
present day.

Yates, in the hands of these desperate men, was a con-
venient tool for a convenient season. Jesse Hoyt was elected
a member of the Assembly ; Wilham L. Marcy was appointed
Comptroller, and Van Buren was a Senator of the United
States, a position so ardently desired by his reckless son John,
who has much stronger claims to that distinction than the
father, and intends, eventually, to ride into it on the backs of
the short-boys, precisely as the elder Van Buren did, by
hanging on to the skirts of the bucktails.

Yates was a mild, weak, inefficient man, of no decision of
character, always placing more confidence in a treacherous
enemy than in his friends. He acted under the whip and
spur of those who effected his downfall, and sought more
assiduously to buy over his enemies by the rewards of office,
than to conciliate and satisfy his friends, by a clear recog-
nition of their just claims. An ambition to occupy high
positions in the public service, for which he was neither fitted


by the endowments of nature nor the accomplishments of art,
was the fatal rock on which Mr. Yates finally foundered. He
was at length deserted by his political friends, who were, in
fact, secret enemies. They had contrived to dupe and use
him, to carry out their bad purposes ; and, after bringing to
the block the head of De Witt Clinton, as the present execu-
tive has been called under simijar circumstances, to execute
John C. Mather, he went out of office unregretted, if not
indeed despised.

De Witt Clinton lived to triumph over all his persecutors
and political enemies.

When the Bucktail bullies, at the close of Yates's adminis-
tration, removed Clinton from the office of Canal Commis-
sioner, without preferring any charges of mal-conduct against
him, a tone of indignation and rebuke rang throughout the

On the last day of the session of the Legislature, a few
minutes before the time fixed for the adjournment of both
houses, Mr. Bowman, a senator from Monroe county, sub-
mitted a resolution for the removal of Clinton from the office
of Canal Commissioner ! The resolution was acted on without
a moment's delay, and all the senators, save three, voted in
the affirmative. The resolution was immediately sent to the
Assembly, where it was instantly passed by a large majority ;
showing very clearly that the plot for his sudden and unex-
pected removal had been deeply and securely laid, — that the
ground had been carefully canvassed, and the hangmen
hired; that on the day of execution, the gibbet-men, one of
whom is Kedfield, the new collector, were ready to seize their
victim and bind him for the slaughter.

The tyrannical leaders of the Albany regency of that day,
like the pitiful scapegraces of a later period, thought that "the
times demanded a victim or required an example I " And
what a victim ! They seized upon De Witt Clinton, the
earliest and most devoted friend of internal improvements,
whose life had been spent in the faithful discharge of respon-
sible duties in the public service — whose friendship and devo-
tion to the Erie and Champlain canals, only ceased when he
himself ceased to breathe I That was the " victim " whom the


Bucktail bullies of 1824 "demanded" and seized; precisely
as the Short-boy bullies of 1853 fastened on Commissioner
John C. Mather, putting the State to a vast expense for his
trial, on trumped-up charges of impeachment, under the pre-
tence that " the times required an example and demanded a
victim ! " These Short-boy marauders are, forsooth, the pro-
fessed friends of the people— the political money-saving phi-
losophers of modern times ; that is, if you will take their oaths
and broken pledges for it.

The people, however, are beginning to find these unscru-
pulous Short-boy political philosophers out. They have been
so often cheated and betrayed by their false promises and spu-
rious tokens, they are not willing longer to trust them. They
are soon to be hurled from the high places of public trust,
which they have already too long disgraced.

The Bucktail outrage, perpetrated by the removal of De
Witt Clinton, operated like an electric shock upon the whole
community. Every one was taken by surprise. The people
of Albany, without distinction of parties, rushed to the Capi-
tol en masse. They organized a meeting, and passed resolu-
tions commendatory of the great services of Clinton, and
deeply condemning the conduct of his political persecutors.

Similar meetings were held in the city of New- York and
other parts of the State, reprobating this outrage of the Buck-
tail bullies and the Albany regency, which at this period be-
trtxn a reign of terror, that, with slight intervals, continued to
increase in severity, until the total wreck and overthrow of
Yan Buren in 1840.

The removal of Clinton failed to produce the effect intend-
ed ; for, from that moment, and not till then, his friends be-
gan to insist that he should be the next candidate for Gover-


Clinton was emphatically the man of the people — in whom
they had the fullest confidence. He was a strong man when-
ever he came before the people, though he could hardly have
been called a strong party man. He was never elected on
strictly party grounds, though, when in the field, he was the
terror to all political partisans, and generally broke down and
overrode party discipline and parties themselves, which had
the boldness to interpose their opposition to his popularity.


The Van Burcn and Albany regency Bucktails nominated
as their candidate for Governor, in opposition to Clinton, Co-
lonel Young, a professed admirer and supporter of Henry
Clay for the Presidency of the United States ; though the re-
gency candidate for that office was Mr. Crawford, for whom
Van Buren expressed a decided preference.

Clinton was known to be in favor of General Jackson ;
and he was the first northern man of any distinction, who
openly declared himself in favor of the hero of the battle of
New Orleans for the Presidency.

Although the Bucktails and the Albany regency had ex-
pected an easy conquest over Clinton, when the election came
oflP, the result astounded men of all parties. It was a com-
plete political avalanche, sweeping all opposition to the winds.
Clinton's majority over Young was nearly seventeen thou-
sand ; and the new members of the Legislature were three to
one in favor of Clinton and the canals. Thus the Bucktails
and the Albany regency candidate for Governor, again had
their heels tripped up by opposing Clinton, who had on all
occasions proved himself to be entirely an over-match for
them whenever their strength was tried.

The canals were not yet completed ; and it was for the
public interest that their great friend and original projector,
who had on all occasions exhibited such unwearied zeal and
devotion to the prosecution of the work, should continue at
the head of the government until their final completion, which
was expected to take place in the year 1825, and was then ac-

On the second day of November, of that year, this inter-
esting event was celebrated by the discharge of cannon, com-
mencing at Buffalo, and continued along the line of the canal
from Lake Erie to the Hudson. An immense number of
people assembled at Albany ; and two canal boats, the " Sen-
eca Chief" and "Young Lion of the West," from Buffalo, in
which were the Governor and commissioners, State oflicers,
and distinguished citizens of Albany, and other parts of the
State, descended through the locks into the Albany basin, ac-
companied with the acclamations of a vast crowd of exulting

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Online LibraryJames Ewing CooleySpeech of the Hon. James E. Cooley, before the Democracy of Syracuse, in mass meeting assembled, on Tuesday evening, Nov. 1, 1853 → online text (page 1 of 5)