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seen, they had succeeded in getting a vote on their favorite principle.

"According to this account of the matter, Sir John," observed the
captain, "I shall be compelled to maintain that black is white, seeing
that I am in on the Parpendic'lar interest?"

I thought with the captain, and was pleased that my own legislative
debut was not to be characterized by the promulgation of any doctrine
so much at variance with my preconceived ways of thinking. Curious,
however, to know his opinion, I asked the brigadier in what light he
felt disposed to view the matter himself.

"I am elected by the Tangents," he said; "and, by what I can learn, it
is the intention of our friends to steer a middle course; and one of our
leaders is already selected, who, at a proper stage of the affair, is to
move an amendment."

"Can you refer me, my dear friend, to anything connected with the Great
National Allegory that bears on this point?"

"Why, there is a clause among the fundamental and immutable laws, which
it is thought was intended to meet this very case; but, unhappily, the
sages by whom our Allegory was drawn up have not paid quite as much
attention to the phraseology as the importance of the subject demanded."

Here the brigadier laid his finger on the clause in question, and
I returned to a seat to study its meaning. It was conceived as
follows: - Art. IV. Clause 6: "The Great National Council shall, in
no case whatever, pass any law, or resolution, declaring white to be
black."

After studying this fundamental enactment to the bottom, turning it
on every side, and finally considering it upside-down, I came to the
conclusion that its tenor was, on the whole, rather more favorable
than unfavorable to the Horizontal doctrine. It struck me, a very good
argument was to be made out of the constitutional question, and that it
presented a very fair occasion for a new member to venture on a maiden
speech. Having so settled the matter, entirely to my own satisfaction,
I held myself in reserve, waiting for the proper moment to produce an
effect.

It was not long before the chairman of the committee on the judiciary
(one of the effects of the resolution was entirely to change the
coloring of all testimony throughout the vast Republic of Leaplow) made
his report on the subject-matter of the resolution. This person was
a Tangent, who had a besetting wish to become a Riddle, although the
leaning of our house was decidedly Horizontal; and, as a matter of
course, he took the Riddle side of this question. The report, itself,
required seven hours in the reading, commencing with the subject at
the epocha of the celebrated caucus that was adjourned sine die, by the
disruption of the earth's crust, and previously to the distribution of
the great monikin family into separate communities, and ending with
the subject of the resolution in his hand. The reporter had set his
political palette with the utmost care, having completely covered the
subject with neutral tints, before he got through with it, and glazing
the whole down with ultramarine, in such a way as to cause the eye to
regard the matter through a fictitious atmosphere. Finally, he repeated
the resolution, verbatim, and as it came from the other house.

Mr. Speaker now called upon gentlemen to deliver their sentiments. To my
utter amazement, Captain Poke arose, put his tobacco back into its box,
and opened the debate without apology.

The honorable captain said he understood this question to be one
implicating the liberties of everybody. He understood the matter
literally, as it was propounded in the Allegory, and set forth in the
resolution; and, as such, he intended to look at it with unprejudiced
eyes. "The natur' of this proposal lay altogether in color. What
is color, after all? Make the most of it, and in the most favorable
position, which, perhaps, is the cheek of a comely young woman, and
it is but skin-deep. He remembered the time when a certain female in
another part of the univarse, who is commonly called Miss Poke, might
have out-rosed the best rose in a placed called Stunnin'tun; and what
did it all amount to? He shouldn't ask Miss Poke herself, for obvious
reasons - but he would ask any of the neighbors how she looked now?
Quitting female natur', he would come to human natur' generally. He had
often remarked that sea water was blue, and he had frequently caused
pails to be lowered, and the water brought on deck, to see if he could
come at any of this blueing matter - for indigo was both scarce and dear
in his part of the world, but he never could make out anything by the
experiment; from which he concluded that, on the whull, there was pretty
much no such thing as color, at all.

"As for the resolution before the house, it depended entirely on the
meaning of words. Now, after all, what is a word? Why, some people's
words are good, and other people's words are good for nothing. For
his part, he liked sealed instruments - which might be because he was a
sealer - but as for mere words, he set but little store by them. He once
tuck a man's word for his wages; and the long and short of it was, that
he lost his money. He had known a thousand instances in which words had
proved to be of no value, and he did not see why some gentlemen wished
to make them of so much importance here. For his part, he was for
puffing up nothing, no, not even a word or a color, above its desarts.
The people seemed to call for a change in the color of things, and he
called upon gentlemen to remember that this was a free country, and one
in which the laws ruled; and therefore he trusted they would be disposed
to adapt the laws to the wants of the people. What had the people asked
of the house in this matter? So far as his knowledge went, they had
really asked nothing in words, but he understood there was great
discontent on the subject of the old colors; and he construed their
silence into an expression of contempt for words in general. He was a
Parpendic'lar, and he should always maintain Parpendic'lar sentiments.
Gentlemen might not agree with him, but, for one, he was not disposed to
jipordyze the liberties of his constituents, and therefore he gave
the rizolution just as it came from the Riddles, without altering a
letter - although he did think there was one word misspelt - he meant
'really,' which he had been taught to spell 'ra'aily' - but he was ready
to sacrifice even his opinions on this point to the good of the country;
and therefore he went with the Riddles, even to their misprints. He
hoped the rizolution would pass, with the entire unanimity so important
a subject demanded."

This speech produced a very strong sensation. Up to this time, the
principal orators of the house had been much in the practice of
splitting hairs about some nice technicality in the Great Allegory; but
Noah, with the simplicity of a truly great mind, had made a home thrust
at the root of the whole matter; laying about him with the single-first,
I made a few apposite remarks on the necessity of respecting the vital
ordinances of the body politic, and asked the attention of my hearers
while I read to them a particular clause, which it had struck me had
some allusion to the very point now in consideration. Having thus
cleared the way, I had not the folly to defeat the objects of so much
preparation, by an indiscreet precipitancy. So far from it, previously
to reading the extract from the constitution, I waited until the
attention of every member present was attracted more forcibly by the
dignity, deliberation, and gravity of my manner, than by the substance
of what had yet been said. In the midst of this deep silence and
expectation I read aloud, in a voice that reached every cranny in the
hall -

"The great council shall, in no case whatever, pass any law, or
resolution, declaring white to be black."

If I had been calm in the presentation of this authority, I was equally
self-possessed in waiting for its effect. Looking about me I saw
surprise, perplexity, doubt, wonder, and uncertainty in every
countenance, if I did not find conviction. One fact embarrassed even me.
Our friends the Horizontals were evidently quite as much at fault as our
opponents the Perpendiculars, instead of being, as I had good reason to
hope, in an ecstasy of pleasure on hearing their cause sustained by an
authority so weighty.

"Will the honorable member have the goodness to explain from what author
he has quoted?" one of the leading Perpendiculars at length ventured to
inquire.

"The language you have just heard, Mr. Speaker," I resumed, believing
that now was the favorable instant to follow up the matter, "is language
that must find an echo in every heart - it is language that can never
be used in vain in this venerable hall, language that carries with it
conviction and command." - I observed that the members were now fairly
gaping at each other with wonder. - "Sir, I am asked to name the author
from whom I have quoted these sententious and explicit words - Sir, what
you have just heard is to be found in the Article IV., Clause 6, of the
Great National Allegory - "

"Order - order - order!" shouted a hundred raven throats.

I stood aghast, even more amazed than the house itself had been only the
instant before.

"Order - order - order - order - order!" continued to be yelled, as if a
million of demons were screeching in the hall.

"The honorable member will please to recollect," said the bland and
ex-officio impartial speaker, who, by the way, was a Perpendicular,
elected by fraud, "that it is out of order to use personalities."

"Personalities! I do not understand, sir - "

"The instrument to which the honorable member has alluded, his own good
sense will tell him, was never written by itself - so far from this, the
very members of the convention by which it was drawn up, are at this
instant members of this house, and most of them supporters of the
resolution now before the house; and it will be deemed personal to throw
into their faces former official acts, in this unheard-of manner. I am
sorry it is my duty to say, that the honorable member is entirely out of
order."

"But, sir, the Sacred National - "

"Sacred, sir, beyond a doubt - but in a sense different from what you
imagine - much too sacred, sir, ever to be alluded to here. There are the
works of the commentators, the books of constructions, and specially the
writings of various foreign and perfectly disinterested statesmen - need
I name Ekrub in particular! - that are at the command of members; but
so long as I am honored with a seat in this chair, I shall peremptorily
decide against all personalities."

I was dumfounded. The idea that the authority itself would be refused
never crossed my mind, though I had anticipated a sharp struggle on
its construction. The constitution only required that no law should
be passed declaring black to be white, whereas the resolution merely
ordered that henceforth white should be black. Here was matter for
discussion, nor was I at all sanguine as to the result; but to be thus
knocked on the head by a club, in the outset, was too much for the
modesty of a maiden speech. I took my seat in confusion; and I plainly
saw that the Perpendiculars, by their sneers, now expected to carry
everything triumphantly their own way. This, most probably, would have
been the case, had not one of the Tangents immediately got the floor,
to move the amendment. To the vast indignation of Captain Poke, and,
in some degree, to my own mortification, this duty was intrusted to the
Hon. Robert Smut. Mr. Smut commenced with entreating members not to be
led away by the sophistry of the first speaker. That honorable member,
no doubt, felt himself called upon to defend the position taken by his
friends; but those that knew him well, as it had been his fate to know
him, must be persuaded that his sentiments had, at least, undergone a
sudden and miraculous change. That honorable member denied the existence
of color at all! He would ask that honorable member if he had never been
instrumental himself in producing what is generally called "black and
blue color"? He should like to know if that honorable member placed as
little value, at present, on blows as he now seemed to set on words. He
begged pardon of the house - but this was a matter of great interest to
himself - he knew that there never had been a greater manufacturer of
"black and blue color" than that honorable member, and he wondered at
his now so pertinaciously denying the existence of colors, and at his
wish to underrate their value. For his part, he trusted he understood
the importance of words, and the value of hues; and while he did
not exactly see the necessity of deeming black so inviolable as some
gentlemen appeared to think it, he was not by any means prepared to go
as far as those who had introduced this resolution. He did not believe
that public opinion was satisfied with maintaining that black was black,
but he thought it was not yet disposed to affirm that black was white.
He did not say that such a day might not arrive; he only maintained that
it had not yet arrived, and with a view to meet that which he believed
was the public sentiment, he should move, by way of amendment, to strike
out the whole of the resolution after the word "really," and insert that
which would cause the whole resolution to read as follows, viz.:

"Resolved, that the color which has hitherto been deemed to be black, is
really lead-color."

Hereupon, the Honorable Mr. Smut took his seat, leaving the house to its
own ruminations. The leaders of the Perpendiculars, foreseeing that
if they got half-way this session, they might effect the rest of
their object the next, determined to accept the compromise; and the
resolution, amended, passed by a handsome majority. So this important
point was finally decided for the moment, leaving great hopes among
the Perpendiculars of being able to lay the Horizontals even flatter on
their backs than they were just then.

The next question that presented itself was of far less interest,
exciting no great attention. To understand it, however, it will be
necessary to refer a little to history. The government of Leapthrough
had, about sixty-three years before, caused one hundred and twenty-six
Leaplow ships to be burned on the high seas, or otherwise destroyed.
The pretence was, that they incommoded Leapthrough. Leaplow was much too
great a nation to submit to so heinous an outrage, while, at the same
time, she was much too magnanimous and wise a nation to resent it in an
every-day and vulgar manner. Instead of getting in a passion and loading
her cannon, she summoned all her logic and began to reason. After
reasoning the matter with Leapthrough for fifty-two years, or until
all the parties who had been wronged were dead, and could no longer
be benefited by her logic, she determined to abate two-thirds of her
pretensions in a pecuniary sense, and all her pretensions in an honorary
sense, and to compromise the affair by accepting a certain insignificant
sum of money as a salve to the whole wrong. Leapthrough conditioned
to pay this money, in the most solemn and satisfactory manner; and
everybody was delighted with the amicable termination of a very
vexatious and a seemingly interminable discussion. Leapthrough was quite
as glad to get rid of the matter as Leaplow, and very naturally, under
all the circumstances, thought the whole thing at length done with,
when she conditioned to pay the money. The Great Sachem of Leaplow, most
unfortunately, however, had a "will of iron," or, in other words, he
thought the money ought to be paid as well as conditioned to be paid.
This despotic construction of the bargain had given rise to unheard-of
dissatisfaction in Leapthrough, as indeed might have been expected; but
it was, oddly enough, condemned with some heat even in Leaplow itself,
where it was stoutly maintained by certain ingenious logicians, that the
only true way to settle a bargain to pay money, was to make a new one
for a less sum whenever the amount fell due; a plan that, with a proper
moderation and patience would be certain, in time, to extinguish the
whole debt.

Several very elaborate patriots had taken this matter in hand, and
it was now about to be presented to the house under four different
categories. Category No. 1, had the merit of simplicity and precision.
It proposed merely that Leaplow should pay the money itself, and take up
the bond, using its own funds. Category No. 2, embraced a recommendation
of the Great Sachem for Leaplow to pay itself, using, however, certain
funds of Leapthrough. Category No. 3 was a proposal to offer ten
millions to Leapthrough to say no more about the transaction at all.
Category No. 4, was to commence the negotiating or abating system
mentioned, without delay, in order to extinguish the claim by
instalments as soon as possible.

The question came up on the consideration of the different projects
connected with these four leading principles. My limits will not admit
of a detailed history of the debate. All I can do, is merely to give an
outline of the logic that these various propositions set in motion, of
the legislative ingenuity of which they were the parents, and of the
multitude of legitimate conclusions that so naturally followed.

In favor of category No 1, it was urged that, by adopting its leading
idea, the affair would be altogether in our own hands, and might
consequently be settled with greater attention to purely Leaplow
interests; that further delay could only proceed from our own
negligence; that no other project was so likely to get rid of this
protracted negotiation in so short a time; that by paying the debt with
the Leaplow funds, we should be sure of receiving its amount in the good
legal currency of the republic; that it would be singularly economical,
as the agent who paid might also be authorized to receive, whereby there
would be a saving in salary; and, finally, that under this category, the
whole affair might be brought within the limits of a nutshell, and the
compass of any one's understanding.

In favor of category No. 2, little more than very equivocal sophisms,
which savored strongly of commonplace opinions, were presented. It was
pretended, for instance, that he who signed a bond was in equity bound
to pay it; that, if he refused, the other party had the natural and
legal remedy of compulsion; that it might not always be convenient for
a creditor to pay all the obligations of other people which he might
happen to hold; that if his transactions were extensive, money might
be wanting to carry out such a principle; and that, as a precedent, it
would comport much more with Leaplow prudence and discretion to maintain
the old and tried notions of probity and justice, than to enter on the
unknown ocean of uncertainty that was connected with the new opinions,
by admitting which, we could never know when we were fairly out of debt.

Category No. 3, was discussed on an entirely new system of logic, which
appeared to have great favor with that class of the members who were
of the more refined school of ethics. These orators referred the whole
matter to a sentiment of honor. They commenced by drawing vivid pictures
of the outrages in which the original wrongs had been committed. They
spoke of ruined families, plundered mariners, and blasted hopes. They
presented minute arithmetical calculations to show that just forty times
as much wrong had, in fact, been done, as this bond assumed; and that,
as the case actually stood, Leaplow ought, in strict justice, to receive
exactly forty times the amount of the money that was actually included
in the instrument. Turning from these interesting details, they next
presented the question of honor. Leapthrough, by attacking the Leaplow
flag, and invading Leaplow rights, had made it principally a question of
honor, and, in disposing of it, the principle of honor ought never to
be lost sight of. It was honorable to PAY ones' debts - this no one could
dispute but it was not so clear, by any means, that there was any honor
in RECEIVING ones' dues. The national honor was concerned; and they
called on members, as they cherished the sacred sentiment, to come
forward and sustain it by their votes. As the matter stood, Leaplow had
the best of it. In compounding with her creditor, as had been done in
the treaty, Leapthrough lost some honor - in refusing to pay the bond,
she lost still more; and now, if we should send her the ten millions
proposed, and she should have the weakness to accept it, we should
fairly get our foot upon her neck, and she could never look us in the
face again!

The category No. 4, brought up a member who had made political economy
his chief study. This person presented the following case: - According
to his calculations, the wrong had been committed precisely sixty-three
years, and twenty-six days, and two-thirds of a day ago. For the whole
of that long period Leaplow had been troubled with this vexatious
question, which had hung like a cloud over the otherwise unimpaired
brightness of her political landscape. It was time to get rid of it. The
sum stipulated was just twenty-five millions, to be paid in twenty-five
annual instalments, of a million each. Now, he proposed to reduce the
instalments to one-half the number, but in no way to change the sum.
That point ought to be considered as irrevocably settled. This would
diminish the debt one-half. Before the first instalment should become
due he would effect a postponement, by diminishing the instalments
again to six, referring the time to the latest periods named in the last
treaty, and always most sacredly keeping the sums precisely the same. It
would be impossible to touch the sums, which, he repeated, ought to be
considered as sacred. Before the expiration of the first seven years,
a new arrangement might reduce the instalments to two, or even to
one - always respecting the sum; and finally, at the proper moment, a
treaty could be concluded, declaring that there should be no instalment
at all, reserving the point, that if there HAD been an instalment,
Leaplow could never have consented to reduce it below one million. The
result would be that in about five-and-twenty years the country would
be fairly rid of the matter, and the national character, which it was
agreed on all hands was even now as high as it well could be, would
probably be raised many degrees higher. The negotiations had commenced
in a spirit of compromise; and our character for consistency required
that this spirit of compromise should continue to govern our conduct as
long as a single farthing remained unpaid.

This idea took wonderfully; and I do believe it would have passed by
a handsome majority, had not a new proposition been presented, by an
orator of singularly pathetic powers.

The new speaker objected to all four of the categories. He said
that each and every one of them would lead to war. Leapthrough was a
chivalrous and high-minded nation, as was apparent by the present aspect
of things. Should we presume to take up the bond, using our own funds,
it would mortally offend her pride, and she would fight us; did we
presume to take up the bond, using her funds, it would offend her
financial system, and she would fight us; did we presume to offer
her ten millions to say no more about the matter, it would offend her
dignity by intimating that she was to be bought off from her rights,
and she would fight us; did we presume to adopt the system of new
negotiations, it would mortally offend her honor, by intimating that she
would not respect her old negotiations, and she would fight us. He saw
war in all four of the categories. He was for a peace category, and he
thought he held in his hand a proposition, that by proper management,
using the most tender delicacy, and otherwise respecting the
sensibilities of the high and honorable nation in question, we might
possibly get out of this embarrassing dilemma without actually coming to
blows - he said to blows, for he wished to impress on honorable members
the penalties of war. He invited gentlemen to recollect that a conflict
between two great nations was a serious affair. If Leapthrough were a
little nation, it would be a different matter, and the contest might be
conducted in a corner; our honor was intimately connected with all we
did with great nations. What was war? Did gentlemen know? He would tell
them.

Here the orator drew a picture of war that caused suffering monikinity
to shudder. He viewed it in its four leading points: its religious, its
pecuniary, its political, and its domestic penalties. He described war



Online LibraryJames Fenimore CooperThe Monikins → online text (page 29 of 34)