John G. (John Gaylord) Wells.

Wells' illustrated national campaign hand-book for 1860 online

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upon the action of the inhabitants, subject only to such
limitations as the federal Constitution may impose.
" Sir," said he, in continuation, " I care nothing about
refined distinctions or the subtleties of verbal criticism.
I repeat the broad and plain proposition, that if Con-
gress may intervene on this subject, it may intervene
on any other ; and having thus surrendered the princi-
ples, and broken away from Constitutional limitations,
you are driven into the very lap of arbitrary power.
By this doctrine you may erect a despotism under the
American system. The whole theory is a libel on our
institutions. It carries us back to the-abhorrent princi-
ples of British Colonial authority, against which we
made the issue of Independence. I have never acqui-
esced in this odious claim, and will not believe that it
can abide the test of public scrutiny."

Mr. Breckinridge was offered the mission to Spain
by President Pierce ; but the honor was respectfully
declined, not, however, because it was not appreciated,
or considered unworthy of acceptance, but because


family matters compelled Mr. Breckinridge to remain
at home.

He was a delegate to the National Democratic Con-
vention, held at Cincinnati in June, 1856. -After the
nomination of Mr. Buchanan for the Presidency, several
names were offered from which to select a Candidate
for the second office, — among others that of John C.
Breckinridge, proposed by the Louisiana delegation,
through General Lewis. Duly acknowledging this
flattering manifestation of confidence and esteem, Mr.
Breckinridge begged that his name might be withdrawn.
On the first ballot, however _, the Vermont delegation,
through Mr. Smalley, believing that no democrat has a
right to refuse his services when his country calls, cast
its five votes for Breckinridge. Many other States fol-
lowed the example of Yermont, and, of the total, he
received fifty-one votes, second on the list, and only
eight under the first, who was the distinguished Gen-
eral Quitman. Main, New Hampshire and Yermont
led oft' for Breckinridge on the second ballot, Massachu-
setts followed with eleven of her thirteen votes ; Rhode
Island followed with her four; and the New York
" Softs" gave him eighteen. Delaware, Maryland and
Yirginia voting in the same way, it became quite
obvious that he was the choice of the body, and though
several of the remaining States voted for other candi-
dates, they quickly, one by one, changed their votes,
many of the delegates making neat and appropriate
speeches in announcing the change. The names of
the other candidates were withdrawn, and the whole
poll went for John C. Breckinridge ; at which the
Convention rose en masse, and with waving of hats


and handkerchiefs and the loudest vocal demonstra-
tions, addressed its attention to the tall and graceful
delegate from Kentucky, who had been so unexpectedly
nominated as a candidate for the Yice-Presidency. An
eye-witness describes the scene as grand and exciting
in the extreme. Here were assembled the sages
and Statesmen of a great political party, to select from
their number two men distinguished for their intellec-
tual acquirements, legislative ability, sagacity and
integrity, to fill the highest elective offices of a great
nation ; and men who had grown grey in the service
of the party, whose fidelity to its principles had been
severly tried, and found above suspicion, whose ex-
perience fitted them to adorn any station in the Gov-
ernment, and whose integrity was undoubted, were all
set aside to make way for a young man — the junior of
them all : still, there was not a member of that Con-
vention that did not appear proud of its choice. It was
long before the demonstration subsided, so as to allow
a word to be heard. At length the commanding figure
of Mr. Breckinridge ascended the platform to acknow-
ledge the overwhelming honor. He spoke briefly and
becomingly. The result just announced was unex-
pected, and his gratitude could not find words to
express itself. He thanked the Convention heartily ;
and expressed his appreciation of its first choice. He
cordially endorsed the platform, and sat down amid the
booming of cannon, and the vociferous applause of the

Shortly after his return to Lexington, after the
adjournment ot the Convention, his friends and neigh-
bors gathered to congratulate him, and lie then, iu


addressing them, reiterated the views expressed in his
Kansas Nebraska sj)eech, and commented at length on
the platform upon which he was nominated. " The
whole power," said he, " of the Democratic organization
is pledged to the following propositions : That Congress
shall not interpose upon this subject, in the States, in
the Territories, or in the District of Columbia ; that
the people of each Territory shall determine the
question for themselves, and be admitted into the
Union upon a footing of perfect equality with the
original States, without discrimination on account of
the allowance or prohibition of slavery."

He made a gallant race, and was elected Vice-
President of the United States, receiving 173 electoral
votes, being 59 over Win. L. Dayton, the opposition
candidate for the same office. Thus, at the age of
thirty-five, he had served his country abroad, had been
a Legislator in his own State, and in the ^National
Congress, had been tendered the representation of the
Republic in Europe, and elevated to the second office in
the gift of the people. Where is the insatiable ambition
that could long for nobler achievements ?

Mr. Breckinridge took the chair as President of the
United States Senate, early in the first session of the
Thirty-Fifth Congress, December, 1857, and with
some intermission, caused by illness in his family, pre-
sided with becoming dignity and impartiality over the
deliberations of that stormy session.

Jnly 24th, 1858, Mr. Breckinridge being on a visit to
Kentucky, attended, by invitation, a meeting of his
fellow-citizens at Florence, and addressed them in an
eloquent speech on the topics of the day. In the course


of his remarks, be reviewed the slavery question up to
1820, when intervention against slave States com
menced, followed by a rehearsal of the Wilmot Pro-
viso scheme, and the reaction that followed, and
expressed the belief that the people of Kentucky had
not properly appreciated the extent and force of the
anti-slavery movement, which was sweeping over the
North, like a fearful tornado. He contended that the
slavery question had killed the old Whig party, an
organization that was bold, open, gallant, full of plnck
and fire ; and that the American party had died, partly
of the same issue, and partly of an inherent weakness
in its constitution, and thought that those who caused
the death of the last opposition party left in Kentucky,
should join the detnocrats, to enabled them to cope
successfully with northern Republicanism. It was
impossible for them to remain neutral. The Dem-
ocratic party was not distinctive, but conservative,
based upon the Constitution, and the rights of citizens
and States. It alone had survived the agitation, and
was now vital, untamable, and unconquerable. The
sentiments were eloquently and understandingly
expressed, and were received with great satisfaction.

In the great senatorial struggle in Illinois, between
Douglas and Lincoln, the Vice-President was invited,
by the Democratic Connnittee of that State, to attend
and address the people, at several meetings appointed
for purposes of discussion, on the great questions in-
volved in that contest. In reply to this invitation he
wrote as follows :

john c. breckinridge. 166

" Versailles, Ky., Oct. 4, 1858.

" Dear Sir : I received this morning your letters of
the 28th and 29th ult., written as Chairman of the
Democratic State Committee of Illinois — also one of
Mr. Y. Hickox, who informs me that he is a member
of the same committee. My absence from home will
account for the delay of this answer.

"In these letters it is said that I am reported
to have expressed a desire that Mr. Douglas shall
defeat Mr. Lincoln in their contest for a seat in
the Senate of the United States, and a willingness
to visit Illinois and make public speeches in aid
of such result ; and if these reports are true, I am
invited to deliver addresses at certain points in the

" The rumor of my readiness to visit Illinois and
address the people in the present canvass, is without
foundation. I do not propose to leave Kentucky
for the purpose of mingling in the political discussions
in other States. The two or three speeches which
I delivered recently in this State rested on pecu-
liar grounds, which I need not now discuss.

" The rumor to which you refer is true. I have
often, in conversation, expressed the wish that Mr.
Douglas may succeed over his Republican competitor.
But it is due to candor to say, that this preference is
not founded on his course at the late session of Con-
gress, and would not exist if I supposed it woulcj
be construed as an indorsement of the attitude which
he then chose to assume toward his party, oi* of all the
positions he has taken in the present canvass. It is not
necessary to enlarge on these things. I will only add,


that my preference rests mainly on these consider-
ations : that the Kansas question is practically ended —
that Mr. Douglas, in recent speeches, has explicitly
declared his adherence to the regular Democratic
}iarty organization — that he seems to be the candidate
of the Illinois Democracy, and the most formida-
ble opponent in that State of the Republican party,
and that on more than one occasion during his public
life he has defended the union of the States and
the rights of the States with fidelity, courage, and
great ability.

" I have not desired to say anything upon this or any
subject about which a diflerence may be supposed to
exist in our political family, but I did not feel at
liberty to decline an answer to the courteous letter of
your committee.

" With cordial wishes for the harmony of the Illinois
Democracy, and the hope that your great and growing
State, which has never yet given a sectional vote, may
continue true to our Constitutional Union,

" I am very respectfully your ob'd't servant,

" John C. Brkckinridge.

" Hon. John Moore, Chairman of the Committee."

At the last session of the Kentucky Legislature, Mr.
Breckinridge was elected to a seat in the United
States Senate, as successor to the Hon. John J. Crit-
enden, whose term expires in 1862.

What niore the future has in store for him, time,
the sole arbitrer of the fate of men and empires, can
alone determine.








Was born in North Carolina, December 14, 1801. In
1804, his parents emigrated to Kentucky and settled in
the County of Henderson. Springing from the old
Revolutionary stock, he imbibed many stirring lessons
of patriotism, and learned to appreciate its glorious re-
sults, from the elders who surrounded the paternal
hearthstone. These lessons were the basis of all the
education the poor boy received, and they entered
largely into the formation of his character, and exerted
a controlling influence on the life of the man.

He was thrown entirely on his own resources while
yet a mere child, and, finding that he was obliged to
shift for himself, entered the service of Nathaniel Hart,
then Clerk of the Henderson County Court. In this
position, by persevering industry and well-directed
application, young Lane picked up many valuable
scraps of knowledge, and hoarded them as the miser
hoards his treasure.

In 1816, he removed to Warwick County, Indiana,
and engaged as clerk in a mercantile house, which
situation he filled to the satisfaction of his employers
for nearly four years ; but trade and barter would
never realize the objects of his ambition, and he had
little taste for them.

In 1820, at the age of nineteen, he married a young


woman of French and Irish parentage, and settled on
the banks of the Ohio river, in Yanderburg County.
In his new location he soon became very popular
among his friends and neighbors ; and, in 1822, was
elected to the Indiana Legislature, and took his seat as
a member of that body a few days after he had attained
the age of twenty-one. A gentleman who was a mem-
ber of the same Legislature, thus describes, in a work
recently published, the personel of Lane on the occa-
sion : " The roll-calling progressed as I stood by the
side of the Clerk. 'The County of Vanderburg and
Warwick !' said the Clerk. I saw advancing a slender,
freckle-faced boy, in appearance eighteen or twenty
years of age. I marked his step as he came up to my
side, and have often noticed his air since : it was
Greneral Joseph Lane, of Mexican and Oregon fame in
after years."

For nearly a quarter of a century, Lane continued
his residence in Yanderburg County, and was often
re-elected to the Legislature, where he uniformly
represented the interests of his constituency in that
straightforward, ingenuous manner that has invariably
characterized his acts through life, and contributed so
much to his popularity with the masses. Fearless, in-
dependent and original in h'is views, he never acknow-
ledged the leadership of mere politicians, but struck
out a course for himself, according to his own ideas of
justice and right, and followed it with undeviating

It was thought, \x\ the great financial crisis of 1836^7,
that Indiana, severely embarrassed with debt, would
be compelled to repudiate. Lane could not be induced


to entertain such an idea for a moment. He viewed
repudiation on the part of a State like Indiana, wealthy
in her natural resources, with an industrious population,
and a credit as yet unimpaired, as unnecessary and dis-
graceful. He would not hear of such a thing. He felt
it would be a disgrace to him, as a working-man, with
the will and strength to labor, to repudiate a debt ;
and how much more so to a State of which he was one
of the representatives ? He had the proud satisfaction
of seeing this threatened stain on the honor of a noble
State successfully averted.

Hon. John Dowling, who served in the Indiana
Legislature with Lane, thus relates an interesting
episode in his career : — " While some men," he writes,
" espouse the cause of truth more through accident, or
the force of circumstances, than from an innate love of
justice for justice's sake, Lane's mind was so happily
constituted that it was almost impossible for him to err
in reference to any question which had a right and
a wrong side to it. At the time of which I speak,
there had assembled a large Democratic Convention in
the State Capitol of Indiana; and among other subjects
claiming the consideration of the delegates in that
body was the propriety of subjecting the nomination
of two Judges of the Supreme Court to the test of
Ajparty nomination. The offices were tilled — and ably
tilled — by Charles Dewey and Jeremiah Sullivan; and
Gen. Lane, though a strong party man, opposed, with
bis accustomed earnestness, the attempt to bring
tlie Judiciary of the State within the vortex of party, or
to make the politics of either the incumbents or the
aspirants a test of party action. Judge Dewey was a


gentleman of fine education, of great legal ability, and
in the discharge of the duties of his high trust, held the
scales of justice with so even a hand that not a
word could be said against him, except that his politi-
cal proclivities were of the Whig school. Judge
Sullivan, though not so able as a jurist, was far above
mediocrity, and challenged universal respect by his
amiable character and spotless integrity. Among the
delegates to the Convention from Floyd county, was a
young gentleman who was born, raised and educated
in the State of New York, and who, having resided
only a year in the State of his adoption, could not, in
view of the political dogmas of the Tammany school,
see the propriety of tolerating a Whig official of any
kind, while a Democratic could be found able and wil-
ling to fill the place. No sooner had this young man
(now the able Governor of the State) commenced advo-
cating his peculiar views in the Convention, than the
majority of that body, to whom he was a total stranger,
positively refused to give him even a hearing, and by
shouts and all sorts of noises, drowned his voice every
time he attempted to advance his (to them) distasteful
and unpalatable notions. Col. Lane, though foremost
among those who favored the re-appointment of the old
judges, became indignant at this treatment of the young
delegate, and made several inefibctual attempts to com-
mand for him a hearing. Losing all patience with what
he considered the injustice of the majority, he at length
mounted a table, and, addressing the presiding officer,
remarked that no member of the convention was more
radically opposed to the views of the young gentleman
from Floyd county, than himself; but as he came there


clothed with the power and authority to represent
a portion of the people of Indiana, he insisted, in
justice to his constituents, if not to himself, that
the courtesy of a hearing should be given to him.
As an advocate of the right of free discussion, he,
for one, could not, by his silence, acquiesce in
applying the gag to any member of that body ; and,
therefore, until the delegate from Floyd was heard, he
pledged himself to oppose with all his energies, the
transaction of any other business. Claiming to be the
friends of liberty and right, it would, he c<3ntinued, in-
flict indelible disgrace upon the Convention to stifle, by
brute force or riotous clamor, the opinions of the hum-
blest member of the body, merely because they were
different from those entertained by the majority. Such
was tbe emphatic and earnest manner of his delivery,
and such the justice and noble spirit of his views, that
the young delegate was finally, by common consent,
permitted to proceed until he had finished his speech.

This imperfect sketch can give but a faint idea of
the moral grandeur of the scene, which neither time
nor distance can efface from the memories of those who
witnessed it."

General Lane has always given in his adherence to
the Democratic party. He supported Jackson in 1824,
1828 and 1832, and was an enthusiastic admirer of his
administi-ation. In 1836 and 1840, he gave his voice
and energies for Yan Bureu, " as long as the latter fol-
lowed in the footsteps of his illustrious predecessor," —
and went for Polk in 1S44. His influence and exer-
tions have been of great benefit to his party.

Lane's services in the Mexican war drew him more


closelj to the hearts of his countrymen than all other
circumstances combined. At the commencement of the
war, in 1846, a call was made upon Indiana for volun-
teers — and Lane, who was then a member of the State
Senate immediately resigned his seat, and entered Cap-
tain Walker's Company as a private. He chose to
volunteer under Walker, having a high opinion of his
bravery ; an opinion which that gallant officer's con-
duct and death in the battle of Huamantla completely
justified. Before leaving Indiana, however. Lane was
taken from the ranks by the unanimous voice of the
men, and placed at the head as Colonel ; and in a few
days afterwards he received, quite unexpectedly, a com-
mission from President Polk as Brigadier-General. On
the 9th of July, 1846, he entered on the command of
the three regiments forming his brigade, and two
weeks after (July 24th,) he was at the Brazos, with all
his men, and reported his arrival to General Taylor,
concluding with these words : " The brigade I have the
honor to command is, generally, in good health and fine
spirits, anxious to engage in active service." August
20th, he wrote to Major-General Butler, claiming
active service. His brigade did not approve of
being left in the rear to garrison towns or to guard
provisions and military stores, while the regular
army, and the volunteers already ordered on to
Camargo, would have the honor of being actively
engaged. " It was understood," wrote Lane, " when we
arrived at the Brazos, that the regiments of volunteers
would be moved on toward the enemy in the order in
which they arrived. Such orders have been observed,
M'ith two exceptions, both operating to the prejudice of


tliis brigade." A few days after his letter to Butler,
lie wrote again to Gleneral Taylor complaining that
troops were ordered forward out of their order of pre-
cedence, and demanded for his command a share in the
dangers and honors of the active service ; that if the
whole volunteer corps was not needed on tlie scene of
action, a part of each State's troops be selected.

After a long, and, as it seemed to him, unreasonable
delay, during which time his troops, on the swampy
banks of Rio Grande, were decimated by the pestilen-
tial diseases of the climate, he was ordered to Saltillo,
and made civil and military commandant of that post
by Major-Gen eral Butler. After the battle of Mon-
terey, he was ordered to join General Taylor, In the
battle of Buena Vista, fought on the 22d and 23d of
February, 1847, Lane was third in command, and, from
the beginning to the end of that desperate contest, was
in the liottest of the fight. On the morning of the 23d,
Lane had the honor of opening the continuation of tlie
light, on the plain, and was attacked by a force of near
live thousand infantry, artillery, and lancers, under
Gen. Ampudia. His force was reduced to four hun-
dred men, but with this handful of brave and deter-
mined spirits, he received the Mexican onset. " Noth-
ing," writes an eye-witness, " could exceed the impos-
ing and fearful appearance of the torrent of assailants
which at this moment swept forward toward the little
band of Lane. The long lines of infantry presented a
continued and unbroken sheet of fire ; but their oppo-
nents, though few in number, were undismayed, and
defended their position with a gallantry worthy of the
highest praise. Several times I observed the Mexican


lines, galled by the American musketry and shattered
by the fearful discharges from O'Brien's battery, break
and fall back ; but their successive formations beyond
the ridge enabled them to force the men back to their
position and quickly replace those who were slain."
American valor never accomplished more daring feats
than at Buena Yista, and as that was the first engage-
ment in which our volunteer general took part, it may
be interesting to the reader to peruse the following ex-
tracts from Goodrich's History of America, describing
that event. We quote :

" On the 22d, (February, 1847,) early in the morn-
ing, the enemy made his appearance, and at two o'clock
in the afternoon a demand was made by Gen. Santa
Anna, requiring Gen. Taylor to surrender at discretion.
This was promptly refused ; immediately upon which
various skirmishes ensued, and were continued without
intermission until dark.

" It was now apparent that a general battle was at
hand. The Mexican general had more than 20,000
men, completely organized, and elated with the pros-
pect of routing a force of less than 5,000, of which not
more than five hundred were regular troops. It was a
night of proud anticipation on the one side, and of
strong determination on the other. The odds were
fearful, but what the Americans lacked in point of
numbers they were determined to supply by superior
skill and characteristic bravery.

" At sunrise, on the following morning, the contest was
renewed, and with slight intermissions was continued
on both sides until night. By means of his immensely
superior force, the Mexican general, at one time, drove


the American army for some distance, but at a moment
the most critical, two pieces of artillery were brought to
bear upon the enemy, throwing cannister and grape so
thickly — so destructively, as to compel him to halt.
' Yet, for several hours,' says the hero of Palo Alto,
" the fate of the day was extremely doubtful, so much
so that I was urged by some of the most experienced
oflSicers to fall back and take up a new position."

Online LibraryJohn G. (John Gaylord) WellsWells' illustrated national campaign hand-book for 1860 → online text (page 9 of 27)