Nathan Sargent.

Public men and events from the commencement of Mr. Monroe's administration, in 1817, to the close of Mr. Filmore's administration, in 1853 (Volume 2) online

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Online LibraryNathan SargentPublic men and events from the commencement of Mr. Monroe's administration, in 1817, to the close of Mr. Filmore's administration, in 1853 (Volume 2) → online text (page 18 of 37)
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self saw the futility of his new policy to accomplish his pur-
pose ; every one saw he was deceiving himself; that he took
counsel of his own vanity, and was carried away by flattering
notions that he could beat Mr. Clay, and become President of
the United States by the voice of the people in spite of him.

Surrounded by flatterers and sycophants, who had their own
selfish ends to serve, how was he to know the truth, — that
he had no followers save those in office, or who were seeking
office at his hands ?

But the experiment of the " spoils system" was now entered
upon. Mr. Jonathan Roberts, collector of customs at Phila-
delphia, formerly a Senator in Congress, and a man of rare
honesty and unbending principles, was required to remove
certain designated men from the custom-house, and appoint
others, also designated, for no other cause than that those to
be removed were not, and those to be appointed professed to
be, Tyler men.

Mr. Roberts was a Republican of the Jeffersonian school ;
not " a man of principle according to his interest," but accord-
ing to the dictates of his honest judgment and conscience;
nor would he swerve one hair from those principles to hold
any office in the gift of the government. Refusing to obey the
Executive mandate, he came to Washington to remonstrate
with Mr. Tyler. He reminded him of the letter addressed by
Mr. Webster, as Secretary of State under General Harrison, to
the other heads of Departments, in regard to appointments
and removals, — also to his, Mr. Tyler's, own address, and his
message of December, 1841, — and desired to know if this wise,
Washingtonian policy was to be set aside, and the " spoils
system," which had done so much to corrupt the country, to
be again carried into effect. His only answer was a positive
order to obey the mandate or 7'esign ; but he peremptorily
refused to do either, and was removed.

The policy now adopted was to use the patronage of the
government to build up a Tyler party and secure the election
of John Tyler as President. One of the most distinguished
victims of this insane ambition was the gallant General Solo-


mon Van Rensselaer, the hero of Queenstown Heights, who
was appointed postmaster at Albany by General Harrison.
But the Tyler organ declared that "all who are not for us
are against us;" and, "It is not enough that the office-holders
do not oppose the administration. We want vigorous and bold
men. We want men who are ready to put their shoulders
to the wheel and drive along the car of the administration
through every obstacle and every opposition." Men like Mr.
Roberts and General Van Rensselaer were not such as were
needed, and were therefore summarily dismissed.


Mr. Webster's avowed reason for remaining in Mr. Tyler's
cabinet when his colleagues, appointed by General Harrison,
resigned, was, that an important negotiation was pending with
England, and it was necessary that he should remain long
enough to negotiate a treaty with Lord Ashburton.

The treaty was now negotiated, but he manifested no in-
tention to resign, notwithstanding the extraordinary change of
policy in regard to removals and appointments, so utterly at
variance with that which he had promulged as the organ of
General Harrison's administration. He thus subjected himself
to the severe criticism of Whigs and the Whig press. Mr.
Tyler's administration was fast sliding over towards the Demo-
cratic party, which, however, turned a cold shoulder to him,
and repelled, as a party, his blandishments and dalliances.

In the month of September, soon after the adjournment of
Congress, Mr. Webster visited Boston, and took the relief his
long and severe labors during the session rendered neces-
sary. While there, desiring to address the Whigs of Boston, a
meeting was called at Faneuil Hall for that purpose, where
assembled the first men of the city and vicinity, and a large
concourse of people. Mr. Webster's was the only speech de-
livered : and such a speech ! It was stamped with Websterian
power, and commanded the deepest attention, often eliciting
great applause ; but it was a manifestation of ill temper from
beginning to end, and he laid about him as if determined that
his blows should be felt. Little did the prominent Whigs of


Boston anticipate the particular kind offcast to which they had
been invited. The whole purpose and scope of the speech
seemed to be to call the Whigs to a reckoning, and to read
them a severe lecture for having separated themselves from
John Tyler. A State convention had lately been held in
Massachusetts to nominate a candidate for governor and other
State officers, which convention had also nominated Henry
Clay for President and John Davis for Vice-President ; and it
had also adopted a resolution separating the Whig party from
John Tyler. These acts of the convention excited his special
animosity, and he poured upon that respectable body a perfect
tempest of sneers, taxing them with presumption in under-
taking to read Mr. Tyler out of the Whig church. Presently,
suspecting they might think of doing the same good office even
to himself, he declared, " I am a Whig, a Faneuil Hall Whig !
I always have been one, and I always shall be one ; and if
anybody undertakes to turn me out of the pale of that com-
munion, let him see to it who gets out first. The individual
who addresses you — where do his brother Whigs intend to
place him? Generally, when a divorce takes place, the
parents divide the children. I should be glad to know where
I am to go."

This speech called forth severe remarks, and from none
more caustic than from the press of his own State.

morse's telegraph.

On the opening of the third session of the Twenty-seventh
Congress, Mr. Morse, of telegraphic celebrity, obtained leave
to set up his telegraph in the lower rooms of the Capitol, in
order to exhibit to Senators and members its operation, he
being an applicant for an appropriation of thirty thousand
dollars with which to establish an experimental line from
Washington to Baltimore.

No one dreamed then that continents, separated by oceans,
could be connected by telegraphic wires, and messages trans-
mitted, almost instantaneously, between the most distant parts
of the earth, crossing rivers, bays, lakes, and oceans.

The rooms in which were the termini of this temporary


illustrative telegraph were almost constantly filled by Senators,
members of the House, and others, and the two operators were
often kept busy for hours transmitting messages to and from
those in the different rooms, to the great wonder of those who
sent and those who received them. They could hardly credit
their senses. Members in the different rooms would carry on
for some time a jocose conversation, full of wit, point, and
repartee, to the great amusement of others in the rooms, appar-
ently with as much ease as if they stood face to face. Still, it
was no easy matter to convince many that this telegraph could
be made practically useful to the world. It was considered by
some as a sort of Redheffer's perpetual-motion machine, —
might do for short distances, but impracticable for long ones.
However, there were others w1io, if they did not foresee all the
great results to be wrought by this invention, or discovery, —
and who could at that time? — were satisfied that it was destined
to effect great results.

Mr. Morse asked for an appropriation of thirty thousand
dollars ; and a bill was introduced authorizing the Secretary
of the Treasury to make an experiment, by erecting a line of
telegraph — of a single wire — from Washington to Baltimore,
and making an appropriation for that purpose.

The bill came up, and was considered in committee of the
whole on the 2ist of February. It met with most decided
opposition, its opponents, not numerous, endeavoring to kill
it by ridicule. Mr. Cave Johnson, who, a little more than a
year after this, was Postmaster-General, moved that one-half
of the appropriation be expended in making experiments in
mesmerism, which was sustained by twenty votes. Another
member moved that the Secretary use the appropriation in
trying an experiment to construct a railroad to the moon.
Other ridiculous propositions were made, some of them
creating much merriment and pleasant badinage among mem-
bers. Prominent among the opponents of the bill were Cave
Johnson and George W. Jones, of Tennessee; Edmund Burke,
of New Hampshire, Commissioner of Patents under Mr. Polk ;
George S. Houston and William W. Payne, of Alabama ; Wil-
liam Pcttit and Andrew Kennedy, of Indiana; and Samuel


Gordon, of New York. Mr. Pettit, of Indiana, afterwards a
Democratic Senator, opposed it, and looked upon all magnetic
telegraphs as miserable chimeras, Jit for nothing. Nobody who
did not understand the Pottazvattomie or some other outlandish
jargoji could knoiv what the telegraph reported.

Governor Wallace, of Indiana, who voted for the appropria-
tion, was superseded by William J. Brown, one of the leaders
of the Democratic party, who made the vote of Governor
Wallace the great theme in his electioneering canvass.

But, finally, the opposition gave up, and the bill was reported
to the House, and passed by a small majority.

While the bill was undergoing the ordeal of ridicule in the
committee of the whole, Mr. Morse stood leaning on the bar
of the House, or railing, in a state of intense excitement
and anxiety. Seeing him thus, I went to him, remarking
that he appeared to be much excited. He turned and said,
** I have an awful headache," putting his hand to his forehead.
I said, ** You are anxious." ** I have reason to be," he replied;
" and if you knew how important this is to me, you would
not wonder. I have spent seven years in perfecting this inven-
tion, and all that I had: if it succeeds, I am a made man; if it
fails, I am ruined. I have a large family, and not money enough
to pay my board bill when I leave the city." I assured him he
need not feel so anxious, as the bill would pass. " Are you
sure of it?" he asked. "Yes, perfectly; all this ridicule goes
for nothing." He was soon relieved by the vote, first in the
committee, and then in the House. I seldom met him in after-
years that he did not recall the conversation between us, and
remark how much relief my assurance gave him. The ridicule
cast upon his great invention, or discovery, whichever it may
be, mortified him, and led him to fear the defeat of the bill.
By its passage he was, as he said, " a made man :" one of the
celebrities of the world, whose fame can never die so long as
man can flash words over continents and under oceans with a
speed that utterly annihilates time and space. The name of
Morse and the electro-magnetic telegraph are forever



For many years those who visited the Patent Office were
shown, among other interesting relics of Washington, the sword
he usually wore in battle, during the Revolution, and the cane
which had been left to him by the venerable Franklin ; both of
which sacred relics had been presented to the United States
by Samuel T. Washington, to whom they had descended from
his illustrious relative. These articles are now, and it is to be
hoped ever will be, sacredly preserved by our government.

At twelve o'clock, Mr. Somers, of Virginia, arose and ad-
dressed the Speaker, amid perfect silence, in language at once
simple, full of feeling, and adapted to the occasion.

He gave a brief history of the sword he was about to present
to the nation through its representative body. In giving an
account of the sword, he stated that, although he who had been
the instrument of Dtvine Providence to achieve our independ-
ence had others of more intrinsic value, and of far more beauty,
which he wore on occasions of cerem'ony and parade, yet this,
— holding it up to the view of the House, — this was his battle-
sword, — it was the '' sword of the Lord and of Gideon."

The staff of Franklin, bequeathed to Washington, was next
the subject of brief remark, and its possession by the person
at whose request he now presented it to the nation as a proper
companion of the sword of the father of his countr>^, accounted
for. The closing remarks of Mr. Somers were as eloquent as
they were chaste and appropriate.

Having concluded, and placed the sacred relics in the hands
of the Sergeant-at-arms, who conveyed them to the Speaker,
Mr. Adams rose and prefeccd the resolution he was about to
offer, and which was called for by the occasion, with some
remarks, and concluded by offering a resolution, which was
adopted unanimously:

"That the thanks of this Congress be presented to Samuel
T. Washington, of Kanawha County, Virginia, for the present
of the sword used by his illustrious relative, George Wash-
ington, in the military career of his early youth in the Seven
Years' War, and throughout the war of the National Inde-



pendence, and of the staff bequeathed by the patriot, states-
man, and sage, Benjamin Franklin, to the same leader of the
armies of freedom in the Revolutionary war, George Wash-
ington ; that these precious relics are hereby accepted in the
name of the nation ; that they be deposited for safe-keeping in
the Department of State of the United States, and that a copy
of this resolution, signed by the President of the Senate and
the Speaker of the House of Representatives, be transmitted
to the said Samuel T. Washington."


As the period approached when the Twenty-seventh Con-
gress must cease to exist, rumors of changes in the cabinet
became more and more rife, and crowds of office-seekers, ready
to swear allegiance to Mr. Tyler, gathered at Washington and
beset the Departments. Many changes were made, and more
promised. At length it was announced that Mr. Forward,
Secretary of the Treasury, had sent in his resignation, to take
effect on the ist of March.

Mr. Wise was, in the mean time, nominated as minister to
France, and Mr. Irwin, one of *'the guard," as charge to Den-
mark. It had been intended that Mr. Forward should vacate
the Treasury Department after the 4th of March, when he
would be succeeded by Mr. Spencer. But, as the latter did
not wish to place himself in the power of the Senate at this
time, Mr. Forward's resignation was a perplexing circumstance.
Finally, however, Mr. Gushing was nominated as Secretary
of the Treasury, — a broad hint to Mr. Webster to make his
conge ; not the only one that had lately been given him.

Mr. Everett was minister to England, but had been nomi-
nated minister to Ghina, and was now confirmed. Had he
accepted the new appointment, it would have left our mission
to England vacant, which it was well understood Mr. Webster
was willing to fill, and Mr. Tyler more than willing he should,
since by that arrangement he could be relieved of the presence
of one who was now in the way. But Mr. Everett saw no ad-
vantage in the change proposed to him, and therefore wisely
preferred to remain where he was.



Matters of great moment were culminating, and curiosity, as
well as expectation, was on tiptoe. Many anxious hearts were
throbbing with hope or sinking with fear. The Senate was
** master of the situation." It was in executive session most of
the time from six o'clock p.m. till twelve midnig-ht.

At length it was announced that the nomination of Mr. Wise
had been rejected. There were those who exulted over this,
and those whose hearts it made heavy, — some, excited to anger.
Anon came word that the nomination of Mr. Irwin, one of " the
guard," was confirmed. As no one entertained other than
friendly feelings to him, his confirmation was generally gratify-
ing. Then, after a period of suspense, word came from the
Senate that Mr. Cushing's nomination was rejected. ' But im-
mediately it was whispered that both Mr. Wise and Mr. Gush-
ing had been renominated ; that the President was determined
not to abandon them, but to force them upon the Senate.

All these things, together with a crowd of women who had,
as usual, on the last night of the session, been let into the hall
(the most improper time of all others), produced a very lively
excitement among members and others. Three times were
these gentlemen nominated, and three times were they rejected,
— the last time by such a vote as told the President that the
Senate was not to be coerced into a compliance with his

On the first nomination, the vote of the Senate stood, for
confirming Mr. Wise, 12; against it, 24. On the second nomi-
nation, it stood 8 to 26 ; on the third, 2 to 29. On the first
nomination of Mr. Gushing the vote was 19 to 27; on the
second nomination, 10 to 27; on the third, 2 to 29. It was
therefore useless to press them further upon the Senate.

The two Houses adjourned about half-past two o'clock on
the morning of the 4th of March.


It would be doing injustice to let the Twenty-seventh Gon-
gress pass out of sight and out of mind without noticing one



of its most estimable and useful members, — the gentleman
named above. Mr. Vinton was a man of slight frame; wore
spectacles from near-sightedness ; very reserved and unassum-
ing, and with a weak voice ; no way fitted to contend for the
floor among teru or twenty members bawling, " Mr. Speaker !"
with stentorian lungs. But he was possessed of that remark-
able good sense and sound judgment which invariably arrested
and held the attention of the House. As he never spoke ** for
Buncombe," never addressed the House without having some-
thing to the purpose to say, — something worth listening to, —
as he never indulged in sharp criticisms or personal remarks,
harbored no enmities, and had therefore no enemies, it was
seldom that he addressed the Speaker or chairman of the com-
mittee of the whole without being promptly recognized.

Mr. Vinton was emphatically a useful member, seeming
always to have a single eye to accomplishing that which the
great interests of the country required at the hands of Congress,
and always most industrious in maturing important measures
and pushing them through Congress.* Very sedate and taci-
turn, he was, nevertheless, of bland and amiable deportment,
and pleasant in conversation, though probably never guilty of
a witty remark, or the perpetration of a joke, in his life. Ear-
nest, sincere, and free from all asperity, even under the most
trying circumstances, he was a general favorite, esteemed by
political opponents as well as political friends; and, to sum up
his character in a single word, he was eminently a wise man.
His constituents honored themselves in electing him as their
representative for many, many years, — till he voluntarily retired
from public life, at the close of the Thirty-first Congress.



Had Mr. Everett accepted the mission to China, — a kind of
nondescript, created by the act of 3d of March, 1843, — and va-
cated his mission to England, it is probable Mr. Webster would
have been his successor. Not accepting, however, Mr. Cush-

* Mr. Vinton was the author of the law requiring members of Congress to be
elected by districts.


ing was appointed, and took his departure in May, on board the
war-steamer Missouri, at Washington, where she was brought to
receive him. Threading her way down the crooked channel of
the Potomac, she ran upon an oyster-bank, and fifteen of her
crew, with a promising young officer, were drowned in getting
her off. The ship was ordered to proceed to the Mediterranean,
but, on arriving at Gibraltar, took fire and was consumed.

Mr. Gushing proceeded on his journey by way of the Red
Sea and a steamer through the Indian Ocean to his destination,
where he had his own troubles in getting a treaty out of the

Mr. Webster's position in the cabinet had become uncomfort-
able. There was little in common between him and his col-
leagues, who had views they well knew he never would concur
in, much less promote, and he therefore became isolated, in
fact, in the way, and was made to feel that he was unwelcome
at the council-board, — he was neither consulted nor regarded.
Texas now loomed up at the South and filled the eye and fired
the ambition of Mr. Tyler. What a glory to his administration
the ;r-annexation of Texas would be ! Tyler, Upshur, W^ise,
and Gilmer were all full of it. The scheme of annexation was
privately and clandestinely carried on, and it must ere long
become the subject of open official action ; and as Mr. Webster
could not be trusted, he must be got rid of. How? there was
no mission to England to offer him, — nothing that he could hon-
orably accept; and it would not do to dismiss him abruptly.
What then ? Why, compel him to resign out of sheer self-
respect; make him feel that he was in the way; treat him coldly;
never consult him, and pay little or no attention to what at any
time he might propose or bring before the council-board ; give
him a cold shoulder and averted looks. This was the plan, and
it proved effectual. He went at last, and was immediately suc-
ceeded, ad interim, by Mr. Legare, of South Carolina, Attorney-

And so Mr. Webster finally. May, 1843, separated from John
Tyler. But the Whigs were not disposed to open their doors to
him : the latch-string was no longer out. He whom they and the
whole country had admired now inspired them with a different


feeling; and he inquired, with real solicitude, "Where am I to

The Fanueil Hall speech, and, above all, Mr. Webster's adhe-
sion to Mr. Tyler long after the signing and ratification of the
Webster- Ashburton treaty, were not forgotten, and the discarded
Secretary met cold, if not averted, faces on his return home
among his old enthusiastic friends. Still, there was at the bottom
of the great Whig heart a kindly feeling for Daniel Webster.
He had for years been one of the great champions of their
cause, and, more than any other, the great expounder of con-
stitutional doctrines held by them. They could not forget the
conflict between -him and Hayne in the Senate twelve years
before ; they could not forget his masterly speeches on the
bank, on the removal of the deposits, on Executive usurpation,
on the " spoils" doctrine, on the various vetoes of General Jack-
son, and on the Sub-treasury.

In turning his back upon them he had turned upon himself,
and it required only time and reflection for him to see that he
had veered from the straight path and gone astray ; and when
this was fully realized by him, he would not be long in finding
his way back to the camp of his old friends. It was a favorable
circumstance that he came back from Washington with a sub-
dued spirit. No imperiousness marked his bearing, but rather
the humility of the prodigal son. Still, no fatted calf was killed,
nor did the Whigs espy him afar off and go out to meet him.
He was given ample time for reflection. They could not forget
that the party had been bereft of the fruits of that great victory
won in 1840 by the death of Harrison and the treachery of
John Tyler, sustained and countenanced by Daniel Webster.

MR. Tyler's visit to the north and east. — mr. legare's


On the compulsory retirement of Mr. Webster, Mr. Legare
was appointed to discharge the duties of Secretary of State ad
interim; and Mr. James M. Porter, of Pennsylvania, was ap-
pointed to the Secretaryship of War, made vacant by the ap-
pointment of Mr. Spencer as Secretary of the Treasury.


The President, accompanied by Mr. Legare, proceeded on a
tour North and East, as far as Boston, in June, 1843, receiving
such demonstrations of respect as his few " pecuHar friends"
and the pubHc at large thought proper to display, which in
no place were highly flattering, and the absence of which in
Baltimore and Philadelphia was, to him, painfully expressive.

He had hardly arrived at Boston when Mr. Legare was taken
ill, and died in a very short time. The President thereupon
returned with all possible haste to Washington, and appointed

Online LibraryNathan SargentPublic men and events from the commencement of Mr. Monroe's administration, in 1817, to the close of Mr. Filmore's administration, in 1853 (Volume 2) → online text (page 18 of 37)