Thomas B. (Thomas Brackett) Reed.

Modern eloquence; (Volume 5) online

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[Laughter.] The buyer insisted that he had been of-
fered them for less, whereupon the representative let
him into a congressional trade trick. He revealed the
fact that members who were in arrears for board were
in the habit of selling cadetships which they didn't have.
" Go," said the virtuous member, " go and buy a cadet-
ship of one of them, but demand proof that your son will
be appointed before you pay your money. You'll come
back to me quick enough, and be glad to deal with an
honest man." [Laughter.] The difference was finally
compromised. The buyer was one of the aristocracy of
America, a manufacturer of patent medicines, and he had
some millions of circulars which he desired to send
through the mails. He paid the twenty-five dollars and
in consideration thereof had the use of the member's
frank for twenty days.

I met judges of courts in the Southern States, who,
ten years ago, were hostlers in livery stables in the North,
and whose knowledge of criminal law they had gained
from standing in the prisoner's dock. I met other carpet-
baggers equally meritorious, who overrun the conquered
South like locusts, and who were just as voracious. Here
the simile ends. They did not devour the green things
they came upon they preserved them carefully for the
sake of their votes. [Applause.]

I saw men who had the reputation of being tolerably
honest at home, voting away millions of acres of public
lands to swindling corporations ; but I did not see the



transfer to them of their slice of the plunder. If I had
seen this part of the play, I would not have exclaimed
against their stupidity and carelessness, as I did at the
time. In characterizing them as stupid and careless I
did them great injustice. Every man of them knew
what he was about; in fact, no one but a man who
knows what he is about can live in a gorgeous mansion,
drink champagne, and maintain such luxuries as car-
riages and servants, in a high-priced city like Washing-
ton, on a salary of five thousand dollars per year. It is
true they have mileage in addition, and it is true also
that members from New York go to Washington by way
of New Orleans, and members from Kentucky by way
of Bangor, Maine, but that will not account for their
ability to meet such enormous expenditures. It is a cruel
injustice to stigmatize a man as stupid who goes to
Washington poor and returns rich on that salary. [Ap-

I was particularly interested in men who had managed
to maintain their seats in Congress twelve years by riding
one hobby, and howling all those terrible years one cry.
These men were incapable of voting intelligently on any
question, and had not sense enough to know that, when
the institution, the denunciation of which had made them,
was dead, that they were dead, also. They were political
corpses; but instead of being content to rest quietly in
their graves, as gentlemanly and well-regulated corpses
do, they insisted upon walking up and down the earth
with their cerements clinging to them. They insisted
upon renominations and reflections, shrieking, that their
fidelity to principle, as they termed their extreme fidelity
to themselves, entitled them to a life-lease of a position
in which they might rattle round, but could never fill.

One man, who had represented an advanced anti-
slavery district, every voter in which was way beyond
Wendell Phillips in his abolitionism, claimed the admira-
tion of the world for having never wavered in his devo-
tion to freedom, and the people yielded their praise, for-
getting that had he ever wavered as much as a hair's
breadth it would have been his political death. Because
he had always voted with his party on the slavery ques-
tion, which any man who can distinguish between right



and wrong may comprehend, he asked to be allowed to
continue in Congress and vote upon such questions as
banks, tariffs, and other nice points in governmental
matters, upon which men of ability have spent years of
earnest thought. One of this class, who was on the Com-
mittee of Ways and Means, knowing me to be a man of
business, asked me to tell him something about the
National Debt.

This legislator explained to me his method of doing
the business of the public. He said that it was easy
enough in 1866 to vote on the "nigger question," even
if it did get complicated sometimes, for all he had to do
was to vote as Thad Stevens and Shellabarger did. The
roll is called alphabetically, R, S, T, etc. His name was
fortunately Thompson, and could only be called after
Stevens. Had it been Adams, or Albright, or Banning,
or Brown, or Curtis, or Channing, he would have been
compelled to resign. But being Thompson, and T com-
ing in the alphabet after S, it was easy enough. Stevens,
yea; Shellabarger, yea; Thompson, yea; and vice versa.
[Applause.] But the poor man was now in a bad way.
Stevens is dead, and gone where all good men go. After
a stormy life he is at last in heaven and at peace. In
heaven, for he always fought for the right ; at peace, for
there are no pro-slavery Democrats there for him to
fight. Stevens is dead, and Shellabarger is out of Con-
gress, and the two Republican Representatives in the
House whose names begin with S, are on different sides
on all questions of the day. [Laughter.] Puzzled
which side to take, he turned to the platforms of the
party, but found, to his disgust, that they covered both
sides, as all platforms do. He had observed that the
platforms were always made by Federal office-holders,
and singularly enough that whatever else they might
contain, they invariably indorsed the administration of
President Grant, and he went to that great man to find
out if possible, what the principles of the party were.

"With which wing do you hold?" asked the perplexed

" With which wing do I hold ? I believe that ' Dexter '
is the fastest trotting horse in America," was the clear



and satisfactory response of this master of statecraft.

I met another class of politicians, who, to some extent,
deceived me. I observed a baker's dozen who damned,
with a vehemence that was edifying, Slavery and all its
outgrowths. They denounced it as vile, unholy, and un-
christian, and the least of its consequences as ruinous and
destructive. They stood a long way in advance of Gar-
rison and Phillips, and elbowed out of the way the oldest
and most consistent anti-slavery men, on the score of
their lack of Radicalism. I was lost in admiration, but I
recovered myself when I learned the fact that these men
were, as late as March 1861, defending slavery from
the Bible, and damning with equal fervency, every one
who doubted its divinity, its righteousness, or its expedi-
ency. Men who were ferocious, fire-eating, pro-slavery
men as late as March 1861, by a sudden shift a month
later, won the opportunity of making sad failures as
Major-Generals, and afterwards by out-Heroding Herod
in their devotion to liberty and equality, managed to oc-
cupy high seats in the Republican synagogue, from which
sublime heights they looked down compassionately upon
the old-time Liberty-party men of 1836, and with con-
tempt upon the Free-soilers of 1848, and the Republicans
of 1856. From this I gathered a valuable lesson, namely,
that in politics it is well to do the right thing and be a
good man provided you don't commence doing right and
being good too soon. [Laughter and applause.]

I was in Washington in the time of a lunatic named
Jencks, of Rhode Island, who, notwithstanding his ex-
perience in the House, fancied he could get a bill through
it that had common sense in it. Laboring under that
delusion, he introduced a bill requiring persons aspiring
to positions under the government to appear before a
Board of Examiners, and show that they had fitness
therefor. He called it a Civil Service bill. The principle
of the bill was so clearly right so necessary indeed that
I supposed, in my innocence, it would become law at
once. I supposed that members would chafe at the delay
in pushing it through committees, and would worry at
the time necessary to be sacrificed to red tape before
they could get at it. I was the more certain that it would


go through, for I knew of persons occupying responsible
positions who never would have been trusted by the men
who procured their appointments with any business of
their own. I knew of common gamblers and common
swindlers in places where they had the handling of gov-
ernment money, and as they were buying farms in their
native counties, on salaries of eighteen hundred dollars
per year, it was evident that they handled to advantage.
I found, in all the departments, mediocres, imbeciles, in-
competents, nothings, rakes, gamblers, peculators, plun-
derers, scoundrels; and as this bill of Mr. Jencks was
intended to cure all this, I supposed, of course, that it
would pass indeed, I wondered that it had not been
made law before. But it did not pass. One Representa-
tive was shocked that any one could be so heartless as to
propose it. When I intimated that the interests of the
people demanded it, he promptly replied, with a show of
much indignation, that take away his patronage, which
this bill did, and he couldn't hold his position at all
indeed, without it he couldn't be renominated.

" But," said I, " I know of a Revenue Officer of your
appointing who is as complete a scoundrel as ever went

" True," was the reply. " I know it, too ; but he can
carry the delegates of the third ward of my city at any
time, and without him at my back I stand no chance

I did not tell him, as perhaps I should have done, that
while a failure to secure a renomination might work
badly for the Representative himself, and possibly for his
wife and eldest daughter, and the ring of followers the
possession of the offices gave him, nevertheless the rest
of the world would manage to get along in some way if
he were not renominated. [Applause.] I did not inti-
mate, which I might have done, that the very fact that
he could not be renominated but for the influence given
him by the offices he controlled, was a good reason why
he should not be renominated; indeed, a sufficient one.
But this Representative was laboring under the delusion
that he was in Washington solely for his own benefit,
and I discovered that perhaps half his associates cher-



ished the same idea. I did suggest to him that he might
go out of Congress and go home.

" But what could I do at home? " he asked.

The conundrum was too heavy for me, and I gave it
up. I couldn't really see what such a man could do at
home. [Applause.] And as I saw so many like him, it
occurred to me that in half the districts, at least, when-
ever they found a man absolutely good for nothing
among them they sent him to Congress, on the principle
that there must be some use for all men. And in filling
other official positions, the rule adopted was precisely
opposite that which governed men in the selection of men
to. do their own business. The question of fitness was
never raised, and the strongest thing that could be said
for a man, was that he couldn't get a living at anything
else. The offices of the country were made into so many
hospitals for genteel imbecility. [Applause.]

I stayed in Washington long enough to witness an
effort to repeal the franking privilege. I saw it stated
nay, proven that members had sold the use of their
franks to lottery dealers, to bogus publishers, to patent
medicine men to all, in short, who desired the free use
of the mails. I waded through columns of figures, show-
ing the cost of delivery of thousands of tons of that
delightful and improving literature Patent Office Re-
ports and Statistics of Commerce to the people (the
statistics of commerce going invariably to farmers, and
the agricultural reports to merchants), the printing and
carrying of which was to be charged directly to this privi-
lege. I saw tons of public documents in their original
wrappers, piled up in the shops of the dealers in old
paper, all of which the government paid a dozen prices
for, as it does for everything else. I knew one young
man in my native town, born of poor but honest parents,
who had ambition to rise. He supposed that a careful
reading and study of the reports was necessary to his
being well informed, and, with a heroism that would have
made him great had it been properly directed, he did read
all that his Congressman sent him. [Laughter.] In
one year that hapless youth was in a lunatic asylum, and
his Representative wasn't much of a man for sending
documents either, I saw the poor fellow a week ago


sitting by a table in a state of hopeless lunacy, muttering
to himself something about the imports of hides from
Brazil. [Laughter.]

As in the case of the Civil Service bill, I supposed the
repeal would pass at once, but I was undeceived one
night. I was present at a caucus called to strangle it by
the loudest-mouthed advocates of the measure. I was
made aware that the proposition to repeal was merely a
tub thrown to that stupid whale, the public, with which
it should amuse itself till the throwers got safely away
with the plunder they had previously grabbed. I saw
the same thing done with other measures in other ways.
I knew one member who had been elected by pledging
himself to the repeal of a law obnoxious to the people of
his district, who called a meeting of members to insure
its defeat as soon as he should introduce it. He secured
enough votes to defeat it certainly, and then brought in
his bantling and made a sham fight over it, in which
there was much beating of rhetorical gongs, and much
blowing of oratorical trumpets, and he pretended to weep
with rage when it was strangled. The ingenious man
was of course applauded by his constituency for his
manly struggle in defence of the right, and triumphantly
re-elected. His constituents denounced bitterly, by reso-
lution, the members who voted against the measure, but
as they represented other districts it didn't hurt them

" Why," I exclaimed in wonder, " doesn't some honest
member expose these scoundrelly practices? "

"Where will you find the honest member?" was the
pertinent interrogatory in answer.

I saw offices created for the sole purpose of making
places for the adherents of members. I attended cau-
cuses, and found that in the discussion of pending meas-
ures, the only question was, " How will this affect the
party?" I saw measures, the success of which seemed
to me to be of the highest and gravest importance,
slaughtered mercilessly that the re-election of one mem-
ber might be assured ; and I saw the nation made absurd
in the eyes of the world, because one member had a
thousand Irish votes in his district which he was trying
to catch by baiting them with thin buncombe. I saw



members from one State agree to vote for swindles pro-
posed by members from other States, upon condition that
the favor should be returned on demand.

When I went to Washington I leaned towards the
idea of universal salvation I left as rigidly orthodox as
the most rigid could desire. [Laughter and applause.]
I was convinced that if there was no lake of fire and
brimstone and a very hot one, in the future, there had
been a gross error made. Afterwards I returned to my
original belief; but in view of the fact that even Con-
gressmen were to be eventually saved with others, I had
to recall the other fact that the thieves on the cross were
pardoned, before I could comprehend the depths and
breadth of infinite mercy. [Applause.]

My soul was debilitated with the quantity and quality
of the depravity I had taken in, and I wanted a moral
tonic. I left Washington and went to Trenton, the
capital of New Jersey, to recuperate. I tarried in Tren-
ton, believing that members of the State Legislature
being chosen from the rural population, in coming to a
State capital I had struck the right shop for virtue. I
was undeceived indeed, I was in the business of being
undeceived. Before I had been about the State-House
a day I saw enough stupidity, peculation, and corruption
to make me almost despair of popular government.

" Thank God," I exclaimed, " that Japanese customs
do not prevail in New Jersey."

"To what particular customs do you allude?" asked a
New Jersey man, who had spent a whole winter in a vain
attempt to restrain a monopoly which was devouring his

" I allude to that one which compels a Japanese official
to commit hara-kiri the moment he commits a blunder or
a crime. I thanked the Lord that it did not obtain here,
for if it did, there never would be a quorum in the New
Jersey legislature." [Applause.]

Never shall I forget the look of indignation that vener-
able man fixed upon me. " You are a man," said he,
"and doubtless had a mother. Can you cherish such a
hatred of the people of New Jersey as to thank God that
the lack of a custom so wholesome as the one you men-



tion entails upon them such a legislature?" And he
lifted up his hands in horror.

I saw a bill introduced contracting the privilege of a
monopoly. I saw the attorney of that monopoly meet
the members who had introduced and avocated the bill,
and ask in plain, unvarnished English without circumlo-
cution or attempt at disguise, how many dollars paid in
hand they would take to kill it. One new member he
was in his first session, and was therefore virtuous
[laughter] opposed the sale vigorously. He was
offered one hundred dollars, but he refused, denouncing
the monopoly as odious. At two hundred and fifty dol-
lars, he wasn't quite certain that it was a monopoly; at
five hundred dollars, he knew it wasn't a monopoly, but
he thought that the interests of the people demanded a
curtailment of privilege, at least in part; at seven hun-
dred and fifty dollars, he really did not know what to do
about it it was a puzzling thing, and required thought;
at one thousand dollars he swore that the company was
a blessing to the State, and that the attempt to injure it
by imposing legislative restrictions was an outrage, and
he voted against the bill with thundering emphasis.
This man's sense of right, like an old musket, was honey-
combed, and not strong enough at the breech to bear a
severe trial without bursting. One thousand dollars was
too much pressure on the square inch, and it exploded.
[Applause.] The money was paid, the bill was defeated
by the men who introduced it, and that night the hotels
swam in champagne.

" If there is no virtue in rural legislators," I asked my-
self, "where will you look for it?" I pondered on this
conundrum, and finally got an answer. Less should be
expected of a ruralist than of the more wealthy dweller
in cities. Human nature is the same in city and country.
It takes less to make a yeoman rich than it does a banker
or merchant, and consequently it takes less to buy him.

" But don't the perpetrators of all this iniquity get
fearful sometimes of being brought to account? " I asked.

" No," was the answer. " Firm in the belief that man-
kind is divided into two classes, rascals and ninnies, they
march on confident and secure. They fleece the ninnies,



and divide with the rascals, which is the sum total of New
Jersey legislation."

" But reputation ? " I said, inquiringly.

My friend replied with an anecdote after the manner of
Lincoln. Two fellows were in a lock-up one night, a
policeman having picked them up for being drunk and
disorderly. One of them was in that peculiar stage of
drunkenness in which the victim feels he is abused.

" This is infamous," he said. " My reputation is lost ! "

" Lost ! your reputation's lost ! " exclaimed the other
with a thick voice, as he clung swaying to the bars.
"Your reputation's lost! There ain't nothing mean
about me, Harry ; take mine ! " [Laughter.]

" There isn't," said the cynic, " a member of the body
who wouldn't be glad to trade his reputation for any-
body else's."

I went sadly on. Sadly, for in my investigations I had
found a thousand times more of iniquity than I had any
idea could have existed. I had not calculated on the
certainty of the crop or the enormity of the yield. I
started out, like the naturalist, in search of what I sup-
posed to be a rare plant, and I found myself in a wilder-
ness of it. I expected to browse about the world, taking
here a nip and there a nip of iniquity, but I found myself,
whichever way I turned, in broad meadows of it, like a
horse in clover. I had found the man of sin honored in
business circles in New York, honored and applauded at
the National capital, and in the State capitals. He had
been introduced to me as a merchant, as a railroad man-
ager, as a banker, as a representative ; I found him in the
Senate, in the Cabinet, and on the Supreme Bench ; I saw
him sitting in force in both branches of a State legisla-
ture; I found him everywhere.

On my way home I stumbled into a convocation of
reformers, who had gathered to organize for the promo-
tion of an object in which I could see great good. I
seated myself as gladly in their midst as a traveler in the
great desert sits down by the side of running water and
under the grateful shade of trees. Here, I thought, there
can be neither envy, malice, ambition, or self-seeking,
for these labor for humanity; each will insist, not upon
his own good, but the preferment of others. I expected



to find so much of self-abnegation that I was troubled
when I thought how much valuable time would be wasted
in vain attempts to organize, as each would be determined
to force the honor of the movement upon others. There
were seventy present, and it was agreed to elect the
officers of the association by ballot. Alas ! for my belief.
When the ballots were counted out it was found that
sixty-nine of the seventy had each just one vote for
president, and the handwriting on the ballots betrayed
the awkward fact that each had voted for himself. One
had two votes, his own, and mine, which elected him ;
whereupon the meeting broke up in disorder, and each of
the sixty-nine started a society of his own, of which he
could be the head. [Laughter and applause.]

All my life I had occupied what might be called a
neutral position on the Woman question. I had been
what might be called a Conservative-Radical ; or, to state
my position more definitely, for I like to be accurate, a
Radical-Conservative. I had not so high an opinion of
the sex as some of my friends, or so low as others.
There are those who are so crazy in their adoration of
the sex as to assert that no man ever met a woman with-
out being the better for it. These I always crushed by
asking them if Adam was the better for having met Eve?
On the other hand, when a railer at the weaknesses of
the sex would assert that no woman ever kept a secret, I
crushed him by demanding the name and post-office
address of any unmarried woman above twenty-five who
had ever divulged her age, or any woman, married, single,
or divorced, who ever confided to any one the fact that
her hair, teeth, or complexion were artificial. [Laugh-
ter.] I held, and had always held, that the virtues were
inherent in woman, and so believing felt it unnecessary
to look for sin among them, that is, to any alarming

My experience in New York, Washington, and Tren-
ton shook my faith in woman somewhat. I discovered
that women can be wicked, and when they are wicked
they are very wicked. I found that they are not all
truthful; and that when they set out to lie, they do it
with an ease, a grace, a smoothness that sugar-coats the
most audacious falsification, and makes it go down as



easily as the sweetest truth. I found them horribly in-
sincere in everything relating to the stronger sex. They
would flirt and trifle with them, and I never heard but one
who even condemned the practice, and her condemna-
tion, severe as it was, did not count when I cited it, for
she was thirty-nine, and had had smallpox, and cross-
eyes, and wore a wig, and was thin and angular, and had
freckles, and very sandy hair, and her nose turned up,
and her teeth were bad, and she didn't know how to dress,
and had large feet, and very large bony hands, and a
stoop in her shoulders, and some other defects in her
person unnecessary to enumerate, as from what I have

Online LibraryThomas B. (Thomas Brackett) ReedModern eloquence; (Volume 5) → online text (page 33 of 38)