W. J. (William J.) Scott.

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The French government silently winked at the occa
sional shipment of arms and other munitions of war from
Havre and Bordeaux, but beyond this gave no moral or
material aid.

There was still another drawback to colonial success
at this momentous crisis. Already there existed bitter
rivalry between the leading officers of the army. Espe
cially was Washington badgered and maligned and
greatly crippled by Gates, Conway and their fellow com

Well has it been said by a distinguished historian that
the whole movement in behalf of independence seemed
on the verge of dissolution.

Philadelphia, the seat of government, was itself so
imperiled by the threatened advance of Lord Howe
from New York, that it was judged expedient to remove
the national capitol to Baltimore.


The time was at hand when it was indispensible that
something be done to revive the enthusiasm of a dispir
ited army. Washington decided to strike a decisive
blow in some direction and fortunately the opportunity
was not lacking.

Cornwallis, after driving the patriot army beyond the
Delaware, proceeded to station detachments at various
points on the Jersey side of the river. Trenton and
Princeton were two of the points selected.

And now the commander-in chief cast aside the shield
of Fabius and grasped the sword of Marcellus. He
planned a night attack on the Hessian camp at Trenton.

At this place there was quartered fifteen hundred
Hessians, under the command of Colonel Rahl. They
were mercenary troops, and, like the southern loyalists
of the late federal army, they plundered without stint,
and oppressed without mercy. Washington, apprised
of their extreme fondness for Christmas cheer and jolity,
resolved to make the attack on Christmas night and
thus surprise them in their cups.

As the veteran Carthagenians who had followed Han
nibal across the Alps were debauched by the luxuries of
Capua, so Rahl and his hireling soldiery were demoral
ized by their drunken festivities at Trenton. They did
not dream of a surprise, for the Delaware river was
swollen out of its banks and was filled with large quan
tities of floating ice.

But at midnight the American commander-in-chief
succeeded in putting a single division of his army on the
Jersey shore. The night was stormy and starless, and


so rapidly did Washington execute the movement that
the enemy's sentries fired not a single gun.

At 4 o'clock in the morning he struck the camp,
uproarious with merriment, and Colonel Rahl, stupefied
with beer and whiskey, was shot down while attempt
ing to rally his besotted troops. One thousand of them
threw down their arms. The remainder, with a squad
ron of British cavalry, fled in wild disorder.

Having accomplished his present purpose, Washing
ton recrossed the river with his prisoners a little alter
daybreak, having lost only four men, two killed and two
frozen to death.

In a few days he resolved to surprise the stronger
forces stationed at Princeton by another brilliant dash.

This he did on January 2d, 1777. He proceeded by
a circuitous route, intending to strike the enemy both in
front and rear. By a singular mishap, one wing of his
army unexpectedly encountered a British brigade. This
wing consisted of fresh recruits, who were so roughly
handled that they were being driven in confusion from
the field. This temporary advantage gave the main
body of the British time to rally lor a heavier onset.

At almost the same instant General Mercer, one of
the bravest and best of the patriot officers, fell mortally
wounded in the thickest of the fight.

In this emergency Washington performed one of
those deeds of personal valor that reminds one of
Marlborough's desperate charges at Blenhiem. He
spurred his horse into the very midst of the opposing
columns and with voice and gesture reassured his


wavering troops and drove the enemy at the point of
the bayonet.

The contest was close and indecisive, but the British
loss in killed, wounded and prisoners were four times as
heavy as the American loss.

After re-establishing his lines Washington retired in
good order to Morriston, where he fixed his winter

These victories at Trenton and Princeton, which first
broke the record of continuous defeat, were an inspira
tion to the Americans, and in equal ratio carried terror
to the hearts of their enemies.

So elated was the continental congress by these
exploits of the commander-in-chief that they hastened
to invest him, if not the title, at least with the powers
of dictatorship. They were followed by more substan
tial results in the recovery of New Jersey, except New
Brunswick and Amboy.

Cornwallis, who had thought that the colonies were
virtually subjugated, was about sailing for England.
But the Trenton and Princeton defeats so alarmed Lord
Howe that he recalled Cornwallis to his command

Thus it will readily be seen that Washington's cross
ing the Delaware on that notable Christmas night was
the pivotal event of the colonial struggle. Not that the
patriots were not to experience other reverses in the
field and hardships not less severe on the march and the
bivouac, as at the Valley Forge encampment, but it
broke the record of continuous defeat.

In the September following, Burgoyne's well discip-


lined army, moving with impervious step down the val
ley of the Hudson, was checked at Stillwater and forced
to surrender at Saratoga. Morgan's corps of riflemen
and Arnold's dashing cavalry were more than a set-off
to the military incompetence of Gates.

From this time the boasted charm of British invinci
bility was gone, and in February, 1778, the American
commissioners at Paris secured a treaty of Alliance,
offensive and defensive, with the French government.

That diplomatic feat, the credit of which was largely
due to the wisdom of Franklin, assured the ultimate
triumph of the American cause.

The seat of active military operations was, in the
closing years of the contest, removed to Georgia and the
Carolinas Savannah, Augusta, Ninety-six, Camden,
King's Mountain and Guildford Court House, were the
strategic points where Greene and Cornwallis and their
subalterns wrestled for the prize of empire.

In October, 1781, Cornwallis, the old antagonist of
Washington in the Jersey's in 1776, for the last time,
stood at bay at Yorktown, Virginia. Greene and Mor
gan had at last outwitted him in the southern campaign,
and now he was like a lion caught in the toils of the

On the land side he was shut in by the allied armies,
American and French, commanded by Washington,
with the aid of LaFayette and de Rochambeau. On
the seaward side he was cut off from escape by the fleet
of de Grasse.

After a fruitless effort to extricate himself from this


veritable cul de sac, and despairing of help from Sir
Henry Clinton, he decided to capitulate.

It is a striking coincidence that Cornwallis and Wash
ington were once more brought face to face as in the
New Jersey campaign of 1776.

But their positions were reversed. Washington had
the vantage ground, and on the I9th of October, 1781,
Cornwallis surrendered his army of seven thousand men
to the American commander

This virtually closed the contest, but it was not until
the resignation of Lord North, the English premier,
that the treaty of Paris was ratified, and the independ
ence of the thirteen colonies acknowledged. Thus, as
had been said, the obstinacy of an insane sovereign,
George III., Great Britain lost the brightest jewels in
her crown.

Next Friday is the hundred and sixteenth anniversary
of the battle of Trenton. While we feast in moderation
under our own roof tree let us remember that little
army which crossed the Delaware in the face of storm
and sleet, and contributed largely to secure blessings of
constitutional liberty.



THE English people were fond of calling Wellington
the ''Iron Duke." Not more so than Americans were
fond of calling Andrew Jackson "Old Hickory." Both
these characterizations indicated the toughness of the
mental and moral fiber of these distinguished leaders.
Wellington stretched his military lines from Torres
Vedras to Waterloo, where the curtain fell on the Napo
leonic drama. Jackson won an undying fame at New
Orleans, which extended until with one hand he throt
tled the United States Bank, and with the other
squelched the nullification movement

General Jackson, after having suffered defeat in the
House of Representatives in 1825, came to the Presi
dency in March, 1829, by a large majority of electoral
votes over his predecessor, the younger Adams.

It was my providential lot to be born on the first
anniversary of the inauguration of Mr. Adams. It was
a very quiet and uneventful administration, distinguished
for nothing beyond the visit of LaFayette, the friend of
Washington and of the thirteen colonies in their strug
gle for independence. From Boston to Savannah he
was granted an ovation, and when he left our shores he
sailed in a national war ship, the Brandywine, named
for the battle in which he had first shed his blood for


American liberty. This Arcadian period of our history
was, quite naturally, marked by individual and national
prosperity. In a sense, it closed the revolutionary era
embracing the fiftieth anniversary of the Declaration of
Independence, on which occurred the death of the elder
Adams and of his yet more illustrious compatriot,
Thomas Jefferson one the author, and the other the
principal advocate of that declaration. In some respects
this Adams administration closed likewise the era of
good feeling, for the Jacksonian era was botn eventful
and stormy.

Andrew Jackson brought to the Presidency the in
stinct ot government, backed by an immense will-power.
My earliest personal recollection of political events was
in connection with the tariff agitation, which was the
dominant issue of Jackson's first Presidential term. For
some reason the village of Salem, in Clark county, was
selected as a rallying point lor a State right's demon
stration in the year 1832.

There was no very large assemblage, but a procession
of some hundreds was formed, and moved with intrepid
step to the Methodist Church, where a stirring oration
was pronounced by William Crosby Dawson, after
wards a United States Senator. From that time for
ward, the country, from one end to the other, boiled
and bubbled like the witches' caldron in Macbeth. The
bitterness between the opposing factions was intense
the administration party denouncing the followers of
Mr. Calhoun as " nullifiers," intended to be a term of
opprobrium, and the latter retaliating by branding the


followers of Jackson as "soap-tails," or " submission-
ists. " Charleston, as in the earthquake of 1887, was
the center of this political convulsion. At times there
was an ominous speck of war on the horizon, and, as a
precautionary measure, Jackson sent a man-of-war to
Charleston harbor for the enforcement of the collection
of the customs duties. General Scott and a military
command were likewise awaiting marching orders.
Meanwhile force bills and executive proclamations were
discussed by the partisan press, and the Virginia and
Kentucky resolutions were debated by village politi
cians throughout the country.

In this crisis occurred the famous sensational debate
between Webster and Hayne.

Forty years ago this month I was standing in the east
portico of the Capitol at Washington, and incidentally
engaged in a conversation with a venerable gentleman
who proved to be one of the oldest inhabitants of that
city. Amongst some striking memorabilia of long
departed administrations he referred in an interesting
way to this Webster-Hayne discussion. He spoke of
it as a war of giants, which shook the nation from end
to end and from side to side. He regarded the dis
putants as quite evenly matched, and attributed the
seeming triumph of Webster not so much to his intel
lectual superiority or the intrinsic strength of his posi
tion as to the overshadowing influence of Jackson. The
gallery and the lobby were packed with the partisans of
the administration which put Hayne at a serious disad
vantage. I inquired of him as to the immediate effect


produced by Webster's thrilling peroration, closing
with the memorable words, "Liberty and union now
and forever, one and inseparable." He said it was
overwhelming and was greeted with an outburst of
applause. But he questioned if it was more touching
than the passage in Hayne's speech in which he por
trayed the weird desolation that would follow the vic
tory of Federalism a desolation so vast and so com
plete that

'Not a rose in the wilderness would be left on its stalk
To tell where the garden had been."

He further stated that Mr. Calhoun, who occupied
the vice-Presidential Chair, appeared during the debate
to be as restless as a caged lion or an imprisoned eagle.

From the portico we walked to the Senate chamber,
the arena of this gladiatorial combat. It seemed to me
marvelously diminutive to have been the theatre of this
historical conflict of oratory and statesmanship. But
the time was near at hand when compromise, at best a
questionable expedient, or armed contention must

At this juncture Henry Clay, who had secured the
adoption of the Missouri Compromise, stepped forward
as a peacemaker in the tariff agitation. The essential
feature of the compromise was a provision for the grad
ual reduction of the duties imposed by the tariff of 1828,
as amended in 1831 and 1832, until at the expiration of
ten years they should be lowered to a revenue standard.
After considerable discussion their compromise was ac
cepted by both belligerent parties, and soon after Presi-


dent Jackson's second inauguration he signed the bill,
and for a short season he had handshakings and con
gratulations. Even South Carolina, which Sergeant S.
Prentiss had facetiously dubbed the "hotspur of the
union," "smoothed her wrinkled front" and ceased her
war talk.

It is well enough to note that this Clay compromise
furnished Peel and Wellington a pattern for the English
settlement of the same vexatious tariff problem in 1846.
There was this difference, however, in the outcome of
the two compromises : In England the compact was
held sacred, and now wherever the union jack kisses the
sunlight and the breeze, free trade is the motto of that
wonderful empire. The Whig tariff of 1842 was not an
execution of the American compact, but a palpable
evasion. A slight reaction occurred under the Polk
administration in 1846, but during the last two or more
decades the policy of coddling our infant industries of a
hundred years old has been pressed by the barons of the
spindle and the loom until it reached high-water mark
in the McKinley tariff, now being vigorously hammered
by Governor Campbell in the Buckeye State. We can
hardly believe that this policy, which is but a relic of
the middle ages, with no doubtful resemblance to the
piracy of the Barbary States, can survive the next pres
idential campaign. Other issues are important, but
none of these must be suffered to stand in the way of a
square fight on the tariff question.

Another issue of Jackson's administration was the
recharteringof the National Bank. It reached a climax


during Jackson's second term, and the bank went down
under the herculean blows of the old hero. Efforts in
and out of Congress were made to intimidate the Presi
dent. There was even a vague rumor that an organized
mob would march on the Capitol, if needful, to secure a
renewal of the charter. General Jackson announced
that he would give the leaders as short a shrift as when,
without legal warrant, he seized and executed Arbuth-
not and Anibuster. "By the eternal," his favorite oath,
"let them come! With the people at my back, I will
hang the traitors on a gallows as high as Haman !" Not
only did he veto the new charter, but before the expi
ration of the old charter he ordered his Secretary of the
Treasury to withdraw from the vaults of the bank every
dollar of the Government deposits. Mr. Duane, the
head of the treasury department, refused to obey the
executive order. Without parleying with that cabinet
official, he fired him in a twinkling and appointed Roger
B. Taney, of Maryland, his successor, who straightway
carried out the President's order. The bank and its
friends were indignant at this action, which they stig
matized as a flagrant usurpation. An impeachment
was talked of, and, indeed, a resolution of censure was
placed on its journal by the Senate. The House refused
to concur in this resolution, but it remained on record
until some years afterwards, when it was expunged on
motion of Jackson's old friend, Thomas H. Ben\fotf, ctf
Missouri. Having removed the deposits, the next step
was to provide for their safe-keeping. For this purpose
a number of State banks were selected as government


depositories, and were named, by the opposition, pet
banks. As a set-off to the contraction that Nicholas
Biddle, President of the United States Bank, started in
Philadelphia, the President, through the Secretary,
instructed these pet banks to discount liberally for their
customers. Not otherwise could the financial crash,
already impending, be postponed.

As it was, there followed a season of apparent pros
perity. The State banks, being stimulated by the Gov
ernment, granted discounts on flimsy collaterals. Money
was abundant and speculation was wild, especially in the
public lands. I was about this time an eyewitness of a
very significant scene. It was a company of five or six
substantial citizens of Harris county mounted on good
horses, each armed with a brace of derringers and their
saddle wallets pretty well crammed with paper issues.
They were setting out for a long journey through North
Alabama to northern Mississippi, where they were to
enter public lands.

There were hundreds of such scenes occurring through
out the Southern and Middle States. As a consequence
the public land sales became enormous and the treasury
received but little gold and silver and an immense quan
tity of State bank issues. This state of affairs led to the
issuance of the famous specie circular requiring all pay
ments into the treasury to be made in gold and silver.
Wise men realized that the end of this sort of financier
ing could but be disastrous, and it came with the fury
and crushing weight of an avalanche, of which we gave


some account in a former article on the Van Buren

There were two striking episodes in Jackson's second
term which we must not entirely overlook.

The principal of these was the French spoliations'

From the origin of the Federal Government our rev
olutionary ally had presumed somewhat on her kindly
offices in that affair to treat our Government rather irrev
erently. The conduct of the French minister, Genet,
under the administration of the elder Adams, was so
aggressive, not to say insolent, that we were near being
involved in a war with the French directory. Wash
ington, who had retired to the shades of Mount Vernon,
was again appointed commander-in-chief, but fortunately
the directory recalled Genet, and the diplomatic trouble
was adjusted.

At a later period, during the Napoleonic wars, fre
quent depredations were committed on American com
merce under color of the Berlin and Milan decrees.
These depredations were made the subject matter of
complaint by the American Government, and after
much negotiation France consented to pay $5,000,000
as an indemnity. Payment, however, was unreason
ably delayed, until in 1835 Jackson demanded a settle
ment under a threat of reprisals on French commerce,
and the breaking off of diplomatic relations. Louis
Phillippe, the citizen king, understood quite well the
sternness of the American President, and in a little while
the indemnity was forthcoming. The other episode, of


which we shall only make brief mention, was the Indian
troubles in Florida and Alabama. After a good deal of
suffering and bloodshed, they were brought to a conclu
sion by the removal of the Creeks and Seminoles to the
Indian reservation west of the Mississippi.

It will be seen that the Jacksonian era was a most
eventful period, deserving more elaborate treatment.
It ended well, however, and indeed not without consid
erable eclat. The public debt was entirely extinguished,
and a surplus of $40, ooo, ooo was lodged in the national

Jackson may be said to have designated his successor,
and then quietly retired to the Hermitage near Nash
ville, Tennessee, where he died in 1845, beloved and
honored and trusted beyond any political leader since
the days of Washington, who will ever be ''first in the
hearts of his countrymen."



Mr. Van Buren, whom his party friends delighted to
call the "Sage of Kinderhook," was a native of that
ancient Dutch village which has since grown to a city
of respectable dimensions. As his name implies, he
was a descendant of some of the early settlers who fol
lowed up the discovery of Sir Henry Hudson, one of
the great navigators of the seventeenth century.

Mr. Van Buren owed his nomination and election to
the presidency much less to his own personal following
than to the patronage of "the hero of the Hermitage."
Through all the stormy and eventful scenes of the Jack-
sonian era, he had never wavered in his loyalty to that
old chieftain. It was, therefore, no matter of surprise
that in the presidential contest of 1836 he received
every electoral vote except seventy three, which were
cast for General Harrison, South Carolina's vote, which
went to Mangum, of North Carolina, and the electoral
votes of Georgia and Tennessee, which were thrown
to Hugh L. White, of Tennessee.

I saw him twice only, once as he peered through the
window of a Piedmont stage coach on his Southern
journey. It was only a glimpse. I saw him a second
time in 1851, in the cabin of a North river steamer,


which plied between New York and Albany. I could
detect nothing sinister in the expression of his face or
in the tone of his voice, to warrant the aspersion of his
political enemies that he was an American Talleyrand,
or to justify them in dubbing him the ' 'Little Magician. "
He was, perhaps, as shrewd as the ex-bishop of Autum,
but was neither as crafty nor as unprincipled in his
political methods.

He was placed at serious disadvantage by the fact
that he was the immediate presidential successor of
Andrew Jackson, who was the hero of two or more
national wars. The naked truth is, that without any
personal default his administration fell on evil days
and evil tongues. The oft-quoted saying that his pres
idential term was "a parenthesis in our national history,
that might be read in a low tone or omitted altogether
without affecting the sense, is a statement more trench
ant than it is truthful.

Some one has said with greater charity that Van
Buren's administration suffers by comparison with
others because it was an "unheroic period." With the
exceptio'i of Indian hostilities that first developed that
superb half-breed Seminole warrior, Osceola, who was
shamefully seized under a flag of truce, and now lies in
an undistinguished grave outside the walls of Fort
Moultrie, and a Quixotic dash on the Dominion of Can
ada that was speedily squelched by Federal troops,
there was nothing of a military character to break the
monotony of the times.

That it was a period of unprecedented commercial


disaster is unquestionable. The forty millions of sur
plus in the treasury towards the close ot Jackson's
administration was unwisely, and perhaps unwarrant
ably distributed amongst the States. It stimulated
reckless speculation, and in connection with the specie
circular, it had sequestered gold and silver and filled the
channels of trade with an irredeemable issue of paper

This was the proximate cause of that condition of
threatened bankruptcy which confronted the newly
inaugurated President and the country at large in the
first months of the Van Buren administration.

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Online LibraryW. J. (William J.) ScottHistoric eras and Paragraphic pencilings → online text (page 5 of 14)