Hardly was he comfortably seated in the executive
chair before he was urged by the merchants of New
York and other Eastern cities to rescind the specie cir
cular and to convene Congress in extra session. Mr.
Van Buren, besides being a stickler for "honest money, "
was too thoroughly wedded to the Jacksonian policy of
divorcing the Government from the banks to tamper
with the former, but he did meet public expectation in
part by calling an extra session.
He went a step beyond this, for in September of that
year he advised Congress to provide for the issuance of
ten millions in treasury notes to alleviate the existing
distress. But his favorite financial scheme was the inde
pendent treasury, otherwise called the subtreasury. It
simply provided for the safe-keeping and disbursement
of the public funds at various business centers It cer
tainly never contemplated making the national treasury
a "pawnbroker's shop," where 80 per cent, was ad-
92 HISTORICAL AND BIOGRAPHICAL.
vanced on cotton, corn or wheat or lesser agricultural
Mr. Van Buren's idea was that this subtreasury plan
would be a check on the reckless banking and yet more
reckless speculation which had already brought the
country to the verge of financial ruin. There was,
however, very formidable opposition to this policy, and
it was not adopted until 1840. Since that period it has
been the basis of our national financial system.
We have already referred in general terms to the
prostrate condition of our national industries during Mr.
Van Buren's presidential term. Let us speak more in
detail and more from personal observation.
In the grain-growing districts of the West wheat and
corn were rotting in bins and cribs, with scarcely any
quotable market value. The surplus grain stuffs were
shut out from the English market by the corn laws.
Meanwhile Barry Cornwall chanted the death song of
that protective system, but not till gaunt famine, like a
ghastly specter, had stalked through the highways and
byways of England and Ireland.
In the South cotton was never before or since lower
than during part of this period. In New Orleans, the
great cotton market of the world, there were, in two
days, business failures amounting to nearly thirty mil
lions of dollars. This beats, by heavy odds, the Ryan
failure, which has been the talk of Atlanta for a solid
Banks suspended or exploded from the lakes to the
gulf with a crash as startling as the "crack of doom."
VAX BUREN AND HIS ADMINISTRATION. 93
Values of all kinds were greatly depreciated. I saw
stalwart negro bucks sold on the block for three and
four hundred dollars that in better times brought eight
and nine hundred.
The currency away from the money centers consisted
of wildcat bank issues, or of shin-plasters, as they were
queerly denominated, that in reality were mere promis
sory notes of private grocers or dry goods merchants. I
know a very rich gentleman in this city whose father
floated a large amount of these shin-plasters and sus
tained his commercial credit. This was the exception,
most of these issues breaking down in a single season.
But after all, the worst feature of these times was
general demoralization in the matter of debt paying.
Stay laws, after the pattern of the thirding laws of a
much earlier date, were enacted by State Legislatures.
The constitutional provision forbidding a State to pass
a law "impairing the obligation of a contract," was
either evaded or trampled under foot. On one occa
sion, the precise date not remembered, I saw a man,
afterwards prominent in politics, cudgel another man for
bidding at a sheriff's sale the sheriff for prudential rea
sons holding his peace. In some communities these
judicial sales were either arrested or delayed the offi
cers of the law being terrorized by the mob.
This state of things obtained with slight improvement
until the Harrisburg convention named its candidates
William Henry Harrison, of Ohio, the reputed slayer
of Tecumseh, and John Tyler, of Virginia, a State rights
Whig. The platform adopted by the Whigs was skill-
94 HISTORICAL AND BIOGRAPHICAL.
fully adjusted to the financial condition of the country.
There was to be a general bankrupt law, embodying
both the voluntary and involuntary features. This
appeal to the debtor class, who were largely in the
ascendancy throughout the nation, caused a widespread
There was then no demand for the " free coinage of
silver," for that metal had not yet been demonetized at
the behest of the Wall street plutocrats.
But the Whigs, who were always wise in their gene
ration, had "something better" still to offer in the
shape of a national bank, backed by the credit of the
General Government. By this measure the people were
to realize a happy riddance of the fluctuating currency
furnished by the State banks. These two measures
were the winning cards in the pending presidential
The Democratic party of that era seemed smitten with
judicial blindness, and their candidate, Mr. Van Buren,
was overwhelmingly defeated. Harrison received 234
electoral votes and Van Buren barely sixty.
Thus the national party, which from the days of Jef
ferson had exercised undisputed sway, met its Waterloo
in the campaign of 1840.
Of which dramatic event we shall have something to
say at another time.
THE HARRISON CAMPAIGN OF 1840. 95
THE HARRISON CAMPAIGN OF 1840,
The popular uprising in the presidential campaign of
1840 was not unlike the present Farmers' Alliance
movement, without, however, its grips and passwords.
In all the agricultural districts of the country there was
then much real or apprehended suffering. The leading
products of the farm, as we have previously stated,
hardly had any quotable market value. To this must
be added the stringency of the money market, and we
have not a few of the conditions which have precipi
tated on the country at this time the Alliance movement
and the Ocala platform.
Harrison, the Whig candidate, was trumpeted as the
hero of Tippecanoe, but better known to the masses as
the "Old Farmer of North Bend."
A fac simile of the log cabin in which he lived when
Lieutenant Governor of the Northwestern territory was
mounted on wheels, gayly decorated with miniature
national flags, the clapboard roof ornamented with coon-
skins, whilst strings of red pepper and a long-handled
gourd dangled from the doorposts. The string of the
doorlatch was conspicuously on the outside, as an
emblem of the proverbial hospitality of the farmer.
On all big occasions, such as barbecues, the log cabin
with its trimmings, drawn by Kentucky-raised mules,
96 HISTORICAL AND BIOGRAPHICAL.
and driven by a happy-looking plantation darkey, was
in place. It was an interesting picturesque scene, not
in the shape of high art, but in such shape as best
caught the eye and best tickled the fancy of the multi
tude. Campaign songs, perhaps the model of later
negro minstrels, enlivened the occasion and roused the
utmost enthusiasm. It may be soberly said that from
the banks of the Aristook to the borders of the new
born republic of Texas, the country had gone wild, if
not crazy, with political excitement.
We doubt if any single publication of the campaign
contributed more to the success of the Whigs than a
statistical speech of Congressman Old, of Pennsylvania.
The speech was devoted chiefly to an elaborate inven
tory of the furnishings of the White House. The gold
spoons and silver knives and forks the expensive car
peting the costly dinner and tea sets the wine cellars
filled with high-priced wine the extravagance of every
kind was noted and numbered. All this vast outlay
for the comfort of Van Buren, the occupant of the
White House, whilst the "Old Farmer of North Bend"
ate corn dodgers and drank hard cider, and the nation
itself trembled on the verge of bankruptcy.
Pamphlet copies of the speech were sown broadcast
and knee-deep through the states and territories.
The effect was tremendous, and the movement, which
savored strongly of demagogism, developed into a polit
In Georgia, which refused to vote for Van Buren in
1836, it was a one-sided affair. Three of the ablest
THE HARRISON CAMPAIGN OF 1840. 97
leaders of the old State-rights' party Colquitt, Cooper
and Black abandoned their party allegiance and went
over to the Van Buren administration. But this was
but a ripple on the surface. The bulk of the Whigs,
who from the times of Troup and the treaty, had been
against what was known as the Union party, stood by
their colors and were heavily reinforced from the ranks
of the former opposition.
One of the greatest Whig rallies of the campaign in
Western Georgia was at Hamilton, Harris county. Not
only the people of that county, but hundreds from
Troup, Meriwether, Muscogee and Talbot counties, and
a large mounted delegation from Chambers county, Ala
bama, were in attendance. The speakers were Hutch-
inson and Hilliard, from Montgomery, Ala., Sam Flour-
noy, from Columbus, and Julius Q. C. Alford, from La-
Grange To give greater eclat to the occasion, a mili
tary band was brought from Columbus.
The speaking at the grandstand was of the best, and
the enthusiasm was immense. Dr. David Cooper, the
father of Mrs. Col. N. C. Barnett, was a Whig, warp
and filling, and was conspicuous in that vast audience
by his stately figure and his hearty applause of the
good points scored by the several orators. Col. Wililam
C. Osborn, of Hamilton, and his brother, Geo. Osborn,
of Waverly Hall, the Parleys, the Walkers, the Mob-
leys, the Crawfords, the Pitts, and a host of other old
Whigs were jubilant.
My first newspaper correspondence was a report of
98 HISTORICAL AND BIOGRAPHICAL.
that meeting to John Forsyth's paper, The Columbus
This Whig barbecue was but a specimen brick. All
through the State and throughout the country similar
scenes were enacted
It is not singular that when, on the kalends of No
vember, the ballots were counted, "Tip and Ty" were
found to have won the heat by several lengths, Van
Buren barely reaching the distance post.
On the 4th of March, 1841, General Harrison was
inaugurated President, and John Tyler, of Virginia,
The administration started under bright auspices, but
in one month, 4th of April, the President died, the old
hero expiring before the acclamations which hailed his
inauguration had passed away. His death, however,
did not occur until after he had issued an executive
proclamation convening Congress in extra session, on
the ist of May. The principal reason assigned in the
proclamation for this unusual procedure was the disor
dered condition of the finances of the country.
President Tyler took the oath of office on the 6th of
April, two days after General Harrison's death, and,
for the time being everything went smoothly and pros
perously with the new regime.
With the assembling of the extra session it was evi
dent that there was discordant elements in the triumph
There was no hitch in the proposed bankrupt law,
which gave great relief to the large debtor class of the
THE HARRISON CAMPAIGN OF 1840. 99
country. But the project for re-chartering the National
Bank met with considerable disfavor, even amongst the
friends of the administration.
President Tyler, who was a Virginia statesman of the
old school, was not prepared to accept the doubtful
policy of re-establishing an institution that originated
with Alexander Hamilton, and which, during the forty
years of its existence, had produced grave political com
His personal opposition to a national bank was an
open secret during the late presidential campaign. But
his party friends cherished the hope that he would ac
quiesce to the expressed will of a congressional major
ity. This he relused to do on two several occasions,
and as the majority could not command a two thirds
\ote the bank charter failed.
Then followed, as might be supposed, a disruption of
the Whig organization. The Harrison cabinet resigned
in a body, with the single exception of Mr. Webster,
who retained his position with a view to the settlement
of the northeastern boundary question with England.
It is a singular fact that neither the treaty of Versailles
nor the treaty of Ghent adjusted this boundary ques
tion. For sixty years its indeterminateness was a per
petual menace to the international relations of both
countries. Lord Ashburton and Mr. Webster fixed the
boundary to the satisfaction of all concerned.
During the second year of the Tyler administration,
1848, the Dorr insurrection came to a head in the little
State of Rhode Island. For nearly two hundred years
IOO HISTORICAL AND BIOGRAPHICAL.
the charter granted by Charles II. to the trustees of
Rhode Island and Providence plantations was the or
ganic law of that commonwealth.
The property qualification demanded of voters had
been obnoxious to the poorer classes for many years,
and it was the repeal of this feature that Thomas W.
Dorr made the basis of his revolutionary procedure.
The strife between the "suffrage" and the "law and
order" party culminated in riot and bloodshed. Nor
was the disturbance quieted until Federal troops were
placed at the disposal of Governor King.
Dorr left the State, but was afterwards tried and con
victed of treason. He remained in prison for two or
more years, and then was unconditionally released.
Another intestine trouble that threatened the peace
of the country was anti-rent disturbances in several
counties of New York. In Delaware, Renssalaer and
Columbia counties the great body of the farmers held
only household estates, for the occupancy of which they
paid such pepper-corn rents as a day's work or a bushel
of oats. But some of them had become weary of this
relic of the old Dutch patroonship, and hundreds of them
refused to pay the custom any rental. Not satisfied
with this, they prohibited other tenants, who were dif
ferently disposed, from paying their rents under penalty
of being tarred and feathered. In Delaware county
these riotous proceedings became frequent and flagrant;
so much so, indeed, that Governor Silas Wright
declared the county in a state of insurrection, and
THE HARRISON CAMPAIGN OF 1840. IOI
ordered out the militia to suppress it. This display of
the mailed hand soon brought order out of confusion.
The Mormon troubles in Illinois were another feature
of Tyler's administration. They were provoked by
popular alarm at the rapid spread of this nineteenth cen
tury delusion. After milder methods had failed to
arrest its progress, a mob broke the jail at Carthage,
where Joseph Smith, the Mormon prophet, and his
brother Hiram were imprisoned, and assassinated them
in cold blood.
Shortly thereafter they fired the Mormon temple at
Nauvoo, an act of incendiarism as unwarrantable as the
burning of a Catholic convent during the no-popery
riots in Boston, and the later destruction of three Cath
olic churches during the Know-nothing riots in Philadel
The Mormons set forth in a few months for their
present home in Utah, where they now number nearly
two hundred thousand.
One event, far less dramatic than those we have just
glanced at, was pre eminently the crowning glory of this
presidential term. We refer to the first notable success
of the magnetic telegraph In May, 1844, the National
Democratic Convention met in Baltimore, and, alter sev
eral ballotings, nominated James K. Polk for President
and George M. Dallas for Vice- President. Thtj news
ol this nomination was instantly transmitted to .Wash
ington by the Morse telegraph. This was the first mes
sage that went over the wires to any considerable dis
tance, and its safe transmission lifted a mountain load
IO2 HISTORICAL AND BIOGRAPHICAL.
from the heart of Prof. Morse, who had been for years
the football of fickle fortune and the sport of vulgar
This message was the signal given for the opening of
the most remarkable political campaign during the first
century of our national existence. It was the Derby
contest of the presidential Newmarket. Clay, the Whig
candidate, was, in some respects, the noblest Roman of
them all. Theodore Frelinghuysen, the vice-presiden
tial candidate, was the President of the American Bible
Society, and, aside from that, was a purely negative
Polk, the Democratic candidate, was an ex-Speaker
of the House, a protege of Jackson, and a thoroughly
practical statesman. George M. Dallas was a good
second, which led some wag to say that it was a kanga
roo ticket, with its main strength in its hind legs.
The next few months were resonant with the boom
ing of the big guns of the platform and the war cries of
the rank and file of the two great parties.
The annexation of Texas overshadowed the subordi
nate issues of bank, tariff and internal improvements.
It was in this connection that Judge Colquitt used to
tell his famous story of the "Texas filly," which he
claimed had more bottom than "Eclipse," and better
speed than "Flying Childers. "
When Colquitt brought in this illustration of the
immense popularity of the annexation plank of the
Democratic platform, the Whigs squirmed and the Dem
THE HARRISON CAMPAIGN OF 1840. 1 03
The result of this contest was that Mr. Clay was
shelved, and ceased to be a presidential possibility.
Not only so, but a bill for the annexation of Texas,
out of deference to the popular will as expressed at the
ballot box, was passed in the closing week of the Tyler
administration. We shall have more to say of the les
sons of this grand campaign when v\e come to speak of
the Polk and Dallas administration.
IO4 HISTORICAL AND BIOGRAPHICAL.
THE MEXICAN WAR PERIOD,
We have elsewhere said that the presidential cam
paign of Clay and Polk, in 1844, was the Derby con
test ol our national Newmarket. While it was neither
so picturesque nor so boisterous as the "Tip and Ty "
struggle of 1840, it was by no means wanting in politi
cal enthusiasm. It was, in a measure, inaugurated by
Mr. Clay's Southern tour in the early spring of that
most memorable year. That was the first, and, indeed,
last occasion on which I saw the gallant "Harry of the
West," and from the platform heard him address an
audience of 20,000 people with characteristic force and
eloquence. So thrilling were some passages of his
speech that they elicited outbursts of applause that
almost threatened to rend the welkin.
If personal magnetism had been the dominant issue,
the illustrious Kentuckian would have had a walk over.
But there were economic questions, such as tariff revis
ion and reduction, which challenged public attention
and largely influenced the popular verdict. Beyond all
else, however, the annexation question was one that not
only appealed to the Southern heart, but likewise to an
American sentiment wherever the stars and stripes
wantoned with the breeze or shimmered in the mellow
sunlight. So strong was this sentiment that weeks and
THE MEXICAN WAR PERIOD. IQj
months before the ballots were cast the election of Polk
and Dallas was assured.
At this point a brief allusion to the Texan revolution
will help us to appreciate the vast popularity of this
annexation plank of the Democratic platform. The
struggle for Texan independence began in good earnest
with the battle of Gonzales in 1835, an d, alter alarming
fluctuations, closed with the decisive battle of San Jacin-
to in April, 1856. On this historic field independence
was achieved and the butchery of the Alamo was sig
nally avenged by the route of the Mexican army and
the subsequent capture of its leader, Santa Anna, who
lost a leg and a sword in the conflict. The leg, we
believe, was buried with the honors of war. The sword
was, some years ago, in possession of our old friend,
Dr. Borders, of Polk county, the father-in law of Con
gressman Everett. Dr. Richardson, of this city, in
forms me that Dr. Borders has been offered by Texas a
large tract of land for the sword, but refuses to part with
This brilliant victory at San Jacinto was shortly after
wards followed by the recognition of Texan independ
ence by the United States, Great Britain and France,
and the "Lone Star Republic " was admitted to the fel
lowship of the older nations. During the Van Buren
administration the Texan government, through its min
ister at Washington, asked to be incorporated into the
Federal Union. This quite natural desire was not then
granted, because Mr. Van Buren feared that it might
lead to graver political complications with Mexico.
IO6 HISTORICAL AND BIOGRAPHICAL.
Events were not yet ripe for this " devoutly wished-
for consummation." All through the Harrison and
Tyler regime the issue was kept in abeyance until the
campaign of 1844, v.hen it became an American ques
tion of supreme urgency.
When Mr. Polk was inaugurated the marriage union
between the sister republics had already been solem
nized, not by a treaty, the usual stipulations, but by a
joint resolution of the Senate and House of Representa
tives, approved by the President. One of the first
duties of the new administration was to execute the law,
and yet it was confronted at the very threshold by a
boundary dispute with Mexico. Texas rightfully claimed
that her western boundary extended to the Rio Grande.
On the other hand, the Mexican government, with
Parade:? at its head, disputed the claim, contending that
the Neuces River was the proper western limit of Texas,
for the reason that the territory lying between the two
rivers appertained to the State of Coahua, which had
never shaken off its allegiance to the mother country.
There was a semblance of right in this claim, and the
American Government suggested that it be made the
subject of negotiation looking to a fair adjustment on
some money basis.
Parades, the Mexican President, spurned the proposal,
and began massing a large body of troops on the Rio
Grande. Thereupon, at the request of the Texas au
thorities, our Government ordered Colonel Zachary Tay
lor, a celebrity of the Seminole war, to proceed with
THE MEXICAN WAR PERIOD. IO/
2,000 men to Corpus Christi, at the mouth of the
Neuces, and establish at that or some other suitable
point a depot of supplies.
This brings us to the first act of the Mexican war
drama, the events of which constitute one of the bright
est chapters in our rational annals.
From the first battle at Palo Alto, May, 1846, where
Major Ringgold, a gallant Marylander, poured out his
heart's bood as a libation to the goddess of American
liberty, to the day General Scott made his triumphal
entry into the city of the Montezumas, it was one un
broken series of victories. While it would be weari
some to speak of the minor details ot this more than
two years of invasion, it is eminently proper to notice
the grander movements conducted by Taylor and Scott,
who had an equal share in the honors of the struggle.
The first stage of the conflict culminated in the seiz
ure of Monterey in September, 1846, and in the crush
ing defeat of Santa Anna and his forces at Buena Vista
in February of the ensuing year.
It was in this contest, against heavy odds, that our
volunteer soldiery demonstrated their admirable fighting
qualities and forever silenced the slander that they were
mere carpet knights unfitted for the tug of war. It was
on this field that our own immortal Davis, who had won
his earliest laurels when a junior lieutenant in the Black
Hawk war, received imperishable renown by his skill
ful maneuvering and the stubborn valor of his Missis
sippi Riflemen in the crisis of the conflict.
As to his peculiar regimental formation it was not a
Io8 HISTORICAL AND BIOGRAPHICAL.
novelty invented for the occasion, but well known and
often practiced amongst the ancient Greeks.
By an order from headquarters the Taylor movement
was arrested at Saltillo, a small town beyond Buena
Santa Anna was in full retreat to the City of Mexico,
and a considerable number of Taylor's troops were
ordered to reinforce Scott's command, which, having
forced the capitulation of that most formidable fortress
San Juan D'Ulloa, was marching at no leisurely pace
from Vera Cruz upon the enemy's capital. We have
always been somewhat incredulous of Prescott's story
of the conquest of Mexico by Hernando Cortez. But
that wonderful feat, performed by a handful of Spanish
cavaliers, with the help of the native Tlascalans, who
had revolted against Montezuma, was more than
equaled by Scott and his gallant army. From Cerro