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When James K. Polk was elected President, in 1844, he resolved, under the advice of the Southern politicians, to supersede the old Jackson and Van Buren firm of Blair & Rives, and to invite the veteran Thomas Ritchie, for many years the editor of the ancient Virginia organ, the Richmond Enquirer, to assume the responsibility of defending the measures of his Administration. There can be no doubt that the anti-slavery inclining of Mr. Blair was the motive for this change. Martin Van Buren had twice offended the Southern Democracy-once when in his inaugural, in 1837, he declared in favor of the constitutionality of the abolition of slavery in the District of Columbia, and again when he pronounced against the annexation of Texas in 1843. Renominated in 1840, and defeated by General Harrison, his name was again presented as a candidate in 1844; but his Texas letter raised a host of enemies against him in the National Convention of that year, who, after a long and harassing contest, united upon James K. Polk-the Blairs, the Riveses, the Bentons, the Tappans, the Allens, the Hoffmans, and the Silas Wrights all ranged on the side of the New York statesman. The new Tennessee President felt that his Administration would not be heartily supported by men who had sympathized with Van Buren in regard to the abolition of slavery in the District of Columbia and in opposition to the annexation of Texas, and hence he called for the services of Father Ritchie. The wound inflicted by this change of national editors was deep and rankled long. It undoubtedly created the Free-Soil party; it soured Thomas H. Benton; it organized a fierce internal opposition to General Cass when he was the Democratic candidate against General Taylor in 1848; it vitalized the able and vindictive pens of Mr. Blair and his associates; it put Prince John Van Buren on the stump as the advocate of his own father, who ran as the third candidate on the Buffalo platform. It did much to inspire David Wilmot to offer the Wilmot Proviso in 1846. It was one of the early elements which gradually and
surely prepared the way for the political uprising of 1854, on the repeal of the Missouri Compromise—a convulsion which would have become universal had not James Buchanan in 1856 promised that the people of Kansas should be permitted to vote on the subject of slavery without interruption or violencea promise which, broken in his term, was avenged by the political revolution of 1858, which destroyed the Democratic party effectually, gave victory to the Republicans, carried Lincoln into the Presidential chair, and so maddened the South as to drive it into that rebellion, the defeat of which ended in the complete and eternal abolition of human slavery. So it will be seen that so trilling a thing as a change in the editor of a political organ originated a movement that culminated in the most remarkable event of the century.
Thomas Ritchie, the successor of the Blairs, though he changed the name of the national Democratic organ from The Globe to The Union, was, nevertheless, the unconscious harbinger of disunion. A more amiable, simple-minded, honorable gentleman, never existed; but he had lived too long in a narrow sphere to figure on the national stage. He was a conscientious believer in the extreme doctrine of State rights—the kindest and most genteel old fogy who ever wore nankeen pantaloons, high shirt-collars, and broad-brimmed straw hats. He was the delight of every social circle, not for his wit, which was dull, but for his chronic Virginia peculiarities. He was the Grandfather Whitehead of the politicians; the Jesse Rural of the diplomats—his efforts at making peace between contending rivals generally ending in the renewal of strife, and his paragraphs in defense of the Administration awakening new storms of ridicule. He was a firm believer in the now happily exploded habit that nothing better became an editor than to be at war with his contemporary; and thus it was that The Union was filled with contradictions of accusations against the Administration, many of which had been invented by the practical jokers on
the other side. Among these practical jokers, none was more busy than the German Austrian, Francis J. Grund, for a long time the “Observer” of the Philadelphia Ledger, and the "X" of the Baltimore Sun. A versatile genius, of enormous energy and inexhaustible resources—a linguist, an orator, a conversationalist, a writer with few rivals in his day and time—he was a knight of the Free Lance, mingling with all parties (to nearly all of which he had belonged and abandoned in turn), he was the terror of public men. Welcomed in every circle, especially among the diplomatists, where his large sund of information in regard to foreign politics gave him the entrée, and where he gathered stores of intelligence for the newspapers whose correspondent he was, he seemed to sport with questions that troubled others. Nothing gave him so much delight as to worry Father Ritchie, and nothing worried Father Ritchie more than Mr. Grund; and I am sure it can be no irreverence to the memory of the excellent old man to add that nothing excited more merriment in official coteries than the skill with which the accomplished German tantalized and taunted the high-strung Virginian. For Mr. Ritchie, like many other men, could not realize such a thing as a practical joke. Every thing was serious to him; and it was amusing to note how the most trifling allusion to the President and his Cabinet would quicken his facile pen, and how he would pour his almost unintelligible manuscript into the hands of the printer. He wrote much-not always clearly, but always honestly; and when he left the tripod to which he had been tempted by large promises, he was neither as comfortable nor as rich a man as when he broke up his household at Richmond to share the gay society and the heavy burdens of Washington journalism. He was too old when he exchanged places. He was never, though often called, the flatterer of power. His instincts were so pure, his relations to men so honest, that he could not discriminate in the support he gave to the Administration. He believed so utterly in the unselfishness of others
that he could not understand that his support of them might be characterized as sycophancy. He reached Washington when Gales & Seaton, of the National Intelligencer, began their decline, and, if I understand aright, he sustained the kindliest relations to them. In more than one respect he has not been so fortunate as the illustrious twain, who, like himself, have now gone forth to learn the great secret. He had not a gentle and graceful annalist like William Winston Seaton, whose lately printed biography, from the genial pen of one of his own household, may happily be classed, not simply among the best productions of modern literature, but among the most precious tributes with which gratitude has crowned the well-earned fame of one who was alike father, counselor, and friend.
[June 25, 1871.)
It was fifteen years last December since the meeting of the first session of the Thirty-fourth Congress. Its business was delayed from the ad of December, 1855, to the 3d of February, 1856, by the failure of the House to elect a Speaker. The revulsion produced by the repeal of the Missouri Compromise in the previous year, increased by the Know-Nothing frenzy, gave the opposition large accessions, and made it exceedingly doubtful who would control the House. The Democrats had enjoyed a long and almost unbroken reign, and this uprising was the first signal of its close. As Clerk of the popular branch of the previous Congress, it was my lot to act as presiding officer during the protracted contest. My position was most peculiar. I had had no experience in Parliamentary tactics-indeed, there were no rules for the discipline of that tumultuous body—and I could only rely on common-sense as my guide. I was one of the editors of the Washington Union, the organ of President Pierce, and the active advocate of James Buchanan, then American Minister at the British court, for the Presidential succession, and I was the personal friend of Andrew H. Reeder, who had just been removed from the governorship of Kansas for refusing to join the conspiracy to force slavery into that Territory. Our relations had not changed, and I had earnestly, but vainly, protested against his sacrifice. He was on the floor contesting the seat of J. W. Whitfield, who had secured the certificate of delegate from Kansas. The struggle for the Presidency was at fever heat. All the candidates had friends among the members, and the canvassing between them was incessant. The South was wrought to the highest pitch of excitement. The bold attitude of the Free State men in Congress and the country, the extraordinary proceedings in Kansas, the closeness of parties in the House, added to the other perplexities of my position. The opposition looked upon me at first with a very natural distrust, and the Democrats relied upon me to exert every influence to forward their designs. Nor was this perplexity lessened by the fact that my political associates were generally in the wrong. Their hatred of my friend Reeder was terrible. He was charged with every possible corruption, and I soon found that my unconcealed confidence in him made me an object of general distrust among the Southern leaders. Cobb and Stephens, of Georgia; Garnett and Edmundson, of Virginia ; Rust, of Arkansas ; Alexander K. Marshall and Burnett, of Kentucky; Barksdale, of Mississippi; Keitt and Brooks, of South Carolina, backed by Slidell, Toombs, Iverson, J. M. Mason, Hammond, Butler, Wigfall, Benjamin, Yulee, and C. C. Clay, in the Senate, with Jefferson Davis in the Cabinet, all felt that if the House was lost all was imperiled. Every day the same scene was enacted. Interminable ballotings, points of order, debates, threats of violence upon the Northern members, consumed two months of the public time, and at last resulted