« PreviousContinue »
ELECTION OF SPEAKER.
in the election of Nathaniel P. Banks, Speaker, by a vote of one hundred and three to one hundred for Aiken, of South Carolina. The opposition soon saw that I was resolved to act honestly at every hazard, and at this distance from that embittered session I can recall no one decision that I would not repeat under similar circumstances. Never shall I forget the last act of the drama—the fierce assaults of the fire-eaters upon my rulings, nor yet the ample and unanimous vindication of my course as I retired from a trying and thankless position. These revengeful men recollected all these things when Buchanan was nominated, and demanded and secured from him a secret pledge, before his election, that, in the event of his being chosen President, I should never be called to Washington in any capacity. They declared I was unsound on the
the peculiar institution,” and could not be trusted even in the only post to which I ever aspired, that of editor of the national organ, authorized to enforce Buchanan's solemn covenant of justice to the people of Kansas. He gave this secret assurance reluctantly, and of course without my knowledge; and he kept it faithfully. “There is a destiny that shapes our ends," and that which I believed at the time an act of unspeakable perfidy, proved to be a blessing to me and mine. It threw me upon my own resources, made me an independent journalist, and enabled me to convince my fellow-citizens that I could live without party patronage.
Of the extreme men in that stormy interval, Cobb, Keitt, Brooks, Barksdale, Garnett, Soulé, Burnett, Butler, James M. Mason, have gone to their long account. Slidell, Benjamin, and Wigfall are still, I believe, in foreign lands. Toombs, Davis, and Stephens, having failed in one great act of treason, are busily engaged in the work of destroying the Democratic party, an enterprise in which they promise to be more successful.
[July 2, 1871.)
The short career of Felix Grundy McConnell, of Alabama, who died by his own hand in Washington, D.C., in September, 1846, in his thirty-seventh year, was in some respects a memorable one. He was a singularly handsome man, and possessed abundant animal spirits and a native wit that made him popular with all parties. His speeches were not numerous, but were original and forcible. He was elected to two Congresses, but had not served out his full term when he died. When James K. Polk was inaugurated President, on the 4th of March, 1845, one of his first visitors was McConnell, and I shall never forget the way he introduced himself: “I have called to pay you my respects, Mr. President, and to say that if you believe in the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions, love the Union, and follow in the footsteps of Captain Andrew Jackson, of Tennessee, now at the Hermitage preparing to go to Heaven, then, sir, I hang my hammer on your anvil.” Though too careless of himself, he had many sterling traits. Once, in a bar-room of the National Hotel, he heard an infidel blaspheming the Bible. “Stop, sir," said the angry Felix_"stop! I am not a good man, but my mother used to read the Bible to me, and prayed that I might always believe in it; and d-n me if I will ever allow any body to attack it in my presence! It must be all right, for it was her guide and comfort.”
Of another type was Dixon H. Lewis, Representative in Congress from the same State from 1829 to 1843, and United States Senator from 1844 to October of 1848, when he died in New York. He was the largest man I ever saw. A chair for his especial use had to be made, and few public conveyances could accommodate him. He was a man of first-rate talents, a forcible speaker, a sound lawyer, and a close reasoner. Mr. Calhoun had no more devoted follower or friend. He was a sincere be
liever in the whole theory of State rights and secession. Amiable, and generous to a fault, he was sensitive in regard to his enormous size, which undoubtedly shortened his life. He died aged forty-six, having been in Congress a continuous term of nineteen years. Once, on his return from Washington, the steamer in which he was a passenger was wrecked. The small boat was ordered out, but he refused to enter it, fearing that his huge weight would jeopard the safety of others. After they were saved he was rescued, but for a time he was in great danger.
Not unlike McConnell was Mike Walsh, of New York. Born in Youghall, Ireland, and brought to this country when a child, he spent his boyhood as a wanderer. His newspaper, The Subterranean, printed in New York, was the terror of the politicians, and finally cost him an imprisonment of two years for libel, but this punishment increased his popularity, and he was sent to the Legislature, and for two years to Congress. I was Clerk while he was a member, and found him full of good impulses. He was a satirist by nature. Nothing provoked him so much as a snob. He spared no pretender. He was especially severe upon the airs of the chivalry of the South, and, Democrat as he was, he had no patience with them. He never rose to speak without saying something new or odd. He read much and wrote strongly. He disliked Buchanan and loved Douglas. A sad man at times, nothing could exceed his bright humor on occasion. Had he lived, I believe he would have been, like Broderick, James T. Brady, and Sickles, in hearty hostility to the rebellion. After he left Congress he made a tour of Europe, visited the camps of the great contending powers in the Crimea, and was for a time the guest of the Hon. Carroll Spence, American Minister at Constantinople. He reached there from Sebastopol penniless, and without suitable clothing. I have heard Mr. Spence describe his bearing among the polished people of the diplomatic circles. His anecdotes of men and
women, his tenacious memory, his genial nature, and, above all, his dry and irresistible humor, captivated them. Some of his letters, written while he was abroad, were unrivaled in their way. For many years he bore uncontested sway in the politics of New York, especially in the famous Empire Club. He was a proud and honest man, and had he shaped his course by a more moderate standard, he would, I believe, be still living. He was found dead on the 17th of March, 1859. Peace to the ashes of Mike Walsh!
(July 9, 1871.)
WRITING about "public men," I am not willing to exclude myself from the opportunity of saying something about the celebrated women who have figured in American history. First among these, among my own recollections, was the versatile and original Frances Wright, or Madame Frances d'Arusmont, still better known as “Fanny Wright," a Scotchwoman, who visited this country in 1818, 1820, and 1825, and died in Cincinnati on the 13th of January, 1853, aged fifty-seven. She excited much comment by her leveling doctrines and her extravagant language. But she had many followers and courtiers, among them the still living Robert Dale Owen. The well-known Amos Gilbert wrote a memoir of her in 1855, two years after her death, entitled, “The Pioneer Woman, or the Cause of Woman's Rights.” She was a person of immense energy and uncommon versatility. The list of her works is something unusual. She wrote a tragedy called “Altorf,” in 1819; “Views of Society and Manners in America,” which ran through four editions, and was transiated into French, published in 1820, and republished, with alterations and additions, in 1821 and 1822 ; “A Few Days in
Athens,” being a translation of a Greek manuscript found in Herculaneum, and a defense of the Epicurean Philosophy, published in London in 1822, and republished in Boston in 1822. These were followed by a course of popular lectures, spoken in all the leading cities North, West, and South, and printed for circulation, and running through six editions. She was also the author, in company with Robert Dale Owen, of certain popular tracts, and in 1844 her biography was published in England, including her notes and political letters. I shall always remember the effect produced by the lectures of this indefatigable and really gifted woman, as she traveled through Pennsylvania many years ago. Controverted and attacked by the clergy and the press, she maintained an undaunted front, and persevered to the last. That she was a woman of great mind is established by the number of her followers, including some of the best intellects of the country, and by the repeated publication and very general reading of her tracts and essays. It is related that when she came to her death-bed she recanted the most of her free-love and socialistic theories.
Very different from Fanny Wright was the notorious Annie Royall, who died on the ist of September, 1854, on Capitol Hill, in the city of Washington. She was the terror of politicians, and especially of Congressmen. I can see her now tramping through the halls of the old Capitol, umbrella in hand, seizing upon every passer-by, and offering her book for sale. Any public man who refused to buy was certain of a severe philippic in her newspaper, The Washington Paul Pry, or in that which succeeded it, The Huntress. “We have the famous Mrs. Royall here," writes Justice Story to Mrs. Story, on the 8th of March, 1827, “with her new novel, “The Tennesseans,' which she has compelled the Chief Justice and myself to buy to avoid a castigation. I shall bring it home for your edification.” She wrote and printed a great deal, but seemed to rely almost entirely upon her ability to blacken private character. Among