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JOHN C. BRECKINRIDGE.
to the people of Kansas. His argument was exceedingly effective, and thousands voted for the “favorite son” because they believed the impassioned Georgian.
Yet as the controversy deepened Governor Cobb yielded to the exactions of his section, and when the rebellion burst upon us he was one of the foremost and most resolute of the secession chiefs. He died in New York in 1869, in his 54th year, greatly mourned in Georgia, where he leaves large family connections. Before we revive the censure of his conduct as James Buchanan's Secretary of the Treasury, and as one of the members of the government of Jefferson Davis, let us "put ourselves in his place."
Another illustration of the force of circumstances is that of John Cabell Breckinridge, of Kentucky. I have always believed that he espoused the Confederacy, if not reluctantly, at least in the conviction that it would forever end his political career. He inherited hostility to slavery. When he came to Washington in 1851 as a Representative from the old Henry Clay Lexington district, in Kentucky, he was in no sense an extremist. At that early day, when he had just attained his 30th year, and I was in my 34th, we conferred freely and frequently on the future of our country.
He used to relate how Sam Houston, for whom he had great respect, would expatiate upon the dangers and evils of slavery; and it was not difficult to trace the operation of the same idea in his own mind. But he was too interesting a character to be neglected by the able ultras of the South. They saw in his winning manners, attractive appearance, and rare talent for public affairs, exactly the elements they needed in their concealed designs against the country. If they were successful in arousing his ambition and finally making him one of themselves, we must not forget that few men similarly placed would have been proof against such blandishments. Let this be said of him. He was never prominent in the small persecutions of the Democrats who refused to indorse the course of the Administration of which he was Vice-President. No doubt that lost him the confidence of the President and his immediate followers.
He was made a Senator in Congress from Kentucky when the Buchanan régime expired, taking his seat on the very day that his venerable chief retired to Wheatland; and he remained a Senator in Congress till the close of the called session, which opened on the 14th of July, and closed on the 6th of August, 1861. He was the leader of the Democracy in that exciting month, and though he gave no sign of his intention to join the rebel army, nobody was surprised when he was reported at Richmond, Virginia.
Perhaps the most dramatic scene that ever took place in the Senate Chamber-old or new-was that between Breckinridge and Colonel E. D. Baker, of Oregon, on the ist of August, 1861, five days before the adjournment sine die, in the darkest period of the war, when the rebellion was most defiant and hopeful. The last week of that July was full of excitement in Congress and the country, and I know how much labor and patience it required to keep alive the hopes of our people. The course of Powell and Breckinridge, of Kentucky, and Bright, of Indiana, in opposing the Government, had nearly obliterated party feeling in the Senate. McDougall, of California, Rice, of Minnesota, Thompson, of New Jersey, all Democrats, had declared for force to crush the rebellion. These men were especially emphatic, though closely endeared to Breckinridge. Thompson, of New Jersey, spoke loud and firm from his seat—“I shall vote for the bill as a war measure—I am in favor of carrying on the war to crush out the rebellion.” The same day McDougall questioned the right of Powell, of Kentucky, to his seat in the Senate. Andrew Johnson reiterated his determination to stand by the flag to the last. Carlile, of West Virginia, would vote for force to put down the rebel foe.
It was in the midst of this feeling that Breckinridge rose to
SENATOR E. D. BAKER.
make his last formal indictment against the Government. Never shall I forget the scene. Baker was a Senator and a soldier. He alternated between his seat in the Capitol and his tent in the field. He came in at the eastern door (while Breckinridge was speaking) in his blue coat and fatigue cap, ridingwhip in hand. He paused and listened to the “polished treason," as he afterward called it, of the Senator from Kentucky, and, when he sat down, he replied with a fervor never to be forgotten. One or two of his passages deserve to be repeated :
“To talk to us about stopping is idle; we will never stop. Will the Senator yield to rebellion ? Will he shrink from armed insurrection? Will his State justify it? Will its better public opinion allow it? Shall we send a flag of truce? What would he have? Or would he conduct this war so feebly that the whole world would smile at us in derision? What would he have? These speeches of his, sown broadcast over the landwhat clear, distinct meaning have they? Are they not intended for disorganization in our very midst? Are they not intended to dull our weapons? Are they not intended to destroy our zeal? Are they not intended to animate our enemies? Sir, are they not words of brilliant, polished treason, even in the very Capitol of the Confederacy?” [Manifestations of applause in the galleries.]
The presiding officer (Mr. Anthony in the chair).—“Order !"
MR. BAKER. “What would have been thought if, in another Capitol, in another Republic, in a yet more martial age, a Senator as grave, not more eloquent or dignified than the Senator from Kentucky, yet with the Roman purple flowing over his shoulders, had risen in his place, surrounded by all the illustrations of Roman glory, and declared that advancing Hannibal was just, and that Carthage ought to be dealt with in terms of peace? What would have been thought if, after the battle of Cannæ, a Senator there had risen in his place and denounced every levy of the Roman people, every expenditure of its treas
ure, and every appeal to the old recollections and the old glories? Sir, a Senator, himself learned far more than myself in such lore [Mr. Fessenden), tells me in a voice that I am glad is audible, that he would have been hurled from the Tarpeian Rock. It is a grand commentary upon the American Constitution that we permit these words to be uttered. I ask the Senator to recollect, too, what, save to send aid and comfort to the enemy, do these predictions amount to? Every word thus uttered falls as a note of inspiration upon every Confederate ear. Every sound thus uttered is a word (and, falling from his lips, a mighty word) of kindling and triumph to a foe that determines to advance. For me, I have no such word as a Senator to utter. For me, amid temporary defeat, disaster, disgrace, it seems that my duty calls me to utter another word, and that word is bold, sudden, forward, determined war, according to the laws of war, by armies, by military commanders, clothed with full power, advancing with all the past glories of the Republic urging them on to conquest.”
Breckinridge had made the following prediction :
“War is separation,' is the language of an eminent gentlenan now no more ; it is disunion, eternal and final disunion. We have separation now; it is only made worse by war, and an utter extinction of all those sentiments of common interest and feeling which might lead to a political reunion founded upon consent and upon a conviction of its advantages. Let the war go on, however, and soon, in addition to the moans of widows and orphans all over this land, you will hear the cry of distress from those who want food and the comforts of life. The people will be unable to pay the grinding taxes which a fanatical spirit will attempt to impose upon them. Nay more, sir ; you will see further separation. I hope it is not the sunset of life gives me mystical lore, but in my mind's eye I plainly see 'coming events cast their shadows before.' The Pacific slope now, doubtless, is devoted to the union of States.
SENATOR E. D. BAKER.
Let this war go on till they find the burdens of taxation greater than the burdens of a separate condition, and they will assent
Let the war go on until they see the beautiful features of the old Confederacy beaten out of shape and comeliness by the brutalizing hand of war, and they will turn aside in disgust from the sickening spectacle, and become a separate nation. Fight twelve months longer, and the already opening differences that you see between New England and the great Northwest will develop themselves. You have two confederacies
Fight twelve months, and you will have three; twelve months longer, and you will have four.”
Baker, in reply, made the following prediction, which he did not live to see fulfilled — having died in battle at Ball's Bluff, Va., on the 21st of October, 1861 — less than three months after :
“I tell the Senator that his predictions-sometimes for the South, sometimes for the Middle States, sometimes for the Northeast, and then wandering away in airy visions out to the far Pacific, about the dread of our people as to the loss of blood and treasure, provoking them to disloyalty—are false in sentiment, false in fact, and false in loyalty. The Senator from Kentucky is mistaken in them all. Five hundred million dollars! What then? Great Britain gave more than two thousand millions in the great battle for constitutional liberty which she led at one time, almost single-handed, against the world. Five hundred thousand men!. What then? We have them ; they are ours; they are children of the country; they belong to the whole country; they are our sons-our kinsmen, and there are many of us who will give them all up before we will abate one word of our just demand, or will retreat one inch from the line which divides right from wrong.
Sir, it is not a question of men or of money in that sense. All the money, all the men, are, in our judgment, well bestowed in such a cause. When we give them we know their value.