Page images

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 fund 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

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 trilling 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

other men,

[blocks in formation]

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



[ocr errors]

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 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

« PreviousContinue »