Page images
PDF
EPUB

DAVID C. BRODERICK.

23

Missouri statesman believed that the Pennsylvanian candidate would, if elected, be true to the great work of justice to Kansas; that he would check the design of forcing slavery into that Territory; and that he would tranquilize the country by arresting the sectional tendencies of the times. He lived, like hundreds of thousands of others, to realize his mistake; but he passed off before the war that resulted from the absence of a little courage to maintain the most solemn pledge ever made to a confiding people. Thomas Hart Benton died the both of April, 1858.

[February 4, 1871.]

V.

DAVID C. BRODERICK, of California, was in some respects a remarkable character. Born in the District of Columbia in 1818, and killed in a duel in September of 1859, his short career was a succession of strange events. Twenty-five years of it were spent in New York in the rudest scenes, and more than ten among the turbulent men who then, as now, dominated over that great city. Of these he became the early and imperious leader-a leader blindly followed and blindly obeyed. But he never fell into their habits of dissipation, and perhaps his unbroken command over them resulted from his silent and sober nature. The foreman of a fire-company and the keeper of a saloon, he never lost his dignity, but would retire to his books whenever he had a moment of leisure. Removing to California in 1849, he quickly secured the confidence of the people, and was elected by them to high and honorable positions. He was a useful member of the convention that adopted the first California constitution, and was two years in the State Senate, and president of that body. In 1856 he was elected a Senator

in Congress for six years from the 4th of March, 1857. I had seen him but once before, in 1848, when Mr. Edwin Croswell, the well-known editor of the Albany Argus, who is still living in New York, greatly esteemed for his amiability and learning, visited my office in his company; but when I met him a second time in Philadelphia, after his triumph and that of Mr. Buchanan, to whose Presidential aspirations he had given such effective aid, I felt as if I had known him intimately from boyhood. We were nearly the same age, and had supported Mr. Buchanan from the same motive—that of settling the slavery question, at least for the time, by even-handed justice to the people of Kansas California had been a secession rendezvous from the day it became a part of the Union, but the Southern leaders there soon found in Broderick a stubborn and a dangerous enemy. His rough New York schooling had made him especially abhorrent of obedience to such tyrants, and so he grappled with them promptly. In a little more than six years he mounted over their heads into the most important offices, and when he elected himself to the United States Senate he also magnanimously elected his adversary, Dr. W. M. Gwin, for the short term, But he was not long in Washington before he realized that the new President was his foe, and that the solemn pledge of justice to Kansas was not to be maintained. The national patronage on the Pacific slope was concentrated in the hands of his colleague, and the young Senator began his career by finding his friends stripped of the power they had fairly won.

The disappointment was grievous, but it called out all his better nature. He devoted himself to his studies and his duties with renewed assiduity. He always lived like a gentleman. Generous to a fault, he delighted to have his friends around him. His bearing, his dress, his language, indicated none of the hard experience of his youth. He was fond of books, and was a rare judge of men. I have his picture before me as I

SENATOR BRODERICK.

25

write, and as I look into his dark eyes and watch his firm-set mouth I almost see the flash of the one and hear the good sense that often came from the other.

There were not many of us in the Democratic ranks to stand up for fair play to Kansas. We started with a goodly array, but the offices of the Executive were too much for most of our associates, and when the final struggle came we were a corporal's guard indeed. Broderick was the soul of our little party. I understood how he managed men in New York and California as I watched his intercourse with Senators and Representatives in that trying crisis. Some he would persuade, others he would denounce. He seemed to know the especial weakness to address; but nothing was more potent than his appeal to the constituency of the hesitating member. "I tell you," he used to say to such as doubted, “ you can make more reputation by being an honest inan instead of a rascal.”

Broderick was one of the few “self-made" men who did not boast of having been a mechanic. He was not like a famous ex-President who delighted to speak of his rise from the tailor's bench. He did not think a man any worse for having worked for his living at a trade, nor did he believe him any better. And this theory sprang from the belief that the laboring men of America are seldom true to the bright minds so often reared among them. His memorable words in reply to the haughty Hammond of South Carolina, on the 22d of March, 1858, after the latter had spoken of the producing class of the North as the "mudsills" of society, illustrate this theory. Mr. Broderick said:

“I, sir, am glad that the Senator has spoken thus. It may have the effect of arousing in the working men that spirit that has been lying dormant for centuries. It may also have the effect of arousing the two hundred thousand men with pure skins in South Carolina, who are now degraded and despised by thirty thousand aristocratic slaveholders.

It may teach them to demand what is the power

B

“Link'd with success, assumed and kept with skili,

That moulds another's weakness to its will ;
Wields with their hands, but still to them unknown,
Makes even their mightiest deeds appear his own.'

“I suppose, sir, the Senator from South Carolina did not intend to be personal in his remarks to any of his peers upon this floor. If I had thought so I would have noticed them at the time. I am, sir, with one exception, the youngest in years of the Senators upon this floor. It is not long since I served an apprenticeship of five years at one of the most laborious mechanical trades pursued by man-a trade that from its nature devotes its follower to thought, but debårs him from conversation. I would not have alluded to this if it were not for the remarks of the Senator from South Carolina; and the thousands who know that I am the son of an artisan and have been a mechanic, would feel disappointed in me if I did not reply to him. I am not proud of this. I am sorry it is true. I would that I could have enjoyed the pleasures of life in my boyhood days; but they were denied to me. I say this with pain. I have not the admiration for the men of the class from which I sprang that might be expected; they submit too tamely to oppression, and are prone to neglect their rights and duties as citizens. But, sir, the class of society to whose toil I was born, under our form of government, will control the destinies of this nation. If I were inclined to forget my connection with them, or to deny that I sprang from them, this chamber would not be the place in which I could do either. While I hold a seat I have but to look at the beautiful capitals adorning the pilasters that support this roof, to be reminded of my father's talent and to see his handiwork.

“I left the scenes of my youth and manhood for the 'Far West' because I was tired of the struggles and jealousies of men of my class, who could not understand why one of their fellows should seek to elevate his condition upon the common

SENATOR BRODERICK.

27

1 level. I made my new abode among strangers, where labor is honored. I had left without regret; there remained no tie of blood to bind me to any being in existence. If I fell in the struggle for reputation and fortune, there was no relative on earth to mourn my fall. The people of California elevated me to the highest office within their gift. My election was not the result of an accident. For years I had to struggle, often seeing the goal of ambition within my reach; it was again and again taken from me by the aid of men of my own class. I had not only them to contend with, but almost the entire partisan press of my state was subsidized by Government money and patronage to oppose my election. I sincerely hope, sir, the time will come when such speeches as that from the Senator from South Carolina will be considered a lesson to the laborers of the nation."

Prophetic words indeed!

The last time I saw Broderick was one night in April, 1859, at the corner of Sixth and Chestnut Streets, Philadelphia, where he took the omnibus to the New York dépôt, intending to sail in a few days for San Francisco. The shadow of his fate was upon him. He was much depressed. We had broken the Administration party to pieces in most of the Northern States, obliterated the pro-slavery majority in the House, and had given prospective and substantial freedom to Kansas. Our little phalanx had made a breach in the columns of the Democracy that was to widen into a chasm never to be closed. California was to vote on the 7th of September, and Broderick was going back to meet his people. His magnificent campaign against the Southern policy of forcing slavery into Kansas had aroused the bitterest resentment, and the worst elements were organized against him in his own State. “I feel, my dear friend, that we shall never meet again. I go home to die.

I shall abate no jot of my faith. I shall be challenged, I shall fight, and I shall be killed.” These were his words. I tried to rally him on these forebodings; told him he was young and brave, and would

« PreviousContinue »