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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 gentleman 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 to it. 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 now. 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 ! Whạt 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. Knowing their value well, we give them with the more pride and the more joy. Sir, how can we retreat? Sir, how can we make peace? Who shall treat? What commissioners? Who would go? Upon what terms? Where is to be your boundaryline? Where the end of principles we shall have to give up ? What will become of constitutional government? What will become of public liberty? What of the past glories? What of future hopes? Shall we sink into the insignificance of the grave -a degraded, defeated, emasculated people, frightened by the results of one battle, and scared by the visions raised by the imagination of the Senator from Kentucky upon this floor? No, sir! a thousand times, no, sir! We will rally—if, indeed, our words be necessary--we will rally the people, the loyal people of the whole country. They will pour forth their treasure, their money, their men, without stint, without measure. The most peaceable man in this body may stamp his foot upon this Senate-chamber floor, as of old a warrior and a Senator did, and from that single tramp there will spring forth armed legions. Shall one battle determine the fate of empire or a dozen? The loss of one thousand men or twenty thousand, of one hundred million dollars or five hundred million? In a year, in ten years at most, of peaceful progress we can restore them all. There will be some graves reeking with blood, watered by the tears of affection. There will be some privation; there will be some loss of luxury; there will be somewhat more need for labor to procure the necessaries of life. When that is said, all is said. If we have the country, the whole country, the Union, the Constitution, free government—with these there will return all the blessings of well-ordered civilization ; the path of the country will be a career of greatness and of glory such as, in the olden time, our fathers saw in the dim vision of years yet to come, and such as would have been ours now, to-day, if it had not been for the treason for which the Senator too often seeks to apologize."
JOHN C. BRECKINRIDGE.
An amusing episode followed the debate. Breckinridge thought it was Sumner who answered Baker's interrogatory, “What would have been done with a Roman Senator guilty of such treason?” by exclaiming that “He would have been hurled from the Tarpeian Rock.” And he denounced the Massachusetts Senator in severe and angry Saxon. When Breckinridge discovered it was Fessenden and not Sumner who had given this response, he did not complain of the first nor apologize to the second. The Senator from Massachusetts has a sort of vicarious office to this day, and suffers a great deal from the sins of others.
The contrast between the prophets, living and dead, is useful, and does not seem to have been lost upon the survivor, Mr. Breckinridge, if we may judge by his deportment since the close of the war, and by the following words spoken by him at Louisville, Kentucky, on the 13th of October last, at a meeting called to do honor to the memory of Robert E. Lee, the Confederate military leader. It was a meeting of men of all parties, and he said: “If the spirit which animates the assembly before me to-night shall become general and extend over the whole country, then indeed may we say that the wounds of the late war are truly healed. We ask only for him what we concede to the manly qualities of others. Among the more eminent of the Federal generals who fell during the war, or have since died, may be mentioned Thomas and McPherson. What Confederate would refuse to raise his cap as their funeral train passed by, or grudge to drop a flower upon their soldier-graves?"
And doubtless if he had thought of it he would have included in the list of "Federal soldiers” the gallant Baker of Oregon, whose prediction of the collapse of the rebellion he has lived to realize, and, I hope, not to regret.
[March 12, 1871.]