« PreviousContinue »
Marcy, of New York; John R. Thomson, of New Jersey; Robert J. Walker, of Mississippi; Cave Johnson, of Tennessee; George Bancroft, of Massachusetts (he subsequently removed to New York); and, I think, William O. Butler, of Kentucky. It was one of those occasions when everything contributed to happi
The men around me were all in the prime of life. Buchanan was fifty-three; Marcy was fifty-eight; Walker, fortythree; Bancroft, forty-four; Cave Johnson, fifty-one; W. O. Butler, who is still living, about fifty-five; Thomson, forty-four; Stockton, fifty. I was not quite twenty-seven, and I felt myself a minnow among the tritons. The smallest man, physically, was Robert J. Walker; the largest, James Buchanan; the quaintest, W. L. Marcy; the most silent, Cave Johnson; the most genial, John R. Thomson; the most nervous, George Bancroft; and the most talkative, the host, Robert Field Stockton. The latter was in high glee. He was a royal entertainer, had feasted with princes, and on his good ship had given many a gorgeous reception. His home at Princeton was the resort of eminent characters, and he gave freely his generous welcome to the alumni and the acolytes. He knew most of the men who had gone forth from that honored college, now more than ever sought for its thorough and perfect training of the youth of the fortunate classes. Exceedingly susceptible, he had little reverence for great names. He had battled on all sides of parties; loved Jackson, hated Van Buren; was a loud Harrison man in 1840, and one of the Tyler guard in 1841–44. He ardently supported Polk against Clay, and hence, perhaps, his tribute to the Democratic leaders around him. When the dessert had passed, he seemed resolved to try their mettle. He had tried to discover who were to be in the new Cabinet, but all his efforts were parried. He fenced skilfully, but they avoided his thrusts, amidst shouts of laughter. Not one of them would admit that he knew anything about the intentions of the President elect; and though I saw Mr. Buchanan every day, he never even hinted at his possible connection with the incoming Administration. Once I tested him, and he grew as cold as ice, merely adding that I had forgotten General Jackson's story of the man who made his fortune by minding his own business. I never tried it again; and therefore admired Commodore Stockton's persistency in trying to force the casket of which most of them had the key. At last he resolved upon a bold movement, and he offered, in a somewhat bantering tone, to wager a basket of champagne that he would name every member of the Cabinet that was soon to be announced, and that he would write the names and place them in a sealed envelope to be opened after the inauguration. “I take the bet," was the quiet answer of Mr. Buchanan; and the Captain wrote the list and handed it to his friend John R. Thomson, who succeeded him in the United States Senate nine years after. The note was opened after the Cabinet was announced, and the confident Captain lost the wine. He had them all but one ; he made William O. Butler Secretary of War in place of William L. Marcy. When I congratulated Mr. Buchanan on his appointment as Secretary of State, the day afterwards, he quietly remarked that he had known that he was to be called into that position several weeks before.
The members of the new Cabinet were James Buchanan, of Pennsylvania, Secretary of State ; Robert J. Walker, of Mississippi, Secretary of the Treasury; George Bancroft, of Massachusetts, Secretary of the Navy; Postmaster - general, Cave Johnson, of Tennessee; Attorney-general, John Y. Mason, of Virginia. All of these are dead, including James K. Polk, President, and George M. Dallas, Vice-President, excepting George Bancroft, now living alternately at Newport and Washington; and as I have already reached my limit, I shall speak of him in my next.
GEORGE BANCROFT, THE AMERICAN HISTORIAN. Two photographs of George Bancroft--one when I saw him in Washington, June, 1845; the other when I saw him in Paris, July, 1867-marked distinctly by the changes of twenty-two years, and showing a black-haired man of forty-four in the first, and a gray-haired man of sixty-seven in the second, would still leave, despite the touching contrast, the impression of a scholar flavored with a clerical aroma, if pictures, like flowers, may be said to have an aroma. Tall, spare, straight, incisive in speech and style, George Bancroft's appearance indicates deep thought and careful culture. He is a refined bookworm; a mingling of the Oxford professor, the ripe diplomatist, the seasoned man of the world. His tastes make him, in his eightieth year (he was born at Worcester, Massachusetts, October 31, 1800), a genial philosopher, at peace with the world and himself. He is an early riser, and does his work generally before two o'clock in the afternoon, after which he rides and dines. In the evening he amuses himself among his friends, and is passionately fond of the opera. When he lives in Newport, his house is the welcome resort of people of letters and people of fashion, and it is the same when he moves to his winter residence in Washington City. He is apt to seem absentminded, but he is really not so. A little abrupt at times, he is exceedingly vivacious and agreeable in his intercourse with others. J. C. Bancroft Davis, the late able Assistant Secretary of State, is the nephew of Mr. Bancroft; his father was the wellknown John Davis, of Massachusetts, who, while a Senator in Congress, charged James Buchanan with being in favor of“ ten cents a day" as the wages of American labor-a statement which led to a somewhat angry controversy between the two Senators and their adherents. I can easily remember how the accusation “ten-cent Jimmy,” repeated by the Whig papers and partisans thirty years ago, used to gall the statesman of Wheatland and his supporters in 1840-41. But it was soon lost sight of; and when he was the Democratic candidate for President in 1856, it was hardly alluded to. The Aaron's rod of slavery had swallowed all other issues.
George Bancroft was an earnest Democrat down to the rebellion, but ceased to be a partisan as he grew into his great work "The History of the United States.” His support of the Government and his ultimate hostility to slavery were the natural fruits of copious reading and severe study. It is significant how men of his stamp caught the inspiration of the war, no matter what their previous politics; and it was natural and logical that a writer who paid such a tribute as the following, taken from his History, to the Puritans of New England should forget all past associations when the chivalry attacked the Republic:
“Historians have loved to eulogize the manners and virtues, the glory and the benefits, of chivalry. Puritanism accomplished for mankind far more. If it had the sectarian crime of intolerance, chivalry had the vices of dissoluteness. The knights were brave from gallantry of spirit, the Puritans from fear of God. The knights did homage to monarchs, in whose smile they beheld honor, whose rebuke was the wound of disgrace; the Puritans, disdaining ceremony, would not bow at the name of Jesus, nor bend the knee to the King of kings. Chivalry delighted in outward show, favored pleasure, multiplied amusement, and degraded the human race by an exclusive respect for the privileged classes; Puritanism bridled the passions, commended the virtues of self-denial, and rescued the name of man from dishonor. The former valued courtesy; the latter, justice. The former adorned society by graceful refinements; the latter founded national grandeur on universal education. The institutions of chivalry were subverted by the gradually increasing weight and knowledge and opulence of the industrious classes; the Puritans, relying upon those classes, planted in their hearts the undying principles of democratic liberty.”
But George Bancroft long remained an active Democrat. Reared for the pulpit, like Everett, the best years of his early life were given to the Democracy. He was appointed Collector of the Port of Boston by President Van Buren in 1838; was the Democratic candidate for Governor of Massachusetts in 1844, and got a very large vote; was made Secretary of the Navy by President Polk in 1845, and Minister to England in 1846; and many a strong argument he wrote and spoke against the old Whigs. But when he became fully imbued with his “History of the United States," now completed in ten imperial volumes, and in six of a different style, the politician was merged in the student and the philosopher, and little was heard of him till the rebellion called out his sympathies. Of his literary offspring it is useless to speak; his History is his monument. It is a consummate work, and, though sharply criticised, because of its positive tone and magnetic patriotism, has been approved by men of “wisest censure.” Edward Everett, W. H. Prescott, Professor Heeren, the Edinburgh Review, the Westminster, the Athenæum, and other accepted authorities, at home and abroad, have stamped it with their deliberate approval. He began the History in 1834, and it is now well finished. This splendid work is not only a monument of his genius, but of his love of labor, and his extraordinary freshness in old age. As a specimen of his style, I may be excused for quoting the well-known passage on “ The Youth of George Washington :"
“ After long years of strife, of repose, and of strife renewed, England and France solemnly agreed to be at peace.
The treaties of Aix-la-Chapelle had been negotiated by the ablest statesmen of Europe in the splendid forms of monarchical di