« PreviousContinue »
plomacy. They believed themselves the arbiters of mankind, the pacificators of the world; reconstructing the colonial system on a basis which should endure for ages ; confirming the peace of Europe by the nice adjustment of material forces. At the very time of the Congress of Aix-la-Chapelle, the woods of Virginia sheltered the youthful George Washington, the son of a widow. Born by the side of the Potomac, beneath the roof of a Westmoreland farmer, almost from infancy his lot had been the lot of an orphan. No academy had welcomed him to its shades, no college crowned him with its honors; to read, to write, to cipher, these had been his degrees in knowledge. And now, at sixteen years of age—in quest of an honest maintenance encountering intolerable toil; cheered onward by being able to write to a schoolboy friend, ‘Dear Richard, a doubloon is my constant gain every day, and sometimes six pistoles;' ‘himself his own cook, having no spit but a forked stick, no plate but a large chip;' roaming over spurs of the Alleghanies and along the banks of the Shenandoah; alive to nature, and sometimes spending the best of the day in admiring the trees and richness of the land;' among skin-clad savages with scalps and rattles, or uncouth emigrants that would never speak English;' rarely sleeping in a bed; holding a bearskin a splendid couch; glad of a resting-place for the night upon a little hay, straw, or fodder; and often camping in the forests, where the place nearest the fire was a happy luxury—this stripling surveyor in the woods, with no companion but his unlettered associates, and no implements of science but his compass and chain, contrasted strangely with the imperial magnificence of the Congress of Aix-la-Chapelle. And yet God had selected, not Kaunitz nor Newcastle, not a monarch of the House of Hapsburg nor of Hanover, but the Virginia stripling, to give an impulse to human affairs, and, as far as events can depend on an individual, had placed the rights and the destinies of countless millions in the keeping of the widow's son."
Writing of Bancroft as a Democrat, I am reminded of one most stirring chapter in the volume of the past-the death of Andrew Jackson, on the 8th of June, 1845, and the homage paid to the iron chief by the party he recreated. James K. Polk was one of the disciples of Jackson, and was a few days over three months President when his idol passed away. The best brains of the Democracy were summoned to the illustration of Jackson's character. Vice-President Dallas, Governor Francis R. Shunk, Rev. G. W. Bethune, Ellis Lewis, Hendrick B. Wright, Wilson McCandless, of Pennsylvania; John Van Buren, of New York; Andrew Stevenson, of Virginia; General B. C. Howard, of Maryland; Dr. Samuel A. Cartwright, of Mississippi, and a host of others, swelled the universal tribute. I specially recollect the quaint effort of the latter, and chiefly because it threw a new light upon the early career of General Jackson. How many of our people ever heard that George Washington appointed Andrew Jackson to the office of United States District Attorney in the year 1791? And yet this fact is stated by the accurate Dr. Cartwright in his Jackson oration, at Natchez, 12th of July, 1845. I use his own words:
“But what brought Jackson to the Cumberland ? He visited the place for the first time in 1789, while the people were living in stations to avoid the Indians, the chief station being where Nashville now is. He found among the good and honest people there a club of lawless characters, who had combined together to put down law and order and evade the payment of their just debts. For this purpose they had got the resident lawyer in their interest, and the creditors had no one to appear for them.
“They engaged the young Jonesborough lawyer to undertake their cause.
The club of desperadoes, finding that he was not deterred from the undertaking by their threats of vengeance, taunted him with being a non-resident, coming among them only as an itinerant under the protection of the courts.
That taunt, it is said, was the true cause of his leaving Jonesborough and settling at the Nashville station. The lawless characters pitted their bullies against him, yet he maintained his ground against the whole of them. Washington, the very next year after his removal to Nashville, appointed him United States Attorney for the whole district south of the Ohio. As to how far the stand he took in favor of law induced Washington to give him the preference over the older lawyers of the district, history is silent. At length, having made a fortune, he retired to a farm ten miles from Nashville, abandoned the law, and commenced farming and merchandising. Failing in the latter, he sold his farm, paid his debts, and built him a log cabin on the Cumberland, and by economy and industry had again, by the year 1813, accumulated a comfortable independence.”
But President Polk had a Jackson man in his Cabinet signally qualified to do justice to the subject, and on the 27th of June, 1845, his new Secretary of the Navy, George Bancroft, pronounced his grand eulogy in the city of Washington before an audience that is spoken of to this day. Congress was not in session, but the occasion was full of interest, and every eninent man at the capital was there. The President and his Cabinet, the Supreme Court, the Representatives and Senators in the city, and thousands from the adjoining country, gathered to the obsequies. Bancroft's oration is a classic, as a few extracts will prove, and it is simple justice to add that nothing comparable to it can be found in the other discourses :
'At a time when European society was becoming broken in pieces, scattered, disunited, and resolved into its elements, a scene ensued in Tennessee than which nothing more beautifully grand is recorded in the annals of the race.
“The convention came together on the 11th day of January, 1796, and finished its work on the 6th day of February. How had the wisdom of the Old World vainly tasked itself to frame constitutions that could, at least, be the subject of experiment !
The men of Tennessee, in less than twenty-five days, had perfected a fabric which in its essential forms was to last forever. They came together full of faith and reverence, of love to humanity, of confidence in truth. In the simplicity of wisdom, they framed their constitution. Acting under higher influences than they were conscious of,
“They wrought in sad sincerity;
Themselves from God they could not free;
The conscious stones to beauty grew.' “In the instrument which they framed they embodied their faith in God, in the immortal nature of man. They gave the right of suffrage to every freeman; they vindicated the sanctity of reason by giving freedom of speech and of the press; they reverenced the voice of God, as it speaks in the soul of man, by asserting the indefeasible right of man to worship the Infinite according to his conscience; they established the freedom and equality of elections; and they demanded from every future Legislature a solemn oath “never to consent to any act or thing whatever that shall have even a tendency to lessen the rights of the people.'
“The men of Tennessee were now a people, and they were to send forth a man to stand for them in the Congress of the United States—that avenue to glory—that home of eloquence -the citadel of popular power; and, with one consent, they united in selecting the foremost man among their lawgiversAndrew Jackson. The love of the people of Tennessee followed him to the American Congress; and he had served but a single term when the State of Tennessee made him one of its representatives in the American Senate, where he sat under the auspices of Jefferson.
“People of the District of Columbia, I should fail to do a duty on this occasion if I did not give utterance to your sentiment of gratitude which followed General Jackson into retirement. Dwelling among you, he desired your prosperity This beautiful city, surrounded by heights the most attractive, watered by a river so magnificent, the home of the gentle and the cultivated not less than the seat of political power—this city, whose site Washington had selected, was dear to his affections; and if he won your grateful attachment by adorning it with monuments of useful architecture, by establishing its credit and relieving its burdens, he regretted only that he had not the opportunity to have connected himself still more intimately with your prosperity.
“As he prepared to take his final leave of the District, the mass of the population of this city, and the masses that had gathered from around, followed his carriage in crowds. All in silence stood near him, to wish him adieu ; and as the cars started, and he displayed his gray hairs, as he lifted his hat in token of farewell, you stood around with heads uncovered, too full of emotion to speak, in solemn silence gazing on him as he departed, never more to be seen in your midst.
“Behold the warrior and statesman, his work well done, retired to the Hermitage to hold converse with his forests, to cultivate his farm, to gather around his hospitality his friends! Who was like him? He was still the loadstar of the American people. His fervid thoughts, frankly uttered, still spread the flame of patriotism through the American breast; his counsels were still listened to with reverence; and, almost alone among statesmen, he, in his retirement, was in harmony with every onward movement of his time. His prevailing influence assisted to sway a neighboring nation to desire to share our institutions; his ear heard the footsteps of the coming millions that are to gladden our Western shores, and his eye discerned in the dim distance the whitening sails that are to enliven the waters of the Pacific with the social sounds of our successful commerce.
“The last moment of his life on earth is at hand. It is the Sabbath of the Lord; the brightness and beauty of summer