« PreviousContinue »
of large reputation as orator and jurist; but he was no match for the little Mississippian. That was the first time I had ever seen Robert J. Walker. I had read his speeches while he was a Senator in Congress, and knew a good deal of his history; but I was not prepared to see so small and insignificant-looking a person, nor yet for the marvelous power which he exercised in the convention, and the effect produced by his speech in reply to the Van Buren leader. He had not spoken twenty minutes before it was evident, from the cheers of the convention, that the doom of the Kinderhook statesman was sealed. James K. Polk received the nomination, which would have been conferred upon Pennsylvania, in the person of James Buchanan, if the latter had not timidly withdrawn his name from the list of candidates, in the belief that the party was united upon Van Buren. It is true there were many elements in Pennsylvania opposed to Buchanan; but he had strength enough to unite the South, and as no man could then be made President without the consolidated vote of that section, all domestic opposition would have been baffled.
The wound inflicted on the Van Buren faction rankled until it came to a head, in 1848, in the organization which made him a third candidate and defeated Lewis Cass. Polk was elected, chiefly through the influence of Silas Wright, who consented to resign his place as a Senator in Congress, and to run for Governor of New York-a concession and a sacrifice which satisfied the Van Burenites, and postponed their outbreak upon the Southern Democracy for four years.
No personage in politics ever led a more active life than Robert J. Walker. Born at Northumberland, in the State of Pennsylvania, in 1801, he entered the University in Philadelphia, and graduated in 1819 ; studied law, was admitted to practice in 1821, and became chairman of the Democratic committee when only twenty-two years of age. He was one of the earliest supporters of General Jackson for the Presidency, and ef
fectually aided to bring about the action of the Harrisburg Convention, which nominated the hero of New Orleans for that office in 1824. In the spring of 1826 he removed to Mississippi, and practiced his profession without taking any political office until ten years later, when he was chosen a Senator in Congress, and served until 1845, when he was called to the Treasury Department by President Polk. He excelled as a writer for the newspapers, and as a popular orator; was capable of prodigious mental toil; had unequaled memory, rare enthusiasm, and intense convictions. Large reading, polished manners, singular generosity, and simplicity of character completed the qualities of a successful leader. His arguments in the Senate were masterpieces. He there brought to the discussion of every question all his peculiar powers. Without considering his freetrade ideas, which are still the subject of animated controversy, it is simple justice to state that he contributed immensely to many important reforms in the public service. He was the advocate of a liberal land policy, the champion of public improvements, the antagonist of religious intolerance, the fearless enemy of nullification, and he will perhaps be better remembered for the part he acted when he reluctantly accepted the position of Governor of Kansas in 1857. Sent there by an Administration which betrayed the solemn pledge upon which alone it was elected, he was believed by the pro-slavery men to be in hearty sympathy with their plans; but sustained by his independent secretary, Hon. Frederick P. Stanton (still living in Washington, where he was born, and deservedly prospering in the practice of his profession of the law), he soon discovered that he could not second that betrayal without the loss of his own honor. He revolted from the unblushing frauds sought to be perpetrated in the endeavor to force slavery into Kansas. But what Reeder and Geary had done under Pierce in the same position, he did under Buchanan, with even more courage and effect. At that time my paper, The Press, was in the throes of its first great conflict with the pro-slavery Democracy. Holding Buchanan steadily to the pledge of justice to Kansas, day after day I waited for the report of Robert J. Walker with inexpressible solicitude, and when finally it came in a telegraphic dispatch, which he sent me from the town of York, Pennsylvania, while on his way to Washington to protest against the conspiracy to which Mr. Buchanan had surrendered, I felt that our battle was won. Walker's repudiation of the frauds in Kansas, which he was solemnly enjoined to assist, in a private letter written to him by President Buchanan, followed by his manly resignation of an office which he could no longer hold, thrilled the people of the whole country, and, in the election which ensued, aided to demolish the Democracy in nearly all the free States. It revolutionized Berks County by electing the venerable John Schwartz, in 1858, by nineteen votes, notwithstanding the Democratic majority of 6004 two years before, defeating Buchanan's favorite, J. Glancy Jones, now a citizen of the State of Delaware, patiently preparing to step into the Senate whenever the people of that little Commonwealth are ready to employ him. It gave us a Republican Representative in William E. Lehman, in the first Pennsylvania district. It gave us a Republican in the Montgomery district, and it left but four Administration Congressmen from Pennsylvania. It swept New Jersey. It destroyed the Democratic prestige in New York, and almost changed the aspect of the National House of Representatives. It confessedly paved the way to the freedom of Kansas and to the complete annihilation of the whole proslavery plot.
Of course, a statesman bold and brave enough to take issue with an Administration determined upon such a wrong could not expect to escape the persecutions of the South, and so, after Abraham Lincoln was elected, Robert J. Walker was found among the firmest supporters of the policy of his Administration. The same tefferson Davis who had apologized for the
WALKER'S REPLY TO SLIDELL.
repudiation of the debt of Mississippi, was the leader of a rebellion founded upon the nullification doctrines which Walker had always opposed. Walker's labors through the press, on the hustings, and in personal appeals against the rebellion, were wonderful.
The sagacious Lincoln, fully convinced that the war for the Union could not be carried to success without the aid of the Douglas Democracy-and who would have conferred upon Stephen A. Douglas, if he had lived, one of the most important commands in the army-called Robert J. Walker to his aid, and sent him forth to Europe, in 1863, for the purpose of presenting our country's cause to the people of the Old World, and especially for the purpose of spreading before them incontestible proofs of our ability to maintain ourselves, and of our inexhaustible financial resources. One of his first acts was to print in the London Times a caustic reply to John Slidell, then Jefferson Davis's Minister at Paris, who attempted to vindicate his master against the charge of having assisted in the repudiation of the State bonds of Mississippi. As I write I have before me this magnificent paper; and now that the great brain that conceived and the ready hand that penned it are silent in the grave, it deserves to be laid as an enduring wreath upon his tomb:
“Here, then, are eight judges, all chosen by the people of Mississippi, concurring in 1842, as well as in 1853, as to the validity of these bonds, and yet Jefferson Davis justifies their repudiation. The judges of Mississippi all take an oath to support the Constitution, and it is made their duty to inter
“ The Legislature is confined to law-making, and forbidden to exercise any judicial power; the expounding this supplemental law, and the provisions under which it was enacted, is exclusively a judicial power, and yet the Legislature usurps this power, repudiates the bonds of the State, and the acts of the
three preceding Legislatures, and the decision of the highest tribunals of the State. Jefferson Davis sustains this repudiation, and the British public are asked to take new Confederate bonds, issued by the same Jefferson Davis, and thus to sanction and encourage and offer a premium for repudiation. These so-called Confederate bonds are issued in open violation of the Constitution of the United States; they are absolute nullities, they are tainted with treason, they never can or will be paid, and yet they are thrust on the British public under the sanction of the same great repudiator, Jefferson Davis, who applauds the non-payment of the Mississippi bonds, and thus condemns hundreds of innocent holders, including widows and orphans, to want and misery. Talk about faith, about honor, about justice, and the sanctity of contracts; why, if such flagrant outrages, such atrocious crimes can be sustained by the great public of any nation, small indeed must be the value of their bonds, which rests exclusively on good faith.”
Now read the following appeal to the English government and people, and remember that the very men here denounced are once more engaged in an attempt to seize the government of the Union :
“The blasphemous doctrine of the divine right of kings was discarded by England in the Revolution of 1688. The British throne reposes now on the alleged basis of the welfare and happiness of the people. What form of government will best promote that end? This is the only question. I believe it is ours -but only with slavery extinguished, and universal education -schools-schools--schools—common schools-high schools for all. Education the criterion of the right of suffrage, not property. I do not believe in a government of ignorance, whether by the rich or poor, the many or the few. With the constant and terrible opposing element of slavery, we have certainly achieved stupendous results in three fourths of a century; and to say that our system has failed, because slavery now