« PreviousContinue »
live to be even more honored in the years to come. “No," he said, with a sad smile I shall never forget; “no, it is best; I am doomed. You will live to write of me and to keep my memory green; and now good-by forever.” On the 7th of September, the very day of the election, I predicted the duel which took place on the 13th of the same month, and on the 16th my poor friend died from a wound received at the hands of the proslavery Democrat leader, David S. Terry, who was living at the last accounts in the State of Nevada. The Democrats carried the election on the 7th, and the heroic Broderick died on the 16th. But the blood of the martyr was the seed of the redemption of California. The people rose at the sight of a tragedy so deliberate, fore-planned, and anticipated. Had Broderick fallen before the election of 1859 California would have repudiated the Buchanan Administration. He himself postponed the duel till the ballots were cast, and then he passed to his death. But that death saved California to the Union. The traitors who tried to hand her over to the rebellion were baffled by the uprising that followed his sacrifice. The Broderick Democrats joined the Republicans and held California fast to her allegiance, and so proved at once their love of their great country and their gratitude to their unselfish leader.
[February 12, 1871.]
It is one of the penalties, if penalty it be, of those who abstain from national affairs, that they are rarely heard of outside their own vicinage. Many a mediocrity becomes a celebrity when his name figures in the Congressional yeas and nays, just as many a nobler intellect remains rooted to the spot of its birth, full of knowledge of a world that knows it not. There is
CONRAD AND BARTON.
hardly a county in the United States of which this statement is not true, more or less. There is not a reader of these sketches who can not point out eminent men of his own acquaintance who would suffer for want of national reputation if they had not studiously disregarded it, and honestly preferred the comforts of home and the golden opinions of their own neighbors.
Two men lived in Pennsylvania a little more than twenty years ago who came partly within this category. They were, indeed, known far beyond their vicinity ; but as they did not seek for notoriety, they are not as well remembered as if they had been aspirants for Congressional honors. I refer to Robert T. Conrad, of Philadelphia, and George Washington Barton, of Lancaster, Pennsylvania. They differed in almost every thing. Conrad, in his prime, was a model of manly beauty. His auburn hair, his delicate complexion, his musical voice, made a strong contrast with the tall, somewhat ungainly figure, swarthy skin, black hair, and discordant tones of Barton. Conrad was a Whig, Barton was a Democrat; and though frequently in conflict, they were, the best part of their lives, devoted friends. I knew them and loved them both, and as I never shared in their temporary differences, I was always a sort of peacemaker between them. Their very incongruities seemed to attract them to each other. Barton and myself were born in the same town, and for many years his star shone unrivaled as a consummate orator. Conrad came along from Philadelphia as a lecturer and Whig speaker. He was as much the idol of his party as Barton was of ours. They seemed to “take to" each other from the first, and when Barton moved to Philadelphia and was associated with Conrad in the local judiciary, they became almost constant companions. They were born in the same year, 1810, and died all too early, for their gifts were precious indeed, and deserved to be enjoyed for a long time alike by themselves and their country. Conrad lived until 1858, when he was forty-eight years old; and Barton is supposed to have been drowned in
the Bay of San Francisco, on the 25th of January, 1851, when he was only forty-one. Yet, short as their experiences were, they are remembered by thousands as among the most brilliant in the records of human genius.
As my sketches are not biographies in any sense, but rather glances at public men, I will not, therefore, follow these experiences in detail, but confine myself to a few instances of marked individuality, more to show how much real merit is found outside of the National Councils than to do justice to extraordinary talents. That is a duty I should conceive it a special honor to discharge if I had at once the material and the ability.
Barton was an orator I have never heard surpassed in either House of Congress, and I may safely say this, as I never heard Henry Clay. He lived, unhappily, in the days when shorthand reporting was in its infancy. His utterance was so rapid, his retorts so quick, his humor so eccentric, that it would have required a rare adept to follow him.
He was the favorite of every social circle—was sought after for his wit, his scholarship, and his memory. Mr. Buchanan delighted to have him at his frequent dinner-parties, and to introduce him to his distinguished guests as a prodigy. He read much and recollected every thing, and thus acquired a style all his own.
His declamation was peculiar to himself, but his English was exact and pure. Rich and figurative to a degree, it was always classic and correct. Some of his similes and outbursts, if reported at the time, would survive like the best of Curran, Phillips, or Webster. He resembled Rufus Choate in astonishing rapidity of speech and in splendor of diction. How often I have regretted that his memorable passages were not preserved. The courts of Pennsylvania and the Democratic conventions resounded with his unparalleled eloquence, and when he reached San Francisco he leaped into a practice that promised to lead all others. His last speech in that city is still spoken of as one never equaled and never forgotten. I will
not attempt to give an idea of one of the many I recollect, for fear of doing injustice to his very great talents. His respected widow, living in Philadelphia, has some of his MSS. in her possession, and will, I hope, soon present a memoir of her gifted husband.
Conrad was more fortunate. He printed much that he spoke and wrote. He was the editor of the Philadelphia North American for a time, while I was editor of the Philadelphia Pennsylvanian, and we had many exciting controversies. The Whigs were sure that he had the best of me during the Mexican war, and the Democrats were as sure I had the best of him: but neither side knew that more than once the severest things we said of each other were written when we were dining together at the same table, and in the midst of mutual discussion and good nature. There were not many days of that heated and angry period that we did not meet as bosom friends; and when his last remains were borne to their repose, I followed among those who mourned the loss of one of the richest intellects and warmest hearts in the ranks of men. Few did more varied labor in life. He was a splendid journalist, orator, and dramatist, and alternated from one practical post to the other; was a good judge, a brave mayor of Philadelphia, and a vigorous railroad president. He lives in some of the finest lyrics of the language, and in his great play of" Jack Cade," which holds the stage with tenacious popularity. Had he figured in Congress he would be classed among the Wirts, the Prentisses, the Benjamins, and the Prestons, masters, as they were, of the school of graceful eloquence, precisely as Barton would have figured among the original Randolphs, the sarcastic McDuffies, the imperious Marshalls, and the fiery Poindexters.
[February 19, 1871.)
THE 3d of February, 1860, was one of the coldest days I ever knew in Washington, and the night was especially severe. The effort to elect a Speaker of the House of Representatives of the United States, though not so long as that of 1855-56, when General Banks was chosen, was equally exciting; and when ex-Governor William Pennington, of New Jersey, was declared presiding officer of that body on the ist, the next point of interest was the choice of a Clerk. It was a period of anxious solicitude to patriotic men. The possibilities of secession began to multiply. The North was determined, the South defiant; Douglas had been re-elected Senator from Illinois in spite of “my Lord Cardinal;” Broderick had been killed in the previous September ; Reeder, who had been removed by President Pierce from the governorship of Kansas, had been chosen delegate from that territory, and was on the floor contesting the seat of J.W. Whitfield, who had got the certificate. John Schwartz had defeated the Presidential favorite, J. Glancy Jones, in Berks County ; Hickman had been returned by an enormously increased majority ; Haskin, of the Yonkers district, New York, had triumphed in his open record of open hostility to the Administration. Instead of getting at least fifty Democrats in Congress from the three States of New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania, they got but two from the first, but five from the second, and but two from the third. John W. Geary and Robert J. Walker had followed the example of Andrew H. Reeder, and had given their experience as governors of Kansas in fearless scorn of the frauds of the slaveholder.
On the cold Friday referred to, February 3, 1860, I was elected Clerk of the House, by a single vote, over all others. It was the last drop in the bitter bowl of Democratic disappointment, and it created an overflow of anger on the one side and