« PreviousContinue »
their recollections they are getting old; but you have taught me in our long and unbroken devotion to each other that nothing keeps the heart so young and so fresh as the habit of reviving the best deeds of our fellow-creatures and forgetting the worst. As I glance through these chapters, written hastily, often in the rush of editorial work, I am surprised to realize how much one man can condense into a letter repeated every week for over two years; and if those who read this book will enjoy as much pleasure in perusing it as I did in writing it, and will sympathize with me in the spirit with which it was composed, I shall be abundantly compensated.
J. W. FORNEY. PHILADELPHIA, June 2, 1873.
ANECDOTES OF PUBLIC MEN.
IN 1850, after the triumph of the Compromise Measures, Henry Clay visited Philadelphia, and stayed at the American House, on Chestnut Street, opposite Independence Hall. As I had supported these Measures in opposition to the extreme followers of the Southern Democrats, in the columns of The Pennsylvanian, I felt anxious to call on Mr. Clay, the leader of that his last great work. Ex-Mayor John Swift, who is still living in Philadelphia, in the 84th year of his age, dropped in at my editorial rooms the morning after Mr. Clay's arrival, in company with my esteemed friend, Edwin Forrest, the tragedian. Mr. Swift, who had been one of Mr. Clay's active and unselfish champions, gladly acceded to my request to be presented to Mr. Clay, whom I had never met, and had firmly opposed when he was the Whig candidate for the Presidency in 1844. Forrest expressed the wish to accompany us; so we three walked over to the hotel and sent up our cards, and were quickly admitted to the great man's parlor. He looked feeble and worn
- he was then over seventy-three years old—but he soon brightened. Anxious to rouse him, I quietly ventured to suggest that I had heard the speech of Pierre Soulé, Senator in Congress from Louisiana-an extremist especially distasteful to Mr. Clay--and that I thought it a very thorough and able presentation of the side adverse to the Compromise Measures. I saw the old man's eye flash as I spoke, and was not surprised
when, with much vehemence, he proceeded to denounce Soulé. After denying that he was a statesman, and insisting that there were others far more effective in the opposition, he wound up by saying: “He is nothing but an actor, sir-a mere actor." Then suddenly recollecting the presence of our favorite tragedian, he dropped his tone, and waved his hand, as he turned to Mr. Forrest—"I mean, my dear sir, a mere French actor!" We soon after took our leave, and as we descended the stairs, Forrest turned to Mr. Swift and myself, and said: “Mr. Clay has proved, by the skill with which he can change his manner, and the grace with which he can make an apology, that he is a better actor than Soulé !"
I never met Daniel Webster, as was natural on account of my connection with the Democratic party, but I often recall two incidents in connection with him. It was, I think, about the time Robert J. Walker's tariff of 1846 was passed that he came to Philadelphia, and stopped at Hartwell's Washington House, on Chestnut Street, above Seventh, the guest of the Whigs, whom he addressed at a splendid banquet in the celebrated Chinese Museum, on Ninth Street. Extensive preparations had been made for the occasion. The company was numerous, including hundreds of ladies in the galleries, the feast superb, the wines delicious, and Mr. Webster did not rise to respond to the toast in his honor till late in the evening. Shorthand reporting was not then what it is now, a swift, accurate, and magical science; and I knew the Whig papers, which resolved to print the great man's speech entire, would be delayed till long past their usual hour next morning. The town was hungry to see it, and its surprise may be readily conceived when at dawn of the succeeding day The Pennsylvanian, the Democratic organ, then under my direction, appeared with Mr.“Webster's Great Speech on the Tariff.” I had taken his old speech on free trade, delivered in 1824, when he was a member of the House, and converted it into a Supplement, of which many
thousands were printed and sold before the joke was discovered. The Democrats were delighted—the Whigs furious, especially Mr. Greeley, of The Tribune, who had come over to hear Mr. Webster, and who bought several copies of the old speech, thinking it the new one. But Mr. Webster enjoyed it hugely; and when his friend, George Ashmun, handed him my Extra, he laughed heartily, and said, “I think Forney has printed a much better speech than the one I made last night.” Was not that genuine manliness? The other incident happened after his defeat for the Whig nomination for President in 1852. I was then Clerk of the House of Representatives of the United States, and one of the editors of the Washington Union, published by that fine specimen of manhood, General Robert Armstrong, of Tennessee. Every body knew that Mr. Webster keenly felt his rejection by the party he had so honored and served. The brilliant effort of Rufus Choate to make him the candidate in the Baltimore Whig National Convention, though ineffectual to prevent the foreordained selection of the brave but vain-glorious Scott, had gone to the hearts of the people, adding not only to the grief of Mr. Webster's friends, but, as the result proved, to the forces of the Democrats, who were largely assisted by their old opponents in the ensuing election which made Franklin Pierce President. Indifferent to or ignorant of this fact, a large concourse of the Whigs of Washington City concluded to serenade Mr. Webster at his residence on Louisiana Avenue.
I followed the procession. It was an exquisite moonlight summer evening. The crowd was dense; the music delicious; the cheers inspiring. A long time elapsed before the statesman appeared, and when he did he looked like another Coriolanus. Robed in his dressing-gown, he spoke a few minutes, but in a manner I shall never forget. His voice, always clear and sonorous, rolled with deeper volume over the crowd. There was no bitterness, but an inexpressible sadness in his words, and when he bade them good-night, and said he
should sleep well and rise with the lark at the purpling of the dawn-dropping no syllable in favor of General Scott-the serenaders retired as if they had heard a funeral sermon. I walked
editorial den and wrote a leader on the scene, so full of the emptiness of human ambition and the ingratitude of political parties. The following verse from Byron closed the article :
“As the struck eagle, stretched upon the plain,
Drank the last life-blood of his bleeding breast.” Franklin Pierce succeeded to the Presidency in 1853, aided by many Old-line Whigs and by most of the Anti-slavery Democrats now in the Republican ranks. The political events of his administration are historical. Let me say a word about the man. He was at once the kindest, most courteous, and most considerate public officer I ever knew. As President he was a model of high breeding. Receptive, cordial, hospitable to his political friends, he delighted to welcome his political adversaries, and to make them at home. Let me give one specimen of his liberality. It was my misfortune to differ from the Southern leaders at an early day, and they resolved to defeat my reelection as Clerk of the House. My mistaken "Forrest Letter” was made their pretext. I say mistaken, for, though I wrote it with the most honest purpose, I did not venture to defend the unjust but plausible construction that I had written it to obtain false testimony against a woman. My friends, and none more than Mr. Forrest himself, knew the motive that prompted me; but I have never stopped to explain it. That letter was seized upon by the Southern leaders, who knew my settled determination to resist the further encroachments of slavery; and they