« AnteriorContinuar »
the recognition of his disinterested and loyal service. But in the retrospect of history he stands out as an honorable and pathetic figure. The single warping influence of his whole career was the mistake he shared with millions of his countrymen,—the acceptance and exaltation of slavery. He was faithful to his convictions; he was free from covetousness and meanness; and in his personality there were high and fine elements of manhood. “A very intense man and a very lovable man ” was the judgment of one who was his intimate associate through the war.
“Love of power was so much weaker in him than love of his theories that when Congress passed laws enlarging his prerogatives he wrote long messages declining them on constitutional grounds." A friend described him as game-cock-with just a little strut." Said one who stood in close relations with him: “ He was so sensitive to criticism and even to questioning that I have passed months of intimate official association with him without venturing to ask him a question.” Pure in his personal morals, but never having made a religious profession, under the responsibilities of the Presidency he turned for support to religion, and was confirmed in the Episcopal Church. Under imprisonment, indignities, obloquy, long seclusion with the memories of a ruined cause, he bore himself with manly fortitude and dignity. Schooled by inexorable reality, he finally acquiesced in the established order, and his last public words were of fidelity and faith for the new America.
Before the war, Robert Toombs of Georgia played some such part to the Northern imagination as Phillips or Sumner to the Southern. He was regarded as the typical fire-eater and braggart. He was currently reported to have boasted that he would yet call the roll of his slaves at the foot of Bunker Hill monument. But in truth this ogre was made of much the same human clay as the Massachusetts Aboli
tionists. He is well pictured, together with Alexander H. Stephens of Georgia, in Trent's Southern Statesmen of the Old Regime,-a book admirable in its spirit and its historic fidelity. Both Toombs and Stephens represented, as compared with Davis, the more moderate sentiment of the South, until they parted company with each other on the question of secession. Trent prefaces the companion portraits with a sketch of the typical Georgian; his State, like the other Gulf States, less civilized and orderly than Virginia and South Carolina, less critical and more enthusiastic; the Georgian," the southern Yankee," " loving success, strength, straightforwardness, and the solid virtues generally, neither is he averse to the showy ones; but above all he loves virtue in action." Among Southerners, says Trent, the Georgian is nearest to a normal American. Toombs inherited property; grew up like other Southern boys of the prosperous class; rode and hunted and studied a little in the interims. As a lawyer, he would not take a case unless satisfied of its justice. He was of robust physique, vigorous intellect, and high spirits; and he was happy in his family life.
Stephens worked his way up from poverty, and never lost an active sympathy with the struggling. He helped more than fifty young men to get an education. He was of a slight and fragile frame, and had much physical suffering, which he bore with indomitable courage. His conscientiousness was almost morbid. His temperament was melancholy, and his life was lonely. In early life he was twice in love, but poverty forbade his marriage. He was a clear and logical thinker, much given to refined exposition of constitutional theories, but deficient in large culture and philosophy. He held the doctrine of State sovereignty, but from first to last he opposed secession as against the true interest of the States. At the beginning of his career he
was active in opposing the vigilance committees organized to harry anti-slavery men. He supported the annexation of Texas, though objecting to doing it in the interest of slavery,—slavery, he said, was a domestic matter, which the Federal government had no call to take care of. He and Toombs generally stood together, as Whigs and Unionists. They opposed the Mexican War, on the ground that the Union was not to be extended by force; neither, they both said later, was it to be maintained by force. But they opposed the exclusion of slavery from the Territories by the Wilmot proviso; and in the debate Stephens declared that the morality of slavery stood“ upon a basis as firm as the Bible," and as long as Christianity lasted it could never be considered an offense against the divine laws. The two men did yeoman's service in carrying through the 1850 compromise, and afterward in persuading Georgia not to take part in the Nashville convention—a disunionist scheme which proved abortive. They, with Howell Cobb, held Georgia for the compromise and for the Union, and thus fixed the pivotal point of Southern politics for the next decade. They became leaders in the Constitutional Union party, which, in Georgia, succeeded the Whig. They made vigorous and successful fights against the Know-nothing folly. They accepted the gains which came to the South through Douglas's breaking down of the Missouri compromise, and, a little later, the Dred Scott decision of the Supreme Court; but they diverged from Davis, by not favoring the active intervention of Congress to protect slavery in the Territories. Toombs was accused of abetting Brooks's attack on Sumner, which he disclaimed; but he found nothing to hinder his taking part in a banquet in Brooks's honor a few months later, and on this most illomened occasion he joined in the threats of disunion if Fremont should be elected. But still the catastrophe lingered,
and seemed improbable. Stephens left Congress in 1858. Two years more, and secession became a burning question; Stephens and Toombs took opposite sides, but, the issue decided, they both made common cause with their State. Toombs served in the Confederate Cabinet and Army. Stephens, vice-president of the Confederacy, seven years after the close of the war again became a member of the House; an attenuated figure, confined to a wheel-chair, but still vital and vigorous; respected by all; his presence a visible symbol of the spanning of "the bloody chasm."
SOME NORTHERN LEADERS
TURNING now to the North, the principal leaders in its political life have already been mentioned, except Lincoln, whose star had not yet risen; but it is worth while to glance at some of those who, apart from Congress and public office, were molding public sentiment. Perhaps the man of the widest influence on public opinion was Horace Greeley. Through his New York Tribune he reached an immense audience, to a great part of whom the paper was a kind of political Bible. His words struck home by their common sense, passion, and close sympathy with the common people. A graduate of the farm and printing office, he was in close touch with the free, plain, toiling, American people, and in no man had they a better representative or a more effective advocate. There was in him something of John Bright's sturdy manhood, direct speech and devotion to human rights; something, too, of Franklin's homely shrewdness,—though little of Franklin's large philosophy or serenity. He was at first a Henry Clay Whig, and always a zealous protectionist; then in alliance with the anti-slavery element in the party, and soon the leading Republican editor. He was a lover of peace, in active sympathy with social reforms, sometimes betrayed into extravagances, but generally guarded by his common sense against extremists and impracticables. His limitations were a want of large culture, a very uncertain judgment in estimating men, and a temperament liable to such sudden ebb and flow that he fell sometimes into rashness and sometimes into panic. But he was disinterested