Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

CHANGES OF OPINION.

53

man.

between admiration for the new actor on the great stage of national affairs and reverence for the retiring chief. I recollect my own feelings as I sat in the gallery and witnessed this conflict. Douglas was a Vermonter; Adams was a Massachusetts

Perhaps the idea that controlled their common star was the New England idea, which has done so much and dared so much in human civilization and redemption. It is curious to note the influence of this idea upon all our future. It has never failed to vindicate itself. John Adams proclaimed it, but he did not plant it. John Quincy Adams tenderly nourished it. If the grandson of the one, and the son of the other, and the sons of the last, choose to neglect it, the followers of Stephen A. Douglas will not allow it to die for want of culture and care.

[February 19, 1871.]

XI.

NOTHING is more remarkable in history than the fact that States and statesmen often undergo entire revulsions of political sentiment and conviction. To doubt the sincerity of these changes is to question the justice of every sort of conversion. Slavery has been the most potent element; but other causes have been effective. The free-trade speech of Daniel Webster in 1824, able as it was, was not a particle more conscientious than his protection argument in Philadelphia twenty-two years later. The leading Federalist in Lancaster County from 1814 to 1827 was the same James Buchanan who, in a few years after, became the admitted Democratic chief of Pennsylvania. Henry Clay's early Democracy did not prevent him from becoming the defiant enemy of that party after Andrew Jackson took command of it. Calhoun became a free-trader after hav

ing made some of the strongest arguments for protection, thus exactly changing places with Daniel Webster. When, however, slavery began to dominate the field, we had a succession of astonishing transformations. States wheeled out of one party into another with magical celerity. Democratic fortresses like Maine, New Hampshire, Illinois, Iowa, Pennsylvania, New York, and Ohio, which had stood by the Democracy in every trial, and had routed the Whigs in repeated campaigns, joined the Republican column, while veteran Democrats like Hamlin of Maine, Trumbull of Illinois, Wilmot of Pennsylvania, D. K. Cartter of Ohio, Preston King and Reuben E. Fenton, of New York, Morton of Indiana, ranged themselves on the same side, not as privates, but as general officers, each with an army at his back. There was little compensation for these losses. It is true the South consolidated to save the peculiar institution, but little was gained by the halting support of such formerly intense Whig States as Maryland and Kentucky. They could not so readily forget their devotion to Clay and their hatred of Jackson. The sectionalism born of slavery also gave rise to war, and then came some of the strangest of revolutions. Hundreds of thousands of Democrats became Republicans when they saw the treatment that Reeder and Douglas, and their compatriots, had received; but the oddest sight was to see hosts of “Oldline Whigs,” who had been denouncing slavery all their lives, joining the Democrats ! Hon. James Brooks, of New York, and Hon. Josiah Randall, of Philadelphia, were the pioneers in this singular diversion; and they were followed by quite a procession of men of the same school when hostilities commenced. There is now hardly a considerable town in the United States in which some “ Old-line ” is not among the Democratic leaders. Most notable of these are the grandsons of John Quincy Adams. The living junior of that name is an accepted authority, and one of his brothers is said to be among the best of the numerous writers for the New York World, whose edito

[blocks in formation]

rial columns are frequently enriched by contributions from the finished and fertile pen of William B. Reed, for a long time the most brilliant and effective of the antagonists of the Democratic party in Pennsylvania. Mr. Reed was an earnest advocate of Mr. Buchanan for the Presidency in 1856. He did much for his election. He was eminently loyal to his new friend; and when he was sent forth on the Chinese mission, he was true to that friend, and entered heartily into the extreme views of those who sympathized with the rebellion. Let us not forget that his very intensity in that strife was only a copy of his intensity on the other side, and that his course in both experiences is perhaps the very best proof of his sincerity. As I read his articles in The World, so caustic and courteous, I have but one regret, and that is that they are not in logical accord with his old antislavery record. Nobody in Philadelphia who knows W. B. Reed, whatever his present feelings, will deny that if he had followed this record he would have been among the dictators of the Republican party. As I study men like Mr. Reed, and notice that Hon. Isaac E. Hiester, the Whig son of a Federal father, in the county of Lancaster, Pennsylvania—both having served that great district in the Congress of the United States, and both chosen by the anti-Democratic vote, and the son dying a few weeks ago one of the captains of the Democracy-I feel that I have no right to question motives. Hiester Clymer, who ran for Governor against John W. Geary, of the same State, in 1866, is another instance. Perhaps the most thoughtful member of the Philadelphia bar was the late George M. Wharton, an “Old-line Whig," and yet his last hours were filled with sympathy with the Democratic party.

It is difficult, and often disreputable, to divine the motives of men who change religions or politics. Yet it is interesting to know how they excuse themselves. Consistency is often a species of moral cowardice. Many shelter themselves under this shadow, and lie through a life-time, publicly indorsing an

idea they hate in their hearts. The brave spirits are those who welcome the truth as they see it, and fight it out. The fool often lives and dies in his own errors. The wise man investigates and rejects them. As none are perfect in life, so all should aspire to be perfect in the Christian virtue of toleration.

[March 26, 1871.]

XII.

LISTENING to Mr. Dougherty's brilliant lecture, at the Philadelphia Academy of Music, on the evening of March 13, memory carried me back many years. He was right when he said that the days of oratory were over, and that the men fittest for declamation generally prefer the plainest and most practical way of expressing their sentiments. I am disposed to think the change for the better, inasmuch as the most thoughtful men are not always the best speakers, and the best speakers are not always the most thoughtful men. A calm, conversational style necessitates logic or an attempt in that direction, and leaves reason a clearer, because less exciting, field to combat with error. High art seems to have given way to exact science. Words weigh little. Adjectives are accepted as confessions of weakness. Fact so rules the world that even the novelist can not be successful unless he weaves the very best likeness of it into his fictions. A great and wise man said to me lately, after reading one of Charles Reade's wonderful creations, “This book reminds me keenly of the singular adage, that many a romance is history without the proper names, just as many a history is romance with the

proper names.” How well I remember some of the orators of other days, the men of the generation succeeding Andrew Jackson! The South always predominated in fascinating and plausible rhet

ORATORS OF THE SOUTH.

57

oric. Winter Davis, of Maryland, was at once a logician and a declaimer. His sharp tenor voice, his incisive sentences and ready wit, his fine figure, were admirably re-enforced by acute reasoning powers and admirable legal training. A rare specimen of the same qualities was Judah P. Benjamin, of Louisiana, now a practitioner in the various law-courts in London. His handsome Jewish face, his liquid tones, and easy enunciation, contrasted well with his skill as a debater and his accuracy as a student. Pierre Soulé, a Senator from the same State, was a different, yet as peculiar a type. His swarthy complexion, black, flashing eyes, and Frenchified dress and speech, made him one of the attractions of the Senate. He is now in his grave, after a strangely eventful and novel career.

He was an artificial man-brilliant in repartee, yet subject to fits of melancholy; impetuous, yet reserved ; proud, but polite-in one word, such a contradiction as Victor Hugo, with a vast fund of knowledge, and a deposit of vanity which was never exhausted. He was a ready-made Secessionist when the rebellion came, and yet his light shone feebly in that dark conspiracy. Virginia always had a supply of good speakers. Thomas H. Bayley, with his gold spectacles and ambrosial locks, and his Southern idiom, a compound of the negro and the scholar; Charles James Faulkner, with his pleasant smile, dandy dress, and flowing phrases; James M. Mason, with his Dombey diction and pompous pretense ; R. M. T. Hunter, with his quiet and careful conservatism ; Roger A. Pryor, with his impetuous and dazzling temperament — these were all first-class speakers, though as distinct as their own faces. The noisiest man in the immediate ante-war Congress was George S. Houston, of Alabama; the most quarrelsome was Keitt, of South Carolina ; the best-tempered, Orr, of the same State ; the most acrid, George W. Jones, of Tennessee'; the jolliest, Senator Jere Clemens, of Alabama; the most supercilious, Senator Slidell, of Louisiana ; the most genial, Senator Anthony Kennedy, of

« AnteriorContinuar »