Full Text Archive logoFull Text Archive — Books, poems, drama…

Autobiography of Andrew Dickson White

Part 2 out of 13

Adobe PDF icon
Download this document as a .pdf
File size: 1.4 MB
What's this? light bulb idea Many people prefer to read off-line or to print out text and read from the real printed page. Others want to carry documents around with them on their mobile phones and read while they are on the move. We have created .pdf files of all out documents to accommodate all these groups of people. We recommend that you download .pdfs onto your mobile phone when it is connected to a WiFi connection for reading off-line.

and thought.

Especially fortunate was I in my ``chum,'' the friend
that stood closest to me. He was the most conservative
young man I ever knew, and at the very opposite pole
from me on every conceivable subject. But his deeply
religious character, his thorough scholarship, and his real
devotion to my welfare, were very precious to me. Our
very differences were useful, since they obliged me to
revise with especial care all my main convictions and
trains of thought. He is now, at this present writing, the
Bishop of Michigan, and a most noble and affectionate
pastor of his flock.

The main subjects of interest to us all had a political
bearing. Literature was considered as mainly subsidiary
to political discussion. The great themes, in the minds
of those who tried to do any thinking, were connected with
the tremendous political struggle then drawing toward
its climax in civil war. Valuable to me was my membership
of sundry student fraternities. They were vealy,
but there was some nourishment in them; by far the best
of all being a senior club which, though it had adopted
a hideous emblem, was devoted to offhand discussions of
social and political questions;--on the whole, the best club
I have ever known.

The studies which interested me most were political and
historical; from classical studies the gerund-grinding and
reciting by rote had completely weaned me. One of our
Latin tutors, having said to me: ``If you would try you
could become a first-rate classical scholar,'' I answered:
``Mr. B----, I have no ambition to become a classical
scholar, as scholarship is understood here.''

I devoted myself all the more assiduously to study on
my own lines, especially in connection with the subjects
taught by President Woolsey in the senior year, and the
one thing which encouraged me was that, at the public
reading of essays, mine seemed to interest the class. Yet
my first trial of strength with my classmates in this
respect did not apparently turn out very well. It was at
a prize debate, in one of the large open societies, but
while I had prepared my speech with care, I had given
no thought to its presentation, and, as a result, the judges
passed me by. Next day a tutor told me that Professor
Porter wished to see me. He had been one of the judges,
but it never occurred to me that he could have summoned
me for anything save some transgression of college rules.
But, on my arrival at his room, he began discussing my
speech, said some very kind things of its matter, alluded
to some defects in its manner, and all with a kindness
which won my heart. Thus began a warm personal friendship
which lasted through his professorship and presidency
to the end of his life. His kindly criticism was
worth everything to me; it did far more for me than any
prize could have done. Few professors realize how much
a little friendly recognition may do for a student. To
this hour I bless Dr. Porter's memory.

Nor did my second effort, a competition in essay-writing,
turn out much better. My essay was too labored, too
long, too crabbedly written, and it brought me only half
a third prize.

This was in the sophomore year. But in the junior year
came a far more important competition; that for the Yale
Literary Gold Medal, and without any notice of my
intention to any person, I determined to try for it. Being
open to the entire university, the universal expectation
was that it would be awarded to a senior, as had hitherto
been the case, and speculations were rife as to what mem-
ber of the graduating class would take it. When the committee
made their award to the essay on ``The Greater
Distinctions in Statesmanship,'' opened the sealed
envelopes and assigned the prize to me, a junior, there was
great surprise. The encouragement came to me just at
the right time, and did me great good. Later, there were
awarded to me the first Clarke Prize for the discussion
of a political subject, and the De Forest Gold Medal, then
the most important premium awarded in the university,
my subject being, ``The Diplomatic History of Modern
Times.'' Some details regarding this latter success may
serve to show certain ways in which influence can be
exerted powerfully upon a young man. The subject had
been suggested to me by hearing Edwin Forrest in Bulwer's
drama of ``Richelieu.'' The character of the great
cardinal, the greatest statesman that France has produced,
made a deep impression upon me, and suggested the
subjects in both the Yale Literary and the De Forest
competitions, giving me not only the initial impulse, but
maintaining that interest to which my success was largely due.
Another spur to success was even more effective. Having
one day received a telegram from my father, asking me
to meet him in New York, I did so, and passed an hour
with him, all the time at a loss to know why he had sent
for me. But, finally, just as I was leaving the hotel to
return to New Haven, he said, ``By the way, there is still
another prize to be competed for, the largest of all.''
``Yes,'' I answered, ``the De Forest; but I have little
chance for that; for though I shall probably be one of the
six Townsend prize men admitted to the competition, there
are other speakers so much better, that I have little hope
of taking it.'' He gave me rather a contemptuous look,
and said, somewhat scornfully: ``If I were one of the first
SIX competitors, in a class of over a hundred men, I would
try hard to be the first ONE.'' That was all. He said
nothing more, except good-bye. On my way to New Haven
I thought much of this, and on arriving, went to a student,
who had some reputation as an elocutionist, and engaged
him for a course in vocal gymnastics. When he wished
me to recite my oration before him, I declined, saying that
it must be spoken in my own way, not in his; that his
way might be better, but that mine was my own, and I
would have no other. He confined himself, therefore, to
a course of vocal gymnastics, and the result was a
surprise to myself and all my friends. My voice, from
being weak and hollow, became round, strong, and flexible.
I then went to a student in the class above my own, a
natural and forcible speaker, and made an arrangement
with him to hear me pronounce my oration, from time to
time, and to criticize it in a common-sense way. This he
did. At passages where he thought my manner wrong,
he raised his finger, gave me an imitation of my manner,
then gave the passage in the way he thought best, and
allowed me to choose between his and mine. The result was
that, at the public competition, I was successful. This
experience taught me what I conceive to be the true theory
of elocutionary training in our universities--vocal
gymnastics, on one side; common-sense criticism, on the other.

As to my physical education: with a constitution far
from robust, there was need of special care. Fortunately,
I took to boating. In an eight-oared boat, spinning down
the harbor or up the river, with G. W. S---- at the stroke
--as earnest and determined in the Undine then as in the
New York office of the London ``Times'' now, every condition
was satisfied for bodily exercise and mental recreation.
I cannot refrain from mentioning that our club sent
the first challenge to row that ever passed between Yale
and Harvard, even though I am obliged to confess that we
were soundly beaten; but neither that defeat at Lake
Quinsigamond, nor the many absurdities which have grown out
of such competitions since, have prevented my remaining
an apostle of college boating from that day to this. If
guarded by common-sense rules enforced with firmness
by college faculties, it gives the maximum of healthful
exercise, with a minimum of danger. The most detestable
product of college life is the sickly cynic; and a thor-
ough course in boating, under a good stroke oar, does as
much as anything to make him impossible.

At the close of my undergraduate life at Yale I went
abroad for nearly three years, and fortunately had, for
a time, one of the best of companions, my college mate,
Gilman, later president of Johns Hopkins University, and
now of the Carnegie Institution, who was then, as he has
been ever since, a source of good inspirations to me,--
especially in the formation of my ideas regarding
education. During the few weeks I then passed in England I
saw much which broadened my views in various ways.
History was made alive to me by rapid studies of persons
and places while traveling, and especially was this the
case during a short visit to Oxford, where I received some
strong impressions, which will be referred to in another
chapter. Dining at Christ Church with Osborne Gordon,
an eminent tutor of that period, I was especially interested
in his accounts of John Ruskin, who had been his pupil.
Then, and afterward, while enjoying the hospitalities of
various colleges at Oxford and Cambridge, I saw the
excellencies of their tutorial system, but also had my eyes
opened to some of their deficiencies.

Going thence to Paris I settled down in the family of
a very intelligent French professor, where I remained
nearly a year. Not a word of English was spoken in the
family; and, with the daily lesson in a French method,
and lectures at the Sorbonne and Collge de France, the
new language soon became familiar. The lectures then
heard strengthened my conception of what a university
should be. Among my professors were such men as St.
Marc Girardin, Arnould, and, at a later period, Laboulaye.
In connection with the lecture-room work, my studies in
modern history were continued, especially by reading Guizot,
Thierry, Mignet, Thiers, Chteaubriand, and others,
besides hearing various masterpieces in French dramatic
literature, as given at the Thtre Franais, where
Rachel was then in her glory, and at the Odon, where Mlle.
Georges, who had begun her career under the first Napoleon,
was ending it under Napoleon III.

My favorite subject of study was the French Revolution,
and, in the intervals of reading and lectures, I sought
out not only the spots noted in its history, but the men
who had taken part in it. At the Htel des Invalides I
talked with old soldiers, veterans of the Republic and of
the Napoleonic period, discussing with them the events
through which they had passed; and, at various other
places and times, with civilians who had heard orations
at the Jacobin and Cordelier clubs, and had seen the
guillotine at work. The most interesting of my old soldiers
at the Invalides wore upon his breast the cross of the
Legion of Honor, which he had received from Napoleon
at Austerlitz. Still another had made the frightful
marches through the Spanish Peninsula under Soult, and
evidently felt very humble in the presence of those who
had taken part in the more famous campaigns under Napoleon
himself. The history of another of my old soldiers
was pathetic. He was led daily into the cabaret, where my
guests were wont to fight their battles o'er again, his eyes
absolutely sightless, and his hair as white as snow. Getting
into conversation with him I learned that he had gone
to Egypt with Bonaparte, had fought at the Battle of the
Pyramids, had been blinded by the glaring sun on the
sand of the desert, and had been an inmate at the Invalides
ever since;--more than half a century. At a later period
I heard from another of my acquaintances how, as a
schoolboy, he saw Napoleon beside his camp-fire at
Cannes, just after his landing from Elba.

There still remained at Paris, in those days, one main
connecting link between the second empire and the first,
and this was the most contemptible of all the Bonapartes,--
the younger brother of the great Napoleon,--
Jrome, ex-king of Westphalia. I saw him, from time to
time, and was much struck by his resemblance to the first
emperor. Though taller, he still had something of that
Roman imperial look, so remarkable in the founder of the
family; but in Jrome, it always recalled to me such
Caesars as Tiberius and Vitellius.

It was well known that the ex-king, as well as his son,
Prince Jrome Napoleon, were thorns in the side of
Napoleon III, and many stories illustrating this were
current during my stay in Paris, the best, perhaps, being an
answer made by Napoleon III to another representative
of his family. The question having been asked, ``What
is the difference between an accident and a misfortune
(un accident et un malheur)?'' the emperor answered.
``If my cousin, Prince Napoleon, should fall into the
Seine, it would be an ACCIDENT; if anybody were to pull him
out, it would be a MISFORTUNE.'' Although this cousin had
some oratorical ability, both he and his father were most
thoroughly despised. The son bore the nickname of
``Plon-Plon,'' probably with some reference to his reputation
for cowardice; the father had won the appellation
of ``Le Roi Loustic,'' and, indeed, had the credit of
introducing into the French language the word ``loustic,''
derived from the fact that, during his short reign at Cassel,
King Jrome was wont, after the nightly orgies at his
palace, to dismiss his courtiers with the words: ``Morgen
wieder loustic, Messieurs.''

During the summer of 1854 I employed my vacation in
long walks and drives with a college classmate through
northern, western, and central France, including Picardy,
Normandy, Brittany, and Touraine, visiting the spots
of most historical and architectural interest. There were,
at that time, few railways in those regions, so we put on
blouses and took to the road, sending our light baggage
ahead of us, and carrying only knapsacks. In every way
it proved a most valuable experience. Pleasantly come
back to me my walks and talks with the peasantry, and
vividly dwell in my memory the cathedrals of Beauvais,
Amiens, Rouen, Bayeux, Coutances, Le Mans, Tours,
Chartres, and Orlans, the fortress of Mont St. Michel,
the Chteaux of Chenonceaux, Chambord, Nantes, Am-
boise, and Angers, the tombs of the Angevine kings at
Fontevrault, and the stone cottage of Louis XI at Clry.
Visiting the grave of Chteaubriand at St. Malo, we met
a little old gentleman, bent with age, but very brisk and
chatty. He was standing with a party of friends on one
side of the tomb, while we stood on the other. Presently,
one of the gentlemen in his company came over and asked
our names, saying that his aged companion was a great
admirer of Chteaubriand, and was anxious to know something
of his fellow pilgrims. To this I made answer, when
my interlocutor informed me that the old gentleman was
the Prince de Rohan-Soubise. Shortly afterward the old
gentleman came round to us and began conversation, and
on my making answer in a way which showed that I knew
his title, he turned rather sharply on me and said, ``How
do you know that?'' To this I made answer that even
in America we had heard the verse:

``Roi, je ne puis,
Prince ne daigne,
Rohan je suis.''

At this he seemed greatly pleased, grasped my hand, and
launched at once into extended conversation. His great
anxiety was to know who was to be the future king of
our Republic, and he asked especially whether Washington
had left any direct descendants. On my answering in the
negative, he insisted that we would have to find some
descendant in the collateral line, ``for,'' said he, ``you can't
escape it; no nation can get along for any considerable
time without a monarch.''

Returning to Paris I resumed my studies, and, at the
request of Mr. Randall, the biographer of Jefferson,
made some search in the French archives for correspondence
between Jefferson and Robespierre,--search made
rather to put an end to calumny than for any other

At the close of this stay in France, by the kindness of
the American minister to Russia, Governor Seymour, of
Connecticut, I was invited to St. Petersburg, as an attach
of the American Legation, and resided for over six months
in his household. It was a most interesting period. The
Crimean War was going on, and the death of the Emperor
Nicholas, during my stay, enabled me to see how a great
change in autocratic administration is accomplished. An
important part of my duty was to accompany the minister
as an interpreter, not only at court, but in his interviews
with Nesselrode, Gortschakoff, and others then in power.
This gave me some chance also to make my historical
studies more real by close observation of a certain sort
of men who have had the making of far too much history;
but books interested me none the less. An epoch in my
development, intellectual and moral, was made at this time
by my reading large parts of Gibbon, and especially by
a very careful study of Guizot's ``History of Civilization
in France,'' which greatly deepened and strengthened the
impression made by his ``History of Civilization in
Europe,'' as read under President Woolsey at Yale. During
those seven months in St. Petersburg and Moscow, I read
much in modern European history, paying considerable
attention to the political development and condition of
Russia, and, for the first time, learned the pleasures of
investigating the history of our own country. Governor
Seymour was especially devoted to the ideas of Thomas
Jefferson, and late at night, as we sat before the fire, after
returning from festivities or official interviews, we
frequently discussed the democratic system, as advocated by
Jefferson, and the autocratic system, as we saw it in the
capital of the Czar. The result was that my beginning
of real study in American history was made by a very
close examination of the life and writings of Thomas
Jefferson, including his letters, messages, and other papers,
and of the diplomatic history revealed in the volumes of
correspondence preserved in the Legation. The general
result was to strengthen and deepen my democratic creed,
and a special result was the preparation of an article on
``Jefferson and Slavery,'' which, having been at a later
period refused by the ``New Englander,'' at New Haven,
on account of its too pronounced sympathy with democracy
against federalism, was published by the ``Atlantic
Monthly,'' and led to some acquaintances of value to me

Returning from St. Petersburg, I was matriculated at
the University of Berlin, and entered the family of a
very scholarly gymnasial professor, where nothing but
German was spoken. During this stay at the Prussian
capital, in the years 1855 and 1856, I heard the lectures of
Lepsius, on Egyptology; August Boeckh, on the History
of Greece; Friedrich von Raumer, on the History of Italy;
Hirsch, on Modern History in general; and Carl Ritter,
on Physical Geography. The lectures of Ranke, the most
eminent of German historians, I could not follow. He had
a habit of becoming so absorbed in his subject, as to slide
down in his chair, hold his finger up toward the ceiling,
and then, with his eye fastened on the tip of it, to go
mumbling through a kind of rhapsody, which most of my
German fellow-students confessed they could not understand.
It was a comical sight: half a dozen students
crowding around his desk, listening as priests might listen
to the sibyl on her tripod, the other students being
scattered through the room, in various stages of
discouragement. My studies at this period were mainly in the
direction of history, though with considerable reading on
art and literature. Valuable and interesting to me at this
time were the representations of the best dramas of Goethe,
Schiller, Lessing, and Gutzkow, at the Berlin theaters.
Then, too, really began my education in Shakspere, and
the representations of his plays (in Schlegel and Tieck's
version) were, on the whole, the most satisfactory I have
ever known. I thus heard plays of Shakspere which, in
English-speaking countries, are never presented, and,
even into those better known, wonderful light was at times
thrown from this new point of view.

As to music, the Berlin Opera was then at the height
of its reputation, the leading singer being the famous
Joanna Wagner. But my greatest satisfaction was derived
from the ``Liebig Classical Concerts.'' These were,
undoubtedly, the best instrumental music then given in
Europe, and a small party of us were very assiduous in
our attendance. Three afternoons a week we were, as a
rule, gathered about our table in the garden where the
concerts were given, and, in the midst of us, Alexander
Thayer, the biographer of Beethoven, who discussed the
music with us during its intervals. Beethoven was, for
him, the one personage in human history, and Beethoven's
music the only worthy object of human concern. He knew
every composition, every note, every variant, and had
wrestled for years with their profound meanings. Many
of his explanations were fantastic, but some were
suggestive and all were interesting. Even more inspiring
was another new-found friend, Henry Simmons Frieze; a
thorough musician, and a most lovely character. He
broached no theories, uttered no comments, but sat rapt
by the melody and harmony--transfigured--``his face as
it had been the face of an angel.'' In these Liebig
concerts we then heard, for the first time, the music of a
new composer,--one Wagner,--and agreed that while it
was all very strange, there was really something in the
overture to ``Tannhuser.''

At the close of this stay in Berlin, I went with a party
of fellow-students through Austria to Italy. The whole
journey was a delight, and the passage by steamer from
Trieste to Venice was made noteworthy by a new
acquaintance,--James Russell Lowell. As he had already
written the ``Vision of Sir Launfal,'' the ``Fable for
Critics,'' and the ``Biglow Papers,'' I stood in great awe of
him; but this feeling rapidly disappeared in his genial
presence. He was a student like the rest of us,--for
he had been passing the winter at Dresden, working
in German literature, as a preparation for succeeding
Longfellow in the professorship at Harvard. He
came to our rooms, and there linger delightfully in
my memory his humorous accounts of Italian life as he
had known it.

During the whole of the journey, it was my exceeding
good fortune to be thrown into very close relations with
two of our party, both of whom became eminent Latin
professors, and one of whom,--already referred to,--
Frieze, from his lecture-room in the University of
Michigan, afterward did more than any other man within my
knowledge to make classical scholarship a means of culture
throughout our Western States. My excursions in
Rome, under that guidance, I have always looked upon
as among the fortunate things of life. The day was given
to exploration, the evening to discussion, not merely of
archaeological theories, but of the weightier matters
pertaining to the history of Roman civilization and its
influence. Dear Frieze and Fishburne! How vividly come
back the days in the tower of the Croce di Malta, at Genoa,
in our sky-parlor of the Piazza di Spagna at Rome, and
in the old ``Capuchin Hotel'' at Amalfi, when we held high
debate on the analogies between the Roman Empire and
the British, and upon various kindred subjects.

An episode, of much importance to me at this time,
was my meeting our American minister at Naples, Robert
Dale Owen. His talks on the political state of Italy, and
his pictures of the monstrous despotism of ``King
Bomba'' took strong hold upon me. Not even the pages
of Colletta or of Settembrini have done so much to arouse
in me a sense of the moral value of political history.

Then, too, I made the first of my many excursions
through the historic towns of Italy. My reading of
Sismondi's ``Italian Republics'' had deeply interested me in
their history, and had peopled them again with their old
turbulent population. I seemed to see going on before my
eyes the old struggle between Guelphs and Ghibellines,
and between the demagogues and the city tyrants. In the
midst of such scenes my passion for historical reading
was strengthened, and the whole subject took on new and
deeper meanings.

On my way northward, excursions among the cities
of southern France, especially Nismes, Arles, and Orange,
gave me a far better conception of Roman imperial power
than could be obtained in Italy alone, and Avignon,
Bourges, and Toulouse deepened my conceptions of
mediaeval history.

Having returned to America in the summer of 1856
and met my class, assembled to take the master's degree
in course at Yale, I was urged by my old Yale friends,
especially by Porter and Gilman, to remain in New Haven.
They virtually pledged me a position in the school of art
about to be established; but my belief was in the value
of historical studies, and I accepted an election to a
professorship of history at the University of Michigan. The
work there was a joy to me from first to last, and my
relations with my students of that period, before I had
become distracted from them by the cares of an executive
position, were among the most delightful of my life.
Then, perhaps, began the most real part of my education.
The historical works of Buckle, Lecky, and Draper, which
were then appearing, gave me a new and fruitful impulse;
but most stimulating of all was the atmosphere coming
from the great thought of Darwin and Herbert Spencer,--
an atmosphere in which history became less and less a
matter of annals, and more and more a record of the
unfolding of humanity. Then, too, was borne in upon
me the meaning of the proverb docendo disces. I found
energetic Western men in my classes ready to discuss
historical questions, and discovered that in order to keep
up my part of the discussions, as well as to fit myself for
my class-room duties, I must work as I had never worked
before. The education I then received from my classes at
the University of Michigan was perhaps the most effective
of all.





My arrival in this world took place at one of the
stormy periods of American political history. It
was on the third of the three election days which carried
Andrew Jackson a second time into the Presidency.
Since that period, the election, with its paralysis of
business, ghastly campaign lying, and monstrous vilification
of candidates, has been concentrated into one day; but at
that time all the evil passions of a presidential election
were allowed to ferment and gather vitriolic strength
during three days.

I was born into a politically divided family. My
grandfather, on my mother's side, whose name I was destined
to bear, was an ardent Democrat; had, as such, represented
his district in the State legislature, and other public
bodies; took his political creed from Thomas Jefferson, and
adored Andrew Jackson. My father, on the other hand,
was in all his antecedents and his personal convictions, a
devoted Whig, taking his creed from Alexander Hamilton,
and worshiping Henry Clay.

This opposition between my father and grandfather did
not degenerate into personal bitterness; but it was very
earnest, and, in later years, my mother told me that when
Hayne, of South Carolina, made his famous speech,
charging the North with ill-treatment of the South, my
grandfather sent a copy of it to my father, as unanswerable;
but that, shortly afterward, my father sent to my
grandfather the speech of Daniel Webster, in reply, and
that, when this was read, the family allowed that the
latter had the better of the argument. I cannot help thinking
that my grandfather must have agreed with them, tacitly,
if not openly. He loved the Hampshire Hills of
Massachusetts, from which he came. Year after year he took
long journeys to visit them, and Webster's magnificent
reference to the ``Old Bay State'' must have aroused his
sympathy and pride.

Fortunately, at that election, as at so many others since,
the good sense of the nation promptly accepted the result,
and after its short carnival of political passion, dismissed
the whole subject; the minority simply leaving the responsibility
of public affairs to the majority, and all betaking
themselves again to their accustomed vocations.

I do not remember, during the first seven years of my
life, ever hearing any mention of political questions. The
only thing I heard during that period which brings back a
chapter in American politics, was when, at the age of five
years, I attended an infant school and took part in a sort
of catechism, all the children rising and replying to the
teacher's questions. Among these were the following:

Q. Who is President of the United States?

A. Martin Van Buren.

Q. Who is governor of the State of New York?

A. William L. Marcy.

This is to me somewhat puzzling, for I was four years
old when Martin Van Buren was elected, and my father
was his very earnest opponent, yet, though I recall easily
various things which occurred at that age and even earlier,
I have no remembrance of any general election before
1840, and my only recollection of the first New York
statesman elected to the Presidency is this mention of his
name, in a child's catechism.

My recollections of American polities begin, then, with
the famous campaign of 1840, and of that they are vivid.
Our family had, in 1839, removed to Syracuse, which,
although now a city of about one hundred and twenty
thousand inhabitants, was then a village of fewer than six
thousand; but, as the central town of the State, it was
already a noted gathering-place for political conventions
and meetings. The great Whig mass-meeting held there,
in 1840, was long famous as the culmination of the
campaign between General Harrison and Martin Van Buren.

As a President, Mr. Van Buren had fallen on evil times.
It was a period of political finance; of demagogical
methods in public business; and the result was ``hard
times,'' with an intense desire throughout the nation for a
change. This desire was represented especially by the
Whig party. General Harrison had been taken up as its
candidate, not merely because he had proved his worth
as governor of the Northwestern Territory, and as a
senator in Congress, but especially as the hero of sundry
fights with the Indians, and, above all, of the plucky little
battle at Tippecanoe. The most popular campaign song,
which I soon learned to sing lustily, was ``Tippecanoe and
Tyler, Too,'' and sundry lines of it expressed, not only
my own deepest political convictions and aspirations, but
also those cherished by myriads of children of far larger
growth. They ran as follows:

``Oh, have you heard the great commotion-motion-motion
Rolling the country through?
It is the ball a-rolling on
For Tippecanoe and Tyler, too,
For Tippecanoe and Tyler, too;
And with them we 'll beat little Van;
Van, Van is a used up man;
And with them we 'll beat little Van.''

The campaign was an apotheosis of tom-foolery.
General Harrison had lived the life, mainly, of a Western
farmer, and for a time, doubtless, exercised amid his rude
surroundings the primitive hospitality natural to sturdy
Western pioneers. On these facts the changes were rung.
In every town and village a log cabin was erected where
the Whigs held their meetings; and the bringing of logs,
with singing and shouting, to build it, was a great event;
its front door must have a wooden latch on the inside;
but the latch-string must run through the door; for the
claim which the friends of General Harrison especially
insisted upon was that he not only lived in a log cabin, but
that his latch-string was always out, in token that all his
fellow-citizens were welcome at his fireside.

Another element in the campaign was hard cider.
Every log cabin must have its barrel of this acrid fluid,
as the antithesis of the alleged beverage of President Van
Buren at the White House. He, it was asserted, drank
champagne, and on this point I remember that a verse
was sung at log-cabin meetings which, after describing,
in a prophetic way the arrival of the ``Farmer of North
Bend'' at the White House, ran as follows:

``They were all very merry, and drinking champagne
When the Farmer, impatient, knocked louder again;
Oh, Oh, said Prince John, I very much fear
We must quit this place the very next year.''

``Prince John'' was President Van Buren's brilliant
son; famous for his wit and eloquence, who, in after years,
rose to be attorney-general of the State of New York, and
who might have risen to far higher positions had his
principles equaled his talents.

Another feature at the log cabin, and in all political
processions, was at least one raccoon; and if not a live
raccoon in a cage, at least a raccoon skin nailed upon the
outside of the cabin. This gave local color, but hence
came sundry jibes from the Democrats, for they were
wont to refer to the Whigs as ``coons,'' and to their log
cabins as ``coon pens.'' Against all these elements of
success, added to promises of better times, the Democratic
party could make little headway. Martin Van Buren,
though an admirable public servant in many ways, was
discredited. M. de Bacourt, the French Minister at
Washington, during his administration, was, it is true, very
fond of him, and this cynical scion of French nobility
wrote in a private letter, which has been published in these
latter days, ``M. Van Buren is the most perfect imitation
of a gentleman I ever saw.'' But this commendation had
not then come to light, and the main reliance of the Democrats
in capturing the popular good-will was their candidate
for the Vice-Presidency, Colonel Richard M. Johnson,
of Kentucky. He, too, had fought in the Indian wars,
and bravely. Therefore it was that one of the Whig songs
which especially rejoiced me, ran:

``They shout and sing, Oh humpsy dumpsy,
Colonel Johnson killed Tecumseh.''

Among the features of that period which excited my
imagination were the enormous mass meetings, with
processions, coming in from all points of the compass, miles
in length, and bearing every patriotic device and political
emblem. Here the Whigs had infinitely the advantage.
Their campaign was positive and aggressive. On platform-
wagons were men working at every trade which expected
to be benefited by Whig success; log cabins of all
sorts and sizes, hard-cider barrels, coon pens, great
canvas balls, which were kept ``a-rolling on,'' canoes, such
as General Harrison had used in crossing Western rivers,
eagles that screamed in defiance, and cocks that crowed
for victory. The turning ball had reference to sundry
lines in the foremost campaign song. For the October
election in Maine having gone Whig by a large majority,
clearly indicating what the general result was to be in
November, the opening lines ran as follows:

``Oh, have you heard the news from Maine--Maine--Maine?
Rolling the country through?
It is the ball a-rolling on
For Tippecanoe and Tyler, too.''
&c., &c., &c.

Against all this the Democrats, with their negative and
defensive platform, found themselves more and more at
a disadvantage; they fought with desperation, but in vain,
and one of their most unlucky ventures to recover their
position was an effort to undermine General Harrison's
military reputation. For this purpose they looked about,
and finally found one of their younger congressional
representatives, considered to be a rising man, who, having
gained some little experience in the Western militia, had
received the honorary title of ``General,'' Isaac M. Crary,
of Michigan; him they selected to make a speech in Congress
exhibiting and exploding General Harrison's military
record. He was very reluctant to undertake it, but
at last yielded, and, after elaborate preparation, made an
argument loud and long, to show that General Harrison
was a military ignoramus. The result was both comic
and pathetic. There was then in Congress the most famous
stump-speaker of his time, and perhaps of all times,
a man of great physical, intellectual, and moral vigor;
powerful in argument, sympathetic in manner, of infinite
wit and humor, and, unfortunately for General Crary,
a Whig,--Thomas Corwin, of Ohio. Mr. Crary's heavy,
tedious, perfunctory arraignment of General Harrison
being ended, Corwin rose and began an offhand speech
on ``The Military Services of General Isaac M. Crary.''
In a few minutes he had as his audience, not only the House
of Representatives, but as many members of the Senate,
of the Supreme Court, and visitors to the city, as could
be crowded into the congressional chamber, and, of all
humorous speeches ever delivered in Congress, this of
Corwin has come down to us as the most successful. Long
afterward, parts of it lingered in our ``speakers' manuals''
and were declaimed in the public schools as examples
of witty oratory. Many years later, when the
House of Representatives left the old chamber and went
into that which it now occupies, Thurlow Weed wrote
an interesting article on scenes he had witnessed in the old
hall, and most vivid of all was his picture of this speech
by Corwin. His delineations of Crary's brilliant exploits,
his portrayal of the valiant charges made by Crary's
troops on muster days upon the watermelon patches of
Michigan, not only convulsed his audience, but were
echoed throughout the nation, Whigs and Democrats
laughing alike; and when John Quincy Adams, in a speech
shortly afterward, referred to the man who brought on
this tempest of fun as ``the late General Crary,'' there
was a feeling that the adjective indicated a fact. It really
was so; Crary, although a man of merit, never returned
to Congress, but was thenceforth dropped from political
life. More than twenty years afterward, as I was passing
through Western Michigan, a friend pointed out to me
his tombstone, in a little village cemetery, with comments,
half comic, half pathetic; and I also recall a mournful
feeling when one day, in going over the roll of my
students at the University of Michigan, I came upon one who
bore the baptismal name of Isaac Crary. Evidently, the
blighted young statesman had a daughter who, in all this
storm of ridicule and contempt, stood by him, loved him,
and proudly named her son after him.

Another feature in the campaign also impressed me.
A blackguard orator, on the Whig side, one of those
whom great audiences applaud for the moment and ever
afterward despise,--a man named Ogle,--made a speech
which depicted the luxury prevailing at the White House,
and among other evidences of it, dwelt upon the ``gold
spoons'' used at the President's table, denouncing their
use with such unction that, for the time, unthinking
people regarded Martin Van Buren as a sort of American
Vitellius. As a matter of fact, the scanty silver-gilt table
utensils at the White House have been shown, in these
latter days, in some very pleasing articles written by
General Harrison's grandson, after this grandson had
himself retired from the Presidency, to have been, for the
most part, bought long before;--and by order of General

The only matter of political importance which, as a boy
eight years old, I seized upon, and which dwells in my
memory, was the creation of the ``Sub-Treasury.'' That
this was a wise measure seems now proven by the fact that
through all the vicissitudes of politics, from that day to
this, it has remained and rendered admirable service. But
at that time it was used as a weapon against the
Democratic party, and came to be considered by feather-
brained partizans, young and old, as the culmination of
human wickedness. As to what the ``Sub-Treasury''
really was I had not the remotest idea; but this I knew;--
that it was the most wicked outrage ever committed by a
remorseless tyrant upon a long-suffering people.

In November of 1840 General Harrison was elected. In
the following spring he was inaugurated, and the Whigs
being now for the first time in power, the rush for office
was fearful. It was undoubtedly this crushing pressure
upon the kindly old man that caused his death. What
British soldiers, and Indian warriors, and fire, flood, and
swamp fevers could not accomplish in over sixty years,
was achieved by the office-seeking hordes in just one
month. He was inaugurated on the fourth of March and
died early in April.

I remember, as if it were yesterday, my dear mother
coming to my bedside, early in the morning, and saying
to me, ``President Harrison is dead.'' I wondered what
was to become of us. He was the first President who had
died during his term of service, and a great feeling of
relief came over me when I learned that his high office
had devolved upon the Vice-President.

But now came a new trouble, and my youthful mind was
soon sadly agitated. The Whig papers, especially the
``New York Express'' and ``Albany Evening Journal,''
began to bring depressing accounts of the new President,
--tidings of extensive changes in the offices throughout the
country, and especially in the post-offices. At first the
Whig papers published these under the heading
``Appointments by the President.'' But soon the heading
changed; it became ``Appointments by Judas Iscariot,''
or ``Appointments by Benedict Arnold,'' and war was
declared against President Tyler by the party that elected
him. Certain it is that no party ever found itself in a
worse position than did the Whigs, when their Vice-President
came into the Chief Magistracy; and equally certain
is it that this position was the richly earned punishment
of their own folly.

I have several times since had occasion to note the
carelessness of National and State conventions in nominating
a candidate for the second place upon the ticket--whether
Vice-President or Lieutenant-Governor. It would seem
that the question of questions--the nomination to the
first office--having been settled, there comes a sort of
collapse in these great popular assemblies, and that then,
for the second office, it is very often anybody's race and
mainly a matter of chance. In this way alone can be
explained several nominations which have been made to
second offices, and above all, that of John Tyler. As a
matter of fact, he was not commended to the Whig party
on any solid grounds. His whole political life had shown
him an opponent of their main ideas; he was, in fact, a
Southern doctrinaire, and frequently suffered from acute
attacks of that very troublesome political disease,
Virginia metaphysics. As President he attempted to enforce
his doctrines, and when Whig leaders, and above all
Henry Clay attempted, not only to resist, but to crush him,
he asserted his dignity at the cost of his party, and finally
tried that which other accidental Presidents have since
tried with no better success, namely, to build up a party
of his own by a new distribution of offices. Never was a
greater failure. Mr. Tyler was dropped by both parties
and disappeared from American political life forever.
I can now see that he was a man obedient to his convictions
of duty, such as they were, and in revolt against
attempts of Whig leaders to humiliate him; but then, to
my youthful mind, he appeared the very incarnation of

My next recollections are of the campaign of 1844.
Again the Whig party took courage, and having, as a boy
of twelve years, acquired more earnest ideas regarding
the questions at issue, I helped, with other Whig boys,
to raise ash-poles, and to hurrah lustily for Clay at public
meetings. On the other hand, the Democratic boys hurrahed
as lustily around their hickory poles and, as was
finally proved, to much better purpose. They sang doggerel
which, to me, was blasphemous, and especially a song
with the following refrain:

``Alas poor Cooney Clay,
Alas poor Cooney Clay,
You never can be President,
For so the people say.''

The ash-poles had reference to Ashland, Clay's Kentucky
estate; and the hickory poles recalled General Jackson's
sobriquet, ``Old Hickory.'' For the Democratic candidate
in 1844, James Knox Polk, was considered heir to
Jackson's political ideas. The campaign of 1844 was not
made so interesting by spectacular outbursts of tom-foolery
as the campaign of 1840 had been. The sober second
thought of the country had rather sickened people of that
sort of thing; still, there was quite enough of it, especially
as shown in caricatures and songs. The poorest of the
latter was perhaps one on the Democratic side, for as the
Democratic candidates were Polk of Tennessee and Dallas
of Pennsylvania, one line of the song embraced probably
the worst pun ever made, namely--

``PORK in the barrel, and DOLLARS in the pocket.''

It was at this period that the feeling against the extension
of slavery, especially as indicated in the proposed
annexation of Texas, began to appear largely in politics,
and though Clay at heart detested slavery and always
refused to do the bidding of its supporters beyond what he
thought absolutely necessary in preserving the Union, an
unfortunate letter of his led great numbers of anti-
slavery men to support a separate anti-slavery ticket, the
candidate being James G. Birney. The result was that
the election of Clay became impossible. Mr. Polk was
elected, and under him came the admission of Texas,
which caused the Mexican War, and gave slavery a new
lease of life. The main result, in my own environment,
was that my father and his friends, thenceforward for a
considerable time, though detesting slavery, held all
abolitionists and anti-slavery men in contempt,--as unpatriotic
because they had defeated Henry Clay, and as idiotic
because they had brought on the annexation of Texas and
thereby the supremacy of the slave States.

But the flame of liberty could not be smothered by
friends or blown out by enemies; it was kept alive by
vigorous counterblasts in the press, and especially fed by
the lecture system, which was then at the height of its
efficiency. Among the most powerful of lecturers was
John Parker Hale, senator of the United States from
New Hampshire, his subject being, ``The Last Gladiatorial
Combat at Rome.'' Taking from Gibbon the story of
the monk Telemachus, who ended the combats in the arena
by throwing himself into them and sacrificing his life, Hale
suggested to his large audiences an argument that if men
wished to get rid of slavery in our country they must be
ready to sacrifice themselves if need be. His words sank
deep into my mind, and I have sometimes thought that
they may have had something to do in leading John
Brown to make his desperate attempt on slavery at
Harper's Ferry.

How blind we all were! Henry Clay, a Kentucky slave-
holder, would have saved us. Infinitely better than the
violent solutions proposed to us was his large statesman-
like plan of purchasing the slave children as they were
born and setting them free. Without bloodshed, and at
cost of the merest nothing as compared to the cost of the
Civil War, he would thus have solved the problem; but
it was not so to be. The guilt of the nation was not to be
so cheaply atoned for. Fanatics, North and South,
opposed him and, as a youth, I yielded to their arguments.

Four years later, in 1848, came a very different sort of
election. General Zachary Taylor, who had shown ster-
ling qualities in the Mexican War, was now the candidate
of the Whigs, and against him was nominated Mr.
Cass, a general of the War of 1812, afterward governor
of the Northwestern Territory, and senator from
Michigan. As a youth of sixteen, who by that time had become
earnestly interested in politics, I was especially struck
by one event in this campaign. The Democrats of course
realized that General Taylor, with the prestige gained in
the Mexican War, was a very formidable opponent. Still,
if they could keep their party together, they had hopes of
beating him. But a very large element in their party
had opposed the annexation of Texas and strongly disliked
the extension of slavery;--this wing of the party
in New York being known as the ``Barn Burners,'' because
it was asserted that they ``believed in burning the
barn to drive the rats out.'' The question was what these
radical gentlemen would do. That question was answered
when a convention, controlled largely by the anti-slavery
Democrats of New York and other States, met at Buffalo
and nominated Martin Van Buren to the Presidency.
For a time it was doubtful whether he would accept the
nomination. On one side it was argued that he could not
afford to do so, since he had no chance of an election,
and would thereby forever lose his hold upon the Democratic
party; but, on the other hand, it was said that he
was already an old man; that he realized perfectly the
impossibility of his relection, and that he had a bitter
grudge against the Democratic candidate, General Cass,
who had voted against confirming him when he was sent
as minister to Great Britain, thus obliging him to return
home ingloriously. He accepted the nomination.

On the very day which brought the news of this
acceptance, General Cass arrived in Syracuse, on his way
to his home at Detroit. I saw him welcomed by a great
procession of Democrats, and marched under a broiling
sun, through dusty streets, to the City Hall, where he was
forced to listen and reply to fulsome speeches prophesying
his election, which he and all present knew to be impos-
sible. For Mr. Van Buren's acceptance of the ``free soil''
nomination was sure to divide the Democratic vote of the
State of New York, thus giving the State to the Whigs;
and in those days the proverb held good, ``As New York
goes, so goes the Union.''

For years afterward there dwelt vividly in my mind
the picture of this old, sad man marching through the
streets, listening gloomily to the speeches, forced to
appear confident of victory, yet evidently disheartened and

Very vivid are my recollections of State conventions
at this period. Syracuse, as the ``Central City,'' was a
favorite place for them, and, as they came during the
summer vacations, boys of my age and tastes were able
to admire the great men of the hour,--now, alas, utterly
forgotten. We saw and heard the leaders of all parties.
Many impressed me; but one dwells in my memory, on
account of a story which was told of him. This was a
very solemn, elderly gentleman who always looked very
wise but said nothing,--William Bouck of Schoharie
County. He had white hair and whiskers, and having
been appointed canal commissioner of the State, had
discharged his duties by driving his old white family nag
and buggy along the towing-path the whole length of the
canals, keeping careful watch of the contractors, and so,
in his simple, honest way, had saved the State much money.
The result was the nickname of the ``Old White Hoss of
Schoharie,'' and a reputation for simplicity and honesty
which made him for a short time governor of the State.

A story then told of him reveals something of his
character. Being informed that Bishop Hughes of New York
was coming to Albany, and that it would be well to treat
him with especial courtesy, the governor prepared himself
to be more than gracious, and, on the arrival of the
bishop, greeted him most cordially with the words, ``How
do you do, Bishop; I hope you are well. How did you
leave Mrs. Hughes and your family?'' To this the bishop
answered, ``Governor, I am very well, but there is no
Mrs. Hughes; bishops in our church don't marry.''
``Good gracious,'' answered the governor, ``you don't
say so; how long has that been?'' The bishop must have
thoroughly enjoyed this. His Irish wit made him quick
both at comprehension and repartee. During a debate
on the school question a leading Presbyterian merchant
of New York, Mr. Hiram Ketchum, made a very earnest
speech against separate schools for Roman Catholics, and
presently, turning to Bishop Hughes, said, ``Sir, we
respect you, sir, but, sir, we can't go your purgatory, sir.''
To this the bishop quietly replied, ``You might go further
and fare worse.''

Another leading figure, but on the Whig side, was a
State senator, commonly known as ``Bray'' Dickinson,
to distinguish him from D. S. Dickinson who had been a
senator of the United States, and a candidate for the
Presidency. ``Bray'' Dickinson was a most earnest
supporter of Mr. Seward; staunch, prompt, vigorous, and
really devoted to the public good. One story regarding
him shows his rough-and-readiness.

During a political debate in the old Whig days, one
of his Democratic brother senators made a long harangue
in favor of Martin Van Buren as a candidate for the
Presidency, and in the course of his speech referred to
Mr. Van Buren as ``the Curtius of the Republic.'' Upon
this Dickinson jumped up, went to some member better
educated in the classics than himself, and said, ``Who in
thunder is this Curtis that this man is talking about?'' ``It
isn't Curtis, it 's Curtius, ``was the reply. ``Well, now, ``
said Dickinson, ``what did Curtius do?'' ``Oh,'' said his
informant, ``he threw himself into an abyss to save
the Roman Republic.'' Upon this Dickinson returned to
his seat, and as soon as the Democratic speaker had
finished, arose and said: ``Mr. President, I deny the justice
of the gentleman's reference to Curtius and Martin Van
Buren. What did Curtius do? He threw himself, sir,
into an abyss to save his country. What, sir, did Martin
Van Buren do? He threw his country into an abyss to
save himself.''

Rarely, if ever, has any scholar used a bit of classical
knowledge to better purpose.

Another leading figure, at a later period, was a Democrat,
Fernando Wood, mayor of New York, a brilliant
desperado; and on one occasion I saw the henchmen whom
he had brought with him take possession of a State
convention and deliberately knock its president, one of the
most respected men in the State, off the platform. It was
an unfortunate performance for Mayor Wood, since the
disgust and reaction thereby aroused led all factions of
the Democratic party to unite against him.

Other leading men were such as Charles O'Conor and
John Van Buren; the former learned and generous, but
impracticable; the latter brilliant beyond belief, but not
considered as representing any permanent ideas or principles.

During the campaign of 1848, as a youth of sixteen,
I took the liberty of breaking from the paternal party;
my father voting for General Taylor, I hurrahing for
Martin Van Buren. I remember well how one day my
father earnestly remonstrated against this. He said, ``My
dear boy, you cheer Martin Van Buren's name because
you believe that if he is elected he will do something
against slavery: in the first place, he cannot be elected;
and in the second place, if you knew him as we older
people do, you would not believe in his attachment to any
good cause whatever.''

The result of the campaign was that General Taylor
was elected, and I recall the feeling of awe and hope with
which I gazed upon his war-worn face, for the first and
last time, as he stopped to receive the congratulations of
the citizens of Syracuse;--hope, alas, soon brought to
naught, for he, too, soon succumbed to the pressure of
official care, and Millard Fillmore of New York, the Vice-
President, reigned in his stead.

I remember Mr. Fillmore well. He was a tall, large,
fine-looking man, with a face intelligent and kindly, and
he was noted both as an excellent public servant and an
effective public speaker. He had been comptroller of
the State of New York,--then the most important of State
offices, had been defeated as Whig candidate for governor,
and had been a representative in Congress. He was the
second of the accidental Presidents, and soon felt it his
duty to array himself on the side of those who, by
compromise with the South on the slavery question, sought
to maintain and strengthen the Federal Union. Under
him came the compromise measures on which our great
statesmen of the middle period of the nineteenth century,
Clay, Webster, Calhoun, and Benton, made their last
speeches. Mr. Fillmore was undoubtedly led mainly by
patriotic motives, in promoting the series of measures
which were expected to end all trouble between the North
and South, but which, unfortunately, embraced the Fugitive
Slave Law; yet this, as I then thought, rendered him
accursed. I remember feeling an abhorrence for his very
name, and this feeling was increased when there took
place, in the city of Syracuse, the famous ``Jerry Rescue.''

EARLY MANHOOD--1851-1857

On the first day of October, 1851, there was shuffling
about the streets of Syracuse, in the quiet pursuit
of his simple avocations, a colored person, as nearly ``of
no account'' as any ever seen. So far as was known
he had no surname, and, indeed, no Christian name, save
the fragment and travesty,--``Jerry.''

Yet before that day was done he was famous; his name,
such as it was, resounded through the land; and he had
become, in all seriousness, a weighty personage in American

Under the law recently passed, he was arrested, openly
and in broad daylight, as a fugitive slave, and was carried
before the United States commissioner, Mr. Joseph
Sabine, a most kindly public officer, who in this matter
was sadly embarrassed by the antagonism between his
sworn duty and his personal convictions.

Thereby, as was supposed, were fulfilled the Law and the
Prophets--the Law being the fugitive slave law recently
enacted, and the Prophets being no less than Henry Clay
and Daniel Webster.

For, as if to prepare the little city to sacrifice its
cherished beliefs, Mr. Clay had some time before made a
speech from the piazza of the Syracuse House, urging
upon his fellow-citizens the compromises of the
Constitution; and some months later Mr. Webster appeared,
spoke from a balcony near the City Hall, and to the same
purpose; but more so. The latter statesman was prophetic,
not only in the hortatory, but in the predictive
sense; for he declared not only that the Fugitive Slave
Law must be enforced, but that it WOULD be enforced, and
he added, in substance: ``it will be enforced throughout
the North in spite of all opposition--even in this city--
even in the midst of your abolition conventions.'' This
piece of prophecy was accompanied by a gesture which
seemed to mean much; for the great man's hand was
waved toward the City Hall just across the square--the
classic seat and center of abolition conventions.

How true is the warning, ``Don't prophesy unless you
know!'' The arrest of Jerry took place within six months
after Mr. Webster's speech, and indeed while an abolition
convention was in session at that same City Hall;
but when the news came the convention immediately
dissolved, the fire-bells began to ring, a crowd moved upon
the commissioner's office, surged into it, and swept Jerry
out of the hands of the officers. The authorities having
rallied, re-arrested the fugitive, and put him in confinement
and in irons. But in the evening the assailants returned
to the assault, carried the jail by storm, rescued
Jerry for good, and spirited him off safe and sound to
Canada, thus bringing to nought the fugitive slave law,
as well as the exhortations of Mr. Clay and the predictions
of Mr. Webster.

This rescue produced great excitement throughout the
nation. Various persons were arrested for taking part
in it, and their trials were adjourned from place to place,
to the great hardship of all concerned. During a college
vacation I was present at one of these trials at Canandaigua,
the United States Judge, before whom it was held,
being the Hon. N. K. Hall, who had been Mr. Fillmore's
law partner in Buffalo. The evening before the trial an
anti-slavery meeting was held, which I attended. It was
opened with prayer by a bishop of the African Methodist
Episcopal Church, Loguen, and of all prayers I have
ever heard, this dwells in my mind as perhaps the most
impressive. The colored minister's petitions for his race,
bond and free, for Jerry and for those who had sought
to rescue him, for the souls of the kidnappers, and for
the country which was to his people a land of bondage,
were most pathetic. Then arose Gerrit Smith. Of all
Tribunes of the People I have ever known he dwells in
my memory as possessing the greatest variety of gifts.
He had the prestige given by great wealth, by lavish
generosity, by transparent honesty, by earnestness of
purpose, by advocacy of every good cause, by a superb
presence, and by natural eloquence of a very high order. He
was very tall and large, with a noble head, an earnest, yet
kindly face, and of all human voices I have ever heard
his was the most remarkable for its richness, depth, and
strength. I remember seeing and hearing him once at
a Republican State Convention in the City Hall at Syracuse,
when, having come in for a few moments as a spectator,
he was recognized by the crowd and greeted
with overwhelming calls for a speech. He was standing
at the entrance door, towering above all about him, and
there was a general cry for him to come forward to
the platform. He declined to come forward; but finally
observed to those near him, in his quiet, natural way,
with the utmost simplicity, ``Oh, I shall be heard.'' At
this a shout went up from the entire audience; for every
human being in that great hall had heard these words
perfectly, though uttered in his usual conversational

I also remember once entering the old Delavan House
at Albany, with a college friend of mine, afterward
Bishop of Maine, and seeing, at the other end of a long
hall, Gerrit Smith in quiet conversation. In a moment
we heard his voice, and my friend was greatly impressed
by it, declaring he had never imagined such
an utterance possible. It was indeed amazing; it was
like the deep, clear, rich tone from the pedal bass
of a cathedral organ. During his career in Congress,
it was noted that he was the only speaker within
remembrance who without effort made himself heard in every
part of the old chamber of the House of Representatives,
which was acoustically one of the worst halls ever
devised. And it was not a case of voice and nothing else;
his strength of argument, his gift of fit expression, and
his wealth of illustration were no less extraordinary.

On this occasion at Canandaigua he rose to speak, and
every word went to the hearts of his audience. ``Why,''
he began, ``do they conduct these harassing proceedings
against these men? If any one is guilty, I am guilty.
With Samuel J. May I proposed the Jerry Rescue. We
are responsible for it; why do they not prosecute us?''
And these words were followed by a train of cogent
reasoning and stirring appeal.

The Jerry Rescue trials only made matters worse.
Their injustice disgusted the North, and their futility
angered the South. They revealed one fact which especially
vexed the Southern wing of the Democratic party, and
this was, that their Northern allies could not be depended
upon to execute the new compromise. In this Syracuse
rescue one of the most determined leaders was a rough
burly butcher, who had been all his life one of the loudest
of pro-slavery Democrats, and who, until he saw Jerry
dragged in manacles through the streets, had been most
violent in his support of the fugitive slave law. The
trials also stimulated the anti-slavery leaders and orators
to new vigor. Garrison, Phillips, Gerrit Smith, Sumner,
and Seward aroused the anti-slavery forces as never
before, and the ``Biglow Papers'' of James Russell Lowell,
which made Northern pro-slavery men ridiculous, were
read with more zest than ever.

But the abolition forces had the defects of their
qualities, and their main difficulty really arose from the
stimulus given to a thin fanaticism. There followed, in
the train of the nobler thinkers and orators, the ``Fool
Reformers,''--sundry long-haired men and short-haired
women, who thought it their duty to stir good Christian
people with blasphemy, to deluge the founders of the
Republic with blackguardism, and to invent ever more
and more ingenious ways for driving every sober-minded
man and woman out of the anti-slavery fold. More than
once in those days I hung my head in disgust as I listened
to these people, and wondered, for the moment, whether,
after all, even the supremacy of slaveholders might not
be more tolerable than the new heavens and the new earth,
in which should dwell such bedraggled, screaming,
denunciatory creatures.

At the next national election the Whigs nominated
General Scott, a man of extraordinary merit and of
grandiose appearance; but of both these qualities he was
himself unfortunately too well aware; as a result the
Democrats gave him the name of ``Old Fuss and Feathers,'' and
a few unfortunate speeches, in one of which he expressed
his joy at hearing that ``sweet Irish brogue,'' brought
the laugh of the campaign upon him.

On the other hand the Democrats nominated Franklin
Pierce; a man greatly inferior to General Scott in military
matters, but who had served well in the State politics
of New Hampshire and in Congress, was widely beloved,
of especially attractive manners, and of high personal

He also had been in the Mexican War, but though he
had risen to be brigadier-general, his military record
amounted to very little. There was in him, no doubt,
some alloy of personal with public motives, but it would
be unjust to say that selfishness was the only source of
his political ideas. He was greatly impressed by the
necessity of yielding to the South in order to save the
Union, and had shown this by his utterances and votes in
Congress: the South, therefore, accepted him against
General Scott, who was supposed to have moderate anti-
slavery views.

General Pierce was elected; the policy of his
administration became more and more deeply pro-slavery; and
now appeared upon the scene Stephen Arnold Douglas--
senator from Illinois, a man of remarkable ability,--a
brilliant thinker and most effective speaker, with an
extraordinary power of swaying men. I heard him at vari-
ous times; and even after he had committed what seemed
to me the unpardonable sin, it was hard to resist his
eloquence. He it was who, doubtless from a mixture of
motives, personal and public, had proposed the abolition of
the Missouri Compromise, which since the year 1820 had
been the bulwark of the new territories against the
encroachments of slavery. The whole anti-slavery sentiment
of the North was thereby intensified, and as the
establishment of north polarity at one end of the magnet
excites south polarity at the other, so Southern feeling
in favor of slavery was thereby increased. Up to a recent
period Southern leaders had, as a rule, deprecated
slavery, and hoped for its abolition; now they as generally
advocated it as good in itself;--the main foundation of
civil liberty; the normal condition of the working classes
of every nation; and some of them urged the revival of
the African slave-trade. The struggle became more and
more bitter. I was during that time at Yale, and the general
sentiment of that university in those days favored
almost any concession to save the Union. The venerable
Silliman, and a great majority of the older professors
spoke at public meetings in favor of the pro-slavery
compromise measures which they fondly hoped would settle
the difficulty between North and South and restablish
the Union on firm foundations. The new compromise was
indeed a bitter dose for them, since it contained the
fugitive slave law in its most drastic form; and every one
of them, with the exception of a few theological doctrinaires
who found slavery in the Bible, abhorred the whole
slave system. The Yale faculty, as a rule, took ground
against anti-slavery effort, and, among other ways of
propagating what they considered right opinions, there
was freely distributed among the students a sermon by
the Rev. Dr. Boardman of Philadelphia, which went to
extremes in advocating compromise with slavery and the
slave power.

The great body of the students, also, from North and
South, took the same side. It is a suggestive fact that
whereas European students are generally inclined to
radicalism, American students have been, since the war of
the Revolution, eminently conservative.

To this pro-slavery tendency at Yale, in hope of saving
the Union, there were two remarkable exceptions, one
being the beloved and respected president of the university,
Dr. Theodore Dwight Woolsey, and the other his
classmate and friend, the Rev. Dr. Leonard Bacon, pastor
of the great Center Church of New Haven, and frequently
spoken of as the ``Congregational Pope of New
England.'' They were indeed a remarkable pair; Woolsey,
quiet and scholarly, at times irascible, but always kind
and just; Bacon a rugged, leonine sort of man who, when
he shook his mane in the pulpit and addressed the New
England conscience, was heard throughout the nation.
These two, especially, braved public sentiment, as well
as the opinion of their colleagues, and were supposed,
at the time, to endanger the interests of Yale by standing
against the fugitive slave law and other concessions to
slavery and its extension. As a result Yale fell into
disrepute in the South, which had, up to that time, sent large
bodies of students to it, and I remember that a classmate
of mine, a tall, harum-scarum, big-hearted, sandy-haired
Georgian known as ``Jim'' Hamilton, left Yale in disgust,
returned to his native heath, and was there welcomed with
great jubilation. A poem was sent me, written by some
ardent admirer of his, beginning with the words:

``God bless thee, noble Hamilton,'' &c.

On the other hand I was one of the small minority of
students who remained uncompromisingly anti-slavery,
and whenever I returned from Syracuse, my classmates
and friends used to greet me in a jolly way by asking me
``How are you, Gerrit; how did you leave the Rev.
Antoinette Brown and brother Fred Douglas?'' In consequence
I came very near being, in a small way, a martyr
to my principles. Having had some success in winning
essay prizes during my sophomore and junior years, my
name was naturally mentioned in connection with the election
of editors for the ``Yale Literary Magazine.'' At this
a very considerable body of Southern students and their
Northern adherents declared against me. I neither said
nor did anything in the premises, but two of my most
conservative friends wrought valiantly in my behalf.
One was my dear old chum, Davies, the present Bishop
of Michigan, at the very antipodes from myself on every
possible question; and the other my life-long friend,
Randall Lee Gibson of Kentucky, himself a large slaveholder,
afterward a general in the Confederate service, and
finally, at his lamented death a few years since, United
States senator from Louisiana. Both these friends
championed my cause, with the result that they saved me by a
small majority.

As editor of the ``Yale Literary Magazine,'' through
my senior year, I could publish nothing in behalf of my
cherished anti-slavery ideas, since a decided majority
of my fellow-editors would have certainly refused
admission to any obnoxious article, and I therefore confined
myself, in my editorial capacity, to literary and abstract
matters; but with my college exercises it was different.
Professor Larned, who was charged with the criticism
of our essays and speeches, though a very quiet man, was
at heart deeply anti-slavery, and therefore it was that in
sundry class-room essays, as well as in speeches at the
junior exhibition and at commencement, I was able to
pour forth my ideas against what was stigmatized as the
``sum of human villainies.''

I was not free from temptation to an opposite course.
My experience at the college election had more than once
suggested to my mind the idea that possibly I might be
wrong, after all; that perhaps the voice of the people was
really the voice of God; that if one wishes to accomplish
anything he must work in harmony with the popular will;
and that perhaps the best way would be to conform to
the general opinion. To do so seemed, certainly, the only
road to preferment of any kind. Such were the
temptations which, in those days, beset every young man who
dreamed of accomplishing something in life, and they
beset me in my turn; but there came a day when I dealt
with them decisively. I had come up across New Haven
Green thinking them over, and perhaps paltering rather
contemptibly with my conscience; but arriving at the door
of North College, I stopped a moment, ran through the
whole subject in an instant, and then and there, on the
stairway leading to my room, silently vowed that, come
what might, I would never be an apologist for slavery
or for its extension, and that what little I could do against
both should be done.

I may add that my conscience was somewhat aided by
a piece of casuistry from the most brilliant scholar in
the Yale faculty of that time, Professor James Hadley.
I had been brought up with a strong conviction of the
necessity of obedience to law as the first requirement in
any State, and especially in a Republic; but here was the
fugitive slave law. What was our duty regarding it?
This question having come up in one of our division-
room debates, Professor Hadley, presiding, gave a decision
to the following effect: ``On the statute books of all
countries are many laws, obsolete and obsolescent; to
disobey an obsolete law is frequently a necessity and never
a crime. As to disobedience to an obsolescent law, the
question in every man's mind must be as to the degree
of its obsolescence. Laws are made obsolescent by change
of circumstances, by the growth of convictions which render
their execution impossible, and the like. Every man,
therefore, must solemnly decide for himself at what
period a law is virtually obsolete.''

I must confess that the doctrine seems to me now
rather dangerous, but at that time I welcomed it as a very
serviceable piece of casuistry, and felt that there was
indeed, as Mr. Seward had declared, a ``higher law'' than
the iniquitous enactment which allowed the taking of a
peaceful citizen back into slavery, without any of the
safeguards which had been developed under Anglo-Saxon

Though my political feelings throughout the senior
year grew more and more intense, there was no chance
for their expression either in competition for the Clarke
Essay Prize or for the De Forest Oration Gold Medal,
the subjects of both being assigned by the faculty; and
though I afterward had the satisfaction of taking both
these, my exultation was greatly alloyed by the thought
that the ideas I most cherished could find little, if any,
expression in them.

But on Commencement Day my chance came. Then I
chose my own theme, and on the subject of ``Modern
Oracles'' poured forth my views to a church full of people;
many evidently disgusted, but a few as evidently
pleased. I dwelt especially upon sundry utterances of
John Quincy Adams, who had died not long before, and
who had been, during all his later years, a most earnest
opponent of slavery, and I argued that these, with the
declarations of other statesmen of like tendencies, were the
oracles to which the nation should listen.

Curiously enough this commencement speech secured
for me the friendship of a man who was opposed to my
ideas, but seemed to like my presenting them then and
there--the governor of the State, Colonel Thomas
Seymour. He had served with distinction in the Mexican
War, had been elected and relected, again and again,
governor of Connecticut, was devotedly pro-slavery, in
the interest, as he thought, of preserving the Union; but
he remembered my speech, and afterward, when he was
made minister to Russia, invited me to go with him,
attached me to his Legation, and became one of the dearest
friends I have ever had.

Of the diplomatic phase of my life into which he
initiated me, I shall speak in another chapter; but, as
regards my political life, he influenced me decidedly, for
his conversation and the reading he suggested led me to
study closely the writings of Jefferson. The impulse
thus given my mind was not spent until the Civil War,
which, betraying the ultimate results of sundry Jeffersonian
ideas, led me to revise my opinions somewhat and
to moderate my admiration for the founder of American
``Democracy,'' though I have ever since retained a strong
interest in his teaching.

But deeply as both the governor and myself felt on the
slavery question, we both avoided it in our conversation.
Each knew how earnestly the other felt regarding it, and
each, as if by instinct, kept clear of a discussion which
could not change our opinions, and might wreck our
friendship. The result was, that, so far as I remember,
we never even alluded to it during the whole year we were
together. Every other subject we discussed freely but
this we never touched. The nearest approach to a
discussion was when one day in the Legation Chancery at
St. Petersburg, Mr. Erving, also a devoted Union pro-
slavery Democrat, pointing to a map of the United States
hanging on the wall, went into a rhapsody over the
extension of the power and wealth of our country. I answered,
``If our country could get rid of slavery in all
that beautiful region of the South, such a riddance would
be cheap at the cost of fifty thousand lives and a hundred
millions of dollars.'' At this Erving burst forth
into a torrent of brotherly anger. ``There was no
conceivable cause,'' he said, ``worth the sacrifice of fifty
thousand lives, and the loss of a hundred millions of
dollars would mean the blotting out of the whole prosperity
of the nation.'' His deep earnestness showed me
the impossibility of converting a man of his opinions,
and the danger of wrecking our friendship by attempting
it. Little did either of us dream that within ten years
from that day slavery was to be abolished in the United
States, at the sacrifice not of fifty thousand, but of nearly
a million lives, and at the cost not merely of a hundred
millions, but, when all is told, of at least ten thousand
millions of dollars!

I may mention here that it was in this companionship,
at St. Petersburg, that I began to learn why newspaper
criticism has, in our country, so little permanent effect on
the reputation of eminent men. During four years before
coming abroad I had read, in leading Republican journals
of New York and New Haven, denunciations of Governor
Thomas Hart Seymour as an ignoramus, a pretender,
a blatant demagogue, a sot and companion of sots, an
associate, and fit associate, for the most worthless of the
populace. I had now found him a man of real convictions,
thoroughly a gentleman, quiet, conscientious, kindly,
studious, thoughtful, modest, abstemious, hardly ever
touching a glass of wine, a man esteemed and beloved by all
who really knew him. Thus was first revealed to me
what, in my opinion, is the worst evil in American public
life,--that facility for unlimited slander, of which the first
result is to degrade our public men, and the second result
is to rob the press of that confidence among thinking
people, and that power for good and against evil which it
really ought to exercise. Since that time I have seen
many other examples strengthening the same conviction.

Leaving St. Petersburg, I followed historical and, to
some extent, political studies at the University of Berlin,
having previously given attention to them in France; and
finally, traveling in Italy, became acquainted with a man
who made a strong impression upon me. This was
Mr. Robert Dale Owen, then the American minister at
Naples, whose pictures of Neapolitan despotism, as it
then existed, made me even a stronger Republican than I
had been before.

Returning to America I found myself on the eve of the
new presidential election. The Republicans had nominated
John C. Frmont, of whom all I knew was gathered
from his books of travel. The Democrats had nominated
James Buchanan, whom I, as an attach of the legation
at St. Petersburg, had met while he was minister of the
United States at London. He was a most kindly and
impressive old gentleman, had welcomed me cordially at
his legation, and at a large dinner given by Mr. George
Peabody, at that time the American Amphitryon in the
British metropolis, discussed current questions in a way
that fascinated me. Of that I may speak in another chapter;
suffice it here that he was one of the most attractive
men in conversation I have ever met, and that is saying

I took but slight part in the campaign; in fact, a natural
diffidence kept me aloof from active politics. Having
given up all hope or desire for political preferment, and
chosen a university career, I merely published a few newspaper
and magazine articles, in the general interest of anti-
slavery ideas, but made no speeches, feeling myself, in fact,
unfit to make them.

But I shared more and more the feelings of those who
supported Frmont.

Mr. Buchanan, though personal acquaintance had
taught me to like him as a man, and the reading of his
despatches in the archives of our legation at St. Petersburg
had forced me to respect him as a statesman, represented
to me the encroachments and domination of American
slavery, while Frmont represented resistance to such
encroachments, and the perpetuity of freedom upon the
American Continent.

On election day, 1856, I went to the polls at the City
Hall of Syracuse to cast my first vote. There I chanced
to meet an old schoolmate who had become a brilliant
young lawyer, Victor Gardner, with whom, in the old
days, I had often discussed political questions, he being
a Democrat and I a Republican. But he had now come
upon new ground, and, wishing me to do the same, he
tendered me what was known as ``The American Ticket,''
bearing at its head the name of Millard Fillmore. He
claimed that it represented resistance to the encroachments
and dangers which he saw in the enormous foreign
immigration of the period, and above all in the
increasing despotism of the Roman Catholic hierarchy
controlling the Irish vote. Most eloquently did my old
friend discourse on the dangers from this source. He
insisted that Roman Catholic bishops and priests had
wrecked every country in which they had ever gained
control; that they had aided in turning the mediaeval
republics into despotisms; that they had ruined Spain and
the South American republics; that they had rendered
Poland and Ireland unable to resist oppression; that they
had hopelessly enfeebled Austria and Italy; that by St.
Bartholomew massacres and clearing out of Huguenots
they had made, first, terrorism, and, finally, despotism
necessary in France; that they had rendered every people
they had controlled careless of truth and inclined to
despotism,--either of monarchs or ``bosses'';--that our
prisons were filled with the youth whom they had trained in
religion and morals; that they were ready to ravage the
world with fire and sword to gain the slightest point for
the Papacy; that they were the sworn foes of our public-
school system, without which no such thing as republican
government could exist among us; that, in fact, their
bishops and priests were the enemies of everything we
Americans should hold dear, and that their church was
not so much a religious organization as a political
conspiracy against the best that mankind had achieved.

``Look at the Italians, Spanish, French to-day, ``he
said. ``The Church has had them under its complete control
fifteen hundred years, and you see the result. Look
at the Irish all about us;--always screaming for liberty,
yet the most abject slaves of their passions and of their

He spoke with the deepest earnestness and even
eloquence; others gathered round, and some took his tickets.
I refused them, saying, ``No. The question of all questions
to me is whether slavery or freedom is to rule this
Republic,'' and, having taken a Republican ticket, I went
up-stairs to the polls. On my arrival at the ballot-box
came a most exasperating thing. A drunken Irish Democrat
standing there challenged my vote. He had, perhaps,
not been in the country six months; I had lived
in that very ward since my childhood, knew and was
known by every other person present; and such was my
disgust that it is not at all unlikely that if one of
Gardner's tickets had been in my pocket, it would have gone
into the ballot-box. But persons standing by,--Democrats
as well as Republicans,--having quieted this perfervid
patriot, and saved me from the ignominy of swearing
in my vote, I carried out my original intention, and
cast my first vote for the Republican candidate.

Certainly Providence was kind to the United States
in that contest. For Frmont was not elected. Looking
back over the history of the United States I see, thus far,
no instant when everything we hold dear was so much in
peril as on that election day.

We of the Republican party were fearfully mistaken,
and among many evidences in history that there is ``a
Power in the universe, not ourselves, which makes for
righteousness,'' I think that the non-election of Frmont
is one of the most convincing. His election would have
precipitated the contest brought on four years later by
the election of Lincoln. But the Northern States had in
1856 no such preponderance as they had four years later.
No series of events had then occurred to arouse and
consolidate anti-slavery feeling like those between 1856 and
1860. Moreover, of all candidates for the Presidency ever
formally nominated by either of the great parties up to
that time, Frmont was probably the most unfit. He had
gained credit for his expedition across the plains to
California, and deservedly; his popular name of ``Pathfinder''
might have been of some little use in a political campaign,
and some romantic interest attached to him on account of
his marriage with Jessie Benton, daughter of the burly,
doughty, honest-purposed, headstrong senator from Missouri.
But his earlier career, when closely examined, and,
even more than that, his later career, during the Civil
War, showed doubtful fitness for any duties demanding
clear purpose, consecutive thought, adhesion to a broad
policy, wisdom in counsel, or steadiness in action. Had
he been elected in 1856 one of two things would
undoubtedly have followed: either the Union would have
been permanently dissolved, or it would have been
reestablished by anchoring slavery forever in the
Constitution. Never was there a greater escape.

On March 1, 1857, I visited Washington for the first
time. It was indeed the first time I had ever trodden
the soil of a slave State, and, going through Baltimore,
a sense of this gave me a feeling of horror. The whole
atmosphere of that city seemed gloomy, and the city of
Washington no better. Our little company established
itself at the National Hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue, then
a famous hostelry. Henry Clay had died there not long
before, and various eminent statesmen had made it, and
were then making it, their headquarters.

On the evening of my arrival a curious occurrence
showed me the difference between Northern and Southern
civilization. As I sat in the reading-room, there rattled
upon my ear utterances betokening a vigorous dispute in
the adjoining bar-room, and, as they were loud and long,
I rose and walked toward the disputants, as men are wont
to do on such occasions in the North; when, to my surprise
I found that, though the voices were growing steadily
louder, people were very generally leaving the room;
presently, the reason dawned upon me: it was a case in
which revolvers might be drawn at any moment, and the
bystanders evidently thought life and limb more valuable
than any information they were likely to obtain by remaining.

On the evening of the third of March I went with the
crowd to the White House. We were marshalled through
the halls, President Pierce standing in the small chamber
adjoining the East Room to receive the guests, around
him being members of the Cabinet, with others distinguished
in the civil, military, and naval service, and,
among them, especially prominent, Senator Douglas, then
at the height of his career. Persons in the procession
were formally presented, receiving a kindly handshake,
and then allowed to pass on. My abhorrence of the Presi-
dent and of Douglas was so bitter that I did a thing for
which the only excuse was my youth:--I held my right
hand by my side, walked by and refused to be presented.

Next morning I was in the crowd at the east front of the
Capitol, and, at the time appointed, Mr. Buchanan came
forth and took the oath administered to him by the Chief
Justice, Roger Brooke Taney of Maryland. Though
Taney was very decrepit and feeble, I looked at him much
as a Spanish Protestant in the sixteenth century would
have looked at Torquemada; for, as Chief Justice, he
was understood to be in the forefront of those who would
fasten African slavery on the whole country; and this
view of him seemed justified when, two days after the
inauguration, he gave forth the Dred Scott decision,
which interpreted the Constitution in accordance with
the ultra pro-slavery theory of Calhoun.

Having taken the oath, Mr. Buchanan delivered the
inaugural address, and it made a deep impression upon me.
I began to suspect then, and I fully believe now, that
he was sincere, as, indeed, were most of those whom
men of my way of thinking in those days attacked as
pro-slavery tools and ridiculed as ``doughfaces.'' We
who had lived remote from the scene of action, and apart
from pressing responsibility, had not realized the danger
of civil war and disunion. Mr. Buchanan, and men
like him, in Congress, constantly associating with Southern
men, realized both these dangers. They honestly and
patriotically shrank from this horrible prospect; and so,
had we realized what was to come, would most of us have
done. I did not see this then, but looking back across
the abyss of years I distinctly see it now. The leaders
on both sides were honest and patriotic, and, as I firmly
believe, instruments of that ``Power in the universe, not
ourselves, which makes for righteousness.''

There was in Mr. Buchanan's inaugural address a tone
of deep earnestness. He declared that all his efforts
should be given to restore the Union, and to restablish
it upon permanent foundations; besought his fellow-citizens
throughout the Union to second him in this effort,
and promised that under no circumstances would he be
a candidate for relection. My anti-slavery feelings
remained as deep as ever, but, hearing this speech, there
came into my mind an inkling of the truth: ``Hinter dem
Berge sind auch Leute.''

During my stay in Washington I several times visited
the Senate and the House, in the old quarters which they
shortly afterward vacated in order to enter the more
commodious rooms of the Capitol, then nearly finished.
The Senate was in the room at present occupied by the
Supreme Court, and from the gallery I looked down
upon it with mingled feelings of awe, distrust, and
aversion. There, as its president, sat Mason of Virginia,
author of the fugitive slave law; there, at the desk in
front of him, sat Cass of Michigan, who, for years, had
been especially subservient to the slave power; Douglas
of Illinois, who had brought about the destruction of the
Missouri Compromise; Butler of South Carolina, who
represented in perfection the slave-owning aristocracy;
Slidell and Benjamin of Louisiana, destined soon to play
leading parts in the disruption of the Union.

But there were others. There was Seward, of my own
State, whom I had been brought up to revere, and who
seemed to me, in the struggle then going on, the
incarnation of righteousness; there was Charles Sumner of
Massachusetts, just recovering from the murderous
blows given him by Preston Brooks of South Carolina,
--a martyr, as I held, to his devotion to freedom; there
was John Parker Hale of New Hampshire, who had
been virtually threatened with murder, as a penalty for
his opposition to slavery; and there was bluff Ben Wade
of Ohio, whose courage strengthened the whole North.

The House of Representatives interested me less. In
it there sat various men now mainly passed out of
human memory; and, unfortunately, the hall, though
one of the finest, architecturally, in the world, was one
of the least suited to its purpose. To hear anything
either in the galleries or on the floor was almost an

The Supreme Court, though sitting in a wretched
room in the basement, made a far deeper impression
upon me. The judges, seated in a row, and wearing
their simple, silken gowns, seemed to me, in their quiet
dignity, what the highest court of a great republic ought
to be; though I looked at Chief Justice Taney and his
pro-slavery associates much as a Hindoo regards his
destructive gods.

The general impression made upon me at Washington
was discouraging. It drove out from my mind the last
lingering desire to take any part in politics. The whole
life there was repulsive to me, and when I reflected that
a stay of a few years in that forlorn, decaying, reeking
city was the goal of political ambition, the whole thing
seemed to me utterly worthless. The whole life there
bore the impress of the slipshod habits engendered by
slavery, and it seemed a civilization rotting before
ripeness. The city was certainly, at that time, the most
wretched capital in Christendom. Pennsylvania Avenue
was a sort of Slough of Despond,--with ruts and mud-
holes from the unfinished Capitol, at one end, to the
unfinished Treasury building, at the other, and bounded
on both sides with cheap brick tenements. The extensive
new residence quarter and better hotels of these
days had not been dreamed of. The ``National,'' where
we were living, was esteemed the best hotel, and it was
abominable. Just before we arrived, what was known
as the ``National Hotel Disease'' had broken out in it;--
by some imputed to an attempt to poison the incoming
President, in order to bring the Vice-President into his
place. But that was the mere wild surmise of a political
pessimist. The fact clearly was that the wretched
sewage of Washington, in those days, which was betrayed
in all parts of the hotel by every kind of noisome odor,
had at last begun to do its work. Curiously enough there
was an interregnum in the reign of sickness and death,
probably owing to some temporary sanitary efforts, and
that interregnum, fortunately for us, was coincident with
our stay there. But the disease set in again shortly
afterward, and a college friend of mine, who arrived on the
day of our departure, was detained in the hotel for many
weeks with the fever then contracted. The number of
deaths was considerable, but, in the interest of the hotel,
the matter was hushed up, as far as possible.

The following autumn I returned to New Haven as a
resident graduate, and, the popular lecture system being
then at its height, was invited to become one of the
lecturers in the course of that winter. I prepared my
discourse with great care, basing it upon studies and
observations during my recent stay in the land of the
Czar, and gave it the title of ``Civilization in Russia.''

I remember feeling greatly honored by the fact that
my predecessor in the course was Theodore Parker, and
my successor Ralph Waldo Emerson. Both talked with
me much about my subject, and Parker surprised me.
He was the nearest approach to omniscience I had ever
seen. He was able to read, not only Russian, but the
Old Slavonic. He discussed the most intimate details of
things in Russia, until, at last, I said to him, ``Mr.
Parker, I would much rather sit at your feet and listen
to your information regarding Russia, than endeavor
to give you any of my own.'' He was especially
interested in the ethnology of the empire, and had an
immense knowledge of the different peoples inhabiting
it, and of their characteristics. Finally, he asked me
what chance I thought there was for the growth of
anything like free institutions in Russia. To this I
answered that the best thing they had was their system
of local peasant meetings for the repartition of their
lands, and for the discussion of subjects connected with
them, and that this seemed to me something like a germ
of what might, in future generations, become a sort of
town-meeting system, like that of New England. This
let me out of the discussion very satisfactorily, for
Parker told me that he had arrived at the same
conclusion, after talking with Count Gurowski, who was, in
those days, an especial authority.

In due time came the evening for my lecture. As it
was the first occasion since leaving college that I had
appeared on any stage, a considerable number of my old
college associates and friends, including Professor
(afterward President) Porter, Dr. Bacon, and Mr. (afterward
Bishop) Littlejohn, were there among the foremost, and
after I had finished they said some kindly things, which
encouraged me.

In this lecture I made no mention of American slavery,
but into an account of the events of my stay at St.
Petersburg and Moscow during the Crimean War, and
of the death and funeral of the Emperor Nicholas, with
the accession and first public address of Alexander II,
I sketched, in broad strokes, the effects of the serf
system,--effects not merely upon the serfs, but upon the
serf owners, and upon the whole condition of the empire.
I made it black indeed, as it deserved, and though
not a word was said regarding things in America, every
thoughtful man present must have felt that it was the
strongest indictment against our own system of slavery
which my powers enabled me to make.

Next day came a curious episode. A classmate of mine,
never distinguished for logical acuteness, came out in a
leading daily paper with a violent attack upon me and
my lecture. He lamented the fact that one who, as he said,
had, while in college, shown much devotion to the anti-
slavery cause, had now faced about, had no longer the
courage of his opinions, and had not dared say a word
against slavery in the United States. The article was
laughable. It would have been easy to attack slavery and
thus at once shut the minds and hearts of a large majority
of the audience. But I felt then, as I have generally felt
since, that the first and best thing to do is to SET PEOPLE AT
THINKING, and to let them discover, or think that they
discover, the truth for themselves. I made no reply, but an
eminent clergyman of New Haven took up the cudgels in
my favor, covered my opponent with ridicule, and did me
the honor to declare that my lecture was one of the most
effective anti-slavery arguments ever made in that city.
With this, I retired from the field well satisfied.

The lecture was asked for in various parts of the country,
was delivered at various colleges and universities, and
in many cities of western New York, Michigan, and Ohio;
and finally, after the emancipation of the serfs, was re-
cast and republished in the ``Atlantic Monthly'' under the
title of ``The Rise and Decline of the Serf System in

And now occurred a great change in my career which,
as I fully believed, was to cut me off from all political life
thoroughly and permanently. This was my election to

Book of the day: