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

Beacon Lights of History, Volume XII by John Lord

Part 1 out of 4

Adobe PDF icon
Download this document as a .pdf
File size: 0.5 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.







The remarks made in the preface to the volume on "American Founders" are
applicable also to this volume on "American Leaders." The lecture on
Daniel Webster has been taken from its original position in "Warriors
and Statesmen" (a volume the lectures of which are now distributed for
the new edition in more appropriate groupings), and finds its natural
neighborhood in this volume with the paper on Clay and Calhoun.

Since the intense era of the Civil War has passed away, and Northerners
and Southerners are becoming more and more able to take dispassionate
views of the controversies of that time, finding honorable reasons for
the differences of opinion and of resultant conduct on both sides, it
has been thought well to include among "American Leaders" a man who
stands before all Americans as the chief embodiment of the "cause" for
which so many gallant soldiers died--Robert E. Lee. His personal
character was so lofty, his military genius so eminent, that North and
South alike looked up to him while living and mourned him dead. His
career is depicted by one who has given it careful study, and who,
himself a wounded veteran officer of the Union army, and regarding the
Southern cause as one well "lost," as to its chief aims of Secession and
protection to Slavery, in the interest of civilization and of the South
itself, yet holds a high appreciation of the noble man who is its chief
representative. The paper on "Robert E. Lee: The Southern Confederacy,"
is from the pen of Dr. E. Benjamin Andrews, Chancellor of the University
of Nebraska.

NEW YORK, September, 1902.




Early life of Jackson
Studies law
Popularity and personal traits
Sent to Congress
A judge in Tennessee
Major-general of militia
Indian fighter and duellist
The Creek war
Massacre at Fort Mims
Jackson made major-general of the regular army
The Creek war
At Pensacola
At Mobile
At New Orleans
The battle of New Orleans
Effect of his successes
The Seminole war
Jackson as governor of Florida
Senator in Congress
President James Monroe
President John Quincy Adams
Election of Jackson as president
Jackson's speeches
The "Kitchen Cabinet"
System of appointments
The "Spoils System"
Hostile giants in the Senate
Jackson's opposition to tariffs
Financial policy
The democracy hostile to a money power
War on the United States Bank
Nicholas Biddle
Isaac Hill and Secretary Ingham
Opposition to the re-charter of the bank
The President's veto
Removal of deposits
Jackson's high-handed measures
The mania for speculation
"Pet Banks"
Commercial distress
Sale of public lands
John C. Calhoun
The president's proclamation against the nullifiers
Compromise tariff
Morgan and anti-masonry
Private life of Jackson
His public career
Eventful administration



Birth and education
Studies law
Favorite in society
Settles in Lexington, Ky.
Absorbed in politics
Marriage; personal appearance
Member of Congress
Speaker of the House
Advocates war with Great Britain
His speeches
Comparison with Webster
Peace commissioner at Ghent
Returns to Lexington
Re-elected speaker
The tariff question
The tariff of 1816
The charter of the United States Bank
Beginning of slavery agitation
Beecher in England, on cotton as affecting slavery
The Missouri question
Clay as a pacificator
Internal improvements
Greek struggle for liberty
Tariff of 1824
The "American system"
The cotton lords
Clay's aspirations for the presidency
His competitors
Clay secretary of state for Adams
Jackson's administration
Clay as orator
His hatred of Jackson
The tariff of 1832
The compromise tariff of 1833
Clay again candidate for the presidency
Political disappointments
Bursting of the money bubble
Harrison's administration
Repeal of the Sub-Treasury Act
Slavery agitation
Annexation of Texas under Polk
Clay as pacificator of slavery agitation
John C. Calhoun
Anti-slavery leaders
Passage of Clay's compromise bill of 1850
Fugitive-slave law
Clay's declining health



General character and position of Webster
Birth and early life
Begins law-practice; enters Congress
His legal career
His oratory
Congressional services; finance
Industrial questions
Defender of the Constitution
Reply to Hayne of South Carolina
Webster's ambition
His political relations to the South
The antislavery agitation
Webster's 7th of March Speech
His loyalty to the Constitution and the Union
His political errors
Greatness and worth of his career
His death
His defects of character
His counterbalancing virtues
Permanence of his ideas and his fame



Rapid Rise of Calhoun
Education; lawyer; member of Congress
Early speeches
His enlightened mind
Secretary of war
Condition of the South
Calhoun's dislike of Jackson
The tariff question
Bears heavily on the South
Calhoun a defender of Southern interests
The tariff of 1832
Clay's compromise bill
Jackson's war on the bank
Calhoun in the Senate
His detestation of politics as a game
Lofty private life
Early speeches
The original abolitionists
Northern lecturers
Calhoun's foresight
Calhoun as logician
Southern view of slavery
Anti-slavery agitation
Slavery in the District of Columbia
John Quincy Adams and anti-slavery petitions
Southern opposition to them
Clay on petitions
Violence of the abolitionists
Misery of the slaves
Admission of Michigan and Arkansas into the Union
Triumphs of the South
Growth of the abolitionists
Texan independence
Annexation of Texas
The Mexican war
The war of ideas
Prophetic utterances of Calhoun
His obstinacy and arrogance
Admission of California into the Union
Clay's concessions
Calhoun dying
Compromise bill
Calhoun's career
His want of patriotism in later life
Nullification doctrines
Calhoun contrasted with Clay
His character



Lincoln's parentage
Rail splitter; country merchant
In the Black Hawk war
His aspirations and passion for politics
Stump speaker
Elected to the legislature
Lincoln as politician
Admitted to the bar
Elected member of Congress
His marriage
Lincoln as lawyer
On the slavery question
Anti-slavery agitation
The compromise of 1850
Stephen A. Douglas
Repeal of the Missouri Compromise
Charles Sumner
Dred Scott decision
Lincoln's antagonism to Douglas
His commitment to anti-slavery cause
Rise of the Republican party
Lincoln's debates with Douglas
Speaks in New York
Lincoln as statesman
Nomination for the presidency
His election
Lincoln's cabinet; Jefferson Davis
Fort Sumter
Lincoln as president
Bull Run
Concentration of troops in Washington
General McClellan
His dilatory measures
Gloomy times
Retirement of McClellan
General Pope
McClellan restored, fights the battle of Antietam
Inaction and final retirement of McClellan
Burnside and the battle of Fredericksburg
Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation
General Hooker
Lee's raid in Pennsylvania
General Meade and the battle of Gettysburg
Lincoln overworked
Siege of Vicksburg
General Grant
Battle of Chattanooga
Grant made general-in-chief
March of Grant on Richmond
Military sacrifices
Siege of Petersburg
Surrender of Lee
Results of the war
Strained relations between Chase and Lincoln
Chase chief-justice
Lincoln's second inaugural
His profound wisdom
His assassination
Great services
Position in history




Birth, lineage, personal appearance, and early career.

A Virginian, he joins his State and the South in secession.

His seven days' fighting against McClellan; forces the latter to raise
the siege of Richmond.

"Stonewall" Jackson and his efficient fighting machine.

Wins at Antietam and Fredericksburg.

Outmanoeuvres Hooker at Chancellorsville.

Successes at Gettysburg and at the second battle of Bull Run.

Grant changes the fortune of war for the North.

Confederate dearth of necessaries and "dear money".

Lee's retreat and capitulation at Appomattox.

His personal characteristics.

Skill shown in his military career.

His manoeuvring tactics and masterful strategy.

High name among the great captains of history.

Gains of his leadership, in spite of "a lost cause".

Latter days, and presidency of Washington College, Lexington, Va.



Sherman's March to the Sea
_After the painting by F.O.C. Darley_.

James Monroe
_After the painting by Gilbert Stuart, City Hall, New York_.

Andrew Jackson
_After a photograph from life_.

Henry Clay
_From a daguerreotype_.

Martin Van Buren
_From a daguerreotype_.

Daniel Webster
_After a drawing from a daguerreotype_.

John C. Calhoun
_From a daguerreotype_.

James K. Polk
_From a daguerreotype_.

Abraham Lincoln
_After an unretouched negative from life, found in 1870_.

General George B. McClellan
_After a photograph from life in the possession of the War Department,
Washington, D.C._

Ulysses S. Grant
_After the painting by Chappel_.

Assassination of President Lincoln
_After the drawing by Fr. Roeber_.

Robert E. Lee
_From a photograph_.





It is very seldom that a man arises from an obscure and humble position
to an exalted pre-eminence, without peculiar fitness for the work on
which his fame rests, and which probably no one else could have done so
well. He may not be learned, or cultured; he may be even unlettered and
rough; he may be stained by vulgar defects and vices which are fatal to
all dignity of character; but there must be something about him which
calls out the respect and admiration of those with whom he is
surrounded, so as to give him a start, and open a way for success in the
business or enterprise where his genius lies.

Such a man was Andrew Jackson. Whether as a youth, or as a man pursuing
his career of village lawyer in the backwoods of a frontier settlement,
he was about the last person of whom one would predict that he should
arise to a great position and unbounded national popularity. His birth
was plebeian and obscure. His father, of Scotch-Irish descent, lived in
a miserable hamlet in North Carolina, near the South Carolina line,
without owning a single acre of land,--one of the poorest of the poor
whites. The boy Andrew, born shortly after his father's death in 1767,
was reared in poverty and almost without education, learning at school
only to "read, write, and cipher;" nor did he have any marked desire for
knowledge, and never could spell correctly. At the age of thirteen he
was driven from his native village by its devastation at the hands of
the English soldiers, during the Revolutionary War. His mother, a worthy
and most self-reliant woman, was an ardent patriot, and all her
boys--Hugh, Robert, and Andrew--enlisted in the local home-guard. The
elder two died, Hugh of exposure and Robert of prison small-pox, while
Andrew, who had also been captured and sick of the disease, survived
this early training in the scenes of war for further usefulness. The
mother made her way on foot to Charleston, S.C., to nurse the sick
patriots in the prison-ships, and there died of the prison fever, in
1781. The physical endurance and force of character of this mother
constituted evidently the chief legacy that Andrew inherited, and it
served him well through a long and arduous life.

At fifteen the boy was "a homeless orphan, a sick and sorrowful orphan,"
working for a saddler in Charleston a few hours of the day, as his
health would permit. With returning strength he got possession of a
horse; but his army associates had led him into evil ways, and he became
indebted to his landlord for board. This he managed to pay only by
staking his horse in a game of dice against $200, which he fortunately
won; and this squared him with the world and enabled him to start
afresh, on a better way.

Poor and obscure as he was, and imperfectly educated, he aspired to be a
lawyer; and at eighteen years of age he became a law-student in the
office of Mr. Spruce McCay in Salisbury, North Carolina. Two years
later, in 1787, he was admitted to the bar. Not making much headway in
Salisbury, he wandered to that part of the State which is now Tennessee,
then an almost unbroken wilderness, exposed to Indian massacres and
depredations; and finally he located himself at Nashville, where there
was a small settlement,--chiefly of adventurers, who led lives of
license and idleness.

It seems that Jackson, who was appointed district-attorney, had a
considerable practice in his profession of a rough sort, in that
frontier region where the slightest legal knowledge was sufficient for
success. He was in no sense a student, like Jefferson and Madison in the
early part of their careers in Virginia as village lawyers, although he
was engaged in as many cases, and had perhaps as large an income as
they. But what was he doing all this while, when he was not in his
log-office and in the log-court-room, sixteen feet square? Was he
pondering the principles or precedents of law, and storing his mind with
the knowledge gained from books? Not at all. He was attending
horse-races and cock-fightings and all the sports which marked the
Southern people one hundred years ago; and his associates were not the
most cultivated and wealthy of them either, but ignorant, rough,
drinking, swearing, gambling, fighting rowdies, whose society was
repulsive to people of taste, intelligence, and virtue.

The young lawyer became a favorite with these men, and with their wives
and sisters and daughters. He could ride a horse better than any of his
neighbors; he entered into their quarrels with zeal and devotion; he was
bold, rash, and adventurous, ever ready to hunt a hostile Indian, or
fight a duel, or defend an innocent man who had suffered injury and
injustice. He showed himself capable of the warmest and most devoted
friendship as well as the bitterest and most unrelenting hatred. He was
quick to join a dangerous enterprise, and ever showing ability to lead
it,--the first on the spot to put out a fire; the first to expose
himself in a common danger; commanding respect for his honesty,
sincerity, and integrity; exciting fear from his fierce wrath when
insulted,--a man terribly in earnest; always as courteous and chivalric
to women as he was hard and savage to treacherous men. Above all, he was
now a man of commanding stature, graceful manners, dignified deportment,
and a naturally distinguished air; so that he was looked up to by men
and admired by women. What did those violent, quarrelsome, adventurous
settlers on the western confines of American civilization care whether
their favorite was learned or ignorant, so long as he was manifestly
superior to them in their chosen pursuits and pleasures, was capable of
leading them in any enterprise, and sympathized with them in all their
ideas and prejudices,--a born democrat, as well as a born leader. His
claim upon them, however, was not without its worthy elements. He was
perfectly fearless in enforcing the law, laughing at intimidation. He
often had to ride hundreds of miles to professional duties on circuit,
through forests infested by Indians, and towns cowed by ruffians; and he
and his rifle were held in great respect. He was renowned as the
foremost Indian fighter in that country, and as a prosecuting attorney
whom no danger and no temptation could swerve from his duty. He was
feared, trusted, and boundlessly popular.

The people therefore rallied about this man. When in 1796 a convention
was called for framing a State constitution, Jackson was one of their
influential delegates; and in December of that year he was sent to
Congress as their most popular representative. Of course he was totally
unfitted for legislative business, in which he never could have made any
mark. On his return in 1797, a vacancy occurring in the United States
Senate, he was elected senator, on the strength of his popularity as
representative. But he remained only a year at Philadelphia, finding his
calling dull, and probably conscious that he had no fitness for
legislation, while the opportunity for professional and pecuniary
success in Tennessee was very apparent to him.

Next we read of his being made chief-justice of the Superior Court of
Tennessee, with no more fitness for administering the law than he had
for making it, or interest in it. Mr. Parton tells an anecdote of
Jackson at this time which, whether true or not, illustrates his
character as well as the rude conditions amid which he made himself
felt. He was holding court in a little village in Tennessee, when a
great, hulking fellow, armed with a pistol and bowie-knife, paraded
before the little court-house, and cursed judge, jury, and all
assembled. Jackson ordered the sheriff to arrest him, but that
functionary failed to do it, either alone or with a posse. Whereupon
Jackson caused the sheriff to summon _him_ as posse, adjourned court
for ten minutes, walked out and told the fellow to yield or be shot.

In telling why he surrendered to one man, when he had defied a crowd,
the ruffian afterwards said: "When he came up I looked him in the eye,
and I saw _shoot_. There wasn't _shoot_ in nary other eye in the crowd.
I said to myself, it is about time to sing small; and so I did."

It was by such bold, fearless conduct that Jackson won admiration,--not
by his law, of which he knew but little, and never could have learned
much. The law, moreover, was uncongenial to this man of action, and he
resigned his judgeship and went for a short time into business,--trading
land, selling horses, groceries, and dry-goods,--when he was appointed
major-general of militia. This was just what he wanted. He had now found
his place and was equal to it. His habits, enterprises, dangers, and
bloody encounters, all alike fitted him for it. Henceforth his duty and
his pleasure ran together in the same line. His personal peculiarities
had made him popular; this popularity had made him prominent and secured
to him offices for which he had no talent, seeing which he dropped them;
but when a situation was offered for which he was fitted, he soon gained
distinction, and his true career began.

It was as an Indian fighter that he laid the foundation of his fame.
His popularity with rough people was succeeded by a series of heroic
actions which brought him before the eyes of the nation. There was no
sham in these victories. He fairly earned his laurels, and they so
wrought on the imagination of the people that he quickly became famous.

But before his military exploits brought him a national reputation he
had become notorious in his neighborhood as a duellist. He was always
ready to fight when he deemed himself insulted. His numerous duels were
very severely commented on when he became a candidate for the
presidency, especially in New England. But duelling was a peculiar
Southern institution; most Southern people settled their difficulties
with pistols. Some of Jackson's duels were desperate and ferocious. He
was the best shot in Tennessee, and, it is said, could lodge two
successive balls in the same hole. As early as 1795 he fought with a
fellow lawyer by the name of Avery. In 1806 he killed in a duel Charles
Dickinson, who had spoken disparagingly of his wife, whom he had lately
married, a divorced woman, but to whom he was tenderly attached as long
as she lived. Still later he fought with Thomas H. Benton, and received
a wound from which he never fully recovered.

Such was the life of Jackson until he was forty-five years of age,--that
of a violent, passionate, arbitrary man, beloved as a friend, and feared
as an enemy. It was the Creek war and the war with England which
developed his extraordinary energies. When the war of 1812 broke out he
was major-general of Tennessee militia, and at once offered his services
to the government, which were eagerly accepted, and he was authorized to
raise a body of volunteers in Tennessee and to report with them at New
Orleans. He found no difficulty in collecting about sixteen hundred men,
and in January, 1813, took them down the Cumberland, the Ohio, and
Mississippi to Natchez, in such flat-bottomed boats as he could collect;
another body of mounted men crossed the country five hundred miles to
the rendezvous, and went into camp at Natchez, Feb. 15, 1813.

The Southern Department was under the command of General James
Wilkinson, with headquarters at New Orleans,--a disagreeable and
contentious man, who did not like Jackson. Through his influence the
Tennessee detachment, after two months' delay in Natchez, was ordered by
the authorities at Washington to be dismissed,--without pay, five
hundred miles from home. Jackson promptly decided not to obey the
command, but to keep his forces together, provide at his own expense for
their food and transportation, and take them back to Tennessee in good
order. He accomplished this, putting sick men on his own three horses,
and himself marching on foot with the men, who, enthusiastic over his
elastic toughness, dubbed him "Old Hickory,"--a title of affection that
is familiar to this day. The government afterwards reimbursed him for
his outlay in this matter, but his generosity, self-denial, energy, and
masterly force added immensely to his popularity.

Jackson's disobedience of orders attracted but little attention at
Washington, in that time of greater events, while his own patriotism and
fighting zeal were not abated by his failure to get at the enemy. And
very soon his desires were to be granted.

In 1811, before the war with England was declared, a general
confederation of Indians had been made under the influence of the
celebrated Tecumseh, a chief of the Shawanoc tribe. He was a man of
magnificent figure, stately and noble as a Greek warrior, and withal
eloquent. With his twin brother, the Prophet, Tecumseh travelled from
the Great Lakes in the North to the Gulf of Mexico, inducing tribe after
tribe to unite against the rapacious and advancing whites. But he did
not accomplish much until the war with England broke out in 1812, when
he saw a possibility of realizing his grand idea; and by the summer of
1813 he had the Creek nation, including a number of tribes, organized
for war. How far he was aided by English intrigues is not fully known,
but he doubtless received encouragement from English agents. From the
British and the Spaniards, the Indians received arms and ammunition.

The first attack of these Indians was on August 13, 1813, at Fort Mims,
in Alabama, where there were nearly two hundred American troops, and
where five hundred people were collected for safety. The Indians,
chiefly Creeks, were led by Red Eagle, who utterly annihilated the
defenders of the fort under Major Beasley, and scalped the women and
children. When reports of this unexpected and atrocious massacre reached
Tennessee the whole population was aroused to vengeance, and General
Jackson, his arm still in a sling from his duel with Benton, set out to
punish the savage foes. But he was impeded by lack of provisions, and
quarrels among his subordinates, and general insubordination. In
surmounting his difficulties he showed extraordinary tact and energy.
His measures were most vigorous. He did not hesitate to shoot, whether
legally or illegally, those who were insubordinate, thus restoring
military discipline, the first and last necessity in war. Soldiers soon
learn to appreciate the worth of such decision, and follow such a leader
with determination almost equal to his own. Jackson's troops did
splendid marching and fighting.

So rapid and relentless were his movements against the enemy that the
campaign lasted but seven months, and the Indians were nearly all
killed or dispersed. I need not enumerate his engagements, which were
regarded as brilliant. His early dangers and adventures, and his
acquaintance with Indian warfare ever since he could handle a rifle, now
stood him in good stead. On the 21st of April, 1814, the militia under
his command returned home victorious, and Jackson for his heroism and
ability was made a major-general in the regular army, he then being
forty-seven years of age. It was in this war that we first hear of the
famous frontiersman Davy Crockett, and of Sam Houston, afterwards so
unique a figure in the war for Texan independence. In this war, too,
General Harrison gained his success at Tippecanoe, which was never
forgotten; but his military genius was far inferior to that of Jackson.
It is probable that had Jackson been sent to the North by the Secretary
of War, he would have driven the British troops out of Canada. There is
no question about his military ability, although his reputation was
sullied by high-handed and arbitrary measures. What he saw fit to do, he
did, without scruples or regard to consequences. In war everything is
tested by success; and in view of that, if sufficiently brilliant,
everything else is forgotten.

The successful and rapid conquest of the Creeks opened the way for
Jackson's Southern campaign against the English. As major-general he was
sent to conclude a treaty with the Indians, which he soon arranged, and
was then put in command of the Southern Division of the army, with
headquarters at Mobile. The English made the neutral Spanish territory
of Florida a basis of operations along the shores of the Gulf of Mexico,
thus putting in peril both Mobile and New Orleans. They virtually
possessed Pensacola, the Spanish force being too feeble to hold it, and
made it the rendezvous of their fleets. The Spanish authorities made a
show, indeed, of friendship with the United States, but the English flag
floated over the forts of the city, and the governor was in sympathy
with England. Such was the state of affairs when Jackson arrived at
Mobile at the head of parts of three regiments of regulars, with a
thousand miles of coast to defend, and without a fort adequately armed
or garrisoned. He applied to the Secretary of War for permission to take
Pensacola; but the government hesitated to attack a friendly power
without further knowledge of their unfriendly acts, and the delayed
response, ordering caution and waiting, did not reach him. Thrown upon
his own resources, asking for orders and getting none, he was obliged to
act without instructions, in face of vastly superior forces. And for
this he can scarcely be blamed, since his situation demanded vigorous
and rapid measures, before they could be indorsed by the Secretary of
War. Pensacola, at the end of a beautiful bay, ten miles from the sea,
with a fine harbor, was defended by Fort Barrancas, six miles from the
town. Before it lay eight English men-of-war at anchor, the source of
military supplies for the fort, on which floated the flags of both
England and Spain. The fleet was in command of Captain Lord Percy, whose
flagship was the "Hermes," while Colonel Nichols commanded the troops.
This latter boastful and imprudent officer was foolish enough to issue a
proclamation to the inhabitants of Louisiana and Kentucky to take up
arms against their country. A body of Indians were also drilled in the
service of the British, so far as Indians can be drilled to
regular warfare.

As soon as the true intentions of the English were known to General
Jackson, who had made up his mind to take possession of Pensacola, he
wrote to the Spanish governor,--a pompous, inefficient old grandee,--and
demanded the surrender of certain hostile Creek chieftains, who had
taken refuge in the town.

The demand was haughtily rejected. Jackson waited until three thousand
Tennessee militia, for whom he had urgently sent, arrived at Mobile,
under the command of General Coffee, one of his efficient coadjutors in
the Creek War, and Colonel Butler, and then promptly and successfully
stormed Pensacola, driving out the British, who blew up Fort Barrancas
and escaped to their ships. After which he retired to Mobile to defend
that important town against the British forces, who threatened
an attack.

The city of Mobile could be defended by fortifications on Mobile Point,
thirty miles distant, at the mouth of the bay, since opposite it was a
narrow channel through which alone vessels of any considerable size
could enter the bay. At this point was Fort Bowyer, in a state of
dilapidation, mounting but a few pieces of cannon. Into this fort
Jackson at once threw a garrison of one hundred and sixty regular
infantry under Major Lawrence, a most gallant officer. These troops were
of course unacquainted with the use of artillery, but they put the fort
in the best condition they could, and on the 12th of September the enemy
appeared, the fleet under Captain Percy, and a body of marines and
Indians under Colonel Nichols. Jackson, then at Mobile, apprised of the
appearance of the British, hastily reinforced the fort, about to be
attacked by a large force confident of success. On the 15th of September
the attack began; the English battered down the ramparts of the
fortifications, and anchored their ships within gun-shot of the fort;
but so gallant was the defence that the ships were disabled, and the
enemy retreated, with a loss of about one hundred men. This victory
saved Mobile; and more, it gave confidence to the small army on whom
the defence of the coast of the Gulf of Mexico depended.

Jackson forthwith issued his bulletins or proclamations in a truly
Napoleonic style to the inhabitants of Louisiana, to rally to the
defence of New Orleans, which he saw would probably be the next object
of attack on the part of the British. On the 2d of December he
personally reached that city and made preparations for the expected
assault, and, ably assisted by Edward Livingston, the most prominent
lawyer of the city, enlisted for the defence the French creoles, the
American residents, and a few Spaniards.

New Orleans was a prize which the English coveted, and to possess it
that government had willingly expended a million of pounds sterling. The
city not only controlled the commerce of the Mississippi, but in it were
stored one hundred and fifty thousand bales of cotton, and eight hundred
and ten thousand hogsheads of sugar, all of which the English government
expected to seize. It contained at that time about twenty thousand
people,--less than half of whom were whites, and these chiefly French
creoles,--besides a floating population of sailors and traders.

New Orleans is built on a bend in the Mississippi, in the shape of a
horse-shoe, about one hundred miles from where by a sinuous
southeasterly course the river empties into the Gulf of Mexico. At the
city the river was about a mile wide, with a current of four miles an
hour, and back of the town was a swamp, draining to the north into Lake
Ponchartrain, and to the east into Lake Borgne, which opens out into the
Gulf east of the city. It was difficult for sailing-vessels at that time
to ascend the river one hundred miles against the current, if forts and
batteries were erected on its banks; and a sort of back entrance was
afforded to the city for small vessels through lakes and lagoons at a
comparatively short distance. On one of these lakes, Lake Borgne, a
flotilla of light gunboats was placed for defence, under the command of
Lieutenant Jones, but on December 14th an overpowering force of small
British vessels dispersed the American squadron, and on the
twenty-second about fifteen hundred regulars, the picked men of the
British army, fresh from European victories under Wellington, contrived
to find their way unperceived through the swamps and lagoons to the belt
of plantations between the river and the swamps, about nine miles below
New Orleans.

When the news arrived of the loss of the gunboats, which made the enemy
the masters of Lake Borgne, a panic spread over the city, for the forces
of the enemy were greatly exaggerated. But Jackson was equal to the
emergency, though having but just arrived. He coolly adopted the most
vigorous measures, and restored confidence. Times of confusion,
difficulty, and danger were always his best opportunities. He proclaimed
martial law; he sent in all directions for reinforcements; he called
upon the people to organize for defence; he released and enlisted the
convicts, and accepted the proffered services of Jean Lafitte, the
ex-"pirate"--or, rather, smuggler--of the Gulf, with two companies of
his ex-buccaneers; he appealed to "the noble-hearted, generous, free men
of color" to enlist, and the whole town was instantly transformed into a
military camp. Within a fortnight he had five thousand men, one-fifth
regulars and the rest militia. General Jackson's address to his soldiers
was spirited but inflated, encouraging and boastful, with a great
patriotic ring, and, of course effective. The population of the city was
united in resolving to make a sturdy defence.

Had the British marched as soon as they landed, they probably would have
taken the city, in the existing consternation. But they waited for
larger forces from their ships, which carried six thousand troops, and
in their turn exaggerated the number of the defenders, which at the
first were only about two thousand badly frightened men. The delay was a
godsend to the Americans, who now learned the strength of the enemy.

On the 23d--as always, eager to be at his enemy, and moving with his
characteristic energy--Jackson sent a small force down to make a night
attack on the British camp; also a schooner, heavily armed with cannon,
to co-operate from the river. It was a wild and inconsequent fight; but
it checked the advance of the British, who now were still more impressed
with the need of reinforcements; it aroused the confidence and fighting
spirit of the Americans, and it enabled Jackson to take up a defensive
line behind an old canal, extending across the plain from river to
swamp, and gave him time to fortify it. At once he raised a formidable
barricade of mud and timber, and strengthened it with cotton-bales from
the neighboring plantations. The cotton, however, proved rather a
nuisance than a help, as it took fire under the attack, and smoked,
annoying the men. The "fortifications of cotton-bales" were only a
romance of the war.

On the 25th arrived Sir Edward Pakenham, brother-in-law of Wellington
and an able soldier, to take command, and on the 28th the British
attacked the extemporized but strong breastworks, confident of success.
But the sharp-shooters from the backwoods of Tennessee under Carroll,
and from Kentucky under Coffee, who fought with every advantage,
protected by their mud defences, were equally confident. The slaughter
of the British troops, utterly unprotected though brave and gallant, was
terrible, and they were repulsed. Preparations were now made for a
still more vigorous, systematic, and general assault, and a force was
sent across the river to menace the city from that side.

On the 8th of January the decisive battle was fought which extinguished
forever all dreams of the conquest of America, on the part of the
British. General Pakenham, who commanded the advancing columns in
person, was killed, and their authorities state their loss to have been
two thousand killed, wounded, and missing. The American loss was eight
killed and thirteen wounded. It was a rash presumption for the British
to attack a fortified entrenchment ten feet high in some places, and ten
feet thick, with detached redoubts to flank it and three thousand men
behind it. The conflict was not strictly a battle,--not like an
encounter in the open field, where the raw troops under Jackson, most of
them militia, would have stood no chance with the veterans whom
Wellington had led to victory and glory.

Jackson's brilliant defence at New Orleans was admirably planned and
energetically executed. It had no effect on the war, for the treaty of
peace, although not yet heard of, had been signed weeks before; but it
enabled America to close the conflict with a splendid success, which
offset the disasters and mistakes of the Northern campaigns. Naturally,
it was magnified into a great military exploit, and raised the fame of
Jackson to such a height, all over the country, that nothing could ever
afterwards weaken his popularity, no matter what he did, lawful or
unlawful. He was a victor over the Indians and over the English, and all
his arbitrary acts were condoned by an admiring people who had but few
military heroes to boast of.

His successes had a bad effect on Jackson himself. He came to feel that
he had a right to ride over precedents and law when it seemed to him
expedient. He set up his will against constituted authorities, and
everybody who did not endorse his measures he regarded as a personal
enemy, to be crushed if possible. It was never said of him that he was
unpatriotic in his intentions, only that he was wilful, vindictive, and
ignorant. From the 8th of January, 1815, to the day of his death he was
the most popular man that this country ever saw,--excepting, perhaps,
Washington and Lincoln,--the central figure in American politics, with
prodigious influence even after he had finally retired from public life.
Immediately after the defence of New Orleans the legislatures of
different States, and Congress itself, passed grateful resolutions for
his military services, and the nation heaped all the honor on the hero
that was in its power to give,--medals, swords, and rewards, and
Congress remitted a fine which had been imposed by Judge Hall, in New
Orleans, for contempt of court. Jackson's severity in executing six
militia-men for mutiny was approved generally as a wholesome exercise of
military discipline, and all his acts were glorified. Wherever he went
there was a round of festivities. He began to be talked about, as soon
as the war was closed, as a candidate for the presidency, although when
the idea was first proposed to him he repelled it with genuine

Scarcely had the British troops been withdrawn from the Gulf of Mexico
to fight more successfully at Waterloo, when Jackson was called to put
an end to the Seminole war in Florida, which Spanish territory he
occupied on the ground of self-defence. The Indians--Seminoles and
Creeks--with many runaway negroes, had been pillaging the border of
Georgia. Jackson drove them off, seized the Spanish fort on Appalachee
Bay, and again took possession of Pensacola on the plea that the Spanish
officials were aiding the Indians. It required all the skill of the
government at Washington to defend his despotic acts, for he was as
complete an autocrat in his limited sphere as Caesar or Napoleon. The
only limits he regarded were the limits to his power. But in whatever he
did, he had a firm conviction that he was right. Even John Quincy Adams
justified his acts in Florida, when his enemies were loud in their
complaints of his needless executions, especially of two British
traders, Arbuthnot and Ambruter, whom he had court-martialled and shot
as abettors of the Indians. He had invaded the territory of a neutral
power and driven off its representatives; but everything was condoned.
And when, shortly after, Florida became United States territory by
purchase from Spain, he was made its first governor,--a new field for
him, but an appointment which President Monroe felt it necessary
to make.

In April, 1821, having resigned his commission in the army, Jackson left
Nashville with his family to take up his residence in Pensacola,
enchanted with its climate and fruits and flowers, its refreshing
sea-breezes, and its beautiful situation, in spite of hot weather. As
governor of Florida he was invested with extraordinary powers. Indeed,
there was scarcely any limit to them, except that he had no power to
levy and collect taxes, and seize the property of the mixed races who
dwelt in the land of oranges and flowers. It would appear that, aside
from arbitrary acts, he did all he could for the good of the territory,
under the influence of his wife, a Christian woman, whom he indulged in
all things, especially in shutting up grog-shops, putting a stop to
play-going, and securing an outward respect for the Sabbath. His term of
office, however, was brief, and as his health was poor, for he was never
vigorous, in November of the same year he gladly returned to Nashville,
and about this time built his well-known residence, the "Hermitage." As
a farmer he was unusually successful, making agriculture lucrative even
with slave-labor.

Jackson had now become a prominent candidate for the presidency, and as
a part of the political plan, he was, in 1823, made senator from
Tennessee in Congress, where he served parts of two terms, without,
however, distinguishing himself as a legislator. He made but few
speeches, and these were short, but cast his vote on occasions of
importance, voting against a reduction of duty on iron and woollen and
cotton goods, against imprisonment for debt, and favoring some internal
improvements. In 1824 he wrote a letter advocating a "careful tariff,"
so far as it should afford revenues for the national defence, and to pay
off the national debt, and "give a proper distribution of our labor;"
but a tariff to enrich capitalists at the expense of the laboring
classes, he always abhorred.

The administration of James Monroe, in two full terms, from 1817 to
1825, had not been marked by any great events or popular movements of
especial historical interest. It was "the era of good feeling." The
times were placid, and party animosities had nearly subsided. The
opening of the slavery discussions resulted in the Missouri Compromise
of 1820, and the irritations of that great topic were allayed for the
time. Like all his predecessors after Washington, Monroe had been
successively a diplomatist and Secretary of State, and the presidency
seemed to fall to him as a matter of course. He was a most respectable
man, although not of commanding abilities, and discharged his duties
creditably in the absence of exciting questions. The only event of his
administration which had a marked influence on the destinies of the
United States was the announcement that the future colonization of the
country by any European State would not be permitted. This is called the
"Monroe doctrine," and had the warm support of Webster and other leading
statesmen. It not only proclaimed the idea of complete American
independence of all foreign powers, but opposed all interference of
European States in American affairs. The ultimate influence of the
application of this doctrine cannot be exaggerated in importance,
whether it originated with the President or not. Monroe was educated for
the bar, but was neither a good speaker nor a ready writer. Nor was he a
man of extensive culture or attainments. The one great idea attributed
to him was: "America for the Americans." He was succeeded, however, by a
man of fine attainments and large experience, who had passed through the
great offices of State with distinguished credit.

In February, 1824, Jackson was almost unanimously nominated for the
presidency by the Democratic party, through the convention in
Harrisburg, and John C. Calhoun was nominated for the vice-presidency.
Jackson's main rivals in the election which followed were John Quincy
Adams and Henry Clay, both of whom had rendered great civil services,
and were better fitted for the post. But Jackson was the most popular,
and he obtained ninety-nine electoral votes, Adams eighty-four, and Clay
thirty-seven. No one having a majority, the election was thrown into the
House of Representatives. Clay, who never liked nor trusted Jackson,
threw his influence in favor of Adams, and Adams was elected by the vote
of thirteen States. Jackson and his friends always maintained that he
was cheated out of the election,--that Adams and Clay made a bargain
between themselves,--which seemed to be confirmed by the fact that Clay
was made Secretary of State in Adams's cabinet; although this was a
natural enough sequence of Clay's throwing his political strength to
make Adams president. Jackson returned, wrathful and disappointed, to
his farm, but amid boisterous demonstrations of respect wherever he
went. If he had not cared much about the presidency before, he was now
determined to achieve it, and to crush his opponents, whom he promptly
regarded as enemies.

John Quincy Adams entered upon office in 1825, free from "personal
obligations" and "partisan entanglements," but with an unfriendly
Congress. This, however, was not of much consequence, since no great
subjects were before Congress for discussion. It was a period of great
tranquillity, fitted for the development of the peaceful arts, and of
internal improvements in the land, rather than of genius in the
presidential chair. Not one public event of great importance occurred,
although many commercial treaties were signed, and some internal
improvements were made. Mr. Adams lived in friendly relations with his
cabinet, composed of able men, and he was generally respected for the
simplicity of his life, and the conscientious discharge of his routine
duties. He was industrious and painstaking, rising early in the morning
and retiring early in the evening. He was not popular, being cold and
austere in manner, but he had a lofty self-respect, disdaining to
conciliate foes or reward friends,--a New England Puritan of the
severest type, sternly incorruptible, learned without genius, eloquent
without rhetoric, experienced without wisdom, religious without
orthodoxy, and liberal-minded with strong prejudices.

Perhaps the most marked thing in the political history of that
administration was the strife for the next presidency, and the beginning
of that angry and bitter conflict between politicians which had no
cessation until the Civil War. The sessions of Congress were occupied
in the manufacture of political capital; for a cloud had arisen in the
political heavens, portending storms and animosities, and the discussion
of important subjects of national scope, such as had not agitated the
country before,--pertaining to finances, to tariffs, to constitutional
limitations, to retrenchments, and innovations. There arose new
political parties, or rather a great movement, extending to every town
and hamlet, to give a new impetus to the Democratic sway. The leaders in
this movement were the great antagonists of Clay and Webster,--a new
class of politicians, like Benton, Amos Kendall, Martin Van Buren, Duff
Green, W.B. Lewis, and others. A new era of "politics" was inaugurated,
with all the then novel but now customary machinery of local clubs,
partisan "campaign newspapers," and the organized use of pledges and
promises of appointments to office to reward "workers." This system had
been efficiently perfected in New York State under Mr. Van Buren and
other leaders, but now it was brought into Federal politics, and the
whole country was stirred into a fever heat of party strife.

In a political storm, therefore, Jackson was elected, and commenced his
memorable reign in 1829,--John Quincy Adams retiring to his farm in
disgust and wrath. The new president was carried into office on an
avalanche of Democratic voters, receiving two hundred and sixty-one
electoral votes, while Adams had only eighty-three, notwithstanding his
long public services and his acknowledged worth. This was too great a
disappointment for the retiring statesman to bear complacently, or even
philosophically. He gave vent to his irritated feelings in unbecoming
language, exaggerating the ignorance of Jackson and his general
unfitness for the high office,--in this, however, betraying an estimate
of the incoming President which was common among educated and
conservative men. I well remember at college the contempt which the
president and all the professors had for the Western warrior. It was
generally believed by literary men that "Old Hickory" could scarcely
write his name.

But the speeches of Jackson were always to the point, if not studied and
elaborate, while his messages were certainly respectable, though rather
too long. It is generally supposed that he furnished the rough drafts to
his few intimate friends, who recast and polished them, while some think
that William Lewis, Amos Kendall, and others wrote the whole of them, as
well as all his public papers. In reading the early letters of Jackson,
however, it is clear that they are anything but illiterate, whatever
mistakes in spelling and grammatical errors there may be. His ideas were
distinct, his sentiments unmistakable; and although he was fond of a
kind of spread-eagle eloquence, his views on public questions were
generally just and vigorously expressed. A Tennessee general, brought up
with horse-jockeys, gamblers, and cock-fighters, and who never had even
a fair common-school education, could not be expected to be very
accomplished in the arts of composition, whatever talents and good sense
he naturally may have had. Certain it is that Jackson's mind was clear
and his convictions were strong upon the national policy to be pursued
by him; and if he opposed banks and tariffs it was because he believed
that their influence was hostile to the true interests of the country.
He doubtless well understood the issues of great public questions; only,
his view of them was contrary to the views of moneyed men and bankers
and the educated classes of his day generally. It is to be remarked,
however, that the views he took on questions of political economy are
now endorsed by many able college professors and some American
manufacturers who are leading public opinion in opposition to tariffs
for protection and in the direction of free trade.

The first thing for Jackson to do after his inauguration was to select
his cabinet. It was not a strong one. He wanted clerks, not advisers. He
was all-sufficient to himself. He rarely held a cabinet meeting. In a
very short time this cabinet was dissolved by a scandal. General Eaton,
Secretary of War, had married the daughter of a tavern-keeper, who was
remarkable for her wit and social brilliancy. The aristocratic wives of
the cabinet ministers would not associate with her, and the President
took the side of the neglected woman, in accordance with his chivalric
nature. His error was in attempting to force his cabinet to accord to
her a social position,--a matter which naturally belonged to women to
settle. So bitter was the quarrel, and so persistent was the President
in attempting to produce harmony in his cabinet on a mere social
question that the ministers resigned rather than fight so obstinate and
irascible a man as Jackson in a matter which was outside his proper
sphere of action.

The new cabinet was both more able and more subservient. Edward
Livingston of Louisiana, who wrote most of Jackson's documents when he
commanded in New Orleans, was made Secretary of State, Louis McLane of
Delaware, Secretary of the Treasury; Lewis Cass, governor for
nineteen years of Michigan, Secretary of War; Levi Woodbury of New
Hampshire, Secretary of the Navy; Roger B. Taney of Maryland,
Attorney-General,--all distinguished for abilities. But even these able
men were seldom summoned to a cabinet meeting. The confidential advisers
of the President were Amos Kendall, afterwards Postmaster-General; Duff
Green, a Democratic editor; Isaac Hill, a violent partisan, who edited a
paper in Concord, New Hampshire, and was made second auditor of the
treasury; and William B. Lewis, an old friend of the general in
Tennessee,--all able men, but unscrupulous politicians, who enjoyed
power rather than the display of it. These advisers became known in the
party contests of the time as the president's "Kitchen Cabinet."

Jackson had not been long inaugurated before the influence of the
"Kitchen Cabinet" was seen and felt; for it was probably through the
influence of these men that the President brought about a marked change
in the policy of the government; and it is this change which made
Jackson's administration so memorable. It was the intrusion of
personality, instead of public policy, into the management of party
politics. Madison did not depart from the general policy of Jefferson,
nor did Monroe. "The Virginia dynasty" kept up the traditions of the
government as originally constituted. But Jackson cut loose from all
traditions and precedents, especially in the matter of assuming
responsibilities, and attempted to carry on the government independently
of Congress in many important respects. It is the duty of the President
to execute the laws as he finds them, until repealed or altered by the
national Legislature; but it was the disposition of Jackson to
disregard those laws which he disapproved,--an encroachment hard to be
distinguished from usurpation. And this is the most serious charge
against him as President; not his ignorance, but his despotic temper,
and his self-conceit in supposing himself wiser than the collected
wisdom and experience of the representatives of the nation,--a notion
which neither Washington nor Jefferson nor Madison ever entertained.

Again, Jackson's system of appointments to office--the removal of men
already satisfactorily doing the work of the government, in order to
make places for his personal and political supporters--was a great
innovation, against all the experience of governments, whether despotic
or constitutional. It led to the reign of demagogues, and gave rewards,
not to those who deserved promotion from their able and conscientious
discharge of duty in public trusts, but to those who most unscrupulously
and zealously advocated or advanced the interests of the party in power.
It led to perpetual rotations in office without reasonable cause, and
made the election of party chiefs of more importance than the support of
right principles. The imperfect civil service reforms which have been
secured during the last few years with so much difficulty show the
political mischief for which Jackson is responsible, and which has
disgraced every succeeding administration,--an evil so gigantic that no
president has been strong enough to overcome it; not only injurious to
the welfare of the nation by depriving it of the services of experienced
men, but inflicting an onerous load on the President himself which he
finds it impossible to shake off,--the great obstacle to the proper
discharge of his own public duties, and the bar to all private
enjoyment. What is more perplexing and irritating to an incoming
president than the persistent and unreasonable demands of
office-seekers, nine out of ten of whom are doomed to disappointment,
and who consequently become enemies rather than friends of the

This "spoils system" which Jackson inaugurated has proved fatal to all
dignity of office, and all honesty in elections. It has divested
politics of all attraction to superior men, and put government largely
into the hands of the most venal and unblushing of demagogues. It has
proved as great and fatal a mistake as has the establishment of
universal suffrage which Jefferson encouraged,--a mistake at least in
the great cities of the country,--an evil which can never be remedied
except by revolution. Doubtless it was a generous impulse on the part of
Jackson to reward his friends with the spoils of office, as it was a
logical sequence of the doctrine of political equality to give every man
a vote, whether virtuous or wicked, intelligent or ignorant. Until
Jackson was intrusted with the reins of government, no president of the
United States, however inclined to reward political friends, dared to
establish such a principle as rotation in office or removal without
sufficient cause. Not one there was who would not have shrunk from such
a dangerous precedent, a policy certain to produce an inferior class of
public servants, and take away from political life all that is lofty and
ennobling, except in positions entirely independent of presidential
control, such as the national legislature.

The Senate, especially during Jackson's administration, was composed of
remarkably gifted men, the most distinguished of whom opposed and
detested the measures and policy he pursued, with such unbending
obstinacy that he was filled with bitterness and wrath. This feeling was
especially manifested towards Clay, Webster, and Calhoun, the great
lights of the Senate Chamber,--although Jackson's party had the majority
of both Houses much of the time, and thus, while often hindered, he was
in the end unchecked in his innovations and hostilities. But these three
giants he had to fight during most of his presidential career, which
kept him in a state of perpetual irritation. Their opposition was to him
a bitter pill. They were beyond his power, as independent as he. Until
then, in his military and gubernatorial capacity, his will had been
supreme. He had no opponents whom he could not crush. He was accustomed
to rule despotically. As president he could be defied and restrained by
Congress. His measures had to be of the nature of recommendation, except
in the power of veto which he did not hesitate to use unsparingly; but
the Senate could refuse to ratify his appointments, and often did
refuse, which drove him beyond the verge of swearing. Again, in the
great questions which came up for discussion, especially those in the
domain of political economy, there would be honest differences of
opinion; for political economy has settled very little, and is not,
therefore, strictly a science, any more than medicine is. It is a system
of theories based on imperfect inductions. There can be no science
except what is based on _indisputable_ facts, or accepted principles.
There are no incontrovertible doctrines pertaining to tariffs or
financial operations, which are modified by circumstances.

The three great things which most signally marked the administration of
Jackson were the debates on the tariffs, the quarrel with the United
States Bank, and the Nullification theories of Calhoun. It would seem
that Jackson, when inaugurated, was in favor of a moderate tariff to aid
military operations and to raise the necessary revenue for federal
expenses, but was opposed to high protective duties. Even in 1831 he
waived many of his scruples as to internal improvements in deference to
public opinion, and signed the bills which made appropriations for the
improvement of harbors and rivers, for the continuation of the
Cumberland road, for the encouragement of the culture of the vine and
olive, and for granting an extended copyright to authors. It was only
during his second term that his hostility to tariffs became a
passion,--not from any well-defined views of political economy, for
which he had no adequate intellectual training, but because "protection"
was unpopular in the southwestern States, and because he instinctively
felt that it favored monopolists at the expense of the people. What he
hated most intensely were capitalists and moneyed institutions; like
Jefferson, he feared their influence on elections. As he was probably
conscious of his inability to grasp the complex questions of political
economy, he was not bitter in his opposition to tariffs, except on
political grounds. Hence, generally speaking, he left Congress to
discuss that theme. We shall have occasion to look into it in the
lecture on Henry Clay, and here only mention the great debates of
Jackson's time on the subject,--a subject on which Congress has been
debating for fifty years, and will probably be debating for fifty years
to come, since the whole matter depends practically on changing
circumstances, whatever may be the abstract theories of doctrinaires.

While Jackson, then, on the whole, left tariffs to Congress, he was not
so discreet in matters of finance. His war with the United States Bank
was an important episode in his life, and the chief cause of the enmity
with which the moneyed and conservative classes pursued him to the end
of his days. Had he let the Bank alone he would have been freed from
most of the vexations and turmoils which marked his administration. He
would have left a brighter name. He would not have given occasion for
those assaults which met him on every hand, and which history justifies.
He might even have been forgiven for his spoils system and unprecedented
removals from office. In attacking the Bank he laid a profane touch upon
a sacred ark and handled untempered mortar. He stopped the balance-wheel
which regulated the finances of the country, and introduced no end of
commercial disorders, ending in dire disasters. Like the tariff,
finances were a question with which he was not competent to deal. His
fault was something more than the veto on the recharter of the Bank by
Congress, which he had a constitutional right to make; it was a
vindictive assault on an important institution before its charter had
expired, even in his first message to Congress. In this warfare we see
unscrupulous violence,--prompted, not alone by his firm hostility to
everything which looked like a monopoly and a moneyed power, but by the
influence of advisers who hated everything like inequality of position,
especially when not usable for their own purposes. They stimulated his
jealousy and resentments. They played on his passions and prejudices.
They flattered him as if he were the monarch of the universe, incapable
of a wrong judgment.

Hostility to the money-power, however, is older than the public life of
Jackson. It existed among the American democracy as early as the time of
Alexander Hamilton. When he founded the first Bank of the United States
he met with great opposition from the followers of Jefferson, who were
jealous of the power it was supposed to wield in politics. When in 1810
the question came up of renewing the charter of the first United States
Bank, the Democratic-Republicans were bitter in their opposition; and so
effective was the outcry that the bank went into liquidation, its place
being taken by local banks. These issued notes so extravagantly that the
currency of the country, as stated by Professor Sumner, was depreciated
twenty-five per cent. So great was the universal financial distress
which followed the unsound system of banking operations that in 1816 a
new bank was chartered, on the principles which Hamilton had laid down.

This Bank was to run for twenty years, and its capital was thirty-five
millions of dollars, seven of which were taken by the United States;
many of its stockholders were widows, charitable institutions, and
people of small means. Its directors were chosen by the stockholders
with the exception of five appointed by the President of the United
States and confirmed by the Senate. The public money was deposited in
this Bank; it could be removed by the Secretary of the Treasury, but by
him only on giving his reasons to Congress. The Bank was located in
Philadelphia, then the money-centre of the country, but it had
twenty-five branches in different cities, from Portsmouth, N.H., to New
Orleans. The main institution could issue notes, not under five dollars,
but the branches could not. Langdon Cleves, of South Carolina, was the
first president, succeeded in 1823 by Nicholas Biddle, of
Philadelphia,--a man of society, of culture, and of leisure,--a young
man of thirty-seven, who could talk and write, perhaps, better than he
could manage a great business.

The affairs of the Bank went on smoothly for ten or twelve years, and
the financial condition of the country was never better than when
controlled by this great central institution. Nicholas Biddle of course
was magnified into a great financier of uncommon genius,--the first
business man in the whole country, a great financial autocrat, the idol
of Philadelphia. But he was hated by Democratic politicians as a man
who was intrusted with too much power, which might be perverted to
political purposes, and which they asserted was used to help his
aristocratic friends in difficulty. Moreover, they looked with envy on
the many positions its offices afforded, which, as it was a "government
institution," they thought should be controlled by the governing party.

Among Biddle's especial enemies were the members of the "Kitchen
Cabinet," who with sycophantic adroitness used Jackson as a tool.

Isaac Hill, of New Hampshire, was one of the most envenomed of these
politicians, who hated not only Biddle but those who adhered to the old
Federalist party, and rich men generally. He had sufficient plausibility
and influence to enlist Levi Woodbury, Senator from New Hampshire, to
forward his schemes.

In consequence, Woodbury, on June 27, 1829, wrote to Ingham, Secretary
of the Treasury, making complaints against the president of the branch
bank in Portsmouth for roughness of manner, partiality in loans, and
severity in collections. The accused official was no less a man than
Jeremiah Mason, probably the greatest lawyer in New England, if not of
the whole country, the peer as well as the friend of Webster. Ingham
sent Woodbury's letter to Biddle, intimating that it was political
partiality that was complained of. Then ensued a correspondence between
Biddle and Ingham,--the former defending Mason and claiming complete
independence for the Bank as to its management, so long as it could not
be shown to be involved in political movements; and the latter accusing,
threatening to remove deposits, attempting to take away the pension
agency from the Portsmouth branch, _et cetera_. It was a stormy summer
for the Bank.

Thus things stood until November, when a letter appeared in the New York
"Courier and Inquirer," stating that President Jackson, in his
forthcoming first annual message to Congress, would come out strongly
against the Bank itself. And sure enough, the President, in his message,
astonished the whole country by a paragraph attacking the Bank, and
opposing its recharter. The part of the message about the Bank was
referred to both Houses of Congress. The committees reported in favor of
the Bank, as nothing could be said against its management. Again, in the
message of the President in 1830, he attacked the Bank, and Benton, one
of the chief supporters of Jackson in spite of their early duel,
declared in the Senate that the charter of the Bank ought not to be
renewed. Here the matter dropped for a while, as Jackson and his friends
were engrossed in electioneering schemes for the next presidential
contest, and the troubles of the cabinet on account of the Eaton scandal
had to be attended to. As already noted, they ended in its dissolution,
followed by a new and stronger cabinet, in which Ingham was succeeded as
Secretary of the Treasury by Louis McLane.

It was not till 1832,--the great session of Jackson's
administrations,--that the contest was taken up again. The Bank aimed to
have its charter renewed, although that would not expire for five years
yet; and as the Senate was partly hostile to the President, it seemed a
propitious time for the effort. Jackson, on the other hand, fearing that
the Bank would succeed in getting its charter renewed with a friendly
Congress, redoubled his energies to defeat it. The more hostile the
President showed himself, the more eager were the friends of the Bank
for immediate action. It was, with them, now or never. If the matter
were delayed, and Jackson were re-elected, it would be impossible to
secure a renewal of the charter, while it was hoped that Jackson would
not dare to veto the charter on the eve of a presidential election, and
thus lose, perhaps, the vote of the great State of Pennsylvania. So it
was resolved by the friends of the Bank to press the measure.

Five months were consumed in the discussion of this important matter, in
which the leading members of the Senate, except Benton, supported the
Bank. The bill to renew the charter passed the Senate on the 11th of
June, by a vote of twenty-eight to twenty, and the House on the 3d of
July by a majority of thirty-three. It was immediately vetoed by the
President, on the ground that the Bank was an odious monopoly, with
nearly a third of its stock held by foreigners, and not only odious, but
dangerous as a money-power to bribe Congress and influence elections.
The message accompanying the veto was able, and was supposed to be
written by Edward Livingston or Amos Kendall. Biddle remained calm and
confident. Like Clay, he never dreamed that Jackson would dare to
persist in a hostility against the enlightened public sentiment of the
country. But Jackson was the idol of the Democracy, who would support
all his measures and condone all his faults, and the Democracy
ruled,--as it always will rule, except in great public dangers, when
power naturally falls into the hands of men of genius, honesty, and
experience, almost independently of their political associations.

The veto aroused a thunder of debate, Webster and Clay leading the
assault upon it, and Benton, with other Jacksonians, defending it. The
attempt to pass the re-charter bill over the veto failed of the
necessary two-thirds majority, and the President was triumphant.

Jackson had no idea of yielding his opinions or his will to anybody,
least of all to his political enemies. The war with the Bank must go on;
but its charter had three or four years still to run. All he could do
legally was to cripple it by removing the deposits. His animosity,
inflamed by the denunciations of Benton, Kendall, Blair, Hill, and
others, became ungovernable.

McLane was now succeeded in the Treasury department by Mr. Duane of
Philadelphia, the firmest and most incorruptible of men, for whom the
President felt the greatest respect, but whom he expected to bend to his
purposes as he had Ingham. Only the Secretary of the Treasury could
remove the deposits, and this Mr. Duane unexpectedly but persistently
refused to do. Jackson brought to bear upon him all his powers of
persuasion and friendship; Duane still stood firm. Then the President
resorted to threats, all to no purpose; at length Duane was dismissed
from his office, and Roger B. Taney became Secretary of the Treasury,
23d of September, 1833. Three days afterwards, Taney directed collectors
to deposit the public money in certain banks which he designated. It
seems singular that the man who two years later was appointed Chief
Justice of the Supreme Court, and who discharged the duties of that
office so ably and uprightly, should so readily have complied with the
President's desire; but this must be accounted for by the facts that in
regard to the Bank Taney's views were in harmony with those of Jackson,
and that the removal of the deposits, however arbitrary, was not

The removal of more than nine millions from the Bank within the period
of nine months caused it necessarily to curtail its discounts, and a
financial panic was the result, which again led to acrimonious debates
in Congress, in which Clay took the lead. His opposition exasperated the
President in the highest degree. Calhoun equalled Clay in the vehemence
of his denunciation, for his hatred of Jackson was greater than his
hostility to moneyed corporations. Webster was less irritating, but
equally strong in his disapproval. Jackson, in his message of December,
1833, reiterated his charge against the Bank as "a permanent
electioneering engine," attempting "to control public opinion through
the distresses of some, and the fears of others." The Senate passed
resolutions denouncing the high-handed measures of the government,
which, however, were afterwards expunged when the Senate had become
Democratic. One of the most eloquent passages that Clay ever uttered was
his famous apostrophe to Vice President Van Buren when presiding over
the Senate, in reference to the financial distress which existed
throughout the country, and which, of course, he traced to the removal
of the deposits. Deputations of great respectability poured in upon the
President from every quarter to induce him to change his policy,--all of
which he summarily and rudely dismissed. All that these deputations
could get out of him was, "Go to Nicholas Biddle; he has all the money."
In 1834, during the second term of Jackson's office, there were
committees sent to investigate the affairs of the Bank, who were very
cavalierly treated by Biddle, so that their mission failed, amid much
derision. He was not dethroned from his financial power until the United
States Bank of Pennsylvania--the style under which the United States
Bank accepted a State charter in 1836, when its original national
charter expired--succumbed to the general crash in 1837.

It is now generally admitted that Jackson's war on the Bank was violent
and reckless, although it would be difficult to point out wherein his
hostility exceeded constitutional limits. The consequences were most
disastrous to the immediate interests of the country, but probably not
to its ultimate interests. The substitution of "pet banks" for
government deposits led to a great inflation of paper money, followed by
a general mania for speculation. When the bubble burst these banks were
unable to redeem their notes in gold and silver, and suspended their
payments. Then the stringency of the money market equalled the previous
inflation. In consequence there were innumerable failures and everything
fell in value,--lands, houses, and goods. Such was the general
depression and scarcity of money that in many States it was difficult
to raise money even to pay necessary taxes. I have somewhere read that
in one of the Western States the sheriffs sold at auction a good
four-horse wagon for five dollars and fifty cents, two horses for four
dollars, and two cows for two dollars. The Western farmers were driven
to despair. Such was the general depression that President Van Buren was
compelled in 1837 to call an extra session of Congress; nor were the
difficulties removed until the celebrated Bankrupt Law was passed in
1840, chiefly through the efforts of Daniel Webster, which virtually
wiped out all debts of those who chose to avail themselves of the
privilege. What a contrast was the financial state of the country at
that time, to what it was when Jackson entered upon his administration!

It is not just to attribute all the commercial disasters which followed
the winding up of the old United States Bank to General Jackson, and to
the financial schemes of Van Buren. It was the spirit of speculation,
fostered by the inflation of paper money by irresponsible banks when the
great balance-wheel was stopped, which was the direct cause. The
indirect causes of commercial disaster, however, may be attributed to
Jackson's war on the Bank. The long fight in Congress to secure a
recharter of the Bank, though unsuccessful, was dignified and
statesmanlike; but the ungoverned passions displayed by the removal of
deposits resulted in nothing, and could have resulted in nothing of
advantage to any theory of the Bank's management; and it would be
difficult to say who were most to blame for the foolish and undignified
crimination and recrimination which followed,--the President, or the
hostile Senate. It was, at any rate, a fight in which Jackson won, but
which, from the animosities it kindled, brought down his gray hairs in
sorrow to the grave. It gave him a doubtful place in the history of
the nation.

If Jackson's hostility to the United States Bank was inexpedient and
violent, and resulted in financial disasters, his vigorous efforts to
put down Nullification were patriotic, and called forth the approval and
gratitude of the nation. This was a real service of immense value, and
it is probable that no other public man then on the stage could have
done this important work so well. Like all Jackson's measures, it was
summary and decided.

Nullification grew out of the tariffs which Congress had imposed. The
South wanted no protective duties at all; indeed, it wanted absolute
free trade, so that planters might obtain the articles which they needed
at the smallest possible cost, and sell as much cotton and tobacco as
they could with the least delay and embarrassment. Professor Sumner
argues that Southern industries either supported the Federal
government, or paid tribute to the Northern manufacturers, and that
consequently the grievances of the Southern States were natural and
just,--that their interests were sacrificed to national interests, as
the New England interests had been sacrificed to the national interests
at the time of the Embargo. Undoubtedly, the South had cause of
complaint, and we cannot wonder at its irritation and opposition to the
taxes imposed on all for the protection of American manufactures. On the
other hand, it was a grave question whether the interests of the nation
at large should be sacrificed to build up the interests of the
South,--to say nothing of the great moral issues which underlie all
material questions. In other words, in matters of national importance,
which should rule? Should the majority yield to the minority, or the
minority to the majority? In accordance with the democratic principles
on which this government is founded, there is only one reply to the
question: The majority must rule. This is the basal stone of all
constitutional government, whose disruption would produce revolution and
anarchy. It is a bitter and humiliating necessity which compels the
intellect, the wealth, the rank, and the fashion of England to yield to
the small majority in the House of Commons, in the matter of Irish Home
Rule, but an Irishman's vote is as good as that of the son of an
English peer. The rule of the majority is the price of political
liberty, for which enlightened nations are willing to pay.

Henry Clay deserves great praise and glory for his persistent efforts at
conciliation,--not only in matters pertaining to the tariff, but in the
question of slavery to harmonize conflicting interests. But Calhoun--the
greatest man whom the South has produced--would listen to no
concessions, foreseeing that the slightest would endanger the
institution with which the interests and pride of the Southern States
were identified. At this crisis the country needed a man at the helm
whose will was known to be inflexible.

In the session of 1830, on a question concerning the sales of public
(U.S.) lands in the several States, arose the great debate between
Colonel R.Y. Hayne, of South Carolina, and Daniel Webster on the
limitations of Federal power; and Hayne's declaration of the right of a
State to nullify a Federal law that was prejudicial to its interests
gained him great applause throughout the South. John C. Calhoun, United
States Senator from South Carolina, was at the head of the extreme State
Sovereignty party, and at a banquet celebrating the birthday of
Jefferson, January 13, 1830, he proffered the toast "The Union: next to
Liberty, the most dear; may we all remember that it can only be
preserved by respecting the rights of the States, and distributing
equally the benefit and burden of the Union." Jackson, as President, and
practical chief of the Democracy, was of course present at this
political banquet. His profound patriotism and keen political instinct
scented danger, and with his usual impulse to go well forward to meet an
enemy, he gave, "The Federal Union: it must be preserved." This simple
declaration was worth more than all the wordy messages and proclamations
he ever issued; it not only served notice upon the seceders of his time
that they had a great principle to deal with, but it echoed after him,
and was the call to which the nation victoriously rallied in its supreme
struggle with treason, thirty years later.

Notwithstanding the evident stand taken by the President, the Calhoun
party continued their opposition on State lines to the Federal
authority. And when Congress passed the tariff of July, 1832, the South
Carolina legislature in the autumn called a convention, which pronounced
that Act and the Tariff Act of 1828 unconstitutional,--"null and void,
and no law;" called on the State legislature to pass laws to prevent the
execution of the Federal revenue acts; and declared that any attempt at
coercion on the part of the Federal authorities would be regarded as
absolving South Carolina and all its people from all further obligation
to retain their union with the other States, and that they should then
forthwith proceed to organize a separate government, as a sovereign and
independent State.

If such a man as Buchanan had then been in the presidential chair there
probably would have been a Southern Confederacy; and in 1832 it might
have been successful. But Jackson was a man of different mould. Democrat
and Southern sympathizer as he was, he instantly took the most vigorous
measures to suppress such a thing in the bud, before there was time to
concert measures of disunion among the other Southern States. He sent
General Scott to Charleston, with a body of troops stationed not far
away. He ordered two war-vessels to the harbor of the misguided and
rebellious city. On December 4 in his annual message he called the
attention of Congress to the opposition to the revenue laws and
intimated that he should enforce them. On December 11 he issued a
proclamation to the inhabitants of South Carolina, written by
Livingston, moderate in tone, in which it was set forth that the power
of one State to annul a law of the United States was incompatible with
the existence of the Union, and inconsistent with the spirit of the
constitution. Governor Hayne issued a counter-proclamation, while
Calhoun resigned the vice-presidency in order to represent South
Carolina on the floor of the Senate. In January the President sent
another message to Congress asking for authority to suppress rebellion.

Congress rallied around the Executive and a bill was passed providing
for the enforcement of the collection of the customs at Charleston, and
arming the President with extraordinary powers to see that the dangers
were averted. Most of the States passed resolutions against
Nullification, and there was general approval of the vigorous measures
to be enforced if necessary. The Nullifiers, unprepared to resist the
whole military power of the country, yielded, but with ill grace, to the
threatened force. Henry Clay in February introduced a compromise tariff,
and on the 27th of that month it was completed, together with an
Enforcement Act. On March 3 it became a law, and on March 11 the South
Carolina Nullifiers held an adjourned meeting of their convention and
nullified their previous nullification. The triumph of Jackson was
complete, and his popularity reached its apex.

It is not to be supposed that the collection of duties in Southern parts
was the only cause of Nullification. The deeper cause was not at first
avowed. It was the question of slavery, which is too large a topic to be
discussed in this connection. It will be treated more fully in a
subsequent lecture.

An important event took place during the administration of Jackson,
which demands our notice, although it can in no way be traced to his
influence; and this was the Anti-Masonic movement, ending in the
formation of a new political party.

The beginning of this party was obscure enough. One Morgan in Western
New York was abducted and murdered for revealing the alleged secrets of
Freemasonry. These were in reality of small importance, but Morgan had
mortally offended a great secret society of which he was a member, by
bringing it into public contempt. His punishment was greater than his
crime, which had been not against morality, but against a powerful body
of men who never did any harm, but rather much good in the way of
charities. The outrage aroused public indignation,--that a man should be
murdered for making innocent revelations of mere ceremonies and
pretensions of small moment; and as the Masons would make no apologies,
and no efforts to bring the offenders to justice, it was inferred by the
credulous public that Masons were not fit to be entrusted with political
office. The outrage was seized upon by cunning politicians to make
political capital. Jackson was a Mason. Hence the new party of
Anti-Masons made war against him. As they had been his supporters, the
Democratic party of the State of New York was divided.

The leading Democratic leaders had endeavored to suppress this schism;
but it daily increased, founded on popular ignorance and prejudice,
until it became formidable. In 1830, four years after the murder, the
Anti-Masons had held conventions and framed a political platform of
principles, the chief of which was hostility to all secret societies.
The party, against all reason, rapidly spread through New York,
Pennsylvania, and New England,--its stronghold being among the farmers
of Vermont. Ambitious politicians soon perceived that a union with this
party would favor their interests, and men of high position became its
leaders. In 1831 the party was strong enough to assemble a convention in
Baltimore to nominate candidates for the presidency, and William Wirt,
the great Maryland lawyer, was nominated, not with any hope of election,
but with the view of dividing the ranks of the Democratic party, and of
strengthening the opposition headed by Clay,--the National Republican
party, which in the next campaign absorbed all the old Federalist
remnants, and became the Whig party.

All opposition to Jackson, however, was to no purpose. He was elected
for his second term, beginning in 1833. The Anti-Masonic movement
subsided as rapidly as it was created, having no well-defined principles
to stand upon. It has already passed into oblivion.

I have now presented the principal subjects which made the
administrations of Jackson memorable. There are others of minor
importance which could be mentioned, like the removal of the Indians to
remote hunting-grounds in the West, the West India trade, the successful
settlement of the Spoliation Claims against France, which threatened to
involve the country in war,--prevented by the arbitration of England;
similar settlements with Denmark, Spain, and Naples; treaties of
commerce with Russia and Turkey; and other matters in which Jackson's
decided character appeared to advantage. But it is not my purpose to
write a complete history of Jackson or of his administrations. Those who
want fuller information should read Parton's long biography, in which
almost every subject under the sun is alluded to, and yet which, in
spite of its inartistic and unclassical execution, is the best thesaurus
I know of for Jacksonian materials. More recent histories are
dissertations in disguise, on disputed points.

Here, then, I bring this lecture to a close with a brief allusion to
those things which made up the character of a very remarkable man, who
did both good and evil in his public career. His private life is
unusually interesting, by no means a model for others to imitate, yet
showing great energy, a wonderful power of will, and undoubted honesty
of purpose. His faults were those which may be traced to an imperfect
education, excessive prejudices, a violent temper, and the incense of
flatterers,--which turned his head and of which he was inordinately
fond. We fail to see in him the modesty which marked Washington and most
of the succeeding presidents. As a young man he fought duels without
sufficient provocation. He put himself in his military career above the
law, and in his presidential career above precedents and customs, which
subjected him to grave animadversion. As a general he hanged two
respectable foreigners as spies, without sufficient evidence. He
inflicted unnecessary cruelties in order to maintain military
discipline,--wholesome, doubtless, but such as less arbitrary commanders
would have hesitated to do. He invaded the territory of a neutral state
on the plea of self-defence. In his conversation he used expletives not
considered in good taste, and which might be called swearing, without
meaning any irreverence to the Deity, although in later life he seldom
used any other oath than "By the Eternal!"

Personally, Jackson's habits were irreproachable. In regard to the
pleasures of the table he was temperate, almost abstemious. He was
always religiously inclined and joined the Church before he
died,--perhaps, however, out of loyalty to his wife, whom he adored,
rather than from theological convictions. But whatever he deemed his
duty, he made every sacrifice to perform. Although fond of power, he
was easily accessible, and he was frank and genial among his intimate
friends. With great ideas of personal dignity, he was unconventional in
all his habits, and detested useless ceremonies and the etiquette of
courts. He put a great value on personal friendships, and never broke
them except under necessity. For his enemies he cherished a vindictive
wrath, as unforgiving as Nemesis.

In the White House Jackson was remarkably hospitable, and he returned to
his beloved Hermitage poorer than when he left it. He cared little for
money, although an excellent manager of his farm. He was high-minded and
just in the discharge of debts, and, although arbitrary, he was
indulgent to his servants.

He loved frankness in his dealings with advisers, although he was easily
imposed upon. While he leaned on the counsels of his "Kitchen Cabinet"
he rarely summoned a council of constitutional advisers. He parted with
one of the ablest and best of his cabinet who acted from a sense of duty
in a matter where he was plainly right. Toward Nicholas Biddle and Henry
Clay he cherished the most inexorable animosity for crossing his path.

When we remember his lack of political knowledge, his "spoils system,"
his indifference to internal improvements, his war on the United States
Bank, and his arbitrary conduct in general, we feel that Jackson's
elevation to the presidency was a mistake and a national misfortune,
however popular he was with the masses. Yet he was in accord with his

It is singular that this man did nothing to attract national notice
until he was forty-five years of age. The fortune of war placed him on a
throne, where he reigned as a dictator, so far as his powers would
allow. Happily, in his eventful administration he was impeded by hostile
and cynical senators; but this wholesale restraint embittered his life.
His great personal popularity continued to the end of his life in 1845,
but his influence is felt to this day, both for good and for evil. His
patriotism and his prejudices, his sturdy friendships and his relentless
hatreds, his fearless discharge of duty and his obstinacy of self-will,
his splendid public services and the vast public ills he inaugurated,
will ever make this picturesque old hero a puzzle to moralists. His life
was turbulent, and he was glad, when the time came, to lay down his
burden and prepare himself for that dread Tribunal before which all
mortals will be finally summoned,--the one tribunal in which he
believed, and the only one which he was prompt to acknowledge.


The works written on Jackson are very numerous. Probably the best is the
biography written by Parton, defective as it is. Professor W.E. Sumner's
work, in the series of "American Statesmen," is full of interesting and
important facts, especially in the matters of tariff and finance. See
also Benton's Thirty Years in the United States Senate; Cobbett's Life
of Jackson; Curtis's Life of Webster; Colton's Life and Times of Henry
Clay, as well as Carl Schurz on the same subject; Von Holst, Life of
Calhoun; Memoir of John Quincy Adams; Tyler's Life of Taney; Sargent's
Public Men; the Speeches of Webster, Clay, and Calhoun.




All the presidents of the United States, with the exception of three or
four, must yield in influence to Henry Clay, so far as concerns
directing the policy, and shaping the institutions of this country. Only
two other American statesmen--Hamilton and Webster--can be compared to
him in genius, power, and services. These two great characters will be
found treated elsewhere.

In regard to what is called "birth," Clay was not a patrician, like
Washington, nor had he so humble an origin as Andrew Jackson or Abraham
Lincoln. Like most other great men, he was the architect of of his own
fortunes, doomed to drudgeries in the early part of his career, and
climbing into notice by energy and force of character.

He was born, 1777, in a little Virginian hamlet called the "Slashes,"
in Hanover County, the son of a Baptist minister, who preached to poor
people, and who died when Henry was four years old, leaving six other
children and a widow, with very scanty means of support. The little
country school taught him "the rudiments," and his small earnings as
plough-boy and mill-boy meantime helped his mother. The mother was
marked by sterling traits of character, and married for her second
husband a Captain Watkins, of Richmond. This worthy man treated his
step-son kindly, and put him into a retail store at the age of fourteen,
no better educated than most country lads,--too poor to go to college,
but with aspirations, which all bright and ambitious boys are apt to
have, especially if they have no fitness for selling the common things
of life, and are fond of reading. Henry's step-father, having an
influential friend, secured for the disgusted and discontented youth a
position in the office of the Clerk of the High Court of Chancery, of
which the eminent jurist, George Wythe, was chancellor. The judge and
the young copyist thus naturally became acquainted, and acquaintance
ripened into friendship, for the youth was bright and useful, and made
an excellent amanuensis to the learned old lawyer, in whose office both
Thomas Jefferson and John Marshall had been students of law.

After serving four years, Clay resolved to become a lawyer, entered the
office of the Attorney-General of the State, and one year after was
admitted to the bar, having in all probability acquired much legal
knowledge from the communicative Chancellor, whom everybody loved and
honored,--one of the earliest in Virginia to emancipate his slaves, and
provide for their support. The young fellow's reading, also, had been
guided by his learned friend, in the direction of history, English
grammar, and the beginnings of law.

The young lawyer, with his pleasing manners, quick intelligence, and
real kindness of heart soon became a favorite in Richmond society. He
was neither handsome, nor elegant, nor aristocratic, but he had personal
geniality, wit, brilliancy in conversation, irreproachable morals, and
was prominent in the debating society,--a school where young men learn
the art of public speaking, like Gladstone at Oxford. It is thought
probable that Clay's native oratorical ability, which he assiduously
cultivated,--the gift which, as Schurz says, "enabled him to make little
tell for much, and to outshine men of vastly greater learning,"--misled
him as to the necessity for systematic and thorough study. Lack of
thoroughness and of solid information was his especial weakness through
life, in spite of the charm and power of his personal oratory.

It is always up-hill work for a young lawyer to succeed in a
fashionable city, where there is more intellect than business, and when
he himself has neither family, nor money, nor mercantile friends. So
Henry Clay, at twenty-one, turned his eyes to the West,--the land of
promise, which was especially attractive to impecunious lawyers, needy
farmers, spendthrift gentlemen, merchants without capital, and vigorous
men of enterprise,--where everybody trusts and is trusted, and where
talents and character are of more value than money. He had not much
legal knowledge, nor did he need much in the frontier settlements on the
Ohio and its valleys; the people generally were rough and illiterate,
and attached more importance to common-sense and industry than to legal
technicalities and the subtle distinctions of Coke and Blackstone. If an
advocate could grasp a principle which appealed to consciousness, and
enforce it with native eloquence, he was more likely to succeed than one
versed in learned precedents without energy or plausible utterances.

The locality which Clay selected was Lexington in Kentucky,--then a
small village in the midst of beautiful groves without underbrush, where
the soil was of virgin richness, and the landscape painted with almost
perpetual verdure; one of the most attractive spots by nature on the
face of the earth,--a great contrast to the flat prairies of Illinois,
or the tangled forests of Michigan, or the alluvial deposits of the
Mississippi. It was a paradise of hills and vales, easily converted into
lawns and gardens, such as the primitive settlers of New England would
have looked upon with blended envy and astonishment.

Lexington in 1797, the year that Clay settled in it as a lawyer, was
called "the intellectual centre of the Far West," as the Ohio valley was
then regarded. In reality it was a border-post, the inhabitants of which
were devoted to horse-racing, hunting, and whiskey-drinking, with a
sprinkling of educated people, among whom the young lawyer soon
distinguished himself,--a born orator, logical as well as rhetorical.

Clay's law practice at first was chiefly directed to the defence of
criminals, and it is said that no murderer whom he defended was ever
hanged; but he soon was equally successful in civil cases, gradually
acquiring a lucrative practice, without taking a high rank as a jurist.
He was never a close student, being too much absorbed in politics,
society, and pleasure, except on rare occasions, for which he "crammed."
His reading was desultory, and his favorite works were political
speeches, many of which he committed to memory and then declaimed, to
the delight of all who heard him. His progress at the bar must have been
remarkably rapid, since within two years he could afford to purchase six
hundred acres of land, near Lexington, and take unto himself a
wife,--domestic, thrifty, painstaking, who attended to all the details
of the farm, which he called "Ashland." As he grew in wealth, his
popularity also increased, until in all Kentucky no one was so generally
beloved as he. Yet he would not now be called opulent, and he never
became rich, since his hospitalities were disproportionate to his means,
and his living was more like that of a Virginia country gentleman than
of a hard-working lawyer.

At this time Clay was tall, erect, commanding, with long arms, small
hands, a large mouth, blue, electrical eyes, high forehead, a sanguine
temperament, excitable, easy in his manners, self-possessed, courteous,
deferential, with a voice penetrating and musical, with great command of
language, and so earnest that he impressed everybody with his blended
sincerity and kindness of heart.

The true field for such a man was politics, which Clay loved, so that
his duties and pleasures went hand in hand,--an essential thing for
great success. His first efforts were in connection with a
constitutional convention in Kentucky, when he earnestly advocated a
system of gradual emancipation of slaves,--unpopular as that idea was
among his fellow-citizens. It did not seem, however, to hurt his
political prospects, for in 1803 he was solicited to become a member of
the State legislature, and was easily elected, being a member of the
Democratic-Republican party as led by Jefferson. He made his mark at
once as an orator, and so brilliant and rapid was his legislative career
that he was elected in 1806 to the United States Senate to fill the
unexpired term, of John Adair,--being only twenty-nine years old, the
youngest man that ever sat in that body of legislators. All that could
then be said of him was that he made a good impression in the debates
and on the committees, and was a man of great promise, a favorite in
society, attending all parties of pleasure, and never at home in the
evening. On his return to Kentucky he was again elected as a member of
the lower House in the State legislature, and chosen Speaker,--an
excellent training for the larger place he was to fill. In the winter of
1809-10 he was a second time sent to the United States Senate, for two
years, to fill the unexpired term of Buckner Thurston, where he made
speeches in favor of encouraging American manufacturing industries, not
to the extent of exportation,--which he thought should be confined to
surplus farm-produce,--but enough to supply the people with clothing and
to make them independent of foreign countries for many things
unnecessarily imported. He also made himself felt on many other
important topics, and was recognized as a rising man.

When his term had expired in the Senate, he was chosen a member of the
House of Representatives at Washington,--a more agreeable field to him
than the Senate, as giving him greater scope for his peculiar eloquence.
He was promptly elected Speaker, which position, however, did not
interfere with his speech-making whenever the House went into Committee
of the Whole. It was as Speaker of the House of Representatives that
Clay drew upon himself the eyes of the nation; and his truly great
congressional career began in 1811, on the eve of the war with Great
Britain in Madison's administration.

Clay was now the most influential, and certainly the most popular man in
public life, in the whole country, which was very remarkable,
considering that he was only thirty-seven years of age. Daniel Webster
was then practising law in Portsmouth, N.H., two years before his
election to Congress, and John C. Calhoun had not yet entered the
Senate, but was chairman of the Committee of Foreign Relations in the
House of Representatives, and a warm friend of the Speaker.

The absorbing subject of national interest at that time was the
threatened war with England, which Clay did his best to bring about, and
Webster to prevent. It was Webster's Fourth-of-July Oration at
Portsmouth, in 1812, which led to his election to Congress as a
Federalist, in which oration he deprecated war. The West generally was
in favor of it, having not much to lose or to fear from a contest which
chiefly affected commerce, and which would jeopardize only New England
interests and the safety of maritime towns. Clay, who had from his first
appearance at Washington made himself a champion of American interests,
American honor, and American ideas generally, represented the popular
party, and gave his voice for war, into which the government had drifted
under pressure of the outrages inflicted by British cruisers, the
impressment of our seamen, and the contempt with which the United States
were held and spoken of on all occasions by England,--the latter an
element more offensive to none than to the independent and bellicose
settlers in Ohio, Kentucky, and Tennessee.

Clay is generally credited with having turned the scales in favor of the
war with Great Britain, when the United States comprised less than eight
millions of people, when the country had no navy of any account, and a
very small army without experienced officers, while Great Britain was
mistress of the seas, with an enormous army, and the leader of the
allied Powers that withstood Napoleon in Spain and Portugal. To the eyes
of the Federalists, the contest was rash, inexpedient, and doubtful in
its issues; and their views were justified by the disasters that ensued
in Canada, the incompetency of Hull, the successive defeats of American
generals with the exception of Jackson, and the final treaty of peace
without allusion to the main causes which had led to the war. But the
Republicans claimed that the war, if disastrous on the land, had been
glorious on the water; that the national honor had been vindicated; that
a navy had been created; that the impressment of American seamen was
practically ended forever; and that England had learned to treat the
great republic with outward respect as an independent, powerful, and
constantly increasing empire.

As the champion of the war, and for the brilliancy and patriotism of his
speeches, all appealing to the national heart and to national pride,
Clay stood out as the most eminent statesman of his day, with unbounded
popularity, especially in Kentucky, where to the last he retained his
hold on popular admiration and affection. His speeches on the war are
more marked for pungency of satire and bitterness of invective against
England than for moral wisdom. They are appeals to passions rather than
to reason, of great force in their day, but of not much value to
posterity. They are not read and quoted like Webster's masterpieces.
They will not compare, except in popular eloquence, with Clay's own
subsequent efforts in the Senate, when he had more maturity of
knowledge, and more insight into the principles of political economy.
But they had great influence at the time, and added to his fame as
an orator.

In the summer of 1814 Clay resigned his speakership of the House of
Representatives to accept a diplomatic mission as Peace Commissioner to
confer with commissioners from Great Britain. He had as associates John
Quincy Adams, James A. Bayard, Jonathan Russell, and Albert
Gallatin--the ablest financier in the country after the death of
Hamilton. The Commissioners met at Ghent, and spent five tedious months
in that dull city. The English commissioners at once took very high
ground, and made imperious demands,--that the territory now occupied by
the States of Michigan, Illinois, Wisconsin, Indiana, and a part of Ohio
should be set apart for the Indians under an English protectorate; that
the United States should relinquish the right of keeping armed vessels
on the great Lakes; that a part of Maine should be ceded to Great
Britain to make a road from Halifax to Quebec, and that all questions
relating to the right of search, blockades, and impressment of seamen
should remain undiscussed as before the war. At these preposterous
demands Clay was especially indignant. In fact, he was opposed to any
treaty at all which should not place the United States and Great Britain
on an equality, and would not have been grieved if the war had lasted
three years longer. Adams and Gallatin had their hands full to keep the
Western lion from breaking loose and returning home in disgust, while
they desired to get the best treaty they could, rather than no treaty at
all. Gradually the British commissioners abated their demands, and gave
up all territorial and fishery claims, and on December 14, 1814,
concluded the negotiations on the basis of things before the war,--the
_status quo ante bellum_. Clay was deeply chagrined. He signed the
document with great reluctance, and always spoke of it as "a damned bad
treaty," since it made no allusion to the grievance which provoked the
war which he had so eloquently advocated.

Gallatin and Clay spent some time in Paris, and most of the ensuing
summer in London on further negotiations of details. But Clay had no
sooner returned to Lexington than he was re-elected to the national
legislature, where he was again chosen Speaker, December 4, 1815, having
declined the Russian mission, and the more tempting post of the
Secretary of War. He justly felt that his arena was the House of
Representatives, which, as well as the Senate, had a Republican
majority. It was his mission to make speeches and pull political wires,
and not perplex himself with the details of office, which required more
executive ability and better business habits than he possessed, and
which would seriously interfere with his social life. How could he play
cards all night if he was obliged to be at his office at ten o'clock in
the morning, day after day, superintending clerks, and doing work which
to him was drudgery? Much more pleasant to him was it to preside over
stormy debates, appoint important committees, write letters to friends,
and occasionally address the House in Committee of the Whole, when his
voice would sway the passions of his intelligent listeners; for he had
the power "to move to pity, and excite to rage."

Besides all this, there were questions to be discussed and settled by
Congress, important to the public, and very interesting to politicians.
The war had bequeathed a debt. To provide for its payment, taxes must be
imposed. But all taxation is unpopular. The problem was, to make taxes
as easy as possible. Should they be direct or indirect? Should they be
imposed for a revenue only, or to stimulate and protect infant
manufactures? The country was expanding; should there be national
provision for internal improvements,--roads, canals, etc.? There were
questions about the currency, about commerce, about the Indians, about
education, about foreign relations, about the territories, which
demanded the attention of Congress. The most important of these were

Book of the day: