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  • 1919
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speech, and after much reading and revising, it was held by Mr. Tilden and Mr. McLane to cover the case and meet the purpose, Mr. Tilden writing Mr. Randall, Speaker of the House of Representatives, a letter, carried to Washington by Mr. McLane, instructing him what to do in the event that the popular response should prove favorable.

Alack the day! The Democrats were equal to nothing affirmative. The Republicans were united and resolute. I delivered the speech, not in the House, as had been intended, but at a public meeting which seemed opportune. The Democrats at once set about denying the sinister and violent purpose ascribed to it by the Republicans, who, fully advised that it had emanated from Gramercy Park and came by authority, started a counter agitation of their own.

I became the target for every kind of ridicule and abuse. Nast drew a grotesque cartoon of me, distorting my suggestion for the assembling of 100,000 citizens, which was both offensive and libellous.

Being on friendly terms with the Harpers, I made my displeasure so resonant in Franklin Square–Nast himself having no personal ill will toward me –that a curious and pleasing opportunity which came to pass was taken to make amends. A son having been born to me, Harper’s Weekly contained an atoning cartoon representing the child in its father’s arms, and, above, the legend “10,000 sons from Kentucky alone.” Some wag said that the son in question was “the only one of the 100,000 in arms who came when he was called.”

For many years afterward I was pursued by this unlucky speech, or rather by the misinterpretation given to it alike by friend and foe. Nast’s first cartoon was accepted as a faithful portrait, and I was accordingly satirized and stigmatized, though no thought of violence ever had entered my mind, and in the final proceedings I had voted for the Electoral Commission Bill and faithfully stood by its decisions. Joseph Pulitzer, who immediately followed me on the occasion named, declared that he wanted my “one hundred thousand” to come fully armed and ready for business; yet he never was taken to task or reminded of his temerity.


The Electoral Commission Bill was considered with great secrecy by the joint committees of the House and Senate. Its terms were in direct contravention of Mr. Tilden’s plan. This was simplicity itself. He was for asserting by formal resolution the conclusive right of the two Houses acting concurrently to count the electoral vote and determine what should be counted as electoral votes; and for denying, also by formal resolution, the pretension set up by the Republicans that the President of the Senate had lawful right to assume that function. He was for urging that issue in debate in both Houses and before the country. He thought that if the attempt should be made to usurp for the president of the Senate a power to make the count, and thus practically to control the Presidential election, the scheme would break down in process of execution.

Strange to say, Mr. Tilden was not consulted by the party leaders in Congress until the fourteenth of January, and then only by Mr. Hewitt, the extra constitutional features of the electoral-tribunal measure having already received the assent of Mr. Bayard and Mr. Thurman, the Democratic members of the Senate committee.

Standing by his original plan and answering Mr. Hewitt’s statement that Mr. Bayard and Mr. Thurman were fully committed, Mr. Tilden said: “Is it not, then, rather late to consult me?”

To which Mr. Hewitt replied: “They do not consult you. They are public men, and have their own duties and responsibilities. I consult you.”

In the course of the discussion with Mr. Hewitt which followed Mr. Tilden said: “If you go into conference with your adversary, and can’t break off because you feel you must agree to something, you cannot negotiate–you are not fit to negotiate. You will be beaten upon every detail.”

Replying to the apprehension of a collision of force between the parties Mr. Tilden thought it exaggerated, but said: “Why surrender now? You can always surrender. Why surrender before the battle for fear you may have to surrender after the battle?”

In short, Mr. Tilden condemned the proceeding as precipitate. It was a month before the time for the count, and he saw no reason why opportunity should not be given for consideration and consultation by all the representatives of the people. He treated the state of mind of Bayard and Thurman as a panic in which they were liable to act in haste and repent at leisure. He stood for publicity and wider discussion, distrusting a scheme to submit such vast interests to a small body sitting in the Capitol as likely to become the sport of intrigue and fraud.

Mr. Hewitt returned to Washington and without communicating to Mr. Tilden’s immediate friends in the House his attitude and objection, united with Mr. Thurman and Mr. Bayard in completing the bill and reporting it to the Democratic Advisory Committee, as, by a caucus rule, had to be done with all measures relating to the great issue then before us. No intimation had preceded it. It fell like a bombshell upon the members of the committee.

In the debate that followed Mr. Bayard was very insistent, answering the objections at once offered by me, first aggressively and then angrily, going the length of saying, “If you do not accept this plan I shall wash my hands of the whole business, and you can go ahead and seat your President in your own way.”

Mr. Randall, the Speaker, said nothing, but he was with me, as were a majority of my colleagues. It was Mr. Hunton, of Virginia, who poured oil on the troubled waters, and somewhat in doubt as to whether the changed situation had changed Mr. Tilden I yielded my better judgment, declaring it as my opinion that the plan would seat Hayes; and there being no other protestant the committee finally gave a reluctant assent.

In open session a majority of Democrats favored the bill. Many of them made it their own. They passed it. There was belief that Justice David Davis, who was expected to become a member of the commission, was sure for Tilden. If, under this surmise, he had been, the political complexion of “8 to 7” would have been reversed.

Elected to the United States Senate from Illinois, Judge Davis declined to serve, and Mr. Justice Bradley was chosen for the commission in his place.

The day after the inauguration of Hayes my kinsman, Stanley Matthews, said to me: “You people wanted Judge Davis. So did we. I tell you what I know, that Judge Davis was as safe for us as Judge Bradley. We preferred him because he carried more weight.”

The subsequent career of Judge Davis in the Senate gave conclusive proof that this was true.

When the consideration of the disputed votes before the commission had proceeded far enough to demonstrate the likelihood that its final decision would be for Hayes a movement of obstruction and delay, a filibuster, was organized by about forty Democratic members of the House. It proved rather turbulent than effective. The South stood very nearly solid for carrying out the agreement in good faith.

Toward the close the filibuster received what appeared formidable reinforcement from the Louisiana delegation. This was in reality merely a bluff, intended to induce the Hayes people to make certain concessions touching their State government. It had the desired effect. Satisfactory assurances having been given, the count proceeded to the end–a very bitter end indeed for the Democrats.

The final conference between the Louisianans and the accredited representatives of Mr. Hayes was held at Wormley’s Hotel and came to be called “the Wormley Conference.” It was the subject of uncommon interest and heated controversy at the time and long afterward. Without knowing why or for what purpose, I was asked to be present by my colleague, Mr. Ellis, of Louisiana, and later in the day the same invitation came to me from the Republicans through Mr. Garfield. Something was said about my serving as a referee.

Just before the appointed hour Gen. M. C. Butler, of South Carolina, afterward so long a Senator in Congress, said to me: “This meeting is called to enable Louisiana to make terms with Hayes. South Carolina is as deeply concerned as Louisiana, but we have nobody to represent us in Congress and hence have not been invited. South Carolina puts herself in your hands and expects you to secure for her whatever terms are given to Louisiana.”

So of a sudden I found myself invested with responsibility equally as an agent and a referee.

It is hardly worth while repeating in detail all that passed at this Wormley Conference, made public long ago by Congressional investigation. When I entered the apartment of Mr. Evarts at Wormley’s I found, besides Mr. Evarts, Mr. John Sherman, Mr. Garfield, Governor Dennison, and Mr. Stanley Matthews, of the Republicans; and Mr. Ellis, Mr. Levy, and Mr. Burke, Democrats of Louisiana. Substantially the terms had been agreed upon during the previous conferences–that is, the promise that if Hayes came in the troops should be withdrawn and the people of Louisiana be left free to set their house in order to suit themselves. The actual order withdrawing the troops was issued by President Grant two or three days later, just as he was going out of office.

“Now, gentlemen,” said I, half in jest, “I am here to represent South Carolina; and if the terms given to Louisiana are not equally applied to South Carolina I become a filibuster myself to-morrow morning.”

There was some chaffing as to what right I had there and how I got in, when with great earnestness Governor Dennison, who had been the bearer of a letter from Mr. Hayes, which he had read to us, put his hand on my shoulder and said: “As a matter of course the Southern policy to which Mr. Hayes has here pledged himself embraces South Carolina as well as Louisiana.”

Mr. Sherman, Mr. Garfield and Mr. Evarts concurred warmly in this, and immediately after we separated I communicated the fact to General Butler.

In the acrimonious discussion which subsequently sought to make “bargain, intrigue and corruption” of this Wormley Conference, and to involve certain Democratic members of the House who were nowise party to it but had sympathized with the purpose of Louisiana and South Carolina to obtain some measure of relief from intolerable local conditions, I never was questioned or assailed. No one doubted my fidelity to Mr. Tilden, who had been promptly advised of all that passed and who approved what I had done.

Though “conscripted,” as it were, and rather a passive agent, I could see no wrong in the proceeding. I had spoken and voted in favor of the Electoral Tribunal Bill, and losing, had no thought of repudiating its conclusions. Hayes was already as good as seated. If the States of Louisiana and South Carolina could save their local autonomy out of the general wreck there seemed no good reason to forbid.

On the other hand, the Republican leaders were glad of an opportunity to make an end of the corrupt and tragic farce of Reconstruction; to unload their party of a dead weight which had been burdensome and was growing dangerous; mayhap to punish their Southern agents, who had demanded so much for doctoring the returns and making an exhibit in favor of Hayes.


Mr. Tilden accepted the result with equanimity.

“I was at his house,” says John Bigelow, “when his exclusion was announced to him, and also on the fourth of March when Mr. Hayes was inaugurated, and it was impossible to remark any change in his manner, except perhaps that he was less absorbed than usual and more interested in current affairs.”

His was an intensely serious mind; and he had come to regard the presidency as rather a burden to be borne–an opportunity for public usefulness–involving a life of constant toil and care, than as an occasion for personal exploitation and rejoicing.

How much of captivation the idea of the presidency may have had for him when he was first named for the office I cannot say, for he was as unexultant in the moment of victory as he was unsubdued in the hour of defeat; but it is certainly true that he gave no sign of disappointment to any of his friends.

He lived nearly ten years longer, at Greystone, in a noble homestead he had purchased for himself overlooking the Hudson River, the same ideal life of the scholar and gentleman that he had passed in Gramercy Park.

Looking back over these untoward and sometimes mystifying events, I have often asked myself: Was it possible, with the elements what they were, and he himself what he was, to seat Mr. Tilden in the office to which he had been elected? The missing ingredient in a character intellectually and morally great and a personality far from unimpressive, was the touch of the dramatic discoverable in most of the leaders of men; even in such leaders as William of Orange and Louis XI; as Cromwell and Washington.

There was nothing spectacular about Mr. Tilden. Not wanting the sense of humor, he seldom indulged it. In spite of his positiveness of opinion and amplitude of knowledge he was always courteous and deferential in debate. He had none of the audacious daring, let us say, of Mr. Elaine, the energetic self-assertion of Mr. Roosevelt. Either in his place would have carried all before him.

I repeat that he was never a subtle schemer–sitting behind the screen and pulling his wires–which his political and party enemies discovered him to be as soon as he began to get in the way of the machine and obstruct the march of the self-elect. His confidences were not effusive, nor their subjects numerous. His deliberation was unfailing and sometimes it carried the idea of indecision, not to say actual love of procrastination. But in my experience with him I found that he usually ended where he began, and it was nowise difficult for those whom he trusted to divine the bias of his mind where he thought it best to reserve its conclusions.

I do not think in any great affair he ever hesitated longer than the gravity of the case required of a prudent man or that he had a preference for delays or that he clung tenaciously to both horns of the dilemma, as his training and instinct might lead him to do, and did certainly expose him to the accusation of doing.

He was a philosopher and took the world as he found it. He rarely complained and never inveighed. He had a discriminating way of balancing men’s good and bad qualities and of giving each the benefit of a generous accounting, and a just way of expecting no more of a man than it was in him to yield. As he got into deeper water his stature rose to its level, and from his exclusion from the presidency in 1877 to his renunciation of public affairs in 1884 and his death in 1886 his walks and ways might have been a study for all who would learn life’s truest lessons and know the real sources of honor, happiness and fame.