[letter xix][p. 447]
Washington, July 10th.
I LAST wrote to you, my sweet Agatha, from the National Hotel, a kind of hot oven full of senators and representatives, of traveling gentlemen and ladies, where one was baked soul and body by heat and this high-pressure life, and where I lingered so long merely to remain in company with Miss Lynch, but where we, with our different natures, got on very differently; she in the vortex of social life, of which she is the ornament, I seeking for solitude--the hardest thing to find in such an hotel-world, but of which I, nevertheless, enjoyed a few moments, partly in my own room, partly walking in the gallery of the court, where I listened to the plashing of the water as it fell into the fountain-basin in the middle of the court, and reposing my soul upon a few words or tones which always return in my moments of solitude, always the same, always sufficient to fill soul and sense, so that, like the water of the fountain, they leap up in clear streams, saluting heaven, fructifying early! I can not tell, but you can understand that which I experience at such moments, and that which then lives in my soul; but such moments were not many in the National Hotel, where I lived in daily association with from three to four hundred persons.
To-day I wrote from a tranquil home, where the alanthus and sycamore whisper outside my window, and the lady of the house and I spring around each other as we take a cold bath three or four times a day.
But a truce now to myself, for great and nationally important events have occurred since I last wrote, events which have caused a strong vibration through the whole social and political system of every state of the Union, and have produced an overturning in many things; and it is of these events that I must first speak.[p. 448]
For some few days (5th and 6th of July) it has been mentioned here and there in Washington that the president (General Taylor) was indisposed. He was perfectly well on the 4th (it was on the 3d when I last saw him), but having eaten something which had disagreed with him-- oyster-patty, I should imagine--he had an attack of illness; on the 7th he was said again to be better, and would soon be quite restored.
As I sat, however, yesterday (the 9th) in the Senate House, listening patiently, or more correctly, impatiently, to a long and tedious pro-slavery speech by the senator of South Carolina, Judge Butler, an estimable man and a good friend of mine (always excepting as regards this question), I perceived a thrill, as if from a noiseless electric shock, had passed through the assembly; a number of fresh persons entered by the principal doors, and at once Daniel Webster was seen to stand beside the speaking senator, indicating with a deprecatory gesture that he must interrupt him on account of some important business. The orator bowed and was silent; a stillness as of death reigned in the house, and all eyes were fixed upon Webster, who himself stood silent for a few seconds, as if to prepare the assembly for tidings of serious import. He then spoke slowly, and with that deep and impressive voice which is peculiar to him.
"I have a sorrowful message to deliver to the Senate. A great misfortune threatens the nation. The President of the United States, General Taylor, is dying, and probably may not survive the day."
Again was that silent electrical shock perceptible. I saw many persons turn pale, and I felt myself grow pale also from the unexpected announcement, and from seeing the effect which it had produced. One senator bowed his head upon his hands, as if he heard the thunder of judgment. This movement of astonishment was, however, transient. Mind soon regained its usual tension: the Senate [p. 449] adjourned immediately, and to a man they all poured forth into the city to tell this news or to hear any thing fresh. At the present moment of party strife, and during the contention which is now going forward in Congress, and upon the adjustment of which it is said that the personal character of General Taylor exercised an important influence, the news of his condition has made an immense impression.
At half past ten in the evening the president died, after having taken a beautiful and affecting leave of his family.
"Weep not, my dear wife," he is related to have said to her, who loved him with infinite affection, "I have endeavored to do my duty, and I trust in the mercy of God!"
The day following (the 10th of July), the new president, Vice-president Fillmore, entered upon his office, according to the law of the country, which decrees that in case of the decease of the president the vice-president shall hold his office during the time which yet remains of the full term of government, when a new president shall be elected. The term of presidentship is for four years; and Taylor, I believe, had occupied the seat of president about two years; two, therefore, remained for Fillmore.
It is believed that this hasty elevation is not welcome to him. It is said that, when he was told of Taylor's death, he bowed his head and said, "This is my first misfortune!" and it is said, also, that when, conducted by two of the members of Congress, the one from Massachusetts, the other from Louisiana, he entered the House of Representatives, in order to take the oath, his appearance did not belie this impression. He was very pale, and looked unhappy. That fine, manly figure, which hitherto had borne itself so nobly, now supported, or, rather, dragged in by two unequal figures, who held each one an arm, did not look either well or at his ease. After this trial, the members of the Senate, two and two, or one and one, entered the House of Representatives. Nothing can be simpler than the form by which the new president was inducted [p. 450] into his office. Placing his hand upon the Bible, he promised to defend the Constitution of the United States, called upon God to witness his promise, kissed the book, and--that was all.
The president and senators went out as they had entered. Most of the senators went out in pairs, some arm-in-arm; Clay went alone--indifferent, weary, very much alone, seemed to me both his expression and bearing; Corwin, the senator from Ohio, of whom I shall presently have more to say, a stout little man, resolute and good-tempered, he also walked alone.
The sitting of Congress is now prorogued for three days, until after the interment of President Taylor. But the contending parties, who now prepare themselves for a new turn in affairs, have not prorogued their operations. They labor incessantly, and have no other feeling or thought than their own interests.
Yesterday, as I returned from the Capitol, I heard one young man say to another, "If he dies, then our party will triumph, and, by God, I know that he will die."
And now, while these mighty affairs both rest and are agitated, I will tell you a little about my own concerns.
I spent the 4th of July--that great day in the United States--at Mount Vernon, the estate of Washington, with Miss Lynch, Mr. Andrews, and Mr. Corwin, the senator from Ohio. Mr. Corwin is one of this country's "self-made men." His father was a poor farmer, and the son enjoyed merely a common school education, but has, through his own means, educated and trained himself till he is one of the most celebrated popular orators; and what is still more, a universally esteemed politician, against whom nobody has any thing to say, excepting that sometimes he is too good.
He was a charming and inestimable companion for us; and his conversation, in particular his vivacious and lifelike descriptions--though sometimes a little caricatured-- [p. 451] of his brethren in the Senate, and his imitations of their manner and their tone; his happy humor, which, like a living fountain, forever swelling forth from fresh springs, converted the tedious drive along a wretched road in a shaking carriage, and in the oppressive heat of the day, into a journey of pleasure.
We were received at Mount Vernon by a handsome young couple, the nephew of the great president and his wife. They invited us to cool and rest ourselves, and entertained us with milk and fruit, which were delicious. Henry Clay had given us a letter of introduction to them. The situation of the house, on the banks of the Potomac, is unspeakably beautiful; the park, laid out in the English style, appeared to me extensive, but, like the buildings, to be somewhat out of order. A beautiful mausoleum, containing the bodies of Washington and his wife, stands in the park; and through the grated iron door of the mausoleum the coffins may be seen. I threw in between the iron bars my green branch.
Washington has always appeared to me in life and character to have a resemblance to Gustavus Wasa; although his life was less romantic, and his character more phlegmatic, less impulsive, than the Swedish liberator. Wasa is a more dramatic, Washington a more epic figure; Wasa more of the hero, Washington more of the statesman; Wasa king, Washington president. Large, powerful, kingly souls were they, both worthy to be the governors of free people. Washington, perhaps, stands higher than Wasa, in his pure unselfishness, as the supreme head of the people. In self-government he was almost without an equal; and it is said that only on one single occasion, in a momentary outbreak, did he allow the volcanic workings of his soul to be observed.
The American ideal of a man, "a well-balanced mind," must have its type in the great president. Noble he was, and, when he had done an injustice, would candidly acknowledge [p. 452] it. That which I most admire in his character and life, is his perseverance. He was not without pride in his manner and temper toward others. He had a glance which could strike the insolent dumb; and I have heard it said that his very presence, even if he were silent, always could be felt like a dominant power; but this is the case with all strong characters.
The mother of Washington was a quiet, noble lady, whose "well-balanced mind" seemed to exceed that of her son, and who thought too highly of duty and fatherland to be proud of his achievements, however tenderly she loved him.
"I hope that George will fulfill his duty to his country!" said she, modestly, on one occasion, when his merits were exalted in her presence. The understanding between Washington and his mother seems to have been perfect. Of the understanding between him and his wife I have merely heard this anecdote:
A guest at Mount Vernon happened to sleep in a room adjoining that occupied by the president and his lady. Late in the evening, when people had retired to their various chambers, he heard the lady delivering a very animated lecture to her lord and master upon something which he had done, that she thought should have been done differently; to all this he listened in the profoundest silence, and when she too was silent, he opened his lips and spoke, "Now good sleep to you, my dear."
Portraits and descriptions of her show her to have been a pretty, agreeable, kind, little woman, from whom it really could not have been so disagreeable to have a curtain-lecture.
Washington was the native of a slave state, Virginia, and was himself a slaveholder until just before his death, when he gave his slaves their freedom. It is really remarkable to see in his will, which I have lately read, how nothing appeared to have weighed so much upon his heart [p. 453] as solicitude for the well-being of his slaves. Several pages are occupied by directions for the treatment of those who were to receive their freedom, as well as of those who were old, or infirm, and who, therefore, were to be well cared for until their death. This precision with regard to the kind treatment of the old slaves after his death, places the republican hero of the New World much higher than those of old Rome! The pure humanity of Washington in this respect shines forth with the purest splendor; and it is this pure humanity, still more than his talent as a governor; still more than his glowing patriotism, which makes Washington the great man of the New World--I will not say the greatest, because I am still looking for him. It is also this which calls forth that fervent and unanimous homage which is befitting to him from the people of the New World, and which he obtains also from the people of Europe, and which to this day calls forth encomiums on his memory from the States of America and the Czar of Russia. Washington endeavored in every thing, and above every thing, to be just and true, therefore he stood so firmly, and therefore he stood so purely, during a stormy and unsettled period, a Memnon's statue in the midst of the whirling sands of the desert, unmoved by them, influenced only by the light, and ever giving forth the same pure harmonious tone.
Mount Vernon was the home of Washington's youth; hither he brought his bride, here he lived happily through the whole of his life, whenever he had an interval of rest from the charge of public affairs. Mount Vernon was his favorite residence. Here, in old age, he died in peace, after a well completed and honorable career, able to say, "I am not afraid to die!"
We were alone at Washington's grave on this day, which we spent amid quiet conversation in the park, walking about or sitting on the grass under the shadowy trees; and Mr. Corwin, who during the drive thither had [p. 454] shot right and left, like a master, the arrows of satire and jest, now showed during a serious conversation that profoundly religious mind, that desire to rest in spiritual and eternal truth, which distinguishes the man of the New World, whether he be descended from Cavalier or Puritan; and which is shown in his outward life, however much he may be occupied by the business and the battle of the day. Corwin is a determined anti-slavery man, and will not hear of any compromise with slavery, and is therefore opposed to Clay and his scheme of adjustment. From his description of Clay and his manner of treating persons of different talents and different political views, although the description was somewhat caricatured, I yet obtained a definite idea of Clay's ability as a political leader during a war of opinions.
We returned toward evening, and part of the journey which we made on the Potomac was beautiful; the banks of the river are not here of a great character, but they are nevertheless romantic, and present extensive views over a richly-wooded country, broken into hills and valleys. At Alexandria, a small town on our way, we took a little supper with a kind lady, who seemed to consider her Alexandria as remarkable as we should have considered the old classical city of the same name.
I have visited every day the Senate and the Assembly of Representatives, though generally the former, because I hear well there, and because as a parliamentary assembly it seems, in every case, to stand above the other.
In the House of Representatives no speaker may occupy more than an hour of time. As soon as the hour is at an end, and a little bell rings, another speaker has a right to interrupt him, even should it be in the very midst of his most profound argument, or in the highest flight of his genius, and demand general attention for his speech, which may occupy another hour, after which he again must give place to some one else. And as the speakers in a general [p. 455] way speak with great ease, and have a deal to say, they are anxious to make good use of their power, and that, I suppose, is the reason for the headlong speed with which the speech is hurled forth, like an avalanche, into the House, at least it has been so every time I have been there. A certain kind of hurry-skurry seems to prevail in this house, which contrasts strongly with the decorum of the Senate. There each senator may speak as long as he will, nay even through the whole of the session, if he chose, without any one having a right to interrupt him, except to make an observation or with his consent.
During this talking, however, whether in the Senate or in the House of Representatives, I am often enough reminded of Mr. Poinsett's words, when I praised the American talent for talking, "It is a great misfortune!" But is it better, as regards this misfortune, in other countries in assemblies where people make speeches? And if I do sigh now and then as I listen to a speech, yet I am interested by many on account of their straightforwardness, on account of the subjects upon which they touch, or on account of the speakers themselves. I like both to see and to hear parliamentary assemblies. Human nature seems to me great, when it stands forth and does battle for some high purpose or principle, and if it be possessed of power or of genius, it wins great victories; and I love to see human nature great and important, to see it from its private little world, its isolated point, labor for--the whole world. And even without genius, human nature here presents, as a moral power, an interesting sight merely by its "yes" or "no." Such an assembly is in its operation a grand dramatic scene, and there sometimes occur in it scenes and episodes of much more vital effect than many a one which we witness on the stage.
Some such, at which I have been present here, I will mention to you. But first a word about the scene itself, that is to say, the Senate, because it has an especial interest [p. 456] for me, inasmuch as all the senators represent states, and the characteristic and poetic features of these present themselves to my imagination, in picturesque groups, in the men who represent them. Each state in the Union sends two senators to Congress. These stand up in the Senate, and are addressed not as Mr. this or that, but as the senator of Kentucky, or Massachusetts, or Mississippi, or Louisiana, and so on; and I then immediately see before me an image of Kentucky, or Massachusetts, or Mississippi, or Louisiana, according to what I know of the life and temperament of the states, as well in spirit as in natural scenery, even though the human representative may not answer to it; and the whole fashion and form of this hemisphere stands before me like a great drama, in which Massachusetts and Louisiana, Carolina and Pennsylvania, Ohio and Alabama, and many others, are acting powers with definite individuality. Individuality is again supplied by the surname which chance or the humor of the people have given to some of the states, and according to which it would be easy to christen all. Thus I behold here the Empire State (New York); the Granite State (New Hampshire); the Keystone State (Pennsylvania); the Wolverines (Michigan); and many other tilt and combat with the Giant State (Kentucky); with the Palmetto State (Carolina); the French State (Louisiana); and so on. And the warfare that goes on about the Gold State, called also the Pacific State (California), calls forth all those marked features and circumstances which distinguish and separate the Northern and the Southern States, and which set them in opposition one to the other.
I will now tell you what the great apple of contention looks like, which has been here fought for during the last seven months. Behold![p. 457]
THE COMPROMISE BILL.
The admission of California as a State into the Union, the arrangement of Territorial Administration for Utah (the Mormon State) and New Mexico, as well the project for determining the Western and Northwestern boundary of Texas.
And now a word in explanation: in order that a state can have a right to be admitted as such into the Union, it is necessary for it to have a population of at least fifty-five thousand souls. Until then, every separate portion of the United States land is called territory, and is governed, during the period of its development and minority, more immediately by the Federal administration, which appoints a governor and other officials, and furnishes troops to defend the inhabitants against the Indians or other enemies, whatever they may be, of whom the population of the territory may complain. Every state in the Union has a right to form its own laws, on condition that they do not encroach upon the enactments of the other Federal states, as well as that the form of government be republican. The territory, again, has not the privileges of the state, and people are not yet agreed as to how far its privileges of self-government ought to extend. Well now, California, the population of which became suddenly augmented to above one hundred and fifty thousand souls, principally by emigration from the free Northeastern States, desires to be admitted into the Union as a free state. New Mexico, which in consequence of the Mexican law, is free from slavery, and Utah, which calls its young population "Latter-Day Saints," desire also as territory resolutely to oppose the introduction of slavery.
But as these three states--that which has attained its majority, as well as those which yet remain in their minority--are situated below a geographical line, called the Missouri line, which, accordingly to ancient agreement, is [p. 458] to constitute the line of separation between the Free States and the Slave States, so that all the states north of this line shall have a right to be free from slaves, and all states lying to the south of it have a right to slaves and slave labor; and as three new states would disturb the balance of political power between the North and the South, and give the preponderance to the North and the Free States, therefore do all the men of the South--yet not all--cry, "No! No!" to this; and the ultras among them add, "Rather will we break with the North, and form ourselves into a separate Union--the Southern States Union! We will declare war against the North!"
The Southerners insist upon it that both California and New Mexico shall be open to receive their slave institutions, and beyond this they insist that Congress shall pass a law forbidding the Free States to give harborage and protection to fugitive slaves, and that it shall give to them, the Southerners, the right to demand and obtain the aid of the legislative power in the Free States for the recovery of their human property.
To this the men of the North shout "No! No!" with all their might. And the ultras of their party add, "Rather bloody war! We will never consent to slavery! Away with slavery! We will remain a free people! Congress shall pass a law to forbid slavery in every new state."
Many of the Southerners admit, in the mean time, the right of California to enter the Union as a free state, but deny to the territories any right to legislate for themselves on the question of slavery. The Southerners, in general, maintain that they do not contend for the cause of slavery, but for states'-right and the cause of the Constitution. Many are right in this assertion, but with many others it is easy to see that the interests of slavery color their opposition.
Other questions of contention belong to the same category, as, for instance, whether Columbia, the district in [p. 459] which Washington stands, shall continue to hold slaves or not. There is at the present time, within sight of the Capitol, a gloomy, gray building, half buried in trees, as if ashamed of itself, that is a slave-pen, where slaves are brought up or kept for sale. Washington is situated in the Slave State of Maryland. One portion of the Southerners are anxious to maintain, even here, their beloved domestic institutions, as the phrase is. Another point of contention is the question about the boundaries between Texas and Mexico, and about a strip of land between the Slave State and the yet free territory, or which shall have and which shall give up this piece; and Freedom and Slavery get to fighting anew on this ground about this piece of land.
Such is the aspect which this great apple of discord presents, an actual Gordian knot which seems to demand the sword of an Alexander to sever.
Henry Clay's scheme of compromise says, California shall be introduced into the Union as a free state, according to her wishes; because her population of nearly 200,000 have a right to determine their measures. New Mexico shall wait for the determination of the law, until she is possessed of a population large enough to constitute a state. She shall, in the mean time, continue to be a territory without slaves. And the same with regard to Utah.
On the contrary, the Slave States shall possess the right to demand the restoration of their fugitive slaves, and, if it be necessary, to regain them by the aid of law, as the Constitution has decreed.
Columbia shall be a free district, from which slavery shall be banished.
These, I believe, are the principal points of Clay's scheme to bring about peace between the North and South. Both North and South, however, demand greater concession, each on his own side, and exclaim "No! No!" to the Compromise Bill.[p. 460]
This bill, which has many clauses introduced under the same head, all of which Clay wishes to have carried at the same time, has thence obtained the name of "the Omnibus Bill," and is contested under this appellation. Many senators, who go with Clay on certain points, have separated from him on others; and it seems as if the Omnibus Bill, as such, had nearly the whole Senate against it, although some special questions seem likely to be decided according to Clay's views, among which is the principal one of California's admission into the Union as a free state: but even they who are agreed on important points may fall out with each other about trifles; and the other day I heard Mississippi sharply taken to task by Mississippi for his "disunion tendency," on which the other half of Mississippi cried "Shame on disunionists!"
But now for a little about the dramatis personæ, or such of them as appear to me most remarkable.
Henry Clay has his seat against the wall, to the right of the entrance, is always there, attentive, lively, following the discussion, throwing in now and then a word, and not unfrequently taking himself the lead in it. His cheek and eye have a feverish glow, his voice and words are always energetic, urged on by the impulsiveness of the soul, and compel attention; his arguments are to the purpose, striking, and, seeming to me to bear the stamp of strong conviction, ought to produce conviction in others; and when his strong resounding voice thunders the battle-cry "California" (the last syllable of which he sounds in a peculiar manner) through the Senate, amid the fight for the freedom of California, then they feel that the old warrior leads them forth to victory. Although born in a Slave State, Kentucky, and its representative, and though a slaveholder himself, Clay's sympathies are evidently wholly and entirely in favor of the system of freedom; and at the opening of this session he frankly declared that he never would allow the introduction of slavery into any [p. 461] new state. And herein I recognize the great statesman and the free son of the New World. On a former occasion, also, he proposed a plan by which to free his native land from slavery, and which does not seem to be an impracticable one. It is this: that all children born of slaves, after a certain year--I believe that it was this present year of 1850--should be declared free, and should be brought up in a humane manner in schools, and should be taught mechanical arts and handcraft trades. This project, so noble in its intention, so practical, and which in so rational a manner opens the way for a twofold emancipation, has nevertheless been rejected. The ultras on both sides, in the anti-slavery and pro-slavery camps, will not hear of it. I believe that the concession which Clay, while he is combating for the freedom of California and the neutrality of Mexico, makes to the Southern States, in yielding to their demands with regard to the restoration of their fugitive slaves, is a measure rendered imperative by the necessity of the moment. Since I have been in the Slave States, and seen and heard the bitterness which exists there, in particular in South Carolina, against the conduct and interference of the Northerners in the question of slavery--since I have often heard the wish expressed for separation from the North, which ferments there, and which even makes itself seen in the Senate, I consider this concession to be necessary for the prevention of civil war at the present moment; while the feelings of the South are afresh irritated by the probable accession to the North, of California, and even of New Mexico, and Utah into its group of states. The concession has its legal ground, inasmuch as, conformably with the Constitution of the United States, the states are bound to respect each others' laws, and according to the laws of the Slave States, the slaves constitute a portion of the slaveholder's lawful property.
I perfectly understand the bitterness which the supporters of anti-slavery principles must feel at the thought [p. 462] that their free soil may not be an asylum for the unfortunate slave, and that the slave-catcher may there have a free career, and demand the assistance of the officials of the Free States. I know that I myself would rather suffer death than give up an unfortunate slave who had taken refuge with me; but is there at this moment an alternative between this concession and civil war? Clay seems to consider that there is not, and Daniel Webster seems to coincide with him, though he has not as yet expressed himself openly on Clay's Compromise Bill.
I believe that Clay makes this concession reluctantly, and that he would not have proposed it if he had regarded it as any thing more than temporary, if his own large heart and his statesman's eye had not convinced him that the time is not far distant when the noble heart's impulse of the South will impel them voluntarily to a nobler, humaner legislation as regards the slave question; and that urged on necessarily by the liberal movement of humanity, as well in Europe as in America, the New World will rid itself of this its greatest lie.
And this I also believe, thanks to the noble minds with which I became acquainted in the South--thanks to the free South, which grows and extends itself in the bosom of the Slave States; and who can feel the movement of the spirit over the whole of this vast world's formation without feeling that the Spirit of God floats over the deep, and will divide light from darkness by his almighty--"Be thou light!" The crimson of dawn is already on the hills, and tinging the tops of the forest trees. He who will see it may! I do not dread the darkness conquering here.
Near Clay, and before him in the row of seats, you see the representative of the Granite State, Mr. Hale, from New Hampshire, with a head not unlike that of Napoleon, and a body and bearing like a great fat boy; a healthy, strong, Highland character, immovable in his principles as the Granite Mountains, and with a mind as fresh as [p. 463] the wind which blows around them. A strong anti-slavery supporter, and inflexible toward any concession on this question, he frequently puts the whole House into the best of tempers by his humor, and his witty and sarcastic sallies. I like the man very much. Near to him I see the senator from Texas (the first president of that republican Texas), General Houston, who required a month to travel from his state to Washington. People listen willingly to the magnificent old general, for the sake of the picturesque and fresh descriptions which he introduces in his speeches. His expression is good-tempered and manly, with a touch of military chivalry. He has the peculiarity of cutting little bits of wood with his penknife during all the discussions in the Senate. I also see the senator from Pennsylvania, a man of Quaker-like simplicity, and with a pine and handsome countenance, among the anti-slavery leaders. The two senators from Ohio, Corwin and Chase, are here; the former you are already acquainted with. I see him in the Senate, sitting silent and tranquil; he has already delivered his sentiments on the important subject, and now merely makes occasionally a short observation on some speech of a Southerner. Chase has a remarkably noble and handsome exterior; I have seldom seen a more noble or prouder figure. Such a man in private life must be a dominant spirit, and awaken love or hate. In public he expresses himself firmly, but in few words, for the principle of freedom.
The senator from New York, Mr. Seward, is a little man, not at all handsome, and with that nasal twang which not unfrequently belongs to the sons of Boston. Seward is from that city. Yet, nevertheless, that voice has uttered, during the present session, some of the greatest and noblest thoughts. He is a stout anti-slavery man, and is against any compromise.
"I will labor," said he, lately, at the close of a speech, "for the support of the Union, not by concessions to slavery, [p. 464] but by the advancement of those laws and institutions which make her a benefactor to the whole human race." Good and great!
If I now advance from the point where I began, and on the side of the principal entrance, I find, not far from Clay, a Southerner and a champion of slavery, the senator from Georgia, Judge Berrian, a man of talent and wit, and also a kind and God-fearing man, a man of refinement and high breeding, whom it grieved me to see advocating the dark side of the South, on the plea that he must maintain its rights. He stands now in opposition to Clay on the question of California's right to freedom, and the personal hostility between them has gone so far, that Clay gave up his place at our table d'hôte. (Clay has resumed his seat and Berrian sits at the table.)
In the middle of this camp sits the colossus, Daniel Webster, in his arm-chair, with his sallow cheek and brow, and seems to be oppressed with thought, or with the heat, perhaps with both. I call him a colossus, not because I see in him an overpowering intellectual greatness, but on account of his magnificent head and massive appearance, although he is not a large figure, and because his influence is felt as something colossal. He has been extremely handsome, possessed of a natural, kingly dignity, and is described as having, by his mere presence, exercised an almost magical power over human masses. He is now above sixty, and is still a handsome, powerful man, although years and thought seem to weigh upon him. Clay, though more than seventy, is in appearance a youth in comparison with Webster. Clay is always ready to fire off; Webster seems to deliberate carefully as to the charging of his piece before he applies the match.
The senators of Illinois, General Shields and Judge Douglas, are both small men, but men of talent, and even of genius. In the deep, beautiful eyes of Douglas glows a dark fire which it is said burns with ambitious desires [p. 465] for the office of president; but the same desires influence Clay, Webster, Seward, and many others. He speaks but little, at least in company, but his presence is felt. He looks like an ardent, clever, and determined little man. General Shields, fair, blue-eyed, and with an honest glance, is of a more frank character. He distinguished himself, and was severely wounded, in the war with Mexico. I love to talk with him and to hear him talk. He is an active-minded and warm American, and seems to me to understand the peculiar aspect and vocation of his country.
Let us now cast a glance into the other camp. The hawk from Missouri, Colonel Benton, sits there in the midst of his own people, as well as the lion from Kentucky in the other camp, and just opposite to him. He is one of the oldest senators in Congress, and highly esteemed for his learning, his firmness, and his courage. He has fought a duel, and in cold blood slowly taken aim, and in cold blood shot his man, and he looks as if he could shoot his man in cold blood still. This duel, or, more correctly speaking, his behavior in it, has east a shadow upon his character in the eyes of many. He belongs to the population of "the Borderers" in America, to that class which springs up on the outskirts of the wilderness, and among a half-savage people; he has evidently accustomed himself to club-law; has accustomed himself to go with pistol and bowie-knife (a kind of crooked knife universal as a weapon in the Slave States, and called after its inventor), and which is carried, as our gentlemen carry a penknife and pencil, in the breast pocket. And Colonel Benton is a suitable representative of a slave state, where the wild Missouri pours its turbid waters along its perilous course, forming the western boundaries of the savage mountain land of the Indian tribes, and extending eastward to the gigantic Mississippi, where heathenism still contends for dominion with Christian law--of that yet only half-civilized Missouri may a cold-blooded duellist like Colonel Benton very well be regarded [p. 466] as a worthy representative, where he can, by his resolute will and his determined behavior, make himself both esteemed and feared as a political character. In exterior he is a strong-built, powerful, broad-shouldered, broad-chested man; the forehead is lofty, and the somewhat gray hair rises thin and slightly curled above it; below gleam out a pair of lively, but cold, gray eyes, and between them shoots forth an aquiline nose; the lower part of the countenance is strong, and shows a strong will and strong animal propensities. The figure and expression are powerful, but somewhat heavy, and are deficient in nobility. He has advocated in the Senate the freedom of California, but has opposed Mr. Clay's "Omnibus Bill." In society I have found him candid, extremely polite, and kind; nevertheless, there was a something within me which felt a repulsion to that cool, blood-stained hand. If it were not for this, I should like to see more of the man. His unreserved acknowledgment in the Senate that, although the representative of a slave state, a native of a slave state, and himself a slaveholder, he yet regarded slavery as an evil, and should regard it as a crime to aid in the extension of the curse to territory which had hitherto been free. This manly, candid declaration from a man in his position deserves all esteem, and his vivid description of nature and the circumstances of life in the Western lands, shows both knowledge and talent.
Near to the senator from Missouri, and most striking in the camp of the Southerners, stands forth Soulé, the senator of Louisiana, and forming a strong contrast to the former. The hawk of Missouri is a proper representative of the state, with the wild river and the richly metallic mountains, the boundary of the Indians. The land where the orange glows, where the sugar-cane flourishes, and where French civilization and French manners have been naturalized, ever since they fled thither from France, at the period of its extremest refinement; that flowery, beautiful [p. 467] Louisiana could not have sent to Congress a more worthy representative than the French consul, Soulé. Possessed of that beauty peculiar to the South, with its delicate features, eyes and hair of that rich, dark color which distinguish the Spaniards, and also the handsomest portion of the French population, Soulé has that grace of manner and expression which is forced among the men of these nations, and which is not met with among the Anglo-Saxons and Northmen, however good and handsome they may be. Soulé has come forward in the Senate on the Californian question, to advocate "the rights of the South," but always as a man of genius and tact; and on the occasion of a resolution which was opposed to the interests of Louisiana as a slave state, he also declared himself for the preservation of the Union. His great speech produced a great effect, and I have heard it praised by many. I have read it, and find nothing in it to admire as of a superior character. The rights of the South are the highest object for which he contends, and his highest impulse is a chivalric sense of honor as regards his own honor. "The South must not yield, because the South is the weaker combatant. If the South shall be conquered, no blush of shame must tinge her cheek."
Soulé is a French knight, but not of the highest order, not a Bayard nor a Turenne.
Mr. Dickinson, a cold-blooded senator from Alabama, a man of an acute and stern aspect, highly esteemed for integrity of character in the camp of the Southerners, sits near the inflammable Mississippi, that is to say, the younger of the senators from that state, a young man of handsome person and inflammable temperament, who talks violently for "Southern rights." The other, and elder senator of Mississippi, Mr. Foote, is a little, thin, and also fiery man, whom I believe to be a really warm patriot. He stands for the Union, and his most brilliant moments are when he hurls himself into a violent dithyrambic [p. 468] against all and each who threaten it. The explosions of his indignant feelings almost lift him up from the earth, as the whole of his slender but sinewy frame responds in vehement agitation to the apostrophes of the spirit. These are sometimes so keen and full of rebuke, that I wonder at the coolness with which the Senate, and certain senators in particular, listen to them; but it seems to me as if they listened with that sort of feeling with which a connoisseur regards the clever work of an artist. For the rest, Mr. Foote is always on the alert, quick to interrupt, to make observations, and sometimes calls forth, by his mercurial temperament, a universal smile, but of a good-natured kind, as at the bottom is Mr. Foote himself.
Near the combustible Mississippi I see a young man also handsome, and with features bearing a remarkable resemblance to those of the Indian. That is the senator from Virginia --his name has escaped my memory--and he is said to be a descendant of Pocahontas, the Indian heroine of Virginia. For my part, this is the most remarkable thing about him.
But now, my child, you must have had enough for to-day of politics and political gentlemen. I shall write more when I have seen more.
Two deputies from the Mormonites may also be seen in the Senate (yet not within the Senate, but in the outer court), who present to Congress the request from the Mormon people --now rapidly increased to the number of 12,000 souls--to be admitted into the Union, and the protection of its troops against the Indians. This remarkable sect has, since it was expelled from its first settlement on the Mississippi by the people of Illinois, wandered far out into the West, beyond the Indian wilderness, Nebraska; and have founded a flourishing community, in a fertile valley bordering on a vast Indian lake, called the Great Salt Lake, in Upper California. I have not yet heard any thing very creditable about the government or [p. 469] the customs of the people. Their Bible, however--the Mormon Bible--I have been able to borrow here. It contains, first, the whole Christian Bible, after that an addition of some later pretended prophets, of whom Meroni and Mormon are the last. In the prophecies of these men is given a closer and more definite prophecy of Christ; nay, indeed, almost the whole of his history, and many of his words, but nothing new in religious doctrine, as far as I can discover. The peculiarity of the sect seems to be based upon the assertion that their prophet, Joe Smith, is descended directly from these later Christian prophets, and has obtained, by miraculous communication, portions of their books, as well also as of their spiritual gifts and power to communicate these gifts to others, by which means they are all brought into a closer communication with Christ than any other Christians.
How a man, who evidently, in many cases, was a deceiver, could obtain so great an influence over thousands of people in the present Christian state of society, and was able to form them into a vast organized body, according to his law, seems scarcely comprehensible, unless it be by supposing that this man was really possessed of some extraordinary powers, partly of a prophetic kind (and we hear of many such, similar to the oldest prophetic skill, even in the present day, as, for instance, the second-sight of the Scotch Highlanders), and partly of worldly prudence. He was shot during the war with Illinois, and he is said to have distinctly foretold the time and the manner of his death; but the Mormon people continue to be led by men who adhere to his laws, and who pretend to be guided by his spirit. The habits and organization of the community is said to be according to the Christian moral code, and extremely severe.
I must now tell you something about my new home. It is at the house of Mr. Johnson, the Professor of Geology. He is now from home on a scientific journey, but [p. 470] is shortly expected back. His wife, her sister, and two adopted children, a handsome girl of fifteen, and a boy of thirteen, compose the whole family. Mrs. Johnson zealously denounces slavery, and as zealously advocates hydropathy. She sees the root of all evil in the former, and a cure for all evil in the latter; hers is a thoroughly good, sincere, open-hearted, excellent character, with a great deal of fresh originality. Her sister, who is several years younger, is a Quakeress, and has one of those pure, lovely countenances so general among the women of this sect, with a quiet, intelligent manner. She always wears white, and every morning the breakfast-table is ornamented with fresh roses, which she gathers in her morning walk in the park of the Capitol; one or two roses are laid for each person, just as we used to have them at Aersta. Miss D. is the ideal of a poetical Quakeress, and now and then she introduces a line or two of beautiful poetry into her conversation, but always appropriately and agreeably. I feel refreshment and repose from her very presence. Mrs. J. makes me experience the same with her cold baths, the fresh originality of her character, and those disputes which, to my great amusement, I almost always hear between her and Dr. Hebbe; and, above all, by the delicious peace and freedom which she affords me in her excellent home.
Washington, July 14th.
It is Sunday, and I have remained at home from church to rest and converse with you. It is very hot, but the sycamore-tree outside my window casts a shadow, and all is kept cool by the green Venetian shutters.
And now you are indeed with mamma at Aersta, my little Agatha, and are living out in the summer air and among the flowers. May every thing else at home afford you summer benefit also, and enable you to enjoy your rural life!
Here every thing is again in perfect warfare. President [p. 471] Taylor reposes in his quiet grave, sincerely lamented by his nearest friends, and by his comrades on the field of battle. His funeral was performed with some pomp, but much less than that of Calhoun in Charleston, and attracted much fewer spectators. Political parties seemed to prepare themselves for renewed combat over his grave, and those impulses which his death seemed to have called forth in Congress toward the consideration of subjects higher than selfish and worldly interests, appear now buried with him. Mr. King, the senator from Alabama, is now the speaker in place of Mr. Fillmore, and occupies the post with somewhat more acerbity of manner and considerably less grace. Newspaper articles are now showered down on Fillmore, who has all at once become the greatest man of the United States, scrutinizing him, his life, his conduct, his talents, character, &c., on all sides. A statesman in this country stands like a helmsman on his ship, exposed alike to all winds and weather, so that he soon becomes so weather-proof as not to trouble himself, let it blow as it may. This character of helmsman is one, however, which suits every public man, statesman, official, or author. Let the wind blow how it may, there is but one thing to attend to, one thing to ask about, namely, whether he steer according to the compass, which, in this case, is the conscience or conscientious conviction.
The biography of Fillmore shows that he also is one of the New World's "self-made men;" that his father was a poor farmer, and that the boy enjoyed only a common school education; that as a boy he learned the tailoring trade, then was a schoolmaster, and after that a writer with a lawyer, who, having observed the promising endowments of the youth, took him into his employment. His talents are not considered of the highest order; but he is praised for his character and good sense. A deal has been said about the fact of his only daughter having been at the time of his elevation, and being still, a teacher in a [p. 472] ladies' school; yet not as a common teacher, but occupying for one year the situation of teacher in a school, where all the pupils must hold this office for one year before they are considered as perfectly taught.
I have, my little Agatha, nothing to say about myself excepting what is good. I live in a world full of interest, and almost every day furnishes acquaintance and conversation, which call forth more thought than I shall be able to work out for many a day, and all of which is exciting in this great heat. But let me be as weary and as much exhausted as I may, yet with the first word of real, vital interest, my heart beats afresh, my nerves are braced, and I feel myself again as strong and as full of life as ever. And I have nowhere had conversations so full of universal interest as since I have been here; but this must be taken into consideration, that a great deal of the wisdom of the United States is now concentrated here, in and around Congress; for they who desire to carry out any generally beneficial reforms or plans come hither to present their petitions to Congress, to talk with the members, or to watch the progress of their affairs. Among these gentlemen is a Mr. Tomsens, who is working for post-office reform, reduction of the rate of postage throughout the whole Union, similar to the reform in England in this respect; and there is reason to believe that the thing will be carried. Mr. T., besides this, interests me by the interest he takes in the higher development of woman, and his correct views as regards its influence on the whole race. If the choice should be given me of affording education to the men or to the women of a nation, I should begin with the women, said he. But this view is tolerably general among the thinking men of the New World. T. is struck, as I have been, by the marked character of the Quaker women, and considers that it has its origin in their being early accustomed to self-government, and from their early participation in the business of civil life.[p. 473]
Professor Henry is one of the most amiable scientific men whom I ever met with, and his conversation affords me great pleasure. We one day talked about the supreme and universal laws; Henry remarked that the closer we advanced toward these the simpler they appeared, and added, "In order to comprehend them in their highest truth, an angel's mind and an angel's glance are requisite."
For the rest, Henry is, like Oersted, a worshiper of the laws of nature, yet without wishing to receive the natural phenomena as having reference to a spiritual world of nature, far richer than that portion which is alone considered real. And on this point I stand at issue with Henry, as I did with Oersted; but no matter what men are, what they do is the important thing, not what they are not, or what they can not do. One and all have to turn their own talent to good account. We all know that; but we so often forget it--while we blame and criticise.
Mr. Carey, the political economist, talked with me yesterday for certainly more than an hour about the true states' formation. According to him, the true and permanent states' erection must not resemble the pillar, but the pyramid. The pillar corresponds with the European monarchical form of government. But it can not support any large additional weight without falling to pieces under it. Some years ago, when Carey saw Louis Philippe in France, concentrating the power and dominion upon himself and his dynasty, he remarked, "That can never last long! That will go to pieces!"
And so it did in very short time. The true form of government, that which will defy time and tempests, must have a broad basis, and from this build upward; such is the form of the pyramid; such is the form of the United States government--from which, raised on the basis of public education and equal civil rights, the national weal ascends firmly and immovably on its foundation, like the Andes and the Alps of the earth. This comparison is good, and [p. 474] the argument is just. Less striking appears to me his theory of national economy, which would make the productions of the earth equal to its population, and render death, at least as far as his great agents, war and pestilence, go, unnecessary there--unnecessary especially as the means of making breathing-room for the survivors. I rejoice in all theories, and all efforts which tend in this direction, because they always admit light, and breathing-room, and hope upon earth. But, nevertheless, it seems to me clear that an island which will very well support ten persons, never can support equally well ten hundred.
Yes, but say they, an island, a little circumscribed space, with circumscribed resources and means, and the whole earth! but what, indeed, is the whole earth more than a small, a very small island floating in the ocean of the universe? Has it any thing more than circumscribed resources? Can it, even if the whole of its surface were plowed up, be any thing else than a nursery, where the trees would soon choke one another if they were not thinned out; a colony for pilgrims who must emigrate to new worlds?
Ah! next to being nourished by this our earth, I know no more joyful privilege than the hope of being able to leave it, to be able to emigrate from it to a larger, freer, better world. But if national economy and science did no more than render death a peaceful member of society, who came merely to the aged, and came like their best friend, sleep, that would be glorious!
Horace Mann, the great promoter of education, is a man of strong, immeasurable hope. I was depressed in mind when I talked with him, but he inspired me with a feeling of new courage. On his forehead (one of those vernal foreheads which are arched upward with aspiring ideas) one sees the man who, merely through the influence of his brain, has erected large, airy halls of learning [p. 475] throughout the Northern States, and who has elevated the whole social system. His views are summarily these:
We inherit capacity of mind, and good and bad qualities from our parents; one generation inherits from another. The sins and the virtues of the parent, according to the words of the Scriptures, are visited, punished, or rewarded in the person of his children and children's children. By diffusing the influence of good education through the whole people, will the whole people be elevated, and the next generation similarly treated, and having inherited a higher nature, will be elevated still more, and so on infinitely.
Horace Mann talks on this subject with a faith which might remove mountains. He is, like Carey, a heroic nature, and is not sparing of those who oppose him, and not much liked by those who desire to live in an inactive state of mind. I, who merely opposed him to hear more of his views, have merely learned from them that which I was glad to learn.
Both these men are in the prime of life, are slender in person, youthful and lively in manner, with that beam of genius which, lighting up the countenance, is its highest beauty.
I meet with many persons here whose peculiar talent or sound reason is illumined by this ray from above, which, wherever we find it, produces such an enlivening effect. And here, where every political question bears publicly or privately a close relation to the highest interests of humanity, to the highest well-being and object of humanity, and which may be dealt with accordingly; here, where the social circles are at this moment and in this city merely a drawing-room to Congress, every conversation seems naturally to turn upon questions of the most vital importance, and to receive vitality therefrom.
Never, since the time when, yet quite young, I met with Montesquieu's "Essai sur l'esprit des Lois," and in profound [p. 476] solitude at Aersta lived in this book, or, rather, in the thoughts which it awoke on the relationship between mankind and government, have I, until now, so much lived in and occupied myself with such thoughts.
July 16th. But if a stranger came to Washington at this time, and gazed out from the Capitol over that glorious country, and let his thoughts extend themselves further yet over the territory of the United States, from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean; if he here took his stand during the sitting of Congress, and saw the star-spangled banner of the United States floating from the Capitol, and thought,
"How great, how glorious must it be for the men within to glance forth, and think that over this grand, this affluent land, over this hemisphere of the world a life of liberty extends!"
Would he not be startled and amazed when he heard the answer from within the Capitol:
"No, of slavery !"
Would he not be startled, and believe that he heard incorrectly; would he not believe any thing rather than such a monstrous assertion, such a frightful lie in a land, the fundamental law of which says, "We regard this truth as self-evident, that all mankind are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the endeavor after happiness," &c.
And yet, if a stranger were now to come to Washington and listen to the voices of the Capitol, he would hear nothing but the abnegation of liberty.
I acknowledge that I felt extreme indignation to hear day after day in the Senate pro-slavery speeches from the men of the South, without hearing a single word in reply from the side of the anti-slavery party. I asked in astonishment, what was the cause of this? And for reply was told that the anti-slavery party had already fired off all [p. 477] their guns, and that now the other side must have their turn to talk, after which they would proceed to voting, when the protest against slavery would be availing without talking. From some speeches which I heard in the beginning, and from the printed speeches of William H. Seward and other members of Congress which I have read, I see that their declarations are correct, and I can only deplore that I arrived here during this period of the discussion.
It is, however an important step forward in political life that the discussion of the question of slavery is perfectly open; a few years since it was forbidden, on pain of death, in Congress. Courageous men, friends of humanity and public feeling, have broken down this barrier; and the combat about freedom and slavery has at this time more forcibly concentrated itself upon the inner bearing of the question, during which the instincts of humanity and noble thoughts have been called forth, even as in a landscape alps shoot upward, upon whose lofty brows the ascending sun casts his earliest beams. Among these noble thoughts is this, that God's law is higher than the laws of the state, and that, empowered by this, the community has a right to oppose the latter if they are contradictory to the former.
This is, in fact, merely an application of the first principle of the American Declaration of Independence to the question now under contention. But the Idealists of the North gave it utterance at this time, with a force and beauty which makes it clear to me that sooner or later it will become the standard of freedom in the strife. The opposite party, in return, say that they do not understand this talk about a law which is higher than the Constitution and fidelity to it. And this is even said by Daniel Webster, the representative of the Pilgrim State; his watchwords are "The Constitution and the Union." These are his gods, and there is no God superior to them in his eyes.
July 18th. Yesterday I heard a very remarkable speech from Webster in the Senate, which impressed me greatly [p. 478] in his favor. I have hitherto lived much with the enemies and political opponents of Webster, and have heard him attacked and keenly criticised in many ways. I am now convinced that he may be perfectly honest in his convictions, and I will believe that he is so. He spoke for Clay's Compromise Bill, gave in his full adherence to it, declaring that he considered it, at the present moment, as furnishing the necessary terms of reconciliation between the contending states, and that he considered this reconciliation necessary to the stability and the future welfare of the Union.
He said, "I have faith in a wise mediatrix, in a healing vitality in the nation as well as in private individuals, and that, whatever may be the faults and short-comings with which we are now chargeable, yet that we shall all the sooner rid ourselves of these, if we only hold together in a high-minded spirit of forbearance, instead of rending asunder our band in blind over-haste."
"As to Utah," said Webster, "let her sit upon her salt plain, on the shores of her salt lake, for yet a few years, if it is necessary," which called forth a general smile. He then summed up in strong, short sentences, each sentence a picture, the record of what each different state, the Pilgrim as well as the Palmetto State, had been to each other during their war of Independence; what they had suffered, how they had striven together for the general good, and ended by admonishing them to turn their regards from private interests to the common weal, to maintain the Constitution which their fathers had founded, and to practice more than ordinary virtue! "As far as myself am concerned," said he, "I will stand by the Union and all who stand by it. I propose to stand firmly by the Constitution, and need no other platform. I will do justice to the whole nation; I will recognize only our country; let the consequences to myself be whatever they may, I trouble not myself about that. No man can suffer too much, or [p. 479] fall too soon, if he suffer and if he fall in defense of his country's freedom and Constitution!"
Webster had begun his speech calmly, heavily, and without apparent life. Toward the end of the speech his cheek had acquired the glow of youth, his figure became more erect, he seemed slender and full of vivacity; and as he spoke the last concluding words, he stood in full manly, almost Apollo-like beauty, in the midst of that fascinated, listening assembly, stood, still calm, without any apparent design, but as if reposing himself, happy and free, in the quiet grandeur of the song which he had sung. Ah! that he had but sung one still more beautiful--a yet nobler song, all then had been perfect--a victory for the light as for himself! But while he spoke for the freedom of California, he spoke also for the recapturing of the fugitive slave, even upon that formerly free soil, and no spot of American soil may ever again be said to be the home of freedom. The unhappy circumstances of the time, political necessity compelled him to this step; he could not do otherwise--so I believe; and I believe also in his confession of faith, "I believe in a healing vitality in the people," &c.; and believe that it will show itself prophetically true.
I will, however, now tell you the impression produced by this speech. I never witnessed any thing which more took hold upon the attention, or had a more electrifying effect. Amid the profound silence with which he was listened to, nay, as if the whole assembly held its breath, burst forth again and again thunders of applause; again and again was the speaker, the senator from Alabama, obliged to remind, and finally very severely to remind, the audience in the galleries that it was forbidden thus to give expression to their applause. With every new lightningflash of Webster's eloquence burst forth anew the thunder of applause, which was only silenced by the desire to listen yet again to the speaker. From this fairly enchanted [p. 480] audience I turned my glance to one countenance which beamed with a joy so warm, so pure, that I could not do otherwise than sympathize in the liveliest manner, for this countenance was that of Webster's wife. I have heard it said that when she first heard her husband speak in public she fainted; yet she looks like a strong, and by no means a nervous woman.
No one can, even in the effect which it produces, form too high an idea of Webster's power as a speaker; of the classical beauty and strength of his language, or the power and deep intensity of voice with which he utters that to which he desires to give strong effect. If this is not an unusually great natural power--for it has the appearance of being altogether simple and natural--then it is very great art. Our Archbishop Wallin is the only speaker whom I have heard who in this respect resembles Webster, and who was possessed of an equal power over his hearers.
In general, the speakers in this country scream too much; they are too violent, and shout and roar out their words as if they would be very powerful. Henry Clay is free from this fault, but he is evidently more impulsive and has less control over himself than Webster. Although the Compromise Bill has now both these great statesmen on its side, yet it is the general opinion that it will not be carried, at least in its present omnibus character--nay, that it is lost already. Henry Clay, who has battled for it these seven months, fights for it still, almost like a dying gladiator, and it really quite distresses me to see him, excited and violent, almost like a youth, with trembling, death-like hands, so thin and pallid are the fingers, push back the white locks from the lofty brow over which they are continually thrown by the violent movements of his head while he is speaking or replying to attacks made upon him in the Senate. Webster is more beautiful, and calmer in his whole demeanor. Nevertheless, I see in [p. 481] Clay the patriotic hero, who will conduct his native land and his countrymen onward along the path of freedom; while Webster, with all his beauty and his power as an orator, is to me merely like a great national watchman, who keeps watch that the Constitution does not take fire in any of her old corners. Webster is a mediator; a man of the Union. He is a pacificator, but not a regenerator.
July 20th. I am never able to write to you when I wish; my time is so much occupied. The great question yet remains undecided in Congress, and statesmen fight for it to the death. Since I have seen the personal contests here, nothing appears to me more natural than the enthusiasm of the Americans for their statesmen, because heroic virtue and heroic courage is required in this intellectual combat, and that of a much higher quality than is called forth in bloody war. Yet neither is this war bloodless, although blood may not be seen to flow; the best blood of the human heart wells up and is consumed here amid the keen conflict of words.
I was yesterday witness of a single combat between the lion of Kentucky and the hawk of Missouri, which made my blood boil with indignation. Colonel Benton had, the day before, made a violent attack on Clay's Compromise Bill, during which he said, "The bill is caught in the fact -- flagrante delicto--I have caught it by the neck, and here hold it up to shame and opprobrium before the public gaze" (and with this Mr. Benton held the bill rolled up aloft in his hand), "caught it just as it was about to perpetrate its crime, just as it was about to," &c., &c. Of a truth, for three whole hours did Benton labor, with a real lust of murder, to crush and annihilate this "monster," as he called Clay's bill--to attack even Clay himself with all kinds of weapons, endeavoring to hold him up also to public disapprobation and public derision in a manner which betrayed hatred and low malice. This attack occupied nearly the whole of the day.[p. 482]
Yesterday Clay rose to reply, and called upon the Senate to disapprove of expressions such as those that I have given; but by this he only irritated the wild beast of Missouri to a still more personal attack, and I felt an abhorrence of that evidently cold-blooded delight with which he, when he had discovered a weak place in Clay's position, seemed to gripe him in his claws and regularly dig into his flesh and blood. Pardon me, my child, for using so coarse an expression, but I only paint, and that in water-colors, the character of the transaction. Among other things, I remember the following:
Benton mentioned some points in the bill regarding which, he said, he had noticed Clay to be sensitive. "I see," said he, "that the senator of Kentucky is particularly impatient about that passage. I shall, therefore, at once dissect it, I shall at once apply the knife to its quivering nerves!" and with this he turned up his coat-sleeves--perhaps unconsciously-- as if preparing himself for an operation which he should perform with gusto. I saw before me the cold-blooded duellist, perhaps turning up thus his sleeves that he might have his wrists at liberty slowly to take aim, and finally to shoot his adversary. How I abhorred that man and his ignoble mode of combat! A strong, noble anger is a refreshing sight to witness; but this beast of prey's lust of torture--shame!
That the lion of Kentucky felt the claws and the beak of the hawk, I could see by the glow on his cheek, and by his hasty, feverish movements when he rose once or twice in self-defense. Yet all the more did I admire his not allowing himself to go into any personality, nor yet to retort in any other way than by remaining silent during a great part of his adversary's tedious operation, and by his continuing to be a gentleman vis-à-vis a beast of prey, who gave himself up to the coarse instincts of his nature. But I could not help being surprised that, during the long time that this quarrel lasted, no high-minded sentiment [p. 483] was excited in the Senate against this mode of bearing arms. I longed that it might. The Scandinavian pagans combated in a more chivalric manner. I was also astonished in the evening, when in company, not to find that my feeling with regard to Senator B.'s conduct was general.
"I am much mistaken, Miss ----," said Senator H. to a young lady, a literary lioness now in Washington, "if you were not cordially delighted by Benton's treatment of Clay."
"Yes," replied she, "I enjoyed it heart and soul; it was a regular treat to me!"
Clay has not, however, always shown in the Senate the same moderation and superiority in political quarrels, and not very long since, in a contest with Benton, he indulged in a coarseness something like his own; but that was merely for a moment. That violence which with Clay is paroxysm, is natural to Benton; the former is excited, the latter falls into it from an almost incredible arrogance. Clay is surprised into it; Benton has it always at hand.
To-day, when, later than usual, I entered the Senate, Clay was speaking; he was not expected to speak to-day, but something which had occurred during the discussion had excited him, and I now saw him in one of those moments when his impassioned ardor carried along with it, or controlled, the surrounding multitude. He stood with his hands closed, and his upturned countenance directed to heaven, and with a voice, the pathos and melody of which I now for the first time properly estimated, declared the purity of his intentions, and that he desired nothing but the well-being of his country. "What is there to tempt me?" asked he. "At my age a man stands nearer to heaven than earth, and is too near leaving the latter for him to be seeking reward there. The approval of my conscience is the only thing which can sustain me through the conflict."[p. 484]
Every one listened in silence. I felt a deep sympathy with the solitary champion, who stood here so alone among enemies, addressing a prejudiced audience, and without a friend. But the isolated state is the highest grandeur on earth, if a man knows that the Supreme Judge is his friend, or at least his one confidant.
On Monday Clay is expected to make his last great, perhaps his dying speech, on the Californian question, after which it will probably be soon decided, and Clay, in any case, will leave Congress and go to the sea-side. I shall yet remain here a few days on purpose to hear him.
I shall now tell you of some other persons and occurrences here which have interested me. Among the former is a scientific man, Mr. Schoolcraft, who has discovered the springs of the Mississippi, far up in the Northern province, Minnesota. He has been very much among the North American Indian tribes, and has a deal to tell about them which is very interesting. He is now busy occupied in bringing out a work on them, and the country around the Upper Mississippi. He walks on crutches, in consequence of lameness, but the soul moves itself unimpeded. He is an interesting and very good-natured man.
He and two other persons here have excited in me the greatest inclination to visit the Upper Mississippi, the character of which is described to me as being very magnificent; to go among the Indians and see something of their wild life, and to make a journey down the valley of the Mississippi, in its whole extent, from the North to New Orleans, in the South. I must see this great future home of a population vaster, it is said, than that which the whole of Europe now contains. Since I have seen the southern parts of North America, I have obtained an idea of the life of the West, and see the truth of Waldo Emerson's words, "The poet of America has not yet appeared." And if I can not see the poet yet, I must see his muse, the goddess of song which shall inspire him [p. 485] have at least a glimpse into the grandeur of her kingdom, and of the powers which she commands in nature; be able to form an idea of the life and development of those future generations which she will bring forth.
I saw in Mr. Schoolcraft's Collection of Indian Curiosities, among other things, small flutes, which the enamored Indians make use of when they would declare their passion to the object of their affections. They paint and adorn themselves in their best manner, and go out in the quiet evening or night, and blow upon the flute in the neighborhood of the tent or wigwam of their beloved. If the fair one be propitious to the lover, she shows herself outside the tent, and sometimes comes forth to him, and allows herself to be carried away. This flute is a very imperfect instrument, and the Indians, who are possessed of but very small musical powers, produce from it only a low note, almost without melody, resembling the whistling or twittering of a bird. Mr. S. has had the kindness to give me some paintings of Indian life and manners; one of them represents such a nocturnal wooing. It is not far removed from the life of the animal; one seems to see a fine bird whistling to his little mate.
I have had a view of the moon from the Observatory, through a very good telescope; have seen its sleeping "Mare Vaporum," its mountains and valleys, and the chasm in one of its mountains, better than I had hitherto done. It is a pity that this beautiful Observatory has so unhealthy a site on the banks of the Potomac, so that no astronomer can live here without endangering his health.
I went one day with a handsome, young, new-married pair, and Miss Dix, to the "Little Falls" on the Potomac, in a wild and picturesque district. There dwells here, in great solitude, a kind of savage, with seven fingers on each hand, and seven toes on each foot. He is a giant in his bodily proportions, and lives here on fish; be is said to be inoffensive when he is left at peace, but dangerous [p. 486] if excited. I can believe it. He looked to me like one of those Starkodder natures, half human and half enchanter, which the old Scandinavian ages produced at the wild Falls of Trollhätta, and which the wildernesses of America seem to produce still.
Another curiosity, but of smaller dimensions, I saw also, not however in the wilderness, but in the Capitol. I was in the House of Representatives. There were not many people in the gallery, and I went forward toward the railing, so that I might hear more distinctly what was said in the hall below. Here stood beside me a little lady, meanly attired, and about middle age, but so short that she scarcely reached my shoulder. Several persons came up into the gallery to speak to me, and by this means my name was mentioned. When they were gone, my little lady turned to me, wishing also to shake hands with me and bid me welcome, which she did in quite a friendly manner, but added, in a tone of vexation, "I am very much disappointed in you!"
"Indeed!" said I; "and why?"
"Well," said she, eyeing me with a grave and displeased glance, "I expected that you would have been a tall lady."
"Oh!" said I, smiling, "did you wish, then, to find me tall?"
"No, not precisely! But I am very much disappointed in you!"
And with that she laid her hand upon her breast, and turning herself to me, she continued, with great emphasis, "In me you see a descendant of the old Pilgrims, a lineal descendant of the great and celebrated Miles Standish!"
The little descendant evidently expected that I should fall down from sheer astonishment, but I merely said, "Oh!" If I had had spirit enough I should have added, "I am very much disappointed in you! for the great granddaughter of the great Miles Standish ought at least to have been six feet high!"[p. 487]
But like a little descendant of the great Vikings, I did not think that it became me to do battle with a great grand-daughter of the Pilgrims about our respective heights, and therefore I merely indicated my satisfaction both by glance and lips, which she could explain as she pleased. She explained it probably to her advantage, because she went on to communicate to me, in a weighty manner, the business which now had brought her to Congress. The little lady was grave and important, Puritanic to the last crumb; but not, I should imagine, very like the old Puritan, her ancestor.
I must now give you a little domestic news. Professor Johnson is come back. When his wife read his letter, which announced his speedy return, she jumped for joy, and I jumped too in sympathy, and from the pleasure which I felt in again seeing one of those happy marriage connections which it is my delight to witness, and so many of which I have already seen in the New World. The expected husband came the next day, a strong, kindhearted, excellent, and good-tempered man, who adds considerably by his presence to the richness and well-being of home, even as far as I am concerned, inasmuch as he reads aloud to me in the afternoons and any evenings when I am disengaged, or when the weather--which has now been wet for a couple of days--prevents my going out. In this way he has read to me Governor Seward's excellent biography of the late President Adams, which has struck me particularly from the heroic character of the noble statesman in his struggle against slavery. A great statesman in this country must be, at the same time, a sage and a hero, if he is to be adequate to his post.
I spend most of my forenoons at the Capitol, and generally in the Senate. In the afternoons some of my friends among the senators frequently drive me out to various places in the neighborhood; and in the evenings I receive visitors. During such a drive to-day with Governor Seward, [p. 488] he related to me the circumstance in his life which aroused his inextinguishable abhorrence of slavery, and his unwavering opposition to it.
Yesterday afternoon I drove with the senators from Illinois and Miss Lynch to an old battle-field, now a churchyard, on the banks of the Potomac. When I stood with General Shields, and beheld from this spot the extensive view of the river banks, scattered with hamlets and churches, and villas and cottages, amid their garden-grounds, he exclaimed, as he pointed it out, "See! This is America!" And so it is. The true life of the New World is not to be seen in great cities, with great palaces and dirty alleys, but in the abundance of its small communities, of its beautiful private dwellings, with their encircling fields and groves, in the bosom of grand scenery, by the sides vigorous rivers, with mountains and forests, and all appliances for a vigorous and affluent life. One of the peculiar appliances for this vigor and affluence of life are the magnificent rivers, the many streams of water with which North America abounds, and which promote the circulation of life, both physically and spiritually, and which bring into connection all points of the Union one with another. The circulation of life and population is already very great in the United States, and it becomes greater every day by means of new steam-boat communication and new rail-roads. The North travels to the South, and the South to the North, to and fro, like shuttles in the weaver's loom, partly for business, partly on account of the climate. The Northerners love, during the winter months, to warm themselves in summer air, and to gather flowers in Carolina and Florida (as well as in Cuba, which, indeed, lies out of the political, but not out of the natural Union); and the Southerners escape their always enervating summer, during the months of May, June, July, August, and September, and seek to invigorate themselves on the cool lakes of Massachusetts and New York, or among the White Mountains of the Granite Stato.[p. 489]
The North and the South could not dispense with one another--could not break up the Union without the life's-blood of the body politic becoming stagnant and the life itself being endangered. And the great statesmen here know that, and endeavor in the present contest, by means of a compromise, to keep the circulation unimpeded. The ultras of the anti-slavery party maintain that it will go on of itself nevertheless, that for twenty years has this cry of danger to the Union been heard, and that in reality there is no danger at all. But--I have many acquaintance of more than ordinary interest among the men of Washington; but I will tell you about them when we meet. I have not become acquainted with any ladies who interest me, excepting those of this family, with the exception of Miss Dix. A young and really gifted poetess, Miss C., is too much of an Amazon for my taste, and with too little that is noble as such. She has both heart and genius, but of an unpinned kind. If I saw more of her, we might perhaps approximate more. As it is, our approximation is somewhat like that of a pair of rebounding billiard-balls. The sketches of the members of Congress and of the transactions in the Capitol, which she has published during the present sitting of Congress in one of the papers of the city, are brilliant, bold, and often striking; but they are sometimes likewise deficient in that which --I find deficient in herself. They have excited here the attention which they merit. Another gifted authoress also, who has begun to excite attention by her novels, is too much wrapped up in herself. Mrs. W. and Mrs. P. I like; but then I have so little time to see those whom I do like. I see every day in the gallery of the Senate many elegant toilets, and very lovely faces, which seem to show themselves there--only to be seen. Again and again, as I gaze on those lovely faces, I am obliged to say silently, regarding their expression, "How unmeaning!" And involuntarily, but invariably, I am impressed more and more [p. 490] with the conviction that the women of America do not, in general, equal that good report which some European travelers have given of them. I would that it were otherwise. And the beautiful examples which I have seen of womanly dignity and grace do not contradict my opinion. But it is not the fault of the women. It is the fault of their education, which, even when it is best, merely gives scholastic training, but no higher training for the world and social life. I can not help it. The men of America appear to me, in general, to surpass the women in real development and good breeding. And it is not to be wondered at. The American man, if he have received only a defective school education, enters early into that great school of public and civil life, which in such manifold ways calls forth every faculty, every power, and whatever capacity for business nature has endowed him with. Thus he becomes early familiar with the various spheres of life, and even if he should not fathom any of them, still there are no cardinal points in them which are foreign to him, so far as they have reference to the human weal and the well-being of social life. Besides, he acquires, through his practical life, local and peculiar knowledge, so that when one converses with a man in this country, one is always sure of learning something; and should he have received from Mother Nature a seed of a higher humanity, then shoot up, as if of themselves, those beautiful examples of mankind and man, which adorn the earth with an almost perfected humanity, some of which I have become acquainted with under the denomination of "self-made men."
July 21st. I have been to-day to a Methodist church of free negroes. The preacher, also a negro, and whom I had seen in a shop in the city, had a countenance which bore a remarkable resemblance to an ape; he had, however, that talent of improvisation, and of strikingly applying theoretical truths to the occurrences of daily life, [p. 491] which I have often admired among the negroes. This man possesses in a high degree the power of electrifying his audience; and as it is the custom in the Methodist churches to give utterance to the feelings and thoughts, it caused an extraordinary scene on this occasion-- so vehement were the cries and expressions of emotion.
The theme of the preacher was a common one--conversion and amendment, or death and damnation. But when he spoke of different failings and sins, his descriptions were as graphic as his gestures. When he spoke about the sins of the tongue, he dragged this "unruly member" out of his mouth, and shook it between his fingers very energetically. On his admonishing his audience to bid farewell to the devil, and turn away from him (after he had vehemently proclaimed the damnation which the Evil One would drag them into), his expressions took such a strong and powerful hold of his hearers, that the whole assembly was like a tempestuous sea. One heard only the cry, "Yes, yes!" "Farewell! forever!" "Yes, Amen!" " Never mind!" "Go along!" "Oh God!" "Farewell!" "Amen, amen!" &c. And besides these convulsive groans, cries, and howls, the assembly was ready for any extravagance, whatever it might have been, if the preacher had willed it. The swell of excitement, however, soon abated when the sermon was ended.
After that, a noble instance of social feeling occurred. The preacher announced that a slave, a member of the congregation, was about to be sold "down South," and thus to be far separated from his wife and child, if sufficient money could not be raised in Washington to furnish the sum which the master of the slave demanded for him. And the negro congregation offered to make a voluntary collection for purchasing the freedom of the slave brother. A pewter plate was set upon a stool in the church, and one silver piece after another rang joyfully upon it.
The whole congregation was remarkable for its respectable, [p. 492] and even wealthy appearance. All were well dressed, and had the expression of thinking, earnest people. I missed among the women the picturesque head-gear of the South, which had here been replaced by the unbecoming, ordinary female bonnet; but those black eyes and countenances, how full they are of ardent feeling and life! And there is always life in the congregations of this people; and though the expression of it may sometimes approach the comic, still one never gets sleepy there, as one often does in the very proper congregations and churches of the whites.
From this negro assembly, which honorably testifies of America's behavior to Africa, I must conduct you to a dwelling which testifies also, but in an opposite way. I went thither one morning with Dr. Hebbe and my good hostess, before we went to the Capitol, because the "Slavepen" of Washington is situated near to the Capitol of Washington, and may be seen from it, although that gray house, the prison-house of the innocent, hides itself behind leafy trees. We encountered no one within the inclosure, where little negro children were sitting or leaping about on the green-sward. At the little grated door, however, we were met by the slave-keeper, a good-tempered, talkative, but evidently a coarse man, who seemed pleased to show us his power and authority. Mrs. J. wished to have a negro boy as a servant, and inquired if she could have such an one from this place. "No! children were not allowed to go out from here. They were kept here for a short time to fatten, and after that were sent to the slave-market down South, to be sold; no slave was allowed to be sold here for the present. There were now some very splendid articles for sale, which were to be sent down South. Among these there was a young girl who had been brought up in all respects 'like a lady;' she could embroider and play on the piano, and dress like a lady, and read, and write, and dance, and all this she had [p. 493] learned in the family which had brought her up, and who had treated her in her childhood as if she had been their own. But, however, her mind had grown too high for her; she had become proud, and now, to humble her, they had brought her here to be sold."
All this the talkative slave-keeper told us. I inquired something about the temper and the state of mind of those who were confined here.
"Oh !" said the man, smiling, "they would be unruly enough if they were not afraid of a flogging."
My honest, open-hearted hostess could not contain her indignation at this treatment of people who were not guilty of any crime. The man laughed, and maintained that the negro people, both men and women, must be ruled by the whip, and took leave of us as much satisfied with himself and his world as we were the contrary.
In Washington, near the United States Senate House--this slave-pen! Could one not be tempted to enter and read aloud there the American Declaration of Independence! Yet there are sufficient there to read it aloud. The freedom and honor of America will not die or become paralyzed in American hands.[1*]
Have I told you about a baptism by immersion, which I have witnessed in one of the churches here? I believe not. In the South, on the banks of the Red River, in Macon, and in Savannah, I had seen processions of people returning from baptisms in the river, but I had missed seeing the ceremony itself. I saw it here, however, in the Baptist church; after the sermon the pulpit was removed, and we saw in the choir, before which the pulpit had stood, six young girls, each in a light gray woollen blouse, bound round the waist with a scarf, standing all in a row at the lower end of the choir. A young minister, dressed in black, descended into an opening in the [p. 494] floor, within which was a font. Here he addressed the assembly, and the young girls who were about to be baptized, on the signification of baptism; relating his own feelings when he, for the first time, was bowed into the purifying element, with the full sense of the intention and power of the rite. He invited, therefore, the young sisters to come to the baptism of regeneration. They now advanced forward, one at a time, led by the hand by an elderly male relative, to the edge of the font; here the minister received the hand of the young girl, and conducted her down the steps. He stood facing her in the font for a moment, holding her hands; probably he then received a promise from her, but I could not hear it; after which, with her head resting on the hand of the minister, she was hastily dipped backward under the water. It was the work of a moment, and as soon as she was raised again a song of praise burst forth, the first words of which rang in my ears, as "Rejoice, rejoice!" When the baptized reascended the steps she was received by one of her relatives, who wrapped around her a large shawl or cloak, and led her hastily out of the choir. Thus did five young girls and one young man pass through the ceremony of baptism; but there yet remained one of the girls, the youngest, the loveliest, who stood immovable in a corner during the long baptism of the others, like a church-angel, and might have been taken for a statue had not the lovely rose-tint on her cheek testified that the figure was living. But I was astonished at that delicate girl's ability to stand in expectation so long and so immovably.
And now the young minister ascended from the font, and all seemed to be over. Was it possible that they had forgotten that lovely young girl, or was she really, after all, not a living creature, but a statue, a church-angel? An old man came forward and addressed the congregation. He was the young girl's father; he had been her teacher, had initiated her into the life and doctrines of [p. 495] religion, and prepared her for baptism. He wished to have permission himself to administer the sacrament of baptism to his beloved child. He descended into the font. The statue now moved from the church wall; the young girl came forward alone with a light step, and full of trust, as a child to its beloved father, and gave herself up into his hands. It was beautiful, and really affecting, to see the aged and the young standing here before the eye of Heaven, the father dedicating the daughter, the daughter giving herself up to her father's guidance, and, through it, to a holy life; and it would have been yet more beautiful if it had taken place with the blue heavens above, and green trees around them instead of a white-arched roof and walls.
"Rejoice! rejoice!" again sang the choir, in a glad song of praise, over the young girl now consecrated by baptism; and father and daughter reascended from the font.
The greater portion of the assembly, among which were a great number of children, beheld the whole affair as a spectacle, and made a dreadful noise when they went out of the church, notwithstanding the admonitions of the ministers to silence. And even by the rivers and in the silence of the woods, the rite of baptism would be disturbed by curious and self-elected spectators.
I shall now go out and refresh myself by a quiet ramble into the country with my Quaker friend, the agreeable Miss D. Next week I shall leave Washington, and return to Philadelphia to go with Professor Hart and his family to Cape May. Then, after I have refreshed and invigorated myself by sea-bathing for a couple of weeks, I shall go to New York, to consult with my friends the Springs about my further journeying, whether it shall be first to the North or to the West. The young Lowells will go with me to Niagara, and if I could induce the Springs to accompany us, that would be charming; they [p. 496] are such agreeable people to be with, and they enjoy every thing which is good and beautiful so delightfully. From Niagara I shall travel alone, perhaps westward to the Mississippi-- and for how long I know not. The giants plan, but the gods decide.
I had here last evening a great gathering of "my friends," acquaintance, and non-acquaintance, and received flowers and distributed flowers. The Americans have a great deal of fresh cordiality and youthful ardor about them; there is no denying that.
I heard both glad and sorrowful tidings last evening--namely, that Denmark has obtained peace on the condition which she desired, and that--Sir Robert Peel is killed by a fall from his horse. The death of this great statesman is universally deplored here, but en passant for people here have not time just now to occupy themselves with other people's misfortunes. Their own affairs engage their time and their intellects, and--the heat is overpowering. The members of Congress are tired out with Congress; the speakers are tired out with hearing each other talk.
"Neither the eloquence of Demosthenes nor of Cicero would be able to give us any pleasure!" said a wearied senator to me to-day. Yet, nevertheless, people listened willingly to the lively and witty sallies of Mr. Hale, the representative of the Granite State. He, to-day, personified all the states, and spoke in character for all their representatives, during a general attack on the Compromise Bill, in a manner which caused universal merriment.
Every body, longs in the mean time, that Congress should come to a close, and that every body may be able to set off, the one to his home, another to the sea-side, every one to get away, away, away, away--from speeches and contention in the Capitol, and all the hot, high-pressure life of Washington! The last great speech of this session is expected to-morrow.[p. 497]
Monday, July 22d. Clay has made his great speech, and the question stands as it stood before, and the world goes on as it did before, but it is said that Congress will soon be at an end.
Clay spoke from three to four hours, but his speech, which was in fact a summing up of the whole state and development of the question during the session, as well as a statement of Clay's own part in the affair, did not seem to make any great impression upon the Senate. A sentimental address to the members of Congress, bidding them to reflect upon what they, on their return home, should have to tell their wives and children about the position of their country, did not succeed at all, and called forth laughter, so likewise his warning to them to put aside all little-mindedness, all selfish impulses, &c., and for the sake of the welfare of the whole land to vote for the Compromise Bill; and this last deserved to fail, inasmuch as it represented that all opposition to the bill was alone the effect of base motives, which is not the case. I can not, nevertheless, but admire the athletic soul of this man, and his power as a speaker.
After having spoken for more than three hours with fervor and power, sometimes with emotion, disentangling clearly and logically the progress and state of this contested question, which had occupied Congress for seven mouths, he stood vigorous still, and ready for a little fencing-match, although with very keen weapons--those of sarcasm and joke-- with Senator Hale, of New Hampshire, who, as usual, set the whole house in a roar of laughter. Clay showed himself, however, a master in this art of fencing as well as Hale, but somewhat more bitter. Some of his attacks were so vehemently applauded from the galleries, that the vice-president, after repeated reminders of silence, angrily said that he should be obliged to clear the galleries if the audience would not attend to his words.[p. 498]
Clay will now leave Washington. The rejection of his Compromise question will cost him dearly. Opposition against him and his bill is strong at this moment; and he stands with his bill just as obstinately against opposition.
I set off in the morning with Miss Dix to Baltimore, where I remain a couple of days on my way to Philadelphia.
I leave Washington, and this phasis of the life of the New World will close itself forever to me. What have I seen? Any thing nobler, any thing more beautiful than in the national assemblies of the Old World? No! Have I seen any thing new? No! Not, at least, among the gentlemen senators. The new has our Lord given in the world which he created, and upon the new soil of which contests arise, and in the prospects which are opened by the questions between Freedom and Slavery, into regions and amid scenes hitherto unknown, and which are, even now, frequently but indistinctly seen through mists. That which is refreshing and new is in the various characters of the states represented, especially in those of the vast and half-unknown land of the West, over whose wildernesses and paradises many different races of mankind wander, seeking for or establishing homes; in the prospects unfolded by the immense Texas, out of which five states might now be formed, where the Rio Grande and the Rio Colorado, and innumerable rivers flow through fertile prairies; by New Mexico, with its stony deserts, "el Slano Estuccado," where water is not to be found for twenty, thirty, or forty miles, but in whose "Valle de los Angelos" the heat of the tropics ripens tropical fruits; finally, by California, with its gold-bearing rivers, its Rocky Mountains full of gold, its many extraordinary natural productions, its Sierra Nevada with eternal snows, its great Salt Lake, on the borders of which the Latter-day Saints, the Mormons, have established themselves in an extensive valley, the fertility of which, and the delicious climate of which, are said to rival those of Caucasus and Peru--and where equally, within [p. 499] these regions, exist all the natural requisites for the development of a perfected humanity. California, the greatest of all the states of the New World, a new world yet to be discovered, full of beautiful sights and pictures of horror; where the people from the East and the West pour in, seeking for the gold of Ophir! California, which for its eastern boundary has the wild steppe-land of Nebraska, the hunting-ground of the wild Indian tribes, and on the other side the Pacific Ocean --that great Pacific Ocean, whose waves are said to strike with such regular pulsation against the shore, and with such mighty power, that its thundering sound is heard to a great distance, and the air and the leaves of the trees tremble far inland. Behold--all this and still more such--as the prospects opened by Panama and the regions of Central America, where the people of the United States are now digging canals and laying down rail-roads to unite the oceans--all this is a new and invigorating spectacle, and it is presented in the Congress of the United States. In the discussions, on the contrary, I see nothing new. I see in them the same bitterness and injustice between political parties as in the kingdoms of Europe; the same distrust of each other's honesty of purpose; the same passions, great, and small; and in debate the same determination to carry their point, to have their rights, cost what it will; the same misunderstanding and personality, the same continual deviation from the thing itself to the person; the same irritability and impatience about the beloved I, which cause incessant provocations, outbreaks of temper, explanations and fresh explanations, and an infinite number of little quarrels in the infinitely prolonged progress of the great quarrel; and which make the great men, the representatives of great states, frequently like childishly brawling children. And if it happen, in addition, that the state's representative is very touchy on the subject of the honor of his state, and is ready to boil up on the slightest allusion [p. 500] which seems to touch its credit, and especially as the states are not just now on the best terms with each other, it will easily be seen that occasion of quarrel will exist in double measure.
So much for the dark side of the Assembly. But neither is there light wanted on the other side, and it is, I believe, equally strong with that which the Old World can show. There is no lack of great-minded protests against darkness and selfishness; no lack either of great-minded appeals to the highest objects of the Union, or to the highest weal of humanity. The eagle sits upon the rock of the sea, and lifts his pinions, glancing now and then toward the sun, but he has not yet taken his flight toward it. Henry Clay resembles this eagle. Daniel Webster is the eagle which wheels round in the clouds, resting upon his pinions, but flying merely in circles around an imaginary sun--the Constitution. Neither of them possess that greatness which I admire in the greatest statesman of the Old World--Moses. The greatest statesman of the New World has not yet come.
But what might not this representation be if it answered its condition. and its purpose; if the representative of each individual state, permeated by the peculiar individuality of his state, its natural scenery and popular life, and by the bond of its connection with the highest object of the Union, stood forth to speak thus for it in the Congress! Of a truth, then would the Congress of the United States become a magnificent drama, a spectacle worthy of gods and men!
July 25th. A cordial good-morning to you, my sweet Agatha, from a wonderfully lovely country seat, with a view commanding the outlet of the River Patapsco into Chesapeake Bay, near Baltimore. I am here with Miss Dix, a guest at General S.'s, on my way to Philadelphia. My host is a lively, cordial, clever, loquacious officer, whose wife is a beautiful, quiet woman, the happy mother [p. 501] of ten young children; they are evidently a happy married pair, with a good and happy home. I feel such immediately on entering the house.
Having taken the kindest leave of my hearty, good, and kind entertainers at Washington, and of my beloved Quakeress friend, I set off with Miss Dix, and an agreeable friend of the Downings, Mr. William R.; but it was a difficult and fatiguing day's journey, in the great heat and from many delays, in consequence of the road being broken up by the floods. I was enabled, however, to see some beautiful views of the Susquehanna River.
Late in the evening, I sat in the most beautiful moonlight alone with Miss Dix, on the balcony of General S.'s villa, looking out upon the gleaming river, the broad Chesapeake Bay, and listening to the story of her simple but extraordinary life's destiny. Among all the varying scenes of my life in this country, this was not one of the least interesting. I asked Miss Dix to tell me what it was which had directed her into the path which she now pursues, as the public protector and advocate of the unfortunate. I will tell you more of her narrative by word of mouth; now, merely the words with which she replied to my question regarding the circumstances which had decided her career.
"It was," said she, "no remarkable occurrence, nor change in my inner or outer life, it was merely an act of simple obedience to the voice of God. I had returned from England, whither I went on account of my health, which had obliged me to give up the school which I had kept for several years, and I now lived in a boardinghouse, without any determined occupation, employing myself in the study of various branches of natural history, to which I had always been attached, but yet some way depressed by the inactivity of my life. I longed for some nobler purpose for which to labor, something which would fill the vacuum which I felt in my soul.[p. 502]
"One day when returning from church, I saw two gentlemen talking together, and heard one of them say, "I wish that somebody would see to the jail, for the state of things there is dreadful!" In a moment it flashed upon me, "There was a something for me to do!" And I did it. I found many unfortunate lunatics confined in the prison, together with criminals, and treated in the same manner, besides a deal of mismanagement, and many faults in the institution which I need not now mention. I wrote an account of this, and drew up a plan for its amendment, which I transmitted to the States' government. This drew attention to the subject, and a measure was passed by government for the improvement of the prison, and the erection of an asylum for the reception of lunatics, where they could receive such attention as they required. That was the beginning. Thus I saw the path marked out for me and it, and that which I have done in it have, as it were, been done of themselves."
Washington lay behind me, with its political quarrels, its bitter strife of state against state, man with man, its intricate relationships and unsatisfactory prospects, its excited, chaotic state. And here was a small human life, which by an act of simple obedience had gone forth from its privacy, from its darkness, extending itself into a great active principle, fraught with blessing for neglected beings throughout every state of the Union, like that little river before us, which, supplied by unseen springs, had poured forth itself into that glorious creek, and in that united itself with the world's ocean! The contrast was striking; the resemblance between that human life, and the scene before me was striking also; and the peace and beauty of the night, and that pure moonlight, were like the blessing of Heaven upon them both.
Miss Dix has, during her twelve years' labor as the good angel of the prisoner and the lunatic, traveled through most of the states of the Union; has forced her way into [p. 503] regions and places which had hitherto been hidden from a gleam of light, and has conveyed the message of light and hope to those who sat in darkness; she has, through her excellent memorials to the States' governments, and her influence with private individuals, been the means of the erection of thirteen hospitals for the insane, and of an improved mode of treatment for these unfortunates, as well as of prisoners generally, particularly in the prisons of the Southern States.
She is one of the most beautiful proofs of that which a woman, without any other aid than her own free-will and character, without any other power than that of her purpose, and its uprightness, and her ability to bring these forward, can effect in society.
I admire her--admire, in particular, her courage and her perseverance. In other respects we hardly sympathize; but I love the place she occupies in humanity; love her figure sitting in the recess of the window in the Capitol, where, amid the fiery feuds, she silently spins her web for the asylums of the unfortunate, a quiet centre for the threads of Christian love, which she draws across and across the ceaseless contests, undisturbed by them--a divine spinner is she for the house of God. Should I not kiss her hand? I did; and do it again in spirit, with thanks for that which she is and that which she does.
I will tell you, when we meet, some extraordinary anecdotes, which she related to me from her life--so rich in adventure; they are of the most romantic kind in the history of real life.
I shall now tell you a little about Baltimore. Baltimore is the capital of the State of Maryland. Maryland is the earliest residence of Catholicism in the United States. Lord Calvert Baltimore, who went over from the Protestant to the Catholic faith, and who resigned his post in the English government in consequence, was the founder of the colony in Maryland, which was intended, in the [p. 504] first place, to afford an asylum for persecuted and suffering Catholics; and not alone for them, but for people of every sect, who merely acknowledged themselves as Christians--and there are mentioned as among the earliest planters here also Swedes and Finns. The noble and large-minded Lord Baltimore wished to erect the Catholic Church on the soil of the New World upon a broader basis than it occupied in the Old World.
The city of Baltimore became the seat of the archbishop, and the Convent of the Visitation was established there, as the mother institution of any of a similar kind which might extend themselves on the soil of the New World. Maryland had tobacco plantations and slaves, and lived, it is said, in a patriarchal manner. It lives yet by tobacco and slaves--less patriarchally, however, as various transactions and narratives from the chronicles of the Slave State prove; and Baltimore is still the home of Catholicism, the seat of the Catholic archbishop, and the convent of the order of the Visitation. Some of Lord Baltimore's liberal spirit seems also to continue here. I visited the convent during my stay in Baltimore, and liked very much what I saw, in particular the appearance and manners of the Abbess and the young Sisters. They take the vows for their whole life, but have laid aside much of the old Catholic ceremonial, and have no peculiar habit. They principally occupy themselves in education, as well as in the guardianship of poor orphans. Many of the best Protestant families in the United States send their children hither to be educated, because they are better instructed, and at a less expense than in most other educational institutions. Catholicism in the United States seems to have left behind it all that which made it feared and hated on the other side of the ocean, and to have taken with it merely that which was best; and here it is justly commended for its zeal in good works. The Catholic congregations here are also distinguished by their excellent institutions [p. 505] for children, and for the sick. That great boarding-school for young girls is the principal source of revenue for the convent. The public examination there will shortly take place. I heard also, in a large concert-hall, some of the young girls play both on the harp and the piano, besides singing in chorus, which they did very well, and with fine effect.
I have visited both the prison and the lunatic asylum of Baltimore, but found nothing greatly to admire. Maryland is a small state, and a slave state. Baltimore is a large city, but is less beautiful, and has fewer trees and gardens, than most of the American cities which I have hitherto seen. Baltimore is renowned for its cheerful society and beautiful women. "The Belle of Baltimore" is a gay negro song, which is sung both by the blacks and the whites, both servants and masters. But that which makes Baltimore remarkable to my feelings, is something quite different. It is the story of a scene in a public house, and about a little girl. Will you hear the former for the sake of the latter? You must, for they can not be separated.
A few years ago, there lived in Baltimore a family of the name of Hawkins. They had been in better circumstances, but were reduced through the drunkenness of the father. There was a public house in one of the lanes in Baltimore, where every day five or six drunken companions used to assemble to guzzle all day long. Hawkins was one of this set; and although he cursed it, and cursed himself for his weakness in going there, yet it clung to him like a curse, and every day he went there, and only came thence when he was no longer able to stand; and late in the evening, or in the night, staggered home, often falling on the steps, where he must have remained lying, and have perished of cold and wretchedness, had it not been for his daughter, little Hannah. She sat up till she heard him coming home, and then went out to [p. 506] meet him and helped him up the steps; and when he fell down, and she was not able to raise him, she carried down pillows and a bed-cover and made him a bed where he lay, doing all in her power to make him comfortable, and then lay down beside him. The wife, who in her despair had grown weary of striving with him, endeavored by her own labor to maintain herself and the other younger children. Little Hannah, however, only ten years old, did not grow weary, but still watched over her father, and devoted to him her childish affection. When he, in the morning, awoke out of his drunkenness, he used immediately to send the little girl out to get him some brandy, and she did as she was bid when her prayers could not prevail with him to abstain. She succeeded only in awakening in him a yet stronger sense of his misery, and the need there was for him to forget it. He cursed himself for being so unworthy a father to such a child, and he compelled the child to give him the drink which would drown his misery. And when he, by means of the fresh, fiery liquor, was revived and invigorated so that he could stand and walk, he again went to the ale-house.
Such was his life for a long time; a lengthened chain of misery and self-accusation, interrupted merely by fresh debauch. The family had sunk into the depth of poverty, and each succeeding day only added to their distress. One morning, when Hawkins, ill both in body and mind, after the carouse of the foregoing day, awoke in his bed, he desired Hannah, as usual, to go out and get him some brandy. But the girl would not go. She besought him earnestly; "Dear father," she said, "not to-day--not today, dear father!" and she wept bitterly. The father, in extreme anger, bade her leave the room.
He got up, and with staggering steps crawled down to the usual place. Here, in the mean time, an extraordinary scene had occurred, one which is difficult to explain excepting by a mysterious and higher intervention.[p. 507]
The drunken companions were already there with their filled glasses in their hands, when one of them said, "It is very foolish of us, though, to sit here and ruin ourselves merely for the good of ----!" meaning the master of the public house. The others agreed.
Some one of them said, "Suppose that from this day forth we were not to drink another drop!"
One word led to another. The men hastily made an agreement and drew up a paper, in which they bound themselves, by oath, to a total abstinence from all intoxicating liquors.
When Hawkins, therefore, entered the public house, he was met by his companions with the temperance pledge in their hands, and by the cry from all, "Sign it! sign it!"
Astonished, overpowered, almost beside himself, he added his name to that of the others. Without having asked for a drop of brandy he now hastened home, as if from a new sort of carouse. He found his wife and his daughter together. He threw himself upon a chair, and could only ejaculate, "It is done!"
His paleness and his bewildered aspect terrified them; they asked him what he had done.
"I have signed the pledge!" exclaimed he, at length.
Hannah and his wife threw themselves upon his neck. They all wept--tears of a new delight.
It was from this point, from this scene in the public house, that the movement commenced which has since spread itself with lightning speed through the United States, carrying hundreds of thousands of human beings along with it, until it has grown into a mighty wall, a bulwark against drunkenness, which had for some years begun to spread itself over the land like a swelling tide, bearing along with it to destruction persons of all classes.
These formerly drunken companions of the public house in Baltimore became Temperance lecturers, and, under the [p. 508] name of "the Washingtonians," went forth, many with them, to hold meetings in cities and in the country, in which they addressed large multitudes, their own life's experience giving color and vitality to their pictures of the curse of drunkenness, and the bliss of an amended and pure life.
They came to Boston, and Hawkins with them. People wished him to speak, but Nature had not formed him for an orator, and he was scarcely able to stand up before an assembly. He did it, however, at the request of many persons. Marcus Spring was present on this occasion, and he gave me the account. Hawkins, when he stood up, began with these words, "I have been a drunkard!" and then stopped short, as if overcome by the memory of that time and the solemnity of the present moment. The numerous assembly clapped and encouraged him, and inspired him with new courage.
He began again, but merely to relate the history of his former misery, and of little Hannah's conduct toward him. The simplicity of the narrative, its intrinsic beauty, the sincere emotion of the man as he related it, made a deep impression.
After this, one and another rose, and spoke the innermost truth out of their heart's or their life's experience. One voice out of many exclaimed, "Is there, then, hope even for me?" "Yes! yes!" cried another; "come brother, come and sign! We will stand by you!"
Thousands of people this evening signed the pledge. The good M. said that he himself became so excited and was so affected by the scene, that he too rose up to express to the meeting the pleasure which it had afforded him; but scarcely had he said two words when he lost himself, forgot what he meant to say, and sat down again with the firm resolve never again to stand up as an orator.
The history of this conversion is, in reality, very extraordinary, because the operating cause proceeded not from [p. 509] That little heroine alone. I believe she stood in secret relationship with a good angel, and that it had found its way to the public house that very morning, and whispered in the men's ears that they should outwit the landlord. A cunning little female angel it was, I am pretty certain!
Hawkins still continues to travel about the country as a Temperance lecturer. He has, as such, accumulated a little property, and acquired a position; and little Hannah is at the present time with him in the West, no longer little Hannah, but a nice young girl of sixteen. The history of Hannah Hawkins is my "Belle of Baltimore."
Among other guests, last evening, at General Stuart's, was a Miss ------, I have forgotten her name--an elderly and very agreeable lady she was, and a splendid human being, with a warm heart and a fresh spirit. She was the daughter of a wealthy, slaveholding family, and on coming of age emancipated her slaves; and, as she was rich, gave to every one of them-- somewhat above twenty in number--a small gratuity wherewith to begin an independent career. She told me that one of these slaves, a negro who had always distinguished himself by his good conduct, had, as a freeman, acquired considerable property by trade, so that he was able to live in comfort and independence. But his son, who was a spendthrift, so much reduced his father that, in his old age, he was obliged to maintain himself by hard labor--I believe as a "cart-driver"--that is, one who carries materials to the roads and for building. At length the old man fell sick, and knew that his end was near. He sent, therefore, a message to his former owner, Miss ------, begging that she would come to him, otherwise he could not die in peace. She went to his house, and found the old man in a mean room, lying in bed, and very weak.
"Missis !" said he, "you have always been good to me, and I have thought I must tell you that which lies on my mind, and beg you to help me, if you can!"[p. 510]
Miss ------ told the old man to speak freely.
He continued. "You know, missis, how I lost my property. I have now, for several years, maintained myself by my labor, always paying my way. Latterly, however, I have not been able to avoid getting into debt, and I shall not die easy if I do not know certainly that these debts will be paid. Missis! I beg of you to pay my debts !"
"And how large are your debts?" asked Miss ------.
"Make your mind easy, dear Jacob," said Miss ------; "I can and I will pay them."
"God bless you for it, missis!"
"Now answer me, Jacob," said she, "one question which I will put to you, and tell me, on your conscience, have you, as a freeman, felt yourself happier than when you were a slave in my father's house?"
"Missis," said the old man, solemnly, raising himself up in his bed, "your parents, my master and missis, were always good to me, and in their house I never knew what want was. As a freeman, and especially in my latter years, I have suffered very much; I have suffered hunger and cold; I have had to work in rain, and snow, and storm; but yet, missis, I have borne that suffering unrepiningly, because I was free, and would willingly suffer it again, merely to have my freedom and the right to control my own actions, for that has been my greatest treasure."
In the combat of freedom against slavery this testimony is of no small value.
Nevertheless, it would not be difficult to produce testimony on the opposite side, of fugitive slaves who, in the Northern States, have been asked by old friends from, the South what they thought about freedom, and they have answered that they "were sick of it; that they wished massa would take them back again!" So I have been [p. 511] told, and I feel certain of the truth of it. That dispositions naturally lazy, and not accustomed to independence, should prefer "the flesh-pots of Egypt" and the bondage of Egypt to freedom, with hard labor and scanty food, is quite intelligible; and that the servants of good masters in the South should, when they find themselves free among people who care nothing about them, or are not kindly disposed, and that in a severe climate, far from their former warm homes, warm hearts, and warm parlors, is very natural also. For my part, it only seems extraordinary that so few instances occur of fugitive slaves returning to their former connections, and begging "massa" and "missis" to take them back again. But by no means is it allowable to judge on either side of this question between freedom and slavery by isolated facts and anecdotes; judgment must be based upon principle, must be based upon that truth which is immutable and of universal application.
When Bernsdorf, the great statesman of Denmark, emancipated the peasant serfs on his estate, these assembled to a man, and besought of him, with tears, that he would not give them up, but still continue to be their paternal lord and master; that he would annul the declaration which made them free.
"You do not understand what I have done for you," replied Bernsdorf; "but you will understand it at some future time, and your children will understand it and thank me."
And he maintained that which he had done. And he did more, inasmuch as he established schools and other institutions for the improvement of his dependents, and prepared them, by these means, properly to avail themselves of their freedom.
Philadelphia, Saturday morning.
Once more, my little Agatha, am I in the "Friends" city, after a beautiful day's sail on Chesapeake Bay and [p. 512] the Delaware, disturbed only by strange ladies who asked and asked again the usual senseless questions. Ah, if they only knew how they tormented me, how much I required silence and rest, they would leave me at peace--I am so worn out by the life of excitement and by the heat in Washington. I must endeavor to regain my strength by the sea. The gentlemen were much better. I met with some sensible, kind people among them.
Professor Hart came on board to meet me at Philadelphia, and took me to his house, where I now am, as a member of the family.
In company with Lucretia Mott I visited several families of free negroes in this city, among the rest the negro minister of an Episcopal church here; he was a tall, good-tempered, and most respectable man, a daguerreotypist, and spoke French and some other languages very well. These free negroes strike me in the same way as the slaves; they are good-natured and full of feeling, with a deal of imitative power and great originality, but their excellent qualities are of quite a different kind to those of the whites, and no schools or institutions of learning will ever bring them to the same point; nor do I know why they should be so brought. The merits of the whites are accompanied by the faults of the whites.
Among the few colored people, as they like to be called whom I saw here, I was most interested by a young mulatto woman, Sarah Douglas, a charming girl, with a remarkably intelligent countenance. She was the teacher in a school of about sixty children, negroes and mulattoes, and she praised them for their facility in learning, but said that they forgot equally fast, and that it was difficult to bring them beyond a certain point. She herself was one of the most beautiful examples of true cultivation among the colored people.
I have also again paid a visit to dear Mary Townsend, that beautiful child of the inner light, with those supernaturally [p. 513] beaming eyes. I now knew for the first time that these beaming eyes could scarcely bear the light of day, that she was not able to read nor to write a page without extreme suffering, and that her work on "Insect Life" was dictated with bandaged eyes. Thus lay she, immovable and blind, as she prepared the winged life of the children of nature, "thankful," writes she in her preface, "if my little book may be a means of preventing the cruelty to insects which children are so prone to." "It has enabled me at times to forget," says she, further, "that I was confined within the four walls of my chamber. It has taken me out into the fields and into the roads, and renewed my admiration of the wonderful works of the Creator."
Thus lies she, as it were, fettered and blind till day when the deliverer, Death, shall release the angel's wings. Fettered and blind, and yet, nevertheless, how keen-eyed and winged in comparison with many! The effect of that inner light! She is called in the family "the Innermost"' and I will convey her image across the sea to my "Innermost."
That inner light! That life of the inner light! I thank the city of the Friends for a new revelation of this.
The next time I write to you will be from the sea-side in New Jersey. On Thursday we go to Cape May. But before that I shall make an excursion into the country, to the house of a lady, a friend of Mr. Downing, an American Madame De Sevigne.
[1*] This slave-pen has, I believe, been removed since Miss Bremer's visit.--Trans.
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