TDIARY OF THOMAS EWING,
I AUGUST AND SEPTEMBER, 1841
REPRINTED FROM THE
gtmmatt psstottal §mm
VOL. XVIll., NO. I
[Reprinled from Thk American Historuai. Kkview, Vol. XV'III., No. i.Oct., 1912.]
Diary of Thomas Eunng, August and September, 1841
After the dramatic breach between President Tyler and his
Cabinet in September, 1841, its members justified themselves by
public letters. That of Thomas Ewing, secretary of the treasury,
first printed in the National Intelligencer, is now most easily found
in Nilcs Register, LXI. 33-34. It appears that it did not rest on
memory alone, but that Secretary Ewing, as soon as he scented
danger to the relations between President Tyler and the executive
advisers inherited from Harrison, in the course which the Presi-
dent was pursuing in regard to the bank act, began to keep a diary
of the transactions relative to that and other measures. The manu-
script of this diary now belongs to his grandson, Mr. Thomas Ewing
of New York City, but a copy of it is possessed by the library of
Ohio University at ^vlarietta. To Air. Ewing and to Mr. C. L.
Martzolfit' of that university we are indebted for the opportunity to
print this valuable record, which, as will be seen, contains much in-
formation that is not to be found in the letter in Niles.
Not all parts of the manuscript printed below are of the same
date. The first three paragraphs were prefixed to the diary proper.
The grandson of Secretary Ewing states however that, judging
from the handwriting, they are of about the same date. The next
three paragraphs are in his handwriting of much later date. The
essential portion, beginning with the words " On the morning of the
i6th August ". are plainly contemporary. The last paragraph under
September i is shown by the handwriting to be a later insertion.
Such is also the character of the final three paragraphs.
A full discussion of the whole crisis from the point of view of
the President may be found in Dr. Lyon G. Tyler's Letters and
Times of the Tylers. II. 39-123-
Thomas Ewing (1789-1871) was graduated from the Ohio Uni-
versity in 181 5, practised law for several years at Lancaster, Ohio,
was a Whig senator from that state 1831-1837, secretary of the
treasury March 5-September 13, 1841, secretary of the interior
1849-1850, senator again 1850-1851, and in 1861 a delegate to the
Peace Conference, of which Ex-President Tyler was president.
AM. HIST. REV., VOL. XVllI.— 7. (9?)
As soon as the election of Genl. Harrison to the Presidency was
informally known to him, he addressed me a letter inviting me to take
a place in his Cabinet and signifying that the situation of P. M. G. was
the one he proposed to offer me.
I had been long aware that public opinion had designated me for
this, or some other place in the Cabinet, and though Genl. Harrison had
never in the most remote manner hinted at such a thing I had no doubt
that it was his purpose to make me the offer. My mind being made up
on the subject I accepted, with all due acknowledgments for the honor
proposed to be conferred and the frank and generous promptness with
which it had been offered me. I communicated this for the present to
no one but my wife and my eldest son in whose secrecy I had full con-
fidence, as I deemed it by no means proper that the fact should first
transpire through me. In the same letter Genl. Harrison named Mr.
Webster as his proposed Secretary of State and public opinion had
definitively settled on Mr. Crittenden as Attorney General. Mr. Bell
had been much spoken of for the War Department and several other
gentlemen were named for other Departments but no one distinctly
pointed to by general public opinion.
The Legislature of Ohio met in Columbus on the first Monday in
December. The Court in Bank sat at the same time and the Circuit
Court shortly after. I was engaged as counsel in many important cases
in these courts and necessarily spent several weeks in that city about
their trial. Having disposed of them and arranged my private business
as well as I was able in so short a time, I set out for Washington and
arrived in the City early in February. By this time it was pretty
well understood that I was to be a member of the Cabinet, but it was by
no means so well settled what particular post I was to fill. The im-
pression became strong and was constantly gathering strength that I
should be placed at the head of the Treasury. But in the midst of this
uncertainty I was overwhelmed with applications for office in both De-
partments especially in the Genl. Post Oflfice which had by far the largest
share of patronage. For so completely had it become a settled political
axiom within the last twelve years, "to the victors belong the spoils",
that all men of both parties seemed to suppose that there would be an
immediate and universal sweep of all the officers then in place. There
was also another reason and a more just one for this opinion of the
public and I may say mandate of the popular will. Tt had been the
policy of the party just thrust from power, to retain in office none but
their active political adherents, those who would go for them thorough
in all things; and the performance of official duty, was far less requisite
to a tenure of office, than electioneering services. Hence the offices had
become for the most part filled with brawling offensive political partisan?,
of a very low moral standard — their official duties performed by sub-
stitutes, or not performed at all. Many defalcations and gross pecula-
tion constantly occurring among them, it was thought wise and prudent
to make many changes and by so doing, to elevate, as far as possible.
the oflRcial standard and ensure a more faitiiful execution of official
General Harrison consulted much with Mr. Webster and myself
before announcing his Cabinet. Mr. Webster was made Secretary of
State, EwinjET Secretary of the Treasury, Bell Secretary of W'.ir. Badger
Diary of Thomas Ewiiig 99
of the Navy, Frank Granger Post Master General and John J. Critten-
den Attorney General. There was perfect harmony and good feeling
of the members of the Cabinet, with each other, and between them and
the leading members of the Whig party generally — but the quiet of the
Administration and of the ct)untry was greatly disturbed by the sudden
death of General Harrison.
Immediately on his demise Mr. Webster dispatched a special mes-
senger to John Tyler the Vice President with the intelligence who in a
few days came to Washington and was inaugurated as President. The
Cabinet convened to receive him, and he very promptly and courteously
requested us all to continue in our then present position as his Council.
An extra session of Congress had been called which met in May.
One of their first acts, under the lead of Mr. Clay, was to pass an act to
recharter the Bank of the United States, and restore to it the public
deposits and fiscal agency, and therein was for the first time disclosed
a serious difference between the President and the party who had
elected him, including nearly all the members of his Cabinet. The Bank
bill was passed early in August, and the President against the advice of
his Cabinet determined to veto it. I saw clearly that the Administra-
tion was approaching a catastrophe, and on the 16" commenced and'
kept a diary for the month preceding its dissolution. I give it in full as
it was then written.
On the morning of the 16" August I called to see the President and
found him putting together the Veto Message on the Bank Bill, in order
to send it to the Senate. We had some conversation on the subject, and
he read to me certain parts of the message, especiallj^ that which con-
tained his strictures on the 16" fundamental article. While thus engaged
Mr. Bell, Secretary of War, came in and joined us in the conversation.
It was observed by Mr. Bell, that although the Veto would create a
great sensation in Congress yet he thought the minds of our friends
much better prepared for it than they were some days ago, and he hoped
it would be calmly received, especially as it did not shut out the hope of
some Bank. The President replied yes, he thought so — his mind had
been made up from the first, and he had delayed his message until now
that theirs might become quieted — that really they ought to make no
difficulty about it, he had sufficiently indicated in his message what kind
of Bank he would approve and they might if they saw fit, pass such a
one (which would be more acceptable to the country than this) in three
The next day (17") I called and found the President in conversa-
tion with Mr. Sergeant of the House and Mr. Berrien of the Senate.*
I was about to retire but he invited me to sit, observing that the con-
versation was one to which T should be a party. Those gentlemen had
come informally from the Whigs of the two Houses to confer with the
President on the subject of a Bank or Fiscal Agent such as might be
acceptable to him, and meet the wishes and wants of the Treasury and
the country — much was said upon the subject. Mr. Sergeant stated his
understanding of that part of the message which recommends agencies,
with power to deal in Exchange etc. and wished to have a clear avowal
from the President on that subject. The President in reply said that
he considered the message sufificiently explicit on that point. That he
^John Sergeant of Pennsylvania and Senator John M. Berrien of Georgia.
did not think it became him to draw out a plan of a hank, Init he thought
it easy to ascertain from the general course of his argument what he
would approve. In the course of the conversation I observed that I
understood the President to have no objection to a Bank located in the
District of Columbia, employing agents in the several States, to per-
form the services required of it by the Government as a fiscal agent,
and incidental to those duties to deal in exchange, and do all other acts
which the Rank proposed in the Bill which he had rejected might do
except the making of local discounts. To this the President did not
object. After continuing the conversation a short time, Messrs. Berrien
and Sergeant left us, and I after transacting some official business also
departed. The President spoke with some feeling and in a very proper
manner of the mob that came the preceding night on his porch to insult
On Wednesday the i8", which was the usual day for the meeting
of the Cabinet, I w-ent to the President's, and Messrs. Berrien and
Sergeant were with him. He did not by either word or manner invite
me to join them so I retired into an adjoining room where I was soon
joined by Messrs. Webster and Bell. We remained some time, and Mr.
Webster saying he had business retired and requested the servant to
say to the President that he would come at his summons — after some
time he was sent for and returned — but the door of the audience room
was still closed and we waited more than an hour before it w-as opened
and we were in the meantime joined by Mr. Badger. At length the
President made his appearance — said he had been conversing with gentle-
men who professed to come informally as a committee of the Whigs
of the two Houses to get his views on the subject of the Bank— that
he had doubts of the propriety of conferring with them and that he
had stated those doubts to them — said that he had his constitutional
advisers about him with whom and with whom only he thought he ought
to consult and that having conferred with them his opinions could be
made known to gentlemen on the part of the two houses so far as it
was proper to communicate it. Having so said he began by asking us
whether his views in that respect were correct. Mr. Webster replied
that they were the same expressed by Mr. Madison on some occasion
(what I do not remember) when he was consulted in like manner. His
explanation drew from me the remark that the two cases probably
differed in this — that appeared to have been a couniiiitce of one or both
of the Houses proper; this an informal unofficial deputation of political
friends who came to consult with the President informally, to ascertain
his opinions that they might if consistent with their own views of the
public good, conform to them. But even in that case I saw no impro-
priety, on the contrary nnich prudence in the President's proposed course.
of consulting with his Cabinet before he committed himself, even in-
formally, to any one. Mr. Webster said the case he referred to was in
all these particulars similar to the present and that he thought the Presi-
dent's proposition, to confer with them only through his Cabinet, quite
right. To this no one objected except Mr. Badger who saw no objection
to this unofficial friendly intercourse between the President and members
of the two Houses, for the purpose of exchanging views and endeavoring
to come to an understanding on subjects of common interest. This being
ilisposed of the President spoke of the Veto and its effects — expressed
his surprise that our friends should be so much dissatisfied with it —
Diary of Thomas Ewuig lOi
averred he believed it would be the salvation of the party if the
Whigs in Congress would take it in a becoming spirit — spoke of ^he
delay in taking the question upon it in the Senate and expressed anxiety
as to the tone and temper which the debate would assume there.
Badger — Mr. President, I am happy to find on inquiry that the best
temper in the world prevails generally in the two Houses on this subject.
I believe they are perfectly ready to take up Mr. Ewing's bill and pass
it without alteration except in some unimportant particulars.
President — Talk not to me of Mr. Ewing's Bill — it contains that
odious feature of local discounts which I have repudiated in my message.
Ezving — I have no doubt, sir, that the House, having ascertained
your views, will pass a bill in conformity to them provided they can be
satisfied that it will answer the purposes of the Treasury and relieve the
President — ;Cannot my Cabinet see that this is brought about. You
must stand by me in this emergency. Cannot you see that such a bill
passes Congress as I can sign without inconsistency?
Ezving — I think a bill which will meet your views may be introduced
into the House of Rep. and pass that body. Of tne Senate I am not
so certain. H such a bill could pass both bodies speedily and receive
your sanction, it would immediately restore harmony here and confidence
throughout the nation.
President — I care nothing about the Senate — let the Bill pass the
House with the understanding that it meets my approbation and the
Senate may reject it on their own responsibility if they think best. But
what do you understand to be my opinions? State them, so that there
may be no misunderstanding.
Ezv-ing — I understand you are of opinion that Congress may charter a
Bank in the District of Columbia giving it its location here.
President — A nod of assent.
Ezving — That they may authorize such Bank to establish ofifices of
Discount and Deposit in any of the States with the assent of the States
in which they are so established.
President (sharply) — Don't name Discounts to me — they have been
the source of the most abominable corruptions — and they are wholly
unnecessary to enable the Bank to discharge its duties to the country
and the Government.
Ezving — I am proposing nothing, but simply endeavoring to recapitu-
late what I have heretofore understood to be your opinions as to the
powers which Congress may constitutionally confer on a Bank. I now
understand your opinion to be, that they may not confer the power of
local discount even with the assent of the States.
President — (An expression of assent).
Ezving — And I understand you to be of opinion that Congress may
authorize such Bank to establish agencies in the several states with
power to receive, disburse or transmit the public monies and to deal in
Bills of Exchange without the assent of the States.
The President — Yes if they be foreign bills or bills drawn in one
State and payable in another. That is all the power that is necessary
for transmitting the public funds and regulating exchanges and the
JVcbster — I would like such a bill, with power to deal in Exchanges
alone, without authority derived from the States, much better than if it
\ combined the power of Discount with the assent of the States, and the
'^ power to deal in exchanges without such assent. 1 do not think it
necciwa'y to give such Bank the power of local discount, in order to
enable [it] to perform all its duties to the country and to the govern-
ment, unless indeed it be essential to the existence of such institution
and then it is liable to the objection of attaching one implied power to
another which once admitted might be carried to a dangerous extent.
And there is an incongruity in performing any of the necessary func-
tions of the general Government by the separate assent of individual
States. If that which the U. S. wishes to do be necessary in the dis-
charge of its constitutional duties, it has already the assent of all the
States granted in and by the Constitution; if not necessary — there is no
right to do it with such assent. That these particular powers are neces-
sary seems to me very clear, for the purpose of safe keeping and trans-
mitting the public monies, for the restoration of a sound currency, regula-
tion of exchanges and especially of • commerce between the States — and
I believe it will furnish sufficient inducements to capitalists to take the
The President expressed his acquiescence in the views of Mr.
Webster — desired that we would see that the Bill should assume that
form, and especially urged us to take care that it was placed in the
hands of some one in the House who was his friend. Ewing enquired
of him whether Mr. Sergeant would be agreeable to him. He replied
in the affirmative — w-ished us in communicating on the subject not to
commit him personally, as having agreed to this project; for he was
apprehensive it would be made the subject of comparison to his prejudice
— but advised us to say that from the Veto Message and from all that
we knew of his opinions w'e inferred that this would be acceptable. He
then spoke of the name, which he wished should be so changed that it
would not be called a Bank. To this there were some objections, but
his wishes were finally acquiesced in. He and Mr. Webster then con-
versed about the particular wording of the 16" fundamental article and
agreed as to the form of expression which should introduce the grant
He then requested Messrs. Webster and Ewing to attend to getting
it before the House and directed them to prepare for him as soon as
practicable an exposition in writing of their opinions upon it. Mr.
Bell said to Webster and Ewing — " Gentlemen you have no time to
lose — if you do not attend to this today another bill less acceptable may
be got up and reported." We were about retiring when the President
called Mr. Webster back. He remained a few minutes and then joined
us. Messrs. Webster and Ewing then consulted as to the means of
carrying out the wishes of the President and it was agreed that Mr.
Webster should see Messrs. Berrien and Sergeant who represented the
two Houses in this matter and possess them of the plan agreed on; and
if they desired it Mr. Ewing w'ould call on them afterwards. *
In a short time afterwards I received a note from Mr. Webster
stating that Messrs. Berrien and Sergeant wished to see me at Mr.
Berrien's chamber at 5 o'clock, at which time I waited upon them.
They stated to me that ihcy had conversed with the President that
morning and had gathered from his conversation, though he declined
to speak in explicit terms, that he was disposed to favor a charter which
authorized- the dealing in Exchanges through agents in the several
States without reference to the assent of the States, but that he had re-
Diary of Thomas EwiuQ^ 103
fcrrc'd thcni to liis Cabinet after he should have consulted them. They
also informed me that Mr. Webster had suggested the particular frame
and referred them to me for my concurrence. After full conversa-
tion they agreed to present the project, before our political friends, and
if agreed to by them in both branches it was to be introduced into
the House. It is proper here to note that the President expressed great
sensitiveness lest he should be committed by anything that he or w^e
should say to a project which would not be accepted by Congress and
which would be contrasted with that which he had rejected. And
once in the course of the conversation he said he was bewildered — he
had no time to collect his thoughts; why could not this thing be post-
poned to the next session ?
The Bill proposed could not be brought into the House until that in
the Senate with the President's objections was disposed of. This was
done on the 19" and Mr. Clay in the discussion made one of his most
powerful and happy efforts — extorting expressions of rapturous ap-
plause from his most bitter enemies in that body, and thrilling his
friends with delight. I was not present and consequently lost this
noble intellectual treat, for it is wholly vain for Mr. Clay or any one
else to attempt to transfer to paper any just presentment of his lofty
and impassioned eloquence. But the President though treated with
respect was sorely wounded, particularly by the popular impression
which was anything but favorable to him. There was, it is said, in Mr.
Clay's manner, an evident restraint and suppression of strong feeling
while he spoke directly of the President, his position, his duty to the
country, to those who placed him in power, and of his wide and un-
accountable departure from all those duties' and his forgetfulness of all
those obligations — but when Mr. Rives' came out in the defence of the
President and brought himself within the lion's bound, he sprang upon
him with unrestrained and unmitigated impetuosity and poured forth
upon him the whole torrent of his feelings in the most high toned and
powerful invective. I had a report of the speech from Mr. Badger,
himself an orator, who dwelt upon it with enthusiastic admiration.
I was taken ill on the night of the 19" and did not get about until
Saturday, the 21st.
* Mondav, the 23d, I called upon the President to transact some busi-
ness and after conversing with him a few minutes Mr. Granger entered.
The President soon introduced the subject of the Bank and his Veto
and spoke with much feeling of the violence with which he was at-
tacked and denounced by the Whigs and declared that he looked upon
many of them as his very worst enemies. I told him it was what I
had all along feared, if no means could be devised by which the Veto
could be avoided — that in truth the excitement was not so general or
the expression of disapprobation as strong as I had apprehended and
endeavored to show him would take place. Mr. Granger said there was
much to be considered on both sides, for. said he, " Sir, in every to\\Ti
and village, at the places where you and Genl. Harrison were insulted
and denounced last fall, while the Whigs were supporting and defend-
ing you — flags are now hung out by your then enemies with Tyler and
- Word obscure, but seems to be " duties ".
^Senator William C. Rives of Virginia.
* In the original this paragraph follows the fourth paragraph below. But a
clean copy exists, made at some time for Mr. Ewing. in which the order is as
1 04 Documents
the \'eto inserted on them in large characters — they have their trium-
phal processions, burn tar barrels, fire cannon and rejoice while the
friends who elevated you eitiier retire in silent sorrow or break out in
expressions of disappointment or anger." To this the President re-
plied little and we soon parted.
On Saturday the 21st the President, the Secretary of War and my-
self went to the Arsenal to see some experiments with improved
rockets. In the course of conversation there he threw out very strong
intimations that he would probably veto the Bill which had lately been
introduced if it should come to him.
Monday the 23d I sent him my argument upon the Bill as it tlu-n
stood — having in the meantime received a printed copy of the Bill.
Mr. Webster's had been sent up a short time before. The 25th we had
Cabinet Council — the President seemed gloomy and depressed — inti-
mated in strong, terms that he would not sign the bill and earnestly
requested us to get it postponed — said in reply to an expression of doubt
on our part that we had got it up easily, we might postpone it as easily
if we chose to do it. He seemed earnest and exigent that this should
On the 26" I conversed with him again in the presence of Granger.
He still earnestly solicited postponement, not as he said because of
the political but of the personal difficulties which immediate action upon
it would involve.
A meeting of the members of the Cabinet was called at l\Ir. Webster's
on the evening of the 27" to take this matter into consideration. When
after much consultation and a full interchange of opinions it was
agreed to endeavor to postpone, if we found it could be done by the
general assent of the Whigs of the two Houses of Congress.
Sept. I. A short time before the Cabinet meeting today I called on
Mr. Webster and found him in conversation with Mr. Rives, who sug-
gested that Mr. Clay had given notice in the evening that the Bank Bill
would be taken up this morning, and finally disposed of today. To
this he had asked the consent of the opposition, who readily agreed to
it. Mr. Rives having left us I asked Mr. Webster if he had seen Mr.
Evans' to induce him to hold a conversation with Mr. Berrien and if
possible get him to postpone the bill until after the passage of the
revenue bill as I had requested him last evening. He said he had not.
I returned to my office and sent my son to Mr. Evans, and then went to
the President's to Council.
I met Mr. Badger at the door and we went in together. Bell and
Granger were both there — the conversation first turned upon some
indifferent matters — pertaining to the War Department. The President
then examined and sent to the Senate some nominations from the State
Department and told me that he had sent up all mine except the
Baltimore Appraisers — that they objected to his friend Lester and he
was unwilling to give him up. I told him I thought he would not make
a good officer but that the names I had sent him were chosen with great
care and I thought them unexceptionabli-. Inst before I left him tliis
subject was again adverted to and he said he must do something for
Lester — he had but few friends and he must take care of them."
° Senator George Evans of Maine.
•John Lester was nominated by Tyler as appraiser of merchandise for the
port of Baltimore, December 14, 1841. The nomination was confirmed by the
Senate, March 29, 1842.
Diary of Tliomas Ewing 105
Messrs. Webster and Crittenden came in. A report on the Forti-
fications was produced and read by Mr. Bell. It was in reply to a reso-
lution of the Senate passed in March last calling for information at the
commencement of the (then) next session. It was generally under-
stood that the next session meant the next regular session and Mr.
Badger said that on consultation it had been so agreed in Cabinet. I
was not present at such agreement or do not remember it, but think
the construction right unless the contrary appear in the resolution.
The report of Mr. Bell was objected to by all the other members of the
Cabinet, because it recognized a probable necessity of hereafter extend-
ing our fortifications very greatly — it was thought that he ought to
have confined himself to the present wants of the country — namely,
fortifications of the first class which can be completed at an expense of
The Committee of the Senate called and presented several enrolled
bills for the President's signature — he signed all except the bill for the
distribution of the proceeds of the public Lands — this he read to us —
made comments on some parts of it — talked jocosely about a Veto —
asked our opinion of the clause objected to, which was that which gives
500,000 acres each to the new States for the purpose of internal im-
provements. I placed that clause upon this ground. The U. S. is
exempt from taxation by the States while a great proprietor of lands
within the State — all other land holders are taxed for their improve-
ments which greatly enhance the value of the land. The U. S. as a
proprietor ought to contribute to that by which it so much profits and
this is the mode in which alone it can be done. Having conversed some
time on the subject he asked the Atty. General for an opinion on the
A few minutes were spent on the mode of paying our Ministers
abroad and a question raised as to the value of the pound sterling, on
which I agreed to report.
Todd, the new Minister to Russia,^ called and much was said to him
in our presence of the importance of the mission, the precarious state
of our relations with England and the necessity of having the aid of
Russia in any contest with that power. His (the President's) manner
during the session was courteous and kind — not perfectly frank though
evidently striving to appear so. I thought the objections to the Land
Bill a mere show of reason for keeping it awhile in hand that he might
approve it or not as political expediency should dictate.
On returning to the Department my son reported that he saw Mr.
Evans who had used every effort to postpone the bill, but without
success. That ]Mr. Clay insisted on taking it up — said he was not ready
to go on with the Revenue Bill — and that it was understood that the
revenue bill should be laid on the table and the Bank bill taken up and
disposed of, and he called upon the opposition to say if this were not
the case — they vouched that it was — a vote was taken — all the Locos
but one voted for taking up — 13 Whigs against it, and it was taken up
and considered — many of the Whigs were much incensed at Mr. Clay's
The events of the day caused me much reflection. On the one hand
Mr. Clay was evidently hurrying matters to a catastrophe, intending to
hasten the new Bank bill upon Mr. Tyler; force him to approve or
' Colonel Charles S. Todd of Kentucky, under whom Motley served as secre-
tary of legation.
1 06 Docimients
Veto— in the latter event compel the Cabinet to resign — drive Tyler
into the Democratic party"— denounce the Administration and make
himself as the head of the Whig party an opposition candidate for the
Presidency. This opinion was formed from a consideration of previous
matters connected with the doings of the day. Should these things
take place and should I resign and unite in such a movement, I wouTd
be subjected to the imputation of having been a false counsellor to the
President — near his person— admitted to his secret councils, and at the
same time conniving with and abetting his most bitter adversary in his
attempt to overthrow him, and when the movement came in which he
was involved inextricably with having abandoned him to his fate and
openly joined the enemy.
On the other hand if I should remain in the Cabinet after another
Veto through the scene of excitement and in the midst of the denuncia-
tion consequent upon it, I would be charged with having abandoned my
well known principles and broken up old associations for the love of
office. It also seemed certain that some members of the Cabinet would
resign. Those who should remain, must be associated with persons
whom we did not esteem and whose political principles were adverse to
ours. The situation of such of us would be the most unpleasant that
could be conceived. We would be made the constant object of attack
by the papers on both sides in politics, and probably be at last com-
pelled to resign or be displaced, with injured characters, and minds
soured and discontented. What was to be done?
I conversed very freely with Mr. Bell on the evening of this day and
compared opinions and impressions with him. He concurred with me
entirely as to the difficulty of our situation but declared that he would
not resign for a Veto on the Bank Bill— nor in the event of resignation
for other cause or removal, would he unite in or consent to the nom-
ination of Mr. Clay, at this time. On the supposition of a Veto on
the Land Bill his opinion as well as mine was in favor of Resignation — ■
not because we dififered from the President in two important measures
but because in both he had been false to us — and because we believed
the Veto upon those two bills made the evidence complete, that he
betrayed the party by which we were all brought into power and sold
himself to the adversary.
In the evening late Granger called on me. We compared notes and
concurred in opinion. He said Mr. Clay had lost many friends by the
hot haste with which he pressed the Bank Bill forward — spoke of the
great imprudence of putting the Bank bill before the revenue bill, if he
really desired that the Land Bill should be approved.
*On the whole I became satisfied that Mr. Clay was impatient, and
unhappy in his then present position. He had been the undisputed
leader of the Whig party for many years while they were in a min-
ority and he could not well endure now they were in power, that his
supremecy should be questioned or the power over the party divided.
He wished submission from the Cabinet — this so far as I and some
others were concerned was impossible. T would not even consult with
him, after a breach between him and the President took place until
after I presented my letter of resignation.
"This phrase, "drive Tyler into the Democratic party", is written in Mr.
Ewins's hand of a much later date than the nst of tlic (ii.iry.
•This i>araKraph is in Mr. Ewing's handwritinj;,' of much l.ittr date than the
Diary of Thomas Ewing 107
Sept. 2d. Nothing special occurred. The President, the Cabinet
and the chairmen of the committee of Foreign Relations of the Senate
and House dined with Mr. Webster. In the course of the evening the
President said to me that he had Mr. Seldcn's'" views as to the choice
of depositories of the public money which he wished to submit to me.
That he was very anxious to hold the Treasurer responsible on his
bond. He said he understood I had selected the Bank of Commerce in
New York, which I told him was the case. He said he wanted to sug-
gest some stipulations and I said I would send him the contract. In the
evening we had a large party at Mr. Bell's where the President at-
I had in the course of the day a long conversation with George
Summers," who said the universal opinion was that the Cabinet should
hold their places until actually removed by the President. That the
country considered us as holding by a higher tenure than merely his
appointment, and that a resignation would be considered as an aban-
donment of the post which Gcnl. Harrison and the Nation had assigned
us, and if the President chose to add this last crowning sin to his already
great transgression that it should be his act not ours, he should be
held responsible for it.
I also conversed during the day with Goode and Stokely members
from Ohio and with Alfred Kelly all of whom united strongly in the
same opinion." I put the case to them of a Veto on the Bank bill in
progress in the house — it was, they said, on the supposition of that Veto
they had urged their opinion. I then put the case of a Veto on the
Land Bill which would show a clear and fixed purpose to abandon the
Whigs and their principles and throw himself into the arms of the
opposition. On that they hesitated but inclined to the opinion that we
should still hold our places and let Kim do the last crowning act of
dismissal which they said would be esteemed by the people a sacrilegious
desecration of the memory of the beloved Harrison.
The speech of Mr. Clay in the Senate, this day as reported by Mr.
Fletcher Webster" was in his happiest manner, and was much spoken
of (see the papers).
It was told me in the evening that Mr. Rives had called in the
course of the day upon the President and proposed an amendment to
the Bank Bill, providing that if any state should expressly dissent, that
the corporation thereafter should not be suffered to deal in Exchange
within its limits except so far as the wants of the Treasury required
— which amendment he, Mr. Rives, was willing to support and that being
inserted to vote for the Bill. The President declined having anything
to do with the modification and preferred that the Bill should be sent
to him in its then present form.
My letter to Luther Barker" published in the Madisonian this morn-
ing was read and commented upon by Mr. Buchannan in the Senate.
" William Selden, treasurer of the United States.
" George W. Summers, representative from Virginia.
'- Patrick G. Goode and Samuel Stokely were representatives from Ohio,
Alfred Kelly a man prominent in the management of the state's finances and
father of the Ohio Canal.
'^ Son of the Secretary of State, and at this time his private secretary.
"Luther D. Barker had been a fellow-student of Mr. Ewing's at Ohio Uni-
It was spoken of at dinner by Mr. Webster in terms of commendation.
The publication of that letter did not, in the opinion of our friends at
all strengthen the position of the President.
Extract from " Madisonian" — Sept. 2d, 1841.
" The position taken by the President, that the people did not decide
in the election of 1840 in favor of any particular scheme of finance,
most of our readers will admit has been fully sustained.
" We have received, however, a communication signed by five of
our subscribers at Piketown, Ohio, taking a very different view. They
state that the issue was presented in Ohio, and decided in favor of a
Rank by an immense majority. They are of course hostile to the Veto,
and think that nothing will be sound or settled without a Bank. We
hope they will be content with this simple notice to their communication.
-Although they have on their side the aid of the Senator of Kentucky,
yet they and he must admit that there is at least room for an honest
difference of opinion on the subject. We happen to have before us
directly in point, the testimony of a well known, and influential witness
from their own State, whose opinion we know they will respect, de-
nouncing the attempt during the election to make the question of a bank
the issue between the parties, to be impudent and absurd. We refer
to the following letter from the present distinguished head of the
Lancaster, July 1840
My Dear Sir:
On my return from Columbus this evening I received your letter
informing me that, in a speech at Philadelphia, I had said the true ques-
tion between the parties was a Bank of the United States, and that you
from a knowledge of me had contradicted the assertion. In this you
were of course perfectly safe. I made no such statement but the very
contrary. I avowed that the true question was and is the restriction
of Executive power. That its encroachments, open and covert, were
of the most alarming nature, and if not resisted must end in the sub-
version of all that is valued in the Republican principles of our Govern-
ment, and that a gorgon's monarchy in effect if not in name must rise
on its ruins. I said that our opponents were attempting to make the
question of Bank the issue between the parties. I spoke of the impu-
dence and absurdity of the attempt. That a Bank was not and never
had been considered by us as anything more than a matter of con-
venience a useful article of furniture of our noble edifice. That our op-
ponents were gravely raising and debating the question whether this
article of furniture was convenient or necessary, Whether we should
have a table or a settee standing in our halls, while its sappers and
miners were at work tumbling its walls and columns about our ears.
This with amplification and illustrations, is the sul^stancc of what I
said touching that particular object.
"N'ou perceive therefore that you did not mistake my opinion or my
A'our sincere Friend
L. D. Barker, Esq.
Diary of Thomas Having 109
Sept. ^d. Today I sent tlic ['resident a copy of my letter of contract
with the Banks accompanying it with a note in which I said I would
be happy to receive and consider any suggestions which he might choose
to offer. I did not call to see him, but understood from Mr. Bell that
he was disposed to talk on business merely, but was jocose and cheerful.
Several of my friends called today to offer me their counsel, which was
uniformly the same as that noted yesterday.
I called to see Mr. Webster and had a long conversation with him.
He expressed great anxiety about the condition of things and seemed
to anticipate a dissolution of the Cabinet. He said he could not sleep
well of nights, for thinking of it — said if he were rich he would not
mind it personally, but that he felt great unwillingness at his age to
return to the Bar. We agreed that the situation at the head of a
department here was enviable, if the President had intellect and was
in harmony with his Cabinet and all supported by a good majority in
the two houses. Spoke of a resignation in a certain event but desired
to ascertain whether the President had been bargaining with the
Sept. .ith. Called on the President this morning and found Messrs.
Bell and Granger with him. Mr. Webster came in soon after.
The conversation turned on the Land Bill which was lying on the
table, before the President. He declared that it was his wish to approve
it, but he objected to one clause as containing a recognition of the right
of Congress to appropriate land and therefore money to internal im-
provements which right he denied. He drew up a declaration of his
opinion on that subject, which on consultation underwent some modi-
fications — he said he would have it copied in a fair hand and place one
copy in the hands of each member of his Cabinet. He asked our opin-
ion as to the time of sending up the Land Bill. . The Bank Bill was
passed and would probably be Vetoed; should he retain the Land Bill
and send up both together or send the Land Bill immediately? The
latter course was advised and resolved upon, as the more frank and
generous — he having known of the passage of the Bank Bill before
he approved the other.
The committee on Enrolled Bills came in and brought the Bank Bill
to the President and withdrew\ He wished to converse with us on the
subject in the most perfect confidence — he should probably be com-
pelled to Veto the Bill and he thought of accompanying the Veto with a
solemn declaration that he would not be a candidate for the Presidency
another term — said he had no ambition except to preserve a pure un-
sullied reputation, protect the constitution and promote the interests of
the country and he thought such declaration would place his motives
fairly before the people and disarm those who were assailing him. The
members of the Cabinet present did not concur in these views and
they w'ere very readily surrendered by the President. He was generally
it is true tenacious of his opinions but on this point he showed great
deference to the views of his Constitutional advisers. Li the course of
the conversation he said that he had indited a sentence intended for
insertion in his inaugural, expressly declaring that he would not be a
candidate for reelection ; wdiich he withheld lest its effect should be to
turn the batteries of Mr. Clay and his friends on Mr. Webster.
He evidently felt anxious and unhappy. He observed that coming
to the Presidency as he did, without being prominent in the canvass, he
1 1 o Documents
rallied no friends around him and had no party. That a sin"-ular
spectacle was now presented— heretofore if a member of the Administra-
tion party abandoned the President he was instantly assailed and cer-
tainly prostrated, but now whoever ventured to support the President
was as certainly ruined. He talked of his meditated Veto message said
he should criticise the bill with much severity. Mr. Webster thought it
imprudent and not entirely consistent with official dignity to do so— that
such a paper ought to be calm, elevated and full of dignity. The hope
was expressed by some of us that he might yet approve the bill and we
I walked to the Department with Mr. Webster who said we must
prepare the public through the press for the event and wished me to
call and see him in the morning.
Sept. 5". After reflecting very fully on what occurred at the Presi-
dent's yesterday, I made up my mind that we ought not yet to give up
the question or attempt to bring the public mind to an acquiescence in it.
I called on Mr. Webster and gave him my views fully which were—
That the President had given him a fine opening for a free and con-
fidential conversation at which he might tell him in the fulness of
gratitude and in the sincerity of friendship the whole truth as to his
present position — to show him the certain ruin of private reputation and
political power consequent upon the contemplated \^eto and perhaps
induce him to avoid the gulf into which he was about to plunge. Well
knowing the motives likely to operate on the mind of the President I
suggested to Mr. Webster this course of conversation —
1st. To express his grateful feelings to the President for the friendly
consideration of himself (Mr. W.) which had governed his (the Presi-
dent's) action in framing his inaugural.
2d. To speak of his own relations with Wx. Clay, and how and why
there was not and could not be cordial amity between them.
3d. To speak of the other members of the Cabinet. Their willing-
ness to support the President against any and all assailants if he would
but give them ground to stand upon. That for myself. / was well
impressed with the fact that Mr. Clay exacted great sacrifices of his
friends and was willing to sacrifice nothing to them. That I was the
friend of Mr. Clay as he (the President) had been his friend, but that I
would not fail to sustain the Administration to which I belonged against
any attack which Mr. Clay might think fit to make upon it. That I
would be very far from sacrificing my own certain present, to liis con-
tingent future. That as to Mr. Bell, he was less stronglv bound to Mr.
Clay than was supposed; that he felt that he had sacrificed enough to .
Mr. Clay's ambition and that he would be willing to go in cordially with
the President if this means were furnished of sustaining himself.
Messrs. Badger and Granger not being friends of Mr. Clay could be
the subjects of no jealousy and the presence of Mr. Crittenden as a
member of the Cabinet would serve to avert attacks, in the mischief of
which, if made he must share.
4th. That he should refer to the suggestions of The President yester-
day — that the Cabinet had no power or they could have postponed this
bill, and say that circumstances had placed it out of their power to exert
their influence in this but that their true strength was tested in getting
up and carrying through the House the Bill, which was framed by their
suggestion to meet the then expressed views of the President. That
I I 2 Documents
cesser ad interim — caused my letter of resignation to be recorded and dis-
patched my messenger with it to the President. Just as I was leaving
the Department Mr. Webster's messenger came with a request that 1
would see him immediately. I called and found him at his table with my
letter of resignation lying before him — he took it up as if weighing in
his hand and asked me if I recognized it — and added, " it is a harsh
paper, the President has not read a word of it; he feels kindly towards
you, has authorized me to tell you so, and that as you are determined
to resign, if you part in friendship he will give your choice of P'oreign
Missions — think better of it and withdraw this letter." I told him it was
impossible — that my people must know why I left the responsible posi-
tion in which Genl. Harrison with their concurrence had placed me,
that the reasons were set forth in that letter and 1 had made up my
mind to abide by it. He told me he had determined to remain for the
present — that there was one important fact stated which I could have
got from no one but him — and as it might disturb his relations with the
President he wished me to change the sentence and return the paper to
him. I went again to the Treasury Department, made the change — had
the record corrected and returned the letter.'"
It was published in the Intelligencer Monday morning and caused
much sensation.'' Mr. Webster suffered much by remaining in the
Cabinet, with his new associates. It was a mistake from the effects of
which he never recovered. My friends who advised me not to resign
after the publication of my letter approved what I had done.
Below is a copy taken from the Intelligencer. The record in the
Department seems to have been destroyed.
^■^ In Tyler's Letters and Times of the Tylers, II. 122, note, is a story of the
receipt of the letter of resignation by the President and of Webster's taking it.
given in a letter of 1883 by John Tyler, jr., the president's son and private
"Reprinted in Niles' Register, LXI. 33-34, and partly in Benton, Thirty
Years' I'iew, II. 343-345-
Diary of Thomas Ewiiig 1 1 1
he ought not to forget the circumstances under which that bill was go*-
up and the situation in which we were placed with regard to it. That it
did not at first meet the views of the members of either house — the
country had not spoken upon it and the House was not willing to pass
it until they had the assurance of the Senate that it would pass through
that body. On full consultation this assurance was obtained and by our
intercession and through our influence — hence after the passage of the
bill in the House a few members of the Senate could not consistently
with good faith, unite with the Locos and defeat the Bill nor could we
in good faith ask them to do it ; and it was not strange that the two
houses should be unwilling, after passing the Bill through one Branch
and finding it not only acceptable, but earnestly desired by the country,
to abandon it without being able to render a reason to their constituents
for such act. Hence it was not a case to test the influence of his
5th. That he should fully and carefully examine the situation of the
President, as to the Bill. His committal in the Veto Message — in his
inaugural — in his message to the two houses at the opening of the Session
and his conversation to members of Congress, declaring his concurrence
in such a bill.
6th. That he should undeceive him as to the supposed powerful
effect of the public monies in regulating the currency.
In all this Mr. Webster concurred and wrote a note to the President
saying that he would see him tomorrow morning.
The Whig papers from all the West and S. W. today were filled
with the most bitter denunciations against the President on account of
the first Veto. The signature of the Land Bill drew down upon him
heavy animadversions from some of the Locos in the Senate yesterday
(conversation between Wise and Beilly Peyton yesterday).'" And the
rumor w-as rife that the President through Judge Upsher and Alex.
Hamilton offered the situation of Attorney-General to McMahon of
Baltimore who rejected it with disdain and indignation as a proposed act
of treachery to the Whig party.
After our repeated conversations with the President and modifica-
tions to meet his views and remove his objections Mr. Webster and my-
self felt quite safe in assuring Mr. Berrien and Mr. Sergeant that the
bill as we had modified it, if passed by the two Houses would receive
his sanction. It was so passed without the change of a word, and when
I ascertained that he had Vetoed it, I parted with a determination never
to meet him again as a member of his Cabinet. Indeed I could not feel
that my reputation as a man of truth and candor was safe, while I
attempted to represent him. I went to my Department and advised him
by letter that I would resign on the next Saturday at 12 o'clock. I
wrote my letter of resignation — sent him a blank appointment for a suc-
" Henry A. Wise, representative from Virginia, and Bailie Peyton of Ten-
nessee, formerly representative from that state. The persons mentioned in the
next sentence are Judge Abel P. Upshur of Virginia, afterward Secretary of
State, the son of General Alexander Hamilton, and John V. L. McMahon, counsel
of the Baltimore ancl Ohio Railroad and author of An Historical View of ^fnry-
land (1831). With this next sentence the diary ends. The rest of the manuscript
is in Mr. Ewing's handwriting of much later date.
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