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Full text of "Diary of Thomas Ewing, August and September, 1841"

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DIARY OF THOMAS EWING, 
AUGUST AND SEPTEMBER, 184. 



REPRINTED FROM THE 



VOL. XVIll., NO. I . OCTOBER, 1912 






^ O V-yw^ C , 



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[Reprinted from Thk Amkrhan HisroRitAi Kkvilw, Vol. XVIII., No. i.Oct., 1912.] 



DOCUMENTS 
Diary of Thomas Eidng, 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 Miles 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 ^Marietta. To Mr. Ewing and to Mr. C. L. 
Martzolit 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. XVIII. — 7. (97) 



98 Docunioits 

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. AI. 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 Gcnl. 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 connnunicatcd 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 bv 
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 oflice in both De- 
partments especially in the Genl. Post Office 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 ])lace. 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. It 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 partisans, 
of a very low moral standard — their official duties performed bv 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 official standard and ensure a more faithful execution of oflicial 
duties. 

Genera! Harrison consulted much with Mr. Wrbster and myself 
before announcing his Cabinet. Mr. Webster was made Secretary of 
State. Ewinjr Secretary of the Treasury. Bill Secretary of War, 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 country 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' 
rechartcr 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, especially 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 
days. 

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 I should be a partv. Those gentlemen had 
come informally from the W'higs 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 sufficiently explicit on that point. That he 

'John Sergeant of Pennsylvania and Senator John M. Berrien of Georgia. 



I oo Documents 

did not think it became him to draw out a plan of a bank, l)ut 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 Bank 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 
him. 

On Wednesday the i8", which was the usual day for the meeting 
of the Cabinet, I went 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 was 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— //jo/ appeared to have been a committee 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 much 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 obicction 
to this unofficial friendly intercourse between the President and members 
of the two Housi-s, for the purpose of exchanging views and endeavoring 
to come to an understanding on subjects of common interest. This being 
•ii.sposcd 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 Ewing loi 

averred he liclicvcd it would be the salvation of the party if the 
Whigs in Congress would take it in a becoming spirit — spoke of the 
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, 1 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— Tz\k 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 
country. 

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 the 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. 

Eimng — 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. 

Ewing — That they may authorize such Bank to establish offices 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 
currency. 

Webster — I would like such a bill, with power to deal in Exchanges 
alone, without authoritv derived from the States, much better than if it 



I02 Documents 

combined the power of Discount with the assent of the States, and the 
power to deal in exchanges without such assent. I do not think it 
necessary 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 pow'er 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 
stock. 

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 — wished 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 we 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 i6" fundamental article and 
agreed as to the form of expression which should introduce the grant 
of power. 

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 mav 
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 sec 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 would 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 u])on them. 
They stated to me that they 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 ICxchanges through agents in the several 
States without reference to the assent of the States, but that he had re- 



Diary of Thomas Ewing 103 

ferred iIkih to his 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 comuiillcd by anything that he or we 
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. 

* Monday, 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 
manv 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 town 
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 
herein given. 



I04 Doaiments 

the Veto 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 either 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 then 
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 
be done. 

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 Mr. \\''cbster'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 f)fficer but that the names T had sent him were chosen with great 
care and I thought them inuxccptionablr. Just before I left him this 
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 TJiomas Eiving 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 (llicn ) next sessidii. h was gencralfy 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 tlic present wants of the country — namely, 
fortifications of the first class which can be completed at an expense of 
nine millions. 

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. l"he 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 
point. 

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 IMr. Clay's 
course. 

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 serv'ed as secre- 
tary of legation. 



1 06 Doniments 

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 would 
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 differed 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 impos.sihle. I would not even consult with 
liim, after a breach between him and the President took place until 
after I presented my letter of resignation. 

'This phrase, "drive Tykr into the Democratic parly", is written in Mr. 
EwIpk's hand of a tniich later date than the rest of the diary. 

•This paragraph is in Mr. F.wing's handwriting of much later date than the 
rot. 



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 tliat he had Mr. Selden'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 tlie 
evening we had a large party at Mr. Bell's where the President at- 
tended. 

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 aji 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 hhn 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 w^as 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- 
versity. 



I oS Documents 

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 " Madisotiiati " — Sept. 2d, i8.fr. 

" 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 
Bank 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. 
.Mthough 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 
Treasury Department." 

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 mc had contradicted the assertion. In this vou 
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- 
dcnce 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 substance of what I 
said touching that particular object. 

Vc)U perceive thereff)re that you did not mistake my opinion or my 
language. . . . 

Your sincere Friend 

T. EwiNG 

L. n. Bnrlrr J-.sq. 



Diary of ThoDias Ewing 109 

■i't!' t' ,'^ °'^''-'' ^ ''"^ "-"^^ President a copy of my letter of contract 
with the Banks accompanyino: 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 Hell 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 sleeo 
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 majoritv in 
he two houses. Spoke of a resignation in a certain event but desired 
to ascertain whether the President had been bargaining with the 
adversary. » & 

Jk1Z\ f' ^""^^°" .^he 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 ri-ht 
of Congress to appropriate land and therefore moncv to internal Tm 
provements which right he denied. He drew up a declaration of his 
opinion on that subject, which on consultation underwent some modi- 
hcations-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 hmc 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 immediatelv^ 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 probablv be com- 
pe led to Veto the Bill and he thought of accompanving the Veto with a 
solemn declaration that he w^ould not be a candidate for the Presidencv 
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 were very readily surrendered by the President. He was generally 
It IS true tenacious of his opinions but on this point he showed o-reat 
deference to the views of his Constitutional advisers. In the course of 
the conversation he said that he had indited a sentence intended for 
insertion in his inaugural, expresslv declaring that he would not be a 
candidate for reelection; which 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 unhappv. He observed that coming 
to the Presidency as he did, without being prominent in the canvass, he 



iio Documents 

rallied no friends around him and had no party. That a singular 
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 nnich 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 
parted, 

I walked to the Department with ^Ir. 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 Veto 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 — 

I St. To express his grateful feelings to the President for the friendly 
consideration of himself (IMr. W.) which had governed his (the Presi- 
dent's) action in framing his inaugural. 

2d. To speak of his own relations with Mr. 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 tliat 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 verv far from sacrificing my own certain present, to his con- 
tingent future. That as to Mr. Bell, he was less strongly 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 hafl 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 



Diary of T/ionias Ewing i i i 

he ought not to forget the circumstances under which that bill was got 
up and the situation in which wc were placed with regard to it. That it 
did not at first meet the views of the members of either house — the 
country liad 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 
Cabinet. 

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 w^ere 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 was 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 wnth the President and modifica- 
tions to meet his views and remove his objections ]\Ir. Webster and mv- 
self felt quite safe in assuring ]\Ir. 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 and Ohio Railroad and author of An Historical View of Mary- 
land (1S31). With this next sentence the diary ends. The rest of the manuscript 
is in Mr. Ewing's handwriting of much later date. 



1 I - Dociinioits 

cessor 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 I 
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 arc determined 
to resign, if you part in friendship he will give your choice of Foreign 
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 I had made up my 
mind to abide by it. He told mc 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 mc 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 
secretary. 

" Reprinted in Xiles' Register, LXI. 33-34. and partly in Benton. Thirly 
years' I'iew, II. 343-345- 



ii^Sr. ^'^ CONGRE: 



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0n 895 575 



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