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Feiendship and Admiration. 


The lectures which make up this volume were 
delivered before the University of Wisconsin, at 
Madison, in the months of February and March, 
1896. The invitation to deliver them came through 
my friends, Professor Richard T. Ely, the editor of 
the series in which they now appear, and Professor 
Frederick J. Turner, of that institution. They 
formed part of a course of lectures on the general 
history of the South, which were delivered nom- 
inally to a class, but really to a large audience 
composed of representatives of the University and 
of the city of Madison, who extended to me a 
courtesy that I shall never forget, and a sympa- 
thetic interest which would have inspired a block 
of stone. If I may judge from the kindness of my 
own reception, Madison is a very paradise for lec- 
turers ; it is also one of the least sectional and 
biassed places that I have ever known. I must 
have said things that many of my auditors could 
not agree with ; but from that noble old veteran, 



General Lucius Fairchild (now, alas! no more), 
down to the youngest student, I did not encounter 
a single critic who was not as liberal and magnan- 
imous as a true American ought to be. 

Yet the generous reception accorded a lecture 
on its delivery is no excuse for its subsequent pub- 
lication; and the reader has a perfect right to 
inquire why I have thought fit to make a volume 
of these lectures of mine. My answer is twofold. 
In the first place, I have relied upon the judgment 
of competent friends who heard them ; in the sec- 
ond place, I think that my more or less popular 
treatment of my several themes may interest read- 
ers who would be repelled by formal histories and 
biographies. Every man who can be made to take 
interest in the great personages of his country's 
history is ipso facto rendered a better citizen ; and 
so, if I have failed to throw a single ray of new 
light upon any of the statesmen I have discussed, 
but have nevertheless succeeded in treating the 
familiar facts in a fresh and engaging way, I shall 
feel that my labor was not wholly wasted, and 
that I did well both to deliver my lectures and to 
publish them. 

Yet I would fain hope that I have not entirely 
failed to throw new light upon my subjects. I 
would fain hope that I have praised Washington 
with a bold enthusiasm that may prove contagious ; 
that I have emphasized rightly Jefferson's cosmo- 


politanism ; that I have explained in a fresh way 
the hold Calhoun and his followers got upon the 
Southern mind ; and that I have treated Jefferson 
Davis more fairly than most students of our his- 
tory, even including many Southerners, have yet 
succeeded in doing. 

If I deceive myself in these hopes, I must at 
least protest that I do not deceive myself as to the 
point of view from which I have endeavored to 
regard all the great men whose careers I have had 
to consider. I have regarded them from the point 
of view of an American who is at the same time a 
Southerner, proud enough of his section to admit 
its faults, and yet to proclaim its essential great- 
ness. I have disdained to pander to a provincial 
sentimentalism that shivers at honest and fair crit- 
icism of any man or cause that may have become 
a shibboleth; but I have at the same time not 
consciously written about the leaders of my sec- 
tion a word that will by any right-minded person 
be construed into a servile acceptance of the ad- 
verse judgments passed upon some of them by 
outside and unfriendly critics. 

My opinions are the results of my own studies, 
based chiefly upon Southern materials ; and I am 
willing to change all or any of them, when they 
are proved to be erroneous, but I am certainly 
not to be turned from them by unstinted personal 
abuse. It is almost needless to add, except for 


the benefit of certain hjrpersensitive portions of 
the Southern people, that I have not desired to 
wound the feelings of a single individual, or of my 
compatriots in general, by any criticisms that I 
have been compelled to pass upon the men and 
measures of the old regime. 

I have now sufficiently explained the occasion 
for the writing and the publication of these lec- 
tures, and I have tried to characterize the spirit 
in which I composed them. 

One other matter needs explanation, to wit, the 
choice I have made of the statesmen discussed. 
Many of the most distinguished Southern political 
leaders have no special treatment, and some are 
hardly mentioned by name. It was, indeed, my 
original intention to make the volume more truly 
representative by including lectures, or rather 
chapters, on Madison, Monroe, Marshall, and Yan- 
cey; but other work has intervened, and I have 
been compelled to publish only the original lec- 
tures as they were delivered in Madison. 

With regard to my selection of subjects for 
them, I conceived that I had little choice. Wash- 
ington must be taken, if only to show that to 
the South must belong the eternal honor of hav- 
ing given to the Union the greatest of all Ameri- 
cans. Jefferson must be included as the most 
influential of all our statesmen, and as having 
the most philosophical grasp and reach of mind. 


John Randolph of Roanoke was not only a fas- 
cinating subject for a lecture, but also an indis- 
pensable connecting link between Jefferson and 
Calhoun, and a prototype of the extreme partisans 
represented by such men as Yancey and Henry 
A. Wise. Calhoun and Jefferson Davis were ab- 
solutely necessary, if only for the reason that 
they stood for the two States that led in the 
movement for secession, South Carolina and Mis- 
sissippi. Stephens and Toombs were needed be- 
cause they represented the important State of 
Georgia, but also because they were types of two 
great divisions of the Southern people, — those 
who shrank from secession, but at last went into 
the movement through external pressure ; and 
those who held back for a while, but then rushed 
forward as impetuously as the original fire-eaters. 
Of these consistent fire-eaters I should have se- 
lected Yancey as the type, had I been able to add 
another lecture; but in so doing I should have 
somewhat belied my title, for the tjrpical fire-eater 
has no claims to be considered a statesman. 

Of the real statesmen omitted I chiefly regret 
the noblest of our jurists, Marshall; not that I 
fancy that I could have done him justice, but that 
I feel that he is not nearly so well known to the 
present generation of Southerners as he should 
be. It is a curious fact that there is hardly a 
line devoted to him in a school history which 


has recently received the enthusiastic indorsement 
of all the honest but misguided people who are 
clamoring for a specifically Southern history. 
Yet, after "Washington and Jefferson, is not his 
the greatest name that the South can point to? 
From first to last he upheld, not merely the dig- 
nity of the court over which he presided, but of 
the nation whose Chief Justice he was. His 
great intellect pierced through the metaphysical 
cobwebs spun around the Constitution by men 
who would have kept us from becoming- a mighty 
nation in order that they might strengthen the 
power of sparsely settled States and of a de- 
crepit and hurtful institution. He stood out for 
the national honor against the opposition of his 
State and of his section. He alone of all Virgin- 
ians inherited the spirit and the balanced genius, 
and continued the traditions, of Washington. He 
was a statesman and a sage; and to have treated 
him, however imperfectly, would have been an 
inspiration to any lecturer. 

Madison and Monroe I regret also, but not so 
deeply. The services of the former to his country 
were great, and should never be forgotten; but, 
after all, he is in many respects simply a follower 
of Jefferson, and a figure for whom I am able to 
feel little more enthusiasm than was displayed for 
him not long since by that brilliant but one-sided 
critic of our history, Mr. Goldwin Smith. The 


Madison of the Constitutional Convention and of 
the Federalist is an admirable, though not a fas- 
cinating, subject for a lecturer; the Madison of 
the Virginia Resolutions ought to be a fit subject 
of eulogy for a casuist ; the Madison of the White 
House I am content to leave to that disillusioned 
but great historian, Mr. Henry Adams. 

Monroe, although he is distinctly inferior to 
Madison as a man, would make, I opine, an ex- 
cellent topic for a lecture or essay. He will be 
more available, however, when his works are col- 
lected in a proper form. As it is, he is chiefly 
interesting because of the essential importance of 
his administrations, — which are a kind of half- 
way house in our history, — and as an early type 
of that curious product of American political life, 
the mediocre man elevated to power through the 
inability of a democracy to judge men and prin- 
ciples by much subtler tests than it applies to 
objects of art. 

Jackson, Clay, and Benton, though Southerners 
by birth, had no place in my scheme because they 
came to stand for ideas distinctly Western. That 
able but mysteriously disappointing and disap- 
pointed man, William H. Crawford, I should un- 
der any circumstances have omitted for want of 
materials. Mason I have said a few words about 
in the lecture on Randolph. Of the minor South- 
em politicians I could say little, simply because 


they were minor. A most interesting book, how- 
ever, could be made up of them alone. In the 
heroic period of Southern politics, which, roughly- 
speaking, goes down to the Missouri Compromise, 
one would have such noble men as Rutledge and 
the Pinckneys of South Carolina, and to take a 
very different type, the utterly unlovely but 
coarsely powerful Giles of Virginia. In the 
period of the Epigoni, one would have such in- 
terestingly decadent types as John Tyler and R. 
M. T. Hunter of Virginia, such mixed types of 
vigor and ineffectiveness as Legare and McDuffie 
and Hayne of South Carolina, and such types 
of sheer obstreperousness as Governor Troup of 
Georgia. As for the fire-eaters, they would make 
several lurid chapters; but I am glad, on the 
whole, that I can dispense with writing the same. 
In conclusion, I may remark that I have pre- 
served the lecture form pure and simple, because 
to have changed it would^ require more time than 
I was able to spar,^, and would probably have re- 
sulted in no literary gain proportionate to the 
labor involved. A set essay/ to have justified its 
pretensions, would, in the case of each statesman 
treated, have involved fresh study and greater 
library facilities than I can at present command. 
I have, therefore, contented myself with making 
some verbal changes and adding a few foot-notes ; 
and I now commit the whole flotilla of tiny crafts, 


along with this homely raft of a Preface, to what- 
ever sort of sea Fortune may will that they shall 

W. p. TRENT. 

Sewanee, Tennessee, Nov. 27, 1896. 

Note. — It may be noted that all the lectures here published 
were subsequently delivered at Sewanee in the summer of 1896, 
and that the lecture on "Washington was read before the Ten- 
nessee Historical Society at Nashville in May of the same year. 
No lecture has been published as a whole, but sentences and para- 
graphs have been incorporated in certain articles contributed to 
magazines. Every courtesy was extended to me by Mr. Scott, the 
librarian of the State of Virginia, and by Mr. Thwaites, who has 
the privilege of keeping the magnificent collections of the Wis- 
consin Historical Society. For careful attention to the proof- 
sheets during my absence abroad I am indebted both to Dr. Ely 
and to my colleague, Professor B. W. Wells. 


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Preface . vii 

George Washington 3 

Thomas Jefferson 49 

John Randolph of Roanoke 89 

John Caldwell Calhoun 153 

Alexander H. Stephens and Robert Toombs . . 197 

Jefferson Davis 257 



The attempt to discuss in the short space of an 
hour so large a theme as the career of George 
Washington as a statesman might be justly char- 
acterized as impertinent, did I not hasten to ex- 
plain the point of view from which I propose to 
consider my great subject. I have not the slight- 
est intention of treating it in the manner of a mi- 
nute specialist (which I am not) who is trying to 
add to your knowledge of facts. Neither have I 
the intention of trying to put familiar facts before 
you in a novel light. I am not sure that I wish, 
primarily, to make you know anything; but I am 
sure that I wish to make you feel something very 
deeply. If, however, I cannot succeed in making 
you feel that something after I have talked to you 
about it for an hour, it is obvious that, if I talked 
to you as long as a Scotch divine of the seven- 
teenth century was in the habit of discoursing, I 
should not succeed in making you feel it, even 

1 I have relied chiefly on Lodge's " Washington" and on the 
'• Works " edited by Sparks and Ford. It would be useless to enu- 
merate all the sources from which I have drawn in this and in 
each succeeding chapter. 



though you had the abounding patience of a 
Scotch congregation of that period. 

Now, what I wish to make you feel is something 
rather rare in these fin de siecle times of ours, — 
a genuine, not affected or sentimental, admiration 
for a man whose achievements have become hack- 
neyed. Genuine admiration is rare at any time, 
but it is most rare when its object is a person or 
thing that has long received the lip-service of man- 
kind. Lip-service is not heart-service ; and it is 
heart-service that is essential to true admiration. 

There was a time when George Washington had 
the heart-service of the American people for his 
glorious defence and establishment of their liber- 
ties. I very much fear that a good deal of that 
heart-service has changed to lip-service ; and I wish 
to show in this lecture that such a change in sen- 
timent is unworthy of us, especially as it is usually 
found in people who make some pretensions to cul- 
ture. My object, then, shall be to point out in 
broad lines those traits of Washington's character 
and career as a statesman that, in my judgment, 
prove his greatness and demand our gratitude ; and 
in doing this I shall naturally be compelled to 
treat, though more briefly, his career and character 
as a man and a soldier, for he was great at home 
and on the field before he displayed his greatness 
in the cabinet. Yet before entering fully upon 
this task, it may be well to say a few words about 


the popular inappreciation of Washington's great- 
ness to which I have referred. 

Mr. Henry Cabot Lodge, in the introduction to 
his admirable, I think I may say noble, " Life of 
Washington," has given a very good account of 
the various Washington myths that have come 
to pass current for the real man, who is so hard 
to know. He traces the solemn myth, the com- 
monplace myth, and the priggish myth to the 
effect upon the great mass of unreasoning readers 
produced by the eulogies of Sparks and Everett, 
by biographies of other distinguished men of the 
Revolution, and by the farcical compilation of 
the notorious Parson Weems. 

There is doubtless much truth in this account 
of the origin of these popular myths, but I think 
we must explore somewhat deeper if we would 
get at the whole truth. That the myth which 
represents Washington as a solemn, impeccable 
demi-god is largely due to the labors of the eulo- 
gists working on a well-known human tendency to 
magnify undiscriminatingly the men and events of 
the past, goes, indeed, without saying. But I fear 
that this demi-god myth is not very common now- 
adays. If you will collect the references made 
to Washington by our newspapers ; if you will 
gather the opinions of your average friends and 
acquaintances about him; better still, if you will 
examine the typical schoolboy or college student 


on the subject, — you will find, I am sure, that the 
commonplace and priggish myths — the idea that 
he was a rather ordinary or even goody-goody man 
made prominent by circumstances — are distress- 
ingly prevalent. 

Now, why is this? I cannot believe that the 
books cited have done more than occasion the phe- 
nomenon ; they certainly have not caused it. 
Marvellous legends grew up around the names of 
Alexander and Virgil and Charlemagne in the 
Middle Ages, some of which are ridiculous enough 
to our modern notions; but it is plain that they 
were not ridiculous to the people that framed them 
and accepted them ; it is equally plain that those 
people would not have accepted them if they had 
been ridiculous. How is it, then, that in the full 
light of the nineteenth century so many represen- 
tatives of a people that boast themselves to be in 
the forefront of civilization have gravely accepted 
the ridiculous stories that a silly old man chose to 
invent about the greatest figure of a great genera- 
tion, or else have calmly assented to the still more 
ridiculous proposition, contradicted as it is by all 
historical experience, that a commonplace man 
headed and carried to success a tremendous revo- 
lution, and laid broad and deep the foundations 
of an empire ? That he did these things, or was 
largely instrumental in their doing, no sane man 
can deny. Yet people still call Washington com- 


monplace; and only the other day, while I was 
preparing this lecture, a lady entered the State li- 
brary of Virginia and asked for Weems's book, 
saying she had been told that it was the best life 
of Washington to be had. How is this anomaly 
to be explained? 

I have an explanation which I offer with diffi- 
dence and timidity, for it is not very flattering 
to any of us. The cause of much of the popular 
detraction and hollow lip-service which we must 
deplore in connection with Washington lies in 
that incapacity for discriminating appreciation of 
greatness and genius which is so characteristic of 
us Anglo-Saxons. We are, most of us, as Matthew 
Arnold has told us, inaccessible to ideas ; but to 
the ideas of greatness and genius we are often 
positively impervious. I know, of course, that 
this is a charge that may be justly made against 
the whole human race ; but, unless I am hopelessly 
pessimistic, it lies more especially and particularly 
at our own doors. We, that is. Englishmen and 
Americans, have produced men of action and of 
letters who have been without superiors, perhaps 
without equals, in the world's history; but we 
have frequently been slow to recognize them, we 
have very often appreciated them only partially, 
and we have time and again shared the reverence 
and affection which they alone have deserved, 
with men scarce worthy to unloose the latchets 
of their shoes. 


The loyalists who shuddered when a weak 
king lost his head and his throne through his own 
folly were thoroughly callous to the grandeur of 
the sacrifice made by the infinitely greater Puri- 
tan poet when he incurred blindness rather than 
forego the defence of his country and his cause. 
There was some excuse for them; but what ex- 
cuse is there for those thousands upon thousands 
of us moderns who still wax sentimental over 
Charles the First, but are utterly untouched by 
the grandeur, the sublimity, of Milton, whether 
as artist or as man? 

What are we to say of ourselves when we re- 
member that it was to the contemporaries of Ten- 
nyson and Browning that edition after edition 
was sold of Tupper's " Proverbial Philosophy ; " 
that it was to the contemporaries of Burke that 
Wilkes appeared a hero, and to the contemporaries 
of Swift that Dr. Sacheverell was a great man? 
That we have ultimately come, if not to know the 
characters of our real heroes and statesmen and 
poets, at least to repeat their names, I cheerfully 
admit. I admit further that we have been far- 
sighted and hard-headed enough when it has been 
a question of resisting taxation; but I must con- 
tend that in the loyalty with which we have 
supported false causes and foolish measures, we 
have been nothing if not near-sighted and soft- 
headed. While we praise a de Montfort or a 


Hampden, we must not forget the Jacobite gentle- 
men who drank to the wretched king over the 

But we Anglo-Saxons are not entirely alone in 
our incapacity to estimate great men. The whole 
world does it gropingly and slowly. Alexander 
the Great, for example, has long been regarded 
as one of the world's greatest men; but not even 
after all these centuries have the majority of us 
formed any proper conception of his greatness as a 
constructive statesman. This is measurably true 
of Csesar, from whom the lustre was borrowed 
that so long lighted up those two leaden figures, 
Cato the Younger, and Pompey, once called the 
Great. It is especially true of Alfred the Great, 
who is, I suspect, a mere name to most of us, — 
a name connected with a humorous story about 
some overdone cakes. There is, however, con- 
siderable excuse for our failure to put a proper 
estimate upon Alfred's greatness, because his 
greatness plainly consisted in a splendid equi- 
poise of powers which, taken separately, would 
not have been supreme. In other words, his was 
the rare, perhaps the crowning, genius of balance, 
— a genius which in the sphere of poetry is illus- 
trated by the splendid name of Sophocles ; and it 
is to the men of liis type that Washington indu- 
bitably belongs. 

But we commonplace mortals are slow to appre- 


ciate the genius of balance, or indeed any genius 
over much, and we Anglo-Saxons are entirely too 
prone to worship the average; hence, when any 
occasion presents itself for pulling a man of genius 
down to our own level, we avail ourselves of it. 
And so Weems's trivial book has served a fell 
purpose, its author building more foolishly, but 
at the same time more enduringly, than he knew ; 
and the admirable lives by Marshall, Irving, and 
Lodge have not sufficed to counteract the evil 

For it is an evil of the subtlest kind, it is a 
hurt done to the most vital part, when the mem- 
ory of a great man ceases to fire a nation's youth, 
ceases to hearten its matured men, ceases to con- 
sole for their half-accomplished labors its gray- 
headed and careworn veterans. That friend of 
Fletcher of Saltoun's uttered a pregnant truth 
when he said, in effect, " Give me the making of 
a people's ballads, and I will leave to others the 
making of their laws ; " but he would, perhaps, 
have been even nearer the mark if he had said, 
" Let me determine what great men a people shall 
take to their hearts, what great exemplars they 
shall follow, and I will leave to others the making 
of their ballads and their laws." 

We are all of us prone to worship and love: 
woe to us when we worship and love that which 
is mediocre, common, and unclean; woe to us, if 


in less degree, when we worship and love that 
which, though high, is plainly not the highest; 
and woe to those foolish men who endeavor to 
detach a people from the worship of a worthy and 
noble man to whose memory they have given their 

National or world heroes and ideal men are not 
to be had for the asking, as those who coin silly 
jokes about the " Immortal George " seem to ima- 
gine. I should not like to believe, do not be- 
lieve, that we Americans are an irreverent people ; 
but I know that we do not take great things, 
great ideas, great men, seriously enough. Hence 
I was not indignant when, some years ago, Mr. 
Swinburne referred to Mr. Lowell's unpardonable 
attempt to be humorous about Milton's blindness, 
"as a hideous and Boeotian jest." Hideous and 
Boeotian are, it seems to me, exactly the epithets 
to apply to much that is said and written to-day 
in this country about Washington. 

Rather than have you joke about him, rather 
than have you endeavor to pull him down from 
his lofty eminence, I would have you even emu- 
late that erratic Englishman, Mr. Martin Farquhar 
Tupper, and write a drama with Washington rep- 
resented as the old lover of Mary Arnold, the 
sister of Benedict, who, being affianced to Major 
Andr6, tries to avenge his execution by rushing, 
like Charlotte Corday, to stab the Marat of the 


American Revolution.^ Yes, I would rather have 
you write such a drama, and make Patrick Henry 
call Washington "The Saul and the Musseus of 
our millions," than have you utter "a hideous and 
Boeotian jest" about him. If we are to speak 
of great men, let us do it worthily, in the tone 
and manner, if we can, of Wordsworth's sonnet 
on Milton which contains that grand verse, — 

*' Thy soul was like a star and dwelt apart." 

But here, in leaving this phase of the subject, it 
is comfortable to remember and it is just to affirm 
that Mr. Lowell has spoken nobly of Washington 
in his ode entitled " Under the Old Elm." 

To present even the barest outlines of Wash- 
ington's life would be, of course, superfluous on 
this occasion, as you are all familiar with the main 
facts. The life of the boy on the Virginian plan- 
tation, of the young surveyor and soldier in the 
Western wilderness, of the aide-de-camp under 
Braddock, of the planter burgess, of the com- 
mander-in-chief, of the promoter of constitutional 
union, of the first President of these United 
States, has been told and retold for a century, 

1 " Washington, a Drama in Five Acts," hy Martin F. Tapper, 
New York, 1876. This is a most remarkahle production. See 
especially the speech in which Benjamin Franklin describes 
Washington's pedigree and coat-of-arms! 


and will be told and retold as long as the world 

It is true that there are perhaps a few points 
in the story that will bear retelling and fresh com- 
ment; as, for example, the incident of his mar- 
riage and the utter folly of supposing that anybody 
but a romantic man could have made such an im- 
petuous, love-at-firsi>sight step. His playing at 
cards, treating the ladies, love of hunting and 
racing, have been skilfully used by Mr. Lodge; 
but the latter's space was limited, and there is 
still room for some one to take Washington's 
letters and journals, and bring out for us their 
humane side. The utter lack of conceit in his 
account of his adventure with Gist on the ice- 
bound raft; the tender-heartedness displayed in 
the letter to Dinwiddle of April 22, 1756, in 
which he describes the sufferings of the people 
about Winchester ; the manly straightforwardness 
of his proclamations to his soldiers from first to 
last; the fine scorn and sarcasm he could display 
on proper occasions, as, for example, when he 
commented on the conduct of Ensign Dennis 
McCarty; his ability to complain without being 
querulous, evidenced throughout his correspond- 
ence with Dinwiddle; his generosity in recom- 
mending merit in others; his humor, displayed in 
his letter to Mrs. Richard Stockton in reply to 
her poem on himself ; his modesty ; his considera- 


tion for inferiors, instanced especially when he 
hastened up to Frederick on the news that small- 
pox had broken out in his negro quarters, — these 
and a hundred other points are waiting to be illus- 
trated by the man who is to give us the ideal life 
of Washington.! 

I shall be curious to see what this biographer 
will make of that inimitable note written to Mrs. 
Martha Custis on July 20, 1758, when the march 
to the Ohio had been begun .2 But such matters 
are hardly germane to our present inquiry, for 
there have been great statesmen whose love-affairs 
have played no important part in their careers. 
What mainly concerns us is the question, What 
is there fascinating or supreme about the story of 
Washington's life? 

According to some people, Washington was sim- 
ply a Virginian country gentleman of very re- 

1 The letters referred to can be easily found by the use of the 
index to Ford's edition. 

2 This note is so good and so brief that it may be quoted en- 
tire : — 

" We have begun our march for the Ohio. A courier is starting for 
Williamsburg, and I embrace the opportunity to send a few words to 
one whose life is now inseparable from mine. Since that happy hour 
when we made our pledges to each other, my thoughts have been con- 
tinually going to you as another self. That an all-powerful Providence 
may keep us both in safety is the prayer of your ever faithful and affec- 
tionate friend." 

The reader may be also referred to the courtly letter to Mrs. 
George William Fairfax, in which Washington acknowledged 
his love for Mrs. Custis. (Ford, II. 95.) 


spectable powers, who, having had experience in 
border-warfare, was, in the absence of competitors, 
put in command of a rather ragged and disrepu- 
table army of insurgent colonists, who were en- 
abled to make their revolution a success mainly 
through the fact that their mother country was, 
for many reasons, unable to put forth her full 
force to quell her rebellious subjects. These 
same people go on to observe that it was Madison, 
Jay, Hamilton, Franklin, and Wilson who were 
chiefly instrumental in obtaining our Constitution 
for us ; and that, when we needed a first Presi- 
dent, Washington was chosen because he had been 
a successful commander-in-chief, and because he 
was that eminently safe man that the American 
people have always fancied whenever they have 
had any important ofl5ce to bestow. Our critics 
further affirm that Washington's administrations 
were successful largely because of his policy of 
making use of the brains of two great leaders, 
Jefferson and Hamilton, and because in the end 
he allowed the views of the more constructive of 
these statesmien to prevail. They conclude their 
disillusioning analysis by declaring that, after all, 
Washington was not an American, but a colonial 
Englishman; and that if we latter-day "good 
Americans " want a bona fide hero of our own 
rearing to worship, we must descend the stream 
of time a space until we discern the great form 


of Abraham Lincoln looming above its waters. 
Here, with unnecessary kindness — for who now 
denies Lincoln's greatness ? — they tell us we may 
moor our barques in safety. ^ 

Now, how is one to prove conclusively that this 
view is specious ! It is as specious and absurd to 
the student of history as the theory that Bacon 
wrote Shakspere's plays is to the student of lit- 
erature ; but how is this fact to be made clear to 
the popular apprehension? I fear that it can- 
not be made conclusively clear by any process, 
just as you cannot force a man to see that "Tom 
Jones " is a very great novel. If he says with the 
late Sidney Lanier, "I protest that I can read 
none of these books without feeling as if my soul 
had been in the rain, draggled, muddy, miserable," 
will you convince him of the narrowness, the ba- 
nality, of his view by telling him that it frequently 
does a robust soul good to get a drenching, and 
that ultra-delicate souls are as little to be de- 
pended on in judging books as fever-patients are 
in judging the state of the thermometer? Will 
he not hug up his so-easily draggled soul, and 
shudder at you as for a rough, burly fellow, with 

1 It is probably little known that this idea of Washington 
not being a true American was combated in a "Life of George 
Washington in Latin Prose," by Francis Glass, A.M., of Ohio, 
which was issued in New York in 1835. Washington's life was 
also made a text-book for French classes by Professor A. N. 
Girault, U.S.N. 


no delicacy of conscience or of taste? What are 
you to do with him but let him alone? 

Just so, if a man, because he can perceive noth- 
ing startling or sensational in Washington's career, 
insist on believing that he was a more or less 
commonplace character, how is one to deal with 
such a man? 

Will he be convinced that he is mistaken if you 
point out that no commonplace character could 
have taken the dignified stand that Washington 
took in the Braddock campaign with regard to 
the outranking commissions of the royal officers; 
that no commonplace youth could have acted with 
the fiery courage, yet cool deliberation, of Wash- 
ington, on the day of the fatal ambush near Fort 
Duquesne ? Because Washington, before the pub- 
lication of Johnson's Dictionary, and even after, 
took liberties with the spelling of his native lan- 
guage such as every English gentleman of the 
period, including men of letters, was in the habit 
of taking, will an exacting critic cease to carry his 
nineteenth century ideas back into the eighteenth, 
and forbear to assert that Washington was an 
illiterate provincial? I fear not. 

I am apprehensive, too, that he will see no con- 
clusive proof of great generalship in the fact that 
not an important battle was fought in the whole 
Revolutionary War that cannot in some way be 
connected with the overseeing eye and planning 


)3^:y: >4 


brain of Washington, though the latter might be 
hundreds of miles away — a claim which it would 
be difficult to make good for any of the generals 
engaged on either side in our Civil War. I fear, 
further, that he will see no supreme patience, tact, 
or patriotic firmness and clear-sightedness in the 
control exercised by Washington over a silly and 
bickering Congress — a control paralleled only 
by that exercised by Marlborough over an equally 
silly Parliament — a control certainly not exer- 
cised by any general on either side in our Civil 
War, not so much because the Congresses were less 
silly, or because two rather obstinate Presidents 
were in the field, as because the generals them- 
selves were less masterful and great. 

Now, I may as well confess that it is on the 
truths^ conveyed, as I believe, in the two last 
sentences, that I am willing to rest the claim not 
only that Washington is the greatest general 
and soldier that this country has produced, but 
that he is worthy to rank with the great generals 
and soldiers of all races and of all ages, with the 
Alexanders and Hannibals and Caesars, with the 
Crom wells and Marlboroughs and Napoleons. To 
many people this will seem, I doubt not, a foolish 
and extra vagrant claim, especially when I hasten 
to add that I know next to nothing of the science 
of war, that I never saw, and probably never shall 
see, a battle, that even in my historical studies 


I skip military technicalities as often as I con- 
sistently can. 

Yet, heretical as the statement may seem in this 
age of specialists, I am not inclined to think that 
ignorance of the details of warfare unfits me or 
any other man for forming an opinion on a matter 
in which imagination necessarily plays the most 
important role. The most minute study of plans 
of campaigns or battles will never suffice to enable 
any man to make a great general or soldier live 
and move before him ; but, unless one does this, 
how futile must be the attempt to estimate such a 
hero's greatness. Imagination, and the judgment 
that looks to wholes rather than to parts, are, it 
seems to me, essential in any such estimate ; and, 
while I am not going to be immodest enough to 
claim for myself any preponderating amount of 
these two requisites, I shall at least expect those 
who assail my conclusion as to Washington's great- 
ness as a soldier, to be fairly certain that they 
excel me in these requisites. For, if I have any 
imagination or judgment, Washington was a su- 
premely great general. 

Not that he always won his battles, or won them 
in the most masterly way ; not that he flamed like 
a comet in the heavens threatening desolation to 
the nations ; not that he moved across the world's 
stage like a Karl or a Timour. His career does 
not enthral us as does that of Alexander; it has 


not such tragic elements of inspiration and pathos 
as has that of Hannibal ; it does not leave us 
breathless with admiration as does that of Csesar ; 
it does not exalt us and horrify us as does that 
of Napoleon. But it does give us that supreme 
sense of satisfaction that flows from the percep- 
tion of harmony and proportion ; it does thrill us 
with the intense and elevated joy that must ever 
follow the spectacle of great powers consciously 
working for the successful accomplishment of 
divine justice; it does fascinate us by means of 
those elements of sublimity and pathos that are 
never absent from the contemplation of a lonely 
but serene elevation above the common tide of 

I confess that I am glad to know that so su- 
preme a master of the art of war as Frederick 
the Great pronounced Washington's Trenton cam- 
paign to be the most brilliant of the century, — 
the century, be it remembered, of Marlborough 
and of Frederick himself. But it is naturally no 
particular battle or campaign that rises instinc- 
tively before my untutored mind as a masterpiece 
of strategy. I think rather of the Berserker rash- 
ness and daring displayed at Fort Duquesne and 
at Monmouth, and I recall William the Conqueror 
at Hastings ; I see Washington cross the Delaware, 
I see him at Valley Forge, and I recall Hannibal 
upon the Alps ; I see him turn a ragged body of 


suspicious New Englanders into trained soldiers 
ready to die for him, and I recall no less a man 
than Csesar; I see him put down the Conway 
cabal, and reduce Congress to do his bidding, and 
I recall Marlborough; I see him quell Lee with 
his fiery eye and biting words, and I somehow re- 
call Cromwell ; I hear him later in life burst forth 
into grief and imprecation at the failure of St. 
Clair's expedition, and I recall Augustus Caesar; 
I see him in his tent brooding over the treason of 
Arnold, and weighing the claims of mercy and of 
justice in the case of Andre, and I recall only his 
own imperial self. 

All imagination, you will say, and I admit it 
frankly; but it is the only way I have, in my de- 
plorable ignorance of military science, of arriving 
at any conception of the characters of Alexander 
or Caesar or Napoleon; and I suspect that, if you 
will examine your minds carefully, you will find 
that your own views as to the greatness of these 
and of all other men have been arrived at in 
much the same way. A wide-looking judgment 
must, however, supplement the imagination in the 
use to which we have been putting it ; but with re- 
gard to Washington's greatness as a general, judg- 
ment fails us no more than imagination. Surely 
the verdict of judgment must be that of imagina- 
tion, when we consider the clear-sighted firmness 
with which Washington held ever before his eyes 


a permanent break with England as the only end 
to be striven for; when we remember the dignity 
with which he accepted the aid of France without 
in any way compromising the honor of his country ; 
when we perceive how thoroughly he coerced all 
opposition to his will ; when, finally, we are con- 
vinced that every important feature of every cam- 
paign was planned and foreseen by his clear and 
patriotic mind. 

If, now, any one objects that much that I have 
said about Washington as a general really applies 
to Washington as a statesman, I shall answer that 
I cannot quite comprehend how there can be such 
a monstrosity as a general of the first order, who 
does not also possess many of the characteristics 
of a statesman. But this leads us naturally to 
consider Washington in his more peaceful but 
equally supreme role, and brings us to the main 
topic of this lecture. 

In some respects it seems harder to vindicate 
Washington's greatness as a statesman than it is 
to vindicate his greatness as a military commander. 
No Revolutionary general stood as near to him in 
ability as did the two statesmen, Jefferson and 
Hamilton. These two men and the ideas they 
represented have since divided the political alle- 
giance of nearly all Americans; and the result is 
that their fame as statesmen has overshadowed 
that of their master — for he was their master. 


It is, perhaps, natural enough that the man who 
is so narrow as to fancy that all political truth is 
bound up with the party to which he himself be- 
longs, should extol the great leader from whom 
his party derives its principles, and should ima- 
gine either that Washington was a pliant tool in 
the hands of that leader, or else that he showed a 
certain amount of greatness in adopting the prin- 
ciples of that leader. It is hardly necessary for 
me to say that I take no such view of Washington 
as a statesman. Although he did not use pen or 
voice in the movement for constitutional union to 
the same extent as did Hamilton and Madison, 
his pen, his voice, his example, — his mere name, 
— were of more weight than all they wrote or 
said or did. His clear eye saw the defects of the 
union that was obtained ; but his superb equipoise 
of judgment bade him, like Franklin, accept the 
result, and labor to strengthen and improve it. 
Not for him the rashness of Hamilton ; not for him 
the yielding of Madison to the subtle, but often 
sophistical, influence of Jefferson; not for him 
the far-sighted obstinacy of a Henry, or the short- 
sighted obstinacy of a Hancock. 

Compared with him, how the other figures of 
the period, even the greatest, shrink and diminish. 
The spiritual dignity of his altruism sits not upon 
Franklin ; his breadth and catholic clarity of judg- 
ment belong neither to Hamilton nor to Jefferson, 


— and who would think of comparing with him 
the Madisons, the Jays, the Morrises, the Ameses, 
the Wilsons, of the time, able and patriotic men 
though they all were? Dignity, steadfastness, up- 
rightness, serenity, benignity, wisdom, — these are 
the characteristics of Washington's statesmanship, 
whether we regard his firm policy of resistance to 
the insolence of revolutionary France, or his re- 
fusal to plunge his country into a second war with 
England, or his cordial acceptance of the financial 
measures of Hamilton, or his steady accentuation 
of the national principle, or his noble efforts to 
reconcile his cabinet, or his strong but humane 
policy towards the Indians, or his prompt crushing 
of the Whiskey Rebellion, or, finally, his progres- 
sive views on the subjects of slavery and of na- 
tional education, and his prophetic comprehension 
of the importance of the West. 

Study him, criticize him, as we will, he still 
remains supremely great. Even the figure of the 
great Frederick, resting from war to restore order 
and prosperity to his people, pales before that of 
this simple but lofty American. 

There is only one figure of the period that 
shines in the sphere of statesmanship with any- 
thing like a similar lustre. That, it seems to me, 
is the sublime figure of the younger Pitt, resolutely 
pursuing his great purpose of opposing the recal- 
citrant strength of England to the madness of rev- 


olutionary France aud the insolence of Napoleon, 
making his country, whether she would or no, 
the bulwark of the world's freedom. Washington 
was not so situated as to be able to play this 
splendid part; yet had he been in Pitt's place, 
he would have played it. But being also a great 
general, he was greater than Pitt, greater, too, 
than Burke, with whose political wisdom he has 
so much in common; and when he died, there 
passed away from this earth the greatest spirit 
that had put on the vesture of humanity since 
Karl the Great.^ 

But what had prepared this man for his trans- 
cendent services to mankind ? This is a question 
we must reckon with in these days of disbelief in 
special creations ; for there are many persons who 

1 I cannot forbear to quote here these splendid words from 
Guizot's essay prefixed to Cornells DeWitt's ** Histoire de Wash- 
ington: " — 

" De tous les grands hommes, il a 4t6 le plus vertueux et le plus 
heureux, Dieu n'a point, en ce monde, de plus hautes faveurs k ac- 

And again : — 

" II fit les deux plus grandes choses qu'en politique il soit donn6 k 
I'homme de tenter. II maintint, par la paix, I'independance de son 
pays, qu'il avait conquise par la guerre. II fonda un gouvernement 
libre, au nom des principes d'ordre et en r^tablissant leur empire." 

(a) Of all great men he was the most noble and the most fortunate. 
God has no loftier favors to grant to any man in this world. 

(b) He accomplished the two greatest things which in the field of 
politics it is ever given to man to essay. He maintained by peace his 
country's independence which he had won in the conquests of war. He 
established a free government in the name of the principles of order, 
and by placing them once more on a soiid foundation. 


are so imbued with the doctrine of evolution that 
they would be inclined to doubt the greatness of 
any particular act of Washington, or of all his acts 
combined, unless his training for the accomplish- 
ment of great deeds were previously made clear to 

Now, from my own point of view, nothing is 
easier than to show that Washington had had pre- 
cisely the training best calculated to make a states- 
man of the highest rank. He came of a race used 
to act and to command. From an early age he 
had to rely upon himself, and so was enabled to 
attain to that self-discipline which is indispensable 
to a statesman. Circumstances determined that 
he should learn the lessons of life from men rather 
than from books ; thus he stood in no danger of 
becoming a doctrinaire. His early experiences as 
a surveyor, a backwoodsman, and a soldier gave 
him a true sympathy with democracy, and hence 
enabled him to understand the only rational prin- 
ciple on which a stable government could be 
founded in America; while his good birth and 
training, and his position as a planter-aristocrat, 
put him in touch with that English past from 
which it would have been impossible for the new 
nation to break entirely. 

In other words, he was trained to become an 
American, not a French democrat, but a democrat 
capable of guiding himself and others with all the 


firmness and confidence of a born aristocrat. Add 
to this the fact that his nature was essentially 
straightforward and manly ; that he had not a con- 
spicuous weakness; that his mind was clear and 
flexible, and, if not quick, certainly not slow ; and, 
finally, that he had abounding physical strength, 
energy, courage, and ambition, — and you have a 
man who, in my judgment, was in 1789 better 
equipped for the career of a statesman than any 
man who had assumed the reins of power since 
Julius Caesar crossed the Rubicon.^ And he had 
put every one of these qualities into execution 
time and again before his country called him to 
guide its destinies. 

His power to command men had been displayed 
on varying scales, from his first expedition against 
the French in 1753 to his defeat of Cornwallis in 
1781. He had wrestled with men in office since 
his youth, — with Governor Dinwiddle, with the 
Virginia Burgesses, and with the Continental Con- 
gress. It was only because he knew how to deal 
with congresses and legislatures, with State gov- 
ernors and subordinate generals, that the Revolu- 
tion was brought to a successful issue. The man 
who could manage the Continental Congress need 

1 There is a good passage at the close of Everett's "Life of 
Washington" in which he pertinently asks whether, with Wash- 
ington's resources, CaBsar or Napoleon could have accomplished 


fear no European cabinet ; the man who put down 
the Conway cabal could put a curb on Jefferson 
and Hamilton. The man who had defied his tyran- 
nical king, and extorted the grudging admiration of 
monarchical and semi-feudal Europe, was certainly 
the noblest figure that a nation could set in the 
forefront of its life and history ; and this was what 
the people of these United States felt, dimly and 
vaguely perhaps, when they unanimously chose 
George Washington to be their first, as he is still 
their greatest President. 

But the annotator of Washington's journals and 
letters need not deal in glittering generalities about 
these important matters. He can point you to the 
practical political sense and shrewdness displayed 
by Washington when he was a successful candi- 
date for election to the House of Burgesses from 
Frederick County. If he can point to no orations 
delivered in that body, he can point to the Crom- 
wellian speech in the Virginia Convention of 1774, 
when the planter-colonel offered to raise a thou- 
sand men, subsist them at his own expense, and 
march them to the relief of Boston. He can point 
to the letters written to Bryan Fairfax for clear 
proof of Washington's prescience as to the real na- 
ture of the coming struggle, and ask you to show 
him a single trace of the sentimental weakness 
that was characterizing so many of the leading 
men of America at the time, and that was to char- 


acterize their descendants nearly a century after- 
wards at the outbreak of a still greater struggle. 
He can point to Washington's proclamations to 
his soldiers, beginning with his command at Win- 
chester, and ask if Csesar himself ever issued 
orders more concise, more strenuous, more elevat- 
ing. He can point to letter after letter in which 
the need of a strong government, of a congress 
with power to do something, is emphasized as 
clearly and forcibly as in any letter in The Fede- 
ralist. He can point to his clear-sightedness and 
fearlessness in using the word " nation " long be- 
fore nine-tenths of the people saw that they were 
bound to become a nation, or desired to become 
one. He can point finally to that circular letter 
to the governors of all the States, written June 
8, 1783, on the occasion of the disbanding the 
army, and maintain that, for directness and vigor 
of phrase, for patriotic purpose, for clear-sighted 
content, it is unsurpassed among the political 
documents of the world, in spite of the fact that 
Washington's fellow-citizens of Virginia com- 
mented captiously and harshly upon what they 
were pleased to call "the unsolicited obtrusion 
of his advice." 

In fine, if no close student of our history can 
fail to perceive what a difficult task the American 
people were entering upon when they essayed the 
problem of self-government under the Constitution 


of 1787, no close student of Washington's pre- 
vious career can fail to perceive that he had been 
marked out by Providence as the only American 
under whose leadership success in that task was 
possible. But just here it will be necessary to say 
a few words about the special difficulties of the 

The notable impulse toward historical studies 
that has prevailed in this country during the past 
twenty years has naturally caused great attention 
to be devoted to the formative period of our con- 
stitutional history, with the result that much 
needed light has been thrown thereon. We have 
ceased to regard the Constitution as something 
miraculous and Minerva-like, and have learned 
that our government, like most other stable things 
on earth, wae a matter of growth.^ We have 
studied the various stages of this growth, and can 
flatter ourselves that the discoveries of the future 
will bring to light little that is new, or that can 
upset our conclusions. 

On one point, however, we are still somewhat 
in the dark, which is natural, for it is a meta- 
physical point. Was the United States a nation 
from the moment the Congress of 1775 assembled, 
or from the moment when Lee surrendered at 

1 See, in this connection, the volume entitled " Essays in the 
Constitutional History of the United States," edited by Professor 
J. F. Jameson. 


Appomattox? Various historical and political 
writers still discuss this question, and still give 
varying answers. It is metaphysical, but at the 
same time it has been exceedingly practical. It 
confronted the founders of our government, 
though not in the concrete form in which I have 
expressed it; and their failure to answer it de- 
cisively led to many of the most serious of the 
troubles that harassed Washington's administra- 
tions, and to the long train of evils that culmi- 
nated in the Civil War. 

This metaphysical question of the true nature 
of our government, and the moral question of 
the right or wrong of slavery, are the foci of 
the ellipse of our national history for the first 
century of our existence. Our early statesmen 
avoided an explicit answer to either question ; and 
their successors followed them, down to Abra- 
ham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis, who at length 
brought matters to an issue. For this unhappy 
state of affairs no one can be blamed. The Eng- 
lish race has always been practical rather than 
metaphysical in its politics, and the French ideal- 
ism that affected Jefferson and his followers did 
not play an important part in framing the Con- 

French idealism was seen in the Declaration 
of Independence, and was soon to raise its head 
in the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions, and in 


the doctrine of nullification; it sharpened the 
wits of the critics of the Constitution, but did not 
have great weight with the framers. This was 
fortunate. Even if the English ideals of Hamil- 
ton had prevailed in the Convention of 1787, or 
the local ideals of Patrick Henry had been para- 
mount in the ratifying conventions, there is little 
room to doubt that the cause of union in America 
would have dried up like a gourd. The founders 
took the best course in sight, evaded the meta- 
physical question, and gave us a form of govern- 
ment which would inevitably develop the national 
idea among us. 

Metaphysically speaking, we were a nation in 
1775, and have never ceased to be one. Prac- 
tically, it was only a few far-sighted men like 
Washington who recognized our national charac- 
ter. To the mass of Americans in 1789 we were 
a congeries of States; fifty years later the aver- 
age Northerner had given up this view, while 
the average Southerner, on account of slavery, 
retained it. Now we are all, except a few recal- 
citrants, united in upholding the national idea. 

I cannot here go into the reasons why the 
Americans of 1789 were largely anti-nationalists, 
save to say that they are partly historical, partly 
racial, that is, due to the peculiar constitution of 
the Anglo-Saxon mind. When that mind, trans- 
formed somewhat by its new environment, was 


affected by French idealism, the genius of Jeffer- 
son (as I hope to show in my next lecture) made 
the idea of democracy potent both socially and 
politically, but unfortunately set it in unnecesary 
and unphilosophical antagonism to the idea of na- 
tionality. Jefferson was a cosmopolitan in spite 
of his localism in matters of detail ; and his mind, 
unluckily for us, passed over the middle term 
between feudalism and cosmopolitanism, which is, 
of course, nationalism. Sine illce lacrymce ! 

Washington, on the other hand, was no idealist. 
Living in the present, he recognized the value of 
the idea of democracy as well as of the idea of 
nationalism ; and his practical good sense told him 
to utilize both ideas, as far as he safely could, in 
the policy of his new government. Hence he 
called both Jefferson and Hamilton to his coun- 
sels, strove while he might to keep them in har- 
mony, and when he had to decide between them 
and their ideas, threw his weight to Hamilton 
and nationalism because he perceived that by this 
course the interests of stable government would 
be best subserved. 

This action of Washington's, taken alone, would 
entitle him to rank as our greatest statesman. It 
was not merely, as so many historians seem to re- 
gard it, a question of managing two brilliant sec- 
retaries, pitted against one another like cocks in 
a cock-pit, as Jefferson afterward said; it was a 


question of harmonizing and utilizing two polit- 
ical theories, neither of which was necessarily 
antagonistic to the other, save when developed 
by unbalanced men of genius like Jefferson and 

To this stupendous task only one man in Amer- 
ica was competent in 1789, and that man was 
Washington ; no American since born, perhaps 
not even Lincoln himself, would have been com- 
petent to it. But even Washington groaned and 
fared badly under it. In nearly every act of 
his administration he had to weigh the contend- 
ing claims of these two principles, — nationalism 
and democracy, — and act as his own judgment 
dictated. The conflict is perhaps most clearly 
brought out in the Whiskey Rebellion in west- 
ern Pennsylvania; but it is seen plainly in the 
Jay treaty, in the troubles with Genet and the 
republic he represented, in the support of Ham- 
ilton's bank, debt-assumption, and tariff measures. 
Through it all Washington, who was a national- 
istic democrat, his stately manners to the con- 
trary notwithstanding, had to strain every nerve 

1 That "Washington consciously aimed at balancing parties is 
proved by passage after passage from his letters (see especially 
those to Lafayette, Jan. 29, 1789, and to Benj. Harrison, March 9, 
1789), and that he understood that the radical antagonism was 
between aristocracy and nationalism on the one hand, and democ- 
racy and localism on the other, is as plain as any historical fact 
can be. He was not drifting or temporizing, but following out a 
well-considered policy. 


to strengthen his infant government, and yet to 
allow free play to the democratic forces that were 
to develop the great West, whose future he fore- 
saw, and to overthrow that detestible institution 
of slavery which he dreaded and hated. The task 
was almost superhuman, but so was Washington. 

I am aware that in all I have hitherto said there 
is a good deal of assertion, and not very much that 
a lawyer or historian would call proof. I do not 
well see, however, how a popular lecture can be 
made the vehicle of proofs of any sort, and I hardly 
think that you will expect them. Still, it may be 
well to call your attention to the fact that nothing 
is easier than to cull from Washington's corre- 
spondence passages that will throw light upon his 
national and democratic principles. Here, for ex- 
ample, is a passage from a letter to Madison, 
written Nov. 30, 1785, that is as strong as any- 
thing the latter ever wrote in The Federalist: — 

" We are either a united people, or we are not so. If 
the former, let ns in all matters of general concern act as a 
nation which has a national character to support ; if we are 
not, let us no longer act a farce by pretending to it; for 
whilst we are playing a double game between the two, we 
never shall be consistent or respectable, but may be the 
dupes of some powers, and the contempt assuredly of all." 

Mark now this sentence to Lafayette, written 
May 10, 1786 : — 


" It is one of the evils of democratical governments, that 
the people, not always seeing and frequently misled, must 
often feel before they act right ; but then evils of this 
nature seldom fail to work their own cure." 

Here is the sound democratical faith in the 
people's ability to reach a right decision finally — 
the true gloss on the proverb vox populi^ vox Dei, 
You may search Washington's writings from end 
to end, but I do not think that you will come 
across a single sentence that lends countenance to 
that distrust of the people which has been the dis- 
tinguishing mark of the true aristocrat from the 
days of Theognis of Megara, to those of George 
Cabot of Massachusetts and Beverley Tucker of 

He does, however, despair of seeing slavery 
abolished in his own day. The letter to Lafay- 
ette, quoted above, contains this pathetic reference 
to the subject : — 

" Your late purchase of an estate in the colony of Cay- 
enne, with a view of emancipating the slaves on it, is a 
generous and noble proof of your humanity. Would to 
God a like spirit would diffuse itself generally into the 
minds of the people of this country. But I despair of 
seeing it. Some petitions were presented to the Assembly, 
at its last session, for the abolition of slavery; but they 
could scarcely obtain a reading." 

It is no wonder that Washington and Jefferson, 
who shared these views, were less and less ap- 


pealed to by their Southern successors, as pro- 
slavery sentiments gathered strength ; but the 
Southerner of 1896 takes pride in quoting words 
that must ever testify to the wisdom and human- 
ity of the greatest American of us all, a Virginian 
slaveholder who yet had no hesitation in writing 
to a governor of South Carolina (Charles Cotes- 
worth Pinckney, March 19, 1792) in protest 
against that State's importation of slaves, and 
in plain acknowledgment of "the direful effects 
of slavery." 

One more quotation will perhaps be pardoned 
on account of the clear light it throws on Wash- 
ington's practical, if not metaphysical, ideas on the 
nature of sovereignty. He is writing to Jay on 
Aug. 1, 1786 ; and he says : — 

" I do not conceive we can exist long as a nation with- 
out having lodged somewhere a power which will pervade 
the whole Union in as energetic a manner as the authority 
of the State governments extends over the several States." 

In the same letter he spoke his mind freely as 
to the folly of those people who were turning in 
their minds to monarchy as a proper relief from 
the internal dissensions of the country ; and on the 
same day, as if to show that he was no alarmist, 
he pointed out to the Chevalier de la Luzerne, 
that, after all, commerce was increasing, justice 
was being administered, and that a way would 


be found out of political complications; while 
to Jefferson he wrote that, in spite of the "very 
foolish and wicked plans for emitting paper 
money" into which many of the States had fallen, 
he still hoped for the country. The Roman Sen- 
ate rewarded the defeated consul who had not de- 
spaired of the Republic; the American people owe 
a greater reward to the victorious general who did 
not despair of a people subjected to the menaces 
of a deadlier foe, to wit, themselves. 

I have twice before in this lecture envied the 
ideal biographer who will comment on Washing- 
ton's letters in the light of recent research and 
of abounding sympathy. I shall be delighted to 
read his comments on the letters in which Wash- 
ington shows his remarkable knowledge, not only 
of current American, but also of foreign politics, 
on the letters that relate to schemes of inland 
navigation, to agricultural improvements, to a na- 
tional university. The splendid letter to Patrick 
Henry recommending the new Constitution (Sept. 
24, 1787), and that to the same worthy deplor- 
ing the Virginia Resolutions (Jan. 15, 1799), are 
well known, but deserve fresh emphasis. The 
noble indignation expressed to Gouverneur Morris 
(June 21, 1792) at the report that Great Britain 
was asked to arbitrate between the United States 
and the Indians might have been quoted recently 
by Lord Salisbury with considerable effect. 


Finally, though the subjects have only a very 
remote connection with statesmanship, I should 
like to read what our commentator will have to 
say about Washington's sensible views on the 
subject of second marriages,^ and of his remarks 
on Joel Barlow's poetry. 

The view that I have endeavored to present 
of Washington's statesmanship does not, of course, 
tally with that taken by his contemporaries or by 
many subsequent historians. That he was a great 
man few ventured to deny until the unpopularity 
of some of the leading measures of his two ad- 
ministrations unloosed upon him the curs of the 
Republican press. But his contemporaries, great 
and small, were too near him to be able to per- 
ceive the ideal and splendid character of his 
statesmanship. Many of them, certainly Jefferson 
and Hamilton, had no doubt of their own ability 
to manage the new government, and could point 
to their own services as indispensable to the man 
who gave his name to the administration. But 
no statesman has ever yet been entirely indepen- 
dent of subordinates, and one of the best tests 
of statesmanship is capacity to use men and cir- 
cumstances in the interests of the nation and of 
humanity. Tried by this test Washington is prac- 
tically above censure. He kept Jefferson and 
Hamilton in his service as long as they were 

1 Letter to George Augustine "Washington, Oct. 25, 178G. 


needed, he balanced them admirably, and was not 
afraid of either of them.^ 

Jefferson's own " Ana " afford convincing proof 
of this fact; and it is to Jefferson's lasting credit 
that he persisted in regarding Washington as a 
great man, although one who jdelded to the effects 
of old age when he relied at the last on Hamilton. 
Jefferson was, I think, sincere in his admiration 
for Washington; and that it was extorted from 
him is a crowning proof of Washington's great- 
ness. Our first President certainly was not as 
astute as Talleyrand or as quick as Napoleon; he 
had not Hamilton's mastery of finance or Jeffer- 
son's philosophic sweep of intellect; but he had 
what none of these men had, — wisdom. It does 
not require wisdom to manage a treasury or to 
conduct a department of foreign affairs, but it 
does require wisdom to steer the whole bark of 
state successfully. And what was Washington's 
immediate reward of party insult and contumely, 
but the return that the world has made to a ma- 
jority of its wise men from the days of Socrates? 
Wisdom, they say, is justified of her children, but 
her children are not fully justified of her until 
after many days. It seems almost incredible to 
us now that creatures like Duane should have 

1 John Randolph appreciated this fact, and gave fine expres- 
sion to it in his speech on " Retrenchment and Reform." I quote 
the passage in the lecture on Randolph. 


dared to lift their voices against Washington until 
they fairly embittered his life; but such was the 
fact, and such is human nature. Here are a few 
sentences from Duane's "Remarks occasioned by 
the Late Conduct of Mr. Washington as President 
of the United States : " i — 

" The cloud with which the George of America has cov- 
ered himself has been large enough to hide his own want 
of merit and that of others whom he has placed in oflSce. 
But when it drops, all will be exposed together. A coun- 
try which has fought above seven years to expel a king 
cannot be persuaded to receive one by surprise." 

And again : — 

" But as Mr. Washington has at length become treach- 
erous to his own fame, what was lent to him as a harm- 
less general must be withdrawn from him as a dangerous 

And again : — 

"Mr. Washington, it is true, as a farmer; but is he not a 
land-jobber from the days of Braddock ? " 

Perhaps it was a slight weakness in Washington 
to betray temper at these wingless shafts of an 
American pseudo-Junius, and to give Jefferson 
an opportunity of recording the ebullition in his 
"Ana;" yet, if Washington had been in Jefferson's 
1 Philadelphia, 1797. 


place, he would never have connived at such as- 
saults upon his chief.^ 

Only one other point remains to be briefly 
treated, and I shall draw this lecture to a close. 
I have taken Washington as the subject of the 
first in a series of lectures devoted to Southern 
statesmen ; but how far was he distinctively 
Southern? By birth and many of his habits he 
is, of course, plainly Virginian and Southern ; but 
I cannot say that as a statesman I find anything 
markedly sectional about him. His habits were in 
many ways those of a Virginia planter, and yet he 
was as thrifty as if he had been born in Connecti- 
cut. He was hospitable, and yet he was reserved. 
An agriculturist, he looked after the interests of 
commerce; a slaveholder from necessity, he nev- 
ertheless abhorred the institution. 

I know of no instance in which sectional feel- 
ings disturbed his impartiality, nor do I know of 
a single Southern or Virginian statesman with 
whom he can be grouped. One reason of this is 
obvious — he was that rara avis in those days, a 
self-made Virginian ; for in his early years he was 
thrown largely on his own resources. This was 

1 This sentence from the notorious Aurora for March 6, 1797, 
ought not to be omitted : — 

" If ever there was a period of rejoicing this is the moment — every 
heart in unison with the freedom and happiness of the people ought 
to beat high with exultation that the name of Washington from this 
day ceases to give a currency to a political iniquity, and to legalize 


not the case with the other great Virginians of the 
Revolution, save Patrick Henry; and Henry's ca- 
reer showed traces of the shiftlessness that nearly 
always accompanied Virginian poverty. Wash- 
ington, then, was always something more than a 
Virginian or a Southerner. He has always be- 
longed to America and the nation; yet I do not 
think he could have developed all the features of 
his rounded character anywhere else than in the 
Virginia of the eighteenth century. 

And now, in conclusion, I can only add that the 
private life of Washington as a man will bear our 
scrutiny as well as his public acts. Prudent he 
was, but not mean ; reserved, but not cold ; ^ sim- 
ple in his tastes, but not unrefined ; religious, but 
without cant ; unlearned, but not ignorant. It is 
idle to expect to find in him the qualities of the 
artist and the scholar, as idle as to blame Milton 
for not shedding his blood on the fields of Naseby 
and Dunbar. His world was not that of art or 
letters or science, but of men ; and as a man 
among men, whether in public or in private, 
Washington is beyond and above praise.^ 

1 Consider him, for example, when in the presence of Lear he 
gave way to his temper at the news of St. Clair's disaster. 

2 It may be as well to refer here to certain points that could 
not he treated or stressed in the body of the lecture. Washing- 
ton's ideals and aspirations are plainly seen in his ordering from 
England busts of Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, Charles 
XII., Frederick II., Prince Eugene, and the Duke of Marlbor- 
ough. Did he foresee, when a planter at Mount Vernon, that he 


But, although we may predicate this and much 
else about him, he is still, as has been truly said, 
an unknown man. Here is where the pathos of 
his life comes in. He stood in lonely elevation. 
Although the mass of his people loved him, they 
did not know him; and some curs, set on by 
thoughtless men, even dared to bark at him. We 
do not know him yet; and some of us, to our 

might one day be reckoned among such men ? His experience 
with regard to the West and the acquisition of the mouth of the 
Mississippi appears plainly in his letter to Henry Lee, of June 18, 
1786. His concern at internal dissensions is nobly expressed in 
the letter to Jay, of May 18, 1786, especially in this sentence, 
" From the high ground we stood upon, from the plain path which 
invited our footsteps, to be so fallen ! so lost ! it is really morti- 

The practicality of his statesmanship is seen in the letter to 
Henry Lee (Oct. 31, 1786), who had talked of bringing influence to 
bear on Shays's Rebellion. " Influence," wrote Washington, " is 
no government." His desire for a strong Congress is well seen in 
the letter to J. T. Custer, of Feb. 28, 1781, in which he does not 
hesitate to speak of the nation. For his power to use strong 
language, see his letter to Captain William Peachy, of Sept. 18, 
1757; for his manly self-confidence, see his letter to Dinwiddle, of 
Oct. 5, 1757. For his political shrewdness, see letter to John A. 
Washington, of May 25, 1755 ; for his noble abhorrence of section- 
alism, see the fine letter to David Stuart, of March 28, 1790 ; for his 
conception of the dignity of his office, see letter to de Moustier, of 
May 25, 1789: for his great knowledge of commercial affairs, see 
letter to de Moustier, of Aug. 28, 1788 ; for his full acquaintance 
with foreign politics, see letter to Jefferson, of Jan. 1, 1788 ; for 
his prescience with regard to the French Revolution, see letter 
to Gouverneur Morris, of Oct. 13, 1789. Washington, it may be 
remarked in conclusion, was progressive enough to connect 
Mount Vernon with the rest of the world by means of a private 
wharf ; if he were IvtmgM^^j. he would have a private railroad 
and a long-distance-telephone. * -, 



shame, have ceased to love him. But this very- 
ignorance of him that remains to us after all our 
study of his character and his career, what is it 
but a crowning proof of his supreme genius ? We 
know the lesser men of history ; we can gauge the 
minor poets and artists ; but who knows or com- 
prehends the Caesars or Napoleons, the Michel 
Angelos or the Shaksperes? And so we may 
well ask in all humility, who knows, or shall ever 
know, George Washington? and we need not be 
ashamed to couple his name with that of Caesar 

"This earth may boast two men whose ample fame 
Doth satisfy the Ages — him that died, 
Struck down in glory by the Tiber's side; 
And him that guards the city of his name 
Upon the broad Potomac. Free from blame 
Of petty thoughts and petty deeds they bide, 
And from their works the dull oblivious tide 
Falls back into the depths from whence it came. 

They live forever in the hearts of men, 

Csesar and Washington. — But we who sway 

This Western world which his great valor won, 

Whose mighty destiny eludes the ken 

Of prophet and of bard — shall we not pay 

Our chief est thanks to Freedom's noblest son ? " 




I ADMITTED at the close of my first lecture that 
in many respects Washington must be counted as 
a national rather than as a sectional statesman. 
The same admission, with greater limitations how- 
ever, has to be made with regard to Jefferson. 
Looked at from some points of view, he is dis- 
tinctly a Virginian and a Southerner ; from other 
points of view, he is an American; from still 
others, he is a cosmopolitan. In many of his per- 
sonal habits and modes of thought, the typical Vir- 
ginian is easily traceable ; but often the Virginian 
disappears entirely, and is replaced by the French- 
man, or by a shadowy figure that resembles the 
abstract homo. To this protean character of the 
man is due much of the subtle influence and fasci- 
nation that have surrounded his personality down 
to the present day. 

1 I have used the standard biographies, like Randall's, and 
the monographs of Morse and Schouler, as well as the " Works " 
in the Congressional edition and in that of Ford. (Mr, Ford's 
introductory essay is particularly good.) Mr. Henry Adams's 
" History of the United States" has been, of course, invaluable. 
Taine's sketch in the " Nouveaux Essais " is one-sided, but worth 
reading. Numerous other sources have beeu used, but they 
hardly need be named. 



Washington we despair of knowing on account 
of his lofty greatness; Jefferson we despair of 
knowing because of his infinite mobility. The 
one man is like a mountain-peak, the other like a 
sea. Or, to take a comparison from the world of 
letters, Washington, as I have said, reminds us 
of Sophocles in his perfect balance and nobility; 
Jefferson is the Shelley of our politics. He has 
Shelley's idealism, his humanitarianism, his rose- 
colored visions, his self-contradictions, his imprac- 
ticability, his foibles, his lovableness, his mistiness 
and intangibility. Sophocles and Washington 
rouse few passionate enthusiasms; Jefferson and 
Shelley excite reprobation or adoration. But just 
as it is a puzzle to know how Shelley happened 
to be the son of a typical English country gentle- 
man, so it will always be something of a mystery 
that a man like Jefferson should have sprung from 
a good family of colonial Virginia. 

It is not entirely a mystery, however ; for Albe- 
marle, where he was born, in 1743, was at that 
time a good deal of a frontier county; and the 
young man, with a natural turn for speculation 
and reading, must, whenever he threw down his 
books and mixed with his fellow-men, have got 
something of the democratic training that Wash- 
ington received.! He got something from his 

1 See on this point the introductory essay in Ford's edition of 
the "Works." 


books, too, that he could not have got in all proba- 
bility had he been born twenty years earlier or 
twenty years later, — he got the full spirit of the 
eighteenth century into his mental and spiritual 
lungs, and he drew in great draughts of it. 

Franklin, born earlier, drank to the full the 
utilitarian and practical spirit of the century; Jef- 
ferson drank some of the utilitarian, but more of 
the sentimental and speculative spirit. Madison, 
on the other hand, managed to drink in a consid- 
erable share of its prosaic spirit, of which all our 
Revolutionary leaders got a draught, not except- 
ing Washington himself. The fact, then, that he 
was bom beyond tide-water, at the very heart of 
the eighteenth century, and with a mind prone . to 
speculation, accounts somewhat for the uniqueness 
of Jefferson's personality. 

We may pass over his training at William and 
Mary College, which, besides introducing him to 
the classics and to jurisprudence, also gave him an 
insight into the character of the typical Virgin- 
ians of the tide-water. We may pass over also 
the pleasant record of his social successes and of 
his creditable service at the bar ; and we find him 
first giving evidence of his statesmanlike qualities 
when he took his seat in the House of Burgesses 
in 17^9, where he continued in service until he 
was elected a member of the Continental Congress 
in 1775. 


Throughout his legislative career, both State 
and national, he showed himself to have genius of 
the first order as a politician, but he also showed 
himself to have qualities that belong to the states- 
man rather than the politician. He was a politi- 
cian when he worked his measures through, a 
semi-statesman when he drafted his bills and dec- 
larations, a statesman when he broke through the 
crust of present custom, discarded tradition, and 
placed his trust in the people and the future. He 
was no orator, not even a commander and leader 
of men ; but he was a ready writer, a shrewd tac- 
tician, and a subtle counsellor. 

He was more — he was a friend of Humanity, 
against whom Canning's satiric verses were des- 
tined to strike more feebly than the same worthy's 
diplomacy was to do some years later. Whatever 
we may think of this or that phase of Jefferson's 
character, if we are blind to his essential love and 
comprehension of his fellow-men, we may as well 
make up our minds to study him afresh; for we 
have failed to lay hold of the single clew that can 
lead us through the labyrinth of his mind and 

1 In this connection I cannot forbear quoting this fine and true 
sentence from Mr. Paul Leicester Ford's Introductory Essay : 
"And eventually this judgment will universally obtain, as the 
fact becomes clearer and clearer, that neither national indepen- 
dence nor State sovereignty, with the national and party rancors 
that attach to them, were the controlling aim and attempt of his 


Typical of his services during the early portion 
of his legislative career is the strong tone of the 
" Resolutions intended for the inspection of the 
present delegates of the people of Virginia now 
in Convention." Unable to attend the opening of 
the Convention of 1774, he had sent these Reso- 
lutions, which were afterwards published as a 
pamphlet. They show not merely Jefferson's un- 
rivalled skill as a drafter of state papers, and as a 
ganger of public sentiment, but also the underly- 
ing firmness, boldness, and patriotism of the man. 

All through his life Jefferson was accused by 
his enemies of being a coward, and his shrinking 
from forcible measures did sometimes give an ex- 
cuse for this view of his character and conduct. 
But Jefferson, though he disliked strife and 
courted popularity, had at bottom a fund of firm- 
ness and boldness that surprised enemies and 
friends alike. This firmness and boldness came 
out finely in his able pamphlet on the Rights of 
British America. Jefferson sees the logical result 
of England's conduct as clearly as Washington; 
he may not quite cast aside the velvet glove, but 
you feel the iron hand beneath the moment you 
get in its grasp, as you do before you have fin- 
ished reading one page. 

life, that no party or temporary advantage "was the object of his 
endeavors, but that he fought for the ever-enduring privilege of 
personal freedom." 


The man that wrote this strenuous pamphlet, 
avowing the entire independence of the colonies 
from Parliamentary interference, was of all others 
the proper man to have the chief share in drafting 
the Declaration of Independence of the Thirteen 
Colonies ; but the same man was also to try to 
substitute an embargo for war. It is well that 
Jefferson was simple in his tastes; had he been 
fond of ornament, he must have eschewed one 
very precious jewel known as consistency. 

It is needless to say much here of Jefferson's 
first services in the Continental Congress, or of 
the great instrument which has ever since been 
connected with his name. As in the House of 
Burgesses, his chief merit lay in his genius for 
drafting and getting measures adopted, which, 
though a useful, is not the highest sphere of 
statesmanship ; and for his achievements in this 
sphere he has certainly had an abundant reward. 

It is true that it became the fashion to sneer 
at certain features of the Declaration of Indepen- 
dence when the pro-slavery advocate wished to ac- 
centuate the differences between the various races 
of mankind ; it is true, also, that one occasionally 
hears to-day an ill-informed fling at the doctrine 
that all men were created free and equal ; but on 
the truth of that doctrine, as Jefferson and his 
colleagues meant it to be taken, the American Re- 
public has stood and flourished for over a century, 


and the document that embodied it will never 
cease to bring a flush of patriotic pride to the 
cheek of any true American as often as it is read. 
To have one's name indissolubly connected with 
such a masterful and epoch-making promulgation 
is an honor that few statesmen attain to, — an 
honor which Jefferson was wise enough to have 
recorded upon his tomb. 

Shortly after he had thus secured immortality 
for himself, Jefferson resigned his seat in Con- 
gress, declined a diplomatic commission to France, 
and devoted himself to the service of his native 
State — or rather to its destruction, as the more 
conservative planters thought. The break with 
England would mean little to such a root and 
branch democrat if the people of Virginia were 
to continue English in their laws and customs, if 
they were to remain colonial and aristocratic. So 
he began a fight for political equality which did 
not formally come to an end until nearly a cen- 
tury later, and the effects of which are still to be 

First he broke down the system of entails, then 
he tried his hand on establishing a new system of 
courts of justice ; he also proposed a bill for free- 
dom of religion. This last measure was not car- 
ried through until some years later, when Jefferson 
was in France, and the fight over church establish- 
ment lasted until his presidency; but the great 


reformer was behind the whole movement, and 
deserves the credit for it. It was not an attack 
on Christianity, as his opponents have maintained ; 
for, though plainly a disbeliever, Jefferson never 
seriously undertook an attack on anything so dear 
to the mass of the people as their religion — he 
was too easy-going a philosopher for that; but it 
was a vigorous assertion of the democratic prin- 
ciples of freedom and equality. 

Not a generation before inoffensive and pious 
Baptists^ had suffered persecution in a colony 
which was now undergoing trials of a different 
sort in its own turn; Jefferson resolved that this 
should never happen again, and the fact is re- 
corded on his tomb. 

Another important service rendered by him at 
this period was his share in the revision of the 
laws, a task in which he was helped by Pendleton 
and Wythe. Jefferson's legal knowledge and acu- 
men become fully apparent to any one who will 
study his contribution to this first Virginian code, 
which consisted of such portions of the common 
law and the statutes passed before 4th James I. 
as seemed suited to the needs of the new State. 
Curiously enough, the humanitarian philosopher, 
who shortly before, by the way, had been instru- 
mental in getting an act of attainder passed by 

1 See Semple's "Virginia Baptists" for an interesting account 
of this persecution. 


the Legislature,^ admitted the principle of the lex 
talionis into his code in a rather shocking manner. 
He afterwards regretted his action; but it made 
no especial difference, for the revision of the crimi- 
nal law seems not to have taken place until IT 96, 
under the auspices of an obscure Mr. Taylor, who 
was, nevertheless, too enlightened to hold to the 
old doctrine of an eye for an eye, which Jefferson 
had seriously proposed.^ But if Jefferson could be 
at times antiquated in his views, no such charge 
could be brought against his admirable bills foi' 
providing his State with a system of free schools 
and a free library. 

1 See my article, "The Case of Josiah Phillips," mt\i.Q Amer- 
ican Historical Review for April, 1896. 

2 Mr. Schouler's account of this lex talionis matter does not 
seem to me to be quite accurate. To let the reader see some 
of the features of the proposed scheme of criminal procedure, I 
quote from the " Report of the Revisors" (1779) the following: — 

"Whosoever committeth murder by poisoning, shall suffer death 
by poisoning." 

" Whosoever committeth murder by way of duel, shall suffer death 
by hanging ; and if he were the challenger, his body, after death, shall 
be gibbetted. He who removeth it from the gibbet shall be guilty of a 
misdemeanor, and the oflBcer shall see that it be replaced." 

Jefferson queried if the estates of both parties in a duel 
should not be forfeited, the deceased being equally guilty with 
a suicide. Other provisions applying the lex talionis would be 
scarcely agreeable to modem ears. Jefferson wrote later in his 
autobiography : — 

" On the subject of the criminal law, all [i.e., Wythe, Pendleton, and 
himself] were agreed that the punishment of death should be abolished, 
except for treason and murder ; and that for other felonies should be 
substituted hard labor in the public works, and in some cases the lex 
talionis. How this last revolting principle came to obtain our appro- 
bation, I do not remember." 


Meanwhile I Have omitted to mention a curious 
document drafted by Jefferson, to which his biog- 
raphers have paid too little attention. I refer 
to his proposed Constitution for Virginia of 1776. 
Jefferson was always tinkering at constitutions, 
and he even undertook a small job of the sort for 
the French; but neither he nor Sieyes himself 
ever got up a more remarkable document than 
the one he sent from Philadelphia to the Virginia 
Convention too late to be of much use. 

A comparison of this document with any of the 
state papers I have had previous occasion to men- 
tion brings out clearly one of Jefferson's chief 
weaknesses — his tendency to suspicion. Whether 
he slept or waked, the toad was forever squatting 
at his ear. It was a popular belief of the Middle 
Ages that the city of Naples was built on eggshells, 
I presume on hens' eggs: a State founded on 
this Jeffersonian model would certainly have been 
built on snakes' eggs. For example, the governor, 
or administrator as Jefferson called him, could 
hold office for one year only, and was ineligible 
for three years after; he could exercise no veto 
power, and would have exhausted his year of office 
in endeavoring to pick out, from the long list of 
things he could not do, the few things it would 
be lawful for him to do. Delegates to Congress, 
who were to be elected by the lower house of the 
Legislature, were to return home after their year 


of office, and forget the lessons of experience, but 
presumably have a chance to deplore their mis- 
deeds for a year, and to come in touch with their 
constituents once more. 

But the high sheriffs of the counties were evi- 
dently more dangerous than the Congressmen. If 
elected by popular vote, they could serve one 
year, but must atone for five years for their folly 
in seeking office, before they sought it again. 
Finally, that no man might say that Virginia was 
served by any but the purest patriots, adminis- 
trator, judges, and legislators were to receive no 
remuneration beyond their actual expenditures in 
the service of the State. 

Virginia managed to drag along until 1830 
under the Constitution she did adopt unconstitu- 
tionally in 1776 ; how long she would have main- 
tained herself under Jefferson's proposed plan of 
government, no sane man would undertake to say. 
Rotation in office has been declared to be a dem- 
ocratic doctrine; it certainly was once a Jeffer- 
sonian one. 

Mr. Jeffereon doubtless wished before his own 
second term as governor of Virginia had expired 
that his provision of ineligibility had been applied 
in his own case. It doubtless gratified his pride 
to be chosen governor in 1779, just as it gratified 
him to be elected President twenty-one years 
later; but if ever a statesman had ill luck in as- 

60 SOUTHERN statesmen: 

suming the reins of executive power, it was Jef- 
ferson, whether as governor or President. He 
was harshly censured for the weakness of his 
guhernatorial administration, and weakness was 
undoubtedly its chief characteristic ; but exactly 
how he could have made it stronger his critics 
have signally failed to show. A declaration, such 
as Jefferson was so deft at drawing, would hardly 
have kept Tarleton or Cornwallis or Arnold out 
of Virginia, or lessened the vigor of their assaults ; 
and the troops at the governor's disposal were 
little more efficient than a declaration would have 

All Jefferson could do was to wait, especially 
as this was all that Washington could advise. In 
the end the British raids ceased, his censurers were 
put to silence, and the disillusioned executive fell 
back, as he was to do almost a generation later, 
on the pleasures and comforts of his domestic 
circle, and the unswerving devotion and affection 
of his fellow-citizens of Albemarle. 

These citizens of Albemarle forthwith elected 
him unanimously a member of the House of Dele- 
gates, that he might have an opportunity of facing 
the critics of his unfortunate administrations ; but 
when, with a boldness that must have cost him 
much nervouse nergy, he rose in the House to chal- 
lenge these critics, nobody faced him. Then with 
somewhat bad grace he absented himself from the 


Legislature; for, although he had out-faced crit- 
icism, the rankling of the wounds it had inflicted 
had not ceased. Jefferson has sometimes been 
called a demagogue by people who are not choice 
in their use of terms ; a sensitive, thin-sldnned 
demagogue is a figure presenting more contradic- 
tions than our protean hero ever managed to 
afford, with all his shiftiness. Jefferson was gen- 
uinely tender-hearted and sensitive, and he loved 
his fellow-citizens ; when, therefore, they criticized 
him, they hurt his heart more than his pride. 

His heart, however, was soon to receive a deeper 
wound than criticism could inflict, through the 
death of his dearly loved wife. Domesticity meant 
much to Jefferson, more than his political enemies 
would have us believe ; for he was a tender, and, I 
am inclined to think, slanders to the contrary, on 
the whole, a pure man. Yet if his private happi- 
ness suffered through his loss, the country gained 
by it. He was now willing to accept diplomatic 
service ; but that being barred by the just con- 
cluded arrangements for peace, he found again a 
sphere for his energies in the very unenergetic 
Continental Congress. He must have thought of 
his own flying legislature of a few years before, 
when he scampered out of Philadelphia to escape 
from a handful of mutinous soldiers ; and he might 
have made some useful comments on the occa- 
sional disadvantage attending the denial of effi- 


cient powers to a central government ; but whether 
he made such comments or not, he returned in due 
season to draft a document which should reflect 
almost as much lustre on his name as the Declara- 
tion of Independence, or the Virginia statute for 
establishing religious liberty. 

His draft of a temporary form of government for 
the Western territory, — by far the larger portion 
of which had been won by a Virginian, George 
Rogers Clarke, and had been incorporated into Vir- 
ginia during Jefferson's governorship, — though 
it failed to become law, contained a provision 
against slavery which was adopted into the famous 
Ordinance of 1787, and devoted to Freedom the 
soil beneath our feet. 

Certainly, for this service to his country and 
humanity, Jefferson deserves the love and admira- 
tion of both; and it is with a smile of affection 
that we recall some of the queer names he pro- 
posed to bestow on the divisions of the emanci- 
pated province. Pelisipia and Polypotamia have 
done better under other names ; but their sponsor 
in baptism stood ready to give them the most 
priceless gift that can be bestowed on States or 
men. He gave his whole country at the same 
time a gift which, while valuable, has had its 
drawbacks ; for he was the indisputable parent 
of the " almighty dollar." 

He had previously given his native State a gift 


the value of which has been generally recognized, 
and has not been surpassed in its way — I mean, 
of course, the interesting and authoritative "Notes 
on Virginia," the most considerable work of his 
facile, but not always chastened pen. His pro- 
posed Constitution for Virginia, drafted in 1783, 
was a gift neither so valuable nor so interest- 
ing ; but it is a matter of some importance to note 
that additional age and experience had corrected 
many of the crudities only too apparent in the 
instrument of 1776. Perhaps his own experience 
of the thanklessness of an executive office led him 
to admit that the custom of paying salaries might 
not be such a bad one after all. 

But the period was now at hand when he was 
to quit his native State and country for a long ca- 
reer of useful service in a foreign court. The Con- 
gress, although they could not replace Dr. Franklin 
(to borrow Jefferson's own finely turned compli- 
ment), chose the best possible successor to him. 

Jefferson's stay in France, of course, affected 
him profoundly in many ways, but not, I fancy, to 
the extent that is usually thought. His political 
and social principles were practically formed long 
before he craved audience at the Tuileries. His 
diplomatic training, which was to play such a part 
in his after career, especially in his presidential 
administrations, was naturally received during his 
French residence ; and his culture and tastes were 


immensely widened and improved, though a great 
French critic, M. Taine, does not think much of 
either. He got, too, much of that bias for France 
and things French that affected his political con- 
duct in after years, though not in the degree that 
his Federalist enemies charged and believed. Jef- 
ferson would not have been the same man had he 
never lived in France, but I think he would have 
been, perhaps, just as great a man. For the influ- 
ence of France at this juncture, as at many times 
in her history, was one chiefly of ideas ; and French 
ideas had crossed the Atlantic and penetrated to 
Albemarle many years before. 

I find little in Jefferson's life or correspondence 
at this period that needs to be mentioned in this 
running commentary, which of set purpose I am 
making the main portion of my lecture, — a run- 
ning commentary suggesting a running stream, 
and this in turn suggesting Jefferson. One is, 
perhaps, a little surprised to find him occupying 
rooms in an old Carthusian monastery; and if one 
is of a literary turn, one fancies that such monas- 
tic shades have had no such visitor or inmate 
since, save when Matthew Arnold came "to the 
Carthusians' world-famed home," and wrote those 
stanzas which will fade from the memory of men 
only when religious doubts and longings are swept 
away by a return of universal faith, or drowned 
in a chaos of universal despair. 


But Jefferson was no Arnold. He did not 
stand like a Greek "on some lone foreign strand," 
but mingled with courtly and republican society, 
conversed with savants, and wrote most interesting 
letters to his friends in America. He unfolded to 
Madison his favorite doctrine that one generation 
ought not to bind another, and he kept his friends 
in Virginia alive to the necessity of pressing on 
the reforms he had initiated. One of these re- 
forms had related to emancipation; and he was 
sanguine enough to write to the Englishman, Dr. 
Richard Price, a letter (Aug. 7, 1785) from which 
I quote a sentence or two, as much to show his vis- 
ionary temperament as to exhibit his sentiments 
concerning slavery : — 

" This [Virginia] is the next State to which we may 
turn our eyes for the interesting spectacle of justice in con- 
flict with avarice and oppression : a conflict wherein the 
sacred side is gaining daily recruits, from the influx into 
office of young men grown and growing up. These have 
sucked in the principles of liberty, as it were, with their 
mother's milk; and it is to them I look with anxiety to 
turn the fate of this question." 

Alas ! poor philosopher ! Long before his death 
he learned that, when the fervor of the Revolution 
had spent itself, Virginia was left exhausted.^ 
He was, however, spared the humiliation of seeing 

1 This decadence of Virginia was lamented by Wirt in some 
of his essays, which I have not at hand for exact reference. 


emancipation defeated at the very time when the 
new Constitution he had long struggled for was 
obtained ; of hearing a professor ^ in the university 
he founded maintain that if Mr. Jefferson had 
lived he would have learned to regard slavery as 
a blessing ; and, finally, of knowing that the insti- 
tution he detested was swept away not by his 
own people, but largely through the energy of men 
born on the soil he had himself dedicated to free- 
dom eighty years before. 

Another scheme, visionary for the time, de- 
serves mention here, — his noble project for com- 
bining the Christian nations against the Barbary 
pirates, — a scheme which, if successful, would 
have saved his own administration some embar- 
rassment. Less visionary was the service he ren- 
dered his country by receiving the newly proposed 
Constitution in a liberal spirit far removed from 
the captiousness that was characterizing such a 
true patriot and great man as Patrick Henry at 

Jefferson's practical acceptance of the Constitu- 
tion with saving amendments had not a little in- 
fluence, as Madison foresaw it would when he 
hastened to secure his adhesion. The comments 
that he made on the instrument were certainly 
wiser than those which he was to make ten years 
later; and just as certainly they showed that he 

1 Prof esso» Bledsoe in his '' Liberty and Slavery." 


had not merely a clear brain, but also a heart 
whose every beat was patriotic. 

I shall not enter on any lengthy discussion of 
the next phase of Jefferson's career, — his service 
in Washington's cabinet, — both because I referred 
to it frequently in my last lecture, and because it 
brings out few qualities of his statesmanship or of 
his character that I have not already touched upon. 
In his technical duties as Secretary of State, his 
skill as a drafter and his recent diplomatic experi- 
ence naturally stood him in good stead, and made 
him a model official. His commercial reports for 
1793 and his opinion on the French Treaties seem, 
as far as I can judge, to be excellent state papers, 
although, from their nature, deserving of no such 
praise as we bestow on Hamilton's masterly re- 

Now, it is as idle to compare two such men as 
to compare their state papers, and yet this is what 
we are almost bound to do when we consider their 
relations to Washington's cabinet. My own opin- 
ion is, that Hamilton was the better executive offi- 
cer and much more necessary to Washington ; that 
he was more to blame than Jefferson for their con- 
stant bickering, although the latter's chronic lean- 
ing to suspicion was irritating and often absurd; 
but that as a man, taken for all in all, Jeffer- 
son was decidedly Hamilton's superior. He had 
a more subtle and fertile intellect, a less selfish 


disposition, and a firmer grasp upon the ultimate 
verities of life. 

Jefferson may have been visionary, but he never 
committed the absurd blunder of despising and 
underrating the people. All the masterly reports 
on finance that were ever written could not have 
counterbalanced this one blunder of Hamilton's, — 
a blunder that, in my judgment, at once deprives 
him of the highest rank as a statesman. As the 
right-hand man of a statesman who could control 
him, Hamilton was bound to be a credit to any 
country and time. Jefferson is a credit, not merely 
to his country, but to his race. 

I am well aware, when I say this, that many of 
Jefferson's actions while in office under Washing- 
ton cannot be passed over without grave censure. 
I cannot, in the face of his manly letter of Sept. 
9, 1792, believe that he was guilty of as gross 
treachery to his great chief as has been so often 
charged. Jefferson was not a liar ; but, like Shel- 
ley, he had a way of making his own oblique con- 
duct look straight to his own eyes — which is an 
unfortunate habit, especially when you have ene- 
mies and detractors. I think that a thoroughly 
high-toned man should have given up Freneau ^ or 

1 Jefferson was weak enough in his " Ana " to write of Freneau 
as follows : ** His paper has saved our Constitution, which was 
galloping fast into monarchy, and has been checked by no one 
means so powerfully as by that paper." This is under the date 


his portfolio at once, and not have made a nasty 
entry in his ''Ana" about the foibles of a noble 
man to whom he owed a special debt of loyalty. 
I think a thoroughly wise man would have scorned 
to record gravely the tittle-tattle of disappointed 
office-seekers. I think a thoroughly generous man 
would have hesitated to impute evil motives to 
every one who disagreed with him, even to men 
who had stood shoulder to shoulder with him in 
the days that tried men's souls. I cannot acquit 
Jefferson of many of the charges made against him, 
but neither can I acquit Hamilton; and I think 
that for high tone, for wisdom, for generosity, as 
well as for breadth of culture, flexibility of genius, 
and positive service to humanity, the brilliant 
Secretary of the Treasury falls below his rival. 

To minds of a concrete way of judging and 
thinking I can hardly expect these opinions to be 
palatable. Such minds will naturally hold that, 
because parts of Jefferson's opinion against the 
national bank are very shadowy in their reason- 
ing, he cannot stand a moment's comparison with 
the clearest thinker on financial matters that this 
country has ever known. With me, however, the 
idea always counts for more than the concrete 
fact; and in the realm of ideas I consider Jeffer- 
son to be Hamilton's superior. 

of May 23, 1793 ; and yet George Washington "was President at 
that time ! 


Washington, who could combine the idea and 
the fact, was, however, the greatest of the three. 
He was greatest, too, in that he possessed a nobler 
and truer heart. He could no more have attacked 
his brother secretary anonymously as Hamilton did, 
or have written down scandal for preservation as 
Jefferson did, than he could have lied or stolen. 
But Washington was above selfishness, which was 
Hamilton's bane, jiist as he was above suspicion, 
which was Jefferson's. Hence he never toppled 
into meanness or into positive foolishness, as his 
secretaries sometimes did. And that you may 
not suspect me of exaggeration when I accuse 
Jefferson of sometimes falling into positive fool- 
ishness, let me dismiss this unpleasant topic by 
reading you an extract from a letter to Benja- 
min Vaughan (May 11, 1791). He is commenting 
on Burke's mad course with regard to the French 
Revolution, and his prejudices lead him to write ; 
" How mortifying that the evidence of the rotten- 
ness of his mind must oblige us now to ascribe to 
wicked motives those actions of his life which 
wore the marks of virtue and patriotism." 

This of the philosophic statesman — this of the 
man who had defended the liberties of America, 
and had lent the cover of his own great name to 
the pamphlet on the Rights of British America 
that had fallen from the pen of the young Burgess 
from Albemarle just half a generation before. 


When Jefferson, and shortly afterward Hamil- 
ton, retired from Washington's cabinet, it was 
plain to all men that they stood at the head of 
two very antagonistic parties, which were only 
waiting for Washington to be safely ont of the 
way in order to begin a bitter struggle for suprem- 
acy. These two parties, Federalists and Anti- 
Federalists, differed mainly as to the scope of their 
interpretation of the power conferred by the Con- 
stitution upon the general government, although 
they claimed to differ as far as a haughty monar- 
chist does from a ruffian Jacobin. It requires 
little historical penetration to perceive that practi- 
cally every political party that has risen to promi- 
nence since Washington's second administration 
has been affiliated more or less with one of the 
two original parties, and that, when no special 
policy presses upon the country for adoption, the 
tendency of the American people is toward the 
party that takes a simple and somewhat limited 
view of the functions of government. This fact 
rather throws doubt on the assertion of those his- 
torians who claim that Hamilton's influence has 
been greater than Jefferson's in shaping American 

That the principle of nationality, and with it 
the power of the general government, has steadily 
increased in strength goes without saying ; but it 
is by no means certain that this is not mainly due 


to increase of population and of commercial inter- 
course, and to the overcoming of space and time 
by means of steam and electricity, rather than to 
the teachings of Hamilton and his school. 

On the other hand, one has but to put a few 
questions to the average American voter any- 
where in the United States to find that, whatever 
party he may belong to or whatever special meas- 
ures he may advocate for the time, the basis of 
his political reasoning, so far as he has any, 
is Jeffersonian. Jefferson, it seems to me, has 
impressed his personality upon the politics of 
this country in a way that can be accounted for 
only by ascribing to him a subtle and mysterious 
genius that enabled him to comprehend and 
sympathize with the masses of the people. 

And so, while Hamilton dictated the Federalist 
policy from New York, Jefferson retired to Monti- 
cello, and wove his webs of influence. By letters 
and conversation he dominated the minds of the 
younger men at the South, and put himself in 
touch with the stalwart frontiersmen of the West. 
Some of his letters, like the famous one to Maz- 
zei, were to give him no end of trouble,^ but 
they are all interesting, and some are prophetic ; 

1 This sentence from the letter to P. Mazzei of April 24, 1796, 
was enough to stir up strife : — 

•' It would give you a fever were I to name to you the apostates who 
have gone over to these heresies, men who were Samsons in the field 


as, for example, that to Tench Coxe of May 18, 
1794, which plainly foreshadows the embargo and 
non-intercourse policy that were to make his sec- 
ond administration memorable.^ 

His accession to the vice-presidency changed 
his residence, but not his policy. He was still 

and Solomons in the council, but who have had their heads shorn by the 
harlot England." 

It was the harlot "squint-eyed suspicion" that clipped the 
locks of this Virginian Samson. Jefferson was, in spite of all his 
culture, utterly unable to rid himself of what seems to be a 
radical tendency of the agricultural and the bourgeois mind, 
when once its confident self-content has been shaken, to suspect 
all the other classes in the body politic of sinister and basely 
selfish purposes. It was this tendency of mind that caused him 
to write to Gideon Grainger on Aug. 13, 1800, as follows : — 

" Let the General Government be reduced to foreign concerns only, 
and let our affairs be disentangled from those of all other nations, ex- 
cept as to commerce, which the merchants will manage the better the 
more they are left to themselves [O voice crying from the desert !], and 
our General Government may be reduced to a very simple organization, 
and a very inexpensive one — a few plain duties to be performed by a few 

This gentleman-farmer programme would not have made the 
United States a great nation; but it is surely better than high 
protection, government purchase of wheat, free silver, or any 
other of the political fads of our day. 

1 From the letter to Coxe : — 

" I love, therefore, Mr. Clarke's proposition of cutting off all com- 
munication with the nation which has conducted itself so atrociously." 

Such a peaceful method of retaliation naturally suited a rural 
philosopher, and it was destined to be supported with blind vigor 
by the rural South which it did most to hurt. But, whatever we 
may think of the embargo and its author, let us never forget that 
he was unable to descend to the depth of fatuousness reached by 
those statesmen who have actually laid a tax on knowledge. 
Jefferson maintained that books should be imported free of duty. 
See " Works " (Cong, ed.), VII., 222. 


haunted by the idea that a monarchical party was 
in existence, and only waiting for a good oppor- 
tunity to subvert the government. He still re- 
corded silly scandal ; but he had judgment enough 
to point out to John Taylor of Carolina that any 
attempt to split the Union would be followed by 
smaller subdivisions, until anarchy would ensue. 

He wrote also to the same worthy in Novem- 
ber, 1798, that for the present he was for resolv- 
ing the Alien and Sedition laws to be against 
the Constitution and void, and for addressing the 
other States to obtain similar declarations. He 
was for taking no step farther, but would await 
results. Shortly before he hacj. written his fears 
that the infamous Acts were but experiments for 
corrupting the American mind, and that soon an 
attempt would be made to make John Adams 

Mr. McMaster is right in designating such stuff 
as folly; but when he says that it is enough of 
itself to deprive Jefferson of every possible claim 
to statesmanship, he indulges in extravagance of 
statement that makes one feel that he, at least, 
does not possess every requisite for writing im- 
partial history. Yet Jefferson's letters at this 
important crisis are not as interesting as the 
famous Kentucky Resolutions, which he practi- 
cally drafted, and the Virginia Resolutions, that 
embodied his ideas. 


With regard to these notorious documents, 
which I shall mention again when I come to dis- 
cuss Calhoun and nullification, it seems sufficient 
to say that they were plainly more of a party ex- 
pedient called out by a grave political crisis than 
a deliberate attempt at formulating a doctrine 
or founding a school of politics. As passed, the 
Kentucky Resolutions were softened down from 
Jefferson's original draft; but that draft, and the 
letter to Taylor that I have quoted, show that 
Jefferson proposed to. act in company, and that 
the monstrous and absurd doctrine of nullification 
by a single State, so solemnly advanced by Cal- 
houn a generation later, was hardly in his imme- 
diate contemplation. 

That the position he did take was dangerous, 
no sane man will deny. That his own feathers 
winged the shaft that pierced him must have been 
plain to his mind when he read Governor Trum- 
bull's insolent remarks on the embargo a decade 
later. That the Hartford Conventionists and the 
Carolina Nullifiers made use of his ammunition 
are plain historical facts. 

Yet for all this I venture to think that Jeffer- 
son has been badly treated with regard to these 
resolutions. The Alien and Sedition laws were 
not merely silly, but dangerous in their tendency, 
and affected rights that Jefferson was especially 
and properly tender about. On the theory of 


compact which was widely held at the time, the 
States certainly had rights which ought to be 
guarded. The power of the Supreme Court to 
override a law of Congress was much in doubt; 
for Marshall was not yet on the bench, and Mar- 
bury vs. Madison was a case still to be heard of. 

Under all these circumstances it was not un- 
natural for such a man as Jefferson to propose 
an experiment — an experiment involving peace- 
ful co-operation. There have been worse experi- 
ments in pushing a doctrine to extremes made in 
our history, perhaps very recently. At any rate, 
I refuse for one moment to believe that Jefferson 
seriously looked forward to a dissolution of the 
Union, or that he would have relished the idea 
that he would be quoted in support of the doc- 
trine of secession in its naked metaphysical form. 
Secession to him did not differ greatly from revo- 
lution. I repudiate also the suspicion to which 
Hamilton gave heed, that he supported the Union 
because he wished to have as large and great a 
country as possible to preside over. 

For it was plain that Jefferson was logically 
the proper successor to the Federalist President, 
who, throwing away the moderation of Washing- 
ton's policy, had rushed with his party to destruc- 
tion. Anti-Federalism, or rather Republicanism of 
a simple type, really represented the people of 
America, and had to be given a trial. Private 


machinations and a clumsy method of election 
came near depriving the party of its true head, 
and seating the unscrupulous Burr in the chair of 
the chief magistrate ; but the country was saved 
this fate through Hamilton's grudging and ungen- 
erous support of his old rival. It was a hard thing 
for Hamilton to do, and he deserves credit for 
having done it ; but it is open to us to wish that 
his famous letter to Bayard, contrasting Jefferson 
and Burr, had shown just a slight trace of mag- 
nanimity.i Jefferson had himself borne ungrudg- 
ing testimony at least once to Hamilton's ability,^ 
but the latter was too colossal an egotist to return 
the compliment in kind. He was selfish and cold, 
even when the man who had made him what he 
was lay dead at Mount Vernon. 

You will perhaps wonder that I should proceed 

1 There is little magnanimity, for example, in the following 
sentence of the letter to Bayard (Jan. 16, 1801) ; — 

" I admit that his politics are tinctured with fanaticism ; that he is 
too much in earnest in his democracy ; that he has heen a mischievous 
enemy to the principal measures of our past administration ; that he is 
crafty and persevering in his objects ; that he is not scrupulous about 
the means of success, nor very mindful of truth ; and that he is a con- 
temptible hypocrite." 

The last six words, which I myself have italicized, do Hamil- 
ton's memory much more harm than they do Jefferson's. In them 
the writer, having already put his sting in, deliberately twisted 
it around. 

2 Jefferson to Madison, Sept. 21, 1795: — 

•'Hamilton is really a colossus to the Anti-Republican party. With- 
out uiunbers ; he is an host in himself." 


SO leisurely when my time is limited, and I have 
Jefferson's two administrations and his long old 
age at Monticello still to describe ; but the truth 
is, I intend to treat Jefferson's executive career in 
a very brief and simple way. It has already been 
made clear to you, I trust, at least by implication, 
that Jefferson did not have the qualities of a 
great executive, and that, if his presidency was to 
be a success, such success would be largely acci- 
dental. Jefferson was visionary and suspicious, 
sensitive and easy-going, ambitious and careless ; 
like some whist-players, he knew the theory of 
the game, but was a very bad player. 

Yet if any man ever deserved to succeed on 
account of pure motives, that man was Jefferson. 
He really believed that a new era of peace and 
fraternity had dawned for America, and in the 
end for the world, when he entered the White 
House in the ill-kempt village of Washington. 
The protestations of good will and desire for 
unity made by his first inaugural represented the 
most genuine and fundamental elements of the 
man's character. 

Our historians have in the main used Jefferson's 
administrations as object-lessons in political incon- 
sistency, but I confess this seems to me to be a 
rather sorry game. That a party in power should 
stretch the principles of action which it held in 
opposition is as natural as the law of gravitation, 


and is necessary to executive strength as well as 
to political progress. That Jefferson should have 
purchased Louisiana in spite of his constitutional 
scruples may be viewed as a proof of inconsis- 
tency, or of sound statesmanship, according to a 
historian's temper. 

For my own part I look on it as a proof of the 
sound common sense that always underlay Jeffer- 
son's theories and ideas, even when they were most 
visionary. As to his diplomacy, I confess that 
I have a hard time following it, even in the ad- 
mirable and lucid volumes of Mr. Henry Adams ; 
but I suspect Jefferson had a harder time keeping 
up with Napoleon. It was surely sound poHcy to 
keep his eyes open for every chance to acquire 
the Floridas ; but it is not clear to me that every 
step taken in this tortuous matter was wise or 
even dignified. Certainly the rude treatment of 
the British minister. Merry, did no credit either 
to the President of the United States or to the 
Virginian gentleman. 

The embargo policy is like the Florida policy, 
so wrapped up in diplomatic folds that I must 
again confess to having a hard time in following 
it. I do not think that it shows any tremendous 
amount of unwisdom on Jefferson's part, although 
it does give proof of his pertinacity. That he 
could injure England and France by stopping our 
trade with them was certainly an idea that seemed 

80 southehn statesmen. 

feasible, and one that would commend itself to a 
philosopher and a theorist and a gentleman far- 
mer. That he entered upon his policy out of 
subservience to Napoleon was a slander that re- 
flected no credit upon the New Englanders, who 
through the practical encouragement and protec- 
tion of their manufactures laid the foundations of 
a wealth to which the Southerners, who blindly 
supported their President's embargo, were the 
chief contributors. 

I do not see how Jefferson is to be harshly 
blamed for not foreseeing that England would fall 
into the hands of such narrow fanatics as Per- 
cival and Castlereagh, or that Napoleon would in 
his wild plans of empire include the New World 
with the Old. In short, what chiefly affects me 
when I study the whole matter is the pathos of it, 
— a philosopher and a friend of peace struggling 
with a despot of superhuman genius and a Tory 
cabinet of superhuman insolence and stolidity. 
I confess, however, that there are places in the 
record when the flush mounts to my cheeks and 
my blood boils at the utter lack of manly resist- 
ance displayed by my country under such insult- 
ing provocations. 

In the matter of Burr and his conspiracy it 
seems easy to explain some of Jefferson's supine- 
ness, although not the whole of it, as due to his 
reliance on the general loyalty of the people. His 


interference with the trial of the traitor is less 
excusable from the point of view of propriety ; 
but, on the whole, his letters to the prosecuting 
attorney Hay seem to me to be quite moderate, 
considering his well-known relations to Judge 
Marshall,^ who assuredly did not shine with his 
wonted lustre in this notorious case. His cover- 
ing up Wilkinson's complicity was a nasty busi- 
ness, but is sufficiently explained by the proverb, 
that he who touches pitch must needs be defiled. 

Yet, when all is said, the purchase of Louisiana 
and the successful war with Tripoli, together with 
the decided impetus given to the national idea 
by Jefferson's departure from the rules of strict 
construction, are positive features of these two 
administrations that outweigh all the negative 
criticism advanced at the time by discontented 
Federalists, or subsequently by historians with a 
bias. Jefferson retired to Monticello wearied 
with the struggle kept up with foes at home and 
abroad, sick of the fickleness of popular favor, 
and conscious of the failure of his most cherished 
theories and schemes. It was pathetic; but at 
least he had given the lie to his enemies, and 

1 It is certainly matter of regret that the two greatest Vir- 
ginians of their time should have been so antagonistic. I have 
always wondered in this connection whether Jefferson later in 
life recalled a sentence he wrote Madison (June 29, 1792), apropos 
of Hamilton's desire to get Marshall into Congress: "I think 
nothing better could be done than to make him a judge." 

82 SOUTHERN statesmen: 

shown that he loved the Union, and had no in- 
tention to dismember it. He had secured for it 
a magnificent extension of territory, and he had 
thoroughly discredited the opponents of that de- 
mocracy which was to flourish and grow strong 

That these positive features of his administra- 
tions were remembered to his credit, while its un- 
pleasant features were forgotten, is clearly proved 
by the reverence paid him during his long period 
of repose at Monticello. When it was known 
that his finances were embarrassed, the nation 
came to his relief; and if the pilgrims who flocked 
to worship at his shrine were an annoyance, they 
were at the same time a solace to his wounded 
pride. He kept up much of his former influence 
by his letters, and could flatter himself that his 
old age was not useless to his State or people, 
when he saw the walls of his ideal University 
rising against the hills of his beloved Albemarle. ^ 
Finally, it was his fortune to pass away with his 
old associate and friend, John Adams, on the day 
they had combined to render memorable. 

And now, what are the general conclusions to 
be drawn concerning this remarkable man ? That 

1 For JeflFerson's services as an educator, a point not suffi- 
ciently stressed by his biographers, see Dr. H. B. Adams's 
"Thomas Jefferson and the University of Virginia," in the 
Bureau of Education publications, and my own " English Cul- 
ture in Virginia," in the Johns Hopkins studies. 


he was a versatile genius is certain, and that he 
left behind him a prodigious influence is also 
clear. That he was a statesman of the highest 
rank, like Caesar or Cromwell or Washington, 
in the realm of facts and ideas, I suppose few 
will affirm. That he was a profoundly influential 
statesman in the realm of ideas, I suppose few will 
deny. That the ideas which he made current 
were inevitable, and for the best, will be affirmed 
or denied according to the political philosophy 
we hold. They were almost, if not quite, repudi- 
ated by the advanced pro-slavery advocates; but 
I believe that the mass of the Southern people 
still hold to them in the main, and I think this 
is true of the people of the whole country. 

Manhood suffrage, the rule of the majority, 
perfect freedom of thought and action, peace 
rather than war, and devotion to science and the 
useful arts, — these are the leading ideas that Jef- 
ferson inculcated, and they are the leading ideas 
that guide the American citizen to-day. We no 
longer have Jefferson's fear of tyranny before our 
eyes, and we have outgrown his prejudice against 
manufactures, but we are still in the main his 

In one respect, however, we continue to lag 
far behind the ideal he would have had us reach. 
Our democracy does not care sufficiently for the 
things of the mind, it has not endeavored to give 


flexibility to its intellect. In this respect Jeffer- 
son was far ahead of his own age, and he is in 
many ways ahead of ours ; for, if he were alive to- 
day, he would be the first to laugh or frown at 
those foolish people who oppose reforms simply 
because they were not known to Thomas Jefferson 
in an age whose problems were far less complex 
than ours. He always gave his mind full play; 
and though perhaps the balance inclined to science, 
he knew full well the value of culture in its broad- 
est sense, though not himself endowed with fine 

It is the fashion to speak of him as a man ahead 
of his age, and to point to his proposals for a sys- 
tem of public instruction, et cetera^ as proof of the 
fact. It is also remembered by a few that he was 
the first man in this country, if not in the world, 
to point out the propriety of teaching youths the 
rudiments of Anglo-Saxon. But Jefferson's chief 
claim in this respect rests on his apprehension of 
the value of culture to every citizen, no matter 
how humble — he is an eighteenth-century Mat- 
thew Arnold, without Arnold's supreme taste in 
poetry,! j^^^ ^j^]^ f^^ more than Arnold's political 
acumen. A Democracy of Sweetness and Light 
was what Jefferson wished to see established in 

1 Jefferson actually thought at one time that Ossian was the 
greatest bard that ever existed, which is much worse than Wash- 
ington's praise of Joel Barlow. See " Works " (Cong. Ed.), I. 99. 


this country ; and I am optimist enough to believe 
that his wish will be partly realized, in spite of 
recent events in the political world. 

It is just here that Jefferson most sharply sepa- 
rates himself from the other Southern, indeed, 
I may say from all other American statesmen. 
The direct, vigorous methods that have usually 
characterized Southern men are not his methods, 
nor are their temporary and transient objects his 
objects. He is a Transcendentalist in the field 
of politics, born, not in New England, but in Vir- 
ginia. Like Washington, he is greater than his 
State or section; but his State and section are 
proud to have given him to the Union. 

Yet in many ways he was more of a Southerner 
than Washington. He had the easy-going, some- 
what slipshod manners of the old Virginians, he 
had their careless hospitality and improvidence, 
and above all he had their accessibility. When 
he drew up in his shell it was because he was 
timid, not because he was dignified. 

But why continue to attempt to describe the 
most indescribable man that ever fascinated and 
puzzled a biographer? We can see him with his 
sandy hair, his tall, slouchy figure, his often washed 
corduroys, his heelless slippers ; we can follow 
his political career in numerous histories and biog- 
raphies ; we can trace the moving of his mind in 
thousands upon thousands of his letters; we can 


make a pilgrimage to Monticello, and judge of his 
eccentricities by the remarkable abode he fashioned 
for himself; but, when all is done, we shall, if 
we are honest, confess that, though he is still as 
fascinating, he is still as mysterious and inscru- 
table as ever. 




The United States have, in their time, pro- 
duced some queer candidates for the fame and 
emoluments awarded by a grateful people to their 
statesmen; but among these eccentrics, there is 
only one that I can recall whose ill-balanced 
talents have been great enough, when all allow- 
ances are made, to render a study of his career 
absolutely necessary to a thorough comprehension 
of our political history. 

This ill-balanced statesman is the celebrated 
John Randolph of Roanoke, — the only eccentric 
who has been admitted into the well-known 
"American Statesmen" series, where, it is need- 

1 I have relied mainly, of course, upon Mr. Henry Adams's 
excellent life of Randolph in the "American Statesmen" Series, 
as well as on his ** History." I have also used, but with caution, 
the two-volumed life by Hugh A. Garland. Mr. Bouldlin's less 
pretentious book has been used with equal caution, but with 
some profit. Most Randolphiana will be found to bear only the 
most gentle handling ; but I have excerpted here and there pas- 
sages of interest, especially from F. W. Thomas's volume of 
sketches. Randolph's "Letters to a Young Relative" were nat- 
urally resorted to for personal traits ; and his speeches, as given 
in Benton's "Abridgment," were duly studied. 


less to say, his career, as delineated by that admi- 
rable historian, Mr. Henry Adams, furnishes an 
effective foil to the lives of great and consistent 
statesmen like Washington and Lincoln, and an 
agreeable contrast to those of certain mediocrities 
that need not be named. It is true that Sam 
Houston is another eccentric whose career is well 
worth studying; but this fact arises rather from 
Houston's success as a military adventurer than 
from anything accomplished by him when he 
wrapped his blanket around him and posed as a 
statesman. Besides, even as an eccentric, Hous- 
ton is not so interesting as Randolph ; although he 
may, perhaps, be credited with having made the 
most thoroughly mysterious marriage-venture on 
record after that of Milton.^ 

With regard now to the interest that attaches 
to Randolph's career from the point of view of his 
eccentricities, I need not anticipate, for throughout 
this lecture we shall have abundant illustration of 
the defects of his qualities ; but it will be as well 
to state briefly, at the outset, the main features of 
his career that give him a place among our native 
statesmen, this word being used, of course, in a 
somewhat loose sense. 

John Randolph, during Jefferson's first adminis- 
tration, was one of the most efficient and thorough- 
going party leaders on the floor of the House of 

1 See Mr. A. M. Williams's excellent biography of Houston. 


Representatives that have been produced since the 
birth of the nation. From Jefferson's second ad- 
ministration, almost to the close of his Congres- 
sional career, Randolph was the most pertinacious 
and personally dreaded free-lance in politics that 
this country has ever known. At times he almost 
rose to the dignified position of leader of the oppo- 
sition. He was also the most consistent and able 
champion of strict construction of the Constitution 
and of sectionalism, perhaps I should say localism, 
in politics that the South produced during the first 
quarter of this century ; for he took up the mantle 
dropped by Jefferson when he became President, 
and handed it on to Calhoun when the latter en- 
tered the Senate as the coryphseus of nullification. 

In other words, Randolph is important as the 
most typical representative under the Constitution 
of that Virginian school of reactionary politics of 
which George Mason had been the most conspicu- 
ous leader during and just after the Revolution. 
Randolph is, finally, with the possible exception of 
John Taylor of Carolina, the Southerner of all 
others who saw most clearly, prior to Calhoun, 
the trend affairs were taking and would take with 
regard to the institution of slavery. For these 
reasons, then, a careful study of his career is ap- 
propriate and important in a course of lectures 
devoted to Southern statesmen. 

John Randolph was bom June 2, 1773, of a 


Virginia family that has always ranked among the 
first in the State. He boasted of having the blood 
of Pocahontas in his veins, could claim kin with 
such distinguished patriots as Peyton and Edmund 
Randolph, and was compelled to admit that even 
such an iconoclast as Mr. Jefferson was a distant 
relative. His father dying two years after he was 
bom, his mother gave him, in 1778, a step-father 
in the person of Mr. St. George Tucker, a Ber- 
muda emigrant; and he is thus connected with 
another Virginian family that has since won con- 
siderable distinction. Relationships mean a good 
deal for most Virginians ; but they mean especially 
much in connection with John Randolph, for a 
great share of his pride in his native State was 
really, at bottom, pride in his distinguished an- 
cestry and connections. 

The date and place of his birth also were des- 
tined to mean not a little to this scion of the 
Virginia Randolphs. Born in the tide-water re- 
gion, his sympathies were all enlisted on the side 
of the aristocratic slave-owners of that section ; 
and he rarely showed any sympathy with the 
growing West, whether with the frontier counties 
of his own State, or with the new and stalwart 
communities that were growing up beyond the 
AUeghanies. This lack of sympathy was to be 
displayed in many a debate with Henry Clay in 
Congress, and in many a warning utterance in 


the Virginia Convention of 1829-1830, when he 
strenuously opposed all efforts to increase the 
political power of the frontier counties. 

The year of his birth was also of considerable 
importance to him, for he was born too late to 
receive any great benefit from the stir and impetus 
given to men's thoughts and feelings by the Revo- 
lution ; he grew to manhood amid the strife and 
bickerings that characterized the welding period 
of the discordant States, and the formation of the 
Federalist and Republican parties ; and he had 
the incalculable misfortune of having to assume 
leadership of a generation of men who were com- 
pelled to recognize that their fathers had accom- 
plished deeds which they themselves had neither 
the opportunity nor the ability to equal. Worse 
still, the giants of former days lived on beyond 
the allotted years of man, and more or less domi- 
nated the affairs of their successors, thus giving 
them less chance than is usual in political history 
for developing such elements of greatness as they 
might possess. 

And John Randolph was the most unfortunate 
man of his unfortunate generation; for it was his 
fate to have to throw himself into opposition with 
the older generation represented by Jefferson some 
years before its power was at all likely to be 
broken, and when at last its power was broken, 
he was a little too old and too discredited by his 


years of frustrated efforts to be in at tlie death, 
if one may use a phrase that would have found 
favor with a Virginian fox-hunter. 

When Mr. Madison surrendered to the new 
generation, he tendered his sword to Clay and 
Calhoun, not to Eandolph, who by an ironical 
turn of fate was found opposing a war which 
liberated the youths of 1812 from the veterans of 
'76. Randolph, in other words, comes half way 
between Madison and Monroe on the one hand, 
and Clay and Calhoun on the other. Ousted 
from power, he was little tempted to swerve from 
his political principles, which were in their turn 
little calculated ever to bring him into power. 
He was not like the man who can continue to 
wear the same cut of coat in perfect confidence 
that a change of styles, reverting to old types, will 
bring him into fashion again. Even on the sub- 
ject of slavery itself, the only subject in which he 
had the future with him, that is to say the future 
of his section, he was destined to be a mere fore- 
runner and prophet to Calhoun. John Randolph 
had a good many queer ideas and superstitions; 
but if he had believed in astrology, and main- 
tained that he was born under an unlucky star 
(as he practically did), little fault could be justly 
found with him. 

But Randolph's date of birth was unlucky for 
him in another respect. Cut out from the great 


liberalizing movements of the generation preced- 
ing his own, entering upon manhood at the mean- 
est and lowest period of our early political history, 
that of the Alien and Sedition laws, he was utterly 
unable, in spite of his acute mind, to break away 
from two very important but baleful influences. 
One, that of locality, has been before referred to. 
He became a narrow tide-water aristocrat, con- 
temning democracy and the West, clinging to an 
effete past and a colonial dependence on England 
in all matters of mental and social significance, 
and confronting the future with a dominant im- 
practical purpose, to wit, the maintenance of 

The second influence was a more distinctly 
spiritual one. Randolph was 2^ fin de Steele eigh- 
teenth-century man. He passed under the spell 
of morbid sentimentalism and romanticism, never 
to shake it off. The " Sorrows of Werther " and 
the " Mysteries of Udolpho " were more or less re- 
produced on the Appomattox, and the cynicism 
and despair of " Lara " were somewhat anticipated. 
The " Man of Feeling " even made his appearance 
near Petersburg. But fate, heredity, and environ- 
ment combined to prevent Randolph from giving 
literary expression, save in his letters, to his emo- 
tions, and he passed out of his youthful period of 
storm and stress into a noisy arena of selfish and 
recalcitrant politics; he was not permitted to at- 


tain the philosophic calm of Wordsworth or the 
orthodox conservative peace of Southey, and he 
was just a bit too old to be stirred by the im- 
petus of the French Revolution to the strenuous 
revolt of Byron or the optimistic humanitarianism 
of Shelley. 

Willy-nilly he became the sport of a fate more 
malevolently bitter and sardonic than usually, 
thank God ! dogs the footsteps of us poor mor- 
tals. To paraphrase Matthew Arnold, the ge- 
nius of Virginia, foreseeing the inevitable decline 
of her glory and prowess, let a bitter smile of de- 
spair play for a moment upon her lips — that smile 
was Randolph. 

The boyhood of this Heine of Virginia politics, 
whose life, like Heine's, was one long disease, but 
whose death, in what was to him a foreign capital, 
was at least not caused by expatriation, needs 
some little comment if we are to understand his 
after career. One would naturally have expected 
that the fact that his earliest experiences of the 
British were connected with their raid of Vir- 
ginia under the traitor Arnold would have devel- 
oped somewhat the same feelings toward them in 
his breast that their wanton destruction of Wash- 
ington a generation later developed in the hearts 
of Americans at large ; but such does not appear 
to have been the case. 

The boy took to deploring the loss of prestige 


suffered by the tide-water planters through the 
democratic changes furthered by Jefferson, rather 
than the losses inflicted by the British, or brought 
upon the section by a wasteful system of culture, 
although he grew eloquent enough over the latter 
phase of misery as he advanced in years. I much 
doubt whether he got a great deal of the vigorous, 
out-of-door training of a boy on a Virginian plan- 
tation, as Mr. Adams seems to think he did — he 
was too delicate for that ; but he did get the civil- 
izing training given by contact with refined and 
gentle people. He got lessons in dignified man- 
ners, in genealogical lore, and in aristocratic but 
mistaken notions as to the importance of landed 

He got, too, a taste for reading that was to 
make him something of a dilettante^ and to give a 
tone to his oratory that was to distinguish it from 
that of all other Americans. It never made him 
a scholar, as many of his admiring fellow-citizens 
have claimed, nor did it widen his views of life 
as genuine culture ought to do; but it certainly 
pointed his epigrams. Blifil and Black George 
are, through Randolph, almost living characters to 
many an American who never read " Tom Jones " 
or never heard of Fielding. Later in life, writ- 
ing to a young relative in obvious imitation of 
Lord Chesterfield, the eccentric and not altogether 
courtly Virginian gave testimony to the effect of 

%' b:!?i ^ 



books upon him in language that deserves to be 
quoted : — 

"But if from my life were to be taken the pleasure 
derived from that faculty [of reading], very little would 
remain. Shakespeare and Milton and Chaucer and Spenser 
and Plutarch, and the ' Arabian iN'ights' Entertainments,' 
and Don Quixote and Gil Bias and Tom Jones and Gul- 
liver and Robinson Crusoe, ' and the tale of Troy divine,' 
have made up more than half of my worldly enjoyment." * 

From the same letter we learn that he had read 
nearly all this and more by the time he was eleven 
years old. It is probably quite true, as Mr. Adams 
avers, that he would not have read Baxter's 
"Saint's Rest" — I am not so sure about the 
"Pilgrim's Progress; " it is also true, as the same 
writer opines, that "it was to Shakespeare and 
Fielding that his imagination naturally turned;" 
but it must be remembered that in one important 
respect he failed to derive benefit from these great 
souls. He failed to catch any large portion of 
their sympathy for humanity, — 

" As broad and general as the casing air." 

Far more in keeping with his nature was the 
gothic romanticism that began to affect his imagi- 
nation with Percy's "Reliques" in 1784-1785. 
He was one of Scott's earliest admirers, and he 

1 Letter to T. B. Dudley, Feb. 16, 1817. 


might have been cited by Mark Twain in support 
of the curious theory that the Waverley novels 
had a great deal to do with keeping the South in 
a backward state of civilization. The representa- 
tive of a decaying aristocracy felt a fellow-feeling 
with the resuscitated barons of the Middle Ages. 

Besides browsing in good old books, and getting 
religious and social ideas from a devoted mother 
who died too soon, John Randolph did little 
toward obtaining what we call an education. He 
acknowledged to his nephew,^ later on, that he 
was " a very ignorant man ;" and, although his pre- 
posterous biographer, Mr. Garland, thought fit to 
caution readers against the over-modesty of this 
statement, it is plain, from the description Ran- 
dolph gave to the same relative of his early school- 
ing, that he was never what could be called a 
thoroughly trained and rounded man. In this es- 
sential respect too, then, he was less fortunate 
than his predecessors, like Jefferson, Madison, and 

It is true that both Princeton and Columbia can 
claim him as an alumnus, but his stay at both col- 
leges was short; and his studying law with his 
relative, Edmund Randolph, Washington's attor- 
ney-general, was plainly little more than a matter 
of foi-m. He did learn something of town life, 
however, in New York and Philadelphia, and de- 

1 Letter to Dudley, Feb. 15, 1806. 


veloped an early and acute interest in politics, 
chiefly negative and anti-Federal. His hostility to 
the Adams dynasty is traced to an incident of this 
period ; a coachman of the second President hav- 
ing, ignorantly of course, cracked his whip at the 
brother of the man who was afterwards to take 
some revenge on the father and more on the son. 

More important, perhaps, than his stay at the 
North was his trip, doubtless on horseback, to 
visit his friend Bryan in Georgia. He stopped at 
Charleston long enough to learn something of that 
aristocratic city, and then pushed on to mingle 
with the less settled society of the frontier State, 
then stirred up over the famous Yazoo frauds. 
This was the rock on which the bark of his 
political fortunes was to split. He espoused so 
heartily the cause of the people of Georgia against 
their corrupt Legislature and the speculators, that 
the subject became a matter of monomania to him, 
and, as we shall see, led him into conflict with 
Madison and other prominent men, and procured 
his downfall. 

All his States'-rights proclivities enlisted him 
on Georgia's side, and the fact that he had been 
in the very midst of the strife gave him a kind of 
'^ quorum pars magna fui^^ pride that increased his 
monomania. For many a long year his speeches 
were to be full of the matter, and he had no more 
terrible invective in his stock than " Yazoo-Man." 


Mr. Adams has, with not a little truth, called 
Randolph a Virginian Quixote ; if so, the Yazoo 
affair was certainly his adventure with the wind- 

On his return to Virginia, Randolph was met by 
the sad news of the death of his brother Richard, 
an event which may be described as the climax 
of his desolation. His father and mother were 
both dead ; henceforward he had charge of the fam- 
ily estates, and, worse still, of the family name. 
His brother's children were unfortunate, and des- 
tined to be more of a care than a comfort; he 
was to have family secrets to keep into which we 
need not pry ; his own love-affair was to assume a 
mysteriously tragic turn, — in short, it was his 
fate to become a lonely man in every sense of the 

It would little profit us to describe or discuss 
this loneliness, about which he himself, however, 
talked and wrote rather melodramatically; but 
we must remember that it went, along with his 
dyspepsia, his subsequently acquired habits of 
drinking, and his inherited taint of madness, to 
form his morbid and curious character. It had 
much to do also with making him so effective and 
devil-may-care a free lance in politics. It doubt- 
less, too, strengthened his remarkable hold upon 
his constituents. 

When, later, he removed to Charlotte County, 


near the Roanoke River, and lived his mysterious, 
erratic life in his unpretentious cabins, his loneli- 
ness and the contrast of his situation (so unlike 
that of a Virginia nobleman) with his pretensions 
moved both the imagination and the sympathy of 
his honest and unsophisticated neighbors, and gave 
him constituents worthy of his famous, if rather 
over-wrought, eulogy. Mr. Adams may be right 
when he attributes much of Randolph's hold upon 
his district to shrewd use of his powers as a scold 
and a bully; but these qualities were not likely 
to have made him friends among the gentry, and 
are insufficient to explain the fascination he un- 
questionably exerted upon high and low alike. 
He still fascinates us, though "'tis sixty years 
since," and that, too, even after we have studied 
him in the disillusioning pages of Mr. Adams and 
the halo-forming chapters of Mr. Garland. 

But I am anticipating. He is not John Ran- 
dolph of Roanoke yet, but John Randolph of Bi- 
zarre (ominous name), near Farmville, head of a 
family of women, small children, and ne'er-do-well 
hangers-on, like John and William Thompson. 
The former of these two young gentlemen was 
the author of some political effusions signed by 
various Roman patriots, and had, according to 
Randolph, a prodigious genius which was nipped 
by an early death. Both brothers flattered Ran- 
dolph, and encouraged his melodramatic tastes; 


and all three must have devoured the sentimental 
and romantic fiction and poetry then coming into 

On no other supposition can one explain the 
pompous and silly phraseology, or the vaporous 
gloom, of the epistles which passed between them 
whenever they were separated. The heroes of 
Godwin, Monk Lewis, and Mrs. Radcliffe, as well 
as those of Rousseau, Goethe, and Mackenzie, must 
have listened, as well as his relative, Mrs. Dudley, 
to Randolph striding across his floor at night ex- 
claiming, " Macbeth hath murdered sleep ! Mac- 
beth hath murdered sleep ! " Some, at least, of 
them must have followed him when he would 
" have his horse saddled in the dead of night, and 
ride over the plantation with loaded pistols." 
And some of them must have glanced approvingly 
over his shoulder when, even as a member of 
Congress, he wrote home to his "friend and 
brother, William Thompson" a letter of stilted 
and somewhat priggish advice which concluded as 
follows : — 

"To our amiable sister — for such she considers herself 
with respect to you — I commit you, confident that your 
own exertion, aided by her society, will form you such as 
your friend will rejoice to behold you. Write to him fre- 
quently, I beseech you; cheer his solitary and miserable 
existence with the well-known characters of friendship. 
Adieu, my dear brother." 


Later on people of the neighborhood thought 
that Thompson was taking very kindly to the 
widowed lady to whose care he was committed, 
and was in a fair way to become Randolph's 
brother in good earnest ; so the high-strung youth 
felt constrained to leave Bizarre, and the Damon 
and Pythias element was taken out of Randolph's 
life. It left its effects, however. 

But romantic vaporings had not quenched the 
early interest in politics that has been already 
noted ; and the excitement of Virginia during the 
disputes over the Alien and Sedition laws brought 
out John Randolph, cetat. 26, as a Republican can- 
didate for Congress. Few more dramatic canvasses 
than his have been made in this country. Wash- 
ington, dreading the extent of the reaction against 
Federalism, and perhaps having wind of the arse- 
nal building at Richmond to furnish munitions 
of war should Virginia go out of the Union, had 
written a noble letter to Patrick Henry,i urging 
him to become a candidate for the Legislature 
in the interests of the cause of order and stable 
government. Henry had resisted the adoption of 
the new Constitution, and had prophesied the 
decline of Virginian and Southern influence and 
power under the encroachments of the general 
government; but he was no anarchist, or even a 
French democrat, and he answered Washington's 

1 See ante, page 38. 


summons with an alacrity which marks the cul- 
mination of his moral .greatness, although it was 
at the same time the last expiring flash of his 
physical vigor. 

Of course there were not wanting then, nor 
have there been wanting since, men willing to 
accuse Patrick Henry of having deserted his Re- 
publican principles in order to win the good 
opinion of Washington, and to respond in a gra- 
cious way to the flattery of the Federalist Presi- 
dent who had offered him a diplomatic appoint- 
ment to France. But this is to misapprehend 
Henry's character, and to cast an unnecessary slur 
on our common humanity. Henry turned upon 
his own followers when he found they were rush- 
ing past him into yawning dangers and perils. 
He had thought hitherto that it was possible to 
walk slowly along the narrow ledge of State sov- 
ereignty, but he knew there could be no rushing 
and galloping along it. So he announced himself 
as a candidate for the Legislature from Charlotte 
County, where he now resided ; and it was known 
that he had been singled out to oppose Madison, 
who was also to return to a body where he had 
years before made his mark. 

Henry, doubtless, little thought that in the 
beardless stripling of twenty-six who announced 
himself for Congress from the Charlotte district 
on the anti-Federalist side, the political principles 


of his youth and maturity would find, for the 
next quarter of a century, their most consistent 

Nor, when a joint debate was arranged between 
Randolph and himself for March Court, 1799, could 
the old Orator of the Revolution have fancied that 
he was about to listen to the new Orator of Vir- 
ginia's Decline and Fall. Biographers and eulo- 
gists of Randolph have in reference to this debate 
said not a little about setting and rising suns ; 
but it was Randolph's luminary, not Henry's, that 
was in reality clad in the blood-red glow of the 

Traditionary accounts are the only information 
we possess about this historic and dramatic debate, 
in which Virginia may be almost said to have 
stood at the parting of the ways, casting longing 
looks upward at the trembling star of her glory 
that had hitherto guided her feet, then turning 
and following the will-o'-the-wisp that was to lure 
her on to her fall. 

We are told that everybody who was anybody 
in the district had made it a point to come out to 
hear what it was feared would be Patrick Henry's 
last speech. Hampden-Sidney professors, learned 
divines, rich planters of the surrounding counties, 
were all there ; and the plainer farmers, the over- 
seers, the few store-keepers, and the numerous 
lawyers were there too. Body-slaves and free 


negroes stood at the outskirts of the crowd; and 
not far from them was their hereditary foe, the 
non-slaveholder, " the poor white trash," as shift- 
less and open-mouthed as the blacks he hated, but 
proud of his color, and possessed of not a little 
political information and shrewdness, even if he 
were not often owner of a sufficient freehold to 
give him a vote. It was a typical, though some- 
what swollen, Virginian court-day crowd; but, 
although his friends and neighbors preponderated, 
John Randolph must have had considerable pluck 
when he rose to make his maiden speech before 

We do not know what the two orators said, 
although Wirt and Mr. Garland have constructed 
speeches for them in what was once an approved 
style. It is said that one James Adams "rose 
upon a platform that had been erected by the side 
of the tavern porch where Mr. Henry was seated, 
and proclaimed, ' Oyes, oyes ! Colonel Henry 
will address the people from this stand, for the 
last time and at the risk of his life ! ' " i We are 
further informed that the grand jurj^, who were in 
session at the moment, burst through the court- 
house doors, or leaped from the windows, and came 
running up to the crowd that they might not lose 
a word from the lips of the " old man eloquent." 

Henry's plea for liberty combined with order 

1 Garland's Randolph, 1. 131. 


melted the crowd to tears ; and as he sank back 
at its close, a Presbyterian clergjmian, Dr. John H. 
Rice, started the metaphors rolling by exclaiming, 
" The sun has set in all his glory." Whereupon, 
in order that the audience might not be left in 
total and Cimmerian darkness, an evening star ap- 
peared in the person of a young gentleman, tall, 
slender, effeminate-looking, with light hair combed 
back into a cue, with a "pale countenance, a 
beardless chin, bright, quick hazel eye, blue frock, 
buff small-clothes, and fair top-boots." ^ 

Tradition, or his ruffle-shirted biographer, — ■ it 
makes little difference which, — has it that " for 
some moments he stood in silence, his lips quiver- 
ing, his eye swimming in tears." Let us trust the 
biographer, and believe that he felt the solemnity 
of the occasion, and that he appreciated the moral 
greatness of his venerable opponent. It would be, 
perhaps, too much to expect that he should have 
refrained from an argumentum ad hominem based 
on Henry's change of front; for he spoke three 
hours and a half, and he could hardly have con- 
fined himself for so long a period to discussing 
the iniquities of the Federalists, great as they 

Whatever his themes and method of handling 
them, he not only delighted his audience, but as- 
tounded them. He did not in all probability make 

1 Garland's Eandolph, I. 129. 


much use of epigrams or the long, pointed finger ; 
he is more likely to have used long sentences ; but 
he doubtless understood the temper of a Virginian 
crowd, and managed to appeal adroitly to their 
patriotism, their conservatism, and their sense of 
humor. The Reverend Doctor JMoses D. Hoge, 
himself an orator of no mean ability, is said to 
have gone away muttering: 

" And still the wonder grew 
That one small head could carry all he knew."^ 

Patrick Henry is said to have observed to a by- 
stander, " I haven't seen the little dog before since 
he was at school; he was a great atheist then." 
Liberalism in politics meant for many in those 
days liberalism in religion, just as liberalism in 
social thought often does now. But Henry had 
some excuse for his taunt; since Randolph was 
not unfamiliar with the French deism then fashion- 
able among Virginia gentlemen, and was never free 
from a taint of blatancy. The veteran was, how- 
ever, quite complimentary to his young opponent 
at the close of the debate, and gave him some good 
advice, which Randolph did not take, although he 

1 None of these details is to be taken too seriously. Judge 
Beverley Tucker, Randolph's half-brother, in a scathing review of 
Garland's "Life," published in the Southern Quarterly Review 
for 1851, ridicules this very statement about Dr. Hoge, and de- 
clares that he could not have been present at the debate. 


henceforth cherished the memory of his great fore- 

With not a little inconsistency, the good peo- 
ple of Charlotte cast their votes both for Pat^ 
rick Henry and for John Randolph. Perhaps the 
scarlet coat of his opponent, Mr. Powhatan Boi- 
ling, may have helped Randolph; but his plucky 
speech certainly did, and he began a congressional 
career of over a quarter of a century, in which he 
suffered only one defeat. 

At least one admirer expected great things of 
him ; for John Thompson had written to his brother 
William, " Our friend John Randolph offers for 
Congress, and will probably be elected. He is a 
brilliant and noble young man. He will be an 
object of admiration and terror to the enemies of 
liberty." By enemies of liberty Mr. Thompson 
meant the Federalists, not Messrs. Jefferson and 
Madison ; yet it was to the latter rather than to the 
former that Randolph was destined to be an object 
of terror, and he never was much of an object of 
admiration save to the callow youths of his own 
Old Dominion. 

Certainly he began his congressional career at 
Philadelphia in a way calculated to make only a 
ridiculous impression. In a speech on a motion 
to repeal the Act for augmenting the army, while 
defending the thesis always dear to Virginia plan- 
ters and Enghsh country gentlemen, that a state 


should not depend on enlisted soldiers, he applied 
to these latter objects of youthful and feminine 
admiration the rather insulting and unnecessary 
epithet of " ragamuffins." On the evening of the 
same day he was rudely jostled at a theatre by a 
party of officers. It is not quite clear that they 
knew who he was ; but Randolph assumed that his 
inviolability as a legislator had been assailed, and 
brought the matter to the notice of President John 
Adams in a letter remarkable for republican sim- 
plicity of ascription and for romantic bombast of 

Adams sent the note to the House with slight 
comment, whereupon the matter was referred to a 
committee, who treated it in a way not calculated 
to soothe Randolph's feelings. He was practically 
censured by the House for having applied to the 
President instead of to that body for redress, and 
his assailants got off without even a censure. 
Probably there was a little party malice visible in 
this treatment of a Virginian Republican, and per- 
haps the House would have shown itself more 
zealous in inquiring into the matter if a Federalist 
had been the object of a supposed attack ; but 
the whole affair, as Mr. Adams notes, must have 
done Randolph good, though it gave little indi- 
cation that the rash young man would become 
leader of the House as soon as Congress removed 
to the new Federal village of Washington. A 


glance at the bombastic letters Randolph was then 
writing to Bryan and William Thompson would 
have confirmed the unfavorable prognostications 
to be legitimately drawn from the theatre incident. 

But a change was at hand that was to make all 
things new. Mr. Jefferson was to succeed John 
Adams. The country was to be renovated, and 
John Randolph along with it. True, Mr. Jeffer- 
son's election was in doubt when Randolph first 
came to Washington, and the latter revealed some 
queer feelings with regard to the idol of Virginia 
Republicans; but he soon settled down into an 
efficient working member under the guidance of 
his astute relative. In the first Congress under the 
new administration Nathaniel Macon, Randolph's 
almost life-long friend, was elected Speaker; and 
he promptly placed Randolph at the head of the 
most important committee of the House, that of 
Ways and Means. 

Events showed that the simple and honest 
North Carolinian had not been over-dazzled by 
the brilliancy of his young Virginian friend. It 
was a time for new men, since a new party was in 
power ; and Madison and Gallatin, the chief Repub- 
licans with political experience, had been needed 
in the Cabinet. Macon himself, a typical repre- 
sentative of the honest but scarcely brilliant or 
interesting democracy of his native State, had 
succeeded by force of character to a chair which 


at that time demanded rather the qualities of a 
moderator, after the English type of speaker, than 
those of a party leader, after the American type 
introduced by Henry Clay. For leader of the 
House, the chairman of the most important com- 
mittee was naturally the person to be relied on; 
and for leadership Randolph's aggressive qualities 
were in demand. The combination of Randolph- 
Macon (since rather humorously preserved by a 
worthy Methodist college in Virginia) was not, 
then, as remarkable a one as we might judge from 
the divergent characters of the two men ; nor was 
their friendship inexplicable, on the well-known 
principle, in the matters of human likes and dis- 
likes, of attraction between opposites. 

The new chairman began his career by moving 
an investigation of the judiciary. John Adams 
and the Federalists had put John Marshall in the 
Supreme Court, and had created new circuit judges 
who might be expected to interpret the Consti- 
tution according to Federalist principles. In 
some way this menace to republican liberty had 
to be neutralized, and it was decided to do away 
with the circuit judges. 

Both Randolph and Jefferson probably felt that 
Marshall was not a man to be trifled with, and it 
is at least doubtful whether the former could have 
been induced to attack him. Much as he disliked 
Marshall's Federalist principles, Randolph always 


liked the man ; and he was too good a Virginian 
not to relish the fact that a fellow-citizen of the 
" Old Dominion " was presiding over the highest 
court in the land. Besides, a personal attack was 
more obnoxious to Republican principles than an 
attack on a new system of courts, which could be 
rested on strictly constitutional grounds, as Ran- 
dolph showed in his able replies to the Federalist 
leader, Bayard of Delaware. 

Mr. Adams intimates that Randolph was at first 
in favor of overturning the whole judiciary system, 
Supreme Court included, but he cites no author- 
ity ; and Randolph, in his speech of Feb. 19, 1802, 
in reply to Bayard, expressly stated that that was 
the first time he had ever heard of such a design. 
Randolph, though " in harness," was in the habit 
of telling the truth, whether pleasant or not ; and 
I am at least inclined to doubt whether he felt as 
violently toward Marshall as Jefferson did. If 
he did not, it is pretty plain that he would not 
have permitted himself to be drawn into an attack 
on one great Virginian by another. 

As has been intimated, Randolph was no wor- 
shipper of Mr. Jefferson — indeed, it seems plain 
that he was a little jealous of him ; and while in 
his new position of leader he showed himself 
somewhat docile at first, his subsequent career 
proves clearly that nothing could have driven 
him to take any stand in this judiciary matter that 


his conscience did not approve. For, narrow and 
impracticable as many of his political convictions 
were, Randolph always had the courage of them; 
and those were days when independence in poli- 
tics was more common than it is now. We may 
be certain, from the natures of the two men, that 
whatever the President got out of the leader of 
the House was obtained by astute management, 
and not by dictation. We may be equally certain 
that the Federalists did not long maintain any 
illusions as to the ability of the beardless stripling 
who undertook to reply to their champion from 

Whether or not Randolph was in favor of attack- 
ing Marshall and the Supreme Court, it is evident 
from his later speeches ^ that he regarded the ad- 
vent to power of the Republican party in 1801 as 
a proper occasion for a good many sweeping re- 
forms, — at any rate, for some high-sounding proc- 
lamations as to the unconstitutionality of the Alien 
and Sedition laws, et cetera. He seriously believed 
with Jefferson that the Federalists were tainted 
with monarchical principles, and that the country 
had been saved from tyranny so as by fire. 

But Jefferson found himself checked by pru- 
dent men like Gallatin and Madison, as well as 
by Northern democrats, who were compelled by 
their isolated position to be somewhat more chary 

1 See H. Adams's "History of the United States," I. 260. 


in their utterances and conservative in their acts 
than their Southern brethren of the faith. It is 
no wonder, then, to find Jefferson tending toward 
conservatism, and relying more and more on 
Northern support ; while Randolph, with a pocket 
district and a leading State practically behind 
him, could afford to stick closely to his original 
principles of republican simplicity and hatred for 
strong government. 

His social theories of a landed aristocracy did 
not in the least conflict, it will be noted, with 
his republicanism. The Virginia barons were as 
ready to put down King John Adams as their 
English prototypes had been to impose the great 
Charter upon another and less virtuous John ; for 
were they not certain of their own social standing 
and political power inside Virginia, provided the 
general government could be kept within legiti- 
mate bounds? 

Alas ! the Virginia barons, Randolph among the 
first, were soon to find that, expelling King John, 
they had set up King Thomas — King Stork for 
King Log ; only Randolph, knowing some English 
history, and seeing perhaps some faint analogy 
between Republicanism and the Holy Catholic 
Church, preferred to speak of St. Thomas of Can- 

It would be idle to attempt to enumerate all 
Randolph's votes and speeches in the first session 


of the Seventh Congress. He discussed the pro- 
posed mausoleum to Washington, the public print- 
ing, the library of Congress, jurisdiction over the 
District of Columbia ; and he had his say on more 
important matters, such as the Apportionment Bill. 
He had, further, to master Gallatin's financial 
schemes for the reduction of taxes, and to defend 
them in the House, — the true limit perhaps, as 
Mr. Adams maintains, of his responsibility to his 
party, but a proof at the same time of his great 
importance to that party. 

He was in training, as the same biographer has 
shown, and, until his waywardness wrecked his 
career, was looked upon as a possible successor 
to Gallatin; but through it all he never ceased 
to speak out for himself, and to maintain the 
simon-pure principles of the Virginia wing of Re- 
publicans. No clearer utterance on the subject of 
State sovereignty can be found than his argu- 
ment of Dec. 18, 1801, apropos of the Apportion- 
ment Bill, against the "doctrine which considered" 
the " House as the Representatives of the peo- 
ple ; " but side by side with this it is well to put 
the peroration of his speech of Feb. 19, 1802, on 
the Judiciary Establishment (too harshly criti- 
cised by Mr. Adams), in which he protested 
against the idea of a dissolution of the Union in 
words which he might have recalled with profit 
later in his career. I cannot forbear to quote 


them botli for their intrinsic value, and for the 
evidence they afford of the fact that Randolph's 
style was passing from the callow, bombastic stage 
into something like the effective, trenchant stage 
of his maturity: — 

" Is the idea of a separation of these States so light and 
trifling an affair, as to be uttered with calmness in this 
deliberate assembly? At the very idea I shudder, and it 
seems to me that every man ought to look on such a scene 
with horror, and shrink from it with dismay. Yet some 
gentlemen appear to be prepared for such an event, and 
have determined on their sides in case it should happen. 
For my part, sir, I deplore such an event too much to 
make up my mind on it until it shall really happen, and 
then it must be done with great hesitation indeed. To 
my imagination the idea of disunion conveys the most 
painful sensations ; how much more painful, then, would 
be the reality ! Who shall fix the boundaries of these new 
empires, when the fatal separation shall take place? Is 
it to be done with those cruel engines of death that we 
have heard of, the sword, the bayonet, and the more savage 
instruments of tomahawk and hatchet? And is the arm 
of the brother to plunge them into the heart of brother, 
and citizen to be put in battle-array against citizen, to 
make this separation which would ruin the whole country ? 
And why is all this to be done? Because we cannot aU 
think alike on political topics ! " ^ 

With such sentiments Randolph wound up his 
service in the third session of his long career. As 
his most recent biographer well puts it: "Con- 

1 Benton's "Abridgment," II. 631. 


gress had done good work under his directions. 
The internal taxes were abolished and half the 
government patronage cut off; the army and 
navy suffered what Mr. Jefferson called a ' chaste 
reformation; ' the new Federalist judiciary was 
swept away." 

The qualifications that Mr. Adams allows him- 
self to make to this enumeration of services, viz., 
that no dangerous power had been expressly lim- 
ited, and that Kandolph only saw and deplored 
the fact later, whatever may be its weight, is cer- 
tainly one of those qualifications that are easy to 
make after the fact. 

Returning to Washington, December, 1802, 
Randolph found that his bete noir — Napoleon, and 
his diplomatic relative, Jefferson — had given him 
plenty of work to do. Napoleon was engaged in 
crushing Toussaint, and in planning to secure his 
new acquisition of Louisiana. Spain had put an 
end to the right of deposit at New Orleans, and 
the Western country was on fire with excitement. 
Mr. Jefferson was endeavoring to face both ways, 
to threaten war and maintain peace, to manage 
Kentucky and New England with one hand, and 
both Spain and Napoleon with the other. 

The irony of the situation is increased by the 
fact that he succeeded by the aid of John Ran- 
dolph, the most unmanageable of men, and of 
Napoleon, the most militant, grasping, and un- 


yielding. Of course we cannot here go into the 
details of this first stage in the Louisiana business. 
It is sufficient to say that Randolph managed to 
get the House to pass into secret session in spite 
of the public excitement; that he aided Jefferson 
to talk war in one message and peace in another 
(a course very similar to one he refused to take 
a little later) ; that he kept the Western men quiet 
and the Federalists powerless; and, finally, that 
he got the House to vote two millions for a rather 
indefinite purpose, which was, nevertheless, under- 
stood to be the securing of the mouth of the Mis- 
sissippi. It is a little curious to read Randolph's 
patriotic remarks about the importance of the 
great river in view of his subsequent attitude 
toward the West; but it may be noted that they 
were adroitly intermingled with praise of a then 
favorite Virginia worthy, Monroe, who had de- 
feated a scheme in the Continental Congress to 
barter Mississippi navigation rights for Spanish 
commercial privileges. 

Randolph succeeded in making the House listen 
to page after page from the reports of the Vir- 
ginia Convention of 1788 ; and he also succeeded 
in giving the Federalists some home thrusts, and 
in arguing cleverly with regard to the impropriety 
of treating Spain with disrespect in the delicate 
business now in hand. He was right, on the 
whole, in this last particular; but it is hard to 


help thinking that he would have found it more 
congenial to lash both Spain and France, as well 
as Kentucky and New England, with his auda- 
cious tongue. 

With regard to the constitutionality of the pro- 
posed purchase of the island of New Orleans and 
of East and West Florida, he seems to have had 
no scruples, or else to have thought it best to hold 
his tongue; but he had no hesitation, about the 
same period, in indulging in a typically Republi- 
can attack on the mint, an indication of the fact 
that he could not always keep his free-lance pro- 
pensities within bounds. 

In October, 1803, at the beginning of the Eighth 
Congress, Napoleon and Jefferson furnished Ran- 
dolph with still more to do ; and he had during the 
summer been warned that he might have no less 
a business on his hands than the impeachment of 
a justice of the Supreme Court. But the Loui- 
siana Purchase, so unexpectedly and luckily made, 
demanded his first attention. He managed to get 
the Federalist request for documents to be fur- 
nished by the Executive frustrated by a narrow 
vote ; and he then delivered himself as to the con- 
stitutionality of the purchase in a way that ought 
to have been repugnant, but seemingly was not, 
to every strict constructionist that heard him. 
He was more in line with his principles when 
he showed his jealousy of executive power by car- 


Tying an amendment to the proposed act which 
limited the President's control over the province 
to the period covered by the then session of 

Dangers resulting from loose construction of 
the Constitution were evidently less conspicuous 
to him than dangers that might result from the 
tyrannical use of executive power. Tyranny 
exercised by St. Thomas of Cantingbury has a 
humorous sound. As it was, Randolph allowed 
Quincy of Massachusetts to press the unconstitu- 
tionality of the whole Louisiana negotiation, — to 
press it even to the utterance of his famous threat 
of secession, "peaceably if we can, forcibly if we 
must." Then, to quote Mr. Adams, "having 
swallowed without even a grimace this enormous 
camel" of unconstitutional increase of territory, 
he "next strained at a gnat" of supposed execu- 
tive encroachments, in the end allowing "the 
President to govern Louisiana with the powers 
of a king of Spain until a rebellion became 

He concluded his queer but powerfully success- 
ful course by carrying through a bill based upon 
an unfounded interpretation of the treaty of pur- 
chase, which actually annexed the whole coast of 
Florida on the Gulf, thus giving an occasion for 
war to the very same Spain whose sensibilities he 
had been so anxious to avoid wounding not a year 


before. In this action he was not so inconsistent, 
however, as might at first appear ; for a war with 
Spain was disagreeable neither to him nor to any- 
other Southern man, while Florida, under Spanish 
rule, hemmed in Georgia. 

A glance at the index of Benton's " Abridg- 
ment " for the years 1803 to 1808 will reveal the 
fact that Randolph was not merely one of the most 
important men in Congress, but that he consumed 
a large share of the attention of that body by dis- 
cussing all manner of subjects. He argued as a 
strict constructionist against allowing a remission 
of the duties on books imported by colleges in a 
way paralleled in its banality only by Jefferson 
Davis's subsequent opposition to the purchase of 
the manuscript of Washington's "Farewell Ad- 
dress." He opposed the bridging of the Potomac 
by congressional action, he discussed the duty on 
salt, he advocated a repeal of the Bankrupt Law. 
But his most mighty efforts were directed toward 
the impeachment of Judge Chase, and the con- 
founding of the schemes of the Yazoo claimants, 
— efforts which brought about his political fall. 

As to the trial of Chase, it is easy to see that 
Randolph was led into the trap by a combination 
of vanity, or else ingenuousness, on his own part, 
and shifty astuteness on the part of Mr. Jefferson. 
The latter wished, and indeed suggested, the 
prosecution of the Federalist justice whose recent 


utterances on political subjects had gone to the 
verge of decency as well as of recalcitrancy. But 
Mr. Jefferson wished to keep out of sight and 
danger, now that his popularity was at its flood 
tide ; and Randolph's friend, Joseph H. Nicholson 
of Maryland, who had conducted the prosecution 
of Judge Pickering, was now a candidate for judi- 
ciary honors, and thought it best not to take the 
lead in the new affair. Mr. Adams infers, prob- 
ably from Randolph's temper and his desire to 
play a part similar to that of Burke in the trial 
of Warren Hastings (another inference), that the 
hot-headed Virginian willingly relieved Jefferson 
and Nicholson of the task of bringing Chase to 
justice. But granting Randolph's hot-headedness 
and vanity, it is also open to us to believe that he 
despised Judge Chase, and feared the effects of his 
intolerant acts and utterances to such an extent 
that he fully persuaded himself, not merely of the 
justice, but of the expediency, of the impeachment. 
Bad temper, vanity, and certain ludicrous and 
humorous elements are undoubtedly discoverable in 
Randolph's conduct throughout this rather farcical 
trial ; but a considerable element of sincerity may 
be observed as well. The stages of the impeach- 
ment, which was interfered with by the weightier 
matter of Louisiana, need not detain us, though 
they are not without their amusing features, which 
Mr. Adams makes the most of. Suffice it to say 


that, after a long debate, an inquiry into Chase's 
conduct was ordered, and that on March 26, 
1804, a committee, with Randolph and Nicholson 
at their head, reported certain articles of impeach- 
ment, covering the two scandalous cases of Fries 
and Callender, as well as the indecent and absurd 
charge to the grand jury at Baltimore that had 
drawn down Jefferson's wrath. The session of 
Congress then came to an end; and the trial 
went over until Feb. 9, 1805, when it began in 
the Senate-chamber, which had been solemnly ar- 
ranged for what was to be a somewhat ludicrous 

Randolph came to his task of leading the prose- 
cution in a temper by no means prophetic of suc- 
cess. He had just been in a nasty fight with the 
Yazoo men, to be soon described; and he had 
evidently passed the previous summer in political, 
if not in domestic, irritation. William Thompson, 
who had been something of a trial to him, had, 
nevertheless, always excited his sympathies ; and 
this unfortunate young man had recently died. 
There were probably other troubles at home that 
pressed upon him; but as Mr. Garland prefers at 
this period to give us his own flowing sentences, 
instead of quoting from his manuscript materials, 
we are forced to rely on stray evidence, such as 
the two letters to Nicholson and Gallatin, given 
by Mr. Adams, for any available information as to 


his mental condition. These letters indicate a cer- 
tain amount of discontent with his political situa- 
tion, and a disposition to criticize rather harshly 
and inconsistently the President's conduct of 

They should not be taken too seriously, how- 
ever; and it is perhaps safe to conclude, that, 
after all, it was his struggle with the Yazoo men 
that not only limited Randolph's efficiency in the 
prosecution of Chase, but also taught the Presi- 
dent and a majority of the Republicans that they 
must look for another leader. Mere inconsistent 
utterances on the subject of the navy, and wishes 
to blow British frigates out of the water, and mere 
inchoate jealousy of Mr. Jefferson's popularity, 
would not have caused the latter to get rid of 
a follower who had shown himself so efficient a 
leader in the Louisiana matter, and so zealous 
a friend in need in the Chase affair. 

The trial of Judge Chase decided, in many im- 
portant respects, the question whether it would 
pay any party to make an open attack upon the 
judiciary, rather than to resort to the less aggres- 
sive poKcy of packing the bench. It decided, 
also, the question whether the Republicans would 
ever carry into effect the threats of punishment 
they had often made against the more or less 
treasonable actions and utterances of the extreme 
Federalists. If any Federalist could be and ought 


to be punished, it was Judge Chase ; and if any- 
Republican could be and ought to be the instru- 
ment of retribution, it was John Randolph, Jef- 
ferson not having the necessary directness, and 
being excused from the task by his position. 

But Chase escaped punishment, and Randolph 
failed. The easy-going temper of the American 
people as represented in the Senate, the cumbrous 
and intangible nature of the charges brought, and 
Randolph's own failure to rise to the height of 
the occasion, all account for the result. On not 
a single one of the eight counts (which had been 
altered and added to by the House in Decem- 
ber) was the necessary two-thirds vote obtained; 
although it is plain that, had Randolph followed 
Jefferson's advice, and rested the case for the pros- 
ecutors on the harangue delivered by Chase at 
Baltimore, a conviction might by a bare possibil- 
ity have been obtained. The vote on this charge, 
which filled the eighth count, stood nineteen guilty 
against fifteen not guilty. The lugging in of the 
cases of Fries and Callender, not only gave an 
aspect of vindictiveness to the prosecution, both 
cases being now some years old, but also gave 
great opportunity to Chase's legal counsel to ring 
the changes on technical points of law. 

On such points Randolph, who was easily the 
ablest of the prosecutors, was no match for Luther 
Martin, who was easily the ablest of his opponents. 


Nor was Randolph, mentally excited and physi- 
cally ill as he seems to have been, at all equal to 
the task of bringing out the strength of his own 
side with regard to the eighth article. I cannot 
entirely share Mr. Adams's admiration for Luther 
Martin's speech; nor do I thoroughly sympathize 
with his contempt for Randolph's harangues, which 
are interpreted in the light of J. Q. Adams's criti- 
cism; but it is easy to see that the prosecutors 
were overmatched in strictly legal acumen, and 
that every circumstance was against them. Ran- 
dolph failed to become an American Burke ; but 
he partly owes it to his failure to reach this ques- 
tionable eminence that he did become afterwards 
the most individual and personally dreaded orator 
that this, or perhaps any other, country has pro- 
duced. The reputations of Juvenal and John 
Randolph, if not enviable, are at least secure. 

With regard now to the Yazoo claims, it will 
be impossible, in the space at my command, to go 
into special details, which would not, indeed, be 
warranted at this distance of time. There was 
undoubtedly justice in the plea put forward that 
there had been much money innocently invested in 
lands whose title was supposed to be guaranteed 
by the legally constituted Legislature of Georgia. 
Arguments in favor of the claimants might be 
based, too, on the clause in the Constitution for- 
bidding any State to pass laws impairing the ob- 


ligation of contracts ; although Fletcher vs. Peck, 
in which this clause was actually used against the 
rescinding Act of Georgia, was not decided until 

It is true, further, that the claims of individ- 
uals and companies could be settled without loss 
to Georgia out of the lands ceded to the general 
government by that State in 1802. The fact that 
moderate men like Gallatin and Madison favored 
a compromise is also to be taken into account. 
On the other hand, it is plain that there had been 
a vast amount of speculation in the claims, and 
that, as in the case of Hamilton's famous assump- 
tions, any compromise would inure to the benefit 
of shrewd speculators rather than of bona fide in- 
vestors. It is also apparent that there was a good 
deal of jobbery going on in and around Congress 
to secure favorable votes, and that one official at 
least, Gideon Grainger, the Postmaster-General, 
had used his patronage in favor of the claimants 
in a way which, if not corrupt, was at least in- 

From a States'-rights point of view, moreover, 
if not from a common-sense consideration of the 
whole matter, it was not unreasonable to hold at 
the time that Georgia's rescinding Act was the 
only course left to a State whose vital interests 
had been sacrificed and betrayed by a set of scoun- 
drels. Southern States have argued in a similar 


way since with regard to debts contracted in the 
period of reconstruction by corrupt legislatures. 

Randolph, then, was standing by his principles, 
and was acting in accordance with the more gen- 
erous qualities of his nature, when he introduced 
his resolutions against the compromise on Feb. 
20, 1804, and managed to postpone legislation 
for a year. That he was not truckling for office 
to the great men in power is, at any rate, plain 
enough, as Mr. Adams, whose account I mainly 
follow, clearly shows. It is equally plain that, if 
he had kept his temper within bounds, and con- 
ducted his campaign adroitly, he might have won 
a complete victory, and at the same time secured 
his ascendancy in the Republican ranks. 

But he came back to Congress in the fall of 
1804 in an ugly temper, as we have seen; and 
he threw diplomacy to the winds when the claims 
came up again. He succeeded once more in pre- 
venting action by the then Congress, but he alien- 
ated the Northern section of his party, lost his 
leadership, and fell headlong from the battlements 
of the executive heaven, the faithful Abdiel Mad- 
ison giving a rather discordant chuckle at the 
catastrophe. As in the case of Lucifer, our sym- 
pathies are rather with Randolph ; and it can 
hardly be doubted that, if he lost the support of 
the administration and the Northern Democrats, 
he strengthened his hold upon Virginia and upon 
strict constructionists generally. 



But true statesmanship, while it does not re- 
quire a sacrifice of principles, does require a care- 
ful husbanding and use of means ; and it can hardly 
be denied that Randolph, in his violence, threw 
away his at least fair chances to deal the corrup- 
tionists, as well as the looser elements of his party, 
a deadly blow. It was his duty to frustrate Grain- 
ger, but he did not need to vilify him; and a 
little more policy in conciliating his opponents 
would not have debarred him from asserting his 
indignation at widespread corruption. In the his- 
tory of American oratory, however, we should miss 
the following passage : — 

" When I advert to the applicants by whom we were 
then beset, I find that among them was one of the very per- 
sons who style themselves agents of the New England Mis- 
sissippi Land Company, who seems to have an unfortunate 
knack at buying bad titles. His gigantic grasp embraces 
with one hand the shores of Lake Erie, and stretches with 
the other to the Bay of Mobile. Millions of acres are easily 
digested by such stomachs. Goaded by avarice, they buy 
only to sell, and sell only to buy. One retail trader of 
fraud and imposture yields too small and slow a profit to 
gratify their cupidity. They buy and sell corruption in the 
gross ; and a few millions, more or less, is hardly felt in 
their account. The deeper the play, the greater their zest 
for the game ; and the stake which is set upon their throw 
is nothing less than the patrimony of the people." 

Randolph took his defeats very bravely, and in 
his vacation in Virginia had the sense to see into 


the plots of Burr, Dayton, and Wilkinson before 
they became apparent to Mr. Jefferson. The early 
announcement of that gentleman's purpose to re- 
tire from the presidency disturbed him, however; 
for that seemed to favor the candidacy of Madi- 
son, a Yazoo man. He would have preferred 
Monroe ; but diplomatic failures abroad, for which 
Madison and Jefferson were chiefly responsible, 
were to keep Monroe in the background for some 
years to come. These diplomatic complications 
were also to embarrass Mr. Jefferson, and to give 
Randolph a chance to show his claws. The Pres- 
ident wished to play his old game of two messages, 
one public and belligerent, the other private and 
containing a request for two millions to be used 
in the purchase of Florida. 

But Randolph was not " in harness " now, and 
not likely to co-operate with this astute project. 
Macon was again Speaker, and Randolph was again 
chairman of the Committee of Ways and Means. 
The latter's support was therefore most desirable ; 
but he dashed about the House, "booted, riding- 
whip in hand," inveighing against what he con- 
ceived to be a mean policy, fathered in reality by 
his bete noir, Madison. He called his committee 
together, and construed the secret message in a 
sense just the reverse of what was intended; he 
also visited Madison and the President, and not 
only perplexed but defied them. He actually rode 


off to Baltimore and stayed a week, his commit- 
tee doing nothing; and to make matters worse he 
had a good deal of right on his side, for the pol- 
icy he was asked to carry through was nothing 
more than "a mean attempt to bribe one nation 
[France] to rob another" [Spain]. When he did 
again call his committee together he induced it 
to refuse the required grant, and to make a war- 
like report against Spain. 

This he failed to get passed by the House ; for 
the Northern Democrats, led by Bidwell of Massa- 
chusetts, whom Jefferson wished to make leader 
in Randolph's place, stood by the President, and 
voted the millions. Then, when the doors of the 
House were thrown open, the public was treated 
to the spectacle of John Randolph leading the 
opposition. He did not spare his old associates; 
and, unfortunately for themselves, their tortuous 
policy gave him only too many opportunities to 
develop his genius for sarcasm and invective. His 
famous speech of March 5, 1806, struck at the 
President and the Cabinet in a way to make such 
a lover of peace and popularity as Jefferson fairly 
writhe ; and he immortalized smaller men by his 
reference to " Church's Cough-drops " and " Sloan's 
Vegetable Specific." Meanwhile, the Federalists 
applauded pro-British sentiments that he would 
hardly have uttered when John Adams was Presi- 
dent; and we, of this late day, take pleasure in 


picturing him to ourselves, as, with skinny finger 
extended, he shrieked at the astounded North- 
em Democrats his insulting query, "After shrink- 
ing from the Spanish jackal, do you presume to 
bully the British lion ? " Poor Mr. Jefferson, poor 
Mr. Church, poor Mr. Sloan, — and poor John 
Randolph ! — the whole of you cut but a sorry 

Of course Messrs. Sloan and Company tried to 
reply to this remarkable tirade, but they failed 
signally to keep up the pace which the Virginian 
madman had set. They could time him accu- 
rately, and refer to his two hour and forty-eight 
minute speech, but that was all ; and when he 
came at them again and again, they and their 
allies had little more than a solid phalanx of 
votes with which to oppose him. But the votes 
counted, and even his own supporters gradually 
fell away from him ; and the star of Madison, the 
Yazoo man, rose brighter and clearer. 

The session which closed April 21, 1806, drew 
the curtain down on Randolph's career as a con- 
structive statesman. How could it have been 
otherwise with a man who was not merely sus- 
pected of a design to impeach the Secretary of 
State, but caught plainly in the act of humiliating 
the House of Representatives itself? Perhaps he 
might have survived his attacks on Jefferson, 
Madison, and Sloan; he might even have out- 


lived his war on the Yazoo men; but when "he 
kept back the appropriation bills till late in the 
session, and then rose to inform the House, with 
a contemptuous smile, that All Fools' Day was 
at hand, when, if they did not pass the bill for 
the support of government, they would look like 
fools indeed," he dug his political grave, and 
actually lay down in it. He had come too near 
speaking the truth to be permitted to walk again, 
save as a political ghost. 

A systematic review of Randolph's career as 
a free lance is naturally out of the question. 
His first serious efforts against the administra- 
tion, after he had relieved his primary parox- 
ysms of wrath by his tirades in the House, were 
directed against Madison's candidacy and in sup- 
port of Monroe's. As we have seen, Monroe's 
candidacy was soon to be a forlorn hope, chiefly 
through Madison's hardly intelligible diplomacy; 
but neither Randolph nor John Taylor of Caro- 
lina perceived this at first. 

Randolph wrote most flattering letters to this 
last hope of the Virginian straight-outs, and Mon- 
roe's head ought to have been turned. When, 
later on, Monroe's principles were turned by the 
seductions of a cabinet office under Madison and 
a clear succession to the presidency, Randolph 
ceased to indulge in flattery, although, to do him 
justice, he showed very little bitterness. By this 


time he was used to loneliness, and perhaps he 
took a mournful pride in his position as the last 
and most consistent of the true Virginian Repub- 

Returning to Congress, he found himself an 
object of suspicion and hatred in many quarters, 
and he naturally let his temper go. He criti- 
cized the President for supineness in the Burr 
imbroglio, and impeded the passage of legislation 
prohibiting the slave-trade ; but his chances for 
doing harm were curtailed when, at the close of 
the Ninth Congress, he lost the chairmanship of 
his committee. During the recess he served as 
foreman of the grand jury that indicted Burr. 
For this worthy he seems to have had too high 
a regard at one time ; but it is certainly to his 
credit that he took a violent dislike to that James 
Wilkinson who has earned the unenviable 'dis- 
tinction of being in all probability the meanest 
man in our history. 

In Congress once more, he found that even 
Macon and Nicholson would no longer stand by 
his side ; and he outdid himself in violence and 
in contradiction, being now willing, not merely to 
pull the British lion's tail, but to cut off two of 
its claws, Canada and Jamaica. Then he pro- 
ceeded, after advocating an embargo on Dec. 18, 
to oppose it on the 19th as both unconstitutional 
and aimed against Great Britain. It is true that 


he endeavored to furnish reasons for this aston- 
ishing change of front, but his reasons were as 
flimsy as his conduct was exasperating. 

How far his physical and mental disorders were 
responsible for his conduct, it is of course impos- 
sible to say; but I am inclined to think that 
temper and a spirit of diablerie are more patent 
in his actions and speeches than actual madness. 
His astute use of Monroe and Clinton as tools 
against Madison show the selfishness of the in- 
triguer rather than the cunning of the lunatic. 
But his astuteness recoiled upon himself; and his 
temper, frustrated in wreaking itself in revenge, 
began to drown itself in drink. 

During Madison's first administration, there is 
little to record save Randolph's break with Mon- 
roe, which has been anticipated, much aggrava- 
tion of his family difficulties, and his removal 
from Bizarre to Roanoke, — a place to be hence- 
forth wrought into his name and into his char- 
acter; for both in habitation and in actions he 
was to become a hermit, who broke out occa- 
sionally in a startling way upon the world. His 
opposition to the War of 1812 lost him his seat 
in Congress to John W. Eppes, Jefferson's son- 
in-law, but only for one term. In 1815 he was 
back again in what was, however, a changed 
political world. Clay and Calhoun and Webster 
were rising to the zenith of their glory ; Madison 

138 souTHEBN statesmen: 

and Monroe had turned their backs on the Vir- 
ginia and Kentucky Resolutions ; John Marshall 
had rendered many of his most important central- 
izing decisions; and the States'-rights cause had 
no leader save Mr. Jefferson, who, in the shades 
of Monticello, had unlearned many of the lessons 
taught him by his executive experience, and was 
watching the rush of events with uneasy eyes. 

The apparent era of good feeling was in reality 
merely a breathing-spell, in which North, South, 
and West stood measuring one another. Sooner 
or later one of the sections would stand out 
against the others, and would be compelled to 
rely on the constitutional weapons fashioned by 
the strict constructionists. 

John Randolph saw his opportunity, and made 
effective use of it, — a fact which is accentuated, 
though in very different ways, by both his biogra- 
phers. Garland and Adams. For the first time in 
his life perhaps, save in the Louisiana affair, Ran- 
dolph began to look beyond the borders of Vir- 
ginia, and to see that, if his own State had lost 
power and vitality, there was abundance of both 
in South Carolina and Georgia. Slavery would 
mean more to them than to Virginia, and slavery 
could stand only in close alliance with States'- 
rights. It was not in Randolph's nature to work 
this proposition out in cold logic, and develop a 
theory of nullification, or write a "Disquisition 


on Government," or a " Construction Construed;" ^ 
but he perceived the truth as by intuition, and he 
proclaimed it in season and out of season, in the 
midst of his vituperative harangues or of his 
drunken monologues, in his tilts with Henry Clay 
and in his personal overtures to Calhoun. 

It is true that he did not see, with the latter, 
that an assault on the slave-trade in the District 
was a blow to slavery in the States; nor was he 
always consistent with himself, as when he eman- 
cipated his slaves in 1822 and revoked his action 
in 1832, reverting to his former determination on 
his death-bed. But contradictions, bad habits, dis- 
ease, and eccentricities to the contrary notwith- 
standing, Randolph's career from 1815 to his 
death is remarkably consistent. 

It would be idle to dwell at length on any spe- 
cial phases of this third stage of his career. He 
opposed the various tariffs, stood firm against the 
Missouri Compromise and quarrelled with Clay in 
the matter, flung his taunts at North and West 
alike, but made friendly overtures to Massachu- 
setts, attacked John Quincy Adams whenever the 
least opportunity occurred, gave Calhoun lessons 
in States'-rights by long rambling speeches deliv- 
ered during his single partial senatorial session 
1825-1827 (when every person, nearly, would 
leave the chamber save the Vice-President and 
1 By Calhoun and John Taylor of Carolina respectively. 


the amused listeners in the galleries), supported 
Jackson vigorously and fought a duel with Clay, 
berated the Western men and denounced democ- 
racy in the Virginia Convention of 1829-1830, 
and finally startled the world and scandalized his 
friends by accepting the Russian Mission in Sep- 
tember, 1829, sailing the next June, spending ten 
days at his post and a year in England, and re- 
turning to draw $21,407 salary, to be used in pay- 
ing old debts, in utter obliviousness, it would seem, 
of his famous boast in his speech on "Retrench- 
ment and Reform," that he wanted no "foreign 
mission, to dance attendance abroad instead of at 
home." Perhaps he might have saved his consis- 
tency by averring that a ten days' dance and an 
abrupt leave-taking were perfectly consonant with 
his republican principles. 

In all this fifteen years of free-lancing, there was 
a consistency that is apparent enough when one 
ceases to read his numerous speeches merely for 
the purpose of culling from them humorous meta- 
phors or cutting epithets. His strenuous opposi- 
tion to the proposed restriction of slavery in 
Missouri and to Clay's compromises was prophetic 
of the position to be taken by extreme pro-slavery 
leaders nearly a generation later. His opposition 
to North and West lay deeper than the tariff ques- 
tion that brought it to the surface, and showed 
that, mad as he might seem to be, Randolph saw 


the radical sectional division of the country, at 
which politicians who were regarded as saner than 
he merely bhnked. 

He made mistakes, of course, as when he advo- 
cated Jackson's election ; but Calhoun and South 
Carolina made the same. He was often grossly 
unjust, too, in his suspicions and aspersions, as 
when he maintained the corruptness of Clay's so- 
called bargain with Adams. He was often maud- 
lin and rambling in his harangues, often indecent 
and boring; but through it all he managed to 
steer a pretty clear course toward the goal which 
the South was to set for itself, — the maintenance 
of the alliance between slavery and States'-rights. 

Randolph was also outspoken on another matter 
about which most Southern leaders preferred to 
keep quiet. He saw that slavery and a South 
built up on the States'-rights doctrines of 1798 
would have little chance if democracy were substi- 
tuted for aristocracy. On this point he seems to 
have been even more clear-sighted than Jefferson 
himself, who had desired to spread democracy, yet 
keep the general government and the States in 
their same relative positions. 

Randolph saw that this was impossible; hence 
he opposed the West, though he allied himself with 
Jackson for a moment, and was a tower of strength 
to the tide-water aristocrats in their struggle in the 
Virginia Convention of 1829 and 1830 against the 


democrats from the frontier counties. He declared 
in this body, as his half-brother Beverley Tucker 
afterwards declared with regard to the whole 
Union, that if he were a young man he would 
leave the State — he would not live under the 
dominion of King Numbers. No, for King Num- 
bers was certain to subvert the reign of King 
States'-Rights and Queen Slavery. 

On leaving the Convention he predicted that 
the compromise Constitution adopted would not 
last twenty years, because it was too democratic ; 
whereas, in fact, it took just that time to modify 
it in a still more democratic direction. He was not 
always a good prophet in minor matters, nor was 
he always consistent; but he cannot be deprived 
of his right to be considered the real link, so far as 
active politics went, — for John Taylor was mainly 
a theorist, — between the Resolution of 1798, and 
the Theory of Nullification of 1832. 

Nor can Randolph be denied another claim to 
distinction which is often lost sight of. It is he, 
rather than Jefferson or Calhoun, who furnished 
the model on which the typical pro-slavery men of 
the period from 1830 to 1860 fashioned themselves. 
Jefferson was always too astute and mobile in his 
intellect, Calhoun was always too cold and logical, 
to suit the average Southerner. Randolph's fiery 
zeal, his stubborn consistency, his genius for in- 
vective, his thorough individuality, were much 


more attractive. Even his eccentricities were 
more or less congenial, because the repression of 
free thought and speech in the South after 1830 
tended to develop men with peculiarities often 
amounting to monomania. John Randolph's in- 
fluence can be traced in many a wild Southern 
politician like Rhett, Hammond, or Toombs, or 
Henry A. Wise, and in such wild theorists as 
George Fitzhugh (who like Randolph was false 
to the Declaration of Independence), and other 
contributors to that farrago of pathetic nonsense 
known as pro-slavery literature. In his own State 
and district this influence still lingers, and has 
given birth to many a traditionary story, which, 
true or not, is usually pointed and witty, though 
not always to the credit of the man who called 
it out. 

Such now, in outline, was the career of John 
Randolph. His visits to England, in which he 
played the Virginian nobleman, and took rather 
a snobbish delight in the aristocratic attentions 
paid to his eccentricities; his life at Roanoke 
among his slaves and constituents ; his conversion 
from infidelity to an emotional Christianity of a 
type that has often brought on him the charge 
of insincerity; his fits of mental aberration, so 
pronounced as to induce even his best friends to 
question his sanity; his dramatic death at Phila- 
delphia, that inspired the well-known verses of 


Whittier, — all these topics belong to Randolph's 
biography, and make it fascinating, but have little 
place in a lecture such as this. Some description 
of his queer appearance toward the close of his 
life, and a few quotations from some of his typical 
speeches, will, however, serve to set him somewhat 
vividly before you»; and Randolph's personality 
enters so deeply into his career that a vivid con- 
ception of its main features is more necessary than 
is the case with most statesmen. 

With regard to his appearance, I quote a few 
paragraphs from a volume of sketches by F. W. 
Thomas, author of " Clinton Bradshaw," a novel 
that once had a little vogue.^ Thomas saw him, 
an old man, walking along the streets of Balti- 
more, trying to get rid of some impertinent ur- 
chins who were following him in mixed awe and 
amusement. Our forgotten author took a good 
look at him, and described him as follows : ^ — 

" His long thin legs, about as thick as a stout walking- 
cane, and of much such a shape, were encased in a pair of 
tight smallclothes, so tight that they seemed part and par- 
cel of the limbs of the wearer. Handsome white stockings 
were fastened with great tidiness at the knees, by a small 
gold buckle, and over them, coming about half-way up the 

1 Thomas is a rather interesting minor author, who unfortu- 
nately wasted his powers as too many of the men of his time did. 

2 " John Randolph of Roanoke, and Other Sketches of Char- 
acter," by F. W. Thomas, author of " Clinton Bradshaw," Phila- 
delphia, A. Hart, 1853, pp. 14, 15. 


calf, were a pair of what I believe are called hose, coarse 
and country-knit. He wore shoes. They were old-fash- 
ioned, and fastened also with buckles — huge ones. He 
trod like an Indian, without turning his toes out, but plank- 
ing them down straight ahead. It was the fashion in those 
days to wear a fan-tailed coat with a small collar, and but- 
tons far apart behind, and few on the breast. Mr. Ran- 
dolph's were the reverse of all this, and, instead of his coat 
being fan-tailed, it was what we believe the knights of the 
needle call swallow-tailed ; the collar was immensely large, 
the buttons behind were in kissing proximity, and they sat 
together as close on the breast of the garment as the f casters 
at a crowded public festival. 

" His waist was remarkably slender, so slender that, as 
he stood with his arms akimbo, he could easily, as I thought, 
with his long bony fingers, have spanned it. Around him 
his coat, which was very tight, was held together by one 
button ; and in consequence an inch or more of tape, to 
which it was attached, was perceptible where it was pulled 
through the cloth. About his neck he wore a large white 
cravat, in which his chin was occasionally buried as he 
moved his head in conversation ; no shirt-collar was percep- 
tible ; every other person seemed to pride himself upon the 
size of his, as they were then worn large. Mr. Randolph's 
complexion was precisely that of a mummy ; withered, saf- 
fron, dry, and bloodless ; you could not have placed a pin's 
point on his face where you would not have touched a 
wrinkle. His lips were thin, compressed, and colorless ; the 
chin, beardless as a boy's, was broad for the size of his 
face, which was small ; his nose was straight, with nothing 
remarkable in it, except, perhaps, it was too short. . . . 
Mr. Randolph's hair was remarkably fine ; fine as an in- 
fant's, and thin. It was very long, and was parted with 
great care on the top of his head, and was tied behind with 



a bit of black ribbon, about three inches from his neck ; the 
whole of it formed a queue not thicker than the little finger 
of a delicate girl. 

" His forehead was low, with no bumpology about it ; 
but his eye, though sunken, was most brilliant and startling 
in its glance. It was not an eye of profound, but of impul- 
sive and passionate thought, with an expression at times 
such as physicians describe to be that of insanity." 

Apart from its eccentric English, this descrip- 
tion is a good one, and tallies well with numerous 
other descriptions by eye-witnesses that are extant. 
Indeed, the chief trouble one has in writing about 
Randolph is in choosing from a mass of material, 
much of which is untrustworthy. Especially is 
one at a loss to know what to say about his voice, 
so important to an orator: all authorities agree in 
pronouncing it to have been peculiar, but to some, 
chiefly Virginians, it was angelically delightful; 
to others, chiefly New Englanders, it was diaboli- 
cally squeaky. The truth probably lies between. 

In citing from his speeches, one is equally at a 
loss to know what to select. Here is a passage 
from his speech of Jan. 13, 1813, apropos of the 
war with England in the interest of Napoleon : — 

" But regardless of every consequence, we went into war 
with England, as an inconsiderate couple go into matri- 
mony, without considering whether they have the means of 
sustaining their own existence, much less that of any un- 
fortunate progeny that should happen to be born of them. 


The sacrifice was made. The blood of Christians enjoying 
the privileges of jury trial, of the writ of habeas corpus, of 
the freedom of conscience, of the blessings of civil liberty, 
citizens of the last republic that ambition has left upon the 
face of a desolate earth, — the blood of such a people was 
poured out as an atonement to the Moloch of France. The 
Juggernaut of India is said to smile when it sees the blood 
flow from the human sacrifice which its worship exacts ; 
the Emperor of France might now smile upon us. But no, 
sir, our miserable offering is spurned. The French mon- 
arch turns his nose and his eyes another way. He snuffs 
on the plains of Moscow a thousand hecatombs, waiting to 
be sacrificed on the shrine of his ambition ; and the city of 
the Tzars, the largest in the world, is to be at once the 
altar and the fire of sacrifice to his miserable ambition." ^ 

The passage just quoted represents Randolph 
in one of his most connected and forcible speeches. 
Most of his harangues, however, were too much for 
the reporters, and we have to rely on descriptions. 
Mr. Adams quotes from Niles a most amusing 
account of a speech delivered in the Senate on a 
plan for making a bank, in which Randolph man- 
aged to refer to Unitarians, family Bibles, the 
presses of Oxford and Cambridge, the inferiority 
of books printed in America to those with the 
imprint of Cadell on the Strand, the folly of 
expurgating Shakspere, the American Episcopal 
Church, wine-drinking versus whiskey-drinking, his 
lands at Roanoke, et cetera, — all of which oc- 

1 Benton's " Abridgment," IV. 686. 


cupied tliirty-five minutes of the Senate's time. 
But then, that body had to pay for its privilege of 
listening to such invective as : — 

"I was defeated horse, foot, and dragoons, cut 
up and clean broke down by the coalition of Blifil 
and Black George, by the combination, unheard 
of till then, of the Puritan with the blackleg;" 
or of these foul words about Henry Clay : " this 
being so brilliant, yet so corrupt, which, like a 
rotten mackerel by moonlight, shined and stunk." 

I will not quote the celebrated retort on 
McLean of Delaware, or the attack on Mr. 
Beecher of Cuckoo memory; but will remind you 
of a less known and, it must be confessed, less 
witty retort upon the gentleman who ventured in 
the House to amend one of Randolph's motions on 
military matters. The rash man had formerly 
been a watchmaker. Randolph looked at him a 
moment; then, pulling out his watch, turned its 
face toward his opponent, and asked him what 
time it was. The victim told him. "Sir," said 
Randolph, " you can mend my watch, but not my 
motions. You understand tic-tics, sir, but not 

But he could inject venom into his letters as 
well as into his speeches. Mr. Wirt had rather 
offended Randolph by the way he wormed out of 
him some information about Patrick Henry ; when, 
therefore, his famous life of that worthy appeared, 



Randolph wrote of it to Key as follows : " I have 
seen, too, a romance called 'The Life of Patrick 
Henry,' a wretched piece of fustian." Yet, when 
he chose to be generous in his praise he could 
speak as nobly and truly as in these words on 
Washington in his speech on "Retrenchment and 

« Who believes that Washington could write as good a 
book or report as Jefferson, or make as able a speech as 
Hamilton? Who is there that believes that Cromwell 
would have made as good a judge as Lord Hale ? No, sir ; 
these learned and accomplished men find their proper place 
under those who are fitted to command, and to command 
them among the rest. Such a man as Washington will say 
to a Jefferson, do you become my Secretary of State ; to 
Hamilton, do you take charge of my purse, or that of the 
nation, which is the same thing ; to Knox, do you be my 
master of the horse." 

And now, what are we to say in conclusion of 
this man whose legislative career stretched from 
1799 almost to his death in 1833 ; who began with 
the silly incidents in the theatre, and ended with 
the States'-rights resolutions against Jackson, and 
the Force Bill which he rammed down the unwil- 
ling throats of the people of Charlotte; who 
helped Mr. Jefferson to add Louisiana to the 
nation, but witlistood the same worthy in the 
matter of Florida ; who stirred even the mild Mad- 
ison into temper, and goaded Clay into a duel; 


who turned Calhoun from an opponent into a 
disciple ; who never pointed his long finger with- 
out making some one tremble; who negotiated 
the alliance between States'-rights and the slave 
power? What can one say of him save that he 
is a combination of Ithuriel and Caliban? 




If the two great statesmen, Washington and 
Jefferson, who have been treated in my previous 
lectures, belong more to the nation than to the 
South, the man whose career I am now about to 
discuss belongs, at least during the more impor- 
tant part of his life, pre-eminently to that region. 
Of purely Southern, and, therefore, sectional poli- 
tics, John C. Calhoun was the coryphseus, — his 
like was not before him, nor has been since. 

Yet even Calhoun himself is not, in all respects, 
a typical Southerner: he has not that peculiar 
flexibility and mobility of character that marks 
the average inhabitant of his section; his Scotch- 
Irish inherited qualities giving him a sort of stiff- 
ness and rigidity of temperament which, while not 
uncommon in the South, has never been typical 
of it. Yet though not entirely of the dominant 
planter-aristocrat class, which Dr. Von Hoist has 

1 I have relied mainly on the lives by Jenkins and Von Hoist, 
on the latter's " Constitutional History," and on Calhoun's 
"Works" in six volumes. I have also studied the nullification 
movement in original sources, and have found much help from 
South Carolina newspapers. 


154 SOUTHEBN statesmen: 

somewliat misleadingly dubbed the slavocracy, he 
was with them and for them, and was, in fact, 
their leader. 

The mention of Dr. Von Hoist, however, re- 
minds me that I may as well say at the outset of 
this attempt to estimate Calhoun and his work, 
that I shall be able to add little or nothing to 
the admirable account of the great statesman's ca- 
reer which the scholarly professor has contributed 
to the well-known " American Statesmen " series. 
While, however, my conclusions are bound to be 
in the main those of Dr. Von Hoist, I may be 
able to throw a tiny ray of light here and there 
upon certain obscure topics. 

Of Calhoun as a man, we know next to noth- 
ing ; since his private life was simple and retiring, 
and his hitherto published correspondence practi- 
cally deals with politics only. His contempora- 
ries were far from knowing or understanding him, 
so that their comments are of little value in esti- 
mating his character ; and it is doubtful if we ever 
shall know him as we do most of his notable con- 
temporaries. The mystery of genius, however, 
does not, in my opinion, overhang him; and his 
personality is hardly sufficiently attractive to make 
us long for any information that does not throw 
light on his political career. That, I confess, is 
for me the only point of importance with regard 
to Calhoun ; for I cannot help believing that if he 


had been a great man, qua., man, this fact would 
force itself upon us in a thousand ways, in per- 
sonal anecdotes, and in little flashes of character 
in his published works. 

I may, indeed, be utterly mistaken in this mat- 
ter, but I think not. I am inclined to judge the 
greatness of men much as I judge the greatness 
of poetry, — both must appeal powerfully to my 
imagination in a noble and elevating way, nor will 
the possession of merely pathetic qualities suffice. 
Calhoun is a pathetic figure, but he is not inspir- 
ing, at least to me ; and true genius, while it may 
be pathetic, is always inspiring. Calhoun lacked, 
I think, the power of creative and truthful imagi- 
nation. His foresight was largely the result of 
deduction ; and as his premises were always mixed 
with error, except in the matter of the antagonism 
between slavery and modern civilization, his fore- 
sight was of little practical service to himself or 
others. Where his foresight did not depend on 
deduction, it rested on apprehension. The fore- 
sight of the genuine seer, however, is creatively 
and truthfully imaginative ; it enables him to vis- 
ualize the future in the present, not as he would 
like to have it, but as it will and ought to be, and 
not merely for himself, but for others. Hence 
there can be no greater blessing to any people 
than to be possessed of a true political seer in any 
grave crisis; i.e., to have a statesman of genius. 


It is the irony of fate that often the statesman 
of genius is a man of bad character, as, for ex- 
ample, Themistocles ; while his chief opponent pos- 
sesses all the moral virtues, but lacks a creative 
imagination, as, for example, Aris tides. Calhoun 
is in many ways the Aristides of our politics ; a 
breath of genius would have made him the Demos- 
thenes. But the sturdy Scotch-Irish blood with 
its Puritan strain seems to give us talents rather 
than genius. Indeed Puritanism, wherever found, 
seems to run to talents rather than to genius; 
and Cromwell, Milton, Hawthorne, are the excep- 
tions that prove the rule. But I will not obtrude 
my speculations upon you; let me rather give in 
outline the chief facts of Calhoun's life, and then 
proceed to comment upon them. 

John Caldwell Calhoun was born March 18, 
1782, in Abbeville district. South Carolina. His 
Scotch-Irish grandfather emigrated to Pennsylva- 
nia in 1735, removing thence to Virginia, and after- 
wards, in 1756, to South Carolina. His father, 
Patrick Calhoun, was a brave man and a great 
Indian fighter. He seems to have been a bom 
particularist in politics, for he opposed the adop- 
tion of the Federal Constitution on the ground 
that it would enable the other States to tax South 
Carolina. The right of suffrage having been 
denied him on one occasion, he is said to have 
shouldered his rifle and obtained it.^ He died in 

1 See Jenkins's life of Calhoun. 


1795, but not before he had instilled some of his 
individualistic principles into his young son. 

His father not believing much in education, 
that of Calhoun was neglected at first; but later 
on he made up for it under the direction of his 
brother-in-law. Dr. Waddell, a famous schoolmas- 
ter in his day. Entering Yale, he graduated in 
1804, having disputed on politics with President 
Dwight in so able a manner that that worthy 
prognosticated his election to the presidency of 
the Union. Of more importance, as Dr. Yon 
Hoist remarks, was the influence of New England 
thought upon his early political opinions. He 
next studied law, first in Charleston, then in 
Abbeville, thus becoming acquainted with low- 
country and up-country habits and customs, — the 
two sections of the State being not a little differ- 
ent in many important respects, as indeed they 
still are. 

Accounts differ as to his success when he first 
began to practise at Abbeville in 1807. Dr. Von 
Hoist doubts whether he would ever have been 
a great lawyer; because "he was not objective 
enough to examine his premises with sufficient 
care;" but premises in law are not like premises 
in politics, which very frequently do not admit 
of examination. I am inclined to think that 
Calhoun, in his absence of creative imagination, 
would have been in his proper place at the bar ; for 


I am forced to qualify Dr. Von Hoist's statement 
that he was a born leader of men, and therefore a 
born politician. Calhoun led thought rather than 
men, and lacking imagination, he led thought badly. 
In the sphere of law, however, he would have 
been fenced in by precedents in such a way as to 
keep him from grievously erratic thinking, and 
his wonderful powers of analysis and of logical 
deduction would have found full vent; but this, 
again, is speculation, for which I apologize. 

Facts are what we want here ; and facts seem to 
favor Dr. Von Hoist, for Calhoun was almost 
immediately sent to the Legislature, a«id in 1811 
was elected to Congress. A little incident of his 
legislative service may be recorded for the light it 
throws on his character. He opposed the candida- 
cies of Madison and George Clinton for the pres- 
idency, and thought that South Carolina ought to 
nominate, as a sort of reconciliation candidate, 
John Langdon of New Hampshire. Here is the 
radical defect of Calhoun's character, and of that 
of his State, standing out in bold relief, — that 
portentous lack of humor which never fails to 
lead men and nations into trouble. Calhoun would 
have been saved many a blunder had he been 
able to speak disrespectfully of the equator — or 
of South Carolina. 

While a legislator Calhoun had favored war 
with Great Britain ; it was natural, therefore, that 


he should throw in his lot with Clay and the war 
party in Congress. It was equally natural that 
his strong personality easily carried him to the 
front in spite of his youth, for the compromising 
tactics of Jefferson and Madison had so emascu- 
lated the people and their representatives that 
strength of any kind was bound to count. 

Calhoun would have made his mark in any 
Congress, but he made it all the more speedily 
and conspicuously in the Twelfth. His first set 
speech was against John Randolph ; and his biogra- 
phers are right in contending that the young rep- 
resentative, who was virtually chairman of the 
Committee on Foreign Relations, acquitted himself 
admirably. Indeed, most of Calhoun's qualities 
as an orator are present in this speech ; and I can- 
not see that he ever varied much from his solid, 
logical, unemotional, and slightly heavy method 
of presenting his ideas. Later on he grew more 
prolix and more subtle ; but his style of presenta- 
tion and exposition changed little — a fact which 
is characteristic of talents rather than of genius. 
A tendency to sophistry, which was to grow with 
his growth, is also to be detected in this maiden 

I need not dwell on this period of his career; 
because there is only one feature of it that is at 
all important to us, and that feature is well 
known. I refer to his pronounced Union proclivi- 


ties and repudiation of the narrow strict construc- 
tionist views of the Virginia school. When, later, 
he became the Cato of the States'-rights party, he 
was, of course, twitted with his tergiversation, 
and had some little difficulty in defending him- 
self. His honesty, however, cannot be called into 
question, nor is the cause of the change far to seek. 

Slavery had been steadily looming up as a po- 
litical issue, and slavery could be maintained in 
the Union only on principles of the strictest con- 
struction. Hence, to be consistent with himself 
in 1830, Calhoun had to be inconsistent with 
what he had been in 1815. He showed his un- 
flinching courage by the calm way he changed 
front, and bore the taunts of his opponents. He 
did, indeed, sometimes try to make out that the 
change had not been as great as it really was, 
but this was only human nature. Certainly the 
Calhoun of 1811-1817 was as national in his pro- 
clivities as one could well have desired. He had 
no hesitation in using the word "nation," and in 
meaning it. He favored the protection of manu- 
factures, though he afterwards tried to show that 
he had been very slightly affected by the delusion. 
He was far from taking a Jeffersonian position 
on the subject of the national bank, and he was 
positively liberal in the matter of internal im- 

Naturally his political notions are less meta- 


physical than they afterwards became, but it is 
easy to trace the germs of the fetich-worship of 
the Constitution that was to be his bane. In his 
speech on the treaty-making power, he said of 
this instrument, "We ought scarcely to indulge 
a wish that its provisions should be different 
from what they are." A pious Mussulman could 
hardly say more about the Koran, but the Mus- 
sulman keeps his Koran in mind; while Calhoun 
must have forgotten this speech when he allowed 
John Tyler to play his joint-resolution game with 
regard to Texas. No one knew better than Cal- 
houn the scope of the treaty-making power, and 
no one had ever marked out so strictly the limits 
of the legislative. But, after all, one feels like 
forgiving him his inconsistency, grievous and 
almost dishonest as it was, when one reads the 
noble words in which he took his stand against 
the pernicious folly that a legislator must im- 
plicitly obey the instructions of his constituents. 
" The Constitution is my letter of instruction," ^ 
he proudly said, and he meant it; only later he 
could not see that some evil spirit had slipped 
a distorting lens before his eyes.^ 

The young Calhoun, then, was a Union man and 

1 See " Works," II., 179. 

2 For Calhoun's Fnion sentiments see his "Works," II., p. 
139, speech on Repeal of Direct Tax. In the same speech he said, 
" We are the most growing nation on earth." For his views on 
protection, see his speeches of April 6, 1816, and Feb. 4, 1817. He 


a patriotic one. He claimed that he never ceased 
to be, and in a certain sense his claim was true. 
But he gradually assumed the dreadful position of 
a mother who slowly poisons her child, thinking 
to save its life ; now he was like a mother feed- 
ing her first-born. His sincerity and honesty are 
no less apparent first than last ; although it is, per- 
haps, admissible to think that a desire to oppose 
the dominant Virginian school may account in 
part for the rather lavish way in which the repre- 
sentative of a proud and rising, but still unimpor- 
tant State gave his support to the national idea. 
Patriotism and love of the Union were, however, 
peculiarly characteristic of the up-country Caro- 
linians down to the close of Calhoun's life.^ 

tried to justify these views in his speeches on the Force Bill, 
Feb. 15 and 16, 1833. The following quotations should also be 
carefully noted. 

A. From the speech of Dec. 4, 1812 : — 

*' Our Union cannot safely stand on the cold calculations of interest 
alone. It is too weak to withstand political convulsions. We cannot, 
without hazard, neglect that which makes men love to be members of 
an extensive community — the love of greatness, the consciousness of 
strength. So long as American is a proud name, we are safe ; but the 
day we are ashamed of it, the Union is more than half destroyed." 

B. From the speech of Jan. 17, 1814 (which contains some 
ineffective rhetoric) : — 

'• For my part, I think that a fair and moderate opposition ought at 
all times to be respected ; but that our Constitution authorized that 
dangerous and vicious species which I have attempted to describe, I 
utterly deny. ... If, then, our opponents have the right [to make that 
kind of factions opposition], it is because it is not expressly forbidden. 
In this sense there is no limitation to their constitutional rights." 

1 This fact will be apparent to any one who will make a study 
of such a newspaper as the Edgefield Advertiser between 1835 and 
1845, noting especially the accounts given of the Fourth of July 


As Secretary of War in Monroe's administra- 
tions, Calhoun seems to have shown marked abil- 
ity — not enough to save him from criticism, most 
of it captious, or enough to entitle him to claim 
the possession of executive powers of the first 
rank, but sufiicient to add materially to his gen- 
eral reputation as a statesman. It is easy to praise 
his report on roads and canals, and, what is more 
to the point, to read it , it is also easy to agree with 
Dr. Von Hoist, that his reports on Indian affairs 
are most creditable to his heart and to his head. 

How far his presidential aspirations, which now 
became great, tended to impair his efficiency as 
an officer of government or his character as a man 
it is hard to determine ; but I do not think the 
questions important, in view of the turn affairs 
soon took. Calhoun may have developed some of 
the arts of the politician ; but he soon dropped them, 
and depended for his influence upon his integrity 
and his brain — a fact which makes him almost a 
unique figure in our history. That he should 
have had the presidential fever was natural, and 
honorable to him ; but I do not believe that it af- 
fected his career seriously, except in so far as his 
subsequent perceptions of the hopelessness of his 
ambition tended to strengthen his independence, 
and to develop his power of leaving pereonal and 
transient considerations out of his reasoning upon 
affairs of state. That he deliberately set to work 

164 souther:^ statesmen. 

to split the Union that he might at least rule over 
one-half of it, is an old wives' tale. 

The two terms as Vice-President that followed 
his cabinet service are important in Calhoun's" 
political life as marking the turning-point in his 
career. The split with Jackson, toward the end, 
left no hope that the main forces of the democracy 
could be as yet prevailed upon to accept Caro- 
linian leadership, and the tariff of 1828 determined 
the fact that that leadership would be both fanati- 
cal and doctrinaire. Calhoun's leadership would 
probably have developed these qualities under any 
circumstances ; but it is as well to remark that, if 
he had won the presidency in 1824 or 1828, he 
might, like Jefferson, have found it hard to pre- 
serve his philosophical consistency, and that, if he 
had been in the House or Senate, he would have 
been using weapons instead of forging them. 

It was his position as Vice-President, half in and 
half out of the political arena, that furnished both 
opportunity and incentive for the development of 
his metaphysical views on the nature of constitu- 
tional government, and for that analysis of the 
problem presented by slavery which is now his 
chief claim to a sinister reputation. A strong 
Vice-President, like a full-blooded Prince of 
Wales, is likely to get into trouble; for another 
well-known potentate is famous for finding work 
of his own for idle hands to do. 


Having now reached Calhoun's turning-point, 
we shall be compelled to pause for a while to 
consider the political and social environment that 
produced so great a change in the man's life. 
Henceforward the man himself and his outward 
career will hardly concern us. He becomes the 
embodiment of an idea, which, long rejected, be- 
comes at last the idea of a section, and leads to the 
greatest civil war of modern times. 

Calhoun the Senator, the rival of Webster and 
Clay, is, of course, interesting as a figure, but as 
an unearthly figure, wielding in the combat arms 
as mixed and queer as those that Milton put into 
the hands of his angels. Calhoun as Secretary of 
State under Tyler is more a demon helmsman, 
somehov/ translated from the "Ancient Mariner" 
to the Constitutional History of the United States, 
than the successor of Jefferson and Madison. The 
Calhoun who in 1850 tottered into the Senate-cham- 
ber to hear his political testament read by a col- 
league is a prophetic Prometheus in a new and 
strange garb, yet still stretched upon the inevi- 
table rack of pain, the Protagonist, in short, of a 
drama embodying a phase of the old myth im- 
known to ^schylus or to Shelley. With this 
shadowy Calhoun we shall henceforward have 
little to do, for our time will be fully taken up 
with endeavoring to thread the equally shadowy 
mazes of his constitutional theory. 


The tariff of 1828, naturally pressing hard on 
an agricultural State like South Carolina, and no 
relief having been experienced from legislative 
resolutions and petitions, the politicians of the 
State would probably have been at a stand-still 
had not Calhoun come to their assistance with his 
famous " Exposition." This document did not so 
much create public sentiment as focus it. There 
had been for some years a strong party in South 
Carolina that had pushed the doctrine of strict 
construction to extremes under the leadership of 
Judge William Smith. This gentleman was now 
shoved aside to make room for Calhoun, such a 
recruit as the Vice-President being almost equiva- 
lent to a victory for the party. The result was 
the rapid formulation and pressing through of that 
strange instrument upon federal coercion known 
as Nullification. 

But the nuUifiers did not triumph in the State 
without a hard struggle ; for a party with the 
curious sobriquet of "Union and States'-Rights 
Party" fought every inch of the way with them, 
under the leadership of such men as Hugh S. 
Legare, Joel R. Poinsett, T. S. Grimke, and J. L. 
Petigru.^ The feeling was so intense in Charles- 

1 Professor D. F. Houston has shown clearly in his monograph 
on nullification in the new Harvard Series of Studies that South 
Carolina, in the person of some of her impetuous politicians, can 
be more truly said to have dragged Calhoun into nullification, 
than the great statesman can be said to have dragged his State 


ton that families were divided among themselves, 
and blows and bloodshed were with difficulty pre- 

The various stages of the crisis are well knovm, 
and need not detain us. South Carolina would 
possibly have fought, and Jackson would certainly 
have crushed her ; but neither side was averse to 
the compromise which reduced the tariff and 
passed an empty force bill. Calhoun was right, 
however, when he claimed the result as a practical 
victory for his State and for the political doctrine 
he had so subtly propounded in his address to the 
people of South Carolina and his letter to Gov- 
ernor Hamilton.^ 

These documents had certainly helped to make 
the mass of his constitutents nullifiers as strenuous 
as himself and more hot-brained, while the same 
arguments in his celebrated speech on the Force 

into it. Even Calhoun's services as a formnlator of the doctrine 
were not so great as is usually supposed ; but the influence of his 
example was immense, and it is at least open to doubt whether, 
if he had held aloof, the minor politicians could have carried 
things with such a high hand. It should be remembered, further- 
more, that while Calhoun's well-known papers on the subject were 
much indebted to local pamphlets like "The Crisis," long since 
forgotten, much of the reasoning of these latter can be traced 
back to the writings of the Virginian school, particularly to those 
of Jefferson and John Taylor of Carolina. 

1 This proposition is often denied ; but when a doctrine like 
that of nullification is met only by an assertion of force the vic- 
tory is with the doctrinaires, a fact which is clearly proved by 
South Carolina's subsequent actions. 


Bill were to make themselves feared and half re- 
spected by nearly every thoughtful man in the 
Union. He posed willingly as their chief expo- 
nent, and was willing in addition to be regarded as 
their author, if Jefferson's friends repudiated the 
honor for their favorite. 

Madison, who was still living, was positive in 
his assertion that the South Carolina doctrines 
were far more extreme than any that had been in 
his mind or Jefferson's in 1798 ; but Madison was 
old, and had been known to change his opinions 
in curious ways. 

Calhoun was positive that he had discovered no 
new thing, in spite of John Randolph's declaration 
that nullification was nonsense, and although his 
own previous record forced him to admit that for a 
long time he himself had not understood the true 
nature of the Constitution. And Calhoun was in 
the main right. Nullification could be deduced 
from the Constitution if that instrument were re- 
garded as a compact, and it was no trouble to 
show that the compact theory had been widely held 
in 1789. Nullification was the legitimate outcome 
of the Kentucky Resolutions, if the latter were 
subjected to the analysis of a searching mind, not 
afraid of its own conclusions, and, indeed, certain 
of those conclusions from the start. All Calhoun 
had to do was to press the commercial metaphor a 
bit, and his point was gained. If the States were 


partners to a compact, and were sovereign except 
in so far as they had delegated part of their powers 
to the general government, the latter might well 
be regarded as the agent of the States, whose 
actions might be subject to disavowal by any of» 
the principals.^ 

Secession would be a dissolution of partnership ; 
nullification would be the disavowal of the act of 
an agent. But the disavowal of an agent's acts 
need not at all mean that the principal must cease 
to employ the agent; on the contrary, the latter, 
having got his cue, would act accordingly, and be 
a better agent than he was before. Therefore nul- 
lification, far from being destructive of the Union, 
would be conservative of it; in fact, nullification 
was now the only peaceable way to insure the sta- 
bility of the general government.^ 

Ludicrous as it may seem, this is Calhoun's 
doctrine of nullification stripped of its expository 

1 See the letter to Governor Hamilton. 

2 It should be noted that Calhoun did not claim the right of a 
State to set aside a law of the general government, except in the 
manner described in the following extract from the letter to Gov- 
ernor Hamilton : — 

" I do not claim for a State the right to abrogate an act of the general 
government. It is the Constitution that annuls an unconstitutional act. 
Such an act is of itself void and of no effect. What I claim is, the right 
of the state as far as its citizens are concerned to declare the extent of 
the obligation, and that such declaration is binding on them." 

He asserts that " there is no immediate connection between the 
citizens of a State and the general government," — one of the 
queerest perversions of fact for the sake of theory that is known 
to history. 


■features. This is the doctrine of peaceable resist- 
ance to Northern encroachments upon Southern 
rights, which he preached from 1828 until his 
death. His opponents might laugh at it, his dis- 
ciples might rush past it and clamor for secession 
out and out, the mass of simple-minded people 
might be perplexed by it ; but he continued to ex- 
pound it calmly and logically and consistently, 
just because he was not what admirers have al- 
ways thought him — a political philosopher of the 
first order. 

A philosopher examines his premises as well as 
his deductions and conclusions. Calhoun uncon- 
sciously started with the conclusions he wanted, 
reasoned back to his premises, and would not, 
because he could not, examine them. In other 
words, he had come slowly to see that the prepon- 
derance of political power had shifted to the North 
and must stay there. This meant, he could not 
doubt, national consolidation, and national consol- 
idation meant the overthrow of slavery. The re- 
tention of slavery in the Union, being what he 
desired, was the conclusion to be reached; this 
could be deduced only from something just the 
reverse of national consolidation. 

The problem, therefore, was how to arrest this 
consolidation. An instrument for the latter pur- 
pose had been already forged for him — strict 
construction of the Constitution. Slavery was rec- 


ognized by the Constitution — construe that instru- 
ment strictly, and you would find it impossible to 
legislate slavery out of the Union. But experi- 
ence had shown that with a Supreme Court/ ex- 
ecutive, and Congress grasping at power, and a 
people supine or conniving, loose construction of 
the Constitution and consequent national consoli- 
dation must be expected. Where, then, must re- 
sistance to this tendency be looked for? Plainly 
in the States affected by it, who, being partners in 
the Union, have the rights of partners — protest, 
and disavowal or withdrawal. 

Where, now, is the weak spot in this reasoning? 
There is none in the reasoning itself; and in all 
Calhoun's voluminous speeches and writings you 
will find little to fault in the reasoning proper. 
You will occasionally smile at some proof of his- 
torical ignorance, or some instance of a portentous 
lack of humor; but with Calhoun as a dialectician 
one is tempted to marvel and admire, not to smile. 

Grant him but his premises, and he leads you 
willy-willy to his conclusions. From these you 
start back with horror and amazement. What 
could the man have been thinking of? you ex- 
claim; this is not government, it is anarchy; this 
would mean stagnation, the relapsing into barbar- 

1 John Taylor of Carolina had previously analyzed very subtly 
the part played and to be played by the court in the drama of 


ism. True enough for you in 1896, but not true 
for Calhoun or the average Southerner in 1836. 
They regarded slavery as a positive blessing, and 
wished to keep it. They did not want progress, 
and had no fear of anarchy within the borders of 
their own section.^ They were not horrified, there- 
fore, at their conclusions ; their reasoning was 
sound, and they would have been more than hu- 
man if they had strictly examined the premises 
which afforded such agreeable conclusions. 

Besides, was it entirely their fault that their 
premises were unsound? Had they not with the 
rest of the country conspired to make a fetich out 
of the Constitution ; ^ and was that instrument, as 
it came from the hands of the founders, a perfectly 
satisfactory piece of work? Had not the very 
ingenuity of its construction offered a premium 
to ingenious interpretation? Had not its framers 
flattered themselves with having given the world a 
new kind of government, in which that mysterious 
entity, sovereignty, had been nicely parcelled out ? 

Finally, had not the Constitution been a com- 
promise, and therefore, like all compromises, satis- 
factory to no one, and always provocative of 
tinkering ? If Calhoun started out with the false 

1 " It is not we, but the Union which is in danger," said Cal- 
houn in his speech of March 9, 1836, with regard to abolitionist 

2 " That sacred instrument, the Constitution." Speech on the 
Power of Removal, February, 1835. 


premises involved in the idea that a government 
could he formed on the same principles as a part- 
nership, he made no more serious blunder than the 
founders did when they introduced their fatal dis- 
tinction between delegated and reserved powers. 
If Calhoun had no true conception of the indivisi- 
ble nature of sovereignty, he was in no worse and 
no better predicament than many members of the 
Convention of 1787. If he was satisfied with the 
conclusions he reached, — nullification and the re- 
tention of slavery in the Union, — so were they 
with their conclusions, — a compromise Constitu- 
tion and an embryo Union. 

No, I for one find it impossible to blame Cal- 
houn greatly for the fact that he did not examine 
his premises sufficiently ; but that fact necessarily 
prevents me from considering him a thoroughly 
great and philosophic statesman. The founders 
of the Union were not as philosophic, either, as is 
sometimes imagined; but they, at least, made it 
possible that a Union should be formed that would 
in time develop into a nation, and for this they 
deserve not merely the name of statesmen, but the 
affectionate and reverent regard of all who live 
under the government which they inaugurated. 

But if we do not blame Calhoun for his prem- 
ises, what are we to say of his conclusions, which 
really did much to determine those premises ? As 
to the conclusion that nullification, or a separate 


State veto, was a practicable or constitutional ex- 
pedient for doing away with undesirable federal 
laws, there can be no use at this late day of saying 
anything; the notion is worthy neither of refuta- 
tion nor of scorn. Indeed, very few of the pro- 
slavery leaders after 1835 paid any attention to 
nullification per se. They admitted that it would 
be absurd to remain in the Union and not obey 
its laws, they would not remain in the Union if 
slavery were interfered with, therefore they abjured 
nullification and preached secession. 

Calhoun could not restrain his own disciples ; 
for they did not love the Union as he did, and 
while they regarded him as a fanatic on the sub- 
ject of nullification, he was consistently holding 
to that palpable absurdity because it was the only 
means to preserve both the Union and slavery. 
If he saw no absurdity in his purpose, he was not 
likely to see absurdity in his means. 

But why did he not see that his purpose to pre- 
serve the Union and slavery was absurd ? He did 
probably see that, as matters stood and had been 
going, it was absurd; and yet he hoped against 
hope that matters might be changed. Even in 
his last speech it seemed a perfectly simple propo- 
sition to him that the North should change its 
ways of looking at things, go back to the good 
old views of the Constitution, and leave the South 
in the possession of her rights. 


But how could a sensible man, a man who had 
been keen enough to see the irreconcilable antag- 
onism between progressive democracy and slavery- 
long before the mass of his fellow-citizens saw it, 
indulge even for a moment in the hope that the 
North would recede from her position, and leave 
the South to enjoy her peculiar institution un- 
molested? I doubt if, in his heart of hearts, he 
had any hope for the South when he made his 
pathetic last speech. If he had, it was a very 
slight one ; but, like the old Roman that he was, 
he would keep the fight up, that it might be said 
of him, as of his prototype, Cato the Younger : — 

'* Victrix causa deis placuit, sed victa CatonV 

It did seem a simple proposition that the North 
should respect Southern rights, but he knew or 
felt sure that his section would be continually 
worsted. He died asking what would become 
of the "poor South." And yet, marvellous as it 
seems, it did not occur to him that there could 
possibly be an error in his fundamental doctrine 
that slavery was necessary to the South and must 
be maintained at all costs ; he never once faltered 
in his belief that slavery was a blessing ; he never 
once doubted that the cause which was continually 
growing weaker and becoming more obnoxious to 
the rest of the world, was a cause worthy of the 


loyal devotion of men, and of the benevolent and 
protecting smile of God. 

Strange irony of fate, that the subtlest dialec- 
tician this country has produced should have been 
utterly unable to analyze correctly a social and 
economic problem that had been probed by Wash- 
ington and Jefferson half a century before. If 
Calhoun had said, " We do not know how to get rid 
of slavery, but we will manage our own problem 
ourselves," his position would have been more 
intelligible. But when he boldly cried out, 
"Slavery is a blessing which you of the North 
should never have abandoned, and of which the 
Territories must not be deprived," ^ he took a 
stand that seemed little short of madness. 

And yet it was a position that is now perfectly 
intelligible to the calm student of our history. 
The South, owing largely to slavery, was the most 
conservative portion of the Union; it was also 
that portion in which feudal notions had been 
most deeply rooted, and had most thoroughly 
survived. On feudality and slavery had been 
erected an aristocracy which had naturally devel- 
oped the chief traits of this form of government, 
— bravery, pride, and conservatism. 

In the ferment of the Revolutionary period a 
few leaders — great statesmen like Washington 
and great philosophers like Jefferson — had been 

1 These are not Calhoun's actual words. 


led to scrutinize the society on which they pro- 
posed to found their new governments, State and 
national, and had perceived that the slave-basis of 
this society in the Southern group of States was 
rotten to the core. Neither Washington nor Jef- 
ferson saw clearly what could be done to remedy 
the evil, but both hoped that the master class might 
be brought to see the danger that confronted them. 

Jefferson, moreover, had unbounded faith in his 
panacea, democracy. But before he died he fore- 
saw that great perils were threatening his State and 
section ; and he must have felt a doubt whether the 
new generation had come up to his expectation, 
and drunk in the principles of liberty as their 
mothers' milk. For the new generation was plainly 
inferior to that of which Madison was almost the 
last survivor. William Wirt noticed the change, 
and commented on it in some of his Addisonian 
essays; and in spite of the presence of Madison, 
Monroe and Marshall, the Virginia Convention 
of 1829-1830, which argued the question of eman- 
cipation, would have proved to a candid spectator 
that the glory was departing from Virginia. 

At such a moment it was natural for new aspi- 
rants for power to step to the front; it was South 
Carolina's opportunity, and she seized it. But 
south of Virginia there had practically never been 
any anti-slavery sentiment; and when Virginia 
dropped the reins of power, there was no issue on 


which Southern leadership could be more securely 
based than on the slavery question. But how 
could slavery be made an issue if its defenders 
were to be always apologizing for it? Could poli- 
ticians, who were fiery and arrogant by nature, be 
expected to endeavor to gain power by appealing 
to their opponents' sympathies ? Besides, a party 
had arisen in the North — small, it is true, but 
making itself heard — that proclaimed slavery to 
be a cursed institution. Could fiery aristocrats 
stand that? Had not their fathers and their 
fathers' fathers owned slaves; how could it then 
be wrong? And now that the cotton-gin had 
been invented, and the world was beginning to 
bow down to cotton as king, how could a system 
that furnished the only labor suited to Southern 
climatic conditions be shown to be unprofitable? 

Yes, slavery was right and profitable ; and on 
it had been built a civilization which for charm 
of manners, for social virtues, for masterful politi- 
cal energies, had had no superior in the world's 
history. It was true that abolitionists bandied 
terms of reproach like " slave-driver," collected 
rare instances of inhuman treatment of slaves, 
and pointed to certain features of slave-codes that 
seemed barbarous to outsiders. 

But the Southern gentleman knew that he and 
his neighbors were not cruel tyrants, and he 
claimed that outsiders could not judge what laws 


were necessary to keep a servile race in proper 
subjection. Slavery was his own concern ; it was 
^ matter of municipal law ; it was guaranteed by 
the Constitution ; it stood on a thoroughly moral 
and legal basis. Should the democracy of the 
North be allowed to assail an institution so vital 
to the aristocracy of the South? 

No — his conservative instincts, his ancestral 
pride, his masterful courage, forbade him to allow 
this for an instant. If Washington and Jefferson 
opposed slavery, it must have been because they 
really had not understood the institution.^ If 
Northerners criticized it, was it not because they 
were jealous of the South's political and social 
prestige? If foreigners denounced it, was it not 
part and parcel of the new-fangled and monstrous 
atheistical and revolutionary spirit of change that 
had been unloosed by the French Revolution? 

So the old-time Southern planter argued, as he 
sat with his neighbors on his broad veranda, and 
smoked his after-dinner cigar. A disunionist and 
a traitor he never was — he could not have been ; 
for all his instincts were loyal and conservative, 
and he was not given to great displays of energy. 
All he wanted was to be let alone ; but if he were 
not let alone, he would peaceably withdraw from 
a partnership made for him by his ancestors when 

1 A. H. Stephens proclaimed this later on, and it was a favorite 
idea with the essayists who wrote for DeBow's Review. 


times were better than now; if any one tried to 
stop him, he would fight. 

Meanwhile, he hoped things would not come to 
this pass, especially as that able "up-country man," 
John C. Calhoun, had taken up the constitutional 
cudgels, and trounced that Yankee Webster (who 
was, after all, a clever chap) in a way that would 
not be soon forgotten. So the old Southern 
planter argued, if we can apply such a term to 
his leisurely manner of arriving at conclusions. 
He let his politicians and editors argue for him, 
while he sat by and applauded. 

And before the final struggle came the politi- 
cians and editors had persuaded him that slavery 
was more the occasion than the cause of all the 
trouble, that really it was nothing more nor less 
than a matter of constant violations of the Consti- 
tution on the part of the North ; and that, if a war 
should come, which was hardly likely, as shop- 
keepers would not fight, he would arm himself, 
and go to the field as the champion of local self- 
government and of vested and inalienable consti- 
tutional rights. 

He went to the field, and fought heroically in 
this belief ; and this belief he holds to-day, while 
recognizing that the old order has passed away 
forever. Slavery hardly enters his mind now; 
but when he does think of it he generally admits 
it to have been an evil, and is glad that it is 


over and done with. He is still, however, a strict 

Now, in all this nightmarish reasoning, what is 
there that is blameworthy or unnatural when due 
allowance is made for hereditary bias and for en- 
vironment ? Where is the ground for accusations 
of treachery and treason? If any one can cry 
"treachery and treason," it is the Southern planter 
himself, when he realizes, as he does not often do, 
how the political leaders he trusted lured him 
onward like so many will-o'-the-wisps into pitfall 
after pitfall. They were the men who should 
have studied the economic condition of the South, 
and seen how far it was falling behind the North 
on account of slavery. They should have told 
him that it was slavery that kept his roads bad, 
that gave him wretched " Oldfield " schools, that 
prevented his cities from growing, that kept im- 
migrants from his public lands, that, in short, 
stamped its evil mark on everything he wrote or 
said or did. They should have kept abreast of 
the thought of the world, analyzed the relation of 
master and slave, told him that it rested solely on 
the doctrine that might makes right, and assured 
him that this doctrine was abhorrent to civilization 
and progress. 

Instead of this, what did they tell him ? They 
told him that slavery was morally justifiable ; and 
his priests, his bishops, his university professors of 


moral philosophy, confirmed the falsehood. They 
told him that slavery was economically and so- 
cially a blessing. They told him that the nation 
which Washington had founded and called a na- 
tion was in reality only a league of States, from 
which it would soon be proper to withdraw. They 
told him, finally, that he was the happiest, the 
richest, the bravest, the most intelligent man alive, 
that the rest of the world envied and hated him, 
and that all he needed for perfect felicity here 
below was to shut himself up in his manor-house, 
proclaim cotton king, and leave the mad world to 
its wicked ways.^ 

This was what they told him ; and loyal gentle- 
man as he was (for were they not his chosen rep- 
resentatives, and could he distrust them, since 
they were Southern gentlemen too?), he believed 
them, and acted on their advice. Certainly, if 
any one has the right to point the finger and cry 
" traitor," it is the cajoled and betrayed Southern 
gentleman of the old regime ; and next to him it 
is the non-slaveholding whites of the South, who 
were led to support a war whose successful issue 
could have resulted only in a perpetuation of 
their pariah-like state. But, after all, were the 
Southern politicians traitors? 

1 That I have exaggerated or interpolated anything of my own 
into the ahove sentences will he affirmed only hy that large class 
of sentimentalists who talk and write ahout the ante helium South, 
without taking the trouble to study its history. 


Whether a certain set of them were traitors in 
the winter of 1860-1861 is a question that will 
occupy us in the next lecture. Whether Calhoun 
and those who thought and acted with him were 
traitors to the Union and to the people they repre- 
sented is a question only to those who have not 
thoroughly understood the anomalous situation in 
which the country stood from the time of the 
Missouri Compromise to the outbreak of the Civil 

There was no question as to the legal fact that 
slavery was acknowledged by the Constitution; 
there should have been no question as to the moral 
fact that slavery was not acknowledged as legiti- 
mate by the conscience of the recently awakened 

But the North, recognizing the constitutional 
obligation to protect slavery, was conscious also 
of the moral obligation to suppress it, and, halt- 
ing between opinions, proclaimed the doctrine of 
" a higher law." The Southerner was in no such 
dilemma : he knew that slavery was legal, he 
could not see that it was immoral; hence be be- 
came righteously indignant at what he was bound 
to regard as Northern aggression, and infractions 
of the Constitution. 

But righteous indignation generally leads to 
extremes ; and righteous indignation over the for- 
tunes of an unrighteous institution was certain to 


do it. The more fiercely the abolitionist leaders 
inveighed against slavery, the more vehemently 
the pro-slavery advocates asserted their own virtue 
and the baseness of their enemies. The Northerner 
began to think all Southerners slave-drivers; the 
Southerner began to think all Northerners either 
fanatics or cowardly shop-keepers. 

There was not enough travel between the two 
sections to introduce any real knowledge of either; 
for the Southerners who went to Northern water- 
ing-places were too often vulgar upstarts, who had 
no social position at home, and whose loud and 
boisterous behavior entirely misrepresented the 
better elements of the section. Thus it was that 
the Northerner began to judge the South through 
the spectacles of the abolitionist or the politician, 
while the Southerner judged the North largely 
through what his politicians told him. 

These latter were sincere enough in their way. 
They believed the North to be engaged in a cow- 
ardly war on the South by means of protective 
tariffs, Wilmot provisos, et cetera; and they re- 
taliated by nullification, commercial conventions, 
Mexican wars, encroachments on the Territories, 
Dred Scott decisions, et cetera. They believed 
that the North would talk but not fight ; so they 
indulged in tall talk themselves about drinking 
all the blood that would be spilt in case the South 
broke the Union. They indulged in something 


worse than talk when they resorted to fisticuffs, 
and fired on the national flag ; and they were ter- 
ribly repaid. 

Yet, through it all, they were honest to their 
constituents and to themselves. Their every 
action was natural under the circumstances, for 
were they not unwittingly trying to make wrong 
right ; and has not this attempt, since the beginning 
of the world, led to evil actions, evil words, evil 
thoughts without number ? 

Instead of blaming these men, let us pity them. 
Let us remember that history teaches us that all 
abuses die hard, that the worst and most foolish 
causes have often the most honest and brave 
defenders. I would no more blame an old-time 
Southerner for following Calhoun or Jefferson 
Davis, than I would blame a loyal Highlander for 
following Prince Charlie. And the leaders them- 
selves, though they wrought woe to their followers, 
were impelled by destiny as much as by personal 
ambition ; and I, for one, find it difficult to judge 
them. Of their actions I can speak plainly enough ; 
but of their motives I can say only that the more 
I study their conduct, the more honest I consider 
their self-delusion to have been. I will not call 
them wise statesmen, but I am not going to insult 
the humanity I have in common with them by 
calling them traitors and knaves. 

Yes ; John Caldwell Calhoun, in the seventeen 


years that elapsed between his debate with Web- 
ster on the Force Bill and his death, wrought his 
country and his section infinite woe, but he did it 
blindly ; he did it, intending all the while to 
effect only peace and reconciliation. He failed; 
but so did Webster and Clay fail, and so will any 
man fail who does not distinguish right from 

Yet it would have needed a statesman with the 
genius and character of Washington to have seen 
clearly the South's duty in 1830, and forced her 
into the right path. She had no such statesman, 
and slavery accounted for the fact. The section 
that had led the Union for fifty years, that had 
developed a dashing type of statesmanship, which, 
with many faults, had m^nj virtues, that had done 
much to inculcate and spread democracy through 
the land, had fallen into the hands of a doctrinaire 
fanatic, and was soon to pass into worse hands 
than his. For Calhoun, though utterly and terri- 
bly wrong in all that he said and wrote and did 
for slavery, was nevertheless a dignified and noble 
figure, whether in the Cabinet or the Senate. 
Dignity and nobility were far from characterizing 
most of his successors. 

You will hardly expect me, in the brief time 
that remains to me, to comment with any fulness 
upon the successive stages of Calhoun's career 
after he took his stand as the Arch-Nullifier. 


Those stages are practically the stages of our 
national history between 1833 and 1850, and they 
are also stages of the slavery agitation. As each 
new phase would arise, Calhoun would deliver 
one of his incisive logical promulgations of States'- 
rights philosophy, and would utter his prophetic 
warnings of the doom that awaited North and 
South alike if the question of slavery were agi- 

He fought manfully and with the courage of 
despair — of despair that grew greater with the 
years. On topics unconnected with slavery he 
was still the weighty, massive Calhoun of earlier 
days. He fought the spoils system with a noble 
earnestness that deserves lasting remembrance, 
even though he did not foresee that Congress 
would in this matter prove more dangerous and 
rapacious than the President. With Jackson 
before his eyes, he naturally feared the executive. 
But spoils system and sub-treasury were mere 
asides. Strenuous debate on the acceptance of 
abolitionist petitions, queer political metaphysics 
on the subject of the admission of new States, 
violent protests against England's importing her 
emancipation notions into the law of nations, are 
much more characteristic of the Senator who owned 
South Carolina like a pocket borough. 

That the presidential fever should again have 
taken hold of him is curious, but so it did ; and 


he resigned the Senate in 1842, to be immediately 
nominated for the great office by his loyal State. 
South Carolina would stand by her greatest son, 
whether in defeat or in victory ; for he had stood 
by her, and she was nothing if not loyal. Whether 
she would have stood by him had he not stood by 
her " peculiar institution " is another matter, which 
we need not discuss; since Calhoun was not the 
man to avow opinions he did not really hold, 
merely in order to obtain power. 

But there was no chance for so able a man in 
the Democratic ranks ; so he abandoned his candi- 
dacy, and seemed about to have a chance to rest 
after a hard-fought life, when Tyler summoned him 
to the portfolio of state and the invidious task 
of bringing Texas into the Union. Believing sla- 
very to be a blessing, and believing, furthermore, 
that the permanence of this blessing depended 
upon its ever wider diffusion in point of territory, 
fearing, too, that an independent free State border- 
ing on the extreme South would work damage to 
his favorite institution, he accepted his appoint- 
ment, and went about his job — for that it was a 
political job, though not such in his eyes, no seri- 
ous student of the times can safely deny. . 

The methods he and Tyler used to accomplish 
their purpose deserve all the harsh criticism they 
have received; but I myself prefer for obvious 
reasons, in view of much that I have said to-night, 


to exculpate the men. Calhoun in his sober mind 
would have repudiated the joint-resolution scheme, 
but Calhoun the fanatic forgot all his constitu- 
tional lore on the subject of the treaty-making 
power. Calhoun the reserved and courteous gen- 
tleman would never have lugged in the slavery 
controversy in his letters to Pakenham, the British 
minister; but Calhoun the rampant theorist and 
controversialist regretted that he could not get 
another chance at him. 

Still, it must be remembered to his credit, that, 
while he would scruple at little in order to secure 
Texas for slavery, he would be no party to Polk's 
schemes for forcing Mexico into a war in order to 
rob her of more territory. He seems to have been 
sincere in his claim that he would have secured 
Texas without bloodshed ; but he did not have the 
wisdom to foresee that he was playing a rash game, 
at which bolder and more unscrupulous gamblers 
would soon raise the stakes, and compel him to lay 
down his hand. 

The dream that Polk would retain him as Secre- 
tary of State, that he might finish the negotiations 
he had begun, soon vanished; and he had to con- 
tent himself with unheeded prophecies of the evil 
results that must follow the uncontrolled rashness 
of his own disciples. He was back in the Senate 
now, Judge Hager having resigned on purpose to 
restore him his rightful seat; and he could offer 


resolutions annulling the Missouri Compromise, 
and devoting to slavery soil that even a govern- 
ment like that of Mexico had devoted to freedom. 
He could take this step regardless of inconsistency 
with his past utterances, because he said that only 
on this high ground of absolute equality could 
slavery keep up the struggle with freedom. 

Here, again, he proved a leader, and the next 
decade worked out to their logical and bitter re- 
sults the principles he laid down. But he was 
not destined to see the curtain roll up on the last 
act of the drama of which he himself had been 

California with its free Constitution threw itself 
in the way of his theories ; the crisis of 1850 
came, and with it Clay's inevitable compromises ; 
he made his last great speech, in which he de- 
scribed his State-veto panacea once more; and at 
last, on the 31st of March, 1850, his weary and 
perturbed spirit was at rest. 

He had known that his end was near, and, as a 
dying bequest to the Union that he loved, had 
spent a few months that other men would have 
devoted to rest, in composing his " Disquisition on 
Government," and his " Discourse on the Constitu- 
tion and Government of the United States." 

Of these two treatises it will be sufficient to say, 
that they are in many respects the most remark- 
able political documents the student of American 


history is called upon to read. He must read 
them if he wishes to get a full and well-rounded 
view of Calhoun's constitutional theories, although 
it is at once plain that all their important points 
are covered in the better known speeches. 

It is to the " Disquisition " that we must go for 
the famous praise of the Constitution of Poland, as 
well as for the fullest explanation of the doctrine 
of the concurrent majority. The reader must, 
however, be warned that it is not safe to approach 
these books unless he has thoroughly disabused 
his mind of the notion that sovereignty can really 
be divided and a government founded on compact. 
If one start with these notions in one's head, the 
sure grip of Calhoun's logic will end by making 
one a nuUifier or a lunatic, it matters little which. 

One must also have one's general knowledge of 
history in a shape to use ; and one must also be 
careful to remember that not a little of Calhoun's 
munitions of war had been manufactured and 
stored away for him by Jefferson, Madison, and 
John Taylor of Carolina — more especially by the 
last named, who was in a negative way almost as 
acute a critic of the Constitution as Calhoun him- 
self. Yet when all is said, Calhoun's masterly 
analysis of the rights of minorities, and of the best 
methods of securing them fairly, entitles him to 
rank as our most original political theorist. 

And now, in conclusion, how shall we sum up 


this man's life and work ? The task seems almost 
hopeless, so beset is it with contradictions. A de- 
voted patriot spends the best portion of his life 
struggling against the manifest destiny of his 
country. A profoundly analytical mind fails ut- 
terly to grasp the true nature of an institution he 
has known and studied for nearly a lifetime, in 
spite of the fact that the wisest of his own fore- 
runners had carefully explained it to him. A 
practical, level-headed politician and man of af- 
fairs turns into a doctrinaire fanatic with a meta- 
physical theory of politics which would not strike 
us as out of place if we found it expounded in 
" Gulliver's Travels." A loyal, true-hearted gen- 
tleman brings himself to write quibbling and al- 
most impertinent letters to the minister of a great 
power, and lends himself to a sly trick to get 
around a Constitution he has spent his life in de- 
fending from insidious attack. What are we to 
say of such a man? 

I, at least, cannot call him a thoroughly wise 
and great statesman ; but I can admire his strong, 
subtle intellect, and lofty integrity, and soundness 
of heart. Mistaken he was often, but he never 
did anything consciously that he thought was 
wrong or low. His purposes were too high, what- 
ever the means he used to effect them, for us to 
be able to do without his example of manly inde- 
pendence. And yet we cannot love him, either for 


the noble or for the pathetic features of his career. 
He stands too much apart from his fellows, and 
the words he speaks are those of prophetic warn- 
ing rather than those of encouragement or allure- 
ment. It is not Cassandra that attracts us in 
"the tale of Troy divine;" it is winsome Helen, 
in spite of the fact that she 

"Launched a thousand ships 
And burnt the topless towers of Ilion." 








The two distinguished Georgians whose names 
are here coupled were in many respects as differ- 
ent as men are usually allowed to be ; but the pe- 
riod of their political activity was the same, their 
views on most questions of public policy were 
identical, and their friendship was remarkably 
strong and pure ; there is therefore no impropriety 
in treating them together — indeed, a critic of any 
sympathy would feel some hesitation in treating 
them apart. 

Of the two, Mr. Stephens is the more widely 
known, and is entitled to the more permanent 
fame ; but in many ways the career of Toombs 
is perhaps the more worthy of study, because his 

1 I have relied on Johnston and Browne's full and eulogistic 
biography of Mr. Stephens and onStovall's " Life of Toombs," as 
well as on the chief speeches of both statesmen, and the works of 
Mr. Stephens. Other sources, such as Miller's " Bench and Bar of 
Georgia," and the biography of Linton Stephens, have also been 



character is more typically Georgian and Southern, 
at least from the point of view of politics. 

Now, I must confess that I find it hard to say 
exactly what the typical Georgian character is. 
I have read various histories and biographies treat- 
ing of the State and her people, as well as charac- 
ter sketches by writers of reputation ; I have 
made friends, too, with many citizens of the com- 
monwealth, and think I can tell a Georgian when 
I see one. Yet, when it comes to describing what 
a Georgian really is, I am puzzled, and feel dis- 
posed to apologize for undertaking the task; yet I 
protest at the same time that I have a good deal 
of sympathy and admiration for Georgians, whether 
in the concrete or the abstract. I have put my 
head in the noose, however, by venturing to com- 
pare Stephens and Toombs as Georgians; and I 
must try to explain what I mean, even at the risk 
of having the noose tighten at every sentence. 

The Georgian has been called the Southern 
Yankee, and there is not a little truth in the de- 
scription. He has much of the native shrewdness 
and push that mark the genuine Down-Easter, 
and he has a considerable share of that worthy's 
moral earnestness. In addition to this he has a 
good deal of the Virginian's geniality and love of 
comfort, of the North Carolinian's unpretending 
democracy, and of the South Carolinian's ten- 
dency to exhibitions of fiery temper. But, over 


and above everything else, he has an honest and 
hearty and not unfounded pride in Georgia, and 
a sort of Masonic affiliation with every person, 
animal, institution, custom, — in short, thing, — 
that can he called Georgian. 

He may not always stand for culture ; but he 
does always stand for patriotism. State and na- 
tional. He loves success, strength, straight-for- 
wardness, and the solid virtues generally, neither 
is he averse to the showy ones; but above all he 
loves virtue in action. Though possessed of a 
strong, clear intellect, he is more particularly a 
man of fine senses, of which he makes as good 
use as he can. He may not always taste the sweet- 
ness or see the light of the highest civilization, 
but he has a good healthy appetite for life. In 
fine, the Georgian is the Southerner who comes 
nearest of all the inhabitants of his section to 
being a normal American. 

There are, of course, varieties of Georgians, and 
different phases of civilization are represented in 
different sections of the State ; but the features of 
character that make for uniformity are more nu- 
merous than those that make for divergence. The 
various elements that compose the population — 
original settlers, incomers from Virginia and the 
two Carolinas — seem to have been fused, save, 
perhaps, on the coast about Savannah, rather than 
to have preserved their individuality ; and the re- 


suit is the typical Georgian, energetic, shrewd, 
thrifty, brave, religious, patriotic, tending, on the 
extremes of society, to become narrow and hard, or 
self-assertive and pushing. 

All these enumerated qualities are seen in both 
the men to whom this lecture is devoted; but 
Toombs had more energy and self-assertiveness 
than Stephens, and so represents the dominant 
class of Georgians, better, perhaps, than the latter. 
Stephens, however, had more of the shrewdness 
and sound conservative sense of the Georgia 
masses than Toombs, which somewhat accounts 
for the remarkable hold he kept upon the people, 
even when opposing popular measures like seces- 
sion. But the man of action is more typically 
Southern than the man of reflection, and dash will, 
in a crisis, carry the day over shrewdness ; hence 
when, in the winter of 1861, Georgia had to make 
her great choice, she followed Toombs rather than 

But, although Georgia disregarded Stephens's 
warnings, she was proud to see him made Vice- 
President of the new Confederacy; and Toombs, 
who had been slightly alienated from his bosom 
friend, gladly urged him for the place. They 
stood by one another, these two Georgians; and 
this loyalty of Georgians to Georgians has always 
been characteristic of the people, though they have 
had fierce enough political factions. 


It is amusing, and at the same time pathetic, to 
see this loyalty stand out conspicuously on every 
page that one Georgian writes about another. 
The superlatives scattered through such books as 
Miller's "Bench and Bar of Georgia," or Stovall's 
" Life of Toombs," would suffice for at least one 
thousand schoolboy orations. This exaggeration of 
a compatriot's good qualities is, at least, a gener- 
ous failing on the part of a biographer; but it 
either confuses or disgusts the critical student, 
and renders the task of obtaining a true insight 
into the character of these old-time Georgians 
doubly difficult. Fortunately some biographers, 
like Messrs. Johnston and Browne in their "Life 
of Stephens," give enough in the way of letters 
and extracts from journals to enable one to form 
a fair opinion of the mental and moral calibre of 
their subject, as well as of the people to whom 
that subject appeared to be a great and shining 

Judging from these and other data, we may ar- 
rive at the conclusion that the good people of 
Georgia have not been without excuse for the 
love and praise they have lavished on their poli- 
ticians from early days, — on the fiery and obstrep- 
erous Troup, on Judge Clayton, on William H. 
Crawford, on J. M. Berrien, on Stephens and 
Toombs. All these men stood for something that 
meant much to the hardy inhabitants of a compar- 


atively new State ; they stood for honest and en- 
ergetic, if not always clear-sighted, patriotism. 

That these Georgian idols would not have stood 
so high, with the exception of Stephens, away 
from home, is no discredit to the State; for, al- 
though one of the original Thirteen Colonies, she 
was really, in a large part of her territory, not 
far in advance of Tennessee in point of settle- 
ment and development. The gold-fever, the In- 
dian troubles, the large number of non- and small 
slave-holders gave to the State a tone that sepa- 
rated it widely from such settled and orderly 
commonwealths as Virginia and South Carolina. 

Hence the men that controlled public affairs 
differed from the older type of statesmen I have 
hitherto described, in possessing less culture but 
more energy and dominating influence. Just so 
their constituents were less cultivated and critical, 
and more enthusiastic, than the constituents of 
R. M. T. Hunter or William C. Preston. The 
same thing is true of the more recently settled 
States of Alabama and Mississippi. When one 
reads or hears of the great political campaigns, of 
the great forensic displays of eloquence, that used 
to stir up and carry away the voters and jurors 
in the Southern tier of States in the period from 
1830 to 1860, one is tempted either to cavil and 
become a doubting Thomas, or else to regret that 
the change of customs, the spread of newspapers, 


the opening up of the country, have introduced a 
spirit of criticism and of self-consciousness that 
has made politicians and orators and lawyers both 
seem and actually become less great. 

A real Toombs or Yancey or Prentiss would 
probably no longer sweep a crowd into such ec- 
stasy as of yore, or at least the crowd would not 
express its delight so uncritically and unreserv- 
edly; but in point of fact there is no longer a 
Toombs, a Yancey, or a Prentiss to make the 

Meanwhile, there is nothing for a modem stu- 
dent to do with these giants of the past but to 
study carefully their literary remains and the tra- 
ditions that have come down concerning them, 
whether orally, or in the stately, high-flown biog- 
raphies that have been written about them, and 
endeavor, as best he may, to determine what man- 
ner of men they really were, bearing in mind 
always the danger he runs, as a critical and some- 
what unemotional modem, of underestimating their 
real greatness of vigor and originality. 

Robert (Augustus) Toombs and Alexander 
(Hamilton 1) Stephens were bom not far from 
one another, in the northeastern part of Georgia, 
in Wilkes and in Taliaferro Counties respectively ; 

1 Toombs practically dropped his middle name ; while Stephens 
added his when a youth, in order to honor a gentleman who had 
helped him to go to college, Mr. Alexander Hamilton Webster. 


and the dates of their births, 1810 and 1812, sep- 
arate them as little. The circumstances of the 
two lads were very different, however ; for young 
Toombs was not obliged to labor with his own 
hands for his support, as was the case with Ste- 
phens. He seems to have led the ordinary life 
of a well-to-do Southern boy, — to have ridden 
and hunted, and taken a little schooling in the 
interim. Stephens, on the other hand, deprived 
of father, mother, and step-mother early in life, 
learned lessons of privation and endurance while 
painfully working out the problem of how to de- 
velop the talents he felt himself to possess. 

When, later on, the two young men entered the 
University of the State at Athens, Stephens went 
through his course with great distinction; while 
Toombs evidently wasted his time, and left be- 
cause he would probably have been expelled for 
getting into a scrape connected with playing 

The ancestors of both seem to have come from 
Ireland, and to have been present with the Vir- 
ginian troops at Braddock's defeat ; but in Georgia 
fortune had evidently smiled on the Toombses, 
and frowned on the Stephenses. Under her frown 
the latter family seem to have preserved more of 
the distinctively Scotch-Irish characteristics of seri- 
ousness and plainness of living than the former. 
Stephens's father was a godly schoolmaster, from 


whom his son evidently inherited a clear, logical 
intellect, combined with a melancholy, not to say 
moody, temperament. Toombs, on the other hand, 
had a vigorous but hardly subtle intellect and the 
highest of animal spirits. 

This contrast of natures was accentuated by 
the physical differences between the two youths. 
Toombs was large and full-blooded, scarcely know- 
ing what illness meant, in short, what his admirers 
were pleased to call " a leonine man." Stephens, 
on the other hand, was so puny that throughout his 
career he was constantly taken for a boy, and so 
delicate that his life was continually despaired of. 
Alexander Pope himself seems to have been only 
a little more fragile and suffering than Alexander 
Stephens. But Pope was rich, and won his fame 
by writing verses in his study or his grotto ; 
Stephens was poor, and fought his way to distinc- 
tion by arguing before juries in a crowded court- 
house, before excited voters and rival candidates 
on the hustings, and amid jarring factions in Con- 
gress during the two most tumultuous decades 
of our political history. For sheer pluck, and 
conscientious, successful use of native faculty, the 
world's history presents us with few characters 
more worthy of our regard than Alexander H. 
Stephens. In this connection Toombs cannot be 
named in the same breath with him. 

It would be interesting to recount here in some 


detail leading incidents in the early lives of the 
two men, especially with regard to Stephens ; but 
I must content myself with observing that the 
careful student may trace in the youthful experi- 
ences of both, much that went to make up the ma- 
tured characters of the men. Impulse is the ruling 
motive of young Toombs ; reflection and a some- 
what morbid conscientiousness characterize young 
Stephens. The latter was picked out by some of 
his friends for the ministry, and he seriously con- 
sidered the calling; but his fondness for debate 
and for historical studies, and perhaps the desire 
to succeed, in spite of his diminutive size, in a 
profession which required many of the qualities of 
a soldier, led him to choose the law in preference 
to the gospel, although the latter calling might 
have brought his soldierly qualities into play. 

He paid back, however, the money advanced 
for his education ; and it may be added here, that 
he followed the good example that had been set 
him, and before his death paid the expenses of at 
least fifty-two young men who were desirous of 
getting an education. He might easily have done 
less good and still have been a conscientious 

After graduating, young Stephens taught for a 
few months in a school, then in a private family, 
then went to Crawfordville, near which he was 
bom, and began the study of law. He had a hard 


time of it, but somewhat consoled himself by en- 
tering with zest upon the discussion of current po- 
litical issues, especially Jackson's quarrel with the 
bank, in which matter, as might be expected, he 
sided with the President. For the Force Bill, how- 
ever, he had no manner of use ; and in a speech 
delivered on the Fourth of July, 1834, he dis- 
coursed upon it in a way that showed that, 
whether he was destined to become a Whig or not, 
the basis of his political reasoning would always 
be Jeffersonian and democratic in character. This 
fact should be remembered when we find him 
later on passing into the Democratic ranks. 

We may remember also, that it was while he 
was a teacher that his tendency to morbid self- 
analysis received an impetus through the develop- 
ment of a passion which he dared not speak out 
on account of his poverty and ill-health. Later in 
life he went through a similar ordeal; and his en- 
forced loneliness must have had some effect upon 
his mind, tending, as it did, to make his fine 
analytic powers find a congenial vent in splitting 
hairs, and to increase his cautious conservatism, so 
unusual a characteristic in a Georgian politician. 
His loneliness serves, too, to set him as a figure 
beside John Randolph himself, and to heighten 
the contrast with his friend Toombs, who was mar- 
ried shortly after his admission to the bar in 1830, 
and lived a life of happy domesticity. 


Stephens was admitted to practise in the North- 
ern Circuit, of which William H. Crawford was 
judge, in July, 1834, after three months' study, 
the examination seeming to have been more se- 
vere than it was in the neighboring State of Ala- 
bama at this time, where, if we may trust Judge 
Baldwin,! it was highly unusual, if not improper, 
for a judge to insult "a young probationer and 
candidate " for legal honors by asking him a 
single question. The Northern Circuit contained 
some good lawyers, among them Toombs, who was 
just beginning to make a reputation. 

A circuit was really a circuit in Georgia; for 
the lawyers rode on horseback from one county- 
seat to another, and, if we may rely on the evi- 
dence at hand, got an immense number of cases, 
and charged heavy fees. The settling up of new 
lands, the transferring of property from the older 
States, and the litigation incident to property in 
slaves, afforded business enough for the civil 
practitioner ; and the still unsettled nature of the 
population kept the criminal lawyer constantly 
occupied. After the panic of 1837, there was 
still more litigation; and it is said that in one 
term of court in one county Toombs returned 
two hundred cases, and took judgment for over 

Both Toombs and Stephens evidently made 

1 The well-known author of " Flush Times in Alabama," 


large incomes from their professions after they 
had been practising only a few years, for the 
period was a halcyon one for lawyers throughout 
the Gulf States. The methods of the two men 
were as different, however, as their success was 
uniform. Stephens, we are told, "would begin 
his talk to the jury with calmness, and build 
upon his opening until he warmed up into elo- 
quence ; " while Toombs " would plunge imme- 
diately into his fierce and impassioned oratory, 
and pour his torrent of wit, eloquence, logic, and 
satire upon judge and jury." Toombs would not 
appear in a case unless he felt that his client 
really had justice on his side, which is a point 
to be remembered when we come to consider his 
subsequent change of parties ; on the other hand, 
he would cause his client untold anxiety by his 
apparent carelessness as to details, and his reliance 
upon his own powers after he got into the court- 
room. But, in fact, he generally managed to get 
at the gist of every matter before he came to 
argue it; and this will be found to be more or 
less true of his political career. Stephens, on the 
other hand, never omitted thorough preparation 
of his cases; he knew every point he wished 
to make, and the order in which to make them, 
and this is pre-eminently true of his political 

As to the actual eloquence of the two men, 


it is hard to reach any conclusion. Both could 
carry away a jury or a hustings crowd, and the 
secret of their power lay not so much in the 
matter of their speeches as in the way they de- 
livered them. Yet never did two orators present 
a greater contrast — Toombs with his strength 
of body and voice, and impetuous force of con- 
viction ; Stephens with his puny frame, thin voice, 
and calmly reasoned persuasiveness. They may 
not have been as great orators as their admirers 
have asserted, but the fact remains that they 
exerted great power over all sorts and conditions 
of men. 

But successful young lawyers were, and to 
some extent are, the proper timber out of which 
to make legislators ; so we need not wonder to 
find Stephens elected to the Georgia Lower House 
in 1836, and Toombs in 1837. The former won 
his seat in spite of the fact that he opposed the 
doctrine of nullification in a county which, being 
not far from the Carolina line, rather favored that 
political panacea; the latter was returned as a 
Whig from Wilkes County, along with two Demo- 
crats. Toombs, however, had recently done a 
little Indian fighting, which added to his pres- 
tige ; while Stephens had been doing some moral 
fighting against the popular vigilance committees 
formed to punish persons who were caught cir- 
culating abolition documents. Stephens's sue- 


cess is, therefore, the more remarkable; and he 
shows in this first canvass the same endeavor to 
do justice to the North as well as to the strict 
letter of the Constitution that was afterwards 
to characterize him as a statesman of national 

We need not follow with any closeness the 
careers of our young legislators, except in so far 
as light is thereby thrown on their subsequent 
services to the nation. Both were Whigs who 
believed in extending railroads in Georgia, and 
the State owes to them much of her present 
prosperity in this respect. Both resisted the per- 
nicious demand on the part of the Democratic 
majority that Senator Berrien should resign his 
seat in the United States Senate because he did 
not represent faithfully the views of that major- 
ity, Stephens's report in this connection being 
an elaborate and logical constitutional argument 
worthy of its author's subsequent reputation. 

Toombs deserves credit, in his turn, for the 
way in which he resisted the popular scheme for 
creating a public loan for the benefit of sufferers 
by recent floods, a measure which had been par- 
alleled in South Carolina in the case of the great 
Charleston fire of a few years before ; he deserves, 
perhaps, equal credit for the way in which he 
managed his friend Stephens's law business when 
the latter was compelled to take a long journey 


to restore his shattered health. Toombs even 
offered to bear the expenses of the trip. But 
we must pass on to more important matters; yet 
not before a slight account is given of the way 
the puny invalid impressed himself first upon his 
legislative colleagues. 

There was a debate going on about the construc- 
tion of the Western and Atlantic Railroad, which 
was needed to give the products of the trans- 
Alleghany region — especially of East Tennessee 
— an entrance to Georgia and thence to the sea. 
Railways were new and comparatively untried 
things then; and there was even more ignorance 
about them in the legislature than is the case now- 
adays, which is saying a good deal. A great 
amount of nonsense had been talked, when, to 
quote the words of an eye-witness, ^ the House was 
startled out of its weariness by hearing "from 
under the gallery a clear, shrill voice," exclaiming, 
" Mr. Speaker." 

« Every eye was turned to the thin, attenuated form of a 
mere boy, with a black, gleaming eye and cadaverous face. 
The attention became breathless. The House was en- 
chained for half an hour by a new speaker, and one with 
new views of the question, such as had not been discussed 
or hinted at by others. 

« When he sat down, there was a burst of applause from 

1 The Hon. Iverson L. Harris, quoted by Johnson and Browne, 
pp. 127, 128. 


a full gallery, and many of us on the floor joined in the 
chorus. That speech was electrical. It gave life to a dull 
debate ; it aided immensely the passage of the bill for the 
survey of the road, and the appropriation for it. . . . 
Need I say that man was Alexander H. Stephens ? " 

This early student of railroads will hardly be 
recognized in the morbid individual from whose 
diary his biographers, with an amusing naivete, give 
us so many choice selections. Stephens, whenever 
he emulated Samson by going out and shaking 
himself, was a politician, — no, a statesman and 
orator worthy of any man's admiration. Stephens, 
when he attempted to set down his reflections on 
life, death, and immortality, when he tried to pose 
as a philosopher or critic or historian, was simply 
a Scotch-Irishman of some talents and reading, 
taking himself with prodigious seriousness, and 
writing stuff that came perilously near the point 
that separates the commonplace from the banal. 

His letters to his half-brother Linton, whom he 
dearly loved, and whom he trained to fill positions 
of responsibility in Georgia, give abundant proofs 
of the truth of this statement. He passes most 
absurdly unhistorical judgments with regard to the 
degeneracy of modern peoples as compared with 
the nations of antiquity, and gives some ludicrously 
bizarre appreciations with regard to the relative 
merits of Scott and Bulwer. Even in his political 
speeches he cannot altogether keep back from the 


yawiiing precipice of the ridiculous, as when, in 
response to a toast delivered at Crawfordville 
on July 4, 1839, he concluded with this remark- 
able slander upon the ancients of whom he was 
so proud ; " Henry Clay and Martin Van Buren : 
candidates for the next presidency. When the 
strife is between Caesar and Pompey, the patriot 
should rally to the standard of neither." Which 
meant that Mr. Stephens wished that that ob- 
streperous champion of States' rights, ex-Governor 
Troup, should be advanced to an office in which 
he would have a splendid opportunity for display- 
ing his two chief propensities — for holding fast 
and growling. 

But this is nothing compared with some of the 
moralizing in which Stephens was fond of indul- 
ging. If he had been an Obermann or an Amiel, 
his biographers would have been justified in repro- 
ducing it ; but he was neither, and the only ad- 
vantage that has resulted from their misguided 
admiration for all their subject ever said or wrote 
has been the light that is thrown on his mental 

The student can easily perceive that at bottom 
Mr. Stephens possessed talents merely, not genius ; 
that his vision was bounded the moment he passed 
outside the sphere of present party politics or of 
American political history as that had been shaped 
by Jefferson and his followers. No more than 


another great Scotcli-Irishman, Calhoun, was he 
able to become a political philosopher in any true 
sense of the term. He was an able analyst and a 
fine pleader ; hence, as an expounder of a particular 
view of constitutional interpretation, and a writer 
of a party history worthy of high rank among me- 
moires pour servir, he is easily first among South- 
ern statesmen of the third quarter of this century. 

To grasp American history as a whole, how- 
ever, and to lead his people along new paths, was 
beyond his power, and beyond that of any man then 
living in the South. He did check his people, and 
when they rushed past him, he followed on, to die 
with them if need be; and when the crisis was 
over he sat down to write their most elaborate 
and powerful vindication. But he had not out- 
lived the defects of his qualities, and he couched 
the vindication in an outworn and far from effec- 
tive literary form. 

But we must retrace our steps, remarking, as 
we do so, that none of this criticism is applicable 
to Toombs, who was not the man to reflect, check, 
and defend, but to leap to conclusions, push on, 
and attack. He was not even solicitous to defend 
his own consistency, that carefully guarded heel 
of Achilles to the ordinary politician. 

" ' How is this, Mr. Toombs ? ' shouted a Demo- 
crat, . . . 'here is a vote of yours in the House 
Journal I do not like.' 


" ' Weil, my friend, there are several there that 
I do not like; now, what are you going to do 
about it?'" 

What could the astonished voter do about it, 
and what can any one do about it now, except 
to wish that a little of Toombs's courage, not his 
rashness, could be found in the average politician 
of the present day? 

In 1843 Stephens was nominated for Congress 
to fill a vacancy. He had a majority of about 
three thousand to overcome, and did it after an 
exciting and amusing campaign, in which he was 
often taken for a boy. The boy turned out, how- 
ever, to be the best^informed man in the Whig 
party on the various issues of the day, as well as 
on the history and theory of the government of 
which he was ambitious of forming a small part. 
He overcame, in joint debate, the Democratic 
champion orator, Judge Colquitt, and added 
greatly to his own reputation as a speaker and 
debater. To be candid, however, many of the 
stories told of exciting political debates in the 
far South seem to turn rather on the folly of one 
speaker than on the genius of the other. For 
example, in this very debate, Stephens triumphed 
over Judge Colquitt by showing that one of his 
legislative votes, for which the Judge was twit- 
ting him, had been given for a measure which the 
Judge had himself favored in the Senate of the 



same legislature. Triumph over such a short- 
memoried adversary may have delighted the Geor- 
gia crowd of fifty-three years ago, but is hardly 
thrilling as we read of it to-day. 

When Stephens got to Congress he astonished 
friends and foes alike by arguing against the con- 
stitutionality of his own election, on the ground 
that Georgia should have complied with the law 
of 1842, dividing the State into congressional 
districts — he having been elected on a general 
ticket. The position he took seems a little bi- 
zarre, and did so to his colleague, the Hon. Wm. 
H. Stiles, with whom a personal difficulty was 
for a whik apprehended by the pygmy novitiate. 

But Stephens's argument in favor of the con- 
stitutionality of the Act of 1842 is strong and 
apparently conclusive. The next year Georgia 
changed to the new system of districts, and an 
interesting question presented itself to the Whigs. 
They wished to run Toombs for Congress ; but if 
Wilkes and Taliaferro Counties were put in the 
same district, as would be natural, the party would 
lose the services of one of its favorites. They 
were spared the necessity of making a choice, 
however, by managing to put the two counties 
into different districts ; and the two friends were 
enabled to begin a long congressional career to- 

Toombs came in with flying colors, having 


spoken for two hours at Augusta against the 
great South Carolina champion of Democracy, 
George McDuffie, who had been imported to 
argue against the bank and tariff, that Toombs 
defended. Some time previous to this, Toombs 
had himself crossed the Savannah, and met Mc- 
Duffie on his own soil. Mr. S to vail says, with 
perhaps pardonable exaggeration : — 

" When the rash young Georgian crossed over to Wil- 
lington, S. C, to meet the lion in his den, Toombs rode 
horseback ; and it was noted that his shirt-front was stained 
with tobacco-juice, and yet Toombs was a remarkably 
handsome man. ' Genius sat upon his brow, and his eyes 
were as black as death and bigger than an ox's.' His pres- 
ence captivated even the idolators of McDuffie. His argu- 
ment and invective, his over-powering eloquence, linger in 
the memory of old men now. McDuffie said of him : < I 
have heard John Randolph of Roanoke, and met Burgess 
of Rhode Island, but this wild Georgian is a Mirabeau.' " ^ 

So these old-time Southerners spoke of one 
another, and so their biographers still write of 

Texas and the Mexican war, together with the 
Oregon question, were, of course, the matters up- 
permost in the minds of our two Georgia states- 
men at this period. Before Toombs's advent, 
Stephens had supported Tyler's joint-resolution 
scheme in a speech showing plainly both the 

1 StovaU's '' Toombs," pp. 45, 46. 


strength and weakness of his mind. He objected 
to the idea that it was the duty of the Federal 
Government to admit Texas on the ground that 
slavery would thereby be strengthened; for, as 
he maintained, slavery was a domestic institution, 
which Congress ought neither to strengthen nor 
to weaken. This position he held consistently, 
as we shall see. 

He refuted the idea that the United States 
could not acquire territory; but he indulged in 
some shadowy reasoning, and not a little histori- 
cal inaccuracy, when he maintained that in 1789 
North Carolina "had the right and power to re- 
main out " of the Union. He seems, too, to have 
had little or no doubt as to the constitutional- 
ity of resolving a union between Texas and the 
United States ; but then in this matter even so 
keen a constitutionalist as Calhoun had gone 
astray. Yet Stephens, though determined to main- 
tain slavery, was not so daft on the subject as Cal- 
houn ; and certain expressions in this very speech 
gave offence until he explained that he did not 
regard American slavery as being of the same 
genus as that recognized by the code of Justin- 
ian, — a position which is either false or true ac- 
cording to the purposes for which it is used in 

With regard to the Mexican War, Stephens and 
Toombs united in opposing Polk's policy, partly, 


no doubt, because he was a Democrat and they 
were Whigs, but mainly because they saw clearly 
that the war was one of Polk's own making, and 
because they were opposed on principle to the use 
of force in adding to the territory of the Union. 
This was but consistent with their contention that 
force could not be used to maintain the Union 
should any State or States wish to withdraw 
from it. 

They saw, too, with Calhoun, that the new terri- 
tory to be acquired would raise the slavery ques- 
tion once more in a formidable shape. It is almost 
needless to add that both opposed the war policy 
with regard to Oregon; Toombs making a fine 
maiden speech on the subject, in which he proved 
himself to be anything but a fire-eater. He also 
proved that for all his congenital rashness he was 
still able to argue calmly about matters of policy, 
and that he was not obliged to defend his votes as 
another Georgian, General Clinch, is said to have 
done on one occasion. The roll was being called 
in the House ; and the general, who had been sent 
for, came in " all vexed and mad, and puffing and 
blowing," and "answered to his name at the top 
of his voice, ' No ! ' " Stephens, who was at his 
side, said, " ' General, say Here ; it is a call of the 
House ; ' to which he replied, ' Oh, damn it ! I 
don't care. I'm against all they do, anyhow ! ' " ^ 

1 Johnston and Browne's "Stephens," p. 193. 


The position of Stephens in the House is well 
indicated by his important Resolutions of 1847, by 
which he cornered the Democrats as to the real 
object of the war, making them confess in a nega- 
tive way that it was being carried on for purposes 
of conquest, and furnished the Whigs with a plat- 
form on the subject. But his Resolutions were, 
from the nature of the case, powerless against 
the celebrated Wilmot Proviso., which had been 
added the year before to the bill appropriating 
$2,000,000 for the purpose of settling the war 
and acquiring territory by negotiation. 

David Wilmot of Pennyslvania had offered " an 
addition to the bill, applying to any newly created 
Territory the provision of the Ordinance of 1787, 
that 'neither Slavery nor involuntary Servitude 
shall ever exist in any part of such territory, ex- 
cept for crime, whereof the party shall first be 
duly convicted.' " ^ 

This Proviso was destined to be tacked on to 
Territorial bills for several years, and to cause con- 
sternation and anger to Southern men, whether 
Democrats or Whigs. Northern Democrats and 
Whigs in the main supported it ; and it then passed 
the House, bringing the sectional issue fairly for- 
ward, and seeming to the South to be a flagrant 
breach of the Missouri Compromise. This it was 
not, technically speaking ; for that Compromise had 

1 Johnston, "American Politics," p. 144. 

^t\ — ?.% 


applied to the territory obtained at the time of the 
Louisiana purchase. 

It was, however, a radical reversal of policy ; and 
in all the circumstances Southern men, not being 
able to appreciate the Northern position with re- 
gard to the moral evil of slavery, were justified in 
looking upon it both as an insult to their section, 
and a provocation to strife. They could not see 
what it meant to the Northern conscience, or how 
far it was an answer to their own rash conduct 
in plunging the country into the Mexican War. 
They knew that they were fighting bravely in that 
war, and that large accessions of territory would 
be due to their exertions ; consequently they felt 
justified in demanding that at least the Missouri 
line should be extended, and a portion of the 
new territory be thrown open to their "favorite 

Not perceiving or admitting for a moment, as 
their fathers had done, that that institution was 
an evil one, they clamored about a breach of faith, 
and technically had a case. Some even, as at the 
time of the Missouri Compromise, went farther, 
and declared that they had a right to carry sla- 
very into any Territory, and that Congress had no 
constitutional right to prevent them. These ex- 
tremists were destined by the very nature of the 
problem to carry the day by and by; but, mean- 
while, even moderates like Stephens protested 


against the new Northern claims, and predicted 
woe to both sections. 

In his speech of Feb. 12, 1847, these warnings 
found vent; Stephens declaring, with little pre- 
science as to the Compromise of 1850, that Clay 
was no longer in the nation's councils to avert 
the impending evil. He would not say much 
about slavery, but it was sufficient for him and 
his constituents that the morality of that institu- 
tion stood " upon a basis as firm as the Bible." 
As long as Christianity lasted, the relation of 
master and slave could never be regarded as " an 
offence against the Divine laws." He congratu- 
lated himself and the South for being free from 
Pharisaical self-righteousness, intimating quite 
plainly that Northern anti-slavery men were not. 
He would not argue the question from the point 
of view of a political institution. That subject 
belonged exclusively to the States, where Con- 
gress would do well to leave it. Nor would he 
say whether the South would " submit to the 
threatened proscription," since "the language of 
defiance should always be the last alternative " 
(sic). But as he valued "this Union and all the 
blessings which its SQCurity and permanence " 
promised, he invoked gentlemen not to put the 
principles of the Proviso to a test. 

I have paraphrased the important part of this 
speech in order to make it clear that the man who 


was undoubtedly the most moderate, as well as 
the ablest, member of the lower House from the 
South at this exciting period, was as clear as to 
the right of his section to hold slaves, and to 
appeal to force in the last resort in order to main- 
tain this institution, as any pronounced disunionist 
could have been. He has advanced even beyond 
John Randolph's position; slavery is to him an 
institution sanctioned by Heaven, and he will hold 
to it just as long as he holds to his religion. 

Such being the temper of a man like Stephens, 
and that of Garrison, Giddings, and many another 
representative Northerner being equally firm, what 
was to be expected but a civil war? The extre- 
mists of both sides were nearer right than the mod- 
erates, who maintained that the Union could still 
be maintained and slavery still protected. Yet 
the moderates deserve our thanks for having 
averted the conflict until the necessarily resulting 
war could be waged with sufficient zeal to de- 
stroy slavery and preserve the Union intact. 

Toombs's conduct at this time deserves less no- 
tice than Stephens's, simply because the former, 
though a Whig and standing by his colleague, 
especially in rejecting the Clayton Compromise, 
and in advocating Taylor for the presidency, rep- 
resented through his temper the more impetuous 
elements of the Southern character. His auda- 
cious defiance of the majority in the exciting con- 


test for Speaker in 1849 deserves, however, to be 
noticed. The proposition was, that, under the cir- 
cumstances, the House rule should be changed, 
and the Speaker elected on a plurality of votes, 
provided it represented a majority of a quorum. 
Toombs declared that the House, until it organ- 
ized, could not pass this or any other rule. He 
was called to order, but continued to speak; a 
perfect babel ensued, but he could not be put 
down. He believed he was right, as he certainly 
was technically ; and nothing short of overpower- 
ing force could have put him down. 

It is doing him a wrong to say, as Dr. Von 
Hoist does,i that he threw "the House into a 
condition of indescribable and disgraceful confu- 
sion." The confusion was indescribable and dis- 
graceful ; but it was made so by the nature of the 
question over which it arose, and not by the defi- 
ant and courageous opposition of Toombs. If he 
had stood out in the same way for the Free-soil 
interests, Dr. Von Hoist would have used far dif- 
ferent language ; yet Toombs was as sincere in 
his way as the Free-soilers were in theirs; and 
even the conservative Stephens, who was not pre- 
pared to go so far as Toombs in proclaiming seces- 
sion to be a proper answer for the Wilmot Proviso, 
stood shoulder to shoulder with his colleague in 
the fight over the speakership. 

1 In his "Constitutional History.'* 


Stephens could argue calmly up to a certain 
point, but beyond that even he would not go. 
"I have no idea," he wrote to his half-brother 
Linton, "when we shall elect a Speaker; but if 
the South would follow my lead, and act with my 
spirit, NEVER until the North came to terms with 
us upon our rights. This is my kind of resistance, 
at least for the present." 

When Howell Cobb of Georgia was elected 
Speaker later on, Stephens gave another proof of 
the fact that his nature was Southern at bottom, 
by declaring that he would not serve on the com- 
mittee he had been placed on.^ It is curious, fur- 
ther, to note that Stephens seems to have got into 
a far greater number of personal difficulties than 
Toombs did, — in the summer of 1848 he was 
nearly stabbed to death in Georgia by a Judge 
Cone, — a fact which is partly accounted for by his 
sensitiveness as to his size, and his fear that people 
would try to impose on him. But whether high- 
tempered or not, he was cool enough to note the 
fact that while the Northern members were daily 
consolidating their forces, the Southern men were 
hard to keep together, and could rarely be counted 
on in an emergency. His letters are filled with 
mournful ejaculations as to the impossibility of 
keeping Southern members in their places and 

1 Johnston and Browne's ** Stephens," p. 241. 


With regard to the next important phase of 
political action, the famous Compromise of 1850, 
Toombs and Stephens were united, and did yeo- 
men service in securing its adoption. Toombs 
furnished much of the energy needed; Stephens, 
it would seem, furnished much of the counsel. 
Indeed, I think it is almost impossible to avoid 
the conclusion that the intellect of the younger 
and punier man dominated that of his colleague 
during the earlier part of Stephens's career, al- 
though not infrequently Toombs's passions led 
him further than Stephens would have been will- 
ing to go. We have Toombs, and not Stephens, 
in the following utterances, which created a com- 
motion in the House : — 

« Deprive us of this right [of carrying slavery into either 
all or half the Territories], and appropriate this common 
property to yourselves ; it is then your government, not 
mine. Then I am its enemy ; and I will then, if I can, 
bring my children and my constituents to the altar of lib- 
erty, and like Hamilcar, I will swear them to eternal hos- 
tility to your foul domination. Give us our just rights, 
and we are ready, as ever heretofore, to stand by the Union, 
every part of it, and its every interest. Refuse it, and, for 
one, I will strike for independence.'* 

It is a little curious to find this bold Georgia 
Hamilcar playing the part of a mild Cicero, and 
having Western Congressmen at his house for con- 
ferences which were to make smooth the path of 


the Great Pacificator, who had returned to the 
Senate somewhat like Aristides on the eve of the 
battle of Salamis, to strike a last blow for his 

Yet certain it is that Toombs and Stephens and 
Cobb were greatly instrumental in pushing through 
the famous Compromise of 1850. They were will- 
ing that California should come in as a free State, 
for they were shrewd enough to see that nothing 
could now be done for slavery there. They were 
willing, too, that the Territories of Utah and New 
Mexico should be organized without the Wilmot 
Proviso, for this gave up the principle of Con- 
gressional restriction against which they had been 
contending. They were willing to abolish the 
slave-trade in the District of Columbia, provided 
slavery therein were not interfered with, and pro- 
vided also that they got a more strenuous fugitive- 
slave law. 

These were the main features of the Compro- 
mise actually passed, and subsequently indorsed by 
the country at large after Webster had lost his rep- 
utation by supporting it. They could not fore- 
see that the last provision, the fugitive-slave law, 
would undo all the rest of their work, by arousing 
the North to that height of indignation which is 
never felt except when we see and hear with our 
actual senses deeds of injustice and violence. 

They did foresee, however, that they would 


have a hot political fight on their hands as soon as 
they got back to Georgia. That Commonwealth, 
goaded on by her own extremists, as well as by the 
action of sister States like South Carolina and 
Mississippi, was apparently ripe for disunion ; and 
some of Toombs's own speeches in Congress had 
been used in fermenting the liquor in the mal- 
odorous political cask. A State Convention had 
been called ; for Georgia and several of the States 
had chosen delegates for the Nashville Convention, 
— a body which actually got together, but with 
less secrecy than the Hartford Convention, and 
with equally intangible results. 

Toombs and Stephens were bound to oppose this 
movement, not only because they had taken a 
prominent part in pushing the Compromise through, 
but also because they still loved the Union, and 
believed that the Southern States were not in a 
condition to form one as good. Toombs issued an 
address, maintaining that while the South had not 
secured her full rights, she had '' compromised no 
right, surrendered no principle, and lost not an 
inch of ground" in the contest. 

He called upon all men of integrity to cast aside 
their political differences, and join to save Georgia 
and the Union. He took the stump also, and, 
aided by Stephens and Cobb, managed to get a 
large majority of Union men chosen for the State 
Convention. This was the pivotal point of the 


political movement of the South for some years to 
come. Secession was impossible if Georgia barred 
the way ; and Georgia took her stand for Union 
on the celebrated " Georgia Platform," adopted in 
December, 1850, by a convention called in the 
interests of secession. The Platform urged mutual 
concessions between the sections, and abidance by 
the Compromise. On it the new " Constitutional 
Union " party took its stand ; and the next year, 
after an exciting contest, Howell Cobb was 
elected governor upon it, Toombs was made Sen- 
ator, and Stephens was returned to Congress. 
The Southern-rights men who opposed it, and 
stood by the Nashville Convention and ultra 
States'-rights, were completely defeated — their 
time was not yet. 

That Toombs went to the Senate (he had pre- 
viously been re-elected to Congress) instead of 
Stephens, is probably due to the fact that his en- 
ergy kept him more before the people during the 
exciting campaign. He certainly appears to have 
borne the brunt of the attack, for he seemed to 
make a more complete volte-face than Stephens, in 
view of his violent speeches in the House ; and as 
he had struggled more, he was given the higher 
reward. Certainly he fought a hot fight, and won 
by his pluck. 

Accused of giving himself aristocratic airs by 
the way he travelled with fine horses and servants 


galore, lie proclaimed that he made plenty of 
money by his practice, and would spend it as he 
chose. "Perish such demagogy — such senseless 
stuff ! " He was applauded to the echo, as he 
was when his friendship made him declare that 
Alexander H. Stephens " carried more brains and 
more soul for the least flesh of any man God 
Almighty ever made." 

This statement rather contradicted a humorous 
story Stephens once told on himself. He had 
spoken in Cherokee in 1843 ; and after his speech 
was over, a plain-spoken old man came up to him 
and said, " Well, if I had been put in this road to 
shoot a smart man, you would have passed safe, 
sure." It required a sense of humor to be able 
to tell this story on himself — was it a sense of hu- 
mor, or was it sentimentality, that made Stephens 
in the Presidential election of 1852, between 
Scott and Pierce, cast his vote for Daniel Web- 
ster a few days after the death of that statesman ? 

But the lull produced by the Compromise of 
1850 was not destined to be of any long duration, 
and Stephens could not afford to continue to cast 
away his votes on dead men. The Platte country, 
afterwards better known as Kansas and Nebraska, 
was now ready for Territorial organization ; and 
Northern leaders like Sumner desired to apply to 
it the principles of the Missouri Compromise, since 
it was a part of the Louisiana cession, and lay 


north of 36° 30'. The Southern men replied that 
the Northern men had broken the Missouri Com- 
promise, that after all it was not a solemn compact, 
and that the Compromise of 1850 had practically 
recognized the policy of no interference on the 
part of Congress with regard to slavery in the 

As usual, both parties were partly right and 
partly wrong ; but the Southern men had found a 
new ally in the person of Stephen A. Douglas of 
Illinois. Douglas had taken up, and made practi- 
cally his own, the doctrine of squatter sovereignty ; 
that is, the doctrine that the people of each Terri- 
tory should allow or prohibit slavery as they 
pleased. On this theory there was no place for the 
Missouri Compromise ; and the Southerners were 
satisfied, since they were given a nominally even 
chance with the North. 

It is a sign of the weakness of a cause when its 
advocates lay stress on technicalities, and declare 
themselves wounded in some intangible way in 
their over-susceptible honors ; judged by this cri- 
terion, the cause of the extreme pro-slavery men 
was in a very bad way between 1850-1860. Out- 
spoken Southerners like Toombs would confess 
that they did not believe that slavery was at all 
practicable in Kansas or Nebraska, yet they would 
foam at the mouth at any attempt to deprive them 
of the right to endeavor to carry their slaves into 


those Territories. There was a good deal of hu- 
man nature in it all, however. Few of us would 
strive earnestly to make water flow up hill of its 
own accord ; yet, if we did try it on our own land, 
we should resent even our own brother's endeav- 
oring to stop us. 

The Kansas-Nebraska Bill of 1854 was passed 
by Northern Democrats who followed Douglas in 
the main, by Southern Democrats and by South- 
ern Whigs like Stephens and Toombs, who had, 
however, shed the party name. Its passage was a 
signal for the dissolution of the Whig party, whose 
Northern members, first called anti-Nebraska men, 
were afterwards numbered among the Republicans. 

Stephens seems to have rejoiced at the success 
of a measure which gave the death-blow to the 
party he had served so well ; for he wrote to his 
half-brother, " I took the reins in my hand, applied 
whip and spur, and brought the 'wagon' out at 
eleven o'clock p.m. Glory enough for one day." 
He was justified in his language so far as it 
implied that he was one of the leaders of the 
House, but his wagon was not destined to carry 
him very far. 

Meanwhile, in the Senate, Toombs was not con- 
tent with such an humble conveyance, but mounted 
a war-chariot, from which he astounded the gen- 
tlemen who asked him and his associates whether 
the doctrine of squatter sovereignty would not 


legalize the existence of polygamy in a Territory, 
by proclaiming that it would. " It is just what 
they have a right to do," said he of the inhabi- 
tants of his proposed Mohammedan Territories. 
" When the people of Utah make their organic law 
for admission to the Union, they have a right to 
approximate, as nearly as they please, the domes- 
tic manners of the Patriarchs. Connecticut may 
establish polygamy to-morrow. The people of 
Massachusetts may do the same. How did they 
become possessed of greater rights, in this or any 
other respects, than the people of Utah? The 
right in both cases has the same foundation, — the 
sovereignty of the people." 

Toombs concluded by declaring that if the 
Chinese and other distant peoples were brought 
under our flag, he would be willing to extend to 
them the rather liberal principle he had just been 
advocating. He did not carry the matter farther, 
and argue that the ambassador-senator of such a 
people as the Malays would have a right to run 
amuck among his polygamous colleagues from 
Connecticut and Massachusetts, as well as among 
his slave-owning brothers from the Utopia south 
of Mason and Dixon's Line. 

But it would not be fair to Toombs not to 
give an extract from a speech delivered a little 
later, in answer to Hale of New Hampshire. He 
might push his States'-rights doctrine to absurd 


extremes ; but he would not insult human nature 
and a large section of the Union by supposing for 
one moment, as some Southern politicians did 
in their madness, that the North would not fight 
when once roused : — 

" He told us the North would fight. I believe that no- 
body ever doubted [?] that any portion of the United 
States would fight on a proper occasion. Sir, if there 
shall ever be civil war in this country, when honest men 
shall set about cutting each other's throats, those who are 
least to be depended upon in a fight will be the people 
who set them at it. There are courageous and honest 
men enough in both sections to fight. . . . No, sir ; there 
is no question of courage involved. The people of both 
sections of the Union have illustrated their courage on too 
many battlefields to be questioned. They have shown 
their fighting qualities, shoulder to shoulder, whenever 
their country has called upon them ; but that they may 
never come in contact with each other in fratricidal war, 
should be the ardent wish and earnest desire of every true 
man and honest patriot." 

Meanwhile Stephens, in the House, was main- 
taining his position* as leader, and repelling as- 
saults upon the South in his own quiet way. He 
boasted that it was the North, not the South, that 
came to the general government asking money for 
internal improvements ; but he forgot that the 
South was at the same time asking the general 
government to protect an institution that was the 
very reverse of an internal improvement, that was, 


indeed, an internal cancer preying upon the vitals 
of the whole nation. He defended slavery, as 
usual, by quoting Scripture, and pointing to the 
fact that the slaves were better fed and cared for 
than they had been as savages in Africa. Like 
every other Southerner of his day, he was utterly 
impervious to the argument that slavery is morally 
wrong, because no human being has a right to as- 
sume perpetual control over the destiny of another 
human being, seeing that no human being has ever 
been able properly to control his own destiny. 

Stephens and his compatriots were perfectly 
willing to assume this awful responsibility, be- 
cause it had been handed on to them by their 
fathers, and because they did not fully realize 
its awful nature. Neither did they realize the 
harm that slavery was doing to the master class. 
Stephens would quote statistics as to crime, wealth, 
et cetera^ and prove to his own satisfaction that 
Georgia was the equal of any State in the Union ; 
but he could not see, and could hardly be ex- 
pected to have seen, that slavery had lowered 
the tone of Southern statesmanship, and stifled 
Southern literature and commerce. He was more 
successful, surely, when telling some humorous 
anecdote or saying such as this of a Western law- 
yer, who concluded his argument by remarking, 
"May it please your Honor, I know nothing of 
the mysteries of the law of this case, and my only 


reliance is to trust to the sublimity of luck, and 
float on the surface of the occasion." 

Stephens does not owe his position merely to 
luck; and if he had simply floated, like so many 
politicians, on the surface of the occasion, he 
would not have floated long — the whirlwind of 
civil war would have swept him clean out of sight 
forever; but he was certainly drifting and sway- 
ing to and fro during this momentous period. 

Neither Stephens nor Toombs drifted, however, 
when Know-Nothingism invaded Georgia, and 
threatened to sweep the State. Stephens pub- 
lished a strong letter against the secret and nar- 
row policy of the party which impudently assumed 
the title of ''American," and Toombs helped him to 
some extent in the campaign against it. Stephens 
had resolved not to run again for Congress ; but he 
was taunted with being afraid of suffering defeat 
at the hands of the Know-Nothings, so he changed 
his mind, and announced himself as a candidate 
for re-election. He made a vigorous canvass, de- 
claring in a speech at Augusta that he was " afraid 
of nothing on earth, or above the earth, or under 
the earth, but to do wrong." He was in weak 
health, but rode and drove in sunshine and shower, 
day after day, to keep his engagements. " My 
God," exclaimed one of his hearers, "there is 
nothing about him but lungs and brains." There 
was something else — an indomitable heart. 


Stephens was elected by the largest majority he 
had ever received, and Know-Nothingism got its 
death-blow. Toombs, meanwhile, was travelling 
in Europe, amusing people by his free-handed 
Georgia ways. When he got back he accepted an 
invitation to lecture in Boston on the subject of 
slavery. It was a rather rash undertaking, and one 
that had been refused by several other Southern- 
ers ; but Toombs would go anjrwhere. He would 
have defended wine-bibbing before the Sultan, or 
polygamy in Queen Victoria's drawing-room, if he 
had believed in those customs ; so he felt no hesi- 
tation in addressing a large crowd in Tremont 
Temple on an institution about which he believed 
himself to be informed. The lecture — for it was 
delivered from notes — was about as strong a de- 
fence of slavery as could well have been made. It 
was moderate in tone and patriotic. That it con- 
tained fallacies was inevitable ; but it must have 
surprised those who heard it, as it surprises those 
few persons who read it to-day, by its calmness 
and moderation, considering its source. On the 
whole, it was well received, and will bear perusal 

Probably Boston would not have sat so compla- 
cently under the spell of Toombs's eloquence, had 
his address been delivered in June instead of in 
January; for in May the assault on Sumner oc- 
curred, which Toombs was accused of abetting. 


This he denied; but the growing bitterness of feel- 
ing over the Kansas struggle prevented him and 
most other Southerners from seeing what an un- 
fortunate affair the attack was to the nation, and 
particularly to the South. 

Waiving the question of the propriety of per- 
sonal violence at any time, it was especially unfor- 
tunate that the Brooks-Sumner incident should 
have occurred contemporaneously with the incur- 
sions of Border Ruffians into Kansas. Southern 
men were forced by the exigencies of the political 
situation into false positions which belied their 
real sentiments. Few of them actually sympa- 
thized with the efforts of the Missouri roughs, 
except in so far as these efforts appeared necessary 
to illustrate the vitality of the Southern conten- 
tion that slavery was free to go into any Territory. 

The gentleman planter of Virginia or South 
Carolina would have been as uncomfortable 
among the Missouri gentry who rode over the 
Kansas border to vote, whoop, and get on a spree, 
as the merchant of Boston or New York would 
have been, had he found himself, later on, in John 
Brown's small band on the march for Harper's 
Ferry. Yet the planter, sitting on his veranda, 
smoked his pipe, and defended the Border Ruf- 
fians ; while the merchant in his counting-room or 
in his cosey library read his newspaper accounts 
of John Brown's raid and hanging, and grew ex- 


cited, and talked about adding another chapter to 
a new edition of Foxe's "Book of Martyrs." 

A great issue in politics has much the effect of 
the colored lights cast upon a modern stage, only- 
each party accuses the other of color-blindness, 
and with substantial justice. The Brooks-Sumner 
affair. Bleeding Kansas, the John Brown Raid, are 
admirable tests of the ability of the American his- 
torian : if he be at all a partisan, they affect him 
as the loadstone mountain did the ships of the 
Arabian Tale, — all the bolts are drawn out from 
his historical craft, and the erstwhile proudly sail- 
ing vessel lies a mere mass of planks and cordage 
upon the waters. 

The Southern historian proceeds to dilate upon 
the shortcomings of Sumner in point of taste, and 
has an easy time in showing that he often talked 
in a most exasperating fashion ; the Northern his- 
torian vituperates Brooks, and has an easy time in 
showing that if political and other injuries were 
always redressed by an appeal to blows, the world 
would soon relapse into barbarism. But it is rare 
that either Southerner or Northerner manages 
to transport himself from his comfortable study 
into the tumultuous congressional arena of 1856 ; 
hence it is rare to find an historian who can treat 
Sumner and Brooks, Border Ruffian and Free 
Settler, John Brown and Henry A. Wise, with dis- 
passionate candor and, fairness. 


It would be idle, as well as impossible in the 
space at my command, to go into a discussion of 
the votes and speeches of Stephens and Toombs 
at this exciting period. They took the pro-slavery 
side, as might have been expected, and argued for 
the admission of Kansas under the Lecompton 
Constitution ; though Toombs seems to have recog- 
nized that Kansas was bound to be a free State, 
and that the Lecompton Constitution was only 
technically one that could be ratified at Washing- 

He was even liberal enough to stand by Doug- 
las when the latter lost popularity with the 
Southern extremists by opposing the Lecompton 
instrument. Stephens treated the House to some 
rather amusing Biblical citations with regard to 
Abraham, and some learned comments on the use 
of "doulos " in the New Testament. Both men re- 
joiced when the Dred Scott decision upheld in the 
fullest manner their claim that Congress could 
not interfere with slavery in the Territories ; and 
both were opposed on practical grounds to the 
position taken by the ultra Southern men, headed 
by Jefferson Davis, that Congress ought to pro- 
tect slavery in the Territories. There was even 
some talk of Stephens as a Democratic candidate 
to succeed President Buchanan; but he did not 
indulge the delusion, and, indeed, retired, as he 
thought for good, from political life, delivering a 


farewell address to his constituents in August, 

Toombs still continued at his post ; and the John 
Brown raid called from him a speech which was 
widely commented on, and was dubbed the " Door- 
sill Speech." He was evidently more alarmed by 
the way the North had supported Brown than by 
anything that had yet happened, and he rushed 
to the conclusion that the election of a Republi- 
can President would be sufficient occasion for the 
South to secede. Stephens, being out of the tur- 
moil, counselled patience ; but patience was hardly 
the key-note of these sentences from Toombs's fa- 
mous speech of Jan. 24, 1860 : — 

"Your honor [freemen of Georgia] is involved, your 
faith is plighted. I know you feel a stain as a wound. 
Your peace, your social system, your friends, are involved. 
Never permit this Federal government to pass into the 
traitors' hands of the Black Republican party. It has al- 
ready declared war against you and your institutions. It 
every day commits acts of war against you ; it has already 
compelled you to arm for your defence. Listen to no vain 
babbling, to no treacherous jargon about ' overt acts * ; 
they have already been committed. Defend yourselves 1 
The enemy is at your door ; wait not to meet him at your 
hearthstone ; meet him at the door-sill, and drive him from 
the Temple of Liberty, or pull down its pillars, and involve 
him in a common ruin." 

But Georgia was not destined to have the ques- 
tionable honor of playing the Southern Samson; 


that was reserved for South Carolina, who gave a 
sort of preliminary rehearsal at the Charleston 
Convention of the Democratic party which met in 
April, 1860. Douglas was the most conspicuous 
candidate, but the Southern men demanded per- 
mission either to name the candidate or to frame 
the platform ; neither of which demands could be 
yielded by the Northern members, since it was 
apparent that no Southern man, or Northern man 
with pro-slavery sentiments, could be elected, nor 
a Northern man with anti-slavery sentiments on a 
platform embodying the ultra Southern claim for 
congressional protection of slavery in the Terri- 

The Douglas men were willing to promise to 
stand by the Dred Scott decision, which was a 
liberal proposition; but Douglas's utterances with 
regard to " unfriendly legislation " inside the Ter- 
ritories themselves had rendered him an object 
of distrust, if not of loathing, to Southern extre- 
mists. So the more violent Southern delegates se- 
ceded ; and the result, as every one knows, was the 
splitting up of the Democratic party, and the elec^ 
tion of Lincoln by a strictly sectional vote. Ste- 
phens did not indorse the secession, but Toombs did 
on the whole. The two friends, therefore, parted 
in politics, but for a short period only, and with 
very little bitterness, Toombs heading the Breck- 
inridge electors, and Stephens those of Douglas. 


The effect of the election of Lincoln was almost 
electrical in the South. There was nothing sur- 
prising in it, and the South had done much to 
bring it about ; but it was an event in connection 
with which a great many threats had been made, 
which would now have to be carried into effect, 
unless the pro-slavery extremists meant to back 
down, which, to do them justice, they had little 
or no intention of doing. Yet there must be an 
effort, especially in Georgia, which had prided 
herself on her Unionism, to act with deliberation ; 
so Mr. Stephens, who was known to be both a 
safe man and a patriot, was invited to address the 
legislature of the State, and set forth his views on 
the crisis. 

He did so in his masterly speech of Nov. 14, 
1860, the best known and worthiest of his life. 
It was made off-hand, and produced a profound 
impression. It was patriotic, as a Southerner un- 
derstood patriotism, and clear as to the ultimate 
right of secession, but showed that Lincoln's elec- 
tion did not at all mean the downfall of slavery in 
the States. In short, it counselled patience, and 
opposed immediate secession. It was widely cir- 
culated in the North, and produced an interesting 
correspondence between its author and the Presi- 
dent-elect. But perhaps the pleasantest thing 
one can say about the address is to copy verbatim 
the short speech which Robert Toombs, who, it 


will be remembered, was at this very time es- 
tranged from Stephens politically, made at its 
conclusion : — 

" Fellow-citizens" [said Toombs], "we have just listened 
to a speech from one of the brightest intellects and purest 
patriots that now lives. I move that this meeting now 
adjourn with three cheers for Alexander H. Stephens of 

Robert Toombs had his faults, but he had his 
virtues also, chief among which was his loyalty to 
his friends; and I confess that, when I read the 
above speech for the first time, I felt like giving 
a fourth cheer for the man that made it. 

But Stephens's speech, though cheered to the 
echo and much admired, could not stop the mad 
gait of the South. South Carolina passed her Or- 
dinance of Secession Dec. 20, 1860 ; and Georgia 
called her convention to meet Jan. 16, 1861. 
Stephens thought South Carolina's action hasty, 
and her address to the other Southern States 
flimsy. He especially challenged the statement 
that the South had been reduced to a helpless 
minority, and showed how great the South's share 
had been in the honors as well as in the labors of 
government. But his views were not destined to 
prevail. He went to the convention, and was one 
of the eighty-nine out of nearly three hundred 
members who opposed the passage of an ordinance 
of secession. 


When the fatal step was taken, he prepared to 
stand by his State, as he had always said he should 
do. It is needless to say that Toombs, who had 
somewhat prematurely taken leave of the Senate, 
was found voting for the ordinance. He was 
then made chairman of the Committee on Foreign 
Relations, and urged the necessity of coming to an 
understanding with the other seceding States. He 
was, therefore, unanimously elected a deputy at 
large from Georgia to the Provisional Congress 
at Montgomery, to which Stephens also was sent, 
in spite of his record as a Union man. 

It is not necessary, in a course of lectures on 
ante helium statesmen, to follow the careers of our 
two Georgians farther, save only to give some sort 
of unity to this sketch of their lives. We have 
seen how they represented the two dominant types 
of Southern character, — how both started out as 
Unionists and Whigs ; how the slavery question 
drove them finally into the Democratic ranks; 
how the more dashing and aristocratic of the two 
gave in at the last to the movement for secession, 
while the more democratic and conservative held 
out as long as he could against it; how both 
agreed that, when the choice between Union and 
State must be made, the State must have the 

In all these respects their course is exceedingly 
instructive. They represented a commonwealth 


which had stronger Union sympathies than any- 
State south of Virginia and Tennessee ; they were 
personally attached to the Union; one of them 
was probably the ablest constitutional lawyer of 
his section. They were not men to be led by mere 
clamor or by force of numbers ; yet they were as 
deluded by the notion that slavery was right and 
necessary to the South, and that secession was a 
right incident to a government built on compact, 
as any cross-roads politician or country editor in 
South Carolina or Mississippi, — the two strong- 
holds of secession. 

When Alexander H. Stephens, after his Union 
speech of November, 1860, allowed himself to be 
chosen a delegate to the Montgomery Congress, 
the calmer heads at the North ought to have 
known that the movement for Southern indepen- 
dence was something more than a mere rebellion, 
— that it was a movement based upon ideas and 
desires, which, if mistaken, were nevertheless the 
ideas and desires of a people rather than of a sect 
or party. 

Stephens, as we all know, was chosen Vice- 
President of the new Confederacy, and Toombs, 
who had been spoken of for President, Secretary 
of State. The latter soon resigned, not caring to 
fill an executive position when military commands 
were to be had, and seemingly not desirous to con- 
tinue in office under Mr. Davis. He was made a 


brigadier-general, and served with some distinc- 
tion, but was too impatient of discipline to obtain 
any great success. 

Meanwhile, Stephens presided over the ineffec- 
tual Confederate Senate, and chafed at the course 
events were taking. As the power of Davis grew 
more and more dictatorial, the Vice-President 
shrunk more and more into his shell ; although he 
did not hesitate to argue openly against the policy 
of conscription, and to maintain that the forms of 
constitutional government must be strictly com- 
plied with, — a position which was hardly sound 
under the circumstances, and smacked rather of 
the theorist than of the practical statesman. It 
was natural, however, that Stephens should criti- 
cise ; for he was given little employment, the 
Hampton Roads Conference being his most im- 
portant service during the four years of war. 

He still stood by his section with his heart, 
however, if not with his head; and he always 
believed that if his great scheme of raising money 
on the cotton crop had been followed out, the 
Confederacy would have won. His scheme looks 
well on paper, but it is permissible to doubt 
whether it would have been thoroughly successful 
in practice. Whenever he could get a chance he 
retired from Richmond, which had been trans- 
formed from a quiet town to a dissipated and 
reckless capital, and returned to his far-famed 


Liberty Hall, where he could lead a simple 
bachelor life. 

Never was an estate or house better named. 
Nobody ever thought of needing an invitation ; 
and nearly every train brought some visitor, who 
was attended to by the servants, and unconcern- 
edly put in an appearance at the next meal. If 
Stephens were busy, he would leave his uninvited 
guests to amuse themselves, and come and go 
as they would. Every white man in Taliaferro 
County considered himself a specially privileged 
visitor at the Hall, and not a few thought that 
they had a right to draw on their host for groce- 
ries and other necessaries at the village store. 

Under all these circumstances it is a wonder 
that the head of this Abbey of Misrule made both 
ends meet ; but he did, or rather his faithful ser- 
vants, who, by the way, kept the house going in 
the same style during his frequent absences, did it 
for him. It was at this last stronghold of Jeffer- 
sonian democracy of the old type and of strict 
State's rights that the veteran statesman was ar- 
rested on the 11th of May, 1865. He was con- 
veyed to Fort Warren in Boston Harbor, where 
he was treated kindly, until he was released on 
parole, Oct. 12 of the same year. Toombs, mean- 
while, had escaped to Europe, after adventures 
that would fit better into a sensational novel than 
into a sober lecture like this. 


The war was now over ; and the great question 
before the Southern people was, what should they 
do, or, rather, what would they be allowed to do, 
toward reconstructing society and local govern- 
ments. There was obvious need either of new 
men, or of old men who had accommodated them- 
selves to the new order of things. Naturally it 
was hard to find leaders who would fit into either 
of these categories ; but Mr. Stephens fell easily 
into the latter. It would have been well if every 
Southern State had possessed at least one states- 
man like him. He was elected to the United 
States Senate, but was not allowed to take his 
seat; and in April, 1866, he testified boldly but 
fairly before the Reconstruction Committee at 

Then he undertook, at the suggestion of a Phil- 
adelphia publisher, to write a history of the war, 
which occupied him off and on for nearly four 
years, being completed by April, 1870. It is un- 
questionably the ablest exposition and defence of 
the Southern cause that has yet been made by any 
participant in the stirring events it describes, and 
it is written in an admirable temper. It is deficient 
just where Mr. Stephens's own statesmanship was 
deficient, — it argues constitutional questions from 
the point of view of the lawyer rather than from 
that of the historian, a procedure not without 
precedent in the North. It endeavors to fit a gov- 


eminent to a theory, and it treats as rigid and 
stationary elements of a people's life that are pe- 
culiarly subject to evolution and growth. It is a 
book that will be read with respect, in spite of 
its dialogue form, by every serious student of 
American history ; and it will always be a monu- 
ment to its author's fine qualities of heart and 

Toombs meanwhile had returned from abroad, 
and, unreconstructed as he was, had taken his 
place as a leader in the State. He could fill no 
national offices ; but he could still practise with 
the same success as of old, and could almost dic- 
tate the policy of the State. He and Stephens 
failed to keep Georgia from voting for Greeley; 
but they fairly dominated the Democrats, although 
Stephens was defeated for senator by General 
John B. Gordon. In compensation he was imme- 
diately after elected to Congress, where he served 
for nearly ten years with great distinction, resign- 
ing in 1882 to become governor of the State, in 
which position he died the following year. 

Toombs lived until Dec. 15, 1885, just long 
enough to be able to sing his nunc dimittis over 
the election of a Democrat in the person of Grover 
Cleveland. When he died, one of the most pic- 
turesque figures of the Civil War was taken away 
from the eyes of the new generation. He had had 
his faults, some of them of a personal nature which 


I have not thought it necessary to dwell upon ; but 
he had had his compensating virtues, and with his 
friend Stephens he had made his mark upon his 
State and period. Time has already done much to 
obliterate the mark they made, but the period in 
which they flourished will always attract the atten- 
tion of the historian ; and he will fail to understand 
it thoroughly unless he knows, not merely what 
manner of men Alexander H. Stephens and Robert 
Toombs were, but also, in the main, what they 
wrote and said and did. He will frequently have 
to fault them, but it will oftener be his privilege 
to approve. For, though swept away at the last, 
they honestly loved and clung to the Union 
through their youth and early manhood, and re- 
sisted demagogues like Polk and Rhett manfully, 
if unsuccessfully. 

They were not sealed of the Tribe of Washing- 
ton ; but alas ! who has been ? They could not 
apply Jefferson's dialectic ; for he, poor philosopher, 
has had Hegel's fate, and has left disciples of the 
Right, Centre, and Left, each of whom is sure that 
he alone has the master's secret, whereas the mas- 
ter would probably be willing to exclaim with the 
great German that only one man understood him, 
James Madison, but that Clay and Calhoun killed 
him. They could not even make deft use of 
Clay's cement or of Calhoun's acid-solvent, but 
they did act truly and manfully according to the 


lights they had. In the words of the poet they 

^^ Arcades ambo, 
Et cantare pares et respondere parati ; " 

and the song they sung was one of loyal devotion 
to what they deemed to be the best interests of 
their State and section. 


Of »•• 



The old proverb, faeilis est descensus Averni, is 
hardly applicable to the downward slope these 
lectures describe, when the greatness of their 
respective subjects is taken into consideration. 
That, leaving the last lecture out of account, 
there is a constant slope downward is certain ; and 
there are probably a good many people whose 
estimate of Mr. Davis's character will lead them 
to believe that the phrase descensus Averni is 
particularly apt and appropriate. 

1 1 have relied on Mrs. Davis's too voluminous but valuable 
life of her husband ; on Mr. Davis's own writings, especially on 
his well- written " Rise and Fall of the Confederate Govern- 
ment; " on the lives by Alfuend and Pollard, the latter of whom, 
though a Southerner, was a most prejudiced critic; on Nicolay 
and Hay's monumental life of Lincoln ; on Craven's interesting 
account of Mr. Davis's prison-life ; and on other sources too nu- 
merous to mention. I have made no reference to Mr. Davis's 
own defence of his actions, because his point of view is so differ- 
ent from my own that the simplest thing to do is to refer the 
reader to the originals at once. Although not as able an ex- 
pounder of the typical Southern views as Mr. Stephens, Mr. 
Davis is always clear and readable, and is scrupulously honest, 
if constitutionally narrow and one-sided. His brief autobiograph- 
ical sketch of himself in Belford '« Magazine for January, 1890, is 
worth reading for its modesty of statement, if for no other reason. 



But it is tlie adjective /aczYzs at which I chiefly 
stumble ; for I have found the descent from Wash- 
ington to Davis increasingly difficult, instead of 
easier by degrees, until I have fairly begun this 
last lecture with a feeling of exhaustion and de- 
spair of success — at least of the kind of success 
I have aimed at in these lectures. I have en- 
deavored to tell you in a broad and general way 
what sort of men in my opinion Washington and 
Jefferson and Randolph and Calhoun and Ste- 
phens and Toombs were, what they have stood 
for in our history, how they are to be ranked 
as statesmen, and finally why and how far we 
should honor and respect their memories. 

The task has not been easy, but I trust that 
I have at least partially succeeded. Now, to do 
all this with regard to Jefferson Davis is espe- 
cially difficult ; because there is a great prejudice 
against him at the North and among portions of 
the Southern people, and because this prejudice 
and the nearness of his times to ours have vitiated 
much of the material relative to his career that 
has been hitherto gathered, and prevented the 
gathering of much more. 

Mr. Davis has been made the object of so much 
unstinted abuse and so much uncritical praise, 
that it is exceedingly difficult to analyze his char- 
acter and career with the freedom from bias, the 
candor, the sympathy, that are necessary to the 


historian and the biographer. Then, again, there 
is such a lack of material with regard to the four 
most critical years of his life that one is con- 
tinually in the dark when trying to estimate his 
general executive ability, or his responsibility for 
some particular measure. 

This absence of materials for the complete 
understanding of the civil administration of the 
Southern Confederacy may some day cease to 
embarrass the student, for there are probably in 
existence many important documents that will 
slowly come to light. The prejudice, too, that 
is connected with Mr. Davis's name will also 
gradually disappear, and fifty or a hundred years 
from now some lecturer may address the good 
people of Madison on the subject of the Presi- 
dent of the Southern Confederacy with a confi- 
dence and assurance that the present lecturer is 
far from feeling. Stranger things happen than 
the waning of prejudice and popular hatred. 
Mr. Davis, when he camped near this very spot 
in the summer of 1829, little thought that nearly 
seventy years later he would here be made the 
subject of a lecture by a Southerner who can- 
not recollect ever seeing a slave, and who has 
never believed in the doctrine of States' rights 
per 86, 

But the difficulty of rightly estimating Mr. 
Davis's character and career depends on more 


causes than those I have already mentioned. His 
character was a very mixed one, and his career 
a very varied one ; his personality, too, chiefly 
emerged in a period of storm and stress when 
lurid flames of passion lighted up and distorted 
every figure that rose above the confused and 
indistinguishable masses. He lived and moved 
in a society which we of this generation know 
only by report; his ideals are not ours at all, or 
ours only by a sort of sentimental inheritance. By 
his position he has come, rightly or wrongly, to be 
regarded as the representative of a cause, hence 
it is all the more difficult to judge him as a man. 
His fate in this respect has been curiously unlike 
that of his great contemporary. General Robert E. 
Lee. Lee, as a man and a soldier, is constantly 
receiving tributes of praise and admiration from 
men who have no sympathy for the cause for 
which he exerted his genius. A man can praise 
Lee in the North and West without great risk 
of having his political opinions suspected and con- 
demned. I imagine that such would not be the 
case with the man who should venture to praise 
Jefferson Davis. 

But unless the student of history can distribute 
his praise and blame impartially and without fear 
of consequences, his liability to errors of judg- 
ment, always great, will be overwhelming and in- 
evitable. I know whereof I speak; for much of 


the work I have been called upon to do in an 
historical way has been done with the full con- 
sciousness that unless I reached certain conclu- 
sions it would be unacceptable to a majority of 
the people with whom my lot is cast, and to whom 
I am united by ties of friendship and love. This 
consciousness has hampered me ; and while I trust 
that it has never kept me from giving utterance 
to what I have believed to be the truth, I feel 
sure that it has sometimes led me into unbalanced 
and exaggerated expressions of opinion which I 
have afterwards regretted. With regard to the 
very subject of my lecture to-night, I feel that if 
I sway the balance one way, I may please those 
who hear me, and displease those Southern audi- 
ences who may listen to me hereafter ; and that if 
I sway it another way, I shall run the risk of dis- 
pleasing you, and more or less please them. But 
this feeling is not conducive to calm impartiality. 
Nevertheless, I shall say just what I think, and 
leave you to praise or blame as you deem proper. 
And first I am going to give you, in a few words, 
a general estimate of Mr. Davis as a man and 
statesman, then I am going to consider his career 
in some detail. 

I do not consider Mr. Davis a thoroughly great 
man ; and I should not do so if he had been Presi- 
dent of the United States instead of Lincoln, and 
had brought the war to a successful close. I con- 


sider him an able and versatile man, a fairly typ- 
ical representative of his people and their cause, 
a good man with thoroughly pure intentions, a 
gentleman and a wonderfully gallant soldier, a 
wofuUy misunderstood and oftentimes slandered 
and ill-treated man, and, finally, a statesman who, 
though he made many grave errors, was a failure 
not so much through his own lack of ability to 
govern, as through the inherent weakness of the 
cause he represented. 

Of Jeff Davis the rebel and traitor, whom a pop- 
ular song devoted to an uncomfortable situation 
on a particular sort of apple-tree, this lecture will 
take little account. Of Jefferson Davis our Mar- 
tyr-President, Representative of the Lost Cause, 
true Knight>errant of Southern Chivalry, our peer- 
less Statesman, Defender of the Southland, et cet- 
era^ this lecture will take equally little account. 
But of Jefferson Davis the fate-devoted protago- 
nist of the greatest of modern tragedies, the man 
driven by the madness of the gods to turn upon 
the nation for whom he had bled at Buena Vista 
the bayonets and swords of a section that had 
once battled for her liberation, the man who, with 
a worse doom than that of (Edipus, was forced to 
lead his own people, whom he loved, into the val- 
ley of the shadow of death, — of this man, worthy 
in many ways of your regard, and still more of 
your sympathy and true pity that does not insult, 


this lecture will, I trust, give a fair, though neces- 
sarily not final account. 

Now, this is plainly not the Jeff Davis of North- 
ern imagination, nor is it the Mr. Davis of South- 
ern affection and fancy; but it is nearer the 
Southern view than the Northern. This is nat- 
ural, for the Southern people have all along been 
in a better position to understand the man and his 
motives. The Northern people have been com- 
pelled to judge him largely by his actions, the 
character and effect of which they could gauge 
better than they could the motives that underlay 
them. The Southern people, on the contrary, 
have understood Mr. Davis's motives, and judged 
him by them, while they have, as a rule, been un- 
able to comprehend the real nature of his actions. 
But, in judging a man's character, motives are 
more important than actions ; and, as I incline to 
accept the Southern estimate of Mr. Davis's mo- 
tives, my view of him as a man will be found to 
approximate somewhat to that taken by a majority 
of the people of my section. 

In determining his rank and character as a 
statesman, hoAvever, I must perforce consider his 
actions and their results ; and here I am compelled 
to part company with Southern opinion, and to 
range myself with the more moderate Northern 
historians. His political career throughout, so far 
as it relates to the Union, must, I think, meet with 

264 SOUTHERN statesmen: 

emphatic disapprobation from the calm student of 
history; it does not meet with reprobation at my 
hands, because I think that his motives were 
those of an honest though mistaken man, and 
because I think that his career was determined 
by circumstances over which he had little or no 

A thoroughly great man, however, will manage 
in some way partly to control circumstances, or 
at least will know that he is being controlled by 
them. In neither of these respects does Mr. 
Davis show signs of possessing thorough great- 
ness, either of mind or soul, as I shall try to show 
in my sketch of his career. I think he does give 
evidence of possessing every other quality I have 
claimed for him, — ability, bravery, honesty ; and 
as a man possessing these qualities, no matter 
how unfortunate and disastrous, whether to him- 
self or others, his career may have proved, we 
can none of us afford to fling the first or the mil- 
lionth stone. 

Jefferson Davis was born June 3, 1808, in 
Christian, now Todd County, Ky., the chief strains 
in his blood being Welsh and Scotch-Irish. His 
family removed during his infancy to Mississippi, 
and with that State his fame has always been 
connected. He received a gentle rearing ; although 
his schooling was at first limited, owing to the 
conditions of the country. When he was seven 


years old he spent several weeks at the Hermit- 
age, and was much impressed by the character of 
Andrew Jackson ; but whether he imbibed any 
of his notorious obstinacy from his host is hard 
to say. After a couple of years spent at a Roman 
Catholic school in Kentucky, and a short period 
passed at a so-called college in Mississippi, he en- 
tered Transylvania University at Lexington, Ky., 
an institution that seems to have done good work 
for those times. Here he got the elements of a 
classical education; but before graduation he was 
transferred to West Point, where he made friends 
with Albert Sidney Johnston and Leonidas Polk, 
whose lives were to be given to the Confederacy, 
of which he was to be the ill-starred executive. 

He graduated rather low in his class, but gave 
evidence of soldierly qualities, and won the regard 
of his classmates. His first year of duty was 
spent at Fort Crawford, now Prairie du Chien, in 
this State.^ Then he served at Fort Winnebago, 
on the Yellow River, at the Galena Lead Mines, at 
Fort Crawford again, giving evidence of capacity 
to command, to perform arduous duties success- 
fully, and to win confidence and affection. 

He was in the Black Hawk War, and is said to 
have had a rencontre with Abraham Lincoln, which 
was prosaic enough then, but is picturesque now ; 
though more recent investigations throw grave 

1 i.e. Wisconsin. 


doubts on its actual occurrence. Then, after some 
reconnoitring in the North-west, and other service, 
he fell sick, and resigned the army. 

He had previously won the love of a daughter 
of Zachary Taylor, but his marriage had been post- 
poned on account of a silly misunderstanding with 
his proposed father-in-law. The marriage was now 
consummated without Taylor's consent, but not by 
elopement, as used to be currently believed. The 
young wife died, however, in a few months under 
very sad circumstances, and Davis sought restora- 
tion for his shattered health in Cuba. Thence he 
went for a short period to Washington, where he 
began his friendship with Franklin Pierce. Re- 
turning to Mississippi, he commenced planting 
with his elder brother Joseph, and for eight years 
lived almost the life of a hermit. 

This period, 1837-1845, was very important in 
a formative way, and deserves special attention. 
The young lieutenant had learned much of people 
and practical affairs during his service in the 
North-west, and had developed many admirable 
traits of character; but he had had little time to 
devote to politics, except when, in the nullification 
squabble, he had made up his mind that he would 
not use his sword to coerce a sovereign State, even 
at the bidding of his hero, Andrew Jackson. 

His States'- rights proclivities were thus marked 
early in his career ; they were destined to become in- 


grained during his period of seclusion. His brother 
Joseph was a typical Southern planter, accustomed 
to rule those around him, and with a strong enough 
personality to be able to rule without undue vio- 
lence. The patriarchal form of life in the South 
tended to invest an elder brother with more author- 
ity than would be natural in a pure democracy, and 
Jefferson Davis's military training accustomed him 
to look up to his seniors. There can be slight 
doubt, I think, that Joseph Davis had not a little 
to do with confirming Jefferson Davis's mind in 
the principles of States' rights in their most ultra 
form. The most often used books in the library of 
Joseph Davis were the "Federalist" and "Elliot's 
Debates." These the two brothers used to study 
diligently; and they knew the Constitution and 
the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions almost by 
heart. They would argue all questions of current 
politics in the light of these documents, which were 
as little to be questioned as the Gospel itself. 
To quote Mrs. Davis : — 

" The brothers considered the Constitution a sacred 
compact, by which a number of sovereigns agreed to hold 
their possessions in common under strict limitations ; and 
that, as in any other partnership or business agreement, it 
was not to be tampered with or evaded without the sacrifice 
of honor and good faith." 

It would be easy to show that, down to his 


death in 1889, Jefferson Davis never varied a 
hair's breadth from this view of the nature of the 
government under which he filled so many impor- 
tant positions, and against which he fought with 
such bitter persistency. He never, for one mo- 
ment, rose above this view of government as a 
matter of bargain and compact ; and his mind was 
not so constituted as to allow him to believe that 
any one could differ with him in so plain a point 
without being either dishonest or fanatical. 

Poor man, it never once occurred to him that 
he was a fanatic worshipping a fetich. But in 
this he was no worse off than thousands of his 
fellow-citizens; he was only able to express his 
views more fluently and consistently than they 
could. And the cause of his taking this limited 
view of the functions of government was the same 
cause that had made Calhoun take it, — the fact 
that slavery had kept the South from advancing 
to the conception of our national existence. 

Calhoun and Davis and the South practically 
made themselves believe that they were living 
under the old Confederacy of 1781. That Con- 
federacy had suited a large number of Southerners 
before the Union of 1789 was formed, and it 
suited them afterwards. When the Union did 
not suit them in 1798 and 1799, Jefferson and 
perhaps Madison practically went back to the 
Confederate idea; and so did the New England 


Federalists when the War of 1812 was thrust 
upon them. 

Particularistic notions of government had been 
dominant in America for nearly two centuries 
when the Constitution was framed; and it was 
impossible to root them out, as the Founders rec- 
ognized when they made that instrument a com- 
promise between particularistic and centralistic 
ideas. But a compromise instrument lends itself 
to be read in two different lights, and such has 
been the fate of the Constitution. 

The North, soon united by trade, commerce, 
canals, and railways, came more and more to view 
it in the light of centralistic ideas. The South, 
kept by slavery in a primitive condition, and 
therefore conservative, never advanced beyond a 
particularistic interpretation. The only principle 
of union in the South was slavery, just as the 
only principle of union in the whole country in 
1776 was opposition to Great Britain. United by 
slavery, the Southern politicians made an aggres- 
sive fight, and tried to carry slavery into the 
Territories ; but, even if this united action had 
been successful, it would not have meant the tri- 
umph of centralistic principles, any more than the 
success of the American Revolution meant such a 

If any one need proof of the truth of this state- 
ment, let him study carefully the provisions of the 


Constitution subsequently adopted by the Confed- 
erate States. Professor Woodrow Wilson was 
right, therefore, when in his admirable little book, 
"Division and Reunion," he maintained that the 
South had stood still constitutionally. His critics 
objected that the pro-slavery aggressions of 1850- 
1860 showed that the South had not stood still; 
but the critics failed to see that these aggressions 
did not at all indicate any advance in political 
principles — they were desperate measures of 
political expediency, or rather inexpediency. 

The South having stood still in her particular- 
istic notions of States' rights, and in her primitive 
notions as to the morality of slavery, it would 
have been almost a miracle if a Mississippi planter 
had formed any other political ideas than those 
which Mr. Davis formulated during his period of 
retirement. He had an inquiring and alert mind, 
and was in all respects an able man ; but he did 
not have an original mind, and as a man never 
reached any higher degree of greatness than that 
vouchsafed to honest talents. 

It takes genius, however, to overleap the bar- 
riers to thought set by heredity and environment. 
And even if Davis had had originality, the isola- 
tion and narrowness of his plantation life at this 
formative period would in all probability have 
made him eccentric instead of great. Certainly 
the peculiar conditions of ante-bellum Southern 


life gave tliat section, after the Revolution, no 
political thinkers, save, perhaps, Calhoun, who 
turned back on himself in the middle of his ca- 
reer; no philosophers, no poets, or men of letters, 
save Poe, who have taken even a secondary posi- 
tion in the world of thought. I do not believe 
that it was possible for Davis to have reasoned 
on the nature of government like a philosopher, 
and to have seen the absurdity of his partnership 
interpretation of the Constitution, or on the nature 
of slavery like a moralist, and to have seen that 
it was essentially wrong. 

Messrs. Nicolay and Hay, in their valuable "Life 
of Lincoln," present a curious parallel between 
the careers of Lincoln and Davis, and reach the 
conclusion that if Lincoln had gone south from 
Kentucky and Davis north, Lincoln would never 
have adopted Davis's views as to the Constitution 
and slavery, nor would Davis have attained to 
the breadth of Lincoln's views. 

I grant freely that Davis never could have been 
a Lincoln, because he was not a man of genius ; 
but I am not at all sure that he might not have 
become an ardent Union man and an opponent of 
slavery. In fact, he might have become a fanat- 
ical abolitionist, and been shot. Nor am I at all 
sure that Lincoln, in the South, would have got 
clear of the meshes of slavery; I am afraid his 
genius, which had a slightly morbid and eccentric 


streak about it, would have developed these traits 
to such an extent as to have prevented him from 
performing any great service to mankind. 

If this be heresy, I suppose I must suffer the 
penalty, whatever that may be ; but at least I must 
insist that whatever allowance be made to Messrs. 
Nicolay and Hay in their historical speculations, 
none can be made for their historical judgments 
as to the true character of Mr. Davis when they 
are couched in the following style: — 

" As a blind man may not be held responsible for his 
description of a painting, or a deaf-mute be expected to 
repeat accurately the airs of an opera, so we can only ex- 
plain Jefferson Davis's vehement denial of the charge of 
hypocrisy and conspiracy through a whole decade, by the 
supposition that he was incapable of understanding the ac- 
cepted meaning of such words as ' patriotism,' ' loyalty,' 
* allegiance,' < faith,' ' honor,' and < duty.' " ^ 

For my own part, I can explain the insertion of 
this remarkable sentence only on the supposition 
that the gentlemen who penned it were incapable 
of understanding the accepted meaning of the 
noble words they strung together — by which 
statement I do not mean for a moment to imply 
that they are not patriotic, loyal, honorable, and 
dutiful; but only that they seem not to under- 
stand that patriotism, loyalty, honor, et cetera^ 
require objects if they are not to remain mere 

1 Nicolay and Hay, III. , 210. 


abstractions, and that sucli objects differ in differ- 
ent times and places. 

It was the accepted notion of honor, duty, and 
allegiance among the members of a German com- 
mitatus to die on the field of battle with their 
chief; it is not the accepted notion of honor, duty, 
and allegiance among the privates of a regiment 
to die on the field of battle with their colonel. 
The patriotism, loyalty, et cetera^ acceptable to 
Messrs. Nicolay and Hay — and I must add to 
myself — are patriotism and loyalty toward the 
United States of America ; the patriotism and loy- 
alty acceptable to Mr. Davis and to thousands of 
other true and brave men were patriotism and 
loyalty to the State of Mississippi. 

But just as it would be preposterous for a 
warrior of the Allemanni, if one could revisit the 
glimpses of the moon, to reproach a modern soldier 
of either army because he managed to emerge 
unscathed from the carnage at Gettysburg while 
his commanding officer was killed, so it is pre- 
posterous for Messrs. Nicolay and Hay to urge 
that Jefferson Davis did not know what patriot- 
ism and loyalty meant because forsooth he was 
patriotic and loyal in a way different from their 
own. Until we learn that men can differ radi- 
cally on the most sacred subjects, — on religion, 
morality, allegiance, duty, — and still be honest 
and true as far as their lights go, we are in great 


danger of becoming bigots in religion, partisans 
in politics, and one-sided theorists and critics in 
philosophy, literature, and history. 

I have dwelt on this matter, and have taken 
Lincoln's biographers to task, simply because I 
believe that it will be impossible to arrive at any 
true conclusions with regard to the history of this 
country prior to 1865, unless we give up our 
present method of impugning the motives of the 
actors in that great drama, the motif of which was 
the downfall of slavery. Until it is possible for 
one and the same man to render justice both to 
William Lloyd Garrison and to Jefferson Davis 
within the covers of one volume, we shall not 
have an impartial historian or an impartial his- 
tory. Let our historian characterize actions per 
se as they deserve to be characterized, but let 
him hesitate to assume that a fatal and disastrous 
action presupposes a wicked motive behind it. 
The chief trouble with American historians up to 
the present time has been that they have not 
studied general history widely and deeply enough, 
and that they have had little knowledge of men. 
But it is time we returned to the man Jefferson 

In 1845 Mr. Davis emerged from his retirement, 
and was nominated for Congress. He had seem- 
ingly done nothing to entitle him to political dis- 
tinction, but the number of available men in the 


sparsely populated State was doubtless small. Sam 
Houston afterwards remarked of him tliat he was 
as ambitious as Lucifer and as cold as a lizard, 
— qualities that would seem to neutralize one 
another so far as political success is concerned. 
Edward A. Pollard, his bitter critic, afterwards 
charged him with eccentricity and capriciousness 
in having suddenly abandoned private life for 
politics without any ostensible reason, and further 
claimed that most of his political blunders came 
from the fact that he was by nature fitted to be a 
hermit and a student rather than a leader of men. 
How far these charges are true cannot be yet 
determined; but it is at least certain that he was 
bold enough in his canvass to denounce repudia- 
tion in a pamphlet which he had printed by a 
Whig opponent, and which he presented in per- 
son to Mr. Briscoe, the leader of the repudiators, 
and a political power in the State. His 'auda- 
city and honesty secured him Briscoe's vote, and 
perhaps his election, but did not save him after- 
wards from the slanderous charge of having fa- 
vored repudiation.^ 

In Congress he seems to have done little except 
to claim that the annexation of Texas was a great 
national measure, and to eulogize the loyalty of 
Mississippi in strains of rather perfervid rhetoric. 

1 A charge still repeated, but on absolutely no grounds so far 
as I can see. 


He thus started out as a Southern extremist, and 
a States'-rights man of the deepest dye; but his 
ready flow of stately words, and his evenly balanced 
sentences, combined with his academic manner, not 
merely impressed old John Quincy Adams, but 
also showed that he would prove an orator of the 
senatorial type, and that he would hardly be in 
his element in the more rough and ready House. 

Indeed, Davis, even in the most exciting scenes 
of his congressional career, never could forget 
that he was a gentleman, and that it did not be- 
come him to use coarse language, thus setting an 
example which it would have been well if some 
of his Mississippi colleagues had followed. It is 
probably true also, as his critics have alleged, that 
he never could forget that John C. Calhoun was 
a States'-rights leader whom it would be well for 
him to imitate, in order that he might be close 
under the prophet's mantle when it fell; but I 
can see nothing in this ambition to Davis's dis- 
credit ; and it is certain that he ventured to stand 
out against Calhoun on the matter of national 
expenditures on the Mississippi River, — a pro- 
ceeding which, if it smacks of the fanaticism 
of ultra States' rights, surely does not smack of 

But the young congressman had little time to 
sit at the feet of his chosen Gamaliel ; for in 
the summer of 1846 he was elected colonel of the 


First Mississippi Regiment, and was needed on the 
field. His old soldierly instincts got the better of 
his new political ones ; and his devotion to Missis- 
sippi prevailed over his respect for the Union, 
since he refused the chance of becoming a briga- 
dier-general by appointment of the President. 

He hastened to Mexico, and distinguished him- 
self at the storming of Monterey and at the battle 
of Buena Vista ; his famous formation of the re- 
entering angle at the latter engagement being 
one of the most gallant incidents in the whole 
range of our military history. He retired from 
the war with a severe wound, with the love of his 
soldiers, and with a reputation for personal valor 
second to that of no man in the country. The 
hero of Buena Vista, the Dictator of the South- 
ern Confederacy, the political prisoner of Fortress 
Monroe, are figures that are with difficulty blent 
into one ; but a great dramatic poet might accom- 
plish the task, and if he did, it would give us one 
of the most moving tragedies in the world's litera- 

The people of Mississippi, without possessing 
the dramatic instinct or the gift of foresight, did 
possess the spirit of appreciation and gratitude, 
and were rejoiced when their governor, in 1847, 
appointed Colonel Davis to fill a vacancy in the 
Senate of the United States. Thither the cripple 
betook himself on his two crutches, and began his 


new career by defending against Webster the war 
in which he had received his wound. He was 
more profitably employed perhaps when he en- 
gaged in organizing the Smithsonian Institution. 
Certainly he was but adding fuel to the flames 
when he joined Calhoun in an attack on one of 
John P. Hale's abolition petitions ; and his resolu- 
tion with regard to the non-prohibition of slavery 
in Oregon showed that he would be second to no 
man in leading the South and its peculiar insti- 
tution on to destruction. It is due to him to 
say that he led the way as bravely as he had led 
his Mississippians at Buena Vista; but his sword 
was keener and more forcible than his eloquence, 
and the Mexicans were more vulnerable than 
Fate. He had the good sense, however, to de- 
cline the leadership of a filibustering expedition 
to Cuba. 

We must pass rapidly over his short first ser- 
vice in the Senate, noting only his proneness to 
express his ultra pro-slavery views at all times 
and seasons, and his almost, if not quite, absurd 
constitutional scruples against the purchase of the 
manuscript of Washington's "Farewell Address." 
He listened with reverence, however, to the more 
dismal one of the dying Calhoun; then, as if in 
obedience to the dictates of that Moses who was 
never to see the Promised Land of a Union based 
on States' rights, he resigned his seat in the Sen- 

v.-^ i 


ate, in order to lead the forlorn hopes of his party 
as candidate for the governorship of Mississippi. 

General John A. Quitman had been nominated; 
but, though personally popular, his bold advocacy 
of the genuine Simon-pure Calhoun principle of 
nullification had evidently made his canvass hope- 
less, even in the State which had called the Nash- 
ville Convention. Davis of Buena Vista fame 
might win against Foote, and so vindicate his op- 
position to the latter's resolutions ; and he was not 
the man to retain a snug berth when his party 
and his principles demanded a sacrifice. He was 
not a nullifier, nor had he been implicated in 
Cuban affairs as Quitman was accused of being, 
so he had a fighting chance. 

He made a vigorous campaign, though suffering 
greatly from acute ophthalmia, and, if he failed 
of election, reduced the majority against his party 
from seven thousand to one. His conduct in re- 
signing from the Senate has been called quixotic 
by his critics ; and it has been intimated that he 
was playing a conspicuous part in order to win 
notoriety, and advance himself to leadership in 
the South, if not to the presidency of the Union. 
Such charges are of course easily made and not 
easily refuted, but they will hardly be believed by 
any student of his life who has psychological 

Mr. Davis was too near akin to the fanatic to 


have much in common with the charlatan or the 
actor; and genuine Don Quixotes are possible 
only when an institution or a custom has been ex- 
ploded for even the masses of mankind. It was 
to take fifteen years to explode the pretensions 
of States' rights and slavery, not merely for the 
South, but for a large number of sensible and 
honest people at the North. 

The elections of 1850 showed that the majority 
of the Southern people were not prepared to fol- 
low their extreme pro-slavery leaders to the point 
of disunion, and Davis was shrewd enough to take 
the lesson to heart while attending to his planta- 
tion duties at home. He felt, too, that although 
any compromise on the matter of the rights of 
slave-owners to carry their property into the Ter- 
ritories was both dangerous to the slave interests, 
and not warranted by the Constitution, it would 
be unwise to disturb the existing truce, and jeop- 
ardize the Union. 

He had not reached the point of despair with re- 
gard to slavery, and of disgust with regard to the 
Union, that such extremists as Beverley Tucker 
had reached in 1820, and to wliich such shallov/ 
fanatics as the pro-slavery leaders in South Caro- 
lina and. Mississippi were giving loud-mouthed 
utterance at this very juncture. But he was 
hedging in order to gain the presidency, whisper 
his critics ; and again I take occasion to differ. I 


grant that he probably had his eyes on the presi- 
dency, and that he consulted his political interest 
before committing himself to any important step; 
but I find no reason to accuse him of deliberate 
sacrifice of principle, and I think that his desire 
to preserve the Union, if he could keep it and 
slavery too, was genuine. It is well to note fur- 
ther, that, even when he became a determined dis- 
unionist, he was not a blatant one. 

But he was not to be left to watch the course 
of events from a distance. His political and 
other studies, which were wide and varied, had 
to be left behind for a seat in the Cabinet of his 
friend Franklin Pierce. The Secretaryship of War 
would just suit Davis of Buena Vista thought 
the President, and he would take no refusal. It 
would have been far better for Pierce's reputation 
if he had taken Davis at liis word, and left him 
to read history and plant cotton; it might have 
been better for Davis too, though it is doubtful 
whether he would have remained in retirement 
long. When he did enter Pierce's Cabinet, he 
became the latter's evil genius, without the least 
sinister motives. He was largely responsible for 
the President's course in the Kansas troubles, and 
he probably cannot be acquitted of having dis- 
posed of the troops and resources of his own 
department in a spirit of partiality not entirely 
creditable to a cabinet officer. 


But impartiality was never Davis's forte, and 
where slavery was concerned he was always pre- 
ternaturally squint-eyed. His sympathy with the 
Border Ruffians was as natural as his horror at 
the John Brown Raid. If Sumner had assaulted 
Brooks he would have been outraged, but when 
Brooks assaulted Sumner it was another matter. 
Yet I venture to assert that ninety-nine Ameri- 
cans out of a hundred are going in this presi- 
dential year to be guilty of partisanship just as 
indiscriminating as that of Davis, only perhaps 
less dangerous in its consequences. 

With regard to the truth of the charge that 
Davis was using his seat in the Cabinet to arm 
the South for the intended rebellion I am disposed 
to be dubious. That he was counselled to do it is 
obvious, but it is equally obvious that in certain 
important recommendations he was scrupulously 
fair. Besides, according to his critics, he still han- 
kered after the presidency; and he would hardly 
have been pursuing two such dissimilar lines of 
thought and action at the same time, for his na- 
ture, though not simple, was not tortuous. It is 
at least certain that he made a very efficient secre- 
tary, and that his recommendations for a railway 
to the Pacific, and for the use of improved arms, 
showed his superiority to the average routine offi- 

Davis passed iraimediately from the Cabinet to 


the Senate, and in the latter body took, as far as 
any one could, the post of leadership left empty 
by the death of Calhoun. There were more violent 
pro-slavery advocates than himself, but none more 
thoroughly determined ; and the very fact that he 
did not fly the track like such men as Hammond 
of South Carolina gave him additional strength. 
Bodily strength he did not have throughout the 
exciting period that the country was entering 
upon, but his strength of will was prodigious. He 
pushed forward the slavery outposts to a point 
that Calhoun himself had not ventured to claim, 
actually maintaining that not merely did Congress 
have no right to prohibit a Southerner from taking 
his slaves into a Territory, but that it was under 
the positive obligation to pass laws securing him 
in the possession of his human property after he 
had entered the Territory. 

This extravagant claim could have been made 
by no one not a doctrinaire and a fanatic ; for the 
passage of such legislation by Congress would 
have been equivalent to the proclamation that 
every State subsequently added to the Union must 
be a slave State, since it would have been practi- 
cally impossible to get rid of the slaves and the 
laws keeping them in slavery without a resort to 
force which Congress could not have permitted. 
Indeed, the more one studies the claims of the 
South to admission for their slaves into the Ter- 


ritories, the more one is struck by the utter lack 
of practical sense displayed by the pro-slavery 

Not only was the policy sure to drive the North 
to desperate resistance, but it involved elements of 
self-stultification from every point of view. The 
very basal principle on which the gossamer argu- 
ments were reared, — the idea that as the Northern 
man could carry his property into the Territories, a 
Southern man ought to be able to carry his, — ig- 
nored the important fact that in every slave-code 
in the South slaves were set apart and distin- 
guished from ordinary property in many respects. 
Yet the theory of Calhoun and Davis depends on 
the merging of human and other property, and 
falls if they are distinguished ; for the power of 
Congress over the introduction of persons into a 
State or Territory must exist, or the slave-trade 
could not have been abolished, and no check could 
be put on immigration. 

But it is idle to waste time pricking theories 
that have already been pierced by the sword, nor is 
it worth while to compare the pacific and compar- 
atively loyal speech that Davis made at Portland, 
Me., in the summer of 1858, with his utterances 
the following summer in Mississippi, when he pro- 
claimed that the election of a Republican President 
would be sufficient cause for the South to go out 
of the Union. It is idle, too, in the space at my 


command, to comment on the folly, from a pro- 
slavery point of view, of splitting the Democratic 
party, or of withdrawing from the Union, when 
the Republicans did not have a majority in Con- 
gress, and had repeatedly avowed their intention 
of not interfering with slavery in the States. 

Alexander H. Stephens, in his famous Union 
speech of November, 1860, saw this folly just as 
clearly as Northern historians have seen it since ; 
but he was only a little less mad than the rest of 
his compatriots. Davis, too, was a little less mad 
than the gentlemen who were willing to drink all 
the blood that would be shed if the South seceded, 
for he knew and proclaimed that there would be 
war. But he and Stephens were equally mad 
when it came to the question of whether a govern- 
ment could be built on slavery as a foundation, 
and both mounted to nightmare chairs of state. 

The conduct of Davis in remaining in Washing- 
ton as a senator, and conducting correspondence 
with the leaders of the disunion party in the South 
relative to the seizure of forts, et cetera, has, of 
course, been subjected to grave censure, but is 
thoroughly consistent with his openly expressed 
views as to the nature of his office. 

He was Mississippi's ambassador in a Senate of 
sovereign States ; it was his duty to remain at his 
post until his State recalled him by seceding ; and 
he was at liberty to aid his State by giving advice 


and gathering information, just as an ambassador 
at a foreign court would be before his recall at 
the outbreak of a war. How he would have 
applied this doctrine to the conduct of Floyd, 
Thompson, and Cobb, who remained in Buchan- 
an's Cabinet in order to help wreck the administra- 
tion, is a point hardly worth dwelling on — the 
end justifying the means to most fanatics. 

For my own part, I have little hesitation in af- 
firming that when Jefferson Davis took his leave 
of the Senate, he did it with the thorough ap- 
proval of his conscience, and with a real sadness 
of heart. He showed none of the blatant elation 
that characterized many of the shallower spirits 
who imitated him ; but alas ! he took a step which, 
while deserving our sympathy rather than our hate 
and scorn, certainly blasted his career. He was a 
brave man and a true man, whom the gods, wish- 
ing to destroy, had first made mad — the mistakes 
of fathers, as well as their sins, being visited on 
their children. 

The Southern Confederacy having been formed 
when enough States had seceded, Mr. Davis was 
naturally chosen President, because his course had 
been perfectly consistent throughout, and because 
he was regarded as a safer man than such out- 
spoken and hot-brained leaders as Rhett and 
Toombs. His courage, too, had been tried on the 
battlefield, and his wisdom, from a Southern and 


pro-slavery point of view, in the council chamber. 
A government founded on abstract principles of 
politics and morals, such as equal partnership in 
sovereignty and the inherent virtue and blessed- 
ness of slavery, would be fitly presided over by a 

Jefferson Davis represented the more militant 
portion of the Southern people and their cause 
only too well, as many persons discovered after 
he had been a few months in office. They ought 
to have discovered the fact from the following 
sentences in his first Inaugural (Montgomery, 
Feb. 18, 1861) : — 

" Our industrial pursuits have received no check ; the 
cultivation of our fields has progressed as heretofore ; and 
even should we be involved in war, there would be no con- 
siderable diminution in the production of the staples which 
have constituted our exports, and in which the commercial 
world has an interest scarcely less than our own. This 
common interest of the producer and consumer can only 
be interrupted by an exterior force, which should obstruct 
its transmission to foreign markets — a course of conduct 
which would be as unjust toward us as it would be detri- 
mental to manufacturing and commercial interests abroad. 
Should reason guide the action of the government from 
which we have separated, a policy so detrimental to the 
civilized world, the Northern States included, could not be 
dictated by even the strongest desire to inflict injury upon 
us; but if otherwise, a terrible responsibility will rest 
upon it, and the suffering of millions will bear testimony 
to the folly and wickedness of our aggressors. In the 


meantime, there will remain to us, besides the ordinary 
means before suggested, the well-known resources for re- 
taliation upon the commerce of aij. enemy." 

The idea of a government which was about to 
go to war (for Davis believed this) calmly reason- 
ing on the subject, and avoiding a policy of inflict- 
ing distress upon the enemy because it might 
thereby involve the commerce of the rest of the 
world in trouble, and so incur the imputation of 
folly and wickedness, would strike us as simply 
amusing if we came across it in turning over the 
pages of Dean Swift ; but to find it in the Inaugu- 
ral Speech of the President of a new-fledged Re- 
public that must fight for her liberties is hardly 
occasion for anything short of tears. Yet Mr. 
Davis rarely wrote a document without some pas- 
sage as weak and chimerical as this : witness the 
prediction in his second Inaugural, — that the 
North must soon sink under the load of debt it 
had incurred. 

But he was not alone in his madness ; for about 
a month later (March 21, 1861), in a speech at 
Savannah, Mr. Alexander H. Stephens, after re- 
ferring to the fact that Jefferson and Washington 
had believed slavery to be an evil, asserted boldly 
that the ideas of that day were fundamentally 
wrong, and continued as follows : — 

"They [the ideas] rested upon an assumption of the 
equality of races. This was an error. It was a sandy f oun- 


dation; and the idea of a government built upon it — 
when the storm came and the wind blew, it fell. 

"Our new government is founded upon exactly the 
opposite ideas; its foundations are laid, its cornerstone 
rests upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to 
the white man ; that slavery, subordination to the superior 
race, is his natural and normal condition. This, our new 
government, is the first in the history of the world based 
upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth," 

The speaker then went on to observe compla- 
cently that this truth had been but slowly appre- 
ciated even at the South, and that the North still 
clung to its old errors ; but that, after all, these 
facts were not surprising, since mankind had been 
slow to accept even such discoveries as those of 
Harvey and Galileo. 

Mr. Stephens forgot to mention the trifling 
circumstance that the Barbary States had long 
existed on the basis of a physical, philosophical, 
and moral truth strikingly similar to the one enun- 
ciated by himself; and it would have been per- 
haps a service to his auditors had he utilized, for 
the purpose of clinching his proposition, the well- 
known lines of the poet about 

"The good old plan, 

That they should take who have the power, 
And they should keep who can." 

But such omissions on his part are trifles com- 
pared with his service to posterity in so clearly 


laying down the principles on which the new Con- 
federacy had been established. Mr. Davis had, in 
the quotation I have just made, laid down the 
only principles on which it could be maintained ; 
and I contend that the delegates at Montgomery, 
who were to inaugurate the new government, 
could not have filled the executive positions at 
their disposal in a more fitting manner. But the 
angels in heaven must have wept when they be- 
held the fortunes of millions of brave men, gentle 
women, and innocent children, committed to the 
keeping of such idealistic statesmen. 

Time will not permit me to follow the fortunes 
of Mr. Davis's administration in any detail; and, 
as I have before explained, it would be impossible 
to do it thoroughly in the absence of materials. 
Some day it will have to be done by the Southern 
historian, who will address the Muse of History 
as -^neas did Dido : — 

Infandum, regina, jubes renovare dolorem. 

Now a few words will be sufficient. 

Like his namesake the Sage of Monticello, Da- 
vis did not have executive ability of the highest 
order; his statesmanship was based on the idea 
rather than on the fact. Like Jefferson, he built 
up a power that was almost dictatorial, which he 
was doomed to see crumble rapidly away. Like 
Jefferson, he was sensitive to criticism, and got a 


great deal of it — most of it captious. Like 
Jefferson, he tried to carry on war by means of 
measures more suitable to peace ; like Jefferson, 
he clung to incapable favorites ; like Jefferson, he 
had at heart the interests of the people. But 
alas ! unlike Jefferson, he had his eyes on the past 
instead of on the future: the idea for which he 
struggled was negative rather than positive, and 
so his place is with the failures of history. 

But Davis was not the cause of the downfall of 
his government, although he was plainly responsi- 
ble for many of its mistakes. He gathered about 
him a Cabinet of hardly respectable ability, but 
then the South had no statesmen with which to 
furnish him a better. He dominated his Congress, 
yet its deliberations would have been of little 
value had it been perfectly independent. He in- 
terfered in military matters, showed prejudice 
toward generals like Joseph E. Johnston, and ir- 
ritated large numbers of people ; but the battle 
of Gettysburg or some similar conflict would have 
seen the culmination of Confederate military suc- 
cess, had Mr. Davis never appeared on a battle- 
field, suggested a movement of troops, or ordered 
a change of commanders. 

Davis might have taken not the least step calcu- 
lated to excite the wrath of even such a captious 
critic as John M. Daniel of the Richmond Examiner.^ 
yet the result could not have varied appreciably. 


The Southern Confederacy was bound to fall, be- 
cause it had been founded, precisely as Alexander 
H. Stephens had claimed, upon slavery as its cor- 

But if Mr. Davis's mistakes did not cause his 
government's downfall, and if his possession of all 
statesmanlike virtues and capacities would not have 
sufficed for its successful establishment, it is still 
well, in considering the character of the man, to 
remember that he endeavored, so far as he could, 
to inspirit his people ; that he set his face against 
barbarity in the conduct of the war ; that he was 
not responsible for the sufferings of Northern pris- 
oners ; and that on the whole he maintained his own 
dignity and self-respect under ordeals that would 
have crushed less resolute and sincere men. 

"He nothing common did or mean 
Upon that memorable scene." 

He went down with his cause, and he was 
steadfast to it until his death. He was never 
pardoned ; and I for one cannot find it in my heart 
to wish that he had sued for the restitution of his 
rights as a citizen. Jefferson Davis lost his ima- 
ginary country at Appomattox, just where the new 
generation of Southerners have found a real one. 
For him to have been reconstructed after the four 
long years of hopes deferred and frustrated, after 
the weary months of imprisonment, after the un- 


necessary indignity of the shackles upon his en- 
feebled limbs,^ might have illustrated what the 
theologian calls a change of heart, but would 
have introduced into the tragedy of his life an 
element which the historian of artistic sensibilities 
and critical acumen would have felt and known 
to be bathos. 

1 For this cruelty of treatment, which is sometimes denied, 
see Craven's " Prison Life of Jefferson Davis," New York, 1866. 



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