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Title: A Political History of the State of New York, Volumes 1-3
Author: Alexander, DeAlva Stanwood
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "A Political History of the State of New York, Volumes 1-3" ***

by Cornell University Digital Collections)

[Transcriber's Notes:

Inconsistent spellings and hyphenations such as "re-election" and
"reëlection" have been conformed, and obvious typographical errors
have been corrected.

The original contains an index in Volume II covering Volumes I and II.
Volume III, which was published later, contains an index covering all
three volumes. Therefore, the Volume II index has been omitted.

The original of Volume III refers to both "Appleton's _Encyclopedia_"
and "Appleton's _Cyclopædia_." The correct title, as used in Volumes I
and II, is "Appleton's _Cyclopædia_" and has been corrected in Volume






_Member of Congress, Formerly United States Attorney for the Northern
District of New York_





Copyright, 1906


The preparation of this work was suggested to the author by the
difficulty he experienced in obtaining an accurate knowledge of the
movements of political parties and their leaders in the Empire State.
"After living a dozen years in New York," wrote Oliver Wolcott, who
had been one of Washington's Cabinet, and was afterwards governor of
Connecticut, "I don't pretend to comprehend their politics. It is a
labyrinth of wheels within wheels, and it is understood only by the
managers." Wolcott referred to the early decades of the last century,
when Clintonian and Bucktail, gradually absorbing the Federalists,
severed the old Republican party into warring factions. In later
years, Daniel S. Dickinson spoke of "the tangled web of New York
politics"; and Horace Greeley complained of "the zigzag, wavering
lines and uncouth political designations which puzzled and wearied
readers" from 1840 to 1860, when Democrats divided into Conservatives
and Radicals, Hunkers and Barnburners, and Hards and Softs; and when
Whigs were known as Conscience and Cotton, and Woollies and Silver
Grays. More recently James Parton, in his _Life of Andrew Jackson_,
speaks of "that most unfathomable of subjects, the politics of the
State of New York."

There is no attempt in this history to catalogue the prominent public
men of New York State. Such a list would itself fill a volume. It has
only been possible, in the limited space given to over a century, to
linger here and there in the company of the famous figures who rose
conspicuously above their fellow men and asserted themselves
masterfully in influencing public thought and action. Indeed, the
history of a State or nation is largely the history of a few leading
men, and it is of such men only, with some of their more prominent
contemporaries, that the author has attempted to write.

It would be hard to find in any Commonwealth of the Union a more
interesting or picturesque leadership than is presented in the
political history of the Empire State. Rarely more than two
controlling spirits appear at a time, and as these pass into apogee
younger men of approved capacity are ready to take their places. None
had a meteoric rise, but in his day each became an absolute party
boss; for the Constitution of 1777, by creating the Council of
Appointment, opened wide the door to bossism. The abolition of the
Council in 1821 doubtless made individual control more difficult, but
the system left its methods so deeply impressed upon party management
that what before was done under the sanction of law, ever after
continued under the cover of custom.

After the Revolution, George Clinton and Alexander Hamilton led the
opposing political forces, and while Aaron Burr was forging to the
front, the great genius of DeWitt Clinton, the nephew of George
Clinton, began asserting itself. The defeat of Burr for governor, and
the death of Hamilton would have left DeWitt Clinton in complete
control, had he found a strong man for governor whom he could use. In
1812 Martin Van Buren discovered superiority as a manager, and for
nearly two decades, until the death of the distinguished canal
builder, his great ability was taxed to its uttermost in the memorable
contests between Bucktails and Clintonians. Thurlow Weed succeeded
DeWitt Clinton in marshalling the forces opposed to Van Buren, whose
mantle gradually fell upon Horatio Seymour. Clustered about each of
these leaders, save DeWitt Clinton, was a coterie of distinguished men
whose power of intellect has made their names familiar in American
history. If DeWitt Clinton was without their aid, it was because
strong men in high position rebelled against becoming errand boys to
do his bidding. But the builder of the Erie canal needed no
lieutenants, since his great achievement, aiding the farmer and
enriching the merchant, overcame the power of Van Buren, the
popularity of Tompkins, and the phenomenal ability of the Albany

In treating the period from 1800 to 1830, the term "Democrat" is
purposely avoided, since all anti-federalist factions in New York
claimed to be "Republican." The Clay electors, in the campaign of
1824, adopted the title "Democrat Ticket," but in 1828, and for
several years after the formation of the Whig party in 1834, the
followers of Jackson, repudiating the title of Democrats, called
themselves Republicans.

For aid in supplying material for character and personal sketches, the
author is indebted to many "old citizens" whom he met during the years
he held the office of United States Attorney for the Northern District
of New York, when that district included the entire State north and
west of Albany. He takes this occasion, also, to express his deep
obligation to the faithful and courteous officials of the Library of
Congress, who, during the years he has been a member of Congress,
assisted him in searching for letters and other unindexed bits of New
York history which might throw some light upon subjects under

The author hopes to complete the work in an additional volume,
bringing it down to the year 1896.


BUFFALO, N.Y., March, 1906.



CHAPTER                                                           PAGE

I. A COLONY BECOMES A STATE. 1774-1776                               1

II. MAKING A STATE CONSTITUTION. 1777                                8

III. GEORGE CLINTON ELECTED GOVERNOR. 1777                          17

IV. CLINTON AND HAMILTON. 1783-1789                                 23

V. GEORGE CLINTON'S FOURTH TERM. 1789-1792                          37

VI. GEORGE CLINTON DEFEATS JOHN JAY. 1792-1795                      50

VII. RECOGNITION OF EARNEST MEN. 1795-1800                          64

VIII. OVERTHROW OF THE FEDERALISTS. 1798-1800                       78

IX. MISTAKES OF HAMILTON AND BURR. 1800                             94

X. JOHN JAY AND DeWITT CLINTON. 1800                               107

XI. SPOILS AND BROILS OF VICTORY. 1801-1803                        115

XII. DEFEAT OF BURR AND DEATH OF HAMILTON. 1804                    129


XIV. DANIEL D. TOMPKINS AND DeWITT CLINTON. 1807-1810              158

XV. TOMPKINS DEFEATS JONAS PLATT. 1810                             173

XVI. DeWITT CLINTON AND TAMMANY. 1789-1811                         180

XVII. BANKS AND BRIBERY. 1791-1812                                 186

XVIII. CLINTON AND THE PRESIDENCY. 1812                            199

XIX. QUARRELS AND RIVALRIES. 1813                                  211

XX. A GREAT WAR GOVERNOR. 1812-1815                                219

XXI. CLINTON OVERTHROWN. 1815                                      231

XXII. CLINTON'S RISE TO POWER. 1815-1817                           241

XXIII. BUCKTAIL AND CLINTONIAN. 1817-1819                          253

XXIV. RE-ELECTION OF RUFUS KING. 1819-1820                         263

XXV. TOMPKINS' LAST CONTEST. 1820                                  273

XXVI. THE ALBANY REGENCY. 1820-1822                                283

XXVII. THIRD CONSTITUTIONAL CONVENTION. 1821                       295

XXVIII. SECOND FALL OF DeWITT CLINTON. 1822                        312

XXIX. CLINTON AGAIN IN THE SADDLE. 1823-1824                       321

XXX. VAN BUREN ENCOUNTERS WEED. 1824                               334

XXXI. CLINTON'S COALITION WITH VAN BUREN. 1825-1828                344

XXXII. VAN BUREN ELECTED GOVERNOR. 1828                            357

XXXIII. WILLIAM H. SEWARD AND THURLOW WEED. 1830                   370


XXXV. FORMATION OF THE WHIG PARTY. 1831-1834                       392




On the 16th of May, 1776, the second Continental Congress, preparing
the way for the Declaration of Independence, recommended that those
Colonies which were without a suitable form of government, should, to
meet the demands of war, adopt some sufficient organisation. The
patriot government of New York had not been wholly satisfactory. It
never lacked in the spirit of resistance to England's misrule, but it
had failed to justify the confident prophecies of those who had been
instrumental in its formation.

For nearly a year New York City saw with wonder the spectacle of a few
fearless radicals, organised into a vigilance committee of fifty,
closing the doors of a custom-house, guarding the gates of an arsenal,
embargoing vessels ladened with supplies for British troops, and
removing cannon from the Battery, while an English fleet, well
officered and manned, rode idly at anchor in New York harbour.
Inspiring as the spectacle was, however, it did not appreciably help
matters. On the contrary, it created so much friction among the people
that the conservative business men--resenting involuntary taxation,
yet wanting, if possible with honour, reconciliation and peace with
the mother country--organised, in May, 1774, a body of their own known
as the Committee of Fifty-one, which thought the time had come to
interrupt the assumed leadership of the Committee of Fifty. This
usurpation by one committee of powers that had been exercised by
another, caused the liveliest indignation.

The trouble between England and America had grown out of the need for
a continental revenue and the lack of a continental government with
taxing power--a weakness experienced throughout the Revolution and
under the Confederation. In the absence of such a government,
Parliament undertook to supply the place of such a power; but the
Americans blocked the way by an appeal to the principle that had been
asserted by Simon de Montford's Parliament in 1265 and admitted by
Edward I. in 1301--"No taxation without representation." So the Stamp
Act of 1765 was repealed. The necessity for a continental revenue,
nevertheless, remained, and in the effort to adopt some expedient,
like the duty on tea, Crown and Colonies became involved in bitter
disputes. The idea of independence, however, had, in May, 1774,
scarcely entered the mind of the wildest New York radical. In their
instructions to delegates to the first Continental Congress, convened
in September, 1774, the Colonies made no mention of it. Even in May,
1775, the Sons of Liberty in Philadelphia cautioned John Adams not to
use the word, since "it is as unpopular in all the Middle States as
the Stamp Act itself."[1] Washington wrote from the Congress that
independence was then not "desired by any thinking man in America."[2]

[Footnote 1: E.B. Andrews, _History of the United States_, Vol. 1, p.

[Footnote 2: _Ibid._, p. 172.]

The differences, therefore, between the Committees of Fifty and
Fifty-one were merely political. One favoured agitation for the
purpose of arousing resistance to the King's summary methods--the
other preferred a more orderly but not less forceful way of making
known their opposition. Members of both committees were patriots in
the highest and best sense, yet each faction fancied itself the only
patriotic, public spirited and independent party.

It was during these months of discord that Alexander Hamilton, then a
lad of seventeen, astonished his listeners at the historic meeting "in
the Fields,"[3] with the cogency of his arguments and the wonderful
flights of an unpremeditated eloquence while denouncing the act of
Parliament which closed the port of Boston. Hamilton had already been
a year in America attending the Elizabethtown grammar school,
conducted under the patronage of William Livingston, soon to become
the famous war governor of New Jersey. This experience quickened the
young man's insight into the vexed relations between the Colonies and
the Crown, and shattered his English predilections in favour of the
little minds that Burke thought so ill-suited to a great empire. A
visit to Boston shortly after the "tea party" seems also to have had
the effect of crowding his mind with thoughts, deeply and
significantly freighted with the sentiment of liberty, which were soon
to make memorable the occasion of their first utterance.

[Footnote 3: City Hall Park.]

The remarkable parallel between Hamilton and the younger Pitt begins
in this year, while both are in the schoolroom. Hamilton "in the
Fields" recalls Pitt at the bar of the House of Lords, amazing his
companions with the ripe intelligence and rare sagacity with which he
followed the debate, and the readiness with which he skilfully
formulated answers to the stately arguments of the wigged and powdered
nobles. Pitt, under the tuition of his distinguished father, was
fitted for the House of Commons as boys are fitted for college at
Exeter and Andover, and he entered Parliament before becoming of age.
Hamilton's preparation had been different. At twelve years of age he
was a clerk in a counting house on the island of Nevis in the West
Indies; at sixteen he entered a grammar school in New Jersey; at
seventeen he became a sophomore at King's College. It is then that he
spoke "in the Fields"--not as a sophomore, not as a precocious youth
with unripe thoughts, not as a boy orator--but as a man speaking with
the wisdom of genius.

After the meeting "in the Fields" patriotism proved stronger than
prejudice, and in November, 1774, the Committee of Fifty-one gave
place to a Committee of Sixty, charged with carrying out
recommendations of the Continental Congress. Soon after a Committee of
One Hundred, composed of members of the Committees of Fifty and
Fifty-one, assumed the functions of a municipal government. Finally,
in May, 1775, representatives were chosen from the several counties to
organise a Provincial Congress to take the place of the long
established legislature of the Colony, which had become so steeped in
toryism that it refused to recognise the action of any body of men who
resented the tyranny of Parliament. Thus, in the brief space of
eighteen months, the government of the Crown had been turned into a
government of the people.

For several months, however, the patriots of New York had desired a
more complete state government. All admitted that the revolutionary
committees were essentially local and temporary. Even the hottest Son
of Liberty came to fear the licentiousness of the people on the one
hand, and the danger from the army on the other. Nevertheless, the
Provincial Congress, whose members had been trained by harsh
experience to be stubborn in defence and sturdy in defiance, declined
to assume the responsibility of forming such a government as the
Continental Congress recommended. That body had itself come into
existence as a revolutionary legislature after the Provincial Assembly
had refused either to approve the proceedings of the first Continental
Congress, or to appoint delegates to the second; and, although it did
not hesitate to usurp temporarily the functions of the Tory Assembly,
to its great credit it believed the right of creating and framing a
new civil government belonged to the people; and, accordingly, on May
24, 1776, it recommended the election of new representatives who
should be specially authorised to form a government for New York.

The members of this new body were conspicuous characters in New York's
history for the next third of a century. Among them were John Jay,
George Clinton, James Duane, Philip Livingston, Philip Schuyler, and
Robert R. Livingston. The same men appeared in the Committee of
Safety, at the birth of the state government, as witnesses of the
helplessness of the Confederation, and as backers or backbiters of the
Federal Constitution. Among those associated with them were James
Clinton, Ezra L'Hommedieu, Marinus Willett, John Morin Scott,
Alexander McDougall, John Sloss Hobart, the Yateses, Abraham, Richard
and Robert; the Van Cortlandts, James, John and Philip; the Morrises,
Richard, Lewis and Gouverneur, and all the Livingstons. Only two
illustrious names are absent from these early patriotic lists, but
already Alexander Hamilton had won the heart of the people by his
wonderful eloquence and logic, and Aaron Burr, a comely lad of
nineteen, slender and graceful as a girl, with the features of his
beautiful mother and the refinement of his distinguished grandfather,
had thrown away his books to join Arnold on his way to Quebec. These
men passed into history in companies, but each left behind his own
trail of light. Where danger called, or civic duties demanded prudence
and profound sagacity, this band of patriots appeared in council and
in the camp, ready to answer to the roll-call of their country, and by
voice and vote set the pace which achieved independence.

The new Provincial Congress met at the courthouse in White Plains on
July 9, 1776, and, as evidence of the change from the old institutions
to the new, it adopted the name of the "Convention of the
Representatives of the State of New York." As further evidence of the
new order of things it declared that New York began its existence as a
State on April 20, 1775. It also adopted as the law of the State such
parts of the common and statute law of England as were in force in the
Colony of New York on April 19, 1775.

By this time the British forces had become so active in the vicinity
of New York that the convention thought it advisable to postpone the
novel and romantic work of state-making until the threatened danger
had passed; but, before its hasty adjournment, by requesting officers
of justice to issue all processes and pleadings under the authority
and in the name of the State of New York, it served notice that King
and Parliament were no longer recognised as the source of political
authority. This appears to have been the first official mention of the
new title of the future government.[4] When the convention reassembled
on the first day of the following August it appointed John Jay
chairman of a committee to report the draft of a state constitution.

[Footnote 4: _Memorial History of the City of New York_, Vol. 2, p.

Jay was then thirty-one years old, a cautious, clever lawyer whose
abilities were to make a great impression upon the history of his
country. He belonged to a family of Huguenot merchants. The Jays lived
at La Rochelle until the revocation of the Edict of Nantes drove the
great-grandfather to England, where the family continued until 1686,
when Augustus, the grandfather, settled in New York. It was not a
family of aristocrats; but for more than a century the Jays had ranked
among the gentry of New York City, intermarrying with the Bayards, the
Stuyvesants, the Van Cortlandts and the Philipses. To these historic
families John Jay added another, taking for his wife Sarah Livingston,
the sister of Brockholst, who later adorned the Supreme Court of the
United States, and the daughter of William, New Jersey's coming war
governor, already famous as a writer of poems and essays.

Jay's public career had begun two years before in connection with the
revolutionary Committee of Fifty-one. He did not accept office because
he loved it. He went into politics as he might have travelled on a
stage-coach at the invitation of a few congenial friends, for their
sake, not for his own. When he took up the work of organisation,
therefore, it was with no wish to become a leader; he simply desired
to guide the spirit of resistance along orderly and forceful lines.
But soon he held the reins and had his foot on the brake. In drafting
a reply to resolutions from a Boston town meeting, he suggested a
Congress of all the Colonies, to which should be referred the
disturbing question of non-importation. This letter was not only the
first serious suggestion of a general Congress, placing its author
intellectually at the head of the Revolutionary leaders; but the
plan--which meant broader organisation, more carefully concerted
measures, an enlistment of all the conservative elements, and one
official head for thirteen distinct and widely separated
colonies--gradually found favour, and resulted in sending the young
writer as a delegate to the first Continental Congress.

It was in this Congress that Jay won the right to become a
constitution-maker. Of all the men of that busy and brilliant age, no
one advanced more steadily in the general knowledge and favour. When
he wrote the address to the people of Canada, his great ability was
recognised at once; and after he composed the appeal to Ireland and to
Jamaica, the famous circular letter to the Colonies, and the patriotic
address to the people of his own State, his wisdom was more frequently
drawn upon and more widely appreciated than ever; but he may be said
to have leaped into national fame when he drafted the address to the
people of Great Britain. While still ignorant of its authorship,
Jefferson declared it "a production of the finest pen in America."




It was early spring in 1777 before John Jay, withdrawing to the
country, began the work of drafting a constitution. His retirement
recalls Cowper's sigh for

    "... a lodge in some vast wilderness,
    Some boundless contiguity of shade,
    Where rumours of oppression and deceit,
    Of unsuccessful and successful war,
    Might never reach me more."

Too much and too little credit has been given Jay for his part in the
work. One writer says he "entered an almost unexplored field." On the
other hand, John Adams wrote Jefferson that Jay's "model and
foundation" was his own letter to George Wythe of Virginia. Neither is
true. The field was not unexplored, nor did John Adams' letter contain
a suggestion of anything not already in existence, except the election
of a Council of Appointment, with whose consent the governor should
appoint all officers. His plan of letting the people elect a governor
came later. "We have a government to form, you know," wrote Jay, "and
God knows what it will resemble. Our politicians, like some guests at
a feast, are perplexed and undetermined which dish to prefer;"[5] but
Jay evidently preferred the old home dishes, and it is interesting to
note how easily he adapted the laws and customs of the provincial
government to the needs of an independent State.

[Footnote 5: John Jay, _Correspondence and Public Papers_, Vol. 1, p.

The legislative branch of the government was vested in two separate
and distinct bodies, called the Assembly and the Senate. The first
consisted of seventy members to be elected each year; the second of
twenty-four members, one-fourth to be elected every four years.
Members of the Assembly were proportioned to the fourteen counties
according to the number of qualified voters. For the election of
senators, the State was divided into "four great districts," the
eastern being allowed three members, the southern nine, the middle six
and the western six. To each house was given the powers and privileges
of the Provincial Assembly of the Colony of New York. In creating this
Legislature, Jay introduced no new feature. The old Assembly suggested
the lower house, and the former Council or upper house of the
Province, which exercised legislative powers, made a model for the
Senate.[6] In their functions and operations the two bodies were

[Footnote 6: _Memorial History of the City of New York_, Vol. 2, p.

[Footnote 7: _Ibid._, Vol. 2, p. 610.]

The qualifications of those who might vote for members of the
Legislature greatly restricted suffrage. Theoretically every patriot
believed in the liberties of the people, and the first article of the
Constitution declared that "no authority shall, on any pretence
whatever, be exercised over the people of the State, but such as shall
be derived from and granted by them." This high-sounding exordium
promised the rights of popular sovereignty; but in practice the makers
of the Constitution, fearing the passions of the multitude as much as
the tyranny of kings, deemed it wise to keep power in the hands of a
few. A male citizen of full age, possessing a freehold of the value of
twenty pounds, or renting a tenement of the yearly value of forty
shillings, could vote for an assemblyman, and one possessing a
freehold of the value of one hundred pounds, free from all debts,
could vote for a senator.

But even these drastic conditions did not satisfy the draftsman of the
Constitution. The legislators themselves, although thus carefully
selected, might prove inefficient, and so, lest "laws inconsistent
with the spirit of this Constitution, or with the public good, may be
hastily or unadvisedly passed," a Council of Revision was created,
composed of the governor, chancellor, and the three judges of the
Supreme Court, or any two of them acting with the governor, who "shall
revise all bills about to be passed into laws by the Legislature." If
the Council failed to act within ten days after having possession of
the bill, or if two-thirds of each house approved it after the Council
disapproved it, the bill became law. This Council seems to have been
suggested by the veto power possessed by the King's Privy Council.

The supreme executive power and authority of the State were vested in
a governor, who must be a freeholder and chosen by the ballots of
freeholders possessed of one hundred pounds above all debts. His term
of office was three years, and his powers similar to those of
preceding Crown governors. He was commander-in-chief of the army, and
admiral of the navy. He had power to convene the Legislature in
extraordinary session; to prorogue it not to exceed sixty days in any
one year; and to grant pardons and reprieves to persons convicted of
crimes other than treason and murder, in which cases he might suspend
sentence until the Legislature acted. In accordance with the custom of
his predecessors, he was also expected to deliver a message to the
Legislature whenever it convened. To aid him in his duties, the
Constitution provided for the election of a lieutenant-governor, who
was made the presiding officer of the Senate.

The proposition that no authority should be exercised over the people
except such as came from the people necessarily opened the door to an
election of the governor by the people; but how to restrict his power
seems to have taxed Jay's ingenuity. He had reduced the number of
voters to its lowest terms, and put a curb on the Legislature, as well
as the governor, by the creation of the Council of Revision; but how
to curtail the chief executive's power in making appointments,
presented a problem which gave Jay himself, when governor, good reason
to regret the manner of its solution.

The only governors with whom Jay had had any experience were British
governors, and the story of their rule was a story of astonishing
mistakes and vexing stupidities. To go no farther back than Lord
Cornbury, the dissolute cousin of Queen Anne, not one in the long
list, covering nearly a century, exhibited gifts fitting him for the
government of a spirited and intelligent people, or made the slightest
impression for good either for the Crown or the Colony. Their
disposition was to be despotic, and to prevent a repetition of such
arbitrary conduct, Jay sought to restrict the governor's power in
making appointments to civil office.

The new Constitution provided for the appointment of sheriffs, mayors
of cities, district attorneys, coroners, county treasurers, and all
other officers in the State save governor, lieutenant-governor, state
treasurer and town officers. Some members of the convention wished the
governor to make these appointments; others wanted his power limited
by the Legislature's right to confirm. Jay saw objections to both
methods. The first would give the governor too much power; the latter
would transfer too much to the Legislature. To reconcile these
differences, therefore, he proposed "Article XXIII. That all officers,
other than those who, by this Constitution, are directed to be
otherwise appointed, shall be appointed in the manner following, to
wit: The Assembly shall, once in every year, openly nominate and
appoint one of the senators from each great district, which senators
shall form a Council for the appointment of the said officers, of
which the governor shall be president and have a casting vote, but no
other vote; and with the advice and consent of the said Council shall
appoint all of the said officers."[8]

[Footnote 8: "The clause directing the governor to _nominate_ officers
to the Legislature for their approbation being read and debated, was
generally disapproved. Many other methods were devised by different
members, and mentioned to the house merely for consideration. I
mentioned several myself, and told the convention at the time, that,
however I might then incline to adopt them, I was not certain, but
that after considering them, I should vote for their rejection. While
the minds of the members were thus fluctuating between various
opinions, I spent the evening of that day with Mr. Morris at your
lodgings, in the course of which I proposed the plan for the
institution of the Council as it now stands, and after conversing on
the subject we agreed to bring it into the house the next day. It was
moved and debated and carried."--John Jay, _Correspondence and Public
Papers_, Vol. 1, p. 128. Letter of Jay to Robert R. Livingston and
Gouverneur Morris, April 29, 1777.]

This provision was simply, as the sequel showed, a bungling
compromise. Jay intended that the governor should nominate and the
Council confirm, and in the event of a tie the governor should have
the casting vote. But in practice it subordinated the governor to the
Council whenever a majority of the Assembly was politically opposed to
him, and the annual election of the Council greatly increased the
chances of such opposition. When, finally, the Council of Appointment
set up the claim that the right to nominate was vested concurrently in
the governor and in each of the four senators, it practically stripped
the chief executive of power.

The anomaly of the Constitution was the absence of provision for the
judicature, the third co-ordinate branch of the government. One court
was created for the trial of impeachments and the correction of
errors, but the great courts of original jurisdiction, the Supreme
Court and the Court of Chancery, as well as the probate court, the
county court, and the court of admiralty, were not mentioned except
incidentally in sections limiting the ages of the judges, the offices
each might hold, and the appointment of clerks. Instead of recreating
these courts, the Constitution simply recognised them as existing. The
new court established, known as the Court of Errors and Impeachment,
consisted of the president of the Senate, the senators, the
chancellor, and the three judges of the Supreme Court, or a major part
of them. The conception of vesting supreme appellate jurisdiction in
the upper legislative house was derived from the former practice of
appeals to the Council of the Province,[9] which possessed judicial
as well as legislative power. The Constitution further followed the
practice of the old Council by providing that judges could not vote on
appeals from their own judgments, although they might deliver
arguments in support of the same--a custom which had obtained in New
York from the earliest times.[10]

[Footnote 9: _Memorial History of the City of New York_, Vol. 2, p.

[Footnote 10: _Duke's Laws_, Vol. 1, Chap. 14.]

In like manner provincial laws, grants of lands and charters, legal
customs, and popular rights, most of which had been in existence for a
century, were carried over. The Constitution simply provided, in a
general way, for the continuance of such parts of the common law of
England, the statute law of England and Great Britain, and the acts of
the legislature of the Colony of New York, as did not yield obedience
to the government exercised by Great Britain, or establish any
particular denomination of Christians, or their priests or ministers,
who were debarred from holding any civil or military office under the
new State; but acts of attainder for crimes committed after the close
of the war were abrogated, with the declaration that such acts should
not work a corruption of the blood.

The draft of the Constitution in Jay's handwriting was reported to the
convention on March 12, 1777, and on the following day the first
section was accepted. Then the debate began. Sixty-six members
constituted the convention, a majority of whom, led by John Morin
Scott, believed in the reign of the people. The spirit that nerved a
handful of men to embargo vessels and seize munitions of war covered
by British guns never wanted courage, and this historic band now
prepared to resist a conservatism that seemed disposed simply to
change the name of their masters. Jay understood this feeling. "It is
probable that the convention was ultra-democratic," says William Jay,
in the biography of his father, "for I have heard him observe that
another turn of the winch would have cracked the cord."[11]

[Footnote 11: William Jay, _Life of John Jay; Jay MSS._, Vol. 1, p.

Jay was not without supporters. Conservatives like the Livingstons,
the Morrises, and the Yateses never acted with the recklessness of
despair. They had well-formed notions of a popular government, and
their replies to proposed changes broke the force of the opposition.
But Jay, relying more upon his own policy, prudently omitted several
provisions that seemed to him important, and when discussion developed
their need, he shrewdly introduced them as amendments. Upon one
question, however, a prolonged and spirited debate occurred. This
centred upon the freedom of conscience. The Dutch of New Netherland,
almost alone among the Colonies, had never indulged in fanaticism, and
the Constitution, breathing the spirit of their toleration, declared
that "the free exercise and enjoyment of religious profession and
worship without diminution or preference shall forever hereafter be
allowed within the State to all mankind." Jay did not dissent from
this sentiment; but, as a descendant of the persecuted Huguenots, he
wished to except Roman Catholics until they should deny the Pope's
authority to absolve citizens from their allegiance and to grant
spiritual absolution, and he forcefully insisted upon and secured the
restriction that "the liberty of conscience hereby granted shall not
be so construed as to excuse acts of licentiousness or justify
practices inconsistent with the safety of the State." The question of
the naturalisation of foreigners renewed the contention. Jay's
Huguenot blood was still hot, and again he exacted the limitation that
all persons, before naturalisation, shall "abjure and renounce all
allegiance to all and every foreign king, prince, potentate, and
state, in all matters ecclesiastical as well as civil."

Jay intended reporting other amendments--one requiring a similar
renunciation on the part of all persons holding office, and one
abolishing domestic slavery. But before the convention adjourned he
was, unfortunately, summoned to the bedside of his dying mother.
Otherwise, New York would probably have had the distinction of being
first to set the example of freedom. "I should have been for a clause
against the continuance of domestic slavery," he said, in a letter
objecting to what occurred after his forced retirement.[12]

[Footnote 12: John Jay, _Correspondence and Public Papers_, Vol. 1, p.
126. "Such a recommendation was introduced by Gouverneur Morris and
passed, but subsequently omitted."--_Ibid._, p. 136, _note_.]

Although the Constitution was under consideration for more than a
month, haste characterised the close of the convention's
deliberations. As soon as Jay left, every one seemed eager to get
away, and on Sunday, April 20, 1777, the Constitution was adopted as a
whole practically as he left it, and a committee appointed to report a
plan for establishing a government under it. Unlike the Constitution
of Massachusetts, it was not submitted to the voters for ratification.
The fact that the delegates themselves had been elected by the people
seemed sufficient, and two days after its passage, the secretary of
the convention, standing upon a barrel in front of the courthouse at
Kingston, published it to the world by reading it aloud to those who
happened to be present. As it became known to the country, it was
cordially approved as the most excellent and liberal of the American
constitutions. "It is approved even in New England," wrote Jay, "where
few New York productions have credit."[13]

[Footnote 13: _Ibid._, p. 140.]

The absence of violent democratic innovations was the Constitution's
remarkable feature. Although a product of the Revolution, framed to
meet the necessities growing out of that great event, its general
provisions were decidedly conservative. The right of suffrage was so
restricted that as late as 1790 only 1303 of the 13,330 male residents
of New York City possessed sufficient property to entitle them to vote
for governor. Even the Court of Chancery remained undisturbed,
notwithstanding royal governors had created it in opposition to the
wishes of the popular assembly. But despite popular dissatisfaction,
which evidenced itself in earnest prayers and ugly protests, the
instrument, so rudely and hastily published on April 22, 1777,
remained the supreme law of the State for forty-four years.

Before adjournment the convention, adopting the report of its
committee for the organisation of a state government, appointed Robert
R. Livingston, chancellor; John Jay, chief justice of the Supreme
Court; Robert Yates, Jr., and John Sloss Hobart, justices of the
Supreme Court, and Egbert Benson, attorney-general. To a Council of
Safety, composed of fifteen delegates, with John Morin Scott,
chairman, were confided all the powers of the State until superseded
by a regularly elected governor.




After the constitutional convention adjourned in May, 1777, the
Council of Safety immediately ordered the election of a governor,
lieutenant-governor, and members of the Legislature. The selection of
a governor by ballot interested the people. Although freeholders who
could vote represented only a small part of the male population,
patriots of every class rejoiced in the substitution of a neighbour
for a lord across the sea. And all had a decided choice. Of those
suggested as fittest as well as most experienced Philip Schuyler, John
Morin Scott, John Jay and George Clinton were the favourites. Just
then Schuyler was in the northern part of the province, watching
Burgoyne and making provision to meet the invasion of the Mohawk
Valley; George Clinton, in command on the Hudson, was equally watchful
of the movements of Sir Henry Clinton, whose junction with Burgoyne
meant the destruction of Forts Clinton and Montgomery at the lower
entrance to the Highlands; while Scott and Jay, as members of the
Council of Safety, were directing the government of the new State.

Schuyler's public career began in the Provincial Assembly of New York
in 1768. He represented the people's interests with great boldness,
and when the Assembly refused to thank the delegates of the first
Continental Congress, or to appoint others to a second Congress, he
aided in the organisation of the Provincial Congress which usurped the
Assembly's functions and put all power into the hands of the people.
Chancellor Kent thought that "in acuteness of intellect, profound
thought, indefatigable activity, exhaustless energy, pure patriotism,
and persevering and intrepid public efforts, Schuyler had no
superior;" and Daniel Webster declared him "second only to Washington
in the services he rendered the country."[14] But there was in
Schuyler's make-up a touch of arrogance that displayed itself in
letters as well as in manners. The soldierly qualities that made him a
commander did not qualify him for public place dependent upon the
suffrage of men. People respected but did not love him. If they were
indignant that Gates succeeded him, they did not want him to govern
them, however much it may have been in his heart to serve them

[Footnote 14: While in command of the northern department, embracing
the province of New York, Schuyler was known as "Great Eye," so
watchful did he become of the enemy's movements; and although
subsequently, through slander and intrigue, superseded by Horatio
Gates, history has credited Burgoyne's surrender largely to his wisdom
and patriotism, and has branded Gates with incompetency, in spite of
the latter's gold medal and the thanks of Congress.]

John Morin Scott represented the radical element among the patriots.
By profession he was an able and wealthy lawyer; by occupation a
patriotic agitator. John Adams, who breakfasted with him, speaks of
his country residence three miles out of town as "an elegant seat,
with the Hudson just behind the house, and a rural prospect all around
him." But the table seems to have made a deeper impression upon the
Yankee patriot than the picturesque scenery of the river. "A more
elegant breakfast I never saw--rich plate, a very large silver
coffee-pot, a very large silver teapot, napkins of the very finest
materials, toast and bread and butter in great perfection. Afterwards
a plate of beautiful peaches, another of pears, another of plums, and
a musk melon." As a parting salute, this lover of good things spoke of
his host as "a sensible man, one of the readiest speakers upon the
continent, but not very polite."[15] This is what the Tories thought.
According to Jones, the Tory historian, Scott had the misfortune to
graduate at Yale--"a college remarkable for its republican principles
and religious intolerance," he says, and to belong to a triumvirate
whose purpose was "to pull down church and state, and to raise their
own government upon the ruins."[16]

[Footnote 15: John Adams, _Life and Works_, Vol. 2, p. 349 (Diary).]

[Footnote 16: Thomas Jones, _History of New York_, Vol. 1, p. 3.]

Scott, no doubt, was sometimes mistaken in the proper course to
pursue, but he was always right from his point of view, and his point
of view was bitter hostility to English misrule. Whatever he did he
did with all the resistless energy of a man still in his forties. He
was of distinguished ancestry. His great-great-grandfather, Sir John
Scott, baronet, of Ancrum, Scotland, had been a stalwart Whig before
the revolution of 1688, and his grandfather, John Scott, coming to New
York in 1702, had commanded Fort Hunter, a stronghold on the Mohawk.
Both were remarkable men. Tory blood was foreign to their veins. Young
John, breathing the air of independence, scorned to let his life and
property depend upon the pleasure of British lords and a British
ministry, or to be excluded from the right of trial by a jury of his
neighbours, or of taxation by his own representatives. In 1775 he went
to the Continental Congress; in 1776, to the Provincial Congress of
New York; and later he participated in the battle of Long Island as a
brigadier-general. After the adoption of the State Constitution he
became secretary of state, and from 1780 to 1783 served in the
Continental Congress. He lived long enough to see his country free,
although his strenuous life ended at fifty-four.

George Clinton possessed more popular manners than either Schuyler or
Scott. Indeed, it has been given to few men in New York to inspire
more passionate personal attachment than George Clinton. A patriot
never lived who was more bitter in his hostility to English misrule,
or more uncompromising in his opposition to toryism. He was a typical
Irishman--intolerant, often domineering, sometimes petulant, and
occasionally too quick to take offence, but he was magnetic and
generous, easily putting himself in touch with those about him, and
ready, without hesitation, to help the poorest and carry the weakest.
This was the kind of man the people wanted for governor.

Clinton came of a good family. His great-grandfather, a too devoted
adherent of Charles I., found it healthful to wander about Europe, and
finally to settle in the north of Ireland, out of reach of Cromwell's
soldiers, and out of sight of his ancestral patrimony. By the time
Charles II. came to the throne, the estate was lost, and this friend
of the Stuarts lived on in the quiet of his secluded home, and after
him, his son; but the grandson, stirred by the blood of a Puritan
mother, exchanged the North Sea shore for the banks of the Hudson,
where his son breathed the air that made him a leading spirit in the
war for American independence. Clinton's youth is one record of
precocity. Before the war began he passed through a long, a varied,
even a brilliant career, climbing to the highest position in the State
before he had reached the age when most men begin to fill responsible
places. At fifteen he manned an American privateer; at sixteen, as a
lieutenant, he accompanied his father in a successful assault upon
Fort Frontenac; at twenty-six, in the colonial legislature, he became
the rival of Philip Schuyler in the leadership and influence that
enabled a patriotic minority to resist the aggressions of Great
Britain; at thirty-six, holding a seat in the Second Continental
Congress, he voted for the Declaration of Independence, and commanded
a brigade of Ulster County militia.

The election which occurred in June was not preceded by a campaign of
speaking. People were too busy fighting to supplement a campaign of
bullets with one of words. But Jay sent out an electioneering letter
recommending Philip Schuyler for governor and George Clinton for
lieutenant-governor. This was sufficient to secure for these
candidates the conservative vote. It showed, too, Jay's unconcern for
high place. He was modest even to diffidence, an infirmity that seems
to have depressed him at times as much as it did Nathaniel Hawthorne
in a later day.

The returns were made to the Council of Safety, and Jay carefully
scanned them as they came in. On June 20 he wrote Schuyler: "The
elections in the middle district have taken such a turn as that, if a
tolerable degree of unanimity should prevail in the upper counties,
there will be little doubt of having, ere long, the honour of
addressing a letter to your excellency. Clinton, being pushed for both
offices, may have neither; he has many votes for the first and not a
few for the second. Scott, however, has carried a number from him, and
you are by no means without a share. You may rely on receiving by
express the earliest notice of the event alluded to."[17] When the
voters from Orange and other southern counties came in, however, Jay
discovered that the result did not follow the line either of his
wishes or of his suggestions. On the contrary, Clinton was elected to
both offices by a considerable plurality.[18]

[Footnote 17: John Jay, _Correspondence and Public Papers_, Vol. 1, p.

[Footnote 18: "A fragment of the canvass of 1777 shows the returns
from Albany, Cumberland, Dutchess, Tryon, and Westchester, as follows:
Clinton, 865; Scott, 386; Schuyler, 1012; Jay, 367; Philip Livingston,
5; Robert R. Livingston, 7. The votes from Orange and other southern
counties gave the election to Clinton."--_Civil List, State of New
York_ (1886), p. 164. Subsequently, when the Legislature met at
Kingston on September 1, Pierre Van Cortlandt as president of the
Senate performed the duties of lieutenant-governor.]

The result of the election proved a great surprise and something of a
humiliation to the ruling classes. "Gen. Clinton, I am informed, has a
majority of votes for the Chair," Schuyler wrote to Jay, on June 30.
"If so he has played his cards better than was expected."[19] A few
days later, after confirmation of the rumour, he betrayed considerable
feeling. "Clinton's family and connections do not entitle him to so
distinguished a pre-eminence," he wrote, showing that Revolutionary
heroes were already divided into more democratic and less democratic
whigs, and more aristocratic and less aristocratic patriots; but the
division was still in the mind rather than in any settled policy. "He
is virtuous and loves his country," added Schuyler, in the next line;
"he has ability and is brave, and I hope he will experience from every
patriot support, countenance and comfort."[20] Washington understood
his merits. "His character will make him peculiarly useful at the head
of your State," he wrote the Committee of Safety.

[Footnote 19: John Jay, _Correspondence and Public Papers_, Vol. 1, p.

[Footnote 20: John Jay, _Correspondence and Public Papers_, Vol. 1, p.

Clinton's inauguration occurred on July 30, 1777. He stood in front of
the courthouse at Kingston on top of the barrel from which the
Constitution had been published in the preceding April, and in the
uniform of his country, with sword in hand, he took the oath of
office. Within sixty days thereafter Sir Henry Clinton had carried the
Highland forts, scattered the Governor's troops, dispersed the first
Legislature of the State, burned Kingston to the ground, and very
nearly captured the Governor himself, the latter, under cover of
night, having made his escape by crossing the river in a small
rowboat. Among the captured patriots was Colonel McClaughry, the
Governor's brother-in-law. "Where is my friend George?" asked Sir
Henry. "Thank God," replied the Colonel, "he is safe and beyond the
reach of your friendship."




During the war Governor Clinton's duties were largely military. Every
important measure of the Legislature dealt with the public defence,
and the time of the Executive was fully employed in carrying out its
enactments and performing the work of commander-in-chief of the
militia. A large proportion of the population of the State was either
avowedly loyal to the Crown or secretly indisposed to the cause of
independence. "Of all the Colonies," wrote William Jay, "New York was
probably the least unanimous in the assertion and defence of the
principles of the Revolution. The spirit of disaffection was most
extensive on Long Island, and had probably tainted a large majority of
its inhabitants. In Queens County, in particular, the people had, by a
formal vote, refused to send representatives to the colonial congress
or convention, and had declared themselves neutral in the present

[Footnote 21: William Jay, _Life of John Jay_, Vol. 1, p. 41.]

The Governor sought to crush this spirit by methods much in vogue in
the eighteenth century. At the outset of his career he declared that
he had "rather roast in hell to all eternity than be dependent upon
Great Britain or show mercy to a damned Tory." To add to his fame, he
enforced this judgment with heavy fines, long imprisonments, summary
banishments, and frequent coats of tar and feathers.

Very soon after the adoption of the Constitution, the Legislature
passed a law requiring an oath of allegiance to the State; and under
the vigorous enforcement of this act the Governor sent many Tories
from the rural districts into the city of New York or expelled them
from the State. Others were required to give a pledge, with security,
to reside within prescribed limits. At times even the churches were
filled with prisoners, some of whom were sent to jails in Connecticut,
or exchanged for prisoners of war. In 1779 the Legislature increased
the penalty of disloyalty to the State, by passing the Confiscation
Act, declaring "the forfeiture and sale of the estates of persons who
had adhered to the enemy."

Up to this time only one political party had existed among the Whig
colonists. The passage of the Confiscation Act, however, encountered
the opposition of many sincere lovers of the cause of independence,
who favoured a more moderate policy toward loyalists, since they were
probably as sincere in their opinions as those opposed to them.
Besides, a generous and magnanimous course, it was argued, would
induce the return of many desirable citizens after hostilities had
ceased. To this the ultra-Whigs replied that the law of
self-preservation made a severe policy necessary, and if any one
suffered by its operation he must look to the government of his choice
for comfort and reimbursement. As for the return of the Tories, the
ultras declared that only citizens sincerely loyal to an independent
country would be acceptable.

This division into moderate and ultra Whigs was emphasised in 1781 by
the legislative grant to Congress of such import duties as accrued at
the port of New York, to be levied and collected "under such penalties
and regulations, and by such officers, as Congress should from time to
time make, order, and appoint." Governor Clinton did not cordially
approve the act at the time of its passage, and as the money began
flowing into the national treasury, he opposed the method of its
surrender. In his opinion, the State, as an independent sovereignty,
had associated itself with other Colonies only for mutual protection,
and not for their support. At his instance, therefore, the Legislature
substituted for the law of 1781 the act of March, 1783, granting the
duties to Congress, but directing their collection by officers of the
State. Although this act was subsequently amended, making collectors
amenable to Congress, another law was enacted in 1786 granting
Congress the revenue, and reserving to the State, as in the law of
1783, "the sole power of levying and collecting the duties." When
Congress asked the Governor to call a special session of the
Legislature, that the right to levy and collect might be yielded as
before, he refused to do so.

Governor Clinton understood the commercial advantages of New York's
geographical location, which were greatly enhanced by the navigation
acts of other States. The peace treaty had made New York the port of
entry for the whole region east of the Delaware, and into its coffers
poured a revenue so marvellous as to excite hopes of a prospective
wealth which a century, remarkable as was its productiveness, did
little more than realise. If any State, therefore, could survive
without a union with other Colonies, it was New York, and it is not
surprising that many, perhaps a majority of its people, under the
leadership of George Clinton, settled into a policy unfriendly to a
national revenue, and later to a national government.

The Governor had gradually become mindful of an opposition as stubborn
as it was persistent. He had encountered it in his treatment of the
Tories, but not until Alexander Hamilton became an advocate of amnesty
and oblivion, did Clinton recognise the centre and future leader of
the opposing forces. Hamilton did not appear among those interested in
the election of governor in 1777. His youth shut him out of Assembly
and Congress, out of committees and conventions, but it did not shut
him out of the army; and while Governor Clinton was wrestling with new
problems of government in the formation of a new State, Hamilton was
acting as secretary, aide, companion, and confidant of Washington,
accepting suggestions as commands, and acquiescing in his chief's
judgment with a fidelity born of love and admiration. In the history
of war nothing is more beautiful than the friendship existing between
the acknowledged leader of his country and this brave young officer,
spirited and impulsive, brilliant and able, yet frank and candid,
without ostentation and without egotism. It recalls a later-day
relationship between Ulysses S. Grant and John A. Rawlins, his chief
of staff.

In July, 1781, Hamilton, in command of a corps, accompanied Washington
in the forced march of the American army from New York to Yorktown.
This afforded him the opportunity, so long and eagerly sought, of
handling an independent command at a supreme moment of danger, and
before the sun went down on the 14th of October, he had led his troops
with fixed bayonets, under a heavy and constant fire, over abatis,
ditch, and palisades; then, mounting the parapet, he leaped into the
redoubt. Washington saw the impetuosity of the attack in the face of
the murderous fire, the daring leap to the parapet with three of his
soldiers, and the almost fatal spring into the redoubt. "Few cases,"
he says, "have exhibited greater proofs of intrepidity, coolness, and
firmness." Three days later Cornwallis surrendered.

In the summer of 1782 Hamilton was admitted to the bar in Albany, but
soon afterward settled in New York City, where he seems to have come
into practice and into fame by defending the rights of Tories. For
four years after the war ended, the treatment of British sympathisers
was the dominant political issue in New York. Governor Clinton
advocated disfranchisement and banishment, and the Legislature enacted
into law what he advised; so that when the British troops, under the
peace treaty, evacuated New York, in November, 1783, loyalists who had
thus far escaped the wrath of this patriot Governor, flocked to Nova
Scotia and New Brunswick like birds seeking a more congenial clime,
recalling the flight of the Huguenots after the revocation of the
Edict of Nantes one hundred years earlier. It is not easy to estimate
the number who fled before this savage and violent action of the
Legislature. Sir Guy Carleton, in command at New York, fixes the
emigration at one hundred thousand souls. For many years the "Landing
of the Loyalists" was annually commemorated at St. John, and in the
cemeteries of England and Scotland are found the tombstones of these
unfortunate devotees of the mother country.

It is likely Clinton was too intolerant, but it was the intolerance
that follows revolution. Hamilton, on the other hand, became an early
advocate of amnesty and oblivion, and, although public sentiment and
the Legislature were against him, he finally succeeded in modifying
the one and changing the other. "Nothing is more common," he observed,
"than for a free people in times of heat and violence to gratify
momentary passions by letting in principles and precedents which
afterwards prove fatal to themselves. If the Legislature can
disfranchise at pleasure, it may soon confine all the votes to a small
number of partisans, and establish an aristocracy or an oligarchy; if
it may banish at discretion, without hearing or trial, no man can be
safe. The name of liberty applied to such a government would be a
mockery of common sense."[22]

[Footnote 22: _Hamilton's Works_ (Lodge), Vol. 3, p. 450.]

The differences between Congress and the Legislature respecting the
collection of duties also brought Clinton and Hamilton into conflict.
As early as 1776 Hamilton had considered the question whether Congress
ought not to collect its own taxes by its own agents,[23] and, when a
member of Congress in 1783, he urged it[24] as one of the cardinal
features of an adequate federal system. In 1787 he was a member of the
Legislature. Here he insisted upon having the federal revenue system
adopted by the State. His argument was an extended exposition of the
facts which made such action important.[25] Under the lead of Clinton,
however, New York was willing to surrender the money, but not the
power of collection to Congress.

[Footnote 23: _Republic_, Vol. 1, p. 122.]

[Footnote 24: _Madison Papers_, Vol. 1, pp. 288, 291, 380.]

[Footnote 25: _Works_, Vol. 2, p. 16.]

Meantime, the pitiable condition to which the Confederation had come,
accented the need of a stronger central government. To this end
Clinton and Hamilton seemed for several years to be working in
harmony. In 1780 Clinton had presented to the Legislature the "defect
of power" in the Confederation, and, in 1781, John Sloss Hobart and
Egbert Benson, representing New York at a convention in Hartford,
urged the recommendation empowering Congress to apportion taxes among
the States in the ratio of their total population. The next year,
Hamilton, although not a member of the Legislature, persuaded it to
adopt resolutions written by him, declaring that the powers of the
central government should be extended, and that it should be
authorised to provide revenue for itself. To this end "it would be
advisable," continued the resolutions, "to propose to Congress to
recommend, and to each State to adopt, the measure of assembling a
general convention of the States, specially authorised to revise and
amend the Constitution." To Washington's farewell letter, appealing
for a stronger central government, Governor Clinton sent a cordial
response, and in transmitting the address to the Legislature in 1784,
he recommended attention "to every measure which has a tendency to
cement the Union, and to give to the national councils that energy
which may be necessary for the general welfare."[26]

[Footnote 26: _Hamilton's Works_ (Lodge), Vol. 1, p. 277.]

Nevertheless, Clinton was not always candid. His official
communications read like the utterances of a friend; but his
influence, as disclosed in the acts of 1783 and 1786, reserving to the
State the sole power of levying and collecting duties, clearly
indicate that while he loved his country in a matter-of-fact sort of
way, it meant a country divided, a country of thirteen States each
berating the other, a country of trade barriers and commercial
resentments, a country of more importance to New York and to Clinton
than to other Commonwealths which had made equal sacrifices.

Thus matters drifted until New York and other middle Atlantic States
discovered that it was impossible under the impotent Articles of
Confederation to regulate commerce in waters bordered by two or more
States. Even when New York and New Jersey could agree, Pennsylvania,
on the other side of New Jersey, was likely to withhold its consent.
Friction of a similar character existed between Maryland and Virginia,
North Carolina and Virginia, and Maryland and Pennsylvania. This
compelled Congress to call the convention, to which commissioners from
New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, and Virginia, assembled
at Annapolis in 1786, to consider the trade and commerce of the United
States, and to suggest measures for the action of Congress. Hamilton
and Egbert Benson were members of this body, the former of whom wrote
the address, afterward adopted, which declared the federal government
inefficient, and proposed a convention to revise the Articles of
Confederation,[27] in order to render them adequate to the exigencies
of the Union. This was the resolution unanimously adopted by the New
York Legislature in 1782, but to the surprise of Hamilton and the
friends of a stronger government, the Legislature now disapproved such
a convention. The idea did not please George Clinton. As Hamilton
summed up the opposition, it meant disinclination to taxation, fear of
the enforcement of debts, democratic jealousy of important officials,
and the influence of foreign powers.[28]

[Footnote 27: _Journal of Congress_, Vol. 12, p. 12.]

[Footnote 28: _Hamilton's Works_ (Lodge), Vol. 1, p. 401.]

In 1787, however, the Legislature adopted a joint resolution
instructing members of Congress from the State to urge that a
convention be held to amend the Articles of Confederation, and, when
Congress issued the call,[29] Robert Yates, John Lansing, Jr., and
Alexander Hamilton were elected delegates "for the sole purpose of
revising the Articles of Confederation, and reporting to Congress and
the several Legislatures such alterations as shall, when agreed to by
Congress and confirmed by the several States, render the Federal
Constitution adequate to the exigencies of government and the
preservation of the Union." Hamilton's election to this convention was
cited as proof of Clinton's disposition to treat fairly the opponents
of state supremacy, since it was well understood that his presence at
Philadelphia would add the ablest and most ultra exponent of a strong,
central government. It was certainly in Clinton's power to defeat
Hamilton as he did John Jay, but his liberality carried a high
check-rein, for Robert Yates and John Lansing were selected to
overcome Hamilton's vote.

[Footnote 29: In _Madison Papers_, Vol. 2, Introductory to Debates of
1787, is a history of previous steps toward union.]

Clinton's first choice for a delegate was Yates, whose criticism of
the work of the convention manifests hostility to a Union. He seemed
to have little conception of what would satisfy the real needs of a
strong government, preferring the vague doctrines of the old Whigs in
the early days of revolution. Lansing was clearer, and, perhaps, less
extreme in his views; but he wanted nothing more than an amendment of
the existing Confederation, known as the New Jersey plan.[30] The
moment, therefore, that a majority favoured the Virginia plan which
contemplated a national government with an executive, legislature,
and judiciary of its own, Lansing and Yates, regarding it a violation
of their instructions, and with the approval of Governor Clinton,
withdrew[31] from the convention and refused to sign the Constitution
after its adoption.[32]

[Footnote 30: "After an amendment of the first, so as to declare that
'the government of the United States ought to consist of a supreme
legislative, judiciary, and executive,' Lansing moved a declaration
'that the powers of legislation be vested in the United States
Congress.' He stated that if the Jersey plan was not adopted, it would
produce the mischiefs they were convened to obviate. That the
principles of that system were an equality of representation, and
dependence of the members of Congress on the States. That as long as
state distinctions exist, state prejudices would operate, whether the
election be by the States or the people. If there was no interest to
oppress, there was no need of an apportionment. What would be the
effect of the other plan? Virginia would have sixteen, Delaware one
representative. Will the general government have leisure to examine
the state laws? Will it have the necessary information? Will the
States agree to surrender? Let us meet public opinion, and hope the
progress of sentiment will make future arrangements. He would like the
system of his colleague (Hamilton) if it could be established, but it
was a system without example."--_Hamilton's MSS. notes_, Vol. 6, p.
77. Lansing's motion was negatived by six to four States, Maryland
being divided.]

[Footnote 31: Yates and Lansing retired finally from the convention on
July 10.]

[Footnote 32: "That they acted in accordance with Clinton was proved
by his deportment at this time. Unreserved declarations were made by
him, that no good was to be expected from the appointment or
deliberations of this body; that the country would be thrown into
confusion by the measure. Hamilton said 'Clinton was not a man
governed in ordinary cases by sudden impulses; though of an irritable
temper, when not under the immediate influence of irritation, he was
circumspect and guarded, and seldom acted or spoke without
premeditation or design.' When the Governor made such declarations,
therefore, Hamilton feared that Clinton's conduct would induce the
confusion he so confidently and openly predicted, and to exhibit it
before the public in all its deformity, Hamilton published a pointed
animadversion, charging these declarations upon him, and avowing a
readiness to substantiate them."--John C. Hamilton, _Life of Alexander
Hamilton_, Vol. 2, p. 528.]

Hamilton doubted if Madison's plan was strong enough to secure the
object in view. He suggested a scheme continuing a President and
Senate during good behaviour, and giving the federal government power
to appoint governors of States and to veto state legislation. In the
notes of a speech presenting this plan, he disclaimed the belief that
it was "attainable," but thought it "a model which we ought to
approach as near as possible."[33] After the Madison plan had been
preferred, however, Hamilton gave it earnest support, and although he
could not cast New York's vote, since a majority of the State's
representatives had withdrawn, he was privileged to sign the
Constitution. If he had never done anything else, it was glory enough
to have subscribed his name to that immortal record. When Hamilton
returned home, however, he found himself discredited by a majority of
the people. "You were not authorised by the State," said Governor
Clinton.[34] Richard Morris, the chief justice, remarked to him: "You
will find yourself, I fear, in a hornet's nest."[35]

[Footnote 33: _Works_, Vol. 1, p. 357. G.T. Curtis, _Commentaries on
the Constitution_, pp. 371, 381, presents a very careful analysis of
Hamilton's plan. For fac-simile copy of Hamilton's plan, see
_Documentary History of the Constitution_ (a recent Government
publication), Vol. 3, p. 771.]

[Footnote 34: M.E. Lamb, _History of the City of New York_, Vol. 2, p.

[Footnote 35: _Ibid._, Vol. 2, p. 318.]

On September 28, 1787, Congress transmitted a draft of the
Constitution, which required the assent of nine of the thirteen
States, to the several legislatures. At once it became the sole topic
of discussion. In New York it was the occasion of riots, of mobs, and
of violent contests. It was called the "triple-headed monster," and
declared to be "as deep and wicked a conspiracy as ever was invented
in the darkest ages against the liberties of a free people." Its
opponents, numbering four-sevenths of the community--although their
strength was mainly in the country[36]--and calling themselves Federal
Republicans, organised a society and opened correspondence with
leading men in other States. "All the old alarm about liberty was now
revived," says W.G. Sumner, "and all the elements of anarchy and
repudiation which had been growing so strong for twenty years were
arrayed in hostility."[37] But its bitterest opponent in the thirteen
Colonies was George Clinton.[38] "He preferred to remain the most
powerful citizen of New York, rather than occupy a subordinate place
under a national government in which his own State was not
foremost."[39] On the other hand, the _Federalist_, written largely by
Hamilton, carried conviction to the minds of thousands who had
previously doubted the wisdom of the plan. In the last number of the
series, he said: "The system, though it may not be perfect in every
part, is upon the whole a good one, is the best that the present views
and circumstances will permit, and is such an one as promises every
species of security which a reasonable people can desire."[40]

[Footnote 36: W.G. Sumner, _Life of Hamilton_, p. 137.]

[Footnote 37: _Ibid._, p. 135.]

[Footnote 38: John Fiske, _Critical Period of American History_, p.

[Footnote 39: John Fiske, _Essays Historical and Literary_, Vol. 1, p.

[Footnote 40: _Works of Hamilton_, Vol. 9, p. 548.]

When the Legislature opened, Governor Clinton delivered the usual
speech or message, but he said nothing of what everybody else was
talking about. Consideration of the Constitution was the only
important business before that body; four States had already ratified
it, and three others had it under consideration; yet the Governor said
not a word. His idea was for New York to hold off and let the others
try it. Then, if the Union succeeded, although revenue difficulties
were expected to break it up immediately,[41] the State could come in.
Meantime, like Patrick Henry of Virginia, he proposed another general
convention, to be held as soon as possible, to consider amendments.
Thus matters drifted until January, 1788, when Egbert Benson, now a
member of the Legislature, offered a resolution for holding a state
convention to consider the federal document. Dilatory motions blocked
its way, and its friends began to despair of better things; but Benson
persisted, until, at last, after great bitterness, the resolution was

[Footnote 41: W.G. Sumner, _Life of Hamilton_, p. 137.]

Of the sixty-one delegates to this convention, which assembled at the
courthouse in Poughkeepsie on June 17, two-thirds were opposed to the
Constitution.[42] The convention organised with Governor Clinton for
president. Among the champions of the Constitution appeared Hamilton,
Jay, Robert R. Livingston, Robert Morris, James Duane, then mayor of
New York, John Sloss Hobart, Richard Harrison, and others of like
character. Robert Yates, Samuel Jones, Melancthon Smith, and John
Lansing, Jr., led the fight against it. Beginning on June 19, the
discussion continued until July 28. Hamilton, his eloquence at its
best, so that at times there was not a dry eye in the assembly,[43]
especially emphasised the public debt. "It is a fact that should
strike us with shame, that we are obliged to borrow money in order to
pay the interest of our debt. It is a fact that these debts are
accumulating every day by compound interest."[44] In the old
Confederation, he declared, the idea of liberty alone was considered,
but that another thing was equally important--"I mean a principle of
strength and stability in the organisation of our government, and of
vigour in its operations."[45] Professor Sumner, in his admirable
biography, expresses surprise that nothing is said about debts in the
_Federalist_, and comparatively little about the Supreme Court. "This
is very remarkable," he says, "in view of the subsequent history; for
if there is any 'sleeping giant' in the Constitution, it has proved to
be the power of the Supreme Court to pass upon the constitutionality
of laws. It does not appear that Hamilton or anybody else foresaw that
this function of the Court would build upon the written constitution a
body of living constitutional law."[46]

[Footnote 42: _Ibid._, 137.]

[Footnote 43: M.E. Lamb, _History of the City of New York_, Vol. 2, p.

[Footnote 44: _Hamilton's Works_, Vol. 1, p. 491.]

[Footnote 45: _Ibid._, p. 449.]

[Footnote 46: W.G. Sumner, _Life of Hamilton_, p. 139.]

Melancthon Smith was the ablest opponent of the Constitution. Familiar
with political history, and one of the ablest debaters in the country,
he proved himself no mean antagonist even for Hamilton. "He must have
been a man of rare candour, too," says John Fiske, "for after weeks of
debate he owned himself convinced."[47] Whatever could be said against
the Constitution, Smith voiced it; and there was apparent merit in
some of his objections. To a majority of the people, New York appeared
to be surrendering natural advantages in much larger measure than
other Commonwealths, while its concession of political power struck
them as not unlikely to endanger the personal liberty of the citizen
and the independence of the State. They disliked the idea of a far-off
government, with many officers drawing large salaries, administering
the army, the navy, and the diplomatic relations with nations of the
Old World. It was so different from anything experienced since their
separation from England, that they dreaded this centralised power;
and, to minimise it, they proposed several amendments, among them one
that no person should be eligible to the office of President for a
third term. Time has demonstrated the wisdom of some of these
suggestions; but commendable as they now appear after the lapse of
more than a century, they were of trifling importance compared to the
necessity for a closer, stronger union of the States in 1787.

[Footnote 47: John Fiske, _Essays Historical and Literary_, Vol. 1, p.

Federalists were much alarmed over the failure of New York to ratify.
Although the State ranked only fifth in population, commercially it
was the centre of the Union. From the standpoint of military
movements, too, it had been supremely important in the days of
Montcalm and Burgoyne, and it was felt that a Federal Union cut in
twain by the Mohawk and Hudson valleys must have a short life. "For my
own part," said Hamilton, "the more I can penetrate the views of the
anti-federal party in this State, the more I dread the consequences of
the non-adoption of the Constitution by any of the other States--the
more I fear eventual disunion and civil war."[48] His fear bred an
apparent willingness to agree to a conditional ratification,[49] until
Madison settled the question that there could be no such thing as
conditional ratification since constitutional secession would be
absurd. On July 11 Jay moved that "the Constitution be ratified, and
that whatever amendments might be deemed expedient should be
recommended." This, however, did not satisfy the opposition, and the
discussion continued.

[Footnote 48: _Hamilton's Works_, Vol. 8, p. 187.]

[Footnote 49: _Ibid._, p. 191.]

Hamilton, however, did not rely upon argument alone. He arranged for
news of the Virginia and New Hampshire conventions, and while Clinton,
clinging to his demand for conditional ratification, still hesitated,
word came from New Hampshire, by a system of horse expresses, telling
the glad story that the requisite number of States had been secured.
This reduced the question to ratification or secession. A few days
later it was learned that Virginia had also joined the majority. The
support of Patrick Henry had been a tower of strength to Governor
Clinton, and his defeat exaggerated Clinton's fear that New York City
and the southern counties which favoured the Constitution might now
execute their threat to split off unless New York ratified. Then came
Melancthon Smith's change to the federalist side. This was like
crushing the centre of a hostile army. Finally, on July 28, a
resolution "that the Constitution be ratified _in full confidence_
that the amendments proposed by this convention will be adopted,"
received a vote of thirty to twenty-seven. Governor Clinton did not
vote, but it was known that he advised several of his friends to
favour the resolution. On September 13, he officially proclaimed the
Federal Constitution as the fundamental law of the Republic.

Posterity has never severely criticised George Clinton's opposition to
national development. His sincerity and patriotism have been accepted.
To Washington and Hamilton, however, his conduct seemed like a cold
and selfish desertion of his country at the moment of its utmost
peril. "The men who oppose a strong and energetic government," wrote
Washington to Hamilton on July 10, 1787, the day of Yates' and
Lansing's retirement from the Philadelphia convention, "are, in my
opinion, narrow-minded politicians, or are under the influence of
local views." This reference to "local views" meant George Clinton,
upon whose advice Yates and Lansing acted, and who declared
unreservedly that only confusion could come to the country from a
convention and a measure wholly unnecessary, since the Confederation,
if given sufficient trial, would probably answer all the purposes of
the Union.

The march of events has so clearly proved the wisdom of Hamilton and
the unwisdom of Clinton, that the name of one, joined inseparably with
that of Washington, has grown with the century, until it is as much a
part of the history of the Union as the Constitution itself. The name
of George Clinton, on the contrary, is little known beyond the limits
of his native State. It remained for DeWitt Clinton, the Governor's
distinguished nephew, to link the family with an historic enterprise
which should bring it down through the ages with increasing respect
and admiration.




At each triennial election for twelve years, ever since the adoption
of the State Constitution in 1777, George Clinton had been chosen
governor. No one else, in fact, had ever been seriously talked of,
save John Jay in 1786. Doubtless Clinton derived some advantage from
the control of appointments, which multiplied in number and increased
in influence as term succeeded term, but his popularity drew its
inspiration from sources other than patronage. A strong, rugged
character, and a generous, sympathetic nature, sunk their roots deeply
into the hearts of a liberty-loving people who supported their
favourite with the fidelity of personal friendship.

The time had, however, come at last when Clinton's right to continue
as governor was to be contested. Hamilton's encounter with the New
York opponents of the Federal Constitution had been vigorous and
acrimonious. It was easy to stand with one's State in opposing the
Constitution when opposition had behind it the powerful Clinton
interest and the persuasive Clinton argument that federal union meant
the substitution of experiment for experience, and the exchange of a
superior for an inferior position; but it required a splendid
stubbornness to face, daringly and aggressively, the desperate odds
arrayed against the Constitution. Every man who wanted to curry favour
with Clinton was ready to strike at Hamilton, and they covered him
with obloquy. Very likely his attitude was not one to tempt the
forbearance of angry opponents. He did not fight with gloves.
Nevertheless, his success added one more to his list of splendid
victories. He had beaten Clinton in his intolerant treatment of
loyalists; he had beaten him in obtaining for Congress the sole power
of regulating commerce; he had beaten him in the Philadelphia
convention called to frame a federal constitution; he had beaten him
in a state convention called to ratify that constitution; and now he
proposed to beat him for governor in a State which would have great
influence in smoothing the way for the new federal government.

After the close of the Revolution, there had been local parties in the
various Stales, divided on issues of hard and soft money, on imposts,
on treatment of Tories, and on state rights, and these issues had
coincided in many of the States. During the contest growing out of the
adoption of the Federal Constitution, all these elements became
segregated into two great political parties, those who supported the
Constitution being known as Federalists--those who were opposed to
strengthening the bond between the States being called anti-Federalists.
The latter were clearly in the majority in New York, and Hamilton
rightly inferred that, notwithstanding the people, since the adoption
of the Constitution, manifested a disposition to sustain the general
government, a large majority of freeholders, having heretofore
supported Clinton as a wise, patriotic governor, would not now desert
him for an out-and-out Federalist. To meet this emergency, several
Federalists, at a meeting held February 11, 1789, nominated Robert
Yates, an anti-Federalist judge of the Supreme Court, hoping thus to
form a coalition with the more moderate men of his party.

In support of such politics, of the doubtful wisdom of which there was
abundant illustration in the recent unnatural coalition between Lord
North and the brilliant Charles James Fox, Hamilton wrote to his
friends in Albany that in settling upon a candidate, some difficulties
occurred. "Our fellow citizens in some parts of the State," he said,
"had proposed Judge Yates, others had been advocates of
Lieutenant-Governor Van Cortlandt, and others for Chief Justice
Morris. It is well known that the inhabitants of this city are, with
few exceptions, strongly attached to the new Constitution. It is also
well known that the Lieutenant-Governor and Chief Justice, whom we
respect and esteem, were zealous advocates for the same cause. Had it
been agreed to support either of them for governor, there would have
been reason to fear that the measure would have been imputed to party,
and not to a desire of relieving our country from the evils they
experience from the heats of party. It appeared, therefore, most
advisable to elect some man of the opposite party, in whose integrity,
patriotism, and temper, confidence might be placed, however little his
political opinions on the question lately agitated might be approved
by those who were assembled upon that occasion.

"Among the persons of this description, there were circumstances which
led to a decision in favour of Judge Yates. It is certain that as a
man and a judge he is generally esteemed. And, though his opposition
to the new Constitution was such as his friends cannot but disapprove,
yet, since the period of its adoption, his conduct has been tempered
with a degree of moderation, and seems to point him out as a man
likely to compose the differences of the State. Of this at least we
feel confident, that he has no personal revenge to gratify, no
opponents to oppress, no partisans to provide for, nor any promises
for personal purposes to be performed at the public expense."[50]

[Footnote 50: _Hamilton's Works_ (Lodge), Vol. 1, p. 509.]

To many the selection of Robert Yates seemed almost ungracious. The
Federalists wanted Richard Morris, chief justice of the Supreme Court,
who had encouraged the establishment of a strong government, and, as a
member of the Poughkeepsie convention, had voted to ratify the Federal
Constitution. Besides, he was a gentleman of the old school, of
inflexible integrity, firm and decided in character, whose full,
rounded face and commanding presence appeared to advantage among the
stately and dignified personages who supported knee breeches and silk
stockings, and displayed the delicate ruffles of a shirt under the
folds of a rich velvet coat. Hamilton was fond of Morris, and
recognised the justice of his claims. Their views in no wise differed,
their families were intimate, and at the Poughkeepsie convention,
after listening for three hours to Hamilton's speech, Morris had
pronounced it the ablest argument and most patriotic address ever
heard in the State of New York. But the great Federalist, determined
to destroy Clinton, wanted availability, not fidelity, and so Morris
declined in favour of Yates.

In everything Robert Yates was an anti-Federalist. He dressed like one
and he talked like one. He had been an opponent of the Federal
Constitution, an advocate of the doctrine of state supremacy, and an
ardent supporter of the Governor. With Clinton's approval he had
withdrawn from the Philadelphia convention when the majority favoured
a strong government wielding supreme authority; with Clinton's
approval, he had opposed the ratification of the Federal Constitution
in the state convention at Poughkeepsie, and with Clinton's approval
he declined to change his vote, although New Hampshire's action and
Hamilton's speech had already settled the question of ratification.
What Hamilton proposed, Yates opposed; what Clinton advocated, Yates
approved. After the ratification of the Constitution, however, Robert
Yates charged the grand jury that it would be little short of treason
against the Republic to disobey it. "Let me exhort you, gentlemen," he
said, "not only in your capacity as grand jurors, but in your more
durable and equally respectable character as citizens, to preserve
inviolate this charter of our national rights and safety, a charter
second only in dignity and importance to the Declaration of our

Upon the bench Yates distinguished himself for impartiality and
independence, if not for learning. He abated the intemperate zeal of
patriotic juries, and he refused to convict men suspected of
disloyalty, without proof. On one occasion he sent a jury back four
times to reconsider a verdict of guilty unauthorised by the evidence,
and subsequently treated with indifference a legislative threat of
impeachment, based upon a fearless discharge of duty. He could afford
to be just, for, like George Clinton, he had early embraced the cause
of the Colony against the Crown. From an Albany alderman he became a
maker of the State Constitution, and from a writer of patriotic
essays, he shone as an active member of the Committee of Safety.
Together with John Jay and Robert R. Livingston, he had obstructed the
passage of Lord Howe's ships up the Hudson, and with General Schuyler
he devised measures to repel the British from the northern and western
frontier. He had helped to fix the dividing line between Massachusetts
and New York, and, as one of the Council of Administration, he
governed southern New York from the withdrawal of the British until
the assembling of the Legislature.

Having decided to go outside his own party, Hamilton made no mistake
in picking his man. If Clinton was the Hampden of the colonial period,
Robert Yates could well be called its Pym. He had toleration as well
as patriotism. But he also had an itching desire for office. Some one
has said that the close connection between man and a child is never
more clearly illustrated than in the joy and pride which the wisest
statesman feels in the wearing of a ribbon or a star. It could not be
said of Robert Yates then, as it was said, with good reason, six years
later, that his desire for office extinguished his devotion to party
and his character for political consistency, but it was openly charged
that, upon the suggestion of Hamilton, he urged the grand jury to
support the Federal Constitution in order to strengthen himself with
the Federalists. Whether this be true or not, Yates' previous devotion
to the anti-Federalist party set his present conduct in sharp contrast
to that of other distinguished anti-Federalist statesmen of the
time--to men like Samuel Jones and Melancthon Smith, who accepted the
action of the Poughkeepsie convention, but supported George Clinton.
"Men, not principles, are involved," they declared.

All that we know of Yates would seem to deny his surrender of
principle, or his condescension to any act of baseness, to obtain
office. It was indeed a question whether Clinton, or Hamilton through
Yates, should control the state government; but the gubernatorial
contest involved more than that. The new government, soon to be placed
on trial, needed the help of sympathetic governors and legislatures,
and Clinton and his supporters, forced to accept the Constitution,
could hardly be regarded as its wisest and safest guardians. From
Hamilton's standpoint, therefore, it was more principle than men.
However agreeable to him it might be to defeat and humiliate Clinton,
greater satisfaction must spring from the consciousness that while in
its leading-strings, at least, the general government would have the
hearty support of New York.

Hamilton's great coalition, intended to work such wonders, boasted
many brilliant names. Of the younger men Robert Troup, of Hamilton's
age, an early friend of Burr, took a most conspicuous part, while
among the older members of this galaxy was James Duane, a lawyer of
rare ability, the first mayor of New York, for ten years continuously
in the Continental Congress, a man of great force, of large wealth,
and superb character. He was in his forties when Hamilton, a boy of
seventeen, won his heart by a single speech, denouncing the act of
Parliament which closed the port of Boston. The most notable man in
the coalition, next to Hamilton and Jay, was Robert R. Livingston, now
Hamilton's devoted friend, before long to be his bitter enemy. He was
still young, little more than forty, but in everything he was bold and
skilful, vigorous as a writer, eloquent as a speaker, deeply learned
as a jurist, and rich in scholarship. Of the same age as Livingston
was William Duer,[51] who started at eighteen as an aide to Lord Clive
in India. Duer was at one time the most useful man in America. Nobody
could cheat him. As soon as Hamilton became secretary of the
treasury, he made Duer assistant secretary, an office which he held
with credit until 1790, when he resigned to become the chief of a ring
of speculators, who, two years later, left him insolvent and in jail.
Hamilton's coalition also furnished the only instance of the political
association of himself and Burr, although Burr's support of Yates is
said to have been personal rather than political. The story is that
Burr, seeking admission to the bar after reading law less than a year,
induced Judge Yates to suspend the rule requiring three years of
study, because of the applicant's term as a soldier, a service that
laid the foundation of a lasting friendship.

[Footnote 51: It was his son, William Alexander Duer, the brilliant
and accomplished writer, who presided for thirteen years with such
distinguished ability over Columbia College.]

On the opposite side were many men who live in history as builders of
the Empire State. None belong to the gallery of national characters,
perhaps, but John Lansing, Livingston's successor as chancellor, and
Samuel Jones,[52] the first state comptroller, known, by common
consent, as the father of the New York bar, find places in the list of
New York's ablest statesmen. To this memorable company also belonged
Melancthon Smith, the head of the anti-Federalist forces at the
Poughkeepsie convention, and Gilbert Livingston of Dutchess, whose one
patriotic address was the last blow needed to ratify the Constitution.
He was not, like Smith, a great debater, but his ready eloquence
classed him among the orators who were destined to live in the memory
of a later generation. Beside him was James Clinton, brother of the
Governor and father of DeWitt Clinton. A soldier by profession, he had
taken part in several important battles and marches, charging with
Bradstreet at the capture of Fort Frontenac, following the lamented
Montgomery to Quebec, and serving with Sullivan in his famous
expedition against the Indians. Finally, he shared in the glory of
being with Washington at the surrender of Lord Cornwallis. He seems to
have been the real soldier of the family, blending the strong, active
powers of the Clinton mind with the gentler virtues which made him as
sympathetic on the field as he was affectionate in the home.

[Footnote 52: "No one," said Chancellor Kent, writing of Samuel Jones,
"surpassed him in clearness of intellect and in moderation and
simplicity of character; no one equalled him in his accurate knowledge
of the technical rules and doctrines of real property, and his
familiarity with the skilful and elaborate, but now obsolete and
mysterious, black-letter learning of the common law."]

Thus the contest between Yates and Clinton, although the first real
political conflict in the history of the State, became one of the
sharpest and most bitterly fought. For six weeks the atmosphere was
thick and hot with political passion. Veteran observers declared that
their generation had seen nothing like it. But the arguments of Duer,
the powerful influence of Chancellor Livingston, the leadership of
Hamilton, and the phenomenal popularity of John Jay, could not win the
voters who saw nothing more in the arrangement than a question of
individual preference, and while Yates carried the western district by
a large majority and held his own in the southern, Clinton's home
county gave him 1093 out of 1245 votes, making his majority 429 in a
total vote of 12,353.

The call for the Governor was so close that he quickly prepared for a
repetition of the contest in 1792. The inauguration of Washington on
April 30 had given Hamilton control of the federal offices in New
York, and, although of trifling importance compared to state
patronage, they were used to strengthen federalism, and, if possible,
to destroy Clinton. John Jay became chief justice of the Supreme
Court, James Duane judge of the District Court, Richard Harrison
United States attorney, and William S. Smith United States marshal. It
was a brilliant array of talent and legal learning. Of the lights and
ornaments of the law in his day, Richard Harrison excelled in an
intimate knowledge of its intricacies and mysteries. Added to these
officials were Rufus King and Philip Schuyler, United States senators,
and three members of Congress, with Egbert Benson at their head. As
secretary of the treasury and the trusted friend of the President,
Hamilton had also multiplied his personal influence.

Governor Clinton felt the full force of the Federalist combination,
the fear of which had intensified his hostility to the Union; but he
governed his conduct with the toleration and foresight of a master
politician. He declined to punish those who had deserted his standard,
refusing to accept Robert Yates' apostacy as sufficient cause to bar
his promotion as chief justice, and appointing to the vacancy John
Lansing, Jr., who, although a strong anti-Federalist, had already
shown an independence of political domination.

But the master-stroke of Clinton's diplomacy displayed itself in the
appointment of Aaron Burr as attorney-general. After Burr left the
army "with the character of a true knight," as John Adams put it, he
began the practice of law at Albany. Later he removed to New York,
taking up his home in Maiden Lane. Thus far his political career,
limited to two terms in the Legislature, had been insignificant.
During the great controversy over the Federal Constitution he remained
silent. His silence, however, was the silence of concealment. He
shared no confidences, he exploited no principles, he did nothing in
the open. He lived in an air of mystery, writing letters in cipher,
using messengers instead of the mails, and maintaining espionage upon
the movements of others. Of himself he wrote to Theodosia, "he is a
grave, silent, strange sort of animal, inasmuch that we know not what
to make of him." In the political parlance of to-day, his methods
savoured of the "still hunt," and in their exercise he exhibited the
powers of a past-master in stirring up men's prejudices, and creating
divisions among his rivals; but his methods, whether practised in law
or in politics, were neither modern nor moral. He marshalled forces
with equal celerity under either flag.

Shortly after Burr moved into Maiden Lane, Hamilton made his home in
Wall Street. Their first meeting, which occurred on the road from
Harlem bridge to White Plains during the disastrous retreat of
Washington's army from Manhattan in September, 1776, had been
characterised by mutual dislike. Burr, with the rank of major, acted
as aide to General Putnam; Hamilton, as an officer of artillery, was
soon to become an aide to Washington. Both were young then--Hamilton
not yet twenty, Burr scarcely twenty-one; yet their character, then
fully developed, shines out in their estimate of the commander-in-chief.
Burr thought Washington inferior as an officer, and weak, though
honest, as a man; Hamilton thought him a great soldier and a great
statesman, upon whose services the welfare of the country largely
depended. Burr's prejudices settled into positive dislike; Hamilton's
appreciation voiced the sentiment of the people and the judgment of

There is a legend that from the first, destiny seemed determined to
oppose the genius and fame of Hamilton with the genius and fame of
Aaron Burr. It is certainly a remarkable coincidence that two men,
born without the State, so nearly of an age, so similar in brilliant
attainments, so notably distinguished in charm of manner and
phenomenal accomplishments, and so strikingly alike in ripeness of
intelligence and bent of ambition, should happen to have lived at the
same time, in the same city, and become members of the same
profession; yet it is not surprising that these men should prove
formidable rivals and deadly foes, since difference in character was
far more real than resemblance of mental attainments. Both were
fearless and brave, but the one was candid, frank and resolute; the
other subtle, crafty and adventurous. Perhaps their only common
characteristic was an ungoverned admiration for the charms of women,
though, unlike Burr, Hamilton neither bragged of his amours, nor
boasted that success attended his pursuit of pleasure.

It can hardly be supposed that in appointing Burr attorney-general,
Clinton did not have in mind the necessity of securing to the ranks of
the anti-Federalists all talented and spirited young men; but it is
none the less evident that Clinton was thinking more of himself than
of his party. Burr figured as an ugly opponent in the recent campaign.
Besides, he possessed the happy faculty of surrounding himself with
young men who recognised in him a superlative combination of bravery,
chivalry, and ability. Hamilton called them "Burr's myrmidons," but
Theodosia, with a daughter's devotion and diplomatic zeal, entitled
them "the Tenth Legion." They had joined Burr when a violent Whig in
1784, sending him to the Assembly for two terms; they had rallied
under his call to the Sons of Liberty, attracting the fierce fire of
Hamilton; and they had broken party bonds to support Robert Yates
because of their chief's personal friendship.

Such a man would attract the attention of any political manager, and
although Clinton up to this time had had no particular relations with
Burr, the latter's enthusiastic support of Yates accentuated his
political value. In after years Burr declared that Clinton had always
been his rival, and Clinton no less frankly avowed his distrust of
Burr, charging him with always being "for sale;" but Burr's rivalry
and Clinton's distrust do not date back to 1790.

If Clinton thought himself fortunate in gaining Burr, he was still
more fortunate in the defection of the influential Livingstons. What
Cæsar said of Gaul used to be said of the Empire State, that all New
York was divided into three parts--the Clintons, the Livingstons, and
the Schuylers. Parton said "the Clintons had power, the Livingstons
had numbers, and the Schuylers had Hamilton."[53] In 1788 seven
members of the Livingston family, with the Schuylers, had overthrown
the Clintons, and turned the Confederation into the Union. Robert R.
Livingston, standing at their head, was the exponent of a liberal
policy toward all American citizens, and the champion of a broader
national life. His associates were the leading Federalists; his
principles were the pillars of his party; and his ambitions centred in
the success and strength of his country.

[Footnote 53: James Parton, _Life of Aaron Burr_, Vol. 1, p. 169. "New
York, much more than New England, was the home of natural leaders and
family alliances. John Jay, the governor; the Schuylers, led by Philip
Schuyler and his son-in-law, Alexander Hamilton; the Livingstons, led
by Robert R. Livingston, with a promising younger brother, Edward,
nearly twenty years his junior, and a brother-in-law, John Armstrong,
besides Samuel Osgood, Morgan Lewis and Smith Thompson, other
connections by marriage with the great Livingston stock; the Clintons,
headed by George, the governor, and supported by the energy of DeWitt,
his nephew,--all these Jays, Schuylers, Livingstons, Clintons, had
they lived in New England, would probably have united in the support
of their class; but being citizens of New York they quarrelled."--Henry
Adams, _History of the United States_, Vol. 1, pp. 108-09.]

Prudence, therefore, if no higher motive, required that the
Livingstons be not overlooked in the division of federal patronage.
There was much of it to divide. Besides cabinet positions and judicial
appointments, the foreign service offered rare opportunities to a few
accomplished statesmen and recognised scholars. Robert R. Livingston,
as chancellor of New York, stood in line of promotion for chief
justice of the United States Supreme Court, but John Jay stood nearer
to Hamilton, just as Philip Schuyler did when United States senators
were chosen. Other honourable and most desirable positions, however,
were open. John Quincy Adams thought a mission to England or France
better than the Cabinet, but Gouverneur Morris went to France, Thomas
Pinckney to England, William Short to Spain, and David Humphreys to
Portugal. The Livingstons were left out.

Hamilton's funding system, especially the proposed assumption of state
debts, then dividing the public mind, afforded plausible cause for
opposing federalism; and ostensibly for this reason, the Livingstons
ceased to be Federalists. Some of the less conspicuous members,
residents of Columbia County, continued their adherence, but the
statesmen who give the family its name in history wanted nothing more
of a party whose head was a "young adventurer," a man "not native to
the soil," a "merchant's clerk from the West Indies." The story is
that the Chancellor convened the family and made the separation so
complete that Washington's subsequent offer of the mission to France
failed to secure his return.

The first notice of the Livingston break was in the election of a
United States senator in 1791. Philip Schuyler, Hamilton's
father-in-law, confidently expected a re-election. His selection for
the short term was with this understanding. But several members of the
Assembly, nominally Federalists, were friendly to Clinton, who
preferred Aaron Burr to Schuyler because of Hamilton's influence over
him;[54] and when the Governor promised Morgan Lewis, the Chancellor's
brother-in-law, Burr's place as attorney-general, Livingston's
disposition to injure Hamilton became intensified, and to the
disappointment of Schuyler, the vote of the Legislature disclosed a
small majority for Burr.

[Footnote 54: In a letter to Theodorus Bailey, Chancellor Kent, then a
member of the Assembly, expressed the opinion that "things look
auspicious for Burr. It will be in some measure a question of northern
and southern interests. The objection of Schuyler's being related to
the Secretary has weight."--William Kent, _Memoirs and Letters of
James Kent_, p. 39.]

It is easy to conjecture that the haughty, unpopular, aristocratic old
General[55] would not be as acceptable as a young man of thirty-five,
fascinating in manner, gifted in speech, and not yet openly and
offensively partisan; but it needed something more than this charm of
personality to line up the hard-headed, self-reliant legislator
against Hamilton and Philip Schuyler, and Burr found it in his appeal
to Clinton, and in the clever brother-in-law suggestion to Livingston.

[Footnote 55: "The defeat of Schuyler was attributed partly to the
unprepossessing austerity of his manner."--_Ibid._, p. 38.]

The defeat of Schuyler was a staggering blow to Hamilton. The great
statesman had achieved success as secretary of the treasury, but as a
political manager, his lack of tact, impatience of control, and
infirmity of temper, had crippled the organisation. In less than three
years the party had lost a United States senator, suffered the
separation of a family vastly more important than federal appointees,
and sacrificed the prestige of victory, so necessary to political




Burr's rapid advancement gave full rein to his ambition. Not content
with the exalted office to which he had suddenly fallen heir, he now
began looking for higher honours; and when it came time to select
candidates for governor, he invoked the tactics that won him a place
in the United States Senate. He found a few anti-Federalists willing
to talk of him as a stronger candidate than George Clinton, and a few
Federalists who claimed that the moderate men of both parties would
rally to his support. In the midst of the talk Isaac Ledyard wrote
Hamilton that "a tide was likely to make strongly for Mr. Burr,"[56]
and James Watson, in a similar strain, argued that Burr's chances, if
supported by Federalists, would be "strong."[57]

[Footnote 56: James Parton, _Life of Aaron Burr_, Vol. 1, p. 187.]

[Footnote 57: _Ibid._, 188.]

Clinton's firm hold upon his party quickly checked Burr's hope from
that quarter, but the increasing difficulty among Federalists to find
a candidate offered opportunity for Burr's peculiar tactics, until his
adherents were everywhere--on the bench, in the Legislature, in the
drawing-rooms, the coffee-houses, and the streets. Hamilton had only
to present him and say, "Here is your candidate," and Aaron Burr would
cheerfully have opposed the friend who, within less than two years,
had appointed him attorney-general and elected him United States
senator. But Hamilton deliberately snuffed him out. The great
Federalist had finally induced John Jay to become the candidate of his
party. This was on February 13, 1792. Two days later, the
anti-Federalists named George Clinton and Pierre Van Cortlandt, the
old ticket which had done service for fifteen years.

In inducing John Jay to lead his party, Hamilton made a good start.
Heretofore Jay had steadily refused to become a candidate for
governor. "That the office of the first magistrate of the State," he
wrote, May 16, 1777, "will be more respectable as well as more
lucrative than the place I now fill is very apparent; but my object in
the course of the present great contest neither has been nor will be
either rank or money."[58] After his return from Europe, when Governor
Clinton's division of patronage and treatment of royalists had become
intensely objectionable, Jay was again urged to stand as a candidate,
but he answered that "a servant should not leave a good old master for
the sake of more pay or a prettier livery."[59] If this was good
reasoning in 1786 and 1789, when he was secretary of foreign affairs,
it was better reasoning in 1792, when he was chief justice of the
United States; but the pleadings of Hamilton seem to have set a
presidential bee buzzing, or, at least, to have started ambition in a
mind until now without ambition. At any rate, Jay, suddenly and
without any apparent reason, consented to exchange the most exalted
office next to President, to chance the New York governorship.

[Footnote 58: William Jay, _Life of John Jay_, Vol. 1, p. 162.]

[Footnote 59: _Ibid._, p. 198.]

There had never been a time since John Jay entered public life that he
was not the most popular man in the city of New York. In 1788 he
received for delegate to the Poughkeepsie convention, twenty-seven
hundred and thirty-five votes out of a total of twenty-eight hundred
and thirty-three. John Adams called him "a Roman" because he resembled
Cato more than any of his contemporaries. Jay's life divided itself
into three distinct epochs of twenty-eight years each--study and the
practice of law, public employment, and retirement. During the years
of uninterrupted public life, he ran the gamut of office-holding. It
is a long catalogue, including delegate to the Continental Congress,
framer of the New York Constitution, chief justice of the New York
Supreme Court, president of the Continental Congress, minister to
Spain, member of the Peace Commission, secretary of foreign affairs,
chief justice of the United States Supreme Court, negotiator of the
Jay treaty, and finally governor of New York. No other American save
John Quincy Adams and John Marshall ever served his country so
continuously in such exalted and responsible place. On his return from
Europe after an absence of five years, Adams said he returned to his
country "like a bee to its hive, with both legs loaded with merit and

[Footnote 60: To Thos. Barclay, May 24, 1784, _Hist. Mag._, 1869, p.

Jay accepted the nomination for governor in 1792, on condition that he
be not asked to take part in the campaign. "I made it a rule," he
wrote afterward, "neither to begin correspondence nor conversation
upon the subject."[61] Accordingly, while New York was deeply stirred,
the Chief Justice leisurely rode over his circuit, out of hearing and
out of sight of the political disturbance, apparently indifferent to
the result.

[Footnote 61: William Jay, _Life of John Jay_, Vol. 1, p. 289.]

The real political campaign which is still periodically made in New
York, may be said to have had its beginning in April, 1792. Seldom has
an election been contested with such prodigality of partisan fury. The
rhetoric of abuse was vigorous and unrestrained; the campaign lie
active and ingenious; the arraignment of class against class sedulous
and adroit, and the excitement most violent and memorable. If a weapon
of political warfare failed to be handled with craft and with courage,
its skilful use was unknown.

Indeed, if any one doubts that it was a real time of political
upheaval, he has only to glance at local histories. Federalists and
anti-Federalists were alike convulsed by a movement which was the
offspring of a genuine and irresistible enthusiasm of that strong,
far-reaching kind that makes epochs in the history of politics. The
people having cut loose from royalty, now proposed cutting loose from
silk stockings, knee breeches, powdered hair, pigtails, shoe buckles,
and ruffled shirts--the emblems of nobility. Perhaps they did not then
care for the red plush waistcoats, the yarn stockings, and the
slippers down at the heel, which Jefferson was to carry into the White
House; but in their effort to overthrow the tyranny of the past, they
were beginning to demand broader suffrage and less ceremony, a larger,
freer man, and less caste. To them, therefore, Jay and Clinton
represented the aristocrat and the democrat. Jay, they said, had been
nurtured in the lap of ease, Clinton had worked his way from the most
humble rank; Jay luxuriated in splendid courts, Clinton dwelt in the
home of the lowly son of toil; Jay was the choice of the rich, Clinton
the man of the people; Jay relied upon the support of the President
and the Secretary of the Treasury, Clinton upon the poor villager and
the toiling farmer.

Newspapers charged Jay with saying that "there ought to be in America
only two sorts of people, one very rich, the other very poor,"[62] and
to support the misrepresentation, they quoted his favourite maxim that
"those who own the country ought to govern it," pointing to the State
Constitution which he drafted, to prove that only the well-to-do could
vote. The Dutch, largely the slave holders of the State, accused him
of wishing to rob them by the abolition of slavery. Dressed in other
rhetorical clothes, these stories did service again in 1795 and 1798.

[Footnote 62: George Pellew, _Life of John Jay_, p. 275.]

But the assumption of state debts, and Hamilton's financial system,
became the fiercest objects of attack. To them were traced the "reign
of speculators" that flowered in the year 1791. "Bank bubbles,
tontines, lotteries, monopolies, usury, gambling and swindling
abound," said the New York _Journal_; "poverty in the country, luxury
in the capitals, corruption and usurpation in the national councils."
Hamilton's system had given the deepest stab to the hopes of the
anti-Federalists, since it taught people to look to the Union rather
than to the State. Internal taxes and import duties were paid to the
United States; coin was minted by the United States; paper money
issued by the United States; letters carried and delivered by the
United States; and state debts assumed by the United States. All this
had a tendency to break state attachments and state importance; and in
striking back, Republican orators branded the reports of the Secretary
of the Treasury as "dangerous to liberty," the assumption of debts as
"a clever device for enslaving the people," and the whole fiscal
system "a dishonest scheme." The failure and imprisonment of William
Duer, until recently Hamilton's trusted assistant, followed by riots
in New York City, gave colour to the charge, and, although the most
bitter opponents of the great Federalist in no wise connected him with
any corrupt transaction, yet in the spring of 1792 Hamilton, the
friend and backer of Jay, was the most roundly abused man in the

The Federalists resented misrepresentation with misrepresentation.
Clinton's use of patronage, his opposition to the Federal
Constitution, and the impropriety of having a military governor in
time of peace, objections left over from 1789, still figured as set
pieces in rhetorical fireworks; but the great red light, burned at
every meeting throughout the State, exposed Governor Clinton as
secretly profiting by the sale of public lands. The Legislature of
1791 authorised the five state officers, acting as Commissioners of
the Land Office, to sell unappropriated lands in such parcels and on
such terms as they deemed expedient, and under this power 5,542,173
acres returned $1,030,433. Some of the land brought three shillings
per acre, some two shillings six pence, some one shilling, but
Alexander McComb picked up 3,635,200 acres at eight pence. McComb was
a friend of Clinton. More than that, he was a real estate dealer and
speculator. In the legislative investigation that followed,
resolutions condemning the commissioners' conduct tangled up Clinton
in a division of the profits, and sent McComb to jail. This was a
sweet morsel for the Federalists. It mattered not that the Governor
denied it; that McComb contradicted it; that no proof supported it; or
that the Assembly acquitted him by a party vote of thirty-five to
twenty; the story did effective campaign service, and lived to torture
Aaron Burr, one of the commissioners, ten years afterward. Burr tried
to escape responsibility by pleading absence when the contracts were
made; but the question never ceased coming up--if absence included all
the months of McComb's negotiations, what time did the Attorney-General
give to public business?

It was a deep grief to Jay that the Livingstons opposed him. The
Chancellor and Edward were his wife's cousins, Brockholst her brother.
Brockholst had been Jay's private secretary at the embassy in Madrid,
but now, to use a famous expression of that day, "the young man's head
was on fire," and violence characterised his political feelings and
conduct. Satirical letters falsely attributed to Jay fanned the sparks
of the Livingston opposition into a bright blaze, and, although the
Chief Justice denied the insinuation, the Chancellor gave battle with
the enthusiasm of a new convert.

As one glances through the list of workers in the campaign of 1792, he
is reminded that the juniors or beginners soon came to occupy higher
and more influential positions than some of their elders and leaders.
DeWitt Clinton, for instance, not yet in office, was soon to be in the
Assembly, in the State Senate, and in the United States Senate--a
greater force than any man of his time in New York, save Hamilton.
James Kent had just entered the Assembly. As a student in Egbert
Benson's office, his remarkable industry impressed clients and
teacher, but when his voice sounded the praises of John Jay, few could
have anticipated that this young man, small in stature, vivacious in
speech, quick in action, with dark eyes and a swarthy complexion, was
destined to become one of the most famous jurists in a century.
Ambrose Spencer had not yet scored his first political honour, but his
herculean frame and stately presence, with eyes and complexion darker
than Kent's, are to be seen leading in every political contest for
more than forty years.

There were also Smith Thompson, taught in the law by Chancellor Kent
and tutored in politics by George Clinton, who was to follow the
former Chief Justice and end his days on the United States Supreme
bench; Joseph C. Yates, founder of Union College, and Samuel L.
Mitchill, scientist and politician, who has been called the Franklin
of New York. Younger than these, but equally alert, was Cadwallader A.
Colden, grandson of the royal lieutenant-governor of Stamp Act days.
He was now only twenty-two, just beginning at the bar, but destined to
be the intimate friend of Robert Fulton, a famous leader of a famous
bar, and a political chieftain of a distinguished career.[63]

[Footnote 63: Interested in this exciting campaign was yet a younger
generation, who soon contested their right-of-way to political
leadership. Erastus Root was a junior at Dartmouth; Daniel D. Tompkins
had just entered Columbia; Martin Van Buren was in a country school on
the farm at Kinderhook; John Treat Irving was playing on the banks of
the river to be made famous by his younger brother; and William W. Van
Ness, the rarest genius of them all, and his younger cousin, William
P. Van Ness, were listening to the voices that would soon summon them,
one in support of the brilliant Federalist leader, the other as a
second to Aaron Burr in the great tragedy at Weehawken on the 11th of
July, 1804.]

At the election, the people gave Jay a majority of their votes; but at
the count, a majority of the state canvassers gave Clinton the
governorship. This was the first vicious party precedent established
in the Empire State. It has had many successors at the polls, in the
Legislature, and at the primaries, but none bolder and more harmful,
or ruder and more outrageously wrong. Under the law, inspectors of
election sealed the ballots, delivered them to the sheriff or his
deputy, who conveyed them to the secretary of state. In Otsego County,
Richard R. Smith's term as sheriff had expired, and the new sheriff
had not yet qualified, but Smith delivered the ballots to a person
specially deputised by him. Tioga's sheriff turned the ballots over
to his deputy, who, being taken ill on the journey, handed them to a
clerk for transmission. In Clinton the sheriff gave the votes to a man
without deputation. No ballots were missing, no seals were broken, nor
had their delivery been delayed for a moment. But as soon as it became
known that these counties gave Jay a majority of about four hundred,
quite enough to elect him, it was claimed that the votes had not been
conveyed to the secretary of state by persons authorised to do so
under the law, and the canvassers, voting as their party preferences
dictated, ruled out the returns by a vote of seven to four in
Clinton's favour. The discussion preceding this action, however, was
so acrimonious and the alleged violation of law so technical, that the
board agreed to refer the controversy to Rufus King and Aaron Burr,
the United States senators.

Burr had many an uneasy hour. He preferred to avoid the
responsibility, since an opinion might jeopardise his political
interests. If he found for Clinton, his Federalist friends would take
offence; if he antagonised Clinton, the anti-Federalists would cast
him out. Thus far it had been his policy to keep in the background,
directing others to act for him; now he must come out into the open.
He temporised, delayed, sought suggestions of friends, and endeavoured
to induce his colleague to join him in declining to act as a referee,
but King saw no reason for avoiding an opinion, and in answering the
question of the canvassers, he took the broad ground that an election
law should be construed in furtherance of the right of suffrage. The
act was for the protection of voters whose rights could not be
jeopardised by the negligence or misconduct of an agent charged with
the delivery of the ballots, nor by canvassers charged with their
counting. It was preposterous to suppose that the sudden illness of a
deputy, or the failure of an official to qualify, could disfranchise
the voters of a whole county. If it were otherwise, then the foolish
or intentional misconduct of a sheriff might at any time overturn the
will of a majority. There was no pretence of wrong-doing. The ballots
had been counted, sealed, and delivered to the secretary of state no
less faithfully than if there had been a technical adherence to the
strict letter of the law. He favoured canvassing Tioga's vote,
therefore, although it was doubtful if a deputy sheriff could deputise
a deputy, while the vote of Clinton should be canvassed because a
sheriff may deputise by parol. As to Otsego, on which the election
really turned, King held that Smith was sheriff until a successor
qualified, if not in law, then in fact; and though such acts of a _de
facto_ officer as are voluntarily and exclusively beneficial to
himself are void, those are valid that tend to the public utility.

Burr was uninfluenced by respect for suffrage. Being statutory law, it
must be construed literally, not in spirit, or because of other rights
involved. He agreed with his colleague as to the law governing the
Clinton case; but following the letter of the act, he held that
Tioga's votes ought not to be counted, since a deputy could not
appoint a deputy. The Otsego ballots were also rejected because the
right of a sheriff to hold over did not exist at common law; and as
the New York statute did not authorise it, Smith's duties ceased at
the end of his term; nor could he be an officer _de facto_, since he
had accepted and exercised for one day the office of supervisor, which
was incompatible with that of sheriff. In other words, Burr reduced
the question of Jay's election to Smith's right to act, and to avoid
the _de facto_ right, so ably presented by Senator King, he relied
upon Smith's service of a day as supervisor before receiving and
forwarding the ballots, notwithstanding sheriffs invariably held over
until their successors qualified. Seven of such cases had occurred in
fifteen years, and never before had the right been seriously
questioned. In one instance a hold-over sheriff had executed a
criminal. When urged to appoint a sheriff for Otsego earlier in the
year, Governor Clinton excused his delay because the old one could
hold over.

After this decision, only Clinton himself could avert the judgment
certain to be rendered by a partisan board. Nevertheless, the Governor
remained silent. Thus, by a strict party vote of seven to four, the
canvassers, omitting the three counties with four hundred majority in
Jay's favour, returned 8,440 votes for Clinton and 8,332 for Jay.
Then, to destroy all evidence of their shame, the ballots were burned,
although the custom obtained of preserving them in the office of the
secretary of state.[64]

[Footnote 64: A few days after Clinton's inauguration Burr wrote a
Federalist friend: "I earnestly wished and sought to be relieved from
the necessity of giving any opinion, particularly as it would be
disagreeable to you and a few others whom I respect and wish always to
gratify; but the conduct of Mr. King left me no alternative. I was
obliged to give an opinion.... It would, indeed, be the extreme of
weakness in me to expect friendship from Mr. Clinton. I have too many
reasons to believe that he regards me with jealousy and
malevolence.... Some pretend, but none can believe, that I am
prejudiced in his favour. I have not even seen or spoken to him since
January last." This letter had scarcely been delivered when Clinton
appointed him to the Supreme Court, an office which Burr declined,
preferring to remain in the Senate.]

News travelled slowly in those days. There were no telegrams, no
reporters, no regular correspondents, no special editions to tell the
morning reader what had happened the day before; but when it once
became known that John Jay had been counted out, the people of the
State were aroused to the wildest passion of rage, recalling the
famous Tilden-Hayes controversy three-quarters of a century later. A
returning board, it was claimed, had overturned the will of the
people; and to the superheated excitement of the campaign, was added
the fierce anger of an outraged party. Wild menaces were uttered, and
the citizens of Otsego threatened an appeal to arms. "People are
running in continually," wrote Mrs. Jay to her husband, "to vent their
vexation. Senator King says he thinks Clinton as lawfully governor of
Connecticut as of New York, but he knows of no redress."[65] Hamilton
agreed with King, and counselled peaceful submission.

[Footnote 65: _Jay MSS._]

Meantime the Chief Justice was returning home from Vermont by way of
Albany. At Lansingburgh the people met him, and from thence to New
York public addresses and public dinners were followed with the roar
of artillery and the shouts of the populace. "Though abuse of power
may for a time deprive you and the citizens of their right," said one
committee, "we trust the sacred flame of liberty is not so far
extinguished in the bosoms of Americans as tamely to submit to the
shackles of slavery, without at least a struggle to shake them
off."[66] Citizens of New York met him eight miles from the city, and
upon his arrival, "the friends of liberty" condemned the men who would
deprive him of the high office "in contempt of the sacred voice of the
people, in defiance of the Constitution, and in violation of the
uniform practice and settled principles of law."[67]

[Footnote 66: William Jay, _Life of John Jay_, Vol. 1, p. 290.]

[Footnote 67: _Ibid._, p. 292.]

During these days of excitement, Jay conducted himself with remarkable
forbearance and dignity. It was the poise of Washington. "The
reflection that the majority of electors were for me is a pleasing
one," he wrote his wife; "that injustice has taken place does not
surprise me, and I hope will not affect you very sensibly. The
intelligence found me perfectly prepared for it. A few years more will
put us all in the dust, and it will then be of more importance to me
to have governed myself than to have governed the State."[68] This
thought influenced his conduct throughout. When armed resistance
seemed inevitable, he raised his voice in opposition to all feeling.
"Every consideration of propriety forbids that difference in opinion
respecting candidates should suspend or interrupt that natural good
humour which harmonises society, and softens the asperities incident
to human life and human affairs."[69] At a large dinner on the 4th of
July, Jay gave the toast: "May the people always respect themselves,
and remember what they owe to posterity;" but after he had retired,
the banqueters let loose their tongues, drinking to "John Jay,
Governor by voice of the people," and to "the Governor (of right) of
the State of New York."

[Footnote 68: _Ibid._, p. 289.]

[Footnote 69: _Ibid._, p. 293.]

Clinton entered upon his sixth term as governor amidst vituperation
and obloquy. He was known as the "Usurper," and in order to reduce him
to a mere figurehead, the Federalists who controlled the Assembly, led
by Josiah Ogden Hoffman, the brilliant New York lawyer, now proposed
to choose a new Council of Appointment, although the term of the old
Council had not yet expired. The Constitution provided that the
Council should hold office one year, and that the Governor, with the
advice of the Council, should appoint to office. Up to this time such
had been the accepted practice. Nevertheless, the Federalists, having
a majority of the Assembly, forced the election of a Council made up
entirely of members of their own party, headed by Philip Schuyler, the
veteran legislator and soldier, and then proceeded to nominate and
confirm Egbert Benson as a judge of the Supreme Court. Clinton, as
governor and a member of the Council, refused to nominate Benson,
insisting that the exclusive right of nomination was vested in him.
Here the matter should have ended under the Constitution as Jay
interpreted it; but Schuyler held otherwise, claiming that the Council
had a concurrent right to nominate. He went further, and decided that
whenever the law omitted to limit the number of officers, the Council
might do it, and whenever an officer must be commissioned annually,
another might be put in his place at the expiration of his commission.
This would give the Council power to increase at will the number of
officials not otherwise limited by law, and to displace every
anti-Federalist at the expiration of his commission.

Clinton argued that the governor, being charged under the Constitution
with the execution of the laws, was vested with exclusive discretion
as to the number of officers necessary to their execution, whereas, if
left to one not responsible for such execution, too many or too few
officials might be created. With respect to the continuation of an
incumbent in office at the pleasure of the Council, "the Constitution
did not intend," he said, "a capricious, arbitrary pleasure, but a
sound discretion to be exercised for the promotion of the public good;
that a contrary practice would deprive men of their offices because
they have too much independence of spirit to support measures they
suppose injurious to the community, and might induce others from undue
attachment to office to sacrifice their integrity to improper
considerations."[70] This was good reasoning and good prophecy; but
his protests fell upon ears as deaf to a wise policy as did the
protests of Jay's friends when the board of canvassers counted Jay out
and Clinton in.

[Footnote 70: Jabez D. Hammond, _Political History of New York_, Vol.
1, p. 84.]

The action of the Council of Appointment was a stunning blow to
Clinton. Under Jay's constitution, every officer in city, county, and
State, civil and military, save governor, lieutenant-governor, members
of the Legislature, and aldermen, could now be appointed by the
Council regardless of the Governor; and already these appointments
mounted up into hundreds. In 1821 they numbered over fifteen thousand.
Thus, as if by magic, the Council was turned into a political machine.
Under this arrangement, a party only needed a majority of the Assembly
to elect a Council which made all appointments, and the control of
appointments was sufficient to elect a majority of the Assembly. Thus
it was an endless chain the moment the Council became a political
machine, and it became a political machine the moment Philip Schuyler
headed the Council of 1793.

This arbitrary proceeding led to twenty years of corrupt methods and
political scandals. Schuyler's justification was probably the
conviction that poetic justice required that Clinton, having become
governor without right, should have his powers reduced to their lowest
terms; but whatever the motive, his action was indefensible, and his
reply that the Governor's practices did not correspond to his precepts
fell for want of proof. Clinton had then been in office seventeen
years, and, although he took good care to select members of his own
party, only one case, and that a doubtful one, could be cited in
support of the charge that appointments had been made solely for
political purposes.

In a published address, on January 22, 1795, Governor Clinton declined
to stand for re-election in the following April because of ill health
and neglected private affairs. Included in this letter was the
somewhat apocryphal statement that he withdrew from an office never
solicited, which he had accepted with diffidence, and from which he
should retire with pleasure. The reader who has followed the story of
his career through the campaigns of 1789 and 1792 will scarcely
believe him serious in this declaration, although he undoubtedly
retired with pleasure. At the time of his withdrawal, he had an attack
of inflammatory rheumatism, but he was neither a sick man nor an old
one, being then in his fifty-fifth year, with twelve years of
honourable public life still before him. It is likely the reason in
the old rhyme, "He who fights and runs away, lives to fight another
day," had more to do with his retirement than shattered health and
crippled fortune. Defeat has never been regarded helpful to future
political preferment, and this shrewd reader of the signs of the
times, his ambition already fixed on higher honours and more exalted
place, saw the coming political change in New York as clearly and
unmistakably as an approaching storm announced itself in an increase
of his rheumatic aches.




With Clinton out of the race for governor in 1795, his party's
weakness discovered itself in the selection of Chief Justice Robert
Yates, Hamilton's coalition candidate in 1789. It was a makeshift
nomination, since none cared to run after Clinton's declination
sounded a note of defeat. Yates' passion for office led him into
strange blunders. He seemed willing to become the candidate of any
party, under any conditions, at any time, if only he could step into
the official shoes of George Clinton. He was excusable in 1789,
perhaps, when the way opened up a fair chance of success, but in 1795
his ambition subjected him to ridicule as well as to humiliation. It
was said derisively that he was defeated, although every freeholder in
the State had voted for him.

The Federalists were far from unanimous in their choice of John Jay.
He had not yet returned from England, whither Washington had sent him
in the preceding year to negotiate a treaty to recover, among other
things, compensation for negroes who followed English troops across
the Atlantic at the close of the war; to obtain a surrender of the
Western military posts not yet evacuated; and to secure an article
against impressments. It was believed that a storm of disapproval
would greet his work, and the timid ones seriously questioned the
expediency of his nomination. The submission of the treaty had already
precipitated a crisis in the United States Senate, and while it might
not be ratified and officially promulgated before election, grave
danger existed of its clandestine publication by the press. Hamilton,
however, insisted, and Jay became the nominee. "It had been so decreed
from the beginning," wrote Egbert Benson.

The campaign that followed was featureless. Chief Justice Yates
aroused no interest, and Chief Justice Jay was in England. From the
outset, Jay's election was conceded; and a canvass of the votes showed
that he had swept the State by a large majority. In 1789 Clinton
received a majority of 489; in 1792 the canvassers gave him 108; but
in 1795 Jay had 1589.[71]

[Footnote 71: John Jay, 13,481; Robert Yates, 11,892. _Civil List,
State of New York_ (1887), p. 166.]

What would have happened had the treaty been published before
election, fills one with interested conjecture. Its disclosure on July
2, the day after Jay's inauguration, turned the applause of that
joyous occasion into the most exasperating abuse. Such a sudden and
tempestuous change in the popularity of a public official is
unprecedented in the history of American politics. In a night the
whole State was thrown into a ferment of intense excitement, the storm
of vituperation seeming to centre in New York city. Jay was burned in
effigy; Hamilton was struck in the face with a stone while defending
Jay's work; a copy of the treaty was burned before the house of the
British Minister; riot and mob violence held carnival everywhere.
Party spirit never before, and never since, perhaps, ran so high. One
effigy represented Jay as saying, while supporting a pair of scales,
with the treaty on one side and a bag of gold on the other, "Come up
to my price, and I will sell you my country." Chalked in large white
letters on one of the principal streets in New York, appeared these
words: "Damn John Jay! Damn every one that won't damn John Jay!! Damn
every one that won't put lights in his windows and sit up all night
damning John Jay!!!"[72] This revulsion of public sentiment was not
exactly a tempest in a teapot, but it proved a storm of limited
duration, the elections in the spring of 1796 showing decided
legislative gains for the Federalists.

[Footnote 72: John Jay, _Second Letter on Dawson's Federalist_, N.Y.,
1864, p. 19.]

Hamilton divined the cause of the trouble. "There are three persons,"
he wrote,[73] "prominent in the public eye as the successor of the
President--Mr. Adams, Mr. Jay, and Mr. Jefferson.... Mr. Jay has been
repeatedly the object of attacks with the same view. His friends, as
well as his enemies, anticipated that he could make no treaty which
would not furnish weapons against him; and it were to have been
ignorant of the indefatigable malice of his adversaries to have
doubted that they would be seized with eagerness and wielded with
dexterity. The peculiar circumstances which have attended the two last
elections for governor of this State have been of a nature to give the
utmost keenness to party animosity. It was impossible that Mr. Jay
should be forgiven for his double, and, in the last instance,
triumphant success; or that any promising opportunity of detaching
from him the public confidence, should pass unimproved.... Trivial
facts frequently throw light upon important designs. It is remarkable
that in the toasts given on July 4, 1795, whenever there appears a
direct or indirect censure of the treaty, it is pretty uniformly
coupled with compliments to Mr. Jefferson, and to our late governor,
Mr. Clinton, with an evident design to place those gentlemen in
contrast to Mr. Jay, and, decrying him, to elevate them. No one can be
blind to the finger of party spirit, visible in these and similar
transactions. It indicates to us clearly one powerful source of
opposition to the treaty."

[Footnote 73: Hamilton's _Camillus_, July 23, 1795, _Works_, Vol. 4,
p. 371.]

The treaty was undoubtedly a disappointment to the country, and not
greatly pleasing to Washington. Perhaps Jay said the best thing that
could be said in its favour: "One more favourable was not attainable."
The thing he was sent especially to do, he failed to accomplish,
except the evacuation of the posts, and a concession as to the West
Indian trade, which the Senate rejected. Nevertheless the country was
greatly and permanently benefited. The treaty acquired extradition
for criminals; it secured the collection of debts barred by the
Revolution, amounting to ten million dollars; it established the
principle that war should not again be a pretext for the confiscation
of debts or for the annulment of contracts between individuals; and it
avoided a war with England, for which the United States was never more
unprepared. "As the first treaty negotiated under the new government,"
says John W. Foster, "it marked a distinct advance in international
practice."[74] In a recent biography of Andrew Jackson, Professor
Sumner says: "Jay's treaty was a masterpiece of diplomacy, considering
the times and the circumstances of this country." Even the
much-criticised commercial clause, "the entering wedge," as Jay called
it, proved such a gain to America, that upon the breaking out of war
in 1812, Lord Sheffield declared that England had "now a complete
opportunity of getting rid of that most impolitic treaty of 1794, when
Lord Grenville was so perfectly duped by Jay."[75]

[Footnote 74: _A Century of American Diplomacy_, p. 165.]

[Footnote 75: To Mr. Abbott, November 6, 1812, _Correspondence of Lord
Colchester_, Vol. 2, p. 409.]

John Jay's first term as governor was characteristically cautious and
conservative. He began with observing the proprieties, gracefully
declining the French Consul's invitation to a republican
entertainment, and courageously remaining at his post during the
yellow fever epidemic of 1795. With equal ease he settled the growing
conflict between the severity of the past and the sympathy of the
present, by changing the punishment in cases of ordinary felony, from
death to imprisonment. Up to that time men might have been executed
for stealing a few loaves of high-priced bread to relieve the
sufferings of a hungry family. Under Jay's humane plea for mercy the
death penalty was limited to treason, murder, and stealing from a
church. A quarter of a century passed before Sir James Mackintosh
succeeded in carrying a similar measure through the British

In his first message Jay recommended neither the abolition of
slavery, nor the discontinuance of official changes for political
reasons, "since the best and most virtuous men," he said, "must, in
the distribution of patronage, yield to the influence of party
considerations." As the only important questions before him just then
involved the freedom of slaves and reform in the civil service, his
silence as to the one and his declaration as to the other were
certainly sufficient to allay any suspicion that he was to become a
radical reformer. He did recommend a legislative interpretation of the
Constitution relating to the governor's exclusive right to nominate to
office; but in the blandest and most complimentary words, the
Legislature invited the Governor to let well enough alone. "The
evidence of ability, integrity and patriotism," so the answer ran,
"which has been invariably afforded by your conduct in the discharge
of the variety of arduous and important trusts, authorise us to
anticipate an administration conducive to the welfare of your
constituents." This amiable answer betrayed the deft hand of Ambrose
Spencer, who, to make it sweeter and more acceptable, moved the
insertion of the word "invariably."[76] Thus ended the suggestion of a
law that might have undone the mischief of Schuyler, and prevented the
scandal and corrupt methods that obtained during the next two decades.
At least, this is the thought of a later century, when civil service
reform has sunk a tap-root into American soil, still frosty, perhaps,
yet not wholly congealed as it seems to have been one hundred years

[Footnote 76: Jabez D. Hammond, _Political History of New York_, Vol.
1, p. 97.]

Jay's administration might be called the reward days of earnest, able
men, whose meritorious service became their passport to office. Upon
the retirement in 1798 of Robert Yates and John Sloss Hobart from the
Supreme bench, he appointed James Kent and Jacob Radcliff. If Jay had
never done anything else, the appointment of Kent would immortalise
him, just as the selection of John Marshall placed a halo about the
head of President Adams. Kent, now thirty-five years old, a great
lawyer and a strong partisan, had the conservatism of Jay, and held
to the principles of Hamilton. He was making brilliant way in
politics, showing himself an administrator, a debater, and a leader of
consummate ability; but he steadily refused to withdraw from the
professional path along which he was to move with such distinction.
Until Kent's appearance, the administration of the law had been
inefficient and unsatisfactory. Men of ability had occupied the bench;
but the laborious and business methods which subsequently gave
strength and character to the court, had not been applied. The custom
of writing opinions in the most important cases did not then obtain,
while the principles and foundation of the law were seldom explored.
But Kent began at once, after a most laborious examination of the
cases and the law, to bring the written opinions which enrich the
reports of Caines and Johnson, to the consultations of the judges,
thus setting an example to his associates, and opening the way for
that admirable and orderly system of jurisprudence that has adorned
the judiciary of New York for more than a century. The men of the
older school had had their day. The court of Hobart was closed; the
age of Kent had opened.

Radcliff, the other judicial appointee, was not a new name in 1798;
but it was destined to become dearer to every lover of a chancery
lawyer. He had a natural gift for chancery, and no natural inclination
whatever for politics or the bench. So, after serving a single term in
the Assembly, two years as an assistant attorney-general, and six
years on the Supreme Court, he returned to the practice, to which he
devoted the remaining forty years of his life, save when holding the
office of mayor of New York in 1810, and again in 1815 during the
brief retirement of DeWitt Clinton. Wherever he appeared, Radcliff's
erect, dignified bearing and remarkably handsome face, illuminated
with large eyes and a highly intellectual expression, marked him as a
man of distinction. He set the custom of dictating bills in chancery
to an amanuensis, doing it with such accuracy that a word had seldom
to be changed. Of the same age as Kent, he must have been of great
help to that distinguished jurist, had he continued with the court.
While hovering somewhat uncertain between the bench and the bar, he
removed to New York City, where the opportunities for one of his gifts
soon settled the question.

Other appointments of Jay were equally satisfactory. The
comptrollership of state, recently created, went to Samuel Jones in
return for having patiently worked out this more perfect method of
controlling and disbursing state funds. Ambrose Spencer became an
assistant attorney-general, and the appointment of Rufus King as
minister to England made room for the election of John Lawrence to the
United States Senate. Lawrence had little claim, perhaps, to be
entered in the class with Rufus King, since he was neither leader nor
statesman; but he had been the faithful adjutant-general of
Washington, and a steady, fearless supporter of Hamilton. Lawrence, an
Englishman by birth, had settled in New York at an early period in
life, and by his marriage to the daughter of Alexander McDougall,
quickly came into conspicuous sympathy with the radical wing of the
patriotic party. He will always be remembered in history as
judge-advocate of the court that tried Major André. He held office
almost continuously from 1775 until his death in 1810, serving eight
years in the army, one in the State Senate, six in Congress, four as
judge of the United States District Court, and four as a United States
senator, closing his honourable career as president pro tem. of that

As a rebuke to Aaron Burr's snap game so successfully played in 1791,
Philip Schuyler succeeded him in the United States Senate in 1797, an
event that must have sweetened the closing years of the Revolutionary
veteran. But Schuyler was now a sick man, and in January, 1798, he
resigned the senatorial toga to others, upon whose shoulders it rested
briefly, and possibly with less ease and grace. John Sloss Hobart wore
it for three months. After him, for ten months, came William North,
followed by James Watson, who, in turn, resigned in March, 1800. Thus,
in the short period of thirty-six months, four men tasted the sweets
of the exalted position so brilliantly filled by the erratic grandson
of Jonathan Edwards. North and Watson were men of certain ability and
certain gifts. Both had been soldiers. North had followed Arnold to
Quebec, had charged with his regiment at Monmouth, had served with
credit upon Baron Steuben's staff,[77] and had acquitted himself with
honour at Yorktown. He belonged to that coterie of brilliant young
men, noted for bravery and endurance, who quickly found favour with
the fighting generals of the Revolution. Watson resigned his captaincy
in 1777, and engaged successfully in mercantile pursuits, subsequently
entering the Assembly with North, the former becoming speaker in 1794
and the latter in 1795 and 1796. At the time of North's election to
the United States Senate, Watson was a member of the State Senate.
Like Lawrence, both were perfervid Federalists, zealous champions of
Hamilton, and profound believers in the wisdom of minimising, if not
abrogating, the rights of States.

[Footnote 77: At twenty-two years of age, while witnessing the
disgraceful rout of General Lee at Monmouth, North attracted the
attention of Steuben, whose tactics and discipline the young officer
subsequently introduced throughout the Continental army. The
cordiality existing between the earnest aide and the brave Prussian,
so dear to his friends, so formidable to his enemies, ripened into an
affectionate regard that recalls the relation between Washington and
Hamilton. After the war, with an annuity of twenty-five hundred
dollars and sixteen thousand acres of land in Oneida County, the gift
of New York, Steuben built a log house, withdrew from society, and
played at farming, until in 1794 his remains were borne to the spot,
not far from Trenton Falls, where stands the monument that bears his
name. The faithful North visited and cared for him to the end, and
under the terms of the will parcelled out the great estate among his
tenants and old staff officers.]

Watson's resignation from the United States Senate enabled the
Federalists to elect Gouverneur Morris just before the political
change in 1800 swept them from power. Morris was a fit successor to
Schuyler. His family had belonged to the State for a century and a
half. The name stood for tradition and conservatism--an embodiment of
the past amid the changes of revolution. His home near Harlaem, an
estate of three thousand acres, with a prospect of intermingled
islands and water, stretching to the Sound, which had been purchased
by a great-grandfather in the middle of the preceding century,
reflected the substantial character of its founder, a distinguished
officer in Cromwell's army.

Gouverneur was the child of his father's second marriage. The
family,[78] especially the older children, of whom Richard, chief
justice of the State, was the third and youngest boy, resented the
union, making Gouverneur's position resemble that of Joseph among his
brethren. Twenty-two years intervened between him and Richard. Before
the former left the schoolroom, the latter had succeeded his father as
judge of the vice-admiralty; but as for being of any assistance to the
fatherless lad Richard might as well have been vice-admiral of the
blue, sailing the seas. There would be something pathetic in this
estrangement, if independence and self-reliance had not dominated the
youngest son as well as the older heirs of this noble family. Lewis,
the eldest, served in the Continental Congress and became a signer of
the Declaration of Independence, while Staats Long, the second son,
wandered to England, married the Countess of Gordon, became a general
in the British army, and a member of Parliament in the days of Lord
North and Charles James Fox. It was a strange coincidence, one brother
resisting Parliament in Congress, the other resisting Congress in

[Footnote 78: There was a slight vein of eccentricity running through
the Morris family, with its occasional outcroppings accentuated in the
presence of death. The grandfather, distinguished as chief justice of
New York and governor of New Jersey, forbade in his will the payment
of any one for preaching his funeral sermon, but if a person
volunteered, he said, commending or blaming his conduct in life, his
words would be acceptable. Gouverneur's father desired no notice of
his dissolution in the newspapers, not even a simple announcement of
his death. "My actions," he wrote, "have been so inconsiderable in the
world, that the most durable monument will not perpetuate my folly
while it lasts." It is evident that Gouverneur did not inherit from
him the almost bumptious self-confidence which was to mar more than
help him. That inherent defect came from his mother, who gave him,
also, a brilliancy and versatility that other members of the family
did not share, making him more conspicuously active in high places
during the exciting days of the Revolution. Gouverneur Morris was a
national character; Richard and Lewis belonged exclusively to New

The influences surrounding Gouverneur's youth were decidedly Tory. His
mother warmly adhered to George the Third; his professors at King's
taught loyalty to the Crown; his distinguished tutor in the law,
William Smith, New York's Tory historian, magnified the work and the
strength of Parliament; while his associates, always his mother's
welcomed guests at Morrisania, were British officers, who talked of
Wolfe and his glorious struggles for England. But there never was a
moment from the time Gouverneur Morris entered the Provincial Congress
of New York on May 22, 1775, at the age of twenty-three, that he was
not conspicuously and brilliantly active in the cause of America.
Whenever or wherever a Revolutionary body was organised, or for
whatever purpose, Congress, Convention, or Committee of Safety, he
became a member of it. Six years younger than Jay, and six years older
than Hamilton, he seemed to complete that remarkable New York trio, so
fertile in mental resources and so successful in achievement. He did
not, like Jay, outline a constitution, but he believed, with Jay, in
balancing wealth against numbers, and in contending for the protection
of the rights of property against the spirit of democracy. It is
interesting to study these young men, so different in temperament, yet
thinking alike and acting together for a quarter of a century--Jay,
gentle and modest; Hamilton, impetuous and imperious; Morris,
self-confident and conceited; but on all essential matters of state,
standing together like a tripod, firm and invincible. In his distrust
of western influences, however, Morris was more conservative than Jay
or Hamilton. He was broad and liberal toward the original thirteen
States, but he wanted to subordinate the balance of the country to
their control. He regarded the people who might seek homes west of the
Alleghanies with something of the suspicion Jay entertained for the
propertyless citizens of New York. The day would come, he believed,
when those untutored, backwoods settlers would outnumber their
brethren on the Atlantic coast, and he desired some provision in the
Constitution which would permit the minority to rule such a majority.
If these views shrivelled his statesmanship, it may be said to his
credit that they discovered a prophetic gift most uncommon in those
days, giving him the power to see a great empire of people in the
fertile valley of the Mississippi and its tributaries.[79] Fifteen
years later Robert R. Livingston expressed the belief that not in a
century would a white man cross the Father of Waters.

[Footnote 79: Gouverneur Morris seemed to find history-making places.
With Washington and Greene he opposed the Conway cabal; with Jay and
Livingston he drafted the Constitution of the State; with Hamilton and
Madison he stood for the Federal Constitution, the revision of its
style being committed to his pen. Then Washington needed him, first in
England, afterward as minister to France; and when Monroe relieved him
in 1794 he travelled leisurely through Europe for four years, meeting
its distinguished writers and statesmen, forming friendships with
Madame De Staël and the Neckers, aiding and witnessing the release of
Lafayette from Olmutz prison, and finally assisting the young and
melancholy, but gentle and unassuming Duke of Orleans, afterward King
of France, to find a temporary asylum in the United States. He
returned to America ten years after he had sailed from the Delaware
capes, just in time to be called to the United States Senate.]

Into the life of Jay's peaceful administration came another
interesting character, the champion of every project known to the
inventive genius of his day. We shall hear much of Samuel Latham
Mitchill during the next three decades. He was now thirty-five years
old, a sort of universal eccentric genius, already known as
philosopher, scientist, teacher, and critic, a professor in Columbia,
the friend of Joseph Priestley, the author of scientific essays, and
the first in America to make mineralogical explorations. Perhaps if
he had worked in fewer fields he might have won greater renown, making
his name familiar to the general student of our own time; but he
belonged to an order of intellect far higher than most of his
associates, filling the books with his doings and sayings. Although
his influence, even among specialists, has probably faded now, he
inspired the scientific thought of his time, and established societies
which still exist, and whose history, up to the time of his death in
1831, was largely his own. Mitchill belonged to the Republican party
because it was the party of Jefferson, and he followed Jefferson
because Jefferson was a philosopher. For the same reason he became the
personal friend of Chancellor Livingston, with whom, among other
things, he founded the Society for the Promotion of Agriculture,
Manufactures, and the Useful Arts. It was said of Mitchill that "he
was equally at home in studying the geology of Niagara, or the anatomy
of an egg; in offering suggestions as to the angle of a windmill, or
the shape of a gridiron; in deciphering a Babylonian brick, or in
advising how to apply steam to navigation."

Mitchill became a member of the Assembly in 1798, and it was his
interest in the experiments then being made of applying steam to
navigation, that led him to introduce a bill repealing the act of
1787, giving John Fitch the sole right to use steamboats on the
Hudson, and granting the privilege to Chancellor Livingston for a term
of twenty years, provided that within a year he should build a boat of
twenty tons capacity and propel it by steam at a speed of four miles
an hour. John Fitch had disappeared, and with him his idea of applying
steam to paddles. He had fitted a steam engine of his own invention
into a ferry-boat of his own construction, and for a whole summer this
creation of an uneducated genius had been seen by the people of
Philadelphia moving steadily against wind and tide; but money gave
out, the experiment was unsatisfactory, and Fitch wandered to the
banks of the Ohio, where opium helped him end his life in an obscure
Kentucky inn, while his steamboat rotted on the shores of the
Delaware. Then John Stevens of Hoboken began a series of experiments
in 1791, trying elliptical paddles, smoke-jack wheels, and other
ingenious contrivances, which soon found the oblivion of Fitch's
inventions. Subsequently Rumsey, another ingenious American, sought
with no better success to drive a boat by expelling water from the
stern. When it was announced that the great Chancellor also had a
scheme, it is not surprising, perhaps, that the wags of the Assembly
ridiculed the project as idle and whimsical. "Imagine a boat," said
one, "trying to propel itself by squirting water through its stern."
Another spoke of it as "an application of the skunk principle." Ezra
L'Hommedieu, then a state senator, declared that Livingston's
"steamboat bill" was a standing subject of ridicule throughout the
entire session.

But there were others than legislators who made sport of these
apparently visionary projects to settle the value of steam as a
locomotive power. Benjamin H. Latrobe, the most eminent engineer in
America, did not hesitate to overwhelm such inventions with objections
that, in his opinion, could never be overcome. "There are indeed
general objections to the use of the steam engine for impelling
boats," he wrote, in 1803, "from which no particular mode of
application can be free. These are, first, the weight of the engine
and of the fuel; second, the large space it occupies; third, the
tendency of its action to rack the vessel and render it leaky; fourth,
the expense of maintenance; fifth, the irregularity of its motion and
the motion of the water in the boiler and cistern, and of the
fuel-vessel in rough water; sixth, the difficulty arising from the
liability of the paddles or oars to break, if light, and from the
weight, if made strong. Perhaps some of the objections against it may
be obviated. That founded on the expense and weight of the fuel may
not for some years exist in the Mississippi, where there is a
redundance of wood on the banks; but the cutting and loading will be
almost as great an evil."[80]

[Footnote 80: Rep. to the Am. Philosophical Society, Phila., May,
1803. Within four years the steamboat was running. Latrobe was
architect of the Capitol at Washington, which he also rebuilt after
the British burned it in 1814.]

Mitchill, however, would not be suppressed by the fun-making
legislators or the reasoning of a conservative engineer. "I had to
encounter all their jokes and the whole of their logic," he wrote a
friend. His bill finally became a law, and Livingston, with the help
of the Doctor, placed a horizontal wheel in a well in the bottom and
centre of a boat, which propelled the water through an aperture in the
stern. The small engine, however, having an eighteen-inch cylinder and
three feet stroke, could obtain a speed of only three miles an hour,
and finding that the loss of power did not compensate for the
encumbrance of external wheels and the action of the waves, which he
hoped to escape, Livingston relinquished the plan. Four years later,
however, the Chancellor's money and Robert Fulton's genius were to
enrich the world with a discovery that has immortalised Fulton and
placed Livingston's name among the patrons of the greatest inventors.




It is difficult to select a more popular or satisfactory
administration than was Jay's first three years as governor.
Opposition growing out of his famous treaty had entirely subsided,
salutary changes in laws comforted the people, and with Hamilton's
financial system, then thoroughly understood and appreciated, came
unprecedented good times. To all appearances, therefore, Jay's
re-election in 1798 seemed assured by an increased majority, and the
announcement that Chancellor Livingston was a voluntary rival proved
something of a political shock.[81] For many years the relations
between Jay and Livingston were intimate. They had been partners in
the law, associates in the Council of Revision, colleagues in
Congress, co-workers in the formation of a state constitution, and
companions in the Poughkeepsie convention. Jay had succeeded
Livingston in 1784 as secretary of foreign affairs under the
Confederation, and while the charming Mrs. Jay was giving her now
historic dinners and suppers at 133 Broadway, her cousin, Robert R.
Livingston, of No. 3 Broadway, was among her most distinguished
guests. In her home Livingston made those arrangements with Hamilton
and Jay, the Morrises and the Schuylers, that resulted in the
overthrow of Governor Clinton and his supporters in the convention
which ratified the Federal Constitution.

[Footnote 81: William Jay, _Life of John Jay_, Vol. 1, p. 400.]

But after Washington's inauguration, and Jay's appointment as chief
justice of the United States Supreme Court, the Chancellor had been as
intense, if not as violent an opponent of Federalism as Brockholst
Livingston. In their criticism of Jay's treaty these two cousins had
been especially bitter. The Chancellor attacked it as "Cato,"
Brockholst as "Decius;" the one spoke against it on the platform with
Aaron Burr, the other voluntarily joined the mob--if he did not
actually throw the stone--that wounded Hamilton; while the Chancellor
saw a copy of the treaty slowly destroyed at Bowling Green, Brockholst
coolly witnessed its distinguished author burned in effigy "in the
Fields." Relationship did not spare John Jay. Cousin and
brother-in-law had the "love frenzy for France," which finally
culminated in celebrating the ninth anniversary of the treaty of
alliance between France and America, at which Brockholst became
proudly eloquent, and the Chancellor most happy in the felicity of an
historic toast: "May the present coolness between France and America
produce, like the quarrels of lovers, a renewal of love."

Chancellor Livingston was now in the fifty-first year of his age, tall
and handsome, with an abundance of hair already turning gray, which
fell in ringlets over a square high forehead, lending a certain
dignity that made him appear as great in private life as he was when
gowned and throned in his important office.[82] In the estimation of
his contemporaries he was one of the most gifted men of his time, and
the judgment of a later age has not reversed their decision. He added
learning to great natural ability, and brilliancy to profound thought;
and although so deaf as to make communication with him difficult, he
nearly concealed the defect by his remarkable eloquence and
conversational gifts. Benjamin Franklin called him "the Cicero of
America." His love for the beautiful attracted Edmund Burke. It is
doubtful if he had a superior in the State in the knowledge of
history and the classics, and in the study of science Samuel L.
Mitchill alone stood above him. He lacked the creative genius of
Hamilton, the prescient gifts of Jay, and the skill of Burr to marshal
men for selfish purposes, but he was at home in debate with the ablest
men of his time, a master of sarcasm, of trenchant wit, and of
felicitous rhetoric.

[Footnote 82: "The tall and graceful figure of Chancellor Livingston,
and his polished wit and classical taste, contributed not a little to
deepen the impression resulting from the ingenuity of his argument,
the vivacity of his imagination, and the dignity of his
station."--Chancellor Kent's address before The Law Association of New
York, October 21, 1836. George Shea, _Life of Alexander Hamilton_,

Livingston's candidacy for governor was clearly a dash for the
Presidency. He reasoned, as every ambitious New York statesman has
reasoned from that day to this, that if he could carry the State in an
off year, he would be needed in a presidential year. This reasoning
reduces the governorship to a sort of spring-board from which to vault
into the White House, and, although only one man in a century has
performed the feat, it has always figured as a popular and potent
factor in the settlement of political nominations. George Clinton
thought promotion would come to him, and Hamilton inspired Jay with a
similar notion, although it is doubtful if the people ever seriously
considered the candidacy of either; but Livingston, sanguine of better
treatment, was willing voluntarily to withdraw from the professional
path along which he had moved to great distinction, staking more than
he had a right to stake on success. In his reckoning, as the sequel
showed, he miscalculated the popularity of Jay as much as Hamilton did
that of George Clinton in 1789.

The Chancellor undoubtedly believed the tide of Federalism, which had
been steadily rising for six years, was about to ebb. There were
sporadic indications of it. Perhaps Livingston thought it had already
turned, since Republicans had recently won several significant
elections. Two years before DeWitt Clinton and his associates had
suffered defeat in a city which now returned four assemblymen and one
senator with an average Republican majority of more than one thousand.
This indicated that the constant talk of monarchical tendencies, of
Hamilton's centralising measures, and of the court customs introduced
by Washington and followed by Adams, was beginning to influence the
timid into voting with Republicans.

But counteracting influences were also at work, which Livingston, in
his zeal for political honours, possibly did not observe. New England
Federalists, attracted by the fertile valleys of the Hudson and the
Mohawk, had filled the western district, and were now holding it
faithful to the party of Jay and Hamilton. Just at this time, too,
Federalists were bound to be strengthened by the insulting treatment
of American envoys sent to France to restore friendly intercourse
between the two republics. President Adams' message, based upon their
correspondence, asserted that nothing could be accomplished "on terms
compatible with the safety, honour, and essential interests of the
United States," and advised that immediate steps be taken for the
national defence. What the President had withheld for prudential
reasons, the public did not know; but it knew that the Cabinet
favoured an immediate declaration of war, and that the friends of the
Administration in Congress were preparing for such an event. This of
itself should have taken Livingston out of the gubernatorial contest;
for if war were declared before the April election, the result would
assuredly be as disastrous to him as the publication of Jay's treaty
in April, 1795, would have been hurtful to the Federalists. But
Chancellor Livingston, following the belief of his party that France
did not intend to go to war with America, accepted what he had been
seeking for months, and entered the campaign with high hopes.

Jay had intended retiring from public life at the close of his first
term as governor.[83] For a quarter of a century he had been looking
forward to a release from the cares of office, and to the quiet of his
country home in Westchester; but "the indignities which France was at
that time heaping upon his country," says William Jay, his son and
biographer, "and the probability that they would soon lead to war,
forbade him to consult his personal gratification."[84] On the 6th of
March, therefore, he accepted renomination on a ticket with Stephen
Van Rensselaer for lieutenant-governor.

[Footnote 83: William Jay, _Life of John Jay_, Vol. 1, p. 400.]

[Footnote 84: _Ibid._]

It is significant that the anti-Federalists failed to nominate a
lieutenant-governor on the ticket with Livingston. Stephen Van
Rensselaer was a Federalist of the old school, a brother-in-law of
Hamilton, and a vigorous supporter of his party. It is difficult to
accept the theory that none of his opponents wanted the place; it is
easier to believe that under existing conditions no one of sufficient
prominence cared to make the race, especially after President Adams
had published the correspondence of the American envoys, disclosing
Talleyrand's demand for $240,000 as a gift and $6,000,000 as a loan,
with the threat that in the event of failure to comply, "steps will be
taken immediately to ravage the coast of the United States by French
frigates from St. Domingo." The display of such despicable greed,
coupled with the menace, acted very much as the fire of a file of
British soldiers did in Boston in 1770, and sent the indignant and
eloquent reply of Charles C. Pinckney, then minister to France,
ringing throughout the country--"Millions for defence, but not a cent
for tribute." Within four weeks Congress authorised the establishment
of a navy department, the construction of ten war vessels, the
recapture of American ships unlawfully seized, the purchase of cannon,
arms, and military stores, and the raising of a provisional army of
ten thousand, with the acceptance of militia volunteers. The French
tri-colour gave place to the black cockade, a symbol of patriotism in
Revolutionary days, and "Hail Columbia," then first published and set
to the "President's March," was sung to the wildest delight of
American audiences in theatres and churches.

In the midst of this excitement occurred the election for governor.
The outcome was a decided change, sending Jay's majority up to
2380.[85] It is not easy to estimate how much of this result was
influenced by the rising war cloud, and how much is to be credited to
the individuality of the candidates. Both probably entered into the
equation. But the fact that Jay carried legislative districts in which
Republicans sent DeWitt Clinton and Ambrose Spencer to the Senate,
would indicate that confidence in Jay, if not dislike of Livingston,
had been the principal factor in this sweeping victory. "The result of
this election terminated, as was foreseen," wrote William P. Van Ness,
four years later, "in the defeat and mortification of Mr. Livingston,
and confirmed the conviction of the party, that the people had no
confidence in his political integrity, and had been disgusted by his
unwarrantable expectations. His want of popularity was so well known
that nothing could have induced this inexpedient measure, but a desire
to show the futility of his pretensions, and thus in future avoid his
hitherto unceasing importunities."[86]

[Footnote 85: John Jay, 16,012; Robert Livingston, 13,632. _Civil
List, State of New York_, (1887), p. 1166.]

[Footnote 86: William P. Van Ness, _Examination of Charges against
Aaron Burr_, p. 12.]

Livingston's search for distinction in the political field seems to
have resulted in unhappiness. The distinguished ability displayed as
chancellor followed him to the end, but the joy of public life
vanished when he entered the domain of partisan politics. Had he
possessed those qualities of leadership that bind party and friends by
ties of unflinching services, he might have reaped the reward his
ambition so ardently craved; but his peculiar temper unfitted him for
such a career. Jealous, fretful, sensitive, and suspicious, he was as
restless as his eloquence was dazzling, and, although generous to the
poor, his political methods savoured of selfishness, making enemies,
divorcing friends, and darkening his pathway with gathering clouds.

The story of John Jay's second term is not all a record of success.
Strenuous statesmen, catching the contagion of excitement growing out
of the war news from France, formed themselves into clubs, made
eloquent addresses, and cheered John Adams and his readiness to fight
rather than pay tribute, while the Legislature, in extra session,
responded to Jay's patriotic appeal by unanimously pledging the
President the support of the State, and making appropriations for the
repair of fortifications and the purchase of munitions of war. From
all indications, the Federalists seemed certain to continue in power
for the next decade, since the more their opponents sympathised with
the French, the stronger became the sentiment against them. If ever
there was a period in the history of the United States when the
opposite party should have been encouraged to talk, and to talk loudly
and saucily, it was in the summer of 1798, when the American people
had waked up to the insulting treatment accorded their envoys in
France; but the Federalist leaders, horrified by the bloody record of
the French Revolution, seemed to cultivate an increasing distrust of
the common people, whom they now sought to repress by the historic
measures known as the Naturalisation Act of June 18, 1798, the Alien
Act of June 25, and the Sedition Act of July 14.

The briefest recital of the purpose of these laws is sufficient to
prove the folly of the administration that fathered them, and when one
considers the possible lengths to which an official, representing the
President, might go if instigated by private or party revenge, Edward
Livingston's declaration that they "would have disgraced the age of
Gothic barbarity" does not seem too strong.[87] Under the Alien Act
persons not citizens of the United States could be summarily banished
at the sole discretion of the President, without guilt or even
accusation, thus jeopardising the liberty and business of the most
peaceable and well-disposed foreigner. Under the Act of Sedition a
citizen could be dragged from his bed at night and taken hundreds of
miles from home to be tried for circulating a petition asking that
these laws be repealed. The intended effect was to weed out the
foreign-born and crush political opponents, and, the better to
accomplish this purpose, the Alien Act set aside trial by jury, and
the Sedition Act transferred prosecutions from state courts to federal

[Footnote 87: "Let us not establish a tyranny," Hamilton wrote Oliver
Wolcott.--_Works of_, Vol. 8, p. 491. "Let us not be cruel or
violent."--_Ibid._, 490. He thought the Alien Law deficient in
guarantees of personal liberty.--_Ibid._, 5, 26.]

Governor Jay approved these extreme measures because of alleged secret
combinations in the interest of the French; and, although no proof of
their existence appeared except in the unsupported statements of the
press, he submitted to the Legislature, in January, 1799, several
amendments to the Federal Constitution, proposed by Massachusetts,
increasing the disability of foreigners, and otherwise limiting their
rights to citizenship. The Legislature, still strongly Federal in both
its branches, did not take kindly to the amendments, and the Assembly
rejected them by the surprising vote of sixty-two to thirty-eight.
Then came up the famous Kentucky and Virginia resolutions. The
Virginia resolves, drafted by Madison and passed by the Virginia
Legislature, pronounced the Alien and Sedition laws "palpable and
alarming infractions of the Constitution;" the Kentucky resolutions,
drafted by Jefferson, declared each act to be "not law, but altogether
void and of no force." This was nullification, and the States north of
the Potomac hastened to disavow any such doctrine, although the vote
in the New York Assembly came perilously near indorsing it.

The discussion of these measures gave opportunity for the public
opening of a great career in New York legislation--a career that was
to continue into the years made memorable by Martin Van Buren and
William L. Marcy. The record of New York party politics for forty
years is a record of long and brilliant contests in which Erastus
Root, if not a recognised party chieftain, was one of the ablest
lieutenants that marshalled on the field of combat. He was a man of
gigantic frame, scholarly and much given to letters, and, although
somewhat uncouth in manner and rough in speech, his forceful logic,
coupled with keen wit and biting sarcasm, made him a dreaded opponent
and a welcomed ally. He resembled Hamilton in his independence,
relying less upon organisation and more upon the strength of his
personality, yet shrewdly holding close relations with those whose
careful management and adroit manipulation of the spoils kept men in
line whatever the policy it seemed expedient to adopt. For eleven
years he served in the Assembly, and thrice became speaker; for eight
years he served in the Senate, and twice became its president; for
twelve years he served in the lower house of Congress, and once became
lieutenant-governor. Wherever he served, he was recognised as a
master, not always consistent, but always earnest, eloquent, and
popular, fighting relentlessly and tirelessly, and compelling respect
even when unsuccessful.

Just now Root was an ardent admirer of Aaron Burr and a bitter
opponent of Alexander Hamilton. He was only twenty-six years old.
During the contest over the Federal Constitution he was a leader in
boyish sports at his Connecticut home, thinking more of the next
wrestling match and the girl he should escort from the lyceum than of
the character of the constitution under which he should live; but he
came to the Assembly in 1798 a staunch supporter of republicanism,
believing that Federalists should give place to men inclined to trust
the people with larger power, and in this spirit he led the debate
against the Alien and Sedition laws with such brilliancy that he
leaped into prominence at a single bound. Freedom and fearlessness
characterised the work of this young orator, singling him out as the
people's champion, and giving him the confidence of five thousand
"Wild Irishmen," as Otis called them, who had sought America as an
asylum for the oppressed of all nations. Unrestrained by precedent and
unruled by fear for the future, he spoke with confidence to a people
whom he delighted with the breadth and liberality of his views,
lifting them onto heights from which they had never before surveyed
their political rights.

In the debate in the Assembly on the indorsement of the Kentucky
resolutions Root maintained with great force the right of the people's
representatives in the Legislature to express an opinion upon an act
of Congress, however solemn, and he ridiculed the argument that
questions limited to the judiciary were beyond the jurisdiction of
any other body of men to criticise and condemn. This touched a popular
chord, and if the mere expression of an opinion by the Assembly had
been the real question at issue, young Root might have carried his
point as he did the fight against the amendments proposed by
Massachusetts. But there was one question Root did not successfully
meet. Although Jefferson's eighth and ninth resolutions--declaring
that whenever the general government assumed powers not delegated, "a
nullification of the act is the rightful remedy" of every State--had
been stricken out, the dangerous doctrine was still present in the
preamble, making it apparent to the friends of the Constitution that
the promulgation of such a monstrous heresy would be worse than the
acts sought to be annulled. It is not clear that Root's understanding
of these resolutions went so far; for the question discussed by him
concerned only the right of the Legislature to express an opinion
respecting the wisdom or unwisdom of an act of Congress. Nor does it
appear that he favoured what afterward became known as "nullification;"
for it is certain that when, thirty-four years later, the doctrine
came up again under John C. Calhoun's leadership, Erastus Root, then
in Congress, struck at it as he would at the head of a viper, becoming
the fearless expounder of principles which civil war permanently

While young Root was leading the debate in the Assembly, Ambrose
Spencer led it in the Senate. Spencer's apostacy produced a profound
sensation in political circles. He had given no intimation of a change
of political principles. Although still a young man, barely
thirty-three, he had ranked among the foremost leaders of the
Federalist party, having been honoured as an assistant attorney-general,
a state senator, a member of the Council of Appointment, a friend of
Hamilton, and the confidential adviser of Jay. The latter's heart
might well sink within him to be abandoned by such a colleague at a
time when the stability of the Union was insidiously attacked; nor
ought Spencer to have been surprised that public rumour immediately
set to work to find some reason for his change less simple and less
honest, perhaps, than a dislike of the Federalist policy. Various
causes have been given for his mysterious behaviour. Some thought him
eager for a high mark of presidential favour, possibly a mission
abroad, which was not warmly advocated by Hamilton; others believed
that the bitter quarrel between Adams and Hamilton influenced him to
desert a sinking party; but the rumour generally accepted by the
Federalists ascribed it to his failure to become state comptroller in
place of Samuel Jones, an office which he sought. It was recalled that
shortly after Jones' appointment, Spencer raised the question, with
some show of bitterness, that Jones' seat in the Senate should be
declared vacant.

Spencer denied the charges with expletives and with emphasis, treating
the accusations as a calumny, and insisting that his change of
principles occurred in the spring of 1798 before his re-election as
senator. This antedated the alien and sedition measures, but not the
appointment of Samuel Jones, making his conversion contemporary with
the candidacy for governor of Chancellor Livingston, to whom he was
related. It is not unlikely that he shared Livingston's confidence in
an election and thought it a good time to join the party of his
relative; but whether his change was a matter of principle, of
self-interest, or of resentment, it bitterly stung the Federalists,
who did not cease to assail him as a turncoat for the flesh-pots.[88]

[Footnote 88: "Ambrose Spencer's politics were inconsistent enough to
destroy the good name of any man in New England; but he became a
chief-justice of ability and integrity."--Henry Adams, _History of the
United States_, Vol. 1, p. 112.]

The début of the brilliant Root and the St. Paul-like conversion of
Ambrose Spencer were not, however, needed to overthrow a party
responsible for the famous alien and sedition laws. No one has ever
yet successfully defended this hasty, ill-considered legislation, nor
has any one ever admitted responsibility for it, except President
Adams who approved it, and who, up to the last moment of his long
life, contended that it was "constitutional and salutary, if not
necessary." President Adams had, indeed, refrained from using the
power so lavishly given him; but rash subordinates listened to the
dictate of unwise party leaders. The ridiculous character of these
prosecutions is illustrated by a fine of one hundred dollars because
one defendant wished that the wadding used in a salute to John Adams
had lodged in the ample part of the President's trousers.

But the sedition law had a more serious enemy than rash subordinates.
John Armstrong, author of the celebrated "Newburgh Letters," and until
recently a Federalist, wrote a vitriolic petition for its repeal,
which Jedediah Peck circulated for signatures. This incited the
indiscreet and excitable Judge Cooper, father of the distinguished
novelist, to begin a prosecution; and upon his complaint, the United
States marshal, armed with a bench-warrant, carried off Peck to New
York City for trial. It is two hundred miles from Cooperstown to the
mouth of the Hudson, and in the spring of 1800 the marshal and his
prisoner were five days on the way. The newspapers reported Peck as
"taken from his bed at midnight, manacled, and dragged from his home,"
because he dared ask his neighbours to petition Congress to repeal an
offensive law. "The rule of George Third," declared the press, "was
gracious and loving compared to such tyranny." In the wildest delirium
of revolutionary days, when patriots were refusing to drink tea, and
feeding it to the fishes, New York had not been more deeply stirred
than now. "A hundred missionaries in the cause of democracy, stationed
between New York and Cooperstown," says Hammond, the historian, "could
not have done so much for the Republican cause as this journey of
Jedediah Peck from Otsego to the capital of the State. It was nothing
less than the public exhibition of a suffering martyr for the freedom
of speech and the press, and for the right of petition."[89]

[Footnote 89: Jabez D. Hammond, _Political History of New York_, Vol.
1, p. 132.]

This was the political condition when Aaron Burr, in the spring of
1800, undertook to gain twelve electoral votes for the Republicans by
carrying the Legislature of New York. It required seventy electoral
votes to choose a President, and outside of New York the
anti-Federalists could count sixty-one. The capture of this State,
therefore, would give them a safe majority. Without advertising his
purposes, Burr introduced the sly methods that characterised his
former campaigns, beginning with the selection of a ticket that would
commend itself to all, and ending with an organisation that would do
credit to the management of the later-day chiefs of Tammany. To avoid
the already growing rivalry between the Clinton and Livingston
factions, George Clinton and Brockholst Livingston headed the ticket,
followed by Horatio Gates of Revolutionary fame, John Broome, soon to
be lieutenant-governor, Samuel Osgood, for two years Washington's
postmaster-general, John Swartout, already known for his vigorous
record in the Assembly, and others equally acceptable. Burr himself
stood for the county of Orange. For the first time in the history of
political campaigning, too, local managers prepared lists of voters,
canvassed wards by streets, held meetings throughout the city, and
introduced other methods of organisation common enough nowadays, but
decidedly novel then.

Hamilton was alive to the importance of the April election, but
scarcely responsible for the critical character of the situation. He
had not approved the alien and sedition measures, nor did he commit
himself to the persecuting policy sanctioned by most Federal leaders,
and although he favoured suppressing newspaper libels against the
government, he was himself alien-born, and of a mind too broad not to
understand the danger of arousing foreign-born citizens against his
party on lines of national sentiment. "If we make no false step," he
wrote Oliver Wolcott, "we shall be essentially united, but if we push
things to extremes, we shall then give to faction body and
solidity."[90] It was hasty United States attorneys and indiscreet
local politicians rather than the greatest of the Federal leaders,
who gave "to faction body and solidity."

[Footnote 90: _Hamilton's Works_ (Lodge), Vol. 8, p. 491.]

Hamilton threw himself with energy into the desperate fight. For four
days, from April 29 to May 2, while the polls were open, he visited
every voting precinct, appealing to the public in his wonderfully
persuasive and captivating manner. On several occasions Burr and
Hamilton met, and it was afterward recalled that courtesy
characterised the conduct of each toward the other, one champion
waiting while the other took his turn. Rarely if ever in the history
of the country have two men of such ability and astuteness
participated in a local canvass. The rivalry was all the more exciting
because it was a rivalry of styles as well as of capacities. Burr was
smooth, polished, concise, never diffuse or declamatory, always
serious and impressive. If we may accept contemporary judgment, he was
a good speaker whom everybody was curious to hear, and from whom no
one turned away in disappointment. On the other hand, Hamilton was an
acknowledged orator, diffuse, ornate, full of metaphor, with flashes
of poetical genius, revelling in exuberant strength, and endowed with
a gift of argumentative eloquence which appealed to the intellect and
the feelings at the same time. Erastus Root says Hamilton's words were
so well chosen, and his sentences so finely formed into a swelling
current, that the hearer would be captivated if not convinced, while
Burr's arguments were generally methodised and compact. To this Root
added a judgment, after thirty years' experience in public life at
Washington and in New York, that "they were much the greatest men in
the State, and perhaps the greatest men in the United States."

When the polls closed the Republicans had carried the Legislature by
twenty-two majority on joint ballot. This secured to them the election
of the needed twelve presidential electors. To recover their loss the
Federalists now clamoured for a change in the law transferring the
election of presidential electors from the Legislature to districts
created for that purpose. Such an amendment would give the
Federalists six of the twelve electors.

This was Hamilton's plan. In an earnest plea he urged Jay to convene
the Legislature in extraordinary session for this purpose. "The
anti-Federal party," he wrote to the Governor, "is a composition
indeed of very incongruous materials, but all tending to mischief;
some of them to the overthrow of the government by stripping it of its
due energies; others of them by revolutionising it after the manner of
Bonaparte. The government must not be confided to the custody of its
enemies, and, although the measure proposed is open to objection, a
popular government cannot stand if one party calls to its aid all the
resources which vice can give, and the other, however pressing the
emergency, feels itself obliged to confine itself within the ordinary
forms of delicacy and decorum."[91]

[Footnote 91: _Hamilton's Works_ (Lodge), Vol. 8, p. 549.]

Jay's response to Hamilton's proposal is not of record, but some time
afterward the great Federalist's letter was found carefully filed
among the papers in the public archives, bearing an indorsement in the
Governor's handwriting: "This is a measure for party purposes which I
think it would not become me to adopt."

The sincerity of Jay's action has been doubted. He was about to retire
from public life, it was said, with no political future before him,
and with that courage which inspires a man under such circumstances,
he declined to act. But Jay's treatment of Hamilton's suggestion
stands out conspicuously as his best judgment at the most trying
moment in a long and eventful life. Jay was a stalwart Federalist. He
had supported Washington and Hamilton in the making of a federal
constitution; he had approved the alien and sedition laws; he had
favourably reported to the Legislature the proposed amendments of
Massachusetts, limiting service in Congress to native-born citizens;
he regarded the advent of Jefferson and his ideas with as much alarm
as Hamilton, and he knew as well as Hamilton that the adoption of the
district plan of choosing electors would probably defeat the
Virginian; but to call an extra session of the Legislature for the
purpose indicated by Hamilton, would defeat the expressed will of the
people as much as the action of the state canvassers defeated it in
1792. Should he follow such a precedent and save his party, perhaps
his country, from the dire ills so vividly portrayed by Hamilton? The
responsibility was upon him, not upon Hamilton, and he wisely refused
to do what the people of the State had so generally and properly
condemned in the canvassers.

Hamilton's proposition naturally provoked the indignation of his
opponents, and later writers have used it as a text for unlimited
vituperation; but if one may judge from what happened and continued to
happen during the next three decades, not a governor who followed Jay
in those eventful years would have declined under similar
circumstances to concur in Hamilton's suggestion. It was undoubtedly a
desperate proposal, but it was squarely in line with the practice of
party leaders of that day. George Clinton countenanced, if he did not
absolutely advise, the deliberate disfranchisement of hundreds of
voters in 1792 that he might continue governor. A few years later, in
1816, methods quite as disreputable and unscrupulous were practised,
that Republicans might continue to control the Council of Appointment.
Hamilton's suggestion involved no concealment, as in the case of the
Manhattan Bank, which Jay approved; no violation of law, as in the
Otsego election case, which Clinton approved; no deliberate fraud, as
in the Allen-Fellows case, which Tompkins approved. All this does not
lessen the wrong involved in Hamilton's proposed violation of moral
ethics, but it places the suggestion in the environment to which it
properly belongs, making it appear no worse if no better than the
political practices of that day.




The ten months following the Republican triumph in New York on May 2,
1800, were fateful ones for Hamilton and Burr. It is not easy to
suggest the greater sufferer, Burr with his victory, or Hamilton with
his defeat. Hamilton's bold expedients began at once; Burr's desperate
schemes waited until after the election in November; but when the
conflict was over, the political influence of each had ebbed like
water in a bay after a tidal wave. Although Jay's refusal to reconvene
the old Legislature in extra session surprised Hamilton as much as the
Republican victory itself, the great Federalist did not despair. He
still thought it possible to throw the election of President into the
House of Representatives, and to that end he wrote his friends to give
equal support to John Adams and Charles C. Pinckney, the candidates of
the Federal party. "This is the only thing," he said, "that can
possibly save us from the fangs of Jefferson."[92]

[Footnote 92: _Hamilton's Works_ (Lodge), Vol. 8, p. 549. Letter to
Theo. Sedgwick.]

But the relations between Adams and Hamilton were now to break. For
twelve years Hamilton had kept Adams angry. He began in 1789 with the
inconsiderate and needless scheme of scattering the electoral votes of
Federalists for second place, lest Washington fail of the highest
number, and thus reduced Adams' vote to thirty-four, while Washington
received sixty-nine. In 1796 he advised similar tactics, in order that
Thomas Pinckney might get first place. For the past three years the
President had endured the mortification of having Hamilton control
his cabinet advisers. After the loss of New York, however, Adams
turned elsewhere for strength, appointing John Marshall secretary of
state in place of Timothy Pickering, and Samuel Dexter secretary of
war in place of James McHenry. The mutual dislike of Hamilton and
Adams had become so intensified that the slightest provocation on the
part of either would make any form of political reconciliation
impossible, and Adams' reconstruction of his Cabinet furnished this
provocation. Pickering and McHenry were Hamilton's best supporters.
They had done more to help him and to embarrass Adams, and their
dismissal, because of the loss of New York, made Hamilton thirsty for
revenge. Pickering suggested "a bold and frank exposure of Adams,"
offering to furnish the facts if Hamilton would put them together, and
agreeing to arrange with George Cabot and other ultra Federalists of
New England, known as the "Essex Junto," to throw Adams behind Charles
C. Pinckney in the electoral vote. Their plan was to start Pinckney as
the second Federalist candidate, with the hope that parties would be
so divided as to secure his election for President. It was nothing
more than the old "double chance" manoeuvres of 1796, when Thomas
Pinckney was Hamilton's choice for President; but the iniquity of the
scheme was the deception practised upon the voters who desired Adams.

Of course, Adams soon learned of the revival of this old conspiracy,
and passionately and hastily opened a raking fire upon the "Essex
Junto," calling them a "British faction," with Hamilton as its chief,
a designation to which the Republican press had made them peculiarly
sensitive. This aroused Hamilton, who, preliminary to a quarrel,
addressed the President, asking if he had mentioned the writer as one
who belonged to a British faction. Receiving no reply, he again wrote
the President, angrily repelling all aspersions of the kind. This the
President likewise ignored.

Then Hamilton listened to Timothy Pickering. Fiery as his temper had
often proved, and grotesquely obstinate as he had sometimes shown
himself, Hamilton's most erratic impulse appears like the coolness of
Jay when contrasted with the conduct upon which he now entered. The
letter he proposed to write, ostensibly in justification of himself,
was apparently intended for private circulation at some future day
among Federal leaders, to whom it would furnish reasons why electors
should unite in preferring Pinckney. It is known, too, that Hamilton's
coolest and ablest advisers opposed such a letter, recalling the
congressional caucus agreement, which he had himself advised, to vote
fairly for both Adams and Pinckney. Besides, to impair confidence in
Adams just at that moment, it was argued, would impair confidence in
the Federal party, while at best such a letter could only produce
confusion without compensatory results. But between Adams and
Jefferson, Hamilton now preferred the latter. "I will never be
responsible for him by my direct vote," he wrote in May, 1800, "even
though the consequence be the election of Jefferson."[93] Moreover,
Hamilton was accustomed to give, not to receive orders. Had Washington
lived, Hamilton would doubtless never have written the letter, but now
he wrote it, printed it, and in a few days was forced to publish it,
since garbled extracts began appearing in the press. Many theories
have been advanced as to how it fell into the hands of a public
printer, some fanciful, others ridiculous, and none, perhaps,
absolutely truthful. The story that Burr unwittingly coaxed a
printer's errand boy to give him a copy, is not corroborated by
Matthew L. Davis; but, however the publication happened, it was not
intended to happen in that way and at that time.

[Footnote 93: _Hamilton's Works_ (Lodge), Vol. 8, p. 552.]

It was an ugly letter, not up to Hamilton's best work. The vindication
of himself and the Pinckneys lost itself in the severity of the attack
upon Adams, whose career was reviewed from the distant day of an
unsound judgment ventured in military affairs during the Revolution,
to the latest display of a consuming egotism, vanity, and jealousy as
President. In a word, all the quarrels, resentments, and antagonisms
which had torn and rent the Federal party for four years, but which,
thanks to Washington, had not become generally known, were now, in a
moment, officially exposed to the whole country, to the great
astonishment of most Federalists, and to the great delight of all
Republicans. "If the single purpose had been to defeat the President,"
said John Adams, "no more propitious moment could have been chosen."
Fisher Ames declared that "the question is not how we shall fight, but
how we shall fall." In vain did Hamilton journey through New England,
struggling to gain votes for Pinckney; in vain did the "Essex Junto"
deplore the appearance of a document certain to do their Jacobin
opponents great service. The party, already practically defeated by
its alien and sedition legislation, and now inflamed with angry
feelings, hastened on to the inevitable catastrophe like a boat sucked
into the rushing waters of Niagara, while the party of Jefferson,
united in principle, and encouraged by the divisions of their
adversaries, marched on to easy victory. When the result was known,
Jefferson and Burr had each seventy-three electoral votes, Adams
sixty-five, Pinckney sixty-four, and Jay one.

It is difficult to realise the arguments which persuaded Hamilton to
follow the suggestion of the fallen minister. Hot-tempered and
impatient of restraint as he was, he knew Adams' attack had only paid
him in kind. Nor is mitigation of Hamilton's conduct found in the
statement, probably true, that the party could not in any case have
carried the election. The great mass of Federalists believed, as
Hamilton wrote Jay when asking an extra session of the Legislature,
that the defeat of Jefferson was "the only means to save the nation
from more disasters," and they naturally looked to him to accomplish
that defeat. Of all men that ever led a political party, therefore, it
was Hamilton's duty to sink personal antipathy, but in this attack
upon Adams he seems deliberately to have sinned against the light.
This was the judgment of men of his own day, and at the end of a
century it is the judgment of men who cherish his teachings and revere
his memory.

While Hamilton wrote and worried and wrestled, Aaron Burr rested on
the well-earned laurels of victory. It had been a great fight. George
Clinton did not take kindly to Thomas Jefferson, and stubbornly
resisted allowing the use of his name to aid the Virginian's
promotion; Horatio Gates and other prominent citizens who had left the
political arena years before, if they could be said ever to have
entered it, were also indisposed to head a movement that seemed to
them certain to end in rout and confusion; but Burr held on until
scruples disappeared, and their names headed a winning ticket. It was
the first ray of light to break the Republican gloom, and when, six
months later, the Empire State declared for Jefferson and Burr it
added to the halo already surrounding the grandson of Jonathan

It was known that Jefferson and Burr had run very evenly, and by the
middle of December, 1800, it became rumoured that their vote was a
tie. "If such should be the result," Burr wrote Samuel Smith, a
Republican congressman from Maryland, "every man who knows me ought to
know that I would utterly disclaim all competition. Be assured that
the Federalist party can entertain no wish for such an exchange. As to
my friends, they would dishonour my views and insult my feelings by a
suspicion that I would submit to be instrumental in counteracting the
wishes and the expectations of the people of the United States. And I
now constitute you my proxy to declare these sentiments if the
occasion should require."[94] At the time this letter was much
applauded at public dinners and other Republican gatherings as proof
of Burr's respect for the will of the people.

[Footnote 94: James Parton, _Life of Aaron Burr_, 267.]

But the Federalists had plans of their own. "To elect Burr would be to
cover the opposition with chagrin, and to sow among them the seeds of
a morbid division," wrote Harrison Gray Otis of Massachusetts.[95]
Gradually this sentiment took possession of New England and the Middle
States, until it seemed to be the prevailing opinion of the Federal
party. "Some, indeed most of our eastern friends are warm in support
of Burr," said Gouverneur Morris, which James A. Bayard of Delaware
corroborated in a note to Hamilton. "There appears to be a strong
inclination in a majority of the Federal party to support Burr," he
said.[96] "The current has already acquired considerable force, and is
manifestly increasing." John Rutledge, governor of South Carolina,
thought "his promotion will be prodigiously afflicting to the Virginia
faction, and must disjoint the party. If Mr. B.'s Presidency be
productive of evils, it will be very easy for us to get rid of him.
Opposed by the Virginia party, it will be his interest to conciliate
the Federalists."[97] Theodore Sedgwick, speaker of the House of
Representatives, likewise declared that "most of the Federalists are
for Burr. It is very evident that the Jacobins dread this appointment
more even than that of General Pinckney. If he be elected by the
Federalists against the hearty opposition of the Jacobins, the wounds
mutually given and received will probably be incurable. Each will have
committed the unpardonable sin. Burr must depend on good men for his
support, and that support he cannot receive, but by a conformity to
their views. At first, I confess, I was strongly disposed to give
Jefferson the preference, but the more I have reflected, the more I
have inclined to the other."[98]

[Footnote 95: _Ibid._, 267.]

[Footnote 96: James Parton, _Life of Aaron Burr_, 270.]

[Footnote 97: _Ibid._, 275.]

[Footnote 98: _Ibid._, 275.]

To such a course Hamilton was bitterly opposed, not only because he
distrusted Burr more than he did Jefferson, but because the
Federalists should leave the responsibility of a selection to the
Republicans and thus in nowise be answerable for the consequences. "If
the anti-Federalists who prevailed in the election," he wrote Bayard
of Delaware, "are left to take their own man, they remain responsible,
and the Federalists remain free, united, and without stain, in a
situation to resist with effect pernicious measures. If the
Federalists substitute Burr, they adopt him, and become answerable for
him. Whatever may be the theory of the case, abroad and at home, Mr.
Burr must become, in fact, the man of our party; and if he acts ill,
we must share in the blame and disgrace. By adopting him, we do all we
can to reconcile the minds of Federalists to him, and we prepare them
for the effectual operation of his acts. He will, doubtless, gain many
of them; and the Federalists will become a disorganised and
contemptible party. Can there be any serious question between the
policy of leaving the anti-Federalists to be answerable for the
elevation of an objectionable man, and that of adopting him ourselves,
and becoming answerable for a man who, on all hands, is acknowledged
to be a complete Catiline? 'Tis enough to state the question to
indicate the answer, if reason, not passion, presides in the

[Footnote 99: _Hamilton's Works_ (Lodge), Vol. 8, p. 581.]

Gouverneur Morris, now a United States senator, had already taken a
similar position. Bayard of Delaware, who carried the vote of the
little State in his pocket, and several other leading Federalists,
listened with profound respect; but the great portion of the party,
maddened by reverses, eager for revenge, and not yet mindless of
Hamilton's campaign indiscretion, was in no temper to follow such
prudent advice. As already indicated, the disposition was "to cover
the opposition with chagrin," and "to sow among them the seeds of
morbid division." Nor did they agree with Hamilton's estimate of Burr,
which seemed to them attributable to professional and personal feuds,
but maintained that he was a matter-of-fact man, artful and dexterous
to accomplish his ends, and without pernicious theories, whose very
selfishness was a guard against mischievous foreign predilection, and
whose local situation was helpful to his appreciation of the utility
of the country's commercial and federal systems, while his elevation
to the Presidency would be a mortal stab to the Jacobins, breeding
invincible hatred and compelling him to lean on the Federalists, who
had nothing to fear from his ambition, since it would be checked by
his good sense, or from any scheme of usurpation that he might

In vain did Hamilton combat these points, insisting that Burr was a
man of extreme and irregular ambition, selfish to a degree which even
excluded social affection, and decidedly profligate. He admitted that
he was far more artful than wise, far more dexterous than able, but
held that artfulness and dexterity were objections rather than
recommendations, while he thought a systematic statesman should have a
theory. "No general principles," he said, "will work much better than
erroneous ones."[100] As to foreign predilection, he thought Burr as
warm a partisan of France as Jefferson, and instead of leaning on good
men, whom he knew would never support his bad projects, he would
endeavour to disorganise both parties, and from the wreck form a third
out of conspirators and other men fitted by character to carry out his
schemes of usurpation. As the campaign advanced he became more
emphatic, insisting that Burr's election would disgrace the country
abroad, and that no agreement with him could be relied upon. "As well
think to bind a giant by a cobweb as his ambition by promises."[101]

[Footnote 100: _Hamilton's Works_ (Lodge), Vol. 8, p. 584.]

[Footnote 101: _Ibid._, 581.]

In the meantime the electoral count, as already anticipated, had
thrown the election into the House of Representatives, where it would
be decided on the 11th of February, 1801. In the House the Republicans
controlled eight States to the Federalists' six, with Maryland and
Vermont without a majority of either party. To elect Jefferson,
therefore, an additional State must be secured, and to prevent it, if
possible, the Federalists, by a party caucus held in January, resolved
to support Burr, Bayard and three others, any one of whom could decide
the choice for Jefferson, reserving the right to limit the contest to
March 4, and thus avoid the risk of general anarchy by a failure to

Very naturally the Republicans became alarmed and ugly. Jefferson
wrote Madison of the deplorable tie, suggesting that it had produced
great dismay and gloom among Republicans and exultation among
Federalists, "who openly declare they will prevent an election."[102]
James Gunn, a United States senator from Georgia and a Federalist,
advised Hamilton that "the Jacobins are determined to resist the
election of Burr at every hazard, and I am persuaded they have taken
their ground with a fixed resolution to destroy the government rather
than yield their point."[103] Madison thought if the then House of
Representatives did not choose Jefferson, the next House would do so,
supported as he was by the great body of the people, who would no
longer submit "to the degradation of America by attempts to make Burr
the President."[104]

[Footnote 102: James Parton, _Life of Aaron Burr_, 274.]

[Footnote 103: _Ibid._, 274.]

[Footnote 104: _Ibid._, 274.]

Not a word came from Burr. Jefferson tried repeatedly to bring him to
an explicit understanding without avail. His only published utterance
on the subject, save the letter to Samuel Smith, was in a family note
of January 15 to his son-in-law, Joseph Allston of South Carolina, in
which he spoke of the tie as exciting great speculation and much
anxiety, adding, "I believe that all will be well, and that Jefferson
will be our President."[105] Five days before this, Speaker Sedgwick
informed Hamilton that "Burr has expressed his displeasure at the
publication of his letter by Samuel Smith,"[106] which, wrote Bayard
on January 7, "is here understood to have proceeded either from a
false calculation as to the result of the electoral vote, or was
intended as a cover to blind his own party."[107] But there was no
danger of Joseph Allston publishing his note, at least not until the
fight was over.

[Footnote 105: _Ibid._, 279.]

[Footnote 106: _Ibid._, 272.]

[Footnote 107: _Ibid._, 272.]

Burr's letter to his son-in-law bore date at Albany. Being a member of
the Legislature he had gone there early in January, where he not only
kept silent but mysteriously aloof, although his lobbyists thronged
Washington in such numbers that Senator Morris, on February 14, asked
his colleague, John Armstrong, "how it happened that Burr, who is four
hundred miles off, has agents here at work with great activity, while
Mr. Jefferson, who is on the spot, does nothing?"[108] That these
agents understood their mission and were quite as active as Morris
represented, was evident by the reports sent from time to time to
Hamilton, who remained in New York. "Some who pretend to know his
views," wrote Morris, "think he will bargain with the Federalists."[109]
Bayard was also approached. "Persons friendly to Mr. Burr state
distinctly that he is willing to consider the Federalists as his
friends, and to accept the office of President as their gift."[110] As
early as January 10 Governor Rutledge wrote that "we are assured by a
gentleman who lately had some conversation with Mr. Burr on this
subject that he is disposed to maintain and expand our systems."[111]

[Footnote 108: _Jefferson's Diary_, Feb. 14, 1801.]

[Footnote 109: James Parton, _Life of Aaron Burr_, p. 272.]

[Footnote 110: _Ibid._, 272.]

[Footnote 111: _Ibid._, 275.]

As the campaign proceeded it became evident to Burr that Republicans
were needed as well as Federalists, and a bright young man, William P.
Van Ness, who had accompanied Burr to Albany as a favourite companion,
wrote Edward Livingston, the brilliant New York congressman, that "it
is the sense of the Republicans in this State that, after some trials
in the House, Mr. Jefferson should be given up for Mr. Burr."[112]
This was wholly conjectural, and Burr and his young friend knew it;
but it was a part of the game, since Burr, so Hamilton wrote Morris,
"perfectly understands himself with Edward Livingston, who will be his
agent at the seat of government," adding that Burr had volunteered the
further information "that the Federalists might proceed in the
certainty that, upon a second ballot New York and Tennessee would join
him."[113] There is no doubt Burr believed then, and for some time
afterward, that Edward Livingston was his friend, but he did not know
that Jefferson had offered the secretaryship of the navy to Edward's
brother, the powerful Chancellor,[114] or that the Chancellor's young
brother was filling Jefferson's diary with the doings and sayings of
those who were interested in Burr's election. Edward got a United
States attorneyship for his treachery, and soon after became a
defaulter for thirty thousand dollars under circumstances of culpable
carelessness, as the Treasury thought.[115]

[Footnote 112: William P. Van Ness, _Examination of Charges against
Aaron Burr_, p. 61.]

[Footnote 113: _Hamilton's Works_ (Lodge), Vol. 8, p. 586.]

[Footnote 114: Jefferson to Livingston, Feb. 24, 1801; _Jefferson's
Works_, Vol. 4, p. 360.]

[Footnote 115: Henry Adams, _History of the United States_, Vol. 2, p.
173. _Ibid._, Vol. 1, p. 113.]

The voting began on February 11. On the first ballot eight States
voted for Jefferson and six for Burr, Vermont and Maryland being
neutralised by an even party division. In this manner the voting
continued for six days, through thirty-five ballots, the House taking
recesses to give members rest, caucuses opportunity to meet, and the
sick time to be brought in on their beds. Finally, on the thirty-sixth
ballot, the Vermont Federalist withdrew, and the four Maryland
Federalists, with Bayard of Delaware, put in blanks, giving Jefferson
ten States and Burr five.

Burr had played his game with the skill of a master. The tactics that
elected him to the United States Senate in 1791 and made him a
gubernatorial possibility in 1792 were repeated on a larger scale and
shrouded in deeper mystery. He had appeared to disavow any intention
of supplanting Jefferson, and yet had played for Federalist and
Republican support so cleverly that Jefferson pronounced his conduct
"honourable and decisive, and greatly embarrassing" to those who tried
to "debauch him from his good faith." In the evening of the
inauguration, President and Vice President received together the
congratulations of their countrymen at the presidential mansion. At
Albany banqueting Republicans drank the health of "Aaron Burr, Vice
President of the United States; his uniform and patriotic exertions in
favour of Republicanism eclipsed only by his late disinterested

But when soberer thoughts came the Republican mind was disturbed with
the question why Burr, after the Federalists had openly resolved to
support him, did not proclaim on the housetop what he had written to
Samuel Smith before the tie was known. Gradually the truth began to
dawn as men talked and compared notes, and before three months had
elapsed Jefferson's estimate of Burr's character corresponded with
Hamilton's. It is of record that from 1790 to 1800 Jefferson
considered him "for sale," and when the Virginians, after twice
refusing to vote for him, finally sustained him for Vice President,
they did so repenting their act.[116]

[Footnote 116: Henry Adams, _History of the United States_, Vol. 1, p.
229. Jefferson's _Anas_; _Works_, Vol. 9, p. 207.]

It is not easy to indicate the source of Burr's inherent badness. His
father, a clergyman of rare scholarship and culture, became, at the
age of thirty-two, the second president of Princeton College, while
Jonathan Edwards, his maternal grandfather, whose "Freedom of the
Will" made him an intellectual world-force, became its third
president; but if one may accept contemporary judgment, Aaron Burr had
scarcely one good or great quality of heart. Like Lord Chesterfield,
his favourite author, he had intellect without truth or virtue; like
Chesterfield, too, he was small in stature and slender.[117] Here,
however, the comparison must end if Lord Hervey's description of
Chesterfield be accepted, for instead of broad, rough features, and
an ugly face, Burr's personal appearance, suggested by the delicately
chiselled features in the marble, was the gift of a mother noted for
beauty as well as for the inheritance of her father's great
intellectuality. Writers never forget the large black eyes, keen and
penetrating, so irresistible to gifted and beautiful women. They came
from the Edwards side; but from whence came the absence of honour that
distinguished this son and grandson of the Princeton presidents,
tradition does not inform us.

[Footnote 117: "When the Senate met at ten o'clock on the morning of
March 4, 1801, Aaron Burr stood at the desk, and having duly sworn to
support the Constitution took his seat in the chair as Vice President.
This quiet, gentlemanly and rather dignified figure, hardly taller
than Madison, and dressed in much the same manner, impressed with
favour all who first met him. An aristocrat imbued in the morality of
Lord Chesterfield and Napoleon Bonaparte, Colonel Burr was the chosen
head of Northern democracy, idol of the wards of New York City, and
aspirant to the highest offices he could reach by means legal or
beyond the law; for, as he pleased himself with saying after the
manner of the First Consul of the French Republic, 'great souls care
little for small morals.'"--Henry Adams, _History of the United
States_, Vol. 1, p. 195.]




The election that decided the contest for Jefferson, returned DeWitt
Clinton to the State Senate, and a Republican majority to the
Assembly. As soon as the Legislature met, therefore, Clinton proposed
a new Council of Appointment. Federalists shrieked in amazement at
such a suggestion, since the existing Council had served little more
than half its term. To this Republicans replied, good naturedly, that
although party conditions were reversed, arguments remained the same,
and reminded them that in 1794, when an anti-Federalist Council had
served only a portion of its term, the Federalists compelled an
immediate change. Whatever was fair for Federalists then, they argued,
could not be unfair for Republicans now. If it was preposterous, as
Josiah Ogden Hoffman had asserted, for a Council to serve out its full
term in 1794, it was preposterous for the Council of 1800 to serve out
its full term; if Schuyler was right that it was a dangerous and
unconstitutional usurpation of power for the anti-Federalist Council
to continue its sittings, it was a dangerous and unconstitutional
usurpation of power for the Federalist Council of 1800 to continue its
sittings. Of course Federalists were wrong in 1794, and Republicans
were wrong in 1800, but there was as much poetic justice in the
situation as a Republican could desire. As soon as the Assembly had
organised, therefore, DeWitt Clinton, Ambrose Spencer, Robert
Roseboom, and John Sanders became the Council of Appointment. Sanders
was a Federalist, but Roseboom was a Republican, whose pliancy and
weakness made him the tool of Clinton and Spencer.

DeWitt Clinton had at last come to his own. Until now his life had
been uncheckered by important incident and unmarked by political
achievement. He had run rapidly through the grammar school of Little
Britain, his native town; through the academy at Kingston, the only
one then in the State; through Columbia College, which he entered as a
junior at fifteen and from which he graduated at the head of his
class; and through his law studies with Samuel Jones. In 1789 came an
appointment as private secretary to his uncle, George Clinton. When
Governor Jay sought the assistance of another in 1795, Clinton resumed
the law; but he continued to practise politics for a living, and at
last found himself in the Assembly of 1797. He was then twenty-eight,
strong, handsome, and well equipped for any struggle. He had devoted
his leisure moments to reading, for which he had a passion that lasted
him all his lifetime. He was especially fond of scientific studies,
and of the active-minded Samuel L. Mitchill, six years his senior, who
gave scientific reputation to the whole State.

In spite of his love for science, DeWitt Clinton was a born
politician, with all the characteristic incongruities incident to such
a life. He had the selfishness of Livingston, the inconsistency of
Spencer, the imperiousness of Root, and the ability of a statesman.
Unlike most other men of his party, he did not rely wholly upon
discipline and organisation, or upon party fealty and courtesy.
Hamilton had cherished the hope that Clinton might become a
Federalist, not because he was a trimmer, or would seek a party in
power simply for the spoils in sight, but because he had the breadth
and liberality of enlightened opinions, the prophetic instinct, and
the force of character to make things go his way, without drifting
into success by a fortunate turn in tide and wind. He was not a mere
day-dreamer, a theorist, a philosopher, a scholar, although he
possessed the gifts of each. He was, rather, a man of action--self-willed,
self-reliant, independent--as ambitious as Burr without his slippery
ways, and as determined as Hamilton with all his ability to criticise
an opponent. Clinton relied not more upon men than upon measures, and
in the end the one thing that made him superior to all his
contemporaries of the nineteenth century was a never-failing belief in
the possibility of success along lines marked out for his life's work.
He had faults and he committed errors. His one great political defect
filled him with faults. He would be all or nothing. Attachment to his
interests was the one supreme and only test of fitness for favours or
friendship, and at one time or another he quarrelled with every friend
who sought to retain independence of action.

Just now Clinton was looking with great expectancy into the political
future. From defeat in 1796 he had reached the Assembly in 1797, and
then passed to the State Senate in 1798; and from defeat in 1799 he
passed again into the Senate in 1800. Thus far his record was without
blemish. As a lad of eighteen he sided with his uncle in the contest
over the Federal Constitution; but once it became the supreme law of
the land he gave it early and vigorous support, not even soiling his
career by a vote for the Kentucky resolutions. Unlike the Livingstons,
he found little to commend in the controversy with Genet and the
French, and in Jay's extra session of the Legislature he voted arms
and appropriations to sustain the hands of the President and the
honour of the flag. But he condemned the trend of Federalism as
unwise, unpatriotic, and dangerous to the liberty of the citizen and
to the growth of the country; and with equal force he opposed the
influence of the French Revolution, maintaining that deeds of violence
were unnecessary to startle the public into the knowledge that
suffering exists, and that bad laws and bad social conditions result
in hunger and misery. If he had been a great orator he would have
charmed the conservatives who hated Federalism and dreaded Jacobinism.
Like his uncle he spoke forcibly and with clearness, but without grace
or eloquence; his writing, though correct in style and sufficiently
polished, lacked the simplicity and the happy gift of picturesque
phrase which characterised the letters of so many of the public men
of that day. Yet he was a noble illustration of what may be
accomplished by an indomitable will, backed by a fearless independence
and a power to dominate people in spite of antagonism of great and
successful rivals.

Clinton was now only at the opening of his great career. Even at this
time his contemporaries seem to have made up their minds that he had a
great career before him, and when he and Governor Jay met as members
of the new Council of Appointment, on February 11, 1801, it was like
Greek meeting Greek. If Jay was the mildest mannered man in the State,
he was also one of the firmest; and on this occasion he did not
hesitate to claim the exclusive right of nomination for office as had
Governor Clinton in 1794. Clinton, on the other hand, following the
course pursued by Philip Schuyler, boldly and persistently claimed a
concurrent right on the part of the senatorial members. The break came
when Jay nominated several Federalists for sheriff of Orange County,
all of whom were rejected. Then Clinton made a nomination. Instead of
putting the question Jay made a further nomination, on which the
Council refused to vote. This ended the session. Jay asked for time to
consider, and never again convened the Council; but two days later he
sent a message to the Assembly, reviewing the situation and asking its
advice. He also requested the opinion of the Chancellor and the
Supreme Court Judges. The Assembly replied that it was a
constitutional question for the Governor and the Council; the Judges
declined to express an opinion on the ground that it was
extra-judicial. Three weeks later Clinton, Spencer, and Roseboom
reported to the Assembly, with some show of bitterness, that they had
simply followed the precedent of Egbert Benson's appointment to the
Supreme Court in 1794, an appointment, it will be remembered, which
was made on the nomination of Philip Schuyler and confirmed, over the
protest of Governor Clinton, by a majority of the Council.

Jay's failure to reconvene the Council seemed to gratify Clinton--if,
indeed, his action had not been deliberately taken to provoke the
Governor into such a course. Appointments made under such conditions
could scarcely satisfy an ambitious leader who had friends to reward;
and, besides, the election of a new governor in the following month
would enable him to appoint a corps of men willing to do the bidding
of their new master. On the other hand, Governor Jay closed his
official career as he began it. His first address to the Legislature
discovered an intention of adhering to the dogmas of civil service,
and so far as directly responsible he seems to have maintained the
principle of dismissing no one for political reasons.

The closing days of Jay's public life included an act for the gradual
abolition of domestic slavery. It cannot be called an important
feature of his administration, since Jay was entitled to little credit
for bringing it about. Although he had been a friend of emancipation,
and as president of an anti-slavery society had characterised slavery
as an evil of "criminal dye," his failure to recommend emancipation in
his messages emphasises the suggestion that he was governed by the
fear of its influence upon his future political career. However this
may be, it is certain that he resigned the presidency of the abolition
society at the moment of his aroused ambition immediately preceding
his nomination for governor in 1792. His son explains that the people
of the State did not favour abolition; yet the reform apparently
needed only the vigorous assistance of the Governor, for in 1798 a
measure similar to the act of 1799 failed in the Assembly only by the
casting vote of the chairman in committee of the whole.

One thing, though, may be assumed, that a man so animated by high
principles as John Jay must have felt amply justified in taking the
course he did. Of all distinguished New Yorkers in the formative
period of the government, John Jay, perhaps, possessed in fullest
measure the resplendent gifts that immortalise Hamilton. Nevertheless,
it was the purity of his life, the probity of his actions, the
excellence of his public purposes, that commended him to the
affectionate regard of everybody. "It was never said of him," wrote
John Quincy Adams, "that he had a language official and a language
confidential." During a political career of eight and twenty years, if
he ever departed from the highest ideal of an irreproachable
uprightness of character, it is not of record. His work was
criticised, often severely, at times justly, but his character for
honesty and goodness continued to the end without blemish.

It is difficult to say in what field Jay did the best work. He
excelled in whatever he undertook. He had poise, forcefulness,
moderation, moral earnestness, and mental clearness. Whether at home
or abroad the country knew his abiding place; for his well-doing
marked his whereabouts as plainly as smoke on a prairie indicates the
presence of a camp. He has been called the draftsman of the
Continental Congress, the constitution-maker of New York, the
negotiator of the peace treaty, and dictator under the Confederation,
and he came very near being all that such designations imply. In a
word, it may be said that what George Washington was in the field, in
council, and as President, John Jay was in legislative halls, in
diplomatic circles, and as a jurist.

The crowning act of his life was undoubtedly the peace treaty of 1783.
But great as was this diplomatic triumph he lived long enough to
realise that the failure to include Canada within the young Republic's
domain was ground for just criticism. In his note to Richard Oswald,
preliminary to any negotiations, Franklin suggested the cession of
Canada in token "of a durable peace and a sweet reconciliation,"
having in mind England's desire that loyalists in America be restored
to their rights. This was one of the three essentials to peace, and to
meet it Franklin's note proposed that compensation be paid these
loyalists out of the sale of Canada's public lands. Subsequent
revelations made it fairly certain that had such cession, with its
concessions to the loyalists, been firmly pressed, Canada would have
become American territory. Why it was not urged remains a secret.
There is no evidence that Franklin ever brought his suggestion to
Oswald to the attention of Jay,[118] but it is a source of deep regret
that Jay's profound sagacity did not include a country whose existence
as a foreign colony on our northern border has given rise to continued
embarrassment. The feeling involuntarily possesses one that he, who
owned the nerve to stop all negotiations until Englishman and American
met on equal terms as the representatives of equal nations, and dared
to break the specific instructions of Congress when he believed France
favoured confining the United States between the Atlantic and the
Alleghanies, would have had the temerity to take Canada, had the great
foresight been his to discern the irritating annoyances to which its
independence would subject us.

[Footnote 118: "Mr. Oswald returned to Paris on the fourth of May
(1782), having been absent sixteen days; during which Dr. Franklin
informed each of his colleagues of what had occurred--Mr. Jay, at
Madrid, Mr. Adams, in Holland--Mr. Laurens, on parole, in
London."--James Parton, _Life and Times of Benjamin Franklin_, Vol. 2,
p. 461. Franklin wrote to Adams and Laurens on April 20, suggesting
that he had "hinted that, if England should make us a voluntary offer
of Canada, expressly for that purpose, it might have a good effect."
_Works of Franklin_ (Sparks), Vol. 9, pp. 253-256. But his letter to
Jay simply urged the latter's coming to Paris at once. _Works of
Franklin_ (Bigelow), Vol. 8, p. 48. Also, _Works of Franklin_
(Sparks), Vol. 9, p. 254.]

Jay's brief tenure of the chief-justiceship of the United States
Supreme Court gave little opportunity to test his real ability as a
jurist. The views expressed by him pending the adoption and
ratification of the Federal Constitution characterised his judicial
interpretation of that instrument, and he lived long enough to see his
doctrine well established that "government proceeds directly from the
people, and is ordained and established in the name of the people."
His distinguishing trait as chief justice was the capacity to
confront, wisely and successfully, the difficulties of any situation
by his own unaided powers of mind, but it is doubtful if the Court,
under his continued domination, would have acquired the strength and
public confidence given it by John Marshall. Jay believed that "under
a system so defective it would not obtain the energy, weight, and
dignity essential to its affording due support to the general
government." This was one reason for his declining to return to the
office after he ceased to be governor; he felt his inability to
accomplish what the Court must establish, if the United States
continued to grow into a world power. Under these circumstances, it
was well, perhaps, that he gave place to John Marshall, who made it a
great, supporting pillar, strong enough to resist state supremacy on
the one side, and a disregard of the rights of States on the other;
but Jay did more than enough to confirm the wisdom of Washington, who
declared that in making the appointment he exercised his "best




John Jay, tired of public life, now sought his Westchester farm to
enjoy the rest of an honourable retirement, leaving the race for
governor in April, 1801, to Stephen Van Rensselaer. On the other hand,
George Clinton, accepting the Republican nomination, got onto his
gouty legs and made the greatest run of his life.[119] Outside of New
England, Federalism had become old-fashioned in a year. Following
Jefferson's sweeping social success, men abandoned knee breeches and
became democratic in garb as well as in thought. Henceforth, New York
Federalists were to get nothing except through bargains and an
occasional capture of the Council of Appointment.

[Footnote 119: George Clinton, 24,808; Stephen Van Rensselaer,
20,843.--_Civil List, State of New York_ (1887), p. 166.]

The election of George Clinton gave the party of Jefferson entire
control of the State. It had the governor, the Legislature, and the
Council of Appointment. It only remained to empower the Council to
nominate as well as to confirm, and the boss system, begun in 1794,
would have the sanction of law. For this purpose delegates, elected by
the people, met at Albany on the 13th of October, 1801, and organised
a constitutional convention by the election of Aaron Burr as
president. Fortune had thus far been very good to Burr. At forty-five
he stood one step only below the highest place in the nation, and now
by a unanimous vote he became president of the second constitutional
convention of the Empire State. His position was certainly imposing,
but when the convention declared, as it did, that each member of the
Council had the right to nominate as well as to confirm, Burr sealed
DeWitt Clinton's power to overthrow and humiliate him.

In its uncompromising character DeWitt Clinton's dislike of Burr
resembled Hamilton's, although for entirely different reasons.
Hamilton thought him a dangerous man, guided neither by patriotism nor
principle, who might at any moment throttle constitutional government
and set up a dictatorship after the manner of Napoleon. Clinton's
hostility arose from the jealousy of an ambitious rival who saw no
room in New York for two Republican bosses. Accordingly, when the
Council, which Jay had refused to reassemble, reconvened under the
summons of Governor Clinton, it quickly disclosed the policy of
destroying Burr and satisfying the Livingstons.[120] President
Jefferson had already sent the Chancellor to France, and the
Legislature had made John Armstrong, his brother-in-law, a United
States senator. But enough of the Chancellor's family remained to fill
other important offices, and the Council made Edward, a brother, mayor
of New York; Thomas Tillotson, a brother-in-law, secretary of state;
Morgan Lewis, a fourth brother-in-law, chief justice, and Brockholst
Livingston, a cousin, justice of the Supreme Court.

[Footnote 120: "Young DeWitt Clinton and his friend Ambrose Spencer
controlled this Council, and they were not persons who affected
scruple in matters of political self-interest. They swept the
Federalists out of every office even down to that of auctioneer, and
without regard to appearances, even against the protests of the
Governor, installed their own friends and family connections in
power."--Henry Adams, _History of the United States_, Vol. 1, pp. 228,
229. "DeWitt Clinton was hardly less responsible than Burr himself for
lowering the standard of New York politics, and indirectly that of the
nation."--_Ibid._, p. 112.]

Out of the spoils that remained, and there was an abundance, DeWitt
Clinton and Ambrose Spencer helped themselves; and then they divided
the balance between their relatives and supporters. Sylvanus Miller,
an ardent and lifelong friend of the former, became surrogate of New
York; Elisha Jenkins, who deserted the Federalists in company with
Spencer, took John V. Henry's place as state comptroller; Richard
Riker, the friend and second of Clinton in his famous duel with John
Swartout, became district attorney in place of Cadwallader D. Colden,
a worthy grandson of "Old Silver Locks," the distinguished colonial
lieutenant-governor; John McKisson, a protégé of Spencer, took the
clerkship of the Circuit Court from William Coleman, subsequently the
brilliant editor of the _Evening Post_, established by Jay and
Hamilton; and William Stewart, a brother-in-law of George Clinton,
displaced Nathan W. Howell as assistant attorney-general. Thus the
work of the political guillotine went on. It took sheriffs and
surrogates; it spared neither county clerks nor justices of the peace;
it left not a mayor of a city, nor a judge of a county. Even the
residence of an appointee did not control. Sylvanus Miller of Ulster
was made surrogate of New York with as much disregard of the people's
wishes as Ruggles Hubbard of Rensselaer, who had visited the city but
twice and knew nothing of its people or its life, was afterward made
its sheriff.

When Clinton and Spencer finished their work a single Federalist,
Josiah Ogden Hoffman, the attorney-general, remained in office, and he
survived only until Ambrose Spencer could take his place. Soon
afterward Spencer was advanced to the Supreme Court in place of Jacob
Radcliff, a promotion that filled Federalists with the greatest alarm.
Looking back upon the distinguished career of Chief Justice Spencer,
it seems strange, almost ridiculous, in fact, that his appointment to
the bench should have given rise to such fears; but Spencer had been
the rudest, most ferocious opponent of all. The Federalists were
afraid of him because they believed with William P. Van Ness, the
young friend of Burr, that he was "governed by no principles or
feelings except those which avarice and unprincipled ambition
inspired."[121] Van Ness wrote with a pen dipped in gall, yet, if
contemporary criticism be accepted, he did not exaggerate the feeling
entertained for Spencer by the Federalists of that day. Like DeWitt
Clinton, he was a bad hater, often insolent, sometimes haughty, and
always arbitrary. After he left the Federalist party and became a
member of the celebrated Council of 1801, he seemed over-zealous in
his support of the men he had recently persecuted, and unnecessarily
severe in his treatment of former associates. "The animosity of the
apostate," said Van Ness, "cannot be controlled. Savage and
relentless, he thirsts for vengeance. Such is emphatically the temper
of Ambrose Spencer, who, after his conversion, was introduced to a
seat in the Legislature, by his new friends, for the express purpose
of perplexing and persecuting his old ones."[122] Spencer never got
over being a violent partisan, but he was an impartial, honest judge.
The strength of his intellect no one disputed, and if his political
affiliations seemed to warp his judgment in affairs of state, it was
none the less impartial and enlightened when brought to bear on
difficult questions of law.

[Footnote 121: _Letters of "Aristides"_, p. 42.]

[Footnote 122: _Letters of "Aristides"_, p. 42.]

The timely resignation of John Armstrong from the United States Senate
made room for DeWitt Clinton, who, however, a year later, resigned the
senatorship to become mayor of New York. The inherent strength of the
United States Senate rested, then as now, upon its constitutional
endowment, but the small body of men composing it, having
comparatively little to do and doing that little by general assent,
with no record of their debates, evidently did not appreciate that it
was the most powerful single chamber in any legislative body in the
world. It is doubtful if the framers of the Constitution recognised
the enormous power they had given it. Certainly DeWitt Clinton and his
resigning colleagues did not appreciate that the combination of its
legislative, executive, and judicial functions would one day
practically dominate the Executive and the Congress, for the reason
that its members are the constitutional advisers of the President,
without whose assent no bill can become a law, no office can be
filled, no officer of the government impeached, and no treaty made

In taking leave of the United States Senate, Clinton probably gave
little thought to the character of the place, whether it was a step up
or a step down to the mayoralty. Just then he was engaged in the
political annihilation of Aaron Burr, and he felt the necessity of
entering the latter's stronghold to deprive him of influence. Out of
six or seven thousand appointments made by the Council of Appointment
not a friend of Aaron Burr got so much as the smallest crumb from the
well-filled table. Even Burr himself, and his friend, John Swartout,
were forced from the directorate of the Manhattan Bank that Burr had
organised. "With astonishment," wrote William P. Van Ness, "it was
observed that no man, however virtuous, however unspotted his life or
his fame, could be advanced to the most unimportant appointment,
unless he would submit to abandon all intercourse with Mr. Burr, vow
opposition to his elevation, and like a feudal vassal pledge his
personal services to traduce his character and circulate

[Footnote 123: _Letters of "Aristides"_, p. 69.]

Governor Clinton feebly opposed this wholesale slaughter by refusing
to sign the minutes of the Council and by making written protests
against its methods; but greater emphasis would doubtless have availed
no more, since the constitutional convention had reduced the governor
to the merest figurehead. His one vote out of five limited the extent
of his prerogative. Power existed in the combine only, and so well did
DeWitt Clinton control that when the famous Council of 1801 had
finished its work nothing remained for succeeding Councils to do until
Clinton, the prototype of the party boss, returned in 1806 to crush
the Livingstons.

Occasionally a decapitated office-holder fiercely resented the
Council's action, and, to make it sting the more, complimented the
Governor for his patriotic and unselfish opposition. John V. Henry
evidenced his disgust by ever after declining public office, though
his party had opportunities of recognising his great ability and
rewarding his fidelity. Ebenezer Foote, a bright lawyer, who took his
removal from the clerkship of Delaware County very much to heart,
opened fire on Ambrose Spencer, charging him with base and unworthy
motives in separating from the Federalists. To this Spencer replied
with characteristic rhetoric. "Your removal was an act of justice to
the public, inasmuch as the veriest hypocrite and the most malignant
villain in the State was deprived of the power of perpetuating
mischief. If, as you insinuate, your interests have by your removal
been materially affected, then, sir, like many men more honest than
yourself, earn your bread by the sweat of your brow."[124]

[Footnote 124: Jabez D. Hammond, _Political History of New York_, Vol.
1, p. 177.]

At Washington, Jefferson had rewarded friends as openly as DeWitt
Clinton took care of them in Albany. In telling the story, James A.
Bayard of Delaware produced an oratorical sensation in the House of
Representatives. "And now, sir, let me ask the honourable gentleman,"
said the congressman, in reply to William Giles' defence of the
Virginia President, "what his reflections and belief will be when he
observes that every man on whose vote the event of Mr. Jefferson's
election hung has since been distinguished by presidential favour. Mr.
Charles Pinckney of South Carolina was one of the most active,
efficient and successful promoters of the election of the present
chief magistrate, and he has since been appointed minister
plenipotentiary to the court of Madrid--an appointment as high and
honourable as any within the gift of the Executive. I know what was
the value of the vote of Mr. Claiborne of Tennessee; the vote of a
State was in his hands. Mr. Claiborne has since been raised to the
high dignity of governor of the Mississippi Territory. I know how
great, and how greatly felt, was the importance of the vote of Mr.
Linn of New Jersey. The delegation of the State consists of five
members; two of the delegation were decidedly for Mr. Jefferson, two
were decidedly for Mr. Burr. Mr. Linn was considered as inclining to
one side, but still doubtful; both parties looked up to him for the
vote of New Jersey. He gave it to Mr. Jefferson; and Mr. Linn has
since had the profitable office of supervisor of his district
conferred upon him. Mr. Lyon of Vermont was in this instance an
important man; he neutralised the vote of Vermont; his absence alone
would have given the State to Mr. Burr. It was too much to give an
office to Mr. Lyon; his character was low; but Mr. Lyon's son has been
handsomely provided for in one of the executive offices. I shall add
to the catalogue but the name of one more gentleman, Mr. Edward
Livingston of New York. I knew well--full well I knew--the consequence
of this gentleman. His means were not limited to his own vote; nay, I
always considered more than the vote of New York within his power. Mr.
Livingston has been made the attorney for the district of New York;
the road of preferment has been opened to him, and his brother has
been raised to the distinguished place of minister plenipotentiary to
the French Republic."[125]

[Footnote 125: Henry Adams, _History of the United States_, Vol. 1,
pp. 294-5.]

Albert Gallatin, Jefferson's secretary of the treasury, thought Burr
less selfish than either the Clintons or the Livingstons, and, on the
score of office-seeking, Gallatin was probably correct. But Burr, if
without relatives, had several devoted friends whom he pressed for
appointment, among them John Swartout for marshal, Daniel Gelston for
collector, Theodorus Bailey for naval officer, and Matthew L. Davis
for supervisor. Swartout succeeded, but DeWitt Clinton, getting wind
of the scheme, entered an heroic protest to Jefferson, who quickly
concurred in Clinton's wishes without so much as a conference with
Gallatin or Burr. The latter, hearing rumours of the secret
understanding, sent a sharp letter to Gallatin, pressing Davis'
appointment on the ground of good faith, with a threat that he would
no longer be trifled with; but Gallatin was helpless as well as
ignorant, and the President silent. Davis' journey to Monticello
developed nothing but Jefferson's insincerity, and on his return to
New York the press laughed at his credulity.

This ended Burr's pretended loyalty to the Administration. On his
return to Washington, in January, 1802, he quietly watched his
opportunity, and two weeks later gave the casting vote which sent
Jefferson's pet measure, the repeal of the judiciary act of 1801, to a
select committee for delay, instead of to the President for approval.
Soon after, at a Federalist banquet celebrating Washington's birthday,
Burr proposed the toast, "The union of all honest men." This was the
fatal stab. The country didn't understand it, but to Jefferson and the
Clintons it meant all that Burr intended, and from that moment DeWitt
Clinton's newspaper, the _American Citizen and Watchtower_, owned by
his cousin and edited by James Cheetham, an English refugee, took up
the challenge thus thrown down, and began its famous attack upon the
Vice President.

Burr's conduct during those momentous weeks when Federalists did their
utmost to make him President, gave his rivals ample ground for
creating the belief that he had evidenced open contempt for the
principles of honest dealing. Had he published a letter after the
Federalists decided to support him, condemning their policy as a
conspiracy to deprive the people of their choice for President, and
refusing to accept an election at their hands if tendered him, it must
have disarmed his critics and smoothed his pathway to further
political preferment; but his failure so to act, coupled with his
well-known behaviour and the activity of his friends, gave opponents
an advantage that skill and ability were insufficient to overcome.

James Cheetham handled his pen like a bludgeon. Even at this distance
of time Cheetham's "View of Aaron Burr's Political Conduct," in which
is traced the Vice President's alleged intrigues to promote himself
over Jefferson, is interesting and exciting. Despite its bitter
sarcasm and torrent of vituperation, Cheetham's array of facts and
dates, the designation of persons and places, and the bold assumptions
based on apparent knowledge, backed by foot-notes that promised
absolute proof if denial were made, impress one strongly. There is
much that is weak, much that is only suspicion, much that is fanciful.
A visit to an uncle in Connecticut, a call upon the governor of Rhode
Island, a communication sent under cover to another, letters in
cipher, pleasant notices in Federalist newspapers, a journey of
Timothy Green to South Carolina--all these belong to the realm of
inference; but the method of blending them with well established facts
was so artful, the writer's sincerity so apparent, and the strokes of
the pen so bold and positive, that it is easy to understand the effect
which Cheetham's accusation, taken up and ceaselessly repeated by
other papers, would have upon the political fortunes of Burr.

Nevertheless the Vice President remained silent. He did not feel, or
seem to feel, newspaper criticism with the acuteness of a sensitive
nature trying to do right. "They are so utterly lost on me that I
should never have seen even this," he wrote Theodosia, "but that it
came inclosed to me in a letter from New York." Still Cheetham kept
his battery at work. After his "Narrative" came the "View," and then,
in 1803, "Nine Letters on the Subject of Burr's Defection," a heavier
volume, a sort of siege-gun, brought up to penetrate an epidermis
heretofore apparently impregnable. Finally, the Albany _Register_ took
up the matter, followed by other Republican papers, until their
purpose to drive the grandson of Jonathan Edwards from the party could
no longer be mistaken.[126]

[Footnote 126: "All the world knew that not Cheetham, but DeWitt
Clinton, thus dragged the Vice President from his chair, and that not
Burr's vices but his influence made his crimes heinous; that behind
DeWitt Clinton stood the Virginia dynasty, dangling Burr's office in
the eyes of the Clinton family, and lavishing honours and money on the
Livingstons. All this was as clear to Burr and his friends as though
it was embodied in an Act of Congress."--Henry Adams, _History of the
United States_, Vol. 1, pp. 331, 332.]

Burr's coterie of devoted friends so understood it, and when the
gentle Peter Irving, whose younger brother was helping the newly
established _Chronicle_ into larger circulation by his Jonathan
Oldstyle essays, showed an indisposition as editor of the Burrite
paper to vituperate and lampoon in return, William P. Van Ness, the
famous and now historic "Aristides," appeared in the political
firmament with the suddenness and brilliancy of a comet that dims the
light of stars.

Van Ness coupled real literary ability with political audacity,
putting Cheetham's fancy flights and inferences to sleep as if they
were babes in the woods. It was quickly seen that Cheetham was no
match for him. He had neither the finish nor the venom. Compared to
the sentences of "Aristides," as polished and attractive as they were
bitter and ill-tempered, Cheetham's periods seemed coarse and tame.
The letters of Junius did not make themselves felt in English
political life more than did this pamphlet in the political circles of
New York. It was novel, it was brilliantly able, and it drove the
knife deeper and surer than its predecessors. What Taine, the great
French writer, said of Junius might with equal truth be said of
"Aristides," that if he made his phrases and selected his epithets, it
was not from the love of style, but in order the better to stamp his
insult. No one knew then, nor until long afterward, who "Aristides"
was--not even Cheetham could pierce the _incognito_; but every one
knew that upon him the full mind of Aaron Burr had unloaded a volume
of information respecting men, their doings and sayings, which
enriched the work and made his rhetoric an instrument of torture. It
bristled with history and character sketches. Whatever the Vice
President knew, or thought he knew, was poured into those eighty pages
with a staggering fulness and disregard of consequences that startled
the political world and captivated all lovers of the brilliant and
sensational in literature. Confidences were revealed, conversations
made public, quarrels uncovered, political secrets given up, and the
gossip of Council and Legislature churned into a story that pleased
every one. What Hamilton's attack on Adams did for Federalists,
"Aristides'" reply to Cheetham did for the Republicans; but the latter
wrote with a ferocity unknown to the pages of the great Federalist's
unfortunate letter.

"Aristides" struck at everybody and missed no one. The Governor "has
dwindled into the mere instrument of an ambitious relative;"
Tillotson was "a contemptible shuffling apothecary, without ingenuity
or devise, or spirit to pursue any systematic plan of iniquity;"
Richard Riker was "an imbecile and obsequious pettifogger, a vain and
contemptible little pest, who abandoned the Federal standard on the
third day of the election, in April, 1800;" John McKisson, "an
execrable compound of every species of vice," was the man whom Clinton
"exultingly declared a great scoundrel." The attack thus daringly
begun was steadily maintained. Ambrose Spencer was "a man as
notoriously infamous as the legitimate offspring of treachery and
fraud can possibly be;" Samuel Osgood, "a born hypocrite, propagated
falsehood for the purpose of slander and imposition;" Chancellor
Livingston, "a capricious, visionary theorist," was "lamentably
deficient in the practical knowledge of a politician, and heedless of
important and laborious pursuits, at which his frivolous mind

The greatest interest of the pamphlet, however, began when
"Aristides," taking up the cause of Burr, struck at higher game than
Richard Riker or Ambrose Spencer. DeWitt Clinton was portrayed as
"formed for mischief," "inflated with vanity," "cruel by nature," "an
object of derision and disgust," "a dissolute and desperate
intriguer," "an adept in moral turpitude, skilled in all the
combination of treachery and fraud, with a mind matured by the
practice of iniquity, and unalloyed with any virtuous principle." "Was
it not disgraceful to political controversy," continues "Aristides,"
with an audacity of denunciation and sternness of animosity, "I would
develop the dark and gloomy disorders of his malignant bosom, and
trace each convulsive vibration of his wicked heart. He may justly be
ranked among those, who, though destitute of sound understandings, are
still rendered dangerous to society by the intrinsic baseness of
character that engenders hatred to everything good and valuable in the
world; who, with barbarous malignity, view the prevalence of moral
principles, and the extension of benevolent designs; who, foes to
virtue, seek the subversion of every valuable institution, and
meditate the introduction of wild and furious disorders among the
supporters of public virtue. His intimacy with men who have long since
disowned all regard to decency and have become the daring advocates of
every species of atrocity; his indissoluble connection with those,
who, by their lives, have become the finished examples of profligacy
and corruption; who have sworn enmity, severe and eternal, to the
altar of our religion and the prosperity of our government, must
infallibly exclude him from the confidence of reputable men. What
sentiments can be entertained for him, but those of hatred and
contempt, when he is seen the constant associate of a man whose name
has become synonymous with vice, a dissolute and fearless assassin of
private character, of domestic comfort, and of social happiness; when
he is known to be the bosom friend and supporter of the profligate and
abandoned libertine, who, from the vulgar debauches of night, hastens
again to the invasion of private property. Who, through the robbery of
the public revenue, and the violation of private seals, hurries down
the precipice of deep and desperate villainy."

This parting shot at Cheetham penetrated the most secret corners of
private life, and leaves an impression that Cicero's denunciation of
Catiline had delighted the youth of "Aristides." It would be fruitless
to attempt the separation of the truth from the undeserved reproaches
of Van Ness, but at the end of the discussion, Burr's character had
not benefited. However unscrupulous and selfish the Clintons and the
Livingstons might be, Burr's unprincipled conduct was fixed in the
mind of his party, not by Cheetham's indulgence in fancy and
inference, but by the well known and well established facts of
history, which no rhetoric could wipe out, and no denunciation

In the days of the duello such a war of words could hardly go on for
two or three years without a resort to the pistol. Cheetham's pen had
stirred up the tongues of men who resented charge with countercharge,
and the high spirited United States marshal, John Swartout, the only
friend of Burr in office, was quick to declare that DeWitt Clinton's
opposition to the Vice President was based upon unworthy and selfish
motives. Clinton answered promptly and passionately. The Governor's
nephew displayed a fondness for indulging the use of epithets even in
mature years, after he had quarrelled with William L. Marcy and Martin
Van Buren. In those calmer days when age is supposed to bring a desire
for peace, he was accustomed to call Erastus Root "a bad man," Samuel
Young "much of an imbecile," Marcy "a scoundrel," and Van Buren "the
prince of villains." Just now, however, Clinton was younger, only
thirty-two years old, about the age of Swartout, and on hearing of the
latter's criticism he trebled his epithets, pronouncing him "a liar, a
scoundrel and a villain." Swartout quickly demanded a retraction,
which Clinton declined unless the Marshal first withdrew his offensive
words. Thereupon, the latter sent a challenge, and Clinton, calling in
his friend, Richard Riker, the district attorney, met his adversary
the next day at Weehawken and exchanged three shots without effect. On
the fourth Clinton's bullet struck Swartout's left leg just below the
knee, and while the surgeon was cutting it out, the Marshal renewed
his demand for an apology. Clinton still refused, although expressing
entire willingness to shake hands and drop the matter. On the fifth
shot, the Marshal caught Clinton's ball in the same leg just above the
ankle. Still standing steadily at his post and perfectly composed,
Swartout demanded further satisfaction; but Clinton, tired of filling
his antagonist with lead, declined to shoot again and left the field.
In the gossip following the duel, Riker reported Clinton as saying in
the course of the contest, "I wish I had the principal here."[127] The
principal, of course, was Burr, to whose house the wounded Swartout
was taken. "No one ever explained," says Henry Adams,[128] "why Burr
did not drag DeWitt Clinton from his ambush and shoot him, as two
years later he shot Alexander Hamilton with less provocation."

[Footnote 127: Henry Adams, _History of the United States_, Vol. 1, p.

[Footnote 128: _Ibid._, 332.

Writing to Henry Post of the duel, Clinton (using the name, "Clinton,"
instead of the pronoun "I") said: "The affair of the duel ought not to
be brought up. It was a silly affair. Clinton ought to have declined
the challenge of the bully, and have challenged the principal, who was
Burr. There were five shots, the antagonist wounded twice, and fell.
C. behaved with cool courage, and after the affair was over challenged
Burr on the field."--_Harper's Magazine_, Vol. 50, p. 565. "How
Clinton should have challenged Burr on the field," writes John
Bigelow, in _Harper's New Monthly Magazine_ for May, 1875, "without
its resulting in a meeting is not quite intelligible to us now. Though
not much given to the redress of personal grievances in that way, Burr
was the last man to leave a hostile message from an adversary like
Clinton, then a Senator of the United States, unanswered."]

Out of this quarrel grew another, in which Robert Swartout, John's
younger brother, fought Riker, wounding him severely. William Coleman
of the _Evening Post_, in letting fly some poisoned arrows, also got
tangled up with Cheetham. "Lie on Duane, lie on for pay, and Cheetham,
lie thou too; more against truth you cannot say, than truth can say
'gainst you." The spicy epigrams ended in a challenge, but Cheetham
made such haste to adjust matters that a report got abroad of his
having shown the white feather. Harbour-Master Thompson, an appointee
of Clinton, now championed Cheetham's cause, declaring that Coleman
had weakened. Immediately the young editor sent him a challenge, and,
without much ado, they fought on the outskirts of the city, now the
foot of Twenty-first Street, in the twilight of a cold winter day,
exchanging two shots without effect. Meantime, the growing darkness
compelled the determined combatants to move closer together, and at
the next shot Thompson, mortally wounded, fell forward into the

[Footnote 129: "Thompson was brought," says William Cullen Bryant in
_Reminiscences of the Evening Post_, "to his sister's house in town;
he was laid at the door; the bell was rung; the family came out and
found him bleeding and near his death. He refused to name his
antagonist, or give any account of the affair, declaring that
everything which had been done was honourably done, and desired that
no attempt should be made to seek out or molest his adversary."]




The campaign for governor in 1804 was destined to become historic.
Burr was driven from his party; George Clinton, ambitious to become
Vice President, declined re-election;[130] and the Federalists, beaten
into a disunited minority, refused to put up a candidate. This
apparently left the field wide open to John Lansing, with John Broome
for lieutenant-governor.

[Footnote 130: "DeWitt Clinton was annoyed at his uncle's conduct, and
tried to prevent the withdrawal by again calling Jefferson to his aid
and alarming him with fear of Burr. But the President declined to
interfere. No real confidence ever existed between Jefferson and the
Clintons."--Henry Adams, _History of the United States_, Vol. 2, pp.
173, 174.]

For many years the Lansing family had been prominent in the affairs of
the State and influential in the councils of their party. The
Chancellor, some years younger than Livingston, a large, handsome,
modest man, was endowed with a remarkable capacity for public life.
The story of his career is a story of rugged manhood and a tragic,
mysterious death. He rose by successive steps to be mayor of Albany,
member of the Assembly of which he was twice speaker, member of
Congress under the Confederation, judge and chief justice of the
Supreme Court, and finally chancellor. Indeed, so long as he did the
bidding of the Clintons he kept rising; but the independence that
early characterised his action at Philadelphia in 1787 and at
Poughkeepsie in 1788 became more and more pronounced, until it
separated him at last from the faction that had steadily given him
support. Perhaps his nearest approach to a splendid virtue was his
stubborn independence. Whether this characteristic, amounting almost
to stoical indifference, led to his murder is now a sealed secret. All
that we know of his death is, that he left the hotel, where he lived
in New York, to mail a letter on the steamer for Albany, and was never
afterward seen. That he was murdered comes from the lips of Thurlow
Weed, who was intrusted with the particulars, but who died with the
secret untold. Lansing disappeared in 1829 and Weed died in 1882, yet,
after the lapse of half a century, the latter did not feel justified
in disclosing what had come to him as a sort of father confessor,
years after the tragedy. "While it is true that the parties are beyond
the reach of human tribunals and of public opinion," he said, "yet
others immediately associated with them, and sharing in the strong
inducement which prompted the crime, survive, occupying high positions
and enjoying public confidence. To these persons, should my proof be
submitted, public attention would be irresistibly drawn."[131]

[Footnote 131: Thurlow Weed Barnes, _Life of Thurlow Weed_, Vol. 2, p.

Lansing had the instinct, equipment, and training for a chancellor. It
has been truly said of him that he seemed to have no delights off the
bench except in such things as in some way related to the business
upon it. He had the unwearied application of Kent, coupled with the
ability to master the most difficult details, and, although he lacked
Livingston's culture, he was as resolute, and, perhaps, as restless
and suspicious; but it is doubtful if he possessed the trained
sagacity, the native shrewdness, and the diplomatic zeal to have
negotiated the Louisiana treaty. Lansing began the study of law in
1774, and from that moment was wedded to its principles and constant
in his devotions. His mysterious murder must have been caused by an
irresistible longing to trace things to their source, bringing into
his possession knowledge of some missing link or defective title,
which would throw a great property away from its owner, but which, by
his death, would again be buried from the ken of men. This, of course,
is only surmise; but Weed indicates that property prompted the crime,
and that the heirs of the murderer profited by it. Lansing was in his
seventy-sixth year when the fatal blow came, yet so vigorous that old
age had not set its seal upon him.

In 1804 Lansing hesitated to exchange the highest place on the bench,
which would continue until the age limit set him aside in 1814, for a
political office that would probably end in three years; but he
finally consented upon representations that he alone could unite his
party. Scarcely, however, had his name been announced before a caucus
of Republican legislators named Aaron Burr, with Oliver Phelps of
Ontario for lieutenant-governor--nominations quickly ratified at
public meetings in New York and Albany. Among Burr's most conspicuous
champions were Erastus Root of Delaware, James Burt of Orange, Peter
B. Porter of Ontario, and Marinus Willett of New York.

If it is surprising that these astute and devoted friends did not
appreciate, in some measure, at least, the extent to which popular
esteem had been withdrawn from their favourite, it is most astonishing
that Burr himself did not recognise the strength of the
Clinton-Livingston-Spencer machine as it existed in 1804. Its managers
were skilled masters of the political art, confident of success,
fearless of criticism, unscrupulous in methods, and indefatigable in
attention to details. They controlled the Council of Appointment, its
appointees controlled the Assembly, and the Assembly elected the
Council, an endless chain of links, equally strong and equally
selfish. To make opposition the more fruitless, the distrust of Burr,
hammered into the masses by Cheetham's pen, practically amounted to a
forfeiture of party confidence. One cannot conceive a more inopportune
time for Burr to have challenged a test of strength, yet Lansing's
selection had hardly sounded in the people's ears before Burr's
"Little Band," burning with indignation and resentment at his
treatment, gathered about the tables in the old Tontine Coffee House
at Albany and launched him as an independent candidate.

Rarely has a candidate for governor encountered greater odds; but with
Burr, as afterward with DeWitt Clinton, it was now or never. In one of
his dramas Schiller mourns over the man who stakes reputation, health,
everything upon success--and no success in the end. Even Robert Yates,
the coalition candidate in 1789, started with the support of a
Federalist machine and the powerful backing of Hamilton. But in 1804
Burr found himself without a party, without a machine, and bitterly
opposed by Hamilton.

When the sceptre passed from Federalist to Republican in 1801,
Hamilton gave himself to his profession with renewed zeal, earning
fifteen thousand dollars a year, and a reputation as a lawyer scarcely
surpassed by Daniel Webster. "In creative power Hamilton was
infinitely Webster's superior," says Chief Justice Ambrose Spencer,
before whom both had practised.[132] Erastus Root, possibly looking
through the eyes of Theodosia, thought Burr not inferior to Hamilton
as a lawyer, although other contemporaries who knew Burr at his best,
regarded him as an indefatigable, tireless, adroit lawyer rather than
a profound and learned one. This put him in a different class from
Hamilton. As well might one compare Offenbach with Mozart as Burr with

[Footnote 132: H.C. Lodge, _Life of Alexander Hamilton_, pp. 276-7.]

Hamilton journeyed to Albany in February, 1804, to argue the case of
Harry Croswell, so celebrated and historic because of Hamilton's
argument. Croswell, the editor of the _Balance_, a Federalist
newspaper published at Hudson, had been convicted of libelling
President Jefferson. Chief Justice Lewis, before whom the case was
originally tried, declined to permit the defendant to prove the truth
of the alleged libel. To this point, in his argument for a new trial,
Hamilton addressed himself, contending that the English doctrine was
at variance with common sense, common justice, and the genius of
American institutions. "I have always considered General Hamilton's
argument in this cause," said his great contemporary, Chancellor Kent,
"as the greatest forensic effort he ever made. He had come prepared
to discuss the points of law with a perfect mastery of the subject. He
believed that the rights and liberties of the people were essentially
concerned. There was an unusual solemnity and earnestness on his part
in this discussion. He was at times highly impassioned and pathetic.
His whole soul was enlisted in the cause, and in contending for the
rights of the jury and a free press, he considered that he was
establishing the surest refuge against oppression. He never before in
my hearing made any effort in which he commanded higher reverence for
his principles, nor equal admiration of the power and pathos of his
eloquence."[133] Such a profound impression did his argument make,
that, although the Court declined to depart from the settled rule of
the common law, the Legislature subsequently passed a statute
authorising the truth to be given in evidence, and the jury to be the
judges of the law as well as of the facts in libel cases.

[Footnote 133: H.C. Lodge, _Life of Alexander Hamilton_, pp. 240-1.]

It was during the argument of this case at Albany that Hamilton,
joining his Federalist friends at Lewis' Tavern, gave his reasons for
preferring Chancellor Lansing to Aaron Burr for governor. There was
something new in these reasons. In 1801 he preferred Jefferson to Burr
because the latter, as he wrote Gouverneur Morris, "has no principles,
public or private; could be bound by no argument; will listen to no
monitor but his ambition; and for this purpose will use the worst
portion of the community as a ladder to climb to permanent power, and
an instrument to crush the better part. He is sanguine enough to hope
everything, daring enough to attempt everything, wicked enough to
scruple nothing."[134]

[Footnote 134: _Hamilton's Works_ (Lodge), Vol. 8, p. 570.]

Nothing had occurred in the intervening years to change this opinion,
but much was now happening to strengthen it. A Federalist faction in
New England, led by Pickering in the United States Senate and Roger
Griswold in the House, thought a dissolution of the Union inevitable
to save Federalism, and for months the project had been discussed in
a stifled, mysterious manner. "It (separation) must begin in
Massachusetts," wrote Pickering to George Cabot, "but New York must be
the centre of the confederacy."[135] To Rufus King, Pickering became
more specific. "The Federalists have in general anxiously desired the
election of Burr--and if a separation should be deemed proper, the
five New England States, New York and New Jersey, would naturally be
united."[136] But King disapproved disunion. "Colonel Pickering has
been talking to me about a project they have for a separation of the
States and a northern confederacy," he said to Adams of Massachusetts;
"and he has also been this day talking with General Hamilton. I
disapprove entirely of the project, and so, I am happy to tell you,
does General Hamilton."[137] But the conspirators were not to be
quieted by disapproving words. Griswold, in a letter to Oliver
Wolcott, declared Burr's election and consequent leadership of the
Federalist party "the only hope which at this time presents itself of
rallying in defence of the Northern States,"[138] and in order not to
remain longer inactive, he entered into a bargain with Burr, of which
he wrote Wolcott fully. Wolcott sent the letter to Hamilton.[139]

[Footnote 135: January 29, 1804; Lodge's _Cabot_, p. 337.]

[Footnote 136: _Ibid._, p. 447.]

[Footnote 137: _New England Federalism_, p. 148.]

[Footnote 138: _Hamilton's History_, Vol. 7, p. 781; _New England
Federalism_, p. 354.]

[Footnote 139: Henry Adams, _History of the United States_, Vol. 2, p.
180. "Pickering and Griswold could win their game only by bartering
their souls; they must invoke the Mephistopheles of politics, Aaron
Burr. To this they had made up their minds from the beginning. Burr's
four years of office were drawing to a close. He had not a chance of
regaining a commanding place among Republicans, for he was bankrupt in
private and public character."--_Ibid._, p. 171.]

It was plain to Hamilton that these timid conspirators wanted a bold
chief to lead them into secession, and that since he would have
nothing to do with them, they had invoked the aid of Aaron Burr. Thus,
to his former desire to defeat Burr, was now added a determination to
defeat incipient disunion, and in the Lewis Tavern conference he
argued that Burr, a Democrat either from principle or calculation,
would remain a Democrat; and that, though detested by leading
Clintonians, it would not be difficult for a man of his talents,
intrigue and address, possessing the chair of government, to rally
under his standard the great body of the party, and such Federalists
as, from personal goodwill or interested motives, may give him
support. The effect of his elevation, with the help of Federalists
would, therefore, be to reunite, under a more adroit, able and daring
chief, not only the now scattered fragments of his own party, but to
present to the confidence of the people of Federalist New England the
grandson of President Edwards, for whom they had already a strong
predilection. Thus he would have fair play to disorganise the party of
Jefferson, now held in light esteem, and to place himself at the head
of a northern party favouring disunion.

"If he be truly, as the Federalists have believed, a man of irregular
and insatiable ambition," continued Hamilton, "he will endeavour to
rise to power on the ladder of Jacobin principles, not leaning on a
fallen party, unfavourable to usurpation and the ascendancy of a
despotic chief, but rather on popular prejudices and vices, ever ready
to desert a government by the people at a moment when he ought, more
than ever, to adhere to it. On the other hand, Lansing's personal
character affords some security against pernicious extremes, and, at
the same time, renders it certain that his party, already much divided
and weakened, will disintegrate more and more, until in a recasting of
parties the Federalists may gain a great accession of force. At any
rate it is wiser to foster schism among Democrats, than to give them a
chief, better able than any they have yet had, to unite and direct

[Footnote 140: _Hamilton's Works_ (Lodge), Vol. 7, p. 325. "The
struggle for control between Hamilton and the conspirators lasted to
the eve of the election,--secret, stifled, mysterious; the intrigue of
men afraid to avow their aims, and seeming rather driven by their own
passions than guided by lofty and unselfish motives."--Henry Adams,
_History of the United States_, Vol. 2, p. 184.]

Within a week after the Lewis Tavern conference Burr's chances
brightened by the sudden withdrawal of Lansing, because the latter
would not allow the Clintons to dictate his appointments. This was a
great surprise to Republicans and a great grief to Hamilton--the more
so since it was not easy to find an available successor. The mention
of DeWitt Clinton raised the cry of youth; Ambrose Spencer had too
recently come over from the Federalists; Morgan Lewis lacked capacity
and fitness. Thus the contention continued, but with a leaning more
and more toward Morgan Lewis, a brother-in-law of Chancellor and
Edward Livingston.

Lewis' youth had promised a brilliant future. He graduated with high
honours at Princeton, and when the guns of Bunker Hill waked the
country he promptly exchanged John Jay's law office for John Jay's
regiment. In the latter's absence he retained command as major until
ordered to the northern frontier, when he suddenly dropped into a
place as assistant quartermaster-general, useful and important enough,
but stripped of the glory usually preferred by the hot blood of a
gallant youth. In time, the faithful, efficient quartermaster became a
plodding, painstaking lawyer, a safe, industrious attorney-general,
and a dignified, respectable judge; but he had not distinguished
himself, nor did he possess the striking, showy characteristics of
mind or manner often needed in a doubtful and bitterly contested
campaign. Heretofore place had sought him by appointment. He became
attorney-general when Aaron Burr gave it up for the United States
Senate; and a year later, by the casting vote of Governor Clinton, the
Council made him a Supreme Court judge. In 1801 the chief-justiceship
dropped into his lap when Livingston went to France and Lansing became
chancellor, just as the chancellorship would probably have come to him
had Lansing continued a candidate for governor. In 1803 he wanted to
be mayor of New York.

But with all his ordinariness no one else in sight seemed so available
a candidate for governor. The Livingstons, already jealous of DeWitt
Clinton's growing influence, secretly nourished the hope that Lewis
might develop sufficient independence to check the young man's
ambition. On the other hand, DeWitt Clinton, equally jealous of the
power wielded by the Livingstons, thought the Chief Justice, a kind,
amiable man of sixty, without any particular force of character,
sufficiently plastic to mould to his liking. "From the moment Clinton
declined," wrote Hamilton to Rufus King, "I began to consider Burr as
having a chance of success. It was still my reliance, however, that
Lansing would outrun him; but now that Chief Justice Lewis is his
competitor, the probability, in my judgment, inclines to Burr."[141]

[Footnote 141: _Hamilton's Works_ (Lodge), Vol. 8, p. 608.]

Burr's friends, knowing his phenomenal shrewdness in cloaking bargains
and intrigues until the game was bagged, now relied upon him with
confidence to bring victory out of the known discord and jealousy of
his opponents, and for a time it looked as if he might succeed.
Lansing's withdrawal and Hamilton's failure to put up Rufus King as he
contemplated, gave Burr the support of Lansing's sympathy and a clear
field among Federalists, except as modified by Hamilton's influence.
In addition, his friends cited his ability and Revolutionary services,
his liberal patronage of science and the arts, his distinguished and
saintly ancestry, his freedom from family connections to quarter upon
the public treasury, and his honest endeavour to free himself from
debt by disposing of his estate. Especially in New York City did he
meet with encouragement. His headquarters in John Street overflowed
with ward workers and ward heelers, eager to elect the man upon whom
they could rely for favours and with whom they doubtless sincerely
sympathised. It was the contest of April, 1800, over again, save that
Hamilton did not speak or openly oppose.

As the fight continued it increased in bitterness. Cheetham pounded
Burr harder than ever, accusing him of seduction and of dancing with a
buxom wench at a "nigger ball" given by one of his coloured servants
at Richmond Hill. Jefferson was quoted as saying that Burr's party was
not the real democracy, a statement that the _American Citizen_
printed in capitals and kept standing during the three days of the
election. With great earnestness Hamilton quietly warned the
Federalists not to elevate a man who would use their party only to
strengthen their opponents. In the up-counties, where the influence of
the Clinton-Livingston-Spencer combine held the party together with
cords of steel, every appointee, from judge of the Supreme Court to
justice of the peace, was ranged on the side of Livingston's

But Burr, too, had powerful abettors. In Orange and Dutchess he had
always been a favourite; in Delaware, Erastus Root gave all his
influence and all his gifts with the devotion that animated John
Swartout and Marinus Willett in New York; in Ontario, Oliver Phelps,
the great land speculator, endowed with an unconquerable energy and
the strategy of a tactician, was backed by Peter B. Porter, the young
and exceedingly popular clerk of that county, soon to be dismissed for
his independence; in Albany, John Van Ness Yates, remembering Burr's
support of his father's candidacy in 1789, also came to his
assistance. Zealous and active, however, as these and other friends
were, they were few and weak compared to the army of office-holders
shouting and working for Morgan Lewis. When the returns, therefore,
were in, although Burr carried New York by one hundred, he lost the
State by over eight thousand.[142] A comparison of the vote with the
senatorial returns of 1803 showed that for every Republican voting for
Burr, a Federalist, influenced by Hamilton, voted for Lewis.

[Footnote 142: Morgan Lewis, 30,829; Aaron Burr, 22,139.--_Civil List,
State of New York_ (1887), p. 166.]

It was Burr's Waterloo. He had staked everything and lost. Bankrupt in
purse, disowned by his party, and distrusted by a large faction of the
leading Federalists, he was without hope of recovery so long as
Hamilton blocked the way. There is no evidence that Burr ever saw
Hamilton's confidential letters to Morris and other trusted Federal
leaders, or knew their contents, but he did know that Hamilton
bitterly opposed him, and that his influence was blighting. To get rid
of him, therefore, Burr now seems to have deliberately determined to
kill him.[143]

[Footnote 143: "That all Hamilton's doings were known to Burr could
hardly be doubted. He was not a vindictive man, but this was the
second time Hamilton had stood in his way and vilified his character.
Burr could have no reason to suppose that Hamilton was deeply loved;
for he knew that four-fifths of the Federal party had adopted his own
leadership when pitted against Hamilton's in the late election, and he
knew, too, that Pickering, Griswold, and other leading Federalists had
separated from Hamilton in the hope of making Burr himself the chief
of a Northern confederacy. Burr never cared for the past,--the present
and future were his only thoughts; but his future in politics depended
on his breaking somewhere through the line of his personal enemies;
and Hamilton stood first in his path, for Hamilton would certainly
renew at every critical moment the tactics which had twice cost Burr
his prize."--Henry Adams, _History of the United States_, Vol. 2, pp.
185, 186.]

While in Albany in February to argue the Croswell case, Hamilton had
dined with John Taylor, in company with Dr. Charles D. Cooper, who
wrote a friend that, in the course of the dinner, Hamilton had
declared, in substance, that he looked upon Burr as a dangerous
man--one who ought not to be trusted with the reins of government. "I
could detail to you," continued Cooper, "a still more despicable
opinion which General Hamilton has expressed of Mr. Burr." This letter
found its way into the newspapers, and in a note, dated June 18, 1804,
Burr called Hamilton's attention to the words "more despicable," and
added: "You must perceive, sir, the necessity of a prompt and
unqualified acknowledgment or denial of the use of the expression
which could warrant the assertions of Dr. Cooper."[144] This note,
purposely offensive in its tone, was delivered by William P. Van Ness,
a circumstance clearly indicating an intention to follow it with a
challenge. Two days later, Hamilton replied, declining to make the
acknowledgment or denial, since he could attach no meaning to the
words used in the letter, nor could he consent to be interrogated as
to the inferences drawn by third parties, but he was ready to avow or
disavow any definite opinion with which he might be charged. "I trust
on further reflection," concluded Hamilton, "you will see the matter
in the same light with me. If not, I can only regret the circumstances
and must abide the consequences."[145]

[Footnote 144: _Hamilton's Works_ (Lodge), Vol. 8, p. 617.]

[Footnote 145: _Hamilton's Works_ (Lodge), Vol. 8, p. 618.]

Burr's answer, which plainly shows the rhetoric of "Aristides," was
more offensive than his initial letter. After replying to it, Hamilton
prepared a note to be informally communicated to Burr, in which he
stated that if the latter chose to inquire into the purport of any
conversation between himself and Dr. Cooper, he would be able to reply
with truth that it turned wholly on political topics, and had no
relation to Burr's private character, adding that he was ready to make
an equally frank answer with regard to any other conversation which
Burr would specify.[146] When Burr pronounced this honourable
proposition "a mere evasion," his purpose was as evident as it became
on June 27th, the day he sent the challenge.

[Footnote 146: _Ibid._, p. 621.]

Hamilton's acceptance of the challenge was inevitable. For a hundred
years men have regretted and mourned that he did not dare to stand
alone against duelling, as he had dared to stand alone for economic
and patriotic principles against the clamour of mobs and the malice of
enemies. But absurd and barbarous as was the custom, it flourished in
Christian America, as it did in every other Christian country, in
spite of Christian ethics; and it would not permit a proud, sensitive
nature, jealous of his honour, especially of his military honour, to
ignore it. Lorenzo Sabine's list of duellists includes a score of
prominent Englishmen, Frenchmen and Americans, many of them
contemporary with Hamilton, and some of them as profoundly admired,
who succumbed to its tyranny. Proof of his valour at Monmouth and at
Yorktown would no more placate the popular contempt and obloquy sure
to follow an avoidance of its demands than would the victory at
Waterloo have excused Wellington had he declined to challenge Lord
Winchilsea. All this did not make duelling right, but it excuses a
noble soul for yielding "to the force of an imperious custom," as Dr.
Knott put it--a custom that still exists in France and Germany, and in
some parts of America, perhaps, though now universally execrated by
Christian people and pronounced murder by their laws. Even at that
time Hamilton held it in abhorrence. In a paper drawn for publication
in the event of death, he announced his intention of throwing away his
fire, and in extenuation of yielding, he adds: "To those who, with me,
abhorring the practice of duelling, may think that I ought on no
account to have added to the number of bad examples, I answer that my
relative situation, as well in public as in private, enforcing all the
considerations which constitute what men of the world denominate
honour, imposed on me, as I thought, a peculiar necessity not to
decline the call. The ability to be in the future useful, whether in
resisting mischief, or effecting good, in those crises of our public
affairs which seem likely to happen, would probably be inseparable
from a conformity with public prejudice in this particular."[147] The
pathway of history is strewn with the wrecks of customs and
superstitions which have held men in their grip, compelling obedience
and demanding regularity; but no custom ever had a firmer hold upon
gifted men than duelling, making them its devotees even when their
intellects condemned it, their hearts recognised its cruelty, and
their consciences pronounced it wrong.

[Footnote 147: _Hamilton's Works_ (Lodge), Vol. 8, pp. 626-8.]

Because of Hamilton's engagements in court, the hostile meeting was
deferred until Wednesday, July 11th. In the meantime the principals
went about their vocations with apparent indifference to the coming
event. On the evening of July 4th, Hamilton and Burr attended the
annual dinner of the Society of the Cincinnati, of which the former
had succeeded Washington as president. The occasion was remembered as
the gayest and most hilarious in the society's history. Hamilton
leaped upon the table and sang "The Drum," an old camp song that
became historic because of his frequent rendition of it. It was
recalled afterward that Burr withdrew before the festivities had
ended. On Saturday evening Hamilton dined Colonel Trumbull, one of
Washington's first aides, and on Monday attended a reception given by
Oliver Wolcott, John Adams' secretary of the treasury. Tuesday evening
he prepared the paper already quoted, and addressed a letter to
Theodore Sedgwick, one of Pickering's sternest conspirators, warning
him against disunion. "Dismemberment of our empire," he said, "will be
a clear sacrifice of great positive advantages, without any
counterbalancing good; administering no relief to our real disease,
which is democracy--the poison of which, by a subdivision, will only
be the more concentred in each part, and consequently the more

[Footnote 148: _Hamilton's Works_ (Lodge), Vol. 8, p. 615. Letter to
Theo. Sedgwick.]

Meantime the secret had been confined to less than a dozen persons,
and to none of Hamilton's intimate friends. Troup remained with him
until a late hour Monday night without suspecting anything, the gaiety
of his manner leading his friend to think his health was mending. Had
Troup divined the hostile meeting, it might not have occurred. When
John Swartout entered Burr's room at daylight on that fatal 11th of
July, he found him sound asleep.

It was seven o'clock Wednesday morning, a hot July day, that Hamilton
crossed the Hudson to Weehawken, with Pendleton, his second, and Dr.
Hosack, Burr and Van Ness having preceded them. It took but a moment
to measure ten paces, load the pistols, and place the principals in
position. As the word was given, Burr took deliberate aim and fired.
Instantly Hamilton reeled and fell forward headlong upon his face,
involuntarily discharging his pistol. "This is a mortal wound,
Doctor," he gasped, and immediately sank into a swoon. An examination
showed that the ball had penetrated the right side. Burr, sheltered by
Van Ness under an umbrella, hurried from the scene, while Hamilton,
conveyed in his boat to the city, gradually recovered consciousness.
"My vision is indistinct," he murmured; but soon after, catching
sight of a pistol near him, cautioned them to take care of it. "It is
undischarged and still cocked," he said; "it may go off and do harm.
Pendleton knows I did not intend to fire at him." As the boat neared
the wharf, he asked that Mrs. Hamilton be sent for. "Let the event be
gradually broken to her," he said, "but give her hopes." Thus he
lingered for thirty-one hours in great agony, but retaining his
self-command to the last, and dying in the midst of his stricken
family and sorrowing friends.

If Washington and Lincoln be excepted, it is doubtful if an American
was ever more deeply mourned. Had he been President, he could not have
been buried with greater pomp, or with manifestations of more profound
sorrow. Although he had been hated by his enemies, and at times
misunderstood by some of his friends, at his death the people, without
division, instantly recognised that his life had been passionately
devoted to his country, and they paid him the tribute only accorded
the memory of a most illustrious patriot. Such demonstrations were not
confined to New York. The sorrow became national; speeches, sermons,
and poems without number, were composed in his honour; in every State,
some county or town received his name; wherever an American lived, an
expression of sympathy found record. It was the consensus of opinion
that the life which began in January, 1757 and ended in July, 1804,
held in the compass of its forty-seven years the epitome of what
America meant for Americans in the days of its greatest peril and its
greatest glory. "Had he lived twenty years longer," said Chancellor
Kent, "I have very little doubt he would have rivalled Socrates or
Bacon, or any other of the sages of ancient or modern times, in
researches after truth and in benevolence to mankind. The active and
profound statesman, the learned and eloquent lawyer, would probably
have disappeared in a great degree before the character of the sage
and philosopher, instructing mankind by his wisdom, and elevating the
country by his example."[149]

[Footnote 149: William Kent, _Life of James Kent_, appendix, p. 328.]

Burr became a name of horror.[150] When Hamilton's death was announced
there came a cry of execration on his murderer, which the publication
of the correspondence intensified. A coroner's jury pronounced him a
murderer, the grand jury instructed the district attorney to
prosecute, and the Vice President found it necessary to take refuge in
concealment until the first fury of the people had subsided.
Cheetham's pen, following him remorselessly, charged that he ransacked
the newspapers for the grounds of a challenge; that for three months
he daily practised with a pistol; and that while Hamilton lay dying,
he sat at the table drinking wine with his friends, and apologising
that he had not shot him through the heart.

[Footnote 150: "Orators, ministers, and newspapers exhausted
themselves in execration of Burr."--Henry Adams, _History of the
United States_, Vol. 2, p. 190.]

Within two years Burr was arrested for treason, charged with an
attempt to place himself at the head of a new nation formed from the
country of the Montezumas and the valley of the Mississippi, and,
although he was acquitted, his countrymen believed him guilty of a
treasonable ambition. In the State where he had found his chief
support, he ever after ranked in infamy next to Benedict Arnold.
Thenceforth he became a stranger and a wanderer on the face of the
earth. His friends left him and society shunned him. "I have not
spoken to the damned reptile for twenty-five years," said former
Governor Morgan Lewis, in 1830.[151]

[Footnote 151: _Autobiography of Thurlow Weed_, p. 370.]

For the moment, one forgets the horrible tragedy of July 11, 1804, and
thinks only of the lonely man who lived to lament it. He was in his
eighty-first year when he died. On his return from Europe in 1812,
only one person welcomed him. This was Matthew L. Davis, his earliest
political friend and biographer. Burr made Davis his literary
executor, and turned over to him the confidential female
correspondence that had accumulated in the days of his popularity as
United States senator and Vice President, and that he had carefully
filed and indorsed with the full name of each writer. The treachery,
falsehood, and desertion with which these letters charged him, seemed
to this unnatural man to add to their value, and he gave them to his
executor without instructions, that the extent of his gallantries, his
power of fascination, and the names of the gifted and beautiful
victims of his numerous amours might not become a secret in his grave.
One can conceive nothing baser. The preservation of letters to satisfy
an erotic mind is low enough, but deliberately to identify each
anonymous or initialled letter with the full name of the writer, for
the use of a biographer, is an act of treachery of which few men are
capable. To the credit of Davis, these letters were either returned to
their writers or consigned to the flames.

Burr was a politician by nature, habit and education. In his younger
days he easily enlisted the goodwill and sympathy of his associates,
surrounding himself with a large circle of devoted, obedient friends;
and, though neither a great lawyer nor a brilliant speaker, his
natural gifts, supplemented by industry and perseverance, and a very
attractive presence, made him a conspicuous member of the New York bar
and of the United States Senate. He was, however, the ardent champion
of nothing that made for the public good. Indeed, the record of his
whole life indicates that he never possessed a great thought, or
fathered an important measure. Throughout the long, and, at times,
bitter controversy over the establishment of the Union, his silence
was broken only to predict its failure within half a century.

It is doubtful if he was ever a happy man. In the very hours when he
was the most famous and the most flattered, he described himself as
most unhappy. So long, though, as Theodosia lived, he was never alone.
When she died, he suffered till the end. There has hardly ever been in
the world a more famous pair of lovers than Burr and his gifted, noble
daughter, and there is nothing in history more profoundly melancholy
than the loss of the ship, driven by the pitiless wind of fate, on
which Theodosia had taken passage for her southern home. Yet one is
shocked at the unnatural parent who instructs his daughter to read, in
the event of his death in the duel with Hamilton, the confidential
letters which came to him in the course of his love intrigues and
affairs of gallantry. It imports a moral obliquity that, happily for
society, is found in few human beings. As he lived, so he died, a
strange, lonely, unhappy man, out of tune with the beautiful world in
which he was permitted to exist upward of four score years. He had
done a great deal of harm, and, except as a Revolutionary soldier, no
good whatever.




When Morgan Lewis began his term as governor tranquillity
characterised public affairs in the State and in the nation. The
Louisiana Purchase had strengthened the Administration with all
classes of people; Jefferson and George Clinton had received 162
electoral votes to 14 for Pinckney and Rufus King; Burr had gone into
retirement and was soon to go into obscurity; the Livingstons, filling
high places, were distinguishing themselves at home and abroad as able
judges and successful diplomatists; DeWitt Clinton, happy and
eminently efficient as the mayor of New York, seemed to have before
him a bright and prosperous career as a skilful and triumphant party
manager; while George Clinton, softened by age, rich in favouring
friends, with an ideal face for a strong, bold portrait, was basking
in the soft, mellow glow that precedes the closing of a stormy life.
Never before, perhaps never since, did a governor enter upon his
duties, neither unusual nor important, under more favourable auspices;
yet the story of Lewis' administration is a story of astonishing
mistakes and fatal factional strife.

The Governor inaugurated his new career by an unhappy act of
patronage. The appointment of Maturin Livingston, his son-in-law, and
the removal of Peter B. Porter, the friend of Burr, showed a selfish,
almost malevolent disregard of public opinion and the public service,
a trait that, in a way, characterised his policy throughout.
Livingston was notoriously unfitted for recorder of New York. He was
unpopular in his manners, deficient in a knowledge of law, without
industry, and given to pleasure rather than business, but, because of
his relationship, the Governor forced him into that responsible
position. In like manner, although until then no change had occurred
within the party for opinion's sake, Lewis voted for the removal of
Peter B. Porter, the young and popular clerk of Ontario County.
Porter's youth indicated an intelligence that promised large returns
to his country and his party, and the Governor lived long enough to
see him honourably distinguished in Congress, highly renowned when his
serious career began on the Niagara frontier in the War of 1812, and,
afterward, richly rewarded as secretary of war in the Cabinet of John
Quincy Adams. But in 1805 the Governor cheerfully voted for his
removal, thus establishing the dangerous precedent that a member of
one's political household was to be treated with as little
consideration as a member of the opposite party.

Although Lewis' conduct in the case of Maturin Livingston and Peter B.
Porter was not the most foolish act in a career of folly, it served as
a fitting preface to his policy in relation to the incorporation of
the Merchants' Bank of New York, a policy that proved fatal to his
ambition and to the influence of the Livingstons. Already doing
business under the general laws, two Republican Legislatures had
refused to incorporate the Merchants' Bank. But during the legislative
session of 1805 the bank people determined to have their way, and in
the efforts that followed they used methods and means common enough
afterward, but probably unknown before that winter. Although in no
wise connected with the scandal growing out of the controversy, Lewis
favoured the incorporation of the bank. On the other hand, DeWitt
Clinton opposed it, maintaining that two banks in New York City were
sufficient. However, the Governor, backed by the Federalists and a
small Republican majority, was successful. In the Council of Revision,
Ambrose Spencer opposed the act of incorporation on the ground that
existing banks, possessing five million dollars of capital, with
authority to issue notes and create debts to the amount of fifteen
million more, were sufficient, especially as the United States had
suffered an alarming decrease of specie, and as no one save a few
individuals, inspired solely by cupidity, had asked for a new bank.
Spencer, however, relied principally in his attack upon affidavits of
Obadiah German, the Republican leader of the Assembly, and Stephen
Thorn of the same body, charging that Senator Ebenezer Purdy, the
father of the measure, had offered them large rewards for their votes,
German having Purdy's admission that he had become convinced of the
propriety of incorporating the bank after a confidential conference
with its directors. From this it was to be inferred, argued Spencer,
that before such improper means were made use of, Purdy himself, whose
vote was necessary to its passage, was averse to its incorporation.
"To sanction a bill thus marked in its progress through one branch of
the Legislature with bribery and corruption," concluded the Judge,
"would be subversive of all pure legislation, and become a reproach to
a government hitherto renowned for the wisdom of its councils and the
integrity of its legislatures."[152] But Spencer's opposition and
Purdy's resignation, to avoid an investigation, did not defeat the
measure, which had the support of Chief Justice Kent, a Federalist,
and two members of the Livingston family, a majority of the Council.

[Footnote 152: Alfred B. Street, _New York Council of Revision_, p.

DeWitt Clinton had not approved the Governor's course. The flagrant
partiality shown Lewis' family in the unpopular appointment of Maturin
Livingston, his son-in-law, displeased him, and the removal of Porter
seemed to him untimely and vindictive. In killing Hamilton, Clinton
reasoned, Burr had killed himself politically, and out of the way
himself there was no occasion to punish his friends who would now
rejoin and strengthen the Republican party. Clinton, however, remained
passive in his opposition until the incorporation of the bank
furnished a plausible excuse for an appeal to the party; then, with a
determination to subjugate the Livingstons, he caused himself and his
adherents to be nominated and elected to the State Senate upon the
platform that "a new bank has been created in our city, and its
charter granted to political enemies." It was a bold move, as stubborn
as it was dangerous. Clinton had little to gain. The Livingstons were
not long to continue in New York politics. Maturin was insignificant;
Brockholst was soon to pass to the Supreme Court of the United States;
Edward had already sought a new home and greater honours in New
Orleans; and the Chancellor, having returned from France, was without
ambition to remain longer in the political arena. Even the
brothers-in-law were soon to disappear. John Armstrong was in France;
Smith Thompson, who was to follow Brockholst upon the bench of the
United States Supreme Court, refused to engage in party or political
contests, and the gifts of Tillotson and Lewis were not of quality or
quantity to make leaders of men. On the other hand, Clinton had much
to lose by forcing the fight. It condemned him to a career of almost
unbroken opposition for the rest of his life; it made precedents that
lived to curse him; and it compelled alliances that weakened him.

Lewis resented Clinton's imperious methods, but he made a fatal
mistake in furnishing him such a pretext for open opposition. He ought
to have known that in opposing the Merchants' Bank, Clinton
represented the great majority of his party which did not believe in
banks. Undoubtedly Clinton's interest in the Manhattan largely
controlled his attitude toward the Merchants', but the controversy
over the latter was so old, and its claims had been pressed so
earnestly by the Federalists in their own interest, that the question
had practically become a party issue as much as the contest over the
Bank of the United States. Already two Republican Legislatures had
defeated it, and in a third it was now being urged to success with the
help of a solid Federalist vote and a system of flagrant bribery, of
which the Governor was fully advised. A regard for party opinion, if
no higher motive, therefore, might well have governed Lewis' action.
After the fight had been precipitated, resulting in a warfare fatal to
Lewis, the Governor's apologists claimed that in favouring the bank
he had simply resisted Clinton's domination. The Governor may have
thought so, but it was further evidence of his inability either to
understand the sentiment dominating the party he sought to represent,
or successfully to compete with Clinton in leadership. DeWitt Clinton,
with all his faults, and they were many and grave, had in him the
gifts of a master and the capacity of a statesman. Lewis seems to have
had neither gifts nor capacity.

In January, 1806, DeWitt Clinton, securing a majority of the Council
of Appointment by the election of himself and two friends, sounded the
signal of attack upon the Governor and his supporters. He substituted
Pierre C. Van Wyck for Maturin Livingston and Elisha Jenkins for
Thomas Tillotson. The Governor's friends were also evicted from minor
office, only men hostile to Lewis' re-election being preferred.
Nothing could be less justifiable, or, indeed, more nefarious than
such removals. They were discreditable to the Council and disgraceful
to DeWitt Clinton; yet sentiment of the time seems to have approved
them, regarding Clinton's conduct merely as a stroke of good politics.
In the midst of this wretched business it is pleasant to note that
Jenkins' transfer from comptroller to secretary of state opened a way
for the appointment of Archibald McIntyre, whose safe custody of the
purse in days when economies and husbandries were in order,
distinguished him as a faithful official, and kept him in office until

After such drastic treatment of the Governor, it is not without
interest to think of Lewis in Albany and Clinton in New York keeping
their eyes upon the election in April, 1806, both alike hopeful of
finding allies in the party breakup. The advantage seemed to be wholly
with the Mayor and not with the Governor. Indeed, Republicans of all
factions were so well assured of Clinton's success that it required
the faith of a novice in politics to believe that Lewis had any
chance. But DeWitt Clinton had to deal with two classes of men,
naturally and almost relentlessly opposed to him--the friends of Burr
and the Federalists. It was of immense importance that the former
should stand with him, since the Federalists were certain to side with
the Lewisites or "Quids," as the Governor's friends came to be known,
and to secure such an advantage Clinton promptly made overtures to the
Burrites, of whom John Swartout, Peter Irving and Matthew L. Davis
were the leaders.

There is some confusion as to details, but Davis is authority for the
statement that in December, 1805, Theodorus Bailey, as Clinton's
agent, promised to aid Burr's friends through the Manhattan Bank, to
recognise them as Republicans, to appoint them to office on the same
footing with the most favoured Clintonian, and to stop Cheetham's
attacks in the _American Citizen_. Clinton pronounced the story false,
but it was known that the Manhattan Bank loaned eighteen thousand
dollars to a prominent Burrite; that on January 24, 1806, Clinton met
Swartout, Irving and Davis at the home of Bailey; and that afterward,
on February 20, leading Clintonians banqueted the Burrites at Dyde's
Hotel in the suburbs of New York in celebration of their union. There
were many reasons for maintaining the profoundest secrecy as to this
alliance and Dyde's Hotel had been selected for the purpose of
avoiding publicity, but the morning's papers revealed the secret with
an exaggerated account of their doings and sayings. Immediately, other
Burrites, joining the Lewisites at Martling's Long-room, a popular
meeting-place, organised a protestant faction, afterward known as
Martling Men, whose enmity was destined to follow Clinton to his

As election day approached the Quids made a decisive struggle against
Clinton. They rehearsed the charges of "Aristides;" they denounced him
as cold and imperious; they charged that he had an almost boundless
political ambition; that he maintained his own councils regardless of
his associates, and accepted no suggestion not in harmony with his own
policy. The Martling Men accused him of duplicity, and of a desire
only for place and pay. In aid of Lewis, Chancellor Lansing took this
opportunity of revealing the secret that led him to withdraw from the
gubernatorial race in 1804, charging that George Clinton had sought
"to pledge him to a particular course of conduct in the administration
of the government of the State." When the latter denied the statement,
Lansing, becoming more specific, affirmed that the venerable statesman
had mentioned DeWitt Clinton as a suitable person for chancellor. It
is not surprising, perhaps, that DeWitt Clinton's reply that if
tendered the office he would have declined it, fell upon incredulous
ears, since the young man at that very moment was holding three
offices and drawing three salaries.

But the contest did not become seriously doubtful until the Quids
received the active support of the Federalists, just then led by
William W. Van Ness, who seems to have leaped into prominence as
suddenly as did "Aristides," his cousin. If we may estimate the man by
the praises of his contemporaries, William W. Van Ness' eloquence
delighted the Assembly of which he had become a member in 1805, not
more than his pointed and finished wit charmed every social gathering
which he honoured with his presence. Indeed, as a popular orator he
seems to have had no rival. Though his passion for distinction was too
ardent and his fondness for sensual pleasure immoderate, sober minded
men were carried away with the fascinating effervescence of his public
utterances and the brilliancy of his conversation. He had a commanding
presence, almost a colossal form, and a voice marvellous for its
strength and for the music of its intonations. He was neither profound
nor learned. The common school at Claverack, where he was born in
independence year, furnished him little more than the rudiments of
English, and at the age of twenty he closed the door to further
advancement by prematurely burdening himself with a family; yet he
seemed to know without apparent effort everything that was necessary
to know, and to exert a gentle, unconscious, unpretending power that
was resistless. A sweetness of temper and a native dignity of manner
cast a grace and charm about him which acted as a spell upon all who
came within its influence. Hammond, the historian, thought him the
possessor of every gift that nature and fortune could bestow--wit,
beauty, good nature, suave manners, eloquence, and admirable
conversation. Such a combination gave him leadership, and he led his
followers solidly to Lewis, with the result that the coalition of
Federalists and Quids won out by a small majority.

When the Legislature assembled, in January, 1807, the intense
bitterness of the fight exhibited itself in the defeat of Solomon
Southwick for clerk of the Assembly. Southwick possessed the amiable,
winning qualities that characterised William W. Van Ness. He was
associated with his brother-in-law in the management of the Albany
_Register_, and from his earliest youth had been as zealous a
Republican as he was warm and disinterested in his friendships. To
friend and foe he was alike cordial and generous. He possessed an open
mind, not so eloquent as Van Ness, and less brilliant, perhaps, in
conversation; but the fluent splendour of his speech and the beauty of
his person and manners went as far toward the attainment of his
ambition. He had been elected clerk of the Assembly continuously since
1803, until his popularity among the members, whom he served with
uniform politeness and zeal, seemed proof against the attacks of any
adversary. Just now, however, the enemies of DeWitt Clinton were the
opponents of Solomon Southwick, while his rival, Garret Y. Lansing,
the nephew of the Chancellor, had become the bitterest and most
formidable enemy the Clintons had to encounter. Popular as he was,
Southwick could not win against such odds, although it turned out that
a change of four votes would have elected him.

A Lewis Council of Appointment made a clean sweep of the Governor's
enemies and of DeWitt Clinton's friends. Clinton himself gave up the
mayoralty of New York, Maturin Livingston again assumed the duties of
recorder, and Thomas Tillotson was restored to the office of secretary
of state. Perhaps Clinton thought he stood too high to be in danger
from Lewis' hand. If he did he found out his mistake, for Lewis
struck him down in the most unsparing and humiliating way. Public
affront was added to political deprivation. Without warning or
explanation, the first motion put at the first meeting of the new
Council, on February 6, 1807, made him the first sacrifice. Had he
been a justice of the peace in a remote western county he could not
have been treated more rudely; and, it may be added, if better reason
than that already existing were needed to seal the fate of Lewis,
Clinton's removal furnished it. New York has seldom been roused to
greater passion by a governor's act. It could even then be said of
Clinton that his name was associated with every great enterprise for
the public good. Less than a year before, in his efforts to educate
the children of the poor, unprovided for in parochial schools, he had
laid the foundation of the public school system, heading the
subscription list for the purchase of suitable quarters. In spite of
his faults he was a great executive, and before the sun went down on
the day of his removal a large majority of the Republican members of
the Legislature, guided by the deposed mayor, had nominated Daniel D.
Tompkins for governor in place of Morgan Lewis.

In disposing of the mayoralty, Lewis recognised the importance of
keeping it in the family, and offered it to Smith Thompson, both of
whose wives were Livingstons; but only once in forty years did
Thompson's love for the judiciary give way to political preferment,
and then Martin Van Buren defeated him for governor. The mayoralty
finally went to Marinus Willett, an officer of distinguished service
in the Revolutionary war, whose gallantry at Fort Schuyler in the
summer of 1777 won him a sword from Congress and the admiration of
General Washington. But the steadfast, judicious qualities that
commended him as a soldier seem to have forsaken him as a politician.
He supported Burr, he followed Lewis, and he finally ran for
lieutenant-governor against DeWitt Clinton, the regular nominee of his
party, losing the election by a large majority; yet his amiability and
war services kept him a favourite in spite of his political wavering.
It was hard for a lover of his country to dislike a real hero of the
Revolution, even though he forfeited the confidence of his party.

Clinton, who had kept his head cool in victory, did not lose it in
defeat; but the Governor found himself in an awkward and humiliating
position. Although the Federalists had made it possible for him to
organise the Legislature and elect a friendly Council, he dared not
appoint one of them to office, and the few ambitious Republicans who
had marshalled under his standard proved inferior, inexperienced, or
indiscreet. Only one Federalist fared well, and he succeeded in spite
of Lewis. William W. Van Ness aspired to the Supreme Court judgeship
made vacant by Brockholst Livingston's appointment to the Supreme
Court of the United States. The Governor, favouring, of course, a
member of his own family, proposed Maturin Livingston. To this Thomas
Thomas of the Council agreed, but Edward Savage proposed John
Woodworth; John Nicholas inclined to Jonas Platt, and James Burt, the
fourth member of the Council, preferred Van Ness. Platt was a
Federalist, and in his way a remarkable man. His father, Zephaniah
Platt, served in the Continental Congress, and as judge of the Circuit
Court had pushed his way to the northern frontier, founded Plattsburg,
and advocated a system of canals connecting the Hudson with the lakes.
The son, following his example, studied law and emigrated to the
western frontier, settling in Herkimer County, at Whitesboro. He had
already served one term in the Legislature and one in Congress, and
was destined to receive other honourable preferment. But just now
Nicholas, his political backer, a recent comer from Virginia, who had
served with him in Congress, was no match for the adroit Burt, whose
shrewd management in the interest of Aaron Burr had recently sent
Theodorus Bailey to the United States Senate over John Woodworth. Burt
convinced Nicholas that Platt's candidacy would result in the election
of Livingston or Woodworth, and having thus destroyed the Herkimer
lawyer, he appealed to Savage to drop Woodworth in favour of Van
Ness. Savage was a Republican of the old school, a supporter of George
Clinton, an opponent of the Federal Constitution, who had apparently
followed Lewis for what he could make out of it; but he was indisposed
to add to the sin of rebellion against DeWitt Clinton the folly of
voting for Maturin Livingston, and so he joined Burt and Nicholas in
support of Van Ness. Thus it happened that the popular young orator
became a member of the Supreme Court at the early age of thirty-one,
being the youngest member of the court, save Daniel D. Tompkins, to
serve on the old, conservative Council of Revision.

News of this bad business intensified the angry feeling against the
Governor. A place on the Supreme Court, valued then even more highly
than now, had been lost to the party because of his arrogant and
consuming nepotism, and men turned with enthusiasm to Daniel D.
Tompkins, whose nomination for governor brought him champions that had
heretofore avoided all appearance of violent partisanship. Tompkins
was accepted as the exponent of all that Republicans most prized;
Lewis as their most obstinate and offensive opponent. Thus, at last,
the Clintons faced the Livingstons on a fair field.




Had DeWitt Clinton succeeded to the governorship in 1807, his way to
the Presidency, upon which his eye was already fixed, might have
opened easily and surely. But the bitterness of the Livingstons and
the unfriendly disposition of the Federalists compelled him to flank
the difficulty by presenting a candidate for governor who was void of
offence. If it was humiliating to admit his own ineligibility, it was
no less so to meet the new condition, for Lewis' election in 1804 had
discovered the scarcity of available material, and developed the
danger of relying upon another to do his bidding. Just now Clinton
wanted a candidate with no convictions, no desires, no ambitions, and
no purposes save to please him. There were men enough of this kind,
but they could neither conceal their master's hand, nor command the
suffrages of a majority on their own account. In this crisis,
therefore, he selected, to the surprise of all and to the disgust of
some, Daniel D. Tompkins, the young and amiable justice of the Supreme
Court, who had taken the place of James Kent on the latter's promotion
to chief justice.

Thus it happened that the day which witnessed DeWitt Clinton's removal
from the New York mayoralty, welcomed into larger political life this
man of honourable parentage, who was destined to play a very
conspicuous part in affairs of state. Daniel D. Tompkins, a youth of
promise and a young man of ripening wisdom, had been for some years in
the public eye, first as a member of the constitutional convention of
1801, afterward as a successful candidate for Congress, and later as
a judge of the Supreme Court. His rise had been phenomenally rapid. He
passed from the farm to the college at seventeen, from college to the
law office at twenty-one, from the law office to the constitutional
convention at twenty-seven, and thence to Congress and the Supreme
Court at thirty. He was now to become governor at thirty-three. But
with all his promise and wisdom and rapid advancement, no one dreamed
in 1807 that he was soon to divide political honour and power with
DeWitt Clinton, five years his senior.

Tompkins was on the farm when Clinton was in Columbia College; but if
the plow lengthened his days, study shortened his nights, and five
years after Clinton graduated, Tompkins entered the same institution.
Just then it was a stern chase. Clinton had the advantage of family,
Tompkins the disadvantage of being a stranger. When the former entered
the Legislature, the latter had only opened a law office. Then, but
four years later, they met in the constitutional convention, Clinton
on the winning side and Tompkins on the right side. The purpose of
this convention, it will be recalled, had been to give each member of
the Council of Appointment the power to nominate candidates for
office--Clinton holding that the Council had the right to nominate as
well as to confirm appointments; Tompkins, with barely a dozen
associates, took the ground, maintained by Governors Clinton and Jay,
that its power was limited to confirmation. This position showed the
nerve as well as the independence of the younger man, and he was able
proudly to refer to it when, twenty years later, the constitutional
convention of 1821, inspired by the popular contempt, achieved the
abolition of the Council, and with it the political corruption and
favouritism to which it had given rise.

The record of New York politics is a record of long and bitter
contests between these chiefs of two antagonistic Republican factions.
What the struggle between Stalwarts and Half Breeds was to our own
time, the struggle between Clinton and Tompkins was to our ancestors
of two and three generations ago. Two men could hardly be more
sharply contrasted. The one appeared cold and reserved, the other most
gracious and gentle; Clinton's self-confidence destroyed the fidelity
of those who differed in opinion, Tompkins' urbanity disarmed their
disloyalty; Clinton was unrelenting, dogged in his tenacity, quick to
speak harshly, moving within lines of purpose regardless of those of
least resistance. Although he often changed his associates, like Lord
Shaftesbury, he never changed his purposes. Tompkins, always firm and
dignified, was affable in manner, sympathetic in speech, overflowing
with good nature, and unpretending to all who approached him. It used
to be said that Tompkins made more friends in refusing favours than
Clinton did in granting them.

The two men also differed as much in personal appearance as in manner.
Tompkins, shapely and above the ordinary height, had large, full eyes,
twinkling with kindness, a high forehead wreathed with dark, curly
hair, and an oval face, easily and usually illuminated with a smile;
Clinton had a big frame, square shoulders, a broad, full forehead,
short, pompadour hair, dark penetrating eyes, and a large mouth with
lips firmly set. It was a strong face. A dullard could read his
character at a glance. To his intimate friends Clinton was undoubtedly
a social, agreeable companion; but the dignified imperiousness of his
manner and the severity of his countenance usually overcame the
ordinary visitor before the barriers of his reserve were broken.
Tompkins, on the contrary, carried the tenderness of a wide humanity
in his face.

It was hardly creditable to Clinton's knowledge of human nature that
he selected Daniel D. Tompkins for a gubernatorial candidate, if he
sought a man whom he might control. The memory of the constitutional
convention, or a glance into the history of the elder Tompkins, who
had stood firm and unyielding in the little settlement of Fox Meadows
in Winchester after the American defeat on Long Island, when all his
neighbours save two had faltered in the cause of independence, would
have enlightened him respecting the Tompkins character. The farmer
boy's determined, patient preparation for public life, and his
fortitude in the face of conscious disadvantages, ought also to have
suggested that the young man was made of sterner stuff than the
obedient Theodorus Bailey. Still more surprising is it that Clinton
should overlook, or insufficiently consider the fact that Tompkins was
now the son-in-law of Mangle Minthorne, a wealthy citizen of New York,
and the leader of the Martling Men, of whose opposition he had already
been apprised, and whose bitter hostility he was about to experience.
If he thought to disarm the enmity of Minthorne by helping the
son-in-law, his hopes were raised only to be dashed to earth again.

It is certain DeWitt Clinton had no one save himself to thank for
taking this Hercules, whose political direction was conspicuously
inevitable from the first. But Clinton wanted an assured victor
against Morgan Lewis and the Livingstons, with their Federalist
supporters, and, although some people inclined to the opinion that
Tompkins had already been promoted too rapidly, Clinton believed his
services on the bench had made him the most available man in the
party. For three years this young judge, substituting sympathy for
severity, had endeared himself to all who knew him. The qualities of
fairness and fitness which Greek wisdom praised in the conduct of life
were characteristic of his life. From what we know of his work it is
fair to presume, had he tarried upon the bench until 1821, he would
have been a worthy associate of Smith Thompson and Ambrose Spencer.

Sixty-five Republican members of the Legislature signed the address,
drawn by DeWitt Clinton, putting Tompkins into the race for governor;
forty-five indorsed the platform on which Governor Lewis stood for
re-election. The Clinton address gave no reason for preferring
Tompkins to Lewis, but the latter's weakness as an executive,
foreshadowed a defeat which each day made plainer, and when the votes,
counted on the last day of April, gave Tompkins 4085 majority, the
result was as gratifying to Clinton as it was disastrous to
Lewis.[153] It was not a sweeping victory, such as Lewis had won over
Burr three years before, for the former's weakness was less offensive
than the latter's wickedness, but it launched the successful candidate
on his long period of authority, which was not to be ended until he
was broken in health, if not in character.

[Footnote 153: Daniel D. Tompkins, 35,074; Morgan Lewis,
30,989.--_Civil List, State of New York_ (1887), p. 166.]

Daniel D. Tompkins had the good fortune to begin his administration at
a time when England and the United States were about to quarrel over
the former's insistence on impressing American seamen into its
service, thus giving the people something to think about save offices,
and dividing them again sharply into two parties. Indeed, while the
election was pending in April, three deserters from the _Melampus_, a
British sloop-of-war, by enlisting on the _Chesapeake_, a United
States frigate of thirty-eight guns, became the innocent cause of
subjecting the United States to gross insult. The American government,
smarting under England's impressment of its seamen, refused to
surrender these deserters, inquiries showing that they were coloured
men of American birth, two of whom had been pressed into the British
service from an American vessel in the Bay of Biscay. When the
_Chesapeake_ sailed, therefore, the _Leopard_, an English man-of-war
mounting fifty guns, followed her to the high seas and demanded a
return of the deserters. Receiving a prompt refusal, the Englishman
raked the decks of the _Chesapeake_ for the space of twelve minutes,
killing three men and wounding eighteen, among them the commander. The
_Chesapeake_ was not yet ready for action. Her crew was undrilled in
the use of ordnance, her decks littered, appliances for reloading were
wanting, and at the supreme moment neither priming nor match could be
found. Under these distressing circumstances, the boarding officer of
the _Leopard_ took the deserters and sailed for Halifax. The sight of
the dismantled _Chesapeake_, with its dead and dying, aroused the
people irrespective of party into demanding reparation or war. "This
country," wrote Jefferson, "has never been in such a state of
excitement since the battle of Lexington."[154] Immediately the most
exposed ports were strengthened, and the States were called upon to
organise and equip 100,000 militia ready to march. Among other things,
Jefferson ordered British cruisers to depart from American waters,
forbidding all aid and intercourse with them.

[Footnote 154: Jefferson to Colonel Taylor, August 1, 1807; _Works_,
v., 148.]

On the day of Governor Tompkins' inauguration the crippled
_Chesapeake_ sailed back into Norfolk; and before the New York
Legislature assembled in the following January, England had published
its Orders in Council, forbidding all neutral trade with France.
Napoleon had also promulgated his Milan Decree, forbidding all neutral
trade with England, and the Congress of the United States, with closed
doors, in obedience to the recommendation of the President, had
ordered an embargo forbidding all foreign-bound American vessels to
leave United States ports.

For several years American commerce, centring chiefly in New England
and New York, and occupying a neutral position toward European
belligerents, had enjoyed unparalleled prosperity. Reaching all parts
of the world, it had, indeed, largely engrossed the carrying trade,
especially of France and the European powers. As restraints increased,
the Yankee skippers became sly and cunning--risking capture, using
neutral flags, and finding other subterfuges for new restrictions. The
embargo would tie up the ships to rot, throw seamen out of employment,
destroy perishable commodities like breadstuffs, and paralyse trade.
From the moment of its passage, therefore, merchants and shipowners
resisted it, charging that Napoleon's Decree had provoked the British
Orders, and that if the former would recede, the latter would be
modified. It revived the old charge of Jefferson's enmity to commerce.
In the excitement, DeWitt Clinton opposed it, and Cheetham, with his
bitter, irritating pen, sustained him. He thought American commerce
might be left to solve the difficulty for itself, by allowing
merchants to arm their vessels or otherwise encounter the risks and
perils at their own discretion, rather than be compelled to abandon
the highway of nations to their British rivals, whose sole purpose, he
maintained, was to drive us from the ocean and capture French supplies
being transported in French vessels.

But the Republicans in Congress stood firmly by the embargo, holding
that if George Canning would modify the Orders in Council, which were
intended to drive American commerce from the ocean, Napoleon would
modify his decrees, which were provoked by the British Orders. It was
not a question of avoiding sacrifices, said Governor Tompkins, in his
speech to the Legislature, in January, 1808, but whether one sacrifice
might not better be borne than another. The belligerents had issued
decrees regardless of our rights. If we carried for England, France
would confiscate; if for France, England would confiscate. England
exacted tribute, and insisted upon the right of search; France
demanded forfeiture if we permitted search or paid tribute; between
the two the world was closed to us. But the belligerents needed our
wheat and breadstuffs, and while the embargo was intended only for a
temporary expedient, giving the people time for reflection, and
keeping our vessels and cargoes from spoliation, it must prevail in
the end by making Europe feel the denial of neutral favours. "What
patriotic citizen," he concluded, "will murmur at the temporary
privations and inconveniences resulting from this measure, when he
reflects upon the vast expenditure of national treasure, the sacrifice
of the lives of our countrymen, the total and permanent suspension of
commerce, the corruption of morals, and the distress and misery
consequent upon our being involved in the war between the nations of
Europe? The evils which threaten us call for a magnanimous confidence
in the efforts of our national councils to avert them, and for a firm,
unanimous determination to devote everything that is dear to us to
maintain our right and national honour."[155]

[Footnote 155: _Governor's Speeches._ January 26, 1808, p. 98.]

Governor Tompkins' views, sustained by decided majorities in both
branches of the Legislature, hastened DeWitt Clinton's change of
attitude; and, to the great disgust of Cheetham, he now swung into
line. Deceived by the first outcry against Jefferson's policy, Clinton
had presided at an opposition meeting, while Cheetham, following his
lead, had assailed it in the _American Citizen_. In the same spirit
George Clinton, the Vice President, imprudently and impulsively
attacked it in letters to his friends; but DeWitt Clinton, seeing his
mistake, quickly jumped into line with his party, leaving Cheetham and
his uncle to return as best they could. It was an ungracious act,
since Cheetham, who had devoted the best of his powers in justifying
the conduct of Clinton, was now left in the air, without the means of
gracefully getting down.

Meantime, the new Council of Appointment, elected in February, and
controlled by DeWitt Clinton, had reversed the work of Lewis. Marinus
Willett surrendered the mayoralty to DeWitt Clinton, Maturin
Livingston gave up the recordership, Thomas Tillotson turned over the
secretaryship of state to Elisha Jenkins, Sylvanus Miller again became
surrogate of New York, and John Woodworth was dismissed from the
office of attorney-general. Under the Constitution, the Legislature
elected the treasurer of the State, an office which Abraham G.
Lansing, brother of the Chancellor and father of Garrett, had held
continuously since the defalcation of McClanan in 1803. Lansing was
wealthy, and, like his brother, a man of the highest character for
integrity and correct business methods, but he had followed Lewis to
defeat and now paid the penalty by giving place to David Thomas, who,
like McClanan, was also to prove a defaulter. Thus, within a year
after Tompkins' inauguration, an entire change of persons holding
civil offices in the State had taken place, the Governor shrewdly
strengthening himself by assuming to have helped the winners, and
weakening Clinton by permitting the disappointed to charge their
failure to the Mayor.

The nomination of a Republican candidate to succeed Jefferson, gave
Tompkins further opportunity of strengthening himself at the expense
of DeWitt Clinton. For months the latter had been urging the claims of
George Clinton for President, on the ground of the Vice President's
hitherto undisputed right to promotion, and because Virginia had held
the office long enough. But a congressional caucus, greatly to the
disgust of Monroe and the Clintons, and without the knowledge of the
Vice President, hastily got together according to the custom of the
day and nominated James Madison for President and George Clinton for
Vice President. The disappointed friends of Monroe and Clinton charged
that the caucus was irregular, only eighty-nine out of one hundred and
thirty-nine Republican representatives and senators having attended
it, and could they have agreed upon a candidate among themselves
Madison must have been beaten. Leading Federalists waited until late
in April for DeWitt Clinton to make some arrangement which their party
might support, but, while Federalists waited, the threatened
Republican bolt wasted itself in a fruitless endeavour to unite upon a
candidate for first place. Monroe's friends would not have George
Clinton, whom they pronounced too old and too infirm, and Clinton's
friends declined to accept Monroe, who was objectionable, if for no
other reason, because he was a Virginian. Finally, the Federalists
nominated Charles C. Pinckney of South Carolina for President and
Rufus King of New York for Vice President, making Madison's election
absolutely certain.

This ought to have ended the strife in Republican ranks. Under similar
circumstances any ordinary politician would have hastened to
re-establish himself with his party. But DeWitt Clinton, carrying the
contest to the New York Legislature, called to appoint presidential
electors, insisted that the vote of the State be given to his uncle.
The strong affection for the venerable statesman insured the
suggestion favourable consideration by a large portion of the
Republican party, but Tompkins assailed it with unanswerable
argument. Without being of the slightest use to George Clinton, he
contended, such a course would exhibit an unhappy division in
Republican ranks, excite the jealousy of Madison's friends, impair the
influence of New York Republicans with the Administration, and make
them appear ridiculous to their brethren in other States. This was the
talk of a wise politician. The contest was squarely between James
Madison, regularly nominated by the method then accepted, and Charles
C. Pinckney, the candidate of the Federalists; and a vote for Clinton
meant a Republican vote thrown away out of pique. DeWitt Clinton
understood this; but he could not curb a disposition to have things
his way, and, upon his insistence, it was finally agreed that each
elector should vote his preference. Under this arrangement, George
Clinton received six votes out of the nineteen, Ambrose Spencer
leading the minority. Of the votes cast for President, Madison
received 122, Clinton 6, and Pinckney 48; for Vice President, George
Clinton had 113, Rufus King 48, John Langdon of New Hampshire 9, and
Madison and Monroe three each, the votes of Judge Spencer and his five

Within a twelvemonth DeWitt Clinton had plainly made a series of
serious mistakes. He had opposed the embargo, he had antagonised
Madison, who still resented the Clintons' opposition to the Federal
Constitution, and he had forced a discovery of Tompkins' superior
management and political wisdom. To add to his embarrassment, the
Lewisites, the Burrites, and the Martling Men now openly charged him
with hostility to Madison and with insincere support of Jefferson and
Tompkins, since he continued on friendly terms with Cheetham, who
still bitterly opposed the embargo. If these three political groups of
men, having a bond of union in their common detestation of DeWitt
Clinton, could have found a leader able to marshal them, they must
have compassed the latter's political overthrow long before he
prostrated himself. Already it was whispered that Tompkins approved
their attacks, a suspicion that found many believers, since Minthorne
had set to work to destroy Clinton. But the Governor was too wise to
be drawn openly into gladiatorial relations with DeWitt Clinton at
this time, although, as it afterward appeared, Madison and Tompkins
even then had an understanding to which Clinton was by no means a

Clinton, however, continued seemingly on good terms with Tompkins; and
to disprove the attacks of the Martling Men he introduced a series of
resolutions in the State Senate, to which he had been elected in the
preceding April, approving the administration of President Madison and
pledging support to Governor Tompkins. To make his defence the more
complete, he backed the resolutions with an elaborately prepared
speech, in which he bitterly assailed the Federalists, who, he
declared, thought it "better to reign in hell than serve in heaven."
Clinton may be excused for getting in accord with his party; but since
his change disclosed an absence of principle, it was bad manners, to
say the least, to denounce, with Miltonic quotation, those who
consistently held to the views formerly entertained by himself. Of
Clinton it could scarcely be said, that he was a favourite in the
Legislature. He frequently allowed his fierce indignation to get the
better of his tongue. His sharp sarcasms, his unsparing ridicule, and
his heedless personalities, sometimes withered the effect of his
oratory; yet it is quite certain that the fury of his assaults and the
exuberance of his anger aroused the keenest interest, and that when
the Martling Men finally prevented his return to the Legislature his
absence was generally regretted.

Clinton's speech did not convince Federalists that embargo was the
product of profound statesmanship. Abraham Van Vechten, the leader of
the Federalists in the Legislature, was a powerful and logical
reasoner, and an orator of singular eloquence. His success as an
advocate at the bar followed him to the Assembly, and in every debate
he proved a formidable antagonist. He had a gift of sarcasm that made
an adversary exceedingly uncomfortable; and as he shattered the
reasoning of Clinton, he exposed the imperious and domineering
trimmer to ridicule and jest. Van Vechten ranked among the ablest men
of New York. His tall, erect, and dignified figure was well known
throughout the State, and although he did not assume to lead his
party, the Federalists recognised his right to share in its
leadership. Governor Jay offered him a place on the Supreme bench; but
he preferred the bar and the brief sessions of the Legislature.

By the side of Van Vechten sat Daniel Cady, at that time thirty-six
years of age, already renowned as a lawyer, the rival of Ogden Hoffman
and Marcus T. Reynolds, and, in the estimation of his contemporaries,
one of the most generous and gifted men of his time. Three terms in
the Legislature and one in Congress measured, until his election to
the Supreme Court in 1847, his career in public life; but brief as was
this service, his great ability adorned the State and strengthened his
party. His distinguished daughter, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, whose
achievements covered more than half of the last century, represented
in a marked degree his gifts, his accomplishments, and the sweetness
of his nature.

Under the lead of Van Vechten and Cady, the Federalists tormented
DeWitt Clinton and the friends of embargo, by contrasting the busy
wharves in 1807, covered with bales of cotton, barrels of flour, and
hogsheads of sugar, with the stagnation that characterised all avenues
of commerce in 1809. Ropewalks were deserted, sailmakers idle, draymen
without business, and sailors without bread. If England bled, they
declared, the United States bled faster. An ocean whitened with
American sails had been turned over to British ships which were
absorbing the maritime trade. France showed an indifference to
America's commerce and England boasted an independence of America's
trade. As a weapon of coercion, exclaimed Cady, embargo has been a
failure--as a measure of defence it has been suicidal. What would
happen if our ships were suffered to go to Europe and the Indies? Some
would reach Europe and find a market; others would go to England,
obtain a license to sail to a Baltic port, and then sell at great
profit. Out of a hundred ships, two would probably be seized by the
French. Better to lose two by seizure than the destruction of all by

Obadiah German had much to say in defence of the justice and prudence
of the embargo. There was nothing brilliant about German; but ample
evidence of his parliamentary ability lines the pathway of his public
career. Without eloquence or education, he had the full courage of his
convictions and an intellectual vigour sufficient to back them. He
came to the Legislature in 1798, and, in 1809, very unexpectedly
succeeded Samuel L. Mitchill as United States senator. Later he served
one term as speaker of the Assembly. Just now he was the recognised
leader of the Republican majority in that body, and in his wise,
uncouth way dealt many a hard blow with telling effect.

Nathan Sanford also assisted in repelling the assaults of Cady and Van
Vechten. Sanford was the pet of the Martling Men and the enemy of
DeWitt Clinton. He had been appointed United States attorney upon the
resignation of Edward Livingston in 1803, holding the office until his
election to the United States Senate to succeed Obadiah German in
1815. In the meantime he served two terms in the Assembly, one of them
as speaker, and three terms in the State Senate. Afterward, he became
chancellor for two or three years, and then took another term as
United States senator. His activity gave him strength, and his loyalty
to the Martling Men, now known as Tammany, supplied him with backers
enough to keep him continuously in office for thirty years. Despite
his titles of Senator and Chancellor, however, and his long public
service, he did not leave a memory for eloquence, scholarship, or for
great ability; though he was a ready talker and a willing friend,
quick to catch the favouring breeze and ready to adopt any political
method that promised success. In upholding embargo, Sanford admitted
its seriousness, but emphasised its necessity. He recalled how England
had searched our ships, impressed our seamen, killed our citizens,
and insulted our towns. The ocean, he argued, had become a place of
robbery and national disgrace, since Great Britain, by its orders in
Council, had provoked France into promulgating the Berlin Decree of
November, 1806, and the Milan Decree of December, 1807, which
denationalised any ship that touched an English port, or suffered an
English search, or paid an English tax--whether it entered a French
port, or fell into the power of a French privateer. Thus, since
England had blockaded one-half of Europe and France the other half, he
thought it time for dignified retirement, until England felt the need
of additional supplies, and France awoke to the loss of its luxuries.

At the close of the spirited debate, DeWitt Clinton's resolutions were
adopted by both houses--in the Senate without a division; in the
Assembly by a vote of sixty-one to forty-one. But almost before the
result was announced, American wheat dropped from two dollars to
seventy cents a bushel, turning the election of April, 1809, into a
Federalist victory. It was a great surprise to Tompkins and his party,
whose only gleam of hope grew out of the failure of the Federalists to
return senators from the middle and eastern districts, thus
preventing, as they assumed, a Federalist majority in the new Council
of Appointment and a wholesale removal of Republican officials. But
the Federalists understood their work. After welcoming to the
speakership their old friend, William North of Duansburgh, who had
served in the same capacity in 1795 and again in 1796, the Assembly
elected to the Council, two Federalists and two Republicans, including
Robert Williams of the middle district. Williams had been a Lewisite,
a Burrite, and a Clintonian. With the help of a Federalist governor in
1799, he became sheriff of Dutchess County, and, although he bore the
reputation of a trimmer, he seems to have concealed the real baseness
of his character until the meeting of the new Council, when his
casting vote turned out of office every Republican in the State. By
this treachery his son-in-law, Thomas J. Oakley, of whom we shall hear
much hereafter, became surrogate of Dutchess County; Jacob Radcliff,
the great chancery lawyer, mayor of New York; Abraham Van Vechten,
attorney-general, and Abraham G. Lansing, treasurer of state. From the
moment of his apostacy Robert Williams, classified by his neighbours
with Judas Iscariot and ignored by men of all parties, passed into




Though DeWitt Clinton again lost the mayoralty of New York, he was
still in the Senate; and to maintain an appearance of friendship with
the Governor, he wrote the address to the people, signed by the
Republican members of the Legislature, placing Tompkins in the race
for re-election. The Federalists, encouraged by their gains in April,
1809, had with confidence nominated Jonas Platt for governor, and
Nicholas Fish for lieutenant-governor. Fish is little known to the
present generation except as the father of Hamilton Fish, the able
secretary of state in President Grant's Cabinet; but in his day
everybody knew of him, and everybody admitted his capacity and
patriotism. His distinguished gallantry during the Revolution won him
the confidence of Washington and the intimate friendship of Hamilton,
after whom he named his illustrious son. For many years he was
adjutant-general of the State, president of the New York Society of
the Cincinnati, and a representative Federalist. It is said that Aaron
Burr felt rebuked in his presence, because he recognised in him those
high qualities of noble devotion to principle which the grandson of
Jonathan Edwards well knew were wanting in his own character. Just now
Fish was fifty-two years old, a member of the New York Board of
Aldermen, and an inveterate opponent of Republicanism, chafing under
DeWitt Clinton's dictatorship in the State and Tammany's control in
the city.

Jonas Platt had borne an important part in propping up falling
Federalism. He was a born fighter. Though somewhat uncouth in
expression and unrefined in manner, he had won for himself a proud
position at the bar of his frontier home, and was rapidly writing his
name high on the roll of New York statesmen. He had proved his
popularity by carrying his senatorial district in the preceding
election; and he had demonstrated his ability as a debater by replying
to the arguments of DeWitt Clinton with a power that comes only from
wide information and a consciousness of being in the right. He could
not be turned aside from the real issue. Whatever or whoever had
provoked the British Orders in Council, he declared, one thing was
certain, those orders could not have driven American commerce from the
ocean had not the embargo established British commerce in its place.
This was the weak point in the policy of Jefferson, and the strong
point in the argument of Jonas Platt. Five hundred and thirty-seven
vessels, aggregating over one hundred and eighty thousand tons, had
been tied up in New York alone; and the public revenues collected at
its custom house had dropped from four and a half millions to nothing.
History concedes that embargo, since it required a much greater
sacrifice at home than it caused abroad, utterly failed as a weapon
for coercing Europe; and with redoubled energy and prodigious effect,
Platt drove this argument into the friends of the odious and
profitless measure, until the Governor's party in the election of 1809
had gone down disastrously.

To Obadiah German, a living embodiment of the Jeffersonian spirit, the
most extravagant arguments in support of the embargo came naturally
and clearly. To a man of DeWitt Clinton's high order of intellect,
however, it must have been difficult, in the presence of Jonas Platt's
logic, backed as it was by an unanswerable array of facts, to believe
that the arguments in favour of embargo were those which history would
approve. As if, however, to establish Platt's position, Congress, in
the midst of the New York campaign, voted to remove the embargo, and
to establish in its stead, non-intercourse with Great Britain and
France--thus reopening trade with the rest of Europe and indulging
those merchants who desired to take the risks of capture. For the
moment, this was a great blow to Clinton and a great victory for
Platt, giving him a prestige that his party thought entitled him to
the governorship.

In the legislative session of 1810, however, Jonas Platt developed
neither the strength nor the shrewdness that characterised his conduct
on the stump during the campaign of 1809. William Erskine, the British
minister, a son of the distinguished Lord Chancellor, whose attachment
to America was strengthened by marriage, had negotiated a treaty with
the United States limiting the life of the Orders in Council to June
10, 1809. This treaty had been quickly disavowed by the English
government, and, in referring to it in his message, Governor Tompkins
accused England of wilfully refusing to fulfil its stipulations. "With
Great Britain an arrangement was effected in April last," wrote the
Governor, "which diffused a lively satisfaction through the nation,
and presaged a speedy restoration of good understanding and harmony
between the two countries. But our hopes were blasted by an unexpected
disavowal of the agreement, and an unqualified refusal to fulfil its
stipulations on the part of England. Since the recall of the minister
who negotiated the arrangement, nothing has occurred to brighten the
prospect of an honourable adjustment of our differences. On the
contrary, instead of evincing an amicable disposition by substituting
other acceptable terms of accommodation in lieu of the disavowed
arrangement, the new minister has persisted in impeaching the veracity
of our Administration, which a sense of respect for themselves, and
for the dignity of the nation they represent, forbade them to brook."

There was nothing in this statement to rebuke. Young Erskine had been
displaced by an English minister who had acquired the reputation of
being an edged-tool against neutral nations, a curiously narrow,
hide-bound politician, whose language was as insolent as his manners
were offensive. The Governor's reference, therefore, had not been too
severe, nor had his statement overleaped the truth; yet Jonas Platt
attacked it with great asperity, arraigning the national
administration and charging that the country had more cause for war
with France than with Great Britain. This was both unwise and
untenable. The Governor had aimed his criticism at France as well as
at England. He spoke of one as controlling the destinies of the
European continent, of the other as domineering upon the ocean, and of
both as overleaping "the settled principles of public law, which
constituted the barriers between the caprice, the avarice, or the
tyranny of a belligerent, and the rights and independence of a
neutral." But Jonas Platt, betrayed by his prejudices against
Jefferson and France, went on with an argument well calculated to give
his opponents an advantage. His language was strong and clear, his
sarcasm pointed; but it gave DeWitt Clinton the opportunity of
charging Federalists with taking sides with the British against their
own country.

There never was a time when the Federalists, as a national party, were
willing to join hands with England to the disadvantage of their
country. They had the same reasons for disliking England that animated
their opponents. But their antipathy to Jacobins and to Jefferson, and
the latter's partiality for France, drove them into sympathy with
Great Britain's struggle against Napoleon, until the people suspected
them of too great fondness for English institutions and English
principles. Several events, too, seemed to justify such a suspicion,
notably the adherence of British Tories to the Federalist party, and
the latter's zeal to allay hostile feelings growing out of the
Revolutionary war. To such an extent had this sentimental sympathy
been carried, that, in the summer of 1805, the Federalists of Albany,
having a majority in the common council, foolishly refused to allow
the Declaration of Independence to be read as a part of the exercises
in celebration of the Fourth of July. Naturally, such a policy quickly
aroused every inherited and cultivated prejudice against the British,
strengthening the belief that the Federalists, as a party, were
willing to suppress the patriotic utterances of their own countrymen
rather than injure the feelings of America's hereditary foe.

When DeWitt Clinton, therefore, charged the party of Jonas Platt with
taking the side of the British against their own country, the debate
revived old tales of cruelty and massacre, growing out of England's
alliance with the Indians in the early days of the Revolution; and it
gave John Taylor opportunity to recount the horrors which he had
witnessed in the days of his country's extreme peril. Taylor was
sixty-eight years old. For nearly twenty years he had been a member of
the Legislature, and was soon to be lieutenant-governor for nearly ten
years more. Before the Revolutionary war, he served in the Provincial
Congress; and in Arnold's expedition to Canada, in 1775, he had
superintended the commissary department, contributing to the comfort
of the shattered remnant who stood with Montgomery on the Plains of
Abraham on that ill-fated last day of the year.

Taylor was a man of undoubted integrity and great political sagacity.
His character suffered, perhaps, because a fondness for money kept
growing with his growing years. "For a good old gentlemanly vice,"
says Byron, "I think I must take up with avarice." Taylor did not wait
to be an old gentleman before adopting "the good old gentlemanly
vice," but it did not seem to hurt him with the people, for he kept on
getting rich and getting office. He was formed to please. His tall,
slender form, rising above the heads of those about him, made his
agreeable manners and easy conversation the more noticeable, gaining
him the affection of men while challenging their admiration for his

In 1760, Taylor had followed the British army to Oswego, and there
acquired a knowledge of the Indian language. He knew of the alliance
between the British and Indians in 1776, and had witnessed the
horrible massacres growing out of these treaty relations. The most
tragic stories of Indian atrocities begin with the payment of bounties
by the British for the scalps of women and children, and for the
capture of men and boys who would make soldiers. Often guided by
Tories, the fierce Mohawks sought out the solitary farmhouse, scalped
the helpless, and, with a few prisoners, started back on their lonely
return journey to Canada, hundreds of miles through the forest, simply
to receive the promised reward of a few Spanish dollars from their
British allies. When DeWitt Clinton, therefore, charged the
Federalists with loving the English more than their own country, John
Taylor won the Senate by recalling Indian atrocities set on foot by
British officers, and often carried out with the assistance of British
Tories, now members of the Federalist party. Daniel Parrish, a senator
from the eastern district, having more courage than eloquence, came to
Platt's support with the most exact and honest skill, repelling the
insinuations of Clinton, and indignantly denying Taylor's tactful
argument. But when Taylor, pointing his long, well-formed index finger
at the eastern senator, expressed surprise and grief to hear one plead
the English cause whose father had been foully murdered by an Indian
while under British pay and British orders, Parrish lost his temper
and Platt his cause.

It was a sad day for Platt. So successfully did Taylor revive the old
Revolutionary hatred of the British that the Herkimer statesman's
arraignment of Governor Tompkins, offered as a substitute for DeWitt
Clinton's friendly answer, was rejected by a vote of twenty-three to
six. Coming as it did on the eve of the gubernatorial election it was
too late to retrieve his lost position. Moreover, the repeal of the
embargo had materially weakened the Federalists and correspondingly
strengthened the Republicans, since the commerce of New York quickly
revived, giving employment to the idle and bread to the hungry. The
conviction deepened, also, that a Republican administration was
sincerely impartial in sentiment between the two belligerents, and
that the present foreign policy, ineffective as it might be, fitted
the emergency better than a bolder one. Added to this, was the keen
desire of the Republicans to recover the offices which had been lost
through the apostacy of Robert Williams; and although the Federalists
struggled like drowning men to hold their ill-gotten gains, the strong
anti-British sentiment, backed by a determination to approve the
policy of Madison, swept the State, re-electing Governor Tompkins by
six thousand majority[156] and putting both branches of the
Legislature in control of the Republicans. Surely, Jonas Platt was
never to be governor.

[Footnote 156: Daniel D. Tompkins, 43,094; Jonas Platt,
36,484.--_Civil List, State of New York_ (1887), p. 166.]

In the heated temper of the triumphant party, the new Council of
Appointment, chosen soon after the Legislature convened in January,
1811, began removing officials with a fierceness that in our day would
have brought shame and ruin upon any administration. It was a Clinton
Council, and only Clintonians took office. Jacob Radcliff again turned
over the New York mayoralty to DeWitt Clinton; Abraham Van Vechten
gave up the attorney-generalship to Matthias B. Hildreth; Daniel Hale
surrendered the secretaryship of state to Elisha Jenkins; Theodore
V.W. Graham bowed his adieus to the recordership of Albany as John Van
Ness Yates came in; and James O. Hoffman, Cadwallader D. Colden, and
John W. Mulligan, as recorder, district attorney, and surrogate of New
York, respectively, hastened to make way for their successors. As soon
as an order could reach him, Thomas J. Oakley, surrogate of Dutchess
County, vacated the office that the treachery of his father-in-law had
brought him. It was another clean sweep throughout the entire State.
Even Garrett T. Lansing, because he once belonged to the Lewisites,
found the petty office of master in chancery catalogued among the




The death of Lieutenant-Governor Broome, in the summer of 1810,
created a vacancy which the Legislature provided should be filled at
the following election in April. John Broome had been distinguished
since the olden days when the cardinal policy of New York was the
union of the Colonies in a general congress. He had belonged to the
Committee of Fifty-one with John Jay, to the Committee of One Hundred
with James Duane, and to the Committee of Observation with Philip
Livingston. After the Revolution, he became president of the Board of
Aldermen, treasurer of the Chamber of Commerce, and, in 1789, had
stood for Congress against James Lawrence, the trusted adjutant-general
of Washington. Although Broome's overwhelming defeat for Congress in
no wise reflected upon his character as a patriot and representative
citizen, it kept him in the background until the Federalists had
frittered away their power in New York City. Then he came to the front
again, first as state senator, and afterward, in 1804, as
lieutenant-governor; but he never reached the coveted governorship. In
that day, as in this, the office of lieutenant-governor was not
necessarily a stepping stone to higher preferment. Pierre Van
Cortlandt served with fidelity for eighteen years without getting the
long wished-for promotion; Morgan Lewis jumped over Jeremiah Van
Rensselaer in 1804; and Daniel D. Tompkins was preferred to John
Broome in 1807. Indeed, with the exception of Enos T. Throop, Hamilton
Fish, David B. Hill, and Frank W. Higgins, none of the worthy men who
have presided with dignity over the deliberations of the State Senate
have ever been elected governor.

DeWitt Clinton now wished to succeed Broome; and a large majority of
Republican legislators quickly placed him in nomination. Clinton had
first desired to return to Albany as senator, as he would then have
possessed the right to vote and to participate in debate. But the
Martling Men, who held the balance of power, put forward Morgan Lewis,
his bitterest enemy. It was a clever move on the part of the
ex-Governor. Clinton had literally driven Lewis from the party, and
for three years his name remained a reminiscence; but, with the
assistance of Tammany, he now got out of obscurity by getting onto the
ticket with Governor Tompkins. To add, too, to Clinton's chagrin,
Tammany also put up Nathan Sanford for the Assembly, and thus closed
against him the door of the Legislature. But to carry out his
ambitious scheme--of mounting to the Presidency in 1812--Clinton
needed to be in Albany to watch his enemies; and, although he cared
little for the lieutenant-governorship, the possession of it would
furnish an excuse for his presence at the state capital.

The announcement of DeWitt Clinton's nomination raised the most
earnest outcries among the Martling Men. They had endeavoured to
defeat his reappointment to the mayoralty; but their wild protests had
fallen upon deaf ears. Indeed, the hatred of Minthorne, the intriguing
genius of Teunis Wortman, and the earnestness of Matthew L. Davis,
seemed only to have been agencies to prepare the way for Clinton's
triumphant restoration. Now, however, these accomplished political
gladiators proposed to give battle at the polls, and if their
influence throughout the State had been as potent as it proved within
the wards of New York City, the day of DeWitt Clinton's destiny must
have been nearly over.

Since its organisation in 1789, the Society of St. Tammany had been an
influential one. It was founded for charitable purposes; its
membership was made up mostly of native Americans, and its meetings
were largely social in their character.

    "There's a barrel of porter at Tammany Hall,
      And the Bucktails are swigging it all the night long;
    In the time of my boyhood 'twas pleasant to call
      For a seat and cigar 'mid the jovial throng."

Thus sang Fitz-Greene Halleck of the social customs that continued far
into the nineteenth century. Originally, Federalists and
anti-Federalists found a welcome around Tammany's council fire; and
its bucktail badge, the symbol of liberty, hung from the hat of
Clintonian and Hamiltonian alike. But toward the end of Washington's
second administration the society became thoroughly partisan and
thoroughly anti-Federalist, shifting its wigwam to the historic "Long
Room," at the tavern of Abraham Martling, a favourite hostlery which
the Federalists contemptuously called "the Pig-Pen." Then it was, that
Aaron Burr made Tammany a power in political campaigns. He does not
seem to have been its grand sachem, or any sachem at all; nor is it
known that he ever entered its wigwam or affiliated as a member; but
its leaders were his satellites, who began manufacturing public
opinion, manipulating primaries, dictating nominations, and carrying

Out of Burr's candidacy for President sprang Tammany's long and bitter
warfare against DeWitt Clinton. The quarrel began in 1802 when Clinton
and Cheetham charged Burr with intriguing to beat Jefferson; it grew
in bitterness when Clinton turned Burr and the Swartouts out of the
directorate of the Manhattan Bank; nor was it softened after the
secret compromise, made at Dyde's Hotel, in February, 1806. Indeed,
from that moment, Tammany seemed the more determined to harass the
ambitious Clinton; and, although his agents, as late as 1809, sought
reconciliation, the society expelled Cheetham and made Clinton an
object of detestation. Cheetham, who died in 1810, did not live to
wreak full vengeance; but he did enough to arouse a shower of
brick-bats which broke the windows of his home and threatened the
demolition of the _American Citizen_.

Though Cheetham's decease relieved Tammany of one of its earliest and
most vindictive assailants, the political death of DeWitt Clinton
would have been more helpful, since Clinton's opposition proved the
more harmful. As mayor he lived like a prince distributing bounty
liberally among his supporters. He was lavish in the gift of lucrative
offices, lavish in the loan of money, and lavish in contributions to
charity. His salary and fees were estimated at twenty thousand
dollars, an extravagant sum in days when eight hundred dollars met the
expense of an average family, and the possessor of fifty thousand
dollars was considered a rich man. Besides, his wife had inherited
from her father, Walter Franklin, a wealthy member of the Society of
Friends, an estate valued at forty thousand dollars, making her one of
the richest women in New York.

But Clinton had more than rich fees and a wealthy wife. The foreign
element, especially the Irish, admired him because, when a United
States senator, he had urged and secured a reduction of the period of
naturalisation from fourteen years to five; and because he relieved
the political and financial distress of their countrymen, by aiding
the repeal of the alien and sedition laws. For a score of years,
America had invited to its shores every fugitive from British
persecution. But the heroes of 'Ninety-eight, who had escaped the
gibbet, and successfully made their way to this country through the
cordon of English frigates, were welcomed with laws even more
offensive than the coercion acts which they had left behind. The last
rebellious uprising to occur in Ireland under the Georges, had sent
Thomas Addis Emmet, brother of the famous and unfortunate Irish
patriot, a fugitive to the land of larger liberty. To receive this
brother with laws that might send him back to death, was to despise
the national sentiment of Irishmen; and the men, Clinton declared, who
had been indisposed or unable to take account of the force of a
national sentiment, were not and never could be fit to carry on the
great work of government.

Thoughtful, however, as DeWitt Clinton had been of the oppressed in
other lands, he lacked what Dean Swift said Bolingbroke needed--"a
small infusion of the alderman." If he thought a man stupid he let him
know it. To those who disagreed with him, he was rude and overbearing.
All of what is known as the "politician's art" he professed to
despise; and while Tammany organised wards into districts, and
districts into blocks, Clinton pinned his faith on the supremacy of
intellect, and on office-holding friends. The day the news of his
nomination for lieutenant-governor reached New York, Tammany publicly
charged him with attempting "to establish in his person a pernicious
family aristocracy;" with making complete devotion "the exclusive test
of merit and the only passport to promotion;" and with excluding
himself from the Republican party by "opposing the election of
President Madison." There was much truth in some of these charges.
Clinton had quarrelled with Aaron Burr; he had overthrown Morgan
Lewis; and he was ready to defeat Daniel D. Tompkins. Even Cheetham
had left him some months before his death, and Richard Riker, who
acted as second in the duel with John Swartout, was soon to ignore the
chilly Mayor when he passed. The estrangement of these friends is
pathetic, yet one gets no melancholy accounts of Clinton's troubles.
The great clamour of Tammany brought no darkening clouds into his
life. He was soon to learn that Tammany, heretofore an object of
contempt, was now a force to be reckoned with, but he did not show any
qualms of uneasiness even if he felt them.

Tammany bolted Clinton's nomination, selecting for its candidate
Marinus Willett, its most available member, and most brilliant
historic character. Before and during the Revolution, Willett did much
to make him a popular hero. He served the inefficient Abercrombie in
his unsuccessful attack on Ticonderoga in 1758; he was with the
resolute Bradstreet at the brilliant charge of Fort Frontenac; he led
the historic sortie at Fort Schuyler on the 7th of August, 1777. Men
were still living who saw his furious assault upon the camp of
Johnson's Greens, so sudden and sharp that the baronet himself, before
joining the flight of his Indians to the depths of the thick forest,
did not have time to put on his coat, or to save the British flag and
the personal baggage of Barry St. Leger. The tale was strange enough
to seem incredible to minds more sober than those of the Tammany
braves, who listened with pride to the achievements of their sachem.
With two hundred and fifty men and an iron three-pounder, Willett had
fallen so unexpectedly upon the English and Indians, that the advance
guard, panic-stricken, suddenly disappeared--officers, men, and
savages--leaving twenty-one wagon loads of rich spoil. This heroic
deed was a part of Willett's stock in trade, and, although he was
wobbly in his politics, the people could not forget his courage and
good judgment in war. But Willett's influence was confined to the
wards of a city. The rural counties believed in New York's mayor
rather than in New York's hero; and when the votes were counted,
Clinton had a safe majority. He had fared badly in New York City,
being deprived of more than half his votes through the popular
candidacy of Nicholas Fish; but, in spite of Tammany, he was able to
go to Albany, and to begin work upon a scheme which, until then, had
been only a dream. It was to be a gigantic struggle. Lewis and the
Livingstons opposed him, Tammany detested him, Tompkins was jealous of
him, Spencer deserted him; but he had shown he knew how to wait; and
when waiting was over, he showed he knew how to act.




During the early years of the last century, efforts to incorporate
banks in New York were characterised by such an utter disregard of
moral methods, that the period was long remembered as a black spot in
the history of the State. Under the lead of Hamilton, Congress
incorporated the United States Bank in 1791; and, inspired by his
broad financial views, the Legislature chartered the Bank of New York
in the same year, the Bank of Albany in 1792, and the Bank of
Columbia, located at Hudson, in 1793. These institutions soon fell
under the management of Federalists, who believed in banks and were
ready to aid in their establishment, so long as they remained under
Federalist control.

Republicans, on the other hand, disbelieved in banks. They opposed the
United States Bank; and by George Clinton's casting vote defeated an
extension of its charter, which expired by limitation on March 4,
1811. To them a bank was a combination of the rich against the poor, a
moneyed corporation whose power was a menace to free institutions, and
whose secret machinations were to be dreaded. At the same time,
Republican leaders recognised the political necessity of having
Republican banks to offset the influence of Federalist banks, and in
order to overcome the deep seated prejudice of their party and to
defeat the opposition of Federalists, inducements were offered and
means employed which unscrupulous men quickly turned into base and
shameless bribery.

In his partisan zeal Burr began the practice of deception. The
Republicans needed a bank. The only one in New York City was
controlled by the Federalists, who also controlled the Legislature,
and the necessities of the rising party, if not his own financial
needs, appealed to Burr's clever management. Under the cover of
chartering a company to supply pure water, and thus avoid a return of
the yellow fever which had so recently devastated the city, he asked
authority to charter the Manhattan Company, with a capital of two
million dollars, provided "the surplus capital might be employed in
any way not inconsistent with the laws and Constitution of the United
States and of the State of New York." The people remembered the
terrible yellow fever scourge, and the Legislature considered only the
question of relieving the danger with pure and wholesome water; and,
although the large capitalisation aroused suspicion in the Senate, and
Chief Justice Lansing called it "a novel experiment,"[157] the bill
passed. Thus the Manhattan Bank came into existence, while wells,
brackish and unwholesome, continued the only sufficient source of
water supply.

[Footnote 157: "This, in the opinion of the Council, as a novel
experiment, the result whereof, as to its influence on the community,
must be merely speculative and uncertain, peculiarly requires the
application of the policy which has heretofore uniformly
obtained--that the powers of corporations relative to their money
operations, should be of limited instead of perpetual duration."--Alfred
B. Street, _New York Council of Revision_, p. 423.]

That was in 1799. Four years later, the Republicans of Albany,
realising the importance of a bank and the necessity of avoiding the
opposition of their own party, obtained a charter for the State Bank,
by selling stock to Republican members of the Legislature, with an
assurance that it could be resold at a premium as soon as the
institution had an existence. There was a ring of money in this
proposition. Such an investment meant a gift of ten or twenty dollars
on each share, and immediately members clamoured, intrigued, and
battled for stock. The very boldness of the proposition seemed to save
it from criticism. Nothing was covered up. To put the stock at a
premium there must be a bank; to make a bank there must be a charter;
and to secure a charter a majority of the members must own its stock.
The result was inevitable.

It seems incredible in our day that such corruption could go on in
broad daylight without a challenge. At the present time a legislator
could not carry a district in New York if it were known that his vote
had been secured by such ill-gotten gains. Yet the methods of the
Republican promoters of the State Bank seem not to have brought a
blush to the cheek of the youngest legislator. No one of prominence
took exception to it save Abraham Van Vechten, and he was less
concerned about the immorality of the thing than the competition to be
arrayed against the Federalist bank in Albany. Even Erastus Root, then
just entering his first term in Congress, saw nothing in the
transaction to shock society's sense of propriety or to break the
loftiest code of morality. "There was nothing of mystery in the
passage of the bank," he wrote. "The projectors sought to push it
forward by spreading the stock among the influential Republicans of
the State, including members of the Legislature, and carry it through
as a party measure. It was argued by the managers of the scheme that
the stock would be above par in order to induce the members of the
Legislature to go into the measure, but nothing in the transaction had
the least semblance of a corrupt influence. No one would hesitate from
motives of delicacy, to offer a member, nor for him to take, shares in
a bank sooner than in a turnpike or in an old canal."[158]

[Footnote 158: Jabez D. Hammond, _Political History of New York_, Vol.
1. Appendix, p. 583, Note J.]

One can hardly imagine Erastus Root serious in the expression of such
a monstrous doctrine. His life had been pure and noble. He was a
sincere lover of his country; a statesman of high purpose, and of the
most commanding talents. No one ever accused him of any share in this
financial corruption. Yet a more Machiavellian opinion could not have
been uttered. On principle, Republican members of the Legislature
opposed banks, and that principle was overcome by profits; in other
words, members must be bought, or the charter would fail. That the
stock did go above par is evident from Root's keen desire to get some
of it. As an influential Republican, he was allowed to subscribe for
fifty shares, but when he called for it the papers could not be found.
The bank was not a bubble. It had been organised and its stock issued,
but its hook had been so well baited that the legislators left nothing
for outsiders. Subsequently the directors sent Root a certificate for
eight shares, and John Lamb, an assemblyman from Root's home, gave up
eight more; but the Delaware congressman, angry because deprived of
his fifty shares, refused to accept any. "I had come prepared to take
the fifty," he wrote, "and in a fit of more spunk than wisdom, I
rejected the whole."[159]

[Footnote 159: Jabez D. Hammond, _Political History of New York_, Vol.
1. Appendix, p. 582, Note S.]

Two years after, in 1805, the Federalists desired to charter the
Merchants' Bank of New York City. But the Legislature, largely
Republican, was led by DeWitt Clinton, now at the zenith of his power,
who resented its establishment because it must become a competitor of
the Manhattan, an institution that furnished him fat dividends and
large influence. Clinton had undoubtedly acquired a reputation for
love of gain as well as of power, but he had never been charged, like
John Taylor, with avarice. He spent with a lavish hand, he loaned
liberally to friends, and he borrowed as if the day of payment was
never to come; yet he had no disposition to help opponents of a bank
that must cripple his control and diminish his profits. In this
contest, too, he had the active support of Ambrose Spencer, who fought
the proposed charter in the double capacity of a stockholder in the
Manhattan and the State, and a member of the Council of Revision.
Three banks, with five millions of capital and authority to issue
notes and create debts for fifteen millions more, he argued, were
enough for one city. He had something to say also about "an alarming
decrease of specie," and "an influx of bills of credit," which
"tended to further banish the precious metals from circulation."[160]

[Footnote 160: Alfred B. Street, _New York Council of Revision_, p.

Governor Lewis would have been wiser had he joined Clinton and Spencer
in their opposition. But Lewis would not play second fiddle in any
game with Clinton, and so when he discovered that Clinton opposed the
bank, he yielded party principle to personal prejudice and favoured
it. With this powerful recruit the managers still lacked a majority,
and, to influence others, Ebenezer Purdy, a Republican senator,
employed his gifts in offering his legislative associates large
rewards and rich benefits. As a statesman, Purdy seems to have been
without any guiding principle, or any principle at all. He toiled and
pushed and climbed, until he had landed in the Senate; then he pulled
and bargained and promised until he became a member of the Council of
Appointment, and, later, chairman of the legislative caucus that
nominated Chancellor Lansing for governor; but not until the
Merchants' Bank wanted a charter did Purdy find an opportunity to
develop those aldermanic qualifications which distinguish him in
history. He was getting on very well until he had the misfortune to
confide his secret to Stephen Thorn, a senator from the eastern
district, and Obadiah German, the well-known assemblyman from
Chenango, whose views were not as liberal as Erastus Root's. "No one
would hesitate, from motives of delicacy, to offer a member shares in
a bank," said Root. This was Purdy's view also; but Thorn and German
thought such an offer had the "semblance of a corrupt influence," and
they made affidavits that Purdy had attempted to corrupt their votes.
According to these affidavits the Senator promised German fifty shares
of stock, with a profit of twenty dollars a share, and Thorn thirty
shares, with a profit of twenty-five dollars a share. Similar
affidavits were made by other members.

Erastus Root took exception to such transactions. "The Merchants' Bank
in 1805," he says, "had powerful opposition to encounter, and, of
course, made use of powerful means to accomplish the object. Then the
shares and the assurance became down-right corruption."[161] But it is
not easy to observe the difference between the methods of the State
Bank managers, which Root affirms "had not the least semblance of a
corrupt influence," and those of the Merchants' Bank, which he
pronounces "down-right corruption," except that the one was open
bribery and the other secret bribery. In either case, votes were
obtained by the promise of profits. It is likely the methods of the
Merchants' would have escaped notice, as did those of the State Bank,
had not Clinton, determined to beat it, complained of Purdy's bribery.
The latter resigned to escape expulsion, but the bank received its
charter. This aroused the public conscience, and in the following
winter the Legislature provided suitable punishment for the crime of

[Footnote 161: Jabez D. Hammond, _Political History of New York_, Vol.
2. Appendix, p. 582.]

It was not until 1812 that any one had the hardihood to suggest
another bank. Then the Federalists sought a charter for the Bank of
America, with a capital of six millions, to be located in New York
City. The applicants proposed to pay the school fund four hundred
thousand dollars, the literature fund one hundred thousand, and the
State one hundred thousand, provided no other bank be chartered for
twenty years. In addition to this extravagant bonus, its managers
agreed to loan the State one million dollars at five per cent. for the
construction of canals, and one million to farmers at six per cent.
for the improvement of their real estate. This bold and liberal
proposal recalls John Law's South Sea Bubble of the century before;
for, although the Bank of America sought no monopoly and promised the
payment of no national debt, it did seem to be aiming its flight above
the clouds, since, counting the Manhattan at two, the united capital
of the banks of the State did not exceed five millions. The promoters,
anticipating an outcry against the incorporation of such a gigantic
institution, employed David Thomas of Washington and Solomon Southwick
of Albany to visit members of the Legislature at their homes with the
hope of enlisting their active support.

It is doubtful if two men better equipped to supply the necessary
legislative majority could have been found in the State. Both were
stalwart Republicans, possessing the confidence of DeWitt Clinton and
an extensive acquaintance among local party managers. Thomas had
caution and rare sagacity. Indeed, his service of four years in the
Legislature and eight years in Congress had added to his political
gifts such shrewdness and craft that he did not scruple, on occasion,
to postpone or hasten an event, even though such arrangement was made
at the expense of some one else. This characteristic had manifested
itself in the removal of Abraham G. Lansing as treasurer of state. The
Chancellor's brother, by long service, had won the confidence of the
people as a keeper of the State's money, and, although his family had
followed the fortunes of Governor Lewis, it did not occur to the
Legislature to dispossess him of his office until David Thomas wanted
a position. Then, the silent, crafty Washingtonian developed so
artfully the iniquity of Lansing's political perfidy that he succeeded
in obtaining the office for himself. It was because of this
craftiness, this unscrupulous use of every weapon of political
warfare, that the bank hired him. His gifts, his schemes, his faults,
his vices, were alike useful.

Solomon Southwick belonged to a different type. He lacked the caution
of Thomas, but nature had given him the appearance and manners which
well fitted him for the task of attracting those who came within the
range of his influence. He was singularly handsome and graceful. No
stranger came near him without feeling an instant desire to know him.
He was all the more attractive because there seemed to be nothing
artificial or made up about him. He had his intimates, but with an
unstudied and informal dignity, he was hail-fellow with every one,
keeping none at a distance, and concealing his real feelings behind no
mask of conventionalism. It was said of him at this time that he knew
more men personally than any other citizen in the State. He had been
four times elected clerk of the Assembly, he had served as sheriff of
his county, and he was now sole editor and proprietor of the Albany
_Register_, the leading and most influential Republican paper. To
ability as a writer he also added eloquence of speech. Southwick could
not be called a great orator, but he had grace, wit, imagination, and
a beauty of style that appealed to the hearts and sympathies of his
hearers. In the conduct of his business affairs, nobody could be more
careful, more methodical, more precise. Indeed, we may take it for
granted, without any biographical information on the subject, that in
1811 Solomon Southwick was on the road to the highest honours in the
gift of his State.

But his connection with the Bank of America covered him with suspicion
from which he never entirely recovered. It must have occurred to him,
when accepting the bank's retainer, that his opposition to the
Merchants' Bank would be recalled to the injury of his consistency. In
1805, he had boldly declared in the _Register_ that any Republican who
voted for a Federalist bank was justly censurable; in 1812, he so far
changed his mind as to hold that any one "who supports or opposes a
bank upon the grounds of Federalism or Republicanism, is either
deceiver or deceived, and will not be listened to by any man of sense
or experience." A little later in the contest, when partisan fury and
public corruption were the opposing forces, several sub-agents of the
bank were indicted for bribery, among them a former clergyman who was
sent to the penitentiary. Then it was whispered that David Thomas,
following the example of Purdy in 1805, had scattered his
purchase-money everywhere, sowing with the sack and not with the hand.
Finally, Casper M. Rouse, a senator from Chenango, accused Thomas of
offering him ten shares of stock, with a profit of one thousand
dollars, adding that Thomas had told him to call upon Southwick in
Albany. Southwick had evidently fallen into bad company, and, although
Rouse disclaimed having seen the Albany journalist, a week or two
later Alexander Sheldon, speaker of the Assembly, made a charge
against Southwick similar to Rouse's accusation against Thomas. Both
men were indicted, but the jury preferred accepting the denial of the
defendants, since it appeared that Rouse and Sheldon, instead of
treating the accused as bribers and men unworthy of confidence, had
maintained their former relations with them, subsequently voting for
Thomas for treasurer of state, and for Southwick as regent of the
State University. As positive proof of bribery was limited in each
case to the prosecuting witness, we may very well accept the
defendants' repeated declarations of their own integrity and
uprightness, although the conditions surrounding them were too
peculiar not to leave a stigma upon their memory.

These charges of crime, added to the bank's possession of a solid
majority in both branches of the Legislature, aroused the opposition
into a storm of indignation and resentment. Governor Tompkins had
anticipated its coming, and in a long, laboured message, warned
members to beware of the methods of bank managers. Such institutions,
he declared, "facilitate forgeries, drain the country of specie,
discourage agriculture, swallow up the property of insolvents to the
injury of other creditors, tend to the subversion of government by
vesting in the hands of the wealthy and aristocratic classes powerful
engines to corrupt and subdue republican notions, relieve the wealthy
stockholder from an equal share of contribution to the public service,
and proportionally enhance the tax on the hard earnings of the farmer,
mechanic and labourer." He spoke of the "intrigue and hollow
pretences" of applicants, insisting that the gratification of
politicians ought not to govern them, nor the "selfish and
demoralising distribution of the stock." "Nor ought we to be
unmindful," he continued, "that the prominent men who seek the
incorporation of new banks, are the very same men who have deeply
participated in the original stock of most of the previously
established banks. Having disposed of that stock at a lucrative
advance, and their avidity being sharpened by repeated gratification,
they become more importunate and vehement in every fresh attempt to
obtain an opportunity of renewing their speculations." As if this were
not reason enough, he exhorted them not to be deceived by the apparent
unanimity of sentiment about the capital, since it "is no real
indication of the sentiments of the community at large," but so to
legislate as "to retain and confirm public confidence, not only in the
wisdom, but also in the unbending independence and unsullied integrity
of the Legislature."[162]

[Footnote 162: _Governors' Speeches_, January 28, 1812, pp. 115-8.]

The Governor's arguments were supplemented by others from Ambrose
Spencer, whose bank holdings seemed more likely than ever to suffer if
this gigantic combination succeeded. Spencer's opposition to the
Merchants' Bank in 1805 had been earnest, but now his whole soul was
aflame. To counteract the influence of Southwick's _Register_, he
established the Albany _Republican_, which ceased to exist at the end
of the campaign, but which, during its brief life, struck at every
head that favoured the bank. Its editorials, following the line of his
objections in the Council of Revision, lifted into prominence the
injurious effect likely to flow from such an alarming extension of
banking capital at a time when foreign commerce was stagnant, and when
the American nation was on the eve of a war in defence of its
commercial rights. This was mixed with a stronger personal refrain,
discovering the danger to his bank-holdings and revealing the
intensity of a nature not yet inured to defeat. A bank controlling
three times as much capital as any other, he argued, with unlimited
power to establish branches throughout the State, must be a constant
menace to minor institutions, which were established under the
confidence of governmental protection and upon the legislative faith
that no further act should impair or destroy their security. "A power
thus unlimited," he declared, "may be exercised not only to prejudice
the interests, but to control the operations, destroy the
independence, and impair the security of every bank north of the city
of New York. A bill thus improvisory and alarming, giving undefined
and unnecessary powers, and leaving the execution of those powers to a
few individuals, would materially weaken the confidence of the
community in the justice, wisdom, and foresight of the Legislature."[163]

[Footnote 163: Alfred B. Street, _New York Council of Revision_, p.

With Tompkins and Spencer stood John Taylor, whose fear for his stock
in the State Bank, of which he was president, made his opposition more
conspicuous than it appeared in 1805, when he assaulted Purdy,
knocking him down as he left the senate chamber; but in this contest,
he did not strike or threaten. He moved among his associates in the
Senate with the grace of a younger man, his tall, spare form bending
like a wind-swept tree as he reasoned and coaxed. In the same group of
zealous opponents belonged Erastus Root, who had just entered the
Senate, and whose speech against the Bank of America was distinguished
for its suppressed passion and its stern severity. He had waked up, at
last, to the scandalous barter in bank charters.

There was, however, one Republican in Albany whose course excited more
serious censure than was meted out to all others. At a moment when the
methods of bank managers aroused the most bitter hostility of his
closest political allies, DeWitt Clinton became conspicuous by his
silence. At heart he opposed the Bank of America as bitterly as
Ambrose Spencer and for the same reasons; nor did he recognise any
difference in the conditions surrounding it and those which existed in
1805 when he drove Ebenezer Purdy from the Senate; but, consumed with
a desire to get a legislative indorsement for President, before
Madison secured a congressional nomination, he refused to take sides,
since the bank people, who dominated the Legislature, refused such an
indorsement until the passage of their charter. In vain did Spencer
threaten and Taylor plead. He would vote, Clinton said, against the
bank if opportunity presented, but he would not be drawn into the
bitter contest; he would not denounce Southwick; he would not judge
Thomas; he would not even venture to criticise the bank. For fourteen
years Clinton and Spencer had been fast political friends; but now,
at the supreme moment of Clinton's ambition, these brothers-in-law
were to fall under the guidance of different stars.

Governor Tompkins, whose desire to enter the White House no longer
veiled itself as a secret, understood the purpose and importance of
Clinton's silence, and to give President Madison an advantage, he used
a prerogative, only once exercised under the Constitution of 1777, to
prorogue the Legislature for sixty days. Ostensibly he did it to
defeat the bank; in reality he desired the defeat of Clinton. It is
not easy to appreciate the wild excitement that followed the
Governor's act. It recalled the days of the provincial governors, when
England's hand rested heavily upon the liberties of the people; and
the friends of the bank joined in bitter denunciation of such a
despotic use of power. Meantime, a congressional caucus renominated
Madison. But whatever the forced adjournment did for Clinton, it in no
wise injured the bank, which was chartered as soon as the Legislature
reassembled on May 21.

While the Bank of America was engrossing the attention of the
Legislature and the nomination of a presidential candidate convulsed
Congress, George Clinton closed his distinguished career at Washington
on the 20th of April, 1812. If he left behind him a memory of long
service which had been lived to his own advantage, it was by no means
lived to the disadvantage of his country or his State. He did much for
both. Perhaps he was better fitted for an instrument of revolution
than a governor of peace, but the influence which he exercised upon
his time was prodigious. In the two great events of his life--the
revolt of the Colonies and the adoption of a Federal Constitution--he
undoubtedly swayed the minds of his countrymen to a degree unequalled
among those contemporaries who favoured independence and state
supremacy. He lacked the genius of Hamilton, the scholarly, refined
integrity of Jay, and the statesmanship of both; but he was by odds
the strongest, ablest, and most astute man of his party in the State.
Jay and Hamilton looked into the future, Clinton saw only the present.
The former possessed a love for humanity and a longing for progress
which encouraged them to work out a national existence, broad enough
and strong enough to satisfy the ambition of a great nation a century
after its birth; Clinton was satisfied to conserve what he had,
unmoved by the great possibilities even then indistinctly outlined to
the eye of the statesman whose vision was fixed intently upon an
undivided America. But Clinton wisely conserved what was given to his
keeping. As he grew older he grew more tolerant and humane,
substituting imprisonment for the death penalty, and recommending a
complete revision of the criminal laws. His administration, too, saw
the earliest attempts made in a systematic way toward the spread of
education among the multitudes, his message to the Legislature of 1795
urging a generous appropriation to common schools. This was the first
suggestion of state aid. Colleges and seminaries had been remembered,
but schools for the common people waited until Clinton had been
governor for eighteen years.




For many years DeWitt Clinton had had aspirations to become a
candidate for President. He entered the United States Senate in 1802
with such an ambition; he became mayor of New York in 1803 with this
end in view; he sought the lieutenant-governorship in 1811 for no
other purpose; and, although he had never taken a managing step in
that direction, looking cautiously into the future, he saw his way and
only waited for the passing of the Vice President. DeWitt Clinton,
whatever his defects of character and however lacking he may have been
in an exalted sense of political principle, appears to have been
sincere in his anxiety to elevate his uncle to the presidential chair.
During Jefferson's administration his efforts seem never to have been
intermitted, and only when the infirmities of advanced age admonished
him that George Clinton's life and career were nearly at an end, did
his mind and heart, acquiescing in the appropriation of his relative's
mantle, seize the first opportunity of satisfying his unbounded

The opening presented in the spring of 1812 was not an unattractive
one. A new party, controlled by a remarkable coterie of brilliant
young men from the South, whose shibboleth was war with England, had
sprung up in Congress, and, by sheer force of will and intellect, had
dragged to the support of its policies the larger part of the
Republican majority.[164] President Madison was thoroughly in
sympathy with these members. He thought war should be declared before
Congress adjourned, and, to hasten its coming, he had recommended an
embargo for sixty days. "For my own part," he wrote Jefferson, "I look
upon a short embargo as a step to immediate war, and I wait only for
the Senate to make the declaration."[165] This did not sound like a
peace voice; yet the anti-English party felt little cordiality for
him. His abilities, as the event amply proved, were not those likely
to wage a successful war. He was regarded as a timid man, incapable of
a burst of passion or a bold act. In place of resolute opinion he
courted argument; with an inclination to be peevish and fretful, he
was at times arrogantly pertinacious. Although his health, moreover,
was delicate and he looked worn and feeble, he exhibited no
consciousness of needing support, declining to reconstruct his Cabinet
that abler men might lend the assistance his own lack of energy
demanded. As time went on Republicans would gladly have exchanged him
for a stronger leader, one better fitted by character and temperament
to select the men and find a way for a speedy victory. It was no less
plain that the conservatives thoroughly disliked him, and if they
could have wrought a change without disrupting the party, it would
have suited their spirit and temper to have openly opposed his

[Footnote 164: Of ninety-eight senators and representatives who voted,
on June 18, 1812, for a declaration of war against England,
seventy-six, or four less than a majority, resided south of the
Delaware. No Northern State except Pennsylvania declared for war,
while every Southern State except Kentucky voted solidly for it.]

[Footnote 165: Madison to Jefferson, April 24, 1812, _Writings_, Vol.
2, p. 532.]

DeWitt Clinton understood the situation, and his friends pointed with
confidence to his well known character for firmness and nerve. Of
Clinton, it may be justly said, that he seems most attractive, not as
a politician, not as a mayor solicitous for the good government of a
growing city, not as a successful promoter of the canal, but as a
rugged, inflexible, determined, self-willed personality. Perhaps not
many loved him, or longed for his companionship, or had any feeling of
tenderness for him; yet, in spite of his manners or want of manners,
there was a fascination about the man that often disarmed censure and
turned the critic into a devotee. At this time he undoubtedly stood at
the head of his party in the North. He was still young, having just
entered his forties, still ambitious to shine as a statesman of the
first magnitude. An extraordinary power of application had equipped
him with the varied information that would make him an authority in
the national life. Even his enemies admitted his capacity as a great
executive. He had sometimes been compelled, for the sake of his own
career, to regulate his course by a disregard of party creed,
especially at a time when the principles of Republicanism were
somewhat undefined in their character; but amid all the doubts and
distractions of a checkered, eventful political career he was known
for his absolute integrity, his clear head, and his steady nerve. His
very pride made it impossible for him to condescend to any violation
of a promise.

Clinton's New York party friends naturally desired a legislative
indorsement for him before Congress could act. But Governor Tompkins'
sudden adjournment of the Legislature had stripped him of that
advantage, and three days before the houses reassembled, on May 18,
Madison was renominated by a congressional caucus, seventeen senators
and sixty-six representatives, including three from New York, taking
part in its proceedings. Eleven days later, ninety out of ninety-five
Republican members of the New York Legislature voted in caucus to
support Clinton.[166] If the Madison caucus doubted the wisdom of its
action, the Clinton caucus was no less uncertain of the expediency of
its decision. Governor Tompkins opposed it; the Livingstons assailed
it; the Martling Men, led by Sanford and Lewis, refused to attend;
Ambrose Spencer and John Taylor went into it because they were
driven; and Erastus Root, in maintaining that Clinton could not, and
as a Federal candidate ought not, to succeed, clearly voiced the
sentiment of a large minority. In short, the most prominent men in the
State opposed the nomination, knowing that Republicans outside of New
York could not support it because of its irregularity.

[Footnote 166: "This unusual unanimity among the New York Republicans
pointed to a growing jealousy of Virginia, which threatened to end in
revival of the old alliance between New York and New England."--Henry
Adams, _History of the United States_, Vol. 6, p. 215. "George
Clinton, who had yielded unwillingly to Jefferson, held Madison in
contempt."--_Ibid._, Vol. 4, p. 227.]

But, at the supreme moment, events greatly favoured Clinton. Pierre
Van Cortlandt, Obadiah German, and other members of Congress appeared
upon the scene, bringing the story of Madison's unpopularity and
bearing letters from Gideon Granger, the postmaster-general, urging
the support of Clinton. Granger belonged to Connecticut, and, except
William Eustis, about to retire as an inefficient secretary of war,
was the only cabinet officer from a northern State. He knew that not a
dozen northern members of Congress sincerely favoured war, and that
not a man in the party save Madison himself, sincerely favoured the
President's renomination; but he also knew that the South had
determined to force the issue; and so in a powerful document he
demanded the nomination of a man who, when conflict came, could
shorten it by a vigorous administration. This appeal lifted the
Clinton movement above the level of an ordinary state nomination.

On the day of his selection, DeWitt Clinton believed his chances more
than even. Though the declaration of war had popularised Madison in
the South and West, and, in a measure, solidified the Republicans in
the North, the young aspirant still counted on a majority of
malcontents and Federalists. The best obtainable information indicated
that three Republicans in Massachusetts would unite with the
Federalists in choosing Clinton electors; that the rest of New England
would act with Massachusetts; and that Clinton would also obtain
support in Maryland, Ohio, North Carolina, Delaware, New Jersey, and,
possibly, Virginia. "If Pennsylvania should be combined," Clinton said
to Gouverneur Morris, "I would come out all right." As late, too, as
the middle of September, Rufus King ventured the opinion to
Christopher Gore that while North Carolina was still uncertain,
Delaware, New Jersey and Maryland would probably become Clintonian,
although Pennsylvania and Vermont would be "democratic and

To the Federalist leaders, Clinton called himself an American
Federalist. If chosen President he engaged to make immediate peace
with England, and to oppose the views of those Southern States which
sought to degrade the Northern States by oppressing commerce.[167] It
was this suggestion that led to a secret conference between Clinton,
John Jay, Rufus King and Gouverneur Morris, held at the latter's home
on August 5, to consider the advisability of forming a peace party.
Few scenes in political history are more dramatic than this meeting of
Clinton and the three Federalist leaders of the Empire State. King at
first objected to taking any part. He looked on Clinton, he said, as
one who could lead only so long as he held the views and prejudices of
his followers, and who, unless a large body of Republicans came with
him, was not worth accepting. But King finally consented to be
present, after Jay, although in ill health, promised to join them.
Morris was pleased to undertake his part, for association with Clinton
upon the Canal Commission had made them somewhat intimate. It was
agreed to exclude every topic except the plan of forming a peace
party. The hour fixed was two in the afternoon; but it was five
o'clock before Clinton entered the stately library at Morrisania.

[Footnote 167: "No canvass for the Presidency was ever less creditable
than that of DeWitt Clinton in 1812. Seeking war votes for the reason
that he favoured more vigorous prosecution of the war; asking support
from peace Republicans because Madison had plunged the country into
war without preparation; bargaining for Federalist votes as the price
of bringing about a peace; or coquetting with all parties in the
atmosphere of bribery in bank charters--Clinton strove to make up a
majority which had no element of union but himself and money."--Henry
Adams, _History of the United States_, Vol. 6, p. 410.]

In opening the interview, Morris simply read the resolutions prepared
for a peace meeting. "Then Clinton observed," says Rufus King, "that
he did not differ from us in opinions respecting public affairs, and
that he entirely approved the resolutions; but, as his friends,
comprehending a great majority of the Republican party in the State,
were divided in their opinions respecting the war--prejudices against
England leading some of them to approve the war--time was necessary to
bring them to one opinion. Disastrous events had already happened, and
owing to the incapacity of the national administration still further
misfortunes would occur, and would serve to produce an union of
opinion respecting the war; that for these reasons the proposed peace
meeting should be deferred four or five weeks; in the interim he would
confer with his friends for the purpose of bringing about a common
opinion, and apprise the movers of his ulterior views on Monday,
August 10, when the canal commissioners would hold a meeting."[168]

[Footnote 168: Rufus King, _Life and Correspondence_, Vol. 5, p. 269.]

During the now historic interview, Clinton said that the President's
incapacity made it impossible for him longer to continue his party
relation; and he pledged his honour that the breach between them was
irreparable. Yet, on account of his friends as well as his own
account, he said, he deemed it expedient to avoid publicity on the
subject. He spoke of Spencer with bitterness, styling him "his
creature," whom Armstrong governed, and who, in turn, influenced
Tompkins and John Taylor. "Armstrong," he repeated, "while engaged in
measures to procure a peace meeting in Dutchess County over which he
had promised to preside, had been bought off by the miserable
commission of a brigadier-general."[169]

[Footnote 169: _Ibid._, Vol. 5, p. 271.]

As the campaign grew older, the Federalists were perplexed and
distracted by an increasing uncertainty as to what they should do.
This was especially true of those who sighed for power and despaired
of getting it through the continuance of a Federalist party. Rufus
King, clear as to the course which ought to be followed, earnestly
advised his friends to nominate a respectable Federalist, not with the
expectation of succeeding in the election, but for the purpose of
keeping the Federal body unbroken in principle; that its character and
influence might be reserved for the occasion which, in the present
course of affairs, he said, could not fail to arrive. King, however,
failed to influence his friends. On September 15, in a convention of
sixty or more delegates from all the States north of the Potomac, it
was recommended that, as it would be inexpedient to name a Federal
candidate because impractical to elect one, Federalists should
co-operate in the election of a President who would be likely to
pursue a different policy from Madison.

This resolution was largely due to the eloquence of Harrison Gray
Otis. He urged that the defeat of Madison would speedily lead to a
peace, for which the door stood open in the repeal of the Orders in
Council. Rufus King insisted that the name all had in mind be given in
the resolution; although, he admitted, no one knew whether Clinton
would pursue a policy different from Madison's. No man in the country,
he said, was more equivocal in his character. He had disapproved the
embargo and then receded from his opinion; and, to restore himself to
the confidence of his party, he had published a tirade against the
Federalists. "If we succeed in promoting his election," thundered the
orator, "I fear we may place in the chair a Cæsar Borgia instead of a
James Madison."[170] These were bitter words, recalling Hamilton's
famous criticism of Aaron Burr, but they were spoken without the
wealth of Hamilton's experience to support them. That Clinton would
sacrifice his own interests and his own ambition for the sake of any
political cause no one could believe; that he had played fast and
loose for a time with the great question of embargo was too well known
to be denied; but that anything had occurred in his public career to
justify Rufus King's simile, his worst enemies could not seriously
credit. Even Christopher Gore was compelled to admit that the Federal
leaders of Massachusetts "are favourably impressed with the character
and views of Clinton. Indeed, since last spring I have scarcely heard
any one speak of him but extolled the excellence of his moral
character and the purity of his present political views."[171] To this
King simply replied: "I stated my sentiments to the meeting, a great
majority of whom thought them incorrect. Time, which reveals truth,
must decide between us."[172]

[Footnote 170: Rufus King, _Life and Correspondence_, Vol. 5, p. 281.]

[Footnote 171: Rufus King, _Life and Correspondence_, Vol. 5, pp.

[Footnote 172: _Ibid._, Vol. 5, p. 283.]

By the middle of September, Clinton exhibited lamentable weakness as a
political organiser. Opposing him, he had the whole power of state and
national administrations, and the most prominent men of the party, led
by Erastus Root. Besides, a new Legislature, elected in the preceding
April, had a Republican majority on joint ballot divided between
Clintonians and Madisonians; and, still further to perplex the
situation, twenty Republican assemblymen absolutely refused to vote
unless Madison were given a fair division of the electors. This meant
the surrender of one elector out of three, an arrangement to which
Clinton dared not consent.

Clinton, though seriously impressed by the gravity of his position,
seems to have done nothing to clear the way; but the hour of crisis
brought with it the man demanded. During recent years a new and very
remarkable figure in political life had been coming to the front.
Martin Van Buren, afterward President of the United States, was
establishing his claim to the position of commanding influence he was
destined to hold during the next three decades. His father, an
innkeeper in the village of Kinderhook, gave him a chance to learn a
little English at the common schools, and a little Latin at the
academy. At the age of fourteen, he began sweeping an office and
running errands for a country attorney, who taught him the law. Then
he went to New York City to finish his education in the office of
William P. Van Ness, an old Columbia County neighbour, at that time
making his brilliant and bitter attack as "Aristides" upon the
Clintons and the Livingstons. A year later, in 1803, Van Buren
celebrated his twenty-first birthday by forming a partnership in
Kinderhook with a half-brother, James J. Van Alen, already established
in the practice. In 1808, he became surrogate; and when the
Legislature convened in November, 1812, he took a seat in the Senate,
the youngest man save one, it is said, until then elected to that

Martin Van Buren had shown unusual sagacity as a politician. Born
under conditions which might have disheartened one of different mould,
bred in a county given up to Federalism, and taught in the law for six
years by an uncompromising follower of Hamilton, he nevertheless held
steadfastly to the Jeffersonian faith of his father. Nor would he be
moved in his fealty to the Clintons, although Van Ness, his
distinguished law preceptor, worshipped Burr and hated his enemies. As
a very young man, Van Buren was able to see that the principles of
Republicanism had established themselves in the minds of the great
majority of the people interested in political life, and if he had
been persuaded that Aaron Burr and his Federalist allies were to be
restored to power in 1804, he was far too shrewd to be tempted by the
prospects of such a coalition. He had also shown, from his first
entrance into politics, a remarkable capacity for organisation. He had
courage, a social and cheerful temper, engaging manners, and
extraordinary application. He also had the happy faculty of guiding
without seeming to dictate; he could show the way without pushing one
along the path. Finally, back of all, was the ability that soon made
him the peer of Elisha Williams, the ablest lawyer in a county famous
for its brilliant men, enabling him quickly to outgrow the
professional limitations of Kinderhook, and to extend his practice far
beyond the limits of the busy city of Hudson.

Martin Van Buren cannot be ranked as a great orator. He spoke too
rapidly, and he was wanting in imagination, without which eloquence of
the highest character is impossible. Besides, although his head was
well formed and his face singularly attractive, his small figure
placed him at a disadvantage. He possessed, however, a remarkable
command of language, and his graceful, persuasive manner, often
animated, sometimes thrilling, frequently impassioned, inspired
confidence in his sincerity, and easily classed him among the ablest
speakers. His best qualities consisted in his clearness of exposition,
his masterly array of forcible argument, his faculty for balancing
evidence, for acquiring and comparing facts, and for appreciating

When Van Buren entered the State Senate he was recognised as the
Republican leader of his section. A recent biographer says that his
skill in dealing with men was extraordinary, due no doubt to his
temper of amity and inborn genius for society. "As you saw him once,"
wrote William Allen Butler, "you saw him always--always punctilious,
always polite, always cheerful, always self-possessed. It seemed to
any one who studied this phase of his character as if, in some early
moment of destiny, his whole nature had been bathed in a cool, clear,
and unruffled depth, from which it drew this lifelong serenity and
self-control."[173] Any intelligent observer of public life must have
felt that Martin Van Buren was only at the opening of a great
political career. Inferior to DeWitt Clinton in the endowments which
obtain for their possessor the title of a man of genius, he could,
though thirteen years younger, weigh the strength of conflicting
tendencies in the political world with an accuracy to which Clinton
could not pretend.

[Footnote 173: William Allen Butler, _Address on Martin Van Buren_

On reaching Albany, in November, 1812, Van Buren saw the electoral
situation at a glance; and naturally, almost insensibly, he became
Clinton's representative. He slipped into leadership as easily as
Bonaparte stepped into the history of Europe, when he seized the fatal
weakness in the well defended city of Toulon. Van Buren had approved
embargo, non-intercourse, and the war itself. The discontent growing
out of Jefferson's severe treatment of the difficulties caused by the
Orders in Council and the Berlin and Milan Decrees, seems never to
have shaken his confidence in Republican statesmanship, or aroused
the slightest animosity against the congressional caucus nominee for
President. But he accepted Clinton as the regular and practically the
unanimous nominee of the Republican members of a preceding
Legislature. Although Madison's nomination had come in the way then
accepted, he had a stronger sense of allegiance to the expressed will
of his party in the State. His adversaries, of whom he was soon to
have many, charged him with treachery to the President and to the
party. There came a time when it was asserted, and, apparently, with
some show of truth, that he had neither the courage nor the heart to
keep the side of his convictions boldly and finally; that he was
always thinking of personal interests, and trying to take the position
which promised the greatest advantage and the greatest security. We
shall have occasion, in the course of these pages, to study the basis
of such criticism. But, in the present crisis, had he not been
thoroughly sincere and single-hearted, he could easily have thrown in
his fortunes with the winning side; for at that time he must have had
little faith in the chances of Clinton's election. Vermont had been
given up, Pennsylvania was scarcely in doubt, and the South showed
unmistakable signs of voting solidly for Madison.[174]

[Footnote 174: "DeWitt Clinton was classed by most persons as a
reckless political gambler, but Martin Van Buren, when he intrigued,
preferred to intrigue upon the strongest side. Yet one feeling was
natural to every New York politician, whether a Clinton or a
Livingston, Burrite, Federalist, or Republican,--all equally disliked
Virginia; and this innate jealousy gave to the career of Martin Van
Buren for forty years a bias which perplexed his contemporaries, and
stood in singular contradiction to the soft and supple nature he
seemed in all else to show."--Henry Adams, _History of the United
States_, Vol. 6, pp. 409, 410.]

Van Buren's work not only encouraged several Federalists to vote for
Clinton electors, but it compelled the Madisonians not to vote at all.
It seemed easy, when a master hand guided the helm, to bring order out
of chaos. Upon joint ballot, the Clintonian electors received
seventy-four votes to the Federalists' forty-five; twenty-eight blanks
represented the Madison strength. Van Buren, however, could not
control in other States. If some one in Pennsylvania, of equal tact in
the management of men, could have supplemented his work, Clinton must
easily have won. But it is not often given a party, or an individual,
to have the assistance of two such men at the same time. After the
votes were counted, it appeared that Clinton had carried New
Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, New
Jersey, Delaware, and had five votes in Maryland--eighty-nine in all.
The remaining one hundred and twenty-eight belonged to Madison.

In estimating the discontent excited by the declaration of war Clinton
had failed to foresee that there is something captivating to a
spirited people about the opening of a new war. He had also failed to
notice that military failures could not affect Madison's strength. The
surrender of Detroit, Dearborn's blunder in wasting time, and the
inefficiency of the secretary of war had raised a storm of public
wrath sufficient to annihilate Hull and to shake the earth under
Eustis; but it passed harmlessly over the head of the President. The
foreign policy of Jefferson and Madison, approved by the Republican
party, was on trial, and the defeat of the Administration meant a want
of confidence in the party itself. Here, then, was a contingency
against which Clinton had never thought of providing, and, as so often
happens, the one thing not taken into consideration, proved decisive
in the result.




After Clinton's loss of the Presidency, it must have been clear to his
friends and enemies alike that his influence in the Republican party
was waning. A revolution in sentiment did not then sweep over the
State with anything like the swiftness and certainty of the present
era of cheap newspapers and rapid transit. Yet, in spite of his
genius, which concealed, and, for a time, checked the suddenness of
his fall, the rank and file of the party quickly understood what had
happened. Friends began falling away. For several months Ambrose
Spencer had openly and bitterly denounced him, and Governor Tompkins
took a decisive part in relieving his rival of the last hope of ever
again reckoning on the support of Republicans.

The feeling against Clinton was intensified by the common belief that
the election of Rufus King, as United States senator to succeed John
Smith, on March 4, 1813, paid the Federalists their price for choosing
Clinton electors. The Republicans had a majority on joint ballot, and
James W. Wilkin, a senator from the middle district, was placed in
nomination; but when the votes were counted King had sixty-four and
Wilkin sixty-one. It looked treacherous, and it suggested gross
ingratitude, since Wilkin had presided at the legislative caucus which
nominated Clinton for President; but, as we have seen, events had been
moving in different ways, events destined to produce a strange crop of
political results. In buying its charter, the Bank of America had
contracted to do many things, and the election of a United States
senator was not unlikely among its bargains. This theory seems the
more probable since Clinton, whom Rufus King had denounced as a
dangerous demagogue, would have preferred putting King into a position
of embarrassment more than into the United States Senate. Wilkin
himself so understood it, or, at least, he believed that the Bank, and
not Clinton, had contributed to his defeat, and he said so in a letter
afterward found among the Clinton papers.

Hostile Republicans were, however, now ready to believe Clinton guilty
of any act of turpitude or ingratitude; and so, on February 4, when a
legislative caucus renominated Daniel D. Tompkins for governor by
acclamation, Clinton received only sixteen votes for lieutenant-governor.
There is no evidence that Van Buren took part in Clinton's
humiliation; but it is certain he did not act with all the fairness
that might have been expected. He could well have said that Clinton
was no worse than the majority of his party who had nominated him;
that his aim, like theirs, was a vigorous prosecution of the war in
the interest of an early peace; that he had no intention of separating
himself from the Republican party, and that his renomination for
lieutenant-governor would reunite the party, making it more potent to
create and support war measures. But Van Buren himself was not beyond
danger. Tammany's mutterings and Spencer's violent denunciations
threatened to exclude others from the party, and to escape their
hostility, this rising young statesman found it convenient to drop
Clinton and shout for Tompkins. A less able and clear-headed man might
have gone wrong at this parting of the ways, just as did Obadiah
German and other friends of Clinton; but Van Buren never needed a
guide-post to point out to him the safest political road to travel.
The better to prove his party loyalty, he consented to draft the usual
grandiloquent address issued by the legislative caucus to Republican
electors, always a sophomoric appeal, but quite in accord with the
rhetoric of the time. If any doubt existed as to the orthodoxy of Van
Buren's Republicanism, this address must have dissipated it. It
sustained the general government by forcible argument, and it appealed
with fervid eloquence and deep pathos to the patriotism of the people
to continue their support of the party.

How great a part Clinton was yet to play in the history of his State
no one could foresee. Much speculation has been indulged by writers as
to the probable course of history had he been elected President, but
the mere fact that he was able to inspire so small a fraction of his
party with full faith in his leadership is decisive evidence that he
was not then the man of the hour. It is certain that his enemies
believed his political life had been brought to an ignoble close.
Clinton probably felt that he would have no difficulty in living down
the opprobrium put upon him by partisan hostility; and to prove that
he was still in the political arena, a little coterie of distinguished
friends, led by Obadiah German and Pierre Van Cortlandt, made a circle
about him. From this vantage ground he defied his enemies, attacking
Madison's conduct of the war with great severity, and protesting
against the support of Tompkins and Taylor as the mere tools of

Clinton's usual good fortune also attended him. As we have seen, the
April elections in 1812 returned a Federalist Assembly, which selected
a Council of Appointment opposed to Clinton's removal from the
mayoralty. It displaced everybody else throughout the State.
Clintonians and Madisonians alike suffered, including the able and
distinguished Thomas Addis Emmet, an ardent friend of Clinton who had
been urged to accept the attorney-generalship after the death of
Matthias B. Hildreth in the preceding August. But Clinton had the
support of Jonas Platt, the leading member of the Council, and Platt
refused to permit his removal. Doubtless the latter hoped to fill up
the Federalist ranks with Clintonian recruits; and so with greater
confidence than usual the Federalists, when their turn came, nominated
Stephen Van Rensselaer for governor and George Huntington of Oneida
County for lieutenant-governor.

Aside from the result of the elections of the preceding November,
which had given Federalists twenty out of thirty congressmen, it is
difficult to understand upon what the party of Hamilton really based
its confidence. Before the campaign was a month old, it must have been
evident that the defeated candidate for President had as little
influence as Van Rensselaer, who, as a major-general of militia in
command at Fort Niagara, was a miserable failure. After shivering with
fear for sixty days lest Hull's fate overtake him, Van Rensselaer,
apparently in sheer desperation, had suddenly ordered a small part of
his force across the river to be shot and captured in the presence of
a large reserve who refused to go to the assistance of their comrades.
The news of this defeat led Monroe to speak of him as "a weak and
incompetent man with high pretensions." Jefferson thought Hull ought
to be "shot for cowardice" and Van Rensselaer "broke for

[Footnote 175: Jefferson to Madison, Nov. 5, 1812; _Jefferson MSS.
Series V._, Vol. XV.]

But the Federalists, unmindful of the real seriousness of that
disaster, contested the election with unusual vehemence, until the
best informed men of both parties conceded their advantage. The
Government's incapacity was abundantly illustrated in the failure of
its armies and in the impoverished condition of its treasury, and if
the home conditions had been disturbed by distress, the confidence of
the Federalists must have been realised. The people of the State,
however, had seen and felt nothing of actual warfare. In spite of
embargoes and blockades, ample supplies of foreign goods had continued
to arrive; and, except along the Niagara frontier, occupied by a few
hundred scattered settlers, the farms produced their usual harvests
and the industries of life were not impaired. Under these conditions,
the voters of the country districts saw no reason for defeating a
governor whom they liked, for a man whose military service added
nothing to his credit or to the lustre of the State. So, when the
election storm subsided, it was found, to the bitter mortification of
the Federalists, that while the chief towns, New York, Hudson and
Albany, were strong in opposition, Tompkins and Taylor had triumphed
by the moderate majority of 3606 in a total vote of over 83,000.[176]
The Senate stood three to one in favour of the Republicans. The
Assembly was lost by ten votes.

[Footnote 176: Daniel D. Tompkins, 43,324; Stephen Van Rensselaer,
39,718.--_Civil List, State of New York_ (1887), p. 166.]

Tompkins was now at the zenith of his political career. He was one of
those men not infrequently observed in public life, who, without
conspicuous ability, have a certain knack for the management of men,
and are able to acquire influence and even a certain degree of fame by
personal skill in manipulating patronage, smoothing away difficulties,
and making things easy. Nature had not only endowed him with a genius
for political diplomacy, but good fortune had favoured his march to
popularity by disassociating him with any circumstances of birth or
environment calculated to excite jealousy or to arouse the suspicion
of the people. He was neither rich nor highly connected. The people
knew him by the favourite title of the "farmer's boy," and he never
appeared to forget his humble beginnings. "He had the faculty," says
James Renwick, formerly of Columbia College, who knew him personally,
"of never forgetting the name or face of any person with whom he had
once conversed; of becoming acquainted and appearing to take an
interest in the concerns of their families; and of securing, by his
affability and amiable address, the good opinion of the female sex,
who, although possessed of no vote, often exercise a powerful indirect
influence." Thus, while still in the early prime of life, he had risen
to a position in the State which, even in the case of men with
superior intellectual endowments, is commonly the reward of maturer
years and longer experience.

From the moment Tompkins became governor in 1807 the strongest
ambition of his mind was success in the great game of politics; and,
although never a good hater, his capacity for friendship depended
upon whether the success of his own career was endangered by the
association. Having laid Clinton in the dust, his eye rested upon John
Armstrong, who had recently won the appointment of secretary of war.
Armstrong had been recalled from Paris at the request of Napoleon,
just in time to get in the way of both Clinton and Tompkins. At first
he was a malcontent, grumbling at Madison, and condemning the conduct
of public affairs generally; but, after the declaration of war, he
supported the Administration, and, on July 6, 1812, to the surprise
and indignation of Clinton, he accepted a brigadiership, with command
of New York City and its defences. Then came the period of danger and
urgency following the surrender of Detroit, and Armstrong, on the 6th
of February, 1813, to the great embarrassment of Tompkins, obtained
quick promotion to the head of the war department.

There seems to have been no reason why Tompkins should have harboured
the feeling of rivalry toward Armstrong that he cherished for Clinton.
The former was simply a pretentious occupier of high places, without
real ability for great accomplishment. His little knowledge of the
theory and practice of war was learned on the staff of General Gates,
who, Bancroft says, "had no fitness for command and wanted personal
courage." It was while Armstrong was dwelling in the tent of this
political, intriguing adventurer, that he wrote the celebrated
"Newburgh Letters," stigmatised by Washington. These events, coupled
with his want of scruples and known capacity for intrigue and
indolence, made him an object of such distrust that the Senate, in
spite of his social and political connections, barely confirmed him.

Could Tompkins, looking two years into the future, have foreseen
Armstrong passing into disgraceful retirement after the capture of the
city of Washington, he might easily have dismissed all rivalry from
his mind; but just now the two men who seemed to stand most in his way
were Armstrong and Spencer. He thought Spencer in too close and
friendly alliance with Armstrong, and that Armstrong, whose strength
in the State greatly depended upon Spencer's influence, was the only
obstacle in his path to the White House. Thus there arose in his mind
a sentiment of rivalry for Armstrong, and a strong feeling of distrust
and dislike for Spencer. The latter, who now possessed little more
real liking for Tompkins than Clinton did, soon understood the
Governor's feeling toward him; and he also learned that Van Buren,
with an intellect for organisation and control far superior to
anything the Republicans of the State had heretofore known, had come
into the political game to stay.

By phenomenal luck, DeWitt Clinton's good fortune still continued to
attend him. In April, 1813, the Federalists had again carried the
Assembly, and, although without senators in the middle and western
districts to serve upon the Council of Appointment, Clinton found a
friend in Henry A. Townsend, who answered the purpose of a Federalist.
Townsend would support Jonas Platt for a judgeship if Clinton was
retained as mayor.

Townsend had come into the Senate in 1810 as a Clinton Republican, but
his brief legislative career had not been as serene as a summer's day.
He fell out with Tompkins and Spencer when he fell in with Thomas and
Southwick, and whether or not the favours distributed by the Bank of
America actually became a part of his assets, the bank's opponents
took such violent exception to his vote that poor Townsend had little
to hope for from that faction of his party. It was commonly believed
at the time, therefore, that a desire to please Clinton and possibly
to gain the favour of Federalists in the event of their future
success, influenced him to support Platt, conditional on the retention
of Clinton. It is quite within the range of probability that some such
motive quickened his instinct for revenge and self-preservation,
although it led to an incident that must have caused Clinton keen
regret and mental anguish.

Townsend's Republican colleague in the Council was none other than
Morgan Lewis, who saw an opportunity of creating trouble by nominating
Richard Riker as an opposing candidate to Platt. Tompkins had
probably something to do with making this nomination--or, at all
events, with giving his friend Lewis the idea of bringing it forward
just then. Surely, they thought, Clinton would reverence Riker, who
acted as second in the Swartout duel and recently headed the committee
to promote his election to the Presidency. Clinton felt the sting of
his enemies. There was a time when Clinton had supported Tompkins
against Lewis; now Lewis, in supporting Tompkins against Clinton, was
thrusting the latter through with a two-edged knife; for if Townsend
voted for Riker, the Federalists would drop Clinton; if he voted for
Platt, Riker would drop him. In vain did Clinton wait for Riker to
suggest some avenue of escape. The plucky second wanted a judgeship
which meant years of good living, as much as Clinton wanted the
mayoralty that might be lost in another year. Clinton had not yet
drunk the dregs of the bitter cup. False friends and their unpaid
security debts were still to bankrupt him; but he had already seen
enough to know that the setting sun is not worshipped. Under these
circumstances his friendship for Riker was not strong enough to induce
him to throw away his last chance of holding the mayoralty and its fat
fees; and so when Townsend voted for Platt, Riker's affection for
Clinton turned to hate.




The assumption of extraordinary responsibilities during the War of
1812, justly conferred upon Daniel D. Tompkins the title of a great
war governor. There is an essential difference between a war governor
and a governor in time of war. One is enthusiastic, resourceful, with
ability to organise victory by filling languishing patriotism with new
and noble inspiration--the other simply performs his duty, sometimes
respectably, sometimes only perfunctorily. George Clinton illustrated,
in his own person, the difference between a great war governor and a
governor in time of war. If he failed to win renown on the
battlefield, his ability to inspire the people with confidence, and to
bring glory out of threatened failure and success out of apparent
defeat, made him the greatest war governor the country had yet known.
Daniel D. Tompkins served his State no less acceptably. In the moment
of greatest discouragement he displayed a patriotic courage in
borrowing money without authority of law that made his Administration

Yet Tompkins' patriotism scarcely rose to that sublime height which
suffers its possessor unselfishly to advance a rival even for the
public welfare. There is no doubt of DeWitt Clinton's conspicuous
devotion to the interests of his country throughout the entire war. He
exceeded his power as mayor in inducing the Common Council to borrow
money on the credit of the city and loan it to the United States; at
the supreme moment of a great crisis, when the national treasury was
empty and a British fleet threatened destruction to the coast, an
impressive address which he drafted, accompanied by a subscription
paper which he headed, resulted in raising a fund of over one million
dollars for the city's defence. The genius of Clinton had never been
more nobly employed than in his efforts to sustain the war, winning
him universal esteem throughout the municipality for his patriotic
unselfishness and unlimited generosity. Tompkins must have known that
such a man, already holding the rank of major-general in the militia,
would be absolute master of any situation. He was not the one to throw
up the cards because the chances of the game were going against him.
His was a fighting spirit, and his impulse was ever, like that of
Macbeth, to try to the last. But Tompkins could not fail to observe
the party's growing dislike for Clinton, and, much as he wanted
military success, he graciously declined Clinton's request, brought to
him by Thomas Addis Emmet, to be assigned to active service in the

Tompkins had little to encourage him at the outset of the war. The
election in April, 1812, had turned the Assembly over to the
Federalists, who not only wasted the time of an extra session, called
in November of that year, but carried their opposition through the
regular session begun in January, 1813. The emergency was pressing.
New England Federalists had declined to make the desired loans to the
general government, and the governor of New York wished his State to
relieve the situation by advancing the needed money. It was a
patriotic measure. Whether right or wrong, the declaration of war had
jeopardised the country. Soldiers, poorly equipped, scantily clothed,
without organisation, and without pay, were scattered for hundreds of
miles along a sparsely settled border, opened to the attacks of a
powerful enemy; yet the Federalists refused to vote a dollar to equip
a man. Why should we continue a war from the prosecution of which we
have nothing to gain, they asked? The Orders in Council have been
repealed, England has shrunk from facing the consequences of its own
folly, and America has already won a complete triumph. What further
need, then, for bleeding our exhausted treasury?

The Governor's embarrassment, however, did not emanate from the
Federalists alone. The northern frontier of New York was to become the
great battle-ground, and it was conceded that capable generals and a
sufficient force were necessary to carry the war promptly into Canada.
But the President furnished neither. He appointed Henry Dearborn, with
the rank of major-general, to command the district from Niagara to the
St. Lawrence, thus putting all military operations within the State
under the control of a man in his sixty-second year, whose only
military experience had been gained as a deputy quartermaster-general
in 1781, and as colonel of a New Hampshire regiment after the end of
the Revolutionary War. Dearborn was a politician--not a general. After
serving several years in Jefferson's Cabinet, he graduated into the
custom-house at Boston, where he concerned himself more to beat the
Federalists than he ever exerted himself to defeat the British. In his
opinion, campaigning ought to have its regular alternations of
activity and repose, but he never knew when activity should begin. To
make the condition more supremely ironic, Morgan Lewis, now in his
fifty-ninth year, whose knowledge of war, like Dearborn's, had been
learned as a deputy quartermaster-general thirty years before, was
associated with him in command.

Dearborn submitted a plan of campaign, recommending that the main army
advance by way of Lake Champlain upon Montreal, while three corps of
militia should enter Canada from Detroit, Niagara and Sackett's
Harbour. This was as near as Dearborn ever came to a successful
invasion of Canada. War was declared on June 18, 1812, and July had
been frittered away before he left Albany. Meantime General Hull,
whose success depended largely upon Dearborn's vigorous support from
Niagara, having been a fortnight on British soil, now recrossed the
river and a few days later surrendered his army and Detroit to General
Brock. This tragic event aroused Dearborn sufficiently to send Stephen
Van Rensselaer to command the Niagara frontier, the feeble General
assuring the secretary of war that, as soon as the force at Lewiston
aggregated six thousand men, a forward movement should be made; but
Dearborn himself, with the largest force then under arms, took good
care to remain on Lake Champlain, clinging to its shores like a
barnacle, as if afraid of the fate visited upon the unfortunate Hull.
Finally, after two months of waiting, Van Rensselaer sent a thousand
men across the Niagara to Queenstown to be killed and captured within
sight of four thousand troops who refused to go to the help of their
comrades. Disgusted and defeated, Van Rensselaer turned over his
command to Brigadier-General Alexander Smith, a boastful Irish friend
of Madison from Virginia, who issued burlesque proclamations about an
invasion of Canada, and then declined to risk an engagement, although
he had three Americans to one Englishman. This closed the campaign of

With the hope of improving the military situation John Armstrong was
made secretary of war in place of William Eustis. Armstrong was never
a favourite. His association with Gates and his subsequent career in
France, made him an object of distrust. But, once in office, he picked
up the Eustis ravellings and announced a plan of campaign which
included an attack on Montreal from Lake Champlain; the destruction of
Kingston and York (Toronto) by the troops from Sackett's Harbour; and
the expulsion of the British from the Niagara frontier. The Kingston
part of the programme possessed genuine merit. Kingston commanded the
traffic of the St. Lawrence, between Upper and Lower Canada, and no
British force could maintain itself in Upper Canada without ready
communication with the lower province; but Dearborn decided to reverse
Armstrong's plan by taking York, afterward the Niagara frontier, and
then unite a victorious army against Kingston. Dearborn, to do him
justice, offered to resign, and Armstrong would gladly have gotten rid
of him, with Morgan Lewis and other incompetents. The President,
however, clung to the old men, making the spring and early summer
campaign of 1813, like its predecessor, a record of dismal failures.
York had, indeed, capitulated after the bloodiest battle of the war,
the American loss amounting to one-fifth the entire force, including
Pike, the best brigadier then in the service. But the British still
held Niagara; two brigade commanders had been sorely defeated; a third
had surrendered five hundred and forty men to a British lieutenant
with two hundred and sixty; and Sackett's Harbour, with its barracks
burned and navy-yard destroyed, had barely escaped capture, while
Kingston was unmolested and Dearborn totally incapacitated "with fever
and mortification."

It was now midsummer. Tompkins and a Republican Senate had been
re-elected, but the Federalists, whose policy was to obtain peace on
any terms, still held the Assembly. Just at this time, therefore,
success in the field would have been of immense value politically, and
as sickness had put Dearborn out of commission, it gave Armstrong an
opportunity of promoting Winfield Scott and Jacob Brown, both of whom
had shown unusual ability in spite of the shameless incapacity of
their seniors. The splendid fighting qualities of Jacob Brown had
saved Sackett's Harbour; and the brilliant pluck of Winfield Scott had
withstood a force three times his own until British bayonets pushed
him over the crest of Queenstown Heights. Armstrong, however, had a
liking for James Wilkinson. They had been companions in arms with
Gates at Saratoga, and, although no one knew better than Armstrong the
feebleness of Wilkinson's character, he assigned him to New York after
the President had forced his removal from New Orleans.

Wilkinson's military life might fairly be described as infamous.
Winfield Scott spoke of him as an "unprincipled imbecile."[177] He had
recently been several times court-martialled, once for being engaged
in a treasonable conspiracy with Spain, again as an accomplice of
Aaron Burr, and finally for corruption; and, although each time he had
been acquitted, his brother officers regarded him with suspicion and
contempt. Nevertheless, this man, fifty-six years of age, and broken
in health as well as character, was substituted for Dearborn and
ordered to take Kingston; and Wade Hampton, one year his senior,
without a war record, and not on speaking terms with Wilkinson, was
ordered to Plattsburg to take Montreal. Folly such as this could only
end in disaster. Whatever Armstrong suggested Wilkinson opposed, and
whatever Wilkinson advised Hampton resented; but Wilkinson so far
prevailed, that, before either expedition started, it was agreed to
abandon Kingston; and before either general had passed far beyond the
limits of the State, it was agreed to abandon Montreal, leaving the
generals and the secretary of war ample time to quarrel over their
responsibility for the failure. Wilkinson charged Hampton with
blasting the honour of the army, and both generals accused Armstrong
of purposely deserting them to shift the blame from himself. On the
other hand, Armstrong accepted Hampton's resignation, sneered at
Wilkinson for abandoning the campaign, and, after Hampton's death,
saddled him with the responsibility of the whole failure.

[Footnote 177: Winfield Scott, _Autobiography_, p. 94, _note_.]

Meantime, while the generals and secretary quarrelled, and their
twelve thousand troops rested in winter quarters at French Mills and
Plattsburg--leaving the country between Detroit and Sackett's Harbour
with less than a regiment--the British were vigorously at work. They
pounced upon the Niagara frontier; reoccupied Fort George; carried
Fort Niagara with great slaughter; and burned Black Rock and Buffalo
in revenge for the destruction of Newark and Queenstown and the public
buildings at York. This ended the campaign of 1813.

On the high seas, however, the American navy, so small that England
had scarcely known of its existence, was redeeming the country from
the disgrace its generals had brought upon it. There are some battles
of that time, fought out in storm and darkness, which taught Americans
the real pleasures of war, and turned the names of vessels and their
brave commanders into household words; but not until Oliver H. Perry,
an energetic young officer, was ordered from Newport to the Niagara
frontier, in the spring of 1813, did conditions change from sacrifice
and disgrace to real success. Six vessels were at that time building
at Erie; and three smaller craft rested quietly in the navy-yard at
Black Rock. Perry's orders included the union of these fleets,
carrying fifty-four guns and five hundred men, and the destruction of
six British vessels, carrying sixty-three guns and four hundred and
fifty men. Six months of patient labour on both sides were required to
put the squadrons into fighting condition; but when, on the afternoon
of September 10, Perry had fought the fight to a finish, the British
squadron belonged to him. The War of 1812 would be memorable for this,
if it were for nothing else; and the indomitable Perry, whose stubborn
courage had wrested victory from what seemed inevitable defeat, is
enthroned among the proudest names of the great sea fighters of

After Wilkinson, Morgan Lewis, and other incompetent generals had
retired in disgrace, Armstrong recognised the genius of Jacob Brown
and Winfield Scott. Brown was of Quaker parentage, a school teacher by
profession, and a farmer by occupation. After founding the town of
Brownsville, he had owned and lived on a large tract of land near
Sackett's Harbour, and for recreation he had commanded a militia
regiment. In 1811, Tompkins made him a brigadier, and when the contest
opened, he found his true mission. He knew nothing of the technique of
war. Laying out fortifications, policing camps, arranging with
calculating foresight for the far future, did not fall within his
knowledge; but for a fighter he must always rank in history with John
Paul Jones; and as a leader of men he had hardly a rival in those
days. Soldiers only wanted his word of command to undertake any
enterprise, no matter how hopeless. Winfield Scott, who understood
Brown's limitations, said there was nothing he could not do if he only
got a fair opportunity. Armstrong commissioned him a major-general in
place of Wilkinson, and assigned Scott to a brigade in his command.
These officers, full of zeal and vigor, infused new life into an army
that had been beaten and battered for two years. In twelve weeks,
during July, August, and September, the British met stubborn
resistance at Chippewa, Lundy's Lane, Fort Erie, and Black Rock, and a
repulse as disgraceful as it was complete at Plattsburg. But before
Brown could establish the new order of things along the whole Canadian
border, the British took Oswego, with its abundant commissary
supplies, and their navy inflicted a wound, in the destruction of the
_Chesapeake_ and the _Argus_, that turned the Perry huzzas into
suppressed lamentations.

Following this calamity, occurred the April elections of 1814. The
uncertain temper of the people gave Tompkins little to expect and much
to fear. He believed it had only needed a bold and spirited forward
movement to demonstrate that the United States was in a position to
dictate terms to England; but existing conditions indicated that
England would soon dictate terms to the United States. Tompkins may be
fairly excused, therefore, if he failed to discern in the struggle for
political supremacy the slightest indication of that victory so long
prayed for. Events, however, had been working silently--differently
than either Federalist or Republican guessed; and, to the utter
amazement of all, the war party swept the State, electing assemblymen
even in New York City, twenty out of thirty congressmen, and every
senator, save one. Under these circumstances Tompkins lost no time in
summoning, in September, an extra session of the newly elected
Legislature, which began turning out war measures like cloth from a
loom. It raised the pay of the militia above that of the regular army;
it encouraged privateering; it authorised the enlistment of twelve
thousand men for two years and two thousand slaves for three years; it
provided for a corps of twenty companies for coast defence; it assumed
the State's quota of direct tax, and it reimbursed Governor Tompkins
for personal expenditures incurred without authority of law. Some of
these measures were drastic, especially the conscription bill; but the
act showing the determination of the Republican party to fight the
war to a finish, was that allowing slaves to enlist with the consent
of their masters, and awarding them freedom when honourably mustered
out of service.

There was certainly much need for an active and vigorous Legislature
in the fall of 1814. Washington had been captured and burned;
Armstrong, threatened with removal, had resigned in disgrace; the
national treasury was empty; and every bank between New Orleans and
Albany had suspended specie payment, with their notes from twenty to
thirty per cent. below par. Although, in ten weeks, from July 3 to
September 11, the British had met a bloody and unparalleled check from
an inferior force, under the brilliant leadership of Brown and Scott,
and a most disgraceful repulse by Macdonough and Macomb at Plattsburg,
victorious English veterans, fresh from the battlefields of Spain,
continued to arrive, until Canada contained twenty-seven thousand
regular troops. On the other hand, Macomb had only fifteen hundred men
at Plattsburg, Brown less than two thousand at Fort Erie, and Izard
about four thousand at Buffalo.

To make bad matters worse, the New England Federalists were renewing
their talk of a dissolution of the Union. "We have been led by the
terms of the Constitution," said Governor Strong of Massachusetts,
addressing the Legislature on October 5, 1814, "to rely on the
government of the Union to provide for our defence. We have resigned
to that government the revenues of the State with the expectation that
this object would not be neglected. Let us, then, unite in such
measures for our safety as the times demand and the principles of
justice and the law of self-preservation will justify."[178] Answering
for the Legislature, which understood the Governor's words to be an
invitation to resume powers the State had given up when adopting the
Constitution, Harrison Gray Otis reported that "this people, being
ready and determined to defend themselves, have the greatest need of
those resources derivable from themselves which the national
government has hitherto thought proper to employ elsewhere. When this
deficiency becomes apparent, no reason can preclude the right of the
whole people who were parties to it, to adopt another."[179] The
report closed by recommending the appointment of delegates "to meet
and confer with delegates from the States of New England or any of
them," out of which grew the celebrated Hartford Convention that met
on the 15th of December. The report of this convention, made on the
24th of the same month, declared that a severance of the Union can be
justified only by absolute necessity; but, following the Virginia
resolution of 1798, it confirmed the right of a State to "interpose
its authority" for the protection of its citizens against
conscriptions and drafts, and for an arrangement with the general
government to retain "a reasonable portion" of the revenues to be used
in its own defence and in the defence of neighbouring States. In other
words, it favoured the establishment of a New England confederacy.
Thus, after ten years, the crisis had come which Pickering, the storm
petrel, desired to precipitate in the days when Hamilton declined to
listen and Aaron Burr consented to lead.

[Footnote 178: Message; _Niles_, Vol. 7, p. 113.]

[Footnote 179: Report of Oct. 8, 1814; _Niles_, Vol. 7, p. 149.]

It is doubtful if the great body of Federalists in New York really
sympathised with their eastern brethren. Those who did, like
Gouverneur Morris, proclaimed their views in private and confidential
letters. "I care nothing more for your actings and doings," Morris
wrote Pickering, then in Congress. "Your decree of conscription and
your levy of contributions are alike indifferent to one whose eyes are
fixed on a star in the east, which he believes to be the dayspring of
freedom and glory. The traitors and madmen assembled at Hartford will,
I believe, if not too tame and timid, be hailed hereafter as the
patriots and sages of their day and generation."[180] Looking back on
the history of that portentous event, one is shocked to learn that men
like Morris could have sympathy with the principle sought to be
established; but if any leading New York Federalist disapproved the
convention's report he made no public record of it at the time.[181]

[Footnote 180: Gouverneur Morris to Timothy Pickering, Dec. 22, 1814,
_Morris's Works_, Vol. 3, p. 324.]

[Footnote 181: "Among the least violent of Federalists was James
Lloyd, recently United States senator from Massachusetts. To John
Randolph's letter, remonstrating against the Hartford Convention,
Lloyd advised the Virginians to coerce Madison into retirement, and to
place Rufus King in the Presidency as the alternative to a fatal
issue. The assertion of such an alternative showed how desperate the
situation was believed by the moderate Federalists to be."--Henry
Adams, _History of the United States_, Vol. 8, p. 306.]

The violent methods of New England governors in withdrawing their
militia from the service of the United States, coupled with the action
of the New York Federalists in calling a state convention to determine
what course their party should pursue, were well calculated to arouse
Governor Tompkins, who welcomed the privilege of upholding the general
government. He did not minimise the gravity of the situation. Perhaps
he did not feel the alarm expressed in Jefferson's letter to Gallatin,
a year after the crisis had passed; for he now had behind him a
patriotic Legislature and the nucleus of an invincible army under
trained leadership. But if the war had continued, and, as the
Washington authorities anticipated, the British had prevailed at New
Orleans, he would have found a New England confederacy to the east of
him as well as an army of English veterans on the north.

The conditions that faced Madison made peace his last hope. American
commissioners were already in Europe; but as month after month passed
without agreement, the darkest hour of the war seemed to have settled
upon the country. Suddenly, on the 4th of February, 1815, the
startling and glorious news of General Jackson's decisive victory at
New Orleans electrified the nation. A week later, a British sloop of
war sailed into New York harbour, announcing that the treaty of Ghent
had been signed on the 24th of the preceding December. Instantly
Madison's troubles disappeared. The war was over, the Hartford
commissioners were out of employment, and the happy phrase of Charles
J. Ingersoll of Pennsylvania became the popular summing up of the
treaty--"not an inch ceded or lost." Jackson's victory had not entered
into the peace negotiations; but intelligent men knew that the superb
fighting along the Canadian frontier during the campaign of 1814, had
had much to do in bringing about the result. Beginning with the battle
of Chippewa, where equal bodies of troops met face to face, in broad
daylight, on an open field, without advantage of position, the
American army faced British troops with the skill and desperate
courage that characterised the struggle between the North and the
South forty years later.

Among civilians most admired for their part in the struggle, Daniel D.
Tompkins stood first. The genius of an American governor had never
been more nobly employed, and, although he was sometimes swayed by
prejudice and the impulses of his personal ambition, he did enough to
show that he was devotedly attached to his country.




The election of a Republican Assembly in the spring of 1814 opened the
way for a Republican Council of Appointment, composed of Jonathan
Dayton, representing the southern district, Lucas Elmendorff the
middle, Ruggles Hubbard the eastern, and Ferrand Stranahan the
western. Elmendorff had been two years in the Assembly, six years in
Congress, and was now serving the first year of a single term in the
State Senate; but like his less experienced colleagues he was on the
Council simply to carry out the wishes of the leaders. It had been
three years since Republicans had tasted the sweets of office, and a
hungrier horde of applicants never besieged the capital. Yet so
dextrous had politicians become in making changes from one party to
the other, that the Council's work must have ended in a week had not
the jealousies, until now veiled by the war, quickly developed into a
conflict destined to reconcile Ambrose Spencer and DeWitt Clinton, and
to rivet the friendly relations between Governor Tompkins and Martin
Van Buren.

Van Buren desired to become attorney-general. He had been
conspicuously prominent almost from the day he entered the Senate;
and, after the Republicans recovered control of the Assembly, he was
the acknowledged legislative leader of his party. By his persuasive
eloquence, his gift of argument, and his political tact in obtaining
supporters, he secured the passage of a "classification bill" which
divided the military population of the State into twelve thousand
classes, each class being required to furnish one able-bodied soldier
by voluntary enlistment, by bounty, or by draft. "This act," declared
Thomas H. Benton, years afterward, "was the most energetic war measure
ever adopted in the country."[182] There appears to be a general
agreement among writers who have commented upon the character of Van
Buren and his work at this period of his career, that, next to the
Governor among civilians, Van Buren was most entitled to the gratitude
of his party and his State. Besides, his smooth and pleasing address
had become more fascinating the longer he continued in the Senate,
until his influence among legislators was equalled only by the kindly
and sympathetic Tompkins, whose success in the war had won him a place
in the hearts of men similar to that enjoyed by George Clinton after
the close of the Revolution.

[Footnote 182: Edward M. Shepard, _Martin Van Buren_, p. 62.]

But popular and deserving as Van Buren was Ambrose Spencer opposed his
preferment. He saw in the brilliant young legislator an obstacle to
his own influence; and to break his strength at the earliest moment he
advocated for attorney-general the candidacy of John Woodworth.
Woodworth was filling the position when the Federalists installed
Abraham Van Vechten; his right to restoration appealed with peculiar
force to his party friends. Ruggles Hubbard of the Council,
representing Woodworth's district, naturally inclined to his support,
but Stranahan had no other interest in his candidacy than a desire to
please Spencer. This left the Council a tie. There can be no question
that Tompkins was in thorough accord with Van Buren's wishes, and that
he regarded Spencer with almost unqualified dislike, but he was a
candidate for President and naturally preferred keeping out of
trouble. Nevertheless, when it required his vote to settle the
controversy he gave it ungrudgingly to Van Buren. In selecting a
secretary of state, the Governor applied the same rule. Spencer's
friend, Elisha Jenkins, had previously held the office, and, like
Woodworth, desired reinstatement; but Tompkins--tossing Jenkins aside
and ignoring Samuel Young, speaker of the Assembly, who was promised
and expected the office--insisted upon Peter B. Porter, now a hero of
the Niagara frontier.

Spencer had long realised that Tompkins was turning against him. It is
doubtful if the Governor ever felt a personal liking for this
political meddling judge, although he accepted his services during the
war with a certain degree of confidence. But now that hostilities were
at an end, he proposed to distribute patronage along lines of his own
choosing. Porter had recently been elected to Congress, and his
presence in Washington would help the Governor's presidential
aspirations, especially if the young soldier's friendship was sealed
in advance by the unsolicited honour of an appointment as secretary of
state. For the same reason, he desired the election of Nathan Sanford
to the United States Senate to succeed Obadiah German. Spencer
favoured John Armstrong, late secretary of war, and when the latter
was thrust aside as utterly undesirable, the Judge announced his own
candidacy. But Van Buren, resenting Spencer's opposition, skilfully
resisted his claims until he grew timid and declined to compete "with
so young a man as Mr. Sanford." Fourteen years divided their ages.

The change Republicans most clamoured for had not, however, come yet.
DeWitt Clinton still held the mayoralty. Spencer urged his removal and
controlled Stranahan; the Martling Men demanded it and controlled
Dayton; but Elmendorff and Hubbard hesitated, and Tompkins disliked
giving the casting vote. The Governor realised that no statesman had
lived in his day in whom the people had shown greater confidence; and,
in spite of the present clamour, he knew that the iron-willed Mayor
still possessed the friendship of the best men and ripest scholars in
the State. DeWitt Clinton was seen at his best, no doubt, by those who
knew him in private life, among his books; and, though his strong
opinions and earnest desire to maintain his side of the controversy,
brought him into frequent antagonisms, his guests were encouraged to
give free utterance to their own ideas and views.

These same qualities made him an active, restless leader of men in the
world of politics. No doubt many hated him, for he made enemies more
easily than friends; but neither enemy nor friend could deny the great
natural capacity which had gradually gained a commanding place for him
in public life. Tompkins must have felt that it was only a question of
time when Clinton would again win the confidence of the people and
make his enemies his footstool. What, therefore, to do with him was a
serious question. Chained or unchained he was dangerous. The free
masonry of intellect and education gave him rank; and if compelled to
surrender the mayoralty he might, at any moment, take up some work
which would bring him greater fame and influence. Nevertheless,
Tompkins felt compelled to reach some decision. The Martling Men were
insistent. They charged that Clinton, inspired by unpatriotic motives
in the interest of Federalism, had opposed the war, and was an enemy
of his party; and in demanding his removal they threatened those who
caused delay. Van Buren could probably have relieved Tompkins by
influencing Elmendorff, but Van Buren, like Tompkins, was too shrewd
to rush into trouble.

It is doubtful if the possibility of a reconciliation between Spencer
and Clinton occurred to Van Buren, and, if it did, it must have seemed
too remote seriously to be considered; for just then Spencer was
indefatigable in his exertions on the opposite side. Van Buren,
moreover, understood politics too well to be blind to the danger of
incurring the hostility of such a mind. A man who could bring to
political work such resources of thought and of experience, who could
look beneath the surface and see clearly in what direction and by what
methods progress was to be made, was not one to be trifled with.

No doubt Ruggles Hubbard had a sincere attachment for Clinton. In
supporting his presidential aspirations Hubbard visited Vermont, where
he exercised his companionable gifts in an effort to obtain for
Clinton the vote of that State. But Hubbard had neither firmness nor
strength of intellect. Irregular in his habits, lax in his morals, a
spendthrift and an insolvent, he could not resist the incessant
attacks upon Clinton, nor the offer of the shrievalty of New York,
with its large income and fat fees. When, therefore, Elmendorff
finally evidenced a disposition to yield, Hubbard made the vote for
Clinton's removal unanimous.

There have been seventy-nine mayors of New York since Thomas Willett,
in 1665, first took charge of its affairs under the iron rule of Peter
Stuyvesant, but only one in the long list, averaging a tenure of three
years each, served longer than DeWitt Clinton. Richard Varick, the
military secretary of Schuyler and Washington, and the distinguished
associate of Samuel Jones in revising the laws of the State, held the
mayoralty from 1789 to 1801, continuing through the controlling life
of the Federalist party and the closing years of a century full of
heroic incident in the history of the city. But DeWitt Clinton,
holding office from 1803 to 1815--save the two years given Marinus
Willett and Jacob Radcliff--saw the city's higher life keep pace with
its growth and aided in the forces that widened its achievement and
made it a financial centre. It must have cost this master-spirit of
his age a deep sigh to give up a position in which his work had been
so wise and helpful. His situation, indeed, seemed painfully gloomy;
his office was gone, his salary was spent, and his estate was
bankrupt. It is doubtful if a party leader ever came to a more
distressing period in his career; yet he preserved his dignity and
laughed at the storm that howled so fiercely about him. "Genuine
greatness," he said, in a memorial address delivered about this time,
"never appears in a more resplendent light, or in a more sublime
attitude, than in that buoyancy of character which rises superior to
danger and difficulty."

In the meantime, Governor Tompkins was riding on the crest of the
political waves. On February 14, 1816, a legislative caucus
unanimously instructed the members of Congress from New York to
support him for President; a week later it nominated him for governor.
Tompkins had no desire to make a fourth race for governor, but the
unexpected nomination of Rufus King left him no alternative. William
W. Van Ness had been determined upon as the Federalist candidate,
until the fraudulent capture of the Council of Appointment by the
Republicans made it inadvisable for the popular young Judge to leave
the bench; and to save the party from disruption Rufus King consented
to head the Federalist ticket. His great strength quickly put
Republicans on the defensive; and the only man whom the party dared to
oppose to him was the favourite champion of the war. Tompkins'
re-election by over six thousand majority[183] once more attested his
widespread popularity.

[Footnote 183: Daniel D. Tompkins, 45,412; Rufus King, 38,647.--_Civil
List, State of New York_ (1887), p. 166.]

For the moment, every one seemed to be carried away by the fascination
of the man. His friends asserted that he was always right and always
successful; that patriotism had guided him through the long,
discouraging war, and that, swayed neither by prejudice, nor by the
impulses of personal ambition, in every step he took and every measure
he recommended, he was actuated by the most unselfish purpose. Of
course, this was the extravagance of enthusiastic admirers; but it was
founded on twelve years of public life, marked by success and by few
errors of judgment or temper. Even Federalists ceased to be his
critics. It is not easy to parallel Governor Tompkins' standing at
this time. If DeWitt Clinton's position seemed most wretched,
Tompkins' lot appeared most happy. His life had been pure and noble;
he was a sincere lover of his country; a brave and often a daring
executive; a statesman of high purpose if not of the most commanding

There was one man, however, with whom he must reckon. Ambrose Spencer
not only loved power, but he loved to exercise it. He lacked the
address of Tompkins, and, likewise, the vein of levity in the
Governor's temperament that made him buoyant and hopeful even when
most eager and earnest; but he was bold, enterprising, and of
commanding intellect, with a determination to do with all his might
the part he had to perform. His failure to become United States
senator, and the appointment of Van Buren and Porter in place of
Woodworth and Elisha Jenkins, rankled in his bosom. That was his first
defeat. More than this, it proved that he could be defeated. Since
DeWitt Clinton's defection in 1812, he had been the most powerful
political factor in the State, a man whom the Governor had found it
expedient to tolerate and to welcome.

The events of the past year had, however, convinced Spencer that
nothing was to be gained by longer adherence to Tompkins, whom he had
now come to regard with distrust and dislike. When, therefore, a
candidate for President began to be talked about he promptly favoured
William H. Crawford. The Georgia statesman, high tempered and
overbearing, showed the faults of a strong nature, coupled with an
ambition which made him too fond of intrigue; but Gallatin declared
that he united to a powerful mind a most correct judgment and an
inflexible integrity. In the United States Senate, with the courage
and independence of Clay and the intelligence of Gallatin, he had been
an earnest advocate of war and a formidable critic of its conduct.
Compared to Monroe he was an intellectual giant, whose name was as
familiar in New York as that of the President, and whose character was
vastly more admired. In favouring such a candidate it may be easily
understood how the influence of a man like Spencer affected other
state leaders. Their dislike of the Virginian was as pronounced as in
1812, while their faith in the success of Tompkins, of whom Southern
congressmen knew as little as they did of DeWitt Clinton four years
before, was not calculated to inspire them with the zeal of
missionaries. Spencer's bold declaration in favour of Crawford,
therefore, hurt Tompkins more than his hesitation to support his
brother-in-law in 1812 had damaged Clinton.

In the early autumn of 1814, the President had invited the Governor to
become his secretary of state. Madison had been naturally drawn
toward Tompkins, who had shown from his first entrance into public
life a remarkable capacity for diplomatic management; and, although he
had none of the higher faculties of statesmanship, the President
probably saw that he would make just the kind of a minister to suit
his purposes. Armstrong had not done this. Although a man of some
ability and military information, Armstrong lacked conventional
morals, and was the possessor of objectionable peculiarities. He never
won either the confidence or the respect of Madison. He not only did
harsh things in a harsh way, but he had a caustic tongue, and a tone
of irreverence whenever he estimated the capacity of a Virginia
statesman. On the other hand, Tompkins had gentleness, and that
refined courtesy, amounting almost to tenderness, which seemed so
necessary in successfully dealing with Madison.

The desire to be first in every path of political success had become
such a passion in Tompkins' nature that the question presented by the
President's invitation found an answer in the immediate impulses of
his ambition. No doubt his duties as Governor and the importance of
his remaining through the impending crisis appealed to him, but they
did not control his answer. He wanted to be President, and he was
willing to sacrifice anything or anybody to secure the prize. So, it
is not surprising that he declined Madison's gracious offer, since the
experience of Northern men with Virginia Presidents did not encourage
the belief that the Presidency was reached through the Cabinet.[184]
Yet, had Tompkins fully appreciated, as he did after it was too late,
the importance of a personal and pleasant acquaintance with the
Virginia statesman and the other men who controlled congressional
caucuses, he would undoubtedly have entered Madison's Cabinet. As the
ranking, and, save Monroe, the oldest of the President's advisers, he
would have had two years in which to make himself popular, a
sufficient time, surely, for one having the prestige of a great war
governor, with gentleness of manner and sweetness of temper to disarm
all opposition and to conciliate even the fiercest of politicians.
Fifteen years later Martin Van Buren resigned the governorship to go
to the head of Jackson's Cabinet, and it made him President.

[Footnote 184: Henry Adams, _History of the United States_, Vol. 8, p.

It is not at all unlikely that Madison had it in mind to make Tompkins
his successor. He had little liking for his jealous secretary of state
who had opposed his nomination in 1808, criticised the conduct of the
war, and forced the retirement of cabinet colleagues and the removal
of favourite army officers--who had, in a word, dominated the
President until the latter became almost as tired of him as of
Armstrong. But, as the time approached for the nomination of a new
Executive, Madison's jealous regard for Virginia, as well as his
knowledge of Monroe's fitness, induced him to sustain the candidate
from his own State. This was notice to federal office-holders in New
York to get into line for the Virginian; and very soon some of
Tompkins' closest friends began falling away. To add to the Governor's
unhappiness, the Administration, repeating its tactics toward the
Clintons in 1808 and 1812, began exalting his enemies. In sustaining
DeWitt Clinton's aspirations Solomon Southwick had actively opposed
the Virginia dynasty and bitterly assailed Tompkins and Spencer for
their desertion of the eminent New Yorker. For three years he had
practically excluded himself from the Republican party, criticising
the war with the severity of a Federalist, and continually
animadverting upon the conduct of the President and the Governor; but
Monroe's influence now made this peppery editor of the _Register_
postmaster at Albany, turning his paper into an ardent advocate of the
Virginian's promotion. The Governor, who had openly encouraged such a
policy when DeWitt Clinton sought the Presidency, now felt the
Virginia knife entering his own vitals.

Van Buren's part in Tompkins' disappointment, although not active,
showed the shrewdness of a clever politician. He had learned something
of national politics since he advocated the candidacy of DeWitt
Clinton so enthusiastically four years before. He knew the Governor
was seriously bent upon being President, and that his friends
throughout the State were joining in the bitterness of the old Clinton
cry that Virginia had ruled long enough--a cry which old John Adams
had taken up, declaring that "My son will never have a chance until
the last Virginian is laid in the graveyard;" but Van Buren knew,
also, that few New Yorkers in Washington had any hope of Tompkins'
success. It was the situation of 1812 over again. Tompkins was
personally unknown to the country; Crawford and Monroe were national
leaders of wide acquaintance, who practically divided the strength of
their party. Could Van Buren have made Tompkins the President, he
would have done so without hesitation; but he had little disposition
to tie himself up, as he did with Clinton in 1812, and let Crawford,
with Spencer's assistance, take the office and hand the patronage of
New York over to the Judge. The Kinderhook statesman, therefore,
declared for Tompkins, and carried the Legislature for him in spite of
Spencer's support of Crawford; then, with the wariness of an old
campaigner, he prevented New York congressmen from expressing any
preference, although three-fourths of them favoured Crawford. When the
congressional caucus finally met to select a candidate, Van Buren had
the situation so muddled that it is not known to this day just how the
New York congressmen did vote. Monroe, however, was not unmindful of
the service rendered him. After the latter's nomination, Tompkins was
named for Vice President; and if he did not resent taking second
place, as George Clinton did in 1808, it was because the Vice
Presidency offered changed conditions, enlarged acquaintance, and one
step upward on the political ladder.




There was never a time, probably, when the white man, conversant with
the rivers and lakes of New York, did not talk of a continuous passage
by water from Lake Erie to the sea. As early as 1724, when Cadwallader
Colden was surveyor-general of the colony, he declared the opportunity
for inland navigation in New York without a parallel in any other part
of the world, and as the Mohawk Valley, reaching out toward the lakes
of Oneida and Cayuga, and connecting by easy grades with the Genesee
River beyond, opened upon his vision, it filled him with admiration.
Even then the thrifty settler, pushing his way into the picturesque
country of the Iroquois, had determined to pre-empt the valleys whose
meanderings furnished the blackest loam and richest meadows, and whose
gently receding foot-hills offered sites for the most attractive homes
in the vicinity of satisfactory and enduring markets. It was this
scene that impressed Joseph Carver in 1776. Carver was an explorer. He
had traversed the country from New York to Green Bay, and looking back
upon the watery path he saw nothing to prevent the great Northwest
from being connected with the ocean by means of canals and the natural
waterways of New York. In one of the rhetorical flights of his young
manhood, Gouverneur Morris declared that "at no distant day the waters
of the great inland seas would, by the aid of man, break through their
barriers and mingle with those of the Hudson." George Washington had
visions of the same vast system as he traversed the State, in 1783,
with George Clinton, on his way to the headwaters of the Susquehanna.

These were the dreams of statesmen, whose realisation, however, was
yet far, very far, away. In 1768, long after "Old Silver Locks" had
become the distinguished lieutenant-governor, he induced Sir Henry
Moore, the gay and affable successor of Governor Monckton, to ascend
the Mohawk for the supreme purpose of projecting a canal around Little
Falls. Sixteen years later, in 1784, the Legislature tendered
Christopher Colles the entire profits of the navigation of the river
if he would improve it; yet work did not follow words. It was easy to
see what might be done, but the man did not appear who could do it. In
1791, George Clinton took a hand, securing the incorporation of a
company to open navigation from the Hudson to Lake Ontario. The
company completed three sections of a canal--aggregating six miles in
length, with five leaky locks--at a cost of four hundred thousand
dollars, but the price of transportation was not cheapened, nor the
time shortened. This seemed to end all money effort. Other canal
companies were organised, one to build between the Hudson and Lake
Champlain, another to connect the Oswego River with Cayuga and Seneca
lakes; but the projects came to nothing. Finally, in 1805, the
Legislature authorised Simeon DeWitt, the surveyor-general, to cause
the several routes to be accurately surveyed; and, after he had
reported the feasibility of constructing a canal without serious
difficulty from Lake Erie to the Hudson, a commission of seven men,
appointed in 1810, estimated the cost of such construction at five
million dollars. It was hoped the general government would assist in
making up this sum; but it soon became apparent that the war, into
which the country was rapidly drifting, would use up the national
surplus, while rival projects divided attention and lessened the
enthusiasm. Efforts to secure a right of way, developed the avarice of
landowners, who demanded large damages for the privilege. Thus,
discouragement succeeded discouragement until a majority of the
earlier friends of the canal gave up in despair.

But there was one man who did not weaken. DeWitt Clinton had been
made a member of the Canal Commission in 1810, and with Gouverneur
Morris, Peter B. Porter and other associates, he explored the entire
route, keeping a diary and carefully noting each obstacle in the way.
In 1811, he introduced and forced the passage of a bill clothing the
commission with full power to act; and, afterward, he visited
Washington with Gouverneur Morris to obtain aid from Congress. Then
came the war, and, later, in 1815, Clinton's overthrow and retirement.

This involuntary leisure gave Clinton just the time needed to hasten
the work which was to transmit his name to later generations. Bitterly
mortified over his defeat, he retired to a farm at Newton on Long
Island, where he lived for a time in strict seclusion, indulging, it
was said, too freely in strong drink. But if Clinton lacked patience,
and temporarily, perhaps, the virtue of temperance, he did not lack
force of will and strength of intellect. He corresponded with men of
influence; sought the assistance of capitalists; held public meetings;
and otherwise endeavoured to enlist the co-operation of people who
would be benefited, and to arouse a public sentiment which should
overcome doubt and stir into activity men of force and foresight.
Writing from Buffalo, in July, 1816, he declared that "in all human
probability, before the passing away of the present generation,
Buffalo will be the second city in the State."[185] A month later,
having examined "the land and the water with scrutinising eye,
superintending our operations and exploring all our facilities and
embarrassments" from the great drop at Lockport to the waters of the
Mohawk at Utica, he again refers to the future Queen City of the Lakes
with prophetic power. "Buffalo is to be the point of beginning, and in
fifty years it will be next to New York in wealth and population."[186]

[Footnote 185: DeWitt Clinton's Letters to Henry Post, in _Harper's
Magazine_, Vol. 50, p. 411.]

[Footnote 186: _Ibid._, Vol. 50, p. 411.]

It is doubtful if any statesman endowed with less genius than Clinton
could have kept the project alive during this period of indifference
and discouragement. Even Thomas Jefferson doubted the feasibility of
the plan, declaring that it was a century in advance of the age. "I
confess," wrote Rufus King, long after its construction had become
assured, "that looking at the distance between Erie and the Hudson,
and taking into view the hills and valleys and rivers and morasses
over which the canal must pass, I have felt some doubts whether the
unaided resources of the State would be competent to its
execution."[187] But Clinton had a nature and a spirit which inclined
him to favour daring plans, and he seems to have made up his mind that
nothing should hinder him from carrying out the enterprise he had at

[Footnote 187: Charles R. King, _Life and Correspondence of Rufus
King_, Vol. 6, p. 97.]

In the end, he compelled the acceptance of his project by a stroke of
happy audacity. A great meeting of New York merchants, held in the
autumn of 1815, appointed him chairman of a committee to memorialise
the Legislature. With a fund of information, obtained by personal
inspection of the route, he set forth with rhetorical effect and great
clearness the inestimable advantages that must come to city and to
State; and, with the ease of a financier, inspired with sounder views
than had been observed in the care of his own estate, he demonstrated
the manner of securing abundant funds for the great work. "If the
project of a canal," he said, in conclusion, "was intended to advance
the views of individuals, or to foment the divisions of party; if it
promoted the interests of a few at the expense of the prosperity of
the many; if its benefits were limited to place, or fugitive as to
duration; then, indeed, it might be received with cold indifference or
treated with stern neglect; but the overflowing blessings from this
great fountain of public good and national abundance will be as
extensive as our own country and as durable as time. It may be
confidently asserted that this canal, as to the extent of its route,
as to the countries which it connects, and as to the consequences
which it will produce, is without a parallel in the history of
mankind. It remains for a free state to create a new era in history,
and to erect a work more stupendous, more magnificent, and more
beneficial than has hitherto been achieved by the human race."

When the people heard and read this memorial, monster mass-meetings,
held at Albany and other points along the proposed waterway, gave vent
to acclamations of joy; and Clinton was welcomed whenever and wherever
he appeared. These marks of public favour were by no means confined to
the lower classes. Men of large property openly espoused his cause;
and when the Legislature convened, in January, 1816, a new commission,
with Clinton at its head, was authorised to make surveys and
estimates, receive grants and donations, and report to the next

It was a great triumph for Clinton. He went to Albany a political
outcast, he returned to New York gilded with the first rays of a new
and rising career, destined to be as remarkable as the most romantic
story belonging to the early days of the last century. To make his
success the more conspicuous, it became known, before the legislative
session ended, that his quarrel with Spencer had been settled.
Spencer's wife, who was Clinton's sister, had earnestly striven to
bring them together; but neither Spencer nor Clinton was made of the
stuff likely to allow family affection to interfere with the promotion
of their careers. As time went on, however, it became more and more
evident to Spencer that some alliance must be formed against the
increasing influence of Van Buren and Tompkins; and, with peace once
declared with Clinton, their new friendship began just where the old
alliance left off. In an instant, like quarrelling lovers,
estrangement was forgotten and their interests and ambitions became
mutual. Of all Clinton's critics, Spencer had been the meanest and
fiercest; of all his friends, he was now the warmest and most
enthusiastic. To turn Clinton's enemies into friends was as earnestly
and daringly undertaken by Spencer, as the old-time work of turning
his friends into enemies; and before the summer of 1816 had advanced
into the sultry days of August, Spencer boldly proclaimed Clinton his
candidate for governor to take the place of Tompkins, who was to
become Vice President on the 4th of March, 1817. It was an audacious
political move; and one of less daring mind might well have hesitated;
but it is hardly too much to say of Spencer, that he combined in
himself all the qualities of daring, foresight, energy, enterprise,
and cool, calculating sagacity, which must be united in order to make
a consummate political leader.

Tompkins, like Jefferson, had never taken kindly to the canal project.
In his message to the Legislature, in February, 1816, he simply
suggested that it rested with them to determine whether the scheme was
sufficiently important to demand the appropriation of some part of the
revenues of the State "without imposing too great a burden upon our
constituents."[188] The great meetings held in the preceding autumn
had forced this recognition of the existence of such a project; but
his carefully measured words, and his failure to express an opinion as
to its wisdom or desirability, chilled some of the enthusiasm formerly
exhibited for him. To add to the people's disappointment and chagrin,
the Governor omitted all mention of the subject on the 5th of
November, when the Legislature assembled to choose presidential
electors--an omission which he repeated on the 21st of January, 1817,
when the Legislature met in regular session, although the construction
of a canal was just then attracting more attention than all other
questions before the public. If Clinton failed to realise the loss of
popularity that would follow his loss of the Presidency in 1812,
Tompkins certainly failed to appreciate the reaction that would follow
his repudiation of the canal.

[Footnote 188: _Governors' Speeches_, February 2, 1816, p. 132.]

When the Legislature convened, the new Canal Commission, through
DeWitt Clinton, presented an exhaustive report, estimating the cost of
the Erie canal, three hundred and fifty-three miles long, forty feet
wide at the surface, and twenty-eight feet at the bottom, with
seventy-seven locks, at $4,571,813. The cost of the Champlain canal
was fixed at $871,000. It was suggested that money, secured by loan,
could be subsequently repaid without taxation; and on the strength of
this report, a bill for the construction of both canals was
immediately introduced in the two houses. This action produced a
profound impression throughout the State. The only topics discussed
from New York to Buffalo, were the magnificent scheme of opening a
navigable waterway between the Hudson and the lakes, and the
desirability of having the man build it who had made its construction
possible. This, of course, meant Clinton for governor.

Talk of Clinton's candidacy was very general when the Legislature
assembled, in January, 1817; and, although Van Buren had hitherto
attached little importance to it, the discovery that a strong and
considerable part of the Legislature, backed by the stalwart Spencer,
now openly favoured the nomination of the canal champion, set him to
work planning a way of escape. His suggestion that Tompkins serve as
governor and vice president found little more favour than the scheme
of allowing Lieutenant-Governor Taylor to act as governor; for the
former plan was as objectionable to Tompkins and the people, as the
latter was plainly illegal. It is doubtful if Van Buren seriously
approved either expedient; but it gave him time to impress upon party
friends the objections to Clinton's restoration to power. He did not
go back to 1812. That would have condemned himself. But he recalled
the ex-Mayor's open, bitter opposition to Tompkins in 1813, and the
steady support given him by the Federalists. In proof of this
statement he pointed to the present indisposition of Federalists to
oppose Clinton if nominated, and their avowed declarations that
Clinton's views paralleled their own.

Van Buren had shown, from his first entrance into public life, a
remarkable faculty for winning men to his own way of thinking. His
criticism of Clinton was now directed with characteristic sagacity and
skill. His argument, that the object of those who sustained Clinton
was to establish a conspiracy with the Federalists at home and
abroad, for the overthrow of the Republican party in the nation as
well as in the State, seemed justified by the open support of William
W. Van Ness, the gifted young justice of the Supreme Court. Further to
confirm his contention, Jonas Platt, now of the Supreme bench, and
Jacob Rutsen Van Rensselaer of Columbia, a bold, active, and most
zealous partisan, who had served in the Legislature and as secretary
of state, made no secret of their intention to indorse Clinton's
nomination, and, if necessary, to ride over the State to secure his
election. Under ordinary circumstances nothing could discredit the
Clinton agitation, with the more reasonable part of the Republican
legislators, more than Van Buren's charge, strengthened by such
supporting evidence.

The canal influences of the time, however, were too strong for any
ingenuity of argument, or adroitness in the raising of alarm, to
prevail; and so the skilful manager turned his attention to Joseph G.
Yates, a judge of the Supreme Court, as an opposing candidate who
might be successful. Yates belonged to the old-fashioned American type
of handsome men. He had a large, shapely head, a prominent nose, full
lips, and a face cleanly shaven and rosy. His bearing was excellent,
his voice, manner, and everything about him bespoke the gentleman; but
neither in aspect nor manner of speech did he measure up to his real
desire for political preferment. Yet he had many popular qualities
which commended him to the rank and file of his party. He was a man of
abstemious habits and boundless industry, whose courtesy and square
dealing made him a favourite. Few errors of a political character
could be charged to his account. He had favoured Clinton for
President; he had supported Tompkins and the war with great zeal, and,
to the full extent of his ability and influence, he had proved an
ardent friend of the canal policy.

It had been a trait of the Yates family--ever since its founder, an
enterprising English yeoman, a native of Leeds in Yorkshire, had
settled in the colony during the troublous days of Charles I.--to
espouse any movement or improvement which should benefit the people.
Joseph had already shown his activity and usefulness in founding Union
College; he regarded the proposed canal as a long step in the
development and prosperity of the State; but he did not take kindly to
Van Buren's suggestion that he become a candidate for governor against
Clinton. In this respect he was unlike Robert, chief justice, his
father's cousin, who first ran for governor on the Federalist ticket
at the suggestion of Hamilton, and, three years later, as an
anti-Federalist candidate at the suggestion of George Clinton,
suffering defeat on both occasions. He was, however, as ambitious as
the old Chief Justice; and, had the time seemed ripe, he would have
responded to the call of the Kinderhook statesman as readily as Robert
did to the appeals of Hamilton and George Clinton.

Peter B. Porter was more willing. He belonged to the Tompkins-Van
Buren faction which nourished the hope that the soldier, who had
recently borne the flag of his country in triumph on several
battlefields, would carry off the prize, although the caucus was to
convene in less than forty-eight hours. There could be no doubt of
General Porter's strength with the people. He had served his State and
his country with a fidelity that must forever class his name with the
bravest officers of the War of 1812. He rode a horse like a centaur;
and, wherever he appeared, whether equipped for a fight, or off for a
hunt through the forests of the Niagara frontier, his easy, familiar
manners surrounded him with hosts of friends. The qualities that made
him a famous soldier made him, also, a favoured politician. As county
clerk, secretary of state, and congressman, he had taken the keenest
interest in the great questions that agitated the political life of
the opening century; and as a canal commissioner, in 1811, he had
supported DeWitt Clinton with all the energy of an enthusiast.

At this time Porter was forty-four years old. He was a graduate of
Yale, a student of the law, and as quick in intelligence as he was
pleasing of countenance. His speeches, enlivened with gleams of
humour, rays of fancy, and flashes of eloquence, expressed the
thoughts of an honourable, upright statesman who was justly esteemed
of the first order of intellect. Certainly, if any one could take the
nomination from DeWitt Clinton it was Peter B. Porter.

It is possible, had the nomination been left exclusively to Republican
members of the Legislature, as it had been for forty years, Porter
might have been the choice of his party. Spencer, however, evidently
feared Van Buren's subtle control of the Legislature; for, early in
the winter, he began encouraging Republicans living in counties
represented by Federalists, to demand a voice in the nominating
caucus. It was a novel idea. Up to this time, governors and
lieutenant-governors had been nominated by members of the Legislature;
yet the plan now suggested was so manifestly fair that few dared
oppose it. Why should the Republicans of Albany County, it was asked,
be denied the privilege of participating in the nomination of a
governor simply because, being in a minority, they were unrepresented
in the Legislature? There was no good reason; and, although Van Buren
well understood that such counties would return delegates generally
favourable to Clinton, he was powerless to defeat the reform. The
result was the beginning of nominating conventions, composed of
delegates selected by the people, and the nomination of DeWitt

The blow to Van Buren was a severe one. "An obscure painter of the
Flemish school," wrote Clinton to his friend and confidant, Henry
Post, "has made a very ludicrous and grotesque representation of Jonah
immediately after he was ejected from the whale's belly. He is
represented as having a very bewildered and dismal physiognomy, not
knowing from whence he came nor to what place bound. Just so looks Van
Buren, the leader of the opposition party."[189] Yet Van Buren seems
to have taken his defeat with more serenity and dignity than might
have been expected. Statesmen of far nobler character have allowed
themselves to indulge in futile demonstrations of disappointment and
anger, but Van Buren displayed a remarkable evenness of temper. He
advocated with ability and sincerity the bill to construct the canal,
which passed the Legislature on April 15, the last day of the session.
Indeed, of the eighteen senators who favoured the project, five were
bitter anti-Clintonians whose support was largely due to Van Buren.

[Footnote 189: DeWitt Clinton's Letters to Henry Post, in _Harper's
Magazine_, Vol. 50, p. 412.]

In this vote, the noes, in both Assembly and Senate, came from
Clinton's opponents, including the Tammany delegation and their
friends. From the outset Tammany, by solemn resolutions, had denounced
the canal project as impractical and chimerical, declaring it fit only
for a ditch in which to bury Clinton. At Albany its representatives
greeted the measure for its construction with a burst of mockery; and,
by placing one obstacle after another in its way, nearly defeated it
in the Senate. It was during this contest that the friends of Clinton
called his opponents "Bucktails"--the name growing out of a custom,
which obtained on certain festival occasions, when leading members of
Tammany wore the tail of a deer on their hats.

Refusing to accept DeWitt Clinton, Tammany made Peter B. Porter its
candidate for governor. There is ample evidence that Porter never
concealed the chagrin or disappointment of defeat; but, though the
distinguished General must have known that his name was printed upon
the Tammany ticket and sent into every county in the State, he did not
co-operate with Tammany in its effort to elect him. Other defections
existed in the party. Peter R. Livingston seemed to concentrate in
himself all the prejudices of his family against the Clintons. Moses
I. Cantine of Catskill, a brother-in-law of Van Buren, though perhaps
incapable of personal bitterness, opposed Clinton with such zeal that
he refused to vote either for a gubernatorial candidate, or for the
construction of a canal. Samuel Young, who seemed to nourish a
deep-seated dislike of Clinton, never tired of disparaging the
ex-Mayor. He apparently took keen pleasure in holding up to ridicule
and in satirising, what he was pleased to call his ponderous
pedantries, his solemn affectation of profundity and wisdom, his
narrow-mindedness, and his intolerable and transparent egotism. But
the canal sentiment was all one way. With the help of the Federalists,
who declined to make an opposing nomination, Clinton swept the State
like a cyclone, receiving nearly forty-four thousand votes out of a
total of forty-five thousand.[190] Porter had less than fifteen
hundred. Clinton's inauguration as governor occurred on the first day
of July, 1817, and three days later he began the construction of the
Erie canal.

[Footnote 190: DeWitt Clinton, 43,310; Peter B. Porter, 1479.--_Civil
List, State of New York_ (1887), p. 166.]




DeWitt Clinton had now reached the highest point in his political
career. He was not merely all-powerful in the administration, he was
the administration. He delighted in the consciousness that he was
looked up to by men; that his success was fixed as a star in the
firmament; and that the greatest work of his life lay before him. He
was still in the prime of his days, only forty-eight years old, with a
marvellous capacity for work. It is said that he found a positive
delight in doing what seemed to others a wearisome and exhaustive tax
upon physical endurance. "The canal," he writes to his friend, Henry
Post, in the month of his inauguration, "is in a fine way. Ten miles
will be completely finished this season, and all within the estimate.
The application of the simple labour-saving machinery of our
contractors has the operation of magic. Trees, stumps, and everything
vanish before it."[191] The exceptional work and responsibility put
upon him during the construction of his "big ditch," as his enemies
sarcastically called it, might well have made him complain of the
official burdens he had to bear; but neither by looks nor words did he
indicate the slightest disposition to grumble. Nature had endowed him
with a genius for success. He loved literature, he delighted in
country life, he was at home among farmers, and with those inclined to
science he analysed the flowers and turned with zest to a closer study
of rocks and soils. No man ever enjoyed more thoroughly, or was
better equipped intellectually to undertake such a career as he had
now entered upon. His audacity, too, amazed his enemies and delighted
his friends.

[Footnote 191: DeWitt Clinton's Letters to Henry Post, in _Harper's
Magazine_, Vol. 50, p. 412.]

But Clinton had learned nothing of the art of political management
either in his retirement or by experience. He was the same
domineering, uncompromising, intolerant dictator, helpful only to
those who continually sounded his praises, cold and distant toward
those who acted with independence and spirit. He had made his enemies
his footstool; and he now assumed to be the recognised head of the
party whose destinies were in his keeping and whose fortunes were
swayed by his will. It is, perhaps, too much to say that this was
purely personal ambition. On the contrary, Clinton seems to have acted
on the honest conviction that he knew better than any other man how
New York ought to be governed, and the result of his effort inclines
one to the opinion that he was right in the belief. At all events, it
is not surprising that a man of his energy and capacity for onward
movement should refuse to regulate his policy to the satisfaction of
the men that had recently crushed him to earth, and who, he knew,
would crush him again at the first opportunity. In this respect he was
not different from Van Buren; but Van Buren would have sought to
placate the least objectionable of his opponents, and to bring to his
support men who were restless under the domination of others.

Clinton, however, did nothing of the kind. He would not even extend
the olive branch to Samuel Young after the latter had quarrelled with
Van Buren. He preferred, evidently, to rely upon his old friends--even
though some of their names had become odious to the party--and upon a
coterie of brilliant Federalists, led by William W. Van Ness, Jonas
Platt, and Thomas J. Oakley, with whom he was already upon terms of
confidential communication. He professed to believe that the
principles of Republican and Federalist were getting to be somewhat
undefined in their character; and that the day was not far off, if,
indeed, it had not already come, when the Republican party would
break into two factions, and, for the real business of statesmanship,
divide the Federalists between them. Yet, in practice, he did not act
on this principle. To the embarrassment of his Federalist friends he
failed to appoint their followers to office, making it difficult for
them to explain why he should profit by Federalist support and turn a
deaf ear to Federalist necessities; and, to the surprise of his most
devoted Republican supporters, he refused to make a clean sweep of the
men in office whom he believed to have acted against him. He quickly
dropped the Tammany men holding places in New York City, and
occasionally let go an up-state politician at the instance of Ambrose
Spencer, but with characteristic independence he disregarded the
advice of his friends who urged him to let them all go.

Meanwhile, a change long foreseen by those who were in the inner
political circle was rapidly approaching. At no period of American
history could such a man as Clinton remain long in power without
formidable rivals. No sooner, therefore, had the Legislature convened,
in January, 1818, than Martin Van Buren, Samuel Young, Peter R.
Livingston, Erastus Root, and their associates, began open war upon
him. For a long time it had been a question whether it was to be
Clinton and Van Buren, or Van Buren and Clinton. Van Buren had been
growing every day in power and influence. Seven years before Elisha
Williams had sneered at him as Little Matty. "Poor little Matty!" he
wrote, "what a blessing it is for one to think he is the greatest
little fellow in the world. It would be cruel to compel this man to
estimate himself correctly. Inflated with pride, flattered for his
pertness, caressed for his assurance, and praised for his
impertinence, it is not to be wondered that in a market where those
qualifications pass for evidence of intrinsic merit he should think
himself great." Williams, great and brilliant as he was, could not
bear with patience the supremacy which Van Buren was all too certainly
obtaining. He struggled against him, intrigued against him, and
finally hated and lampooned him, but the superiority of Van Buren's
talents as a managing politician was destined to make him pre-eminent
in the State and in the nation.

That Van Buren was not always honourable, the famous Fellows-Allen
contest had recently demonstrated. Henry Fellows, a Federalist
candidate for assemblyman in Ontario County, received a majority of
thirty votes over Peter Allen, a Republican; but because the former's
name appeared in his certificate as Hen. Fellows, the Bucktails,
guided by Van Buren, seated Allen, whose vote was absolutely needed to
elect a Republican Council of Appointment. Writing "Hen." for Henry
was not error; it was not even an inadvertence. Van Buren knew that it
stood for Henry as "Wm." did for William, or "Jas." for James. But Van
Buren wanted the Council. It cannot be said that this action was
inconsistent with the sentiment then governing the conduct of parties;
for the maxim obtained that "everything is fair in war." Nevertheless,
it illuminated Van Buren's character, and left the impression upon
some of his contemporaries that he was a stranger to a high standard
of political morality.

Probably DeWitt Clinton would have taken similar advantage. But in
practical politics Clinton was no match for the Kinderhook statesman.
Van Buren studied the game like a chess-player, taking knights and
pawns with the ease of a skilful mover. Clinton, on the other hand,
was an optimist, who believed in his destiny. In the performance of
his official duties he mastered whatever he undertook and relied upon
the people for his support; and so long as he stood for internal
improvements and needed reform in the public service, he did not rely
in vain. Force, clearness and ability characterised his state papers.
For years he had been a student of municipal and county affairs; and,
in suggesting new legislation, he exhibited rare judgment and absolute
impartiality. A comprehension that sound finance had much to do with
domestic prosperity, entered into his review of the financial
situation--in its relation to the construction of the canals--indicating
fulness of information and great clearness as to existing conditions.
Clinton was honestly proud of his canal policy; more than once he
declared, with exultation, that nothing was more certain to promote
the prosperity of the State, or to secure to it the weight and
authority, in the affairs of the nation, to which its wealth and
position entitled it. Seldom in the history of an American
commonwealth has a statesman been as prophetic. But in managing the
details of party tactics--in dealing with individuals for the purpose
of controlling the means that control men--he conducted the office of
governor much as he did his candidacy for President in 1812, without
plan, and, apparently, without organisation. With all his courage,
Clinton must have felt some qualms of uneasiness as one humiliation
followed another; but if he felt he did not show them. Conscious of
his ability, and of his own great purposes, he seems to have borne his
position with a sort of proud or stolid patience.

This inattention or inability to attend to details of party management
became painfully apparent at the opening of the Legislature in
January, 1818. Van Buren and his friends had agreed upon William
Thompson for speaker of the Assembly. Thompson was a young man, warm
in his passions, strong in his prejudices, and of fair ability, who
had served two or three terms in the lower house, and who, it was
thought, as he represented a western district, and, in opposition to
Elisha Williams, had favoured certain interests in Seneca County
growing out of the location of a new courthouse, would have greater
strength than other more prominent Bucktails. It was known, also, that
Thompson had taken a violent dislike to Clinton and could be relied
upon to advance any measure for the latter's undoing. To secure his
nomination, therefore, Van Buren secretly notified his partisans to be
present at the caucus on the evening before the session opened.

The Clintonians had talked of putting up John Van Ness Yates, son of
the former Chief Justice, a ready talker, companionable and brilliant,
a gentleman of fine literary taste, with an up-and-down political
career due largely to his consistent following of Clinton. But the
Governor now wanted a stronger, more decided man; and, after advising
with Spencer, he selected Obadiah German, for many years a leader in
the Assembly, and until recently a member of the United States Senate,
with such a record for resistance to Governor Tompkins, and active
complicity with the Federalists who had aided his election to the
Assembly, that the mere mention of his name to the Bucktails was like
a firebrand thrown onto the roof of a thatched cottage. German
himself doubted the wisdom of his selection. He was an old-time
fighter, preferring debate on the floor to the wielding of a gavel
while other men disputed; but the Governor, with sublime faith in
German's fidelity and courage, and a sublimer faith in his own power
to make him speaker, turned a deaf ear to the assemblyman's wishes.
Had Clinton now conferred with his friends in the Legislature, or
simply urged their presence at the caucus, he might easily have
nominated German in spite of his record. On the contrary, he did
neither, and when the caucus met, of the seventy-five members present,
forty-two voted for Thompson and thirty-three for German. When too
late Clinton discovered his mistake--seventeen Clintonians had been
absent and all the Bucktails present. The great Clinton had been

The hearts of the Bucktails must have rejoiced when they heard the
count, especially as the refusal of the Clintonians to make the
nomination unanimous indicated an intention to turn to the Federalists
for aid. This was the one error the Bucktails most desired Clinton to
commit; for it would stamp them as the regular representatives of the
party, and reduce the Clintonians to a faction, irregular in their
methods and tainted with Federalism. It is difficult to realise the
arguments which could persuade Clinton to take such a step. Even if
such conduct be not considered a question of principle, and only one
of expediency, he should have condemned it. Yet this is just what
Clinton did not do. After two days of balloting he disclosed his hand
in a motion declaring Obadiah German the speaker, and sixty-seven
members, including seventeen Federalists, voted in the affirmative,
while forty-eight, including three Federalists, voted in the negative.

"The Assembly met on Tuesday," wrote John A. King to his father, on
January 8, 1818, "but adjourned without choosing a speaker. The next
day, after a short struggle, Mr. German was chosen by the aid of some
of the Federalists. I regret to say that there are some of the Federal
gentlemen and influential ones, too, who are deeply pledged to support
the wanderings fortunes of Mr. Clinton. On this point the Federal
party must, if it has not already, divide. Once separated there can be
no middle course; a neutrality party in politics, if not an absurdity,
at least is evidence of indecision. We are not yet declared enemies,
but if I mistake not, the question of Council and the choice of a
United States senator must, if these gentlemen persist, decide the
matter irrevocably. Mr. W. Duer, Van Vechten, Bunner, Hoffman, and
myself are opposed to Mr. W. Van Ness, Oakley, and J. Van Rensselaer.
Mr. Clinton has found means to flatter these gentlemen with the
prospect of attaining their utmost wishes by adhering to and
supporting his administration."[192]

[Footnote 192: Charles R. King, _The Life and Correspondence of Rufus
King_, Vol. 6, p. 102.]

Clinton committed the second great error of his life when he consented
to bolt the caucus nominee of his party. It was an act of conscious
baseness. He had not manfully put forward his strength. Instead of
managing, he temporised; instead of meeting his adversaries with a
will, he did nothing, while they worked systematically and in silence.
Even then he need not have entered the caucus; but, once having
voluntarily entered it, it was his plain duty to support its nominee.
As a question of principle or expediency Clinton's conduct, therefore,
admits of no defence. The plea that Van Buren had secretly assembled
the Bucktails in force neither justifies nor palliates it; for the
slightest management on Clinton's part would have controlled the
caucus by bringing together fifty members instead of thirty-three, and
the slightest inquiry would have discovered the weakness of having
only thirty-three present instead of fifty.

Clinton professed to believe that the Federalists no longer existed as
a party; and it is probably true that he desired to create a party of
his own out of its membership, strengthened by the Clintonians, and to
leave Tammany and its Bucktail supporters to build up an opposition
organisation. But in this he was in advance of his time. Though the
day was coming when a majority of the Clintonians and Federalists
would make the backbone of the Whig party in the Empire State, a new
party could not be built up by such methods as Clinton now introduced.
New parties, like poets, are born, not made, and a love for principle,
not a desire for spoils, must precede their birth. If Clinton had
sincerely desired a new organisation, he should have disclaimed all
connection with the Republican or Federalist, and planted his standard
on the cornerstone of internal improvements, prepared to make the
sacrifice that comes to those who are tired of existing conditions and
eager for new policies and new associations. But Clinton was neither
reformer nor pioneer. He loved the old order of things, the Council of
Appointment, the Council of Revision, the Constitution of 1777 as
amended by the convention of 1801, and all the machinery that gave
power to the few and control to the boss. He had been born to power.
From his first entrance into the political arena he had exercised
it--first with the help of his uncle George, afterward with the
assistance of his brother-in-law, Ambrose Spencer; and now that he had
swung back into power again by means of his canal policy, he had no
disposition to let go any part of it by letting go the Republican
party. What Van Buren got from him he must take by votes, not by

Clinton's flagrant violation of the caucus rule, that a minority must
yield to the majority, not only broke the Republican party into the
famous factions known as Clintonians and Bucktails; it alarmed local
leaders throughout the State; made the rank and file distrustful of
the Governor's fealty, and consolidated his enemies, giving them the
best of the argument and enabling Van Buren to build up an
organisation against which the Governor was ever after compelled to
struggle with varying fortune. Indeed, in the next month, Van Buren so
managed the selection of a Council that it gave Clinton credit for
controlling appointments without the slightest power of making them,
so that the disappointed held him responsible and the fortunate gave
him no thanks. Following this humiliation, too, came the election, by
one majority, of Henry Seymour, a bitter opponent of Clinton, to the
canal commissionership made vacant by the resignation of Joseph
Ellicott. The Governor's attention had been called to the danger of
his candidate's defeat; but with optimistic assurance he dismissed it
as impossible until Ephraim Hart, just before the election occurred,
discovered that the cunning hand of Van Buren had accomplished his
overthrow. "A majority of the canal commissioners are now politically
opposed to the Governor," declared the Albany _Argus_, "and it will
not be necessary for a person who wishes to obtain employment on the
canal as agent, contractor or otherwise, to avow himself a
Clintonian." This exultant shout meant that in future only
anti-Clintonians would make up the army of canal employees.

But a greater _coup d'état_ was to come. Van Buren understood well
enough that Clinton's strength with the people was not as a politician
or Republican leader, but as a stubborn, indefatigable advocate of the
canal; and that, so long as the Bucktails opposed his scheme, their
control of appointments could not overthrow him. Van Buren, therefore,
determined to silence this opposition. Just how he did it is not of
record. It was said, at the time, that a caucus was held of Clinton's
opponents; but, however it was done, it must have required all Van
Buren's strength of will and art of persuasion to sustain him in the
midst of so many difficulties--difficulties which were greatly
increased by the unfriendly conduct of Erastus Root, and two or three
senators from the southern district, including Peter Sharpe,
afterward speaker of the Assembly. Yet the fact that he accomplished
it, and with such secrecy that Clinton's friends did not know how it
was brought about, showed the quiet and complete control exercised by
Van Buren over the members of the Bucktail party. The _National
Advocate_, edited by Mordecai Manesseh Noah, a conspicuous figure in
politics for forty years and one of the most unrelenting partisans of
his day, had supported Tammany in its long and bitter antagonism to
the canal with a malevolence rarely equalled in that or any other day.
He measured pens with Israel W. Clarke of the Albany _Register_, who
had so ably answered every point that Noah charged their authorship to
Clinton himself. But after Van Buren had spoken, the _Advocate_,
suddenly, as if by magic, changed its course, and, with the rest of
the Bucktail contingent, rallied to the support of Clinton's pet
scheme with arguments as sound and full of clear good sense as the
Governor himself could wish. The people, however, had good reason to
know that statesmen were not all and always exactly as they professed
to be; and the immediate effect of the Bucktail change of heart
amounted to little more than public notice that the canal policy was a
complete success, and that Tammany and its friends had discovered that
further opposition was useless.




Although Clinton's canal policy now dominated Bucktails as well as
Clintonians, eliminating all differences as to public measures, the
bitterness between these factions increased until the effort to elect
a United States senator to succeed Rufus King resulted in a complete
separation. The Clintonians had settled upon John C. Spencer, while
the Bucktails thought Samuel Young, a decided friend of Clinton's
canal policy, the most likely man to attract support. Both were
representative men, and either would have done honour to the State.

John C. Spencer needed no introduction or advertisement as the son of
Ambrose Spencer. He was a man of large promise. Everything he did he
did well, and he had already done much. Though scarcely thirty-four
years of age, he had established himself as a leading lawyer of the
Commonwealth, whose strong, vigorous English in support of the war had
found its way into Parliament as an unanswerable argument to Lord
Liverpool's unwise policy, winning him an enviable reputation as a
writer. Skilful in expression, adroit in attack, calm and resourceful
in argument, with the sarcasm of the younger Pitt, he had presented
American rights and British outrages in a clearer light than others,
arousing his countrymen very much as the letters of Junius had
quickened English political life forty years before. He made it plain
that England's insistence upon the right to stop and search an
American vessel, and England's persistent refusal to recognise a
naturalised American citizen on board an American vessel, were the
real causes of quarrel. "There is not an individual," said a leading
British journal, "who has attended at all to the dispute with the
United States, who does not see that it has been embittered from the
first, and wantonly urged on by those who, for the sake of their own
aggrandisement, are willing to plunge their country into all the evils
portrayed by the American writer."

A single term in Congress had placed Spencer in the ranks of the
leaders. He was trenchant in speech, forceful on paper, and helpful in
committee. Intellectually, he took the place of the distinguished
South Carolinian, just then leaving Congress to become Monroe's
secretary of war, whose thin face and firm mouth resembled the New
Yorker's. Spencer, like Calhoun, delighted in establishing by the
subtlest train of philosophical reasoning the delicate lines that
exposed sophistry and error, and made clear the disputed point in law
or in legislation. The rhetorical drapery that gave Samuel Young such
signal success found no place in Spencer's arguments or in his
pamphlets; but to a logic that deeply penetrated his subject he added
an ethical interest which captivated the mind, as his reasoning
illuminated and made plain. He was a born fighter. Like his father, he
asked no quarter and he gave none. His eye had the expression one sees
in hawks and game-cocks. At twenty-eight, as district attorney of the
five western counties of the State, he had become a terror to
evil-doers, and it is said of him, at his old home in Canandaigua,
that men, conscious of their innocence, preferred appealing to the
mercy of the court than endure prosecution at his hands. Possibly he
possessed the small affections which Disraeli thought necessary to be
coupled with large brains to insure success in public life, yet his
nature, in every domestic and social relation, was the gentlest and
simplest. DeWitt Clinton did not always approve Spencer's political
course. He thought him "an incubus on the party," "the political
millstone of the west," and he attributed the occasional loss of
Ontario and neighbouring counties "to his deleterious management." The
austerity and haughtiness of his manner naturally lessened his
popularity, just as his caustic pen and satirical tongue made him
bitter enemies; but his strong will and imperious manner were no more
offensive than Clinton's. Like Clinton, too, Spencer was ill at ease
in a harness; he resented being lined up by a party boss. But, at the
time he was talked of for United States senator, the intelligent
action and tireless industry upon which his fame rests, had so
impressed men, that they overlooked unpopular traits in their
admiration for his great ability. People did not then know that he was
to sit in the Cabinet of a President, and be nominated to a place upon
the Supreme bench of the United States; but they knew he was destined
to become famous, because he was already recognised as a professional
and political leader.

The genius of Samuel Young had also left its track behind. He was not
a great lawyer, but his contemporaries thought him a great man. He
combined brilliant speaking with brilliant writing. The fragments of
his speeches that have been preserved scarcely hint at the
extraordinary power accorded them in the judgment of his neighbours.
It is likely that the magic of presence, voice, and action,
exaggerated their merits, since he possessed the gifts of a trained
orator, rivalling the forceful declamation of Erastus Root, the mellow
tones and rich vocabulary of William W. Van Ness, and the smoothness
of Martin Van Buren. But, if his speeches equalled his pamphlets, the
judgment of his contemporaries must be accepted without limitation.
Chancellor Kent objected to giving joint stock companies the right to
engage in privateering, a drastic measure passed by the Legislature of
1814 in the interest of a more vigorous prosecution of the war; and in
his usual felicitous style, and with much learning, the stubborn
Federalist pronounced the statute inconsistent with the spirit of the
age and contrary to the genius of the Federal Constitution. Young
replied to the great Chancellor in a series of essays, brilliant and
readable even in a new century. He showed that, although America had
been handicapped by Federalist opposition, by a disorganised army,
and by a navy so small that it might almost as well have not existed,
yet American privateers--outnumbering the British fleet, scudding
before the wind, defying capture, running blockades, destroying
commerce, and bearing the stars and stripes to the ends of the
earth--had dealt England the most staggering blow ever inflicted upon
her supremacy of the sea. This was plain talk and plain truth; and it
made the speaker of the Assembly known throughout the State as "the
sword, the shield, and the ornament of his party." Young was as
dauntless as Spencer, and, if anything, a more distinguished looking
man. He was without austerity and easy of approach; and, although
inclined to reticence, he seemed fond of indulging in jocular remarks
and an occasional story; but he was a man of bad temper. He fretted
under opposition as much as Clinton, and he easily became vindictive
toward opponents. This kept him unpopular even among men of his own
faction. Clinton thought him "much of an imbecile," and suggested in a
letter to Post that "suspicions are entertained of his integrity."[193]
Yet Young had hosts of friends eager to fight his political battles.

[Footnote 193: DeWitt Clinton's Letters to Henry Post, in _Harper's
Magazine_, Vol. 50, p. 417.]

The Bucktails had no serious expectation either of nominating or
electing Samuel Young to the United States Senate. They knew the
Clintonians had a majority, and their purpose, in attending the
caucus, was simply to prevent a nomination. No sooner had the meeting
assembled, therefore, than several Bucktails attacked the Governor,
reproaching him for the conduct of his followers and severely
criticising his political methods and character. To this German
retorted with great bitterness. German made no pretensions to the gift
of oratory; he had neither grace of manner nor alluring forms of
expression. On the contrary, there was a certain quality of antagonism
in his manner, as if he took grim satisfaction in letting fly his
words, seemingly almost coldly indifferent to their effect; and on
this occasion his sledge-hammer blows gave Peter R. Livingston,
evidently acting by prearrangement, abundant chance for forcing a
quarrel. In the confusion that followed, the caucus hastily adjourned
amid mutual recriminations. When too late to mend matters the
Clintonians discovered the trick. They had the majority and could
easily have named Spencer as the candidate of the party, but in the
excitement of German's speech and Livingston's attack they lost their
heads. Thus ended forever all caucus relationship between these
warring factions, and henceforth they were known as two distinct

At the joint session of the Legislature, on February 2, 1819, the
Clintonians gave Spencer sixty-four votes, while Young received
fifty-seven, and Rufus King thirty-four. "A motion then prevailed to
adjourn," wrote John A. King to his father, "so that this Legislature
will make no choice." Young King, a member of the Assembly, was
looking after his father's re-election to the Senate. He deeply
resented Clinton's control of the Federalists, because it made his
father a leader only in name; and to show his dislike of Federalist
methods he associated and voted with the Bucktails. Nor did the father
dislike Clinton less than the son. Rufus King had felt, what he was
pleased to call "the baleful influence of the Clintons," ever since
his advent into New York politics. They had opposed the Federal
Constitution which he, as a delegate from Massachusetts, helped to
frame; they assisted Jefferson in overwhelming Hamilton; and they
benefited by the election trick which defeated John Jay. For more than
two decades, therefore, Rufus King had watched their control by
methods, which a man cast in a mould that would make no concessions to
his virtue, could not approve. Under his observation, DeWitt Clinton
had grown from young manhood, ambitious and domineering, accustomed to
destroy the friend who got in his way with as much ease, apparently,
as he smote an enemy. Hence King regarded him much as Hamilton did
Aaron Burr; and against his candidacy for President in 1812, he used
the argument that the great Federalist had hurled against the
intriguing New Yorker in 1801. He rejoiced that Clinton lost the
mayoralty in 1815; that he was defeated for elector in 1816; and he
deeply regretted his election as governor in 1817.

On his part, Clinton had little use for Rufus King; but his need of
Federalist votes made him excessively cautious about appearing to
oppose the distinguished Senator; although a deep-laid scheme,
understood if not engineered by Clinton, existed to defeat him. John
King assured his father that Clinton, inviting Joseph Yates to
breakfast, urged him to become a candidate; and that William W. Van
Ness had asked Chancellor Kent to enter the race. "I entertain not the
slightest doubt," he continued, referring to Van Ness, "of being able
to produce such testimony of his hypocrisy and infidelity as will
require more art than ever he is master of to explain or escape

[Footnote 194: Charles R. King, _Life and Correspondence of Rufus
King_, Vol. 6, p. 251.]

As the time approached for the reassembling of the Legislature, in
January, 1820, these machinations of Clinton caused his opponents many
an uneasy hour. The Bucktails, who could not elect a senator of their
own, would not take a Clintonian, and an alliance between Clinton and
the Federalists, led by Van Ness, Oakley, and Jacob R. Van Rensselaer,
threatened to settle the question against them. Van Buren favoured
King, although the Administration at Washington thought his election
impolitic, because of its effect upon the party in the State; but Van
Buren showed great firmness. His party was violently opposed to King.
Van Buren, too, was growing tired of the strain of maintaining the
leadership of one faction without disrupting the other. But so sure
was he of the wisdom of King's support that he insisted upon it, even
though it sacrificed his leadership. "We are committed to his
support," he wrote. "It is both wise and honest. Mr. King's views
toward us are honourable and correct. I will put my head on its

[Footnote 195: Edward M. Shepard, _Life of Van Buren_, p. 71.]

Van Buren wanted to share in the division of the Federalists; and to
refuse them a United States senator, when Clinton had recently given
them an attorney-general, an influential, and, at that time, a most
lucrative office, struck him as poor policy--especially since John A.
King and other estimable gentlemen had evidenced a disposition to join
them. Two weeks before the Legislature assembled, therefore, an
unsigned letter, skilfully drawn, found its way into the hands of
every Bucktail, summing up the reasons why they could properly support
Rufus King. After recalling his Revolutionary services, this anonymous
writer declared that support of King could not subject Bucktails to
the suspicion of a political bargain, since the Senator had neither
acted with the Federalists who had shown malignity against the
Administration, nor with that numerous and respectable portion who
ignorantly thought the war impolitic; but rather with those who aided
in forcing England to respect the rights of American citizens. It was
a cunning letter. There was rough and rasping sarcasm for the
Clintonians; an ugly disregard for the radical Federalist; a kind word
for the mere party follower, and winning speech for the gifted sons
who had risen superior to inherited prejudices. The concluding
declaration to the Bucktails was that King merited support because he
and his friends opposed Governor Clinton's re-election, the assertion
being justified by reference to John King's vote against German and
the Clinton Council.

Of the authorship of this remarkable paper, there could be no doubt.
William L. Marcy had aided in its preparation; but the hand of Van
Buren had shaped its character and inspired its winning qualities. It
had the instant effect that Van Buren plainly invoked for it--the
unanimous election of Rufus King. Perhaps, on the whole, nothing in
Van Buren's official life showed greater political courage or
discernment. It is not so famous as his Sherrod Williams letter of
1836, or the celebrated Texas letter with which he faced the crisis of
1844, but it ranks with the public utterances of those years when he
took the risk of meeting living issues that divided men on small
margins. There was a strength and character about it that seemed to
leave men powerless to answer. Clintonians objected to King, many
Bucktails opposed him, Van Ness declared that he could easily be
defeated, Thomas J. Oakley recognised him as the candidate of a man
who spoke of Clinton and his Federalist allies as profligates and
political blacklegs. Yet they all voted for Rufus King. Van Buren made
up their minds for them; and, though protesting against the duplicity
of Bucktail, the cowardliness of Federalist, and the timidity of
Clintonian, each party indorsed him, while proclaiming him not its

But Rufus King was not an ordinary candidate. His great experience and
exalted character, coupled with his discriminating devotion to the
best interests of the country, yielded strength that no other man in
the State could command. He was now about sixty years of age, and, of
living statesmen, he had no superior. His life had been a pure one,
and his public acts and purposes, measured by the virtues of
patriotism, honesty and integrity, entitled him to the respect and
lasting gratitude of his fellow citizens. The taste for letters which
characterised his Harvard College days, followed him into public
affairs, and if his style lacked the simplicity of Madison's and the
prophetic grasp and instinctive knowledge of Hamilton, he shared their
clearness of statement and breadth of view. He displayed similar
capacity in administration and in keeping abreast of the times.
Although a lifelong member of the Federal party, whose leadership in
New York he inherited upon the death of its great founder, he
supported the War of 1812 with zeal, giving no countenance to the
Hartford Convention if he did not openly oppose it, and promising
nothing in the way of aid that he did not amply and promptly fulfil.
At the supreme moment of the crisis, in 1814, when the general
government needed money and the banks would loan only upon the
indorsement of the Governor, he pledged his honour to support Tompkins
in whatever he did.

To the society of contemporaries, regardless of party, King was always
welcome. He disliked a quarrel. It seemed to be his effort to avoid
controversy; and when compelled to lead, or to participate
conspicuously in heated debate, he carefully abstained from giving
offence. Benton bears testimony to his habitual observance of the
courtesies of life. Indeed, his urbanity made a deep impression upon
all his colleagues. Yet King was not a popular man. The people thought
him an aristocrat; and, although without arrogance, his appearance and
manner gave character to their opinion. His countenance inclined to
austerity, forbidding easy approach; his indisposition to talk lent an
air of reserve, with the suggestion of coldness, which was unrelieved
by the touch of amiability that commended John Jay to the affectionate
regard of men. It was his nature to be serious and thoughtful. Among
friends he talked freely, often facetiously, becoming, at times,
peculiarly instructive and fascinating, as his remarkable memory gave
up with accuracy and facility the product of extensive travel, varied
experiences, close observation, and much reading. His statements,
especially those relating to historical and political details, were
rarely questioned. We read that he was of somewhat portly habit, above
the middle size, strongly made, with the warm complexion of good
health, large, attractive eyes, and a firm, full mouth; that, although
men no longer chose to be divided sharply by marked distinction of
attire, he always appeared in the United States Senate in full dress,
with short clothes, silk stockings and shoes--having something of
pride and hauteur in his manner that was slightly offensive to plain
country gentlemen, as well as inconsistent with the republican idea of
equality. Wealthy, he lived at Jamaica, in a stately mansion,
surrounded by noble horse chestnut trees, an estate known as King
Park, and kept at public expense as a typical Long Island colonial

It is possible that the extension of slavery into Missouri influenced
King's return to the United States Senate; for the election occurred
in the midst of that heated contest, a contest in which he had
already taken a conspicuous part in the Fifteenth Congress, and in
which he was destined to earn, in still greater degree, the
commendation of friends, outside and inside the Senate, as the
champion of freedom. But whatever the cause of his election, it is
certain that it was free from suspicion, other than that he preferred
Van Buren to Clinton--a choice which necessarily created the
impression that King's prejudice against Clinton resulted more from
jealousy than from aversion to his character. No doubt Clinton's
ability to dominate Federalist support, in spite of King's opposition,
wounded the latter's pride and created a dislike which gradually
deepened into a feeling of resentment. It had practically left him
without a party; and he turned to Van Buren very much as Charles James
Fox turned to Lord North in 1782. He cheerfully accepted the most
confidential relations with the Kinderhook statesman, and when, a year
or two later, Van Buren joined him in the United States Senate, Benton
observed the deferential regard paid by Van Buren to his venerable
colleague, and the marked kindness and respect returned by King. Yet
King did not openly ally himself with the Bucktails. They could rely
with certainty upon his support to antagonise Clinton, but he declined
to join a party whose character and principles did not promise such
companionship as he had been accustomed to.




The coming of 1820 was welcomed by the Van Buren forces. It was the
year for the selection of another governor, and the Bucktails, very
weary of Clinton, were anxious for a change. For all practical
purposes Bucktails and Clintonians had now become two opposing
parties, Van Buren's removal as attorney-general, by the Council of
1819, ending all semblance of friendship and political affiliation.
This Council was known as "Clinton's Council;" and, profiting by the
lesson learned in 1817, Clinton had made a clean sweep of the men he
believed to have acted against him. He gave Van Buren's place to
Thomas J. Oakley, and Peter A. Jay, eldest son of John Jay, who had
rendered valuable assistance in promoting the construction of the
canal, he made recorder of New York City, an office which Richard
Riker had held since 1815. These appointments naturally subjected the
Governor to the criticism of removing Republicans to make places for
Federalists. But the new officers were Clinton's friends, while Riker,
at least, had been an open enemy since Jonas Platt's appointment to
the Supreme bench in 1814. Jay's appointment was also a thrust at the
so-called "high-minded" Federalists, composed of the sons of Alexander
Hamilton, Rufus King, and other well known men of the party.

Clinton's intimates had long known his desire to get rid of Van Buren.
In his letters to Henry Post, the Kinderhook statesman is termed "an
arch scoundrel," "the prince of villains," and "a confirmed
knave;"[196] yet Clinton put off the moment of his removal from week
to week, very much as Tompkins hesitated to remove Clinton from the
mayoralty; that is, not so much to save the feelings of Van Buren as
to avert the hostility of James Tallmadge and John C. Spencer, both of
whom sought the office. Tallmadge had recently returned from Congress
full of honours because of his brilliant part in the great debate on
the Missouri Compromise, and he now confidently expected the
appointment. The moment, therefore, the Council, at its meeting in
July, 1819, named Oakley, Tallmadge ranged himself squarely among
Clinton's enemies. Van Buren had expected dismissal, and he seems to
have taken it with the outward serenity and dignity that characterised
the departure of Clinton from the mayoralty in 1815; but in
confidential communications to Rufus King, he spoke of Clinton and his
friends as "very profligate men," "politician blacklegs," and "a set
of desperadoes."[197]

[Footnote 196: DeWitt Clinton's Letters to Henry Post, in _Harper's
Magazine_, Vol. 50, p. 412-7, 563-71.]

[Footnote 197: Martin Van Buren to Rufus King, January 19, 1820;
Charles R. King, _Life and Correspondence of Rufus King_, Vol. 6, p.

In the Bucktail mind, Daniel D. Tompkins seemed the only man
sufficiently popular to oppose DeWitt Clinton in the gubernatorial
contest. He was remembered as the great War Governor; and the up-state
leaders, representing the old war party, thought he could rally and
unite the opposing factions better than any one else. In some respects
Tompkins' position in 1820 was not unlike that of John A. Andrew in
Massachusetts in 1870, the great war governor of the Civil War. His
well-doing in the critical days of the contest had passed into
history, making his accomplishment a matter of pride to the State, and
giving him an assured standing. Everybody knew that he had raised
troops after enlistments had practically stopped elsewhere; that he
had bought army supplies, equipped regiments, constructed
fortifications, manned forts, fitted out privateers, paid bills from
funds raised on his individual indorsement, and worked with energy
while New England sulked. When the grotesque treaty of Ghent closed
the war, the Governor's star shone brightly in the zenith. At this
time, therefore, Daniel D. Tompkins was undoubtedly the most popular
man personally that ever participated in New York politics. Hammond,
the historian, relates that a father, desiring the pardon of his son,
left the capital better pleased with Governor Tompkins, who refused
it, than with Governor Clinton, who granted it. It is not easy to say
just wherein lay the charm of his wonderful personality. His voice was
rich and mellow; his face, prepossessing in repose, expressed sympathy
and friendship; while his manner, gentle and gracious without
unnaturalness, appealed to his auditor as if he of all men, was the
one whom the Governor wished to honour. His success, too, had been
marvellous. He had carried the State by the largest majority ever
given to a governor up to that time; larger than Jay's triumphant
majority in 1798; larger than George Clinton's in 1801 after the
election of Jefferson and the organisation of the Republican party;
larger even than the surprising vote given Morgan Lewis in 1804, when
Alexander Hamilton and the Clintons combined against Aaron Burr.
Tompkins' nomination for governor, therefore, was made on January 16,
1820, without the slightest opposition.

It was known, at this time, that Tompkins' accounts as governor showed
a shortage. He had failed to take vouchers during the war, and it was
thought not unlikely that he had paid for army supplies out of his own
money, and for family supplies out of the State's money; but no one
believed him guilty of intentional misconduct. Nevertheless, his
accounts, after the comptroller had audited them, after a commission
of expert accountants had sought for missing vouchers, and after
friends had made explanations, were still $120,000 short. By an act,
approved April 13, 1819, the Legislature authorised the comptroller to
balance this shortage by allowing Tompkins a premium of twelve per
cent. on $1,000,000, and people thought nothing more about it until
Tompkins presented an account, demanding a premium of twenty-five per
cent., which brought the State in debt to him in the sum of $130,000.

The comptroller, overwhelmed by the extravagance of the claim,
construed the law to limit the premium on moneys borrowed solely on
Tompkins' personal responsibility, and out of this a correspondence
was conducted with much asperity. Archibald McIntyre, the comptroller
since 1806, possessed the absolute confidence of the people; and when
his letters became public a suspicion that the Vice President might be
wrong was quickly encouraged by the friends of Clinton. This suspicion
was increased as soon as the Legislature of 1820 got to work. It was
intent on mischief. By a fusion of Clintonians and Federalists John C.
Spencer became speaker of the Assembly, and to cripple Tompkins, who
had now been nominated for governor, Jedediah Miller of Schoharie
offered a resolution approving the conduct of the Comptroller in
settling the accounts of the former Governor. This precipitated a
discussion which has rarely been equalled in Albany for passion and
brilliancy. A coterie of the most skilful debaters happened to be
members of this Assembly; and for several weeks Thomas J. Oakley, John
C. Spencer, and Elisha Williams sustained the Comptroller, while
Erastus Root, Peter Sharpe, and others pleaded for Tompkins.

Meanwhile, on the 9th of March, a Senate committee, with Van Buren as
chairman, reported that the Comptroller ought to have allowed Tompkins
a premium of twelve and a half per cent. on $1,000,000, leaving a
balance due the Vice President of $11,870.50. It was a strange mix-up,
and the more committees examined it the worse appeared the muddle.
After Van Buren had reported, the question arose, should the
Comptroller be sustained, or should the report of Van Buren's
committee be accepted? It was a long drop from $130,000 claimed by
Tompkins to $11,780.50 awarded him by Van Buren, yet it was better to
take that than accept a settlement which made him a defaulter, and the
Senate approved the Van Buren report. But Thomas J. Oakley, chairman
of the Assembly committee to which it was referred, did not propose to
let the candidate for governor escape so easily. In an able review of
the whole question he sustained the Comptroller, maintaining that the
Vice President must seek relief under the law like other parties, and
instructing the Comptroller to sue for any balance due the State,
unless Tompkins reimbursed it by the following August. This ended
legislation for the session.

Van Buren seems to have had no concern about Tompkins' canal record.
Possibly he thought the disappearance of Bucktail opposition took that
issue out of the campaign; but he was greatly worked up over the
unsettled accounts, and in his usual adroit manner set influences to
work to discourage Tompkins' acceptance of the nomination, and to
secure the consent of Smith Thompson, then secretary of the navy, to
make the race himself. He had little difficulty in accomplishing this
end, for Thompson was not at all unwilling. But to get rid of Tompkins
was another question. "The Republican party in this State never was
better united," he wrote Smith Thompson, on January 19, 1820, three
days after Tompkins' nomination; "they all love, honour and esteem the
Vice President; but such is their extreme anxiety to insure the
prostration of the Junto, who have stolen into the seats of power,
that they all desire that you should be the candidate. They will
support Tompkins to the bat's end if you refuse, or he should not
decline; but if he does, and you consent to our wishes, you will be
hailed as the saviour of New York."[198] On the same day Van Buren
also wrote Rufus King: "Some of our friends think it is dangerous to
support the Vice President under existing circumstances.... A few of
us have written him freely on the subject and to meet the event of his
having left the city of Washington, I have sent a copy of our letter
to Secretary Thompson, of which circumstance the Secretary is not
informed. There are many points of view in which it would be desirable
to place this subject before you, but I am fully satisfied you will
appreciate without further explanation. I will, therefore, only say,
that if the Vice President is with you, and upon a free discussion
between you, the Secretary and himself, he should resolve to decline,
and you can induce the Secretary to consent to our using his name, you
will do a lasting benefit to the Republican interest of this

[Footnote 198: Charles R. King, _Life and Correspondence of Rufus
King_, Vol. 6, p. 254.]

[Footnote 199: Charles R. King, _Life and Correspondence of Rufus
King_, Vol. 6, p. 252.]

To this most adroit and cunning letter Rufus King replied on the last
day of the month: "The Vice President left us to-day at noon; on his
way he stopped at the Senate and we had a short conference.... I
observed as between him and Mr. Clinton my apprehension was that a
majority, possibly a large majority of Federalists would vote for Mr.
Clinton; adding that between the Secretary of the Navy and Mr. Clinton
I was persuaded that a majority of the Federalists would prefer the
Secretary.... Apologising for the frankness with which I expressed my
opinion, I added that I hoped he would wait until he reached New York
before he decided; perhaps he would think it best to delay his answer
until he arrived in Albany; one thing I considered absolutely
necessary--that his accounts should be definitely closed before
election. He answered that he was going immediately to Albany with
four propositions which would lead to a final settlement; that he
might think it best to delay his answer to the nomination until he
should reach Albany. I said in conclusion that my earnest wish was the
exclusion of Mr. Clinton, and my preference (knowing the personal
sacrifice he would make in consenting to his own nomination) that the
candidate selected should be the man who, in the opinion of those most
capable to decide, will be the most likely to accomplish the

[Footnote 200: _Ibid._, Vol. 6, p. 263.]

Rufus King certainly did his work well. He had abundantly discouraged
him as to the Federalists and had fully advised him as to the
importance of settling his accounts; but all to no purpose. Two days
later Thompson wrote Van Buren that the Vice President "will stand."
The Kinderhook statesman, however, disinclined to give it up, asked
the Secretary in a note on the same day for authority to use his name
"if the Vice President, when he arrives here, should wish to decline."
On the 7th of February, John A. King wrote his father: "Hopes are
still entertained that the Vice President's decision may yet yield to
the wishes of many of his oldest friends. Those, however, who know him
best have no such hopes. Judge Yates has said that he never refused an
offer of any sort in his life."[201] And so it proved in this
instance. Tompkins was immovable. Like a race horse trained to
running, he only needed to be let into the ring and given a free rein.
When the bell sounded he was off on his fifth race for governor.

[Footnote 201: Charles R. King, _Life and Correspondence of Rufus
King_, Vol. 6, p. 267.]

If Tompkins was handicapped with a shortage and a canal record,
Clinton was harassed for want of a party. To conceal the meagreness of
his strength in a legislative caucus, Clinton was renominated with
John Taylor at a meeting of the citizens of Albany. He had a following
and a large one, but it was without cohesion or discipline. Men felt
at liberty to withdraw without explanation and without notice. Within
eight months after his election as a Clintonian senator, Benjamin
Mooers of Plattsburg accepted the nomination for lieutenant-governor
on the ticket with Governor Tompkins, apparently without loss of
political prestige, or the respect of neighbours. The administration
at Washington recognised the Bucktails as the regular Republican
party, and showered offices among them, until Clinton later made it a
matter of public complaint and official investigation. Other
disintegrating influences were also at work. The "high minded"
Federalists, in a published document signed by forty or fifty leading
men, declared the Federal party dissolved and annihilated, and
pronounced the Clinton party simply a personal one. To belong to it
independence must be surrendered, and to obtain office in it, one must
laud its head and bow the knee, a system of sycophancy, they said,
disgusting all "high minded" men. But DeWitt Clinton's strength was
not in parties nor in political management. He belonged to the great
men of his time, having no superior in New York, and, in some
respects, no equal in the country. He possessed a broader horizon, a
larger intellect, a greater moral courage, than most of his
contemporaries. It is probably true that, like a mountain, he appeared
best at a distance, but having confidence in his ability and
integrity, people easily overlooked his rough, unpopular manners. The
shrewd, sagacious Yankee farmers who were filling up the great western
counties of Ontario and Genesee believed in him. The Bucktails did not
know, until the eastern and western districts responded with five
thousand eight hundred and four majority for Clinton, as against four
thousand three hundred and seventy-seven for Tompkins in the middle
and southern districts, what a capital cry Clinton had in the canal
issue; what a powerful appeal to selfish interests he could put into
voice; and what a loud reply selfish interests would make to the
appeal. It was not, in fact, a race between parties at all; it was not
a question of shortage or settlement. It is likely the shortage
affected the result somewhat; but the majority of over fourteen
hundred meant approval of Clinton and his canal policy rather than
distrust of Tompkins and his unsettled accounts. The question in 1820
was, shall the canal be built? and, although the Bucktails had ceased
their hostility, the people most interested in the canal's
construction wanted Clinton to complete what he had so gloriously and
successfully begun.

The campaign was fought out with bitterness and desperation until the
polls closed. No national or state issue divided the parties. In fact,
there were no issues. It was simply a question whether Clinton and his
friends, or Tompkins and the Bucktails should control the state
government. The arguments, therefore, were purely personal. Clinton's
friends relied upon his canal policy, his honesty, and his
integrity--the Bucktails insisted that Clinton was no longer a
Republican; that the canal would be constructed as well without him
as with him, and that his defeat would wipe out factional strife and
give New York greater prominence in the councils of the party. "For
the last ten days," wrote Van Buren to Rufus King, on April 13, "I
have scarcely had time to take my regular meals and am at this moment
pressed by at least half a dozen unfinished concerns growing out of
this intolerable political struggle in which we are involved."[202]
Nevertheless, he had no doubt of Tompkins' election. "I entertain the
strongest convictions that we shall succeed,"[203] he wrote later in
the month. On the other hand, Clinton was no less certain. In his
letters to Henry Post he is always confident; but at no time more so
than now. "The canal proceeds wondrously well," he says. "The Martling
opposition has ruined them forever. The public mind was never in a
better train for useful operations. John Townsend has just come from
the west. There is but one sentiment."[204] Yet, when the battle
ended, it looked like a Clintonian defeat and Bucktail victory; for
the latter had swept the Legislature, adding to their control in the
Senate and capturing the Assembly by a majority of eighteen over all.
It was only the presence of Tompkins among the slain that transferred
the real glory to Clinton, whose majority was fourteen hundred and
fifty-seven in a total vote of ninety-three thousand four hundred and
thirty-seven. This exceeded any former aggregate by nearly ten

[Footnote 202: Charles R. King, _Life and Correspondence of Rufus
King_, Vol. 6, p. 331.]

[Footnote 203: _Ibid._, Vol. 6, p. 332.]

[Footnote 204: DeWitt Clinton to Henry Post, in _Harper's Magazine_,
Vol. 50, p. 413.]

[Footnote 205: DeWitt Clinton, 47,444; Daniel D. Tompkins,
45,990.--_Civil List, State of New York_ (1887), p. 166.]

Daniel D. Tompkins took his defeat much to heart. He believed his
unsettled accounts had occasioned whispered slanders that crushed him.
After his angry controversy with Comptroller McIntyre, in the
preceding year, he seriously considered the propriety of resigning as
Vice President; for he sincerely believed his figures were right and
that the Comptroller's language had classed him in the public mind
with what, in these latter days, would be called "grafters." "Our
friend on Staten Island is unfortunately sick in body and mind,"
Clinton wrote to Post in September, 1819. "His situation upon the
whole is deplorable and calculated to excite sympathy."[206] It was,
indeed, a most unfortunate affair, for the State discovered, years
after it was too late, that it did owe the War Governor ninety-two
thousand dollars.

[Footnote 206: DeWitt Clinton's Letters to Henry Post, in _Harper's
Magazine_, Vol. 50, p. 413.]

Tompkins' public life continued four years longer. In the autumn of
1820, the Legislature balanced his accounts and the country re-elected
him Vice President. The next year his party made him a delegate to the
constitutional convention, and the convention made him its president;
but he never recovered from the chagrin and mortification of his
defeat for the governorship. Soon after the election, melancholy
accounts appeared of the havoc wrought upon a frame once so full of
animal spirits. He began to drink too freely even for those days of
deep drink. His eye lost its lustre; deep lines furrowed the round,
sunny face; the unruffled temper became irritable; and, within three
months after the close of his second term as Vice President, before he
had entered his fifty-second year, he was dead.




When the Legislature assembled to appoint presidential electors in
November, 1820, Bucktail fear of Clinton was at an end for the
present. Before, his name had been one to conjure with; thenceforth it
was to have no terrors. He had, indeed, been re-elected governor, but
the small majority, scarcely exceeding one per cent. of the total
vote, showed that he was now merely an independent, and a very
independent member, of the Republican party. To the close of his
career he was certain to be a commanding figure, around whom all party
dissenters would quickly and easily rally; but it was now an
individual figure, almost an eccentric figure, whose work as a
political factor seemed to be closed.

Yet Clinton was not ready to go into a second retirement. On the
theory, as he wrote Henry Post, that "the meekness of Quakerism will
do in religion, but not in politics,"[207] he looked about him for
something to arouse public attention and to excite public indignation,
and, for the want of a better subject, he charged the Monroe
administration with interference in the recent state election. Post
advised caution; but Clinton, stung by the defeat of his friends and
by his own narrow escape, had become possessed with the suspicion that
federal officials had used the patronage of the government against
him. So, in his speech to the Legislature in November, he protested
against the outrage. "If the officers under the appointment of the
federal government," he declared, "shall see fit as an organised and
disciplined corps to interfere in state elections, I trust there will
be found a becoming disposition in the people to resist these alarming
attempts upon the purity and independence of their local
governments."[208] Clinton had no evidence upon which to support this
charge. It was, at best, only a suspicion based upon his own methods;
but the Senate demanded proof, and failing to get specifications, it
declared it "highly improper that the Chief Magistrate of the State
should incriminate the administration of the general government,
without ample testimony in his possession." The resolutions closed
with an expression of confidence in the patriotism and integrity of
the government.

[Footnote 207: DeWitt Clinton's Letters to Henry Post, in _Harper's
Magazine_, Vol. 50, p. 413.]

[Footnote 208: _Governors' Speeches_, November 7, 1820, p. 179.]

Meanwhile, Clinton was urging Post to help him out of his difficulty.
"I want authenticated testimony of the interference of the general
government in our elections," he wrote on November 19. "Our friends
must be up and doing on this subject. It is all important."[209] Eight
days later he stirred up Post again. "What is the annual amount of
patronage of the national government in this State?" he asked.[210]
"Knowing the accuracy of your calculations, I rely much on you." Then
he developed his plan: "The course of exposition ought, I think, to be
this--to collect a voluminous mass of documents detailing facts, and
to form from them a lucid, intelligible statement. On the
representation of facts recourse must also be had to inferences, and
it ought also to unite boldness and prudence."[211] It is evident that
thus far inferences outnumbered facts, for far into December Clinton
was still calling upon his friends to collect testimony. "Go on with
your collection of proofs," he wrote. "I think with a little industry
this matter will stand well."[212]

[Footnote 209: DeWitt Clinton's Letters to Henry Post, in _Harper's
Magazine_, Vol. 50, p. 413.]

[Footnote 210: _Ibid._, Vol. 50, p. 413.]

[Footnote 211: _Ibid._, Vol. 50, p. 414.]

[Footnote 212: _Ibid._, Vol. 50, p. 415.]

When submitted to the Legislature, on January 17, 1821, the documents,
according to the Governor's instructions, were indeed very voluminous.
It required a bag to take them to the capitol--the green bag message,
it was called; but it proved to be smoke, with little fire. It fully
established that the naval storekeeper at Brooklyn, and other federal
officials were offensive partisans, just as they had been under
Clinton's control, and just as they have been ever since. The
Bucktails saw distinctly enough that the State could not be aroused
into indignation by such a mass of documents; but there was one letter
from Van Buren to Henry Meigs, the congressman, dated April 5, 1820,
advising the removal of postmasters at Bath, Little Falls, and Oxford,
because it seemed impossible to secure the free circulation of
Bucktail newspapers in the interior of the State, which provoked much
criticism. How the Governor got it does not appear, but it gives a
glimpse of Van Buren's political methods that is interesting. "Unless
we can alarm them (the Clintonians) by two or three prompt removals,"
he says, "there is no limiting the injurious consequences that may
result from it."

Soon after, two of the postmasters were removed. If the charge was
true, that postmasters were preventing the circulation of Bucktail
newspapers, Van Buren's course was very charitable. Evidently he did
not want places for his friends so much as a proper delivery of the
mails; for otherwise he would have insisted upon the removal of all
offenders. The gentle suggestion that the removal of two or three
would be a warning to others, explains how this devout lover of men
lived through a long life on most intimate terms with his neighbours.
If such conditions existed under the modern management of the
Post-Office Department, every wrong-doer would be summarily dismissed,
regardless of party or creed. Van Buren's methods had no such drastic
discipline; yet his letter became the subject of much animadversion by
the Clintonians, not so much because they disapproved the suggestion
as because Van Buren wrote it. "It is very important to destroy this
prince of villains," Clinton declared, in a letter to Post of December
2, 1820.[213]

[Footnote 213: DeWitt Clinton's Letters to Henry Post, in _Harper's
Magazine_, Vol. 50, p. 415.

Clearly discerning Van Buren as his most formidable competitor for
political leadership, Clinton's letters to Post from 1817 to 1824
abound in vituperative allusions, as, for example: "Whom shall we
appoint to defeat the arch scoundrel Van Buren?" November 30, 1820.
"Of his cowardice there can be no doubt. He is lowering daily in
public opinion, and is emphatically a corrupt scoundrel," August 30,
1820. "Van Buren is now excessively hated out of the State as well as
in it. There is no doubt of a corrupt sale of the vote of the State,
although it cannot be proved in a court of justice," August 6, 1824.
"We can place no reliance upon the goodwill of Van Buren. In his
politics he is a confirmed knave." And again: "With respect to Van
Buren, there is no developing the man. He is a scoundrel of the first
magnitude, ... without any fixture of principle or really of virtue."
"Van Buren must be conquered through his fears. He has no heart, no

Like many other brilliant political leaders, Van Buren was somewhat
thin-skinned; he happened, too, to be out of the State Senate, and
thus was compelled to endure, in silence, the attacks of the
opposition. It is believed that at this time, Van Buren had a strong
inclination to accept a Supreme Court judgeship, and thus withdraw
forever from political life. But the fates denied him any chance of
making this serious anti-climax in his great political career. While
the green bag message convulsed the Clintonians with simulated
indignation, the Bucktails declared him, by a caucus vote of
fifty-eight to twenty-four, their choice for United States senator in
place of Nathan Sanford, whose term expired on March 4, 1821.

It appeared then as it appears now, that Martin Van Buren was "the
inevitable man." He was thirty-nine years of age, in the early
ripeness of his powers, a leader at the bar, and the leader of his
party. He had accumulated from his practice the beginnings of the
fortune which his Dutch thrift and cautious habits made ample for his
needs. The simple and natural rules governing his astute political
leadership seemed to leave him without a rival, or, at least, without
an opponent who could get in his way. Times had changed, too, since
the days when United States senators resigned to become postmasters
and mayors of New York. A seat in the United States Senate had become
a great honour, because it was a place of great power and great
influence; and in passing from Albany to Washington Van Buren would
add to state leadership an opportunity of becoming a national figure.
It is not surprising, therefore, that Clinton sought to defeat him;
for he had ever been ready to retaliate upon men who ventured to cross
his purposes. But Clinton's scheme had no place in the plans of
Bucktails. "I am afraid Van Buren will beat Sanford for senator," he
wrote Post as early as the 30th of December, 1820. "He will unless his
friends stand out against a caucus decision."[214] This is what
Clinton wanted the twenty-four Sanford delegates to do, and, to
encourage such a bolt, he compelled every Federalist and Clintonian,
save one, to vote for him, although Sanford represented Tammany and
its bitter hostility to Clinton. But the Bucktails had at last
established a party organisation that could not be divided by Clinton
intrigue, and Van Buren received the full party vote.

[Footnote 214: DeWitt Clinton's Letters to Henry Post, in _Harper's
Magazine_, Vol. 50, p. 414.]

When Roger Skinner and his three associates on the new Council of
Appointment got to work, Clinton quickly discovered that he could
expect little from such a body of Bucktails; and he received less than
he expected. For, when the Council had finished, only one Clintonian
remained in office. Oakley, the able attorney-general; Jay, the gifted
recorder of New York; Colden, the acceptable mayor of New York;
Hawley, the ideal superintendent of common schools; Solomon Van
Rensselaer, the famous and fearless adjutant-general; McIntyre, the
trusted and competent comptroller, had all disappeared in a night.
Only Simeon DeWitt, who had been surveyor-general for forty years, was
left undisturbed. Former Councils had been radical and vigorous in
their action, but the Skinner council cut as deep and swift as the
famous Clinton Council of 1801. At its first meeting, clerks and
sheriffs and surrogates and district attorneys fell in windrows. Yet
it was no worse than its predecessors; it could not be worse, since
precedents existed in support of conduct however scandalous.

The removal of Hawley, McIntyre, and Van Rensselaer produced a greater
sensation throughout the State than any previous dismissals, except
that of DeWitt Clinton from the mayoralty in 1815. Gideon Hawley had
held the office of school superintendent for nine years, organising
the State into school districts, distributing the school fund
equitably, and perfecting the work, so that the entire system could be
easily handled by a superintendent. In 1818, he reported five thousand
schools thus organised, with upward of two hundred thousand pupils in
attendance for a period of four to six months each year. He did this
work on a salary of three hundred dollars--only to receive, at last,
in place of thanks so richly deserved, the unmerited rebuke of a
summary dismissal.

The removal of Archibald McIntyre made a sensation almost as great.
For fifteen years, McIntyre had been such an acceptable comptroller
that the waves of factional and party strife had broken at his feet,
leaving him master of the State's finances. The Lewisites retained him
in 1807; the Federalists kept him in 1809; the Republicans continued
him in 1811; the Federalists again spared him in 1813; while the
frequent changes that followed Clinton's downfall left him
undisturbed. He took no part in political contests. It was his duty to
see that the State's money was paid according to law, and he so
conducted the office; but the Bucktails deeply resented his treatment
of the Vice President, and a swift removal was the penalty. In some
degree McIntyre may have been responsible for the defeat of Tompkins.
The perfervid strength of his convictions as to the injustice of the
Vice President's claim betrayed him into an intemperance of language
that suggests over-zeal in a public official. In refusing, too, to
balance the Vice President's accounts, as the Legislature clearly
intended, and as he might have done regardless of the Vice President's
additional claim, he seems to have assumed an unnecessary
responsibility, and to have learned what many men have experienced in
public life, that nothing is so dangerous as being too faithful. But
McIntyre may have had no reason to regret his removal. He was
immediately returned to the Legislature as a senator, and the next
year appointed agent for the state lotteries, a business that enabled
him in a few years to retire with an independent fortune.

It is unnecessary to introduce here a full list of the new
office-holders; but there came into notice at this time three young
lawyers who subsequently occupied a conspicuous place in the history
of their State and country. Samuel A. Talcott took the place of Thomas
J. Oakley as attorney-general; William L. Marcy became adjutant-general
in place of Van Rensselaer, and Benjamin F. Butler was appointed
district attorney of Albany County. Marcy was then thirty-five years
of age, Talcott thirty-two, and Butler twenty-six. Talcott was tall
and commanding, with high forehead and large mellow blue eyes that
inspired confidence and admiration. His manners combined dignity and
ease; and as he swept along the street, or stood before judge or jury,
he appeared like nature's nobleman. Marcy had a bold, full forehead,
with heavy brows and eyes deep set and expressive. It was decidedly a
Websterian head, though the large, firm mouth and admirably moulded
chin rather recalled those of Henry Clay. The face would have been
austere, forbidding easy approach, except for the good-natured twinkle
in the eye and a quiet smile lingering about the mouth. Marcy was
above the ordinary height, with square, powerful shoulders, and
carried some superfluous flesh as he grew older; but, at the time of
which we are writing, he was as erect as the day he captured St.
Regis. Butler was slighter than Marcy, and shorter than Talcott, but
much larger than Van Buren, with fulness of form and perfect
proportions. He had an indescribable refinement of face which seemed
to come from the softness of the eye and the tenderness and
intellectuality of the mouth, which reflected his gentle and generous

At the time of Talcott's appointment, though he had not distinguished
himself as a legal competitor of Van Buren, he displayed the gentle
manners and amiable traits that naturally commended him to one of Van
Buren's smooth, adroit methods. The Kinderhook statesman had, however,
in selecting him for attorney-general, looked beyond the charming
personality to the rapidly developing powers of the lawyer, who was
even then captivating all hearers by the strength of his arguments and
the splendour of his diction. Contemporaries of Talcott were fond of
telling of this remarkable, almost phenomenal gift of speech. One of
them mentions "those magical transitions from the subtlest argument to
the deepest pathos;" another describes him as "overpowering in the
weight of his intellect, who produced in the minds of his audience all
the sympathy and emotion of which the mind is capable." William H.
Dillingham, a classmate and lifelong friend, declared that the
extraordinary qualities which marked his career and so greatly
distinguished him in after life--towering genius, astonishing facility
in acquiring knowledge, and surpassing eloquence, were developed
during his college days. The life of Talcott recalls, in its brilliant
activity, the dazzling legal career of Alexander Hamilton. Wherever
the greatest lawyers gathered he was in their midst, the "Erskine of
the bar." At his last appearance in the Supreme Court of the United
States he opposed Daniel Webster in the "Sailors' Snug Harbor" case.
"Beginning in a low and measured tone," says Bacon, in his _Early Bar
of Oneida County_, "he gathered strength and power as he proceeded in
his masterly discourse, and for five hours held the breathless
attention of bench and bar and audience, in an argument which the
illustrious Marshall declared had not been equalled in that court
since the days of the renowned William Pinckney."

Benjamin F. Butler was very much like Talcott in gentleness of manner
and in power of intellect. He was born in Kinderhook, Columbia County,
where his father, starting as a mechanic, became a merchant, and,
after a brief service in the Legislature, received the appointment of
county judge. But there was no more reason to expect Medad Butler to
bring an illustrious son into the world than there was that his
neighbour, Abraham Van Buren, should be the father of the eighth
President of the United States. Thirteen years divided the ages of Van
Buren and Butler; and, while the latter attended the district school
and aided his father about the store, Van Buren was practising law and
talking politics with Butler's father. Young Butler was not a dreamer.
He had no wild ambition to be great, and cherished no thought of
sitting in cabinets or controlling the policy of a great party; but
his quiet, respectful manners and remarkable acuteness of mind
attracted Van Buren. When Van Buren went to Hudson as surrogate of the
county, Butler entered the Hudson academy. There he distinguished
himself, as he had already distinguished himself in the little
district school, acquiring a decided fondness for the classics. His
teachers predicted for him a brilliant college career; but, whatever
his reasons, he gave up the college, and, at the age of sixteen,
entered Van Buren's law office and Van Buren's family. On his
admission to the bar, in 1817, he became Van Buren's partner at

Though Talcott began life a Federalist, in the party breakup he joined
the Bucktails, with Butler and Van Buren. It seemed to be a love
match--the relations between Talcott and Butler. They were frequently
associated in the most important cases, the possession of scholarly
tastes being the powerful magnet that drew them together. Talcott, at
Williams College, had evidenced an astonishing facility for acquiring
knowledge; Butler, after leaving the academy, had continued the study
of the languages until he could read his favourite authors in the
original with great ease. This was their delight. Neither of them took
naturally to public service, though offices seemed to seek them at
every turn of the road--United States senator, judge of the Supreme
Court, and seats in the cabinets of three Presidents. Nevertheless,
with the exception of a brief service under Jackson and Van Buren,
Butler declined all the flattering offers that came to him.

It was Marcy who seemed born for a politician. A staid old Federalist
teacher sent him away from school at fourteen years of age, because of
his love for Jeffersonian principles and his fondness for argument.
The early years of this Massachusetts lad seem to have been strangely
varied and vexed. He was the leader of a band of noisy, roguish boys
who made the schoolroom uncomfortable for the teacher, and the
neighbourhood uncomfortable for the parents. Neither the father nor
his wife appear to have had any idea of their good fortune. Mrs. Marcy
once declared him the worst boy in the country. He showed little
disposition to study and less inclination to work; yet it was noticed
that he read all the books to be found in the homes of his playfellows
and in the libraries of the district. The character of the books made
no difference; he preferred reading anything to reading nothing,
though history and general literature, such as the works of Addison,
on whose style he seems to have moulded his own, were his favourite
volumes. When, at last, he met Salem Towne, his earliest, and, in a
sense, his best education began. Towne recognised the latent genius of
the lad and told him of it, encouraging him to enter college and the
law. Marcy used often to declare, in later years, that he owed
everything he ever gained in life to the influence and example of
Salem Towne. The affectionate regard which Marcy felt for his boyhood
friend, a regard which endured until the day of his death, belongs to
the chapter of pathetic incidents in Marcy's life.

Soon after leaving Brown University, Marcy settled in Troy and became
violently hostile to DeWitt Clinton. After Clinton's downfall, he was
appointed recorder of Troy; and after Clinton's restoration, he was
promptly removed. Just now he was trying to practise law, and to edit
the Troy _Budget_, a Bucktail newspaper; but he preferred to read,
sitting with his unblacked boots on the table, careless of his dress,
and indifferent to his personal appearance. He looked dull and
inactive, and people thought he lacked the industry and energy so
necessary to success in any profession; but when the _Budget_
appeared, its editorials made men read and reflect. It was the skill
with which he marshalled facts in a gentle and winning style that
attracted Van Buren and made them friends.

Marcy's appointment as adjutant-general created intense indignation,
because he took the place of Solomon Van Rensselaer, who had served in
the War of 1812, bravely leading the attack on Queenstown Heights and
holding his ground until dislodged by superior force; but, it was said
in reply, that Marcy had the honour of capturing the first British
fort and the first British flag of the war. The fight was not a bloody
encounter like the Queenstown engagement; yet, for men new to war, it
evidenced coolness and great courage. A detachment of British soldiers
had taken a position at St. Regis, seven miles from the American camp.
Selecting one hundred and seventy picked men, Lieutenant Marcy
cautiously approached the fort at night, overpowered the guards on the
outposts, surprised the sentries at the entrance, broke down the
gates, and charged the enemy in the face of a volley of musketry. When
it was over he had the fort, a file of prisoners, several stands of
arms, and a flag. Van Buren thought this record was good enough.

The appointment of Talcott, Marcy, and Butler changed the existing
political system. Prior to their activity, the distribution of
patronage depended largely upon the local boss. His needs determined
the men who, regardless of their personal fitness, should be given
office. But Talcott and his colleagues introduced new methods, with a
higher standard of political morality, and a better system of party
discipline. They refused to tolerate unworthy men, and when the little
souls stormed and raged, their wise counsels silenced the selfish and
staggered the boss. Gradually, their control of patronage and of the
party's policy became so absolute that they were called the "Albany
Regency." It was, at first, simply a name given them by Thurlow
Weed;[215] there was neither organisation nor legal authority. Power
came from their great ability and high purpose.

[Footnote 215: Thurlow Weed Barnes, _Life of Thurlow Weed_, Vol. 2, p.

The Albany Regency was destined to continue many years, and to number
among its members men of character and great influence. Roger Skinner,
a United States district judge, was an early member of it; so were
Edwin Croswell of the Albany _Argus_, and Benjamin Knower, the state
treasurer. At a later day came John A. Dix, Azariah C. Flagg, Silas
Wright, and Charles E. Dudley. In his autobiography, Thurlow Weed says
he "had never known a body of men who possessed so much power and used
it so well." They had, he continues, "great ability, great industry,
indomitable courage, and strict personal integrity."[216] But the men
who organised the Regency, giving it power and the respect of the
people, by refusing to do what their fine sense of honour did not
approve, were Talcott, Marcy, and Butler. It was as remarkable a trio
as ever sat about a table.

[Footnote 216: _Autobiography of Thurlow Weed_, Vol. 1, p. 103.]

In the passing of these three great intellects, there is something
peculiarly touching. Talcott died suddenly at the early age of
forty-five, leaving the members of the New York bar as sincere
mourners. Butler, after the highest and purest living, died at
fifty-nine, just as he landed in France to visit the scenes of which
he had read and dreamed. Marcy, at sixty-two, having recently retired
as President Pierce's secretary of state, was found lifeless, lying
upon his bed, book in hand. He had been reading, as he had read since
childhood, whenever there came a lull in the demand for his wisdom,
his counsel, and his friendship.[217]

[Footnote 217: "Always an honoured citizen of New York, it has seemed
fitting that the highest mountain-peak in the State by bearing his
name should serve as a monument to his memory."--James F. Rhodes,
_History of the United States_, Vol. 1, p. 247.]




New England people, passing through the Mohawk Valley into the rich
country beyond Seneca Lake, found many reasons for settling in central
and western New York. Out of this section the Legislature organised
twelve new counties in 1812. The sixteen counties that existed in the
State, in 1790, had increased to fifty-five in 1820. Settlers had
rapidly filled up the whole region. New York City, according to the
third census, had 123,706 inhabitants, and, of these, only 5390 were
unnaturalised foreigners. Indeed, the population of the State, in
1820, was made up largely of native Americans; and the descendants of
English families outnumbered those of the Dutch.

Administrative reform had not, however, kept pace with the increase in
population. The number of freeholders qualified to vote for senator
and governor, was, relatively, no larger; the power of the Council of
Appointment had become odious; the veto of the Council of Revision
distasteful; and the sittings of the Supreme Court infrequent. It was
said that the members of the Council of Revision, secure from removal,
had resisted the creation of additional judges, until the speedy
administration of justice was a lost art. Gradually, the spirit that
demanded independence, in 1776, began to insist upon a broader
suffrage and additional rights. The New Englanders in the central,
western, and northern parts of the State had very pronounced
sentiments upon the subject of reform. They sympathised little with
the views of the landowning and conservative classes that largely
controlled the making of the Constitution of 1777. The people of New
York City, as well, who had increased over fifty per cent. in twelve
years, clamoured for a radical change in conditions that seemed to
them to have no application to life in a republic.

Nevertheless, the politicians were slow in recognising the necessity
of amending the State Constitution. Although trouble increased from
year to year, governors avoided recommendations; and legislators
hesitated to put in motion the machinery for correcting abuses. After
Clinton had defeated Tompkins for governor, in 1820, however, the
agitation suddenly blazed into a flame. Tammany resolved in favour of
a convention having unlimited powers to amend the Constitution.
Following this suggestion, Governor Clinton, in his speech to the
Legislature in November, 1820, recommended that the question be
submitted to the people. But the Bucktails, indifferent to the views
of their opponents, pushed through a bill calling for a convention
with unlimited powers, whose work should subsequently be submitted in
gross to the people for ratification or rejection.

Governor Clinton preferred a convention of limited powers, a
convention that could not abolish the judiciary or turn out of office
the only friends left him. Nevertheless, it was not easy for a
governor, who loved popularity, to take a position against the
Bucktail bill; for the popular mind, if it had not yet formally
expressed itself on the subject, was well understood to favour a
convention. When, therefore, the bill came before the Council of
Revision, Clinton thought he had taken good care to have a majority
present to disapprove it, without his assistance. Van Ness and Platt
were absent holding court; but, of the others, Joseph C. Yates, the
only Bucktail on the bench, was presumably the only one likely to
favour it. Chancellor Kent, in giving his reasons for disapproving the
measure, contended that the Legislature had no constitutional
authority to create a convention of unlimited powers, and, if it did,
it should require the convention to submit its amendments to the
people separately and not in gross. Spencer agreed with the
Chancellor. Yates, as expected, approved the bill, but there was
consternation in the Council when Woodworth agreed with Yates.
Woodworth was the creature of Clinton. He had made him a judge, and,
having done so, the Governor relied with confidence upon his support,
in preference to that of either Van Ness or Jonas Platt. It recalls
the mistake of the historic conclave which elected a Pope whom the
cardinals believed too feeble to have any will of his own, but who
suddenly became their master. One can easily understand Clinton's
dilemma. He wanted the bill disapproved without his aid; Woodworth's
action compelled him to do the very thing he had planned to avoid. To
the day of his death, Clinton never got over the affront. "Yates and
Woodworth were both frightened and have damned themselves," he wrote
Henry Post, on the 27th of November, 1820. "The latter supposed also
that he would distinguish himself by his independence. I don't know a
fellow more intrinsically despicable. I intend the first convenient
opportunity to cut him to the quick. Y---- is a miserable fellow--the
dupe of his own vanity and the tool of bad principles!"[218]
Woodworth's action was severely criticised; and when, shortly
afterward, the Bucktails in the Senate sitting as a Court of Errors,
reversed a judgment against him for several thousand dollars,
overruling the opinion of Chancellor Kent, it seemed to impeach the
purity of his motives.

[Footnote 218: DeWitt Clinton's Letters to Henry Post, in _Harper's
Magazine_, Vol. 50, p. 415.]

After Clinton had voted in the Council, the convention bill, thus
vetoed, did not get the necessary two-thirds support. At the regular
session of the Legislature, which began in January, 1821, an amendment
was accepted submitting to the people the simple question of a
convention or no convention. Of the one hundred and forty-four
thousand votes cast, one hundred and nine thousand favoured a
convention. Delegates were then elected; and the convention, having
been organised, continued in session from August 28 to November 10,

This convention passed into history as a remarkable gathering of
distinguished persons. With a few exceptions, all the men then living,
whose names have figured in these pages, took an active part in its
deliberations; and by their eloquence and ability contributed to a
constitution which was to answer the purposes of a rapidly growing
State for another quarter of a century. John Jay, the constitution-maker
of 1777, then seventy-six years of age, who still lived upon his farm,
happy in his rustic tastes and in his simple pleasures, was
represented by his gifted son, Peter A. Jay of Westchester; Daniel D.
Tompkins came from Richmond; Rufus King from Queens; Nathan Sanford
and Jacob Radcliff from New York; James Kent, Ambrose Spencer, Abraham
Van Vechten, and Stephen Van Rensselaer from Albany; Jonas Platt,
Ezekiel Bacon, and Nathan Williams from Oneida; William W. Van Ness,
Elisha Williams, and Jacob R. Van Rensselaer from Columbia; and James
Tallmadge and Peter R. Livingston from Dutchess. There was one new
name among them--Samuel Nelson of Cortland, a young man, yet destined
to become a well-known and influential chief justice of the State, and
an associate justice of the United States Supreme Court. The
Federalists of Albany did not return Martin Van Buren, who now made
his home in their city; but the people of Otsego honoured themselves
and greatly strengthened the convention by making him their
representative. He was clearly its leader. Root and Young did more
talking, but when others had argued until argument seemed hopeless,
Van Buren usually spoke the last word with success.

From the first, it was recognised that Clinton's friends were without
influence. They could talk and vote, but the convention was a Bucktail
body, in which the election of delegates, the choice of a president,
the appointment of committees, the selection of chairmen, and the
transaction of business were made party questions. The vote of sixteen
to ninety-four for Daniel D. Tompkins, for president, showed Bucktail
delegates overwhelmingly in the majority. Of the chairmen of the ten
standing committees, all were prominent Bucktail leaders, save Rufus
King, who had practically ceased to act with the Federalists of his
State, and James, Tallmadge, who ended his affection for DeWitt
Clinton when the latter preferred Thomas J. Oakley for attorney-general.

The convention's work centred about three great principles--broader
suffrage, enlarged local government, and a more popular judiciary
system. There was no difficulty in abolishing the Councils of
Appointment and of Revision; in clothing the governor with power of
veto; in fixing his term of office at two years instead of three; and
in making members of the Legislature ineligible for appointment to
office. But, on the questions of suffrage and the judiciary, the
convention was thrown into weeks of violent debate, memorable by
prophecies never fulfilled, and by criticism that the future quickly
disproved. In respect to the suffrage, there were practically three
different views. A few members favoured freehold qualifications; a
larger number believed in universal suffrage; while others stood
between the two, desiring the abolition of a freehold qualification,
yet opposing universal suffrage and wishing to place some restrictions
on the right to vote. Erastus Root and Samuel Young ably represented
the second class; Ambrose Spencer and the Federalists were intensely
loyal to a freehold qualification; and Van Buren, backed probably by a
majority of the convention, presented the compromise view.

Preliminary to the great debate, a lively skirmish occurred over the
limitation of suffrage to the white voter. Strangely enough, this
proposition was sustained by Erastus Root, the ardent champion of
universal suffrage and the abolition of slavery; and it was opposed
with equal warmth by Peter A. Jay and the Federalists, who advocated a
freehold qualification. Van Buren did not speak, but he voted for the
resolution, to eliminate the word "white," which was carried by a
close vote--sixty-three to fifty-nine. Then it was proposed that
coloured voters should be freeholders. Again the advocates of
universal suffrage favoured the proposition, and the friends of a
freehold qualification opposed it; but this time the convention
decided against the negro, thirty-three to seventy-one. New York was
slow to give equal suffrage to the blacks. Nearly three-fourths of the
voters of the State withheld it in 1846; and, six years after
President Lincoln's emancipation proclamation, when the black soldier
had served his country throughout the Civil War with a fidelity and
courage that awoke the strongest emotions of a patriotic people, it
was again refused.

The debate, however, which aroused the greatest interest, and in which
members of the convention most generally participated, sprang from
Ambrose Spencer's proposition limiting to freeholders the right to
vote for senators. It must have occurred to the Chief Justice that the
convention was against him, because its committee had unanimously
agreed to abolish the freehold qualification; and, further, because
the convention, by its action on the negro question, had demonstrated
its purpose to wipe out all property distinctions among white voters;
yet Spencer, at this eleventh hour, proposed to re-establish a
freehold difference between senators and assemblymen. The Chief
Justice, with all his faults, and they were many and grave, had in him
the capacity of a statesman; but it was a statesman of fifty years
before. He had learned little by experience. The prejudices of Jay and
other patriots of the Revolution, still lingered in his mind, arousing
painful apprehensions of what would happen if the exclusive privileges
of landowners should disappear, and robbing him of that faith in the
people which made Erastus Root the forerunner of the broad suffrage
that obtains to-day. Chancellor Kent backed Spencer's proposition in
an abler speech than that made by the Chief Justice himself. Kent was
an honourable, upright statesman, who, unlike Spencer, had never
wavered in his fealty to that federalism which had been learned at the
feet of John Jay and Alexander Hamilton; but, like Spencer, he had
failed to discover that the people, jealous of their rights and
liberties, could be trusted regardless of property holdings. "By the
report before us," he said, "we propose to annihilate, at one stroke,
all property distinctions, and to bow before the idol of universal
suffrage. That extreme democratic principle has been regarded with
terror by the wise men of every age, because in every European
republic, ancient and modern, in which it has been tried, it has
terminated disastrously, and been productive of corruption, injustice,
violence, and tyranny. And dare we flatter ourselves that we are a
peculiar people, who can run the career of history exempted from the
passions which have disturbed and corrupted the rest of mankind? If we
are like other races of men, with similar follies and vices, then I
greatly fear that our posterity will have reason to deplore in
sackcloth and ashes the delusion of the day."[219]

[Footnote 219: Jabez D. Hammond, _Political History of New York_, Vol.
2, p. 34.]

Though Erastus Root and Samuel Young employed all their eloquence and
all their energy against Spencer's proposition, it was Martin Van
Buren's speech which made the deepest impression. It cannot be said
that the latter's remarks defeated the amendment, because the vote of
nineteen to one hundred, showed no one behind the Chief Justice's
proposal save himself and a few Federalists. But Van Buren greatly
strengthened the report of the committee, which gave a vote to every
male citizen twenty-one years old, who had resided six months in the
State and who had within one year paid taxes or a road assessment, or
had been enrolled and served in the militia. Although, said Van Buren,
this report is on the verge of universal suffrage, it did not cheapen
the invaluable right, by conferring it indiscriminately upon every
one, black or white, who would condescend to accept it. He was
opposed, he said, to a precipitate and unexpected prostration of all
qualifications, and looked with dread upon the great increase of
voters in New York City, believing that such an increase would render
elections a curse rather than a blessing. But he maintained that the
events of the past forty years had discredited the speculative fears
of Franklin, Hamilton, and Madison; that venality in voting, in spite
of property qualifications, already existed in grossest forms in
parliamentary elections in England, and that property had been as safe
in those American communities which had given universal suffrage as in
the few which retained a freehold qualification. Then, with great
earnestness, his eye resting upon the distinguished Chancellor, he
declared that whenever the principles of order and good government
should yield to principles of anarchy and violence, all constitutional
provisions would be idle and unavailing.

It was a captivating speech. There was little rhetoric and less
feeling. Van Buren took good care to show his thorough knowledge of
the subject, and, without the use of exclamations or interrogations,
he pointed out the unwisdom of following the constitution-makers of
1777, and the danger of accepting the dogma of universal suffrage. The
impression we get from the declaration of some of those who heard it,
is that Van Buren surpassed himself in this effort. He seems to have
made a large majority of the convention happy because he said just
what they wanted to know, and said it in just the way they wanted to
hear it. It must be admitted, too, that the evils which he prophesied,
if universal suffrage were given to New York City, have been too
unhappily verified. With the defeat of Spencer's proposition, the
suffrage question quickly settled itself along the lines of the
committee's report.

The judiciary article excited less debate but more feeling. Delegates
brooded over the well known fact that judges had become political
partisans, opposed to increasing their number to meet the growing
demands of business, and anxious to retain the extraordinary power
given them under the Constitution of 1777. Whenever a suggestion was
made to retain these judges, therefore, it provoked bitter opposition
and denunciation. A few men in the convention had very fierce
opinions, seasoned with a kind of wit, and of these, the restless
energy of Erastus Root soon earned for him considerable notoriety.
Indeed, it passed into a sort of proverb that there were three parties
in the convention--the Republicans, the Federalists, and Erastus Root.
It is not so clear that he had as much influence as his long
prominence in public life would seem to entitle him; but when he did
happen to stand with the majority, he pleased it with his witty
vehemence more than Peter R. Livingston did with his coarse
vituperation. In the debate on the judiciary, however, abuse and
invective were not confined to Root and Livingston. Abraham Van
Vechten and some of those who acted with him, employed every means in
their power to defeat the opponents of the judges, although they
scarcely equalled the extra-tribunal methods of their adversaries.

The contest opened as soon as the chairman of the judiciary committee
reported in favour of a vice chancellor, from whom appeals should be
taken to the chancellor; and of a superior court of common pleas,
having practically the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court, which should
form a part of the Court for the Correction of Errors. This meant the
continuation of the old judges. Immediately, Erastus Root offered a
substitute, abolishing the existing courts, and creating a new Supreme
Court, with a corps of _nisi prius_ district judges. Root's plan also
provided for the transfer of the equitable powers of the Court of
Chancery to the courts of common law. This was the extreme view.
Although the convention, or at least a majority of it, might wish to
get rid of the old Supreme Court judges, it was plainly unwilling to
let go the Court of Chancery. So it rejected the Root substitute by a
vote of seventy-three to thirty-six, and the report of the judiciary
committee by seventy-nine ayes to thirty-three noes. But the attack
thus daringly begun by Root, was steadily maintained. Martin Van
Buren, who figured as a sort of peacemaker, proposed the retention of
the Chancery and Supreme Courts, and the creation of circuit judges.
This proposition went to a special committee, which presented two
reports--one for the preservation of the Court of Chancery and the
Supreme Court, the other for the creation of a Court of Chancery, a
Supreme Court, and courts of common pleas. It was plain that the
second of these was Root's former substitute, with the Court of
Chancery continued, and, in support of it, he now arraigned the
political conduct of the judges with a severity that was speedily
rebuked. Root was radical or nothing. He hated Spencer, he despised
Van Ness, and he disliked James Kent and Jonas Platt; and with an
exuberance of apparent anger he demanded the abolition of their courts
and the creation of others in no wise different.

In replying to Root, Van Buren again discovered his kindliness of
heart. The only question, he said, was whether the convention would
insert an article in the Constitution for the sole purpose of vacating
the offices of the present chancellor, and Supreme Court judges, and
thus apply a rule which had not yet been applied in a single instance.
There could be no public reason for the measure and personal feeling
should not control. Referring to William W. Van Ness, he declared that
he could with truth say that, throughout his whole life, he had been
assailed by him with hostility--political, professional and
personal--hostility which had been keen, active, and unyielding. "But,
sir, am I on that account to indulge my individual resentment in the
prostration of my private and political adversary? If I could be
capable of such conduct I should forever despise myself." In
conclusion, he expressed the hope that the convention would not ruin
its character and credit by proceeding to such extremities. Van Buren
struck hard, and for the time had routed the judges' opponents by a
vote of sixty-four to forty-four. But if the delegates hesitated to
back Root, they did not propose to follow Van Buren, and they crushed
the first report under the unexpected vote of eighty-six to

The convention had now been in session over two months, and this most
troublesome question seemed no nearer settlement than on the opening
day. As in the suffrage debate, there were three factions--one
determined to get rid of Chancellor Kent and the five Supreme Court
judges; another, less numerous, desirous of continuing them all in
office, and a third, probably composed of a majority of the
convention, who wished to save the chancellor and lose the others.
Finally, on the first day of November, ten days before adjournment, a
proposition appeared to create a Supreme Court to consist of a chief
justice and two justices, and to divide the State into not less than
four or more than eight districts, as the Legislature should decide,
in each of which a district judge should be appointed, with the tenure
and powers of Supreme Court judges. It was also provided that such
equity powers should be vested in the district judges, in courts of
common pleas, or in other subordinate courts, as the Legislature might
direct, subject to the appellate jurisdiction of the chancellor. This
was practically Root's old proposition in another form, and its
reappearance made it the more certain that a majority of the
convention had determined to destroy the present judges.

Up to this time, the members of the court, all of whom were delegates,
either from motives of modesty, or with the hope that the many plans
might result in no action, had taken no part in the debates on the
judiciary. Now, however, Ambrose Spencer, with doubtful propriety,
broke the silence. His friends feared the assaults of Root and Peter
R. Livingston might drive him into a fierce retort, and that he would
antagonise the convention if he did not also weary it. But he did
nothing of the kind. He spoke with calmness and excellent taste,
saying that he favoured the appointment of circuit judges who should
aid the Supreme Court in the trial of issues of fact, and who should
also be members, _ex-officio_, of the Court of Errors; that he had
little or no personal interest in the question since he should very
soon be constitutionally ineligible to the office; that for eighteen
years he had tried to discharge his duties with fidelity and
integrity, and that he should leave the bench conscious of having done
no wrong if he had not always had the approval of others. He seemed to
capture the convention for a moment. His tones were mellow, his
manner gentle, and when he suggested leaving Albany on the morrow to
resume his labours on the bench, his remarks took the form of a
farewell speech, which added a touch of pathos. Indeed, the Chief
Justice had proved so wise and discreet that Henry Wheaton thought it
an opportune time to propose an amendment to the proposition before
the convention, providing that the present justices hold office until
their number be reduced to three, by death, resignation, removal, or
by age limitation. This brought the convention face to face with the
question of retaining the old judges, stripped of all other
provisions, and the result was awaited with great interest. It was Van
Buren's idea. It had the support, too, of Nathan Sanford, of Peter B.
Sharpe, the speaker of the Assembly, and of half a score of prominent
Bucktails who hoped, with Van Buren, that the convention would not
ruin its character by extreme measures based upon personal dislikes;
but a majority of the delegates was in no mood for such a suggestion.
It had listened respectfully to the Chief Justice, and would doubtless
have cheerfully heard from the Chancellor and other members of the
court, but it could not surrender the principle over which sixty days
had been spent in contention. When, therefore, the roll was called,
Wheaton's amendment was rejected by a vote of sixty-six to
thirty-nine. Then came the call on the original proposition, to have
Supreme and District Courts, which disclosed sixty-two ayes and
fifty-three noes. If the weakness of the noes on the first vote was a
disappointment, the strength of the noes on the second vote was a
surprise. A change of only five votes was needed to defeat the
proposition, and these might have been reduced to three had Daniel D.
Tompkins, who favoured Van Buren's idea, and the four judges who
refrained from voting, felt at liberty to put themselves upon record.
It is a notable fact that the conspicuous, able men of the convention,
with the exception of Erastus Root and Samuel Young, voted to continue
the judges in office.

Martin Van Buren, as chairman of the committee to consider the
question of filling offices, reported in favour of abolishing the
Council of Appointment, and of electing state officers by the
Legislature, justices of the peace by the people, and military
officers, except generals, by the rank and file of the militia.
Judicial officers, with surrogates and sheriffs, were to be appointed
by the governor and confirmed by the Senate, while courts were
authorised to select county clerks and district attorneys. To the
common councils of cities was committed the duty of choosing mayors
and clerks. In his statement, Van Buren said that of the eight
thousand two hundred and eighty-seven military officers in the State,
all would be elected by the rank and file, except seventy-eight
generals; and of the six thousand six hundred and sixty-three civil
officers, all would be elected by the people or designated as the
Legislature should direct, except four hundred and fifty-three. To
provide for these five hundred and thirty-one military and civil
officers, the committee thought it wise to have the governor appoint
and the Senate confirm them. The constitutions recently formed in
Kentucky, Louisiana, Indiana, Illinois, and Missouri, he said, had
such a provision--similar, in fact, to that in the Federal
Constitution--and, although this method was open to objection, the
committee was unable to devise a better system.

Aside from James Tallmadge, who thought the Legislature should have
nothing to do with the patronage of government, this report called out
little opposition, so far as it provided for the election of state
officers by the Legislature, military officers by the militia, and the
appointment of higher military and judicial officers by the governor.
Van Buren had made it plain, by his exhaustive argument, that
constitution-makers, seeking the latest expression of the people's
will, could devise no better plan, and that experience in the newest
States having the same system, had developed no serious objection.
There was a readiness, also, to accept the recommendation allowing the
Legislature to designate the manner of selecting the three thousand
six hundred and forty-three notaries public, commissioners of deeds,
and other minor officers. But a buzz of disapproval ran through the
convention when the article providing for the election of justices of
the peace was reached. It was evident from the outset, that a
concerted movement was on foot among Republican leaders to establish,
at the seat of government, a central appointing power of large
authority, and the appointment of justices of the peace was peculiarly
essential to its strength. A justice was of more importance then than
now. He was usually the strongest character in his vicinage, and
whether he followed the plow, or wore upon the bench the homely
working clothes in which he tended cattle, he was none the less
familiar with the politics of every suitor in his court. In the
absence of higher courts, neighbours were compelled to go before him,
and in settling their troubles, it was usually understood that he held
the scales of justice without being blindfolded.

Van Buren did not conceal his hostility to the election of these
justices. If he had developed radical tendencies in the suffrage
debate, he now exhibited equally strong conservative proclivities in
limiting the power of the voter. His vigorous protests in the
committee-room against the election of surrogates, sheriffs and county
clerks had defeated that proposition, and in referring to the section
of the report making justices of the peace elective, he said it had
been a source of sincere regret that the committee overruled him. But
a majority of the committee, he continued, in his smooth and adroit
manner, had no strong personal predilections on the question of the
election of sheriffs and surrogates, and if, on a fair and deliberate
examination, it should be thought better to have these officials
elected by the people, they would cheerfully acquiesce in that
decision. This was the quintessence of diplomacy. He knew that Erastus
Root and Samuel Young insisted upon having these officers elected,
and, to secure their opposition to the election of justices of the
peace, he indicated a willingness to be convinced as to the expediency
of electing sheriffs and surrogates.

To bring the question of electing or appointing justices of the peace
squarely before the convention, Van Buren, at a later day, introduced
a resolution providing that the board of supervisors in every county
should, at such time as the Legislature directed, recommend to the
governor a list of persons equal in number to the justices of the
peace in such county; that the respective courts of common pleas of
the several counties should also recommend a like number, and from the
lists so recommended the governor should appoint. In the event of
vacancies, like recommendations were to be made. The governor was also
authorised to remove a justice upon the application in writing of the
body recommending his appointment. This scheme was not very
magnificent. It put the responsibility of selection neither upon
supervisors, courts, nor governor, although each one must act
independently of the other, but it gave the governor a double chance
of appointing men of his own political faith. This was Van Buren's
purpose. He believed in a central appointing power, which the Albany
Regency might control, and, that such power should not be impotent,
these minor and many magistrates, thickly distributed throughout the
State, with a jurisdiction broad enough to influence their
neighbourhoods, became of the greatest importance. To secure their
appointment, therefore, Van Buren was ready to sacrifice the
appointment of sheriffs, with their vast army of deputies.

Van Buren's scheme was ably resisted. Rufus King, who was counted a
Bucktail but until now had taken little part in debate, spoke against
it with all the sincere emotion of one whose mind and heart alike were
filled with the cause for which he pleaded. He thought justices should
be elected. Each locality knew the men in whom it could trust to
settle its disputes, and farmers as well as townspeople should be
allowed to select the arbitrator of all their petty quarrels and
disagreements. It was the very essence of home rule. In vigorous
English Ambrose Spencer, William W. Van Ness, and Jacob R. Van
Rensselaer supported the Senator, while Ogden Edwards of New York
City, an able representative of Tammany, burning with a sense of
injustice, violently assailed the proposed plan. "The unanimous vote
of this convention," he said, "had shown that the Council of
Appointment was an evil. A unanimous sentence of condemnation has been
passed upon it, and I had not expected so soon to find a proposition
for its revival."

Probably no stranger scene was ever witnessed in a parliamentary body
than Erastus Root and Samuel Young, two radical legislators, advocates
of universal suffrage, and just now especially conspicuous because of
their successful support of the election of sheriffs and county
clerks, arguing with zeal and ability for the appointment of justices
of the peace. It seemed like a travesty, since there was not an
argument in favour of electing sheriffs that did not apply with added
force to the election of justices. The convention stood aghast at such
effrontery. It is impossible to read, without regret, of the voluntary
stultification of these orators, pleading piteously for the
appointment of justices of the peace while declaiming with passionate
righteousness against the appointment of sheriffs. With acidulated
satire, Van Ness, enrapturing his hearers by his brilliancy, held them
up to public ridicule if not to public detestation. But Van Buren's
bungling proposition, though once rejected by a vote of fifty-nine to
fifty-six, was in the end substantially adopted, and it remained a
part of the amended constitution until the people, very soon satisfied
of its iniquity, ripped it out of the organic law with the same
unanimity that their representatives now abolished the Councils of
Appointment and of Revision. Could Van Buren have had his way, the
Council of Appointment would have been changed only in name.

The work of the convention concluded, a motion for the passage of the
Constitution as a whole developed only eight votes in the negative,
though twenty-four members, including the eight delegates from Albany
and Columbia Counties, four from Montgomery, Jonas Platt of Oneida,
and Peter A. Jay of Westchester, because it extended and cheapened
suffrage, refused to sign it. Other objections were urged. Ezekiel
Bacon of Utica, explaining his affirmative vote, thought it worse
than the existing Constitution of 1777; yet he approved it because the
provision for amendment afforded the people a means of correcting
defects with reasonable facility, without resorting to the difficult
and dangerous experiment of a formal convention.

The Constitution, however, in spite of the opposition, was
overwhelmingly ratified. The vote for it was 74,732; against it
41,043. And it proved better than even its sponsors prophesied. It
abolished the Councils of Appointment and of Revision; it abolished
the power of the governor to prorogue the Legislature; it abolished
the property qualification of the white voter; it extended the
elective franchise; it made a large number of officers elective; it
modified the management of the canals and created a canal board; it
continued the Court of Errors and Impeachments; it reorganised the
judicial department, making all judges, surrogates, and recorders
appointive by the governor, with the advice and consent of the Senate;
it made state officers, formerly appointed by the Council, elective by
joint ballot of the Senate and Assembly; and it gave the power of veto
exclusively to the governor, requiring a two-thirds vote of the
Legislature to overcome it. No doubt it had radical defects, but with
the help of a few amendments it lived for a quarter of a century.




The new Constitution changed the date of elections from April to
November, and reduced the gubernatorial term from three years to two,
thus ending Governor Clinton's administration on January 1, 1823. As
the time approached for nominating his successor, it was obvious that
the Bucktails, having reduced party discipline to a science and
launched the Albany Regency upon its long career of party domination,
were certain to control the election. Indeed, so strong had the party
become that a nomination for senator or assemblyman was equivalent to
an election, and the defeat of John W. Taylor of Saratoga for speaker
of the Seventeenth Congress showed that its power extended to the
capital of the nation. Taylor's ability and splendid leadership, in
the historic contest of the Missouri Compromise, had made him speaker
during the second session of the Sixteenth Congress; but Bucktail
resentment of his friendly attitude toward Clinton, in 1820, changed a
sufficient number of his New York colleagues to deprive him of
re-election. It was not until the Nineteenth Congress, after the power
of the Albany Regency had been temporarily broken by the election of
John Quincy Adams to the Presidency, that Taylor finally received the
reward to which he was so richly entitled.

At this moment of the Regency's domination, Joseph C. Yates showed
himself the coming man. Though it was the desire of his party that he
take the nomination for governor in 1820, the cautious, modest Justice
of the Supreme Court had discreetly decided not to sacrifice himself
in the year of DeWitt Clinton's greatest strength. Conscious of his
own popularity with the people, he was prepared to wait. But he had
not to wait long. During the last two years of Clinton's
administration, Yates had distinguished himself in the Council of
Revision, by voting for the bill creating a constitutional
convention--a vote which was applauded by Van Buren, although overcome
by Clinton; and when the time approached for the selection of another
gubernatorial candidate, he rightly saw that his hour was come. Yates
was not cut out for the part which a strange combination of
circumstances was to allow him to play. He was a man of respectable
character, but without remarkable capacity of any kind. He had a
charming personality. He was modest and mild in his deportment, and
richly gifted with discretion, caution, and prudence. Vindictiveness
formed no part of his disposition. The peculiar character of his
intellect made him a good Supreme Court judge; but he lacked the
intellectual energy and courage for an executive, who must thoroughly
understand the means of getting and retaining public support.

A majority of the leading politicians of the party, appreciating
Yates' mental deficiencies, ranged themselves on the side of Samuel
Young, who enjoyed playing a conspicuous part and liked attacking
somebody. Young was not merely a debater of apparently inexhaustible
resource, but a master in the use of parliamentary tactics and
political craft. His speeches, or such reports of them as exist, are
full of striking passages and impressive phrases; and, as an orator,
full, round and joyous, with singularly graceful and charming manners,
he was then without a rival in his party. But his ultra-radicalism and
illiberal, often rude, treatment of opponents prevented him from
obtaining all the influence which would otherwise have been fairly due
to his talents and his political and personal integrity.

There were, also, other aspirants. Daniel D. Tompkins, preferring
governor to Vice President, was willing to be called; and Peter B.
Porter, Erastus Root, and Nathan Sanford, figured among those whose
names were canvassed. The contest, however, soon settled down between
Yates and Young, with the chances decidedly in favour of the former.
People admired Young and were proud of him--they thoroughly liked
Yates and trusted him. If Young had possessed the kindly, sympathetic
disposition of Yates, with a tithe of his discretion, he would have
rivalled Martin Van Buren in influence and popularity, and become a
successful candidate for any office in the gift of the voters; but,
with all his splendid genius for debate and eloquent speaking, he was
neither a patient leader nor a popular one. When the Republican
members of the Legislature got into caucus, therefore, Joseph C. Yates
had a pronounced majority, as had Erastus Root for lieutenant-governor.

Young's defeat for the nomination left bitter enmity. A reconciliation
did, indeed, take place between him and Yates, but it was as formal
and superficial as that of the two demons described in Le Sage's
story. "They brought us together," says Asmodeus; "they reconciled us.
We shook hands and became mortal enemies." Young and Yates were
reconciled; but from the moment of Yates' nomination, until, chagrined
and disappointed, he was forced into retirement after two years of
humiliating obedience to the Regency, Samuel Young spared no effort to
render his late opponent unpopular.

Although Clinton's canal policy, upon the success of which he had
staked his all, was signally vindicating itself in rapidity of
construction, and the very moderate estimate of cost, his friends did
not hesitate to advise him that his re-election to the governorship
was impossible. It was a cold proposition for a man to face who had
inaugurated a system of improvement which would confer prosperity and
wealth upon the people, and enrich and elevate the State. For a time,
like a caged tiger, he bit at the bars that seemed to limit his
ambition. But his friends were right. Through his management, or want
of management, the Clintonians had ceased to exist as an organisation,
and his supporting Federalists, as evidenced by the election of
delegates to the constitutional convention in 1821, had passed into a
hopeless minority. "Governor Clinton, though governor," said Thurlow
Weed, "was much in the condition of a pastor without a congregation."
It was striking proof of the absence of tact and that address which,
in a popular government, is necessary for one to possess who expects
to succeed in public life. Clinton had now been governor for five
consecutive years. His motives had undoubtedly been pure and
patriotic, and he had within his control the means of a great office
to influence people in his favour; yet a cold exterior, an arrogant
manner, and a disposition to rule or ruin, had cooled his friends and
driven away the people until opponents took little heed of his

No doubt Clinton had good reason to know that the statesmen of that
time were not exactly what they professed to be. He was well aware
that many of them, like John Woodworth, Ambrose Spencer, and James
Tallmadge, had played fast and loose as the chances of Bucktail and
Clintonian had gone up or gone down; and, although he gracefully
declined to become a candidate for re-election, when convinced of the
utter hopelessness of such a race, his brain was no less active in the
conception of plans which should again return him to power. As early
as October, 1822, he wrote Post: "The odium attached to the name of
Federalist has been a millstone round the neck of true policy. It is
now almost universally dropped in this district, in the district of
which Oneida County is part, and in the Herkimer County meeting. I
hail this as an auspicious event. Names in politics as well as science
are matters of substance, and a bad name in public is as injurious to
success as a bad name in private life. The inferences I draw from the
signs of the times are: First, the ascendancy of our party from the
collisions of parties. In proportion as they quarrel with each other
they will draw closer to us. The last hate being the most violent will
supersede the former antipathy. Second, the old names as well as the
old lines of party will be abolished. Third, nominations by caucuses
will be exploded. Fourth, Yates, Van Buren, etc., will go down like
the stick of a rocket. Our friends are up and doing in Ulster."

It is impossible not to feel admiration for the indomitable courage
and the inexhaustible animal spirits which no defeat could reduce to
prostration. Furthermore, Clinton had written with the inspiration of
a prophet. Not only were the old names and the old party lines soon to
vanish, but the last legislative caucus ever to be held in the State,
would be called in less than two years. Within the same period Yates
was to fall like the stick of a rocket, and Van Buren to suffer his
first defeat.

In the absence of a Clintonian or Federalist opponent, Solomon
Southwick announced himself as an independent candidate. His was a
strange story. He had many of the noblest qualities and some of the
wildest fancies, growing out of an extravagant imagination that seemed
to control his mind. Among other things, he opened an office for the
sale of lottery tickets, reserving numbers for himself which had been
indicated in dreams or by fortune-tellers, with whom he was in
frequent consultation. Writing of his disposition to hope for aid from
the miraculous interposition of some invisible power, Hammond says:
"He was in daily expectation that the next mail would bring him news
that he had drawn the highest prize in the lottery; and I have known
him to borrow money of a friend under a solemn pledge of his honour
for its repayment in ten days, and have afterward ascertained that his
sole expectation of redeeming his pledge depended on his drawing a
prize when the next lottery in which he was interested should be

[Footnote 220: Jabez D. Hammond, _Political History of New York_, Vol.
2, p. 101.]

Southwick was undoubtedly a man of genius, as his work on the Albany
_Register_, the _Ploughboy_, and the _Christian Visitant_ clearly
indicates; but erroneous judgment and defective impulses resulted in
misfortunes which finally darkened and closed his life in adversity if
not in poverty. As a young man he had been repeatedly elected clerk of
the Assembly, and had afterward served as sheriff, as state printer,
and, finally, as postmaster. In the meantime, he became the first
president of the Farmers' and Mechanics' Bank, making money easily and
rapidly, living extravagantly, giving generously, and acquiring great
political influence. But his trial for bribery, of which mention has
been made, his removal as state printer, and his defalcation as
postmaster, prostrated him financially and politically. In the hope of
retrieving his fortunes he embarked in real estate speculation, thus
completing his ruin and making him still more visionary and fantastic.
Nevertheless, he struggled on with industry and courage for more than
twenty years, occasionally coming into public or political notice as a
writer of caustic letters, or as a candidate for office.

In 1822, the wild fancy possessed Southwick of becoming governor, and
to preface the way for his visionary scheme he applied to a bright
young journalist, the editor of the Manlius _Republican_, to canvass
the western and southwestern counties of the State. Thurlow Weed at
this time was twenty-six years old. He had worked on a farm, he had
blown a blacksmith's bellows, he had shipped as a cabin-boy, he had
done chores at a tavern, he had served as a soldier, and he had
learned the printer's trade. For twenty years he lived a life of
poverty, yet of tireless industry, with a simplicity as amazing as his
genius. The only thing of which he got nothing was schooling. His
family was an old Connecticut one, which had come down in the world.
Everything went wrong with his father. He was hard-working,
kind-hearted, and strictly honest, but nothing succeeded. With the
hope of "bettering his condition," he moved five times in ten years,
getting so desperately poor at last that a borrowed two-horse sleigh
carried all his worldly goods, including a wife and five children.
Joel Weed was, perhaps, as unfortunate a man as ever brought an
illustrious son into the world. He was neither shiftless nor
worthless, but what others did he could not do. He never took up land
for himself because he had nothing to begin with. A neighbour who
began with an axe and a hoe, entered fifty acres, and got rich.

If Joel Weed lived as a beggar, Thurlow thought as a king. He revelled
in the mountains and streams interspersed along the routes of the
family's frequent movings; his taste for adventure made the sloop's
cabin a home, and his love for reading turned the blacksmith shop and
printing office into a schoolroom. As he read he forgot that he was
poor, forgot that he was ragged, forgot that he was hungry. In his
autobiography he tells of walking bare-footed six miles through the
snow to borrow a history of the French Revolution, and of reading it
at night in the blaze of a pitch-pine knot. Men found him lovable. He
was large and awkward; but even as a boy there was a charm of manner,
a tender, sympathetic nature, a sweet, sparkling humour, and a
nobility of character that irresistibly drew people to him. In many
respects his boyhood resembled Lincoln's, and, though he lived in some
of the evil days of the last century, his youth, like Lincoln's,
escaped pollution. At the age of twelve, as an apprentice in a weekly
newspaper office at Onondaga Hollow, he read and filed every exchange
paper, familiarising himself with discussions in Congress, and
imbibing a deadly hatred of England because of Indian barbarities
excited by British agents, and cruelties to American seamen impressed
by British officers. With the true instinct of his fine nature, he
made his friends and companions among the wisest and highest of his
time, although he loved all company that was not vicious and depraved.
He knew Gerrit Smith in 1814; a few months' stay, as a journeyman
printer, at Auburn, forged a lasting friendship with Elijah Miller,
the father-in-law of William H. Seward, and with Enos T. Throop,
afterward governor. His intimacy with Gorham A. Worth, a financier of
decided literary tastes, and for thirty years president of the New
York City Bank, began in Albany in 1816. Thus, in whatever town he
worked or settled, the prominent men and those to grow into prominence
became his intimates. He had women friends, too, as wisely chosen as
the men, but Catherine Ostrander was the star of his life. He tells a
touching little story of this Cooperstown maiden. Their engagement
occurred in his seventeenth year, but her parents, objecting to the
roving, unsettled youth, he proposed three years of absolute
separation, and if then no change had come to her affections she
should write and tell him so. In his hours of poverty, he was cheered
by the thought of her, and when, at last, her letter came, he hastened
to claim her as his bride. At the conclusion of the ceremony, he had
money enough only to take them back to Albany.

Weed began the publication of the Manlius _Republican_ in June, 1821.
For three years previously the _Agriculturist_, published at Norwich,
in Chenango County, had given him proprietorship, some reputation, and
less money; but it had also classified him politically. He had never
been a Federalist, nor could he be called a Clintonian, although his
belief in canal improvement led him to the support of Governor Clinton
and earned for him the opposition of the Bucktails. Like his father he
worked without success, and then moved on to Albany; but he left
behind him a coterie of distinguished Chenango friends who were ever
after to follow his leadership. At Albany, he began to earn eighteen
dollars a week as a journeyman printer on the _Argus_. The Bucktails
forced him out and he went on to Manlius, resurrecting the _Times_, an
old Federalist paper, which he called the _Republican_.

It was at this time that Southwick sought him. "He was insanely
anxious to be governor," says Weed, "and all the more insane because
of its impossibility. He had been editing with great industry and
ability the _Ploughboy_ and the _Christian Visitant_, and beguiled
himself with a confident belief that farmers and Christians,
irrespective of party, would sustain him. He provided me with a horse
and wagon, and gave me a list of the names of gentlemen on whom I was
to call, but I soon discovered that my friend's hopes and chances were
not worth even the services of a horse that was dragging me through
the mud. Years afterward I learned that in politics, as almost in
everything else, Mr. Southwick was blinded by his enthusiasm and

[Footnote 221: _Autobiography of Thurlow Weed_, p. 86.]

But Southwick was not the only blinded one in 1822. On the 10th of
January, Governor Clinton wrote Henry Post "that Yates and Van Buren
are both prostrate, and the latter particularly so."[222] Later in the
year, on August 21, he declared: "Yates is unpopular, and Southwick
will beat him in this city and in Schenectady."[223] In the next
month, September 21, he is even more outspoken. "Yates is despised and
talked against openly. Savage and Skinner talk plainly against him,
and he is the subject of commonplace ridicule."[224] Clinton was the
last person to abandon hope of Yates' defeat; and yet Yates' election
could, without exaggeration, be declared practically unanimous.[225]
Republican legislative candidates fared equally well. Clintonians and
Federalists were entirely without representation in the Senate, and in
the Assembly their number was insufficient to make their presence

[Footnote 222: DeWitt Clinton's Letters to Henry Post, in _Harper's
Magazine_, Vol. 50, p. 507.]

[Footnote 223: _Ibid._, p. 565.]

[Footnote 224: _Ibid._, p. 565.]

[Footnote 225: Southwick received 2910 out of a total of 131,403 votes
cast.--_Civil List, State of New York_ (1887), p. 166.]




The election in the fall of 1822 was one of those sweeping, crushing
victories that precede a radical change; and the confidence with which
the victors used their power hurried on the revolution prophesied in
Clinton's clever letter to Post. The blow did not, indeed, come at
once. The legislators, meeting in January, 1823, proceeded cautiously,
agreeing in caucus upon the state officers whom the Legislature, under
the amended Constitution, must now elect. John Van Ness Yates, the
Governor's nephew, was made secretary of state; William L. Marcy,
comptroller; Simeon DeWitt, surveyor-general, and Alexander M. Muir,
commissary-general. The caucus hesitated to nominate DeWitt because he
was a Clintonian; but forty years of honourable, efficient, quiet
service finally appealed to a Republican Legislature with all the
force that it had formerly appealed to the Skinner Council. There was
more of a contest over the comptrollership. James Tallmadge suddenly
blossomed into a rival candidate. Tallmadge, like John W. Taylor, won
his spurs as a leader of the opposition to the Missouri Compromise. He
had been an ardent supporter of Clinton until the latter preferred
Thomas J. Oakley as attorney-general; then he swung into communion
with the Bucktails. He was impulsively ambitious, sensitive to
opposition, fearless in action, and such an inveterate hater that he
could not always act along lines leading to his own preferment.

Under the new Constitution, county judges, surrogates, and notaries
public were selected from the dominant party with more jealous care
than by the old Council; and if Yates failed to observe the edict of
the Regency, the Senate failed to confirm his appointees. Hammond, the
historian, gives an instance of its refusal to confirm the
reappointment of a bank cashier as a notary public because of his
politics. But the really absorbing question was the appointment of
Supreme Court judges. Though there was no objection to Nathan Sanford
for chancellor, since he would not take office until the retirement of
James Kent, in August, by reason of age limitation, the spirit shown
in the constitutional convention, toward the old Supreme Court judges,
pervaded the Senate. The Governor, who had served with Ambrose Spencer
since 1808, and with Platt and Woodworth from the time of their
elevation to the court, was prompted, perhaps through his kindly
interest in their welfare, to nominate them for reappointment, but the
Senate rejected them by an almost unanimous vote. If the Governor had
now let the matter rest, he would doubtless have escaped the serious
charge of insincerity. The next day, however, without giving the
rejected men opportunity to secure a rehearing, he nominated John
Savage, Jacob Sutherland, and Samuel R. Betts. The suddenness of these
second nominations seemed to indicate a greater desire to continue
cordial relations with the Senate than to help his former associates.
Whatever the cause, though, Ambrose Spencer never forgave him; nor did
he outlive Samuel Young's criticism of playing politics at the expense
of his old comrades upon the bench.

With the exception of Ambrose Spencer, who was destined to be
remembered for a time by friends and enemies, the old judges of the
Supreme Court may now be said to drop out of state history. Spencer
lived twenty-five years longer, until 1848, serving one term in
Congress, one term as mayor of Albany, and finally rounding out his
long life of eighty-three years as president of the national Whig
convention at Baltimore in 1844; but his political and public
activity, as a factor to be reckoned with, ceased at the age of
fifty-eight. The close of his life was spent in happy quietude among
his books, and in the midst of new-found friends in the church, with
which he united some six or eight years before his death. Jonas Platt
returned to Clinton County, and, for a time, practised his profession
with great acceptance as an advocate; but as a master-politician he,
like Spencer, was out of employment forever. At last, he, too, retired
to a farm, and with composure awaited the end that came in 1834.
William W. Van Ness was destined to go earlier. Not seeking
reappointment to the bench, he settled in New York, with apparently
forty years of life before him, his genius in all the glow of its
maturity marking him for greater political success than he had yet
achieved; yet, within a year, on February 27, 1823, death found him
while he sought health in a Southern State. He was only forty-seven
years old at the time. Disease and not age had thrown him. Born in
1776, he had won for himself the proudest honours of the law, and
written his name high up on the roll of New York statesmen.

Governor Yates had thus far travelled a difficult and dusty road. In
the duty of organising the government, which, under the new
Constitution fell to him, and in making appointments, he received the
censure and was burdened with the resentment of the mortified and
disappointed. His opponents, with the hearty and poorly concealed
approval of Young's friends, made it their business to create a public
opinion against him. They assailed him at all points with ridicule,
with satire, with vituperation, and with personal abuse. They seemed
to lie in wait to find occasion for attacking him, exaggerating his
weaknesses and minimising his strength. But the blunder that broke his
heart, and sent him into unexpected and sudden retirement, was his
opposition to a change in the law providing for the choice of
presidential electors by the people. The demand for such a measure
grew out of a divided sentiment between William H. Crawford, then
secretary of the treasury, John Quincy Adams, secretary of state, and
Henry Clay, speaker of the national House of Representatives, the
leading candidates for President. There was, as yet, no real break in
the Republican party. No national question had appeared upon which
the nation was divided; and, although individuals in the South took
exception to protective duties, the party had made no claim that the
tariff system of 1816 was either inexpedient or unconstitutional. The
selection of a candidate for President had, however, become intensely
personal, dividing the country into excited factions equivalent to a
division of parties. In New York, Van Buren and the Albany Regency
favoured Crawford; James Tallmadge, Henry Wheaton, Thurlow Weed and
others preferred Adams; and Samuel Young, Peter B. Porter and their
friends warmly supported Clay. The heated contest extended to the
people, who understood that the choice of Crawford electors by the
Legislature would control the election for the Georgian, while a
change in the law would give Adams or Clay a chance. To insure such a
change, the opponents of Crawford, calling themselves the People's
party, made several nominations for the Assembly, and among those
elected by overwhelming majorities were Tallmadge and Wheaton.

If Tallmadge was the most conspicuous leader of the People's party,
Henry Wheaton was easily second. Though seven years younger, he had
already made himself prominent, not merely as a politician of general
ability, but as a reporter of the United States Supreme Court, whose
conscientious and intelligent work was to link his name forever with
the jurisprudence of the country. During the War of 1812, Wheaton had
edited the _National Advocate_, writing a series of important papers
on neutral rights; and, subsequently, he had become division
judge-advocate of the army, and justice of the marine court of New
York City. From the constitutional convention of 1821, he stepped into
the Assembly of 1824, where, in the debates over the choice of
electors by the people, his ready eloquence made him a valuable ally
for Tallmadge and a formidable opponent to Flagg. His ambition to
shine as a statesman, and an extraordinary power of application,
equipped him with varied information, and made him an authority on
many subjects. He joined Benjamin F. Butler in the revision of the
statutes of the State, and was associated with Daniel Webster in
settling the limits of the bankruptcy legislation of the state and
federal governments. Just now he was still a young man, only in his
thirty-ninth year; but those who had seen his keen, clever articles on
neutral rights, polished and penetrating in style, and who heard his
skilful and fearless advocacy of the people's right to choose
electors, were not surprised to learn of his appointment, in later
life, as a lecturer at Harvard, or to read his great work on the
_Elements of International Law_, published in 1836. As a reward for
the part he took in the election of 1824, President Adams sent him to
Denmark, from whence he went to Prussia--these appointments keeping
him abroad for twenty years.

John Van Ness Yates urged his uncle to recommend a change in the law
regulating the choice of electors; and if the Governor had possessed
the political wisdom necessary in such an emergency, he would
doubtless have taken the suggestion. But Yates thought it wise to
follow the Regency; the Regency thought it wise to follow Van Buren;
and Van Buren opposed a change, as prejudicial to Crawford's
interests. The result was a bungling attempt on the part of the
Governor to evade the direct expression of an opinion. Finally,
however, he said that as Congress was likely soon to present an
amendment to the Constitution for legislative sanction, it was
inadvisable "under existing circumstances" to change the law "at this
time."[226] This was neither skilful nor truthful. Congress had no
thought of doing anything of the kind, and, if it had, men knew that
an amendment could not be secured in time to operate at the coming
election. Yates' message, therefore, was pronounced "a shabby dodge,"
a trick familiar to many statesmen in difficulties.

[Footnote 226: _Governors Speeches_, Aug. 2, 1824, p. 218.]

When the Legislature convened, in January, 1824, a bill authorising
the people to choose electors naturally excited a long and bitter
debate, in which Azariah C. Flagg represented the Regency. Flagg was
a printer by trade, the publisher of a Republican paper at Plattsburg,
and a veteran of the War of 1812. He was not prepossessing in
appearance; his diminutive stature, surmounted by a big, round head
gave him the appearance of Atlas with the world upon his shoulders.
His voice, too, was shrill and unattractive; but he suddenly evinced
shrewdness and address in legislative tactics that greatly worried his
opponents and pleased his friends. A majority of the Assembly,
however, afraid of their excited and indignant constituents, finally
passed the bill. When it reached the Senate, the supporters of
Crawford indefinitely postponed it by a vote of seventeen to fourteen.

The defeat of this measure raised a storm of popular indignation.
People were exasperated. Newspapers, opposed to the Van Buren leaders,
published in black-letter type the names of senators who voted against
it, while the frequenters of public places denounced them as
"traitors, villains, and rascals," with the result that most of them
were consigned to retirement during the remainder of their lives. "The
impression here is that Van Buren and his junto are politically dead,"
wrote DeWitt Clinton to Henry Post on the 17th of February, 1824. "The
impression will produce the event."[227]

[Footnote 227: DeWitt Clinton's Letters to Henry Post, in _Harper's
Magazine_, Vol. 50, p. 568.]

In the midst of this excitement, came the selection of a candidate for
governor, to be elected in the following November. Yates had done the
bidding of the Regency and Flagg demanded his renomination, but the
men who supported a change in the mode of choosing electors declared
that Yates was the original opponent of the people's wishes, and that,
if renominated, he could not be re-elected. "If the Governor is to be
sacrificed for his fidelity," retorted Flagg, "I am ready to suffer
with him." From a sentimental standpoint, this avowal was most
creditable and generous, but it had no place in the councils of
politicians to whom sentiment never appeals when the shrouded figure
of defeat stands at the open door. Just now, too, their fears
increased as evidence accumulated that Samuel Young would certainly be
offered a nomination by the People's party, and would certainly accept
it, if he were not quickly nominated by the Regency Republicans. When
the legislators went into caucus on the 3d of April, 1824, therefore,
the friends of Van Buren were ready to throw over Yates and to accept
Young, with Erastus Root for lieutenant-governor.

Three days afterward, the most influential and active friends of John
Quincy Adams and Henry Clay decided that a state convention--consisting
of as many delegates as there were members of the Assembly, to be
chosen by voters opposed to William H. Crawford for President and in
favour of restoring the choice of presidential electors to the
people--should assemble at Utica, on September 21, 1824, to nominate
candidates for governor and lieutenant-governor. It had long been a
dream of Clinton to have nominations made by delegates elected by the
people. That dream was now to be realised, and the door to a new
political era opened.

Though Clinton had announced a determination to support Andrew
Jackson, he displayed no zeal in the state contest, and contented
himself with writing gossipy letters to Post and in watching the rapid
growth of the Erie canal. As early as 1819, the canal had been opened
between Utica and Rome, and from the Hudson to Lake Champlain. The
middle section, recently completed, was now actively in use between
Utica and Montezuma. In little more than a year, the jubilee over the
letting in of the waters of Lake Erie would deaden the strife of
parties with booming of cannon and expressions of joy. Throughout all
the delays and vexations of this wonderful enterprise, DeWitt Clinton
had been the great inspiring force, and, although for several years
the board of canal commissioners had been reorganised in the interest
of the Bucktails, not a whisper was heard intimating any desire or
intention to interfere with him. When it was known, however, that
James Tallmadge had been agreed upon as the candidate of the People's
party for governor, the Regency, in order to split his forces,
determined upon Clinton's removal from all participation in the
management of the canal. If Tallmadge voted for such a resolution,
reasoned the Van Buren leaders, it would alienate the political
friends with whom he was just now acting; if he voted against it, he
would alienate Tammany.

It was a bold game of politics, and a dangerous one. The people did
not love Clinton, but they believed in his policy, and a blow at him,
in their opinion, was a blow at the canal. Nothing in the whole of Van
Buren's history exhibits a more foolish disregard of public sentiment,
or led to a greater disaster. But the Regency, blinded by its
overwhelming victory at the last election, was prepared to pay a
gambler's price for power, and, in the twinkling of an eye, before the
Assembly knew what had happened, the Senate removed Clinton from the
office of canal commissioner, only three votes being recorded for him.
Thurlow Weed happened to be a witness of the proceeding, and, rushing
to the Assembly chamber, urged Tallmadge to resist its passage through
the house. "I knew how bitterly General Tallmadge hated Mr. Clinton,"
he says, "but in a few hurried and emphatic sentences implored him not
to be caught in the trap thus baited for him. I urged him to state
frankly, in a brief speech, how entirely he was estranged personally
and politically from Mr. Clinton, but to denounce his removal during
the successful progress of a system of improvement which he had
inaugurated, and which would confer prosperity and wealth upon the
people and enrich and elevate our State, as an act of vandalism to
which he could not consent to be a party. I concluded by assuring him
solemnly that if he voted for that resolution he could not receive the
nomination for governor."[228]

[Footnote 228: _Autobiography of Thurlow Weed_, p. 109.]

But Tallmadge remained dumb. Gamaliel H. Barstow, formerly a
Clintonian, walked out of the chamber. Other old friends showed
indifference. Only Henry Cunningham of Montgomery, entering the
chamber while the clerk was reading the resolution, eloquently
denounced it. "When the miserable party strifes shall have passed by,"
he said, in conclusion; "when the political jugglers who now beleaguer
this capital shall be overwhelmed and forgotten; when the gentle
breeze shall pass over the tomb of that great man, carrying with it
the just tribute of honour and praise which is now withheld, the pen
of the future historian will do him justice, and erect to his memory a
monument of fame as imperishable as the splendid works that owe their
origin to his genius and perseverance."[229] One or two others spoke
briefly in Clinton's behalf, and then the resolution passed--ayes
sixty-four, noes thirty-four. Among the ayes were Tallmadge and

[Footnote 229: _Autobiography of Thurlow Weed_, p. 110.]

Had Clinton been assassinated, the news could not have produced a
greater shock. Scarcely had the Assembly adjourned, before the
citizens of Albany--rushing into the vacant chamber and electing the
old and venerable John Taylor, the former lieutenant-governor, for
chairman--expressed their indignation in denunciatory speeches and
resolutions. In New York City, a committee of twenty-five, headed by
Thomas Addis Emmet, called in person upon Clinton to make known the
feeling of the meeting. Everywhere throughout the State, the removal
awakened a cyclone of resentment, the members who voted for it being
the storm-centres. At Canandaigua, personal indignities were
threatened.[230] "Several members," says Weed, "were hissed as they
came out of the capitol. Tallmadge received unmistakable evidence, on
his way through State Street to his lodgings, of the great error he
had committed. His hotel was filled with citizens, whose rebukes were
loudly heard as he passed through the hall to his apartment, and as he
nervously paced backward and forward in his parlour, 'the victim of
remorse that comes too late,' he perceived both the depth and the
darkness of the political pit into which he had fallen."[231]

[Footnote 230: _Ibid._, p. 114.]

[Footnote 231: _Ibid._, p. 113.]

Immediately, the tide began setting strongly in favour of Clinton for
governor. Clintonian papers urged it, and personal friends wrote and
rode over the State in his interest. Clinton himself became sanguine
of success. "Tallmadge can scarcely get a vote in his own county," he
wrote Post on the 21st of April. "He is the prince of rascals--if
Wheaton does not exceed him."[232]

[Footnote 232: DeWitt Clinton's Letters to Henry Post, in _Harper's
Magazine_, Vol. 50, p. 569. Clinton seems to have taken a particular
dislike to Henry Wheaton. Elsewhere, he writes to Post: "There is but
one opinion about Wheaton, and that is that he is a pitiful
scoundrel."--_Ibid._, p. 417.]

Meanwhile, a sensation long foreseen by those in the Governor's inner
circle, was about to be sprung. Yates was not a man to be rudely
thrust out of office. He knew he had blundered in opposing an
electoral law, and he now proposed giving the Legislature another
opportunity to enact one. The Regency did not believe there would be
an extra session, because, as Attorney-General Talcott suggested, the
power to convene the Legislature was a high prerogative, the exercise
of which required more decision and nerve than Yates possessed; but,
on the 2nd of June, to the surprise and consternation of the Van Buren
leaders, Yates issued a proclamation reconvening the Legislature on
August 2. It was predicated upon the failure of Congress to amend the
Constitution, upon the recent defeat of the electoral bill in the
Senate, and upon the just alarm of the people, that "their undoubted
right" of choosing presidential electors would be withheld from them.
Very likely, it afforded the Governor much satisfaction to make this
open and damaging attack upon the Regency. He had surrendered
independence if not self-respect, and, in return for his fidelity, had
been ruthlessly cast aside for his less faithful rival. Yet his
purpose was more than revenge. Between the Clintonian prejudice
against Tallmadge, and the People's party's hatred of Clinton, the
Governor hoped he might become a compromise candidate at the Utica
convention. The future, however, had no place for him. He was
ridiculed the more by his enemies and dropped into the pit of oblivion
by his former friends. Nothing in his public life, perhaps, became him
so well as his dignified retirement at Schenectady, amid the scenes of
his youth, where he died at the age of sixty-nine, leaving a place in
history not strongly marked.

Yates' extra session lasted four days and did nothing except to snub
the Governor and give the eloquent Tallmadge, amidst tumultuous
applause from the galleries, an opportunity of annoying the Regency by
keeping up the popular excitement over a change in the choice of
electors until the assembling of the Utica convention. As the days
passed, the sentiment for Clinton became stronger and more apparent.
Thurlow Weed, travelling over the State in the interest of Tallmadge,
found Clinton's nomination almost universally demanded, with Tallmadge
a favourite for second place. This, the eloquent gentleman
peremptorily refused, until an appeal for harmony, and the suggestion
that Adams' election might open to him a broader field for usefulness
than that of being governor, produced the desired change. Probably
Tallmadge felt within himself that he was not destined to a great
political career. In any case, he finally accepted the offer with
perfect good humour, giving Weed a brief letter consenting to the use
of his name as lieutenant-governor. With this the young journalist
arrived at Utica on the morning of convention day.

There were one hundred and twenty-two delegates in the convention, of
whom one-fourth belonged to the People's party. These supported
Tallmadge for governor. When they discovered that Tallmadge's vote to
remove Clinton had put him out of the race, they suggested John W.
Taylor; but a delegate from Saratoga produced a letter in which the
distinguished opponent of the Missouri Compromise declined to become a
candidate. This left the way open to DeWitt Clinton, and, as he
carried off the nomination by a large majority, with Tallmadge for
lieutenant-governor by acclamation, many representatives of the
People's party walked out of the hall and reorganised another
convention, resolving to support Tallmadge, but protesting against the
nomination of Clinton--"a diversion," says Weed, "which was soon
forgotten amid the general and pervading enthusiasm."[233]

[Footnote 233: _Autobiography of Thurlow Weed_, p. 120.]

The election of governor in 1824 passed into history as one of the
most stirring ever witnessed in the State. In a fight, Samuel Young
and DeWitt Clinton were at home. They neither asked nor gave quarter.
There is no record that their fluency or invective did more than add
to the excitement of the campaign; but each was well supplied with
ready venom. Young was rhetorical and dramatic--Clinton energetic and
forceful. People, listening to Young, rocked with laughter and
revelled in applause as he pilloried his opponents, the ferocity of
his attacks being surpassed only by the eloquence of his periods. With
Clinton, speaking was serious business. He lacked the oratorical gift
and the art of concealing the labour of his overwrought and too
elaborate sentences; but his addresses afforded ample evidence of the
capacity and richness of his mind. In spite of great faults, both
candidates commanded the loyalty of followers who swelled with pride
because of their courage and splendid ability. The confidence of the
Regency and the usual success of Tammany at first made the friends of
Clinton unhappy; but as the campaign advanced, Young discovered that
the Regency, in insisting on the choice of electors by the
Legislature, had given the opposition the most telling cry it could
possibly have found against him; that the popular tumult over
Clinton's removal was growing from day to day; and that his opponents
were banded together against him on many grounds and with many
different purposes. Two weeks before the election, it was evident to
every one that the Regency was doomed, that Van Buren was
disconcerted, and that Young was beaten; but no one expected that
Clinton's majority would reach sixteen thousand,[234] or that
Tallmadge would run thirty-two thousand ahead of Erastus Root. The
announcement came like a thunderbolt, bringing with it the
intelligence that out of eight senators only two Regency men had been
spared, while, in the Assembly, the opposition had three to one. In
other words, the election of 1822 had been completely reversed.
Clinton was again in the saddle.

[Footnote 234: DeWitt Clinton, 103,452; Samuel Young, 87,093.--_Civil
List, State of New York_ (1887), p. 166.]

Samuel Young's political fortunes never recovered from this encounter
with the illustrious champion of the canals. He was much in office
afterward. For eight years he served in the State Senate, and once as
lieutenant-governor; for a quarter of a century he lived on, a
marvellous orator, whom the people never tired of hearing, and whom
opponents never ceased to fear; but the glow that lingers about a
public man who had never been overwhelmed by the suffrage of his
fellow-citizens was gone forever.




Political interest, in 1824, centred in the election of a President as
well as a Governor. Three candidates,--William H. Crawford of Georgia,
John Quincy Adams of Massachusetts, and Henry Clay of Kentucky,--divided
the parties in New York. No one thought of DeWitt Clinton. Very
likely, after his overwhelming election, Clinton, in his joy, felt his
ambition again aroused. He had been inoculated with presidential
rabies in 1812, and his letters to Henry Post showed signs of
continued madness. "I think Crawford is _hors de combat_," he wrote in
March, 1824. "Calhoun never had force, and Clay is equally out of the
question. As for Adams, he can only succeed by the imbecility of his
opponents, not by his own strength. In this crisis may not some other
person bear away the palm?"[235] Then follows the historic
illustration, indicating that the canal champion thought he might
become a compromise candidate: "Do you recollect the story of
Themistocles the Athenian? After the naval victory of Salamis a
council of generals was held to determine on the most worthy. Each man
was to write down two names, the first and the next best. Each general
wrote his own name for the first, and that of Themistocles for the
second. May not this contest have a similar result? I am persuaded
that with common prudence we will stand better than ever."[236]

[Footnote 235: DeWitt Clinton's Letters to Henry Post, in _Harper's
Magazine_, Vol. 50, p. 568.]

[Footnote 236: _Ibid._, Vol. 50, p. 586.]

But the field was preoccupied and the competitors too numerous. So,
getting no encouragement, Clinton turned to the hero of New Orleans.
"In Jackson," he wrote Post, "we must look for a sincere and honest
friend. Whatever demonstrations are made from other quarters are
dictated by policy and public sentiment."[237] He grows impatient with
Clay, indignant at the apparent success of Adams, and vituperative
over the tactics of Calhoun. "Clay ought to resign forthwith," he
writes on the 17th of April, 1824; "his chance is worse than nothing.
Jackson would then prevail with all the Western States, if we can get
New Jersey."[238] Four days later he was sure of New Jersey. "We can
get her," he assures Post, on April 21. "I see no terrors in Adams'
papers; his influence has gone with his morals."[239]

[Footnote 237: DeWitt Clinton's Letters to Henry Post, in _Harper's
Magazine_, Vol. 50, p. 568.]

[Footnote 238: _Ibid._, p. 568.]

[Footnote 239: _Ibid._, p. 569.]

But by midsummer Clinton had become alarmed at the action of the
candidate from South Carolina. "Calhoun is acting a treacherous part
to Jackson," he says, under date of July 23, "and is doing all he can
for Adams. Perhaps there is not a man in the United States more
hollow-headed and base. I have long observed his manoeuvres."[240] A
week later Clinton speaks of Calhoun as "a thorough-paced political
blackleg."[241] In August he gives Adams another slap. "The great
danger is that there will be a quarrel between the friends of Jackson
and Adams, and that in the war between the lion and the unicorn the
cur may slip in and carry off the prize."[242]

[Footnote 240: _Ibid._, p. 569.]

[Footnote 241: _Ibid._, p. 569.]

[Footnote 242: _Ibid._, p. 569.

"Clinton's presidential aspirations made him a very censorious judge
of all who did not sympathise with them. The four competing
candidates, Crawford, Clay, Calhoun, and Adams, could hardly be
paralleled, Clinton being judge, by an equal number of the twelve
Cæsars of Suetonius. Crawford is 'as hardened a ruffian as Burr';
Calhoun is 'treacherous', and 'a thorough-paced political blackleg.'
Adams 'in politics was an apostate, and in private life a pedagogue,
and everything but amiable and honest', while his father, the
ex-President, was 'a scamp.' Governor Yates is 'perfidious and weak.'
Henry Wheaton's 'conduct is shamefully disgraceful, and he might be
lashed naked round the world.' Chief Justice Ambrose Spencer is
classed as a minus quantity, and his son John C., 'the political
millstone of the West.' Peter B. Porter 'wears a mask.' Woodworth 'is
a weak man, with sinister purposes.' Root is 'a bad man.' Samuel Young
'is unpopular and suspicions are entertained of his integrity.' Van
Buren 'is the prince of villains.' The first impression produced is
one of astonishment that a man capable of such great things could ever
have taken such a lively interest, as he seemed to, in the mere
scullionery of politics."--John Bigelow, in _Harper's Magazine_,
March, 1875.]

Though Clinton and Jackson had long been admirers, there is no
evidence that, at this time, so much as a letter had passed between
them. One can easily understand, however, that a man of the iron will
and great achievement of the Tennesseean would profoundly interest
DeWitt Clinton. On the other hand, the proud, aspiring, unpliant man
whose canal policy brought national renown, had won the admiration of
Andrew Jackson. In 1818, at a Nashville banquet, he had toasted
Clinton, declaring him "the promoter of his country's best interests;"
and one year later, at a dinner given in his honour by the mayor of
New York, Jackson confounded most of the Bucktail banqueters and
surprised them all by proposing "DeWitt Clinton, the enlightened
statesman and governor of the great and patriotic State of New York."
The two men had many characteristics in common. Neither would stoop to
conquer. But the dramatic thing about Clinton's interest just now, was
his proclamation for Jackson, when everybody else in New York was for
some other candidate. The bitterness of that hour was very earnest.
Whatever chance existed for Jackson outside of the State, there was
not the slightest hope for him within it. Nevertheless, Clinton seemed
indifferent. He was a statesman without being a politician. He
believed in Jackson's star, and it was this prescience, as the sequel
showed, that was to give him, in spite of opponents, a sixth term as

Clinton's résumé of the political situation, written to Post, also
showed his unfailing knowledge of the conditions about to be enacted
at Albany. The Legislature which assembled in extra session, in
November, 1824, for the appointment of presidential electors, was the
same Assembly that had favoured the choice of electors by the people,
and the same Senate which had indefinitely postponed that measure by a
vote of seventeen to fourteen. The former struggle, therefore, was
immediately renewed in the legislative halls, with Martin Van Buren
confident of seventeen Crawford votes in the Senate, and enough more
in the Assembly, with the help of the Clay men, to give the Georgian a
majority on joint ballot.

The Adams men had less confidence, but no less shrewdness and skill. A
new Richmond had arrived on the field. Since his visitation through
the State two years before, in behalf of Solomon Southwick's candidacy
for governor, Thurlow Weed had been growing rapidly in political
experience. He left Manlius without a penny in the autumn of 1822 to
find work on the Rochester _Telegraph_, a Clintonian paper of small
pretensions and smaller circulation. Under its new manager, and with
the name of John Quincy Adams for President at the head of the
editorial page, it soon became so popular and belligerent that the
business men of Rochester sent Weed to Albany as their agent to secure
from the Legislature a charter for a bank. Upon his arrival at the
capital, the friends of the New England candidate welcomed him to the
great political arena in which he was to fight so long, so
brilliantly, and with such success.

It was at this period in his history, that Thurlow Weed's connection
with public life began, developing into that wonderful career which
made him one of the most influential writers and strongest
personalities of his day. He was not an orator; he was not even a
public talker. One attempt to speak met with failure so embarrassing
that he never tried a second time; but he was a companionable being.
He loved the company of men. He had suffered so much, and yet retained
so much of the serenity of a child, that he was ever ready to share
his purse and his mantle of pity with the unfortunate, brightening
their lives with a tender sympathy that endeared him to all. It was so
natural for him to guide wisely and noiselessly that he seemed
unconscious of his great gifts. Men in high places, often opulent and
happy in their ease, deferred to him with the confidence of pupils to
a beloved teacher. But he possessed more than philosophic wisdom. He
was sleepless and tireless. It was his custom to attend political
gatherings in all parts of the State, and to make the acquaintance of
men in that "inner circle," who controlled the affairs of party and
the destiny of aspiring statesmen. In 1822 he had toured the State in
the interest of Solomon Southwick. From April to December, in 1824, he
attended two extra sessions of the Legislature and a meeting of the
Electoral College, besides travelling twice throughout the State in
behalf of the candidacy of John Quincy Adams. Traversing New York,
over rough roads, before the days of canals and railroads, in the
heavy, lumbering stage coach that took five or six days and nights,
and, in muddy seasons, six days and seven nights of continuous travel,
to go from Albany to Buffalo, made a strenuous life, but Weed's
devotion to party, and fidelity to men and principles, sent him on his
way with something of the freshness of boyhood still shining on his
face. He had his faults, but they were not of a kind to prevent men
from finding him lovable.

When Weed came to Albany, in November, 1824, as the advocate of John
Quincy Adams, the only hope of success was the union of the friends of
Clay and Adams, since only two electoral tickets, under the
Constitution, could be voted for. In the Senate, Crawford had
seventeen votes, and Adams and Clay seven each; in the Assembly, the
first ballot gave Crawford forty-three, Adams fifty, and Clay
thirty-two. Until some combination was made, therefore, a majority
could not be obtained for any candidate. To make such an union
required fine diplomacy between the Adams and Clay men; for it
appeared that Clay must have at least seven electoral votes from New
York in order to become one of the three candidates to be voted for in
the House of Representatives, should the election of President be
thrown into Congress. Fortunately for the Adams men, the Crawford
people also had their troubles, and to hold two senators in line they
placed the names of six moderate Clay men on their ticket. Thereupon,
at a secret meeting, the Adams and Clay leaders agreed to support
thirty Adams men and the six Clay men upon the Crawford ticket, the
friends of Adams promising, if Clay carried Louisiana, to furnish him
the needed seven votes. Naturally enough, the success of this
programme depended upon the utmost secrecy, since their ticket, with
the help of all the Clay votes that could be mustered, would not
exceed two majority. The better to secure such secrecy Weed personally
printed the ballots on the Sunday before the final vote on Tuesday.

There was another well-kept secret. Thurlow Weed had had his
suspicions turned into absolute evidence that Henry Eckford of New
York City, a wealthy supporter of Crawford, had furnished money to
influence three Adams men to vote for the Georgian. He had followed
their go-between from Syracuse to Albany, from Albany to New York, and
from New York back to Albany; he had heard their renunciation of Adams
and their changed sentiments toward Crawford; and he knew also that
the Adams ticket was lost if these three votes, or even two of them,
were cast for the Crawford ticket. Weed straightway proposed that the
dishonourable purposes of these men should be anticipated by an
immediate declaration of war; and, upon their appearance in Albany,
Henry Wheaton faced them with the story of their dishonour,
threatening an exposure unless they voted a ballot bearing the
initials of himself and Tallmadge. Conscious of their guilty purposes,
the timid souls consented to Wheaton's proposition and then kept their

In the meantime, Van Buren's confidence in the weakness of the
Adams-Clay men was never for a moment shaken. Of the thirty-nine Clay
supporters in the Legislature, Crawford only needed sixteen; and
these, Samuel Young and his Clay friends, had promised to deliver.
There is no evidence that Van Buren had any knowledge of Weed's
management at this time; it so happened, by design or by accident,
that in their long careers they never met but once, and then, not
until after Van Buren had retired from the White House. But the
Senator knew that some hand had struck him, and struck him hard, when
Lieutenant-Governor Root drew from the box the first union ballot.
Instead of reading it, Root involuntarily exclaimed, "A printed split
ticket." Thereupon Senator Keyes of Jefferson County, sprang to his
feet, and, in a loud voice, shouted, "Treason, by God!" In the
confusion, Root was about to vacate the speaker's chair and return
with the senators to their chamber, when James Tallmadge, in a
stentorian voice, called for order. "I demand, under the authority of
the Constitution of the United States," he said, "under the
Constitution of the State of New York, in the name of the whole
American people, that this joint meeting of the two houses of the
Legislature shall not be interrupted in the discharge of a high duty
and a sacred trust."[243] This settled it. The count went on, but, so
nearly were the parties divided that only thirty-two electors, and
these on the union ticket, received votes enough to elect them. On the
second ballot, four Crawford electors were chosen. "Had our secret
transpired before the first ballot," says Weed, "such was the power of
the Regency over two or three timid men, that the whole Crawford
ticket would have been elected."[244]

[Footnote 243: _Autobiography of Thurlow Weed_, p. 127.]

[Footnote 244: _Ibid._, p. 127.]

Writing without full information of the agreement made in the secret
caucus, Hammond[245] intimates that the Adams men did not keep faith
with the Clay men, since the four votes taken from Clay and given to
Crawford on the second ballot made Crawford, instead of Clay, a
candidate in the national House of Representatives. Other writers have
followed this opinion, charging the Adams managers with having played
foul with the Kentucky statesman. But Weed and his associates did
nothing of the kind. The agreement was that Clay should have seven
electoral votes from New York, provided he carried Louisiana, but as
Jackson carried that State, it left the Adams men free to give all
their votes to the New Englander. What would have happened had Clay
carried Louisiana is not so clear, for Weed admits that up to the time
news came that Louisiana had gone for Jackson, he was unable to find a
single Adams elector who would consent to vote for Clay, even to save
his friends and his party from dishonour.

[Footnote 245: Jabez D. Hammond, _Political History of New York_, p.

The failure of the people to elect a President in 1824, and the choice
of John Quincy Adams by the House of Representatives, are among the
most widely known events in our political history. New York remained,
throughout, the storm-centre of excitement. After a large majority of
its presidential electors had declared for Adams, thus throwing the
election into Congress, the result still depended upon the vote of its
closely divided delegation in the House. Of the thirty-four
congressmen, seventeen favoured Adams, sixteen opposed him, and
Stephen Van Rensselaer was doubtful. The latter's action, therefore,
became of the utmost importance, since, if he voted against Adams, it
would tie the New York delegation and exclude it from the count, thus
giving Adams twelve States instead of the necessary thirteen, and
making his election on a second ballot even more doubtful. This
condition revived the hopes of Van Buren and gave Clinton a chance to
work for Jackson.

Stephen Van Rensselaer,[246] born in 1764, had had a conspicuous and
in some respects a distinguished career. He was the fifth in lineal
descent from Killian van Rensselaer, the wealthy pearl merchant of
Amsterdam, known as the first Patroon, whose great manor, purchased in
the early part of the seventeenth century, originally included the
present counties of Albany, Rensselaer, and Columbia. Stephen
inherited the larger part of this territory, and, with it, the old
manor house at Albany. His mother was a daughter of Philip Livingston,
a signer of the Declaration of Independence, and his wife a daughter
of Philip Schuyler. This made him the brother-in-law of Alexander

[Footnote 246: Thurlow Weed, in his _Autobiography_, says (p. 461):
"Of his estimable private character, and of the bounties and blessings
he scattered in all directions, or of the pervading atmosphere of
happiness and gratitude that his lifelong goodness created, I need not
speak, for they are widely known and well remembered."]

Stephen began filling offices as soon as he was old enough. For
several years he served in the Assembly and in the Senate. In 1795, he
became lieutenant-governor for two terms. George Clinton defeated him
for governor in 1801; but before Jay's term expired, he made him
commander of the State's cavalry. In 1812, at the outbreak of
hostilities with England, Governor Tompkins promoted him to be chief
of the state militia--an office which he resigned in disgust after the
disgraceful defeat at Queenstown Heights on the Niagara frontier,
because his troops refused to follow him. In 1810, he became a member
of the first canal commission, of which he was president for fifteen
years. Later, he served as a regent and chancellor of the State
University, and, in 1824, established the Troy Polytechnical
Institute. It was at this time he went to Congress, and while serving
his first term, held the casting vote that would elect a President of
the United States.

Rensselaer had been a Federalist of the Hamilton school, and, although
the Federal party had practically ceased to exist, he owed his
election to its former members. This was sufficient reason to believe
that he would not support Van Buren's candidate, and that his
predilections would incline him to take a President from the North,
provided Adams was _persona grata_ to the old Federalists. The latter
had never quite forgiven Adams for deserting them; and, having been
long excluded from power, they were anxious to know whether, if
elected, he would continue to proscribe them. Finally, when Daniel
Webster removed their doubts on this subject, Van Rensselaer still
hesitated on account of Clinton. He had a strong liking for the
Governor. They had served as canal commissioners, and their
association in the great work, then nearing completion, filled him
with admiration for the indomitable spirit exhibited by the
distinguished canal builder. His probable action, therefore, kept men
busy guessing. The suspense resembled that of the Tilden Hayes
controversy of 1877, for the result meant much to the several factions
in the State. Crawford's election would continue Van Buren and the
Regency in power; the choice of Jackson must make Clinton the supreme
dispenser of federal patronage; and Adams' success meant a better
opportunity for Thurlow Weed to form a new party.

Van Rensselaer did not talk. Experience had accustomed him to outside
pressure, and he now kept his head cool when Clinton and other
influential New Yorkers overwhelmed him with prayers and petitions. At
last, on the morning of February 9, 1825, he walked leisurely into the
hall of the House and took his seat with the New York delegation.
Every member of the House was in his place, except one who was sick in
his lodgings. The galleries were packed with spectators, and the areas
thronged with judges, ambassadors, governors, and other privileged
persons. After the formal announcement, that no one had received a
majority of electoral votes for the Presidency, and that the House of
Representatives must elect a President from the three highest
candidates, the roll was called by States, and the vote of each State
deposited in a box by itself. Then the tellers, Daniel Webster and
John Randolph, opened the boxes and counted the ballots.

The report of the tellers surprised almost every one. A long contest
had been expected. Friends of Crawford hoped the House would weary
itself with many ballots and end the affair by electing him. But the
announcement gave Crawford only four States, Jackson seven, and Adams
thirteen--a majority over all. Then it was known that Van Rensselaer's
vote had given New York to Adams, and that New York's vote had made
Adams the President. For the moment, Van Buren was checkmated, and he
knew it.




The election of John Quincy Adams as President of the United States
staggered the Regency and seriously threatened the influence of Martin
Van Buren. It was likely to close the portals of the White House to
him, and to open the doors of custom-houses and post-offices to his
opponents. More injurious than this, it established new party
alignments and gave great prestige at least to one man before
unrecognised as a political factor. The successful combination of the
Adams and Clay electors was the talk of the State; and, although
Thurlow Weed's dominant part in the game did not appear on the
surface, Van Buren and every intelligent political worker understood
that some strong hand had been at work.

The absence of available candidates, around whom he could rally his
shattered forces, cast the deepest shadow across Van Buren's pathway.
He had staked much upon Samuel Young's candidacy for governor, and
everything upon William H. Crawford's candidacy for President. But
Young fell under Clinton's overwhelming majority, and Crawford
exhibited a weakness that surprised even his inveterate opponents. In
the House of Representatives Crawford had carried but four out of the
twenty-four States. This seemed to leave Van Buren without a man to
turn to; while Clinton's early declaration for Andrew Jackson gave him
the key to the situation. Although Jackson, for whom eleven States had
given an electoral plurality, received the vote of but seven States in
the House, the contest had narrowed to a choice between Adams and
himself, making the popular General the coming man. Besides, Clinton
was very active on his own account. On the 26th of October, 1825, the
waters of Lake Erie were let into the Erie canal, and navigation
opened from the lake to the Hudson. It was a great day for the
Governor. A popular jubilation extended from Buffalo to New York, and,
amidst the roar of artillery and the eloquence of many orators, the
praises of the distinguished canal builder sounded throughout the
State and nation. To a man of intellect far lower than that of Martin
Van Buren, it must have been obvious that forces were at work in the
minds and hearts of people which could not be controlled by Regency
edicts or party traditions.

But the Kinderhook statesman did not despair. In the election to occur
in November he desired simply to strengthen himself in the
Legislature; and, with consummate skill, he sought to carry Republican
districts. National issues were to be avoided. So ably did Edwin
Croswell, the wise and sagacious editor of the Albany _Argus_, lead
the way, that not a word was written or spoken against the national
administration. This cunning play renewed the old charge of
"non-committalism,"[247] which for many years was used to
characterise Van Buren's policy and action; but it in no wise
disconcerted his plans, or discovered his intentions. All he wanted
now was the Legislature, and while the whole State was given up to
general rejoicing over the completion of the canal, the Regency
leaders, under the direction of the astute Senator, practised the
tactics which Van Buren had learned from Aaron Burr, and which have
come to be known in later days as a "political still-hunt." When the
contest ended, the Regency Republicans had both branches of the
Legislature by a safe working majority. This result, so overwhelming,
so sudden, and so entirely unexpected, made Clinton's friends believe
that his end had come.

[Footnote 247: "'I heard a great deal about Mr. Van Buren,' said
Andrew Jackson, who occupied a seat in the United States Senate with
him, 'especially about his non-committalism. I made up my mind that I
would take an early opportunity to hear him and judge for myself. One
day an important subject was under debate. I noticed that Mr. Van
Buren was taking notes while one of the senators was speaking. I
judged from this that he intended to reply, and I determined to be in
my seat when he spoke. His turn came; and he arose and made a clear,
straightforward argument, which, to my mind, disposed of the whole
subject. I turned to my colleague, Major Seaton, who sat next to me.
'Major,' I said, 'is there anything non-committal about that?' 'No,
sir,' said the Major."--Edward M. Shepard, _Life of Martin Van Buren_,
p. 151.

"In Van Buren's senatorial speeches there is nothing to justify the
charge of 'non-committalism' so much made against him. When he spoke
at all he spoke explicitly; and he plainly, though without acerbity,
exhibited his likes and dislikes. Van Buren scrupulously observed the
amenities of debate. He was uniformly courteous towards adversaries;
and the calm self-control saved him, as some great orators were not
saved, from a descent to the aspersion of motive so common and futile
in political debate."--_Ibid._, p. 152.]

Van Buren, however, had broader views. He knew that Andrew Jackson, as
a candidate for the Presidency, had little standing in 1824 until
Pennsylvania took him up, and he now believed that if New York
supported him, with the Keystone State, in 1828, the hero of New
Orleans must succeed Adams. To elect him President, therefore, became
the purpose of Van Buren's political life; and, as the first step in
that direction, he determined to make DeWitt Clinton his friend. The
Governor was Jackson's champion. He had declared for him in the early
days of the Tennesseean's candidacy, and to reach him through such an
outspoken ally would give Van Buren an open way to the hero's heart.

Accordingly, Van Buren insisted upon a conciliatory course. He sent
Benjamin Knower, the state treasurer and now a member of the Regency,
to inform Clinton that, if the Van Buren leaders could control their
party, he should have no opposition at next year's gubernatorial
election. Clinton and Bucktail, like oil and water, had refused to
combine until this third ingredient, that Van Buren knew so well how
to add, completed the mixture. Whether the coalition would have
brought Clinton the reward of success or the penalty of failure must
forever remain a secret, for the Governor did not live long enough to
solve the question. But in the game of politics he had never been a
match for Van Buren. He was a statesman without being a politician.

Just now, however, Clinton and Van Buren, like lovers who had
quarrelled and made up, could not be too responsive to each other's
wishes. To confirm the latter's good intentions, the Regency senators
promptly approved Clinton's nomination of Samuel Jones for chancellor
in place of Nathan Sanford, who was now chosen United States senator
to succeed Rufus King. It was bitter experience. The appointment
rudely ignored the rule, uniformly and wisely adhered to since the
formation of a state government, to promote the chief justice.

Besides, Jones had been a pronounced Federalist for a quarter of a
century. Moreover, he was a relative of the Governor's wife, and to
some men, even in that day, nepotism was an offence. But he was an
eminent lawyer, the son of the distinguished first comptroller, and to
make their consideration of the Governor's wishes more evident, the
senators confirmed the nomination without sending it to a committee.

A more remarkable illustration of Van Buren's conciliatory policy
occurred in the confirmation of James McKnown as recorder of Albany.
McKnown was a bitter Clintonian. It was he who, at the Albany meeting,
so eloquently protested against the removal of Clinton as a canal
commissioner, denouncing it as "the offspring of that malignant and
insatiable spirit of political proscription which has already so
deeply stained the annals of the State," and the perpetrators as
"utterly unworthy of public confidence."[248] But the Senate confirmed
him without a dissenting vote. Later, when a vacancy occurred in the
judgeship of the eighth circuit by the resignation of William B.
Rochester, it seemed for a time as if the coalition must break. The
Regency wanted Herman J. Redfield, one of the seventeen senators whose
opposition to the electoral bill had caused his defeat; but the eighth
district was Clinton's stronghold, and if he nominated Redfield, the
Governor argued, it would deprive him of strength and prestige, and
seriously weaken the cause of Jackson. The Regency, accustomed to
remain faithful to the men who incurred popular odium for being
faithful to them, found it difficult, either to reconcile the
conditions with their wishes, or to compromise upon any one else.
Nevertheless, on the last day of the session, through the active and
judicious agency of Benjamin Knower, John Birdsall of Chautauqua
County, a friend of Clinton, was nominated and confirmed.

[Footnote 248: Jabez D. Hammond, _Political History of New York_, Vol.
2, p. 164.]

In the meantime, Van Buren had returned to his seat in Congress. He
entered the United States Senate in 1821, and, although observing the
decorum expected of a new member of that body, he displayed powers of
mind that distinguished him as a senator of more than ordinary
ability. He now became a parliamentary orator, putting himself at the
head of an anti-Administration faction, and developing the tact and
management of a great parliamentary leader. He had made up his mind
that nothing less than a large and comprehensive difference between
the two wings of the Republican party would be of any real use; so he
arraigned the Administration, with great violence, as un-Republican
and Federalistic. He took a definite stand against internal
improvements by the United States government; he led the opposition to
the appointment of American representatives to the Congress of Panama,
treating the proposed mission as unconstitutional and dangerous; and
he charged the Administration with returning to the practices of the
Federalist party, to which Adams originally belonged, declaring that
the presidential choice of 1825 was not only the restoration of the
men of 1798, but of the principles of that day; that the spirit of
encroachment had become more wary, but not more honest; and that the
system then was coercion, now it was seduction. He classed the famous
alien and sedition laws, of the elder Adams, with the bold avowal of
the younger Adams that it belonged to the President alone to decide
upon the propriety of a foreign mission. Thus, he associated the
administration of John Quincy Adams with the administration of his
father, insisting that if the earlier one deserved the retribution of
a Republican victory, the latter one deserved a similar fate.

Van Buren's language had the courteous dignity that uniformly
characterised his speeches. He charged no personal wrong-doing; he
insinuated no base motives; he rejected the unfounded story of the
sale of the Presidency to Adams; he voted for Clay's confirmation as
secretary of state, and, as a member of the senatorial committee, he
welcomed the new President upon his inauguration; but from the moment
John Quincy Adams became President, the Senator from New York led the
opposition to his administration with the astuteness of a great
parliamentary leader, determined to create a new party in American
politics. Van Buren also had some strong allies. With him, voted
Findlay of Pennsylvania, Holmes of Maine, Woodbury of New Hampshire,
Dickerson of New Jersey, and Kane of Illinois, besides twelve Southern
senators. But, from the outset, he was the leader. His speeches,
smooth and seldom impassioned, were addressed to the intellect rather
than to the feelings. He was the master of the art of making a
perfectly clear statement of the most complicated case, and of
defending his measures, point by point, with never-failing readiness
and skill throughout the most perplexing series of debates. He talked
to make converts, appealing to his colleagues with a directness well
calculated to bring to his side a majority of the waverers.

Van Buren's opposition to the Adams administration has been called
factious and unpatriotic. It was certainly active and continuous, and,
perhaps, now and then, somewhat more unscrupulous than senatorial
opposition is in our own time; but his policy was, unquestionably, the
policy of more modern political parties. His tactics created an
organisation which, inside and outside of the Senate, was to work
unceasingly, with tongue and pen, to discredit everything done by the
men in office and to turn public opinion against them. It was a part
of his plan not only to watch with jealous care all the acts of the
Administration, but to make the most of every opportunity that could
be used to turn them out of office; and when the Senate debate ended,
the modern Democratic party had been formed. Adams recorded in his now
famous diary that Van Buren made "a great effort to combine the
discordant elements of the Crawford and Jackson and Calhoun men into a
united opposition against the Administration." He might have added,
also, that the debate distinctly marked Van Buren's position in
history as a party-maker in the second great division of parties in

Van Buren's coalition with DeWitt Clinton, however, came perilously
near prostrating them both. At their state convention, held at Utica,
in September, 1826, the Clintonians and the People's party renominated
Clinton for governor. In the following month, the Bucktails met at
Herkimer, and, if Van Buren could have had his way, the convention
would have indorsed Clinton. Finding such action inadvisable, however,
Van Buren secured the nomination of William B. Rochester, on the
theory that he was a good enough candidate to be beaten. Rochester was
not a man of marked ability. He had done nothing to make himself known
throughout the State; he did not even favour a state road through the
southern tier of counties. He was simply a lawyer of fair attainments
who had served a term in the Legislature, one in Congress, and two
years as a circuit judge, a position from which he resigned, in 1825,
to become minister to Panama.

But Rochester proved vastly more formidable as a candidate for
governor than the Van Buren leaders anticipated. It became well known
that he was a supporter of the Adams administration, and that Henry
Clay regarded him with favour. Indeed, it was through the latter's
personal and political friendship that he secured the mission to
Panama. Thus, the feeling began to obtain that Rochester, although
the nominee of the Regency party, more nearly represented the
interests and principles of the Adams administration than DeWitt
Clinton, an avowed Jackson man, who had formed a coalition with Van
Buren. For this reason, Peter B. Porter, an ardent admirer of Clay,
and now a member of the People's party, entered with spirit into the
campaign, appealing to the Clintonians, a large majority of whom
favoured Adams, to resent Clinton's deal with Jackson's friends, and
vote for Rochester, whose election would insure the success of the
President, and bring credit to the people of the western counties,
already ambitious to give the State a governor. This potent appeal was
taken up throughout the State, influencing many Clintonians to support
Rochester, and holding in line scores of Bucktails who favoured Adams.

It was a critical moment for Van Buren. He was not only a candidate
for re-election to the United States Senate, but he had staked all
upon the overthrow of the Adams administration. Yet, the election of
his party's candidate for governor would in all probability overthrow
the Clinton-Van Buren coalition, giving the vote of the State to the
President, and possibly defeat his own re-election. It was a singular
political mix-up.

Van Buren had hoped to exclude from the campaign all national issues,
as he succeeded in doing the year before. But the friends of Clay and
Adams could not be hoodwinked. The canvass also developed combinations
that began telling hard upon Van Buren's party loyalty. Mordecai M.
Noah, an ardent supporter of Van Buren, and editor of the New York
_Enquirer_, came out openly for Clinton. For years, Noah had been
Clinton's most bitter opponent. He opposed the canal, he ridiculed its
champion, and he lampooned its supporters; yet he now swallowed the
prejudices of a lifetime and indorsed the man he had formerly
despised. Van Buren, it may safely be said, was at heart quite as
devoted a supporter of the Governor, since the latter's re-election
would be of the greatest advantage to his own personal interests; but
whatever his defects of character, and however lacking he may have
been in an exalted sense of principle, Van Buren appeared to be
sincere in his devotion to Rochester. This was emphasised by the
support of the Albany _Argus_ and other leading Regency papers.

Nevertheless, the election returns furnished ample grounds for
suspicion. Steuben County, then a Regency stronghold, gave Clinton
over one thousand majority. Other counties of that section did
proportionately as well. It was explained that this territory would
naturally support Clinton who had insisted in his message that the
central and northern counties, having benefited by the Erie and
Champlain canals, ought to give Steuben and the southern tier a public
highway. But William B. Rochester went to his watery grave[249]
thirteen years afterward with the belief that Van Buren and his
confidential friends did not act in good faith.

[Footnote 249: Rochester was lost off the coast of North Carolina, on
June 15, 1838, by the explosion of a boiler on the steamer _Pulaski_,
bound from Charleston to Baltimore. Of 150 passengers only 50

With the help of the state road counties, however, Clinton had a
narrow escape; the returns gave him only 3650 majority.[250] This
margin appeared the more wonderful when contrasted with the vote of
Nathaniel Pitcher, candidate for lieutenant-governor on the Rochester
ticket, who received 4182 majority. "Clinton luck!" was the popular

[Footnote 250: Clinton's vote was 99,785--a falling off of 3,667 from
1824, while Rochester's was 96,135, an increase of 9,042 over Young's
vote.--_Civil List, State of New York_ (1887), p. 166.]

The closeness of the result prompted the friends of the President to
favour Rochester for United States senator to succeed Van Buren, whose
term expired on March 4, 1827. Several of the Adams assemblymen acted
with the Regency party, and it was hoped that through them a winning
combination might be made. But Van Buren had not been sleeping. He
knew his strength, and with confidence he returned to Washington to
renew his attacks upon the Administration. When, finally, the
election occurred, he had a larger majority than sanguine friends
anticipated. Three Clintonians in the Senate and two in the Assembly,
recognising the coalition of Van Buren and Clinton, cast their votes
for the former. In thanking the members of the Legislature for this
renewed expression of confidence, Van Buren spoke of the "gratifying
unanimity" of their action, declaring that it should be his "constant
and zealous endeavour to protect the remaining rights reserved to the
States by the Federal Constitution; to restore those of which they
have been divested by construction; and to promote the interests and
honour of our common country."

Thus, in much less than two years, Van Buren easily retrieved all, and
more, than he had lost by the election of Clinton and the defeat of
Crawford. His position was singularly advantageous. Whatever happened,
he was almost sure to gain. He stood with Clinton, with Jackson, and
with a party drilled and disciplined better than regular troops. In
his biography of Andrew Jackson, James Parton says of Van Buren at
this time: "His hand was full of cards, and all his cards were
trumps."[251] Andrew Jackson, who had been watching his career, said
one day to a young New Yorker: "I am no politician; but if I were a
politician, I would be a New York politician."[252]

[Footnote 251: James Parton, _Life of Andrew Jackson_, Vol. 3, p.

[Footnote 252: _Ibid._, p. 136.]

Van Buren's advantage, however, great as it was, did not end with his
re-election to the United States Senate. One after another, the men
who stood between him and the object of his ambition had gradually
disappeared. Ambrose Spencer was no longer on the bench, James
Tallmadge had run his political course, and Daniel D. Tompkins was in
his grave. Only DeWitt Clinton was left, and on February 11, 1828,
death very suddenly struck him down. Stalwart in form and tremendous
in will power, few dreamed that he had any malady, much less that
death was shadowing him. He was in his fifty-ninth year.

Of DeWitt Clinton it may fairly be said that "his mourners were two
hosts--his friends and his foes." Everywhere, regardless of party,
marks of the highest respect and deepest grief were evinced. The
Legislature voted ten thousand dollars to his four minor children, an
amount equal to the salary of a canal commissioner during the time he
had served without pay. Indeed, nothing was left undone or unsaid
which would evidence veneration for his memory and sorrow for his
loss. He had lived to complete his work and to enjoy the reward of a
great achievement. Usually benefactors of the people are not so
fortunate; their halo, if it comes at all, generally forms long after
death. But Clinton seemed to be the creature of timely political
accidents. The presentation of his canal scheme had made him governor
on July 1, 1817; and he represented the State when ground was broken
at Rome on July 4; his removal as canal commissioner made him governor
again in 1825; and he represented the State at the completion of the
work. On both occasions, he received the homage of the entire people,
not only as champion of the canal, but as the head of the Commonwealth
for which he had done so much.

There were those who thought the time of his death fortunate for his
fame, since former opponents were softened and former friends had not
fallen away. An impression also obtained that little was left him
politically to live for. New conditions and new men were springing up.
As a strict constructionist of the Federal Constitution, with a
leaning toward states' rights, he could not have followed Clintonians
into the Whig party soon to be formed, nor would he have been at home
among the leaders of the Jackson or new Democratic party, who were
unlikely to have any use for him. He would not be second to Van Buren,
and Van Buren would not suffer him to interfere with the promotion of
his own career. It is possible Van Buren might have supported him for
governor in 1828, but he would have had no hesitation in playing his
own part regardless of him. Had Clinton insisted, so much the worse
for Clinton. Of the two men, Van Buren possessed the advantage. He had
less genius and possibly less self-reliance, but in other respects--in
tact, in prudence, in self-control, in address--indeed, in everything
that makes for party leadership, Van Buren easily held the mastery.

Clinton's career was absolutely faultless in two aspects--as an honest
man, and a husband, only praise is due him. He died poor and pure.
Yet, there are passages in his history which evidence great defects.
Life had been for him one long dramatic performance. Many great men
seem to have a suit of armour in the form of coldness, brusqueness, or
rudeness, which they put on to meet the stranger, but which, when laid
aside, reveals simple, charming, and often boyish manners. Clinton had
such an armour, but he never put it off, except with intimates, and
not then with any revelation of warmth. He was cold and arrogant,
showing no deference even to seniors, since he denied the existence of
superiors. Nobody loved him; few really liked him; and, except for his
canal policy, his public career must have ended with his dismissal
from the New York mayoralty. It seemed a question whether he really
measured up to the stature of a statesman.

Nevertheless, the judgment of posterity is easily on the side of
Clinton's greatness. Thurlow Weed spoke of him as a great man with
weak points; and Van Buren, in his attractive eulogy at Washington,
declared that he was "greatly tempted to envy him his grave with its
honours." He may well have done so; for, although Van Buren reached
the highest office in the gift of the people, and is clearly one of
the ablest leaders of men in the history of the Empire State, his fame
does not rest on so sure a foundation. Clinton was a man of great
achievement. He was not a dreamer; nor merely a statesman with
imagination, grasping the idea in its bolder outlines; but, like a
captain of industry, he combined the statesman and the practical man
of affairs, turning great possibilities into greater realities. It
may be fairly said of him that his career made an era in the history
of his State, and that in asserting the great principle of internal
improvements he blazed the way that guided all future comers.




In September, 1827, Van Buren permitted the New York wing of the
Republican party to come out plainly for Andrew Jackson for President.
The announcement, made by the general committee, which met in Tammany
Hall, declared that the Bucktails reposed full confidence in Andrew
Jackson's worth, integrity, and patriotism, and would support only
those who favoured him for President of the United States.

Peter B. Sharpe, a Tammany chief of courage, recently speaker of the
Assembly, voiced a faint protest; and later he summoned Marinus
Willett from his retirement to preside at an opposition meeting. It
was, no doubt, an inspiring sight to see this venerable soldier of the
Revolution, who had won proud distinction in that long and bloody war,
presiding at an assembly of his fellow citizens nearly half a century
afterward; it accentuated the fact that other heroes existed besides
the victor of New Orleans; but the Van Buren papers spoke in concert.
Within a week, the whole State understood that the election of 1827
must be conducted with express reference to the choice of Jackson in

The note of this bugle call, blown by Edwin Croswell, the famous
editor of the Albany _Argus_, resounded the enthusiasm of the party.
The ablest and most popular men, preliminary to the contest, were
selected for legislative places. Erastus Root was again nominated in
Delaware County; Robert Emmet, the promising son of the distinguished
Thomas Addis Emmet, and Ogden Hoffman, the eloquent and brilliant son
of Josiah Ogden Hoffman, who was to become the best criminal lawyer
of his day, found places on the ticket in New York City; Nathaniel P.
Tallmadge, heretofore an opponent of the Regency, but now to begin a
public career which finally placed him in the United States Senate for
twelve years, was brought out in Dutchess County; and Benjamin F.
Butler, whose revision of the state statutes had made him exceedingly
popular, accepted a nomination in the anti-Regency stronghold of

Not to be outdone in the character or strength of their ticket, the
Adams men summoned their ablest and most eloquent campaigners to share
the burden of the contest; and Elisha Williams, Peter B. Sharpe,
Francis Granger, and Peter B. Porter readily responded. Ezra C. Gross,
who had served a term in Congress, also bore a conspicuous part. Gross
was rapidly forging to the front, and would doubtless have become one
of the most gifted and brilliant men in the State had he not fallen an
early victim to intemperance.

For a purely local campaign, without the assistance of a state ticket,
it proved a canvass of unusual vehemence, filling the air with
caricatures and lampoons, and bringing victory to the drilled and
disciplined forces which were now to follow, for half a score of
years, the fortunes of the New Orleans hero. From the moment Jackson
became the standard-bearer, the crowds were with him. Adams was
represented as cold and personally unpopular; Jackson as frank,
cordial in manner, and bravely chivalric. When everything in favour of
Adams was carefully summed up and admitted, his ability as a writer,
as a lawyer, as a diplomatist, and as a statesman, the people,
fascinated by the distinguished traits of character and the splendour
of the victory at New Orleans, threw their hats into the air for
Andrew Jackson. The eloquence of Williams could carry Columbia County;
Porter, ever popular and interesting, could sweep the Niagara
frontier; and Gross, with an illuminated rhetoric that lives to this
day in the memory of men who heard their fathers talk about it, had no
trouble in Essex; but from the Hudson to Lake Oneida the Jackson party
may be said to have carried everything by storm, electing its ticket
by over four thousand majority in New York City, and securing nearly
all the senatorial districts and the larger part of the Assembly. So
overwhelming was the victory that Van Buren had no trouble at the
opening of the Twentieth Congress to defeat the re-election of John W.
Taylor for speaker.

As the time approached for nominating a governor to lead the campaign
of 1828, Van Buren realised that the anti-masonic sentiment, which had
been rapidly growing since the abduction of William Morgan, had
developed into an influence throughout the western part of the State
that threatened serious trouble. Morgan was a native of Virginia, born
in 1776, a man of fair education, and by trade a stone-mason. Little
is known of his life until 1821, when he resided first in York,
Canada, and, a year later, in Rochester, New York, where he worked at
his trade. Then he drifted to LeRoy, in Genesee County, becoming an
active Free Mason. Afterward, he moved back to Rochester, and then to
Batavia, where he sought out David C. Miller, a printer, who agreed to
publish whatever secrets of Free Masonry Morgan would reveal. The
work, done by night and on Sundays, was finally interrupted on
September 11, 1826, by Morgan's arrest, on a trifling criminal charge,
and transfer to Canandaigua for examination. His acquittal was
immediately followed by a second arrest upon a civil process for a
small debt and by his imprisonment in the Canandaigua jail. When
discharged on the succeeding night, he was quickly seized, and, as it
subsequently appeared from the evidence taken at the trial of his
abductors, he was bound, gagged, thrust violently into a covered
carriage, driven by a circuitous route, with relays of horses and men,
to Fort Niagara, and left in confinement in the magazine. Here he
dropped out of view.

The excitement following the discovery of this crime was without a
parallel in the history of Western New York. Citizens everywhere
organised committees for the apprehension of the offenders; the
Governor offered a reward for their discovery; the Legislature
authorised the appointment of able lawyers to investigate; and
William L. Marcy and Samuel Nelson, then judges of the Supreme Court,
were designated to hold special circuits for the trial of the accused.
Many persons were convicted and punished as aiders and abettors of the
conspiracy. For three years the excitement continued without
abatement, until the whole State west of Syracuse became soaked with
deep and bitter feeling, dividing families, sundering social ties, and
breeding lawsuits in vindication of assailed character. Public
sentiment was divided as to whether Morgan had been put to death. Half
a century afterward, in 1882, Thurlow Weed published an affidavit,
rehearsing a statement made to him in 1831 by John Whitney, who
confessed that he was one of five persons who took Morgan from the
magazine and drowned him in Lake Ontario.[253]

[Footnote 253: _Autobiography of Thurlow Weed_, p. 332.]

The trouble stirred up by this unfortunate affair gradually drifted
into politics. In the spring of 1827, a disinclination had shown
itself among the people of Genesee County to support Free Masons for
supervisors or justices of the peace, and, although the leading men of
the western part of the State deprecated political action, the
pressure became so great that Free Masons were excluded from local
tickets in certain towns of Genesee and Monroe Counties. This course
was resented by their friends. In the summer of the same year, the old
treasurer of Rochester, who had been elected year after year without
opposition, was defeated. No one had openly opposed him, but a canvass
of the returns disclosed a silent vote which was quickly charged to
the Masons. This discovery, says Thurlow Weed, "was like a spark of
fire dropped into combustible materials." Immediately, Rochester
became the centre of anti-Masonry. In September, an anti-masonic
convention nominated a legislative ticket, which, to the amazement and
confusion of the old parties, swept Monroe County by a majority of
over seventeen hundred. Direction was thus given to the movement. In
the following year, when the state and national election was
approaching, it appeared that throughout "the infected district," as
it was called, the opponents of Masonry, although previously about
equally divided in political sentiment, had aligned themselves with
the Adams party, and that the Masons had affiliated with the followers
of Jackson. There was good reason for this division. The prominent men
in the anti-masonic body, for the most part, were not only leaders of
the Adams party, but, very early in the excitement, President Adams
took occasion to let it be known that he was not a Mason. On the other
hand, it was well understood that Jackson was a Mason and gloried in

This was the situation when the Adams followers, who now called
themselves National Republicans, met in convention at Utica on July
22, 1828. The wise policy of nominating candidates acceptable to all
Anti-Masons was plain, and the delegates from the western half of the
State proposed Francis Granger for governor. Granger was not then a
political Anti-Mason, but he was clean, well-known, and popular, and
for two years had been a leading member of the Assembly. Thurlow Weed
said of him that he was "a gentleman of accomplished manners, genial
temperament, and fine presence, with fortune, leisure, and a taste for
public life."[254] Indeed, he appears to have felt from the first a
genuine delight in the vivid struggles of the political arena, and,
although destined to be twice beaten for governor, and once for Vice
President, he had abundant service in the Cabinet, in the Legislature,
and in Congress. Just then he was thirty-six years old, the leading
antagonist of John C. Spencer at the Canandaigua bar, and one whom
everybody regarded as a master-spirit. Dressed in a bottle-green coat
with gilt buttons, a model of grace and manhood, he was the attraction
of the ladies' gallery. He had youth, enthusiasm, magnificent gifts,
and a heart to love. All his resources seemed to be at instant
command, according as he had need of them. Besides, he was a born
Republican. Thomas Jefferson had made his father postmaster-general,
and during the thirteen years he held the office, the son was
studying at Yale and fighting Federalism.[255]

[Footnote 254: _Autobiography of Thurlow Weed_, p. 391.]

[Footnote 255: Writing of Granger, in January, 1831, Seward says: "I
believe I have never told you all I thought about this star of the
first magnitude in Anti-masonry, and the reason was that, with a
limited personal acquaintance, I might give you erroneous impressions
which I should afterward be unable to reverse. He is 'six feet and
well-proportioned,' as you well know, handsome, graceful, dignified,
and affable, as almost any hero of whom you have read; is probably
about thirty-six or seven years old. In point of talent he has a quick
and ready apprehension, a good memory, and usually a sound judgment.
Has no 'genius,' in its restricted sense, not a very brilliant
imagination, nor extraordinary reasoning faculties; has no deep store
of learning, nor a very extensive degree of information. Yet he is
intimately acquainted with politics, and with the affairs, interests,
and men of the State. He is never great, but always successful. He
writes with ease and speaks with fluency and elegance--never attempts
an argument beyond his capacity, and, being a good judge of men's
character, motives, and actions, he never fails to command admiration,
respect, and esteem. Not a man do I know who is his equal in the skill
of exhibiting every particle of his stores with great advantage. You
will inquire about his manners. His hair is ever gracefully curled,
his broad and expansive brow is always exposed, his person is ever
carefully dressed, to exhibit his face and form aright and with
success. He is a gallant and fashionable man. He seems often to
neglect great matters for small ones, and I have often thought him a
trifler; yet he is universally, by the common people, esteemed grave
and great. He is an aristocrat in his feelings, though the people who
know him think him all condescension. He is a prince among those who
are equals, affable to inferiors, and knows no superiors. In principle
he has redeeming qualities--more than enough to atone for his
faults--is honest, honourable, and just, first and beyond comparison
with other politicians of the day. You will ask impatiently, 'Has he a
heart?' Yes. Although he has less than those who do not know him
believe him to possess, he has much more than those who meet him
frequently, but not intimately, will allow him to have. He loves,
esteems, and never forgets his friends; but you must not understand me
that he possesses as confiding and true a heart as Berdan had, or as
you think I have, or as we both know Weed has. There is yet one
quality of Granger's character which you do not dream of--he loves
money almost as well as power."--Frederick W. Seward, _Life of W.H.
Seward_, Vol. 1, p. 171.]

Eastern delegates wanted Smith Thompson. Thompson was a man of great
learning and an honoured member of the Republican party. But he was
sixty years old. With the exception of five years as secretary of the
navy, under Monroe, he had been continuously upon the bench for over a
quarter of a century, first as justice and chief justice of the
Supreme Court of the State, latterly as associate justice of the
United States Supreme Court. It was suggested, with some pertinency as
it afterward appeared, that the people of the State having declared in
the recently adopted Constitution, that a judge, holding office during
good behaviour, ought not to be a candidate for an elective office,
would resent such a nomination. It was further suggested, with even
greater force, that Thompson's nomination would offend the ultra
Anti-Masons and bring an independent ticket into the field, thus
dividing the Adams vote and giving the election to the Jackson
candidate. On the other hand, it was maintained with equal spirit
that the nomination of Granger, avowedly to secure the anti-masonic
vote, would offend the National Republicans and jeopardise the state
as well as the electoral ticket. It took a ballot to decide the
question, and Thompson won by a close vote. Francis Granger was then
nominated for lieutenant-governor by acclamation.

As predicted, several ultra anti-masonic editors in Genesee and
Ontario counties immediately denounced the nomination of Thompson. The
Adams people knew it portended danger; but Thompson would not withdraw
and the ultras would not relent. Thereupon, the anti-masonic
convention, already called to meet at Utica, added to the difficulty
of the situation by nominating Francis Granger and John Crary. Granger
had not solicited nomination, and now he was burdened with two. But
Thompson refused to relieve the embarrassment, and Crary proved
wickedly false to his agreement. The latter admitted that the union of
the Adams and anti-masonic forces would probably elect Granger for
lieutenant-governor, and he promised to withdraw as soon as Granger
should do so. Upon this Granger declined the anti-masonic nomination;
but the wily Van Buren, who was intently watching the embarrassment of
the National Republicans, took good care to have Crary remain and
Solomon Southwick substituted for Granger. The general sentiment of
the Anti-Masons did not respond to this movement. But the angry
feeling excited by Granger's declination, aided by Van Buren's
finesse, gave Southwick, who had acquired some credit with the
Anti-Masons by an early renunciation of his masonic ties, an
opportunity of advancing his visionary projects of personal ambition.
Thurlow Weed declared that the people had been "juggled" out of a
candidate for governor; but Weed did not know that Van Buren, needing
money to help along the jugglery, wrote James A. Hamilton, the son of
the great Federalist, that unless "you do more in New York than you
promised, our friends in Albany, at best poor, will break down." Crary
was one of the assemblymen who, in 1824, had boldly denounced the
removal of Clinton as a canal commissioner. After his broken promise
to Granger and his bargain with Van Buren, however, he ceased to be
called "Honest John Crary."

Before the meeting of the National Republican convention, Martin Van
Buren was announced as the Jackson candidate for governor. It was
well-known, at least to the Albany Regency, that if Jackson became
President, Van Buren would be his secretary of state. One can readily
understand that Van Buren would willingly exchange the Senate for the
head of the Cabinet, since the office of secretary of state had been
for twenty years a certain stepping-stone to the Presidency. Madison
had been Jefferson's secretary of state, Monroe had filled the exalted
place under Madison, and John Quincy Adams served Monroe in the same
capacity. But Van Buren's willingness to exchange the Senate, an arena
in which he had ranked among the ablest statesmen of the Republic, for
the governorship, was prompted by the force of circumstances and not
by choice. Jackson's election was believed to depend upon New York,
and the carrying of New York, to depend upon Van Buren. The latter, at
this time, was at the zenith of his popularity. His speeches had not
only stamped him as a genuine parliamentary debater, but had gained
for him the reputation of being the congressional leader and chief
organiser of the Jackson party. During his seven and a half years in
the Senate, his name was associated with every event of importance;
his voice was heard on one side or the other of every question that
interested the American people; and the force he brought to bear,
whether for good or evil, swayed the minds of contemporaries to an
unusual degree.

Van Buren looked his best in these days. His complexion was a bright
blonde, and he dressed with the taste of Disraeli. Henry B. Stanton
describes him as he appeared at church in Rochester on a Sunday during
the campaign. "He wore an elegant snuff-colored broadcloth coat with
velvet collar; his cravat was orange with modest lace tips; his vest
was of a pearl hue; his trousers were white duck; his silk hose
corresponded to the vest; his shoes were morocco; his nicely fitting
gloves were yellow kid; his long-furred beaver hat, with broad brim,
was of Quaker color. As he sat in the wealthy aristocratic church of
the town, in the pew of General Gould who had been a lifelong
Federalist and supporter of Clinton, all eyes were fixed upon the man
who held Jackson's fate in his hands."[256]

[Footnote 256: H.B. Stanton, _Random Recollections_, p. 32.]

Van Buren did not propose to take any chances, either in securing the
nomination or the election for governor--hence his visit to Rochester
and the western counties to study for himself the anti-masonic
situation. "The excitement has been vastly greater than I supposed,"
he wrote Hamilton. In order to find some way of pacifying it, he
turned aside to visit the home of his friend, Enos T. Throop, then
living on the wooded and beautiful banks of Lake Owasco. In January,
1827, Throop, who presided at the first trial of the Morgan abductors,
had, to the great delight of all Anti-Masons, flayed the defendants,
before pronouncing sentence, in a remarkably effective and emphatic
address. Such a man was needed to strengthen the Jackson ticket, and
before Van Buren got home it was charged that he had secured Throop's
promise to stand for lieutenant-governor, with the assurance that
within three months after his inauguration, if everything went
according to programme, he should be the acting governor.

These tactics meant the turning down of Nathaniel Pitcher, the acting
governor in place of DeWitt Clinton. Pitcher had served four years in
the Assembly, one term in Congress, and as a delegate to the
convention in 1821. Though a man of limited education and strong
prejudices, with a depth of feeling that made him as vigorously
independent as he was rigidly honest, he proved his fitness for the
high office to which he had suddenly fallen heir by several excellent
appointments to the Superior Court, just then created for the city of
New York. He honoured himself further by restoring the rule, so rudely
broken by Clinton, of offering the chancellorship to Chief Justice
Savage, and, upon his declining it, to Reuben H. Walworth, then a
young and most promising circuit judge. Later in the year, he named
Daniel Mosely for the seventh circuit vacated by the resignation of
Enos T. Throop, soon to become lieutenant-governor. These appointments
marked him as a wise and safe executive. Van Buren understood this,
and his correspondence with Hamilton, and others, while absent in the
west, affords many interesting glimpses into his political methods in
their immodest undress. As the candidate for governor, he was very
active just now. His letters indicate that he gave personal attention
to the selection of all delegates, and that he wanted only those in
whom reliance could be absolutely placed. "Your views about the
delegates are correct," he says to Hamilton. "It would be hazarding
too much to make out a list." A list might contain names of men who
could not be safely trusted at such a supreme moment; and Van Buren
naturally desired that his nomination should be enthusiastically
unanimous. The slightest protest from some disappointed friend of
Nathaniel Pitcher, who was to be sacrificed for Throop, or of Joseph
C. Yates, who was spending his years in forced retirement at
Schenectady, would take away the glory and dull the effect of what was
intended to be a sudden and unanimous uprising of the people's free
and untrammelled delegates in favour of the senior United States
senator, the Moses of the newly-born Democratic party.

The anticipated trouble at the Herkimer convention, however, did not
appear. Delegates were selected to nominate Martin Van Buren and Enos
T. Throop, and, after they had carried out the programme with
unanimity, Pitcher ceased to act with the Jackson party. But the
contest between the opposing parties proved exceedingly bitter and
malevolent. It resembled the scandalous campaign of John Adams and
Thomas Jefferson in 1800, and the more recent Blaine and Cleveland
canvass of 1884. Everything that could be tortured into apparent wrong
was served up to listening thousands. Van Buren had about him the
genius of Edwin Croswell, the unerring judgment of Benjamin F. Butler,
the wisdom of William L. Marcy, the diplomacy of Benjamin Knower, and
the scintillating brilliancy of Samuel A. Talcott; but like McGregor,
Van Buren sat at the head of the table. He cautioned Noah, he
complimented Coleman, he kept Southwick and Crary on the anti-masonic
ticket, he selected the candidate for lieutenant-governor, he called
for funds, and he insisted upon making the Adams administration
odious. In referring to the President and his secretary of state, he
did not personally join in the cry of bargain and sale, of fraud and
corruption, of treachery and knavery; nor did he speak of them as "the
Puritan and the Blackleg;" but for three years his criticisms had so
associated the Administration with Federalism and the offensive alien
and sedition laws which Jefferson condemned and defeated in 1800, that
the younger Adams inherited the odium attached to his father a quarter
of a century before.

The National Republicans retaliated with statements no less base and
worthless, exhibiting Jackson as a military butcher and utterly
illiterate, and publishing documents assailing his marriage, the
chastity of his wife, and the execution of six militiamen convicted of
mutiny. Thurlow Weed, who conducted the Adams campaign in the western
part of the State, indulged in no personal attacks upon Jackson or his
wife, refusing to send out the documents known as "Domestic Relations"
and "Coffin Handbills." "The impression of the masses was that the six
militiamen deserved hanging," he says, in his autobiography, "and I
look back now with astonishment that enlightened and able statesmen
could believe that General Jackson would be injured with the people by
ruthlessly invading the sanctuary of his home, and permitting a lady
whose life had been blameless to be dragged forth into the arena of

[Footnote 257: _Autobiography of Thurlow Weed_, p. 309.]

The result of the election for governor and lieutenant-governor was
practically settled by the nomination of an anti-masonic independent
ticket. Thurlow Weed advised Smith Thompson that votes enough to
defeat him would be thrown away upon Southwick. Van Buren wrote
Hamilton to "bet for me on joint-account five hundred dollars that
Thompson will be defeated, and one hundred dollars on every thousand
of a majority up to five thousand; or, if you can't do better, say
five hundred on the result and fifty on every thousand up to ten." The
returns justified his confidence. He received one hundred and
thirty-six thousand votes to one hundred and six thousand for Thompson
and thirty-three thousand for Southwick.[258] Francis Granger would
probably have received the aggregate vote of Thompson and Southwick,
or three thousand more than Van Buren. That Weed rightly understood
the situation is evidenced by his insistence that a candidate be
nominated acceptable to the Anti-Masons. "Van Buren's election," said
Thurlow Weed, in his autobiography, the tears of disappointment and
chagrin almost trickling down his cheeks when he wrote the words
nearly half a century afterward, "enabled his party to hold the State
for the twelve succeeding years."[259] But it was the last time, for
many years, that Thurlow Weed did not have his way in the party. It
was apparent that the opponents of Van Buren needed a leader who could
lead; and, although it took years of patient effort to cement into a
solid fighting mass all the heterogeneous elements that Clinton left
and Van Buren could not control, the day was destined to come when one
party flag floated over an organisation under the leadership of the
stately form of Thurlow Weed.

[Footnote 258: _Civil List, State of New York_ (1887), p. 166.]

[Footnote 259: _Autobiography of Thurlow Weed_, p. 307.]




Although the election in 1828 brought hopeless defeat to the National
Republicans, apparently it imparted increased confidence and vigour to
anti-Masonry. For a time, this movement resembled the growth of
abolitionism at a later day, people holding that a secret society,
which sought to paralyse courts, by closing the mouths of witnesses
and otherwise unnerving the arm of justice, threatened the existence
of popular government. The moral question, too, appealed strongly to
persons prominent in social, professional, and church life, who
increased the excitement by renouncing masonic ties and signifying
their conversion to the new gospel of anti-Masonry. Cadwallader D.
Colden, formerly the distinguished mayor of New York and a lawyer of
high reputation, wrote an effective letter against Free Masonry, which
was supplemented by the famous document of David Barnard, a popular
Baptist divine of Chautauqua County. Henry Dana Ward established the
_Anti-Masonic Review_ in New York City, and Frederick Whittlesey
became equally efficient and influential as editor of the Rochester

But the man who led the fight and became the centre from which all
influences emanated was Thurlow Weed. Early in the struggle, as a
member of the Morgan committee, he investigated the crime of 1826.
Soon after, he founded the _Anti-Masonic Enquirer_ of Rochester, whose
circulation, unparalleled in those days, quickly included the western
and northern counties of New York, and the neighbouring States of
Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Vermont. Weed had been slow to yield to the
influences which carried the question into politics, but, once having
determined to appeal to the ballot-box, he set to work to strengthen
and enlarge the party. It became a quasi-religious movement, ministers
and churches, without any very far-reaching hopes and plans, labouring
to bring about a spirit which should induce men to renounce Masonry;
and in their zeal they worked with the singleness of thought and the
accepted methods that dominate the revivalist and temperance advocate.

The aim of Thurlow Weed was to reach the people, and it mattered not
how often he had to bear defeat, or the sneers of older politicians
and an established press; he flung himself into the work with an
indomitable spirit and an entire disregard of trouble and pain. Weed
was a born fighter. He saw no visions, he believed in no omens, and he
had no thought of bearing a charmed life; but he seems to have been
indifferent to changes of season or the assaults of men, as he
travelled from one end of the State to the other regardless of
inclement weather, answering attacks with rough and rasping sarcasms,
and meeting every crisis with the candour and courage of a John
Wesley. One reads in his autobiography, almost with a feeling of
incredulity, of the toil cheerfully borne and the privations eagerly
endured while the guiding member of the Morgan committee.

Weed proved a great captain, not only in directing and inspiring
anti-masonic movements, but in rallying to his standard a body of
young men destined to occupy conspicuous places in the State and in
the nation. Among those entering the Assembly, in 1829, were Philo C.
Fuller of Livingston and Millard Fillmore of Erie. When Weed first met
him, in 1824, Fuller was a law clerk in James Wadsworth's office, only
twenty-three years old. But Weed noted his fitness for public place,
and in 1828 had him nominated and elected to the Assembly.

Millard Fillmore was a year or two older. His youth, like that of
Weed, had been crowded with everything except schooling. He learned
the clothier's trade, he was apprenticed to a wool-carder, and he
served his time at the woodpile, in the harvest field, and as chore
boy. Only at odd moments did he get an education; but when he began
studying law and teaching school he quickly evidenced a strength of
intellect that distinguished him throughout life. Weed met him at an
Adams convention in Buffalo, in 1828, and so favourably impressed was
he with his ability that he suggested his nomination for the Assembly.

One year later, Weed insisted upon the nomination of Albert H. Tracy,
of Erie, for the Senate. Tracy, who had already served six years in
Congress, had the advantage of being well born and well educated. His
father, a distinguished physician of Connecticut, urged him to adopt
the profession of medicine, but when about ready for a degree, he
entered his brother's law office at Madison, New York, and, in 1815,
upon his admission to the bar, settled in Buffalo. He was then
twenty-two years old. Four years later he entered Congress. He had
earned this quick start by good ability; and so acceptably did he
maintain himself, that, in spite of the acrimony existing between
Clintonian and Bucktail, his name was regarded with much favour in
1825 as the successor of Rufus King in the United States Senate. Tracy
was a man of marked ability. Though neither brilliant nor
distinguished as a public speaker, he was a skilful advocate, easy and
natural; with the help of a marvellous memory, and a calm, philosophic
temperament, he ranked among the foremost lawyers of his day. Like
James Tallmadge, he was inordinately ambitious for public life, and
his amiability admirably fitted him for it; but like Tallmadge, he was
not always governed by principle so much as policy. He showed at times
a lamentable unsteadiness in his leadership, listening too often to
the whispers of cunning opponents, and too easily separating himself
from tried friends. In 1838, he practically left his party; and, soon
after, he ceased to practise his profession, burying a life which had
promised great usefulness and a brilliant career. In mien, size,
bearing, visage, and conversation he was the counterpart of Thomas
Jefferson when about the same age--a likeness of which Tracy was fully

Tracy's nomination to the Senate in 1829 came as a great surprise and
a greater gratification. He had not taken kindly to the anti-masonic
party. Only the year before, he dissuaded John Birdsall from accepting
its nomination to Congress, because of the obloquy sure to follow
defeat; but its strength, evidenced in the campaign of 1828, opened
his eyes; and, while absent in Albany, unsuccessfully seeking a
judgeship from Governor Throop, Thurlow Weed had him nominated. On his
way home, he stopped at Rochester to call upon the great apostle of
anti-Masonry, reaching the house before sunrise. "He was wrapped in a
long camlet cloak," says Weed, "and wore an air of depression that
betokened some great disappointment. 'You have been east?' I asked,
for I had not heard of his absence from home. 'Yes,' he answered.
'Then you don't know what happened at Batavia yesterday?' He replied
in the negative, and I continued: 'We had a convention and nominated a
candidate for senator.' When he laughingly inquired, 'Who?' I said,
'Why, we nominated you.' He instantly jumped two feet from the floor
and whooped like an Indian. Then, with brightened countenance and
undisguised elation of spirit that he was to have a seat in the Senate
for four years, he informed me of his disappointment in not obtaining
either the judgeship, or the presidency of the branch of the United
States Bank about to be established at Buffalo."[260]

[Footnote 260: _Autobiography of Thurlow Weed_, p. 340.]

Thus far, Thurlow Weed had won more reputation than money in
Rochester. He dwelt in a cheap house in an obscure part of the
village. Sometimes he had to borrow clothes to be presentable. "One
day," says Henry B. Stanton, "I was standing in the street with him
and Frederick Whittlesey when his little boy came up and said:
'Father, mother wants a shilling to buy some bread.' Weed put on a
queer look, felt in his pockets, and remarked: 'That is a home appeal,
but I'll be hanged if I've got the shilling.' Whittlesey drew out a
silver dollar and gave the boy who ran off like a deer."[261] Yet, at
that moment, Weed with his bare arms spattered with printer's ink, was
the greatest power in the political life of Western New York.

[Footnote 261: H.B. Stanton, _Random Recollections_, p. 25.]

But a scheme more helpful to Weed and to his party than the election
of young men of large promise was just now on foot. The need of a
newspaper at Albany, to represent the sentiments of the Anti-Masons
had long been recognised; and, to enable Weed to establish it, he had
been re-elected to the Assembly in the autumn of 1829. In the course
of the winter the project quickly took shape; a fund of twenty-five
hundred dollars was subscribed; and on March 22, 1830, appeared the
first number of the Albany _Evening Journal_, in which were soon to be
published the sparkling paragraphs that made it famous.[262] Weed's
salary as editor was fixed at seven hundred and fifty dollars. The
paper was scarcely larger than the cloud "like a man's hand;" and its
one hundred and seventy subscribers, scattered from Buffalo to New
York, became somewhat disturbed by the acrimonious and personal
warfare instantly made upon it by Edwin Croswell of the _Argus_.

[Footnote 262: "Writing slowly and with difficulty, Weed was for
twenty years the most sententious and pungent writer of editorial
paragraphs on the American press."--Horace Greeley, _Recollections of
a Busy Life_, p. 312.]

Croswell and Weed had been boys together at Catskill. They were
neither intimates nor equals, although of the same age; for young
Croswell had the advantage of position and education given him by his
father, then publisher of the _Recorder_. To Weed, only such work came
as a bare-footed, ragged urchin of eleven was supposed to be capable
of doing. This was in 1808. The two boys did not meet again for twenty
years, and then only to separate as Hamilton and Burr had parted, on
the road to White Plains, in the memorable retreat from Manhattan in
September, 1776. But Croswell, retaining the quiet, studious habits
that characterised his youth, climbed rapidly. He had become editor
of the _Argus_, state printer, and one of the ablest and most zealous
members of the Albany Regency. He possessed a judgment that seemed
almost inspired, with such untiring industry and rare ability that for
years the Democratic press of the country looked upon the _Argus_ as
its guiding star.

Against this giant in journalism Thurlow Weed was now to be opposed.
"You have a great responsibility resting upon your shoulders," wrote
the accomplished Frederick Whittlesey, "but I know no man who is
better able to meet it."[263] This was the judgment of a man who had
personal knowledge of the tremendous power of Weed's pen. In his later
years, Weed mellowed and forgave and forgot, but when he went to
Albany, and for years before, as well as after, he seemed to enjoy
striking an adversary. An explosion followed every blow. His sarcasms
had needle-points, and his wit, sometimes a little gross, smarted like
the sting of wasps. Often his attacks were so severe and merciless
that the distress of his opponents created sympathy for them.

[Footnote 263: _Autobiography of Thurlow Weed_, p. 361.]

Very early in the _Evening Journal's_ history Croswell invited Weed's
fire. It is doubtful if the _Argus'_ publisher thought or cared much
about the character of the reply. Editors are not usually sensitive to
the stricture of others. But when Weed's retort came, the rival
writers remained without personal or business relations until, years
afterward, Croswell, financially crushed by the failure of the Albany
Canal Bank, and suspected of dishonesty, implored Weed's assistance to
avoid a criminal indictment. In the meantime subscriptions poured into
the _Journal_. The people recognised a fighter; the thoughtful
distinguished a powerful mind; and politicians discovered such a
genius for leadership that Albany became a political centre for the
National Republicans as it was for the Bucktails. Within ten years
after its establishment, the _Evening Journal_ had the largest
circulation of any political paper in the United States.

The birth year of the _Journal_ also witnessed a reorganisation of
the Anti-Masons. Heretofore, this party had declared only its own
peculiar principles, relying for success upon the aid of the National
Republicans; but, as it now sympathised with Henry Clay upon questions
of governmental policy, especially the protection of American
industry, it became evident that, to secure the greatest political
strength, its future policy must be ardent antagonism to the
principles of the Jackson party. Accordingly, at the Utica convention,
held in August, 1830, it adopted a platform substantially embracing
the views of the National Republicans. In acknowledgment of this
change, the Adams party accepted the nomination of Francis Granger for
governor and Samuel Stevens, a prominent lawyer of Albany City and the
son of a distinguished Revolutionary officer, for lieutenant-governor.

The Bucktails did not get on so smoothly at their convention, held at
Herkimer, on September 8. Erastus Root thought if Van Buren could
afford to take the nomination away from Acting Governor Pitcher, he
might deprive Enos T. Throop of the same honour. Throop, who was
acting governor in the place of Van Buren, had proved a feeble
executive. Besides, it could not be forgotten that Throop suffered Van
Buren to humiliate Pitcher simply to make his own election sure. But
Throop had friends if nothing else. On the first ballot, he received
seventy-eight votes to forty for Root. The wrangle over
lieutenant-governor proved less irritating, and Edward P. Livingston,
after several ballots, secured seventy-seven votes.

These contests created unusual bitterness. Root had the offer of
support from a working men's convention; and his failure to secure the
Herkimer nomination left the working men, especially in New York City,
in no mood to support the Bucktail choice. All this greatly encouraged
the Anti-Masons. Granger and Stevens commanded the cordial support of
the National Republicans, while Throop and Livingston were personally
unpopular. Throop had the manners of DeWitt Clinton without a tithe of
his ability, and Livingston, stripped of his family's intellectual
traits, exhibited only its aristocratic pride. But there were
obstacles in the way of anti-masonic success. Among other things,
Francis Granger had become chairman of an anti-masonic convention at
Philadelphia, which Weed characterised as a mistake. "The men from New
York who urged it are stark mad," he wrote; "more than fifty thousand
electors are now balancing their votes, and half of them want an
excuse to vote against you."[264] Whether this "mistake" had the
baleful influence that Weed anticipated, could not, of course, be
determined. The returns, however, proved a serious disappointment.[265]
Granger had carried the eighth or "infected district" by the
astounding majority of over seven thousand in each of the first five
districts. In the sixth district the anti-masonic vote fell over four
thousand. It was evident that the Eastern masons, who had until now
acted with the National Republicans, preferred the rule of the Regency
to government by Anti-Masons.

[Footnote 264: Thurlow Weed Barnes, _Life of Thurlow Weed_, Vol. 2, p.

[Footnote 265: Throop, 128,842; Granger, 120,361.--_Civil List, State
of New York_ (1887), p. 166.]

The year that witnessed this disheartening defeat of the Anti-Masons,
welcomed into political life a young man of great promise, destined to
play, for the next forty years, a conspicuous part in the history of
his country. William Henry Seward was twenty-nine years old when
elected to the State Senate; but to all appearances he might have been
eight years younger. He was small, slender, boyish, punctilious in
attire, his blue eyes and finely moulded chin and mouth giving an
unconscious charm to his native composure, which attracted with a
magnetism peculiarly its own; but there was nothing in his looks or
manner to indicate that the chronicle of the century would record his
name among the country's most prominent statesmen. He had neither the
bold, full forehead of Marcy, nor the tall, commanding form of
Talcott, although the boyish face suggested the refinement of Butler's
features, softened by the blue eyes and light sandy hair. The only
noticeable feature was the nose, neither Roman nor Semitic, but long,
prominent and aggressive, with nostrils slightly distended. In after
years, the brow grew heavier, the eyes more deeply set, and the chin,
slightly drawn, gave greater prominence to the jaw and firmness to the

In 1830, Seward had not yet made his great legal contest in the
Freeman case, setting up the then novel and unpopular defence of
insanity, and establishing himself as one of the ablest and grittiest
lawyers in the State. But early in that year, he made a speech, at an
anti-masonic conference, which won the confidence of the delegates
sufficiently to admit him to leadership with Thurlow Weed, Francis
Granger, John C. Spencer, Frederick Whittlesey, William H. Maynard,
and Albert H. Tracy. He was the youngest man in the council, younger
than Whittlesey, four years younger than Weed, and eight years younger
than Tracy. Granger and John C. Spencer belonged almost to an earlier
generation. Millard Fillmore was one year his senior; but Fillmore,
whose force and feeling made for conservatism, had not yet entered
that coterie of brilliant anti-masonic leaders.

Seward was neither precocious nor gifted beyond his years. He had
spirit and gifts, with sufficient temper and stubbornness to defend
him against impositions at home or in college; but the love for
adventure and the strenuous life, that characterised Weed's capricious
youth, were entirely absent. As a boy, Weed, untidy even to
slovenliness, explored the mountain and the valley, drifted among the
resolute lads of the town, and lingered in gardens and orchards,
infinitely lovable and capable of the noblest tenderness. On the
contrary, Seward was precise, self-restrained, possessing the gravity
and stillness of a youth who husbanded his resources as if conscious
of physical frailty, yet wholesome and generous, and once, at least,
splendidly reckless in his race for independence of a father who
denied him the means of dressing in the fashion of other college
students. By the time he reached the age of nineteen, he had run away
to Georgia, taught school six months, studied law six months, and
graduated with honour from Union College. Two years later, in 1822,
he was admitted to the bar, and, having accepted a partnership with
Elijah Miller, located at Auburn. To make this arrangement the more
binding, he married his partner's daughter and became a member of his

Seward retained the political affiliations of his father, who was a
Republican and a Bucktail, until the journey on the canal to Auburn
opened his eyes to the importance of internal improvements. This so
completely changed him into a Clintonian, that, in the autumn of 1824,
he assailed the Albany Regency with great vigour and voted for DeWitt
Clinton for governor. Four years later, he presided over a state
convention of young National Republicans, favourable to the
re-election of John Quincy Adams; and then witnessed that party's
defeat and dispersion under the murderous fire of the Jackson forces,
aided by Southwick and Crary on the anti-masonic ticket. Seward had
not taken kindly to the anti-masonic party. What would have been his
final attitude toward it is problematical had he not fallen under the
influence of Weed. The first meeting of this illustrious pair, a very
casual meeting, occurred in the summer of 1824 while Seward was
passing through Rochester on his return from a visit to Niagara Falls.
A wheel of the coach came off, and among the curious who quickly
assembled "one taller and more effective, while more deferential and
sympathising than the rest," says Seward, in his autobiography, "lent
his assistance."[266] This was Thurlow Weed. "My acquaintance with
William H. Seward grew rapidly on subsequent occasions," adds Weed,
"when he was called to Rochester on professional business. Our views
in relation to public affairs, and our estimate of public men, rarely
differed, and in regard to anti-Masonry he soon became imbued with my
own opinions."[267]

[Footnote 266: _Autobiography of William H. Seward_, p. 56.]

[Footnote 267: _Autobiography of Thurlow Weed_, p. 137.]

This was the key that opened the way to great achievement. Tracy
listened to others and was lost; Fillmore finally preferred the
judgment of his associates in Washington, and is to-day without a
statue even in his own home; but Seward kept closely in touch with the
man whose political judgment inspired him with confidence. "Come now
and let us reason together," said Weed, and together these two friends
worked out the policy of success. "I saw in him, in a remarkable
degree," continued Weed, "rapidly developing elements of character
which could not fail to render him eminently useful in public life. I
discerned also unmistakable evidences of stern integrity, earnest
patriotism, and unswerving fidelity. I saw also in him a rare capacity
for intellectual labour, with an industry that never tired and
required no relaxation; to all of which was added a purity and
delicacy of habit and character almost feminine."[268]

[Footnote 268: _Autobiography of Thurlow Weed_, p. 423.]

In his _Autobiography_, Seward says he joined the anti-masonic party
because he thought it the only active political organisation opposed
to Jackson and Van Buren, whose policy seemed to him to involve "not
only the loss of our national system of revenue, and of enterprises of
state and national improvement, but also the future disunion of the
States, and ultimately the universal prevalence of slavery."[269] Once
an Anti-Mason, he became, like Weed, a zealous and aggressive member
of the party. He embodied its creed in resolutions, he attended its
first national convention at Philadelphia, he visited John Quincy
Adams at Quincy--just then an anti-masonic candidate for Congress--he
aided in the establishment of the Albany _Evening Journal_, and, a
little later, as a delegate to the party's second national convention
at Baltimore, he saw Chief Justice Marshall upon the platform, sat
beside Thaddeus Stevens, and voted for William Wirt as an anti-masonic
candidate for President. It was during his attendance upon the
Philadelphia convention that Thurlow Weed had him nominated, without
his knowledge, for state senator. "While stopping at Albany on my way
south," he says,[270] "Weed made some friendly but earnest inquiries
concerning my pecuniary ability, whether it was sufficient to enable
me to give a portion of my time to public office. When I answered my
ability was sufficient, but I had neither expectation nor wish for
office, he replied that he had learned from my district enough to
induce him to think it possible that the party might desire my
nomination to the Senate."

[Footnote 269: _Autobiography of William H. Seward_, p. 74.]

[Footnote 270: _Autobiography of William H. Seward_, p. 79.]

Thurlow Weed had many claims to the regard of his contemporaries, but
the greatest was the intelligence that enabled him to discern the
rising genius of a recruit to anti-Masonry whose name was to help make
illustrious any cause which he served.




Martin Van Buren's single message as governor exhibited a knowledge of
conditions and needs that must rank it among the ablest state-papers
in the archives of the capitol. Unlike some of his predecessors, with
their sentences of stilted formality, he wrote easily and with vigour.
His message, however, was marred by the insincerity which shows the
politician. He approved canals, but, by cunningly advising "the utmost
prudence" in taking up new enterprises, he coolly disparaged the
Chenango project; he shrewdly recommended the choice of presidential
electors by general ticket instead of by congressional districts,
knowing that opposition to the change died with DeWitt Clinton. With
full knowledge of what he himself had done, in the last campaign, in
urging upon John A. Hamilton the necessity of raising funds, he boldly
attacked the use of money in elections, proposing "the imposition of
severe penalties upon the advance of money by individuals for any
purposes connected with elections except the single one of printing."
It is not surprising, perhaps, that a man of Van Buren's personal
ambition found himself often compelled, for the sake of his own
career, to make his public devotion to principle radically different
from his practice; but it is amazing that he should thus brazenly
assume the character of a reformer before the ink used in writing
Hamilton was dry.

The prominent feature of Van Buren's message was the bank question,
which, to do him credit, he discussed with courage, urging a general
law for chartering banks without the payment of money bonus, and
declaring that the only concern of the State should be to make banks
and their circulation secure. In accord with this suggestion, he
submitted the "safety fund" project, subsequently enacted into law,
providing that all banks should contribute to a fund, administered
under state supervision, to secure dishonoured banknotes. There was a
great deal of force in Van Buren's reasoning, and the New York City
banks, which, at first, declined to recharter under the law, finally
accepted the scheme with apparent cheerfulness. Had the real test,
which came with the hard times of 1837, not broken it down, Van
Buren's confidence in the project might have continued. After that
catastrophe, which was destined to prove his Waterloo, he had
confidence in nothing except gold and silver.

As anticipated, Van Buren's inauguration as governor preceded his
appointment as secretary of state under President Jackson only seventy
days. It gave him barely time gracefully to assume the duties of one
position before taking up those of the other. But, in making the
change, he did not forget to keep an anchor to windward by having the
amiable and timid Charles E. Dudley succeed him in the United States
Senate. Dudley had the weakness of many cultured, charming men, who
are without personal ambition or executive force. He was incapable of
taking part in debate, or of exerting any perceptible influence upon
legislation in the committee-room. Nevertheless, he was sincere in his
friendships; and the opinion obtained that if Van Buren had desired
for any reason to return to the Senate, Dudley would have gracefully
retired in his favour.

The appointments of Green C. Bronson as attorney-general, and Silas
Wright as comptroller of state, atoned for Dudley's election; for they
brought conspicuously to the front two men whose unusual ability
greatly honoured the State. Bronson had already won an enviable
reputation at the bar of Oneida County. He was now forty years old, a
stalwart in the Jackson party, bold and resolute, with a sturdy
vigour of intellect that was to make him invaluable to the Regency. He
had been a Clintonian surrogate of his county and a Clintonian member
of the Assembly in 1822, but he had changed since then, and his
present appointment was to give him twenty-two years of continuous
public life as a Democrat, lifting him from justice to chief justice
of the Supreme Court, and transferring him finally to the Court of

Silas Wright was a younger man than Bronson, not yet thirty-five years
old; but his admittance to the Regency completely filled the great gap
left by Marcy's retirement. Like Marcy, he was large and muscular,
although with a face of more refinement; like Marcy, too, he dressed
plainly. He had an affable manner stripped of all affectation. From
his first entrance into public life, he had shown a great capacity for
the administration of affairs. He looked like a great man. His
unusually high, square forehead indicated strength of intellect, and
his lips, firmly set, but round and full, gave the impression of
firmness, with a generous and gentle disposition. There was no
evidence of brilliancy or daring. Nor did he have a politician's face,
such as Van Buren's. Even in the closing years of Van Buren's
venerable life, when people used often to see him, white-haired and
bright-eyed, walking on Wall Street arm in arm with his son John, his
was still the face of a master diplomatist. Wright, on the other hand,
looked more like a strong, fearless business man. His manner of
speaking was not unlike Rufus King's. He spoke slowly, without
rhetorical embellishment, or other arts of the orator; but, unlike
King, he had an unpleasant voice; nevertheless, if one may accept the
opinion of a contemporary and an intimate, "there was a subdued
enthusiasm in his style of speaking that was irresistibly
captivating." The slightly rasping voice was "almost instantly
forgotten in the beauty of his argument," which was "clear, forcible,
logical and persuasive."[271]

[Footnote 271: John S. Jenkins, _Lives of the Governors of New York_,
p. 790.]

Silas Wright had already been in public life eight years, first as
surrogate of St. Lawrence County, afterward as state senator, and
later as a member of Congress. He had also increased his earnings at
the bar by holding the offices of justice of the peace, town clerk,
inspector of schools, and postmaster at Canton. From the outset, he
had allied himself with the Regency party, and, with unfailing
regularity he had supported all its measures, even those which his
better judgment opposed. His ability and gentle manners, too,
apparently won the people; for, although St. Lawrence was a Clintonian
stronghold, a majority of its voters believed in their young
office-holder--a fact that was the more noteworthy since he had broken
faith with them. In the campaign of 1823, he favoured the choice of
presidential electors by the people; afterward, in the Senate, he
voted against the measure. So bitter was the resentment that followed
this bill's defeat, that many of the seventeen senators, who voted
against it, ever afterward remained in private life. But Wright was
forgiven, and, two years later, sent to Congress, where his public
career really began. In a bill finally amended into the tariff act of
1828, he sought to remove the complaint of manufacturers that the
tariff of 1824 was partial to iron interests, and the criticism of
agriculturalists, that the woollens bill, of 1827, favoured the
manufacturer. In this debate, he gave evidence of that genius for
legislation which was destined soon to shine in the United States
Senate at a time when some of the fiercest political fights of the
century were being waged.

It is evident Van Buren did not appreciate the capacity of Silas
Wright in 1831; otherwise, instead of William L. Marcy, Wright would
have succeeded Nathan Sanford in the United States Senate.[272] Marcy
had made an excellent state comptroller; his able and luminous
reports had revealed the necessity of preserving the general fund, and
the danger of constructing additional lateral canals. As a judge of
the Supreme Court, also, his sound judgment had won him an enviable
reputation, especially in the trial of the Morgan abductors, which was
held at a time of great excitement and intense feeling. But, as a
United States senator, Marcy failed to realise the expectations of his
friends. Very likely two years were insufficient to test fairly his
legislative capacity. Besides, his services, however satisfactory,
would naturally be dwarfed in the presence of the statesmen then
engaged in the great constitutional debate growing out of the Foote
resolution, limiting the sale of public lands. Congress was rapidly
making history; and the Senate, lifted into great prominence by the
speeches of Webster and Hayne, had become a more difficult place than
ever for a new member. At all events, Marcy did not exhibit the
parliamentary spirit that seeks to lead, or which delights in the
struggles of the arena where national reputations are made. He,
moreover, had abundant opportunity. Thomas H. Benton says that the
session of 1832 became the most prolific of party topics and party
contests in the annals of Congress; yet Marcy was dumb on those
subjects that were interesting every one else.

[Footnote 272: "Marcy was the immediate predecessor of Wright as state
comptroller and United States senator. Each possessed rare talents,
but they were totally dissimilar in mental traits and political
methods. Both were statesmen of scrupulous honesty, who despised
jobbery. Marcy was wily and loved intrigue. Wright was proverbially
open and frank. Marcy never trained himself to be a public speaker,
and did not shine in the hand-to-hand conflicts of a body that was
lustrous with forensic talents. A man's status in the United States
Senate is determined by the calibre and skill of the opponents who are
selected to cross weapons with him in the forum. Wright was
unostentatious, studious, thoughtful, grave. Whenever he delivered an
elaborate speech the Whigs set Clay, Webster, Ewing, or some other of
their leaders to reply to him."--H.B. Stanton, _Random Recollections_,
p. 39.]

Even when the great opportunity of Marcy's senatorial career was
thrust upon him--the defence of Van Buren at the time of the latter's
rejection as minister to Great Britain--he failed signally. The
controversy growing out of Jackson's cabinet disagreements, ostensibly
because of the treatment of Mrs. Eaton, wife of the Secretary of War,
but really because of Calhoun's hostility to Van Buren, due to the
President's predilections for him as his successor, had made it
evident to Van Buren that an entire reorganisation of the Cabinet
should take place. Accordingly, on April 11, 1831, he opened the way,
by voluntarily and chivalrously resigning. President Jackson soon
after appointed him minister to England, and Van Buren sailed for his
post. But when the question of his confirmation came up, in the
following December, Calhoun and his friends, joined by Webster and
Clay, formed a combination to defeat it. Calhoun's opposition was
simply the enmity of a political rival, but Webster sought to put his
antagonism on a higher level, by calling Van Buren to account for
instructions addressed to the American Minister at London in regard to
our commercial relations with the West Indian, Bahama, and South
American colonies of England.

In 1825 Parliament permitted American vessels to trade with British
colonies, on condition that American ports be opened within a year to
British vessels on the same terms as to American vessels. The Adams
administration, failing to comply with the statute within the year,
set up a counter prohibition, which was in force when Van Buren,
wishing to reopen negotiations, instructed McLane, the American
Minister at London, to say to England that the United States had, as
the friends of the present administration contended at the time, been
wrong in refusing the privileges granted by the act of 1825, but that
our "views have been submitted to the people of the United States, and
the counsels by which your conduct is now directed are the result of
the judgment expressed by the only earthly tribunal to which the late
administration was amenable for its acts." In other words, Van Buren
had introduced party contests in an official dispatch, not brazenly or
offensively, perhaps, but with questionable taste, and, for this, the
great senators combined and spoke against him--Webster, Clay, Hayne,
Ewing of Ohio, Holmes of Maine, and seven others--"just a dozen and
equal to a full jury," wrote Benton. Webster said he would pardon
almost anything when he saw true patriotism and sound American
feeling, but he could not forgive the sacrifice of these to party.
Clay characterised his language as that of an humble vassal to a proud
and haughty lord, prostrating the American eagle before the British
lion. In the course of his remarks, Clay also referred, in an
incidental way, to the odious system of proscription practised in the
State of New York, which, he alleged, Van Buren had introduced into
the general government.

Only four senators spoke in Van Buren's defence, recalling the weak
protest made in the Legislature on the day of DeWitt Clinton's removal
as canal commissioner, but this gave William L. Marcy the greater
opportunity for acquitting himself with glory and vindicating his
friend. It was not a strong argument he had to meet. Van Buren had
been unfortunate in his language, although in admitting that the
United States was wrong in refusing the privileges offered by the
British law of 1825, he did nothing more than had Gallatin, whom Adams
sent to England to remedy the same difficulty. Furthermore, by
assuming a more conciliatory course Van Buren had been entirely
successful. To Webster's suggestion of lack of patriotism, and to
Clay's declaration that the American eagle had been prostrated before
the British lion, Marcy might have pointed to Van Buren's exalted
patriotism during the War of 1812, citing the conscription act, which
he drafted, and which Benton declared the most drastic piece of war
legislation ever enacted into law. To Clay's further charge, that he
brought with him to Washington the odious system of proscription, the
New York senator could truthfully have retorted that the system of
removals, inaugurated by Jackson, was in full swing before Van Buren
reached the national capital; that if he did not oppose it he
certainly never encouraged it; that of seventeen foreign
representatives, the Secretary of State had removed only four; and
that, in making appointments as governor, he never departed from the
rule of refusing either to displace competent and trustworthy men, or
to appoint the dishonest and incompetent. He could also have read
Lorenzo Hoyt's wail that Van Buren would "not lend the least weight of
his influence to displace from office such men as John Duer," Adams'
appointee as United States attorney at New York. But Marcy did nothing
of the kind. He made no use of the abundant material at hand, out of
which he might have constructed a brilliant speech if not a perfect
defence. Quite on the contrary he contented himself simply with
replying to Clay's slur. He defended the practice of political
proscription by charging that both sides did it. Ambrose Spencer, he
said, the man whom Clay was now ready to honour, had begun it, and he
himself "saw nothing wrong in the rule that to the victors belong the
spoils of the enemy."

If the conspiracy of distinguished statesmen to defeat Van Buren's
confirmation was shallow and in bad taste, Marcy's defence was
scarcely above the standard of a ward politician. Indeed, the
attempted defence of his friend became the shame of both; since it
forever fixed upon Marcy the odium of enunciating a vicious principle
that continued to corrupt American political life for more than half a
century, and confirmed the belief that Van Buren was an inveterate

[Footnote 273: "To this celebrated and execrable defence Van Buren
owes much of the later and unjust belief that he was an inveterate
spoilsman. Benton truly says that Van Buren's temper and judgment were
both against it."--Edward M. Shepard, _Life of Martin Van Buren_, p.

Probably an abler defence would in no wise have changed the result.
From the first a majority of senators had opposed Van Buren's
confirmation, several of whom refrained from voting to afford Vice
President Calhoun the exquisite satisfaction of giving the casting
vote. "It will kill him, sir, kill him dead," Calhoun boasted in
Benton's hearing; "he will never kick, sir, never kick." This was the
thought of other opponents. But Thomas H. Benton believed otherwise.
"You have broken a minister and elected a Vice President," he said.
"The people will see nothing in it but a combination of rivals against
a competitor."

This also was the prophecy of Thurlow Weed. While the question of
rejection was still under consideration, that astute editor declared
"it would change the complexion of his prospects from despair to hope.
His presses would set up a fearful howl of proscription. He would
return home as a persecuted man, throw himself upon the sympathy of
the party, be nominated for Vice President, and huzzaed into office at
the heels of General Jackson."[274] On the evening Van Buren heard of
his rejection, in London, Lord Auckland, afterward governor-general of
India, said to him: "It is an advantage to a public man to be the
subject of an outrage."

[Footnote 274: Thurlow Weed Barnes, _Life of Thurlow Weed_, Vol. 1, p.

In New York, Van Buren's party took his rejection as the friends of
DeWitt Clinton had taken his removal as canal commissioner.
Indignation meetings were held and addresses voted. In stately words
and high-sounding sentences, the Legislature addressed the President,
promising to avenge the indignity offered to their most distinguished
fellow citizen; to which Jackson replied with equal warmth and skill,
assuming entire responsibility for the instructions given the American
minister at London and for removals from office; and acquitting the
Secretary of State of all participation in the occurrences between
himself and Calhoun. He had called Van Buren to the State Department,
the President said, to meet the general wish of the Republican party,
and his signal success had not only justified his selection, but his
public services had in nowise diminished confidence in his integrity
and great ability. This blare of trumpets set the State on fire; and
various plans were proposed for wiping out the insult of the Senate.
Some suggested Dudley's resignation and Van Buren's re-election, that
he might meet his slanderers face to face; others thought he should be
made governor; but the majority, guided by the wishes of the Cabinet,
and the expression of friends in other States, insisted that his
nomination as Vice President would strengthen the ticket and open the
way to the Presidency in 1836.

When, therefore, the Democratic national convention met at Baltimore,
in May, 1832, only one name was seriously considered for Vice
President. Van Buren had opponents in P.P. Barbour of Virginia and
Richard M. Johnson of Kentucky, but his friends had the convention. On
the first ballot, he received two hundred and sixty votes out of three
hundred and twenty-six. Barbour had forty, Johnson twenty-six.
Delegates understood that they must vote for Van Buren or quarrel with

Van Buren returned from London on July 5. New York was filled with a
multitude to welcome him back. At a great dinner, ardent devotion,
tempered by decorum, showed the loyalty of old neighbours, in whose
midst he had lived, and over whom he had practically reigned for
nearly a quarter of a century. Instead of killing him, the Senate's
rejection had swung open a wider door for his entrance to the highest
office in the gift of the people.




The campaign of 1832 seemed to be without an issue, save Van Buren's
rejection as Minister to Great Britain, and Jackson's wholesale
removals from office. Yet it was a period of great unrest. The debate
of Webster and Hayne had revealed two sharply defined views separating
the North and the South; and, although the compromise tariff act of
1832, supported by all parties, and approved by the President, had
temporarily removed the question of Protection from the realm of
discussion, the decided stand in favour of a State's power to annul an
act of Congress had made a profound impression in the North. Under
these circumstances, it was deemed advisable to organise a Clay party,
and, to this end, a state convention of National Republicans,
assembled in Albany in June, 1831, selected delegates to a convention,
held in Baltimore in December, which unanimously nominated Henry Clay
for President. The Anti-Masons, who had previously nominated William
Wirt, of Maryland, and were in practical accord with the National
Republicans on all questions relating to federal authority, agreed to
join them, if necessary, to sustain these principles.

A new issue, however, brought them together with great suddenness.
Though the charter of the United States Bank did not expire until
1836, the subject of its continuance had occupied public attention
ever since President Jackson, in his first inaugural address, raised
the question of its constitutionality; and when Congress convened, in
December, 1831, the bank applied for an extension of its charter.
Louis McLane, then secretary of the treasury, advised the president
of the bank that Jackson would approve its charter, if certain
specified modifications were accepted. These changes proved entirely
satisfactory to the bank; but Webster and Clay declared that the
subject had assumed aspects too decided in the public mind and in
Congress, to render any compromise or change of front expedient or
desirable. Later in the session, the bill for the bank's recharter
passed both branches of Congress. Then came the President's veto. The
act and the veto amounted to an appeal to the people, and in an
instant the country was on fire.

Under these conditions, the anti-masonic state convention, confident
of the support of all elements opposed to the re-election of Andrew
Jackson, met at Utica on June 21, 1832. Albert H. Tracy of Buffalo
became its chairman. After he had warmed the delegates into
enthusiastic applause by his happy and cogent reasons for the success
of the party, Francis Granger was unanimously renominated for
governor, with Samuel Stevens for lieutenant-governor. The convention
also announced an electoral ticket, equally divided between
Anti-Masons and National Republicans, headed by James Kent[275] and
John C. Spencer. In the following month, the National Republicans
adopted the anti-masonic state and electoral tickets. It looked like a
queer combination, a "Siamese twin party" it was derisively called, in
which somebody was to be cheated. But the embarrassment, if any
existed, seems to have been fairly overcome by Thurlow Weed, who
patiently traversed the State harmonising conflicting opinions in the
interest of local nominations.

[Footnote 275: "Chancellor Kent's bitter, narrow, and unintelligent
politics were in singular contrast with his extraordinary legal
equipment and his professional and literary accomplishments."--Edward
M. Shepard, _Life of Martin Van Buren_, p. 246.]

Meantime, the Van Buren leaders proceeded with rare caution. There had
been some alarming defections, notably the secession of the New York
_Courier and Enquirer_, now edited by James Watson Webb, and the
refusal of Erastus Root longer to follow the Jackson standard. Samuel
Young had also been out of humour. Young declared for Clay in 1824,
and had inclined to Adams in 1828. It was in his heart also to rally
to the support of Clay in 1832. But, looking cautiously to the future,
he could not see his way to renounce old associates altogether; and
so, as evidence of his return, he published an able paper in defence
of the President's veto. There is no indication, however, that Erastus
Root was penitent. He had been playing a double game too long, and
although his old associates treated him well, electing him speaker of
the Assembly in 1827, 1828, and again in 1830, he could not overlook
their failure to make him governor. Finally, after accepting a
nomination to Congress, his speeches indicated that he was done
forever with the party of Jackson.

The Republican convention, which met at Herkimer, in September, 1832,
nominated William L. Marcy for governor. Marcy had reluctantly left
the Supreme Court in 1831; and he did not now take kindly to giving up
the United States Senate, since the veto message had made success in
the State doubly doubtful. But no other candidate excited any
interest. Enos T. Throop had been practically ridiculed into
retirement. He was nicknamed "Small-light," and the longer he served
the smaller and the more unpopular he became. If we may accept the
judgment of contemporaries, he lacked all the engaging qualities that
usually characterise a public official, and possessed all the faults
which exaggerate limited ability.

Marcy had both tact and ability, but his opposition to the Chenango
canal weakened him in that section of the State. The Chenango project
had been a thorn in the Regency's side ever since Francis Granger, in
1827, forced a bill for its construction through the Assembly,
changing Chenango from a reliable Jackson county to a Granger
stronghold; but Van Buren now took up the matter, assuring the people
that the next Legislature should pass a law for the construction of
the canal, and to bind the contract Edward P. Livingston, with his
family pride and lack of gifts, was unceremoniously set aside as
lieutenant-governor for John Tracy of Chenango. This bargain, however,
did not relieve Marcy's distress. He still had little confidence in
his success. "I have looked critically over the State," he wrote Jesse
Hoyt on the first day of October, "and have come to the conclusion
that probably we shall be beaten. The United States Bank is in the
field, and I can not but fear the effect of fifty or one hundred
thousand dollars expended in conducting the election in such a city as
New York."

This was a good enough excuse, perhaps, to give Hoyt. But Marcy's
despair was due more to the merciless ridicule of Thurlow Weed's pen
than to the bank's money. Marcy had thoughtlessly included, in one of
his bills for court expenses, an item of fifty cents paid for mending
his pantaloons; and the editor of the _Evening Journal_, in his
inimitable way, made the "Marcy pantaloons" and the "Marcy patch" so
ridiculous that the slightest reference to it in any company raised
immoderate laughter at the expense of the candidate for governor. At
Rochester, the Anti-Masons suspended at the top of a long pole a huge
pair of black trousers, with a white patch on the seat, bearing the
figure 50 in red paint. Reference to the unfortunate item often came
upon him suddenly. "Now, ladies and gentlemen," shouted the driver of
a stage-coach on which Marcy had taken passage, "hold on tight, for
this hole is as large as the one in the Governor's breeches." All this
was telling hard upon Marcy's spirits and the party's confidence.
Jesse Hoyt wrote him that something must be done to silence the absurd
cry; but the candidate was without remedy. "The law provided for the
payment of the judge's expenses," he said, "and while on this business
some work was done on pantaloons for which the tailor charged fifty
cents. It was entered on the account, and went into the comptroller's
hands without a particle of reflection as to how it would appear in
print." There was no suggestion of dishonesty. Weed was too skilful
to raise a point that might be open to discussion, but he kept the
whole State in laughter at the candidate's expense. Marcy felt so
keenly the ridiculous position in which his patched pantaloons put him
that, although he usually relished jokes on himself, "the patch" was a
distressing subject long after he had been thrice elected governor.

The Granger forces had, however, something more influential to
overcome than a "Marcy patch." Very early in the campaign it dawned
upon the bankers of the State that, if the United States Bank went out
of business, government deposits would come to them; and from that
moment every jobber, speculator and money borrower, as well as every
bank officer and director, rejoiced in the veto. The prejudices of the
people, always easily excited against moneyed corporations, had
already turned against the "monster monopoly," with its exclusive
privileges for "endangering the liberties of the country," and now the
banks joined them in their crusade. In other words, the Jackson party
was sustained by banks and the opponents of banks, by men of means and
men without means, by the rich and the poor. It was a great
combination, and it resulted in the overwhelming triumph of Marcy and
the Jackson electoral ticket.[276]

[Footnote 276: "On one important question, Mr. Weed and I were
antipodes. Believing that a currency in part of paper, kept at par
with specie, and current in every part of our country, was
indispensable, I was a zealous advocate of a National Bank; which he
as heartily detested, believing that its supporters would always be
identified in the popular mind with aristocracy, monopoly, exclusive
privileges, etc. He attempted, more than once, to overbear my
convictions on this point, or at least preclude their utterance, but
was at length brought apparently to comprehend that this was a point
on which we must agree to differ."--Horace Greeley, _Recollections of
a Busy Life_, p. 314.]

The western anti-masonic counties gave their usual majorities for
Francis Granger, but New York City and the districts bordering the
Hudson, with several interior counties, wiped them out and left the
Jackson candidate ten thousand ahead.[277]

[Footnote 277: William L. Marcy, 166,410; Francis Granger, 156,672.
_Civil List, State of New York_ (1887), p. 166.]

This second defeat of Francis Granger had a depressing influence upon
his party. It had been a contest of giants. Webster's great speeches
in support of the United States Bank were accepted as triumphant
answers to the arguments of the veto message, but nothing seemed
capable of breaking the solid Jackson majorities in the eastern and
southern counties; and, upon the assembling of the Legislature, in
January, 1833, signs of disintegration were apparent among the
Anti-Masons. Albert H. Tracy, despairing of success, began accepting
interviews with Martin Van Buren, who sought to break anti-Masonry by
conciliating its leaders. It was the voice of the tempter. Tracy
listened and then became a missionary, inducing John Birdsall and
other members of the Legislature to join him. Tracy had been an
acknowledged leader. He was older, richer, and of larger experience
than most of his associates, and, in appealing to him, Van Buren
exhibited the rare tact that characterised his political methods. But
the Senator from Buffalo could not do what Van Buren wanted him to do;
he could not win Seward or capture the _Evening Journal_. "We had both
been accustomed for years," says Thurlow Weed, "to allow Tracy to do
our political thinking, rarely differing from him in opinion, and
never doubting his fidelity. On this occasion, however, we could not
see things from his standpoint, and, greatly to his annoyance, we
determined to adhere to our principles."[278]

[Footnote 278: _Autobiography of Thurlow Weed_, p. 421. Seward, in his
_Autobiography_, says of Tracy, p. 166: "Albert H. Tracy is ... a man
of original genius, of great and varied literary acquirements, of
refined tastes, and high and honourable principles. He seems the most
eloquent, I might almost say the only eloquent man in the Senate. He
is plainly clothed and unostentatious. Winning in his address and
gifted in conversation, you would fall naturally into the habit of
telling him all your weaknesses, and giving him unintentionally your
whole confidence. He is undoubtedly very ambitious; though he
protests, and doubtless half the time believes, that dyspepsia has
humbled all his ambition, and broken the vaultings of his spirit. I
doubt not that, dyspepsia taken into the account, he will be one of
the great men of the nation."]

It must be admitted that many reasons existed well calculated to
influence Tracy's action. William Wirt had carried only Vermont, and
Henry Clay had received but forty-nine out of two hundred and
sixty-five electoral votes. Anti-Masonry had plainly run its course.
It aroused a strong public sentiment against secret societies, until
most of the lodges in western New York had surrendered their charters;
but it signally failed to perpetuate its hold upon the masses. The
surrendered charters were soon reissued, and the institution itself
became more popular and attractive than ever. These disheartening
conditions were re-emphasised in the election of 1833. The county of
Washington, before an anti-masonic stronghold, returned a Jackson
assemblyman; and the sixth district, which had elected an anti-masonic
senator in 1829, now gave a Van Buren member over seven thousand
majority. But the most surprising change occurred in the eighth, or
"infected district." Three years before it had given Granger thirteen
thousand majority; now it returned Tracy to the Senate by less than
two hundred. For a long time his election was in doubt. Of the one
hundred and twenty-eight assemblymen, one hundred and four belonged to
the Jackson party, and of the eight senators elected Tracy alone
represented the opposition.

It was certainly not an encouraging outlook, and the leaders, after
full consultation, virtually declared the anti-masonic party
dissolved. But this did not, however, mean an abandonment of the
field. It was impossible for men who believed in internal
improvements, in the protection of American industries, and in the
United States Bank, to surrender to a party controlled by the Albany
Regency, which was rapidly drifting into hostility to these great
principles and into the acceptance of dangerous state rights'
doctrines. In giving up anti-Masonry, therefore, Weed, Seward,
Granger, Whittlesey, Fillmore, John C. Spencer, and other leaders,
simply intended to let go one name and reorganise under another.
Several Anti-Masons, following the lead of Tracy, fell by the way, but
practically all the people who made up the anti-masonic and National
Republican forces continued to act together.

Several events of the year aided the opposition party. The hostility
of the Jackson leaders to internal improvements aroused former
Clintonians who believed in canals, and the widespread financial
embarrassment alarmed commercial and mercantile interests. They
resented the remark of the President that "men who trade on borrowed
capital ought to fail," and the bold denial that "any pressure existed
which an honest man should regret." Business men, cramped for money,
or already bankrupt because the United States Bank, stripped of its
government deposits, had curtailed its discounts, did not listen with
patience or amiability to statements of such a character; nor were
they inclined to excuse the President's action on the theory that the
United States Bank had cut down its loans to produce a panic, and thus
force a reversal of his policy. To them such utterances seemed to
evince a want of sympathy, and opposition orators and journals took
advantage of the situation by eloquently denouncing a policy that
embarrassed commerce and manufactures, throwing people out of
employment and bringing suffering and want to the masses.

The New York municipal election in the spring of 1834 plainly showed
that the voters resented the President's financial policy. For the
first time in the history of the city, the people were to elect their
mayor, and, although purely a local contest, it turned upon national
issues. All the elements of opposition now used the one name of
"Whig." Until this time local organisations had adopted various
titles, such as "Anti-Jackson," "Anti-Mortgage," and "Anti-Regency;"
but the opponents of Jackson now claimed to be the true successors of
the Whigs of 1776, calling their movement a revolution against the
tyranny and usurpation of "King Andrew." They raised liberty poles,
spoke of their opponents as Tories, and appropriated as emblems the
national flag and portraits of Washington.

The prospects of the new party brightened, too, when it nominated for
mayor Gulian C. Verplanck, a member of Tammany Hall, a distinguished
congressman of eight years' service, and, until then, a representative
of the Jackson party, highly esteemed and justly popular. Although
best known, perhaps, as a scholar and writer, Verplanck's active
sympathies early led him into politics. He entered the Whig party and
the mayoralty campaign with high hopes of success. He led the
merchants and business men, while his opponent, Cornelius V.R.
Lawrence, also a popular member of Tammany, rallied the mechanics and
labouring classes. The spirited contest, characterised by rifled
ballot-boxes and broken heads, revealed at once its national
importance. If the new party could show a change in public sentiment
in the foremost city in the Union, it would be helpful in reversing
Jackson's financial policy. So the great issue became a cry of "panic"
and a threat of "hard times." Like the strokes of a fire bell at
night, it alarmed the people, whose confidence began to waver and
finally to give way.

The evident purpose of the United States Bank was to create, if
possible, the fear of a panic. By suddenly curtailing its loans,
ostensibly because of the removal of the deposits, it brought such
pressure upon the state banks that a suspension of specie payment
seemed inevitable. To relieve this situation, Governor Marcy and the
Legislature, acting with great promptness, pledged the State's credit
to the banks, should the exigency require such aid, to the amount of
six million dollars. This was called "Marcy's mortgage." The Whigs
stigmatised it as a pledge of the people's property for the benefit of
money corporations, denouncing the project as little better than a
vulgar swindle in the interest of the Democratic party. Whether
Marcy's scheme really averted the threatened calamity, or whether the
United States Bank had already carried its contraction as far as it
intended, it is certain that the fear of a panic served its purpose in
the campaign. The Whigs became enthusiastic, and, as the United States
Bank now began relieving the commercial embarrassment by extending its
loans and giving its friends in New York special advantages, the party
felt certain of victory. When the polls closed the result did not
fully realise Whig anticipations; yet it disclosed a Democratic
majority, cut down from five thousand to two hundred, with a loss of
the Council. Verplanck had, indeed, been beaten by one hundred and
eighty-one votes; but the Common Council, carrying with it the
patronage of the city, amounting to more than one million dollars a
year, had been easily won. The Democrats had the shadow, it was said,
and the Whigs the substance.

This election, and other successes in many towns throughout the State,
greatly encouraged the leaders of the opposition. A convention held at
Syracuse, in August, 1834, adopted the title of "Whig," and the new
party exulted in its name. To add to the enthusiasm, Daniel Webster
declared, in a letter, that, from his cradle, he had "been educated in
the principles of the Whigs of '76." The New York City election was
referred to as the "Lexington" of the revolution against "King
Andrew," as its prototype was against King George.

The Whigs' hope of success was heightened, also, by the unanimous
nomination of William H. Seward for governor. Seward was now
thirty-three years of age. During his four years in the Senate,
political expediency neither limited nor controlled his opinions. He
had argued for reform in the military system; he had favoured the
abolition of imprisonment for debt; he had vigorously opposed the
attacks upon the United States Bank and the removal of the deposits;
he had antagonised the Chenango canal for reasons presented by
Comptroller Marcy, and he gave generously of his time in the Court of
Errors. He had grown into a statesman of acknowledged genius and
popularity, placing himself in sympathy with the masses, denouncing
misrule and supporting measures of reform. Of all the old and
experienced members of the Senate, it was freely admitted that none
surpassed him in a knowledge of the affairs of the State, or in a
readiness to debate leading questions. But, well fitted as he was, he
did not solicit the privilege of being a candidate for governor. On
the contrary, with Weed and Whittlesey, he tried to find some one
else. Granger preferred going to Congress; Verplanck had not yet
recovered from the chagrin and disappointment of losing the mayoralty;
Maynard was dead, and James Wadsworth would not accept office. To
Seward an acceptance of the nomination, therefore, appealed almost as
a matter of duty.

Silas M. Stilwell of New York became the candidate for
lieutenant-governor. Stilwell had been a shoemaker, and, until the
organisation of the Whig party, a stalwart supporter of the Regency,
occupying a conspicuous place as an industrious and ambitious member
of the Assembly. When the deposits were removed and a panic threatened
he declared himself a Whig.

Confidence characterised the convention which nominated Seward and
Stilwell. Young men predominated, and their enthusiasm was aroused to
the highest pitch by the eloquence of Peter R. Livingston, their
venerable chairman. Like a new convert, Livingston prophesied victory.
Livingston had been a wheel-horse in the party of Jefferson. He had
served in the Senate with Van Buren; he had taken a leading part in
the convention of 1821, and he had held, with distinction, the
speakership of the Assembly and the presidency of the Senate. His
creed was love of republicanism and hatred of Clinton. At one time he
was the faithful follower, the enthusiastic admirer, almost the
devotee of Van Buren; and, so long as the Kinderhook statesman opposed
Clinton, he needed Livingston. But, when the time came that Van Buren
must conciliate Clinton, Livingston was dropped from the Senate. The
consequences were far more serious than Van Buren intended. Livingston
was as able as he was eloquent, and Van Buren's coalition with
Clinton quickly turned Livingston's ability and eloquence to the
support of Clay. Then he openly joined the Whigs; and to catch his
influence, and the thrill of his remarkable voice, they made him
chairman of their first state convention. As an evidence of their
enthusiasm, the whole body of delegates, with music and flags, drove
from Syracuse to Auburn, twenty-six miles, to visit their young
candidate for governor.

In the same month the Democrats renominated Marcy and John Tracy,
strong in prestige of past success and present power. Instantly, the
two leading candidates were contrasted--Marcy, the mature and
experienced statesman; Seward, a "red-haired young man," without a
record and unknown to fame. Stilwell was told to "stick to his boots
and shoes;" and, in resentment, tailors, printers, shoemakers, and men
of other handicraft, organised in support of "the working man" against
the "Jackson Aristocrats." In answer to the _Commercial Advertiser's_
sneer that Seward was "red-haired," William L. Stone, with felicitous
humour, told how Esau, and Cato, Clovis, William Rufus, and Rob Roy
not only had red hair, but each was celebrated for having it; how
Ossian sung a "lofty race of red-haired heroes," how Venus herself was
golden-haired, as well as Patroclus and Achilles. "Thus does it
appear," the article concluded, "that in all ages and in all
countries, from Paradise to Dragon River, has red or golden hair been
held in highest estimation. But for his red hair, the country of Esau
would not have been called Edom. But for his hair, which was doubtless
red, Samson would not have carried away the gates of Gaza. But for his
red hair, Jason would not have navigated the Euxine and discovered the
Golden Horn. But for the red hair of his mistress, Leander would not
have swum the Hellespont. But for his red hair, Narcissus would not
have fallen in love with himself, and thereby become immortal in song.
But for his red hair we should find nothing in Van Buren to praise.
But for red hair, we should not have written this article. And, but
for his red hair, William H. Seward might not have become governor of
the State of New York! Stand aside, then, ye Tories, and 'Let go of
his hair.'"[279]

[Footnote 279: F.W. Seward, _Life of W.H. Seward_, Vol. 1, p. 238.]

The mottoes of this campaign illustrate the principles involved in it.
"Seward and Free Soil, or Marcy with his Mortgage" was a favourite
with the Whigs. "The Monster Bank Party" became the popular cry of
Democrats, to which the Whigs retorted with "The Party of Little
Monsters." "Marcy's Pantaloons," "No Nullification," and "Union and
Liberty" also did service. Copper medals bearing the heads of
candidates were freely distributed, and humourous campaign songs, set
to popular music, began to be heard.

It was a lively campaign, and reports of elections in other States,
showing gratifying gains, kept up the hopes of Whigs. But, at the end,
the withering majorities in Democratic strongholds remained unbroken,
re-electing Marcy and Tracy by thirteen thousand majority,[280] and
carrying every senatorial district save the eighth, and ninety-one of
the one hundred and twenty-two assemblymen. The Whigs had put forward
their ablest men for the Legislature and for Congress, but, outside of
those chosen in the infected district, few appeared in the halls of
legislation, either at Albany or at Washington. Francis Granger went
to Congress. "He has had a fortunate escape from his dilemma, and I
rejoice at it," wrote Seward to Thurlow Weed. "He is a noble fellow,
and I am glad that, if we could not make him what we wished, we have
been able to put him into a career of honour and usefulness."[281]

[Footnote 280: William L. Marcy, 181,905; William H. Seward,
168,969.--_Civil List, State of New York_ (1887), p. 166.]

[Footnote 281: _Autobiography of William H. Seward_, p. 241.]

Seward was not broken-hearted over his defeat. The majority against
him was not so large as Granger encountered in 1832; but it was
sufficiently pronounced to send him back to his profession with the
feeling that his principles and opinions were not yet wanted. "If I
live," he said to Weed, "and my principles ever do find favour with
the people, I shall not be without their respect. Believe me, there
is no affectation in my saying that I would not now exchange the
feelings and associations of the vanquished William H. Seward for the
victory and 'spoils' of William L. Marcy."[282]

[Footnote 282: _Autobiography of William H. Seward_, p. 241.]






_Member of Congress, Formerly United States Attorney for the Northern
District of New York_





Copyright, 1906



CHAPTER                                                           PAGE

I. VAN BUREN AND ABOLITION. 1833-1837                                1

II. SEWARD ELECTED GOVERNOR. 1836-1838                              15

III. THE DEFEAT OF VAN BUREN FOR PRESIDENT. 1840                    31

IV. HUMILIATION OF THE WHIGS. 1841-1842                             47

V. DEMOCRATS DIVIDE INTO FACTIONS. 1842-1844                        56

VI. VAN BUREN DEFEATED AT BALTIMORE. 1844                           65

VII. SILAS WRIGHT AND MILLARD FILLMORE. 1844                        76

VIII. THE RISE OF JOHN YOUNG. 1845-1846                             90

IX. FOURTH CONSTITUTIONAL CONVENTION. 1846                         103

X. DEFEAT AND DEATH OF SILAS WRIGHT. 1846-1847                     114

XI. THE FREE-SOIL CAMPAIGN. 1847-1848                              129

XII. SEWARD SPLITS THE WHIG PARTY. 1849-1850                       145

XIII. THE WHIGS' WATERLOO. 1850-1852                               159

XIV. THE HARDS AND THE SOFTS. 1853                                 180

XV. A BREAKING-UP OF PARTY TIES. 1854                              190

XVI. FORMATION OF THE REPUBLICAN PARTY. 1854-1855                  205

XVII. FIRST REPUBLICAN GOVERNOR. 1856                              222

XVIII. THE IRREPRESSIBLE CONFLICT. 1857-1858                       243

XIX. SEWARD'S BID FOR THE PRESIDENCY. 1859-1860                    256


XXI. SEWARD DEFEATED AT CHICAGO. 1860                              281

XXII. NEW YORK'S CONTROL AT BALTIMORE. 1860                        294

XXIII. RAYMOND, GREELEY, AND WEED. 1860                            305

XXIV. FIGHT OF THE FUSIONISTS. 1860                                324

XXV. GREELEY, WEED, AND SECESSION. 1860-1861                       334

XXVI. SEYMOUR AND THE PEACE DEMOCRATS. 1860-1861                   346

XXVII. WEED'S REVENGE UPON GREELEY. 1861                           361

XXVIII. LINCOLN, SEWARD, AND THE UNION. 1860-1861                  367

XXIX. THE WEED MACHINE CRIPPLED. 1861                              388





After Van Buren's inauguration as Vice President, he made Washington
his permanent residence, and again became the President's chief
adviser. His eye was now intently fixed upon the White House, and the
long, rapid strides, encouraged by Jackson, carried him swiftly toward
the goal of his ambition. He was surrounded by powerful friends.
Edward Livingston, the able and accomplished brother of the
Chancellor, still held the office of secretary of state; Benjamin F.
Butler, his personal friend and former law partner, was
attorney-general; Silas Wright, the successor of Marcy, and Nathaniel
P. Tallmadge, the eloquent successor of the amiable Dudley, were in
the United States Senate. Among the members of the House, Samuel
Beardsley and Churchill C. Cambreling, firm and irrepressible, led the
Administration's forces with conspicuous ability. At Albany, Marcy was
governor, Charles L. Livingston was speaker of the Assembly, Azariah
C. Flagg state comptroller, John A. Dix secretary of state, Abraham
Keyser state treasurer, Edwin Croswell state printer and editor of
the _Argus_, and Thomas W. Olcott the able financier of the Regency.
All were displaying a devotion to the President, guided by infinite
tact, that distinguished them as the organisers and disciplinarians of
the party. "I do not believe," wrote Thurlow Weed, "that a stronger
political organisation ever existed at any state capital, or even at
the national capital. They were men of great ability, great industry,
indomitable courage, and strict personal integrity."[283]

[Footnote 283: _Autobiography of Thurlow Weed_, p. 103.]

John A. Dix seemed destined from the first to leave an abiding mark in
history. Very early in life he was distinguished for executive
ability. Although but a boy, he saw active service throughout the War
of 1812, having been appointed a cadet at fourteen, an ensign at
fifteen, and a second lieutenant at sixteen. After the war, he served
as aide-de-camp on the staff of General Brown, living at Fortress
Monroe and at Washington, until feeble health led to his resignation
in 1828. Then he began the practice of law at Cooperstown. In 1830,
when Governor Throop made him adjutant-general, he removed to Albany.
He was now twenty-six years old, an accomplished writer, a vigorous
speaker, and as prompt and bold in his decisions as in 1861, when he
struck the high, clear-ringing note for the Union in his order to
shoot the first man who attempted to haul down the American flag. He
was not afraid of any enterprise; he was not abashed by the stoutest
opposition; he was not even depressed by failure. When the call came,
he leaped up to sudden political action, and very soon was installed
as a member of the Regency.

Dix had one great advantage over most of his contemporaries in
political life--he was able to write editorials for the _Argus_. It
took a keen pen to find an open way to its columns. Croswell needed
assistance in these days of financial quakings and threatened party
divisions, but he would accept it only from a master. Until this time,
Wright and Marcy had aided him. Their love for variety of subject,
characteristic, perhaps, of the gifted writer, presented widely
differing themes, flavoured with humour and satire, making the paper
attractive if not spectacular. To this work Dix, who had already
published a _Sketch of the Resources of the City of New York_, now
brought the freshness of a strong personality and the training of a
scholar and linguist. He had come into public life under the influence
of Calhoun, for whom the army expressed a decided preference in 1828;
but he never accepted the South Carolinian's theory of nullification.
Dix had inherited loyalty from his father, an officer in the United
States army, and he was quick to strike for his country when South
Carolina raised the standard of rebellion in 1861.

There was something particularly attractive about John A. Dix in these
earlier years. He had endured hardships and encountered dangers, but
he had never known poverty; and after his marriage he no longer
depended upon the law or upon office for life's necessities. Educated
at Phillips Exeter Academy, at the College of Montreal, and at St.
Mary's College in Baltimore, he learned to be vigorous without
egotism, positive without arrogance, and a man of literary tastes
without affectation. Even long years of earnest controversy and
intense feeling never changed the serene purity of his life, his lofty
purposes, or the nobility of his nature. It is doubtful if he would
have found distinction in the career of a man of letters, to which he
was inclined. He had the learning and the scholarly ambition. Like
Benjamin F. Butler, he could not be content with a small measure of
knowledge. He studied languages closely, he read much of the world's
literature in the original, and he could write on political topics
with the firm grasp and profound knowledge of a statesman of broad
views; but he could not, or did not, turn his English into the realm
of literature. Yet his _Winter in Madeira and a Summer in Spain and
Florence_, published in 1850, ran through five editions in three
years, and is not without interest to-day, after so many others, with,
defter pen, perhaps, have written of these sunny lands. His
appointment as secretary of state in 1833 made him also state
superintendent of common schools, and his valuable reports, published
during the seven years he filled the office, attest his intelligent
devotion to the educational interests of New York, not less than his
editorial work on the _Argus_ showed his loyal attachment to Van

But, despite the backing of President Jackson, and the influence of
other powerful friends, there was no crying demand outside of New York
for Van Buren's election to the Presidency. He had done nothing to
stir the hearts of his countrymen with pride, or to create a
pronounced, determined public sentiment in his behalf. On the
contrary, his weaknesses were as well understood without New York as
within it. David Crockett, in his life of Van Buren, speaks of him as
"secret, sly, selfish, cold, calculating, distrustful, treacherous,"
and "as opposite to Jackson as dung is to a diamond." Crockett's book,
written for campaign effect, was as scurrilous as it was interesting,
but it proved that the country fully understood the character of Van
Buren, and that, unlike Jackson, he had no great, redeeming,
iron-willed quality that fascinates the multitude. Tennessee, the home
State of Jackson, opposed him with bitterness; Virginia declared that
it favoured principles, not men, and that in supporting Van Buren it
had gone as far astray as it would go; Calhoun spoke of the Van Buren
party as "a powerful faction, held together by the hopes of plunder,
and marching under a banner whereon is written 'to the victors belong
the spoils.'" Everywhere there seemed to be unkindness, unrest, or

Nevertheless, Van Buren's candidacy had been so persistently and
systematically worked up by the President that, from the moment of his
inauguration as Vice President, his succession to the Presidency was
accepted as inevitable. It is doubtful if a man ever slipped into an
office more easily than Martin Van Buren secured the Presidency. That
there might be no failure at the last moment, a national democratic
convention, the second one in the history of the party, was called to
nominate him at Baltimore, in May, 1835, eighteen months before the
election. When the time came, South Carolina, Alabama, and Illinois
were unrepresented; Tennessee had one delegate, and Mississippi and
Missouri only two each; but Van Buren's nomination followed with an
ease and a unanimity that caused a smile even among the office-holding

Indeed, slavery was the only thing in sight to disturb Van Buren. At
present, it was not larger than a cloud "like a man's hand," but the
agitation had begun seriously to disturb politicians. After the North
had emerged from the Missouri struggle, chafed and mortified by the
treachery of its own representatives, the rapidly expanding culture of
cotton, which found its way in plenty to northern seaports, had
apparently silenced all opposition. A few people, however, had been
greatly disturbed by the arguments of a small number of reformers,
much in advance of their time, who were making a crusade against the
whole system of domestic slavery. Some of these men won honoured names
in our history. One of them was Benjamin Lundy. In 1815, when
twenty-six years old, Lundy organised an anti-slavery association,
known as the "Union Humane Society," and, in its support, he had
traversed the country from Maine to Tennessee, lecturing, editing
papers, and forming auxiliary societies. He was a small, deaf,
unassuming Quaker, without wealth, eloquence, or marked ability; but
he had courage, tremendous energy, and a gentle spirit. He had lived
for a time in Wheeling, Virginia, where the horrors, inseparable from
slavery, impressed him very much as the system in the British West
Indies had impressed Zachary Macaulay, father of the distinguished
essayist and historian; and, like Macaulay, he ever after devoted his
time and his abilities to the generous task of rousing his countrymen
to a full sense of the cruelties practised upon slaves.

In 1828, he happened to meet William Lloyd Garrison. Garrison's
attention had not previously been drawn to the slavery question, but,
when he heard Lundy's arguments, he joined him in Baltimore,
demanding, in the first issue of _The Genius_, immediate emancipation
as the right of the slave and the duty of the master. William Lloyd
Garrison was young then, not yet twenty-three years of age, but he
struck hard, and soon found himself in jail, in default of the payment
of fifty dollars fine and costs for malicious libel. At the end of
forty-nine days, Arthur Tappan, of New York City, paid the fine, and
Garrison, returning to Boston, issued the first number of _The
Liberator_ on January 1, 1830.

This opened the agitation in earnest. Garrison treated slavery as a
crime, repudiating all creeds, churches, and parties which taught or
accepted the doctrine that an innocent human being, however black or
down-trodden, was not the equal of every other and entitled to the
same inalienable rights. The South soon heard of him, and the Georgia
Legislature passed an act offering a reward of five thousand dollars
for his delivery into that State. Indictments of northern men by
southern grand juries now became of frequent occurrence, one governor
making requisition upon Governor Marcy for the surrender of Arthur
Tappan, although Tappan had never been in a Southern State. The South,
finding that long-distance threats, indictments, and offers of reward
accomplished nothing, waked into action its northern sympathisers, who
appealed with confidence to riot and mob violence. In New York City,
the crusade opened in October, 1833, a mob preventing the organisation
of an anti-slavery society at Clinton Hall. Subsequently, on July 4,
1834, an anti-slavery celebration in Chatham Street chapel was broken
up, and five days later, the residence of Lewis Tappan was forced open
and the furniture destroyed. These outrages were followed by the
destruction of churches, the dismantling of schoolhouses, and the
looting of dwellings, owned or used by coloured people. In October,
1835, a committee of respectable citizens of Utica, headed by Samuel
Beardsley, then a congressman and later chief justice of the State,
broke up a meeting called to organise a state anti-slavery society,
and destroyed the printing press of a democratic journal which had
spoken kindly of Abolitionists. The agitators, however, were in no
wise dismayed or disheartened. It would have taken a good deal of
persecution to frighten Beriah Green, or to confuse the conscience of
Arthur Tappan.

In the midst of such scenes came tidings that slavery had been
abolished in the British West Indies, and that the Utica indignity had
been signalised by the conversion of Gerrit Smith. Theretofore, Smith
had been a leading colonisationist--thereafter he was to devote
himself to the principles of abolitionism. Gerrit Smith, from his
earliest years, had given evidence of precocious and extraordinary
intelligence. Thurlow Weed pronounced him "the handsomest, the most
attractive, and the most intellectual young man I ever met." Smith was
then seventeen years old--a student in Hamilton College. "He dressed
_à la_ Byron," continues Weed, "and in taste and manners was
instinctively perfect."[284] His father was Peter Smith, famous in his
day as one of the largest landowners in the United States; and,
although this enormous estate was left the son in his young manhood,
it neither changed his simple, gentle manners, nor the purpose of his
noble life.[285] By profession, Gerrit Smith was a philanthropist, and
in his young enthusiasm he joined the American Colonisation Society,
organised in 1817, for the purpose of settling the western coast of
Africa with emancipated blacks. It was a pre-eminently respectable
association. Henry Clay was its president, and prominent men North and
South, in church and in state, approved its purpose and its methods.
In 1820 it purchased Sherbro Island; but finding the location
unfortunate, other lands were secured in the following year at Cape
Mesurado, and about a thousand emigrants sent thither during the next
seven years. Gerrit Smith, however, found the movement too slow, if
not practically stranded, by the work of the cotton-gin and the
doctrine of Calhoun, that "the negro is better off in slavery at the
South than in freedom elsewhere." So, in 1830, he left the society to
those whose consciences condemned slavery, but whose conservatism
restrained them from offensive activity. The society drifted along
until 1847, when the colony, then numbering six or seven thousand,
declared itself an independent republic under the name of Liberia. In
the meantime, Smith, unaided and alone, had provided homes in northern
States, on farms of fifty acres each, for twice as many emancipated
blacks, his gifts aggregating over two hundred thousand acres.

[Footnote 284: _Autobiography of Thurlow Weed_, p. 31.]

[Footnote 285: "Many years ago I was riding with Gerrit Smith in
northern New York. He suddenly stopped the carriage, and, looking
around for a few minutes, said: 'We are now on some of my poor land,
familiarly known as the John Brown tract;' and he then added, 'I own
eight hundred thousand acres, of which this is a part, and all in one
piece.' Everybody knows that his father purchased the most of it at
sales by the comptrollers of state for unpaid taxes. He said he owned
land in fifty-six of the sixty counties in New York. He was also a
landlord in other States."--H.B. Stanton, _Random Recollections_, p.

Gerrit Smith's conversion to abolitionism helped the anti-slavery
cause, much as the conversion of St. Paul benefited the Christian
church. He brought youth, courage, enthusiasm, wealth, and marked
ability. Although alienated from him for years because of his peculiar
creed, Thurlow Weed refers in loving remembrance to "his great
intellect, genial nature, and ample fortune, which were devoted to all
good works." When the people of Utica, his native town, broke up the
meeting called to form a state anti-slavery society, Smith promptly
invited its projectors to his home at Peterborough, Madison County,
where the organisation was completed. He was thirty-three years old
then, and from that day until Lincoln's proclamation and Lee's
surrender freed the negro, he never ceased to work for the abolition
of slavery. The state organisation, nourished under his fostering
care, led to greater activity. Anti-slavery societies began to form in
every county and in most of the towns of some counties. Abolitionism
did not take the place of anti-Masonry, which was now rapidly on the
wane; but it awakened the conscience, setting people to thinking and,
then, to talking. The great contest to abolish slavery in the British
West Indies, led by the Buxtons, the Wilberforces, and the Whitbreads,
had aroused public indignation in the United States, as well as in
England, by the overwhelming proofs that men and women were being
constantly flogged; and that branding female slaves on the breast with
red-hot iron, was used as a means of punishment, as well as of
identification. Other more revolting evidences of the horrors, which
seemed to be the inevitable accompaniment of the slave system, found
lodgment in American homes through the eloquence of the noted English
abolition lecturer, George Thompson, then in this country; until the
cruelties, characterising slavery in Jamaica, were supposed and
believed by many to be practised in the Southern States.

Naturally enough, the principal avenue between the promoter of
anti-slavery views and the voter was the United States mails, and
these were freighted with abolition documents. It is likely that
Harrison Gray Otis, the wealthy and aristocratic mayor of Boston, did
not exaggerate when he advised the southern magistrate, who desired
the suppression of Garrison's _Liberator_, that "its office was an
obscure hole, its editor's only visible auxiliary a negro boy, and his
supporters a few insignificant persons of all colours;"[286] but the
Southerners knew that from that "obscure hole" issued a paper of
uncompromising spirit, which was profoundly impressing the people of
the United States, and their journals and orators teemed with
denunciations. The Richmond _Whig_ characterised Abolitionists as
"hell-hounds," warning the northern merchants that unless these
fanatics were hung they would lose the benefit of southern trade. A
Charleston paper threatened to cut out and "cast upon the dunghill"
the tongue of any one who should lecture upon the evils or immorality
of slavery. The Augusta _Chronicle_ declared that if the question be
longer discussed the Southern States would secede and settle the
matter by the sword, as the only possible means of self-preservation.
A prominent Alabama clergyman advised hanging every man who favoured
emancipation, and the Virginia Legislature called upon the
non-slave-holding States to suppress abolition associations by penal

[Footnote 286: Horace Greeley, _The American Conflict_, Vol. 1, p. 122,

In the midst of such sentiments, it was evident to Van Buren, whose
election depended upon the Southern States, that something definite
must be done, and that nothing would be considered definite by the
South which did not aim at the total abolition of the anti-slavery
agitator. Accordingly, his friends held meetings in every county in
the State, adopting resolutions denouncing them as "fanatics and
traitors to their country," and indorsing Van Buren "as a patriot
opposed to the hellish abolition factions and all their heresies." Van
Buren himself arranged for the great meeting at Albany at which
Governor Marcy presided. "I send you the inclosed proceedings of the
citizens of Albany," wrote Van Buren to the governor of Georgia, "and
I authorise you to say that I concur fully in the sentiments they

In commenting upon the Albany meeting, Thurlow Weed, with the
foresight of a prophet, wrote in the _Evening Journal_: "This question
of slavery, when it becomes a matter of political controversy, will
shake, if not unsettle, the foundations of our government. It is too
fearful, and too mighty, in all its bearings and consequences, to be
recklessly mixed up in our partisan conflicts."[287] When the
Legislature convened, in January, 1836, Governor Marcy took up the
question in his message. "I cannot doubt," he said, "that the
Legislature possesses the power to pass such penal laws as will have
the effect of preventing the citizens of this State, and residents
within it, from availing themselves, with impunity, of the protection
of its sovereignty and laws, while they are actually employed in
exciting insurrection and sedition in a sister State, or engaged in
treasonable enterprises, intending to be executed therein."[288] Not
content with this show of loyalty to the South on the part of his
friends, Van Buren secured the support of Silas Wright and Nathaniel
P. Tallmadge for the bill, then pending in the United States Senate,
prohibiting postmasters from knowingly transmitting or delivering any
documents or papers relating to the abolition of slavery, and when the
measure, on a motion for engrossment, received a tie vote, Van Buren
cast the decisive vote in the affirmative.[289]

[Footnote 287: F.W. Seward, _Life of W.H. Seward_, Vol. 1, p. 319.]

[Footnote 288: _Governors' Messages_, January 5, 1836.]

[Footnote 289: "When the bill came to a vote in the Senate, although
there was really a substantial majority against it, a tie was
skilfully arranged to compel Van Buren, as Vice President, to give the
casting vote. White, the Southern Democratic candidate so seriously
menacing him, was in the Senate, and voted for the bill. Van Buren
must, it was supposed, offend the pro-slavery men by voting against
the bill, or offend the North and perhaps bruise his conscience by
voting for it. When the roll was being called, Van Buren, so Benton
tells us, was out of the chair, walking behind the colonnade at the
rear of the Vice President's seat. Calhoun, fearful lest he might
escape the ordeal, eagerly asked where he was, and told the
sergeant-at-arms to look for him. But Van Buren was ready, and at once
stepped to his chair and voted for the bill. His close friend, Silas
Wright of New York, also voted for it. Benton says he deemed both the
votes to be political and given from policy. So they probably were....
Van Buren never deserved to be called a 'Northern man with Southern
principles.' But this vote came nearer to an excuse for the epithet
than did any other act of his career."--Edward M. Shepard, _Life of
Martin Van Buren_, p. 277.]

Van Buren's prompt action gave him the confidence and support of
three-fourths of the slave-holding States, without losing his hold
upon the Democracy of the free States. Indeed, there was nothing new
that the Whigs could oppose to Van Buren. They were not ready to take
the anti-slavery side of the issue, and questions growing out of the
bank controversy had practically been settled in 1832. This,
therefore, was the situation when the two parties in New York
assembled in convention, in September, 1836, to nominate state
candidates. Marcy and John Tracy were without opposition. From the
first moment he began to administer the affairs of the State, Marcy
must have felt that he had found his work at last.

The Whigs were far from being united. Henry Clay's disinclination to
become a nominee for President resulted in two Whig candidates, Hugh
L. White of Tennessee, the favourite of the southern Whigs, and
William Henry Harrison, preferred by the Eastern, Middle, and Western
States. This weakness was soon reflected in New York. Thurlow Weed was
full of forebodings, and William H. Seward found his law office more
satisfactory than a candidate's berth. Like Clay he was perfectly
willing another should bear the burden of inevitable defeat. So the
Whigs put up Jesse Buel for governor, Gamaliel H. Barstow for
lieutenant-governor, and an electoral ticket favourable to Harrison.

Jesse Buel was not a brilliant man. He was neither a thinker, like
Seward, nor an orator, like Granger; but he was wise, wealthy, and
eminently respectable, with enough of the statesman in him to be able
to accept established facts and not to argue with the inexorable.
Years before, he had founded the Albany _Argus_, editing it with
ability and great success. Through its influence he became state
printer, succeeding Solomon Southwick, after the latter's quarrel with
Governor Tompkins over the Bank of America. This was in 1813. Three
years later Thurlow Weed, then a young man of nineteen, worked for him
as a journeyman printer. "From January till April," he writes, "I
uniformly reached the office before daylight, and seldom failed to
find Mr. Buel at his case, setting type by a tallow candle and smoking
a long pipe." Buel made so much money that the party managers invited
him to let others, equally deserving, have a turn at the state
printing. So he went into the Assembly, distinguishing himself as an
able, practical legislator. But he gradually drew away from the
Democrats, as their financial policy became more pronounced; and upon
the organisation of the Whig party gave it his support. Had he chosen
he might have been its candidate for governor in 1834; and it is
difficult to understand why he should have accepted, in 1836, with
little expectation of an election, what he declined two years before
when success seemed probable.

Gamaliel H. Barstow had been a Clintonian and an anti-Clintonian, a
follower and a pursuer of Van Buren, an Adams man and an
Anti-Mason--everything, in fact, except a Federalist. But, under
whatever standard he fought, and in whatever body he sat, he was a
recognised leader, full of spirit, fire, and force. In 1824, he had
stood with James Tallmadge and Henry Wheaton at the head of the Adams
party; in 1831, he had accompanied John C. Spencer and William H.
Seward to the national anti-masonic convention at Baltimore; and, in
the long, exciting debate upon the bill giving the people power to
choose presidential electors, he exhibited the consummate shrewdness
and sagacity of an experienced legislator. There was nothing sinister
or vindictive about him; but he had an unsparing tongue, and he
delighted to indulge it. This is what he did in 1836. Having turned
his back upon the Democratic party, the campaign to him became an
occasion for contrasting the past and "its blighting Regency
majorities" with the future of a new party, which, no doubt, seemed to
him and to others purer and brighter, since the longer it was excluded
from power the less opportunity it had for making mistakes.

But 1836 was a year of great prosperity. The undue depression of 1835
was now succeeded by commercial activity and an era of expansion and
inflation. Visionary schemes were everywhere present. Real estate
values doubled, farms were platted into village lots, wild lands were
turned into farms, and a new impulse was given to legitimate and
illegitimate enterprises. Stocks rose, labour went up, farm products
sold at higher prices, and the whole country responded to the
advantages of the money plethora. Democracy rode on the crest of the
wave, and Jackson's financial policy was accepted with joy.

Nevertheless the Whig party, hoping to strengthen its numbers in
Congress, did not relax its zeal. When the vote, however, revealed
nearly thirty thousand majority for Marcy[290] and the Van Buren
electoral ticket, with ninety-four Democrats in the Assembly and only
one Whig in the Senate, it made Thurlow Weed despair for the Republic.

[Footnote 290: William L. Marcy, 166,122; Jesse Buel, 136,648--_Civil
List, State of New York_ (1887), p. 166.]




The overwhelming defeat of the Whigs, in 1836, left a single rift in
the dark cloud through which gleamed a ray of substantial hope. It was
plain to the most cautious business man that if banking had been
highly remunerative, with the United States Bank controlling
government deposits, it must become more productive after Jackson had
transferred these deposits to state institutions; and what was plain
to the conservative banker, was equally patent to the reckless
speculator. The legislatures of 1834 and 1835, therefore, became noted
as well as notorious for the large number of bank charters granted. As
the months passed, increased demands for liberal loans created an
increasing demand for additional banks, and the greater the demand the
greater the strife for charters. Under the restraining law of the
State, abundant provision had been made for a fair distribution of
bank stocks; but the dominant party, quick to take an advantage
helpful to its friends, carefully selected commissioners who would
distribute it only among their political followers. At first it went
to merchants or capitalists in the locality of the bank; but
gradually, Albany politicians began to participate, and then,
prominent state officers, judges, legislators and their relatives and
confidential friends, many of whom resold the stock at a premium of
twenty to twenty-five per cent. before the first payment had been
made. Thus, the distribution of stock became a public scandal,
deplored in the messages of the Governor and assailed by the press.
"The unclean drippings of venal legislation," the New York _Evening
Post_ called it. But no remedy was applied. The Governor, in spite of
his regrets, signed every charter the Legislature granted, and the
commissioners, as if ignorant of the provisions to secure a fair
distribution of the stock, continued to evade the law with boldness
and great facility.

Members of the Democratic party in New York City, who believed that
banking, like any other business, ought to be open to competition, had
organised an equal rights party in 1834 to oppose all monopolies, and
the bank restraining law in particular. Several meetings were held
during the summer. Finally, in October, both factions of Tammany Hall
attempted forcibly to control its proceedings, and, in the contest,
the lights were extinguished. The Equal Righters promptly relighted
them with loco-foco or friction matches and continued the meeting.
From this circumstance they were called Locofocos, a name which the
Whigs soon applied to the whole Democratic party.

The Equal Rights party was not long-lived. Two years spanned its
activity, and four or five thousand votes measured its strength; but,
while it lasted, it was earnest and the exponent of good principles.
In 1836, these people held a state convention at Utica, issued a
declaration of principles, and nominated a state and congressional
ticket. In New York City, the centre of their activity, Frederick A.
Tallmadge was put up for state senator and Edward Curtis for Congress,
two reputable Whigs; and, to aid them, the Whig party fused
successfully with the Equal Righters, electing their whole ticket.
This victory was the one ray of hope that came to the Whigs out of the
contest of 1836. It proved that some people were uneasy and resentful.

But other Whig victories were soon to follow. Reference has already
been made to the unprecedented prosperity that characterised the year
1836. This era of expansion and speculative enterprises, which began
with the transfer of government deposits, continued at high pressure
under the influence of the newly chartered banks. With such a money
plethora, schemes and projects expanded and inflated, until success
seemed to turn the heads of the whole population. So wild was the
passion for new enterprises, that one had only to announce a scheme to
find people ready to take shares in it. Two per cent. a month did not
deter borrowers who expected to make one hundred per cent. before the
end of the year. In vain did the Governor inveigh against this
"unregulated spirit of speculation." As the year advanced, men grew
more reckless, until stocks and shares were quickly purchased at any
price without the slightest care as to the risk taken.

The beginning of the end of this epoch of insane speculation was felt,
early in the spring of 1837, by a money pressure of unexampled
severity. Scarcely had its effect reached the interior counties,
before every bank in the country suspended specie payments. Then
confidence gave way, and tens of thousands of people, who had been
wealthy or in comfortable circumstances, waked up to the awful
realisation of their bankruptcy and ruin. The panic of 1837 reached
the proportions of a national calamity. Most men did not then know the
reason for the crash, and the knowledge of those who did, brought
little comfort. But, gradually, the country recognised that the
prosperity of a nation is not increased in proportion to the quantity
of paper money issued, unless such currency be maintained at its full
value, convertible, at pleasure, into hard cash--the money standard of
the world.

It so happened that the Legislature had not adjourned when the crash
came, and, without a moment's delay, it suspended for one year the
section of the Safety Fund act forbidding banks to issue notes after
refusing to pay them in coin on demand; but it refused to suspend the
act, passed in March, 1835, prohibiting the issue or circulation of
bills under the denomination of five dollars. This left the people
without small bills, and, as New York banks dared not issue them,
necessity forced into circulation foreign bills, issued by solvent and
insolvent banks, the losses from which fell largely upon the poorer
classes who could not discriminate between the genuine and the
spurious. So great was the inconvenience and loss suffered by the
continuance of this act, that the people petitioned the Governor to
call an extra session of the Legislature for its repeal; but Marcy
declined, for the reason that the Legislature had already refused to
give the banks the desired authority. Thus, the citizens of New York,
staggering under a panic common to the whole country, were compelled
to suffer the additional hardships of an irredeemable, and, for the
most part, worthless currency, known as "shin-plasters."

In the midst of these "hard times," occurred the election in November,
1837. The New York municipal election, held in the preceding spring
and resulting, with the help of the Equal Righters, in the choice of a
Whig mayor, had prepared the way for a surprise; yet no one imagined
that a political revolution was imminent. But the suffering people
were angry, and, like a whirlwind, the Whigs swept nearly every county
in the State. Of one hundred and twenty-eight assemblymen, they
elected one hundred and one, and six of the eight senators. It
happened, too, that as the triennial election of sheriffs and clerks
occurred this year, the choice of these officers swelled the triumph
into a victory that made it the harder to overthrow. In a moment, the
election of 1837 had given the Whigs a powerful leverage in local
contests, enabling them to build up a party that could be disciplined
as well as organised. To add to their strength, the Legislature, when
it convened, in January, 1838, proceeded to take the "spoils." Luther
Bradish was chosen speaker, Orville L. Holley surveyor-general, and
Gamaliel L. Barstow state treasurer. It also suspended for two years
the act prohibiting banks from issuing small bills, passed a general
banking law, and almost unanimously voted four millions for enlarging
the Erie canal.

Although the spring elections of 1838 showed a decided falling off in
the Whig vote, hopes of carrying the State in November were so well
founded that Whig candidates for governor appeared in plenty. Looking
back upon the contest from a distance, especially with the present
knowledge of his superlative fitness for high place, it seems strange
that William H. Seward should not have had an open way in the
convention. But Francis Granger had also won the admiration of his
party by twice leading a forlorn hope. Amidst crushing defeat he had
never shown weariness, and his happy disposition kept him in friendly
touch with his party. The Chenango people were especially ardent in
his support. Twice he had forced their canal project through a hostile
Assembly, and they did not forget that, in the hour of triumph, Seward
opposed it. Besides, Granger had distinguished himself in Congress,
resisting the policy of Jackson and Van Buren with forceful argument
and ready tact. He was certainly a man to be proud of, and his
admirers insisted with great pertinacity that he should now be the
nominee for governor.

There was another formidable candidate in the field. Luther Bradish
had proved an unusually able speaker, courteous in deportment, and
firm and resolute in his rulings at a time of considerable political
excitement. He had entered the Assembly from Franklin in 1828, and,
having early embraced anti-Masonry with Weed, Granger, and Seward,
was, with them, a leader in the organisation of the Whig party. The
northern counties insisted that his freedom from party controversies
made him peculiarly available, and, while the supporters of other
candidates were quarrelling, it was their intention, if possible, to
nominate him. Seward and Granger were eager for the nomination, but
neither seems to have encouraged the ill-will which their followers
exhibited. Indeed, Seward evidenced a disposition to withdraw; and he
would doubtless have done so, had not his friends, and those of
Granger, thought it better to let a convention decide. As the campaign
grew older, the canvass proceeded with asperity. Granger's adherents
accused Seward of an unjust conspiracy to destroy him, and of having
canvassed the State, personally or by agents, to secure the prize even
at the cost of a party division. They charged him with oppressing the
settlers in Chautauqua, with editing the Albany _Journal_, with
regulating the Bank of the United States, and controlling the
movements of Henry Clay. "I am already so wearied of it," Seward
wrote, "that, if left to myself, I should withdraw instantly and
forever. I am ill-fitted for competition with brethren and friends.
But with a clear conscience and greater magnanimity than there is
manifested toward me, I shall go safely through all this storm."[291]

[Footnote 291: F.W. Seward, _Life of W.H. Seward_, Vol. 1, p. 366.]

The confidence disclosed in the closing sentence was due largely to
his confidence in Thurlow Weed. The editor of the Albany _Journal_
seriously desired to take no part in the choice of delegates, since
his personal and political relations with all the candidates were
intimate and confidential; but he had known Granger longer than the
others, and, if controlled by personal friendship, he must have
favoured the Ontario candidate. Weed, however, believed that Seward's
nomination would awaken greater enthusiasm, especially among young
men, thus giving the ticket its best chance of success. At the last
moment, therefore, he declared in favour of the Auburn statesman.

The sequel showed that his help came none too soon. Four informal
ballots were taken, and, on the following day the formal and final
one. The first gave Seward 52, Granger 39, and Bradish 29, with 4 for
Edwards of New York. This was supposed to be Granger's limit. On the
second ballot, Bradish's friends transferred thirteen votes to him,
making Seward 60, Granger 52, Bradish 10, and Edwards 3. If this was a
surprise to the friends of Seward, the third ballot was a tremendous
shock, for Seward fell off to 59, and Granger got 60. Bradish had 8.
Then Weed went to work. Though he had understood that Granger, except
in a few counties, had little strength, the last ballot plainly showed
him to be the popular candidate; and during an intermission between
the third and fourth ballots, the _Journal's_ editor exhibited an
influence few men in the State have ever exercised. The convention was
made up of the strongest and most independent men in the party. Nearly
all had held seats in the state or national legislature, or had
occupied other important office. Experience had taught them to act
upon their own convictions. The delegates interested in the Chenango
Valley canal were especially obstinate and formidable. "Weed," said
one of them, "tell me to do anything else; tell me to jump out of the
window and break my neck, and I will do it to oblige you; but don't
ask me to desert Granger!"[292] Yet the quiet, good-natured Weed, his
hand softly purring the knee of his listener as he talked--never
excited, never vehement, but sympathetic, logical, prophetic--had his
way. The fourth ballot gave Seward 67, Granger 48, Bradish 8. The work
was done. When the convention reassembled the next morning, on motion
of a warm supporter of Granger, the nomination was made unanimous, and
Bradish was named for lieutenant-governor by acclamation.

[Footnote 292: F.W. Seward, _Life of W.H. Seward_, Vol. 1, p. 373.]

Much disappointment was exhibited by Granger's friends, especially the
old anti-Mason farmers who were inclined to reproach Weed with
disloyalty. Granger himself stoically accepted defeat and zealously
supported the ticket. He had said to a departing delegate, "if either
Mr. Seward or Mr. Bradish attain a majority at the informal ballot, my
friends must give the successful competitor their united support."[293]
How heartily Seward would have responded under like circumstances is
evidenced by his action when a premature report went forth of
Granger's selection. Being informed of it, Seward at once told his
friends that Auburn must be the first to ratify, and immediately set
to work preparing resolutions for the meeting.

[Footnote 293: _Ibid._, p. 374.]

Thurlow Weed was pre-eminently a practical politician. He believed in
taking advantage of every opportunity to strengthen his own party and
weaken the adversary, and he troubled himself little about the means
employed. He preferred to continue the want of small bills for another
year rather than allow the opposite party to benefit by a repeal of
the obnoxious law; he approved Van Buren's course in the infamous
Fellows-Allen controversy; and, had he been governor in place of John
Jay in 1800, the existing Legislature would undoubtedly have been
reconvened in extra session, and presidential electors chosen
favourable to his own party, as Hamilton wanted. But, at the bottom of
his nature, there was bed-rock principle from which no pressure could
swerve him. He could exclaim with Emerson, "I will say those things
which I have meditated for their own sake and not for the first time
with a view to that occasion." In these words is the secret of his
relation to the Whig party. He asked no office, and he gave only the
ripe fruit of his meditative life. It is not to be supposed that, in
1838, he saw in the young man at Auburn the astute United States
Senator of the fifties; or the still greater secretary of state of the
Civil War; but he had seen enough of Seward to discern the qualities
of mind and heart that lifted him onto heights which extended his
horizon beyond that of most men, enabling him to keep his bearing in
the midst of great excitement, and, finally, in the presence of war
itself. Seward saw fewer things, perhaps, than the more active and
eloquent Granger, but Weed knew that he saw more deeply.[294]

[Footnote 294: "Apart from politics, I liked Seward, though not blind
to his faults. His natural instincts were humane and progressive. He
hated slavery and all its belongings, though a seeming necessity
constrained him to write, in 1838, to this intensely pro-slavery city,
a pro-slavery letter, which was at war with his real, or at least with
his subsequent convictions. Though of Democratic parentage, he had
been an Adams man, an anti-Mason, and was now thoroughly a Whig. The
policy of more extensive and vigorous internal improvement had no more
zealous champion. By nature, genial and averse to pomp, ceremony, and
formality, few public men of his early prime were better calculated to
attract and fascinate young men of his own party, and holding views
accordant on most points with his.... Weed was of coarser mould and
fibre than Seward--tall, robust, dark-featured, shrewd, resolute, and
not over-scrupulous--keen-sighted, though not far-seeing."--Horace
Greeley, _Recollections of a Busy Life_, pp. 311, 312.]

The Democratic state convention assembled at Herkimer on September 12,
and unanimously renominated William L. Marcy and John Tracy. Marcy
had made an able governor for three consecutive terms. His declaration
that "to the victors belong the spoils" had not impaired his
influence, since all parties practised, if they did not preach it;
and, although he stultified himself by practically recommending and
finally approving the construction of the Chenango canal, which he
bitterly opposed as comptroller, he had lost no friends. Canal
building was in accord with the spirit of the times. A year later, he
had recommended an enlargement of the Erie canal; but when he
discovered that the Chenango project would cost two millions instead
of one, and the Erie enlargement twelve millions instead of six, he
protested against further improvements until the Legislature provided
means for paying interest on the money already borrowed. He clearly
saw that the "unregulated spirit of speculation" would lead to ruin;
and, to counteract it, he appealed to the Legislature, seeking to
influence the distribution of bank stock along lines set forth in the
law. But Marcy failed to enforce his precepts with the veto. In
refusing, also, to reassemble the Legislature, for the repeal of the
Small Bills act, the passage of which he had recommended in 1835, he
gave the _Evening Post_ opportunity to assail him as "a weak,
cringing, indecisive man, the mere tool of a monopoly junto--their
convenient instrument."

Marcy held office under difficult conditions. The panic, coming in the
summer of 1837, was enough to shatter the nerves of any executive;
but, to the panic, was now added the Canadian rebellion which occurred
in the autumn of 1837. Though not much of a rebellion, William L.
McKenzie's appeal for aid to the friends of liberty aroused hundreds
of sympathetic Americans living along the border. Navy Island, above
the Falls of Niagara, was made the headquarters of a provisional
government, from which McKenzie issued a proclamation offering a
reward for the capture of the governor-general of Canada and promising
three hundred acres of land to each recruit.

The Canadian authorities effectually guarded the border, and
destroyed the _Caroline_, presumably an insurgent steamer, lying at
Schlosser's dock on the American side. In the conflict, one member of
the crew was killed, and several wounded. The steamer proved to be an
American vessel, owned by New York parties, and its destruction
greatly increased the indignation against Canada; but Governor Marcy
did not hesitate to call upon the people to refrain from unlawful acts
within the territory of the United States; and, to enforce his
proclamation, supplied General Scott, now in command of the Canadian
frontier, with a force of militia. The American troops quickly forced
the abandonment of Navy Island, scattered the insurgents and their
allies to secret retreats, and broke up the guerrilla warfare. The
loss of life among the patriots, due to their audacity and incompetent
leadership, was considerable, and the treatment of prisoners harsh and
in some instances inhuman. Many young men of intelligence and
character were banished for life to Van Dieman's Land, McKenzie was
thrown into a Canadian dungeon, and, among others, Van Schoulty, a
brave young officer and refugee from Poland, who led an unsuccessful
attack upon Prescott, was executed. Small as was the uprising, it
created an intense dislike of Marcy among the friends of those who
participated in it.

Still another political splinter was festering in Marcy's side.
Several leading Democrats, who had sustained Jackson in his war upon
the United States Bank, and in his removal of the deposits, refused to
adopt Van Buren's sub-treasury scheme, proposed to the extra session
of Congress, convened in September, 1837. This measure meant the
disuse of banks as fiscal agents of the government, and the
collection, safekeeping, and disbursement of public moneys by treasury
officials. The banks, of course, opposed it; and thousands who had
shouted, "Down with the United States Bank," changed their cry to
"Down with Van Buren and the sub-treasury scheme." Among those
opposing it, in New York, Nathaniel P. Tallmadge, a Democratic United
States senator, took the lead, calling a state convention to meet at
Syracuse. This convention immediately burned its bridges. It
denounced Van Buren, it opposed Marcy, and it indorsed Seward. Behind
it were bank officers and stockholders who were to lose the privilege
of loaning the money of the United States for their own benefit, and
the harder it struck them the more liberally they paid for fireworks
and for shouters.

If trouble confronted the Democrats, discouragement oppressed the
Whigs. Under the direction of Gerrit Smith the Abolitionists were on
the war-path, questioning Seward as to the propriety of granting
fugitive slaves a fair trial by jury, of abolishing distinctions in
constitutional rights founded solely on complexion, and of repealing
the law authorising the importation of slaves into the State and their
detention as such during a period of nine months. Seward avowed his
firm faith in trial by jury and his opposition to all "human bondage,"
but he declined making ante-election pledges. He preferred to wait, he
said, until each case came before him for decision. Seward undoubtedly
took the wise course; but he did not satisfy the extremists
represented by Smith, and many of the Whig leaders became
panic-stricken. "The Philistines are upon us," wrote Millard Fillmore,
who was canvassing the State. "I now regard all as lost irrevocably.
We shall never be able to burst the withes. Thank God, I can endure it
as long as they, but I am sick of our Whig party. It can never be in
the ascendant."[295]

[Footnote 295: Thurlow Weed Barnes, _Life of Thurlow Weed_, Vol. 2, p.

Francis Granger was no less alarmed. He estimated the Abolitionist
vote at twenty thousand, "and before the grand contest of 1840," he
wrote Weed, "they will control one-fourth the votes of the State. They
are engaged in it with the same honest purpose that governed the great
mass of Anti-Masons."[296] The young candidate at Auburn was also in
despair. "I fear the State is lost," he wrote Weed on November 4.
"This conclusion was forced upon me strongly by news from the southern
tier of counties, and is confirmed by an analogy in Ohio. But I will
not stop to reason on the causes. Your own sagacity has doubtless
often considered them earlier and more forcibly than mine."[297]

[Footnote 296: _Ibid._, p. 61.]

[Footnote 297: F.W. Seward, _Life of W.H. Seward_, Vol. 1, p. 61.]

But Horace Greeley did not share these gloomy forebodings. He was then
engaged in editing the _Jeffersonian_, a weekly journal of eight
pages, which had been established in February solely as a campaign
newspaper. His regular business was the publication of the _New
Yorker_, a journal of literature and general intelligence. During the
campaign he consented to spend two days of each week at Albany making
up the _Jeffersonian_, which was issued from the office of the
_Evening Journal_, and he was doing this work with the indefatigable
industry and marvellous ability that marked his character.

Greeley had battled for a place in the world after the manner of
Thurlow Weed. He was born on a New Hampshire farm, he had worked on a
Vermont farm, and for a time it seemed to him as if he must forever
remain on a farm; but after a few winters of schooling he started over
the Vermont hills to learn the printer's trade. A boy was not needed
in Whitehall, and he pushed on to Poultney. There he found work for
four years until the _Northern Spectator_ expired. Then he went back
to the farm. But newspaper life in a small town had made him ambitious
to try his fortunes in a city, and, journeying from one printing
office to another, he finally drifted, in 1831, at the age of twenty,
into New York.

Up to this time Greeley's life had resembled Weed's only in his
voracious appetite for reading newspapers. He cared little for the
boys about town and less for the sports of youth; he could dispense
with sleep, and wasted no time thinking about what he should eat or
wear; but books, and especially newspapers, were read with the avidity
that a well-fed threshing machine devours a stack of wheat. He seemed
to have only one ambition--the acquisition of knowledge and the career
of a man of letters, and in his efforts to succeed, he ignored forms
and social usages, forgot that he had a physical body to care for, and
detested man-worship. Standing at last before a printer's case on
Broadway, he was able to watch, almost from the beginning, the great
political drama in which he was destined to play so great a part.
Seward had just entered the State Senate; Weed, having recently
established the _Evening Journal_, was massing the Anti-Masons and
National Republicans for their last campaign; William Lloyd Garrison
had issued the first number of the _Liberator_; Gerrit Smith, already
in possession of his father's vast estate, still clung to the Liberian
colonisation scheme; and Van Buren, not yet returned from England, was
about entering upon the last stage of his phenomenally successful
political career. Politicians for the first time disturbed about the
tariff, the bank, and internal improvements, had come to the parting
of the ways; the old order of things had ended under John Quincy
Adams--the new had just commenced under Andrew Jackson. But the young
compositor needed no guide-post to direct his political footsteps. In
1834, he had established the _New Yorker_ and those who read it became
Whigs. His mind acted upon other minds of a certain constitution with
wonderful magnetism, attracting thousands of readers by his marvellous
gift of expression and the broad sympathies and clear discernments
that characterised his writings. He had his own ideas about the
necessity for reforms, and he seems easily to have fallen a victim to
countless delusions and illusions which young visionaries and
gray-headed theorists brought to him; but, in spite of remonstrances
and crushing opposition, he stood resolutely for whatever awoke the
strongest emotions of his nature.

Thurlow Weed had been a constant reader of the _New Yorker_. He did
not know the name of its editor and had never taken the trouble to
inquire, but when a cheap weekly Whig newspaper was needed for a
vigorous campaign in 1838, the editor of the _New Yorker_, whoever he
might be, seemed the proper man to edit and manage it. Going to New
York, he called at the Ann Street office and found himself in the
presence of a young man, slender, light-haired, slightly stooping, and
very near-sighted, who introduced himself as Horace Greeley. At the
moment, he was standing at the case, with coat off and sleeves rolled
up, setting type with the ease and rapidity of an expert. "When I
informed him of the object of my visit," says Weed, "he was, of
course, surprised, but evidently gratified. Nor was his surprise and
gratification diminished to learn that I was drawn to him without any
other reason or information but such as I had derived from the columns
of the _New Yorker_. He suggested the _Jeffersonian_ as the name for
the new paper, and the first number appeared in February, 1838."[298]

[Footnote 298: _Autobiography of Thurlow Weed_, p. 466.]

It is one of the privileges of genius to discern the genius of others;
but even Thurlow Weed could not have dreamed that he was giving
opportunity to a man whose name was to rank higher than his own in
history. There was a certain affinity between the intellectual nature
of the two men, and they had now a common object. Both were
journalists of tremendous energy, indomitable industry, and marvellous
gifts; but Weed was a politician, Greeley a political preacher. Weed's
influence lay in his remarkable judgment, his genius for diplomacy,
and his rare gift of controlling individuals by personal appeal and by
the overpowering mastery of his intellect; Greeley's supremacy grew
out of his broad sympathies with the human race and his matchless
ability to write. Weed's field of operations was confined largely to
the State of New York and to delegates and men of influence who
assemble at national conventions; Greeley preached to the whole
country, sweeping along like a prairie fire and converting men to his
views as easily as steel filings are attracted to the magnet. From the
outset he was above dictation. He lacked judgment, and at times
greatly grieved the friends who were willing to follow him through
fire and flood; but once his mind was made up he surrendered his
understanding, his consciousness of convictions, of duty, and of
public good, to no man or set of men. "I trust we can never be
enemies," he once wrote Weed, "but better anything than I should feel
the weight of chains about my neck, that I should write and act with
an eye to any man's pleasure, rather than to the highest good."[299]

[Footnote 299: Thurlow Weed Barnes, _Life of Thurlow Weed_, Vol. 2, p.

As the editor of the _Jeffersonian_, which now quickly won a multitude
of readers, he did his work with marked ability, discussing measures
calmly and forcibly, and with an influence that baffled his opponents
and surprised his friends. Greeley seems never to have been an
immature writer. His felicity of expression and ability to shade
thought, with a power of appeal and invective that belongs to
experience and mature age, came to him, as they did to Hamilton,
before he was out of his teens, and whether he was right or whether he
was wrong, he was always the most interesting, always the most
commanding figure in American journalism in the epoch-making political
controversies of his day.

The Whigs thought it a happy omen that election day, November 7, came
this year on the anniversary of General Harrison's victory at
Tippecanoe. As the returns came in Seward's friends grew more elated,
and on Saturday, the 11th, Weed covered the entire first page of the
_Evening Journal_ with the picture of an eagle, having outspread wings
and bearing in its beak the word "Victory." It was the first
appearance in politics of this American bird, which was destined to
play a part in all future celebrations of the kind. The completed
returns showed that the Whigs had elected Seward and Bradish by ten
thousand four hundred and twenty-one majority,[300] five of the eight
senators, and nearly two-thirds of the assemblymen. "Well, dear
Seward," wrote Weed, "we are victorious; God be thanked--gratefully
and devoutly thanked."[301] Seward was no less affected. "It is a
fearful post I have coveted," he wrote; "I shudder at my temerity....
Indeed, I feel just now as if your zeal had been blind; but I may,
perhaps, get over this. God grant, at all events, that I be spared
from committing the sin of ingratitude. I hate it as the foulest in
the catalogue."[302]

[Footnote 300: William H. Seward, 192,882; William L. Marcy,
182,461.--_Civil List, State of New York_ (1887), p. 166.]

[Footnote 301: F.W. Seward, _Life of W.H. Seward_, Vol. 1, p. 379.]

[Footnote 302: Thurlow Weed Barnes, _Life of Thurlow Weed_, Vol. 2, p.

Marcy seemed to accept his defeat good-naturedly. "Even before the
ballot-boxes were closed," he wrote, facetiously, "I had partly
persuaded myself to engage in a work for _my_ posterity, by writing
the history of the rise, progress, and termination of the Regency. It
will embrace the transactions of the golden days of the Republic
(Empire State). It began with my entrance into public life, and
terminates with my exit from it. The figures in the tableau will not
be of the largest size, but the ascendancy of honest men, for such I
think them to have been (_Ilium fuit_), will be interesting on account
of great rarity." But, to the same friend, a few weeks later, he took
a desponding view, expressing the fear that the power which had passed
from the Democratic party would not return to as honest hands. His
financial condition, too, caused him much uneasiness. He had given
eighteen years to the State, he said, the largest portion of an active
and vigorous life, and now found himself poorer than when he took
office. "If my acquisitions in a pecuniary way have probably been less
and my labours and exertions greater," he asks, "what compensating
advantages are to be brought into the calculation to balance the
account?" An office-holder rarely asks such a question until thrown
out of a position; while in office, it is evident he thinks the
privilege of holding it sufficient compensation; otherwise, it may be
presumed, he would resign. Marcy, however, was not forgotten. Indeed,
his political career had scarcely begun, since the governorship became
only a stepping-stone to continued honours. Within a few months,
President Van Buren appointed him, under the convention of April,
1839, to the Mexican Claims Commission, and a few years later he was
to become a member of two Cabinets.




After Seward's election, the Whig party in New York may be fairly
described as under the control of Thurlow Weed, who became known as
the "Dictator." Although no less drastic and persevering, perhaps,
than DeWitt Clinton's, it was a control far different in method.
Clinton did not disguise his power. He was satisfied in his own mind
that he knew better than any other how to guide his party and govern
his followers, and he acted accordingly--dogmatic, overbearing, often
far from amiable, sometimes unendurable, to those around him. Weed, on
the contrary, was patient, sympathetic, gentle, and absolutely without
asperity. "My dear Weed," wrote Seward on December 14, 1838, "the
sweetness of his temper inclines me to love my tyrant. I had no idea
that dictators were such amiable creatures."[303] In a humourous vein,
William Kent, the gifted son of the Chancellor, addressed him. "Mr.
Dictator, the whole State is on your shoulders. I take it, some future
chronicler, in reciting the annals of New York during this period, in
every respect equal to England in the time of Elizabeth, will devote
the brightest colours to 'the celebrated Thurlow Weed, who so long
filled the office of Governor Seward during his lengthened and
prosperous administration.' It behooves you, therefore, to act
circumspectly, and particularly in the advice you give the Governor as
to appointments to office."[304]

[Footnote 303: Thurlow Weed Barnes, _Life of Thurlow Weed_, Vol. 2, p.
63. F.W. Seward, _Life of W.H. Seward_, Vol. 1, p. 381.]

[Footnote 304: Thurlow Weed Barnes, _Life of Thurlow Weed_, Vol. 2, p.

Few chapters of personal history can be more interesting than that
which tells of the strange, subtle influence exercised by Weed over
the mind of Seward; but it is doubtful if there was conscious control
at any time. Certainly Seward never felt "the weight of chains" about
his neck. Weed probably saw good reason to believe that in Seward he
could have just the sort of an associate who would suit all his
purposes, since their views of public affairs and their estimate of
public men rarely differed. "Our relations had become so intimate," he
says, "and our sentiments and sympathies proved so congenial, that our
interests, pursuits, and hopes of promoting each other's welfare and
happiness became identical."[305] Weed seemed to glory in Seward's
success, and Seward was supremely happy in and proud of Weed's
friendship. Weed and Greeley were so differently constituted that,
between them, such a relation could not exist, although at times it
seemed to give Greeley real pain that it was so. "I rise early from a
bed of sleepless thought," he once wrote Weed, "to explain that we
differ radically on the bank question, and I begin to fear we do on
the general policy and objects of political controversy."[306] But
there were no such sleepless nights for Seward. Looking back upon four
years of gubernatorial life, he opens his heart freely to the friend
of his young manhood. "Without your aid," he declares, "how helpless
would have been my prospect of reaching the elevation from which I am
to-day descending. How could I have sustained myself there; how could
I have secured the joyous reflections of this hour, but for the
confidence I so undenyingly reposed on your affection?"[307] It was not
Seward's nature to depend upon somebody to have his path in life or
his ways of thinking pointed out to him; nor did he have the weakness
of many highly cultured and gifted men who believe too much in the
supremacy of intellect and culture. On the contrary, he had a way of
speaking out his own honest thoughts, and would have despised
himself, as much as would Greeley, if it had been necessary to enjoy
any one's friendship on terms of humiliation. It was his nature, as
well as his wish, to share with Weed the benefit of the latter's
almost infallible judgment in political matters. In this way, Weed,
more than either realised, had great influence with Seward. But Weed
was no more the directing mind of the administration of Seward than
was Hamilton of Washington's, or Van Buren of Jackson's, or Seward of
Lincoln's. Many anecdotes were told illustrative of this influence,
which serve to show how strongly the notion obtained in the minds of
the common people that Weed was really "the Dictator." The best,
associated Seward with his invariable custom of riding outside the
coach while smoking his after-dinner cigar. The whip, on this
occasion, did not know the distinguished traveller, and, after
answering Seward's many questions, attempted to discover the identity
of his companion. The Governor disclaimed being a merchant, a
lecturer, a minister, or a teacher. "Then I know what you are," said
the driver; "you must be a lawyer, or you wouldn't ask so many
questions." "That is not my business at present," replied Seward.
"Then who are you?" finally demanded Jehu. "I am the governor of this
State," replied Seward. The driver at once showed incredulity, and the
Governor offered to leave it to the landlord at the next tavern. On
arriving there, and after exchanging salutations, Seward suggested the
question in dispute. "No, you are not the governor," replied the
landlord, to the great satisfaction of the driver. "What!" exclaimed
Seward, in astonishment; "then who is governor?" "Why," said the
landlord, "Thurlow Weed."[308]

[Footnote 305: Thurlow Weed Barnes, _Life of Thurlow Weed_, Vol. 1, p.

[Footnote 306: _Ibid._, Vol. 2, p. 97.]

[Footnote 307: F.W. Seward, _Life of W.H. Seward_, Vol. 1, p. 642.]

[Footnote 308: Thurlow Weed Barnes, _Life of Thurlow Weed_, Vol. 2, p.

"Though the incident never occurred," says Frederick W. Seward, in the
biography of his father, "the story was so accordant with his habit of
riding outside to smoke, and with the popular understanding of his
relations with Mr. Weed, that it was generally accepted as true.
Seward himself used laughingly to relate it, and say that, though it
was not quite true, it ought to be."[309]

[Footnote 309: F.W. Seward, _Life of W.H. Seward_, Vol. 1, p. 395.]

With Governor Seward's inauguration the Whig party was placed on
trial. Ten years had passed since DeWitt Clinton's death, and Seward
was the first successor whose opinions and sentiments harmonised with
those of that distinguished statesman. During the intervening period
the Regency had been in absolute control of the State. It had
contented itself with looking after things as they existed, rather
than undertaking further improvements and reforms. Seward's election,
therefore, was not only a revolution of parties, but a radical change
of policy. Every Whig, fearful lest some misstep might lead to the
early loss of the power just gained, had an opinion as to what should
and should not be done. Some were afraid the Governor would say too
much, others fearful he would say too little. Seward, moving on broad
lines of economics and reform, believed that the promotion of
transportation, the development of capital and credit, and the
enlargement of educational advantages, would bring wealth to the State
and greater happiness to the people; and his first message contained
the policy that guided him throughout his entire political career. In
its preparation, he relied upon President Knott of Union College for
assistance on the subject of education; on John H. Beach for financial
statistics; on Samuel B. Ruggles for canal figures; and on John C.
Spencer for general suggestions. Then he sat down with Weed for its
final revision. When completed, it contained the groundwork of his
political philosophy. He would prosecute the work of the canals, he
would encourage the completion of railroads, establish a board of
internal improvement, extend charitable institutions, improve the
discipline of prisons, elevate the standard of education in schools
and colleges, establish school district libraries, provide for the
education of the coloured race, reform the practice of courts, cut off
superfluous offices, repeal the Small Bills law, authorise banking
under general laws, and apply rigorous safeguards, especially in
populous cities, for the purity of the ballot-box. In concluding, he
paid a handsome tribute to DeWitt Clinton and recommended that a
monument be erected to his memory in Albany.

None of our statesmen, with whom reform has been a characteristic
trait, was more devoted or happy. His delight, deep and unfailing,
extended to every department of the government, and the minuteness of
his knowledge betrayed the intimate acquaintance which he had gained
of the affairs of the State during his four years in the Senate. His
message caught the inspiration of this fresh and joyous maturity. It
was written, too, in the easy, graceful style, rhythmical and subdued
in expression, which afterward contributed to his extreme charm as an
orator. From the first, Seward was an ardent optimist, and this first
message is that of noble youth, delighting in the life and the
opportunities that a great office presents to one who is mindful of
its harassing duties and its relentless limitations, yet keenly
sensitive to its novelty and its infinite incitements. The Democrats,
whose hearts must have rejoiced when they heard his message, declared
it the visionary schemes of a theorising politician, the work of a
sophomore rather than a statesman; yet, within little more than a
decade, most of his suggestions found a place in the statute book.
Though the questions of that time are not the questions of our day,
and engage only the historian and his readers, these twenty printed
pages of recommendations, certain to excite debate and opposition,
must always be read with deep enjoyment.

The chief criticism of his opponents grew out of his acceptance of
Ruggles's estimate that the canals would more than reimburse the cost
of their construction and enlargement. The _Argus_ asserted that
Seward, instead of sustaining the policy of "pay as you go," favoured
a "forty million debt;" and this became the great campaign cry of the
Democrats in two elections. On the other hand, the Whigs maintained
that the canals had enriched the people and the State, and that their
future prosperity depended upon the enlargement of the Erie canal, so
that its capacity would meet the increasing demands of business. In
the end, the result showed how prophetically Seward wrote and how
wisely Ruggles figured; for, although the Erie canal, in 1862, had
cost $52,491,915.74, it had repaid the State with an excess of

In the midst of so many recommendations, one wonders that Seward had
nothing to say for civil service reform. We may doubt, and with
reason, whether anything he might have said could have strengthened
the slight hold which such a theory then had in the minds of the
people, but it would have brought the need of reform strikingly before
the country to bear, in time, ripe fruit. The Whig party, however, was
not organised to keep Democrats in office, and no sooner had the
Albany _Journal_ announced Seward's election than applications began
pouring in upon the Governor-elect until more than one thousand had
been filed. Seward afterward said that, of these applications, only
two came from persons living west of Cayuga Bridge, although the
eighth district had given him a majority equal to his entire majority
in the State.

Under the Constitution of 1821, there were more places to fill by
appointment than under the Constitution of 1846, and twice as many as
now exist. In 1839, the Governor not only appointed port-wardens,
harbour-masters, notaries public, and superintendents and
commissioners of various sorts, but he nominated judges, surrogates,
county clerks, examiners of prisons, weighers of merchandise,
measurers of grain, cullers of staves, and inspectors of flour,
lumber, spirits, salt, beef and pork, hides and skins, and fish and
oil, besides numerous other officers. They applied formally to the
Governor and then went to Weed to get the place. Just so the Whig
legislators went through the form of holding a caucus to select state
officers after the slate had been made up. John C. Spencer became
secretary of state; Bates Cook of Niagara County, comptroller; Willis
Hall of New York City, attorney-general; Jacob Haight, treasurer; and
Orville L. Holley, surveyor-general. Thurlow Weed's account, read
with the knowledge that he alone selected them, is decidedly
humourous. "Bates Cook had but a local reputation," he says, "and it
required the strongest assurances from Governor Seward and myself that
he was abundantly qualified." In other words, it was necessary for the
caucus to know that Weed wanted him. "The canvass for attorney-general
was very spirited," he continues, "Joshua A. Spencer of Oneida and
Samuel Stevens of Albany being the most prominent candidates;" but
Willis Hall, "who was better known on the stump than at the bar, and
whose zeal, energy, and tact had been conspicuous and effective in
overthrowing the Democratic party," got the office. Van Buren could
not have surpassed this for practical politics. "The nomination of
Jacob Haight," he goes on, "afforded me great satisfaction. I had
learned in my boyhood at Catskill to esteem and honour him. In 1824
when, as a Democratic senator, he arrayed himself against William H.
Crawford, the caucus nominee for President, and zealously supported
John Quincy Adams, my early remembrances of him grew into a warm
personal friendship."[310] It was easy to fuse in Weed's big heart
Democratic apostacy and the associations of boyhood.

[Footnote 310: _Autobiography of Thurlow Weed_, p. 459.]

Yet Weed had able indorsers behind his candidates. "I hear there is
great opposition to Willis Hall," wrote William Kent, "and I am sorry
for it. He has a great heart, and a great head, too. It has been his
misfortune, but our good fortune, that his time and talents have been
devoted to advancing the Whig party, while those who oppose him were
taxing costs and filing demurrers. The extreme Webster men in New York
have formed a combination against Willis. It is the dog in the manger,
too, for no man from New York is a candidate."[311]

[Footnote 311: Thurlow Weed Barnes, _Life of Thurlow Weed_, Vol. 2, p.

But the dictator made a greater display of practical politics in the
selection of a United States senator to succeed Nathaniel P.
Tallmadge. There were several aspirants, among them Millard Fillmore,
John C. Spencer, John A. Collier, and Joshua A. Spencer. All these men
were intensely in earnest. Fillmore, then in Congress, was chairman of
the Committee on Ways and Means; and advancement to the Senate would
have been a deserved promotion. But Tallmadge had rallied to the
support of Seward, under the name of Conservatives, many former
National Republicans, who had joined the Democratic party because of
anti-Masonry, and Weed believed in keeping them in the Whig party by
re-electing their leader. Fillmore, and other candidates, earnestly
protested against the policy of discarding tried and faithful friends,
and of conferring the highest and most important place in the gift of
the party upon a new recruit whose fidelity could not be trusted;
"but, strong as those gentlemen were in the Whig party, they were
unable to overcome a conviction in the minds of the Whig members of
the Legislature," says Weed, solemnly, as if the Whig members of the
Legislature really did have something to do with it, "that in view of
the approaching presidential election Mr. Tallmadge was entitled to
their support. He was, therefore, nominated with considerable
unanimity."[312] It was a great shock to Fillmore, which he resented a
few years later. Indeed, Weed's dictatorship, although quiet and
gentle, was already raising dissent. Albert H. Tracy, indignant at
Seward's nomination over the heads of older and more experienced men,
had withdrawn from politics, and Gamaliel H. Barstow, the first state
treasurer elected by the Whigs, resigned in a huff because he did not
like the way things were going. Weed fully realised the situation.
"There are a great many disappointed, disheartened friends," he wrote
Granger. "It has been a tremendous winter. But for the presidential
question which will absorb all other things, the appointments would
tear us to pieces."[313] To his door, Seward knew, the censure of the
disappointed would be aimed. "The list of appointments made this
winter is fourteen hundred," he writes, "and I am not surprised by
any manifestation of disappointment or dissatisfaction. This only I
claim--that no interest, passion, prejudice or partiality of my own
has controlled any decision I have made."[314]

[Footnote 312: Thurlow Weed Barnes, _Life of Thurlow Weed_, Vol. 1, p.

[Footnote 313: _Ibid._, Vol. 2, p. 86.]

[Footnote 314: F.W. Seward, _Life of W.H. Seward_, Vol. 1, p. 483.]

But there was one wheel lacking in the Weed machine. The Democrats
controlled the Senate, obstructing bills deemed by the Whigs essential
to the public welfare, and refusing to confirm Seward's nominations.
By preventing an agreement upon a candidate, preliminary to a joint
ballot, they also blocked the election of a United States senator.
This situation was intolerable to Weed. Without the Senate, little
could be accomplished and nothing of a strictly partisan character.
Besides, Weed had his eye on the lucrative place of state printer. In
the campaign of 1839, therefore, he set to work to win the higher body
of the Legislature by carrying the Albany district, in which three
senators were to be chosen. For eighteen years, the Senate had been
held by the Regency party, and, in all that time, Albany was numbered
among the reliable Democratic districts. But Weed's friends now
brought up eight thousand dollars from New York. The Democrats had
made a spirited fight, and, although they knew Weed was endowed with a
faculty for management, they did not know of his money, or of the
ability of his lieutenants to place it. When the votes were counted,
Weed's three nominees had an average majority of one hundred and
thirty-three. This gave the Whigs nineteen senators and the Democrats
thirteen. It was an appalling change for the Democrats, to whom it
seemed the prologue to a defeat in 1840. In the "clean sweep" of
office-holders that followed, Tallmadge went back to the United States
Senate, and Weed took from Croswell the office of public printer.

The presidential election of 1840 began in December, 1839. During
Clay's visit to Saratoga, in the preceding summer, Weed had told him
he could not carry New York; but, that Clay's friends in New York
City, and along the river counties, might not be unduly alarmed, Weed
masked his purpose of forcing Harrison's nomination, by selecting
delegates ostensibly favourable to General Scott. Twenty delegates for
Scott were, therefore, sent to the national convention at Harrisburg,
two for Harrison and ten for Clay. On his way, Weed secured an
agreement from the New England leaders to act with him, and, by a
combination of the supporters of Scott and Harrison, the latter
finally received one hundred and forty-eight votes to ninety for Clay.
The disappointment of Clay's friends is historic. Probably nothing
parallels it in American politics. The defeat of Seward at Chicago in
1860, and of Elaine at Cincinnati in 1876, very seriously affected
their friends, but the disappointment of Clay's supporters at
Harrisburg, in December, 1839, took the form of anger, which, for a
time, seemed fatal to the ticket. "The nomination of Harrison," wrote
Thurlow Weed, "so offended the friends of Clay that the convention was
thrown entirely in the dark on the question of Vice President. The
Kentucky delegation was asked to present a candidate, but they
declined. Then John Clayton of Delaware was fixed upon, but Reverdy
Johnson withdrew his name. Watkins Leigh of Virginia and Governor
Dudley of North Carolina were successively designated, but they
declined. While this was passing the Vice Presidency was repeatedly
offered to New York, but we had no candidate. Albert H. Tracy was
eminently qualified for usefulness in public life. He entertained a
high and strict sense of official responsibility, and had he not
previously left us he would have been nominated. John Tyler was
finally taken because we could get nobody else to accept."[315]

[Footnote 315: Thurlow Weed Barnes, _Life of Thurlow Weed_, Vol. 2, p.

The Harrisburg convention, unlike its unselfish predecessors,
adjourned without a platform or declaration of principles; nor did the
candidates, in accepting their nominations, indulge in political
discussion. Votes were wanted from all who opposed Van Buren's
administration--from the strict constructionist friends of Tyler,
although opposed to the whole Whig theory of government, as much as
from the followers of Harrison, who believed in protective tariffs
and internal improvements.

Such action contrasted strangely with the work of the national
Democratic convention which met at Baltimore on May 6, 1840. If
despondency filled the air, the delegates at least had the courage of
their convictions. After unanimously renominating Van Buren, it
declared for a limited federal power, for the separation of public
moneys from private banks, and for the constitutional inability of
Congress to interfere with slavery in the States, pronouncing the
efforts of Abolitionists both alarming and dangerous to the Union; it
opposed internal improvements by the general government; the fostering
of one industry to the injury of another; the raising of more money
than was needed for necessary expenses; and the rechartering of a
national bank. If this declaration did not shape the phrases, and
marshal the sentences of future platforms of the party, it embraced
the principles upon which Democracy went up to victory or down to
defeat during the next two decades; and it must have carried Van Buren
through successfully had not his administration fallen upon evil

The President, with great moral courage and keen-sighted wisdom, met
the crisis of 1837 with an admirable bearing. The statesman suddenly
displaced the politician. In the three months intervening between the
suspension of specie payments and the extra session of Congress, Van
Buren prepared a message as clear and as unanswerable as the logic of
Hamilton's state papers. The law, he said, required the secretary of
the treasury to deposit public moneys only in banks paying their notes
in specie, and, since all banks had suspended specie payments, it was
necessary to provide some other custody. For this reason, he had
summoned Congress. Then he analysed the cause of the panic, arguing
that "the government could not help people earn a living, but it could
refuse to aid the deception that paper is gold, and the delusion that
value can arise without labour." Those who look to the action of the
government, he declared, for specific aid to the citizen to relieve
embarrassments arising from losses by reverses in commerce and credit,
lose sight of the ends for which government is created, and the powers
with which it is clothed. In conclusion, he recommended the enactment
of an independent treasury scheme, divorcing the bank and the state.

These words of wisdom, often repeated, long ago became the principle
of all administrations, notably of that of President Grant in the
great crisis of 1873; and, except from 1841 to 1846, the sub-treasury
scheme has been a cardinal feature of American finance. But its
enactment was a long, fierce battle. Beginning in 1837, the contest
continued through one Congress and half of another. Clay resisted and
Webster denounced the project, which did not become a law until July
4, 1840--too late to be of assistance to Van Buren in November.
Friends of the New Yorker loved to dwell upon his courage in thus
placing himself in the chasm between failing banks and a patriotic
people, often paralleling it with the historic leap of Marcus Curtius
into the Roman Forum to save the republic. "But with this difference,"
once exclaimed Andrew B. Dickinson, an unlearned but brilliant Steuben
County Whig, generally known as Bray Dickinson: "the Roman feller
jumped into the gap of his own accord, but the people throw'd Van
Buren in!"

On August 12, 1840, the Whigs renominated William H. Seward for
governor, and in the following month the Democrats named William C.
Bouck. There was a rugged honesty and ability about Bouck that
commended him to the people. He was not brilliant; he rarely attempted
to speak in public; and his education had been limited to a few months
of school in each winter; but he was a shrewd, wise Schoharie farmer,
well read in the ways of men and in the book of the world. Seward
thought him "a kind, honest, amiable, and sagacious man, his easy and
fascinating manners lacking neither dignity nor grace." Beginning as
town clerk, Bouck had served acceptably as sheriff, assemblyman, and
for nineteen years as canal commissioner, personally superintending
the construction of the canal from Brockport to Lake Erie, and
disbursing, without loss, eight millions of dollars. He had travelled
up and down the State until the people came to know him as "the old
white horse," in allusion to a favourite animal which he rode for many
years; and to labourers and contractors his election became a matter
of the greatest personal interest.

But the hardships growing out of the panic of 1837 and the crisis of
1839 guided the actions of men. It made little difference to them that
Bouck had been a faithful, prudent, and zealous supporter of the
canals, or that, like DeWitt Clinton, he had been removed as canal
commissioner on purely political grounds. The issues were
national--not state. Van Buren clearly saw the force and direction of
public sentiment. Yet his sub-treasury measure, so beneficent in its
aims that its theory was not lost in the necessities growing out of
the Civil War, proved the strongest weapon in the armory of his
opponents. Webster, with mingled pathos and indignation, denounced his
"disregard for the public distress" by his "exclusive concern for the
interest of government and revenue," declaring that help must come to
the people "from the government of the United States--from thence
alone!" This was the cry of the greenbacker in 1876 and the argument
of the free silver advocate in 1896. "Upon this," said Webster, "I
risk my political reputation, my honour, my all. He who expects to
live to see these twenty-six States resuming specie payments in
regular succession once more, may expect to see the restoration of the
Jews. Never. He will die without the sight." Yet Webster lived to see
the resumption of specie payments in a very short time, and he lived
long enough also to exclude this St. Louis speech from his collected
works. Nevertheless, Webster's eloquence contributed to Van Buren's
overwhelming defeat.

Much has been written of the historic campaign of 1840. The enthusiasm
has been called "frenzy" and "crazy fanatacism." It has also been
likened to the crusading spirit, aroused by the preaching of Peter the
Hermit. "The nation," said Clay, "was like the ocean when convulsed by
some terrible storm." Webster declared that "every breeze says
change; the cry, the universal cry, is for a change." Long before
campaigns usually begin New York was a blaze of excitement. Halls were
insufficient to hold the crowds. Where hundreds had formerly
assembled, thousands now appeared. The long lines of wagons, driven to
the meeting places, raised clouds of dust such as mark the moving of
armies. The Whig state convention at Utica became a mass-meeting of
twenty-five thousand people, who formed into one great parade. "How
long is this procession?" asked a bystander of one of the marshals.
"Indeed, sir, I cannot tell," was the reply. "The other end of it is
forming somewhere near Albany."

The canvass became one of song, of association, and of imagination,
which aroused thoughts that were intensely animating and absorbing.
The taunt of a Virginia newspaper that Harrison should remain in his
log cabin on the banks of the Ohio made the log cabin "a symbol," as
Weed happily expressed it, "of virtue that dwells in obscurity, of the
hopes of the humble, of the privations of the poor, of toil and
danger, of hospitality and charity and frugality." Log cabins sprang
up like gourds in a night. At the door, stood the cider barrel, and,
hanging by the window, the omnipresent coonskin swayed in the breeze.
They appeared on medals, in pictures, in fancy work, and in
processions. Horace Greeley, who had done so much in 1838 through the
columns of the _Jeffersonian_, now began the publication of the _Log
Cabin_, filling whole sides of it with songs elaborately set to music,
and making it so universally popular that the New York _Tribune_,
established in the following year, became its legitimate successor in
ability and in circulation.

In his biography of Henry Clay, Schurz says that in no presidential
canvass has there ever been "less thought." It is likely if there had
been no log cabins, no cider, no coon-skins, and no songs, the result
would have been the same, for, in the presence of great financial
distress, the people seek relief very much as they empty a burning
building. But the reader of the _Log Cabin_ will find thought enough.
Greeley's editorials summed up the long line of mistakes leading to
the panic of 1837, and the people understood the situation. They were
simply unwilling longer to trust the party in power.

Evidence of this distrust astonished Democrats as much as it pleased
the Whigs. The September election in Maine, followed in October by the
result in Ohio and Indiana, both of which gave large Whig majorities,
anticipated Harrison's overwhelming election in November. In New York,
however, the returns were somewhat disappointing to the Whigs.
Harrison carried the State by thirteen thousand majority, receiving in
all 234 electoral votes to 60 for Van Buren; but Seward's majority of
ten thousand in 1838 now dropped to five thousand,[316] while the Whig
majority in the Assembly was reduced to four.

[Footnote 316: William H. Seward, 222,011; William C. Bouck,
216,808.--_Civil List, State of New York_ (1887), p. 166.]

Seward's weakness undoubtedly grew out of his message in the preceding
January. With the approval of Dr. Knott of Union College, and Dr.
Luckey, a distinguished Methodist divine, he recommended the
establishment of separate schools for the children of foreigners and
their instruction by teachers of the same faith and language. The
suggestion created an unexpected and bitter controversy. Influential
journals of both parties professed to see in it only a desire to win
Catholic favour, charging that Bishop Hughes of New York City had
inspired the recommendation. At that time, the Governor had neither
met nor been in communication, with the Catholic prelate; but, in the
excitement, truth could not outrun misstatement, nor could the
patriotism that made Seward solicitous to extend school advantages to
the children of foreign parents, who were growing up in ignorance, be
understood by zealous churchmen.

After his defeat, Van Buren retired to Lindenwald, in the vicinity of
Kinderhook, his native village, where he was to live twenty-one years,
dying at the age of eighty. Lindenwald was an old estate, whose acres
had been cultivated for one hundred and sixty years. William P. Van
Ness, the distinguished jurist and orator, once owned it, and, thirty
years before the ex-President bought it, Irving had secluded himself
amidst its hills, while he mourned the death of his betrothed, and
finished the _Knickerbocker_. As the home of Van Buren, Lindenwald did
not, perhaps, become a Monticello or a Montpelier. Jefferson and
Madison, having served eight years, the allotted term of honour, had
formally retired, and upon them settled the halo of peace and triumph
that belongs to the sage; but life at Lindenwald, with its leisure,
its rural quiet, and its freedom from public care, satisfied Van
Buren's bucolic tastes, and no doubt greatly mitigated the anguish
arising from bitter defeat, the proscription of friends, and the loss
of party regard which he was destined to suffer during the next




The Whig state convention, assembled at Syracuse on October 7, 1842,
looked like the ghost of its predecessor in 1840. The buoyancy which
then stamped victory on every face had given place to fear and
forebodings. Eighteen months had left nothing save melancholy
recollections. Even the log cabins, still in place, seemed to add to
Whig depression, being silent reminders of the days when melody and
oratory, prophetic of success, filled hearts which could no longer be
touched with hope and faith. This meant that the Whigs, in the
election of 1841, had suffered a decisive defeat, losing the Assembly,
the Senate, and most of the congressmen. Even Francis Granger, whose
majority usually ran into the thousands, was barely elected by five
hundred. Orleans County, at one time the centre of the anti-masonic
crusade, sent Sanford E. Church to Albany, the first Democrat to break
into the Assembly from the "infected district" since the abduction of
William Morgan.

Several reasons accounted for this change. Harrison's death, within a
month after his inauguration, made John Tyler President, and Tyler
first refused appointments to Whigs, and then vetoed the bill, passed
by a Whig Congress, re-establishing the United States Bank. He said
that he had been opposed, for twenty-five years, to the exercise of
such a power, if any such power existed under the Constitution. This
completed the break with the party that elected him. Henry Clay
denounced his action, the Cabinet, except Webster, resigned in a body,
and the Whigs with great unanimity indorsed the Kentucky statesman for
President in 1844. To add to the complications in New York, John C.
Spencer, who now became secretary of war, so zealously espoused and
warmly defended the President that feelings of mutual distrust and
ill-will soon grew up between him and Weed. It is doubtful if any New
York Whig, at a time of such humiliation, could have accepted place in
Tyler's Cabinet and remained on terms of political intimacy with Weed;
but, of all men, John C. Spencer was the least likely to do so. In
Freeman's celebrated cartoon, "The Whig Drill," Spencer is the only
man in the squad out of step with Thurlow Weed, the drum-major.

Governor Seward also played a part in the story of his party's
downfall. The school question, growing out of his recommendation that
separate schools for the children of Roman Catholics should share in
the public moneys appropriated by the State for school purposes, lost
none of its bitterness; the McLeod controversy put him at odds with
the national Administration; and the Virginia controversy involved him
in a correspondence that made him odious in the South. In his
treatment of the McLeod matter, Seward was clearly right. Three years
after the destruction of the _Caroline_, which occurred during the
Canadian rebellion, Alexander McLeod, while upon a visit in the State,
boasted that he was a member of the attacking party and had killed the
only man shot in the encounter. This led to his arrest on a charge of
murder and arson. The British Minister based his demand for McLeod's
release on the ground that the destruction of the _Caroline_ "was a
public act of persons in Her Majesty's service, obeying the orders of
their superior authorities." In approving the demand, Lord Palmerston
suggested that McLeod's execution "would produce war, war immediate
and frightful in its character, because it would be a war of
retaliation and vengeance." Webster, then secretary of state, urged
Seward to discontinue the prosecution and discharge McLeod; but the
Governor, promising a pardon if McLeod was convicted, insisted that he
had no power to interfere with the case until after trial, while the
courts, upon an application for McLeod's discharge on habeas corpus,
held that as peace existed between Great Britain and the United States
at the time of the burning of the _Caroline_, and as McLeod held no
commission and acted without authority, England's assumption of
responsibility for his act after his arrest did not oust the court of
its jurisdiction. Fortunately, McLeod, proving his boast a lie by
showing that he took no part in the capture of the _Caroline_, put an
end to the controversy, but Seward's refusal to intervene broke
whatever relations had existed between himself and Webster.

The Virginia correspondence created even greater bitterness. The
Governor discovered that a requisition for the surrender of three
coloured men, charged with aiding the escape of a fugitive slave, was
based upon a defective affidavit; but, before he could act, the court
discharged the prisoners upon evidence that no offence had been
committed against the laws of Virginia. Here the matter might very
properly have ended; but, in advising Virginia's governor of their
discharge, Seward voluntarily and with questionable propriety,
enlarged upon an interpretation of the constitutional provision for
the surrender of fugitives from justice, contending that it applied to
acts made criminal by the laws of both States, and not to "an act
inspired by the spirit of humanity and of the Christian religion,"
which was not penal in New York. This was undoubtedly as good law as
it was poor politics, for it needlessly aroused the indignation of
Virginia, whose legislature retaliated by imposing special burdens
upon vessels trading between Virginia and New York until such time as
the latter should repeal the statute giving fugitive slaves the right
of trial by jury.

The immediate cause of the Whig defeat, however, had its origin in
disasters incident to the construction of the canals. It had been the
policy of Governor Marcy, and other Democratic leaders, to confine the
annual canal expenditures to the surplus revenues, and, in enlarging
the Erie, it was determined to continue this policy. On the other
hand, the Whigs advocated a speedy completion of the public works,
limiting the state debt to an amount upon which interest could be paid
out of the surplus revenues derived from the canal. This policy,
backed by several Democratic members of the Senate in 1838, resulted
in the authorisation of a loan of four millions for the Erie
enlargement. In 1839 Seward, still confident of the State's ability to
sustain the necessary debt, advised other improvements, including the
completion of the Genesee Valley and Black River canals, as well as
the construction of three railroads, at a total estimated expenditure
of twelve to fifteen millions. By 1841, the debt had increased to
eighteen millions, including the loan of four millions, while the work
was scarcely half finished. To add to the difficulty, state stocks
depreciated over twenty per cent., embarrassing the administration in
its efforts to raise money. The Democrats pronounced such a policy
disastrous and ruinous; and, although the Whigs replied that the
original estimates were wrong, that the price of labour and material
had advanced, and that when completed the canals would speedily pay
for themselves, the people thought it time to call a halt, and in the
election of 1841 they called it.[317]

[Footnote 317: "Seward had faults, which his accession to power soon
displayed in bold relief. His natural tendencies were toward a
government not merely paternal, but prodigal--one which, in its
multiform endeavours to make every one prosperous, if not rich, was
very likely to whelm all in general embarrassment, if not in general
bankruptcy. Few governors have favoured, few senators voted for more
unwisely lavish expenditures than he. Above the suspicion of voting
money into his own pocket, he has a rooted dislike to opposing a
project or bill whereby any of his attached friends are to profit.
And, conceited as we all are, I think most men exceed him in the art
of concealing from others their overweening faith in their own
sagacity and discernment."--Horace Greeley, _Recollections of a Busy
Life_, p. 312.]

It was this overwhelming defeat that so depressed the Whigs, gathered
at the Syracuse convention, as they looked over the field for a
gubernatorial candidate to lead them, if possible, out of the
wilderness of humiliation. Seward had declined a renomination. He knew
that his course, especially in the Virginia controversy, had aroused
a feeling of hostility among certain Whigs who not only resented his
advancement over Granger and Fillmore, his seniors in years and in
length of public service, but who dreaded his lead as too bold, too
earnest, and too impulsive. The fact that the Abolitionists had
already invited him to accept their nomination for President in 1844
indicated the extent to which his Virginia correspondence had carried
him. So, he let his determination be known. "My principles are too
liberal, too philanthropic, if it be not vain to say so, for my
party," he wrote Christopher Morgan, then a leading member of
Congress. "The promulgation of them offends many; the operation of
them injures many; and their sincerity is questioned by about all.
Those principles, therefore, do not receive fair consideration and
candid judgment. There are some who know them to be right, and believe
them to be sincere. These would sustain me. Others whose prejudices
are aroused against them, or whose interests are in danger, would
combine against me. I must, therefore, divide my party in convention.
This would be unfortunate for them, and, of all others, the most false
position for me. And what have I to lose by withdrawing and leaving
the party unembarrassed? My principles are very good and popular ones
for a man out of office; they will take care of me, when out of
office, as they always have done. I have had enough, Heaven knows, of
the power and pomp of place."[318]

[Footnote 318: F.W. Seward, _Life of W.H. Seward_, Vol. 1, p. 547.]

With Seward out of the way, Luther Bradish was the logical candidate
for governor. Fillmore had many friends present, and John A. Collier
of Binghamton, alternating between hope and fear, let his wishes be
known. But, as lieutenant-governor, Bradish had won popularity by
firmness, patience, and that tact which springs from right feeling,
rather than cold courtesy; and, in the end, the vote proved him the
favourite. For lieutenant-governor, the convention chose Gabriel
Furman, a Brooklyn lawyer of great natural ability, who had been a
judge of the municipal court and was just then closing a term in the
State Senate, but whose promising career was already marred by the
opium habit. He is best remembered as one of Brooklyn's most valued
local historians. The resolutions, adhering to the former Whig policy,
condemning Tyler's vetoes and indicating a preference for Clay, showed
that the party, although stripped of its enthusiastic hopes, had lost
none of its faith in its principles or confidence in its great

The Democrats had divided on canal improvements. Beginning in the
administration of Governor Throop, one faction, known as the
Conservatives, had voted with the Whigs in 1838, while the other,
called Radicals, opposed the construction of any works that would
increase the debt. This division reasserted itself in the Legislature
which convened in January, 1842. The Radicals elected all the state
officers. Azariah C. Flagg became comptroller, Samuel Young secretary
of state, and George P. Barker attorney-general. Six canal
commissioners, belonging to the same wing of the party, were also
selected. Behind them, as a leader of great force in the Assembly,
stood Michael Hoffman of Herkimer, ready to rain fierce blows upon the
policy of Seward and the Conservatives. Hoffman had served eight years
in Congress, and three years as a canal commissioner. He was now, at
fifty-four years of age, serving his first term in the Assembly,
bringing to the work a great reputation both for talents and
integrity, and as a powerful and effective debater.[319] Hoffman was
educated for a physician, but afterward turned to the law. "Had he not
been drawn into public life," says Thurlow Weed, "he would have been
as eminent a lawyer as he became a statesman."[320]

[Footnote 319: "For four days the debate on a bill for the enlargement
of the canals shed darkness rather than light over the subject, and
the chamber grew murky. One morning a tallish man, past middle age,
with iron-gray locks drooping on his shoulders, and wearing a mixed
suit of plain clothes, took the floor. I noticed that pens,
newspapers, and all else were laid down, and every eye fixed on the
speaker. I supposed he was some quaint old joker from the backwoods,
who was going to afford the House a little fun. The first sentences
arrested my attention. A beam of light shot through the darkness, and
I began to get glimpses of the question at issue. Soon a broad belt of
sunshine spread over the chamber. 'Who is he?' I asked a member.
'Michael Hoffman,' was the reply. He spoke for an hour, and though his
manner was quiet and his diction simple, he was so methodical and
lucid in his argument that, where all had appeared confused before,
everything now seemed clear."--H.B. Stanton, _Random Recollections_,
p. 173.]

[Footnote 320: Thurlow Weed Barnes, _Life of Thurlow Weed_, Vol. 1, p.

The Albany Regency, as a harmonious, directing body, had, by this
time, practically gone out of existence. Talcott was dead, Marcy and
Silas Wright were in Washington, Benjamin F. Butler, having resigned
from the Cabinet as attorney-general, in 1838, had resumed the
practice of his profession in New York City, and Van Buren, waiting
for another term of the Presidency, rested at Lindenwald. The
remaining members of the original Regency, active as ever in political
affairs, were now destined to head the two factions--Edwin Croswell,
still editor of the Albany _Argus_, leading the Conservatives, with
Daniel S. Dickinson, William C. Bouck, Samuel Beardsley, Henry A.
Foster, and Horatio Seymour. Azariah C. Flagg, with Samuel Young,
George P. Barker, and Michael Hoffman, directed the Radicals. All were
able men. Bouck carried fewer guns than Young; Beardsley had weight
and character, without much aptitude; Foster overflowed with knowledge
and was really an able man, but his domineering nature and violent
temper reduced his influence. Seymour, now only thirty-two years old,
had not yet entered upon his illustrious and valuable public career;
nor had Daniel S. Dickinson, although of acknowledged ability,
exhibited those traits which were to distinguish him in party
quarrels. He did not belong in the class with Marcy and Wright, though
few New Yorkers showed more indomitable courage than Dickinson--a
characteristic that greatly strengthened his influence in the councils
of the leaders whose differences were already marked with asperity.

Success is wont to have magical effects in producing a wish to put an
end to difference; and the legislative winter of 1843 became notable
for the apparent adjustment of Democratic divisions. The Radicals
proposed the passage of an act, known as the "stop and tax law of
1842," suspending the completion of the public works, imposing a
direct tax, and pledging a portion of the canal revenues as a sinking
fund for the payment of the existing debt. It was a drastic measure,
and leading Conservatives, with much vigour, sought to obtain a
compromise permitting the gradual completion of the most advanced
works. Bouck favoured sending an agent to Holland to negotiate a loan
for this purpose, a suggestion pressed with some ardour until further
effort threatened to jeopardise his chance of a renomination for
governor; and when Bouck ceased his opposition other Conservatives
fell into line. The measure, thus unobstructed, finally became the
law, sending the Democrats into the gubernatorial campaign of 1842
with high hopes of success.

By accident or design, the Democratic state convention also met at
Syracuse on October 7. William C. Bouck and Daniel S. Dickinson had
been the candidates, in 1840, for governor and lieutenant-governor,
and they now demanded renomination. The Radicals wanted Samuel Young
or Michael Hoffman for governor; and, before the passage of the "stop
and tax law," the contest bid fair to be a warm one. But, after making
an agreement to pledge the party to the work of the last Legislature,
the Radicals withdrew all opposition to Bouck and Dickinson. In their
resolutions, the Democrats applauded Tyler's vetoes; approved the
policy of his administration; denounced the re-establishment of a
national bank; opposed a protective tariff; and favoured the
sub-treasury, hard money, a strict construction of the Constitution,
and direct taxation for public works.

The campaign that followed stirred no enthusiasm on either side. The
Whigs felt the weight of the canal debt, which rested heavily upon the
people; and, although many enthusiastic young men, active in the
organisation of Clay clubs and in preparing the way for the Kentucky
statesman in 1844, held mass-meetings and read letters from their
great leader, New York again passed under the control of the Democrats
by a majority of nearly twenty-two thousand.[321] It was not an
ordinary defeat; it was an avalanche. Only one Whig senator, thirty
Whig assemblymen, and nine or ten congressmen were saved in the wreck.
"I fear the party must break up from its very foundations," Fillmore
wrote Weed. "There is no cohesive principle--no common head."[322]

[Footnote 321: William C. Bouck, 208,072; Luther Bradish,
186,091.--_Civil List, State of New York_ (1887), p. 166.]

[Footnote 322: Thurlow Weed Barnes, _Life of Thurlow Weed_, Vol. 2, p.

Seward took no such pessimistic view. He had the promise of the future
in him, a capacity for action, a ready sympathy with men of all
classes, occupations, and interests, and he saw rays of light where
others looked only into darkness. "It is not a bad thing to be left
out of Congress," he wrote Christopher Morgan, depressed by his
defeat. "You will soon be wanted in the State, and that is a better
field."[323] Seward had the faculty of slow, reflective brooding, and
he often saw both deep and far. In the night of that blinding defeat
only such a nature could find comfort in the outlook.

[Footnote 323: F.W. Seward, _Life of W.H. Seward_, Vol. 1, p. 627.]




From the moment of William C. Bouck's inauguration as governor, in
January, 1843, Democratic harmony disappeared. It was supposed the
question of canal improvement had been settled by the "stop and tax
law" of 1842, and by the subsequent agreement of the Conservatives, at
the Syracuse convention, in the following October. No one believed
that any serious disposition existed on the part of the Governor to
open the wound, since he knew a large majority of his party opposed
the resumption of the work, and that the state officers, who had
viewed his nomination with coldness, were watching his acts and
critically weighing his words.

But he also knew that his most zealous and devoted friends, living
along the line of the Erie, Black River, and Genesee Valley canals,
earnestly desired the speedy completion of certain parts of these
waterways. In order to please them, his message suggested the
propriety of taking advantage of the low prices of labour and
provisions to finish some of the work. He did it timidly. There was no
positive recommendation. He touched the subject as one handles a live
electric wire, trembling lest he rouse the sleeping opposition of the
Radicals, or fail to meet the expectation of friends. But the
recommendation, too expressionless to cheer his friends and too
energetic to suit his opponents, foreshadowed the pitfalls into which
he was to tumble. He had been the first to suggest the Erie
enlargement, and he knew better than any other man in the State how
important was its completion; yet he said as little in its favour as
could be said, if he said anything at all, and that little seemed to
be prompted, not so much for the good of the State, as to satisfy the
demands of ardent friends, who had contributed to his nomination and

Severe criticism of the message, by the radical press, quickly showed
that not even a temporary reconciliation had been effected by the act
of 1842. Had the Governor now been sufficiently endowed with a faculty
for good management, he must have strengthened himself and weakened
his enemies with the vast amount of patronage at his command. Not
since the days of Governor Lewis, had the making of so many
appointments been committed to an executive. The Whigs, under Seward,
had taken every office in the State. But Bouck, practising the
nepotism that characterised Lewis' administration forty years before,
took good care of his own family, and then, in the interest of
harmony, turned whatever was left over to the members of the
Legislature, who selected their own friends regardless of their
relations to the Governor. There is something grim and pathetic in the
picture of the rude awakening of this farmer governor, who, while
working in his own weak way for harmony and conciliation, discovered,
too late, that partisan rivalries and personal ambition had surrounded
him with a cordon of enemies that could not be broken. To add to his
humiliation, it frequently happened that the nominations of those whom
he greatly desired confirmed, were rejected in the Senate by the
united votes of Radicals and Whigs.

The controversy growing out of the election of a state printer to
succeed Thurlow Weed increased the bitterness between the factions.
Edwin Croswell had been removed from this office in 1840, and the
Conservatives now proposed to reinstate him. Croswell had carefully
avoided taking part in the factional contests then beginning to rend
the party. He had supported, apparently in good faith, the "stop and
tax law" of 1842, and, in the campaigns of 1841 and 1842, had been
associated with Azariah C. Flagg in the publication of the _Rough
Hewer_, a weekly paper of radical views, issued from the press of the
_Argus_; but his sympathies were with the Conservatives, and when
they sought to re-elect him public printer, the Radicals, led by
Flagg, announced as their candidate Henry H. Van Dyck, the owner,
since 1840, of a one-third interest in the _Argus_. For seventeen
years, from 1823 to 1840, Croswell had held the office of state
printer, accumulating wealth and enjoying the regard of the party; and
Flagg and his colleagues contended that he should now give way to
another equally deserving. This was a strong reason in a party that
believed in rotation in office, especially when coupled with a desire
on the part of the Radicals to control the _Argus_; and, to avoid an
open rupture, Croswell proposed that a law be passed making the
_Argus_ the state paper, without naming a public printer. Van Dyck
objected to this, as it would leave Croswell in control of the
establishment. Besides, Van Dyck claimed that, at the time he
purchased an interest in the _Argus_, Croswell promised to support him
for state printer. This Croswell denied.

Instantly, the air was alive with the thrill of battle. Croswell faced
difficulties such as no other office-seeker had thus far encountered,
difficulties of faction, difficulties of public sentiment, and
difficulties of personnel. Flagg's conceded fidelity and honesty as a
public officer, supplemented by his shrewdness and sagacity, made him
the unquestioned leader of the Radicals; and, in this initial and
crucial test of strength, he was indisposed to compromise or
conciliate; but in Edwin Croswell he met the most impressive figure
among the gladiators of the party. Croswell was the veteran editor
whose judgment had guided its tactics, and whose words were instinct
with life, with prophecy, and with fate. When he entered the
pilot-house of his party, men knew something was going to happen. A
perceptible hush seemed to announce his presence. At such times, his
caustic sentences, clear and compact, were rarely conciliatory; but
when he turned away from the wheel, achievement had proven his right
to leadership.

In his contest with Flagg, however, Croswell encountered angry
criticism from the Radicals and frigid approval from some
Conservatives. His candidacy plainly impaired the high respect which
his conduct and abilities had brought him. It was a mistake from every
point of view; but, once committed to such a course his Conservative
friends persevered, giving him finally sixty-six out of one hundred
and six votes cast. A speech made by Assemblyman Leland of Steuben
affords an interesting glimpse of the many influences summoned from
every quarter, until men found themselves in the centre of a political
cauldron from which there seemed no escape. "All who have come up here
for office," said Leland, "have been compelled to take one side or the
other, and as neither side knows what will be the result, some have
been disposed to cry 'good Lord, if a Lord, or good devil, if not a
Lord.'" The newspapers added to the perils of the quarrel. In the
discussion preceding the election, the Albany _Atlas_, a daily paper
recently established, but until now without political prominence,
became the organ of the Radicals; and between it and the _Argus_ a
fierce editorial battle, which extended to other Democratic papers
throughout the State, made the factional division broader and more

Despite their quarrels, which continued throughout the legislative
session, the Democrats, in the state election of November, 1843,
carried two-thirds of the Assembly and five-sixths of the Senate.
Nevertheless, the strength of the Conservatives was greatly increased.
The utter and sudden abandonment of the canals, marked by a long line
of tools left where the workmen dropped them, had played an important
part in the campaign, and when the Democratic legislative caucus
convened, in January, 1844, the friends of canal improvement easily
defeated Michael Hoffman for speaker by a vote of fifty-six to
thirty-five, in favour of Elisha Litchfield of Onondaga. Henry A.
Foster, also an uncompromising champion of the Conservatives, was
elected president _pro tem._ of the Senate. Litchfield had been in
Congress. He was a strong man of acknowledged influence in the central
counties of the State. Besides, he had been a faithful follower and
an ardent admirer of Croswell. There were those who thought Horatio
Seymour ought to be speaker; and, for a time, it looked as if he might
secure the office. He was the real leader of the Conservatives, and he
had more friends than Litchfield. But Litchfield had Croswell.

Backed by such a re-enforcement of Conservatives, Governor Bouck spoke
of canal improvement with less timidity. He admitted the necessity of
the tax law of 1842, but suggested the completion of "such new works
as can be done with better economy than to sustain those designed to
be superseded" and "are exposed to great and permanent injury." There
was nothing forceful in this recommendation. He still kept the middle
of the road, but his request practically amounted to the completion of
some of the new work. It meant the finishing of the Schoharie
aqueduct, improving the Jordan level, enlarging the locks of the Erie
canal, and going on with the construction of the Black River and
Genesee Valley canals.

The Radicals, realising the seriousness of the situation, now rested
their hopes upon an elaborate report by Robert Dennison, chairman of
the Senate canal committee. It was a telling blow. It attacked the
estimated, as compared to the actual, cost of the canals, charging
engineers with culpable ignorance or corrupt intention. The Chenango
canal, it said, was estimated to cost $1,000,000; it actually cost
$2,417,000. The first estimate of the Black River canal called for an
expenditure of $437,000; after work was commenced, a recalculation
made it $2,431,000. It cost, finally, over $2,800,000. The Genesee
Valley canal presented even greater disparity, and more glaring
ignorance. The original estimate fixed the cost at $1,774,000.
Afterward, the same engineer computed it at $4,900,000; and it cost
over $5,500,000. The State would have made money, the report said, had
it built macadamised roads, instead of canals, at a cost of $4,000 a
mile, and paid teamsters two dollars a day for hauling all the produce
that the canals would transport when finished. In conclusion,
Dennison declared that work on the canals could not be resumed without
laying an additional direct tax. This statement touched the
pocket-books of the people; and, in the opinion of the Radicals,
closed the discussion, for no Democrat, confronting a presidential and
gubernatorial election, would dare burden his party with another
direct canal tax.

Horatio Seymour, chairman of the canal committee of the Assembly, now
appeared with a report, covering seventy-one octavo pages, which
illuminated the question even to the enlightenment of Michael Hoffman.
It was the first display of that mastery of legislative skill and
power, which Seymour's shrewd discerning mind was so well calculated
to acquire. The young Oneida statesman had been a favourite since his
advent in the Assembly in 1842. His handsome face, made more
attractive by large, luminous eyes, and a kind, social nature,
peculiarly fitted him for public life; and, back of his fascinating
manners, lay sound judgment and great familiarity with state affairs.
Like Seward, he possessed, in this respect, an advantage over older
members, and he was now to show something of the moral power which the
Auburn Senator displayed when he displeased the short-sighted
partisans who seemed to exist and to act only for the present.

In presenting his report Seymour was careful to sustain the pledges of
the act of 1842, and to condemn the pre-existing policy of creating
additional debts for the purpose of constructing new canals or
enlarging the Erie. With gentle and cunning skill he commended Azariah
C. Flagg's policy, adopted in 1835, of using only the surplus revenue
of the canals for such purposes. "The errors we have committed," said
his report, "are not without their utility or profitable teaching. The
corruptions of extravagance and the bitter consequences of
indebtedness, have produced their own correctives, and public opinion,
admonished by the past, has returned to its accustomed and healthful
channels, from which it will not be readily diverted. There is no
portion of our citizens who desire to increase our state indebtedness,
or to do aught to the detriment of our common interests, when they
are shown the evils that inevitably follow in the train of borrowing
large sums of money, to be repaid, perhaps, in periods of pecuniary
distress and embarrassment. Neither is it true, on the other hand,
that any considerable number of our citizens are opposed to the
extension of our canals when it can be effected by the aid of surplus

[Footnote 324: Jabez D. Hammond, _Political History of New York_, Vol.
3, p. 412.]

This last sentence was the keynote. Bouck had suggested the principle,
and other Conservatives had vainly tried to enforce it, but it
remained for Seymour to obtain for it a fair and candid hearing. With
great clearness, he unfolded the condition of the public works and of
the public finances, and, with able reasoning, he showed that, out of
the canal revenues, all the pledges of the act of 1842 could be met,
and out of the surplus revenues, all the pledges of the act of 1836
could be completed. At the conclusion, he introduced a bill providing
for the resumption of work along the lines set forth in the report.

The reports of Dennison and Seymour reduced the issue to its lowest
terms. Dennison wanted the surplus revenues, if any, applied to the
payment of the state debt; Seymour insisted upon their use for the
enlargement of the Erie and the completion of the Black River and
Genesee Valley canals. Both favoured a sinking fund, with which to
extinguish the state debt, and both opposed the construction of any
new work which should add to that debt. But Dennison, with pessimistic
doggedness, denied that there would be sufficient surplus to produce
the desired result. Seymour, with much of the optimism of Seward,
cherished the hope that rich tolls, growing larger as navigation grew
better, would flow into the treasury, until all the canals would be
completed and all the debts wiped out. The Radical was more than a
pessimist--he was a strict constructionist of the act of 1842. He
held that the Seymour bill was a palpable departure from the policy of
that act, and that other measures, soon to follow, would eventually
overthrow such a policy. To all this Seymour replied in his report,
that "just views of political economy are not to be disseminated by
harsh denunciations, which create the suspicion that there is more of
hostility to the interests of those assailed than an honest desire to
protect the treasury of the State."[325]

[Footnote 325: Jabez D. Hammond, _Political History of New York_, Vol.
3, p. 412.]

Hoffman and Seymour set the tone to the debate in the Assembly. They
were, admittedly, the leaders of the two factions, and, although
Hoffman possessed remarkable powers of denunciation, which he used
freely against measures, his courtesy toward opponents was no less
marked than Seymour's.[326] Other Conservatives supported the measure
with ability. But it was Seymour's firmness of mind, suavity of
manner, unwearied patience, and incomparable temper, under a thousand
provocations, that made it possible to pass the bill, substantially as
he wrote it, by a vote of sixty-seven to thirty-eight. Even Michael
Hoffman refused to vote against it, although he did not vote for it.

[Footnote 326: "One morning Hoffman rose to reply to Seymour, but on
learning that he was ill he refused to deliver his speech for two or
three days, till Seymour was able to be in his seat."--H.B. Stanton,
_Random Recollections_, p. 175.]

The measure met fiercer opposition in the Senate. It had more acrid
and irritable members than the Assembly, and its talkers had sharper
tongues. In debate, Foster was the most formidable, but Albert
Lester's acerbity of temper fixed the tone of the discussion. Finally,
when the vote was taken the Democrats broke evenly for and against the
measure; but, as five Whigs supported it, the bill finally passed,
seventeen to thirteen.

It was a great victory for Seymour, then only thirty-four years old.
Indeed, the history of the session may be described as the passage of
a single measure by a single man whose success was based on supreme
faith in the Erie canal. Seymour flowingly portrayed its benefits,
and, with prophetic eye, saw the deeply ladened boats transporting the
produce of prosperous farmers who had chosen homes in the West when
access was rendered so easy. What seemed to others to threaten
disaster to the State, appealed to him as a great highway of commerce
that would yield large revenues to the Commonwealth and abundantly
bless its people. He predicted the building of villages and the
development of diversified industries along its banks, and, in one of
his captivating sentences, he described the pleasure of travelling
quickly by packets, viewing the scenery of the Mohawk Valley by day
and sleeping comfortably in a cabin-berth at night. But he did not
favour building so rapidly as to burden the State with debt. This was
the mistake of the Seward administration, and the inevitable reaction
gave the Radicals an argument for delay, and Dennison an opportunity
for a telling report. Seymour put his faith in the earning capacity of
the Erie canal. Forty years later, when he advocated the abolition of
tolls, he found all his predictions more than verified.




The canal contest and Horatio Seymour's success preceded many
surprises and disappointments which were to be disclosed in the
campaign of 1844. Never were the motions of the political pendulum
more agitated or more irregular. For three years, public sentiment had
designated Henry Clay and Martin Van Buren as the accepted candidates
of their respective parties for President; and, until the spring of
1844, the confidence of the friends of the Kentucky statesman did not
exceed the assurance of the followers of the ex-President. Indeed, the
Democratic party was known throughout the country as the "Van Buren
party," and, although James Buchanan, John C. Calhoun, and Lewis Cass
had each been named as suitable persons for Chief Executive, the sage
of Lindenwald was the party's recognised leader and prospective
candidate. His sub-treasury scheme, accepted as wise and salutary, was
still the cornerstone of the party, buttressed by a tariff for
revenue and opposition to a national bank.

In national affairs, the Democratic party in New York was still a
unit. The Legislature of 1843 had re-elected Silas Wright to the
United States Senate, without a dissenting Democratic vote; and a
state convention, held at Syracuse in September of the same year, and
made up of Radicals and Conservatives, had instructed its delegation
to support New York's favourite son. But a troublesome problem
suddenly confronted Van Buren. President Tyler had secretly negotiated
a treaty of annexation with Texas, ostensibly because of the
contiguity and great value of its territory, in reality, because, as
Calhoun, then secretary of state, showed in his correspondence with
Great Britain, Texas seemed indispensable to the preservation and
perpetuation of slavery. Texas had paved the way for such a treaty by
providing, in its constitution, for the establishment of slavery, and
by prohibiting the importation of slaves from any country other than
the United States. But for three months friends of the treaty in the
United States Senate had vainly endeavoured to find a two-thirds
majority in favour of its ratification. Then, the exponents of
slavery, having secretly brought to their support the enormous
prestige of Andrew Jackson, prepared to nominate a successor to
President Tyler who would favour the treaty.

Van Buren had never failed the South while in the United States
Senate. He had voted against sending abolition literature through the
mails into States that prohibited its circulation; he had approved the
rules of the Senate for tabling abolition petitions without reading
them; he had publicly deprecated the work of abolition leaders; and,
by his silence, had approved the mob spirit when his friends were
breaking up abolition meetings. But, in those days, American slavery
was simply seeking its constitutional right to exist unmolested where
it was; and, although the anti-slavery crusade from 1830 to 1840, had
profoundly stirred the American conscience, slavery had not yet, to
any extended degree, entered into partisan politics. The annexation of
Texas, however, was an aggressive measure, the first of the great
movements for the extension of slavery since the Missouri Compromise;
and it was important to the South to know in advance where the
ex-President stood. His administration had been adverse to annexation,
and rumour credited him with unabated hostility. To force him into the
open, therefore, William H. Hammit, a member of Congress from
Mississippi, addressed him a letter on the 27th of March, 1844. "I am
an unpledged delegate to the Baltimore convention," wrote Hammit, "and
it is believed that a full and frank declaration of your opinion as to
the constitutionality and expediency of immediately annexing Texas
will be of great service to the cause, at a moment so critical of its
destiny."[327] Van Buren held this letter until the 20th of April,
thirty-seven days before the meeting of the convention. When he did
reply he recalled the fact that in 1837, after an exhaustive
consideration of the question, his administration had decided against
annexation, and that nothing had since occurred to change the
situation; but that if, after the subject had been fully discussed, a
Congress chosen with reference to the question showed that the popular
will favoured it, he would yield. It was a letter of great length,
elaborately discussing every point directly or indirectly relating to
the subject.

[Footnote 327: Jabez D. Hammond, _Political History of New York_, Vol.
3, p. 441.]

Van Buren deeply desired the nomination, and if the South supported
him he was practically certain of it. It was in view of the necessity
of such support that Van Buren's letter has been pronounced by a
recent biographer "one of the finest and bravest pieces of political
courage, and deserves from Americans a long admiration."[328] Such
eulogy is worthily bestowed if Van Buren, at the time of the Hammit
letter, fully appreciated the gravity of the situation; but there is
no evidence that he understood the secret and hostile purpose which
led up to the Hammit inquiry, and the letter itself is evidence that
he sought to conciliate the Southern wing of his party. Charles Jared
Ingersoll of Pennsylvania, in his diary of May 6, 1844, declares that
nearly all of Van Buren's admirers and most of the Democratic press
were even then committed to annexation. Nevertheless, Van Buren and
his trusted advisers could not have known of the secret plotting of
Buchanan's and Cass's followers, or of the deception shrewdly
practised by Cave Johnson of Tennessee, ostensibly a confidential
friend, but really a leader in the plot to defeat Van Buren.[329]
Besides, the sentiment of the country unmistakably recognised that
powerful and weighty as the inducements for annexation appeared, they
were light when opposed in the scale of reason to the treaty of amity
and commerce with Mexico, which must be scrupulously observed so long
as that country performed its duties and respected treaty rights. Even
after the nomination of a President only sixteen senators out of
fifty-one voted for annexation, proving that the belief still
obtained, in the minds of a very large and influential portion of the
party, that annexation was decidedly objectionable, since it must
lead, as Benton put it in his great speech delivered in May, 1844, to
an unjust, unconstitutional war with Mexico upon a weak and groundless
pretext. Thus, Van Buren had behind him, the weight of the argument, a
large majority of the Senate, including Silas Wright, his noble
friend, and a party sentiment that had not yet yielded to the crack of
the southern whip; and he was ignorant of the plan, already secretly
matured, to defeat him with the help of the followers of Buchanan and
Cass by insisting upon the two-thirds rule in the convention. Under
these circumstances, it did not require great courage to reaffirm his
previous views so forcibly and ably expressed. Cognisant, however, of
the growing desire in the South for annexation, he took good care to
remove the impression that he was a hard-shell, by promising to yield
his opinion to the judgment of a new Congress. This was a long step
in the direction of consent. It virtually said, "If you elect a
Congress that will ratify the treaty and pay the price, I will not
stand in your way." In the presence of such complacency, the thought
naturally occurs that he might have gone a step farther and consented
to yield his opinions at once had he known or even suspected the
secret plans of his southern opponents, the bitterness of Calhoun and
Robert J. Walker, and their understanding with the friends of Buchanan
and Cass. Jackson's letter favourable to annexation, skilfully
procured for publication just before the convention, "to blow Van out
of water," as his enemies expressed it, was, indeed, known to Van
Buren, but the latter believed its influence discounted by the great
confidence Jackson subsequently expressed in his wisdom.[330]

[Footnote 328: Edward M. Shepard, _Life of Martin Van Buren_, p. 407.]

[Footnote 329: "Judge Fine, Mr. Butler, and other members of the New
York delegation, reposed great confidence in the opinions and
statements of Mr. Cave Johnson, of Tennessee. He frequently met with
the delegation, and expressed himself in the strongest terms of
personal and political friendship towards Mr. Van Buren and Mr.
Wright. He said he regretted that the Democratic convention in
Tennessee had not named Mr. Van Buren as the candidate. So strong was
the confidence in Mr. Johnson as a friend of Mr. Van Buren, that he
was apprised of all our plans in regard to the organisation of the
convention, and was requested to nominate Gov. Hubbard of New
Hampshire, as temporary chairman. But when the convention assembled
Gen. Saunders of North Carolina called the convention to order and
nominated Hendrick B. Wright, of Pennsylvania, a friend of Mr.
Buchanan, as temporary president. Messrs. Walker, Saunders, and Cave
Johnson were the principal managers for the delegates from the
southern section of the Union."--Jabez D. Hammond, _Political History
of New York_, Vol. 3, p. 447.]

[Footnote 330: "The danger of Van Buren's difference with Jackson it
was sought to avert. Butler visited Jackson at the Hermitage, and
doubtless showed him for what sinister end he had been used. Jackson
did not withdraw his approval of annexation; but publicly declared his
regard for Van Buren to be so great, his confidence in Van Buren's
love of country to be so strengthened by long intimacy, that no
difference about Texas could change his opinion. But the work of
Calhoun and Robert J. Walker had been too well done."--Edward M.
Shepard, _Life of Martin Van Buren_, p. 407.]

Three days before the date of Van Buren's letter, Henry Clay, writing
upon the same subject, expressed the opinion that annexation at this
time, without the assent of Mexico, would be a measure "compromising
the national character, involving us certainly in war with Mexico,
probably with other foreign powers, dangerous to the integrity of the
Union, inexpedient to the present financial condition of the country,
and not called for by any general expression of public opinion." Van
Buren had visited Clay at Ashland in 1842, and, after the publication
of their letters, it was suggested that a bargain had then been made
to remove the question of annexation from politics. However this may
be, the friends of the ex-President, after the publication of his
letter, understood, quickly and fully, the gravity of the situation.
Subterranean activity was at its height all through the month of May.
Men wavered and changed, and changed again. So great was the alarm
that leading men of Ohio addressed their delegation in Congress,
insisting upon Van Buren's support. It was a moment of great peril.
The agitators themselves became frightened. A pronounced reaction in
favour of Van Buren threatened to defeat their plans, and the better
to conceal intrigue and tergiversation they deemed it wise to create
the belief that opposition had been wholly and finally abandoned. In
this they proved eminently successful. "Many of the strongest
advocates of annexation," wrote a member of the New York delegation in
Congress, on May 18, nine days before the convention, "have come to
regard the grounds taken by Van Buren as the only policy consistent
not only with the honour, but the true interests of the country. Such
is fast becoming and will soon be the opinion of the whole South."[331]
But the cloud, at last, burst. No sooner had the Baltimore convention
convened than Benjamin F. Butler, the ardent friend and able spokesman
of Van Buren, discovered that the backers of Cass and Buchanan were
acting with the Southerners in the interest of a rule that required
two-thirds of all the delegates in the convention to nominate.
Instantly the air was thick with suggestion, devices, expedients. All
the arts of party emergency went on at an unprecedented rate. The
eloquent New Yorker, his clear, tenor voice trembling with emotion,
fought the battle on the highest moral grounds.

[Footnote 331: Jabez D. Hammond, _Political History of New York_, Vol.
3, p. 444.]

With inexhaustible tenacity, force, and resource, he laboured to hold
up to men's imagination and to burn into their understanding the shame
and dishonour of adopting a rule, not only unsound and false in
principle, but which, if adhered to, would coerce a majority to yield
to a minority. "I submit," declared Butler, in closing, "that to adopt
a rule which requires what we know cannot be done, unless the majority
yield to the minority, is to subject ourselves to the rule, not of
reason, but of despotism, and to defeat the true purposes and objects
of this convention--the accomplishment of the people's will for the
promotion of the people's good."[332]

[Footnote 332: Jabez D. Hammond, _Political History of New York_, Vol.
3, p. 450.

"The real contest took place over the adoption of the rule requiring a
two-thirds vote for the nomination. For it was through this rule that
enough Southern members, chosen before Van Buren's letter, were to
escape obedience to their instructions to vote for him. Robert J.
Walker, then a senator from Mississippi, a man of interesting history
and large ability, led the Southerners. He quoted the precedent of
1832 when Van Buren had been nominated for the Vice Presidency under
the two-thirds rule, and that of 1835, when he had been nominated for
the Presidency. These nominations had led to victory. In 1840 the rule
had not been adopted. Without this rule, he said amid angry
excitement, the party would yield to those whose motto seemed to be
'rule or ruin.' Butler, Daniel S. Dickinson, and Marcus Morton led the
Northern ranks.... Morton said that under the majority rule Jefferson
had been nominated; that rule had governed state, county, and township
conventions. Butler admitted that under the rule Van Buren would not
be nominated, although a majority of the convention was known to be
for him. In 1832 and 1835 the two-thirds rule had prevailed because it
was certainly known who would be nominated; and the rule operated to
aid not to defeat the majority. If the rule were adopted, it would be
by the votes of States which were not Democratic, and would bring
'dismemberment and final breaking up of the party.' Walker laughed at
Butler's 'tall vaulting' from the floor; and, refusing to shrink from
the Van Buren issue, he protested against New York dictation, and
warningly said that, if Van Buren were nominated, Clay would be
elected."--Edward M. Shepard, _Life of Martin Van Buren_, p. 408.]

The adoption of the rule, by a vote of 148 to 118, showed that the
Democratic party did not have a passionate devotion for Martin Van
Buren. Buchanan opposed his nomination; leading men in other States
did not desire him. The New England States, with Pennsylvania, Ohio,
Michigan, Illinois, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama, had
instructed for him; yet sixty-three of these instructed delegates
voted for the two-thirds rule, knowing that its adoption would defeat
him. The rule received thirty majority, and Van Buren, on the first
ballot, received only thirteen. On the second ballot he dropped to
less than a majority; on the seventh he had only ninety-nine votes.
The excitement reached a climax when a motion to declare him the
nominee by a majority vote, was ruled out of order. In the
pandemonium, the New Yorkers, for the first time, seemed to unloose
themselves, letting fly bitter denunciations of the treachery of the
sixty-three delegates who were pledged to Van Buren's support. When
order was restored, a Virginian suddenly put forward the name of James
K. Polk as that of "a pure, whole-hogged Democrat." Then the
convention adjourned until the next day.

Harmony usually follows a bitter convention quarrel. Men become
furiously and sincerely indignant; but the defeated ones must accept
the results, or, Samson-like, destroy themselves in the destruction of
their party. The next morning, Daniel S. Dickinson, the most violently
indignant the day before, declared that "he loved this convention
because it had acted so like the masses." In a high state of nervous
excitement, Samuel Young had denounced "the abominable Texas question"
as the firebrand thrown among them, but his manner now showed that he,
also, had buried the hatchet. Even the serene, philosophic Butler,
who, in "an ecstacy of painful excitement," had "leaped from the floor
and stamped," to use the language of an eye-witness, now resumed his
wonted calmness, and on the ninth ballot, in the midst of tremendous
cheering, used the discretion vested in him to withdraw Van Buren's
name. In doing so, he took occasion to indicate his preference for
James K. Polk, his personal friend. Following this announcement,
Dickinson cast New York's thirty-five votes for the Tennesseean, who
immediately received the necessary two-thirds vote. The situation had
given Polk peculiar advantages. The partisans of Cass and Buchanan,
having willingly defeated Van Buren, made the friends of the New
Yorker thirsty to put their knives into these betrayers. This
situation, opening the door for a compromise, brought a "dark horse"
into the race for the first time in the history of national
conventions. Such conditions are common enough nowadays, but it may
well be doubted if modern political tactics ever brought to the
surface a more inferior candidate. "Polk! Great God, what a
nomination!" wrote Governor Letcher of Kentucky to Buchanan.

To make the compromise complete, the convention, by acclamation,
nominated Silas Wright for Vice President. But the man who had
recently declined a nomination to the Supreme Court of the United
States, and who, after the defeat of Van Buren, had refused the use of
his name for President, did not choose, he said, "to ride behind the
black pony." A third ballot resulted in the selection of George M.
Dallas of Pennsylvania. Among the resolutions adopted, it was declared
that "our title to the whole of Oregon is clear and unquestionable;
that no portion of the same ought to be ceded to England or any other
power; and the reoccupation of Oregon and the reannexation of Texas at
the earliest practicable period, are great American measures, which
the convention recommends to the cordial support of the Democracy of
the Union."

Van Buren's defeat practically closed his career. His failure of
re-election in 1840 had left his leadership unimpaired, but with the
loss of the nomination in 1844 went prestige and power which he was
never to regain. Seldom has it been the misfortune of a candidate for
President to experience so overwhelming an overthrow. Clay's failure
in 1839 and Seward's in 1860 were as complete; but they lacked the
humiliating features of the Baltimore rout. Harrison was an equal
favourite with Clay in 1839; and at Chicago, in 1860, Lincoln shared
with Seward the prominence of a leading candidate; but at Baltimore,
in 1844, no other name than Van Buren's appeared conspicuously above
the surface, until, with the help of delegates who had been instructed
for him, the two-thirds rule was adopted. It seemed to Van Buren the
result of political treachery; and it opened a chasm between him and
his former southern friends that was destined to survive during the
remaining eighteen years of his life. The proscription of his New York
friends undoubtedly aided this division, and the death of Jackson, in
1845, and rapidly accumulating political events which came to a climax
in 1848, completed the separation.

There are evidences that Van Buren's defeat did not break the heart of
his party in New York. Contemporary writers intimate that after his
election as President the warm, familiar manners changed to the
stiffer and more formal ways of polite etiquette, and that his visit
to New York, during his occupancy of the White House, left behind it
many wounds, the result of real or fancied slights and neglect. Van
Buren's rule had been long. His good pleasure sent men to Congress;
his good pleasure made them postmasters, legislators, and cabinet
officers. In all departments of the government, both state and
national, his influence had been enormous. For years his friends,
sharing the glory and profits of his continued triumphs, had been
filling other ambitious men with envy and jealousy, until his
overthrow seemed necessary to their success. Even Edwin Croswell
shared this feeling, and, although he did not boldly play a double
part, the astute editor was always seeking a position which promised
the highest advantage and the greatest security to himself and his
faction. This condition of mind made him quick to favour Polk and the
annexation of Texas, and to leave Van Buren to his now limited coterie
of followers.

Van Buren had much liking for the career of a public man. Very
probably he found his greatest happiness in the triumphs of such a
life; but we must believe he also found great contentment in his
retirement at Lindenwald. He did not possess the tastes and pleasures
of a man of letters, nor did he affect the "classic retirement" that
seemed to appeal so powerfully to men of the eighteenth century; but,
like John Jay, he loved the country, happy in his health, in his
rustic tastes, in his freedom from public cares, and in his tranquil
occupation. Skilled in horticulture, he took pleasure in planting
trees, and in cultivating, with his own hand, the fruits and flowers
of his table. There can be no doubt of his entire sincerity when he
assured an enthusiastic Pennsylvania admirer, who had pronounced for
him as a candidate in 1848, that whatever aspirations he may have had
in the past, he now had no desire to be President.




The New York delegation, returning from the Baltimore convention,
found the Democratic party rent in twain over the gubernatorial
situation. So long as Van Buren seemed likely to be the candidate for
President, opposition to Governor Bouck's renomination was smothered
by the desire of the Radicals to unite with the Conservatives, and
thus make sure of the State's electoral vote. This was the Van Buren
plan. After the latter's defeat, however, the Radicals demanded the
nomination of Silas Wright of Canton. Van Buren and Wright had taken
no part in the canal controversy; but they belonged to the Radicals,
and, with Wright, and with no one else, could the latter hope to
defeat the "Agricultural Governor." Their importunity greatly
distressed the Canton statesman, who desired to remain in the United
States Senate, to which he had been recently re-elected for a third
term, and to whom, from every point of view, the governorship was
distasteful.[333] Besides taking him from the Senate, it meant
contention with two bitterly jealous and hostile factions, one of
which would be displeased with impartiality, the other ready to plunge
the party into a fierce feud on the slightest show of partiality.
Therefore, he firmly declined to be a candidate.

[Footnote 333: "Next to the Presidency no place was so much desired, in
the times we are now reviewing, as that of senator of the United
States. The body was illustrious through the fame of its members, who
generally exhibited the very flower and highest outcome of American
political life; dignified, powerful, respected, it was the pride of
the nation, and one of its main bulwarks. The height of ordinary
ambition was satisfied by attainment to that place; and men once
securely seated there would have been content to hold it on and on,
asking no more. One cannot doubt the sincerity of the expressions in
which Mr. Wright announced his distress at being thrown from that
delightful eminence into the whirlpools and quicksands at
Albany."--Morgan Dix, _Memoirs of John Dix_, Vol. 1, pp. 194, 195.]

But the Albany _Atlas_, representing the Radicals, insisted upon
Wright's making the sacrifice; and, to give Bouck an easy avenue of
escape, Edwin Croswell, representing the Conservatives, advised that
the Governor would withdraw if he should consent to stand. But he
again refused. Still the _Atlas_ continued to insist. By the middle of
July things looked very black. In Albany, the atmosphere became thick
with political passion. Finally, Van Buren interfered. He was
profoundly affected with the idea that political treachery had
compassed his defeat, and he knew the nomination of Polk was
personally offensive to Silas Wright; but, faithful to his promise to
support the action of the Baltimore convention, he requested his
friend to lead the state ticket, since the result in New York would
probably decide, as it did decide, the fate of the Democratic party in
the nation. Still the Senator refused. His decision, more critical
than he seemed to be aware, compelled his Radical friends to invent
new compromises, until the refusal was modified into a conditional
consent. In other words, he would accept the nomination provided he
was not placed in the position of opposing "any Republican who is, or
who may become a candidate."

This action of the Radicals kept the Conservatives busy bailing a
sinking boat. They believed the candidacy of Bouck would shut out
Wright under the terms of his letter, and, although the Governor's
supporters were daily detached by the action of county conventions,
and the Governor himself wished to withdraw to avoid the humiliation
of a defeat by ballot, the Conservatives continued their opposition.
For once it could be truthfully said of a candidate that he was "in
the hands of his friends." Even the "judicious" delegate, whom the
Governor directed to withdraw his name, declined executing the
commission until a ballot had nominated Wright, giving him
ninety-five votes to thirty for Bouck. "Wright's nomination is the
fatality," wrote Seward. "Election or defeat exhausts him."[334] Seward
had the gift of prophecy.

[Footnote 334: F.W. Seward, _Life of W.H. Seward_, Vol. 1, p. 723.

"Wright was a strong man the day before his nomination for governor.
He fell far, and if left alone will be not, what he might have been,
George I. to William of Orange, lineal heir to Jackson, through Van
Buren. The wiseacres in New York speak of him with compliment, 'this
distinguished statesman;' yet they bring all their small artillery to
bear upon him, and give notice that he is demolished. The praise they
bestow is very ill concealed, but less injurious to us than their
warfare, conducted in their mode."--Letter of W.H. Seward to Thurlow
Weed, _Ibid._, Vol. 1, p. 725.]

The bitterness of the contest was further revealed in the refusal of
Daniel S. Dickinson, a doughty Conservative, to accept a renomination
for lieutenant-governor, notwithstanding Silas Wright had especially
asked it. There were many surmises, everybody was excited, and the
door to harmony seemed closed forever; but it opened again when the
name of Addison Gardiner of Rochester came up. Gardiner had been
guided by high ideals. He was kind and tolerant; the voice of personal
anger was never heard from his lips; and Conservative and Radical held
him in high respect. At Manlius, in 1821, Gardiner had become the
closest friend of Thurlow Weed, an intimacy that was severed only by
death. He was a young lawyer then, anxious to seek his fortune in the
West, and on his way to Indianapolis happened to stop at Rochester.
The place proved too attractive to give up, and, through his
influence, Weed also made it his residence. "How curious it seems," he
once wrote his distinguished journalistic friend, "that circumstances
which we regard at the time as scarcely worthy of notice often change
the entire current of our lives." A few years later, through Weed's
influence, Gardiner became a judge of the Supreme Court, laying the
foundation for a public life of honourable and almost unceasing

Though the Whigs needed their ablest and most popular men to meet
Wright and Gardiner, preceding events guided the action of their state
convention, which met at Syracuse, on the 11th of September, 1844.
Horace Greeley had picked out Millard Fillmore for the Vice Presidency
on the ticket with Henry Clay, and his New York friends, proud of his
work in Congress, as chairman of the Committee on Ways and Means,
presented his name with the hope that other States, profiting by the
tariff which he had framed, might join them in recognising his
valuable public service. But the convention had not taken kindly to
him, probably for the same reason that Greeley desired his promotion;
for, upon the slavery question, Fillmore had been more pronounced and
aggressive than Seward, sympathising and acting in Congress with
Giddings of Ohio and John P. Hale of New Hampshire, a part very
difficult to perform in those days without losing caste as a Whig.

Fillmore's defeat on May 1, however, made him the candidate for
governor on September 11. Weed pronounced for him very early, and the
party leaders fell into line with a unanimity that must have been as
balm to Fillmore's sores. "I wish to say to you," wrote George W.
Patterson to Weed, "that you are right, as usual, on the question of
governor. After Frelinghuysen was named for Vice President, it struck
me that Fillmore above all others was the man. You may rest assured
that he will help Mr. Clay to a large number of good men's votes. Mr.
Clay's slaves and his old duel would have hurt him with some men who
will now vote the ticket. Fillmore is a favourite everywhere; and
among the Methodists where 'old Father Fillmore' is almost worshipped,
they will go him with a rush."[335] Yet the Buffalo statesman, not a
little disgruntled over his treatment at Baltimore, disclaimed any
desire for the nomination. To add to his chagrin, he was told that
Weed and Seward urged his selection for his destruction, and whether
he believed the tale or not, it increased his fear and apprehension.
But people did not take his assumed indifference seriously, and he was
unanimously nominated for governor, with Samuel J. Wilkin, of Orange,
for lieutenant-governor. Wilkin had been a leader of the Adams party
in the Assembly of 1824 and 1825. He was then a young lawyer of much
promise, able and clear-headed, and, although never a showy debater,
he possessed useful business talent, and an integrity that gave him
high place among the men who guided his party. "I like Wilkin for
lieutenant-governor," wrote Seward, although he had been partial to
the selection of John A. King.

[Footnote 335: Thurlow Weed Barnes, _Life of Thurlow Weed_, Vol. 2, p.

Without doubt, each party had put forward, for governor, its most
available man. Fillmore was well known and at the height of his
popularity. During the protracted and exciting tariff struggle of
1842, he had sustained himself as chairman of the Ways and Means
Committee with marked ability. It added to his popularity, too, that
he had seemed indifferent to the nomination. In some respects Fillmore
and Silas Wright were not unlike. They were distinguished for their
suavity of manners. Both were impressive and interesting characters,
wise in council, and able in debate, with a large knowledge of their
State and country; and, although belonging to opposite parties and in
different wings of the capitol at Washington, their service in
Congress had brought to the debates a genius which compelled
attention, and a purity of life that raised in the public estimation
the whole level of congressional proceedings. Neither was an orator;
they were clear, forcible, and logical; but their speeches were not
quoted as models of eloquence. In spite of an unpleasant voice and a
slow, measured utterance, there was a charm about Wright's speaking;
for, like Fillmore, he had earnestness and warmth. With all their
power, however, they lacked the enthusiasm and the boldness that
captivate the crowd and inspire majorities. Yet they had led
majorities. In no sphere of Wright's activities, was he more strenuous
than in the contest for the independent treasury plan which he
recommended to Van Buren, and which, largely through his efforts as
chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, was finally forced into law
on the 4th of July, 1840. Fillmore, in putting some of the hated
taxes of 1828 into the tariff act of 1842, was no less strenuous,
grappling facts with infinite labour, until, at last, he overcame a
current of public opinion that seemed far too powerful for resistance.

Of the two men, Silas Wright was undoubtedly the stronger character.
He was five years older than Fillmore, and his legislative experience
had been four or five years longer. His great intellectual power
peculiarly fitted him for the United States Senate. He had chosen
finance as his specialty, and in its discussion had made a mark. He
could give high and grave counsel in great emergencies. His
inexhaustible patience, his active attention and industry, his genius
in overcoming impediments of every kind, made him the peer of the
ablest senator. He was not without ambitions for himself; but they
were always subordinate in him to the love of party and friends. It
will never be known how far he influenced Van Buren's reply to Hammit.
He bitterly opposed the annexation of Texas, and his conferences with
the ex-President must have encouraged the latter's adherence to his
former position. Van Buren's defeat, however, in no wise changed
Wright's attitude toward him. It is doubtful if the latter could have
been nominated President at Baltimore had he allowed the use of his
name, but it was greatly to his credit, showing the sincerity of his
friendship for Van Buren, that he spurned the suggestion and promptly
declined a unanimous nomination for Vice President. Such action places
him in a very small group of American statesmen who have deliberately
turned their backs upon high office rather than be untrue to friends.

Silas Wright was strictly a party man. He came near subjecting every
measure and every movement in his career to the test of party loyalty.
He started out in that way, and he kept it up until the end. In 1823
he sincerely favoured the choice of presidential electors by the
people, but, for the party's sake, he aided in defeating the measure.
Two years later, he preferred that the State be unrepresented in the
United States Senate rather than permit the election of Ambrose
Spencer, then the nominee of a Clintonian majority, and he used all
his skill to defeat a joint session of the two houses. For the sake of
party he now accepted the gubernatorial nomination. Desire to remain
in the Senate, opposition to the annexation of Texas, dislike of
participating in factional feuds, refusal to stand in the way of
Bouck's nomination, the dictates of his better judgment, all gave way
to party necessity. He anticipated defeat for a second term should he
now be elected to a first, but it had no influence. The party needed
him, and, whatever the result to himself, he met it without complaint.
This was the man upon whom the Democrats relied to carry New York and
to elect Polk.

There were other parties in the field. The Native Americans, organised
early in 1844, watched the situation with peculiar emotions. This
party had suddenly sprung up in opposition to the ease with which
foreigners secured suffrage and office; and, although it shrewdly
avoided nominations for governor and President, it demoralised both
parties by the strange and tortuous manoeuvres that had ended in the
election of a mayor of New York in the preceding spring. It operated,
for the most part, in that city, but its sympathisers covered the
whole State. Then, there was the anti-rent party, confined to Delaware
and three or four adjoining counties, where long leases and trifling
provisions of forfeiture had exasperated tenants into acts of
violence. Like the Native Americans, these Anti-Renters avoided state
and national nominations, and traded their votes to secure the
election of legislative nominees.

But the organisation which threatened calamity was the abolition or
liberty party. It had nominated James G. Birney of Michigan for
President and Alvan Stewart for governor, and, though no one expected
the election of either, the organisation was not unlikely to hold the
balance of power in the State. Stewart was a born Abolitionist and a
lawyer of decided ability. In the section of the State bounded by
Oneida and Otsego counties, where he shone conspicuously as a leader
for a quarter of a century, his forensic achievements are still
remembered. Stanton says he had no superior in central New York. "His
quaint humour was equal to his profound learning. He was skilled in a
peculiar and indescribable kind of argumentation, wit, and sarcasm,
that made him remarkably successful out of court as well as in court.
Before anti-slavery conventions in several States he argued grave and
intricate constitutional questions with consummate ability."[336]

[Footnote 336: H.B. Stanton, _Random Recollections_, p. 135.]

It was evident that the Anti-Renters and Native Americans would draw,
perhaps, equally from Whigs and Democrats; but the ranks of
Abolitionists could be recruited only from the anti-slavery Whigs.
Behind Stewart stood Gerrit Smith, William Jay, Beriah Green, and
other zealous, able, benevolent, pure-minded men--some of them
wealthy. Their shibboleth was hostility to a slave-holder, or one who
would vote for a slave-holder. This barred Henry Clay and his

At the outset the Whigs plainly had the advantage. Spring elections
had resulted auspiciously, and the popularity of Clay seemed
unfailing. He had avowed opposition to the annexation of Texas, and,
although his letter was not based upon hostility to slavery and the
slave trade, it was positive, highly patriotic, and in a measure
satisfactory to the anti-slavery Whigs. "We are at the flood," Seward
wrote Weed; "our opponents at the ebb."[337] The nomination of Wright
had greatly strengthened the Democratic ticket, but the nomination of
Polk, backed by the Texas resolution, weighted the party as with a
ball and chain. Edwin Croswell had characterised Van Buren's letter to
Hammit as "a statesmanlike production," declaring that "every American
reader, not entirely under the dominion of prejudice, will admit the
force of his conclusions."[338] This was the view generally held by the
party throughout the State; yet, within a month, every American reader
who wished to remain loyal to the Democratic party was compelled to
change his mind. In making this change, the "slippery-elm editor," as
Croswell came to be known because of the nearness of his office to the
old elm tree corner in Albany, led the way and the party followed. It
was a rough road for many who knew they were consigning to one grave
all hope of ending the slavery agitation, while they were resurrecting
from another, bitter and dangerous controversies that had been laid to
rest by the Missouri Compromise. Yet only one poor little protest, and
that intended for private circulation, was heard in opposition, the
signers, among them William Cullen Bryant, declaring their intention
to vote for Polk, but to repudiate any candidate for Congress who
agreed with Polk. Bryant's purpose was palpable and undoubted; but it
soon afterward became part of his courage not to muffle plain truth
from any spurious notions of party loyalty, and part of his glory not
to fail to tell what people could not fail to see.

[Footnote 337: F.W. Seward, _Life of W.H. Seward_, Vol. 1, p. 699.]

[Footnote 338: Jabez D. Hammond, _Political History of New York_, Vol.
3, p. 441, _note_.]

As the campaign advanced, the Whig side of it resembled the contest of
1840. The log cabin did not reappear, and the drum and cannon were
less noisy, but ash poles, cut from huge trees and spliced one to
another, carried high the banner of the statesman from Ashland.
Campaign songs, with choruses for "Harry of the West," emulated those
of "Old Tip," and parades by day and torch-light processions by night,
increased the enthusiasm. The Whigs, deeply and personally attached to
Henry Clay, made mass-meetings as common and nearly as large as those
held four years before. Seward speaks of fifteen thousand men gathered
at midday in Utica to hear Erastus Root, and of a thousand unable to
enter the hall at night while he addressed a thousand more within.
Fillmore expressed the fear that Whigs would mistake these great
meetings for the election, and omit the necessary arrangements to get
the vote out. "I am tired of mass-meetings," wrote Seward. "But they
will go on."[339]

[Footnote 339: F.W. Seward, _Life of W.H. Seward_, Vol. 1, p. 723.]

Seward and Weed were not happy during this campaign. The friends of
Clay, incensed at his defeat in 1840, had pronounced them the chief
conspirators. Murmurs had been muffled until after Tyler's betrayal of
the party and Seward's retirement, but when these sources of possible
favours ran dry, the voice of noisy detraction reached Albany and
Auburn. It was not an ordinary scold, confined to a few conservatives;
but the censure of strong language, filled with vindictiveness,
charged Weed with revolutionary theories, tending to unsettle the
rights of property, and Seward with abolition notions and a desire to
win the Irish Catholic vote for selfish purposes. In February, 1844,
it was not very politely hinted to Seward that he go abroad during the
campaign; and by June, Weed talked despondingly, proposing to leave
the _Journal_. Seward had the spirit of the Greeks. "If you resign,"
he said, "there will be no hope left for ten thousand men who hold on
because of their confidence in you and me."[340] In another month Weed
had become the proprietor as well as the editor of the _Evening

[Footnote 340: F.W. Seward, _Life of W.H. Seward_, Vol. 1, p. 719.

"I think you cannot leave the _Journal_ without giving up the whole
army to dissension and overthrow. I agree that if, by remaining, you
save it, you only draw down double denunciation upon yourself and me.
Nor do I see the way through and beyond that. But there will be some
way through. I grant, then, that, for yourself and me, it is wise and
profitable that you leave. I must be left without the possibility of
restoration, without a defender, without an organ. Nothing else will
satisfy those who think they are shaded. Then, and not until then,
shall I have passed through the not unreasonable punishment for too
much success. But the party--the country? They cannot bear your
withdrawal. I think I am not mistaken in this. Let us adhere, then.
Stand fast. It is neither wise nor reasonable that we should bear the
censure of defeat, when we have been deprived of not merely command,
but of a voice in council."--W.H. Seward to Thurlow Weed, _Ibid._,
Vol. 1, p. 720.]

As the campaign grew older, however, Clay's friends gladly availed
themselves of Seward's influence with anti-slavery Whigs and
naturalised citizens. "It is wonderful what an impulse the nomination
of Polk has given to the abolition sentiment," wrote Seward. "It has
already expelled other issues from the public mind. Our Whig central
committee, who, a year ago, voted me out of the party for being an
Abolitionist, has made abolition the war-cry in their call for a
mass-meeting."[341] Even the sleuth-hounds of No-popery were glad to
invite Seward to address the naturalised voters, whose hostility to
the Whigs, in 1844, resembled their dislike of the Federalists in
1800. "It is a sorry consolation for this ominous aspect of things,"
he wrote Weed, "that you and I are personally exempt from the
hostility of this class toward our political associates."[342]

[Footnote 341: F.W. Seward, _Life of W.H. Seward_, Vol. 1, p. 718.]

[Footnote 342: _Ibid._, p. 723.]

Yet no man toiled more sedulously in this campaign than Seward.
"Harrison had his admirers, Clay his lovers," is the old way of
putting it. To elect him, Whigs were ready to make any sacrifice, to
endure any hardship, and to yield every prejudice. Fillmore was
ubiquitous, delivering tariff and anti-Texas speeches that filled all
mouths with praise and all hearts with principle, as Seward expressed
it. An evident desire existed on the part of many in both parties, to
avoid a discussion of the annexation of Texas, and its consequent
extension of slavery, lest too much or too little be said; but leaders
like Seward and Fillmore were too wise to believe that they could fool
the people by concealing the real issue. "Texas and slavery are at war
with the interests, the principles, the sympathies of all," boldly
declared the unmuzzled Auburn statesman. "The integrity of the Union
depends on the result. To increase the slave-holding power is to
subvert the Constitution; to give a fearful preponderance which may,
and probably will, be speedily followed by demands to which the
Democratic free-labour States cannot yield, and the denial of which
will be made the ground of secession, nullification and disunion."[343]
This was another of Seward's famous prophecies. At the time it seemed
extravagant, even to the strongest anti-slavery Whigs, but the future
verified it.

[Footnote 343: _Ibid._, p. 727.]

The Whigs, however, did not, as in 1840, have a monopoly of the
enthusiasm. The public only half apprehended, or refused to apprehend
at all, the danger in the Texas scheme; and, after the first chill of
their immersion, the Democrats rallied with confidence to the support
of their ticket. Abundant evidence of their strength had manifested
itself at each state election since 1841, and, although no trailing
cloud of glory now testified to a thrifty and skilful management, as
in 1836, the two factions, in spite of recent efforts to baffle and
defeat each other, pulled themselves together with amazing quickness.
Indeed, if we may rely upon Whig letters of the time, the Democrats
exhibited the more zeal and spirit throughout the campaign. They had
their banners, their songs, and their processions. In place of ash,
they raised hickory poles, and instead of defending Polk, they
attacked Clay. Other candidates attracted little attention. Clay was
the commanding, central figure, and over him the battle raged. There
were two reasons for this. One was the fear of a silent free-soil
vote, which the Bryant circular had alarmed in his favour. The other
was a desire to strengthen the liberty party, and to weaken the Whigs
by holding up Clay as a slave-holder. The cornerstone of that party
was hostility to the slave-holder; and if a candidate, however much he
opposed slavery, owned a single slave, it excluded him from its
suffrage. This was the weak point in Clay's armour, and the one of
most peril to the Whigs. To meet it, the latter argued, with some show
of success, that the conflict is not with one slave-holder, or with
many, but with slavery; and since the admission of Texas meant the
extension of that institution, a vote for Clay, who once advocated
emancipation in Kentucky and is now strongly opposed to Texas, is a
vote in behalf of freedom.

In September, Whig enthusiasm underwent a marked decline. Clay's July
letter to his Alabama correspondent, as historic now as it was
superfluous and provoking then, had been published, in which he
expressed a wish to see Texas added to the Union "upon just and fair
terms," and hazarded the opinion that "the subject of slavery ought
not to affect the question one way or the other."[344] This letter was
the prototype of the famous alliteration, "Rum, Romanism, and
Rebellion," in the Blaine campaign of 1884. Immediately Clay's most
active anti-slavery supporters were in revolt. "We had the
Abolitionists in a good way," wrote Washington Hunt from Lockport;
"but Mr. Clay seems determined that they shall not be allowed to vote
for him. I believe his letter will lose us more than two hundred votes
in this county."[345] The effects of the dreadful blow are as briefly
summed up by Seward: "I met _that letter_ at Geneva, and thence here,
and now everybody droops, despairs. It jeopards, perhaps loses, the
State."[346] A few weeks later, in company with several friends,
Seward, as was his custom, made an estimate of majorities, going over
the work several times and taking accurate account of the drift of
public sentiment. An addition of the columns showed the Democrats
several thousands ahead. Singularly enough, Fillmore, whose accustomed
despondency exhibited itself even in 1840, now became confident of
success. This can be accounted for, perhaps, on the theory that to a
candidate the eve of an election is "dim with the self-deceiving
twilight of sophistry." He believed in his own safety even if Clay
failed. Although the deep, burning issue of slavery had not yet roused
popular forces into dangerous excitement, Fillmore had followed the
lead of Giddings and Hale, sympathising deeply with the restless flame
that eventually guided the policy of the North with such admirable
effect. On the other hand, Wright approved his party's doctrine of
non-interference with slavery. He had uniformly voted to table
petitions for the abolition of slavery in the District of Columbia,
declaring that any interference with the system, in that district, or
in the territories, endangered the rights of their citizens, and
would be a violation of faith toward those who had settled and held
slaves there. He voted for the admission of Arkansas and Florida as
slave States; and his opposition to Texas was based wholly upon
reasons other than the extension of slavery. The Abolitionists
understood this, and Fillmore confidently relied upon their aid,
although they might vote for Birney instead of Clay.

[Footnote 344: Private letter, Henry Clay to Stephen Miller,
Tuscaloosa, Ala., July 1, 1844.]

[Footnote 345: Thurlow Weed Barnes, _Life of Thurlow Weed_, Vol. 2, p.

[Footnote 346: F.W. Seward, _Life of W.H. Seward_, Vol. 1, p. 724.]

That Seward rightly divined public sentiment was shown by the result.
Polk carried the State by a plurality of little more than five
thousand, and Wright by ten thousand, while Stewart polled over
fifteen thousand votes.[347] These last figures told the story. Four
years before, Birney had received less than seven thousand votes in
the whole country; now, in New York, the Abolitionists, exceeding
their own anticipations, held the balance of power.[348] Had their
votes been cast for Clay and Fillmore both would have carried New
York, and Clay would have become the Chief Executive. "Until Mr. Clay
wrote his letter to Alabama," said Thurlow Weed, dispassionately, two
years afterward, "his election as President was certain."[349]

[Footnote 347: Silas Wright, 241,090; Millard Fillmore, 231,057; Alvan
Stewart, 15,136.--_Civil List, State of New York_ (1887), p. 166.]

[Footnote 348: In 1840 Gerrit Smith received 2662; in 1842 Alvan
Stewart polled 7263.--_Ibid._, p. 166.]

[Footnote 349: Thurlow Weed Barnes, _Life of Thurlow Weed_, Vol. 1, p.

Clay's defeat was received by his devoted followers as the knell of
their hopes. For years they had been engaged labourously in rolling
uphill the stone of Sisyphus, making active friendships and seeking a
fair trial. That opportunity had come at last. It had been an affair
of life or death; the contest was protracted, intense, dramatic; the
issue for a time had hung in poignant doubt; but the dismal result let
the stone roll down again to the bottom of the hill. No wonder stout
men cried, and that thousands declared the loss of all further
interest in politics. To add to their despair and resentment, the
party of Birney and Stewart exulted over its victory not less than the
party of Polk and Silas Wright.




Although the Democrats were again successful in electing a governor
and President, their victory had not healed the disastrous schism that
divided the party. The rank and file throughout the State had not yet
recognised the division into Radicals and Conservatives; but the
members of the new Legislature foresaw, in the rivalries of leaders,
the approach of a marked crisis, the outcome of which they awaited
with an overshadowing sense of fear.

The strife of programmes began in the selection of a speaker. Horatio
Seymour was the logical candidate. Of the Democratic members of the
last Assembly, he was the only one returned. He had earned the
preferment by able service, and a disposition obtained generally among
members to give him the right of way; but the state officials had not
forgotten and could not forget that Seymour, whose supple and
trenchant blade had opened a way through the ranks of the Radicals for
the passage of the last canal appropriation, had further sinned by
marshalling Governor Bouck's forces at the Syracuse convention on
September 4, 1844; and to teach him discretion and less independence,
they promptly warned him of their opposition by supporting William C.
Crain of Herkimer, a fierce Radical of the Hoffman school and a man of
some ability. Though the ultimate decision favoured Seymour, Azariah
C. Flagg, the state comptroller, resolutely exhausted every device of
strategy and tactics to avert it. He summoned the canal board, who, in
turn, summoned to Albany their up-state employees, mindful of the
latter's influence with the unsophisticated legislators already
haunted by the fear of party disruption. To limit the issue, Governor
Wright was quoted as favourable to Crain, and, although it
subsequently became known that he had expressed no opinion save one of
entire indifference, this added to the zeal of the up-state Radicals,
who now showed compliance with every hint of their masters.

In the midst of all Horatio Seymour remained undaunted. No one had
better poise, or firmer patience, or possessed more adroit methods.
The personal attractions of the man, his dignity of manner, his
finished culture, and his ability to speak often in debate with
acceptance, had before attracted men to him; now he was to reveal the
new and greater power of leadership. Seymour's real strength as a
factor in state affairs seems to date from this contest. It is
doubtful if he would have undertaken it had he suspected the
fierceness of the opposition. He was not ambitious to be speaker. So
far as it affected him personally, he had every motive to induce him
to remain on the floor, where his eloquence and debating power had won
him such a place. But, once having announced his candidacy he pushed
on with energy, sometimes masking his movements, sometimes mining and
countermining; yet always conscious of the closeness of the race and
of the necessity of keeping his activity well spiced with good nature.
Back of him stood Edwin Croswell. The astute editor of the _Argus_
recognised in Horatio Seymour, so brilliant in battle, so strong in
council, the future hope of the Democratic party. It is likely, too,
that Croswell already foresaw that Van Buren's opposition to the
annexation of Texas, and the growing Free-soil sentiment, must
inevitably occasion new party alignments; and the veteran journalist,
who had now been a party leader for nearly a quarter of a century,
understood the necessity of having available and successful men ready
for emergencies. Under his management, therefore, and to offset the
influence of the canal board's employees, Conservative postmasters and
Conservative sheriffs came to Albany, challenging their Radical canal
opponents to a measurement of strength. When, finally, the caucus
acted, the result showed how closely divided were the factions. Of
seventy Democrats in the Assembly, sixty-five were present, and of
these thirty-five voted for Seymour.

The irritation and excitement of this contest were in a measure
allayed by an agreement to renominate Azariah C. Flagg for comptroller
of state. His ability and his service warranted it. He had performed
the multiplying duties of the office with fidelity; and, although
chief of the active Radicals, the recollection of his stalwart aid in
the great financial panic of 1837, and in the preparation and advocacy
of the act of 1842, gave him a support that no other candidate could
command. It was also in the minds of two or three members holding the
balance of power between the factions, to add to the harmony by
securing an even division of the other four state offices. In carrying
out their project, however, the gifted Croswell took good care that
Samuel Young, whose zeal and ability especially endeared him to the
Radicals, should be beaten for secretary of state by one vote, and
that Thomas Farrington, another favourite Radical, should fail of
re-election as treasurer of state. Since Young and Farrington were the
only state officers, besides Flagg, seeking re-election, it looked as
if their part in the speakership struggle had marked them for defeat,
a suspicion strengthened by the fact that two Radicals, who took no
part in that contest, were elected attorney-general and

Reproachful ironies and bitter animosity, boding ill for future
harmony, now followed the factions into a furious and protracted
caucus for the selection of United States senators in place of Silas
Wright and Nathaniel P. Tallmadge, the latter having resigned to
accept the governorship of Wisconsin.[350] The Conservatives supported
Daniel S. Dickinson and Henry A. Foster; the Radicals John A. Dix and
Michael Hoffman. There was more, however, at stake than the selection
of two senators; for the President would probably choose a member of
his Cabinet from the stronger faction; and to have time to recruit
their strength, the programme of the Radicals included an adjournment
of the caucus after nominating candidates for the unexpired terms of
Wright and Tallmadge. This would possibly give them control of the
full six years' term to begin on the 4th of the following March. A
majority of the caucus, however, now completely under the influence of
Edwin Croswell and Horatio Seymour, concluded to do one thing at a
time, and on the first ballot Dix was nominated for Wright's place,
giving him a term of four years. The second ballot named Dickinson for
the remaining month of Tallmadge's term. Then came the climax--the
motion to adjourn. Instantly the air was thick with suggestions.
Coaxing and bullying held the boards. All sorts of proposals came and
vanished with the breath that floated them; and, though the hour
approached midnight, a Conservative majority insisted upon finishing
the business. The election of Dix for a term of four years, they said,
had given the Radicals fair representation. Still, the latter
clamoured for an adjournment. But the Conservatives, inexorable,
demanded a third ballot, and it gave Dickinson fifty-four out of
ninety-three members present. When the usual motion to make the
nomination unanimous was bitterly opposed, Horatio Seymour took the
floor, and with the moving charm and power of his voice, with temper
unbroken, he made a fervid appeal for harmony. But bitterness ruled
the midnight hour; unanimity still lacked thirty-nine votes. As the
Radicals passed out into the frosty air, breaking the stillness with
their expletives, the voice of the tempter suggested a union with the
Whigs for the election of Samuel Young. There was abundant precedent
to support the plan. Bailey had bolted Woodworth's nomination; German
had defeated Thompson; and, in 1820, Rufus King had triumphed over
Samuel Young. But these were the tactics of DeWitt Clinton. In 1845,
the men who aspired to office, the men with a past and the men who
looked for a future, had no words of approval for such methods; and
before the Whigs heard of the scheme, Samuel Young had stamped it to

[Footnote 350: "On that occasion the feud between the two sections of
the party was disclosed in all its intensity. The conflict, which was
sharp and ended in the election of Daniel S. Dickinson for the
six-years term, in spite of the strong opposition of the Radical
members of the caucus, was a triumph for the Conservatives, and a
defeat for the friends of Governor Wright. The closing years of the
great statesman's life were overcast by shadows; adverse influences
were evidently in the ascendant, not only at Washington, but close
about him and at home."--Morgan Dix, _Memoirs of John A. Dix_, Vol. 1,
p. 194.]

To add to the chagrin of the Radicals, President Polk now invited
William L. Marcy, a Conservative of great prestige, to become
secretary of war. The Radicals did not know, and perhaps could not
know the exact condition of things at the national capital; certainly
they did not know how many elements of that condition told against
them. President Polk, apparently with a desire of treating his New
York friends fairly, asked Van Buren to recommend a New Yorker for his
Cabinet; and, with the approval of Silas Wright, the former President
urged Benjamin F. Butler for secretary of state, or Azariah C. Flagg
for secretary of the treasury. Either of these men would have filled
the place designated with great ability. Polk was largely indebted to
Van Buren and his friends; Butler had given him the vote of New York,
and Wright, by consenting to stand for governor at the urgent
solicitation of Van Buren, had carried the State and thus made
Democratic success possible. But Polk, more interested in future
success than in the payment of past indebtedness, had an eye out for
1848. He wanted a man devoted solely to his interests and to the
annexation of Texas; and, although Butler was a personal friend and an
ornament to the American bar, he hesitated, despite the insistence of
Van Buren and Wright, to make a secretary of state out of the most
devoted of Van Buren's adherents, who, like the sage of Lindenwald
himself, bitterly opposed annexation.

In this emergency, the tactics of Edwin Croswell came to Polk's
relief. The former knew that Silas Wright could not, if he would,
accept a place in the Cabinet, since he had repeatedly declared during
the campaign that, if elected, he would not abandon the governorship
to enter the Cabinet, as Van Buren did in 1829. Croswell knew, also,
that Butler, having left the Cabinet of two Presidents to re-enter his
profession, would not give it up for a secondary place among Polk's
advisers. At the editor's suggestion, therefore, the President
tendered Silas Wright the head of the treasury, and, upon his
declination, an offer of the secretaryship of war came to Butler. The
latter said he would have taken, although with reluctance, either the
state or treasury department; but the war portfolio carried him too
far from the line of his profession. Thus the veteran editor's scheme,
having worked itself out as anticipated, left the President at
liberty, without further consultation with Van Buren, to give William
L. Marcy[351] what Butler had refused. To the Radicals the result was
as startling as it was unwelcome. It left the Conservatives in
authority. Through Marcy they would command the federal patronage, and
through their majority in the Legislature they could block the wheels
of their opponents. It was at this time that the Conservatives,
"hankering," it was said, after the offices to be given by an
Administration committed to the annexation of Texas, were first called

[Footnote 351: "On the great question that loomed threateningly on the
horizon, Wright and Marcy took opposite sides. Wright moved calmly
along with the advancing liberal sentiment of the period, and died a
firm advocate of the policy of the Wilmot Proviso. On this test
measure Marcy took no step forward."--H.B. Stanton, _Random
Recollections_, p. 40.]

John Young, a Whig member of the Assembly, no sooner scented the
increasingly bitter feeling between Hunker and Radical than he
prepared to take advantage of it. Young was a great surprise to the
older leaders. He had accomplished nothing in the past to entitle him
to distinction. In youth he accompanied his father, a Vermont
innkeeper, to Livingston County, where he received a common school
education and studied law, being admitted to the bar in 1829, at the
age of twenty-seven. Two years later he served a single term in the
Assembly, and for ten years thereafter he had confined his attention
almost exclusively to his profession, becoming a strong jury lawyer.
In the meantime, he changed his politics from a firm supporter of
Andrew Jackson to a local anti-masonic leader, and finally to a
follower of Henry Clay. Then the Whigs sent him to Congress, and, in
the fall of 1843, elected him to the celebrated Assembly through which
Horatio Seymour forced the canal appropriation. But John Young seems
to have made little more of a reputation in this historic struggle
than he did as a colleague of Millard Fillmore in the Congress that
passed the tariff act of 1842. He did not remain silent, but neither
his words nor his acts conveyed any idea of the gifts which he was
destined to disclose in the various movements of a drama that was now,
day by day, through much confusion and bewilderment, approaching a
climax. From a politician of local reputation, he leaped to the
distinction of a state leader. If unnoticed before, he was now the
observed of all observers. This transition, which came almost in a
day, surprised the Democrats no less than it excited the Whigs; for
Young lifted a minority into a majority, and from a hopeless defeat
was destined to lead his party to glorious victory. "With talents of a
high order," says Hammond, "with industry, with patient perseverance,
and with a profound knowledge of men, he was one of the ablest party
leaders and most skilful managers in a popular body that ever entered
the Assembly chamber."[352] Hammond, writing while Young was governor,
did not express the view of Thurlow Weed, who was unwilling to accept
tact and cunning for great intellectual power. But there is no doubt
that Young suddenly showed uncommon parliamentary ability, not only as
a debater, owing to his good voice and earnest, persuasive manner, but
as a skilful strategist, who strengthened coolness, courtesy, and
caution with a readiness to take advantage of the supreme moment to
carry things his way. Within a month, he became an acknowledged master
of parliamentary law, easily bringing order out of confusion by a few
simple, clear, compact sentences. If his learning did not rank him
among the Sewards and the Seymours, he had no occasion to fear an
antagonist in the field on which he was now to win his leadership.

[Footnote 352: Jabez D. Hammond, _Political History of New York_, Vol.
3, p. 537.]