MoboReader > Literature > An American Politician

   Chapter 23 No.23

An American Politician By F. Marion Crawford Characters: 33845

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02

John Harrington and Josephine Thorn were married in the autumn of that year, and six months later John was elected to the Senate. With characteristic patience he determined to await a favorable opportunity before speaking at any length in the Capitol. He loved his new life, and the instinct to take a leading part was strong in him, but he knew too well the importance of the first impression made by a long speech to thrust himself forward until the right moment came.

It chanced that the presidential election took place in that year, just a twelvemonth after John's marriage, and the unusual occurrences that attended the struggle gave him the chance he desired. Three candidates were supported nearly equally by the East, the West, and the South, and on opening the sealed documents in the presence of the two houses, it was found that no one of the three had obtained the majority necessary to elect him. The country was in a state of unparalleled agitation. The imminent danger was that the non-election of the candidate from the West would produce a secession of the Western States from the Union, in the same way that a revolution was nearly brought about in 1876, during the contest between Mr. Hayes and Mr. Tilden.

In this position of affairs, the electors being unable to agree upon any one of the three candidates, the election was thrown into the hands of Congress, in accordance with the clause of the Constitution which provides that in such cases the House of Representatives shall elect a president, each State having but one vote.

Harrington had made many speeches in different parts of the country during the election campaign, and had attracted much attention by his calm good sense in such excited times. There was consequently a manifest desire among senators and representatives to hear him speak in the Capitol, and upon the day when the final election of the President took place he judged that his opportunity had come. Josephine was in the ladies' gallery, and as John rose to his feet he looked long and fixedly up to her, gathering more strength to do well what he so much loved to do, from gazing at her whom he loved better than power, or fame, or any earthly thing. His eyes shone and his cheek paled; his old life with all its energy and active work was associated in his mind with failure, with discontent, and with solitude; his new life, with her by his side, was brilliant, happy, and successful. He felt within him the strength to move thousands, the faith in his cause and in his power to help it which culminates in great deeds. His strong voice rang out, clear and far-heard, as he spoke.

"MR. PRESIDENT,–We are here to decide, on behalf of our country, a great matter. Many of us, many more who are scattered over the land, will look back upon this day as one of the most important in our times, and for their sakes as well as our own we are bound to summon all our strength of intelligence and all our calmness of judgment to aid us in our decision.

"The question in which a certain number of ourselves are to become arbitrators is briefly this: Are we to act on this occasion like partisans, straining every nerve for the advantage of our several parties? or are we to act like free men, exerting our united forces in one harmonious body for the immediate good of the whole country? The struggle may seem at first sight to be a battle between the East, the West, and the South. In sober earnest, it is a contest between the changing principles of party politics on the one hand and the undying principle of freedom on the other.

"I need not make any long statement of the case to you. We are here assembled to elect a President. Our position is almost unprecedented in the history of the country. Instead of acquiescing in the declared will of the people, our fellow-citizens, we are told that the people's wish is divided, and we are called upon to act spontaneously for the people, in accordance with the constitution of our country. By our individual and unhampered votes the life of the country is to be determined for the next four years. Let us not forget the vast responsibility that is upon us. Let us join our hands and say to each other, 'We are no longer Republicans, nor Democrats, nor Independents–we are one party, the party of the Union, and there are none against us.'

"A partisan is not necessarily a man who asserts a truth and defends it with his whole strength. A partisan means one who takes up his position with a party. There is a limit where a partisan becomes an asserter of falsehood, and that limit is reached when a man resigns his own principles into the judgment of another, his conscience into another's keeping; when a man gives up free thought, free judgment, and free will in absolute and blind adherence to a set of thoughts, judgments, and decisions over which he exercises no control, and in the formation of which he has but one voice in many millions. Every one remembers the fable of the old man who, when dying, made his sons break their staves one by one, and then bade them bind a bundle of others together, and to try and break them by one effort. In the uniting of individuals in a party there is strength, but there must also be complete unity. If the old man had bidden his sons bind their staves in several bundles instead of in one, the result would have been doubtful. That is what party spirit makes men do. Party spirit is a universal solvent; it is the great acid, the aqua fortis of political alchemy, which eats through bands of steel and corrodes pillars of iron in its acrid virulence, till the whole engine of a nation's government is crumbled and dissolved into a shapeless and a worse than useless mass of broken metal.

"Man is free, his will is free, his choice, his judgments, his capacity for thought, and his power to profit by it are all as free as air, just so long as he remembers that they are his own–no longer. When he forgets that he is his own master, absolutely and entirely, he becomes another man's slave.

"The contest here is between political passion roused to its fiercest pitch by the antagonism of parties, and the universal liberty of opinion, which we all say we possess, while so few of us dare honestly exercise it. This passion, this political frenzy that seizes men and whirls them in its eddies, is a most singular compound of patriotism, of enthusiasm for an individual, and of the personal hopes, fears, generosity, and avarice of the individual who is enthusiastic. It is a passion which, existing in others, can be turned to account by the cool leader who does not possess it, but which may too easily bring ruin upon the man who is led.

"The danger ahead is this same party spirit, this wild and thoughtless frenzy in matters where unbiased judgment is most of all necessary. It is a rock upon which we have split before; it has taken us many years to recover from the shock, and now we are in danger of altogether losing our political life upon the same reef. Unless we mend our course we inevitably shall. Men forego every consideration of public honor and private conscience for the sake of electing a party candidate. The man at the helm of the party ship has declared that he will sail due north, or south, or east, or west, whatever happens, and his crew laugh together and keep no lookout; they even feel a certain pride in their leader, who thus defies the accidents of nature for the sake of sailing in a fixed direction.

"What is the result of all this? It is here before us. The country is splitting into parties. Three candidates are set up for the office of President. Three distinct parties stand in the field, each one vowing vengeance, secession, revolution, utter dismemberment of the Union, unless its chosen champion is elected to be chief of the Executive Department. Is this to be the life of our Republic in future? Is this all that so many millions of free citizens can do for the public good and for public harmony? What shall we gain by electing the candidate from the North, if the defeated candidate from the South is determined to produce a revolution; and if the disappointed candidate from the West threatens to touch off the dry powder and spring the mine of a great western secession? Have we not seen all this before? Has not the bitter cry of a nation's broken heart gone up to heaven already in mortal agony for these very things to which our uncontrollable political passions are hourly leading us?

"The contest is between political passion on the one hand and universal liberty on the other.

"Liberty in some countries is a kind of charade word, an anagram, a symbol representing an imaginary quantity, a password invented by unhappy men to express all that they do not possess; a term meaning in the minds of slaves a conglomerate of conditions so absurd, of aspirations so futile, of imaginary delights so fantastically unreasonable, that if the ideal state of which the chained dreamers rave were realized but for one moment, humanity would start in amazement at the first glimpse of so much monstrosity, and by and by would hold its sides with laughter at the folly of its deluded fellows. In most countries where liberty is talked of it is but a dream, and such a dream as could only occur to the sickened fancy of a generation of bondsmen. But it means something else with us. It is here, in this country, in this capital, in this hall, it is in the air we breathe, in the light we see, in the strong, free pulses of our blood; it is the heritage of men whose sires died for it, whose fathers laid down all they had for it, of men whose own veins have bled for it–and not in vain. In these United States, liberty is a fact.

"We must decide quickly, then, between the conditions of our liberty and the requirements of frantic political passion. We must decide between peace and war, for that is where the issue will come in the end. Between freedom, prosperity, and peace on the one side, and a civil war on the other; an alternative so horrible and inhuman and hideous, that the very mention of it makes brave men shiver in disgust at the memories the word recalls. Do you think we are much further from it now than we were in 1860? Do you think we were far from it in 1876? It is a short step from the threat to the deed when political passion is already turning to bitter personal hate.

"In our times there is much talk of civilization and culture. Two words define all that is necessary to be known about them. Civilization is peace. The uncivilized state of man is incessant war. Culture is conscience, because conscience means the exercise of honest judgment, and an ignorant people can form no honest judgment of their own which can be exercised.

"In a state of peace, educated and truthful men judge fairly, and act sensibly on their decisions. In other words, the majority is right and free. In times of war and in times of great ignorance majorities have rarely been either free or right.

"It is a bad sign of the times when education increases and truth disappears. They ought to grow together, for education means absolutely nothing but the teaching and learning of what is true. If it does not mean that, it means nothing. In some countries the idea of truth is coexistent with the idea of destroying all existing forms of belief. Some silly person recently went so far as to raise the cry in this country, 'Separate Church and State!' If there is a country where they are absolutely separated, it is ours; but let the beliefs of mankind take care of themselves. I dare say there will be Christians left in the world even when Professor Huxley has written his last book, and when Colonel Ingersoll has delivered his last lecture. I am reminded of the Chinese philosopher and political economist, who answered when he was asked about religious matters: 'Do you understand this world so well that you need occupy yourselves with another?'

"The issue turns upon no such absurdities, neither does it rest with any consideration of so-called platforms–free trade, civil service, free navigation, tariff reform, and all the rest of those things. The real issue is between civilization and barbarism, between peace and war.

"Be warned in this great strait. I believe we need few principles, but universal ones. I believe in the republic because it was founded in simplicity, and has been built up in strength by the strongest of strong men; because its existence proves the greatest truth with which we ever have to do, namely, that men are born equal and free, although they may grow up slaves to their evil passions, and become greater or less according as they manfully put their hands to the plough, or ignobly lie down and let themselves be trampled upon. The battle of life is to the stronger, but no man is so weak that he cannot raise himself a little if he will, according to the abilities that are born in him; and nowhere can he raise himself so speedily and securely as on this free soil of ours. Nowhere can he go so far without being molested; for nowhere can man put himself so closely and trustfully in the keeping of nature, certain that she will not fail him, certain that she will yield him a thousand fold for his labor.

"There are indeed times in the history of a great institution when it is just as well as necessary to reconsider the principles upon which it is founded. There are times in the life of a great nation when it behooves her chief men to examine and see whether the basis of her constitution is a sound one, and whether she can continue to grow great without any change in the fundamental conditions of her development. It is a bad and a dangerous time for a growing nation, but it is an almost inevitable stage in her life. Thank God, that time is past with us! Let us not think of the possibility of exposing ourselves again to civil war as an alternative against retrogression into barbarism.

"Civilization is peace, and to extend civilization is to increase the security of property in the world–of property and life and conscience. The natural and barbarous state of man is that where the human animal satisfies its cravings without any thought of consequences. The cultivated state is that where humanity has ceased to be merely animal, and considers the consequences first and the cravings afterwards. Civilization unites men so that they dwell together in harmony; to separate them into parties that strive to annihilate each other is to undo the work of civilization, to plunge the state into civil war; to hew it in pieces, and split it and tear it to shreds, till the magnificent body of thinking beings, acting as one man for the public good, is reduced to the miserable condition of a handful of hostile tribes, whose very existence depends upon successful robbery and well-timed violence.

"Party spirit, so long as it is only a force which binds together a number of men of honest purposes and opinions, is a good thing, and it is by its means that just and powerful majorities are formed and guided. But where party spirit loses sight of the characters of men, and judges them according as they are Republicans or Democrats, instead of considering whether they are good or bad citizens; when party spirit becomes a machine for obtaining power by fair or foul means, instead of a fixed principle for upholding the fair against the foul–then there is great danger that the majority itself is losing its liberty, and upon the liberty of majorities depends ultimately the stability and prosperity of the republic.

"Consider what is the history of the average politician to-day, of the man whose personal character is as good as that of his neighbor, who has always belonged to the same party, and who looks forward to the hope of political distinction. Consider how he has struggled through all manner of difficulties to his present position, striving always to maintain good relations with the chiefs of his party, while often acknowledging in his heart that he would act differently were his connection with those chiefs a matter of less vital importance to himself. He probably will tell you that his profession is politics. He has sacrificed much to obtain his seat in Congress, or his position in office, and he knows that henceforth he must live by it or else begin life over again in another sphere. At all events, for a term of years, his personal prosperity depends upon the use he can make of his hold upon the public goods. He is not individually to be blamed, perhaps, for he follows a precedent as widely recognized as it is universally pernicious. It is the system that is to be blamed, the general belief that a man can, and justly may, support himself by clinging to a set of principles of which he does not honestly approve; that he may earn his daily meal, since it comes to that in the end, by doing

jobs which in the free state he would despise as unworthy, and by speaking boldly in support of measures which he knows to be injurious to the welfare of the country. That is the history, the epitome of the ends and aims and manner of being of the average politician in our day. He has ventured into the waters of political life, and they have risen around him till he must use all his strength in keeping his head above them, though the torrent carry him whither it will and whither he would not. There are no compromises when a man is drowning.

"There are many who are not in any such position. There are men great and honest, and disinterested in the highest sense of the word–men whose whole lives prove it, whose whole record is one of honor and truth, whose following consists of men they have themselves chosen as their friends. We are not obliged to select a drowning man for our President; we can choose a man who stands on his own feet upon dry ground.

"There is an old proverb which contains much wisdom: 'Tell me who are your friends, and I will tell you what you are.' Is a man fit to stand at the head of a community of men when he has associated with a set of parasites, who live upon his leavings, and will starve him if they can, in order to enjoy his portion? Consider what is the position of the President of the United States. Think what vast power is placed in the hands of one man; what vast interests of public and private good are at stake; what an endless sequence of events and results of events must follow upon the individual action of the chief of the Executive Department; and remember how free and untrammeled that individual action is. A people who elect an officer to such a position need surely to be cautious in their choice and circumspect in their judgment of the man elected. They must satisfy themselves about what he is likely to do by judging honestly what he has done; they must know who are his friends, his supporters, his advisers, in order to judge of the friends he will make. They must take into their consideration also the character of his colleague, the vice-president, and the effect upon the country and the country's relation with, the world, should any disaster suddenly throw the vice-president into office. We cannot afford to elect a vice-president who would destroy the national credit in a week, should the President himself be overtaken by death. We must remember to count the cost of what we are doing, not passing over one item because another item seems just. We cannot overlook the future, nor disregard the influence which our election has upon the next; the steps which men, once in office, may take in order to secure to themselves another term, or to strengthen the position of the men whom they desire to succeed them.

"In a word, we must put forth all our strength. We must be cool, far-sighted, and impartial in such times as these. And yet, how has this campaign been hitherto conducted? Practically, by raising a party cry; by exciting every species of evil passion of which man is capable; by tickling the cupidity of one man and flattering the ambitions of another; by intimidating the weak, and groveling before the strong; by every species of fawning sycophancy on the one hand, and brutal overbearing bullying on the other.

"Party, party, party! A man would rather commit a crime than vote against his party. The evil runs through the country from East to West, from North to South, eating at the nation's heartstrings, gnawing at her sinews, and undermining her strength. The time is coming, is even now come, when two or three parties no longer suffice to express the disunion of the Union. There are three to-day: to-morrow there will be five, the next day ten, twenty, a hundred, till every man's hand is against his fellow, and his fellow's against him. The divisions have grown so wide that the majority and the minority are but the extremities of a countless set of internecine majorities and minorities.

"Members of parties are bound no longer by the honest determination to do the right, to choose the right, and to uphold the right–they are bound by fearful penalties to support their own man, were he the very chiefest outcast of the earth, lest the man of another party be elected in his place. The adverse candidate is perhaps avowedly better fitted for the office, a hundred times more honest, more experienced, more worthy of respect. But he belongs to the enemy. Down with him! let him perish in his honesty and righteousness! There is no good in him, for he is a Democrat! There is no good in him, for he is a Republican! He is a scoundrel, for he is a Southerner! He is a thief, for he is a Northerner! He is the prince of liars, for he comes from the West! He is the scum of mankind, for he is from the East! The people rage and rend each other, and the frenzy grows apace with the hour, till honor and justice, truth and manliness, are lost together in the furious chaos of human elements. The tortured airs of heaven howl out curses in a horrid unison, this fair free soil of ours, dishonored and befouled, moans beneath our feet in a dismal drone of hopeless woe; there is no rock or cavern or ghostly den of our mighty land but hisses back the echo of some hideous curse, and hell itself is upon earth, split and rent into multiplied hells.

"And the ultimate expression of the senses of these things is money. There is the chiefest disgrace. We are not worse than the old nations, but we have a right to be very much better; we have the obligation to be better, the unchanging moral obligation which lies upon every man to use the advantage he has. We alone among nations are free, we alone among nations inhabit a quarter of the world by ourselves, and live and grow great in our own way with no thought of the rest. Let us think more of living greatly than of prosecuting greatness for the sake of its pecuniary emoluments. Let us elect presidents who will give their efforts to making us all great together, and not to making some citizens rich at the expense of others who are also citizens. A President can do much toward either of these results, bad or good. He has the future of the republic in his hands, as well as the present. Let us be the richest among nations, since the course of events makes us so, but let us not be the most sordid. Let it never be said, in the land which has given birth to the only true liberty the world has ever seen, that liberty can be sold for a few dollars in the market-place, and bartered against the promise of four years of civil employment at a small salary!

"This party spirit, this miserable craving for the good things that may be extracted from the service of a party, has produced the crying evil of our times. A certain class–a very large class–call our politics dirty, and our politicians dishonest. Young men whose education and position in the commonwealth entitle them to a voice in public matters withdraw entirely from all contact with the real life of the country. Liberty has become a leper, a blind outcast in the eyes of the gilded youth of to-day. She sits apart in ashes and in rags, and asks a little charity of the richest of her children–a miserable mother despised and cast out by her sons. They will not own her for their mother, nor spare one crust to feed her from their plenty. They pass by on the other side, staring in admiration at the image they have set up for themselves–the image of what they consider social excellence, an idol compounded of decayed customs, and breathing the poisonous emanations of a dead world, a monument raised to the prejudices of former times, to the petty thirst for aristocratic distinctions which they cherish in their hearts, to their love of money, show, superficial culture, and armorial bearings.

"Truly let them perish in the fruition of their contemptible desires! Let them set up a thing called society and worship it; let them lose themselves in the contemplation of objects whose beauty they can never appreciate save by counting the cost; let them disgrace the names their honest fathers bore, by striving to establish their descent from houses stained with crime and denied with blood; let them disown their fathers and spit in their mothers' faces,–but let them not call themselves free, nor give themselves the airs of men. They toss their foolish heads in scorn of all that a man holds truest and best. We can afford to let them speak, if they please, even words of contempt and dishonor; we can afford to let them say that in laboring for our country we are groveling in mud and defiling our hands with impurity; but we cannot afford to let them steal our children from us, nor to submit to the pestilent influence of their corruption in our ranks. Those who would be of the republic must labor for the public good, instead of insolently asserting that there is no good in the public on which they have fattened and thriven so well.

"All honor to those who have set their faces against the growing evil, to check it if they can, and to lay the foundation of a barrier against which the tidal wave of corruption and dishonesty shall break in vain. All praise to the brave men who might live in the indolent lotus-eating atmosphere of wasteful idleness, but who have put their hand to the wheel of state, determined to bear all their might upon the whirling spokes rather than see the good ship go to pieces on the rock ahead. They have begun a good work, and they have sown a good seed; they ask for no reward, nor look for the reaping of the harvest. They mean to do right, and they do it, because right is right, not because they expect to be rewarded with the spoils or fed with fat tit-bits from the feast of party. Upon such men as these, be they rich or poor, we must rely. The poor man can make sacrifices as great as the rich, for he can forego for his country's sake, the promise of ease and the hope of wealth as well as any million-maker in the land.

"In the tremendous issue now before us we are called to decide upon the life of the country during the next four years. We are chosen to direct the course of a stream from its very source, and to turn it into a channel where it will run smoothly to the end. For the four years of an administration are like a river. The water rises suddenly from the spring and flows swiftly, ever increasing in volume as it is swollen by tributaries and absorbs into itself other rivers by the way. It may run smoothly in a fair stream, moistening barren lands and softening the parched desert into fertility; moving great engines of industry with a ceaseless, even strength; bearing the burden of a mighty and prosperous commerce on its broad bosom; spreading plenty and refreshment through the wide pastures by its banks, fed on its way by waters so clear that at the last it merges untainted and unsullied into the ocean, whence its limpid drops may again be taken up and poured in soft, life-giving rain upon the earth.

"But in digging for a spring men may find suddenly a torrent that they cannot control. It suddenly bursts its bounds and banks, and rushes headlong down, carrying everything before it in a resistless whirl of devastation, tearing great trees up by the roots, crashing through villages and towns and factories, girding the world with a liquid tempest that sends the works of man spinning down upon its dreadful course, till it plunges into the abyss, a frantic chaos of indiscriminate destruction, storm, and death.

"Can any of us here present say that he will, that he dare, take upon himself the responsibility of electing a President from motives of party prejudice? Having it in our power to agree upon the very best man, would any of us remember this day without shame if we disgraced those who trust us, by giving our votes to a mere party candidate? The danger is great, imminent, universal. We can save the country from it, I would almost say from, death itself, by acting in accordance with our honest convictions. Is any man so despicable, so lost to honor, that in such a case he will put aside the welfare of a nation for the miserable sake of party popularity? Are we to stand here in the guise and manner of free men, knowing that we are driven together like a flock of sheep into the fold by the howling of the wolves outside? Are we to strut and plume ourselves upon our unhampered freedom, while we act like slaves? Worse than slaves we should be if we allowed one breath of party spirit, one thought of party aggrandizement, to enter into the choice we are about to make. Slaves are driven to their work; shall we willingly let ourselves be beaten into doing the dirty work of others by sacrificing the nobility of our manhood? Do we meet here, like paid gladiators of old, to cut each other's throats in earnest while attacking and defending a sham fortress, raised in the arena for the diversion of those who set us on to the butchery and promise to pay the survivors? Are we to provide a feast of carrion for a flock of vultures and unclean beasts of prey, when we need only stand together, and be true to ourselves and to each other, to accomplish one of the greatest acts in history? The vultures will leave us alone unless we destroy each other; we need not fear them. We are not slaves to be terrified into compliance with evil, neither are we sheep that we need huddle trembling together at the snarling of a wolf."

"No, no, indeed!" were the words heard on all sides in the audience, now thoroughly roused.

"I do not say, elect this candidate, or that one. I am not canvassing for any candidate. It is too late for that, even if it were seemly for me to do so. I am canvassing for the cause of liberty against slavery, as better men have done before me in this very house. I am defending the reputation of unity against the slanderous attack of disunion, against the fearful peril of secession. I appeal to you, as you are men, to act as men in this great crisis, to put out your strong hands together and avert the overwhelming disaster that threatens us; to stand side by side as brothers,–for we are indeed brothers, children of one father and one mother, heirs of such magnificent heritage as has not fallen to the lot of mortality before, co-heirs of freedom, and inheritors of the free estate, five and fifty millions of free children, born to our mother, the great republic, who bow the knee to no man, and call no man master."

Loud applause greeted this part of the speech.

"I appeal from license to law, from division to harmony, from the raging turmoil of angry and devouring passion without to the calm serenity that reigns within these walls. As we turn in horror and loathing from the unbridled fury of human beings, changed almost to beasts, so let us turn in hope and security to those things we can honor and respect, to the dignity of truth and the unbending strength of unquestioned right.

"I appeal to you to make this day the greatest in your lives, the most memorable in our history as a nation. Lay aside this day the memories of the past, and look forward to the brightness of the future. Throw down the weapons of petty and murderous strife, and join together in perfect harmony of mutual trust. Be neither Republicans, nor Democrats, nor Independents. Be what it is your greatest privilege to be–American citizens. Cast parties to the winds, and uphold the state. Trample under your free-born feet the badges of party bondage, the ignoble chains of party slavery, the wretched hopes of party preferment."

"Yes. Hear, hear! He is right!" cried many voices.

"Yes," answered John Harrington, in tones that rose to the very roof of the vast building.

"'Yes, by that blood our fathers shed,

O Union, in thy sacred cause,

Whilst, streaming from the gallant dead,

It sealed and sanctified thy laws.'

"Yes, and strong hearts and strong hands will hold their own; the promise of brave men will prevail, and echoing down the avenues of time will strike grand chords of harmony in the lives of our children and children's children. So, in the far-off ages, when hundreds of millions of our flesh and blood shall fill this land, dwelling together in the glory of such peace as no turmoil can trouble and no discontent disturb, those men of the dim future will remember what we swore to do, and what we did; and looking back, they will say one to another: 'On that day our fathers struck a mighty blow, and shattered and crushed and trampled out all dissensions and all party strife forever and ever.'

"Choose, then, of your own heart and will a man to be our President and our leader. Elect him with one accord, and as you give your voices in the choice, stand here together, knee to knee, shoulder to shoulder, hand to hand; and let the mighty oath go thundering up to heaven,

"'This Union shall not be broken!'"

(← Keyboard shortcut) Previous Contents (Keyboard shortcut →)
 Novels To Read Online Free

Scan the QR code to download MoboReader app.

Back to Top