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LIFE AT WASHINGTON. - Harriet Martineau, Retrospect of Western Travel, vol. 1 
Retrospect of Western Travel in Three Vols (London: Saunders and Otley, 1838). Vol. 1.
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LIFE AT WASHINGTON.
Washington is no place for persons of domestic tastes. Persons who love dissipation, persons who love to watch the game of politics, and those who make a study of strong minds under strong excitements, like a season at Washington; but it is dreary to those whose pursuits and affections are domestic. I spent five weeks there, and was heartily glad when they were over, I felt the satisfaction, all the time, of doing something that was highly useful, —of getting knowledge that was necessary to me, and could not be otherwise obtained; but the quiet delights of my Philadelphia home (though there half our time was spent in visiting) had spoiled me for such a life as every one leads at the metropolis. I have always looked back upon the five weeks at Washington as one of the most profitable, but by far the least agreeable, of my residences in the United States.
Yet we were remarkably fortunate in our domestic arrangements there. We joined a party of highly esteemed and kind friends,—a member of the House of Representatives from Massachusetts, his wife, and sister-in-law, and a Senator from Maine. We (the above party) had a drawingroom to ourselves, and a separate table, at Mrs. Peyton's boarding-house: so that we formed a quiet family group enough, if only we had had any quiet in which to enjoy the privilege.
We arrived at Washington on the 13th of January, 1835,—the year of the short session of Congress, which closes on the 4th of March; so that we continued to witness the proceedings of Congress at its busiest and most interesting time.
The approach to the city is striking to all strangers from its oddness. I saw the dome of the Capitol from a considerable distance, at the end of a straight road; but, though I was prepared by the descriptions of preceding travellers, I was taken by surprise on finding myself beneath the splendid building; so sordid are the enclosures and houses on its very verge. We wound round its base, and entered Pennsylvania Avenue, the only one of the grand avenues, intended to centre in the Capitol, which has been built up with any completeness. Our boarding-house was admirably situated, being some little way down this avenue, a few minutes' walk only from the Capitol, and a mile in a straight line from the White House, the residences of the Heads of Departmetns, and the British Legation.
In Philadelphia, I had found perpetual difficulty in remembering that I was in a foreign country. The pronunciation of a few words by our host and hostess, the dinner table, and the inquiries of visiters were almost all that occurred to remind me that I was not in a brother's house. At Washington, it was very different. The city itself is unlike any other that ever was seen,—straggling out hither and thither,—with a small house or two, a quater of a mile from any other; so that in making calls “in the city,” we had to cross ditches and stiles, and walk alternately on grass and pavements, and strike across a field to reach a street.—Then the weather was so strange; sometimes so cold that the only way I could get any comfort was by stretching on the sofa drawn before the fire, up to the very fender; (on which days, every person who went in and out of the house was sure to leave the front door wide open:) then the next morning, perhaps, if we went out muffled in furs, we had to turn back, and exchange our wraps for a light shawl, Then, we were waited upon by a slave, appointed for the exclusive service of our party during our stay. Them, there were canvas-back ducks, and all manner of other ducks on the table, in greater profusion than any single article of food, except turkeys, that I ever saw. Then there was the society, singularly compounded from the largest variey of elements—foreign ambassardors, the Amercan government, members of Congress, from Clay and Webster down to Davy Crockett, Benton from Missouri, and Cuthbert, with the freshest Irish brogue, from Georgia; flippant young belles, “pious” wives, dutifully attending their husbands, and groaning over the frivolities of the place; grave judges, saucy travellers, pert newspaper reporters, melancholy Indian chiefs, and timid New England ladies, trembling on the verge of the vortex,—all this was wholly unlike any thing that is to be seen in any other city in the world; for all these are mixed up together in daily intercourse, like the higher circle of a little village, and there is nothing else. You have this or nothing; you pass your days among these people, or you spend them alone. It is in Washington that varieties of manners are conspicuous. There the Southerners appear to the most advantage, and the New Englander to the least: the case and frank courtesy of the gentry of the south, (with an occasional touch of arrogance, however,) constrasting favourably with the cautions, somewhat gauche, and too deferential air of the members from the north. One fancies one can tell a New England member in the open air by his deprecatory walk. He seems to bear in mind perpetually that he cannot fight a duel, while other people can. The odd mortals that wander in from the western border cannot be described as a class; for no one is like anybody else. One has a neck like aærane, making an interval of inches between stock and chin. Another wears no cravat, apparently because there is no room for one. A third has his lank black hair parted accurately down the middle, and disposed in bands in front, so that he is taken for a woman when only the head is seen in a crowd. A fourth puts an arm round the neck of a neighbour on either side as he stands, seeming afraid of his tall wire-hung frame dropping to piecesif he tries to stand alone: a fifth makes something between a bow and a curtesey to every body who comes nears, and proses with a knowing air:—all having shrewd faces, and being probably very fit for the business they come upon.
Our way of life was so diversiefied that it is difficult to given an account of our day; the only way n which one day resembled another being that none had any privacy. We breakfasted about nine, surrounded by the heaps of newspapers, documents and letters which the post and newsmen brought to the parliamentary members of our party. We amused ourselves with the different versions given by the Globe and the Intelligencer,—the administration and opposition papers,—to speeches and proceedings at which we had been present the day before; and were kindly made acuquainted by our representative friend with the nature of much of his business, the petitions he had to present, the dilemmas in which he was placed by his constituents of different parties, and his hopes and fears about favorite measures in Progress. The senator happned, from a peculiar set of circumstances, to be an idle man just now. He taugt me many things, and rallied me on my asking him so few questions, while, in fact, my head was already so much too full with what was flowing in upon me from all sides, that I longed for nothing so much as to go to sleep for a week,—This gentleman's peculiar and not very agreeable position arose out of the troublesome question of Instructins to Representatives. Senarors are chosen for a term of six years, one-third of the body going our every two years; the term being made thus long in order to ensure some stability of policy in the senate. If the government of the State from which the senator is sent changes its politics during his term, he may be annoyed by instructins to vote contrary to his principles, and, if he refuses, by a call to resign, on the ground of his representing the opinions of the minority. This had been the predicament of our companion; and the question of resigning or not under such circumstances had become generally a very important and interesting one; but one which there were no means of settling. Each member, in such a scrape, must act as his own judgment and conscience dictate under the circumstances of the particular case. Our companion made a mistake. When the attempt to instruct him was made, he said he appealed from the new legislature of his State to the people who chose him. He did appeal by standing candidate for the office of Governor of the State, and was defeated. No course then remained but resigning; which he did immediately, when his senatorial term was within half a session of its close. He had withdrawn from the Senate Chamber, and was winding up his political affairs at the time when we joined his party.
At a little before cleven, we usually set out for the Capitol, and passed the morning either in the Senate Chamber or the Supreme Court, unless it was necessary to make calls, or to sit to the artist who was painting my portrait, or to join a party in some excursion in the neighbourhood. We avoided spending the morning at home, when we could, as it was sure to be entirely consumed wirh callers: and we became too much exhausted before the fatigus of the eening began. Much amusement was picked up in the artist's apartment in the Capitol: members and strangers dropped in, and the news of the hour circulated: but the Senate Chamber was our favourite resort. We returned home to dinner some time between four and six, and the cloth was seldom removed before visitors entered. The stream continued to flow in during the whole evening, unless we were all going our together. We disappeared, one by one, to dress for some ball, rout, levee, or masquerade, and went out, more or less willingly, according as we left behind us visitors more or less pleasant. The half-hour round our drawing-room fire, after our return, was the pleasantest time of the day, weary as we were. Then our foreigners' perplexities were explained for us: we compared impressions, and made common property of what had amused us individually; and, in some sort our overcharged minds in order, before we retired to rest.
Our pleasantest eveings were some spent at home in a society of the highest order. Ladies, literary, fachionable, or domestic, would spend an hour with us on their way from a dinner, or to a ball. Members of Congress would repose themselves by our fire side. Mr. Clay, sitting upright on the sofa, with his snuff-box ever in his hand, would discourse for many an hour, in his even, soft, deliberate tone, on any one of the great subjects of American policy which we might happen to start, always amazing us with the moderation of estimate and speech which so impetuous a nature has been able to attain. Mr. Webster, leaning back at his case, telling stories, cracking jokes, shaking the sofa with burst after burst of laughter, or smoothly discoursing to the perfect felicity of the logical part of one's constitution, would illuminate an evening now and then. Mr. Calhoun, the cast-iron man, who looks as if he had never been born, and never could be extinguished, would come in sometimes to keep our understandings upon a painful stretch for a short while, and leave us to take to pieces his close, rapid, theoretical, illustrated talk, and see what we could make of it. We found it usually more worth retaining as a curiosity than as either very just or useful. His speech abounds in figures, turly illustrative, if that which they illustrate were but ture also. But his theories of government, (almost the only subject on which his thoughts are employed,) the squarest and compactest theories that ever were made, are composed out of limited elements, and are not therefore likely to stand service very well. It is at first extremely interesting to hear Mr. Calhoun talk; and there is a never-failing evidence of power in all he says and does, which commands intellectual reverence: but the admiration is too soon turned into regret,—into absolute melancholy. It is impossible to resist the conviction that all this force can be at best but useless and is but too likely to be very mischievous. His mind has long lost all power of communicating with any other. I know no man who lives in such utter intellectual solitude. He meets men and harangues them, by the fire-side, as in the Senate: he is wrought, like a piece of machinery, set a-going vehemently by a weight, and stops while you answer: he either passes by what you say, or twists it into a suitability with what is in his head, and begins to lecture again. Of course, a mind like this can have little influence in the Senate, except by virtue, perpetually wearing out, of what it did in its less eccentric day: but its influence at homeis to be dreaded. There is no hope that an intellect so cast in narrow theories will accommodate itself to varying circumstances: and there is every danger that it will break up all that it can, in order to remould the materials in its own way. Mr. Calhoun is as full as ever of his Nullification doctrines; and those who know the force that is in him, and his utter incapacity of modification by other minds,(after having gone through as remarkable a revolution of political opinion as perhaps any man ever experiences,) will no more expect repose and self - retention from him than from a volcano in full force. Relaxation is no longer in the power of his will. I never saw any one who so completely gave the idea of possession. Half an hour's conversation with himis enough to make a necessarian of any body. Accordingly, he is more complained of than blamed by his enemies. His moments of softness, in his family, and when recurring to old college days, are hailed by all as a relief to the vehement working of the intellectual machine; a relief equally to himself and others. Those moments are as touching to the observer as tears on the face of a soldier.
One incident befel during my stay which moved every body.—A representative from South Carolina was ill, a friend of Mr. Calhoun's; and Mr. Calhoun parted from us, one day, on leaving the Capital, to visit this sick gentlemen. The physician told Mr. Calhoun on his entrance that his friend was dying, and could not live more than a very few hours. A vistor, not knowing this, asked the sick man how he was. “To judge by my own feelings,” said he, “much better; but by the countenances of my friends, not.” And he begged to be told the truth. On hearing it, he instantly beekoned Mr. Calhoun to him, and said, “I hear they are giving yor rough treatment in the Senate. Let a dying friend implore you to guard your looks and words so as that no undue warmth may make you appear unworthy of your principles.” “This was friendhip,—strong frindship,” said Mr. Calhoun to me, and to many others; and it had its due effect upon him. A few days after, Colonel Benton, a fantastic senator from Missouri, interupted Mr. Calboun in a speech, for the purpose of making an attack upon him, which would have been insufferable, if it had not been too absurdly worded to be easily made anything of. He was called to order; this was objected to; the Senate divided upon the point of order, being dissatisfied with the decision of the chair;—in short, Mr. Calhoun sat for two full hours, hearing his veracity talked about, before his speech could proceed. He sat in stern patience, scarcely moving a muscle the whole time; and when it was all settled in his favour, merely observed that his friends need not fear his being disturbed by an attack of this nature from such a quarter, and resumed his speech at the precise point where his argument had been broken off. It was great, and would have satisfied the “strong friendship” of his departed comrde, if he could have been there to witness it.
Our active-minded, genial friend, Judge Story, found time to visit us frequently, though he is one of the busiest men in the world,—writing half-a-dozen great law books every year, having his full share of the business of the Supreme Court upon his hands; his professorship to attend to; the District Courts at home in Massachusetts, and a correspondence which spreads half over the world. His talk would gush out hors. and there was never too much of it for us; it is so heartfelt, so lively, so various; and his face all the while, notwithstanding his grey hair, showing all the mobility and ingenuousness of a child's. There is no tolerable portrait of Judge Story, and there never will be. I should like to bring him face to face with a person who entertains the common English idea of how an American looks and behaves. I should like to see what such an one would make of the quick smiles, the glistening eye, the gleeful tone, with passing touches of sentiment; the innocent self-complacency, the confiding, devoted affections of the great American lawyer. The preconception would be totally at fault.
With Judge Story sometimes came the man to whom he looked up with feelings little short of adoration; the aged Chief-Justice Marshall. There was almost too much mutual respect in our first meeting: we knew something of his individual merits and services; and he maintained through life, and carried to his grave, a reverence for woman as rare in its kind as in its degree. It had all the theoretical fervour and magnificence of Uncle Toby's, with the advantage of being grounded upon an extensive knowledge of the sex. He was the father and the grandfather of women; and out of this experience he brought, not only the love and pity which their offices and position command, and the awe of purity which they excite in the minds of the pure, but a steady conviction of their intellectual equality with men; and, with this, a deep sense of their social injuries. Throughout life he so invariably sustained their cause, that no indulgent libertine dared to flatter and humour, no sceptic, secure in the possession of power, dared to scoff at the claims of woman in the presence of Marshall, who, made clear-sighted by his purity, knew the sex far better than either.
How delighted we were to see Judge Story bring in the tall, majestic, bright-eyed old man !—old by chronology, by the lines on his composed face, and by his services to the republic; but so dignified, so fresk, so present to the time, that no feeling of compassionate consideration for age dared to mix with the contemplation of him. The first evening, he asked me much about English politics, and especially whether the people were not fast ripening for the abolition of our religious establishment—an institution which, after a long study of it, he considered so monstrous in principle, and so injurious to true religion in practice, that he could not imagine that it could be upheld for anything but political purposes. There was no prejudice here, on account of American modes being different; for he observed that the clergy were there, as elsewhere, far from being in the van of society, and lamented the existance of much fanaticism in the United States; but he saw the evils of an establishment the more clearly, not the less, from being aware of the faults in the administration of religion at home. The most animated moment of our conversation was when I told him I was going to visit Mr, Madison, on leaving Washington. He instantly sat upright in his chair, and with beaming eyes began to praise Mr. Madison. Madison received the mention of Marshall's name in just the same manner: yet these men were strongly opposed in politics, and their magnanimous appreciation of each other underwent no slight or brief trial.
Judge Porter sometimes came, a hearty friend, and much like a fellow-countryman, though he was a senator of the United States, and had previously been, for fourteen years, Judge of the Supreme Court of Louisiana. He was Irish by birth. His father was vindictively executed, with cruel haste, under martial law, in the Irish rebellion; and the sons were sent by their noble-minded mother to America, where Alexander, the eldest, has thus raised himself into a station of high honour. Judge Porter's warmth, sincerity, generosity, knowledge, and wit are the pride of his constituents, and very, ornamental to the Senate. What their charm is by the fireside may be imagined.
Such are only a few among a multitude whose conversation filled up the few evenings we spent at home. Among the pleasantest visits we paid were dinners at the President's, at the houses of Heads of Departments, at the British Legation, and at the southern members congressional mess. We highly enjoyed our dinings at the British Legation, where we felt ourselves at home among our countrymen. Once indeed we were invited to help to do the honours as English ladies, to the seven Judges of the Supreme Court, and seven great lawyers besides, when we had the merriest dav that could well be. Mr, Webster fell chiefly to my share, and there is no merrier man than he; and Judge Story would enliven a dinner table at Pekiu. One laughable peculiarity at the British Legation was the confusion of tongues among the servents, who ask you to take fish, flesh, and fowl in Spanish, Italian, German, Dutch, Irish, or French. The foreign ambassadors are terribly plagued about servants. No American will wear liverv: and there is no reason why any American should. But the British ambassador must have livery servants. He makes what compromise he can, allowing his people to appear without livery out of doors, except on state occasions; but yet he is obliged to pick up his domestics from among foreigners who are in want of a subsistence for a short time, and are sure to go nway as soon as they can find any employment in which the wearing a livery is not requisite. The woes of this state of things, however, were the portion of the host, not of his guests; and the hearty hospitality with which we were ever greeted by the minister and his attaches, combined with the attractions of the society they brought together, made our visits to them some of the pleasantest hours we passed in Washington.
Slight incidents were perpetually showing, in an amusing way, the village-like character of some of the arrangements at Washington. I remember that some of our party went one day to dine at Mr. Secretary Cass's, and the rest of us at Mr. Secretary Woodbury's. The next morning a lady of the Cass party asked me whether we had candied oranges at the Woodburys'. “No.” “Then,” said she, “they had candied oranges at the Attorney-General's.” “How do you know?” “O, as we were on the way, I saw a dish carried; and, as we had none at the Cass's, I knew they must be either for the Woodburys or the Attorney-General” There were candied oranges at the Attornoy-General's.
When we became intimate, some time afterwards, with some southern friends with whom we now dined at their congressional mess, they gave us an amusing account of the preparations for our dinner. They boarded (from a really self-denying kindness) at a house where the arrangements were of a very inferior kind. Two sessions previous to our being there they had invited a large party of eminent persons to dinner, and had committed the ordering of the arrangements to a gentleman of their mess, advising him to engage a French cook, in order to ensure a good dinnder. The gentleman engaged a Frenchman, concluding he must be a cook: which however he was not: and the dinner turned out so unfortunately, that the mess determined to ask no more dinner company while they remained in that house. When we arrived. however, it was thought necessary to ask us to dinnder. There was little hope that all would go rightly: and the two senators of the mess were laughingly requested, in case of any blunder, to talk Nullification as fast as possible to us ladies. This was done so efficaciously, that when dinner was over, I could not have told a single dish that was on the table, except that a ham stood before me. which we were too full of Nullification to attack. our hosts informed us, long afterwards, that it was bad dinner, badly served: but it was no matter.
At the President's I met a very large party, among whom there was more stiffness than I witnessed in any other society in America. It was not the fault of the President or his family, but of the way in which the company was unavoidably brought together. With the exception of my party, the name of every body present began with J. K. or L: that is to say, it consisted of members of Congress, who are invited alphabetically, to ensure none being left out. This principle of selection is not perhaps the best for the promotion of case and sociability: and well as I liked the day, I doubt whether many others could say they enjoyed it. When we went in, the present was standing in the middle of the room to receive his guests. After speaking a few words with me, he gave me into the charge of Magor Donelson, his secretary, who seated me, and brought up for introduction each guest as he passed from before the present. A congressional friend of mine (whose name began with a J.) stationed himself behind my chair, and gave me an account of each gentleman who was introduced to me;—where he came from, what his politics were, and how, if at all, he had distinguished himself. All this was highly amusing. At dinner, the president was quite disposed for conversation. Indeed, he did nothing but talk. His health is poor, and his diet of the sparest. We both talked freely of the governments of England and France; I, novice in American politics as I was, entirely frogetting that the great French question was pending, and that the president and the King of the French were then bandying very hard words. I was most struck and surprised with the President's complaints of the American Senate, in which there was at that time a small majority against the administration. He told me that I must not judge of the body by what I saw it then; and that after the 4th of March I should behold a Senate more worthy of the country. After the 4th of March there was, if I remember rightly, a majority of two in favour of the Government. The ground of his complaint was, that the senators had sacrifieced their dignity by disregardig the wishes of their constituents. The other side of the question is, that the dignity of the Senate is best consulted by its members following their own convictions, declining instructions for the term for which they are elected. It is a serious defficulty, originating in the very construction of the body, and not to be settled by dispute.
The President offered me bonbons for a child belonging to our party at home, and told me how many children (of his nephew's and his adopted son's) he had about him, with a mildness and kindliness which contrasted well with his tone upon some public occasions. He did the honours of his house with gentleness and politeness to myself, and, as far as I saw, to every one else. About an hour after dinner, he rose, and we led the way into the drawing-room, where the whole company gentlemen as well as ladies, followed to take coffee; after which, every one departed; some homewards, some to make evening calls, and others, among whom were ourselves, to a splendid ball, at the other extremity of the city.
General Jackson is extremely tall and thin, with a slight stoop, betokening more weakness than naturally belongs to his years. He has a profusion of stiff grey hair, which gives to his appearance whatever there is of formidable in it. His countenace bears commonly an expression of melancholy gravity; though when roused, the fire of passion flashes from his eyes, and his whole person looks then formidable enough. His mode of speech is slow an quiet: and his phraseology suffeciently betokens that his time has not been passed among books. When I was at Washington, albums were the fashion and the plague of the day. I scarcely ever came home, but I found an album on my table, or requests for autographs; but some ladies went much further than petitioning a foreigner, who might be supposed to have leisure. I have actually seen them stand at the door of the Senate Chamber, and send the doorkeeper, with an album, and a request to write in it, to Mr. Webster, and other eminent members. I have seen them do worse; stand at the door of the Supreme Court, and send in their albums to Chief-Justice Marashall, while he was on the bench, hearing pleadings. The poor President was terribly persecuted; and to him it was a real nuisance, as he had no poetical resource but Watts's hymns. I have seen verses and stanzas of a most ominous pruport from Watts, in the President's very conspicuous hand-writing, standign in the midst of the crow-quill compliements and translucent charades which are the staple of albums. Nothing was done to repress this atrocious impertinece of the ladies. I always declined writing more than name and date; but senators, Judges and statemen submitted to write gallant nonsense at the request of any woman who would stoop to disire it.
Colonel Johnson, now Vice-President of the United States, sat opposite to me at the President's dinner-table. This is the gentleman once believed to have killed Tecumseh, and to have written the Report on Sunday Mails, which has been the admiration of society ever since it appeared: but I belive Colonel Johnson is no longer supposed to be the author of either of these deeds. General Mason spoke of him to me at New York with much friendship, and with strong hope of his becoming President. I heard the idea so ridiculed by members of the federal party afterwards, that I concluded General Mason to be in the same case with hundreds more who believe their intimate friends sure of being President. But Colonel Johnson is actually vice-President, and the hope seems reasonable; though the slavery question will probably he the point on which the next election will turn, which may again be to the disadvantage of the Colonel. If he should become Presedent, he will be as strange looking a potentate as ever ruled. His countenance is wild, though with much eleverness in it; his hair wanders all abroad, and he wears no cravat. But there is no telling how he might look if dressed like other people.
I was fortunate enough once to catch a glimpse of the invisible Amos Kendall, one of the most remarkable men in America. He is suppposed to be the moving spring of the whole administration; the thinder, planner and doer; but it is all in the dark. Documents are issued of an excellence which prevents their being attributed to persons who take the responsibility of them; a correspondence is kept up all over the country for which no one seems to be answerable; work is done, of goblin extent and with goblin speed, which makes men look about them with a superstitious wonder; and the invisible Amos Kendall has the credit of it all. President Jackson's Letters to his Cabinet are said to be Kendall: the Letters sent from Washington to appear in remote country newspapers, whence they are collected and published in the Globe as demonstrations of public opinion are pronounced to be written by Kendall. Every mysterious paragraph in opposition newspapers relates to Kendall: and it is some relief to the timid that his having now the office of Postmaster-General affords opportunity for open attacks upon this twilight personage; who is proved, by the faults in the Post-Office administration, not to be able to do quite everything well. But he is undoubtedly a great genius. He unites with his “great talent for silence” a splendid audacity. One proof of this I have given elsewhere. in the account of the bold stroke by which he obtained the sanction of the Senate to his appointment as Postmaster-General.*
It is clear that he could not do the work he does (incredible enough in amount any way) if he went into society like other men. He did, however, one evening,-I think it was at the Attorney-General's The moment I went in, intimations reached me from all quarters, amidst nods and winks. “Kendall is her:” “That is he.” I saw at once that his plea for seclusion, —bad health, —is no false one. The extreme sallowness of his complexion, and hair of such perfect whiteness as is rarely seen in a men of middle age, testfied to disease. His countenance does not help the superstitious to throw off their dread of him. He probably does not desire this superstition to melt away; for there is no calculating how much influence was given to Jackson's administration by the universal belief that there was a concealed eye and hand behind the machinery of government, by which everything could be foreseen, and the hardest deeds done. A member of Congress told me, this night, that he had watched through four sessions for a sight of Kendall, and had never obtained it till now. Kendall was leaning on a chair with head bent down, and eye glancing up at a member of Congress with whom he was in earnest conversation: and in a few minutes, he was gone.
Neitheer Mr. Clay nor any of his family ever spoke a word to me of Kendall, except in his public capacity: but I heard elsewhere and repeatedly the well-known story of the connexion of the two men, early in Kendall's life. Tidings reached Mr. and Mrs. Clay, one evening, many years ago, at their house in the neighbourhood of Lexingto, Kentucky, that a young man, solitary and poor, lay ill of a fever in the noisy hotel in the town. Mrs. Clay went down in the carriage without delay, and brought the sufferer home to her house, where she nursed him with her own hands till he recovered. Mr. Clay was struck with the talent and knowledge of the young man (Kendall), and retained him as tutor to his sons, heaping benefits upon him with characteristic bounty. Thus far is notorious fact. As to the causes of their separation and cumity, I have not heard Kendall's side of the question; and I therefore say nothing; but go on to the other notorious facts, that Amos Kendall quitted Mr. Clay's political party some time after Adams had been, by Mr. Clay' influence, seated in the Presidential chair, and went over to Jackson; since which time, he has never ceased his persecutions of Mr. Clay through the newspapers. It was extensively believed, on Mr. Van Buren's accession, that Kendall would be dismissed from office altogether; and there was much speculation about how the administration would get on without him. But he appears to be still there. Whether he goes or stays, it will probably be soon apparent how much of the conduct of Jackson's government is attributable to Kendall's influence over the mind of the late President; as he is hardly likely to stand in the same relation to the Present.
I was more vividly impressed with the Past and Present state of Ireland while I was in America than ever I was at home. Besides being frequently questioned as to what was likely to be done for the relief of her it is inconceivable to Americas that free-born whites should ever be,—I met from time to time with refugee Irish gentry, still burning with the injuries they or their fathers sustained in the time of the rebellin. The subject first came up with Judge Porter: and I soon afterwards saw, at a country-house where I was calling the widow of Theobald Wolfe Tone. The poor lady is still full of feelings which amazed me by their bitterness and strength; but which have indeed nothing surprising in them to those who know the whole truth of the story of Ireland in those dreadful days. The deseendants of “the rebels” cannot be comforted with tidings of any thing to be done for their country. Naturally believing that nothing good can come out of England.—nothing good for Ireland,—they passionately ask that their country shall be left to govern herself. with tears and scornful laughter, they beg that nothing her with be “done for her.” by hands that have ravaged her with gibbet, fire and sword, but that she may be left to whatever hopefulness may yet be smoukdering under the ashes of her despair, Such is the representation of Ireland to America minds. It may be imagined what a monument of idiotey the forcible maintenance of the Church of England in Ireland must appear to American statesmen. “I do not understand this Lord John Rus sell of yours,” said one of the most sahacious of them. “Is he serious in supposing that he can allow a penny of the revenues, a plait of the lawnsleeves of that Irish Church to be touched, and keep the whole from coming down, in Ireland first, and in England afterwards?” We fully agreed in the difficulty of supposing Lord John Russell serious. The comparison of various, but I believe pretty extensive American opinions about the Church of England yields rather a curious result. No one dreams of the Establishment being necessary, or being designed for the maintenance of religion: it is seen by Chief-Justice Marshall and a host of others to be an institutior turned to political purposes. Mr. Van Buren, among many, considers that the Church has supported the State for many years. Mr. Clay, and a multitude with him, anticipates the speedy fall of the Establishment. The result yielde by all this is a persuasion not very favourable (to use the American phrase) “to the permanence of our institutions.”
Among our casual visitors at Washington was a gentleman who little thought, as he sat by our fireside, what an adventure was awaiting him among the Virginia woods. If there could have been any anticipation of it, I should have taken more notice of him than I did: as it is, I have a very slight recollection of him. He came from Maine, and intended before his return to visit the Springs of Virginia, which he did the next summer. It seems that he talked in the stages rashly, and somewhat in a bragging style,—in a style at least which he was not prepared to support by a harder testimony,—about abolitionism. He declared that abolitionism was not so dangerous as people thought; that he avowed it without any fear; that he had frequently attended abolition meetings in the North, and was-none the worse for it in the Slave States, &c. He finished his visit at the Springs prosperously enough: but on his return, when he and a comparison were in the stage, in the midst of the forest, they met at a cross-road—Judge Lynh; that is, a mob with hints of cowhide and tar and feathers. The mob stopped the stage, and asked for the gentleman by name. It was useless to deny his being an abolitionist; he denied his having ever attended aboletion meetings, and harangued against abolitionism, from the door of the stage, with so much effect that the mob allowed the steps to be put up, and the vehicle to drive off,—which it did at full speed. It was not long before the mob became again persuaded that this gentleman was a fit object of vengeance, and pursued him; but he was gone, as fast as horses could carry him. He did not relax his speed even when out of dauger, but fled all the way into Maine. It was not on the shrinking at the moment that one would animadvert, so much as on the previous bragging. I have seen and felt enough of what peril from popular hatred is, in this martyr age of the United States, to find it easier to venerate those who can endure, than to despise those who flinch from the ultimate trial of their principles; but every instance of the infliction of Lynch punishment should be a lesson to the sincerest and securest, to prodess no more than they are ready to perform.
One of our mornings was devoted to an examination of the library and curiosities of the State Department, which we found extremely interesting. Our imaginations were whirled over the globe at an extraordinary rate. There were many volumes of original letters of Washington's and other revolutionary leaders, bound up, and ordered to be printed, for security, lest these materials of history should be destroyed by fire, or other accident. There were British parliamentary documents. There was a series of the Moniteur complete; wherein we found the black list of executions, during the reign of terror, growing longer every day; also the first mention of Napoleon; the tidings of his escape from Elba; the misty days immediately succeeding, when no telegraphic communication could be made; his arrival at Lyons, and the subsequent silence till the announcement became necessary, that the king and princes had departed during the night, and that his Majesty, the Emperor, had arrived at his palace of the Tuilleries at eight o'clock the next evening. Next we turned to Algerine (French) gazettes, publishing that mustaphas and such people were made colonels and adjutants.—Then we lighted upon the journals of Arnold, during the revolutionary war, and read the postscript of his last letter previous to the accomplishment of his treason, in which he asks for hard cash, on pretence that the French had suffered so much by paper-money, that he was unwilling to offer them any more.—Then we viewed the signatures of treaties, and dereed Metternich's to be the best; Don Pedro's the worst for flourish, and Napoleon's for illegibility. The extraordinary fact was then and there communicated to us that the Americans are fond of Miguel, from their dislide of Pedro; but that they hope to “get along” very well with the Queen of Portugal. The treaties with oriental potentates are very magnificent,—shining and unintelligible to the eyes of novices. —The presents from potentates to American ambassadors are laid up here: gold snuff-boxes set in diamonds, and a glittering array of swords and scymitars. There was one fine Damascus blae; but it seemed too blunt to do any harm.—Then we lost ourselves in a large collection of medals and coins,—Roman gold coins, with fat old Vespasian and otheers; from which we were recalled to find ourselves in the extremely modern and democratic United States! It was a very interesting morning.
We took advantage of a mild day to ascend to the skylight of the dome of the Capital, in order to obtain a view of the surrounding country. The ascent was rather fatiguing, but perfectly safe. The resients at Washington declare the environs to be beautiful in all seasons but early winter; the meadows being gay with a profusion of wild flowers; even as early as February with several kinds of heartsease. It was a particularly cold season when I was there; but on the day of my departure, in the middle of February, the streets were one sheet of ice; and I remember we made a long slide from the steps of our boarding-house to those of the stage. But I believe that that winter was no rule for others.—From the summit of the Capital, we saw plainly marked out the basin in which Washington stands, surrounded by hills, except where the Potoman spreads its waters. The city was intended to occupy the whole of this basin and its seven theoretical avenues may be traced; but all except Pennsylvania avenue are bare and forlorn. A few mean houses dotted about, the sheds of a navy-yard on one bank of the Potomac, and three or four villas on the other, are all the objects that relieve the eye in this space intended to be so busy and magnificent. The city is a grand mistake. Its only attraction is its being the seat of government; and it is thought that it will not long continue to be so. The far-western States being to demand a more central seat for Congress; and the Cincinnati people are already speculating upon which of their hills or table-lands is to be the site of the new Capitol. Whenever this change takes place, all will be over with Washington: “thorns shall come up in her palaces, and the owl and the owl and the raven shall dwell in it,” while her sister cities of the east will be still spreading as fast as hands can be found to build them.
There was a funeral of a member of Congress on the 30th of January;—the interment of the representative from South Carolina whose death I mentioned in connexion with Mr. Calhoun. We were glad that we were at Washington at the time, as a congressional funeral is a remarkable spectacle. We went to the Capitol at about half an hour before noon, and found many ladies already seated in the gallery of the Hall of Representatives. I chanced to be placed at the precise point of the gallery where the sounds from every part of the house are concentred; so that I heard the whole service, while I was at such a distance as to command a view of the entire scene. In the chair were the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the Representatives. Below them sat the officiating clergyman; immediately opposite to whom were the President and the Heads of Departments on one side the coffin, and the Judges of the Supreme Court and members of the Senate on the other. The Representatives sat in rows behind, each with crape round the left arm; some in black; many in blue coats with bright buttons. Some of the fiercest political foes in the country,—some who never meet on any other occasion,—the President and the South Carolina senators, for instance,—now sat knee to knee, necessarily looking into each others' faces. With a coffin beside them, and such an event awaiting their exit, how out of place was hatred here!
After prayers, there was a sermon, in which warning of death was brought home to all, and particularly to the aged; and the vanity of all disturbances of human passion when in view of the grave was dwelt upon. There sat the grey-headed old President, at that time feeble, and looking scarcely able to go through this ceremonial. I saw him rise when it was over, and follow the coffin in his turn, somewhat feebly; I saw him disappear in the doorway; and immediately descended with my party to the Rotundo, in order to order to witness the departure of the procession for the grave. At the bottom of the stairs, a member of Congress met us, pale and trembling, with the news that the President had been twice fired at with a pistol, by an assassin who had waylaid him in the portico; but that both pistols had missed fire. At this moment the assassin rushed into the Rotundo where we were standing, pursued, and instantly surrounded by a crowd. I saw his hands and half-bare arms struggling above the heads of the crowd, in resistance to being handcuffed, He was presently over-powered, conveyed to a carriage, and taken before a magistrate. The attack threw the old soldier into a tremendous passion. He fears nothing; but his temper is not equal to his courage. Instead of his putting the event calmly aside, and proceeding with the business of the hour, it was found necessary to put him into his carriage and take him home.
We feared what the consequences would be. We had little doubt that the assassin Lawrence was mad; and as little that before the day was out, we should hear the crime imputed to more than one political party or individual. And so it was. Before two hours were over, the name of almost every eminent politician was mixed up with that of the poor maniac who caused the uproar. The President's misconduct on the occasion was the most virulent and protracted. A deadly enmity had long subsisted between General Jackson and Mr. Poindexter, a senator of the United States, which had been much aggravated since General Jackson's accession by some unwarrantable language which he had publicly used in relation to Mr. Poindexter's private affairs. There was a prevalent expectation of a duel, as soon as the expiration of the President's term of office should enable his foe to send him a challenge. Under these circumstances, the President thought proper to charge Mr. Poindexter with being the instigator of Lawrence's attempt. He did this in conversation so frequently and openly, that Mr. Poindexter wrote a letter, brief and manly, stating that he understood this charge was made against him, but that he would not believe it till it was confirmed by the President himself; his not replying to this letter being understood to be such a confirmation. The President showed this letter to visitors at the White House, and did not answer it. He went further; obtaining affidavits (tending to implicate Poindexter) from weak and vile persons whose evidence utterly failed; having personal interviews with these creatures, and openly showing a disposition to hunt his foe to destruction at all hazards. The issue was that Lawrence was proved to have acted from sheer insanity; Poindexter made a sort of triumphal progress through the States; and an irretrievable stain was left upon President Jackson's name.
Every one was anxiously anticipating the fierce meeting of these foes, on the President's retirement from office, when Mr. Poindexter, last year, in a fit either of somnambulism, or of delirium from illness, walked out of a chamber window in the middle of the night, and was so much injured that he soon died.
It so happened that we were engaged to a party at Mr. Poindexter's the very evening of this attack upon the President. There was so tremendous a thunder-storm, that our host and hostess were disappointed of almost all their guests except ourselves; and we had difficulty in merely crossing the street, being obliged to have planks laid across the flood which pushed between the carriage and the steps of the door. The conversation naturally turned on the event of the morning. I know little of the quarrel which was now to be so dreadfully aggravated; but the more I afterwards heard, the more I admired the moderation with which Mr. Poindexter spoke of his foe that night, and as often as I subsequently met him.
I had intended to visit the President the day after the funeral; but I heard so much of his determination to consider the attack a political affair, and I had so little wish to hear it thus treated, against the better knowledge of all the world, that I stayed away as long as I could. Before I went, I was positively assured of Lawrence's insanity by one of the physicians who were appointed to visit him. One of the poor creature's complaints was, that General Jackson deprived him of the British crown, to which he was heir. When I did go to the White House, I took the briefest possible notice to the President of the “insane attempt” of Lawrence: but the word roused his ire. He protested, in the presence of many strangers, that there was no insanity in the case. I was silent, of course. He protested that there was a plot, and that the man was a tool, and at length quoted the Attorney-General as his authority. It was painful to hear a Chief Ruler publicly trying to persuade a foreigner that any of his constituents hated him to the death: and I took the liberty of changing the subject as soon as I could. The next evening I was at the Attorney-General's, and I asked him how he could let himself be quoted as saying that Lawrence was not mad. He excused himself by saying that he meant general insanity. He believed Lawrence insane in one direction, —that it was a sort of Ravaillac case. I besought him to impress the President with this view of the case as soon as might be.
It would be amusing, if it were possible, to furnish a complete set of the rumours, injurious (if they had not been too absurd) to all parties in turn, upon this single and very common act of a madman. One would have thought that no maniac had ever before attacked a Chief Magistrate. The act might so easily have remained fruitless! but it was made to bear a full and poisonous crop of folly, wickedness, and woe. I feared on the instant how it would be, and felt that, thought the President was safe, it was very bad news. When will it come to be thought possible for politicians to have faith in one another, thought they may differ, and to be jealous for their rivals rather than for themselves?
“Society in America,” vol. i. p. 60.