Famous Americans of Recent Times
James Parton

Part 4 out of 9

This is perfectly intelligible when read by the light of the history
of 1833. But no human being unacquainted with that history could
gather Mr. Calhoun's meaning. Our studious foreigner would suppose by
the word "interest," that the author meant the manufacturing interest,
the commercial and agricultural interests, and that each of these
should have its little congress concurring in or vetoing the acts of
the Congress sitting at Washington. _We_, however, know that Mr.
Calhoun meant that South Carolina should have the power to nullify
acts of Congress and give law to the Union. He does not tell us how
South Carolina's tyrant Majority is to be kept within bounds; but only
how that majority is to control the majority of the whole country. He
has driven his problem into a corner, and there he leaves it.

Having thus arrived at the conclusion, that a law, to be binding on
all "interests," i.e. on all the States of the Union, must be
concurred in by all, he proceeds to answer the obvious objection, that
"interests" so antagonistic could never be brought to unanimous
agreement. He thinks this would present no difficulty, and adduces
some instances of unanimity to illustrate his point.

First, trial by jury. Here are twelve men, of different character and
calibre, shut up in a room to agree upon a verdict, in a cause upon
which able men have argued upon opposite sides. How unlikely that they
should be able to agree unanimously! Yet they generally do, and that
speedily. Why is this? Because, answers Mr. Calhoun, they go into
their room knowing that nothing short of unanimity will answer; and
consequently every man is _disposed_ to agree with his fellows, and,
if he cannot agree, to compromise. "Not at all." The chief reason why
juries generally agree is, that they are not interested in the matter
in dispute. The law of justice is so plainly written in the human
heart, that the fair thing is usually obvious to disinterested minds,
or can be made so. It is interest, it is rivalry, that blinds us to
what is right; and Mr. Calhoun's problem is to render "antagonistic"
interests unanimous. We cannot, therefore, accept this illustration as
a case in point.

Secondly, Poland. Poland is not the country which an American would
naturally visit to gain political wisdom. Mr. Calhoun, however,
repairs thither, and brings home the fact, that in the turbulent Diet
of that unhappy kingdom every member had an absolute veto upon every
measure. Nay, more: no king could be elected without the unanimous
vote of an assembly of one hundred and fifty thousand persons. Yet
Poland lasted two centuries! The history of those two centuries is a
sufficient comment upon Mr Calhoun's system, to say nothing of the
final catastrophe, which Mr. Calhoun confesses was owing to "the
extreme to which the principle was carried." A sound principle cannot
be carried to an unsafe extreme; it is impossible for a man to be too
right. If it is right for South Carolina to control and nullify the
United States, it is right for any one man in South Carolina to
control and nullify South Carolina. One of the tests of a system is to
ascertain where it will carry us if it _is_ pushed to the uttermost
extreme. Mr. Calhoun gave his countrymen this valuable information
when he cited the lamentable case of Poland.

From Poland the author descends to the Six Nations, the federal
council of which was composed of forty-two members, each of whom had
an absolute veto upon every measure. Nevertheless, this confederacy,
he says, became the most powerful and the most united of all the
Indian nations. He omits to add, that it was the facility with which
this council could be wielded by the French and English in turn, that
hastened the grinding of the Six Nations to pieces between those two

Rome is Mr. Calhoun's next illustration. The _Tribunus Plebis_, he
observes, had a veto upon the passage of all laws and upon the
execution of all laws, and thus prevented the oppression of the
plebeians by the patricians. To show the inapplicability of this
example to the principle in question, to show by what steps this
tribunal, long useful and efficient, gradually absorbed the power of
the government, and became itself, first oppressive, and then an
instrument in the overthrow of the constitution, would be to write a
history of Rome. Niebuhr is accessible to the public, and Niebuhr knew
more of the _Tribunus Plebis_ than Mr. Calhoun. We cannot find in
Niebuhr anything to justify the author's aim to constitute patrician
Carolina the _Tribunus Plebis_ of the United States.

Lastly, England. England, too, has that safeguard of liberty, "an
organism by which the voice of each order or class is taken through
its appropriate organ, and which requires the concurring voice of all
to constitute that of the whole community." These orders are King,
Lords, and Commons. They must all concur in every law, each having a
veto upon the action of the two others. The government of the United
States is also so arranged that the President and the two Houses of
Congress must concur in every enactment; but then they all represent
the _same_ order or interest, the people of the United States. The
English government, says Mr. Calhoun, is so exquisitely constituted,
that the greater the revenues of the government, the more stable it
is; because those revenues, being chiefly expended upon the lords and
gentlemen, render them exceedingly averse to any radical change. Mr.
Calhoun does not mention that the majority of the people of England
are not represented in the government at all. Perhaps, however, the
following passage, in a previous part of the work, was designed to
meet their case:--

"It is a great and dangerous error to suppose that all
people are equally entitled to liberty. It is a reward to be
earned, not a blessing to be gratuitously lavished on all
alike;--a reward reserved for the intelligent, the
patriotic, the virtuous, and deserving; and not a boon to be
bestowed on a people too ignorant, degraded, and vicious to
be capable either of appreciating or of enjoying it."

Mr. Calhoun does not tell us who is to _bestow_ this precious boon. He
afterwards remarks, that the progress of a people "rising" to the
point of civilization which entitles them to freedom, is "necessarily
slow." How very slow, then, it must be, when the means of civilization
are forbidden to them by law!

With his remarks upon England, Mr. Calhoun terminates his discussion
of the theory of government. Let us grant all that he claims for it,
and see to what it conducts us. Observe that his grand position is,
that a "numerical majority," like all other sovereign powers, will
certainly tyrannize if it can. His remedy for this is, that a local
majority, the majority of each State, shall have a veto upon the acts
of the majority of the whole country. But he omits to tell us how that
local majority is to be kept within bounds. According to his
reasoning, South Carolina should have a veto upon acts of Congress.
Very well; then each county of South Carolina should have a veto upon
the acts of the State Legislature; each town should have a veto upon
the behests of the county; and each voter upon the decisions of the
town. Mr. Calhoun's argument, therefore, amounts to this: that one
voter in South Carolina should have the constitutional right to
nullify an act of Congress, and no law should be binding which has not
received the assent of every citizen.

Having completed the theoretical part of his subject, the author
proceeds to the practical. In his first essay he describes the
"organism" that is requisite for the preservation of liberty; and in
his second, he endeavors to show that the United States _is_ precisely
such an organism, since the Constitution, rightly interpreted, _does_
confer upon South Carolina the right to veto the decrees of the
numerical majority. Mr. Calhoun's understanding appears to much better
advantage in this second discourse, which contains the substance of
all his numerous speeches on nullification. It is marvellous how this
morbid and intense mind had brooded over a single subject, and how it
had subjugated all history and all law to its single purpose. But we
cannot follow Mr. Calhoun through the tortuous mazes of his second
essay; nor, if we could, should we be able to draw readers after us.
We can only say this: Let it be granted that there _are_ two ways in
which the Constitution can be fairly interpreted;--one, the Websterian
method; the other, that of Mr. Calhoun. On one of these
interpretations the Constitution will work, and on the other it will
not. We prefer the interpretation that is practicable, and leave the
other party to the enjoyment of their argument. Nations cannot be
governed upon principles so recondite and refined, that not one
citizen in a hundred will so much as follow a mere statement of them.
The fundamental law must be as plain as the ten commandments,--as
plain as the four celebrated propositions in which Mr. Webster put the
substance of his speeches in reply to Mr. Calhoun's ingenious defence
of his conduct in 1833.

The author concludes his essay by a prophetic glance at the future. He
remarks, that with regard to the future of the United States, as then
governed, only one thing could be predicted with absolute certainty,
and that was, that the Republic could not last. It might lapse into a
monarchy, or it might be dismembered,--no man could say which; but
that one of these things would happen was entirely certain. The
rotation-in-office system, as introduced by General Jackson, and
sanctioned by his subservient Congress, had rendered the Presidential
office a prize so tempting, in which so large a number of men had an
interest, that the contest would gradually cease to be elective, and
would finally lose the elective form. _The incumbent would appoint his
successor_; and "thus the absolute form of a popular, would end in the
absolute form of a monarchical government," and there would be no
possibility of even rendering the monarchy limited or constitutional.
Mr. Calhoun does not mention here the name of General Jackson or of
Martin Van Buren, but American readers know very well what he was
thinking of when he wrote the passage.

Disunion, according to Mr. Calhoun, was another of our perils. In view
of recent events, our readers may be interested in reading his remarks
on this subject, written in 1849, among the last words he ever
deliberately put upon paper:--

"The conditions impelling the government toward disunion are
very powerful. They consist chiefly of two;--the one arising
from the great extent of the country; the other, from its
division into separate States, having local institutions and
interests. The former, under the operation of the numerical
majority, has necessarily given to the two great parties, in
their contest for the honors and emoluments of the
government, a geographical character, for reasons which have
been fully stated. This contest must finally settle down
into a struggle on the part of the stronger section to
obtain the permanent control; and on the part of the weaker,
to preserve its independence and equality as members of the
Union. The conflict will thus become one between the States
occupying the different sections,--that is, between
organized bodies on both sides,--each, in the event of
separation, having the means of avoiding the confusion and
anarchy to which the parts would be subject without such
organization. This would contribute much to increase the
power of resistance on the part of the weaker section
against the stronger in possession of the government. With
these great advantages and resources, it is hardly possible
that the parties occupying the weaker section would consent
quietly, under any circumstances, to break down from
independent and equal sovereignties into a dependent and
colonial condition; and still less so, under circumstances
that would revolutionize them _internally_, and put their
very existence as a people at stake. Never was there an
issue between independent States that involved greater
calamity to the conquered, than is involved in that between
the States which compose the two sections of the Union. The
condition of the weaker, should it sink from a state of
independence and equality to one of dependence and
subjection, would be more calamitous than ever before befell
a civilized people. It is vain to think that, with such
consequences before them, they will not resist; especially,
when resistance _may_ save them, and cannot render their
condition worse. That this will take place, unless the
stronger section desists from its course, may be assumed as
certain; and that, if forced to resist, the weaker section
would prove successful, and the system end in disunion, is,
to say the least, highly probable. But if it should fail,
the great increase of power and patronage which must, in
consequence, accrue to the government of the United States,
would but render certain and hasten the termination in the
other alternative. So that, at all events, to the one or to
the other--to monarchy or disunion--it must come, if not
prevented by strenuous or timely efforts."

This is a very instructive passage, and one that shows well the
complexity of human motives. Mr. Calhoun betrays the secret that,
after all, the contest between the two sections is a "contest for the
honors and emoluments of the government," and that all the rest is but
pretext and afterthought,--as General Jackson said it was. He plainly
states that the policy of the South is rule or ruin. Besides this, he
intimates that there is in the United States an "interest," an
institution, the development of which is incompatible with the
advancement of the general interest; and either that one interest must
overshadow and subdue all other interests, or all other interests must
unite to crush that one. The latter has been done.

Mr. Calhoun proceeds to suggest the measures by which these calamities
can be averted. The government must be "restored to its federal
character" by the repeal of all laws tending to the annihilation of
State sovereignty, and by a strict construction of the Constitution.
The President's power of removal must be limited. In earlier times,
these would have sufficed; but at that day the nature of the disease
was such that nothing could reach it short of an organic change, which
should give the weaker section a negative on the action of the
government. Mr. Calhoun was of opinion that this could best be done by
our having two Presidents,--one elected by the North and the other by
the South,--the assent of both to be necessary to every act of
Congress. Under such a system, he thought,--

"The Presidential election, instead of dividing the Union
into hostile geographical parties, the stronger struggling
to enlarge its powers, and the weaker to defend its rights,
as is now the case, would become the means of restoring
harmony and concord to the country and the government. It
would make the Union a union in truth,--a bond of mutual
affection and brotherhood; and not a mere connection used by
the stronger as the instrument of dominion and
aggrandizement, and submitted to by the weaker only from the
lingering remains of former attachment, and the fading hope
of being able to restore the government to what it was
originally intended to be,--a blessing to all."

The utter misapprehension of the purposes and desires of the Northern
people which this passage betrays, and which pervades all the later
writings of Mr. Calhoun, can only be explained by the supposition that
he judged them out of his own heart. It is astounding to hear the
author of the annexation of Texas charging the North with the lust of
dominion, and the great Nullifier accusing Northern statesmen of being
wholly possessed by the mania to be President.

Webster, Clay, and Calhoun,--these were great names in their day. When
the last of them had departed, the country felt a sense of
bereavement, and even of self-distrust, doubting if ever again such
men would adorn the public councils. A close scrutiny into the lives
of either of them would, of course, compel us to deduct something from
his contemporary renown, for they were all, in some degree, at some
periods, diverted from their true path by an ambition beneath an
American statesman, whose true glory alone consists in serving his
country well in that sphere to which his fellow-citizens call him.
From such a scrutiny the fame of neither of those distinguished men
would suffer so much as that of Calhoun. His endowments were not
great, nor of the most valuable kind; and his early education, hasty
and very incomplete, was not continued by maturer study. He read
rather to confirm his impressions than to correct them. It was
impossible that he should ever have been wise, because he refused to
admit his liability to error. Never was mental assurance more
complete, and seldom less warranted by innate or acquired superiority.
If his knowledge of books was slight, his opportunities of observing
men were still more limited, since he passed his whole life in places
as exceptional, perhaps, as any in the world,--Washington and South
Carolina. From the beginning of his public career there was a canker
in the heart of it; for, while his oath, as a member of Congress, to
support the Constitution of the United States, was still fresh upon
his lips, he declared that his attachment to the Union was conditional
and subordinate. He said that the alliance between the Southern
planters and Northern Democrats was a false and calculated compact, to
be broken when the planters could no longer rule by it. While he
resided in Washington, and acted with the Republican party in the
flush of its double triumph, he appeared a respectable character, and
won golden opinions from eminent men in both parties. But when he was
again subjected to the narrowing and perverting influence of a
residence in South Carolina, he shrunk at once to his original
proportions, and became thenceforth, not the servant of his country,
but the special pleader of a class and the representative of a
section. And yet, with that strange judicial blindness which has ever
been the doom of the defenders of wrong, he still hoped to attain the
Presidency. There is scarcely any example of infatuation more
remarkable than this. Here we have, lying before us at this moment,
undeniable proofs, in the form of "campaign lives" and "campaign
documents," that, as late as 1844. there was money spent and labor
done for the purpose of placing him in nomination for the highest

Calhoun failed in all the leading objects of his public life, except
one; but in that one his success will be memorable forever. He has
left it on record (see Ben on, II. 698) that his great aim, from 1835
to 1847, was to force the slavery issue on the North. "It is our
duty," he wrote in 1847, "to force the issue on the North." "Had the
South," he continued, "or even my own State, backed me, I would have
forced the issue on the North in 1835"; and he welcomed the Wilmot
Proviso in 1847, because, as he privately wrote, it would be the means
of "enabling us to force the issue on the North." In this design, at
length, when he had been ten years in the grave, he succeeded. Had
there been no Calhoun, it is possible--nay, it is not improbable--that
that issue might have been deferred till the North had so outstripped
the South in accumulating all the elements of power, that the
fire-eaters themselves would have shrunk from submitting the question
to the arbitrament of the sword. It was Calhoun who forced the issue
upon the United States, and compelled us to choose between
annihilation and war.

[Footnote 1: Mr. Calhoun had still Irish enough in his composition to
use "will" for "shall."]


In June, 1861, Dr. Russell, the correspondent of the London Times, was
ascending the Mississippi in a steamboat, on board of which was a body
of Confederate troops, several of whom were sick, and lay along the
deck helpless. Being an old campaigner, he had his medicine-chest with
him, and he was thus enabled to administer to these men the medicines
which he supposed their cases required. One huge fellow, attenuated to
a skeleton by dysentery, who appears to have been aware of his
benefactor's connection with the press, gasped out these words:

"Stranger, remember, if I die, that I am Robert Tallon of
Tishimingo County, and that I died for States' Rights. See,
now, they put that in the papers, won't you? Robert Tallon
died for States' Rights."

Having thus spoken, he turned over on his blanket, and was silent. Dr.
Russell assures his readers that this man only expressed the nearly
unanimous feeling of the Southern people at the outbreak of the war.
He had been ten weeks travelling in the Southern States, and he
declared that the people had but one battle-cry,--"States' Rights, and
death to those who make war upon them!" About the same time, we
remember, there was a paragraph going the rounds of the newspapers
which related a conversation said to have taken place between a
Northern man and a Southern boy. The boy happening to use the word
"country," the Northerner asked him, "What is your country?" To which
the boy instantly and haughtily replied, "SOUTH CAROLINA!"

Such anecdotes as these were to most of us here at the North a
revelation. The majority of the Northern people actually did not know
of the _existence_ of such a feeling as that expressed by the Carolina
boy, nor of the doctrine enunciated by the dying soldier. If every boy
in the Northern States old enough to understand the question had been
asked, What is your country? every one of them, without a moment's
hesitation, would have quietly answered in substance thus: "Why, the
United States, of course";--and the only feeling excited by the
question would have been one of surprise that it should have been
asked. And with regard to that "battle-cry" of States' Rights, seven
tenths of the voters of the North hardly knew what a Southern man
meant when he pronounced the words. Thus we presented to the world the
curious spectacle of a people so ignorant of one another, so little
homogeneous, that nearly all on one side of an imaginary line were
willing to risk their lives for an idea which the inhabitants on the
other side of the line not only did not entertain, but knew nothing
about. We observe something similar in the British empire. The
ordinary Englishman does not know what it is of which Ireland
complains, and if an Irishman is asked the name of his country, he
does not pronounce any of the names which imply the merging of his
native isle in the realm of Britain.

Few of us, even now, have a "realizing sense," as it is called, of the
strength of the States' Rights feeling among the Southern people. Of
all the Southern States in which we ever sojourned, the one that
seemed to us most like a Northern State was North Carolina. We stayed
some time at Raleigh, ten years ago, during the session of the
Legislature, and we were struck with the large number of reasonable,
intelligent, upright men who were members of that body. Of course, we
expected to find Southern men all mad on one topic; but in the
Legislature of North Carolina there were several individuals who could
converse even on that in a rational and comfortable manner. We were a
little surprised, therefore, the other day, to pick up at a book-stall
in Nassau Street a work entitled:

"The North Carolina Reader, Number III. Prepared with
Special Reference to the Wants and Interests of North
Carolina. Under the Auspices of the Superintendent of Common
Schools. Containing Selections in Prose and Verse. By C.H.
Wiley. New York: A.S. Barnes and Burr."

The acute reader will at once surmise that the object of this series
of school readers was to instil into the minds of the youth of North
Carolina a due regard for the sacredness and blessed effects of our
peculiar institution. But for once the acute reader is mistaken. No
such purpose appears, at least not in Number III.; in which there are
only one or two even distant allusions to that dread subject. Onesimus
is not mentioned; there is no reference to Ham, nor is there any
discourse upon long heels and small brains. The great, the only object
of this Reader was to nourish in the children of the State the feeling
which the boy expressed-when he proudly said that his country was
South Carolina. Nothing can exceed the innocent, childlike manner in
which this design is carried out in Number III. First, the children
are favored with a series of chapters descriptive of North Carolina,
written in the style of a school geography, with an occasional piece
of poetry on a North Carolina subject by a North Carolina poet. Once,
however, the compiler ventures to depart from his plan by inserting
the lines by Sir William Jones, "What constitutes a State?" To this
poem he appends a note apologizing for "breaking the thread of his
discourse," upon the ground that the lines were so "applicable to the
subject," that it seemed as if the author "must have been describing
North Carolina." When the compiler has done cataloguing the fisheries,
the rivers, the mountains, and the towns of North Carolina, he
proceeds to relate its history precisely in the style of our school
history books. The latter half of the volume is chiefly occupied by
passages from speeches, and poems from newspapers, written by natives
of North Carolina. It is impossible for us to convey an idea of the
innutritiousness and the inferiority of most of these pieces. North
Carolina is the great theme of orator and poet.

"We live," says one of the legislators quoted,

"in the most beautiful land that the sun of heaven ever
shone upon. Yes, sir, I have heard the anecdote from Mr.
Clay, that a preacher in Kentucky, when speaking of the
beauties of paradise, when he desired to make his audience
believe it was a place of bliss, said it was a Kentucky of a
place. Sir, this preacher had never visited the western
counties of North Carolina. I have spent days of rapture in
looking at her scenery of unsurpassed grandeur, in hearing
the roar of her magnificent waterfalls, second only to the
great cataract of the North; and while I gazed for hours,
lost in admiration at the power of Him who by his word
created such a country, and gratitude for the blessings He
had scattered upon it, I thought that if Adam and Eve, when
driven from paradise, had been near this land, they would
have thought themselves in the next best place to that they
had left."

We do not aver that the contents of this collection are generally as
ludicrous as this specimen; but we do say that the passage quoted
gives a very fair idea of the spirit and quality of the book. There is
scarcely one of the North Carolina pieces which a Northern man would
not for one reason or another find extremely comic. One of the reading
lessons is a note written fifteen years ago by Solon Robinson, the
agricultural editor of the Tribune, upon the use of the long leaves of
the _North Carolina_ pine for braiding or basket-work; another is a
note written to accompany a bunch of _North Carolina_ grapes sent to
an editor; and there are many other newspaper cuttings of a similar
character. The editor seems to have thought nothing too trivial,
nothing too ephemeral, for his purpose, provided the passage contained
the name of his beloved State.

How strange all this appears to a Northern mind! Everywhere else in
Christendom, teachers strive to enlarge the mental range of their
pupils, readily assenting to Voltaire's well-known definition of an
educated man: "One who is _not_ satisfied to survey the universe from
his parish belfry." Everywhere else, the intellectual class have some
sense of the ill-consequences of "breeding in and in," and take care
to infuse into their minds the vigor of new ideas and the nourishment
of strange knowledge. How impossible for a Northern State to think of
doing what Alabama did last winter, pass a law designed to limit the
circulation in that State of Northern newspapers and periodicals! What
Southern men mean by "State pride" is really not known in the Northern
States. All men of every land are fond of their native place; but the
pride that Northern people may feel in the State wherein they happened
to be born is as subordinate to their national feeling, as the
attachment of a Frenchman to his native province is to his pride in

Why this difference? It did not always exist. It cost New York and
Massachusetts as severe a struggle to accept the Constitution of 1787
as it did Virginia. George Clinton, Governor of New York, had as much
State pride as Patrick Henry, orator of Virginia, and parted as
reluctantly with a portion of the sovereignty which he wielded. If it
required Washington's influence and Madison's persuasive reasoning to
bring Virginia into the new system, the repugnance of Massachusetts
was only overcome by the combined force of Hancock's social rank and
Samuel Adams's late, reluctant assent.

On this subject let us hear Samuel Adams for a moment as he wrote to a
friend in 1788:--

"I confess, as I enter the building I stumble at the
threshold. I meet with a national government instead of a
federal union of sovereign states. I am not able to conceive
why the wisdom, of the Convention led them to give the
preference to the former before the latter. If the several
States in the Union are to be one entire nation under one
Legislature, the powers of which shall extend to every
subject of legislation, and its laws be supreme and control
the whole, the idea of sovereignty in these States must be
lost. Indeed, I think, upon such a supposition, those
sovereignties ought to be eradicated from the mind, for they
would be _imperia in imperio_, justly deemed a solecism in
politics, and they would be highly dangerous and destructive
of the peace, union, arid safety of the nation.

"And can this National Legislature be competent to make laws
for the _free_ internal government of one people, living in
climates so remote, and whose habits and particular
interests are, and probably always will be, so different? Is
it to be expected that general laws can be adapted to the
feelings of the more eastern and the more southern parts of
so extensive a nation? It appears to me difficult, if
practicable. Hence, then, may we not look for discontent,
mistrust, disaffection to government, and frequent
insurrections, which will require standing armies to
suppress them in one place and another, where they may
happen to arise. Or, if laws could be made adapted to the
local habits, feelings, views, and interests of those
distant parts, would they not cause jealousies of partiality
in government, which would excite envy and other malignant
passions productive of wars and fighting? But should we
continue distinct sovereign States, confederated for the
purpose of mutual safety and happiness, each contributing to
the federal head such a part of its sovereignty as would
render the government fully adequate to those purposes and
_no more_, the people would govern themselves more easily,
the laws of each State being well adapted to its own genius
and circumstances, and the liberties of the United States
would be more secure than they can be, as I humbly conceive,
under the proposed new constitution."--_Life of Samuel
Adams_, Vol. III, p. 251.

This passage is one of the large number in the writings of that time
to which recent events have given a new interest; nor is it now
without salutary meaning for us, though we quote it only to show the
reluctance of some of the best citizens of the North to come into a
national system. Suppose, to-day, that the United States were invited
to merge their sovereignty into a confederation of all the nations of
America, which would require us to abolish the city of Washington, and
send delegates to a general congress on the Isthmus of Darien! A
sacrifice of pride like that was demanded of the leading States of the
Union in 1787. Severe was the struggle, but the sacrifice was made,
and it cost the great States of the North as painful a throe as it did
the great States of the South. Why, then, has State pride died away in
the North, and grown stronger in the South? Why is it only in the
Southern States that the doctrine of States' Rights is ever heard of?
Why does the Northern man swell with national pride, and point with
exultation to a flag bearing thirty-seven stars, feeling the remotest
State to be as much his country as his native village, while the
Southern man contracts to an exclusive love for a single State, and is
willing to die on its frontiers in repelling from its sacred soil the
national troops, and can see the flag under which his fathers fought
torn down without regret?

The study of John Randolph of Virginia takes us to the heart of this
mystery. He could not have correctly answered the question we have
proposed, but he _was_ an answer to it. Born when George Washington,
Thomas Jefferson, George Mason, and James Madison were Virginia
farmers, and surviving to the time when Andrew Jackson was President
of the United States, he lived through the period of the decline of
his race, and he was of that decline a conscious exemplification. He
represented the decay of Virginia, himself a living ruin attesting by
the strength and splendor of portions of it what a magnificent
structure it was once. "Poor old Virginia! Poor old Virginia!" This
was the burden of his cry for many a year. Sick, solitary, and half
mad, at his lonely house in the wilderness of Roanoke, suffering from
inherited disease, burdened with inherited debt, limited by inherited
errors, and severed by a wall of inherited prejudice from the life of
the modern world, he stands to us as the type of the palsied and dying
State. Of the doctrine of States' Rights he was the most consistent
and persistent champion; while of that feeling which the North
Carolina Reader No. III. styles "State pride," we may call him the
very incarnation. "When I speak of my country," he would say, "I mean
the Commonwealth of Virginia." He was the first eminent man in the
Southern States who was prepared in spirit for war against the
government of the United States; for daring the Nullification
imbroglio of 1833, he not only was in the fullest accord with Calhoun,
but he used to say, that, if a collision took place between the
nullifiers and the forces of the United States, he, John Randolph of
Roanoke, old and sick as he was, would have himself buckled on his
horse, Radical, and fight for the South to his last breath.

But then he was a man of genius, travel, and reading. We find him,
therefore, as we have said, a _conscious_ witness of his Virginia's
decline. Along with a pride in the Old Dominion that was fanatical,
there was in this man's heart a constant and most agonizing sense of
her inferiority to lands less beloved. By no tongue or pen--not by
Summer's tongue nor. Olmstead's pen--have more terrible pictures been
drawn of Virginia's lapse into barbarism, than are to be found in John
Randolph's letters. At a time (1831) when he would not buy a
pocket-knife made in New England, nor send a book to be bound north of
the Potomac, we find him writing of his native State in these terms:--

"I passed a night in Farrarville, in an apartment which, in
England, would not have been thought fit for my servant; nor
on the Continent did he ever occupy so mean a one. Wherever
I stop it is the same: walls black and filthy; bed and
furniture sordid; furniture scanty and mean, generally
broken; no mirror; no fire-irons; in short, dirt and
discomfort universally prevail; and in most private houses
the matter is not mended. The cows milked a half a mile off,
or not got up, and no milk to be had at any distance,--no
jordan;--in fact, all the old gentry are gone, and the
_nouveaux riches_, when they have the inclination, do not
know how to live. _Biscuit_, not half _cuit_; everything
animal and vegetable smeared with butter and lard. Poverty
stalking through the land, while we are engaged in political
metaphysics, and, amidst our filth and vermin, like the
Spaniard and Portuguese, look down with contempt on other
nations,--England and France especially. We hug our lousy
cloak around us, take another _chaw of tub-backer_, float
the room with nastiness, or ruin the grate and fire-irons,
where they happen not to be rusty, and try conclusions upon
constitutional points."

What truth and painting in this passage! But if we had asked this
suffering genius as to the cause of his "country's" decline, he would
have given us a mad answer indeed. He would have said, in his wild
way, that it was all Tom Jefferson's doing, sir. Tom Jefferson
abolished primogeniture in Virginia, and thus, as John Randolph
believed, destroyed the old families, the life and glory of the.
State. Tom Jefferson was unfaithful to the States' Rights and
strict-constructionist creed, of which he was the expounder and
trustee, and thus let in the "American system" of Henry Clay, with its
protective tariff, which completed the ruin of the agricultural
States. This was his simple theory of the situation. These were the
reasons why he despaired of ever again seeing, to use his own

"the Nelsons, the Pages, the Byrds, and Fairfaxes, living in
their palaces, and driving their coaches and sixes, or the
good old Virginia gentlemen in the Assembly drinking their
twenty and forty bowls of rack punches, and madeira and
claret, in lieu of a knot of deputy sheriffs and hack
attorneys, each with his cruet of whiskey before him, and
puddle of tobacco-spittle between his legs."

He was as far from seeing any relation of cause and effect between the
coaches, palaces, and bowls of punch, and the "knot of deputy
sheriffs," as a Fenian is from discerning any connection between the
Irish rackrenting of the last century, and the Irish beggary of this.
Like conditions produce like characters. How interesting to discover
in this republican, this native Virginian of English stock, a perfect
and splendid specimen of a species of tory supposed to exist only in
such countries as Poland, Spain, Ireland, and the Highlands of
Scotland, but which in reality does abound in the Southern States of
this Union,--the tory, conscious of his country's ruin, but clinging
with fanatical and proud tenacity to the principles that ruined it.

Dear tobacco, virgin land, and cheap negroes gave the several families
in Virginia, for three generations, a showy, delusive prosperity,
which produced a considerable number of dissolute, extravagant men,
and educated a few to a high degree of knowledge and wisdom. Of these
families, the Randolphs were the most numerous, and among the oldest,
richest, and most influential. The soldiers of the late army of the
Potomac know well the lands which produced the tobacco that maintained
them in baronial state. It was on Turkey Island (an island no more),
twenty miles below Richmond; close to Malvern Hill of immortal memory,
that the founder of the family settled in 1660,--a Cavalier of ancient
Yorkshire race ruined in the civil wars. Few of our troops, perhaps,
who rambled over Turkey Bend, were aware that the massive ruins still
visible there, and which served as negro quarters seven years ago, are
the remains of the great and famous mansion built by this Cavalier,
turned tobacco-planter. This home of the Randolphs was so elaborately
splendid, that a man served out the whole term of his apprenticeship
to the trade of carpenter in one of its rooms. The lofty dome was for
many years a beacon to the navigator. Such success had this Randolph
in raising tobacco during the fifty-one years of his residence upon
Turkey Island, that to each of his six sons he gave or left a large
estate, besides portioning liberally his two daughters. Five of these
sons reared families, and the sons of those sons were also thriving
and prolific men; so that, in the course of three generations,
Virginia was full of Randolphs. There was, we believe, not one of the
noted controlling families that was not related to them by blood or

In 1773, when John Randolph was born, the family was still powerful;
and the region last trodden by the Army of the Potomac was still
adorned by the seats of its leading members. Cawsons, the mansion in
which he was born, was situated at the junction of the James and
Appomattox, in full view of City Point and Bermuda Hundred, and only
an after-breakfast walk from Dutch Gap. The mansion long ago
disappeared, and nothing now marks its site but negro huts. Many of
those exquisite spots on the James and Appomattox, which we have seen
men pause to admire while the shells were bursting overhead, were
occupied sixty years ago by the sumptuous abodes of the Randolphs and
families related to them. Mattoax, the house in which John Randolph
passed much of his childhood, was on a bluff of the Appomattox, two
miles above Petersburg; and Bizarre, the estate on which he spent his
boyhood, lay above, on both sides of the same river. Over all that
extensive and enchanting region, trampled and torn and laid waste by
hostile armies in 1864 and 1865, John Randolph rode and hunted from
the time he could sit a pony and handle a gun. Not a vestige remains
of the opulence and splendor of his early days. Not one of the
mansions inhabited or visited by him in his youth furnished a target
for our cannoneers or plunder for our camps. A country better adapted
to all good purposes of man, nor one more pleasing to the eye, hardly
exists on earth; but before it was trodden by armies, it had become
little less than desolate. The James River is as navigable as the
Hudson, and flows through a region far more fertile, longer settled,
more inviting, and of more genial climate; but there are upon the
Hudson's banks more cities than there are rotten landings upon the
James. The shores of this beautiful and classic stream are so
unexpectedly void of even the signs of human habitation, that our
soldiers were often ready to exclaim:

"Can this be the river of Captain John Smith and Pocahontas?
Was it here that Jamestown stood? Is it possible that white
men have lived in this delightful land for two hundred and
fifty-seven years? Or has not the captain of the steamboat
made a mistake, and turned into the wrong river?"

One scene of John Randolph's boyhood reveals to us the entire
political economy of the Old Dominion. He used to relate it himself,
when denouncing the manufacturing system of Henry Clay. One ship, he
would say, sufficed, in those happy days, for all the commerce of that
part of Virginia with the Old World, and that ship was named the
London Trader. When this ship was about to sail, all the family were
called together, and each member was invited to mention the articles
which he or she wanted from London. First, the mother of the family
gave in her list; next the children, in the order of their ages; next,
the overseer; then the _mammy_, the children's black nurse; lastly,
the house servants, according to their rank, down even to their
children. When months had passed, and the time for the ship's return
was at hand, the weeks, the days, the hours were counted; and when the
signal was at last descried, the whole household burst into
exclamations of delight, and there was festival in the family for many

How picturesque and interesting! How satisfactory to the tory mind!
But alas! this system of exhausting the soil in the production of
tobacco by the labor of slaves, and sending for all manufactured
articles to England, was more ruinous even than it was picturesque. No
middle class could exist, as in England, to supply the waste of
aristocratic blood and means; and in three generations, rich and
beautiful Virginia, created for empire, was only another Ireland. But
it was a picturesque system, and John Randolph, poet and tory,
revelled in the recollection of it. "Our Egyptian taskmasters," he
would say, meaning the manufacturers of Pennsylvania, New York, New
Jersey, and New England, "only wish to leave us the recollection of
past times, and insist upon our purchasing their vile _domestic_
stuffs; but it won't do: no wooden nutmegs for old Virginia."

His own pecuniary history was an illustration of the working of the
system. His father left forty thousand acres of the best land in the
world, and several hundred slaves, to his three boys; the greater part
of which property, by the early death of the two elder brothers, fell
to John. As the father died when John was but three years old, there
was a minority of eighteen years, during which the boy's portion
should have greatly increased. So far from increasing, an old debt of
his father's--a _London_ debt, incurred for goods brought to a joyous
household in the London Trader--remained undiminished at his coming of
age, and hung about his neck for many years afterward. Working two
large estates, with a force of negroes equivalent to one hundred and
eighty full field hands, he could not afford himself the luxury of a
trip to Europe until he was fifty years old. The amount of this debt
we do not know, but he says enough about it for us to infer that it
was not of very large amount in comparison with his great resources.
One hundred and eighty stalwart negroes working the best land in the
world, under a man so keen and vigilant as this last of the noble
Randolphs, and yet making scarcely any headway for a quarter of a

The blood of this fine breed of men was also running low. Both the
parents of John Randolph and both of his brothers died young, and he
himself inherited weakness which early developed into disease. One of
his half-brothers died a madman. "My whole name and race," he would
say, "lie under a curse. I feel the curse clinging to me." He was a
fair, delicate child, more like a girl than a boy, and more inclined,
as a child, to the sports of girls than of boys. His mother, a fond,
tender, gentle lady, nourished his softer qualities, powerless to
govern him, and probably never attempting it. Nevertheless, he was no
girl; he was a genuine _son_ of the South. Such was the violence of
his passions, that, before he was four years old, he sometimes in a
fit of anger fell senseless upon the floor, and was restored only
after much effort. His step-father, who was an honorable man, seems
never to have attempted either to control his passions or develop his
intellect. He grew up, as many boys of Virginia did, and do,
unchecked, unguided, untrained. Turned loose in a miscellaneous
library, nearly every book he read tended to intensify his feelings or
inflame his imagination. His first book was Voltaire's Charles XII.,
and a better book for a boy has never been written. Then he fell upon
the Spectator. Before he was twelve he had read the Arabian Nights,
Orlando, Robinson Crusoe, Smollett's Works, Reynard the Fox, Don
Quixote, Gil Bias, Tom Jones, Gulliver, Shakespeare, Plutarch's Lives,
Pope's Homer, Goldsmith's Rome, Percy's Reliques, Thomson's Seasons,
Young, Gray, and Chatterton,--a gallon of sack to a penny's worth of
bread. A good steady drill in arithmetic, geography, and language
might have given his understanding a chance; but this ill-starred boy
never had a steady drill in anything. He never remained longer at any
one school than a year, and he learned at school very little that he
needed most to know. In the course of his desultory schooling he
picked up some Latin, a little Greek, a good deal of French, and an
inconceivable medley of odds and ends of knowledge, which his
wonderful memory enabled him to use sometimes with startling effect.

Everywhere else, in the whole world, children are taught that
virtue is self-control. In the Southern States, among these
tobacco-lords, boys learned just the opposite lesson,--that virtue is
self-indulgence. This particular youth, thin-skinned, full of talent,
fire, and passion, the heir to a large estate, fatherless, would have
been in danger anywhere of growing up untrained,--a wild beast in
broadcloth. In the Virginia of that day, in the circle in which he
lived, there was nothing for him in the way either of curb or spur. He
did what he pleased, and nothing else. All that was noble in his
life,--those bursts of really fine oratory, his flashes of good sense,
his occasional generosities, his hatred of debt, and his eager haste
to pay it,--all these things were due to the original excellence of
his race. In the very dregs of good wine there is flavor. We cannot
make even good vinegar out of a low quality of wine.

His gentle mother taught him all the political economy he ever took to
heart. "Johnny," said she to him one day, when they had reached a
point in their ride that commanded an extensive view,

"all this land belongs to you and your brother. It is your
father's inheritance. When you get to be a man, you must not
sell your land: it is the first step to ruin for a boy to
part with his father's home. Be sure to keep it as long as
you live. Keep your land, and your land will keep you."

There never came a time when his mind was mature and masculine enough
to _consider_ this advice. He clung to his land as Charles Stuart
clung to his prerogative.

All the early life of this youth was wandering and desultory. At
fourteen, we find him at Princeton College in New Jersey, where, we
are told, he fought a duel, exchanged shots twice with his adversary,
and put a ball into his body which he carried all his life. By this
time, too, the precocious and ungovernable boy had become, as he
flattered himself, a complete atheist. One of his favorite amusements
at Princeton was to burlesque the precise and perhaps ungraceful
Presbyterians of the place. The library of his Virginian home, it
appears, was furnished with a great supply of what the French mildly
call the literature of incredulity,--Helvetius, Voltaire, Rousseau,
Diderot, D'Alembert, and the rest. The boy, in his rage for knowledge,
had read vast quantities of this literature, and, of course, embraced
the theory of the writers that pushed denial farthest. For twenty-two
years, he says in one of his letters, he never entered a church. Great
pleasure it gave him to show how superior the Mahometan religion was
to the Christian, and to recite specimens of what he took delight in
styling Hebrew jargon. The Psalms of David were his special aversion.

Almost all gifted and fearless lads that have lived in Christendom
during the last hundred years have had a fit of this kind between
fifteen and twenty-five. The strength of the tendency to question the
grounds of belief must be great indeed to bear away with it a youth
like this, formed by Nature to believe. John Randolph had no more
intellectual right to be a sceptic, than he had a moral right to be a
republican. A person whose imagination is quick and warm, whose
feelings are acute, and whose intellect is wholly untrained, can find
no comfort except in belief. His scepticism is a mere freak of vanity
or self-will. Coming upon the stage of life when unbelief was
fashionable in high drawing-rooms, he became a sceptic. But Nature
will have her way with us all, and so this atheist at fifteen was an
Evangelical at forty-five.

His first political bias was equally at war with his nature. John
Randolph was wholly a tory; there was not in his whole composition one
republican atom. But coming early under the direct personal influence
of Thomas Jefferson, whose every fibre was republican, he, too, the
sympathetic tory of genius, espoused the people's cause. He was less
than twenty-two years, however, in recovering from _this_ false

Summoned from Princeton, after only a few months' residence, by the
death of his mother, he went next to Columbia College, in the city of
New York, where for a year or two he read Greek with a tutor,
especially Demosthenes. At New York he saw the first Congress under
the new Constitution assemble, and was one of the concourse that
witnessed the scene of General Washington's taking the oath on the
balcony of the old City Hall. It seemed to this Virginia boy natural
enough that a Virginian should be at the head of the government; not
so, that a Yankee should hold the second place and preside over the
Senate. Forty years after, he recalled with bitterness a trifling
incident, which, trifling as it was, appears to have been the origin
of his intense antipathy to all of the blood of John Adams. The
coachman of the Vice-President, it seems, told the brother of this
little republican tory to stand back; or, as the orator stated it,
forty years after, "I remember the manner in which my brother was
spurned by the coachman of the Vice-President for coming too near the
arms emblazoned on the vice-regal carriage."

Boy as he was, he had already taken sides with those who opposed the
Constitution. The real ground of his opposition to it was, that it
reduced the importance of Virginia,--great Virginia! Under the new
Constitution, there was a man on the Western Continent of more
consequence than the Governor of Virginia, there were legislative
bodies more powerful than the Legislature of Virginia. This was the
secret of the disgust with which he heard it proposed to style the
President "His Highness" and "His Majesty." _This_ was the reason why
it kindled his ire to read, in the newspapers of 1789, that "the most
honorable Rufus King" had been elected Senator. It was only Jefferson
and a very few other of the grand Virginians who objected for higher
and larger reasons.

In March, 1790, Mr. Jefferson reached New York, after his return from
France, and entered upon his new office of Secretary of State under
General Washington. He was a distant relative of our precocious
student, then seventeen years of age; and the two families had just
been brought nearer together by the marriage of one of Mr. Jefferson's
daughters to a Randolph. The reaction against republican principles
was at full tide; and no one will ever know to what lengths it would
have gone, had not Thomas Jefferson so opportunely come upon the
scene. At his modest abode, No. 57 Maiden Lane, the two Randolph
lads--John, seventeen, Theodorick, nineteen--were frequent visitors.
Theodorick was a roistering blade, much opposed to his younger
brother's reading habits, caring himself for nothing but pleasure.
John was an eager politician. During the whole period of the reaction,
first at New York, afterward at Philadelphia, finally in Virginia,
John Randolph sat at the feet of the great Democrat of America,
fascinated by his conversation, and generally convinced by his
reasoning. It is a mistake, however, to suppose that he was a blind
follower of Mr. Jefferson, even then. On the question of States'
Rights, he was in the most perfect accord with him. But when, in 1791,
the eyes of all intelligent America were fixed upon the two
combatants, Edmund Burke and Thomas Paine, Burke condemning, Paine
defending, the French Revolution, the inherited instincts of John
Randolph asserted themselves, and he gave all his heart to Burke. Lord
Chatham and Edmund Burke were the men who always held the first place
in the esteem of this kindred spirit. Mr. Jefferson, of course,
sympathized with the view of his friend Paine, and never wavered in
his belief that the French Revolution was necessary and beneficial. A
generous and gifted nation strangled, moved him to deeper compassion
than a class proscribed. He dwelt more upon the long and bitter
provocation, than upon the brief frenzy which was only one of its dire
results. Louis XIV. and Louis XV., picturesque as they were, excited
within him a profounder horror than ugly Marat and Robespierre. He
pitied haggard, distracted France more than graceful and high-bred
Marie Antoinette. In other words, he was not a tory.

There was a difference, too, between Mr. Jefferson and his young
kinsman on the points upon which they agreed. Jefferson was a States'
Rights man, and a strict constructionist, because he was a republican;
Randolph, because he was a Virginian, Jefferson thought the government
should be small, that the people might be great; John Randolph thought
the government should be small, that Virginia might be great. Pride in
Virginia was John Randolph's ruling passion, not less in 1790; than in
1828, The welfare and dignity of man were the darling objects of
Thomas Jefferson's great soul, from youth to hoary age.

Here we have the explanation of the great puzzle of American
politics,--the unnatural alliance, for sixty years, between the
plantation lords of the South and the democracy of the North, both
venerating the name of Jefferson, and both professing his principles.
It was not, as many suppose, a compact of scurvy politicians for the
sake of political victory. Every great party, whether religious' or
political, that has held power long in a country, has been founded
upon conviction,--disinterested conviction. Some of the cotton and
tobacco lords, men of intellect and culture, were democrats and
abolitionists, like Jefferson himself. Others took up with
republicanism because it was the reigning affectation in their circle,
as it was in the chateaux and drawing-rooms of France. But their State
pride it was that bound them as a class to the early Republican party.
The Southern aristocrat saw in Jefferson the defender of the
sovereignty of his State: the "smutched artificer" of the North
gloried in Jefferson as the champion of the rights of man. While the
Republican party was in opposition, battling with unmanageable John
Adams, with British Hamilton, and with a foe more powerful than both
of those men together, Robespierre,--while it had to contend with
Washington's all but irresistible influence, and with the nearly
unanimous opposition of educated and orthodox New England,--this
distinction was not felt. Many a tobacco aristocrat cut off his
pig-tail and wore trousers down to his ankles, which were then the
outward signs of the inward democratic grace. But time tries all. It
is now apparent to every one that the strength of the original
Democratic party in the South was the States' Rights portion of its
platform, while in the North it was the sentiment of republicanism
that kept the party together.

Young politicians should study this period of their country's history.
If ever again a political party shall rule the United States for sixty
years, or for twenty years, it will be, we think, a party resembling
the original Republican party, as founded in America by Franklin, and
organized under Jefferson. Its platform will be, perhaps, something
like this: simple, economical government machinery; strict
construction of the Constitution; the rights of the States
scrupulously observed; the suffrage open to all, without regard to
color or sex,--_open_ to all, but _conferred_ only upon men and women
capable of exercising it.

John Randolph agreed upon another point with Mr. Jefferson: lie was an
abolitionist. But for the English debt which he inherited, it is
extremely probable that he would have followed the example of many of
the best Virginians of his day, and emancipated his slaves. He would,
perhaps, have done so when that debt was discharged, instead of
waiting to do it by his last will, but for the forlorn condition of
freedmen in a Slave State. His eldest brother wrote, upon the division
of the estate, in 1794:

"I want not a single negro for any other purpose than his
immediate emancipation. I shudder when I think that such an
insignificant animal as I am is invested with this
monstrous, this horrid power."

He told his guardian that he would give up all his land rather than
own a slave. There was no moment in the whole life of John Randolph
when he did not sympathize with this view of slavery, and he died
expressing it. But though lie was, if possible, a more decided
abolitionist than Jefferson, he never for a moment doubted the innate
superiority of a Virginia gentleman to all the other inhabitants of
America. He had not even the complaisance to take his hair out of
queue, nor hide his thin legs in pantaloons. He was not endowed by
nature with understanding enough to rise superior to the prejudices
that had come down to him through generations of aristocrats. He was
weak enough, indeed, to be extremely vain of the fact that a
grandfather of his had married one of the great-granddaughters of
Pocahontas, who, it was believed, performed the act that renders her
famous at Point of Rocks on the Appomattox, within walking distance of
one of the Randolph mansions. It is interesting to observe what an
unquestioning, childlike faith he always had in the superiority of his
caste, of his State, and of his section. He once got so far as to
speak favorably of the talents of Daniel Webster; but he was obliged
to conclude by saying that he was the best debater he had ever known
_north of the Potomac_.

This singular being was twenty-six years of age before any one
suspected, least of all himself, that he possessed any of the talents
which command the attention of men. His life had been desultory and
purposeless. He had studied law a little, attended a course or two of
medical lectures, travelled somewhat, dipped into hundreds of books,
read a few with passionate admiration, had lived much with the ablest
men of that day,--a familiar guest at Jefferson's fireside, and no
stranger at President Washington's stately table. Father, mother, and
both brothers were dead. He was lonely, sad, and heavily burdened with
property, with debt, and the care of many dependants. His appearance
was even more singular than his situation. At twenty-three he had
still the aspect of a boy. He actually grew half a head after he was
twenty-three years of age.

"A tall, gawky-looking, flaxen-haired stripling, apparently
of the age of sixteen or eighteen, with complexion of a good
parchment color, beardless chin, and as much assumed
self-consequence as any two-footed animal I ever saw."

So he was described by a Charleston bookseller, who saw him in his
store in 1796, carelessly turning over books. "At length," continues
this narrator,

"he hit upon something that struck his fancy; and never did
I witness so sudden, so perfect a change of the human
countenance. That which was before dull and heavy in a
moment became animated, and flashed with the brightest beams
of intellect. He stepped up to the old gray-headed gentleman
(his companion), and giving him a thundering slap on the
shoulder, said, 'Jack, look at this!'"

Thus was he described at twenty-three. At twenty-six he was half a
head taller, and quite as slender as before. His light hair was then
combed back into an elegant queue. His eye of hazel was bright and
restless. His chin was still beardless. He wore a frock-coat of light
blue cloth, yellow breeches, silk stockings, and top-boots. Great was
the love he bore his horses, which were numerous, and as good as
Virginia could boast. It is amusing to notice that the horse upon
which this pattern aristocrat used to scamper across the country, in
French-Revolution times, was named _Jacobin_!

It was in March, 1799, the year before the final victory of the
Republicans over the Federal party, that the neighbors of John
Randolph and John Randolph himself discovered, to their great
astonishment, that he was an orator. He had been nominated for
Representative in Congress. Patrick Henry, aged and infirm, had been
so adroitly manipulated by the Federalists, that he had at length
agreed to speak to the people in support of the hateful administration
of John Adams. John Randolph, who had never in his life addressed an
audience, nor, as he afterwards declared, had ever imagined that he
could do so, suddenly determined, the very evening before the day
named for the meeting, to reply to Patrick Henry. It was an open-air
meeting. No structure in Virginia could have contained the multitude
that thronged to hear the transcendent orator, silent for so many
years, and now summoned from his retirement by General Washington
himself to speak for a Union imperilled and a government assailed. He
spoke with the power of other days? for he was really alarmed for his
country; and when he had finished his impassioned harangue, he sunk
back into the arms of his friends, as one of them said, "like the sun
setting in his glory." For the moment he had all hearts with him. The
sturdiest Republican in Virginia could scarcely resist the spell of
that amazing oratory.

John Randolph rose to reply. His first sentences showed not only that
he could speak, but that he knew the artifices of an old debater; for
he began by giving eloquent expression to the veneration felt by his
hearers for the aged patriot who had just addressed them. He spoke for
three hours, it is said; and if we may judge from the imperfect
outline of his speech that has come down to us, he spoke as well that
day as ever he did. States' Rights was the burden of his speech. That
the Alien and Sedition Law was an outrage upon human nature, he may
have believed; but what he _felt_ was, that it was an outrage upon the
Commonwealth of Virginia. He may have thought it desirable that all
governments should confine themselves to the simple business of
compelling the faithful performance of contracts; but what he
_insisted upon_ was, that the exercise by the government of the United
States of any power not expressly laid down in the letter of the
Constitution was a wrong to Virginia. If John Adams is right, said he,
in substance, then Virginia has gained nothing by the Revolution but a
change of masters,--New England for Old England,--which he thought was
_not_ a change for the better.

It was unnecessary, in the Virginia of 1799, for the head of the house
of Randolph to be an orator in order to secure an election to the
House of Representatives. He was elected, of course. When he came
forward to be sworn in, his appearance was so youthful, that the Clerk
of the House asked him, with the utmost politeness, whether he had
attained the legal age. His reply was eminently characteristic of the
tobacco lord: "Go, sir, and ask my _constituents_: they sent me here."
As there was no one present authorized by the Constitution to box the
ears of impudent boys on the floor of the House, he was sworn without
further question. It has often occurred to us that this anecdote,
which John Randolph used to relate with much satisfaction, was typical
of much that has since occurred. The excessive courtesy of the
officer, the insolence of the Virginia tobacconist, the submission of
the Clerk to that insolence,--who has not witnessed such scenes in the
Capitol at Washington?

It was in December, 1799, that this fiery and erratic genius took his
seat in the House of Representatives. John Adams had still sixteen
months to serve as target for the sarcasm of the young talent of the
nation. To calm readers of the present day, Mr. Adams does really seem
a strange personage to preside over a government; but the cairn reader
of the present day cannot realize the state of things in the year
1800. We cannot conceive what a fright the world had had in the
excesses of the French Revolution, and the recent usurpation of
General Bonaparte. France had made almost every timid man in
Christendom a tory. Serious and respectable people, above forty, and
enjoying a comfortable income, felt that there was only one thing left
for a decent person to do,--to assist in preserving the _authority_ of
government. John Adams, by the constitution of his mind, was as much a
tory as John Randolph; for he too possessed imagination and talent
disproportioned to his understanding. To be a democrat it is necessary
to have a little pure intellect; since your democrat is merely a
person who can, occasionally, see things and men as they are. New
England will always be democratic enough as long as her boys learn
mental arithmetic; and Ireland will always be the haunt of tories as
long as her children are brought up upon songs, legends, and
ceremonies. To make a democratic people, it is only necessary to
accustom them to use their minds.

Nothing throws such light upon the state of things in the United
States in 1800, as the once famous collision between these two natural
tories, John Adams and John Randolph, which gave instantaneous
celebrity to the new member, and made him an idol of the Republican
party. In his maiden speech, which was in opposition to a proposed
increase of the army, he spoke disparagingly of the troops already
serving, using the words _ragamuffins_ and _mercenaries_. In this
passage of his speech, the partisan spoke, not the man. John Randolph
expressed the real feeling of his nature toward soldiers, when, a few
years later, on the same floor, he said: "If I must have a master, let
him be one with epaulets; something which I can look up to; but not a
master with a quill behind his ear." In 1800, however, it pleased him
to style the soldiers of the United States ragamuffins and
mercenaries; which induced two young officers to push, hustle, and
otherwise discommode and insult him at the theatre. Strange to relate,
this hot Virginian, usually so prompt with a challenge to mortal
combat, reported the misconduct of these officers to the President of
the United States. This eminently proper act he did in an eminently
proper manner, thanks to his transient connection with the Republican
party. Having briefly stated the case, he concluded his letter to the
President thus:

"The independence of the legislature has been attacked, and
the majesty of the people, of which you are the principal
representative, insulted, and your authority contemned. In
their name, I demand that a provision commensurate with the
evil be made, and which will be calculated to deter others
from any future attempt to introduce the reign of terror
into our country. In addressing you in this plain language
of man, I give you, sir, the best proof I can afford of the
estimation in which I hold your office and your
understanding; and I assure you with truth, that I am, with
respect, your fellow-citizen, John Randolph."

This language so well accords with our present sense of the becoming,
that a person unacquainted with that period would be unable to point
to a single phrase calculated to give offence. In the year 1800,
however, the President of the United States saw in every expression of
the letter contemptuous and calculated insult. "The majesty of the
people," forsooth! The President merely their "representative"! "plain
language of man"! and "with respect, your fellow-citizen"! To the
heated imaginations of the Federalists of 1800, language of this kind,
addressed to the President, was simply prophetic of the guillotine. So
amazed and indignant was Mr. Adams, that he submitted the letter to
his Cabinet, requesting their opinion as to what should be done with
it. Still more incredible is it, that four members of the Cabinet, in
writing, declared their opinion to be, that "the contemptuous language
therein adopted requires a public censure." They further said, that,

"if such addresses remain unnoticed, we are apprehensive
that a precedent will be established which must necessarily
destroy the ancient, respectable, and urbane usages of this

Some lingering remains of good-sense in the other member of the
Cabinet prevented the President from acting upon their advice; and he
merely sent the letter to the House, with the remark that he
"submitted the whole letter and its tendencies" to their
consideration, "without any other comments on its matter and style."

This affair, trivial as it was, sufficed in that mad time to lift the
young member from Virginia into universal notoriety, and caused him to
be regarded as a shining light of the Republican party. The splendor
of his talents as an orator gave him at once the ear of the House and
the admiration of the Republican side of it; while the fury of his
zeal against the President rendered him most efficient in the
Presidential canvass. No young man, perhaps, did more than he toward
the election of Jefferson and Burr in 1800. He was indeed, at that
time, before disease had wasted him, and while still enjoying the
confidence of the Republican leaders and subject to the needed
restraints of party, a most effective speaker, whether in the House or
upon the stump. He had something of Burke's torrent-like fluency, and
something of Chatham's spirit of command, with a piercing, audacious
sarcasm all his own. He was often unjust and unreasonable, but never
dull. He never spoke in his life without being at least attentively
listened to.

Mr. Jefferson came into power; and John Randolph, triumphantly
re-elected to Congress, was appointed Chairman of the Committee of
Ways and Means,--a position not less important then than now. He was
the leader of the Republican majority in the House. His social rank,
his talents, his position in the House of Representatives, the
admiration of the party, the confidence of the President, all united
to render him the chief of the young men of the young nation. It was
captivating to the popular imagination to behold this heir of an
ancient house, this possessor of broad lands, this orator of genius,
belonging to the party of the people. He aided to give the Republican
party the only element of power which it lacked,--social
consideration. The party had numbers and talent; but it had not that
which could make a weak, rich man vain of the title of Republican. At
the North, clergy, professors, rich men, were generally Federalists,
and it was therefore peculiarly pleasing to Democrats to point to this
eminent and brilliant Virginian as a member of their party. He
discharged the duties of his position well, showing ability as a man
of business, and living in harmony with his colleagues. As often as he
reached Washington, at the beginning of a session, he found the
President's card (so Colonel Benton tells us) awaiting him for dinner
the next day at the White House, when the great measures of the
session were discussed. It was he who moved the resolutions of respect
for the memory of that consummate republican, that entire and perfect
democrat, Samuel Adams of Massachusetts. It was he who arranged the
financial measures required for the purchase of Louisiana, and made no
objection to the purchase. During the first six years of Mr.
Jefferson's Presidency, he shrank from no duty which his party had a
right to claim from him. Whatever there might he narrow or erroneous
in his political creed was neutralized by the sentiment of nationality
which the capital inspires, and by the practical views which must
needs be taken of public affairs by the Chairman of the Committee of
Ways and Means.

These were the happy years of his life, and the most honorable ones.
Never, since governments have existed, has a country been governed so
wisely, so honestly, and so economically as the United States was
governed during the Presidency of Thomas Jefferson. Randolph himself,
after twenty years of opposition to the policy of this incomparable
ruler, could still say of his administration, that it was the only one
he had ever known which "seriously and in good faith was disposed to
give up its patronage," and which desired to go further in depriving
itself of power than the people themselves had thought. "Jefferson,"
said John Randolph in 1828, "was the only man I ever knew or heard of
who really, truly, and honestly, not only said, _Nolo episcopari_, but
actually refused the mitre."

For six years, as we have said, Mr. Randolph led the Republican party
in the House of Representatives, and supported the measures of the
administration,--all of them. In the spring of 1807, without apparent
cause, he suddenly went into opposition, and from that time opposed
the policy of the administration,--the whole of it.

Why this change? If there were such a thing as going apprentice to the
art of discovering truth, a master in that art could not set an
apprentice a better preliminary lesson than this: Why did John
Randolph go into opposition in 1807? The gossips of that day had no
difficulty in answering the question. Some said he had asked Mr.
Jefferson for a foreign mission, and been refused. Others thought it
was jealousy of Mr. Madison, who was known to be the President's
choice for the succession. Others surmised that an important state
secret had been revealed to other members of the House, but not to
him. These opinions our tyro would find very positively recorded, and
he would also, in the course of his researches, come upon the
statement that Mr. Randolph himself attributed the breach to his
having beaten the President at a game of chess, which the President
could not forgive. The truth is, that John Randolph bolted for the
same reason that a steel spring resumes its original bent the instant
the restraining force is withdrawn. His position as leader of a party
was irksome, because it obliged him to work in harness, and he had
never been broken to harness. His party connection bound him to side
with France in the great contest then raging between France and
England, and yet his whole soul sympathized with England. This native
Virginian was more consciously and positively English than any native
of England ever was. English literature had nourished his mind;
English names captivated his imagination; English traditions,
feelings, instincts, habits, prejudices, were all congenial to his
nature. How hard for such a man to side officially with Napoleon in
those gigantic wars! Abhorring Napoleon with all a Randolph's force of
antipathy, it was nevertheless expected of him, as a good Republican,
to interpret leniently the man who, besides being the armed soldier of
democracy, had sold Louisiana to the United States. Randolph,
moreover, was an absolute aristocrat. He delighted to tell the House
of Representatives that he, being a Virginian slaveholder, was _not_
obliged to curry favor with his coachman or his shoeblack, lest when
he drove to the polls the coachman should dismount from his box, or
the shoeblack drop his brushes, and neutralize their master's vote by
voting on the other side. How he exulted in the fact that in Virginia
none but freeholders could vote! How happy he was to boast, that, in
all that Commonwealth, there was no such thing as a ballot-box! "May I
never live to see the day," he would exclaim, "when a Virginian shall
be ashamed to declare aloud at the polls for whom he casts his vote!"
What pleasure he took in speaking of his Virginia wilderness as a
"barony," and signing his name "John Randolph of Roanoke," and in
wearing the garments that were worn in Virginia when the great tobacco
lords were running through their estates in the fine old picturesque
and Irish fashion!

Obviously, an antique of this pattern was out of place as a leader in
the Republican party. For a time the spell of Jefferson's winning
genius, and the presence of a powerful opposition, kept him in some
subjection; but in 1807 that spell had spent its force, and the
Federal party was not formidable. John Randolph was himself again. The
immediate occasion of the rupture was, probably, Mr. Jefferson's
evident preference of James Madison as his successor. We have a right
to infer this, from the extreme and lasting rancor which Randolph
exhibited toward Mr. Madison, who he used to say was as mean a man for
a Virginian as John Quincy Adams was for a Yankee. Nor ought we ever
to speak of this gifted and unhappy man without considering his
physical condition. It appears from the slight notices we have of this
vital matter, that about the year 1807 the stock of vigor which his
youth had acquired was gone, and he lived thenceforth a miserable
invalid, afflicted with diseases that sharpen the temper and narrow
the mind. John Randolph _well_ might have outgrown inherited
prejudices and limitations, and attained to the stature of a modern, a
national, a republican man. John Randolph _sick_--radically and
incurably sick--ceased to grow just when his best growth would
naturally have begun.

The sudden defection of a man so conspicuous and considerable, at a
time when the Republican party was not aware of its strength, struck
dismay to many minds, who felt, with Jefferson, that to the Republican
party in the United States were confided the best interests of human
nature. Mr. Jefferson was not in the least alarmed, because he knew
the strength of the party and the weakness of the man. The letter
which he wrote on this subject to Mr. Monroe ought to be learned by
heart by every politician in the country,--by the self-seekers, for
the warning which it gives them, and by the patriotic, for the comfort
which it affords them in time of trouble. Some readers, perhaps, will
be reminded by it of events which occurred at Washington not longer
ago than last winter.[1]

"Our old friend Mercer broke off from us some time ago; at
first, professing to disdain joining the Federalists; yet,
from the habit of voting together, becoming soon identified
with them. Without carrying over with him one single person,
he is now in a state of as perfect obscurity as if his name
had never been known. Mr. J. Randolph is in the same track,
and will end in the same way. His course has excited
considerable alarm. Timid men consider it as a proof of the
weakness of our government, and that it is to be rent in
pieces by demagogues and to end in anarchy. I survey the
scene with a different eye, and draw a different augury from
it. In a House of Representatives of a great mass of good
sense, Mr. Randolph's popular eloquence gave him such
advantages as to place him unrivalled as the leader of the
House; and, although not conciliatory to those whom he led,
principles of duty and patriotism induced many of them to
swallow humiliations he subjected them to, and to vote as
was right, as long as he kept the path of right himself. The
sudden departure of such a man could not but produce a
momentary astonishment, and even dismay; but for a moment
only. The good sense of the House rallied around its
principles, and, without any leader, pursued steadily the
business of the session, did it well, and by a strength of
vote which has never before been seen.... The augury I draw
from this is, that there is a steady good sense in the
legislature and in the body of the nation, joined with good
intentions, which will lead them to discern and to pursue
the public good under all circumstances which can arise, and
that no _ignis fatuus_ will be able to lead them long

Mr. Jefferson predicted that the lost sheep of the Republican fold
would wander off to the arid wastes of Federalism; but he never did
so. His defection was not an inconsistency, but a return to
consistency. He presented himself in his true character thenceforth,
which was that of a States' Rights fanatic. He opposed the election of
Mr. Madison to the Presidency, as he said, because Mr. Madison was
weak on the sovereignty of the States. He opposed the war of 1812 for
two reasons:--1. Offensive war was in itself unconstitutional, being a
_national_ act. 2. War was nationalizing. A hundred times before the
war, he foretold that, if war occurred, the sovereignty of the States
was gone forever, and we should lapse into nationality. A thousand
times after the war, he declared that this dread lapse had occurred.
At a public dinner, after the return of peace, he gave the once
celebrated toast, "States' Rights,--_De mortuis nil nisi bonum_." As
before the war he sometimes affected himself to tears while dwelling
upon the sad prospect of kindred people imbruing their hands in one
another's blood, so during the war he was one of the few American
citizens who lamented the triumphs of their country's arms. In his
solitude at Roanoke he was cast down at the news of Perry's victory on
the lake, because he thought it would prolong the contest; and he
exulted in the banishment of Napoleon to Elba, although it let loose
the armies and fleets of Britain upon the United States. "That
insolent coward," said he, "has met his deserts at last." This
Virginia Englishman would not allow that Napoleon possessed even
military talent; but stoutly maintained, to the last, that he was the
merest sport of fortune. When the work of restoration was in progress,
under the leadership of Clay and Calhoun, John Randolph was in his
element, for he could honestly oppose every movement and suggestion of
those young orators,--national bank, protective tariff, internal
improvements, everything. He was one of the small number who objected
to the gift of land and money to Lafayette, and one of the stubborn
minority who would have seen the Union broken up rather than assent to
the Missouri Compromise, or to _any_ Missouri compromise. The question
at issue in all these measures, he maintained, was the same, and it
was this: Are we a nation or a confederacy?

Talent, too, is apt to play the despot over the person that possesses
it. This man had such a power of witty vituperation in him, with so
decided a histrionic gift, that his rising to speak was always an
interesting event; and he would occasionally hold both the House and
the galleries attentive for three or four hours. He became accustomed
to this homage; he craved it; it became necessary to him. As far back
as 1811, Washington Irving wrote of him, in one of his letters from

"There is no speaker in either House that excites such
universal attention as Jack Randolph. But they listen to him
more to be delighted by his eloquence and entertained by his
ingenuity and eccentricity, than to be convinced by sound
doctrine and close argument."

As he advanced in age, this habit of startling the House by unexpected
dramatic exhibitions grew upon him. One of the most vivid pictures
ever painted in words of a parliamentary scene is that in which the
late Mr. S.G. Goodrich records his recollection of one of these
displays. It occurred in 1820, during one of the Missouri debates. A
tall man, with a little head and a small oval face, like that of an
aged boy, rose and addressed the chairman.

"He paused a moment," wrote Mr. Goodrich,

"and I had time to study his appearance. His hair was
jet-black, and clubbed in a queue; his eye was black, small,
and painfully penetrating. His complexion was a
yellowish-brown, bespeaking Indian blood. I knew at once
that it must be John Randolph. As he uttered the words, 'Mr.
Speaker!' every member turned in his seat, and, facing him,
gazed as if some portent had suddenly appeared before them.
'Mr. Speaker,' said he, in a shrill voice, which, however,
pierced every nook and corner of the hall, 'I have but one
word to say,--one word, sir, and that is to state a fact.
The measure to which the gentleman has just alluded
originated in a dirty trick!' These were his precise words.
The subject to which he referred I did not gather, but the
coolness and impudence of the speaker were admirable in
their way. I never saw better acting, even in Kean. His
look, his manner, his long arm, his elvish
fore-finger,--like an exclamation-point, punctuating his
bitter thought,--showed the skill of a master. The effect of
the whole was to startle everybody, as if a pistol-shot had
rung through the hall."--_Recollections_, Vol. II. p. 395.

Such anecdotes as these, which are very numerous, both in and out of
print, convey an inadequate idea of his understanding; for there was
really a great fund of good sense in him and in his political creed.
Actor as he was, he was a very honest man, and had a hearty contempt
for all the kinds of falsehood which he had no inclination to commit.
No man was more restive under debt than he, or has better depicted its
horrors. Speaking once of those Virginia families who gave banquets
and kept up expensive establishments, while their estates were covered
all over with mortgages, he said: "I always think I can see the
anguish under the grin and grimace, like old Mother Cole's dirty
flannel peeping out beneath her Brussels lace." He was strong in the
opinion that a man who is loose in money matters is not trustworthy in
anything,--an opinion which is shared by every one who knows either
life or history. "The time was," he wrote,

"when I was fool enough to believe that a man might be
negligent of pecuniary obligations, and yet be a very good
fellow; but long experience has convinced me that he who is
lax in this respect is utterly unworthy of trust in any

He discriminated well between those showy, occasional acts of
so-called generosity which such men perform, and the true, habitual,
self-denying benevolence of a solvent and just member of society.
"Despise the usurer and the miser as much as you will," he would
exclaim, "but the spendthrift is more selfish than they." But his very
honesty was most curiously blended with his toryism. One of his
friends relates the following anecdote:--

"Just before we sailed, the Washington papers were received,
announcing the defeat of the Bankrupt Bill by a small
majority. At that moment, I forgot that Randolph had been
one of its most determined opponents, and I spoke with the
feelings of a merchant when I said to him,--

"'Have you heard the very bad news from Washington this

"'No, sir,' replied he, with eagerness; 'what is it?'

"'Why, sir, I am sorry to tell you that the House of
Representatives has thrown out the Bankrupt Bill by a small

"'Sorry, sir!' exclaimed he; and then, taking off his hat
and looking upwards, he added, most emphatically, 'Thank God
for all his mercies!'

"After a short pause he continued: 'How delighted I am to
think that I helped to give that hateful bill a kick. Yes,
sir, this very day week I spoke for three hours against it,
and my friends, who forced me to make the effort, were good
enough to say that I never had made a more successful
speech; it must have had _some_ merit, sir; for I assure
you, whilst I was speaking, although the Northern mail was
announced, not a single member left his seat to look for
letters,--a circumstance which had not occurred before
during the session!'

"I endeavored to combat his objections to a Bankrupt Bill
subsequently, but, of course, without any success: _he felt
as a planter, and was very jealous of the influence of
merchants as legislators_."

There are flashes of sense and touches of pathos in some of his most
tory passages. As he was delivering in the House one of his emphatic
predictions of the certain failure of our experiment of freedom on
this continent, he broke into an apology for so doing, that brought
tears to many eyes. "It is an infirmity of my nature," said he,

"to have an obstinate constitutional preference of the true
over the agreeable; and I am satisfied, that, if I had had
an only son, or what is dearer, an only daughter,--which God
forbid!--I say, God forbid, for she might bring her father's
gray hairs with sorrow to the grave; she might break my
heart, or worse than that--what? Can anything be worse than
that? Yes, sir, I _might break hers_!"

His fable, too, of the caterpillar and the horseman was conceived in
arrogance, but it was pretty and effective. Every tory intellect on
earth is pleased to discourse in that way of the labors of the only
men who greatly help their species,--the patient elaborators of truth.
A caterpillar, as we learn from this fable, had crawled slowly over a
fence, which a gallant horseman took at a single leap. "Stop," says
the caterpillar,

"you are too flighty; you want connection and continuity; it
took me an hour to get over; you can't be as sure as I am
that you have really overcome the difficulty, and are indeed
over the fence."

To which, of course, the gallant horseman makes the expected
contemptuous reply. This is precisely in the spirit of Carlyle's
sneers at the political economists,--the men who are not content to
sit down and howl in this wilderness of a modern world, but bestir
themselves to discover methods by which it can be made less a

There is so much truth in the doctrines of the original States' Rights
party,--the party of Jefferson, Madison, and Patrick Henry,--that a
very commonplace man, who learned his politics in that school, is able
to make a respectable figure in the public counsels. The mere notion
that government, being a necessary evil, is to be reduced to the
minimum that will answer the purposes of government, saves from many
false steps. The doctrine that the central government is to confine
itself to the duties assigned it in the Constitution, is a guiding
principle suited to the limited human mind. A vast number of claims,
suggestions, and petitions are excluded by it even from consideration.
If an eloquent Hamiltonian proposes to appropriate the public money
for the purpose of enabling American manufacturers to exhibit their
products at a Paris Exhibition, the plainest country member of the
Jeffersonian school perceives at once the inconsistency of such a
proposition with the fundamental principle of his political creed. He
has a compass to steer by, and a port to sail to, instead of being
afloat on the waste of waters, the sport of every breeze that blows.
It is touching to observe that this unhappy, sick, and sometimes mad
John Randolph, amid all the vagaries of his later life, had always a
vein of soundness in him, derived from his early connection with the
enlightened men who acted in politics with Thomas Jefferson. The
phrase "masterly inactivity" is Randolph's; and it is something only
to have given convenient expression to a system of conduct so often
wise. He used to say that Congress could scarcely do too little. His
ideal of a session was one in which members should make speeches till
every man had fully expressed and perfectly relieved his mind, then
pass the appropriation bills, and go home. And we ought not to forgot
that, when President John Quincy Adams brought forward his schemes for
covering the continent with magnificent works at the expense of the
treasury of the United States, and of uniting the republics of both
Americas into a kind of holy alliance, it was Randolph's piercing
sarcasm which, more than anything else, made plain to new members the
fallacy, the peril, of such a system. His opposition to this wild
federalism involved his support of Andrew Jackson; but there was no
other choice open to him.

Seldom did he display in Congress so much audacity and ingenuity as in
defending General Jackson while he was a candidate for the Presidency
against Mr. Adams. The two objections oftenest urged against Jackson
were that he was a military chieftain, and that he could not spell.
Mr. Randolph discoursed on these two points in a most amusing manner,
displaying all the impudence and ignorance of the tory, inextricably
mingled with the good sense and wit of the man. "General Jackson
cannot write," said a friend. "Granted," replied he. "General Jackson
cannot write because he was never taught; but his competitor cannot
write because he was not teachable." He made a bold remark in one of
his Jacksonian harangues. "The talent which enables a man to write a
book or make a speech has no more relation to the leading of an army
or a senate, than it has to the dressing of a dinner." He pronounced a
fine eulogium on the Duke of Marlborough, one of the worst spellers in
Europe, and then asked if gentlemen would have had that illustrious
man "superseded by a Scotch schoolmaster." It was in the same
ludicrous harangue that he uttered his famous joke upon those schools
in which young ladies were said to be "finished." "Yes," he exclaimed,
"_finished_ indeed; finished for all the duties of a wife, or mother,
or mistress of a family." Again he said:

"There is much which it becomes a second-rate man to know,
which a first-rate man ought to be ashamed to know. No head
was ever clear and sound that was stuffed with
book-learning. My friend, W.R. Johnson, has many a groom
that can clean and dress a racehorse, and ride him too,
better than he can."

He made the sweeping assertion, that no man had ever presided over a
government with advantage to the country governed, who had not in him
the making of a good general; for, said he, "the talent for government
lies in these two things,--sagacity to perceive, and decision to act."
Really, when we read this ingenious apology for, or rather eulogy of,
ignorance, we cease to wonder that General Jackson should have sent
him to Russia.

The religious life of Randolph is a most curious study. He experienced
in his lifetime four religious changes, or conversions. His gentle
mother, whose name he seldom uttered without' adding with tender
emphasis, "God bless her!" was such a member of the Church of England
as gentle ladies used to be before an "Evangelical" party was known in
it. She taught his infant lips to pray; and, being naturally trustful
and affectionate, he was not an unapt pupil. But in the library of the
old mansion on the Appomattox, in which he passed his forming years,
there was a "wagon-load" of what he terms "French infidelity," though
it appears there were almost as many volumes of Hobbes, Shaftesbury,
Collins, Hume, and Gibbon, as there were of Diderot, D'Alembert,
Helvetius, and Voltaire. These works he read in boyhood; and when he
came to mingle among men, he found that the opinions of such authors
prevailed in the circles which he most frequented. Just as he, a
natural tory, caught some tincture of republicanism from Jefferson and
his friends, so he, the natural believer, adopted the fashion of
scepticism, which then ruled the leading minds of all lands; and just
as he lapsed back into toryism when the spell which drew him away from
it had spent its force, so he became, in the decline of his powers, a
prey to religious terrors. For twenty-two years, as we have said, he
held aloof from religion, its ministers, and its temples. The disease
that preyed upon him so sharpened his temper, and so perverted his
perceptions of character, that, one after another, he alienated all
the friends and relations with whom he ought to have lived; and he
often found himself, between the sessions of Congress, the sole white
tenant of his lonely house at Roanoke,--the sick and solitary
patriarch of a family of three hundred persons. He sought to alleviate
this horrid solitude by adopting and rearing the orphaned sons of old
friends; to whom, when he was himself, he was the most affectionate
and generous of guardians. But even they could not very long endure
him; for, in His adverse moods, he was incarnate Distrust, and, having
conceived a foul suspicion, his genius enabled him to give it such
withering expression that it was not in the nature of a young man to
pass it by as the utterance of transient madness. So they too left
him, and he was utterly alone in the midst of a crowd of black
dependants. We see from his letters, that, while he saw the
impossibility of his associating with his species, he yet longed and
pined for their society and love. Perhaps there never lived a more
unhappy person. Revering women, and formed to find his happiness in
domestic life, he was incapable of being a husband; and if this had
not been the case, no woman could have lived with him. Yearning for
companionship, but condemned to be alone, his solace was the
reflection that, so long as there was no one near him, he was a
torment only to himself. "Often," he writes in one of his letters,

"I mount my horse and sit upon him for ten or fifteen
minutes, wishing to go somewhere, but not knowing where to
ride; for I would escape anywhere from the incubus that
weighs me down, body and soul; but the fiend follows me _en
croupe_.... The strongest considerations of duty are barely
sufficient to prevent me from absconding to some distant
country, where I might live and die unknown."

A mind in such a state as this is the natural prey of superstition. A
dream, he used to say, first recalled his mind to the consideration of
religion. This was about the year 1810, at the height of those hot
debates that preceded the war of 1812. For nine years, he tells us,
the subject gradually gained upon him, so that, at last, it was his
first thought in the morning and his last at night. From the atheism
upon which he had formerly plumed himself, he went to the opposite
extreme. For a long time he was plunged into the deepest gloom,
regarding himself as a sinner too vile to be forgiven. He sought for
comfort in the Bible, in the Prayer-book, in conversation and
correspondence with religious friends, in the sermons of celebrated
preachers. He formed a scheme of retiring from the world into some
kind of religious retreat, and spending the rest of his life in
prayers and meditation. Rejecting this as a cowardly desertion of the
post of duty, he had thoughts of setting up a school for children, and
becoming himself a teacher in it. This plan, too, he laid aside, as
savoring of enthusiasm. Meanwhile, this amiable and honest gentleman,
whose every error was fairly attributable to the natural limitations
of his mind or to the diseases that racked his body, was tormented by
remorse, which would have been excessive if he had been a pirate. He
says that, after three years of continual striving, he still dared not
partake of the Communion, feeling himself "unworthy." "I was present,"
he writes, "when Mr. Hoge invited to the table, and I would have given
all I was worth to have been able to approach it." Some inkling of his
condition, it appears, became known to the public, and excited great
good-will towards him on the part of many persons of similar belief.

Some of his letters written during this period contain an almost
ludicrous mixture of truth and extravagance. He says in one of them,
that his heart has been softened, and he "_thinks_ he has _succeeded_
in forgiving all his enemies"; then he adds, "There is not a human
being that I would hurt if it were in my power,--not even Bonaparte."
In another place he remarks that the world is a vast mad-house, and,
"if what is to come be anything like what has passed, it would be wise
to abandon the bulk to the underwriters,--the worms." In the whole of
his intercourse with mankind, he says he never met with but three
persons whom he did not, on getting close to their hearts, discover to
be unhappy; and they were the only three he had ever known who had a
religion. He expresses this truth in language which limits it to one
form or kind of religion, the kind which he heard expounded in the
churches of Virginia in 1819. Give it broader expression, and every
observer of human life will assent to it. It is indeed most true, that
no human creature gets much out of life who has no religion, no sacred
object, to the furtherance of which his powers are dedicated.

He obtained some relief at length, and became a regular communicant of
the Episcopal Church. But although he ever after manifested an extreme
regard for religious things and persons, and would never permit either
to be spoken against in his presence without rebuke, he was very far
from edifying his brethren by a consistent walk. At Washington, in the
debates, he was as incisive and uncharitable as before. His
denunciations of the second President Adams's personal character were
as outrageous as his condemnation of parts of his policy was just. Mr.
Clay, though removed from the arena of debate by his appointment to
the Department of State, was still the object of his bitter sarcasm;
and at length he included the President and the Secretary in that
merciless philippic in which he accused Mr. Clay of forgery, and
styled the coalition of Adams and Clay as "the combination of the
Puritan and the Blackleg." He used language, too, in the course of
this speech, which was understood to be a defiance to mortal combat,
and it was so reported to Mr. Clay. The reporters, however,
misunderstood him, as it was not his intention nor his desire to
fight. Nevertheless, to the astonishment and sorrow of his religious
friends, he accepted Mr. Clay's challenge with the utmost possible
promptitude, and bore himself throughout the affair like (to use the
poor, lying, tory cant of the last generation) "a high-toned Virginia
gentleman." Colonel Benton tells us that Mr. Randolph invented an
ingenious excuse for the enormous inconsistency of his conduct on this
occasion. A duel, he maintained, was private war, and was justifiable
on the same ground as a war between two nations. Both were lamentable,
but both were allowable when there was no other way of getting redress
for insults and injuries. This was plausible, but it did not deceive
_him_. He knew very well that his offensive language respecting a man
whom he really esteemed was wholly devoid of excuse. He had the
courage requisite to expiate the offence by standing before Mr. Clay's
pistol; but he could not stand before his countrymen and confess that
his abominable antithesis was but the spurt of mingled ill-temper and
the vanity to shine. Any good tory can fight a duel with a respectable
degree of composure; but to own one's self, in the presence of a
nation, to have outraged the feelings of a brother-man, from the
desire to startle and amuse an audience, requires the kind of valor
which tories do not know. "Whig and tory," says Mr. Jefferson, "belong
to natural history." But then there is such a thing, we are told, as
the regeneration of the natural man; and we believe it, and cling to
it as a truth destined one day to be resuscitated and purified from
the mean interpretations which have made the very word sickening to
the intelligence of Christendom. Mr. Randolph had not achieved the
regeneration of his nature. He was a tory still. In the testing hour,
the "high-toned Virginia gentleman" carried the day, without a
struggle, over the communicant.

During the last years of his life, the monotony of his anguish was
relieved by an occasional visit to the Old World. It is interesting to
note how thoroughly at home he felt himself among the English gentry,
and how promptly they recognized him as a man and a brother. He was,
as we have remarked, _more_ English than an Englishman; for England
does advance, though slowly, from the insular to the universal. Dining
at a great house in London, one evening, he dwelt with pathetic
eloquence upon the decline of Virginia. Being asked what he thought
was the reason of her decay, he startled and pleased the lords and
ladies present by attributing it all to the repeal of the law of
primogeniture. One of the guests tells us that this was deemed "a
strange remark from a _Republican_" and that, before the party broke
up, the company had "almost taken him for an aristocrat." It happened
sometimes, when he was conversing with English politicians, that it
was the American who defended the English system against the attacks
of Englishmen; and so full of British prejudice was he, that, in
Paris, he protested that a decent dinner could not be bought for
money. Westminster Abbey woke all his veneration. He went into it, one
morning, just as service was about beginning, and took his place among
the worshippers. Those of our readers who have attended the morning
service at an English cathedral on a week-day cannot have forgotten
the ludicrous smallness of the congregation compared with the imposing
array of official assistants. A person who has a little tincture of
the Yankee in him may even find himself wondering how it can "pay" the
British empire to employ half a dozen reverend clergymen and a dozen
robust singers to aid seven or eight unimportant members of the
community in saying their prayers. But John Randolph of Roanoke had
not in him the least infusion of Yankee. Standing erect in the almost
vacant space, he uttered the responses in a tone that was in startling
contrast to the low mumble of the clergyman's voice, and that rose
above the melodious amens of the choir. He took it all in most serious
earnest. When the service was over, he said to his companion, after
lamenting the hasty and careless manner in which the service had been
performed, that he esteemed it an honor to have worshipped God in
Westminster Abbey. As he strolled among the tombs, he came, at last,
to the grave of two men who had often roused his enthusiasm. He
stopped, and spoke:

"I will not say, Take off your shoes, for the ground on
which you stand is holy; but, look, sir, do you see those
simple letters on the flagstones beneath your feet,--W.P.
and C.J.F. Here lie, side by side, the remains of the two
great rivals, Pitt and Fox, whose memory so completely lives
in history. No marble monuments are necessary to mark the
spot where _their_ bodies repose. There is more simple
grandeur in those few letters than in all the surrounding
monuments, sir."

How more than English was all this! England had been growing away from
and beyond Westminster Abbey, William Pitt, and Charles James Fox; but
this Virginia Englishman, living alone in his woods, with his slaves
and his overseers, severed from the progressive life of his race, was
living still in the days when a pair of dissolute young orators could
be deemed, and with some reason too, the most important persons in a
great empire. A friend asked him how he was pleased with England. He
answered with enthusiasm,--

"There never was such a country on the face of the earth as
England, and it is utterly impossible that there can be any
combination of circumstances hereafter to make such another
country as Old England now is!"

We ought not to have been surprised at the sympathy which the English
Tories felt during the late war for their brethren in the Southern
States of America. It was as natural as it was for the English
Protestants to welcome the banished Huguenots. It was as natural as it
was for Louis XIV. to give an asylum to the Stuarts. The traveller who
should have gone, seven years ago, straight from an English
agricultural county to a cotton district of South Carolina, or a
tobacco county of Virginia, would have felt that the differences
between the two places were merely external. The system in both places
and the spirit of both were strikingly similar. In the old parts of
Virginia, the Carolinas, Tennessee, and Kentucky, you had only to get
ten miles from a railroad to find yourself among people who were
English in their feelings, opinions, habits, and even in their accent.
New England differs from Old England, because New England has grown:
Virginia was English, because she had been stationary. Happening to be
somewhat familiar with the tone of feeling in the South,--the _real_
South, or, in other words, the South ten miles from a railroad,--we
were fully prepared for Mr. Russell's statement with regard to the
desire so frequently expressed in 1861 for one of the English princes
to come and reign over a nascent Confederacy. Sympathies and
antipathies are always mutual when they are natural; and never was
there a sympathy more in accordance with the nature of things, than
that which so quickly manifested itself between the struggling
Southern people and the majority of the ruling classes of Great

Mr. Randolph took leave of public life, after thirty years of service,
not in the most dignified manner. He furnished another illustration of
the truth of a remark made by a certain queen of Denmark,--"The lady
doth protest too much." Like many other gentlemen in independent
circumstances, he had been particularly severe upon those of his
fellow-citizens who earned their subsistence by serving the public. It
pleased him to speak of members of the Cabinet as "the drudges of the
departments," and to hold gentlemen in the diplomatic service up to
contempt as forming "the tail of the _corps diplomatique_ in Europe."
He liked to declaim upon the enormous impossibility of _his_ ever
exchanging a seat in Congress for "the shabby splendors" of an office
in Washington, or in a foreign mission "to dance attendance abroad
instead of at home." When it was first buzzed about in Washington, in
1830, that General Jackson had tendered the Russian mission to John
Randolph, the rumor was not credited. An appointment so exquisitely
absurd was supposed to be beyond even Andrew Jackson's audacity. The
offer had been made, however. Mr. Randolph's brilliant defence of
General Jackson's bad spelling, together with Mr. Van Buren's
willingness to place an ocean between the new administration and a
master of sarcasm, to whom opposition had become an unchangeable
habit, had dictated an offer of the mission, couched in such seductive
language that Mr. Randolph yielded to it as readily as those ladies
accept an offer of marriage who have often announced their intention
never to marry. Having reached the scene of his diplomatic labors at
the beginning of August, he began to perform them with remarkable
energy. In a suit of black, the best, he declared, that London could
furnish, he was presented to the Emperor and to the Empress, having
first submitted his costume to competent inspection. Resolute to do
his whole duty, he was not content to send his card to the diplomatic
corps, but, having engaged a handsome coach and four, he called upon
each member of the diplomatic body, from the ambassadors to the
secretaries of legation. Having performed these labors, and having
discovered that a special object with which he was charged could not
then be accomplished, he had leisure to observe that St. Petersburg,
in the month of August, is not a pleasant residence to an invalid of
sixty. He describes the climate in these terms:--

"Heat, dust impalpable, pervading every part and pore ...
Insects of all nauseous descriptions, bugs, fleas,
mosquitoes, flies innumerable, gigantic as the empire they
inhabit, who will take no denial. This is the land of
Pharaoh and his plagues,--Egypt and its ophthalmia and
vermin, without its fertility,--Holland, without its wealth,
improvements, or cleanliness."

He endured St. Petersburg for the space of ten days, then sailed for
England, and never saw Russia again. When the appropriation bill was
before Congress at the next session, opposition members did not fail
to call in question the justice of requiring the people of the United
States to pay twenty thousand dollars for Mr. Randolph's ten days'
work, or, to speak more exactly, for Mr. Randolph's apology for the
President's bad spelling; but the item passed, nevertheless. During
the reign of Andrew Jackson, Congress was little more than a board of
registry for the formal recording of his edicts. There are those who
think, at the present moment, that what a President hath done, a
President may do again.

It was fortunate that John Randolph was in retirement when Calhoun
brought on his Nullification scheme. The presence in Congress of a man
so eloquent and so reckless, whose whole heart and mind were with the
Nullifiers, might have prevented the bloodless postponement of the
struggle. He was in constant correspondence with the South Carolina
leaders, and was fully convinced that it was the President of the
United States, not "the Hamiltons and Haynes" of South Carolina, who
ought to seize the first pretext to concede the point in dispute. No
citizen of South Carolina was more indignant than he at General
Jackson's Proclamation. He said that, if the people did not rouse
themselves to a sense of their condition, and "put down this wretched
old man," the country was irretrievably ruined; and he spoke of the
troops despatched to Charleston as "mercenaries," to whom he hoped "no
quarter would be given." The "wretched old man" whom the people were
to "put down" was Andrew Jackson, not John C. Calhoun.

We do not forget that, when John Randolph uttered these words, he was
scarcely an accountable being. Disease had reduced him to a skeleton,
and robbed him of almost every attribute of man except his capacity to
suffer. But even in his madness he was a representative man, and spoke
the latent feeling of his class. The diseases which sharpened his
temper unloosed his tongue; he revealed the tendency of the Southern
mind, as a petulant child reveals family secrets. In his good and in
his evil he was an exaggerated Southerner of the higher class. He was
like them, too, in this: they are not criminals to be punished, but
patients to be cured. Sometimes, of late, we have feared that they
resemble him also in being incurable.

As long as Americans take an interest in the history of their country,
they will read with interest the strange story of this sick and
suffering representative of sick and suffering Virginia. To the last,
old Virginia wore her ragged robes with a kind of grandeur which was
not altogether unbecoming, and which to the very last imposed upon
tory minds. Scarcely any one could live among the better Southern
people without liking them; and few will ever read Hugh Garland's Life
of John Randolph, without more than forgiving all his vagaries,
impetuosities, and foibles. How often, upon riding away from a
Southern home, have we been ready to exclaim, "What a pity such good
people should be so accursed!" Lord Russell well characterized the
evil to which we allude as "that fatal gift of the poisoned garment
which was flung around them from the first hour of their

The last act of John Randolph's life, done when he lay dying at a
hotel in Philadelphia, in June, 1833, was to express once more his
sense of this blighting system. Some years before, he had made a will
by which all his slaves were to be freed at his death. He would
probably have given them their freedom before his death, but for the
fact, too evident, that freedom to a black man in a Slave State was
not a boon. The slaves freed by his brother, forty years' before, had
not done well, because (as he supposed) no land had been bequeathed
for their support. Accordingly, he left directions in his will that a
tract of land, which might be of four thousand acres, should be set
apart for the maintenance of his slaves, and that they should be
transported to it and established upon it at the expense of his
estate. "I give my slaves their freedom" said he in his will, "to
which my conscience tells me they are justly entitled." On the last
day of his life, surrounded by strangers, and attended by two of his
old servants, his chief concern was to make distinctly known to as
many persons as possible that it was really his will that his slaves
should be free. Knowing, as he did, the aversion which his
fellow-citizens had to the emancipation of slaves, and even to the
presence in the State of free blacks, he seemed desirous of taking
away every pretext for breaking his will. A few hours before his
death, he said to the physician in attendance: "I confirm every
disposition in my will, especially that concerning my slaves whom I
have manumitted, and for whom I have made provision." The doctor, soon
after, took leave of him, and was about to depart. "You must not go,"
said he, "you cannot, you shall not leave me." He told his servant not
to let the doctor go, and the man immediately locked the door and put
the key in his pocket. The doctor remonstrating, Mr. Randolph
explained, that, by the laws of Virginia, in order to manumit slaves
by will, it was requisite that the master should _declare_ his will in
that particular in the presence of a white witness, who, after hearing
the declaration, must never lose sight of the party until he is dead.
The doctor consented, at length, to remain, but urged that more
witnesses should be sent for. This was done. At ten in the morning,


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