Marse Henry, Complete
Part 4 out of 4
what was about to happen, appointed a body of Republicans for the like
purpose, and the advance guard of these appeared on the scene the following
Within a week the St. Charles Hotel might have been mistaken for a
caravansary of the national capital. Among the Republicans were John
Sherman, Stanley Matthews, Garfield, Evarts, Logan, Kelley, Stoughton, and
many others. Among the Democrats, besides Lamar, Walthal and myself, came
Lyman Trumbull, Samuel J. Randall, William R. Morrison, McDonald, of
Indiana, and many others.
A certain degree of personal intimacy existed between the members of the
two groups, and the "entente" was quite as unrestrained as might have
existed between rival athletic teams. A Kentucky friend sent me a demijohn
of what was represented as very old Bourbon, and I divided it with
"our friends the enemy." New Orleans was new to most of the "visiting
statesmen," and we attended the places of amusement, lived in the
restaurants, and saw the sights as if we had been tourists in a foreign
land and not partisans charged with the business of adjusting a
Presidential election from implacable points of view.
My own relations were especially friendly with John Sherman and James A.
Garfield, a colleague on the Committee of Ways and Means, and with Stanley
Matthews, a near kinsman by marriage, who had stood as an elder brother to
me from my childhood.
Corruption was in the air. That the Returning Board was for sale and could
be bought was the universal impression. Every day some one turned up with
pretended authority and an offer to sell. Most of these were, of course,
the merest adventurers. It was my own belief that the Returning Board was
playing for the best price it could get from the Republicans and that the
only effect of any offer to buy on our part would be to assist this scheme
The Returning Board consisted of two white men, Wells and Anderson; and two
negroes, Kenner and Casanave. One and all they were without character. I
was tempted through sheer curiosity to listen to a proposal which seemed to
come direct from the board itself, the messenger being a well-known State
Senator. As if he were proposing to dispose of a horse or a dog he stated
"You think you can deliver the goods?" said I.
"I am authorized to make the offer," he answered.
"And for how much?" I asked.
"Two hundred and fifty thousand dollars," he replied. "One hundred thousand
each for Wells and Anderson, and twenty-five thousand apiece for the
To my mind it was a joke. "Senator," said I, "the terms are as cheap as
dirt. I don't happen to have the amount about me at the moment, but I will
communicate with my principal and see you later."
Having no thought of entertaining the proposal, I had forgotten the
incident, when two or three days later my man met me in the lobby of the
hotel and pressed for a definite reply. I then told him I had found that I
possessed no authority to act and advised him to go elsewhere.
It is asserted that Wells and Anderson did agree to sell and were turned
down by Mr. Hewitt; and, being refused their demands for cash by the
Democrats, took their final pay, at least in patronage, from their own
I passed the Christmas week of 1876 in New York with Mr. Tilden. On
Christmas day we dined alone. The outlook, on the whole, was cheering.
With John Bigelow and Manton Marble, Mr. Tilden had been busily engaged
compiling the data for a constitutional battle to be fought by
the Democrats in Congress, maintaining the right of the House of
Representatives to concurrent jurisdiction with the Senate in the counting
of the electoral vote, pursuant to an unbroken line of precedents
established by that method of proceeding in every presidential election
between 1793 and 1872.
There was very great perplexity in the public mind. Both parties appeared
to be at sea. The dispute between the Democratic House and the
Republican Senate made for thick weather. Contests of the vote of three
States--Louisiana, South Carolina and Florida, not to mention single votes
in Oregon and Vermont--which presently began to blow a gale, had already
spread menacing clouds across the political sky. Except Mr. Tilden, the
wisest among the leaders knew not precisely what to do.
From New Orleans, on the Saturday night succeeding the presidential
election, I had telegraphed to Mr. Tilden detailing the exact conditions
there and urging active and immediate agitation. The chance had been lost.
I thought then and I still think that the conspiracy of a few men to use
the corrupt returning boards of Louisiana, South Carolina and Florida to
upset the election and make confusion in Congress might by prompt exposure
and popular appeal have been thwarted. Be this as it may, my spirit was
depressed and my confidence discouraged by the intense quietude on our
side, for I was sure that beneath the surface the Republicans, with
resolute determination and multiplied resources, were as busy as bees.
Mr. Robert M. McLane, later Governor of Maryland and later still Minister
to France--a man of rare ability and large experience, who had served in
Congress and in diplomacy, and was an old friend of Mr. Tilden--had been at
a Gramercy Park conference when my New Orleans report arrived, and had then
and there urged the agitation recommended by me. He was now again in New
York. When a lad he had been in England with his father, Lewis McLane, then
American Minister to the Court of St. James, during the excitement over the
Reform Bill of 1832. He had witnessed the popular demonstrations and had
been impressed by the direct force of public opinion upon law-making and
law-makers. An analogous situation had arrived in America. The Republican
Senate was as the Tory House of Lords. We must organize a movement such as
had been so effectual in England. Obviously something was going amiss with
us and something had to be done.
It was agreed that I should return to Washington and make a speech "feeling
the pulse" of the country, with the suggestion that in the National Capital
should assemble "a mass convention of at least 100,000 peaceful citizens,"
exercising "the freeman's right of petition."
The idea was one of many proposals of a more drastic kind and was the
merest venture. I myself had no great faith in it. But I prepared the
speech, and after much reading and revising, it was held by Mr. Tilden and
Mr. McLane to cover the case and meet the purpose, Mr. Tilden writing Mr.
Randall, Speaker of the House of Representatives, a letter, carried to
Washington by Mr. McLane, instructing him what to do in the event that the
popular response should prove favorable.
Alack the day! The Democrats were equal to nothing affirmative. The
Republicans were united and resolute. I delivered the speech, not in
the House, as had been intended, but at a public meeting which seemed
opportune. The Democrats at once set about denying the sinister and violent
purpose ascribed to it by the Republicans, who, fully advised that it
had emanated from Gramercy Park and came by authority, started a counter
agitation of their own.
I became the target for every kind of ridicule and abuse. Nast drew a
grotesque cartoon of me, distorting my suggestion for the assembling of
100,000 citizens, which was both offensive and libellous.
Being on friendly terms with the Harpers, I made my displeasure so resonant
in Franklin Square--Nast himself having no personal ill will toward me
--that a curious and pleasing opportunity which came to pass was taken to
make amends. A son having been born to me, Harper's Weekly contained an
atoning cartoon representing the child in its father's arms, and, above,
the legend "10,000 sons from Kentucky alone." Some wag said that the son
in question was "the only one of the 100,000 in arms who came when he was
For many years afterward I was pursued by this unlucky speech, or rather
by the misinterpretation given to it alike by friend and foe. Nast's
first cartoon was accepted as a faithful portrait, and I was accordingly
satirized and stigmatized, though no thought of violence ever had entered
my mind, and in the final proceedings I had voted for the Electoral
Commission Bill and faithfully stood by its decisions. Joseph Pulitzer, who
immediately followed me on the occasion named, declared that he wanted my
"one hundred thousand" to come fully armed and ready for business; yet he
never was taken to task or reminded of his temerity.
The Electoral Commission Bill was considered with great secrecy by the
joint committees of the House and Senate. Its terms were in direct
contravention of Mr. Tilden's plan. This was simplicity itself. He was
for asserting by formal resolution the conclusive right of the two Houses
acting concurrently to count the electoral vote and determine what should
be counted as electoral votes; and for denying, also by formal resolution,
the pretension set up by the Republicans that the President of the Senate
had lawful right to assume that function. He was for urging that issue
in debate in both Houses and before the country. He thought that if the
attempt should be made to usurp for the president of the Senate a power to
make the count, and thus practically to control the Presidential election,
the scheme would break down in process of execution.
Strange to say, Mr. Tilden was not consulted by the party leaders in
Congress until the fourteenth of January, and then only by Mr. Hewitt, the
extra constitutional features of the electoral-tribunal measure having
already received the assent of Mr. Bayard and Mr. Thurman, the Democratic
members of the Senate committee.
Standing by his original plan and answering Mr. Hewitt's statement that Mr.
Bayard and Mr. Thurman were fully committed, Mr. Tilden said: "Is it not,
then, rather late to consult me?"
To which Mr. Hewitt replied: "They do not consult you. They are public men,
and have their own duties and responsibilities. I consult you."
In the course of the discussion with Mr. Hewitt which followed Mr. Tilden
said: "If you go into conference with your adversary, and can't break off
because you feel you must agree to something, you cannot negotiate--you are
not fit to negotiate. You will be beaten upon every detail."
Replying to the apprehension of a collision of force between the parties
Mr. Tilden thought it exaggerated, but said: "Why surrender now? You can
always surrender. Why surrender before the battle for fear you may have to
surrender after the battle?"
In short, Mr. Tilden condemned the proceeding as precipitate. It was a
month before the time for the count, and he saw no reason why opportunity
should not be given for consideration and consultation by all the
representatives of the people. He treated the state of mind of Bayard and
Thurman as a panic in which they were liable to act in haste and repent at
leisure. He stood for publicity and wider discussion, distrusting a scheme
to submit such vast interests to a small body sitting in the Capitol as
likely to become the sport of intrigue and fraud.
Mr. Hewitt returned to Washington and without communicating to Mr. Tilden's
immediate friends in the House his attitude and objection, united with
Mr. Thurman and Mr. Bayard in completing the bill and reporting it to the
Democratic Advisory Committee, as, by a caucus rule, had to be done with
all measures relating to the great issue then before us. No intimation had
preceded it. It fell like a bombshell upon the members of the committee.
In the debate that followed Mr. Bayard was very insistent, answering the
objections at once offered by me, first aggressively and then angrily,
going the length of saying, "If you do not accept this plan I shall wash my
hands of the whole business, and you can go ahead and seat your President
in your own way."
Mr. Randall, the Speaker, said nothing, but he was with me, as were a
majority of my colleagues. It was Mr. Hunton, of Virginia, who poured oil
on the troubled waters, and somewhat in doubt as to whether the changed
situation had changed Mr. Tilden I yielded my better judgment, declaring
it as my opinion that the plan would seat Hayes; and there being no other
protestant the committee finally gave a reluctant assent.
In open session a majority of Democrats favored the bill. Many of them made
it their own. They passed it. There was belief that Justice David Davis,
who was expected to become a member of the commission, was sure for Tilden.
If, under this surmise, he had been, the political complexion of "8 to 7"
would have been reversed.
Elected to the United States Senate from Illinois, Judge Davis declined to
serve, and Mr. Justice Bradley was chosen for the commission in his place.
The day after the inauguration of Hayes my kinsman, Stanley Matthews, said
to me: "You people wanted Judge Davis. So did we. I tell you what I know,
that Judge Davis was as safe for us as Judge Bradley. We preferred him
because he carried more weight."
The subsequent career of Judge Davis in the Senate gave conclusive proof
that this was true.
When the consideration of the disputed votes before the commission had
proceeded far enough to demonstrate the likelihood that its final decision
would be for Hayes a movement of obstruction and delay, a filibuster, was
organized by about forty Democratic members of the House. It proved rather
turbulent than effective. The South stood very nearly solid for carrying
out the agreement in good faith.
Toward the close the filibuster received what appeared formidable
reinforcement from the Louisiana delegation. This was in reality merely
a bluff, intended to induce the Hayes people to make certain concessions
touching their State government. It had the desired effect. Satisfactory
assurances having been given, the count proceeded to the end--a very bitter
end indeed for the Democrats.
The final conference between the Louisianans and the accredited
representatives of Mr. Hayes was held at Wormley's Hotel and came to be
called "the Wormley Conference." It was the subject of uncommon interest
and heated controversy at the time and long afterward. Without knowing why
or for what purpose, I was asked to be present by my colleague, Mr. Ellis,
of Louisiana, and later in the day the same invitation came to me from the
Republicans through Mr. Garfield. Something was said about my serving as a
Just before the appointed hour Gen. M. C. Butler, of South Carolina,
afterward so long a Senator in Congress, said to me: "This meeting is
called to enable Louisiana to make terms with Hayes. South Carolina is
as deeply concerned as Louisiana, but we have nobody to represent us in
Congress and hence have not been invited. South Carolina puts herself in
your hands and expects you to secure for her whatever terms are given to
So of a sudden I found myself invested with responsibility equally as an
agent and a referee.
It is hardly worth while repeating in detail all that passed at this
Wormley Conference, made public long ago by Congressional investigation.
When I entered the apartment of Mr. Evarts at Wormley's I found, besides
Mr. Evarts, Mr. John Sherman, Mr. Garfield, Governor Dennison, and Mr.
Stanley Matthews, of the Republicans; and Mr. Ellis, Mr. Levy, and Mr.
Burke, Democrats of Louisiana. Substantially the terms had been agreed upon
during the previous conferences--that is, the promise that if Hayes came in
the troops should be withdrawn and the people of Louisiana be left free to
set their house in order to suit themselves. The actual order withdrawing
the troops was issued by President Grant two or three days later, just as
he was going out of office.
"Now, gentlemen," said I, half in jest, "I am here to represent South
Carolina; and if the terms given to Louisiana are not equally applied to
South Carolina I become a filibuster myself to-morrow morning."
There was some chaffing as to what right I had there and how I got in, when
with great earnestness Governor Dennison, who had been the bearer of a
letter from Mr. Hayes, which he had read to us, put his hand on my shoulder
and said: "As a matter of course the Southern policy to which Mr. Hayes has
here pledged himself embraces South Carolina as well as Louisiana."
Mr. Sherman, Mr. Garfield and Mr. Evarts concurred warmly in this, and
immediately after we separated I communicated the fact to General Butler.
In the acrimonious discussion which subsequently sought to make "bargain,
intrigue and corruption" of this Wormley Conference, and to involve certain
Democratic members of the House who were nowise party to it but had
sympathized with the purpose of Louisiana and South Carolina to obtain some
measure of relief from intolerable local conditions, I never was questioned
or assailed. No one doubted my fidelity to Mr. Tilden, who had been
promptly advised of all that passed and who approved what I had done.
Though "conscripted," as it were, and rather a passive agent, I could
see no wrong in the proceeding. I had spoken and voted in favor of the
Electoral Tribunal Bill, and losing, had no thought of repudiating its
conclusions. Hayes was already as good as seated. If the States of
Louisiana and South Carolina could save their local autonomy out of the
general wreck there seemed no good reason to forbid.
On the other hand, the Republican leaders were glad of an opportunity to
make an end of the corrupt and tragic farce of Reconstruction; to unload
their party of a dead weight which had been burdensome and was growing
dangerous; mayhap to punish their Southern agents, who had demanded so much
for doctoring the returns and making an exhibit in favor of Hayes.
Mr. Tilden accepted the result with equanimity.
"I was at his house," says John Bigelow, "when his exclusion was announced
to him, and also on the fourth of March when Mr. Hayes was inaugurated, and
it was impossible to remark any change in his manner, except perhaps that
he was less absorbed than usual and more interested in current affairs."
His was an intensely serious mind; and he had come to regard the
presidency as rather a burden to be borne--an opportunity for public
usefulness--involving a life of constant toil and care, than as an occasion
for personal exploitation and rejoicing.
How much of captivation the idea of the presidency may have had for
him when he was first named for the office I cannot say, for he was as
unexultant in the moment of victory as he was unsubdued in the hour of
defeat; but it is certainly true that he gave no sign of disappointment to
any of his friends.
He lived nearly ten years longer, at Greystone, in a noble homestead he had
purchased for himself overlooking the Hudson River, the same ideal life of
the scholar and gentleman that he had passed in Gramercy Park.
Looking back over these untoward and sometimes mystifying events, I have
often asked myself: Was it possible, with the elements what they were, and
he himself what he was, to seat Mr. Tilden in the office to which he had
been elected? The missing ingredient in a character intellectually and
morally great and a personality far from unimpressive, was the touch of the
dramatic discoverable in most of the leaders of men; even in such leaders
as William of Orange and Louis XI; as Cromwell and Washington.
There was nothing spectacular about Mr. Tilden. Not wanting the sense of
humor, he seldom indulged it. In spite of his positiveness of opinion and
amplitude of knowledge he was always courteous and deferential in debate.
He had none of the audacious daring, let us say, of Mr. Elaine, the
energetic self-assertion of Mr. Roosevelt. Either in his place would have
carried all before him.
I repeat that he was never a subtle schemer--sitting behind the screen and
pulling his wires--which his political and party enemies discovered him to
be as soon as he began to get in the way of the machine and obstruct the
march of the self-elect. His confidences were not effusive, nor their
subjects numerous. His deliberation was unfailing and sometimes it carried
the idea of indecision, not to say actual love of procrastination. But in
my experience with him I found that he usually ended where he began, and it
was nowise difficult for those whom he trusted to divine the bias of his
mind where he thought it best to reserve its conclusions.
I do not think in any great affair he ever hesitated longer than the
gravity of the case required of a prudent man or that he had a preference
for delays or that he clung tenaciously to both horns of the dilemma, as
his training and instinct might lead him to do, and did certainly expose
him to the accusation of doing.
He was a philosopher and took the world as he found it. He rarely
complained and never inveighed. He had a discriminating way of balancing
men's good and bad qualities and of giving each the benefit of a generous
accounting, and a just way of expecting no more of a man than it was in him
to yield. As he got into deeper water his stature rose to its level, and
from his exclusion from the presidency in 1877 to his renunciation of
public affairs in 1884 and his death in 1886 his walks and ways might have
been a study for all who would learn life's truest lessons and know the
real sources of honor, happiness and fame.
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