My Memories of Eighty Years
Chauncey M. Depew
Part 2 out of 7
for the people to view the remains.
I had charge in my official capacity as secretary of state of
the train after it left Albany. It was late in the evening when
we started, and the train was running all night through central
and western New York. Its schedule was well known along the route.
Wherever the highway crossed the railway track the whole population
of the neighborhood was assembled on the highway and in the fields.
Huge bonfires lighted up the scene. Pastors of the local churches
of all denominations had united in leading their congregations
for greeting and farewell for their beloved president. As we
would reach a crossing there sometimes would be hundreds and
at others thousands of men, women, and children on their knees,
praying and singing hymns.
This continuous service of prayer and song and supplication lasted
over the three hundred miles between Albany and Buffalo, from
midnight until dawn.
IV. GENERAL GRANT
The fairies who distribute the prizes are practical jokers.
I have known thousands who sought office, some for its distinction,
some for its emoluments, and some for both; thousands who wanted
promotion from places they held, and other thousands who wanted to
regain positions they had lost, all of whom failed in their search.
I probably would have been in one of those classes if I had been
seeking an office. I was determined, however, upon a career in
railroad work until, if possible, I had reached its highest rewards.
During that period I was offered about a dozen political
appointments, most of them of great moment and very tempting,
all of which I declined.
Near the close of President Grant's administration George Jones,
at that time the proprietor and publisher of the New York Times,
asked me to come and see him. Mr. Jones, in his association with
the brilliant editor, Henry J. Raymond, had been a progressive and
staying power of the financial side of this great journal. He was
of Welsh descent, a very hardheaded, practical, and wise business
man. He also had very definite views on politics and parties, and
several times nearly wrecked his paper by obstinately pursuing
a course which was temporarily unpopular with its readers and
subscribers. I was on excellent terms with Mr. Jones and admired
him. The New York Times became under his management one of
the severest critics of General Grant's administration and of
the president himself.
I went to his house and during the conversation Jones said to me:
"I was very much surprised to receive a letter from the president
asking me to come and see him at the White House. Of course I
went, anticipating a disagreeable interview, but it turned out
absolutely the reverse. The president was most cordial, and his
frankness most attractive. After a long and full discussion,
the president said the Times had been his most unsparing critic,
but he was forced to agree with much the Times said; that he had
sent for me to make a request; that he had come to the presidency
without any preparation whatever for its duties or for civic
responsibilities; that he was compelled to take the best advice he
could find and surround himself with men, many of whom he had
never met before, and they were his guides and teachers; that he,
however, assumed the entire responsibility for everything he had
done. He knew perfectly well, in the retrospect and with the
larger experience he had gained, that he had made many mistakes.
'And now, Mr. Jones,' he continued, 'I have sent for you as
the most powerful as well as, I think, the fairest of my critics,
to ask that you will say in your final summing up of my eight years
that, however many my errors or mistakes, they were faults of
judgment, and that I acted conscientiously and in any way I thought
was right and best.'
"I told the president I would be delighted to take that view in
the Times. Then the president said that he would like to show
his appreciation in some way which would be gratifying to me.
I told him that I wanted nothing for myself, nor did any of my
friends, in the line of patronage. Then he said he wanted my
assistance because he was looking for the best man for United States
district attorney for the district of New York. With my large
acquaintance he thought that I should be able to tell him whom
among the lawyers would be best to appoint. After a little
consideration I recommended you.
"The president then said: 'Mr. Depew supported Greeley, and
though he is back in the party and doing good service in the
campaigns, I do not like those men. Nevertheless, you can tender
him the office and ask for his immediate acceptance.'"
I told Mr. Jones what my determination was in regard to a career,
and while appreciating most highly both his own friendship and
the compliment from the president, I must decline.
General Grant's mistakes in his presidency arose from his possession
of one of the greatest of virtues, and that is loyalty to one's
friends. He had unlimited confidence in them and could not see,
or be made to see, nor listen to any of their defects. He was
himself of such transparent honesty and truthfulness that he
gauged and judged others by his own standard. Scandals among
a few of the officials of his administration were entirely due
to this great quality.
His intimacy among his party advisers fell among the most extreme
of organization men and political machinists. When, under the
advice of Senator Conkling, he appointed Thomas Murphy coIlector
of the port of New York, it was charged in the press that the
collector removed employees at the rate of several hundred per
day and filled their places with loyal supporters of the organization.
This policy, which was a direct reversal of the ideas of
civil-service reform which were then rapidly gaining strength,
incurred the active hostility of civil-service reformers, of whom
George William Curtis was the most conspicuous.
When General Grant came to reside in New York, after his tour
around the world, he was overwhelmed with social attentions.
I met him at dinners several times a week and was the victim
of a characteristic coldness of manner which he had towards
One St. Patrick's Day, while in Washington, I received an earnest
telegraphic request from Judge John T. Brady and his brother-in-law,
Judge Charles P. Daly, president of the Society of the Friendly
Sons of St. Patrick, saying: "The Sons are to have their greatest
celebration because they are to be honored by the presence of
General Grant, who will also speak, and it is imperative that you
come and help us welcome him."
I arrived at the dinner late and passed in front of the dais to my
seat at the other end, while General Grant was speaking. He
was not easy on his feet at that time, though afterwards he became
very felicitous in public speaking. He paused a moment until
I was seated and then said: "If Chauncey Depew stood in my shoes,
and I in his, I would be a much happier man."
I immediately threw away the speech I had prepared during the six
hours' trip from Washington, and proceeded to make a speech on
"Who can stand now or in the future in the shoes of General Grant?"
I had plenty of time before my turn came to elaborate this idea,
gradually eliminating contemporary celebrities until in the future
the outstanding figure representing the period would be the hero
of our Civil War and the restoration of the Union.
The enthusiasm of the audience, as the speech went on, surpassed
anything I ever saw. They rushed over tables and tried to carry
the general around the room. When the enthusiasm had subsided
he came to me and with much feeling said: "Thank you for that
speech; it is the greatest and most eloquent that I ever heard."
He insisted upon my standing beside him when he received the
families of the members, and took me home in his carriage.
From that time until his death he was most cordial, and at many
dinners would insist upon my being assigned to a chair next to him.
Among strangers and in general conversation General Grant was
the most reticent of men, but among those whom he knew a most
entertaining conversationalist. He went over a wide field on such
occasions and was interesting on all subjects, and especially
instructive on military campaigns and commanders. He gave me as
his judgment that among all the military geniuses of the world
the greatest was General Philip Sheridan, and that Sheridan's
grasp of a situation had no parallel in any great general of whom
I was with General Grant at his home the day before he went from
New York to Mount McGregor, near Saratoga, where he died.
I learned of the trip and went immediately to see him, and was
met by his son, General Frederick D. Grant. I said to him:
"I learn that your father is going to Mount McGregor to-morrow,
and I have come to tender him a special train."
After all the necessary arrangements had been made he asked me
to go in and see the general. Before doing this I asked: "How
is he?" "Well," he answered, "he is dying, but it is of infinite
relief to him to see people whom he knows and likes, and I know
he wants to see you. Our effort is to keep his mind off from
himself and interest him with anything which we think will be
of relief to him, and if you have any new incidents do not fail
to tell him."
When I entered the room the general was busy writing his "Memoirs."
He greeted me very cordially, said he was glad to see me, and
then remarked: "I see by the papers that you have been recently
up at Hartford delivering a lecture. Tell me about it."
In reply I told him about a very interesting journey there;
the lecture and supper afterwards, with Mark Twain as the presiding
genius, concerning all of which he asked questions, wanting more
particulars, and the whole story seemed to interest him. What
seemed to specially please him was the incident when I arrived
at the hotel, after the supper given me at the close of my lecture.
It was about three o'clock in the morning, and I went immediately
to bed, leaving a call for the early train to New York. At five
o'clock there was violent rapping on the door and, upon opening
it, an Irish waiter stood there with a tray on which were a bottle
of champagne and a goblet of ice.
"You have made a mistake," I said to the waiter.
"No, sir," he answered, "I could not make a mistake about you."
"Who sent this?" I asked.
"The committee, sir, with positive instructions that you should
have it at five o'clock in the morning," he answered.
"Well, my friend, I said, is it the habit of the good people of
Hartford, when they have decided to go to New York on an early
train to drink a bottle of champagne at five o'clock in the morning?"
He answered: "Most of them do, sir."
(Nobody at that time had dreamed of the Eighteenth Amendment
and the Volstead law.)
With a smile General Grant then said: "Well, there are some
places in Connecticut where that could not be done, as local
option prevails and the towns have gone dry. For instance, my
friend, Senator Nye, of Nevada, spoke through Connecticut in
my interest in the last campaign. Nye was a free liver, though
not a dissipated man, and, as you know, a very excellent speaker.
He told me that when he arrived at one of the principal manufacturing
towns he was entertained by the leading manufacturer at his big
house and in magnificent style. The dinner was everything that
could be desired, except that the only fluid was ice-water. After
a long speech Nye, on returning to the house, had a reception,
and the supper was still dry, except plenty of ice-water.
"Nye, completely exhausted, went to bed but could not sleep,
nor could he find any stimulants. So, about six o'clock in the
morning he dressed and wandered down to the dining-room. The head
of the house came in and, seeing him, exclaimed: 'Why, senator,
you are up early.' Nye replied: 'Yes, you know, out in Nevada we
have a great deal of malaria, and I could not sleep.' 'Well,'
said the host, 'this is a temperance town. We find it an excellent
thing for the working people, and especially for the young men,
but we have some malaria here, also, and for that I have a private
remedy.' Whereupon he went to a closet and pulled out a bottle
"After his host had left, Nye continued there in a refreshed and
more enjoyable spirit. Soon his hostess came in and, much
surprised, said: 'Why, senator, you are up early!' 'Yes,' he
said, 'out in Nevada we have a great deal of malaria, and while
I am on these speaking tours I have sharp attacks and cannot
sleep. I had one last night.'
"'Well,' she remarked, 'this is a temperance town, and it is
a good thing for the working people and the young men, but I have
a touch of malaria now and then myself.' Then she went to the
tea-caddy and pulled out a bottle of brandy. The senator by this
time was in perfect harmony with himself and the whole world.
"When the boys came in (sons of the entertainer) they said:
'Senator, we hear that you are an expert on livestock, horses,
cattle, etc. Won't you come out in the barn so we can show you
some we regard as very fine specimens?' The boys took him out
to the barn, shut the door, locked it, and whispered: 'Senator,
we have no live stock, but we have a bottle here in the hay mow
which we think will do you good.' And the senator wound up his
narrative by saying: 'The wettest place that I know of is a dry
town in Connecticut.'"
The next day General Grant went to Mount McGregor and, as we
all know, a few days afterwards he lost his voice completely.
V. ROSCOE CONKLING
For a number of years, instead of taking my usual vacation in
travel or at some resort, I spent a few weeks in the fall in the
political canvass as a speaker. In the canvass of 1868 1 was
associated with Senator Roscoe Conkling, who desired an assistant,
as the mass meetings usually wanted at least two and probably
three hours of speaking, and he limited himself to an hour.
General Grant was at the height of his popularity and the audiences
were enormous. As we had to speak every day and sometimes several
times a day, Mr. Conkling notified the committees that he would not
speak out of doors, and that they must in all cases provide a hall.
When we arrived at Lockport, N. Y., the chairman of the committee,
Burt Van Horn, who was the congressman from the district, told
the senator that at least twenty thousand people from the town,
and others coming from the country on excursion trains, had filled
the Fair Grounds. Conkling became very angry and told the
congressman that he knew perfectly well the conditions under which
he came to Lockport, and that he would not speak at the
Fair Grounds. A compromise was finally effected by which the
senator was to appear upon the platform, the audience be informed
that he would speak in the Opera House, and I was to be left to
take care of the crowd. The departure of the senator from the
grounds was very dramatic. He was enthusiastically applauded
and a band preceded his carriage.
For some reason I never had such a success as in addressing that
audience. Commencing with a story, which was new and effective,
I continued for two hours without apparently losing an auditor.
Upon my return to the hotel I found the senator very indignant.
He said that he had gone to the Opera House with the committee;
that, of course, no meeting had been advertised there, but a band
had been placed on the balcony to play, as if it were a dime
museum attraction inside; that a few farmers' wives had straggled
in to have an opportunity to partake from their baskets their
luncheons, and that he had left the Opera House and returned
to the hotel. The committee coming in and narrating what had
occurred at the Fair Grounds, did not help his imperious temper.
The committee begged for a large meeting, which was to be held in
the evening, but Conkling refused and ordered me to do the same,
and we left on the first train. The cordial relations which had
existed up to that time were somehow severed and he became
General Grant, as president, of course, never had had experience
or opportunity to know anything of practical politics. It was
said that prior to his election he had never voted but once, and
that was before the war, when he voted the Democratic ticket
for James Buchanan.
All the senators, representatives, and public men who began to
press around him, seeking the appointment to office of their
friends, were unknown to him personalIy. He decided rapidly
whom among them he could trust, and once having arrived at that
conclusion, his decision was irrevocable. He would stand by a
friend, without regard to its effect upon himself, to the last ditch.
Of course, each of the two United States senators, Conkling and
Fenton, wanted his exclusive favor. It is impossible to conceive of
two men so totally different in every characteristic. Grant liked
Conkling as much as he disliked Fenton. The result was that he
transferred the federal patronage of the State to Senator Conkling.
Conkling was a born leader, very autocratic and dictatorial. He
immediately began to remove Fenton officials and to replace them
with members of his own organization. As there was no civil
service at that time and public officers were necessarily active
politicians, Senator Conkling in a few years destroyed the
organization which Fenton had built up as governor, and became
master of the Republican party in the State.
The test came at the State convention at Saratoga. Senator Conkling
at that time had become hostile to me, why I do not know, nor
could his friends, who were most of them mine also, find out.
He directed that I must not be elected a delegate to the convention.
The collector of the port of New York, in order to make that
decree effective, filled my district in Westchester County with
appointees from the Custom House.
Patronage, when its control is subject to a popular vote, is
a boomerang. The appointment of a citizen in a town arouses
the anger of many others who think they are more deserving.
I appealed to the farmers with the simple question whether old
Westchester should be controlled by federal authority in a purely
State matter of their own. The result of the appeal was
overwhelming, and when the district convention met, the Custom
House did not have a single delegate.
The leader of the Custom House crowd came to me and said: "This
is a matter of bread-and-butter and living with us. It is nothing
to you. These delegates are against us and for you at the
convention. Now, we have devised a plan to save our lives. It is
that the three delegates elected shall all be friends of yours.
You shall apparently be defeated. A resolution will be passed
that if either delegate fails to attend or resigns, the other two
may fill the vacancy. One of these will resign when the convention
meets and you will be substituted in his place. In the meantime
we will send out through the Associated Press that you have been
defeated." I did not have the heart to see these poor fellows
dismissed from their employment, and I assented to the proposition.
When we arrived at the convention Governor Cornell, then State
chairman, called to order. I arose to make a motion, when he
announced: "You, sir, are not a member of this convention." My
credentials, however, under the arrangement made in Westchester,
convinced him that he was misinformed. The Conkling side selected
for their chairman Andrew D. White, and the other side selected
me. Upon careful canvass of the votes we had a clear majority.
There were several delegations which were controIled by federal
office-holders. It is at this point that patronage becomes
overwhelmingly effective. Several of those office-holders were
shown telegrams from Washington, which meant their removal unless
they did as directed by Senator Conkling. When the convention
met the next day, the office-holders kept their heads on their
shoulders, and my dear and valued old friend, Andrew D. White,
was elected chairman of the convention.
I asked the leader of the federal crowd from Westchester how he
explained my getting into the convention. "Oh," he said, "that
was easy. Our people gained so many delegates by offers of
patronage and threats of removal that when I told them you had
bought my delegates away from me, they believed it without
question, and we are all safe in our places in the Custom House."
My success was entirely due to the farmers' indignation at federal
dictation, and the campaign did not cost me a dollar.
Roscoe Conkling was created by nature for a great career. That
he missed it was entirely his own fault. Physically he was the
handsomest man of his time. His mental equipment nearly approached
genius. He was industrious to a degree. His oratorical gifts
were of the highest order, and he was a debater of rare power and
resources. But his intolerable egotism deprived him of vision
necessary for supreme leadership. With all his oratorical power
and his talent in debate, he made little impression upon the country
and none upon posterity. His position in the Senate was a masterful
one, and on the platform most attractive, but none of his speeches
appear in the schoolbooks or in the collections of great orations.
The reason was that his wonderful gifts were wholly devoted to
partisan discussions and local issues.
His friends regarded his philippic against George W. Curtis at
the Republican State convention at Rochester as the high-water
mark of his oratory. I sat in the seat next to Mr. Curtis when
Conkling delivered his famous attack. His admirers thought this
the best speech he ever made, and it certainly was a fine effort,
emphasized by oratory of a high order, and it was received by them
with the wildest enthusiasm and applause.
The assault upon Mr. Curtis was exceedingly bitter, the denunciation
very severe, and every resource of sarcasm, of which Mr. Conkling
was past master, was poured upon the victim. His bitterness was
caused by Mr. Curtis's free criticism of him on various occasions.
The speech lasted two hours, and it was curious to note its effect
upon Mr. Curtis. Under the rules which the convention had adopted,
he could not reply, so he had to sit and take it. The only feeling
or evidence of being hurt by his punishment was in exclamations
at different points made by his assailant. They were: "Remarkable!"
"Extraordinary!" "What an exhibition!" "Bad temper!" "Very
In the long controversy between them Mr. Curtis had the advantages
which the journalist always possesses. The orator has one
opportunity on the platform and the publication the next day in
the press. The editor--and Mr. Curtis was at that time editor
of Harper's Weekly--can return every Saturday and have an exclusive
hearing by an audience limited only by the circulation of his
newspaper and the quotations from it by journalistic friends.
The speech illustrated ConkIing's methods of preparation. I used
to hear from the senator's friends very frequently that he had
added another phrase to his characterization of Curtis. While
he was a ready debater, yet for an effort of this kind he would
sometimes devote a year to going frequently over the ground, and
in each repetition produce new epigrams, quotable phrases, and
There used to be an employee of the State committee named Lawrence.
He was a man of a good deal of receptive intelligence and worshipped
the senator. Mr. Conkling discovered this quality and used
Lawrence as a target or listening-post. I have often had Lawrence
come to my office and say: "I had a great night. The senator
talked to me or made speeches to me until nearly morning." He told
me that he had heard every word of the Curtis philippic many times.
Lawrence told me of another instance of Conkling's preparation for
a great effort. When he was preparing the speech, which was to
bring his friends who had been disappointed at the convention
to the support of General Garfield, he summoned Lawrence for
clerical work at his home. Lawrence said that the senator would
write or dictate, and then correct until he was satisfied with the
effort, and that this took considerable time. When it was completed
he would take long walks into the country, and in these walks
recite the whole or part of his speech until he was perfect
master of it.
This speech took four hours in delivery in New York, and he held
the audience throughout this long period. John Reed, one of
the editors of the New York Times, told me that he sat on the
stage near Conkling and had in his hands the proofs which had
been set up in advance and which filled ten columns of his paper.
He said that the senator neither omitted nor interpolated a word
from the beginning to the end. He would frequently refer apparently
to notes on his cuffs, or little memoranda, not that he needed
them, but it was the orator's always successful effort to create
impression that his speech is extemporaneous, and the audience
much prefer a speech which they think is such.
Senator Conkling held an important position in a critical period
of our country's history. If his great powers had been devoted
in the largest way to the national constructive problems of the
time, he would have been the leader of the dominant party and
president of the United States. Instead, he became the leader
of a faction in his own State only, and by the merciless use
of federal patronage absolutely controlled for twelve years the
action of the State organization.
All the young men who appeared in the legislature or in county
offices who displayed talent for leadership, independence, and
ambition were set aside. The result was remarkable. While prior
to his time there were many men in public life in the State with
national reputation and influence, this process of elimination
drove young men from politics into the professions or business,
and at the close of Senator Conkling's career there was hardly
an active member of the Republican party in New York of national
reputation, unless he had secured it before Mr. Conkling became
the autocrat of New York politics. The political machine in the
Republican party in his Congressional district early in his career
became jealous of his growing popularity and influence, both at
home and in Congress. By machine methods they defeated him and
thought they had retired him permanently from public life.
When I was elected secretary of state I received a note from
Mr. Conkling, asking if I would meet him. I answered: "Yes,
immediately, and at Albany." He came there with Ward Hunt,
afterwards one of the associate justices of the Supreme Court
of the United States. He delivered an intense attack upon machine
methods and machine politics, and said they would end in the
elimination of all independent thought, in the crushing of all
ambition in promising young men, and ultimate infinite damage
to the State and nation. "You," he said, "are a very young man for
your present position, but you will soon be marked for destruction."
Then he stated what he wanted, saying: "I was defeated by the
machine in the last election. They can defeat me now only by
using one man of great talent and popularity in my district. I want
you to make that man your deputy secretary of state. It is the
best office in your gift, and he will be entirely satisfied."
I answered him: "I have already received from the chiefs of the
State organization designations for every place in my office,
and especially for that one, but the appointment is yours and
you may announce it at once."
Mr. Conkling arose as if addressing an audience, and as he stood
there in the little parlor of Congress Hall in Albany he was
certainly a majestic figure. He said: "Sir, a thing that is
quickly done is doubly done. Hereafter, as long as you and I
both live, there never will be a deposit in any bank, personally,
politically, or financially to my credit which will not be subject
to your draft."
The gentleman whom he named became my deputy. His name was
Erastus Clark. He was a man of ability and very broad culture,
and was not only efficient in the performance of his duties, but
one of the most delightful of companions. His health was bad,
and his friends were always alarmed, and justifiably so, about him.
Nevertheless, I met him years afterwards in Washington, when
he was past eighty-four.
At Mr. Conkling's request Mr. Clark made an appointment for a
mutual visit to Trenton Falls, a charming resort near Utica. We
spent the week-end there, and I saw Mr. Conkling at his best.
He was charming in reminiscence, in discussion, in his
characterization of the leading actors upon the public stage,
and in varying views of ambitions and careers.
When the patronage all fell into his hands after the election of
General Grant, he pressed upon me the appointment of postmaster
of the city of New York. It was difficult for him to understand
that, while I enjoyed politics and took an active part in
campaigns, I would not accept any office whatever. He then
appointed one of the best of postmasters, who afterwards became
postmaster-general, but who was also one of the most efficient
of his lieutenants, General Thomas L. James.
When Mr. Conkling was a candidate for United States senator I was
regarded as a confidential friend of Governor Fenton. The governor
was one of the most secretive of men, and, therefore, I did not
know his views to the candidate, or whether he had preferences.
I think he had no preferences but wished Conkling defeated, and
at the same time did not want to take a position which would incur
the enmity of him or his friends.
One night there was a great public demonstration, and, being
called upon, I made a speech to the crowd, which included the
legislature, to the effect that we had been voiceless in the
United States Senate too long; that the greatest State in the
Union should be represented by a man who had demonstrated his
ability to all, and that man was Mr. Conkling. This created an
impression that I was speaking for the governor as well as myself,
and the effect upon the election was great. Mr. Conkling thought
so, and that led to his pressing upon me official recognition.
How the breach came between us, why he became persistently hostile
during the rest of his life, I never knew. President Arthur,
Governor Cornell, and other of his intimate friends told me that
they tried often to find out, but their efforts only irritated him
and never received any response.
Senator Conkling's peculiar temperament was a source of great
trouble to his lieutenants. They were all able and loyal, but
he was intolerant of any exercise on their part of independent
judgment. This led to the breaking off of all relations with the two
most distinguished of them--President Arthur and Governor Cornell.
A breach once made could not be healed. A bitter controversy
in debate with Mr. Blaine assumed a personal character. In the
exchanges common in the heat of such debates Blaine ridiculed
Conkling's manner and called him a turkey-cock. Mutual friends
tried many times to bring them together. Blaine was always
willing, but Conkling never.
Conkling had a controversy which was never healed with Senator Platt,
who had served him long and faithfully and with great efficiency.
During the twenty years in which Platt was leader, following
Senator Conkling, he displayed the reverse qualities. He was
always ready for consultation, he sought advice, and was tolerant
of large liberty of individual judgment among his associates. He
was always forgiving, and taking back into confidence those with
whom he had quarrelled.
One summer I was taking for a vacation a trip to Europe and had
to go aboard the steamer the night before, as she sailed very
early in the morning. One of my staff appeared and informed me
that a very serious attack upon the New York Central had been
started in the courts and that the law department needed outside
counsel and asked whom he should employ. I said: "Senator
Conkling." With amazement he replied: "Why, he has been bitterly
denouncing you for months." "Yes, but that was politics," I said.
"You know the most brilliant lawyer in the United States might come
to New York, and unless he formed advantageous associations with
some of the older firms he could get no practice. Now, this suit
will be very conspicuous, and the fact that Senator Conkling is
chief counsel for the Central will give him at once a standing
and draw to him clients." His appearance in the case gave him
immediate prominence and a large fee.
Senator Conkling's career at the bar was most successful, and
there was universal sorrow when his life ended in the tragedy
of the great blizzard.
VI. HORACE GREELEY
While secretary of state of New York, the decennial State census
was taken, and the appointment of three thousand census takers
involved as much pressure from congressmen, State senators,
assemblymen, and local leaders as if the places had been very
remunerative and permanent. I discovered what a power political
patronage is in party organization, because it developed that
the appointment of this large number of men, located in every town
in the State, could easily have been utilized for the formation
of a personal organization within the party.
I was exceedingly fond, as I am still and always have been,
of political questions, issues affecting the general government,
the State, or localities, party organizations, and political
leaders. So, while devoted to my profession and its work and
increasingly enjoying its labor and activities, politics became
an interesting recreation. With no desire for and with a
determination not to take any public office, to be called into
party councils, to be at an occasional meeting of the State
committee and a delegate to conventions were happy relief and
excursions from the routine of professional work, as golf is to
a tired business man or lawyer.
The nomination of General Grant for president by the Republicans
and of Horatio Seymour by the Democrats had made New York the
pivotal State in the national election. John T. Hoffman, the most
popular among the younger Democrats, was their nominee for governor.
The Republicans, with great unanimity, agreed upon John A. Griswold,
a congressman from the Troy district. Griswold was the idol
of his colleagues in the New York delegation in Congress, and
his attractive personality and demonstrated business ability had
made him a great favorite with politicians, business men, and
labor. The canvass for his nomination had been conducted with
great ardor by enthusiastic friends in all parts of the State, and
the delegations were nearly all practically pledged to his
nomination. No one dreamed that there would be an opposition
On the train to the convention John Russell Young, then managing
editor of the New York Tribune under Mr. Greeley, came to me and
said: "Mr. Greeley has decided to be a candidate at the convention
for the nomination for governor. You are his friend, he lives in
your assembly district in Westchester County, and wishes you
to make the nomination speech."
I tried to argue the question with Young by portraying to him
the situation and the utter hopelessness of any attempt to break
the slate. He, however, insisted upon it, saying that all pledges
and preferences would disappear because of Greeley's services
to the party for so many years.
When we arrived at Syracuse and stated our determination to present
Mr. Greeley's name, it was hilariously received as a joke. Efforts
were made by friends of Greeley to persuade him not to undertake
such an impossible task, but they could produce no effect.
Mr. Griswold was put in nomination by Mr. Demers, one of the most
eloquent young men in the ministry of the State, and afterwards
an editor of power, and his speech filled every requirement.
Then I presented Mr. Greeley. At first the audience was hostile,
but as the recital of the great editor's achievements grew in
intensity and heat, the convention began to applaud and then
to cheer. A delegate hurled at me the question: "How about
Greeley signing the bail of Jefferson Davis?" The sentiment
seemed to change at once and cheers were followed by hisses.
Then there was supreme silence, and I immediately shouted:
"There are spots on the sun."
The effect was electrical. Delegates were on their feet, standing
on chairs, the air was full of hats, and the cheers deafening for
Greeley for some minutes. Mr. Demers, the preacher delegate,
lost his equilibrium, rushed up to me, shaking his fist excitedly,
and shouted: "Damn you! you have nominated him and beaten Griswold."
A recess was taken, and when the convention reconvened the ballot
demonstrated that if the organization is given time it can always
reform its shattered lines and show the efficiency of discipline.
When I met Mr. Greeley soon after, he said: "I cannot understand
why I desired the nomination for governor, nor why anybody should
want the office. There is nothing in it. No man now can name the
ten last governors of the State of New York."
Having tried that proposition many times since on the average
citizen, I have found that Mr. Greeley was absolutely right.
Any one who does not think so can try to solve that problem himself.
The meeting of the Electoral College at the Capitol at Albany
in 1864 was one of the most picturesque and interesting gatherings
ever held in the State. People came from all parts of the country
to witness the formality of the casting of the vote of New York
for Abraham Lincoln. The members of the college were, most of
them, men of great distinction in our public and civic life.
Horace Greeley was elected president of the college. The meeting
was held in the Senate chamber. When Mr. Greeley took the chair,
the desk in front of him made only his bust visible and with his
wonderfully intellectual face, his long gray hair brushed back, and
his solemn and earnest expression, he was one of the most impressive
figures I ever saw occupying the chair as a presiding officer.
One of the electors had failed to appear. Most of us knew that
under pressure of great excitement he was unable to resist his
convivial tendencies, but no one supposed that Mr. Greeley could
by any possibilibility know of his weakness. After waiting some
time one of the electors moved that the college take a recess for
half a day. Mr. Greeley turned very pale and, before putting
the question, made a little speech, something like this, in a voice
full of emotion, I might almost say tears: "My brethren, we are
met here upon the most solemn occasion of our lives in this crisis
of the republic. Upon the regularity of what we do here this day
may depend whether the republic lives or dies. I would, therefore,
suggest that we sit here in silence until our absent brother, who
is doubtless kept from us by some good reason, shall appear and
take his seat."
The effect of this address upon the Electoral College and the
surrounding audience was great. Many were in tears, and the
women spectators, most of whom were in mourning for those lost
during the war, were all crying.
As secretary of state it was my duty to have the papers all
prepared for execution as soon as the college had voted, and
to attach to them the great seal of the State, and then they were
sent by special messenger to Washington to be delivered to the
House of Representatives. Mr. Greeley, at the opening of the
session, said to me: "Chauncey, as I am not very familiar with
parliamentary law, I wish you would take a seat on the steps
beside me here, so that I can consult you if necessary." After
this effective and affecting speech he leaned down until he was
close to my ear, and said: "Chauncey, how long do you think it
will be before that d----- drunken fool will be able to return and
take his seat?"
General Grant's administration soon aroused great opposition.
Carl Schurz, Charles Francis Adams, and other leaders became
very hostile to the administration and to a second term. The
country was longing for peace. The "carpet-bag" governments
of the South were full of corruption and incompetence and imposed
upon the Southern States intolerable burdens of debt. The feeling
was becoming general that there should be universal amnesty in
order that the best and most capable people of the South could
return to the management of their own affairs.
This led to the calling of a convention of the Republicans, which
nominated Horace Greeley for president. I had no desire nor
the slightest intention of being involved in this controversy, but
was happily pursuing my profession, with increasing fondness for
One day Commodore Vanderbilt, who had a strong friendship for
Mr. Greeley, but took no interest in politics, said to me:
"Mr. Greeley has been to see me and is very anxious for you to
assist him. If you can aid him in any way I wish you would."
Afterwards Mr. Greeley called at my house. "Chauncey," he said
(he always called me Chauncey), "as you know, I have been nominated
by the Liberal Republican convention for President of the United
States. If I can get the indorsement of the Democratic party my
election is assured. My Democratic friends tell me that in order
to accomplish that I must demonstrate that I have a substantial
Republican following. So we have called a meeting at Rochester,
which is the capital of the strongest Republican counties of the
State. It is necessary to have for the principal speaker some
Republican of State and national reputation. I have selected
you for that purpose."
To my protest that I did not wish to enter into the contest nor
to take any part in active politics, he said, very indignantly:
"I have supported you in my paper and personally during the whole
of your career. I thought that if anybody was capable of gratitude
it is you, and I have had unfortunate experiences with many."
I never was able to resist an appeal of this kind, so I said
impulsively: "Mr. Greeley, I will go."
The meeting was a marvellous success for the purpose for which
it was called. It was purely a Republican gathering. The crowd
was several times larger than the hall could accommodate.
Henry R. Selden, one of the judges of the Court of Appeals and
one of the most eminent and respected Republicans of the State,
presided. The two hundred vice-presidents and secretaries upon
the platform I had known intimately for years as Republican leaders
of their counties and districts. The demonstration so impressed
the Democratic State leaders that at the national Democratic
convention Mr. Greeley was indorsed.
There were two State conventions held simultaneously that year,
one Democratic and one Liberal Republican. In the division of
offices the Democratic party, being the larger, was given the
governorship and the Liberal Republicans had the lieutenant-
governorship. I was elected as the presiding officer of the
Liberal Republican convention and also was made unanimously its
nominee for lieutenant-governor. The Democratic convention
nominated Francis Kernan, one of the most distinguished lawyers
of the State, and afterwards United States senator.
If the election had been held early in the canvass there is little
doubt but that Mr. Greeley would have carried the State by an
overwhelming majority. His difficulty was that for a quarter of a
century, as editor of the New York Tribune, he had been the most
merciless, bitter, and formidable critic and opponent of the
Democratic party. The deep-seated animosity against him was
fully aroused as the campaign proceeded by a propaganda which
placed in the hands of every Democrat these former slashing
editorials of the New York Tribune. Their effect upon the Democratic
voters was evident after a while, and when in the September election
North Carolina went Republican, a great mass of Republicans, who
had made up their minds to support Mr. Greeley, went back to their
party, and he was overwhelmingly defeated.
In the early part of his canvass Mr. Greeley made a tour of the
country. There have been many such travels by presidential
candidates, but none like this. His march was a triumphal
procession, and his audiences enormous and most enthusiastic.
The whole country marvelled at his intellectual versatility. He
spoke every day, and often several times a day, and each speech
was absolutely new. There seemed to be no limit to his originality,
his freshness, or the new angles from which to present the issues
of the canvass. No candidate was ever so bitterly abused and
A veteran speaker has in the course of his career original
experiences. The cordiality and responsiveness of his audience
is not always an index of their agreement with his argument.
During the campaign Mr. Greeley came to me and said: "I have
received encouraging accounts from the State of Maine. I have
a letter from such a place"--naming it--"from the principal of the
academy there. He writes me that the Congregational minister,
who has the largest church in town, the bank president, the
manufacturer, the principal lawyer, and himself are lifelong
readers of the Tribune, and those steadfast Republicans intend
to support me. He thinks if they can have a public meeting with
a speaker of national reputation, the result might be an overturn in
my favor in this community, which is almost unanimously Republican,
that it may influence the whole State, and," continued Mr. Greeley,
"he suggests you as the speaker, and I earnestly ask you to go."
When I arrived at the place I was entertained by the manufacturer.
The audience crowded the largest hall in the town. The principal
of the academy presided, the Congregational minister opened
the exercises with a prayer, and I was introduced and received
with great cordiality.
For such an audience my line of talk was praising General Grant
as the greatest general of modern times, and how largely the
preservation of the Union depended upon his military genius.
Then to picture the tremendous responsibilities of the presidency
and the impossibility of a man, however great as a soldier, with
a lifetime of military education, environment, and experiences,
succeeding in civil office, especially as great a one as the
presidency of the United States. Then came, naturally, a eulogium
of Horace Greeley, the maker of public opinion, the moulder of
national policies, the most eloquent and resourceful leader of
the Republican party since its formation. The audience cheered
with great enthusiasm all these allusions to General Grant,
and responded with equal fervor to my praise of Horace Greeley.
When I concluded they stood up and gave me cordial cheers, and
the presiding officer came forward and said: "I now suggest that
we close this meeting with three rousing cheers for Horace Greeley."
The principal of the academy, the manufacturer, the minister,
the lawyer, a very few of the audience, and several women responded.
After this frost a farmer rose gradually, and as he began to let
out link after link of his body, which seemed about seven feet
talI, he reached his full height, and then in a voice which could
be heard a mile shouted: "Three cheers for General Grant!" The
response nearly took the roof off the house. I left the State
the next morning and told Mr. Greeley that he could not carry Maine.
Among the amusing episodes of the campaign was one which occurred
at an open-door mass meeting at Watertown, N. Y. John A. Dix had
been nominated for governor on the Republican ticket, and I was
speaking of him and his career. He had changed from one party to
the other five or six times in the course of his long career, and
each time received an office. There was great doubt as to his
age, because in the American Encyclopaedia the date of his birth
was given as of a certain year, and in the French Encyclopaedia,
which published his biography when he was minister to France,
a widely different date was given. In the full tide of partisan
oratory I went over these changes of political activity, and how
each one had been rewarded, also the doubt as to his age, and
then I shouted: "I have discovered among the records of the
Pilgrim Fathers that when they landed on Plymouth Rock they found
John A. Dix standing on the rock and announcing that unless they
made him justice of the peace he would join the Indians." An
indignant farmer, who could not hold his wrath any longer, shouted:
"That's a lie! The Pilgrims landed more than two hundred and
fifty years ago." I saw that my interrupter had swallowed my
bait, hook, and line, bob and sinker, pole and all, and shouted
with great indignation: "Sir, I have narrated that historical
incident throughout the State, from Montauk Point to Niagara Falls,
and you are the first man who has had the audacity to question it."
Another farmer stepped up to the heckler and said: "Here is my
hat, neighbor. You can keep it. I am going bareheaded for the
rest of my life." In his uproarious laughter the crowd all joined.
It was years before the questioning farmer could visit Watertown
without encountering innumerable questions as to when the Pilgrims
landed on Plymouth Rock.
The last meeting of the campaign was held at Mr. Greeley's home
at Chappaqua in Westchester County. We all knew that the contest
was hopeless and defeat sure. I was one of the speakers, both
as his neighbor and friend, and accompanied him to New York.
A rough crowd on the train jeered him as we rode along. We went
to his office, and there he spoke of the lies that had been told
about him, and which had been believed by the public; of the
cartoons which had misrepresented him, especially those of Tom Nast,
and of which there were many lying about. Leaning upon his desk,
a discouraged and hopeless man, he said: "I have given my life
to the freeing of the slaves, and yet they have been made to
believe that I was a slave driver. It has been made to appear,
and people have been made to believe, that I was wrong or faithless,
or on the other side of the reforms which I have advocated all my
life. I will be beaten in the campaign and I am ruined for life."
He was overcome with emotion, and it was the saddest interview
I ever had with any one. It was really the breaking of a great
heart. He died before the votes were counted.
There was instantly a tremendous revulsion of popular feeling
in the country. He had lost his wife during the campaign, and
the people woke up suddenly to the sorrows under which he had
labored, to his genius as a journalist, to his activity as a
reformer, and to a usefulness that had no parallel among his
contemporaries. The president-elect, General Grant, and the
vice-president-elect, Schuyler Colfax, attended the funeral, and
without distinction of party his death was universally mourned.
After the election, in consultation on railroad affairs,
Commodore Vanderbilt said to me, "I was very glad you were
defeated," which was his way of saying that he did not want me
either to leave the railroad or to have other duties which would
impair my efficiency.
With the tragic death of Mr. Greeley the Liberal Republican
movement ended. Most of us who had followed him resumed at once
our Republican party relations and entered actively into its work
in the next campaign. The revolt was forgiven, except in very few
instances, and the Greeley men went back to their old positions
in their various localities and became prominent in the official
life of the State. I, as usual, in the fall took my vacation on
the platform for the party.
VII. RUTHERFORD B. HAYES AND WILLIAM M. EVARTS
It is one of the tragedies of history that in the procession of
events, the accumulation of incidents, year by year and generation
by generation, famous men of any period so rapidly disappear.
At the close of the Civil War there were at least a score of
generals in the North, and as many in the South, whose names
were household words. About fifty-five years have passed since
the war closed, and the average citizen knows only two of
them--Grant and Lee.
One of the last acts of General Grant was to tender to
Senator Conkling the position of chief justice of the Supreme Court
of the United States. Conkling had gained from the senatorship
and the leadership of his party a great reputation, to which
subsequent service in the Senate could add little or nothing.
He was in his early forties, in the prime of his powers, and he
would have had before him, as chief justice of this great court,
a long life of usefulness and distinction.
Conkling was essentially an advocate, and as an advocate not
possessing the judicial temperament. While there was a great
surprise that he declined this wonderful opportunity, we can see
now that the environment and restrictions of the position would
have made it impossible for this fiery and ambitious spirit. It
was well known that General Grant, so far as he could influence
the actions of the national Republican convention, was in favor
of Senator Conkling as his successor. The senator's friends
believed, and they made him believe, that the presidency was
within his grasp.
When the national convention met it was discovered that the
bitterness between the two leaders, Blaine and Conkling, made
harmony impossible. The bitterness by that time was on Conkling's
side against Blaine. With the latter's make-up, resentment could
not last very long. It is an interesting speculation what might
have happened if these two leaders had become friends. It is
among the possibilities that both might have achieved the great
object of their ambitions and been presidents of the United States.
The outstanding feature of that convention in the history of those
interesting gatherings was the speech of Colonel Robert G. Ingersoll,
nominating Mr. Blaine. In its effect upon the audience, in its
reception by the country, and by itself as an effort of that kind,
it stands unprecedented and unequalled.
As usual in popular conventions, where the antagonism of the
leaders and the bitterness of their partisanship threatens the
unity of the party, the result was the nomination of a "dark horse,"
and the convention cIosed its labors by presenting to the country
General Rutherford B. Hayes.
President Hayes, although one of the most amiabIe, genial, and
companionable of our presidents, with every quality to attach men
to him and make warm friendships, was, nevertheless, one of the
most isolated. He inherited all the business troubles, economic
disorganization, and currency disturbances which grew out of the
panic of 1873. He was met with more bankruptcy than had ever
occurred in our business history.
With rare courage and the most perfect good nature, he installed
essential reforms, which, in the then condition of party organization
and public sentiment, practically offended everybody. He threw
the extreme radicals of his party into a frenzy of rage by wiping
out the "carpet-bag" governments and restoring self-government
for the South. He inaugurated civil-service reform, but in doing
so antagonized most of the senators and members of the House.
When he found that the collector of the port of New York,
Chester A. Arthur, and the surveyor, Alonzo B. Cornell, were
running their offices with their vast patronage on strictly machine
lines, and that this had the general approval of party leaders,
he removed them and appointed for their successors General
Edwin A. Merritt and Silas W. Burt, with instructions to remove
no one on account of politics, and to appoint no one except for
demonstrated efficiency for the place. He pursued the same policy
in the Internal Revenue and Post-Office Departments. This policy
threatened the primacy of the Conkling machine.
President Hayes had a very strong Cabinet. The secretary of state,
William M. Evarts, and the secretary of the treasury, John Sherman,
were two of the ablest men in the country. Evarts was the leader
of the national bar, and in crystallized mentality had no equal in
the profession or outside of it. Sherman was the foremost and
best-informed economist, and also a great statesman. In close
consultation with Sherman, Hayes brought about the resumption
of specie payment. The "green-backers," who were for unlimited
paper, and the silver men, who were for unlimited coinage of
silver, and who were very numerous, joined the insurgent brigade.
While Mr. Hayes retired from the presidency by what might be called
unanimous consent, he had created conditions which made possible
the success of his party in 1880.
It was a refreshing experience to meet the president during these
troublous times. While everybody else was excited, he was perfectly
calm. While most of the great men at the Capitol were raging, he,
at the other end of the avenue, was placid and serene. He said
once to me: "It is a novel experience when you do what you think
right and best for the country to have it so generally criticised
and disapproved. But the compensation is that you expect antagonism
and disapproval and would think something was the matter with your
decisions if you did not receive them."
The general abuse to which he was subjected from so many sources
affected the public's view of him. After he had left the presidency
he told me that he thought it was the duty of an ex-president to
utilize the prestige which belonged to the office in the aid of
education. "I have found," he said, "that it helps enormously in
colleges and schools to have lectures, lessons, etc., in history
and patriotism, and behind them the personality of an ex-president
of the United States."
As an illustration of how distinguished men, when out of power, no
longer interest our people, I remember I met Mr. Hayes one day
in front of a fruit display of a well-known grocery establishment,
and after greeting said to the groceryman: "That is ex-President
Hayes. Don't you want to meet him?" The groceryman replied:
"I am not interested in him, but I have the finest collection of
pears in the city and want to sell you some."
The Capitol was full of the rich and racy characterizations,
epigrams, and sarcasms which Senator Conkling was daily pouring
out upon President Hayes, and especially Secretary Evarts. By
all the rules of senatorial courtesy in those machine days, a
member of the Cabinet from New York should have been a friend of
its United States senator. Mr. Evarts was too big a man to be
counted in any other class or category except his own. Of course,
all these criticisms were carried to both the president and the
secretary of state. The president never mentioned them, and I never
heard Evarts, though I met him frequently, make any reply but once.
Dining with Mr. Evarts, who entertained charmingly, a very
distinguished English jurist among the guests, here on a special
mission, said: "Mr. Secretary, I was at the Senate to-day and
heard Senator Conkling speaking. His magnificent personal
appearance, added to his fine oratory, must make him one of the
most formidable advocates at your bar and in your courts." The
English judge thought, of course, that Mr. Evarts, as the leader
of the American Bar and always in the courts, would know every
lawyer of distinction. Mr. Evarts dryly replied: "I never saw
Mr. Conkling in court."
It is always dangerous to comment or narrate a racy story which
involves the personal affliction of anybody. Dining with Mr. Evarts
one night was also a very distinguished general of our Civil War,
who had been an important figure in national politics. He was very
curious to know about Mr. Tilden, and especially as to the truth
of a report that Mr. Tilden had a stroke of paralysis, and appealed
to me, as I was just from New York. I narrated a story which was
current at the time that Mr. Tilden had denied the report by saying
to a friend: "They say I cannot lift my left hand to my head." He
then put his right hand under the left elbow and shot the left one
easily up to his face and said: "See there, my left has reached
I saw that Mr. Evarts was embarrassed at the anecdote and discovered
afterwards that the distinguished guest had recently had a similar
stroke on his left side and could propel his left arm and hand
only with the assistance of his right.
My old bogie of being put into office arose again in the senatorial
election of 1882. The legislature, for the first time in a
generation, was entirely leaderless. The old organization had
disappeared and a new one had not yet crystallized.
Mr. Evarts was anxious to be senator, and I pledged him my
support. Evarts was totally devoid of the arts of popular appeal.
He was the greatest of lawyers and the most delightful of men, but
he could not canvass for votes. Besides, he was entirely independent
in his ideas of any organization dictation or control, and resented
both. He did not believe that a public man should go into public
office under any obligations, and resented such suggestions.
A large body of representative men thought it would be a good
thing for the country if New York could have this most accomplished,
capable, and brilliant man in the United States Senate. They
urged him strongly upon the legislature, none of whose members
knew him personally, and Mr. Evarts would not go to Albany.
The members selected a committee to come down to New York and
see Mr. Evarts. They went with the idea of ascertaining how far
he would remember with gratitude those who elected him. Their
visit was a miserable failure. They came in hot indignation to my
office and said they did not propose to send such a cold and
unsympathetic man as their representative to Washington and
earnestly requested my consent to their nominating me at the caucus
the next morning.
The committee telephoned to Albany and received the assent of
every faction of their party to this proposition. Then they
proposed that when the caucus met, Mr. Evarts, of course, should
receive complimentary speeches from his friends. Meanwhile others
would be nominated, and then a veteran member, whom they designated,
should propose me in the interest of harmony and the union of
the party, whereat the sponsors of the other candidate would
withdraw their man, and I be nominated by acclamation. My answer
was a most earnest appeal for Mr. Evarts. Then Mr. Evarts's
friends rallied to his support and he was elected.
I place Mr. Evarts in the foremost rank as a lawyer, a wit, and a
diplomat. He tried successfully the most famous cases of his
time and repeatedly demonstrated his remarkable genius. As a
general railway counsel and, therefore, as an administrator in
the retaining of distinguished counsels, I met with many of the
best men at the bar, but never any with such a complete and
clarified intellect as William M. Evarts. The mysteries of the
most complicated cases seemed simple, the legal difficulties plain,
and the solution comprehensible to everybody under his analysis.
Mr. Evarts was the wittiest man I ever met. It is difficult to
rehabilitate in the sayings of a wit the complete flavor of the
utterance. It is easier with a man of humor. Evarts was very
proud of his efforts as a farmer on his large estate in Vermont.
Among his prizes was a drove of pigs. He sent to Chief Justice
Morrison R. Waite a copy of his eulogy on Chief Justice
Salmon P. Chase, Waite's predecessor, and at the same time a ham,
saying in his letter: "My dear Chief Justice, I send you to-day
one of my prize hams and also my eulogy on Chief Justice Chase,
both the products of my pen."
The good things Mr. Evarts said would be talked of long after
a dinner. I remember on one occasion his famous partner,
Mr. Choate, who was a Harvard man, while Evarts was a graduate
from Yale, introduced Mr. Evarts by saying that he was surprised
that a Yale man, with all the prejudices of that institution
against the superior advantages of Harvard, should have risked
the coats of his stomach at a Harvard dinner. Mr. Evarts replied:
"When I go to a Harvard dinner I always leave the coats of my
stomach at home."
Mr. Evarts once told me when I was visiting him at his country
place that an old man whom he pointed out, and who was sawing
wood, was the most sensible philosopher in the neighborhood.
Mr. Evarts said: "He is always talking to himself, and I asked
him why." His answer was: "I always talk to myself in preference
to talking to anybody else, because I like to talk to a sensible
man and to hear a man of sense talk."
VIll. GENERAL GARFIELD
The triumph of the Democrats in Maine in the September election,
1880, had a most depressing effect upon the Republicans and an
equally exhilarating one upon the Democrats. The paralyzing effect
of the simple utterances in popular elections almost makes one
think that every candidate should follow Matthew Quay's famous advice
to his candidate for governor: "Beaver, keep your mouth shut."
In the campaign when General Winfield Scott ran for the presidency,
he began an important communication by stating that he would answer
as soon as he had taken a hasty plate of soup. That "hasty plate
of soup" appeared in cartoons, was pictured on walls, etc., in every
form of ridicule, and was one of the chief elements of his defeat.
When towards the close of the canvass Garfield had succeeded
in making the tariff the leading issue, General Hancock was asked
what were his views on the tariff. (You must remember that the
general was a soldier and had never been in politics.) The general
answered: "The tariff was a purely local issue in Pennsylvania."
The whole country burst into a gale of laughter, and Hancock's
campaign had a crack which was never mended.
There never were two more picturesque opponents than General Garfield
and General Hancock. Hancock was the idol of the Army of the
Potomac, and everybody remembered McClellan's despatch after one
of the bloodiest battles of the Peninsula campaign: "Hancock was
superb to-day." He was an exceedingly handsome man and one of
the finest figures in uniform in the whole country.
General Garfield also presented a very fine appearance. He was
a large man, well-proportioned, and with very engaging manners.
He also had an unusual faculty for attractive public addresses,
not only on politics, but many subjects, especially education and
patriotism. I never can forget when the news of Lincoln's
assassination reached New York. The angry and dangerous crowd
which surged up and down Broadway and through Wall Street threatened
to wreck the banking and business houses which were supposed
to be sympathetic with the Confederates.
Garfield suddenly appeared on the balcony of the Custom House
in Wall Street and succeeded in stilling the crowd. With a voice
that reached up to Trinity Church he urged calmness in thought
and action, deprecated any violence, and then, in an impassioned
appeal to hopefulness notwithstanding the tragedy, exclaimed
impulsively: "God reigns and the Republic still lives."
I was requested by some friends to visit General Garfield and
see how he felt on the political situation, which during the
campaign of 1880 did not look hopeful. I took the next train,
spent the day with him, and was back in New York the following
When I left the train at Cleveland in the morning the newsboys
pushed at me a Cleveland Democratic daily, with a rooster's picture
covering the whole front page, and the announcement that the
Democrats had carried Maine. The belief was universal then that
"as Maine goes so goes the Union," and whichever party carried
that State in the September election, the country would follow
in the presidential contest in November.
I took the next train to Mentor, the residence of General Garfield.
I found at the station a score or more of country wagons and
carriages waiting for passengers. I said to the farmers: "Will
any of you take me up to General Garfield's residence?" One of
them answered: "We will all take you up this morning, but if you
had come yesterday you would have had to wait your turn."
It was a startling instance of the variableness of public opinion.
Delegations from everywhere, on their way to extend greetings
to the candidate, had read the morning papers and turned back,
deciding not to go.
I found Garfield struggling bravely to overcome the depression
which he felt. He was in close touch with the situation everywhere,
and discussed it with discrimination and hopefulness.
The most affecting incident occurred while I was talking with him.
His mother passed through the room and, patting him on the back,
said: "James, the neighbors think it is all right; they are raising
a banner at the corner."
Two old soldier friends came in, and the noonday dinner was a
rare intellectual feast. The general was a brilliant
conversationalist. His mind turned first to the accidents of
careers. He asked me if there was not a time in my early struggles
when if Providence had offered a modest certainty I would not
have exchanged the whole future for it, and then continued:
"There was a period in my early struggles as a teacher when, if
I had been offered the principalship of an endowed academy,
with an adequate salary, with the condition that I must devote
myself to its interests and abandon everything else, I am quite
sure I would have accepted."
Of course, the hopeful application of this incident to the Maine
defeat was that, no such offer having been made or accepted, he
had made a glorious career in the army, rising to the head of the
General Staff, and for twenty years had been the leading figure
in the House of Representatives, and was now a recently elected
United States senator and chosen candidate for president.
Then he turned to the instances where victory had been plucked
from defeat in battles. After citing many instances he gave a word
picture of the Battle of Chickamauga which was the finest thing of
the kind I have ever heard or ever read.
After his two comrades left I told him of the interest which my
friends were taking in his canvass, and that I would add their
contribution to the campaign committee. The general instantly
was exultant and jubilant. He fairly shouted: "Have I not proved
to you all day that there is always a silver lining to the cloud,
and that the darkest hour is just before dawn?"
It was one of the sources of General Garfield's success as an
orator that he was very emotional and sentimental. He happily
carried with him amid all struggles and disappointments, as well
as successes in the making of a career, the buoyant, hopeful,
companionable, and affectionate interests which characterize
the ambitious senior who has just left college to take his plunge
into the activities of life.
So far as our State was concerned, a great deal turned upon the
attitude of Senator Conkling. His great and triumphant speech
of four hours at the Academy of Music in New York brought all
his friends into line, but the greatest help which General Garfield
received was from the generous, unseIfish, and enthusiastic support
of General Grant.
General Grant had been the leading candidate in the convention
which finally nominated Garfield, but he voluntarily appeared upon
the platform in several States and at Garfield's home. His brief
but most effective speeches gathered around Garfield not only the
whole of the old-soldier vote but those who had become disaffected
or indifferent because of the result of the national Republican
There probably was no canvass where the Republican orator ever
had so many opportunities for the exercise of every faculty which
he possessed. His candidate had made an excellent record as
a soldier in the field and as a statesman in Congress, as an
educator and a popular speaker on questions of vital interest,
while the opposition presented abundant opportunities for attack.
After the presidential election came the meeting of the New York
State legislature for the choosing of a United States senator.
The legislature was overwhelmingly Republican, and the organization
or machine Republicans were in a large majority. The assembly was
organized and the appointment of committees used to make certain
the election of an organization man.
A very unusual thing happened. The forces of the organization
were divided between two candidates: Thomas C. Platt and
Richard Crowley. Mr. Conkling had not declared his preference
for either, as they were both devoted friends of his, though he had
the power to have made a selection and have that selection accepted
by the legislature. Vice-President-elect Chester A. Arthur appeared
as manager for Mr. Crowley. Platt conducted his own canvass.
I was called to a meeting in New York, where Mr. Blaine, secretary
of state, was present. Mr. Blaine said that administration managers
had made a thorough canvass of the legislature and they had found
that I was the only one who could control enough anti-organization
votes to be elected, and, therefore, General Garfield and his
friends had decided that I must enter the race. I did not want
to do it, nor did I want the senatorship at that time. However,
it seemed a plain duty. A canvass showed that Mr. Platt,
Mr. Crowley, and myself had about an equal number of votes.
Of course, Mr. Blaine's object was, knowing that Senator Conkling
would be hostile to the administration, to prevent his having
a colleague who would join with him, and thus place the State
of New York against the policies of the incoming president.
After the canvass had been going on for some time, Mr. Platt came
to me and asked why I was in it. I told him frankly that I was in
it to see, if possible, that the senator-elect should support
the administration. He said: "Very well, I will do that."
I immediately called together my supporters. Mr. Platt appeared
before them and stated that if elected he would support the
president and his administration in every respect. He was asked
if he would vote for the confirmation of appointees whom the
president might select who were specially in disfavor with
Senator Conkling, conspicuously Senator William H. Robertson.
Mr. Platt said, "Yes, I will." My friends all went over to him
and he was elected.
General Garfield was inaugurated in March, 1881, and his
difficulties began with his Cabinet. Senator Conkling, who saw
clearly that with Blaine in the Cabinet his organization was in
danger in New York, did not want any of his friends to accept
a Cabinet position. The navy was offered to Levi P. Morton, but
at the request of Senator Conkling he declined.
When the time came for appointments in the Custom House of New York,
General Garfield sent in the name of William H. Robertson, who was
the leader of the anti-machine forces in the State. Mr. Conkling
at once demanded that Mr. Platt should join with him in inducing
the Senate to reject the nomination. Under the rule of senatorial
courtesy the Senate would undoubtedly have done this if the two
New York senators had acted together. Mr. Platt told Mr. Conkling
of his pledge to the members of the legislature, and that he must
abide by it, and, as he told me, suggested to Mr. Conkling that,
as he always had been his friend and did not want any breach
with him, the only thing to be done, consistent with honor, was
for both of them to resign and go back to the legislature for
re-election, with a mandate which should enable them to reject
the appointment of Judge Robertson and all similar appointments.
As the legislature was overwhelmingly Republican, and the organization
had a large majority, it seemed to both senators that they would
be returned immediately. But it is singular how intense partisanship
will blind the ablest and shrewdest politicians. Senators Conkling
and Platt were among the ablest and most capable political managers
of their time. What they did not reckon with was that the people
of the State of New York, or, rather, the Republicans of the State,
having just elected a president, would not view favorably the
legislature of the State sending two senators to embarrass their
own administration. There was hardly a newspaper in the State
or in the country that did not take a hostile attitude.
Mr. Blaine again came to New York and insisted upon my entering
the canvass, and that I was the only one who could get the whole
of the anti-organization vote.
With the Democrats voting for their own candidate, and the
anti-organization men voting for me, it was impossible for any
one to have a majority. The fight was most bitter. The ineffectual
ballotting went on every day for months. Then Garfield was
assassinated. The leader of the Conkling forces came to me and
said: "You have a majority of the Republican members now voting
for you. Of course, the antagonism has become so great on your
candidacy that we cannot vote for you, but if you will withdraw,
we will go into caucus."
I instantly accepted the proposition, saw my own people, and we
selected Warner Miller to represent the administration, and
Congressman Lapham, a very able and capable lieutenant of
Mr. Conkling, to represent the organization. The caucus unanimously
nominated them and they were elected. Senator Conkling immediately
settled in New York to practise law and retired from political
It is the irony of fate that General Garfield, who did more than
any other statesman to bring the public from its frenzy after
the murder of Lincoln back to a calm and judicious consideration
of national conditions, should himself be the victim, so soon
after his inauguration, of an assassin.
Lincoln was assassinated in April, after his second inauguration
in March, while Garfield was shot in the railway station at
Washington July 2, following his inauguration. The president
was removed to a cottage at Long Branch, N. J., and lingered
there with great suffering for over two months.
I was living at Long Branch that summer and going up and down
every day to my office in New York. The whole country was in
alternate emotions of hope and despair as the daily bulletins
announced the varying phases of the illustrious patient's condition.
The people also were greatly impressed at his wonderful self-control,
heroic patience, endurance, and amiability.
It was the experience of a lifetime in the psychology of human
nature to meet, night after night, the people who gathered at
the hotel at Long Branch. Most of them were office-seekers.
There were those who had great anticipations of Garfield's recovery,
and others, hidebound machinists and organization men, who thought
if Garfield died and Vice-President Arthur became president, he
would bring in the old order as it existed while he was one of its
There were present very able and experienced newspaper men,
representing every great journal in the country. The evening
sessions of these veteran observers of public men were most
interesting. Their critical analysis of the history and motives
of the arriving visitors would have been, if published, the most
valuable volume of "Who's Who" ever published. When President
Garfield died the whole country mourned.
IX. CHESTER A. ARTHUR
Chester A. Arthur immediately succeeded to the presidency. It
had been my good fortune to know so well all the presidents,
commencing with Mr. Lincoln, and now the occupant of the White House
was a lifelong friend.
President Arthur was a very handsome man, in the prime of life,
of superior character and intelligence, and with the perfect
manners and courtesies of a trained man of the world. A veteran
statesman who had known most of our presidents intimately and
been in Congress under many of them said, in reviewing the list
with me at the recent convention at Chicago: "Arthur was the
only gentleman I ever saw in the White House."
Of course, he did not mean exactly that. He meant that Arthur was
the only one of our presidents who came from the refined social
circles of the metropolis or from other capitals, and was past
master in all the arts and conventionalities of what is known as
"best society." He could have taken equal rank in that respect
with the Prince of Wales, who afterwards became King Edward VII.
The "hail-fellow-well-met" who had been on familiar terms with
him while he was the party leader in New York City, found when
they attempted the old familiarities that, while their leader was
still their friend, he was President of the United States.
Arthur, although one of the most rigid of organization and machine
men in his days of local leadership, elevated the party standards
by the men whom he drew around himself. He invited into party
service and personal intimacy a remarkable body of young,
exceedingly able and ambitious men. Many of those became
distinguished afterwards in public and professional life. The
ablest of them all was a gentleman who, I think, is now universally
recognized both at home and abroad as the most efficient and
accomplished American diplomat and lawyer--Elihu Root.
There is no career so full of dramatic surprises as the political.
President Hayes put civil-service reform upon its feet, and without
the assistance of necessary laws vigorously enforced its principles.
Among the victims of his enforcement was General Arthur, whom he
relieved as collector of the port of New York. To the surprise of
every one and the amazement of his old friends, one of the first
acts of President Arthur was to demand the enactment of a
civil-service law, which had originated with the Civil Service
Association, and whose most prominent members were George William
Curtis and Carl Schurz.
The president's urgency secured the passage of the measure. He
then appointed a thoroughgoing Civil Service Commission, and
during his term lived up to every requirement of the system. In
doing this he alienated all his old friends, and among them
General Grant, ex-Senator Conkling, Thomas C. Platt, and also
Mr. Blaine, whom he had asked to remain in the Cabinet as
secretary of state. Among them was also John Sherman, whom he
had equally wished to retain as secretary of the treasury.
Arthur's administration, both in domestic affairs and in its
foreign policies, meets the approval of history and the impartial
judgment of posterity. But he was not big enough, nor strong
enough, to contend with the powerful men who were antagonized,
especially by his civil-service-reform tendencies. When the
Republican convention met in 1884 and nominated a new ticket,
it was universally recognized by everybody, including the president,
that his political career had closed.
President Arthur was one of the most delightful of hosts, and he
made the White House the centre of refined hospitality and social
charm. He was a shrewd analyst of human nature and told stories
full of humor and dramatic effect of some of his contemporaries.
General Arthur, while Republican party leader in New York, invited
me to a dinner given him by a friend who had just returned from
a hunting trip with a large collection of fine game. With the
exception of myself, all the guests were active leaders in the
During the dinner the general said to me: "While we draft you
every fall to help in our canvass, after we have nominated our
ticket we miss you in our councils and we need you."
"Well, " I replied, "I do not know what the matter is, nor why
Senator Conkling should have a continuing hostility, which I only
feel when the time comes around to elect delegates to the State
The general continued: "We are unable to find out either. However,
it is absurd, and we are going to see that you are a delegate
to the national convention, and we want you to be at the State
convention at Utica."
I went to Albany, knowing that there would be a conference at the
Executive Mansion, with General Arthur, Governor Cornell, and
Senator Conkling, to lay out a programme for the convention. I met
the then secretary of the State committee, Mr. Johnson, and told
him about my conversation with General Arthur. He said he was
going to attend the conference and would report to me.
When Mr. Johnson returned he told me that General Arthur,
Governor Cornell, and others had strongly urged my being a delegate,
and that Senator Conkling became very indignant and said that he
did not want me back in the organization, and that it was a matter
of indifference on what side I was. It is needless to say that
I did not attend the convention at Utica.
Mr. Johnson also told me that among other things decided upon was
that if General Grant should be nominated for a third term, the
old machine under Senator Conkling would be made stronger than
ever; that the men who had come to the front during President Hayes's
administration as members of the State Senate and assembly and
of Congress would be retired, and that another State paper would
be established which would wipe out the Albany Evening Journal,
because it had sustained President Hayes and his policies.
While the convention was in session at Utica I had an interview with
Mr. George Dawson, who was editor of the Albany Evening Journal
and he became convinced that he had nothing to lose by entering
at once into an open antagonism, if there was any way by which it
could be made effective.
I said to Mr. Dawson: "The only salvation for those who have been
benefited during the era of liberty occasioned by President Hayes's
civil-service policies is to prevent the national convention
adopting the unit rule."
The unit rule is that if the majority of the delegates from any
State make a decision, the chairman of the delegation shall cast
the entire vote of the delegation from the State for the result
arrived at by the majority, whether it be a candidate or a policy.
Under the unit rule I have seen a bare majority of one vote for
a candidate, and then the chairman of the delegation cast the entire
vote for the candidate, though the minority were very hostile to him.
The delegates of the State convention at Utica returned to Albany
that night. Many of them were State senators whose decapitation
was assured if the old machine supported by federal patronage was
revived. State Senator Webster Wagner was one of them. He and I
chartered a train and invited the whole State delegation to go with
us to Chicago. In the preliminary discussions, before the national
convention met, twenty-six out of seventy-eight delegates decided
to act independently.
Wayne MacVeagh, a lifelong friend of mine, had a strong following
in the Pennsylvania delegation, and after he learned our position
brought over also his people. Emory Storrs, who led the Illinois
delegation, came to me and said that if we would not boom
Elihu B. Washburne, who was a candidate for the nomination, we
would have the Illinois vote. The result of the canvass was that
the convention decided against the unit rule. This released so
many individual delegates to independent action that the field
was cleared and nobody had majority. The leading candidates were
General Grant, James G. Blaine, and John Sherman.
In the history of convention oratory the nominating speeches of
Senator Conkling for General Grant, and James A. Garfield for
John Sherman take the highest rank. Conkling took a lofty position
on the platform. His speech was perfectly prepared, delivered
with great dramatic effect, and received universal applause on
the floor and in the gallery.
General Garfield, on the other hand, also a fine-looking man and
a practised orator, avoided the dramatic element, in which he
could not compete with Conkling, but delivered a speech along
the line of the average thought and general comprehension of his
audience that made a great impression. It was a common remark:
"He has nominated himself."
There were among the audience thousands of Blaine enthusiasts.
No public man since Lincoln ever had such enthusiastic, devoted,
and almost crazy followers as Mr. Blaine. These enthusiasts were
waiting to raise the roof and secure the nomination of their
candidate when the chosen orator should present their favorite.
The gentleman selected to present Mr. Blaine was eminent in business
and great enterprises, but I doubt if he had ever spoken before
except to a board of directors. Of course, in that vast hall such
a man was fearfully handicapped and could not be very well heard.
He closed by naming his candidate somewhat like this: "I now have
the pleasure and honor of proposing as the candidate of this
convention that eminent statesman, James S. Blaine." Nearly
every one in the convention knew that Mr. Blaine's middle name
The Blaine followers, whose indignation had been growing throughout
the speech, because they expected the very highest type of oratory
for their favorite, shouted in chorus, "G., you fool, G!"
When General Garfield was voted for, he indignantly repudiated
the votes as an imputation upon his honor, as he was there to
nominate his friend, John Sherman. Senator George F. Hoar, of
Massachusetts, presided at the convention. He interrupted Garfield
by calling him to order, as it was not in order to interrupt the
calling of the roll, and he did so for fear that Garfield would go
so far as to say he would not accept the nomination if it were
made. On the last ballot State after State, each striving to get
ahead of the other, changed its vote from Sherman or Blaine to
Garfield, and he was nominated.
I sat close to him as a visitor to the Ohio delegation. It was
a curious exhibit of the ambition of a lifetime suddenly and
unexpectedly realized by a highly sensitive and highly wrought-up
man. He was so overcome that he practically had to be carried
out of the convention by his friends.
Senator Conkling was very indignant at the result and expressed
his anger with his usual emphasis and picturesqueness. The Ohio
leaders were then anxious to placate New York, but Conkling would
have nothing to do with them. They then came to us, who had been
opposed to the unit rule, and wanted suggestions as to which
New Yorker they should select for vice-president. Levi P. Morton
was suggested. Mr. Morton said he would accept if Senator Conkling
was willing to agree to it, and that he would not act without the
senator's acquiescence, as he was an organization man. The senator
refused his consent, and told Mr. Morton that no friend of his
would go on the ticket.
It was then suggested that they try General Arthur, who was
Conkling's first lieutenant and chairman of the Republican State
Committee of New York. Senator Conkling made the same answer
to General Arthur, but he frankly said to Conkling: "Such an honor
and opportunity comes to very few of the millions of Americans,
and to that man but once. No man can refuse it, and I will not."
And so General Arthur was nominated for vice-president.
X. GROVER CLEVELAND
Grover Cleveland was a remarkable man. He had more political
courage of the General Jackson type than almost any man who ever
held great responsible positions. He defied Tammany Hall while
governor of the State, and repeatedly challenged the strongest
elements of his party while president. Threats of defeat or
retaliation never moved him. If he had once made up his mind
and believed he was right, no suggestions of expediency or of
popularity had any influence on him.
In personal intercourse he made friends and had great charm.
The campaign against him when he ran for governor of New York
was ruthlessly conducted. I considered the actions of his enemies
as unfair and that they would react in the canvass. I studiously
discredited all in my speeches, and begged our people not to
I knew Mr. Cleveland, and as an evidence of my appreciation of
his character and ability, when the office of general counsel of
the New York Central Railroad at Buffalo became vacant, I offered
it to him, saying: "I am exceedingly anxious that you should
accept this place. I think, by an adjustment of the administration
of your office, you can retain your private practice, and this
will add about fifteen thousand dollars a year to your income."
Mr. Cleveland replied: "I have a very definite plan of life and
have decided how much work I can do without impairing my health,
and how much of additional responsibility I can assume. I have
accumulated about seventy-five thousand dollars and my practice
yields me an income which is sufficient for my wants and a prudent
addition for my old age to my capital. No amount of money whatever
would tempt me to add to or increase my present work."
I doubt if there were many lawyers in the United States who had
that philosophy or control of their ambitions. His annual income
from his profession was considerably less than the compensation
offered by the general counselship of the New York Central.
Cleveland was most satisfactory as president in his quick and
decisive judgment upon matters presented to him. There were no
delays, no revisions; in fact, no diplomatic methods of avoiding
a disagreeable decision. He told you in the briefest time and
in the clearest way what he would do.
A great social leader and arbiter in social affairs in New York
was very desirous that the president should reverse his judgment
in regard to an appointment affecting a member of his family.
I gave him a letter which procured him a personal and confidential
interview. When he came back to me he said: "That is the most
extraordinary man I ever saw. After he had heard me through, he
said he understood the matter thoroughly and would not change
his opinion or action. He has no social position and never had.
I tried to present its attractions and my ability to help him in
that regard, but he only laughed; yes, he positively laughed."
While President Hayes had difficulty with civil-service reform
and incurred the hostility of the Republican organization and
machine men, the situation with him was far less difficult than
it was with Cleveland, who was a sincere civil-service reformer,
and also an earnest Democrat. While a Democratic senator from
Ohio, Mr. Pendleton, had passed a bill during the Hayes
administration for reform in the civil service, the great majority
of the Democratic party believed in Secretary Marcy's declaration
that "to the victors belong the spoils."
There was an aggravation, also, growing out of the fact that the
Democrats had been out of office for twenty-four years. We can
hardly visualize or conceive now of their hunger for office.
The rule for rescuing people dying of starvation is to feed them
in very small quantities, and frequently. By trying this, the
president became one of the most unpopular of men who had ever
held office; in fact, so unpopular among the Democratic senators
and members of the House that a story which Zebulon Vance, of
North Carolina, told went all over the country and still survives.
Vance, who had a large proportion of the citizens of North Carolina
on his waiting list, and could get none of them appointed, said
that the situation, which ought to be one of rejoicing at the
election of a president by his own party, was like that of a client
of his who had inherited a farm from his father. There were so
many difficulties about the title and getting possession of it
and delay, that the son said: "I almost wished father had not died."
However, Mr. Cleveland, in his deliberate way did accomplish
the impossible. He largely regained favor with his party by
satisfying their demands, and at the same time so enlarged the
scope of civil-service requirements as to receive the commendation
of the two great leaders of the civil-service movement--George
William Curtis and Carl Schurz.
President Cleveland entered upon his second term with greater
popularity in the country than most of his predecessors. When he
retired from office, it was practically by unanimous consent.
It is among the tragedies of public life that he lost entirely the
confidence of his party and, in a measure, of the whole people
by rendering to his country the greatest public service.
A strike of the men on the railroads tied up transportation.
Railroads are the arteries of travel, commerce, and trade. To stop
them is to prevent the transportation of provisions or of coal,
to starve and freeze cities and communities. Cleveland used
the whole power of the federal government to keep free the
transportation on the railways and to punish as the enemies of the
whole people those who were trying to stop them. It was a lesson
which has been of incalculable value ever since in keeping open
these great highways.
He forced through the repeal of the silver purchasing law by every
source and pressure and the unlimited use of patronage. His party
were almost unanimous for the silver standard and resented this
repeal as a crime, but it saved the country from general bankruptcy.
Except in the use of patronage to help his silver legislation, he
offended his party by improving the civil service and retaining
Theodore Roosevelt as head of the Civil Service Commission.
These crises required from the president an extraordinary degree
of courage and steadfastness.
While Mr. Cleveland was in such unprecedented popular disfavor
when he retired to private life, his fame as president increases
through the years, and he is rapidly assuming foremost position
in the estimation of the people.
Mr. Cleveland had a peculiar style in his speeches and public
documents. It was criticised as labored and that of an essayist.
I asked him, after he had retired to private life, how he had
acquired it. He said his father was a clergyman and he had been
educated by him largely at home. His father was very particular
about his compositions and his English, so that he acquired a
ministerial style. The result of this was that whenever any of
the members of the local bar died, he was called upon to write
the obituary resolutions.
To take a leap over intervening years: After Mr. Cleveland retired
from his second term I used to meet him very frequently on social
occasions and formal celebrations. He soon left the practice of
law and settled in Princeton, where he did great and useful service,
until he died, as trustee of the university and a lecturer before
Riding in the same carriage with him in the great procession at
the funeral of General Sherman, he reminisced most interestingly
in regard to his experiences while president. Every little while
there would break out a cheer and then a shout in the crowd of
one of the old campaign cries: "Grover, Grover, four years more."
Mr. Cleveland remarked: "I noticed while president a certain
regularity and recrudescence of popular applause, and it was
the same in every place I visited." That cry, "Grover, Grover,
four years more!" would occur every third block, and during
our long ride the mathematical tradition was preserved.
XI. BENJAMIN HARRISON
The year 1888 was one of singular experience for me. I was working
very hard in my professional duties and paying no attention to
The district conventions to send delegates to the national
convention at Chicago began electing their delegates and alternates,
and passing resolutions instructing them to vote for me as their
candidate for president.
After several districts had thus acted I was asked to meet in
Whitelaw Reid's office in the Tribune Building Thomas C. Platt,
our State leader, and United States Senator Frank Hiscock. Platt
demanded to know why I was making this canvass without consulting
the organization or informing them. I told him I was doing nothing
whatever by letter, telegram, or interview; that I had seen no one,
and no one had been to see me.
Mr. Platt, who had been all his life accomplishing things through
the organization, was no believer in spontaneous uprisings, and
asked me frankly: "Are you a candidate?" I told him I was not,
because I did not believe I could be nominated with the present
condition of the public mind in regard to railways, and I was
president of one of the largest systems.
Then it was suggested that I permit the Tribune, which was the
party organ, to state that I was not a candidate and did not want
to be. The next morning the Tribune had that fully explained.
The conventions kept on convening and instructing their delegates
the same way.
Another conference was called, and then I was asked to make the
statement that if nominated I would not accept, and if elected
I would decline. I said to my conferees: "Gentlemen, there is
no American living big enough to say that. In the first place,
it is gross egotism to think such a thing might happen." The result
was that the organization accepted the situation.
The only way that I can account for this unanimous action of the
party in its conventions in the congressional districts of the
State is the accumulative result of appreciation of unselfish
work for the party. Every fall, for a quarter of a century, I had
been on the platform in every part of the State, and according
to my means was a contributor to the State and local canvass.
During this period I had asked nothing and would accept nothing.
If I may apply so large a phrase to a matter so comparatively
unimportant, I would deny the often quoted maxim that "republics
When the convention met there was an overwhelming sentiment for
Mr. Blaine, but his refusal was positive and absolute. I had
always been a warm supporter and friend of Mr. Blaine, and his
followers were very friendly to me.
What were called "the Granger States," and especially Iowa, had
become very hostile to railway management and railway men. They
were passing laws which were practically confiscatory of railway
securities. The committees from those States visited all other
State delegations and spoke in bitter terms of my candidacy. The
strength of my candidacy was that New York was unanimously for
me, except for one vote from New York City, and no nominee could
hope to be elected unless he could carry New York.
After receiving ninety-nine votes, I found that on the next ballot
my vote would be very largely increased, and decided to retire.
I called together the New York delegation and stated my position,
and the reason for it. A considerable debate took place. The
motion was made and unanimously carried that the four delegates
at large should meet and see if they could agree upon a candidate
who would command the support of the entire delegation of the
State. The object was, of course, to make the State, with its
larger number of delegates than any other commonwealth, a deciding
factor in the selection.
The delegates at large were: Thomas C. Platt, Senator Frank Hiscock,
Warner Miller, and myself. When we met, Platt and Hiscock declared
for Senator Allison of Iowa. Warner Miller with equal warmth
announced that he was for John Sherman.
A heated controversy arose between Mr. Platt and Mr. Miller, during
which Mr. Platt said that neither he nor any of his friends would
vote for Sherman if he was nominated. Senator Hiscock, who was
always a pacifier, interrupted them, saying: "Mr. Depew has said
nothing as yet. I suggest that we hear his views."
Mr. Platt and Mr. Miller responded to this suggestion and I
replied: "Gentlemen, New York has given to me its cordial and
practically unanimous support, and I have felt under the
circumstances that I should follow and not lead. The situation
which has grown out of this discussion here eliminates two
candidates. Without the aid of Senator Platt and his friends,
Mr. Sherman could not carry New York. Iowa has gone to the extreme
of radical legislation which threatens the investment in securities
of her railroads, and New York is such a capitalistic State that
no man identified with that legislation could carry a majority
of the vote of its people, and that makes Allison impossible.
There is one candidate here who at present apparently has no
chance, but who, nevertheless, seems to me to possess more popular
qualifications than any other, and that is General Benjamin Harrison,
of Indiana. I do not know him, never met him, but he rose from
the humblest beginnings until he became the leader of the bar
of his State. He enlisted in the Civil War as a second lieutenant,
and by conspicuous bravery and skill upon the battle-field came
out as brigadier-general. As United States senator he became
informed about federal affairs. His grandfather, President
William H. Harrison, had one of the most picturesque campaigns
in our history. There are enough survivors of that 'hard cider
and log cabin' canvass to make an attractive contribution on
the platform at every meeting, and thus add a certain historic
flavor to General Harrison's candidacy."
After some discussion the other three agreed. We reported our
conclusion to the delegation, which by an overwhelming majority
assented to the conclusions of the four delegates at large. This
decision settled the question in the convention, and after a few
ballots General Harrison was nominated. New York was awarded
the vice-presidency and selected Levi P. Morton.
During Harrison's administration I was absorbed in my duties as
president of the New York Central Railroad, and was seldom in
Washington. But soon after his inauguration he sent to me a
member of Congress from Indiana with a special message. This
congressman said: "I come from President Harrison, and he has
instructed me to offer you a place in his Cabinet. He is anxious
to have you in his official family."
I told him that I was not prepared to enter public life, and while
I was exceedingly gratified by the offer, it was impossible for
me to accept.
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