When Men Grew Tall, or The Story Of Andrew Jackson
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CHAPTER XXIII – THE FEDERAL UNION: IT MUST BE PRESERVED
THE General is reading his book, when in walks Wizard Lewis. The latter necromancer casually alludes to Statesman Calhoun, and his pet infamy of “Nullification.” At this the General’s honest rage begins to mount.
“You bear witness, Major,” he cries – “you bear witness how Calhoun is trying me! But by the living heavens, I’ll uphold the law!” Then, shaking the ponderous tome at Wizard Lewis, his finger marking the place – “Here! I’ve been reading what old John Marshall said in the case of Aaron Burr. He makes treason in its definition as plain as a pikestaff. A man can’t think treason; he can’t talk treason; he can only act treason. It requires an act – an overt act! Calhoun is safe while he only talks or conspires. But let one of his followers perform one act of opposition to the law, even if it be no more than hand on sword hilt or just the snapping of a fireless flint against an empty rifle-pan, and I have him. There would be the overt act demanded by old Marshall; and he goes on to say that the overt act, once committed, attaches to all of the conspirators and becomes the act of each. I shall keep my ear as well as my eye, Major, on Calhoun’s State of South Carolina; and, at the first crackling of a treasonable twig beneath a traitorous foot, into a felon’s cell goes he. Then we shall see what a hempen noose will do for him and his ‘Nullification.’”
The General, the better to deliver this long oration, gets up and walks the floor. Having concluded, down he drops into his chair again, and to grubbing at old John Marshall.
The General and Wizard Lewis decide that a perfect White House silence concerning “Nullification” is the proper course. The General will sit mute, and never by so much as the arching of a bushy brow intimate what he will do, should Statesman Calhoun push his treason to that last extreme – that overt act of opposition to the Federal law and its enforcement, demanded by the great Chief Justice. And so, while arises all this turmoil of treason in the Senate and South Carolina, the White House is as voiceless as a tomb.
While the General is silent, he is in no sort idle. He makes secret preparations to bruise the head of the serpent of secession with a heel of steel. He sends General Scott to South Carolina. Into Castle Pinckney he conveys thousands of rifles. One by one his warships drop into Charleston harbor, until, with broadsides trained upon the town, scores of them ride at ominous anchor.
The General gets word to his ever-reliable Coffee. In those well-nigh twenty years which have come and gone since the English were swept up in fire at New Orleans, the hunting-shirt men in the General’s country of Tennessee have increased and multiplied. Their numbers are such that at the end of twenty days the energetic Coffee stands ready to cataract twenty-five thousand of them into South Carolina at the lifting of the General’s bony finger, and follow these in forty days with twenty-five thousand more.Not content with his fifty thousand hunting-shirt men from Tennessee, the General arranges for an equal force from North Carolina and Georgia.
If ever a people stood within the shadow of doom it is our treason-forging ones of South Carolina in these days of Nullification, Columbia Conventions, Minute Men, and Blue Cockades.
Some of them are not so dim of eye but what they perceive as much, and begin to catch their breath. Still a wrong, once it be set rolling like a stone down hill, is difficult to overtake and stop. So, while the heart of would-be Treason beats a little faster, and its cheek turns a little whiter, as inklings of what the wordless General is doing begin to creep about among Palmetto-rattlesnake coteries, the work of making ready for black revolt proceeds.
In Washington, that grim silence of the White House grows oppressive. There be prudent ones, among the nullifying adherents of Statesman Calhoun, who are willing to play the part of traitor if no peril attend the r?le. They are highly averse to the character if it promise to thrust their sensitive necks into gallows danger. The questions everywhere on the whispering lips of these timid treason mongers are:
“What is the Jackson intention? What will the President do? Will he look upon Nullification as merely some minor sin of politics? Or, will he treat it as stark treason, and fall back on courts and hangman’s ropes?”
No one answers, for no one knows. As for the General himself, his lips are as dumb as a statue’s. Traitors may go wrong, or go right; he will light no lamp for their guidance. The awful suspense is carrying many of the treason mongers to the brink of hysteria. Even Statesman Calhoun, morbid and ambition-mad, is made to pause. He himself begins to wonder if it would not be as well and as wise to measure in advance those iron-bound anti-treason lengths to which the General stands ready to go.
To help them in their perplexity, Statesman
Calhoun and his Nullifying followers evolve a cunning scheme. In its amiable execution, it should lay bare, they think, the purposes of the General. Statesman Calhoun and his coconspirators have long ago laid claim to the dead Jefferson as their patron saint of “Nullification,” asserting that precious tenet to be his invention. They decide to give a dinner in honor of the departed publicist. The dinner shall take place on the dead Jefferson’s birthday at the Indian Queen. The General shall come as a guest. Statesman Calhoun and his co-conspirators will be there. Statesman Calhoun will offer a toast, declaratory of those superior rights over the Federal government which he asserts in favor of the separate States. It shall be a Nullification toast, one redolent of a State’s right to secede from the Federal Union.
Statesman Calhoun having launched his fireship of sentiment, the General will be requested to give a toast. Should he comply, it is believed by Statesman Calhoun and his co-conspirators that he will in partial measure at least unlock his plans. If he refuse – why then, under the circumstances, his refusal will be pregnant of meaning. In either event, he will be beneath the batteries of five hundred eyes, and much should be read in his face.
That Jefferson dinner is an admirable device, one adapted to draw the General’s fire. Its authors go about felicitating themselves upon their sagacity in evolving it.
“What say you, Major?” asks the General, when he receives the invitation upon which so much of national good or ill may pend; “what say you? Shall we humor them? You know what these Calhoun traitors are after.”
“True!” responds Wizard Lewis; “they want to count us, and measure us, in that business of their proposed treason.”
“I’ll tell you what I think,” says the General, after a pause. “I’ll fail to attend; but you shall go, and be counted in my stead. Also, since they’ll expect a toast from me, I’ll send them one in your care. I hope they may find it to their villain liking – they and their archtraitor Calhoun!”
The Indian Queen is a crowded hostelry that Jefferson night. The halls and waiting rooms are thronged of eminent folk. Some are there to attend the dinner; others for gossip and to hear the news. As Wizard Lewis climbs the stairs to the banquet room on the second floor, he encounters the lion-faced Webster coming down.
“There’s too much secession in the air for me,” says the lion-faced one, shrugging his heavy shoulders.
“If that be so,” returns Wizard Lewis, “it’s a reason for remaining.”
Wizard Lewis mingles with the groups in the corridors and parlors, for the banquet hall is not yet thrown open. Among these, he nods his recognition of Colonel Johnson, of Kentucky, tall of form, grave of brow, he who slew Tecumseh; Senator Benton, once of that safe receptive cellar; the lean Rufus Choate, eaten of Federalism and the worship of caste; Tom Corwin, round, humorous, with a face of ruddy fun; Isaac Hill, gray and lame, the General’s Senate friend from New Hampshire whose insulted credit started the war on Banker Biddle’s bank; Editor Noah, of New York, as Hebraic and as red of head as Absalom; the quick-eyed Amos Kendall; Editor Blair, who conducts the Globe, the General’s mouthpiece in Washington; the reckless Marcy, who declares that he sees “no harm in the aphorism that ‘to the victor belong the spoils of the enemy.’”
The dinner is spread. The decorations are studied in their democracy. Hundreds of candles in many-armed iron branches blaze and gutter about the great room. The high ceilings and the walls are festooned of flags. The stars and stripes are draped over a portrait of the dead Jefferson. Here and there are hung the flags of the several States. With peculiar ostentation, and as though for challenge, next to the national colors flows the Palmetto-rattlesnake flag of South Carolina – Statesman Calhoun’s emblem.
The dinner is profuse, and folk of appetite and fineness declare it elegant. There is none of your long-drawn courses, so dear to Whigs and Federalists. Black servants come and go, to shift plates and knives, and carve at the call of a guest. At hopeful intervals along the tables repose huge sirloins, and steaming rounds of beef. There are quail pies; chickens fried and turkeys roasted; pies of venison and rabbits, and pot pies of squirrels; soups and fishes and vegetables; boiled hams, and giant dishes of earthenware holding baked beans; roast suckling pigs, each with a crab-apple in his jaws; corn breads and flour breads, and pancakes rolled with jellies; puddings – Indian, rice, and plum; mammoth quaking custards. Everywhere bristle ranks and double ranks of bottles and decanters; a widest range of drinks, from whisky to wine of the Cape, is at everybody’s elbow. Also on side tables stand wooden bowls of salads, supported by weighty cheeses; and, to close in the flanks, pies – mince, pumpkin, and apple; with final coffee and slim, long pipes of clay in which to smoke tobacco of Trinidad.
As the guests seat themselves, Chairman Lee proposes:
“The memory of Thomas Jefferson.”
The toast is drunk in silence. Then, with clatter of knife and fork, clink of glasses, and hum of conversation, the feast begins.
The General’s absence is a daunting surprise to many who do not know how to construe it. Wizard Lewis, through Chairman Lee, presents the General’s regrets. He expected to be present, but is unavoidably detained at the White House. The “regrets” are received uneasily; the General’s absence plainly gives concern to more than one.
As the dinner marches forward, “Nullification” and secession are much and loudly talked. They become so openly the burden of conversation and are withal so loosely in the common air, that sundry gentlemen – more timorous than loyal perhaps – make pointless excuses, and withdraw.
Statesman Calhoun sits on the right hand of Chairman Lee. The festival approaches the glass and bottle stage, and toasts are offered. There are a round score of these; each smells of secession and State’s rights. The speeches which follow are even more malodorous of treason than the toasts.
The hour is hurrying toward the late. Statesman Calhoun whispers a word to Chairman Lee; evidently the urgent moment is at hand.
Statesman Calhoun hands a slip of paper to Chairman Lee. There falls a stillness; laughter dies and talk is hushed.
Chairman Lee rises to his feet. He pays Statesman Calhoun many flowery compliments.
“The distinguished statesman from South Carolina,” says Chairman Lee in conclusion, “begs to propose this sentiment.” He reads from the slip: “‘The Federal Union! Next to our liberty, the most dear! May we all remember that it can only be preserved by respecting the rights of the States, and distributing equally the burdens and the benefits of that Union!’”
The stillness of death continues – marked and profound; for, as Chairman Lee resumes his seat, Wizard Lewis rises. All know his relations with the General; every eye is on him with a look of interrogation. Now when the Calhoun toast has been read, they scan the face of Wizard Lewis, representative of the absent General, to note the effect of the shot. Wizard Lewis is admirable, and notably steady.
“The President,” says Wizard Lewis, “when he sent his regrets, sent also a sentiment.”
Wizard Lewis passes a folded paper to Chairman Lee, who opens it and reads:
“‘The Federal Union! It must be preserved!”’
The words fall clear as a bell – for some, perhaps, a bell of warning. Statesman Calhoun’s face is high and insolent. But only for a moment. Then his glance falls; his brow becomes pallid, and breaks into a pin-point sprinkle of sweat. He seems to shrink and sear and wither, as though given some fleeting picture of the future, and the gallows prophecy thereof. In the end he sits as though in a kind of blackness of despair. The General is not there, but his words are there, and Statesman Calhoun is not wanting of an impression of the terrible meaning, personal to himself, which underlies them.
It is a moment ominous and mighty – a moment when a plot to stampede history is foiled by a sentiment, and Treason’s heart and Treason’s hand are palsied by a toast of seven words. And while Statesman Calhoun, white and frightened and broken, is helpless in the midst of his followers, the General sits alone and thoughtful with his quiet White House pipe.
For all the plain sureness of that toast, the would-be rebellionists now crave a surer sign. A member of Congress from South Carolina, polite and insinuating, calls on the General.
“Mr. President,” says the insinuating signseeking one, suavely deferential, “to-morrow I go back to my home. Have you any message for the good folk of South Carolina?”
“Yes,” returns the General grimly, his hard blue eyes upon the insinuating one, while his heavy brows are lowered in that falcon-trick of menace – “yes; I have a message for the ‘good folk of South Carolina.’ You may say to the ‘good folk of South Carolina’ that if one of them so much as lift finger in defiance of the laws of this government, I shall come down there. And I’ll hang the first man I lay hands on, to the first tree I can reach.”
CHAPTER XXIV – THE ROUT OF TREASON
DEMOCRACY goes not without its defects, and there be times when that very freedom wherewith it invests the citizen spreads a snare to his feet. For a chief fault, Democracy is apt to mislead ambitious ones, dominated of ego and a want of patriotism in even parts. Such are prone to run liberty into license in following forth the appetites of their own selfishness, and forget where the frontiers of loyalty leave off and those of black treason begin.
In a democracy, for your clambering narrowist to turn traitor is never a far-fetched task. Being free to speak as he politically will and, per incident, think as he politically will, he finds it no mighty journey to the perilous assumption that he may act as he politically will. Knowing his duty to guard the temple, he argues therefrom his right to deface it. Treason fades into a mere abstraction – a crime curious in this, that it is impossible of concrete commission.
Statesman Calhoun is among these ill-guided ones of topsy-turvy patriotism. Blurred by ambition, soured of disappointment, license and liberty have grown with him to be unconscious synonyms. The laws against treason carry only a remonstrance, never a warning, and – as he reads them – but deplore that civic villainy, while threatening nothing of grief for what dark souls shall be guilty of it. In this frame the General’s stark sentiment, “The Federal Union! It must be preserved!” and that subsequent hanging promise which, by the mouth of the suave insinuating one, he sends to “the good folk of South Carolina,” go beyond surprise with Statesman Calhoun, and provide a shock. It is as though, walking in a trance of treason, he knocks his head against the White House wall; his awakening is rudely, painfully complete. That dream of a separate nation, with himself at its head, gives way to hangman visions of rope and gallows tree; and, from bending his energies to methods by which he may take South Carolina out of the Union, he gives himself wholly to the more tremulous enterprise of keeping himself out of jail.
Some hint of that recent literature, which the General found so interesting, gets abroad, and many go reading the lucid dictum of old Marshall. Treason as a crime becomes better understood; and – by Statesman Calhoun at least – better feared. Moved of these fears, Statesman Calhoun sends message after message into his restless Palmetto-rattlesnake State of South Carolina commanding, nay imploring, a present suspension of “Nullification.” His Palmetto-rattlesnake adherents, while not understanding the danger which fringes them about, have already found enough that is alarming in the very air; and, for their own safety as much as his, are heedful to regard that prayer for a “Nullification” passivity. The South Carolina shouting ceases; the Minute Men rest on their traitorous arms; the manufacture of blue cockades is abandoned; while the Columbia convention devotes itself to innocuous adjournments from innocent day to day.
While Palmetto-rattlesnake affairs are thus timidly quiescent, the Senate itself – having read old Marshall, and being, moreover, somewhat instructed by the watchful attitude of the General, who sits in the White House a figure of frowning menace, both relentless and fateful – devotes itself to the scaffold extrication of Statesman Calhoun. Machiavelli Clay leads the rescue party. His is of an opposite political church to that of Statesman Calhoun; but the pair meet on the warm, common ground of a deathless hatred of the General. Under the mollifying guidance of Machiavelli Clay, Senator after Senator surrenders those pet schedules of tariff desired of his own people, and puts the surrender on the expressive basis of “saving the neck of Calhoun.”
When every possible tariff cut has been arranged, and Congress adjourns, Statesman Calhoun makes his memorable homeward flight. Horse after horse he rides down, night becomes as day; for Death crouches on his crupper, and he must stay the Nullifying hand of South Carolina to save his own neck. He succeeds beyond his deserts, and comes powdering into Columbia, worn and wan and anxious, yet none the less ahead of that “overt act” whereof old Marshall spoke, and for which the somber General waits.
Once among his own treason-hatching coterie, Statesman Calhoun loses no moments, but breaks up the “Nullification” nest. Secession dies in the shell, and the Columbia convention, with more speed even than it displayed in passing it, repeals that “Ordinance of Nullification.” Thereupon Statesman Calhoun draws his breath more freely, as one who has been grazed by the sinister fangs of Fate; while the inveterate General heaves a sigh of regret.
Wizard Lewis overhears the sigh, and questions it. At this the General explains his disappointment.
“It would have been better,” says he, “had we shed a little blood. This is not the end, Major; the serpent of treason is only bruised, not slain. Had Calhoun run his course, a handful of hundreds might have died. As affairs stand, however, the country must one day wade knee-deep in blood to save itself. These men are not honest. Their true purpose is the downfall of the Union. Their present pretext is tariff; next time it will be slavery.”
By way of bringing the iniquity of “Nullification” before the people, together with his views concerning it, the General seizes his big iron pen, and scratches off a proclamation.
“I consider,” says he, “the power to annul a law of the United States, assumed by one State, incompatible with the existence of the Union, contradicted expressly by the Constitution, unauthorized by either its letter or its spirit, inconsistent with every principle upon which it was founded, and destructive of the great object for which it was formed.”
The country, reading the General’s exposition of the Union and its Gibraltar-like character, breaks into bonfires, oratory, dinners, barbecues, parades, and what other schemes of jubilation are practiced by a free people. That is to say the country breaks into these sundry jubilant things, if one except the truant State of South Carolina. In that Palmetto-rattlesnake-ridden commonwealth there prevails a sulky silence. No bonfires blaze, no barbecues scorch, no dinners smoke, no parades march. Baffled in its would-be treasons, afraid to stretch forth its nullifying hand lest the sword of retribution strike it off at the wrist, it comports itself like a spoiled child thwarted, and upholds its little dignity with a pout. No one heeds, however; and, beyond an occasional baleful glance from the General, the rest of the world leaves it to recover from that pout in its own time and way.
When Congress reconvenes, Statesman Calhoun creeps back to his Senate place. But the perils through which he has passed have left their furrowing traces, and now he offers nothing, says nothing, does nothing. His heart is water; his evil potentialities have oozed away. Haunted of that hangman fear which still hag-rides him, he abides mute, motionless, impotent, like some Satan in chains.
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