When Men Grew Tall, or The Story Of Andrew Jackson
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To further wound Statesman Calhoun, and in the mean, protesting teeth of Machiavelli Clay, the Senate expunges from its record the vote of censure it once passed upon the General. The resolution to expunge is offered by Senator Benton who, as against a far-off Nashville hour when only a generous cellar saved him from the General’s saw-handle, is to-day the latter’s partisan and friend. The General is hugely pleased by the censure-expunging resolution, and has what Senate ones supported it – being fairly the whole Senate, when one forgets Machiavelli Clay, and our chained, embittered Satan, Statesman Calhoun – to a grand dinner in the East Room.
And now the official times wag prosperously with the General. His friends are everywhere dominant, his enemies everywhere in retreat. Also his hair, from iron gray, fades to milk-white.
Since nothing peculiar presses upon him in the way of opposition, the General falls ill. He makes little of this, however; and cures himself with tobacco, coffee, calomel, and lancets, while outraged doctors groan. Likewise, he burns midnight oil in planning with Wizard Lewis the elevation of Vice-President Van Buren, who he is resolved shall have the presidency after him.
While thus the General lays his Van Buren plans, misguided admirers bombard him with such marks of their regard as a pha?ton built of unbarked hickory, and a cheese weighing fourteen hundred pounds. The latter sturdy confection is trundled into the White House kitchen, from which coign of vantage it sends on high a perfume so utterly urgent that none may stay in the White House until it is removed. Following its going, the executive windows are thrown open throughout a wind-swept afternoon, to the end that the last suffocating reminder of that cheese shall be eliminated.
The General’s hours as President are drawing to a close. His hopes touching a successor carry through triumphantly, and Vice-President Van Buren is selected to follow him. Neither Machiavelli Clay for the Whigs, nor Statesman Calhoun among the Democrats, has the courage to offer his own name to the people.
Statesman Calhoun, aiming to subtract as much as he may from the fortunes of nominee Van Buren, produces a bolting ticket, headed by one Mangum; and, for Mangum, Palmetto-rattlesnake South Carolina – still in a tearful pout – wastes its lonely arrow in the air. It was, it will be, ever thus with South Carolina, who might do herself a good, and come to some true notion of her own peevish inconsequence, if she would but take a long, hard look in the glass. She is as one who attends the fairs, but so over-esteems herself as to defeat every bargain she might make. Her best chances are cast away, a cheap sacrifice to vanity, since no one will either buy her or sell her at the figure she sets on herself. Thus, too, will it continue. Her frayed prospects, already behind a fashion, are to wax more shopworn and more threadbare as the years unfold.
Nominee Van Buren is elected to succeed the General in the White House, and every friend of the latter votes for the little polite man of Kinderhook.The General is delighted, since the elevation of nominee Van Buren provides for a continuation of his darling policies.
Wizard Lewis is delighted, because the new situation permits the return of himself and his beloved General to their homes by the Cumberland. Nor does it detract from the satisfaction of either that, with the presidential coming of the Kinderhook one, the final door of political hope is barred fast in the faces of Machiavelli Clay and Statesman Calhoun; for both the General and Wizard Lewis hate these two as though that hatred were a religious rite.
At last dawns President Van Buren’s inauguration morning, and the General stands for the last time before a people whose good and whose honor he has so jealously guarded. Of this farewell appearance, poet Willis writes:
“The air was elastic; the day bright and still. More than twenty thousand people had assembled. The procession, the General and Mr. Van Buren riding uncovered, arrived a little after noon. Their carriage, drawn by four grays, paused. Descending from it at the foot of the steps, a passage was made through the crowd, and the tall white head of the old chieftain went steadily up. The crowd of diplomats and senators to the rear gave way. A murmur of feeling rose up from the moving mass below, as the infirm old General, coming as he had from a sick chamber which his physicians had thought it impossible he should leave, stood bowed before the people.”
In his address the General touches many things. He closes by saying: “My own race is nearly run. Advanced age and failing health warn me that I must soon pass beyond the reach of human events. I thank God my life has been spent in a land of liberty, and that He gave me a heart wherewith to love my country. Filled with gratitude, I bid you farewell.”
CHAPTER XXV – THE GRAVE AT THE GARDEN’S FOOT
THE General wends his slow way homeward, and is two months about the journey. His progress, broken by many stops, is like both a triumph and a funeral; for double ranks of worshipers line the route and sob or cheer as he passes. The harsh horse-face is seamed of care and worn by sickness; but the slim form is still erect and lance-like, and the blue eyes gleam as hawkishly dangerous as when, behind his low mud walls with the faithful Coffee and his hunting-shirt men, he broke down England’s pride at New Orleans. Everywhere the people press about him; for republics are not ungrateful, and for once in a way of politics it is the setting, not the rising sun upon which all eyes are centered. In the end he reaches home, and his country of the Cumberland, as on many a former day, opens its arms to receive him.
And now the General, for all his sickness and his well-nigh threescore years and ten, must bend himself to his labors as a planter; for he has come back very poor. He has his acres and his slaves; but debts have piled themselves high, and the tooth of decay can do a devastating deal in eight years.
The General goes to work as though life is just begun. The fences are renewed, the buildings repaired, while the plow breaks fresh furrows in fields that have lain fallow too long. To finance his plans, he borrows ten thousand dollars from Editor Blair. Later, by a huddle of months, Congress repays him that one-thousand-dollar fine, of which a quarter of a century before he was mulcted in New Orleans. This latter, interest swollen, is twenty-seven hundred dollars – a sum not treated lightly in this hour of his narrowed fortunes!
All goes prosperously. The generous soil, as though for welcome to the General, grants such crops of cotton that the wondering Cumberland folk, as once they did aforetime, come miles to view his fields. When not busy with his planting, the General is immersed in politics. Each day he rides down to Wizard Lewis four miles below; or Wizard Lewis rides those four miles up to the Hermitage. Being together, the pair, over pipe and moderate glass, sagely consider the state of the nation.
Down by the General’s gate is a large-stomached mail box. Each morning finds it stuffed to suffocation with sheaves of letters and papers tied in bundles. Also there are shoals and shoals of visitors. For the General’s home is a Mecca of politics, to which pilgrims of party turn their steps by ones and twos and tens. Some come to do the stark old General honor; some are one-time comrades, or friends who rose up around him on fields of party war. For the most, however, and because humanity is selfish before it is either just or generous, the visitors are office-seeking folk, who ask the magic of the General’s signature to their appeals.
These selfish ones become, in their vermin number and persistency, a very plague. They wring from the suffering General the following:
“The good book, Major,” says he to Wizard Lewis, “tells us that at the beginning there were in Eden a man, a woman, and an office seeker who had been kicked out of heaven for preaching ‘Nullification’ I To judge of the visiting procession, as it streams in and out of my front gate, I should say that the latter in his descendants has increased and multiplied far beyond the other two.”
The French king forgets and forgives those grievous five millions, and dispatches an artist of celebration to paint the General’s portrait. The artist finds the latter of a mind to humor the French king. The portrait is painted – a striking likeness! – and the gratified artist carries it victoriously across seas to his royal master.
The General becomes concerned in keeping England from stealing Oregon, and writes letters to the Government at Washington in protest against it.
“Oregon or war!” is his counsel.
Just as deeply does he involve himself for the admission of Texas into the Union, declaring that of right the nation’s boundary should be, and, save for the criminal carelessness of Statesman Adams on the occasion of the last treaty with Spain – made in a Monroe hour – would be, the Rio Grande. Statesman Adams, now in his icy old age, makes a speech in Boston and denies this; whereat the General retorts in an open letter that Statesman Adams is “a monarchist in disguise,” a “traitor,” a “falsifier,” and his “entire address full of statements at war with truth, and sentiments hostile to every dictate of patriotism.”
Machiavelli Clay foolishly invades the Cumberland country on a broad mission of personal politics, and he like Statesman Adams makes a speech. Machiavelli Clay, however, does not talk of Oregon, or Texas, or what shall be the nation’s foreign policy, whether timid or warlike. His is wholly and solely a party oration, and in it he pays left-handed tribute to Aaron Burr, dead a decade. Machiavelli Clay escapes no better with his offensive eloquence than does Statesman Adams. The perilous old General from his Hermitage is instantly out upon him with another open letter, of which the closing paragraph says:
“How contemptible does this lying demagogue appear, when he descends from his high place in the Senate, and roams over the country retailing slanders against the dead.”
The General is much refreshed by these outbursts, and, in that contentment of soul which follows, resolves to join the church. Long ago he promised the blooming Rachel, fast asleep at the foot of the garden, that once he be free from the muddy yoke of politics he will accept religion, and now he keeps his word. He unites himself with the congregation which worships in that little chapel, aforetime built for the blooming Rachel, and, upon his coming into the fold, there arises vast rejoicing throughout the ardent length and breadth of Cumberland Presbyterianism.
The pastor, Dominie Edgar, calls often at the Hermitage; for he feels that the General may require some special spiritual grooming. One day he observes that convert’s saw-handles, oiled and neat and ready for blood, on a mantel, prayerfully crossed beneath a portrait of the blooming Rachel. The good dominie is shocked, but does not show it. He picks up one of the saw-handles.
“This has seen service, doubtless,” he remarks tentatively.
“Ay!” responds the General grimly; “it has seen good service.”
Dominie Edgar puts the saw-handle back in place, and his curiosity pushes no farther afield. He rightly conjectures it to be the weapon which cut down the slanderous Dickinson, and mentally holds that it will more advantage the soul of his convert to touch as scantily as may be upon topics so ferocious. Shifting his ground, Dominie Edgar asks:
“General, do you forgive your enemies?”
“Parson,” says the convert, “I forgive my enemies, and welcome. But I shall never” – here he points up at the portrait of the blooming Rachel, which seems to lovingly follow his every motion with its painted patient eyes – “I shall never forgive her enemies. My feud shall follow them, and the memory of them, to the end of time.”
Dominie Edgar sits down with his convert to show him the error of his obdurate ways. He lectures cogently. It is to be feared, however, that his doctrinal seed of forgiveness falls upon hard, intractable ground; for, while the convert says never a word, the lecture serves but to light again in those blue eyes what lamps of hateful battle burned there on a certain fierce May morning in that popular Kentucky wood.
The long days come and go, and the General lives on in fortune, peace, and honor. Then the end draws down; for the General has run his threescore years and ten, and well-nigh ten years more. Wizard Lewis sits by his bedside, and never leaves him.
“I want to go, Major,” murmurs the General to Wizard Lewis; “for she is over there.” He raises his eyes to the portrait of the blooming Rachel, and looks upon it long and lovingly. “Major!” – Wizard Lewis presses the thin hand – “see that they make my grave by her side at the garden’s foot!”
The General drifts into a stupor, Wizard Lewis holding fast his hand. The good dominie Edgar is on his knees at prayer. From the porch outside the sick room are heard the sobs and moans of the mourning blacks.
Wizard Lewis attempts to recall the dying General.
“What would you have done with Calhoun,” he asks, “had he persisted in his ‘Nullification’ designs?”
The blue eyes rouse, and sparkle and glance with old-time fire.
“What would I have done with Calhoun?” repeats the General, his voice renewed and strong; “Hanged him, sir! – hanged him as high as Haman! He should have been a warning to traitors for all time!”
The sparkle subsides; the blue eyes close again in the dullness of coming death. Wizard Lewis holds the poor thin hand, while Dominie Edgar prays on to the accompaniment of the sobbing and the moaning of the sorrowing blacks.
The prayer ends; the good dominie rises to his feet.
“Do you know me, General?” he whispers. The dim eyes are lifted to those of Dominie Edgar. The latter goes on: “The love of the Lord is infinite! In it you shall find heaven!”
The General turns with looks of love to the portrait of the blooming Rachel.
“Parson,” says he, “I must meet her there, or it will be no heaven for me.”
The General’s head droops heavily forward. Dominie Edgar falls upon his knees, and the voice of his praying goes upward with the moaning and the sobbing of the slaves. Wizard Lewis places his hand on the General’s breast. He sighs, and shakes his head. That mighty heart, all love, all iron, is still.
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