Slavery and Slave Trade in the District of Columbia. --Robey's Pen. Kidnappers. --Soul-drivers. --State of Morals. --Free Blacks. --Country impoverished. --Principles of Constitution. --Claim for Impressed Slave. --Wages and Mileage of Members of Congress. --Mr. Clay. --Juvenile Depravity. --Funeral of Member. --Average Age of Members. --President's Protest. --Mr. Leigh's Speech.
THE day after my first visit to the Cherokee chiefs I renewed my conversation with the slave in the breakfast-room of the hotel. I asked him how it was that he spoke English so correctly. He said that he had travelled about a good deal with different gentlemen, and had taken great pains to improve his language. He regretted much that he could not read and write. He had been married three times; --not that he had been twice a widower, --but such is the state of morals among the slaves, that the purest and most constant attachment does not wait for death to dissolve it. Connexions of this sort are necessarily but physical in their motives, as they are uncertain in their duration: the most endearing ties which can bind the parties together by tokens and objects of mutual affection being liable to be torn asunder at a moment's warning. "If the owner of my wife," he observed, "should endorse a bill, and the drawer fail, he would perhaps sell her to obtain money; and we should never see each other again."
I asked him whether the slaves in the house were allowed to keep what they might receive as presents from the guests; and was glad to find that, though legally disqualified from holding property, what was given to them became their own. "The times," he added, "are not so good for us as they were. I remember when we could accumulate something: but we are not so fortunate now." The Colonization Society, he thought, had done them great injury, by lessening the little interest that was before felt for them, and increasing the wish to get rid of them. While conversing with me, he used the word "gentleman," in what might be thought a singular manner, if the term were less indefinite in its meaning. Not being able to answer a question put to him, he pointed to another slave, and said: "that gentleman will tell you better than I can." I have often known the expression less appropriately applied. If the idea of any thing just or honorable be associated with the phrase; --if it imply a disposition to render to every man his due, I doubt not the person he referred to had at, least an equal claim with his master to the appellation. Two or three persons from the free States had been trying to convince this unfortunate man that he was more happy as a slave than he would be as a free man*.
The reasons given in support of this assertion, carried with them an indelible stigma upon the national character. What a country, where injustice lays her persecuting hand upon those who have escaped from oppression! --where the brand of infamy is stamped on the scars that cruelty has left; and the bond are told to find motives for resignation in the wrongs of the free!
* If so, why are free blacks, when convicted of certain crimes, sold as slaves? It is an odd way of preventing crime to place the criminal in a better situation than the innocent. "Slavery," said Governor Giles to the legislature of Virginia, in 1827, " must be admitted to be a punishment of the highest order; and, according to every just rule for the apportionment of punishment to crimes, it would seem, ought to be applied only to crimes of the highest order; but, under the existing laws, in case of free people of color only, it is extended to crimes not involving capital punishment."
"It seems," he adds, "but an act of justice to this unfortunate degraded class of persons, to state that the number of convicts compared with the whole population, exceeding 35,000, is extremely small, and would serve to shew, that even this description of our population is less demoralized than is generally supposed."
The truth will come out occasionally.
The manner in which the parental tie is disregarded here, is such as to render indifference to the best feelings of a parent's heart a matter of self-defence. The farmers in the neighborhood of Washington, breed slaves, as our graziers breed cattle, for the market; and a mother's agony for the loss of her child is no more regarded than the lowing of a cow for the calf that is carried off to be fattened for the butcher. We may judge of the anguish felt by the mothers, when they are "weeping for their children, and will not be comforted," by an event that occurred in 1828 at Yorkville, in South Carolina. A negro woman was executed there for the murder of her own child. "We are informed," says The Pioneer of that place, "that she made a confession of the crime with which she was charged, and assigned as her reason for doing so, that her master intended to sell her." She would have been separated, perhaps for ever, from her child. The thought of this drove her to madness.
It is not sufficient for the national dishonor, that the district marked out for the residence and immediate jurisdiction of the general government should be polluted by slavery. Here, under the eyes of Congress, --in defiance of public opinion, --and as if courting the observation of assembled legislators and ambassadors, a traffic, the most base and revolting, is carried on by a set of ruffians, with whom it would be the greatest injustice to compare our resurrection-men. They are called slave-traders, and their occupation is to kidnap every colored stranger they can lay their hands on. No matter whether he be free or not, his papers, if he chance to have any they can get at, are taken from him; and he is hurried to gaol, from whence, under pretence that the documents he has in his possession are not satisfactory, or that he is unable to pay the expenses of his arrest and detention, he is sent off to the southern market. Men, women, and children, indiscriminately, who come to Washington in search of employment, or to visit their friends, are liable to be carried off by these land-sharks; one of whom boasted to a man, from whom I had the statement, that he had just made forty dollars by a job. Proprietors of slaves would be ungrateful if they did not connive at the iniquities of the kidnapper. The net that is laid for the unfriended free man is pretty sure to catch the runaway. These villains deal with the drivers and agents, and sometimes with the planters themselves. A poor fellow, whose claims to freedom were pronounced defective, was purchased by one of them, not long ago, for a dollar, and sold the next day for four hundred. About the same time, a colored young woman was entering the city from the country, when she was pursued by one of these blood-hounds; and, to escape, threw herself into the river, and was drowned. No notice whatever was taken of this horrible occurrence by the public papers; though it was a matter of notoriety. Another woman, to save her children, who would all have been doomed to slavery, if her claims to freedom had been rejected, precipitated herself from the top of a house, where she was confined, and was so dreadfully mutilated and mangled that she was suffered to escape, because she was no longer fit for sale. There was no doubt that she was a free woman; but she knew a whole family of young slaves was too valuable a property not to turn the scale against her.
"Not long since," (see Niles's Reg. for July 1821,) "a negro man, at the moment of his transfer to one of these blood-merchants, cut his own throat on a public wharf at Baltimore; and, a few days ago, a negro woman, near Snow-hill in this State, (Maryland,) on being informed that she was sold, first cut the throat of her child, and then her own, --by which both of them immediately died."
Another, in the same year, at Baltimore, having been "sold to a dealer in human flesh for transportation, cut his own throat, and died at the moment when he was about to be delivered over to the bloodmerchant through his agent, a peace-officer." --Niles.
Many cases of extreme atrocity were related to me. One was that of an unfortunate girl, whose mistress, from ungrounded jealousy, employed some of her slaves to hold her down, and then, with her own hands, cut off the fore part of her feet. This was done during the absence of her husband. She was then carried bleeding into an adjoining wood, and left there to perish. It happened to be a frosty night, and her wounds were stanched by the cold.
Her life was eventually preserved by a good Samaritan, who, hearing her groans, went to her and carried her to his own home, where she continued to live; --her master, who had by chance discovered the place of her retreat, having presented her with her freedom, --partly in consideration of her sufferings, and partly to shield her from the resentment of his wife, who tried every art to get her into her power again. Were it not for the noble exertions that a few kind-hearted men, of whom I had the happiness to know two or three, are ready to make, as they have already made many, for the protection and defence of these helpless creatures, by far the greater part would be for ever deprived of their freedom; as it is very difficult for them, unfriended and unpitied, to establish a claim, which so many find it their interest to defeat or deny. Here, as in most, if not all, slave countries, the presumption is against liberty; and, contrary to every principle of moral and municipal law, a man is pronounced guilty because he cannot prove himself innocent. The onus is thrown upon the accused; and he is declared to be a slave, if he is unable to shew that he is free.
The committee of the House of Representatives on the district of Columbia, reported, in 1827, that this presumption, founded on immemorial usage, and sanctioned by judicial decisions, was so necessary to the security of slave-property, that, "although it may occasionally operate as a temporary hardship upon free persons of color, migrating to slave-holding States, from States in the Union where there exists no provision of law for the register of the evidences of emancipation or of freedom, they cannot recommend an abrogation of this long established priniciple." No doubt the Arabs and Algerines, the pirates of Cuba and Sumatra, have the same usages and principles: and what traveller or merchant would be allowed to dispute their justice, when once they have got him into their clutches?
Frequent petitions have been presented to congress, praying for the abolition of slavery in the district of Columbia: --nothing however has been done; and the memorials are no more respected than the subject or the signers. There is no part of the Union, from which the road to Washington leads through the temple of Liberty.
I was led, from seeing a great many advertisements in the papers, offering rewards for runaway slaves, more particularly in the case of a woman and three children, to infer, that with such facilities of escape, this species of property must be of a very precarious and evanescent nature. Upon inquiry, however, I found I had judged very erroneously of the vigilance exercised in its protection. Many of those, I was assured, for whose apprehension these rewards are offered, have already been sold by their owners; who have recourse to this expedient, either to escape public censure, or, as is more probable, to conceal the distress which has compelled them to part with a sort of property that is not easily replaced. Nearly all menial services are engrossed by this portion of the population, more especially in the hotels, where the free blacks are not likely to seek or to find employment. The latter are obliged to register their names at the proper offices in the district, and to give security for good behavior to the amount of 500 dollars. The fee for registration is one dollar and a quarter --about five shillings. Electors with us pay a shilling for this form. Personal liberty under a republic is thus five times as dear as political liberty under a limited monarchy.
Slaves on the farms are allowed a peck of Indian corn per week each, with the addition of a daily herring --a luxury which is far from being universal. Tavernkeepers and others who hire them of their masters, pay a certain sum per month, and feed them; the latter finding their clothing. One day I went to see the "slaves' pen" --a wretched hovel, "right against" the Capitol, from which it is distant about half a mile, with no house intervening. The outside alone is accessible to the eye of a visitor; what passes within being reserved for the exclusive observation of its owner, (a man of the name of Robey,) and his unfortunate victims. It is surrounded by a wooden paling fourteen or fifteen feet in height, with the posts outside to prevent escape, and separated from the building by a space too narrow to admit of a free circulation of air. At a small window above, which was unglazed and exposed alike to the heat of summer and the cold of winter, so trying to the constitution, two or three sable faces appeared, looking out wistfully to while away the time and catch a refreshing breeze; the weather being extremely hot. In this wretched hovel, all colors, except white --the only guilty one --both sexes, and all ages, are confined, exposed indiscriminately to all the contamination which may be expected in such society and under such seclusion. The inmates of the gaol, of this class I mean, are even worse treated; some of them, if my informants are to be believed, having been actually frozen to death, during the inclement winters which often prevail in the country. While I was in the city, Robey had got possession of a woman, whose term of slavery was limited to six years. It was expected that she would be sold before the expiration of that period, and sent away to a distance, where the assertion of her claim would subject her to ill-usage. Cases of this kind are very common.
There was at the time a man in the gaol, who had been taken up on suspicion; and, as no one claimed him, he was to be sold to pay his fees*.
On these occasions, free papers would be of little avail to the accused; as the gaoler has it in his power, and frequently takes an opportunity, to destroy them, unless some person appears personally to give evidence in his favor.
* By the following law, which prevails in the State of Mississippi, it will be seen that the same person, whose testimony is rejected on the presumption of dishonesty, may be punished on the presumption of integrity; and, while he is no more than a brute in the witness box, is, in prison, responsible as a man.
When any slave or slaves shall be committed to any jail in this State, as a runaway, &c., it shall be the duty of the jailer, &c., to interrogate him, &c., as to his, &c., owner's name, &c., and the account thus received, together with a description of the slave, &c., the jailer shall forthwith transmit by mail to the owner, &c., named by the slave; and, if the statement made by said slave, &c., shall prove to be false, it shall be the duty of the jailer, without delay, to give the said slave, &c., twenty-five lashes, well laid on, and interrogate him, &c., anew, and transmit the intelligence obtained, together with a description as aforesaid, to the owner, &c., again named, and whip as before directed, if a second false account is given ; and so on, for the space of six months, it shall be the duty of the jailer alternately to interrogate and whip as aforesaid, whenever the said slave; &c., may give a, false account, &c:," --that is, whenever he shews he is, what the man who flogs him, tells you he is --not to be trusted.
The Benevolent Society of Alexandria stated, in 1827, that they had, in the first nine or ten months of their existence, wrested twelve people of color from the grasp of the slave-traders; and that they had reason to believe there were several others, entitled to their freedom, who had been sold: "If it were not," they added, " for this detestable traffic, those who have a large number of slaves upon poor land," (such is most of the soil near Washington,) "would not long be enabled to hold them; as it generally takes the whole produce of their labor to clothe and support them; and the only profit of the owner is derived from the sale of the young ones."
A most flagrant instance of cruelty occurred a year at two ago. A married woman, with a family, who had left her free papers in charge of Judge Hooper, of Centreville, in Maryland, was persuaded by a man, to whom she had hired herself, to accompany a fellow, who was to assist her in procuring these documents as a security against those outrages which so, often happen, but who proved to be a kidnapper --a confederate of her employer. This man brought her to Washington, on her way to New Orleans, where he intended to sell her. Here she was purchased by a notorious fellow of the name of Simson, and imprisoned in a room destined to such purposes in Robey's tavern; where she was brutally flogged, because she would not give up the name of a friend, (a white,) who had been to see her. The person from whom I had this account, the wife of one of those benevolent men alluded to as the friends of the oppressed, obtained an interview with her; and a letter having been dispatched to Centreville in Virginia, an answer was received that no such person was known there. It was too late when this mistake was rectified. A corroboration of her statement was sent by the postmaster of Centreville in Maryland, on being applied to. --She was on the road to New Orleans.
It is customary, when a sufficient number of slaves is obtained by the traffickers in this horrid business, to send them to the South, under the care of the soul-drivers, as they are called, who receive so much per head. If there are any good-looking mulatto girls in the gang, their charges are diminished. I need not say how they are remunerated. Lest there should be any difficulty on the road, they themselves qualify their victims. The person, from whom I had these details, heard one of these wretches boast of this expedient, as a constant practice with him.
In the district of Columbia, but one person has suffered for a capital offence during a period of twenty years; and he was a colored man, for a felonious attempt: the accuser being a white woman. Absence of punishment, however, is far from proving absence of crime; for, during that time, not a single year elapsed that did not witness the murder of one or more slaves in the ten miles square.
Every stranger must observe a marked difference in public morals between Washington and the principal cities in the non-slave-holding States. Disproportionately greater as the population is in the latter, respect is had to external decency; nor would it be easy to know what is passing within any house in New England by the display at the windows in open day and in the most frequented streets.
As industry is dishonored here, one of the greatest auxiliaries to female virtue is removed where it is most required; --at the seat of gaiety and idleness, the resort of the profligate, the wealthy, and the luxurious, the great centre of attraction to the intriguer, the placehunter, and the political adventurer. The consequences are such as might be expected from a combination of influences so ruinous to unprotected youth.
As Congress is empowered to regulate commerce between the States, and has exclusive jurisdiction in the district of Columbia, to abolish slavery in the latter and to prohibit the internal slave-trade, through the federal government, are the chief political objects of the "fanatics" in the North.
A motion lately made in the legislature of Vermont, to dismiss a resolution on the system of slavery in Columbia, was carried by a majority of 103 to 90 only. It will probably be contended, that these matters are to be regulated by the laws of Virginia and Maryland, some of which are still in force here. Such a principle seems to be the only way of explaining an expression used some years ago by Mr. Adams, to a deputation from Philadelphia to Washington: --"You have no more right to interfere with Columbia than I with Pennsylvania."
At Washington, the pride of color is in full operation. Wherever, among the objects of its scorn, there are any who, by their talents or respectable conduct, are silently advancing those claims which force alone can put down, the utmost efforts are made to draft them off to another hemisphere. I found this to be invariably the case, whatever part of the country I visited. I was in company for two or three hours with several of this description here; and their observations all tended to the same conclusion. In those States where slave labor is unprofitable, (as I have before observed,) the transportation scheme is warmly supported, as it was at first started; where "great gain" is made out of the system, it is as warmly opposed, because it tends to keep up the price of what they deal in. The buyer, of course, says "it is naught": the seller knows better.
The changes that impend over communities may generally be seen in the expedients which those in power have adopted to counteract or retard them. The more absurd the plan, the more perplexed, it may be presumed, are the schemers, and the more certain is their discomfiture. It is the proper punishment of those who have not pursued "the best policy", that reason should desert those who have deserted justice. Never was this truth more clearly or more forcibly exemplified than in the conduct of Maryland, Virginia, and Kentucky. They are dying under "a sore disease", and they have recourse to a nostrum that compels its continuance, while it holds out the hope of its removal. They have overtraded in iniquity, and they are mortgaging their children's well-being by a fresh loan of wickedness. "Why", says a writer, in the Southern Agriculturist," has mirth deserted the halls of our forefathers? and why has the halloo of boyish revelry ceased to be heard through the spacious walks of our country gardens? Could those walks speak, or the shrubbery answer, they would tell us it was prodigality and bad management: it was because our fathers neglected to plan corn, pease, potatoes, and pumpions (?sic). Our forefathers had always raised enough of them on their plantations for all domestic purposes, without sacrificing their indigo crops to buy those essentials at an exorbitant price, when they were most needed; as our fathers often did afterwards in bartering their cotton for corn." If they had raised Indian corn, or any other essential, the result would have been the same; while the allurement of a high price for the staple they were raising was absorbing all the capital they could obtain into the vortex of speculation, without the possibility of withdrawing it. If a farmer or manufacturer has hired machinery, whether inanimate or not, he can get rid of it when he can no longer employ it with a profit to himself. If he has bought it, he loses what it cost him, together with the interest, when he cannot find a purchaser. What is he to do, if it will not work, when his eye is not upon it; and, whether it work or not, must be fed and clothed?
The disastrous effects produced by forced labor on the condition of the cultivator, were pointed out to me, unintentionally, by a Southerner whom I met one day at our Ambassador's table. I was observing to him that our law of descents, to which he said (I think erroneously) we are all so much attached, and with which he did not seem inclined to find fault, had not, I had good reason to believe, secured a longer duration of possession to our landholders than the farmers of New England enjoyed. "It often happens that one of the family takes the estate; and the others, receiving an equivalent for their sake, go off to the West." "It may be so in the East;" was his reply. "Here the family and the estate both go off together. After an absence of twenty years, I found, on my return from Europe, that most of my friends had disappeared: their property had been sold --they were ruined."
The framers of the American constitution seem to have studiously avoided the use of the word "slave," while they took special care that the property and political power annexed to its possession should be secured. They retained the thing while they discarded the term, as if they were ashamed of proclaiming their inconsistency to the world. In the 2d Sect. of the 1st Art. of this celebrated document, it is said, "Representation and direct taxes shall be apportioned among the several States, which may be included within this Union, according to their respective numbers; which shall be determined by adding to the whole numbers of free persons, including those bound to service for a term of years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three-fifths of all other persons."Again, alluding to the slave trade, (Sect. 9,) "The migration or importation of such persons as any of the States now existing shall think proper to admit, shall not be prohibited by the Congress prior to the year 1808; but a tax or duty may be imposed on such importation, not exceeding ten dollars for each person." This was drawn up and signed in 1787. Pretty well this for a people who complain that their ancestors forced slavery upon them! A singular way of shewing their abhorrence of the "fatal legacy entailed" upon them!
The only other allusion of the same kind is similarly guarded. It forms part of the 2d Sect. of the 4th Art., and is as follows: "No person held to service or labor in one State, under the laws thereof; shall be discharged from such service or labor, but shall be delivered up, on claim of the party to whom such service or labor may be due." To talk of a slave's labor being "due", to his master, is to insult common sense and common decency. While the latter can coin dollars out of the sweat and tears of his victim, he will do so. "The law allows it, and the court awards it." It is this clause, however, in the constitution, which renders the free States tributaries to the ambition of the slave States, and accessaries to all their guilt; --makes the boasted asylum of the persecuted the prison-house of the unfortunate, and converts the guardians of liberty into the turnkeys of its assassins.
Such is the nature of that instrument of independence which is founded on the assertion and the refusal of the same equal rights; which guarantees the enjoyment of freedom on the condition of its violation, and requires, as the price of political union, the sacrifice of all that can make political existence honorable. It is literally and truly, "propter vitam, vivendi perdere causas"--to build the republican form on the destruction of the republican spirit.
The Hartford Convention, which was called to deliberate on what were thought executive usurpations during the last war with England, recommended a revision of the constitution. Speaking of the federal basis of representation, its report says, "It has proved unjust and unequal in its operation. Had this effect been foreseen, the privilege would probably not have been demanded; --certainly not conceded. Its tendency in future will be adverse to that harmony and mutual confidence, which are more conducive to the happiness and prosperity of every confederated State, than a mere preponderance of power --the prolific source of jealousies and controversy --can be to any one of them. The time may therefore arrive, when a sense of magnanimity and justice will recommend those States to acquiesce in a revision of this article; especially as a fair equivalent would result to them in the apportionment of taxes.
A long and memorable discussion on the meaning of the word "person", took place in the lower house some seven or eight years back. A claim had been brought before it, by one Marigny d'Auterive, for compensation; one of his slaves, who, with a horse and cart, had been impressed by General Jackson at New Orleans, having been wounded. The damages were laid at 230 dollars, or some such sum. The claim for the horse and cart was granted, but that for the man refused by the committee on claims. The house, however, decided in its favor, by a majority of four --just the number of members from the State of New York who voted on that side. From the time occupied by this debate, which was carried on, day after day, with extraordinary heat and pertinacity by both parties, it may fairly be calculated that it cost the nation 10,000 dollars, and probably nearly twice that sum, to ascertain the nature and extent of that property which can be given by human laws to one man over another! The advocates for unmitigated and unqualified tyranny, pleading, for eight dollars a day, before the greatest and freest people under the sun, the right of placing a rational, immortal being, on the same level with an ox or a jackass! The southern members displayed more than their usual sensitiveness on this occasion. Mr. Livingston was particularly indignant at the imputed attempt to deprive them of their most valuable property." "Allow the claim," he said, "and you do no more than justice: --reject it on these principles and you shake the Union." Mr. Gurley said: --"Gentlemen say a master cannot kill his slave as he can his ox. This depends entirely upon the laws of the State in which he lives; and in no case can be urged against the right of property. Gentlemen should not forget, that the civil law, somewhat modified by statute, is the common law of Louisiana; and that, by the law of Rome, the master had absolute dominion over his slave, as he had over his child." "Slavery," exclaimed Mr. Mercer, "is as much a part of the constitution as the great right of representation; for though the word 'slave' is not used in that instrument, the condition is admitted. It is clothed with rights, and protected; and the laws of Congress, and the decisions of the supreme court, are practical and living illustrations of its being an integral part of our system of government."
Some of the northern
members were inclined to "go the whole hog," as the phrase is. Mr. Everett,
who had vindicated the system of slavery on a former occasion, and had,
like the great enemy of human liberty, shewn that he could "quote Scripture
for his purpose," said: --"The claim is founded on that amendment to the
constitution by which it is provided, that private property shall not be
taken for the public service, without full compensation. If it had been
suggested to introduce into this amendment of the constitution the words,
"except slaves," it would certainly have prevented the adoption of the
amendment, and might have proved destructive of the constitution itself.
By rejecting this claim, we virtually introduce such a qualification into
the constitution." He added -"If this service had been hired and not impressed,
would not his owner, in letting him, have said --'this is no ordinary service
I cannot consent to yield my slave on the common terms of compensation, as if he were to work in a plantation or a garden. You are going to put him in the lines --within the fire of the enemy, where the risk of life is imminent, and my loss is likely to be in proportion.' Such unquestionably would be the language of the owner; and, if he made the contract at all, it would be on condition of being indemnified for the risk." Still stronger language was used; --but it is sickening to go through the details. Enough has been quoted to make an honest man blush for his species-for that part, at least, which, in spite of its folly and wickedness, still calls itself civilized and Christian.
* This cold-blooded calculation is well illustrated in the following advertisement, which I found, among many others of the same kind, in a southern paper.
Five hundred laborers wanted. We will employ the above number of laborers to work on the Muscle Shoals Canal, &c., at the rates of fifteen dollars per month, for twenty-six working days; or we will employ negroes by the year, or for a less time, as may suit the convenience of planters. We will also be responsible to slave-holders, who will hire their negroes to us, for any injury or damage that may hereafter happen in the progress of blasting rock, or the caving in of banks. For information in regard to the health of the men, the fare, &c., we would refer, &c.
"HENRY and KIBBE."
May 24th, 1833."
The word " hereafter" seems to imply, that complaints had been made, or suspicions existed, against these contractors.
"Society," said one of the debaters, "has a right to the military services of a slave ; because it protects his life by the punishment annexed to his murder." The tie that connects duty and right is altogether wanting here. For whom --against whom is the slave to fight? The enemies of the community are not his enemies. He has no enemies out of his own country, and no friend but the Almighty. The past has no claim on his gratitude; and the future can excite no hope in his bosom. The isthmus that separates them is too narrow for a "Yankee " even to make a "notion " out of it.
The decision, to which the house came, gives, it may be observed, a direct bonus to slave-holding; as the owner thus obtains for his slave that indemnity which a master would not obtain for his apprentice.
What was the ultimate decision on D'Auterive's claim, which was returned to the committee, where it remained, for reconsideration, during the remainder --of the session, I know not --I believe it was, subsequently, in its favor.
In addition to the letter with which I was entrusted for Mr. Everett, I brought one for Mr. Polk; who called on me the very day I left it at his house, and invited me to drink tea with him that evening. I was received with that urbanity which I experienced from every well-bred American, to whom I had the slightest introduction. One of his guests was the serjeant-at-aims of the senate; and to him I was indebted the next day for an introduction into the house; where I remained listening to a discussion which a long-standing claim of two or three hundred dollars elicited from the members. Whether anxiety to save the public money, or a wish to earn their wages by a commensurate quantity of words, were the moving cause of so much debating, the time spent on the question was amply sufficient to satisfy any reasonable demand for economy or eloquence. If so much talking were allowed in the State legislatures, the session, if protracted to twelve months, would hardly suffice for the business of the year. The federal government has comparatively but little to do; and oratory finds a double stimulus, which a long session produces in the shape of fame and dollars. No wonder, therefore, that three, days are sometimes allotted to one speech, and three months to one subject; since all parties have an interest in delay; and the speaker is not more pleased with the "golden opinions" he wins, than his listeners with the treasurer's draft for a more solid specimen of the same metal. What with the eight dollars a-day, and the mileage money, the honorable members of congress, if so disposed, might make a "pretty thing" of their attendance at Washington. Living is reasonable at the hotels, and still more so at the boarding houses; --so that it is easy to calculate the advantages of combining thrift with patriotism, and serving one's self, while one is serving one's country.
Mr. David Buel, while delegate to the New York Convention, in 1821, declared that it had been an object with citizens in that State to obtain a seat in the legislature, for the purpose of making money out of the wages received for their public services.
By changing the mode of computation, one member of congress obtained more mileage by one half than another, who came from the same section of the country. In 1825, one senator from Missouri received 1700 dollars, while the other had 3300; though they both came from the same part of the State. Mr. Benton, of the senate, made a "constructive" journey from Washington to St. Louis and back during the night of March 3,1825, --while lying in bed at the former place; and charged and received for his mileage about 2600 dollars. Mr. Lyons from Kentucky "bagged" 276 dollars more than his due the difference arising from a charge for journeys by steam-boats on rivers, the sinuosities of which exceeded the usual distance by the road. As eight dollars are allowed per day for attendance, and the same sum for every twenty miles, which ought to be measured by the most usual road, it will be seen that long journeys and long speeches are equally profitable; and to deviate from the subject is as good a job as to deviate from the route.
In addition to wages and mileage, there is another source of gainful speculation for honorable legislators. It is the practice, it seems, from what passed in debate while I was at Washington, for government to favor them, occasionally, with a donation of certain works for their instruction and edification. Mr. King said, "Being determined not to have a library at the expense of the public, he had negotiated for the purchase of a work, which had been voted to members, at the cost of 55,000 dollars. The bookseller offered him an order on the clerk for a copy, which he had purchased from a member. Still further to prove his assertion, he referred to a notorious instance --for there had been no concealment-- of a senator (not now a member of the house) having sold for 900 dollars, to a foreign minister, the books he had received in this way for a single term of services."
After all, the representatives are probably worse paid than lawyers and physicians; as the remuneration for their services is below the ordinary profits of professional and commercial business; --the interruption to which ought not to be omitted in the calculation.
A few days after, I had an opportunity of hearing Mr. Clay speak in the Senate on presenting a petition from the city of Troy, in the State of New York. The subject was the removal from the bank of the Union by the Secretary of the Treasury of the public moneys. He spoke for about three quarters of an hour in a clear and manly voice, with much facility of expression and energy of manner. He had a good head and an erect person, with no great degree of dignity or grace. His style was not that of a man who has much imagination himself, or thinks it worth his while to set that faculty to work in his hearers. I do not, indeed, remember having ever heard so little of metaphorical or allusive language employed under the excitement which a favorite topic might be expected to produce, during the same period, on an orator whose aim is persuasion as well as conviction. It would be unfair, however, to judge of the orator from a specimen upon a topic that had been worn thread-bare by frequent repetition during several months. Mr. Clay alluded very happily to the recent election at New York; where the utmost efforts of the government party had resulted in a majority too contemptible to claim the honors of a triumph. Out of 35,147 voters, (a greater number by 4621 than ever polled before,) the majority was but 170, or some equally insignificant amount; the Jackson candidate for the mayoralty having a majority of more than 2400 in those wards where the greater part of the commercial wealth to be found in the city is situated. The Jackson majority of 6000, formerly carried, had melted away. The speaker congratulated (ironically) the president of the senate (Mr. Van Buren) on the great change in public opinion indicated by the circumstances attending this important struggle. The people, he said, would no longer submit to that power which had seized the sword and the purse --the chief instruments of despotism. One fact he mentioned vas very remarkable, and of such a nature as to sink all party feeling in anxiety for the constitution. Two months before congress met, the executive had displaced the secretary of the treasury, (Duane,) to make room for one more obedient to his will (Taney); yet, though the legislature had been sitting for four months, the appointment had not yet been referred to the senate for their approval --an unprecedented omission on the part of the chief magistrate. In the course of the speech, what had passed in the other house was cited; and its members were emphatically declared to have evaded the question. The senator grew more impassioned as he proceeded, and exclaimed, in a voice of thunder: That he would never confirm the appointment to office of any member of congress, till the constitution was restored; nor of any one, however high or humble, who had been an active partisan, or an abettor of those arbitrary acts, under which the commerce of the country had suffered so much and so long. Mr. Clay contrasted the flourishing condition exhibited, but a few months before, by those cities which grace and enrich the banks of the great north river, with the deranged and discontented state in which they then were; and alluded to the recent failure of no less than three banks in the district, within view of the dome, which rises above the halls of legislation. Mr. Clay's determination with regard to official appointments bestowed on the members of congress was strictly in accordance, as he stated, with the principles professed by the president, before his accession to office: but men in power have proverbially short memories. The orator trusted, in conclusion, that the house would concur with him in excluding from office all who had lent their aid to the wicked deeds of the administration.
The population of Washington, which amounted to 13,247 in 1820; exceeded 18,000 at the last census in 1830.
As commerce is not likely to desert Baltimore for the seat of the federal government, or encounter a successful rival at this point of the Potomac, it will be long before the original plan of the city is filled up. Nor is it desirable that the healthy action of a body so vast, and expanding so rapidly, should be impeded or deranged by too great an influx to the heart.
I question whether a whole life, spent in the crowded streets of New York or Philadelphia, would be marked by one such occurrence as I witnessed at the Capitol. I was conversing with a man who had accosted me with the observation that it was a noble building; adding, on my assent, that there was nothing, since the time of Solomon's temple, to be found like it on the face of the earth. I remarked that the edifice was suited to the people. "True!" he replied, "we are the greatest nation under the sun. At the revolution we were but a handful of men: we are now as countless as the sands of the sea." While we were talking together, two boys, about twelve or fourteen years of age, stationed themselves in front of us; and one of them exhibited a drawing that he evidently wished us to take notice of. I did not at first pay any attention to what he was doing; when, happening to direct my eyes towards him, I saw but too plainly his intention. The subject of the painting he held was the most indecent --the most detestable it is possible to imagine. It cannot be described in proper terms. I remonstrated with him upon the enormity of his conduct; but he was so totally devoid of every feeling like modesty or shame, that he burst out into a laugh, and withdrew with his companion, who was as depraved as himself. As for the man, he seemed to care very little about the matter or not to think it of any consequence.
There is a greater regard for decency even in Paris. A man in that city who offered for sale to myself and another Englishman some prints, which, from his manner, I conceived to be of a similar description, pleaded in excuse, when reproved for his conduct, that he wanted bread, or he would not be engaged in such a trade.
I discovered, soon after the lads had left us, that my companion had come to Washington from North Carolina for the purpose of buying slaves. He was about 600 miles from home, and it would take him about a month, he said, to get back: at an average cost per head of two dollars for his "coffle".
Soon after my rencontre with the North Carolinian, I was fortunate enough to get admittance into the body of the house of representatives; where the funeral service was performed for one of the members; the body being afterwards carried thence to the burying ground, which is upwards of a mile from the Capitol. Temporary deafness prevented me from deriving benefit from the prayer or the sermon. This inconvenience had so completely baffled the object of two or three visits I had before made to the gallery, as to convert the eloquence below into mere gesticulation. Its partial removal, a favorable position in the other house, enabled us, to catch distinctly both the tones of Mr. Clay's sonorous voice, and much of what was said by others. On the present occasion I had no resource but patience.
It was about midday, when the members of the two houses of Congress, the President and his "cabinet" were assembled; the body having been placed in front of the speaker's chair. There were not many visitors; an unusual number of deaths in the legislature having deprived the ceremony of its novelty. One of the events alluded to was the very shocking manner in which a member had terminated his existence with his own hand, under the influence of temporary derangement of mind brought on by habits of intemperance that had obtained an uncontrollable mastery over his will. The greater part of the audience, exclusive of those who attended officially, consisted of females; some of whom were below, and some in the gallery appropriated, with more Gallic than British gallantry, to the fair sex. The average age of the members appeared to be about forty. I was told it was forty-five. Taking either, or a lower number, as the correct one, it shews how unnecessary it is to require any qualification of the kind. Twenty-five is the minimum age in the house of representatives, as thirty is that in the senate. Matters of this sort are best decided by the electors, who need not look into a man's rent-roll or registry of birth for his intellect and integrity. Out of 126 delegates who composed the New York Convention, there was but one under thirty years of age: --there were forty-five between forty and fifty; and the same number between fifty and sixty: while between thirty and forty, the number was twenty-three only. The rest were from sixty to eighty.
As the procession was moving off towards the place of interment, I fell in with the searjeant-at-arms of the Senate, and went with him to the ground in one of the hackney coaches provided for the day. There were about 100 of then. In the coach with us, I recognised a lad, who had very politely given up his seat to me a short time before. As such marks of courtesy are not of very frequent occurrence in the country, --I had not been fortunate enough to see an instance of the kind before, --I took the opportunity of expressing my acknowledgements to him, and regretting that the rising generation were not taught the propriety of paying more attention to the minor duties of social life. I found he was in the same office with this gentleman, who made it a point to encourage the laudable habit; I may add, not less by example than by precept. It would be as well if there were more of these school-masters abroad. After the customary rites at the grave had been performed, the spectators and auditors dispersed.
The burying ground is neatly laid out with ever-greens and monuments. Those erected for the members of congress are plain, and all in the same style. It might be seen, by the paucity of them that the ceremony I had witnessed is not often performed.
I was again attracted to the Senate by the expectation of hearing the renewal of an unusually animated debate on a still more unusual message from the President; who had sent a sort of protest against the resolutions of the House on the absorbing question of the deposits: rebuking it for having, as he asserted gone beyond the limits of its legislative functions; and insisting on his own prerogatives. The lobby and galleries were crowded long before twelve o'clock, --the hour of commencing business. There were a great many women in the former: --I beg their pardon! --I should say, ladies*.
I observed to a lady with whom I was conversing, that I thought the American women dressed with greater taste than the English. Her reply reminded me of the distinction I have just pointed out. I do not know whether she understood the purport of my remark.
* A similar affectation prevails in England, There are no women among our higher classes; --they are all "persons"; and the men are fast disappearing in the same manner. Why do not the Americans laugh at our follies, instead of wincing at the exposure of their own? A Yankee Juvenal might find more employment for Democritus in London, than his prototype could have found for him in Rome.
I spoke of the sex in general. I am equally at a loss to know whether her observations were limited to the species: I changed my ground, and varied the phraseology with the subject. The same word responded to every variation. I meant nothing disrespectful; and if the phrase so constantly used by my fair neighbor be more appropriate to "Nature's last best work", be it so: I should be the last man to refuse the title, while I am the first to acknowledge the claim.
But I am forgetting President Jackson, while touching upon a much more agreeable subject.
After some preliminary matters had been gone through, Mr. Leigh, of Virginia, the expected orator of the day, rose from his seat, within a few yards of which I was standing, and addressed the House. His manner was mild, but forcible; and his person, though plain and unpretending, commanded attention. He seemed to be deeply impressed with the importance of the subject before him; and to be more influenced by a sense of duty to his country than by any party-feeling of hostility, or predilection. He drew a distinction, at the commencement of his speech, between the respectful moderation of language and the arbitrary spirit in motive and purport, exhibited in the protest which the executive had thought fit to make against the resolutions passed by the House upon his conduct in removing the public deposits from the custody appointed by Congress, and declared by them to be secure. He pointed out the inconsistency of denying the right to blame him, while he accepted with pleasure the resolutions of the same body in his favor. While one House had exceeded its legislative limits, the other was strictly within them; though both had passed judgment upon the chief head of the government, --the sole difference being that the latter had eulogized and supported him. Allusion was made in the message to some of the senators, who had voted contrary to the instructions they had received from it constituents. This interference with the priveleges and duties of the House, was at once to influence its deliberations and shackle its independence; and when it was asserted that "Congress could not take out of the hands of the executive department the custody of the public property, without an assumption of executive power, and a subversion of the first principles of the constitution", the sovereign power, if the attempt were not resisted, would be placed in the hands of the president; and the other parts of the government would have nothing to do but to register his edicts, and confirm his appointments. Such a prerogative was never claimed by any king of England; and no minister would dare take down such a message to either House of the British legislature. "When Dunning's memorable resolutions were passed," exclaimed the senator, "did the elder Pitt, --one of the proudest men that ever existed, --did he come down to the House of Commons, and tell them from his master that they had wandered from their legislative functions, and had condemned, without an impeachment, their sovereign? There was no man but one who would venture upon such a step; and that man was Andrew Jackson."
Mr. Leigh, having very successfully exposed the fallacies and false principles which the document in question contained, and its tendency to subvert the constitution, expressed his entire concurrence in the motion that the message should not be received. There was something so impressive in the tone of his voice, the unaffected order in which he arranged his ideas and his language, the ease with which he delivered his sentiments, and the solemn manner in which he expressed his conviction of the great emergency the nation was placed in, and his resolution to defend the constitution by defending the privileges of the senate, that my ideas of the importance of this branch of the legislature, and the dignity which attends its proceedings, were much more highly raised than by what I had heard from Mr. Clay, or any other member.
Mr. Leigh succeeded Mr. Rives, as one of the senators from Virginia, the latter having resigned his seat in consequence of a declaration from the legislature of that State in opposition to the measures of the federal administration. Mr. Leigh, however, had previously declared his resolution to obey the dictates of his own judgement as a legislator, and not to consider himself the mere "agent and advocate," as Burke calls it, of those whose interests he was to take care of.
An incident took place while Mr. Leigh was on his legs, that shewed how sensitive the supporters of the government are to any thing like the loss of popularity. An allusion made by him to the bill, by which Mr. Clay had, for the time, pacified the nullifiers, elicited from the gallery the mixed sounds of applause and disapprobation. The former, it is to be presumed, predominated, since Mr. Benton --as closely united by personal and political friendship to the president, as he was formerly separated from him by the most deadly hatred --rose abruptly from his seat, and ordering the galleries to be cleared by the proper officer, moved that the disturbers should be taken into custody by the serjeant-at-arms. This was as promptly opposed; it being impossible to discover the offenders, and to issue a general warrant would be an odious measure. The gallery was cleared, not without remonstrance or resistance; as dirks were drawn on the occasion, and Mr. Benton hoped he should not be represented, by the gentlemen he saw taking notes, as a friend to general warrants. If any one present dared to throw such an imputation upon him, he called upon him to come forward with the charge.
senate subsequently refused, by a majority of twenty-seven to sixteen,
to place the President's protest on the journals of the house. This rejected
reproof was aimed at the following condemnation of the reprover by the
Senate: --"Resolved, that the President, in the late executive proceedings,
in relation to the public revenue, has assumed upon himself authority and
power not conferred by the constitution and laws, but in derogation of
both." The above was offered by Mr. Clay, Dec. 26, 1833, and passed March
28, 1834, by a majority of 26 to 20.