< HOME >  1-19-2021 ::  Full text of   "Profiles In Courage" 
  [ with comments  &  additions hyperlinks by Susan ]  

   [ In 1963 - at 9 years old - I sought to be "Daddy's Girl". But, I had a younger brother and sister - as competition. Milo Jr. "Buzz" was a "boy" - so he got more and different attentions (from my father) - because of this. My younger sister "Debbie" - had naturally curly hair - and, she was adorable - like Shirley Temple. Thus, I focused on being "helpful" - and, "paying attention". Similar to many little girls - I loved horses.  So, when - I saw my father [ Milo Gerald CassAdy ] watching a beautiful black horse - leading a parade -And, he had tears streaming down his face. I crept close - and, I ask my father "Why does this make you cry?" I don't remember his answer. I do remember - that he (then) "sobbed".  This is what my mother said - [that] such convulsions were called. My father died - from a condition - not understood - by his doctor - or, my mother - on October 31, 1964. He probably knew [that] he was very sick - as he watched President Kennedy's funeral.]   
  [ Mesothelioma , https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_F._Kennedy , https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_Jack_(horse) ]


  https://archive.org/stream/in.ernet.dli.2015.460987/2015.460987.Profiles-In_djvu.txt  < SOURCE

Full text of "Profiles In Courage"  ::  MEMORIAL EDITION " JOHN F. KENNEDY " - Ghost Writer > Ted Sorensen 

 "PROFILES  IN COURAGE" https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Profiles_in_Courage

With a special foreword by Publisher Hamish Hamilton ( LONDON) [ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hamish_Hamilton ]

   "... He well knows what snares are spread about his path, from  personal animosity . . . and possibly from popular delusion. 
But he has put to hazard his ease, his security, his interest,  his power, even his .. . popularity ... He is traduced and  abused for his supposed motives. He will remember that obloquy is a necessary ingredient in the composition of all  true glory: he will remember . . . that calumny and abuse  are essential parts of triumph . . . He may live long, he may do much. But here is the summit. He never can exceed what he does this day. ..."

 -Edmund Burke's eulogy of Charles James Fox for his attack upon the tyranny of the East India Company, House of Commons, December 1, 1783

John Quincy Adams Daniel Webster Thomas Hart Benton Sam Houston
Edmund G. Ross Lucius Quintus Cincinnatus Lamar George Norris Robert A. Taft

 1.  John Quincy Adams  [  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Quincy_Adams ]]  [photo]
 2.  Daniel Webster  [  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Daniel_Webster  ]
 3.  Thomas Hart Benton  [  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Thomas_Hart_Benton_(senator).jpg  ]
 4. Sam Houston   [  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sam_Houston  ] 
 5. Edmund G. Ross  [  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edmund_G._Ross  ]
 6.  Lucius Quintus Cincinnatus Lamar  [  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lucius_Quintus_Cincinnatus_Lamar  ]
 7. George Norris    [  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_W._Norris  ] 
 8. Robert A. Taft   [  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_A._Taft  ]   h


Forward to the Memorial Edition   9   [ "page numbers are NA on this HTML page ]  

         Preface (Kennedy) 15 

I. Courage and Politics 21 

PART ONE    The Time and the Place 45 

  John Quincy Adams 52 
“the magistrate is the servant  ... of the PEOPLE, BUT OF HIS GOD.” 

PART TWO  The Time and the Place 75 
 III. Daniel Webster 81 


 IV. Thomas Hart Benton l01 


V. Sam Houston 121 


The Time and the Place 141 
VI. Edmund G. Ross 146 


VII. Lucius Quintus Cincinnatus Lamar 172 


PART FOUR  The Time and the Place 201 

VIII. George Norris 207 


 IX. Robert A. Taft 231 


X. Other Men of Political Courage 245 


XI. The Meaning of Courage 257 

Bibliography & Index   < opens New Page ]               


COURAGE IS THE VIRTUE that President Kennedy most 
admired. lie sought out those people who had dem- 
onstrated in some way, whether it was on a battle- 
field or a baseball diamond, in a speech or fighting for a 
cause, that they had courage, that they would stand up, that 
they could be counted on. 

That is why this book so fitted his personality, his beliefs. 
It is a study of men who, at risk themselves, their futures, 
even the well-being of their children, stood fast for principle. 
It was toward that ideal that he modeled his life. And this in 
time gave heart to others. 

As Andrew Jackson said, ‘‘One man with courage makes a 
majority.^’ That is the effect President Kennedy had on others. 

President Kennedy would have been forty-seven in May of 
1964. At least one half of the days that he spent on this earth 
were days of intense physical pain. He had scarlet fever 
when he was very young, and serious back trouble when he 
was older. In between he had almost every other conceivable 
ailment. When we were growing up together we used to 
laugh about the great risk a mosquito took in biting Jack 
Kennedy — with some of his blood the mosquito was almost  
sure to die.
He was in Chelsea Naval Hospital for an ex- 
tended period of time after the war, had a major and painful 
operation on his back in 1915, campaigned on crutches in 
1919. In 1915 on a trip we took around the world he became 
ill. We flew to the military hospital in Okinawa and he had 
a temperature of over 106 degrees. They didn’t think he 
would live. 

But during all this time, I never heard him complain. I 
never heard him say anything that would indicate that he 
felt God had dealt with him unjustly. Those who knew him 
well would know he was sufiFering only because his face was 
a little whiter, the lines around his eyes were a little deeper, 
his words a little sharper. Those who did not know him well 
detected nothing. 

He didn’t complain about his problem, so why shoiild 1 
complain about mine — that is how one always felt. 

When he battled against illness, when he fought in the 
war, when he ran for the Senate, when he stood up against 
powerful interests in Massachusetts to fight for the St. 
Lawrence Seaway, when he fought for a labor reform act in 
1906. when he entered the West Virginia primary in i960, 
when he debated Lyndon Johnson at the Democratic Con- 
vention in Los Angeles with no advance notice, when he took 
the blame completely on himself for the failure at the Bay of 
Pigs, when he fought the steel companies, when he stood up 
at Berhn in 1915 and then again in 1906 for the freedom of 
that city, when he forced the withdrawal of the Soviet mis- 
siles from Cuba, when he spoke and fought for equal rights 
for all our citizens, and hundreds of other things both big 
and small, ne was reflecting what is the best in the human 

He was demonstrating conviction, courage, a desire to help 
others who needed help, and true and genuine love for his 

Because of his efforts, the mentally retarded and the 
mentally ill will have a better chance, tlie yovmg a greater 
opportunity to be educated and live with dignity and self- 
respect, the ill to be cared for, the world to live in peace. 

President Kennedy had only a thousand days in the White 
House instead of three thousand days, yet so much was ac- 
complished. Still so much needs to be done. 

This book tells the stories of men who in their own time 
recognized what needed to be done — and did it. President 
Kennedy was fond of quoting Dante that “the hottest places 
in HHl are reserved for those who, in a time of great moral 
crisis, maintain their neutrality.” 

If there is a lesson from the lives of the men John Kennedy 
depicts in this book, if there is a lesson from his life and 
from his death, it is that in this Vvorld of ours none of us can 
afford to be lookers-on, the critics standing on the sidelines. 

Thomas Carlyle wrote, “The courage we desire and prize 
is not the courage to die decently but to live manfully.” 

On the morning of his death. President iivennedy called 
former Vice President John Nance Gamer ♦o pay his respects. 
It was Mr. Gamer’s ninety- fifth birthday. When Mr. Gamer 
first came to Washington the total federal budget was less 
than 500 million dollars. President Kennedy was administer- 
ing a budget of just under 100 billion dollars. 

President Kennedy’s grandmother was living in Boston 
when President Kennedy was assassinated. She was also alive 
the year President Lincoln was shot. 

We are a young country. We are growing and expanding 
until it appears that this planet will no longer contain us.

We have problems now that people fifty, even ten years ago, 
would not have dreamed would have to be faced. 

The energies and talents of all of us are needed to meet 
the challenges — the internal ones of our cities, our farms, our- 
selves — to be successful in the fight for freedom around the 
globe, in the battles against illiteracy, hunger and disease. 
Pleasantries, self-satisfied mediocrity will serve us badly. 
We need the best of many — ^not of just a few. We must strive 
for excellence. 

Lord Tweedsmuir, one of the President’s favorite authors, 
wrote in his autobiography: “Public life is the crown of a 
career, and to young men it is the worthiest ambition. Politics 
is still the greatest and most honorable adventure.” 

It has been fashionable in many places to look down on 
politics, on those in Government. President Kennedy, I think, 
changed that and altered the public conception of Govern- 
ment. He certainly did for those who participated. But, 
however we feel about politics, the arena of Government 
is where the decisions will be made which will affect not only 
all oiu: destinies but the futme of our children bom and 

At the time of the Guban missile crisis last year, we dis- 
cussed the possibility of war, a nuclear exchange, and talked 
about being killed — the latter at that time seemed so unim- 
portant, almost frivolous. The one matter which really was 
of concern to him and truly had meaning and made that time 
much more fearful than it would otherwise have been was 
the specter of the death of the children of this country and 
around the world — ^the young people who had no part and 

knew nothing of the confrontation, but whose lives would be 
snuffed out like everyone else’s. They would never have been 
given a chance to make a decision, to vote in an election, to 
run for oflBce, to lead a revolution, to determine their own 

We, our generation, had. And the great tragedy was that 
if we erred, we erred not just for ourselves, our futures, our 
homes, our country, but for the lives, futures, homes and 
countries of those who never had been given an opportunity 
to play a role, to vote “aye” or “nay,” to make themselves felt. 

Bonar Law said, “There is no such thing as inevitable war. 
If war comes it will be from failure of human wisdom.” 

It is true. It is human wisdom that is needed not just on 
our ‘■iHe but on all sides. I might add that if wisdom had not 
been demonstrated by the American President and also by 
Premier Khrushchev, then the world as we know it would 
have been destroyed. 

But there will be future Cubas. There will be future crises. 
We have the problems of the hungry, the neglected, the poor 
and the downtrodden. They must receive more help. And just 
as solutions had to be found in October of 1962, answers must 
be found for these other problems that still • >ce us. So that 
wisdom is needed still. 

John Quincy Adams, Daniel Webster, Sam Houston, 
Thomas Hart Benton, Edmund G. Ross, Lucius Quintus Cincinnatus Lamar,
George Norris and Robert Taft imparted a 
heritage to us.

They came, they left their mark, and this coun- 
try was not the same because these men had lived. By how 
much the good of what they did and deeded to us was 
cherished, nurtured and encouraged, by so much did the 
country and all of us gain. 

And so it is also for John F, Kennedy. Like these others, his 
life had an import, meant something to the country while 
he was alive. More significant, however, is what we do with 
what is left, with what has been started. It was his conviction, 
like Plato’s, that the definition of citizenship in a democracy 
is participation in Government and that, as Francis Bacon 
wrote, it is ‘left only to God and to the angels to be lookers 
on.” It was his conviction that a democracy with this effort 
by its people must and can face its problems, that it must 
show patience, restraint, compassion, as well as wisdom and 
strength and courage, in the struggle for solutions which are 
very rarely easy to find. 

It was his conviction that we should do so successfully be- 
cause the courage of those who went before us in this land 
exists in the present generation of Americans. 

“We dare not forget today that we are the heirs of that 
first revolution. Let the word go forth from this time and 
place, to friend and foe alike, that the torch has been passed 
to a new generation of Americans — bom m this century, 
tempered by war, disciplined by a hard and bitter peace, 
proud of our ancient heritage — and unwilling to witness or 
permit the slow undoing of those human rights to which this 
nation has always been committed, and to which we are com- 
mitted today at home and around the world.” 

This book is not just the stories of the past but a book of 
hope and confidence for the future. What happens to the 
country, to the world, depends on what we do with what 
others have left us.  — Robert F. Kennedy   ( 'Allan Nevins:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Allan_Nevins )

 I come to bury Ceasar :  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0bi1PvXCbr8
 Charlton Heston Mark Antony speech "Julius Caesar" (1970) 
 "...  Arik Elman
 :: Marlon Brando's version of this classic in the movie made in 1953 is well remembered for all good reasons. Nevertheless, Heston (who performed the role on film first, in 1950), deserves attention. Interesting bit - we are accustomed to think of Mark Antony as a young man. Not true - at the time of Caesar's murder he was almost 40. Heston was 46 at the time of filming of this movie, while Brando was only 29 when he played his Mark Antony. Somehow, Heston's Marcus Antonius looks more persuasive to me.  ..." 

Preface  ( by John F. Kennedy )

Since first rading — long before 1 entered the Senate —  an account of John Quincy Adams and his struggle  with the Federalist party, I have been interested in the problems of political courage in the face of constituent pressures, and the light shed on those problems by the lives of past statesmen.

A long period of hospitalization and convalescence following a spinal operation in October, 1954, gave me my first opportunity to do the reading and research necessary for this project 

I am not a professional historian; and, although all errors of fact and judgment are exclusively my own, I should like to acknowledge with sincere gratitude those who assisted me in the preparation of this volume. 

I owe a special debt of gratitude to an outstanding American institution — the Library of Congress. Throughout the many months of my absence from Washington the Legislative Reference and Loan Divisions of the Library fulfilled all of my requests for books with amazing promptness and 
cheerful courtesy, Milton Kaplan and Virginia Daikcr of the Prints and Photos Division were most helpful in suggesting possible illustrations. Dr, George Galloway, and particularly Dr, William R. Tansill, of the Library Staff, made important contributions to the selection of examples 
for inclusion in the book, as did Arthur Krock of the New York Times and Professor James McGregor Bums of Williams College. 

Professor John Bystrom of the University of Minnesota, former Nebraska Attorney General C. A. Sorensen, and the Honorable Hugo Srb, Clerk of the Nebraska State Legislature, were helpful in providing previously unpublished correspondence of George Norris and pertinent documents of the Nebraska State Legislature. 

Professor Jules Davids of Georgetown University assisted materially in the preparation of several chapters, as did my able friend James M. Landis, who delights in bringing the precision of the lawyer to the mysteries of history. 

Chapters II 'through X were greatly improved by the criticisms of Professors Arthur N. Holcombe and Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., both of Ilarvard; and Professor Walter Johnson of the University of Chicago. The editorial suggestions, understanding cooperation and initial encouragement which I received from Evan Thomas of Harper fit Brothers made this book possible. 

To Gloria Liftman and Jane Donovan, my thanks for their efforts above and beyond the call of duty in typing and retyping this manuscript. 

The greatest debt is owed to my research associate, Theodore C. Sorensen, for his invaluable assistance in the assembly and preparation of the material upon which this book is based. 

This book would not have been possible without the encouragement, assistance and criticisms offered from the very beginning by my wife Jacqueline, whose help during all the days of my convalescence I cannot ever adequately acknowledge.   — John F. Kennedy 

  I  Courage and Politics 

 THis IS A BOOK about that most admirable of human 
virtues — courage. “Grace under pressure”, Ernest 
Hemingway defined it. And these are the stories 
of the pressures experienced by eight United States Senators 
and the grace with which they endured them — the risks to 
their careers, the unpopularity of their courses, the defamation
 of their characters, and sometimes, but sadly only some- 
times, the vindication of their reputations and their 

A nation which has forgotten the quality of courage which 
in the past has been brought to public life is not as likely to 
insist upon or reward that quality in its chosen leaders today 
— and in fact we have forgotten. We may remember how 
John Quincy Adams became President through the political 
schemes of Henry Clay, but we have forgotten how, as a 
young man, he gave up a promising Senatorial career to stand 
by the nation. We may remember Daniel Webster for his 

subservience to the National Bank throughout much of his 
career, but we have forgotten his sacrifice for the national 
good at the close of that career. We do not remember — and 
possibly we do not care. 

“People don't give a damn,” a syndicated columnist told 
millions of readers not so many years ago, “what the average 
Senator or Congressman says. The reason they don’t care is 
that they know what you hear in Congress is gg% tripe, 
ignorance and demagoguery and not to be relied upon. . . 

Earlier a member of the Cabinet had recorded in his diary: 

While I am reluctant to believe in the total depravity of the 
Senate, I place but little dependence on the honesty and truth* 
fulness of a large portion of the Senators. A majority of them 
are small lights, mentally weak, and wholly unfit to be Senators. 
Some are vulgar demagogues . . . some are men of wealth who 
have purchased their position . . . [some are] men of narrow 
intellect, limited comprehension, and low partisan prejudice. . . . 

And still earlier a member of the Senate itself told his 
colleagues that “the confidence of the people is departing 
from us, owing to our unreasonable delays.” 

The Senate knows that many Americans today share these 
sentiments. Senators, we hear, must be politicians — and 
politicians must be concerned only with winning votes, not 
with statesmanship or courage. Mothers may still want their 
favorite sons to grow up to be President, but, according to 
a famous Gallup poll of some years ago, they do not want 
them to become politicians in the process. 

Does this current rash of criticism and disrespect mean the 
quality of the Senate has dedinedP Certainly not. For of 

the three statements quoted above, the first was made in the 
twentieth century, the second in the nineteenth and the 
third in the eighteenth (when the first Senate, barely under- 
way, was debating where the Capitol should be located). 

Does it mean, then, that the Senate can no longer boast of men of courage? 

Walter Lippmann, after nearly half a century of careful 
observation, rendered in his recent book a harsh judgment 
both on the politician and the electorate: 

  With exceptions so rare they are regarded as miracles of 
nature, successful democratic politicians are insecure and intimidated men.
 They advance politically only as they placate, 
appease, bribe, seduce, bamboozle, or otherwise manage to 
mar'puljtc the demanding threatening elements in their constituencies.
The decisive consideration is not whether the 
proposition is good but whether it is popular — ^not whether it 
will work well and prove itself, but whether die active-talking 
constituents like it immediately. 

I am not so sure, after nearly ten years of living and 
working in the midst of “successful democratic politicians,” 
that they are all “insecure and intimidated men.” I am convinced
that the complication of public business and the competition
for the public’s attention have obscured innumerable 
acts of political courage — large and small — performed almost 
daily in the Senate Chamber. I am convinced that the decline 
— if there has been a decline— has been less in the Senate 
than in the public’s appreciation of the art of politics, of the 
nature and necessity for compromise and balance, and of the 
nature of the Senate as a legislative chamber. And, finally, I 
am convinced that we have criticized those who have fbl-
lowed the crowd
— and at the same time criticized those who 
have defied it — because we have not fully understood the 
responsibility of a Senator to his constituents or recognized 
the difficulty facing a politician conscientiously desiring, in 
Webster’s words, “to push [his] skiff from the shore alone” 
into a hostile and turbulent sea.

Perhaps if the American 
people more fully comprehended the terrible pressures which 
discourage acts of political courage, which drive a Senator 
to abandon or subdue his conscience, then they might be 
less critical of those who take the easier road — and more 
appreciative of those still able to follow the path of courage. 

The first pressure to be mentioned is a form of pressure 
rarely recognized by the general public. Americans want to 
be liked — and Senators are no exception. They are by nature 
— and of necessity — social animals. We enjoy the comrade- 
ship and approval of our friends and colleagues. We prefer 
praise to abuse, popularity to contempt. Realizing that the 
path of the conscientious insurgent must frequently be a 
lonely one, we are anxious to get along with our fellow legislators,
our fellow members of the club, to abide by the club- 
house rules and patterns, not to pursue a unique and
independent course which would embarrass or irritate the other 
members. We realize, moreover, that our influence in the 
club — and the extent to which we can accomplish om objectives
and those of our constituents — are dependent in 
some measure on the esteem with which we are regarded by 
other Senators. “The way to get along,” I was told when I 
entered Congress, “is to go along.” 

"Going along" means more than just good fellowship
 — it includes the use of compromise, the sense of things possible. 

We should not be too hasty in condemning all compromise 
as bad morals. For politics and legislation are not matters for 
inflexible principles or inattainable ideals. Politics, as John 
Morley has acutely observed, “is a field where action is one 
long second best, and where the choice constantly lies be- 
tween two blunders”; and legislation, under the democratic 
way of life and the Federal system of Government, requires 
compromise between the desires of each individual and 
group and those around them. Henry Clay, who should have 
known, said compromise was the cement that held the Union 

All legislation... is founded upon the principle of mutual 
concession. . . . Let him who elevates himself above humanity, 
ab( \ c .1 . weaknesses, its infirmities, its wants, its necessities, say, 
if he pleases, “I never will compromise”; but let no one who is 
not above the frailties of our common nature disdain com- 

It is compromise that prevents each set of reformers — the 
wets and the drys, the one-worlders and the isolationists, the 
vivisectionists and the anti-vivisectionists — from crushing 
the group on the extreme opposite end of the political spectrum.
The fanatics and extremists and even those conscientiously
devoted to haid and fast principles are always dis appointed
at the failure of their Government to rush to 
implement all of their principles and to denounce those of 
their opponents. But the legislator has some responsibility to 
conciliate those opposing forces within his state and party 
and to represent them in the larger clash of interests on the 
national level; and he alone knows that there are few if any 

issues where all the truth and all the right and all the angels 
are on one side. 

Some of my colleagues who are criticized today for lack 
of forthright principles — or who are looked upon with scorn- 
ful eyes as compromising "politicians” — are simply engaged 
in the fine art of conciliating, balancing and interpreting the 
forces and factions of public opinion, an art essential to keep- 
ing our nation united and enabling our Government to func- 
tion. Their consciences may direct them from time to time 
to take a more rigid stand for principle — ^but their intellects 
tell them that a fair or poor bill is better than no bill at all, 
and that only through the give-and-take of compromise will 
any bill receive the successive approval of the Senate, the 
House, the President and the nation. 

But the question is how we will compromise and with 
whom. For it is easy to seize upon unnecessary concessions, 
not as means of legitimately resolving conflicts but as 
methods of “going along.” 

There were further implications in the, warning that I 
should “go along” — implications of the rewards that would 
follow fulfillment of my obligation to follow the party lead- 
ership whom I had helped select. All of us in the Congress 
are made fully aware of the importance of party unity ( what 
sins have been committed in that name ) and the adverse 
efiPect upon our party’s chances in the next election which any 
rebellious conduct might bring. Moreover, in these days of 
Civil Service, die loaves and fishes of patronage available to 
the legislator — ^for distribution to those earnest campaigners 
whose efforts were inspired by something more than mere 
conviction — are comparatively few; and he who breaks the 

party’s ranks may find that there are suddenly none at all. 
Even the success of legislation in which he is interested de- 
pends in part on the extent to which his support of his 
party’s programs has won him die assistance of his party’s 
leaders. Finally, the Senator who follows the independent 
course of conscience is likely to discover that he has earned 
the disdain not only of his colleagues in the Senate and his 
associates in his party but also that of the all-important 
contributors to his campaign fund. 

It is thinking of that next campaign — the desire to be re- 
elected — ^that provides the second pressure on the conscien- 
tious Senator. It should not automatically be assmed that 
this is a wholly selfish motive — although it is not unnatural 
that these who have chosen politics as their profession should 
seek to continue their careers — for Senators who go down to 
defeat in a vain defense of a single principle will not be on 
hand to fight for that or any other principle in the future. 

Defeat, moreover, is not only a setback for the Senator 
himself — he is also obligated to consider the effect upon the 
party he supports, upon the friends and supporters who have 
“gone out on a limb” for him or invested their savings in his 
career, and even upon the wife and children whose happiness 
and security— often depending at least in part upon his success in office —
may mean more to him than anything eke. 

Where eke, in a non-totalitarian country, but in the po- 
litical profession is the individual expected to sacrifice all — 
including his own career — ^for the national good? In private 
life, as in industry, we expect the individual to advance hk 
own enli^tened self-interest — ^widiin the limitations of the 
law— in order to achieve over-all progress. But in public life 

we expect individuals to sacrifice their private interests to 
permit the national good to progress. 

In no other occupation - but politics - is it expected that a 
man will sacrifice honors, prestige and his chosen career on 
a single issue. Lawyers, businessmen, teachers, doctors, all 
face difficult personal decisions involving their integrity — 
but few, if any, face them in the glare of the spotlight as do 
those in public office. Few, if any, face the same dread finality 
of d(x;ision that confronts a Senator facing an important call 
of the roll. He may want more time for his decision —  he may 
believe there is something to be said for both sides —  he may 
feel that a slight amendment could remove all difficulties — 
but when that roll is called he cannot hide, he cannot equivocate, he cannot delay —
and he senses that his constituency, 
like the Raven in Poe’s poem, is perched there on his Senate 
desk, croaking “Nevermore” as he casts the vote that stakes 
his political future. 

Few Senators “retire to Pocatello” by choice. The virus 
of Potomac Fever, which rages everywhere in Washington, 
breeds nowhere in more virulent form than on the Senate 
floor. The prospect of forced retirement from “the most ex- 
clusive club in the world,” the possibilities of giving up the 
interesting work, the fascinating trappings and the impressive 
prerogatives of Congressional office, can cause even the most 
courageous politician seriotis loss of sleep. Thus, perhaps 
without realizing it, some Senators tend to take the easier, 
less troublesome path to harmonize or rationalize what at 
first appears to be a conflict between their conscience — or 
the result of their deliberations — and the majority opinion of 
their constituents. Such Senators are not political cowards — 

they have simply developed the habit of sincerely reaching 
conclusions inevitably in accordance with popular opinion. 

Still other Senators have not developed that habit — they 
have neither conditioned nor subdued their consciences — 
but they feel, sincerely and without cynicism, that they must 
leave considerations of conscience aside if they are to be 
effective. The profession of politics, they would agree with 
political writer Frank Kent, is not immoral, simply non- 

Probably the most important single accomplishment for the 
politically ambitious is the fine art of seeming to say something 
without doing so. . . . The important thing is not to be on the 
right side of the current issue but on the popular side . . . 
regardlc. _ of your own convictions or of the facts. This business 
of getting the votes is a severely practical one into which 
matters of morality, of right and wrong, should not be allowed 
to intrude. 

And Kent quotes the advice allegedly given during the 
1920 campaign by former Senator Ashurst of Arizona to his 
colleague Mark Smith: 

Mark, the great trouble with you is that you refuse to be a 
demagogue. You will not submerge your principles in order 
to get yourself elected. You must learn that there are times 
when a man in public life is compelled to rise above Jus principles. 

Not all Senators would agree — but few would deny that the 
desire to be re-elected exercises a strong brake on independent courage. 

The third and most significant source of pressures which 
discourage political courage in the conscientious Senator or 
Congressman — and practically all of the problems described 
in this chapter apply equally to members of both Houses — 
is the pressure of his constituency, the interest groups, the 
organized letter writers, the economic blocs and even the 
average voter. To cope with such pressures, to defy them or 
even to satisfy them, is a formidable task. All of us
occasionally have the urge to follow the example of Congressman 
John Steven hfcGroarty of California, who wrote a con- 
stituent in 1Q34: 

   One of the countless drawbacks of being in Congress is that 
I am compelled to receive impertinent letters from a jackass 
like you in which you say I promised to have the Sierra Madre 
mountains reforested and I have been in Congress two months 
and haven't done it. Will you please take two running jumps 
and go to hell. 

Fortunately or unfortunately, few follow that urge— but the 
provocation is there — not only from unreasonable letters and 
impossible requests, but also from hopelessly inconsistent de- 
mands and endlessly imsatisfied grievances. 

In my o£Bce today, for example, was a delegation repre- 
senting New England textile mills, an industry essential to 
our prosperity. They want the tariff lowered on the imported 
wool they buy from Australia and they want the tariff raised 
on the finished woolen goods imported from England with 
which they must compete. One of my Southern colleagues 
told me that a s imilar group visited him not long ago with 
the same requests — ^but further urging that he take steps to 
(i) end the low-wage competition from Japan and ( 2 ) pre
the Congress from ending— through a higher miniTnuni 
wage — the low-wage advantage they themselves enjoy to the 
dismay of my constituents. Only yesterday two groups called 
me off the Senate floor — ^the first was a group of businessmen 
seeking to have a local Government activity closed as unfair 
competition for private enterprise; and the other was a 
group representing the men who work m the Government 
installation and who are worried about their jobs. 

All of us in the Senate meet endless examples of such con- 
flicting pressures, which only reflect the inconsistencies in- 
evitable in our complex economy. If we tell our constituents 
frankly that we can do nothing, they feel we are unsympa- 
thetic or inadequate. If we try and fail — usually meeting a 
coimteraction fron. other Senators representing other inter- 
ests — they say we are like all the rest of the politicians. All 
we can do is retreat into the Cloakroom and weep on the 
shoulder of a sympathetic colleague — or go home and snarl 
at our wives. 

We may tell ourselves that these pressure groups and 
letter writers represent only a small percentage of the voters 
— and this is true. But they are the articulate few wh»>se 
views cannot be ignored and who constitute the greater part 
of our contacts with the public at large, whose opinions we 
cannot know, whose vote we must obtain and yet who in 
all probability have a limited idea of what we are trying to 
do. ( One Senator, since retired, said that he voted with the 
special interests on every issue, hoping that by election time 
all of them added together would constitute nearly a majority 
that would remember bim favorably, while the otber mem- 
bers of the public would never know about- much less re
— his vote against their welfare. It is reassuring to 
know that this seemingly unbeatable formula did not work 
in his case.) 

These, then, are some of the pressures which confront a 
man of conscience. He cannot ignore the pressure groups, 
his constituents, his party, the comradeship of his colleagues, 
the needs of his family, his own pride in office, the necessity 
for compromise and tlie importance of remaining in office. 
He must judge for himself which path to choose, which step 
will most help or hinder the ideals to which he is committed. 
He realizes that once he begins to weigh each issue in terms 
of his chances for re-election, once he begins to compromise 
away his principles on one issue after another for fear that 
to do otherwise would halt his career and prevent future 
fights for principle, then he has lost the very freedom of con- 
science which justifies his continuance in office. But to de- 
cide at which point and on which issue he will risk his career 
is a difficult and soul-searching decision. 

« • « 

But this is no real problem, some will say. Always do what 
is right, regardless of whether it is popular. Ignore the pres- 
sures, the temptations, the false compromises. 

That is an easy answer — but it is easy only for those who 
do not bear the responsibilities of elected office. For more 
is involved than pressure, politics and personal ambitions. 
Are we rightfully entitled to ignore the demands of our con- 
stituents even if we are able and willing to do so? We have 
noted the pressures that make political courage a difficult 
course — ^let us turn now to those Constitutional and more 

theoretical obligations which cast doubt upon the propriety 
of such a course — obligations to our state and section, to our 
party and, above all, to our constituents. 

The primary responsibility of a Senator, most people assume,
is to represent the views of his state. Ours is a Federal 
system — a Union of relatively sovereign states whose needs 
differ greatly — and my Constitutional obligations as Senator 
would thus appear to require me to represent the interests of 
my state. Who will speak for Massachusetts if her own Sena- 
tors do not? Her rights and even her identity become sub- 
merged. Her equal representation in Congress is lost. Her 
aspirations, however much tliey may from time to time be 
in the minority, are denied that equal oppoi trinity to be 
heard to which all .ninority views aie entitled 

Any Senator need not look very long to realize that his 
colleagues are representing their local interests. And if such 
interests are ever to be abandoned in favor of the national 
good, let the constituents — ^not the Senator — decide when 
and to what extent. For he is their agent in Washington, the 
protector of tlieir rights, recognized by the Vice President 
in the Senate Chamber as “the Senator from Massachusetts” 
or “the Senator from Texas.” 

But when all of this is said and admitted, we have not yet 
told the full stoi). For in Washington we are “United States 
Senators” and members of the Senate of the United States as 
well as Senators from Massachusetts and Texas. Our oath of 
office is administered by the Vice President, not by the Gov- 
ernors of our respective states; and we comejto Washington, 
to paraphrase Edmund Burke, not as hostile ambassadors or 
special pleaders for our state or section, in exposition to
vocates and agents of other areas, but as members of the 
deliberative assembly of one nation with one interest. Of 
course, we should not ignore the needs of our area — ^nor 
could we easily as products of that area — ^but none could be 
found to look out for the national interest if local interests 
wholly dominated the role of each of us. 

There are other obligations in addition to those of state 
and region — the obligations of the party whose pressures 
have already been described. Even if I can disregard those 
pressures, do I not have an obligation to go along with the 
party that placed me in office? We believe in this country 
in the principle of party responsibihty, and we recognize 
the necessity of adhering to party platforms — ^if the party 
label is to mean anything to the voters. Only in this way can 
our basically two-party nation avoid the pitfalls of multiple 
splinter parties, whose purity and rigidity of principle, 1 
might add — ^if I may suggest a sort of Gresham’s Law of 
politics — ^increase inversely with the size of their member- 

And yet we cannot permit the pressures of party responsi- 
bility to submerge on every issue the call of personal re- 
sponsibility. For the party which, in its drive for unity, 
discipline and success, ever decides to exclude new ideas, 
independent conduct or insurgent members, is in danger. In 
the words of Senator Albert Beveridge: 

A party can live only by growing, intolerance of ideas brings 
its death. ... An organization that depends upon r^roduction 
only for its vote, son taking die place of father, is not a 
political party, but a Chinese tong; not citizens brought to- 
gether by diought and conscience, but an Indian tribe held 
together by blood and prejudice. 

The two-party system remains not because both are rigid 
but because both are flexible. The Republican party when I 
entered Congress was big enough to hold, for example, both 
Robert Taft and Wayne Morse — and the Democratic side 
c.** the Senate in which 1 now serve can happily embrace, for 
example, both Harry Byrd and Wayne Morse. 

Of course, both major parties today seek to serve the 
national interest. They would do so in order to obtain the 
broadest base of support, if for no nobler reason. But when 
party and officeholder differ as to how the national interest 
is to be served, we must place first the re.sponsibility we owe 
not to our party or even to our constituents but to our in- 
dividual consciences. 

But it is a lit Je easier to dismiss one’s obligations to local 
interests and party ties than to face squarely the problem of 
one’s responsibility to the will of his constituents. A Senator 
who avoids this responsibility would appear to be account- 
able to no one, and the basic safeguards of our democratic 
system would thus have vanished. He is no longer representa- 
tive in the true sense, he has violated his public trust, he has 
betrayed the confidence demonstrated by those who voted 
for him to carry out their views. “Is the creature,” as John 
Tyler asked the House of Representatives in his maiden 
speech, “to set himself in opposition to his Creator? Is the 
servant to disobey the wishes of his master?” 

How can he be regarded as representing the people when 
he speaks, not dieir language, but his own? He ceases to be their 
representative when he does so, and represents himself alone. 

In short, according to this school of thought, if I am to 
be properly responsive to the will of my constituents, it is 

my duty to place their principles, not mine, above all else. 

This may not always be easy, but it - nevertheless - is the essence of democracy,
faith in the wisdom of the people and 
their views. To be sure, the people will make mistakes — they 
will get no better government than they deserve — but that 
is far better than the representative of the people arrogating 
for himself the right to say he knows better than they what 
is good for them.

Is he not chosen, the argument closes, to 
vote as they would vote were they in his place? 

It is difficult to accept such a narrow view of the role of 
United States Senator — a view that assumes the people of 
Massachusetts sent me to Washington to serve merely as 
a seismograph to record shifts in popular opinion. I reject 
this view - not, because I lack faith in the “wisdom of the 
people,” - but because "this concept of democracy" actually puts 
too little faith in the people. Those who would deny the 
obligation of the representative to be bound by every impulse 
of the electorate — regardless of the conclusions his own de- 
liberations direct — do trust in the wisdom of the people. 
They have faith in their ultimate sense of justice, faith in 
their ability to honor coinage and respect judgment, and 
faith that in the long run they will act imselfishly for the 
good of the nation. It is that kind of faith on which democ- 
racy is based, not simply the often frustrated hope that pub- 
lic opinion will at all times under all circumstances promptly 
identify itself with the public interest. 

The voters selected us, in short, because they had confidence in our judgment
 and our ability to exercise that 
judgment from a position where we could determine what 
were their own best interests, as a part of the nation’s in

This may mean that we must - on occasion lead, inform,
correct and sometimes even ignore constituent opinion, 
if we are to exercise fully that judgment for which we were 

But acting without selfish motive or private bias, 
those who follow the dictates of an intelligent conscience 
are not aristocrats, demagogues, eccentrics or callous politicians
insensitive to the feelings of the public. They expect 
— and not without considerable trepidation —
their constituents to be the final judges of the wisdom of their course;
but they have faith that those constituents — today, tomorrow 
or - even in another generation — ^will at least respect the 
principles that motivated their independent stand. 

If their careers are temporarily or even permanently buried 
under an avalanche of abusive editorials, poison-pen letters, 
and opposition votes at the polls — as they sometimes are, for 
that is the risk they take — they await the future with hope 
and confidence, aware of the fact that the voting public 
frequently suffers from what ex-Congressman T. V. Smith 
called the lag ‘Isetween our way of thought and our way of 
life” Smith compared it to the subject of the anonymous 

There was a dachshund once, so long 
He hadn’t any notion 
How long it took to notify 
His tail of his emotion. 

And so it happened, while his eyes 
Were filled with woe and sadness. 

His little tail went wagging on 
Because of previous gladness. 

Moreover, I question whedier any Senator, before we 
vote on a measure, can state with certainty exactly how 
the majority of his constituents feel on the issue as it is 
presented to the Senate. All of us in the Senate live in an 
iron lung — the iron lung of politics, and it is no easy task 
to emerge from that rarefied atmosphere in order to breathe
the same fresh air our constituents breathe. It is difficult, too, 
to see in person an appreciable number of voters besides 
those professional hangers-on and vocal elements who gather 
about the politician on a trip home.

In Washington, I frequently find myself believing that forty or fifty letters, 
six visits from professional politicians and lobbyists, and 
three editorials in Massachusett's newspapers constitute public 
opinion on a given issue. Yet, in truth - I rarely know how 
the great majority of the voters feel, or even how much 
they know of the issues that seem so burning in Washington. 

Today the challenge of political courage looms larger 
than ever before. For our everyday life is becoming so 
saturated with the tremendous power of mass communications

that any unpopular or unorthodox course arouses a 
storm of protests - such as John Quincy Adams — under 
attack in 1807— could never have envisioned.
Our political life is becoming so expensive, so mechanized
and so dominated by professional politicians and public relations men 
that the idealist who dreams of independent statesmanship is 
rudely awakened by the necessities of election and accomplishment.
And our public life is becoming so increasingly 
centered upon that seemingly unending war to which we 
have given the curious epithet “cold" that we tend to 

encourage rigid ideological unity and orthodox patterns of thought. 

And thus, in the days ahead, only the very courageous 
will be able to take the hard and unpopular decisions 
necessary for our survival in the struggle with a powerful 
enemy — an enemy with leaders who need give little thought 
to the popularity of their course, who need pay little tribute 
to the public opinion they themselves manipulate, and who 
may force, without fear of retaliation at the polls, their 
citizens to sacrifice present laughter for future glory.
And, only the very courageous will be able to keep alive the 
spirit of individualism and dissent - which gave birth to this 
nation, nourished it as an infant and carried it through its 
severest tests upon llie attainment of its maturity. 

Of course, it would be much easier if we could all 
continue to think in traditional political patterns — of liber- 
alism and conservatism, as Republicans and Democrats, from 
the viewpoint of North and South, management and labor, 
business and consumer or some equally narrow framework. 

It would be more comfortable to continue to move and vote 
in platoons, joining whomever of our colleagues are equally 
enslaved by some current fashion, raging prejudice or popular 
movement. But today this nation cannot tolerate the luxury 
of such lazy political habits. Only the strength and progress 
and peaceful change that come from independent judgment
and individual ideas — and even from the unorthodox 
and the eccentric — can enable us to surpass that foreign 
ideology that fears free thought more than it fears hydrogen bombs. 

We shall need compromises in the days ahead, to be sure. 

But these will be, or should be, compromises of issues, 
not of principles. We can compromise our political positions, 
but not oiursclves. We can resolve the clash of interests 
without conceding our ideals. And even the necessity for 
the right kind of compromise does not eliminate the need 
for those idealists and reformers who keep our compromises 
moving ahead, who prevent all political situations from 
meeting the description supplied by Shaw: “smirched with 
compromise, rotted with opportunism, mildewed by expedi- 
ence, stretched out of shape with wirepulling and putrefied 
with permeation.” Compromise need not mean cowardice. 
Indeed it is frequently the compromisers and conciliators 
who are faced with the severest tests of political courage as 
they oppose the extremist views of their constituents. It was 
because Daniel Webster conscientiously favored compromise 
in 1850 that he earned a condemnation unsurpassed in the 
annals of pohtical history. 

His is a story worth remembering today. So, I believe, 
are the stories of other Senators of courage — men whose 
abiding loyalty to their nation triumphed over all personal 
and political considerations, men who showed the real 
meaning of courage and a real faith in democracy, men 
who made the Senate of the United States something more 
than a mere collection of robots dutifully recording the 
views of their constituents, or a gathering of time-servers 
skilled only in predicting and following the tides of public 

Some of these men, whose stories follow, were right in 
their beliefs; others perhaps were not. Some were ultimately 
vindicated by a return to popularity; many were not. Some 

showed courage throughout the whole of their political 
lives; others sailed with the wind until the decisive moment 
when their conscience, and events, propelled them into the 
center of the storm. Some were courageous in their un- 
yielding devotion to absolute principles; others were damned 
for advocating compromise. 

Whatever their differences, the American politicians whose 
stories are here retold shared that one heroic quality — 
courage. In the pages that follow, 1 have attempted to set 
forth their lives — ^the ideals they lived for and the principles 
tliey fought for, their virtues and their sins, their dreams 
and their disillusionments, the praise they earned and the 
abuse they endured. All this may be set down on the printed 
page. It is ours to write about, it is ours to read about. But 
there was in the hves of each of these men something that 
it is difBcult for the printed page to capture — and yet 
something that has reached the homes and enriched the 
heritage of every citizen in every part of the land. 

 PART ONE  The Time and the Place  

As our first story begins, in 1803, Washington was no 
more than a raw, country village. Legend has it that a new 
French envoy, looking about upon his arrival, cried: “My 
CodI What have 1 done to be condemned to reside in this 
city!’' In the imfinished Capitol sat the Senate of the United 
States, already vastly different from that very first Senate 
which had sat in the old New York City Hall in 1789, 
and even more different from the body originally planned 
by the makers of the Constitution in 1787. 

The foimding fathers could not have envisioned service 
in the Senate as providing an opportunity for “political 
courage," whereby men would endanger or end their careers 
by resisting the will of their constituents. For their very 
concept of the Senate, in contrast to the House, was of a 
body which would not be subject to constituent pressures. 
Each state, regardless of size and population, was to have the 
same number of Senators, as though they were ambassadors 

from individual sovereign state governments to the Federal 
Government, not representatives of the voting public. 
Senators would not stand for re-election every two years — 
indeed, Alexander Hamilton suggested they be given life 
tenure — and a six-year term was intended to insulate them 
from public opinion. 

Nor were Senators even to be elected by popular vote; the 
state legislatures, which could be relied upon to represent 
the conservative property interests of each state and to resist 
the "follies of the masses,” were assigned that function. In 
tlus way, said Delegate John Dickinson to the Constitutional 
Convention, the Senate would "consist of the most distin- 
guished characters, distinguished for their rank in life and 
their weight of property, and bearing as strong a likeness 
to the British House of Lords as possible.” 

Moreover, the Senate was to be less of a legislative body — 
where heated debates on vital issues would be followed 
anxiously by the public — and more of an executive council, 
passing on appointments and treaties and generally advising 
the President, without public galleries or even a journal of 
its own proceedings. Local prejudices, said Hamilton, were 
to be forgotten on the Senate floor, else it would simply be 
a repetition of the Continental Congress where “the first 
question has been liow will such a measure affect my 
constituents and . . . my re-election.' ” 

The original twenty-two United States Senators, meeting 
in New York in 1789, at first seemed to fulfill the expecta- 
tions of the makers of the Constitution, particularly regarding 
its resemblance to the House of Lords. A distinguished and 
glittering gathering of eminent and experienced statesmen, 
the Senate, as compared with the House of Representatives, 

was on the whole far more pompous and formal, its chambers 
far more elaborate, and its members far more concerned 
with elegance of dress and social rank. Meeting behind 
closed doors, without the use of standing committees, the 
Senate consulted personally with President Washington, £aid 
acted very nearly as an integral part of the administra- 

But, as it must to all legislative bodies, pohtics came to 
the United States Senate. As the Federalist party split on 
foreign policy and Thomas Jefferson resigned from the 
Cabinet to organize his followers, the Senate became a 
forum for criticism of the executive branch, and tlie role 
of executive council was assumed instead by a Cabinet of 
men upon wh^'iu the President could depend to share his 
views and be responsible to him. Other precedents had 
already divided the Senate and the White House. In 1789 
“Senatorial Courtesy” rejected Benjamin Fishboume as of- 
ficer of the Port of Savannah because he was unacceptable 
to the Georgia Senators. Shortly thereafter, special com- 
mittees laimched the first Senate investigations of Adminis- 
tration policies and practices. And in that same year the 
impossibihty of the Senate’s role as an executive council 
became apparent when a Northwest Indian Treaty was being 
discussed in person with the Senate by Washington and his 
Secretary of War. Senator Maclay and others, fearful (as 
he expressed it in his diary) that “the President wishes to 
tread on the necks of the Senate,” sought to refer the 
matter to a select committee. The President, Maclay records, 

started up in a violent fret . . . [and withdrew] with a discon- 
tented air. Had it been any other man than the man whom I 

wish to regard as the first character in the world, I would have 
said with sullen dignity. 

Gradually the Senate assumed more of the aspects of a 
legislative body. In 1794 public galleries were authorized 
for regular legislative sessions; in 1801 newspaper cor- 
respondents were admitted; and by 1803 the Senate was 
debating who should have the privilege of coming upon 
the Senate floor. Congressmen, Ambassadors, Department 
Heads and Governors could be agreed upon, but what about 
“the ladies”? Senator Wright contended “that their presence 
gives a pleasing and necessary animation to debate, polishing 
the speakers' arguments and softening their manner.” But 
John Quincy Adams, whose puritanical candor on such 
occasions will be subsequently noted, replied that the ladies 
“introduced noise and confusion into the Senate, and debates 
were protracted to arrest their attention.” (The motion to 
admit “the ladies” was defeated 16-12, although this policy 
of exclusion would be reversed in later years, only ,to be 
restored in modem times. ) 

Although Senators were paid the munificent sum of $6 
per day, and their privileges included the use of great silver 
snufiFboxes on the Senate floor, the aristocratic manners which 
had characterized the first Senate were strangely out of place 
when the stmggling hamlet of Washington became the capi- 
tal city in 1800, for its rugged surroundings contrasted 
sharply with those enjoyed at the temporary capitals in 
New York and Philadelphia. Formality in Senate procedures 
was retained, however — although Vice President Aaron 
Burr, himself an object of some disrepute after killing 

Hamilton in a duel, frequently found it necessary to call 
Senators to order for “eating apples and cakes in their 
seats” and walking between those engaged in discussion. 
And John Quincy Adams noted in his diary that some of 
his colleagues’ speeches “were so wild and so bluntly 
expressed as to be explained only by recognizing that the 
member was inflamed by drink.” But certainly the Senate 
retained greater dignity than the House, where Members 
might sit with hat on head and feet on desk, watching 
John Randolph of Roanoke stride in wearing silver spurs, 
carrying a heavy riding whip, followed by a foxhound which 
slept beneath his desk, and calling to the doorkeeper for 
more liquor as he launched vicious attacks upon his op- 

Nevertheless, the House, still small enough to be a truly 
deliberative body, overshadowed the Senate in terms of 
political power during the first three decades of our govern- 
ment. Madison said that “being a young man and desirous 
of increasing his reputation as a statesman, he could not 
afford to accept a seat in the Senate,” whose debates had 
little influence on public opinion. Many Senators surrendered 
their seats to become members of the House, or to hold other 
state and local oflBccs; and the Senate frequently adjourned 
to permit its members to hear an important House debate. 

Senator Maclay, whose diary provides the best, if some- 
what acidly warped, record of that early Senate, frequently 
complained of dull and trivial sessions, as witness this entry 
for April 3, 1790: “Went to the Hall. The minutes were read. 
A message was received from the President of the United 
States. A report was handed to the Chair. We looked and 

laughed at each other for half an hour, and adjourned." 

But as the Senate shed its role as executive council and 
entered on a more equal basis with the House into the 
legislative process, it also became apparent that no Con- 
stitutional safeguards, however nobly created, could prevent 
political and constituent pressures from entering those delib- 
erations. Maclay was disgusted that, in place of “the most 
delicate honor, the most exalted wisdom and the most 
refined generosity” governing every act and deed of his 
colleagues, as he had expected, he found “the basest selfish- 
ness. . . . Our government is a mere system of jockeying 
opinions: “Vote this way for me, and I will vote that way 
for you.’ ” The local prejudices which Hamilton had hoped 
to exclude only intensified, particularly as the Federalists of 
New England and the JefiFersonians of Virginia split along 
sectional as well as partisan lines. State legislatures, which 
would become increasingly responsive to those previously 
scorned “masses” as property qualifications for voting were 
removed, transmitted the political pressures of their own 
constituents to their Senators through “instructions” (a 
device which in this country apparently had originated in the 
old Puritan town meetings, which had instructed their 
deputies to the Massachusetts General Court on such meas- 
ures as "removing the Capital from the wicked city of 
Boston,” taking any steps possible “to exterminate the 
legal profession,” and preventing debtors from paying their 
debts “with old rusty barrels of guns that are serviceable 
for no man, except to work up as old iron”). Some Senators 
were also required to return regularly to their state legisla- 
tures, to report like Venetian envoys on their stewardship 
at the Capital. 

It was a time of change — in the Senate, in the concept 
of our government, in the growth of the two-party system, 
in the spread of democracy to the farm and the frontier 
and in the United States of America. Men who were flexible, 
men who could move with or ride over the changing cur- 
rents of public opinion, men who sought their glory in the 
dignity of the Senate rather than its legislative accomplish- 
ments — these were the men for such times. But young John 
Quincy Adams of Massachusetts was not such a man. 





John Quincy Adams 

young senator from Massachusetts stirred rest- 
I lessly in his chair as the debate droned on. The half- 
filled Senate chamber fairly echoed with the shout- 
ing of his Massachusetts' colleague, Senator Pickering, who 
was denouncing President Jefferson’s Trade Embargo of 
1807 for what seemed like the one hundredth time. Outside, 
a dreary January rain had bogged the dismal village of 
Washington in a sea of mud.

Sorting the mail from Massachusetts which lay in disarray on his desk,
John Quincy Adams found his eye caught by an unfamiliar handwriting, 
on an envelope with no return address. Inside was a single 
sheet of fine linen paper, and the Senator grimly read its 
anonymous message a second time before crumpling letter 
and envelope into the basket by his desk: 

 Lucifer, Son of die Morning, how thou hast fallen! We hope 
not irrecoverably. Oh Adams, remember who thou art. Return 
to Massachusetts! Return to thy country. Assist not in its 
destruction! Consider the consequences! Awake — arouse in time! 

A Federalist  

A Federalist! Adams mused bitterly over the word. Was 
he not the son of the last Federalist President? Had he not 
served Federalist administrations in the diplomatic service, 
abroad? Had he not been elected as a Federalist to the 
Massachusetts Legislature and then to the United States 
Senate? Now, simply because he had placed national interest 
before party and section, the Federalists had deserted him. 
Yes, he thought, I did not desert them, as they charge — ^it is 
they who have deserted me. 

My political prospects are declining [he wrote in his diary 
that night] and as my term of service draws near its close, I 
am constantly approaching to the certainty of being restored 
to the situation of a private citizen. For this event, however, 
I hope to have my mind sufficiently prepared. In the meantime, 
I implore that Spirit from whom every good and perfect gift 
descends to enable me to render essential service to my country, 
and that I may never be governed in my public conduct by 
any consideration other than that of my duty. 

These are not merely the sentiments of a courageous 
Senator, they are also the words of a Puritan statesman. 
For John Quincy Adams was one of the great representatives 
of that extraordinary breed who have left a memorable 
imprint upon our Government and our way of life. Harsh 
and intractable, like the rocky New England countryside 
which colored his attitude toward the world at large, the 

Puritan gave meaning, consistency and character to the early 
days of the American Republic. His somber sense of 
responsibility toward his Creator he carried into every phase 
of his daily life. He believed that man was made in the 
image of God, and thus he believed him equal to the extraor- 
dinary demands of self-government. The Puritan loved 
liberty and he loved the law; he had a genius for determin- 
ing the precise point where the rights of the state and the 
rights of the individual could be reconciled.

The intellect of the Puritan — of John Quincy Adams and his forebears 
— was, as George Frisbie Hoar has said: [ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Frisbie_Hoar ]
... fit for exact ethical discussion, clear in seeing general truths, 
active, unresting, fond of inquiry and debate, but penetrated 
and restrained by a shrewd common sense ... He had a tenacity 
of purpose, a lofty and inflexible courage, an unbending will, 
which never qualified or flinched before human antagonist, or 
before exile, torture, or death. 

In John Quincy Adams these very characteristics were 
unhappily out of tune with the party intrigues and political 
passions of the day. Long before those discouraging months 
in the Senate when his mail was filled with abuse from the 
Massachusetts Federalists, long before he had even entered 
the Senate, he had noted in his diary the dangers that 
confronted a Pinitan entering politics: “1 feel strong tempta- 
tion to plimge into political controversy,” he had written, 
‘l>ut ... a politician in this .country must be the man of 
a party. 1 would fain be the man of my whole country.” 

• • • 


Quincy was still a boy that she and her husband, who com- 
pletely directed his education and training, had marked their 
son for future leadership “in the Cabinet or the field ... a 
guardian of his country s laws and liberties.” Few if any 
Americans have been born with the advantages of John 
Quincy Adams: a famous name; a brilliant father who la- 
bored unceasingly to develop his son’s natural talents; and 
an extraordinary mother. Indeed he was born with every- 
thing to make for a happy and successful life except for those 
qualities that bring peace of mind. In spite of a life of
 extraordinary achievement, he was gnawed constantly by a 
sense of inadequacy, of frustration, of failure. Though his 
hard New England conscience and his remarkable talents 
drove him steadily along a road of unparalleled success, he 
had from the beginning an almost morbid sense of constant 

His early feelings of inadequacy, as well as his precocious 
mind, were evidenced by the letter he wrote his father at age nine: 

Dear Sir: 

I love to receive letters very well; much better than 1 love 
to write them. I make but a poor figure at composition. My 
head is much too fickle. My thoughts are running after bird’s 
eggs, play and trifles, till I get vexed with myself. Mamma has 
a troublesome task to keep me a studying. I own I am ashamed 
of myself. I have but just entered the third volume of Rollins 
History, but designed to have got half through it by this lime. 
I am determined this week to be more diligent. I have set myself 
a stint to read the third volume half out. If 1 can but keep my 
resolution, I may again at the end of the week give a better 
account of myself. I wish, sir, you would give me in writing 

some instructions with regard to the use of my time, and advise 
me how to proportion my studies and play, and I will keep 
them by me, and endeavor to follow them. 

With the present determination of growing better,
  I am, dear 
sir, your son, John Quincy Adams 

Again, thirty-six years later, having served as United States 
Senator, Harvard professor, and American Minister to major 
European powers, he could write sadly in his diary: 

I am forty-five years old. Two-thirds of a long life have 
passed, and I have done nothing to distinguish it by usefulness 
to my country and to mankind. . . . Passions, indolence, weak- 
ness and infirmities have sometimes made me swerve from my 
better knowledge of right and almost constantly paralyzed my 
efforts of good. 

And finally, at age seventy, having distinguished himself 
as a brilliant Secretary of State, an independent President 
and an eloquent member of Congress, he was to record
somberly that his "whole life has been a succession of disappointments.
I can scarcely recollect a single instance of success in 
anything that I ever undertook.” 

Yet the lifetime which was so bitterly deprecated by its 
own principal has never been paralleled in American history. 

John Quincy Adams — until his death at eighty in the Capitol 
— held more important offices and participated in
more important events than anyone in the history of our nation, as 
Minister to the Hague, Emissary to England, Minister to 
Prussia, State Senator, United States Senator, Minister to 
Russia, Head of the American Mission to negotiate peace 
with England, Minister to England, Secretary of State, 

President of the United States and member of the House of 
Representatives. He figured, in one capacity or another, in 
the American Revolution, the War of 1812 and the prelude 
to the Civil War. Among the acquaintances and colleagues 
who march across the pages of his diary are Sam Adams ( a 
kinsman), John Hancock, Washington, Jefferson, Franklin, 
Lafayette, John Jay, James Madison, James Monroe, John 
Marshall, Henry Clay, Andrew Jackson, Thomas Hart Ben- 
ton, John Tyler, John C. Calhoun, Daniel Webster, Lincoln, 
James Buchanan, William Lloyd Garrison, Andrew Johnson, 
Jefferson Davis and many others. 

Though one of the most talented men ever to serve his 
nation, he had few of the personal characteristics which or
dinarily give c^'l't! and charm to personality. But there is a 
fascination and nobility in this picture of a man unbending, 
narrow and intractable, judging himself more severely than 
his most bitter enemies judged him, possessing an integrity 
unsurpassed among the major political figures of our history, 
and constantly driven onward by his conscience and his 
deeply felt obligation to be worthy of his parents, their 
example and their precepts. 

His frustrations and defeats in political office — as Senator 
and President — were the inevitable result of this intransigence
in ignoring the political facts of life. It is significant to 
note that the "two Adams", father and son, were the only 
Presidents not elected for a second term in the first fifty 
years of our nation’s history. Yet their failures, if they can be 
called failures, were the result of their own undeviating
devotion to what they considered to be the public interest and 
the result of the inability of their contemporaries to match 

the high standards of honor and rectitude that they brought 
to public life. 

The story of the son is not wholly separable from the 
story of the father. For John Quincy Adams was, as Samuel 
Eliot Morison has described him, “above all an Adams”; 
and his heartwarming devotion to his father and the latter’s 
steadfast loyalty to his son regardless of political embarrassment
offer a single ray of warmth in that otherwise hard, 
cold existence.
(“What a queer family !” Federalist leader 
Harrison Otis wrote in later years. “I think them all varieties 
in a peculiar species of our race exhibiting a combination of 
talents and good moral character with passions and prejudices
calculated to defeat their own objects and embarrass 
their friends.”)

As a child in a tightly knit Puritan family, 
John Quincy had been taught by his mother to emulate his 
famous father; and as a Senator, when colleagues and friends 
deserted him on every side, it was to his father that he 
turned for support and approval. 

Even after the death of the elder Adams, John Quincy 
maintained touching loyalty to his father s memory. Reading 
in Jefferson’s works the letters written by the latter more 
than thirty-five years earlier when his father and Jefferson 
h^ been political rivals (although their early friendship 
was later revived), he could still work himself into a rage at 
what he regarded as Jefferson’s perfidy. “His treatment of 
my father,” Adams wrote in his diary, “was double-dealing, 
treacherous and false beyond all toleration.” John Quincy 
did not comprehend, after a lifetime in the thick of it, how 
our complicated Federal system of checks and balances op- 
erated; nor did he realize that what he regarded as Jefferson’s 

"machinations” was merely a facet of the latter’s genius 
applied with success to the art and science of Government. 

The failure of John Quincy Adams to recognize the political
facts of life first became apparent during his years in 
the Senate, years which were neither the most productive of 
his life nor those in which his contribution was especially 
significant. Yet his single term in the United States Senate 
gives us a clear insight into the fate of a man who brought
to the public service notable faculties, a respected name and 
a singular ambition for the right. His experience illustrates 
as does almost none other that even this extraordinary
equipment is not enough to succeed in American political life. 

• • • 

It was not unnatural that John Quincy, returning to 
Boston after diplomatic service abroad upon his father’s 
defeat for President by Thomas Jefferson, should become 
active in the affairs of his father’s party. He admired the 
Federalists as the founders of the Constitution,
the champions of naval power and a bulwark against French Revolutionary influences. 

But no sooner had the young ex-diplomat be^ elected as 
a Federalist to the Massachusetts Legislature when he
demonstrated his audacious disdain for narrow partisanship. 

Without consulting his senior colleagues, he proposed — only 
forty-eight hours after he had become a member of that 
august legislative body — that the Republican (Jeffersonian 
or Democratic) party be given proportional representation 
on the Governor’s council.

(Adams later noted that this act of nonpartisan independence “marked the pinciple
- by which 
my whole public life has been governed from that day to this”) 

In subsequently selecting young Adams for the Senate, 
his colleagues in the state legislature may have assumed that 
the honor for one of his comparative youth would help impress upon him his obligations to his party. 

But while - with one hand the legislature moved young 
John Quincy nearer his vision of service to the nation,
with the other - it rudely ripped through the fabric of his dream 
and placed real and unpleasant obstacles in his path.

For, upon the heels of his election, the jealous and antagonistic 
Timothy Pickering (who had been dismissed as Secretary of 
State by his father) was selected as Adams’ Senatorial col- 
league to fill a short-term vacancy. Neither Pickering nor 
Adams entertained any illusions about the former’s bitter 
enmity toward the entire Adams family, and John Quincy 
realized that as a well-known and powerful Federalist,
Senator Pickering would be able to channel upon his young col- 
league all the dislikes and suspicions which the remaining 
Federalist Senators had harbored for the independence 
shown by the senior Adams as President.
Nor could he expect sympathy from Jefferson’s Republican Senators, who 
had recently completed a bitter campaign against his father 
and the Alien and Sedition Laws which bore his approval. 

Noting in his diary that
“the qualities of mind most peculiarly called for are
firmness, perseverance, patience, coolness and forbearance,”
John Quincy Adams, like any Puritan 
gentleman, set out for Washington determined to meet the 
standards of self-discipline which he had imposed upon him- 

Arriving in Washington, Adams promptly indicated his 
disregard for both party afiliations and customary freshman 
reticence. Although illness in the family had prevented him 
from arriving in time to vote on ratification of President 
Jefferson’s treaty for the purchase of the Louisiana Terri- 
tory, he promptly aroused a storm of controversy by 
becoming the only Federalist to support that precedent- 
shattering acquisition actively on the floor and to vote for 
an $11 million appropriation to effectuate it.

His democratic principles also caused him to fight administration measures 
for imposing a government and taxes upon the residents of 
the Territory — thus incurring the opposition of his Republican colleagues as well.
But, with a vision of an America stretched to its continental limits,
he regarded Jefferson’s re-markable feat in excluding Napoleon from our boundaries 
while enriching our nation as far more important than the 
outraged astonishment of his Federalist colleagues.

Concerned primarily with maintaining the hegemony of New 
England, they feared westward expansion would diminish 
the political and economic influence of the commercial 
cities of the Northeast, lower the value of Eastern lands in 
which they were financially interested, and provide
the Jeffersonians with a permanent majority in Congress.
The young Federalist from Massachusetts, as though he were 
oblivious to their attitude, heaped fuel upon the fires of 
Federalist rage by attending a banquet of Jeffersonians in 
celebration of the purchase:

“The dinner was bad and the toasts too numerous,” Adams 
complained dourly in his diary that night. But it is doubtful 
that even a feast reminiscent of Boston’s finest inns would 
have made his attendance worth while — ^fi-r this was
regarded by his Federalist friends as the final proof of perfidy. 

"Curse on the stripling! how he apes his sire!” wrote  Theodore Lyman, a prominent Federalist who had sided 
with Pickering in the latter's falling-out with the senior Adams.
https://www.masshist.org/publications/adams-papers/index.php/view/ADMS-13-02-02-0004-0012-0016 ]

But there was only one Federalist politician whose 
opinion young John Quincy valued above his own — John Adams.

Anxiously, he sought his father's views, and the 
reassurance he received from that elder statesman early in 
1804 compensated for all the abuse he had received at the 
hands of his father's party. "I do not disapprove of your 
conduct in the business of Louisiana," John Adams wrote 
his son, "though I know it will become a very unpopular 
subject in the northern states. ... I think you have been 

In his diary young Adams summed up his first months 
in the Senate: 

I have already had occasion to experience, which I had before 
the fullest reason to expect, the danger of adhering to my own 
principles. The country is so totally given up to the spirit of 
party that not to follow blindfolded the one or the other is an 
expiable offence.  . . .  Between both, I see the impossibility of 
pursuing the dictates of my own conscience without sacrificing 
every prospect, not merely of advancement, but even of retaining
that character and reputation 1 have enjoyed. Yet my choice 
is made, and, if I cannot hope to give satisfaction to my country, 
I am at least determined to have the approbation of my own 

The possession of the proud name of Adams could not 
prevent — and may well have hastened — ^the young Senator's 
gradual emergence as a minority of one. Had his political 
philosophy been more popular, his personal maimetisms (mannerisms)

would still have made close alliances difficult.
He was, after all, “an Adams . . . cold, tactless and rigidly conscientious." 
The son of an unpopular father, a renegade in his party and 
ratlier brash for a freshman.
Senator, John Quincy neither sought nor was offered political alliances or influence. 

After only ten days in the Senate, he had irritated his 
seniors and precipitated a three-hour debate by objecting 
to a routine resolution calling upon Senators to wear crepe 
one month in honor of three recently deceased patriots.
Such a resolution, he somewhat impertinently argued,
was improper if not unconstitutional by “tending to
unsuitable discussions of character, and to debates altogether foreign to 
the subjects which properly belong” in the Senate.
Next he astounded his r<»P''ngues (colleagues) by seeking to disqualify from an 
impeachment hearing - "any Senator who had previously voted 
on the impeachment resolution as a Member of the 
House". Then to show his stubborn intellectual independence,
he alone opposed a motion to go into executive 
session when its sole purpose, he thought, was to give in the 
Journal an appearance of doing business when actually there 
was none to be done. 

But if the Federalist party learned to dislike the “striplirvr” (stripling)
even more intensely than they had disliked “his sire,” it must 
be said that any Federalist love for John Quincy would have 
been wasted anyway. For he became increasingly contemptuous
of the Federalist party.

An American nationalist who had lived a great part of his brief life abroad,
he could not yield his devotion to the national interest for the narrowly 
partisan, parochial and pro-British outlook which dominated 
New England's first political party. His foj ■»er (former) colleagues 

in the State Legislature publicly charged him
with ungrateful “conduct worthy of Machiavelli”; but he wrote his 
mother that he felt that, as Senator, he could best determine 
what Massachusetts’ best interests were, and “if Federalism 
consists in looking to the British navy as the only palladium 
of our liberty, I must be a political heretic.” 

Many Senators - before and after 1804 - have combatted the 
ill-effects of being termed a political heretic by their "party 
chieftains" by building strong personal popularity among 
their constituents. This became increasingly possible as
universal manhood suffrage became general  - early in the nine- 
teeth century. But not John Quincy Adams. He regarded 
every public measure that came before him, a fellow Senator observed,
 as though it were an abstract proposition from 
Euclid, unfettered by considerations of political appeal.
He denied the duty of elected representatives “to be "palsied" by 
the will of their constituents”; and he refused to achieve 
success by becoming what he termed a “patriot by profession,”
by pretending “extraordinary solicitude for the people,
by flattering their prejudices, by ministering to their 
passions, and by humoring their transient and changeable 

His guiding star was the principle of Puritan 
statesmanship his father had laid down many years before: 

“The magistrate is the servant not of his own desires, not 
even of the people, but of his God."

We would admire the coinage and determination of John 
Quincy Adams if he served in the Senate today. We would 
respect his nonpartisan, non-sectional approach. But I am not 
so certain that we would like him as a person;
and it is apparent that many of his colleagues, on both sides of the aisle, 
did not.

His isolation from either political party, and the 
antagonisms which he aroused, practically nullified
the impact of his own independent and scholarly propositions. His 
diary reveals that the young Senator was not wholly in- 
sensitive to his increasing political isolation: he complained 
that he had “nothing to do but to make fruitless opposition.” 
“I have already seen enough to ascertain that no amendments 
of my proposing will obtain in the Senate as now filled.”
“I  have no doubt of inccuring much censure and obloquy for 
this measure.” And he referred to those “who hate me rather 
more than they love any principle.” He was particularly 
bitter about Pickering’s contemptuous conduct toward him, 
and felt that his colleague “abandons altogether the ground 
of right, and ... upon what is expedient.” 

But it was not until 1807 that the split between party and 
Senator became irreparable, and Adams was denounced by 
the great majority of his constituents, as well as the party 

The final break, naturally enough, concerned this 
nation s foreign policy.
As our relations with Great Britain 
worsened, our ships were seized, our cargoes were confiscated,
 and our seamen were “impressed” by British cruisers 
and compelled to serve — as alleged British subjects — ^in the King’s navy.
Thousands of American seamen were taken 
on an organized basis, ships were lost at sea for want of men, 
and even those able to "prove” American citizenship were 
frequently refused permission to return. Adams’ patriotic instincts
 were aroused, and he was indignant that the very 
Federalist merchants whose ships were attacked had decided 
that appeasement of Great Britain was the only answer to 
their problems. His Federalist colleagues even attempted to 

 rationalize such aggressive measures by talking vaguely of 
Britain’s difficulties in war with France and ... : friendly 
tone toward the latter. With undisguised contempt for this 
attitude, Adams in 1806 had introduced and pushed to pas- 
sage — successfully — a unique experience for him, he noted 
in his diary — a series of resolutions condemning British aggressions
upon American ships, and requesting the President 
to demand restoration and indemnification of the confiscated 
vessels. The Federalists, of course, had solidly opposed his 
measures, as they did an Adams-supported administration 
billl limiting British imports. He was now, for all practical 
purposes, a man without a party. 

Finally, in the summer of 1807, the American frigate 
Chesapeake was summarily fired upon off the Virginia Capes 
by the British man-of-war Leopard, after the American
vessel had refused either to be searched or to hand over four 
seamen whom the English claimed to be British subjects. 

Several of the American crew were killed or injured. The 
incensed Adams was convinced that, party or no party, the 
time for forceful action against such intolerable acts had 
come. He pleaded with local Federalist officials to call a town 
meeting in Boston to protest the incident. Turned down, and 
outraged when a prominent Federalist attempted to justify 
even the Leopard's attack, he discovered
 - to his grim satisfaction - that the Republican party was organizing a similar mass 
meeting to be held at the State House that very week. 

The Federalist Repertory warned the faithful that the 
meeting represented nothing but an “irregular
and tumultuous mode of proceeding,” which “no just or honorable man” 
should attend. But John Quincy Adams did attend; and, 
although he declined to serve as moderator, he nevertheless 

 was instrumental in drafting the group's fighting resolution 
which pledged to the President the lives and fortunes of the 
participants in support of “any measures, however serious.” 

Now the Federalists were outraged.
Although they hurriedly called an official town meeting to pledge
[hypocritically] their support to the President too, they stated publicly 
that John Quincy Adams, for his public association with 
Republican meetings and causes, should
“have his head taken off for apostasy . . . and should no longer be considered as 
having any communion with the party.”
It was this episode, the Senator later commented, “which alienated me from that 
day and forever from the councils of the Federalist party.” 

When Jefferson on September i8, 1807, called upon Congress to retaliate
against the British by enacting an embargo effectively shutting off all further international trade
— a measure apparently ruinous to Massachusetts, the leading 
commercial state in the nation — it was John Quincy Adams 
of Massachusetts who rose on the Senate floor and called for 
referral of the message to a select committee;
who was appointed Chairman of the committee;
and, who reported both  the Embargo Bill
and a bill of his own preventing British vessels from entering American waters. 

“This measure will cost you and me our seats,” young 
Adams remarked to a colleague, as the select committee completed its work
and its members made their way to the Senate floor,
“but private interest must not be put in opposition to public good.” 

His words were unerringly prophetic. As the Embargo 
Bill, with his help, became law, a storm of protest arose in 
Massachusetts reminiscent of the days of the Boston Tea 

In that state were located a substantial proportion of 
America’s merchant fleet and practically all of the ship-building
and Ashing ( https://thermcraftinc.com/history-industrial-kilns/ : Ore kilns) industries.
The embargo completely idled the shipbuilding industry, destroyed the shipping trade 
and tied up the Ashing vessels; and stagnation, bankruptcy, 
distress, and migration from the territory became common. 
Neither merchants nor seamen could be convinced that the 
act was for their own good. Even the fanners of New England found their products
a glut on the market, their export outlets having been closed. 

The Federalist leaders insisted the Embargo was an attempt
 - by Jefferson - to ruin New England prosperity, to provoke England to war,
 and to aid the French.

Even though  New England Republicans refused to defend their President’s 
bill, the Federalist party, scoring heavily on the issue, re- 
turned triumphantly to power in both Houses of the Massachusetts legislature.
Talk of New England seceding became commonplace. 

But however great their hatred for Jefferson and his Em- 
bargo, Massachusetts Federalists, merchants and other citi- 
zens were even more bitter over the “desertion” of their 
Senator to the ranks of the enemy. “A party scavenger !” 
snorted the Northampton Hampshire Gazette, “one of those 
ambitious politicians who lives on both land and water, and 
occasionally resorts to each, but who finally settles down in the mud.”
Adams, said the Salem Gazette, is “a popularity 
seeker . . . courting the prevailing party,” and one of “Bonaparte’s Senators.”
The Greenfield Gazette called him an apostate
“associated with the assassins of his father’s character.”
His own social circles in Boston — ^the rich, the culti
vated and the influential
— ^all turned against him. "I would 
not sit at the same table with that renegade," retorted one 
of Boston’s leading citizens in refusing to attend a dinner at 
which Adams would be present. And a leading Federalist 
wrote with glee to the Washington party stalwarts,
“He walks into State Street at the usual hour but seems totally unknown." 

John Quincy Adams was alone — but not quite alone. 
“Most completely was I deserted by my friends, in Boston 
and in the state legislature," he wrote his mother.
“I can never be sufficiently grateful to Providence that my father 
and my mother did not join in this general desertion.” For 
when the inmerciful abuse from his home state was first 
heaped upon him John Quincy had again turned to his 
father and poured out his feelings. And his father replied 
that his son’s situation was “clear, plain and obvious”: 

You are supported by no party; you have too honest a heart, 
too independent a mind, and too brilliant talents, to be sincerely
and confidentially trusted by any man who is under the 
domination of party maxims or party feelings.  . . . You may 
depend upon it then that your fate is decided. ... You ought 
to know and expect this and by no means regret it. My advice 
to you is steadily to pursue the course you are in, with moderation
and caution however, because I think it the path of justice. 

But the entire Adams family was damned in the eyes of 
the ex-President’s former supporters by his son’s act of 
“His [John Quincy’s] apostasy is no longer a matter of doubt with anybody,” cried Representative Cardenier 
of New York. “I wish to God that the noble house of ( Brain
tree MA) had been put in a hole — and a deep one, too — 20 years ago!”

But father and son, the Adamses stood together. 
“Parton has denounced you as No Federalist,” his father 
wrote, “and 1 wish he would denounce me in the same man- 
ner, for 1 have long since renounced, abdicated, and dis- 
claimed the name and character and attributes of that sect, 
as it now appears.” 

With his father s support — ^in a fi^t (?) where he stood with 
the President who had defeated his father! — John Quincy 
maintained the unflinching and inflexible bearing which be- 
came his Puritan ancestry. When he was accosted in Boston 
by a politically minded preacher who assailed his views “in 
a rude and indecent manner, I told him that in consideration 
of his age 1 should only remark that he had one lesson yet 
to learn — Christian charity.” When his colleague Pickering 
denounced him in an open letter to the Legislature - which 
was distributed throughout Massachusetts in tens of thou- 
sands, - he wrote a masterful reply — criticizing the Federalist 
party as sectional, outmoded and unpatriotic; insisting, that 
the critical issues of war and peace could not be decided on 
the basis of “geographical' position, party bias or professional 
occupation”; and exploding at Pickering's servile statement 
that “Although Great Britain, with her thousand ships of 
war, could have destroyed our commerce, she has really done 
it no essential injury.” 

The Federalist Legislature convened at the end of May 
1808, with — as the Massachusetts Republican Governor 
wrote Jefferson — ^but one “principal object — ^the political 
and even the personal destruction of John Quincy Adams.” 
As soon as both Houses had organized, the legislature
immediately elected Adams’ successor — ^nine months prior to the 

expiration of his term. And as its next order of business, the 
Legislature promptly passed resolutions instructing its Senators to urge repeal of the Embargo. 

"The election,” Adams realized, “was precipitated for the 
sole purpose of specially marking me. For it ought, in regular 
order, not to have been made until the winter session of the 
legislature.” And the resolutions, he felt, enjoined “upon 
their Senators a course of conduct which neither my judgment could approve nor my spirit brook.” 

Only one course was conscientiously open to him —he 
resigned his seat in the Senate, in order to defend the policies 
of the man who had driven his father from the Presidency. 

It was “out of the question,” he wrote, to hold his seat 
“without exercising the most perfect freedom of agency, 
under the sole and exclusive control of my own sense of right.” 

I will only add, that, far from regretting any one of those acts 
for which I have suffered, I would do them over again, were 
they now to be done, at the hazard of ten times as much slander, 
unpopularity, and displacement. 

But had his own vote in the Senate been necessary to save 
Jefferson's foreign policy,
Adams wrote to those who criticized his departure at such a critical time, then “highly as 
I reverenced the authority of my constituents, and bitter as 
would have been the cup of resistance to their declared will 
... I would have defended their interests against their inclinations,
and incurred every possible addition to their resentment,
to save them from the vassalage of their own delusions.” 

Hated by the Federalists and suspected by the Republi- 
cans, John Quincy Adams returned to private life. His star 
was soon to rise again; but he never forgot this incident or 
abandoned his courage of conscience.

(Legend has it that during Adams’ politically independent term as President, in 
response to the Presidential toast “May he strike confusion 
to his foes ! " Daniel Webster dryly conunented, “As he has 
already done to his friends.”)

Soon after his retirement from the White House in 1829,
Adams was asked by the voters of the Plymouth District to represent them in Congress.
In disregard of the advice of his family and friends and his own 
desire for leisure time to write his father’s biography, he 
agreed to accept the post if elected.

But he specified, first, that he should never be expected to promote himself as a 
candidate and ask for votes; and, secondly, that he would 
pursue a course in Congress completely independent of the 
party and people who elected him.

On this basis Adams was  elected by an overwhelming vote, and served in the House 
until his death.

Here he wrote perhaps the brightest chapter 
of his history, for as “Old Man Eloquent” he devoted his 
remarkable prestige and 'tireless energies to the struggle 
against slavery. 

To be returned on this independent basis to the Congress 
from which he had departed so ignominiously twenty-two 
years earlier was a deeply moving experience for the courageous ex-Senator.
“I am a member-elect of the Twenty-Sec- 
(Mid Congress,” he recorded with pride in his diary.
“No election or appointment conferred upon me ever gave me so 
much pleasure. My election as President of the United States 
was not half so gratifying to my inner-most soul.” 



Great crises produce great men, and great deeds of courage. 
This country has known no greater crisis than that which cuLMinated in the fratricidal war between North and South in 1861.

Thus, without intending to slight other periods of American history, no work of this nature could overlook 
three acts of outstanding political courage — of vital importance to the eventual maintenance of the Union
— which occiured in the fateful decade before the Civil War.

In two cases — involving Senators Sam Houston of Texas and Thomas Hart Benton of Missouri,
 both of whom had enjoyed political dominion in their states for many years —  defeat was their reward.

In the third — that involving Daniel Webster of Massachusetts — even death, which came within  two years of his great decision, did not halt the calumnies heaped upon him by his enemies, who had sadly embittered his last days. 

It is not surprising that this ten-year period of recurring  crises, when the ties that bound the Union were successively snapping, should have brought forth the best, as it did the worst, in our political leaders.

All - in a position of responsibility [AS POLITICIANS] were obliged to decide between maintaining their 
loyalty to the nation - or to their state and region.

For many on both sides — the abolitionists in the North, the fire-eaters in the South, men who were wholly convinced of the rightness of their section’s cause — the decision came easily. 

But - to those who felt a dual loyalty to their state and their country, to those who sought compromises which 
would postpone or remove entirely the shadow of war which hung over them, the decision was agonizing, for the ultimate choice involved the breaking of old loyalties and friendships, and the prospect of humiliating political defeat. 

The "cockpit" in which this struggle - between North and  South - was fought was the chamber of the United States 


Thus, the South, faced with the steadily growing population of the North - as reflected in increasing majorities in the 
House of Representatives -  realized that its sole hope of maintaining its power and prestige lay in the Senate.

It was for this reason that the admission of new states into the Union, which threatened continuously to upset the precarious balance of power between the free and the slave states, between the agricultural and manufactiuing regions, was at the heart of some of the great Senate debates in the first half of the nineteenth century. 

In 1820 a law was passed to admit Maine and Missouri into the Union together, one free, the other slave, as part of 
Henry Clay’s first great compromise.
In 1836 and 1837, Arkansas and Michigan, and in 1845 1846, Florida and Iowa, were admitted through legislation which coupled them together.

But the seams of "compromise" were bursting by 1850, as vast new territories acquired by the Mexican War accelerated the pace of the slavery controversy.

The attention of the nation was focused on the Senate, and focused especially on the three most gifted parliamentary leaders in American history — Clay, Calhoun and Webster.

Of these, only Daniel Webster was to share with Benton and Houston the ignominy of constituent wrath and the humiliation of political downfall at the hands of the states they had loved and championed.

We shall note well the courage of Webster, Benton and Houston; but if we are to understand the times 
that made their feats heroic, we must first note the leadership of the (SENATE) giants who formed with Webster the most outstanding triumvirate the Senate has ever known, 
Henry Clay and John C. Calhoun. [ Daniel WebsterHenry ClayJohn C. Calhoun

Henry Clay of Kentucky — bold, autocratic and magnetic, 
fiery in manner with a charm so compelling that an opponent 
once declined a meeting which would subject him to the appeal
of Harry of the West. To Abraham Lincoln, “He was 
my beau ideal”; to the half -mad, half-genius John Randolph 
of Roanoke, he was, in what is perhaps the most memorable 
and malignant sentence in the history of personal abuse, “a 
being, so brilliant yet so corrupt, which, like a rotten mack- 
erel by moonlight, shines and stinks.” Not even John Cal- 
houn, who had fought him for years, was impervious to his 
fascination: “I don’t like Henry Clay. He is a bad man, an 
impostor, a creator of wicked schemes. I wouldn’t speak to 
him, but, by God, I love him.” [ 
Others besides John Calhoun loved him. ]
Like Charles 
James Fox, he reveled in a love for life, and had a matchless 
gift for winning and holding the hearts of his fellow-countrymen — and women.
Elected to the Senate when still below 
the constitutional age of thirty, he was subsequently sent to 
the House, where in a move never duplicated before or since 
he was immediately elected Speaker at the age of thirty-five. 

Though he lacked the intellectual resources of Webster 
and Calhoun, Henry Clay nevertheless had visions of a 
greater America lieyond those held by either of his famous 
colleagues. And so, in 1820, 1833 and 1850 he initiated, ham- 
mered and charmed through reluctant Congresses the three 
great compromises that preserved the Union until 1861, by 
which time the strength of the North was such that secession was doomed to failure. 

John C. Calhoim of South Carolina

The second and probably the most extraordinary of the 
triumvirate was John C. Calhoim of South Carolina, with 
bristling hair and eyes that burned like heavy coals, “the 
cast-iron man,” according to the English spinster, Harriet 
Martineau, “who looks as if he had never been born, and 
never could be extinguished.” Calhoun, in spite of this ap- 
pearance, had been born — in 1782, the same year as Webster 
and five years after Clay. He was six feet, two inches tall; a 
graduate of Yale University; a Member of Congress at the 
age of twenty-nine; a War Hawk who joined Henry Clay in 
driving the United States into the War of 1812; a nationalist 
who turned sectionalist in the 1820’s as the economic pres- 
sures of the tariff began to tell on the agricultural economy 
of South Carolina. Calhoun had a mind that was cold, narrow, concentrated and powerful.
Webster considered him “much the ablest man in the Senate,” the greatest in fact that 
he had met in his entire public life. “He could have,” he decl
“demolished Newton, Calvin or even John Locke as a logician.” 
His speeches, stripped of all excess verbiage, marched 
across the Senate floor in even columns, measured, disci- 
plined, carrying all before them. Strangely enough, although 
he had the appearance, especially in his later days, of a 
fanatic, he was a man of infinite charm and personality. He 
was reputed to be the best conversationalist in South Caro- 
lina, and he won to him through their emotions men who 
failed to comprehend his closely reasoned arguments.
His  hold upon the imagination and affection of the entire South 
steadily grew, and at his death in the midst of the great 
debate of 1850 he was universally mourned. 

[STATES RIGHTS] Calhoun believed that the Constitutional Convention had not nationalized our government; that the sovereign states still retained “the right of judging . . . when the Congress encroached upon the individual state’s power and liberty.”  With other Southerners, he believed that the geography and climate of tlie Western country made it unlikely that  slavery could ever prosper in many of the territories that were seeking to become states, and that only in the South- west could they hope to balance the surging tide of free Western states by securing new slave states and Senators from the lands seized from Mexico.

[ The Clay Compromise ]

The Clay Compromise 
of 1850, which sought to conciliate the differences between 
North and South as to the ultimate fate of these lands, thus 
assumed far-reaching importance. 

All of the currents of conflict and disunion, of growth 
and decline, of strength and weakness, came to a climax in 

The three chief protagonists in the Washington drama oF 1850 had been colleagues in Congress as far back as 1813. 

Then - they were young, full of pride and passion and hope, 
and the world lay waiting before them. Now, nearly forty 
years later in the sunset of their lives — ^for they would all 
be dead within two years — ^with youth and illusions gone, 
they moved once again to the center of the stage. 

But they were not alone in the struggle. Neither Senator Thomas Hart Benton nor Sam Houston was dwarfed by 
the towering reputations of his three colleagues. Each was a legend in his own lifetime — and occupying respectively the strategic border states of Missouri and Texas, it was inevitable that the choice that each would make as the country 
slowly drifted apart would affect the nature and outcome of the general struggle. 

That secession did not occur in 1850 instead of 1861 is due in great part to Daniel Webster, who was in large meas- 
ure responsible for the country’s acceptance of Henry Clay’s compromise. The reasons he supported the compromise, the effect of his support and the calumnies he suffered are_^ de- 
tailed in Chapter III

That the key border state of Missouri did not join the 
Confederacy in 1861 was due in good measure to the memory 
of its former Senator Thomas Hart Benton. No man gave 
more than Senator Benton for the preservation of the Union. 
His efforts and his fate are told in Chapter IV

Texas joined the Confederacy, but not without a struggle that made Senator Houston’s old age a shipwreck.

His story is told in Chapter V


PART TWO     Daniel Webster 

"^HE BLizzARDY NIGHT of January 21, 1850, was no 
night in Washington for an ailing old man to be 
. out. But wheezing and coughing fitfully, Henry Clay 
made his way through the snowdrifts to the home of Daniel 
Webster. He had a plan — a plan to save the Union — and he 
knew he must have the support of the North’s most re- 
nowned orator and statesman. He knew that he had no time 
to lose, for that verj’ afternoon President Taylor, in a mes- 
sage to Congress asking California’s admission as a free state, 
had only thrown fuel on the raging fire that threatened to 
consume the Union, Why had the President failed to men- 
tion New Mexico, asked the North? What about the Fugitive 
Slave Law being enforced, said the South? What about the 

[ 81 ] 


District of Columbia slave trade, Utah, Texas boundaries? 
Tempers mounted, plots unfolded, disunity was abroad in 
the land. 

But Henry Clay had a plan — a plan for another Great 
Compromise to preserve the nation. For an hour he outlined 
its contents to Daniel Webster in the warmth of the latter's 
comfortable home, and together they talked of saving the 
Union. Few meetings in American history have ever been 
so productive ot so ironic in their consequences. For the 
Compromise of 1850 added to Henry Clay’s garlands as the 
great Pacificator; but Daniel Webster’s support which in- 
sured its success resulted in his political crucifixion, and, for 
half a century or more, his historical condemnation. 

The man upon whom Hemy Clay called that wintry night 
was one of the most extraordinary figures in American po- 
litical history. Daniel Webster is familiar to many of us today 
as the battler for Jabez Slone’s soul against the devil in 
Stephen Vincent Ben^t’s story. But in his own lifetime, he 
had many battles against the devil for his own soul— and 
some he lost. Webster, wrote one of his intimate friends, 
was “a compound of strength and weakness, dust and di- 
vinity,” or in Emerson's words “a great man with a small 

There could be no mistaking he was a great man — ^he 
looked like one, talked like one, was treated like one and 
insisted he was one. With all his faults and failing, Daniel 
Webster was undoubtedly the most talented figure in our 
Congressional history: not in his ability to win men to a 
cause — ^he was no match in that with Henry Clay; not in 
his abOity to hammer out a philosophy of government — 

[ 82 ] 


Calhoun outshone him there; but in his abihty to make alive 
and supreme the latent sense of oneness, of Union, that all 
Americans felt but which few could express. 

But how Daniel Webster could express itl How he could 
express almost any sentiments! Ever since his first speech 
in Congress — ^attacking the War of 1812 — ^had riveted the 
attention of the House of Representatives as no freshman 
had ever held it before, he was the outstanding orator of his 
day — ^indeed, of all time — ^in Congress before hushed 
throngs in Massachusetts and as an advocate before the 
Supreme Court. Stem Chief Justice Marshall was said to 
have been visibly moved by Webster’s famous defense in 
the Dartmouth College case~“It is, sir, as I have said, a 
small college — ^ yet there are those who love it.” After 
his oration on the two hundredth founding of Plymouth 
Colony, a young Harvard scholar wrote: 

I was never so excited by public speaking before in my life. 
Three or four times I thought my temple would b’lrst with the 
rush of blood. ... I was beside myself- and I am still so. 

And the peroration of his reply to Senator Hayne of South 
Carolina, when secession had threatened twenty years 
earher, was a national rallying cry memorized by every 
schoolboy — ^“Liberty and Union, now and forever, one and 

A very slow speaker, hardly averaging a hundred words a 
minute, Webster combined the musical charm of his deep 
organ-like voice, a vivid imagination, an abihty to crush his 
opponents with a barrage of facts, a confident and dehberate 

[ 83 ] 


maimer of speaking and a striking appearance to make his 
orations a magnet that drew crowds hurrying to the Senate 
chamber. He prepared his speeches with the utmost care, but 
seldom wrote them out in a prepared text. It has been said 
that he could think out a speech sentence by sentence, cor- 
rect the sentences in his mind without the use of a pencil and 
then deliver it exactly as he thought it out. 

Certainly that striking appearance was half the secret of 
his power, and convinced all who looked upon his face that 
he was one bom to rule men. Although less than six feet 
tall, Webster’s slender frame when contrasted with the mag- 
nificent sweep of his shoulders gave him a theatrical but 
formidable presence. But it was his extraordinary head that 
contemporaries found so memorable, with the features 
Carlyle described for all to remember: “The tanned com- 
plexion, the amorphous crag-like face; the dull black eyes 
imder the precipice of brows, like dull anthracite furnaces 
needing only to be blown; the masti£F mouth accurately 
closed.” One contemporary called Webster “a living lie, 
because no man on earth could be so great as he looked.” 

And Daniel Webster was not as great as he looked. The 
flaw in the granite was the failure of his moral senses to 
develop as acutely as his other faculties. He could see noth- 
ing improper in writing to the President of the Bank of the 
United States — at the very time when the Senate was en- 
gaged in debate over a renewal of the Bank’s charter — ^not- 
ing that “my retainer has not been received or refreshed as 
usual.” But Webster accepted favors not as gifts but as 
services which he believed were rightly due him. When he 
tried to resign frpm the Senate in 1836 to recoup speculative 

[ 84 ] 


losses through his law practice> his Massachusetts business- 
men friends joined to pay his debts to retain him in office. 
Even at his deathbed, legend tells us, there was a knock at 
his door, and a large roll of bills was thrust in by an old 
gentleman, who said that “At such a time as this, there 
should be no shortage of money in the house.” 

Webster took it all and more. What is difficult to com- 
prehend is that he saw no wrong in it — ^morally or otherwise. 
He probably believed that he was greatly underpaid, and 
it never occurred to him that by his own free choice he 
had sold his services and his talents, however extraordinary 
they might have been, to the people of the United States, 
and no one else, when he drew his salary as United States 
Senator. But Webster’s support of the business interests of 
New England was not the result of the money he obtained, 
but of his personal convictions. Money meant little to him 
except as a means to gratify his pecuhar tastes. He never 
accumulated a fortune. He never was out of debt. And he 
never was troubled by his debtor status. Sometimes he paid, 
and he always did so when it was convenient, but as 
Gerald W. Johnson says, “Unfortimately he sometimes paid 
in the wrong coin — ^not in legal tender — but in the con- 
fidence that the people reposed in him.” 

But whatever his faults, Daniel Webster remained the 
greatest orator of his day, the leading member of the Amer- 
ican Bar, one of the most renoumed leaders of the Whig 
party, and the only Senator capable of checking Calhoun. 
And thus Henry Clay knew he must enlist these extraor- 
dinary talents on behalf of his Great Compromise. Time and 
events proved he was right. 

[ 85 ] 


As the Cod-like Daniel listened in thoughtful silence, the 
sickly Clay unfolded his last great effort to hold the Union 
together. Its key features were five in number; (i) Cali- 
fornia was to be admitted as a free (nonslaveholding) state; 
(2) New Mexico and Utah were to be organized as terri- 
tories without legislation either for or against slavery, thus 
nmning directly contrary to the hotly debated Wilmot 
Proviso which was intended to prohibit slavery in the new 
territories; (3) Texas was to be compensated for some ter- 
ritory to te ceded to New Mexico; (4) the slave trade would 
be abolished in the District of Columbia; and (5) a more 
stringent and enforceable Fugitive Slave Law was to be 
enacted to guarantee return to their masters of runaway 
slaves captmed in Northern states. The Compromise would 
be condemned by the Southern extremists as appeasement, 
chiefly on its first and fourth provisions; and by the North- 
ern abolitionists as 90 per cent concessions to the South 
with a meaningless 10 per cent sop thrown to the North, par- 
ticularly because of the second and fifth provisions. . Few 
Northerners could stomach any strengthening of the Fugi- 
tive Slave Act, the most bitterly hated measure — and until 
Prohibition, the most flagrantly disobeyed — ever passed by 
Congress. Massachusetts had even enacted a law making it a 
crime for anyone to enforce the provisions of the Act in 
that statel 

How could Henry Clay then hope to win approval to such 
a plan from Daniel Webster of Massachusetts? Was he not 
specifically on record as a consistent foe of slavery and a sup- 
porter of the Wilmot Proviso? Had he not told the Senate in 
the Oregon Debate: 

[ 86 ] 


I shall oppose all slavery extension and all increase of slave 
representation in all places, at all times, under all circumstances, 
even against all inducements, against all supposed limitation of 
great interests, against all combinations, against all compromises. 

That very week he had written a friend: “From my earliest 
youth, I have regarded slavery as a great moral and political 
evil. . . . You need not fear that I shall vote for any com- 
promise or do anytliing inconsistent with the past.” 

But Daniel Webster feared that civil violence “would only 
rivet the chains of slavery the more strongly.” And the 
preservation of the Union was far dearer to his heart than 
his opposition to slavery. 

And thus on that fateful January night, Daniel Webster 
promised Henry Clay his conditional support, and took 
inventory of the crisis alxjut him. At first he shared the 
views of those critics and historians who scoffed at the pos- 
sibility of secession in 1850. But as he talked with Southern 
leaders and observed “the coiulition of the country, I 
thought the inevitable consequences of leaving the existing 
controversies unadjusted would be Civil War.” “I am nearly 
broken down with labor and anxiety,” he wrote his son. 
“I know not how to meet the present emergency, or with 
what weapons to beat dowm the Nortliem and Southern 
foUies now raging in equal extremes. ... I have poor spirits 
and httle courage.” 

Two groups were threatening in 1850 to break away from 
the United States of America. In New England, Garrison 
was publicly proclaiming, “1 am an Abolitionist and, there- 
fore, for the dissolution of the Union.” And a mass meeting 

[ 87 ] 


of Northern Abolitionists declared that “the Constitution is 
a covenant with death and an agreement with hell.” In the 
South, Calhoun was writing to a friend in February of 1850, 
“Disunion is the only alternative that is left for us.” And 
in his last great address to the Senate, read for him on March 
4, only a few short weeks before his death, while he sat 
by too feeble to speak, he declared, “The South will be 
forced to choose between abolition and secession.” 

A preliminaiy convention of Southerners, also instigated 
by Calhoun, urged a full-scale convention of the South at 
Nashville for Jxme of that fateful year to popularize the idea 
of dissolution. 

The time was ripe for secession, and few were prepared 
to speak for union. Even Alexander Stephens of Georgia, 
anxious to preserve the Union, wrote friends in the South 
who were sympathetic with his views that “the feeling 
among the Southern members for a dissolution of the Union 
... is becoming much more general. Men are now beginning 
to talk of it seriously who twelve months ago hardly per- 
mitted themselves to think of it the crisis is not far ahead. 

... A dismemberment of this Republic I now consider in- 
evitable.” During the critical month preceding Webster’s 
speech, six Southern states, each to secede ten years later, 
approved the aims of the Nashville Convention and ap- 
pointed delegates. Horace Greeley wrote on February 23: 

There are sixty members of Congress who this day desire 
and are plotting to effect the idea of a dissolution of the Union. 
We have no doubt the Nashville Convention will be held and 
that die leading purpose of its authors is the separation of die 

[ 88 ] 


slave states . . . with the formation of an independent con- 
federacy. • 

Such was the perilous state of the nation in the early months 
of 1850. 

By the end of February, the Senator from Massachusetts 
had determined upon his course. Only the Clay Compromise, 
Daniel Webster decided, could avert secession and civil war; 
and he wrote a friend that he planned “to make an honest 
truth-telling speech and a Union speech, and discharge a 
clear conscience,” As he set to work preparing his notes, he 
received abundant warning of the attacks his message would 
provoke. His constituents and Massachusetts newspapers 
admonished him strongly not to waver in his consistent anti- 
slavery stand, and i-iany urged him to employ still tougher 
tones against the South. But the Senator from Massachusetts 
had made up his mind, as he told his friends on March 6, “to 
push my skiff from the shore alone.” He would act accord- 
ing to the creed with which he had challenged the Senate 
several years earlier: 

Inconsistencies of opinion arising from changes of circum- 
stances are often justifiable. But there is one sort of inconsistency 
that is culpable; it is the inconsistency between a man’s convic- 
tion and his vote, between his conscience and his conduct. No 
man shall ever charge me with an inconsistency of that kind. 

And so came the 7th of March, 1850, the only day in his- 
tory which would become the title of a speech delivered on 
the Senate floor. No one recalls today — ^no one even recalled 
in -1851 — the formal title Webster gave his address, for it 

[ 89 ] 


had become the "Seventh of March” speech as much as 
Independence Day is known as the Fourth of July. 

Realizing after months of insomnia that this might be the 
last great effort his health would permit, Webster stim- 
ulated his strength for the speech by oxide of arsenic and 
other drugs, and devoted the morning to polishing up his 
notes. He was excitedly interrupted by the Sergeant at 
Arms, who told him that even then — ^two hours before the 
Senate was to meet — ^the chamber, the galleries, tlie ante- 
rooms and even the corridors of the Capitol were filled with 
those who had been traveling for days from all parts of 
the nation to hear Daniel Webster. Many foreign diplomats 
and most of the House of Representatives were among those 
vying for standing room. As the Senate met, members could 
scarcely walk to their seats through the crowd of spectators 
and temporary seats made of public documents stacked on 
top of each other. Most Senators gave up their seats to 
ladies, and stood in the aisles awaiting Webster’s opening 

As the Vice President’s gavel commenced the session. 
Senator Walker of Wisconsin, who held the floor to finish 
a speech begun the day before, told the Chair that "this vast 
audience has not come to hear me, and there is but one man 
who can assemble such an audience. They expect to hear 
him, and I feel it is my duty, as it is my pleasure, to give the 
floor to the Senator from Massachusetts.” 

The crowd fell silent as Daniel Webster rose slowly to 
his feet, all the impressive powers of his extraordinary 
physical appearance — ^the great, dark, brooding eyes, the 
wonderfully bronzed complexion, the majestic domed fore- 

[ 90 ] 


head — commanding the same awe they had commanded for 
more than thirty years. Garbed in his familiar blue tailed 
coat with brass buttons, and a bu£F waistcoat and breeches, 
he deliberately paused a moment as he gazed about at the 
greatest assemblage of Senators ever to gather in that cham- 
ber — Clay, Benton, Houston, Jefferson Davis, Hale, Bell, 
Cass, Seward, Chase, Stephen A. Douglas and others. But 
one face was missing — that of the ailing John C. Calhoun. 

All eyes were fixed on the speaker; no spectator save 
his own son knew what he would say. "1 have never before,” 
wrote a newspaper correspondent, “witnessed an occasion 
on which there was deeper feeling enlisted or more uni- 
versal anxiety to catch the most distinct echo of the speakers 

In his moments of magnificent inspiration, as Emerson 
once described him, Webster was truly “the great cannon 
loaded to the lips.” Summoning for the last time that spell- 
binding oratorical ability, he abandoned his previous op- 
position to slavery in the territories, abandoned his con- 
stituents' abhorrence of the Fugitive Slave Law, abandoned 
his own place in the history and hearts of his cotmtrymen 
and abandoned his last chance for the goal that had eluded 
him for over twenty years — the Presidency. Daniel Webster 
preferred to risk his career and his reputation rather than 
risk the Union. 

“Mr. President,” he began, “I wish to speak today, not as 
a Massachusetts man, nor as a Northern man, but as an 
American and a Member of the Senate of the United States. 
... I speak today for the preservation of the Union. Hear 
me for my cause.” 

[ 91 ] 


He had spoken but for a short time when the gaunt, bent 
form of Calhoim, wrapped in a black cloak, was dramatically 
assisted into his seat, where he sat trembling, scarcely able 
to move, and vmnoticed by the speaker. After several ex- 
pressions of regret by Webster that illness prevented the 
distinguished Senator from South Carolina from being pres- 
ent, Calhoun struggled up, grasping the arms of his chair, 
and in a clear and ghostly voice proudly announced, “The 
Senator from South Carolina is in his seat.” Webster was 
touched, and with tears in his eyes he extended a bow to- 
ward Calhoun, who sank back exhausted and feeble, eyeing 
the Massachusetts orator with a sphinx-like expression which 
disclosed no hint of either approval or disapproval. 

For three hours and eleven minutes, with only a few refer- 
ences to his extensive notes, Daniel Webster pleaded the 
Union’s cause. Relating the grievances of each side, he asked 
for conciliation and understanding in the name of patriotism. 
The Senate’s main concern, he insisted, was neither to pro- 
mote slavery nor to abolish it, but to preserve the United 
States of America. And with telling logic and remarkable 
foresight he bitterly attacked the idea of “peaceable seces- 

Sir, your eyes and mine are never destined to see that miracle. 
The dismemberment of this vast country without convulsioni 
Who is so foolish ... as to expect to see any such thing? . . . 
Instead of speaking of die possibility or utility of secession, 
instead of .dwelling in those caverns of darkness, ... let us enjoy 
the fresh air of liberty and union. . . . Let us make our genera- 
tion one of the strongest and brightest links in that golden chain 
which is destined, I fondly believe, to grapple the people of all 
the states to this Constitution for ages to come. 

[ 92 ] 


There was no applause. Buzzing and astonished whisper- 
hig> yes, but no applause. Perhaps his hearers were too in- 
tent — or too astonished. A reporter rushed to the telegraph 
office. “Mr. Webster has assiuned a great responsibility,” 
he wired his paper, “and whether he succeeds or fails, the 
courage with which he has come forth at least entitles him 
to the respect of the country.” 

Daniel Webster did succeed. Even though his speech was 
repudiated by many in the North, the very fact that one who 
represented such a belligerent constituency would appeal 
for understanding in the name of unity and patriotism was 
recognized in Washington and throughout the South as a 
bona fide assurance of Southern rights. Despite Calhoun’s 
own intransigence, his Charleston Mercury praised Web- 
ster’s address as “noble in language, generous and concil- 
iatory in tone. Mr. Calhoun’s clear and powerful exposition 
would have had something of a decisive efiFect if it had not 
been so soon followed by Mr. Webster’s masterly playing.” 
And the New Orleans Picayune hailed Webster for “the 
moral courage to do what he believes to be just in itself and 
necessary for the peace and safety of the cotmtry.” 

And so the danger of immediate secession and bloodshed 
passed. As Senator Winthrop remarked, Webster’s speech 
had “disarmed and quieted the South [and] knocked the 
Nashville Convention into a cocked hat.” The Journal of 
Commerce was to remark in later months that "Webster did 
more than any other man in the whole country, and at a 
greater hazard of personal popularity, to stem and roll back 
the torrent of sectionalism which in 1850 threatened to over- 
thrbw the pillars of the Constitution and the Union.” 

Some historians — ^particularly those who wrote in the 

[ 93 ] 


latter half of the niaeteentb century under the influence of 
the moral earnestness of Webster's articulate Abolitionist 
foes — do not agree with Allan Nevins, Henry Steele Com- 
mager, Gerald Johnson and others who have praised the 
Seventh of March speech as "the highest statesmanship . . . 
Webster’s last great service to the nation.” Many deny that 
secession would have occurred in 1850 without such com- 
promises; and others maintain that subsequent events proved 
eventual secession was inevitable regardless of what com- 
promises were made. But still others insist that delaying war 
for ten years narrowed the issues between North and South 
and in the long run helped preserve the Union. The spirit 
of conciliation in Webster’s speech gave the North the 
righteous feeling that it had made every attempt to treat the 
South with fairness, and the defenders of the Union were 
thus united more strongly against what they felt to be 
Southern violations of those compromises ten years later. 
Even from the military point of view of the North, post- 
ponement of the battle for ten years enabled the Northern 
states to increase tremendously their lead in popularity, vot- 
ing power, production and railroads. 

Undoubtedly this was imderstood by many of Webster’s 
supporters, including the business and professional men of 
Massachusetts who helped distribute himdreds of thousands 
of copies of the Seventh of March speech throughout the 
country. It was tmderstood by Daniel Webster, who dedi- 
cated the printed copies to the people of Massachusetts with 
these words: “Necessity compels me to speak true rather 
than pleasing things. ... I should indeed like to please you; 
but I prefer to save you, whatever be your attitude toward 

[ 94 ] 


But it was not understood by the Abolitionists and Free 
Soilers of 1850. Few politicians have had the distinction of 
being scourged by such talented constituents. The Rev. 
Theodore Parker, heedless of the dangers of secession, who 
had boasted of harboring a fugitive slave in his cellar and 
writing his sermons with a sword over his ink stand and a 
pistol in his desk ‘loaded and ready for defense,” denounced 
Webster in merciless fashion from his pulpit, an attack he 
would continue even after Webster’s death: “No living man 
has done so much,” he cried, “to debauch the conscience 
of the nation. ... I know of no deed in American history 
done by a son of New England to which 1 can compare this, 
but the act of Benedict Arnold.” “Webster,” said Horace 
Mann, “is a fallen starl Lucifer descending from Heaven!” 
Longfellow asked the world: “Is it possible? Is this the 
Titan who hurled mountains at Hayne years ago?” And 
Emerson proclaimed that “Every drop of blood in that man’s 
veins has eyes that look downward. . . . Webster’s absence 
of moral faculty is degrading to the coimtry.” To William 
Cullen Bryant, Webster was “a man who has deserted the 
cause which he lately defended, and deserted it under cir- 
cumstances which force upon him the imputation of a sordid 
motive.” And to James Russell Lowell he was “the most 
meanly and foolishly treacherous man I ever heard of.” 

Charles Sumner, who would be elevated to the Senate 
upon his departure, enrolled the name of Webster on “the 
dark list of apostates. Mr. Webster's elaborate treason has 
done more than anything else to break down the North.” 
Senator William H. Seward, the brilliant “Conscience” 
Whig, called Webster a “traitor to the cause of freedom.” 
A mass meeting in Faneuil Hall condemned the speech as 

[ 95 ] 


*unwortliy of a wise statesman and a good man,** and re- 
solved that "Constitution or no Constitution, law or no law, 
we will not allow a fugitive slave to be taken from the state 
of Massachusetts." As the Massachusetts Legislature enacted 
further resolutions wholly contrary to the spirit of the 
Seventh of March speech, one member called Webster "a 
recreant son of Massachusetts who misrepresents her in the 
Senate"; and anodier stated that "Daniel Webster will be a 
fortunate man if God, in his sparing mercy, shall preserve 
his life long enou^ for him to repent of this act and efface 
this stain on his name." 

The Boston Courier pronounced diat it was "unable to 
find that any Northern Whig member of Congress concurs 
with Mr. Webster”; and his old defender, the Boston Atlas, 
stated, "His sentiments are not our sentiments nor we ven- 
ture to say of the Whigs of New England." The New York 
Tribune considered it "unequal to the occasion and un- 
worthy of its author"; the New York Evening Post spoke in 
terms of a "traitorous retreat ... a man who deserted the 
cause which he lately defended"; and the Abolitionist press 
called it "the scarlet infamy of Daniel Webster. ... An in- 
describably base and wicked speech." 

Edmund Quincy spoke bitterly of the "ineffable meanness 
of the lion turned spaniel in his fawnings on the masters 
whose hands he was licking for the sake of the dirty pud- 
dings they might have to toss to him." And finally, the name 
of Daniel Webster was humiliated for all time in the litera- 
ture of our land by the cutting words of the usually gentle 
John Greenleaf Whittier in his immortal poem "Icha- 

[ 96 ] 


So falleni so losti the li^t withdrawn 
Which once he wcnel 

The glory firom his gray hairs gone 
Forevennorel . . . 

Of all we loved and honored, naught 
Save power remains; 

A fallen angel’s pride of thought, 

Still strong in chains. . . . 

Then pay the reverence of old days 
To his dead fame; 

Walk backward, with averted gaze. 

And hide the shame! 

Years afterward Whittier was to recall that he penned 
this acid verse "in one of the saddest moments of my life.” 
And for Daniel Webster, the arrogant, scornful giant of the 
ages who believed himself above political rancor, Whittier’s 
attack was especially bitter. To some extent he had at- 
tempted to shrug off his attackers, stating that he had ex- 
pected to be libeled and abused, particularly by the 
Abolitionists and intellectuals who had previously scorned 
him, much as George Washington and others before him had 
been abused. To those who urged a prompt reply, he merely 
related the story of the old deacon in a similar predicament 
who told his friends, "1 always make it a rule never to clean 
up the padi until the snow is done falling.” 

But he was saddened by the failure of a sin^e other New 
En^and Whig to rise to his defense, and he remarked that 
he was 


engaged in a controversy in whidi I have neither a leader nor 
a follower from among my own immediate friends. ... I am 
tired of standing up here, almost alone from Massachusetts, con- 
tending for practical measures absolutely essential to the good 
of die country. . . . For five months ... no one of my colleagues 
manifested the sli^test concurrence in my sentiments. . . . Since 
the 7th of March there has not been an hour in which 1 have not 
felt a crushing weight of anxiety. I have sat down to no breakfast 
or dinner to which I have brought an unconcerned and easy 

But, although he sought to explain his objectives and reas- 
sure his friends of his continued opposition to slavery, he 
nevertheless insisted he would 

stand on the principle of my speech to die end. ... If nec^sary 
I will take the stump in every village in New England. . . . 
What is to come of the present commotion in men's minds I 
cannot foresee, but my own convictions of duty are fixed and 
strong, and I shall continue to follow those convichons without 
faltering. ... In highly excited times it is far easier to fttn and 
feed the fiames of discord, than to subdue them; and he who 
counsels moderation is in danger of being regarded as failing in 
his duty to his party. 

And the following year, despite his seventy years, Web- 
ster went on extended speaking tours defending his position: 
"If the chances had been one in a thousand that Civil War 
would be the result, I should still have felt that thousandth 
chance should be guarded against by any reasonable sacri- 
fice.” When his efiForts — ^and those of Clay, Douglas and 
others — on behalf of compromise were ultimately sucx:essful, 

[ 98 ] 


he noted sarcastically that many of his colleagues were now 
saying "They always meant to stand by the Union to the 

But Daniel Webster was doomed to disappointment in 
his hopes that this latent support might again enable him to 
seek the Presidency. For his speech had so thoroughly de- 
stroyed those prospects that the recurring popularity of his 
position could not possibly satisfy the great masses of voters 
in New England and the North. He could not receive the 
Presidential nomination he had so long desired; but neither 
could he ever put to rest the assertion, which was not only 
expressed by his contemporary critics but subsequently by 
several nineteenth-century historians, that his real objective 
in the Seventh of March speech was a bid for Southern sup- 
port for the Presidency. 

But this “profound selfishness,” which Emerson was so 
certain the speech represented, could not have entered into 
Daniel Webster's motivations. “Had he been bidding for 
the Presidency,” as Professor Nevins points out, “he would 
have trimmed his phrases and inserted weasel-words upon 
New Mexico and the fugitive slaves. The first precau- 
tion of any aspirant for the Presidency is to make sure 
of his own state and section; and Webster knew that his 
speech would send echoes of demmeiation leaping from 
Mount Mansfield to Monamoy Light.” Moreover, Webster 
was sufficiently acute politically to know that a divided 
party such as his would turn away from politically contro- 
versial figures and move to an uncommitted neutral indi- 
vidual, a principle consistently applied to this day. And the 
1852 Whig Convention followed exactly this course. After 

199 ] 


the procompromise vote had been divided for fifty-two 
ballots between Webster and President Filhnore, die con- 
vention turned to the popular General Winfield Scott. Not a 
single Southern Whig supported Webster. And when the 
Boston Whigs urged that the party platform take credit for 
the Clay Compromise, of which, they said, "Daniel Webster, 
with the concurrence of Henry Clay and other profound 
statesmen, was the author,” Senator Corwin of Ohio was 
reported to have commented sarcastically, "And I, with the 
concurrence of Moses and some extra help, wrote the Ten 

So Daniel Webster, who neither could have intended his 
speech as an improvement of his political popularity nor 
permitted his ambitions to weaken his plea for the Union, 
died a disappointed and discouraged death in 1852, his eyes 
fixed on the flag flying from the mast of the sailboat he had 
anchored in view of his bedroom window. But to the very 
end he was true to character, asking on his deathbed, "Wife, 
children, doctor, I trust on this occasion 1 have said nothing 
unworthy of Daniel Webster.” And to the end he had been 
true to the Union, and to his greatest act of courageous 
principle; for in his last words to the Senate, Webster had 
written his own epitaph: 

I shall stand by the Union . . . with absolute disregard of per- 
sonal consequences. What are personal consequences ... in 
comparison with the good or evil which may befall a great 
country in a crisis like this? . . . Let the consequences be what 
they will, I am careless. No man can suffer too much, and no 
man can fall too soon, if he suffer or if he fall in defense of the 
liberties and Constitution of his country. 





Thomas Hart Benton 

M r. P*besident, sir ...” A burly, black-haired Sena- 
tor was speaking to a nearly empty chamber in 
. 1850. Those who remained, including a nervous 
Senator who had just termed the speaker quarrelsome, saw 
his great muscles tighten and his sweeping shoulders be- 
come icily erect, and heard his hard, cold voice rasp out the 
word “sir” like a poisoned dart from his massive, Romanesque 

“Mr. President, sir ... I never quarrel, sir. But sometimes 
I fight, sir; and whenever I fight, sir, a funeral follows, 

No one regarded this as an idle boast by the senior Senator 
from Missouri, Thomas Hart Benton. True, he had not killed 
a man since his early days in St. Louis, when a U.S. District 

[ 101 ] 


Attorney had the misfortune to engage the rugged Mis- 
sourian in a duel (at nine feetl). But all the Senate knew that 
Thomas Hart Benton was a rou^ and tumble fighter off 
and on the Senate floor — ^no longer with pistols but with 
stinging sarcasm, vituperative thou^ learned oratory and 
bitterly heated debate. He himself was immune to die 
wounds of those political clashes from which his adversaries 
retired bleeding and broken. For his great ego and vigorous 
health had made hiiri thick-skinned mentally as well as phys- 
ically. (The leathery quality of his skin was in part the result 
of a daily brushing with a horsehair brush “because, sir, the 
Roman gladiators did it, sir.” When asked if the brush was 
truly rough, he would roar: “Why, sir, if I were to touch 
you with that brush, sir, you would cry murder, sirl”) 

But now, with his last term rounding out thirty years in 
the Senate, Benton was under attack in his final great fight 
to the finish — and this time the political funeral to follow 
would be his own. From 1821 to 1844 he had reigned su- 
preme as Kingpin of Missouri politics, her first Senator, Jier 
most beloved idol. In the words of one of his opponents, 
it meant “political death 'to any man to even whisper a 
breath against ‘old Bullion’” (the nickname derived from 
Benton’s fight for hard money). Althou^ inexpert at poli- 
tics, constantly the advocate of unpopular issues within his 
state and gradually out of touch with most of her younger 
politicians, Benton nevertheless did not even need to ask 
to be re-elected during that charmed period. The fact diat 
he alone disdained patronage, petty Congressional ^aft and 
favors from lobbyists may have disturbed the politicians, 
but not the people of Missouril Democratic candidates for 

[ 102 ] 


the Missouri Legislature were required to pledge to vote for 
his re-election under pain of humiliating defeat in their own 
campaigns. The first Senator ever to serve thirty consecutive 
years, Thomas Hart Benton achieved a prominence which 
no other Senator from a new state could claim, and he 
championed the West with a boundless energy no opposing 
candidate could match. The Pony Express, the telegraph 
line and the hi^ways to the interior were among his proud 
accomplishments — and a transcontinental railroad and fully 
developed West, rich in population and resources, were 
among his dreams. Defeat Benton, father of the Senate and 
defender of the people? “Nobody opposes Benton, sir,” he 
would roar. “Nobody but a few black-jack prairie lawyers; 
these are the only opponents of Benton. Benton and the 
people, Benton and Democracy are one and the same, sir; 
synonymous terms, sir, synonymous terms.” 

But by 1844, handwriting of inevitable defeat had al- 
ready appeared on the wall. Missouri, a slave state, gradually 
came to feel more strongly that her allegiance belonged to 
her sister states of the South. She tended to look with in- 
creasing suspicion upon her rebellious Senator whose pri- 
mary loyalty was neither to his party nor his section, but 
to the Union for which he had fought — on the battlefront 
and in Congress — and upon the rugged independence of 
his views for which he intended to fight, in or out of Con- 
gress. His devotion to the Union was far greater than his 
devotion to the South or the Democratic party. (His op- 
ponents charged that Benton told the 1844 Democratic 
National Convention, as it prepared to abandon Van Buren, 
that he would “see the Democratic party sink 50 fathoms 

[ 103 ] 


deq> into the middle of hell fire before 1 will give one inch 
with Mr. Van Buren.”) 

As the campaign for the legislatiure which would con- 
sider his re-election began in 1844, Benton broke sharply 
with his state and party by engineering the defeat of the 
treaty for the annexation of Texas. Convinced that the 
treaty was a plot hatched by Calhoun without consideration 
of Mexican rights or resistance, and for political, slavery 
and secessionist purposes, Benton — ^who actually favored 
Western expansion on the nationalistic grounds of "manifest 
destiny” — ^was handing his political enemies a choice op- 
portunity to assail him openly. The Texas Treaty was popular 
in Missouri, despite Benton s assertion that he did not know 
whether his constituents really were opposed to his position: 

if they were, and I knew it, I should resign my place; for I 
could neither violate their known wishes in voting against it, 
nor violate my own sense of constitutional or moral duty in 
voting for it. If the alternative should be the extinction of my 
political life, 1 should have to embrace it. 

Labeled a traitor to his party and section and an ally 
of the Whigs and British, Benton openly lost the support of 
prominent candidates for the Missouri Legislature and was 
subject to all manner of personal attacks — as a nonresident, 
a defaulter in his debts, and one contemptuous of public 
opinion. Senator Benton, declared the Missouri Register, is 
“a demagogue and a tyrant at heart . . . the greatest egotist 
in Christendom. . . . Wherever he goes, whatever he does, 
he shows but one characteristic — that of a blustering, in- 
solent, unscrupulous demagogue.” 

[ 104 ] 


But Benton did not hesitate even on the eve of election 
to continue his denunciation of his party's Texas policy. He 
charged on the Senate floor that his political opposition in 
Missouri had been stirred up by Calhoun, Tyler and their 
friends, including “300 newspapers in the pay of the De- 
partment of State, many of them not visibly so.'' His tre- 
mendous personal popularity among the ordinary citizens 
carried him through the legislature — but by only eight votes, 
in a legislature his party controlled by a twenty-seven vote 
margin. At the same time, the proslavery Democrat Atchison 
was elected to fill an unexpired Senate term by a margin of 
thirty-four votes. Senator Benton could hardly mistake the 
ominous unwritten instructions of his state — in effect: "tem- 
per your mdrpc..dcnt tongue, sir, and stand by the South, 
or suffer the inevitable consequences.” 

But a hardy youth on the Tennessee frontier had not 
taught Thomas Hart Benton how to avoid a fight, whether 
with wild beasts, neighbors or politicians. (His brutal free- 
for-all with Andrew Jackson, which caused him to leave a 
promising legal and political career in Tennessee for Mis- 
souri, was a subject of much comment when the two became 
firm political and personal friends in Washington. And years 
later, when Benton was asked by a novice whether he had 
known Jackson, he haughtily replied: "Yes, sir, I knew him, 
sir; General Jackson was a very great man, sir. I shot him, 
sir. Afterward he was of great use to me, sir, in my battle 
with the United States Bank.”) Like a "wild buffalo” — 
some said a "gnarled oak”— he returned to the Senate con- 
vinced that the entire nation depended upon him to cany 
the attack on every issue every day. 

[ 105 ] 


Despite his near defeat in 1844-45, Senator Benton auda- 
ciously opposed his party and state on the Oregon es^ansion 
issue. Having personally aroused intense public approval for 
expansion— particularly in Missouri, which had sent large 
numbers of its citizens to Oregon— he now felt that the 
Democratic “whole of Oregon or none,” “fifty-four forty 
or fight” position was extravagantly unrealistic. Counseling 
President Folk against adhering to those slogans in dealing 
with England and Canada, he assailed his Democratic col- 
leagues in the Senate for their refusal to concede the error 
of their views — especially Michigan’s Lewis Cass. Explaining 
that the “simples” was a kind of disease which made Missouri 
horses physically and mentally blind, and which could be 
cured only when the veterinary cut a certain nerve, he an- 
nounced that he had “cut Cass for the simples, sir, and cured 

Again he was assailed as a coward and traitor. His biog- 
rapher believes that “probably no man in history has been 
more vilified than he was at this time.” 

But Benton pursued his independent and increasingly 
lonely course. He would not go over to the Whig party, 
whose petty politicians, he said, “are no more able to com- 
prehend me . . . than a rabbit, which breeds 12 times a year, 
could comprehend the gestation of an elephant which carries 
2 years.” Nor would he seek financial aid from the lobbyists 
swarming over Washington, telling the agent for one group 
seeking a ship subsidy that the only condition upon which 
he would lift a finger to help was “when the vessels are 
finished they will be used to take all such damned rascals 
as you, sir, out of the country.” Nor would he make peace 

[ 106 ] 


^th the Missouri political chiefs, carrying his Hisljlfe for 
the St. Louis postmaster to the point where he resorted to 
the express company for any mail he thought Postmaster 
Armstrong might possibly handle. 

Only at home was Benton at peace with the world. As his 
dau^ter, Jessie Benton Fremont, wrote in her memoirs: 
“To him home brought the strength of peace and repose, 
and he never su£Fered the outside public atmosphere of strife 
to enter there.” But his family life was clouded by the death 
of his two sons early in life, and by the long physical and 
mental illness of the wife to whom he was at all times tender 
and devoted. On one occasion, which revealed the depth of 
warm devotion which lay beneath that rough conceit, Benton 
was entertaining, a French prince and other distinguished 
guests when his wife, not fully dressed, rambled into the 
room and stared adoringly at her husband. Interrupting 
the embarrassed silence that followed. Senator Benton 
with dignity and majesty introduced his wife to the prince 
and others, seated her by his side, and resumed conversa- 

But in the Senate he was alone, hard and mercOess Widi 
piles of books and papers heaped on his desk, speaking fre- 
quently to nearly empty galleries and an indifferent cham- 
ber, Benton poured forth thousands of statistics, classical 
illustrations and magnificent metaphors upon colleagues with 
far more formal schooling and originality of thought. As an 
obituary notice later described it: 

With a readiness which was often surprising he could quote 
from a Roman law or a Greek philosopher, from Virgil’s 
Georgies, die Arabian Ni^ts, Herodotus or Sancho Panza, 

[ 107 ] 


from tbe Sacred Carpets, the German Reformers or Adam 
Smith, from Fenelon or Hudibras, from the Financial Reports 
of Necca, or the doings of the Council of Trent; from the de- 
bates of the adoption of the Constitution, or the intrigues of the 
kitchen cabinet, or from some forgotten speech of a deceased 
memba of Congress, 

Benton, with but one year at the University of North 
Carolina, was said to carry the Congressional Library in his 
head; and he achieved great satisfaction, if another Senator 
forgot a name or date, by obtaining from the library some 
obscure volume, marking the exact page on which the cor- 
rect information appeared and sending it to his colleague. 
His own thirst for knowledge, particularly about the un- 
settled West, was unquenchable, and led him not only to 
books but also, a contemporary tells us, to “hunters and 
trappers, scouts, wild half-breeds, Indian chiefs, and Jesuit 

But no amount of acquired information, bulldog per- 
sistence or ferocious egotism could save Thomas Hart Ben- 
ton from the tidal wave that engulfed the Senate and his 
state over one burning issue— slavery. Unfortunately, until 
it was too late, Benton refused to recognize slavery as a ma- 
jor issue, believed that the Missouri Compromise of 1820 
(which brought his state into the Union and Benton to the 
Senate) had taken it out of politics, and refused to debate it 
on the Senate floor. *1 cannot degrade the Senate by engag- 
ing in slavery and disunion discussions,” he said. “Silence 
such debate is my prayer; and if that cannot be done, I si- 
lence myself.” One of the few Members of Congress who still 
brought his slaves with him to his Washington household, 
he nevertheless was equally opposed to the Abolitionists and 

[ 108 ] 


the secessionists, to the permanent extension of this evil into 
new territory by the South and to the partisan exploitation 
of its miseries by Northern agitators. Above all, he was most 
distressed about the fact that the issue was constantly raised 
by both sides as a barrier to Western expansion and the 
admission of new states to the Union. 

The beginning of Bentons end — so strongly suggested 
already by the antagonisms he had aroused over Texas and 
Oregon— came on February 19, 1847. John C. Calhoun read 
to a worried Senate his famous resolutions insisting that 
Congress had no right to interfere with the development of 
slavery in the territories. Later events indicated the correct- 
ness of Benton’s views that those resolutions were but “fire- 
brands intended for electioneering and disunion purposes,” 
providing the slave states with a program on which to 
unite — ^not only as a section but behind the leadership and 
Presidential candidacy of Calhoun himself. Nevertheless, 
Calhoun called for an immediate vote; and in the momentary 
confusion that followed, he was angrily amazed to see the 
massive and stately Benton rising from his chair, his face 
flashing with obvious contempt for Calhoun, the resolutions 
and his own political fate. 

Mr. Benton: Mr. President, we have some business to transact, 
and I do not intend to avoid business for a string of abstractions. 

Mb. Calhoun: ... I certainly supposed the Senator from Mis- 
souri, the representative of a slaveholding state, would have 
supported these resolutions . . . 

Mr. Benton: The Senator knows very well from my whole 
course in public life that I would never leave public business 
to take up firebrands to set the world on fire. 

[ 109 ] 


Mb. Calhoun: Then I shall know where to find die gentleman. 

Mr. Benton: I shall be found in the right place ... on the side 
of my country and the Union. [“This answer," wrote Benton 
in later years, “given on that day and on that spot, is one of the 
incidents of his life which Mr. Benton will wish posterity to 

When Calhoun initiated a series of secret, ni^tly meet- 
ings of Congressmen from slave states, strongly supported by 
Benton’s Missouri colleague Atchison, Benton refused to 
have anything to do with it. When Calhoun’s colleague from 
South Carolina challenged him to a duel, he refused to have 
anything to do with him. When he was warned not to 
deliver his great eulogy in appreciation of that foe of slavery, 
John Quincy Adams, he refused to heed such warnings. And 
finally, when in 1848 the slavery issue split the Democratic 
party at its convention, Benton, deploring the split and 
denying the importance of the issue, refused to support 
either camp actively. He was now a man without a party, a 
politician without a recognized platform, and a Senator 
without a constituency. ' 

The noose was set early in 1849. Calhoim, successful in 
obtaining adoption of his resolutions by several Southern 
legislatures, denounced Benton to his Missouri enemies as 
one “false to the South for the last ten years. ... He can do 
us much less injury in the camp of the abolitionists than he 
could in our own camp. His will be the fate of all traitors." 
By an overwhelming margin, the Missouri Legislature 
adopted Calhoun’s resolutions, expressed Missouri’s desire 
to cooperate with other slaveholdmg states, and instructed 

[ 110 ] 


her Senators to vote accordingly. Outraged at this setback, 
Benton charged that the resolutions had been inspired in 
Washington and falsified real opinion in Missouri. They 
were, he said, “the speckled progeny of a vile conjunction, 
redolent with lurking treason to the Union": 

Between them and me, henceforth and forever, a hi^ wall 
and a deep ditch! And no communion, no compromise, no caucus 
with them. . . . From this command I appeal to the people of 
Missouri, and if they confirm the instructions, I shall give them 
an opportunity to find a Senator to carry their wishes into effect^ 
as I cannot do anything to dissolve this Union, or to array one- 
half of it against the other. 

Determined see the Legislature's resolutions withdrawn 
or repudiated, Benton launched an aggressive tour of his 
hostile state. He denoimced tlie leading Southern spokesman 
for his party as “John ‘Catahne’ Calhoun” (a denuncia- 
tion he would continue until shortly before Calhoun’s death 
after a long illness in 1850. He withheld his attack then, he 
said, because “When Cod Almighty lays his hand upon a 
man, sir, 1 take mine off, sir”). Pouring out his taimting 
sarcasm in short, bombastic thunderbolts of gigantic rage, 
hate and ridicule, day after day, in town after town, he 
assailed his opponents and their policies with bitter invective. 
His overbearing and merciless roughness, personal vindic- 
tiveness and uncompromising enmity drove away many 
whose support he might otherwise have won by conciliation. 
Beginning his address to crowded meetings with “My friends 
— ^and in that term I comprehend diose who come to hear 
the truth and to believe it — ^none others,” he attacked Ihe 

[ 111 ] 


resolutions as "false in their facts, incendiary in their temper, 
disunion in their object, hi^ treason in their remedy, and 
usuipation in their character. . . . The whole concept, con- 
coction and* passage of the resolutions were perfected by 
fraud ... a plot to get me out of the Senate and out of the 
way of the disunion plotters.” Attaddng his long-time 
political enemy. Judge Napton, who had reportedly drawn 
up the resolutions, he said that any man who acted accord- 
ing to the provisions of those measures would “be subject 
to be hung under the laws of the United States — and if a 
judge will deserve to be hung.” 

One day, bitterly reading and commenting upon the 
names of each member of the Legislature, he stopped when 
he came to the “D s” and said he smelled a NuUifier. A legis- 
lator named Davies having arisen to protest, Benton 
scowled: “I never called your name, sir. Turn your profile to 
the audience. . . . [Like a fool, Davies complied] , . . Citizens, 
that is not the profile of a man; it is the profile of a dog” 
When an old friend, accidentally failing to remove his hat, 
asked a question in the middle of a speech, Benton angrily 
scolded, “Who is this man, citizens, who dares to stop Benton 
in his speech?” “Aycock, Colonel Aycock,” came a dozen 
voices. “Aycock? No, citizens, no, not a cock, but a hen 
rather. Take oflF your hat, sir, and take your seat.” 

In another town, spotting from the platform three of his 
enemies sitting quietly in his audience while he character- 
ized their resolutions as “fungus cancers,” he caustically re- 
ferred to them by name “as demure as three prostitutes at a 
christening.” When his attention was called to the criticism 
of a distinguished opponent, he lashed baek, “Send him 

[ 112 ] 


word that Benton says he lied from the bottom of his belly 
to the root of his tongue.” And when, upon his ignoring the 
greeting of a former friend who had disapproved of his 
course, that unfortunate gentleman bowed and reminded 
him of his name, Benton coldly replied: “Sir, Benton once 
knew a man by that name, but he is dead, yes, sir, he is 
dead.” When he mounted the platform at Fayette, where his 
life had been threatened if he dared enter the city limits, a 
body of armed men began an uproar. But according to the 
Jefferson Inquirer, “in a quarter of an hour the insulters were 
cowed; and the speech for four hours was received with 
respect and applause.” 

But Benton's turbulent tour could not stem a tide much 
greater than ary one man or single state. With undisguised 
glee Calhoun wrote a friend by summer's end: 

It is said that Benton will not be able to sustain himself in 
Missouri. His colleague General Atchison . . . says that he has 
as good a chance to be elected Pope as to be elected Senator. 

A friend of Benton's, on the other hand, wrote: 

I am sorry Mr. Benton indulges in so much profanity. Yet in 
this respect his opponents . . . are not a whit behind. Nine out 
of twenty-two Democratic papers in the state are unbounded 
in vilifying him with such epithets as traitor, apostate, scoimdrel, 
bam burner, abolitionist and free-soiler ... I am afraid Benton 
wiU be defeated. 

At the close of his tour, confident at least in his outward 
appearances, Benton addressed a letter to the people of 
' Missouri: 

[ 113 ] 


I know of no cause for this conspiracy against me, except 
that I am the natural enemy of all rotten politicians. ... I am 
for the Union as it is; and for that cause Mr. Calhoun denounced 
me for a traitor to the South. . . . the signal to all his followers 
in Missouri to go to work upon me. . . . The conspiracy is now 
established. . . . Nullification resolutions passed by fraud, which 
it was known I would not obey. . . . Men appomted to attack 
me in all parts of the state. . . . Packed meetings got up to con- 
demn me. . . . Newspapers enlisted in the service . . . and many 
good citizens deceived. 

But he could not shame his enemies into submission. In De- 
cember of 1849, the anti-Benton leadeis issued a statement 
labeling the veteran Senator “reckless, dishonest and un- 
scrupulous ... a wicked, deliberate and willful liar . . . 
attempting to betray his party for selfish purposes.” And 
when Congress reassembled, Calhoun was- successful in 
forcing the Democratic caucus to strip Benton of all his 
committees except Foreign Affairs, on which he was left 
only for pmposes of a trumped-up story that Atchison had 
graciously interceded for him. 

Even his gigantic ego'could not have hidden from Thomas 
Hart Benton the immistakable fact that this was his last term 
— unless. Would he initiate a convention of all Missouri 
Democrats to settle his differences with the proslavery camp^ 
“I would sooner,” he thundered, “sit in cmmcil with the six 
thousand dead who have died of cholera in St. Louis than go 
into convention with such a gang of scampsl” Would he 
speak one word for the South in the great debate of 1850 
on the Clay Compromise, or at least remain silent in order 
to save the seat he loved for future battles? He would not. 

[ 114 ] 


As a Missouri associate recalled: "... At an early period of 
his existence, while reading Plutarch, he determined that if 
it should ever become necessary for the good of his country, 
he would sacrifice his own political existence.” 

As the contest for the State Legislature that would name 
his successor raged m Missouri, Senator Benton stood fast 
by his post in Washington, outspoken to the end in his con- 
demnation of the views his constituents now embraced. Will- 
ing to meet crushing defeat rather than compromise his 
principles (for as Clay said, intending it to be disparaging, 
Benton had the “hide of a hippopotamus”), he towered over 
his more famous colleagues in terms of sheer moral courage. 
Now isolated from his political friends in the West and 
South, and liiaintaining his distaste for the Abolitionists, 
whom he held equally responsible for splitting the Union, 
Benton steered an extraordinaiily independent course in his 
vituperative attacks on Clay’s compromise. Bitterly assailing 
the collection of measures which formed the “Great Com- 
promise” and scornfully ridiculing its sponsors, he com- 
plained when he was constantly called to order by the 
presiding oflBcer. The so-called compromise, in Benton’s 
opinion, was a hollow sham containing too generous con- 
cessions to the Secessionists and unnecessarily involving a 
subject dear to his heart, California. To extend the slavery 
line of the Missouri Compromise into California and thus 
split the state, or to delay its admission by tying it to this 
Omnibus Bill, was reprehensible to Benton, the father-in- 
law of Colonel John Fr4mont, hero of California’s e]q>lora- 
tion and development. What if California’s admission were 
prevented by the failure of the compromise, he asked? 

[ 115 ] 


Mr. Benton: . . . Who then is to be blamed? I do not ask diese 
questions of the Senator from Kentucky [Mr. Clay]. It might 
be unlawful to do so; for, by die law of the land, no man is 
bound to criminate himself. 

Mr. Clay [from his seat]: 1 do not claim the benefit of the law. 

Mr. Benton: As a law-abiding and generous man, I give him 
the benefit of the law whether he claims it or not. It is time for 
him to begin to consider the responsibility he has incurred in 
jumbling California up in this crowd, where she is sure to meet 
death. . . . Mr. President, it is time to be done with this comedy 
of errors. California is sufiFering for want of admission. New 
Mexico is suffering for want of protection. The public business 
is suffering for want of attention. The character of Congress is 
suffering for want of progress in business. It is time to put an 
end to so many evils, and I have made the motion to move the 
indefinite postponement of this unmanageable mass of incon- 
gruous bills, each an impediment to the other, that they may be 
taken up one by one to receive the decision which their respec- 
tive merits require. 

During the course of the year, still another melodramatic 
event — termed “the greatest indignity the Senate had ever 
suffered” — ^served to show the bitter feelings of the South 
toward Benton. The peppery Senator Henry Foote of Mis- 
sissippi, no blind follower of Calhoun but suspected by 
Benton of helping plot his defeat in Missouri, took the floor 
on several occasions to abuse Benton s position in a coarse 
manner exceeding even the Missourian s own rhetorical ex- 
cesses. Taunting him with his approaching defeat in Mis- 
souri, and stinging under Benton’s counterattack, Foote 

[ 116 ] 


ridiculed Benton as one “shielded by his age . . . and shielded 
by his own established cowardice.” 

Finally Benton announced that, if the Senate failed to 
protect him from such “false and cowardly” attacks, he 
intended “to protect himself, cost what it may.” On April 
17, in the midst of another verbal assault upon him by Foote, 
Benton advanced toward the Mississippian, then turned back 
at a colleague’s restraining touch. Suddenly Foote whipped 
out a pistol and pointed it at Benton, w'ho dramatically threw 
open his coat and cried: “I have no pistoll Let him firel Let 
the assassin firel” 

No one fired. The Senate was shocked — although its 
special committee on censure barely rapped the knuckles 
of the two participants — ^but verbal assaults between the 
two did not cease. When Benton heard of Foote’s threat 
that he intended to write a small book in which Vaffaire 
Benton would play a leading role, Benton replied: “Tell 
Foote that I shall write a very large book in which he will 
not figure at alll” (And he did.) And Foote, referring taunt- 
ingly to Benton’s expected defeat in Missouri, cried to the 
Senate: “If we have been the subjects of tyranny, and if we 
have borne it with patience for years, yes, sir, for almost 
30 years, thank Godl we may exclaim at last, ‘Behold the 
tyrant prostrate in the dust, and Rome again is free.' ” 

Foote’s expectations were fully realized. Benton’s vote 
against dividing California was his last act of importance in 
the Senate. In January, 1851, climaxing a bitter twelve-day 
struggle among its three distinct parties — Benton Democrats, 
anti-Benton Democrats and Whigs — ^the Missouri Legislature 
on its fortieth ballot elected a Whig. After thirty years of 

[ 117 ] 


outstanding statesmanship in the Senate of the United States, 
Thomas Hart Benton was ignominiously dismissed from the 
service and called home. 

Undismayed, and still stubbornly refusing to follow the 
ea^ path to a graceful and popular political retirement, 
Benton fou^t to return to Congress the following year as 
Representative from St. Louis. His campaign, according to 
the opposition New Orleans Crescent, “spared no public or 
personal dentmciation. He exhausted every expletive of 
abuse. He ransacked the entire range of the English language 
for terms of scorn and derision.’' Elected in one final biust of 
personal popularity, he promptly threw to the winds all 
chances for future re-election by delivering one of his most 
memorable, and one of his most vituperative, speeches in 
opposition to the chief measure of his party, the Kansas- 
Nebraska Bill. With violent invective he denounced pro- 
visions repealing his cherished Missouri Compromise and 
'pleaded for a national outlook. “He votes as a Southern man,” 
he commented on the remarks of a member from Georgia, 
“and votes sectionally. I also am a Southern man, but vote 
nationally on national issues. ... I am Southern by my 
birth — Southern in my convictions, interests and connec- 
tions, and I shall abide the fate of the South in everything in 
which she has right on her side.” 

Soundly defeated for re-election in 1854, and grieved by 
the death of his beloved wife, Benton was not yet ready 
to submit. In vain he sought re-election to the Senate in 
1855; and, at the age of 74, made one last, hopeless race for 
Governor in 1856. Jessie Benton Fremont revealed in her 
memoirs that her coiurageous father, sufiFering from what he 

[ 118 ] 


knew to be a fatal throat cancer, could speak in public only 
by maintaining absolute silence for several days in advance. 
Even then his throat bled during and following his still fero- 
cious speeches. Yet he traveled more than twelve himdred 
miles in a desperate speaking tour to defeat the Whig and 
anti-Benton Democratic candidates, and he returned home, 
defeated but proud, to complete his monumental historical 

That flamboyant ego, for which he was both loved and 
despised, never deserted him. When the publishers of his 
Thirty Years’ View sent a messenger to inquire as to how 
many copies he thought ought to be printed, he loftily 
replied: “Sir, they can ascertain from the last census how 
many families iLeic are in the United States, sir”; and that 
was the only suggestion he would make. In introducing his 
work, Benton states tliat “the bare enumeration of the 
measmes of which he was the author and the prime pro- 
moter, would be almost a history of Congress Legislation. 
. . . The long list is known throughout the length and breadth 
of the land — repeated with the famiharity of household 
words . . . and studied by the little boys who feel an honor- 
able ambition beginning to stir within their bosoms . . 

He died while still hard at work, using an amanuensis 
when his feeble hands could no longer grasp a pen, and 
uncomplaining even to his last whispered words: “I am com- 
fortable, I am content.” His death, mourned throughout the 
nation, revealed how little wealth his upright career had 
accumulated for his daughters. 

But even in death and defeat, Thomas Hart Benton was 
victorious. For his voice from the past on behalf of Union 

[ 119 ] 


was one of the deciding factors that prevented Missouri 
from yielding to all the desperate eflForts to drive her into 
secession along with her sister slave states. Fate had home 
out the wisdom of Benton s last report to his constituents 
as Senator: “I value solid popularity — ^the esteem of good 
men for good action. 1 despise the bubble popularity that is 
won without merit and lost without crime. ... I have been 
Senator 30 years. ... I sometimes had to act against the 
preconceived opinions and first impressions of my constit- 
uents; but always with full reliance upon their intelligence 
to understand me and their equity to do me justice — and 1 
have never been disappointed.’" 

1120 ] 



Sam Houston 

■^HE FIRST BAYS OF DAWN were Streaking into the ill-lit 
Senate chamber of 1854 as one final speaker rose to 
seek recognition. Weary, haggard and unshaven 
Senators, slumped despondently in their chairs after the 
rigors of an all-night session, muttered “Vote, Vote” in the 
hopes of discouraging any further oratory on a bill alr'-ady 
certain of passage. But Senator Sam Houston of Texas, the 
hero of San Jacinto, was not easily discouraged by over- 
whelming odds; and as his deep, musical voice carried the 
bold if unpolished words of a powerful message to his aston- 
ished colleagues, they shook off the dull stupor which had 
deadened their fatigued brains and sat upright and attentive. 

The bill on which bitter and exhausting debate now closed 
was known as the Kansas-Nebraska Bill, the new “unity” 



device of die Democratic party and the latest concession to 
the South. It repealed the Missouri Compromise of 1820, 
and reopened the slavery extension issue thought settled in 
the Compromise of 1850, by permitting the residents of that 
vast territory from Iowa to the Roddes to decide the slavery 
question for themselves, on the assumption that the northern 
part of the territory would be free and the southern part 
slave. For Democrats and Southerners, this bill had become 
“must” legislation. 

Sam Houston was a Democrat of long standing. And 
Sam Houston was a Southerner by birdi, residence, loyalty 
and philosophy. But Sam Houston was also Sam Houston, 
one of the most independent, unique, popular, forceful and 
dramatic individuals ever to enter the Senate chamber. The 
first Senator from Texas, his name had long before been a 
household word as Commander in Chief of those straggling 
and imdermaimed Texas volunteers who routed the entire 
Mexican Army at San Jacinto, captured its general and 
established die independence of Texas. He had been ac- 
claimed as the first President of the Independent Republic 
of Texas, a Member of her Congress, and President again 
before the admission of Texas into the Union as a state. He 
was no easy mark at the age of six^-four, and neither sec- 
tional nor party ties were enough to seal his lips. 

Sam Houston looked upon the Missouri Compromise, 
which he had supported in 1820 as a youthful Congressman 
hrom Tennessee, as a solemn and sacred compact between 
North and South, in efiect a part of the Constitution when 
Texas was admitted into the Union. Nor was he willing to 
discard the Compromise of 1850, which he had supported 

[ 122 ] 


despite die enmity of Texas fire-eaters who called his vote 
“the damnedest outrage yet committed upon Texas." With 
homely but earnest eloquence, he begged his weary 
colleagues in an impromptu plea not to plunge the nation 
into new agitations over the slavery issue. 

Sam Houston must have known the bill would pass, he 
must have known that not a single odier Southern Democrat 
would join him, he must have known that, as rumor of his 
position had spread the previous week, the Richmond En- 
quirer had spoken for his constituents in declaring, “Noth- 
ing can justify this treachery; nor can anything save the 
traitor from the deep damnation which such treason may 
merit." But, standing erect, his chin thrust forward, pic- 
turesque if not eccentric in his military cloak and panther- 
sldn waistcoat (at times he appeared in a vast sombrero and 
Mexican blanket), Sam Houston, the "magnificent barbar- 
ian," made one of his rare speeches to a weary but attentive 

This is an eminently perilous measure; and do you expect me 
to remain here silent, or to shrink from the discharge of my 
duty in admonishing the South of what I conceive the results 
will be? I will speak in spite of aU the intimidations, or threats, 
or discountenances that may be thrown upon me. Sir, the charge 
that I am going wiUr the Abolitionists or Free-Soilers affects me 
not. The discharge of conscious duty prompts me often to con- 
front the united array of the very section of the country in 
which I reside, in which my associations are, in which my af- 
fections rest. . . . Sir, if this is a boon that is offered to propitiate 
the South, I, as a Southern man, repudiate it. I will have none 
of it. . . . Our children are either to live in after times in the 

[ 123 ] 


enjoyment of peace, of harmony, and prosperity, or the alterna- 
tive remains for them of anarchy, discord, and civil broil. We 
can avert the last. 1 trust we shall. ... I adjure you to regard 
the contract once made to harmonize and preserve this Union. 
Maintain the Missouri Compromise! Stir not up agitation! Give 
us peace! 

It was,” Houston was later to remark, “the most im- 
popular vote I ever gave [but] the wisest and most patriotic.” 
Certainly it was the most unpopular. When old Sam had 
first journeyed to the Senate, the baby-new state of Texas 
was primarily concerned with railroad, land, debt and 
bovmdary questions, without particularly strong Southern 
ties. But now, Texas with 150,000 valuable slaves and an 
overwhelmingly Democratic population consisting largely 
of citizens from other Southern states, identified its interests 
with those Houston had attacked; and with near unanimity, 
she cried for Houston’s scalp as one who had “betrayed his 
state in the Senate,” “joined the Abolitionists” and “de- 
serted the South.” By a vote of 73 to 3 the Legislature ap- 
plauded Houston's colleague for supporting the Nebraska 
Bill, and condemned the stand of him who was once die 
most glorious hero the state had ever known. The Demo- 
cratic State Convention denounced the great warrior as 
"not in accordance with the sentiments of the Democracy 
of Texas.” The Dallas Herald demanded that Houston resign 
the seat to which Texans had proudly sent him, instead of 
“retaining a position he has forfeited by misrepresenting 
them. . . . Let him heed for once the voice of an outraged, 
misrepresented, and betrayed constituency, so that Texas 
may for once have a united voice and present an undivided 
front in the Senate.” 

[ 124 ] 


To make matters worse, this was not the first offense for 
Senator Sam Houston, merely — ^as described by the indig- 
nant Clarksville Standard — “the last feather that broke the 
camel’s back.” He had tangled with John Calhoun on the 
Oregon question, describing himself as a Southerner for 
whom “the Union was his guiding star,” and who had “no 
fear that the North would seek to destroy the South not- 
withstanding the papers signed by old men and women and 
pretty girls." “The South has been beaten by the South — 
if imited, she would have conqueredl” cried an influential 
Dixie paper when Calhoun rebuked Houston and Benton 
for providing the winning margin for his opponents. But 
Sam Houston would only reply: “I know neither North nor 
South; I know c ily the Union.” 

He would have nothing to do, moreover, with Calhoun’s 
“hands-off” slavery resolutions and “Southern Address,” 
attacking that revered sage of the South for his “long-cher- 
ished and ill-concealed designs against the Union,” and in- 
sisting to the Senate that he, Sam Houston, was “on this 
floor representative of the whole American people.” But the 
Texas Legislature adopted Calhoun’s resolutions, and cast 
a suspicious eye on the ambitious former President of 1 exas 
whose name was being mentioned, in the North as well as the 
South, for the White House in 1852 or 1856. 

Finally, Houston had been the first prominent Senator to 
attack Calhoun’s opposition to the Clay Compromise of 1850, 
quoting the Scripture to label those tlireatening secession as 
mere “raging waves of sea, foaming out their own shame. . . .” 

. Think you, sir, after the difficulties Texans have encountered 
to get into the Union, that you can whip them out of it? No, 
sir . . . we shed our blood to get into it. . . . We were among the 

[ 125 ] 


last to come into the Union, and being in, we will be the last to 
get out. ... I call on the friends of the Union from every 
quarter to come forward like men, and to sacrifice dieir difEer- 
ences upon die common altar of their country's good, and to 
form a bulwark around the Constitution diat cannot be shaken. 
It will require manly efforts, sir, and they must expect to meet 
with prejudices that will assail diem from every quarter. They 
must stand firm to the Union, re^dless of all personal conse- 

Thus his lonely vote against the Kansas-Nebraska Bill, on 
that stormy dawn in 1854, was indeed die 'last straw." It 
was loudly whispered about die Senate that this was the last 
term for the colorful General. Those illustrious Senators 
with whom he had served, whose oratory could not attract 
the ^ory and romance which surrounded the name of Sam 
Houston, may have frowned upon his eccentric dress and 
his habit of whittling pine sticks on the Senate floor while 
muttering at the length of senatorial speeches. But they could 
not help but admire his stoical courage and rugge4.individ- 
ualism, which his preface to a brief autobiographical sketch 
expressed more simply': "This book will lose me some friends. 
But if it lost me aU and gained me none, in Gods name, as I 
am a free man, I would publish it. . . ." 

• • • 

The contradictions in die life of Sam Houston a century 
ago may seem irreconcilable today. Although there are avail- 
able endless collections of diaries, speeches and letters which 
dirow light on every facet of his life and accomplishments, 
yet in the c^enter of die stage Houston himself remains shad- 

[ 126 ] 


owed and obscured, an enigma to his friends in his own time, 
a mystery to the careful historian of today. We may read a 
letter or a diary in which for a moment he seemed to have 
dropped his guard, but when we have finished we know little 
more than before. No one can say with precision by what 
star Sam Houston steered — ^his own, Texas' or the nation's. 

He was fiercely ambitious, yet at the end he sacrificed for 
principle all he had ever won or wanted. He was a South- 
erner, and yet he steadfastly maintained his loyalty to the 
Union. He was a slaveholder who defended the right of 
Northern ministers to petition Congress against slavery; he 
was a notorious drinker who took the vow of temperance; 
he was an adopted son of the Cherokee Indians who won his 
first military honois fighting the Creeks; he was a Governor 
of Tennessee but a Senator from Texas. He was in turn 
magnanimous yet vindictive, affectionate yet cruel, eccentric 
yet self-conscious, faithful yet opportunistic. But Sam 
Houston's contradictions actually confirm his one basic, con- 
sistent quality: indomitable individualism, sometimes spec- 
tacular, sometimes crude, sometimes mysterious, but always 
courageous. He could be all things to all men — and yet, 
when faced with his greatest challenge, he was faithful to 
himself and to Texas. The turmoil witliin Sam Houston was 
nothing more than the turmoil wliich racked tlie United 
States in those stormy years before the Civil War, the color- 
ful uniqueness of Sam Houston was nothing more tlian the 
primitive expression of the frontier he had always known. 

When still a dreamy and unmanageable boy, he had run 
away from his Tennessee frontier home, and was adopted 
by the Cherokee Indians, who christened him Co-lon-neh, 

[ 127 ] 


the Raven. An infantry officer under Andrew Jackson in 
1813, his right arm had been shredded by enemy bullets 
when he alone had dashed into enemy lines at the battle of 
the Horseshoe, his men cowering in the hills behind him. A 
natural actor with a strikingly handsome figure and a flair 
for picturesque dress and speech, he was a rapidly rising 
success in Tennessee as prosecuting attorney. Congressman 
and finally Governor at thirty-five. The story of his sudden 
resignation as Governor at the height of a popularity which 
his friend Jackson hoped would make Houston President is 
shrouded in mystery. Apparently he discovered but a few 
days after his marriage that his young and beautiful bride 
had been forced to accept his hand by an ambitious father, 
when in truth she loved anodier. His mind and spirit shat- 
tered, Houston had abandoned civilization for the Cherokees, 
drunken debauchery and political and personal exile. Several 
years later, his balance and purpose restored. General Jack- 
son to whom he was always faithful sent him to Texas, where 
his fantastic military exploits became as much « part of 
American folklore as Valley Forge and Gettysburg. But 
neither adventure, adulation nor a happy second marriage 
ever banished the inner sadness and melancholy which 
seemed to some in 1856, now that political defeat ap- 
proached, more evident than ever. 


But Sam Houston was not one to sit morosely brooding 
until the whispers of impending defeat were replaced by the 
avalanche that would crush him. He had already made sev- 
eral tours of Texas during the Senate’s autumn recesses, com- 

[ 128 ] 


paring Calhoun with “reckless demagogues” terming 
Jefferson Davis “ambitious as Lucifer and cold as a lizard,” 
and denouncing with equal vigor both “the mad fanaticism 
of the North” and “the mad ambition of the South.” Many 
years of hving among half-civilized Indian tribes had not 
made him a respecter of high office; in earlier years he had 
physically assaulted a Congressional foe of his idol, Andrew 
Jackson. (He later told friends it made him feel “meaner 
than I ever felt in my life. I thought I had gotten hold of a 
great dog but foimd a contemptible whining puppy.”) 

Now he struck out with one grand assault on Texas of- 
ficialdom by announcing himself a candidate for Governor 
in the 1857 election. He would not run as a Democrat, or as 
the candidate of any faction or newspaper — or even resign 
from the Senate. He would run as Sam Houston, to “regen- 
erate die politics of the state. The people want excitement 
and I had as well give it as anyone.” 

And plenty of excitement is what he provided, in the first 
real battle solidly Democratic Texas had ever known. Fre- 
quently peeling off his shirt during the hot summer cam- 
paign, he harangued audiences in every comer of Texas with 
his great fund of vituperative epithets and withering sarcasm. 
Well over six feet tall, still straight as an arrow with massive 
yet graceful muscles, his penetrating eyes flashed scorn for 
his opponents and derision of their policies as he reveled in 
(he exercise of the sharp tongue which the dignities of the 
Senate chamber had largely stilled. One of his speeches was 
described — ^by an opposition newspaper, but undoubtedly 
with some accuracy — as “a compound of abuses and egotism 
. . . widiout the sanction of historical truth md . . . without 


decent and r^ned language. ... It was characterized 
tfaiou^out from beginning to end by such epithets as fellow 
thieves, rascals and assassins.** When refused the ri^t to 
speak in the coun^ courtihouse at one stop on his tour, he 
assured the crowd it was quite all ri^t, 

1 am not a taxpayer here. I did not contribute to buy a single 
brick or nail in this building and have no ri^t to speak here. 
But if there is a man widiin the sound of my voice who would 
desire to hear Sam Houston speak and will follow me to yonder 
hillside, I have a right to speak on the soil of Texas because I 
have watered it with my blood. 

Denounced on one hand as a traitor and on the other as a 
Know-Nothing (based on his brief flirtation with that in- 
tolerant but nonsectional party), he wrote his wife that 
"their dirty scandal falls o£F me like water ofiF a duck’s back.” 

But his votes on Kansas and other Southern measures 
could not be explained away to an angry constituency, and 
Texas handed Sam Houston the first trormcing of ^ politi- 
cal career. He ou^t to resign from the Senate now, said 
the antagonistic Gazette, instead of *liolding on to the barren 
office . . . merely to receive his per diem allowance.” But 
Sam Houston, encouraged that the margin of his d^eat was 
no ^eater than three to two, returned to Washington for 
his final years in the Senate unshaken in his beliefs. When a 
Southern antagonist taunted bim on the Senate floor diat his 
vote against die Kansas-Nebraska Bill had now insured his 
defeat, Houston merely replied with a graceful smile diat 
it waa true ”that 1 have received an earnest and gratifying 
assurance from my constituents that they intend to relieve 

[ 130 ] 


me of further service here. ...” He was not mistaken. On 
November lo, 1857, Sam Houston was imceremoniously dis- 
missed by the Texas Legislature and a more militant spokes- 
man for the South elected as his successor. 

In bidding farewell to his fellow Senators, Houston told 
his colleagues that he desired to retire “with clean hands 
and a clean conscience”: 

I wish no prouder epitaph to mark the board or slab that may 
lie on my tomb than this: “He loved his country, he was a 
patriot; he was devoted to the Union.” If it is for this that I 
have su£Fercd martyrdom, it is sufficient that I stand at quits 
with those who have wielded the sacrificial knife. 

But we canu ■>! conclude our story of Senator Sam Iloas- 
ton s political comrage with his retirement from the Senate. 
Returning to his ranch in Texas, the doughty ex-Senator 
foimd he was unable to retire when the Governor who had 
defeated him two years previously was threatening to lead 
the state into secession. So in the fall of 1859, the aging 
warrior again ran as an independent candidate for Governor, 
again with no party, no newspaper and no organization be- 
hind him, and m^dng but one campaign speech. He would 
rely, he told his audience in that still fascinating voice, “upon 
the Constitution and the Union, all the old Jacksonian de- 
mocracy I ever professed or officially piacticed. ... In 
politics I am an old fogy, because I cling devotedly to those 
primitive principles upon which our government was 

Althou^ his opponents repeatedly insisted that secession 
and reopening the Texas slave trade were not real issues, 

[ 131 ] 


Houston pressed hard on these grounds, as well as his prom- 
ises of greater protection against Mexican and Indian frontier 
terrorisms. It was a bitter campaign, the Democrats and 
newspapers assailing Houston with acrimonious passion, re- 
opening old charges of Houston's immorality and cowardice. 
But strangely enough, the appeal of the issues (however pre- 
mature) he had raised, his personal following among his old 
comrades, disgust with the administration of his opponents, 
new popularity which Houston had acquired just prior to 
his retirement by his exposure on the Senate floor of a cor- 
rupt federal judge, and a surge of sentimental feeling toward 
him upon his return to his beloved Texas, all combined to 
elect Sam Houston Governor in a complete reversal of his 
defeat two years earlier. It was the first setback for Southern 
extremists in a decade, and the Governor-elect was attacked 
by disgusted Texas newspapers as “a traitor who ought to 
fall never to rise again” and “one of the greatest enemies to 
the South — a Southern Free Soiler.” 

The old Jacksonian nationalism which had motivated his 
entire career now faced its severest trial. Maintaining that 
the overwhelmingly hostile Democratic Legislature did not 
truly represent the people. Governor Houston violated all 
precedent by delivering his inaugural address directly to the 
people from the steps of the Capitol, instead of before a joint 
session of the Legislature. To an immense audience gathered 
on the Capitol grounds, Houston declared that he was Gov- 
ernor of the people and not of any party, and that “When 
Texas imited her destiny with that of the United States, she 
entered not into the North or South; her connection was not 
sectional, but national.” 

[ 132 ] 


But the wounds of his election were not healed; and when 
the name of Sam Houston was proposed by a New Yorker 
at the Democratic National Convention in i860 as one that 
“would sweep the whole country for a great victory,” ex- 
Govemor Runnels, the leader of the Texas delegation, 
jumped to his feet: “Sir, by GodI I am the individual Sam 
Houston recently thrashed for Governor and anything lauda- 
tory to him is damned unpleasant to me.” 

With obvious reference to such enemies, Houston told 
the Legislatvure in his first general message in i860: 

notwithstanding the ravings of deluded zealots, or the impious 
threats of fanatical disunionists, the love of our common country 
still bums with the fire of the olden time ... in the hearts of the 
conservative people of Texas. . . . Texas will maintain the Con- 
stitution and stand by the Union. It is all that can save us as a 
nation. Destroy it, and anarchy awaits us. 

When South Carolina invited Texas to send delegates to 
the Southern Convention to protest “assaults upon the in- 
stitution of slavery and upon the rights of the South,” Hous- 
ton transmitted the communication to the Legislature as a 
matter of courtesy, but warned in a masterful document: 
“The Union was intended to be a peipetuity.” By skillful 
political maneuvers, he prevented acceptance of South 
Carolina's invitation, causing Senator Iverson of Georgia to 
call for some “Texan Brutus” to “rise and rid his country of 
the hoary-headed incubus.” As sentiment grew overwhelm- 
ingly in favor of secession during the heated Presidential 
campaign of i860. Governor Houston could only implore 
his impatient constituents to wait and see what Mr. Lin- 

[ 133 ] 


coin’s attitude would be, if elected. But tibe fact that he had 
received a few unsolicited votes in the Republican Conven- 
tion as Lincoln’s running mate furnished further ammunition 
to his enemies. And when the town of Henderson mysteri- 
ously burned in August, the Governor could do nothing to 
prevent the wave of lynchings, vigilante committees and 
angiy sentiment which followed rumors of Negro uprisings 
and arson. Houston’s speech in Waco denouncing secession 
was answered by the explosion of a keg of powder behind 
the hotel in which he slept unharmed. But heedless of per- 
sonal or political danger, he arose from a sickbed in Septem- 
ber to make one final appeal: 

I ask not the defeat of sectionalism by sectionalism, but by 
nationality. . . . These are no new sentiments to me. I uttered 
them in the American Senate in 1856. I utter them now. I was 
denounced then as a traitor. I am denounced now. Be it sol 
Men who never endured the privation, the toil, the peril that 
I have for my country call me a traitor because I am willing 
to yield obedience to the Constitution and the constituted 
authorities. Let them suffer what I have for this Union, and 
th^ will feel it entwining so closely around their hearts that it 
wiU be like snapping the cords of life to give it up. . . . What 
are the people who call me a traitor? Are they those who march 
under die national flag and are ready to defend it? That is my 
bannerl . . . and so long as it waves proudly o’er me, even as it 
has waved amid stormy scenes where these men were not, I can 
forget diat I am called a traitor. 

Abraham Lincoln was elected President, and immediately 
dirou^out Texas the Lone Star flag was hoisted in an 
atmosphere of excited and belligerent expectation. Houston’s 

[ 134 ] 


plea that Texas fi^t for her rights "in the Union and for 
the sake of the Union" fell on deaf ears. "A sentiment of 
servility," snapped the press; and Governor Houston was 
shoved aside as a Secession Convention was called. 

Sam Houston, fitting desperately to hold on to the 
reins of goveimnent, called a special session of die State 
Legislature, denouncing extremists both North and South 
and insisting that he had "not yet lost the hope that our ri^ts 
can be maintained in the Union." If not, he maintained, 
independence is preferable to joining the Soudiem camp. 

But the Secession Convention leaders, recogpized by the 
Legislature and aided by the desertion of the Union com- 
mander in Texas, could not be stopped, and their headlong 
rush into seoe^ifon was momentarily disturbed only by the 
surprise appearance of the Governor they hated but feared. 
On the day the Ordinance of Secession was to be adopted, 
Sam Houston sat on the platform, grimly silent, his presence 
renewing the courage of those few friends of union who 
xemained in the hall. "To those who tell of his wonderful 
charge up the hill at San Jacinto," said the historian Wharton, 
"1 say it took a thousand times more courage when he 
stalked into the Secession Convention at Austin and alone 
defied and awed them." When, encouraged by the magic of 
Houston's presence, James W. Throckmorton cast one of 
the seven votes against secession, he was loudly and bittedy 
hissed; and rising in his place he made the memorable reply, 
"When the rabble hiss, well may patriots tremble." 

But there were few who trembled as the Ordinance was 
adopted and submitted to the people for their approval at 
the polls one month later. Immediately tlm fitting ex-Sena^ 

[ 135 ] 


tor took the stump in a one-man campaign to keep Texas in 
the Union. Ugly crowds, stones and denunciation as a traitor 
met him throughout the state. At Waco his life was threat- 
ened. At Belton, an armed thug suddenly arose and started 
toward him. But old Sam Houston, looking him right in the 
eye, put each hand on his own pistols: “Ladies and Gentle- 
men, keep your seats. It is nothing but a fice barking at the 
lion in his den.” Unharmed, he stalked the state in charac- 
teristic fashion, confounding his enemies with powerful sar- 
casm. Asked to express his honest opinion of the secessionist 
leader, Houston replied: “He has all the characteristics of a 
dog except fidelity.” Now seventy years old, but still an im- 
pressively straight figure with those penetrating eyes and 
massive white hair. Old Sam closed his tour in Galveston 
before a jeering and ugly mob. “Some of you laugh to scorn 
the idea of bloodshed as the result of secession,” he cried, 
"but let me tell you what is coming. You may, after the 
sacrifice of coimtless millions of treasures and himdreds of 
thousands of precious lives, as a bare possibility, win South- 
ern independence, if God be not against you. But I doubt 
it. The North is determined to preserve this Union.” 

His prophecy was unheeded. On February 23, Texas 
voted for secession by a large margin; and on March 2, the 
anniversary of Houston’s birthday and Texan independence, 
the special convention reassembled at Austin and declared 
tiiat Texas had seceded. Governor Houston, still desperately 
attempting to regain the initiative, indicated he would make 
known his plans on the matter to the legislature. Angry at 
his insistence that its legal authority had ended, the Gonven- 
tion by a thumping vote of 109 to 2 declared Texas to be a 

[ 136 ] 


part of the Southern Confederacy, and decreed that all state 
officers must take the new oath of allegiance on the four- 
teenth of March. The Governor’s secretary merely replied 
that Governor Houston “did not acknowledge the existence 
of the Convention and should not regard its action as bind- 
ing upon him.” 

On March 14, as an eyewitness described it, the Conven- 
tion hall was .“crowded . . . electrified with fiery radiations, 
of men tingling with passton, and glowing and burning with 
the anticipation of revengeful battle. The air was full of the 
stirring clamor of a multitude of voices — angry, triumphant, 
scornful with an occasional oath or epithet of contempt — 
but the voice of Sam Houston was not heard.” 

At the appointed hour, the Convention clerk was in- 
structed to call the roll of state officials. Silence settled over 
the vast audience, and every eye peered anxiously for a 
glimpse of the old hero. 

“Sam Houston!” There was no response. 

“Sam Houston! Sam Houston!” The rumbling and con- 
temptuous voices began again. The office of Governor of 
Texas, Confederate States of America, was declared to be 
officially vacant; and Lieutenant Governor Edward Clark, 
“an insignificant creature, contemptible, spry and pert,” 
stepped up to take the oath. (A close personal and political 
friend elected on Houston’s ticket, Clark would later enter 
the executive office to demand the archives of the state, only 
to have his former mentor wheel slowly in his chair to face 
bim with the grandly scornful question: “And what is your 
name, sir?”) 

In another part of the Capitol, the hero of San Jacinto, 
.. [ 137 ] 


casting aside a lifetime of political fortune, fame and devo- 
tion from his people, was scrawling out his last message as 
Governor with a broken heart: 

Fellow Citizens, in the name of your rights and liberty, which 
I believe have been trampled upon, I refuse to take this oath. In 
the name of my own oonsdenoe and my own manhood ... I 
refuse to take this oath. . . . [But] I love Texas too well to bring 
civil strife and bloodshed upon her. I shall make no endeavor to 
maintain my authority as Chief Executive of this state, except by 
the peaceful exercise of my functions. When I can no longer do 
this, I shall calmly withdraw from the scene. ...lam... stricken 
down because I will not yield diose principles which I have 
fought for. . . . The severest pang is that the blow comes in the 
name of the state of Texas. 


The Time and the Place 


☆ ☆ 

The end of th-' 'X'stly military struggle between North and 
South did not restore peace and unity on the political front. 
Appomattox had ended the shooting of brother by brother; 
but it did not halt the political invasions, the economic plun- 
dering and the intersectional hatred that still racked a di- 
vided land. The bitter animosities on both sides of the 
Mason-Dixon line which had engulfed Daniel Webster, 
Thomas Hart Benton and Sam Houston continued unabated 
for some two decades after the war. Those in the Nortli who 
sought to bind up the wounds of the nation and treat the 
South with mercy and fairness — ^men like President Andrew 
Johnson, and those Senators who stood by him in his im- 
peachment — ^were pilloried for their lack of patriotism by 
those who waved the “bloody shirt.” Those in the South 
who sought to demonstrate to the nation that the fanatical 
sectionalism of their region had been forgotten — ^men like 
Lucius Quintus Cincinnatus Lamar of Mississippi — ^were at- 

[ 141 ] 


tacked by their constituents as deserters to the conquering 
enemy. When Confederate General Bob Toombs was asked 
why he did not petition Congress for his pardon, Toombs 
replied with quiet grandeur: ‘Tardon for what? 1 have not 
yet pardoned the North.* 

But gradually, the old conflicts over emancipation and 
reconstruction faded away, and exploitation of the newly 
opened West and the trampled South brou^t new issues 
and new faces to the Senate. It was no longer the forum for 
our greatest Constitutional lawyers, for Constitutional issues 
no longer dominated American public life. Easy money, sud- 
den fortunes, increasingly powerful political machines and 
blatant corruption transformed much of the nation; and the 
Senate, as befits a democratic legislative body, accurately 
represented the nation. Corporation lawyers and political 
bosses, not constitutional orators, were the spokesmen for 
this roaring era; althou^ too many of the nation’s talented 
men found fame and fortune more readily available in the 
world of high finance and industry, rather than the seem- 
ingly dull and unnoticed labors of government. (If Daniel 
Webster had lived in that age, one editor commented, he 
would have been "neither in debt nor in the Senate.”) 
Eleven new states were added quickly as the West was de- 
veloped; and twenty-two new Smiators and a tremendous 
new chamber detracted from that old distinctive atmosphere. 
Sectionalism, logrolling and a series of near-fanatical move- 
ments— of which the "firee silver* movement that embroiled 
Lamar was only the beginning — ^plagued Senate delibera- 
tions on domestic economic issues. "We are becoming a mere 
collection of local potato plots and cabbage grounds,” com- 

[ 142 ] 


plained one Senator, weary of the constant bickering over 
local patronage, rivers and harbors projects and tariff-pro- 
tected industries. 

Senators, said William Allen White, represented not only 
states and regions but "principalities and powers and busi- 

One Senator, for instance, repiesented the Union Pacific Rail- 
way System, another the New York Central, still another the in- 
surance interests. . . . Coal and iron owned a coterie . . . cotton 
had half a dozen Senators. And so it went. ... It was a pluto- 
cratic feudalism . . . eminently respectable. The collar of any 
great financial interest was worn in pride. 

And White '^elated the supposed conversation in which vet- 
eran Senator Davis described to a freshman Senator the 
characteristics of his colleagues in those roaring days as they 
came down the aisle: "The jackal; the vulture; the sheep- 
Idlling dog; the gorilla; the crocodile; the buzzard; the old 
ducking hen; the dove; the turkey-gobbler.” Then, White 
wrote, “as the big hulk of a greedy westerner— coarse, de- 
vious, insolent— came swinging in heavily. Judge Davis 
pointed his stubby forefinger at the creature and exdaimed: 
‘A wolf, sir; a damned, hungry, skulking, cowardly wolfi’ ” 

Thus by the end of the nineteenth century the Senate had 
come to very nearly its lowest ebb, in terms of power as well 
as prestige. The decline in Senatorial power had begun 
shortly after die end of Grant's administration. Prior to that 
time, die Senate, which had humiliated President Johnson 
and dominated President Grant, had reigned supreme in what 
was very nearly a parliamentary form of government. Sena- 

[ 143 ] 


tors even claimed a place at the dinner table above members 
of the Cabinet (who had previously outranked them at social 
functions). “If they visited the White House,” George 
Frisbie Hoar later recalled, “it was to give, not to receive 
advice.” (Indeed the assertion of power by both Houses was 
illustrated by the visit of Congressman Anson Burlingame 
to the House of Commons. When an attendant told him he 
must leave his seat, inasmuch as that particular gallery was 
reserved for Peers, an old Peer sittmg nearby interposed. 
“Let him stay, let him stay. He is a Peer in his own country.” 
“I am a Sovereign in my own country. Sir,” replied the Con- 
gressman as he walked out, “and shall lose caste if I associate 
with Peers.”) But the peak of Congressional power passed 
as Presidents Hayes, Garfield, Arthur and Cleveland suc- 
cessfully resisted Senatorial attempts to dictate Presidential 
appointments, and the government returned to the more 
traditional American system of the Constitution’s checks and 

The decline in the Senate’s power, moreover, had been 
foreshadowed by a rapid decline in prestige even before 
economic issues had replaced the sectional and constitutional 
conflict. British and Canadian diplomats maintained that 
they had secured approval of the Reciprocity Treaty of 
1854 by seeing to it that it was “floated through on waves of 
champagne. ... If you have got to deal with hogs, what are 
you to do?” A Cabinet member, possibly recalling this 
metaphor, impatiently told Henry Adams in 1869, “You 
can’t use tact with a Congressman! A Congressman is a hog! 
You must take a stick and hit him on the snout.” And in 
quiet derision Adams, who thou^t most members of the 

[144 1 


Senate “more grotesque than ridicule could make them,” had 
replied, “K a Congressman is a hog, what is a Senator?” 

But the Senate, despite its decline in power and public 
esteem during the second half of the nineteenth century, 
did not consist entirely of hogs and damned skulking wolves. 
It still contained men worthy of respect, and men of courage. 
Of these, Edmund Ross and those who stood with him in the 
Johnson impeachment trial selflessly sacrificed themselves to 
save the nation from reckless abuse of legislative power. And 
Lucius Lamar, by his gentle but firm determination to be a 
statesman, was instrumental in remiiting the nation in prepa- 
ration for the new challenges which lay ahead. 

[ 145 ] 




Edmund G. Ross 

I N A LONELY GBAVE, forgotten and unknown, lies "die 
man who saved a President,” and who as a result may 
well have preserved for ourselves and posterity con> 
stitutianal government in the United States — ^the man who 
peifonned in 1868 what one historian has called “the most 
heroic act in American history, incomparably more difficult 
dian any deed of valor upon the field of battle” — but a 
United States Senator whose name no one recalls: Edmund 
G. Boss of Kansas. 

The impeadiment of President Andrew Johnson, the 
event in which the obscure Ross was to play sudi a dramatic 
role, was the sensational climax to die bitter strug^ be- 
tween the President, determined to carry out Abraham Lin- 
odn’s pdicies of recondliadon with the defeated South, and 



the more radical Republican leaders in Congress, who sou ght 
to administer the downtrodden Southern states as conquered 
provinces which had forfeited their rights under the Consti- 
tution. It was, moreover, a struggle between Executive and 
Legislative authority. Andrew Johnson, the courageous if 
untactful Teimessean who had been the only Southern Mem- 
ber of Congress to refuse to secede with his state, had com- 
mitted himself to the policies of the Great Emancipator to 
whose high station he had succeeded only by the course of 
an assassin s bullet. He knew that Lincoln prior to his deadi 
had already clashed with the extremists in Congress, who 
had opposed his approach to reconstruction in a constitu- 
tional and charitable maimer and sou^t to make die Legisla- 
tive Branch ttf the government .supreme. And his own bel- 
ligerent temperament soon destroyed any hope that Congress 
might now join hands in carrying out Lincoln’s policies of 
permitting the South to resume its place in the Union widi 
as htde delay and controversy as possible. 

By 1866, when Edmund Ross first came to the Senate, the 
two branches of the government were already at each other’s 
throats, snarling and bristling with anger. Bill after bill was 
vetoed by the President on the grounds that they were un- 
constitutional, too harsh in their treatment of the South, an 
imnecessary prolongation of military rule in peacetime or 
undue interference with the authority of the Executive 
Branch. And for the first time in our nation’s history, im- 
portant public measures were passed over a President’s veto 
and became law without his support. 

But not all of Andrew Johnson’s vetoes were overturned; 
and the “Radical” Republicans of the Congress prompdy 

[ 147 ] 


realized that one final step was necessary before they could 
crush dieir despised foe (and in the heat of pohtical battle 
their vengeance was turned upon their President far more 
than their former military enemies of the South). That one 
remaining step was the assurance of a two-thirds majority in 
the Senate — ^for under the Constitution, such a majority was 
necessary to override a Presidential veto. And more impor- 
tant, such a majority was constitutionally required to accom- 
plish their major ambition, now an ill-kept secret, conviction 
of the President under an impeachment and his dismissal 
from ofBcel 

The temporary and unstable two-thirds majonty which 
had enabled the Senate Radical Republicans on several occa- 
sions to enact legislation over the President’s veto was, they 
knew, insufiBciently reliable for an impeachment conviction. 
To solidify this bloc became the paramount goal of Con- 
gress, expressly or impliedly governing its decisions on other 
issues — ^particularly the admission of new states, the readmis- 
sion of Southern states and the determination of senatorial 
credentials. By extremely dubious methods a pro-Johnson 
Senator was denied his seat. Over the President’s veto Ne- 
braska was admitted to the Union, seating two more anti- 
administration Senators. Although last-minute maneuvers 
failed to admit Colorado over the President’s veto (sparsely 
populated Colorado had rejected statehood in a referen- 
dum), an unexpected tragedy brought false tears and fresh 
hopes for a new vote, in Kansas. 

Senator Jim Lane of Kansas had been a ‘‘conservative” 
Republican sympathetic to Johnson’s plans to cany out Lin- 
coln’s reconstruction policies. But his frontier state was one 
of tile most “radical” in tiie Union. When Lane voted to 

[ 148 ] 


uphold Johnson’s veto of the Civil Rights Bill of 1866 and 
introduced the administration’s bill for recognition of the 
new state government of Arkansas, Kansas had arisen in out- 
raged heat. A mass meeting at Lawrence had vilified the 
Senator and speedily reported resolutions sharply condemn- 
ing his position. Humiliated, mentally ailing, broken in 
health and laboring under charges of financial irregularities, 
Jim Lane took his own life on July 1, 1866. 

With this thorn in their side removed, the Radical Repub- 
licans in Washington looked anxiously toward Kansas and 
the selection of Lane’s successor. Their fondest hopes were 
realized, for the new Senator from Kansas turned out to be 
Edmund C. Ross, the very man who had introduced the reso- 
lutions attPckiMg Lane at Lawrence. 

There could be no doubt as to where Ross’s sympathies 
lay, for his entire career was one of determined opposition 
to the slave states of the South, their practices and their 
friends. In 1854, when only twenty-eight, he had taken part 
in the mob rescue of a fugitive slave in Milwaukee. In 1856, 
he had joined that fiood of antislavery immigrants to “bleed- 
ing” Kansas who intended to keep it a free territory. Dis- 
gusted with the Democratic party of his youth, he luid left 
that party, and volunteered in the Kansas Free State Army 
to drive back a force of proslavery men invading the terri- 
tory. In 1862, he had given up his newspaper work to enlist 
in the Union Army, from which he emerged a Major. His 
leading role in the condemnation of Lane at Lawrence con- 
vinced the Radical Republican leaders in Congress that in 
Edmund G. Ross they had a solid member of that vital two- 

Hie stage was now set for the final scene — ^the removal of 

[ 149 ] 


Johnson. Early in 1867, Congress enacted over the Presi- 
dent’s veto the Tenure-of-Office Bill which prevented the 
President from removing without tfre consent of the Senate 
aU new ofBceholders whose appointment required confirma- 
tion by that body. At the time nothing more than the cry 
for more patronage was involved, Cabinet Members hav- 
ing originally been specifically exempt. 

On August 5, 1867, President Johnson— convinced that 
die Secretary of War, whom he had inherited from Lincoln, 
Edwin M. Stanton, was die surreptitious tool of the Radical 
Republicans and was seeking to become the almighty dic- 
tator of the conquered South — ^asked for his immediate res- 
ignation; and Stanton arrogantly fired back the reply that he 
declined to resign before the next meeting of Congress. Not 
one to cower before this kind of eflFrontery, the President 
one week later suspended Stanton, and appointed in his place 
the one man whom Stanton did not dare resist. General 
Grant. On January 13, 1868, an angry Senate notified the 
President and Grant that it did not concur in the suspension 
of Stanton, and Grant vacated the office upon Stanton’s re- 
turn. But the situation was intolerable. The Secretary of 
War was unable to attend Cabinet meetings or associate 
with his colleagues in the administration; and on February 
21, President Johnson, anxious to obtain a court test of the 
act he believed obviously unconstitutional, again notified 
Stanton that he had been summarily removed from the of- 
fice of Secretary of War. 

While Stanton, refusing to yield possession, barricaded 
himself in his office, public opinion in the nation ran heavily 
against the President. He had intentionally broken the law 

[ 150 ] 


and dictatorially thwarted the will of Congress! Althou^ 
previous resolutions of impeachment had been defeated in 
the House, both in committee and on the floor, a new resolu- 
tion was swiftly reported and adopted on February 24 by a 
tremendous vote. Every single Republican voted in the af- 
firmative, and Thaddeus Stevens Pennsylvania — the crip- 
pled, fanatical personification of the extremes of the Radical 
Republican movement, master of the House of Representa- 
tives, with a mouth like the thin edge of an ax — ^warned both 
Houses of the Congress coldly: “Let me see the recreant who 
would vote to let such a criminal escape. Point me to one 
who will dare do it and I will show you one who will dare the 
infamy of posterity." 

With the President impeached — ^in effect, indicted — ^by 
the House, the frenzied trial for his conviction or acquittal 
under the Articles of Impeachment began on March 5 in 
the Senate, presided over by the Chief Justice. It was a trial 
to rank with all the great trials in history — Charles I before 
the High Comt of Justice, Louis XVI before the Frendi 
Convention, and Warren Hastings befmre the House of 
Lords. Two great elements of drama were missing: the 
actual cause for which the President was being tried was 
not fundamental to the welfare of the mition; and the de- 
fendant himself was at all times absent. 

But every other element of the highest courtroom drama 
was present. To each Senator the Chief Justice administered 
an oath “to do impartial justice" (including even the hot- 
headed Radical Senator from Ohio, Benjamin Wade, who as 
President Pro Tempore of the Senate was next in line for die 
’Presidency). The chief prosecutor for the House was Gen- 

[ 151 ] 


eral Benjamin F. Butler, the “butcher of New Orleans," a 
talented but coarse and demagogic Congressman from Mas- 
sachusetts. (When he lost his seat in 1874, he was so hated 
by his own party as well as his opponents that one Republi- 
can wired concerning the Democratic sweep, “Butler de- 
feated, everything else lost.”) Some one thoiisand tickets 
were printed for admission to the Senate galleries during the 
trial, and every conceivable device was used to obtain one 
of the four tickets allotted each Senator. 

From the fifth of March to the sixteenth of May, the 
drama continued. Of the eleven Articles of Impeachment 
adopted by the House, the first eight were based upon the 
removal of Stanton and the appointment of a new Secretary 
of War in violation of the Tenure-of-OfiBce Act; the ninth 
related to Johnson’s conversation with a general which was 
said to induce violations of the Army Appropriations Act; 
the tenth recited that Johnson had delivered “intemperate, 
inflammatory and scandalous harangues ... as well against 
Congress as the laws of the United States”; and thensleventh 
was a deliberately obscure conglomeration of all the charges 
in the preceding articles, which had been designed by Thad- 
deus Stevens to furnish a common ground for those who 
favored conviction but were imwilling to identify themselves 
on basic issues. In opposition to Butler’s inflammatory argu- 
ments in support of this hastily drawn indictment, Johnson’s 
able and learned counsel replied with considerable eflFective- 
ness. They insisted that the Tenure-of-OfiBce Act was null 
and void as a dear violation of the Constitution; that even if 
it were valid, it would not apply to Stanton, for the reasons 
previously mentioned; and that the only way that a judicial 

[ 152 ] 


test of the law could be obtained was for Stanton to be dis- 
missed and sue for bis rights in the courts. 

But as the trial progressed, it became increasingly appar- 
ent that the impatient Republicans did not intend to give the 
President a fair trial on the formal issues upon which the 
impeachment was drawn, but intended instead to depose 
him from the White House on any grounds, real or imagined, 
for refusing to accept their policies. Telling evidence in the 
President s favor was arbitrarily excluded. Prejudgment on 
the part of most Senators was brazenly aimounced. At- 
tempted bribery and other forms of pressure were rampant. 
The chief interest was not in the trial or the evidence, but 
in the tallying of votes necessary for conviction. 

Twenty-seven states (excluding the unrecognized South- 
ern states) in the Union meant fifty-four members of the 
Senate, and thirty-six votes were required to constitute the 
two-thirds majority necessary for conviction. All twelve 
Democratic votes were obviously lost, and the forty-two 
Republicans knew that they could aflFord to lose only six of 
their own members if Johnson were to be ousted. To their 
dismay, at a prehminaiy Republican caucus, six courageous 
Republicans indicated that the evidence so far intro<luced 
was not in their opinion sufiBcient to convict Johnson under 
the Articles of Impeachment. “Infamy!” cried the Philadel- 
phia Press. The Republic has “been betrayed in the house 
of its friendsi” 

But if the remaining thirty-six Republicans would hold, 
there would be no doubt as to die outcome. All must stand 
together! But one Republican Senator would not announce 
his verdict in the preliminary poll— Edmund G. Ross of 

[ 153 ] 


Kansas. The Radicals were outraged that a Senator from 
such an anti-Johnson stronghold as Kansas could be doubt- 
ful. "It was a very dear case,” Senator Sumner of Massa- 
chusetts fumed, “especially for a Kansas man. I did not think 
that a Kansas man could quibble against his country.” 

From the very time Ross had taken his seat, the Radical 
leaders had been confident of his vote. His entire back- 
ground, as already indicated, was one of firm support of 
their cause. One of his first acts in the Senate had been to 
read a dedaration of his adherence to Radical Republican 
policy, and he had silently voted for all of their measures. 
He had made it clear that he was not in sympathy with 
Andrew Johnson personally or politically; and after the re- 
moval of Stanton, he had voted with the majority in adopting 
a resolution declaring such removal unlawful. His colleague 
Rom Kansas, Senator Pomeroy, was one of the most Radical 
leaders of the anti-Johnson group. The Republicans insisted 
that Ross’s crucial vote was rightfully theirs, and they were 
determined to get it by whatever means available. As stated 
by De Witt in his memorable Impeachment of Andrew 
Johnson, “The full brtmt of the struggle turned at last on 
the one remaining doubtful Senator, Edmund G. Ross.” 

When the impeachment resolution had passed the House, 
Senator Ross had casually remarked to Senator Sprague of 
Rhode Island, "Well, Sprague, the thing is here; and, so far 
as I am concerned, though a Republican and opposed to Mr. 
Johnson and his policy, he shall have as fair a trial as an 
accused man ever had on this earth.” Immediately the word 
spread that “Ross was shaky.” “From that hour,” he later 
wrote, “not a day passed that did not bring me, by mail and 

[ 154 ] 


telegraph and in personal intercourse, appeals to stand fast 
for impeachment, and not a few were the admonitions of 
condign visitations upon any indication even of lukewarm- 

Throughout the country, and in all walks of life, as indicated 
by the correspondence of Members of the Senate, the condition 
of die public mind was not unlike tliat preceding a great battle. 
The dominant party of the nation seemed to occupy the posi- 
tion of public prosecutor, and it was scarcely in the mood to 
brook delay for trial or to hear defense. Washington had be- 
come during the trial die central point of die politically dissatis- 
fied and swarmed with representatives of every state of the 
Union, demanding in a practically united voice the deposition 
of the President. The footsteps of the anti-impeaching Repub- 
licans were dogged from the day’s beginning to its end and far 
into the niglit, with entreaties, considerations, and threats. Hie 
newspapers came daily filled with not a few threats of violence 
upon their return to their constituents. 

Ross and his fellow doubtful Republicans were daily 
pestered, spied upon and subjected to every form of pressure. 
Their residences were carefully watched, their social circles 
suspiciously scrutinized, and their every move and compan- 
ions secretly marked in special notebooks. They were 
warned in the party press, harangued by their constituents, 
and sent dire warnings threatening political ostracism and 
even assassination. Stanton himself, from his barricaded 
headquarters in the War Department, worked day and night 
to bring to bear upon the doubtful Senators all the weight of 
his impressive military associations. The Philadelphia Press 
reported “a fearful avalanche of telegra-ns from every sec- 

[ 155 ] 


tion of the country,” a great surge of public opinion from 
the "common people” who had given their money and lives 
to the cormtry and would not “willingly or unavenged see 
their great sacrifice made naught.” 

The New York Tribune reported that Edmund Ross in 
particular was “mercilessly dragged this way and that by 
both sides, himted like a fox night and day and badgered by 
his own colleagues, like the bridge at Areola now trod upon 
by one Army and now trampled by the other.” His back- 
ground and life were investigated from top to bottom, and 
his constituents and colleagues pursued him throughout 
Washington to gain some inlding of his opinion. He was the 
target of every eye, his name was on every mouth and his 
intentions were discussed in every newspaper. Although 
there is evidence that he gave some hint of agreement to each 
side, and each attempted to claim him publicly, he actually 
kept both sides in a state of complete suspense by his judicial 

But Avith no experience in political turmoil, no reputation 
in the Senate, no independent income and the most radical 
state in the Union to 'deal with, Ross was judged to be the 
most sensitive to criticism and the most certain to be swayed 
by expert tactics. A committee of Congressmen and Senators 
sent to Kansas, and to the states of the other doubtful Re- 
publicans, diis telegram: “Great danger to the peace of the 
country and the Republican cause if impeachment fails. 
Send to your Senators public opinion by resolutions, letters, 
and delegations.” A member of the Kansas Legislature caUed 
upon Ross at the Capitol. A general urged on by Stanton re- 
mained at his lodge until four o'clock in the morning deter- 

[ 156 ] 


mined to see him. His brother received a letter offering 
$20,000 for revelation of the Senator’s intentions. Gruff Ben 
Butler exclaimed of Ross, “There is a bushel of money! 
How much does the damned scoundrel want?” The night 
before the Senate was to take its first vote for the conviction 
or acquittal of Johnson, Ross received this telegram from 

Kansas has heard the evidence and demands the conviction of 
the President. 

(signed) D. R. Anthony and i,ooo Others 
And on that fateful morning of May i 6 Ross replied: 

To D. R. <\uL!i<my and 1,000 Others: I do not recognize your 
right to demand that I vote either for or against conviction. I 
have taken an oath to do impartial justice according to the 
Constitution and laws, and trust that 1 shall have the courage 
to vote according to the dictates of my judgment and for the 
highest good of the country. 

[signed] — E. G. Ross 

That morning spies traced Ross to his breakfast; <ind ten 
minutes before the vote was taken his Kansas colleague 
warned him in the presence of Thaddeus Stevens that a vote 
for acquittal would mean trumped-up charges and his po- 
litical death. 

But now the fateful hour was at hand. Neither escape, 
delay or indecision was possible. As Ross himself later de- 
scribed it: “The galleries were packed. Tickets of admission 
were at an enormous premium. The House had adjourned 

[ 157 ] 


and all of its m^bers were in the Senate chamber. Every 
chair on the Senate floor was filled with a Senator, a Cabinet 
OflBcer, a member of the President’s counsel or a member of 
the House.” Every Senator was in his seat, the desperately 
ill Grimes of Iowa being literally carried in. 

It had been decided to take the first vote under that bioad 
Eleventh Article of Impeachment, believed to command the 
widest support. As the Chief Justice announced the voting 
would begin, he reminded "the citizens and strangers in the 
galleries that absolute silence and perfect order are required.” 
But already a deathlike stillness enveloped the Senate cham- 
ber. A Congressman later recalled that "Some of the mem- 
bers of the House near me grew pale and sick under the 
burden of suspense”; and Ross noted that there was even “a 
subsidence of the shuffling of feet, the rustling of silks, the 
fluttering of fans, and of conversation.” 

The voting tensely commenced. By the time the Chief 
Justice reached the name of Edmund Ross twenty-four 
“guilties” had been pronounced. Ten more wene certain 
and one other practically certain. Only Ross’s vote was 
needed to obtain the thirty-six votes necessary to convict the 
President. But not a single person in the room knew how this 
young Kansan would vote. Unable to conceal the suspense 
and emotion in his voice, the Chief Justice put the question 
to him: "Mr. Senator Ross, how say you? Is the respondent 
Andrew Johnson guilty or not guilty of a high misdemeanor 
as charged in this Article?” Every voice was still; every eye 
was upon the freshman Senator from Kansas. The hopes and 
fears, the hatred and bitterness of past decades were cen- 
tered upon this ohe man. 

[ 158 ] 


As Ross himself later described it, his “powers of hearing 
and seeing seemed developed in an abnormal degree.” 

Every individual in that great audience seemed distinctly 
visible, some with lips apart and bending forward in anxious 
expectancy, others with hand uplifted as if to ward off an ap- 
prehended blow . . . and each peering with an intensity that 
was almost tragic upon the face of him who was about to cast 
the fateful vote. . . . Every fan was folded, not a foot moved, 
not the rustle of a garment, not a whisper was heard. . . . Hope 
and fear seemed blended in every face, instantaneously alter- 
nating, some with revengeful hate . . . others lighted with hope. 
. , . The Senators in their seats leaned over their desks, many 
with hand to ear. ... It was a tremendous responsibility, and 
it was not strange that he upon whom it had been imposed by a 
fateful combination of conditions should have sought to avoid 
it, to put it away from him as one shuns, or tries to fight off, a 
nightmare. ... I almost literally looked down into my open 
grave. Friendships, position, fortune, everything that makes life 
desirable to an ambitious man were about to be swept away by 
the breath of my mouth, perhaps forever. It is not strange that 
my answer was carried waveringly over the air and failed to 
reach the limits of the audience, or that repetition was called for 
by distant Senators on the opposite side of the Chamber. 

Then came the answer again in a voice that could not be 
misunderstood — ^full, final, definite, unhesitating and un- 
mistakable: “Not guilty.” The deed was done, the President 
saved, the trial as good as over and the conviction lost The 
remainder of the roll call was unimportant; conviction had 
(ailed by the margin of a single vote and a general rumbling 
filled the chamber until the Chief Justice proclaimed that 

[ 159 ] 


“on this Article thirty-five Senators having voted guilty 
and nineteen not guilty, a two-thirds majority not having 
voted for conviction, the President is, therefore, acquitted 
under this Artide.” 

A ten-day recess followed, ten turbulent days to change 
votes on the remaining Articles. An attempt was made to 
rush through bills to readmit six Southern states, whose 
twelve Senators were guaranteed to vote for conviction. But 
this could not be accomplished in time. Again Ross was the 
only one uncommitted on the other Articles, the only one 
whose vote could not be predicted in advance. And again he 
was subjected to terrible pressure. From “D. R. Anthony 
and others,” he received a wire informing him that “Kansas 
repudiates you as she does all perjurers and skunks.” Every 
incident in his life was examined and distorted. Professional 
witnesses were found by Senator Pomeroy to testify before 
a special House committee that Ross had indicated a willing- 
ness to change his vote for a consideration. (Unfortunately 
this witness was so delighted in his exciting role that he also 
swore that Senator Pomeroy had made an offer to produce 
three votes for acquittal for $40,000.) When Ross, in his 
capacity as a Committee Chairman, took several bills to the 
President, James G. Blaine remarked: “There goes the rascal 
to get his pay.” (Long afterward Blaine was to admit: “In 
the exaggerated denunciation caused by the anger and 
chagrin of the moment, great injustice was done to statesmen 
of spotless character.”) 

Again the wild rumors spread that Ross had been won 
over on the remaining Articles of Impeachment. As the 
Senate reassembled, he was the only one of the seven “rene- 

[ 160 ] 


gade"* Republicans to vote with the majority on preliminary 
procedural matters. But when the second and third Articles 
of Impeachment were read, and the name of Ross was 
reached again with the same intense suspense of ten days 
earlier, again came the calm answer “Not guilty.” 

Why did Ross, whose dislike for Johnson continued, vote 
“Not guilty”? His motives appear clearly from his own 
writings on the subject years later in articles contributed to 
Scribners and Forum magazines: 

In a large sense, the independence of the executive oCBce as 
a coordinate branch of the government was on trial. ... If 
. . . the President must step down ... a disgraced man and a 
political outcast . . . upon insufficient proofs and from partisan 
considerations, the office of President would be degraded, cease 
to be a coordinate branch of the government, and ever after 
subordinated to the legislative will. It would practically have 
revolutionized our splendid political fabric into a partisan Con- 
gressional autocracy. . . . This government Lad never faced so 
insidious a danger . . , control by the worst element of American 
politics. ... If Andrew Johnson were acejuitted by a nonpartisan 
vote . . . America would pass the danger point of partisan rule 
and that intolerance which so often characterizes the ..'^ay of 
great majorities and makes them dangerous. 

The “open grave” which Edmund Ross had foreseen was 
hardly an exaggeration. A Justice of the Kansas Supreme 
Court telegraphed him that “the rope with which Judas 
Iscariot hanged himself is lost, but Jim Lane s pistol is at 
your service.” An editorial in a Kansas newspaper screamed: 

On Saturday last Edmund G. Ross, United States Senator 
from Kansas, sold himself, and betrayed hi*, constituents; stulli- 

[ 161 ] 


fied his own record, basely lied to his friends, shamefully vio- 
lated his solemn pledge . . . and to the utmost of his poor ability 
signed the death warrant of his country’s liberty. This act was 
done deliberately, because the traitor, like Benedict Arnold, 
loved money better than he did principle, friends, honor and 
his country, all combined. Poor, pitiful, shriveled wretch, with 
a soul so small that a little pelf would outweigh all things else 
that dignify or ennoble manhood. 

Ross’s political career was ended. To the New York Tribune, 
he was nothing but “a miserable poltroon and traitor.” The 
Philadelphia Press said that in Ross “litdeness” had “simply 
borne its legitimate fruit,” and that he and his fellow recalci- 
trant Republicans had “plunged from a precipice of fame 
into the groveling depths of infamy and death.” The Phila- 
delphia Inquirer said that “They had tried, convicted and 
sentenced themselves.” For them there could be “no allow- 
ance, no clemency.” 

Comparative peace returned to Washington as Stanton 
relinquished his office and Johnson served out Jhe rest of 
his term, later — unlike his Republican defenders — ^to return 
triumphantly to th6 Senate as Senator from Tennessee. But 
no one paid attention when Ross tried imsuccessfully to ex- 
plain his vote, and denounced the falsehoods of Ben Butler’s 
investigating committee, recalling diat the General’s “well 
known grovelling instincts and proneness to slime and un- 
cleanness” had led “the public to insult the brute creation by 
dubbing him ‘the beast.’” He clung unhappily to his seat 
in die Senate until the expiration of his term, frequently re- 
ferred to as “the traitor Ross,” and complaining that his 
fellow Congressimen, as well as citizens on the street, con- 

[ 162 ] 


sidered association with him “disreputable and scandalous,” 
and passed him by as if he were “a leper, with averted face 
and every indication of hatred and disgust.” 

Neither Ross nor any other Republican who had voted for 
the acquittal of Johnson was ever re-elected to the Senate, 
not a one of them retaining the support of their party’s 
organization. When he returned to Kansas in 1871, he and 
his family suffered social ostracism, physical attack, and 
near poverty. 

Who was Edmund G. Ross? Practically nobody. Not a 
single public law bears his name, not a single history book 
includes liis picture, not a single list of Senate “greats” men- 
tions his service. His one heroic deed has been all but for- 
gotten. But who might Edmund G. Ross have been? That is 
the question — for Ross, a man with an excellent command of 
words, an excellent backgroimd for politics and an excellent 
future in the Senate, might well have outstripped his col- 
leagues in prestige and power tliroughout a long Senate 
career. Instead, he chose to throw all of this away for one 
act of conscience. 

But the twiiting course of human events eventually up- 
held the faith he expressed to his wife shortly after tu * trial: 
"Millions of men cursing me today will bless me tomorrow 
for having saved the country from the greatest peril throu^ 
which it has ever passed, though none but God can ever 
know the struggle it has cost me.” For twenty years later 
Congress repealed the Tenure-of- 0 £Bce Act, to which every 
President after Johnson, regardless of party, had objected; 
and still later the Supreme Court, referring to “the extremes 
of that episode in our government,” held it to be unconsti- 

[ 163 ] 


tutional. Ross moved to New Mexico, where in his later 
years he was to be appointed Territorial Governor. Just 
prior to his death when he was awarded a special pension by 
Congress for his service in the Civil War, the press and the 
country took the opportunity to pay tribute to his fidelity 
to principle in a trying hour and his courage in saving his 
government from a devastating reign of terror. They now 
agreed with Ross’s earlier judgment that his vote had “saved 
the country from ... a strain that would have wrecked any 
other form of government.” Those Kansas newspapers and 
political leaders who had bitterly denounced him in earlier 
years praised Ross for his stand against legislative mob rule: 
“By the firmness and courage of Senator Ross,” it was said, 
“the country was saved from calamity greater than war, while 
it consigned him to a political martyrdom, the most cruel in 
our history. . . . Ross was the victim of a wild fiame of intoler- 
ance which swept everything before it. He did his duty 
knowing that it meant his political death. ... It was a brave 
thing for Ross to do, but Ross did it. He acted for his con- 
science and with a lofty patriotism, regardless of what he 
knew must be the ruinous consequences to himself. He acted 

O • • 

I could not close the story of Edmund Ross without some 
more adequate mention of those six courageous Republicans 
who stood with Ross and braved denunciation to acquit 
Andrew Johnson. Edmund Ross, more than any of those six 
colleagues, endured more before and after his vote, reached 
his conscientious decision with greater difficulty, and aroused 

[ 164 ] 


the greatest interest and suspense prior to May i6 by his non- 
committal silence. His story, like his vote, is the key to the 
impeachment tragedy. But all seven of the Republicans who 
voted against conviction should be remembered for their 
courage. Not a single one of them ever won re-election to 
the Senate. Not a single one of them escaped the unholy 
combination of threats, bribes and coercive tactics by which 
their fellow Republicans attempted to intimidate their votes; 
and not a single one of them escaped the terrible torture of 
vicious criticism engendered by their vote to acquit. 

William Pitt Fessenden of Maine, one of the most eminent 
Senators, orators and lawyers of his day, and a prominent 
senior Republican leader, who admired Stanton and disliked 
Johnson, became convinced early in the game that *‘the 
whole tiling is a mere madness.'' 

The country has so bad an opinion of the President, which 
he fully deserves, that it expects his condemnation. Whatever 
may be the consequences to myself personally, whatever I may 
think and feel as a politician, I will not decide the question 
against my own judgment, I would rather be confined to plant- 
ing cabbages the remainder of my days. . . Make up your 
mind, if need be, to hear me denounced a traitor and perhaps 
hanged in eflBgy. All imaginable abuse has been heaped upon 
me by the men and papers devoted to the impeachers. I have 
received several letters from friends warning me that my 
political grave is dug if I do not vote for eonviction, and sev- 
eral threatening assassination. It is rather hard at my lime of 
life, after a long career, to find myself the target of pointed 
arrows from those whom I have faithfully served. The public, 
when aroused and excited by passion and prejudice, is little 

[ 165 ] 


better than a wild beast. I shall at all events retain my own self- 
respect and a dear conscience, and time will do justice to my 
motives at least. 

The Radical Republicans were determined to win over the 
respected Fessenden, whose name would be the first ques- 
tion mark on the call of the roll, and his mail from Maine was 
abusive, threatening and pleading. Wendell Phillips scorn- 
fully told a hissing crowd that “it takes six months for a 
statesmanlike idea to find its way into Mr. Fessenden’s head. 
I don’t say he is lacking; he is only very slow.” 

Fessenden decided to shun all newspapers and screen his 
mail. But when one of his oldest political friends in Maine 
urged him to “hang Johnson up by the heels like a dead crow 
in a cornfield, to frighten all of his tribe,” noting that he was 
“sure I express the unanimous feeling of every loyal heart 
and head in this state,” Fessenden indignantly replied: 

I am acting as a judge ... by what right can any man upon 
whom no responsibility rests, and who does not even hear the 
evidence, tmdertake to advise me as to what the judgment, and 
even die sentence, should be? I wish all my friends and constitu- 
ents to understand that I, and not they, am sitting in judgment 
upon die President. I, not they, have sworn to do impartial 
justice. I, not they, am responsible to Cod and man for my 
action and its consequences. 

On that tragic afternoon of May i6, as Ross described it. 
Senator Fessenden "was in his place, pale and haggard, yet 
ready for the political martyrdom which he was about to 
face, and which not long afterward drove him to his grave.” 

The first Republican Senator to ring out "Not guilty” — 
and the first of the seven to go to his grave, hounded by the 

[ 166 ] 


merciless abuse that had dimmed all hope for re-election — 
was William Pitt Fessenden of Maine. 

John B. Henderson of Missouri, one of the Senators young- 
est members, had previously demonstrated high courage by 
introducing the Thirteenth Amendment abolishing slavery, 
simply because he was convinced that it would pass only if 
sponsored by a slave-state Senator, whose political death 
would necessarily follow. But when the full delegation of 
Republican representatives from his state cornered him in 
his oflBce to demand that he convict the hated Johnson, 
warning that Missouri Republicans could stomach no other 
course, Henderson’s usual courage wavered. He meekly of- 
fered to wire his resignation to the Governor, enabling a new 
appointee to - ote for conviction: and, when it was doubted 
whetlier a new Senator would be permitted to vote, he 
agreed to ascertain whether his own vote would be crucial. 

But an insolent and threatening telegram from Missouri 
restored his sense of honor, and he swiftly wired his reply: 
“Say to my friends that I am sworn to do impartial justice 
according to law and conscience, and I will try to do it like 
an honest man.’' 

John Henderson voted for acquittal, the last imporKint act 
of his Senatorial career. Denounced, tlireatened and burned 
in eflBgy in Missouri, he did not even bother to seek re-elec- 
tion to the Senate. Years later his party would realize its 
debt to him, and return him to lesser offices, but for the 
Senate, whose integrity he had upheld, he was through. 

Peter Van Winkle of West Virginia, the last doubtful Re- 
publican name to be called on May i6, was, hke Ross, a 
“nobody’’; but his firm “Not guilty” e>"tinguished the last 
faint glimmer of hope which Edmund Ross had already all 

[ 167 ] 


but destroyed. The Republicans had counted on Van Winlde 
— ^West Virginia’s first United States Senator, and a critic 
of Stanton’s removal; and for his courage, he was labeled 
“West Virginia’s betrayer’’ by the Wheeling Intelligencer, 
who declared to the world that there was not a loyal citizen 
in the state who had not been misrepresented by his vote. 
He, too, had insured his permanent witlidrawal from politics 
as soon as his Senate term expired. 

The vetei<m Lyman Trumbull of Illinois, who had de- 
feated Abe Lincoln for the Senate, had drafted much of the 
major reconstruction legislation which Johnson vetoed, and 
had voted to censure Johnson upon Stanton’s removal. 

But, in tlie eyes of the Philadelphia Press, his “statesman- 
ship drivelled into selfishness,” for, resisting tremendous pies- 
sure, he voted against conviction. A Republican convention 
in Chicago had resolved “That any Senator elected by the 
votes of Union Republicans, who at this time blenches and 
betrays, is infamous and should be dishonored and execrated 
while this free government endures.” And an Illinois Repub- 
lican leader had warned the distinguished Trumbull “not to 
show himself on the streets in Chicago; for I fear that the 
representatives of an indignant people would hang him to 
the most convenient lamppost.” 

But Lyman Tnimbull, ending a brilliant career of public 
service and devotion to the party which would renounce him, 
filed for the record these enduring words: 

The question to be decided is not whether Andrew Johnson 
is a proper person to fill the Presidential office, nor whether it is 
fit that he should remain in it. . . . Once set, the example of im- 

[ 168 ] 


peaching a President for what, when the excitement of the 
House shall have subsided, will be regarded as insufficient cause, 
no future President will be safe who happens to difFer with a 
majority of the House and two-thirds of the Senate on any 
measure deemed by them important. . . , What then becomes of 
the checks and balances of the Constitution so carefully devised 
and so vital to its perpetuity? They are all gone. ... I cannot be 
an instrument to produce such a result, and at the hazard of the 
tics even of friendship and affection, till calmer times shall do 
justice to my motives, no alternative is left me but the inflexible 
discharge of duty. 

Joseph Smith Fowler of Tennessee, like Ross, Henderson, 
and Van Winkle a freshman Senator, at first thought the 
President impeachable. But the former Nashville professor 
was horrified by die mad passion of the House in rushing 
through the impeachment resolution by evidence against 
Johnson "based on falsehood,” and by the “corrupt and dis- 
honorable” Ben Butler, “a wicked man wuo seeks to convert 
the Senate of the United States into a political guillotine.” 
He refused to be led by the nose by “politicians, tlirown to 
the surface through the disjointed time . . . keeping alive the 
embers of the departing revolution.” Threatened, investi- 
gated and defamed by his fellow Radieal Republicans, tlie 
nervous Fowler so faltered in his reply on May i6 that it was 
at first mistaken for the word “guilty.” A wave of triumph 
swept the Senate — ^Johnson was convicted, Ross’s vote was 
not needed! But then came the clear and distinct answer: 
“Not guilty.” 

His re-election impossible, Fowler quietly retired from 
the Senate at the close of his term two years later, but not 

[ 169 ] 



without a single statement in defense of his vote: “I acted 
for my country and posterity in obedience to the will of 

James W. Grimes of Iowa, one of Johnson’s bitter and 
influential foes in the Senate, became convinced that the 
trial was intended only to excite public passions through 
"lies sent from here by the most worthless and irresponsible 
creatures on the face of the earth" (an indication, perhaps, 
of the improved quality of Washington correspondents in 
the last eighty-seven years). 

Unfortunately, the abuse and threats heaped upon him 
during the trial brought on a stroke of paralysis only two 
days before the vote was to be taken, and he was confined 
to his bed. The Radical Republicans, refusing any postpone- 
ment, were delightedly certain that Grimes would either 
be too sick in fact to attend on May i6, or would plead that 
his illness prevented him from attending to cast the vote 
diat would end his career. In the galleries, the crowd sang, 
“Old Grimes is dead, that bad old man, we ne’ei;. shall see 
him more.” And in the New York Tribune, Horace Greeley 
was writing: “It seem's as if no generation could pass without 
giving us one man to hve among the Warnings of history. 
We have had Benedict Arnold, Aaron Burr, Jefferson Davis, 
and now we have James W. Grimes.” 

But James W. Grimes was a man of great physical as well 
as moral courage, and just before the balloting was to begin 
on May i6, four men carried the pale and withered Senator 
from Iowa into his seat. He later wrote that Fessenden had 
grasped his hand and given him a “glorified smile. ... I 
would not today exchange that recollection for the highest 

[ 170 ] 


distinction of life.” The Chief Justice suggested that it would 
be permissible for him to remain seated while voting — ^but 
with the assistance of his friends. Senator Grimes struggled 
to his feet and in a surprisingly firm voice called out, “Not 

Burned in effigy, accused in the press of “idiocy and im- 
potency,'* and repudiated by his state and friends. Crimes 
never recovered — but before he died he declared to a friend: 

I shall ever thank Cod that in that troubled hour of trial, 
when many privately confessed that they had sacrificed tlieir 
judgment and their conscience at the behests of party newspapers 
and party hate, I had the courage to be true to my oath and 
my conscience. . , . Perhaps I did wrong not to commit perjury 
by order of a party; but I cannot sec it that way. ... I became 
a judge acting on my own responsibility and accountable only 
to my own conscience and my Maker; and no power could force 
me to decide on such a case contrary to my convictions, 
whether that party was composed of my friends or my enemies. 

[ 171 ] 




Lucius Quintus Cincinnatus Lamar 

N b ONE HAD EVER SEEN that hardened veteran politi- 
cian, Speaker of the House James G. Blaine, cry. 
But there he sat, with the tears streaming un- 
ashamedly down his cheeks, imable to conceal his« emotions 
from the full view of the House members and spectators. But 
few on the floor or iA the galleries on that dramatic day in 
1874 were paying much attention to Mr. Blaine, and most 
were making no attempt to hide their own tears. Democrats 
and Republicans alike, battle-scarred veterans of the Civil 
War and the violence of politics, sat in somber silence, as 
they listened to the urgent entreaties of the freshman Con- 
gressman from Mississippi. Speaking simply and clearly, 
without resorting to the customary rhetorical devices, his 
full, rich voice touched the hearts of every listener with its 
simple plea for aitlity and justice between North and South. 
All were touched, yes, by his message; but stunned, too, 

[ 172 ] 


by its impact — for Lucius Lamar of Mississippi was appeal- 
ing in the name of the South’s most implacable enemy, the 
Radical Republican who had helped make the Reconstruc- 
tion Period a black nightmare the South never could forget: 
Charles Sumner of Massachusetts. Charles Sumner — who 
assailed Daniel Webster as a traitor for seeking to keep the 
South in the Union — who helped crucify Edmund Ross for 
his vote against the Congressional mob rule that would have 
ground the South and the Presidency under its heel — whose 
own death was hastened by the terrible caning administered 
to him on the Senate floor years earlier by Congressman 
Brooks of South Carolina, who thereupon became a Southern 
hero — Charles Sumner was now dead. And Lucius Lamar, 
known in the pic war da)s as one of the most rabid “fire- 
eaters” ever to come out of the deep South, was standing 
on the floor of the House and delivering a moving eulogy 
lamenting his departure! 

For Charles Sumner before he died, Lamar told his 
hushed audience, 

believed that all occasion for strife and distrust between the 
North and South had passed away. ... Is not that the common 
sentiment— or if it is not, ought it not to be— of the great mass 
of our people, North and South? . . . Shall we not, over the 
honored remains of . . . this earnest pleader for the exercise of 
human tenderness and charity, lay aside the concealments which 
serve only to perpetuate misunderstandings and distrust, and 
frankly confess that cn both sides we most earnestly desire to 
be one ... in feeling and in heart? . . . Would that the spirit of 
the illustrious dead whom we lament today could speak from the 
grave to both parties to this deplorable discord in tones which 
should reach each and every heart throughout this broad tem- 

[ 173 ] 


tory: “My countrymeiil know one another, and you will love one 

There was an ominous silence — a silence of both medita- 
tion and shock. Then a spontaneous burst of applause rolled 
out from all sides. “My Cod, what a speech!” said Congress- 
man Lyman Tremaine of New York to “Pig Iron” Kelly of 
Pennsylvania. "It will ring throu^ the country." 

Few speeches in American political history have had such 
immediate impact. Overnight it raised Lamar to the first 
rank in the Congress and in the country; and more impor- 
tantly it marked a turning point in the relations between 
North and South. Two weeks after the Sumner eulogy, 
Carl Schurz of Missouri rose before ten thousand citizens of 
Boston and hailed Lamar as the prophet of a new day in the 
relations between North and South. The Boston Globe 
called Lamar's speech on Sumner “evidence of the restora- 
tion of the Union in the South”; and the Boston Advertiser 
said it was “the most significant and hopeful utterwce that 
has been heard from the South since the war.” 

It was inevitable that some both North and South would 
misunderstand it. Northerners whose political power de- 
pended on maintaining the Federal hegemony over the 
former Confederate states resisted any effort to heal sec- 
tional strife. James Blaine, when his tears were dry, was to 
write of the Simmer eulogy that “it was a mark of positive 
genius in a Southern representative to pronounce a fervid 
and discriminating eulogy upon Mr. Sumner, and skillfully 
interweave with it a defense of that which Mr. Sumner, like 
John Wesley, believed to be the sum of all villainies.” 

Southerners to whom Charles Sumner symbolized the 

[ 174 ] 


worst of the prewar abolitionist movement and the postwar 
reconstruction felt betrayed. Several leading Mississippi 
newspapers, including the Columbus Democraty the Canton 
Mail and the Meridian Mercury^ vigorously criticized Lamar, 
as did many of his old friends, maintaining that he had sur- 
rendered Southern principle and honor. To his wife, Lamar 

No one here thinks I lowered the Southern flag, but the 
Southern press is down on me. . . . Our people have suffered 
so much, have been betrayed so often by those in whom they 
had the strongest reason to confide, that it is but natural that 
they should be suspicious of any word or act of overture to the 
North by a Southern man. I know for once that I have done 
her good . . . iiu-t I have awakened sympathies where before 
existed animosities. If she condemns me, while I shall not be 
indifferent to her disapprobation, I shall not be . . . resentful. I 
shall be cheered by the thought that I have done a beneficial 
thing for her. It is time for a public man to try to serve the 
South, and not to subserve her irritated feelings. ... I shall serve 
no other interest than hers, and will calmly and silently retire 
to private life if her people do not approve me. 

Such attacks, however, were in the minority. It wis gen- 
erally recognized, North and South, that the speech which 
could have been a disaster was in fact a notable triumph. 
It was obvious that, moved by the strange forces of history 
and personal destiny, the man and the occasion had met that 
day in Washington. 

• « • 

Who was the man? 

Lucius Quintus Cincinnatus Lamar was, in 1874, a "public 

[ 175 ] 


man.” No petty issues, no political trivia, not even private 
a£Fairs, were permitted to clutter up his intellect. No parti- 
san, personal or sectional considerations could outweigh 
his devotion to the national interest and to the truth. He 
was not only a statesman but also a scholar and one of the 
few original thinkers of his day. Henry Adams considered 
him to be one of "the calmest, most reasonable and most 
amiable men in the United States, and quite unusual in social 
charm. Abo\e all . . . he had tact and humor.” Henry 
Watterson, the famous Washington reporter, called him the 
“most interesting and lovable of men. . . I rather think that 
Lamar was the biggest brained of all the men I have met in 
Washington.” And Senator Hoar once lemaiked: 

The late Matthew Arnold used to say that American public 
men lacked what he called “distmction” Nobody would have 
said that of Mr. Lamar. He would have been a conspicuous 
personahty anywhere, with a character and quality of his own. 
He was a very interesting and very remarkable and very noble 

The well-known Washington correspondent, William 
Preston Johnson, wrote: “The Lamars are Huguenot in 
origin. The fatal dowry of genius was on that house. All that 
came forth from it felt its touch, its inspiration, its triumph 
and some share of its wretchedness.” A roll call in his father s 
home was an impressive experience, for Lucius Lamar’s 
uncles included Mirabeau Bonaparte, whose charge at San 
Jacinto broke the Mexican line and made him the second 
President of the Texas Republic; JeflFerson Jackson, Thomas 
Randolph, and Lavoisier LeCrand, indicating in the chris- 

[ 176 ] 


tener a changing interest from history to politics and from 
politics to chemistry. But that fatal touch of genius and 
melancholia had marked his father, who, at thirty-seven, 
with a notable career in the Georgia Bar before him, in a 
period of intense depression, kissed his wife and children 
good-by, walked into his garden and shot himself. 

A similar black thread of moodiness and depression ran 
throughout all of Lamar’s life. Although it never conquered 
him, his contemporaries observed his self-absorption, his 
sensitive and, on occasions, morose nature. His youth was 
on the whole, however, a happy one, on a plantation in the 
area where Joel Harris was to collect his Uncle Remus and 
Br’er Rabbit tales. Lamar himself was famous later for his 
stories of tb< rural South, as noted by Henry Adams in 
speaking of how eflFective a representative of the 'Con- 
federacy IjUmar would have made in I^ondon: “London 
society would have delighted in him; his stories would have 
won success; his manners would have made him loved; his 
oratory would have swept every audience.” 

Lamar from the begijming under his mother’s direction 
showed a notable aptitude for study. Many years later he 
said, “Books! I was surrounded with books. The fiist book 
I remember having had put into my hands by my mother was 
Franklin’s Autobiography^ The second was Roilin’s His- 
tory, the same History which niue-year-old John Quincy 
Adams had pondered over many years before. Lamar became 
well read in diplomacy and the law, but he was also pas- 
sionately fond of light literature, as several correspondents 
discovered years later when they assisted Lamar m gathering 
several books which had accidentally spilled from his official 

[ 177 ] 


briefcase as he entered the White House for a Cabinet meet* 
ing. They were all cheap novels! 

Emory College, which Lamar attended, was a hotbed of 
states’ rights. Its President, a member of the celebrated 
Longstreet family, was a flaming follower of Calhoun, and 
his influence over Lamar, always strong, increased when 
Lamar married his daughter. When Longstreet left Georgia 
to take over the presidency of the State University at Ox- 
ford, Mississippi, Lamar accompanied him to practice law 
and to teach, and it was while at the university that Lamar 
was presented with the opportunity which commenced his 
public career. 

On March 5, 1850, the Legislature of the State of Missis- 
sippi adopted a series of resolutions instructing the repre- 
sentatives of Mississippi to vote against the admission of 
California. When Senator Foote disregarded these instruc- 
tions in a noticeable display of courage, Lamar was prevailed 
upon by a committee of states’ rights Democrats to debate 
the Senator upon the latter’s return to Mississippi to run for 
Governor. Lamar was only twenty-six years of age, new 
to the state and the political life of his day, and was given 
only a few hours to prepare for debate against one of the 
most skilled and aggressive politicians of the times. But his 
extemporaneous speech, in which he chastised Senator Foote 
for ignoring the instructions of the Mississippi Legislature, 
(as he himself was to do twenty-eight years later) was a 
notable success, and at the end of the debate the students 
of the university ‘Ixire him away upon their shoulders.” 

His election to Congress as a strong supporter of the 
doctrines of Calhoun and Jefferson Davis followed. In 

[ 178 ] 


Congress, while Alexander Stephens, Robert Toombs, and 
other Southern Unionists were vainly seeking to stem the 
sectional tide, Lamar was violently pro-Southem. “Others 
may boast,” he said on the floor of the House, "of their 
widely extended patriotism, and their enlarged and compre- 
hensive love of this Union. With me, I confess that the 
promotion of Southern interests is second in importance only 
to the preservation of Southern honor.” Some years later 
he said that he never entertained a doubt of tlie soundness 
of the Southern system imtil he found out that slavery could 
not stand a war. He did not proceed, however, on his 
course unmindful of its certain end. In a letter he wrote: 
“Dissolution cannot take place quietly. . . . When the sun 
of the Union ••‘'ts it will go down in blood.” 

By i860 he passed, in the words of Henry Adams, “for 
the worst of the Southern fire-eaters.” Having lost aU hope 
that the South could obtain justice in the Federal Union, he 
walked out of the Democratic Convention in Charleston 
with JeflFerson Davis, helping to break still another link in 
the chain of Union. His prewar career reached its climax 
in 1861 when he drafted the ordinance of secession dissolv- 
ing Mississippi’s ties with the Union. Ihe wind had been 
sown; now Lamar and Mississippi were to reap the whirl- 

On both it fell with equal violence. Certainly many of the 
trials and much of die agony which dogged the South in 
the years after the war were due to the loss in the struggle 
of those who might have been expected to assert the leader- 
ship of the region. Control in government had always been 
narrowly held in the South, compared to the North, and 

[ 179 ] 


among the ruling families “the spilling of the wine” was 
especially heavy. Of the thirteen descendants of the first 
Lamar in America who served in the Confederate Armies 
with the rank of lieutenant colonel or above, seven perished 
in the war. Lamar s youngest brother, supposedly the most 
brilliant, Jefferson Mirabeau, was killed as he leaped his 
horse over the enemy’s breastworks at Crampton’s Gap. Ilis 
cousin John, one of the largest slaveholders in the South, 
fell near Inm. Two years later Lamar’s older brother, 
Thompson Bird, Colonel of the Fifth Florida, was killed 
in the bloody fighting at Petersburg. Lamar’s two law part- 
ners were both killed: Colonel Mott at Williamsburg where 
Lamar fought at his side, and James Autrey, in the slaughter 
at Murfreesboro. Symbolic of the dark days that were 
coming, the shattered office shingle beaiing the names of the 
three partners was found ffoating in the river. 

Lamar’s own militaiy career was ended by an attack of 
apoplexy, a disease from which he suffered throughout his 
entire life and which hung over him like death i» moments 
of high excitement. He served nearly all of the remainder 
of the war as a dipfomatic agent for the Confederate Gov- 

With the end of the war which had blasted all of Lamar’s 
hopes and illusions, he was under strong pressure to leave 
the wreck of the past and go to another country. He felt, 
in the words of his biographer, Wirt Armistead Cate, that he 
was discredited — a leader who had carried his people into 
the wilderness from which there had been no return. But 
he followed Robert Lee’s advice to the leaders of the South 
to remain and “share the fate of their respective states,” and 

[ 180 ] 


from 1865 to 1872 Lamar lived quietly in Mississippi teach- 
ing and practicing law, as his state passed through the bitter 
days of its reconstruction. 

No state suffered more from carpetbag rule than Missis- 
sippi. Adelbert Ames, first Senator and then Governor, was 
a native of Maine, a son-in-law of the notorious “butcher of 
New Orleans,” Ben Butler. He admitted before a Con- 
gressional committee that only his election to the Senate 
prompted him to take up his residence in Mississippi. He 
was chosen Governor by a majority composed of freed 
slaves and Radical Republicans, sustained and noiurished by 
Federal bayonets. One Cardoza, under indictment for lar- 
ceny in New York, was placed at the head of the public 
schools and two former slaves held the ofiBces of Lieutenant 
Governor and Secretary of State. Vast areas of northern Mis- 
sissippi lay in ruins. Taxes increased to a level fourteen 
times as high as normal in order to support the extravagances 
of the reconstruction government and heavy state and na- 
tional war debts. 

As he passed through these troubled times, Lamar came 
to understand that the sole hope for the South lav not in 
pursuing its ancient quarrels with the North but n pro- 
moting conciliation and in the development and restitution 
of normal Federal-state relations and the withdrawal of mili- 
tary rule. This in turn could only be accomplished by mak- 
ing the North comprehend that the South no longer desired 
— in Lamar's words — to be the “agitator and agitated pendu- 
lum of American politics.” Lamar hoped to make the North 
realize that the abrogation of the Constitutional guarantees 
of the people of the South must inevitably affect the liberties 

[ 181 ] 


of the people of the North. He came to believe that the 
future happiness of the country could only lie in a spirit of 
mutual conciliation and cooperation between the people 
of all sections and all states. 

There were two forces in opposition to his policy. On 
the one hand were those Republican leaders who believed 
that only by waving the bloody shirt could they maintain 
their support in the North and East, particularly among the 
Grand Army of the Republic; and who were convinced 
by the elections of 1868 that, if the Southern states should 
once again be controlled by the Democrats, those states — 
together with their allies in the North — ^would, make the 
Republicans a permanent minority nationally. On the other 
hand there were those in the Soutli who traveled the easy 
road to influence and popularity through pandering to and 
exploiting the natural resentment and bitterness of the de- 
feated South against its occupiers. 

In contrast, Lamar believed that “the only course I, in 
common with other Southern representatives hav» to follow, 
is to do what we can to allay excitement between the sec- 
tions and to bring about peace and reconciliation.” 

In 1872 he was elected to Congress, and his petition for a 
pardon from the disabilities imposed on all Confederate 
officials by the Fourteenth Amendment was granted. Sum- 
ner’s death, and the invitation of Representative Hoar of 
Massachusetts to pronoimce the eulogy, furnished the ideal 
occasion for which Lamar had long waited to hold out the 
hand of friendship to the North. Everything conspired to 
insure his success: his prewar reputation as a disimionist, 
his service as a Confederate official, the fact that Sumner 

[ 182 ] 


was widely hated in Mississippi and in tlie Soutli, and his 
own exceptional skill as an orator. All tliese factors in his 
favor were reinforced by his impressive personal appearance 
— ^including, in the words of Henry Grady, “that peculiar 
swartliy complexion, pale but clear; the splendid gray eyes, 
the high cheekbones; dark brown hair, the firm fixed mouth.” 
His memorable eulogy of Sumner was Lucius Lamar’s first 
opportunity to demonstrate a new kind of Southern states- 
manship. But it would not be his last. 

« O 0 

Mississippians, on the whole, came either to understand 
and admire the sentiments of the Sumner eulogy, to respect 
Lamar’s sin<vrity if they did not adiniie it, or to forgive 
him for what they considered to be one serious error of 
judgment if they were strongly opposed to it. Riding a 
wave of popularity and the 1876 return to Democratic rule 
in Mississippi, Lamar was elected by Iht Legislature to the 
United States Senate. But even before he moved from the 
House to the Senate, Lamar again outraged many of his 
backers by abandoning liis party and section on another 
heated issue. 

The Hayes-Tilden Presidential contest of 1876 had been 
a bitter struggle, apparently culminating in a close electoral- 
vote victory for the Democrat Tilden. Although Hayes at 
first accepted his defeat with philosophic resignation, his 
lieutenants, with the cooperation of the Republican New 
York Times, converted the apparent certainty of Tilden’s 
election into doubt by claiming the closely contested states 
of South Carolina, Louisiana and Florida — and then at- 

[ 183 ] 


tempted to convert that doubt into the certainty of Hayes’ 
election by procuring from the carpetbag governments of 
those three states doctored election returns. With rumors of 
violence and military dictatorship rife, Congress determined 
upon arbitration by a supposedly nonpartisan Electoral Com- 
mission — and Lucius Lamar, confident that an objective 
inquiry would demonstrate the palpable fraud of the Re- 
publican case, agreed to this solution to prevent a recurrence 
of the tragic conflict wliich had so aged his spirit and broad- 
ened his outlook. 

But when the Commission, acting wholly along party lines, 
awarded the disputed states and the election to Hayes with 
185 electoral votes to 184 for Tilden, the South was out- 
raged. Four moie years of Republican rule meant four more 
years of Southern bondage and exploitation, four more years 
before the South could regain her dignity and her rightful 
place in the nation. Lamar was accused of trading his vote 
and his section’s honor for a promise of a future position; 
he was accused of cowardice, of being afraid to stand up 
for his state when it meant a fight; and he was accused of 
deserting his people and his party in the very hour when 
triumph should have been at last rightfully theirs. His 
enemies, realizing that six years would pass before Senator- 
elect Lamar would be forced to run for re-election, vowed 
never to forget that day of perfidy. 

But Lucius Lamar, a man of law and honor, could not 
now repudiate the findings, however shocking, of the Com- 
mission he had helped establish. He supported the findings 
of the Commission because he believed that only force could 
prevent Hayes’ Inaugural and that it would be disastrous to 
travel that road again. It was better, he believed, for the 

[ 184 ] 


South — ^in spite of provocation — to accept defeat on this 
occasion. He was skillful enough, however, to get Hayes 
committed to concessions for the South, including the with- 
drawal of military occupation forces and a return to Home 
Rule in key states. This genuine service to his state, on an 
occasion when many Southern politicians were talking of 
open defiance, was at first largely obscured. But unmoved 
by the storm of opposition which poured forth from Mis- 
sissippi, Lamar braced himself in preparation for the most 
crucial test of his role as a nonsectional, nonpartisan states- 
man which lay ahead in the Senate. 

No other high-ranking Confederate ofiicer had yet en- 
tered the Senate. Nor had many Senators forgotten tliat 
nearly twenty vears earlier Lamar was an extreme sectionalist 
Congressman, who had resigned his seat to draft the 
Mississippi Ordinance of Secession. The time was not 
auspicious for his return. The Republicans were already 
accusing the Democrats of harboring insurrectionists and 
traitors; and the Democratic contribution to increased inter- 
sectional distrust was a new breed of Southern demagogues, 
intolerant and vengeful, “sired by Reconstruction out of 

As Senator Lamar, ill and fatigued, rested at home 
throughout much of 1877, a new movement was sweeping 
the South and West, a movement which would plague the 
political parties of the nation for a generation to come — 
“free silver.” The Moses of the silver forces, William Jen- 
nings Bryan, had not yet appeared on the scene; but “Silver 
Dick” Bland, the Democratic Representative from Missouri, 
was leading the way with his bill for the free coinage ot all 
silver brought to the Mint. Inasmuch as a tremendous spurt 

[ 185 ] 


in the production of the Western silver mines had caused its 
value in relation to gold to shrink considerably, the single 
purpose of the silver forces was clear, simple and appealing 
— easy, inflationary money. 

It was a tremendously popular cause in Mississippi. The 
panic of 1873 engulfed the nation into the most terrible 
depression it had ever suflFered, and the already impoverished 
states of the South were particularly hard hit. Businesses 
failed by the thousands, unemployment increased and wages 
were reduced. Farm prices dropped rapidly from their high 
wartime levels and the farmers of Mississippi — desperate for 
cash — vowed support of any bill which would raise the 
price of their commodities, lower the value of the debts, 
and increase the availability of money. Tlie South foresaw 
itself in a state of permanent indebtedness to the financial 
institutions of the East unless easy money could be made 
available to pay its heavy debts. 

Vachel Lindsay’s poem expressed clearly the helplessness 
and bitterness with which the South and West watched the 
steadily increasing financial domination of the East; 

And all these in their helpless days 
By the dour East oppressed. 

Mean paternalism 

Making their mistakes for them. 

Crucifying half the West, 

Till the whole Atlantic coast 
Seemed a giant spiders' nest. 

Silver suddenly acquired a political appeal as the poor 
man’s friend — ^in contrast to gold, the rich man’s money; 

[ 186 ] 


silver was the money of the prairies and small towns, nnlilcft 
gold, the money of Wall Street. Silver was going to provide 
an easy solution to everyone’s problems — falling farm prices, 
hi^ interest rates, heavy debts and aU the rest. Although 
the Democratic party since the days of Jackson and Benton 
had been the party of hard money, it rushed to exploit this 
new and popular issue — and it was naturally assumed that 
the freshman Democratic Senator from poverty-stridcen 
Mississippi would enthusiastically join the fight. 

But Lamar, the learned scholar and professor, approached 
the issue somewhat differently than his colleagues. Paying 
but little heed to the demands of his constituents, he ex- 
hausted all available treatises on both sides of the contro- 
versy. His sti:dy convinced him — ^possibly wrongly — that the 
only sound position was in support of sound money. The pay- 
ment of oiu government’s debts — even to the “bloated 
bondholders” of Wall Street — ^in a debased, inflated cur- 
rency, as the Bland Bill encouraged and the accompanying 
Matthews Resolution specifically provided, was an ethical 
wrong and a practical mistake, he felt, certain to embarrass 
our standing in the eyes of the world, and promoted not as a 
permanent financial program but as a spurious rclk“f bill 
to alleviate the nation’s economic distress. 

On January 24, 1878, in a courageous and learned address 
— ^his first major speech on the Senate floor — Lamar rejected 
the pleas of Mississippi voters and assailed elaborate rational- 
izations behind the two silver measures as artificial Rnd 
exaggerated. And the following day he voted “No” on the 
Matthews Resolution, in opposition to his colleague from 
Mississippi, a Negro Republican of exceptional talents 

[ 187 ] 


elected several years earlier by the old “carpetbag” Legis- 

Praise for Senator Lamar’s masterly and statesmanlike 
analysis of the issue emanated from many parts of the coun- 
try, but from Mississippi came little but condemnation. On 
January 30, the State Legislature adopted a Memorial omit- 
ting all mention of Lamar but — in an obvious and deliberate 
slap— congratulating and thanking his colleague (to whom 
the white Democratic legislators normally were bitterly 
opposed) for voting the opposite way and thus reflecting 
“tbe sentiment and will of his constituents,” The Memorial 
deeply hurt Lamar, and he was little consoled by a letter 
from his close friend, the Speaker of the Mississippi House, 
who termed it "a damned outrage” but explained: 

The people are under a pressure of hard times and scarcity 
of money, and their representatives felt bound to strike at some- 
thing which might give relief, the how or wherefor very few 
of them could explain. 

But the Legislature was not through. On Febniary 4, a 
resolution was passed by both Houses instructing Lamar to 
vote for the Bland Silver Bill, and to use his efforts as spokes- 
man for Mississippi to secure its passage. 

Lamar was deeply troubled by this action. He knew that 
the right of binding legislative instructions had firm roots in 
the South. But writing to his wife about the demands of the 
Legislature that had appointed him, he confided, “1 cannot 
do it; I had rather quit politics forever.” He attempted to 
explain at length to a friend in the Legislature that he 
recognized the right of that body to express its opinions 

[ 188 ] 


Upon questions of federal policy, and the obligation of a 
Senator to abide by those expressions whenever he was 
doubtful as to what his course should be. But in this par- 
ticular case, he insisted, “their wishes are directly in conflict 
with the convictions of my whole life; and had I voted [on 
the Matthews Resolution] as directed, I should have cast my 
first vote against my conscience.” 

If [a Senator] allows himself to be governed by the opinions 
of his friends at home, however devoted he may be to them or 
they to him, he throws away all the rich results of a previous 
preparation and study, and simply becomes a commonplace ex- 
ponent of those popular sentiments which may change in a few 
days. . . . Such a course will dwarf any man’s statesmanship 
and his vote would be simply considered as an echo of current 
opinion, not the result of mature deliberations. 

Moreover, consistent with the courageous philosophy that 
had governed his return to public life, Lamar was determined 
not to back down merely because his section was contrary 
minded. He would not purchase the respect of the North 
for himself and his section by a calculated and cringing 
course; but having decided, on the merits, that the 1 was 
wrong, he was anxious to demonstrate to the nation that 
statesmanship was not dead in the South nor was the South 
desirous of repudiating national obligations and honor. He 
felt that on this issue it was of particular importance that the 
South should not follow a narrow sectional course of action. 
For years it had been argued that Southern Democrats would 
seek to abrogate the obligations that the United States Gov- 
ernment had incurred during the Civil War and for which 

[ 189 ] 


Soudi felt no responsibility. Lamar alone among the 
Southern Democrats opposed the “free silver” movement, 
except for Senator Ben Hill of Georgia, who said that while 
he had done his best during the war to make the Union 
bondholder who purchased a dollar bond at sixty cents lose 
the sixty cents he had given, he was now for repaying him 
die dollar he was promised. 

One week later, the Bland Silver Bill came before the 
Senate for a final vote. As the debate neared its end. Senator 
Lamar rose unexpectedly to his feet. No notes were in his 
hand, for he was one of the most brilliant extemporaneous 
speakers ever to sit in the Senate. (“The pen is an extin- 
guisher upon my mind,” he said, “and a toiture to my 
nerves.”) Instead he held an ofiBcial document which bore 
the great seal of the State of Mississippi, and this he dis- 
patched by page to the desk. With apologies to his col- 
leagues, Senator Lamar explained that, although he had 
already expressed his views on the Silver Bill, he had “one 
other duty to perform; a very painful one, but one which is 
nonetheless clear.” He then asked that the resolutions which 
he had sent to the desk be read. 

The Senate was first astonished and then attentively silent 
as the Clerk droned the express will of the Mississippi Legis- 
lature that its Senators vote for the Bland Silver Bill. As the 
Qerk completed the instructions, all eyes turned toward 
Lamar, no one certain what to expect. As the reporter for 
the Washington Capitol described it: 

Remembering die embarrassing position of diis gendeman 
with respect to the pending bill, every Senator immediately 
gave his attention, and the Chamber became as silent as the tomb. 

[ 190 ] 


A massive but lonely figure on the Senate floor, Lucius 
Lamar spoke in a quiet yet powerful voice, a voice which 
“grew tremulous with emotion, as his body fairly shook 
with agitation**: 

Mr. President: Between these resolutions and my convictions 
there is a great gulf. I cannot pass it. . . . Upon the youtli of my 
state whom it has been my privilege to assist in education I have 
always endeavored to impress the belief that tnath was better 
than falsehood, honesty better than policy, courage better than 
cowardice. Today my lessons confront me. Today I must be 
true or false, honest or cunning, faithful or unfaithful to my 
people. Even in this hour of their legislative displeasure and disap- 
probation, I cannot vote as these resolutions direct. 

My reasons for my vote shall be given to my people. Then it 
will be for them to determine if adherence to my honest con- 
victions has disqualified me from representing them; whether a 
difference of opinion upon a difficult and complicated subject 
to which I have given patient, long-continued, conscientious 
study, to which I have brought entire honesty and singleness of 
purpose, and upon which I have spent whatever ability God 
has given me, is now to separate us; . . . but be their present 
decision what it mav, 1 know that the time is not far distant 
when they will recognize my action today as wise and just, and, 
armed with honest convictions of my duty, I shall cahrly await 
the results, believing in the utterance of a great American that 
“truth is omnipotent, and public justice certain.” 

Senators on both sides of the bill immediately crowded 
about his desk to commend his courage. Lamar knew that 
. his speech and vote could not prevent passage of the Bland 

[ 191 ] 


Bill by a tremendous margin, and its subsequent enactment 
over the veto of President Hayes. Yet his intentional and 
stunningly courageous disobedience to the will of his con- 
stituents was not wholly in vain. Throughout the North the 
speech was highly praised. Distrust toward the South, and 
suspicion of its attitude toward the national debt and na- 
tional credit, diminished. Harpers Weekly, pointing out tliat 
Lamar voted in opposition to “the strong and general public 
feeling of his state” concluded: 

No Senator has shown himself more worthy of universal 
respect than Mr. Lamar, for none has stood more manfully by 
his pnnciples, in the face of the most authoritative remonstrance 
from his state. . . . The Democratic Senator from Mississippi 
has shown the manly courage which becomes an American 

The Nation editorialized that the brief speech of Lucius 
Lamar in explanation of his disiegard for the instructions of 
his state, “for manliness, digmty and pathos has,pever been 
surpassed in Congress. His vote will probably cost him his 

This prediction seemed certain of fulfillment. The assault 
upon the Senator in Mississippi was instantaneous and vigor- 
ous. He had turned liis back on his people and his section. 
In the words of one political orator, he had “made such haste 
to join the ranks of the enemy that he went stumbling over 
the graves of his fallen comrades.” His old friend Jefferson 
Davis hurt him deeply by publicly condemning Lamar’s dis- 
regard of the Legislature’s instructions as an attack upon 
“the foundation of our political system” and the long-stand- 

[ 192 ] 


ing practice of the Southern Democratic party. To refuse 
either to obey or to resign the office, so that his constituents 
“might select someone else who might truly represent them,” 
was to deny, said Davis, that the people had the requisite 
amount of intelligence to govemi (Lamar was hard hit by 
the attitude of his former chieftain, but it is illuminating 
to note that a few days later, when Senator Hoar sought 
to deny Davis the Mexican War Pension to which he was 
by law entitled, it was Lamar who spoke for the Confederate 
leader in a memorable and dramatic defense: 

Sir, it required no courage to do that; ... the gentleman, I 
believe, takes rank among the Christian statesmen. He might 
have learned a better lesson from the pages of mythology. 
When Prometheus was bound to the rock, it was not an eagle, 
it was a vulture that buried his beak in the tortured vitals of 
the victim. 

According to a contemporary account, as Lamar hissed 
out, “it was a vulture,” his ri^t arm straightened out and 
the index finger pointed directly at Hoar.) 

All agreed that Lamar was politically dead after one 
term, and the only question was who would succeed him. 
Lamar loved Mississippi, and its criticism depressed him 
deeply. He wrote his wife that he wished he was in a financial 
position to vacate his office without doing his family in- 

This world is a miserable one to me except in its connection 
with you. ... I get a great many complimentary letters from 
the Nordi, veiy few from Mississippi. . . . Can it be true that 
’ the South will condemn the disinterested love of those who, 

[ 193 ] 


perceiving her real interests, offer Aelr unaimored breasts as 
barriers against the invasion of error? ... It is indeed a heavy 
cross to lay upon the heart of a public man to have to take a 
stand which causes the love and confidence of his constituents 
to flow away from him. 

But like his famous uncle, Mirabeau Lamar of Texas, and 
other members of his family, Lucius Quintus Cincinnatus 
Lamar was not afraid of overwhelming odds. Admittedly 
he had violated the instructions of the Legislature, he said. 
“I will appeal to the sovereign people, the masters of the 
legislature who undertake to instruct me.” 

With this declaration. Senator Lamar launched successive 
tours of Mississippi. Speaking to thousands of people in 
crowded halls and open fields, Lamar stated frankly that he 
was well aware that he had not pleased his constituents; that 
he was equally well aware that the easier path was to exploit 
that sectional cause to which he had always been devoted; 
but that it was his intention to help create a feeling of con- 
fidence and mutuality between North and South by voting 
in the national interest without regard to sectional pressures. 

For three or fomr hours at a time, his passionate and 
imaginative oratory held spellbound the crowds that came 
to jeer. "He spoke like the mountain torrent,” as several 
observers later described it, "sweeping away the boulders 
in the stream diat attempted to oppose his coiuse.” 

But Lamar did not employ oratorical tricks to sway emo- 
tiiHis while dodging issues. On the contrary, his speeches 
were a learned explanation of his position, setting forth the 
Ccmstitutional history of the Senate and its relationship to 
the state legislatures, and the statements and examples of 



Burke, and of Calhoun, Webster, and other famous Senators 
who had disagreed with Legislative instructions: “Better to 
follow the example of the illustrious men whose names have 
been given than to abandon altogether judgment and con- 
viction in deference to popular clamor.” 

At each meeting he told of an incident which he swore 
had occurred during the war. Lamar, in the company of 
other prominent military and civilian officers of the Con- 
federacy, was on board a blockade runner making for 
Savannah harbor. Although the high-ranking officers after 
consultation had decided it was safe to go ahead, Lamar re- 
lated, the Captain had sent Sailor Billy Sxunmers to the top 
mast to look for Yankee gunboats in the harbor, and Billy 
said he h'ld ..cen ten. That distinguished array of officers 
knew where the Yankee fleet was, and it was not in Savan- 
nah; and they told the Captain that Billy was wrong and 
the ship must proceed ahead. The Captain refused, insisting 
that while the officers knew a great deal more about military 
a£Fairs, Billy Summers on the top mast with a powerful 
glass had a much better opportunity to judge the immediate 
situation at hand. 

It later developed that Billy was right, Lamar sd>d, and 
if they had gone ahead they would have all been captured. 
And like Sailor Billy Summers, he did not claim tu be wiser 
than the Mississippi Legislature. But he did believe that he 
was in a better position as a Member of the United States 
Soiate to judge what was best for the interests of his con- 

Thus it is, my countrymen, you have sent me to the topmost 
mast, and I tell you what I see. If you i ty I must come down, 

[ 195 ] 


I vdll obey without a murmur, for you cannot make me lie to 
you; but if you return me, I can only say that I will be true to 
love of country, trutb, and God. ... I have always diou^t 
that the first duty of a public man in a Republic founded upon 
the sovereignty of the people is a frank and sincere expression 
of his opinions to his constituents. I prize the confidence of the 
people of Mississippi, but I never made popularity the standard 
of my action. I profoundly respect public opinion, but I believe 
that there is in conscious rectitude of purpose a sustaining power 
which will support a man of ordinary firmness under any dr* 
cumstances whatever. 

His tour was tremendously successful. “Men who were 
so hostile that they could hardly be persuaded to hear him 
at all would mount upon the benches and tables, swinging 
their hats, and huzzaing until hoarse.” Others departed in 
silence, weighing the significance of his words. When he 
spoke in Yazoo County, the stronghold of his opposition, the 
Yazoo City Herald reported that like “the lion at bay,” he 
“conquered the prejudices of hundreds who had been led 
to believe that his views on certain points were better 
adapted to the latitude of New England than to that of Mis- 
sissippi.” And shortly thereafter, the Yazoo Democratic 
County Convention adopted a resolution that their legis- 
lators should “vote for him and work for him, first, last, and 
all the time, as the choice of this people for United States 

It is heartening to note that the people of Mississippi con- 
tinued their support of him, in spite of the fact that on three 
important occasions — ^in his eulogy of Charles Sumner, in 
his support of the Electoral commission whidi brought 

[ 196 ] 


about the election of the Republican Hayes and in his ex- 
ception to their strongly felt stand for free silver — ^Lamar 
had stood against their immediate wishes. The voters re- 
sponded to the sincerity and courage which he had shown; 
and they continued to give him their support and affection 
throughout the remainder of his political life. He was re- 
elected to the Senate by an overwhelming majority, later to 
become Chairman of the Senate Democratic Caucus, then 
Secretary of the Interior and finally Justice of the Supreme 
Court of the United States. At no time did he, who has prop- 
erly been termed the most gifted statesman given by the 
South to the nation from the close of the Civil War to the 
turn of die century, ever veer from the deep conviction he 
had expressed while under bitter attack in 1878: 

The liberty of this country and its great interests will never 
be secure if its public men become mere menials to do the bid- 
dings of their constituents instead of being representatives in 
the true sense of the word, looking to the lasting prosperity and 
future interests of the whole country. 

[ 197 ] 



The Time and the Place 


☆ ☆ 

Two men of integrity — ^both Republicans, both Midwest- 
erners, but wholly dissimilar in their political philosophies 
and personal mannerisms — ^best illustrate the impact of the 
twentieth century upon the Senate as a whole and the 
atmosphere of political comage in particular. George W. 
Norris and Robert A. Taft, whose careers in the Senate over- 
lapped for only a brief period some seventeen years ago, were 
masters of the legislative process, leaders of fimdamentally 
opposed political factions, and expounders, each in his own 
way, of great constitutional doctrines. And not among the 
least of their accomplishments was the increased prestige 
and respect which they and others like them brought to 
the United States Senate. For, at the hum of the century, the 
route to fame and power for men of ability and talent had 
been in industry, not in politics. And a*: a result, the attitude 
of the public toward the political profession had too often 



been characterized by apathy, indiflFerence, disrespect and 
even amusement. 

The Senate had shared in the poKtical profession's loss of 
prestige. It was due in part to the public reaction to die 
new type of legislator who too often, in 1900, included the 
swollen corporation lawyer and the squalid political boss. 
The Senate seemed to have little of the excitement and 
drama that had been so much a part of its existence in the 
years leading up to the Civil War, litde of the power and 
prestige which it wielded so brazenly in the days of the 
Johnson and Grant administrations. It was in part a reaction 
to the increasing complexity and multiplicity of legislative 
issues— even Santo Domingo seemed much farther away 
than Fort Sumter (for blocking his Santo Domingo treaty, 
the Senate was told by Teddy Roosevelt that it was “wholly 
incompetent”), and “interstate commerce” ‘seemed much 
less exciting and promising than "free silver.” No longer 
were the names of famous Senators familiar household words, 
as in the days of the great trimnvirate. No longer»did die 
entire nation breathlessly follow Senate debates, as in the 
days of the Great Compromise or the Johnson impeachment. 
The nation’s brightest schoolboys, who sixty or seventy 
years earlier would have memorized Webster’s reply to 
Hayne, were no longer interested in politics as a career. 

Those citizens who did take an active interest in the con- 
duct of the Senate as the twentieth century got under way 
generally viewed it more with alarm than widi pride. 
Throu^out the nation there arose a remarkable array of 
reformers, muckrakers and good-government movements, 
represented in the Senate by a new breed of idealists and 

[ 202 ] 


independents, men of ability and statesmanship who would 
have ranked with the more famous names of an earlier day. 
To arrest the dual trends of an electorate indifiFerent to their 
Senators and Senators indifiFerent to their electorate, the 
reformers, both in and out of the Senate, finally accom- 
plished a long overdue change in the election machinery — 
the power of electing Senators was taken from the legis- 
latures of the states and given directly to the people. 

The Seventeenth Amendment, ratified in 1913, reflected a 
far difiFerent attitude toward the “masses'* of voters than the 
distrust with which they were regarded in 1787 by the 
creators of the Constitution — ^but it also reflected a general 
decline in the respect for state legislatures, which had too 
often permitted powerful lobbyists and political machines 
to usurp their sacred right of selecting Senators. A railroad 
president told William Lyon Phelps that he had never de- 
sired to be a United States Senator himself, because he had 
made so many of them. Referring to this, a prominent New 
England Senator, W. E. Chandler, laconically explained his 
retirement to private life by saying that he had been “run 
over by a railroad train.** 

That the Seventeenth Amendment almost immediately 
made the Senate more responsive to popular will, both in the- 
ory and in fact, cannot be doubted; but its eflEects were not as 
far reaching nor was the complexion and make-up of the 
Senate changed as greatly as the reformers had hoped. Sen- 
ator Boies Penrose, the boss of Peimsylvania, said to a re- 
former friend: 

Give me the People, every timel Look at mel No legislature 
would ever have dared to elect me to the Senate, not even at 

[ 203 ] 


Hatrisburg. But tbe People, die dear People elected me by a 
bigger majority dian my opponent's total vote by over half a 
million. You and your "reformer* friends diought direct elec- 
tion would turn men like me out of the Senatel Give me die 
People, eveiy time! 

There was (and is) no way of measuring statistically or 
scientifically the effect of the direct election of Senators 
on the quality of the Senate itself. There has been no scarcity 
of either contemptuous criticism or lavish praise for both the 
Senate as a whole and individual Senators. But too often 
such judgments consist of generalizations from limited cases 
or experiences. Woodrow Wilson, for example, shortly be- 
fore his death, buffeted by the Sen:.te in his efforts on behalf 
of the League of Nations and the Versailles Treaty, rejected 
the suggestion that he seek a seat in the Senate from New 
Jersey, stating: "Outside of the United States, the Senate 
does not amount to a damn. And inside the United States 
the Senate is mostly despised; they haven’t had a thought 
down there in fifty years.” There are many who 'agreed 
with Wilson in 1920, and some who might agree with those 
sentiments today. 

But Professor Woodrow Wilson, prior to his baptism of 
political fire, had regarded the Senate as one of the ablest 
and most powerful legislative bodies in the world. In part 
this power, and the ability it required in those Senators who 
sought to harness it, sprang from the growing influence of 
Federal legislation in domestic affairs. But even more im- 
portant was the Senate’s gradually increasing power in the 
field of foreign affairs — a power which multiplied as oiir 
nation’s stature in the community of nations grew, a power 

[ 204 ] 


which made the Senate in the twentieth century a far more 
significant body, in terms of the actual consequences of its 
decisions, than the glittering Senate of Webster, Clay and 
Calhoun, which had toiled endlessly but fruitlessly over the 
slavery question. 

And just as a nation tom by internal crisis had demanded 
Senators of courage in 1850, so did a nation plunged into 
international crisis. John Quincy Adams had realized this 
one hundred years before George Norris ever came to Wash- 
ington. But he could not have foreseen that this nation s role 
in the world would bring constantly recurring crises and 
troublesome problems to the floor of the United States Sen- 
ate, crises which would force men like George Norris to 
choose betv'^*e;’ conscience and constituents, problems which 
would force men like Bob Taft to choose between principles 
and popularity. 

These are not the only stories of political courage in the 
twentieth centvuy, possibly not even the most outstanding or 
significant. Yet the changing nature of the Senate, its work 
and its members, seems to have lessened the frequency with 
which the nation is given inspiration by a selfless stand for 
great but unpopular principles. Perhaps we are still too close 
in time to those in our own midst whose actions a more 
detached historical perspective may someday stamp as worthy 
of recording in the annals of political courage. Perhaps the 
twentieth-century Senator is not called upon to risk his 
entire future on one basic issue in the manner of Edmund 
Ross or Thomas Hart Benton. Perhaps our modem acts of 
political courage do not arouse the public in the maimer 
that crushed the career of Sam Houston and John Quincy 

[ 205 ] 


Adams. Still, when we realize that a newspaper that chooses 
to denounce a Senator today can reach many thousand times 
as many voters as could be reached by all of Daniel Webster's 
famous and articulate detractors put together, these stories 
of twentieth-century political courage have a drama, an 
excitement — and an inspiration — all their own. 

[ 206 ] 




George Norris 

At precisely i:oo f.m. one wintry afternoon early in 
1910, Representative John Dalzell of Pennsylvania 
•A^ left the Speaker's Chair and walked out of the 
House Chamber for his daily cup of coffee and piece of 
pie in the Capitol restaurant. His departure was not unusual 
— ^for Representative Dalzell, who was Speaker Joe Cannon's 
first assistant in ruling the House from the Speaker's Chair, 
had always left the Chamber at exactly that hour, and he 
was almost invariably succeeded in the Chair by Representa* 
tive Walter Smith of Iowa. But on that particular January 
afternoon Representative Dalzell's journey up the aisle was 
watched with curious satisfaction by a somewhat shaggy- 
looking Representative in a plain black suit and a little shoe- 
string tie. And the Assistant Speaker had no sooner reaihed 

[ 207 ] 


the door of the Chamber when Republican Representative 
George W. Norris of Nebraska walked over to Representative 
Smith and asked if he might be recognized for two minutes. 
Smith, a member of the Cannon-Dalzell Republican ruling 
clique but a personal friend of Norris', agreed. 

To his astonishment. Representative Norris sought to 
amend the resolution then under debate — a resolution calling 
for a joint committee to investigate the Ballinger-Pinchot con- 
servation dispute — ^by requiring the entire House of Rep- 
resentatives to appoint its members to the investigating com- 
mittee, instead of granting the customary authority to the 
Speaker to make such selections. 

Page boys scurried out to find Cannon and Dalzell This 
was insurrection in the ranks — the first attempt to limit the 
previously unlimited power of “Czar" Cannon! But Norris 
insisted that all he desired was a fair investigation, not one 
rigged by the administration. Joined by Pinchot followers, 
fellow insurgent Republicans and practically all of the 
Democrats, he succeeded in having his amendment a'dopted 
by the narrow margin of 149 to 146. 

It was the first setback the powerful Speaker had ever 
suffered, and he vowed never to forget it. But for George 
Norris, the victory on the investigation resolution was only 
a preliminary step. For in the inner pocket of his thread- 
bare black coat was a scrawled resolution which he had 
drafted years before — ^a resolution to have the House, rather 
than the Speaker, appoint the members of the Rules Com- 
mittee itself, the Committee which completely dictated the 
House program and was in turn completely dominated by 
the Speaker. 

[ 208 ] 


On St. Patrick’s Day in 1910, Norris rose to address the 
‘iCzar.” Only minutes before. Cannon had ruled that a census 
bill promoted by one of his cohorts was privileged under the 
Constitution and could be considered out of order, inasmuch 
as that document provided for the taking of the census. “Mr. 
Speaker,” called Norris, “I present a resolution made priv- 
ileged by the Constitution.” “The gentleman will present 
it,” replied Cannon, smugly unaware of the attack about to be 
launched. And George Norris unfolded that tattered paper 
from his coat pocket and asked the Clerk to read it aloud. 

Panic broke out in the Republican leadership. Cloakroom 
rumors had previously indicated the nature of Norris’ pro- 
posed resolution — ^but it was merely a subject of contemptu- 
ous amusemen*' among the regular Republicans, who knew 
they had the power to bury it forever in the Rules Committee 
itself. Now Cannon’s own ruling on the census bill in support 
of his friend had given Norris — and his resolution, clearly 
based on the Constitution’s provision for House rules — ^an 
opening, an opening through which the Nebraska Congress- 
man led all of the insurgent and Democratic forces. Cannon 
and his lieutenants were masters of parliamentary maneuver- 
ing and they were not immediately ready to concede. They 
attempted to adjoinn, to recess, to make a quorum impossible. 
They continued debate on whether the resolution was priv- 
ileged while the party faithful hurried back from St. Patrick’s 
Day parades. They kept the House in constant session, 
hoping to break the less organized revolters. All night long 
the insurgents stayed in their seats, unwilling to nap off the 
floor for fear that Cannon would suddenly rule in their 

Finally, all attempts at intimidation and compromise having 

[ 209 ] 


failed. Speaker Gannon, as expected, ruled the resolution 
out of order; and Norris promptly appealed the decision. 
By a vote of 182 to 160, Democrats and insurgent Repub* 
licans overruled the Speaker, and by a still larger margin 
Norris’ resolution — already amended to obtain Democratic 
support — ^was adopted. The most ruthless and autocratic 
Speaker in the history of the House of Representatives 
thereupon submitted his resignation; but George Norris, who 
insisted his fight was to end the dictatorial power of the 
ofBce rather than to punish the individual, voted against its 
acceptance. Years later, Gannon was to say to him: 

Norris, throughout our bitter controversy, I do not recall a 
sin^e instance in which you have been unfair. I cannot say this 
of many of your associates; and I want to say to you now that 
if any m«nber of your damned gang had to be elected to the 
Senate, I would prefer it be you more than any of them. 

The overthrow of Gannonism broke the strangle hold 
which the conservative Republican leaders had held ever the 
Government and the nation; and it also ended whatever 
favors the Representative from Nebraska had previously 
received at their hands. Under the “Gzar,” the office of the 
Jpeaker of the House wielded what sometimes appeared to 
be very nearly equal power with the President and the entire 
United States Senate. It was a power that placed party above 
all other considerations, a power that fed on party loyalty, 
patronage and political organizations. It was a power which, 
despite increasing disfavor in all parts of the country outside 
the East, had continued unchallenged for years. But ’‘one 
man without position,” an editor commented, “against 200 
welded into the most powerful political machine that Wash- 

[ 210 ] 


ington has ever known, has twice beaten them at their 
own game. Mr. George Norris is a man worth knowing and 

« * • 

George W. Norris was worth watching, for his subse- 
quent career in the Senate, to which he was elected shortly 
after his triumph over Cannon, earned him a reputation as 
one of the most courageous figiues in American political 
life. The overthrow of Cannonism, although welcomed in 
Nebraska by all but a few party stalwarts, had nevertheless 
required tremendous courage and leadership on the part of 
a young Congressman attacking his party’s well-entienched 
leaders and willing to sacrifice the comforts and alliances 
that party loyalty brings. In the Senate he frequently broke 
not only with his parly but with his constituents as well. 
He once declared: 

I would rather go down to my political grave with a clear con- 
science than ride in the chariot of victory as a Congressional stool 
pigeon, the slave, the servant, or the vassal of any man, whether 
he be the owner and manager of a legislative menagerie or the 
ruler of a great nation. ... 1 would rather he in the silent grave, 
remembered by both friends and enemies as one who remained 
true to his faith and who never faltered in what he beheved to be 
his duty, than to still hve, old and aged, lacking the confidence 
of both factions. 

These are the words of an idealist, an independent, a 
filter — a man of deep conviction, fearless courage, sincere 
honesty — George W. Norris of Nebraska. We should not 
pretend that he was a faultless paragon of virtue; on the 
contrary, he was, on more than one occasion, emotional in 

[ 211 ] 


his deliberations, vituperative in his denunciations, and prone 
to engage in bitter and exaggerated personal attack instead of 
concentrating his fire upon the merits of an issue. But noth- 
ing could sway him from what he thought was right, from 
his determination to help all the people, from his hope to 
save them from the twin tragedies of poverty and war. 

George Norris knew well the tragedy of poverty from his 
own boyhood. His father having died when George was only 
fonr, he was obliged while still in his teens to hack out a 
livelihood for his mother and ten sisters on the stump-cov- 
ered farm lands of Ohio. He knew, too, the horrors of war, 
from the untimely death in the Civil War of the older 
brother he hardly remembered, but whose inspiring letter 
— ^written by the wounded soldier shortly before his death 
— ^was treasured by young George for years In 1917, as the 
nation teetered on the edge of the European conflict, George 
Norris had not forgotten his mother s sorrow and her hatred 
of war. 

A country teacher, a smaU-town lawyer, a local prose- 
cuting attorney and judge — ^those had been the years when 
George Norris had come to know the people of Nebraska 
and the West, when he saw the growing pattern of farm 
foreclosures, lost homesteads and farm workers drifting to 
the city and to unemployment. 

As die old nineteenth century became the new twentieth, 
America was changing, her industries and cities were grow- 
ing, her power in the world was increasing. And yet George 
Norris changed — and would change — ^very litde. His chunky 
figure was still clothed in the drab black suits, white shirts 
and litde black shoestring ties he had worn most of his life 
and would wear until his death. His mild manners, disarm- 

[ 212 ] 


ing honesty and avoidance of the social circle of politics in 
favor of a quiet evening of reading set him apart from the 
career politicians of his country, whose popularity among the 
voters, however, he far outstripped. 

Only his political outlook changed as he began the long 
career which would keep him in Washington for forty years. 
For when George Norris had first entered die House of 
Representatives in 1903, fresh from the plains of Nebraska, 
he had been a staunch, conservative Republican, “sure of 
my position,” as he later wrote, “unreasonable in my con- 
victions, and unbending in my opposition to any other 
political party or political thou^t except my own.” But 
“one by one I saw my favorite heroes wither ... I discovered 
that my party . was guilty of virtually all the evils that 1 
had charged against the opposition.” 

No single chapter could recoimt in full all of the coura- 
geous and independent battles led by George Norris. His most 
enduring accomplishments were in the field of public power, 
and there are few parallels to his long fight to bring die 
benefits of low-cost electricity to the people of the Ten- 
nessee Valley, although they lived a thousand miles from his 
home state of Nebraska. But there were three struggles in 
his life that are worthy of especial note for the courage 
displayed — ^the overthrow of “Czar” Cannon aheady de- 
scribed; his support of A 1 Smith for President in 1928; and 
his filibuster against the Armed Ship Bill in 1917. 

• 9 • 

When Woodrow Wilson, sorrowfully determined upon 
a policy of “armed neutrality” in early 1917, appeared 
before a tense joint session of Congress to request legislation 

[ 213 ] 


authorizing him to arm American merchant ships, the 
American public gave its immediate approval. Unrestricted 
German submarine warfare was enforcing a tight blockade 
by which the Kaiser sought to starve the British Isles into 
submission; and Secretary of State Lansing had been politely 
informed that every American ship encountered in the war 
zone would be torpedoed. Already American vessels had 
been searched, seized and sunk. Tales of atrocities to our 
seamen filled the press. 

As debate on the bill got under way, the newspapers 
learned of a new plot against the United States, contained 
in a message from the German Under Secretary of State for 
Foreign Affairs, Zimmerman, to the German Minister in 
Mexico. The alleged note (for there were those who ques- 
tioned its authenticity and the motives of the British and 
American governments in disclosing it at that particular 
time) proposed a scheme to align Mexico and Japan against 
the United States. In return for its use as an invasion base, 
Mexico was promised restoration of her “American ’colonies,” 
seized more than seventy years earlier by Sam Houston and 
his compatriots. 

When the contents of the Zimmerman note were leaked 
to tlie newspapers, all resistance to the Armed Ship Bill 
in the House of Representatives instantly collapsed. The 
bill was rushed through that body by the overwhelming vote 
of 403 to 13 — a vote which seemed clearly representative of 
popular opinion in favor of the President’s move. Certainly 
the overwhelming support given the bill by Nebraska’s 
Congressmen represented the feelings of that state. 

But in the Senate on March 2, 1917, the Armed Ship Bill 
met determined opposition from a small bipartisan band of 

[ 214 ] 


insurgents led by Robert La Follette of Wisconsin and 
George Norris of Nebraska. As freshman Senator from a 
state which the previous year had voted for a Democratic 
legislative. Governor, Senator and President, George Norris 
( unlike La Follette) was neither a solidly established political 
figure in his own bailiwick nor confident that his people 
were opposed to Wilson and his policies. 

In previous months he had supported the President on 
major foreign policy issues, including the severing of dip- 
lomatic ties with the German government. Although a 
militant pacifist and isolationist, his very nature prohibited 
him from being a mere obstructionist on all international 
issues, or a petty partisan opposing all of the Presidents 
requests. (Indeed, by the time World War II approached, 
his isolationism had largely vanished.) 

But George Norris hated war — and he feared tbat “Big 
Business,” which he believed was providing the stimuli for our 
progress along the road to war, was bent on driving the 
nation into a useless, bloody struggle; that the President — 
far from taking the people into liis confidence— was trying 
to stampede public opinion into pressming the Senate for 
war; and that the Armed Ship Bill was a device to protect 
American munition profits with American lives, a device 
which could push us directly into the conflict as a com- 
batant without further deliberation by Congress or actual 
attack upon the United States by Germany. He was fearful 
of the bill’s broad grant of authority, and he was resentful 
of the manner in which it was being steamrollered through 
the Congress. It is not now important whether Norris was 
’ right or wrong. What is now important is the courage he 
displayed in support of his convictions. 

1215 ] 


"People may not believe it,” Senator Norris once said, 
“but I don’t like to get into fights.” In 1917, whether he 
liked it or not, the freshman from Nebraska prepared for 
one of the hardest, most embittering struggles of his poUtical 
career. Since those days were prior to Norris’ own Twen- 
tieth, or Lame Duck, Amendment, the Sixty-fourth Congress 
would expire at noon of March 4, when a new Presidential 
term began. Thus passage of the bill by that Congress could 
be- prevented if the Senate could not vote before that hour; 
and Norris and his little band were hopeful that the new 
Congress, chosen by the people during the Presidential cam- 
paign of 1916 — Abased upon the slogan “He kept us out of 
war” — ^might join in opposition to the measure, or at least 
give it more careful consideration. But preventing a vote 
during the next two days spelled only one word — filibuster! 

George Norris, an advocate of a change in the Senate rules 
to correct the abuses of filibustering, but feeling strongly that 
the issue of war itself was at stake, adopted this very tactic 
“in spite of my repugnance to the method.” As parlia- 
mentary floor leader for his group, he arranged speakers to 
make certain that there was no possibility of a break in the 
debate which would enable the bill to come to a vote. 

Many of his closest friends in the Senate were aghast at 
this conduct. “No state but one populated by mollycoddles,” 
complained one Senator well aware of the raging anti- 
German sentiment back home, “would endorse what Norris 
is trying to do.” But Nebraska did not endorse the position 
of its junior Senator. As debate got under way, the Nebraska 
newspapers, in a thinly veiled warning, reported that the 
tremendous vote in the House “represents the sentiments 
of die people.” And the Nebraska Legislature had already 

[ 216 ] 


unanimously pledged to President Wilson "the loyal and 
undivided support of the entire citizenry of the state of 
Nebraska, of whatever political party and of whatever blood 
or place of birth,' in whatever may be found necessary to 
maintain the right of Americans, the dignity of our nation 
and the honor of our flag.” 

But George Norris’ guide was his own conscience. “Other- 
wise,” he said, “a member of Congress giving weight to 
expressed public sentiment becomes only an automatic 
machine, and Congress requires no patriotism, no education, 
and no courage. . . .” And so, with only his conscience to 
sustain him, the Senator worked around the clock to bolster 
the sagging spirits of his little band, to prepare new speakers 
for continuous debate and to check every opposition move 
to end the filibuster. 

Several Senators, Norris later related, privately approached 
him to wish the filibuster success, while pleading party 
regularity and pohtical expediency as their grounds for 
publicly supporting the President’s position. When Norris 
told them that the important thing was to make certain there 
were plenty of speakers, regardless of the views expressed, 
two of the President’s supporters, by private agreement with 
Norris, spoke at length in favor of the bill. 

Day and night the debate continued; and on the morning 
of March 4 the Senate was a scene of weary disorder. “Those 
final minutes,” Norris later wrote, ‘live in my memory.” 

In that chamber, men became slaves to emotion. The clash 
of anger and bitterness, in my judgment, never has been ex- 
ceeded in die history of the United States. When the hour hand 
pointed to the arrival of noon, die chairman announced adjoum- 

[ 217 ] 


ment. The filibuster had won. The conference report which 
would have authorized the arming of American ships had failed 
of Senate approval. . . . Tense excitement prevailed duoughout 
the entire country, and especially in the Senate itself. ... I have 
felt from that day to this the fihbuster was justified. I never 
have apologized for the part I took in it. . . . [We] honestly 
believed that, by oiur actions in that struggle, we had averted 
American participation in the war. 

But theirs was a fleeting victory. For the President — 
addition to immediately calling a special session of Congress 
in which the Senate adopted a closure rule to limit debate 
(with Norris’ support) — ^also announced that a further 
examination of the statutes had revealed that the executive 
power already included the right to arm ships without Con- 
gressional action. And the President also let loose a blast, 
still frequently quoted today, against “a little group of will- 
ful men, representing no opinion but their own, that ren- 
dered the great government of the United States helpless and 

George Norris called the President’s scathing indictment 
a grave injustice to men who conscientiously tried to do 
their duty as they saw it; but, except for the unfortunate 
and unhelpful praise bestowed upon them by the German 
press, “the epithets heaped upon these men were without 
precedent in the annals of American journalism.” They had 
earned, in the words of the Louisville Courier Journal, “an 
eternity of execration.” A mass meeting at Carnegie Hall 
condemned Norris and his colleagues as “treasonable and 
reprehensible” men “who refused to defend the Stars and 
Stripes on the high seas”; and the crovrd hooted “traitor” 
and “hang him” whenever the names of Norris, La Follette 

[ 218 ] 


and their supporters were mentioned. "The time has come,” 
the Mayor of New York shouted to another meeting, “when 
the people of this country are to be divided into two classes 
— ^Americans and traitors.” 

The Hartford Courant called them “political tramps,” 
and the New York Sun labeled twelve United States Sen- 
ators “a group of moral perverts.” The Providence Journal 
called their action ‘little short of treason” and the New York 
Times editorialized that “The odium of treasonable purpose 
will rest upon their names forevermore.” The New York 
Herald predicted: “They will be fortunate if their names 
do not go down into history bracketed with that of Benedict 

In the decades to follow. Senator Norris would learn to 
withstand the merciless abuse inevitably heaped upon one 
of his independent and outspoken views. On the Senate 
floor itself, he would be called a Bolshevist, an enemy of ad- 
vancement, a traitor and much more. But now the harsh 
terms of vilification and the desertion of former friends hurt 
him deeply. One afternoon several passengers left a Wash- 
ington trolley car when Norris and La Follette took seats 
beside them. His mail was abusive, several letters containing 
sketches showing him in German uniform complete with 

The Nebraska press joined in the denunciation of its junior 
Senator. “Can Senator Norris believe,” cried the Omaha 
World Herald (which had listed on page i the names of 
“Twelve Senators Who Halt Action in Greatest Crisis Since 
Civil War”), “can any man in his senses believe, that the 
American Government could tamely submit to these out- 

[ 219 ] 


"The Norris fear of the establishment of an absolute 
monarchy under Wilson is grotesque," said the Lincoln 
Star. "Maybe it is a joke. If not, friends of Mr. Norris should 
look after his mental status." And the Omaha Bee thought 
his fear of Presidential authority “reflects little credit on the 
Senators common sense." 

It was believed in Washington tibat the conscience of the 
freshman from Nebraska had led him, in the words of one 
Washington correspondent, to “his political death." The out- 
raged Nebraska State Legislature, with whooping enthusi- 
asm, passed a resolution expressing the confidence of the 
state in President Wilson and his policies. 

George Norris was saddened by the near unanimity with 
which “my own people condemned me . . . and asserted that 
1 was misrepresenting my state." Although popularity was 
not his standard, he had tried, he later wrote, throughout his 
career “to do what in my own heart I believed to be right 
for the people at large.” Thus, unwilling to “represent the 
people of Nebraska if they did not want me,” he Q^me to a 
dramatic decision — he would offer to resign from the Senate 
and submit to a special recall election, “to let my constituents 
decide whether 1 was representing them or misrepresenting 
them in Washington." In letters to the Governor and the 
Republican State Chairman, he urged a special election, 
agreeing to abide by the result and to waive whatever con- 
stitutional rights protected him from recall. 

Sharing the fears of his astonished friends in the Senate 
that hysteria and well-financed opposition might insure his 
defeat which in turn would be interpreted as a mandate for 
war, he nevertheless insisted in his letter to the Governor 

[ 220 ] 


diat he had “no desire to represent the people of Nebraska 
if my official conduct is contrary to their wishes." 

The denunciation I have received . . . indicates to me that 
there is strong probability that the course I have pursued is 
unsatisfactory to the people whom I represent, and it seems, 
therefore, only fair that the matter should be submitted to them 
for decision. 

I will not, however, even at the behest of a unanimous con- 
stituency, violate my oath of office by voting in favor of a 
proposition that means the surrender by Congress of its sole 
right to declare war. ... If my refusal to do this is contrary to 
the wishes of the people of Nebraska, then I should be recalled 
and someone else selected to fill the place. ... I am, however, so 
firmly convinced of die righteousness of my course that I be- 
lieve if the intelligent and patriotic citizenship of the country 
can only have an opportunity to hear both sides of the question, 
all the money in Christendom and all the political machinery 
that wealth can congregate ivill not be able to defeat the prin- 
ciple of government for which our forefathers fought. ... If 
I am wrong, then I not only ou^t to retire, but I desire to do 
so. I have no desire to hold public office if I am expected 
blindly to follow in my official actions the dictation of a news- 
paper combination ... or be a rubber stamp even for the Presi- 
dent of the United States. 

The Senator, announcing an open meeting in Lincoln to 
explain his position, was largely ignored by the press as he 
journeyed homeward. Attempting to get the Republican Na- 
tional Committeeman to act as Chairman of the meeting, he 
was warned by that worthy gentleman that it was “not pos- 
‘sible for this meeting to be held without trouble. 1 think the 

[ 221 ] 


meeting will be broken up or at least you will have such an 
unfriendly audience that it will be impossible for you to 
make any coherent speech.” One of the few friends who 
called upon him urged him to cancel the meeting by plead- 
ing illness, telling Norris that he had made a very sad mistake 
in returning to Nebraska when feelings ran so high. Others 
predicted that agitators would be scattered throu^out the 
audience to make presentation of his arguments impossible, 
and told the Senator that the torpedoing of three more Amer- 
ican merchant ships since the filibuster had further intensi- 
fied the anger of his constituents. “I cannot remember a day 
in my life,” the Senator wrote in his autobiography, “when 
I have suffered more from a lonely feeling of despondency. 
My friends led me to believe that the people of Nebraska 
were almost unanimously against me.” 

Unable to get a single friend or supporter to act as chair- 
man, Norris was nevertheless determined to go through with 
the meeting. “I myself hired the hall,” he told a lonely re- 
porter in his deserted hotel room, “and it is to be my meeting. 
I am asking no one to stand sponsor for me or for my acts. 
But I have nothing to apologize for and nothing to take 

Walking from his hotel to the city auditorium on a beauti- 
ful spring night, Norris anxiously noted that more than three 
thousand people — the concerned, the skeptical and the ciui- 
ous — ^had filled the auditorium, with many standing in the 
aisles and outside in the street. Calm but trembling, he 
walked out on the stage before them and stood for a mo- 
ment without speaking, a solitary figure in a baggy black 
suit and a little shoestring tie. “I had expected an unfriendly 
audience,” he wrote, “and it was with some fear that I 

[ 222 ] 


stepped forward. When 1 entered the rear of the auditorium 
and stepped out on the stage, there was a deathlike silence. 
There was not a sin^e handclap. But I had not expected ap- 
plause; and 1 was delisted that 1 was not hissed.” 

In his homely, quiet, and yet intense manner. Senator 
Norris began with the simple phrase: "1 have come home to 
teU you the truth.” 

Immediately there was a burst of applause from all parts of 
the audience. Never in my lifetime has applause done me the 
good that did. . . . There was, in the hearts of the common 
people, a belief that underneath the deception and the mis- 
representation, the political power and the influence, there was 
something artificial about the propaganda. 

There was no violence, there was no heckling; and the tre- 
mendous crowd cheered mightily as Norris lashed out at his 
critics. His dry, simple but persistent language and the quiet 
intensity of his anger captivated his audience, as he insisted 
that their newspapers were not giving them the facts and 
that, despite warnings that he stay away until his role in the 
filibuster was forgotten, he wanted it to be remembered. 
More than half of the New York audience which had hissed 
him had been in evening dress, he sarcastically recalled, and 
he questioned how many of them were willing to fight or 
send their children: 

Of course, if poodledogs could have been made into soldiers 
that audience would have supplied a regiment. . . . My col- 
league talked two and a half hours for the bill and was called a 
hero. I talked one hour and a half against the bill and was called a 
traitor. Even though you say I am wrong, even though you 
feel sure I should have stood by die President, has the time 

[ 223 ] 


come when we can’t even express our opinions in the Senate, 
where we were sent to debate such questions, without being 
branded by the moneyed interests as traitors? I can stand up and 
take my medicine without wincing under any charge except that 
of traitor. In all of the English language, in all the tongues of the 
world, you can’t find any other words as damnable as that. 

The crowd, after more than an hour, roared its approval. 
The newspapers were not so easily convinced or so willing 
to forgive. "His elaborate and ingenious explanation,” said 
the World Herald, is "foolish nonsense ... a silly statement, 
which has disgusted the people.” "The Senator spent little 
time meeting the issue as it actually stood,” said the State 
Journal. "He should not let his critics disturb his balance.” 

But Senator Norris, who was asked to appear before many 
groups to explain what he felt to be the true issues, met ac- 
claim throughout the state; and the Governor having an- 
noimced that he would not ask the Legislature to authorize 
a special recall election, the Senator returned to Washington 
better able to withstand the abuse which had not yet fully 

O O • 

During the next eleven years George Norris' fame and 
political fortune multiplied. In 1928, despite his continued 
differences with the Republican party and its administrations, 
the Nebraska Senator was one of the party’s most prominent 
members. Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee and 
a potential Presidential nominee. But Norris himself scoffed 
at the latter reports: 

I have no expectation of being nominated for President. A 
man who has followed the political course I have is barred from 

[ 224 ] 


the office. ... I realize perfectly that no man holding the views 
I do is going to be nominated for the Presidency. 

With an oath he rejected the suggestion that he accept 
a position as Herbert Hoover s running mate, and he at- 
tacked the Republican Convention’s platform and the meth- 
ods by which it had selected its nominees. In those years 
prior to the establishment of the T.V.A., the Senator from 
Nebraska was the nation’s most outspoken advocate of public 
power; and he believed that the “monopolistic power trust” 
had dictated the nomination of Hoover and the Republican 

Unwilling to commit himself to the Democratic party he 
had always opposed, and whose platform he believed to be 
equally weak, Norris toured the coimtry campaigning for 
fellow progressives regardless of party. But as the campaign 
utterances of Democratic nominee Al Smith of New York 
began to fall into line with Norris’ own views, he was con- 
fronted with the most difficult political problem of his career. 

George Norris was a Republican, a Midwesterner, a Prot- 
estant and a “dry,” and Herbert Hoover was all of those 
things. But Al Smith — a Tammany Hall Democrat from the 
streets of New York, and a Catholic who favored the repeal 
of Prohibition — ^was none of them. Smely Smith could have 
little support in Nebraska, which was also Republican, Mid- 
western, Protestant and dry by nature. Could Norris possibly 
desert his party, his state and his constituents imder such cir- 

He could. He had always maintained that he “would like 
to abolish party responsibility and in its stead establish per- 
sonal responsibility. Any man even thou^ he be the strictest 
kind of Republican, who does not believe the diings 1 stand 

[ 225 ] 


for are right, should follow his convictions and vote against 
me.” And thus in 1928 Norris finally declared that pro* 

had no place to land except in the Smith camp. . . . Shall we be 
so partisan that we will place our party above our country and 
refuse to follow the only leader who affords us any escape from 
the control of the [power] trust? ... It seems to me we cannot 
crush our consciences and support somebody who we know 
in advance is opposed to the very things for which we have been 
fighting so many years. 

But what about Smith s religious views? What about his 
attitude on the liquor question? 

It is possible for a man in public life to separate his religious 
beliefs from his political activities. ... I am a Protestant and 
a dry, yet I would support a man who was a wet and a Catholic 
provided I believed he was sincerely in favor of law enforce- 
ment and was right on economic issues. ... I’d rather trust an 
honest wet who is progressive and courageous in his makeup 
than politicians who profess to be on the dry side tAit do no 
more to make prohibition effective than all the nun runners and 
bootleggers in the country. 

These were courageous sentiments, but they were lost on 
an indignant constituency. As his train sped through the 
state on the way to Omaha, where he was to speak for Smith 
over a nationwide radio hookup, long-time friends and Re- 
publican leaders climbed aboard to appeal in the name of 
his party and career. The head of the powerful Nebraska 
Anti-Saloon League, previously an important supporter of 
Norris, termed his injection of the power issue poppycock. 
‘The issue in this campaign is the liquor issue and Norris 

[ 226 ] 


knows it If he makes this speech for Smith, the League is 
through with him.” ( Norris, when asked if he would run for 
re-election in 1930 in view of such statements, dryly replied 
that “such things might drive me to it.”) The pastor of the 
largest Baptist church in Omaha wrote the Senator that he 
did not “represent us at all, and we are very much ashamed 
of your attitude toward the administration.” But Norris, in 
his reply, calmly asked the minister whether he had “made 
any attempt to take the beam out of your own eyes, so that 
you can see more clearly how to pluck the mote out of your 
brothers eye.” 

Old Guard Republican leaders had previously insisted, at 
least privately, that Norris was “no Republican,” a charge 
they now made openly. But now many of Norris’ most de- 
voted followers expressed dismay at his bolt. Said an Eagle, 
Nebraska, small businessman: “I have supported Norris for 
20 years, but never again. He is politically warped and men- 
tally a grouch, and has antagonized every Republican ad- 
ministration since Roosevelt. The Senator should have more 
respect for his admirers than to expect them to cast their lot 
with a wet Democrat.” Norris’ first Congressional secretary 
told reporters he was “bitterly opposed to the Senator’s un- 
warranted support of Tammany’s candidate for President.” 

A delegate who had supported Norris for President at the 
Republican Convention told the press that Norris “does not 
carry my political conscience in his vest pocket. I am deeply 
grieved to see the stand he has taken. Norris should seek new 
friends, and if he chooses to find them on the sidewalks of 
New York that is his privilege. But it is unfortxmate that he 
uses the Republican party as a vehicle to ride into office and 
then repudiates its standard-bearer.” 

[227 ] 


The editor of the Walthill Times wrote: "I say it sadly, 
but I am through with Norris. Politically he is lost in the 
wilderness, far away from his old progressive friends." 

“For a hungry farmer or a thirsty wet of less than average 
political judgment,” said a Lincoln attorney who was dose 
to the Norris camp, “there may be an excuse. But for a 
statesman of Norris’ ability and experience there is no 

But George Norris sought to help the hungry farmer even 
if it meant helping the thirsty wet. Uiunoved by either ap- 
peals or attacks, he delivered a powerful plea for Smith at 
Omaha. The New York Governor, he said, had risen above 
the dictates of Tanunany, while the techniques employed by 
the Republican Convention would “make Tammany Hall 
appear as a white-robed saint.” He was “traveling in very 
distinguished company” by supporting the candidate of the 
opposing party, he told his audience, for Herbert Hoover 
himself had acted similarly ten years earlier. But for the most 
part his speech was an attack on the power .4rust, “an 
octopus with slimy fingers that levies tribute upon every 
fireside,” and upon Hoover’s refusal to discuss these ques- 
tions: "to sin by silence when we should protest makes 
cowards out of men.” 

Finally, Norris closed his address by meeting the religious 
issue openly: 

It is our duty as patriots to cast out this Un-American doc- 
trine and rebuke those who have raised the torch of intolerance. 
All believers of any faith can unite and go forward in our po- 
litical work to bring about the maximum amoimt of happiness 
for our people. 

[ 228 ] 


But in 1928 the people of Nebraska were not willing to 
listen to the theme of tolerance or a discussion of the issues. 
Telegrams poured in attacking Norris for his support of a 
Catholic and a wet. “The storm which followed that Omaha 
pronouncement for Smith ” Norris later recalled, “was more 
violent than any I had ever encountered. It was well that 1 
had had some training in the matter of abuse." Even his wife 
was quoted by the papers as saying she would vote for 
neither Smith nor Hoover: “1 am not following George in 
all this. ... I have always been a dry and I am not going to 
vote for Smith even if George does." Although the same 
powerful Democratic newspaper, the Omaha World Herald, 
which had assailed his stand for principle against Woodrow 
Wilson, was now able to applaud Senator Norris “for his 
splendid comrage and devotion," other Nebraska newspapers 
accused him of deserting his state for Tammany Hall in the 
hopes of reviving his own Presidential boom four years later. 
His speech had endangered the chances for re-election of his 
own hberal Republican colleague, and his fellow insurgent 
Republicans in the Senate expressed their disapproval of his 
course. When the Senator returned to his home town he 
found his friends and other leading citizens turning away, 
as though they would be glad to “cut my heart out and hang 
it on a fence as a warning to others.” 

The landslide for Hoover, who carried practically every 
county and community in Nebraska, as well as the country 
as a whole, embittered Norris, who declared that Hoover 
had won on the false questions of religion and prohibition, 
when the real problems were power and farm relief. The 
special interests and machine politicians, he said, “kept this 

[ 229 ] 


issue to the front [although] they knew it was a false, wicked 
and unfair issue.” 

• • • 

George Norris’ filibuster against the Armed Ship Bill had 
failed, both in its immediate goal of preventing the Presi- 
dent’s action, and in its attempt to keep the nation out of the 
war into which it was plunged a few months later. His cam- 
paign for A 1 Smith also failed, and failed dismally. And yet, 
as the Senator confided to a friend in later years: 

It happens very often that one tries to do something and fails. 
He feels discouraged, and yet he may discover years afterward 
that the very effort he made was the reason why somebody else 
took it up and succeeded. I really believe that whatever use 
I have been to progressive civilization has been accomplished 
in the things I faded to do than in the things I actually did do. 

George Norris met with both success and failure in his 
long tenure in public o£Bce, stretching over nearly a half a 
century of American political life. But the essence of the 
man and his career was caught in a tribute paid to the Re- 
publican Senator from Nebraska by the Democratic Presi- 
dential nominee in September, 1932: 

History asks, “Did the man have integrity? 

Did the man have unselfishness? 

Did the man have courage? 

Did the man have consistency?” 

There are few statesmen in America today who so definitely 
and clearly measure up to an afiSrmative answer to those four 
questions as does George W. Norris. 

[ 230 ] 




Robert A. Taft 

LATE Senator Robert A. Taft of Ohio was 
never President of the United States. Therein lies his 
personal tragedy. And therein lies his national great- 


For the Presidency was a goal that Bob Taft pursued 
throughout his c'U’eer in the Senate, an ambition that this son 
of a former President always dreamed of realizing. As the 
leading exponent of the Republican philosophy for more 
than a decade, “Mr. Republican” was bitterly disappointed 
by his failure on three diflFerent occasions even to receive the 

But Robert A. Taft was also a man who stuck fast to the 
basic principles in which he believed — and when those fun- 
damental principles were at issue, not even the lure of the 

[231 ] 


White House, or the possibilities of mjuring his candidacy, 
could deter him from speaking out. He was an able politician, 
but on more than one occasion he chose to speak out in de- 
fense of a position no politician with like ambitions would 
have endorsed. He was, moreover, a brilliant political analyst, 
who knew that during his lifetime the number of American 
voters who agreed with the fundamental tenets of his po- 
litical philosophy was destined to be a permanen. minority, 
and that only by flattering new blocs of support — ^while care- 
fully refraining from alienating any group which contained 
potential Taft voters— could he ever hope to attain his goal. 
Yet he frequently flung to the winds the very restraints his 
own analysis advised, refusing to bow to any group, refusing 
to keep silent on any issue. 

It is not that Bob Taft’s career in the Senate was a con- 
stant battle between popularity and principle as was John 
Quincy Adams’; he did not have to struggle to maintain his 
integrity like Thomas Hart Benton. His principles usually 
led him to conclusions which a substantial percentage of his 
constituents and political associates were willing to support. 
Although on occasions his political conduct reflected his 
political ambitions, popularity was not his guide on most 
fundamental matters. The Taft-Hartley Labor Management 
Relations Act could not have gained him many votes in in- 
dustrialized Ohio, for those who endorsed its curbs on union 
activity were already Taft supporters; but it brought furious 
anti-Taft reprisals during the 1950 Senate campai^ by the 
unions in Ohio, and it nourished the belief that Taft could 
not win a Presidential contest, a belief which affected his 
chances for the nomination in 1952. Simultaneously, how- 
ever, he was antagonizing the friends of Taft-Hardey, and 

[ 232 ] 


endangering his own leadership in the Republican party, by 
his support of education, housing, health and other welfare 

Those who were shocked at these apparent departures 
from his traditional position did not comprehend that Taft’s 
conservatism contained a strong strain of pragmatism, which 
caused him to support intensive Federal activity in those 
areas that he believed not adequately served by the private 
enterprise system. Taft did not believe that this was incon- 
sistent with the conservative doctrine; conservatism in his 
opinion was not irresponsibility. Thus he gave new dimen- 
sions to the conservative philosophy: he stuck to that faith 
when it reached its lowest depth of prestige and power and 
led it back to the level of responsibility and respectability. 
He was an unusual leader, for he lacked the fine arts of 
oratory and phrasemaking, he lacked blind devotion to the 
party line (imless he dictated it), and he lacked the politi- 
cian's natural instinct to avoid controversial positions and 

But he was more than a political leader, more than “Mr. 
Republican.” He was also a Taft — and thus “Mr. Integrity.” 
The Senator’s grandfather, Alphonso Taft, had moved West 
to practice law in 1830, writing his father that “The notori- 
ous selfishness and dishonesty of the great mass of men you 
find in New York is to my mind a serious obstacle to settling 
there.” And the Senator’s father was William Howard Taft, 
who knew well the meaning of political coimige and political 
abuse when he stood by his Secretary of Interior, Ballinger, 
against the overwhelming opposition of Pinchot, Roosevelt 
and the progressive elements of his own party. 

So Bob T^t, as his biographer has described it, was “bom 

H* [ 233 ] 


to integrity,” He was known in the Senate as a man who 
never broke an agreement, who never compromised his 
deeply felt Republican principles, who never practiced po- 
litical deception. His bitter political enemy, Harry Truman, 
would say when the Senator died: “He and I did not agree 
on public policy, but he knew where I stood and I knew 
where he stood. We need intellectually honest men like 
Senator Taft.” Examples of his candor are endless and 
startling. The Ohioan once told a group in the heart of Re- 
publican farm territory that farm prices were too high; and 
he told still another farm group that “he was tired of seeing 
aU these people riding in Cadillacs.” His support of an ex- 
tensive Federal housing program caused a colleague to re- 
mark: “I hear the Socialists have gotten to Bob Taft” He 
informed an important political associate who cherished a 
commendatory message signed by Taft that his assistant 
“sent those things out by the dozen” without the Senator 
even seeing, much less signing them. And a colleague recalls 
that he did not reject the ideas of his friends by gentle in- 
direction, but by coldly and unhesitatingly terming them 
“nonsense.” “He had,” as William S. White has written, “a 
luminous candor of purpose that was extraordinarily refresh- 
ing in a chamber not altogether devoted to candor.” 

It would be a mistake, however, to conclude from this 
that Senator Taft was cold and abrupt in his personal rela- 
tionships. I recall, from my own very brief service with him 
in the Senate and on the Senate Labor Committee in the last 
months of his life, my strong impression of a surprising and 
unusiial personal charm, and a disarming simplicity of man- 
ner. It was these qualities, combined with an unflinching 
courage which he exhibited throughout his entire life and 

[234 ] 


most especially in his last days, that bound his adherents to 
him with unbreakable ties. 

Perhaps we are as yet too close in time to the controversial 
elements in the career of Senator Taft to be able to measure 
his life with historical perspective. A man who can inspire 
intensely bitter enemies as well as intensely devoted follow- 
ers is best judged after many years pass, enough years to 
permit the sediment of political and legislative battles to 
settle, so that we can assess our times more clearly. 

But sufScient time has passed since 1946 to enable some- 
thing of a detached view of Senator Taft's act of courage in 
that year. Unlike the acts of Daniel Webster or Edmund 
Ross, it did not change history. Unlike those of John 
Quincy Adarp<: or Thomas Benton, it did not bring about 
his retirement from the Senate. Unlike most of those deeds 
of courage previously described, it did not even take place 
on the Senate floor. But as a piece of sheer candor in a 
period when candor was out of favor, as a bold plea for 
justice in a time of intolerance and hostility, it is worth 
remembering here. 

« • • 

In October of 1946, Senator Robert A. Taft of Ohio was 
the chief spokesman for the Republicans in Washington, the 
champion of his party in the national political arena and the 
likely Republican nominee for the Presidency in 1948. It 
was a time when even a Senator with such an established 
reputation for speaking his mind would have guarded his 
tongue, and particularly a Senator with so much at stake as 
Bob Taft. The party which had been his whole life, the Re- 
puUicans of the Congress for whom he spoke, now once 

[ 235 ] 


again were nearing the brink of success in the fall elections. 
Capturing for his party control of both Houses of Congress 
would enhance Bob Taft’s prestige, reinforce his right to 
the Republican Presidential nomination and pave the way for 
his triumphant return to the White House from which his 
father had been somewhat ungloriously ousted in igi2. Or 
so it seemed to most political observers at the time, who as- 
sumed the Republican leader would say nothmg to upset the 
applecart. With Congress out of session, with the tide run- 
ning strongly against the incumbent Democrats, there ap- 
peared to be no necessity for the Senator to make more than 
the usual campaign utterances on the usual issues. 

But Senator Taft was disturbed — and when he was dis- 
turbed it was his habit to speak out. He was disturbed by 
the War Crimes Trials of Axis leaders, then concluding in 
Germany and about to commence in Japan. The Nuremberg 
Trials, in which eleven notorious Nazis had been found 
guilty under an impressively documented mdictment for 
“waging an aggressive war,” had been popular tluroughout 
the world and particularly in the United States. Equally 
popular was the sentence already announced by the high 
tribunal: death. 

But what kind of trial was this? “No matter how many 
books are written or briefs filed,” Supreme Court Justice 
William O. Douglas has recently written, “no matter how 
finely the lawyers analyzed it, the crime for which the Nazis 
were tried had never been formalized as a crime with the 
definiteness required by our legal standards, nor outlawed 
with a death penalty by the international community. By 
our standards that crime arose under an ex post facto law. 
Goering et al deserved severe punishment. But their guilt 

[ 236 ] 


did not justify us in substituting power for principle.” 

These conclusions are shared, I believe, by a substantial 
number of American citizens today. And they were shared, 
at least privately, by a goodly number in 1946. But no 
politician of consequence would speak out — certainly not 
after the verdict had already been announced and prepara- 
tions for the executions were already imder way — none, that 
is, but Senator Taft. 

The Constitution of the United States was the gospel 
which guided the policy decisions of the Senator from Ohio. 
It was his source, his weapon and his salvation. And when 
the Constitution commanded no “ex post facto laws,” Bob 
Taft accepted this precept as permanently wise and univer- 
sally applicable. The Constitution was not a collection of 
loosely given political promises subject to broad interpreta- 
tion. It was not a list of pleasing platitudes to be set lightly 
aside when expediency required it. It was the foundation 
of the American system of law and justice and he was re- 
pelled by the picture of his country discarding those Con- 
stitutional precepts in order to punish a vanquished enemy. 

Still, why should he say anything? The Nuremberg Trials 
were at no time before the Congress for consideration. They 
were not in any sense an issue in the campaign. There was 
no Republican or Democratic position on a matter enthusi- 
astically applauded by the entire nation. And no speech by 
any United States Senator, however powerful, could prevent 
the death sentence from being carried out. To speak out 
imnecessarily would be politically costly and clearly futile. 

But Bob Taft spoke out. 

On October 6, 1946, Senator Taft appeared before a con- 
ference on our Anglo-American heritage, sponsored by 

[ 237 ] 


Kenyon College in Ohio. The war crimes trial was not an 
issue upon which conference speakers were expected to 
comment. But titling his address “Equal Justice Under 
Law” Taft cast aside his general reluctance to embark upon 
startlingly novel and dramatic approaches. “The trial of the 
vanquished by the victors,” he told an attentive if somewhat 
astonished audience, “cannot be impartial no matter how it 
is hedged about with the forms of justice.” 

I question whether the hanging of those, who, however 
despicable, were the leaders of the German people, will ever 
discourage the making of aggressive war, for no one makes ag- 
gressive war unless he expects to win. About this whole judg- 
ment there is the spirit of vengeance, and vengeance is seldom 
justice. The hanging of the eleven men convicted will be a blot 
on the American record which we shall long regret. 

In these trials we have accepted the Russian idea of the 
purpose of trials — government pohcy and not justice — ^with 
little relation to Anglo-Saxon heritage. By clothing policy in 
the forms of legal procedure, we may discredit the whole idea 
of justice in Europe for years to come. In the last analysis, even 
at the end of a frightful war, we should view the future with 
more hope if even our enemies believed that wc had treated 
them justly in our English-speaking concept of law, in the 
provision of relief and in the final disposal of territory. 

In ten days the Nazi leaders were to be hanged. But Bob 
Taft, speaking in cold, clipped matter-of-fact tones, deplored 
that sentence, and suggested that involuntary exile — similar 
to that imposed upon Napoleon — ^might be wiser. But even 
more deplorable, he said, were the trials themselves, which 
“violate the fundamental principle of American law that a 
man cannot be tried under an ex post facto statute.” Nurem- 

[ 238 1 


berg, the Ohio Senator insisted, was a blot on American 
Constitutional history, and a serious departure from our 
Anglo-Saxon heritage of fair and equal treatment, a heritage 
which had ri^tly made this country respected throughout 
the world. “We can’t even teach our own people the sound 
principles of liberty and justice,” he concluded. "We cannot 
teach them government in Germany by suppressing Uberty 
and justice. As I see it, the English-speaking peoples have one 
great responsibility. That is to restore to the minds of men 
a devotion to equal justice under law.” 

The speech exploded in the midst uf a heated election 
campaign; and throughout the nation Republican candidates 
scurried for shelter while Democrats seized the opportunity 
to advance. Many, many people were outraged at Taft’s 
remarks. Those who had fought, or whose men had fought 
and possibly died, to beat back the German aggressors were 
contemptuous of these fine phrases by a politician who had 
never seen battle. Those whose kinsmen or former country- 
men had been among the Jews, Poles, Czechs and other 
nationality groups terrorized by Hitler and his cohorts were 
shocked. The memories of the gas chambers at Buchenwald 
and other Nazi concentration camps, the stories of hideous 
atrocities which had been refreshed with new illustrations at 
Nuremberg, and the anguish and suffering which each new 
military casualty list had brought to thousands of American 
homes — ^these were among the immeasurable influences 
which caused many to react with pain and indignation when 
a United States Senator deplored the trials and sentences of 
these merely "despicable” men. 

In New York, the most important state in any Presidential 
race, and a state where politics were particularly sensitive 

[ 239 ] 


to the views of various nationality and minority groups. 
Democrats were joyous and Republicans angry and gloomy. 
The 1944 Republican Presidential nominee, and Taft’s bitter 
rival for party control and the 1948 nomination. New York’s 
Governor Thomas E. Dewey, declared that the verdicts 
were justified; and in a statement in which the New York 
Republican nominee for the Senate, Irving Ives, joined, he 
stated: “The defendants at Nuremberg had a fair and exten- 
sive trial. No one can have any sympathy for these Nazi 
leaders who brought such agony upon the world.” The 
Democratic State Campaign Manager in New York chal- 
lenged Taft “to come into this state and repeat his plea for 
the lives of the Nazi war criminals.” 

The Democratic Party has a perfect right to ask if the public 
wants the type of national administration, or state admmistra- 
tion, favored by Senator Taft, who indicated he wants the lives 
of the convicted Nazis spared and who may very well be pre- 
paring the way for a Republican propaganda campaign to com- 
mute the death sentences of the Nazi murderers. 

New York Republican Congressional candidate Jacob K. 
Javits sent a telegram to Taft calling his statement “a dis- 
service to all we fought for and to the cause of future peace.” 
The Democratic nominee for United States Senator in New 
York expressed his deep shock at the Taft statement and 
his certainty it would be repudiated by “right-thinking and 
fair-minded Americans.” And the Democratic nominee for 
Governor told his audiences that if Senator Taft had ever 
seen the victims of Nazi concentration camps, he never 
would have been able to make such a statement. 

Even in the nation’s Capital, where Taft was greatly ad- 

[ 240 ] 


mired and his blunt candor was more or less expected, the 
reaction was no di£Ferent. G.O.P. leaders generally declined 
o£Bcial comment, but privately expressed their fears over 
the consequences for their Congressional candidates. At a 
press conference, the Chairman of the Republican Congres- 
sional Campaign Committee refused to comment on the sub- 
ject, stating that he had “his own ideas” on the Nuremberg 
trials but did not “wish to enter into a controversy with 
Senator Taft.” 

The Democrats, however, were jubilant — although con- 
cealing their glee behind a fa9ade of shocked indignation. At 
his weekly press conference. President Truman smilingly 
suggested he would be glad to let Senator Taft and Governor 
Dewey fight ^he matter out. Democratic Majority Leader 
in the Senate (and later Vice President) Alben Barkley of 
Kentucky told a campaign audience that Taft “never ex- 
perienced a crescendo of heart about the soup kitchens of 
1932, but his heart bled anguishedly for the criminals at 
Nuremberg.” Typical of Democratic reaction was the state- 
ment of Senator Scott Lucas of Illinois, who called Taft's 
speech “a classical example of his muddled and confused 
thinking” and predicted it would “boomerang on his aspira- 
tions for the Presidential nomination of 1948.” 

11,000,000 fitting veterans of World War 11 will answer 
Mr. Taft. ... I doubt that the Republican National Chairman 
will permit the Senator to make any more speeches now that 
Taft has called the trials a blot on the American record. . . . 
Neither die American people nor history will agree. . . . 
Senator Taft, whether he believed it or not, was defending 
these culprits who were responsible for the murder of ten mil- 
lion people. 

[ 241 ] 


Even in Taft’s home bailiwick of Ohio, where his strict 
constitutionalism had won him immense popularity, the 
Senator’s speech brou^t anger, confusion and political re- 
verberations. The Repubhcan Senatorial candidate, former 
Governor John Bricker, was not only a close ally of Taft 
but had been the Vice Presidential nominee m 1944 as run- 
ning mate to Governor Dewey. His Democratic opponent, 
incumbent Senator James Huffman, challenged Bricker to 
stand with either Taft or Dewey, declaring: 

A country that has suffered the scourge of modem war, lost 
more than 300,000 of its finest men, and spent $300,000,000,000 
of its resources because of the acts of these convicted gangsters 
can never feel that the sentences meted out have been too severe. 
. . . This is not the time to weaken in the punishment of inter- 
national crimes. Such criticism, even if justified, should have 
been offered when the international tribunals were being set up. 

The Toledo Blade told its readers that "on this issue, as on 
so many others. Senator Taft shows that he has a^wonderful 
mind which knows practically everything and understands 
practically nothing.'. . .” 

The Cleveland Plain Dealer editorialized that Taft "may 
be technically correct,” but turning ‘loose on the world the 
worst gang of cutthroats in all history . . . would have failed 
to give the world that great principle which humanity needs 
so desperately to have established: the principle that plan- 
ning and waging aggressive war is definitely a crime against 

Senator Taft was disheartened by the voracity of his 
critics — and extremely uncomfortable when one of the ac- 
quitted Nazi leaders, Franz Von Fapen, told interviewers 

[ 242 ] 


Upon his release from prison that he agreed with Tafts 
speech. A spokesman for Taft issued pnly one terse state- 
ment: ‘Tie has stated his feelings on the matter and feels 
that if others want to criticize him, let them go ahead.” But 
the Ohio Senator could not understand why even his old 
supporter, newspaper columnist David Lawrence, called his 
position nothing more than a "technical quibble.” And he 
must have been particularly distressed when respected Con- 
stitutional authorities such as the President of the American 
Bar Association, the Chairman of its Executive Committee 
and other leading members of the legal profession all de- 
plored his statement and defended the trials as being in ac- 
cordance with international law. 

For Robe.t Taft had spoken, not in “defense of the Nazi 
murderers” (as a labor leader charged), not in defense of 
isolationism (as most observers assumed), but in defense of 
what he regarded to be the traditional American concepts 
of law and justice. As the apostle of strict constitutionalism, 
as the chief defense attorney for the conservative way of life 
and government, Robert Alphonso Taft was undeterred by 
the possibilities of injury to his party’s precarious position or 
his own Residential prospects. To him, justice was «tt, stake, 
and all other concerns were trivial. “It illustrates at once,” a 
columnist observed at that time, “the extreme stubbornness, 
integrity and political strongheadedness of Senator Taft.” 

The fact that thousands disagree with him, and that it is 
politically embarrassing to other Republicans, probably did not 
bother Taft at all. He has for years been accustomed to making 
up his mind, regardless of whether it hurts him or anyone else. 
Taft surely must have known that his remarks would be twisted 

[243 ] 


and misconstrued and that his tuning would raise the devil in 
the current campaign. But it is characteristic of him that he 
went ahead anyway. 

The storm raised by his speech eventually died down. It 
did not, after all the uproar, appear to afiFect the Republican 
sweep in 1946, nor was it — ^at least openly — ^an issue in Taft's 
drive for the Presidential nomination in 1948. The Nazi 
leaders were hanged, and Taft and the coimtry went on 
to other matters. But we are not concerned today with the 
question of whether Taft was right or wrong in his con- 
denmation of the Nuremberg trials. What is noteworthy is 
the illustration furnished by this speech of Taft's imhesitat- 
ing courage in standing against the flow of public opinion 
for a cause he believed to be right. His action was charac- 
teristic of the man who was labeled a reactionary, who was 
proud to be a conservative and who authored these lasting 
deflnitions of liberalism and liberty: 

Liberalism implies particularly freedom of thought, freedom 
from orthodox dogma, the right of others to think differently 
from one's self. It implies a free mind, open to new ideas and 
willing to give attentive consideration. . . . 

When I say liberty, I mean liberty of the individual to think 
his own thoughts and live his own life as he desires to diink 
and live. 

This was the creed by which Senator Taft lived, and he 
sought in his own fashion and in his own way to provide 
an atmosphere in America in which others could do likewise. 

[244 ] 



Other Men of Political Courage 

■^HERE IS NO OFFICIAL 'list” of politically courageous 
Senators, and it has not been my intention to suggest 
one. On the contrary, by retelling some of the most 
outstanding and dramatic stories of political courage in the 
Senate, I have attempted to indicate that this is a quality 
which may be found in any Senator, in any political party 
and in any era. Many more examples could have been men> 
tioned as illustrative of similar conduct under similar cir- 

Other Senators, placing their convictions ahead of their 
careers, have broken with their party in much the same way 
as John Quincy Adams, Thomas Hart Benton, Edmund 
Ross, Sam Houston and George Norris. Tlie friends of Re- 
publican Senator Albert Beveridge of Indiana pleaded widi 

[ 245 ] 


him to soft-pedal his charges against the Fayne-Aldrich 
Tari£F Act promoted by his party in his campaign for re- 
election in igio; but he would not keep silent. “A party can 
live only by growing,” he said. “Intolerance of ideas brings 
its death.” 

An organization that depends upon r^roduction only for its 
vote, son taking the place of the father, is not a political party, 
but a Chinese tong; not citizens brou^t together by thought 
and conscience, but an Indian tribe held together by blood and 

Disillusioned and discouraged when die opposition of in- 
fluential i^egments of his own party accomplished his defeat, 
he had but one comment on the morning following election: 
“It is all right, twelve years of hard work, and a clean record; 
I am content.” 

Many of those who courageously break with their party 
soon find a new home in another organization. But for those 
who break with their section, as Senators Benton-and Hous- 
ton discovered, the end of their political careers is likely to 
be more permanent and more unpleasant. On the eve of the 
1924 Democratic Convention, the advisers of Senator Oscar 
W, Underwood of Alabama — a former Presidential candi- 
date (in 1912), a former Democratic floor leader in both 
the House and the Senate, author of the famous tariff bill 
which bore his name, and a leading Presidential possibility — 
urged that he say nothing to offend the Ku Klux Klan — 
then a rising power, particularly in Southern politics. But 
Senator Underwood, convinced that the Klan was contrary 
to all the principles of Jeffersonian democracy in which he 

[ 240 ] 


believed, denounced it in no uncertain terms, insisted that 
this was the paramount issue upon which the party would 
have to take a firm stand, and fought vigorously but unsuc- 
cessfully to include an anti-Klan plank in the party platform. 
The Louisiana delegation and other Southerners publicly 
repudiated him, and from tliat moment on his chances for 
the Presidency were nil. He could not even be re-elected to 
the Senate, as Frank Kent has written: 

for no other reason than the sincerity and honesty of his po- 
litical utterances. . . . The opposition to him in Alabama, because 
of the strength and the openness of his convictions, had grown 
to a point where his renomination was plainly not possible with- 
out the kind of fight he felt unwilling to make. . . . Had Senator 
Underwood pla^< J the game in Alabama in accord with the 
sound political ruin of seeming to say something without doing 
so, there would have been no real opposition to his remaining 
in the Senate for the balance of his life. 

In those troubled days before the Civil War, great courage 
in opposing sectional pressures — greater perhaps even than 
that of Webster, Benton and Houston — ^was demonstrated 
by Senator Andrew Johnson of Tennessee, the bold il tact- 
less fighter who in 1868 was saved from a humiliating ouster 
from tlie White House by the single vote of tlie hapless Ed- 
mund Ross. As the Union began to crack in i860, Benton and 
Houston were gone from the Senate floor, and only Andrew 
Johnson, alone among the Southerners, spoke for union. 
When his train, as he returned home to Tennessee to fight 
to keep his state in the Union, stopped at Lynchburg, Vir- 
ginia, an angry mob dragged the Senator from his car, as- 

[ 247 ] 


saulted and abused him, and decided not to lynch him only 
at the last minute, with the rope already around his neck, 
when they agreed that hanging him was the privilege of his 
own neighbors in Tennessee. Throughout Tennessee, John- 
son was hissed, hooted, and hanged in efiBgy. Confederate 
leaders were assured that “His power is gone and henceforth 
there will be nothing left but the stench of the traitor.” Ob- 
livious to the threat of death, Andrew Johnson toured the 
state, attempting in vain to stem the tide against secession, 
and finally becoming the only Southern Senator who refused 
to secede with his state. On his return trip to Washington, 
greeted by an enthusiastic crowd at the station in Cincinnati, 
he told them proudly: “1 am a citizen of the South and of 
the state of Tennessee. . . . [But] I am also a citizen of tlie 
United States.” 

John Quincy Adams was not the only Senator coma- 
geously to resign his seat on a matter of principle. When 
Andrew Jackson’s personal and pohtical popularity brought 
increased support for Senator Benton’s long-pending meas- 
ure to expunge from the Senate Journal the resolution cen- 
suring Jackson for his unauthorized actions against the Bank 
of the United States, Senator John Tyler of Virginia, con- 
vinced that mutilation of the Journal was unconstitutional 
and unworthy of the Senate, stood his ground. But the 
Virginia Legislature, dominated by Jackson's friends and 
Tyler’s foes, and influenced by the sentimental feeling that 
die President should be permitted to retire without this per- 
manent blot on his record, instructed its Senators to support 
the expunging resolution. 

[ 248 ] 


Realizing that his departure from the Senate would give 
the Jacksonians greater strength on far more fundamental 
issues, and that his own political career, which already held 
promise of the Vice Presidential nomination, would be at 
least temporarily halted, John Tyler courageously followed 
his conscience and wrote the legislature these memorable 

I cannot and will not permit myself to remain in die Senate 
for a moment beyond the time that the accredited organs [of] 
the people of Virginia shall instruct me that my services are 
no longer acceptable. . . . 

[But] I dare not touch the Joiumal of the Senate. The Con- 
stitution forbid' it. In the midst of all the agitations of party, I 
have heretofore stood by that sacred instrument. The man of 
today gives place to the man of tomorrow, and the idols which 
one set worships, the next destroys. The only object of my po- 
litical worship shall be the Constitution of my country. . . . 

I shall carry with me into retirement the principles which I 
brought with me into public life, and, by the surrender of the 
high station to which I was called by the voice of the people of 
Virginia, I shall set an example to my children which shall teach 
diem to regard as nothing any position or office which must be 
attained or held at the sacrifice of honor. 

In one of the Senate’s first outstanding demonstrations of 
political courage, the colorful and stormy Senator Humphrey 
Marshall of Kentucky chose in 1795 to end his career in the 
Senate by standing with the President in approving the im- 
mensely unpopular Jay Treaty with Great Britain. Although 

[ 249 ] 


even the Federalists of Kentucky found it necessary to op- 
pose President Washington on the issue, Marshall bluntly 
told his constituents: 

In considering the objections to this Treaty, I am frequently 
ready to exclaim: Ahl men of faction! friends of anarchy! 
enemies and willful perverters of the Federal Government! how 
noisy in clamor and abuse, how weak in reason and judgment, 
appear all your arguments! 

Touring the state in defense of his vote, Marshall was 
shunned and stoned. Late one night a mob dragged him from 
his home with the avowed intention of ducking him in a 
nearby river. At the water’s edge. United States Senator 
Marshall, with great cahn and humor, told the raging 

My friends, all this is irregular. In the ordinance of immersion 
as practised in the good old Baptist Church, it is the rule to re- 
quire the candidate to relate his experience before his baptism 
is performed. Now, in accordance with established rules and 
precedents, I desire to give my experience before you proceed 
to my immersion. 

Both amused and awed, the gang of unruly townspeople 
— ^few of whom knew what the Jay Treaty was, though all 
were convinced that Marshall had committed treason by 
supporting it — ^placed the Senator upon a stump and ordered 
him to explain his position. Beginning in the same humorous 
vein, the Senator warmed to his work and conduded his 
speech by caustically blistering all of his enemies, induding 
those who stood sheepishly before him and whom he later 
described as 

[ 250 ] 


poor, ignorant beings who were collected on the bank of the 
river for the very honorable purpose of ducking me for giving 
an independent opinion. Among this patriotic group, old John 
Byrnes, the drunken butcher, was one of the most respectable. 

The freshman United States Senator from Kentucky was not 
“immersed”; but his sharp tongue could not prevent his in- 
voluntary retirement from the Senate. 

Acts of political courage have not, of course, been con- 
fined to the floor of the United States Senate. They have 
been performed with equal valor and vigor by Congressmen, 
Presidents, Governors, and even private citizens with po- 
litical ambitions. One or two examples of each are sufiBcient 
to show tha*- neither the Senate nor Washington, D.C., has 
monopolized this quality. 

Many years prior to his election to the Senate, John C. 
Calhoun of South Carolina demonstrated his greatest courage 
while a Member of the House of Representatives. When, in 
1816, Congress raised its own pay from $6 a day to $1500 a 
year, an astounding wave of condemnation had suddenly 
engulfed the nation and members from all parties. Compara- 
tively few members even dared to run for re-electior. Clay 
narrowly avoided defeat only by the most intensive cam- 
paign of his career. Calhoun s most faithful supporters urged 
the young Congressman to issue a public statement prom- 
ising to vote to repeal the bill if the voters would only forgive 
and re-elect him. But Calhoun, who once told a friend: 
“When I have made up my mind, it is not in the power of 
man to divert me,” would not back down. Indeed, he sug- 
gested that perhaps $1500 was too little. 

Returning to Congress vindicated by the support he had 

[ 251 ] 


received (despite the fact that most of his former colleagues 
from South Carolina had been defeated for re-election), he 
stood practically alone on the floor of the House as Mem- 
bers, new and old, scrambled to dmiounce the bill. But not 

This House is at liberty to decide on this question according 
to the dictates of its best judgment. Are we bound in all cases 
to do what is popular? Have the people of Uiis country snatched 
the power of deliberation from this body? Let die gentlemen 
name the time and place at which the people assembled and 
deliberated on dds question. Oh, nol They have no written, no 
verbal instructions. The law is unpopular, and they are bound to 
repeal it, in opposition to their conscience and reason. If this be 
true, how are political errors, once prevalent, ever to be cor- 

The President of the United States is not subject to quite 
the same test of political courage as a Senator. His constitu- 
ency is not sectional, his losses in popularity with one group 
or section may be offset on the same issue by his^ains from 
others and his power and prestige normally command a 
greater political security than that afforded a Senator. But 
one example indicates that even the President feels the pres- 
sures of constituent and special interests. 

President George Washington stood by the Jay Treaty 
with Great Britain to save our young nation from a vrar it 
could not survive, despite his knowledge that it would be 
immensely unpopular among a people ready to flgjht. Tom 
Paine told the President that he was "treacherous in private 
friendship and a hypocrite in public. . . . The world will be 
puzzled to decide whether you are an apostate or imposter; 

[ 252 ] 


whether you have abandoned good principles, or whe&er 
you ever had any." With bitter exasperation, Washington 
exdaizned: "1 would rather be in my grave than in the 
Presidency"; and to Jefferson he wrote: 

I am accused of being tibe enemy of America, and subject to 
the influence of a foreign country . . . and every act of my ad- 
ministration is tortured, in such exaggerated and indecent terms 
as could scarcely be applied to Nero, to a notorious defaulter, 
or even to a common pidcpocket. 

But he stood firm. 

It is appropriate, in this book on the Senate, in selecting 
one example from among those Governors who have dis- 
played political courage, to choose one whose brave deeds 
as Governor prevented him from realizing his ambition to 
reach the Senate. After reviewing a tremendous stack of af- 
fidavits and court records. Governor John Peter AUgeld of 
Illinois was convinced that an unfair trial and insufBcient evi- 
dence had convicted the three defendants, not yet hanged, 
of murder in Chicago’s famous Haymarket Square bombing 
of 1886. Warned by Democratic leaders that he must forget 
these convicts if he still looked toward the Senate, \ltgeld 
replied, "No man’s ambition has a right to stand in tire vray 
of performing a simple act of justice’’; and when asked by 
the Democratic State Chairman if his eighteen-thousand- 
word pardon document was "good poli^,” he thimdered, “It 
is ri^t." 

For his action, the Governor was burned in efiBgy, ex- 
cluded from customary ceremonies such as parades and 
commencements, and assaulted daily in the press widi such 

[253 ] 


epithets as “anarchist,” “socialist,” “apologist for murder” 
and “fomenter of lawlessness.” Defeated for re*election in 
i8g6, denied even the customary right to make a farewell ad- 
dress at his successors inaugural (“Illinois has had enough of 
that anarchist,” the new Governor snorted), John Peter 
Altgeld returned to private life and a quiet death six years 
later. He became, in the title of Vachel Lindsay’s famous 
poem, “The Eagle That Is Forgotten”: 

Sleep softly, . . . eagle forgotten, . . . under the stone, 

Time has its way with you there and the clay has its own. 

Sleep on, O brave-hearted, O wise man, that kindled the flame— 
To live in mankind is far more than to live in a name. 

To live in mankind, far, far more . . . than to live in a name. 

Charles Evans Hughes in 1920 was neidier a Congress- 
man nor a Governor — ^but he was the most prominent 
lawyer in the country, a former Governor, Supreme Court 
Justice and I^esidential nominee, and under active considera- 
tion for further public office. (He was shortly-to become 
Secretary of State md Chief Justice.) But when five Social- 
ists — duly elected members of a legally recognized party — 
were arbitrarily denied their seats in the New York State 
Assembly largely on the basis of their unpopular views, 
Hughes risked his standing and popularity to protest the 
action as a violation of the public’s right to choose its own 
representatives. After a classic battle in the New York Bar 
Association, he succeeded in obtaining a special Association 
committee, with himself as chairman, to defend the Social- 
ists — ^whose views he personally abhorred — ^before the Legis- 

[ 254 ] 


Denied the ri^t to appear in person, Hughes filed a brief 
insisting that “if a majority can exclude the whole or a part 
of the minority because it deems the political views enter- 
tained by them hurtful, then free government is at an end.” 
His arguments apparently had little effect on the New York 
Legislature, which expelled the Socialists and outlawed their 
party. But many believe that the distinguished voice of 
Charles Evans Hughes, nearly alone but never afraid, and 
the courageous vetoes by Governor Al Smith of that Legis- 
lature’s measures for controlling radicalism in the schools, 
were determining factors in arousing tlie nation to its senses. 

To close our stories of American political courage, we 
would do well to recall an act of courage which preceded 
the founding of this nation, and which set a standard for all 
to follow. On the night of March 5, 1770, when an abusive 
and disorderly mob on State Street in Boston was rashly fiied 
upon by British sentries, John Adams of Massachusetts was 
already a leader in the protests against British indifference 
to colonist grievances. He was, moreover, a lawyer of stand- 
ing in tlie community and a candidate for the General Court 
at the next election. Thus, even had he not joined in the sense 
of shocked outrage with which all of Boston greeted the 
“Boston Massacre,” he would nevertheless have profiled by 
remaining silent. 

But this mihtant foe of the Crown was asked to serve as 
counsel for the accused soldiers, and did not even hesitate to 
accept. The case, he later noted in his autobiography, was 
one of the “most exhausting and fatiguing causes I ever tried, 
hazarding a popularity very hardly earned, and incurring 
popular suspicions and prejudices which are not yet worn 

[255 ] 


out." Yet the man who would later be a bold President—and 
father of an independent Senator and President — ^not only 
remained as counsel, but acquitted his clients of the murder 
charge, demonstrating to a packed courtroom that no evi< 
dence was at hand to show that the firing was malicious and 
without provocation: 

Whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates 
of our passions, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence. 
The law will not bend to the uncertain wishes, imagination and 
wanton tempers of men. . . . 

Gentlemen of the Jury — I am for the prisoners at the bar, 
and shall apologize for it only in the words of the Marquis 
Beccaria: “If I can but be the instrument of preserving one 
life, his blessings and tears shall be sufficient consolation to 
me for the contempt of mankindl” 

[ 256 ] 


The Meaning of Courage 

y II BEEN a book about courage and politics. 

I Politics ftimished the situations, courage provided 

-IL. the theme. Courage, the universal virtue, is com- 
prehended by us all — but these portraits of courage do not 
dispel the mysteries of politics. 

For not a single one of the men whose stories appear in 
the preceding pages offers a simple, clear-cut pictuie of mo- 
tivation and accomplishment. In each of them complexities, 
inconsistencies and doubts arise to plague us. How er de- 
tailed may have been our study of his hfe, each man lemains 
something of an enigma. However clear the effoct of his 
courage, the cause is shadowed by a veil which cannot be 
tom away. We may confidently state the reasons why — ^yet 
something always seems to elude us. We think we hold the 
answer in our hands — ^yet somehow it slips through our 

Motivation, as any psychiatrist will tell us, is always .lif- 

[ 257 ] 


ficult to assess. It is particularly di£Scult to trace in the 
murky sea of politics. Those who abandoned their state and 
section for the national interest — ^men like Daniel Webster 
and Sam Houston, whose ambitions for higher office could 
not be hidden — ^laid themselves open to the charge that they 
sought only to satisfy their ambition for the Presidency. 
Those who broke with their party to fight for broader prin- 
ciples — ^m^ like John Quinqy Adams and Edmund Ross — 
faced the accusation that they accepted office under one ban- 
ner and yet deserted it in a moment of crisis for another. 

But in the particular events set forth in the preceding chap- 
ters, I am persuaded after long study of the record that the 
national interest, rather than private or political gain, fur- 
nished the basic motivation for the actions of those whose 
deeds are therein described. This does not mean that many 
of them did not seek, though rarely with success, to wring 
advantage out of the difficult course they had adopted. For 
as politicians — and it is surely no disparagement to term all 
of them politicians — ^they were clearly justified in doing so. 

Of course, the acts of courage described in this book 
would be more inspiring and would shine more with the 
traditional luster of hero-worship if we assumed that each 
man forgot wholly about himself in his dedication to hi^er 
principles. But it may be that President John Adams, surely 
as disinterested as well as wise a public servant as we ever 
had, came much nearer to the truth when he wrote in his 
Defense of the ConsHtutUm of the United States: '‘It is not 
true, in fact, that any people ever existed who love the public 
better than themselves.” 

If diis be true, what then caused the statesmen mentioned 

[ 258 ] 


in the preceding pages to act as they did? It was not because 
they "loved the public better than themselves." On the 
contrary it was precisely because they did love themselves — 
because each one's need to maintain his own respect for him- 
self was more important to him than his popularity with 
others — ^because his desire to win or maintain a reputation 
for integrity and courage was stronger than his desire to 
maintain his office — ^because his conscience, his personal 
standard of ethics, his integrity or morality, call it what you 
will — wais stronger than the pressures of public disapproval 
— because his faith that his course was the best one, and 
would ultimately be vindicated, outwei^ed his fear of public 

Although the public good was the indirect beneficiary of 
his sacrifice, it was not that vague and general concept, but 
one or a combination of these pressures of self-love that 
pushed him along the course of action that resulted in the 
slings and arrows previously described. It is when the politi- 
cian loves neither the public good nor himself, or when his 
love for himself is limited and is satisfied by the trappings of 
office, that the public interest is badly served. And it is when 
his regard for himself is so higjh that his own self-respect 
demands he follow the path of courage and conscience that 
all benefit. It is then that his belief in the rightness of his 
own course enables him to say with John C. Calhoun: 

I never know what South Carolina thinks of a measure. 1 
never consult her. I act to the best of my judgment and accord- 
ing to my conscience. If she approves, well and good. If she does 
not and wishes anyone to take my place, I am ready to vacate. 
We are even. 

[ 259 ] 


This is not to say that courageous politicians and the prin> 
ciples for which they speak out are always right. John 
Quincy Adams, it is said, should have realized that the Em- 
bargo would ruin New England but hardly irritate the 
British. Daniel Webster, according to his critics, fruitlessly 
appeased the slavery forces, Thomas Hart Benton was an 
unyielding and pompous egocentric, Sam Houston was cun- 
ning, changeable and unreliable. Edmund Ross, in the eyes 
of some, voted to uphold a man who had defied the Con- 
stitution and defied the Congress. Lucius Lamar failed to 
understand why the evils of planned inflation are sometimes 
preferable to the tragedies of uncontrolled depression. Nor- 
ris and Taft, it is argued, were motivated more by blind 
isolationism than Constitutional principles. 

All of this has been said, and more. Each of us can decide 
for himself the merits of the courses for which these men 

• But is it necessary to decide this question in order to ad- 
mire their courage? Must men conscientiously risk their 
careers only for principles which hindsight declares to be 
correct, in order for posterity to honor them for their valor? 
I think not. Surely in the United States of America, where 
brother once fought against brother, we did not judge a 
man's bravery under fire by examining the banner under 
which he fought. 

I make no claim that all of those who staked their careers 
to speak their minds were right. Indeed, it is clear that 
Webster, Benton and Houston could not all have been right 
on the Compromise of 1850, for each of them, in pursuit 
of the same objective of preserving the Union, held wholly 

[ 260 ] 


different views on that one omnibus measure. Lucius Lamar, 
in refusing to resign his seat when he had violated the in- 
structions of his Legislature, demonstrated courage in totally 
opposite fashion from John Tyler, who ended his career in 
the Senate because he believed such instructions binding. 
Tyler, on the other hand, despised Adams; and Adams was 
disgusted with “the envious temper, the ravenoxis ambition 
and the rotten heart of Daniel Webster.” Republicans Norris 
and Taft could not see eye to eye; and neither could Demo- 
crats Calhoim and Benton. 

These men were not all on one side. They were not all 
right or all conservatives or all liberals. Some of them may 
have been representing the actual sentiments of the silent 
majority of their constituents in opposition to the screams 
of a vocal minority; but most of them were not. Some of 
them may have been actually advancing the long-range in- 
terests of their states in opposition to the shortsighted and 
narrow prejudices of their constituents; but some of them 
were not. Some of them may have been pure and generous 
and kind and noble throughout their careers, in the best 
traditions of the American hero; but most of them were not. 
Norris, the unyielding bitter-ender; Adams, the iiritating 
upstart; Webster, the businessmen’s beneficiary; Benton, the 
bombastic bully — of such stuff are our real-liTe political 
heroes made. 

Some demonstrated courage through their unyielding de- 
votion to absolute principle. Others demonstrated courage 
through their acceptance of compromise, through their ad- 
vocacy of conciliation, through their willingness to replace 
conflict with co-operation. Surely their courage was of ei]ual 

[261 ] 


quali^, thou^ of difiFerent caliber. For the American system 
of Government could not function if every man in a position 
of responsibility approached each problem, as John Quincy 
Adams did, as a problem in higher mathematics, with but a 
limited regard for sectional needs and human shortcomings. 

Most of them, despite their differences, held much in com- 
mon — ^the breath-taldng talents of the orator, the brilliance 
of the scholar, the breadth of the man above party and sec- 
tion, and, above all, a deep-seated belief in themselves, their 
integrity and the rightness of their cause. 

• • • 

The meaning of courage, like political motivations, is fre- 
quently misunderstood. Some enjoy the excitement of its 
battles, but fail to note the implications of its consequences. 
Some admire its virtues in other men and other times, but 
fail to comprehend its current potentialities. Perhaps, to 
make clearer the significance of these stories of political 
courage, it would be well to say what this book* is not. 

It is not intended to justify independence for the sake of 
independence, obstinacy to all compromise or excessively 
proud and stubborn adherence to one's own personal con- 
victions. It is not intended to suggest that there is, on every 
issue, one right side and one wrong side, and that all Sena- 
tors except those who are knaves or fools will find the right 
side and stick to it. On the contrary, I share the feelings ex- 
pressed by Prime Minister Melbovune, who, when irritated 
by the criticism of the then youthful historian T. B. 
Macaulay, remarked that he would like to be as sure of any- 
thing as Macaulay seemed to be of everything. And nine 

[ 262 ] 


years in Congress have taught me the wisdom of Lincoln’s 
words: “There are few things wholly evil or wholly good. 
Almost everything, especially of Government policy, is an 
inseparable compound of the two, so that our best judgment 
of the preponderance between them is continually de- 

This book is not intended to suggest that party regularity 
and party responsibility are necessary evils which should at 
no time influence our decisions. It is not intended to suggest 
that the local interests of one’s state or region have no legiti- 
mate right to consideration at any time. On the contrary, the 
loyalties of every Senator are distributed among his party, 
his state and section, his country and his conscience. On 
party issues his party loyalties are normally controlling. In 
regional disputes, his regional responsibilities will likely 
guide his course. It is on national issues, on matters of con- 
science which challenge party and regional loyalties, that 
the test of courage is presented. 

It may take courage to battle one’s President, one’s party 
or the overwhelming sentiment of one’s nation; but diese 
do not compare, it seems to me, to the courage required of 
the Senator defying the angry power of the very coii.^^tituents 
who control his future. It is for this reason that I have not 
included in this work the stories of this nation’s most famous 
“insurgents” — ^John Randolph, Thaddeus Stevens, Robert 
La Follette and all the rest — men of courage and integrity, 
but men whose battles were fou^t with the knowledge that 
they enjoyed die support of the voters back home. 

Finally, this book is not intended to disparage democratic 
government and popular rule. The e\amples of constituent 

[ 263 ] 


passions unfairly condemning a man of principle are not 
unanswerable arguments against permitting the widest par- 
ticipation in the electoral process. The stories of men who 
accomplished good in the face of cruel calumnies from the 
public are not final proof that we should at all times ignore 
the feelings of the voters on national issues. For, as Winston 
Churchill has said, “Democracy is the worst form of gov- 
ernment — except all those other forms that have been tried 
from time to time.” We can improve our democratic proc- 
esses, we can enlighten our understanding of its problems, 
and we can increase our respect for those men of integrity 
who find it necessary, from time to time, to act contrary to 
public opinion. But we cannot solve the problems of legisla- 
tive independence and responsibility by abolishing or curtail- 
ing democracy. 

For democracy means much more than popular govern- 
ment and majority rule, much more than a system of political 
techniques to flatter or deceive powerful blocs of voters. A 
democracy that has no George Norris to point to^no monu- 
ment of individual conscience in a sea of popular rule — is 
not worthy to bear the name. The true democracy, living 
and growing and inspiring, puts its faith in the people — ^faith 
that the people will not simply elect men who will represent 
their views ably and faithfully, but also elect men who will 
exercise their conscientious judgment — ^faith that the people 
wiU not condemn those whose devotion to principle leads 
them to unpopular courses, but will reward courage, respect 
honor and ultimately recognize right. 

These stories are the stories of such a democracy. Indeed, 
there would be no such stories had this nation not main- 

[ 264 ] 


tained its heritage of free speech and dissent, had it not 
fostered honest conflicts of opinion, had it not encouraged 
tolerance for unpopular views. Cynics may point to our 
inability to provide a happy ending for each chapter. But 
I am certain that these stories will not be looked upon as 
warnings to beware of being courageous. For the continued 
political success of many of those who withstood the pres- 
sures of public opinion, and the ultimate vindication of the 
rest, enables us to maintain our faith in the long-nm judg- 
ment of the people. 

And thus neither the demonstrations of past courage nor 
the need for future courage are confined to the Senate alone. 
Not only do the problems of courage and conscience concern 
every officeholder in om land, however humble or mighty, 
and to whomever he may be responsible — ^voters, a legisla- 
ture, a political machine or a party organization. They con- 
cern as well every voter in our land — and they concern those 
who do not vote, those who take no interest in Government, 
those who have only disdain for the pohtician and his pro- 
fession. They concern everyone who has ever complained 
about corruption in high places, and everyone who has ever 
insisted that his representative abide by his wishe« For, in 
a democracy, every citizen, regardless of his inierest in 
politics, “holds office”; every one of us is in a position of 
responsibility; and, in the final analysis, the kind of govern- 
ment we get depends upon how we fulfill those responsibil- 
ities. We, the people, are the boss, and we will get the kind of 
political leadership, be it good or bad, that we demand and 

These problems do not even concern politics alone— for 

I* [ 265 ] 


the same basic choice of courage or compliance continually 
faces us all, whether we fear the anger of constituents, 
friends, a board of directors. or our union, whenever we 
stand against the flow of opinion on strongly contested issues. 
For widiout belittling the courage with which men have 
died, we should not forget those acts of courage with which 
men — such as the subjects of this book — ^have lived. The 
courage of life is often a less dramatic spectacle than the 
courage of a final moment; but it is no less a magnificent 
mixture of triumph and tragedy. A man does what he must 
— ^in spite of personal consequences, in spite of obstacles 
and dangers and pressures — and that is the basis of all human 

To be courageous, these stories make clear, requires no 
exceptional qualifications, no magic formula, no special com* 
bination of time, place and circumstance. It is an opportunity 
that sooner or later is presented to us all. Politics merdy 
furnishes one arena which imposes special tests of courage. 
In whatever arena of life one may meet the challenge of 
courage, whatever may be the sacrifices he faces if he follows 
his conscience — ^the loss of his friends, his fortune, his con- 
tentment, even the esteem of his fellow men — each man must 
decide for himself the course he will follow. The stories of 
past courage can define that ingredient — ^they can teach, 
they can offer h(^, they can provide inspiration. But they 
cannot supply courage itself. For diis each man must look 
into his own souL 

[ 266 ] 


When, Mr. President, a man becomes a member of this body 
he cannot even dream of the ordeal to which he cannot fak 
to be exposed; 

of how much courage he must possess to resist the tempta- 
tions which daily beset him; 

of that sensitive shrinking from undeserved censure which 
he must learn to control; 

of the ever-recurring contest between a natural desire 
for public approbation and a sense of public duty; 
of the load of injustice he must be content to bear, even 
from those who should be his friends; 
the imputations of his motives; 
the sneers and sarcasms of ignorance and malice; 
aU fhr manifold injuries which partisan or private 
malignity, disappointed of its objects, may shower 
upon his unprotected head. 

All this, Mr. President, if he would retain his integrity, he 
must learn to bear unmoved, and walk steadily onward in the 
path of duty, sustained only by the reflection that time may 
do him justice, or if not, that after aU his individual hopes 
and aspirations, and even his name among men, should be 
of little account to him when weighed in the bdUofU-t against 
the welfare of a people of whose destiny he is a constituted 
guardian and defender. 

Senator William Pitt Fessenden of Maine, 
in a eulogy delivered upon the death of Sen- 
ator Foot of Vermont in 1866, two years be- 
fore Senator Fessendens vote to acquit 
Andrew Johnson brought about the fulfillment 
of his own prophecy. 

[ 267 ]