« НазадПродовжити »
system, and accept it as a necessity. True, he never lapsed into the imbecility of pretending to think slavery right or best, but he baw no way of escaping from it; and when asked his opinion as to the final solution of the problem, he could only throw it upon Providence.' Providence, he said, would remove the evil in its own good time, and nothing remained for men but to cease the agitation of the subject. His first efforts, as his last, were directed to the silencing of both parties, but most especially the Abolitionists, whose character and aims he misconceived. With John C. Calhoun sitting near him in the Senate-chamber, and with fireeaters swarming at the other end of the Capitol, he could, as late as 1843, cast the whole blame of the slavery excitement upon the few individuals at the North who were beginning to discern the ulterior designs of the Nullifiers. Among his letters of 1843 there is one addressed to a friend who was about to write a pamphlet against the Abolitionists. Mr. Clay gave him an outline of what he thought the pamphlet ought to be.
“ The great aim and object of your tract should be to arouse the la. boring classes in the Free States against abolition. Depict the consequences to them of immediate abolition. The slaves, being free, would be dispersed throughout the Union; they would enter into competition with the free laborer, with the American, the Irish, the German ; reduce his wages; be confounded with him, and affect his moral and social standing. And as the ultras go for both abolition and amalgamation, show that their object is to unite in marriage the laboring white man and the laboring black man, and to reduce the white laboring man to the despised and degraded condition of the black man.
“I would show their opposition to colonization. Show its humane, religious, and patriotic aims; that they are to separate those whom God has separated. Why do the Abolitionists oppose colonization ? To keep and amalgamate together the two races, in violation of God's will, and to keep the blacks here, that they may interfere with, degrade, and debase the laboring whites. Show that the British nation 18 co-operating with the Abolitionists, for the purpose of dissolving the Union, etc.”
This is so very absurd, that, if we did not know it to express Mr. Clay's habitual feeling at that time, we should be compelled to see in it, not Henry Clay, bu' the candidate for the Presi
dency. He really thought so in 1843. He was perfectly convinced that the white race and the black could not exist together on equal terms. One of his last acts was to propose emancipation in Kentucky; but it was an essential feature of his plan to transport the emancipated blacks to Africa. When we look over Mr. Clay's letters and speeches of those years, we meet with so much that is short-sighted and grossly erroneous, that we are obliged to confess that this man, gifted as he was, and dear as his memory is to us, shared the judicial blindness of his order Its baseness and arrogance he did not share. His head was often wrong, but his heart was generally right. It atones for all his mere errors of abstract opinion, that he was never admitted to the confidence of the Nullifiers, and that he uniformly voted against the measures inspired by them. He was against the untimely annexation of Texas; he opposed the rejection of the anti-slavery petitions; and he declared that no earthly power should ever induce him to consent to the addition of one acre of slave territory to the possessions of the United States.
It is proof positive of a man's essential soundness, if he im. proves as he grows old. Henry Clay's last years were his best ; he ripened to the very end. His friends remarked the moderation of his later opinions, and his charity for those who had injured him most. During the last ten years of his life no one ever heard him utter a harsh judgment of an opponent. Domesfic afflictions, frequent and severe, had chastened his heart; his six affectionate and happy daughters were dead; one son was a hopeless lunatic in an asylum ; another was not what such a father had a right to expect; and, at length, his favorite and most promising son, Henry, in the year 1847, fell at the battle of Buena Vista. It was just after this last crushing loss, and probably in consequence of it, that he was baptized and confirmed a member of the Episcopal Church.
When, in 1849, he reappeared in the Senate, to assist, if possi ble, in removing the slavery question from politics, he was an in firm and serious, but not sad, old man of seventy-two. He never lost his cheerfulness or his faith, but he felt deeply for his dis tracted country. During that memorable session of Congress ha spoke seventy times. Often extremely sick and feeble, scarcely able, with the assistance of a friend's arm, to climb the steps of the Capitol, he was never absent on the days when the Compro. mise was to be debated. It appears to be well attested, that his last great speech on the Compromise was the immediate cause of his death. On the morning on which he began his speech, he was accompanied by a clerical friend, to whom he said, on reaching the long flight of steps leading to the Capitol, “ Will you lend me your arm, my friend? for I find myself quite weak and exhausted this morning.” Every few steps he was obliged to stop and take breath. “Had you not better defer your speech ?” asked the clergyman. “My dear friend,” said the dying orator, “I consider our country in danger; and if I can be the means, in any measure, of averting that danger, my health or life is of little consequence.” When he rose to speak, it was but too evident that he was unfit for the task he had undertaken. But, as he kindled with his subject, his cough left him, and his bent form resumed all its wonted erectness and majesty. He may, in the prime of his strength, have spoken with more energy, but never with so much pathos and grandeur. His speech lasted two days, and, though he lived two years longer, he never recovered from the effects of the effort. Toward the close of the second day, his friends repeatedly proposed an adjournment ; but he would not desist until he had given complete utterance to his feelings. He said afterwards that he was not sure, if he gave way to an adjournment, that he should ever be able to resume.
In the course of this long debate, Mr. Clay said some things to which the late war has given a new interest. He knew, at last, what the fire-eaters meant. He perceived now that it was nst the few abhorred Abolitionists of the Northern States from whom danger to the Union was to be apprehended. On one occasion allusion was made to a South Carolina hot-head, who had publicly proposed to raise the flag of disunion. Thunders of applause bruke from the galleries when Mr. Clay retorted by saying, that, f Mr. Rhett had really made that proposition, and should follow It up by corresponding acts, he would be a TRAITOR ; "and,
added Mr. Clay, “I hope he will meet a traitor's fato.” When the chairman liad succeeded in restoring silence, Mr. Clay made that celebrated declaration which was so frequently quoted in 1861: “If Kentucky to-morrow should unfurl the banner of resistance unjustly, I will never fight under that banner. I owe a paramount allegiance to the whole Union, - a subordinate one to my own State.” He said also: “If any one State, or a portion of the people of any State, choose to place themselves in military array against the government of the Union, I am for trying the strength of the government. I am for ascertaining whether we have a government or not.” Again: “ The Senator speaks of Virginia being my country. This UNION, sir, is my country; the thirty States are my country; Kentucky is my country, and Virginia no more than any State in the Union.” And yet again : “ There are those who think that the Union must be preserved by an exclusive reliance upon love and reason. That is not my opinion. I have some confidence in this instrumentality ; but, depend upon it that no human government can exist without the power of applying force, and the actual application of it in extreme cases."
Who can estimate the influence of these clear and emphatic utterances ten years after? The crowded galleries, the numberless newspaper reports, the quickly succeeding death of the great orator, — all aided to give them currency and effect. We shall never know how many wavering minds they aided to decide in 1861. Not that Mr. Clay really believed the conflict would occur: he was mercifully permitted to die in the conviction that the Compromise of 1850 had removed all immediate danger, and greatly lessened that of the future. Far indeed was he from foreseeing that the ambition of a man born in New England, calling himself a disciple of Andrew Jackson, would, within five years, destroy all compromises, and render all future compromise impossible, by procuring the repeal of the first, - the Missour Compromise of 1821.
Henny Clay was formed by nature to please, to move, and to impress his countrymen. Never was there a more captivating presence We remember hearing Horace Greeley say that, if s
man only saw Henry Clay's back, he would know that it was the back of a distinguished man. How his presence filled a drawing. room! With what an easy sway he held captive ten acres of mass-meeting! And, in the Senate, how skilfully he showed himself respectfully conscious of the galleries, without appearing to address them! Take him for all in all, we must regard him as the first of American orators; but posterity will not assign him that rank, because posterity will not hear that matchless voice, will not see those large gestures, those striking attitudes, that grand manner, which gave to second-rate composition firstrate effect. He could not have been a great statesman, if he had been ever so greatly endowed. While slavery existed no statesmanship was possible, except that which was temporary and temporizing. The thorn, we repeat, was in the flesh; and the doctors were all pledged to try and cure the patient without extracting it. They could do nothing but dress the wound, put on this salve and that, give the sufferer a little respite from ouguish, and, after a brief interval, repeat the operation. Of a? these physicians Henry Clay was the most skilful and effective. He both handled the sore place with consummate dexterity, and kept up the constitution of the patient by stimulants, which enabled him, at last, to live through the appalling opera') in which removed the cause of his agony.
Henry Clay was a man of honcy, and a gentleman. He kept his word. He was true to his frieuds, his party, and his convictions. He paid his debts and his son's debts. The instinct of solvency was very strong in hins. He had a religion, of which the main component parts were self-respect and love of country. These were supremely authoritative with him; he would not do anything which he felt to be beneath Henry Clay, or which he thought would be injurious to the United States. Five times a candidate for the Presidency, no man can say that he ever pur. chased support by the promise of an office, or by any other engagement savoring of dishonor. Great talents and a great understanding are seldom bestowed on the salue individual. Mr. Clay's usefulness as a statesman wre linnited by his talent as an orator. He relied too much on Las csatory; he was never surb a