« AnteriorContinuar »
proportion as the old generation which had founded the Republic disappeared, as the development of the country entailed that of the public service, and the political contingents increased both through the extension of the suffrage and the violent rivalries of parties which brought every available force into the field, the scramble for the loaves and fishes became closer and keener. There arose a whole class of men of low degree who applied all their energies in this direction, who sought their means of subsistence in politics, and especially in its troubled waters,— men ready to sacrifice everything to this object, devoid of all scruple. The social and political state of affairs in New York, referred to above, was particularly favourable to the rise of this type of individual. The neighbouring State of Pennsylvania, also a prey to factions and extremely democratic in tone, had likewise at an early stage let in the small politicians. In the other States they were not so common, but everywhere they presented, by the beginning of the third decade of the century, a distinct element which lowered politics and gave an invidious signification to the very term of “politician,” the original, etymological meaning of which denoted simply persons engaged in public affairs. In its altered meaning “this term,” as Niles wrote in 1823, “is selected as conveying an idea of persons who have little if any regard for the welfare of the republic unless as immediately connected with or dependent on their own private pursuits, — who, as a great party leader said of himself, are *men of principle according to their interest,' who have respect for the ‘loaves and fishes,' who always bow to a ‘rising sun,' and stand prepared to dance round the 'golden calf.' They are the opposite of statesmen. . . There are little knots of these politicians everywhere, and at least two out of three of each gang are either office-holders or office-seekers, and each gives or takes the influence that he himself or his fellows may possess, to advance particular views or keep honest and honourable men in the background. Their proceedings are the antipodes of truth and justice. They are the “fag ends' of the human family. What other men call conscience, they regard as a matter to be bought and sold, as convenience or opportunity offers..
1 Weekly Register, Vol. XXIII, p. 370.
The arts of management developed in the political atmosphere of New York were now about to be applied by Van Buren on a more extensive scale and on a larger stage. He formed committees throughout the Union to sweep up adherents for Jackson and stir the electorate by speaking and writing, in public meetings and private gatherings, glorifying Jackson, replying to the attacks of his opponents, fiercely assailing Adams' administration by a series of concerted movements. The staff required for the performance of this task, and a picked one, was ready to hand, - the “politicians.” They flung themselves headlong into the campaign on behalf of Jackson, who appeared to them as the “rising sun.” The committees supplied them with the material, popular sentiment offered them a moral, base of operations. As soon as J. Q. Adams became President, in 1825, Jackson's friends shouted that the will of the people had been violated by the choice made by the House, for the chief magistracy, of J. Q. Adams in preference to the candidate most favoured by the popular vote, Andrew Jackson. The Constitution no doubt left the House complete freedom of choice, but it had used it in a manner contrary to the democratic principle, to the • demos krateo principle,” i as was said by Senator Benton, who had learnt his Greek in the Far West. Adams' election was therefore purely and simply an act of encroachment on the popular sovereignty; by means of the letter of the Constitution the people had been balked of its rights! These charges, which Jackson himself and his friends kept on repeating throughout the country, aroused a profound indignation, a regular exasperation against the enemies of the people in honest and simple souls. The affront offered to the national will cried for vengeance and could only be wiped out, declared Jackson's followers, by his election to the Presidency for the next term. But it was not only a conflict of abstract principles; Jackson's name was not merely the rallying-cry for the battle of the “democratic principle against the theory of the Constitution,” 2 but also for the battle of the "people” against the caste of men of intelligence, of culture, of wealth, of social refinement, of historic traditions. These men aroused popular jealousy not only by the monopoly of political power which they enjoyed and which caused the revolt against the Caucus, they irritated the susceptibilities of the masses still more by the social supremacy which they assumed and which made them in fact a sort of caste on the levelled soil of the Old World. General Jackson, on the other hand, without being a demagogue, had no equal in flattering the instincts and the passions of the people; he had his virtues and, in a still higher degree, his defects. The people recognized their own flesh and blood in him; the stern qualities of the “old hero” convinced them that he would be the man to make a clean sweep of the enemies of the people installed in power and to put an end to the "aristocratic corruption” which was rampant in the Government. For this was how the people pictured to itself and others pictured to it the administration presided over by that old stoic J. Q. Adams, the “chief fault of which was that it was too good for the wicked world in which it found itself.” 1
1 Thirty Years' View, Vol. I, pp. 47, 49. 2 Ibid., Vol. I., p. 47.
The politicians vigorously exploited the feelings which inclined the masses towards Jackson, conducting their campaign with an unprecedented virulence. He was triumphantly elected. He and his friends regarded their success as the victory of the democratic principle and the affirmation of the right of the people to govern themselves; "it vindicated the demos in their right and in their power,” as Benton said.? So the enthusiasm of the “demos" was immense. Jackson appeared as a new Joshua, who led the chosen people into the promised land wrested from the "enlightened classes," and the people following in Jackson's train flocked to take possession of it. “It seemed,” relates a witness, as if half the nation had rushed at once into the capital. It was like the inundation of the northern barbarians into Rome, save that the tumultuous tide came in from a different point of the compass. The West and the South seemed to have precipitated themselves upon the North and overwhelmed it. On that memorable occasion you might tell a ‘Jackson man' almost as far as you could see him. Their every motion seemed to cry out victory! Strange faces filled every public place, and every face seemed to bear defiance on its brow.” 1
1 Andrew Jackson, by W. G. Sumner, 1896, p. 118. 2 Thirty Years' View, Vol. I, pp. 47, 111.
“ Persons have come tive hundred miles (with no railways!) to see Jackson,” wrote Webster, “and they really seem to think that the country is rescued from some dreadful danger.” 2 The scenes which followed the ceremony of the taking of the oath by the new President were a sort of symbol of the legal revolution which had just been carried out and of certain effects which it was destined to produce. On his return from the Capitol, from the legislative building, to the White House, the residence of the President, Jackson was preceded, accompanied, and followed by an enormous crowd which hurried up from all sides. The crowd broke into the White House, filled all the rooms in a twinkling, pell-mell with the high dignitaries of the Republic and the members of the corps diplomatique; in the great reception hall men of the lower orders standing with their muddy boots on the damask-covered chairs were a sort of living image of the taking possession of power by the new master. When refreshments were handed round, the rumour of which had attracted the crowd, a tremendous scramble ensued, crockery, cups, and glasses were smashed to pieces, rough hands intercepted all the ices, so much so that nothing was left for the ladies, as a historian relates with consternation. This fury with which the people flung itself on the refreshments was destined very soon to become highly symbolic.
The vast popular army which marched triumphantly through the streets of Washington dispersed to their homes, but one of its divisions remained, the corps of marauders which followed it. This was composed of the politicians. They wanted their spoils. The victory was due to their efforts, and as the labourer is worthy of his hire, they deserved a reward. By
1 Letter of Arthur J. Stansbury, quoted by Parton, Andrew Jackson, Vol. III, p. 169.
2 Webster's Private Correspondence, Vol. I, p. 473, quoted by Parton, ibid.,
way of remuneration for their services they demanded places in the administration. They filled the air of Washington like locusts, they swarmed in the halls and lobbies of the public buildings, in the adjoining streets, they besieged the residences of Jackson and his ministers.' Jackson hastened to admit the justice of their claim. His official newspaper had already announced beforehand that he would "reward his friends and punish his enemies.” The punishment began at once. Many government servants were dismissed without a hearing and without a word of explanation, and for the sole reason that they were or were suspected of having been hostile to Jackson and that their places were wanted. They were turned adrift without pity; neither long service nor special competence was of any avail. Every official was henceforth at the mercy of informers. A reign of terror set in in the public departments. During the first year of his Presidency Jackson cashiered or got rid of more than two thousand persons, whereas all his predecessors together had dismissed, from the foundation of the Republic, only seventy-four public servants, of whom several for cause. The new men who were put in the place of the old ones were often quite incompetent; their sole merit was that they had “helped Jackson.” Several of these appointments were so scandalous that the
1 In the horde of office-seekers which descended on Washington there was one man who was shamefaced enough to say as he walked along the street with Amos Kendall, Jackson's confidential associate : “I am ashamed of myself, for I feel as if every man knew what I came for." “Don't distress yourself," replied Kendall," for every man you meet is on the same business" (Autobiography of Amos Kendall, 1872, p. 308).
2 “ The gloom of suspicion pervaded the face of society. No man deemed it safe and prudent to trust his neighbour, and the interior of the department presented a fearful scene of guarded silence, secret intrigue, espionage, and tale-bearing. A casual remark dropped in the street would, within an hour, be repeated at headquarters, and many a man received unceremonious dismission who could not, for his life, conceive or conjecture wherein he had offended” (Parton, Vol. III, p. 212).
Barely a week after Jackson's accession to office, Clay wrote from Washington: “ Among the official corps here there is the greatest solicitude and apprehension. The members of it feel something like the inhabitants of Cairo when the plague breaks out; no one knows who is next to encounter the stroke of death, or, which with many of them is the same thing, to be dismissed from office. You have no conception of the moral tyranny which prevails here over those in employment” (Carl Schurz, Life of Henry Cluy, Vol. I, p. 335).