Few men are more prominently placed before the vision of a mighty nation to-day than James G. Blaine. Born in obscurity, he possesses traits of character which are peculiar to himself; they differ widely from that of any statesman who ever spoke in the legislative halls at Washington.
Colleges, of themselves, make no man great. An ‘educated idiot’ will never make a statesman, notwithstanding the too prevalent notion that the possession of a diploma should entitle any one to a place in our social aristocracy. The great, active, relentless, human world gives a man a place of real influence, and crowns him as truly great for what he really is; and will not care a fig for any college certificate. If the young man is determined to succeed in the world then a college is a help. The trouble is not in the college, but in the man. He should regard the college as a means to attain a result, not the result of itself. The question the great busy world asks the claimant is: What can he do? If the claimant enter school determined to succeed, even if he sleeps but four to six hours out of the twenty-four, he will be benefited. However, study like that of Webster, by New Hampshire pine knots; and like Garfield’s, by a wood-pile; generally proves valuable. Blaine’s life is thus beautifully described by his biographer:—
“James Gillespie Blaine, the subject of this biography, was born January 31st, 1830. His father, Ephraim L. Blaine, and his mother, Maria Gillespie, still lived in their two-story house on the banks of the Monongahela. No portentious events, either in nature or public affairs, marked his advent. A few neighbors with generous interest and sympathy extended their aid and congratulations. The tops of the hills and the distant Alleghanies were white with snow, but the valley was bare and brown, and the swollen river swept the busy ferry-boat from shore to shore with marked emphasis, as old acquaintances repeated the news of the day, ‘Blaine has another son.'”
Another soul clothed in humanity; another cry; increased care in one little home. That was all. It seems so sad in this, the day of his fame and power, that the mother who, with such pain and misgiving, prayer and noble resolutions, saw his face for the first time should now be sleeping in the church-yard. In the path that now leads by her grave, she had often paused before entering the shadowy gates of the weather-beaten Catholic church, and calmed her anxious fears that she might devoutly worship God and secure the answer to her prayer for her child.
It seems strange now, in the light of other experiences, that no tradition or record of a mother’s prophecy concerning the future greatness of her son comes down to us from that birthday, or from his earliest years. But the old European customs and prejudices of her Irish and Scottish ancestry seem to have lingered with sufficient force to still give the place of social honor and to found the parent’s hopes on the first-born. To all concerned it was a birth of no special significance. Outside of the family it was a matter of no moment. Births were frequent. The Brownsville people heard of it, and passed on to forget, as a ripple in the Monongahela flashes on the careless sight for a moment, then the river rolls on as before. Ephraim Blaine was proud of another son; the little brother and the smaller sister hailed a new brother. The mother, with a deep joy which escaped not in words, looked onward and tried to read the future when the flood of years should have carried her new treasure from her arms. That flood has swept over her now, and all her highest hopes and ambition is filled, but she seems not to hear the church bells that ring nor the cannon that bellow at the sound of his name.
“All his early childhood years were spent about his home playing in the well-kept yard gazing at the numerous boats that so frequently went puffing by. For a short time the family moved to the old Gillespie House further up the river, and some of the inhabitants say that at one time, while some repairs were going on, they resided at the old homestead of Neal Gillespie, back from the river, on Indian Hill.”
At seventeen he graduated from school and, his father, losing what little property he did have, young Blaine was thrown upon his own resources. But it is often the best thing possible for a young man to be thus tossed over-board, and be compelled to sink or swim. It develops a self-reliant nature. He secured employment as a teacher, and into this calling he threw his whole soul. Thus he became a success as an educator at Blue Lick Springs. He next went to Philadelphia, and for two years was the principal teacher of the boys in the Philadelphia Institution for instruction of the blind. When he left that institution he left behind him a universal regret at a serious loss incurred, but an impression of his personal force upon the work of that institution which it is stated, on good authority, is felt to this day. Mr. Chapin, the principal, one day said, as he took from a desk in the corner of the school-room a thick quarto manuscript book, bound in dark leather and marked ‘Journal:’ “Now, I will show you something that illustrates how thoroughly Mr. Blaine mastered anything he took hold of. This book Mr. Blaine compiled with great labor from the minute-books of the Board of Managers. It is a historical view of the institution from the time of its foundation, up to the time of Mr. Blaine’s departure. He did all the work in his own room, telling no one of it till he left. Then he presented it, through me, to the Board of Managers who were both surprised and gratified. I believe they made him a present of $100 as a thank-offering for an invaluable work.” The book illustrates one great feature in the success of Mr. Blaine. It is clear, and indicates his mastery of facts in whatever he undertook, and his orderly presentation of facts in detail. The fact that no one knew of it until the proper time, when its effect would be greatest, shows that he naturally possesses a quality that is almost indispensable to the highest attainment of success.
He left Philadelphia for Augusta, Maine, where he became editor of the Kennebec Journal. While editor and member of his State legislature, he laid the foundation which prepared him to step at once to the front, when in 1862 he was sent to the National Congress, when the country was greatly agitated over the Five-twenty bonds, and how they should be redeemed. Mr. Blaine spoke as follows:
“But, now, Mr. Speaker, suppose for the sake of argument, we admit that the Government may fairly and legally pay the Five-twenty bonds in paper currency, what then? I ask the gentleman from Massachusetts to tell us, what then? It is easy, I know, to issue as many greenbacks as will pay the maturing bonds, regardless of the effect upon the inflation of prices, and the general derangement of business. Five hundred millions of Five-twenties are now payable, and according to the easy mode suggested, all we have to do is set the printing-presses in motion, and ‘so long as rags and lampblack hold out’ we need have no embarrassment about paying our National Debt. But the ugly question recurs, what are you going to do with the greenbacks thus put afloat? Five hundred millions this year, and eleven hundred millions more on this theory of payment by the year 1872; so that within the period of four or five years we would have added to our paper money the thrilling inflation of sixteen hundred millions of dollars. We should all have splendid times doubtless! Wheat, under the new dispensation, ought to bring twenty dollars a bushel, and boots would not be worth more than two hundred dollars a pair, and the farmers of our country would be as well off as Santa Anna’s rabble of Mexican soldiers, who were allowed ten dollars a day for their services and charged eleven for their rations and clothing. The sixteen hundred millions of greenbacks added to theamount already issued would give us some twenty-three hundred millions of paper money, and I suppose the theory of the new doctrine would leave this mass permanently in circulation, for it would hardly be consistent to advocate the redemption of the greenbacks in gold after having repudiated and foresworn our obligation on the bonds.
“But if it be intended to redeem the legal tenders in gold, what will have been the net gain to the Government in the whole transaction? If any gentleman will tell me, I shall be glad to learn how it will be easier to pay sixteen hundred millions in gold in the redemption of greenbacks, than to pay the same amount in the redemption of Five-twenty bonds? The policy advocated, it seems to me, has only two alternatives—the one to ruinously inflate the currency and leave it so, reckless of results; the other to ruinously inflate the currency at the outset, only to render redemption in gold far more burdensome in the end.
“I know it may be claimed, that the means necessary to redeem the Five-twenties in greenbacks may be realized by a new issue of currency bonds to be placed on the market. Of results in the future every gentleman has the right to his own opinion, and all may alike indulge in speculation. But it does seem to me that the Government would be placed in awkward attitude when it should enter the market to negotiate the loan, the avails of which were to be devoted to breaking faith with those who already held its most sacred obligations! What possible security would the new class of creditors have, that when their debts were matured some new form of evasion would be resorted to by which they in turn would be deprived of their just and honest dues?
“Falsus in uno, falsus in omnibus would supply the ready form of protest against trusting a Government with a new loan when it had just ignored its plain obligation on an old one.
“Payment of the Five-twenty bonds in paper currency involves therefore a limitless issue of greenbacks, with attendant evils of gigantic magnitude and far-reaching consequence. And the worse evil of the whole is the delusion which calls this a payment at all. It is no payment in any proper sense, for it neither gives the creditor what he is entitled to, nor does it release the debtor from subsequent responsibility. You may get rid of the Five-twenty by issuing the greenback, but how will you get rid of the greenback except by paying gold? The only escape from ultimate payment of gold is to declare that as a nation we permanently and finally renounce all idea of ever attaining a specie standard—that we launch ourselves on an ocean of paper money without shore or sounding, with no rudder to guide us and no compass to steer by. And this is precisely what is involved if we adopt this mischievous suggestion of ‘a new way to pay old debts.’ Our fate in attempting such a course may be easily read in the history of similar follies both in Europe and in our own country. Prostration of credit, financial disaster, widespread distress among all classes of the community, would form the closing scenes in our career of gratuitous folly and national dishonor. And from such an abyss of sorrow and humiliation, it would be a painful and toilsome effort to regain as sound a position in our finances as we are asked voluntarily to abandon to-day.
“The remedy for our financial troubles, Mr. Speaker, will not be found in a superabundance of depreciated paper currency. It lies in the opposite direction—and the sooner the nation finds itself on a specie basis, the sooner will the public treasury be freed from embarrassment, and private business relieved from discouragement. Instead, therefore, of entering upon a reckless and boundless issue of legal tenders, with their consequent depression if not destruction of value, let us set resolutely to work and make those already in circulation equal to so many gold dollars. When that result shall be accomplished, we can proceed to pay our Five-twenties either in coin or paper, for the one would be equivalent to the other. But to proceed deliberately on a scheme of depreciating our legal tenders and then forcing the holders of Government bonds to accept them in payment, would resemble in point of honor, the policy of a merchant who, with abundant resources and prosperous business, should devise a plan for throwing discredit on his own notes with the view of having them bought up at a discount, ruinous to the holders and immensely profitable to his own knavish pocket. This comparison may faintly illustrate the wrongfulness of the policy, but not its consummate folly—for in the case of the Government, unlike the merchant, the stern necessity would recur of making good in the end, by the payment of hard coin, all the discount that might be gained by the temporary substitution of paper.
“Discarding all such schemes as at once unworthy and unprofitable, let us direct our policy steadily, but not rashly, toward the resumption of specie payment. And when we have attained that end—easily attainable at no distant day if the proper policy be pursued—we can all unite on some honorable plan for the redemption of the Five-twenty bonds, and the issuing instead thereof, a new series of bonds which can be more favorably placed at a low rate of interest. When we shall have reached the specie basis, the value of United States securities will be so high in the money market of the world, that we can command our own terms. We can then call in our Five-twenties according to the very letter and spirit of the bond, and adjust a new loan that will be eagerly sought for by capitalists, and will be free from those elements of discontent that in some measure surround the existing Funded debt of the country.
“As to the particular measures of legislation requisite to hasten the resumption of specie payment, gentlemen equally entitled to respect may widely differ; but there is one line of policy conducive thereto on which we all ought to agree; and that is on a serious reduction of the government expenses and a consequent lightening of the burdens of taxation. The interest-bearing debt of the United States, when permanently funded, will not exceed twenty-one hundred millions of dollars, imposing an annual interest of about one hundred and twenty-five millions. Our other expenses, including War, Navy, the Pension list, and the Civil list, ought not to exceed one hundred millions; so that if we raise two hundred and fifty millions from Customs and Internal Revenue combined, we should have twenty-five millions annual surplus to apply to the reduction of the Public debt. But to attain this end we must mend our ways, and practice an economy far more consistent and severe than any we have attempted in the past. Our Military peace establishment must be reduced one-half at least, and our Naval appropriations correspondingly curtailed; and innumerable leaks and gaps and loose ends, that have so long attended our government expenditure, must be taken up and stopped. If such a policy be pursued by Congress, neither the principal of the debt, nor the interest of the debt, nor the annual expenses of government, will be burdensome to the people. We can raise two hundred and fifty millions of revenue on the gold basis, and at the same time have a vast reduction in our taxes. And we can do this without repudiation in any form, either open or covert, avowed or indirect, but with every obligation of the government fulfilled and discharged in its exact letter and in its generous spirit.
“And this, Mr. Speaker, we shall do. Our national honor demands it; our national interest equally demands it. We have vindicated our claim to the highest heroism on a hundred bloody battle-fields, and have stopped at no sacrifice of life needful to the maintenance of our national integrity. I am sure that in the peace which our arms have conquered, we shall not dishonor ourselves by withholding from any public creditor a dollar that we promised to pay him, nor seek, by cunning construction and clever afterthought, to evade or escape the full responsibility of our national indebtedness. It will doubtless cost us a vast sum to pay that indebtedness—but it would cost us incalculably more not to pay it.”
This speech, here referred to, occurring, as it did when the ablest speakers were interested, was pronounced as a marvel. The great rows of figures which he gave, but which space will not allow us to give, illustrates the man, and his thorough mastery of all great public questions. He never enters a debate unless fully prepared; if not already prepared, he prepares himself. His reserve power is wonderful. What a feature of success is reserve power.
In 1876 occurred one of the most remarkable contests ever known in Congress. The debate began upon the proposition to grant a general amnesty to all those who had engaged in the Southern war on the side of the Confederacy; of course this would include Mr. Davis. Hon. Benjamin H. Hill, of Georgia, one of the ablest Congressmen in the South, met Mr. Blaine on the question. As space will not permit us to go into detail at all as we would like to, we give simply an extract from one of Mr. Blaine’s replies:
“I am very frank to say that in regard to all these gentlemen, save one, I do not know of any reason why amnesty should not be granted to them as it has been to many others of the same class. I am not here to argue against it. The gentleman from Iowa (Mr. Kasson) suggests ‘on their application.’ I am coming to that. But as I have said, seeing in this list, as I have examined it with some care, no gentleman to whom I think there would be any objection, since amnesty has already become so general—and I am not going back of that question to argue it—I am in favor of granting it to them. But in the absence of this respectful form of application which, since May 22d, 1872, has become a sort of common law as preliminary to amnesty, I simply wish to put in that they shall go before a United States Court, and in open court, with uplifted hand, swear that they mean to conduct themselves as good citizens of the United States. That is all.
“Now, gentlemen may say that this is a foolish exaction. Possibly it is. But somehow or other I have a prejudice in favor of it. And there are some petty points in it that appeal as well to prejudice as to conviction. For one, I do not want to impose citizenship on any gentlemen. If I am correctly informed, and I state it only on rumor, there are some gentlemen in this list who have spoken contemptuously of the idea of their taking citizenship, and have spoken still more contemptuously of the idea of their applying for citizenship. I may state it wrongly, and if I do, I am willing to be corrected, but I understand that Mr. Robert Toombs has, on several occasions, at watering-places, both in this country and in Europe, stated that he would not ask the United States for citizenship.
“Very well; we can stand it about as well as Mr. Robert Toombs can. And if Mr. Robert Toombs is not prepared to go into a court of the United States and swear that he means to be a good citizen, let him stay out. I do not think that the two Houses of Congress should convert themselves into a joint convention for the purpose of embracing Mr. Robert Toombs, and gushingly request him to favor us by coming back to accept of all the honors of citizenship. That is the whole. All I ask is that each of these gentlemen shall show his good faith by coming forward and taking the oath which you on that side of the House, and we on this side of the House, and all of us take, and gladly take. It is a very small exaction to make as a preliminary to full restoration to all the rights of citizenship.
“In my amendment, Mr. Speaker, I have excepted Jefferson Davis from its operation. Now, I do not place it on the ground that Mr. Davis was, as he has been commonly called, the head and front of the rebellion, because, on that ground, I do not think the exception would be tenable. Mr. Davis was just as guilty, no more so, no less so, than thousands of others who have already received the benefit and grace of amnesty. Probably he was far less efficient as an enemy of the United States: probably he was far more useful as a disturber of the councils of the Confederacy than many who have already received amnesty. It is not because of any particular and special damage that he, above others, did to the Union, or because he was personally or especially of consequence, that I except him. But I except him on this ground; that he was the author, knowingly, deliberately, guiltily, and willfully, of the gigantic murders and crimes at Andersonville. * * * *
“Mr. Speaker, this is not a proposition to punish Jefferson Davis. There is nobody attempting that. I will very frankly say that I myself thought the indictment of Mr. Davis at Richmond, under the administration of Mr. Johnson, was a weak attempt, for he was indicted only for that of which he was guilty in common with all others who went into the Confederate movement. Therefore, there was no particular reason for it. But I will undertake to say this, and as it may be considered an extreme speech, I want to say it with great deliberation, that there is not a government, a civilized government, on the face of the globe—I am very sure there is not a European government—that would not have arrested Mr. Davis, and when they had him in their power would not have tried him for maltreatment of the prisoners of war and shot him within thirty days. France, Russia, England, Germany, Austria, any one of them would have done it. The poor victim Wirz deserved his death for brutal treatment, and murder of many victims, but I always thought it was a weak movement on the part of our government to allow Jefferson Davis to go at large, and hang Wirz. I confess I do. Wirz was nothing in the world but a mere subordinate, a tool, and there was no special reason for singling him out for death. I do not say he did not deserve it—he did, richly, amply, fully. He deserved no mercy, but at the same time, as I have often said, it seemed like skipping over the president, superintendent, and board of directors in the case of a great railroad accident, and hanging the brakeman of the rear car.
“There is no proposition here to punish Jefferson Davis. Nobody is seeking to do it. That time has gone by. The statute of limitation, common feelings of humanity, will supervene for his benefit. But what you ask us to do is to declare by a vote of two-thirds of both branches of Congress, that we consider Mr. Davis worthy to fill the highest offices in the United States if he can get a constituency to indorse him. He is a voter; he can buy and he can sell; he can go and he can come. He is as free as any man in the United States. There is a large list of subordinate offices to which he is eligible. This bill proposes, in view of that record, that Mr. Davis, by a two-thirds vote of the Senate and a two-thirds vote of the House, be declared eligible and worthy to fill any office up to the Presidency of the United States. For one, upon full deliberation, I will not do it.”
These two speeches illustrates the scope of Blaine in debate. These speeches also clearly show why he is so dearly beloved, or so bitterly hated. But that Mr. Blaine is an orator of the first order cannot be gainsaid. The preceding speeches represent the highest attainment of one ideal of an orator, and in a role in which Mr. Blaine is almost without parallel. In his Memorial address on Garfield, delivered in the hall of the House of Representatives, he presents the lofty style which is the beau ideal of oratory. He spoke something as follows:
“Mr. President: For the second time in this generation the great departments of the government of the United States are assembled in the Hall of Representatives to do honor to the memory of a murdered president. Lincoln fell at the close of a mighty struggle in which the passions of men had been deeply stirred. The tragical termination of his great life added but another to the lengthened succession of horrors which had marked so many lintels with the blood of the first-born. Garfield was slain in a day of peace, when brother had been reconciled to brother, and when anger and hate had been banished from the land. ‘Whoever shall hereafter draw the portrait of murder, if he will show it as it has been exhibited where such example was last to have been looked for, let him not give it the grim visage of Moloch, the brow knitted by revenge, the face black with settled hate. Let him draw, rather, a decorous, smooth-faced, bloodless demon; not so much an example of human nature in its depravity and in its paroxisms of crime, as an infernal being, a fiend in the ordinary display and development of his character.” * * * *
“His father dying before he was two years old, Garfield’s early life was one of privation, but its poverty has been made indelicately and unjustly prominent. Thousands of readers have imagined him as the ragged, starving child, whose reality too often greets the eye in the squalid sections of our large cities. General Garfield’s infancy and youth had none of this destitution, none of these pitiful features appealing to the tender heart, and to the open hand of charity. He was a poor boy in the same sense in which Henry Clay was a poor boy; in which Andrew Jackson was a poor boy; in which Daniel Webster was a poor boy; in the sense in which a large majority of the eminent men of America in all generations have been poor boys. Before a great multitude, in a public speech, Mr. Webster bore this testimony:
“‘It did not happen to me to be born in a log cabin, but my elder brothers and sisters were born in a log cabin raised amid the snow-drifts of New Hampshire, at a period so early that when the smoke rose first from its rude chimney and curled over the frozen hills there was no similar evidence of a white man’s habitation between it and the settlements on the rivers of Canada. Its remains still exist. I make to it an annual visit. I carry my children to it to teach them the hardships endured by the generations which have gone before them. I love to dwell on the tender recollections, the kindred ties, the early affections, and the touching narratives and incidents which mingle with all I know of this primitive family abode.’
“With the requisite change of scene the same words would aptly portray the early days of Garfield. The poverty of the frontier, where all are engaged in a common struggle, and where a common sympathy and hearty co-operation lighten the burdens of each, is a very different poverty, different in kind, different in influence and effect, from that conscious and humiliating indigence which is every day forced to contrast itself with neighboring wealth on which it feels a sense of grinding dependence. The poverty of the frontier is indeed no poverty. It is but the beginning of wealth, and has the boundless possibilities of the future always opening before it. No man ever grew up in the agricultural regions of the West, where a house-raising, or even a corn-husking, is matter of common interest and helpfulness, with any other feeling than that of broad-minded, generous independence. This honorable independence marked the youth of Garfield, as it marks the youth of millions of the best blood and brain now training for the future citizenship and future government of the Republic. Garfield was born heir to land, to the title of free-holder, which has been the patent and passport of self-respect with the Anglo-Saxon race ever since Hengist and Horsa landed on the shores of England. His adventure on the canal—an alternative between that and the deck of a Lake Erie schooner—was a farmer boy’s device for earning money, just as the New England lad begins a possibly great career by sailing before the mast on a coasting vessel, or on a merchantman bound to the farther India or to the China seas.
“No manly man feels anything of shame in looking back to early struggles with adverse circumstances, and no man feels a worthier pride than when he has conquered the obstacles to his progress. But no one of noble mould desires to be looked upon as having occupied a menial position, as having been repressed by a feeling of inferiority, or as having suffered the evils of poverty until relief was found at the hand of charity. General Garfield’s youth presented no hardships which family love and family energy did not overcome, subjected him to no privations which he did not cheerfully accept, and left no memories save those which were recalled with delight, and transmitted with profit and with pride.
“Garfield’s early opportunities for securing an education were extremely limited, and yet were sufficient to develop in him an intense desire to learn. He could read at three years of age, and each winter he had the advantage of the district school. He read all the books to be found within the circle of his acquaintance; some of them he got by heart. While yet in childhood he was a constant student of the Bible, and became familiar with its literature. The dignity and earnestness of his speech in his maturer life gave evidence of this early training. At eighteen years of age he was able to teach school, and thenceforward his ambition was to obtain a college education. To this end he bent all efforts, working in the harvest field, at the carpenter’s bench, and in the winter season, teaching the common schools of the neighborhood. While thus laboriously occupied he found time to prosecute his studies, and was so successful that at twenty-two years of age he was able to enter the junior class at Williams College, then under the presidency of the venerable and honored Mark Hopkins, who, in the fullness of his powers, survives the eminent pupil to whom he was of inestimable service.
“The history of Garfield’s life to this period presents no novel features. He had undoubtedly shown perseverance, self-reliance, self-sacrifice, and ambition—qualities which, be it said for the honor of our country, are everywhere to be found among the young men of America. But from his graduation at Williams, onward to the hour of his tragical death, Garfield’s career was eminent and exceptional. Slowly working through his educational period, receiving his diploma when twenty-four years of age, he seemed at one bound to spring into conspicuous and brilliant success. Within six years he was successively President of a College, State Senator of Ohio, Major-General of the Army of the United States and Representative-elect to the National Congress. A combination of honors so varied, so elevated, within a period so brief and to a man so young, is without precedent or parallel in the history of the country.
“Garfield’s army life was begun with no other military knowledge than such as he had hastily gained from books in the few months preceding his march to the field. Stepping from civil life to the head of a regiment, the first order he received when ready to cross the Ohio was to assume command of a brigade, and to operate as an independent force in eastern Kentucky. His immediate duty was to check the advance of Humphrey Marshall, who was marching down the Big Sandy with the intention of occupying, in connection with other Confederate forces, the entire territory of Kentucky, and of precipitating the State into secession. This was at the close of the year 1861. Seldom, if ever, has a young college professor been thrown into a more embarrassing and discouraging position. He knew just enough of military science, as he expressed it himself, to measure the extent of his ignorance, and with a handful of men he was marching, in rough winter weather, into a strange country, among a hostile population, to confront a largely superior force under the command of a distinguished graduate of West Point, who had seen active and important service in two preceding wars.
“The result of the campaign is matter of history. The skill, the endurance, the extraordinary energy shown by Garfield, the courage he imparted to his men, raw and untried as himself, the measures he adopted to increase his force, and to create in the enemy’s mind exaggerated estimates of his numbers, bore perfect fruit in the routing of Marshall, the capture of his camp, the dispersion of his force, and the emancipation of an important territory from the control of the rebellion. Coming at the close of a long series of disasters to the Union arms, Garfield’s victory had an unusual and extraneous importance, and in the popular judgment elevated the young commander to the rank of a military hero. With less than two thousand men in his entire command, with a mobilized force of only eleven hundred, without cannon, he had met an army of five thousand and defeated them, driving Marshall’s forces successively from two strongholds of their own selection, fortified with abundant artillery. Major-General Buell, commanding the Department of the Ohio, an experienced and able soldier of the Regular Army, published an order of thanks and congratulation on the brilliant result of the Big Sandy Campaign, which would have turned the head of a less cool and sensible man than Garfield. Buell declared that his services had called into action the highest qualities of a soldier, and President Lincoln supplemented these words of praise by the more substantial reward of a Brigadier-General’s Commission, to bear date from the day of his decisive victory over Marshall.
“The subsequent military career of Garfield fully sustained its brilliant beginning. With his new commission he was assigned to the command of a brigade in the Army of the Ohio, and took part in the second and decisive day’s fight on the bloody field of Shiloh. The remainder of the year 1862 was not especially eventful to Garfield, as it was not to the armies with which he was serving. His practical sense was called into exercise in completing the task, assigned him by General Buell, of reconstructing bridges and re-establishing lines of railway communication for the army. His occupation in this useful but not brilliant field was varied by service on courts-martial of importance, in which department of duty he won a valuable reputation, attracting the notice and securing the approval of the able and eminent Judge Advocate General of the army. This of itself was warrant to honorable fame; for among the great men who in those trying days gave themselves, with entire devotion, to the service of their country, one who brought to that service the ripest learning, the most fervid eloquence, the most varied attainments, who labored with modesty and shunned applause, who, in the day of triumph, sat reserved and silent and grateful—as Francis Deak in the hour of Hungary’s deliverance—was Joseph Holt, of Kentucky, who, in his honorable retirement, enjoys the respect and veneration of all who love the Union of the States.
“Early in 1863 Garfield was assigned to the highly important and responsible post of Chief of Staff to General Rosecrans, then at the head of the Army of the Cumberland. Perhaps in a great military campaign no subordinate officer requires sounder judgment and quicker knowledge of men than the Chief of Staff to the Commanding General. An indiscrete man in such a position can sow more discord, breed more jealousy, and disseminate more strife than any other officer in the entire organization. When General Garfield assumed his new duties he found various troubles already well developed and seriously affecting the value and efficiency of the Army of the Cumberland. The energy, the impartiality, and the tact with which he sought to allay these dissensions, and to discharge the duties, of his new and trying position, will always remain one of the most striking proofs of his great versatility. His military duties closed on the memorable field of Chickamauga, a field which, however disastrous to the Union arms, gave to him the occasion of winning imperishable laurels. The very rare distinction was accorded him of a great promotion for bravery on a field that was lost. President Lincoln appointed him a Major-General in the Army of the United States, for gallant and meritorious conduct in the battle of Chickamauga.
“The Army of the Cumberland was reorganized under the command of General Thomas, who promptly offered Garfield one of its divisions. He was extremely desirous to accept the position, but was embarrassed by the fact that he had, a year before, been elected to Congress, and the time when he must take his seat was drawing near. He preferred to remain in the military service, and had within his own breast the largest confidence of success in the wider field which his new rank opened to him. Balancing the arguments on the one side and the other, anxious to determine what was for the best, desirous above all things to do his patriotic duty, he was decisively influenced by the advice of President Lincoln and Secretary Stanton, both of whom assured him that he could, at that time, be of especial value in the House of Representatives. He resigned his commission of major-general on the 5th day of December, 1863, and took his seat in the House of Representatives on the 7th. He had served two years and four months in the army, and had just completed his thirty-second year.
“The Thirty-eighth Congress is pre-eminently entitled in history to the designation of the War Congress. It was elected while the war was flagrant, and every member was chosen upon the issues involved in the continuance of the struggle. The Thirty-seventh Congress had, indeed, legislated to a large extent on war measures, but it was chosen before any one believed that secession of the States would be actually attempted. The magnitude of the work which fell upon its successor was unprecedented, both in respect to the vast sums of money raised for the support of the army and navy, and of the new and extraordinary powers of legislation which it was forced to exercise. Only twenty-four States were represented, and one hundred and eighty-two members were upon its roll. Among these were many distinguished party leaders on both sides, veterans in the public service, with established reputations for ability, and with that skill which comes only from parliamentary experience. Into this assemblage of men Garfield entered without special preparation, and, it might almost be said, unexpectedly. The question of taking command of a division of troops under General Thomas, or taking his seat in Congress, was kept open till the last moment, so late, indeed, that the resignation of his military commission and his appearance in the House were almost contemporaneous. He wore the uniform of a major-general of the United States Army on Saturday, and on Monday, in civilian’s dress, he answered to roll-call as a Representative in Congress from the State of Ohio.
“He was especially fortunate in the constituency which elected him. Descended almost entirely from New England stock, the men of the Ashtabula district were intensely radical on all questions relating to human rights. Well educated, thrifty, thoroughly intelligent in affairs, acutely discerning of character, not quick to bestow confidence, and slow to withdraw it, they were at once the most helpful and most exacting of supporters. Their tenacious trust in men in whom they have once confided is illustrated by the unparalleled fact that Elisha Whittlesey, Joshua R. Giddings, and James A. Garfield represented the district for fifty-four years.
“There is no test of a man’s ability in any department of public life more severe than service in the House of Representatives; there is no place where so little deference is paid to reputation previously acquired, or to eminence won outside; no place where so little consideration is shown for the feelings or the failures of beginners. What a man gains in the House he gains by sheer force of his own character, and if he loses and falls back he must expect no mercy, and will receive no sympathy. It is a field in which the survival of the strongest is the recognized rule, and where no pretense can deceive and no glamour can mislead. The real man is discovered, his worth is impartially weighed, his rank is irreversibly decreed.
“With possibly a single exception, Garfield was the youngest member in the House when he entered, and was but seven years from his college graduation. But he had not been in his seat sixty days before his ability was recognized and his place conceded. He stepped to the front with the confidence of one who belonged there. The House was crowded with strong men of both parties; nineteen of them have since been transferred to the Senate, and many of them have served with distinction in the gubernatorial chairs of their respective States, and on foreign missions of great consequence; but among them all none grew so rapidly, none so firmly, as Garfield. As is said by Trevelyan, of his parliamentary hero, Garfield succeeded ‘because all the world in concert could not have kept him in the back-ground, and because when once in the front he played his part with a prompt intrepidity and a commanding ease that were but the outward symptoms of the immense reserves of energy on which it was in his power to draw.’ Indeed, the apparently reserved force which Garfield possessed was one of his great characteristics. He never did so well but that it seemed he could easily have done better. He never expended so much strength but that he appeared to be holding additional power at call. This is one of the happiest and rarest distinctions of an effective debater, and often counts for as much, in persuading an assembly, as the eloquent and elaborate argument.
“The great measure of Garfield’s fame was filled by his service in the House of Representatives. His military life, illustrated by honorable performance, and rich in promise, was, as he himself felt, prematurely terminated, and necessarily incomplete. Speculation as to what he might have done in a field where the great prizes are so few, cannot be profitable. It is sufficient to say that as a soldier he did his duty bravely; he did it intelligently; he won an enviable fame, and he retired from the service without blot or breath against him. As a lawyer, though admirably equipped for the profession, he can scarcely be said to have entered on its practice. The few efforts he made at the bar were distinguished by the same high order of talent which he exhibited on every field where he was put to the test; and, if a man may be accepted as a competent judge of his own capacities and adaptations, the law was the profession to which Garfield should have devoted himself. But fate ordained otherwise, and his reputation in history will rest largely upon his service in the House of Representatives. That service was exceptionally long. He was nine times consecutively chosen to the House, an honor enjoyed probably by not twenty other Representatives of the more than five thousand who have been elected, from the organization of the government, to this hour.
“As a parliamentary orator, as a debater on an issue squarely joined, where the position had been chosen and the ground laid out, Garfield must be assigned a very high rank. More, perhaps, than any man with whom he was associated in public life, he gave careful and systematic study to public questions, and he came to every discussion in which he took part with elaborate and complete preparation. He was a steady and indefatigable worker. Those who imagine that talent or genius can supply the place or achieve the results of labor will find no encouragement in Garfield’s life. In preliminary work he was apt, rapid and skillful. He possessed in a high degree the power of readily absorbing ideas and facts, and, like Dr. Johnson, had the art of getting from a book all that was of value in it by a reading apparently so quick and cursory that it seemed like a mere glance at the table of contents. He was a pre-eminently fair and candid man in debate, took no petty advantage, stooped to no unworthy methods, avoided personal allusions, rarely appealed to prejudice, did not seek to inflame passion. He had a quicker eye for the strong point of his adversary than for his weak point, and on his own side he so marshalled his weighty arguments as to make his hearers forget any possible lack in the complete strength of his position. He had a habit of stating his opponent’s side with such amplitude of fairness and such liberality of concession that his followers often complained that he was giving his case away. But never in his prolonged participation in the proceedings of the House did he give his case away, or fail in the judgment of competent and impartial listeners to gain the mastery.
“These characteristics, which marked Garfield as a great debater, did not, however, make him a great parliamentary leader. A parliamentary leader, as that term is understood wherever free representative government exists, is necessarily and very strictly the organ of his party. An ardent American defined the instinctive warmth of patriotism when he offered the toast, ‘Our country, always right; but right or wrong, our country.’ The parliamentary leader who has a body of followers that will do and dare and die for the cause, is one who believes his party always right, but right or wrong, is for his party. No more important or exacting duty devolves upon him than the selection of the field and the time for contest. He must know not merely how to strike, but where to strike and when to strike. He often skillfully avoids the strength of his opponent’s position, and scatters confusion in his ranks by attacking an exposed point when really the righteousness of the cause and the strength of logical intrenchment are against him. He conquers often both against the right and the heavy battalions; as when young Charles Fox, in the days of his Toryism, carried the House of Commons against justice, against its immemorial rights, against his own convictions, if, indeed, at that period Fox had convictions, and, in the interest of a corrupt administration, in obedience to a tyrannical sovereign, drove Wilkes from the seat to which the electors of Middlesex had chosen him, and installed Luttrell, in defiance not merely of law but of public decency. For an achievement of that kind Garfield was disqualified—disqualified by the texture of his mind, by the honesty of his heart, by his conscience, and by every instinct and aspiration of his nature.
“The three most distinguished parliamentary leaders hitherto developed in this country are Mr. Clay, Mr. Douglas, and Mr. Thaddeus Stevens. They were all men of consummate ability, of great earnestness, of intense personality, differing widely each from the others, and yet with a signal trait in common—the power to command. In the give-and-take of daily discussion, in the art of controlling and consolidating reluctant and refractory followers, in the skill to overcome all forms of opposition, and to meet with competency and courage the varying phases of unlooked-for assault or unsuspected defection, it would be difficult to rank with these a fourth name in all our Congressional history. But of these Mr. Clay was the greatest. It would, perhaps, be impossible to find in the parliamental annals of the world a parallel to Mr. Clay, in 1841, when at sixty-four years of age he took the control of the Whig party from the President who had received their suffrages, against the power of Webster in the Cabinet, against the eloquence of Choate in the Senate, against the herculean efforts of Caleb Cushing and Henry A. Wise in the House. In unshared leadership, in the pride and plentitude of power, he hurled against John Tyler, with deepest scorn the mass of that conquering column which had swept over the land in 1840, and drove his administration to seek shelter behind the lines of its political foes. Mr. Douglas achieved a victory scarcely less wonderful, when in 1854, against the secret desires of a strong administration, against the wise counsel of the older chiefs, against the conservative instincts, and even the moral sense of the country, he forced a reluctant Congress into a repeal of the Missouri Compromise. Mr. Stevens, in his contests from 1865 to 1868, actually advanced his parliamentary leadership until Congress tied the hands of the President and governed the country by its own will, leaving only perfunctory duties to be discharged by the Executive. With two hundred millions of patronage in his hands at the opening of the contest, aided by the active force of Seward in the Cabinet, and the moral power of Chase on the bench, Andrew Johnson could not command the support of one-third in either House against the parliamentary uprising of which Thaddeus Stevens was the animating spirit and the unquestioned leader.
“From these three great men Garfield differed radically, differed in the quality of his mind, in temperament, in the form and phase of ambition. He could not do what they did, but he could do what they could not, and in the breadth of his Congressional work he left that which will longer exert a potential influence among men, and which, measured by the severe test of posthumous criticism, will secure a more enduring and more enviable fame.
“Those unfamiliar with Garfield’s industry, and ignorant of the details of his work may, in some degree, measure them by the annals of Congress. No one of the generation of public men to which he belonged has contributed so much that will prove valuable for future reference. His speeches are numerous, many of them brilliant, all of them well studied, carefully phrazed, and exhaustive of the subject under consideration. Collected from the scattered pages of ninety royal octavo volumes of Congressional record, they would present an invaluable compendium of the political events of the most important era through which the National government has ever passed. When the history of this period shall be impartially written, when war legislation, measures of reconstruction, protection of human rights, amendments to the Constitution, maintenance of public credit, steps toward specie resumption, true theories of revenue, may be reviewed, unsurrounded by prejudice and disconnected from partisanism, the speeches of Garfield will be estimated at their true value, and will be found to comprise a vast magazine of fact and argument, of clear analysis and sound conclusion. Indeed, if no other authority were accessible, his speeches in the House of Representatives from December, 1863, to June, 1880, would give a well-connected history and complete defense of the important legislation of the seventeen eventful years that constitute his parliamentary life. Far beyond that, his speeches would be found to forecast many great measures yet to be completed—measures which he knew were beyond the public opinion of the hour, but which he confidently believed would secure popular approval within the period of his own lifetime, and by the aid of his own efforts.
“Differing as Garfield does, from the brilliant parliamentary leaders, it is not easy to find his counterpart anywhere in the record of American public life. He, perhaps, more nearly resembles Mr. Seward in his supreme faith in the all-conquering power of a principle. He had the love of learning, and the patient industry of investigation, to which John Quincy Adams owes his prominence and his presidency. He had some of those ponderous elements of mind which distinguished Mr. Webster, and which, indeed, in all our public life have left the great Massachusetts Senator without an intellectual peer.
“In English parliamentary history, as in our own, the leaders in the House of Commons present points of essential difference from Garfield. But some of his methods recall the best features in the strong, independent course of Sir Robert Peel, to whom he had striking resemblances in the type of his mind and in the habit of his speech. He had all of Burke’s love for the sublime and the beautiful with, possibly, something of his superabundance. In his faith and his magnanimity, in his power of statement, in his subtle analysis, in his faultless logic, in his love of literature, in his wealth and world of illustration, one is reminded of that great English statesman of to-day, who, confronted with obstacles that would daunt any but the dauntless, reviled by those whom he would relieve as bitterly as by those whose supposed rights he is forced to invade, still labors with serene courage for the amelioration of Ireland and for the honor of the English name.
“Garfield’s nomination to the presidency, while not predicted or anticipated, was not a surprise to the country. His prominence in Congress, his solid qualities, his wide reputation, strengthened by his then recent election as Senator from Ohio, kept him in the public eye as a man occupying the very highest rank among those entitled to be called statesmen. It was not mere chance that brought him this high honor. ‘We must,’ says Mr. Emerson, ‘reckon success a constitutional trait. If Eric is in robust health and has slept well and is at the top of his condition, and thirty years old at his departure from Greenland, he will steer west and his ships will reach Newfoundland. But take Eric out and put in a stronger and bolder man, and the ships will sail six hundred, one thousand, fifteen hundred miles farther and reach Labrador and New England. There is no chance in results.’
“As a candidate, Garfield steadily grew in popular favor. He was met with a storm of detraction at the very hour of his nomination, and it continued with increasing volume and momentum until the close of his victorious campaign:
No might nor greatness in mortality
Can censure ‘scape; backwounding calumny
The whitest virtue strikes. What king so strong
Can tie the gall up in the slanderous tongue?
“Surely, if happiness can ever come from the honors or triumphs of this world, on that quiet July morning, James A. Garfield may well have been a happy man. No foreboding of evil haunted him; no slightest premonition of danger clouded his sky. His terrible fate was upon him in an instant. One moment he stood erect, strong, confident in the years stretching peacefully out before him. The next he lay wounded, bleeding, helpless, doomed to weary weeks of torture, to silence, and the grave.
“Great in life, he was surpassingly great in death. For no cause, in the very frenzy of wantonness and wickedness, by the red hand of murder, he was thrust from the full tide of this world’s interests, from its hopes, its aspirations, its victories, into the visible presence of death—and he did not quail. Not alone for the one short moment in which, stunned and dazed, he could give up life, hardly aware of its relinquishment, but through days of deadly languor, through weeks of agony, that was not less agony because silently borne, with clear sight and calm courage, he looked into his open grave. What blight and ruin met his anguished eyes, whose lips may tell—what brilliant, broken plans, what baffled, high ambitions, what sundering of strong, warm, manhood’s friendships, what bitter rending of sweet household ties! Behind him a proud expectant nation, a great host of sustaining friends, a cherished and happy mother, wearing the full, rich honors of her early toil and tears; the wife of his youth, whose whole life lay in his; the little boys not yet emerged from childhood’s day of frolic; the fair young daughter; the sturdy sons just springing into closest companionship, claiming every day, and every day rewarding a father’s love and care; and in his heart the eager, rejoicing power to meet all demand. Before him, desolation and great darkness! And his soul was not shaken. His countrymen were thrilled with instant, profound and universal sympathy. Masterful in his mortal weakness, he became the center of a nation’s love, enshrined in the prayers of a world. But all the love and all the sympathy could not share with him his suffering. He trod the wine-press alone. With unfaltering front he faced death. With unfailing tenderness he took leave of life. Above the demoniac hiss of the assassin’s bullet he heard the voice of God. With simple resignation he bowed to the Divine decree.
“As the end drew near, his early cravings for the sea returned. The stately mansion of power had been to him the wearisome hospital of pain, and he begged to be taken from its prison walls, from its oppressive, stifling air, from its homelessness and its hopelessness. Gently, silently, the love of a great people bore the pale sufferer to the longed-for healing of the sea, to live or to die, as God should will, within sight of its heaving billows, within sound of its manifold voices. With wan, fevered face, tenderly lifted to the cooling breeze, he looked out wistfully upon the ocean’s changing wonders; on its fair sails, whitening in the morning light; on its restless waves, rolling shoreward, to break and die beneath the noonday sun; on the red clouds of evening, arching low to the horizon; on the serene and shining pathway of the stars. Let us think that his dying eyes read a mystic meaning which only the rapt and parting soul may know. Let us believe that in the silence of the receding world be heard the great waves breaking on a farther shore, and felt already upon his wasted brow the breath of the eternal morning.”
We regret that we cannot give our readers the full speech here also, but it is sufficient to say that it was a masterly production. We give these three extracts from speeches to show, and enable the thinker to read and study the characteristics which make Mr. Blaine the great and renowned man that he really is to-day; an honor he has earned for himself.
We do not desire to be regarded as a personal admirer of Mr. Blaine. We are not, but his ability we are in duty bound to delineate truthfully. Our readers will observe the description Mr. Blaine gives in his address on Garfield, of the qualifications necessary in a parliamentary leader. We will say nothing as to our opinion of some enterprises in which Mr. Blaine has engaged; and we will not ask him to explain, what he has never satisfactorily explained, in relation to some transactions, nor will we try to explain, in our short space, his skillfullness in parliamentary practice. As before said, our readers have read his description of a parliamentary leader, and we will further simply say that Mr. Blaine is one of the most skillful parliamentary leaders in the country. He is generally recognized as such by all parties. His canvass for the presidency is well-known to the people. Had he been elected he would, undoubtedly, have made a very satisfactory president, probably one of whom we would long have been proud.