The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 83
Blaine on Congress
Blaine on Congress.
Everything comes to the man who waits. The Old Prisoner bored through the stone wall with "this little pen-knife" for "twelve long weary years," and "in twelve more years I shall be free! Ha, ha! Free!"
James Gillespie Blaine has been intriguing twelve long weary years for the American Presidency, and in twelve more years—! But James is not young. He tried for the Presidency when Hayes so unexpectedly came out, and again when Garfield turned up in the same manner, and for the third shot against the successful Cleveland. As a bid this time, Mr. Blaine wrote the history of the United State Congress during his experience of over twenty years past. We take this work in conjunction with General Beauregard's Memoirs regarding the Civil War.
That War can now be seen looming up through the whole history of the United States. Benton's "Thirty years in Congress" will take us over the period in which Webster, Clay, and Calhoun struggled. Blaine emerged in politics when the War was almost on the tapis.
Taking contemporary records of that time, we find that nothing happens but the unforeseen. General, then Colonel Sherman, though a Democrat, and opposed to the war, was the only man who foresaw the dimensions it would assume. When he declared before a commission of inquiry that a levy of 250,000 men was required, Secretary Cameron said he must be crazy, and "Crazy Sherman" was the newspaper headline after that throughout the States—"Poor Sherman," "A Good Man Gone Wrong," and so on page 17 Blaine, of course, does full justice to Lincoln as head of his party, the Republican. Another very able man dealt with is the Secretary of War, Stanton. He is almost stronger than Lincoln as a figure in the war record.
"Pooh, pooh, it is too ridiculous to imagine that in this enlightened country and generation there can be a civil war." Such was the burden of the public talk before Sumter. Bull Run was the first great awakener. Then organisation began. Blaine records the struggles of the majority, in Congress, to keep down that party which said, "Let the erring sister go.'" He himself has borne a high character as an orator, his style being full of impulse and vigour. Blaine and Conkling are about the two best political speakers in the Union.
The failure of Generals M'Dowell, Pope, Hooker, and Burnside, and the negative merits of M'Clellan, imposed a terrible strain on the defenders of the War in the Senate and House of Representatives. But then slavery had to be rooted out. What is the use of pretending to fancy that at any time the cause of Liberty and Equality was ever for a moment really in danger? No, no, it marched on, independent of support or opposition. The result had "got to come." Lincoln fenced with slavery, but the force of events rushed away all the floodgates.
Mr. Blaine, of course, is a man who believes in management. "One, sir, who might circumvent God." Providence is very well, but there is a Thurlow Weed, or a Silas Ratcliffe, or an Elijah Pogram who really "sways the harmonious mystery of the world." The Great Republican Party was the Providence in America. Therefore, Blaine ought to have been elected President.
But, alas, the Republican party waxed fat and kicked, like Jeshurun. It was near kicking over the straps in that desperate and impudent attempt to secure Grant's third term, which would have initiated a period of disaster for the country. The New York Herald raised the cry of "Cæsarism," and it was well grounded. Grant was the centre of a shady and suspicious ring. The Belknap, Babcock, Schenck, and Orville Grant frauds stank too much, and only as samples in the public nostrils.
Then Grant was sent on his trip round the world, to be rehabilitated. The idea was to run him again for the Presidency after Hayes, but the spell was broken. It is more agreeable to turn to the public services rendered by the soldier.
Grant in the West, with his capture of Fort Donelson, struck the first effectual blow to revive the North, which became slightly hopeful as well as doggedly obstinate. M'Clellan, in the East, was a soldier's idol, but lacked initiative. He forged the sword which Grant ultimately wielded. Grant's capture of Vicksburg, the key of the Upper Mississippi, was a staggerer for the South, and irresistibly denominated him as the coming commander-in- page 18 chief. On reaching this position he transferred himself to the East, the main theatre of operations, between the rival capitals of Washington and Richmond, so dangerously close.
Beauregard shows us many points of that strenuous opposition in which he was one of the leaders, with Lee, Stonewall Jackson, the Johnstons, Hood, Bragg, and the dashing cavalry generals such as Stuart, Forrest, Morgan, and Mosby.
Blaine depicts vividly the effect in Congress of the Confederate successes. All throughout his suggestion is of what might have happened if this other thing had not happened. To us, however the whole is a pre-arranged drama. When the green curtain rose upon Sumter, the last scene at Richmond was already set, and the final tableau sketched, where Lee surrendered to Grant by the blossoming peach trees at Appomattox.
Lee fully understood and practiced the maxim that it will never do for the army which is attacked to stand wholly on the defensive, an infallibly demoralising process. His two principal sorties, so to speak, from the South, were those which culminated in the repulses of Antietam and Gettysburg, each of which battles, like Gravelotte, was waged for two days. Meade's victory of Gettysburg had a tremendous political effect, which would have secured for him the command in the East, but for Grant's headway.
Badeau, in his "Life of Grant," points out the embarrassment which resulted. Lincoln could not cashier Meade, nor could he retract the steps which had been taken to give Grant supreme command. Thus Meade was left in command of the Army of the Potomac, or the East, while Grant, as commander of all the Union armies, attached himself in preference to the army of the East. This double leadership hampered operations. Grant could not help but take control of Meade, and all his orders had to be filtered through Meade. The instinct of a military student tells him this is prejudicial, even although he may not be able to point out how, in a special case, it is so. Badeau mentions an instance where, on the urgent representations of Sheridan, an order by Meade was overruled by Grant. Yet Meade was an able general, and more than a divisional one.
The closing strokes of the war, the week's battles in the Wilderness, Cold Harbour—an inland place, by-the-way—and Spotsylvania, were terrific in the using up of human life by the relentless Grant, who was nicknamed the Butcher. "You cannot make omelettes without breaking eggs," said an old military officer somewhere, but this was a horrible holocaust.
After Garfield's election Blaine took his defeat in good part, and became a member of the Cabinet. He was with Garfield at the railway station when Guiteau fired the shot We think Blaine must be a somewhat hardly-used man. How comes it page 19 that Garfield, the Civil Service reformer, picked him as his right hand minister, and how comes it that he could not agree with President Arthur?
We have an unconquerable leaning for the dramatic side of affairs, the picturesque tableaux. The most telling scene which Blaine recalls is that in Ford's Theatre, Washington, when Wilkes Booth, after shooting Lincoln from behind in the stage box, leaped on the stage during the performance of "Our American Cousin." His spur caught in a United States flag, draped in front of the box, and this flung him so that he broke hisleg. Yet he brandished a dagger, and shouted "sic semper tyrannis!" after which he ran to the stage door, where a theatrical carpenter named Spangler was holding his horse. Booth gallopped away, and might not have been afterwards caught, but for the flag throwing him.