Charles Carleton Coffin Part 3
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Here are some of his impressions of the overgrown village and of the characters he met:
"Was.h.i.+ngton was a straggling city, thoroughly Southern. There was not a decent hotel. The National was regarded as the best. Nearly all the public men were in boarding-houses. I stopped at the Kirkwood, then regarded as very good. The furniture was old; there was scarcely a whole chair in the parlor or dining-room. It was the period of the Kansas struggle. The pa.s.sions of men were at a white heat. The typical Southern man wore a broad-brimmed felt hat. Many had long hair and loose flowing neckties. There was insolence and swagger in their deportment towards Northern men.
"I spent much time in the gallery of the Senate. Thomas Benton, of Missouri, was perhaps the most notable man in the Senate. Slidell, of Louisiana, whom I had seen in New Hamps.h.i.+re the winter before, speaking for the Democracy, and Toombs, of Georgia, were strongly marked characters. Toombs made a speech doubling up his fists as if about to knock some one down."
From Was.h.i.+ngton, Carleton went to Harrisburg, noticing, as he pa.s.sed over the railway, the difference between free and slave territory. "A half dozen miles from the boundary between Maryland and Pennsylvania was sufficient to change the characteristics of the country." The Pennsylvania railway had just been opened, and Altoona was just starting. Carleton visited the iron and other industries at Pittsburg, and described his journey and impressions in a series of letters to the Boston _Journal_. Having inherited from his father eighty acres of land in Central Illinois, near the town of Lincoln, he went out to visit it. At Chicago, a bustling place of 25,000 inhabitants, he found the mud knee-deep. Great crowds of emigrants were arriving and departing. Going south to La Salle he took steamer on the Illinois River to Peoria, reaching there Sat.u.r.day night. Not willing to travel on Sunday, he went ash.o.r.e. After attending service at church, he asked the privilege of playing on the organ. A few minutes later, he found a large audience listening with apparent pleasure.
THE REPUBLICAN PARTY AND ABRAHAM LINCOLN.
The time had now come for the formation of a new political party, and in this Carleton had a hand, being at the first meeting and making the acquaintance of the leading men, Henry Wilson, Anson Burlingame, George S. Boutwell, N. P. Banks, Charles Sumner, and others. His connection with the press brought him into personal contact with men of all parties. He found Edward Everett more sensitive to criticism than any other public man.
In 1856 Carleton was offered a position on the _Atlas_, which had been the leading Whig paper in Ma.s.sachusetts. He attended the first great Republican gathering ever held in Maine, at Portland, at which Hannibal Hamlin, Benjamin Wade, and N. P. Banks were speakers. On the night of the Maine election, which was held in August, as the returns, which gave the first great victory of the Republican party in the Fremont campaign, thrilled the young editor, he wrote a head-line which was copied all over the country,--"Behold How Brightly Breaks the Morning."
In Malden, where he was then residing, a Fremont Club was formed.
Carleton wrote a song, to the melody "Suoni La Tromba," from one of the operas then much admired, which was sung by the glee men in the club. Political enthusiasm rose to fever heat. In the columns of the _Atlas_ are many editorials which came seething hot from Carleton's brain, during the campaign which elevated Mr. James Buchanan to the presidency.
When the storm of politics had subsided, Carleton wrote a series of articles for an educational periodical, _The Student and Schoolmate_.
Inspired by his attendance on the meetings of the American a.s.sociation for the Advancement of Science, he penned a series of astronomical articles for _The Congregationalist_. He also attended the opening of the Grand Trunk railroad from Montreal to Toronto, celebrated by a grand jubilee at Montreal. During the winter, when Elihu Burritt, the learned blacksmith, failed to appear on the lecture platform, Carleton was called upon at short notice to give his lecture ent.i.tled "The Savage and the Citizen."
He was welcomed with applause, which he half suspected was in derision. At the end, he received ten dollars and a vote of thanks.
The lecture system was then just beginning, and its bright stars, Phillips, Holmes, Whipple, Beecher, Gough, and Curtis were then mounting the zenith.
Carleton made another trip West in 1857, seeing the Mississippi, when the railway was completed from Cincinnati to St. Louis. When the crowd was near degenerating into a drunken mob,--the native wine of Missouri being served free to everybody,--the committee in charge cut off the supply of drink, and thus saved a riot. From St. Louis he went to Liverpool, on the Illinois River, to see about his land affairs. He enjoyed hugely the strange frontier scenes, meals in log cabins, and the trial of a case in court, which was in a schoolroom lighted by two tallow candles.
The Boston _Atlas_, unable to hold up the world, had summoned the _Bee_ to its aid, yet did not even then stand on a paying basis.
Finally it became absorbed in the Boston _Traveller_. Carleton again entered the service of the Boston _Journal_ as reporter. Yet life was a hard struggle. Through the years 1857, 1858, 1859, Carleton was floating around among the newspapers getting a precarious living,--hardly a living. He wrote a few stories for _Putnam's Magazine_, for one of which he was paid ten dollars. One of the bright spots in this period of uncertainty was his attendance, at Springfield and Newport, upon the meetings of the American a.s.sociation for the Advancement of Science. He also became more or less acquainted with men who were afterwards governors of Ma.s.sachusetts, or United States senators, with John Brown and Stephen A. Douglas.
The political campaign which resulted in the election of Abraham Lincoln to the presidency is described in Mr. Coffin's own words:
"During the winter of 1859, George W. Gage, proprietor of the Tremont House at Chicago, visited Boston. I had known him many years. Being from the West, I asked him who he thought would be acceptable to the Republicans of the West as candidate for the presidency. The names prominently before the country were those of W. H. Seward, S. P.
Chase, Edward Bates, and J. C. Fremont.
"'We shall elect whomsoever we nominate,' said Mr. Gage. 'The Democratic party is going to split. The Northern and Western Democrats will go for Douglas. The slaveholders never will accept him. The Whig party is but a fragment. There will certainly be three, if not four candidates, and the Republican party can win. We think a good deal of old Abe Lincoln. He would make a strong candidate.'
"It was the first time I had heard the name of Lincoln in connection with the presidency. I knew there was such a man. Being a journalist, I had some knowledge of his debate with Douglas on the great questions of the day, but he had been defeated in his canva.s.s for the Senate, and had dropped out of sight. It was about this time that he gave his lecture at Cooper Inst.i.tute, New Haven, and Norwich. I did not meet him in Boston. His coming created no excitement. The aristocracy of Boston, including Robert C. Winthrop, Edward Everett, George S.
Hilliard, and that cla.s.s, were Whigs, who did not see the trend of events. Lincoln came and went, having little recognition. The sentiment of Ma.s.sachusetts Republicans was all in favor of the nomination of Seward.
"The remark of Mr. Gage in regard to Lincoln set me to thinking upon the probable outcome of the presidential contest. The enthusiasm of the Republican party was at fever heat. The party had nearly succeeded in 1856, under Fremont, and the evidences of success in 1860 multiplied, as the days for nominating a candidate approached. The disruption of the Democratic party at Charleston made the election of the Republican candidate certain.
"I determined to attend the Convention to be held at Chicago, and also that of the Whig party, to be held earlier at Baltimore.
"I visited Was.h.i.+ngton and made the acquaintance of many of the leading Republican members of Congress. Senator Wilson gave me a seat on one of the sofas in the south chamber. He was sitting by my side when Seward appeared. He stopped a moment in the pa.s.sage, and leaned against the wall.
"'There is our next President,' said Wilson. 'He feels that he is to be nominated and elected. He shows it.'
"It was evident that Mr. Seward was conscious of the expected honor.
It did not display itself in haughty actions, but in a fitting air of dignity. He knew the galleries were looking down upon him, men were pointing him out, nodding their heads. He was the coming man."
The Whig Convention in Baltimore, which Carleton attended, "was held in an old church from which the wors.h.i.+ppers had departed,--a fitting place to hold it. The people had left the Whig party, which had departed from its principles and was ready to compromise still further in slavery."
On leaving Baltimore for Chicago, and conversing with people everywhere, Carleton discovered in Pennsylvania a hostility to Seward which he had not found elsewhere. It was geographical antagonism, New York glorying in being the Empire State, and Pennsylvania in being the Keystone of the arch. "Pennsylvania could not endure the thought of having New York lead the procession." Arriving in Chicago several days before the Convention opened, Carleton noticed a growing disposition to take a Western man. The contest was to be between Seward and Lincoln. On the second day the New York crowd tried to make a tremendous impression with bands and banners. Entering the building, they found it packed with the friends of Lincoln. Carleton sat at a table next to Thurlow Weed. "When the drawn ballot was taken, Weed, pale and excited, thrust his thumbs into his eyes to keep back the tears."
Mr. Coffin must tell the rest of the story:
"I accompanied the committee to Springfield to notify Lincoln of his nomination. Ashman, the president of the committee, W. D. Kelly, of Pennsylvania, Amos Jack, of New Hamps.h.i.+re, Sweet, of Chicago, and others made up the party. We went down the Illinois Central. It was a hot, dusty ride. Reached Springfield early in the evening. Had supper at the hotel and then called on Lincoln. His two youngest boys were on the fence in front of the house, chaffing some Democratic urchins in the street. A Douglas meeting was going on in the State House, addressed, as I learned, by A. McClernand,--afterwards major-general.
Lincoln stood in the parlor, dressed in black frock coat. Ashman made the formal announcement. Lincoln's reply was brief. He was much constrained, but as soon as the last word was spoken he turned to Kelly and said:
"'Judge, you are a pretty tall man. How tall are you?'
"'Six feet two.'
"'I beat you. I'm six feet three without my high-heeled boots on.'
"'Pennsylvania bows to Illinois, where we have been told there were only Little Giants,' said Kelly, gracefully alluding to Douglas, who was called the Little Giant.
"One by one we were introduced by Mr. Ashman. After the hand-shaking was over, Mr. Lincoln said:
"'Mrs. Lincoln will be pleased to see you gentlemen in the adjoining room, where you will find some refreshments.'
"We pa.s.sed into the room and were presented to Mrs. Lincoln. Her personal appearance was not remarkably prepossessing. The prevailing fas.h.i.+on of the times was a gown of voluminous proportions, over an enormous hoop. The corsage was cut somewhat low, revealing plump shoulders and bust. She wore golden bracelets. Her hair was combed low about the ears. She evidently was much gratified over the nomination, but was perfectly ladylike in her deportment.
"The only sign of refreshments visible was a white earthen pitcher filled with ice-water. Probably it was Mr. Lincoln's little joke, for the next morning I learned that his Republican neighbors had offered to furnish wines and liquor, but he would not allow them in the house; that his Democratic friends also sent round baskets of champagne, which he would not accept.
"I met him the next morning in his law office, also his secretary, J.
G. Nicolay. It was a large, square room, with a plain pine table, splint-bottomed chairs, law books in a case, and several bushels of newspapers and pamphlets dumped in one corner. It had a general air of untidiness.
"During the campaign I reported many meetings for the Boston _Journal_, and was made night editor soon after Mr. Lincoln's election. The position was very laborious and exacting. It was the period of secession. Through the live-long night, till nearly 3 A. M., I sat at my desk editing the exciting news. The reporters usually left the room about eleven, and from that time to the hour of going to press, I was alone,--save the company of two mice that became so friendly that they would sit on my desk, and make a supper of crackers and cheese, which I doled out to them. I remember them with much pleasure.
"The exacting labors and sleepless nights told upon my health. The disturbed state of the country made everybody in business very cautious, so much so that the proprietor of the _Journal_, Charles A.
Rogers, began to discharge his employees, and I was informed that my services were no longer needed. I had been receiving the magnificent sum of ten dollars per week, and this princely revenue ceased."
After President Lincoln had been inaugurated, Mr. Coffin went to Was.h.i.+ngton, during the last week in March. His experiences there must be told by himself:
"I took lodgings at a private boardinghouse on Pennsylvania Avenue, where there was a poverty-stricken Virginian, of the old Whig school, after an office. He did 'not think his State would secede.' I saw much of the Republican members of Congress, who said if I wanted a position they would do what they could for me. Senator Sumner suggested that I would make a good secretary of one of the Western territories.
"I called upon my old schoolmate Sargeant who had been for many years in the Treasury. Having constructed the telegraph fire-alarm, and done something in engineering, I thought I was competent to become an examiner in the patent office. I made out an application, which was signed by the entire Ma.s.sachusetts delegation, recommending me. I dropped it into the post-office, and that was the last I saw or even thought of it, for the great crisis in the history of the country was so rapidly approaching, and so evident, that,--newspaper man as I was,--accustomed to forecast coming events, I could see what many others could not see.
"I was walking with Senator Wilson up E Street, on a bright moonlight night. The moon's rays, falling upon the unfinished dome of the Capitol, brought the building out in bold relief."
"'Will it ever be finished?' I asked. The senator stopped, and gazed upon it a moment in silence.
"'We are going to have a war, but the people of this country will not give up the Union, I think. Yet, to-day, that building, prospectively, is a pile of worthless marble.'"
Charles Carleton Coffin Part 3
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Charles Carleton Coffin Part 3 summary
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