Life of Henry Clay/22 The Election of 1840
THE ELECTION OF 1840.
The opposition to Van Buren's administration consisted of heterogeneous elements. There were the original "National Republicans," organized while John Quincy Adams was President; there were various groups of Democrats, who had been driven into opposition during the "reign of Andrew Jackson," partly by the removal of the deposits, partly by the specie circular, partly by disgust at the expunging resolution; and there were, finally, the "Conservatives," who revolted at Van Buren's sub-treasury scheme, in which they saw a systematic war upon the banks of the country. These elements had an object of attack in common; but they disagreed among themselves, more or less, about everything that would constitute the positive part of a party programme. It is true the old National Republicans, forming the bulk of the Whig party, were among themselves in tolerable accord about the construction of constitutional powers, the tariff, internal improvements, and, in a less degree, about the National Bank question. But among the auxiliary forces, the "wings" of the party, there were many strict constructionists, anti-bank men, anti-tariff men, anti-internal-improvement men; and these forces had to be consulted, for, without their aid, a victory in a national election could scarcely be hoped for. As to the slavery question, a large number, if not a large majority, of the Northern Whigs were conscientiously opposed to slavery, while many of the Southern Whigs figured among the most ardent devotees of the peculiar "institution."
Clay undertook the task of making himself, as a candidate for the presidency, acceptable, if not to all, at least to most, of these divergent elements. As to the tariff, he declared in his letters to political friends that he would adhere to the compromise measure of 1833. He also repeated that the protective policy had never been intended to be permanent. As to internal improvements, Congress, he insisted, possessed the required power, but should no longer exercise it, considering what had been done for the states by the distribution act, and what they had severally done for themselves; he wished only to pass his bill distributing the proceeds of public land sales. As to the bank question, he repeated that the establishment of another United States Bank would be inexpedient until it should be clearly demanded by an undoubted majority of the people. He further reaffirmed his belief that the use of the government patronage was dangerous to republican institutions, and that the power of removal should be regulated by legislation. As to the slavery question, we have seen what position he took in his speech against the abolitionists. He was also anxious to strengthen the party by attaching those who had ceased to be administration Democrats without at once becoming Whigs. "It is manifest," he wrote to Brooke, "that if we repel the advances of all the former members of the Jackson party to unite with us, under whatever name they may adopt, we must remain in a perpetual and helpless minority." To encourage that element he favored, in a somewhat occult way, the reëlection of Senator Rives, of Virginia, who had, as a zealous Jackson man, voted for the expunging resolution, but then opposed Van Buren's sub-treasury measure, and thus dropped out of the Democratic communion. This involved the defeat of Rives's competitor, John Tyler, who had sacrificed his seat in the Senate because he would not obey the Virginia legislature, which instructed him to vote for the expunging resolution. When Tyler's defeat was brought home to Clay's influence, the wrath of some of Tyler's friends was great; and it is reported that, to appease this wrath, the parties concerned agreed to open to Tyler the way to the vice-presidency.
But all these contrivances did not suffice to smooth his path. Rival ambitions confronted him. Webster had for years been burning to be President. His support outside of Massachusetts was, indeed, so slender that in June, 1839, he formally withdrew his candidacy. But his influence could be a formidable obstacle in Clay's way, and, as John Quincy Adams wrote, there was "no good will lost between Clay and Webster." Their disagreement on the compromise measures of 1833, and still more their constant rivalry as to the presidency, had estranged them. Even after his withdrawal, many of Webster's friends continued very actively to oppose Clay's pretensions, especially in the important State of New York. Directly and indirectly, their influence was exerted for General William H. Harrison, of Ohio, as Clay was believed to have favored Harrison rather than Webster in 1836. It seems to be one of the weaknesses of great men, in the competition for the highest honors, to prefer comparatively small men to one another.
Harrison possessed the advantage of being a "military hero." A quarter of a century before, he had beaten the Indians at Tippecanoe, and also won the "battle of the Thames," where Tecumseh was killed. He had filled the territorial governorship of Indiana, and a seat in the House of Representatives and in the Senate, with quiet respectability. His "claims" as a statesman were, in his own opinion, not very exalted. "In relation to politics," he wrote to Clay in September, 1839, "I can only say that my position in relation to yourself is to me distressing and embarrassing. How little can we judge of our future destinies! A few years ago I could not have believed in the possibility of my being placed in a position of apparent rivalry to you, particularly in relation to the presidency, an office which I never dreamed of attaining, and which I had ardently desired to see you occupy. I confess that I did covet the second, but never the first, office in the gift of my fellow-citizens. Fate, as Bonaparte would say, has placed me where I am, and I wait the result which time will determine." When a man put forward as a candidate for the presidency sees no particular reason why he should be made the chief of a great state, he may still discover in himself the mysterious qualification of being a man of "fate." It was upon him that Clay's opponents in the Whig party united, because he had elements of popularity which lay outside of politics and aroused no hostility.
The opposition to Clay came from several classes, — the Anti-Masons, of whom there were remnants mainly in Pennsylvania and New York; some of the anti-slavery Whigs, whom Clay displeased as a slave-holder, and whom his speech against the abolitionists had irritated; some of Webster's friends, for reasons largely personal; and the political managers, who wanted to win at any price, and in whose eyes Clay had, by his defeats in former campaigns, been marked as an "unlucky candidate." These politicians went to work systematically to compass his defeat.
The Whig National Convention was to meet at Harrisburg, in Pennsylvania, on December 4, 1839. In February, 1839, Clay was advised by one of his confidential friends, General Porter, that a majority of the Whigs in New York decidedly preferred him as a candidate; that the Whigs in the legislature were ready to give him a preliminary nomination, but that they were restrained by a class of politicians "calling themselves Whigs, but who thought that no political victory was worth achieving if not gained by stratagem. The governor [Seward]," he added, "and Thurlow Weed, who at this moment is decidedly the most important man, politically speaking, in the state, are not only friendly to your election, but warmly and zealously so; but they deem it inexpedient to make public declaration of their preference at this time."
This had a fair sound, but Clay was not without misgivings. Although he had, the year before, declined the invitation of enthusiastic friends who desired him to visit New York, on the ground that it might look like an attempt to "attract the current of public feeling to him," he accepted a similar invitation in the summer of 1839. He was splendidly received, and great popular enthusiasm accompanied his "progress" through the state. But at Saratoga Thurlow Weed, who had been reported as "not only friendly, but warmly and zealously so," waited upon him with the suggestion, thinly if at all disguised, that, as he (Clay) could probably not carry the State of New York, he should withdraw in favor of another candidate more likely to be elected. "Nothing could be more courteous and kind than Mr. Clay's bearing throughout the conversation," says Thurlow Weed in his autobiography. But such a suggestion was not what Clay had expected from a "warm and zealous" friend. He had gone through the whole gamut of doubt and hope which enlivens the existence of a presidential candidate. He had been sanguine in the spring of 1838; he had been despondent in November, when the elections turned out unfavorably to the Whigs, and had spoken of promulgating that he would under no circumstances be a candidate. He felt again in 1839 that the current in his favor would break forth "with accumulated strength." He was determined now to remain in the field, and Thurlow Weed could not shake that determination. Neither did Clay's courteous and kind bearing shake Thurlow Weed's determination that not Clay, but Harrison, should be nominated.
If the story told by Henry A. Wise in his "Seven Decades" may be believed, the Whig managers in New York opposed to Clay's nomination played a shrewd game, called "the triangular correspondence," by which the election of Clay delegates to the National Convention was to be prevented. Three of them, located say at New York city, Utica, and Rochester, would write to one another: "Do all you can for Clay in your district, for I am sorry to say he has no strength in this." These letters from pretended friends of Clay, being handed round in each of the districts, would enable the conspirators to say everywhere: "It is useless for us to send delegates favorable to Mr. Clay from here, for he has no strength anywhere else." But whether the matter was really managed in this manner or not, it turned out that, of the delegates to the Harrisburg Convention, only ten were for Clay, twenty for General Scott, and two for Harrison. General Scott, no doubt, had been made to believe himself a serious candidate. In February, 1839, he had written a friendly letter to Clay, informing him that he (Scott) had been "approached" with assurances of eventual support for the office of President by "persons of more or less consideration," and deprecating all feelings of jealousy. Thurlow Weed admitted that the name of General Scott, who had some popularity in New York, was used merely "to keep New York away from Clay." At Harrisburg the Scott delegates were at the proper moment to be transferred to Harrison.
Nothing could excel the shrewdness and audacity with which the convention itself was managed to insure Clay's defeat. When it met, Clay's friends had an undoubted plurality of votes. It was probable that, if Clay's name were brought before the convention in a clever speech, its charm would be irresistible. Such a risk his opponents would not run. To avoid it, a resolution was carried providing that each state delegation should appoint a committee of three to "receive the views and opinions of each delegation, and communicate the same to the assembled committees of all the delegations;" the delegations should then, each for itself, ballot for presidential candidates, and thereupon compare notes in general committee through their committees of three; and then, if no majority was at once apparent, ballot again and compare notes, and so on, until a majority should be obtained, which fact should then be reported to the convention. Thus all the important business was to be done in secret by a select body of men, and the convention, in its public session, was only to ratify what had been "cut and dried" for it. This contrivance worked as desired. On the first balloting, Clay received 102 votes, Harrison 91, and Scott 57. After several secret decoctions and filtrations occupying several days, a majority for Harrison was evolved. The bulk of the Scott vote, embodying a large part of the Webster influence, had gone over to Harrison, according to programme. Scott himself discovered that the "assurances of eventual support," with which he had been "approached," had not made him as serious a candidate as he had imagined; and Clay found, on the decisive ballot, little more on his side than votes from slave-holding states.
When the result was determined, Clay's friends were not only "disappointed and grieved, even to tears," but also indignant. The managers became alarmed. Speeches praising Clay to the skies were made by men who had voted against him, and it was at once determined that the nomination for the vice-presidency must be given to one of Clay's most pronounced friends. Watkins Leigh of Virginia, a very honorable and able man, was pointed out by the Clay delegates, but he declined. Clayton, Tallmadge, and Southard declined like wise, until finally John Tyler was nominated, as Thurlow Weed said, "because we could get nobody else to accept," but probably because the convention remembered that something was due to the man who had sacrificed his seat in the Senate rather than vote for the expunging resolution, and then been set aside in favor of a late comer in the opposition.
In the convention, after Harrison had been nominated, a letter from Clay to the Kentucky delegation was read, in which he assured them that, while he should highly appreciate the honor of a nomination, yet if it were thought wise to nominate somebody else, he would, "far from feeling any discontent," give the nominee his best wishes and cordial support, and admonishing his friends not to hesitate if they found it necessary to select some other candidate than himself in order to unite the party. He was, however, when he wrote that letter, far from anticipating such an emergency. The news of his defeat threw him into paroxysms of rage. As Henry A. Wise, who was with Clay at the moment when the tidings from Harrisburg arrived at Washington, tells the story, Clay, who had been drinking freely in the excitement of expectation, "rose from his chair, and, walking backwards and forwards rapidly, lifting his feet like a horse string-halted in both legs, stamped his steps upon the floor, exclaiming: 'My friends are not worth the powder and shot it would take to kill them!'" He added: "If there were two Henry Clays, one of them would make the other President of the United States." And when Wise reminded him that he had been warned of the intrigues going on, he replied: "It is a diabolical intrigue, I know now, which has betrayed me. I am the most unfortunate man in the history of parties: always run by my friends when sure to be defeated, and now betrayed for a nomination when I, or any one, would be sure of an election."
The lack of dignity in this explosion of wrath was certainly unbecoming a great leader. But there can be no doubt that Clay had reason for being angry. He was the chief of the Whig party. He had always been its foremost champion in the field. He had fought its battles, and received the blows struck at it. His personal integrity was clear. If it could be said that its honors were due to any one, they were due to him. He found himself cast aside for a man whose significance could not be compared to his. And more; the methods employed to defeat him had been those of intrigue, designed to falsify the feelings of the masses and to muzzle the enthusiasm of his friends, — unscrupulous, crafty, without precedent in American politics. All this was true.
On the other hand, Clay had himself done much, if not most, to make the Whig party what it was in 1839 and 1840, — a coalition rather than a party, without common principles and definite aims beyond the mere overthrow of those in power. Such a temporary combination will always be apt to look, not for candidates who represent well defined objects and measures, but rather for mere availabilities, who repel nobody because they represent nothing with distinctness. By his anti-abolition speech and his explanatory letters, Clay had tried to lower himself to the level of a mere availability, but he had a past career which spoke loudly for itself. It was, perhaps, the consciousness of having sacrificed much of his dignity in vain that fanned his fury when he heard of his defeat.
He was right in speaking of the election of 1840 as one in which he or any other Whig candidate would be sure of success. The Democrats renominated Van Buren. Even had Van Buren been a popular man, which he was not, the force of circumstances would have overwhelmed him. The crisis of 1837 had produced a strong political current against the ruling party. An apparent improvement in business in 1838 enabled the Democrats to recover some of the lost ground. But in 1839 the renewed suspension of the United States Bank, and of a host of banks in the South and West, cast new gloom upon the country, and, as usually, the bad times turned the minds of the people against those in power.
Moreover, the "spoils system," introduced in national politics by Jackson, had developed some of its most repulsive attributes. Not only were the officers of the government permitted to become active workers in party politics, but they were made to understand that active partisanship was one — perhaps the principal one — of their duties. Political assessments upon office-holders, with all the inseparable scandals, became at once a part of the system. The spoils politician in office grasped almost everywhere the reins of local leadership in the party. The influence of party spirit upon the public business went so far, as Clay related in one of his speeches, that two officers of the army were "put upon their solemn trial on the charge of prejudicing the Democratic party by making purchases for the supply of the army from members of the Whig party. And this trial was commenced at the instance of a committee of a Democratic convention, and conducted and prosecuted by them."
The "spoils system" bore a crop of corruption such as had never been known before. Swartwout, the Collector of Customs at New York, one of General Jackson's favorites, was discovered to be a defaulter to the amount of nearly $1,250,000, and the District Attorney of the United States at New York to the amount of $72,000. Almost all the land officers were defaulters. Investigations instituted by the House of Representatives proved the administration to have been incredibly lax, not only in supervising the conduct of the public business, but in holding the delinquents in the service to an account. Officials seemed to "help themselves" to the public money, not only without shame, but in many cases apparently without any fear of punishment. In Congress, too, the habit of lavish expenditures had grown to an unprecedented extent. The contingent expenses for the stationery of members, when disclosed, fairly startled the country. No wonder the Van Buren party was styled the "spoils party"!
Nor was this all. Party discipline under Jackson and Van Buren had become so tyrannical that a reaction was inevitable. Jackson's high-handed proceedings had driven off many men of independent impulses, while his prestige and immense popularity prevented the secession of large masses. But when the imposing figure of Jackson disappeared from the place of command, — when that fierce party despotism was wielded no longer by the lion, but by the "fox," and the painful throes of the business crisis had produced a general disposition to be dissatisfied with the government, — the revolt against party tyranny could not fail to become formidable.
These were the circumstances which brought forth the phenomenal commotion of 1840. The Whig National Convention had adopted no platform, passed no resolutions, issued no address, put forth no programme of policy. It had simply nominated in General Harrison a candidate for the presidential office whose "record" might have fitted him for a Democratic as well as for a Whig candidacy. He was of the old Jeffersonian Republican school. His public utterances had not clearly identified him with any distinctively Whig principles or measures. He was a state-rights man. As to the tariff, he, like many old Republicans, had once been warmly in favor of the protective system, but was now for the compromise of 1833, and against any alteration of it. As to the United States Bank, he thought there was "no express grant of power" in the fundamental law to charter a national bank, and "it never could be constitutional to exercise that power, save in the event that the powers granted to Congress could not be carried into effect without resorting to such an institution." As to the slavery question, he had in his official capacities generally supported what the slave-holding interest asked for. His political wisdom consisted in some general maxims which were very good in themselves, and would benefit the Republic if well applied. He was an honest man, who had been harshly removed from a foreign mission by General Jackson, and then retired to a small farm in Ohio. His fancied log cabin and hard cider contrasted strikingly with Van Buren's aristocratic "gold spoons." He was just the man whom the popular imagination would invest with that homely common-sense and rugged virtue thought to be required for putting an end to the hard times, and restoring the good, frugal, honest government of the fathers. There was a vague and wide-spread feeling that any change would be for the better. A change, therefore, was wanted. General Harrison represented that change, and the future would take care of itself.
There has probably never been a presidential campaign of more enthusiasm and less thought than the Whig campaign of 1840. As soon as it was fairly started, it resolved itself into a popular frolic. There was no end of monster mass meetings, with log cabins, raccoons, and hard cider. One half of the American people seemed to have stopped work to march in processions behind brass bands or drum and fife, to attend huge picnics, and to sing campaign doggerel about "Tippecanoe and Tyler too." The array of speakers on the Whig side was most imposing: Clay, Webster, Corwin, Ewing, Clayton, Preston, Choate, Wise, Reverdy Johnson, Everett, Prentiss, Thompson of Indiana, and a host of lesser lights. But the immense multitudes gathered at the meetings came to be amused, not to be instructed. They met, not to think and deliberate, but to laugh and shout and sing.
Clay, faithful to his promise, supported the Whig candidates with much energy, speaking at many places. In one of his addresses — a speech delivered at Taylorsville in Virginia — he undertook to "sound the key-note of the campaign" by laying down an elaborate and carefully prepared programme for future action in case of a Whig victory. At the start, however, he declared that he "did not pretend to announce the purposes of the new President," of which he had "no knowledge other than that accessible to every citizen. He spoke only for himself." His programme, in many points, especially those relating to the veto power and the treasury, thoroughly characteristic of his impressionable and impulsive statesmanship, was this: The executive power should be circumscribed by such limitations and safeguards as would render it no longer dangerous to the public liberties. There should be a constitutional provision limiting the President to a single term. The veto power should be more precisely defined, and be subjected to further limitations; for instance, that a veto might be overruled by a simple majority of all the members of the Senate and the House of Representatives. The power of dismission from office should be restricted, and its exercise be rendered responsible; the President should be bound to communicate fully the grounds and motives of the dismission. The control of the treasury should be confided exclusively to Congress, and the President should no longer have the power of dismissing the Secretary of the Treasury, or other persons having the immediate charge of it. The appointment of members of Congress to any office, or any but a few specific offices, during their continuance in Congress and for one year thereafter, should be prohibited. As to "matters of an administrative nature," Congress should exert all its power to establish and maintain a currency of stability and uniform value. Whether this were to be done by the means of state banks carefully selected, or of a new United States Bank, "should be left to the arbitrament of an enlightened public opinion." He feared that without a United States Bank there could be no sound currency; but if it could be obtained otherwise, he would be satisfied. Manufacturing industries should be protected, but he was contented with the tariff duties provided for in the compromise act of 1833. The public lands should be treated as a source of revenue, in accordance with his land bill. The building of roads and canals should be left to the states; and they should receive from the general government, for internal improvements, no more than the fourth installment under the distribution law, and their share of the proceeds of public land sales. There should be a reduction of expenses and a diminution of offices. The right to slave property "should be left where the Constitution had placed it, undisturbed and unagitated by Congress."
We shall remember some parts of this programme when we hear its author on the meaning of the victory.
Harrison was elected by 234 electoral votes against 60 for Van Buren. The Whigs carried nineteen, the Democrats only seven, states. In the popular vote, Harrison's majority reached nearly 150,000. The Whigs were wild with delight. They regarded their success as a great deliverance, the greatest event of their time. Few of them would have admitted that an occurrence which had happened two and a half years before — the first crossing of the ocean by a steamship, the bringing to one another's doors of the Old and the New World — was far more important in its consequences; and perhaps fewer still that the seven thousand votes cast for Birney and Lemoyne, the candidates of an anti-slavery convention which had been almost entirely lost sight of in the turmoil of the "hard-cider campaign," bore in themselves the germ of infinitely greater developments.
Soon after the election, Clay and Harrison had an interview, which Harrison had in vain tried to avoid. The lucky mediocrity seems to have felt some discomfort in the thought of meeting the imperious party chief, to whom the honors which he himself wore were known to be really due. Harrison offered to Clay the first place in his Cabinet, intending to summon Webster also. This was prudent. A second-rate man elected to the presidency will act wisely in taking the able and ambitious leaders of his party, if they are honest men, from Congress into the Cabinet. They may then try to serve their own ambitions, but, in doing so, they will feel themselves under honorable obligation and restraint; they will scarcely seek to overthrow the administration. When the real leaders of the party are not identified with the administration and strive to control it from the outside, dissension and strife are almost inevitable.
But Clay declined Harrison's offer. He desired to be independent in his leadership, and preferred the Senate as his field of action. He informed Harrison that his confidence in Webster had been somewhat shaken during the last eight years; but with proud condescension he assured the President elect that the appointment of Webster to a place in the Cabinet would not diminish his interest in the administration, nor his zeal in its support, if it were conducted on the principles he hoped it would be. In parting, Clay cautioned Harrison, if any efforts were made by any one to create distrust or ill-feeling between them, to listen to no reports in regard to his opinions, or intended course concerning this or that act or measure of the administration, but to depend upon his frankness, — which Harrison promised. In the Cabinet, subsequently appointed by Harrison, Clay had four strong friends: Ewing of Ohio, Secretary of the Treasury; Badger of North Carolina, Secretary of the Navy; Bell of Tennessee, Secretary of War; and Crittenden of Kentucky, Attorney General. Webster was Secretary of State, and his friend Granger Postmaster General.
Congress had hardly met, in December, 1840, for the last session under Van Buren, when Clay offered a resolution in the Senate that the sub-treasury act "ought to be forthwith repealed." The speech with which he accompanied it sounded like a wild shout of triumph. He would not make an argument, he said. He would "as lief argue to a convicted criminal with a rope around his neck, and the cart about to leave his body, to prove to him that his conviction was according to law and justice, as to prove that this sub-treasury measure ought to be abandoned." It was sufficient for him to say that "the nation wills the repeal of the measure, the nation decrees the repeal of the measure, the nation commands the repeal of the measure, and the representatives of nineteen states were sent there instructed to repeal it." This had been almost exactly Benton's language in passing the expunging resolution four years before.
Silas Wright answered with keen irony that, after a campaign such as the country had witnessed, the presidential election might be interpreted as meaning that the capitol should be taken down, and a log cabin ornamented with coon-skins put in its place, as well as that the sub-treasury law should be repealed. The Democrats still had a majority in the Senate, and Clay's resolution failed. The same fate had his land bill, which he urged in an elaborate speech. The session remained without any result of importance. But Clay lost no opportunity to make his opponents understand that soon both houses would be in the hands of the Whigs, and that then all his measures would be speedily consummated. "Clay crows too much over a fallen foe," John Quincy Adams wrote in his Diary. He would have "crowed" less had he known the disappointments in store for him.
First those trials came upon him which he who is regarded as a potential man with a new administration cannot escape. The Whigs had denounced the Democrats as the "spoils party." Their victory was to inaugurate an era of reform. But no sooner was that victory won than it turned out that the victors had taken the infection. "We have nothing new here in politics," wrote Horace Greeley, who in the campaign had distinguished himself as the editor of the "Log Cabin" newspaper in New York, "but large and numerous swarms of office-hunting locusts sweeping on to Washington daily. All the rotten land speculators, broken bank directors, swindling cashiers, etc., are in full cry for office, office; and even so humble a man as I am is run down for letters, letters. 'None of your half-way things. Write strong!' Curse their nauseous impudence!"
This picture exaggerated nothing. Clay was overwhelmed with applications for his "influence." Some of them glaringly illustrated the understanding of the word "reform" which prevailed among a powerful class of Whig politicians. General Porter, late Secretary of War under John Quincy Adams, wrote to Clay that he had been requested by Thurlow Weed to secure Clay's support for the appointment of Mr. Edward Curtis as Collector of Customs in New York, Curtis being represented as "not personally popular," but as "possessing an extraordinary share of tact or stratagem," and as being able, "by his skill in planning and combining, and his untiring industry in executing, to produce the most astonishing political results; that, with the office of Collector, he could on all important occasions command the vote of the city of New York, and par consequence of the state." Curtis, as a warm partisan of Webster, had with great industry and zeal helped to defeat Clay at the Harrisburg Convention. But seeing now that Webster had no chance, Curtis would persuade Webster to give up his presidential aspirations forever, and henceforth Clay would be Curtis's candidate. Clay contemptuously suggested that this information be communicated to Webster. But Thurlow Weed took the matter very seriously, and wrote to a friend that, if Curtis now failed because he had opposed Clay's nomination, "such a condition of things would destroy us."
Clay resolved to have nothing to do with the distribution of the spoils. A month before Harrison's inauguration he informed his friend Brooke: "I have been constrained, after a full consideration, to adopt the principle of non-interference with the new administration as to new appointments. Without it, if the day had a duration of forty-eight hours, I should be unable to attend to the applications I receive."
But, while he did not ask for appointments, he no doubt sought to exercise a controlling influence as to the policies and measures of the new administration; and, as he felt himself to be the true chief of the Whig party, it is not unlikely that his advice was given with that air and tone of command to which he had become accustomed. Harrison, a much weaker man, could easily be made to feel that his dignity would fatally suffer if he permitted it to be believed that he was under Clay's dictation. It is reported that on one occasion he sharply turned on Clay, saying: "Mr. Clay, you forget that I am President." Clay's influence was still visible in Harrison's inaugural address, which, at the request of prominent Whigs, was submitted to him. It was also mainly Clay's impatient urgency which prevailed upon Harrison to call an extra session of Congress to meet on May 31, 1841. But Harrison had not been President ten days when something very like a rupture of friendly relations occurred between them..
Nathan Sargent, as he tells us in his "Public Men and Events," one day found Clay in his room greatly agitated. "He had received an intimation from the President that whatever suggestion or communication he wished to make to the President he should make in writing, as frequent personal interviews between them might give occasion for remark, or excite the jealousy of others." The indignation of the proud man was, no doubt, much toned down in the farewell note he addressed to Harrison on March 15, on the eve of his departure from Washington. He would not trouble the President again by a personal visit.
"I was mortified," he continued, "by the suggestion you made to me on Saturday, that I had been represented as dictating to you or to the new administration
.— mortified, because it is unfounded in fact, as well as because there is danger of the fears that I intimated to you at Frankfort of my enemies poisoning your mind against me. In what, in truth, can they allege a dictation, or even interference, on my part? In the formation of your Cabinet? You can contradict them. In the administration of the public patronage? The whole Cabinet as well as yourself can say that I have recommended nobody for any office. I have sought none for myself or my friends. I desire none. I learned to-day, with infinite surprise, that I had been represented as saying that Mr. Curtis should not be appointed Collector of New York. It is utterly unfounded. I never uttered such expressions in relation to that or any office, of the humblest grade, within your gift. I have never gone beyond expressing the opinion that he is faithless and perfidious, and, in my judgment, unworthy of the place. It is one of the artifices by which he expects to succeed."
He added that if, as a citizen and a Senator, he could not express his opinions without being accused of dictation, he would prefer retirement to private life, which he desired; and he would promptly gratify that desire, did he not hope to render some public service by staying in the Senate a little longer. "I do not wish to trouble you with answering this note," he said, in closing. "I could not reconcile it to my feelings to abstain from writing it. Your heart, in which I have the greatest confidence, will justly appreciate the motives of, whatever others may say or insinuate, your true and faithful friend, H. Clay." It is by no means improbable that those who pushed the appointment of Curtis, the man of "tact and stratagem," to the collectorship of New York, precipitated the rupture between Clay and Harrison in order to remove an adverse influence. If so, they succeeded, for Curtis was soon afterwards appointed.
As soon as he had sent his farewell letter to the President, Clay left Washington. He and Harrison never met again. It was a terrible disappointment, — first to be thrown aside by the convention of his party for a second-rate man, and then to be thrown aside by that second-rate man to gratify the jealousy or greed of small politicians. For twelve years he had struggled against the tremendous power of Jackson and the cunning of Van Buren. Now at last his party was in power, and he was shown the door. He was then sixty-four years old, and had reached that age when such slights cut deeply. He turned his back on Washington much embittered. At Baltimore he fell ill, and for a week was unable to continue his homeward journey.
Harrison entered upon his office with a sincere intention to keep his promise of reform. On March 20, Webster, as Secretary of State, issued in the President's name a circular to the heads of the executive departments, informing them that the President considered it "a great abuse to bring the patronage of the government into conflict with the freedom of elections;" and that he would regard "partisan interference in popular elections," or "the payment of any contribution or assessment on salaries or official compensation for party or election purposes," on the part of any officer or employee of the government, as cause for removal. But this did not accord with the views and objects of a large class of active Whig politicians like Thurlow Weed, who wanted public officers of "skill in planning and combining, and untiring industry in executing," to help them carry elections. The rush for place continued, and the party managers were busy in organizing a Whig "machine," determined to overcome the reform tendencies of the administration.
President Harrison died, after a short illness, on April 4, 1841, one month after his inauguration. The presidential office devolved upon the Vice-President, John Tyler of Virginia. Grievous as Clay's disappointment had been at the beginning of Harrison's administration, worse was now to come.