Hiram Parks Bell: The Forty-third Congress and Party Leaders
The following is Chapter 16 from Hiram Parks Bell’s Men and Things, published 1907.
“The Forty-third Congress met in December, 1873. The Representatives from Georgia were Morgan Rawls, Richard H. Whitely, Phillip Cook, Henry R. Harris, James H. Blount, James Freeman, Pierce M.B. Young, Ambrose R. Wright, and Hiram P. Bell. General Wright died before Congress assembled; and Alexander H. Stephens was chosen to fill the vacancy. Morgan Rawls was unseated, upon a contest by Andrew Sloan, who took Rawls’ seat. Three of these representatives were Republicans---Whitely, Freeman, and Sloan. The delegation took the modified oath. The Forty-third Congress was overwhelmingly Republican. James G. Blaine was reelected speaker and Edward McPherson, clerk. The Congress was spotted with half a dozen or more free negroes---three of whom were from the State of Calhoun, Preston, Lowndes, and McDuffy. Three of the late Confederate States, South Carolina, Louisiana, and Arkansas, were still struggling in the anarchical throes of the aftermath of reconstruction. The vital national questions before this Congress were: the silver question, the Force Bill, the Civil Rights Bill, repeal of the Salary Grab Act of the Forty-second Congress, etc. Much time was devoted to contested seats, occupied by Democrats, by defeated Republicans, who generally won upon party grounds. It was during this Congress that Kala Kawa, King of the Hawaiian Islands, visited Washington. He was accorded an official public reception by the House of Representatives. He was a dark, copper-colored negro, appearing to be about 45 years old; six feet in height, squarely built with an avoirdupois of about 200. He wore a black Prince Albert coat, standing collar, and plug hat. He took his stand in front of the Speaker of the House. Mr. Blaine received him in a formal, handsome speech of official palaver, to which the King’s premier, Mr. Allen, a Massachusetts Yankee, responded with the same material, less handsomely. During this memorable State occasion, I happened to occupy a seat next to Hon. A. Herr Smith, a small, dry, hard, Pennsylvania Republican, and the successor of Thaddeus Stevens. Mr. Smith seemed to be enraptured and said to me in a whisper, ‘Oh, my! What a magnificent king!’ I replied jocularly, ‘Yes, that negro would have brought $1,500.00 on the block in ante-bellum times.’ It so offended him that he did not wish to speak to me afterwards. President Grant gave to the King a State reception at the White House, and I had the honor of an introduction to the King by the Hon. Hamilton Fish, Secretary of State, as the King stood by the side of the hero of Appomattox and the President of the Untied States. How much all this may have had to do with afterward obtaining the King’s domain, I will not undertake to say. It was during colored radical regnancy that the racial leaders caused the South Carolina negro, Elliott, to reply to the great Constitutional argument of Alexander H. Stephens against the Civil Rights Bill. The bill was passed. The scene in the House of Representatives attending this legislative folly was a memorable and historic one. The bill was the offspring of malignant hate, intended to harass and humiliate the white people of the South. It was unconstitutional, subversive of social order, and mere brutum fulmen, when enacted into law. It emanated from the brain and heart of Benjamin F. Butler of Massachusetts. On the day of its passage, the lobby and galleries were crowded and packed to their utmost capacity with excited, anxious spectators, who came to witness---by a combination of Northern radicals, Southern renegades, and free negroes, through the forms of law---the degradation of a section and a brave people that had given Washington, Henry, Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, Jackson, Clay, and Calhoun to national glory and history. As I surveyed from my seat, that crowd, Macaulay’s magnificent description of the audience at the trial of Warren Hastings pressed with vivid force upon my thought and memory. There was this difference only. In the American audience, there was not, as in the English, the stars, the garters, and heraldic insignia or hereditary nobility. Butler made the closing speech. His personnel was not prepossessing. He was rather below medium height, obese, heavy, full with flabby cheeks, shaggy eyebrows, and cock-eyed. He was a man of decided ability and will power; in partisan politics, a free lance, but always for Butler. In his speech his voice was harsh and his manner and attitudes ungraceful. His points in debate were sharp and vigorous. When under the influence of high passion in speech, he blew and spouted like a harpooned whale. Senator Voorhees thought Thaddeus Stevens resembled Danton. Butler was the Marat in this attempted social revolution, to place the African on an equality with the Caucasian. During his speech he made a statement involving racial chastity, concerning the people of Richmond, Virginia, whereupon the tall, handsome, young Republican representative of the Richmond district arose, advanced a few steps down the center aisle, and fiercely and bitterly denounced the statement as a falsehood. The vote was taken, the bill passed, the infamy went on record---an Apple of Sodom presented to the negroes, which turned to ashes on their lips. The character, endowments, and motives of the men in official life who led the thought and made the laws for the government of the people, have always been the subject of interesting inquiry and considerations; and peculiarly in troublous and revolutionary times.
“The writer is fully aware of the unconscious coloring which prejudice, arising from party affiliations, or opposing views, is likely to give in the estimate of those with whom we disagree. But he begs to assure the reader that in his estimate and criticism of the great public men with whom he deals, his sole desire is to present the truth, as it appears to him. Others, of course, may differ widely from him in opinion. But uniformity of opinion upon such a subject is not attainable.
“James G. Blaine was the unchallenged leader of the Republican party in the House of Representatives during the Forty-third Congress. He possessed many fine elements of successful leadership. A commanding figure, great personal magnetism, a good judge of men, an active, sprightly mind, a ready debater and a thorough parliamentarian, he found but little difficulty in controlling its policy, principles, and legislation. And yet it seemed to me that he was lacking in the qualities of broad, comprehensive statesmanship. His public life impressed me as a play for the presidency. He was aided by able lieutenants---Dawes, Kelly, and Garfield. These were men of great ability and large experience in public life. They were respectively at the head of the most important committees of the House. They were, while ardent partisans, fair debaters and patriotic legislators. They differed from Blaine in this: they were leaders in legislation and the practical duties connected with it. They were masters of its forms and procedures. They were all good speakers, none of them approximating the highest order of oratory.
“Of the four, Blaine was the most pleasing speaker. Committee service in the House has a tendency to specialize the thoughts and efforts of members. Blaine’s specialty was to keep his party properly in line and ready for offense or defense. Kelly’s specialties were: Currency, Manufacturers, and Tariff. The thoughts of both Dawes and Garfield took in a wider range of legislation. Garfield was the most erudite of these famous men. He was not a successful party leader. He was more of the scholar, philosopher, and statesman. Blaine was the Knight whose plume the rank and file of the Republicans followed as their Oriflamme. The four great leaders of the Democratic minority of the House were Samuel J. Randall, James B. Beck, Samuel S. Cox, and L.Q.C. Lamar. They each differed from the others in qualifications, and each excelled the others in the different departments of parliamentary leadership. Randall was cool, quiet, of plain, simple speech, always self-poised, knew exactly the precise status of the business, watchful as Argus, nothing escaped his notice and no advantage over the adversary was allowed by him to pass unimproved. He led the 60 successive hours, day and night, of filibustering against the Civil Rights Bill. His mastery of the mystic mazes of the rules of the House and the skill with which he unwound the knotty tangles of parliamentary puzzles showed a genius of the highest order. The value of such a leader of the minority against a united majority, not troubled with scruples of conscience, is invaluable.
“James B. Beck was a rugged, robust Scotchman. He represented the Ashland district, made famous by their representation of Henry Clay and John C. Breckenridge. When he first entered the House, he was placed on the Committee on Reconstruction, as he said to me, for ‘the reason that the Republicans supposed he had no sense’ and could give them no trouble.
“But that appointment sowed dragons’ teeth, the harvest of which the Republican party continued to reap as long as Beck lived. He was honest, bold, courageous, and irrepressible. As a speaker, he was not eloquent nor charming; his style was plain---all ornament was discarded. He was always equipped for debate. He was a gallant knight, in full armor, standing for the right and against the wrong. No vicious legislation escaped his exposure and denunciation; no wise measure ever lacked an advocate, and the people always found him a fearless champion, and their enemies a dreaded antagonist. Barricaded in a fortress of facts and entrenched in authorities, he vanquished his assailants---in combination or detail---as they chose to attack him. In the opinion of the writer, he was the strongest debater and the wisest practical legislator in public life during the period of his long service in Congress. He was precisely the man the exigencies of the times demanded in the halls of legislation.
“Samuel Sullivan Cox, Representative in Congress from Ohio for four terms and from New York for ten and elected for the eleventh, in many respects stands alone in the legislative history of the United States. Personally, he was, perhaps, the best beloved, and at his death, the most universally lamented of any man of his time. He was great from boyhood. Hereditary revolutionary blood flowed through his veins. Upon his graduation at Brown University, he carried off the prizes in history, in poetic criticism, and in political economy. He was a marvelous man. He had travelled in Europe, Asia, Africa, and South America. He had drawn learning and inspiration from the temples and tombs of Athens, Rome, and Jerusalem; had stood in the shadow of the pyramids and studied the riddle of the Sphynx and the dynastic history of the Pharaohs; mused among the ruins of Memphis; and breathed the fragrance of the roses at Damascus. He was an unabridged encyclopedia of learning; he seemed to me to know everything---science, art, literature, history, and political economy---in all their various departments---were as familiar as household words---and this knowledge included accuracy in the exact sciences.
“The authorship of a most brilliant description of a sunset, after a storm, caused him to be dubbed with the sobriquet ‘Sunset’ Cox. This was a misnomer---it should have been ‘Sunshine’ Cox. Sunset has no appropriateness to him, except in the eclipse of the grave. Sunshine is the proper symbol of his illustrious life and character.
“In high social qualities he was without a peer. It was truly said of him that ‘he had friends everywhere; enemies nowhere.’ Malignity and hate had no place in his warm, generous heart. He was a living embodiment of the doctrine of the universal brotherhood of man. Armed with great learning and endowed with the highest social attributes, he stood on the floor of the American House of Representatives for 28 years---the fearless, unyielding tribune of the common people, of a common country.
“The Hon. Amos Cummings, in his funeral eulogy, says: ‘To the nation he was born here; it was here that his generous, genial, manly spirit had full play; here he displayed the patriotic fervor, the exquisite eloquence, the iridescent imagery, the peerless diction, the penetrating logic, the sparkling humor, and the delightful disposition that endeared him to the nation.’
Mr. Cox spoke often and never without the closest and most respectful attention of all parties. His rising came to be regarded as the signal of a coming argument of power, adorned with gems of literature, sparkling wit, classical illustrations, and spiced---as occasion might require----with bitter sarcasm, withering irony, and burning invective. The House was never disappointed in expectation. He had the capacity, greater than any orator of ancient or modern times, of combining all these in harmonious proportions in a speech. And yet his spirit was so genial, and style so persuasive, that he never offended an antagonist. His resources of learning were so great, his knowledge of facts so accurate, his style so chaste, his wit and humor so bright and exuberant, and his patriotism so pure, that he never failed to conciliate the love and admiration of his auditors. For three decades his meteoric genius and learning made both hemispheres radiant with brightness and beauty, which still scintillated in the mellow glow of his books and his speeches.
“He entered Congress at the early age of 32 and continued a member for 28 years---through the stormiest period of his country’s history. In nine days after his entrance, he delivered the first speech made in the new hall of the House of Representatives. He witnessed the fight on the floor between Keith and Grow, when the belligerents of the opposing sectional parties met in the melee with Washburn, of Illinois, and Potter, of Wisconsin, leading one, and Barksdale and Lamar, of Mississippi, the other. Through all these years of strife and storm he stood, with a wealth of intellectual resources, unequalled; with passions under absolute control, in an armor of integrity more invulnerable than the shield of Achilles, the Ivanhoe of the American House of Representatives.
“Lucius Q.C. Lamar was, by one year, the junior of Cox in age. They entered Congress at the same time---Lamar continuing a member for two terms---until the secession of Mississippi. He was a native Georgian and graduated at Emory college under the presidency of that illustrious humorist, jurist, and divine, Augustus B. Longstreet, whose charming daughter became his wife. Mr. Lamar removed to the State of Mississippi, was elected adjunct professor of mathematics and assistant of the celebrated Dr. A.T. Bledsoe, in the university of his adopted State. In 1866 he was elected professor of political economy and social science in the University of Mississippi, and in 1867 was transferred to the professorship of law. He was a member of the Forty-third and Forty-fourth Congresses and elected to the United States Senate. He was less vigorous in debate than Beck, and less ready and versatile than Cox, but was a close student and an intense thinker. His range of thought was not so wide as that explored by Cox and many others, but it was exhaustive in its search for truth upon the subjects which it embraced. His style was severely chaste and clear---pruned of all surplusage, and in thought, odorous with the oil of the lamp. His professorship of mathematics, political economy, social science, and law, together with his association with that metaphysician, Dr. Bledsoe, had doubtless been controlling factors in his mental operations and processes. If he did not, in debate, beat down an adversary into jelly with the battle-ax of Richard---like Beck; or hack and slash him to pieces with the scimiter of ‘Saladin’---like Cox, he pierced his most vital part with no ‘Spear of Ithuriel,’ and left him the bleeding victim of defeat, as more than Roscoe Conklin ascertained. Lamar was less skilled in parliamentary tactics than Randall---less efficient in general practical legislation than Beck or Cox; but, cool, clear, cautious---the recognized representative and exponent of the chivalry of his section---he was dominant in the policies and councils of his party and commanded the universal respect of the opposite party. He was full of resources in emergencies. When John Young Brown deliberately arose in his place in the House and uttered his terrific ‘burking’ denunciation of Butler (that fell as suddenly and as startlingly as the shroud of Saladin, appeared at the banquet) it brought the Republican members to their feet, in a tempest of excitement; motion followed motion, and pandemonium reigned. Beck asked Lamar to take charge of the situation. Lamar arose and, with a dignity of manner, in a tone of voice and with an expression of face that exhibited regret, sorrow, sympathy, and apology in combination, in a few suave, deprecating words, allayed the storm. The sequel was a mild reprimand of Brown by the Speaker.
“There were many true and able Democrats in the Forty-third Congress, less prominent in leadership than Randall, Beck, Cox, and Lamar. Among these was Alexander H. Stephens, whose famous history had, even then, been made up and placed on record, and who, like Chatham, came in his feebleness and on his crutches to protest against the constitutionality of the supplemental Civil Rights Bill.
“The iron-clad Republican party of the North, speckled with a scattering remnant of white renegades and free negroes from the South, had an overwhelming majority with the conqueror of Appomattox President; and every subordinate office in the government, occupied by the creatures of bitter partisanship. This party sought, in the Forty-third Congress, to accomplish two things: to entrench itself in power by the passage of the Force Bill and to insult and humiliate the white people of the South by the passage of the Supplemental Civil Rights Bill. It failed in both objects. The Force Bill was defeated and the Civil Rights Bill was paralyzed by the blows it received in the Senate and House. It not only proved ‘a barren sceptre in their grip,’ but it secured a Democratic majority in the House in the Forty-fourth Congress. The American people, in the language of Roosevelt, are for a ‘square deal.’ They were unwilling that that majority should say who should vote or when and how voting should be done. Nor were they willing to regulate their social life and relations by the standards or tastes of Benjamin F. Butler, around whose name negro troops, the blood of Mumford, and insults to women gathered in mingled memory.
“There were able men on both sides in the Senate. Among the Republicans appear Oliver P. Morton, John Sherman, George F. Edmunds, Matthew Carpenter, Henry M. Teller, Reuben E. Fenton, Roscoe Conkling, George S. Boutwell, William B. Allison, and John J. Ingalls and many other men of decided ability. Charles Sumner died during the Forty-third Congress. The Democratic party presented in this Senate: Allen G. Thurman, Thomas F. Bayard, Eli Saulsbury, Joseph E. McDonald, John W. Stevenson, Matthew W. Ransom, William Pinckney Whyte, Thomas Randolph, Henry G. Davis, Thomas M. Norwood, John B. Gordon, and Frances M. Cockerell. Two of the Republicans, Reuben E. Fenton and Henry M. Teller, were liberals of a very high order of ability and statesmanship. The debates in the Senate upon the vital party issues were elaborate and exhaustive. Thomas M. Norwood delivered a speech in the Senate against the Civil Rights Bill which attracted much attention, created great amusement, and enlightened the judgment of the people throughout the country. About one-half of the speech, which was a long one, was devoted to the ridicule of the measure, in severe irony, ludicrous illustrations, and blistering invectives; all presented, in an elegant, scholarly style. This greatly amused the American people. The remaining half of the speech was devoted to a masterly argument against its constitutionality, which Associate Judge Field of the Supreme Court pronounced to be the ablest constitutional argument made upon the subject. It will be remembered that in the House the party managers put forward a South Carolina negro to reply to Alexander H. Stephens’ argument against the constitutionality of the bill; so in the Senate they put up to reply to Norwood an ignorant, slack-twisted, white reconstruction renegade, who posed as Republican Senator from Texas, whose name was Flannagan. He had been thrust into the Senate by the military influence that had put the negroes Revels and Bruce into the Senate from the State of Davis, Prentiss, Sharkey, and Lamar.
“No minority ever served a country in legislative halls with more fidelity and profit than the democratic phalanx in the Forty-third Congress served the people of these United States. Their gratitude found expression in returning to the House of Representatives of the Forty-fourth Congress a majority of Democratic members and the election of Samuel J. Tilden to the Presidency. As soon as Tilden’s election was ascertained and unguardedly conceded by Mr. Hays, the Republican playwrights proceeded to put a new play on the political boards. This consisted in sending ‘visiting statesmen’ to the States of Louisiana, Florida, and South Carolina (overwhelmingly Democratic States), charged with the duty of working up and manufacturing charges of fraud in the election and suborning witnesses to sustain the charge by perjury. This was successfully accomplished. In vain did the Democratic House appoint committees ‘on the recent election in South Carolina, Florida, and Louisiana,’ and in vain did these committees or the Democratic majority ascertain and report the truth. The ‘visiting statesmen’ had fixed things and completed their job. The election in these three States was so muddled in charges and counter-charges of fraud as to furnish a pretext for investigation. As the time approached for counting the electoral vote and declaring the result, President Grant was very quietly ordering troops from stations and garrisons to the vicinity of the Capitol. It was discovered that a partisan commission, with a republican majority of one on the commission, was the proper authority to do the thing; that the constitution declares the Congress shall do---count the vote and declare the result. And by a sort of unconstitutional legislative legerdemain the commission was created. The commission was composed as follows:
“Associate Justices of the Supreme Court: Nathan Clifford, William Strong, Samuel F. Miller, Stephen J. Field, Joseph P. Bradley.
“United States Senators: George F. Edmunds, Oliver P. Morton, Frederick T. Frelinghuysen, Allen G. Thurman, Thomas F. Bayard.
“United States Representatives: Henry B. Payne, Eppa Hunton, Josiah G. Abbott, James A. Garfield, George F. Hoar.
“This commission of able men was created by party jugglery and packed with a Republican majority of one, to perpetuate and consummate under the forms of law the most stupendous fraud of history. It put out of the office of President of the United States the candidate legally chosen by the people, and into it, the candidate rejected by them at the ballot box. The determination of that packed tribunal was as well known before the investigation began as it was after the decision was pronounced. The Democratic members stood for the truth. The Republican members committed the fraud. The evidence taken by the Potter Investigation Committee of the Forty-fifth Congress furnishes the proof of this statement. This transaction is remitted to future history for its impartial adjudication.
“The Forty-fourth Congress seems to have been fruitful in transferring legislative functions to commissions. The silver question was referred to a commission consisting of John P. Hones, George S. Boutwell, Louis V. Bogy, Richard P. Bland, Randall L. Gibson, George Willard, William S. Groesbeck, and Frances P. Bowen.
“The election in 1876 resulted in returning to the House of Representatives a decided Democratic majority. And the changes in the Senate had made the parties about equal in strength in that body. But the counting in by the commission of the defeated candidate gave the President to the Republican party, and, therefore, neither party had control of the policy of the government.”