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HISTORY OF CONGRESS.
HOLMES, ISAAC EDWARD.
THE State of South Carolina, which comprises seven Congressional Districts, has given to the nation no more honorable representative than the gentleman with whose name these biographical pages open. Nor do we regret that the indefinite and somewhat arbitrary arrangement of our matter, which, in a work of this character, we must necessarily adopt, should render it our duty thus early to introduce him to the more intimate acquaintance of Congress and the country. This we are inclined to do in a liberal spirit, because, while his political position has at times been both delicate and peculiar, he has measurably been deprived of the advantages resulting from a fair representation of his course through the ordinary channels of public communication. Very few of his speeches have been placed on record. The peculiarity of his manner, the inflections of his voice, and the habit he has acquired of turning and addressing himself to different quarters of the House, render it very difficult to note accurately any thing he may say. Add to these obstacles the inherent defect in the building itself, and to report him has been found, in many instances, an almost impossible achievement.
We can not, perhaps, avail ourselves of a more appropriate occasion to say a few words in relation to the Hall. It is built as if to illustrate the successful ingenuity of an architect, who had staked his reputation on the erection of a building wherein the sound of the human voice might be lost in its own ascending echoes. The loudest voices, not caught precisely in the proper angle, are frequently the least heard. A rumbling noise, as of distant thunder, may, it is true, grate upon the ear, but its living accompaniment is lost. It splits the tympanum, but it penetrates not the understanding. Members in close proximity are often at a loss to know what is said, and receive the first intimation of some serious or important matter in the papers of the next morning. For example: when General Har. rison had been elected President of the United States, it had become the habit of some of his political opponents to attempt to weaken the force of any claim he might have upon the people of the country by reason of his military services. If there is one great national sin which may justly be laid to our charge, it is the reckless, wanton, and unscrupulous virulence with which we assail private character for party objects. It is a crying reproach upon us, which honorable men of all parties should unite to wipe away. The corrupt and heartless maxim that “all is fair in politics,” finds with us, in this respect, its completest exemplification ; forcing us, with Lady Morgan, to regard them as "a fearful rock which makes shipwreck of man's better sympathies." Herein we present a striking contrast to other nations. With them, the penalty which every public man pays as the price of his distinction—that is, the subjection, in his public character, to severe criticism and scrutiny—is rigidly exacted. But there, for the most part, the censorship terminates. Private character is sacred. The blood which has flowed in the cause of the country; the public virtue which has exalted its character; the genius which has shed luster upon its history—these things, at least, are exempt from the sacrilegious profanation of party. They are the common property of the nation; the evidences of its grandeur—the pillars of its strength. To assail them is to do violence to the nation itself, whose inestimable heritage they are. It should be so with us; we know that it is not. In the fierce contests of party, every thing that forms the slightest impediment to its success becomes a shining mark for its envenomed shafts, until even the ashes of the dead are not always objects of respect. Members of the National Legislature, be it yours, by your example here, to take away this perpetual shame” from our land!
· But to return. The House was in Committee of the whole on the State of the Union, and the floor was held by a member of the Democratic party. He stood on the right of the chair, about midway down the aisle. His speech was of a general political character. Among other things, he disputed the military merits of General Harrison, and was understood, by many members, to refer disparagingly to his reputation, in respect to that point on which, of all others, a soldier is sensitive. A member of the opposite party, whose seat was in the aisle directly in front of the chair, rose to a point of order. He distinctly stated it to be, whether it was in order for a member, who had himself recently been branded as a coward on the floor of the House, to charge General Harrison with cowardice. The point was not pressed to a formal decision, and the member who had made it quietly took his seat. The Democratic member had a general, indistinct knowledge, as it seemed, that a point of order of some kind had been made ; but, the chairman not having interposed, proceeded with his remarks as if no interruption had taken place. The incident was given in one of the newspapers precisely as it had occurred a record of the facts, nothing more. Before the House met, on a subsequent day, the entire statement was denied. No such pro. ceeding, it was asserted, had ever taken place. When the Journal had been read, the Democratic member called the at. tention of the House to the report, and the Whig member rose in his place and vouched for its perfect fidelity, thus leaving the responsibility in the right quarter. This is but one of hundreds of instances which would themselves make a volume. We will cite but one more :
When the question was about to be taken on one of the most intensely-exciting issues ever presented to the decision of the House, a member from Georgia made a point of order, not of an ordinary character, upon which he held some colloquy with the speaker. The whole matter was closely reported. On the following morning, a member from Alabama called upon the reporter, and desired him to correct the error he had made in assigning the point of order and the part in the conversation with the speaker to the member from Georgia, instead of to him, the member from Alabama. This was not the first time that the reporter, from similar causes, had been led to entertain
doubts of his own existence. He had, while taking the notes, kept his attention steadily fixed on the member from Georgia, who was addressing the chair in a voice always audible, never having seen or heard of the member from Alabama throughout the whole affair. Accordingly, he declined to make the correction, but proposed to bring the two members together, and let them settle the paternity in the best way they could. An in: terview took place in the lobby. The reporter simply stated the nature of the difficulty, and requested the two members to adjust it. Each declared to the other that he had made precisely such a point of order, at precisely such a stage of the proceedings, and had held precisely such a colloquy with the speaker. The member from Georgia declared the reporter was right as to the name, the member from Alabama insisting that he was right as to every thing but the name. Each appeared to be smitten with the singular absurdity of the other's claims, and each cast a curious gaze into the other's eyes, as if to ascertain, beyond a doubt, the fact of their individual sanity. They separated in mutual astonishment. No light was ever thrown upon the darkness. The record stands now as it stood then. We have ever indulged a reverential hope, that when the pent-up mysteries of a thousand years shall be revealed, the thick cloud which envelops this transaction may likewise be cleared away.
No man has borne with more imperturbable philosophy than Mr. Holmes the misrepresentations and wrongs resulting from the difficulty to which we have adverted. We shall be excused for giving an instance of his general temper in this respect. A veteran reporter, Arthur J. Stansbury, whose well-earned fame is co-extensive with the Union, attended, professionally, the New-England Anniversary dinner in Washington. Mr. Holmes was present, and, in the course of the evening, was called up in reply to a toast. The reporter was sorely embarrassed. Catching only a few uncertain words here and there, he managed to put Mr. Holmes bodily into the midst of the Revolution, although at its close that gentleman was yet among the generations unborn; and, by way of explanation of the imperfect sketch of the whole speech, he stated the usual extenuating circumstance, that he could not hear. We spoke with Mr. Holmes, and were amused at the stoical pleasantry