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PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION.-MR. ADAMS ELECTED BY THE House of repreSENTATIVES.-MR. WIRT REMAINS IN THE CABINET.-STATE OF PARTIES.— DEATH OF GENERAL HARPER. LETTER TO GILMER. WRITING OUT SPEECHES.-DOMESTIC LIFE.-RELIGIOUS SENTIMENT.-DR. WATTS.-VISIT TO MONTICELLO.-UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA.-DINNER TO LA FAYETTE — DINNER SPEECH.-DUKE OF SAXE WEIMAR.
THE presidential election having failed in the electoral colleges, was transferred to the House of Representatives, and resulted in the choice of Mr. John Quincy Adams. Mr. Wirt had entertained, for some time past, a purpose to retire from the post of Attorney General, but, in the arrangement of the cabinet, his continuance in office was so strenuously insisted upon, that he did not feel himself at liberty to gratify a wish which had no other motive than his own personal comfort, in relieving himself of the very onerous duties of his station. The administration stood upon the same political basis as that of Mr. Monroe. It was but a continuance of the same party ascendancy. It looked to no change of measures, and to no other change of men than became inevitably necessary to supply the vacancies which the accidents of political life had created. Mr. Clay was called to the State Department, which the President himself had held in the last administration. Mr. Crawford was compelled, by ill health, to retire from the Treasury. Mr. Rush was appointed to his place. Mr. Calhoun was now elected to the Vice-Presidencythe War Department was, therefore, committed to Mr. James Barbour. The appointment of Judge Thompson, in 1823, to the Supreme Court, had brought Mr. Southard, at that time, into the Navy Department, in which post he was now continued. Mr. John McLean, of Ohio, was continued also in the Post Office, and Mr. Wirt, as we have seen, retained the Attorney Generalship. These gentlemen had the full confidence of the Democratic party, and we may say of the great majority of the nation; and the
country still indulged the hope of a prosperous career in the track which had been opened by Mr. Madison and so successfully pursued by Mr. Monroe. Less confidently, however, it
indulged the hope of a continuance of that immunity from party contention and exasperation which had characterized the last eight years. The rising of an opposition was seen, at the very commencement of this administration, like a dark cloud upon the horizon, which gradually spread towards the zenith, not without much rumbling of distant thunder and angry flashes of fire. It was quite obvious to shrewd observers, that the late election had disappointed many eager spirits, whose discontent was likely to make head against the predominant party, and, by uniting the scattered fragments of an opposition which had heretofore only slept, whilst the country had supposed it extinct, would present a very formidable antagonist to the new administration. The extraordinary popularity of General Jackson, the defeat of his friends by the vote of the House of Representatives, the neutrality of his political position, his avowed toleration towards political opponents, and, what was thought to be, his liberal views in regard to prominent political measures-for as yet nothing was developed in his opinions to set him in direct opposition to the policy or principles which governed the administration either of Madison or Monroe-all these considerations gave great strength to the position which he now occupied, and, in the same degree, emboldened the hopes of those who looked to him as the proper person to dispute the next election against the present incumbent. Many of those, who had hoped to see the reign of good feeling and of abstinence from party strife prolonged, will remember with what surprise they saw this gathering of hostile elements, and heard it proclaimed by an authoritative political leader, in the first days of the new administration, that it should be and ought to be opposed, "even if it were as pure as the angels at the right hand of the throne of God."* Such a declaration was not less ominous of what was to come, than it was startling for its boldness and its novelty in the history of the government. Many men, it is true, had attached themselves to the cause of General Jackson, in the recent election, from considerations of individual prefer
* This remark was made by Col. Richard M. Johnson. VOL. 2-17*
ence, who believed him to be as warmly and truly devoted to the support of Mr. Monroe's administration, and the course of measures by which it was characterized, as either of the other candidates; and who voted for him in the belief that his election would contribute, more effectively than that of either of his competitors, to maintain that happy exemption from party spirit which the country had so signally experienced through the two last presidential terms. They looked upon this as the natural result of his commanding popularity, his avowed moderation of opinion, his conciliatory relation to the old federal party, and not less, also, of his reputation for solid judgment and good sound sense.
Those, therefore, who had become the friends of General Jackson on these grounds, in the recent presidential canvass, continued now to be his friends in the contest for the succession; and they maintained their stand for him, at this time,-not from any considerations of hostility to the new President, but merely from the same motives of selection which had at first determined their choice. This class of politicians, constituting a considerable number in the country, repudiated, as became them, that declaration of fierce and premeditated opposition to which we have alluded. They abided the approach of the next contest as an event which was to enable them to indulge a personal preference in the selection of a Chief Magistrate, rather than as an occasion to express a sentiment of reprobation of the policy of the existing President, or censure of the party who sustained him. They considered themselves none the less members of that party, whose principles they had always approved, because they differed with their associates upon the question of the fittest individual to be placed at its head.
The opposition, however, took an organized form-became compact, eager, intolerant and even vindictive. The serpent egg of discord was hatched. A twenty years' history, since that time, tells how the monster grew, what fields were blighted, what fountains poisoned, what hopes were overthrown, what fears made real. With that history I have nothing to do here. I return to the subject of our Memoirs.
Mr. Wirt had now come to a commanding practice in the Courts of Maryland. The death of Mr. Pinkney had left a space at that bar which was now partially filled by himself. At this date,
the bar of Baltimore was deprived of another of its most distinguished members, and the nation of one of its purest and most enlightened patriots,-Robert Goodloe Harper. The death of this excellent man was deeply felt in the community of Baltimore, where he had lived, for many years, actively employed in professional duties, and identified with every scheme of public utility which had been projected to increase the power and prosperity of the State.
The letter from which the following extract is made was written by Mr. Wirt to his daughter on the 16th of January 1825, and refers to this event:
"I have just returned from General Harper's funeral. This letter will probably bring you the first account of his death. He dropped down dead, on Friday morning, (the 14th,) and, it is said by his physicians, died probably before he reached the floor. He has had no recent warning of the probable approach of death. On the contrary, he has been unusually well for some time past. On Thursday, he was well in court, and made one of the best arguments he ever made in his life-an argument three hours long. I met him again, in the afternoon, at a watchmaker's, and he told me that he did not experience the slightest inconvenience from his exertions in speaking in the morning, and that he never felt better. That night he was at a ball, and, I am told, was uncommonly gay and agreeable. On Friday morning he was again well, had eaten his breakfast as usual, and was standing up before the fire, reading a newspaper when death struck him in the manner I have mentioned. No one was in the room but his son, a fine young man of nineteen, and a little negro boy. It is easy to imagine the shock it must have given to his family."
The withdrawal of one so distinguished from the sphere of practice, left, as in the case of Mr. Pinkney, a void at the bar which Mr. Wirt was destined to supply, in some degree, by the enlargement of his own business. But, as in the former case, a competitor was removed whose great legal skill and various accomplishments had served to exalt the standard of professional excellence in the forum, and thus to demand a more perfect and sustained discipline from those who entered into the friendly and exciting rivalries of intellectual prowess. We shall not find, how
ever, that Mr. Wirt relaxed in any degree, his laborious study or careful preparation for the trials of his vocation. Study and preparation had become the fixed habits of his nature, and, to the last moment of his life, he seems to have been stimulated to his professional efforts by the same eager and ambitious emulation with which he entered upon the contests of his earlier days.
Gilmer had written to him about this time, to ask him to transcribe a speech which he had made on some recent occasion at the bar. This gentleman was then preparing a new edition of his "Sketches of American Orators," and had composed some additional articles for the work, in which he had furnished portraits of some of the most conspicuous gentlemen in Congress, who had not been noticed in the former edition. From considerations of a private, nature, I believe, this new edition was never published.
Mr. Wirt's reply to the letter, asking for this contribution, contains some suggestions in regard to the writing out of speeches, which will explain how he himself, at least, comes to be in danger of a short report with posterity upon this point:
TO FRANCIS W. GILMER.
WASHINGTON, April 2, 1825.
"You are to understand that I have two objections to writing out my arguments. The first and most operative one is, that I am too lazy. But this I could overcome if I could persuade myself that the play was worth the candle. That it is not, is the second objection.
"The truth is, I am so overworked from September to April, and from the last of April till the middle of July, that I am glad enough to find 'a time for frighted peace to pant, and breathe short winded accents of new broils.' The interval that comes to enable me to stretch my limbs, and say,- now, soul, take thine ease,'-is so sweet that I cannot persuade myself to violate it by tasking myself to a new effort, which, perchance, may, after all, do more harm than good.
"When Fame is in a good humor she makes merrier work with her trumpet than vestal Truth would do. Is it my business, according to the law of evidence, to bear testimony against myself? If