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the summer of 1839, he made a visit, for health and recreation, to the country on the lakes, Canada, and the state of New York.
At the city of Buffalo he yielded to the request of his friends, to address the people on the state of public affairs. Alluding to the approaching nomination and election of president, he said: “To correct past evils and to avert impending dangers, we see no effectual remedy, but in a change of our rulers. The opposition constitutes the majority-unquestionably the majority-of the nation. A great responsibility, therefore, attaches to it. If defeated, it will be defeated by its own divisions, and not by the merits of the principles of its opponents.
These divisions are at the same time our weakness and their strength.
“ Are we not, then, calied upon, by the highest duties to our country, to its free institutions, to posterity, and to the world, to rise above all local prejudices, and personal partialities, to discard all collateral questions, to disregard every subordinate point, and, in a genuine spirit of compromise and concession, uniting, heart and hand, to preserve for ourselves the blessings of a free government, wisely, honestly, and faithfully administered, and as we received them from our fathers, to transmit them to our children? Should we not justly subject ourselves to eternal reproach, if we permitted our differences about mere men to bring defeat and disaster upon our cause ? Our principles are imperishable, but men have but a fleeting existence, and are themselves liable to change and corruption during its brief continuance.
"If my name creates any obstacle to union and harmony, away with it, and concentrate upon some individual more acceptable to all branches of the opposition. What is a public man worth, who is not ready to sacrifice himself for the good of his country? I have unaffectedly desired retirement; I yet desire it, when, consistently with the duties and obligations which I owe, I can honorably retire."
In the ranks of the opposition to the administration were many who had formerly supported the election of General Jackson, and still retained a prejudice against Mr. Clay; there were also in the same ranks, large numbers of anti-masons who were unwilling to support a mason for the presidency, and Mr. Clay had been a member of the lodge; then came the anti-tariff whigs in the southern states, and the squatters on the public lands, at the west; with both of which classes Mr. Clay was unpopular, from the measures advocated by him in Congress being adverse to their views and feelings. In view of these circumstances, and believing that to command success the whig candidate for the presidency must receive the united support of the different branches of the opposition, many of the leading whigs exerted themselves to prevent the nomination of Mr. Clay. It was even charged by those friends who were anxious for his nomination, that intriguers were busy, before the meeting of the convention, by correspondence and otherwise, in circulating false reports with regard to Mr. Clay's unpopularity, and thus influencing the election of delegates and their action in the convention.
On the meeting of the convention at Harrisburg, three names were presented as candidates for the nomination of a president of the United States, namely, Henry Clay, of Kentucky, General William Henry Harrison, of Ohio, and General Winfield Scott, of the United States army; all three of whom were natives of Virginia. Twenty-two states were represented in the convention, and on an informal ballot per capita, it was found that Mr. Clay had a decided plurality, but neither of the candidates had a clear majority of the delegates. It was then determined to vote by states, each state to be entitled to as many votes in the convention as it had electoral votes. On the first ballot, 103 votes were given to Clay, 94 to Harrison, and 57 to Scott; after which, each delegation compared views, and endeavored to ascertain which of the three candidates had the best prospects of success, if nominated. The result of their inquiries was a decided preponderance of chances in favor of General Harrison, and, after being in session three days, the convention took a final ballot, when Harrison received 148 votes, Clay 90, and Scott 16. William H. Harrison was therefore declared duly nominated as the whig candidate for president. John Tyler, of Virginia, was unanimously nominated for vicepresident. Mr. Tyler had been a candidate for the same office in 1836; was now a member of the convention, and had been anxious for the nomination of Mr. Clay.
Those friends of Mr. Clay in the convention who had adhered to him as the best candidate, expressed their cordial concurrence in the decision in favor of General Harrison. A letter from Mr. Clay to one of the delegates was read, in which he remarked, that “if the deliberation of the convention should lead them to the choice of another, as the candidate of the opposition, far from feeling any discontent, the nomination would have his best wishes, and receive his cordial support.”
The example of Mr. Clay was followed throughout the Union, notwithstanding the first feelings of disappointment with which the decision of the convention was received by many. The nomination of Harrison and Tyler was everywhere popular, and united in its support the entire force of the opposition.
The national democratic convention, consisting of about 250 members, from twenty-one states, met at Baltimore on the 5th of May, 1840. Mr. Van Buren was unanimously nominated for president, and the convention resolved to make no nomination for vice-president, leaving each state to make its own nomination of a candidate for that office. The principal candidates nominated in the different states for vice-president, were the incumbent, Richard M. Johnson, of Kentucky, and James K. Polk, of Tennessee.
The early part of the first session of Congress was taken up, in the
house, in discussions respecting the contested seats of the New Jersey members. That matter being settled, by admitting the democratic claim. ants to the seats, the house proceeded to the consideration of the subjects submitted to them by the president. Long and able debates took place on the bill for establishing an “independent treasury,” which had been twice rejected by the last Congress. It was now passed, toward the close of the session, and was signed by the president on the 4th of July, 1840, when it became a law. A bankrupt law being much called for by the trading community, a bill was introduced at this session, and passed the senate, but was laid on the table in the house of representatives, 101 to 89.
But few laws of general interest were passed at this session. Appropriations for fortifications, and for the usual expenditures of government, were made. An act was passed to refund to Matthew Lyon the amount, with interest, paid by him as a fine for violating the sedition law.
Some changes took place in the cabinet, in addition to those already mentioned. In 1838 Benjamin F. Butler resigned as attorney-general, and Felix Grundy, of Tennessee, was appointed in his place ; in 1839 Mr. Grundy resigned, and Henry D. Gilpin, of Pennsylvania, received the appointment in his place; Amos Kendall resigned the office of postmaster-general, and John M. Niles, of Connecticut, was appointed in his place, on the 25th of May, 1840.
The elections for state officers in several of the states, during the summer and autumn of 1840, indicated the success of the whigs at the approaching presidential election. The contest of the two great parties at the latter, was the most exciting and arduous ever witnessed in the United States. Electoral tickets in favor of the re-election of Mr. Van Buren were formed in every state in the Union, and the whigs also nominated electors in every state except South Carolina.
A third party, in favor of the abolition of slavery, had also been for some time organized, and now nominated as a candidate for president, James G. Birney, of Michigan.
The result of the election was the success of the whig candidates, Harrison and Tyler, by a large majority in the electoral colleges and on the popular vote. The electoral votes stood, for president, Harrison 234, Van Buren, 60; for vice-president, Tyler 234, R. M. Johnson 48, L. W.Taze. well 11, James K. Polk 1.
The second session of the twenty-sixth Congress was held from the 7th of December, 1840, to the 3d of March, 1841, when their term expired. Very few public acts of interest or importance were passed at this session. Appropriations were made for certain fortifications, and for Indian affairs; and an act was passed authorizing another issue of treasury-notes. A bankrupt law was again discussed, but was not definitely
In the senate Mr. Clay offered the following resolution, to test the disposition of the administration party to conform to the expression of public opinion, by repealing the sub-treasury law : " Resolved, That the act entitled, “an act for the collection, safe-keeping, transfer, and disbursement of the public revenues,' ought to be forth with repealed, and that the committee on finance be instructed to report a bill accordingly.” This resolution was rejected by the senate, and the repeal of the law was left for the new administration.
The public expenditures during this administration greatly exceeded those of any preceding four years, since the war with Great Britain, exclusive of the public debt and the Florida Indian war. were multiplied, and increased compensation, in many cases, allowed them for their services. Large sums were lost to the national treasury by the defalcation of public officers, and the failure of deposite banks.
The character of Mr. Van Buren's administration is, of course, differently estimated by his countrymen, according to their political bias or preferences, and our readers may form their own estimate, from a perusal of the preceding brief narrative of the leading political events of this exciting period.
Although a majority of the house of representatives, in the twentyfifth Congress, was opposed to his administration, or some of his leading measures, Mr. Van Buren did not exercise the veto power during the four years of his presidential term.
A writer in the Democratic Review for April, 1840, makes the following comparison of this with former democratic administrations :
“ The great event of President Jackson's administration was the contest with the bank of the United States, and its destruction as a federal institution—that of Madison's was the war-while Jefferson's was rather a general revolution of the anti-democratic spirit and policy of the preceding administration, than marked by any single salient point of such historical prominence as to give its character and name to the period. The great event of Mr. Van Buren's administration, by which it will hereafter be known and designated, is the divorce of bank and state, in the fiscal affairs of the federal government, and the return, after half a century of deviation, to the original design of the constitution."
The same writer informs us that Mr. Van Buren remarked to a friend, previous to writing his message recommending the independent treasury: “We can not know how the immediate convulsion may result, but the people will, at all events, eventually come right, and posterity at least will do me justice. Be the present issue for good or for evil, it is for posterity that I will write this message.”
HENRY HARRISO N.
The family of Harrison is one of the most ancient and honorable in the history of Virginia. Among the early settlers of the colony was a lineal descendant of that General Harrison who bore a distinguished part during the civil wars of England, in the army of the Commonwealth.
Benjamin Harrison (of the same stock), the father of the subject of this memoir, was one of the signers of the declaration of independence, and among the most prominent of the illustrious men of his eventful day, having filled the executive chair of the “Old Dominion” at a period when moral daring and personal fearlessness were essential to the incumbent of that station. He was previously an active and influential member, both of the house of burgesses in Virginia, and of the continental Congress. Of the former body he was repeatedly chosen speaker, and in the latter, in June, 1776, he introduced the resolution which declared the independence of the colonies, and on the following fourth of July, as chairman of the committee of the whole, he reported the more formal declaration 10 which his signature is affixed. Governor Harrison died in 1791, after the most eminent public services, and the expenditure of an ample fortune in the cause of his country.
William Henry Harrison, the third and youngest son of the preceding, and ninth president of the United States, was born on the 9th of February, 1773, at Berkeley, on the James river, in Charles city county, Virginia. On the death of his father, he was placed under the guardianship of his intimate friend, Robert Morris, of Pennsylvania, the great financier of the revolution. Young Harrison was educated at Hampden Sidney college, in his native state, and afterward applied himself to the study of medicine as a profession. But before he had completed his course of studies as a physician, the barbarities of the Indians upon the western frontiers excited a feeling of indignation throughout the country. Har