A Reminiscence of Jeff. Davis
.--I never saw the so-called President
of the so-called Southern Confederacy but once; but the circumstances were such as to distinctly impress the man's character, as revealed by that authentic medium, natural language, upon my mind.
A few days before the inauguration of General Taylor
, a lady of Washington
who had been a schoolmate of his daughter, invited us to accompany her on a visit of welcome to her old friend.
The greeting between them was most cordial; and being introduced to the family of the President elect
under such auspices, having no political object to gain by the acquaintance, we soon became on terms of familiar intercourse with the good old man, and improved opportunities to converse with him, not so much because of his antecedents and actual position, nor on account of any special interest which he himself inspired upon a superficial observation, but because a friend with whom I had been in the habit of discussing character had often entertained me with an account of a delightful sojourn at Prairie du Chien
in midwinter, when, during a Western tour, he was the guest of General Taylor
, whose conscientious and modest as well as patient and intrepid character he had learned to regard with the highest respect and affection.
It was one of those anomalous social experiences nowhere realized except in this land of transition and of contrasts, to hear the simple-hearted old general talk of his impressions, feelings, and purposes, amid the intrigues of office-hunters, and the ostentation of fashionable and the excitement of political life at Washington
on the eve of his inauguration.
Not a man of that eager and restless throng seemed more unconscious and unpretending than the one about to be installed as the head of the nation.
There was an almost ludicrous contrast between the homely costume and manners, the simple tastes and habits, and the frank and modest conversation of the
central figure, and the reserve or pretension of those surrounding him. He seemed literally “dragged along in the procession” of political aspirants, as Lamb
complained was his fate in the march of the new world.
More like a martyr than a victor, he “bore his faculties so meekly,” that it seemed as cruel to the man to wrest him from his native sphere, as inappropriate and undesirable for the country to place in the Presidential chair one whose aptitudes were almost exclusively for the post of a frontier soldier or thrifty agriculturist.
It needed no prescient insight to anticipate that he would become the tool of designing politicians, or the victim of unaccustomed responsibilities.
But these considerations only made him an object of sympathy to a looker-on, and increased the interest to observe from day to day the phenomena of that peaceful transfer of executive power, which, before the present climax of treasonable violence, has been one of the grandest tests and triumphs of free institutions.
A well-informed habitue of Washington society, behind all the political scenes and familiar with all the social agencies of the Capital
, kept us regularly informed of all that was going on, and interpreted what was perplexing.
It was through this invaluable cicerone
that I was notified when and where the committee appointed by Congress would wait upon the President elect
, and announce to him his election by the people as Chief Magistrate
It was doubtless with a courteous intent that Jefferson Davis
was made chairman of this committee,--his previous domestic relations with General Taylor
suggesting him as an acceptable medium ; though, had the public been as well informed as the private mind, such a choice would have been the last adopted.
The duty in question is, of course, only a form, to be fulfilled with the gravity and the grace adapted to the occasion, but calling for no display of rhetoric, and no assumption of official dignity; it is simply a constitutional observance, whereby the representatives of the nation testify to the result of the ballot, and state the same to the successful candidate.
's want of oratorical accomplishments, his aversion to display, his modest demeanor, and his conscientiousness, were known as well as his bravery and his patriotism, and would have been respected by a thorough gentleman in the discharge of this simple duty, which needed for its performance only quiet courtesy and respectful consideration.
Instead thereof, Jefferson Davis
, entering the hotel parlor, where General Taylor
was seated, with the aspect of a kindly, honest old farmer, paused about eight feet from him, threw back his shoulders, turned out his right foot, and with precisely the air of a complacent sophomore, began a loud harangue about the “highest office in the gift of a free people,” the “responsibility of an oath,” and other rhetorical platitudes; the needless pitch of his voice and dogmatism of his emphasis, the complacency and elaboration of his manner and assumption of his tone, in connection with the meek attitude and deprecatory air of his auditor, made the tableau resemble a prosecutor and prisoner at the bar. The difference of age and the former relations of the parties, (Davis
having by a runaway match married General Taylor
's daughter, who died a few months after,) and the utter novelty of the good old man's position, made the scene, to say the least, a flagrant violation of good taste not less than good feeling.
It was one of those unconscious and therefore authentic revelations of character, which reveal a man's disposition and temper better than a biography.
Though ostensibly doing him honor, the speaker seemed to half defy the gray-haired soldier, whose eyes were cast down, and whose hands were listlessly folded — to challenge, as it were, with his fluent self-confidence the uneloquent but intrepid man of action, and make him feel how alien to his habits and capacity was the arena to which popular enthusiasm had lifted him. In a word, Jefferson Davis
then and there appeared like the incarnation of rhetorical impudence; the style of the man was presumptuous and aggressive, and no delicacy of perception or fine instinct of humanity tempered his arrogant ambition; while the modest, patient, faithful old hero made the inference and the impression more vivid and repulsive; and the recent and recreant career of Jefferson Davis
— the bombastic mendacity, as well as the impudent and vulgar tone of his public communications — make this little episode foreshadow that impersonation of reckless audacity which confronts, with brazen aggressiveness, the free people of the United States
.--“Y.,” in the Boston Transcript, Oct