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Chapter 22: 1848!

The Year of Hope! You have not forgotten, O reader, the thrill, the tumult, the ecstasy of joy with which, on the morning of March 28th, 1848, you read in the morning papers these electric and transporting capitals. Regale your eyes with them once more:

Fifteen days later from Europe.

arrival of the Cambria.

highly important news!

Abdication of Louis Phillippe!

A Republic proclaimed.

the royal family have left Paris.

assault on the Palais royal.

great loss of life.

communication with the interior cut off.

Resignation of Ministers.

revolt in Amiens—Paris in alarm.

What history is condensed in these few words? Why has not that history been faithfully and minutely recorded, as a warning and a guide to the men of future revolutions? Why has no one deduced from the events of the last eighty years a science of Revolution, laid down the principles upon which success is possible, probable, certain? The attempt, and not the deed confounded Europe, [283] and condemned her to more years of festering stagnation. ‘As I looked out of the window of my hotel, in Boulogne,’ says a recent traveler, ‘it seemed to me that all the men were soldiers, and that women did all the work.’ How pitiful! How shameful! A million of men under arms! The army, the elite of the nation! One man of every ten to keep the other, nine in order! O infinite and dastardly imbecility!

I need not say that the Tribune plunged into the European contests headlong. It chronicled every popular triumph with exultation unbounded. One of the editors of the paper, Mr. Charles A. Dana, went to Europe to procure the most authentic and direct information of events as they transpired, and, his letters over the well-known initials, “C. A. D.,” were a conspicuous and valuable feature of the year. Mr. Greeley wrote incessantly on the subject, blending advice with exhortation, jubilation with warning. In behalf of Ireland, his sympathies were most strongly aroused, and he accepted a place in the ‘Directory of the Friends of Ireland,’ to the funds of which he contributed liberally.

It was in August of this year, that the famous ‘Slievegammon’ letters were published. As frequent allusions to this amusing affair are still made in the papers, it may as well be explained here. The country was on the tiptoe of expectation for important news of the Irish rebellion. The steamer arrived. Among the despatches of the Tribune were three letters from Dublin, giving news not contained in the newspapers. The Tribune ‘without vouching for the accuracy of the statements,’ made haste to publish the letters, with due glorification. This is one of them:

Dublin, Aug. 3, 1848.

No newspaper here dare tell the truth concerning the battle of Slieve-namon, but from all we can learn, the people have had a great victory. Gen. Macdonald, the commander of the British forces, is killed, and six thousand troops are killed and wounded. The road for three miles is covered with the dead. We also have the inspiring intelligence that Kilkenny and Limerick have been taken by the people. The people of Dublin hare gone in thousands to assist in the country. Mr. John B. Dillon was wounded in both legs. Mr. Meagher was also wounded in both arms. It is generally expected that Dublin will rise and attack the jails on Sunday night, (Aug. 6.)

All the people coming in on the Railroad are cautioned and commanded [284] not to toll the news. When the cars arrive, thousands of the Dublin people are waiting for the intelligence. The police drive away those who are seen asking questions. Why all this care of the government to prevent the spread of intelligence, unless it be that something has happened which they want kept as a secret? If they had obtained a victory they would be very apt to let us know it.

We are informed that the 3d Bluffs (a regiment of Infantry) turned and fought with the people. The 31st regiment, at Athlone, have also declared for the people, and two regiments have been sent to disarm them.

The mountain of Slievenamon is almost inaccessible. There is but one approach to it. It is said to be well supplied with provisions. It was a glorious place for our noble Smith O'Brien to select. It is said he has sixty thousand men around him, with a considerable supply of arms, ammunition, and cannon. In ‘98, the rebels could not be taken from Slievenamon until they chose to come out themselves.

A lady who came to town yesterday, and who had passed the scene of battle, said that for three miles the stench arising from the dead men and horses was almost suffocating.

Wexford was quite peaceable till recently—but the government in its madness proclaimed it, and now it is in arms to assist the cause. Now that we are fairly and spiritedly at it, are we not worthy of help? What are you doing for us? People of America, Ireland stretches her hand to you for assistance. Do not let us be disappointed.


For a day or two, the Irish and the friends of Ireland exulted; but when the truth became known, their note was sadly changed, and the Tribune was widely accused of having originated a hoax. Whereas, it was only too innocent!

The most remarkable feature of the affair was, that the letters were written in good faith. The mind of Dublin was in a delirium of excitement, rumors of the wildest description were readily believed, and the writer of the Slievegammon letters was as completely deceived as any of his readers. It need only be added, that Horace Greeley never saw the letters till he saw them in print in the columns of the Tribune; when they appeared, he was touring in the uttermost parts of Lake Superior.

This was the year, too, of the Taylor and Fillmore “campaign;” from which, however, the Tribune held obstinately aloof till late in the summer. Mr. Greeley had opposed the nomination of Gen. Taylor from the day it began to be agitated. He opposed it at the nominating convention in Philadelphia, and used all his influence [285] to secure the nomination of Henry Clay. As soon as the final ballot decided the contest in favor of Taylor, he rushed from the hall in disgust, and, on his return to New York, could not sufficiently overcome his repugnance to the ticket, to print it, as the custom then was, at the head of his editorial columns. He ceased to oppose the election of Gen. Taylor, but would do nothing to promote it. The list of candidates does not appear, in the usual place in the Tribune, as the regular ‘Whig nominations,’ till the twenty-ninth of September, and even then, our editor consented to its appearance with great reluctance. Two days before, a whig meeting had been held at Vauxhall Garden, which Mr. Greeley chanced to attend. He was seen by the crowd, and after many, and very vociferous calls, he made a short address, to the following effect:

I trust, fellow-citizens, I shall never be afraid nor ashamed to meet a Whig assemblage and express my sentiments on the political questions of the day. And although I have had no intimation till now that my presence here was expected or desired, I am the more ready to answer your call since I have heard intimations, even from this stand, that there was some mystery in my course to be cleared up—some astounding revelation with regard to it to be expected. And our eloquent friend from Kentucky even volunteered, in his remarks, to see me personally and get me right. If there be indeed any mystery in the premises, I will do my best to dispel it. But I have, in truth, nothing to reveal. I stated in announcing Gen. Taylor's nomination, the day after it was made, that I would support if I saw no other way, to defeat the election of Lewis Cass. That pledge I have ever regarded. I shall faithfully redeem it. And, since there is now no chance remaining that any other than Gen. Taylor or Gen. Cass can be elected, I shall henceforth support the ticket nominated at Philadelphia, and do what I can for its election.

But I have not changed my opinion of the nomination of Gen. Taylor. I believe it was unwise and unjust. For Gen. Taylor, personally, I have ever spoken with respect; but I believe a candidate could and should have been chosen more deserving, more capable, more popular. I cannot pretend to support him with enthusiasm, for I do not feel any.

Yet while I frankly avow that I would do little merely to make Gen. Taylor President, I cannot forget that others stand or fall with him, and that among them are Fillmore and Fish and Patterson, with whom I have battled for the Whig cause ever since I was entitled to vote, and to whom I cannot now be unfaithful. I cannot forget that if Gen. Taylor be elected we shall in all probability have a Whig Congress; if Gen. Cass is elected, a Loco-Foco Congress. Who can ask me to throw away all these because of my objections to Gen. Taylor? [286]

And then the question of Free Soil, what shall be the fate of that? 1 presume there are here some Free Soil men [ “Yes! Yes! all Free soil!” ]—I mean those to whom the question of extending or restricting Slavery outweighs all other considerations. I ask these what hope they have of keeping Slavery out of California and New-Mexico with Gen. Cass President, and a Loco-Foco Congress? I have none. And I appeal to every Free Soil Whig to ask himself this question— “How would South Carolina and Texas wish you to vote” Can you doubt that your bitter adversaries would rejoice to hear that you had resolved to break off from the Whig party and permit Gen Cass to be chosen President, with an obedient Congress? I cannot doubt it. And I cannot believe that a wise or worthy course, which my bitterest adversaries would gladly work out for me.

Of Gen. Taylor's soundness on this question, I feel no assurance, and can give none. But I believe him clearly pledged by his letters to leave legislation to Congress, and not attempt to control by his veto the policy of the country. I believe a Whig Congress will not consent to extend Slavery, and that a Whig President will not go to war with Congress and the general spirit of his party. So believing, I shall support the Whig nominations with a view to the triumph of Free Soil, trusting that the day is not distant when an amendment of the Federal Constitution will give the appointment of Postmasters and other local officers to the People, and strip the President of the enormous and anti-republican patronage which now causes the whole Political action of the country to hinge upon its Presidential Elections. Such are my views; such will be my course. I trust it will no longer be pretended that there is any mystery about them.

This speech was received with particular demonstrations of approval. It was felt that a serious obstacle to Gen. Taylor's success was removed, and that now the whig party would march on in an unbroken phalanx to certain victory.

The day which secured its triumph elected Horace Greeley to a seat in the House of Representatives, which the death of a member had made vacant. He was elected for one session only, and that, the short one of three months. How he came to be nominated has been explained by himself in a paragraph on the corruptive machinery of our primary elections: ‘An editor of the Tribune was once nominated through that machinery. So he was—to serve ninety days in Congress—and he does n't feel a bit proud of it. But let it be considered that the Convention was not chosen to nominate him, and did not (we presume) think of doing any such thing, [287] until it had unanimously nominated another, who unexpectedly declined, and then one of us was pitched upon to supply his place. We don't know whether the Primaries were as corrupt then as now or not; our impression is that they have been growing steadily worse and worse—but no matter—let us have them reformed.’

His nomination introduced grit spirit into the contest, and he was voted for with enthusiasm, particularly by two classes, working-men and thinking-men. His majority over his opponent was 3,177, the whole number of votes being 5,985. His majority considerably exceeded that of Gen. Taylor in the same wards. At the same election Mr. Brooks, of the Express, was elected to a seat in the House, and his “Card” of thanksgiving to those who had voted for him, elicited or suggested the following from Mr. Greeley:

To the electors of the Vith Congressional District.

The undersigned, late a candidate for Congress, respectfully returns his thanks—first, to his political opponents for the uniform kindness and consideration with which he was treated by them throughout the canvass, and the unsolicited suffrages with which he was honored by many of them; secondly, to the great mass of his political brethren, for the ardent, enthusiastic and effective support which they rendered him; and, lastly, to that small; portion of the Whig electors who saw fit to withhold from him their votes, thereby nearly or quite neutralizing the support he received from the opposite party. Claiming for himself the right to vote for or against any candidate of his party as his own sense of right and duty shall dictate, he very freely accords to all others the same liberty, without offense or inquisition.

During the late canvass I have not, according to my best recollection, spoken of myself, and have not replied in any way to any sort of attack or imputation. I have in no manner sought to deprecate the objections, nor to soothe the terrors of that large and most influential class who deem my advocacy of Land Reform and Social Re-organization synonymous with Infidelity and systematic Robbery. To have entered upon explanations or vindications of my views on these subjects in the crisis of a great National struggle, which taxed every energy, and demanded every thought, comported neither with my leisure nor my inclinations.

Neither have I seen fit at any time to justify nor allude to my participation in the efforts made here last summer to aid the people of Ireland in their anticipated struggle for Liberty and Independence. I shall not do so now. What I did then, in behalf of the Irish millions, I stand ready to do again [288] so far as my means will permit, when a similar opportunity, with a like prospect of success, is presented—and not for them only, but for any equally oppressed and suffering people on the face of the earth. If any “ extortion and plunder” were contrived and perpetrated in the meetings for Ireland at Vauxhall last season, I am wholly unconscious of it, though I ought to be as well informed as to the alleged “ extortion and plunder” as most others, whether my information were obtained in the character of conspirator or that of victim. I feel impelled, however, by the expressions employed in Mr. Brooks's card, to state that I have found nothing like an inclination to “ extortion and plunder” in the councils of the leading friends of Ireland in this city, and nothing like a suspicion of such baseness among the thousands who sustained and cheered them in their efforts. All the suspicions and imputations to which those have been subjected, who freely gave their money and their exertions in aid of the generous though ineffectual effort for Ireland's liberation, have originated with those who never gave that cause a prayer or a shilling, and have not yet traveled beyond them.


Horace Greeley. New York, Nov. 8, 1848.

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