Abbildungen der Seite



In resuming my "Glances at Congress," as the Twenty-fifth Congress with which they commenced is about expiring, it is impossible to avoid a passing reflection on the striking changes, evident at a glance' to one who knew the body at its commencement, and looked on it at its close.

[ocr errors]

Some whose faces were once familiar to me are no longer to be seen. Their places are filled with strangers. Some have retired from public service into the more quiet employments and enjoy. ments of domestic life. It is not without painful emotions that I recall to my memory the countenances of some, who, at the organization of this Congress, sat here, like their successors, with hearts swelling with hope and expectation, and responding to the sensibilities of friendship and conjugal and paternal affection, and to the aspirations of ambition, who now live only in the memory of their friends and countrymen. The agitation, the intrigues, the angry collisions, and the foul deed of violence which marked the last session, will pass in rapid review before the mind; but upon all these time has dropped the curtain, and I shall not uplift it.

I must dwell a moment on the new arrangements of the Hallan edifice itself of the most impressive character, in an architec. tural point of view. The Speaker's chair, the Clerk's table, and the seats of the members are restored to the position in which they were prior to the alterations authorized by the House, in the first session of the twenty-second Congress. The chair is now placed where it was originally designed to be-in the centre of the base of the half circle, which is the form of the Hall; and where it is the focus of all the sound, from whatever part of the Hall it may The opposite arrangement, which has been abandoned, was unarchitectural, and destructive of the original plan of the Hall. The first alteration was an experiment in acoustics, which theory did not justify, and which upon trial proved abortive. The object of the change was to increase the facility of speaking and hearing, but its effect was to deform the room, without gaining any advantage in this respect. Under the present arrangement, every thing which is uttered in any part of the Hall may be heard at the chair, and whatever is said at the chair is audible throughout the Hall.


It has been said—whether truly or not, I do not know-that the original design of the architect was to construct the Hall with a view to enable the members to address the House from the tribune, as in the French chamber of Deputies. If this was his object, it must be admitted that he succeeded in it most admirably. There is not a place, except the chair or Clerk's table, from which a member may be distinctly heard in all parts of the Hall. It is also difficult, even for veteran orators to speak in this Hall; to fill it with a volume of tone is impossible. The consequence is, that every speaker who is solicitous of being heard strains and breaks, and soon ruins his voice. The most successful speakers here have been those whose voices were shrill and fife-like, and destitute of deep and guttural tones. John Randolph and Philip P. Barbour, as I well remember, had voices so admirably adapted to the Hall that they could speak in it, and be entirely audible in every part, without any seeming effort. John Randolph, in his very lowest tones of passion and feeling, was distinctly heard in every recess of the House. This, to be sure, may be partly attributable to the silence and attention which he always commanded, but more to the peculiarity of his voice. Before dismissing the Hall, however, and its arrangements, I must be indulged in a passing protest against the vile taste in upholstery which still seems to have the ascendent about the Speaker's chair. The vulgar and gingerbread finery of the former plan has only given place to a tower of merino tasselled and fringed, more, much more obnoxious and offensive, inasmuch as to procure the room for this tasteless display, the unpardonable liberty has been taken of greatly abridging the limited space of the ladies' gallery, shutting out the public from a most advantageous position to see the House, and adding vastly and most unjustifiably to the discomfort and inconvenience of the place. We hope the Speaker or the new Clerk will deem it worth their while for the future to prevent these fantastic yet expensive tricks of upholstery run mad.

Mentioning the Speaker's chair, I cannot avoid the expression of my regret that its distinguished occupant is so soon voluntarily to retire from a position which he has made illustrious as it was arduous, it being well known that this is the last year of Mr. Polk's long and favorable term of service in the House.

The Democratic Review has already given a fine sketch of the Speaker's life, but I may notwithstanding be permitted to add the remarks that fall within my own peculiar range of observation. I have never seen a man preside over a popular legislative body with more dignity and effect than Mr. Polk. In person he is rather below the middle size, and has a firm and upright carriage which gives great self-possession and command to his manner. His head is finely formed, with a broad and ample forehead, and features in

dicative of a character at once urbane and decided. He is scrupu lous in his dress and always appears in the chair as if he were at a dinner party. His quickness of eye and ear in presiding over the House, his untiring attention, which never flags for a moment, seem to give his presence a species of ubiquity. His manner towards a member when speaking is that of an earnest listener, and so completely is he master of this art of necessary politeness, that even when he is signing bills, or doing some other indispensable duty, it would not be apparent that he had in the least withdrawn his at tention. His knowledge of the rules of the House is more extens sive and minute than that of any member of the body, and this doubtless is one cause of his admirable success in conducting its business. Mr. Polk must have worked hard to acquire this, but its possession has been proved on so many occasions that it is no longer disputed. In stating a decision, or settling a point of order, his man ner and tone are at once fluent and collected, as if speaking from an entire consciousness of right, and intimate knowledge of his position. The soundness of his judgment has been confirmed in repeated appeals which disconcerted partizans have made from his decisions. Every party now willingly unites in testifying to the rare ability and success with which he has filled this most difficult and unenviable position.

Who will be his successor, I cannot foretell; but this is certain, that it will be easier to find a successor to his place, than to fill his place. By his prompt and firm interposition of the authority of the chair, he has guided the House through many storms and agitations; and often have I seen shallow impertinence and brazen impudence abashed by his collected and dignified rebuke.

Immediately below the Speaker, at the centre of the semicircular table or tribune which fronts the Hall, the figure of a young man with spectacles, oval countenance, and hair brushed aside from his forehead, will attract the attention. It is Hugh A. Garland, of Virginia, the new Clerk of the House, whose election at the commencement of the present Session over Mr. St. Clair Clarke, an opponent so influential and so popular that he was believed to be invincible, was a source of much congratulation to the administration party, and of surprise as well as mortification to the opposition. Though scarcely over thirty, Mr. Garland has brought to his present position a high political reputation, the more honorable as it was achieved in a State prolific of public talent, and where the science of politics is more generally cultivated and understood than in any other part of the Union. His career in the Legislature of Virginia was brilliant and successful. He was prominent among those who, in that highly respectable and leading assembly, took ground in support of the late President Jackson, upon the great financial questions which were agitated during his administration.

In regard to the vital question, now the test of political faith before the people of this country-I mean the separation of the Government from Banks-he was emphatically a pioneer of those doctrines which the Democratie party has espoused and will sustain. With a quick genius, he combines the habit of labor; and to entire purity of character, uniform courtesy of manner, and an amiable temper, he adds that firmness of purpose which is indispensable to political success, and which makes friends or creates respect, even where it disappoints. It has already carried him through difficulties that might have vanquished sterner spirits. Though thus decided in his personal opinions, Mr. Garland, as an officer, has won general esteem on both sides of the House, from the sincere impartiality with which he executes the duties of a situation which necessarily brings him into relations with every member. His manner of reading is scholar-like and effective. His voice is so well regulated, and his pronunciation so distinct, that it is evident he has cultivated reading as a polite art. In person, he is tall and slender. His complexion is pale, and he has that slight and peculiar stoop of the shoulders which designates so frequently studious men.

It is the general belief, even among his own party friends, that Mr. Garland could not have been elected but for the successful introduction of the viva-voce system of voting, by one of those cousummate applications of parliamentary tactics, so rarely possible, when brought to bear on a system so intricately complex as the standing rules and orders of the House of Representatives.

A little to the left of the Speaker, at one of the central desks, we may see General Dromgoole, of Virginia, who effected this important result. One would scarcely believe him, from his appearance, to be thus versed in a skill only deemed acquirable by long and minute acquaintance with Congressional usages. He is a well-built, middle-aged man, though on the young side of the prime of life. Being of a florid complexion, and being exceedingly nearsighted, from which has proceeded a habit of peering as it were through his spectacles, his general appearance would not, perhaps, give a casual observer an impression of the powerful intellect and extensive information he possesses.

General Dromgoole has effected a great political good, by introducing and carrying through, in the highest representative body in the Union, this important precedent of the viva-voce system of voting in elections of officers of the House. He brought forward the measure under discouraging circumstances, but his tact and address supplied the lack of other advantages, and his eloquent vindication of that mode of voting secured success to his motion. I have heard it said by experienced members, that no one member could have carried through that important and interesting innovation except General Dromgoole. Upon this measure alone,

which may be said to republicanize the elections of the House, any member might be content to rest the fame of his Congressional career. But General D. has, on other occasions, evinced a remarkable degree of parliamentary address, and has always exerted it for the protection and advantage of the House, and not for mere ostentation. Once or twice he has, by a prompt movement, brought the House out of great difficulty, as I have heard a prominent opposition member declare.

General Dromgoole speaks but seldom-and I am sorry for it, -for no man is more capable of enlightening and gratifying his hearers and the country. Well do I recollect his speech on the Independent Treasury Bill. It took many by surprise, who dreamt not of the power that slumbered in this modest and retiring member. The speech was a model of parliamentary eloquence; fluent and harmonious in diction, lucid in arrangement, and so powerful in argument, that it would answer as well now, as when it was spoken, to produce conviction. The effort brought upon its author as much censure as praise, from his political friends,-for they blamed him for not coming out before.

General Dromgoole came into Congress with a high reputation. He was elected to the General Assembly of Virginia in April, 1823, and has remained in public life ever since. He served three years only in the House of Delegates, when he was elected to the Senate, in which body he served nine years, with such distinction that during the three last he was Speaker of the body.

No member of Congress has been more thoroughly consistent in ⚫ his principles than General Dromgoole. In the first session of his service in the Legislature of Virginia, he opposed the re-charter of the Farmers' Bank of Virginia; and then, with other young friends, of whom J. Y. Mason-who in the recent interesting contest for United States Senator received the honorable tribute of the unanimous support of the Democratic party for the office-was one, denounced the general tendency of the banking system as it then existed, and in a series of able arguments demonstrated the inconsistency of the privileges and monopolies secured by their charters, with Democratic principles and free and equal rights. Before he left the House of Delegates, Congress had passed the law for appropriations for making surveys preparatory to a general system of internal improvement, and had also increased the Tariff for the avowed purpose of fostering and encouraging domestic manufactures; against which measures he took a decided stand, maintaining then, as he ever has done since, that they were both violations of the Constitution, and he anxiously desired that the General Assembly should at once take ground against the dangerous heresies of the miscalled American System, and re-assert the ancient doctrines of Virginia Republicanism. So conspicuous were the

« ZurückWeiter »