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SILAS WRIGHT, JR.
The writer was invited one morning during the session of Congress in September, 1837, by a friend, to accompany him to the Senate chamber. The Vice President had not yet taken the Chair. A large number of the members, however, had assembled, some of whom were busily employed at their desks- others were looking leisurely over the newspapers—and others again were collected into groups, and engaged in familiar conversation.
The attention of the writer was soon attracted to an individual rather retiring in his manner-plainly but neatly dressed-of a stout muscular frame—whose countenance, as he spoke to those about him, was lighted up with a peculiarly pleasing and sunshiny smile. His open and serene forehead, and gentle but penetrating blue eye, seemed to mark their possessor as no ordinary man. On inquiring the name of this person, the reply was, “ That is no other than Mr. Wright, of New York.”
Having read the speeches of this gentleman, when at our home in the Southwest, with instruction as well as pleasure, and never having seen him before, we therefore scanned him the more narrowly. His features, when at rest, shadowed forth a mind full of benignity and power—that was rent by no stormy passions-that cherished no embittered or permanent feeling of enmity towards any living mortal-and that looked at all times and under all circumstances on the bright side of the picture of human life. It was readily evident, even to the casual observer, that Mr. Wright was on the best footing of personal relations with his political opponents as well as his political friends.
Silas Wright, Jr. was born in the town of Amherst, Massachusetts, on the 24th of May, 1795. Both his parents were natives of the county of Hampshire. They had nine children-five sons and four daughters—two of whom died in infancy; the rest, together with the father and mother, are now living. The elder Mr. Wright was by trade a tanner, currier, and shoemaker; which occupation he followed until March, 1796, when he removed to the town of Weybridge, Addison county, Vermont, where he purchased a farm, and where he has ever since devoted himself excla. sively to its cultivation. All the family, except Silas and his youngest sister, still reside in Vermont. The brothers, one only VOL. V. NO. XVI.—APRIL, 1839.
of whom is a graduate of a college, are all likewise farmers. The sisters married farmers, and one of them, a widow, now carries on a farm with the assistance of her sons; so that the whole family may most emphatically be regarded as the children of the ploughthan which we know no more honorable designation that wealth or rank could bestow.
Mr. Wright, the father, was indentured as an apprentice to his trade at an early age, and never was at school a day in his life. When he had “served out his time,” he could neither read nor write; but with the assistance of his fellow journeymen, he soon qualified himself both to read and to write, as well as to keep accounts and transact business with accuracy and facility. After his marriage his wife became his instructress-a service which she performed with all a woman's devotion and alacrity, and with a success proportionate to her own interest in the labor of love, and to the willing docility of her pupil.
Silas, like most of the rising youth of New England, attended the common schools in winter, and worked on the farm in summer, until he had passed his fourteenth year, when he was placed at an academy, that he might be prepared to enter college. The father perceived that his son was rarely endowed by nature, and was therefore the more anxious that he should enjoy the benefits of education denied by circumstances to himself. The tradition is, that he always regarded him with peculiar pride and delight, as destined to be the chief hope and ornament of the family.
In August, 1811, Mr. Wright became a student of the college at Middlebury, Vermont, where he remained until the summer of 1815, when he received his first degree of Bachelor of Arts.
The elder Mr. Wright has always been an earnest and determined Democrat. He became such during the first contest for the Presidency, in 1796, between Adams and Jefferson. On that occasion he supported the latter zealously, and has ever since cherished for his name and principles a veneration which time has rather increased than diminished. Even now he is a warm and active politician, within the limited sphere in which he moves. Between 1800 and 1810, he was repeatedly elected a member of the Legislature, and has ever been an ardent and firm Republican. He and his oldest son were in the battle of Plattsburg, under Macomb, in September, 1814, when the British fleet was captured on Lake Champlain, by McDonough, and Sir George Prevost with his forces defeated and driven back into Canada.
The husbands of two sisters of Mr. Wright were also in that battle as volunteers from the “Green Mountains," although the Federal Governor of Vermont, following the treacherous and cow. ardly example of Governors Strong of Massachusetts, Jones of Rhode Island, and Griswold of Connecticut, had positively refused to call out a single man to defend the invaded territory and habitations of an adjoining State-on the unworthy position that the militia could not be required to pass beyond the boundary lines of those States of which they were citizens.
During the four years passed by Mr. Wright in college, the num. ber of the class to which he belonged averaged about thirty. Then, as now, every student was a politician, and called himself either a Federalist or Democrat. Of the latter there were in this class only four, of whom it will readily be conceived that young Wright was one of the most ardent. His politics were never better known than at this period of his life. In October, 1815, he commenced the study of the law with Mr. Martindale, who resided at Sandy Hill, Washington county, New York, where he remained about eighteen months; when he removed to the office of Roger Skinner, Esq., which presented superior opportunities for acquiring a knowledge of the details of business, as he was at that time the attorney of the United States for the northern district of that State.
In January, 1819, Mr. Wright completed his preparatory legal studies, and was licensed to practice as an attorney of the Supreme Court of New York. His health being impaired by intense appli. cation to his books and at his desk, he spent the ensuing summer in travelling on horseback for its restoration, and with the view of selecting a place where he might settle himself permanently.
In October, 1819, he removed to Canton, in the county of St. Lawrence, and opened an office. The village was new, and the business in the courts both limited and unprofitable, so that the young lawyer made but little by his practice. His father was able to advance him only two hundred dollars to “start with," with one half of which he purchased a few books, while the other half served for a time to assist him to meet his immediate necessities.
We can easily imagine how forlorn must have been the situation of young Wright, in this the commencement of his professional career-without property or any relatives or friends near him, and surrounded by strangers--and when he saw that he must rely solely on his own efforts and merits to sustain himself. Yet we do not doubt, could the truth be known, that in this trying crisis he found precious consolation in the conviction that he must rise by the force of his abilities to distinction. It is this early suffering and training that prepare men of great talents to make their way good up the steep and rugged ascents of fame.
Finding that his small means were rapidly wasting away, Mr. Wright consented to accept the office of village postmaster, the emoluments being equal perhaps to one or two dollars a week. Here he had full opportunity to manifest that naturally kind and obliging disposition, of which, wherever his subsequent course of life has led him, he appears to have equally every where left the most pleasing impression.
After some time Mr. Wright was appointed the captain of a militia company; and the memory of the village chroniclers bears testimony that the able and amiable Senator was one of the most indulgent and popular of militia captains, and that "the boys" soon became warınly attached to him. The next public office which he held was that of a justice of the peace, the duties of which he discharged entirely to the satisfaction of the people, and thereby extended his acquaintance with them. He was not long afterwards commissioned as the Surrogate of the county of St. Lawrence, a situation rather more important and profitable than those which he had previously held.
But the public soon appreciated justly the abilities, studious habits, attainments and integrity of the young barrister. In the fall of the year 1823, without the slightest expectation of such an event on his part, Mr. Wright was nominated by his Democratic friends as a candidate for the office of Senator in the State Legislature. There was an overwhelming Federal majority in the county of St. Lawrence when Mr. Wright first settled in it; yet he had taken especial care to express, in the most public manner, his devotion to the principles of the Republican party. Still he was elected for the term of four years, and took his seat on the first Tuesday of January, 1824. During this winter the contest for the Presidency was waged in New York, as well as in other States of the Union, with the utmost violence. It resulted in the election of Mr. John Q. Adams by the House of Representatives, in February, 1825. The individuals voted for were Crawford, Jackson, Adams, and Clay. A caucus, composed of a portion of the members of Congress, had been held at Washington, which had nominated Mr. Crawford as the candidate of the old Republican party. At one time Mr. Calhoun's claims had been earnestly pressed in Pennsylvania, by many leading politicians who were devoted to his interests, but the great mass of the people there had espoused the cause of General Jackson.
The friends of Jackson, Clay and Adams had refused perempto. rily to submit their claims to the arbitrament of a caucus, which caused the division, distraction and defeat of the Democracy. Mr Wright, adhering as he has ever done to the principles of his party, advocated Mr. Crawford's election.
In order to defeat this wise, honest and fearless man, in New York and the contiguous States, a large number of politicians exhausted all their ingenuity and skill, secretly and assiduously, in exciting prejudices against the South. Appeals were made in behalf of Mr. Adams to the pride of the people, and it was urged that all the other candidates were southern men. By these means large numbers were decoyed from the Democratic into the Federal ranks.
From the time of the adoption of the Federal Constitution, up to the period of which we are now speaking, the electors of Presi. dent and Vice President in the State of New York had been chosen by the Legislature. The Federal party which supported Mr. Adams, having ascertained that the Republicans had elected a large majority of their friends to the Legislature, in order that they might have another chance, raised the cry that the electors ought to be chosen by the people. The followers of Mr. Clay, who were comparatively few, aided in this movement. As matters then stood, it was certain that Mr. Crawford would receive the undivided vote of the State. The conductors of the Federal presses joined in with this cry, and every where proclaimed that those members of the Assem. bly who should refuse to repeal the law which had been so long in force, without complaint from any quarter, were enemies to liberty, to the Constitution, and to the rights of the sovereign people!
It was insisted by the Republicans that there was much danger that the election of the President might be referred to the House of Representatives-that there bargain, intrigue, and management might be practised—that so great a State as New York should neither divide her vote in the electoral college, and thereby impair her strength, nor aid in any way in taking the election to a body where her political weight could not be an atom greater than that of Rhode Island or Delaware.
But the timid in the more popular branch of the Legislature became alarmed, and gave way, so that the Federalists gained the ascendancy there. A bill was passed in the lower House, giving the choice of Presidential electors to the people, which was thrown upon the Senate for its action. This body contains thirty-two members, of which seventeen were a bare majority. Every member, except one, was a Democrat on paper, and had been returned as such; and yet, when this bill was called up for discussion, only seventeen had the courage to oppose it, and denounce the views and schemes of those who had concocted and passed it. They stood to their posts unterrified, and rejected the bill. Immediately, every where throughout the State, they were assailed by the Federal opposition, and branded as “usurpers and tyrants”-as the “infamous seventeen"-as the “immortally infamous seventeen;" and so great was the height to which the popular fury was excited by the assiduous arts of the agitators, that they were burned and hanged in effigy in many parts of the country.
At the general election of November, 1824, the Democracy was utterly defeated. The candidate of the Opposition for the Executive chair received a majority of seventeen thousand votes. Gene