Mar 15, 1844
Naive Optimism vs. Impending Disaster: The Case of Gansevoort Melville’s Jubilee Speech
The famous writer’s once-famous brother shows us the dangers of investing society’s hopes in a program of political reform.
One hundred seventy-three years ago today, Herman Melville’s brother Gansevoort delivered the most famous and important speech of his life. Gansevoort, like Herman, was a Democrat and a radical to boot. If Herman was one of literary Young America’s brightest lights, his brother was on a similar level of significance in politics. During the late 1830s and early 1840s, the radical Locofoco movement blended itself politically with Democratic Party politics and culturally locked arms with John L. O’Sullivan and Evert Duyckinck’s Young Americans. Artists comingled and coordinated with activists, from the national scale right down to individual families. The political radicals claimed a great number of victories by the time Gansevoort made his speech: they had the presidency and Congress behind their economic agenda for four years; they suffered defeat in 1840 but commanded the party’s resurging prospects headed into the 1844 contest; and at the state and local level, radicals led powerful new fusions of popular politicking and cultural nationalism based on universal rights and individual sovereignty. For artists like Herman and activists like Gansevoort, 1844 was a year brimming with optimism and their victory seemed foreordained by history itself.
Melville’s audience gathered together on this date those many generations ago to celebrate the life and legacy of Andrew Jackson. The “Jackson Jubilee Speech” slashes at the presumptive Whig nominee for president, Henry Clay, and Melville deftly avoids taking a firm stand on who should represent his own party. Melville no doubt realized that supporting Van Buren would offend southern partisans and supporting anyone else would dramatically upset his New York audience, so he pledged himself to the will of the convention whatever it might produce. His speech, then, focuses on convincing women and immigrants that Young America and the Democracy spoke with their voice and for their equal, universal rights as well as its own. This offer (essentially made by the “white male” Democracy to the positively disenfranchised white community) is representative of the larger struggle at hand in 1844—most Democrats, including Van Buren himself, had been willing to compromise with radicals on economic and other matters if only they would maintain their silence on slavery. The Democracy depended upon Van Buren’s New York-Virginia axis, and if either section agitated the slavery question too dramatically it upset the coalition. The women’s and immigrant questions were not sectionally divisive matters and constituted clever and cutting-edge politicking. Plenty of activists and artists alike were happy to let the slavery matter lie and support the nominee, but Gansevoort makes great pains to court diehards in both developing blocs of pro- and anti-southern Democrats.
The month after Melville’s speech, both Martin Van Buren and Henry Clay publicly pronounced their opposition to the annexation of Texas. To his radical northern core of supporters, Van Buren proved himself the True Creed’s greatest benefactor and its truest national representative. To southerners, however, Van Buren stamped himself with the black mark of abolitionism. When their chieftain was defeated, northern party managers devised a stratagem to drive Van Burenites to the polls for Polk. The New York party placed radical champion Silas Wright on the ticket for governor and “Young Hickory” won the state (and the presidency) by only a few thousand votes. With Polk came Texas, and with Texas came war on Mexico. Though he stopped short of taking the entire country, Polk seized half of Mexico and poured out a veritable Pandora’s Box on the American political system.
After a hundred seventy years, it is easy for us to see how Melville and Young America’s naïve optimism contributed to the spread of slavery and the intensification of sectional conflict. Their political support for Polk’s Democracy betrayed their universalist-individualist ideology, and the first generation of Young Americans emerged from the war intellectually scarred by what they had done. Many of them resolved they would not be fooled again, nor would they allow themselves to compromise first principles for the sake of wielding political power. What will no doubt prove more difficult for us is seeing through the natural optimism that blinds all who stand on the edge of history. What are the Pandora’s Boxes in our own age, and will we know them when we see them? Will we successfully oust those who scuttle through the halls of power, clutching at crowbars before any further damage can be done? We certainly have good reason to be hopeful for the future, but Melville’s “Jackson Jubilee” speech suggests that any future which rests on politics is a cruel mirage or a tasteless joke.
Jackson Jubilee Speech
Given at the New York Tabernacle, 15 March 1844.
FELLOW DEMOCRATS—We are not here to mouth high-sounding phrases—to prate of transcendental philosophy in transcendental language—and to deify “The Mill Boy of the Slashes.” Neither are we here to indulge in fulsome eulogy, and debase ourselves at the foot stool of any man.— Nor are we here to enter deep into a discussion of the principles and policy of the democratic party. This is not the fitting time for the elaborate consideration of a subject so grave and weighty. What, then, are we here for? Why, this gathering in of the democratic host?—Wherefore are the beauty and the bravery of this fair city congregated here to-night? This is a jubilee. We come here to discharge a duty which is a pleasure. We are here to celebrate the anniversary of the birth day of Andrew Jackson—(applause)—the man who has filled the measure of his country’s glory. He who, in times not long passed, was our champion and our leader—he whose crest always danced in the hottest and thickest of the fight—he who swept on at the head of the democratic masses with a force as resistless as the surges of the sea. And we come here to celebrate the anniversary of his birth day, as he would have us celebrate it—to take each other by the hand—to look each other in the face—to cheer each other onward to feel that we stand as we did of yore, shoulder to shoulder, making common cause against a common enemy. (Cheers.) This is the way that the anniversary of his birth day should be celebrated. We are brethren and we meet as brethren. The spirit which actuates us, one and all, is the spirit of union, harmony, concession. Everything for the cause—nothing for men. Our opponents, the whigs, held a great pow-wow here on the fourth day of this present March. It was a celebration—in anticipation—of the inauguration—of Henry Clay. (Laughter.) Apprehensive that they will be deprived of his reality, they are determined not to do without the illusion. Their celebration will turn out to be very much like the dead sea apple—fair to the eye, but turning to ashes on the lips. They have enjoyed their shadow, but we have a word to say about the substance. Who ever before heard of a celebration in anticipation? There is not a farmer’s wife in the country but who might have taught the magnates of the Whig party here a lesson of practical wisdom, by simply referring to the old saw, that it is imprudent to count chickens before they are hatched. (Great laughter.) This celebration of theirs is pretty much the same thing as if some poor, hungry, starving loafer should cuddle up in a warm corner, close his eyes, shut his mouth, and eat a glorious good dinner—in imagination. (Continued laughter and cheers.) The Whigs said one thing at their late meeting here, which cannot be passed over in silence—The orator of the evening declared that the women were with them. This sentiment was concurred in by a very high authority. A gentleman who in private life is estimable and respectable, and to whom I only refer in his public capacity. He distinguished himself on that occasion—calling to mind the fact that the devil can quote scripture; and feeling justified by the precedent, he quoted scripture too, (laughter)…Now, with all due respect to such high authority, we meet this assertion boldly and plumply, and deny that the women are with them. On that point we are ready and desirous to join issue whenever and wherever they choose. On that point they have thrown down the gauntlet. We take it up, and in behalf of our fair democratic countrywomen, accept the challenge. Calling to witness the bright cestus of Venus and the blushes of young Aurora, we feel confident that we can produce more and prettier women than they can. (Tremendous cheering for several minutes.) When I learned that their orators had made that most monstrous assertion, it caused me to reflect. What, thought I, the fairer, the better, and the gentler sex—that we all delight to honor—to whom we all owe so much—they who make a paradise of home—against us! If this be so, we might as well give it up first as last—for it would be decidedly a bad job. (Laughter.) But it is not so. (Cheers.) Every man of us, on that subject, can speak from his own observation. (Cheers.) As for myself, I come from a stock, the women as well as the men, of which have, from the first organization of parties, manifested a preference for and a sympathy with the democratic cause. (Loud cheers.) If any man wishes more proof than is derived from his own personal knowledge, let him look around him. Those galleries will settle the question. (Tremendous applause and nine cheers for the ladies.) The wild flowers of feminine delicacy, beauty, and grace, that honor us with their presence here tonight, and whose exceeding loveliness might lure an anchorite from his cell, were never plucked from the prim and artificial gardens of modern whiggery. (Shouts of laughter and tremendous applause.)
Show me a woman who can sympathise with the magnificent mother of the Gracchi—who, when asked by the aristocratic dames of ancient Rome to exhibit her store of ornaments of gold and precious stones—answered, that she had none of these, but at the same time produced her two glorious sons, exclaiming, “these are my jewels.” Show me a woman who can understand this and feel it—and that woman is at heart a democrat. (Cheers.)…Now, my fair countrywomen, with your permission, a word with you. I grant ye that the whigs have the advantage of us plain-spoken democrats in scented hair, diamond rings, and white kid gloves—[roars of laughter]—in the language of compliment and the affectation of manner, and most particularly, in their style of dressing. If one of these exquisites wished to express the idea contained in the home-spun adage, “There is the devil to pay and no pitch hot,” he would say, “There is a pecuniary liability due to the old gentleman, and no bituminous matter, of the proper temperature, wherewith to liquidate the obligation.” [Uproarious laughter and applause, in which the ladies joined.] These flashing qualities do not answer the purpose. They do not rank in the list of fireside virtues. They do not make home the holiest spot on earth, loved and prized as it ought to be. Such qualifications will not smooth the pillow for aching head; will not pour balm into the wounded heart, and quicken the soul of sympathy. [Cheers.] It is most presumptuous in me, ladies, to proffer you advice, for I am so unfortunate as to be a bachelor. (A laugh.) But I may never have another opportunity—and, anyhow, I can’t resist the temptation. So, let me tell ye, that if you wish your lovers, when transformed into husbands, to be all that you would wish them, kind, affectionate, reliable, of good habits, truth loving—husbands that will be the idols of your hearts, your protection, your glory and your pride—be sure and choose from among the democracy. (Thundering applause.) To sum up…Intelligent, warm-hearted and right-feeling women, the world over, must always wish well to that great democratic party, whose watchword, and whose crowning glory is—“Equal and exact justice to all men.” And I may add, “women too.” (Tremendous cheering.)…
To do our opponents justice in speaking of them, they should always receive the benefit of full name and title. Federalists, alias national republicans, alias anti-masons, alias conservatives, alias native Americans, or adopted whigs, alias democratic whigs. (Great laughter and applause.) But this last cognomen is enough to make a horse laugh. Why, they might as well talk of a white black cat, or a tall short man, or anything else that is a contradiction in terms. If they do procure any suffrages by such petty shuffling as this, I am inclined to think that an indictment would lie against them for obtaining votes under false pretences. (Great laughter and applause.) Whig tactics are very peculiar, and there is a reason for that. They feel and know that, in sober earnest, they are the weaker party. And hence the manner in which they conduct their campaigns (Cheers.) Did you ever see a man contending, physically, with one who is an overmatch for him? Now he strains, swells and tugs—but to no purpose. The strong man puts his hand on him, and it’s all over.— Do you know the way they catch a rattlesnake at Lake George? A man, armed with a long stick, forked and sharpened, sallies out among the hills and rocks. Spying a rattlesnake, he watches his opportunity, and with a quick and sudden dart, catches with the forked end of the stick the head of the reptile, as it lies upon the ground, and pins it to the earth. The rattlesnake, no doubt very much surprised, squirms most unmercifully. But it does no good—-he is despatched at leisure. So it is with the whigs. (Great cheering.) We have got their heads to the ground and all that they can do is to make a splutter, and a noise, and kick up a great dust.— (Tremendous cheering—cries of “That’s the talk!”—“Give it to ‘em, old boy!”)
The whigs are a Protean party. They change their principles and their names with a magical facility. An animal is their emblem. Their animal affinities are very strong—they can crow, snort, snuffle, grunt, bray and baa. Now let us make them whine, yelp, and squeal—(Cheers and shouts of “We will, by blazes!”) I said that an animal is their emblem—so it is. And what sort of an animal?—Something dull and that never learns—is it the ass? Something vicious—is it the mule? Something stupid and hiding its stupidity under the garb of seeming wisdom—is it the owl? Something blind and that works in the dark—is it the mole? Something thievish and nibbling in its propensities—is it the rat? No—none of these; but a nicely adjusted and fitting compound of them all—a coon! A fat, lazy, oily, thieving, cowardly, skulking coon—the hybrid emblem of a hybrid party.—(Great laughter, tremendous cheering, and groans for some minutes.)—
The banner of the whigs is a coonskin! …
[But] we rally under a banner inferior to none…—a flag loved at home and respected abroad—the star spangled banner of our country.—(Tremendous cheering.) It is familiar to the British soldier for he saw it on the plains of Saratoga, in the lines at Yorktown, and upon the breastwork at New Orleans.—(Great cheering.)…And such a nation, too—a nation which doubles its population every two and twenty years—the only free nation on the face of God’s earth—a nation, the cornerstone of whose greatness was laid by him, in speaking of whom all language fails and all utterance becomes palzied. Ransack the records of all time. Invoke the aid of the genius of the past. Who is his peer? He is unapproached in the intellectual symmetry and moral grandeur of his character. GEORGE WASHINGTON knows no peer—he has no parallel. (Loud and enthusiastic applause.) Let me call your attention to the startling fact that an indirect and most insidious attack has been lately made upon the memory of Washington. It was made from this very stand only eleven days ago, by one who stood here before the whole country as an acknowledged mouth piece of the whig party…The Express predicts that “when published it will be the text-book of the campaign;” the minnows of the whig press follow in the wake of these, their leviathans. Now this whig “text-book” exalts Henry Clay at the expense and makes him the equal of GEORGE WASHINGTON—the equal of him who is degraded by a comparison with any man—whose fame should be dearer to us than our heart’s blood—who is our father—for he is the father of our country.
Not content with this attempted parricide, this accredited organ of the whig party further says—“Mr. Clay is not only American, but America itself, the Republic personified.” This is nought but man-worship. It has no foundation in truth. It is the reckless and destructive spirit of ultra partizanship. It is a bowing of the knee to Baal. What reasonable and unprejudiced man would trust a party who, exasperated by defeat and mad with excessive lust of power, are now endeavoring to gain their end by making an idol of Clay and falling down before it. To hear their orators and their presses speak of Henry Clay, one would suppose him to be more than man. I am no calumniator of Henry Clay; I seek not to detract from his fair fame: I am willing and desirous to accord him his true position. I do not impugn his patriotism. I freely grant that he is persevering, energetic, eloquent and brave—endowed with an indescribable magic of manner, and pre-eminently fitted by nature to be what he is—a great partizan leader. In his democratic youth, before he was flattered and caressed into the ranks of the advocates of special legislation, he stood up manfully against the re-charter of the U. S. Bank, and for Madison and the war. We honor him for it. We gratefully remember his exertions in behalf of the acknowledgment of the independence of Greece and the South American Republics. At the same time we must regret that he whose youth gave such glorious promise, should, in the full maturity of his manhood, forsake the house of his fathers and go wandering after strange gods.
It is beneath the dignity of the democratic party to war with any man. The democracy war not with Henry Clay, the man—but with Henry Clay, the representative of certain principles. The whig party and Henry Clay are one; they are thoroughly identified with the policy of the land distribution, a high tariff based upon the principle of protection, and a U. S. Bank. Mark how these three kindred measures naturally aid and assist each other. They dove-tail together most admirably. Each ensures the necessity for, and the permanence of, the existence of all. Let them but be established and rivetted on the industry of the country, and an incubus will be placed on the moral welfare and substantial prosperity of this great Republic, which will be most difficult to shake off, and which, when shaken off, will have cost a bitter and protracted struggle. Elect Henry Clay President of the United States—give him a majority in both branches of Congress—let this system of policy go into effect, and a feverish, false, and fictitious state of things will be engendered, and you will have entailed upon your posterity a burthen and a curse. (A voice—“No fear of that”—loud cheers.) The question of a United States’ Bank, one main link in the triple chain, we thought was settled long ago. We deemed that Andrew Jackson had strangled that hydra-headed monster, and sowed salt upon its grave. But lo! In 1840, the whigs came into power. And one of the first things that they did was to attempt to resuscitate an institution, the very name of which stunk and stinks in the nostrils of the community. Under the Congressional dictatorship of Henry Clay they passed a bill re-chartering the United States Bank. John Tyler vetoed it. For that act, at least, he deserves and should receive credit and gratitude. (Cheers.) Now, sanguine as the whigs always are before an election, and hugging to their bosoms the delusion that they will succeed in the great Presidential canvass of 1844, they are already quietly engaged in endeavoring to galvanize that old corpse again. The whig leaders here would mask their battery and avoid an issue upon the bank. They make it an issue in Tennessee, Kentucky, and the contiguous States. We will not permit this playing fast and loose. We will make it an issue here on the sea-board, and charge it home upon them. Turn to the position of our party previous to and after the general election of 1840. The spring elections in that year were sufficiently favorable. To all appearance the democracy were never stronger. The re-election of Martin Van Buren to the Presidential chair, which he had so worthily occupied, seemed certain. And yet not many weeks had passed before it was evident that the supremacy of our party and our principles was in danger. A union of the whigs, as it was called, for the sake of the union, brought about that mingling of parties and commingling of interests, which resulted in a combined league of the opponents of the democracy, and paved the way for the Harrisburg Convention. By that convention William Henry Harrison was nominated for the Presidency. Scott men, Clay men, and Webster men, federalists, whigs, conservatives, Anti-Masons, tarriffites, bankites—all the scattered remnants of those various factions which had been time and again defeated by the democracy, rallied, united and swarmed about that coon skin and hard cider standard of which the available candidate, General Harrison, had been chosen bearer. The log cabin mummery commenced—everything which could contribute to the delusion, and height of the artificial excitement which had been evoked into existence, was called into requisition. Their presses vomited forth Ogle’s lies. Their orators patrolled the country. Prentiss, of Mississippi, Wilson, of New Hampshire, Preston, of South Carolina, Webster, Clay, and even Harrison himself, took the field.—Nothing was left undone. On our part, we were not idle. We saw through and despised this contemptible stage trickery—this attempt to swindle the people out of their votes, and did not believe that it could succeed. In so believing we erred, as the result proved. The Ides of November arrived; the battle was fought; we were beaten, and forced to retire from the field; and retire we did, in good order—discomfited, but not dismayed. Although our strongest defences were a prey to the spoiler—although in the violence of that political hurricane, Tennessee, the home of our venerated Jackson, had succumbed beneath the shock. Our own brave State—the Empire State—had parted from her democratic moorings—though the keystone of the arch had given way, and the “star in the east” gone down. Even then, when 19 States out of the six-and-twenty had declared against us, and our candidate had been defeated by more than 140,000 votes—though the sun of our political heaven was shrouded from our longing view—through darkness, disaster, and desolation, we hoped, and toiled, and struggled on.—(Great applause.) To any other party a defeat like that which we then suffered, would have been destruction—annihilation. But to us it was not so—it could not be so, and why? Why is it that the democracy can be beaten but never subdued—vanquished but never conquered?—Because of that which is within us—because we strive for the true, and aim at the equal and the just. The very truths for which we contend, afford us a rallying point and a support in the hour of adversity. (Cheers.) In the canvass of 1840, the Whigs systematically endeavored to blind the people to the true questions at issue. Letters were written to General Harrison enquiring his views upon disputed questions of moment, and the line of policy which he would adopt if elected. The answer was, “Ask my committee.” Success attained by fraud is in its very nature temporary. The Whigs triumphed by fraud. They triumphed on such issues as these—coon skins, hard cider, log cabins, William Henry Harrison, two dollars a day and roast beef, or Martin Van Buren, six and a quarter cents a day and sheep’s pluck.—They triumphed—but their triumph was short lived and bitter. Firm, united, undismayed, standing on the immutable basis of their own principles, the unterrified democracy rallied. In the elections of the following spring and summer, we recovered our foot-hold throughout the country. The granite column of the young democracy charged upon the enemy, and they went down before it. (Tremendous applause.) Since then we have maintained our position. Why, then, should any man doubt our success in this coming conflict? Let us be organised, vigilant, determined. Let us fight the battle, inch by inch. We must resume the offensive. We must carry the war into Africa. We must be true to ourselves, our candidate, and our cause. We must do our duty, our whole duty, and nothing but our duty. We must deserve success, and leave the event to Him who made us. If I read rightly the signs of the times, and do not greatly misunderstand the temper of the democracy, on the fourth Monday of May next, there will be a thorough organization, and earnest purpose, and deep seated enthusiasm throughout the length and breadth of the land. That organization, earnestness, and enthusiasm will be centered on the nominee of the Baltimore Convention, whoever he may be. Here upon the anniversary of the birth day of the Hero of New Orleans, intent upon the preservation of our principles, and merging our preferences for men, we pledge to the nominee of that convention an honest, earnest, and whole-souled support. (Great cheers.) Now, nine cheers for the nominee of the Baltimore Convention. (Nine deafening cheers, and “one more,” were accordingly given.) Our local matters demand a passing notice. Our municipal election is approaching. All parties appreciate its great importance. At the late whig convention here, Horace Greeley could not let his section of the party go home without a parting admonition as to the great importance of carrying the city in April. He desires the whigs to start their ball here—let them try it. If they wait to start their ball until they start it here, they will never start it at all. Turn we now to the new-fangled and short-lived Native American party—(tremendous cheering for some minutes)—because their principles are characterized by an ingratitude, a narrowness of view, a want of true patriotism, a bigoted, intolerant and persecuting spirit which are any thing else but American. They lack vitality—they can be likened to an inverted pyramid—sure to topple over. Their whole scheme of action is comprised in an attempt to procure the essential modification or repeal of the present naturalization laws, combined with a war upon the foreign vote. (Great applause.) We will never recognise any distinction between the native and adopted citizen—we are one and the same—Americans all. (Renewed cheers.) Let the safety and stability of our government be menaced to-morrow—I care not how—or by whom—by domestic treason or foreign force—and I’ll stake my soul’s salvation that the naturalized citizens would be as true as steel. (Great applause.) Instead of being deficient in, they would brim over with patriotism. They would contribute their money and shed their blood—oh—how gladly and, how willingly!—to keep the flag of freedom flying. (Deafening applause, and cries of “they done so before, and they’d do so again!”)…[the crowd erupts into patriotic song].
In speaking of ANDREW JACKSON I began. In speaking of Andrew Jackson, I will end. He is the son of poor Irish parents, who, driven from their native country by oppression, sought a refuge here. The father died about two years after his emigration, leaving three sons (of whom the infant, Andrew, was the youngest) to the care of a widowed mother. Her circumstances were straitened, but she kept her little household together. She lived for her children, and is now reaping her exceeding great reward. There are two leading traits in the Irish character, which should not go unnoticed here. Their strong domestic affections, and unquenchable love of country. (Cheers.) Follow the Irish exile, driven forth by the sad condition of things at home; for, disguise it as you may, the true source of the poverty and wretchedness of the Irish people, lies in misgovernment and oppressive laws—the exile seeks a home and a country elsewhere; but wherever he may be, wander where he will, he never forgets the mother who watched over his infancy, the companions of his youth, and the land of his forefathers. Deprive him of everything that renders life desirable—impair his health; strip him of his property; take friend and relative from his side; steep him to the very lips in the whelming slough of poverty; you may deprive him of all else, but you cannot wring from him his love of country.—(Great cheers.) That pure and unselfish love will burn but with a brighter ray amid the atmosphere of penury and privation, and the death-damps of despair. Weaken his body by disease—stretch him on the couch of sickness and the bed of death—his thoughts are far away—the home of his childhood flits before his glazing vision—and even as the parting spirit wings his flight, still will his heart find an echo to the cry of Erin Mavourneen, Erin go bragh.
To resume. The War of the Revolution broke out, and these poor Irish boys joined the American party. Andrew being only 14 years old. The older brother died in arms, fighting against the British at the battle of Stono [Ferry]. The second was taken prisoner, treated as a rebel, thrown into a dungeon, uncared for, and with his wounds undressed. This brought on an inflammation of the brain. An exchange of prisoners took place, and he went home to die. This broke the mother’s heart, and the grave closed on her, as it had done on her murdered boy. At fifteen, Andrew Jackson was alone in the world. In the emphatic language of the Indian chieftain, not a drop of his blood ran in the veins of any living creature. There is not time to follow, step by step, his energetic onward career. Poor, unfriended, solitary, uneducated, despite all obstacles, he worked his upward way. Oh, how mysterious are the ways of Providence! Had there been no Andrew Jackson, there would have been no New Orleans. And the cruelties and wrongs inflicted by the British Government upon that poor, exiled family, ultimately cost England the saddest field that she has seen since Bannockburn, and were expiated on the banks of the Mississippi in the blood of five thousand of her bravest.— (Tremendous cheering, and stentorian shouts of “Old Hickory forever!”) I am not about to enlarge upon the battle of New Orleans. Its history is familiar to you all. There are very few here who have not head its story told eloquently and well by Major Davezac.—(Cheers.) He was an eye-witness and participator in the action. It would be presumptuous and unbecoming in me to trespass on ground so peculiarly his own. Pass we then on in this rapid review, exulting as we go that our democratic members in Congress have procured the passage of a law reimbursing General Jackson the fine so unjustly imposed upon him by Judge Hall. The act has been carried into effect; and thus the country has restored to the hero’s laurelled brow the only leaf that was ever plucked from it.—(Loud applause.) There are many here who well remember how Andrew Jackson has been assailed. Calumny and vituperation exhausted their malice on him—combinations of foiled political opponents—adventurers disappointed in their ambitious projects—the factions prejudiced and designing—were banded together against our leader, and threatened him with annihilation. They filled the air with clamor, but they howled, and howled in vain around that brave old hickory tree that struck its roots so firmly and so well into the generous soil of democracy. (Cheers.) Then was the name of Andrew Jackson our cloud by day, and our pillar of fire by night. He was our shield and sword, our Fabius and Marcellus both. Mutually sustaining and sustained, we grappled with the head and front of our mushroom moneyed aristocracy, the United States Bank, and strangled the hydra, not in its youth, not in its old age, but in the lusty prime of its golden manhood. (Cheers.) Its defunct carcase has never received decent burial from the hands of its friends and mourners, the whigs; but has been left to rot, to putrify, and to contaminate the moral atmosphere of the land— (Groans and hisses.) Aye, Andrew Jackson was true to our principles, true to us, and we were true to him. We gave him a hearty and triumphant support, the same support that we will always give to the man who, elevated by our suffrages, conscientiously and determinedly carries out our views. No man ever knew and no man ever will know the Democracy falter or shrink in sustaining our faithful public servants. To our public men we say—adhere to our principles and we will adhere to you. Desert our principles and we will spurn you from us.
No man, however exalted by genius and elevated by station, can do without the people half so well as the people can do without him. Demagogues are apt to forget this truth. They conceive themselves with their attendant train of satellites and wire-pullers, to be the people. As long as they merely think so, without acting on the supposition, it is all well enough. The moment they act under this false belief, they are undeceived only to awake in utter and deserved ruin. When men prove recreant to the trust reposed in them…they must expect to have their ears saluted with music as is made up of the curses of hate and the hisses of scorn.—Moreover, they are sure to receive the wages of political sin, which is political death. (Hisses “for all renegades.”) When our public men are true to us—true to those broad principles of equal rights and equal laws which constitute our democratic creed—as Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, Andrew Jackson have been—and as Richard M. Johnson, Martin Van Buren, John C. Calhoun and Silas Wright are—whenever and wherever they are assailed, we will rally around them to a man, and unitedly and triumphantly sustain them to the last.—Hereafter, when men speak of New Orleans and Andrew Jackson—when they contemplate his consistent, dignified, and patriotic course as President of the United States—when they call to mind the obloquy and contumely that poured upon him—as they remember the fact that in the midst of all this conflict he was deprived of the wife of his bosom, she whom he had cherished with an exceeding tenderness, on whom he had lavished the wealth of his affections, whom he had loved as the strong man only can love…
Picture him now in the Hermitage. The sun is setting. Its declining rays fall through the casement on the bowed form of one, who had he been a Roman, would have been the noblest Roman of them all. Silent and alone he falls into a reverie. His eyes involuntarily close. And the days of his youth come back upon him. His countenance saddens as he feels that the voice of her, who is in heaven, falls no longer on his ear. Her form flits not by him on its thousand customed errands of domestic love. He is alone—but he is not lonely—he reflects on his latter day. He rejoices in the contemplation of the doctrines of that holy christian faith, which bids us live forever. He is conscious that his sun is going down in peace. The air around him is laden with the blessings of a grateful people, and every breeze is vocal with his praises…
The rich inheritance of his virtues and his glory is ours. That inheritance we will cherish and defend forever. Long may he live. But when his spirit shall ascend to the God that gave it, the whole land will rise up and call him blessed. The manhood and the womanhood of this Republic will unite in the heartfelt and trusting prayer that when he appears at the bar of Omnipotence, he will receive the salutation of “Well done good and faithful servant.” (Loud and continued cheering.) One word more, and I have done. I spoke but a short time since of the Baltimore Convention, and I spoke of its nominee; and now let me speak for the assembled democracy of this fair city, and say that whoever this nominee may be, we will give him our united—our undivided—our all-conquering support. (Loud cheers.) Whether he be Lewis Cass of Michigan—(feeble cheers)—James Buchanan, of Pennsylvania (Silence)—the old Kentucky war horse, Richard M. Johnson (Loud cheers)—John C. Calhoun, of South Carolina—(Louder cheers)—or New York’s favorite son, Martin Van Buren. (Tremendous and deafening cheers.) The principles which Andrew Jackson advocated from his boyhood to his more than three score years and ten, are once more at stake. Let us then, from this moment henceforth
Forgetting the feuds and the strife of past time,
Counting coldness injustice, and silence a crime;
Vow to go into this coming presidential canvass with the stern resolve to do our duty—in the largest and widest sense of the term, and let the consequences take care of themselves. If we do this—if we fight this battle as it should be fought, with honesty, abiding energy, and an enthusiasm tempered by a cool, calm, courage, we will triumph. Do this, and even if we fail, we will have no cause for self-accusation. And whatever the result, we have one consolation vouchsafed to us and denied to our opponents; and that is, that the sun of Truth can never set—the mists of prejudice may arise and obscure its rays—the clouds of error intervene and hide its beams—the tempests of faction and party hate shut out its genial and life bestowing heat; but the mists will arise—the clouds will pass away—the tempest roll on and be forgotten, while the sun, the brighter and the dearer for his temporary obscurity, will shine on as he shone of yore—to brighten, to gladden, to vivify and to bless. It is so in the physical world—so in the moral—so in the political.— Truth can never die. And those political principles which we uphold—in which we live, and for which we are willing to die, will widen and deepen, extend and exist forever. (Loud and prolonged applause.)
MR. MELVILLE’S address was heard with the greatest attention, and was remarkably well received.
Baym, Nina. American Women Writers and the Work of History, 1790-1860. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press. 1995.
Eyal, Yonatan. The Young America Movement and the Transformation of the Democratic Party, 1828-1861. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 2007.
Kelley, Mary. Learning to Stand and Speak: Women, Education, and Public Life in America’s Republic. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press. 2006.
Lause, Mark. Young America: Land, Labor, and the Republican Community. Chicago: University of Illinois Press. 2005.
McMillen, Sally. Seneca Falls and the Origins of the Women’s Rights Movement. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 2008.
Miller, Perry. The Raven and the Whale: The War of Words and Wits in the Era of Poe and Melville. New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc. 1956.
Stafford, John. The Literary Criticism of ‘Young America:’ A Study in the Relationship of Politics and Literature, 1837-1850. Berkeley: University of California Press. 1952.
Widmer, Edward. Martin Van Buren. New York: Times Books. 2005.
———. Young America: The Flowering of Democracy in New York City. New York: Oxford University Press. 1999.
Zagarri, Rosemarie. Revolutionary Backlash: Women and Politics in the Earl American Republic. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press. 2007.
Zboray, Ronald & Mary. Voices Without Votes: Women and Politics in Antebellum New England. Durham, NH: University of New Hampshire Press. 2010.