In the interior of the Capitol much space is at present wasted, but this arises from the fact of great additions to the original plan having been made. The two chambers — that of the Senate and the Representatives — are in the two new wings, on the middle or what we call the first floor. The entrance is made under a dome to a large circular hall, which is hung around with surely the worst pictures by which a nation ever sought to glorify its own deeds. There are yards of paintings at Versailles which are bad enough; but there is nothing at Versailles comparable in villany to the huge daubs which are preserved in this hall at the Capitol. It is strange that even self-laudatory patriotism should desire the perpetuation of such rubbish. When I was there the new dome was still in progress; and an ugly column of wood-work, required for internal support and affording a staircase to the top, stood in this hall. This of course was a temporary and necessary evil; but even this was hung around with the vilest of portraits.
From the hall, turning to the left, if the entrance be made at the front door, one goes to the new Chamber of Representatives, passing through that which was the old chamber. This is now dedicated to the exposition of various new figures by Crawford, and to the sale of tarts and gingerbread — of very bad tarts and gingerbread. Let that old woman look to it, or let the house dismiss her. In fact, this chamber is now but a vestibule to a passage — a second hall, as it were, and thus thrown away. Changes probably will be made which will bring it into some use or some scheme of ornamentation. From this a passage runs to the Representative Chamber, passing between those tell-tale windows, which, looking to the right and left, proclaim the tenuity of the building. The windows on one side — that looking to the east or front — should, I think, be closed. The appearance, both from the inside and from the outside, would be thus improved.
The Representative Chamber itself — which of course answers to our House of Commons — is a handsome, commodious room, admirably fitted for the purposes required. It strikes one as rather low; but I doubt, if it were higher, whether it would be better adapted for hearing. Even at present it is not perfect in this respect as regards the listeners in the gallery. It is a handsome, long chamber, lighted by skylights from the roof, and is amply large enough for the number to be accommodated. The Speaker sits opposite to the chief entrance, his desk being fixed against the opposite wall. He is thus brought nearer to the body of the men before him than is the case with our Speaker. He sits at a marble table, and the clerks below him are also accommodated with marble. Every representative has his own arm-chair, and his own desk before it. This may be done for a house consisting of about two hundred and forty members, but could hardly be contrived with us. These desks are arranged in a semicircular form, or in a broad horseshoe, and every member as he sits faces the Speaker. A score or so of little boys are always running about the floor ministering to the members’ wishes — carrying up petitions to the chair, bringing water to long-winded legislators, delivering and carrying out letters, and running with general messages. They do not seem to interrupt the course of business, and yet they are the liveliest little boys I ever saw. When a member claps his hands, indicating a desire for attendance, three or four will jockey for the honor. On the whole, I thought the little boys had a good time of it.
But not so the Speaker. It seemed to me that the amount of work falling upon the Speaker’s shoulders was cruelly heavy. His voice was always ringing in my ears exactly as does the voice of the croupier at a gambling-table, who goes on declaring and explaining the results of the game, and who generally does so in sharp, loud, ringing tones, from which all interest in the proceeding itself seems to be excluded. It was just so with the Speaker in the House of Representatives. The debate was always full of interruptions; but on every interruption the Speaker asked the gentleman interrupted whether he would consent to be so treated. “The gentleman from Indiana has the floor.” “The gentleman from Ohio wishes to ask the gentleman from Indiana a question.” “The gentleman from Indiana gives permission.” “The gentleman from Ohio!”— these last words being a summons to him of Ohio to get up and ask his question. “The gentleman from Pennsylvania rises to order.” “The gentleman from Pennsylvania is in order.” And then the House seems always to be voting, and the Speaker is always putting the question. “The gentlemen who agree to the amendment will say Aye.” Not a sound is heard. “The gentlemen who oppose the amendment will say No.” Again not a sound. “The Ayes have it,” says the Speaker, and then he goes on again. All this he does with amazing rapidity, and is always at it with the same hard, quick, ringing, uninterested voice. The gentleman whom I saw in the chair was very clever, and quite up to the task. But as for dignity —! Perhaps it might be found that any great accession of dignity would impede the celerity of the work to be done, and that a closer copy of the British model might not on the whole increase the efficiency of the American machine.
When any matter of real interest occasioned a vote, the ayes and noes would be given aloud; and then, if there were a doubt arising from the volume of sound, the Speaker would declare that the “ayes” or the “noes” would seem to have it! And upon this a poll would be demanded. In such cases the Speaker calls on two members, who come forth and stand fronting each other before the chair, making a gangway. Through this the ayes walk like sheep, the tellers giving them an accelerating poke when they fail to go on with rapidity. Thus they are counted, and the noes are counted in the same way. It seemed to me that it would be very possible in a dishonest legislator to vote twice on any subject of great interest; but it may perhaps be the case that there are no dishonest legislators in the house of Representatives.
According to a list which I obtained, the present number of members is 173, and there are 63 vacancies occasioned by secession. New York returns 33 members; Pennsylvania, 25; Ohio, 21; Virginia, 13; Massachusetts and Indiana, 11; Tennessee and Kentucky, 10; South Carolina, 6; and so on, till Delaware, Kansas, and Florida return only 1 each. When the Constitution was framed, Pennsylvania returned 8, and New York only 6; whereas Virginia returned 10, and South Carolina 5, From which may be gathered the relative rate of increase in population of the free-soil States and the slave States. All these States return two Senators each to the other House — Kansas sending as many as New York. The work in the House begins at twelve noon, and is not often carried on late into the evening. Indeed, this, I think, is never done till toward the end of the session.
The Senate house is in the opposite wing of the building, the position of the one house answering exactly to that of the other. It is somewhat smaller, but is, as a matter of course, much less crowded. There are 34 States, and, therefore, 68 seats and 68 desks only are required. These also are arranged in a horseshoe form, and face the President; but there was a sad array of empty chairs when I was in Washington, nineteen or twenty seats being vacant in consequence of secession. In this house the Vice-President of the United States acts as President, but has by no means so hard a job of work as his brother on the other side of the way. Mr. Hannibal Hamlin, from Maine, now fills this chair. I was driven, while in Washington, to observe something amounting almost to a peculiarity in the Christian names of the gentlemen who were then administrating the government of the country. Mr. Abraham Lincoln was the President; Mr. Hannibal Hamlin, the Vice-President; Mr. Galusha Grow, the Speaker of the House of Representatives; Mr. Salmon Chase, the Secretary of the Treasury; Mr. Caleb Smith, the Attorney-General; Mr. Simon Cameron, the Secretary of War; and Mr. Gideon Welles, the Secretary of the Navy.
In the Senate House, as in the other house, there are very commodious galleries for strangers, running round the entire chambers, and these galleries are open to all the world. As with all such places in the States, a large portion of them is appropriated to ladies. But I came at last to find that the word lady signified a female or a decently dressed man. Any arrangement for classes is in America impossible; the seats intended for gentlemen must, as a matter of course, be open to all men; but by giving up to the rougher sex half the amount of accommodation nominally devoted to ladies, the desirable division is to a certain extent made. I generally found that I could obtain admittance to the ladies’ gallery if my coat were decent and I had gloves with me.
All the adjuncts of both these chambers are rich and in good keeping. The staircases are of marble, and the outside passages and lobbies are noble in size and in every way convenient. One knows well the trouble of getting into the House of Lords and House of Commons, and the want of comfort which attends one there; and an Englishman cannot fail to make comparisons injurious to his own country. It would not, perhaps, be possible to welcome all the world in London as is done in Washington, but there can be no good reason why the space given to the public with us should not equal that given in Washington. But, so far are we from sheltering the public, that we have made our House of Commons so small that it will not even hold all its own members.
I had an opportunity of being present at one of their field days in the senate, Slidell and Mason had just then been sent from Fort Warren across to England in the Rinaldo. And here I may as well say what further there is for me to say about those two heroes. I was in Boston when they were taken, and all Boston was then full of them. I was at Washington when they were surrendered, and at Washington for a time their names were the only household words in vogue. To me it had from the first been a matter of certainty that England would demand the restitution of the men. I had never attempted to argue the matter on the legal points, but I felt, as though by instinct, that it would be so. First of all there reached us, by telegram from Cape Race, rumors of what the press in England was saying; rumors of a meeting in Liverpool, and rumors of the feeling in London. And then the papers followed, and we got our private letters. It was some days before we knew what was actually the demand made by Lord Palmerston’s cabinet; and during this time, through the five or six days which were thus passed, it was clear to be seen that the American feeling was undergoing a great change — or if not the feeling, at any rate the purpose. Men now talked of surrendering these Commissioners, as though it were a line of conduct which Mr. Seward might find convenient; and then men went further, and said that Mr. Seward would find any other line of conduct very inconvenient. The newspapers, one after another, came round. That, under all these circumstances, the States government behaved well in the matter, no one, I think, can deny; but the newspapers, taken as a whole, were not very consistent, and, I think, not very dignified. They had declared with throats of brass that these men should never be surrendered to perfidious Albion; but when it came to be understood that in all probability they would be so surrendered, they veered round without an excuse, and spoke of their surrender as of a thing of course. And thus, in the course of about a week, the whole current of men’s minds was turned. For myself, on my first arrival at Washington, I felt certain that there would be war, and was preparing myself for a quick return to England; but from the moment that the first whisper of England’s message reached us, and that I began to hear how it was received and what men said about it, I knew that I need not hurry myself. One met a minister here, and a Senator there, and anon some wise diplomatic functionary. By none of these grave men would any secret be divulged; none of them had any secret ready for divulging. But it was to be read in every look of the eye, in every touch of the hand, and in every fall of the foot of each of them, that Mason and Slidell would go to England.
Then we had, in all the fullness of diplomatic language, Lord Russell’s demand, and Mr. Seward’s answer. Lord Russell’s demand was worded in language so mild, was so devoid of threat, was so free from anger, that at the first reading it seemed to ask for nothing. It almost disappointed by its mildness. Mr. Seward’s reply, on the other hand, by its length of argumentation, by a certain sharpness of diction, to which that gentleman is addicted in his State papers, and by a tone of satisfaction inherent through it all, seemed to demand more than he conceded. But, in truth, Lord Russell had demanded everything, and the United States government had conceded everything.
I have said that the American government behaved well in its mode of giving the men up, and I think that so much should be allowed to them on a review of the whole affair. That Captain Wilkes had no instructions to seize the two men, is a known fact. He did seize them, and brought them into Boston harbor, to the great delight of his countrymen. This delight I could understand, though of course I did not share it. One of these men had been the parent of the Fugitive Slave Law; the other had been great in fostering the success of filibustering. Both of them were hot secessionists, and undoubtedly rebels. No two men on the continent were more grievous in their antecedents and present characters to all Northern feeling. It is impossible to deny that they were rebels against the government of their country. That Captain Wilkes was not on this account justified in seizing them, is now a matter of history; but that the people of the loyal States should rejoice in their seizure, was a matter of course. Wilkes was received with an ovation, which as regarded him was ill judged and undeserved, but which in its spirit was natural. Had the President’s government at that moment disowned the deed done by Wilkes, and declared its intention of giving up the men unasked, the clamor raised would have been very great, and perhaps successful. We were told that the American lawyers were against their doing so; and indeed there was such a shout of triumph that no ministry in a country so democratic could have ventured to go at once against it, and to do so without any external pressure.
Then came the one ministerial blunder. The President put forth his message, in which he was cunningly silent on the Slidell and Mason affair; but to his message was appended, according to custom, the report from Mr. Welles, the Secretary of the Navy. In this report approval was expressed of the deed done by Captain Wilkes. Captain Wilkes was thus in all respects indemnified, and the blame, if any, was taken from his shoulders and put on to the shoulders of that officer who was responsible for the Secretary’s letter. It is true that in that letter the Secretary declared that in case of any future seizure the vessel seized must be taken into port, and so declared in animadverting on the fact that Captain Wilkes had not brought the “Trent” into port. But, nevertheless, Secretary Welles approved of Captain Wilkes’s conduct. He allowed the reasons to be good which Wilkes had put forward for leaving the ship, and in all respects indemnified the captain. Then the responsibility shifted itself to Secretary Welles; but I think it must be clear that the President, in sending forward that report, took that responsibility upon himself. That he is not bound to send forward the reports of his Secretaries as he receives them — that he can disapprove them and require alteration, was proved at the very time by the fact that he had in this way condemned Secretary Cameron’s report, and caused a portion of it to be omitted. Secretary Cameron had unfortunately allowed his entire report to be printed, and it appeare d in a New York paper. It contained a recommendation with reference to the slave question most offensive to a part of the cabinet, and to the majority of Mr. Lincoln’s party. This, by order of the President, was omitted in the official way. It was certainly a pity that Mr. Welles’s paragraph respecting the “Trent” was not omitted also. The President was dumb on the matter, and that being so the Secretary should have been dumb also.
But when the demand was made, the States government yielded at once, and yielded without bluster. I cannot say I much admired Mr. Seward’s long letter. It was full of smart special pleading, and savored strongly, as Mr. Seward’s productions always do, of the personal author. Mr. Seward was making an effort to place a great State paper on record, but the ars celare artem was altogether wanting; and, if I am not mistaken, he was without the art itself. I think he left the matter very much where he found it. The men, however, were to be surrendered, and the good policy consisted in this, that no delay was sought, no diplomatic ambiguities were put into request. It was the opinion of very many that some two or three months might be gained by correspondence, and that at the end of that time things might stand on a different footing. If during that time the North should gain any great success over the South, the States might be in a position to disregard England’s threats. No such game was played. The illegality of the arrest was at once acknowledged, and the men were given up with a tranquillity that certainly appeared marvelous after all that had so lately occurred.
Then came Mr. Sumner’s field day. Mr. Charles Sumner is a Senator from Massachusetts, known as a very hot abolitionist, and as having been the victim of an attack made upon him in the Senate House by Senator Brooks. He was also, at the time of which I am writing, Chairman of the Committee on Foreign Affairs, which position is as near akin to that of a British minister in Parliament as can be attained under the existing Constitution of the States. It is not similar, because such chairman is by no means bound to the government; but he has ministerial relations, and is supposed to be specially conversant with all questions relating to foreign affairs. It was understood that Mr. Sumner did not intend to find fault either with England or with the government of his own country as to its management of this matter; or that, at least, such fault-finding was not his special object, but that he was desirous to put forth views which might lead to a final settlement of all difficulties with reference to the right of international search.
On such an occasion, a speaker gives himself very little chance of making a favorable impression on his immediate hearers if he reads his speech from a written manuscript. Mr. Sumner did so on this occasion, and I must confess that I was not edified. It seemed to me that he merely repeated, at greater length, the arguments which I had heard fifty times during the last thirty or forty days. I am told that the discourse is considered to be logical, and that it “reads” well. As regards the gist of it, or that result which Mr. Sumner thinks to be desirable, I fully agree with him, as I think will all the civilized world before many years have passed. If international law be what the lawyers say it is, international law must be altered to suit the requirements of modern civilization. By those laws, as they are construed, everything is to be done for two nations at war with each other; but nothing is to be done for all the nations of the world that can manage to maintain the peace. The belligerents are to be treated with every delicacy, as we treat our heinous criminals; but the poor neutrals are to be handled with unjust rigor, as we handle our unfortunate witnesses in order that the murderer may, if possible, be allowed to escape. Two men living in the same street choose to pelt each other across the way with brickbats, and the other inhabitants are denied the privileges of the footpath lest they should interfere with the due prosecution of the quarrel! It is, I suppose, the truth that we English have insisted on this right of search with more pertinacity than any other nation. Now in this case of Slidell and Mason we have felt ourselves aggrieved, and have resisted. Luckily for us there was no doubt of the illegality of the mode of seizure in this instance; but who will say that if Captain Wilkes had taken the “Trent” into the harbor of New York, in order that the matter might have been adjudged there, England would have been satisfied? Our grievance was, that our mail-packet was stopped on the seas while doing its ordinary beneficent work. And our resolve is, that our mail-packets shall not be so stopped wit impunity. As we were high handed in old days in insisting on this right of search, it certainly behoves us to see that we be just in our modes of proceeding. Would Captain Wilkes have been right, according to the existing law, if he had carried the “Trent” away to New York? If so, we ought not to be content with having escaped from such a trouble merely through a mistake on his part. Lord Russell says that the voyage was an innocent voyage. That is the fact that should be established; not only that the voyage was, in truth, innocent, but that it should not be made out to be guilty by any international law. Of its real innocency all thinking men must feel themselves assured. But it is not only of the seizure that we complain, but of the search also. An honest man is not to be bandied by a policeman while on his daily work, lest by chance a stolen watch should be in his pocket. If international law did give such power to all belligerents, international law must give it no longer. In the beginning of these matters, as I take it, the object was when two powerful nations were at war to allow the smaller fry of nations to enjoy peace and quiet, and to avoid, if possible, the general scuffle. Thence arose the position of a neutral. But it was clearly not fair that any such nation, having proclaimed its neutrality, should, after that, fetch and carry for either of the combatants to the prejudice of the other. Hence came the right of search, in order that unjust falsehood might be prevented. But the seas were not then bridged with ships as they are now bridged, and the laws as written were, perhaps, then practical and capable of execution. Now they are impracticable and not capable of execution. It will not, however, do for us to ignore them if they exist; and therefore they should be changed. It is, I think, manifest that our own pretensions as to the right of search must be modified after this. And now I trust I may finish my book without again naming Messrs. Slidell and Mason.
The working of the Senate bears little or no analogy to that of our House of Lords. In the first place, the Senator’s tenure there is not hereditary, nor is it for life. They are elected, and sit for six years. Their election is not made by the people of their States, but by the State legislature. The two Houses, for instance, of the State of Massachusetts meet together and elect by their joint vote to the vacant seat for their State. It is so arranged that an entirely new Senate is not elected every sixth year. Instead of this a third of the number is elected every second year. It is a common thing for Senators to be re-elected, and thus to remain in the house for twelve and eighteen years. In our Parliament the House of Commons has greater political strength and wider political action than the House of Lords; but in Congress the Senate counts for more than the House of Representatives in general opinion. Money bills must originate in the House of Representatives, but that is, I think, the only special privilege attaching to the public purse which the Lower House enjoys over the Upper. Amendments to such bills can be moved in the Senate; and all such bills must pass the Senate before they become law. I am inclined to think that individual members of the Senate work harder than individual Representatives. More is expected of them, and any prolonged absence from duty would be more remarked in the Senate than in the other House. In our Parliament this is reversed. The payment made to members of the Senate is 3000 dollars, or 600l., per annum, and to a Representative, 500l. per annum. To this is added certain mileage allowance for traveling backward and forward between their own State and the Capitol. A Senator, therefore, from California or Oregon has not altogether a bad place; but the halcyon days of mileage allowances are, I believe, soon to be brought to an end. It is quite within rule that the Senator of today should be the Representative of tomorrow. Mr. Crittenden, who was Senator from Kentucky, is now a member of the Lower House from an electoral district in that State. John Quincy Adams went into the House of Representatives after he had been President of the United States.
Divisions in the Senate do not take place as in the House of Representatives. The ayes and noes are called for in the same way; but if a poll be demanded, the Clerk of the House calls out the names of the different Senators, and makes out lists of the votes according to the separate answers given by the members. The mode is certainly more dignified than that pursued in the other House, where during the ceremony of voting the members look very much like sheep being passed into their pens.
I heard two or three debates in the House of Representatives, and that one especially in which, as I have said before, a chapter was read out of the Book of Joshua. The manner in which the Creator’s name and the authority of His Word was banded about the house on that occasion did not strike me favorably. The question originally under debate was the relative power of the civil and military authority. Congress had desired to declare its ascendency over military matters, but the army and the Executive generally had demurred to this — not with an absolute denial of the rights of Congress, but with those civil and almost silent generalities with which a really existing power so well knows how to treat a nominal power. The ascendant wife seldom tells her husband in so many words that his opinion in the house is to go for nothing; she merely resolves that such shall be the case, and acts accordingly. An observer could not but perceive that in those days Congress was taking upon itself the part, not exactly of an obedient husband, but of a husband vainly attempting to assert his supremacy. “I have got to learn,” said one gentleman after another, rising indignantly on the floor, “that the military authority of our generals is above that of this House.” And then one gentleman relieved the difficulty of the position by branching off into an eloquent discourse against slavery, and by causing a chapter to be read out of the Book of Joshua.
On that occasion the gentleman’s diversion seemed to have the effect of relieving the House altogether from the embarrassment of the original question; but it was becoming manifest, day by day, that Congress was losing its ground, and that the army was becoming indifferent to its thunders: that the army was doing so, and also that ministers were doing so. In the States, the President and his ministers are not in fact subject to any parliamentary responsibility. The President may be impeached, but the member of an opposition does not always wish to have recourse to such an extreme measure as impeachment. The ministers are not in the houses, and cannot therefore personally answer questions. Different large subjects, such as foreign affairs, financial affairs, and army matters, are referred to Standing Committees in both Houses; and these committees have relations with the ministers. But they have no constitutional power over the ministers; nor have they the much more valuable privilege of badgering a minister hither and thither by viva voce questions on every point of his administration. The minister sits safe in his office — safe there for the term of the existing Presidency if he can keep well with the president; and therefore, even under ordinary circumstances, does not care much for the printed or written messages of Congress. But under circumstances so little ordinary as those of 186l-62, while Washington was surrounded by hundreds of thousands of soldiers, Congress was absolutely impotent. Mr. Seward could snap his fingers at Congress, and he did so. He could not snap his fingers at the army; but then he could go with the army, could keep the army on his side by remaining on the same side with the army; and this as it seemed he resolved to do. It must be understood that Mr. Seward was not Prime Minister. The President of the United States has no Prime Minister — or hitherto has had none. The Minister for Foreign Affairs has usually stood highest in the cabinet, and Mr. Seward, as holding that position, was not inclined to lessen its authority. He was gradually assuming for that position the prerogatives of a Premier, and men were beginning to talk of Mr. Seward’s ministry. It may easily be understood that at such a time the powers of Congress would be undefined, and that ambitious members of Congress would rise and assert on the floor, with that peculiar voice of indignation so common in parliamentary debate, “that they had got to learn,” etc. etc. etc. It seemed to me that the lesson which they had yet to learn was then in the process of being taught to them. They were anxious to be told all about the mischance at Ball’s Bluff, but nobody would tell them anything about it. They wanted to know something of that blockade on the Potomac; but such knowledge was not good for them. “Pack them up in boxes, and send them home,” one military gentleman said to me. And I began to think that something of the kind would be done, if they made themselves troublesome. I quote here the manner in which their questions, respecting the affair at Ball’s Bluff, were answered by the Secretary of war. “The Speaker laid before the House a letter from the Secretary of War, in which he says that he has the honor to acknowledge the receipt of the resolution adopted on the 6th instant, to the effect that the answer of the Department to the resolution, passed on the second day of the session, is not responsive and satisfactory to the House, and requesting a farther answer. The Secretary has now to state that measures have been taken to ascertain who is responsible for the disastrous movement at Ball’s Bluff, but that it is not compatible with the public interest to make known those measures at the present time.”
In truth the days are evil for any Congress of debaters, when a great army is in camp on every side of them. The people had called for the army, and there it was. It was of younger birth than Congress, and had thrown its elder brother considerably out of favor as has been done before by many a new-born baby. If Congress could amuse itself with a few set speeches, and a field day or two, such as those afforded by Mr. Sumner, it might all be very well — provided that such speeches did not attack the army. Over and beyond this, let them vote the supplies and have done with it. Was it probable that General McClellan should have time to answer questions about Ball’s Bluff — and he with such a job of work on his hands? Congress could of course vote what committees of military inquiry it might please, and might ask questions without end; but we all know to what such questions lead, when the questioner has no power to force an answer by a penalty. If it might be possible to maintain the semblance of respect for Congress, without too much embarrassment to military secretaries, such semblance should be maintained; but if Congress chose to make itself really disagreeable, then no semblance could be kept up any longer. That, as far as I could judge, was the position of Congress in the early months of 1862; and that, under existing circumstances, was perhaps the only possible position that it could fill.
All this to me was very melancholy. The streets of Washington were always full of soldiers. Mounted sentries stood at the corners of all the streets with drawn sabers — shivering in the cold and besmeared with mud. A military law came out that civilians might not ride quickly through the street. Military riders galloped over one at every turn, splashing about through the mud, and reminding one not unfrequently of John Gilpin. Why they always went so fast, destroying their horses’ feet on the rough stones, I could never learn. But I, as a civilian, given as Englishmen are to trotting, and furnished for the time with a nimble trotter, found myself harried from time to time by muddy men with sabers, who would dash after me, rattling their trappings, and bid me go at a slower pace. There is a building in Washington, built by private munificence and devoted, according to an inscription which it bears, “To the Arts.” It has been turned into an army clothing establishment. The streets of Washington, night and day, were thronged with army wagons. All through the city military huts and military tents were to be seen, pitched out among the mud and in the desert places. Then there was the chosen locality of the teamsters and their mules and horses — a wonderful world in itself; and all within the city! Here horses and mules lived — or died — sub dio, with no slightest apology for a stable over them, eating their provender from off the wagons to which they were fastened. Here, there, and everywhere large houses were occupied as the headquarters of some officer, or the bureau of some military official. At Washington and round Washington the army was everything. While this was so, is it to be conceived that Congress should ask questions about military matters with success?
All this, as I say, filled me with sorrow. I hate military belongings, and am disgusted at seeing the great affairs of a nation put out of their regular course. Congress to me is respectable. Parliamentary debates — be they ever so prosy, as with us, or even so rowdy, as sometimes they have been with our cousins across the water — engage my sympathies. I bow inwardly before a Speaker’s chair, and look upon the elected representatives of any nation as the choice men of the age. Those muddy, clattering dragoons, sitting at the corners of the streets with dirty woolen comforters around their ears, were to me hideous in the extreme. But there at Washington, at the period of which I am writing, I was forced to acknowledge that Congress was at a discount, and that the rough-shod generals were the men of the day. “Pack them up and send them in boxes to their several States.” It would come to that, I thought, or to something like that, unless Congress would consent to be submissive. “I have yet to learn —!” said indignant members, stamping with their feet on the floor of the House. One would have said that by that time the lesson might almost have been understood.
Up to the period of this civil war Congress has certainly worked well for the United States. It might be easy to pick holes in it; to show that some members have been corrupt, others quarrelsome, and others again impracticable. But when we look at the circumstances under which it has been from year to year elected; when we remember the position of the newly populated States from which the members have been sent, and the absence throughout the country of that old traditionary class of Parliament men on whom we depend in England; when we think how recent has been the elevation in life of the majority of those who are and must be elected, it is impossible to deny them praise for intellect, patriotism, good sense, and diligence. They began but sixty years ago, and for sixty years Congress has fully answered the purpose for which it was established. With no antecedents of grandeur, the nation, with its Congress, has made itself one of the five great nations of the world. And what living English politician will say even now, with all its troubles thick upon it, that it is the smallest of the five? When I think of this, and remember the position in Europe which an American has been able to claim for himself, I cannot but acknowledge that Congress on the whole has been conducted with prudence, wisdom, and patriotism.
The question now to be asked is this — Have the powers of Congress been sufficient, or are they sufficient, for the continued maintenance of free government in the States under the Constitution? I think that the powers given by the existing Constitution to Congress can no longer be held to be sufficient; and that if the Union be maintained at all, it must be done by a closer assimilation of its congressional system to that of our Parliament. But to that matter I must allude again, when speaking of the existing Constitution of the States.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:55