PATRICK HENRY [Matthew Livingston Davis] to MVB, 29 September 1834
Sept. 29th, 1834.
Immediately after the determination of the late war, there was an organization of parties throughout the State. The federalists, as a separate and distinct body, no longer existed.— The popularity of Mr. Clinton seemed to be at an end. With the democracy of the State Mr. Tompkins was the idol. You, sir, like an incubus, had fastened yourself upon him. At no period of your life (and his real friends now know it) did you entertain for him the least respect.— Your professions were hollow and hypocritical.
In 1816 his time of service, as Governor, expired. During the same year Mr. Madison was to retire from the Presidential chair. At Washington a storm appeared to be gathering. It was asserted by the friends of Governor Tompkins, that during the war he had received assurances from leading and distinguished southern gentlemen, that he should be supported by the party as the successor of Madison. Whether such assurances had or had not been given, it is now evident, that the prominent candidates in the congressional caucus would be Mr. Monroe and Mr. Crawford. Both, or either of these parties, were willing to take Mr. Tompkins as Vice President. You knew that he could not succeed for the first station, and that there would be very little opposition to him for the second. You, however, adroitly pushed in front an ardent and active Senator from the southern district of the State to press a legislative nomination for the office of President. This was accomplished. The pretext was, that it would secure a congressional nomination for the Vice Presidency. My opinion was, and yet is, that you intended to weaken his influence in the south, by placing him in a hostile attitude as it regarded that interest.—At this crisis New York was becoming feverish on the subject of internal improvements. Mr. Clinton was the champion of the system. In reference to it he was considered, by many, a visionary fanatic. The great and growing west of our State had become convinced of the practicability of the proposed plan, and that the State possessed the means of carrying it into operation.
To your contracted mind it appeared too vast to be undertaken; while the imbecility and popularity hunting cast of your character, caused you to shrink from voting the great expenditures that were required. At the same time, you had sufficient sagacity to perceive that another year would probably decide, among the people, the fate of the measure. Your game, then, was procrastination¾non-committal.
As Mr. Clinton was known to be at the head of the canal party, the advocates of the measure cast their eyes towards him, as the successor of Gov. Tompkins. It should be remarked, that he had notified his friends of his intention not again to be a candidate for the office. You clearly perceived, that in such an event, Mr. Clinton would be nominated; the effect of which would be to deprive you of any share in the honor or advantage of the nomination. At the same time, his election would insure the adoption of the canal system. It was important to the success of your plans to prevent, at this juncture, such a result.
A legislative caucus was held, Mr. Tompkins nominated for the office of Governor, although it was well known that he would be nominated as Vice President. In the caucus you pressed his nomination, on the grounds that it would render certain his selection at Washington. An opinion prevailed, however, that he would decline the State nomination. After it was made, the Albany Argus, then under your control, spoke doubtingly on the subject of his acceptance. Such was the game played during the whole session, until the 20th of February 1816, when he consented to become a candidate.
A committee was appointed to draft an address in favor of the nomination. You were on that committee; and although the whole northern and western parts of the States were under great excitement respecting the canals, the address contains not one word on the subject.—Here again your system of policy, (non committal) was put in practice. The question had been pending before the people for nearly seven years. A canal board had been organized five years, and yet you were unprepared to express any opinion for or against the measure; but you are now to be puffed as the friend of it, and as having made “an eloquent speech in its favor at the very crisis of its fate.” Can you imagine any thing more unmerited or more fulsome?
This nomination laid the foundation for the most violent feuds between the partizans of Clinton and Tompkins; the former considering the whole movement as a species of political juggling. There is no doubt it was the source of much of the embarrassment and trouble which the Governor subsequently experienced; and tended to promote its political ruin, to which (it is believed) you had no objection. As expected, Mr. Tompkins was designated at Washington as the candidate for Vice President. In April, 1816, he was re-elected to the office of Governor. In December following, he was elected Vice President; but did not resign the former station until the 24th of February, 1817. Up to within a few days previous to the 24th, he pursued towards the people a mysterious and sullen silence, to his intention; insomuch, that many were led to apprehend he contemplated holding both offices. This cold reserve increased the prejudices which had been already excited against him. I have no evidence of the fact, and, therefore, will not make the charge; but I have no hesitation in expressing my opinion, that you were mainly instrumental in producing, on his part, that course of policy which was so injurious to his fame, and ultimately so destructive of his peace.
During the summer and autumn of 1816 the political map was spread before you. It was reduced to a certainty that, “the lion of the west” was coming down upon us, from an “elevation of one hundred and ninety feet above Cayuga lake,” determined to carry through the legislature the Erie Canal. The bleak north, too, was roaring for the Champlain canal. Your nerves were unstrung. You were unable, and yet more unwilling to face the tempest. You were advised that Mr. Tompkin’s would resign the office of Governor. Under such a state of things the legislature convened in January, 1817. So vehement had been your denunciations of Mr. Clinton, that it appeared impossible for you to advocate his election. On the other hand so coy had been your policy respecting internal improvements, that neither party expected you to move to the right or to the left.
At all times previous to this year, since legislative caucusing had come into fashion, the democratic members alone constituted the caucus. It was supposed that the members during the session were nearly balanced, for and against Mr. Clinton. This was an awkward position for you. At length an experiment was proposed by the Clintonians, (and I have always believed with your secret approbation,) that the counties which were represented by federalists, should elect delegates to the caucus. These counties, it was well known, would greatly increase Mr. Clinton’s strength, and insure him an overwhelming majority in caucus. I suspected, at the time, that you were pleased with the project of receiving delegates from federal counties, but that you had not the firmness to avow it openly.
On the 2d of March, 1817, it was determined to admit the delegates above referred to. On the 7th of March (five days after,) the Albany Argus, your mouthpiece, contains the following remark, “Toleration and liberality are at times commendable; especially so among men professing a sameness of motive and object. They are political virtues; and mutually benefit those who receive and reciprocate them. The point of the finger could not be mistaken. Occurrences like this created distrust in the minds of those who best knew your character. Previous to the grand caucus, however, several preliminary meetings were held by the anti Clintonians; one, I believe, about the 20th of March, at your house. It was then determined, (and you assented to the proposition,) that as soon as Mr. Clinton was nominated, the minority should withdraw. At length, in the evening of the 27th of March, 1817, the convention met, and Mr. Clinton, as anticipated, was nominated; when lo, and behold! you rose, sir, and moved, that the nomination should be unanimous. Had one arisen from the dead and spake, it could not have created more surprise. All was hesitancy, indecision, and confusion in the ranks of the ante Clintonians. Some retired, while others, at a loss what to do, remained behind. Well do I remember a conversation which I held next morning with some of the Hotspurs at the Eagle tavern. The die, however, was cast. Mr. Clinton was nominated, and the canal policy was settled. It was then, and not till then, that you supported the system of internal improvement. Your first vote in favor of appropriations for the canal, was about the middle of April; say three weeks after this, your last somerset, into the Clintonian ranks, where we again find you safe landed, for a short time. Your proposition for unanimity did not gain you the confidence of a man in either party. Your subsequent vote, however, in favor of the canals, although it was not necessary, softened the asperity of some of the western people. Here, then, in the caucus, was exhibited another instance of perfidy to your friends, and duplicity to the Clintonians. Does such profligate conduct require from me any comment?
In my next letter, I propose to refresh your memory on the subject of your opposition to Mr. King’s appointment in 1819, to the Senate of the United States, and your support of him in 1820. How far you felt interested in sending a Senator to oppose the southern interests on the Missouri question, of which opposition Mr. King was known to be the leader, you may explain at your leisure. I shall give the historical fact, and will prove, by an extract from one of your own letters that the Missouri question engaged your attention, at the moment you were advocating Mr. King’s election.