PATRICK HENRY [Matthew Livingston Davis] to MVB, 7 October 1834
Oct. 7th, 1834.
When the legislature adjourned in April, 1819, the federal newspapers were assailing Mr. Clinton and his friends, for not supporting Mr. Rufus King. The papers under your influence were making the most solemn declarations “that the republicans would not move to the right or to the left. They would support their candidate, and no other.” Thus far your plans had succeeded. On the 4th of March, 1819, the State had but one member on the floor of the United States Senate. The Clintonians had given great dissatisfaction to the federalists, and with some (if not good) cause, for the latter, at the commencement of the session, had voted for a Clintonian speaker and council of appointment, by means of which they were elected, and the power of the State continued in the hands of the Governor and his party.
Now, Sir, what next? I answer, and without circumlocution, charge you with having made a bargain, or, if you like the term better, an arrangement, with the federalists, to elect Mr. King to the Senate of the United States when the legislature should convene in 1820. You, Sir, and the prostituted mercenaries that surround and support you, had affected great abhorrence at the idea of the political bargain. Where no foundation existed for the charge, you have falsely and maliciously made it, for purposes as unprincipled as they were corrupt. No consideration could induce me to charge you with an improper transaction if my mind was not perfectly and entirely satisfied of its truth. I have avoided general allegations, and confined myself to specific acts, giving date, and place, and names, and, in most instances, references to the journals of the Senate.
In the case now to be considered there is more difficulty; because, in its incipient steps, it was not official. Much was necessarily left to you and your associates in both parties. Some of them are slumbering with the dead; and the “doors of the prison house cannot be opened.” Your communications with Mr. King, personally, were of a confidential character, and possibly may never become public. There are reasons why they should not. Those who venerate his memory, consider his connection with you one of the weakest, as well as one of the most unfortunate events of his whole life. Some of his friends (I refer not to his relations) are heart sick even at this day when the subject is alluded to in their presence. But I will not cicatrize the wound which you have given them, and which they are so anxious to heal.
It is proper here to speak of Mr. King as I have spoken of Mr. Clinton. I do not stop to inquire whether his course on the Missouri question was right or wrong. It is not intended either to applaud or condemn it. My business is not with that honorable gentleman, but with you. I speak of, and refer to, the Missouri question as matter of history. There are two sides to it. It is right and proper that you should be made to assume the responsibility of that side which benefitted you.
Sir, you were opposed to the south on the Missouri question. You supported Mr. King, knowing him to be the leader against the southern interest. You knew, or pretended to know, his private views and intentions on that subject; and knowing them, you urged, as soon as the legislature met, his prompt appointment, that he might arrive in Washington before that question was decided. Yes, Sir, the fate of the union was suspended by a slender thread. The result was doubtful. The south were in battle array. They were greatly, I had almost said unwarrantably, excited. But as the raging of the tempest began to subside, you were an advocate for hurrying forward Mr. King, to increase, if not renew, the expiring flames which had burst forth with such fury in Congress, and which were so heart rending to the patriot and to the philanthropist.
During the summer of 1819, your intercourse with Mr. King was of a very familiar, if not confidential, character. With the anti-Clintonian party all your efforts were employed to impress them with the opinion, that the Clintonians would unite with the federalists in electing Mr. King, if they did not. By means of mysterious looks and pretended discoveries, you alarmed the weaker brethren. With these you commenced. You knew that fear was contagious, and you thus inoculated the whole camp; at the same time, through your friend and counsellor, field marshal Coleman and his subordinates, you kept up a fire from the federal batteries upon the Clintonians. They, like a certain animal that starved to death, halted between two opinions, until their fate in reference to this question was decided. Previous to the autumn of 1819, they came to no conclusion whether they would or would not support Mr. King. When the Legislature met in January, 1820, the Clintonians were compelled to vote for him, or to make, what had now become a useless and unprofitable declaration of war against the whole federal party. Mr. K.’s election was certain. In behalf of that portion of the democracy with whom you acted, you had formed a league with the federalists for the avowed purpose of electing him.
The election for Governor of the State was also approaching. The federal party held the balance of power. Without their support Mr. Clinton could not be re-elected. You looked to Vice President Tompkins as his opponent. Over this gentleman, in an evil hour, you had obtained a complete ascendancy. You believed, and I have no doubt you was correct, that if he should be chosen, it would only be de jure, while you would be Governor de facto. This was one reason for your forming an alliance with Mr. King’s federal friends. It was purely personal. In making this arrangement, you never inquired as to its probable effect upon the morals, or the character of the political party with which you were connected. Nor did you think of the public good. This brief, but faithful history of the times, and existing circumstances, when these transactions occurred, was deemed necessary to a right understanding of them.
In the course of the summer, as the negotiation progressed, the papers under your control, made occasional sorties for the purpose of ascertaining how the democratic party would stand the election of Mr. King; and also with the view of familiarizing the people, by degrees, to the name of that distinguished statesman as the next senator. Those presses which sustained the party, but could not be favourably brought out, were muzzled. It was thus, that public opinion was to be created; for this system was then, as now, practiced by hireling mercenaries. Among the first pointed publications, that I recollect, was in the summer of 1819, and was contained in the Albany Argus, from which the following remark is extracted, “we are happy to observe, that Mr. King is decidedly opposed to the measures of Mr. Clinton.