Benjamin Franklin Butler to MVB, 31 May 1844

B[enjamin] F[ranklin] Butler to MVB, 31 May 1844

New York,

My dear friend, 

With a heavy & half broken heart, I make attempt to give you, in a few words, the key to our doings, and particularly to my share of them, on the last day of the Convention. As I write in a corner of the Court-room they must necessarily be exceedingly brief when compared with the importance & intense interest of the subject.

On Wednesday ^Tuesday^ night I ascertained, that although your vote could be kept up for one or two further ballots, to about 100, yet that it could never again be raised to a majority (134), and was soon destined to large & rapid reductions. It was known that on the first ballot of wednesday, Col. Johnson would withdraw, & that ^the^ Kentucky & some other votes before given for him would be transferred to Cass. Such a result, I was satisfied, would so increase the prospects of his nomination, as to induce many of those who had before gone with us, to give in their adherence to what, by that time, would be regarded as the successful cause, unless it could be prevented by a timely & decisive movement. Under this impression, and thinking that the step authorised by your confidential letter, if ever to be taken, should be taken at the opening of the Convention on Wednesday morning, I devoted the evening of Tuesday, to efforts to ascertain how many of those states which had gone with us, for you, in whole or in part, would go for Mr Wright in the event of his being brought favored under such circumstances as to justify them in doing so. As I had expected, I found that ^our 8 in^ Maine, ^the whole of^ New Hampshire ^Vermont^ & Ohio, <illegible> ^& our friends in Massachusetts would gladly go^ for him. ^Also^ that our true friends (not the Buchanan friends) in Penna, would take any course which newYork might decide to take. I also became reasonably satisfied, that Tennessee might be induced to concur in this movement; and if it received any support from the South & Southwest, I did not believe Virginia would dare to persist in supporting Lewis Cass, in preference to Silas Wright. All these enquiries occupied me until near midnight, and I soon after retired to my <bed> ^room^ but not as it proved, to enjoy the benefit of sleep. The events of the day, the injustice with which you had been treated, the destitution of high principle shown by the great mass of the Southern delegates, the contempt with which the doctrine of instructions had been brought by their open violation by many & their still now disgraceful evasion by others, the crisis to which we had been brought, and the immense interests at stake, all so pressed on my mind, as to drive away not only sleep, but every other alleviating thought. In addition to other difficulties of our position, I knew that Mr. Fine had in his possession as strong a letter as man could write, from Mr. Wright, in which he absolutely & most imperatively interdicted the use of his name for the Presidency, and in which he also said, that his opinions on all questions entirely concurred with yours, and which letter he instructed Mr Fine to read to the Convention, in case his name should be brought forward, from any quarter. Still, it seemed to me, that this letter, though a most proper one under the circumstances in which it was written, did not preclude the Convention from nominating Mr. Wright, in the new circumstances in which we were placed, nor forbid his accepting a nomination, with the earnest request from yourself, that he should do so. I therefore determined, to lay before the N.Y. delegation at 8 O’Clock on Wednesday morning, the state of the case, and to say, that unless advised to the contrary by them I should, as authorised by your letter (then for the first to be made known to them) withdraw your name and propose Mr. Wright or give to Mr. Wright if proposed by any other state your cordial support. To propose Mr. Wright for such a step, I therefore, after spending the night watches in such undertaking as the occasion inspired, & seeking guidance & aid from a higher power, rose at <illegible> an early hour, and wrote to Mr. Wright a long letter on the subject, telling him what course I <poss> should take, if not advised to the Contrary by the delegation at 8, and urging him not to decide agt. taking the nomination, until, in pursuance of your request, which I particularly stated to him, I could see him personally.

At 8 our delegation met, & I opened the whole case, & for the first made known to them the fact & the contents of your letter, which, as required, I had kept a profound secret from them & from every other human being, except my room-mate & ^our^ true friend, H.D. Gilpin, to whom at midnight I spoke on it, for the purpose of taking his counsel as to the course proper to be adopted in the exigency which existed. Knowing that Judge Fine had ^a^ very strong repugnance to any attempt, from my quarter, to make a candidate of Mr. Wright, I took great pains to convince him & the delegation that it was right, & our duty to secure, if we could the nomination of Mr. Wright. All my efforts, however, were ineffectual; we continued in session until within five minutes of 9 (the hour of meeting) at which time, the Delegation unanimously divided in view of Mr. Wrights position intendent, & Judge Fine’s declaration, that if a single vote were cast for Mr. Wright, he should read the whole letter to the Convention, that they did advise agt. the course I had proposed.

In the meantime, the delegates from New Hampshire, Ohio, Massachusetts, & some other states, were anxious to know the result of our deliberations, and on getting to the Convention, I was asked by several with great anxiety, whether any new rallying point had been agreed on, & especially whether Mr. Wright could be voted for. I, of course, informed them that Mr. Wright’s name could not be used, urged them all to adhere to your name for the next ballot, & until a new satisfying <illegible> and so long as New-York kept it before the Convention. Most of them agreed to this; some, however, did not consent, and either ^to^ them, or by them, the name of Governor Polk was spoken of as a better one than any person then before the Convention. His state, had ^<indeed, deserved^ nothing from New York; but he had not been a party to the conspiracies & plots by which we had been destroyed, and his nomination, it was most obvious wd. not only give us a sound democrat by whom we could make the old issues, of Bank or no Bank &c. <illegible> but flounder, with a ^single^ blow, the whole purpose of for by whom, or for whom, the plots had been set afoot—Tyler, Calhoun, Woodbury, Buchanan, Johnson, Stewart, & above all, as most likely otherwise to get the benefit of them, Lewis Cass. On the first ballot, New H. as you have seen, presented his name, others duly followed, & he recd. 44 votes. On this ballot you recd. 104, but the Rhode Island members told me they shd. be obliged the next ballot, to go for some one else as they regarded it useless any longer to continue the <contest>.# I advised them, therefore to go for Polk, and made an attempt to get leave for the N.Y. delegates to withdraw for a few moments & that the 9th ballot should not commence until our return. The qualification being objected to, we <illegible> not without retired to a <illegible> room in the lower part of the building, where I stated the matter to our delegation, and they agreed that it should was expedient that I should withdraw you & they also agreed that I might state my own preference & the grounds of it, for Polk, leaving each member the delegation to vote for himself as he should think fit. In the mean time, the 9th balloting had commenced, and Maine, hearing from Mr Cambreleng our decision which it took some time to reduce to writing in our journal, led off at once for Polk with her 8 true votes. Three or four other states had also voted for Polk, Virginia included, before our delegation returned to the room. Mr. Rhoane was speaking in explanation of this change of vote, when we returned ^to^ our seats, and immediately closed his remarks by a direct address to the delegation of New York, in regard to yourself and to the motives by which they had been induced to withhold from you ^so <illegible>^ their first choice on all accounts, & still their first choice could they hope for your election, the vote of Virginia. Our delegation thought this appeal should be <illegible> responded to, and I was directed to do it. I did so, and then proceeded to <illegible> state the result of our deliberations upon withdrawning viz. to take your name from before the Convention, and to signify my own intention, and the reasons therefore given at some length, for preferring Gov. Polk, to all the names then before the Convention. I concluded, by requesting Gov. Dickinson, our Chairman, to give my vote for Jas. K. Polk of Tenn. He <illegible> immediately gave 35 votes for Polk—all but that of Col. Young who could not ^then^ assent to give up his vote. Wh This vote was authorised while I was speaking, and surprised me most agreeably, for when we left the retiring room several sounded disposed to scatter their votes. It decided the results of the day.

The nomination of Mr. Wright for the V. P. was then proposed by me (<illegible> at the suggestion of Judge Fine that the objections to Mr. W.'s accepting it wd. less serious & that perhaps he might agree to take it,) <illegible> to Messrs. Walker & Rhoane & some others of that side. They agreed to it at once, and our friends of one ^own^ delegation as well as our friends from the North, with one accord, united in carrying it out, in the belief that it wd. secure the support of the entire democracy of the North and be peculiarly useful & desirable in this state. Another powerful recommendation was, that it strongly implied an acknowledgment, on the part of the Convention, that <illegible> grievous wrong had been done by them, to you and to the state. You will have learned before you read this letter, that Mr. Wright positively & preemptorily declined the nomination, but the concession implied in it remains, and I am glad it was made.

at home 5 PM From the beginning of our proceedings, it was very evident to me, that we were betrayed and sold into the hands of men who ^intended^ either to accomplish their ends by defeating your nomination & securing that of Cass, or to throw on your friends the responsibility of breaking up the Convention. Some of my friends thought the ^passing of the^ 2/3 vote, under the undenied allegation of mine, that though it had ^been^ ascertained there was a majority in favor of a particular candidate, it had also been ascertained, with equal clearness, that there were not 2/3ds in favor of any one, a sufficient reason for leaving the Convention. Most of us, and myself among the number, thought differently. The apparent sanction which the rule derived from the precedents of 1832 & 1835, made it exceedingly dangerous to take such a step at the commencement of the proceedings. But had Mr. Wright’s name <been> and, as I proposed, and had it secured a majority, it was then my intention to instantly, to propose a resolution reciting all the facts, and proposing, as a consequence of eight ballotings, & of finding majorities for two different persons, and two thirds for no one, that the 2/3 rule be rescinded; and I was prepared to propose, on the rejection of this resolution, to abandon the Convention. The refusal of Judge Fine & of our Delegation to permit the use of Mr. Wright’s name, prevented the execution of this plan.

In view of all the interests personal to yourself, and important to the nation, I did not dare take on ourselves the responsibility of breaking off, except on some point so clear & palpable, as to satisfy the minds of plain men. Especially was I held to this course, by the conviction, founded on authentic evidence of declarations made by Mr. Calhoun & others, at Washington, that <illegible> nothing would more gratify them, than the dissolution of the Convention without any nomination. And I knew too, that our secession would not prevent the conspirators in our own body, from keeping together thoseeir forces, and of making their nomination, which whether made by the whole body, or by a part of it, I also knew would receive the support of Virginia & the other Southern States by which it should be made.

So, too, in relation to the debates and proceedings of the Convention, I felt it to be exceedingly important, that, as much as possible, no pretext should be afforded to our enemies to make false issues by which to turn away the public mind from the gross outrages they had perpetrated. In a word, I some things were endured, and some omitted, by us, which, under other circumstances, might not have been endured or omitted, to the end, that those who had so wickedly injured you, might not have the opportunity to extenuating their misdeeds, by charging on your friends, an single act of an objectionable or doubtful character.

You will see, among the resolutions, as strong a one as I would write, expressing the respect, confidence, & esteem of the Convention. All parties were well desirous it should be included in the <series>, and as it it does not go beyond the language used by different speakers, the <records> presents then, the singular anomaly, of a ^nomination^ body whose members unanimously expresses the highest confidence in, and regard for, an individual, yet refusing to take through that individual as their nominee, although he had 26 majority over all the other candidates. There is strongly, therefore, insincerity somewhere; and as no one acquainted with the facts can doubt, for a moment, that many of the 146 who cast for you their votes on the first ballot, did so under the pretention of the rule they had imposed; and that after, in this way, satisfying their obeying their instructions and redeeming their pledges, and satisfying their conscience, they then did, what, had the majority rule prevailed, they wd. have done on the first ballot! What a picture, this, of the political integrity, and the personal honor, of those members of the body? And what is there, even in the mummery of the Hard Cider campaign (a page of our history which in a fit of sudden excitement I trampled beneath my feet in the Convention) that is half so fraudulent or so foul? And

Had you obtained a nomination, you would have been sacrificed by the entire south. I talked with Slidell of La. others <illegible> ^of our friends with other^ Southern members, <illegible> <illegible> <illegible> with me before the <illegible> ^who seemed to be desirous to tell the truth as they believed it to exist, and we^ learned of them, that not a vote could be obtained in any southern state unless it might be Mississippi, & Alabama.

But I must bid you adieu, I will write ^again^ tomorrow.

As ever yours truly

B.F. Butler

*Document Marginalia:

# Monday, also, who with difficulty had kept ^the Ohio^ men in the Convention, told me that they wd. scatter on the next ballot and that it was necessary that same prompt measures could be taken to prevent several of the Ohio delegation from going for Cass.

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