PATRICK HENRY [Matthew Livingston Davis] to MVB, 12 September 1834
Sept. 12th, 1834.
It has already been remarked, that on the 3d of November, 1812, the legislature convened for the purpose of appointing presidential electors. In the evening of the 4th a caucus of the democratic members was held in the Senate chamber, to nominate candidates. A preliminary discussion ensued. The main question was first to be decided: shall the electors be men who will sustain “the regular nomination,” as made at Washington in Congressional caucus? Or shall they be men who repudiate the idea of respecting the “usages and discipline of the party?” Or more intelligibly, shall they be men, who will vote for and support James Madison and the war? Or shall they be men who will vote for Mr. Clinton and peace? This was the simple preliminary proposition before the caucus.
Great dissension and much violence prevailed in the meeting. The friends of Mr. Madison were in the minority. They were, however, firm and unshaken. You, sir, had been counselled and advised with, by the Clintonians. You had aided in all the arrangements for a conflict with the supporters of the war candidate, as Mr. Madison was termed. You had not only prepared yourself for the discussion, but you was assisted with arguments by the ablest of your Clintonian associates. You was the Ajax Telamon of the party. Your elocution was of a slight and flippant character, weil adapted to the occasion, and as you were for the moment, the leader of the peace party, you seemed to feel the importance of the position you held. In the language of your biographer, your’s “was not the zeal of ordinary men.” To secure the success of Mr. Clinton, and the defeat of Mr. Madison, “absorbed your whole soul. It led to untiring exertion; it was exhibited on all occasions, and under all circumstances.”
It is due to you to say, that your speech was not only pointed, but sometimes severe, on the southern men and southern policy. You cannot have forgottn your sneers and sarcasms upon the ancient dominion. You drew a parallel between the qualifications and talents of Mr. Madison and Mr. Clinton, in which you placed the former, far, very far below the latter. But you did not stop here. You denounced the policy of the General Government, in plunging the nation, unprepared, into a war. You declared the whole cabinet unworthy the confidence and support of the people. In short, sir, your entire harrangue was one of great bitterness, against the party in power, and a warm panegyric on those whom you were endeavoring to elevate. A dozen such letters, as mine, would not contain your denunciations of the South alone.
Replies were made to you by Gen. Root, Nathan Sandford and others. They defended the southern democracy, and the war, against your phillippic. Their efforts, however, were unavailing. The caucus decided that no man should be supported by them who would vote for James Madison. As soon as this decision was made, Gen. Root, Mr. Sandford, and others, the friends of the war, retired from the caucus, and left you to enjoy the pleasing reflection “that it was sufficient glory to serve under such a chief as De Witt Clinton.”
It has been shown, that during the whole of the year 1812, you were opposing the government, and endeavoring to ruin Mr. Madison politically, as the author of war. It is believed, however, that on your arrival in Albany in November, you entertained some doubts and apprehensions as to the result. With the power in the hands of your party to secure Mr. Clinton all the votes of the State, what did you do? In a subtle and treacherous manner you proposed, to certain individuals, to give Mr. Madison two votes.— Your proposition, it is true, was rejected with scorn and contempt. But what was your object? Subsequent events proved that it was intended as a peace offering. You had already commenced preparations “to look one way and row another.”
It is feared, that these details may prove tedious.— It should be recollected, however, that many of those who are now the most active, and most efficient, on the political stage, have not before them the evidence of your deadly hostility in 1812 to the author and defenders of the war: nor are they well informed as to your apparent devotion to Mr. Clinton, at that trying crisis. Indeed it would seem impossible, if they were not matters of history, that you could so cordially and zealously have acted with the Clintonians in 1812, and that in a few short years, if not in a few months, you should have turned upon them, and with demoniac perfidy denounced those measures of which you were not only the advocate, but in some instances the adviser, and probably the author.
Only one other reference will be made at present to your political movements during the session of the Legislature in 1812. At that time, the presidential electors were appointed by the Legislature. Each house nominated a ticket. If the nominations agreed, the persons thus nominated were chosen. If they disagreed, the Senate and Assembly met in joint ballot, and voted for the electors out of the ticket thus presented by the respective houses.
On the 9th of November the Senate and Assembly proceeded to nominate, viva voce, the electors. Three tickets were run, in each body. The result was, the Senate nomiated Clintonians, and the house federal electors; and when these bodies met in joint ballots Clintonian electors were chosen. Now, sir, as a member of the Senate, (the rules requiring it,) you rose in your place, and read off the names of the candidates for whom you voted. Every man of them was opposed to James Madison. The late Col. Henry Rutgers, of the city of New York, was at the head of the Madison list; you voted against him, and all his colleagues. Gen. Root, Gen. Haight, Nathan Sandford, and others of that class of politicians, supported the Rutger’s ticket. Can it be deemed necessary to pursue this branch of the subject? Has it not been demonstrated, beyond the cavil of the most skeptical, that from 1811 to 1813 you was opposed to the party then in power, and to their measures? The statements which have been given, as to your official acts, are derived from the journals of the Senate. Your speech in caucus, &c. if misrepresented, may be corrected by some one of the gentlemen who have been named.
Your biographer says-“The session of 1813 and 1814 were peculiarly trying. The federalists then had the control of the Assembly, and were violent and uniform in their opposition to the war and its supporters. A majority of the Senators, with Mr. Van Buren, and his able coadjutors, Nathan Sandford and Erastus Root, at their head, were equally inflexible.” Pray, sir, were Sandford, and Root your coadjators in “opposition to the war and its supporters” in 1812?-or were you at that time, in union with the federalists, opposing the government?
Again. Your biographer, speaking of the contest between the two houses in 1813 and 1814, says:–“This led to several public conferences, involving the justice and expediency of the war; and the conduct and merits of the national administration were debated, in the presence of the two houses, by committees chosen on the part of each.” * * * * “In all of them Mr. Van Buren was a principal speaker on the part of the Senate,” &c. &c.
This quotation is just as true as the assertion, that you was an early supporter of the war and its friends. I will examine it in my next letter, and test its accuracy by the Senate journals. It is all fiction.