Heraclitus (DeWitt Clinton) to MVB, 19 December 1820

Heraclitus [DeWitt Clinton] to MVB, 19 December 1820


To Martin Van Buren Esq. now, or formerly of Kinderhook Pursuivant of the law.

"He's so opinion'd of his own abilities, that he is ever designing somewhat; and yet he sows his strategems so shallow, that every claw can pick'em up."

Sir Martin Mar-all, a Comedy.


There are some men, who are always the dupes of their own vanity, and who like a squirrel in a rotary cage, or a horse in a Troy Team-Boat, really think that they are in a state of advancement, when they have made no progress at all. This is emphatically your case. Under the influence of a sanguine temperament, like your great prototype, Aaron Burr, you believe that you can cut and carve as you please, and that all the doors of honor and emolument will fly open at your knock.— When you were first taught the elements of learning, in the law-office of William P. Van Ness; when you scrambled into power by the popularity of Hogeboom, and was initiated into respectability by the patronage of Clinton, these gentlemen no doubt supposed they were advancing the fortunes of a smart young man, whose sentiments were bottomed on virtue, and whose talents might expand into usefulness. Little did they suppose that perfidy marked his character—that insincerity guided his conduct, and thta availing himself of a fortuitous concourse of circumstances—the prejudices of party and the aid of foreign influence—he would endeavour to rise on the ruins of his friends, and on the prostration of the best interests of the country.

The days of your glory are past. A character that will not bear the analysis of a critical examination must succumb. And although you may say with the mock astrologer in the comedy—“I am like the drunken Tinker in the play, a great prince and never knew it;” yet be assured that your renown is passing away, like sand through the hour glass; and that St. Tammany is preparing her club of Hercules to prostrate you in the dust.

I shall not condescend to notice your ridiculous imitation of Bonaparte in dropping a letter from your name; your still more ridiculous attempt to attain the upright position, the extended step, and sudden stop of Aaron Burr; your awkward endeavours to assume the airs of ease and gracefulness in your deportment, and to shew forth the accomplishments of an erudite scholar. The scent of the cask can never be extinguished—the iron and the leather of Sancho’s key will always infect the odor of the wine; and until you can learn spelling—until you become an adept in Webster and Dilworth, and recur constantly to the Dictionary of Entick—until you suppress the self-sufficient smile of imaginary importance, and conceal a vanity that always disgusts, a perfidy that always betrays, and a selfishness that always alienates; and until you drink deep of the fountains of classic lore and of scientific knowledge, you ought to conceal yourself in the snail-shell of your insignificance, and never attempt to figure away as a scholar, or a great man.

I object to you, sir, because your views are personal, not social—because the ascendency of St. Tammany is not your object; and because cupidity and ambition are the levers, which regulate your whole system of conduct. Your cob web strategems to attain consequence and to mount into power are as pitiful as they are obvious. Do you think that your views can escape the prying sagacity of Root, the keen vision of Sharpe, and the patriotic vigilance of Rutgers? Do you suppose that the eyes of St. Tammany are hermetically sealed—that the hands of Briareus are cut off, and that the strength of Sampson has departed? Do you imagine that the old greyheaded sachems of the party—the Romaines, the Targees, the Anthonys, the Thompsons, and the Wendovers will succumb to King and Duer, M. S. Miller and Rochester, Van Wie and Dudley? For shame, sir,—rouse from your lethargy—shake off the poppies that surround your head, and listen to the voice of truth.

The band of youthful conspirators, which you have congregated about you, like birds of prey and evil omen, to fatten on the spoils of the republic, will drop off as autumnal leaves when struck by frost, as soon as St Tammany raises her voice against you. Do you suppose that your brother-in-law Cantine will shield you with his mighty talents, and his great state paper, and that the Assembly will be duped into a contrivance to put money into his purse, and to raise you over the heads of the community? No, sir,—the scheme is preposterous—the project is bungling. The systematic attempt to put down the heads of the old republican party—to set young men to rule over them—and to govern the state through the rash ascendency of Catalinian conspirators has marked you out for ruin.

Why, Sir, did you recruit the ranks of our party by the solemn promises of office? Has not this city already witnessed a congregation of office seekers, unexampled in number, and unwearied in importunity, crying aloud for the redemption of your pledges? In February next we are ship wrecked—for the ascendency of a few months we are ruined forever; and in April next the sun of our glory will set in the blackness of eternal night.

You were foiled in your direct attempts to be an elector. You then proposed William Floyd, a man who you knew could not attend on account of his advanced age; and when the electors met, you foisted yourself through their instrumentality. Why this sneaking contrivance to accumulate honor on yourself? Why not bestow this honorary boon on Miller of Utica, who was probably in attendance for the purpose? Why cautiously exclude our high-minded allies, and our Clintonian converts? Do you not foresee the fatal termination of these perfidious strategems? You promise and then you betray. You have connived at putting all our recruits under an interdict from office. They now understand you—a master-piece of low cunning—the Bohon-Upas of the St. Tammany, and a pestilence to the Republican party.


Editorial Process Complete