Heraclitus (DeWitt Clinton) to MVB, 15 December 1820

Heraclitus [DeWitt Clinton] to MVB, 15 December 1820 


No. V.

To Martin Van BurenEsq. now, or formerly, of Kinderhook, Pursuicant of the Laws.


In all discomfitures and defeats, whether political, civil, or military, the blame will necessarily be imputed to the chief of the enterprise or undertaking. Within a few years, you have arrived to factitious importance, and the eye of curiosity and criticism has, for some time, been fixed upon you. Whether your balloon-like elevation is founded on wisdom or cunning—on solidity of talent or flippancy of tongue,—on the splendour of truth and virtue, or the dark intrigues of chicanery and perfidy,—on the noble efforts of a patriotic spirit, or the selfish aspirations of unprincipled ambition and cupidity, might have been still a moot point to be discussed and controverted between your friends and your enemies, had not the exposition of recent events, and the melancholy explosion of all our hopes, exhibited you to the world, as a bare-faced impostor, without intellect to contrive,—without energy to execute any wise plan, for the maintenance of bucktail pre-eminence.

It was considered a debateable question among the ancients whether an army of lions led by a stag, or an army of stags led by a lion, would be the most formidable. But it was generally admitted, that the latter would have the advantage; for in the conflicts of armies, so much depends on the choice of ground,—on the arrangement of time and place,—and on the disposition of the forces that nothing can be done without able generals. The same observation may be applied to political contention.

When the legislature first met, we, the genuine sons of St. Tammany, really believed that we had the world under our feet,—that the destinies of this mundane sphere were completely under our control,—and that honours and emoluments would descend to us, like Jove, in a shower of gold. We also supposed, that a convention would be summoned forthwith, with plenipotentiary powers to make a constitution that would secure us in the full and uninterrupted possession of our offices, and keep, down for ever the unhallowed faction in opposition to us. But, alas! how completely are our hopes blasted, and we now see nothing before us but the image of despair.

After the opening of the session, it was discovered that all your views were personal,—that self-elevation was the god of your idolatry,—that you had endeavoured to draw a line of circumvallation around you, composed of young, unfledged, unmoulted coxcombs, without experience, without wisdom, and without established character, —that you had operated solely by the promise of office, and that the city of Albany was filled with deserters from the old republican and federal parties, who flocked to that place, to realize the purchase money of their political treasons,—that the old heads of St. Tammany were to be thrown into shade, and that Root and Swartwout, Sharpe and Crolius, Knower and Marcy, Cramer and Sergeant, were to succumb to King and Verplanck, Ulshoeffer, Van Wie, Dudley, and Duer,—that Nathan Sanford, that veteran republican, was to be driven from the senate of the United States, in order to make room for you,—that your brother-in-law, Cantine, was to have the control of the presses of thees party,—that a new faction was to be created, bowing with implicit submission to your decrees,—composed of the choice spirits of the commonwealth, without reference to principle or patriotism, gratitude or character.

The machinery you made use of for the accomplishment of your purposes, was the old bungling contrivance of caucusses, already exploded by the contempt of public odium, and intirely unsuited to the spirit of the times. The will of the majority in caucus, the great abracadabra of political power, in modern intrigants, had lost its influence; and nothing but the fervour of political triumph, and the hope of future advantage, could have induced the sacrifice of Aaron Clark, and the adoption of a system, which would enable you to march with flying colours into the senate chamber at Washington. In the mean time, you endeavoured to direct our attention from the scene before us by false views of the future. A convention was promised, which was to be the elixir of immortality to the ascendency of our party—the pass-port to unlimited, universal dominion, and the philosopher's stone of power and opuleace. A bill was drawn—a plan was contrived—and in the Cimmerian shades of midnight conspiracy, the souls of Cataline and Clodius, Cethegus and Curius, and their desperate associates, were, by a species of political metamorphosis, transfused into the living actors of the present times. A new order of things was to be established—the whole fabric of society was to be overturned. The standard of ruin and the ensigns of destruction, were to be planted on the prostrated battlements of the constitution. The worst principles, under the auspices of the worst men, were to be cherished—the elements of society were to be dissolved; and order, property, principle, and liberty, were to be sacrificed on the altars of faction.

A plan of so vile a character could not elude the sagacity, nor escape the opposition of the wise and patriotic. In the council of revision, the last entrenchment of the constitution, it received its death-blow. In our attempts to excite a spirit of mutiny and disaffection—to congregate public meetings for the purposes of denunciation, we have awakened a spirit of inquiry, which has blasted our views. In the city of New York, the head-quarters of St. Tammany—the place where Verplanck raves and Noah writes—the focus of office-hunting, and the centre of political pollution—we could not get more than two hundred at a public meeting—and here we were sickened with the ebullitions of political renegadoes and obscure dunces. Bunner, the Sir John Falstaff, of New York, impudent as the knight, without a particle of his wit—Radcliff, another ultra-federalist, destitute of the least pretence to decency—and Woodward, a dunce confirmed beyond the reach of hellebore—addressed the paltry assembly in rotation, each rising higher in the scale of folly; and it was easy to see that St. Tammany was deserted by the people, and that the saint had lost all his power.

In this desperate state of our affairs, whom can we blame but the bungling contriver—the unskilful manager. Why produce a plan that has alarmed every thinking man in the community? The list of your atrocities is far from being complete. I have a long account to settle with you. The sluice-gate of political calamity is opened upon us. The author of our grievances shall be dragged before the public. His impostures shall be laid bare to the bone. I shall expose his impotence, his incompetence, and his deception; and before I leave him in the undisturbed possession of infamy, I trust that all his much-abused associates will be ready to say of him, as was said of his namesake, Sir Martin Mar-all, in the play—he is “a conceited lack-wit, a designing —, a hair-brained fop, a confounded busy brain, with an external wind-mill in it. This, in short, Sir, is the contents of your panegyric.”


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