Heraclitus [DeWitt Clinton] to MVB, 22 December 1820
FOR THE NEW-YORK STATESMAN.
To Martin Van Buren Esq. now, or formerly of Kinderhook, Pursuivant of the law.
The crisis of our fate is rapidly approaching. Already do we experience the diminution of our numbers and the falling of off wise and good men. Even Dudley begins to shake in the wind—and to inquire, like his original in the fable, whether, if the enemy succeeds, his fate will be rendered worse or his panniers more burthensome.— Van Kleeck already brandishes the sword of defiance, and threatens a mutiny in the camp if Cantine is preferred to him as commissary general. Even Van Wie begins to scowl and Duer to rave. Root has issued a declaration of independence—and with “a tongue rough as a cat and biting like an adder”—and a countenance as hard as the seven fold shield of Ajax, he denounces you as a political piccaroon—as an homunculus in political affairs, without enlargement of mind or firmness of purpose, and ready at all times to sacrifice a friend or a party for the gratification of unholy ambition. Notwithstanding the Thercites-like vituperations and stentorian bellowings of this man, there is, I confess, a rough and sturdy independence about him, which is calculated to gain proselytes—and I am told that in all the corruptions of the times, his hands have never been stained with unlawful acquisitions. Such a man is no contemptible foe, and if he would practise more self-respect, St. Tammany would select him as the successor of her beloved Tompkins—that miracle of nature and prodigy of greatness. And do you not perceive, sir, the gathering tempest to the south. The heavens to the west are hung in black. The east looks gloomy, and the northern skies threaten destruction to St. Tammany. The weathercock of Schenectady begins to turn towards the house of Clinton—and the ague of the trembling judge is renewed with ten-fold severity. Like the companions of the wandering Ulysses, in the cave of the Cyclop, each revolving day witnesses the diminution of our number, and there is no remedy but poison, no relief but death, unless, like them, we effect our escape through the agency of political sheep. In this awful state, what measures have you taken to rescue us from our calamities—what counsels have you administered—what plan have you projected? None—replies the indignant voice of an agitated and injured party. Like the thunderer on Olympus, you keep aloof from us in all the fullness of solemn solitary dignity; casting lots for offices, weighing the pretensions of rival candidates, and yielding yourself up to the most fulsome adulation.
As the chamelion can assume all colors, except those of red and olive, so you can act all characters, except the parts of integrity and wisdom, in political life. That contemptible cunning and duplicity, which attempts the erection of greatness by the promise of office, are as fragile in their foundation as they are ephemeral in duration. A day of promise must produce a day of reckoning, when fulfilment will be demanded. The ides of February are rapidly approaching. Already have notes been compared, and even astonishment is astounded at the long list of your perfidies. From all points of the compass, attorney generals and senators, in the chrysalis state have flocked to the capitol; and now it is loudly announced that you claim both these distinguished places for yourself. Already is it declared that our federal and Clintonian recruits must be excluded from the loaves and fishes. Already is it discovered that none are to be provided for but your sworn adherents—and already are the sacred eagles of the Tammany legions trampled under the feet of insolent assumption and arrogant dictation.
Your plan, sir, of referring back appointments to county conventions, may be considered by you as an adroit contrivance to cover your duplicity—but how dreadfully will it operate, as it respects the unity of our party. —Will it not be an invitation to anarchy and confusion.— Every town will be agitated with contests for delegates, and every county convention will be a theatre in which the furies of discord will blow the horn of dissension and animosity. Candidates will be multiplied in all directions; a notification to assemble will be a proclamation to excite cupidity and ambition, that might otherwise lie dormant. Fraud and over-reaching will prevail. Candidates will repair to the scene of action, like Polish chieftans to a diet surrounded by noisy, clamorous, and turbulent partizans—and the seeds of incurable resentment, and immortal hatred will be scattered through all our ranks.
In this dreadful state of things I know of but one remedy. We must shake you off, as the Saint shook off the viper. We must discard the clamorous, noisy, intrusive striplings that you have placed in the first seats of the party. We must follow the example of the Roman Republic, when in the extremity of distress, and create a dictator, and this man must be the giant statesman of Delaware. Now that Tompkins is away, and Sharpe is speaker, and Peter R. has other business, I do not see how we can do better.