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Page 447


Dear Uncle Joshua:—I have jest got back from Washington,
where I have been for the last fortnight watchin' the old ship
of State layin' tu in a sort of three-cornered gale of wind. This
gale struck her on the 3d of December, and threw her all
aback, and the gale holds on yet tight as ever, and there she
has been layin' now seven weeks, head to the wind, rolling and
pitchin', and hasn't gained ahead a rod. I've seen rough
times in the Two Pollies, and long gales of wind, and hurrykanes
and whirlpools, and all sorts of weather, but this is the
first time I've seen a craft layin' to agin a three-cornered gale
for two months upon a stretch, in a choppin sea, worse than
the Gulf Stream in a thunder-storm. But don't you be
frightened, Uncle Joshua; she won't go down, but will live
through it, and go on her voyage by-and-by all right. Our
old ship of State is a stanch craft; she is built of the very
best stuff, and put together in the strongest manner, and there
isn't a spar, nor a plank, nor a timber-head in her but what
is as sound as a nut. She's the best ship in the world, and
the Two Pollies is next. So you needn't be afeerd that any
sea will ever swamp her; and if ever she should be in danger
of running ashore, or on the breakers, by the squabbles and
foolin' of her officers, she's got a crew that will take care
of her.

You know, Uncle, I've been sailin' round Cuba and up the


Page 448
Gulf a good while, tryin' to carry out the plans of our Congress
at Ostend and Ax-le-Shappel, to take Cuba, because our
country couldn't get along without it; and self-preservation,
you know, is the first law of nater. We should got through
with that job long ago if our Cabinet hadn't backed out about
it. I never understood the home difficulty, but I'm sure there
was some hard shuffling somewhere. We was all right
abroad; but this backin' and fillin' in the Home Department
was what bothered us, and pretty likely has upset the business.
First the Home Department told us to go ahead and fix up our
Ostend matter the best way we could. But as soon as I and
Mr. Bukanan and Mr. Sooley, and the rest of us in the foreign
Government, had got things well under way, and was about
ready to take Cuba, the Home Department turned right round
and fit agin us tooth and nail. As I said afore, I couldn't
account for this home difficulty, and the sudden turn-about of
the Home Department, unless they was afeard we should get
the most of the credit of taking Cuba, and maybe I, or Mr.
Bukanan, or Mr. Sooley, or Mr. Mason, or Mr. Sickles, or Mr.
Sanders might get to be President by it. But such a thought
never entered my head, and I can pledge myself the same for
all the rest. We was to work entirely for the country's
good, and nothin else. And for the Home Department to get
jealous of us and turn agin us in that way was cruel and onkind.
It grieves me every time I think of it; for I think like
the good Dr. Watts, when he says:

“How pleasant 'tis to see,
Brethren and friends agree.”

I sent dispatches to Gineral Pierce about it more than three
months ago, but never got any answer. And finally I got
tired holdin' on out there alone, and hearing all the time that
the Home Department kept stopping all the re-enforcements


Page 449
from coming out to help me, so I up helm and headed the
Two Pollies for Downingville. When we got along in the
latitude of New York that terrible 5th of January storm overtook
us, and we jest made out to weather the gale, and get
inside of Sandy Hook and come to anker. The pilots come
aboard and treated us very kind.

Them New York pilots are clever fellows. They brought
us lots of newspapers, from which I learnt what had been
going on for two months past. When they see the Downingville
militia was aboard, and Sargent Joel at the head of 'em,
dressed up in his uniform, one of the pilots took me one side
and whispered to me that he would advise me, as a friend, not
to go up to New York, for if we did the Two Pollies was a
gone goose.

“How so?” says I, “what do you mean?”

“I mean,” says he, “that Mr. McKeon, the District
Attorney, will nab her in less than no time, and condemn her
for a fillibuster vessel, and you'll all be put in prison and tried
for violating the neutrality laws.”

“Let him do it,” says I, “if he dares. We are at work for
the Government. Our cruise has all been under the direction
and advice of Congress.”

“If I remember right,” says he, “Congress wasn't in
session when the Two Pollies sailed for the West India
station. How, then, could you be under the direction of

“I mean the Ostend Congress,” says I, “and it makes no
difference which, one's as good as t'other.”

“Well,” says he, you'll find it makes a difference which
when you get up to New York. The District Attorney is
death on every vessel that has the least smell of gun-powder,
or has anything aboard that bears any likeness to a musket.
He has a master keen scent for gun-powder; he often smells


Page 450


[Description: 688EAF. Page 450. In-line image. The major leans on a banister watching something goin on in the House. Several other people, both men and women, are also up in the gallery as well.]
it aboard vessels where there isn't a bit nor grain, and it
all turns out to be only bilge-water.”

“If that's the case,” says I, “I'll leave the Two Pollies at
anker here, and I'll be off to Washington and see how the
land lays.”

So I called up Captain Jumper, the sailing master, and told
him to keep things all snug and tight while I was gone, and
I told Sargent Joel to take good care of the men, and I'd try,
if possible, to be back in a fortnight.

When I got to Washington I thought I would jest run in
a few minutes and see how Congress was getting along
first. I had let my beard grow pretty long, and was dressed
so different from what I used to, that I didn't feel afeard of


Page 451
anybody's knowing me; so I went into the Representatives
chamber and took a seat in the gallery. Business seemed to
be going on brisk and lively. A man was standing up in
front, and reading off, in a good loud voice, Banks, 105;
Richardson, 73; Fuller, 31; Pennington, 5; scattering, 4.
Then I went out and went into the Senate. But there business
seemed to be very dull. I couldn't find out as anything was
doing. Some was reading the newspapers, and some was
talking a little, and some was setting as calm and quiet as so
many bears in their winter den, with nothin' to do but suck
their paws. I soon got tired of this, and went back into the
House again. I had but jest got seated in the gallery when
the man in front got up and read off agin: Banks, 105;
Richardson, 73; Fuller, 31; Pennington, 5; scattering, 4.

I turned round and whispered to the man who sot next to
me, and says I, “That's just the same tune they had when I
was in here half an hour ago.”

“Exactly,” says he; “they don't play but one tune, and
that hasn't no variations.”

“Well, what upon airth are they doing?” says I.

“Oh, they are choosing a Speaker,” says he.

“Choosing a Speaker!” says I. “For gracious sake, how
long does it take 'em to do that?”

“I can't have the slightest idea how long,” say he.
“They've been at it now about six weeks, and if they continue
to gain as fast as they have since they begun, I guess it
might take 'em pretty near from July to etarnity.”

“If that's the case,” says I, “I'll clear out, for I can't wait
so long as that.” So I hurried out and made tracks straight
for the White House. I rung to the door, and the servant let
me in. I told him I wanted to see the President. He said
very well, the President was in his private room, and he
would take my card to him. I told him he might go and tell


Page 452
Gineral Pierce that an old friend of his and a fellow-soldier
in the Mexican war wanted to see him. Presently he come
back and asked me to walk up. I found the President alone,
walking back and forth across the room, and looking kind of
riled and very resolute. It made me think of Old Hickory
when he used to get his dander up about Biddle's Bank, and
walked the floor all day, and lay awake all night, planning
how he could upset it. The Gineral knew me as soon as I
went into the room, in spite of my beard, and shook hands
with me, and said he was very glad to see me.

“Well, now, Gineral,” says I, “I want to come right to
the pint the first thing. I've left the Two Pollies at anker
down to Sandy Hook, and I want to know, right up and
down, if she's to be nabbed or not. You know how 'tis,
Gineral; you know we went out in good faith under the
orders of the Ostend Congress; and you know the Home
Government backed us up in the beginning of it; but now
you've turned agin us, and I understand you've been seizing
and overhauling every vessel all along shore that had its
bowsprit pointed towards Cuba or Central America; and I
was told if the Two Pollies went up to York she'd be served
the same sass. Now, I want to know how we stand, that's
all. If you don't want the help of the Two Pollies there's
enough that does; and if you don't give her a clear passport
out and in, she'll be off pretty quick where she can find better

“Why, my dear Major,” said the President, and the tears
almost come into his eyes, “my dear Major,” says he, “you
misunderstand me entirely. You and the Two Pollies haven't
got a better friend in the world than I am. The fact is, I've
been very much tried ever since that Ostend Congress
business. It made a good deal of hard feeling in my Cabinet,
and as things worked we was obliged to come out agin it.


Page 453
And then we had to make a show of sticking up very strong
for the neutrality laws; and that's why we seized so many
vessels. But you needn't give yourself the least uneasiness
about the Two Pollies. I pledge you the honor of the Executive
that she shan't be touched. And, besides, I'm in a good
deal of trouble all round, and I want you and the Two
Pollies to stick by me; for, if you don't, I don't know who

“Agreed,” says I, “nuff said; that's talking right up to
the mark. Give us your hand, Gineral; I'll stick by you as
close as I did by my old friend Gineral Jackson. Now, what
do you want me to do?”

“Well, Major,” says he, “I've got a good many ticklish
jobs on hand that I don't hardly know what to do with, nor
which to take hold on first. You know there's a Democratic
Convention to meet at Cincinnati to make the nominations
for the next term.” (Here the President got up and locked
the door, and sot down close to me and talked low.) “The
main question is, how to bring things to bear on that Convention
so as to make the nomination go right. Marcy wants
it, and Buchanan wants it, and Wise wants it, and Dickinson
wants it, and perhaps Cass too, though he says he don't, and
I don't know how many others, all good Democrats, you
know; but we can't all have it; so you see I've got a hard
team to pull against. As for Douglas, I think he'll go for
me, if I'll go for him afterwards. The Cabinet and I have
been tryin' to get things ready before the nomination to give
the Administration the credit of being the smartest and
spunkiest Administration we ever had. We want, if possible,
to go a little ahead of Jackson. You know we've already
blowed Gray Town to atoms. We've struck a heavy blow to
knock off the Danish Sound dues, and shall be ready for a
splendid rumpus there in the spring. We've got a rousin'


Page 454
arthquake kindlin' up between us and England, which will be
jest the thing if we can touch it off at the right time. But
you know these things sometimes take fire too soon, and do
mischief both sides. I feel a little oneasy about this, and
wish that stupid Congress would ever get organized so as to
take part of the responsibility. Then we've got a quarrel
brewin', too, with Colonel Walker, out there in Nicaragua,
and have refused to receive Colonel French as his Minister.
If Walker chooses to resent it as a national insult, we are
ready for him. We shan't give back a hair. Now, Major,
what do you think of the chances for the nomination?”

“Wal, Gineral,” says I, “I think if you manage right you'll
get it. I'll do what I can for you anyhow.”

The Gineral shook my hand, and got up and walked the
floor. Says he, “The greatest difficulty now is with this
confounded stiff-necked, stupid Congress. They won't organize—that
is, the House won't—and they seem determined to
throw a damper on the Administration somehow or other.
Here they've been foolin' away their time six weeks, and lettin'
the whole country hang by the eye-lids—war and all. I
had to keep my message on hand a month, and let it almost
spile, jest because the House wasn't organized. At last I
happened to think it was a good chance for me to take the
responsibility. So I let drive, and fired my message right in
among 'em. Some was quite wrathy; but I didn't care for
that. I meant to let 'em know I'd show 'em a touch of Old
Hickory if they didn't mind how they carried sail. But here
'tis now goin' on two months, and everything is at a dead
stand, because the House won't choose a Speaker. We can't
have any certainty of getting enough money to keep the
Government agoin' till we get a Speaker, and all our plans is
in danger of being knocked in the head. Now, Major, I wish
you would shy round among the members a day or two, and


Page 455
see if you can't bring matters to a pint. I don't care much
who is Speaker, if they'll only organize.”

So I went round among the members two or three days,
and did my best. I found 'em all very stiff, and the lobby
members were stiffest of any. The third day I went back to
the President agin, and says he, “Well, Major, how does it
stand now? Does things look any more encouraging?”

“A leetle grain,” says I, “but not much.”

“Well, how is it?” says he.

Says I, “It is Banks, 105; Richardson, 73; Fuller, 31;
Pennington, 5; scattering, 3.”

“But that's the same old tune,” says he; jest the same
that's been for the last six weeks.”

“No,” says I, “you mistake. Don't you see the scattering
has fell off one? Isn't that a leetle encouraging?”

The President looked disappointed. Said he, “That's a
very small straw for a drownin' man to catch at. But how
do they talk? Do they grow any more pliable?”

“Well, the Fuller men seemed to be the most pliable,” says
I, “of any of 'em. They said they was perfectly willing and
ready to organize at any time, and the only difficulty was,
the Banks men and Richardson men standing out so stubborn.”

“What do our true Democratic friends, the Richardson men,
say?” said the President.

Says I, “They say they'll stand there and fight till the
crack of doom before they'll allow the Black Republicans to
get the upper hand.”

“Well, that's good spunk,” said the President; “but the
worst of it is, this business will crack my Administration
sometime before the crack of doom. Well, how do the Banks
men talk? Is there any hope from that quarter?”

“They say they are in no hurry,” says I. “They had as
leave vote as do anything else. They've got money enough,


Page 456
and can stand it, and they'll stick where they are till they
starve the Administration out.”

The President jumped up, and I must say he looked more
like Old Hickory than I ever see him before. Says he,
“Major Downing, this will never do; we must have a
Speaker, by hook or by crook. Can't you contrive any way
to bring this business about?”

“Well,” says I, “there is one way, I think, the business
may be done—and I don't know but it's the last chance—and
that is, for me to go and bring the Two Pollies round here,
and bring her guns to bear on the Capitol. Then send in
word, and give them one hour to organize. If they don't do
it, then batter down the house about their ears, or march in
the Downingville melitia and drive 'em out, as old Cromwell
did the Rump Parliament.”

The President stood a minute in a deep study. At last he
said, “Well, Major, a desperate disease sometimes needs a
desperate remedy. If you think you are right go ahead.

So here I am, Uncle Joshua, aboard the Two Pollies. I jest
stopt to write this account to you, and if I don't get better
news from Washington in a day or two, I shall up anker and
make all sail for the Potomac. And if things is no better
when I get there you may expect to hear thunder.

I remain your loving nephew,