University of Virginia Library

Search this document 






It has been asserted, upon no less authority than the immortal Sam Patch,
“that some things can be done as well as others.” The veteran politician,
Colonel Thomas H. Benton, has given to his countrymen a comprehensive and
very valuable work entitled: “Thirty Years in the United States
Or, A History of the Working of the American Government for
Thirty Years,” &c.

Now, that other veteran politician, Major Jack Downing, who declares positively
that there is an outside as well as an inside to everything, has prepared
to lay before his countrymen his comprehensive and valuable work entitled:
Thirty Years `Out' of the United States Senate; Or, A History of
the Working of American Politicians for Thirty Years,” &c.

Major Downing has been publishing this work for a couple of years in
Emerson's Magazine and Putnam's Monthly; because, as he said, the work
itself being of a strictly national character, he felt bound to select the most
elevated and respectable channel for communicating it to the public. In
commencing the preparation of his “Thirty Years” for publication, the
Major said he would go clear back to his childhood, and give some account
of his “ancestral posterity;” so far back as his old grandfather, Mr. Zebedee
Downing, one of the early pioneers into the primeval “forests of Down
East.” He didn't know as he should make his work quite as long as Mr.
Benton's two great big “vollums,” but he would try to make it quite as interesting.
He said he shouldn't interfere or encroach at all on Colonel Benton's
ground. The Colonel's work was to show the working of the American
Government for thirty years, and his work was to show the working of American
politicians for thirty years. And, besides, the Colonel's stand-point was
inside the Senate, and his stand-point was outside the Senate. So he didn't see
as they ever need to clash, for in the workings of governments and politicians
the last thing in the world to be apprehended was a clash between the
ins and the outs.

Finally, we have made a satisfactory arrangement with the Major to produce
his great work, his Thirty Years out of the Senate. It contains the
whole batch of the Major's Letters and other “dockyments,” from the year


Page 10
1830, when he first struck out into public life, up to the present time. It
will show the workings of politicians in the State of Maine in 1830, when
“the wheels of Government got trig'd,” and they had “such a tussle to get
'em agoing.” It will then show how Mr. Downing went to Washington, and
became “Gineral Jackson's right hand man;” and how he helped the old Gineral
through with his fight against “Biddle's Bank,” and how he settled the
Madawaska Boundary difficulty, and how he put down and crushed out
South Carolina Nullification. These letters and “dockyments” will show the
workings of Politicians during the Mexican War, and how the Major helped
President Polk along through those troublesome times; and how he and Mr.
Trist went to Mexico, and held General Scott and General Taylor in check,
and wouldn't let them run away with President Polk's thunder. They will
show, also, how General Scott was n't elected President, and how General
Pierce was. They will describe the hard tug there was at Baltimore to get
General Pierce nominated, and how at last the nomination was ratified at
Downingville, and so secured his election. They will show how the Major
and Mr. Buchanan and Mr. Souley got up that Ostend Convention, and laid
the plan and made the agreement to “take Cuba if we have the power;” and
how the Major fitted out a naval expedition in the schooner Two Pollies, and
cruised about several months to effect that object. In short, the letters and
other “dockyments” will show more things than you can shake a stick at,
and of course more than can be alluded to here.

But besides the valuable political and historical information, interesting
to the old and instructive to the young, that will be found embodied in this
great work of Major Downing, there is another important reason why it
should be given to the public, and why the publishers take pride and pleasure
in presenting the work in a dress and with embellishments worthy of the subject—and
that is, the universally admitted fact, that the writings of the genuine
original Major Downing present the best and truest exposition of the
peculiar Yankee dialect of the Anglo-Saxon language that there is extant.
It may not be amiss to quote a few authorities in support of this opinion. A
portion of the earlier part of this series of letters was published more than
twenty years ago in a small volume in Boston, by Lilly, Waite & Co. On
that occasion the late Major Noah, for many years known as an able and
leading journalist in New-York, spoke of the book as follows, in his Evening

“The Letters, which have obtained a circulation and celebrity more extended,
perhaps, than any production that ever issued from the American
press, are written with all the quaint simplicity of the style of Fielding, and
abound in passages of infinite drollery and exquisite humor.”

Robert Walsh, at that time, and for many years previous, editor of the


Page 11
National Gazette, at Philadelphia, certainly one of the ablest journalists our
country has produced, and the first American writer who compelled the
English critics to respect American criticism, made the following remarks in
his Gazette, in which he alludes to imitators who had unjustifiably adopted
the Major's signature in writing in the newspapers:

“It has been the fate of all successful authors to have counterfeits, who
deal with their originals, as Hamlet says that some players imitate nature.
The Rabelais, the Swifts, the Voltairs, suffered in their day by the productions
of interlopers of the sort. Mere bunglers attempted to personate them,
and confounded the less discriminating or critical part of the reading public.
Major Jack Downing has paid in like manner the penalty of genius and popularity;
and he has complained of the hardship and injustice in a characteristic
vein. We humbly advise him to write over the whole story of President
Jackson's late expedition. It might confidently be predicted that a full narrative
from his pen, duly authenticated, would obtain as much vogue in these
United States as did Peter Plymley's Letters in Great Britain.”

The old New York Mirror, March 23, 1839, speaking of some of the
writings of Major Downing, said:

“These are the most graphic and really the best Yankee papers we have
ever seen, or ever expect to see, let who will write them.”

The New York Courier and Enquirer, July 3, 1839, in speaking of the
writings of the Major, used the following language:

“There is no doubt that the author is the best painter of Yankee peculiarities
that ever wrote.
He is true to nature and never caricatures, but without caricaturing
is most amusing.”

The same paper, February 27, 1844, referring to Major Downing's Letters,

“Those letters were written in the true and genuine spirit of Yankeedom,
and were clothed in the real vernacular of the land. Some of them deserve
a much higher and more lasting reputation than seems to have awaited
them; though we are very much mistaken if they do not hereafter take
the place they so eminently merit. They ought to be considered standard
exhibitions of New England peculiarities of style, feeling and sentiment at
the time, and be cherished as authentic mementoes of the pilgrim opinions
and pilgrim dialects of the generation in which they appeared.”

The same leading New York journal, July 16, 1845, again referring to the
author of these letters, said:

“He is, in point of fact, the only writer who has ever been entirely successful
in the genuine dialect of Yankee land.”


Page 12

It becomes therefore, a matter of general interest in the history of the
literature of the country, as well as of its politics and “the workings of
politicians,” that these papers should be preserved in an authentic form and
attractive dress, corresponding in some degree with their intrinsic merits. To
accomplish this important object the publishers have determined to spare no
pains in their power to bestow. The Major's heart is very much given to the
work, and he will superintend the management of the whole business,
“picters” and all. For that purpose he has determined to let the “Two
Pollies” lay off and on, or make short cruises under the command of Captain
Jumper and Sargent Joel, while he devotes himself to the preparation of his
Thirty Years' View” for the press. We should explain what some of our
readers, perhaps, may not recollect, that Sargent Joel Downing has command
of the military force on board of the Two Pollies, consisting mainly of the
Downingville militia, who were embarked on board in 1855, for the purpose
of taking Cuba. The Major will not allow them to be disbanded or return
to Downingville, for he says there is no knowing but what Mr. Buchanan may
want their services before he gets through his Administration; and he never
did leave a friend in the lurch yet, and, therefore, he shan't turn his back on
Mr. Buchanan.

With these preliminary remarks and explanation, we will let the Major go
straight ahead and tell his own story in his own way.