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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Two Popular Leaders
By Carl Schurz (1829–1906)
 
From the ‘Life of Henry Clay’

ANDREW JACKSON, when he became President, was a man of sixty-two. A life of much exposure, hardship, and excitement, and also ill-health, had made him appear older than he was. His great military achievement lay fifteen years back in the past, and made him the “old hero.” He was very ignorant. In his youth he had mastered scarcely the rudiments of education; and he did not possess that acquisitive intellectuality which impels men, with or without preparation, to search for knowledge and to store it up. While he had keen intuitions, he never thoroughly understood the merits of any question of politics or economics. But his was in the highest degree the instinct of a superior will, the genius of command. If he had been on board a vessel in extreme danger, he would have thundered out his orders without knowing anything of seamanship, and been indignantly surprised if captain and crew had not obeyed him. At a fire, his voice would have made bystanders as well as firemen promptly do his will. In war, he was of course made a general; and without any knowledge of military science he went out to meet the enemy, made raw militia fight like veterans, and won the most brilliant victory in the War of 1812. He was not only brave himself: his mere presence infused bravery into others.  1
  To his military heroship he owed that popularity which lifted him into the Presidential chair; and he carried the spirit of the warrior into the business of the government. His party was to him his army; those who opposed him, the enemy. He knew not how to argue, but how to command; not how to deliberate, but how to act. He had that impulsive energy which always creates dramatic conflicts, and the power of passion he put into them made all his conflicts look tremendous. When he had been defeated in 1825 by the influence of Clay, he made it appear as if he were battling against all the powers of corruption, which were threatening the life of the republic. We shall see him fight Nicholas Biddle, of the United States Bank, as if he had to defend the American people against the combined money power of the world seeking to enslave them. In rising up against nullification, and in threatening France with war to make her pay a debt, we shall see him saving the Union from deadly peril, and humiliating to the dust the insolence of the Old World. Thus he appeared like an invincible Hercules, constantly meeting terrible monsters dangerous to the American people, and slaying them all with his mighty club.  2
  This fierce energy was his nature. It had a wonderful fascination for the popular fancy, which is fond of strong and bold acts. He became the idol of a large portion of the people to a degree never known before or since. Their belief was that with him defeat was impossible; that all the legions of darkness could not prevail against him; and that whatever arbitrary powers he might assume, and whatever way he might use them, it would always be for the good of the country,—a belief which he sincerely shared. His ignorance of the science of statesmanship, and the rough manner in which he crossed its rules, seemed to endear him all the more to the great mass of his followers. Innumerable anecdotes about his homely and robust sayings and doings were going from mouth to mouth, and with delight the common man felt that this potent ruler was “one of us.”  3
  This popularity gave him an immense authority over the politicians of his party. He was a warm friend and a tremendous foe. By a faithful friend he would stand to the last extremity. But one who seriously differed from him on any matter that was near his heart was in great danger of becoming an object of his wrath. The ordinary patriot is apt to regard the enemies of his country as his personal enemies. But Andrew Jackson was always inclined, with entire sincerity, to regard his personal opponents as the enemies of his country. He honestly believed them capable of any baseness, and it was his solemn conviction that such nuisances must be abated by any power available for that purpose. The statesmen of his party frequently differed from him on matters of public importance; but they knew that they had to choose between submission and his disfavor. His friends would sometimes exercise much influence upon him in starting his mind in a certain direction; but when once started, that mind was beyond their control.  4
  His personal integrity was above the reach of corruption. He always meant to do right; indeed, he was always firmly convinced of being right. His idea of right was not seldom obscured by ignorance and prejudice, and in following it he would sometimes do the most unjust or dangerous things. But his friends, and the statesmen of his party, knowing that when he had made up his mind, especially on a matter that had become a subject of conflict between him and his “enemies,” it was absolutely useless to reason with him, accustomed themselves to obeying orders, unless they were prepared to go to the rear or into opposition. It was therefore not a mere invention of the enemy, but sober truth, that when Jackson’s administration was attacked, sometimes the only answer left to its defenders, as well as the all-sufficient one with the Democratic masses, was simply a “Hurrah for Jackson!”  5
  Henry Clay was, although in retirement, the recognized chief of the National Republicans. He was then fifty-two years old, and in the full maturity of his powers. He had never been an arduous student; but his uncommonly vivacious and receptive mind had learned much in the practical school of affairs. He possessed that magnificent confidence in himself which extorts confidence from others. He had a full measure of the temper necessary for leadership, the spirit of initiative, but not always the discretion that should accompany it. His leadership was not of that mean order which merely contrives to organize a personal following: it was the leadership of a statesman devoting himself to the great interests of his country. Whenever he appeared in a deliberative assembly, or in councils of his party, he would as a matter of course take in his hands what important business was pending, and determine the policy to be followed. His friends, and some even among his opponents, were so accustomed to yield to him that nothing seemed to them concluded without the mark of his assent; and they involuntarily looked to him for the decisive word as to what was to be done. Thus he grew into a habit of dictation, which occasionally displayed itself in a manner of peremptory command, and intolerance of adverse opinion, apt to provoke resentment.  6
  It was his eloquence that had first made him famous, and that throughout his career mainly sustained his leadership. His speeches were not masterpieces of literary art, nor exhaustive dissertations. They do not offer to the student any profound theories of government or expositions of economic science. They will not be quoted as authorities on disputed points. Neither were they strings of witty epigrams. They were the impassioned reasoning of a statesman intensely devoted to his country and to the cause he thought right. There was no appearance of artifice in them. They made every listener feel that the man who uttered them was tremendously in earnest, and that the thoughts he expressed had not only passed through his brain but also through his heart. They were the speeches of a great debater; and as may be said of those of Charles James Fox, cold print could never do them justice. To be fully appreciated they had to be heard on the theatre of action, in the hushed Senate chamber, or before the eagerly upturned faces of assembled multitudes. To feel the full charm of his lucid explanations, and his winning persuasiveness, or the thrill which was flashed through the nerves of his hearers by the magnificent sunbursts of his enthusiasm, or the fierce thunder-storms of his anger and scorn, one had to hear that musical voice cajoling, flattering, inspiring, overawing, terrifying in turn,—a voice to the cadences of which it was a physical delight to listen; one had to see that face, not handsome but glowing with the fire of inspiration, that lofty mien, that commanding stature constantly growing under his words, and the grand sweep of his gesture, majestic in its dignity, and full of grace and strength,—the whole man a superior being while he spoke.  7
  Survivors of his time, who heard him at his best, tell us of the effects produced by his great appeals in the House of Representatives or the Senate,—the galleries trembling with excitement, and even the members unable to contain themselves; or in popular assemblies, the multitudes breathlessly listening, and then breaking out in unearthly shouts of enthusiasm and delight, weeping and laughing, and rushing up to him with overwhelming demonstrations of admiring and affectionate rapture.  8
  Clay’s oratory sometimes fairly paralyzed his opponents. A story is told that Tom Marshall, himself a speaker of uncommon power, was once selected to answer Clay at a mass meeting; but that he was observed, while Clay was proceeding, slowly to make his way back through the listening crowd, apparently anxious to escape. Some of his friends tried to hold him, saying, “Why, Mr. Marshall, where are you going? You must reply to Mr. Clay. You can easily answer all he has said.” “Of course I can answer every point,” said Marshall; “but you must excuse me, gentlemen,—I cannot go up there and do it just now, after his speech.”  9
  There was a manly, fearless frankness in the avowal of his opinions, and a knightly spirit in his defense of them, as well as in his attacks on his opponents. He was indeed, on the political field, the preux chevalier, marshaling his hosts, sounding his bugle blasts, and plunging first into the fight; and with proud admiration his followers called him “the gallant Harry of the West.”  10
  No less brilliant and attractive was he in his social intercourse with men; thoroughly human in his whole being; full of high spirits; fond of enjoying life and of seeing others happy; generous and hearty in his sympathies; always courteous, sometimes studiously and elaborately so, perhaps beyond what the occasion seemed to call for, but never wounding the most sensitive by any demonstrative condescension, because there was a truly kind heart behind his courtesy; possessing a natural charm of conversation and manner so captivating that neither scholar nor backwoodsman could withstand its fascination; making friends wherever he appeared, and holding them—and surely to no public man did friends ever cling with more affectionate attachment. It was not a mere political, it was a sentimental devotion,—a devotion abandoning even that criticism which is the duty of friendship, and forgetting or excusing all his weaknesses and faults, intellectual and moral,—more than was good for him.  11
  Behind him he had also the powerful support of the industrial interests of the country, which saw in him their champion; while the perfect integrity of his character forbade the suspicion that this championship was serving his private gain.  12
  Such were the leaders of the two parties as they then stood before the country,—individualities so pronounced and conspicuous, commanders so faithfully sustained by their followers, that while they were facing each other, the contests of parties appeared almost like a protracted political duel between two men. It was a struggle of singular dramatic interest.  13
 
 
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