MARK TWAIN IN WASHINGTON
[SPECIAL CORRESPONDENCE OF THE ALTA CALIFORNIA]
Prospects of the Hawaiian Treaty -- A Model Treaty -- Putting Officials Out of the Way -- Dark Hints and Surmises -- Personal Items -- New Postmaster for San Francisco -- Office-Seekers
WASHINGTON, December 10, 1867.
The Hawaiian Treaty.
I have talked frequently with General McCook, United States Minister to the Sandwich Islands, since I have been here. As you are aware, his business in Washington is to get the reciprocity treaty between Hawaii and this country through the Senate. It has been slow work, and very troublesome, but a fair degree of progress is being made. General McCook has been to Boston, and procured an endorsement of the proposed treaty by the Board of Trade of that city; a similar endorsement by the Chamber of Commerce of San Francisco was received by telegraph a few days ago. These things have aided matters considerably. The Senate Committee, which has the affair in charge, called for a concise statement of the advantages to be gained by the United States through this treaty, and the Minister has furnished, in reply, what seems to me to be an able and convincing paper. Yesterday they demanded minute statistics of the commerce between the two countries, and also a legal opinion as to constitutionally of the proposed treaty. Gen. McCook has the materials at hand for the commercial estimates, and will immediately prepare them. He asked Associate Justice Field to post him upon the constitutional points of the case, and received a cordial assent at once. Judge Field looked up all the authorities that bear upon it, and delivered the memorandum this morning. this leaves the framing of the legal opinion an easy task, as Gen. McCook was a lawyer before he was a soldier. I think the treaty is doing well, now, and is likely to be happily born before long. The Committee have got the general statistics and will shortly have the particular ones; they will soon have the legal opinion on the constitutional points; they can have Harris' opinion any time, if they want it, because he is here from Honolulu; they have the endorsements of the Boston and San Francisco Chambers of Commerce; the treaty does not conflict with the Plymouth Collection of Hymns, nor the Sunday liquor law. What more these gentlemen can possibly want, is a matter that is beyond human foresight. I do not see why they don't take to it instantly, and with enthusiasm. It has got more statistics and more constitutionality in it than any document in the world. That treaty has grown and grown upon my reverence until, in my eyes, it has become a perfect monument of mathematics and virtue. General McCook is getting a little tired of the delays and vexations of his position -- tired of waltzing around the President, the Secretary of State and the Senate Committee with arguments and statistics, but he will see the end of it before he retreats. I have a sort of vague idea that he will begin to taste constitutionality in his food, and smell of statistics before long. In concluding these remarks I will observe that I have not said the treaty is sure to pass; I only say that nothing has been left undone that could conduce to that end, and that success looks very promising.
A Curious Idea.
It seems a curious idea to me, but at the hotel table the other evening I overhead two high Government officials express the opinion -- in fact, almost assert -- that the Presidents of the United States who have died in office were "put out of the way." They were put out of the way, not by their successors, but by parties seeking contracts or offices who were unpopular with the regular incumbent, but could realize their desires if the Vice-President were to rise to the throne. They did not even imagine for a moment that the Vice-Presidents who succeeded were privy to the taking off, or remotely suspected that it was going to transpire. They said that our form of government offered the same inducement to an ambitious or covetous man to put the President out of the way that is offered by the monarchical form. If he perfectly knew that his fortunes would be advanced by the Vice-President if he were in power, it was a strong temptation to a bad man to procure the taking of the President's life. This conversation was as interesting to me as it was startling. I had never dreamt of such a thing before as a President's sacred life being danger from the knives and poisons of assassins in times of profound peace. These gentlemen mentioned several curious circumstances that bore upon the subject. They said that for several days before President Taylor was taken sick, a restless, uneasy stranger hung about the White House grounds so much, and acted so singularly as to excite remark. The day the President fell ill, this person was found in his bed room. No one could tell how he got there. His own story was full of contradictions. It was supposed he came there to steal; he was searched, and a curious powder found on his person, which, when removed, proved to be dirt. So there is every reason to believe President Taylor was poisoned.
And then, there was the man -- dark, and hairy, and malignant of expression -- who was found at midnight under President Harrison's bed. He had a keg of powder with him, and a fuse. Nothing saved the President but this man's stupidity -- the providential stupidity of a remark he made, and which betrayed him. He said: "Could your Excellency lend me a match? I can't make these d---d things go." That fortunate piece of carelessness on the stranger's part unquestionably saved the President's life. He confessed afterwards that he was not there for any good purpose; considerations which he would not name, he said, had prompted him to wish that the President were out of the chair. Through anonymous letters he had tried to frighten him out; by the same means he had tried to coax him out; when these had failed, he saw with pain that it was necessary to blast him out. He had come for that purpose; he was sorry it had not succeeded. This man was quietly pardoned and set a liberty, and advised to leave the country. He did not do it, however, and significant circumstances afterward aroused a strong suspicion that he had procured the President's death by poison, through one of the White House servants.
The subject is interesting, notwithstanding the incidents above related have something of an improbable cast about them. That a President's life is always in very great danger, however, is a truth that cannot be doubted. That any President ever died in office by a natural death is a matter that is disbelieved by very man wise men in Washington.
I have met the California Senators, Messrs. Conness and Cole, and also Hon. Mr. Axtell, of the Lower House. I believe I have nothing special to report concerning them.
I have seen Jump, also. He has just returned from Paris, and is here making caricatures for Frank Leslie's publications.
Mr. Haggin and C. F. Wood are here, and Mr. Chamberlain (late partner of Mr. Hayward, in his mine) was until yesterday. He has gone away on an extensive Southern tour.
General Ance McCook, brother to the Hawaiian Minister resident, is stopping here for a few days. He was formerly an honest miner, and lived at Nevada City. He is very young, but like the other members of the McCook family, made a handsome record during the war.
I came across one of the lions of the country today at the Senate -- General Sherman. The conversation I had with this gentleman has considerable political significance, and therefore ought to be reported, I suppose. I said the weather was very fine, and he said he had seen finer. Not liking to commit myself further, in the present unsettled condition of politics, I said good morning. Understanding my little game, he said good morning, also. This was all that passed, but it was very significant. It reveals clearly what he things of impeachment. I regard this manner of getting at a great man's opinions as a little underhanded, but then everybody does it. People do it every day, as you can see by the papers, and find out as much as I did, and then rush off and publish it.
The Postmaster for San Francisco has been appointed by the President,
but I am not at liberty to mention his name. His name will come before
the Senate for confirmation shortly. There were twenty-seven applicants
for the position.
Speaking of applicants reminds me that the population of Washington, even now, seems to be made up of people who want offices. What must it be when a new President comes in! These office-seekers are wonderfully seedy, wonderfully hungry-eyed, wonderfully importunate, and supernaturally gifted with "cheek." They fasten themselves to influential friends like barnacles to whales, and never let go until they are carried into the pleasant waters of office or scraped off against a protruding hotel bill. Their desires are seldom as modest as their qualifications. There was a fellow here the other day who had been Consul to some starvation unexplored region of South America (we notoriously use only indifferent talent in the stocking of Consulships,) and having graduated in that little business, had come to Washington to beg for the post of Minister to Mexico! Another, who has been Postmaster of some village in Arkansas where they have a mail every four weeks, and it miscarries, then, oftener than it is safely delivered, is here -- drawn hither by a report that the Postmaster General intended to resign. He wants the berth! I have only heard of one modest office seeker yet. He came here to apply for the post of Secretary of War, but General Grant was ahead of him there. So he wants to be Governor of Alaska, now. That is a retrograde movement that speaks well for him. It shows a disposition that is competent to adapt itself to circumstances. If any man can enjoy icebergs, this is he; if any man can maintain his serenity in the company of polar bears, this is the person; if any man can sustain the dignity of the Gubernatorial office in spite of such company and such surroundings, this is certainly that man. He ought to be appointed.
A. J. Moulder,
formerly of the San Francisco Herald, was married the other day in Philadelphia, and will shortly arrive here to be chief of the Associated Press for Washington.
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