MARK TWAIN'S LETTERS FROM WASHINGTON.
WASHINGTON, January 10, 1868
That is the polite term now. What are we coming to when language like that is freely launched at the great officers of the Government? Not in the street alone, and in private conversation, but, in a barely modified form, in the Senate Chamber of the United States. They almost speak in that way of the Secretary of the Treasury. The country seems to have become satisfied that his department is rotten with swindling and rascality, that at last even the Senate has partly awakened to the importance of doing something or saying something. It is a slow body, and timid. Andrew can scare it with a growl. All those Senators believe, and have believed for weeks, that through the improper and unlawful conduct of the Treasury officers, the Government has been swindled out of $200,000,000 a year, through whisky and cotton frauds, but the dared not say anything, until their silence at last began to breed the impression among the people that Congress was in the "ring" too, along with the Treasury! That has stirred them up a little and two or three Senators have lately made a sort of show of wanting to know something about these frauds. One charge against Mr. McCullouch is peculiar. Laws were passed in 1862, '63, and '64, providing for the sale of cotton and other confiscated property seized during the war, and establishing a Court of Claims for the examination of cases where it might be alleged that some of these seizures were unjust - a Court with power to restore such property as might be proven to have been taken by mistake from staunch Union men, etc. Under these laws sales amounting to $36,000,000 net were made. It is alleged now that $10,000,000 of this sum has been restored to parties claiming to have been Union men, and restored, too, on the individual responsibility of the Secretary of the Treasury, without any adjudication whatever by the proper tribunal, the Court of Claims. To prove this true, would be to prove a curious thing surly - that the Secretary, a mere citizen, like anybody else, has the presumption to put himself above the supreme of the land! He coolly overrides that law and serenely plans and executes as if there were no such law in existence! A feeble effort was made in the Senate, three weeks ago, to inquire into this matter, but many of the members hesitated to meddle with it, and Mr. Fessenden, with persistent solicitude, warred against the movement day after day. He argued that it was not worth while to trouble the Court of Claims with its own legitimate business, when the Secretary of the Treasury had all the necessary information in his possession and could transact it himself - albeit there was no law authorizing him to so transact it! Ours is a funny Government in some respects.
A dark mystery still hangs over that $200,000,000 per annum business. Also the Secretary's continual over-estimates of expenses and vast under-estimates of receipts, which have had the effect of inducing Congress to increase the burden of taxation enormously to meet the imaginary demands of his Department, have exasperated the people exceedingly. The Secretary's "contraction" system, at the time when the industrial interests of the country are not able to bear the increased pressure it entails, is regarded with high disfavor by all engaged in commerce and manufactures. Mr. Stewart, of Nevada, went into this war against the Secretary of the Treasury, yesterday, with more vim and spirit than any other Senator has yet ventured upon, and his speech is much commented upon in political circles, and applauded. In the course of it he read a letter from a Detroit manufacturer, which was ably written and bitingly statistical - a letter which showed by plain figures that a large amount of taxation now imposed upon our industrial interests could be easily removed and that its continuance is not warranted in any way by the necessities of the Treasury Department. The letter also says that a charge of falsification (in the matter of absurd and injurious estimates) could unquestionably be maintained against the Secretary; and further, that "in any other country, if the head of the Treasury should be so outrageously incorrect, he would be compelled by a deceived people to resign." Stewart's speech was upon the bill to suspend further reductions of the currency, a bill which is considered to be of the nature of a vote of censure and want of confidence in the Secretary of the Treasury. During the debate Senator Nye also made a few remarks, and as they give the effect of the Secretary's operations in a nutshell, I copy them:
I have a vague recollection of a law being passed authorizing the Secretary of the Treasury, as the compound interest notes became due, to issue three per cent. certificates, or securities of some kind, to supply the deficiency thus created. I was told in New York the other day that during the two months preceding the election there were $53,000,000 of compound interest notes retired, together with $8,000,000 of United States notes, making $61,000,000, and at the same time a circular was issued to the banks to keep good their reserve. The banks that had been holding those $53,000,000 had to get in legal tenders to supply their places. The effect of this was to contract the currency some $61,000,000 at once, which raised the price of money in New York from five to eight per cent., and in Chicago to as much as sixteen percent., and prevented the obtainment of the means for bringing forward the vast products of the West. That is what I was told.
Before they get through with this bill of censure it is likely that Congress will rouse up and shake off its sleepiness and make a row that will discover to the world whether there is any rascality in the Treasury Department or not, and if so, about how much.
The Worrell Sisters
Were still playing at the New York Theatre in New York when I was there spending the holidays the other day. I did not see them, but I heard the young men talk about them - the young men seem as if they are not going to get over the fascination those girls have inspired them with. Another "Worrell Brigade" is being found. If gossip is in order, I will mention that Sophy was to sail for Havana with her mother and a Mr. Lovell, about 10 days ago. Mr. Lovell is a bachelor, 45 and rich - but consumption has its grip upon him, and it is believed he cannot recover. His journey to Havana was undertaken for his health. He thinks the world of Sophy, and would like to marry her, but she will not consent, of course. Lovell has been kind to the family, however, and of service to them in every way that he could, and their appreciation of these has moved them to care for and assist him to their utmost upon this his last journey. It is said he has no heirs, and insists upon leaving his fortune to Sophy.
Is here - old Abe Curry. And he is gotten up "regardless." He is the observed of all observers. I think Curry is the best dressed man in Washington. He has a plug hat with a bell crown to it - it is of the latest Paris style, and has a rim that is curled up at the sides. It is the shiest hat in Washington. And he wears black broadcloth pants, with straps to them, while Marseilles vest, and a blue claw-hammer coat with a double row of brass buttons on it, like a Major General. His cravat is perfectly stunning; it looks like it might have come off the end of a rainbow. His moustache is turning out handsomely, and he swings a rattan stick and wears lemon-colored kid gloves. He also has a superb set of false teeth, but he has to carry them in his pocket most of the time, because he can't swear good when he has them in. He goes browsing around the President's and the departments trying to talk French - because he is playing himself for a foreign Duke, you know. N.B. - I may have exaggerated my old friend's costume and performances a little, but then this is the man that detained my baggage in Carson once and gave me that infamous account of the Hopkins massacre, and I can never, never forgive him for it. He says he is here to get seeds from the Patent Office for Tredway and Jim Sturtevant. A likely story. He wants to get another appropriation to put another layer of stone on that Mint, I guess. I expect I had better find out what Curry is about and keep an eye on him - he will be wanting to run this Government next.
Clagett has been here during the past few days, on Montana and Nevada business, visiting relatives, etc.
The Town-Site Bill
In the Senate on Thursday, Mr. Stewart's bill concerning town-sites in Nevada, which has for its object to afford a relief to Virginia and other Nevada towns which Secretary Browning said he could not afford himself the way the old law stood (I have spoken of this bill in a former letter), was taken up, and so amended as to make the operation of the law general upon all the lands of the Union, and in this shape it was ordered to be engrossed and filed for a third reading. There is little question that it will become a law.
P.S. I lectured here last night.
[photocopy available in Mark Twain Papers, University of California, Berkeley, CA]
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