MARK TWAIN IN WASHINGTON
[SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT OF THE ALTA CALIFORNIA]
Fernando Wood's Speech, and Censure by the House -- A California Humbug Abroad -- General Grant Receives His Friends -- Some of the Notables -- Political Portents.
WASHINGTON, January 16th.
I stepped into the reporters' gallery of the House of Representatives, yesterday, just as Fernando Wood rose to began a speech, which is famous all over the land, from here to the Pacific, this morning. I thought, from the tone of his remarks, that he was nearing a precipice, and that he would say something directly, in all human probability, that would pitch him off it. But as usual, the members of Congress all about the House were reading papers, or holding private conversations with each other (it is a favorite swindle of theirs, to pretend they are not listening, no matter who is speaking,) and nobody seemed to be paying any attention to Mr. Wood. But they were paying attention, though -- the strictest attention. As he proceeded, they began to start occasionally, and sometimes to wince very perceptibly. They found it hard to keep up their counterfeited indifference. And when at last that sentence fell from the speaker's lips that closed with the reckless words:
* * * "The most infamous of the many infamous acts of this infamous Congress," -- about a hundred of those listless Congressmen sprang suddenly to their feet! The speaker's gavel struck.
It was a fine sensation. There were hundreds of people in the galleries, and they stretched their necks forward to see, while all that could, crowded down to the front seats. A score of voices shouted "Order!" The body of members who had risen remained standing, while Mr. Bingham, of Ohio, who seemed to have been the first upon his feet, stated his point of order, to wit, that Mr. Wood's words were a gross insult to the House, etc. In accordance with the rule, the language objected was written down and sent to the Clerk to be read. The Chair ruled that such language was out of order. The final question was then put, "Shall the member be allowed to proceed in order?" [Cries of "No! no!" from every part of the House, Mr. Wood still standing in his place meanwhile.] A vote immediately settled it that he could not proceed. It was moved that he be censured, and publicly reprimanded before the bar of the House. Kerr, of Indiana, moved to lay the motion on the table. [Cries of "No! -- no! -- put it to a vote! -- call the ayes and nays!"] The motion to table was lost; the motion to censure was carried, by 114 ayes to 39 nays, amid great excitement. At the command of the Speaker, Mr. Wood then walked calmly down to the foot of aisle, and while he was censured and reprimanded, no sound disturbed the stillness of the House but the Speaker's voice. The culprit was ordered to his seat, and went back and took it as comfortably as if he had done his country some mighty service and was entirely satisfied with his performance. He was told that the properest reparation he could now make would be to offer his explanation and a full apology to the House. He simply rose and said he had no explanation to make. ["Then sit down!" came from twenty voices, and he sat down.] A suggestion was now made by some one that he be allowed to go on with his speech, but it was received with a storm of "Noes!"
I am perfectly satisfied that Mr. Wood had already said all he wanted to say -- that he had come to the House all prepared to heave that bombshell into its midst, and never expecting to be allowed to go any further. It was a coup d'etat, which had for its object to gain the applause of the Democracy of the nation -- it was a brilliant piece of strategy, a purposed martyrdom of himself for political capital -- a bid for reelection, or for the Vice Presidency -- even the Presidency itself, possibly, for what that presumptuous and unprincipled old political hack would not aim at is unknown to human knowledge. He played for what he considered would be a valuable notoriety. He cared nothing about the expense. I think his speech was finished.
This serene old humbug still infests the Eastern cities. A year ago he was looking very seedy, but latterly his lines have fallen in pleasanter places, and he crops out occasionally in his fullest San Francisco bloom, and displays his legs on the street corners for the admiration of the ladies. In Baltimore, Philadelphia, Washington and New York, he drives a brisk trade in the sale of his own photographs at 25 cents apiece -- especially in New York, where nothing whatever is totally unsalable, I think. Washington II. had "cheek" enough before the Pacific Coast had yet come to mourn his loss, but he has more of it now. When it was proposed to tear down the old Wm. Penn mansion in Philadelphia to make room for some modern improvements, he actually had the effrontery to carry around a petition praying the authorities to let it stand, or confer it on him, during life, on account of his resemblance to Washington, Franklin and two or three others of America's great men. He had his photograph taken standing pensively by Franklin's grave, with a bust of Franklin in his arms, and laurel wreaths encircling his own and the brows of the bust. The idea was not a bad one, for the pictures sell well. As Washington failed to get the Penn mansion, it is said that he proposed to ask Congress to give him the Washington Monument. Congress might as well do it, for the ungainly old chimney that goes by that name is of no earthly use to anybody else, and certainly is not in the least ornamental. It is just the general size and shape, and possesses about the dignity, of a sugar-mill chimney. It may suit the departed George Washington -- I don't know. He may think it is pretty. It may be a comfort to him to look at it out of the clouds. He may enjoy perching on it to look around upon the scene of his earthly greatness, but it is not likely. It is not likely that any spirit would be so taken with that lumbering thing as to want to roost there. It is an eyesore to the people. It ought to be either pulled down or built up and finished; and if neither of these is to be done, it ought to be turned over to one or the other of our Washingtons the Second, viz, Uncle Freddy Coombs or General Hancock -- the former, Washington II by his own election, and the latter created the "Second Washington" by Andrew Johnson, in his curious Hancock Message to Congress.
We went there, last night, to see what these great receptions are like. A crowd of carriages was arriving, and a procession of gentlemen and ladies pouring in at the door. We found a "good house" within, already, but evidently the reception had not begun. A band of uniformed Dutchmen were playing brass instruments, and ladies were flitting about from parlor to parlor like the little busy bee that improves each shining hour. We removed overcoats, up-stairs, where the gentlemen were corralled, and at the proper time followed down with the rest. General and Mrs. Grant stood in one of the back parlors, and the people were filing past them and shaking hands. At intervals, some lady or gentleman well known to them, halted for a moment and spoke a few words, and occasionally some lout that did not know as much as a large dictionary stopped to say the dozen sentences he had gotten by heart for the occasion -- and he always got pushed along by the crowd, and never had a chance to finish them; then he felt awkward, and backed on somebody's feet, and turned to apologize and lowly bowed his head into somebody's intervening back, and at the same moment stepped on somebody else's toes -- and so, butting, and crushing, and apologizing, he would shortly be swallowed from sight in the crowd. I stood against the wall, close by, and watched the reception ceremony for an hour, and I cannot tell when I enjoyed anything so much. Poor, modest, bored, unhappy Grant stood smileless, anxious, alert, with every faculty of his mind intensely bent upon the business before him, and nervously seized each hand as it came, and while he gave it a single shake, looked not upon its owner, but threw a quick look-out for the next. And if for a moment his hand was left idle, his arm hung out from his body with a curve that was suggestive of being ready for business at a moment's notice. And so he seized each hand, passed it on, grabbed for the next, passed it, grabbed again, with his soul in his work and that absorbed anxiety in his eye; and it reminded me irresistibly of a new hand catching bricks -- a new hand that was full of misgivings; fearful that he might make a miss, but determined to catch every brick that came, or perish in the attempt. He is not a large man; he is a particularly plain-looking man; his hair is straight and lustreless, his head is large, square of front and perpendicular in the rear, where the selfish organs of the head lie; he is less handsome than his pictures, and his face, at this time, at any rate, lacked the satisfied, self-possessed look one sees in them; he is broad of beam, and his uniform sat as awkwardly upon him as if he had never been in it before.
General Grant had all my sympathies -- I had none for the visitors. The stylishly dressed old stagers who had been at receptions before, and knew all about them, moved complacently up, with many a smirk and stately obeisance, shook hands, laughed pleasantly, said a word, and swept on, composedly -- perfectly well satisfied with themselves. But the towering boys from the interior, with a kind of human vegetable look about them, and a painful air of discomfort about their gloved hands and their unfamiliar Sunday clothes, were in a constant flutter of uneasiness; they seized the General's hand, gave it a wring and dropped it suddenly, as if it had been hot, then staggered, in a bewildered way, discovered Mrs. Grant, came to the scratch again, got tangled as to the etiquette of the business, thrust out a paw, drew it back, thrust it out again, snatched it back once more, bent down, far down, in a portentous salaam, and then reeled away giddily and ground somebody's foot to pulp under their responsible No. 13's. Everyone of them came with his mind made up as to what he was going to do and say, and then forgot it all, failed to do it or say it either.
Bye and bye the parlors were crowded. Old Dowagers were there with marketable daughters; little maids in the blushing diffidence of girlhood; imperious dames of the F. F. V. in the imposing costumes of a former generation; chattering young ladies of fashion, with elaborately painted faces and uncovered bosoms; General officers in uniform; foreign Ministers with orders upon their breasts; gold-laced naval heroes; and half a dozen young masculine noodles in white kids a size to small, scarf-pins that were dazzling, claw-hammers without dust or wrinkle, hair fearfully and wonderfully done up, and faces whereon were written -- nothing. About one-half the company had the old complaint -- they could not think of anything to say -- they could not determine upon an attitude that was satisfactory to them -- they did not know what on earth to do with their hands. They were an aimless, uneasy, unhappy lot, and deserved compassion.
General Sheridan was there -- a little bit of a round-headed, broad-breasted, short-legged young Irishman, with hair cropped down to plush on his large, ungainly head, and with nothing in him that is in his features save the bright spirit that is in his eye and the bravery that is in his lip. He is very homely. And Seward was present also, with his splendid beak, and a scar and an ugly protuberance on his port cheek that come of the murderous attempt upon his life the night Mr. Lincoln was shot. The reception was still under headway and Grant was still wearily "shaking" the old crowds and shaking hands with the news ones when we departed. His gloves that were so white and smooth at first, were worn and soiled and greasy then. His exhausting watch was only half over -- it was but little after nine o'clock.
The most exciting one is the Senate's coup d'etat in the Stanton matter yesterday. Before the President could make a move to prevent it, General Grant had resigned the portfolio and Stanton was in possession of the War Department. Ever since then the air has been thick with rumors of what the President was going to do, but nothing has yet transpired of a startling nature. "Data," of the Baltimore Sun, who speaks always "by authority," (he being the President's Private Secretary,) has published a paragraph in his correspondence which would make it appear that Mr. Johnson thinks Grant took snap judgment on him; the suggestion is that the President had an explicit understanding with Grant that he was not to give up the War Office to Stanton without first consulting with the Chief Magistrate upon the subject -- yet about the first the President heard of the surrender of the portfolio was from Grant's official notification of the fact. General Grant's statement, published today, is to the effect that he has acted precisely as he told the President he would act, and has not acted in bad faith with him.
There is talk among Congressmen of bringing up impeachment again if the President refuses to recognize Mr. Stanton as Secretary of War -- it having been stated that the President meant to adopt such a course.
General McClernand has published a card abusive of Badeau, Grant's biographer, and reflecting upon Grant himself -- saying among other things, that through Grant's interference, he was lately prevented from getting an office under Government. Grant denies these things also. And immediately McClernand's name is sent to the Senate for the ministry to Mexico. It looks very like the President and General Grant would fall out next. It is considered by all, that the country is at this moment struggling through the greatest crisis that has ever come upon her since her birth; and all men are troubled, sorely troubled, to know what fate is in store for her. For the past few days the strongly radical papers have been praising the rampant attitude of Congress, and urging it to continue in the same spirit till the victory is won; the milder Republican papers say that all this zeal and earnestness have come too late -- the present attitude should have been assumed long ago. Congress is firm, however, and pays little attention to comments. The members say they are going to rule this country, and they will break down every barrier that is placed in the way of it.
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