MARK TWAIN IN WASHINGTON
[SPECIAL TRAVELLING CORRESPONDENT OF THE ALTA.]
The Latest Political Sensation -- The McCardle Case -- Congress and the
Supreme Court -- The Newspaper Correspondent Symposium -- How to Keep Ahead
of Time -- Crime in Washington.
WASHINGTON, January 12th, 1868.
The Last Sensation.
The chief sensation here at present is a political one entirely, but it is a lively one. It is exercising both parties a good deal. It is talked, talked, talked -- all the time. In saloons, on the street, at hotel tables -- pretty much everywhere and by pretty much everybody interested in politics, of whatsoever politics he may be. The shape of this sensation is as follows: The supremacy of the famous Reconstruction Acts is threatened. Of course the Democrats want them swept from existence, and of course the Republicans do not. The Democrats believe that if the Supreme Court should decide them unconstitutional, and thus kill negro suffrage, they could carry the Presidency at the next elections. The Republicans are perfectly satisfied that their own candidates will win if those acts are sustained by the Court. A case now before the Supreme Court, and will doubtless come up for trial very shortly, that will decide this important question. One McCardle, a ferocious Vicksburg editor, published certain articles in his paper, sometime ago, denouncing a Convention which was to be held under the Reconstruction Laws, and advising all white men to stay away from the polls and not vote. He was arrested and brought before a Military Commission, charged with printing articles calculated to obstruct the peaceable operation of the laws. He applies to the Supreme Court of the United States, and claims that by the terms of the Constitution no Military Commission has a right to arrest and restrain him of his liberty in time of peace for expressing his opinions. If the Court sustains his position and sets him free, the laws which created the Military Commission that arrested him fall to the ground, and negro suffrage along with them. The case is far down on the calendar, but its advancement has been moved by Judge Black and as it is one which affects the personal liberty of a citizen, it takes precedence. So it will be heard from soon.
It has been suggested that Gen. Grant come forward and quash the whole proceedings and set the man free. But this is not favored, because it would be regarded as an evidence of fear on the part of the Republicans to submit the constitutionality of the Reconstruction Laws to a test, amounting even to a sort of virtual acknowledgment of that unconstitutionality. There are eight Judges of the Supreme Court. The concurrence of five of them upon a case has always constituted the decision of the Court. Congress proposes now to make a law requiring that the concurrence of six Judges shall be necessary to constitute a decision. The Democracy claim that the Republicans only feel sure of three of the judicial votes in sustaining the Reconstruction Acts, and that the object of the proposed new law, for its effect would plainly be to make a decision of a minority of the Court overrule that of a majority! The Democracy also argue that the Supreme Court was created by the Constitution -- not by Congress; that its old-time fashion of deciding by a majority vote is derived from the old common law; that Congress has no shade of power to make rules for the government of the Supreme Court, the Constitution having left it nothing whatever to do with the Court's affairs save to specify the number of its members. They argue further that if Congress passed the proposed law, the Court would doubtless declare it unconstitutional and go on and try McCardle's case after its own fashion.
That Grant will quash the proceedings is not believed; that the Supreme Court will permit the Congress to dictate rules for its government, is not believed either, by Democrats or Republicans; that there are votes enough among the Judges to sustain the Reconstruction Acts, is a thing that Democrats strongly doubt, and neither Republicans nor anybody else can really be sure of, of course. Hence all men are in a state of the liveliest anxiety to have that most important problem solved, and at the earliest possible moment. If McCardle loses his case, up goes Republican stock; if he wins it, it necessarily goes down. It is a splendid sensation, and is most palatable food for newspaper correspondents. I have stated the bald facts in the case, and my duty in the matter is done. You can consult authorities, build stately edifices of opinion, and grind out portentious editorials until you are tired of it -- until you hang McCardle and break up the Supreme Court, if it shall please you to do it.
If I had your permission to suggest anything concerning this matter, it would be simply this. It is disgraceful, in Congress, or anybody at all, to question the honor and virtue of the highest tribunal in our country. If we cannot believe in the utter and spotless purity of the Judges of so sacred a tribunal, we ought at least to have the pride to keep such a belief unexpressed. I cannot conceive it possible that a man could occupy so royal a position as a Supreme Judge, and be base enough to let his decisions be tainted by any stain of his political predilections. I hate to hear people say this Judge will vote so and so, because he is a Democrat -- and this one so and so because he is a Republican. It is shameful. The Judges have the Constitution for their guidance; they have no right to any politics save the politics of rigid right and justice when they are sitting in judgment upon the great matters that come before them. If the Reconstruction Acts are Constitutional, we ought to believe they will sustain them; if they are not, we ought to hope they well annul them. When we become capable of believing our Supreme Judges can so belittle themselves and their great office as to read the Constitution of the United States through blurring and distorting spectacles, it will be time for us to put on sackcloth and ashes.
The annual banquet of the Washington Correspondents' Club, last night, was altogether the most brilliant affair of the kind I ever participated in. Everything connected with it was masterly. Everything moved as by clock-work. There were forty-six persons present, and yet there was no hurry, no bother, no getting things mixed up or wrong and foremost, no jealousies, no mal apropos episodes. It was wonderfully well conducted. There were fifteen regular toasts, and every single one of them was ably responded to. Not a man made an excuse or said he was unprepared. Such a thing never occurred before. The great majority of the speeches were far above ordinary excellence. There were no invited guests present except such as had been newspaper correspondents (save only Jump, the artist). They were nine in number: Speaker Colfax, Senator Anthony, Assistant Secretary of the Navy Faxon, Congressmen Blain, Robinson, Getz and Brooks, and Henry D. Cook, banker and the Marquis de Chambrun. Riley, of the ALTA, responded to the toast to the Press of the Pacific, and I to the toast to Woman. I did what I could to elevate her in the respect and esteem of the newspaper people. I think the women of San Francisco ought to send me a medal, or a doughnut, or something, because I had them chiefly in my mind in this eulogy.
At 12 midnight, it was announced from the chair that the Sabbath was come, and that a due regard for the Christian character of our country demanded that the festivities should now come to an abrupt termination. The regular toasts were not finished yet. The fun was at its zenith. Here was a scrape. How would you gave gotten out of it? I will tell how we managed it, and it will be worth your while to lay the information away for private use hereafter. It was gravely moved and as gravely seconded and carried, "That we do now discontinue the use of Washington time, and adopt the time of San Francisco!" and then we bowled along as serenely as ever. We gained about three hours and a half by the operation! How is that for ingenuity? It was easy sailing after that. When we had used up all the San Francisco time, and got to crowding Sunday again, we took another vote and adopted Hongkong time. I suppose we would have been going west yet, if the champagne had not given out.
This reminds me of a remark of Johnson ______, of San Francisco, who was a responsible hand at a spree. Somebody mentioned that away up in Lapland their nights lasted six months sometimes. Johnson said, feelingly, "How nice it would be to go up there on a little bender, and have a night of it with the boys!"
A hit was made by Mr. Adams of the World, last night, at a recent slashing piece of newspaper enterprise, that was good. He said: "When the gentleman on my left, the Hon. Mr. Brooks, was Washington correspondent for a New York paper twenty-five years ago, he gained high applause for rushing the President's Message through so far ahead of time as to get it out, in New York, twenty-four hours in advance of the other papers; but nowadays a correspondent is slow if he don't get the Message published twenty-four hours before it is delivered to Congress! This speaks volumes for the progress the profession has made."
There is plenty of it, but the two latest cases are peculiar. Night before last a negro man collided with a white man in the street; the negro apologized, but the white man would not be appeased, and grew abusive, and finally stabbed the negro to the heart. Yesterday, in open Court, while Judge Olin was sentencing a man named McCauley, the latter sprang at the principal witness, a boy twelve years old, and made a savage lunge at his breast with a knife. The Judge remanded him at once, of course, to be cited before the Grand Jury. What is your general opinion of the morals of the Capital now? When people get to attempting murder in the Courts of law, it is time to quit abusing Congress. Congress is bad enough, but it has not arrived at such depravity as this. This man who attempted the murder is not in any way connected with Congress. The fact is in every way creditable to that body. I do not deny that I am fond of abusing Congress, but when I get an opportunity like this to compliment them, I am only too happy to do it.
More Washington Morals.
On New Year's morning, while Mr. George Worley's front door was standing open, a cow marched into the house -- a cow that was out making her annual calls, I suppose -- and before she was discovered she had eaten up everything on the New Year's table in the parlor! Mr. Worley was not acquainted with the cow, never saw her before, and is at a loss to account for the honor of her visit. What do you think of a town where cows make New Year's calls? It may be the correct thing, but it has not been so regarded in the circles in which I have been accustomed to move. Morals are at a low stage in Washington, beyond question.
Colonel Poston, formerly in the Indian Affairs Department for Arizona, is a practicing lawyer here, now.
His partner is Judge Botts, formerly of California. Judge B. went out there in 1848, before gold was discovered, and afterwards was very rich, at one time, and owned a great deal of property in Stockton street, San Francisco. He has held the office of State Printer in California, and has also been Judge of the Sacramento District.
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