A POLITICAL EPISODE

(From "The Light of her Countenance.")

By HJALMAR HJORTH BOYESEN ( 1848 - 1895 )

( Norse-American novelist, poet. His principal publications were: "Gunnor," "A Norseman's Pilgrimage," "Falconberg," "Queen Titania," "A Daughter of the Philistines," "The Mammon of Unrighteousness," "Modern Vikings," Norseland Tales," "Tales from Two Hemispheres," etc. Many of his books were translated into German and Norwegian. )


Central Park, New York, 19th century.

OLD Mr. Burroughs waited impatiently at luncheon for his son's appearance. His widowed sister, Mrs. Whitcomb, who presided over his household, had to bear the brunt of his ill humor, but she was a large and genial woman, and a little bit obtuse, and could endure a good deal without any ruffling of temper. She was, moreover, so proud of her brother that she felt complimented even at being scolded by him. She was intensely conscious of his wealth, distinction, and national fame, and bragged of him in a guileless way to her acquaintances. Her nephew, who was given to being sarcastic with her, she could not quite make out, but admired him immensely. She spoke of him with bated breath, as of some higher order of creature, whose ways were exalted above her comprehension and criticism. She knew in a vague way his reputation, but it made no difference with her, and in no wise affected her treatment of him. She was in a state of general bewilderment as to metropolitan ways and manners, and had never quite found her footing in this Babylonic confusion. She had had very decided opinions in Indiana; but as, somehow, they did not apply to New York, she had given up the habit of judging. She lacked both the energy and the ability at her age to readjust her mental lens of vision to new conditions, and she floated with her bewildered smile through New York society, without finding lodgment or acquiring any definable place in it. She was the Honorable Abiel Burroughs' sister --that was all. And the Honorable Abiel was, as far as society was concerned, only the father of Julian Burroughs. He was known to exist, but was rarely seen. His existence was inferred from the house in the Avenue and his son's extravagance. Though he sat occasionally on public platforms and contributed liberally to popular charities, the metropolis was not half as much interested in him as in his son; and ex-minister though he was, the newspapers took far less account of him than of the handsome young man who bore his name, and whose chief distinction consisted in his capacity to spend.

It may have been because the Honorable Abiel felt a little uneasy in his obscurity that he had begun of late to resume his interrupted connection with politics. He saw plainly that there was no political future for a Republican in New York, unless he happened to get a national appointment; and he squirmed a good deal at the thought of severing his connection with a party which had conferred such great honors upon him. He who had known Lincoln and Chase and Seward, and who was a repository of anecdotes concerning those departed chieftains, how could he make common cause with copper heads and Tammany and the rebel brigadiers? Mr. Burroughs, after a great deal of anxious reflection, came to the conclusion that his turning Mugwump was out of the question. But Julian, who had no traditions to trouble him, could scarcely be reproached for choosing his party with a view to his own advantage. He could scarcely be bound by his father's antecedents. The important thing was for him to get to Washington, not by the slow and laborious byway of Albany, but by the straight road of a congressional nomination. The old gentleman had, by a shrewd and roundabout maneuver, obtained the assurance from the leader of Tammany Hall that for sixty thousand dollars, paid ostensibly for campaign expenses, the nomination was at his disposal. He could see no moral objection to accepting this offer, at the same time as he was personally identified with the Republican organization and lending his respectable name to cloak infamous deals and trades and corruption of voters. Whatever his party did was (if not laudable) at least defensible; and after each election he was ready to put his signature to documents whitewashing the unblushing tricksters who profess to represent the Grand Old Party in the metropolis. No man who cherished a lurking ambition under his waistcoat could afford to be overscrupulous, Burroughs reasoned; and he found even a certain satisfaction in exhibiting a broad, pachydermatous front toward those obnoxious persons who took him to task for his indorsement of rascality. He had after each such attack an agreeable sense of solidarity with his party, and a revived hope of being called to the front in some conspicuous capacity.

Julian, entering, took his seat quietly at the table, called for a bottle of claret, and fell to eating, while his father sat with his shaggy brows knitted, gazing intently at him.
" Well, Jule," he said at last, "have you made up your mind about the matter we talked about last night? "
"Yes."
" And what is your decision? "
The old man's voice almost trembled as he asked the question, and there was a tense, strained look in his eyes, which betrayed his agitation.
"I have decided to yield to your wishes," the son replied, putting down his glass of claret and wiping his mustache with his napkin. The Honorable Abiel cleared his throat noisily and blew his nose. Then, with a visible sense of relief, he attacked his beefsteak, which was one of the few things his French chef could not spoil for him.
"Jule," he observed after a considerable pause, "I am glad you have taken my advice in this matter. You may have to do some mighty nasty things, though, before you get through with this business; but I hope you are equal to them."
" What do you refer to?" asked Julian, putting down his knife and fork.
" Well, you know in the first place, you'll have to be a Democrat, and that, you know, is pretty nasty.
"Oh, yes; but scarcely any nastier than being a Republican."
"Good for you, Jule," cried the old man, with a most unexpected laugh. "I like to see you stick up for your party."
"It was rather a mild way of sticking up for it," remarked Julian.
" Well, mild or strong, I like it. But that was not what I had in mind. You have got to go down to the convention next week and make a speech accepting the nomination. You have got to put in something about Jeffersonian simplicity, and you've got to go for the Republicans. Point the finger of scorn at the scandals during Grant's administration -- Belknap, Robeson, Babcock, and all the rest of them; haul us over the coals for overtaxation, centralization, favoring monopolies, tendency to Caesarism, and anything else you can think of. If you like, I'll write the speech for you; for, to be frank, Jule, I should be afraid of your putting your foot in it. You know I am an old hand at that sort of composition. I know to a T just where the applause will come in, and I know just how to tickle an American audience. If they are Democrats, Thomas Jefferson will fetch them every time, and Samuel J. Tilden -- be sure you bring in his full name, with a stop for applause after each --and Horatio Seymour and all the other venerable mossbacks. Then, I'll give you another first-rate idea. Find out what kind of flattery will be most agreeable to your audience. If they have no virtues at all, or achievements that you can detect, praise their sense of fair play -- which, by the way, they have none of -- and, above all, their sturdy American common sense; make them feel in their ignorance their superiority to those preposterous persons who have gone through college or been abroad or in any way forfeited their birthright as plain American citizens."
"But then I shall be casting discredit upon myself, governor. "
" Oh, never mind that. They won't hunt up your record, and if the Republican papers attack you as a college man and an aristocrat, it'll rather strengthen you."
" But, governor, that's a deuced bad business."
A shade of anxiety passed over the Honorable Abiel's face, as he perceived the tone of disgust in his son's voice.
"Why, Jule," he cried, "you have given me your word; and I tell you if you take a hand in this thing, as you've promised, you've got to go the whole hog."
The young man ate for a few minutes in silence, drank another glass of claret, and finally inquired, " Is there anything else? "
" Then you stand by your promise? "
" I do."
" And you'll allow me to write your speech for you? If there is anything you can't quite go, then you may strike it out."
" I prefer to write it myself."
" Will you let me see it before you deliver it ? "
" Yes."
"And remember this. Go for Grant with all your steam, pitch into the Electoral Commission, the fraud of '76, and all the rest of it. But don't say anything about Lincoln, for he's canonized, you know-- unless you try to make out that he was really a Democrat."
Mr. Burroughs laughed uproariously at this joke, and Mrs Whitcomb smiled feebly; but Julian remained unresponsive. Whether it was the responsibility of his new career which impressed him, or his mere disinclination to leave the old, it was evident that he was far from happy. His father suspected that there was something under it all, but Jule was such a curious, taciturn, and self-sufficient creature that he would have been afraid to sue for his confidence.


The Democratic Convention which nominated Julian Burroughs for Congress came near ending in a row. There was apparently not a soul outside of the initiated few who had expected such a nomination. Mr. Danforth, the present member, was a candidate for renomination, and he had hosts of friends in the convention who felt outraged at the unceremonious shelving of one to whom they were indebted for so many favors. It was whispered that he had offended the "Boss" by an attempted show of independence, and that the latter dignitary had sworn to take his scalp. And now all the positions he had procured for his henchmen in the customhouse, the departments, and the internal revenue service -- all his efforts in behalf of Pats and Mikes and Barneys and their friends -- counted for nothing, and his persistent, silent vote for every job that had the possibility of patronage in it could not save him from political extinction. Having an inkling of what was coming, he had, as a mere forlorn hope, packed the galleries of the hall and the stairs without with his adherents, who were merely waiting for his signal to make a disturbance. They would cheerfully have mobbed the new nominee, if they had known his name or his appearance, for a new man meant to many of them loss of place, salary, and influence. The little distinction which a gauger- ship, or a clerkship, or even a janitorship conferred, was to them a precious thing. It made them among their humble compatriots a kind of public characters, and entitled them to carry their heads high. What wonder that they were burning with animosity toward the unknown man who was to displace their patron!

It was a great, barren, whitewashed hall in East Seventeenth Street where the convention was held. The Boss, a thick-set, square-jawed man, with a pugnacious mouth and a grisly beard, sat, cool as a sphinx, on the platform, surrounded by his braves, some of whom seemed to be enjoying the situation. They were of the most diverse appearance and position. Many were liquor dealers, dive keepers, and prize fighters, with heavy jaws, large cheek bones, and ugly mouths; while some were lawyers and business men, with intelligent faces and gent!emanly bearing, whose ambition had led them into an alliance with this notorious organization. They subordinated themselves wIthout scruple to the stout, brutal-looking Irishman who held mayoraltles, judgeships, fat receiverships, shrievalties, and sometImes even a governorship in the hollow of his hand. They devoted themselves in prIvate and public to singing his praises, found all sorts of occult virtues in his character, lauded him to the skies for not stealing (oblivious of the estimate which such praise implied), and threw a thin mask of respectability over his whole degrading activIty. And for this subserviency they would sooner or later reap their reward.

Julian, who had, much against his will, at the advice of his father, been elected a delegate to the convention, elbowed his way with difficulty through the crowd on the stairs, which freely commented on his appearance. Some one, by way of pleasantry, knocked his hat down over his ears, while others exhorted him to "wipe off his chin" and "pull down his vest" -- all of which he bore with the good humor of a candidate, though he was inwardly boiling. He heard himself described as a dude, a swell, a fancy chap, etc., and he got several vicious punches in his ribs, indicative of the sentiments that were entertained toward his species. He succeeded, however, in rescuing himself out of the throng without broken bones, and presently took his seat unobserved near one of the windows.

It was a good while before the meeting was called to order. Laughing and subdued conversation were heard from all parts of the hall. The smell of bad cigars made the atmosphere oppressive, and a cloud of blue smoke hung under the gas fixtures and slowly rose toward the ceiling. It was understood that a committee were having a conference in another part of the building with representatives of the other Democratic organization of the city, with a view to avoiding contests and an equitable division of the spoils. From time to time a messenger arrived and presented a slip of paper to the Boss, who scrawled something on the back of it, and without a change of mien on his stolid face handed it back. Julian had, from where he sat, a good view of him, and he could not help admiring the consciousness of power which his slow movements revealed. There was a kind of leonine laziness about him which was quite becoming. But the way he sat in his chair, broad, square, and tranquilly defiant, seemed even more suggestive. That must have been the way Caracalla sat; and the same low brow and strong neck that descended in two parallel lines from the root of the ears were a survival from that ancient type of imperial boss. If our republic is ever destined to suffer shipwreck, this is the kind of man that will wreck it. This is the kind of ruler which universal suffrage, in a community where a majority of the electorate are ignorant, will invariably produce. He represents the true average, morally and intellectually, of the vote that upholds his power. And as soon as he shall represent, not the municipal, but the national average, we shall have him in the White House. If we permit ignorant hordes of foreigners, at the rate of half a million a year, to continue to lower this average, it is an inevitable result which no power in heaven or on earth can prevent.

After half an hour's suspense and the exchange of many messages, five men filed into the hall, and were received with shouts and applause. They took their seats on the platform, shook hands with the Boss, and communicated to him the results of their conference. He listened with an impassive mien, except once when he drew down his mouth into a smile resembling that of a bull terrier. He nodded several times slowly, and spoke between his teeth, with scarcely a perceptible motion of the lips. Presently Mr. Hurst, a prominent political lawyer whom Julian knew, stepped up; and seeing that he was recognized, Burroughs nodded to him across the hall. The Boss directed his sullen stare in the same direction, and the unwilling candidate felt an unpleasant uneasiness steal over him. He felt that he was not making a favorable impression. He was being judged and found wanting. There was something inexpressibly contemptuous in the way the mighty man slowly withdrew his gaze. "Is that dudish-Iooking chap old Burroughs' son?" he asked the lawyer.

" Yes, that is he."
People were usually noncommittal when talking with the Boss until they had ascertained his opinion.
" H'm ! He ain't much to look at. But," after another glance at Julian, "he'll do."
"Yes, exactly. That's just what I think. He'll no doubt do," Hurst eagerly assented.
" I like the old man's looks better."
"So do I. The old Mr. Burroughs is, so to speak, a personage. He looks like a man of weight."
The autocrat of the metropolis pulled, with much deliberation, a roll of tobacco from his pocket and bit off a quid. He had strong, short, regular teeth that looked as if they might chew up a nail with a relish.
"Go over and sit by him," he continued, when he had got the quid comfortably disposed, "and see that he don't make an ass of himself."
"Certainly, with much pleasure. Is there anything in particular? "
"Yes, don't let him make a speech when he gets the nomination. Them green chaps always slops over."
"All right, sir. I'll do my best to shut him up."

The Boss waved his hand in dismissal, and the lawyer bowed and withdrew. A manner which he would have resented in one of his peers he accepted from this coarse, burly Irishman, and felt rather honored at having displayed to the crowd his intimacy with so mighty a personage. He made his way between chairs and benches to Julian, shook him cordially by the hand, lighted a cigar, and began to chat, giving his advice in an offhand, half-jocose manner. The convention was now called to order, and the roll call was about to begin, when the Boss rose, stepped to the edge of the platform, and said in a grouty, stertorous voice,--
"The police will please clear the lobbies."

Never were the behests of a sovereign executed with greater promptness. The formidable blue coats, armed with night clubs, rose, as it appeared, out of the very ground, moved toward the doors, and precipitated the rebellious clients of Mr. Danforth down the stairs into the outer darkness. Those who resisted were clubbed on the head, canes were broken, tall hats wrecked, coats torn, clay pipes shattered into atoms. For five minutes the pandemonium was such that the roll call within could scarcely be heard. The delegates, who always applauded their master's methods, laughed and joked and regarded the episode as capital fun.

A chairman was now nominated and unanimously elected, and a great deal of routine business was promptly dispatched. Everything had been carefully prepared beforehand; the convention did nothing but register the Boss' decrees. Even the seeming dissent of two delegates, who got up and quarreled about a nomination for which each had his candidate, had been prearranged with a view to deceiving the two gentlemen concerned, and enabling the convention to compromise on a third person whom the Boss had already designated. It was admirably done, and, as a ruse, was completely successful. When the little farce was at an end and harmony restored, a delegate wIth a strong brogue got up and nominated the "Honorable " Julian Burroughs for "Mimber of Congress for the ----th Deesthrick." He indulged in some highly laudatory comments on his candidate, who, he asseverated, had always been the "worrukin' man's frrind, a frrind of ould Oireland, and a good ould-fashioned Dimmicrat that niver wint back on his frrinds." He made up a touching but wholly fictitious biography for his "honored frrind," as he called Julian (though he had never seen him until an hour ago), and finally sat down amid a storm of applause, winking his eye slyly toward the subject of his eulogy, as if to ask if he hadn't done pretty well. At this moment Mr. Hurst, who had been delegated to look after Julian, stepped up on the platform and whispered in the ear of the Boss, --
"That young lunatic is determined to make his speech, and nothing I can say will stop him."

The great man smiled again his bull-terrier smile, nodded slowly, and observed that it was "all right. Mr. Hurst need give himself no further uneasiness." While a gentleman in another part of the hall, whom Julian knew slightly, rose to second his nomination with another little eulogy, the Boss beckoned to the chairman of the convention, who instantly inclined his ear toward him. No sooner had the seconder finished his remarks than the purport of these secret instructions was divulged. The chairman rapped his desk with his gavel, and, stepping to the front of the platform, said that, before putting the nomination of Mr. Burroughs to vote, he would ask the honorable gentleman, as a special favor, to take the chair for a moment, as he desired the privilege of adding a few words to the just encomiums already pronounced by his friends, the Honorable Patrick Mulligan and the Honorable Spencer McDuff. Julian, who was taken completely by surprise, thought that his ears were deceiving him, or that the chairman, for some reason, wished to make sport of him, or, perhaps, by underhand tactics, defeat his nomination; but when the request was twice repeated, and obviously with the friendliest intention, he saw no way of refusing, and, amid a storm of applause, he made his way to the platform, feeling dazed and dizzy, and inwardly fearful lest, in some way, he might make a fool of himself in this unaccustomed position. The Boss shook hands with him as he presented himself on the platform, and, turning to the audience, said,--
" I have the honor to prisint to the convention the Honorable Julian Burroughs, our next congressman for the ----th District. "

Here the applause broke forth anew, while Julian stood bowing and bowing, and finally, with flushed cheeks and burning ears, seated himself in the vacated chair. The late chairman, taking the floor, devoted himself for five minutes to the production of amiable fiction concerning the moral and intellectual merits of "the Honorable Julian Burroughs," his devotion to the cause of Ireland, and his sterling democratic sentiments. The call for the question was then raised, and the temporary chairman, without clearly perceiving that he was cutting himself off from making his speech of acceptance, was compelled to put his own nomination to vote and declare, amid much laughter, that it appeared to be unanimously carried. He was bound, however, in a few words, to thank the convention for the honor which it had conferred upon him; but just then the chairman returned and proceeded to the consideration of fresh nominations. It now dawned upon the novice in politics that he had been, in some mysterious way, outwitted, and that his chance of delivering his cherished speech was gone. He was not at all sure that there had been any design of bringing about this result, but that, nevertheless, it had been accomplished was beyond dispute. It was a most humiliating fact, not only because all his beautiful reform sentiment had been wasted, but because it gave him, for the first time in his life, a sense of insecurity--of not quite knowing his bearings -- and a suspicion of hidden pitfalls beneath his unwary feet. Was it possible that the Boss had received an inkling of what his speech contained? There was not a soul who had seen this speech except his father, and he was surely not capable of playing such a dastardly trick. He had, to be sure, rejected all the old gentleman's suggestions, and had laughed at the hollow, spread-eagle phrases which he had insisted upon as indispensable. It was more than likely that his father meant what he said when he prophesied his political ruin from such a speech; and, as he had set his heart upon seeing him in public life, was it not an imaginable possibility that he had made a confidant of the Boss?

Julian was so interested in this speculation that he paid no heed to the further proceedings of the convention, and when, long after midnight, he found himself strolling up Broadway toward Madison Square, he was yet debating the pros and cons. For no sooner had he apparently settled the question than a new doubt put forth its ugly head and upset all his previous argument. It was a thorny path he was about to tread, and he was not sure but that it would be the part of wisdom to retrace his steps while there was yet time.






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