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"All those gentlemen who did conscientiously believe the Speaker had been impartial would of course vote for the resolution, but I call upon all who do not and cannot in their hearts believe so, but who do believe that with strong band he has wielded his power for the purpose of a party, to vote against it. Let those who know the resolution to be untrue say so by their acts. For one, if I have ever seen the poised needle turn and point with still prevailing attraction toward the pole, I have seen that Speaker turn with equal constancy toward the interest of his party.
"Gentlemen may raise the notes of the Te Deum Laudamus as high as they please, but I call upon all those whose free sentiments had been crushed on that floor by the weight of his official truncheon to let the world see that they would not give the lie to those sentiments of indignation which had often been forced from their lips under the smart of oppression. Let them not give this unguarded, sweeping certificate of good behavior to aid the election of the governor of Tennessee. Thus to vote a public lie was to set a bad and pernicious example, particularly in a free republic."
Mr. Prentiss concluded by offering his amendment to strike out“ impartial.”
Mr. Gray replied to the strictures of Prentiss, and moved the previous question on the original resolution, which was carried, and the original resolution of thanks was passed by a vote of ninety-four to fifty-seven. The Speaker responded in a feeling address, in which he expressed his especial acknowledgments to the majority of the House for the high and flattering evidence they had given of their approbation of his conduct as presiding officer of the House by the resolution they had been pleased to pass.
The above speech of Prentiss was his Parthian arrow as he retired and closed his official career. In reviewing his brief but brilliant course one cannot but be struck by its tone of lofty integrity. Jealous of the honor of the House, he attacked the member from Ohio for violating what he conceived to be the privileges of the House. He acted in the same manner in a similar case in the Mississippi Legislature. Jealous of the honor of the nation, he stood by the boundary-line of his native State. Glorying in the history of the United States navy, he resented the indignity with which he thought it tarnished by the acts of the commodore. Jealous of the integrity of the nation, he brought all his power to bear upon a restoration of the administration to what he believed to be the principles of honesty.' For reasons deemed satisfactory to himself he voted against the duelling law proposed, springing out of the unfortunate duel between Cilley and Graves. Losing, as he did, three months of the first session, in consequence of his rejection, he could not be on any important committee, and therefore his services were lost in the committee-room.
He always took with him at this time as a body-servant his favorite boy, Colonel Burr, and while the master was thundering his eloquence in the marble halls of the Capitol the colonel was enjoying himself outside on the avenue in a different game of marbles, and one which did not require quite as much intellectual effort. The colonel went with his master to the ultima thule of the United States, where he was free de jure, as he had been de facto. He once told his master that some people had asked him if he did not want to be free, and that his reply was he was “free now," and they told him he was a “fool," and "I tole 'em dey was fools and not me.”
During his sojourn at Washington he sometimes fell into the hands of harpies, who, taking advantage of his recklessness, preyed upon him; the parasites who fleeced while they flattered him. It has already been explained that he indulged in play for relaxation, his physical infirmity debarring him, as he thought, from the purer joys of female society. Wise tells how in one instance, on a certain convivial occasion, he succeeded in overcoming his diffidence, and at last induced him to be introduced to a lady, but it so happened by an unfortunate contretemps that just as he was introduced the lady rose to join in the dance, her dress became entangled in his cane, and he retired as soon as it was disentangled, overwhelmed in confusion. As we have said before, let us remember how few were his means of relaxation and let fall the mantle of charity over his errors, while we give the meed of praise to his lofty public course as our Representative.
Such was his delicate sense of honor that he refused to receive the pay of mileage for the contested term. His public life in the regular political army, so to speak, closed with this Congress, but in the grand army of volunteers in the future political battles of the age we shall hereafter see that he did noble service.
We have seen that Prentiss arrived in Washington on the 17th of December, 1838. Just two days before this, on the 15th, there occurred in the city of Louisville, Kentucky, an unexpected and fearful tragedy, involving the fate of his friend, Judge Edward C. Wilkinson. This gentleman was a man most attractive in mind and bearing, eminently handsome in person, and highly educated. He was noted for his dignity and mildness of manner, but at the same time he had the courage of a lion. Accompanied by his brother, Dr. Benjamin R. Wilkinson, and his ward, John Murdaugh, the judge had reached the city in December, en route to be married to Miss Crozier, the niece of General Thomas Hinds, one of the most distinguished men of Mississippi. The party stopped at the “Galt House” and were tarrying in the city for the purpose of preparing the “wedding garments.
Dr. Benjamin Wilkinson had ordered a suit of clothes, vest, pants, and overcoat, from a respectable merchant tailor named John W. Redding. On Saturday, the 15th of December, the doctor went to Mr. Redding's alone to get the clothes. He tried them on, observing that the overcoat was loose, but he took the suit and left a hundred-dollar Mississippi Bank bill, requesting Redding to hold on to it for a week or two, as the discount on it might then be less. About three or four o'clock in the afternoon of the same day he returned to Redding's store, accompanied by the judge and Mr. Murdaugh. The fit of the overcoat became the subject of discussion, the judge saying that it was a bad fit and unfashionable. The doctor offered to pay for the vest and pants and return the overcoat, but the judge advised against this course, as they, too, might not fit. Redding, probably not knowing the relationship between the doctor and the judge, took exception at what he thought an unjustifiable interference, saying that it was none of his business. This led to high words, and the judge took exceptions to Redding's language, stating that he did not come there to be insulted. The judge then seized a poker. A scuffle ensued; the judge at first was on top, but Redding turned him and was dragging him to the door. The doctor interfered, as some thought, to pull him off, while some said he raised his hand with a knife. His hand was seized. One witness said he heard Murdaugh call out “Kill him !" while another said that he said “Part them ; don't let him kill him!” The parties separated on the pavement in front of Redding's store. Redding seized a brick-bat, saying, “ Lay your d—d knives down and I can whip all three of you.” The judge, who had walked across the street, returned and carried one (Murdaugh) of the party away with him.
The fight brought several parties to Redding's store, and he told his grievance. Some advised him to take the law, and others advised summary vengeance. Redding went to the mayor's office to get a warrant for the arrest of the parties, but was told that it was necessary to have their names. On his way to the “Galt House” to ascertain these he met his brotherin-law, John Rothwell, and told him of the affair. Rothwell was a powerful man; he accompanied Redding. They reached the hotel a short while before supper and obtained from Mr. Everett, the clerk, the names of the three; but instead of leaving then they lingered. In the mean time a crowd had collected. While Redding was thus lingering, awaiting, as he said, the marshal, Turner, Judge Wilkinson came into the bar-room to take a glass of water. He commenced walking up and down the room. Redding crossed his path, and with his back to the bar accosted him, as he says in his testimony, with, “I think you're the gentleman that struck me with the poker in my own house to-day ?” Wilkinson replied that he was, and added, “I shall not quarrel with a man of your profession, but if you interfere with me or lay a hand on me, I shall kill you.” Redding, in his testimony, continues: “As he said this he put his hand behind him, as I thought in his coat-pocket, for some weapon.” Redding then called the judge a coward, and offered to whip all three if they would come out and lay aside their
weapons. Wilkinson meanwhile kept walking backward and forward, Redding telling him all the while what he thought of him. This was a tirade of abuse. Judge Wilkinson now walked out of the bar-room. An expression was heard, “The coward, he has run.” The judge was absent but a little while; when he returned his brother and Murdaugh were just behind him. Redding told Murdaugh that he was the man who drew a knife on him. Murdaugh replied in substance, “ If you said I drew a bowie-knife on you it was a d-d lie, and whoever said it was a d-d liar!” As he said this Redding asserts that he threw up his hand with a drawn knife. Just then two new actors appeared upon
One Alexander Meeks stepped up, remarking, “You're the d-d little rascal that did it,” and struck at Murdaugh with a whip or cane. About the same time John Rothwell also struck him. Murdaugh's right arm was caught just as he was about to strike. He seized his knife with his left hand, and with this hand struck Meeks a mortal blow, and thus extricated himself.
In the mean time one Holmes, another stranger, had attacked Dr. Wilkinson and was beating him unmercifully. Judge Wilkinson rushed to the rescue of Murdaugh, and with, it is supposed, his bowie-knife struck Roth well. Still another man, Marshall Halbert, was engaged in the fray.
The names of the men attacking the Mississippians were Redding, Roth well, Meeks, Oldham, Bill Johnson, Halbert, and Holmes. Rothwell had a sword-cane, Meeks a cowhide and other weapons, and Oldham fired with a pistol at the Mississippians as they retreated from the bar-room,
In the brief space of fifteen or twenty minutes Meeks lay dead upon the floor, Roth well mortally wounded with wounds of two characters, the one made by a large blade, the other by a slender instrument. Judge Wilkinson, too, was wounded apparently by a slender instrument, the wound ranging down from the shoulderblade towards the spine. Murdaugh was badly wounded in the head, and his hat punctured with a sharp instrument. Dr. Wilkinson was greatly bruised in the face, his eyes discolored and swelled till nearly closed.
The excitement was, of course, intense; a large crowd assem