Imagens das páginas
PDF
ePub

AMERICAN LIONS.

SCARCITY invariably has the effect of enhancing the value of an article in the general market.--and thus it is as respects “ lions” in the United States of America. No people under the sun have a stronger partiality for lions than the Americans have, which may be attributed, in some measure, to their scarcity. They have bears, panthers, painters, as the Yankees call them, and wolves in abun. dance ; but these are all “ tarnation little set by," in comparison with their lions. To be sure there is a government bounty on the heads of wolves and panthers; and as government bounties are always paid in “ hard,” or “ Jackson" money, and as dollars are “ getting consid. erable scarce in the settlements,” I presume that these “ critters" will be rather more looked after, and better thought of, than they were formerly. As for bears,—why, honest Bruin cares very little about r'umptions in the currency, or the long faces pulled by the commer. cial gentleman of Wall Street; for so long as he can manage to get a dinner of nice young pork once a week during the summer, and a snug berth in a hollow pine-tree, with a fat paw to suck, during the winter, “ I calculate” thath e never bothers his head about Martin Van Buren, the present president ;—but there is no accounting for the absence of family affection! Since the States first “ toddled without leading strings,” they have never been wholly destitute of lions, although the individual number at any period has been but few, and their “ locations" far between.

The first and most renowned of all their lions, and politically speaking, the father of all the rest, was General Washington. He was more renowned in his day than any one that has inhabited the royal Tower of London for the last century even including “ Old Glory ;” and although his admirers have not been so barbarous as to stuff his hide with straw, they have hung him up in effigy before the door of many a road-side “ beer and cider house” in every section of the country. Though so long dead and gone his exploits are fresh in the recollection of every patriotic American citizen ; and when all the other lions that have appeared within the limits of the Union since its earliest existence shall be “ gone and forgotten,” the name of Washington will remain to be honoured and revered by unborn generations. I hardly ever gazed upon the benign and placed countenance of this great hero, that I did not bethink me of the noble lion Nero that was exhibited through my own country; for who ever gazed upon a milder countenance than Nero's? And yet there was a savageness in his nature when roused, that bespoke him a veritable lion ! Washington too on peculiar occasions showed similar symptoms. A single instance will suffice to illustrate this—the fate of poor Major Andre. But at that period Washington's nature had been roused; he had been teased, taunted, foiled, and irritated,—and in the rage of the moment he pounced upon his victim. André was trying the ex. periment of other fool-hardy showmen. He thrust his head within the lion's jaws, and got it “ scrunched.”

There is scarcly another lion upon record, that is a fighting lion, among all the heroes of the Revolution ; for even including Gates, M.Kean, Montgomery, Warren, Wayne, and several others, their

names already are nearly forgotten, except in the page of their country's history. A foreign cub of the revolutionary war grew up, and became a lion of the first magnitude : I refer to the French general Lafayette. Poor noble fellow! in his old age he became somewhat imbecile, and had an itching to visit his early haunts ; and never sure was a fine old animal so pestered and annoyed by being dragged through the country, from one end of it to the other, to have his paw shaken, and to be “ beslavered with fulsome praise,” by wild unmannered hordes of raw republicans. They paraded him, and gave him public feeds in every town and city in the Union ; and all this they modestly called “ national gratitude to the gineral.”

Half a century hence, and probably they may spor some naval lions ; but these days of peace and quiet are unfavourable , to such a growth. During the last little scratch America had with this country, they had a few buriy cubs in their naval establishment, amongst which by far their greatest favourite was Decatur. But one unlucky day he happened to quarrel with an older whelp than himself, and thereby got his quietus ! Several of them fougot like “ blasted catamounts ; " and Lawrence who fought bravely and fell, is considered a sort of martyr by the Yankees.

The Americans have on record a whole string of what they consider 6 regular lions,” whose names are appended to an in. strument of great national importance, called their “ Declaration of Independence;" and although these may properly be termed historical lions, since many of the names would have been buried in oblivion had it not been for this document, yet it must be admitted there was something lionish in their characters, or they never would have dared to beard their lawful sovereign by putting their paws to such a rebellious paper. In the whole batch of “ signers” there may be individual exceptions,-a few that stepped out from the mass ; first and foremost of these is that blunt old printer's devil, Benjamin Franklin. There can be little doubt respecting Ben's claim, living or dead, to the distinction of lion, although his outward man was not so sleek and polished as those that commonly belong to that noble genus ; and I believe the Yankee folks themselves admit, that though he was sent abroad, he was of too rough a grain to take a “ French polish.” But Franklin, to do him justice, was no ordinary character ; and I think that his nation very properly consider him the second lion of his day. He was a shrewd, home-spun genius, but withal a sensible fellow ; and has left many wise “ saws and sayings” behind him, for the use and benefit of those who are not "past improvement."

The next of the “ Declarationists,” who may be considered as having a claim to the honour of lionship, is the first of the American Adams. I wonder if Old Father Adam was a lion in bis day ? John cut some figure, not with his sword, in " the days that tried men's souls ;" for he was one of the principal godfathers of the baby Republic. The expression which I have just quoted is a mighty favourite one amongst the Americans ; but to use another specimen of Yankee declamation, it seems to me to be “ considerable inobvious what it was intended to inculcate.” I am aware that it is thought “ immortally sublime," which seems quite evident, from its being lugged in on all occasions, and by all classes and grades of speechifiers ; while it is known to pass .current in every section of the

Union, and always bears a premium in election contests.

Well, John Adams,—that is old John,—for there has been and is a young John, who is I believe the only living specimen of regularly descended lionage, lineage? in the country. John the older, however, never did anything “immensely extraordinary,” except that he lived longer than any other American lion was known to do before his time, and then died! But how did he die ? Why, he closed his eyes upon all sublunary things while the cannon on the neighboring heights were thunderingly proclaiming “the glorious anniversary of 76," or more popularly “Yankee Independence.” It certainly is a remarkable fact that this patriarch was gathernd to his kindred on the identical day of the identical month, July 4th, jusı half a century after he had put his name to that document which called into existence the Americans as a nation.

He succeeded Washington in the presidency, and was “a full-blooded federalist.”

Thomas Jefferson's is probably the only other name amongst the “signers,” that can with propriety have lion attached to it. Not that Adams and he were superior in many respects to some of their contemporaries; but events occurred by which they were called into more prominent situations. They belonged not however to the same politic. al party ; for while Adams was closely allied with the federalists,the more respectable and intelligent portion of the community, Jeffer. son leagued himself with ultra-democracy, and became the chosen of the people.” He was a philosopher of the school of the French Revo. lution, and his religious principles have been suspected. He lived to a good old age ; and the most wonderful act of his life was that of breath. ing his last, like Adams as before narrated, on the day of the celebration of American Independence! Yes! strange it was indeed ! that those two signers of the Declaration," old patriots of “the days that tried men's souls," and ex-presidents, should have been called to their final account on the same great American anniversary.

I will now pass unnoticed whole swarms of mongrels, several jackals, and a few asses in lions' skins ; none of which however have the slightetest claim to be enrolled in this brief chronicle of “ American lions."

The president's chair was next filled by John Quincy Adams ; a man like our own William Pitt, educated as it were with an eye to the high and honourable situation that he was afterwards destined to fill. But of John Q. Adams I will only stop to observe, that in attempt. ing to conciliate the good opinion of the ultra-democrats, he completely disgusted the party that had been mainly instrumental in raising him to power. He was the chief governor of the people of the United States, --he is now an insignificant unit of the lowest branch of their popular as. sembly. To gratify the ears of a democratic rabble, I heard him, may years ago, traduce and scandalize England in the most ribald and scurrilous manner. It must not be asserted that he is an ass in lion's uni. form ; but it must be admitted that although he was born a lion, he has occasionally practised the contemptible braying of an ass.

Some notice must now be taken of a “ downright, full-blooded ” Yan. kee lion, another ex-president, namely, Andrew Jackson, or more popularly, “Old Hickory.” He, like unto him of Quincy, is a " living specimen." But Old Hickory is none of your smooth-haired, meek-vis. aged gentry, but is as rough and grizzly as any Kentucky old bear, and in the heyday of his career was as stubborn and mulish as if he had

been of asinine parentage. He is now somewhat old and infirm; but on state occasions he may be made to growl and roar in a most terrific manner. To be sure he is now kenneled, “ finally I guess," at his hermitage in Tennessee; but while he remained in Washington city, his ravings were of the most hidious and melancholy character. His constitution seemed to be so peculiarly formed, that the naming of cer. tain State matters would effect him strangely. The bare mentioning of the United States' Bank was gall and wormwood to his soul; and if Nicholas Biddle's name happened therewith to be coupled, his paroxysms were of the most distressing nature. I have been favour ed occasionally with these exhibitions of old Andrew, and I must honestly confess that he far outdid all that I had ever witnessed in his peculiar line of raving. But for a fortuitous circumstance, Old Hickory would have been permitted to remain in his utter obscurity and insignificance on the western side of the mountains. Some British regiments were so foolish as to post themselves upon a plain near the town of New Orleans; and a parcel of militia from some of the neighbouring states, with Jackson as their leader, happening to be in that town which was defended with a wall of cotton bags,--those fellows having no turkeys to practice at, keps poking and poaching away at “ the British rig’lars ” with their long ri. Aes from behind the wall of cotton, for I know not how many days, during which the English troops apppeared to have no other aim than that of showing their bravery, just like as many young crows, that have not sense enough to retreat to their nests, for there they stood for “ illigant marks for the gineral's riflemen.” This the Americans called an “impossible great victory ;” and upon this incident hinged all the future popularity of plain Andrew Jackson; for the Americans, already frightened nearly out of their senses at the little scratches they had had with the British troops along the frontiers, were literally beside themselves with joy when they became acquainted with the result of the New Orleans affair. Jackson, who had previously been known in his own vicinity as a country attorney, and nowhere else by name or otherwise, henceforth became the tutelar “guardian of the West !"—the humble instrument in the hands of Divine Providence to snatch his country from the very brink of perdition! If Andrew had died in the blaze of his popularity, there can be little doubt but that his worshippers would have canonized him, and very probably his old wife Rachel into the bargain. In the convulsions of the monetary systems of America, he has already lived to witness the disastrous consequences of some of his own obstinate measures; and if it shall please Providence to spare him a few years longer, it is more than probable that he will have an opportunity of witnessing many more. In him has been demon. strated to the conviction of every impartial observer, the dangerous and improper degree of power vested in the person of the executive chief magistrate. No sovereign potentate of Europe, whose authority is not unlimited and obsolete, would have dared to act in open defi. ance to the will and opinions of his own councillors, and the con. stituent national assemblies. Veto, veto, veto! was Old Hickory's plan, whenever any legislative act did not chime in with his whims and prejudices; and the rabble-rout hailed him as “a mighty consi. derable smart man,” for acts for which he ought to have been impeach. ed for high treason before the senate of the United States. Never was that seemingly paradoxical aphorism, that extremes meet, more nearly

proved than in Jackson and his supporters. While he was known to be as great a tyrant as ever sat on the throne of the Russian autocrats, he was raised to power solely by the ultra-democrats, the mobocracy of the country! Men of weak intellects, when elevated to situations of governing power, are apt to become tyrants; but notwithstanding the many absurd, foolish, and arbitrary things done by General Jackson, it cannot be pleaded in his behalf that he is devoid of common un. derstanding. It is discretion, and a control over his own impetuous temper, that he unfortunately lacks.

It must be exceedingly annoying to such characters as General Jackson to be completely thrown into the shade by greater lions than themselves. In one instance this occurred to him where I happened to be an eye witness. Andrew's political party was likely to be put to a pinch at the approaching elections ; so in order to gain proselytes to the cause of Jacksonism, a.plan was arranged by a few of the leaders, to exhibit " the Old Gineral" gratis, to the wondering gaze of the people in the distant towns and villages. It may appear strange, since all men are born equal, so says the Yankee Declara. tion of Independence, that such a grizzly, porcupinish-looking per. sonage as Andrew Jackson, Esquire, should have been considered worth going ten paces out of the direct path to look at by any staunch republican of the United States ; and yet there was such a helter-skelter in many of the places to get a peep at him as I never elsewhere witnessed. This continued for some portion of "the Old Gineral's tour of popularity," — that is, until a greater lion than himself was brought into the arena. This was the notorious, Indian chief-Black Hawk! recently imported from the banks of the Upper Mississippi. But, no sooner had this rival competitor reached the civilized, so called, cities of the Union, than the vulgar curiosity of the admiring multitude was no longer bestowed upon the Gineral,” but lavished upon the Indian. Their respective leaders paraded them through the streets of New York ; but " the Old Gineral” was left in a contemptible minority-he was actually left all but without a tail! The consequence was that his keepers deemed it prudent to take him back to Washington until Black Hawk should either be hanged, or else loaded with presents, and sent back to his own tribe, which was actually the case! ready to take advantage of the am. nesty granted to him. Clay, Calhoun, and Webster-nay, Nicholas Biddle and the Monster Bank to boot, might have all been cast into the scale together, and against “Old Hickory," they would have been

“ dust in the balance ;” but when Black Hawk and he were fairly pitted, the “Hero of New Orleans" was “ forced to kick the beam !”

Two or three years ago the French tried one of their maneuvres upon the government of the United States.

France agreed to pay a certain sum in a certain time as an indemnity for losses sustained by American citizens during the continental war. The matter was long canvassed; but finally it was diplomatically arranged and settled. When the first instalment became due, France, without even a pretext for doing so, refused to fulfil the agreement. America received this intelligence in high dudgeon ; and old Jackson very properly, always give the devil his due, took steps, or rather threatened to make reprisals upon ships belonging to France; and spoke out very plainly, VOL. II.

28

but as

« AnteriorContinuar »