Benjamin Franklin Wade
BENJAMIN FRANKLIN WADE,
IT would be hard to find a better illustration of the facility with which, under Republican institutions, a man of genius and integrity may rise from obscurity and humble life to the most exalted station, than is afforded in the history of Benjamin F. Wade. He has not, it is true, like his predecessor, " filled every office, from alderman of a small village to President of the United States," but he, has risen from an humble though honorable and honest condition, to the highest positions in the gift of the people, and through all, has maintained himself with dignity, propriety, and honor, and with a reputation for unflinching adherence to the principles of right, justice, and freedom, which any man might covet.
BENJAMIN FRANKLIN WADE was born in Feeding Hills Parish, West Springfield, Massachusetts, October 27th, 1800. He was the youngest of ten children. His father was a soldier, who fought in every revolutionary battle from Bunker Hill to Yorktown. His mother was the daughter of a Presbyterian clergyman, a woman of vigorous intellect and great force of character. She fed and clothed her brood while the father was in the army. The family was one of the poorest in New England. A portion of its scanty property was a library of twelve books. This eventually became Benjamin's possession. He read the volumes through and through, and over and over, after his mother had led him so far into an education as to teach him to read and write. When Ben was eighteen, he tearfully turned his back on the old plow and the older homestead; and, with seven dollars in his pocket and a bundle of clothing on his back, started to walk from Springfield, Massachusetts, to Illinois, to seek his fortune. He footed it to Ashtabula county, Ohio. There, the snow falling, he determined to wait for spring to finish his journey; hired himself out to cut wood in the forest for fifty cents per cord, and snatched hours from sleep at night to read the Bible by the light of the fire on the hearth of the log-cabin. Both the Old and the New Testaments are at his tongue's end. Spring came; but the journey to Illinois and fortune was delayed by a summer's work at chopping, logging, and grubbing, followed by a Yankee winter at school-teaching. The journey was suspended by a second year of such work, and was finally lost in an experience of driving a herd of cattle. Wade led the "lead" steer of a drove from Ohio to New York. Six times he made this trip. The last ox he led took him to Albany.*1 'Twas winter. Of course, the drover then expanded into a school-teacher. When the frost was out of the ground, scholars and teacher went to manual labor. The Erie canal got the teacher. During the summer of 1826 Wade shoveled and wheeled; " The only American I know,' said Governor Seward, in a speech in the Senate, " who worked with a spade and wheelbarrow on that great improvement." Another winter of school-teaching in Ohio, and the persuasions of Elisha Whittlesey, and the friendly offer of a tavern-keeper who had got to loving Wade, to trust him bed and board without limit, drew Ben, at the age of twenty-six, into a law office, to study for the bar. He was admitted in two years. He waited another year for his first suit.
After six years of unremitting toil, Wade found himself employed in almost every case of importance litigated in the circuit where he practiced. He was now a man of note; his law business was constantly increasing, and money was coming in to. fill his pocket. He felt, as a thousand other men have felt, that the struggle of his life was over; that it was no longer with him simply a fight for bread. The world had been met and conquered, and the master began to look about him, and consider other matters than mere questions of food and clothing. Like most men who have taken the rough world by the throat and conquered it, Mr. Wade felt how completely he was self-made, and how little he had to fear from the future.
In 1835, he was elected prosecuting attorney for the county of Ashtabula. His talent for special pleading was remarkable, and his indictments are considered models at the present time.
In 1837, Mr. Wade was offered the nomination to the State Senate from his district, and reluctantly accepted. This, Mr. Wade contends to this day, was the great mistake of his life. He has been continually successful in politics, and reached the second office in the nation ; but he never fails to warn young men to stick to their professions, and let politics alone. The empty honors of public life, he contends, never repay the politician for the toils and troubles that beset him at every step ; and a quiet home is infinitely to be preferred to the highest political honor.
He was just entering his thirty-eighth year when he took his seat in the State Senate of Ohio, and at once began his political career with the same earnestness that had characterized his course at the bar. As a new member, he expected no position; but his fame as a lawyer had preceded him to the capitol, and he was appointed a member of the Judiciary Committee.
Mr. Wade first directed his efforts to the repeal of the laws of Ohio whereby the poor but honest man could be. imprisoned for debt by his creditor. He rapidly rose to the leadership of the little squad of Whigs in the State Senate, and although greatly in the minority, he handled his small force so effectively as to keep the Democrats always on the defensive.
The question of the annexation of Texas coming up, Mr. Wade made haste to take bold grounds against slavery. He said:
"This State of Texas coming to the Union, as it must (if at all), with the institution of slavery interwoven with its social habits, being brought into this Union for the sole object of extending the accursed system of human bondage, it cannot have my voice or vote; for, so help me God, I will never assist in adding one rood of slave territory to this country."
Soon after his efforts to prevent the extension of slavery, the black people of Ohio began an active movement for relief from the oppressive State laws, and appealed to Mr. Wade to help them. He took their petition and presented it in the Senate, asking that "all laws might be repealed making distinctions among the people of Ohio on account of color." This raised a storm of indignation, and even some of Mr. Wade's personal and party friends warned him to desist 'n his efforts to place a negro on equal footing with a white man, but Wade sternly rebuked them, and insisted on his petitions being heard. At first the Senate refused to hear what the negroes had to say, but at length received their petition, and at once laid it on the table, Mr. Wade protesting, and saying, with great vehemence and earnestness to the majority : "Remember, gentlemen, you have, by your votes, in this free State of Ohio, so treated a part of her people, these black men and women."
At the close of his senatorial term, Mr. Wade found his negro doctrines had made him unpopular with his constituents. When the convention met in his district, he was not only passed over and a new man nominated, but some of the delegates thought it would be a good thing to censure him for his course. Mr. Wade had given great offence by his vehement opposition to State appropriations for internal improvements, and the Commissioners appointed by the Legislature of Kentucky to visit Ohio and obtain, as Mr. Wade said, "the passage of a law to degrade the people of Ohio."
The bill they sought to have made a law, was one of pains and penalties, intended to repulse from Ohio the unhappy negro, whether bond or free—flying from the cruelty of a master—or, if manumitted, from the persecution of the superior class of laborers in a slave State, who abhor such rivals. Mr. Wade's noble nature revolted against the tyranny which would not allow human beings a refuge anywhere on a continent from which they had no outlet, and into which they had been dragged against their will; and he opposed the measure with all his might.
As soon as the canvass was over, he returned to his law office, at Jefferson, and began to work up his cases again, regretting that he had not paid more attention to his clients, and less to politics. He had remained single till his forty-first year, but then met with the lady who subsequently became his wife, at the residence of a client. His marriage has been an eminently happy one, and his two children, both sons, distinguished themselves and did honor to the name they bear, during the late war.
In 1841, the people of Ohio having come to thoroughly understand and detest the speculations of internal improvement% and the Kentucky black laws, Mr. Wade's views were adopted, and he became popular as a wise legislator. The people of his district tendered him a renomination to the State Senate, but he declined. When the convention met, however, he was placed in nomination and triumphantly elected, by a largely increased majority over his former election.
No sooner had he taken his seat than he renewed his labors in behalf of equal rights, and the repeal of all laws making distinctions on account of color. He brought forward the petition of George W. Tyler, and fifty-four other persons, praying for the repeal of the fugitive slave law, passed by Ohio, in 1838, to please Kentucky. Wade argued, in an able speech, that negroes were men, as much as white persons, and as such entitled to personal liberty, trial by jury, testimony in the courts, and common school privileges. Kentucky was then opposed to all these things, and used her influence with Ohio, to prevent her from adopting a liberal and just policy toward her black population. That was in 1841, more than a generation ago, and although it cannot be said Kentucky has advanced much in the business of securing her black people equal rights, she has done much toward changing their complexion. Herein Kentucky and her people differed from Mr. Wade and the people of Ohio; Kentucky desired to equalize her population by nature, Ohio by law. Of the two processes we think posterity will incline to the belief that the former was the best.
In February, 1842, a "bill for the incorporation of Oberlin Collegiate Institute, an institution for the education of persons, without regard to race or color," came up in the Senate of Ohio. Mr. Wade advocated the bill, but it was voted down. This bill afterward passed, and was the foundation of the excellent college at Oberlin, Ohio, an institution that has furnished more than five hundred anti-slavery missionaries, teachers and preachers, and done more than any other college to unmask the deformities of the system of human bondage.
While he was in the State Senate, the people of Ohio petitioned their Legislature to protest against the infamous resolution, passed by Congress in 1837, relating to slavery. This resolution was in these words :
Resolved, That all petitions, memorials, and papers touching the abolition of slavery, or buying, selling or transferring of slaves in any State, District or Territory of the United States, be laid on the table without being debated, read or referred, and that. no further action whatever shall be taken thereon.
Mr. Wade was appointed a special committee, and the petition of the people of Ohio, and the resolution complained of, referred to him with directions to make a report on them. It is said Wade read and examined, for three weeks, books and authorities, before he began writing his report; be that as it may, certain it is, his report was at the time, and is still, regarded as one of the ablest anti-slavery documents ever published in this country. Thirty years have elapsed since then, and yet in all that time few reasons have been advanced against slavery that cannot be found embodied in Mr.Wade's report.
At the same session he defended, with great ability and eloquence, the course of John Quincy Adams in upholding the right of petition in Congress. Mr. Adams had been censured by the House for presenting the Haverhill resolutions, asking for the dissolution of the Union, and the Ohio Legislature undertook to justify that censure, but Mr. Wade and his anti-slavery friends, resisted the course of the Democratic majority with great energy and ability, though not with success.
At the close of his second senatorial term, Mr. Wade declined a renomination, and again determined to leave off; forever, political life. From 1842 to 1847 he held no public office, and devoted himself to the practice of his profession and the care of his family.
In February, 1847, Mr. Wade was elected, by the Legislature, president judge of the third judicial district of the State of Ohio. His popularity at this time was unbounded. It has been the fortune of but few men to enter upon the discharge of judicial duties, having in advance secured to such an extent the unqualified confidence of the bar and people. He entered immediately upon the discharge of his duties. His district embraced the populous counties of Ashtabula, Trumbull, Mahoning, Portage, and Summit. The business bad accumulated vastly under his predecessor. The same territory has now three resident judges, with but slightly increased business.
It is but truth to say, that in no country on earth has the same number of people had the same amount of important and satisfactory justice administered to them in the same length of time, as had the district under the administration of Judge Wade. The younger members of the profession, who were so fortunate as to practice in this circuit during, Judge Wade's term upon the bench, will remember with lasting gratitude his kindness and judicial courtesy.
During the time he was upon the bench, Judge Wade increased (if possible) in the confidence and admiration of his political friends, and disarmed those who had differed with him, and had felt the withering power of his logic and eloquence on the stump and at the bar. His judicial career was brought to a sudden and unexpected close in March, 1851, while he was holding a term of court at Akron, Summit county, by his election by the Legislature, then in session, to the United States Senate.
When the news of his election reached him, Judge Wade was on the bench trying a case. The firing of cannon, and shouting of men; announced that some unusual event had taken' place and presently a boy came running into the court with a dispatch informing Mr. Wade he had been elected a United States Senator from Ohio.
The intelligence surprised no one so much as the judge, who had no knowledge that his name had been mentioned in connection with it, and had made no efforts to secure a nomination. The members of the bar in his judicial district were full of regret at his loss to the bench, but were pleased that his talents were at last appreciated. Resolutions of mingled regret and congratulation were passed, almost unanimously, in the various counties comprising his circuit.
Mr. Wade was again persuaded to reluctantly give up his law business, and go into politics. He did so, however, with less regret this time than before, because the people of Ohio had come up to his anti-slavery views. He felt that in representing the majority of the people of his State, he need make no sacrifice of his own opinions, and he was most anxious to attack slavery at the capital, and, if possible, arouse the people of the country to the enormities of the institution, as he had aroused the people of Ohio.
After his election to the United States Senate, in 1851, Mr. Wade resigned his seat on the bench, and retired to his home at Jefferson.
In 1852, Mr. Wade advocated the nomination and election of General Scott to the presidency. He still insisted, and ardently hoped, that the Whig party, with which he had always acted and in which be saw so much to approve and admire, would yet be instrumental in bringing back the Government to the purpose of its founders. Stimulated by this consideration, he again took the stump, in and out of Ohio, and made the hustings ring with the clarion sound of his voice. Wherever he was 'heard, his reasoning was listened to with the most profound attention; and where he failed to convince, he obtained credit for honesty of purpose and powerful effort.
Mr. Wade continued to act with the Whig party until 1854, when the proposition to repeal the Missouri Compromise began to agitate Congress. In March, 1854, he made a speech in the Senate, clearly defining his position, and fully demonstrating his determined hostility to a measure which, he predicted, would be fraught with more evil to the country, and danger to its peace, than had ever before disturbed its prosperity. After this speech he contented himself with watching the events which he saw must ultimately end in the consummation of all the evils he had predicted. He learned, by discussion of the measure, that it was to be carried by a combination of the southern Whigs, and those who for the occasion assumed the name of "National Democrats." At this union for such a purpose, his heart sickened, and he prepared himself to give utterance to the noble sentiments and awful warnings contained in his speech, delivered on the night of the final passage of that measure in the Senate. 7 he Tribune of that date appropriately called that speech "the new Declaration of Independence." In this speech Mr. Wade takes a final farewell of his former Whig friends of the South, but not until he had seen solemnized the nuptials between them and the Democratic party. We cannot refrain from giving a few extracts from this speech. He said :
"MR. PRESIDENT: I do not intend to debate this subject further. The humiliation of the North is complete and overwhelming.
No southern enemy of hers can wish her deeper degradation. God knows I feel it keenly enough, and I have no desire to prolong the melancholy spectacle. * * * I have all my life belonged to the great National Whig party, and never yet have I failed, with all the ability I have, to support her regular candidates, come from what portion of the Union they might, and much oftener has it been my lot to battle for a southern than for a northern candidate for the presidency ; and when such candidates were assailed by those who were jealous of slaveholders, and did not like to yield up the Government to such hands, how often have I encountered the violent prejudices of my own section with no little hazard to myself. How triumphantly would I appeal on such occasions to southern honor—to the magnanimity of soul which I believed always actuated southern gentlemen. Alas ! alas ! if God will pardon me for what I have done, I will promise to sin no more. * * * We certainly cannot have any further political connection with the Whigs of the South; they have rendered such connection impossible. An impassable gulf separates us, and must here-after separate us. The southern wing of the old Whig party have joined their fortunes with what is called the National Democracy, and I wish you joy in your new connections. * * * To morrow, I believe, is to be an eclipse of the sun, and I think it perfectly meet and proper that the sun in the heavens, and the glory of the Republic should both go into obscurity and darkness together. Let the bill then pass; it is a proper occasion for so dark and damning a deed."
No extract can do any thing like justice to the mind that conceived, and the noble manliness that gave this speech utterance. From the time Mr. Wade made this speech, he has known no Whig party, but devoted himself, soul and body, to the advocacy and defence of the measures of the Republican party.
In the struggle over the Kansas-Nebraska bill, Mr. Wade came fully before the country as a debater. The southern fire-eaters and northern doughfaces combined to break him down, but he hurled them back with surprising ability, and for the first time the southerners learned they had a northern master in the United States Senate, and were overmatched whenever they came in contact with the old Ohio Senator.*2 The New York Tribune, speaking of his first great speech on the Kansas Nebraska bill says :
"There are many fine orations and good arguments delivered in the United States Senate from time to time, but not often a really good speech. In order to have a good speech, there must be a man behind it. Such a speech we have in the powerful effort of Judge Wade, and in this case the speech is but the just measure of the man."
Numberless are the incidents told of Mr. Wade's sharp and telling hits made during this protracted and famous debate. We subjoin a few, for most of which we are indebted to General Brisbin.
Mr. Pugh, Judge Wade's colleague in the Senate, was an intense pro-slavery Democrat; he was a man of very fair ability, but no match in wit or sarcasm for his radical colleague, yet ho often sought a collision, and Mr. Wade never hesitated to reply lo his challenge. One day, Pugh had put some taunting questions to him respecting the common brotherhood of mankind Wade replied
" I have always believed, heretofore, in the doctrines of the Declaration of Independence, that all men are born free and equal ; but of late it appears that some men are born slaves, and I regret that they are not black, so all the world might know them." As he said this he pointed to Pugh, and stood looking at him for several moments, with a scowl and expression of countenance that was perfectly ferocious.
Mr. Brown, of Mississippi, interrupted him just as he had said, "I know very well, sir, with what a yell of triumph the passage of this bill will be hailed both in the South and in pandemonium."
Mr. Brown.—"Do you know what is going on there ?" [Laughter.]
Mr. Wade.—" I do not pretend to know precisely what is on foot there; but I think it pretty evident that there is a very free communication between that country and this body, and unless I am greatly mistaken, I see the dwarfish medium by which that communication is kept up." [Great laughter, and a voice on the southern side, " I guess he's got you, Brown."]
During the argument on the Nebraska bill, Mr. Badger, then a Senator from North Carolina, drew a glowing picture of slavery. He had, he said, been nursed by a black woman, and had grown from childhood to manhood under her care He loved his old black mammy; and now, if he was going to Nebraska, and the opponents of the bill succeeded in prohibiting slavery there, he could not take his old mammy with him Turning to Mr. Wade, he said :—" Surely you will not prevent me from taking my old mammy with me ?"
"Certainly not," replied Mr. Wade; "but that is not the difficulty in the mind of the Senator. It is because, if we make the territory free, he cannot sell his old mammy when he has got her there."
Mr. Wade was arguing to show that slaves were not property in the constitutional meaning of the term. He said " If a man carries his horse out of a slave State into a free one, be does not lose his property interest in him; but if he carries his slave into a free State, the law makes him free."
Mr. Butler, interrupting him, said : "Yes, but they won't stay with you; they love us so well they will run off, and come back, in spite of you and your boasted freedom."
Mr. Wade smilingly replied, amid roars of laughter: "Oh, yes, Senator, I know they love you so well, you have to make a Fugitive Slave law to catch them."
The southern men, having tried in. vain to head off Mr. Wade, appealed to their northern allies to help them. One day Mr. Douglas rose in his seat, and interrupted Mr. Wade, who was speaking. Instantly the chamber became silent as death, and all eyes were turned in the direction of the two standing Senators. Every one expected to see Wade demolished in a moment, by the great Illinois Senator.
"You, sir," said Mr. Douglas, in measured tones, " continually compliment southern men who support this bill (Nebraska), but bitterly denounce northern men who support it. Why is this ? You say it is a moral wrong ; you say it is a crime. If that be so, is it not as much a crime for a southern man to support it, as for a northern man to do so ?"
Mr. Wade.—" No, sir, I say not."
Mr. Douglas.—" The Senator says not. Then he entertains a different code of morals from myself; and—"
The giant was hit in the forehead, and after standing for a moment with his face red as scarlet, dropped silently into his seat, while Mr. Wade proceeded with his speech as quietly as though nothing had occurred.
Mr. Douglas was angry, however, and closely watched Wade. for a chance to pounce upon and scalp him. It soon occurred, and in this way : Mr. Wade had said something complimentary about Colonel Lane, of Kansas, when Mr. Douglas rose and said : "Colonel Lane cannot be believed—he has been guilty of perjury and forgery."
Mr. Wade.—" And what proof, sir, have you of these allegations ? Your unsupported word is not sufficient."
Mr. Douglas.—" I have the affidavit of Colonel Lane, in which, some time since, he swore one thing, and now states another."
Mr. Wade.—" And you, sir, a lawyer, presume to charge this man with being guilty of forgery and perjury, and then offer him as a witness to prove your own word."
Douglas saw in a moment he was hopelessly caught, and attempted to retreat, but Wade pounced upon him and gave him a withering rebuke, while the chamber shook with roars of laughter. Such scenes have to be witnessed to fully understand them, as there is as much in the exhibition as in the words.
Mr. Douglas continued to badger Wade, sometimes getting the better of him, but often getting roughly handled, until Wade, worn out with defending himself, determined to become the attacking party. Soon afterward, the " Little Giant" was bewailing the fate of the nation, and picturing the sad condition it would be in if the Free Soilers succeeded. Having worked himself up into a passion, when he was at the highest pitch, Mr. Wade rose in his seat and said, with indescribable coolness, "Well, what are you going to do about it?" Douglas, for a moment, was surprised and dumbfounded, and then attempted to proceed ; but the pith was knocked out of his argument, and the Senators only smiled at his earnestness, and he, at last, sat down in disgust.
Mr. Douglas afterward said, "That interrogatory of Wade's was the most effective speech I ever heard in the Senate. Confound the man; it was so ridiculous, and put so comically, I knew not what answer to make him, and became ridiculous myself in not being able to tell `what I was going to do about it.' "
While the Lecompton bill was under discussion, Mr. Toombs, of Georgia, referring to the minority, of which Mr. Wade was one, said : "The majority have rights and duties, and I trust there is fidelity enough to themselves and their principles, and to their country, in the majority, to stand together at all hazards, and crush this factious minority."
Instantly, Mr. Wade sprang to his feet, and shaking his fist at Toombs, roared out : " Have a care, sir ; have a care. You can't crush me nor my people. You can never conquer us , we will die first. I may fall here in the Senate chamber, but I will. never make any compromise with any such men. You may bring a majority and out-vote me, but, so help me God, I will neither compromise or be crushed. That's what I have to say to your threat."
A southern Senator one day said, roughly, to Wade, "If you don't stop your abolition doctrines, we will break up the Union.. We will secede, sir!" Wade held out his hand, and said, comically, "Good-by, Senator, if you are going now; I pray you don't delay a moment on my account."
Senator Evans, of South Carolina, a very grave and good old man, one day was exhibiting in the Senate chamber' and speaking of a copy of Garrison's Liberator, with its horrible pictures of slavery. Turning to Mr. Wade, who sat near him, he said:
"Is it not too bad that such a paper should be allowed to exist ? Why will not the authorities of the United States suppress such a slanderous sheet ? Can it be possible that any patriotic citizen of the North will tolerate such an abomination?" Senator Wade put on his spectacles, and looking at the title of the paper, exclaimed in surprise, "Why, Senator Evans, in Ohio, we consider this one of our best family papers!" The Senators roared ; but Mr. Evans, who had a great respect for Mr. Wade, turned sadly away, saying, "I am sorry to hear you say so, Mr. Wade; it shows whither we are drifting."
Notwithstanding Mr. Wade's bitter opposition to the slave power, the southern men always respected and liked him. Mr. Toombs, the Georgia fireeater, said of him, in the Senate : "My friend from Ohio puts the matter squarely. He is always honest, outspoken and straightforward, and I wish to God the rest of you would imitate him. He speaks out like a man. He says what is the difference, and it is. He means what he says; you don't always. He and I can agree about every thing on earth except our sable population."
There was not a northern demagogue in Congress who would not have given gladly all his ill-gotten reputation to have had such a compliment paid him by a southern Senator as was paid by Mr, Toombs to Senator Wade.
In the debates on the organization of Kansas as a State, Mr. Wade avowed himself a Republican—a Black Republican, if they chose to call him so—and as determined in his opposition to slavery extension, under all circumstances and at all times In the course of one of the speeches he made on that question, he made use of the following language:
"Sir, I am no sycophant or worshipper of power anywhere. I know how easy it is for some minds to glide along with the current of popular opinion, where influence, respectability, and all those motives which tend to seduce the human heart are brought to bear. I am not unconscious of the persuasive power exerted by these considerations to drag men along in the current; but I am not at liberty to travel that road. I am not unaware how unpopular on this floor are the sentiments I am about to advocate. I well understand the epithets to which they subject their supporters. Every man who has been in this ball for one hour knows the difference between him who comes here as the defender and supporter of the rights of human nature, and him who comes as the vile sycophant and flatterer of those in power. I know that the one road is easy to travel ; the other is hard, and at this time perilous. But, sir, I shall take the path of duty and shall not swerve from it.
"I am amazed at the facility with which some men follow in the wake of slavery. Sometimes it leads me even to hesitate whether I am strictly correct in my idea that all men are born to equal rights, for their conduct seems to me to contravene the doctrine. I see in some men an abjectness, a want of that manly independence which enables a man to rely on himself and fade the world on his own principles, that I don't know but that I am wrong in advocating universal liberty. I wish to heaven all such were of the African race."
The brutal and cowardly attack on Hon. Charles Sumner by Preston S. Brooks, in May, 1856, called out all the grand and heroic elements of Mr. Wade's nature. ' Others might' hesitate and fear to enter upon the discussion of the question of slavery, when its advocates resorted to the bludgeon and pistol as their reply to the arguments of the anti-slavery men; but it was not in Ben Wade to falter. On the next day after the outrage he rose and commenced his speech in denunciation of the atrocious deed, with these memorable words:
"Mr. President, if the hour has arrived in the history of this Republic when its Senators are to be sacrificed and pay the forfeit of their lives for opinions' sake, I know of no fitter place to die than in this chamber, with our Senate robes around us; and here, if necessary, I shall die at my post, and in my place, for the liberty of debate and free discussion."
The southern men writhed, as if in pain, as his scathing words fell hot and heavy upon them, portraying the cowardice, the meanness, the infamy of the deed, and it required a brow of brass to stand up in defence of it, after this severe yet dignified denunciation of the assault.
During the war, Senator Wade was one of the. ablest and most untiring members of the Senate. He was chairman of the Committee on Territories, and also of the special Committee on the Conduct of the War, a committee whose services were of the greatest value to the national cause.
Ohio wisely kept him in the Senate for three successive terms, the last of which ended March 4th, 1869. In the beginning of March, 1867, the term of office of Hon. Lafayette S. Foster, President pro tem of the Senate, and acting Vice-President of the United States, having expired, Mr. Wade was elected by the Senate as their presiding officer, a position for which his large experience, thorough political and parliamentary knowledge, and fearless independence, eminently fitted him. During the impeachment trial, he, according to the Constitution, resigned the chair to the Chief Justice of the United States, whose duty it was to preside in such a trial, and it was the understanding that in ease of the President's conviction, Mr. Wade would succeed to the presidential chair.
On. the 4th of March, 1869, Mr. Wade surrendered his place as President of the Senate to his successor, Hon, Schuyler Colfax, his kinsman by marriage, and retired with satisfaction to his home in northern Ohio. From that peaceful and quiet. home he was called in January, 1871, to be the chairman of a Commission to visit Santo Domingo and ascertain the desires of the people in regard to annexation to the United States, and the. advantages and disadvantages of such annexation. The Commission. examined the island, very thoroughly, and reported in favor of annexation, but the feeling against it in Congress was so strong that it was given up. Since his return from Santo Domingo; Mr.. Wade has not. taken any part in public affairs.
In person, Mr. Wade is about five feet eight inches in height, stout, and of dark but clear complexion. His eyes are small jet black and deeply cut, and when roused, they shine like coals of fire. He is slightly stooped, but walks without a cane, and is sprightly and active. His jaws are firm and large, the under one being very strong and compact. The lips are full and round, the upper one doubling, at the corners of his mouth, over the lower one, which gives the Senator a ferocious and savage sort of look; and this it is that causes so many, persona to misunderstand the true character of the man, and mistake him for a fierce, hard, cold man, when he is, in reality, one of the warmest, kindest hearted men in the world. His face is not a handsome one, and if you examine it in detail, you will say be is an ugly man; and yet there is in that face a sort of rough harmony, an. honest, bluff, heartiness that. makes you like it. There is nothing weak, bad, or treacherous-looking about; it; and when he speaks the features light up, and the mobilized countenance gives to the straightforward words such an interest that you no longer remember his homeliness at all. When sitting silent or listening, he has a way of looking at one with his piercing black eyes that at once disconcerts a rascal or dishonest man, and is often most annoying to the innocent and honest. You feel he is reading you and weighing closely your motives for what you are saying. There is no use in trying to deceive or lie to old Ben. Wade; if he don't find you out and hint at your motives before you leave, rest assured he understands you, and only keeps his belief to himself, because he does not desire to wound your feelings.
We do not think Mr. Wade ever owned such a thing as a fingerring or breast-pin. He dresses in plain black, and wears a standing-collar of the old style, and is always scrupulously clean. Always talkative and lively when out of his seat, lie is silent, grave and thoughtful when in the Senate chamber. Any one who looked at him from the galleries, as he sat daily in the Vice-President's chair, presiding over the deliberations of the highest tribunal in the land, could see in his quiet repose a picture of real strength and dignity such as should characterize the American Senator.
As chairman of the Committee on Territories, he reported the first provision prohibiting slavery in all the territory of the United States to be subsequently acquired; the bill for negro suffrage in the District of Columbia; carried the homestead bill through the Senate; led the Senate in the division of Virginia and the formation of the new State of West Virginia; and secured the admission of Nevada and Colorado into the Union.
On one point only did he differ from Mr. Lincoln, viz.: his proposed reconstruction policy; and the difference was for a time strong and decided; but, in the end,
Mr. Lincoln acknowledged that that was the great error of his life, and receded from the measures he had proposed.
Source: Source: Men of Our Day; or Biographical Sketches of Patriots, Orators, Statesmen, Generals, Reformers, Financiers and Merchants, Now on the state of Action: Including Those Who in Military, Political, Business and Social Life, are the Prominent Leaders of the Time in This Country, by L. P. Brockett, M. D., Published by Ziegler and McCurdy, Philadelphia Penna; Springfield, Mass; Cincinnati, Ohio; St. Louis, Mo., 1872
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