MARK TWAIN'S LETTERS FROM WASHINGTON.
[SPECIAL CORRESPONDENCE OF THE ENTERPRISE.]
The Grand Coup d'Etat
WASHINGTON, February 22.
This birthday of Washington was historical before; it is doubly so now. Yesterday the news spread abroad over the town that the President had sent General Thomas to eject Secretary Stanton from the War Office and assume the duties of the post himself. It was an open defiance of Congress - a kingly contempt for long settled forms and customs - a reckless disregard of law itself! It was the first time, in the history of the nation, that the Chief Magistrate had presumed to dismiss a Cabinet officer without the consent of the Senate while that body was in season.
The excitement was intense, and it steadily augmented as night approached. Hotels and saloons were crowded with men, who moved restlessly about, talking vehemently and accompanying their words with emphatic gestures. The sidewalks were thronged with hurrying passengers, and everywhere the sound of trampling feet and a discord of angry voices was in the air. Old citizens remembered no night like this in Washington since Lincoln was assassinated.
Strangely enough, the men who should have been most concerned about the storm were the only souls that rode serenely above it. Mr. Seward and the President sat at a state dinner in the White House, cheery and talkative among distraught and pensive guests; General Grant was at the theatre; Stanton made his bed in the peaceful War Office, and General Thomas capered gaily among fantastic maskers at a carnival fandango! Meanwhile the tempest swept the continent on the wings of the telegraph.
The Senate sat at night, and multitudes flocked to the Capitol to stare and listen. The House resolved to make Saturday a working day for once, and both bodies decreed that for the first time since Washington's death Congress should transact business on the anniversary of his birthday.
This morning "impeachment" was in every body's mouth; Thomas' arrest was discussed in he streets and in the hotels; Stanton was lauded by Republicans for sleeping in the War Office and holding the political fortress - and cursed by the Democrats; that Hon. Judd and Schenck watched with him till 3 A. M., and that Hon. Thayer remained all night, brought those gentlemen a fair share likewise, of the praise and the blame.
By 9 o'clock - full three hours before the sitting of Congress, long processions of men and women were wending their way toward the Capitol in he nipping winter air, and all vacant spaces about the doors were packed with people waiting to get in. When I reached there at noon, it was difficult to make one's way through the wide lobbies and passages, so great was the throng. There was not a vacant seat in the galleries, and all the doorways leading to them were full of tiptoeing men and women, with a swarm of anxious citizens at their backs, eagerly watching for such scanty crumbs of comfort as chance opportunities of glancing between their shoulders or under their arms. I went immediately to the reporters' gallery - it was about full, too, and excited doorkeepers and sentinels were challenging all comers and manfully resisting an assaulting party of men, women and children who were the fathers, brothers, wives, uncles, aunts, cousins, friends, schoolmates, admirers of editors, correspondents, reporters, members of Congress, Cabinet officers and the President of the United States - and consequently they demanded to know why they couldn't go into the reporters' gallery! That was it - why couldn't they? Some people are unreasonable, and some don't know anything; these parties belong pretty exclusively to the one or the other of these classes. They were all - every one of them - going to have the doorkeeper discharge. They said so. [Surely such exceedingly influential people would not threaten what they could not perform.] But they did not get in. But others had got seats who were not strictly of the press, I suspect; twenty perhaps - among them several ladies. They were a good deal in the way, but the did not mind that. I was glad to see that it did not discommode them.
The scene within was spirited - it was unusual, too. The great galleries presented a sea of eager, animated faces; above these, more were massed in the many doorways; below, in the strong light, a few members walked nervously up and down, outside the rows of seats; a very few were writing - telegrams no doubt; the great majority had their heads together in groups and couples, talking earnestly; in every countenance strong feeling was depicted; a member from Maine was making a speech about a patent cooking stove, but never a soul was listening to him. Some said the stove business was gotten up by the Democrats to stave off impeachment; others said the Radicals got it up to gain time and give the Reconstruction Committee a chance to make up its report. Everybody waited impatiently, and watched the door sharply - they wanted to see that Committee come. By and bye Mr. Paine entered and there was a buzz; but it was a disappointment - he only spoke a word to a colleague and went out again. The tiresome stove man finished. It was a relief to the galleries, who somehow seemed to look upon this trifling about cooking stoves as a fraud upon themselves, and a sort of affront, as well, thrust forward, as it was, at a time when any idiot ought to know that impeachment was the order of the day!
No committee yet. Something must be done. Motion to adjourn, "in honor of Washington." Amendment - to read Washington's Farewell Address. Both were voted down. Ayes and nays called on both, and the long, tedious, monotonous calling of names and answering followed. The vote was no - everybody knew what it would be before. Before the roll call was finished, Boutwell came in [sensation]; afterwards, at intervals, Bingham [sensation], Paine [sensation], several other committee men, and finally Thad. Stevens himself. [Super-extraordinary sensation!] The haggard, cadaverous old man dragged himself to his place and sat down. there was a soul in his sunken eyes, but otherwise he was a corpse that was ready for the shroud. He held his precious impeachment papers in his hand, signed at last! In the eleventh hour his coveted triumph had come. Richelieu was not nearer the grave, Richelieu was not stirred up by a sterner pride, when he came from his bed of death to crown himself with his final victory.
The buzzing and whispering died out, and an impressive silence reigned in its stead. The Speaker addressed the galleries in a clear voice that reached the farthest recesses of the house, and warned the great concourse that the slightest manifestation of approbation or disapprobation of anything about to be said, would be followed by the instant expulsion of the offending person from the galleries; he read the rules, at some length, upon the subject, and charged the Sergeant-at-Arms and his subordinates to perform their duty without hesitation or favor. Then Mr. Stevens rose up and in a voice which was feeble but yet distinctly audible because of the breathless stillness that hung over the great audience like a spell, he read the resolution that was make plain the way for the impeachment of the President of the United States!
The words that foreshadowed so mighty an event sent a thrill through the assemblage, but there was no manifestation of the emotion save in the sudden lighting of their countenances. They ventured upon no applause, nor upon any expression of dissent. Mr. Brooks of New York took the floor, and in a frenzied speech protested against impeachment, and threatened civil war if the measure carried. Mr. Bingham made an able speech in favor of the movement. The ball was fairly opened now, and speech followed speech from 2 in the afternoon till almost midnight. During all that time the galleries were filled with people, and their excited interest showed no symptoms of abatement. The House adjourned to meet at 10 A. M. on Monday, instead of at noon. It has been a tremendous day. The nation has seen few that were so filled with ominous signs and bodings of disaster.
When it was moved to-day to read Washington's Farewell Address, Mr. Ingersoll inquired of a neighbor if it would not be more appropriate to read Andrew Johnson's Farewell Address! In this connection I will remark that the following was picked up in one of the lobbies. It was entitled
"ANDREW JOHNSON'S FAREWELL ADDRESS.
"Soft you; a word or two before you go.
I have done the State some damage, and they know it;
No more of that: - I pray you, in your letters,
When you shall these unlucky deeds relate,
Speak of me as I am; some things extenuate,
But set down naught in malice; then must you speak
Of one that ruled not wisely nor too well;
Of one, easily jealous, and, being wrought,
Perplexed in the extreme, did
Like the base Judean, throw a pearl away,
Richer than all his tribe!"
How the Delegations
From the Pacific coast will stand on impeachment, no man can tell till Monday. You know as well as I, that the Oregon delegation will be likely to favor it; that the Nevada and California Senators will be likely to favor it; that Ashley and Higby in the House will be likely to favor it, and Johnson and Axtell be apt to oppose. But these gentlemen cannot be seen to-night, and it would be hard to guess what effect the flood of telegrams may have that will roll in upon us tomorrow from all parts of the country.
[photocopy available in Mark Twain Papers, University of California, Berkeley, CA]
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