The Last Leaf eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 245 pages of information about The Last Leaf.

CHAPTER I

STATESMEN OF OUR CRITICAL PERIOD

I came to consciousness in the then small town of Buffalo in western New York, whither, in Andrew Jackson’s day, our household gods and goods were conveyed from Massachusetts for the most part by the Erie Canal, the dizzy rate of four miles an hour not taking away my baby breath.  Speaking of men and affairs of state, as I shall do in this opening paper, I felt my earliest political thrill in 1840.  I have a distinct vision, the small boy’s point of view being not much above the sidewalk, of the striding legs in long processions, of wide-open, clamorous mouths above, and over all of the flutter of tassels and banners.  Then began my knowledge of log-cabins, coon-skins, and of the name hard cider, the thump of drums, the crash of brass-bands, cockades, and torch-lights.  My powers as a singer, always modest, I first exercised on “For Tippecanoe and Tyler too,” which still obtrudes too obstinately upon my tympanum, though much fine harmony heard since in cathedrals and the high shrines of music is quite powerless now to make that organ vibrate.  Four years later, my emerging voice did better justice to “Harry Clay of Old Kentucky,” and my early teens found me in an environment that quickened prematurely my interest in public affairs.  My father, the pioneer apostle of an unpopular faith, ministered in a small church of brick faced with stone to a congregation which, though few in numbers, contained some remarkable people.  Millard Fillmore and his partner, Nathan K. Hall, soon to be Postmaster-General, were of his fold, together with Hiram Barton, the city’s mayor, and other figures locally noteworthy.  Fillmore was only an accidental President, dominated, no doubt, and dwarfed in the perspective by greater men, while the part he played in a great crisis brought upon him obloquy with many good people.  “Say what you will about Fillmore,” said a fellow-totterer to me the other day, adjusting his “store” teeth for an emphatic declaration, “by signing the Fugitive Slave Bill he saved the country.  That act postponed the Civil War ten years.  Had it come in 1850, as it assuredly would but for that scratch of Fillmore’s pen, the Union would have gone by the board.  The decade that followed greatly increased the relative strength of the North.  A vast immigration poured in which almost universally came to stand for the Union.  Moreover the expanding West, whose natural outlet until then had been down the Mississippi to the South, became now linked to the East by great lines of railroad, and West and East entered into such a new bond of sympathy that there was nothing for it, in a time of trial, but to stand together.  As it was, it was only by the narrowest margin that the Union weathered the storm.  Had it come ten years earlier, wreck would have been inevitable, and it is to Fillmore’s signature that we owe that blessed postponement.” 

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The Last Leaf from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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