The close of the war removes the period preceding it to a great distance from us, so that we can judge its public men as though we were the “posterity” to whom they sometimes appealed. James Buchanan still haunts the neighborhood of Lancaster, a living man, giving and receiving dinners, paying his taxes, and taking his accustomed exercise; but as an historical figure he is as complete as Bolingbroke or Walpole. It is not merely that his work is done, nor that the results of his work are apparent; but the thing upon which he wrought, by their relation to which he and his contemporaries are to be estimated, has perished. The statesmen of his day, we can all now plainly see, inherited from the founders of the Republic a problem impossible of solution, with which some of them wrestled manfully, others meanly, some wisely, others foolishly. If the workmen have not all passed away, the work is at once finished and destroyed, like the Russian ice-palace, laboriously built, then melted in the sun. We can now have the requisite sympathy with those late doctors of the body politic, who came to the consultation pledged not to attempt to remove the thorn from its flesh, and trained to regard it as the spear-head in the side of Epaminondas,—extract it, and the patient dies. In the writhings of the sufferer the barb has fallen out, and lo! he lives and is getting well. We can now forgive most of those blind healers, and even admire such of them as were honest and not cowards; for, in truth, it was an impossibility with which they had to grapple, and it was not one of their creating.
Of our public men of the sixty years preceding the war, Henry Clay was certainly the most shining figure. Was there ever a public man, not at the head of a state, so beloved as he? Who ever heard such cheers, so hearty, distinct, and ringing, as those which his name evoked? Men shed tears at his defeat, and women went to bed sick from pure sympathy with his disappointment. He could not travel during the last thirty years of his life, but only make progresses. When he left his home the public seized him and bore him along over the land, the committee of one State passing him on to the committee of another, and the hurrahs of one town dying away as those of the next caught his ear. The country seemed to place all its resources at his disposal; all commodities sought his acceptance. Passing through Newark once, he thoughtlessly ordered a carriage of a certain pattern: the same evening the carriage was at the door of his hotel in New York, the gift of a few Newark friends. It was so everywhere and with everything. His house became at last a museum of curious gifts. There was the counterpane made for him by a lady ninety-three years of age, and Washington’s camp-goblet given him by a lady of eighty; there were pistols, rifles, and fowling-pieces enough to defend a citadel; and,