“I beg pardon, your Excellency,” rejoined Mr. Pakenham, half rising. “Your meaning is not perfectly clear to me.”
The same icy smile sat upon Mr. Tyler’s face as he went on: “I can not believe that your government can wish to interfere in matters upon this continent to the extent of taking the position of open ally of the Republic of Mexico, a power so recently at war upon our own borders with the brave Texans who have left our flag to set up, through fair conquest, a republic of their own.”
The mottled face of Mr. Pakenham assumed a yet deeper red. “As to that, your Excellency,” said he, “your remark is, as you say, quite informal, of course—that is to say, as I may state—”
“Quite so,” rejoined Mr. Tyler gravely. “The note of my Lord Aberdeen to us, none the less, in the point of its bearing upon the question of slavery in Texas, appears to this government as an expression which ought to be disavowed by your own government. Do I make myself quite clear?” (With John Calhoun present, Tyler could at times assume a courage though he had it not.)
Mr. Pakenham’s face glowed a deeper red. “I am not at liberty to discuss my Lord Aberdeen’s wishes in this matter,” he said. “We met here upon a purely informal matter, and—”
“I have only ventured to hope,” rejoined Mr. Tyler, “that the personal kindness of your own heart might move you in so grave a matter as that which may lead to war between two powers.”
“War, sir, war?” Mr. Pakenham went wholly purple in his surprise, and sprang to his feet. “War!” he repeated once more. “As though there could be any hope—”
“Quite right, sir,” said Mr. Tyler grimly. “As though there could be any hope for us save in our own conduct of our own affairs, without any interference from any foreign power!”
I knew it was John Calhoun speaking these words, not Mr. Tyler. I saw Mr. Calhoun’s keen, cold eyes fixed closely upon the face of his president. The consternation created by the latter’s words was plainly visible.
“Of course, this conversation is entirely irregular—I mean to say, wholly unofficial, your Excellency?” hesitated Pakenham. “It takes no part in our records?”
“Assuredly not,” said Mr. Tyler. “I only hope the question may never come to a matter of record at all. Once our country knows that dictation has been attempted with us, even by England herself, the North will join the South in resentment. Even now, in restiveness at the fancied attitude of England toward Mexico, the West raises the demand that we shall end the joint occupancy of Oregon with Great Britain. Do you perchance know the watchword which is now on the popular tongue west of the Alleghanies? It bids fair to become an American Marseillaise.”
“I must confess my ignorance,” rejoined Mr. Pakenham.
“Our backwoodsmen have invented a phrase which runs Fifty-four Forty or Fight!”