Here, then, seemed an opportunity for delay, which Mr. Pakenham was swift to grasp. He arose and bowed to Mr. Tyler. “I am sure that Mr. Calhoun will require some days at least for the framing of his answer to an invitation so grave as this.”
“I shall require at least some moments,” said Mr. Calhoun, smiling. “That Marseillaise of ’44, Mr. President, says Fifty-four Forty or Fight. That means ‘the Rio Grande or fight,’ as well.”
A short silence fell upon us all. Mr. Tyler half rose and half frowned as he noticed Mr. Pakenham shuffling as though he would depart.
“It shall be, of course, as you suggest,” said the president to Pakenham. “There is no record of any of this. But the answer of Mr. Calhoun, which I await and now demand, is one which will go upon the records of this country soon enough, I fancy. I ask you, then, to hear what Mr. Calhoun replies.”
Ah, it was well arranged and handsomely staged, this little comedy, and done for the benefit of England, after all! I almost might have believed that Mr. Calhoun had rehearsed this with the president. Certainly, the latter knew perfectly well what his answer was to be. Mr. Calhoun himself made that deliberately plain, when presently he arose.
“I have had some certain moments for reflection, Mr. President,” said he, “and I have from the first moment of this surprising offer on your part been humbly sensible of the honor offered so old and so unfit a man.
“Sir, my own record, thank God, is clear. I have stood for the South. I stand now for Texas. I believe in her and her future. She belongs to us, as I have steadfastly insisted at all hours and in all places. She will widen the southern vote in Congress, that is true. She will be for slavery. That also is true. I myself have stood for slavery, but I am yet more devoted to democracy and to America than I am to the South and to slavery. So will Texas be. I know what Texas means. She means for us also Oregon. She means more than that. She means also a democracy spreading across this entire continent. My attitude in that regard has been always clear. I have not sought to change it. Sir, if I take this office which you offer, I do so with the avowed and expressed purpose of bringing Texas into this Union, in full view of any and all consequences. I shall offer her a treaty of annexation at once! I shall urge annexation at every hour, in every place, in all ways within my means, and in full view of the consequences!” He looked now gravely and keenly at the English plenipotentiary.
“That is well understood, Mr. Calhoun,” began Mr. Tyler. “Your views are in full accord with my own.”
Pakenham looked from the one to the other, from the thin, vulpine face to the thin, leonine one. The pity Mr. Tyler felt for the old man’s visible weakness showed on his face as he spoke.
“What, then, is the answer of John Calhoun to this latest call of his country?”