“Precisely,” said Mr. Polk. “Now, is it wise to make a definite answer in that matter yet? Would it not be better to defer action until later—until after, I may say—”
“Until after you know what your own chances will be, Jim?” asked Mr. Calhoun, smiling grimly.
“Why, that is it, John, precisely, that is it exactly! Now, I don’t know what you think of my chances in the convention, but I may say that a very large branch of the western Democracy is favoring me for the nomination.” Mr. Polk pursed a short upper lip and looked monstrous grave. His extreme morality and his extreme dignity made his chief stock in trade. Different from his master, Old Hickory, he was really at heart the most aristocratic of Democrats, and like many another so-called leader, most of his love for the people really was love of himself.
“Yes, I know that some very strange things happen in politics,” commented Calhoun, smiling.
“But, God bless me! you don’t call it out of the way for me to seek the nomination? Some one must be president! Why not myself? Now, I ask your support.”
“My support is worth little, Jim,” said my chief. “But have you earned it? You have never consulted my welfare, nor has Jackson. I had no majority behind me in the Senate. I doubt even the House now. Of what use could I be to you?”
“At least, you could decline to do anything definite in this Texas matter.”
“Why should a man ever do anything indefinite, Jim Polk?” asked Calhoun, bending on him his frosty eyes.
“But you may set a fire going which you can not stop. The people may get out of hand before the convention!”
“Why should they not? They have interests as well as we. Do they not elect us to subserve those interests?”
“I yield to no man in my disinterested desire for the welfare of the American people,” began Polk pompously, throwing back the hair from his forehead.
“Of course not,” said Calhoun grimly. “My own idea is that it is well to give the people what is already theirs. They feel that Texas belongs to them.”
“True,” said the Tennesseean, hesitating; “a good strong blast about our martial spirit and the men of the Revolution—that is always good before an election or a convention. Very true. But now in my own case—”
“Your own case is not under discussion, Jim. It is the case of the United States! I hold a brief for them, not for you or any other man!”
“How do you stand in case war should be declared against Mexico?” asked Mr. Polk. “That ought to be a popular measure. The Texans have captured the popular imagination. The Alamo rankles in our nation’s memory. What would you say to a stiff demand there, with a strong show of military force behind it?”
“I should say nothing as to a strong showing in any case. I should only say that if war came legitimately—not otherwise—I should back it with all my might. I feel the same in regard to war with England.”