“With England? What chance would we have with so powerful a nation as that?”
“There is a God of Battles,” said John Calhoun.
The chin of James K. Polk of Tennessee sank down into his stock. His staring eyes went half shut. He was studying something in his own mind. At last he spoke, tentatively, as was always his way until he got the drift of things.
“Well, now, perhaps in the case of England that is good politics,” he began. “It is very possible that the people hate England as much as they do Mexico. Do you not think so?”
“I think they fear her more.”
“But I was only thinking of the popular imagination!”
[Illustration: “Fifty-four Forty or Fight!” exclaimed Polk. Page 203]
“You are always thinking of the popular imagination, Jim. You have been thinking of that for some time in Tennessee. All that outcry about the whole of Oregon is ill-timed to-day.”
“Fifty-four Forty or Fight; that sounds well!” exclaimed Polk; “eh?”
“Trippingly on the tongue, yes!” said John Calhoun. “But how would it sound to the tune of cannon fire? How would it look written in the smoke of musketry?”
“It might not come to that,” said Polk, shifting in his seat “I was thinking of it only as a rallying cry for the campaign. Dash me—I beg pardon—” he looked around to see if there were any Methodists present—“but I believe I could go into the convention with that war cry behind me and sweep the boards of all opposition!”
“But England may back down,” argued Mr. Polk. “A strong showing in the Southwest and Northwest might do wonders for us.”
“But what would be behind that strong showing, Mr. Polk?” demanded John Calhoun. “We would win the combat with Mexico, of course, if that iniquitous measure should take the form of war. But not Oregon—we might as well or better fight in Africa than Oregon. It is not yet time. In God’s name, Jim Polk, be careful of what you do! Cease this cry of taking all of Oregon. You will plunge this country not into one war, but two. Wait! Only wait, and we will own all this continent to the Saskatchewan—or even farther north.”
“Well,” said the other, “have you not said there is a God of Battles?”
“The Lord God of Hosts, yes!” half screamed old John Calhoun; “yes, the God of Battles for nations, for principles—but not for parties! For the principle of democracy, Jim Polk, yes, yes; but for the Democratic party, or the Whig party, or for any demagogue who tries to lead either, no, no!”
The florid face of Polk went livid. “Sir,” said he, reaching for his hat, “at least I have learned what I came to learn. I know how you will appear on the floor of the convention, Sir, you will divide this party hopelessly. You are a traitor to the Democratic party! I charge it to your face, here and now. I came to ask of you your support, and find you only, talking of principles! Sir, tell me, what have principles to do with elections?”