In the private office of the President of the United States at Washington, stands a massive oaken desk. It has been a passive factor in the making of history, for at it have eight presidents sat, and papers involving almost the life of the nation, have received the executive signature upon its smooth surface. The very timbers of which it is built were concerned in the making of history of another sort, for they were part of the frame of the stout British ship “Resolute,” which, after a long search in the Polar regions for the hapless Sir John Franklin—of whom more hereafter—was deserted by her crew in the Arctic pack, drifted twelve hundred miles in the ice, and was then discovered and brought back home as good as new by Captain Buddington of the stanch American whaler, “George and Henry.” The sympathies of all civilized peoples, and particularly of English-speaking races, were at that time strongly stirred by the fate of Franklin and his brave companions, and so Congress appropriated $40,000 for the purchase of the vessel from the salvors, and her repair. Refitted throughout, she was sent to England and presented to the Queen in 1856. Years later, when broken up, the desk was made from her timbers and presented by order of Victoria to the President of the United States, who at that time was Rutherford B. Hayes. It stands now in the executive mansion, an enduring memorial of one of the romances of a long quest full of romance—the search for the North Pole.
In all ages, the minds of men of the exploring and colonizing nations, have turned toward the tropics as the region of fabulous wealth, the field for profitable adventure. “The wealth of the Ind,” has passed into proverb. Though exploration has shown that, it is the flinty North that hides beneath its granite bosom the richest stores of mineral wealth, almost four centuries of failure and disappointment were needed to rid men’s minds of the notion that the jungles and the tropical forests were the most abundant hiding-places of gold and precious stones. The wild beauty of the tropics, the cloudless skies, the tangled thickets, ever green and rustling with a restless animal life, the content and amiability of the natives, combined in a picture irresistibly attractive to the adventurer. Surely where there was so much beauty, so much of innocent joy in life, there must be the fountain of perpetual youth, there must be gold, and diamonds, and sapphires—all those gewgaws, the worship of which shows the lingering taint of barbarism in the civilized man, and for which the English, Spanish, and Portuguese adventurers of three centuries ago, were ready to sacrifice home and family, manhood, honor, and life.
So it happened that in the early days of maritime adventure the course of the hardy voyagers was toward the tropics, and they made of the Spanish Main a sea of blood, while Pizzarro and Cortez, and after them the dreaded buccaneers, sacked towns, betrayed, murdered, and outraged, destroyed an ancient civilization and fairly blotted out a people, all in the mad search for gold. Men only could have been guilty of such crimes, for man along, among animals endowed with life, kills for the mere lust of slaughter.