“Then,” retorted the Senator from Kansas, “that is your misfortune.”
“I admit,” the Senator from Nebraska quickly replied, “that it is always a misfortune not to hear the Senator from Kansas.”
The unfortunate controversy between President Garfield and Senator Conkling resulted in a national calamity. The bitterness that grew out of it had the effect of bringing a crank on the scene of action. Early in July, 1881,—when the President, in company with Mr. Blaine, was leaving Washington for his summer vacation,—this cowardly crank, who had waited at the railroad station for the arrival of the distinguished party, fired the fatal shot which a few months later terminated the earthly career of a President who was beloved by his countrymen without regard to party or section.
Whatever may have been the merits of this unfortunate controversy, it resulted in the political death of one and the physical death of the other; thus depriving the country of the valuable services of two of the greatest and most intellectual men that our country had ever produced.
When the President died I was at my home, Natchez, Mississippi, where a memorial meeting was held in honor of his memory, participated in by both races and both parties. I had the honor of being one of the speakers on that occasion. That part of my remarks which seemed to attract most attention and made the deepest impression was the declaration that it was my good fortune, as a member of the National House of Representatives, to sit within the sound of his eloquent voice on a certain memorable occasion when he declared that there could never be a permanent peace and union between the North and the South until the South would admit that, in the controversy that brought on the War the North was right and the South was wrong. Notwithstanding that declaration, in which he was unquestionably right, I ventured the opinion that, had he been spared to serve out the term for which he had been elected, those who had voted for him would have been proud of the fact that they had done so, while those who had voted against him would have had no occasion to regret that he had been elected.
Upon the death of President Garfield Vice-President Arthur,—who had been named for that office by Mr. Conkling,—became President; but he, too, soon incurred the displeasure of Mr. Conkling. Mr. Conkling had occasion to make a request of the President which the latter could not see his way clear to grant. For this Mr. Conkling never forgave him. The President tried hard afterwards to regain Mr. Conkling’s friendship, but in vain. He even went so far, it is said, as to tender Mr. Conkling a seat on the bench of the Supreme Court; but the tender was contemptuously declined.