Senator North by Gertrude Franklin Horn Atherton
Betty, who had come justly to the conclusion that she knew something of politics after a year's application to the science and several object lessons, made in the following weeks her first acquaintance with the intricacies which sometimes may involve political motives. The President was not given time to exhaust diplomacy with Spain, although in his War Message he was obliged to state that he had done so. To deal successfully with a proud and mediaeval country required months, not days, and as Spain had grudgingly but surely yielded all along the line to the demands of the United States, it is safe to assume that she would have withdrawn peacefully her forces from Cuba if her pride could have been saved. Sagasta was working in the interests of peace; but a bigoted old country, too indolent to read history, and puzzled at a youthful nation's industry in the cause of humanity, would move so fast and no faster.
The President was rushed off his feet and his hand was forced. An honest but delirious country was threatening impeachment and clamouring for war. Its representatives were hammering on the doors of the White House and shrieking in Congress. A dishonest press was inflaming it and injuring it in the eyes of the world by assaulting the integrity of the Executive and of the leading men in both Houses; and unscrupulous politicians were extracting every possible party advantage, until it looked as if the Democratic party, rent asunder by Mr. Bryan and his doctrines, would be unified once more. The House, after the President's calm and impersonal message on the Maine report, acted like a mutinous school of bad boys who had not been taught the first principles of breeding and dignity; the few gentlemen in it hardly tried to make themselves heard, and even the Speaker was powerless to quell a couple of hundred tempers all rampant at once. Every conceivable insult was heaped upon the head of the President as he delayed his War Message from day to day, hoping against hope, and gaining what time he could to strengthen the Navy.
It became necessary therefore for the high-class men in the Senate, particularly the Republicans, to present an unbroken front. Whatever the conclusions of the President, they must stand by him. It was their duty as Americans first and Republicans after; for they had elected him to the high and representative office he filled, they were responsible for him, he had done nothing to forfeit their confidence, and everything, by his wise and conservative course, to win their approval. And it was their duty to their party to uphold him, for internal dissensions in this great crisis would weaken their forces and play them into the hands of the Democrats. Therefore, Senator North and others, who had strenuously and consistently opposed war from any cause, until it became evident that the President had been elbowed into the position of a puppet by his people instead of being permitted to guide them, withdrew their opposition, and when his Message finally was forced from his hand, let it be known that they should support it against the powerful faction in the Senate which demanded the recognition of Cuba as a Republic. The Message meant war, but a war that no longer could be averted, and there was nothing left for any high-minded statesman and loyal party man to do but to defend the President from those who would usurp his authority and tie his hands, to demonstrate to the world their belief in a statesmanship which was being attacked at every point by those whom his Message had disappointed, and to provide against one future embarrassment the more.
When Betty had trodden the maze this far, she realized the unenviable position of the conservative faction in the Senate. North's position was particularly unpleasant. He had stood to the country as the embodiment of its conservative spirit, the spirit which was opposed uncompromisingly to this war. Several days before the speech of the Senator from Vermont exploded the inflamed nervous system of the country, he had made an address which had been copied in every State in the Union and been hopefully commented on abroad. In this speech, which was a passionless, impersonal, and judicial argument against interference in the domestic affairs of a friendly nation seeking to put down an insurgent population whose record for butchery and crime equalled her own, as well as a brilliant forecast of the evils, foreign and domestic, which must follow such a war, he demonstrated that if war was declared at this period it would be unjustifiable because it would be the direct result of the accident to the Maine, which, as the explosion could not be traced to the Spanish officials, was not a casus belli. Prior to that accident no important or considerable number of the American people had clamoured for war, only for according belligerent rights to the Cubans, which measure they were not wise enough to see would lead to war. Therefore, had the Maine incident not occurred, the President would have been given the necessary time for successful diplomacy, despite the frantic efforts of the press and the loud-voiced minority; and it could not be claimed that the present clamour, dating from the fifteenth of February, was honestly in behalf of the suffering Cuban. It was for revenge, and it was an utterly unreasonable demand for revenge, as no sane man believed that Spain had seized the first opportunity to cut her throat; and until it could be proved that she had done so, it was a case for indemnity, not for war. Therefore, if war came at the present juncture it was because the people of the United States had made up their minds they wanted a fight, they would have a fight, they didn't care whether they had an excuse or not.
The speech made a profound impression even in the agitated state of the public mind, for bitterly as North might be denounced he always was listened to. The press lashed itself into a fury and wrote head- lines which would have ridden its editors into prison had the country possessed libel laws adequate to protect a noble provision of the Constitution. The temperate men in the country had been with North from the beginning, but the excited millions excoriated him the more loudly. He was denounced at public banquets and accused by excited citizens all over the Union, except in his own State, of every depravity, from holding an unimaginable number of Spanish bonds to taking a ferocious pleasure in the sufferings of the reconcentrados.
And in the face of this he must cast his vote for war.
A weaker man would have held stubbornly to his position, made notorious by his personality, and a less patriotic have chosen the satisfaction of being consistent to the bitter end and winning some measure of approval from the unthinking.
But North was a statesman, and although Betty did not see him to speak to for many weeks after the Message went to Congress, she doubted if he had hesitated a moment in choosing his course. He was a man who made a problem of nothing, who thought and acted promptly on all questions great and small. It was his manifest duty to support his President, who was also the head of his party, and to do what he could to win the sympathy of Europe for his country by making its course appear the right and inevitable one.
North's position was the logical result of the deliberations and decisions of the year 1787. Hamilton, the greatest creative and constructive genius of his century, never so signally proved his far- sighted statesmanship as when he pleaded for an aristocratic republic with a strong centralized government. As he was capable of anything, he doubtless foresaw the tyranny of the people into which ill- considered liberty would degenerate, just as he foresaw the many strong, wise, and even great men who would be born to rule the country wisely if given the necessary power. If the educated men of the country knew that its destinies were wholly in their hands, and that they alone could achieve the highest honours, there is not one of them who would not train himself in the science of government. Such men, ruling a country in which liberty did not mean a heterogeneous monarchy, would make the lot of the masses far easier than it is to-day. The fifteen million Irish plebeians with which the country is cursed would be harmlessly raising pigs in the country. Hamilton, in one of his letters, speaks of democracy as a poison. Some twenty years ago an eminent Englishman bottled and labelled the poison in its infinite variety, as a warning to the extreme liberals in his own country. We attempted one ideal, and we almost have forgotten what the ideal was. Hamilton's could not have fared worse, and there is good reason to believe that educated and thinking men, unhampered by those who talk bad grammar and think not, would have raised our standards far higher than they are, even with men like North patiently and dauntlessly striving to counteract the poison below. At all events, there would be no question of a President's hand being forced. Nor would such a class of rulers put a man in the White House whose hand could be forced.
Although Betty knew North would disregard the sneers of the press and of ambitious orators who would declaim while cannon thundered, she also knew that his impassive exterior hid a sense of humiliating defeat, and that the moment in which he was obliged to utter his aye for war would be the bitterest of his life. She fancied that he forgot her in these days, but she was willing to have it so. The intense breathless excitement of that time, when scarcely a Senator left his seat from ten in the morning till some late hour of the night, except to snatch a meal; the psychological effect of the silent excited crowds in the galleries and corridors of the Capitol and on its lawns and the immensity of its steps; the solemnity and incalculable significance of the approaching crisis, and the complete gravity of the man who possessed her mind, carried her out of herself and merged her personality for a brief while into the great personality of the nation.