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The Seward-Johnson Reaction
by [?]


The late Philadelphia experiment at making a party out of nullities reminds us of nothing so much as of the Irishman’s undertaking to produce a very palatable soup out of no more costly material than a pebble. Of course he was to be furnished with a kettle as his field of operations, and after that he asked only for just the least bit of beef in the world to give his culinary miracle a flavor, and a pinch of salt by way of relish. As nothing could be more hollow and empty than the pretence on which the new movement was founded, nothing more coppery than the material out of which it was mainly composed, we need look no further for the likeness of a kettle wherewith to justify our comparison; as for the stone, nothing could be more like that than the Northern disunion faction, which was to be the chief ingredient in the newfangled pottage, and whose leading characteristic for the last five years has been a uniform alacrity in going under; the offices in the gift of the President might very well be reckoned on to supply the beef which should lead by their noses the weary expectants whose hunger might be too strong for their nicety of stomach; and the pinch of salt,–why could not that be found in the handful of Republicans who might be drawn over by love of notoriety, private disgusts, or that mixture of motives which has none of the substance of opinion, much less of the tenacity of principle, but which is largely operative in the action of illogical minds? But the people? Would they be likely to have their appetite aroused by the fumes of this thin decoction? Where a Chinaman is cook, one is apt to be a little suspicious; and if the Address in which the Convention advertised their ingenious mess had not a little in its verbiage to remind one of the flowery kingdom, there was something in that part of the assemblage which could claim any bygone merit of Republicanism calculated to stimulate rather than to allay any dreadful surmise of the sagacious rodent which our antipodes are said to find savory. And as for the people, it is a curious fact, that the party which has always been loudest to profess its faith in their capacity of self-government has been the last to conceive it possible that they should apprehend a principle, arrive at a logical conclusion, or be influenced by any other than a mean motive. The cordons bleus of the political cooks at Philadelphia were men admirably adapted for the petty intrigues of a local caucus, but by defect of nature profoundly unconscious of that simple process of generalization from a few plain premises by which the popular mind is guided in times like these, and upon questions which appeal to the moral instincts of men.

The Convention was well managed, we freely admit,–and why not, when all those who were allowed to have any leading part in it belonged exclusively to that class of men who are known as party managers, and who, like the director of a theatre or a circus, look upon the mass of mankind as creatures to be influenced by a taking title, by amplitude of posters, and by a thrilling sensation or two, no matter how coarse? As for the title, nothing could be better than that of the “Devoted Unionists,”–and were not the actors, no less than the scenery and decorations, for the most part entirely new,–at least in that particular play? Advertisement they did not lack, with the whole Democratic press and the Department of State at their service, not to speak of the real clown being allowed to exhibit himself at short intervals upon the highest platform in this or any other country. And if we ask for sensation, never were so many performers exhibited together in their grand act of riding two horses at once, or leaping through a hoop with nothing more substantial to resist them than the tissue-paper of former professions, nay, of recent pledges. And yet the skill of the managers had something greater still behind, in Massachusetts linked arm in arm with South Carolina. To be sure, a thoughtful mind might find something like a false syllogism in pairing off a Commonwealth whose greatest sin it has been to lead the van in freedom of opinion, and in those public methods of enlightenment which make it a safeguard of popular government, with an Oligarchy whose leadership has been in precisely the opposite direction, as if both had equally sinned against American ideas. But such incongruities are trifles no greater than those of costume so common on every stage; and perhaps the only person to be pitied in the exhibition was Governor Orr, who had once uttered a hope that his own State might one day walk abreast with the daughter of Puritan forethought in the nobler procession of prosperous industry, and who must have felt a slight shock of surprise, if nothing more, at the form in which Massachusetts had chosen to incarnate herself on that particular occasion. We cannot congratulate the Convention on the name of its chairman, for there is something ominously suggestive in it. But, on the other hand it is to be remembered that Mr. Doolittle has a remarkably powerful voice, which is certainly one element in the manufacture of sound opinions. A little too much latitude was allowed to Mr. Raymond in the Address, though on the whole perhaps it was prudent to make that document so long as to insure it against being read. In their treatment of Mr. Vallandigham the managers were prudent. He was allowed to appear just enough not quite to alienate his party, on whom the new movement counts largely for support, and just not enough to compromise the Convention with the new recruits it had made among those who would follow the name Conservative into anything short of downright anarchy. The Convention, it must be confessed, had a rather hard problem to solve,–nothing less than to make their patent reconciliation cement out of fire and gunpowder, both useful things in themselves, but liable in concert to bring about some odd results in the way of harmonious action. It is generally thought wiser to keep them apart, and accordingly Mr. Vallandigham was excluded from the Convention altogether, and the Southern delegates were not allowed any share in the Address or Resolutions. Indeed, as the Northern members were there to see what they could make, and the Southern to find out how much they could save, and whatever could be made or saved was to come out of the North, it was more prudent to leave all matters of policy in the hands of those who were supposed to understand best the weak side of the intended victim. The South was really playing the game, and is to have the lion’s share of the winnings; but it is only as a disinterested bystander, who looks over the cards of one of the parties, and guides his confederate by hints so adroitly managed as not to alarm the pigeon. The Convention avoided the reef where the wreck of the Chicago lies bleaching; but we are not so sure that they did not ground themselves fast upon the equally dangerous mud-bank that lies on the opposite side of the honest channel. At Chicago they were so precisely frank as to arouse indignation; at Philadelphia they are so careful of generalities that they make us doubtful, if not suspicious. Does the expectation or even the mere hope of pudding make the utterance as thick as if the mouth were already full of it? As to the greater part of the Resolutions, they were political truisms in which everybody would agree as so harmless that the Convention might almost as well have resolved the multiplication table article by article. The Address was far less explicit; and where there is so very much meal, it is perhaps not altogether uncharitable to suspect that there may be something under it. There is surely a suspicious bulge here and there, that has the look of the old Democratic cat. But, after all, of what consequence are the principles of the party, when President Johnson covers them all when he puts on his hat, and may change them between dinner and tea, as he has done several times already? The real principle of the party, its seminal and vital principle alike, is the power of the President, and its poli
cy is every moment at the mercy of his discretion. That power has too often been the plaything of whim, and that discretion the victim of ill-temper or vanity, for us to have any other feeling left than regret for the one and distrust of the other.