Cambridge Sketches
by Frank Preston Stearns

Presented by

Public Domain Books

The War Governor

Sebago is one of the most beautiful of the New England lakes, and has been celebrated in Longfellow’s verse for its curiously winding river between the upper and the lower portion, as well as for the Indian traditions connected with it. John A. Andrew’s grandfather, like Hawthorne’s father, lived in Salem and both families emigrated to Sebago, the former locating himself in the small town of Windham. At the time when Hawthorne was sailing his little boat on the lake, at the age of fourteen, John Andrew was in his nurse’s arms,—born May 31, 1818. Like Hawthorne and Longfellow he went to Bowdoin College, but did not distinguish himself there as a scholar,—had no honors at commencement. We are still in ignorance concerning his college life, what his interests were, and how he spent his time; but Andrew never cared much for anything which had not an immediate and practical value. Greek and Latin, merely for their own sake as ancient languages, did not appeal to him; nor did the desiccated history and cramping philosophy of those days attract him more strongly. Yet he ultimately developed one of the finest of American intellects.

He was admitted to the Suffolk bar at the age of twenty-two. He had already formed decided opinions on the slavery question. The practitioner with whom he studied was precisely the opposite of Andrew,—a brilliant scholar, but formal and unsympathetic. Although a young man of fine promise he was soon excelled by his less learned but more energetic pupil. At the age of twenty-six we find Andrew presiding at a convention of Free-soilers, the same which nominated Dr. S. G. Howe for Congress. Why he did not appear in politics between 1844 and 1859 is something of a mystery, which may be explained either by his devotion to his profession or his unwillingness to make politics a profession. He was in constant communication with Charles Francis Adams, Frank W. Bird, and other leading independents, and played a part in the election of Sumner as well as at various nominating conventions; but he apparently neither sought office nor was sought for it. It may have been a modest conscientiousness of his own value, which prevented the acceptance of public honors until he was prepared to claim the best; but the fact is difficult to account for on any supposition.

Neither was his success at the bar remarkable. He never earned a large income, and died comparatively poor. There were few who cared to meet him in debate, yet his legal scholarship was not exceptional, and his political opinions may have proved an impediment to him in a city which was still devoted to Webster and Winthrop. Moreover, his kindness of heart prompted him to undertake a large number of cases for which he received little or no remuneration. As late as 1856 he was known as the poor man’s lawyer rather than as a distinguished pleader. One cannot help reflecting what might have been John A. Andrew’s fortune if he had been born in Ohio or Illinois. In the latter State he would have proved a most important political factor; for he was fully as able a speaker as Douglas, and he combined with this a large proportion of those estimable qualities which we all admire in Abraham Lincoln. He had not the wit of Lincoln, nor his immense fund of anecdote, which helped so much to make him popular, but the cordial manners and manly frankness of Andrew were very captivating. He would have told Douglas to his face that he was a demagogue, as Mirabeau did to Robespierre, and would have carried the audience with him. It certainly seems as if he would have risen to distinction there more rapidly than in old-fashioned, conventional Boston.

Governor Andrew was an inch shorter than the average height of man, and much resembled Professor Child in personal appearance. He was a larger man than Professor Child, and his hair was darker, but he had the same round, good-humored face, with keen penetrating eyes beneath a brow as finely sculptured as that of a Greek statue, and closely curling hair above it. He was broad-shouldered, remarkably so, and had a strong figure but not a strong constitution. His hands were soft and as white as a woman’s; and though his step was quick and elastic he disliked to walk long distances, and was averse to physical exercise generally.

He also resembled Professor Child in character,—frank without bluntness; sincere both formally and intellectually,—full to the brim of moral courage. He was not only kind-hearted, but very tender-hearted, so that his lips would quiver on occasions and his eyes fill with tears,—what doctors improperly call a lachrymose nature; but in regard to a question of principle or public necessity he was as firm as Plymouth Rock. Neither did he deceive himself, as kindly persons are too apt to do, in regard to the true conditions of the case in hand. He would interrogate an applicant for assistance in as judicious a manner as he would a witness in a court room. He never degenerated into the professed philanthropist, who makes a disagreeable and pernicious habit of one of the noblest attributes of man. “A mechanical virtue,” he would say, “is no virtue at all.”

The impressions of youth are much stronger and more enduring than those of middle life, and I still remember Andrew as he appeared presiding at the meeting for the benefit of John Brown’s wife and daughters in November, 1859. This was his first notable appearance before the public, and nothing could have been more daring or more likely to make him unpopular; and yet within twelve months he was elected Governor. His attitude and his whole appearance was resolute and intrepid. He had set his foot down, and no power on earth could induce him to withdraw it. A clergyman who had been invited to speak at the meeting had at first accepted, but being informed by some of his parishioners that the thing would not do, declined with the excuse that he had supposed there would be two sides to the question. “As if,” said Andrew, “there could be two sides to the question whether John Brown’s wife and daughters should be permitted to starve.” Thomas Russell, Judge of the Superior Court, sat close under the platform, clapping his hands like pistol shots.

John A. Andrew’s testimony before the Harper’s Ferry investigating committee has a historical value which Hay and Nicolay, Wilson, and Von Holst would have done well to have taken into consideration; but the definitive history of the war period is yet to be written. There was no reason why Andrew should have been summoned. He had never met John Brown but once—at a lady’s house in Boston—and had given him twenty-five dollars without knowing what was to be done with it. Jefferson Davis and the other Southern members of the committee evidently sent for him to make capital against the Republican party, but the result was different from what they anticipated. Andrew told them squarely that the Harper’s Ferry invasion was the inevitable consequence of their attempt to force slavery on Kansas against the will of its inhabitants, and that the Pottawatomie massacre, whether John Brown was connected with it or not, was not so bad in its moral effect as the assault on Sumner. It was what they might expect from attempting to tyrannize over frontier farmers. It is not to be supposed that such men will be governed by the nice sense of justice of an eastern law court.

His testimony in regard to the personal magnetism of John Brown is of great value; but he also admitted that there was something about the old man which he could not quite understand,—a mental peculiarity which may have resulted from his hard, barren life, or the fixedness of his purpose.

Andrew had already been elected to the Legislature, and had taken his seat there in January, 1860. Almost in an instant he became the leader of his party in the House. Always ready to seize the right moment, he united the two essential qualities of a debater, a good set speech and a pertinent reply. Perfectly fearless and independent, he was exactly the man to guide his party through a critical period. There were few in the house who cared to interfere with him.

Andrew was chairman of the Massachusetts delegation at the Chicago Convention in May, and although he voted for Seward he was directly instrumental in the nomination of Lincoln. It is said to have been at his suggestion that the Massachusetts delegation called together the delegations of those States that defeated Fremont in 1856, and inquired of them which of the candidates would be most certain to carry their constituencies; and with one accord they all answered Lincoln. Thus Lincoln’s nomination was practically assured before the voting began.

It has been repeatedly asserted that the nomination of Andrew for Governor was the result of a general popular movement; but this was simply impossible. He was chiefly known to the voters of the State at that time as the presiding officer of a John Brown meeting, and that was quite as likely to retard as to advance his interests. He had, however, become a popular leader in the Legislature, and the fact that Governor Banks was opposed to him and cast his influence in favor of a Pittsfield candidate, left a sort of political vacuum in the more populous portion of the State, which Frank W. Bird and Henry L. Pierce took advantage of to bring his name forward. Sumner and Wilson threw their weight into the scales, and Andrew was easily nominated; but he owed this to Frank W. Bird more than to any other supporter.

In the New York Herald of December 20, 1860, there was the following item: “Governor-elect Andrew, of Massachusetts, and George L. Stearns have gone to Washington together, and it is said that the object of their visit is to brace up weak-kneed Republicans.” This was one object of their journey, but they also went to survey the ground and see what was the true state of affairs at the Capital. Stearns wrote from Washington to the Bird Club: “The watchword here is ’Keep quiet,’” a sentence full of significance for the interpretation of the policy pursued by the Republican leaders that winter. Andrew returned with the conviction that war was imminent and could not be prevented. His celebrated order in regard to the equipment of the State militia followed immediately, and after the bombardment of Fort Sumter this was looked upon as a true prophecy. He foresaw the difficulty at Baltimore, and had already chartered steamships to convey regiments to Washington, in case there should be a general uprising in Maryland.

Both Sumner and Wilson opposed the appointment of General Butler to the command of the Massachusetts Volunteers, and preferred Caleb Gushing, who afterwards proved to be a more satisfactory member of the Republican party than Butler; but, on the whole, Andrew would seem to have acted judiciously. They were both bold, ingenious and quick-witted men, but it is doubtful if Gushing possessed the dash and intrepidity which Butler showed in dealing with the situation at Baltimore. That portion of his military career was certainly a good success, and how far he should be held responsible for the corrupt proceedings of his brother at New Orleans I do not undertake to decide.

It is likely that Governor Andrew regretted his choice three weeks later, when General Butler offered his services to the Governor of Maryland to suppress a slave insurrection which never took place, and of which there was no danger then or afterwards. A sharp correspondence followed between the Governor and the General, in which the latter nearly reached the point of insubordination. For excellent reasons this was not made public at the time, and is little known at the present day; but General Butler owed his prominence in the war wholly to Governor Andrew’s appointment.

Another little-known incident was Andrew’s action in regard to the meeting in memory of John Brown, which was held on December 2, 1861, by Wendell Phillips, F. B. Sanborn and others, who were mobbed exactly as Garrison was mobbed thirty years earlier. The Mayor would do nothing to protect them, and when Wendell Phillips went to seek assistance from Andrew the latter declined to interfere. It would be a serious matter to interfere with the Mayor, and he did not feel that the occasion demanded it. Moreover he considered the celebration at that time to be prejudicial to the harmony of the Union cause. Phillips was already very much irritated and left the Governor’s office in no friendly mood. Andrew might have said to him: “You have been mobbed; what more do you want? There is no more desirable honor than to be mobbed in a good cause.”

Governor Andrew’s appointments continued to be so favorable to the Democrats that Martin F. Conway, the member of Congress from Kansas, said: “The Governor has come into power with the help of his friends, and he intends to retain it by conciliating his opponents.” It certainly looked like this; but no one who knew Andrew intimately would believe that he acted from interested motives. Moreover it was wholly unnecessary to conciliate them. It is customary in Massachusetts to give the Governor three annual terms, and no more; but Andrew was re-elected four times, and it seemed as if he might have had as many terms as Caius Marius had consulships if he had only desired it.

His object evidently was to unite all classes and parties in a vigorous support of the Union cause, and he could only do this by taking a number of colonels and other commissioned officers from the Democratic ranks. For company officers there was no better recommendation to him than for a young man to be suspended, or expelled, from Harvard University. “Those turbulent fellows,” he said, “always make good fighters, and,” he added in a more serious tone, “some of them will not be greatly missed if they do not return.” The young aristocrat who was expelled for threatening to tweak his professor’s nose obtained a commission at once.

Another case of this sort was so pathetic that it deserves to be commemorated. Sumner Paine (named after Charles Sumner), the finest scholar in his class at Harvard, was suspended in June, 1863, for some trifling folly and went directly to the Governor for a commission as Lieutenant. Having an idea that the colored regiments were a particular hobby with the Governor, he asked for a place in one of them; but Andrew replied that the list was full; he could, however, give him a Lieutenancy in the Twentieth Massachusetts, which was then in pursuit of General Lee. Sumner Paine accepted this, and ten days later he was shot dead on the field of Gettysburg. Governor Andrew felt very badly; for Paine was not only a fine scholar but very handsome, and, what is rare among hard students, full of energy and good spirits.

Governor Andrew tried a number of conclusions, as Shakespeare would call them, with the National Government during the war, but the most serious difficulty of this kind resulted from Secretary Stanton’s arbitrary reduction of the pay of colored soldiers from thirteen to eight dollars a month. This, of course, was a breach of contract, and Governor Andrew felt a personal responsibility in regard to it, so far as the Massachusetts regiments were concerned.

He first protested against it to the Secretary of War; but, strange to say, Stanton obtained a legal opinion in justification of his order from William Whiting, the solicitor of the War Department. Governor Andrew then appealed to President Lincoln, who referred the case to Attorney- General Bates, and Bates, after examining the question, reported adversely to Solicitor Whiting and notified President Lincoln that the Government would be liable to an action for damages. The President accordingly referred this report to Stanton, who paid no attention whatever to it.

Meanwhile the Massachusetts Legislature had passed an act to make good the deficiency of five dollars a month to the Massachusetts colored regiments, but the private soldiers, with a magnanimity that should never be forgotten, refused to accept from the State what they considered due them from the National Government. At last Governor Andrew applied to Congress for redress, declaring that if he did not live to see justice done to his soldiers in this world he would carry his appeal “before the Tribunal of Infinite Justice.”

Thaddeus Stevens introduced a bill for the purpose June 4,1864, and after waiting a whole year the colored soldiers received their dues. Andrew declared in his message to Congress that this affair was a disgrace to the National Government; and I fear we shall have to agree with him. [Footnote: At this time there were not less than five thousand officers drawing pay in the Union armies above the requisite proportion of one officer to twenty-two privates.]

Sixty years ago Macaulay noticed the injurious effects on oratory of newspaper publication. Parliamentary speeches were written to be read rather than to be listened to. It was a peculiarity of Andrew, however, that he wrote his letters and even his messages to the Legislature as if he were making a speech. In conversation he was plain, sensible and kindly.

He made no pretensions to oratory in his public addresses, but his delivery was easy, clear, and emphatic. At times he spoke rather rapidly, but not so much so as to create a confused impression. I never knew him to make an argumentum ad hominem, nor to indulge in those rhetorical tricks which even Webster and Everett were not wholly free from. He convinced his hearers as much by the fairness of his manner as by anything that he said.

The finest passage in his speeches, as we read them now, is his tribute to Lincoln’s character in his address to the Legislature, following upon Lincoln’s assassination. After describing him as the man who had added “martyrdom itself to his other and scarcely less emphatic claims to human veneration, gratitude and love,” he continued thus: “I desire on this grave occasion to record my sincere testimony to the unaffected simplicity of his manly purpose, to the constancy with which he devoted himself to his duty, to the grand fidelity with which he subordinated himself to his country, to the clearness, robustness, and sagacity of his understanding, to his sincere love of truth, his undeviating progress in its faithful pursuit, and to the confidence which he could not fail to inspire in the singular integrity of his virtues and the conspicuously judicial quality of his intellect.”

Could any closer and more comprehensive description be given of Andrew’s own character; and is there another statement so appreciative in the various biographies of Lincoln?

The instances of his kindness and helpfulness were multitudinous, but have now mostly lapsed into oblivion. During his five years in office it seemed as if every distressed man, woman, and child came to the Governor for assistance. William G. Russell, who declined the position of Chief Justice, once said of him: “There was no better recommendation to Andrew’s favor than for a man to have been in the State’s prison, if it could only be shown that he had been there longer than he deserved.”

Andrew considered the saving of a human soul more important than rescuing a human life. That he was often foiled, deceived, and disappointed in these reformatory attempts is perfectly true; but was it not better so than never to have made them? For a long time he had charge of an intemperate nephew, who even sold his overcoat to purchase drink; but the Governor never deserted the fellow and cared for him as well as he could.

This is the more significant on account of Andrew’s strong argument against prohibitory legislation, which was the last important act of his life.

In February, 1864, there was a military ball at Concord for the benefit of the Thirty-second Massachusetts Regiment. Governor Andrew was present, and seeing the son of an old friend sitting in a corner and looking much neglected while his brother was dancing and having a fine time, the Governor went to him, took him by the arm and marched several times around the hall with him. He then went to Mrs. Hawthorne, inquired what her husband was writing, and explained the battle of Gettysburg to her, drawing a diagram of it on a letter which he took from his coat pocket. Years afterwards Mrs. Hawthorne spoke of this as one of the pleasantest interviews of her life.

He would come in late to dinner at the Bird Club, looking so full of force that he seemed as much like a steam-engine as a man. They usually applauded him, but he paid no attention to it. “Waiter, bring me some minced fish with carrots and beets,” he would say. His fish-dinner became proverbial, but he complained that they could not serve it at fine hotels in the way our grandmothers made it. He said it did not taste the same.

His private secretary states that Governor Andrew’s favorite sans souci was to take a drive into the country with some friend, and after he had passed the thickly settled suburbs to talk, laugh and jest as young men do on a yachting excursion,—but his talk was always refined. There was no recreation that Professor Francis J. Child liked better than this.

Andrew’s valedictory address on January 5, 1865, which was chiefly concerned with the reconstruction of the Southern States, was little understood at the time even by his friends; and in truth he did not make out his scheme as clearly as he might have done. He considered negro suffrage the first essential of reconstruction, but he did not believe in enfranchising the colored people and disfranchising the whites. He foresaw that this could only end in disaster; and he advised that the rebellious States should remain under military government until the white people of the South should rescind their acts of secession and adopt negro suffrage of their own accord. There would have been certain advantages in this over the plan that was afterwards adopted—that is, Sumner’s plan—but it included the danger that the Southern States might have adopted universal suffrage and negro citizenship for the sake of Congressional representation, and afterwards have converted it into a dead letter, as it is at present. Andrew considered Lincoln’s attempts at reconstruction as premature, and therefore injudicious.

For nearly twenty-five years John A. Andrew was a parishioner of Rev. James Freeman Clarke, who preached in Indiana Place Chapel. In 1848 Rev. Mr. Clarke desired to exchange with Theodore Parker, but older members of his parish strenuously opposed it. Andrew, then only twenty-seven years old, came forward in support of his pastor, and argued the case vigorously, not because he agreed with Parker’s theological opinions, but because he considered the opposition illiberal. After this both Andrew and Clarke would seem to have become gradually more conservative, for when the latter delivered a sermon or lecture in 1866 in opposition to Emerson’s philosophy, the ex-Governor printed a public letter requesting him to repeat it. It is easy to trace the influence of James Freeman Clarke in Governor Andrew’s religious opinions and Andrew’s influence on Rev. Mr. Clarke’s politics. Each was a firm believer in the other.

The movement to supersede Sumner with Andrew as United States Senator, in 1869, originated in what is called the Back Bay district. It was not because they loved Andrew there, but because they hated Sumner, who represented to their minds the loss of political power which they had enjoyed from the foundation of the Republic until his election in 1850, and have never recovered it since. Andrew’s political record and his democratic manners could hardly have been to their liking.

The Boston aristocracy counted for success on the support of the Grand Army veterans, who were full of enthusiasm for Andrew; but it is not probable that the ex-Governor would have been willing to lead a movement which his best friends disapproved of, and which originated with the same class of men who tried so hard to defeat him in 1862. Moreover, they would have found a very sturdy opponent in Senator Wilson. It was Wilson who had made Sumner a Senator, and for fifteen years they had fought side by side without the shadow of a misunderstanding between them. Under such conditions men cannot help feeling a strong affection for one another. Besides this, Wilson would have been influenced by interested motives. Sumner cared nothing for the minor Government offices—the classified service—except so far as to assist occasionally some unfortunate person who had been crowded out of the regular lines; and this afforded Wilson a fine opportunity of extending his influence. If Andrew were chosen Senator in the way that was anticipated Wilson knew well enough that this patronage would have to be divided between them.

Andrew could not have replaced Sumner in the Senate. He lacked the physical strength as well as the experience, and that extensive range of legal and historical knowledge which so often disconcerted Sumner’s opponents. He had a genius for the executive, and the right position for him would have been in President Grant’s cabinet. That he would have been offered such a place can hardly be doubted.

But Governor Andrew’s span of life was over. He might have lived longer if he had taken more physical exercise; but the great Civil War proved more fatal to the statesmen who were engaged in it than to the generals in the field. None of the great leaders of the Republican party lasted very long after this.

Andrew’s friends always felt that the man was greater than his position, and that he really missed the opportunity to develop his ability to its full extent. His position was not so difficult as that of Governor Morgan, of New York, or Governor Morton, of Indiana; for he was supported by one of the wealthiest and most patriotic of the States. It was his clear insight into the political problems of his time and the fearlessness with which he attacked them that gave him such influence among his contemporaries, and made him felt as a moral force to the utmost limits of the Union. No public man has ever left a more stainless reputation, and we only regret that he was not as considerate of himself as he was of others.


Preface  •  The Close of the War  •  Francis J. Child  •  Longfellow  •  Lowell  •  Cranch  •  T. G. Appleton  •  The Whip of the Sky  •  Pompeii  •  Doctor Holmes  •  Frank W. Bird, and the Bird Club  •  Sumner  •  Chevalier Howe  •  The War Governor  •  The Colored Regiments  •  Emerson’s Tribute to George L. Stearns  •  Elizur Wright  •  Dr. W. T. G. Morton  •  William T. G. Morton  •  Leaves From a Roman Diary  •  My Last Visit to the Longfellows  •  Centennial Contributions  •  The Emerson Centennial  •  The Hawthorne Centennial  •  Hawthorne and Hamlet

[Buy at Amazon]
Cambridge Sketches
By Frank Preston Stearns
At Amazon