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Speech upon the Bill for the Relief of the Widow of General Harrison, in the Senate, June 24, 1841.
ISAAC C. BATES.
MR. PRESIDENT: I too have an objection to this bill, but it is not the objection urged by the senator from South Carolina -that there is no specification of the services of General Harrison, nor of the expenses incurred by himself and family. If there were a bill of particulars upon your table, I would not look into it. I should scorn to. My objection is rather to the insufficiency of the grant. General Harrison having been called from the highest service of his country, having died in the service of his country, I would have given to his widow at least half pay-fifty thousand instead of twenty-five thousand dollars.
When the thought occurs to me what General Harrison was and what he is; when I consider the bereft and desolate condition of his family, the hopes that have been disappointed, the prospects that have been suddenly and sadly changed, such hope! such prospects! so elevated, so cheering, so glorious, if any thing among the shadows of earth can be called so! hopes crushed, prospects so bright eclipsed at once and forever! I say, Mr. President, if I can do nothing to administer consolation, I will do all that is permitted me to afford relief.
Senators demand by what authority we make this grant. I will tell them, sir. I make it, first of all, by the permission which I find here, in the sympathies of a common nature, where the whole American people will find it, and where every man that has a heart in him will find it. I make it by the authority which I find inscribed upon the same page with the authority you exerted in making the grant of a year's pay to the surviving family of General Brown; in the
liberal grant you made to the surviving family of the late sergeant-at-arms; in the grant of like kind you made upon the death of the door-keeper of the House of Representatives.. I find it also upon the page where Congress found it, for the grant of twenty thousand dollars, to feed, clothe, and shelter the people of Alexandria, whom the ravages of fire had made houseless, homeless, and penniless. I find it, moreover, in broad relief, upon the page upon which you find the authority you exercise in burying the dead out of your sight, and in shrouding this chamber in the drapery of mourning that befits the present occasion. I find full authority, not merely in the precedents of every year since the foundation of the government, but in the second article of the Constitution, which requires that the United States shall have a President, and shall pay him a compensation for his services. What that compensation shall be, in case he survive his term of office, a law of Congress has fixed; but in case he do not, it has made no provision. In the happening of such a melancholy contingency, it is left for Congress, under the Constitution, to make it.
I shall, therefore, vote for this bill in the entire confidence I am sustained by the most undoubted authority, as well as cheered by the approval of that which I value not less, and in the full belief that the state which has honored me with a seat in the Senate will feel itself disgraced if I do not.
Power of Conscience.
AGAINST the prisoner at the bar, as an individual, I cannot have the slightest prejudice. I would not do him the smallest injury or injustice. But I do not affect to be indifferent to the discovery and the punishment of this deep guilt. I
cheerfully share in the opprobrium, how much soever it may be, which is cast on those who feel and manifest an anxious concern that all who had a part in planning, or a hand in executing, this deed of midnight assassination, may be brought to answer for their enormous crime, at the bar of public justice. Gentlemen, it is a most extraordinary case. In some respects, it has hardly a precedent any where; certainly none in our New England history. This bloody drama exhibited no suddenly-excited, ungovernable rage. The actors in it were not surprised by any lion-like temptation springing upon their virtue, overcoming it, before resistance could begin. Nor did they do the deed to glut savage vengeance, or satiate long-settled and deadly hate. It was a cool, calculating, money-making murder. It was all "hire and salary, not revenge." It was the weighing of money against life; the counting out of so many pieces of silver against so many ounces of blood.
An aged man, without an enemy in the world, in his own house, and in his own bed, is made the victim of a butcherly murder, for mere pay. Truly, here is a new lesson for painters and poets. Whoever shall hereafter draw the portrait of murder, if he will show it as it has been exhibited in an example, where such example was last to have been looked for, in the very bosom of our New England society, let him not give it the grim visage of Moloch, the brow knitted by revenge, the face black with settled hate, and the blood-shot eye emitting livid fires of malice. Let him draw, rather, a decorous, smooth-faced, bloodless demon; a picture in repose, rather than in action; not so much an example of human nature in its depravity, and in its paroxysms of crime, as an infernal nature, a fiend, in the ordinary display and development of his character.
The deed was executed with a degree of self-possession and steadiness equal to the wickedness with which it was planned. The circumstances,. now clearly in evidence, spread out the whole scene before us. Deep sleep had
fallen on the destined victim, and on all beneath his roof. A healthful old man, to whom sleep was sweet, the first sound slumbers of the night held him in their soft but strong embrace. The assassin enters, through the window already prepared, into an unoccupied apartment. With noiseless foot be paces the lonely hall, half lighted by the moon; he winds up the ascent of the stairs, and reaches the door of the chamber. Of this he moves the lock, by soft and continued pressure, till it turns on its hinges without noise; and he enters, and beholds his victim before him. The room was uncommonly open to the admission of light. The face of the innocent sleeper was turned from the murderer, and the beams of the moon, resting on the gray locks of his aged temple, showed him where to strike. The fatal blow is given! and the victim passes, without a struggle or a motion, from the repose of sleep to the repose of death!
It is the assassin's purpose to make sure work; and he yet plies the dagger, though it was obvious that life had been destroyed by the blow of the bludgeon. He even raises the aged arm, that he may not fail in his aim at the heart, and replaces it again over the wounds of the poniard! To finish the picture, he explores the wrist for the pulse! He feels for it, and ascertains that it beats no longer! It is accomplished. The deed is done. He retreats, retraces his steps to the window, passes out through it as he came in, and escapes. He has done the murder no eye has seen him, no ear has heard him. The secret is his own, and it is safe!
Ah, gentlemen, that was a dreadful mistake! Such a secret can be safe nowhere. The whole creation of God has neither nook nor corner, where the guilty can bestow it, and say it is safe. Not to speak of that eye which glances through all disguises, and beholds every thing, as in the splendor of noon, such secrets of guilt are never safe from detection, even by men. True it is, generally speaking, that "murder will out." True it is, that Providence hath so ordained, and doth so govern things, that those who break
the great law of Heaven, by shedding man's blood, seldom succeed in avoiding discovery. Especially, in a case exciting so much attention as this, discovery must come, and will come, sooner or later. A thousand eyes turn at once to explore every man, every thing, every circumstance, connected with the time and place; a thousand ears catch every whisper; a thousand excited minds intensely dwell on the scene, shedding all their light, and ready to kindle the slightest circumstance into a blaze of discovery.
Meantime, the guilty soul cannot keep its own secret. It is false to itself; or rather it feels an irresistible impulse of conscience to be true to itself. It labors under its guilty possession, and knows not what to do with it. The human heart was not made for the residence of such an inhabitant. It finds itself preyed on by a torment, which it dares not acknowledge to God nor man. A vulture is devouring it, and it can ask no sympathy or assistance, either from heaven or earth. The secret which the murderer possesses soon comes to possess him; and, like the evil spirits of which we read, it overcomes him, and leads him whithersoever it will. He feels it beating at his heart, rising to his throat, and demanding disclosure. He thinks the whole world sees it in his face, reads it in his eyes, and almost hears its workings in the very silence of his thoughts. It has become his master. It betrays his discretion, it breaks down his courage, it conquers his prudence. When suspicions from without begin to embarrass him, and the net of circumstance to entangle him, the fatal secret struggles with still greater violence to burst forth. It must be confessed; it will be confessed: there is no refuge from confession but suicide, and suicide is confession.