Letter from CHARLES ELIOT NORTON to GEORGE PERKINS MARSH, dated June 3, 1866.
My dear Sir
A very long time has passed since I had the pleasure of hearing from you. I fear, however, that this is owing to my own fault. I hope that Mrs. Marsh and yourself have been well during the past winter, and that you will enjoy a visit to Switzerland this summer, should you be about to go there, as you did your visit of last year. I wish that you might soon return home if you could do so with satisfaction. Vermont could in no way serve the country the better than in choosing you as one of her Senators. I know not what the special political conditions of the State may be so far as they might affect the choice of Senators,--nor have I any political acquaintances in the State,--but I have taken the liberty of publicly expressing, what I know to be a common wish among your friends in Massachusetts, the desire that you might be elected to the U. S. Senate by the Vermont Legislature this autumn.
Without at all
sharing in Mr. Seward's crafty and calculated optimism, I cannot but think that our political affairs are in better condition than might have been anticipated considering the course of the President during the past six months, and his character as exhibited by it. The political education of the people has been rapidly advanced by the lessons that he has taught. The attempt to form a President's party has wholly failed; and Mr. Johnson, Mr. Seward, Mr. Weed, and Mr. Raymond have little reason to be satisfied with the result of their strenuous effort to break down the Republican party, & to induce the Northern people to give up the great cause for which they had done & suffered so much. These men have the shrewdness of hucksters, & seem incapable of appreciating the strength of moral conviction by which the political principles of the North are vivified & invigorated. There is of course in every Northern State a corporal's guard of office holders & office seekers who are ready to shout for Johnson, or if need
be for Jeff. Davis himself, but public opinion so far as it is represented by the newspapers & by the elections remains in great measure uncorrupted & firm.
A little more than a month ago I had a long & interesting conversation, in
company with Mr. Godkin, in Washington with Mr. Seward. He
was exceedingly explicit in his statements & declarations,--setting forth
with the freedom & unreserve of private conversation very much the same
creed as he more guardedly expressed in his recent speech at
Auburn. The gist of his talk was a plea for State Rights as against the power
of Congress. Congress was at present a revolutionary body. It had no right to insist
on terms preliminary to reconstruction; no right to refuse admission to the members
of Congress elected in the Southern States. The President had made every preliminary
demand on those States which was either requisite as a matter of policy or
permissible under the Constitution. The South was today far more loyal to the
Constitution than the North. It was "loyal, devoted, earnest, humiliated &
patriotic." As for the freedmen Congress had nothing to do with them. He trusted the
interests of the most
intelligent white man to their respective States, & where he trusted the interests of the whites he would trust the civil rights of the black. The negroes were an inferior race; they were God's poor; the laws of political economy would determine the relations of black & white. Congress had nothing to do with them. Congress was acting as if we were still at war; but peace was restored. The South was at peace. Mr. Seward replied with some warmth to my question, whether, this being the case, the operation of the writ of Habeas Corpus was restored throughout the South. "Do you wish to sue out a writ there Sir? Do you know anybody who does? I cannot answer a purely speculative question. Wait till a writ is sued out & you will get your answer."
There was no sign of senility, or feebleness in his talk. He looked well & spoke with strength & animation. But it was a strange & mournful exhibition of moral decrepitude.
The proposition of the Senate Caucus is on the whole well received, & is perhaps as good a plan as can be adopted with much chance of carrying it through. It will give us a tolerable platform to stand upon in the autumn elections.
Mr. Ticknor has been rather feeble this winter. Longfellow is
well, & is busy on the Notes to his Dante, the
printing of the translation
[the following is written vertically on the page beginning "Ashfield, Mass, June 3, 1866."]
being all but complete. Lowell too is well. He is accumulating stores of learning, which I hope he may some day turn to use. His "Commemoration Ode" of last summer was the noblest poem yet written in America.
I will not yet give up the hope of receiving something from you for the Review. You know how glad I should be to do so.
Mrs. Norton joins with my Mother, my sisters & myself in kindest regards to Mrs. Marsh & yourself, & I am with sincere respect,
Faithfully YoursCharles E. Norton.
What are Le Carte d' Arborea (?) to which you referred in one of your letters?
References in this letter:
William Seward (1801-1872) was U.S. Secretary of State 1861-69.
Thurlow Weed (1797-1882), longtime editor of the Albany Evening Journal, along with William Seward and Horace Greeley dominated Republican politics in New York state.
Henry Raymond (1820-1869), co-founder of the New York Times and influential Republican leader, was a member of the House of Representatives 1865-67.
Jefferson Davis (1808-1889) of Mississippi was president of the Confederate States of America 1861-65.
Edwin Lawrence Godkin (1831-1902), a native of Ireland, who emigrated to the United States in 1856, was correspondent for the London Daily News during the Civil War, and founded the Nation in 1865. Later he was editor of the New York Evening Post.
Seward spoke at Auburn, N.Y. on May 14, 1866, on the topic of reconciliation, especially as it related to Southern representation in Congress.
George Ticknor (1791-1871), historian and scholar, published his biography of William Hickling Prescott (1796-1859), author of History of the Conquest of Mexico and History of the Conquest of Peru, in 1864.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow published his translation of Dante's Divine Comedy, with notes, 1865-67.
James Russell Lowell's tribute to the graduates of Harvard killed in the Civil War bears the title "Ode Recited at the Harvard Commemoration, July 21, 1865."
The North American Review, founded in 1815, was one of the most important American periodicals of the nineteenth century. James Russell Lowell was its editor, with Norton, from 1863 to 1872.
Marsh describes the Carte d'Arborea in a letter to Norton of July 2, 1866, as a collection of medieval manuscripts, possibly forged, in the library of Cambridge University.