Saturday, December 01, 2007

"The President Has Jonathan-Russelled Himself"

John Randolph of Roanoke was a downright bizarre character. An "Old Republican" who broke with Jefferson because he thought Jefferson was too much of a consolidationist (!), Randolph had an odd, high voice and an acid tongue with which he flayed his political enemies.

Reading Randolph's "Blifil and Black George" speech, I discovered, to my delight, that Randolph repeatedly used the verb "Jonathan-Russell," the origin of which I discussed just the other day.

By way of background, the presidential election of 1824 was thrown into the House of Representatives when no candidate received a majority of votes in the Electoral College. Although Andrew Jackson had received a plurality of the popular vote and of the Electoral College votes, Henry Clay lobbied hard for runner-up John Quincy Adams in the House. Clay's influence enabled Adams to become president with a bare majority of votes in the House (13 of 24 states). Adams thereafter appointed Clay to be his Secretary of State, a position then viewed as a stepping-stone to the presidency (James Madison had been Jefferson's Secretary of State; James Monroe had been Madison's; and Adams had been Monroe's). The incipient Jacksonian opposition cried foul: Adam's election was, they charged, the result of a "corrupt bargain" between Adams and Clay.

Merrill Peterson provides an overview of Randolph's speech:
On March 30, 1826, two weeks after the Senate concluded debate on the Panama Mission [Adams and Clay had proposed that the United States send delegates to a Pan-American conference in Panama], John Randolph delivered perhaps the most offensive speech ever heard in that body. The fifty-two year old Virginian, whose gaunt, emaciated frame gave dramatic point to the political degeneration and decay that was his constant theme, launched one of the "elaborate salmagundis and zigzags" with which he had alternately entertained and terrorized Congress for years. Once a master of Swiftian satire, he was now too consumed by malice for that and spoke only in sneers and sarcasms. Some thought him insane, others only demoniacal, but all dreaded the poison of his tongue.

On this day, Randolph touched on the doctrines of the First Message [Adams's nationalistic 1825 State of the Union Address, which included the "lighthouses of the skies" passage that I quoted the other day], recalled the "monarchism" of old John Adams, which the son had inherited, denounced the American System [the pro-Bank, pro-internal improvements, pro-tariff program of Henry Clay], scorned the Panama Congress, where Americans would be forced to commingle with mulatto generals, and accused the secretary of state [Clay] of fraudulently manufacturing the invitation to this assembly. . . . Concluding his harangue, Randolph recurred to the source of these evils, the corrupt bargain between Adams and Clay, which he then bitingly characterized as "the coalition of Blifil and Black George . . . the combination, unheard of till then, of the puritan with the blackleg."

Blifil and Black George were characters from Henry Fielding's Tom Jones. Blifil was a sanctimonious hypocrite; Black George was a morally dubious knave.

In the passage quoted below, Randolph accused the president of having "Jonathan-Russelled himself" by entering into the corrupt bargain with Clay:
I say I will prove, if the Senate will have the patience to listen to me -- I will prove to their satisfaction that the President has Jonathan-Russelled himself. I have as good a right to coin compound verbs as other People. I say the President of the United States has Jonathan-Russelled himself -- has shown that, in the execution of a great public trust, he has done that which has damned Jonathan Russell to everlasting infamy, and enabled him to put his foot on Russell -- to clap an extinguisher on him. If I don't prove it -- it is a pledge that shall be redeemed -- not like the pledge about the navigation of the Mississippi -- not like the pledge about this Spanish American resolution -- it shall be redeemed, or I will sit down infamous and contented for the rest of my life.

And how sir has he Jonathan-Russelled himself? He has done it by the aid and instrumentality of this very new ally. I shall not say which is Blifil and which is Black George. I do not draw my pictures in such a way as to render it necessary to write under them "this is a man, this is a horse." I say this new ally has been the means of Jonathan-Russelling him; and for what? Sir, we hear a great deal of the infirmity of certain constitutions -- not paper constitutions -- we hear a great deal of Constitutional infirmity -- seven years is too long for some of us to wait; and if the President can be disposed of at the end of three years, then, being Jonathan-Russelled, may they not, by some new turning up of trumps, expect to succeed him?

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