Wednesday, July 23, 2008

"He was a valiant trencherman"

Roy Franklin Nichols’s specialty is the brief, barbed sketch of political worthies, sometimes highlighted by alliteration. A few samples follow.

On James Buchanan:
His visitors [after he won the election of 1856] found him either at Wheatland [his estate outside Lancaster, PA] or at Michael’s [a restaurant in Lancaster]. Many of them he invited to his table, which was a mighty one, for he was a valiant trencherman. Nor was he loath to lead the way to the sideboard where decanters and bottles of varying potencies stood in bold array. He relished their contents and was never affected thereby, so hard a head had he.

On William Bigler:
The third Pennsylvanian in the group was Senator William Bigler, from the center of the state. He was a plain, plodding politician who in certain characteristics, such as dullness, ponderosity and dogged industry, resembled Buchanan.

On Lewis Cass:
The rub [in considering Cass for Secretary of State] was that Buchanan and Cass never had “got along”; Cass was aged, inefficient and was a British-baiter. How could Buchanan settle British difficulties with this obese, almost senile, Anglophobe in his cabinet?

* * *

[After he became Secretary of State,] Buchanan’s premier was worse than useless. At seventy-four senility was creeping up on the obese, indolent Lewis Cass. He was liable to attacks of vertigo and was unable to do effective, concentrated work. Whatever wisdom he had gained from his long political experience had not sufficed to save his Michigan constituency for him. Now, he was a constant trial as an advisor, because he could not make up his mind and was glad to be made the mouthpiece of others.

On John B. Floyd:
John Buchanan Floyd, Secretary of War, . . . came of excellent family, his father having been governor [of Virginia] before him . . .. He was remarkable in nothing else. He was not particularly intelligent, energetic, efficient, or interested. He was expansive and easy-going and was a poor administrator. He could be persuaded to participate in questionable practices, though not to his own advantage.

On Fernando Wood:
Fernando Wood had been elected mayor [of New York City] in 1854 as a reformer and apostle of good government. Safely in office, he had advanced quickly to a point where he was teaching corruption to corruptionists. He had produced an organization capable of dealing with barroom loafers, Hell’s Kitchen thugs, panderers to vice, and anyone tough enough to bully votes.

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