REPRESENTATIVE AND LEADING
MEN OF THE PACIFIC
DAVID C. BRODERICK
It is a remarkable absurdity for an American biography to commence with the humbleness of the birth of its subject. In this land, it is doubtful if the scion of any family can show a coat-of-arms with quarterings sufficient to entitle him to Maltese knighthood, or satisfactory to an Austrian chamberlain. Almost all family lines, pretentious or honest, will be found not only “waxed at the other end,” but nearer still to the gentle propositus, “by some plebeian vocation.” There is something ridiculous in the long, barren lines of Ebenezers and Ezekiels hung about the loins of Mayflower progenitors that, like the strings of dried fruit in a New England kitchen, form the pride of the inglorious but not mute Puritan genealogical minds. It is not how long the trailing root has crept below the shallow soil, but how high the oak towers above, that measures our admiration of ancestral qualifications.
Nor is gentility south of Mason and Dixon’s line substantial enough to bear the pruning of a heraldic visitation. American agrarianism has proved too much for primogeniture and landed chiefs; and Sir Bernard Burke would look with no small degree of suspicion at even the most flourishing family tree, however illustrated by Virginian generosity or the punctiliousness of South Carolinian honor.
David Colbrith Broderick, therefore, need not piteously and in forma pauperis claim additional credit for obstacles surmounted by him as a poor man in a land where all start alike comparatively equally light in purse and family influence.
One fact, however, might be noted: he was of Irish extraction. No Yankee angularity marred and narrowed his soul at the outset in life; no Calvinistic superstition or bigotry barred his mind to generous impressions; no New England twang marred or prejudiced his tongue. He was not obliged to carry the pro-slavery burden about, like a hereditary hump, to be guarded from insult and injury. He could therefore assume the character of a national man with more sincerity than most of those who were his coadjutors in political life. Not stunted by New England barrenness, nor rendered perverse by Southern impetuosity, Broderick may well be considered fortunate in his breeding, in spite of the apparent disadvantages of imperfect education and a youth of toil.
He was born in the city of Washington, under the very shadow, as it were, of the Capital, on the fourth day of February, 1820. His parents were Irish—his father a stonecutter. In Broderick’s sixth year, the family moved to New York city, where they settled permanently.
Broderick received but little instruction in those days. Even before his father’s death, which occurred in his fourteenth year, he had learned to assist in the occupation his parent pursued. In his seventeenth year, he was apprenticed regularly to the trade, and followed it systematically for some years.
At that period, as well by reason of the necessity which proud poverty must meet to battle with the world, as from the fact that he was an elder brother, and as such had boyish battles to fight, and boyish airs of command to affect, he acquired what might be termed an honest arrogance, not founded in conceit or egotism, but which was a characteristic of physical temperament rather than of his mind. It became part of his manner, as year by year the circumstances which elicited it were changed in character but not in force. But Broderick was a veritable leader of men. Neither want of polish or wealth could deprive him of his place in society, or prevent his standing forth a Saul among his brethren.
Accident, more than any personal taste, made him a publican. In 1841, he kept a place called “Subterranean Hall;” and the year after, another, known as “Republican Hall.” This employment, however, must have been a mere makeshift, such as every man in California, however prosperous, has at times been obliged to seize—a sudden and disagreeable refuge from the storms of poverty. He was meanwhile rapidly working his way through the temporary crust of ignorance, and making himself respected and understood among his fellows.
At that time, the Democratic party in New York and elsewhere was gradually falling into two ranks, marked by the energy of different generations—the Old Hunkers and the Young Democracy. To the latter, Broderick was joined; and with it, in the local politics, he soon became identified.
He also was prominent in the Fire organization, and was actively engaged as foreman in the Howard Engine Company No. 34, corner of Christopher and Hudson streets, in his District.
To the routine mind of the East that bends round-shouldered over its ledger, and stares through its well-to-do spectacles with disfavor at organized ruffianism, as embodied in a volunteer Fire Department, there is something inexplicable in the idea that it should form a power in the State; that there should step forth from its ranks men of moral courage, of heroic wills, of promptness in speech and action, rendering their possessions no mean antagonists in forensic dispute. Yet it was from such sources that no small part of the power of the senatorial ex-mason sprung, and by it that his character was somewhat tinctured. His command over men was not the suave, polished, silvery-tongued utterance of cloistered scholarship, nor the crafty hammering of the special legal pleader; it was rather the hoarse, startling outcry that thrilled through the fireman’s trumpet, and that found its result in the instantaneous comprehension of his hearers, and their almost involuntary acquiescence therein.
In 1842, Broderick’s mother died; and two years after, his only brother, Richard, who had just been appointed to the United States Naval School, was killed by the chance explosion of an old bomb that had been thrown among the refuse iron of a foundry on Charleston street, New York. Thus Broderick was without a relative in this country; and the solitariness of his bereaved condition cast a melancholy almost bordering on moroseness over his whole manner and character.
It was during these years that he gathered the elements of political strength that never after deserted him. Party friends, better fortuned as to literary and historic learning, then opened their social circles and library doors to him, and the opportunities thus offered were seized and intelligently used by him to measurably repair the gaps left by early neglect. Though, so to speak, of a rude and unkempt turn as to bookish training, yet Broderick was not a man utterly void of any culture of even the highest order. However, he may have found the favorable time and circumstances, he read and appreciated the highest and most ćsthetic poets of his time with an understanding that would have done honor to the mellowest scholarship of the old country.
Such a man, with an earnest eye for knowledge, alive to the thoughts and passions of great ones gone by, does far more satisfactory honor to the book from which he receives instruction, to the page of history which he searches, or to the bard in whom he finds the expression of his heart, than the lazy saunterer through sterile textbooks, leaning on the crutches of grammatical discipline, pushed and lifted along by weary instructors, until in due time the barren academic degree drops into his lap like a rotten windfall, for which he himself has not striven, and which he has not deserved.
The parthenon of Broderick’s intellect was never finished. It was continually shooting up into new columns that gave promise at some future day of approximate perfection; and had his life been as long as those of the average of English or even American statesmen, we may well consider that its progressive and expanding condition would have brought an old age tempered with all the refinement, as well of books as of polite conversation and communion.
In that year 1846, Broderick made his first long political stride forwards. He was nominated for Congress by the Young Democracy of his District; and though defeated, the fight only showed the partisan strength and personal popularity then grasped by him.
In June, 1849, Broderick arrived in California, and was for some time employed in the Assay Office or Mint carried on by Samuel W. Haight on Clay street. Mr. Broderick, though working as an operative in Mr. Haight’s establishment, became a candidate for the seat in the State Senate left vacant by the election of the Hon. Nathaniel Bennett to the Supreme Bench, and was elected, and served as well the partial as the succeeding full term.
His experience and tact in the matter of a volunteer fire department became very acceptable to the new city in those days of conflagrations; and he, together with George W. Green, an ancient friend of the Atlantic side, organized the first fire company in San Francisco, (Empire Company, No. 1,) and became its foreman, with Mr. Green for assistant.
He received a flattering evidence of his success as a practical legislator at this time. On the resignation of Governor Burnett, and Lieutenant Governor McDougal becoming acting Governor, Mr. Broderick became President of the Senate, a position which he filled well, and on the resignation of McDougal, a short time previous to the expiration of his term, Mr. Broderick became virtually Governor of the State.
When Broderick was a State Senator, the election of United States Senator became a duty of that Legislature, and Broderick received a warm Democratic support from his colleagues; but the caucus held showed one more vote for Mr. Weller, and Broderick cast his vote at the election for his rival.
Broderick now became a private citizen, and by steadiness, tact, and ability, acquired a fortune sufficient to place him at liberty to gratify his ambition in public life.
He entered into the party struggles of the time, bringing an energy and political tact that oftentimes insured the success of his friends, otherwise doubtful.
Yet his method of concentrating his political forces had nothing in it of the creeping style of trams and snares. He made no concessions. He was no trimmer, to yield to strength what weakness could not have obtained. He planned with the political board fully considered, and his victories were as rigid as a game of chess. No humble follower dared to intervene with variations of the mode of attack or defence. The leader was the same domineering spirit who knew how to defend in boyish days his weaker brother, and now stood by political or personal friend against political or personal foe, unflinching and unchanging.
Broderick wished a seat in the United States Senate. It was a glorious ambition for one who as a boy had known so much of the muddy side of life, and who had now reached a pinnacle from which he might survey the future, and choose the road preferable to him.
Broderick’s method of attaining his end brought upon him all the personal and political hostility that for the rest of his life closed about him.
Year after year, the Legislature met, now at Benicia, now at Sacramento; caucuses were held; test votes were cast; and Broderick failed to grasp the coveted honors, retreating, however, only with the consciousness of no defeat suffered. Now, it was his bitterest antagonist, Dr. Gwin, now, it was Senator Foote that led a fragmentary opposition.
Broderick may have been wrong in all these fiery political struggles. Ambition of every description has its selfish side, at which attacks can be made, and the citadel of its success forced. But the tenacity of the man had something so honest about it, so frank and glorious, that we, who sit and ponder to-day over the battle which the single hearted hero carried on—the harshness, the vindictiveness, and the hates of which have hardly yet been healed—cannot but feel rejoiced at the final success that crowned Broderick in 1856 with senatorial honors.
In March, 1857, he took his seat in the Senate. The early months of Broderick’s senatorial career were vexed with troubles as to the distribution of patronage on the Pacific coast. He was virtually divested of the influence which he should have wielded at Washington, backed, as he was, by so fair a support to employ in the interests of the Buchanan administration, then struggling to maintain an undivided party more Southern in its affection than practicable in its projects. The political enemies who has been defeated in California were entrenched in the Capitol. To them, the ground was familiar. Their leader was conversant with every nook and corner from which place or profit might be acquired for his adherents; while Broderick stood alone, coldly received by the Government, and utterly unable to do that for his friends and party which a senator elected as he had been would be entitled to expect. In short, the power of official recommendation, without which a United States Senator is little more than a member of a grandiloquent debating society, had been snatched from Broderick by the administration, and delivered entirely and exclusively to Senator Gwin and the party whose exponent he was.
Mr. Broderick differed from the administration upon the great issue at that time between the two divisions of the Democratic party. He was an advocate of the doctrine or dogma of popular territorial sovereignty as enunciated by Mr. Douglas. The wisdom of that theory has never been tested. It is not for us to say that theory has never been tested. It is not for us to say that its expounders were correct in whole or in part; nor, on the other hand, has the fiercest opponent the logical privilege to proclaim it false. The Gordian knot has since been rudely sundered by the Civil war; and it is useless to-day to follow out the strands and measures the strength and tortuousness of every filament.
To us, Mr. Douglas and Mr. Broderick can be nothing but prophets, uninspired perhaps, but honest, who cried aloud, whose words were not regarded, and whose prophetic mission was assailed with a bitterness and violence that succeeding years should hasten to forget.
Though unsupported by friends or party, Mr. Broderick won the national respect in his short career in the Senate. It is pleasant to find the patriarchal Seward on the one hand, and the fiery Toombs on the other, join in frank commendations of their young colleague’s character when the resolutions of respect for his memory were introduced at the next session.
He returned to California to renew the battle which his enemies now backed by administration patronage, waged against him.
There is a physical sort of fervor about a Californian political campaign. The materiality of the daily life of the Pacific seems to swell and writhe about the forensic disputants. Force claims its place as an element of the fiery logic; and words are rather the damascene flowers upon the sabre than the steel itself.
It was such a canvass that Broderick undertook in 1859. It was an abnormal excitement that at that time drove forth his every utterance in defence of his views on the questions of the day.
A thorough gymnast wrought up to a pitch of physical excitement feels but imperfectly the scratches and bruises that to an unhealthy frame are serious injuries. He gives and takes severe blows that are misprised, because his exuberant health will, he knows, bring a rapid healing.
To the political advocate, who steps trained and warned upon the platform to struggle for ambitious gratification, the same kind of indifference should be expected morally. The antagonist who comes up at each fresh encounter with no smile on his face, and with rancor growing in his bosom, violates the laws of the political ring, and should be ruled out.
Broderick was abused in the harshest manner by his political opponents. Expressions of contempt were showered on him with a disregard for any personal feelings or personal purity that he might have claimed.
On the 24th of June, 1859, the Hon. David S. Terry, then the senior Judge on the bench of the Supreme Court, delivered a speech at Sacramento, eulogistic of the Buchanan party and its principles, and claiming it and them as the only really Democratic and consistent organization, followed with a sharp criticism of the Republican party; and animadverting to the Douglas party in the State, used the following language:
What other party have we opposed to us? A miserable remnant of a faction sailing under false colors, trying to obtain votes under false pretences. They have no distinction; they are entitled to none. They are the followers of one man—the personal chattels of a single individual whom they are ashamed of. They belong, body and breeches, to David C. Broderick. They are yet ashamed to acknowledge their master, and are calling themselves, forsooth, Douglas Democrats, when it is known—well known to them as to us—that the gallant senator from Illinois, whose voice has always been heard in the advocacy of Democratic principles, who is not now disunited from the Democrat party, has no affiliation with them, no feeling in common them.
When Broderick read this speech at the table of the International Hotel, he was hurt at the contemptuous tone in which he himself was alluded to as the party leader; and in the presence of the assembled company gave way to a burst of bitterness as to Judge Terry, from whom he had expected a kinder mode of expression. Mr. D. W. Perley, a partner of Terry’s, took up the defence of his friend, and offered to challenge Broderick, who, in a note, refused a hostile meeting with Mr. Perley, or any one else, until after the political campaign was ended.
The political canvas, in which Broderick and his adherents were unsuccessful, was closed; but unfortunately the hasty and violent remarks made by Broderick, when stung by Judge Terry’s sneer, were not forgotten.
On the 8th of September, 1859, Judge Terry wrote to Broderick referring to language used by him at the International Hotel two months previously. This note to Perley, declining a meeting until the campaign was over, had been published, and the time having elapsed, Judge Terry took the earliest opportunity to demand, through his friend Calhoun Benham, a retraction of the offending remarks.
To this letter, Mr. Broderick made immediate answer, requesting particular mention of the language deemed offensive, in order to prevent future misrepresentation.
A letter followed from Judge Terry, stating that the remarks alluded to were in substance as follows: “I have heretofore considered and spoken of Judge Terry as the only honest man on the Supreme Court Bench, but I now take it all back.” The retraction of language calculated to reflect upon his character as an officer or a gentlemen was again demanded by Judge Terry.
To this Broderick replied that his words were occasioned by offensive allusions concerning him made by Judge Terry in the convention at Sacramento, and that as nearly as possible the language he (Broderick) used was as follows: “During Judge Terry’s incarceration by the Vigilance Committee, I paid two hundred dollars a week to support a newspaper in his defence. I have also stated, heretofore, that I considered him the only honest man on the Supreme Bench, but I take it all back.” No retraction was made, and he added that Judge Terry himself was the proper one to decide whether this language afforded grounds for offence.
This letter was followed by one from Judge Terry, demanding, through his friend Mr. Benham, the satisfaction usual among gentlemen. Mr. Broderick named Hon. J. C. McKibbin and D. D. Colton as his friends on the occasion, and the terms of the meeting were arranged.
On the 12th of September, they met at the Lake House Ranch, near Laguna Merced, about six miles from San Francisco, and were arrested. No offence having as yet been committed, Police Judge Coon released the parties, and the meeting took place the next day, near the same locality.
Some sixty or seventy persons witnessed the duel. The morning was a clear, bright, sunny one, and a little after six o’clock both parties arrived on the spot.
Mr. Broderick was attended by Hon. J. C. McKibbin and D. D. Colton, his seconds, and Dr. Loehr as surgeon; while Judge Terry was accompanied by Calhoun Benham and Col. Thomas Hyes as seconds, and Drs. Hammond and Aylette as his surgeon.
Both seemed in good spirits, standing apart in conversation with their attendants. The weapons used were eight-inch Belgium pistols, both set with hair-triggers, and the distance marked off ten paces. In pursuance of the arrangements of the day before, the choice of ground belonged to Mr. Broderick and the selection of the pistols to Judge Terry.
When the articles of the meeting were first drawn up, it was objected to on the part of Judge Terry that the word, “Fire!” was not followed by the usual “One—Two—Three!” but by simply the words “One—Two!” The friends of Broderick, however, insisted upon this article remaining as it was, and the point was carried.
The code duello being read aloud, the contestants took their places. While Broderick’s position seemed careless and somewhat awkward, that of his adversary was rather studied and his manner cooler.
Just before seven o’clock, the words “Fire!—One! Two!” were spoken. Broderick raised his weapon, but it exploded before he could take aim, probably owing to the delicate touch of the hair-trigger, the ball from his pistol striking the ground only four or five paces in advance of where he stood.
A moment later, Judge Terry fired, the ball from his pistol striking Broderick full in the right breast, causing him to fall before his seconds could reach him.
He was taken to the house of his friend, L. Haskell, Esq., at Black Point, and visited there by many friends. The best of medical attention could do little for him. His sufferings were great, and about nine o’clock of Friday morning, September 16th, he died.
All the various Courts, Federal, State, and Municipal, adjourned upon hearing of the death of David C. Broderick.
The feeling throughout the city and the State was intense, and many public men paid tribute to the distinguished senator’s memory by eloquent words of praise and regret.
The committee having in charge the arrangements connected with the funeral, refused the kind offer of General Haven to furnish a military escort, deeming it better that the ceremonies should be strictly of a civic character. His body lay until his burial in the Union Hotel on the Plaza, and was visited by almost every citizen, and shown marks of respectful attention by all.
The funeral took place on the afternoon of Sunday, the 18th of September. Col. Baker was selected to deliver the funeral eulogy, and Broderick’s remains were escorted to Lone Mountain Cemetery by an immense assemblage, who showed the feelings of deeply seated regard and sorrow. The city was draped in mourning, the flags on buildings and in the harbor were at half-mast, and every thing wore a solemn and impressive appearance.
The train of events which seemed to make the death of the Senator the irresistible necessity of the tragedy, pointed to Dr. Gwin rather than to Judge Terry as his veritable opponent. It was not on the same plane with Terry that Broderick’s acts were projected. The offence rankling between them was an episode rather than the absorbing emotion; and the frightful unities of the drama would seem to have been better met, had Gwin rather than Terry pointed the fatal pistol that finished the career of our hero.
The duel that closed the life of Broderick has been the theme of much political and personal scandal, affecting the characters and standing of the prominent men of the ultra wing of the party of which Broderick was the partial expositor in the State of California.
The minutest details of the combat have been sifted to find material for exciting paragraphs in the journals; and even a sort of superstitious glamor has been thrown about the remote cause of the strife.
But the issues can be narrowed down to a few propositions: it is wrong to engage in duels; Broderick committed the wrong; it is wrong to use language for which nothing but a personal meeting can atone; Broderick used such language. He attempted to evade the meeting with a dignity, far different from cowardice; but failing to do so, went out like the brave heart that he was, fearlessly, seriously, with no mean repinings, no mawkish sentiment, no driveling about the morality of the act, and he met his death, dealt under the code which he himself had recognized, and at other times invoked. Whether one pattern of pistol has a mechanical advantage or disadvantage over another; whether one combatant has a steader eye or hand or more or less skill than another, are questions that cannot be raised on the field of recontro without turning prudence into something worse. Broderick scorned to raise such quibbles himself, and this is no place for their discussion.
A little more generosity in pressing home the offence, a little less ansiety for the vulgar satisfaction of the day, a grander peering into futurity to see the dim reflection that the years threw back of the motives and feelings that then urged him in his course, would have cast no stain and given ground for no mean imputation on the personal character or courage of his antagonist. The bitter political strife that followed in after years, between the North and South, would have swallowed up in a more catholic struggle the feverish hostilities that in those times exploded fitfully in California, between the impetuous spirits of either faction.
The bravery which led Broderick out to a meeting from which it was the sum of possibilities that he could not return alive, was the same fire that a few years after blazed in the heart of one of his eulgoists at the fatal cannon’s mouth in the field of battle. It is the spirit that has made the Californian the boyist hero among his pears of the other states—reckless of his risks, ready to resent injuries and obedient to the law, only when that law was in keeping with its original purpose, and not the fortification planted about greater wrong.
Broderick was in the broadest sense of the hackneyed phrase, a representative man. In him could be marked the effect of the fullest liberty upon an Irish intellect. The weight of ignorance, poverty, and sorrow once flung from him, there was no mark of the shackles left. There was as much of the sovereignty of will about his mental actions as ever developed from a royal cradle.
Sprung from a race from whom prosperity, mental improvement, and creed almost have been snatched, instead of being a cringing follower in the wake of others’ errors, Broderick was more thoughtful of the interests of true republicanism, more considerate and unswerving in his regard for the interests of his fellows, a nobler citizen in fact than more pretentious children of the Republic, who used the lap of the national mother as a ground whereon to battle for their toys of theories—unsubstantial products of fallacious sentiment. He acknowledged all the defects and failings which could possibly be ascribed to him; and having thus stripped himself of every conceit and pretension not in accordance with the character upon which he was to build his life, and having accepted the position into which circumstances had thrown him with all its asperities, he marched forward upon a career of pure glory, closed as in the days of ancient chivalry on the field of battle.
ORATION by C. D. BAKER,
DELIVERED OVER THE DEAD BODY OF DAVID C. BRODERICK, at PORTSMOUTH SQUARE, SAN FRANCISCO, ON THE 18th of SEPTEMBER, 1859.
Citizens of California:
A Senator lies dead in our midst ! He is wrapped in a bloody shroud, and we, to whom his toils and cares were given are about to bear him to the place appointed for all the living. It is not fit that such a man should pass to the tomb unherlded; it is not fit that such a life should steal unnoticed to its close; it is not fit that such a death should call forth no rebuke, or be followed by no public lamentation. It is this conviction which impels the gathering of this assemblage. We are here of every station and pursuit, of every creed and character, each in his capacity of citizens, to swell the mournful tribute which the majesty of the people offers to the unreplying dead. He lies to-day surrounded by little of funeral pomp. No banners droop above the bier, no melancholy music floats upon the reluctant air. The hopes of high-hearted friends droop like fading flowers upon his breast, and the struggling sigh compels the tear in eyes that seldom weep. Around him are those who have known him best and loved him longest; who have shared the triumph, and endured the defeat. Near him are the gravest and noblest of the State, possessed by a grief at once earnest and sincere; while beyond, the masses of the people whom he loved, and for whom his life was given, gather like a thunder-cloud of swelling and indignant grief.
In such a presence, fellow-citizens let us linger for a moment at the portals of the tomb, whose shadowy arches vibrate to the public heart, to speak a few brief words of the man, of his life, and of his death.
Mr. Broderick was born in the District of Columbia, in 1819. He was of Irish descent, and of obscure and respectable parentage; he had little of early advantages, and never summoned to his aid a complete and finished education. His boyhood and his early manhood were passed in the City of New York, and the loss of his father early stimulated him to the efforts which maintained his surviving mother and brother, and served also to fix and form his character even in his boyhood. His love for his mother was his first and most distinctive trait of character, and when his brother died—an early and sudden death--the shock gave a serious and reflective cast to his habits and his thoughts, which marked them to the last hour of his life.
He was always filled with pride, and energy, and ambition—his pride was in the manliness and force of his character, and no man had more reason than he for such pride. His energy was manifest in the most resolute struggles with poverty and obscurity, and his ambition impelled him to seek a foremost place in the great race for honorable power.
Up to the time of his arrival in California, his life had been passed amid events incident to such a character. Fearless, self-reliant, open in his enmities, warm in his friendships, wedded to his opinions, and marching directly to his purpose through and over all opposition, his career was checkered with success and defeat; but even in defeat his energies were strengthened and his character developed. When he reached these shores, his keen observation taught him at once that he trod a broad field, and that a higher career was before him. He had no false pride; sprung from a people and of a race whose vocation was labor, he toiled with his own hands, and sprang at a bound from the workshop to the legislative hall. From that time there congregated around him and against him the elements of success and defeat—strong friendships, bitter enmities, high praise, malignant calumnies—but he trod with a free and a proud step that onward path which has led him to glory and the grave.
It would be idle for me, at this hour and in this place, to speak of all that history with unmitigated praise; it will be idle for his enemies hereafter to deny his claim to noble virtues and high purpose. When, in the Legislature, he boldly denounced the special legislation which is the curse of a new country, he proved his courage and his rectitude. When he opposed the various and sometimes successful schemes to strike out the salutary provisions of the Constitution which guarded free labor, he was true to all the better instincts of his life. When, prompted by ambition and the admiration of his friends, he first sought a seat in the Senate of the United States, he aimed by legitimate effort to attain the highest of all earthly positions, and failed with honor.
It is my duty to say that, in my judgment, when at a later period he sought to anticipate the Senatorial election, he committed an error which I think he lived to regret. It would have been a violation of the true principles of representative government, which no reason, public or private, could justify, and could never have met the permanent approval of good and wise men. Yet, while I say this over his bier, let me remind you of the temptation to such an error, of the plans and reasons which prompted it — of the many good purposes it was intended to effect. And if ambition, “the last infirmity of noble minds,” led him for a moment from the better path, let me remind you how nobly he regained it.
It is impossible to speak within the limits of this address, of the events of that session of the Legislature at which he was elected to the Senate of the United States; but some things should not be passed in silence here. The contest between him and the present Senator had been bitter and personal. He had triumphed. He had been wonderfully sustained by his friends, and stood confessedly “the first in honor and the first in place.” He yielded to an appeal made to his magnanimity by his foe. If he judged unwisely, he has paid the forfeit well. Never in the history of political warfare has any public man been so pursued; never has malignity so exhausted itself.
Fellow-citizens ! The man whose body lies before you was your Senator. From the moment of his election his character has been maligned, his motives attacked, his courage impeached, his patriotism assailed. It has been a system tending to one end; and the end is here. What was his crime? Review his history—consider his public acts— weigh his private relations—who was his superior? It was his boast, and amid the general license of a new country, it was a proud one, that his most scrutinizing enemy could fix no single act of immorality upon him! Temperate, decorous, self-restrained, he had passed through all the excitements of California, unstained. No man could charge him with broken faith or violated trust; of habits simple and inexpensive, he had no lust of gain. He overreached no man’s weakness in a bargain, and withheld from no man his just dues. Never, in the history of the State, has there been a citizen who has borne public relations, more stainless in all respects than he.
But it is not by this standard he is to be judged. He was a public man, and his memory demands a public judgment. What was his public crime? The answer in his own words: “I die because I was opposed to a corrupt administration, and the extreme of slavery.” Fellow-citizens, they are remarkable words, uttered at a very remarkable moment; they involve the history of his Senatorial career, and of its sad and bloody termination.
When Mr. Broderick entered the Senate, he had been elected at the beginning of a Presidential term as the friend of the President elect, having undoubtedly been one of his most influential supporters. There were unquestionably some things in the exercise of the appointing power which he could have wished otherwise; but he had every reason to remain with the Administration, which could be supposed to weigh with a man in his position. He had heartily maintained the doctrine of Popular Sovereignty, as set forth in the Cincinnati Platform, and he never wavered in his support till the day of his death. But when in his judgment the President betrayed his obligations to his party and country—when, in the whole series of acts in relation to Kansas, he proved recreant to his pledges and instructions—when the whole power of the Administration was brought to bear upon the legislature branch of the Government, in order to force Slavery upon an unwilling people—then, in the high performance of his duty as a Senator, he rebuked the Administration by his voice and his vote, and stood by his principles. It is true, he adopted no half-way measures. He threw the whole weight of his character into the ranks of the Opposition. He endeavored to arouse the people to an indignant sense of the iniquitous tyranny of federal power, and, kindling with the contest, became its fiercest and firmest opponent. Fellow-citizens, whatever may have been your political predilections, it is impossible to repress your admiration, as you review the conduct of the man who lies hushed in death before you. You read in his history a glorious imitation of the great popular leaders who have opposed the despotic influences of power in other lands, and in our own. When JOHN HAMPDEN died on Chalgrove field, he sealed his devotion to popular liberty with his blood. The eloquence of Fox found the sources of its inspiration in his love for people. When Senators conspired against Tiberius Gracchus, and the Tribune of the people fell beneath their daggers, it was power that prompted the crime and demanded the sacrifice. Who can doubt, if your Senator had surrendered his free thought, and bent in submission to the rule of the Administration—who can doubt that instead of resting on a bloody bier, he would have this day been reposing in the inglorious felicitude of Presidential sunshine?
Fellow-citizens, let no man suppose that the death of the eminent citizen of whom I speak was caused by any other reason than that to which his own words assign it. It has been long foreshadowed--it was predicted by his friends—it was threatened by his enemies; it was the consequence of intense political hatred. His death was a political necessity, poorly veiled beneath the guise of a private quarrel. Here, in his own State, among those who witnessed the late canvass, who know the contending leaders, among those who know the antagonists on the bloody ground—here, the public conviction is so thoroughly settled, that nothing need be said. Tested by the correspondence itself, there was no cause, in morals, in honor, in taste, by any code, by the custom of any civilized land, there was no cause for blood. Let me repeat the story—it is as brief as it is fatal; A Judge of the Supreme Court descends into a political convention—it is just, however, to say that the occasion was to return thanks to his friends for an unsuccessful support. In a speech bitter and personal he stigmatized Senator Broderick and all his friends in words of contemptuous insult. When Mr. Broderick saw that speech, he retorted, saying in substance, that he had heretofore spoken of Judge Terry as an honest man, but that he now took it back. When inquired of, he admitted that he had so said, and connected his words with Judge Terry’s speech as prompting them. So far as Judge Terry personally was concerned, this was the cause of mortal combat; there was no other.
In the contest which has just terminated in the State, Mr. Broderick had taken a leading part; he had been engaged in controversies very personal in their nature, because the subjects of public discussion had involved the character and conduct of many public and distinguished men. But Judge Terry was not one of these. He was no contestant; his conduct was not in issue; he had been mentioned but once incidentally—in reply to his own attack— and, except as it might be found in his peculiar traits or peculiar fitness, there was no reason to suppose that he could seek any man’s blood. When William of Nassau, the deliverer of Holland, died in the presence of his wife and children, the hand that struck the blow was not nerved by private vengeance. When the fourth Henry passed unharmed amid the dangers of the field of Ivry, to perish in the streets of his capital by the hand of a fanatic, he did not seek to avenge a private grief. An exaggerated sense of personal honor—a weak mind with choleric passions, intense sectional prejudice united with great confidence in the use of arms—these sometimes serve to stimulate the instruments which accomplish the deepest and deadliest purpose.
Fellow-citizens ! One year ago to-day I performed a duty, such as I perform to-day, over the remains of Senator Ferguson, who died as Broderick died, tangled in the meshes of the code of honor. To-day there is another and more eminent sacrifice. To-day I renew my protest; to-day I utter yours. The code of honor is a delusion and a snare; it palters with the hope of a true courage and binds it at the feet of crafty and cruel skill. It surrounds its victim with the pomp and grace of the procession, but leaves him bleeding on the altar. It substitutes cold and deliberate preparation for courageous and manly impulse, and arms the one to disarm the other; it may prevent fraud between practiced duelists who should be forever without its pale, but it makes the mere “trick of the weapon” superior to the noblest cause and the truest courage. Its pretence of equality is a lie—it is equal in all the form, it is unjust in all the substances—the habitude of arms, the early training, the frontier life, the border war, the sectional custom, the life of leisure, all these are advantages which no negotiation can neutralize, and which no courage can overcome.
But, fellow-citizens, the protest is not only spoken, in your words and in mine—it is written in indelible characters; it is written in the blood of Gilbert, in the blood of Ferguson, in the blood of Broderick; and the inscriptions will not altogether fade.
With the administration of the code in this particular case, I am not here to deal. Amid passionate grief, let us strive to be just. I give no currency to rumors of which personally I know nothing; there are other tribunals to which they may well be referred, and this is not one of them. But I am here to say, that whatever in the code of honor or out of it demands or allows a deadly combat where there is not in all things entire and certain equality, is a prostitution of the name of Chivalry, to cover the malignity of murder.
And now, as the shadow turn toward the East, and we prepare to bear these poor remains to their silent resting-place, let us not seek to repress the generous pride which prompts a recital of noble deeds and manly virtues. He rose unaided and alone; he began his career without family or fortune, in the face of difficulties; he inherited poverty and obscurity; he died a Senator in Congress, having written his name in the history of the great struggle for the rights of the people against the despotism of organization and the corruption of power. He leaves in the hearts of his friends the tenderest and the proudest recollections. He was honest, faithful, earnest, sincere, generous and brave; he felt in all the great crises of his life that he was a leader in the ranks, that it was his high duty to uphold the interests of the masses; that he could not falter. When he returned from that fatal field, while the dark wing of the Archangel of Death was casting its shadows upon his brow, his greatest anxiety was as to the performance of his duty. He felt that all his strength and all his life belonged to the cause to which he had devoted them. “Baker, said he—and to me they were his last words—“Baker, when I was struck I tried to stand firm, but the blow blinded me, and I could not.” It trust it is no shame to my manhood that tears blinded me as he said it. Of his last hour I have no heart to speak. He was the last of his race; there was no kindred hand to smooth his couch or wipe the death damp from his brow; but around that dying bed strong men, the friends of early manhood, the devoted adherents of later life, bowed in irrepressible grief, “and lifted up their voices and wept.”
But, fellow-citizens, the voice of lamentation is not uttered by private friendship alone—the blow that struck his manly breast has touched the heart of a people, and as the sad tidings spread, a general gloom prevails. Who now shall speak for California?—who be the interpreter of the wants of the Pacific coast? Who can appeal to the communities of the Atlantic who love free labor? Who can speak for masses of men with a passionate love for the classes from whence he sprung? Who can defy the bandishments of power, the insolence of office, the corruption of administrations? What hopes are buried with him in the grave!
“Ah ! Who that gallant spirit shall resume,
Leap from Eurotas’ bank, and call us from the tomb?”
But the last word must be spoken, and the imperious mandate of Death must be fulfilled.. Thus, O brave heart ! We bear thee to thy rest. Thus, surrounded by tens of thousands, we leave thee to the equal grave. As in life, no other voice among us so rung its trumpet blast upon the ear of freemen, so in death its echoes will reverberate amid our mountains and valleys, until truth and valor cease to appeal to the human heart.
Good friend ! True hero ! Hail and farewell..
Transcribed by: Jeanne Sturgis Taylor.
Source: Shuck, Oscar T., “Representative & Leading Men of the Pacific”, Bacon & Co., Printers & Publishers, San Francisco, 1870. Pages 385-404.
© 2008 Jeanne Sturgis Taylor.