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The Life and Public Services of Henry Wilson
Chapter XXI.


MR. WILSON AS PRESIDENT OF THE SENATE. - HIS HEALTH DECLINING. - HIS SECOND VOLUME OF THE RISE AND FALL OF THE SLAVE-POWER. - HIS LAST SICKNESS. - HIS DEATH.

COMMANDING in person, quick in perception, and well versed in parliamentary practice, Mr. Wilson presided with dignity and great acceptance over the Senate; and his decisions were respected by the members of both parties. his earnest desire, expressed on every suitable occasion, was conciliation between the factions in the Republican party, and the restoration of fraternity and friendliness between the North and South.

Although his elevation to the office of vice-president lessened his senatorial labors, he still allowed himself no rest. Every leisure moment was devoted to the cornposition of his great work on "The Rise and Fall of the Slave-Power in America," for which the consultation of numberless authorities, and an extensive correspondence, were demanded. His arduous labors were often extended late into the night; and he observed to a friend, at this period, that he seldom laid aside his pen until the clock struck two in the morning. "My mail comes in late," he said; "the journals must be read; my letters must be looked over, some of them answered; and so I am obliged to steal an hour or two from the coming day before retiring."

But though strictly temperate, and early inured to toil, his constitution was not adequate to the strain of such incessant industry. his health began to yield to this habitual transgression of hygienic law. His first fearful warning was a sudden, but only partial, paralysis of a facial nerve, in 1873, by which his countenance was slightly altered, and his utterance somewhat impaired. The usual remedies were prescribed; and, above all, the physicians imperatively enjoined repose from labor: but how could a mind of such intense activity obey the injunction? This very monition of the uncertainty of life incited the desire in the Vice-President to complete his book, which he considered the most valuable legacy he could leave to his countrymen. He, however, yielded somewhat to his medical advisers, and spent the summer, —some time at the house of his friend, ex-Gov. Claffin, some time at his home in Natick, some time in profound retirement, endeavoring to rest from labor, and to recuperate his health. On one occasion, a friend, calling at thin house where the Vice. President was living very quietly, inquired of the servant for Mr. Wilson; when she replied to him, "There's no such person here: I never heard of such a man." On being further questioned, she responded, "Yes, sir, there is an invalid stopping here; but I don't know who he is, and he is out to-day." She reported this to her mistress, and was not a little surprised to learn from her, that, for several weeks, she had been waiting on the Vice-President of the United States.

In September, Mr. Wilson made a journey to the White Mountains, stopping, on the way, to visit the spot where he was born, near the Cocheco River, in Farmington; and, on returning, found his health improved, and thought, if the papers would but let him alone, he might hope for a complete recovery. In November, however, he excused himself from speaking at the Massachusetts Club, on account of illness; and although he repaired to Washington, and took his seat in the chair of the Senate at the opening of Congress, he was soon obliged to retire from it, and seek repose in his peaceful home at Natick.

Early in January, 1874, he greatly enjoyed a re-union at No. 13 Chestnut Street, Boston, with Ralph Waldo Emerson, Wendell Phillips, Charles Bradlaugh, and other celebrities; and, on the 16th of the same month, addressed a letter on the political situation to "The Springfield Republican," in which he hopefully says, "I believe the Republican party has it in its power to recover what is lost, and to elect the next President." And he also expresses his earnest desire for reconciliation between the conflicting elements in the party, and the return of those who had abandoned it. In another letter, written about this time, he assigns his reasons for voting for the Bounty Bill, very sensibly avowing that "the nation is bound in honor to be as liberal now towards the men who fought its battles as it pledged itself to be in the time of danger."

Mr. Wilson was profoundly affected at the death of Charles Sumner, who had fought with him so many hard battles in the senate-chamber; and shed over his grave at Mt. Auburn the tear of sad regret, observing, as he took his farewell look of the distinguished statesman, "I soon shall follow him."

In April ensuing, a passage was engaged for him for a second trip to Europe, under the hope that a change of scene, and foreign medical advice, might restore him to his wonted vigor; but, feeling soon that his health was gradually improving, he abandoned this design, and spent the summer in recreation at various watering places along the shore, and in carrying through the press the second volume of his great work on "The Rise and Fall of the Slave-Power in America," which was published this year, in superior style, by James R. Osgood & Co., Boston. In it Mr. Wilson, with the hand of a master, analyzes and describes the leading national events through that stirring period extending from the admission of Florida to the election of Mr. Lincoln; and fully sustains the reputation for candor, for profound research, for classification of facts, for logical reasoning, and for force, clearness, and dignity of style, which the first instalment of this important contribution to our political history gained for him. His chapters on the origin of the Republican party, and the assault on Mr. Sumner, are most ably written; and the whole work, coming as it does from an actor in the events recorded, is worthy to be profoundly studied by the American people.

At the opening of the session of Congress at the close of the year, the Vice-President had so far regained his health as to be able to preside over the Senate with his usual ability. His back pay as a senator he nobly returned to the treasury; and, though differing in many points from the policy of the President, he lived on the most friendly terms with him, and entertained, as ever, a high opinion of his executive wisdom. To a friend he said, one day, "The third-term movement is all nonsense. President Grant is a singularly able man; and the country hardly knows any thing about him personally. He is immensely underrated. The President is reticent; but, in reference to the third term, I do not really think that he himself desires it." He also mentioned Mr. Blaine and Mr. Washburne as probable Republican candidates for the next presidential canvass.

In the spring of 1875, he made a tour in the Southwestern States, where he examined the condition of the schools, and spoke, in no less than twenty-nine public addresses, words of fraternity and encouragement to the people. He visited the graves of Jackson, Clay, Taylor, Polk, Crittenden, Bell, and Benton, for the latter of whom he ever entertained the most profound respect. In the streets of Memphis he spoke a moment with Mrs. Jefferson Davis. He saw with delight the loyal demonstrations of the people, and returned with renewed hope and vigor for the prosecution of his literary labors. After the centennial celebrations at Lexington and Boston, in which he took an active part, he repaired to Saratoga, where his physician gave him permission to spend the morning in writing on his book, on condition that he would rest for the remainder of the day. Here he made two effective addresses on behalf of temperance to large audiences, and re-affirmed the principles by which his whole life had been guided.

In September, he was called to preside over the Republican Convention at Worcester. His address on that occasion was strong, but conciliatory, advising union on the part of all Republicans, and predicting the triumph of their principles, and the election of Alexander H. Rice to the gubernatorial chair. To this, and to his letters written at this period, the success of the party at the last election is, no doubt, largely due. There is something of sublimity in the course of a man standing thus steadily to the principles of his party, which so many in times of trial had deserted, and, by his inflexible integrity and judicious counsel, rallying it again to victory.

But the days of this wise political guide were numbered. Dining at Young's Hotel a short time afterwards, he suddenly received another paralytic attack, and was immediately carried to the residence of his friend, Mr. Webster, where the usual restoratives were applied. His speech was again affected, and his face somewhat distorted. He then said to a friend beside him, "I have received my mortal blow; but I greatly desire to remain a few years longer to finish up my work."

Convalescing rapidly, he repaired to Washington early in November, subjecting himself, on the way, to the same severe trial by fire which Mr. Sumner received from Dr. Brown-Squard. He was, however, after taking a warm bath (Nov. 10), again prostrated by another and still more serious paralytic shock. The most effective remedies were prescribed; and, though greatly suffering, such was the vigor of his constitution, that he rallied under their effect., and, on the 13th of November, was pronounced convalescent by his physician. "If I could arrange my death," said he to one of his attendants, "I would die quietly in my home, and have the privilege of saying good-by to my friends, and be laid quietly away. But I have a premonition that I shall die suddenly; be snuffed out like a candle, without an opportunity to say good-by to any one." These were prophetic words.

On the night of the 17th following, he slept so soundly, and felt so well in the morning, that he desired to leave his room at the Capitol, but was restrained by his physician, who was constantly compelled to combat the intense activity of his nature. In a conversation with a friend on the day following, he said, "Everybody has been very kind to me during my illness. See here," he continued, turning to a splendid basket of flowers, -"see what the wife of the President has sent me!" And, pointing to a superb lily in the centre, he remarked, "This is a fit emblem of the purity which surrounds the world of immortality, which we all hope some day to reach." He then added, "The doctors think that I am getting better, and I believe so myself. They say that I shall be able to go North on Monday: we will see." In reference to politics, he said, "The Democrats will have to improve a great deal before the people will intrust them with the government; and they will never put one into the presidential office, if he ever had any connection with the Rebellion." On Sunday, 21st, he was not quite as well, but received a number of visitors, among whom were Messrs. Burt and Crossman. So little apprehension was felt, that Dr. Baxter, his physician, having given directions to his attendants, Messrs. S. H. Boyden and F. A. Wood, to administer his medicines, left him early in the evening with the hope that he might be able to ride out the next day. Soon afterwards Mr. Wilson said, "If the doctor were here, I would have a blister put on the back of my neck; but it is not worth while to send for him;" and, after his limbs had been rubbed, observed that he felt unusually well, and fell asleep. Awaking about midnight, he arose, walked around his room, and then, going to his table, took up a little treasured volume of poems, called "The Changed Cross," containing photographs of his wife and son, whose memories he most tenderly cherished, and read from it three stanzas, one of which formed the burden of his daily prayer: -

"Help us, O Lord, with patient love to bear
Each other's faults; to suffer with true meekness:
Help us each others' joys and griefs to share;
But let us turn to thee alone in weakness."

Having laid down the book, he spoke of the kindness of his friends, and, returning in a pleasant mood to bed, soon fell asleep. At three o'clock he again awoke, requested Mr. Boyden to rub his breast; when he again fell into a profound sleep, which continued until seven o'clock in the morning. On awaking, he expressed himself as feeling very well, and, on being informed of the death of Senator Ferry, said, "Poor Ferry, he has been a great sufferer: that makes eighty-three dead with whom I have sat in the Senate. What a record! If I live to the end of my present term, I shall be the sixth in the history of the country who have served so long a time." He then, referring cheerfully to his improved condition, drank some bitter water, turned over on his left side, and in a few moments, without any apparent pain or struggle, ceased to breathe.

"So fades a summer cloud away;
So sinks the gale when storms are o'er;
So gently shuts the eye of day;
So dies a wave along the shore.
Triumphant smiles the victor's brow,
Fanned by some guardian angel's wing:
Where is, O Grave! thy victory now?
And where, insidious Death, thy sting?

Thus in his room at the Capitol, where he had spent so many years in the defence of civil liberty, with but

one attendant at his bedside, the Vice-President of the United States departed, at twenty minutes past seven o'clock on the twenty-second day of November, 1875, in the sixty-fourth year of his age. Thus the brain that had devised so many measures for the good of his country ceased from its throbbings; thus the heart that had so magnanimously beaten for the sons of toil and suffering became cold and still; and, as Judge hoar observed, no cleaner hands were ever folded on a truer breast.

An autopsy of the body of Mr. Wilson disclosed black fluid blood in the sinuses of the brain, which weighed forty-nine ounces and a half, and thus made it manifest that the immediate cause of his death was apoplexy. His body was then embalmed, and laid out on Tuesday morning in the room where he expired, dressed in the black suit which he wore on state occasions, with a wreath of white flowers at his head and a floral cross at his feet. Rich bouquets of flowers, sent by Ms, Grant and others, also decorated the apartment.


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