The meeting on Monday night at the Tabernacle was to us an occasion of deep and peculiar interest. It was deep, for the feelings there expressed and answered bore witness to the truth of our belief, that the sense of right is not dead, but only sleepeth in this nation. A man who is manly enough to appeal to it will be answered, in feeling, at least, if not in action, and while there is life there is hope. Those who so rapturously welcomed one who had sealed his faith by deeds of devotion, must yet acknowledge in their breasts the germs of like nobleness.
It was an occasion of peculiar interest, such as we have not had occasion to feel since, in childish years, we saw Lafayette welcomed by a grateful people. Even childhood well understood that the gratitude then expressed was not so much for the aid which had been received as for the motives and feelings with which it was given. The nation rushed out as one man to thank Lafayette, that he had been able, amid the prejudices and indulgences of high rank in the old regime of society, to understand the great principles which were about to create a new form, and answer manlike with love, service, and contempt of selfish interests to the voice of Humanity, demanding its rights. Our freedom would have been achieved without Lafayette, but it was a happiness and a blessing to number the young French nobleman as the champion of American Independence, and to know that he had given the prime of his life to our cause, because it was the cause of justice. With similar feelings of joy, pride and hope we welcome Cassius M. Clay, a man who has, in like manner, freed himself from the prejudices of his position, disregarded selfish considerations, and quitting the easy path in which he might have walked to station in the sight of men, and such external distinctions as his State and Nation readily confer on men so born and bred, and with such abilities, chose rather an interest in their souls, and the honors history will not fail to award to the man who enrols his name and elevates his life for the cause of right and those universal principles, whose recognition can alone secure to man the destiny without which he cannot be happy, but which he is continually sacrificing for the impure worship of idols. Yea, in this country, more than in the old Palestine, do they give their children to the fire in honor of Moloch, and sell the ark confided to them by the Most High for shekels of gold and of silver. Partly it was the sense of this position which Mr. Clay holds, as a man who esteems his own individual convictions of right more than local interests or partial, political schemes, that gave him such an enthusiastic welcome on Monday night from the very hearts of the audience, but still more that his honor is at this moment identified with the liberty of the press, which has been insulted and infringed in him. About this there can be in fact but one opinion. In vain Kentucky calls meetings, states reasons, gives names of her own to what has been done. The rest of the world knows very well what has been done, and will call it by but one name. Regardless of this ostrich mode of defence the world has laughed and scoffed at the act of a people, professing to be free and defenders of freedom, and the recording Angel has written down the deed as a lawless act of violence and tyranny, from which the man is happy who can call himself pure.
With the usual rhetoric of the wrong side, the apologists for this act of mob violence have wished to injure Mr. Clay by the epithets of “hot-headed,” “visionary,” “fanatical.” But, if any have believed that such could apply to a man so clear sighted as to his objects and the way of achieving them, the mistake must have been corrected on Monday night. Whoever saw Mr. Clay that night, saw in him a man of deep and strong nature, thoroughly in earnest, who had well considered his ground, and saw that though open, as the noble must be, to new views and convictions, yet his direction is taken, and the improvement to be made will not be to turn aside, but to expedite and widen his course in that direction.—Mr. Clay is young, thank Heaven! young enough to promise a long career of great thoughts and honorable deeds. But still, to those who esteem youth an unpardonable fault, and one that renders incapable of counsel, we would say that he is at the age when a man is capable of great thoughts and great deeds, if ever. His is not a character that will ever grow old; it is not capable of a petty and shortsighted prudence, but can only be guided by a large wisdom which is more young than old, for it has within itself the springs of perpetual youth, and which being far-sighted and prophetical, joins ever with the Progress party without waiting till it be obviously in the ascendant.
Mr. Clay has eloquence, but only from the soul.—He does not possess the art of oratory, as an art.—Before he gets warmed he is too slow, and breaks his sentences too much. His transitions are not made with skill, nor is the structure of his speech as a whole, symmetrical; yet, throughout, his grasp is firm upon his subject, and all the words are laden with the electricity of a strong mind and generous nature. When he begins to glow, and his deep mellow eye fills with light, the speech melts and glows too, and he is able to impress upon the hearer the full effect of firm conviction, conceived with impassioned energy. His often rugged and harsh emphasis flashes and sparkles then, and we feel that there is in the furnace a stream of iron—iron!—fortress of the nations and victor of the seas, worth far more, in stress of storm than all the gold and gems of rhetoric.
The great principle that he who wrongs one wrongs all, and that no part can be wounded with out endangering the whole, was the healthy root of Mr. Clay’s speech. The report does not do justice to the turn of expression in some parts which were most characteristic. These, indeed, depended much on the tones and looks of the speaker. We should speak of them as full of a robust and homely sincerity, dignified by the heart of the gentleman, a heart too secure of its respect for the rights of others to need any of the usual interpositions. His good-humored sarcasm on occasion of several vulgar interruptions was very pleasant, and easily at those times might be recognized in him the man of heroical nature, who can only show himself adequately in time of interruption and of obstacle. If that be all that is wanted, we shall surely see him wholly; there will be no lack of American occasions to call out the Greek fire—We want them all,—the Grecian men, who feel a god-like thirst for immortal glory, and to develop the peculiar powers with which the gods have gifted them. We want them all, the poet, the thinker, the hero. Whether our heroes need swords, is a more doubtful point, we think, than Mr. Clay believes. Neither do we believe in some of the means he proposes to further his aims. God uses all kinds of means, but men, his priests, must keep their hands pure. Nobody that needs a bribe shall be asked to further our schemes for emancipation. But there is room enough and time enough to think out these points till all is in harmony. For the good that has been done and the truth that has been spoken, for the love of such that has been seen in this great city struggling up through the love of money, we should today be thankful—and we are so.*
“Cassius M. Clay,” New-York Daily Tribune, 14 January 1846, p. 1.