Jacksonian Miscellanies, #74

January 19, 1999

Foot's Casket of Reminiscences

Copyright by the editor, Hal Morris, Hopatcong, NJ 1999. Permission is granted to copy, but not for sale, nor in multiple copies, except by permission.

Jacksonian Miscellanies is a weekly* email newsletter presenting short** documents from the United States' Jacksonian Era, which you can receive it for free by sending to hal@panix.com a message with

as either the subject line, or as the *only* line in the message body. If you want to make a comment or query, please send a separate message to hal@panix.com. Jacksonian Miscellanies can also be read at http://www.panix.com/~hal/jmisc. The WWW version is augmented with much biographical, bibliographical, and other information.

Please direct responses and comments to hal@panix.com,

The following is a chapter from Henry S. Foote's Casket of Reminiscences (1874), which most readers will have often seen cited, though I'm guessing not so many have delved into it.

Foote (1804 - 1880) grew up in Virginia, and was admitted to the bar in Richmond in 1823. After spending some time in Tuscombia Alabama (which is mentioned below), he lived most of his life in Mississippi, practicing law, acting as U.S. Surveyor-general south of Tennessee, and entering the state legislature. In 1847, he was sent to the Senate, where he was the only Mississippi congressman to support the compromise of 1850.  He was censured by his state legislature, but in 1851, defeated Jefferson Davis for the governorship, and served that office from 1853-54, where he exhausted himself fighting to maintain the Union.  After this, he moved to California, but returned after four years. After secession, he served in the Confederate Congress, though he was constantly critical of the government, and called for peace long before the end of the war.

Like Cassius Marcellus Clay, a southerner even more at odds with trends in southern politics, he was a great upholder of his "southern honor", fighting "four formal duels and other less formal encounters", including coming to blows with Jefferson Davis in 1847 at the boarding house they shared.

Foote wrote several other books, including Bench and Bar of the Southwest (1876)

Source: Dictionary of American Biography.




It chanced that the once famous General Hayne, of South Carolina, visited the State of Mississippi in the winter of 1838 and 1839. He came to the Southwest on a most important expedition. He wished to call public attention to the scheme, which had been a short time before projected, of connecting the city of Memphis with Charleston by railway-about twelve. years before the very first railway ever constructed west of the Alleghany was commenced. This was to extend from the head to the foot of the Muscle shoals of the Tennessee river. The first meeting held for the consideration of this project took place in my professional office, in the town of Tuscumbia, where I then resided, and the well-known and truly meritorious Micajah Tarver presided on the occasion. A large subscription for stock was immediately taken up, and I had the honor of being appointed to draw up a petition to the Alabama Legislature for a charter of the company about to be formed, as well as to frame the charter itself, which double task I performed with more than ordinary pleasure. A very enterprising and worthy man, Colonel David Deshler, then a merchant of Tuscumbia, I recollect, brought on from New York, a short time before, a wooden railway model, which be exhibited to the meeting above alluded to, and made a most masterly explanation of the modus operandi of this new vehicle of commerce and travel. Colonel Deshler was father to the General Deshler who distinguished himself so much in the recent unhappy civil war. The Colonel died about two years since in Tuscumbia, leaving behind him, as I understand, a very large estate. The railway from the head to the foot of the Muscle shoals proved decidedly a losing concern. Many of the original stockholders were subjected to great pecuniary losses thereby, and but for the purchase of this railway afterward by the Memphis and Charleston Company, afterward established, it would doubtless long since have been abandoned. General Hayne had visited Nashville and several other places of note before be reached Jackson, the capital of Mississippi, and had everywhere upon his route awakened much interest in the great undertaking of which he was such an eloquent and effective champion. The Legislature of Mississippi was in session when he arrived, and a committee of three was appointed by that body to call upon him at his lodgings and invite him to address the Senate and House of Representatives then in Joint session. This committee, of which I had the honor to be a member, lost no time in the performance of the honorable duty assigned them, and, having escorted this distinguished personage to the capitol, General Hayne proceeded to address the large concourse assembled in a manner so impressive and captivating that I am sure no one who was then present has ever ceased since to look back to that occasion with feelings of unqualified satisfaction and delight.

General Hayne was of medium stature, well shaped, and of a singularly animated and mercurial aspect. His eyes were very bright and dazzling, and of a light hazel color. His countenance wore a very mild and benignant expression. His face was cleanly shaven, and he was elegantly but unostentatiously attired. His manners were marked with a graceful and winning affability which I have never seen surpassed When he mounted the stand to address the audience, and for a moment stood quietly surveying the ladies and gentlemen assembled, he seemed at once to awaken a sympathy in all hearts, and to enkindle a lively curiosity, also, to hear all be had to say. I had myself feared that the topics which he had to discuss, being chiefly those of mere economic detail, his powers as an orator would find no sufficient scope for their display, and that he might occasionally prove dry and uninteresting in the presentation of some of the matters to which he was seeking to attract public regard. But never did I make a greater mistake. The address, though of considerable length, was accompanied with such extraordinary charmfulness of delivery that no one could possibly have grown tired of listening to it, and I am confident that all who drank in his soft, mellifluous tones, and beheld his manly and impressive gesticulation, would have felt grateful to him had he continued his discourse for full two hours longer. I had heard a great deal before thus meeting General Hayne of the attractiveness of his voice and manner, but no description which I had before received of him at all came up to the splendid reality of which I was now a delighted witness. When the committee escorted him back to his room, I took the liberty of asking him to tell me how he had been able to acquire such wondrous facility of expression, and such remarkable capacity for keeping alive the interest of his audience. He answered my queries without any false modesty, and without a particle of vulgar egotism, very nearly in these words:

"You give me credit for much facility of expression, and for having successfully cultivated to some extent the graces of rhetorical display. I shall surprise you, I do not doubt, when I tell you that at sixteen years of age I was in awkward stammering boy. I desired to become a lawyer, and was even then assiduously preparing myself for the legal profession. A youth more ambitious of oratorical distinction than I was I am sure has never lived. But my friends and relatives all joined in urging me to give up the hope of future renown as a speaker and to devote myself to some other calling better adapted to the slenderness of my faculties. They told me that it was absurd and ridiculous in one who stuttered so abominably to think of becoming even a tolerable pleader of causes. This mortified me much, but I did not desist from the struggle in which I had so zealously enlisted. I thought much of the difficulties of a similar kind which Demosthenes was reported to have encountered, and of the successful efforts made by him to overcome them. I diligently studied the tones of my own voice. I essayed to find out all the mysteries which belonged to our complex vocal organ. I Iabored from hour to hour, and from minute to minute, to ascertain the precise nature of those particular impediments to a clear and easy articulation under which I was suffering. I pondered this subject by day, and it was with me the prompter of many a painful and of many a pleasing dream. At length the light broke in upon me. I found that I had never before learned to talk; that I had been suffered all my life to jabber confused and unintelligible sounds. I learned at last that to speak, in the true sense of the word, was to articulate distinct vocables; that the ardor of my temperament was such, as well as my ambition, to communicate ideas to the minds of others, that I had heretofore unduly hurried my syllables upon each other, or rather tried to do so, so that the vocal sounds became inextricably intermingled and hopelessly indistinct, and that every fresh effort had involved me in greater and greater embarrassments. I came at last to the conclusion that the first step I had to take in order to acquire the complete control of my voice was to put my own feelings under the strictest discipline, to habituate myself to sober thought, and to learn the indispensable art of keeping the fervent sensibilities with which I was endowed under thorough command, and that after I had done these things in an effectual manner it would then be indispensable that I should strive to enunciate each syllable that I had to utter clearly and emphatically before attempting to emit a succeeding one, and so on until the whole sentence, whether long or short. should have passed forth from my lips. By pursuing this course rigidly for a considerable period of time, I hoped that at last I might accomplish the great object which I was seeking to attain, and that I should become able to speak fluently and without pain either to myself or to others. I practiced constantly upon these ideas, and if I now speak with ease, as you seem to think, I am indebted for my power in this respect to the labors which I have just described. This is so certainly the case that I assure you were I even now to attempt to express myself in the rapid manner which has become so common of late among young men of fiery temperament and of unchastened moral organism, I should inevitably stutter just as disgustingly as I did forty years ago."
After this interesting recital had closed I ventured to refer to the great oratorical contest between himself and Mr. Webster, in the National Senate, now nearly a half century ago, and asked him what he thought of Mr. Webster's powers as a speaker. He at once answered that he supposed him, upon the whole, to be the most consummate orator of either ancient or modern times; that his ability as a reasoner, he was confident, had never been exceeded; that his imagination was as fertile and vigorous as that of Milton or Homer; that his humor was both exquisite and abundant; that his knowledge was unlimited; that he had the most happy command of his temper at all times, and that on certain great occasions he had excelled all the speakers that had ever lived, not excepting either Demosthenes or Cicero. I then asked him what he thought of Mr. Webster's manner. He replied that it was always grand and impressive; that he had never heard him utter a word in a careless or vulgar style; that he seemed never to forget his own dignity, or to be unmindfill of the character and feelings of others; and and when thoroughly excited the sublime grandeur of his thoughts and language derived great additional potency from his noble and soul-moving enunciation and his few but impressive gestures. I then said to him: "But, General Hayne, every one in the South admired your speeches on the occasion to which you have been referring more than they did those of Mr. Webster, and it is said that General Jackson was so much delighted with the first of your speeches in the Senate that he had it printed on satin for distribution among his friends at a distance. Was this so?" To which he replied: "I believe this to have been true; the people of the South generally approved my speech because they believed that I had been defending in it their own local interests and honor. General Jackson admired it because he thought I had successfully vindicated the Democratic cause, to the support of which his own life had been devoted. But you know that in a few months thereafter, when our nullification experiment had developed its gigantic proportions, and after the memorable contest had occurred in the Senate between Mr. Calhoun and my ancient antagonist Mr. Webster, General Jackson became so great an admirer of the Senator from Massachusetts that he thought seriously of making him Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States upon the decease of the venerated Marshall. Be assured, sir," he continued, "I never for one moment have thought of comparing that oration of mine, made in direct assailment of Mr. Webster and the Federal party of old, and to the defense of which I had thought proper to challenge him, to his great and unequaled speech in reply thereto; though it is certain that, for a day or two, it seemed to many that I had come off victor in the contest."

While General Hayne thus generously expressed himself, I could not help recurring to the celebrated contest between Demosthenes and Eschines, so familiar to all, the latter of whom, when driven into banishment by the superior eloquence of his great rival, is reported to have established a school of rhetoric at Rhodes, where, on one occasion, when he had been declaiming in the hearing of his pupils that very speech of Demosthenes which had consigned himself to exile, upon their expressing to him their warm admiration of it as a specimen of oratorical power, he magnanimously exclaimed: "If you are pleased with this speech when only hearing it recited by me, how much more warmly you would have approved it had you heard it thundered forth by Demosthenes himself!"

Having referred to the railway between the head and foot of the Muscle shoals of the Tennessee river, and having incidentally mentioned that its construction brought serious pecuniary losses upon many of those who had participated therein, I am tempted to relate an anecdote or two somewhat germain to the matters already discussed. and which may a little compensate for the dullness of much of that which has been already here written.

At the time that this same railway was projected there was a newspaper then published in. the town of Courtland, in North Alabama, by a good and worthy citizen called Wiley Conner. This paper was called the Courtland Herald, and below these words every day came forth, in freshly printed characters, a well-known couplet from Cowper's Task," descriptive of the English postboy:

Here comes the herald of a noisy world,
News from all nations lumbering at his back."

I deemed it expedient to get Conner to publish a series of articles in his paper in support of the railway project, and as he had not made himself well acquainted with the subject I wrote most of the first articles published myself. He then kept up the fire very handsomely, indeed, for some time, and did, I do not doubt, a good deal, in one way or other, to further the cause he had so much at heart. I well recollect that in one of the numbers of his remarkable gazette be went far toward demonstrating that the wood of the cedar tree, so well adapted to railway purposes, was far more lasting than copper.

Removing from Alabama a year or two after, I had no occasion to visit Courtland again until the year 1836. 1 then found the village in a greatly dilapidated condition. It did not seem to me altogether proper that I should leave town without calling to inquire after my ancient friend, so I went in the direction of the house within which the Courtland Herald had been printed in former days; but what was my surprise, on entering the portals of that edifice, to find scattered about the floor of the ante-room large masses of type, and on penetrating the room where I had held so many grave consultations of yore upon questions of almost all grades and complexions, lo! I beheld an aged gentleman, with spectacles on nose, in a broiling summer's day, sitting up, with his feet stuck under his posteriors, apparently sewing for his life, while the perspiration was pouring from his brows in the most copious streams. So soon as I could get myself recognized, I exclaimed: "Good heavens! Mr. Conner, what are you doing? and what has become of the Courtland Herald?" To which he responded, in most lugubrious tones:

"Oh, my dear friend, you have ruined me! You persuaded me, nine years ago, to devote my columns to the establishment of the railway that runs through this now wasted and depopulated village. As soon as the accursed railway got into operation, it drew off all the trade from Courtland to other more commercial points, destroyed the value of my little property here, and, as it was quite as convenient for my neighbors in. Courtland to subscribe for newpapers (sic) printed elsewhere, and of larger dimensions, and to print their advertisements therein also, why, you see, they all abandoned me, left the poor Courtland Herald high and dry, and drove me back to my original vocation, in which you now see me engaged."

I was really distressed in mind at seeing the condition of this public-spirited editor, and after offering him what consolation I could, I invited him to remove, bag and baggage, to the State of Mississippi; which, on doing, he soon became restored to his former comfortable and prosperous circumstances.

Wiley Conner was in some particulars certainly quite a remarkable man. He was in person about five feet two inches in height, of a fresh and rubicund countenance had what Shakspeare calls "a fair, round belly," which, was doubtless, too, often "with good capon lined;" with legs ludicrously short in proportion to the longitude of his body; and having a long and fine suit of curling hair, plaited up carefully, and attached to the apex of his bullet-shaped cranium with a large horn comb. Having no beard on his face, and having never married, these circumstances, together with that of his ringlets being kept in place by means of the pectinal appendage already mentioned, induced some of his cotemporary (sic) brothers of the quill, when he did anything which gave them special offense, to dub him "Madame Conner," by which appellation be was, in fact, generally distinguished, save by those who chose, from a consideration of the peculiar manner in which he was accustomed to waddle about the streets, to call him the "yam potato."

Though Conner was no statesman, and did not pretend to see very deeply into futurity in regard to the rise and fall of political parties, yet he was, perhaps, one of the most faithful chroniclers of the weather that the Tennessee valley has ever boasted, for never did a huge snow fall that he did not instantly record the fact in his immortal columns; if the weather was very cold he did not fail to note that important occurrence; if it was very hot he did the selfsame thing; if a deluging rain caused Big Nance (the creek that held the village of Courtland in its watery embrace) to overflow and sweep away the neighboring fences, he was all in a pucker of dissatisfaction; and whenever the exsiccating rays of a summer's sun threatened to dry up the precious streamlet he did not fail to write article after article intended to prompt his sluggish neighbors to stop as soon as possible the subterraneous outlet which he asserted was constantly draining off the waters of this second Scamander into the bed of the Tennessee river.

Never did this once-famed editorial monitor suffer a marriage to take place or a noted death to occur without saying something in the Herald thereupon, either wise or witty, commendatory or humorous. He proposed to make the Evening Star of New York, his model, and often have I seen him weep with ecstasy over articles written, as Ike said, "in the Mordecai Noah style," and which it hugely delighted him to read aloud whenever he could get around him a company of willing listeners. His last exploit in this line which I now recollect was as follows: A most venerable citizen, by the name of Harper, told Conner, on a certain Friday morning, that he was about to be married to a most charming widow in a neighboring village. The marriage was to come off that very evening. Conner announced the marriage in his paper next morning in a very flourishing and imposing manner. The expected groom attended a great muster on Saturday, when his acquaintances all came forward to congratulate him upon the fortunate connubial alliance he had just effected. Now, unfortunately, this same marriage had not taken place as expected, some terms of settlement being insisted upon by the friends of the lady, to which the aged candidate for matrimony could not be induced to accede. Harper, in order to save himself from further congratulation over an incident of good fortune which, in point of fact, had not been realized, flew to Conner and required a contradiction to be made of his former publication. This Conner could not in justice refuse to do, but being a veritable wit, and somewhat of a wag, with all, he accompanied the correction with a number of over-savory Scotch anecdotes of a strictly illustrative character, and made the desired publication under the significant caption of "A Flash in the Pan!" Upon this the friends of the lady grew furious, and justly so; and one of them, a gentleman of much refinement and chivalry, who was, by-the-by, very well known to me personally, dashed up to the town of Courtland for the purpose of bringing Conner to immediate responsibility. Conner, hearing of his arrival at the hotel, and divining his intention, plunged into the somber depths of his cellar, where he remained safely esconced until informed, as he was in a few days, that the coast was clear. He got out just in time to announce the marriage of Harper to another lady of much more suitable age, of which he made due notification in the Herald, under the very appropriate heading, "No Flash this Time!"
  You can support this site at no cost if you make an Amazon purchase using this link to get to Amazon: Thanks