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Nights with the Caucusers by Jonathan F. Kelley


Office-Seeking has become a legitimatized branch of our every-day business, as much so as in former times “reduced gentlemen” took to keeping school or posting books. In former times, men took to politics to give zest to a life already replete with pecuniary indulgences, as those in the “sere and yellow leaf” are wont to take to religion as a solacing comfort against things that are past, and pave the way to a very desirable futurity. But now, politicians are of no peculiar class or condition of citizens; the success of a champion depends not so much upon the matter, as upon the manner, not upon the capital he may have in real estate, bank funds or public stocks, but upon the fundamental principle of “confidence,” gutta percha lungs and unmistakable amplitude of—brass and bravado! If any man doubts the fact, let him look around him, and calculate the matter. Why is it that lawyers are so particularly felicitous in running for, securing, and usurping most of all the important or profitable offices under government? Lungs—gutta percha lungs and everlasting impudence, does it. A man might as well try to bail out the Mississippi with a tea-spoon, or shoot shad with a fence-rail, as to hope for a seat in Congress, merely upon the possession of patriotic principles, or double-concentrated and refined integrity. Why, if George Washington was a Virginia farmer to-day, his chance for the Presidency wouldn't be a circumstance to that of Rufus Choate's, while there is hardly a lawyer attached to the Philadelphia bar that would not beat the old gentleman out of his top boots in running for the Senate! But we'll cut “wise saws” for a modern instance; let us attend a small “caucus” where incipient Demostheneses, Ciceros, and Mark Antonies most do congregate, and see things “workin'.” It is night, a ward meeting of the unterrified, meat-axe, non-intervention—hats off—hit him again—butt-enders, have called a meeting to caucus for the coming fall contest. “Owing to the inclemency of the weather,” and other causes too tedious to mention, of some eight hundred of the unterrified, non-intervention—Cuban annexation—Wilmot proviso, compromise, meat-axe, hats off—hit him again—butt-enders—only eighty attend the call. Of these eighty faithful, some forty odd are on the wing for office; one at least wants to work his way up to the gubernatorial chair, five to the Senate, ten to the “Assembly,” fifteen to the mayoralty, and the balance to the custom house.

Now, before the “curtain rises,” little knots of the anxious multitude are seen here and there about the corners of the adjacent neighborhood and in the recesses of the caucus chamber, their heads together—caucusing on a small scale.

“Flambang, who'd you think of puttin' up to-night for the Senate, in our ward?” asks a cadaverous, but earnest unterrified, of a brother in the same cause.

“Well, I swan, I don't know; what do you think of Jenkins?”

“Jenkins?” leisurely responded the first speaker; “Jenkins is a pooty good sort of a man, but he ain't known; made himself rather unpop'ler by votin' agin that grand junction railroad to the north pole bill, afore the Legislature, three years ago; besides he's served two years in the Legislature, and been in the custom house two years; talks of going to California or somewhere else, next spring—so I-a, I-a—don't think much of Jenkins, anyhow!”

“Well, then,” says Flambang, “there's Dr. Rhubarb; what do you think of him? He's a sound unterrified, good man.”

“A—ye-e-e-s, the doctor's pooty good sort of a man, but I don't think its good policy to run doctors for office. If they are defeated it sours their minds equal to cream of tartar; it spiles their practice, and 'tween you and I, Flambang, if they takes a spite at a man that didn't vote for 'em, and he gets sick, they're called in; how easy it is for 'em to poison us!

“Good gracious!—you don't say so?”

“I don't say, of course I don't say so of Dr. Rhubarb. I only supposed a case,” replied the wily caucuser.

“A case? Yes-s-s; a feller would be a case, under them circumstances. I'm down on doctors, then, Twist; but what do you say to Blowpipes? He's one of our best speakers—”

Gas!” pointedly responded Twist.

“Gas? Well, you voted for him last year, when he run for Congress; you were the first man to nominate him, too!”

“So I was, and I voted for him, drummed for him, fifed and blowed; that was no reason for my thinking him the best man we had for the office. He's a demagogue, an ambitious, sly, selfish feller, as we could skeer up; but, he was in our way, we couldn't get shut of him; I proposed the nomination, and tried to elect him, so that we should get him out of the way of our local affairs, and more deserving and less pretendin' men could get a chance, don't you see? Now, Flambang, you're the man I'm goin' in for to-night!”

“Me! Mr. Twist? Why, bless your soul, I don't want office!”

“Come, now, don't be modest. I'll lay the ground-work, you'll be nominated—I'll not be known in it—you'll get the nomination—called out for a speech—so be on the trigger—give 'em a rouser, and you're in!”

Poor Flambang, a modest, retiring man, peaceable proprietor of a small shop, in which, by the force of prudence and economy, he has laid up something, has a voice among his fellow-citizens and some influence, but would as soon attempt to carry a blazing pine knot into a powder magazine, or “ship” for a missionary to the Tongo Islands, as to run for the Legislature and make a speech in public! Twist knows it; he guesses shrewdly at the effect.

“Why don't you run?” says Flambang, after many efforts to get his breath.

“Me? Well, if you don't want to run.”

Run? I would as soon think of jumping over the moon, as running for office!” answers Flambang. “But I thank you, thank you kindly, for your good intentions, for your confidence(!), Twist, and whatever good I can do for you, I'll do, and—”

Twist having secured the first step to his plot, enters the caucus chamber in deep and earnest consultation with Flambang, and while preparations are being made to “histe the rag,” he is seen making converts to his sly purposes, upon the same principle by which he converted his modest friend, Flambang.

“Who are you going in for to-night?” asks another “ambitious for distinction” unterrified of “a brother.”

“Well, I don't know; it's hard to tell; good many wants to be nominated, and good many more than will be,” was the cogent reply.

“That's a fact!” was the equally clear response. “But 'tween you and I, Pepper—I'd like to get the nomination for the Senate myself!”


“Yes, sir; why shouldn't I? Hain't I stood by the party?”

“Well, and hain't I stood by it, hung by it, fastened to it?”

“Pepper, you have; so have I; now, I'll tell you what I'll do. You hang by me, for the Senate, and I'll go in for you for the House.”

“Agreed; hang by 'em, give 'em a blast, first opening, and while you are fifing away for me, I'll go around for you, Captain Johns.”

“Flammer, you going to go in for Smithers, to-night?” asks another of “the party,” of a confederate.

“Smithers? I don't know about that; I don't think he's the right kind of a man for mayor, any how; do you?”

“Well, you know he's an almighty peart chap in talkin', and I guess he'll be elected, if he's nominated and goes around speaking; but here he is; let's feel his pulse.” After a confab of some minutes between Flammer, Smithers, and Skyblue, things seem to be fixed to mutual satisfaction, and something is “dropped” about “go in for me for the Mayoralty, I'll go in for you for the Senate,” etc.

“Don't let on, that I'm anxious, at all, you know,” says Smithers, to which the two allies Skyblue and Flammer respond—“O, of course not!”

Now the curtain rises, the meeting's organized, with as much formality, fuss and fungus as the opening of the House of Parliament; soon is heard the work of balloting for nominations, and soon it is known that Twist is the man for the Senate—this calls Twist out; he spreads—feels overpowered—this unexpected (!) event—attending as a spectator, not anticipating any thing for himself—proud of the unexpected honor—had long served as a private in the ranks of the unterrified—die in the front of battle, if his friends thought proper, etc., etc. And Twist falls back, mid great applause of the multitude, to give way to Capt. Johns, who also felt overpowered by the unexpected rush of honor put upon him, in connecting his name with the senatorial ticket. He was proud of being thought capable of serving his country, etc., etc.; gave his friend Pepper “a first-rate notice.” Pepper was nominated, made a speech, and so highly piled up the agony in favor of Smithers, that Smithers was nominated—made a speech in favor of Skyblue and Flammer, upon the force of which both were nominated—the wheel within a wheel worked elegant; and the organs next day were sublimely eloquent upon the result of the grand caucus—candidates—unanimity—etc., etc., of these subterranean politicians. So are our great men manufactured for the public.


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