Douglass & Conkling, July 4, 1876

“The Fourth of July!” Here Douglass laughed sourly and speeded his pace.

“I understand you, Douglass, indeed I do!” Conkling said, but Douglass could not help but wonder at his purposes. White men often sought out his friendship when they felt themselves in trouble. “Has not our Party devoted itself to the well-being of the Negro? You yourself thanked the Party at the Convention that — ”

“The Party ignored me at the Convention.”

There was a flash of anger in Conkling’s eyes. “The Party made many mistakes at the Convention! I regret that I did not attend myself, but you must understand that as my name was placed in nomination, I was bound to exercise restraint.”

“I understand.” The etiquette of white men occasionally confounded Douglass.

“We shall move beyond those misunderstandings,” Conkling said. “Today we mark the onset of the great movement to emancipation — of our nation from tyranny, and of your people from slavery.”

Douglass and Conkling walked some distance together, toward an enormous tent that had been erected for the solemnities of the day. Vast crowds of people lined the fairways of the Centennial grounds — men in tailored suits and men in workmen’s rags; women in bonnets carrying umbrellas to protect against the blazing sun, and women in ragged cotton dresses; children with leather shoes holding pop-corn balls, and children with dirty bare feet. Douglass’s was the only black face.

“The Fourth of July is yours, not mine,” Douglass said. “You may rejoice, I must mourn. To drag a man in fetters into the grand illuminated temple of liberty, and call upon him to join you in joyous anthems, is inhuman mockery and sacrilegious irony.”

“That is not my intent,” Conkling began.

“‘By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down,’ ” Douglass recited, silencing Conkling. “ ‘We wept when we remembered Zion. For there, they that carried us away captive, required of us a song; and they who wasted us required of us mirth, saying, Sing us one of the songs of Zion. How can we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?’ ”

“Those times are past, Douglass,” Conkling said. “Today we are brothers.”

Douglass walked in silence for a few moments.

“Thou art, verily, guilty concerning thy brother.”

Conkling knew better than to reply.

Harlan & Bristow, May 1875

Harlan eyes

The sun blazed down upon Cave Hill Cemetery, bathing the graves of the fallen with tribute for their ultimate sacrifice. Harlan stood among an impatient crowd. He knew some of the men here, who had departed their sweet Kentucky homes, their beloved creeks and brooks, for the sake of the indivisible Union, and from time to time he would visit their graves. Standing before the marble headstones, he would pray with great devotion, then increasing disquiet as the voices of the dead would reproach him for leaving service before the war had ended.

Every year a soldier for the Union had spoken, but today was different — not only had a soldier arrived to give his sacred communion with his fallen brothers, but the soldier was a hero of Shiloh, a son of Kentucky, and now a son of Reform and the man of the hour. Great huzzahs and applause — inappropriate for a cemetery, thought Harlan — marked Bristow’s passage through the crowd, which parted before him as did the Red Sea before Moses.

Harlan strode forward to meet his old friend.

“Pardon me, sir — who are you?” A burly fellow with a club thrust himself into Harlan’s path.

“It’s good old Harlan!” Bristow called from behind.

Harlan raised his chin in an aggressive manner at the agent, who looked appraisingly at Bristow then back to Harlan.

“You watch yourself.”

Harlan shoved the man aside and shook Bristow’s hand.

“You come now with a retinue?”

“A necessity, I am afraid,” said Bristow. “Come here,” he gestured to a small tent set before a wooden platform, “we shall catch up while others warm up the crowd.”

Bristow and Harlan ducked into the tent. Several agents followed.

“You may speak freely before these men. I trust them completely.”

Harlan spat a rich shot of tobacco on the ground. He had some difficulty establishing the same degree of conversational intimacy with three rough-looking men hanging upon his every word.

“How are you?”

Bristow laughed. “Very well, indeed! It is rare in public life to be so entirely vindicated.”

Harlan hesitated a moment.

“Are you in fear of retaliation?”

“The possibility cannot be excluded,” said Bristow. “I am in this fight up to my eyes, against tremendous money and unscrupulous thieves. I have but few men about me whom I can trust implicitly. The President told me — ‘Let no guilty man escape if it can be avoided.’”

“If it can be avoided?” Harlan snorted. “What the D____ does that mean?”

Arthur, November 1876

Arthur eyes

“Where in G_____n is everybody?” came an angry voice from behind them.  Arthur and Clancy turned and inwardly cringed.  General Daniel Sickles stumped into the room, a hellion upon crutches, one leg lost at Gettysburg for the Union, and good sense lost long before then.

“I am afraid we are the only ones who remain, General,” said Arthur.

Clancy cleared his throat. “It is hopeless, sir.”

Sickles snorted and stumped over to Chandler’s desk.

“Where is Chandler?” he demanded.

“Retired for the evening,” said poor Clancy.

“Hah!”  Sickles began rummaging about the telegrams upon Chandler’s desk, and began sorting several of the telegrams into a small pile before him.

“Might we help you, General?”  Arthur asked benignly.

“I do not need your help, Arthur.  You need mine,” Sickles muttered, seizing one telegram and another. He held up a fistful of paper. “There is uncertainty as to Louisiana, South Carolina, and Florida!”

“And?” Arthur asked.

“That,” spat Sickles, “is the bare minimum needed for a majority of the Electoral College.”

“I do not question your mathematics,” Clancy said, the exhaustion evident in his voice. “If we have those three states, Hayes shall have one hundred and eighty-five electoral votes and Tilden shall have one hundred and eighty-four. But we do not have those states.”

“What if the matter is in doubt?” Sickles lifted an eyebrow.

“Is there doubt?” asked Arthur.

“Clancy, send telegrams to our men in Louisiana, Florida, South Carolina, and Oregon to say as follows: ‘With your state sure for Hayes, he is elected. Hold your state.’  Are you not writing this down?”

Clancy slumped his shoulders, and obediently scribbled out the messages.

“If you advise it,” Sickles said to Arthur, “I have no doubt that Clancy will feel authorized to send off these telegrams with Chandler’s signature.  I will then see to it that The New-York Times is advised of the telegrams.”

“The Times?” asked Clancy.

“Yes — John Reid of The New-York Times!” Sickles shouted.  “He spent part of the war in a Confederate prison.  If there is any man out there who will not countenance a Democratic victory, he is the very man.”

“Then what?”

“That is a question for tomorrow! If we can make it known that these states are uncertain, then the election is uncertain, and Hayes might still prevail!  All that is needed is your authorization to send these telegrams!  Do you so advise it, Arthur, or shall I wake Chandler?”

Arthur thought of Chandler in his doorway with the whiskey bottle.

“Very well, then,” he shrugged.

Field, August 1879

Field better eyes

“Having appeared before my brother upon several occasions,” David said, “I am familiar with his style, and the subjects of several of his rulings. If we are to be successful in running Stephen for President, we are obliged to consider — in advance — whether his opponents may seize upon something in any of his opinions for the Supreme Court to stain his reputation.”

“There is the queue ordinance that Justice Field struck down,” Deady said.

“What did the ordinance require?” David asked.

“It required that all male prisoners have their hair cut to a maximum length of one inch,” Field responded.

Cyrus laughed.  “That hardly seems an imposition.  If jail is attractive to a man because he saves money, acquires shelters, and is served free food, then adding a haircut into the bargain seems rather more attractive and not less.”

“You are forgetting something about the Chinese,” Field said.  “The men prefer to wear their hair in a long braid, or a queue, as part of their culture and tradition.  Loss of the braid subjects them to great shame, both in this life and the next.  And so it was when a Chinamen was incarcerated under this ordinance, and his braid cut off, he filed suit.”

“I can hardly believe that his suit had any merit,” Cyrus said.

“It certainly did!”  Field remonstrated with his brother.  “This was legislation directed against a particular class of persons, imposing burdens upon them unlike those visited upon any other.  You said it yourself — what seemed to you to be a personal service provided gratis is to these men a grave affront.  That ordinance was properly and duly struck down.”

“On what reasoning?” David broke in.

“Reasoning?” Field explained. “This was not a matter of reason. When we take our seats on the bench we are not struck with blindness, and forbidden to know as judges what we see as men! When an ordinance such as this only operates against a special race, we are entitled to conclude that it was the intention of those adopting it to single out that special race. The legislation was hostile and spiteful — legislation which is unworthy of a brave and manly people.”

Harlan, July 1875

Harlan eyes

“Men of Kentucky!” Harlan cried. “The choice before you for Governor of this State is a vital one!”

There were catcalls, hisses, and only a smattering of claps from an assembly that was equal parts curious, indifferent, hostile, and drunk. Harlan mopped his brow. It was July, and extremely hot, and Harlan stood upon an overturned box to project his voice over a crowd gathered in the central square of those small towns that lend Kentucky its distinctive flavor.  Harlan rather wished he had paid closer attention to whatever rhetorical tricks Bristow must have used, as he was in need of flourishes at the moment.

“My opponent for Governor, Mr. McCreary, was a soldier of the Confederacy,” Harlan shouted, unintentionally drawing cheers from a vocal portion of the audience.  “The future of Kentucky does not lie with embracing the ghosts of the past.  These amendments are now the laws of the land.”

“You opposed them!” cried one red-faced man, who carried a whiskey barrel.

“I did,” Harlan replied evenly.

“And now you support them!” he hurled back.

“I do.”

There was a wave of catcalls and jeers.

“Let it be said that I am right rather than consistent,” Harlan shouted angrily, as the crowd erupted in mocking laughter.

“I have a question,” heckled a smooth young man.

“Yes?” Harlan foolishly replied.

“Is it not true that you dined with the Negro Douglass?”

“The question has been asked,” Harlan said, “whether I dined with Frederick Douglass.  I was proud to do so —”

“Did you return him to his master?” asked the smooth young man, to derisive laughter.

“Men of Kentucky! The white and black races can move alone in this free land of ours, each cherishing the prejudices of race without interfering with the just rights of the other.”

This equivocal remark produced a sensation, with some men applauding it with enthusiasm, while others muttered darkly and spat on the ground.

An empty bourbon bottle flew past Harlan, poorly aimed, and burst into shards behind him. This projectile commanded, for a moment, the attention of the unruly crowd, and Harlan thought he might seize the opportunity.

“Now, if you will throw a bottle at me,” Harlan growled, “let it at least be full!”

There was general laughter at this remark, and Harlan would later wonder whether the jest was the only successful moment of the campaign.

Kate & Conkling, February 1877

“My father and I waited at the Fifth Avenue Hotel,” Kate said softly. “We thought that, at any moment, a procession would appear to hail his nomination. But Tilden perceived that his own self-interest lay with Governor Seymour, who in turn promised the governorship to Tilden, as if it were some child’s bauble. Tilden betrayed my father to suit his own interests. Tilden can profit no further from that betrayal.”

Conkling was silent for several minutes. They were nearly at the opera house.

“I cannot be absent from the Senate,” he said finally.

“You can, if a lady requests your attendance elsewhere. I intend to visit Baltimore in the near future. You cannot expect me to do so unattended.”

Conkling stared at Kate for several moments. If he remained in Washington, he could ride into battle, lance at the ready, and revenge himself against Hayes. What would become of that lance if he retreated?

“I shall reward you if you do,” Kate persisted.

“Your thanks would be its own reward.”

“Then shall you escort me to Baltimore?”

Conkling looked out the window of the carriage. They were traveling the streets of the city, its buildings, monuments, and lights passing outside his window. While at Edgewood there were no temptations other than Kate, but now in Washington again, he felt the sting of contrary obligations. The thought of Hayes, that inconsequential cipher, as President, was nearly unbearable. But Hayes had promised to serve only one term, and to violate that vow would be a breach of trust so great that he would be surely defeated for renomination. He would be equally at liberty in 1880 whether Hayes or Tilden prevailed now. And he would have Kate in the meantime.

“I shall do as you ask.” Conkling turned from the window of the carriage and looked Kate in the eye.

Kate gazed at him apprizingly for a moment, for he had taken too long to decide, in her opinion. But now her face lit with a deep satisfaction.

“Here,” she said. She turned to a bouquet of flowers upon the seat beside her and removed one flower. Lightly, she tossed the flower from her side of the compartment to his. Conkling looked at the flower quizzically, then placed it in his buttonhole.

Harlan, October 1877

Harlan eyes

Harlan sat on his porch, suffused in the warm glow of bourbon’s embrace, arcing long expectorations of tobacco juice into the dirt. The thrill of the nomination — unanticipated and incomparable — had worn off after a month, and he was now waiting miserably. What was the d___ holdup? It had something to do with that d___ed Conkling, who was probably still smarting over the convention. Harlan had the very uneasy sense, in the midst of receiving congratulatory salutations, that the nomination might be taken away from him on Conkling’s demand. But then given to whom? Certainly not Bristow — the newspapers said that Harlan was nominated to pacify the Bristow reform element without unduly alarming the Stalwart element of the party.

Harlan spat angrily, and took a sip of bourbon. D___ Bristow! Hadn’t he said nothing to him the whole time, apart from a brief, “Very glad to hear it, John”! He had not come to the office at all, at least not while Harlan was there. Malvina and Gus Willson both said that Bristow was envious and would get over it in time, but what right had the man to be envious? Here poor old John stayed in Louisville, losing one political race after another, keeping the practice afloat by filing debt collection actions, liens, and applications for writs of replevin against the saddest souls in Jefferson County, while Bristow was called to Washington as Solicitor General, then Secretary of the Treasury? And didn’t he go to Cincinnati and do his level best to get the man elected President? Wasn’t his fault that the convention swung to Hayes. And now, he was finally getting something for his labors, and the two men who lost fair and square at the convention — Conkling and Bristow — were whining about it.

Malvina sighed and sat down next to her husband.

“I expect he is at your offices now. Why not go and see him?”

Harlan spat again, at an ever-growing angry stain on the dirt.

“I have to get James out of some trouble first.”

“What sort of trouble?”

“Gambling. Drunk at the time, of course.”

“Gus Willson can’t take care of it?”

“Gus is still in Washington. He took with him my letter to Senator Beck, laying out just how I voted in every election. But the Senators must have had that letter for days now, and it don’t seem to have made any difference.” Harlan spat again.

“Is that what Gus said?”

“No, he didn’t say that. But he said something else. About Bob.”

Malvina stiffened, and spread her hands across her knees.

“What did he say?”

“He said he didn’t understand why James kept going to Bob for money, and I said, Bob is an old friend. Gus said, well, judging by how James talks to Bob, it’s almost like he’s family.”

Malvina inhaled sharply.

“What did you say to that?”

Harlan unleashed a fusillade of tobacco juice.

“I didn’t say a d___ thing.”

Field & Miller, March 1874

Bradley, Strong, and Hunt dutifully stood in line to shake Waite’s hand and impress upon him their best wishes. In a moment, only Miller and Field were left.  Field was writing furiously, while Miller sat relishing Waite’s confusion.

“I have not yet finished my notes.”  Field said, without looking up.  “You may leave.  I expect I will have other opportunities to shake your hand.”

“Have a pleasant afternoon,” Miller waved his hand at Waite.  “I will attend upon my Brother Field here.”

“Very well then.  Thank you,” Waite said.  He gathered his papers and books and departed.

Field continued to scribble furiously.

“Well, we have a Chief Justice,” Field declared. “His friend Evarts would have been a far better selection.”

“What do you know of Evarts?”

“He defended my brother David when the d_____ New York State Bar Association moved to censure him.  It was utter nonsense, based entirely upon my brother’s representation of men like Jay Gould and Boss Tweed, who, like the lowest thief or murderer, deserve counsel.  My brother said that Evarts was more than adequate.”

“One cannot predict the future,” said Miller.

“Waite may turn out to be a Marshall or a Taney,” said Field, pausing a moment, “though such a result is hardly to be expected.”

“He is pleasant, though,” Miller said, watching Field’s pen as it scrawled across the page. “A good presiding officer —”


“— mediocre, true, but with a fair amount of professional learning.”

Field put down his pen and looked straight into Miller’s eyes.

“My objection to the appointment is that it is an experiment which no President has a right to make with our Court — an experiment whether a man of fair but not great abilities may make a fit Chief Justice of the United States.”  Miller could not fail to see behind Field’s spectacles a fierce, bitter fire.

“Perhaps you should call upon him socially.”

“Perhaps he should call upon me,” Field replied.

Harlan & Douglass, September 1872

Douglass, who prided himself on instantly taking the measure of a man, was surprised that Harlan’s grip was not that of a burly man of Kentucky, but seemed rather the hold of a man of New York or Boston — deliberate, but lacking in strength or firmness. Douglass tried to cast an inconspicuous glance at Harlan’s hand, and saw instantly that both hands had been badly burned, and mottled and withered. Harlan followed Douglass’s momentary glance.

“You fought for the Union, then?” Douglass asked.

“Yes,” said Harlan.

“We owe you a deep debt,” Douglass said. “As Lincoln said, ‘I hope to have God on my side — ’”

“ ‘— but I must have Kentucky!’” Harlan and Douglass finished the sentence together, and toasted one another with Blaine’s wine.

“General Harlan was the law partner of Solicitor General Bristow,” Blaine explained to Douglass. “And a great friend of his, besides.”

Here Blaine left the two men, to attend to his duties as host, and the men took their places at Blaine’s table.

“Mr. Bristow is a fine man,” Douglass nodded. “You and Bristow must be the only Republicans in the state.”

“No other party would have me,” Harlan grumbled.

“We are deeply impressed by Mr. Bristow’s prosecutions under the Klan Acts,” said Douglass. “No United States Attorney in the country enforced the law as ably as he did.”

“He is a very good fellow!” said Harlan, who knew he would be supplying similar testimonials with great frequency over the next few days. “It is my most solemn hope that a second Grant Administration will see a newly strengthened enforcement effort to drive out the Ku-Klux.”

“I hope that Grant will not abandon us.”

“Abandon you?” Harlan exclaimed. “You need not fear abandonment.”

“Shouldn’t I?” Douglass shook his head, and Harlan could sense the well-worn gears of a practiced oration beginning to move. “The Negro has been abandoned at every juncture — abandoned at the declaration of independence, abandoned at the crafting of the Constitution, abandoned until Lincoln. Slavery abandoned me. Do you know how, General Harlan?”

“I do not.” Harlan thought that he might, but it was some relief that the conversation had moved beyond the subject of Bristow’s glorious merits.

“I was born in Maryland, in the state of slavery,” Douglass said. “I suppose you owned slaves, in Kentucky?”

“A long time ago,” said Harlan, discomfited.


Conkling & Arthur, November 1873

“It is a most generous offer, Senator, although Grant writes like a schoolboy,” Platt laid the letter from Grant upon a desk in Conkling’s suite at the Fifth Avenue Hotel.  While Platt was a mousy, jittery, shifty, fellow, Arthur was a large and placid man, in white trousers and a beaver hat, with magnificently manicured burnside whiskers. Arthur had recently become the Collector of Customs, upon Conkling’s directive.

“It is indeed.”  Senator Conkling stood erect, gazing out the window, deep in thought, his left thumb hooked into the pocket of his side-trousers, his right foot slightly advanced. After a suitable interval he abruptly turned away from the window, reached his desk with a few long strides, and brandished the letter. “For upon this missive the hopes of our entire nation may rest. What Solon shall lead our grand tribunal?  What Lycurgus?  Here is an invitation, blessed by divine providence.  What Caesar Augustus shall claim it?”

“It’s you, isn’t it?” asked Arthur.  “Is that not why we are here?”

Platt chuckled.

“What say you, gentleman?” Conkling demanded. “Shall I accept?”

“Of course you accept,” said Arthur. “It is the position of Chief Justice.  What man would not accept it?”

“There are other considerations at play,” Conkling said, returning to the window to gaze out upon New York, fixing his palms upon the corners of the frame, and posing his mighty shoulders in grand resoluteness. “Where will the Chief Justiceship take me?”

Arthur thought a few moments, but Platt had no hesitation.

“To the grave.”

Conkling nodded slowly.  “Yes, to the grave.  And not anywhere else.  Where did it take Marshall, Taney, and Chase?  To the grave, gentlemen.”

Arthur cocked his head and vast side-whiskers.  “I am not sure about that. Chase might have been President.  Davis may still be President.”

Conkling snorted.  “Lincoln was a man of great wisdom,” he said.  “For men such as Chase, the Court is a prison. One is confined on all sides by the work, by one’s colleagues, in suffocating isolation.  Meanwhile, the Senate floor stands open to me, at all hours, to speak directly to the people.”

“And so he cannot accept,” Platt turned to Arthur.

“If I were to accept,” Conkling said, now folding his arms and nodding his great red head in deep satisfaction. “I would be forever gnawing at my chains.”