Fifty years may not be considered a very long period in the life of a nation or a people, but when a half-century's grip is clapped on the head of an individual and the frosts of sixty years are encircling his brow he at least realizes in that span of time there "has been a whole lot doin!"
To my mind, Cass county, and especially Virginia, contained an atmosphere at the time I write, that was particularly satisfactory in which to nourish political disputation and controversy. Possibly this condition has not appreciatively changed, and if so I see neither cause for alarm nor a necessity for calamity apprehensions, as in a country based on free institutions, such as constitute the foundation of this republic, in my judgment it is the most healthful symptom when the public is stirred concerning its own welfare and the voter is aroused in his own behalf.
I like to dwell on the view that in the material world there are no accidents, and if we are but patient and seek to fathom the reason for results we without great difficult can find an antecedent cause for either the mountain peak of wrong or the smiling valley of blessedness that seem to be the antagonistic forces always fighting for supremacy. Accepting this premise as correct there must of necessity be as great a duty facing the present generation as was performed by the preceding one, yes, even as was established by the forefathers in building the free land now grown so great and majestic, viz., to maintain the same and transmit it pure and undefiled to posterity.
While yet preserving a recollection of the presidential campaign of 1852, I find so far a greater interest in the one succeeding, that of 1856, the issues of which being more portentous in consequence of a new party coming on the scene and the gradual dissolving views of one of the others, with the consequence of its final going out of existence, this period can be chronicled as an epoch in the political history of the country, bringing the nation to the threshold of dissolution and finally the harvest of civil conflict that required an ocean of blood and tens of thousands of lives as a sacrifice in order to maintain national unity.
As is familiar to all, the contestants in the political battle of 1856 were Buchanan and Breckenridge, representing the democratic cohorts; Fremont and Dayton, the newly organized republican party, and Fillmore and Donelson the Native American idea, termed by way of obloquy the "know-nothings," speedily going on the rocks of oblivion after that tussle with the electorate. It is not violently interpreting the verdict of history to assert that the potency of the people's voice was never more righteously displayed nor their verdict more universally approved than when they drove into outer darkness without hope of resurrection, a cabal founded on prejudice, nourished on bigotry and fed on the offal and venom of all that is vile in the infirmities of human nature.
To return to the subject in hand, that of a few of the scenes in a notable campaign in your beautiful and prosperous city a half century ago, asking indulgence for this lengthy and somewhat tiresome digression, let me ask the readers to follow me at least for the outlining of one of the half-amusing incidents that I was a witness of and one of the participants in almost fifty years ago. But for fear the lesson may not be received in full I must put the lesson first and the story second. The lesson I desire impressed is that no great movement ever had the advantage of numbers and equipment, but grew in consequence of the persistence of its disciples and in spite of the antagonism of those who opposed it. In thumbing the pages of history from Calvary to Appomattox I find unvarying indorsement of this conclusion. In fact it seems impossible to install any important change from existing conditions without misjudging the motive of those who seek to bring the change about and often the disciples of the reform must endure martyrdom for their convictions.
Along about the last or closing days of the campaign of 1856, in Virginia, the incident took place which fully illustrates this point. There had been a number of political rallies of each of the old parties and the ground had not only been covered quite thoroughly but in many places had been actually torn up by the vigor and energy of the disputants.
Not wishing to be completely submerged by their opponents the followers of Fremont determined to "ratify" just like the democrats and "know-nothings," but when they came to count noses their number was so small that they realized how lonesome it would all be, and gave it up as far as Virginia was concerned, but as fortune always favors the brave a way soon appeared that took the place of a home rally. Jacksonville housed a considerable number of the adherents of the "wooly horse," as the Fremonters were dubbed at that time, and announced a grand ratification meeting, with delegations from the surrounding counties, including Cass. this was quickly seized on by the handful of Virginia republicans and they resolved to participate. The principal of the faithful junta and somewhat of an agitator against the iniquity of slavery was Professor Spaulding, the school teacher, who with his faithful wife and two grown daughters kept the watchfires of republicanism ablaze, and to these were added James G. Campbell, John Rodgers and William Owen, the tinsmith. This delegation started for Jacksonville on the road leading from the west end of town, and while there were few flags or banners in the retinue their enthusiasm ran high. Before reaching the bridge crossing the "big branch" a misadventure overtook the determined ratifiers and almost brought their journey to disaster. It is related as one of the verities of the history of the time that a number of bad democrats, juveniles, but emphatic in their conviction that no republican should celebrate the nomination of Fremont if they could head it off, lay concealed in the corn near where the "procession" passed and bombarded from their place of security the entire republican party of Virginia. In the excitement the horses became unmanageable, started to run and came within an ace of running off the bridge, with possible calamity to the occupants of the wagon. Of course when the party returned the democratic adherents came in for a scoring in consequence of this latest outrage to throttle free speech and endeavoring to prevent the enjoyment of the fundamental rights of American citizenship. Of course the party had no more to do with the "assault" than the man in the moon, but the "victims" had a grievance and nursed with keen satisfaction their soreness. the election followed in a few weeks and as Fremont knocked the "know-nothings" into kingdom come, it left the two parties which have faced each other practically ever since, to occupy the stage of action. In my observation Cass County has never failed in its devotion to the glorious principles of democracy, and as even rock-ribbed Missouri has left the ancient moorings of the faithful, I feel that I must soon return to the beautiful horizon of Virginia, if only for a brief spell to grasp the honest hands and commune again with the noble natures that have held aloft the banner of the common people - the principles of pure democracy.
AN INTERESTING LETTER.
The following communication was received by J. N. Gridley from Mr. E. F. Madden, president of the First National Bank, of Hays City, Kansas:
"Answering yours of recent date, will say that I have just returned home after an absence of sometime and find your letter before me.
While I was born in Virginia, I have been away from there for forty years. I spent a very pleasant day there about fifteen years ago, and I expect to return there for at least a day off, as soon as I can.
"I pass through Jacksonville very often, but always at night and in a sleeper, and I assure you that if I was awake I would get out and go over to Virginia. I have the kindest recollections of the pretty little town, and her clever and hospitable people were to my childish memory, the nicest people in the world.
"I remember how the successful farmers used to bring in the most luscious peaches, the most beautiful and fragrant nice big apples, the sweetest cider, and the largest melons, and really such men as Sam Petefish, Jack Tureman, and Davis, Dr. McClure, and others, whom I cannot now call to mind, filled up barefooted, red-headed and freckled-faced boys like I happened to be at that time, with all the nice fruits and cider free of cost before they commenced to sell their produce to their other customers.
"I remember the old schoolhouse in the square in the west part of town where I usually went to school. My teachers were the Spaldings, Goodell, Miss Hart, Miss Gaines, Mr. Phillips and Mr. Rich, in the school on the hill, south of town, Mr. Berry and Mr. Prince, all to my young memory were kindness indeed.
"I guess I knew about all the places the boys used to go fishing and swimming, about as well as anyone did. I was the boy with the stone bruise on his heel, and the nail off of one of his big toes every summer, and was unnoticed, and likely unseen, and not now remembered by the average citizen of the beautiful village.
"I worked on the farms a little for Mr. Robt. Hall, Mr. Frank Stribling, John Sallee, Wm. Wilson, Dwight Angier, and also Newt Wilson, around his grain warehouse and in his stock trading. All these gentlemen paid me more than the agreed price, and treated me as nicely as if I had been their own boy. Things like the pay proposition mentioned, would make anyone, even after forty years feel kindly to such people and such a community. I remember all the children with whom I went to school: but as I was the dull boy, that all the others could lick, I presume I am forgotten. I assure you that in my mind, Virginia is the grandest spot on the map.
"I only regret, that the success in business and trade that I set out early to accomplish has kept me away from Virginia so long, and that I have not been able to return often and renew my early acquaintance with the citizens of your community.
"Thanking you for writing me and sending me copies of your well edited paper and assuring you and all my old friends that should they ever pass through my town nothing would please me better than for them to pay me a visit.
E. F. Madden