MEMORIAL ADDRESSES ON THE LIFE AND CHARACTER OF RANDALL LEE GIBSON (A SENATOR FROM LOUISIANA), Delivered in the Senate and House Representatives, March 1, 1893, and April 21, 1894, Published by Order of Congress, Washington: Government Printing Office, 1894
ADDRESS OF MR. MEYER, OF LOUISIANA.
Mr. SPEAKER: A great American poet has said:
Were a star quenched on high,
For ages would its light,
Still traveling downward from the sky,
Shine on our mortal sight.
So when a great man dies,
For years beyond our ken
The light he leaves behind him lies
Upon the paths of men.
Mr. Speaker, it is an honored usage of this body and of the associate branch of Congress that on the occasion of the death of one of its members we shall turn aside from the cares and activities of our ordinary duties to pay such tribute of respect as may be due to the memory of the deceased. I ask this House to-day to unite with me in this honor to the memory of one who sat here as a Representative from the State of Louisiana for four successive terms, and in the Senate of the United States from March, 1883, till the time of his death in December, 1892, filling these, as he did all the trusts of a long and varied career, with an earnestness, conscientiousness, and power that made him indeed a man among men.
RANDALL LEE GIBSON sprang from Revolutionary stock, and, like many of our notable men, the antecedents of his family and his early studies of the Revolutionary epoch exerted a marked impress upon his character, opinions, and career. John Gibson, the first immigrant of the family, came from England in 1706 with one sister and several brothers and settled near the lower Rappahannock, in Virginia. Subsequently they removed to the vicinity of Sandy Bluff, on the Great Pedee River, in South Carolina. They and their kindred, the Murfees, Saunders, Harrisons, and others, warmly espoused the cause of the Colonies and upheld it all through those long, weary years, till when "black and smoking ruins" had taken the place of once prosperous and joyous habitations the patriots of South Carolina entered upon their rich inheritance of freedom.
After the struggle closed the grandfather of RANDALL GIBSON, bearing the same name as his,, followed the westward current of American progress and settled in the State of Mississippi, where he became a wealthy planter. His home, termed Oakley, in Warren County, Miss., was noted for its hospitality. His connections and descendants embrace many of the best known names in the Southwest. This grandfather of Senator GIBSON is said to have built the first church and founded the first institution of leaning in the Mississippi Valley, fitly named Jefferson College. His wife, Harriet McKinley, was the daughter of John McKinley and Mary Connelly, both natives of Ireland. McKinley was an officer of the Virginia line in the Revolution, and died in the service of the Commonwealth in 1782.
Tobias Gibson, son of Randall Gibson, of Mississippi, and father of RANDALL LEE GIBSON, of Louisiana, settled in Terre Bonne Parish of our State, where he became one of the wealthiest and most influential sugar-planters in that country. He was a warm personal and political friend of Henry Clay, and his summer residence at Lexington was a headquarters for those who supported the great American orator and statesman. Tobias Gibson married Louisiana, the daughter of Colonel Nathaniel Hart, of Spring Hill, Woodford County, Ky. Her mother came from the Preston stock of Virginia, and he himself was nearly allied to Thomas Hart Benton and Mrs. Henry Clay. Spring Hill was one of those great Southern homes and households which belong to our past history, and were the products of a civilization no longer ours indeed, but yet even now redolent of memories of refinement, culture, manly breeding, courage, honor, and unstinted hospitality, the nurseries of a type of character in men and women that need not shrink from comparison with any other in the world or in all history.
It was in this typical Southern house that RANDALL LEE GIBSON was born September 10, 1832. There and at Lexington, Ky., he passed much of his boyhood. Here was his earliest schooling in books, and here also his other education of country life, with the benign influences of home, family, forest, and field. There was for him a like healthy training at his father's plantation in Louisiana. In 1849 he went to Yale College, where he took high rank and graduated four years later with special distinction. There were formed some of the most cherished and enduring friendships of his life. He always spoke of Yale with proud and affectionate retrospect. His friends at Yale were dear to him always. Of this period of his life and late distinguished Judge Edward C. Billings, his classmate and close friend, said:
I wish I could fully delineate RANDALL LEE GIBSON as he stood up and delivered the class oration in June, 1853, at Yale College. In his presence and appearance were united that which was comely and fascinating in the beauty of youth and scholarly in speech and that which was commanding in intellect, and above all the impressiveness and dignity of an earnest purpose to do well his part, not alone because it was to be connected with himself, but also because he appreciated and enjoyed everything that was well done.
GIBSON studied law in New Orleans and graduated at the University of Louisiana in 1855. He then went abroad and spent three years in Europe. This travel was not for him a journey of idleness and pleasure, as it is with many. He had been a close and careful student and a diligent reader. His days in Europe were only a part of liberal education. He studied in Berlin, and visited Russia and other countries, including Spain, where he spent six months at the American legation. In later life he frequently revisited Europe with his wife, but he traveled mainly for health and instruction. He studied and observed, gathering up stores for future use. He was never an idle man, and what he did was with a high and serious purpose in life.
On his return to American this young man, so well educated and equipped, naturally followed his father's steps and became a sugar-planter. Country life in the South possesses great attractions even for those most richly educated and endowed. There were books, horses, hunting, the duties of the plantation, the kind and just government of those placed under him by the ordination of Divine Providence, abundant leisure and opportunities for study and research, and a society founded upon the sentiment of home, respect for law, and reverence for women. There was nothing in the fascination of the Old World or of cities to wean him from this plantation life, which had bred Washington, Jefferson, Calhoun, and a host of worthies, and now welcomed to its charmed circle and happiest influences this accomplished and scholarly young recruit.
Even then he took a partial interest in politics, his mind leaning to State rights and Democratic opinions. It was, however, his nature to do well whatever he had in hand, and the work of a sugar plantation, its economies, methods, and forces, he then mastered so thoroughly that when in years long afterwards he came to deal with this great interest as a representative in Congress, the fullness and precision of his knowledge made him easily the first in the work of the committee and of the House, and a bulwark to the people who, struggling for a living, rested on his strong arm and wise guidance. At that epoch, so early as it now seems to us, Louisiana blossomed as the rose. The harvest season in the parishes came to a wealthy, a prosperous, and a happy population. White and black, living in a repose and peace almost Arcadian, hardly realized that on the horizon there hung the cloud which was destined soon to blacken the fair face of all that bright, sunny land.
Two short years passed and our young planter found himself bound in honor and duty to leave the happy home and peaceful avocations to which his tastes and education naturally conducted him, and to take part in the stern realities of war. His native land had been invaded; the land of his youth, his home, his kindred, and all that he held dear and sacred was in peril. Of the justice of the cause of the South--that her struggle was purely defensive, however he might deplore the collision of the warring sections--he could feel no doubt. Nor could he doubt as to his duty. It was not a time for any to hold back. Young and ardent as he was, his thoughtful temperament and wise study of history could not fail to impress him with the solemn character of the ordeal of battle. He weighed all the risks to life and fortune, and to the State, but these thoughts to so high a nature as his only nerved and strengthened his purpose.
Sectional passion, with thirty years of cessation of the conflicts of hostile armies, have given place to a broader and more generous feeling and to a yearning for a peace without recriminations or prejudice against any section; but stronger than this wise sentiment we find a disposition to do honor to the manhood and courage of those who in either army periled their lives for their convictions. The list of the heroes of the civil war is beginning to be regarded as a common heritage or honor. Men differ and will continue to differ as to the origin and causes of this great strife, but the discussion is historical, and does not involve present political issues.
In the roll of honor of which I speak, few stand higher than GIBSON, and none more worthy. His record from first to last is that of duty well performed. The soldiers in my hearing know that there can be no higher praise than this. He lacked unfortunately the vigorous physique which enable many men to withstand the hardships and exposure of camp life, the rigors of the wintry storm, the march, and the many trials of battle. There were no winter quarters with fires, blankets, clothing, and provisions for the Confederate forces. The strain was incessant. It was amid such hardships and exposure near Corinth in 1862 that this delicately nurtured young man first developed that terrible malady--hereditary gout--which in after years so often paralyzed his best thoughts and energies and tortured his frame to the infirmity which would have driven a common man to seek repose.
The intellect and the will triumphed over the body, and for over thirty years, in war and in peace, he braced himself to perform the duties of life. He was not an educated soldier, but he soon made himself a thorough one, and as such won the confidence of his troops and the commendation of his superior officers. Entering the Southern army as a private in the ranks, he was soon appointed to be a captain of the First Louisiana Artillery, and was stationed at Fort Jackson, below New Orleans. Not long afterwards he was elected colonel of the Thirteenth Louisiana Infantry. At Shiloh, before the battle, his regiment was assigned to picket duty with three others, and all, as it chanced, were without a brigadier. By common consent this honor was conferred upon him, and his brigade, thus led by GIBSON, made a special reputation for heroism in those two days of fierce slaughter, stubborn endurance, and wonderful valor.
Hardly any brigade was more severely tried and tested in that battlefield than the regiments thus hastily thrown together under a new commander, and no man but one of rare force could thus have evolved from raw troops the steadiness and work of veterans. The service thus performed was the prelude to a long and honorable career. GIBSON was present in the battles of Perryville, Murfreesboro, Chickamauga, Missionary Ridge, and other fields, and in the campaigns of 1862, 1863, and 1864 of the Western army. One-third of his brigade was killed and wounded at Murfreesboro. He was trusted and commended by Polk, Hardee, John C. Breckinridge, Cheatham, Dan Adams, Maury, Preston, Stephen D. Lee, Richard Taylor, Joseph E. Johnston, and Hood.
General H. D. Clayton, in his report of the battle of Jonesboro, ought on 31st August, 1861, says that Brigadier-General GIBSON, seizing the colors of one of his regiments, dashed to the front and to the very works of the enemy. The brigade lost there one-half of its members. General Stephen D. Lee makes special mention of the gallant crossing of the Tennessee River near Florence, Ala., by GIBSON and his brigade. When Hood's army was defeated at Nashville by Thomas, it fell to the lot of this brigade to check the progress of the enemy near Overton Hill under the immediate eye of General Lee. General Hood gives him the highest praise. He says:
General GIBSON, who evinced conspicuous gallantry and ability in the handling of his troops, succeeded, in concert with Clayton, in checking and staying the first and most dangerous shock, which always follows immediately after a rout.
Again, he says the GIBSON'S brigade and McKinzie's battery of Fenner's battalion acted as "rear guard of the rear guard." Here we have a soldierly character and force developing itself and shining the more brightly as calamity thickened and the ordeal became more difficult with great and greater odds and each hour bringing a lessening hope of final victory. Other work, however, remained to be performed. When General Canby with a heavy force moved against Mobile, General GIBSON was detached by General Maury from his main army with a few less than 2,000 men and ordered to hold Spanish Fort on the east side of Mobile Bay. For more than two weeks, amid incessant fighting, he maintained his position in the intrenchments of these works against a force estimated to be 20,000 strong, aided by seventy-five cannon and a large fleet, inflicted a large loss upon his assailants, and finally by a well-conducted retreat saved nearly all his command except those already killed or too severely wounded to be withdrawn.
These operations at Mobile Bay were the last great struggle of the war. General Richard Taylor, in recognition of GIBSON'S service, enlarged his command, but this long and dreadful conflict of the two sections came to a close, and was terminated by surrender of the Confederate armies. General GIBSON'S parting address to his troops was worthy of him and of them. He said:
As soldiers, you have been among the bravest and most steadfast. As citizens, be law-abiding, peaceful, and industrious.
This closing sentence furnishes the key to his political action and aims from 1865 till the hour of his death.
Like nearly all his associated, General GIBSON found himself at the close of the war ruined in fortune. His father's splendid sugar estate in Terre Bonne was a wreck. To restore it without ample capital and reliable, efficient labor was impossible. He therefore settled in New Orleans and devoted himself to the practice of the law. His labors were crowned with unusual and immediate success, for few possessed higher adaptation to the requirements of the bar. It was at this time of his life, in 1867, that he mat and married Miss Mary Montgomery, the charming and accomplished woman who lent such exquisite grace to his household and brought to him a tenderness and devotion that made her indeed a ministering angel. It was her fate to be summoned before he was called away, but not until many years of mutual happiness had blessed them both and strengthened him to meet the increased cares and burdens of a public career and to bear up under the malady which for long years impeded his best endeavors.
Hardly any man in Louisiana was better qualified for a Congressional career at the close of the civil war than RANDALL GIBSON, but the way was not open for him or for any representative man of Louisiana till long afterwards. To recall the epoch now seems like reviving a painful dream. The State of Louisiana was fast bound in misery and chains. It was held in the iron grasp of an alien rule under which neither its intelligence nor property had a voice. The State had been left by the war literally a wreck and desolation.
The work of rebuilding the waste places, the restoration of paralyzed industries, the reorganization of society, education, and the like would have been a herculean task under the best auspices and by the best of men, but nothing was done to evoke the best forces, and, on the contrary, everything to wound, to oppress, and to retard the healthful process of recovery. It was not until 1872 that RANDALL GIBSON could be elected to this House, and even then he was not admitted. In 1874 he was chosen by the First district of Louisiana, and took his seat in December, 1875, as a member of the Forty-fourth Congress. The House was full of strong men. Among its members were Kerr, Sayler, Blackburn, Cox, Garfield, Holman, Lamar, Blaine, Morrison, Randall, Tucker, Alex. H. Stephens, and GIBSON'S gifted colleague, E. John Ellis of Louisiana.
But if the actors on the stage were able and brilliant, the themes were even greater. Party passion ran high. The feelings of the war had only slightly subsided. The Southern States were only slowly and painfully regaining their equality in the Union. Three of the number, including Louisiana, were yet struggling for home rule, the rule of the taxpayer, and for a staple and economical government suited to an impoverished people, for the right to work and accumulate free from wanton spoliation. There were strong prejudices to be disarmed, the prejudices of a powerful party that had long held the National Government.
The situation was complicated by the pending of a heated Presidential struggle which threatened the country with a civil war, not between sections but nearly balanced parties. When was there ever a condition that imposed graver duties and responsibilities on a representative of Louisiana or required more of wisdom, judgment, strategy, self-control, diplomatic tact, and resources than this? and yet it is not too much to say that Representative GIBSON proved himself equal to the occasion. He had had no previous legislative experience, but his education and studies were profound, and he soon proved himself a natural parliamentarian and man of affairs.
At the outset of his legislative careen General GIBSON, whose aim was to avoid violent controversies, and by appeals to reason of both parties to accomplish results for the general good, found himself forced to meet repeated assaults upon his State and constituents involving their good name and conduct. One of his earliest speeches in Congress was a vindication of Louisiana in connection with the election of 1876 for President and State officers, and thus it became necessary to review the work of the famous returning board. He discharged this unpleasant duty with frankness and plain speech, but he put the cause of his State with a spirit of justice, moderation, and fairness that could not fail to impress the House and public opinion. He spoke from the standpoint of a national and conservative statesman, accepting the logic of events and the results of the war so disastrous to the South, accepting emancipation and the equal political rights of the two races as a basis of action, disclaiming sectionalism, deprecating it, and pleading for peace and justice to his people. He never departed from this keynote of policy throughout his career, not even in denouncing bayonet rule and the use of troops at the polls.
It was this admirable temper and national spirit, joined to his high character and rare power in personal intercourse with men, that enabled him to appeal successfully to President Grant at the most critical moment in the history of Louisiana, and to stay the effort that was made to induce President Grant to employ the army to crush out the rightful government of the State. The struggle of the friends of the Packard government to win General Grant in this juncture was incessant. The strongest influence wielded against them, as they well recognized, was that of Representative GIBSON. Both under the administration of President Grant and President Hayes there were men who rendered most invaluable service, but there is no one to whom Louisiana is more deeply indebted for her final deliverance than GIBSON. He had the respect of President Hayes, who freely consulted him. There was nothing loud or ostentatious in this great service. Like most of the potent work in public life, it was rendered quietly, but it was none the less effective. Then once more with the light of hope upon their brows the sons of Louisiana began to plant, to sow, and to reap. Anarchy, misrule, and despair gave place to order and progress.
But aside from all sentimental questions and the transcendent issue of local self-government, and both before and after its final adjudication, the most difficult duties devolved upon a representative of Louisiana. These were not party questions, but they were not less difficult of adjustment and demanded the most unwearied and skillful devotion. Among the most important of these issues which required General GIBSON’S constant care from the day he entered this House during his four terms of service and in the Senate after he entered that body in March, 1883, were the protection of the great sugar interest of Louisiana and the question of the improvement of the Mississippi River. Both were vital to Louisiana and important to the whole Union. But he thoroughly understood them, and in knowledge of each he had hardly a peer in either branch of Congress. To detail the successive steps of his labors on these questions would be to repeat their history for a series of years. I can barely glance at a work so familiar to his contemporaries in Congress.
The sugar industry of Louisiana before the civil war had grown to large proportions and supplied one-half of the American consumption. By the havoc of war and emancipation it had been reduced to almost nothing, but was now gradually expanding. Upon its maintenance and development depended the subsistence and prosperity of nearly half of the people of the State, but this development it was vain to expect under hostile tariffs. All through the earlier period of American history down to a recent date the propriety and necessity of the duty upon sugar had been questioned by no party or statesman. It was a prominent feature in every tariff for a hundred years. But soon after General GIBSON took his place on the Ways and Means Committee in the Forty-fifth Congress he found himself confronted with measures involving changes in the revenue laws.
The wisdom and lessons of the past were only partially remembered, and this interest so important to his State was imperiled by repeated assaults and propositions which, if carried, would have wrought a fresh desolation in Louisiana. He was a friend to the policy of a revenue tariff and moderate duties, for he had been a wise student of economic science, but for that very reason he demanded a fair revenue duty on sugar. He was not willing to see Louisiana sacrificed to foster the interests of Cuba, Jamaica, or any other country. As far back as 1876 he opposed the passage of the legislation devised to carry out the Hawaiian reciprocity treaty, which he deemed injurious to American interests. His labors for the sugar industry in the committee, in speeches on the floor, and with individual members of both parties engrossed much of his time and energies. He had a perfect knowledge of the numerous details and intricacies of these duties, and he knew the history of the contest and the past legislation. He had the skill to grasp a difficult situation, to combine favors and influences, to judge what could be done and how to do it; how much to yield and how much he could fairly demand. No cunning device of unfriendly interests escaped his watchful vigilance. He was always on guard and always at the front. He was the recognized leader of this interest in Congress every day and hour of his service, but it was as a public officer and not as a planter to be personally benefited; for he never had the capital to restore his old plantation. The final adoption of the polariscope test was largely due to his early and constant advocacy of its merits and necessity to protect the revenue and prevent fraud. The whole subject of this industry was to Congress a new discussion, but he illuminated it with a flood of light.
Not less valuable were General GIBSON’S wise services in respect to the legislation happily enacted by Congress to harness the forces of that mighty current well termed the “Father of Waters,” to make it the great artery of a vast and increasing commerce, to prevent its ravages and destructive floods, and to make it all ally to civilization and industry, a blessing to man instead of a curse. The genius of Captain James B. Eads had already pointed out the way to open the closed mouth of the Mississippi, and the liberal hand of Congress responding to the call of the great valley had provided the means. One of Representative GIBSON’S earliest steps in Congress was to aid in supplementing this legislation by modifications which enabled Eads to continue his work, to expedite it, and push it forward till, to use the words of GIBSON himself, “the jetties were a perfect success.” But the main problem, namely, the treatment of the great river from Cairo, or indeed from its head waters to the Gulf, remained to be solved.
The most eminent hydraulic engineers of the country had made its forces and phenomena a study and had differed as to the remedy to be applied. The best thoughts of the best minds of the South and West in Congress at this time were exercised upon the two great questions: first, what plan of treatment for the river should be adopted; and next, supposing some mode to be preferred, how could Congress be induced to grant the ample means needed to carry out the plan. For a long period efforts had been made to induce Congress to rebuild the levees, but all these efforts had failed. Captain Eads had for years insisted on the policy of concentration of the waters and obtaining a uniform width for the river; but there were so many conflicting opinions and plans that it seemed vain to ask Congress to adopt any one of them.
Amid all this confusion of counsels it was the happy conception of General GIBSON to propose a scientific commission, to be composed of the ablest men engaged in the public service and in private life, who should examine the river with a view to the improvement of its navigation, the prevention of floods, and the promotion of commerce, and after considering the different plans and methods suggested to report to the Secretary of War a plan of comprehensive improvement. It was this plan of a commission that was finally adopted by Congress, and to it the country is indebted for the most beneficent results already accomplished and for the assured prospect of final realization of one of the greatest works of modern civilization.
S. Mis. 178—6
Yet this wise law was not passed until after years of persistent struggle by its friends.
Out of the many able and zealous friends of this policy in Congress from all sections of the country who contributed to its adoption and maintenance, Representative GIBSON was most conspicuous by the earnestness, fullness of information, and power which he brought to the discussion, and by the ceaseless vigilance and strategy with which he guarded the River Commission against all attempts to impair its powers and usefulness. The plan of treatment for the river adopted by the Commission was mainly the one advocated by Captain Eads and in which General GIBSON fully believed. The mind in Congress which expounded and defended the plan of the Commission and the arm which upheld it, Eads always recognized as GIBSON’S. The names of both men are linked inseparably with this great measure. How eloquently does it contrast with the fruitless strifes and bitter phrases of lesser minds? Who shall set bounds to its blessings or put too high a value on the patriotism of those who carried it on to its high consummation?
I need not review the work of General GIBSON on other questions as a Representative and a Senator. The location of the mint at New Orleans, the establishment of closer commercial relations with Mexico and South America, the general work of river and harbor improvement, the reformation of the tariff, questions of the currency, the educational bill, the work of the Agricultural Bureau, the forfeiture of the land grant of the Backbone Railroad Company—these and many other topics were the objects of his care. He labored unsuccessfully to curtail the secret sessions of the Senate and to repeal the objectionable statute which disfranchises all ex-Confederates for positions in the Federal Army.
He never spoke for mere display. No small part of the most valuable work of a Representative is done in committee or in personal intercourse with his associates or with the President and heads of Departments. General GIBSON’S influence in all these directions was unusual. He neglected none of the honorable instrumentalities essential to success. He had the confidence and respect of every President from Grant to the present occupant of the chair. His personal relations with such eminent men as Beck, Morrison, Randall, Carlisle, Bayard, Lamar, Tilden, Andrew White, Evarts, Sherman, Garfield, Hayes, Cameron, and Blaine were such as few enjoyed. The value to his people of such relations of confidence is too obvious to be insisted on.
RANDALL GIBSON was an educated and a scholar. He took the deepest interest in every scheme for educating the youth of the South, for none knew better than he the value of such education and how greatly the opportunities for acquiring it had been cut off by the waste of the war and the widespread poverty of the people. It came to him, therefore, like a benediction when Paul Tulane, then living at Princeton, J. J., but a former resident of New Orleans, sought his aid and counsel in carrying into practical effect his noble and benevolent plan of making a large donation for the “encouragement of intellectual, moral, and industrial education among the white young persons of the city of New Orleans.” Mr. Tulane could not have found a wiser or more sympathetic adviser than RNADALL GIBSON. He formulated the method and plan on which the donation was to be made and defined the purpose to which it was to be applied.
As has been said by one who well knew whereof he spoke:
He selected the men whom Mr. Tulane associated with himself as the trustees of his sacred gift. As president of the administration, he impressed on each and every one of them his own high sense of the gravity of the functions with which they were charged. He was the electric cord which connected them directly with Paul Tulane, and maintained that perfect harmony and confidence between them which led to the constant enlargement of his bounty. His wisdom selected the distinguished man who as president of the university has organized its splendid faculty, has shaped its course of study, has planned its methods and degrees, and has in all respects conducted its affairs with such signal sagacity and success.
In a word, the character and intellect of RANDALL GIBSON are thoroughly impressed upon this munificent foundation of the noble philanthropist. This institution was the object of General GIBSON’S love and solicitude even to his latest breath.
Early in November, 1892, Senator GIBSON, then in New Orleans, was seized with a recurrence of the malady which had so many years preyed upon him. His physician ordered him to the Hot Springs of Arkansas, where on a former occasion he had found much benefit. He went there under the care of a devoted friend, and at first he seemed to improve. But this was only illusory. His disease had approached nearer and nearer the citadel of life. His powers of resistance had waned till nothing was left but to yield with composure and courage to the last dread summons. He passed away on the 15th of December, 1892, surrounded by those whom of the living he loved best. Death did not find him unprepared. His dear wife, whose name in his last moments was so often on his lips, had preceded him years before to the better land. He had realized for many months how frail was his tenure of life, and he had made calmly all his arrangements for his last journey. The love and care of his surviving children were much indeed to live for; but his public careen was well rounded and complete. It lacked nothing in its perfect symmetry.
Hardly any man of our day had had a better or higher conception of statesmanship. He was always a student of affairs, of history, of religion, morals, and conduct. Everything relating to the foundations of government, and especially our own Government, he had studied. He was familiar with ancient and modern history, with the lives and writings of Washington, Jefferson, Hamilton, and all the great men of the Republic, and with what may be called the classics of politics. Whether in debate or private intercourse he was effective. As a speaker he was direct, argumentative, persuasive. He brought to bear all the resources of legitimate debate; but he was careful not to wound the feelings or impugn the motives of his opponents. His retort might disarm, but left no sting. His gentleness, tact, and consideration for others was conspicuous in public and private life. He spoke well, yet he was eminently practical. He aimed in action not so much to destroy as to build up and create; in speech to conciliate and convince. He understood the arts of government, the necessity for compromise, and the value of peace with honor.
Hardly any man from the South of late years has so much impressed himself on legislation. In his public relations General GIBSON, without being repellant, bore himself usually with a certain degree of stateliness and reserve. But in the society of his friends no one could be more natural, frank, engaging, and companionable. He enjoyed social intercourse, but no one was more abstemious or free from dissipation. He was a man of clear morals and speech, and was imbued with the profoundest respect for religion and virtue. Bigotry he had none. He believed in religious liberty in the largest and best sense. As a friend he was kind, sympathetic, instructive; as a man of society, courteous and conciliatory; as a husband and father, tender, affectionate, and true.
His life was gentle, and the elements
So mix’d in him, that nature might stand up
And say to all the world, “This was a man!”
If he had ambition, who shall blame him? It was an ambition not low, nor selfish, nor sordid. It inspired him to serve his State and the Union, to help to build up an impoverished and suffering section, and to increase the happiness and progress of mankind. It is by such generous aspirations that humanity advances to successive triumphs and states become great and opulent.
A man will sometimes unconsciously reveal his own nature in describing another’s. We find a broad light cast upon the formative influences that shaped the character of our departed friend in his own eulogy upon the late Thomas H. Herndon, of Alabama. Said he:
As a general rule, public men are the logical expressions of the tone and temper, the outgrowth of the local conditions and habits and culture and institutions, of the people, and indicate their characteristics and qualities as surely as certain plants and fruits and trees do particular climates. His family [Mr. Herndon’s] had emigrated from Fredericksburg, a part of the Old Dominion which had been prolific in men celebrated for all the virtues that adorn human nature, as well as polished manners and intellectual accomplishments. They belonged to the country people of Virginia who have given to the world names that command its admiration and homage. * * * Inheriting traditions so elevating and representing a people themselves intelligent, brave, and virtuous, how could he prevaricate, or attempt to deceive or descend to subterfuge, or play the demagogue, or betray any trust, or fail of duty anywhere, or his name be less than it was—the synonym of honor.
On another occasion we find him laying a flower upon the grave of a departed colleague, Michael Hahn, of Louisiana. He cited a passage taken from Festus by Mr. Hahn in a published address, and said he doubted not that the noble sentiments therein expressed found a lodgment in his memory because his heart best responsive to them, and that they inspired the aspirations of his life. These words match well and fitly the soul and aims of him of whom we speak to-day:
Life is more than breath and the quick round of blood;
It is a great spirit and a busy heart.
The coward and the small in soul scarce do live.
One generous feeling—one great thought—one deed
Of good, ere night, would make life longer seem
Than if each year might number a thousand days
Spent as this is by nations of mankind.
We live in deeds, not years; in thoughts, not breaths;
In feelings, not in figures on the dial.
We should count time by heart-throbs. He most lives
Who thinks most, feels the noblest, acts the best.
Contributed by Ona Patrick
Assistant State Coordinators