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Mark Twain > The Gilded Age > Chapter XLIII

The Gilded Age

Chapter XLIII


The very next day, sure enough, the campaign opened. In due course, the
Speaker of the House reached that Order of Business which is termed
"Notices of Bills," and then the Hon. Mr. Buckstone rose in his place and
gave notice of a bill "To Found and Incorporate the Knobs Industrial
University," and then sat down without saying anything further. The busy
gentlemen in the reporters' gallery jotted a line in their note-books,
ran to the telegraphic desk in a room which communicated with their own
writing-parlor, and then hurried back to their places in the gallery; and
by the time they had resumed their seats, the line which they had
delivered to the operator had been read in telegraphic offices in towns
and cities hundreds of miles away. It was distinguished by frankness of
language as well as by brevity:

"The child is born. Buckstone gives notice of the thieving Knobs
University job. It is said the noses have been counted and enough votes
have been bought to pass it."

For some time the correspondents had been posting their several journals
upon the alleged disreputable nature of the bill, and furnishing daily
reports of the Washington gossip concerning it. So the next morning,
nearly every newspaper of character in the land assailed the measure and
hurled broadsides of invective at Mr. Buckstone. The Washington papers
were more respectful, as usual--and conciliatory, also, as usual. They
generally supported measures, when it was possible; but when they could
not they "deprecated" violent expressions of opinion in other
journalistic quarters.

They always deprecated, when there was trouble ahead. However, 'The
Washington Daily Love-Feast' hailed the bill with warm approbation. This
was Senator Balaam's paper--or rather, "Brother" Balaam, as he was
popularly called, for he had been a clergyman, in his day; and he himself
and all that he did still emitted an odor of sanctity now that he had
diverged into journalism and politics. He was a power in the
Congressional prayer meeting, and in all movements that looked to the
spread of religion and temperance.

His paper supported the new bill with gushing affection; it was a noble
measure; it was a just measure; it was a generous measure; it was a pure
measure, and that surely should recommend it in these corrupt times; and
finally, if the nature of the bill were not known at all, the 'Love
Feast' would support it anyway, and unhesitatingly, for the fact that
Senator Dilworthy was the originator of the measure was a guaranty that
it contemplated a worthy and righteous work.

Senator Dilworthy was so anxious to know what the New York papers would
say about the bill; that he had arranged to have synopses of their
editorials telegraphed to him; he could not wait for the papers
themselves to crawl along down to Washington by a mail train which has
never run over a cow since the road was built; for the reason that it has
never been able to overtake one. It carries the usual "cow-catcher" in
front of the locomotive, but this is mere ostentation. It ought to be
attached to the rear car, where it could do some good; but instead, no
provision is made there for the protection of the traveling public, and
hence it is not a matter of surprise that cows so frequently climb aboard
that train and among the passengers.

The Senator read his dispatches aloud at the breakfast table. Laura was
troubled beyond measure at their tone, and said that that sort of comment
would defeat the bill; but the Senator said:

"Oh, not at all, not at all, my child. It is just what we want.
Persecution is the one thing needful, now--all the other forces are
secured. Give us newspaper persecution enough, and we are safe.
Vigorous persecution will alone carry a bill sometimes, dear; and when
you start with a strong vote in the first place, persecution comes in
with double effect. It scares off some of the weak supporters, true,
but it soon turns strong ones into stubborn ones. And then, presently,
it changes the tide of public opinion. The great public is weak-minded;
the great public is sentimental; the great public always turns around and
weeps for an odious murderer, and prays for-him, and carries flowers to
his prison and besieges the governor with appeals to his clemency, as
soon as the papers begin to howl for that man's blood.--In a word, the
great putty-hearted public loves to 'gush,' and there is no such darling
opportunity to gush as a case of persecution affords."

"Well, uncle, dear; if your theory is right, let us go into raptures,
for nobody can ask a heartier persecution than these editorials are
furnishing."

"I am not so sure of that, my daughter. I don't entirely like the tone
of some of these remarks. They lack vim, they lack venom. Here is one
calls it a 'questionable measure.' Bah, there is no strength in that.
This one is better; it calls it 'highway robbery.' That sounds something
like. But now this one seems satisfied to call it an 'iniquitous
scheme'. 'Iniquitous' does not exasperate anybody; it is weak--puerile.
The ignorant will imagine it to be intended for a compliment. But this
other one--the one I read last--has the true ring: 'This vile, dirty
effort to rob the public treasury, by the kites and vultures that now
infest the filthy den called Congress'--that is admirable, admirable!
We must have more of that sort. But it will come--no fear of that;
they're not warmed up, yet. A week from now you'll see."

"Uncle, you and Brother Balaam are bosom friends--why don't you get his
paper to persecute us, too?"

"It isn't worth while, my, daughter. His support doesn't hurt a bill.
Nobody reads his editorials but himself. But I wish the New York papers
would talk a little plainer. It is annoying to have to wait a week for
them to warm up. I expected better things at their hands--and time is
precious, now."

At the proper hour, according to his previous notice, Mr. Buckstone duly
introduced his bill entitled "An Act to Found and Incorporate the Knobs
Industrial University," moved its proper reference, and sat down.

The Speaker of the House rattled off this observation:

"'Fnobjectionbilltakuzhlcoixrssoreferred!'"

Habitues of the House comprehended that this long, lightning-heeled word
signified that if there was no objection, the bill would take the
customary course of a measure of its nature, and be referred to the
Committee on Benevolent Appropriations, and that it was accordingly so
referred. Strangers merely supposed that the Speaker was taking a gargle
for some affection of the throat.

The reporters immediately telegraphed the introduction of the bill.--And
they added:

     "The assertion that the bill will pass was premature. It is said
     that many favorers of it will desert when the storm breaks upon them
     from the public press."

The storm came, and during ten days it waxed more and more violent day by
day. The great "Negro University Swindle" became the one absorbing topic
of conversation throughout the Union. Individuals denounced it, journals
denounced it, public meetings denounced it, the pictorial papers
caricatured its friends, the whole nation seemed to be growing frantic
over it. Meantime the Washington correspondents were sending such
telegrams as these abroad in the land; Under date of--

SATURDAY. "Congressmen Jex and Fluke are wavering; it is believed they
will desert the execrable bill."

MONDAY. "Jex and Fluke have deserted!"

THURSDAY. "Tubbs and Huffy left the sinking ship last night"

Later on:

"Three desertions. The University thieves are getting scared, though
they will not own it."

Later:

"The leaders are growing stubborn--they swear they can carry it, but it
is now almost certain that they no longer have a majority!"

After a day or two of reluctant and ambiguous telegrams:

"Public sentiment seems changing, a trifle in favor of the bill--
but only a trifle."

And still later:

"It is whispered that the Hon. Mr. Trollop has gone over to the pirates.
It is probably a canard. Mr. Trollop has all along been the bravest and
most efficient champion of virtue and the people against the bill, and
the report is without doubt a shameless invention."

Next day:

"With characteristic treachery, the truckling and pusillanimous reptile,
Crippled-Speech Trollop, has gone over to the enemy. It is contended,
now, that he has been a friend to the bill, in secret, since the day it
was introduced, and has had bankable reasons for being so; but he himself
declares that he has gone over because the malignant persecution of the
bill by the newspapers caused him to study its provisions with more care
than he had previously done, and this close examination revealed the fact
that the measure is one in every way worthy of support. (Pretty thin!)
It cannot be denied that this desertion has had a damaging effect. Jex
and Fluke have returned to their iniquitous allegiance, with six or eight
others of lesser calibre, and it is reported and believed that Tubbs and
Huffy are ready to go back. It is feared that the University swindle is
stronger to-day than it has ever been before."

Later-midnight:

"It is said that the committee will report the bill back to-morrow. Both
sides are marshaling their forces, and the fight on this bill is
evidently going to be the hottest of the session.--All Washington is
boiling."

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