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THERE was a considerable number of passengers on board the boat, and our assortment was somewhat like the Yankee merchant's cargo of notions, pretty particularly miscellaneous, I tell you. I moved through the crowd from stem to stern, to see if I could discover any face that was not altogether strange to me; but after a general survey, I concluded that I had never seen one of them before. There were merchants and emigrants and gamblers, but none who seemed to have embarked in the particular business that for the time being occupied my mind — I could find none who were going to Texas. All seemed to have their hands full enough of their own affairs, without meddling with the cause of freedom. The greater share of glory will be mine, thought I, so go ahead, Crockett.
I saw a small cluster of passengers at one end of the boat, and hearing an occasional burst of laughter, thinks I, there's some sport started in that quarter, and having nothing better to do, I'll go in for my share of it. Accordingly I drew nigh to the cluster, and seated on a chest was a tall lank sea sarpent looking blackleg, who had crawled over from Natchez under the hill, and was amusing the passengers with his skill at thimblerig; at the same time he was picking up their shillings just about as expeditiously as a hungry gobbler would a pint of corn. He was doing what might be called an average business in a small way, and lost no time in gathering up the fragments.
I watched the whole process for some time, and found that he had adopted the example set by the old tempter himself, to get the weathergage of us poor weak mortals. He made it a point to let his victims win always the first stake, that they might be tempted to go ahead; and then, when they least suspected it, he would come down upon them like a hurricane in a cornfield, sweeping all before it.
I stood looking on, seeing him pick up the chicken feed from the green horns, and thought if men are such darned fools as to be cheated out of their hard earnings by a fellow who had just brains enough to pass a pea from one thimble to another, with such slight of hand, that you could not tell under which he had deposited it; it is not astonishing that the magician of Kinderhook should play thimblerig upon the big figure, and attempt to cheat the whole nation. I thought that "the Government" was playing the same game with the deposites, and with such address too, that before long it will be a hard matter to find them under any of the thimbles where it is supposed they have been originally placed.
The thimble conjurer saw me looking on, and eyeing me as if he thought I would be a good subject, said carelessly, "Come, stranger, won't you take a chance?" the whole time passing the pea from one thimble to the other, by way of throwing out a bait for the gudgeons to bite at. "I never gamble, stranger," says I, "principled against it; think it a slippery way of getting through the world at best." "Them are my sentiments to a notch," says he; "but this is not gambling by no means. A little innocent pastime, nothing more. Better take a hack by way of trying your luck at guessing." All this time he continued working with his thimbles; first putting the pea under one, which was plain to be seen, and then uncovering it, would show that the pea was there; he would then put it under the second thimble, and do the same, and then under the third; all of which he did to show how easy it would be to guess where the pea was deposited, if one would only keep a sharp look-out.
"Come, stranger," says he to me again, "you had better take a chance. Stake a trifle, I don't care how small, just for the fun of the thing."
"I am principled against betting money," says I, "but I don't mind going in for drinks for the present company, for I'm as dry as one of little Isaac Hill's regular set speeches."
"I admire your principles," says he, "and to show that I play with these here thimbles just for the sake of pastime, I will take that bet, though I'm a whole hog temperance man. Just say when, stranger."
He continued all the time slipping the pea from one thimble to another; my eye was as keen as a lizard's, and when he stopped, I cried out, "Now; the pea is under the middle thimble." He was going to raise it to show that it wasn't there, when I interfered, and said, "Stop, if you please," and raised it myself, and sure enough the pea was there; but it mought have been otherwise if he had had the uncovering of it.
"Sure enough you've won the bet," says he. "You've a sharp eye, but I don't care if I give you another chance. Let us go fifty cents this bout; I'm sure you'll win."
"Then you're a darned fool to bet, stranger," says I; "and since that is the case, it would be little better than picking your pocket to bet with you; so I'll let it alone."
" I don't mind running the risk," said he.
"But I do," says I; "and since I always let welt enough alone, and I have had just about glory enough for one day, let us all go to the bar and liquor."
This called forth a loud laugh at the thimble conjurer's expense; and he tried hard to induce me to take just one chance more, but he mought just as well have sung psalms to a dead horse, for my mind was made up; and I told him, that I looked upon gambling as about the dirtiest way that a man could adopt to get through this dirty world; and that I would never bet any thing beyond a quart of whisky upon a rifle shot, which I considered a legal bet, and gentlemanly and rational amusement. "But all this cackling," says I, "makes me very thirsty, so let us adjourn to the bar and liquor."
He gathered up his thimbles, and the whole company followed us to the bar, laughing heartily at the conjurer; for, as he had won some of their money, they were sort of delighted to see him beaten with his own cudgel. He tried to laugh too, but his laugh wasn't at all pleasant, and rather forced. The barkeeper placed a big-bellied bottle before us; and after mixing our liquor, I was called on for a toast, by one of the company, a chap just about as rough hewn as if he had been cut out of a gum log with a broad axe, and sent into the market without even being smoothed off with a jack plane, — one of them chaps who, in their journey through life, are always ready for a fight or a frolic, and don't care the toss of a copper which.
"Well, gentlemen," says I, "being called upon for a toast, and being in a slave-holding state, in order to avoid giving offence, and running the risk of being Lynched, it may be necessary to premise that I am neither an abolitionist nor a colonizationist, but simply Colonel Crockett, of Tennessee, now bound for Texas." When they heard my name they gave three cheers for Colonel Crockett; and silence being restored, I continued, "Now, gentlemen, I will offer you a toast, hoping, after what I have stated, that it will give offence to no one present; but should I be mistaken, I must imitate the old Roman,' and take the responsibility. I offer, gentlemen, The abolition of slavery: Let the work first begin in the two houses of Congress. There are no slaves in the country more servile than the party slaves in Congress. The wink or the nod of their masters is all sufficient for the accomplishment of the most dirty work."
They drank the toast in a style that satisfied me, that the Little Magician might as well go to a pig-sty for wool, as to beat round in that part for voters; they were all either for Judge White or Old Tippecanoe. The thimble conjurer having asked the barkeeper how much was to pay, was told there were sixteen smallers, which amounted to one dollar. He was about to lay down the blunt, but not in Benton's metallic currency, which I find, has already become as shy as honesty with an office holder, but he planked down one of Biddle's notes, when I interfered, and told him that the barkeeper had made a mistake.
"How so?" demanded the barkeeper.
"How much do you charge," says I, "when you retail your liquor?"
"A fip a glass."
"Well, then," says I, "as Thimblerig here, who belongs to the temperance society, took it in wholesale, I reckon you can afford to let him have it at half price?"
Now, as they had all noticed that the conjurer went what is called the heavy wet, they laughed outright, and we heard no more about temperance from that quarter. When we returned to the deck the blackleg set to work with his thimbles again, and bantered me to bet; but I told him that it was against my principle, and as I had already reaped glory enough for one day, I would just let well enough alone for the present. If the "old Roman" had done the same in relation to the deposites and "the monster," we should have escaped more difficulties than all the cunning of the Little Flying Dutchman, and Dick Johnson to boot, will be able to repair. I shouldn't be astonished if the new Vice President's head should get wool gathering, before they have half unravelled the knotted and twisted thread of perplexities that the old General has spun, — in which case his charming spouse will no doubt be delighted, for then they will be all in the family way. What a handsome display they will make in the White House. No doubt the first act of Congress will be to repeal the duties on Cologne and Lavender waters, for they will be in great demand about the Palace, particularly in the dog days.
One of the passengers; hearing that I was on board of the boat, came up to me, and began to talk about the affairs of the nation, and said a good deal in favour of "the Magician," and wished to hear what I had to say against him. He talked loud, which is the way with all politicians educated in the Jackson school; and by his slang-whanging, drew a considerable crowd around us. Now, this was the very thing I wanted, as I knew I should not soon have another opportunity of making a political speech; he no sooner asked to hear what I had to say against his candidate, than I let him have it, strong and hot as he could take, I tell you.
"What have I to say against Martin Van Buren? He is an artful, cunning, intriguing, selfish, speculating lawyer, who, by holding lucrative offices for more than half his life, has contrived to amass a princely fortune, and is now seeking the presidency, principally for sordid GAIN, and to gratify the most selfish ambition. His fame is unknown to the history of our country, except as a most adroit political manager and successful office hunter. He never took up arms in defence of his country, in her days of darkness and peril. He never contributed a dollar of his surplus wealth to assist her in her hours of greatest want and weakness. OFFICE and MONEY have been the gods of his idolatry; and at their shrines has the ardent worship of his heart been devoted, from the, earliest days of his manhood to the present moment. He can lay no claim to pre-eminent services as a statesman; nor has he ever given any evidences of superior talent, except as a political electioneerer and intriguer. As a politician he is 'all things to all men.' He is for internal improvement, and against it; for the tariff, and against it; for the bank monopoly, and against it; for abolition of slavery, and against it; and for any thing else, and against any thing else; just as he can best promote his popularity and subserve his own private interest. He is so totally destitute of moral courage, that he never dares to give an opinion upon any important question until he first finds out whether it will be popular, or not. He is celebrated as the 'Little Non Committal Magician,' because he enlists on no side of any question until lie discovers which is the strongest party; and then always moves in so cautious, sly, and secret a manner, that he can change sides at any time, as easily as a juggler or a magician can play off his arts of legerdemain.
"Who is Martin Van Buren? He is the candidate of the office holders and office expectants, who nominated him for the presidency, at a convention assembled in the city of Baltimore, in May last. The first account we have of his political life is while he was a member of the Senate of New York, at the time when Mr. Clinton was nominated as the federal candidate for the presidency, in opposition to Mr. Madison. The support he then gave Mr. Clinton afforded abundant evidence of that spirit of opposition to the institutions of his country, which was prominently developed in the conduct of those with whom he was united. Shortly after the success of Mr. Madison, and during the prosecution of the war, Rufus King, of New York, (for whom Mr. Van Buren voted,) was elected to the Senate of the United States, avowedly opposed to the administration. Upon his entrance into that body, instead of devoting his energies to maintain the war, he commenced a tirade of abuse against the administration for having attempted relief to the oppressed seamen of our gallant navy, who had been compelled by British violence to arm themselves against their country, their firesides, and their friends. Thus Martin Van Buren countenanced, by his vote in the Senate of New York, an opposition to that war, which, a second time, convinced Great Britain that Americans could not be awed into bondage and subjection.
"Subsequent to this time Mr. Van Buren became himself a member of the United States Senate, and, while there, opposed every proposition to improve the west or to add to her numerical strength.
"He voted against the continuance of the national road through Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, and against appropriations for its preservation.
"He voted against the graduation of the price of the public lands.
"He voted against ceding the refuse lands to the states in which they lie.
"He voted against making donations of the lands to actual settlers.
"He again voted against ceding the refuse lands, not worth twenty-five cents per acre, to the new states for purposes of education and internal improvement.
"He voted against the bill providing 'settlement and pre-emption rights' to those who had assisted in opening and improving the western country, and thus deprived many an honest poor man of a home.
"He voted against donations of land to Ohio, to prosecute the Miami Canal; and, although a member of the Senate, he was not present when the vote was taken upon the engrossment of the bill giving land to Indiana for her Wabash and Erie Canal, and was known to have opposed it in all its stages.
"He voted in favour of erecting toll gates on the national road; thus demanding a tribute from the west for the right to pass upon her own highways, constructed out of her own money — a thing never heard of before.
"After his term of service had expired in the Senate, he was elected Governor of New York, by a plurality of votes. He was afterward sent to England as minister plenipotentiary, and upon his return was elected Vice President of the United States, which office he now holds, and from which the office holders are seeking to transfer him to the presidency."
My speech was received with great applause, and the politician, finding that I was better acquainted with his candidate than he was himself, for I wrote his life, shut his fly trap, and turned on his heel without saying a word. He found that he had barked up the wrong tree. I afterward learnt that he was a mail contractor in those parts, and that he also had large dealings in the Land office, and therefore thought it necessary to chime in with his penny whistle, in the universal chorus. There's a large band of the same description, but I'm thinking Uncle Sam will some day find out that he has paid too much for the piper.