« PreviousContinue »
JUSTIN SMITH MoRRILL
THE generation that remembers Justin Smith Morrill in the flesh is fast disappearing. He is known to the present as the author of the Morrill Tariff in the Civil War, as the member of House and Senate whose term of service exceeds that of any other in our legislative history, as the defender of a sound currency, and as the father of the land grant colleges. He was born in the village of Strafford, Vermont, on the 14th of April, 1810, a New-Englander of New-Englanders. “I shall go home,” he wrote from Glasgow after a tour of Europe in 1867, “more than ever thankful that God permitted me to be born and have a home in America, and in New England rather than in any other part, and in Vermont rather than even in any other State of New England.” His loyalty to Vermont never lessened. He took pride in her history, her beauty of mountain, stream, and valley, and in her people of whom he was himself so splendid a specimen. He used to repeat with pleasure the retort of one of his constituents who, to a stranger's sneering question, “What they managed to raise way up there in Vermont?” answered “Men, sir.” He might well take pride in the men of Vermont — a tall, stalwart, deliberate, enduring type. And such were his own family — he was himself full six feet tall, and of a long-lived stock: his grandfather lived to be ninety-three, his father to be seventy-four, one of his brothers to be ninety-six, and he himself to be eighty-eight. The Morrills were plain people; to a friend in Philadelphia he wrote in 1872, “My sympathies are all for the workingman, being one myself and with all my kith and kin of that sort”; and in an address to young men when he was eighty he said, “I was brought up on a farm and know something about how to plant corn, to pull flax, and to dig potatoes.” “The escutcheon of my family,” he wrote in his later life, “was a blacksmith's hammer, and for many years my father worked twelve to fifteen hours a day.” As he grew older he took increasing pride in this “escutcheon,” it was in fact the sign of three generations; his grandfather, his father, and at least one of his brothers were blacksmiths. An autobiographical memorandum contains the phrase “being myself the son of a hard-handed blacksmith, the most truly honest man I ever knew.” It was entirely creditable to him that on occasions he remembered that the blacksmith's forge had associations with distinction: “Demosthenes,” he said in his speech at the University of Vermont Commencement in 1893, “was the son of a blacksmith and we all know that Webster was the son of a small farmer.” With such sentiments it was not in Morrill's nature to concern himself greatly over matters of genealogy or questions of descent. Yet his origin was one in which he might well take a modest satisfaction. The family was English. His earliest ancestors in this country seem to have settled first in Salisbury, Massachusetts, later removing with the opening of new lands to Chichester, New Hampshire, and finally settling, near the end of the eighteenth century, in the town of Strafford, Vermont, then in its infancy. The record of the Morrill ancestry and the lines of descent afford a large field for research and conjecture. To those who are curious in such matters, the Morrill, Batchelder, Hunt, Huntress, and Clark genealogies will give an abundance of material for study, though it is to be feared the records are not all of impeccable accuracy. It appears, however, that Morrill's grandmother, Mary Batchelder, was directly descended from the Reverend Stephen Bachiler, an English Nonconformist minister, born in 1560, who came to Massachusetts among the early settlers and not long afterwards founded the town of New Hampton,New Hampshire. The line of descent runs: Reverend Stephen; Nathaniel; Nathaniel, 1630; Stephen, 1675; Stephen, 1701; Nathaniel; and Mercy, who married Smith Morrill. This grandmother of Morrill's was named, after the custom of the times, for her grandmother, Mercy Clark Longfellow, who is described as a remarkable woman, of unusual charm and distinction and of the best New England stock, in which appear strains of the Greenleafs, Somerbys, Longfellows, and Dummers. To the new town of Strafford came, in 1795, Smith Morrill, with his five sons, Joseph, David, Daniel, Nathaniel, and Stephen – bearing a fine array of Biblical names and, as they showed a few years later, a fair measure of martial spirit—and set about earning his living by the work of his hands. Here four of the sons made their homes: Nathaniel, the father of the future Senator, set up a blacksmith's shop and married Mary Hunt, a woman of superior character and education which she bestowed in full measure upon her eldest son Justin Smith Morrill. He seems, in fact, to have been especially indebted for his spiritual endowment to his mother and his father's mother, Mercy Batchelder Morrill, who is referred to with great respect by her friends and relatives. It is of her father that Morrill wrote, in his eighty-seventh year, “Nathaniel Batchelder, my Great-Grandfather, served in the Revolutionary War; he was in Capt., afterwards General, Henry Dearborn's Company, at the battle of Bunker Hill, he took part in several campaigns and died at Bennington after the battle in 1777. He had two sons and four sons-in-law who served in the Revolutionary Army. His wife was Mary Longfellow; Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was the sixth generation from William and I, Justin S. Morrill, am the seventh, so the poet was my third cousin.”
The martial history of the family was not confined to Revolutionary times. They played a part also in the War of 1812. Morrill himself has told part of the story in his account of the town of Strafford in the “Historical Gazetteer” of Vermont:
At the time of the invasion of Plattsburgh (September, 1814) the town of Strafford sent forward some of her best citizens as volunteers. Hon. Jedediah H. Harris was captain of a Light Infantry Company, and at Burlington drew and receipted for arms and rations for the whole squad, although some, as regimental officers out-ranked him, and all preferred to carry guns. Hon. Daniel Cobb, although lame with a crooked knee, was a prompt volunteer, and when about to embark at Burlington for the place of conflict, it was suggested by the party that he, being lame, had better not take a gun. He replied, “I shall need it more than any of you. Good G–d! the rest of you can run!” And when he went to receive his equipments, the quartermaster, seeing his limping movements, again remonstrated with him, saying, “You can't march or run with such a load.” Cobb replied, “I didn't come to run; I came to fight.” On this incident, remembered by the late Senator Collamer, he got his land-warrant.
Smith Morrill, then between sixty-five and seventy years of age, and quite lame, went with a two-horse team to carry baggage and those who could not go on horseback. At Burlington he wanted a gun as much as either of his four sons (Joseph, Nathaniel, Stephen, and David), who were all on the spot; and when told it would be necessary for him to remain to guard the team and other horses and luggage, the disappointment showed itself in the old man's tears.
On Sunday, there being then no telegraph to transmit the fact of the battle having taken place, Elder Aaron Buzzell was preaching in the old red Baptist meeting-house, and during the service he observed one of the brethren gliding and whispering from pew to pew. Elder Buzzell stopped short in his discourse and inquired,