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Though the period was one without striking or dramatic political contests, it was attended by much anxiety for the Republican leaders. For the first time since 1861 they found themselves outnumbered both in the House and in the Senate, and were deprived of all their posts of honor, including the Chairmanship of the Finance Committee which Morrill had held. Thus he, like his party, for the first time since that party became active in politics, was relieved from responsibility, and placed in the ranks of the opposition. The situation gave rise to serious concern for the future of the party and for the Presidential election of 1880.
Morrill had all a lifelong Republican's interest in the struggle and studied the ground with a shrewd eye to the men and the issues of the day. His letter to Governor Smith, of Vermont, reveals his judgment that neither Blaine nor Grant could be elected:
UNITED STATES SENATE CHAMBER
WASHINGTON, May 20, 1880 DEAR Gov.
We have been expecting you here for months, as you intimated you might be, but I regret now to suppose that we shall be disappointed, and yet as you are a delegate to Chicago I want to say a confidential word or two on political affairs. I am not without some apprehensions of the defeat of the Republican Party with any candidate. The conventions for the selection of delegates have engendered much bitterness. With a solid South, and we shall not there obtain a solitary Southern vote, we have no votes in the North to spare. With either Grant or Blaine we are not sure of New York, Ohio, Connecticut, New Jersey, or any part of the Pacific Coast. There may be an open bolt and the number of stay-at-homes could be counted. To Grant there is no personal objection and he is sound upon most financial questions, but the third-term noise cannot be hushed. Blaine has much magnetism, is a better judge of men than Grant, but his financial record is perhaps less satisfactory and he will be assailed with great heat by his enemies. While I shall vote for whoever may be nominated, I regret to believe that neither Grant nor Blaine can suc
ceed against any of the Democratic candidates save Tilden, and the latter is not likely to be nominated. If Edmunds could secure the nomination, all doubt of his election would be removed. The same might be safely said of Hamilton Fish, and probably of some others. It seems to me most important to select some man that we can elect and we ought not to elect a second-rate man. The President of the United States ought to be a strong man at all points and (one) who, if elected, would command the undivided respect of the country.
I am telling you nothing new as many here and elsewhere entertain similar views. Take what I say for whatever it is worth.
The candidates actually nominated were a surprise to observers in both parties - a thing due in part to the revival of Civil War feeling, which was skillfully fanned into new life for the occasion. Thus it followed that four parties put tickets in the field and every one was headed by a General of the Civil War: General Garfield, General Hancock, General Neal Dow, and General Weaver. General Garfield was elected and carried with him a Republican House, but the Senate was evenly divided, which left the Democrats in control of the committees.
Meantime, finding himself in unwonted freedom from care and labor, Morrill carried out two plans he had been long maturing: he completed and published his book “Self-Consciousness of Noted Persons,” to which we shall return later, and took his wife, his son James, and Miss Swan to Europe to show them the scenes he had so much enjoyed in 1867. To repeat a journey, and attempt to recapture the earlier de light, is a rash venture, but this seems to have been quite successful. Since the family accompanied him, Morrill had no need to write letters and apparently wrote none, but recorded only the briefest of entries in his diary. On July 3d he notes, “2 o'clock, started on the Celtic, Wife, Louise and James.” As closely as possible the party retraced the course of his first journey. At Chester on July 19th he noted,
“Walked all round on top of the Roman wall of the town about three miles.” Two of the few notes are inspired by his interest in farming. On July 31st is the entry, “Wheat and oats unripe; fair growth. Potatoes and turnips very fine — all over Gt. Britain”; and a week later in Paris he notes, "Harvesting wheat and oats in France - fair crops.”
During this tour he was able to make the visit to Rome of which he was balked the first time. He was impressed by the extent of the Coliseum and notes that it was built “to seat 40,000 and had standing room for 7000 more." He jotted down notes of the Pantheon, the Borghese Palace, the Baths of Caracalla, the Catacombs, the Appian Way, and a few more of the marvels of that city of historic treasures, and went on, to Turin and back via Geneva and Paris to London, and so home again.
On his return he found the Presidential campaign in full swing and lent what aid he could toward the election of Garfield for whom he seems to have had a genuine regard. So his relations with the new Administration, in which his old friend Blaine was Secretary of State and generally believed to be the dominant influence, were not less cordial and intimate than they had been with its predecessor.
Unfortunately, the new Administration had but a brief course to run before tragedy. overtook it. Less than four months from the day he was inaugurated, Garfield was shot and fatally wounded by an assassin's bullet. The country was horrified, and Morrill, who had returned to Strafford, only expressed the general feeling when he telegraphed to Blaine: “Our hearts here are crushed with grief by the cruel crime at Washington. All hope, however, has not wholly vanished that the President may still live. Pray tender to him and to Mrs. Garfield my profoundest sympathy.”
Many who are now living can recall how the hope for the President's recovery, sustained by his splendid constitution,
kept burning, and how many a time in the weeks that followed that hope blazed up into confidence, only to sink again. On August 25th, Morrill wrote his wife from Boston where he had been called on business, “The news published here this evening is that the President is sinking. I much fear this may prove true and shall look for the morning's report with great apprehension.” The next day saw a turn for the better and Morrill wrote on Sunday the 28th:
The change at four o'clock yesterday in the condition of the President still continues, and though it is not enough to warrant the hope of the complete recovery, it is good while it lasts. I have been out to the bulletin boards several times to-day and you can't think how happy every one appears to feel even on so slight foundations for their hopes.
The foundations were too slight, and Morrill put but little faith in them, as a later passage in the letter shows.
If the President should continue to improve for two or three days more, I may return directly home and not go on to Washington. But however delayed I fear I shall have no escape from that sad journey.
Garfield died on September 19th and was succeeded by Arthur. Within a month the Government was going on as usual under the new President who showed both caution and restraint. Morrill wrote his wife on October 16th at the end of the special session (“Konk,” of course, is Conkling who was believed to exercise great influence over the President):
The Senate will adjourn to-morrow until Friday and then the President will begin some of his own work, I expect. So far he has rather been the Executor of the work begun by Garfield. I think he will make some changes of his Cabinet soon, but may leave the most of them in until December. Arthur keeps silent toward all who approach him as to what he actually intends to do. We do not know who he thinks of placing on the bench of the Supreme
Court. Hoar is greatly exercised lest Gray should not get it and most fears Edmunds. I have never thought “Konk” would let Edmunds go into a life office there. But we shall see.
Morrill lent Arthur such aid as he could in his difficult task, particularly in the formation of the Tariff Commission authorized by the Act of 1882. His general plan seems to have been adopted and the chairman and several of those he named were appointed on the commission.
Throughout his career Morrill shrank from enmities and cherished friendships to such good effect that in a long life marked by sturdy adherence to principle he hardly made an enemy, but attached even those of opposite opinions to him by ties of personal regard. One of the fewif not the only, friendship that suffered strain in the course of his political life was that with John Sherman, his predecessor as Chairman of the Finance Committee who resigned from that post to become Secretary of the Treasury in Hayes's Cabinet. They had entered Congress together in 1855 and were among the few who had continued an unbroken career in Washington. Though Sherman had gone to the Senate earlier than Morrill, it was only by a single term, and their relations had been close if not intimate now for a quarter of a century. It was Sherman who, as head of the Ways and Means Committee, had enabled Morrill to get his LandGrant College Bill through the House in 1839, and it was Morrill on whom Sherman relied while he was Secretary of the Treasury to get the necessary legislation enacted. In the resumption of specie payments, the various funding bills and tax legislation, as well as in so troublesome a matter as the removal of Arthur, he turned naturally and confidently to Morrill for aid and support, which never failed him.
With the election of Garfield, Sherman retired from the Cabinet, and was very properly elected to the seat to which