JOHN MORRISSEY, SUSPECTED BURGLAR, PRIZE- FIGHTER, GAMBLING-HOUSE-KEEPER, AND MEM- '
BER OF CONGRESS.
[Fuoss OITR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT.] New York, November 9, 1866. THE elections of this week have gone in favour of Congress and the Constitutional Amendment, the popular verdict, however, being, as I have said before, not so much against the President and his policy as against the Democratic party, which attempted to ride back into power on Mr. Johnson's shoulders. The majori- ties, however, especially that in New York (the State) were not so large as the Republican leaders expected they would be, or, I confess, as I myself six weeks ago predicted. Governor Fenton is re-elected by a majority of between 13,000 and 14,000 over Mr. Hoffman, his Democratic opponent ; whereas in last year's election for State officers, when the principal candidate of the Democratic party was General Slocum, a popular officer during the war, and a strong " Free-Soiler," the Republican majority was 28,000. The smallness of the present majority is attri- buted by the Republican organs to the enormous vote cast in New York City and Brooklyn (which is much like say- ing London and Westminster) for the Democratic candidate. These cities gave a majority for Hoffman of more than 50,000, which had to be overcome in the rural districts. Without a doubt this does account for the unexpected smallness of the Republican majority in the State at large. But what is the reason of this unprecedented Democratic majority here ? It is not owing to an increase in the Irish vote, or in that of the Democrats generally ; for in spite of much talk of the former during the canvass, it proved that only 600 more voters were registered before the late than before the previous election. Besides, the majority for a State Constitutional Convention, a Republican movement opposed vigorously by the Democratic party, is more than 50,000, although the majority for the Republican candidates is less than 14,000. At the risk of being pronounced by some of my readers a negro- hater and little better than a Copperhead, I will venture the
• opinion that the unexpectedly large Democratic vote in the cities is due to the conviction which has been obtaining during the past month, that the " Radicals " mean not to admit the Southern States to representation, and to exclude them from every recognition in the Government, if possible, until after the next Presidential election, and also to the con- sideration of the fact that the Constitutional Amendment dis- franchises men in the Southern States, who have only to come to the North to enjoy all the privileges of citizenship, as any citizen of South Carolina, or Virginia, or any other State in the Union, has only to reside a certain time in New York or Massachusetts, for instance, to acquire the right to vote there, and in fact to become a citizen of that State. These points have been much insisted upon of late, and as changes of feeling and opinion are always much quicker in town than in country, I do not hesitate to attri- bute the great Democratic majorities in all the towns in the State not to the unthinking foreign population, but to the effect of the above-mentioned considerations upon Conservative Republicans and Free-Soil Democrats.
I certainly, however, do not credit the latter with the election to Congress—to Congress, mind, not to a State office—of John Morrissey, who has been seven times indicted for burglary, or for assault with intent to kill, " feloniously with a certain knife" or "feloniously with a certain pistol," as his indictments read ; who has been thrice convicted and sentenced for one or the other offence ; who was for years a notorious prize-fighter ; and who more recently has kept gambling hells, by which he has accu- mulated a fortune of about 2,000,000 dollars. But John Morrissey was elected to Congress, as indeed he was sure of being, he hav- ing the "regular nomination" of the Democratic party in his district. As Fernando Wood said to a friend of mine some years ago in regard to himself, " his party had nominated him, and now they would elect him, if it could be proved that he had murdered his mother." We know that a prize-fighter once sat in the British Parliament, but we also know that the days in which such an election could take place are well past ; and besides, Broughton's case is not in any essential point analogous with Morrissey's, which is full of political significance. True, he could not have been elected, or even nominated, anywhere in the country, except among a constituency of Irishmen in the city of New York ; but the same is true of his colleague, Mr. Fernando Wood, an abler and a more cultivated, but a much less estimable person. This fact, however, does not lessen the import of the event, and is only one of the conditions which make it worthy of special consideration. The election of Fernando Wood to the Mayoralty years ago produced a profound sensation, and, con- sidering the reputation of that individual, was without precedent ; and now the election of a man of Morrissey's antecedent life has awakened in the public mind the greatest apprehensions as to the tendency of political affairs in all quarters where the Irish emi- grant element is in the majority. For Morrissey was not elected through the influence of political managers. He himself is a poli- tical manager. To him, probably more than to any other one man, is due the nomination by the Albany Convention of Mr. Hoffman, instead of General Dix for Governor. For years past Morrissey has been living as quiet and respectable a life as a professional gambler can live; he has been growing rich, he has been free with his money, he is not without a certain ability, and he has the gift of personal influence. He desired to rise above the level on which he had stood so long, and saw in politics the means of doing so. So he set himself to work to acquire popularity, and to establish a poli- tical connection. This with his money and in his position he was easily able to do in New York. The consequence was that he and his began to be talked about. Not many months ago I met with an amusing illustration of his growing notoriety. A lady told me that as she was making purchases in one of our most fashionable shops, the salesman, who had served her often, leaned over and said, " I beg pardon, Madam, but there's Mrs. John Morrissey." " I looked up," she said, "and there I saw a big, handsome creature, dressed within an inch of her life. Who's Mrs. John Morrissey ? And why should the man suppose she's anything to me?" Why, indeed ? For although Mr. Morrissey's income is probably larger than the gross sum of this lady's hus- band's property, and he is a member of Congress to boot, I cannot imagine the circumstances that could bring the two women together socially. The comparatively unknown man's wife would probably walk straight out of any room in a private house that the wife of the rich" Honourable" entered. Not very wisely, perhaps ; but in matters of this kind people, women especially, are not always wise. But to return to politics, about the time of the famous Philadelphia Convention Morrissey had become so influential a per- son with certain classes in New York, that when the subsequent State Convention was held at Albany, he was able to go there, and by a game of bluff and brag procure the rejection of Dix and the nomi- nation of Hoffman. And by the way, the knowledge of this coat Mr. Hoffman a great many votes among the better part of the Democrats in the rural districts. A young man, intelligent and observant, who has just returned from a business tour through the interior of the State, told a friend of mine that he found everywhere among the decent Democrats resentment at the imposition of a candidate upon the party by the New York city politicians. "Do you think we're going to vote for Hoff- man?" he heard, at a gathering in one little country store, " Don't you think we know that John Morrissey walked into the Albany Convention with twenty thousand dollars in his two fists, and offered to bet ten that Hoffman would be nominated, and ten that Dix would not, and the whole twenty that if Hoffman was nominated he would be elected ; and threatened that if Dix was nominated the Democrats in New York would bolt ?" This is to all intents and purposes the truth of the matter. The ancient philosopher would not argue with the commander of ten legions ; how should the modern politician dare to dispute with a man who can spoil his game, in a city which is able to give him a majority of 47,000 ?
Now, who are Mr. Morrissey's backers, for I set out with saying that they were not the Free-Soil Democrats of this city. They are the men, seven-tenths of them Irish, who have ruled the city for the last fifteen or twenty years, and who have made it a sink of political corruption, a hissing, and a by-word, throughout the country. We had a fine exhibition of their quality on Saturday afternoon last, at a meeting held in the Old Park, in front of the City Hall. Horace Greeley was to speak, and General Butler, the latter first. On the outskirts of the meeting proper, which was not a large one, and stretching from it to the City Hall, was a crowd of rough, villanous-looking fellows, who had plainly come there to interrupt the meeting. When General Butler came forward, they at once began their disturbance with groans, and yells and bowls. He undertook to speak, but in vain. He stopped, saying, "I beg your pardon, gentlemen ; you have taken your time, now I will take mine ; I am in no hurry." When the uproar subsided a little, he began again ; but the confusion broke out afresh, accompanied now with threats and obscene abuse ; and an apple was thrown which hit General Butler. He picked it up, pared it leisurely, ate a piece of it, and said it was a very good apple. But this jocose coolness caused but a momentary diversion ; and after another effort to be heard General Butler was about retiring, when he was urged by those around him to go on. He did so, amid a scene of riotous confusion the like of which is almost unknown here. He was stimulated rather than intimidated by the turbulence around him, the responsibility for which he directly charged upon Mayor Hoffman, whose office was within sound of his voice. As the rowdies became more furious and their leaders pro- posed to attack him, he became more bitter; and finally, he laid aside all affectation of restraint, and told them what they were in plain language. He charged them with being the same men who made the great riot in 1863, and whom Governor Seymour had in that place called his friends. At this they became infuriated, and made a rush for the staging. " Why, you poor fools," said he, " I have faced your masters in Baltimore and New Orleans. I have hung your brothers, and if you don't learn to behave yourselves I fear I shall have to do the same to you." And then, having previously said, " If such scenes as this are the result of the teachings of democracy, the sooner democracy, is cleared out the better," he added the following pretty specimen of plain dealing, which makes his speech appropriate to the subject of this letter: "And now, men of the Five Pointe, burner of the bawdy-house, thieves of the lobby, burglars of the Tombs ! I simply declare, as the voice of the nation, that you are not fit for the exercise of the elective franchise. That fact could be no better demonstrated than it has been here to-day. I do by no means desire to bandy words with an ignorant, foolish, ex- cited mob ; and I have only used these true and well describing epithets, that these men may know that I neither love, nor fear, nor respect them, and that there is an end to patience."
Few persons not among those whom General Butler thus addressed will disagree with him in his opinions. But the question at once presents itself, how, if you are to have manhood suffrage, are such men to be excluded from the polls ? They were not criminals; they were tax-payers ; they could read, every man of them ; they were decently clean and decently dressed. (I was at the meeting, although I arrived late.) They were not really burg- lars and thieves, but only the rough material out of which burglars
and thieves are made. With manhood suffrage, how can they be disfranchised? Yet, if not disfranchised, they send John Morrissey to Congress and Fernando Wood. And if all classes are to be represented so that the Legislature shall be a truly repre- sentative body, or a picture in little of the whole nation, why shall not these men, who read, and who pay taxes indirectly, if not directly, be represented ? And their fitting, nay, their only real representative, is a man like John Morrissey,—as Rabelais says, " couvercle digne de chaudron." Yet I do not hesitate to declare that John Morrissey is really a better man than some others whose nomination to Congress has caused no remark. He is manlier, truer, kinder-hearted. There is better stuff in him : he is more capable of good. He has lived a rough, hard, criminal, and, even at best, disreputable life ; and he bears the stain of wrong ; but men know that they can trust not only his honesty, but his honour ; and I have thought as I wrote this letter that He who was, not the patron and the benefactor, but the friend of publicans and sinners, would have looked with more lenience upon the life of John Morrissey than upon the lives of many law-respecting, smooth-mannered, smooth-spoken legislators of whom I have heard. And if all men out of prison who live under the law are entitled to a voice in making the law, and all kinds of men should be represented, each bygone of its kind, is it not a matter of congratulation that the kind of men who would not allow Butler to speak will elect as their representative one who comes from their ranks, and who has in him so much of ability and so much of good as John Morrissey ? A YANKEE.