Wednesday, May 17, 2006

More creative writing from the Floridian: Osborn's fictional rejoinder

The previous post contained an "interview" of Charles Hamilton by the Tallahassee Floridian's correspondent "Enfant Perdu." Several weeks later, Perdu reappeared (was this a monthly political humor column?) with the inevitable Osborn "rejoinder":

Interesting letter received by our Correspondent Enfant Perdu, from Hon T. W. Osborn, U. S. Senator from Florida.[Private and confidential.]U. S. SENATE CHAMBER
WASHINGTON, D. C., MAY 25, '71
DEAR ENFANT - I notice by a late copy of the Floridian, that you have interviewed Hon. C. M. Hamilton, and obtained his version in regard to the Great Southern Railroad affair, and as it contains what would seem to be an aspersion upon my political sagacity, I desire to inform you exactly where I stand, both in regard to the Southern Railroad, and the U.S Marshalship for Florida. As this letter is strictly confidential, I shall of course make it as plain and frank as possible.
Florida is my adopted state, and I have a great affection for her, which unfortunately her people do not seem to reciprocate. During my past political career I have tried to the best of my poor abilities to advance the interests of the State, (incidentally enriching myself at the same time) and I feel that I deserve some credit for my labors in this direction, for I am sensitive if I am fat.The charge is made that in connection with the railroad scheme, I sought to enrich myself and brother at the expense of the tax payers of the State; but certainly no good christian will object to that, for the book they should square themselves by says, "If any provide not for his own, especially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith and is worse an infidel."[1] I am free to say that both myself and friends are impecunious cusses, and if our debts were paid, would scarcely have enough money left to buy a waterfall for a mosquito; and we never intended to put the road through ourselves. What we did intend, was to get all the land grants possible and then sell our franchise to some foreign corporation, which at the completion of the work would have been virtually owners of Florida, and the citizens might growl, but they would be too poor to bite.
The object of my brother, Rev. A. C. Osborn, in becoming so deeply involved in the project was a purely christian and benevolent one. He believed the people of Florida to be deep in the "gall of bitterness and bonds of iniquity,"[2] and desired to employ in the salvation of their souls the humanizing influences of a great railroad; thinking that every screech of the whistle and every puff of the engine, would admonish them of the necessity of preparing for the hereafter. His object was a noble one, and whoever casts a slur upon it deserves the horrible fate of Prometheus, who you will remember was chained to a rock for eating a vulture, that bird being considered sacred among the heathen. As for myself I am truly sorry that I ever had anything to do with it, for even the boot-blacks at the capitol, with an indifference to senatorial dignity approaching nearly to the sublime, have dubbed me "Railroad Tommy," and as I before remarked, I am sensitive if I am fat. [3]
However, I shall redeem myself I think for at the next session I intend to offer a bill, resolving that as Florida is too poor, the U. S. Government will father two magnificent projects that I now have in hand. One is to dredge out Lake Lafayette in Leon county, and make it navigable for light draft steamers, not drawing more than three feet of water, and mainly to be used for picnics, funerals, &c. The dredging is to be done by one of Hoe's largest cylinder presses (with double barreled escapement,) and to be under the supervision of E. M. Cheney, the eminent Jacksonville "gasometer," (vide New Era) who will bring to his new field of labor the greatest qualifications for the work, and no doubt give satisfaction to all parties.[4]
Project number two is one of incalculable value in a more sanitary point of view. It is nothing more nor less than to transport the famous Wakulla Springs to Jacksonville, to be used as a sanitarium by all having an "itch for office," as well as by members of the Y. M. C. A. [5] The transportation is to be accomplished by a new species of sub soiling, which I have just patented to be superintended by myself, and as it is to remain secret until fully performed, I shall only employ negroes in the work as they are best qualified to keep dark concerning it. These are the things that will make me famous, and the name of Osborn shall yet live in story "one of the few, the immortal names that were not born to die." [6]
Now in regard to the marshalship. When I saw Hamilton's name sent in to the Senate for that position, I actually trembled with dismay for you will doubtless remember that I once held the position of Register in Bankruptcy, and there might be some little technical informalities in my accounts, which only a friend should examine, so I determined that a friend of mine should be apppointed Marshal. I immediately notified Alberger to prepare and file some affidavits against Hamilton, while I hurried off to see Grant. On being admitted to the presidential palace, I explained to Ulysses my errand, and told him that if he would withdraw Hamilton's name and have Conant appointed, I would vote for the removal of Sumner, and in favor of San Domingo. He agreed to do so, and I left his presence with a happy heart. The best of the joke is, that when Hamilton called on Grant to ask an explanation he was grossly snubbed, and even refused a copy of the charges on file against him. [7]
I find that I have written a much longer letter than I intended and will now close, by carefully admonishing you to keep this letter strictly private in all respects.
Truly yours, OSBORN
ENFANT PERDU, Esq., Tallahassee, Fla.

Dear Floridian - In giving the above letter to the public, I feel that I am but fulfilling a simple duty, and that duty I shall carry out unto the bitter end, even though that end be BLOOD; and I hereby give warning that I can snuff a barn door at fifteen paces, and knock pennies off a cat's tail as fast that feline animile can histe them on. There is a subtle vein of rascality running through the honorable Senator's letter, which will no doubt strike his friends very unpleasantly, and they may blame me for having violated the confidence reposed in me; but I feel that I have a duty to perform, and like the Greek Philosopher, old Sarcophagus, I shall not allow mere personal friendship to stand in the way. I have no ill will against Mr. Osborn, but when any man, high or low, seeks to injure the State which I have taken under my protection, I shall in the sublime language of the Teutonic poet, "cry havoc, and let slip the dogs of war."[8]
[Tallahassee Weekly Floridian, May 30, 1871]

1. 1 Timothy 5:8
2. Acts 8:23. Remarkably, this Floridian satire mockingly uses the religious justification earnestly invoked by Rev. A. C. Osborn to rationalize to his congregants his serving as president of the Great Southern Railroad.
3. Uncertain reference: perhaps popular minstrel show joke?
4. Lake Lafayette was a large shallow lake in Leon County (Tallahassee area). Hoe was a manufacturer of printing presses ("cylinder press"), often quite large machines. The use of printing machines for "dredging" is absurd. E. M. Cheney was a Republican political operative active during Florida reconstruction. "Gassy" was a frequent taunt invoked by the Floridian against its Republican targets. New Era was a Gainesville newspaper.
5. Wakulla Springs are a large natural spring and popular recreation area not far from Tallahassee. Obviously, the proposed "move" to Jacksonville is absurd. The joke about the YMCA is obscure.
6. From "Marco Bozzaris" by Fitz-Greene Halleck.
7. Hamilton's nomination for marshal was stalled by the Senate Republicans and ultimately withdrawn by Grant in favor of Osborn "Ring" loyalist, Simon Conant. Also in March 1871, Charles Sumner lost his position as chair of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations stemming, at least partially, from Sumner's opposition to Grant's plan to annex Santo Domingo. Such an alleged deal (Osborn opposing Sumner in return for Grant withdrawing Hamilton's nomination) - admittedly not alluded to anywhere else - could explain how Osborn, who had not been close to the Grant administration, could, together with New York Senator Roscoe Conkling, engineer Hamilton's humiliation with respect to the marshalship he desperately sought.
8. "Julius Caeser," (Act III, Scene 1), Shakespeare.

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