Tuesday, May 16, 2006

More Press Reaction to the Great Southern Railroad Scandal: Humor from the Weekly Floridian

Florida's most prominent newspaper, the Tallahassee Weekly Floridian was a staunch Democratic party organ that continuously launched vicious attacks on Florida's Republicans during Reconstruction. Long-time editor Charles E. Dyke's Floridian took special delight in the exposure of the GSRR which entangled many leading Republicans. Charles Hamilton, a frequent subject of the paper's taunts since he came to public attention in early 1868, unexpectedly found himself portrayed as a sympathetic figure for his role in bringing the GSRR scandal to light. Nevertheless, the Floridian couldn't resist mocking Hamilton and published a comic "interview" from correspondent "Enfant Perdu" that I have transcribed and annotated below. A similar comic interview with Osborn followed shortly thereafter. Photo: Charles E. Dyke, long-time publisher and editor of the Floridian (Fl. St. Archives)]:

Washington, D.C. April 17, 1871
Editors Floridian: I arrived in this city just when the so-called expose of the Great Southern Railroad Company, by Hon. C. M. Hamilton, M. C. from Florida, appeared in the columns of that spicy paper the Capital; and I resolved to seek an interview with Hamiton, and find out the exact status of affairs, in order if possible to set him right before his former constituents, and the people at large. When a man has once served a term in Congress; and then been repudiated by his constituents, it is ever afterwards hard work to find out his permanent abiding place. There is a great fascination to some about the scene of their former greatness, and they continue to hang around the city for years afterwards. Some sink lower and lower, until they become newspaper men, or engage in some other disreputable business, so you will please imagine that I had considerable trouble to find out where "Handsome Charlie"[1] obtained his daily "hash." At last I was directed to old mother Shipley's on "F" street, below the avenue, and so wended my way thither. Arriving at the house, I knocked at the door, and it was opened by a "ward of the nation," whose mouth looked like a buckwheat cake run over by a cart wheel. Being told that Col. Hamilton was in, I sent up my card, and in a few minutes a rather tall, handsome man, with blonde moustache and beard, came to the door, introduced himself to me as Chas. M. Hamilton, and invited me up stairs to his private den.[2] Arriving there, "Enfant," said he, "how does the old thing work?"
"Very dry," said I, and with that we did mutually "smile," and deposited about two inches of "bug juice" under our respective vests, lit our segars and prepared for sociable talk.
"Now Charlie," said I, "look here: how in the devil came you to make such an egregious blunder as to come out in the papers with those affidavits, letters &c.? You have ruined yourself irretrievably with your party, and placed yourself in a very unpleasant situation. Why, o why, did you do thusly?"
"Lend me your ears," said he, "and I will a plain unvarnished tale unfold."[3]
"Hold," said I, "your ears are large enough for all practical purposes; why do you want mine?"
"I was only quoting from the immortal old Billy," said he; "I meant I wanted you to listen to my plaintive story. They roused the lion in my breast by laughing at my plan in regard to the Great Southern Railroad, and adopting one of their own. If my idea had been carried out, we would each in ten years been worth $1,000,000.[4] I wanted the road to be called 'The Great Southern Zig Zag,' to start right from the steps of the Capitol at Tallahassee, and run so as to pass by every town in the State, with an underground branch through Marianna. in that way we could have busted every other company in the State, and done away with every other railroad in the State; thus obtaining all the travel and patronage. Osborn says his road would have had a terminus within miles of Cuba; mine would have terminated in Cuba, as we intended to sink a tunnel from Cape Sable, Fla. to Havana, and we could then have supplied the entire Gulf coast with insurrection if necessary.[5] Wasn't it a sublime idea?" said he, warming up with his subject; "could any other mind but mine have conceived such a stupendous enterprise?"
"No," said I, "not outside of a Lunatic Asylum."
He looked at me kind of doubtfully as I said this, but being a Euchre player, concluded to let it pass. "But, Charlie," said I, "how came you to destroy the plausibility of your expose by saying you had refused a bribe of $20,000? You didn't expect any one to believe that, did you?"
"Well, no," said he hesitatingly, "but d---n it, it wasn't in cash -- it was a check; and i knew d---n well it would never be paid.[6] So I made a virtue of necessity and refused it. Now if it had been cash, I would have voted all right for the scheme," (here he took a big drink).
"How do you account," said I, "for Alberger's letter saying he never made any approach to you in regard to the bill?"
"Oh h-ll," said he, "Tom Osborn knew his man when he obtained that letter. Alberger can manufacture letters and affidavits with a facility that has only been learned by long practice" - (a thin drink) - "Alberger is a d---d scoundrel, sir, a d---d scoundrel. Even State Treasurer Conover will swear to that. As for Tom Osborn, he's a mere puppet, and A. C. Osborn pulls the strings. By the way, lets take another drink and then I'll tell you a good joke on Osborn. It happened at Butler's last reception here. Osborn had been plaguing Logan, and in retaliation, Logan told the following story [7]: He said he dreamed he died and tried to get into Heaven, but St. Peter was on guard at the gate and refused to let him pass, saying no soldiers were admitted. Just then Osborn came along and tripped right in. 'I thought you didn't admit soldiers,' said I. 'Oh pshaw,' said Peter, 'Osborn's no soldier - he's no soldier.' Pretty good joke on Tom, wasn't it?"[8]
"Yes," said I, "a good joke; but Charlie, Osborn is a fine man, and holds four aces every time," (a big drink,) Hamilton deeply affected - in fact his emotions had got down into his legs and he could barely walk.
"I know," said he, "I am a disgraced and ruined man, but just think of the provocation I had. I am a poor unfortunate orphan, and was chizzled out of a nomination for Congress by the 'par nobile fratrum,' T. W. and A. C. Osborn, a combination of war and Gospel and a d--d nigger chosen in my place.[9] I can never go back to Florida, but I want you to tell the carpet baggers that if I have done anything I am sorry for, I'm glad of it, and if I have in my political career offended any of them, I am willing to accept their apologies. My revenge on Osborn shall be terrible. I intend to go into the Senate Chamber, turn Osborn across my knee and publicly spank him."
"No!" said I, "Charlie, you must not do that, for a greater than thou has said
"Let all the ends thou aim'st at
Be thy Country's, God's and Truth's" [10]
[Tallahassee Weekly Floridian, April 25, 1871]

1. The Floridian had referred to Hamilton as "Handsome Charlie" since the 1868 Congressional campaign. See "Perdu's" physical description of Hamilton.
2. Unclear as to the implication from the location of Hamilton's residence. Hamilton was married at the time and it is difficult to believe he lived quite so dissolutely as suggested by the WF.
3. The quote may be a mocking reference to Hamilton's readiness to quote Shakespeare. For example, as reported in another post, A. C. Osborn said that Hamilton had sent him letter in April 1871 prefaced with a quote from Othello.
4. In this satire, at least, the WF accepts the Osborns' allegations that Hamilton's motivation all along was his desire to seize control of the railroad. In other more serious reports, however, the WF doesn't pay any attention to this charge.
5. The "underground branch" alludes to the well-known fact that Hamilton could not return to Marianna and expect to leave alive. He barely escaped during his last visit to Jackson County in August 1870. Hamilton and Purman, and other Florida Republicans, championed Cuban independence and urged Congress to support Cuban rebels.
6. Hamilton had been hysterically attacked in the Democratic press for using mild profanity and slang in a speech he made at Jacksonville early in his political career.
7. Osborn supported Massachusetts' Benjamin Butler in his proposed candidacy against U. S. Grant for the Republican nomination in 1868 earning Grant's antipathy. Senator John A. Logan of Illinois was a leading radical Republican. Interesting that the WF claims that Rev. A. C. Osborn, not Senator T. W. Osborn was the main force behind the GSRR.
8. The joke is obscure. Osborn served throughout the war as an artillery officer, rising to the rank of colonel.
9. Noble pair of brothers (latin). To the contrary, Hamilton's public statements about Josiah Walls were uniformly gracious.
General points: no other references can be found to Hamilton's being a drinker or gambler.
10. Shakespeare, "Henry VIII" Act 3, Scene ii.

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