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had once called his friend. As an oravor, he was generally calm and argumentative, his prominent characteristic being convincing and irresistible power.
He never studied the arts of declamation, and did not seek to gild his speeches with the coruscations of genius. A splendid exordium and brilliant peroration cannot be found in one of his efforts. He appealed to the reason and not to the imagination, and always with effect. several occasions, when unwarrantable attacks were made upon him, or when his indignation was aroused by conduct which he reprobated,* his retorts were terrible, and his anathemas annihilating.
Upon such occasions his majestic form towered, and his stern glance was fixed upon the offender, who writhed beneath the biting and withering sarcasms which were poured from the lips of the speaker. With a facility of illustration, and a fiery and impassioned eloquence, he returns again and again to the assault, until his blasting irony has pierced the shield in which the delinquent supposed himself encased, and he lies prostrate and bleeding before the indignant orator.
Under his administration of the Post Office Department commenced the reduction of the postage, which he opposed while a Member of Congress, but to which he subsequently gave the influence of his name and popularity. He infused his own energy into the public service, and not only were contracts made for conveying the mail through the several
* See his reply to Messrs. Hoge, Hammett, and Holmes, 28th Congress.
States and Territories, but for transmitting it to Europe. No combination could force him to yield to demands which he thought unjust. Repeatedly and violently assailed by the press for discharging his duty, his firmness continued unshaken, and he witnessed unmoved, alike the flattery and the abuse of those who attempted to control him. Immovably fixed in the honesty of his purposes, he faithfully discharged his duties; and when he retired from the position which he had so ably occupied, the country lost the services of an honest man. The office which he filled brought him more immediately in contact with the people than any other under the Government; and those persons whose letters were delayed, no matter what the cause, were always ready to attribute it to the fault of Cave Johnson. It is always convenient to have some one to blame; and those gentlemen who were so querulous while he was at the head of the Department, continued to pour the vials of their wrath upon the head of his successor.
John Y. Mason of Virginia, a member of Mr. Tyler's Cabinet, received at first from Mr. Polk the office of Attorney General, but subsequently was transferred to the position of Secretary of the Navy. This gentleman is the very soul of conviviality. Bland and urbane in his manners, he was always very popular with both political parties, while he gave almost universal satisfaction to the officers of the Navy. His judgment was sound and discriminating, and without obtaining as much character for energy and industry as the other members
of the Cabinet, still his grasp of intellect and sound practical common sense, enabled him to seize upon the strong points of a question with remarkable facility. He possessed a thorough knowledge of the masses, and was, therefore, a safe Cabinet counsellor.
Messrs. Clifford of Maine, and Toucey of Connecticut, also occupied the position of Attorney General in Mr. Polk's Cabinet, and proved safe and wise counsellors, and profound and able lawyers. The former gentleman was appointed a Commissioner to Mexico, and the latter continued in office until the close of the administration.
First Annual Message of Mr. Polk.-Annexation of Texas.-Adjustment of
the Oregon Question.
On the first day of December, 1845, the members of the 29th Congress assembled at Washington. The Hon. John W. Davis of Indiana was elected Speaker of the house, and the accomplished Vice President of the United States presided over the deliberations of the Senate. On the following day, Mr. Polk delivered his first annual message to Congress. At that time, although many difficulties were unadjusted between the United States and several foreign powers, still our country was at peace with all the world.* The policy which governed the administration was that upon which alone the honor of the country can be maintained. To do exact justice to all nations, wins their good
* “ In calling the attention of Congress to our relations with foreign powers, I am gratified to be able to state that, though with some of them there have existed since your last Session serious causes of irritation and misunderstanding, yet no actual hostilities have taken place."— Message of Mr. Polk to Congress, December 2d, 1845.
† “ Adopting the maxim in the conduct of foreign affairs, to ask nothing that is not right, and submit to nothing that is wrong,' it has been my anxious desire to preserve peace with all nations, but at the same time, to be prepared to resist aggression, and to maintain all our just rights.”—Ibid. For this message see Appendix.
opinion, while a determination to enforce it in return, commands their respect.
The message called the attention of Congress to the question of the annexation of Texas, and informed that body that he had approved the selection made by his predecessor of the 1st and 2d sections of the resolution for annexing Texas to the United States. It only remained for Congress to admit that State into the Union under the constitution which had been established by the people, and a bill for that purpose was enrolled on the 27th of December, 1845. A liberal course towards that State was recommended by the President, that her citizens might never regret a re-union with the land of their nativity.
The settlement of the boundary between the United States and Great Britain, occupied the attention of the administration at an early day. The bold and decisive language used by Mr. Polk in his inaugural address,* produced quite a sensation in England, and the British ministry were satisfied that the period for procrastination and delay had passed, and that the question must be promptly met.
The attention of Congress was called to the subject by Mr. Polk in his first annual message, and
* “ Nor will it become in a less degree my duty to assert and maintain by all constitutional means, the right of the United States to that portion of our territory which lies beyond the Rocky Mountains. Our title to the country of Oregon is clear and unquestionable, and already are our people preparing to perfect that title by occupying it with their wives and children.”—Mr. Polk's Inaugural Address.