A Good Southerner: The Life of Henry A. Wise of Virginia

By Craig M. Simpson | Go to book overview
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Chapter 2 A Long Farewell to Jackson

When Wise arrived at the bar of the House to be sworn, he looked so youthful that the Speaker mistook him for a page. To see him fidgeting impatiently in his seat, one might have doubted his commitment to the fray, but he never acted the part of a stripling. When he bolted up, gray eyes flashed and scanned, language spat out from a core of scarcely containable energy. This transfiguration took place almost daily; in Wise's ten years in the House only the venerable John Quincy Adams spoke as frequently. Although controversy dogged Wise everywhere, reticence and regret never seemed to trouble him. In his first full-dress speech, Wise embarrassed John Randolph's successor in the House by noting the absence to date of any remarks properly commemorative of the recently deceased Virginian. When this congressman rose to defend himself the next day, he collapsed, and expired shortly afterward. 1

Undeterred by this omen, Wise plunged ahead. He assailed Jackson's removal of the federal deposits from the United States Bank. Arguing that this decision had "deranged the money market" and "convulsed and stunned business of every description," he demanded "an atonement from the man whom I supported for the presidency for such acts of misrule." It mattered not that near the close of his remarks Wise retreated from further indictment of Jackson and pointedly blamed his advisers for attempting to "gull, deceive, and enslave the people." 2 As one who never permitted qualified loyalties, Jackson instantly repudiated another wayward surrogate son, although their farewells lasted for several years afterward.

Increasingly, it seemed a foolish wager to gamble a career on the prospects of the United States Bank. A sharp economic downturn in the spring of 1834, for which its officers hoped, failed to materialize. Arguments for the bank's indispensability thus collapsed. Alone, however, among the "awkward squad" of former Jacksonians in the House now at war with their leader, Wise never retreated. Far from it. Even the most jaded politicians snapped out


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