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The occasion does not permit me to speak of Mr. Rantoul at length. A few words will suffice; nor will the language of eulogy be required.
He was born 13th August, 1805, at Beverly, in Essex County, Massachusetts, the home of Nathan Dane, final author of the immortal Ordinance by which Freedom was made a perpetual heirloom in the broad region of the Northwest. Here he commenced life under happy auspices of family and neighborhood. Here his excellent father, honored for public services, venerable also with years and flowing silver locks, yet lives to mourn a last surviving son. The sad fortune of Burke is renewed. He who should have been as posterity is to this father in the place of ancestor.
Mr. Rantoul entered the. Massachusetts Legislature early, and there won his first fame. For many years. The occupied a place on the Board of Education. He was also, for a time, Collector of Boston, and afterwards Attorney of the United States for Massachusetts. During a brief period he held a seat in this body. Finally, in 1851, by the choice of his native District, remarkable for intelligence and public spirit, he became a Representative in the other branch of the National Legislature. In all these spheres he performed acceptable service. And the future promised opportunities of a higher character, to which his abilities, industry, and fidelity would have responded amply. Massachusetts has many arrows in her well-stocked quiver, but few could she so ill spare at this moment as the one now irrevocably sped.
By original fitness, study, knowledge, and various experience, he was formed for public service. But he was no stranger to other pursuits. Devoted early to the
profession of the law, he followed it with assiduity and success. In the antiquities of our jurisprudence few were more learned. His arguments at the bar were thorough; nor was his intellectual promptness in all emergencies of a trial easily surpassed. Literature, neglected by many under pressure of professional life, was with him a constant pursuit. His taste for books was enduring. He was a student always. Amidst manifold labors, professional and public, he cherished the honorable aspiration of adding to the historical productions of his country. A work on the history of France, where this great nation should be portrayed by an American pen, occupied much of his thoughts. I know not if any part was ever matured for publication.
The practice of the law, while sharpening the intellect, is too apt to cramp the faculties within the narrow limits of form, and to restrain the genial currents of the soul. On him it had no such influence. He was a Reformer. In warfare with Evil he was enlisted early and openly as a soldier for life. As such, he did not hesitate to encounter opposition, to bear obloquy, and to brave enmity. His conscience, pure as goodness, sustained him in every trial,—even that sharpest of all, the desertion of friends. And yet, while earnest in his cause, his zeal was tempered beyond that of the common. reformer. He knew well the difference between thẹ ideal and the actual, and sought, by practical means, in harmony with existing public sentiment, to promote the interests he fondly cherished. He saw that reform does not prevail at once, in an hour, or in a day, but that it is the slow and certain result of constant labor, testimony, and faith. Determined and tranquil in his own convictions, he had the grace to respect the convictions.
of others. Recognizing in the social and political system those essential elements of stability and progress, he discerned at once the offices of Conservative and Reformer. But he saw also that a blind conservatism was not less destructive than a blind reform. By mingled caution, moderation, and earnestness, he seemed often to blend two characters in one, and to be at the same time a Reforming Conservative and a Conservative Reformer.
I might speak of his devotion to public improvements of all kinds, particularly to the system of Railroads. Here he was on the popular side. There were other causes where his struggle was keener and more meritorious. At a moment when his services were much needed, he was the faithful supporter of Common Schools, the peculiar glory of New England. By word and example he sustained the cause of Temperance. Some of his most devoted labors, commencing in the Legislature of Massachusetts, were for the Abolition of Capital Punishment. Since that consummate jurist, Edward Livingston, no person has done so much, by reports, essays, letters, and speeches, to commend this reform. With its final triumph, in the progress of civilization, his name will be indissolubly connected. There is another cause that commanded his early sympathies and some of his latest best endeavors, to which, had life been spared, he would have given the splendid maturity of his powers. Posterity cannot forget this; but I am forbidden by the occasion to name it here. Sir, in the long line of portraits on the walls of the Ducal Palace at Venice, commemorating its Doges, a single panel, where a portrait should have been, is shrouded by a dark curtain. But this darkened blank, in that place, attracts the beholder
more than any picture. Let such a curtain fall to-day upon this theme.1
In becoming harmony with these noble causes was the purity of his private life. Here he was blameless. In manners he was modest, simple, and retiring. In conversation he was disposed to listen rather than to speak, though all were well pleased when he broke silence and in apt language declared his glowing thought. But in the public assembly, before the people, or in the legislative hall, he was bold and triumphant. As a debater he rarely met his peer. Fluent, earnest, rapid, sharp, incisive, his words came forth like a flashing scymitar. Few could stand against him. He always understood his subject, and then, clear, logical, and determined, seeing his point before him, pressed forward with unrelenting power. His speeches on formal occasions were enriched by study, and contain passages of beauty. But he was most truly at home in dealing with practical questions arising from the actual exigencies of life.
Few had studied public affairs more minutely or intelligently. As a constant and effective member of the Democratic party, he became conspicuous by championship of its doctrines on the Currency and Free Trade. These he often discussed, and from the amplitude of his knowledge, and his overflowing familiarity with facts, statistics, and the principles of political economy, poured upon them a luminous flood. There was no topic within the wide range of national concern which did not occupy his thoughts. The resources and needs of the
1 Slavery could not bear to be pointed at, and this slight allusion, which seemed due to the memory of Mr. Rantoul, caused irritation at the time. Hon. John Davis, the other Senator from Massachusetts, assigned as a reason for silence on the occasion, that he observed the ill-feeling of certain persons, and thought it best that the vote should be taken at once.
West were all known to him, and Western interests were like his own. As the pioneer, resting from hist daily labors, learns the death of RANTOUL, he will feel a personal grief. The fishermen on the distant Eastern coast, many of whom are dwellers in his District, will sympathize with the pioneer. These hardy children of the sea, returning in their small craft from late adventures, and hearing the sad tidings, will feel that they too have lost a friend. And well they may. During his last fitful hours of life, while reason still struggled against disease, he was anxious for their welfare. The speech which he had hoped soon to make in their behalf was then chasing through his mind. Finally, in broken utterances, he gave to them his latest earthly thoughts.
The death of such a man, so sudden, in mid-career, is well calculated to arrest attention and to furnish admonition. From the love of family, the attachment of friends, and the regard of fellow-citizens, he has been removed. Leaving behind the cares of life, the concerns of state, and the wretched strifes of party, he has ascended to those mansions where there is no strife or concern or care. At last he stands face to face in His presence whose service is perfect freedom. He has gone before. You and I, Sir, and all of us, must follow soon. God grant that we may go with equal consciousness of duty done!
I beg leave to offer the following resolutions.
Resolved, unanimously, That the Senate mourns the death of Hon. ROBERT RANTOUL, JR., late a member of the House of Representatives from Massachusetts, and tenders to his relatives a sincere sympathy in this afflicting bereavement.
Resolved, As a remark of respect to the memory of the deceased, that the Senate do now adjourn.
The resolutions were adopted, and the Senate adjourned.