Thursday, May 24, 2012

Gansevoort Melville at Tammany Hall, 1842

In 1843 the New York Express recalled that Gansevoort Melville's "first debut as a public orator was in favor of Dorr the Rhode Island runaway” ("Great Mass Meeting of Irish Repealers in the Park"; reprinted in the Richmond Whig on June 20, 1843).
Below we find Gansevoort arguing for the extension of democratic voting rights in Rhode Island in what must be one of his earliest political speeches, close in time and theme to that "first debut" in support of Thomas Wilson Dorr and the Dorr Rebellion.

From the New York Weekly Herald, April 30, 1842; reprinted from the New York Herald of Thursday, April 28, 1842:
Non-Extraordinary Meeting in Tammany Hall--Root Beer Crisis in Rhode Island.
A very curious, cool, dispassionate, hard, unenthusiastic meeting, was held on Wednesday at Tammany Hall, relative to the present crisis in the affairs of pretty little Rhode Island. The Hall was about half full. There was a great deal of talk, but no cider—we mean enthusiasm. It had more the appearance of a root-beer assemblage—gathered together to “head off Captain Tyler,” in a small way, about his letter to the Governor of Rhode Island; but the lion-spirit of the democracy did not shake his mane, nor give a roar worth a button….

MR. MELVILLE then rose, and said he was sorry Eli Moore and Mr. Parmentier were not there. They could speak so much better than him, and so could Aaron Vanderpoel. [Cheers.] He labored under great disadvantages. [Cheers] The worthy Chairman was great at compression. [Cheers] He was not. [Cheers] This meeting would assure Rhode Island of the sympathy of New York. Freemen should not be coerced into a charter which the people had despised and rejected—That charter dates from 1683. It’s the last relic of British oppression in this country. (Cheers) The people of Rhode Island had so much wisdom and purity, that they had borne it so long. Its two obvious features were inequality of representation and the property qualification. Portsmouth with 1700 inhabitants sent as many men to the Assembly as Providence with 23,000. The property qualification is a freehold real estate qualification. And a man can’t vote for a legislator, although they tax him as much as they please. This struggle began thirty years ago. In 1829 petitions poured into the Assembly, and they were laughed at, and insult was added to injury. Since then the people toiled. In 1841, a spirit was provoked, that will never be allayed till the people get universal suffrage. [Cheers.] Here Mr. Melville went into a history of the late troubles in Rhode Island, and the rejection of the Assembly’s constitution by 676 votes. He also denounced the Algerine Act, and called it an act for the propagation of constructive treason generally. The people have rightfully elected officers under their constitution. The others chose to live under Charles’s charter, who though dead 200 years, has still some very dutiful subjects now living in Rhode Island. And who was Charles 2d? A pitiful, profligate abandoned fellow, who, if he was living now in New York, couldn’t be elected Constable even for the 6th Ward; and his appropriate sphere, would be behind the counter of a perfumer’s store dealing out essences to the moustached fools and loungers of Broadway—(Cheers.)—or else he’d be in a brothel with panderers, procurers, and pimps. (Tremendous cheers) The great point contended for by the people of Rhode Island was a universal free suffrage. This had been tried in 22 States out of 26, and works well. Their opponents insist on a property qualification. And what is wealth? The sweat of the poor and the blood of the brave. (Cheers.) This is the old Federal plan to detract the capacity of the people for self government. But the tide of public opinion is sweeping on. Can they stand up against it? Let them try it if they dare. When they shall have rolled back the Amazon, and damned it up with bulrushes, and shaken the Andes to their base, then they may do it, but not before. (Cheers.

early political speech by Gansevoort Melville

From the New York Evening Post, Tuesday Evening, April 11, 1843:
GREAT SAILORS’ MEETING.—An immense meeting gathered at the Sailors’ Liberty Pole, James slip, last evening. Two thousand men must have been present. Major Davezac addressed them in an eloquent speech, and closed by urging most earnest exertions at the polls to-day.— His remarks were most heartily responded to. Mr. Gansevoort Melville then followed. He urged upon the adopted citizens their duty to sustain the democratic party, at the same time he set forth, in the most glowing colors, the ruinous effects of the present high duties upon commerce. Several resolutions were then offered, and the meeting adjourned with immense cheering for free trade, sailors’ rights, and Robert H. Morris.

Found on

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Gansevoort Melville at Washington Hall

Speaking of tall democratic spouters, who is that lanky fellow at the podium in this 1844 engraving of a raucous demonstration for Daniel O'Connell at Washington Hall, New York City?


Is that Gansevoort Melville?  Might be our boy, at least he's up there somewhere on the stage according to the accompanying text from the Illustrated London News (July 20, 1844):

A vast meeting was held in Washington Hall, on the 25th ult., for the purpose of raising a sum for the payment of the fine of £2000 which Mr. O'Connell is sentenced to pay at the expiration of his imprisonment. The scene is described in the New York Herald to have “ exceeded anything ever seen in this city since the memorable eve of October 29, 1841, when Bishop Hughes organised the thousands then assembled into a body pledged to carry his ticket. From all quarters of the city, and from the adjoining villages, the Irish, chiefly of the lower classes, poured in by hundreds and thousands to the place of meeting. Long before the time of meeting the large hall was densely crowded, and the scene was diversified, animated, and picturesque in the extreme." Mr. Hilliard, the celebrated artist, has sketched this great demonstration for the annexed engraving.

There could not have been less than twelve thousand Irishmen present in the course of the evening, for the stream going out and entering the hall was kept up without intermission for nearly three hours. Every man seemed prepared tn contribute; and the shouts, the tossing of hats in the air, the whirling about of coats and jackets, the waving of shillelahs, the almost frenzied excitement which universally prevailed, were certainly well fitted to astonish all who witnessed, for the first time, a lively Irish meeting.  Crowds of passers-by in Broadway stopped in amazement to listen to the shouts of the multitude which thronged and issued from the hall.   
The Secretary, Bartholomew O’Connor, Esq., amid deafening applause, introduced Mr. Gansevoort Melville as Chairman, who briefly addressed the meeting amidst tumultuous applause, and bespoke their “substantial sympathy for the great—the illustrious—the indomitable patriot—O’Connell—the man whose energies have been devoted to human liberty all over the world; and who is now consigned to the gloom of the dungeon for Ireland.” (Immense cheering which lasted for considerable time.)
(Illustrated London News)
The New York Spectator ("Sympathy for O'Connell," June 29, 1844) gave a good account of the decor:

Hung from the orchestra was a black and white flag, bearing the following inscription:—

But the
PEOPLE will be TRUE,
‘Repeal’ for ever, and no Surrender.”

At each corner was a very little flag bearing the dates 1776 and 1798.  Behind the platform was a richly gilded flag, bearing in its centre an American eagle stooping to play upon an Irish harp, prepared doubtless for the charter election, and now handed over to the association as useless.  It bore the words, “The United Irish Association.  Justice to Ireland.”
About Gansevoort Melville's part in these 1844 proceedings, the Spectator allowed only that he "made a speech, of which brevity was the chief beauty."  For the flavor of Gansevoort's lengthier Repeal speeches in 1843, see previous posts here and here and here.