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POLITICAL PORTRAITS WITH PEN AND PENCIL.
MR. RICHARD VAUX.
THE Democratic Review of the present month presents its readers with an admirably-executed portrait of Mr. Richard Vaux, ex-Recorder of Philadelphia. This gentleman, though a very young man, has already acquired a prominent position in his community by the display of talents of no common order, in the discharge of his late functions as criminal judge, as well as in various political contests, where he has taken an active and efficient part. Before entering more fully on our special subject, it will not be inappropriate to revert for a moment to the character and public services of his late estimable father, Roberts Vaux, Esq. We had the honor of knowing this distinguished person intimately well for several years previous to his lamented death, and rarely have we ever been more impressed than by the private virtues and public devotion of this excellent man and eminent citizen. Relieved by his ample fortune from the necessity of professional or mercantile pursuits, he might have indulged in the seclusion of his study that refined taste for literary avocations which was a leading trait of his character; but impelled by a conscientious sense of his duties to his fellow-men, he gave up his vigorous faculties and constant exertions to their service and improvement. The greater number of those benevolent institutions which adorn our sister city, attracting the admiration of the stranger by their skilful organization, whilst conferring on the recipients of their bounty the manifold blessings of well-directed benevolence, were founded by Roberts Vaux with the aid and support of his generous fellow-citizens, whose kindly sympathies were roused to action by the untiring activity, indomitable ardor, and lavish contributions of this warm-hearted and disinterested philanthropist. Having fully succeeded in establishing various literary and charitable institutions, in whose administration he always took a zealous part, never shrinking from labor or responsibility, he turned his attention to the most important reformation, undoubtedly, of this century-that of prison-discipline. After the fullest deliberation he decided in favor of solitary imprisonment, now widely-known as the Pennsylvania system, as the one most favorable to the regeneration of the prisoner; and which, by not exposing him to the gaze of others, enabled him to escape the risk of disgrace from their malevolence, when seeking afterwards to pursue an honest life. Mr. Vaux bestowed vast labor and displayed great ability in urging the adoption of his favorite plan; and so successful were his appeals that, in spite of formidable opposition, he turned public opinion in his favor, and the legislature of the state at length gave orders for the erection of the FrancisStreet Penitentiary to test the practical merits of an improvement distinguished by so many original and admirable features. The experiment succeeded even beyond his expectations; and, happily, Mr. Vaux lived long enough to enjoy the pure satisfaction of witnessing the precious results of so much exertion and such singular sagacity in the redemption of numerous criminals, and their restoration to honest life. It is
due to Roberts Vaux thus particularly to insist on the prominent and decisive part he took in the establishment of the new Penitentiary system; but we do not mean to exclude from their just share of praise many of his worthy co-operators, whose energetic assistance contributed greatly to its final triumph. At this period of his life Mr. Vaux was in the zenith of his fame and popularity. Cherished and respected by his fellow-citizens, he was regarded as an honor and an ornament to their city, whilst by the poor and unfortunate he was looked up to with gratitude and reverence. His hospitable mansion was the universal resort of all distinguished strangers who, attracted thither by the distinction of his name, did ready homage to his talents, and various acts of public usefulness. It was no small compliment to Roberts Vaux that he was specially sought after by the different commissions who visited this country some years since, instructed by their respective governments to gather information on the vital subject of prison-discipline. We remember well to have listened at various periods, much to our instruction and delight, to many deeply-interesting conversations between Mr. Vaux and Messrs. de Tocqueville and Beaumont of France, Mr. Crawford of England, and Dr. Julius of Prussia, who, entrusted with the high responsibility of deciding on this novel and important amelioration, addressed themselves with the utmost earnestness and solicitude to their task. As philosophers and legislators the subject was viewed in every light. The duties of society to its erring and rebellious members was first considered; and then, the punishment merely, or the redemption of the criminal next opened the flood-gates of animated discussion, in which shone on either side the resources of the most extensive learning, the results of the closest observation, and the mingled ardor and anxiety of conscientious men and true philanthropists. On these occasions Mr. Vaux exhibited the utmost skill in the treatment of his subject. He developed with clearness and accuracy the numberless details of this novel system, and grouped them luminously together with rare powers of combination; exhibiting in each, and all to the best effect, the minor and general advantages. Copious in argument, patient in explanation, temperate in defence, and fervent in persuasion, these weighty interviews invariably closed to the entire conviction of all who heard him; and to Roberts Vaux more than to any other man living is due the gratitude of humanity for having overthrown, by his eloquent denunciation, the barbarous codes of Europe, and led to the introduction in France, England and Germany, of the enlightened innovations of our American system of imprisonment.
The next and last phase of Mr. Vaux's eventful life cannot even at the distance of years be recalled without conflicting and poignant emotions of sorrow and indignation. Ardent and active as was his mind, and ever stimulated by an elevated sense of duty, how could he view with indifference the political agitation which then rent society in twain, and stand by an idle spectator of a contest in which he believed the very liberties of his country endangered. Nowhere in the United States was the question of a National Bank so violently and bitterly discussed as in Philadelphia, the seat of the parent institution, and the residence of its accomplished president. It was natural that the bank party should seek at least there to preserve an united front, and no pains nor blandishments were spared to conciliate and seduce converts to their ranks. Whilst on the other hand, a proscription as pitiless as it was cruel and unjust, was proclaimed against all who dared to think of resistance; and many who stood firm against temptation, shrunk back from the doom of social exile.
Wealth, position and influence, were all arrayed in solid and determined phalanx in Philadelphia in 1832 and 1833 on this momentous question of Bank or no Bank; and he must have been a bold man, and a true one, who raised his voice fearlessly at a moment like this, and declared that such an institution was unnecessary and dangerous. This did Roberts Vaux. His acute and impartial mind had early investigated this difficult question. He saw and feared the abuses of financial power, and so decided was his opposition to this dangerous influence that he always invested his property in real estate. Faithful to the quiet tenor of his life, and the mildness of his disposition, he would in this case, as in previous ones, doubtless, have preferred taking no part in the hot disputes and vulgar brawls of either political camp; but the question was too important and his position too distinguished not to make it necessary to buckle on his armor, and raise his pennon aloft. It was a fearful crisis for any man. The friendships of his youth, and the intimacies of maturer years were all in the balance. His house was thronged from morn to night by the first men of the place, who, in the name of their long companionship, employed every species of argument and remonstrance to win him to their side. He foresaw the fate of his refusal, though he could hardly have contemplated its tragical result. To remain honest to his convictions he felt that sacrifices would be necessary, and he prepared himself to make them. To give up the associations of a long life, and to fall back on the bleak sympathies of new and distant political connections, oh! it must have chilled his heart, but he did not hesitate. Roberts Vaux gave the whole power of his name, his influence and his pen against the re-charter of the Bank of the United States. It may be supposed that General Jackson was not indifferent to aid so unlooked for, and at the darkest moments of his gigantic struggle with the monster monopoly. We remember distinctly a visit paid to the venerable President at this period, and in what grateful and emphatic terms he bore testimony to the efficient services of Mr. Vaux. Distinguished appointments at home, and embassies abroad, were all within his reach; but he declined them one after the other, for his was not the venal zeal that kindles at the hope of rewards and promotions.*
It were useless now, as it would be deeply painful, to dwell on the heavy penalties entailed on this conscientious man for the heroic maintenance of his principles; but the odious history of political fanaticism records few instances more striking and revolting than this of the malignant fury of party prejudice. A tide of persecution set in on Mr. Vaux, as heartless as it was unrelenting. It met him everywhere, and opposed him in all things, now venting itself in audacious abuse at the corners of the streets, and then assailing him in the dark with the assassin's poignard of calumny. One after the other, he was forced from the supervision and direction of the numerous public institutions he had mainly founded; and tracked at every turn by the furious pack at his heels, worried, harrassed and defenceless, he sank, at last, a prey to the bloodhounds of party, and their yelping only ceased when the grave hid the game from view. He lived a patriot and died a martyr. The Democratic party, to whose principles he sacrificed his life and all that men hold most dear, owe compensation to his memory. Let his name be preserved, and his services recorded in their proudest an
A short time only after these events the situation of Associate Judge of the Court of Oyer and Terminer of Philadelphia was pressed on him. It was a position far below his standing and abilities, but from an elevated sense of the duties of a good citizen, he accepted and served in this humble capacity for several months.
nals; and, in more degenerate days, let strength and consolation be gathered from the recollection of his example. It is to such rare instances of fidelity and courage as his, at the fountain-head, that the streams of party are refreshed and purified. His enemies have lived to see their error in the utter prostration of the cause they so fiercely defended. We make no appeal to them for reparation to the character of this injured man. His superior wisdom and lofty motives were fearfully vindicated in the disaster and ruin which afterwards befell them and all who trusted in them; and, doubtless, not a few, in their hour of humiliation, felt a pang the more as the wrongs of Roberts Vaux rose to their upbraiding recollection. Sad the reflection, that from the days of Socrates to our own time the cup of hemlock is too often the portion of those who speak the truth, and fear not.
We have far exceeded our limits, but could not resist the impetuous current of feelings long pent-up. We were young and inexperienced at the period alluded to, and directly opposed in sentiment and interest to the course pursued by Mr. Vaux; but there was something in his deep convictions and Roman firmness that awed and rebuked us. We owe much to the tolerant counsels of this upright man, and gladly, indeed, accept the privilege of hanging our humble garland on his statue.
"Beneficia meminisse debet in quem collata sunt.”
We regret our limited space denies us the pleasure of dwelling more fully on the career of Mr. Richard Vaux, eldest son of the late Roberts Vaux, whose portrait accompanying the present number we have already alluded to. He was born in Philadelphia in 1816, and was educated with great care under the vigilant eye of his father. He acquitted himself in all his studies to the complete satisfaction of his various preceptors, who expressed uniformly the highest opinion of his talents. At the age of 18 he began the study of the law with William Meredith, Esq., and was duly admitted to the bar in the spring of 1837. Soon afterwards he set off on a tour to Europe, and on reaching London was offered the situation of Secretary of Legation, ad interim, which he filled to the entire content of the Minister, Andrew Stevenson, Esq., and great credit to himself. He was afterwards for some months connected with the Legation at Brussels, which he left to prosecute his travels. On his return, at a later period to London, he accepted the advantageous position of private Secretary to Mr. Stevenson. Mr. Vaux returned home in the autumn of 1839, greatly benefitted by the abundant opportunities he had fortunately enjoyed; and, whilst from his diplomatic duties he had acquired habits of business, his mind had been strengthened and enriched by constant intercourse with various distinguished men, and the best society of different countries of Europe. In 1840, only a year after his return, he received a singular mark of confidence from the Democratic party of Philadelphia, whose principles he had early espoused, by being chosen as their candidate for the legislature of the state; and here we cannot but express our regret that Mr. Vaux allowed himself so prematurely to be drawn into the political vortex, to be tossed about on the capricious waters of party, a prey to endless vexations and sacrifices, and without the hope of any adequate compensation. The Democratic party of the city of Philadelphia holds the unenviable position of a hopeless minority, and disinterested and desperate must that politician be who allows himself to be put at the head of this forlorn hope. It is every way creditable to the party in
their selection of Mr. Vaux, as it was a striking evidence of their grateful appreciation of his respected father's merits, and at the same time it was not less flattering to his gifted son, whose talents and general fitness it was hoped might conciliate a majority of the electors. But party prejudice ran too high, and Mr. Vaux was unsuccessful, though he polled the greatest number of votes ever given to any democratic candidate. A year later, (in 1841,) he received from the governor of the state the appointment of Recorder of the city of Philadelphia, which was unanimously confirmed by the senate.
This office, though highly gratifying, doubtless, to the pride of Mr. Vaux, must have filled him with no small apprehensions. It was a situation of high trust and arduous duties, and had been successively occupied by some of the most distinguished men of the Philadelphia bar, which is respected through the Union not more for its profound learning and cultivated taste, than its brilliant wit and courteous manners. Succeeding immediately to lawyers like Mclllvain and Rush, he may naturally have entertained some distrust in his want of experience, and unfamiliarity with criminal procedure. To the satisfaction of his friends, and the surprise of all, he acquitted himself on all occasions with consummate tact and rare ability. He displayed in many of his decisions, important equally for the interests involved, as for their effect as prece dent, great legal research, nice discrimination and perfect impartiality. We will venture here upon a momentary digression, but there was a romantic singularity in the event we are about to mention that entitles it to notice, and will render it in some degree interesting to every reader. It was in January, 1842, if we recollect aright, that being accidentally in Philadelphia, we were attracted to the Court House by the unusual interest of a remarkable trial then pending. The defendants to the suit were parties of no less consequence than the President and Directors of the United States Bank. Imagine our surprise and emotion at finding that the presiding judge on this important occasion was no other than Recorder Vaux, the son of the very man who had fallen an innocent victim to his intrepid opposition to this powerful institution. The reflections inspired may be readily conceived; but it really seemed something like an august act of retributive justice that the son should sit in judgment upon those more or less responsible for the unhappy close of his father's life. We wish not to be misinterpreted in our me meaning, which has to do rather with the course of events than the simple acts of individuals. Far be it from us the arrogant pretension to pronounce on the character or motives of any man; but of the collective acts of parties, as of the strange vicissitudes of life, it may surely be permitted us to express our honest views. To return to our rapid outline of Mr. Vaux's recordership. During his entire administration of this laborious office, he never failed in vigor or industry to vindicate the sullied majesty of the law against all evil-doers; and on more than one occasion he risked the most serious consequences to himself by his energetic defence of the rights of others, and the cause of justice. We allude more particularly to the well known case of Monroe Edwards, whose discovery and arrest was entirely owing to the extreme vigilance of Recorder Vaux, who did not hesitate on his own responsibility to seize all the property found in his possession, and which would have exposed him to heavy damages had Edwards been acquitted in the trial which followed, and which, strange to say, nearly happened. We are writing entirely from memory, and without consultation with Mr. Vaux, and are therefore unable to enlarge more fully on these details. In fine, it deserves to be mentioned, and