Chapter 5

The Beer House


Having thus far cultivated the bog-trotter by washing and currying his person, forming his movements, refining his manners, and giving him some ideas of delicacy of behaviour, it now remained to introduce him in a knowledge of politics; and for this purpose, as he could not read the Gazettes, or other publications, it became necessary to give him the opportunity of oral information on political questions: and as attending the debates of congress, and hearing only in the galleries, would not put it in his power to join occasionally, in the debates, and exercise himself in speaking; the attending private clubs, or spending evenings occasionally at beer houses, seemed the more eligible means to be adopted Accordingly, an evening after this, the Captain taking him to a beer house, and occupying a bench, called for a mug of ale, and bade Teague attend to the conversations that were going forward.

The redemption of what are called certificates was at that time the subject of debate. It is well known to the readers of the present day in America, but which perhaps will not be so well understood when this work comes to be read an hundred years hence, that the United States, having incurred debts during the war with Great Britain, and being unable at that time to discharge them, could only give certificates of the respective sums due to the several creditors: these they did give to the soldiers of their army, to those from whom they had purchased articles, or who had rendered any service: The prospect not being immediate of the public being in a condition of taking up these, and the necessity of may of the holders pressing, they had transferred their right in the certificates for a fourth, fifth, or sixth of their nominal value; in some cases, at a much lower rate. --The question was, whether, under these circumstances, the original holder should be bound by the contract, and transferee ought to take the whole sum from the public.

It was stated on one side, that it was the folly of the holder to make the contract. There was no fraud or imposition in the case; what he did was with his eyes open. There was no undue advantage on the part of the purchaser, for he took no more than the place of the holder; and the bargain was fair and equal on both sides. The one had a present certainty which he preferred: the other an uncertainty of a greater sum, of which he chose to run the risk. The purchaser who gave credit to the bills of the states, stood in a better point of view than the holder, who distrusting payment, had parted with them.

On the other side it was contended, that the certificates being only the evidence of the debt, the receiving that was no payment; that real service was rendered, and real payment should be made; that the purchaser discovered a distrust of the credit of the government as well as the holder, in not giving the full value, and therefore stood on no better ground; that from the prevailing ideas under which these contracts were made, the holder did conceive himself parting with these securities at an under value, and the purchaser, as obtaining them at that rate, but neither had an idea that the loss on the one hand, or the advantage on the other, could be so great as on the principle of the provision made for the discharge of the public debt it had come to be; that for these and other reasons measures ought to have been adopted of a discrimination between the original holders and the transferees.

Teague had listened attentively, and, contrary to the injunction of the Captain, with his mouth open. He would willingly have taken a part in the debates, but the Captain, thinking the subject too abstruse to begin with, did not seem to approve of it, and shaking his head, repressed the disposition of the bog-trotter.

The next topic of argument was that of the assumption of the state debts. In order to understand this, we must state, that, in carrying on the war against Great Britain, contracts were made, and debts incurred, on the faith of the confederate states, by their representatives in congress, and this was called the continental debt. At the same time, contracts were made and debts incurred, on the faith of individual states, by their representatives in the state legislature, and this was called the state debt. This whole debt, continental and state, had been thrown into one mass, and the payment assumed by the Congress. The policy of this measure was now canvassed. On the one side it was contended, that as the whole debt, continental or state, was payable by the United States, each state paying the quota apportioned by the resolves of the former congress, and having credit for what state debt contracted on account of the war, was over or beyond this quota, the question was no more than this, whether the ways and means of raising money for the discharge of its proportion of the state debt, should remain with any state, as was before in the case of furnishing its quota; or whether the United States, assuming the debt in the first instance, should take upon themselves to discharge the whole; that it came to the same thing, as the debt was payable by the whole, and the only question was, with whom it should lie to devise ways and means, to discharge it; that the system of finance became more simple, when the United States assumed the whole, and provided for the payment by ways and means of their own at once; that it would contribute to the energy and secure the establishment of the federal government, to have that government the immediate debtor of the whole amount.

To this was answered, that each state was a better judge of the ways and means, within itself, for the raising money to discharge its debt; and while the United States, now having command of the imposts, should necessarily take upon them to collect and provide for the discharge of the continental debt, properly so called; yet it might be left with each state as before, to collect and pay over what is called the state debt; receiving credit from the United States, and having a right to draw from thence, any overplus of that proportion which by the resolves of the former congress they ought to pay of the whole debt.

The Captain thinking this subject also above the comprehension of the Irishman, was not willing that he should speak yet.

The next topic was that of the incorporation of the bank of the United States, some contending that no power was given by the constitution to the general government to incorporate banks; others asserting, though not expressly, yet under the article of paying debts, &c. and making laws necessary for that purpose, it was by implication given.

The Captain thought this also above the reach of Teague, and obliged him to be silent.

The next subject of argument was the policy of the war carrying on against the Indians. By some it was contended that an Indian was a good creature, simple and inoffensive, like a young child; that you might put your finger in his mouth and he would not bite; that by speaking softly and kindly, and giving him victuals and drink, and leggins, and breech-clouts, and blankets, you might do what you please with him; that when you gave him ammunition and fire-arms, he would go out and kill turkies, and shoot down squirrels, and bring you in a deer now and then; and there was no such thing as an Indian stealing a horse, or burning a house, or taking a scalp, unless you had first stolen his horse, or burnt his house, or taken his scalp; that when you made a treaty with these people, they had such a love of Justice, such a sense of honour, such a perfect command of themselves, and their young men, that there was no danger of their departing from the treaty.

On the other hand it was advanced, that, as a savage differed little from a beast of prey; a wolf, or a panther of the woods; was rude, his passions violent, attached to no farm, cultivating no art; his only amusement or sense of honour war, or hunting, the image of war; his sense of Justice little, his sense of honour none at all; no government in his state of society; no security for individual or national engagements; that fear pervading the mass, by reaching the feelings, and apprehensions of each individual was the only principle by which they could be governed; that instead of giving goods, as heretofore, it became us to retaliate by a heavy war.

Such were the arguments on each side of this question; when the Captain looking at Teague, and observing that he was anxious to advance his opinion, assenting with a bow, or inclination of his head, he seemed to signify that he might speak.

But before we hear him, it will be necessary to observe, that during the preceding arguments, the company had taken notice of him, as he sat beside the Captain with a mug of beer before them; and had wondered in their own minds who he could be; for though he was a little brushed up by this time, as may be supposed, having been at the levee, and taught to dance, and received lessons of delicacy; nevertheless, there was still and uncouthness in his appearance that could not be all at once shaken off.

“His form had not yet lost
All her original roughness, nor appear’d
Less than a paddy dress'd; and the excess
Of his rusticity remov'd.”

He therefore the more easily engaged attention, when raising his voice, he began as follows:

Plase your anours, said he, I have heard of dese Indians, when I was tratting wid de Captain my master.-- I came acrass one o’dem, who affered a hundred dallars for my scoolp; he was going to a traty here abouts. But my good master de Captain took my part, and didn’t let him take it aff; de vile savages! O! I have heard of dese Indians, plase your anours, dey come out of de woods, and stale shape, like de rabbers in Ireland, and burn houses, and take scoolps; trade wid dese! I would trate wid dem, wid a good shelelah, or tomahawk to break der heads. Give dem goods! by Shaint Patrick, I would give dem a good bullet hole in deir faces; or shoot dem trough de backside for deir pains. If I was in Cangress, and God love your shouls, I wish you would put me dere, I would make a law to coot dem aff, every one o’dem. O! if my uncle Phelim, and my cousins Dennis and Dermot, and my brother Murtock, and de oder boys was here, we would chase dem, as you would chase one of deir own shape; and keep dem aff de country, and send dem home to ate paratoes. God love your shouls, raise a good party and go out upon dem, and bring dem to de coort, and not let dem be staling shape, and taking scoolps from de poor people.

You tink to plase dem, by spaking good words to dem. Spake a good cudgel upon der heads, and bid dem be asy dear honies, and keep at deir homes, and plant paratoes, and be hang’d in deir own country; plase your anours. Trate wid dem! Trate wid de wolves or de bears, dat roon troo de woods: I would trate wid a good knock in deir troat, and be doon wid dem.

From the manner in which he spoke, of having been in danger of losing his scalp, and the Captain rescuing him, it was understood that he had been in a campaign against the Indians, and his fervour was excused, and thought natural. Those particularly who were for using force against the savages, thought the Irish gentleman had spoken very well.

Encouraged with this success, the bog-trotter was confirmed in his opinion, that he was fit for any political appointment; and the Captain himself, began to entertain better hopes of his advances than he had yet done.