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LIVING REPRESENTATIVE MEN.
NATHANIEL P. BANKS,
THE life of Mr. Banks, like those of Patrick Henry, Andrew Jackson, Henry Clay, Stephen A. Douglas, Henry Wilson, and others who have risen to honorable place and power, in the United States, from the forest, the plough, and the workshop, affords an ennobling illustration of the character of the institutions under whose sheltering and encouraging bounty the people can be represented from their own ranks. It holds out bright inducements to every youth of energy, industry, and a healthy ambition, to remember-how humble soever his origin or his -that
“ A man's a man for a' that," and that to him, as a man, the brightest prospects are open, and the highest offices of a great Republic within the legitimate scope of his intellect and ambition. There are no trammels either to the one or to the other.
From the number of books published of a personal, sketchy, and biographical character, it would seem that this age takes a greater interest in its public men than any of its predecessors. It would seem that the world grows fonder of its offspring, of every class, and delights to parade before its eyes the faces and faculties, the lives and labors, of those who have sprung from its necessities.
Yet, although Mr. Banks occupies a very prominent position in the politics of the country, the curiosity of the reading world has not been very extensively gratified by any detailed, or even comparatively full, account of his early days. We have little save the leading fact that he made his first appearance in the humblest path of life, and continued in its trying but instructive course for years. A brief sketch, written by Mr. Ben Perley Poore, gives us a suggestive view of his youth, and supplies in part our facts.
Nathaniel P. Banks was born in Waltham, a town of Massachusetts, on the 30th of January, 1816. Waltham was the parent of Lowell and Manchester. In point of time, it was the second manufacturing town in the Union, and supplied the machinery and laborers for the now more famous towns just mentioned. As the birthplace of Mr. Banks, however, it will retain, in the eyes of Massachusetts, and perhaps of those of the whole Union, an importance which to the vision of some is more ennobling than the successes of the loom and the anvil, the spindle and the steam-power. Even now, on the margin of the Charles River, sentinelled by old-fashioned machine-shops,-gossipers of the bygone enterprise from which sprung Lowell,—a dilapidated tenement is respectfully pointed out as the house in which the subject of this sketch was born. That fact in itself is fame. The son of poor operatives, little Banks began to work out an apparently dismal destiny of poverty and hard work amidst the whirr of the loom and the spindle, the clank and roar of engines, and the bustle of unresting industry. Gerald Massey, the people's poet of England, who went through a somewhat similar novitiate in the labor of life, gives a disheartening glimpse of child-experience in the factories,-rising at early dawn and toiling till evening; “ seeing the sun only through the factory-windows; breathing an atmosphere laden with rank, oily vapor, his ears deafened by the roar of incessant wheels ;
“Still all day the iron wheels go onward,
Grinding life down from its mark,
Spin on blindly in the dark.” The children of the poor, when they are of an age “to do something for a living,” are too useful to be allowed to attend school. They have to contribute to the family means. Of course the boy Nathaniel had scant opportunities for education; but what he snatched was deposited in a fruitful soil. The three months which poor boys in his condition annually devote to the common schools must have been most faithfully enjoyed and carefully cherished. There are those, it is stated, who still remember the diligence with which he conned his tasks at spelling or figuring, and the heroic and characteristic air of stoicism with which the ragged, bare-footed little fellow maintained his place among comrades who enjoyed an accidental superiority of fortune. Notwithstanding, however, a certain natural reserve, which straitened circumstances and peculiar family afflictions had contributed to strengthen, it was not long before his force of character, and those other qualities of a leader to which he is indebted for the success of his manhood, were fully recognised. As he grew older, the increasing strength of the stripling was needed to wholly support himself; and thus ended his brief career as a school-boy. He had tasted of knowledge, however, and he hungered for more. The appetite had to be appeased; and, when his body was tired in filling out the factory-hours, he set to work to satisfy his mind. All his hours “not occupied in the factory were devoted to the grave and important studies of history, political economy, and the science of government.” A village debatingsociety was the field on which he manæuvred the little army of facts that he had collected in his brain, capturing others, and using them in turn. Here he gained a knowledge of the rules of debate. It was, so to speak, the parliamentary class in which he took his first honors, and which gave him that first insight into the modes of a discussive assembly which culminated in the Speaker's seat of the national House of Representatives. So desirous was he of participating in these youthful debates, and so sensible was he of the benefit—in discipline as well as incentive to public speech-to be derived from them, that, when residing in a town nine miles distant from the place of meeting, he used to walk there and back, rather than miss an evening at the society.
Mr. Banks's first public position was as editor of a newspaper in Waltham. It was the debating-society on a more extended scale. The excitement pleased and the influence flattered the
boy who had made himself. He continued in the occupation, as editor of a journal in Lowell, expanded into politics, advocated the principles of the Democratic party,--then in an Opposition minority in Massachusetts,—and gained the good opinion of citizens in general by his enthusiastic labors in favor of popular education, temperance, and all other topics upon which those who differed with his politics could heartily agree with him. He studied law, likewise, but did not practise much.
It would seem that his success was not commensurate with his zeal and industry. For six years he was a candidate for a seat in the Massachusetts Legislature, and was defeated every successive year. Chagrined, and probably disheartened, he looked abroad for a more suitable field for his future, and had almost determined to seek the then recently-acquired El Dorado on the Pacific. He wanted an arena for political exertion; he felt that to be his forte, and was on the point of emigrating, when, by one of those chances which often make or unmake a whole
he thought that something was due to those friends who had so constantly supported him, and who still desired him to await another trial. He received renewed courage from the thought, remained, and was elected in 1848 to represent Waltham in the Legislature. In this body he soon signalized himself as a Democrat, and, on the 23d of February, 1849, he made a notable speech on the
presentation of certain resolutions on the Slavery question, and in reply to the attacks of a Free-Soil member upon the Democratic party. This was the first speech of Mr. Banks, and it at once gave him position. Its purport was to show that the Democratic party, in the extension of territory, was not influenced by any desire for the extension of slavery. The time and the topic of the speech were equally auspicious for the speaker, and especially in Massachusetts, so far as publicity was concerned. He was listened to with great attention, and impressed the Democrats so strongly that he was regarded as a leader. He served in both branches of the Legislature, acted some time as Speaker, and took an active and influential part in the public business generally, serving on the very important committees on Railroads and Canals, and on Education. Among the speeches delivered by him at this period, those on the proposition to enact a plurality law with reference to the election of members of Congress, and on questions connected with the railroad-interests of the State, are especially referred to as noteworthy.
If the career of Mr. Banks had been to some extent disheartening in the years previous to his entry into the Legislature, it now progressed in a manner eminently gratifying to his most attached friends. Honors followed quickly on the recognition of his talents and energy, and even various places contended for the honor of being represented by him who a few years previous had suffered such persistent discomfiture. In 1850, the Board of Education appointed him Assistant Agent, thinking that an effective means of procuring certain changes in the laws
covering the educational system of the State. Mr. Banks de. livered many addresses on the subject, and resigned in Septem
ber of the same year, having accepted from the Legislature a seat on the State Valuation or Census Committee, which then commenced its sittings. A couple of months afterward, he was simultaneously elected to the State Senate by the Democracy of Middlesex county, by a majority of two thousand, and to the House by his old friends of Waltham. At the meeting of the Legislature, he decided to remain in the latter, and was chosen Speaker by a large majority on the first ballot. He held this position for two successive sessions, and did not derogate from the dignity of a seat which had been occupied from time to time by some of the most distinguished sons of Massachusetts. On the assembling of the Convention, in 1853, to revise the Constitution of Massachusetts, Mr. Banks was chosen President, and sustained his reputation as a presiding officer.
Having thus indelibly stamped his name on the records of his native State, Mr. Banks was destined to extend his reputation and political importance. He had previously declined a nomination to Congress, in the laudable desire, doubtless, of perfecting his home reputation before he went abroad, but acceded to the proposition in 1852, and was elected to the national House of Representatives. In a reply to a member from Mississippi, during the excitement at the commencement of the ThirtyFourth Congress, Mr. Banks avowed that he was returned by an affiliation of the Democrats and “Know-Nothings." " When I was elected to this House,” said he, “as a member from the