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Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891.
Vols. IX–XI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 1861–1889

Captain Downing Carries the News to “Old Hickory”

By Seba Smith (1792–1868)

[From Life and Writings of Major Jack Downing, of Downingville, State of Maine. 1833.]

WASHINGTON CITY, Nov. 5, 1832.
To the editor of the Portland Courier, in the Mariners’ Church building, 2d story, eastern end, Fore Street, Portland, away down east, in the State of Maine.
MY DEAR OLD FRIEND.—Here I am back again to Washington, though I’ve been as far as Baltimore on my way down east to see you and the rest of my uncles and aunts and couzins. And what do you think I posted back to Washington for? I can tell you. When I got to Baltimore I met an express coming on full chisel from Philadelphia, to carry the news to Washington that Pennsylvania had gone all hollow for Old Hickory’s second election. The poor fellow that was carrying it had got so out of breath, that he declared he couldn’t go no further if the President never heard of it.

Well, thinks I, it will be worth a journey back to Washington, jest to see the old gineral’s eyes strike fire when he hears of it. So says I, I’ll take it and carry it on for you if you are a mind to. He kind of hesitated at first, and was afraid I might play a trick upon him; but when he found out my name was Jack Downing, he jumped off his horse quick enough; I’ll trust it with you, says he, as quick as I would with the President himself. So I jumped on and whipped up. And sure enough, as true as you are alive, I did get to Washington before dark, though I had but three hours to go it in, and its nearly forty miles. It was the smartest horse that ever I backed, except one that belongs to the President. But, poor fellow, he’s so done tu I guess he’ll never run another express. Jest before I got to Washington, say about two miles from the city, the poor fellow keeled up and couldn’t go another step. I had lost my hat on the way and was too much in a hurry to pick it up, and he had thrown me off twice and torn my coat pretty bad, so that I didn’t look very trig to go through the city or go to the President’s fine house. But notwithstanding, I knew the President would overlook it, considering the business I was coming upon; so I catched the express and pulled foot, right through Pennsylvany Avenue, without any hat, and torn coat sleeves and coat tail flying. The stage offered to carry me, but I thought I wouldn’t stop for it.

Almost the first person I met was Mr. Duff Green. Says he, Capt. Downing, what’s the matter? I held up the express and shook it at him, but never answered him a word, and pulled on. He turned and walked as fast as he could without running, and followed me. Pretty soon I met Mr. Gales of the “Intelligencer,” and says he, for mercy sake, Captain Downing, what’s the matter? Have you been chased by a wolf, or Governor Houston, or have you got news from Pennsylvania? I didn’t turn to the right nor left, but shook the express at him and run like wild-fire.

When I came up to the President’s house, the old gentleman was standing in the door. He stepped quicker than I ever see him before, and met me at the gate. Says he, my dear friend Downing, what’s the matter? Has the United States Bank been trying to bribe you, and are you trying to run away from ’em? They may buy over Webster and Clay and such trash, but I knew if they touched you they would get the wrong pig by the ear. As he said this, Duff Green hove in sight, puffing and blowing, full speed.

Oh, said the President, Duff Green wants to have a lick at you, does he? Well dont retreat another step, Mr. Downing, I’ll stand between you and harm. Upon that he called his boy and told him to bring his pistols in a moment. By this time I made out to get breath enough jest to say Pennsylvany, and to shake the express at him. The old man’s color changed in a minute. Says he, come in, Mr. Downing, come in, set down, dont say a word to Duff. So in we went, and shut the door. Now, says the President, looking as though he would route a regiment in five minutes, now speak and let me know whether I am a dead man or alive.

Gineral, says I, its all over with——I wont hear a word of it, says he, stomping his foot. His eyes flashed fire so that I trembled and almost fell backwards. But I see he didn’t understand me. Dear gineral, says I, it’s all over with Clay and the Bank—at that he clapt his hands and jumpt up like a boy. I never see the President jump before, as much as I’ve been acquainted with him. In less than a minute he looked entirely like another man. His eyes were as calm and as bright as the moon jest coming out from behind a black thunder-cloud.

He clenched my hand and gave it such a shake, I didn’t know but he would pull it off. Says he, Jack, I knew Pennsylvany never would desert me, and if she has gone for me I’m safe. And now if I dont make them are Bank chaps hug it, my name isn’t Andrew Jackson. And after all, Jack, I aint so glad on my own account, that I’m re-elected, as I am for the country and Mr. Van Buren. This election has all been on Mr. Van Buren’s account; and we shall get him in now to be President after me. And you know, Jack, that he’s the only man after me, that’s fit to govern this country.

The President has made me promise to stop and spend the night with him, and help him rejoice over the victory. But I haven’t time to write any more before the mail goes.

Your loving friend,