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At an early period of his life Samuel J. Tilden seems to have had a sense of its importance not ordinarily felt by youth of his age. This may be accounted for in part by the circumstance that while barely out of his teens, both by pen and speech, he had secured the respectful attention of many of the leading statesmen of his generation. At school he preserved all his composition exercises, and from that time to the close of his life it may well be doubted if he ever wrote a note or document of any kind of which he did not preserve the draft or a copy. As the events with which he had to deal came to assume, as they naturally did, increasing importance with his years, one or more corrected drafts were made of important papers, most, if not all, of which were carefully preserved. As what may fitly enough be termed Mr. Tilden's public life covered more than half a century, during most of which time he was one of the recognized leaders of one of the great parties of the country, the public will learn without surprise that the accumulations of social, political, and documentary correspondence which fell into the hands of his executors, to be measured by the ton, embraced among its topics almost every important political question by which this nation has been agitated since the accession of General Andrew Jackson to the Presidency in 1829. A collection of Tilden's Public Writings and Speeches was published in 1885, only a year before his death, but very little of his private correspondence appeared in that publication. The duty imposed upon his executors of looking through such a vast collection of papers and selecting such as would be profitable for publication has been a long and a very tedious one. They indulge the hope, however, that the volumes now submitted will be found to shed upon the history of our country during the latter half of the last century much light unlikely to be reflected with equal lustre from any other quarter. It will also, they believe, help to transmit to posterity a juster sense than as yet generally prevails of the majestic proportions of one of the most gifted statesmen our country has produced. Tilden may be said to have fleshed his maiden sword in politics as a champion of President Jackson in his war against the recharter of a United States bank of discount and deposit. He next became somewhat more personally conspicuous as a fervent champion of Mr. Van Buren's substitute for the national bank, now known as the Assistant Treasury. In 1848 he led the revolt of the Democratic party in New York State against the creation of five slave States, with their ten slave-holding Senators, out of the Territory of Texas. Among the immediate results of this revolt were the defeat of General Cass, the Democratic candidate for President, and the development of a Free-soil party, which later took the name of the Republican, nominated and elected Abraham Lincoln to the Presidency—synchronously with which, and for the first time in the nation's history, the decennial census of 1860 disclosed the fact that the political supremacy of the nation had been transferred to the non-slave-holding States. Though averse to resisting the secession of the slave States by flagrant war, Tilden did his best and much during the war to prevent an irreconcilable alienation of the people of the two sections, while at the same time building up for himself a reputation in his profession scarcely second to that of any other in the country; and by it, before he had reached the fiftieth year of his age, a fortune which made him no longer dependent upon it for his livelihood. The first public use he made of this independence was to retrieve the fortunes of the Democratic party by delivering the city of New York from a municipal combination which was threatening it with bankruptcy.
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