February 4, 1861
At the Atheneum on Saturday Night—A Scene of Unexampled Confusion—A Tremendous Gathering of the People.
On Saturday evening about twenty-five hundred people assembled at the Atheneum to hear the speech of the Hon Sherrard Clemens. J. H. McMechen, Esq., was called to the Chair and Henry Crangle was appointed Secretary.
Loud calls for Clemens brought that gentleman before the footlights, and after waiting for the applause to subside, he proceeded to make one of the most eloquent, stirring, patriotic speeches that it has ever been our lot to listen to.
Mr. Clemens said that in sixteen years political life he had never witnessed such enthusiasm. Any man or any principle for which such enthusiasm was manifested was above defeat. He said that the fight was being made on him, the whole force of the light artillery was brought to bear on him while other candidates were permitted to escape, but he would meet the attack with all the vigor that it was made.
Mr. Clemens rehearsed several charges made against him on the street. Some of his enemies had endeavored to work upon his German friends, by hawking about his speech, and calling their attention to the expression “hog-eating Teutons”[.] He meant no disrespect to the Germans, and they knew it. The assertion that he did was a base libel on the common sagacity of men, if nothing else. It had also been charged, said Mr. Clemens, that the workingmen who nominated him were Republicans. Candidates were the servants of the people, and Republicans had a right to vote for who they pleased, but he denied that they were Republicans, and referred to the gentlemen themselves. Another charge was that all his interests were in Louisiana, a seceding state. Such was not the case. What little he had was here—every dollar of it. He then appealed to the naturalized citizens to stand by the Constitution to which they had sworn allegiance, and exhorted them to vote for no man whose fidelity to the Union was not above suspicion.
Mr. Clemens then offered the floor to Mr. Sweeney, who had come in, but loud cries of “go on, go on,” induced the former to proceed. He said he wanted Mr. Sweeney to have a respectful hearing. He was not for putting down any man. He did not go upon the principle—“the lower you sink the higher I aspire,”—he would leave that to other gentlemen, between whom and himself there would one day be a settlement. He said he had thrown off party shackles and party maledictions were being showered upon him thick and fast because he did so. He then made a convincing argument showing the disasters and dangers and taxes that must inevitably follow upon secession. We would get no benefit from the opening of the African slave trade. The niggers [Note: this is as in original] would leave here quicker than cream would curdle under a thunder storm. He was in favor of the Union, the Constitution, and the enforcement of the Laws. He had been called a Republican and his votes in Congress this session had been pointed to as evidences of it. He had voted for a resolution of thanks to the gallant major Anderson, who with his gallant little band had nobly upheld the flag of his country. He had voted for Howard’s resolution to appoint a committee of five to enquire into the doings of traitors who sought to take forcible possession of the capitol of their country. If that was Republicanism, he stood by it. He defied any honest democrat to put his finger on the place where he had departed from the creed of that party as it was.
Mr. Clemens, after speaking nearly two hours, took his seat. Mr. Sweeney arose and was received with a shower of hisses, which continued until Mr. Clemens got up and begged his friends to be quiet. Mr. Sweeney’s friends had listened respectfully to him and he asked his own friends to show the same courtesy to Mr. Sweeney. Mr. Sweeney again proceeded and after the hissing ceased, said that he had once before encountered Mr. Clemens in a canvass before the people. On that occasion, said he, I was successful.
A Voice—You won’t be this time.
Mr. Sweeney, continuing, said that on the occasion alluded to Mr. Clemens remarked to his audience in Wellsburg that he was proud to be the standard bearer of the Democratic party. He wanted to know what standard he was bearing now?
A hundred voices—The Union! the Union!
Mr. Sweeney—I undertake to say that Mr. Clemens is now the representative of the Republican party of this city, whether by his own procurement or not I do not say.
(Here the audience commenced hissing and hooting and yauping and yelling in a terrific manner. Mr. Clemens arose, apparently for the purpose of replying A scene of the most indescribably confusion ensued. A thousand people were standing on their feet, some calling for order, and the rest calling for Clements and Sweeney. It was like a vast Bedlam.)
Mr. Clemens again appealed to his friends to hear Mr. Sweeney, and the latter gentleman read his card published in the papers, made a good Union speech, and accused the Intelligencer of unfairness towards him. He concluded by again charging that Mr. Clemens was a representative of the Republicans, and was supported by the members of that party.
Mr. Clemens arose amid confusion, the friends of Mr. Sweeney making some demonstrations of disorder, by way of returning the compliment which the Clemens men had paid Mr. S. Mr. Clemens said he desired to ask Mr. Sweeney one question, and only one, after which he should say no more. If because the Union Republicans voted for him, he was necessarily a Republican, was not Mr. Sweeney a secessionist, for all the secessionists were supporting him. (This was followed by loud and long applause, waving of hats and handerchiefs.)
Mr. Sweeney attempted to reply, and was again greeted with hisses. He said, however, that he had formed no alliance with any party, and especially, he did not want to go to Richmond as the representative of the Republican party.
Mr. Clemens replied that he was the nominee of no party. If he went to the Convention, he went as the representative of the people.
Mr. Sweeney arose to reply, and was again prevented by the yells and hisses of the audience, and those who occupied the stand commenced leaving, and the meeting adjourned, the band playing a national air, and everybody hurrahing for Clemens and Hubbard and Sweeney.—We can give no idea of the scene which was presented for half an hour before the abrupt adjournment. It beggars description.
Timeline of West Virginia: Civil War and Statehood: February 1861