Gold Spoon Oration
|This article relies largely or entirely upon a single source. (September 2012)|
The Gold Spoon Oration, also called "The Regal Splendor of the President’s Palace," was a political speech given in the US House of Representatives by Charles Ogle (Whig-PA) on April 14–16, 1840. The speech reviled then-President Martin Van Buren for his supposedly luxurious lifestyle in the White House, while idealizing Whig presidential candidate William Henry Harrison as a homespun man of the people; compare the idiom "silver spoon".
Shortly after delivering the speech, Ogle had tens of thousands of copies printed and circulated around the nation as campaign literature. Historians, journalists and politicians consider it one of the premier political attacks in American history. Many also rank it as one of the most amusing speeches ever delivered in Congress. The speech is almost coincidentally the most complete inventory of the objects and furnishings of the White House for that time.
It was claimed by the Trenton Emporium that what was published was not the speech made by Ogle. The paper claimed that the published speech was edited multiple times and stuffed with fabrications developed by other Whig Party members.
Ogle took the floor of the House of Representatives on April 14, 1840. For the better part of three days he addressed the House, sitting as a committee of the whole, about the "regal splendor of the President’s Palace." His words over those three days would snowball into a political campaign like no other.
In the presidential campaign of 1840, Democrat Martin Van Buren, eighth president of the United States, met strong Whig opposition to his supposedly "royal lifestyle." Van Buren continued to entertain European dignitaries in an elegant manner after the collapse of the economy in 1837. Van Buren's rather dandyish style and refined tastes did make an easy target for Whig attacks. More impartial historians have pointed out that, while Van Buren did enjoy the latest fashions from Manhattan, he purchased such personal items with money from his own pocket and spent little public money on the White House. Van Buren did make needed repairs and refurbishments as well as redecorations to the presidential residence.
Ogle, however, had taken the floor to campaign for William Henry Harrison, the Whig presidential candidate, not to discuss presidential finances in an impartial manner. Ogle announced that $88,722.58 had been appropriated by Congress for the White House since the Democrats had taken control of the presidency (though only $11,806.22 was appropriated during Van Buren’s term). By the second day of his speech the galleries were packed to capacity. Laughter and sarcastic comments from the floor and the galleries were common during the speech. The disruptions continued after Ogle left the floor and several other members, many of them Whigs like him, took the floor to defend the president and apologize for Ogle’s behavior. However, the speech proved effective in defining Van Buren as an out-of-touch aristocrat, and Harrison was elected to the presidency in November, 1840 — only to die in office a month after his inauguration.
Excerpts from the speech
"An old soldier Harrison, who, to rescue thousands of women and children from the scalping knife of the ruthless savage, freely abandoned all the endearments of home and family, endured the icy and piercing blasts of northwestern winters, wading through the deep and cold waters and black swamps of Michigan and upper Canada, sustaining, at times, an almost famished nature upon raw beef, without salt, and often periling life on the field of battle? Poor simple-minded old veteran, he was, no doubt, foolish enough to believe that, having given the best energies of his body and mind in youth, manhood, and mature age, to serve and defend the honor, the rights, the property, and the lives of his fellow-citizens, he would at least, in common courtesy, be entitled to their respect, if not to their love and gratitude."
"The survey of smooth lawns and gently sloping meads, covered with rich coats of white and red clover and luxuriant orchard grass, made no delightful impression on their eyes. No, sir; mere meadows are too common to gratify the refined taste of an exquisite with sweet sandy whiskers. He must have undulations, beautiful mounds, and other contrivances, to ravish his exalted and ethereal soul. Hence, the reformers have constructed a number of clever sized hills, every pair of which, it is said, was designed to resemble and assume the form of an Amazon's bosom, with a miniature knoll or hillock on its apex, to denote the nipple."
- "Gold Spoon Oration", The Journal of the White House Historical Association
- "The Speech that Toppled a President", American Heritage Magazine
- Congressional Globe
- Seale, William, "The President’s House" White House Historical Association, Washington DC, 1986
- "Honorable Charles Ogle", Daily Ohio Statesman, June 9, 1841: 4