The Republic of Susan B.
by Ellis Parker Butler
Old Cap'n Jonadab Gubb was not what I should call a disappointed man so much as what I should call an unappreciated one. He was a man of ideas and a man of principle and a born ruler of men. The only trouble was that no one would give two cents for his ideas, and that nobody cared a railway fig for his principles, and that just at this time people are not looking for born rulers -- they want bull-headed bosses. So Jonadab, being meek and lowly and only five foot two, with a retiring disposition, never got to be President of the United States.
It was not Cap'n Jonadab's fault. He began as soon as he cast his first vote, and continuously thereafter he told just what he would do if he was President of the United States, but his presidential boom never got outside of his own desire. His very neighbors failed to grasp the idea that Jonadab Gubb would be great presidential timber, so, after a while, Cap'n Jonadab came around to see that he would make the best governor Massachusetts ever had. He told what he would do if he was governor, but no one ever happened to think of Cap'n Jonadab as a possible candidate, so after a few years he gave up the notion, and began talking about what a first-class mayor of Tuckchunk would do, if Tuckchunk had a first-class mayor. The old sea dogs all agreed with Cap'n Jonadab, but it did not occur to them that he would care for the job, so, after hankering for it for twenty years or so, the cap'n gave that up, too, and silently set his heart on being chosen Grand Whale of the A. O. S. lodge. A few years later he was still talking away like a steam foghorn, telling how he would run the earth, and he had set his cap for the honor of being doorkeeper of the lodge, but he didn't get it. No one ever happened to think of him as a candidate for anything, because he was so small and had such thin, pinkish whiskers.
When he got along toward sixty-one or sixty-two he was still formulating principles and still out of office, and people had got so used to hearing him tell how badly everything was run -- from the empire of Russia to the village dog-catching department -- that they did not pay much attention to him one way or another, and when he let out on Roosevelt no one would have thought anything about it if it had not been for a young fellow who had come up Tuckchunk way to spend his vacation. Being a government clerk, he felt sore to hear old Cap'n Jonadab spitting out objections from amid his pink whiskers at the President and others.
"These here United States," said Cap'n Jonadab to a lot of us that were sitting around the post-office door, "is gittin' in a dumb bad way, I tell you! Fust thing we know, some day we'll wake up and find this here country a empire, and this here rough-ride, bally-go-whack Roosevelt stuck up on a gild'd throne for emperor. I been readin' some of his doin's in the noos-paper lately, an' mighty lucky it be that he's got a good pull-back and gee-haw Senate to keep him anchored to the constytution."
The young man's ears twisted forward when they heard this, but he didn't think it his place to put in an oar, so he didn't.
"For nigh forty year I've said right along that this nation was gettin' to be more an' more a one-man affair," said Cap'n Jonadab, "an' that the big danger rock ahead was the one-man power. 'Tain't right for one man to be boss," he continued, with more emphasis. "Tain't safe. There's some says: 'Let Roosevelt go ahead an' slambang the trusts, and make his treaties,' but I say, look out! I say, cut down the President's power. He's got too much now. That there one-man power is what will wreck this here ship of state to smash!"
The young fellow waited a moment to see if old Cap'n Jonadab was done or just waiting for wind to take a new tack, and then he spoke up.
"I like that synonym comparing a nation to a ship, Cap'n Gubb," he said. "It sounds good to hear an old sea salt talking of what he knows about. You certainly do know about ships. You're the skipper of the schooner Susan B. , aren't you?"
Cap'n Jonadab sort of preened his whiskers.
"I am that," he said, "and a better craft never --"
"Right you are," said the young man. "You're skipper of the Susan B. , and you don't like one-man government. I suppose, now," he said, looking at Cap'n Jonadab very innocently -- "I suppose, now, Cap'n Gubb, that when you sail that schooner you stick to your principles, don't you? You don't allow no one-man government on her, do you? You have a senate and a house of representatives, and you run that craft by a constitution, don't you? You don't take after Russia and be an emperor on board that ship, do you? Of course not!"
Now, if ever there is a sort of man that is an all-fired boss aboard ship, it's the man that is meek and lowly when ashore, and Cap'n Jonadab was just that sort. When he was aboard the Susan B, he was king. There was no one else had a word to say on the Susan B. Cap'n Jonadab said it all and bossed it all on the craft. When he saw what the young man was getting at, the cap'n considered a minute and then he come right up to scratch.
"A feller can sometimes be nearsighted and careless of what's close at hand when he's too interested in his duty to his nation. Mebby I did overlook the status of the Susan B. ," he said; "but from this minute I pronounce and proclaim that craft a republican form of government."
He got up from the bench and started off.
"Where are you going?" one of the fellows asked.
"Home," said Cap'n Jonadab, "to write out a constytution and by-laws for the Susan B. "
Being a member of the crew of the Susan B. , I had a good chance, later on, to know about those by-laws and that constitution, and I can tell you that Cap'n Jonadab worked out a document that was equal and superior to the constitution and by-laws of the United States of America. It was as full of "whereas" and "therefore be it" as anything of that sort ought to be, and it started off as soon as it got down to business, by saying: "This schooner shall be a full-blooming republic, and it shall be known as the Republic of Susan B. " The rest of the document was right along those lines, too. There was to be no more autocrat-czar-captain business on the Susan B. Instead of a captain there was to be a president, and instead of mates there was a cabinet, and the law-making power was put in the hands of a senate and house of representatives consisting of everybody aboard ship that wasn't president or cabinet member.
The Susan B. used to run from Tuckchunk to New York, carrying spruce lumber down and coming back light, and when Cap'n Jonadab had her loaded up this time he called the crew together on the deck and read that constitution and those by-laws to them, and explained that anybody, that didn't like a republican form of government aboard ship, but hankered after the effete and played-out autocratic style, had better walk ashore quick and save being kicked ashore.
Nobody went ashore, Cap'n Jonadab was tickled.
"Good boys!" he said. "Now, the next thing we have got to do is to adopt this constytution and by-laws."
Sandy Jim, who always was thick-skulled, spoke up.
"I don't see why we've got to adopt them, Cap'n Jonadab," he drawled out. "You're boss of this schooner, and all you've got to do is to say they are adopted, and, by jing! they are adopted!"
"No, you don't!" Cap'n Jonadab snapped out. "I see what you're up to. You want me to say: 'Here's your constytution -- she's adopted!' against all rules of parlymentary procedure, and then some day when I point out what the constytution says you'll say: 'Oh, drat the constytution! The constytution ain't constytutional, because it wasn't adopted according as it stated in Clause III. of itself.' No, sir! You fellers go ahead and adopt it by ballot, like Clause III. says, or I'll let you see who's boss on the Susan B. "
Long Henry Gubbins moved that the constitution and by-laws be adopted, and Sandy Jim, to sort of square himself with Cap'n Jonadab, held up his right hand, as if be was being sworn, and said:
"I move you, Mister Captain --"
"Don't you 'captain' me!" shouted Cap'n Jonadab.
"I move you, Jonadab --" said Sandy Jim.
"Don't you 'Jonadab' me!" yelled Cap'n Jonadab.
Sandy Jim looked scared.
"Well, what in tunket shall I call you?" he asked, somewhat trembly.
"President!" said Cap'n Jonadab, scornfully.
"Well, president." said Sandy Jim. "I move that the motion that Long Henry just moved be seconded."
Cap'n Jonadab was tickled to think he was really bossing a meeting at last. He was as complacent as pie on ice.
"Fellow citizens," be said, "you heard Sandy Jim's move. Does anybody second it?"
Hank Stebbins arose and said if nobody else seconded it he moved that it be seconded.
Cap'n Jonadab stopped and scratched his ear.
"Look here," be said, "there's something wrong somewhere. We can't go on seconding each other all day that way. Purty soon we'd run out of folks to second the last one that seconded. It don't seem just right."
Bill Lawton, who used to be first mate, and who always knew about things, got up and remarked that if he recollected right a move had to be seconded but that a second didn't have to be seconded, and that the thing to do was to vote on Long Henry's move. Jonadab was never a great hand to give in easy, so they argued a while, and then we all see that Long Henry was right.
"Fellow citizens," said Cap'n Jonadab, "it has been moved and seconded that we adopt these by-laws and constytution. Do we?"
Everybody shouted: "We do!"
"Unanimously all in favor," remarked Cap'n Jonadab, "and the constytution and by-laws is in force."
One thing that Cap'n Jonadab had put into the constitution was that the term of office of the elected officers was one trip of the schooner, down and back, and another was that for the first trip Cap'n Jonadab should be president without being elected, and that the old mates should be the cabinet the same way. He explained that he put that in because things would run smoother that way until the citizens got used to being free and independent and got the hang of the new way of doing things. Nobody objected.
It was the best kind of a constitution. Cap'n Jonadab had put into it all his theories of equality, and it was what you might call liberal and up-to-date. Everybody had an office. Them that wasn't in the cabinet was senators or representatives, which is the ideal way of having a government.
The cabinet didn't have anything to do but to advise the president, so it didn't have any power at all; and to head off the president from getting what you might call czarish, it was made plain in the constitution that all he could do was to veto bills passed by congress and to carry out the orders when congress passed them.
To trim down the president's power to a safe point, it was further set forth that if he vetoed a bill congress could still pass it by two-thirds vote and knock his veto sky high.
As soon as we got the constitution adopted the president called a session of congress and appointed his committees. There was a committee of navigation, a committee of sails, a committee of the galley and about forty more, and each committee had a duty of considering bills that were introduced into congress, and reporting on them.
The beauty of it was that there wasn't anything left to luck. If we wanted the anchor weighed, somebody had to introduce a bill ordering it, and the bill would be referred to the navigation committee. Then the navigation committee would retire to the shady side of the cabin and consider the bill and report it back to congress, and congress would vote on it and pass it, and then the anchor would be weighed. That way everybody had a good chance to express his opinion. And as far as I could see, everybody expressed it. There were more speeches made on that trip to New York than would fill ten volumes as big as a dictionary. Old Cap'n Jonadab was delighted.
We unloaded our cargo at the dock in Harlem River, and the next morning Cap'n Jonadab said we'd better clear out for home. On the way down, about all he had to do was to suggest a thing and then somebody would see that what he wanted done was put in a bill and passed by congress in good shape, but when he mentioned clearing for Tuckchunk, Bill Lawton said he thought we had better stay where we were a week and vote an appropriation to give the citizens of the Republic of Susan B. a good time at Coney Island.
When Bill Lawton said that, old Cap'n Jonadab went purple in the face and lit into him with words that were unparlymentary and uncomplimentary.
"All right," said Bill, putting on an unconcerned look; "it was just a suggestion. As for me, I would rather like it, but I'm a bachelor, and I guess maybe the rest of the citizens, being mostly married men with families, are crazy to get home. What suits the majority suits me."
Cap'n Jonadab sizzled a while, and then he called a special session of congress to vote that we clear for home. When the meeting was in order he asked somebody to make a motion that way.
Bill Lawton jumped up quick.
"Mister president!" he called out.
"Mister Lawton," said Cap'n Jonadab.
Bill, who was a skinny, lean man with a shifty eye, bowed most polite.
"Mister president," he said, "I have a bill here entitled 'An act authorizing the president to tie up the Susan B. and put a watchman aboard her for one week, and pay out of the treasury a sum sufficient to give the crew a red-hot good time at Coney Island for one week.'"
He bowed again and sat down on the coil of rope that was his favorite seat.
Quick as a wink Hank Stebbins got up and moved that the bill be referred to the galley committee. It was a slick move, for the galley committee was Bill, Hank and Sandy Jim, who were chums and thick as thieves. The move was seconded by Sandy Jim.
The vote was unanimous, and the committee retired back of the mainmast to consider. All they did was to walk around the mainmast and back to where congress was. They reported the bill favorably.
Cap'n Jonadab was so mad he couldn't talk. He stood there a minute gasping like a fish, and then he slammed on his hat and walked ashore, swearing like a carpenter with a mashed thumb. The vice president, which was me, took the chair. The vote on the bill was unanimous and some left over.
The next we saw of old Cap'n Jonadab was when he came down to Coney to round us up at the end of the week.
It was easy to see that Bill was mighty proud of what he had done, and from that minute be got political aspirations the worst way. Before the boat sailed he smuggled aboard a couple of boxes of cigars, and every chance be got he was buttonholing the citizens of the Susan B. and handing out those Perfectos de Pennsylvania to them. He became the most agreeable man I ever saw, and his smile was as sweet as maple sugar. What made it worse was that Cap'n Jonadab got madder all the time.
I don't say Cap'n Jonadab didn't have cause to get mad. He was awful handicapped by that constitution. A captain that hasn't got anything but a second-rate veto to work with is in a poor class. A veto may help some to squash things, but it is a poor kind of tool to get things done with, unless you are an expert at using it. It is like an anchor as a thing to move a ship with. You can warp a ship along by the anchor, but it is dead slow work -- an anchor is built to hold back, not to push ahead. But the madder and more unsociable Cap'n Jonadab got, the less chance he had to hold his own with Oily Bill.
Cap'n Jonadab was sore because he had set the whole thing going. He was sore because he liked to be boss and couldn't be, and he was sore because he was a good seaman and the way the work was done under that constitution of his was scandalous. According to that constitution, there wasn't a thing could be done aboard that ship without a special act of congress, except one thing, and that was talk, and there was plenty of that, and not much else.
Every time the course was to be changed congress had to meet and vote it. Every time the cook had to get a meal congress had to meet and vote it. There couldn't be a sail raised nor a dish washed without a special act of congress, and if you know what it means to have a lot of fellows who are dying to make speeches, you will know how long it look to get anything done on board the Susan B.
We had covered about a third of our course, with Cap'n Jonadab mad as hops, and Bill Lawton jovially pleased with himself and practically running thing's to suit himself, when Bill's political aspirations took another jump. He decided he would be president of the Susan B. himself, and that he wasn't going to wait until Cap'n Jonadab's term ran out.
He waited until the wind began to raise one evening. The Susan B. was on a tack toward shore. Cap'n Jonadab called congress together by knocking on the mainmast with a piece of scantling, which was the usual way he called congress. We met, and we knew what was wanted. Cap'n Jonadab, as usual, stated what he wanted congress to authorize. There was some reefing to be done, and the schooner to be put on the off-shore tack.
Usually we voted such things without any more waiting than a few speeches made, but Bill had been around and posted us, so when Cap'n Jonadab got through we just sat there and said nothing. Nobody introduced the bills.
Cap'n Jonadab got purple in the face, and let out at us in language that would have raised goose pimples on a mummy of a monkey, but we sat silent, admiring the sky.
After a while, when Cap'n Jonadab had had time to get so mad he couldn't talk at all, Bill Lawton got up and introduced a bill that said the course of the Susan B. should remain unchanged all night, and that the sails should not have a reef taken in them nor be lowered an inch for twenty-four hours. We passed the bill in ten seconds.
We knew well enough that if the Susan B. stuck to the tack she was on for another hour she would go hard on the rocks, and that at the rate the wind was piling up our masts would be blown clean out of us, but Bill had told us he would see that the course was changed and the sails reefed in plenty time, so we voted as he wanted.
Sandy Jim was at the wheel. Cap'n Jonadab stood like a frozen bucket for about a minute, he was so stunned, and then he let a whoop that scared every gull for a mile on each side of us, and made a rush for Sandy Jim. The way he grabbed that slow-witted Jim was a revelation of what a right angry man can do. Cap'n Jonadab wasn't more than half Jim's size, but he shunted him halfway to the bow before Jim knew what was up, and then the cap'n began to swing the Susan B. around.
We watched the boom as it swung over us, and as soon as the sail had filled Bill got up and made a grand speech.
I guess Bill had been bottling up for that speech for several days. He let out at Cap'n Jonadab in a way that was wonderful, and he recited the constitution in blood-curdling tones and wept over the way in which our president had usurped the power of congress, and then he raised both hands and shouted that Cap'n Jonadab had been guilty of treason to the constitution and by-laws, and to congress, and to the Republic of Susan B. , and to the citizens, and moved that congress try the president for treason.
We tried him right and proper and we impeached him good and hard for knocking a citizen who was performing his duty that he had been set to by congress, and for steering the ship of state in a direction opposed to the wishes of all the citizens in congress assembled and directly contrary to an express act of congress. We bounced Cap'n Jonadab out of the job of president in about five minutes and elected Bill to the place.
Bill has often said that was the proudest moment of his life, and I believe it. He looked it, and as he took the presidential chair he remarked that the nation of Susan B. would find her destinies O. K. and shipshape in his hands, and then he cast a look toward where old Cap'n Jonadab was standing at the stern, and said there was something unlogical about having a deposed and impeached president steering the ship of state. He said that when a president was impeached there usually went some sort of punishment along with it, and he tried to remember some president that had been punished, but he couldn't seem to call any to mind, so he fell back on Looey sixteen of France, who was beheaded, and Charles one of England, who was ditto, and spoke of them.
President Bill said he didn't believe in beheading. According to his idea, it had gone out of style, and he hated to think of poor old Cap'n Jonadab being led up to a chunk of spruce and having his head chopped off. He said that a republic must be lenient to its erring sons, and that when he thought of that poor, deposed old man who was at that moment trembling on the edge of the grave, he, for one, would oppose any move to behead him.
Then he said that we must remember that Cap'n Jonadab was growing old and weak, and hadn't the strength to stand any very serious hard punishment, and that in fixing on the penalty we must take into consideration Cap'n Jonadab's years. We must be firm, but we must be kind. So he wound up by saying that he would be glad if somebody would move that Cap'n Jonadab be put in chains and placed in solitary confinement, and fed on bread and water for the rest of the voyage. Sandy Jim, being mad at the way Cap'n Jonadab had wrestled him, moved it, and it was so voted.
Bill cast his eye over us and picked out me and Sandy Jim and Hank Stebbins, and made us a notification committee to go and notify Cap'n Jonadab that he wasn't president any more, and to ask him to kindly step into the cabin to have his chains put on.
Sandy Jim arose to a point of order right there. He said that he didn't believe that the president could appoint such a committee until congress had authorized it, and that he moved that congress go as a committee of the whole to notify Cap'n Jonadab. As Cap'n Jonadab had a piece of scantling about four feet long handy to his fist, and as he wasn't noted for pleasant temper, me and Hank seconded that motion, and it was adopted with an amendment that the president be chairman and speaker of the committee and do any talking that needed to be done.
Bill didn't seem to like this, but he had to do it, for when a congress gets the impeaching habit it would as soon impeach one president as another, so we went. Bill led us. If we felt any pity for that poor old, aged man we had to carry such bad news to, I don't believe we mentioned it. Our talk, as we went to the stern, was mostly surmise as to whether Cap'n Jonadab would chuck the scantling at us from a distance, or light into us with it at close range.
When Cap'n Jonadab heard enough to catch the drift, and understood that he was deposed, his jaw fell and he looked stunned, but we all got ready to dodge. When he heard about the chains and bread and water he looked peculiar, but when Bill ended and invited him to come down and serve his sentence he didn't even growl.
"Boys." he said, "you surely have me beaten, and I'll own I broke the laws of the Republic of Susan B. , but how in tunket can I tend this wheel and go away from it, too? I'll come," he said, "but first you send some one to relieve me. Sandy, you come and take this wheel."
"Oh, no!" said Sandy Jim, edging oft. "You want to get me handy to use that scantling on!"
Cap'n Jonadab looked at him in disgust.
"Come on!" he said. "I'd look nice sailing into you with a scantling, wouldn't I, and me a worn-out, aged, weak old man against the whole lot of you?"
Hill grabbed Sandy and gave him a shove.
"Get along!" he said, roughly. "Don't be a baby."
Sandy shuffled up to the wheel and took it, and the minute he had his hands on it old Cap'n Jonadab straightened up and grabbed the scantling and lit into us like a red-hot charge of the Light Brigade. He knocked Bill clean across the deck the first lick, and in two minutes he had us all flat on the deck or backed up against the cabin waiting meekly to be killed, like a bunch of mooly cows.
"Depose?" he shouted. "Impeach, will you? I'll depose you! I'll impeach you, you low-down boodlers! You'll run this republic, will you?"
He hopped about like an Indian war dance with one big chief in it.
"You Russians!" he yelled. "You Afghan Turks! You Chinese laundry tickets! You think you can run a republic, do you? I'll republic you! I'll upheave you! I'm a usurper for you, you scum! This is a revolution, is it? This is a Napoleon from Tuckchunk! Down with the republic! I'm the emperor of this ship! I'm the czar. I am!"
He stopped and pointed his finger at the recent president, Bill.
"Come here!" he shouted, and Bill came crawling up, looking anxiously at the scantling.
"Yes, sir," said Bill.
"Don't you 'sir' me!" howled Cap'n Jonadab. "Say 'your majesty'!"
"Yes, your majesty!" said Bill.
Cap'n Jonadab leaned on his scantling and folded his arms.
"You go down in that cabin and get that constitution and them by-laws, quick!" he said, and Bill did.
When he brought them Cap'n Jonadab took them and tore them into bits, and we all stood silent waiting for the next act.
Cap'n Jonadab hefted his scantling lovingly, as if he was tempted to give us another taste of it, and then he decided he had established his power and dominion firm enough. He opened his mouth to make us a long speech, and then he looked us over with scorn in his eye and shut his mouth again. He chucked the late constitution and by-laws into the air with one hand, and with the other slung the scantling end over end into the ocean.
"Rats!" he said.
Some of us argued afterward that he meant that we were rats, and some that it was just a gentle cuss word to let off his steam, but we could never come to any agreement about it, one way or the other, and we felt a little backward about asking his majesty to explain it.