Famous Americans of Recent Times
James Parton

Part 2 out of 9

others by invective; but the only weapons which this man could wield
were abstract propositions. From the hills of South Carolina he hurled
paradoxes at General Jackson, and appealed from the dicta of Mrs.
Eaton's drawing-room to a hair-splitting theory of States' Rights.
Fifteen hundred thousand armed men have since sprung up from those
harmless-looking dragon's teeth, so recklessly sown in the hot
Southern soil.

Of the three men whom we have named, Daniel Webster was incomparably
the most richly endowed by nature. In his lifetime it was impossible
to judge him aright. His presence usually overwhelmed criticism; his
intimacy always fascinated it. It so happened, that he grew to his
full stature and attained his utmost development in a community where
human nature appears to be undergoing a process of diminution,--where
people are smaller-boned, less muscular, more nervous, and more
susceptible than their ancestors. He possessed, in consequence, an
enormous physical magnetism, as we term it, over his fellow-citizens,
apart from the natural influence of his talents and understanding.
Fidgety men were quieted in his presence, women were spellbound by it,
and the busy, anxious public contemplated his majestic calm with a
feeling of relief, as well as admiration. Large numbers of people in
New England, for many years, reposed upon Daniel Webster. He
represented to them the majesty and the strength of the government of
the United States. He gave them a sense of safety. Amid the flighty
politics of the time and the loud insincerities of Washington, there
seemed one solid thing in America, so long as he sat in an arm-chair
of the Senate-chamber. When he appeared in State Street, slowly
pacing, with an arm behind him, business was brought to an absolute
stand-still. As the whisper passed along, the windows filled with
clerks, pen in mouth, peering out to catch a glimpse of the man whom
they had seen fifty times before; while the bankers and merchants
hastened forth to give him salutation, or exchange a passing word,
happy if they could but catch his eye. At home, and in a good mood, he
was reputed to be as entertaining a man as New England ever held,--a
gambolling, jocund leviathan out on the sea-shore, and in the library
overflowing with every kind of knowledge that can be acquired without
fatigue, and received without preparation. Mere celebrity, too, is
dazzling to some minds. While, therefore, this imposing person lived
among us, he was blindly worshipped by many, blindly hated by some,
calmly considered by very few. To this hour he is a great influence in
the United States. Perhaps, with the abundant material now accessible,
it is not too soon to attempt to ascertain how far he was worthy of
the estimation in which his fellow-citizens held him, and what place
he ought to hold in the esteem of posterity. At least, it can never be
unpleasing to Americans to recur to the most interesting specimen of
our kind that has lived in America since Franklin.

He could not have been born in a better place, nor of better stock,
nor at a better time, nor reared in circumstances more favorable to
harmonious development. He grew up in the Switzerland of America. From
a hill on his father's New Hampshire farm, he could see most of the
noted summits of New England. Granite-topped Kearsarge stood out in
bold relief near by; Mount Washington and its attendant peaks, not yet
named, bounded the northern horizon like a low, silvery cloud; and the
principal heights of the Green Mountains, rising near the Connecticut
River, were clearly visible. The Merrimack, most serviceable of
rivers, begins its course a mile or two off, formed by the union of
two mountain torrents. Among those hills, high up, sometimes near the
summits, lakes are found, broad, deep, and still; and down the sides
run innumerable rills, which form those noisy brooks that rush along
the bottom of the hills, where now the roads wind along, shaded by the
mountain, and enlivened by the music of the waters. Among these hills
there are, here and there, expanses of level country large enough for
a farm, with the addition of some fields upon the easier acclivities
and woodlands higher up. There was one field of a hundred acres upon
Captain Webster's mountain farm so level that a lamb could be seen on
any part of it from the windows of the house. Every tourist knows that
region now,--that wide, billowy expanse of dark mountains and vivid
green fields, dotted with white farm-houses, and streaked with silvery
streams. It was rougher, seventy years ago, secluded, hardly
accessible, the streams unbridged, the roads of primitive formation;
but the worst of the rough work had been done there, and the
production of superior human beings had become possible, before the
Webster boys were born.

Daniel Webster's father was the strong man of his neighborhood; the
very model of a republican citizen and hero,--stalwart, handsome,
brave, and gentle. Ebenezer Webster inherited no worldly advantages.
Sprung from a line of New Hampshire farmers, he was apprenticed, in
his thirteenth year, to another New Hampshire farmer; and when he had
served his time, he enlisted as a private soldier in the old French
war, and came back from the campaigns about Lake George a captain. He
never went to school. Like so many other New England boys, he learned
what is essential for the carrying on of business in the
chimney-corner, by the light of the fire. He possessed one beautiful
accomplishment: he was a grand reader. Unlettered as he was, he
greatly enjoyed the more lofty compositions of poets and orators; and
his large, sonorous voice enabled him to read them with fine effect.
His sons read in his manner, even to his rustic pronunciation of some
words. Daniel's calm, clear-cut rendering of certain noted
passages--favorites in his early home--was all his father's. There is
a pleasing tradition in the neighborhood, of the teamsters who came to
Ebenezer Webster's mill saying to one another, when they had
discharged their load and tied their horses, "Come, let us go in, and
hear little Dan read a psalm." The French war ended, Captain Webster,
in compensation for his services, received a grant of land in the
mountain wilderness at the head of the Merrimack, where, as miller and
farmer, he lived and reared his family. The Revolutionary War summoned
this noble yeoman to arms once more. He led forth his neighbors to the
strife, and fought at their head, with his old rank of captain, at
White Plains and at Bennington, and served valiantly through the war.
From that time to the end of his life, though much trusted and
employed by his fellow-citizens as legislator, magistrate, and judge,
he lived but for one object,--the education and advancement of his
children. All men were poor then in New Hampshire, compared with the
condition of their descendants. Judge Webster was a poor, and even
embarrassed man, to the day of his death. The hardships he had endured
as soldier and pioneer made him, as he said, an old man before his
time. Rheumatism bent his form, once so erect and vigorous. Black care
subdued his spirits, once so joyous and elastic. Such were the fathers
of fair New England.

This strong-minded, uncultured man was a Puritan and a Federalist,--a
catholic, tolerant, and genial Puritan, an intolerant and almost
bigoted Federalist. Washington, Adams, and Hamilton were the civilians
highest in his esteem; the good Jefferson he dreaded and abhorred. The
French Revolution was mere blackness and horror to him; and when it
assumed the form of Napoleon Bonaparte, his heart sided passionately
with England in her struggle to extirpate it. His boys were in the
fullest sympathy with him in all his opinions and feelings. They, too,
were tolerant and untheological Puritans; they, too, were most
strenuous Federalists; and neither of them ever recovered from their
father's influence, nor advanced much beyond him in their fundamental
beliefs. Readers have, doubtless, remarked, in Mr. Webster's oration
upon Adams and Jefferson, how the stress of the eulogy falls upon
Adams, while cold and scant justice is meted out to the greatest and
wisest of our statesmen. It was Ebenezer Webster who spoke that day,
with the more melodious voice of his son. There is a tradition in New
Hampshire that Judge Webster fell sick on a journey in a town of
Republican politics, and besought the doctor to help him speedily on
his way home, saying that he was born a Federalist, had lived a
Federalist, and could not die in peace in any but a Federalist town.

Among the ten children of this sturdy patriot and partisan, eight were
ordinary mortals, and two most extraordinary,--Ezekiel, born in 1780,
and Daniel, born in 1782,--the youngest of his boys. Some of the elder
children were even less than ordinary. Elderly residents of the
neighborhood speak of one half-brother of Daniel and Ezekiel as
penurious and narrow; and the letters of others of the family indicate
very plain, good, commonplace people. But these two, the sons of their
father's prime, inherited all his grandeur of form and beauty of
countenance, his taste for high literature, along with a certain
energy of mind that came to them, by some unknown law of nature, from
their father's mother. From her Daniel derived his jet-black hair and
eyes, and his complexion of burnt gunpowder; though all the rest of
the children except one were remarkable for fairness of complexion,
and had sandy hair. Ezekiel, who was considered the handsomest man in
the United States, had a skin of singular fairness, and light hair. He
is vividly remembered in New Hampshire for his marvellous beauty of
form and face, his courtly and winning manners, the weight and majesty
of his presence. He was a signal refutation of Dr. Holmes's theory,
that grand manners and high breeding are the result of several
generations of culture. Until he was nineteen, this peerless gentleman
worked on a rough mountain farm on the outskirts of civilization, as
his ancestors had for a hundred and fifty years before him; but he was
refined to the tips of his finger-nails and to the buttons of his
coat. Like his more famous brother, he had an artist's eye for the
becoming in costume, and a keen sense for all the proprieties and
decorums both of public and private life. Limited in his view by the
narrowness of his provincial sphere, as well as by inherited
prejudices, he was a better man and citizen than his brother, without
a touch of his genius. Nor was that half-brother of Daniel, who had
the black hair and eyes and gunpowder skin, at all like Daniel, or
equal to him in mental power.

There is nothing in our literature more pleasing than the glimpses it
affords of the early life of these two brothers;--Ezekiel, robust,
steady-going, persevering, self-denying; Daniel, careless of work,
eager for play, often sick, always slender and weakly, and regarded
rather as a burden upon the family than a help to it. His feebleness
early habituated him to being a recipient of aid and favor, and it
decided his destiny. It has been the custom in New England, from the
earliest time, to bring up one son of a prosperous family to a
profession, and the one selected was usually the boy who seemed least
capable of earning a livelihood by manual labor. Ebenezer Webster,
heavily burdened with responsibility all his life long, had most
ardently desired to give his elder sons a better education than he had
himself enjoyed, but could not. When Daniel was a boy, his large
family was beginning to lift his load a little; the country was
filling up; his farm was more productive, and he felt somewhat more at
his ease. His sickly youngest son, because he was sickly, and only for
that reason, he chose from his numerous brood to send to an academy,
designing to make a schoolmaster of him. We have no reason to believe
that any of the family saw anything extraordinary in the boy. Except
that he read aloud unusually well, he had given no sign of particular
talent, unless it might be that he excelled in catching trout,
shooting squirrels, and fighting cocks. His mother, observing his love
of play and his equal love of books, said he "would come to something
or nothing, she could not tell which"; but his father, noticing his
power over the sympathies of others, and comparing him with his
bashful brother, used to remark, that he had fears for Ezekiel, but
that Daniel would assuredly make his way in the world. It is certain
that the lad himself was totally unconscious of possessing
extraordinary talents, and indulged no early dream of greatness. He
tells us himself, that he loved but two things in his youth,--play and
reading. The rude schools which he trudged two or three miles in the
winter every day to attend, taught him scarcely anything. His father's
saw-mill, he used to say, was the real school of his youth. When he
had set the saw and turned on the water, there would be fifteen
minutes of tranquillity before the log again required his attention,
during which he sat and absorbed knowledge.

"We had so few books," he records in the exquisite fragment
of autobiography he has left us, "that to read them once or
twice was nothing. We thought they were all to be got by

How touching the story, so well known, of the mighty struggle and long
self-sacrifice it cost this family to get the youth through college!
The whole expense did not average one hundred and fifty dollars a
year; but it seemed to the boy so vast and unattainable a good, that,
when his father announced his purpose to attempt it, he was completely
overcome; his head was dizzy; his tongue was paralyzed; he could only
press his father's hands and shed tears. Slender indeed was his
preparation for Dartmouth. From the day when he took his first Latin
lesson to that on which he entered college was thirteen months. He
could translate Cicero's orations with some ease, and make out with
difficulty and labor the easiest sentences of the Greek Reader, and
that was the whole of what was called his "preparation" for college.
In June, 1797, he did not know the Greek alphabet; in August of the
same year he was admitted to the Freshman Class of Dartmouth on
engaging to supply his deficiencies by extra study.

Neither at college nor at any time could Daniel Webster be properly
called a student, and well he knew it. Many a time he has laughed, in
his jovial, rollicking manner, at the preposterous reputation for
learning a man can get by bringing out a fragment of curious knowledge
at the right moment at college. He was an absorbent of knowledge,
never a student. The Latin of Cicero and Virgil was congenial and easy
to him, and he learned more of it than the required portion. But even
in Latin, he tells us, he was excelled by some of his own class; and
"his attainments were not such," he adds, "as told for much in the
recitation-room." Greek he never enjoyed: his curiosity was never
awakened on the edge of that boundless contiguity of interesting
knowledge, and he only learned enough Greek to escape censure. He
said, forty years after, in an after-dinner speech:

"When I was at school I felt exceedingly obliged to Homer's
messengers for the exact literal fidelity with which they
delivered their messages. The seven or eight lines of good
Homeric Greek in which they had received the commands of
Agamemnon or Achilles they recited to whomsoever the message
was to be carried; and as they repeated them verbatim,
sometimes twice or thrice, it saved me the trouble of
learning so much Greek."

It was not at "school" that he had this experience, but at Dartmouth
College. For mathematics, too, he had not the slightest taste. He
humorously wrote to a fellow-student, soon after leaving college, that
"all that he knew about conterminous arches or evanescent subtenses
might be collected on the pupil of a gnat's eye without making him
wink." At college, in fact, he was simply an omnivorous reader,
studying only so much as to pass muster in the recitation-room. Every
indication we possess of his college life, as well as his own repeated
assertions, confirms the conclusion that Nature had formed him to use
the products of other men's toil, not to add to the common fund. Those
who are conversant with college life know very well what it means when
a youth does not take to Greek, and has an aversion to mathematics.
Such a youth may have immense talent, and give splendid expression to
the sentiments of his countrymen, but he is not likely to be one of
the priceless few of the human race who discover truth or advance
opinion. It is the energetic, the originating minds that are
susceptible to the allurements of difficulty.

On the other hand, Daniel Webster had such qualities as made every one
feel that he was the first man in the College. Tall, gaunt, and
sallow, with an incomparable forehead, and those cavernous and
brilliant eyes of his, he had much of the large and tranquil presence
which was so important an element of his power over others at all
periods of his life. His letters of this time, as well as the
recollections of his fellow-students, show him the easy, humorous,
rather indolent and strictly correct "good-fellow," whom professors
and companions equally relished. He browsed much in the College
library, and had the habit of bringing to bear upon the lesson of the
hour the information gathered in his miscellaneous reading,--a
practice that much enlivens the monotony of recitation. The half-dozen
youths of his particular set, it appears, plumed themselves upon
resembling the early Christians in having all things in common. The
first to rise in the morning--and he must have been an early riser
indeed who was up before Daniel Webster--"dressed himself in the best
which the united apartments afforded"; the next made the best
selection from what remained; and the last was happy if he found rags
enough to justify his appearance in the chapel. The relator of this
pleasant reminiscence adds, that he was once the possessor of an
eminently respectable beaver hat, a costly article of resplendent
lustre. It was missing one day, could not be found, and was given up
for lost. Several weeks after "friend Dan" returned from a distant
town, where he had been teaching school, wearing the lost beaver, and
relieving its proprietor from the necessity of covering his head with
a battered and long-discarded hat of felt. How like the Daniel Webster
of later years, who never could acquire the sense of _meum_ and
_tuum_, supposed to be the basis of civilization!

Mr. Webster always spoke slightingly of his early oratorical efforts,
and requested Mr. Everett, the editor of his works, not to search them
out. He was not just to the productions of his youth, if we may judge
from the Fourth-of-July oration which he delivered in 1800, when he
was a Junior at Dartmouth, eighteen years of age. This glowing psalm
of the republican David is perfectly characteristic, and entirely
worthy of him. The times that tried men's souls,--how recent and vivid
they were to the sons of Ebenezer Webster, who had led forth from the
New Hampshire hills the neighbors at whose firesides Ezekiel and
Daniel had listened, open-mouthed, to the thousand forgotten incidents
of the war. Their professors of history were old John Bowen, who had
once been a prisoner with the Indians; Robert Wise, who had sailed
round the world and fought in the Revolution on _both_ sides; George
Bayly, a pioneer, who saw the first tree felled in Northern New
Hampshire; women of the neighborhood, who had heard the midnight yell
of savages; and, above all, their own lion-hearted father, who had
warred with Frenchmen, Indians, wild nature, British troops, and
French ideas. "O," wrote Daniel once, "I shall never hear such
story-telling again!" It was not in the cold pages of Hildreth, nor in
the brief summaries of school-books, that this imaginative,
sympathetic youth had learned that part of the political history of
the United States--from 1787 to 1800--which will ever be its most
interesting portion. He learned it at town-meetings, in the
newspapers, at his father's house, among his neighbors, on election
days; he learned it as an intelligent youth, with a passionately loyal
father and mother, learned the history of the late war, and is now
learning the agonizing history of "reconstruction." This oration is
the warm and modest expression of all that the receptive and
unsceptical student had imbibed and felt during the years of his
formation, who saw before him a large company of Revolutionary
soldiers and a great multitude of Federalist partisans. He saluted the
audience as "Countrymen, brethren, and fathers." The oration was
chiefly a rapid, exulting review of the history of the young Republic,
with an occasional pomposity, and a few expressions caught from the
party discussions of the day. It is amusing to hear this young
Federalist of 1800 speak of Napoleon Bonaparte as "the gasconading
pilgrim of Egypt," and the government of France as the "supercilious,
five-headed Directory," and the President of the United States as "the
firm, the wise, the inflexible Adams, who with steady hand draws the
disguising veil from the intrigues of foreign enemies and the plots of
domestic foes." It is amusing to read, as the utterance of Daniel
Webster, that "Columbia is now seated in the forum of nations, and the
empires of the world are amazed at the bright effulgence of her
glory." But it is interesting to observe, also, that at eighteen, not
less fervently than at forty-eight, he felt the importance of the
message with which he was charged to the American people,--the
necessity of the Union, and the value of the Constitution as the
uniting bond. The following passage has, perhaps, more in it of the
Webster of 1830 than any other in the oration. The reader will notice
the similarity between one part of it and the famous passage in the
Bunker Hill oration, beginning "Venerable men," addressed to the
survivors of the Revolution.

"Thus, friends and citizens, did the kind hand of overruling
Providence conduct us, through toils, fatigues, and dangers,
to independence and peace. If piety be the rational exercise
of the human soul, if religion be not a chimera, and if the
vestiges of heavenly assistance are clearly traced in those
events which mark the annals of our nation, it becomes us on
this day, in consideration of the great things which have
been done for us, to render the tribute of unfeigned thanks
to that God who superintends the universe, and holds aloft
the scale that weighs the destinies of nations.

"The conclusion of the Revolutionary War did not accomplish
the entire achievements of our countrymen. Their military
character was then, indeed, sufficiently established; but
the time was coming which should prove their political
sagacity, their ability to govern themselves.

"No sooner was peace restored with England, (the first grand
article of which was the acknowledgment of our
independence,) than the old system of Confederation,
dictated at first by necessity, and adopted for the purposes
of the moment, was found inadequate to the government of an
extensive empire. Under a full conviction of this, we then
saw the people of these States engaged in a transaction
which is undoubtedly the greatest approximation towards
human perfection the political world ever yet witnessed, and
which, perhaps, will forever stand in the history of mankind
without a parallel. A great republic, composed of different
States, whose interest in all respects could not be
perfectly compatible, then came deliberately forward,
discarded one system of government, and adopted another,
without the loss of one man's blood.

"There is not a single government now existing in Europe
which is not based in usurpation, and established, if
established at all, by the sacrifice of thousands. But in
the adoption of our present system of jurisprudence, we see
the powers necessary for government voluntarily flowing from
the people, their only proper origin, and directed to the
public good, their only proper object.

"With peculiar propriety, we may now felicitate ourselves on
that happy form of mixed government under which we live. The
advantages resulting to the citizens of the Union are
utterly incalculable, and the day when it was received by a
majority of the States shall stand on the catalogue of
American anniversaries second to none but the birthday of

"In consequence of the adoption of our present system of
government, and the virtuous manner in which it has been
administered by a Washington and an Adams, we are this day
in the enjoyment of peace, while war devastates Europe! We
can now sit down beneath the shadow of the olive, while her
cities blaze, her streams run purple with blood, and her
fields glitter with a forest of bayonets! The citizens of
America can this day throng the temples of freedom, and
renew their oaths of fealty to independence; while Holland,
our once sister republic, is erased from the catalogue of
nations; while Venice is destroyed, Italy ravaged, and
Switzerland--the once happy, the once united, the once
flourishing Switzerland--lies bleeding at every pore!"

He need not have been ashamed of this speech, despite the lumbering
bombast of some of its sentences. All that made him estimable as a
public man is contained in it,--the sentiment of nationality, and a
clear sense of the only means by which the United States can remain a
nation; namely, strict fidelity to the Constitution as interpreted by
the authority itself creates, and modified in the way itself appoints.
We have never read the production of a youth which was more prophetic
of the man than this. It was young New England that spoke through him
on that occasion; and in all the best part of his life he never
touched a strain which New England had not inspired, or could not

His success at college giving him ascendency at home, he employed it
for the benefit of his brother in a manner which few sons would have
dared, and no son ought to attempt. His father, now advanced in years,
infirm, "an old man before his time" through hardship and toil, much
in debt, depending chiefly upon his salary of four hundred dollars a
year as Judge of the Court of Common Pleas, and heavily taxed to
maintain Daniel in college, had seen all his other sons married and
settled except Ezekiel, upon whom he leaned as the staff of his
declining years, and the main dependence of his wife and two maiden
daughters. Nevertheless, Daniel, after a whole night of consultation
with his brother, urged the old man to send Ezekiel to college also.
The fond and generous father replied, that he had but little property,
and it would take all that little to carry another son through college
to a profession; but he lived only for his children, and, for his own
part, he was willing to run the risk; but there was the mother and two
unmarried sisters, to whom the risk was far more serious. If they
consented, he was willing. The mother said:

"I have lived long in the world, and have been happy in my
children. If Daniel and Ezekiel will promise to take care of
me in my old age, I will consent to the sale of all our
property at once, and they may enjoy the benefit of that
which remains after our debts are paid."

Upon hearing this, all the family, we are told, were dissolved in
tears, and the old man gave his assent. This seems hard,--two stout
and vigorous young men willing to risk their aged parents' home and
dignity for such a purpose, or for any purpose! In the early days,
however, there was a singular unity of feeling and interest in a good
New England family, and there were opportunities for professional men
which rendered the success of two such lads as these nearly certain,
if they lived to establish themselves. Nevertheless, it was too much
to ask, and more than Daniel Webster would have asked if he had been
properly alive to the rights of others. Ezekiel shouldered his bundle,
trudged off to school, where he lived and studied at the cost of one
dollar a week, worked his way to the position of the second lawyer in
New Hampshire, and would early have gone to Congress but for his
stanch, inflexible Federalism.

Daniel Webster, schoolmaster and law-student, was assuredly one of the
most interesting of characters. Pinched by poverty, as he tells us,
till his very bones ached, eking out his income by a kind of labor
that he always loathed (copying deeds), his shoes letting in, not
water merely, but "pebbles and stones,"--father, brother, and himself
sometimes all moneyless together, all dunned at the same time, and
writing to one another for aid,--he was nevertheless as jovial a young
fellow as any in New England. How merry and affectionate his letters
to his young friends! He writes to one, soon after leaving college:

"You will naturally inquire how I prosper in the article of
cash; finely, finely! I came here in January with a horse,
watch, etc., and a few rascally counters in my pocket. Was
soon obliged to sell my horse, and live on the proceeds.
Still straitened for cash, I sold my watch, and made a shift
to get home, where my friends supplied me with another horse
and another watch. My horse is sold again, and my watch
goes, I expect, this week; thus you see how I lay up cash."

How like him! To another college friend, James Hervey Bingham, whom he
calls, by turns, "brother Jemmy," "Jemmy Hervey," and "Bingham," he
discourses thus:

"Perhaps you thought, as I did, that a dozen dollars would
slide out of the pocket in a Commencement jaunt much easier
than they would slide in again after you got home. That was
the exact reason why I was not there.... I flatter myself
that none of my friends ever thought me greatly absorbed in
the sin of avarice, yet I assure you, Jem, that in these
days of poverty I look upon a round dollar with a great deal
of complacency. These rascal dollars are so necessary to the
comfort of life, that next to a fine wife they are most
essential, and their acquisition an object of prime
importance. O Bingham, how blessed it would be to retire
with a decent, clever bag of Rixes to a pleasant country
town, and follow one's own inclination without being
shackled by the duties of a profession!"

To the same friend, whom he now addresses as "dear Squire," he
announces joyfully a wondrous piece of luck:

"My expenses [to Albany] were all amply paid, and on my
return I put my hand in my pocket and found one hundred and
twenty dear delightfuls! Is not that good luck? And these
dear delightfuls were, 'pon honor, all my own; yes, every
dog of them!"

To which we may add from another source, that they were straightway
transferred to his father, to whom they were dear delightfuls indeed,
for he was really getting to the end of his tether.

The schoolmaster lived, it appears, on the easiest terms with his
pupils, some of whom were older than himself. He tells a story of
falling in with one of them on his journey to school, who was mounted
"on the ugliest horse I ever saw or heard of, except Sancho Panza's
pacer." The schoolmaster having two good horses, the pupil mounted one
of them, strapped his bag to his own forlorn animal and drove him
before, where his odd gait and frequent stumblings kept them amused.
At length, arriving at a deep and rapid river,

"this satire on the animal creation, as if to revenge
herself on us for our sarcasms, plunged into the river, then
very high by the freshet, and was wafted down the current
like a bag of oats! I could hardly sit on my horse for
laughter. I am apt to laugh at the vexations of my friends.
The fellow, who was of my own age, and my room-mate, half
checked the current by oaths as big as lobsters, and the old
Rosinante, who was all the while much at her ease, floated
up among the willows far below on the opposite side of the

At the same time he was an innocent young man. If he had any wild oats
in his composition, they were not sown in the days of his youth.
Expecting to pass his life as a country lawyer, having scarcely a
premonition of his coming renown, we find him enjoying the simple
country sports and indulging in the simple village ambitions. He tried
once for the captaincy of a company of militia, and was not elected;
he canvassed a whole regiment to get his brother the post of adjutant,
and failed. At one time he came near abandoning the law, as too high
and perilous for him, and settling down as schoolmaster and clerk of a
court. The assurance of a certain six hundred dollars a year, a house,
and a piece of land, with the prospect of the clerkship by and by, was
so alluring to him that it required all the influence of his family
and friends to make him reject the offer. Even then, in the flush and
vigor of his youth, he was _led_. So was it always. He was never a
leader, but always a follower. Nature made him very large, but so
stinted him in propelling force, that it is doubtful if he had ever
emerged from obscurity if his friends had not urged him on. His
modesty in these innocent days is most touching to witness. After a
long internal conflict, he resolved, in his twentieth year, to "make
one more trial" at mastering the law.

"If I prosecute the profession, I pray God to fortify me
against its temptations. To the wind I dismiss those light
hopes of eminence which ambition inspired and vanity
fostered. To be 'honest, to be capable, to be faithful' to
my client and my conscience, I earnestly hope will be my
first endeavor."

How exceedingly astonished would these affectionate young friends have
been, if they could have looked forward forty years, and seen the
timid law-student Secretary of State, and his ardent young comrade a
clerk in his department. They seemed equals in 1802; in 1845, they had
grown so far apart, that the excellent Bingham writes to Webster as to
a demigod.

In these pleasant early letters of Daniel Webster there are a thousand
evidences of a good heart and of virtuous habits, but not one of a
superior understanding. The total absence of the sceptical spirit
marks the secondary mind. For a hundred and fifty years, _no_ young
man of a truly eminent intellect has accepted his father's creeds
without having first called them into question; and this must be so in
periods of transition. The glorious light which has been coming upon
Christendom for the last two hundred years, and which is now beginning
to pervade the remotest provinces of it, never illumined the mind of
Daniel Webster. Upon coming of age, he joined the Congregational
Church, and was accustomed to open his school with an extempore
prayer. He used the word "Deist" as a term of reproach; he deemed it
"criminal" in Gibbon to write his fifteenth and sixteenth chapters,
and spoke of that author as a "learned, proud, ingenious, foppish,
vain, self-deceived man," who "from Protestant connections deserted to
the Church of Rome, and thence to the faith of Tom Paine." And he
never delivered himself from this narrowness and ignorance. In the
time of his celebrity, he preferred what Sir Walter Scott called "the
genteeler religion of the two," the Episcopal. In his old age, his
idea of a proper sermon was incredibly narrow and provincial. He is
reported to have said, late in life:--

"Many of the ministers of the present day take their text
from St. Paul, and preach from the newspapers. When they do
so, I prefer to enjoy my own thoughts rather than to listen.
I want my pastor to come to me in the spirit of the Gospel,
saying, 'You are mortal! your probation is brief; your work
must be done speedily; you are immortal too. You are
hastening to the bar of God; the Judge standeth before the
door.' When I am thus admonished, I have no disposition to
muse or to sleep."

This does not accord with what is usually observed in our churches,
where sermons of the kind which Mr. Webster extolled dispose many
persons to sleep, though not to muse.

In the same unquestioning manner, he imbibed his father's political
prejudices. We hear this young Federalist call the Republican party
"the Jacobins," just as the reactionists and tories of the present day
speak of the present Republican party as "the radicals." It is amusing
to hear him, in 1802, predict the speedy restoration to power of a
party that was never again to taste its sweets. "Jacobinism and
iniquity," he wrote in his twentieth year, "are so allied in
signification, that the latter always follows the former, just as in
grammar 'the accusative case follows the transitive verb.'" He speaks
of a young friend as "too honest for a Democrat." As late as his
twenty-second year, he was wholly unreconciled to Napoleon, and still
wrote with truly English scorn of "Gallic tastes and Gallic
principles." There is a fine burst in one of his letters of 1804, when
he had been propelled by his brother to Boston to finish his law

"Jerome, the brother of the Emperor of the Gauls, is here;
every day you may see him whisking along Cornhill, with the
true French air, with his wife by his side. The lads say
that they intend to prevail on American misses to receive
company in future after the manner of Jerome's wife, that
is, in bed. The gentlemen of Boston (i.e. we Feds) treat
Monsieur with cold and distant respect. They feel, and every
honest man feels, indignant at seeing this lordly
grasshopper, this puppet in prince's clothes, dashing
through the American cities, luxuriously rioting on the
property of Dutch mechanics or Swiss peasants."

This last sentence, written when he was twenty-two years old, is the
first to be found in his published letters which tells anything of the
fire that was latent in him. He was of slow growth; he was forty-eight
years of age before his powers had reached their full development.

When he had nearly completed his studies for the bar, he was again
upon the point of abandoning the laborious career of a lawyer for a
life of obscurity and ease. On this occasion, it was the clerkship of
his father's court, salary fifteen hundred dollars a year, that
tempted him. He jumped at the offer, which promised an immediate
competency for the whole family, pinched and anxious for so many
years. He had no thought but to accept it. With the letter in his
hand, and triumphant joy in his face, he communicated the news to Mr.
Gore, his instructor in the law; thinking of nothing, he tells us, but
of "rushing to the immediate enjoyment of the proffered office." Mr.
Gore, however, exhibited a provoking coolness on the subject. He said
it was very civil in the judges to offer such a compliment to a
brother on the bench, and, of course, a respectful letter of
acknowledgment must be sent. The glowing countenance of the young man
fell at these most unexpected and unwelcome words. They were, to use
his own language, "a shower-bath of ice-water." The old lawyer,
observing his crestfallen condition, reasoned seriously with him, and
persuaded him, against his will, to continue his preparation, for the
bar. At every turning-point of his life, whenever he came to a parting
of the ways, one of which must be chosen and the other forsaken, he
required an impulse from without to push him into the path he was to
go. Except once! Once in his long public life, he seemed to venture
out alone on an unfamiliar road, and lost himself. Usually, when great
powers are conferred on a man, there is also given him a strong
propensity to exercise them, sufficient to carry him through all
difficulties to the suitable sphere. Here, on the contrary, there was
a Great Eastern with only a Cunarder's engine, and it required a tug
to get the great ship round to her course.

Admitted to the bar in his twenty-third year, he dutifully went home
to his father, and opened an office in a New Hampshire village near
by, resolved never again to leave the generous old man while he lived.
Before leaving Boston, he wrote to his friend Bingham, "If I am not
earning my bread and cheese in exactly nine days after my admission, I
shall certainly be a bankrupt";--and so, indeed, it proved. With great
difficulty, he "hired" eighty-five dollars as a capital to begin
business with, and this great sum was immediately lost in its transit
by stage. To any other young man in his situation, such a calamity
would have been, for the moment, crushing; but this young man,
indifferent to _meum_ as to _tuum_, informs his brother that he can in
no conceivable way replace the money, cannot therefore pay for the
books he had bought, believes he is earning his daily bread, and as to
the loss, he has "_no uneasy sensations on that account_." He
concludes his letter with an old song, beginning,

"Fol de dol, dol de dol, di dol,
I'll never make money my idol."

In the New Hampshire of 1805 there was no such thing possible as
leaping at once into a lucrative practice, nor even of slowly
acquiring it. A country lawyer who gained a thousand dollars a year
was among the most successful, and the leader of the bar in New
Hampshire could not earn two thousand. The chief employment of Daniel
Webster, during the first year or two of his practice, was collecting
debts due in New Hampshire to merchants in Boston. His first tin sign
has been preserved to the present day, to attest by its minuteness and
brevity the humble expectations of its proprietor. "D. Webster,
Attorney," is the inscription it bears. The old Court-House still
stands in which he conducted his first suit, before his own father as
presiding judge. Old men in that part of New Hampshire were living
until within these few years, who remembered well seeing this tall,
gaunt, and large-eyed young lawyer rise slowly, as though scarcely
able to get upon his feet, and giving to every one the impression that
he would soon be obliged to sit down from mere physical weakness, and
saying to his father, for the first and last time, "May it please your
Honor." The sheriff of the county, who was also a Webster, used to say
that he felt ashamed to see the family represented at the bar by so
lean and feeble a young man. The tradition is, that he acquitted
himself so well on this occasion that the sheriff was satisfied, and
clients came, with their little suits and smaller fees, in
considerable numbers, to the office of D. Webster, Attorney, who
thenceforth in the country round went by the name of "All-eyes." His
father never heard him speak again. He lived to see Daniel in
successful practice, and Ezekiel a student of law, and died in 1806,
prematurely old. Daniel Webster practised three years in the country,
and then, resigning his business to his brother, established himself
at Portsmouth, the seaport of New Hampshire, then a place of much
foreign commerce. Ezekiel had had a most desperate struggle with
poverty. At one time, when the family, as Daniel observed, was
"heinously unprovided," we see the much-enduring "Zeke" teaching an
Academy by day, an evening school for sailors, and keeping well up
with his class in college besides. But these preliminary troubles were
now at an end, and both the brothers took the places won by so much
toil and self-sacrifice.

Those are noble old towns on the New England coast, the commerce of
which Boston swallowed up forty years ago, while it left behind many a
large and liberally provided old mansion, with a family in it enriched
by ventures to India and China. Strangers in Portsmouth are still
struck by the largeness and elegance of the residences there, and
wonder how such establishments can be maintained in a place that has
little "visible means of support." It was while Portsmouth was an
important seaport that Daniel Webster learned and practised law there,
and acquired some note as a Federalist politician.

The once celebrated Dr. Buckminster was the minister of the
Congregational church at Portsmouth then. One Sunday morning in 1808,
his eldest daughter sitting alone in the minister's pew, a strange
gentleman was shown into it, whose appearance and demeanor strongly
arrested her attention. The slenderness of his frame, the pale yellow
of his complexion, and the raven blackness of his hair, seemed only to
bring out into grander relief his ample forehead, and to heighten the
effect of his deep-set, brilliant eyes. At this period of his life
there was an air of delicacy and refinement about his face, joined to
a kind of strength that women can admire, without fearing. Miss
Buckminster told the family, when she went home from church, that
there had been a remarkable person with her in the pew,--one that she
was sure had "a marked character for good or evil." A few days after,
the remarkable person came to live in the neighborhood, and was soon
introduced to the minister's family as Mr. Daniel Webster, from
Franklin, New Hampshire, who was about to open a law office in
Portsmouth. He soon endeared himself to every person in the minister's
circle, and to no one more than to the minister himself, who, among
other services, taught him the art of preserving his health. The young
man, like the old clergyman, was an early riser, up with the dawn in
summer, and long before the dawn in winter; and both were out of doors
with the sun, each at one end of a long saw, cutting wood for an
appetite. The joyous, uncouth singing and shouting of the newcomer
aroused the late sleepers. Then in to breakfast, where the homely,
captivating humor of the young lawyer kept the table in a roar, and
detained every inmate. "Never was there such an actor lost to the
stage," Jeremiah Mason, his only rival at the New Hampshire bar, used
to say, "as he would have made." Returning in the afternoon from
court, fatigued and languid, his spirits rose again with food and
rest, and the evening was another festival of conversation and
reading. A few months after his settlement at Portsmouth he visited
his native hills, saying nothing respecting the object of his journey;
and returned with a wife,--that gentle and high-bred lady, a
clergyman's daughter, who was the chief source of the happiness of his
happiest years, and the mother of all his children. He improved in
health, his form expanded, his mind grew, his talents ripened, his
fame spread, during the nine years of his residence at this thriving
and pleasant town.

At Portsmouth, too, he had precisely that external stimulus to
exertion which his large and pleasure-loving nature needed. Jeremiah
Mason was, literally speaking, the giant of the American bar, for he
stood six feet seven inches in his stockings. Like Webster, he was the
son of a valiant Revolutionary officer; like Webster, he was an
hereditary Federalist; like Webster, he had a great mass of brain: but
his mind was more active and acquisitive than Webster's, and his
nineteen years of arduous practice at the bar had stored his memory
with knowledge and given him dexterity in the use of it. Nothing shows
the eminence of Webster's talents more than this, that, very early in
his Portsmouth career, he should have been regarded at the bar of New
Hampshire as the man to be employed against Jeremiah Mason, and his
only fit antagonist. Mason was a vigilant, vigorous opponent,--sure to
be well up in the law and the facts of a cause, sure to detect a flaw
in the argument of opposing counsel. It was in keen encounters with
this wary and learned man that Daniel Webster learned his profession;
and this he always acknowledged. "If," he said once in conversation,--

"if anybody thinks I am somewhat familiar with the law on
some points, and should be curious to know how it happened,
tell him that Jeremiah Mason compelled me to study it. _He_
was my master."

It is honorable, too, to both of them, that, rivals as they were, they
were fast and affectionate friends, each valuing in the other the
qualities in which he was surpassed by him, and each sincerely
believing that the other was the first man of his time and country.
"They say," in Portsmouth, that Mason did not shrink from
remonstrating with his friend upon his carelessness with regard to
money; but, finding the habit inveterate and the man irresistible,
desisted. Webster himself says that two thousand dollars a year was
all that the best practice in New Hampshire could be made to yield;
and that that was inadequate to the support of his family of a wife
and three little children. Two thousand dollars in Portsmouth, in
1812, was certainly equal, in purchasing power, to six thousand of the
ineffectual things that now pass by the name of dollars; and upon such
an income large families in a country town contrive to live, ride, and

He was a strenuous Federalist at Portsmouth, took a leading part in
the public meetings of the party, and won great distinction as its
frequent Fourth-of-July orator. All those mild and economical measures
by which Mr. Jefferson sought to keep the United States from being
drawn into the roaring vortex of the great wars in Europe, he opposed,
and favored the policy of preparing the country for defence, not by
gunboats and embargoes, but by a powerful navy of frigates and ships
of the line. His Fourth-of-July orations, if we may judge of them by
the fragments that have been found, show that his mind had
strengthened more than it had advanced. His style wonderfully improved
from eighteen to twenty-five; and he tells us himself why it did. He
discovered, he says, that the value, as well as the force, of a
sentence, depends chiefly upon its meaning, not its language; and that
great writing is that in which much is said in few words, and those
words the simplest that will answer the purpose. Having made this
notable discovery, he became a great eraser of adjectives, and toiled
after simplicity and directness. Mr. Everett quotes a few sentences
from his Fourth-of-July oration of 1806, when he was twenty-four,
which shows an amazing advance upon the effort of his eighteenth year,
quoted above:--

"Nothing is plainer than this: if we will have commerce, we
must protect it. This country is commercial as well as
agricultural. _Indissoluble bonds connect him who ploughs
the land with him who ploughs the sea_. Nature has placed us
in a situation favorable to commercial pursuits, and no
government can alter the destination. Habits confirmed by
two centuries are not to be changed. An immense portion of
our property is on the waves. Sixty or eighty thousand of
our most useful citizens are there, and are entitled to such
protection from the government as their case requires."

How different this compact directness from the tremendous fulmination
of the Dartmouth junior, who said:--

"Columbia stoops not to tyrants; her spirit will never
cringe to France; neither a supercilious, five-headed
Directory nor the gasconading pilgrim of Egypt will ever
dictate terms to sovereign America. The thunder of our
cannon shall insure the performance of our treaties, and
fulminate destruction on Frenchmen, till the ocean is
crimsoned with blood and gorged with pirates!"

The Fourth-of-July oration, which afterwards fell into some disrepute,
had great importance in the earlier years of the Republic, when
Revolutionary times and perils were fresh in the recollection of the
people. The custom arose of assigning this duty to young men covetous
of distinction, and this led in time to the flighty rhetoric which
made sounding emptiness and a Fourth-of-July oration synonymous terms.
The feeling that was real and spontaneous in the sons of Revolutionary
soldiers was sometimes feigned or exaggerated in the young law
students of the next generation, who had merely read the history of
the Revolution. But with all the faults of those compositions, they
were eminently serviceable to the country. We believe that to them is
to be attributed a considerable part of that patriotic feeling which,
after a suspended animation of several years, awoke in the spring of
1861 and asserted itself with such unexpected power, and which
sustained the country during four years of a peculiarly disheartening
war. How pleasant and spirit-stirring was a celebration of the Fourth
of July as it was conducted in Webster's early day! We trust the old
customs will be revived and improved upon, and become universal. Nor
is it any objection to the practice of having an oration, that the
population is too large to be reached in that way; for if only a
thousand hear, a million may read. Nor ought we to object if the
orator _is_ a little more flowery and boastful than becomes an
ordinary occasion. There is a time to exult; there is a time to
abandon ourselves to pleasant recollections and joyous hopes.
Therefore, we say, let the young men reappear upon the platform, and
show what metal they are made of by giving the best utterance they can
to the patriotic feelings of the people on the national anniversary.
The Republic is safe so long as we celebrate that day in the spirit of
1776 and 1861.

At least we may assert that it was Mr. Webster's Fourth-of-July
orations, of which he delivered five in eleven years, that first made
him known to the people of New Hampshire. At that period the two
political parties could not unite in the celebration of the day, and
accordingly the orations of Mr. Webster had much in them that could be
agreeable only to Federalists. He was an occasional speaker, too, in
those years, at meetings of Federalists, where his power as an orator
was sometimes exerted most effectively. No speaker could be better
adapted to a New England audience, accustomed from of old to weighty,
argumentative sermons, delivered with deliberate, unimpassioned
earnestness. There are many indications that a speech by Daniel
Webster in Portsmouth in 1810 excited as much expectation and comment
as a speech by the same person in the Senate twenty years after. But
he was a mere Federalist partisan,--no more. It does not appear that
he had anything to offer to his countrymen beyond the stately
expression of party issues; and it was as a Federalist, pure and
simple, that he was elected, in 1812, a member of the House of
Representatives, after a keenly contested party conflict. His majority
over the Republican candidate was 2,546,--the whole number of voters
being 34,648.

The Federalists, from 1801 to 1825, were useful to the country only as
an Opposition,--just as the present Tory party in England can be only
serviceable in its capacity of critic and holdback. The Federalists
under John Adams had sinned past forgiveness; while the Republican
party, strong in being right, in the ability of its chiefs, in its
alliance with Southern aristocrats, and in having possession of the
government, was strong also in the odium and inconsistencies of its
opponents. Nothing could shake the confidence of the people in the
administration of Thomas Jefferson. But the stronger a party is, the
more it needs an Opposition,--as we saw last winter in Washington,
when the minority was too insignificant in numbers and ability to keep
the too powerful majority from doing itself such harm as might have
been fatal to it but for the President's well-timed antics. Next to a
sound and able majority, the great need of a free country is a
vigorous, vigilant, audacious, numerous minority. Better a factious
and unscrupulous minority than none at all. The Federalists, who could
justly claim to have among them a very large proportion of the rich
men and the educated men of the country, performed the humble but
useful service of keeping an eye upon, the measures of the
administration, and finding fault with every one of them. Daniel
Webster, however, was wont to handle only the large topics. While Mr.
Jefferson was struggling to keep the peace with Great Britain, he
censured the policy as timorous, costly, and ineffectual; but when Mr.
Madison declared war against that power, he deemed the act unnecessary
and rash. His opposition to the war was never carried to the point of
giving aid and comfort to the enemy; it was such an opposition as
patriotic "War Democrats" exhibited during the late Rebellion, who
thought the war might have been avoided, and ought to be conducted
more vigorously, but nevertheless stood by their country without a
shadow of swerving.

He could boast, too, that from his boyhood to the outbreak of the war
he had advocated the building of the very ships which gave the infant
nation its first taste of warlike glory. The Republicans of that time,
forgetful of what Paul Jones and others of Dr. Franklin's captains had
done in the war of the Revolution, supposed that, because England had
a thousand ships in commission, and America only seventeen, therefore
an American ship could not venture out of a harbor without being
taken. We have often laughed at Colonel Benton's ludicrous confession
of his own terrors on this subject.

"Political men," he says,

"believed nothing could be done at sea but to lose the few
vessels which we had; that even cruising was out of the
question. Of our seventeen vessels, the whole were in port
but one; and it was determined to keep them there, and the
one at sea with them, if it had the luck to get in. I am
under no obligation to make the admission, but I am free to
acknowledge that I was one of those who supposed that there
was no salvation for our seventeen men-of-war but to run
them as far up the creek as possible, place them under the
guns of batteries, and collect camps of militia about them
to keep off the British. This was the policy at the day of
the declaration of the war; and I have the less concern to
admit myself to have been participator in the delusion,
because I claim the merit of having profited from
experience,--happy if I could transmit the lesson to
posterity. Two officers came to Washington,--Bainbridge and
Stewart. They spoke with Mr. Madison, and urged the
feasibility of cruising. One half of the whole number of the
British men-of-war were under the class of frigates,
consequently no more than matches for some of our seventeen;
the whole of her merchant marine (many thousands) were
subject to capture. Here was a rich field for cruising; and
the two officers, for themselves and brothers, boldly
proposed to enter it.

"Mr. Madison had seen the efficiency of cruising and
privateering, even against Great Britain, and in our then
infantile condition, during the war of the Revolution; and
besides was a man of sense, and amenable to judgment and
reason. He listened to the two experienced and valiant
officers; and without consulting Congress, which perhaps
would have been a fatal consultation (for multitude of
counsellors is not the counsel for _bold_ decision),
reversed the policy which had been resolved upon; and, in
his supreme character of constitutional commander of the
army and navy, ordered every ship that could cruise to get
to sea as soon as possible. This I had from Mr. Monroe."

This is a curious example of the blinding effect of partisan strife,
and of the absolute need of an Opposition. It was the hereditary
prejudice of the Republicans against the navy, as an "aristocratic"
institution, and the hereditary love of the navy cherished by the
Federalists as being something stable and British, that enlivened the
debates of the war. The Federalists had their way, but failed to win a
partisan advantage from the fact, through their factious opposition to
the military measures of the administration. Because the first attempt
at the seizure of Canada had failed through the incompetency of
General Hull, which no wisdom of man could have foreseen, Daniel
Webster called upon the government to discontinue all further attempts
on the land, and fight the war out on the sea. "Give up your futile
projects of invasion," said he in 1814.

"Extinguish the fires that blaze on your inland borders."
"Unclench the iron grasp of your embargo." "With all the war
of the enemy on your commerce, if you would cease to make
war upon it yourselves, you would still have some commerce.
That commerce would give you some revenue. Apply that
revenue to the augmentation of your navy. That navy, in
turn, will protect your commerce."

In war time, however, there are _two_ powers that have to do with the
course of events; and very soon the enemy, by his own great scheme of
invasion, decided the policy of the United States. Every port was
blockaded so effectively that a pilot-boat could not safely go out of
sight of land, and a frigate was captured within sight of it. These
vigilant blockaders, together with the threatening armament which
finally attacked New Orleans, compelled every harbor to prepare for
defence, and most effectually refuted Mr. Webster's speech. The "blaze
of glory" with which the war ended at New Orleans consumed all the
remaining prestige of the Federalist party, once so powerful, so
respectable, and so arrogant.

A member of the anti-war party during the existence of a war occupies
a position which can only cease to be insignificant by the misfortunes
of his country. But when we turn from the partisan to the man, we
perceive that Daniel Webster was a great presence in the House, and
took rank immediately with the half-dozen ablest debaters. His
self-possession was perfect at all times, and at thirty-three he was
still in the spring and first lustre of his powers. His weighty and
deliberate manner, the brevity, force, and point of his sentences, and
the moderation of his gestures, were all in strong contrast to the
flowing, loose, impassioned manner of the Southern orators, who ruled
the House. It was something like coming upon a stray number of the old
Edinburgh Review in a heap of novels and Ladies' Magazines.
Chief-Justice Marshall, who heard his first speech, being himself a
Federalist, was so much delighted to hear his own opinions expressed
with such power and dignity, that he left the House, believing that
this stranger from far-off New Hampshire was destined to become, as he
said, "one of the very first statesmen of America, and perhaps the
very first." His Washington fame gave him new _eclat_ at home. He was
re-elected, and came back to Congress in 1815, to aid the Federalists
in preventing the young Republicans from being too Federal.

This last sentence slipped from the pen unawares; but, ridiculous as
it looks, it does actually express the position and vocation of the
Federalists after the peace of 1815. Clay, Calhoun, Story, Adams, and
the Republican majority in Congress, taught by the disasters of the
war, as they supposed, had embraced the ideas of the old Federalist
party, and were preparing to carry some of them to an extreme. The
navy had no longer an enemy. The strict constructionists had dwindled
to a few impracticables, headed by John Randolph. The younger
Republicans were disposed to a liberal, if not to a latitudinarian
construction of the Constitution. In short, they were Federalists and
Hamiltonians, bank men, tariff men, internal-improvement men. Then was
afforded to the country the curious spectacle of Federalists opposing
the measures which had been among the rallying-cries of their party
for twenty years. It was not in Daniel Webster's nature to be a
leader; it was morally impossible for him to disengage himself from
party ties. This exquisite and consummate artist in oratory, who could
give such weighty and brilliant expression to the feelings of his
hearers and the doctrines of his party, had less originating power,
whether of intellect or of will, than any other man of equal eminence
that ever lived. He adhered to the fag end of the old party, until it
was absorbed, unavoidably, with scarcely an effort of its own, in
Adams and Clay. From 1815 to 1825 he was in opposition, and in
opposition to old Federalism revived; and, consequently, we believe
that posterity will decide that his speeches of this period are the
only ones relating to details of policy which have the slightest
permanent value. In fact, his position in Congress, as a member of a
very small band of Federalists who had no hope of regaining power, was
the next thing to being independent, and he made an excellent use of
his advantage.

That Bank of the United States, for example, of which, in 1832, he was
the ablest defender, and for a renewal of which he strove for ten
years, he voted _against_ in 1816; and for reasons which neither he
nor any other man ever refuted. His speeches criticising the various
bank schemes of 1815 and 1816 were serviceable to the public, and made
the bank, as finally established, less harmful than it might have

So of the tariff. On this subject, too, he always followed,--never
led. So long as there was a Federal party, he, as a member of it,
opposed Mr. Clay's protective, or (as Mr. Clay delighted to term it)
"American system." When, in 1825, the few Federalists in the House
voted for Mr. Adams, and were merged in the "conservative wing" of the
Republican party, which became, in time, the Whig party, then, and
from that time forward to the end of his life, he was a protectionist.
His anti-protection speech of 1824 is wholly in the modern spirit, and
takes precisely the ground since taken by Ricardo, John Stuart Mill,
and others of the new school. It is so excellent a statement of the
true policy of the United States with regard to protection, that we
have often wondered it has been allowed to sleep so long in the tomb
of his works. And, oh! from what evils might we have been
spared,--nullification, surplus-revenue embarrassments, hot-bed
manufactures, clothing three times its natural price,--if the
protective legislation of Congress had been inspired by the Webster of
1824, instead of the Clay! Unimportant as this great speech may now
seem, as it lies uncut in the third volume of its author's speeches,
its unturned leaves sticking together, yet we can say of it, that the
whole course of American history had been different if its counsels
had been followed. The essence of the speech is contained in two of
its phrases: "Freedom of trade, the general principle; restriction,
the exception." Free trade, the object to be aimed at; protection, a
temporary expedient. Free trade, the interest of all nations;
protection, the occasional necessity of one. Free trade, the final and
universal good; protection, the sometimes necessary evil. Free trade,
as soon as possible and as complete as possible; protection, as little
as possible and as short as possible. The speech was delivered in
reply to Mr. Clay; and, viewed merely _as_ a reply, it is difficult to
conceive of one more triumphant. Mr. Webster was particularly happy in
turning Mr. Clay's historical illustrations against him, especially
those drawn from the history of the English silk manufacture, and the
Spanish system of restriction and prohibition. Admitting fully that
manufactures the most unsuited to the climate, soil, and genius of a
country _could_ be created by protection, he showed that such
manufactures were not, upon the whole, and in the long run, a benefit
to a country; and adduced, for an illustration, the very instance
cited by Mr. Clay,--the silk manufacture of England,--which kept fifty
thousand persons in misery, and necessitated the continuance of a kind
of legislation which the intelligence of Great Britain had outgrown.
Is not the following brief passage an almost exhaustive statement of
the true American policy?

"I know it would be very easy to promote manufactures, at
least for a time, but probably for a short time only, if we
might act in disregard of other interests. We _could_ cause
a sudden transfer of capital and a violent change in the
pursuits of men. We _could_ exceedingly benefit some classes
by these means. But what then becomes of the interests of
others? The power of collecting revenue by duties on
imports, and the habit of the government of collecting
almost its whole revenue, in that mode, will enable us,
without exceeding the bounds of moderation, to give great
advantages to those classes of manufactures which we may
think most useful to promote at home."

One of his happy retorts upon Mr. Clay was the following:--

"I will be so presumptuous as to take up a challenge which
Mr. Speaker has thrown down. He has asked us, in a tone of
interrogatory indicative of the feeling of anticipated
triumph, to mention any country in which manufactures have
flourished without the aid of prohibitory laws.... Sir, I am
ready to answer this inquiry.

"There is a country, not undistinguished among the nations,
in which the progress of manufactures has been more rapid
than in any other, and yet unaided by prohibitions or
unnatural restrictions. That country, the happiest which the
sun shines on, is our own."

Again, Mr. Clay had made the rash remark that it would cost the
nation, _as_ a nation, nothing to convert our ore into iron. Mr.
Webster's reply to this seems to us eminently worthy of consideration
at the present moment, and at every moment when the tariff is a topic
of debate.

"I think," said he, "it would cost us precisely what we can
least afford, that is, _great labor_.... Of manual labor no
nation has more than a certain quantity; nor can it be
increased at will.... A most important question for every
nation, as well as for every individual, to propose to
itself, is, how it can best apply that quantity of labor
which it is able to perform.... Now, with respect to the
quantity of labor, as we all know, different nations are
differently circumstanced. Some need, more than anything,
work for hands; _others require hands for work_; and if we
ourselves are not absolutely in the latter class, we are
still, most fortunately, very near it."

The applicability of these observations to the present condition of
affairs in the United States--labor very scarce, and protectionists
clamoring to make it scarcer--must be apparent to every reader.

But this was the last of Mr. Webster's efforts in behalf of the
freedom of trade. In the spring of 1825, when it devolved upon the
House of Representatives to elect a President, the few Federalists
remaining in the House became, for a few days, an important body. Mr.
Webster had an hereditary love for the house of Adams; and the aged
Jefferson himself had personally warned him against Andrew Jackson.
Webster it was who, in an interview with Mr. Adams, obtained such
assurances as determined the Federalists to give their vote for the
New England candidate; and thus terminated the existence of the great
party which Hamilton had founded, with which Washington had
sympathized, which had ruled the country for twelve years, and
maintained a vigorous and useful opposition for a quarter of a
century. Daniel Webster was in opposition no longer. He was a defender
of the administration of Adams and Clay, supported all their important
measures, and voted for, nay, advocated, the Tariff Bill of 1828,
which went far beyond that of 1824 in its protective provisions.
Taunted with such a remarkable and sudden change of opinion, he said
that, New England having been compelled by the act of 1824 to transfer
a large part of her capital from commerce to manufactures, he was
bound, as her representative, to demand the continuance of the system.
Few persons, probably, who heard him give this reason for his
conversion, believed it was the true one; and few will ever believe it
who shall intimately know the transactions of that winter in
Washington. But if it _was_ the true reason, Mr. Webster, in giving
it, ruled himself out of the rank of the Great,--who, in every age and
land, lead, not follow, their generation. In his speech of 1824 he
objects to the protective system on _general_ principles, applicable
to every case not clearly exceptional; and the further Congress was
disposed to carry an erroneous system, the more was he bound to lift
up his voice against it. It seems to us that, when he abandoned the
convictions of his own mind and took service under Mr. Clay, he
descended (to use the fine simile of the author of "Felix Holt") from
the rank of heroes to that of the multitude for whom heroes fight. He
was a protectionist, thenceforth, as long as he lived. If he was right
in 1824, how wrong he was in 1846! In 1824 he pointed to the high
wages of American mechanics as a proof that the protective system was
unnecessary; and he might have quoted Adam Smith to show that, in
1770, wages in the Colonies were just as high, compared with wages in
Europe, as in 1824. In 1846 he attributed high wages in America to the
operation of the protective system. In 1824 free trade was the good,
and restriction the evil; in 1846 restriction was the good, and free
trade the evil.

Practical wisdom, indeed, was not in this man. He was not formed to
guide, but to charm, impress, and rouse mankind. His advocacy of the
Greek cause, in 1824, events have shown to be unwise; but his speech
on this subject contains some passages so exceedingly fine, noble, and
harmonious, that we do not believe they have ever been surpassed in
extempore speech by any man but himself. The passage upon Public
Opinion, for example, is always read with delight, even by those who
can call to mind the greatest number of instances of its apparent

"The time has been, indeed, when fleets, and armies, and
subsidies were the principal reliances, even in the best
cause. But, happily for mankind, a great change has taken
place in this respect. Moral causes come into consideration
in proportion as the progress of knowledge is advanced; and
the public opinion of the civilized world is rapidly gaining
an ascendency over mere brutal force.... It may be silenced
by military power, but it cannot be conquered. It is
elastic, irrepressible, and invulnerable to the weapons of
ordinary warfare. It is that impassible, unextinguishable
enemy of mere violence and arbitrary rule, which, like
Milton's angels,

"'Vital in every part,...
Cannot, but by annihilating, die.'

"Until this be propitiated or satisfied, it is vain for power
to talk either of triumphs or of repose. No matter what
fields are desolated, what fortresses surrendered, what
armies subdued, or what provinces overrun.... There is an
enemy that still exists to check the glory of these
triumphs. It follows the conqueror back to the very scene of
his ovations; it calls upon him to take notice that Europe,
though silent, is yet indignant; it shows him that the
sceptre of his victory is a barren sceptre; that it shall
confer neither joy nor honor; but shall moulder to dry ashes
in his grasp. In the midst of his exultation, it pierces his
ear with the cry of injured justice; it denounces against
him the indignation of an enlightened and civilized age; it
turns to bitterness the cup of his rejoicing, and wounds him
with the sting which belongs to the consciousness of having
outraged the opinion of mankind."--_Works_, Vol. III. pp.
77, 78.

Yes: if the conqueror bad the moral feeling which inspired this
passage, and if the cry of injured justice could pierce the flattering
din of office-seekers surrounding him. But, reading the paragraph as
the expression of a _hope_ of what may one day be, how grand and
consoling it is! The information given in this fine oration respecting
the condition of Greece and the history of her struggle for
independence was provided for him by the industry of his friend,
Edward Everett.

One of the minor triumphs of Mr. Webster's early Congressional life
was his conquest of the heart of John Randolph. In the course of a
debate on the sugar tax, in 1816, Mr. Webster had the very common
fortune of offending the irascible member from Virginia, and Mr.
Randolph, as his custom was, demanded an explanation of the offensive
words. Explanation was refused by the member from Massachusetts;
whereupon Mr. Randolph demanded "the satisfaction which his insulted
feelings required." Mr. Webster's reply to this preposterous demand
was everything that it ought to have been. He told Mr. Randolph that
he had no right to an explanation, and that the temper and style of
the demand were such as to forbid its being conceded as a matter of
courtesy. He denied, too, the right of any man to call him to the
field for what he might please to consider an insult to his feelings,
although he should be "always prepared to repel in a suitable manner
the aggression of any man who may presume upon such a refusal." The
eccentric Virginian was so much pleased with Mr. Webster's bearing
upon this occasion, that he manifested a particular regard for him,
and pronounced him a very able man for a Yankee.

It was during these years that Daniel Webster became dear, beyond all
other men of his time, to the people of New England. Removing to
Boston in 1816, and remaining out of Congress for some years, he won
the first place at the New England bar, and a place equal to the
foremost at the bar of the Supreme Court of the United States. Not one
of his legal arguments has been exactly reported, and some of the most
important of them we possess merely in outline; but in such reports as
we have, the weight and clearness of his mind are abundantly apparent.
In almost every argument of his, there can be found digressions which
relieve the strained attention of the bench, and please the unlearned
hearer; and he had a happy way of suddenly crystallizing his argument
into one luminous phrase, which often seemed to prove his case by
merely stating it. Thus, in the Dartmouth College case, he made a rare
display of learning (furnished him by associate counsel, he tells us);
but his argument is concentrated in two of his simplest sentences:--1.
The endowment of a college is private property; 2. The charter of a
college is that which constitutes its endowment private property. The
Supreme Court accepted these two propositions, and thus secured to
every college in the country its right to its endowment. This seems
too simple for argument, but it cost a prodigious and powerfully
contested lawsuit to reduce the question to this simplicity; and it
was Webster's large, calm, and discriminating glance which detected
these two fundamental truths in the mountain mass of testimony,
argument, and judicial decision. In arguing the great steamboat case,
too, he displayed the same qualities of mind. New York having granted
to Livingston and Fulton the exclusive right to navigate her waters by
steamboats, certain citizens of New Jersey objected, and, after a
fierce struggle upon the waters themselves, transferred the contest to
the Supreme Court. Mr. Webster said: "The commerce of the United
States, under the Constitution of 1787, is a unit," and "what we call
the waters of the State of New York are, for the purposes of
navigation and commerce, the waters of the United States"; therefore
no State can grant exclusive privileges. The Supreme Court affirmed
this to be the true doctrine, and thenceforth Captain Cornelius
Vanderbilt ran his steamboat without feeling it necessary, on
approaching New York, to station a lady at the helm and to hide
himself in the hold. Along with this concentrating power, Mr. Webster
possessed, as every school-boy knows, a fine talent for amplification
and narrative. His narration of the murder of Captain White was almost
enough of itself to hang a man.

But it was not his substantial services to his country which drew upon
him the eyes of all New England, and made him dear to every son of the
Pilgrims. In 1820, the Pilgrim Society of Plymouth celebrated the
anniversary of the landing of their forefathers in America. At the
dinner of the Society, that day, every man found beside his plate five
kernels of corn, to remind him of the time when that was the daily
allowance of the settlers, and it devolved upon Daniel Webster to show
how worthy they were of better fare. His address on this anniversary
is but an amplification of his Junior Fourth-of-July oration of 1800;
but what an amplification! It differed from that youthful essay as the
first flights of a young eagle, from branch to branch upon its native
tree, differ from the sweep of his wings when he takes a continent in
his flight, and swings from mountain range to mountain range. We are
aware that eulogy is, of all the kinds of composition, the easiest to
execute in a tolerable manner. What Mr. Everett calls "patriotic
eloquence" should usually be left to persons who are in the gushing
time of life; for when men address men, they should say something,
clear up something, help forward something, accomplish something. It
is not becoming in a full-grown man to utter melodious wind.
Nevertheless, it can be truly said of this splendid and irresistible
oration, that it carries that kind of composition as far as we can
ever expect to see it carried, even in this its native land. What a
triumphant joy it must have been to an audience, accustomed for three
or four generations to regard preaching as the noblest work of man,
keenly susceptible to all the excellences of uttered speech, and who
now heard their plain old fathers and grandfathers praised in such
massive and magnificent English! Nor can it be said that this speech
says nothing. In 1820 it was still part of the industry of New England
to fabricate certain articles required by slave-traders in their
hellish business; and there were still descendants of the Pilgrims who
were actually engaged in the traffic.

"If there be," exclaimed the orator,

"within the extent of our knowledge or influence any
participation in this traffic, let us pledge ourselves here,
upon the rock of Plymouth, to extirpate and destroy it. It
is not fit that the land of the Pilgrims should bear the
shame longer. I hear the sound of the hammer, I see the
smoke of the furnaces where manacles and fetters are still
forged for human limbs. I see the visages of those who by
stealth and at midnight labor in this work of hell, foul and
dark, as may become the artificers of such instruments of
misery and torture. Let that spot be purified, or let it
cease to be of New England."--_Works_, Vol. I. pp. 45, 46.

And he proceeds, in language still more energetic, to call upon his
countrymen to purge their land of this iniquity. This oration, widely
circulated through the press, gave the orator universal celebrity in
the Northern States, and was one of the many causes which secured his
continuance in the national councils.

Such was his popularity in Boston, that, in 1824, he was re-elected to
Congress by 4,990 votes out of 5,000; and such was his celebrity in
his profession, that his annual retainers from banks, insurance
companies, and mercantile firms yielded an income that would have
satisfied most lawyers even of great eminence.

Those were not the times of five-thousand-dollar fees. As late as
1819, as we see in Mr. Webster's books, he gave "advice" in important
cases for twenty dollars; his regular retaining fee was fifty dollars;
his "annual retainer," one hundred dollars; his whole charge for
conducting a cause rarely exceeded five hundred dollars; and the
income of a whole year averaged about twenty thousand dollars. Twenty
years later, he has gained a larger sum than that by the trial of a
single cause; but in 1820 such an income was immense, and probably not
exceeded by that of any other American lawyer. Most lawyers in the
United States, he once said, "live well, work hard, and die poor"; and
this is particularly likely to be the case with lawyers who spend six
months of the year in Congress.

Northern members of Congress, from the foundation of the government,
have usually gratified their ambition only by the sacrifice of their
interests. The Congress of the United States, modelled upon the
Parliament of Great Britain, finds in the North no suitable class of
men who can afford to be absent from their affairs half the year. We
should naturally choose to be represented in Washington by men
distinguished in their several spheres; but in the North, almost all
such persons are so involved in business that they cannot accept a
seat in Congress, except at the peril of their fortune; and this
inconvenience is aggravated by the habits that prevail at the seat of
government. In the case of a lawyer like Daniel Webster, who has a
large practice in the Supreme Court, the difficulty is diminished,
because he can usually attend the court without seriously neglecting
his duties in Congress,--usually, but not always. There was one year
in the Congressional life of Mr. Webster when he was kept out of the
Supreme Court for four months by the high duty that devolved upon him
of refuting Calhoun's nullification subtilties; but even in that year,
his professional income was more than seven thousand dollars; and he
ought by that time, after thirty years of most successful practice, to
have been independent of his profession. He was not, however; and
never would have been, if he had practised a century. Those habits of
profusion, that reckless disregard of pecuniary considerations, of
which we noticed indications in his early days, seemed to be part of
his moral constitution. He never appeared to know how much money he
had, nor how much he owed; and, what was worse, he never appeared to
care. He was a profuse giver and a careless payer. It was far easier
for him to send a hundred-dollar note in reply to a begging letter,
than it was to discharge a long-standing account; and when he had
wasted his resources in extravagant and demoralizing gifts, he deemed
it a sufficient answer to a presented bill to ask his creditor how a
man could pay money who had none.

It is not true, therefore, that the frequent embarrassments of his
later years were due to the loss of practice by his attendance in
Congress; because, in the years when his professional gains were
smallest, his income was large enough for the wants of any reasonable
man. Nevertheless, we cannot deny that when, in 1827, by his
acceptance of a seat in the Senate, he gave himself permanently to
public life, he made a sacrifice of his pecuniary interests which, for
a man of such vast requirements and uncalculating habits, was very

But his reward was also very great. On that elevated theatre he soon
found an opportunity for the display of his talents, which, while it
honored and served his country, rendered him the foremost man in that
part of it where such talents as his could be appreciated.

All wars of which we have any knowledge have consisted of two parts:
first, a war of words; secondly, the conflict of arms. The war of
words which issued in the late Rebellion began, in 1828, by the
publication of Mr. Calhoun's first paper upon Nullification, called
the South Carolina Exposition; and it ended in April, 1861, when
President Lincoln issued his call for seventy-five thousand troops,
which excited so much merriment at Montgomery. This was a period of
thirty-three years, during which every person in the United States who
could use either tongue or pen joined in the strife of words, and
contributed his share either toward hastening or postponing the final
appeal to the sword. Men fight with one another, says Dr. Franklin,
because they have not sense enough to settle their disputes in any
other way; and when once they have begun, never stop killing one
another as long as they have money enough "to pay the butchers." So it
appeared in our case. Of all the men who took part in this preliminary
war of words, Daniel Webster was incomparably the ablest. He seemed
charged with a message and a mission to the people of the United
States; and almost everything that he said in his whole life of real
value has reference to that message and that mission. The necessity of
the Union of these States, the nature of the tie that binds them
together, the means by which alone that tie can be kept strong,--this
was what he came charged to impart to us; and when he had fully
delivered this message, he had done his work. His numberless speeches
upon the passing questions of the day,--tariff, Bank, currency,
Sub-treasury, and the rest,--in which the partisan spoke rather than
the man may have had their value at the time, but there is little in
them of durable worth. Those of them which events have not refuted,
time has rendered obsolete. No general principles are established in
them which can be applied to new cases. Indeed, he used often to
assert that there _were_ no general principles in practical
statesmanship, but that the government of nations is, and must be, a
series of expedients. Several times, in his published works, can be
found the assertion, that there is no such thing as a science of
political economy, though he says he had "turned over" all the authors
on that subject from Adam Smith to his own time. It is when he speaks
of the Union and the Constitution, and when he is rousing the
sentiment of nationality, that he utters, not, indeed, eternal truths,
but truths necessary to the existence of the United States, and which
can only become obsolete when the nation is no more.

The whole of his previous life had been an unconscious preparation for
these great debates. It was one of the recollections of his childhood,
that, in his eighth year, he had bought a handkerchief upon which was
printed the Constitution of 1787, which he then read through; and
while he was a farmer's boy at home, the great question of its
acceptance or rejection had been decided. His father's party was the
party for the Constitution, whose only regret concerning it was, that
it was not so much of a constitution as they wished it to be. The
Republicans dwelt upon its defects and dangers; the Federalists, upon
its advantages and beauties: so that all that this receptive lad heard
of it at his father's fireside was of its value and necessity. We see
in his youthful orations that nothing in the history of the continent
struck his imagination so powerfully as the spectacle of thirty-eight
gentlemen meeting in a quiet city, and peacefully settling the terms
of a national union between thirteen sovereign States, most of which
gave up, voluntarily, what the sword alone was once supposed capable
of extorting. In all his orations on days of national festivity or
mourning, we observe that his weightiest eulogy falls upon those who
were conspicuous in this great business. Because Hamilton aided in it,
he revered his memory; because Madison was its best interpreter, he
venerated his name and deferred absolutely to his judgment. It was
clear to his mind that the President can only dismiss an officer of
the government as he appoints him, by and with the advice and consent
of the Senate; but he would not permit himself to think so against Mr.
Madison's decision. His own triumphs at the bar--those upon which he
plumed himself---were all such as resulted from his lonely broodings
over, and patient study of, the Constitution of his country. A native
of one of the smallest of the States, to which the Union was an
unmixed benefit and called for no sacrifice of pride, he grew up into
nationality without having to pass through any probation of States'
rights scruples. Indeed, it was as natural for a man of his calibre to
be a national man as it is for his own Monadnock to be three thousand
feet above the level of the sea.

The South Carolina Exposition of 1828 appeared to fall still-born from
the press. Neither General Jackson nor any of his nearest friends seem
to have been so much as aware of its existence; certainly they
attached no importance to it. Colonel Benton assures us, that to him
the Hayne debate, so far as it related to constitutional questions,
seemed a mere oratorical display, without adequate cause or object;
and we know that General Jackson, intimately allied with the Hayne
family and strongly attached to Colonel Hayne himself, wished him
success in the debate, and heard with regret that Mr. Webster was
"demolishing" him. Far, indeed, was any one from supposing that a
movement had been set on foot which was to end only with the total
destruction of the "interest" sought to be protected by it. Far was
any one from foreseeing that so poor and slight a thing as the
Exposition was the beginning of forty years of strife. It is evident
from the Banquo passage of Mr. Webster's principal speech, when,
looking at Vice-President Calhoun, he reminded that ambitious man
that, in joining the coalition which made Jackson President, he had
only given Van Buren a push toward the Presidency,--"No son of
_theirs_ succeeding,"--it is evident, we say, from this passage, and
from other covert allusions, that he understood the game of
Nullification from the beginning, so far as its objects were personal.
But there is no reason for supposing that he attached importance to it
before that memorable afternoon in December, 1830, when he strolled
from the Supreme Court into the Senate-chamber, and chanced to hear
Colonel Hayne reviling New England, and repeating the doctrines of the
South Carolina Exposition.

Every one knows the story of this first triumph of the United States
over its enemies. Daniel Webster, as Mr. Everett records, appeared to
be the only person in Washington who was entirely at his ease; and he
was so remarkably unconcerned, that Mr. Everett feared he was not
aware of the expectations of the public, and the urgent necessity of
his exerting all his powers. Another friend mentions, that on the day
before the delivery of the principal speech the orator lay down as
usual, after dinner, upon a sofa, and soon was heard laughing to
himself. Being asked what he was laughing at, he said he had just
thought of a way to turn Colonel Hayne's quotation about Banquo's
ghost against himself, and he was going to get up and make a note of
it. This he did, and then resumed his nap.

Notwithstanding these appearances of indifference, he was fully roused
to the importance of the occasion; and, indeed, we have the impression
that only on this occasion, in his whole life, were all his powers in
full activity and his entire mass of being in full glow. But even then
the artist was apparent in all that he did, and particularly in the
dress which he wore. At that time, in his forty-eighth year, his hair
was still as black as an Indian's, and it lay in considerable masses
about the spacious dome of his forehead. His form had neither the
slenderness of his youth nor the elephantine magnitude of his later
years; it was fully, but finely, developed, imposing and stately, yet
not wanting in alertness and grace. No costume could have been better
suited to it than his blue coat and glittering gilt buttons, his ample
yellow waistcoat, his black trousers, and snowy cravat. It was in some
degree, perhaps, owing to the elegance and daintiness of his dress
that, while the New England men among his hearers were moved to tears,
many Southern members, like Colonel Benton, regarded the speech merely
as a Fourth-of-July oration delivered on the 6th of January. Benton
assures us, however, that he soon discovered his error, for the
Nullifiers were not to be put down by a speech, and soon revealed
themselves in their true character, as "irreconcilable" foes of the
Union. This was Daniel Webster's own word in speaking of that faction
in 1830,--"irreconcilable."

After this transcendent effort,--perhaps the greatest of its kind ever
made by man,--Daniel Webster had nothing to gain in the esteem of the
Northern States. He was indisputably our foremost man, and in
Massachusetts there was no one who could be said to be second to him
in the regard of the people: he was a whole species in himself. In the
subsequent winter of debate with Calhoun upon the same subject, he
added many details to his argument, developed it in many directions,
and accumulated a great body of constitutional reasoning; but so far
as the people were concerned, the reply to Hayne sufficed. In all
those debates we are struck with his colossal, his superfluous
superiority to his opponents; and we wonder how it could have been
that such a man should have thought it worth while to refute such
puerilities. It was, however, abundantly worth while. The assailed
Constitution needed such a defender. It was necessary that the
patriotic feeling of the American people, which was destined to a
trial so severe, should have an unshakable basis of intelligent
conviction. It was necessary that all men should be made distinctly to
see that the Constitution was not a "compact" to which the States
"acceded," and from which they could secede, but the fundamental law,
which the people had established and ordained, from which there could
be no secession but by revolution. It was necessary that the country
should be made to understand that Nullification and Secession were one
and the same; and that to admit the first, promising to stop short at
the second, was as though a man "should take the plunge of Niagara and
cry out that he would stop half-way down." Mr. Webster's principal
speech on this subject, delivered in 1832, has, and will ever have,
with the people and the Courts of the United States, the authority of
a judicial decision; and it might very properly be added to popular
editions of the Constitution as an appendix. Into the creation of the
feeling and opinion which fought out the late war for the Union a
thousand and ten thousand causes entered; every man who had ever
performed a patriotic action, and every man who ever from his heart
had spoken a patriotic word, contributed to its production; but to no
man, perhaps, were we more indebted for it than to the Daniel Webster
of 1830 and 1832.

We cannot so highly commend his votes in 1832 as his speeches. General
Jackson's mode of dealing with nullification seems to us the model for
every government to follow which has to deal with discontented
subjects:--1. To take care that the laws are obeyed; 2. To remove the
real grounds of discontent. This was General Jackson's plan. This,
also, was the aim of Mr. Clay's compromise. Mr. Webster objected to
both, on the ground that nullification was rebellion, and that no
legislation respecting the pretext for rebellion should be entertained
until the rebellion was quelled. Thus he came out of the battle, dear
to the thinking people of the country, but estranged from the three
political powers,--Henry Clay and his friends, General Jackson and his
friends, Calhoun and his friends; and though he soon lapsed again
under the leadership of Mr. Clay, there was never again a cordial
union between him and any interior circle of politicians who could
have gratified his ambition. Deceived by the thunders of applause
which greeted him wherever he went, and the intense adulation of his
own immediate circle, he thought that he too could be an independent
power in politics. Two wild vagaries seemed to have haunted him ever
after: first, that a man could merit the Presidency; secondly, that a
man could get the Presidency by meriting it.

From 1832 to the end of his life it appears to us that Daniel Webster
was undergoing a process of deterioration, moral and mental. His
material part gained upon his spiritual. Naturally inclined to
indolence, and having an enormous capacity for physical enjoyment, a
great hunter, fisherman, and farmer, a lover of good wine and good
dinners, a most jovial companion, his physical desires and tastes were
constantly strengthened by being keenly gratified, while his mind was
fed chiefly upon past acquisitions. There is nothing in his later
efforts which shows any intellectual advance, nothing from which we
can infer that he had been browsing in forests before untrodden, or
feeding in pastures new. He once said, at Marshfield, that, if he
could live three lives in one, he would like to devote them all to
study,--one to geology, one to astronomy, and one to classical
literature. But it does not appear that he invigorated and refreshed
the old age of his mind, by doing more than glance over the great
works which treat of these subjects. A new language every ten years,
or a new science vigorously pursued, seems necessary to preserve the
freshness of the understanding, especially when the physical tastes
are superabundantly nourished. He could praise Rufus Choate for
reading a little Latin and Greek every day,--and this was better than
nothing,--but he did not follow his example. There is an aged merchant
in New York, who has kept his mind from growing old by devoting
exactly twenty minutes every day to the reading of some abstruse book,
as far removed from his necessary routine of thought as he could find.
Goethe's advice to every one to read every day a short poem,
recognizes the danger we all incur in taking systematic care of the
body and letting the soul take care of itself. During the last ten
years of Daniel Webster's life, he spent many a thousand dollars upon
his library, and almost ceased to be an intellectual being.

His pecuniary habits demoralized him. It was wrong and mean in him to
accept gifts of money from the people of Boston; it was wrong in them
to submit to his merciless exactions. What need was there that their
Senator should sometimes be a mendicant and sometimes a pauper? If he
chose to maintain baronial state without a baron's income; if he chose
to have two fancy farms of more than a thousand acres each; if he
chose to keep two hundred prize cattle and seven hundred choice sheep
for his pleasure; if he must have about his house lamas, deer, and all
rare fowls; if his flower-garden must be one acre in extent, and his
books worth thirty thousand dollars; if he found it pleasant to keep
two or three yachts and a little fleet of smaller craft; if he could
not refrain from sending money in answer to begging letters, and
pleased himself by giving away to his black man money enough to buy a
very good house; and if he could not avoid adding wings and rooms to
his spacious mansion at Marshfield, and must needs keep open house
there and have a dozen, guests at a time,--why should the solvent and
careful business men of Boston have been taxed, or have taxed
themselves, to pay any part of the expense?

Mr. Lanman, his secretary, gives us this curious and contradictory
account of his pecuniary habits:--

"He made money with ease, and spent it without reflection.
He had accounts with various banks, and men of all parties
were always glad to accommodate him with loans, if he wanted
them. He kept no record of his deposits, unless it were on
slips of paper hidden in his pockets; these matters were
generally left with his secretary. His notes were seldom or
never regularly protested, and when they were, they caused
him an immense deal of mental anxiety. When the writer has
sometimes drawn a check for a couple of thousand dollars, he
has not even looked at it, but packed it away in his
pockets, like so much waste paper. During his long
professional career, he earned money enough to make a dozen
fortunes, but he spent it liberally, and gave it away to the
poor by hundreds and thousands. Begging letters from women
and unfortunate men were received by him almost daily, at
certain periods; and one instance is remembered where, on
six successive days, he sent remittances of fifty and one
hundred dollars to people with whom he was entirely
unacquainted. He was indeed careless, but strictly and
religiously honest, in all his money matters. He knew not
how to be otherwise. The last fee which he ever received for
a single legal argument was $11,000....

"A sanctimonious lady once called upon Mr. Webster, in
Washington, with a long and pitiful story about her
misfortunes and poverty, and asked him for a donation of
money to defray her expenses to her home in a Western city.
He listened with all the patience he could manage, expressed
his surprise that she should have called upon him for money,
simply because he was an officer of the government, and
that, too, when she was a total stranger to him, reprimanded
her in very plain language for her improper conduct, and
_handed her a note of fifty dollars_.

* * * * *

"He had called upon the cashier of the bank where he kept an
account, for the purpose of getting a draft discounted, when
that gentleman expressed some surprise, and casually
inquired why he wanted so much money? 'To spend; to buy
bread and meat,' replied Mr. Webster, a little annoyed at
this speech.

"'But,' returned the cashier, 'you already have upon deposit
in the bank no less than three thousand dollars, and I was
only wondering why you wanted so much money,'

"This was indeed the truth, but Mr. Webster had forgotten

Mr. Lanman's assertion that Mr. Webster, with all this recklessness,
was religiously honest, must have excited a grim smile upon the
countenances of such of his Boston readers as had had his name upon
their books. No man can be honest long who is careless in his

It is evident from his letters, if we did not know it from other
sources of information, that his carelessness with regard to the
balancing of his books grew upon him as he advanced in life, and kept
pace with the general deterioration of his character. In 1824, before
lie had been degraded by the acceptance of pecuniary aid, and when he
was still a solvent person, one of his nephews asked him for a loan.
He replied:

"If you think you can do anything useful with a thousand
dollars, you may have that sum in the spring, or sooner, if
need be, on the following conditions:--1. You must give a
note for it with reasonable security. 2. The interest must
be payable annually, and must be paid at the day without
fail. And so long as this continues to be done, the money
not to be called for--the principal--under six months'
notice. I am thus explicit with you, because you wish me to
be so; and because also, having a little money, and but a
little, I am resolved on keeping it."

This is sufficiently business-like. He _had_ a little money
then,--enough, as he intimates, for the economical maintenance of his
family. During the land fever of 1835 and 1836, he lost so seriously
by speculations in Western land, that he was saved from bankruptcy
only by the aid of that mystical but efficient body whom he styled his
"friends"; and from that time to the end of his life he was seldom at
his ease. He earned immense occasional fees,---two of twenty-five
thousand dollars each; he received frequent gifts of money, as well as
a regular stipend from an invested capital; but he expended so
profusely, that he was sometimes at a loss for a hundred dollars to
pay his hay-makers; and he died forty thousand dollars in debt.

The adulation of which he was the victim at almost every hour of his
existence injured and deceived him. He was continually informed that
he was the greatest of living men,--the "godlike Daniel"; and when he
escaped even into the interior of his home, he found there persons who
sincerely believed that making such speeches as his was the greatest
of all possible human achievements. All men whose talents are of the
kind which enable their possessor to give intense pleasure to great
multitudes are liable to this misfortune; and especially in a new and
busy country, little removed from the colonial state, where
intellectual eminence is rare, and the number of persons who can enjoy
it is exceedingly great. We are growing out of this provincial
propensity to abandon ourselves to admiration of the pleasure-giving
talents. The time is at hand, we trust, when we shall not be struck
with wonder because a man can make a vigorous speech, or write a good
novel, or play Hamlet decently, and when we shall be able to enjoy the
talent without adoring the man. The talent is one thing, and the man
another; the talent may be immense, and the man little; the speech
powerful and wise, the speaker weak and foolish. Daniel Webster came
at last to loathe this ceaseless incense, but it was when his heart
was set upon homage of another kind, which he was destined never to

Another powerful cause of his deterioration was the strange, strong,
always increasing desire he had to be President. Any intelligent
politician, outside of the circle of his own "friends," could have
told him, and proved to him, that he had little more chance of being
elected President than the most insignificant man in the Whig party.
And the marvel is, that he himself should not have known it,--he who
knew why, precisely why, every candidate had been nominated, from
Madison to General Taylor. In the teeth of all the facts, he still
cherished the amazing delusion that the Presidency of the United
States, like the Premiership of England, is the natural and just
reward of long and able public service. The Presidency, on the
contrary, is not merely an accident, but it is an accident of the last
moment. It is a game too difficult for mortal faculties to play,
because some of the conditions of success are as uncertain as the
winds, and as ungovernable. If dexterous playing could have availed,
Douglas would have carried off the stakes, for he had an audacious and
a mathematical mind; while the winning man in 1856 was a heavy player,
devoid of skill, whose decisive advantage was that he had been out of
the game for four years. Mr. Seward, too, was within an ace of
winning, when an old quarrel between two New York editors swept his
cards from the table.

No: the President of the United States is not prime minister, but
chief magistrate, and he is subject to that law of nature which places
at the head of regular governments more or less respectable Nobodies.
In Europe this law of nature works through the hereditary principle,
and in America through universal suffrage. In all probability, we
shall usually elect a person of the non-committal species,--one who
will have lived fifty or sixty years in the world without having
formed an offensive conviction or uttered a striking word,--one who
will have conducted his life as those popular periodicals are
conducted, in which there are "no allusions to politics or religion."
And may not this be part of the exquisite economy of nature, which
ever strives to get into each place the smallest man that can fill it?
How miserably out of place would be a man of active, originating,
disinterested spirit, at the head of a strictly limited,
constitutional government, such as ours is in time of peace, in which
the best President is he who does the least? Imagine a live man thrust
out over the bows of a ship, and compelled to stand as figure-head,
lashed by the waves and winds during a four years' voyage, and
expected to be pleased with his situation because he is gilt!

Daniel Webster so passionately desired the place, that he could never
see how far he was from the possibility of getting it. He was not such
timber as either Southern fire-eaters or Northern wire-pullers had any
use for; and a melancholy sight it was, this man, once so stately,
paying court to every passing Southerner, and personally begging
delegates to vote for him. He was not made for that. An elephant does
sometimes stand upon his head and play a barrel-organ, but every one
who sees the sorry sight sees also that it was not the design of
Nature that elephants should do such things.

A Marshfield elm may be for half a century in decay without exhibiting
much outward change; and when, in some tempestuous night, half its
bulk is torn away, the neighborhood notes with surprise that what
seemed solid wood is dry and crumbling pith. During the last fifteen
years of Daniel Webster's life, his wonderfully imposing form and his
immense reputation concealed from the public the decay of his powers
and the degeneration of his morals. At least, few said what perhaps
many felt, that "he was not the man he had been." People went away
from one of his ponderous and empty speeches disappointed, but not ill
pleased to boast that they too had "heard Daniel Webster speak," and
feeling very sure that he could be eloquent, though he had not been.
We heard one of the last of his out-of-door speeches. It was near
Philadelphia, in 1844, when he was "stumping the State" for Henry
Clay, and when our youthful feelings were warmly with the object of
his speech. What a disappointment! How poor and pompous and pointless
it seemed! Nor could we resist the impression that he was playing a
part, nor help saying to ourselves, as we turned to leave the scene,
"This man is not sincere in this: he is a humbug." And when, some
years later, we saw him present himself before a large audience in a
state not far removed from intoxication, and mumble incoherence for
ten minutes, and when, in the course of the evening, we saw him make a
great show of approval whenever the clergy were complimented, the
impression was renewed that the man had expended his sincerity, and
that nothing was real to him any more except wine and office. And even
then such were the might and majesty of his presence, that he seemed
to fill and satisfy the people by merely sitting there in an
arm-chair, like Jupiter, in a spacious yellow waistcoat with two
bottles of Madeira under it.

All this gradual, unseen deterioration of mind and character was
revealed to the country on the 7th of March, 1850. What a downfall was
there! That shameful speech reads worse in 1867 than it did in 1850,
and still exerts perverting power over timid and unformed minds. It
was the very time for him to have broken finally with the
"irreconcilable" faction, who, after having made President Tyler
_snub_ Daniel Webster from his dearly loved office of Secretary of
State, had consummated the scheme which gave us Texas at the cost of
war with Mexico, and California as one of the incidents of peace.
California was not down in their programme; and now, while claiming
the right to make four slave States out of Texas, they refused to
admit California to freedom. _Then_ was it that Daniel Webster of
Massachusetts rose in the Senate of the United States and said in
substance this: These fine Southern brethren of ours have now stolen
all the land there is to steal. Let us, therefore, put no obstacle in
the way of their peaceable enjoyment of the plunder.

And the spirit of the speech was worse even than its doctrine. He went
down upon the knees of his soul, and paid base homage to his own and
his country's irreconcilable foes. Who knew better than Daniel Webster
that John C. Calhoun and his followers had first created and then
systematically fomented the hostile feeling which then existed between
the North and the South? How those men must have chuckled among
themselves when they witnessed the willing degradation of the man who
should have arraigned them before the country as the conscious enemies
of its peace! How was it that no one laughed outright at such billing
and cooing as this?

* * * * *

_Mr. Webster_.--"An honorable member [Calhoun], whose health does not
allow him to be here to-day--"

_A Senator_,--"He is here."

_Mr. Webster_.--"I am very happy to hear that he is; may he long be
here, and in the enjoyment of health to serve his country!"

And this:--

_Mr. Webster_.--"The honorable member did not disguise his conduct or
his motives."

_Mr. Calhoun_.--"Never, never."

_Mr. Webster_.--"What he means he is very apt to say."

_Mr. Calhoun_.--"Always, always."

_Mr. Webster_.--"And I honor him for it."

And this:--

_Mr. Webster_.--

"I see an honorable member of this body [Mason of Virginia]
paying me the honor of listening to my remarks; he brings to
my mind, Sir, freshly and vividly, what I learned of his
great ancestor, so much distinguished in his day and
generation, so worthy to be succeeded by so worthy a

And this:--

_Mr. Webster_.--

"An honorable member from Louisiana addressed us the other
day on this subject. I suppose there is not a more amiable
and worthy gentleman in this chamber, nor a gentleman who
would be more slow to give offence to anybody, and he did
not mean in his remarks to give offence. But what did he
say? Why, Sir, he took pains to run a contrast between the
slaves of the South and the laboring people of the North,
giving the preference in all points of condition and comfort
and happiness to the slaves."

In the course of this speech there is one most palpable contradiction.
In the beginning of it, the orator mentioned the change of feeling and
opinion that had occurred as to the institution of slavery,--"the
North growing much more warm and strong against slavery, and the South
growing much more warm and strong in its support." "Once," he said,
"the most eminent men, and nearly all the conspicuous politicians of
the South, held the same sentiments,--that slavery was an evil, a
blight, a scourge, and a curse"; but now it is "a cherished
institution in that quarter; no evil, no scourge, but a great
religious, social, and moral blessing." He then asked how this change
of opinion had been brought about, and thus answered the question: "I
suppose, sir, this is owing to the rapid growth and sudden extension
of the COTTON plantations in the South." And to make the statement
more emphatic, he caused the word _cotton_ to be printed in capitals
in the authorized edition of his works. But later in the speech, when
he came to add his ponderous condemnation to the odium in which the
handful of Abolitionists were held,--the _elite_ of the nation from
Franklin's day to this,--then he attributed this remarkable change to
_their_ zealous efforts to awaken the nobler conscience of the
country. After giving his own version of their proceedings, he said:

"Well, what was the result? The bonds of the slaves were
bound more firmly than before, their rivets were more
strongly fastened. Public opinion, which in Virginia had
begun to be exhibited against slavery, and was opening out
for the discussion of the question, drew back and shut
itself up in its castle."

But all would not do. He bent the knee in vain. Vain too were his
personal efforts, his Southern tour, his Astor House wooings,--the
politicians would have none of him; and he had the cutting
mortification of seeing himself set aside for a Winfield Scott.

Let us not, however, forget that on this occasion, though Daniel
Webster appeared for the first time in his life as a leader, he was in
reality still only a follower,--a follower, not of the public opinion
of the North, but of the wishes of its capitalists. And probably many
thousands of well-meaning men, not versed in the mysteries of
politics, were secretly pleased to find themselves provided with an
excuse for yielding once more to a faction, who had over us the
immense advantage of having made up their minds to carry their point
or fight. If his was the shame of this speech, ours was the guilt. He
faithfully represented the portion of his constituents whose wine he
drank, who helped him out with his notes, and who kept his atmosphere


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