SELECT SPEECHES OF DANIEL WEBSTER
SELECT SPEECHES OF DANIEL WEBSTER
Blest Statesman He whose Mind's unselfish will
Leaves him at ease among grand thoughts: whose eye
Sees that apart from magnanimity
Wisdom exists not; nor the humbler skill
Of Prudence disentangling good and ill
With patient care. What tho' assaults run high
They daunt not him who holds his ministry
Resolute at all hazards to fulfil
Its duties; prompt to move but firm to wait;
Knowing things rashly sought are rarely found;
That for the functions of an ancient State--
Strong by her charters free because imbound
Servant of Providence not slave of Fate--
Perilous is sweeping change all chance unsound.
Burke and Webster are models in the forensic literature of our own language
as truly as are Demosthenes and Cicero in the language of the ancient
classics. Each has distinct and inimitable characteristics which give force
and beauty to his work. The study of each should be ordered in such a way
as to put one in touch with those qualities of mind and heart of
intellectual and moral manhood by which each became a leader in political
philosophy and a model in literary style. One who studies such authors in
order to formulate a historical or a personal estimate merely or to
compare each as to certain externals of rhetorical form has lost the true
perspective of literary judgment.
Reading in the school and in the home is far too often pursued with a
purpose to controvert and prove rather than to weigh and consider. Reading
which does not result in enlarging stimulating and refining one's nature
is but a busy idleness. The schools must see to it that the desultory and
dissipating methods of reading so prevalent in the home are not
encouraged. Pupils must be stimulated first of all to enjoy what is
beautiful in nature and in art: for here is
"A world of ready wealth
Their minds and hearts to bless--
Spontaneous wisdom breathed by health
Truth breathed by cheerfulness."
The wisdom of the classroom is too often "art tongue-tied by authority"
and hence it is not wisdom at all but a sham and a pretence. Not until
pupils rise to the spontaneity which betokens a genuine love for the work
in hand do they secure the richest results.
The publication of the masterpieces of the epic the lyric and the drama;
of the novel the essay and the oration in a convenient form and at such
a price as to bring them within the reach of our schools makes it
inexcusable if pupils are allowed to be ignorant of the great literary
ethical and artistic impulses which have touched and quickened the life
of the past.
Burke's _American Orations_ present him at his best as a statesman
an orator and a stylist. When the edition of those speeches was prepared
a selection from Webster's great speeches was contemplated as a companion
volume. The present edition represents Webster in the various and distinct
fields in which his genius manifested itself so powerfully and so nobly.
He is here seen before a jury before the Supreme Court of the United
States on a great historical occasion in the Senate of the United
States in a great national canvass and as a eulogist.
Had it not been for making the volume too large for school use I should
have included the famous speech delivered in the Senate on the 7th of
March 1850. This speech has been considered by many as the _vulnus
immedicabile_ of Mr. Webster's political life; it is certain that for
it he was most rankly abused. "Massachusetts" as Hon. John D. Long has
said "smote and broke the heart of Webster her idol and then broke her
own above his grave and to-day writes his name highest upon her roll of
I find in this speech nothing but what is consistent with Mr. Webster's
noble adherence to the Constitution and the Union; nothing but what is
consistent with the solemn duty of a great man in a great national crisis.
In his address at Buffalo on the 22d of May 1851 he expressed himself
very freely in regard to this speech saying: "I felt that I had a duty to
perform to my country to my own reputation; for I flattered myself that a
service of forty years had given me some character on which I had a right
to repose for my justification in the performance of a duty attended with
some degree of local unpopularity. I thought it was my duty to pursue this
course and I did not care what was to be the consequence. And Gentlemen
allow me to say here to-day that if the fate of John Rogers had stared me
in the face if I had seen the stake if I had heard the fagots already
crackling by the blessing of Almighty God I would have gone on and
discharged the duty which I thought my country called upon me to perform."
Does this seem the language of one who had abandoned his post and was
merely "bidding for the Presidency"?
The address of Hon. Rufus Choate before the students of Dartmouth
College commemorative of Daniel Webster has a remark on this subject so
just that I cannot refrain from quoting it. He says: "Until the accuser
who charges Mr. Webster with having 'sinned against his conscience' will
assert that the conscience of a public man may not must not be
instructed by profound knowledge of the vast subject-matter with which
public life is conversant and will assert that he is certain that the
consummate science of our great statesman was _felt by himself to
prescribe to his morality_ another conduct than that which he adopted
and that he thus consciously outraged that 'sense of duty which pursues us
ever'--is he not inexcusable whoever he is that so judges another?"
At the meeting held in Faneuil Hall Oct. 27 1852 commemorative of Mr.
Webster's life and work Mr. Edward Everett said: "Whoever in after time
shall write the history of the United States for the last forty years will
write the life of Daniel Webster; and whoever writes the life of Daniel
Webster as it ought to be written will write the history of the Union from
the time he took a leading part in its concerns." Mr. Choate at a meeting
of the Supreme Court of Massachusetts Oct. 25 1852 said: "Happier than
the younger Pliny happier than Cicero he has found his historian
unsolicited in his lifetime and his countrymen have him all by heart."
If this volume shall aid in bringing the young of this generation "to have
him all by heart" to ascend his imaginative heights and sit under the
shadow of his profound reflections on that which is fundamental in civil
and religious liberty its purpose will be accomplished.
With few exceptions these selections are given entire. Whenever they have
been abridged the continuity of the discourse has not been impaired.
In the matter of annotation the purpose has been to furnish sufficient aid
to the general reader and at the same time to indicate to the special
student lines along which he may study the speeches.
In Edward Everett's Memoir found in the first volume of Mr. Webster's
works; in the life of Mr. Webster by George Tichnor Curtis and in Henry
Cabot Lodge's _Daniel Webster_ in the American Statesman Series the
student has exhaustive scholarly and judicious estimates of Mr.
I am indebted to the Hon. George F. Hoar and the Hon. Edward J. Phelps for
assistance in the task of selecting representative speeches; and to the
former for permission to associate his name with this edition of Mr.
A. J. G.
Brookline November 1892.
Mr. Webster approaches as nearly to the _beau ideal_ of a republican
Senator as any man that I have ever seen in the course of my life; worthy
of Rome or Venice rather than of our noisy and wrangling generation.--
Coleridge used to say that he had seldom known or heard of any great man
who had not much of the woman in him. Even so the large intellect of
Daniel Webster seemed to be coupled with all softer feelings; and his
countenance and bearing at the very first impressed me with this. A
commanding brow thoughtful eyes and a mouth that seemed to respond to
all humanities. He deserves his fame I am sure.--John Kenyon.
He is a magnificent specimen. You might say to all the world "This is our
Yankee Englishman; such limbs we make in Yankee-land!" As a parliamentary
Hercules one would incline to back him at first sight against all the
extant world. The tanned complexion; that amorphous craglike face; the
dull black eyes under the precipice of brows like dull anthracite
furnaces needing only to be _blown_; the mastiff mouth accurately
closed; I have not traced so much of _silent Berserkir rage_ that I
remember of in any other man.--Thomas Carlyle.
When the historian shall look back upon the first century of the American
Republic the two names that will shine with most unfading lustre and the
serenest glory high above all others are Washington and Webster.--
Consider the remarkable phenomenon of excellence in three unkindred one
might have thought incompatible forms of public speech--that of the
forum with its double audience of bench and jury of the halls of
legislation and of the most thronged and tumultuous assemblies of the
people. Consider further that this multiform eloquence exactly as his
words fell became at once so much accession to permanent literature in
the strictest sense--solid attractive rich--and ask how often in the
history of public life such a thing has been exemplified.--Rufus Choate.
The noblest monument to Daniel Webster is in his works. As a repository of
political truth and practical wisdom applied to the affairs of
government I know not where we shall find their equal. The works of Burke
naturally suggest themselves to the mind as the only writings in our
language that can sustain the comparison.--Edward Everett.
He writes like a man who is thinking of his subject and not of his style
and thus he wastes no time upon the mere garb of his thoughts. His style
is Doric not Corinthian. His sentences are like shafts hewn from the
granite of his own hills--simple massive strong. We may apply to him
what Quinctilian says of Cicero that a relish for his writings is itself
a mark of good taste.--George S. Hillard.
He taught the people of the United States in the simplicity of common
understanding the principles of the Constitution and government of the
country and he wrought for them in a style of matchless strength and
beauty the literature of statesmanship. He made his language the very
household words of a nation. They are the library of the people. They are
the school-book of the citizen.--John D. Long.
Take him for all in all he was not only the greatest orator this country
has ever known but in the history of eloquence his name will stand with
those of Demosthenes and Cicero Chatham and Burke.--Henry Cabot Lodge.
It may be said that the style of Webster is pre-eminently distinguished by
manliness. The intellect and moral manliness of Webster underlies all his
great orations and speeches; and this plain force of manhood this sturdy
grapple with every question that comes before his understanding for
settlement leads him to reject all the meretricious aids and ornaments of
mere rhetoric and is prominent among the many exceptional qualities of
his large nature which have given him a high position among the prose-
writers of his country as a consummate master of English style.--Edwin P.
His broad wise statesmanship is to be the ample and refreshing shade his
character the bright and breezy presence in which all the members of this
great and illustrious Republic may meet and sit down and feast together.--
H. N. Hudson.
Defence of the Kennistons
The Dartmouth College Case
First Settlement of New England
The Bunker Hill Monument
The Reply to Hayne
The Murder of Captain Joseph White
The Constitution Not a Compact Between Sovereign States
Speech at Saratoga
Eulogy on Mr. Justice Story
Defence of the Kennistons.
Gentlemen of the Jury--It is true that the offence charged in the
indictment in this case is not capital; but perhaps this can hardly be
considered as favorable to the defendants. To those who are guilty and
without hope of escape no doubt the lightness of the penalty of
transgression gives consolation. But if the defendants are innocent it is
more natural for them to be thinking upon what they have lost by that
alteration of the law which has left highway robbery no longer capital
than upon what the guilty might gain by it. They have lost those great
privileges in their trial which the law allows in capital cases for the
protection of innocence against unfounded accusation. They have lost the
right of being previously furnished with a copy of the indictment and a
list of the government witnesses. They have lost the right of peremptory
challenge; and notwithstanding the prejudices which they know have been
excited against them they must show legal cause of challenge in each
individual case or else take the jury as they find it. They have lost the
benefit of assignment of counsel by the court. They have lost the benefit
of the Commonwealth's process to bring in witnesses in their behalf. When
to these circumstances it is added that they are strangers almost wholly
without friends and without the means for preparing their defence it is
evident they must take their trial under great disadvantages.
But without dwelling on these considerations I proceed Gentlemen of the
Jury to ask your attention to those circumstances which cannot but cast
doubts on the story of the prosecutor.
In the first place it is impossible to believe that a robbery of this
sort could have been committed by three or four men without previous
arrangement and concert and of course without the knowledge of the fact
that Goodridge would be there and that he had money. They did not go on
the highway in such a place in a cold December's night for the general
purpose of attacking the first passenger running the chance of his being
somebody who had money. It is not easy to believe that a gang of robbers
existed that they acted systematically communicating intelligence to one
another and meeting and dispersing as occasion required and that this
gang had their head-quarters in such a place as Newburyport. No town is
more distinguished for the general correctness of the habits of its
citizens; and it is of such a size that every man in it may be known to
all the rest. The pursuits occupations and habits of every person within
it are within the observation of his neighbors. A suspicious stranger
would be instantly observed and all his movements could be easily traced.
This is not the place to be the general rendezvous of a gang of robbers.
Offenders of this sort hang on the skirts of large towns. From the
commission of their crimes they hasten into the crowd and hide themselves
in the populousness of great cities. If it be wholly improbable that a
gang existed in such a place for the purpose of general plunder the next
inquiry is Is there any reason to think that there was a special or
particular combination for the single purpose of robbing the prosecutor?
Now it is material to observe that not only is there no evidence of any
such combination but also that circumstances existed which render it
next to impossible that the defendants could have been parties to such a
combination or even that they could have any knowledge of the existence
of any such man as Goodridge or that any person with money was expected
to come from the eastward and to be near Essex Bridge at or about nine
o'clock the evening when the robbery is said to have been committed.
One of the defendants had been for some weeks in Newburyport the other
passed the bridge from New Hampshire at twelve o'clock on the 19th of
December 1816. At this time Goodridge had not yet arrived at Exeter
twelve or fourteen miles from the bridge. How then could either of the
defendants know that he was coming? Besides he says that nobody as far
as he is aware knew on the road that he had money and nothing happened
till he reached Exeter according to his account from which it might be
conjectured that such was the case. Here as he relates it it became
known that he had pistols; and he must wish you to infer that the plan to
rob him was laid here at Exeter by some of the persons who inferred that
he had money from his being armed. Who were these persons? Certainly not
the defendants or either of them. Certainly not Taber. Certainly not
Jackman. Were they persons of suspicious characters? Was he in a house of
a suspicious character? On this point he gives us no information. He has
either not taken the pains to inquire or he chooses not to communicate
the result of his inquiries. Yet nothing could be more important since he
seems compelled to lay the scene of the plot against him at Exeter than
to know who the persons were that he saw or who saw him at that place.
On the face of the facts now proved nothing could be more improbable than
that the plan of robbery was concerted at Exeter. If so why should those
who concerted it send forward to Newburyport to engage the defendants
especially as they did not know that they were there? What should induce
any persons so suddenly to apply to the defendants to assist in a robbery?
There was nothing in their personal character or previous history that
should induce this.
Nor was there time for all this. If the prosecutor had not lingered on the
road for reasons not yet discovered he must have been in Newburyport
long before the time at which he states the robbery to have been
committed. How then could any one expect to leave Exeter come to
Newburyport fifteen miles there look out for and find out assistants for
a highway robbery and get back two miles to a convenient place for the
commission of the crime? That any body should have undertaken to act thus
is wholly improbable; and in point of fact there is not the least proof
of any body's travelling that afternoon from Exeter to Newburyport or
of any person who was at the tavern at Exeter having left it that
afternoon. In all probability nothing of this sort could have taken place
without being capable of detection and proof. In every particular the
prosecutor has wholly failed to show the least probability of a plan to
rob him having been laid at Exeter.
But how comes it that Goodridge was near or quite four hours and a half in
travelling a distance which might have been travelled in two hours or two
hours and a half. He says he missed his way and went the Salisbury road.
But some of the jury know that this could not have delayed him more than
five or ten minutes. He ought to be able to give some better account of
Failing as he seems to do to create any belief that a plan to rob him
was arranged at Exeter the prosecutor goes back to Alfred and says he
saw there a man whom Taber resembles. But Taber is proved to have been at
that time and at the time of the robbery in Boston. This is proved
beyond question. It is so certain that the Solicitor-General has _nol
prossed_ the indictment against him.
There is an end then of all pretence of the adoption of a scheme of
robbery at Alfred. This leaves the prosecutor altogether unable to point
out any manner in which it should become known that he had money or in
which a design to rob him should originate.
It is next to be considered whether the prosecutor's story is either
natural or consistent. But on the threshold of the inquiry every one
puts the question What motive had the prosecutor to be guilty of the
abominable conduct of feigning a robbery? It is difficult to assign
motives. The jury do not know enough of his character or circumstances.
Such things have happened and may happen again. Suppose he owed money in
Boston and had it not to pay? Who knows how high he might estimate the
value of a plausible apology? Some men have also a whimsical ambition of
distinction. There is no end to the variety of modes in which human vanity
exhibits itself. A story of this nature excites the public sympathy. It
attracts general attention. It causes the name of the prosecutor to be
celebrated as a man who has been attacked and after a manly resistance
overcome by robbers and who has renewed his resistance as soon as
returning life and sensation enabled him and after a second conflict
has been quite subdued beaten and bruised out of all sense and sensation
and finally left for dead on the field. It is not easy to say how far such
motives trifling and ridiculous as most men would think them might
influence the prosecutor when connected with any expectation of favor or
indulgence if he wanted such from his creditors. It is to be remembered
that he probably did not see all the consequences of his conduct if his
robbery be a pretence. He might not intend to prosecute any body. But he
probably found and indeed there is evidence to show that it was
necessary for him to do something to find out the authors of the alleged
robbery. He manifested no particular zeal on this subject. He was in no
haste. He appears rather to have been pressed by others to do that which
if he had really been robbed we should suppose he would have been most
earnest to do the earliest moment.
But could he so seriously wound himself? Could he or would he shoot a
pistol-bullet through his hand in order to render the robbery probable
and to obtain belief in his story? All exhibitions are subject to
accidents. Whether they are serious or farcical they may in some
particulars not proceed exactly as they are designed to do. If we knew
that this shot through the hand if made by himself must have been
intentionally made by himself it would be a circumstance of greater
weight. The bullet went through the sleeve of his coat. He might have
intended it should go through nothing else. It is quite certain he did not
receive the wound in the way he described. He says he was pulling or
thrusting aside the robber's pistol and while his hand was on it it was
fired and the contents passed through his hand. This could not have been
so because no part of the contents went through the hand except the
ball. There was powder on the sleeve of his coat and from the appearance
one would think the pistol to have been three or four feet from the hand
when fired. The fact of the pistol-bullet being fired through the hand is
doubtless a circumstance of importance. It may not be easy to account for
it; but it is to be weighed with other circumstances.
It is most extraordinary that in the whole case the prosecutor should