« PreviousContinue »
it was not in his nature to eat dirt to the people for their votes; and the people had already reached that point that they could hardly be induced to vote for a man who would not eat dirt to them. In 1836, the Whigs nomimated Mr. Clay. Failing to clect him, the party then got badly smitten with the disease of “availability.” In the strength of that disease, they elected General Harrison in 1840, and General Taylor in 1848; but they failed to elect General Scott in 1852, whereupon the party died of that disease. In 1837, Van Buren being President, the scheme known as the “SubTreasury” was set on foot. Under Jackson's experiment, nearly all the banks in the country, the deposit banks among them, had been compelled to suspend specie payment; and the plan next hit upon was, that the government should take care only to provide a safe currency for its own use, leaving the country to shift for itself, in that matter. The Sub-Treasury was born of that idea. Webster made two speeches against it. The second, delivered March 12, 1838, is the most elaborate and instructive of his speeches on the currency: nay, more; it is among the best, if not the very best, that he ever made. It is worthy to be a standard text-book with every student of finance. Mr. S. Jones Lloyd, afterwards Lord Overstone, one of the highest financial authorities in England, being called before a committee of the House of Commons to enlighten them in matters of currency, produced a copy of the speech, and declared it to be one of the ablest and most satisfactory discussions he had ever seen in its kind; and he afterwards spoke of Webster as a master who had instructed him on that subject. In the Summer of 1836, Webster, with his wife, his daughter Julia, and others of his family, made a private visit to England. He was everywhere received in all the highest circles of intellect and culture, as no American had ever been received there before. He met Wordsworth repeatedly in London, and was “delighted with him.” Hallam was “extremely struck by his appearance, deportment, and conversation.” To Carlyle, he was “a magnificent specimen”: “as a parliamentary Hercules, one would incline to back him at first sight against all the extant world.” Mr. John Kenyon travelled with him four days. Writing to Mr. George Ticknor, of Boston, in 1853, he observes that this “enabled me to know and to love not only the great-brained, but large-hearted, genial man; and this love I have held for him ever since, through good report and evil report; and I shall retain this love for him to the day of my own departure.” Again referring to some of Webster's playful sailies: “Fancy how delightful and how attaching I found all this genial bearing from so famous a man; so affectionate, so little of a humbug. His greatness sat so easy and calm upon him; he never had occasion to whip himself into a froth.’ General Harrison became President in March, 1841, and took Webster into his Cabinet as Secretary of State. On the 5th of April he died, having issued a proclamation summoning Congress to meet in extra session on the 31st of May. Of course the Presidential office fell into the hands of Mr. Tyler. Congress undertook, as their first care, to rectify the currency. As the Whigs had a majority in both Houses, they passed a bill chartering a new national bank. The President, to the amazement of everybody, vetoed the bill, and the Whigs were not strong enough to pass it over the veto. The other members of the Cabinet forthwith resigned. Webster held on to his place. He saw how he could do important service to his country and to humanity, and his heart was set upon doing it. This had reference to the long-vexed question of the north-eastern boundary, a standing theme of irritation to the two governments, and more than once on the eve of flaming out in a destructive war. The British Ministry sent Lord Ashburton as a special ambassador for the occasion. In Ashburton, Webster found a man like-minded with himself; while his
perfect candour and fairness, and his benignity and magnanimity of bearing made Ashburton feel that the honour of his government was just as safe in Webster's hands as in his own. Not only that particular question, but several others, full of delicacy and of peril, were settled at the same time; and the settlement has given entire satisfaction to the people of both nations. The old international sore was thus completely healed; and Webster achieved one of the greatest triumphs of diplomacy on record. Meanwhile, however, a most dreadful tempest of obloquy and calumny broke out upon Webster, from a portion of the Whigs, because he stayed in the Cabinet, and it raged against him without stint. A large section even of the Whigs in Massachusetts joined in this wretchcd chorus of vituperation, as thinking to rail and browbeat him out of his I'...i But he had, in an eminent degree, the high quality of civil and political courage; neither fear nor favour could make him budge an inch from his clear and conscientious convictions; and he stood through “the peltings of this pitiless storm,” with his heart full of grief indeed, but nevertheless unflinching in his duty. On the 30th of September, 1842, while the temFo was in full blast, he made a speech in Faneuil Hall, and, referring to is assailants, said, “I am, Gentlemen, something hard to coax, but as to being driven, that is out of the question.” But Webster's greatest service to the country was during the last three years of his life. He hated slavery much, but he loved the Union more : this was inexpressibly dear to him ; he knew its unspeakable importance to the well-being of the American people; and the thought of its being destroyed wrung his heart with anguish. He also saw that the controversies then raging between the North and the South, unless they could be allayed, must soon culminate in secession and civil war. For the prevention, or, if this might not be, for the postponement, of such an issue, he felt that every danger must be faced, every exertion made, every sacrifice incurred. For these reasons, he put forth his whole strength in favour of the Comromise Measures of 1850. He well knew the risk he was running; but, in his judgment, the occasion called on him, imperatively, to head the forlorn hope. And so, in the last hope of saving his cause, he deliberately staked his all: he himself went down indeed, but the cause was saved. In all this, most assuredly, he was right, nobly right, heroically right; and none the less so, that his action was fatal, politically, to himself. The crowning success and triumph of his life grew from his great speech of the 7th of March, 1850, The Compromise Measures were carried, and the explosion, then so imminent, was postponed. Ten years of time were thereby gained. It is not too much to say that this gaining of time saved the Union: for we may well tremble to think of what, in all probability, would have been the result, had the explosion come on in 1851, instead of 1861. And it was owing to Webster, far more than to any other one man, yes, more than to any other fifty men, that the nation was prepared for the crisis when it came. His earnest teachings, warnings, and exhortations, as to the value of the Union, and the duty, nay, the necessity, of preserving it at all hazards, had sunk deep into the mind of the country. For twenty years, this had been the burden of all his public o His words were on the lips and in the hearts of the people from Maine to California; and when, upon the bursting of the storm, "W. sprang so gloriously to the rescue, it was the great soul of Daniel Webster, breathing and beating in them, without their knowing it, that brought and held them to the work, till secession was overwhelmed by a wide-sweeping torrent of blood and fire. The war was all fought out on the lines which Webster had marked down; nay, more; the decisive battles for the Union were won by him, ten years before the war began. Nor did it escape his “large discourse,” that the crisis, after all, was but postponed. In his private intercourse, he expressed it as his settled conviction, that the trial was bound to come, sooner or later. Now that war cost the nation not less than five hundred thousand lives, and five thousand millions of money. Those who foresaw nothing of this cost may be excused for having provoked the contest, as they also may for having scoffed, as they did, at the great man’s warnings and his fears: but, as Webster had a forecast of it all, he would have been utterly inexcusable, both as a statesman and a man, if he had not strained every nerve, and staked his all, to avert the dreadful evil. On the death of General Taylor, in July, 1850, President Fillmore called Webster into his Cabinet as Secretary of State. Though he had long been suffering from a chronic catarrh, and though his life was fast ebbing away, at the President’s earnest solicitations he remained in office till his death, which occurred at his house in Marshfield on the 24th of October, 1852. How the dying man met his last hour on Earth, is well shown in that, upon beginning to repeat the Lord’s Prayer, he grew faint, and called out earnestly, “Hold me up; I do not wish to pray with a fainting voice.” Webster's vast power of intellect is admitted by all : but it is not so generally known that he was as sweet as he was powerful, and nowhere more powerful than in his sweetness. When thoroughly aroused in public speech, there was indeed something terrible about him; his big, dark, burning eye seemed to bore a man through and through : but in his social hours, when his massive brow and features were lighted up with a characteristic smile, it was like a gleam of Paradise; no person who once saw that full-souled smile of his could ever forget it. His goodly person, his gracious bearing, and his benignant courtesy made him the delight of every circle he entered: in the presence of ladies, especially, his great powers seemed to robe themselves spontaneously in beauty; and his attentions were so delicate and so respectful, that they could not but be charmed. It was my good fortune to see and hear Webster on various occasions,— in Faneuil IIall, in the national Senate, in the court-room, and in the ordinary talk of man with man. In all these he was great, great in intellect, great in character, and in all the proper correspondencies of greatness. And I have it from those who knew him well, that intimacy never wore off the impression of his greatness: on the contrary, none could get so near him, or stay near him so long, but that he still kept growing upon them. But he had something better than all this: he was as lovely in disposition as he was great in mind: a larger, warmer, manlier heart, a heart more alive with tenderness and all the gentle affections, was never lodged in a human breast. Of this I could give many telling and touching proofs from his private history, if my space would permit. Scorch me, if you will, for saying it, but I verily believe there was more of solid goodness of heart in one hour of Daniel Webster than in a whole year of any other man whom Massachusetts has since had in the national councils. Notwithstanding his great abilities as a financier, Webster's own private finances were often much embarrassed. In giving himself up to the !". service, he cut himself off from a large professional income. He was y nature free, generous, and magnificent in his dispositions. His vast reputation, the dignity and elegance of his manners, the engaging suavity and affability of his conversation, in a word, the powerful magnetism of the man, drew a great deal of high company round him, and necessarily made his expenses large. Therewithal; he had “a tear for pity, and a hand open as day for melting charity”; and his big, kind heart ever joyed to share his best with the humblest about him. Nevertheless it has to be conceded that he was, I will not say prodigal, but something too lavish, or at least too liberal, in his domestic appointments. This was indeed a serious blemish. To be sure, all the money in the country could not measure the worth of his services. Still it would have been better for his peace of mind, and would have saved a deal of ugly scandal, if he had kept strictly within the small returns which his great public services brought in to him.
WHEN this debate, Sir, was to be resumed, on Thursday morning, it so happened that it would have been convenient for me to be elsewhere.” The honourable member, however, did not incline to put off the discussion to another day. He had a shot, he said, to return, and he wished to discharge it. That shot, Sir, which he thus kindly informed us was coming, that we might stand out of the way, or prepare ourselves to fall by it and die with decency, has now been received. Under all advantages, and with expectation awakened by the tone which preceded it, it has been discharged, and has spent its force. It may become me to say no more of its effect than that, if nobody is found, after all, either killed or wounded, it is not the first time, in the history of human affairs, that the vigour and success of the war have not quite come up to the lofty and sounding phrase of the manifesto.
The gentleman, Sir, in declining to postpone the debate, told the Senate, with the emphasis of his hand upon his heart, that there was something rankling here, of which he wished to rid himself by an immediate reply. In this respect, Sir, I have a
1 Under this heading I give nearly all of what is commonly known as Webster’s “Second Speech on Foot's Resolution,” delivered in the National Senate, January 26, 1830. Foot was one of the Senators from Connecticut; and his resolution had reference only to the disposal of the public lands in the West. The Hon. Robert Y. Hayne, whose speech drew forth this great effort, was one of the Senators from South Carolina, and was admitted on all hands to be a very able and brilliant and eloquent speaker. But his speech, on this occasion, was highly discursive, not to say rambling, introducing a large variety of topics, and hardly touching upon the special subject-matter of the resolution before the Senate. I give the argument of Webster's speech entire, I believe, in all its parts, omitting only some amplifications which, though apt and telling at the time, would now be rather in the way, besides that they make the speech too long for this volume.
2 Webster had at that time a pressing and important engagement in the Supreme Court, which occupied him so much that he had no thought of sharing in this debate till Hayne's speech *.§ riveted his mind to the question.
great advantage over the honourable gentleman. There is nothing here, Sir, which gives me the slightest uneasiness ; neither fear, nor anger, nor that which is sometimes more troublesome than either,- the consciousness of having been in the wrong. There is nothing either originating here or now received here by the gentleman's shot. Nothing originating here, for I had not the slightest feeling of unkindness towards the honourable member. Some passages, it is true, had occurred since our acquaintance in this body, which I could have wished might have been otherwise ; but I had used philosophy and forgotten them. I paid the honourable member the attention of listening with respect to his first speech; and when he sat down, though surprised, and I must even say astonished, at some of his opinions, nothing was further from my intention than to commence any personal warfare. Through the whole of the few remarks I made in answer, I avoided, studiously and carefully, every thing which I thought possible to be construed into disrespect. And, Sir, while there is thus nothing originating here, which I have wished at any time, or now wish, to discharge, I must repeat, also, that nothing has been received here which rankles, or in any way gives me annoyance. I will not accuse the honourable member of violating the rules of civilized war; I will not say that he poisoned his arrows. But whether his shafts were, or were not, dipped in that which would have caused rankling if they had reached their destination, there was not, as it happened, quite strength enough in the bow to bring them to their mark. If he wishes now to gather up those shafts, he must look for them elsewhere: they will not be found fixed and quivering in the object at which they were aimed. The honourable member complained that I had slept on his speech. I must have slept on it, or not slept at all. The moment the honourable member sat down, his friend from Missouri rose,” and, with much honeyed commendation of the speech, suggested that the impressions which it had produced were too charming and delightful to be disturbed by other sentiments or other sounds, and proposed that the Senate should adjourn. Would it have been quite amiable in me, Sir, to interrupt this excellent good feeling? Must I not have been absolutely malicious, if I could have thrust myself forward, to destroy sensations thus pleasing 2 Was it not much better and kinder, both to sleep upon them myself, and to allow others also the pleasure of sleeping upon them 2 But if it be meant, by sleeping upon his speech, that I took time to prepare a reply,
3 This “friend from Missouri" was Mr. Benton, one of the leaders of what was then called the Jackson party, in the Senatc.