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his Autobiography: “I believe I made tolerable progress in most branches which I attended to, while in this school; but there was one thing I could not do: I could not make a declamation. Many a piece did I commit to memory, and recite and rehearse, in my own room, over and over again; yet, when the day came, when the school collected to hear declamations, when my name was called, and I saw all eyes turned to my seat, I could not raise myself from it. Sometimes the instructors frowned, sometimes they smiled. When the occasion was over, I went home and wept bitter tears of mortification."
He remained at Exeter only nine months. In February, 1797, his father placed him with the Rev. Samuel Wood, the minister of the adjoining town. of Boscawen; and while on the way thither first disclosed to him his purpose of sending him to college. “The very idea,” says he," thrilled my whole frame. I remember that I was quite overcome. The thing appeared to me so high, the expense and sacrifice it was to cost my father so great, I could only press his hand and shed tears. Excellent, excellent parent! I cannot think of him, even now, without turning child again.” Among the books which he found at Boscawen was Don Quixote. “I began to read
“ it,” says he," and it is literally true that I never closed my eyes till I had finished it; nor did I lay it down for five minutes; so great was the power of that extraordinary book on my imagination.”
In August, 1797, Webster entered Dartmouth College. , His chief distinction while in college was in studies outside the regular course: in writing and in debate he excelled all the rest of his class, and was a general favourite with the students ;. withal, he was a fair scholar within the prescribed studies, and was very punctual in his attendance on all the exercises. “My college life,” says he, was not an idle one. Besides the regular attendance on prescribed duties and studies, I read something of English history and English literature. Perhaps my reading was too miscellaneous. I even paid my board for a year by superintending a little weekly newspaper, and making selections for it from books of literature, and from the contemporary pubļications. I suppose I sometimes wrote a foolish paragraph myself. While in college I delivered two or three occasional addresses, which were published. I trust they are forgotten : they were in very bad taste. I had not then learned that all true power in writing is in the idea, not in the style; an error into which the Ars rhetorica, as it is usually taught, may casily lead stronger heads than mine.” Among his class-mates with whom he kept up a correspondence during his life, was my own excellent pastor, the Rev. Dr. Thomas A. Merrill, of Middlebury, Vermont; who, writing in 1853, after Webster's death, relates a passage that happily illustrates the power of Webster at that time. It appears that, in his junior year, Webster read a poem on a battle between an English and a French man-of-war, in which the latter was sünk. Dr. Merrill writes that it “held the professor and the class in apparent amazement. I almost shudder as, fifty-four years after, I seem to see the French ship go down, and to hear her cannon continue to roar till
she is absolutely submerged.”
Webster went through the regular four years' course, and graduated in August, 1801. His character at that time is described by his biographer, Mr. George T. Curtis, as follows: “His faculty for labour was something prodigious, his memory disciplined by methods not taught him by others, and his intellect was expanded far beyond his years. He was abstemious, religious, of thc highest sense of honour, and of the most elevated deport
His manners were genial, his affections warm, his conversation was brilliant and instructive, his temperament cheerful, his gayety overflowing."
Nothing like justice can be done to Webster's nobleness of character, without some reference to what took place between him and his brother Ezekiel. Their father's plan was, that Ezekiel should stay at home and carry on the farm, and that Daniel should be educated for one of the learned
professions. But, in his Sophomore year, as Daniel saw the wide gulf that was to open between himself and his elder brother, his heart was moved. He could not bear to have it so. He thought Ezekiel's talents to be as good as his own; and his heart yearned to have him blest with cqual advantages. So, after consulting with his brother, he broke the matter to his father, then ayed, infirm, and embarrassed in his affairs. He would keep school, he would get along as he could, he would be more than four years in going through college, if need were, that his brother too might be sent to study. The result was, that Ezekiel soon went to preparing for college; and he entered Dartinouth in March, 1801, just six months before Daniel graduated. Meanwhile Daniel worked on the small newspaper already mentioned, and paid his board, thus saving so much for his brother: he also taught school during the winter vacation, and gave his earnings to the same purpose.
On leaving college in August, 1801, Webster returned to his father's house, and soon began the study of the law with Thomas W. Thompson, Esq., his father's neighbour and friend. He had spent four months in this study, when, the family getting more straitened than ever, duty and affection pressed him to undertake something for their relief. Having been offered the charge of an academy in Fryeburg, Maine, he bought a horse for $25.00, and, with his saddle-bags stuffed, set out for the place. He engaged for six months, at the rate of $350.00 a-year. He went to board in the family of James Osgood, Esq., registrar of deeds for the county of Oxford. Rather than copy the deeds himself, Mr. Osgood preferred to pay twenty-five cents a-piece for the copying of them; and Webster gladly availed himself of the chance, and thus earned enough to pay his board. I quote from his Autobiography: “In May, 1802, having a weai's vacation, I took my quarter's salary, mounted a horse, went straight over the hills to Hanover, and had the pleasure of putting these earnings into my brother's hands for his college expenses. Having enjoyed this high pleasure, I hied me back again to my school and my copying of deeds.” There began his friendship with the Rev. Dr. Samuel Osgood, son of the registrar, who wrote of him long afterwards as follows: “He was greatly beloved by all who knew him. He was punctual in his attendance upon public worship, and ever opened his school with prayer. I never heard him use a profane word, and never saw him lose his temper.'
At the end of the six months, Webster gave up his school, though a liberal increase of salary was offered him if he would stay; the earnest desire of his father, the advice of other friends, and his own inclination drawing him back to the law. He resumed his place in Mr. Thompson's office, and continued there till March, 1804, applying himself diligently to his legal studies, but at the same time keeping up and extending his intercourse with the springs of more liberal culture. "Poor as he was, and much as he craved the speedy returns of productive work, still he could not entirely withhold hiinself from those elegant studies which bring in their immediate riches to the mind alone.
Webster now felt a strong desire to finish his studies in Boston. His brother Ezekiel, after a hard struggle, had at length found employment as teacher of a private school in that city; and he had eight scholars in Latin and Greek, whom he would have to dismiss, unless he had an assistant. He strongly urged Daniel to come to Boston, assuring him of enough to pay his board by teaching an hour and a half a-day. So, in July, 1804, to Boston he came. He was so fortunate as to find a place in the office of Christopher Gore, a man eminent both in and out of his profession, and who afterwards became governor of Massachusetts. It was in this way: hearing that Mr Gore wanted a clerk, he got a stranger to introduce him. He told his story with a modest but manly air, and was heard with encouraging good-nature. He mentioned some of his acquaintances in New Hampshire, and among them one who had been Mr. Gore's class-mate. When he rose to depart, Mr. Gore spoke to him as follows: “My young friend, you look as though you might be trusted. You say you came to study, and not to waste time. I will take you at your word. You may as well hang up your hat at once; go into the other room; take your book, and sit down to reading it, and write at your convenience to New Hamp. shire for your letters."
In August, 1804, Ezekiel was under the necessity of going to Hanover to take his degree. During his absence, Daniel took charge of his school. Edward Everett was at that time one of the pupils; and there began the life-long friendship of the two men.
Webster's father had for several years held the office of “side-judge,” as it was called, in Hillsborough county, a place of considerable influence and importance in those days. In 1804, the clerkship in the Court of Common Pleas there becamc vacant, and the place was offered to Webster, with $1500.00 a-ycar. This was indeed a tempting prize; it offered, both for himself and the family, immediate relief and supply, and he had no thought but to accept. He laid the matter before Mr. Gore, who earnestly advised him to decline. “Go on,” said he, “and finish your studies: you are poor enough, but there are greater evils than poverty, live on no man's favour; what bread you eat, let it be the bread of independence; pursue your profession, make yourself useful to your friends, and a little formidable to your enemies, and you have nothing to fear.” The result was, that Webster declined the place, to the great disappointment indeed of his father, who, however, had by this time grown to have so much faith in him, that he soon acquiesced.
In March, 1805, on motion of Mr. Gore, Webster was admitted to practice in the Court of Common Pleas in Boston. He soon returned to his native Statc, and opened an office in the town of Boscawen. There he remained two years and a half, his practico extending over the three counties, Hillsborough, Rockingham, and Grafton, and his income amounting to six or seven hundred a-year. Of course his mind outgrew the field. So, in the Fall of 1807, he gave up his law business there to Ezekiel, and removed to Portsmouth, having been admitted as a counsellor of the Superior Court in May preceding. In June, 1808, he was married to Miss Grace Fletcher, daughter of the Rev. Elijah Fletcher, of Hopkinton, New Hampshire. At the Portsmouth Bar, he came in contact with Jeremiah Mason, who was his senior by fourteen years, and probably the ablest lawyer then in New England. From that time onward, the two men were wont to be employed as opposing counsel in the same causes.
But they had a cordial respect for each other : Mason confessed that he found his match in Webster; he was just the man to wrestle Webster's great power's forth into full development; and they grew into a fast friendship which ended only with the death of Mason in 1848.
Up to this time, Webster, it appears, had not given his mind very much to political questions. Ho had learned his politics in the old Federal school, Washington, Hamilton, and Marshall being his chief teachers and models. Ilis father, too, clung to the same political faith, as did also Gore, Mason, and other of his friends; and, say what we will, the Federalists of that day were the purest, wisest, noblest political party this country has yet seen.
Webster continued, substantially, in the same creed, held fast to the same principles of government, to the end of his career. Hence, in part, his profound reverence for our National Constitution; hence, his attachment, deep as life, to the Union which it compacted. But he was too large and too wise a man to be cooped up within any formal lines of policy; his mind was too far-sighted and too well-poised not to admit the force of circumstances in modifying the application of principles; too statesman-like, in short, to sacrifice tho spirit of his creed to its letter.
The wars and revolntions in Europe, together with the controversies which grew out of them to our own government, now forced his thoughts, in a manner, into the channel of political questions. In common with the other Federalists, he was utterly opposed to the famous embargo law of 1807; and, as he had a most cordial and righteous hatred of Napoleon and his doings, he was, to say the least, very slow to admit the necessity of a war with Great Britain in 1812. Howbcit, he was nominated a Representative to the Thirteenth Congress, was elected, and took his seat in May, 1813. Not long after, Mr. Mason was elected to the National Senate. of Webster's course at Washington, the shortness of this Sketch does not allow me to speak in detail; sufficc it to say that he soon became a man of decided mark : Congress then abounded in able men, Clay and Calhoun being chief among them; and Webster at once took rank with the ablest. He continued to represent the Rockingham district till March, 1817. Meanwhile he had broken away from Portsmouth, and removed to Boston, where he now entered upon a career of great professional distinction : business flowed in upon him, and his income soon rose to twenty thousand a-year. While in Congress, he had been admitted to practice in the Supreme Court of the United States. He had many engagements there, and in February, 1819, he made his great argument in the famous Dartmouth College case. This set the seal to his fame as an advocate; and thenceforth he would have been regarded as a great, a very great lawyer, but that he was so much greater as a statesman.
In 1820, Webster was elected to the State Convention for revising the Constitution of Massachusetts, and it is admitted on all hands that he was the leading member of that body. Some two years later, Boston insisted on having him for her representative in Congress : he was elected accordingly, and took his seat in December, 1823, and continued to serve in that position till he was elected to the Senate, in which body he took his seat on the 4th of March, 1827.
Before his removal to Portsmouth, his father had died; and before the end of 1827 Mrs. Webster died, having borne him five children, two of whom had also died before their mother. In April, 1829, death fell suddenly upon his brother Ezekiel in the court-room at Concord, New Hampshire, while he was addressing the jury. In December following, Webster, having been held some time in New York by professional engagements, was there married to Miss Caroline Le Roy, an intelligent and accomplished lady, who survived him.
We now approach the time when the country was made to understand the full measure of Webster's greatness as a Senator and a statesman. He * had indeed been all the while steadily advancing in reputation and influence, but still the people had not fairly begun to know what a man he
On the 26th of January, 1830, he made his speech in reply to Hayne. As it was generally known at Washington that he had the foor for that day, the Senate-chamber was crowded to its utmost capacity. The Speaker was left alone in the other House of Congress. A great many ladies were present, and not an inch of standing-room was unoccupied. The whole assemblage were held in wonder and astonishment from the beginning to the end. Of the speech itself, I can but say that it made a deeper impression than any speech ever before delivered on this continent. It was printed in all the newspapers; it was circulated in pamphlet form; it was read everywhere; and it carried all before it wherever it was read.' In short, it marks a new era in the political education of the American people,
Webster's labours in the Senate for several years were very much occupied with questions touching the currency. The science, or the business, of finance had long been a special study with him, and he had made himself a thorough master of that most intricate and difficult branch of states
manship. His strong, cool, comprehensive intellect was eminently suited to the subject; and as a financier he has had no equal, probably no second, in this country, with the one exception of Hamilton. General Jackson came to the presidency in March, 1829. He was a man of very strong character, but no statesman. With a heart full of patriotic ardour, he united a hasty, impetuous, despotic temper; and he was immensely popular. Mr. Van Buren soon gained a decided ascendency in his councils : a man rather diminutive in stature, and of so much political adroitness, that he came to be generally distinguished as “the little magician.” For some cause or other, the President undertook a grand “ experiment” upon the financial institutions of the country; as a part of his scheme he went to war against the Bank of the United States; and in carrying on that war he hit upon the principle of administering the Constitution as he understood it, and not as law, usage, precedent, and judicial decision had settled its meaning and interpretation. The charter of the bank was to expire in 1836, and in 1832 Congress passed, by decided majorities, a bill renewing its charter for twenty years. The President vetoed the bill; and, as it could not command the requisite two thirds in both Houses, it failed to become a law. In the Fall of 1833, he “ assumed the responsibility” of removing the public deposits from the bank, where they had been placed by law, and of assigning them to the keeping of such State banks as he chose, without waiting for any law on the subject. These two measures laid the bank upon its death-bed. The experiment stood upon the promise of a better currency than the nation had ever seen : its speedy effect was to throw the whole currency and commerce of the country into utter confusion and disorder. Business everywhere literally went to smash. As time wore on, the experiment proved, in every respect, a most disastrous and ignominious failure, spreading ruin and distress wherever it planted its foot. All this Webster had foreseen and foretold; but then, as afterwards, “his was the wise man's ordinary lot, to prophesy to ears that would not hear."
In March, 1834, the Senate, passed a resolution censuring the removal of the deposits. The President visited them with a long Protest against that
The Protest was bristling with new and startling theories and pretensions of Presidential prerogative; and it drew from Webster one of the best speeches he ever made. As the speech is given entire in this volume, I need say no more of it here than that Governor Tazewell, of Virginia, a very eminent statesman of that day, but differing from Webster in most of his political views, was so much delighted with it, that he wrote to Mr. Tyler requesting him to thank Webster in his behalf, and adding these words : If it is published in pamphlet forrn, beg him to send me one. . I will have it bound in good Russia leather, and leave it as a special legacy to my children.”
During these years, in Webster's judgment, the Constitution was hardly in less danger from executive encroachment than from local nullification ; and he was constantly standing in its defence, and dealing his hardest blows against its assailants on the one side or on the other. But all this while he was training and educating the national mind into right constitutional vicws, and at the same time ensouling the people with the right patriotic spirit, for maintaining the Constitution through the dreadful crisis of secession and civil war.
Up to the time of the removal aforesaid, the opposition were known as the National Republican party. From the alarming strides of executive power, they now took the name of "Whigs," and Webster began to be talked of for the Presidency. From that time onward, his aspirations no doubt looked to that office. Most certainly he was ambitious of the Presidency, as indeed he had a right to be; but he never did any thing unbecoming a great and good man, to that end. He would not, he could not,