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Beacon Lights of History, Volume XII by John Lord

Part 2 out of 4

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those connected with revenues and tariffs.

It was this latter question, connected with internal improvements and
the sales of public lands, in which Clay was most interested, and which,
more than any other, brought out and developed his genius. He is
generally quoted as "the father of the protective policy," to develop
American manufactures. The genius of Hamilton had been directed to the
best way to raise a revenue for a new and impoverished country; that of
Clay sought to secure independence of those foreign products which go so
far to enrich nations.

Webster, when reproached for his change of views respecting tariffs, is
said to have coolly remarked that when he advocated the shipping
interest he represented a great commercial city; and when he afterwards
advocated tariffs, he spoke as the representative of a manufacturing
State,--a sophistical reply which showed that he was more desirous of
popularity with his constituents than of being the advocate of
abstract truth.

Calhoun advocated the new tariff as a means to advance the cotton
interests of the South, and the defence of the country in time of war.
Thus neither of the great political leaders had in view national
interests, but only sectional, except Clay, whose policy was more
far-reaching. And here began his great career as a statesman. Before
this he was rather a politician, greedy of popularity, and desirous to
make friends.

The war of 1812 had, by shutting out foreign products, stimulated
certain manufactures difficult to import, but necessary for military
operations, like cheap clothing for soldiers, blankets, gunpowder, and
certain other articles for general use, especially such as are made of
iron. When the war closed and the ports opened, the country received a
great inflow of British products. Hence the tariff of 1816, the earliest
for protection, imposed a tax of about thirty-five per cent on articles
for which the home industry was unable to supply the demand, and twenty
per cent on coarse fabrics of cotton and wool, distilled spirits, and
iron; while those industries which were in small demand were admitted
free or paid a mere revenue tax. This tariff, substantially proposed by
George M. Dallas, Secretary of the Treasury, was ably supported by Clay.
But his mind was not yet fully opened to the magnitude and consequences
of this measure,--his chief arguments being based on the safety of the
country in time of war. In this movement he joined hands with Calhoun,
one of his warmest friends, and one from whose greater logical genius he
perhaps drew his conclusions.

At that time party lines were not distinctly drawn. The old Federalists
had lost their prestige and power. The Republicans were in a great
majority; even John Quincy Adams and his friends swelled their ranks
Jefferson had lost much of his interest in politics, and was cultivating
his estates and building up the University of Virginia. Madison was
anticipating the pleasures of private life, and Monroe, a plain,
noncommittal man, the last of "the Virginia dynasty," thought only of
following the footsteps of his illustrious predecessors, and living in
peace with all men.

The next important movement in Congress was in reference to the charter
of the newly proposed second United States Bank, and in this the great
influence of Clay was felt. He was in favor of it, as a necessity, in
view of the miserable state of the finances, the suspension of specie
payments, and the multiplication of State banks. In the earlier part of
his career, in 1811, he had opposed a recharter of Hamilton's National
Bank as a dangerous money-corporation, and withal unconstitutional on
the ground that the general government had no power to charter
companies. All this was in accordance with Western democracy, ever
jealous of the money-power, and the theorizing proclivities of
Jefferson, who pretended to hate everything which was supported in the
old country. But with advancing light and the experience of depreciated
currency from the multiplication of State banks, Clay had changed his
views, exposing himself to the charge of inconsistency; which, however,
he met with engaging candor, claiming rather credit for his ability and
willingness to see the change of public needs. He now therefore
supported the bill of Calhoun, which created a national bank with a
capital of thirty-five million dollars, substantially such as was
proposed by Hamilton. The charter was finally given in April, 1816, to
run for twenty years.

Doubtless such a great money-corporation--great for those times--did
wield a political influence, and it might have been better if the Bank
had been chartered with a smaller capital. It would have created fewer
enemies, and might have escaped the future wrath of General Jackson.
Webster at first opposed the bill of Calhoun; but when it was afterwards
seen that the Bank as created as an advantage to the country, he became
one of its strongest supporters. Webster was strongly conservative by
nature; but when anything was established, like Lord Thurlow he ceased
all opposition, especially if it worked well.

In 1816 James Monroe was elected President, and Clay expected to be made
Secretary of State, as a step to the presidency, which he now ardently
desired. But he was disappointed, John Quincy Adams being chosen by
Monroe as Secretary of State. Monroe offered to Clay the mission to
England and the Department of War, both of which he declined, preferring
the speakership, to which he was almost unanimously re-elected. Here
Clay brought his influence to bear, in opposition to the views of the
administration, to promote internal improvements to which some objected
on constitutional grounds, but which he defended both as a statesman and
a Western man. The result was a debate, ending in a resolution "that
Congress has power under the Constitution to appropriate money for the
construction of post roads, military and other roads, and of canals for
the improvement of water-courses."

Meanwhile a subject of far greater interest called out the best energies
of Mr. Clay,--the beginning of a memorable struggle, even the agitation
of the Slavery question, which was not to end until all the slaves in
the United States were emancipated by a single stroke of Abraham
Lincoln's pen. So long as the products of slave labor were unprofitable,
through the exhaustion of the tobacco-fields, there was a sort of
sentimental philanthropy among disinterested Southern men tending to a
partial emancipation; but when the cotton gin (invented in 1793) had
trebled the value of slaves, and the breeding of them became a
profitable industry, the philanthropy of the planters vanished. The
English demand for American cotton grew rapidly, and in 1813 Francis C.
Lowell established cotton manufactures in New England, so that cotton
leaped into great importance. Thus the South had now become jealous of
interference with its "favorite institution."

In an address in Manchester, England, October, 1863,--the first of that
tremendous series of mob-controlling speeches with which Henry Ward
Beecher put a check on the English government by convincing the English
people of the righteousness of the Federal cause during our Civil
War,--that "minister-plenipotentiary," as Oliver Wendell Holmes called
him, gave a witty summary of this change. After showing that the great
Fathers of Revolutionary times, and notably the great Southerners, were
antislavery men; that the first abolition society was formed in the
Middle and Border States, and not in the Northeast; and that
emancipation was enacted by the Eastern and Middle States as a natural
consequence of the growth of that sentiment, the orator said:--

"What was it, then, when the country had advanced so far towards
universal emancipation in the period of our national formation, that
stopped this onward tide? First, the wonderful demand for cotton
throughout the world, precisely when, from the invention of the cotton
gin, it became easy to turn it to service. Slaves that before had been
worth from three to four hundred dollars began to be worth six hundred
dollars. That knocked away one third of adherence to the moral law. Then
they became worth seven hundred dollars, and half the law went; then,
eight or nine hundred dollars, and there was no such thing as moral law;
then, one thousand or twelve hundred dollars,--and slavery became one of
the Beatitudes."

Therefore, when in 1818 the territory of Missouri applied for admission
to the Union as a State, the South was greatly excited by the
proposition from Mr. Tallmadge, of New York, that its admission should
be conditioned upon the prohibition of slavery within its limits. It was
a revelation to the people of the North that so bitter a feeling should
be aroused by opposition to the extension of an acknowledged evil, which
had been abolished in all their own States. The Southern leaders, on
their side, maintained that Congress could not, under the Constitution,
legislate on such a subject,--that it was a matter for the States alone
to decide; and that slavery was essential to the prosperity of the
Southern States, as white men could not labor in the cotton and rice
fields. The Northern orators maintained that not only had the right of
Congress to exclude slavery from the Territories been generally
admitted, but that it was a demoralizing institution and more injurious
to the whites even than to the blacks. The Southern leaders became
furiously agitated, and threatened to secede from the Union rather than
submit to Northern dictation; while at the North the State legislatures
demanded the exclusion of slaves from Missouri.

Carl Schurz, in his admirable life of Clay, makes a pertinent summary:
"The slaveholders watched with apprehension the steady growth of the
Free States in population, wealth, and power.... As the slaveholders
had no longer the ultimate extinction, but now the perpetuation, of
slavery in view, the question of sectional power became one of first
importance to them, and with it the necessity of having more slave
States for the purpose of maintaining the political equilibrium, at
least in the Senate. A struggle for more slave States was to them a
struggle for life."

Thus the two elements of commercial profit and political power were
involved in the struggle of the South for the maintenance and extension
of slavery.

The House of Representatives in 1819 adopted the Missouri bill with the
amendment restricting slavery, but the Senate did not concur; and
Alabama was admitted as a Territory without slavery restriction. In the
next Congress Missouri was again introduced, but the antislavery
amendment was voted down. In 1820 Mr. Thomas, a senator from Illinois,
proposed, as a mutual concession, that Missouri should be admitted
without restriction, but that in all that part of the territory outside
that State ceded by France to the United States, north of the latitude
of 36 deg. 30' (the southern boundary of Missouri), slaves should
thereafter be excluded; and this bill was finally passed March 2,1820.
Mr. Clay is credited with being the father of this compromise, but,
according to Mr. Schurz, he did not deserve the honor. He adopted it,
however, and advocated it with so much eloquence and power that it
owed its success largely to his efforts, and therefore it is still
generally ascribed to him.

At that time no statesmen, North or South, had fully grasped the slavery
question. Even Mr. Calhoun once seemed to have no doubt as to the
authority of Congress to exclude slavery from the Territories, but he
was decided enough in his opposition when he saw that it involved an
irreconcilable conflict of interests,--that slavery and freedom are
antagonistic ideas, concerning which there can be no genuine compromise.
"There may be compromises," says Von Holst, "with regard to measures,
but never between principles." And slavery, when the Missouri Compromise
was started, was looked upon as a measure rather than as a principle,
concerning which few statesmen had thought deeply. As the agitation
increased, measures were lost sight of in principles.

The compromise by which Missouri was admitted as a slave State, while
slavery should be excluded from all territory outside of it north of
36 deg. 30', was a temporary measure of expediency, and at that period
was probably a wise one; since, if slavery had been excluded from
Missouri, there might have been a dissolution of the Union. The
preservation of the Union was the dearest object to the heart of Clay,
who was genuinely and thoroughly patriotic. Herein he doubtless
rendered a great public service, and proved himself to be a broad-minded
statesman. To effect this compromise Clay had put forth all his
energies, not only in eloquent speeches and tireless labors in
committees and a series of parliamentary devices for harmonizing the
strife, but in innumerable interviews with individuals.

In 1820, Clay retired to private life in order to retrieve his fortunes
by practice at the bar. Few men without either a professional or a
private income can afford a long-continued public service. Although the
members of Congress were paid, the pay was not large enough,--only eight
dollars a day at that time. But Clay's interval of rest was soon cut
short. In three years he was again elected to the House of
Representatives, and in December, 1823, was promptly chosen Speaker by a
large majority. He had now recovered his popularity, and was generally
spoken of as "the great pacificator."

In Congress his voice was heard again in defence of internal
improvements,--the making of roads and canals,--President Monroe having
vetoed a bill favoring them on the ground that it was unconstitutional
for Congress to vote money for them. Clay, however, succeeded in
inducing Congress to make an appropriation for a survey of such roads as
might be deemed of national importance, which Mr. Monroe did not
oppose. It was ever of vital necessity, in the eyes of Mr. Clay, to open
up the West to settlers from the East, and he gloried in the prospect of
the indefinite expanse of the country even to the Pacific ocean. "Sir,"
said he, in the debate on this question, "it is a subject of peculiar
delight to me to look forward to the proud and happy period, distant as
it may be, when circulation and association between the Atlantic and the
Pacific and the Mexican Gulf shall be as free and perfect as they are at
this moment in England, the most highly improved country on the globe.
Sir, a new world has come into being since the Constitution was
adopted.... Are we to neglect and refuse the redemption of that vast
wilderness which once stretched unbroken beyond the Alleghany?" In these
views he proved himself one of the most far-sighted statesmen that had
as yet appeared in Congress,--a typical Western man of enthusiasm and
boundless hope.

Not less enthusiastic was he in his open expressions of sympathy with
the Greek struggle for liberty; as was the case also with Daniel
Webster,--both advocating relief to the Greeks, not merely from
sentiment, but to strike a blow at the "Holy Alliance" of European
kingdoms, then bent on extinguishing liberty in every country in Europe.
Clay's noble speech in defence of the Greeks was not, however, received
with unanimous admiration, since many members of Congress were fearful
of entangling the United States in European disputes and wars; and the
movement came to naught.

Then followed the great debates which led to the famous tariff of 1824,
in which Mr. Clay, although Speaker of the House, took a prominent part
in Committee of the Whole, advocating an increase of duties for the
protection of American manufactures of iron, hemp, glass, lead, wool,
woollen and cotton goods, while duties on importations which did not
interfere with American manufactures were to be left on a mere revenue
basis. This tariff had become necessary, as he thought, in view of the
prevailing distress produced by dependence on foreign markets. He would
provide a home consumption for American manufactures, and thus develop
home industries, which could be done only by imposing import taxes that
should "protect" them against foreign competition. His speech on what he
called the "American System" was one of the most elaborate he ever made,
and Mr. Carl Schurz says of it that "his skill of statement, his
ingenuity in the grouping of facts and principles, his plausibility of
reasoning, his brilliant imagination, the fervor of his diction, the
warm patriotic tone of his appeals" presented "the arguments which were
current among high-tariff men then and which remain so still;" while,
on the other hand, "his superficial research, his habit of satisfying
himself with half-knowledge, and his disinclination to reason out
propositions logically in all their consequences" gave incompleteness to
his otherwise brilliant effort. It made a great impression in spite of
its weak points, and called out in opposition the extraordinary
abilities of Daniel Webster, through whose massive sentences appeared
his "superiority in keenness of analysis, in logical reasoning, in
extent and accuracy of knowledge, in reach of thought and mastery of
fundamental principles," over all the other speakers of the day. And
this speech of. Mr. Webster's stands unanswered, notwithstanding the
opposite views he himself maintained four years afterwards, when he
spoke again on the tariff, but representing manufacturing interests
rather than those of shipping and commerce, advocating expediency rather
than abstract principles the truth of which cannot be gainsaid. The bill
as supported by Mr. Clay passed by a small majority, the members from
the South generally voting against it.

After the tariff of 1824 the New England States went extensively into
manufacturing, and the Middle States also. The protective idea had
become popular in the North, and, under strong protests from the
agricultural South, in 1828 a new tariff bill was enacted, largely on
the principle of giving more protection to every interest that asked
for it. This, called by its opponents "the tariff of abominations," was
passed while Clay was Secretary of State; the discontent under it was to
give rise to Southern Nullification, and to afford Clay another
opportunity to act as "pacificator." All this tariff war is set forth in
clear detail in Professor Sumner's "Life of Jackson."

This question of tariffs has, for seventy years now, been the great
issue, next to slavery, between the North and South. More debates have
taken place on this question than on any other in our Congressional
history, and it still remains unsettled, like most other questions of
political economy. The warfare has been constant and uninterrupted
between those who argue subjects from abstract truths and those who look
at local interests, and maintain that all political questions should be
determined by circumstances. When it seemed to be the interest of Great
Britain to advocate protection for her varied products, protection was
the policy of the government; when it became evidently for her interest
to defend free trade, then free trade became the law of Parliament.

On abstract grounds there is little dispute on the question: if all the
world acted on the principles of free trade, protection would be
indefensible. Practically, it is a matter of local interest: it is the
interest of New England to secure protection for its varied industries
and to secure free raw materials for manufacture; it is the interest of
agricultural States to buy wares in the cheapest market and to seek
foreign markets for their surplus breadstuffs. The question, however, on
broad grounds is whether protection is or is not for the interest of the
whole country; and on that point there are differences of opinion among
both politicians and statesmen. Formerly, few discussed the subject on
abstract principles except college professors and doctrinaires; but it
is a most momentous subject from a material point of view, and the great
scale on which protection has been tried in America since the Civil War
has produced a multiplicity of consequences--industrial and
economic--which have set up wide-spread discussions of both principles
and practical applications. How it will be finally settled, no one can
predict; perhaps through a series of compromises, with ever lessening
restriction, until the millennial dream of universal free trade shall
become practicable. Protection has good points and bad ones. While it
stimulates manufactures, it also creates monopolies and widens the
distinctions between the rich and the poor. Disproportionate fortunes
were one of the principal causes of the fall of the Roman Empire, and
are a grave danger to our modern civilization.

But then it is difficult to point out any period in the history of
civilization when disproportionate fortunes did not exist, except in
primitive agricultural States in the enjoyment of personal liberty, like
Switzerland and New England one hundred years ago. They certainly
existed in feudal Europe as they do in England to-day. The great cotton
lords are feudal barons under another name. Where money is worshipped
there will be money-aristocrats, who in vulgar pride and power rival the
worst specimens of an hereditary nobility. There is really little that
is new in human organizations,--little that Solomon and Aristotle had
not learned. When we go to the foundation of society it is the same
story, in all ages and countries. Most that is new is superficial and
transitory. The permanent is eternally based on the certitudes of life,
which are moral and intellectual rather than mechanical and material.
Whatever promotes these certitudes is the highest political wisdom.

We now turn to contemplate the beginnings of Mr. Clay's aspirations to
the presidency, which from this time never left him until he had one
foot in the grave. As a successful, popular, and ambitious man who had
already rendered important services, we cannot wonder that he sought the
envied prize. Who in the nation was more eminent than he? But such a
consummation of ambition is not attained by merit alone. He had enemies,
and he had powerful rivals.

In 1824 John Quincy Adams, as Monroe's Secretary of State, was in the
line of promotion,--a statesman of experience and abilities, the
superior of Clay in learning, who had spent his life in the public
service, and in honorable positions, especially as a foreign minister.
He belonged to the reigning party and was the choice of New England.
Moreover he had the prestige of a great name. He was, it is true, far
from popular, was cold and severe in manners, and irritable in
temperament; but he was public-spirited, patriotic, incorruptible, lofty
in sentiment, and unstained by vices.

Andrew Jackson was also a formidable competitor,--a military hero, the
idol of the West, and a man of extraordinary force of character, with
undoubted executive abilities, but without much experience in civil
affairs, self-willed, despotic in temper, and unscrupulous. Crawford, of
Georgia, Secretary of the Treasury, with great Southern prestige, and an
adroit politician, was also a candidate. Superior to all these
candidates in political genius was Calhoun of South Carolina, not yet so
prominent as he afterwards became.

The popular choice in 1824 lay between Jackson and Adams, and as no
candidate obtained a majority of the electoral votes, the election
reverted to the House of Representatives, and Adams was chosen, much to
the chagrin of Jackson, who had the largest number of popular votes, and
the disappointment of Clay, who did not attempt to conceal it. When the
latter saw that his own chances were small, however, he had thrown his
influence in favor of Adams, securing his election, and became his
Secretary of State. Jackson was indignant, as he felt he had been robbed
of the prize by a secret bargain, or coalition, between Clay and Adams.
In retiring from the speakership of the House, which he had held so
long, Clay received the formal and hearty thanks of that body for his
undeniably distinguished services as presiding officer. In knowledge of
parliamentary law and tactics, in prompt decisions,--never once
overruled in all his long career,--in fairness, courtesy, self-command,
and control of the House at the stormiest times, he certainly never had
a superior. Friends and enemies alike recognized and cordially expressed
their sense of his masterly abilities.

The administration of Adams was not eventful, but to his credit he made
only four removals from office during his term of service, and these for
good cause; he followed out the policy of his predecessors, even under
pressure from his cabinet refusing to recognize either friends or
enemies as such, but simply holding public officers to their duty. So,
too, in his foreign policy, which was conservative and prudent, and free
from entangling alliances, at a time when the struggle for independence
among the South American republics presented an occasion for
interference, and when the debates on the Panama mission--a proposed
council of South and Central American republics at Panama, to which the
United States were invited to send representatives--were embarrassing to
the Executive.

The services of Mr. Clay as Secretary of State were not distinguished.
He made a number of satisfactory treaties with foreign powers, and
exhibited great catholicity of mind; but he was embroiled in quarrels
and disputes anything but glorious, and he further found his situation
irksome. His field was the legislature; as an executive officer he was
out of place. It may be doubted whether he would have made as good a
President as many inferior politicians. He detested office labor, and
was sensitive to hostile criticism. His acceptance of the office of
Secretary of State was probably a blunder, as his appointment was
(though unjustly) thought by many to be in fulfilment of a bargain, and
it did not advance his popularity. He was subject to slanders and
misrepresentations. The secretaryship, instead of being a step to the
presidency, was thus rather an impediment in his way. It was not even a
position of as much power as the speakership. It gave him no excitement,
and did not keep him before the eyes of the people. His health failed.
He even thought of resignation.

The supporters of the Adams administration, those who more and more
came to rank themselves as promoters of tariffs and internal
improvements, with liberal views as to the constitutional powers of the
national government, gradually consolidated in opposition to the party
headed by Jackson. The former called themselves National Republicans,
and the latter, Democratic Republicans. During the Jacksonian
administrations they became known more simply as Whigs and Democrats.

On the accession of General Jackson to the presidency in 1829, Mr. Clay
retired to his farm at Ashland; but while he amused himself by raising
fine cattle and horses, and straightening out his embarrassed finances,
he was still the recognized leader of the National Republican party. He
was then fifty-two years of age, at his very best and strongest period.
He took more interest in politics than in agriculture or in literary
matters. He was not a learned man, nor a great reader, but a close
observer of men and of all political movements. He was a great favorite,
and received perpetual ovations whenever he travelled, always ready to
make speeches at public meetings, which were undoubtedly eloquent and
instructive, but not masterpieces like those of Webster at Plymouth and
Bunker Hill. They were not rich in fundamental principles of government
and political science, and far from being elaborate, but were earnest,
patriotic, and impassioned. Clay was fearless, ingenuous, and chivalric,
and won the hearts of the people, which Webster failed to do. Both were
great debaters, the one appealing to the understanding, and the other to
popular sentiments. Webster was cold, massive, logical, although
occasionally illuminating his argument with a grand glow of
eloquence,--the admiration of lawyers and clergymen. Clay was the
delight of the common people,--impulsive, electrical, brilliant, calling
out the sympathies of his hearers, and captivating them by his obvious
sincerity and frankness,--not so much convincing them as moving them and
stimulating them to action. Webster rarely lost his temper, but he could
be terribly sarcastic, harsh, and even fierce. Clay was passionate and
irritable, but forgiving and generous, loath to lose a friend and eager
for popularity; Webster seemed indifferent to applause, and even to
ordinary friendship, proud, and self-sustained. Clay was vain and
susceptible to flattery. No stranger could approach Webster, but Clay
was as accessible as a primitive bishop. New England was proud of
Webster, but the West loved Clay. Kentucky would follow her favorite to
the last, whatever mistakes he might make, but Massachusetts deserted
Webster when he failed to respond to her popular convictions. Both men
were disappointed in the prize they sought: one because he was not
loved by the people, colossal as they admitted him to be,--a frowning
Jupiter Tonans absorbed in his own majesty; the other because he had
incurred the hatred of Jackson and other party chiefs who were envious
of his popularity, and fearful of his ascendency.

The hatred which Clay and Jackson had for each other was inexorable. It
steeped them both in bitterness and uncompromising opposition. They were
rivals,--the heads of their respective parties. Clay regarded Jackson as
an ignorant, despotic, unscrupulous military chieftain, who had been
raised to power by the blind adoration of military success; while
Jackson looked upon Clay as an intriguing politician, without honesty,
industry, or consistency, gifted only in speech-making. Their quarrels
and mutual abuse formed no small part of the political history of the
country during Jackson's administration, and have received from
historians more attention than they deserved. Mr. Colton takes up about
one half of his first volume of the "Life of Clay" in dismal documents
which few care about, relating to what he calls the "Great Conspiracy,"
that is, the intrigues of politicians to rob Clay of his rights,--the
miserable party warfare which raged so furiously and blindly from 1825
to 1836. I need not here dwell on the contentions and slanders and
hatreds which were so prominent at the time the two great national
parties were formed, and which divided the country until the Civil War.

The most notable portion of Henry Clay's life was his great career as
Senator in Congress, which he entered in December, 1831, two years after
the inauguration of President Jackson. The first subject of national
importance to which he gave his attention was the one with which his
name and fame are mostly identified,--the tariff, to a moderate form of
which the President in 1829 had announced himself to be favorable, but
which he afterwards more and more opposed, on the ground that the
revenues already produced were in excess of the needs of the government.
The subject was ably discussed,--first, in a resolution introduced by
Senator Clay declarative of principles involving some reduction of
duties on articles that did not compete with American industries, but
maintaining generally the "American System" successfully introduced by
him in the tariff of 1824; and then, in a bill framed in accordance with
the resolution,--both of which were passed in 1832.

Clay's speeches on this tariff of 1832 were among the strongest and
ablest he ever delivered. Indeed, he apparently exhausted his subject.
Little has been added by political economists to the arguments for
protection since his day. His main points were: that it was beneficial
to all parts of the Union, and absolutely necessary to much the largest
portion; that the price of cotton and of other agricultural products had
been sustained and a decline averted, by the protective system; that
even if the foreign demand for cotton had been diminished by the
operation of this system (the plea of the Southern leaders), the
diminution had been more than compensated in the additional demand
created at home; that the competition produced by the system reduces the
price of manufactured articles,--for which he adduced his facts; and
finally that the policy of free trade, without benefiting any section of
the Union, would, by subjecting us to foreign legislation, regulated by
foreign interests, lead to the prostration and ruin of our

It must be remembered that this speech was made in 1832, before our
manufactures--really "infant industries"--could compete successfully
with foreigners in anything. At the present time there are many
interests which need no protection at all, and the protection of these
interests, as a matter of course, fosters monopolies. And hence, the
progress which is continually being made in manufactures, enabling this
country to be independent of foreign industries, makes protective duties
on many articles undesirable now which were expedient and even necessary
sixty years ago,--an illustration of the fallacy of tariffs founded on
immutable principles, when they are simply matters of expediency
according to the changing interests of nations.

We have already, in the lecture on Jackson, described the Nullification
episode, with the threatening protests against the tariff of 1828 and
its amendments of 1832; Jackson's prompt action; and Clay's patriotic
and earnest efforts resulting in the Compromise Tariff of March, 1833.
By this bill duties were to be gradually reduced from 25 per cent _ad
valorem_ to 20 per cent. Mr. Webster was not altogether satisfied, nor
were the extreme tariff men, who would have run the risks of the
threatened nullification by South Carolina. It proved, however, a
popular measure, and did much to tranquillize the nation; yet it did not
wholly satisfy the South, nor any extreme partisans, as compromises
seldom do, and Clay lost many friends in consequence, a result which he
anticipated and manfully met. It led to one of his finest bursts of

"I have," said he, "been accused of ambition in presenting this measure.
Ambition! inordinate ambition! Low, grovelling souls who are utterly
incapable of elevating themselves to the higher and nobler duties of
pure patriotism--beings who, forever keeping their own selfish aims in
view, decide all public measures by their presumed influence on their
own aggrandizement--judge me by the venal rule which they prescribe for
themselves. I am no candidate for any office in the gift of these
States, united or separated. I never wish, never expect to be. Pass this
bill, tranquillize the country, restore confidence and affection for
the Union, and I am willing to go to Ashland and renounce public service
forever. Yes, I have ambition, but it is the ambition of being the
humble instrument in the hands of Providence to reconcile a divided
people, once more to revive concord and harmony in a distracted
land,--the pleasing ambition of contemplating the glorious spectacle of
a free, united, prosperous, and fraternal people."

The policy which Mr. Clay advocated with so much ability during the
whole of his congressional life was that manufactures, as well as the
culture of rice, tobacco, and cotton, would enrich this country, and
therefore ought to be fostered and protected by Congress, whatever Mr.
Hayne or Mr. Calhoun should say to the contrary, or even General Jackson
himself, whose sympathies were with the South, and consequently with
slavery. Therefore Clay is called the father of the American System,--he
was the advocate, not of any local interests, but the interests of the
country as a whole, thus establishing his claim to be a statesman rather
than a politician who never looks beyond local and transient interests,
and is especially subservient to party dictation. The Southern
politicians may not have wished to root out manufacturing altogether,
but it was their policy to keep the agricultural interests in the

Soon after the close of the session of the Twenty-Second Congress, Mr.
Clay, on his return to Ashland, put into execution a project he had long
contemplated of visiting the Eastern cities. At that period even an
excursion of one thousand miles was a serious affair, and attended with
great discomfort. Wherever Mr. Clay went he was received with
enthusiasm. Receptions, public dinners, and fetes succeeded each other
in all the principal cities. In Baltimore, in Wilmington, and in
Philadelphia, he was entertained at balls and banquets. In New York he
was the guest of the city and was visited by thousands eager to shake
his hand. The company controlling the line between New York and Boston
tendered to him the use of one of their fine steamers to Rhode Island,
where every social honor was publicly given him. In Boston he was
welcomed by a committee of forty, in behalf of the young men, headed by
Mr. Winthrop, and was received by a committee of old men, when he was
eloquently addressed by Mr. William Sullivan, and was subsequently
waited upon by the mayor and aldermen of the city. Deputations from
Portland and Portsmouth besought the honor of a visit. At Charlestown,
on Bunker Hill Edward Everett welcomed him in behalf of the city, and
pronounced one of his felicitous speeches. At Faneuil Hall a delegation
of young men presented him with a pair of silver pitchers. He was even
dragged to lyceum lectures during the two weeks he remained in Boston.
He thence proceeded amid public demonstrations to Worcester,
Springfield, Hartford, Northampton, Pittsfield, Troy, Albany, and back
again to New York. The carriage-makers of Newark begged his acceptance
of one of their most costly carriages for the use of his wife. No one
except Washington, Lafayette, and General Grant ever received more
enthusiastic ovations in New England,--all in recognition of his
services as a statesman, without his having reached any higher position
than that of Senator or Secretary of State.

In such a rapid review of the career of Mr. Clay as we are obliged to
make, it is impossible to enter upon the details of political movements
and the shifting grounds of party organizations and warfare. We must
not, however, lose sight of that most characteristic element of Clay's
public life,--his perennial candidature for the presidency. We have
already seen him in 1824, when his failure was evident, throwing his
influence into the scale for John Quincy Adams. In 1828, as Adams'
Secretary of State, he could not be a rival to his chief, and so escaped
the whelming overthrow with which Jackson defeated their party. In 1832
he was an intensely popular candidate of the National Republicans,
especially the merchants and manufacturers of the North and East and the
friends of the United States Bank; but Southern hostility to his tariff
principles and the rally of "the people" in support of Jackson's war on
moneyed institutions threw him out again in notable defeat. In 1836 and
again in 1840, Clay was prominent before the Conventions of the Whig or
National Republican party, but other interests subordinated his claims
to nomination, and the election of Van Buren by the Democrats in 1836,
and of Harrison by the Whigs in 1840, kept him still in abeyance. In
1844 Clay was again the Whig candidate, the chief issue being the
admission of Texas, but he was defeated by Polk and the Democrats; and
after that the paramount slavery question pushed him aside, and he
dropped out of the race.

The bitter war which Clay made on the administration of General Jackson,
especially in reference to the United States Bank question, has already
been noticed, and although it is an important passage in his history, I
must pass it by to avoid repetition, which is always tedious. All I
would say in this connection is that Clay was foremost among the
supporters of the Bank, and opposed not only the removal of deposits but
also the sub-treasury scheme of Mr. Van Buren that followed the failure
to maintain the Bank. Some of his ablest oratory was expended in the
unsuccessful opposition to these Democratic measures.

In 1837, came the bursting of the money-bubble, which had turned
everybody's head and led to the most extravagant speculations, high
prices, high rents, and lofty expectations in all parts of the country.
This was followed of course by the commercial crisis, the general
distress, and all the evils which Clay and Webster had predicted, but to
which the government of Van Buren seemed to be indifferent while
enforcing its pet schemes, against all the settled laws of trade and the
experiences of the past. But the country was elastic after all, and a
great reaction set in. New political combinations were made to express
the general indignation against the responsible party in power, and the
Whig party arose, joined by many leading Democrats like Rives of
Virginia and Tallmadge of New York, while Calhoun went over to Van
Buren, and dissolved his alliance with Clay, which in reality for
several years had been hollow. In the presidential election of 1840 Mr.
Van Buren was defeated by an overwhelming majority, and the Whigs came
into power under the presidency of General Harrison, chosen not for
talents or services, but for his availability.

The best that can be said of Harrison is that he was an honest man. He
was a small farmer in Ohio with no definite political principles, but
had gained some military _eclat_ in the War of 1812. The presidential
campaign of 1840 is well described by Carl Schurz as "a popular frolic,"
with its "monster mass-meetings," with log-cabins, raccoons, hard
cider, with "huge picnics," and ridiculous "doggerel about 'Tippecanoe
and Tyler too.'" The reason why it called out so great enthusiasm was
frivolous enough in itself, but it expressed the popular reaction
against the misrule of Jackson and Van Buren, which had plunged the
country into financial distress, notwithstanding the general prosperity
which existed when Jackson was raised to power,--a lesson to all future
presidents who set up their own will against the collected experience
and wisdom of the leading intellects of the country.

President Harrison offered to the great chieftain of the Whig party the
first place in his cabinet, which he declined, preferring his senatorial
dignity and power. Besides, he had been Secretary of State under John
Quincy Adams and found the office irksome. He knew full well that his
true arena was the Senate Chamber,--which also was most favorable to his
presidential aspirations. But Webster was induced to take the office
declined by Clay, having for his associates in the cabinet such able men
as Ewing, Badger, Bell, Crittenden, and Granger.

Mr. Clay had lost no time, when Congress assembled in December, 1840, in
offering a resolution for the repeal of the sub-treasury act; but as the
Democrats had still a majority in the Senate the resolution failed.
When the next Congress assembled, General Harrison having lived only one
month after his inauguration and the Vice-president, John Tyler, having
succeeded him, the sub-treasury act was repealed; but the President
refused to give his signature to the bill for the re-charter of the
United States Bank, to the dismay of the Whigs, and the deep
disappointment of Clay, who at once severed his alliance with Tyler, and
became his bitter opponent, carrying with him the cabinet, which
resigned, with the exception of Webster, who was engaged in important
negotiations in reference to the northeastern boundary. The new cabinet
was made up of Tyler's personal friends, who had been Jackson Democrats,
and the fruits of the great Whig victory were therefore in a measure
lost. The Democratic party gradually regained its ascendency, which it
retained with a brief interval till the election of Abraham Lincoln.

A question greater than banks and tariffs, if moral questions are
greater than material ones, now began again to be discussed in Congress,
ending only in civil war. This was the slavery question. I have already
spoken of the Missouri Compromise of 1820, which Mr. Clay has the chief
credit of effecting, but the time now came for him to meet the question
on other grounds. The abolitionists, through the constant growth of the
antislavery sentiment throughout the North, had become a power, and
demanded that slavery should be abolished in the District of Columbia.

And here again I feel it best to defer what I have to say on antislavery
agitation to the next lecture, especially as Clay was mixed up in it
only by his attempt to pour oil on the troubled waters. He himself was a
Southerner, and was not supposed to take a leading part in the conflict,
although opposed to slavery on philanthropic grounds. Without being an
abolitionist, he dreaded the extension of the slave-power; yet as he
wished to be President he was afraid of losing votes, and did not wish
to alienate either the North or the South. But for his inordinate desire
for the presidential office he might have been a leader in the
antislavery movement. All his sympathies were with freedom. He took the
deepest interest in colonization, and was president of the Colonization
Society, which had for its aim the sending of manumitted negroes
to Liberia.

The question of the annexation of Texas, forced to the front in the
interest of the slaveholding States, united the Democrats and elected
James K. Polk President in 1844; while Clay and the Whig Party, who
confidently expected success, lost the election by reason of the growth
of the Antislavery or Liberty party which cast a large vote in New
York,--the pivotal State, without whose support in the Electoral College
the carrying of the other Northern States went for nought. The Mexican
War followed; and in 1846 David Wilmot of Pennsylvania moved an
amendment to a bill appropriating $2,000,000 for final negotiations,
providing that in all territories acquired from Mexico slavery should be
prohibited. The Wilmot Proviso was lost, but arose during the next four
years, again and again, in different forms, but always as the standard
of the antislavery Northerners.

When the antislavery agitation had reached an alarming extent, and
threatened to drive the South into secession from the Union, Clay
appeared once again in his great role as a pacificator. To preserve the
Union was the dearest object of his public life. He would by a timely
concession avert the catastrophe which the Southern leaders threatened,
and he probably warded off the inevitable combat when, in 1850, he made
his great speech, in favor of sacrificing the Wilmot Proviso, and
enacting a more stringent fugitive-slave law.

In 1848, embittered by having been set aside as the nominee of the Whig
party for the presidency in favor of General Taylor, one of the
successful military chieftains in the Mexican War,--who as a Southern
man, with no political principles or enemies, was thought to be more
"available,"--Clay had retired from the Senate, and for a year had
remained at Ashland, nominally and avowedly "out of politics," but
intensely interested, and writing letters about the new slavery
complications. In December, 1849, he was returned to the Senate, and
inevitably became again one of the foremost in all the debates.

When the conflict had grown hot and fierce, in January, 1850, Clay
introduced a bill for harmonizing all interests. As to the disputed
question of slavery in the new territory, he would pacify the North by
admitting California as a free State, and abolishing slavery and the
slave-trade in the District of Columbia; while the South was to be
placated by leaving Utah and New Mexico unrestricted as to slavery, and
by a more efficient law for the pursuit and capture of fugitive slaves.
His speech occupied two days, delivered in great physical exhaustion,
and was "an appeal to the North for concession and to the South for
peace." Like Webster, who followed with his renowned "Seventh-of-March
speech" and who alienated Massachusetts because he did not go far enough
for freedom, Clay showed that there could be no peaceable secession,
that secession meant war, and that it would be war to propagate a wrong,
in which the sympathy of all mankind would be against us.

Calhoun followed, defending the interests of slavery, which he called
"the rights of the South," though too weak to deliver his speech, which
was read for him. He clearly saw the issue,--that slavery was doomed if
the Union were preserved,--and therefore welcomed war before the North
should be prepared for it. It was the South Carolinian's last great
effort in the Senate, for the hand of death was upon him. He realized
that if the South did not resist and put down agitation on the slavery
question, the cause would be lost. It was already virtually lost, since
the conflict between freedom and slavery was manifestly irrepressible,
and would come in spite of concessions, which only put off the evil day.

On the 11th of March Seward, of New York, now becoming prominent in the
Senate, spoke, deprecating all compromise on a matter of principle, and
declaring that there was a "higher law than the Constitution itself." He
therefore would at least prevent the extension of slavery by any means
in the power of Congress, on the ground of moral right, not of political
expediency, undismayed by all the threats of secession. Two weeks
afterward Chase of Ohio took the same ground as Seward. From that time
Seward and Chase supplanted Webster and Clay in the confidence of the
North, on all antislavery questions.

After seven months of acrimonious debate in both houses of Congress and
during a session of extraordinary length, the compromise measures of
Clay were substantially passed,--a truce rather than a peace, which put
off the dreadful issue for eleven years longer. It was the best thing
to do, for the South was in deadly earnest, exceedingly exasperated, and
blinded. A war in 1851 would have had uncertain issues, with such a man
as Fillmore in the presidential chair, to which he had succeeded on the
death of Taylor. He was a most respectable man and of fair abilities,
but not of sufficient force and character to guide the nation. It was
better to submit for a while to the Fugitive Slave Law than drive the
South out of the Union, with the logical consequences of the separation.
But the abolitionists had no idea of submitting to a law which was
inhuman, even to pacify the South, and the law was resisted in Boston,
which again kindled the smothered flames, to the great disappointment
and alarm of Clay, for he thought that his compromise bill had settled
the existing difficulties.

In the meantime the health of the great pacificator began to decline. He
was forced by a threatening and distressing cough to seek the air of
Cuba, which did him no good. He was obliged to decline an invitation of
the citizens of New York to address them on the affairs of the nation,
but wrote a long letter instead, addressed more to the South than to the
North, for he more than any other man, saw the impending dangers.
Although there was a large majority at the South in favor of Union, yet
the minority had become furious, and comprised the ablest leaders,
concerning whose intention such men as Seward and Chase and John P.
Hale were sceptical. In the ferment of excited passions it is not safe
to calculate on men's acting according to reason. It is wiser to predict
that they will act against reason. Here Clay was wiser in his anxiety
than the Northern statesmen generally, who thought there would be peace
because it was reasonable.

Clay did not live to see all compromises thrown to the winds. He died
June 29, 1852, in the seventy-sixth year of his age, at the National
Hotel in Washington. Imposing funeral ceremonies took place amid general
lamentation, and the whole country responded with glowing eulogies.

I have omitted allusion to other speeches which the great statesman made
in his long public career, and have presented only the salient points of
his life, in which his parliamentary eloquence blazed with the greatest
heat; for he was the greatest orator, in general estimation, that this
country has produced, although inferior to Webster in massive power, in
purity of style, in weight of argument, and breadth of knowledge. To my
mind his speeches are diffuse and exaggerated, and wanting in
simplicity. But what reads the best is not always the most effective in
debate. Certainly no American orator approached him in electrical power.
No one had more devoted friends. No one was more generally beloved. No
one had greater experience, or rendered more valuable public services.

And yet he failed to reach the presidency, to which for thirty years he
had aspired, and which at times seemed within his grasp. He had made
powerful enemies, especially in Jackson and his partisans, and
politicians dreaded his ascendency, and feared that as President he
would be dictatorial, though not perhaps arbitrary like Jackson. He
would have been a happier man if he had not so eagerly coveted a prize
which it seems is unattainable by mere force of intellect, and is often
conferred apparently by accidental circumstances. It is too high an
office to be sought, either by genius or services, except in the
military line; but even General Scott, the real hero of the Mexican war,
failed in his ambitious aspirations, as well as Webster, Clay, Calhoun,
Benton, Seward, Chase, and Douglas, while less prominent men were
selected, and probably ever will be. This may be looked at as a rebuke
to political ambition, which ought to be satisfied with the fame
conferred by genius rather than that of place, which never yet made a
man really great. The presidency would have added nothing to the glory
which Clay won in the Congress of the United States. It certainly added
nothing to the fame of Grant, which was won on the battlefield, and it
detracted from that of Jackson. And yet Clay felt keenly the
disappointment, that with all his talents and services, weaker men were
preferred to him.

Aside from the weakness of Clay in attempting to grasp a phantom, his
character stands out in an interesting light on the whole. He had his
faults and failings which did not interfere with his ambition, and great
and noble traits which more than balanced them, the most marked of which
was the patriotism whose fire never went out. If any man ever loved his
country, and devoted all the energies of his mind and soul to promote
its welfare and secure its lasting union, that man was the illustrious
Senator from Kentucky, whose eloquent pleadings were household words for
nearly half a century throughout the length and breadth of the land.
With him there was no East, no West, no North, and no South, to be
especially favored or served, but the whole country, one and indivisible
for ages to come. And no other man in high position had a more glowing
conviction of its ever-increasing power and glory than he.

"Whether," says his best biographer, "he thundered against British
tyranny on the seas, or urged the recognition of the South American
sister republics, or attacked the high-handed conduct of the military
chieftain in the Florida war, or advocated protection and internal
improvements, or assailed the one-man power and spoils politics in the
person of Andrew Jackson, or entreated for compromise and conciliation
regarding the tariff or slavery,--there was always ringing through his
words a fervid plea for his country, a zealous appeal in behalf of the
honor and the future greatness and glory of the republic, or an anxious
warning lest the Union be put in jeopardy."

One thing is certain, that no man in the country exercised so great an
influence, for a generation, in shaping the policy of national
legislation as Henry Clay, a policy which, on the whole, has proved
enlightened, benignant, and useful. And hence his name and memory will
not only be honorably mentioned by historians, but will be fondly
cherished so long as American institutions shall endure. He is one of
the greater lights in the galaxy of American stars, as he was the
advocate of principles which have proved conducive to national
prosperity in the first century of the nation's history. It is a great
thing to give shape to the beneficent institutions of a country, and
especially to be a source of patriotic inspiration to its people. It is
greater glory than to be enrolled in the list of presidents, especially
if they are mentioned only as the fortunate occupants of a great office
to which they were blindly elected. Of the long succession of the
occupants of the Papal Chair, the most august of worldly dignities, not
one in twenty has left a mark, or is of any historical importance,
while hundreds of churchmen and theologians in comparatively humble
positions have left an immortal fame. The glory of Clay is not dimmed
because he failed in reaching a worthy object of ambition. It is enough
to be embalmed in the hearts of the people as a national benefactor, and
to shine as a star of the first magnitude in the political firmament.


Carl Schurz's Life of Henry Clay is far the ablest and most interesting
that I have read. The Life of Clay by Colton is fuller and more
pretentious, but is diffuse. Benton's Thirty Years in Congress should be
consulted; also the various Lives of Webster and Calhoun. See also
Wilson's Rise and Fall of the Slave Power in America. The writings of
the political economists, like Sumner, Walker, Carey, and others, should
be consulted in reference to tariffs. The Life of Andrew Jackson sheds
light on Clay's hostility to the hero of New Orleans.


A.D. 1782-1852.


If I were required to single out the most prominent political genius in
the history of the United States, after the death of Hamilton, I should
say it was Daniel Webster. He reigned for thirty years as a political
dictator to his party, and at the same time was the acknowledged head of
the American Bar. He occupied two spheres, in each of which he gained
pre-eminence. But for envy, and the enemies he made, he probably would
have reached the highest honor that the nation had to bestow. His
influence was vast, until those discussions arose which provoked one of
the most gigantic wars of modern times. For a generation he was the
object of universal admiration for his eloquence and power. In political
wisdom and experience he had no contemporaneous superior; there was no
public man from 1820 to 1850 who had so great a prestige, and whose name
and labors are so well remembered. His speeches and forensic arguments
are more often quoted than those of any other statesman and lawyer the
country has produced. His works are in every library, and are still
read. His fame has not waned, in spite of the stirring events which have
taken place since his death. Great generals have arisen and passed out
of mind, but the name and memory of Webster are still fresh. Amid the
tumults and parties of the war he foresaw and dreaded, his glory may
have passed through an eclipse, but his name is to-day one of the
proudest connected with our history. Living men, occupying great
official positions, are of course more talked about and thought of than
he; but of those illustrious characters who figured in public affairs a
generation ago, no one has so great a posthumous fame and influence as
the distinguished senator from Massachusetts. No man since the days of
Jefferson is seated on a loftier pedestal; and no one is likely to live
longer, if not in the nation's heart, yet in its admiration for
intellectual superiority and respect for political services. While he
reigned as a political oracle for more than thirty years,--almost an
idol in the eyes of his constituents,--it was his misfortune to be
dethroned and reviled, in the last ten years of his life, by the very
people who had exalted and honored him, and at last to die
broken-hearted, from the loss of his well-earned popularity and the
failure of his ambitious expectations. His life is sad as well as
proud, like that of so many other great men who at one time led, and at
another time opposed, popular sentiments. Their names stand out on every
page of history, examples of the mutability of fortune,--alike joyous
and saddened men, reaping both glory and shame; and sometimes glory for
what is evil, and shame for what is good.

When Daniel Webster was born,--1782, in Salisbury, New Hampshire, near
the close of our Revolutionary struggle,---there were very few prominent
and wealthy families in New England, very few men more respectable than
the village lawyers, doctors, and merchants, or even thrifty and
intelligent farmers. Very few great fortunes had been acquired, and
these chiefly by the merchants of Boston, Salem, Portsmouth, and other
seaports whose ships had penetrated to all parts of the world Webster
sprang from the agricultural class,--larger then in proportion to the
other classes than now at the East,--at a time when manufactures were in
their infancy and needed protection; when travel was limited; when it
was a rare thing for a man to visit Europe; when the people were obliged
to practise the most rigid economy; when everybody went to church; when
religious scepticism sent those who avowed it to Coventry; when
ministers were the leading power; when the press was feeble, and
elections were not controlled by foreign immigrants; when men drank rum
instead of whiskey, and lager beer had never been heard of, nor the
great inventions and scientific wonders which make our age an era had
anywhere appeared. The age of progress had scarcely then set in, and
everybody was obliged to work in some way to get an honest living; for
the Revolutionary War had left the country poor, and had shut up many
channels of industry. The farmers at that time were the most numerous
and powerful class, sharp, but honest and intelligent; who honored
learning, and enjoyed discussions on metaphysical divinity. Their sons
did not then leave the paternal acres to become clerks in distant
cities; nor did their daughters spend their time in reading French
novels, or sneering at rustic duties and labors. This age of progress
had not arisen when everybody looks forward to a millennium of idleness
and luxury, or to a fortune acquired by speculation and gambling rather
than by the sweat of the brow,--an age, in many important respects,
justly extolled, especially for scientific discoveries and mechanical
inventions, yet not remarkable for religious earnestness or moral

The life of Daniel Webster is familiar to all intelligent people. His
early days were spent amid the toils and blessedness of a New England
farm-house, favored by the teachings of intelligent, God-fearing
parents, who had the means to send him to Phillips Academy in Exeter,
then recently founded, where he fitted for college, and shortly after
entered Dartmouth, at the age of fifteen. In connection with Webster, I
do not read of any remarkable precocity, at school or college, such as
marked Cicero, Macaulay, and Gladstone; but it seems that he won the
esteem of both teachers and students, and was regarded as a very
promising youth. After his graduation he taught an academy at Fryeburg,
for a time, and then began the study of the law,--first at Salisbury,
and subsequently in Boston, in the office of the celebrated Governor
Gore. He was admitted to the bar in 1805, and established himself in
Boscawen, but soon afterwards removed to Portsmouth, where he entered on
a large practice, encountering such able lawyers as Jeremiah Mason and
Jeremiah Smith, who both became his friends and admirers, for Webster's
legal powers were soon the talk of the State. At the early age of
thirty-one he entered Congress (1813), and took the whole House by
surprise with his remarkable speeches, during the war with Great
Britain,--on such topics as the enlargement of the navy, the repeal of
the embargo, and the complicated financial questions of the day. In 1815
he retired awhile from public life, and removed to Boston, where he
enjoyed a lucrative practice. In 1822 he re-entered Congress. So popular
was he at this time, that, on his re-election to Congress in 1824, he
received four thousand nine hundred and ninety votes out of five
thousand votes cast. In 1827 he entered the Senate, where he was to
reign as one of its greatest chiefs,--the idol of his party in New
England, practising his profession at the same time, a leader of the
American Bar, and an oracle in politics on all constitutional questions.

With this rapid sketch, I proceed to enumerate the services of Daniel
Webster to his country, since on these enduring fame and gratitude are
based. And first, I allude to his career as a lawyer,--not a narrow,
technical lawyer, seeking to gain his case any way he can, with an eye
on pecuniary rewards alone, but a lawyer devoting himself to the study
of great constitutional questions and fundamental principles. In his
legal career, when for nearly forty years he discussed almost every
issue that can arise between individuals and communities, some
half-a-dozen cases have become historical, because of the importance of
the principles and interests involved. In the Gibbons and Ogden case he
assumed the broad ground that the grant of power to regulate commerce
was exclusively the right of the General Government. William Wirt, his
distinguished antagonist,--then at the height of his fame,--relied on
the coasting license given by States; but the lucid and luminous
arguments of the young lawyer astonished the court, and made old Judge
Marshall lay down his pen, drop back in his chair, turn up his
coat-cuffs, and stare at the speaker in amazement at his powers.

The first great case which gave Webster a national reputation was that
pertaining to Dartmouth College, his _alma mater_, which he loved as
Newton loved Cambridge. The college was in the hands of politicians, and
Webster recovered the college from their hands and restored it to the
trustees, laying down such broad principles that every literary and
benevolent institution in this land will be grateful to him forever.
This case, which was argued with consummate ability, and with words as
eloquent as they were logical and lucid, melting a cold court into
tears, placed Webster in the front rank of lawyers, which he kept until
he died. In the Ogden and Saunders case he settled the constitutionality
of State bankrupt laws; in that of the United States Bank he maintained
the right of a citizen of one State to perform any legal act in another;
in that which related to the efficacy of Stephen Girard's will, he
demonstrated the vital importance of Christianity to the success of free
institutions,--so that this very college, which excluded clergymen from
being teachers in it, or even visiting it, has since been presided over
by laymen of high religious character, like Judge Jones and Doctor
Allen. In the Rhode Island case he proved the right of a State to modify
its own institutions of government. In the Knapp murder case he brought
out the power of conscience--the voice of God to the soul--with such
terrible forensic eloquence that he was the admiration of all Christian
people. No better sermon was ever preached than this appeal to the
conscience of men.

In these and other cases he settled very difficult and important
questions, so that the courts of law will long be ruled by his wisdom.
He enriched the science of jurisprudence itself by bringing out the
fundamental laws of justice and equity on which the whole science rests.
He was not as learned as he was logical and comprehensive. His greatness
as a lawyer consisted in seeing and seizing some vital point not
obvious, or whose importance was not perceived by his opponent, and then
bringing to bear on this point the whole power of his intellect. His
knowledge was marvellous on those points essential to his argument; but
he was not probably learned, like Kent, in questions outside his
cases,--I mean the details and technicalities of law. He did, however,
know the fundamental principles on which his great cases turned, and
these he enforced with much eloquence and power, so that his ablest
opponents quailed before him. Perhaps his commanding presence and
powerful tones and wonderful eye had something to do with his success at
the Bar as well as in the Senate,--a brow, a voice, and an eye that
meant war when he was fairly aroused; although he appealed generally to
reason, without tricks of rhetoric. If he sometimes intimidated, he
rarely resorted to exaggerations, but confined himself strictly to the
facts, so that he seemed the fairest of men. This moderation had great
weight with an intelligent jury and with learned judges. He always paid
great deference to the court, and was generally courteous to his
opponents. Of all his antagonists at the Bar, perhaps it was Jeremiah
Mason and Rufus Choate whom he most dreaded; yet both of these great men
were his warm friends. Warfare at the Bar does not mean personal
animosity,--it is generally mutual admiration, except in the antagonism
of such rivals as Hamilton and Burr. Webster's admiration for Wirt,
Pinkney, Curtis, and Mason was free from all envy; in fact, Webster was
too great a man for envy, and great lawyers were those whom he loved
best, whom he felt to be his brethren, not secret enemies. His
admiration for Jeremiah Mason was only equalled by that for Judge
Marshall, who was not a rival. Webster praised Marshall as he might have
Erskine or Lyndhurst.

Mr. Webster, again, attained to great eminence in another sphere, in
which lawyers have not always succeeded,--that of popular oratory, in
the shape of speeches and lectures and orations to the people directly.
In this sphere I doubt if he ever had an equal in this country,
although Edward Everett, Rufus Choate, Wendell Phillips, and others were
distinguished for their popular eloquence, and in some respects were the
equals of Webster. But he was a great teacher of the people,
directly,--a sort of lecturer on the principles of government, of
finance, of education, of agriculture, of commerce. He was superbly
eloquent in his eulogies of great men like Adams and Jefferson. His
Bunker Hill and Plymouth addresses are immortal. He lectured
occasionally before lyceums and literary institutions. He spoke to
farmers in their agricultural meetings, and to merchants in marts of
commerce. He did not go into political campaigns to any great extent, as
is now the custom with political leaders on the eve of important
elections. He did not seek to show the people how they should vote, so
much as to teach them elemental principles. He was the oracle, the sage,
the teacher,--not the politician.

In the popular assemblies--whether for the discussion of political
truths or those which bear on literature, education, history, finance,
or industrial pursuits--Mr. Webster was pre-eminent. What audiences were
ever more enthusiastic than those that gathered to hear his wisdom and
eloquence in public halls or in the open air? It is true that in his
later years he lost much of his wonderful personal magnetism, and did
not rise to public expectation except on great occasions; but in middle
life, in the earlier part of his congressional career, he had no peer as
a popular orator. Edward Everett, on some occasions, was his equal, so
far as manner and words were concerned; but, on the whole, even in his
grandest efforts, Everett was cold compared with Webster in his palmy
days. He never touched the heart and reason as did Webster; although it
must be conceded that Everett was a great rhetorician, and was master of
many of the graces of oratory.

The speeches and orations of Webster were not only weighty in matter,
but were wonderful for their style,--so clear, so simple, so direct,
that everybody could understand him. He rarely attempted to express more
than one thought in a single sentence; so that his sentences never
wearied an audience, being always logical and precise, not involved and
long and complicated, like the periods of Chalmers and Choate and so
many of the English orators. It was only in his grand perorations that
he was Ciceronian. He despised purely extemporary efforts; he did not
believe in them. He admits somewhere that he never could make a good
speech without careful preparation. The principles embodied in his
famous reply to Colonel Hayne of South Carolina, in the debate in the
Senate on the right of "nullification," had lain brooding in his mind
for eighteen months. To a young minister he said, There is no such
thing as extemporaneous acquisition.

Webster's speeches are likely to live for their style alone, outside
their truths, like those of Cicero and Demosthenes, like the histories
of Voltaire and Macaulay, like the essays of Pascal and Rousseau; and
they will live, not only for both style and matter, but for the exalted
patriotism which burns in them from first to last, for those sentiments
which consecrate cherished institutions. How nobly he recognizes
Christianity as the bulwark of national prosperity! How delightfully he
presents the endearments of home, the certitudes of friendship, the
peace of agricultural life, the repose of all industrial pursuits,
however humble and obscure! It was this fervid patriotism, this public
recognition of what is purest in human life, and exalted in aspirations,
and profound in experience,--teaching the value of our privileges and
the glory of our institutions,--which gave such effect to his eloquence,
and endeared him to the hearts of the people until he opposed their
passions. If we read any of these speeches, extending over thirty years,
we shall find everywhere the same consistent spirit of liberty, of
union, of conciliation, the same moral wisdom, the same insight into
great truths, the same recognition of what is sacred, the same repose on
what is permanent, the same faith in the expanding glories of this great
nation which he loved with all his heart. In all his speeches one
cannot find a sentence which insults the consecrated sentiments of
religion or patriotism. He never casts a fling at Christianity; he never
utters a sarcasm in reference to revealed truths; he never flippantly
aspires to be wiser than Moses or Paul in reference to theological
dogmas. "Ah, my friends," said he, in 1825, "let us remember that it is
only religion and morals and knowledge that can make men respectable and
happy under any form of government; that no government is respectable
which is not just; that without unspotted purity of public faith,
without sacred public principle, fidelity, and honor, no mere form of
government, no machinery of laws, can give dignity to political society."

Thus did he discourse in those proud days when he was accepted as a
national idol and a national benefactor,--those days of triumph and of
victory, when the people gathered around him as they gather around a
successful general. Ah! how they thronged to the spot where he was
expected to speak,--as the Scotch people thronged to Edinboro' and
Glasgow to hear Gladstone:--

"And when they saw his chariot but appear,
Did they not make an universal shout,
That Tiber trembled underneath her banks
To hear the replication of their sounds
Made in her concave shores?"

But it is time that I allude to those great services which Webster
rendered to his country when he was a member of Congress,--services that
can never be forgotten, and which made him a national benefactor.

There were three classes of subjects on which his genius pre-eminently
shone,--questions of finance, the development of American industries,
and the defence of the Constitution.

As early as 1815, Mr. Webster acquired a national reputation by his
speech on the proposition to establish a national bank, which he
opposed, since it was to be relieved from the necessity of redeeming its
notes in specie. This was at the close of the war with Great Britain,
when the country was poor, business prostrated, and the finances
disordered. To relieve this pressure, many wanted an inflated paper
currency, which should stimulate trade. But all this Mr. Webster
opposed, as certain to add to the evils it was designed to cure. He
would have a bank, indeed, but he insisted it should be established on
sound financial principles, with notes redeemable in gold and silver.
And he brought a great array of facts to show the certain and utter
failure of a system of banking operations which disregarded the
fundamental financial laws. He maintained that an inflated currency
produced only temporary and illusive benefits. Nor did he believe in
hopes which were not sustained by experience. "Banks," said he, "are
not revenue. They may afford facilities for its collection and
distribution, but they cannot be sources of national income, which must
flow from deeper fountains. Whatever bank-notes are not convertible into
gold and silver, at the will of the holder, become of less value than
gold and silver. No solidity of funds, no confidence in banking
operations, has ever enabled them to keep up their paper to the value of
gold and silver any longer than they paid gold and silver on demand."
Similar sentiments he advanced, in 1816, in his speech on the legal
currency, and also in 1832, when he said that a disordered currency is
one of the greatest of political evils,--fatal to industry, frugality,
and economy. "It fosters the spirit of speculation and extravagance. It
is the most effectual of inventions to fertilize the rich man's field by
the sweat of the poor man's brow." In these days, when principles of
finance are better understood, these remarks may seem like platitudes;
but they were not so fifty or sixty years ago, for then they had the
force of new truth, although even then they were the result of political
wisdom, based on knowledge and experience; and his views were adopted,
for he appealed to reason.

Webster's financial speeches are very calm, like the papers of Hamilton
and Jay in "The Federalist," but as interesting and persuasive as those
of Gladstone, the greatest finance-minister of modern times. They are
plain, simple, direct, without much attempt at rhetoric. He spoke like a
great lawyer to a bench of judges. The solidity and soundness of his
views made him greatly respected, and were remarkable in a young man of
thirty-four. The subsequent financial history of the country shows that
he was prophetic. All his predictions have come to pass. What is more
marked in our history than the extravagance and speculation attending
the expansion of paper money irredeemable in gold and silver? What
misery and disappointment have resulted from inflated values! It was
doubtless necessary to do without gold and silver in our life-and-death
struggle with the South; but it was nevertheless a misfortune, seen in
the gambling operations and the wild fever of speculation which attended
the immense issue of paper money after the war. The bubble was sure to
burst, sooner or later, like John Law's Mississippi scheme in the time
of Louis XV. How many thousands thought themselves rich, in New York and
Chicago, in fact everywhere, when they were really poor,--as any man is
poor when his house or farm is not worth the mortgage. As soon as we
returned to gold and silver, or it was known we should return to them,
then all values shrunk, and even many a successful merchant found he was
really no richer than he was before the war. It had been easy to secure
heavy mortgages on inflated values, and also to get a great interest on
investments; but when these mortgages and investments shrank to what
they were really worth, the holders of them became embarrassed and
impoverished. The fit of commercial intoxication was succeeded by
depression and unhappiness, and the moral evils of inflated values were
greater than the financial, since of all demoralizing things the spirit
of speculation and gambling brings, at last, the most dismal train of
disappointments and miseries. Inflation and uncertainty in values,
whether in stocks or real estate, alternating with the return of
prosperity, seem to have marked the commercial and financial history of
this country during the last fifty years, more than that of any other
nation under the sun, and given rise to the spirit of extravagant
speculations, both disgraceful and ruinous.

Equally remarkable were Mr. Webster's speeches on tariffs and protective
industries. He here seemed to borrow from Alexander Hamilton, who is the
father of our protective system. Here he co-operated with Henry Clay;
and the result of his eloquence and wisdom on those great principles of
political economy was the adherence to a policy--against great
opposition--which built up New England and did not impoverish the West.
Where would the towns of Lowell, Manchester, and Lawrence have been
without the aid extended to manufacturing interests? They made the
nation comparatively independent of other nations; they enriched the
country, even as manufactures enriched Great Britain and France. What
would England be if it were only an agricultural country? It would have
been impossible to establish manufactures of textile fabrics, without
protection. Without aid from governments, this branch of American
industry would have had no chance to contend with the cheap labor of
European artisans. I do not believe in cheap labor. I do not believe in
reducing intelligent people to the condition of animals. I would give
them the chance to rise; and they cannot rise if they are doomed to
labor for a mere pittance. The more wages men can get for honest labor,
the better is the condition of the whole country. Withdraw protection
from infant industries, and either they perish, or those who work in
them sink to the condition of the laboring classes of Europe. Nor do I
believe it is a good thing for a nation to have all its eggs in one
basket. I would not make this country exclusively agricultural because
we have boundless fields and can raise corn cheap, any more than I would
recommend a Minnesota farmer to raise nothing but wheat. Insects and
mildews and unexpected heats may blast a whole harvest, and the farmer
has nothing to fall back upon. He may make more money, for a time, by
raising wheat exclusively; but he impoverishes his farm. He should raise
cattle and sheep and grass and vegetables, as well as wheat or corn.
Then he is more independent and more intelligent, even as a nation is by
various industries, which call out all kinds of talent.

I know that this is a controverted point. Everything _is_ controverted
in political economy. There is scarcely a question which is settled in
its whole range of subjects; and I know that many intellectual and
enlightened men are in favor of what they call free-trade, especially
professors in colleges. But there is no such thing as free-trade,
strictly, in any nation, or in the history of nations. No nation
legislates for universal humanity on philanthropic principles; it
legislates for itself. There is no country where there are not high
duties on some things, not even England. No nation can be governed on
abstract principles and in disregard of its necessities. When it was for
the interest of England to remove duties on corn, in order that
manufactures might be stimulated, they took off duties on corn, because
the laboring-classes in the mills had to be fed. Agricultural interests
gave way, for a time, to manufacturing interests, because the wealth of
the country was based on them rather than on lands, and because
landlords did not anticipate that bread-stuffs brought from this country
would interfere with the value of their rents. But England, with all
her proud and selfish boasts about free-trade, may yet have to take a
retrograde course, like France and Prussia, or her landed interests may
be imperilled. The English aristocracy, who rule the country, cannot
afford to have the value of their lands reduced one-half, for those
lands are so heavily mortgaged that such a reduction of value would ruin
them; nor will they like to be forced to raise vegetables rather than
wheat, and turn themselves into market-gardeners instead of great
proprietors. The landlords of Great Britain may yet demand protection
for themselves, and, as they control Parliament, they will look out for
themselves by enacting measures of protection, unless they are
intimidated by the people who demand cheap bread, or unless they submit
to revolution. It is eternal equity and wisdom that the weak should be
protected. There may be industries strong enough now to dispense with
protection; but unless they are assisted when they are feeble, they will
cease to exist at all. Take our shipping, for instance, with foreign
ports,--it is not merely crippled, it is almost annihilated. Is it
desirable to cut off that great arm of national strength? Shall we march
on to our destiny, blind and lame and halt? What will we do if England
and other countries shall find it necessary to protect themselves from
impoverishment, and reintroduce duties on bread-stuffs high enough to
make the culture of wheat profitable? Where then will our farmers find a
market for their superfluous corn, except to those engaged in industries
which we should crush by removing protection?

I maintain that Mr. Webster, in defending our various industries with so
much ability, for the benefit of the nation on the whole, rendered very
important services, even as Hamilton and Clay did; although the solid
South, wishing cheap labor, and engaged exclusively in agriculture, was
opposed to him. The independent South would have established
free-trade,--as Mr. Calhoun advocated, and as any enlightened statesman
would advocate, when any interest can stand alone and defy competition,
as was the case with the manufactures of Great Britain fifty years ago.
The interests of the South and those of the North, under the institution
of slavery, were not identical; indeed, they had been in fierce
opposition for more than fifty years. Mr. Webster was, in his arguments
on tariffs and cognate questions, the champion of the North, as Mr.
Calhoun was of the South; and this opposition and antagonism gave great
force to Webster's eloquence at this time. His sentences are short,
interrogative, idiomatic. He is intensely in earnest. He grapples with
sophistries and scatters them to the winds; both reason and passion
vivify him.

This was the period of Webster's greatest popularity, as the defender
of Northern industries. This made him the idol of the merchants and
manufacturers of New England. He made them rich; no wonder they made him
presents. They ought, in gratitude, to have paid his debts over and over
again. What if he did, in straitened circumstances, accept their aid?
They owed to him more than he owed to them; and with all their favor and
bounty Webster remained poor. He was never a rich man, but always an
embarrassed man, because he had expensive tastes, like Cicero at Rome
and Bacon in England. This, truly, was not to his credit; it was a flaw
in his character; it involved him in debt, created enemies, and injured
his reputation. It may have lessened his independence, and it certainly
impaired his dignity. But there were also patriotic motives which
prompted him, and which kept him poor. Had he devoted his great talents
exclusively to the law, he might have been rich; but he gave his time to
his country.

His greatest services to his country, however, were as the defender of
the Constitution. Here he soared to the highest rank of political fame.
Here he was a statesman, having in view the interests of the whole
country. He never was what we call a politician. He never was such a
miserable creature as that. I mean a mere politician, whose calling is
the meanest a man can follow, since it seeks only spoils, and is a
perpetual deception, incompatible with all dignity and independence,
whose only watchword is success.

Not such was Webster. He was too proud and too dignified for that form
of degradation; and he perhaps sacrificed his popularity to his
intellectual dignity, and the glorious consciousness of being a national
benefactor,--as a real statesman seeks to be, and is, when he falls back
on the elemental principles of justice and morality, like a late Premier
of England, one of the most conscientious statesmen that ever controlled
the destinies of a nation. Webster, like Burke, was haughty, austere,
and brave; but such a man is not likely to remain the favorite of the
people, who prefer an Alcibiades to a Cato, except in great crises, when
they look to a man who can save them, and whom they can forget.

I cannot enumerate the magnificent bursts of eloquence which electrified
the whole country when Webster stood out as the defender of the
Constitution, when he combated secession and defended the Union. How
noble and gigantic he was when he answered the aspersions of the
Southern orators,--great men as they were,--and elaborately showed that
the Union meant something more than a league of sovereign States! The
great leaders of secession were overthrown in a contest which they
courted, and in which they expected victory. His reply to Hayne is,
perhaps, the most masterly speech in American political history. It is
one of the immortal orations of the world, extorting praise and
admiration from Americans and foreigners alike. In his various
encounters with Hayne, McDuffee, and Calhoun, he taught the principles
of political union to the rising generation. He produced those
convictions which sustained the North in its subsequent contest to
preserve the integrity of the Nation. There can be no estimate of the
services he rendered to the country by those grand and patriotic
efforts. But for these, the people might have succumbed to the
sophistries of Calhoun; for he was almost as great a giant as Webster,
and was more faultless in his private life. He had an immense influence;
he ruled the whole South; he made it solid. The speeches of Webster in
the Senate made him the oracle of the North. He was not only the great
champion of the North, and of Northern interests, but he was the teacher
of the whole country. He expounded the principles of the
Constitution,--that this great country is one, to be forever united in
all its parts; that its stars and stripes were to float over every city
and fortress in the land, from the Atlantic to the Pacific, from the
river St. Lawrence to the Gulf of Mexico, and "bearing for their motto
no such miserable interrogatory as, What are all these worth? nor those
other words of delusion and folly, Liberty first and Union afterwards;
but that other sentiment, dear to every American heart, Liberty and
Union, now and forever, one and inseparable!"

It was after his memorable speech in reply to Hayne that I saw Webster
for the first time. I was a boy in college, and he had come to visit it;
and well do I remember the unbounded admiration, yea, the veneration,
felt for him by every young man in that college and throughout the
town,--indeed, throughout the whole North, for he was the pride and
glory of the land. It was then that they called him godlike, looking
like an Olympian statue, or one of the creations of Michael Angelo when
he wished to represent majesty and dignity and power in repose,--the
most commanding human presence ever seen in the Capitol at Washington.

When we recall those patriotic and noble speeches which were read and
admired by every merchant and farmer and lawyer in the country, and by
which he produced great convictions and taught great lessons, we cannot
but wonder why his glory was dimmed, and he was pulled down from his
pedestal, and became no longer an idol. It is affirmed by many that it
was his famous 7th of March speech which killed him, which disappointed
his friends and alienated his constituents. I am therefore compelled to
say something about that speech, and of his history at that time.

Mr. Webster was doubtless an ambitious man. He aspired to the
presidency. And why not? It is and will be a great dignity, such as
ought to be conferred on great ability and patriotism. Was he not able
and patriotic? Had he not rendered great services? Was he not
universally admired for his genius and experience and wisdom? Who was
more prominent than he, among the statesmen of the country, or more
thoroughly fitted to fulfil the duties of that high office? Was it not
natural that he should have aspired to be one of the successors of
Washington and Adams and Jefferson? He comprehended the honor and the
dignity of that office. He did not seek it in order to divide its
spoils, or to reward his friends; but he did wish to secure the highest
prize that could be won by political services; he did desire to receive
the highest honor in the gift of the people, even as Cicero sought the
consulate at Rome; he did believe himself capable of representing the
country in its most exacting position. It is nothing against a man that
he is ambitious, provided his ambition is lofty. Most of the illustrious
men of history have been ambitious,--Cromwell, Pitt, Thiers, Guizot,
Bismarck,--but ambitious to be useful to their country, as well as to
receive its highest rewards. Webster failed to reach the position he
desired, because of his enemies, and, possibly, from jealousy of his
towering height,--just as Clay failed, and Aaron Burr, and Alexander
Hamilton, and Stephen Douglas, and William H. Seward. The politicians,
who control the people, prefer men in the presidential chair whom they
think they can manage and use, not those to whom they will be forced to
succumb. Webster was not a man to be controlled or used, and so the
politicians rejected him. This he deeply felt, and even resented. His
failure saddened his latter days and embittered his soul, although he
was too proud to make loud complaints.

I grant he did not here show magnanimity. He thought that the presidency
should be given to the ablest and most experienced statesman. He did not
appear to see that this proud position is too commanding to be bestowed
except for the most exalted services, and such services as attract the
common eye, especially in war. Presidents in so great a country as this
reign, like the old feudal kings, by the grace of God. They are selected
by divine Providence, as David was from the sheepfold. No American,
however great his genius, except the successful warrior, can ever hope
to climb to this dizzy height, unless personal ambition is lost sight of
in public services. This is wisely ordered, to defeat unscrupulous
ambition. It is only in England that a man can rise to supreme power by
force of genius, since he is selected virtually by his peers, and not by
the popular voice. He who leads Parliament is the real king of England
for the time, since Parliament is omnipotent. Had Webster been an
Englishman, and as powerful in the House of Commons as he was in
Congress at one time, he might have been prime minister. But he could
not be president of the United States, although the presidential power
is much inferior to that exercised by an English premier. It is the
dignity of the office, not its power, which constitutes the value of the
presidency. And Webster loved dignity even more than power.

In order to arrive at this coveted office,--although its duties probably
would have been irksome,--it is possible that he sought to conciliate
the South and win the favor of Southern leaders. But I do not believe he
ever sought to win their favor by any abandonment of his former
principles, or by any treachery to the cause he had espoused. Yet it is
this of which he has been accused by his enemies,--many of those enemies
his former friends. The real cause of this estrangement, and of all the
accusations against him, was this,--he did not sympathize with the
Abolition party; he was not prepared to embark in a crusade against
slavery, the basal institution of the South. He did not like slavery;
but he knew it to be an institution which the Constitution, of which he
was the great defender, had accepted,--accepted as a compromise, in
those dark days which tried men's souls. Many of the famous statesmen
who deliberated in that venerated hall in Philadelphia also disliked and
detested slavery; but they could not have had a constitution, they could
not have had a united country, unless that institution was acknowledged
and guaranteed. So they accepted it as the lesser evil. They made a
compromise, and the Constitution was signed. Now, everybody knows that
the Abolitionists of the North, about the year 1833, attacked slavery,
although it was guaranteed by the Constitution; attacked it, not as an
evil merely, but as a sin; attacked it, by virtue of a higher law than
constitutional provision. And as an evil, as a stain on our country, as
an insult to the virtue and intelligence of the age, as a crime against
humanity, these people of the North declared that slavery ought to be
swept away. Mr. Webster, as well as Mr. Fillmore, Mr. Lincoln, Mr.
Everett, and many other acknowledged patriots, was for letting slavery
alone, as an evil too great to be removed without war; which, moreover,
could not be removed without an infringement on what the South
considered as its rights. He was for conciliation, in order to preserve
the Constitution as well as the Union. The Abolitionists were violent in
their denunciations. And although it took many years to permeate the
North with their leaven, they were in earnest; and under persecutions
and mobs and ostracism and contempt they persevered until they created
a terrible public opinion. The South had early taken the alarm, and in
order to protect their peculiar and favorite institution, had at various
times attempted to extend it into newly acquired territories where it
did not exist, claiming the protection of the Constitution. Mr. Webster
was one of their foremost opponents in this, contesting their right to
do it under the Constitution. But in 1848 the Antislavery opinion at the
North crystallized in a political organization,--the Free-Soil Party;
and on the other hand the South proposed to abrogate the Missouri
Compromise of 1820 as an offset to the admission of California as a free
State, and at the same time asked in further concession the passage of
the Fugitive Slave Bill; and, in anticipation of failing to get these,
threatened secession, which of course meant war.

It was at this crisis that Mr. Webster delivered his celebrated 7th of
March speech,--in many respects his greatest,--in which he advocated
conciliation and adherence to the Constitution, but which was
represented to support Southern interests, which all his life he had
opposed; and more, to advocate these interests, in order to secure
Southern votes for the presidency. Some of the rich and influential men
of Boston who disliked Webster for other reasons,--for he used to snub
them, even after they had lent him money,--made the most they could of
that speech, to alienate the people. The Abolitionists, at last hostile
to Mr. Webster, who stood in their way and would not adopt their
dictation or advice, also bitterly denounced this speech, until it
finally came to be regarded by the common people, few of whom ever read
it, as a very unpatriotic production, entirely at variance with the
views that Webster formerly advanced; and they forsook him.

Now, what is the real gist and spirit of that speech? The passions which
agitated the country when it was delivered have passed away, and not
only can we now calmly criticise it, but people will listen to the
criticism with all the attention it deserves.

It is my opinion, shared by Peter Harvey and other friends of Mr.
Webster, that in no speech he ever made are patriotic and Union
sentiments more fully avowed. Said he, with fiery emphasis:--

"I hear with distress and anguish the word 'secession.' Secession!
peaceable secession! Sir, your eyes and mine are never destined to see
that miracle. The dismemberment of this great country without
convulsion! The breaking up the fountains of the great deep without
ruffling the surface! There can be no such thing as peaceable secession.
It is an utter impossibility. Is this great Constitution, under which we
live, to be melted and thawed away by secession, as the snows on the
mountains are melted away under the influence of the vernal sun? No,
sir; I see as plainly as the sun in the heavens what that disruption
must produce. I see it must produce war."

"Peaceable secession! peaceable secession! What would be the result?
Where is the line to be drawn? What States are to secede? What is to
remain American? What am I to be? Am I to be an American no longer,--a
sectional man, a local man, a separatist, with no country in common?
Heaven forbid! Where is the flag of the Union to remain? Where is the
eagle still to tower? What is to become of the army? What is to become
of the navy? What is to become of the public lands? How is each of the
thirty States to defend itself? Will you cut the Mississippi in two,
leaving free States on its branches and slave States at its mouth? Can
any one suppose that this population on its banks can be severed by a
line that divides them from the territory of a foreign and alien
government, down somewhere,--the Lord knows where,--upon the lower
branches of the Mississippi? Sir, I dislike to pursue this subject. I
have utter disgust for it. I would rather hear of national blasts and
mildews and pestilence and famine, than hear gentlemen talk about
secession. To break up this great government! To dismember this glorious
country! To astonish Europe with an act of folly, such as Europe for two
centuries has never beheld in any government! No, sir; such talk is
enough to make the bones of Andrew Jackson turn round in his coffin."

Now, what are we to think of these sentiments, drawn from the 7th of
March speech, so disgracefully misrepresented by the politicians and
the fanatics? Do they sound like bidding for Southern votes? Can any
Union sentiments be stronger? Can anything be more decided or more
patriotic? He warns, he entreats, he predicts like a prophet. He proves
that secession is incompatible with national existence; he sees nothing
in it but war. And of all things he dreaded and hated, it was war. He
knew what war meant. He knew that a civil war would be the direst
calamity. He would ward it off. He would be conciliating. He would take
away the excuse of war, by adhering to the Constitution,--the written
Constitution which our fathers framed, and which has been the admiration
of the world, under which we have advanced to prosperity and glory as no
nation ever before advanced.

But a large class regarded the Constitution as unsound, in some respects
a wicked Constitution, since it recognized slavery as an institution. By
"the higher law," they would sweep slavery away, perhaps by moral means,
but by endless agitations, until it was destroyed. Mr. Webster, I
confess, did not like those agitations, since he knew they would end in
war. He had a great insight, such as few people had at that time. But
his prophetic insight was just what a large class of people did not
like, especially in his own State. He uttered disagreeable truths,--as
all prophets do,--and they took up stones to stone him,--to stone him
for the bravest act of his whole life, in which a transcendent wisdom
appeared, and which will be duly honored when the truth shall be seen.

The fact was, at that time Mr. Webster seemed to be a croaker, a
Jeremiah, as Burke at one time seemed to his generation, when he
denounced the recklessness of the French Revolution. Very few people at
the North dreamed of war. It was never supposed that the Southern
leaders would actually become rebels. And they, on the other hand, never
dreamed that the North would rise up solidly and put them down. And if
war were to happen, it was supposed that it would be brief. Even so
great and sagacious a statesman as Seward thought this. The South
thought that it could easily whip the Yankees; and the North thought
that it could suppress a Southern rebellion in six weeks. Both sides
miscalculated. And so, in spite of warnings, the nation drifted into
war; but as it turned out in the end it seems a providential event,
--the way God took to break up slavery, the root and source of all our
sectional animosities; a terrible but apparently necessary catastrophe,
since more than a million of brave men perished, and more than five
thousand millions of dollars were spent. Had the North been wise, it
would have compensated the South for its slaves. Had the South been
wise, it would have accepted the compensation and set them free, But it
was not to be. That issue could only be settled by the most terrible
contest of modern times.

I will not dwell on that war, which Webster predicted and dreaded. I
only wish to show that it was not for want of patriotism that he became
unpopular, but because he did not fall in with the prevailing passions
of the day, or with the public sentiment of the North in reference to
slavery, not as to its evils and wickedness, but as to the way in which
it was to be opposed. The great reforms of England, since the accession
of William III., have been effected by using constitutional means,--not
violence, not revolution, not war; but by an appeal to reason and
intelligence and justice. No reforms in any nation have been greater and
more glorious than those of the nineteenth century,--all effected by
constitutional methods. Mr. Webster vainly attempted constitutional
means. He was a lawyer. He reverenced the Constitution, with all its
compromises. He would observe the law of contracts. Yet no man in the
nation was more impatient than he at the threats of secession. He
foretold that secession would lead to war. And if Mr. Webster had lived
to see the war of which he had such anxious prescience, I firmly believe
that he would have marched under the banner of the North with patriotism
equal to any man. He would have been where Mr. Everett was. One of his
own sons was slain in that war. He was not a Northern man with Southern
principles; his whole life attested his Northern principles. There never
was a time when he was not hated and mistrusted by the Southern leaders.
It is not a proof that he was Southern in his sympathies because he was
not an Abolitionist; and by an Abolitionist I mean what was meant thirty
years ago,--one who was unscrupulously bent on removing slavery by any
means, good or bad; since slavery, in his eyes, was a _malum per se_,
not a misfortune, an evil, a sin, but a crime to be washed out by the
besom of destruction.

Mr. Webster did not sympathize with these extreme views. He was not a
reformer; but that does not show that he was unpatriotic, or a Southern
man in his heart. "The higher law," to him, was the fulfilment of a
contract; the maintenance of promises made in good faith, whether those
promises were wise or foolish; the observance of laws so long as they
were laws. There was, undeniably, a great evil and shame to be removed,
but he was not responsible for it; and he left that evil in the hands of
Him who said, "Vengeance is mine, I will repay,"--as He did repay in
four years' devastations, miseries, and calamities, and these so awful,
so unexpected, so ill-prepared for, that a thoughtful and kind-hearted
person, in view of them, will weep rather than rejoice; for it is not
pleasant to witness chastisements and punishments, even if necessary
and just, unless the people who suffer are fiends and incarnate devils,
as very few men are. Human nature is about the same everywhere, and
individuals and nations peculiarly sinful are generally made so by their
surroundings and circumstances. The reckless people of frontier mining
districts are not naturally worse than adventurers in New York or
Philadelphia; nor is any vulgar and ignorant man, in any part of the
country, suddenly made rich, probably any coarser in his pleasures, or
more sensual in his appearance, or more profane in his language, than
was Vitellius, or Heliogabalus, or Otho, on an imperial throne.

But even suppose Mr. Webster, in the decline of his life, intoxicated by
his magnificent position or led astray by ambition, made serious
political errors. What then? All great men have made errors, both in
judgment and in morals,--Caesar, when he crossed the Rubicon;
Theodosius, when he slaughtered the citizens of Thessalonica; Luther,
when he quarrelled with Zwingli; Henry IV., when he stooped at Canossa;
Elizabeth, when she executed Mary Stuart; Cromwell, when he bequeathed
absolute power to his son; Bacon, when he took bribes; Napoleon, when he
divorced Josephine; Hamilton, when he fought Burr. The sun itself passes
through eclipses, as it gives light to the bodies which revolve around
it. Even David and Peter stumbled. Because Webster professed to know as
much of the interests of the country as the shoemakers of Lynn, and
refused to be instructed in his political duties by Garrison and Wendell
Phillips, does he deserve eternal reprobation? Because he opposed the
public sentiments of his constituents on one point, when perhaps they
were right, is he to be hurled from his lofty pedestal? Are all his
services to be forgotten because he did not lift up his trumpet voice in
favor of immediate emancipation? And even suppose he sought to
conciliate the South when the South was preparing for rebellion,--is
peace-making such a dreadful thing? Go still farther: suppose he wished
to conciliate the South in order to get Southern support for the
presidency--which I grant he wanted, and possibly sought,--is he to be
unforgiven, and his name to be blasted, and he held up to the rising
generation as a fallen man? Does a man fall hopelessly because he
stumbles? Is a man to be dethroned because he is not perfect? When was
Webster's vote ever bought and sold? Who ever sat with more dignity in
the councils of the nation? Would he have voted for "back pay"? Would he
have bought a seat in the Senate, even if he had been as rich as a
bonanza king?

Consider how few errors Webster really committed in a public career of
nearly forty years. Consider the beneficence and wisdom of the measures
which he generally advocated, and which would have been lost but for
his eloquence and power. Consider the greatness and lustre of his
congressional career on the whole. Who has proved a greater benefactor
to this nation, on the floor of Congress, than he? I do not wish to
eulogize, still less to whitewash, so great a man, but only to render
simple justice to his memory and deeds. The time has come to lift the
veil which for thirty years has concealed his noble political services.
The time has come to cry shame on those boys who mocked a prophet, and
said, "Go up, thou bald-head!"--although no bears were found to devour
them. The time has come for this nation to bury the old slanders of an
exciting political warfare, and render thanks for the services performed
by the greatest intellectual giant of the past generation,--services
rendered not on the floor of the Senate alone, not in the national
legislature for thirty years, but in one of the great offices of State,
when he made a treaty with England which saved us from an entangling
war. The Ashburton treaty is the brightest gem in the coronet with which
he should be crowned. It was the proudest day in Webster's life when
Rufus Choate announced to him one evening that the Senate had confirmed
the treaty. It was not when he closed his magnificent argument in behalf
of Dartmouth College, not when he addressed the intelligence of New
England at Bunker Hill, not when he demolished Governor Hayne, not when
he sat on the woolsack with Lord Brougham, not when he was entertained
by Louis Philippe, that the proudest emotions swelled in his bosom, but
when he learned that he had prevented a war with England,--for he knew
that England and America could not afford to fight; that it would be a
fight where gain is loss and glory is shame.

At last, worn out with labor and disease, and perhaps embittered by
disappointment, and saddened to see the increasing tendency to elevate
little men to power,--the "grasshoppers, who make the field ring with
their importunate chinks, while the great cattle chew the cud and are
silent,"--Webster died at Marshfield, Oct. 24, 1852, at seventy years of
age. At the time he was Secretary of State. He died in the consolations
of a religion in which he believed, surrounded with loving friends; and
even his enemies felt that a great man in Israel had fallen. Nothing
then was said of his defects, for great defects he had,--a towering
intellectual pride like Chatham, an austerity like Gladstone, passions
like those of Mirabeau, extravagance like that of Cicero, indifference
to pecuniary obligations, like Pitt and Fox and Sheridan; but these were
overbalanced by the warmth of his affections for his faithful friends,
simplicity of manners and taste, courteous treatment of opponents,
dignity of character, kindness to the poor, hospitality, enjoyment of
rural scenes and sports, profound religious instincts, devotion to what
he deemed the welfare of his country, independence of opinions and
boldness in asserting them at any hazard and against all opposition, and
unbounded contempt of all lies and shams and tricks. These traits will
make his memory dear to all who knew him. And as Florence, too late,
repented of her ingratitude to Dante, and appointed her most learned men
to expound the "Divine Comedy" when he was dead, so will the writings of
Webster be more and more a study among lawyers and statesmen. His fame
will spread, and grow wider and greater, like that of Bacon and Burke,
and of other benefactors of mankind; and his ideas will not pass away
until the glorious fabric of American institutions, whose foundations
were laid by God-fearing people, shall be utterly destroyed, and the
Capitol, where his noblest efforts were made, shall become a mass of
broken and prostrate columns beneath the debris of the nation's ruin!
No, not then shall they perish, even if such gloomy changes are
possible, any more than the genius of Cicero has faded among the ruins
of the Eternal City; but they shall shine upon the most distant works of
man, since they are drawn from the wisdom of all preceding generations,
and are based on those principles which underlie all possible


The Works of Daniel Webster, in eight octavo volumes, including his
speeches, addresses, orations, and legal arguments; Life of Daniel
Webster, by G.T. Curtis; Private Correspondence, edited by F. Webster;
Private Life, by C. Lanman; C.W. March's Reminiscences of Congress;
Peter Harvey's Reminiscences and Anecdotes; Edward Everett's Oration on
the Unveiling of the Statue in Boston; R.C. Winthrop and Evarts, on the
same occasion in New York; Contemporaneous Lives of Clay, Calhoun, and
Benton; the great Oration on Webster by Rufus Choate at Dartmouth
College; J. Barnard's Life and Character of Daniel Webster; E.P.
Whipple's Essay on Webster; Eulogies on the Death of Webster, especially
those by G.S. Hillard, L. Woods, A. Taft, R.D. Hitchcock, and Theodore
Parker, also Addresses and Orations on the One Hundredth Anniversary of
Webster's Birth, too numerous to mention,---especially the address of
Senator Bayard at Dartmouth College. The complete and exhaustive Life of
Webster is yet to be written, although the most prominent of his
contemporaries have had something to say.




The extraordinary abilities of John C. Calhoun, the great influence he
exerted as the representative of Southern interests in the National
Legislature, and especially his connection with the Slavery Question,
make it necessary to include him among the statesmen who, for evil or
good, have powerfully affected the destinies of the United States. He is
a great historical character,--the peer of Webster and Clay in
congressional history, and more unsullied than either of them in the
virtues of private life. In South Carolina he was regarded as little
less than a demigod, and until the antislavery agitation began he was
viewed as among the foremost statesmen of the land. His elevation to
commanding influence in Congress was very rapid, and but for his
identification with partisan interests and a bad institution, there was
no office in the gift of the nation to which he could not reasonably
have aspired.

John Caldwell Calhoun was born in 1782, of highly respectable
Protestant-Irish descent, in the Abbeville District in South Carolina.
He was not a patrician, according to the ideas of rich planters. He had
but a slender school education in boyhood, but was prepared for college
by a Presbyterian clergyman, entered the Junior Class of Yale College in
1802, and was graduated with high honors. He chose the law for his
profession, studied laboriously for three years, spending eighteen
months at the then famous law school at Litchfield, Connecticut, and
gave great promise, in his remarkable logical powers, of becoming an
eminent lawyer.

Whatever abilities Mr. Calhoun may have had for the law, it does not
appear that he practised it long, or to any great extent. His taste and
his genius inclined him to politics. And, having married a lady with
some fortune, he had sufficient means to live without professional
drudgery. After serving a short time in the State Legislature of South
Carolina, he was elected a member of Congress, and took his seat in the
House of Representatives in 1811, at the age of twenty-nine. From the
very first his voice was heard. He made a speech in favor of raising ten
thousand additional men to our army to resist the encroachments of Great
Britain and prepare for hostilities should the country drift into war.
It was an able speech for a young man, and its scornful repudiation of
reckoning the costs of war against insult and violated rights had a
chivalric ring about it: "Sir, I here enter my solemn protest against a
low and calculating avarice entering this hall of legislation. It is
only fit for shops and counting-houses.... It is a compromising spirit,
always ready to yield a part to save the residue." Here at an early date
we hear the key-note of his life,--hatred of compromises and
half-measures. If it were necessary to go to war at all, he would fight
regardless of expense.

Thus Calhoun began his public career as an advocate of war with Great
Britain. The old Revolutionary sores had not yet had time to heal, and
there was general hostility to England, except among the Virginia
aristocrats and the Federalists of the North. Although a young man,
Calhoun was placed upon the important committee of Foreign Affairs, of
which he was soon made chairman.

Calhoun's early speeches in Congress gave promise of rare abilities. The
most able of them were those on the repeal of the Embargo, in 1814; on
the commercial convention with Great Britain in 1816; on the United
States Bank Bill and the tariff the same year; and on the Internal
Improvement Bill in 1817. The main subject which occupied Congress from
1812 to 1814 was the war with Great Britain, during the administration
of Madison; and afterwards, till 1817, the great questions at issue were
in reference to tariffs and internal improvements.

In the discussion of these subjects Calhoun took broad and patriotic
ground. At that time we see no sectional interests predominating in his
mind. He favored internal improvements, great permanent roads, and even
the protection of manufactures, and a National Bank. On all these
questions his sectional interests at a later day led him to support the
exact opposite of these early national views. Says Von Holst: "His
speech on the new tariff bill (April 6, 1816) was a long and carefully
prepared argument in favor of the whole economical platform on which the
Whig party stood to the last day of its existence.... Even Henry Clay
and Horace Greeley have not been able to put their favorite doctrine
into stronger language.... His final aim was the industrial independence
of the United States from Europe; and this, he thought, could be
obtained by protective duties."

Calhoun's speeches, during the six years that he was a member of the
House of Representatives, were so able as to attract the attention of
the nation, and in 1817 Monroe selected him as his Secretary of War. And
he made a good executive officer in this branch of the public service,
putting things to rights, and bringing order out of confusion, living on
terms of friendship with John Quincy Adams and other members of the
cabinet, planning military roads, introducing a system of strict economy
in his department, and making salutary reforms. He tolerated no abuses.
He was disposed to do justice to the Indians, and raise them from their
degradation, even seeking to educate them, when it was more than
probable that they would return to their barbaric habits,--a race, as it
would seem from experience, very difficult to civilize. Adams thus spoke
of his young colleague: "Mr. Calhoun is a man of fair and candid mind,
of honorable principles, of quick and clear understanding, of cool
self-possession, of enlarged philosophical views, and of ardent
patriotism. He is above all sectional and factious prejudices more than
any other statesman of this Union with whom I have ever acted,"--a very
different verdict from what he wrote in his diary in 1831. Judge Story
wrote of him in 1823 in these terms: "I have great admiration for Mr.
Calhoun, and think few men have more enlarged and liberal views of the
true policy of the national government."

The post he held, however, was not Calhoun's true arena, but one which
an ambitious young man of thirty-five could not well decline, from the
honor it brought. The secretaryship of war is the least important of all
the cabinet offices in time of peace, and was especially so when the
army was reduced to six thousand men. Its functions amounted to little
more than sending small detachments to military posts, making contracts
for the commissariat, visiting occasionally the forts and
fortifications, and making a figure in Washington society. It furnished
no field for extensive operations, or the exercise of remarkable
qualities of mind. But inasmuch as it made Calhoun a member of the
cabinet, it gave him an opportunity to express his mind on all national
issues, and exercise an influence on the President himself. It did not
make him prominent in the eyes of the nation. He was simply the head of
a bureau, although an important personage in the eyes of the cadets of
West Point and of some lazy lieutenants stationed among the Indians. But
whatever the part he was required to play, he did his duty, showed
ability, and won confidence. He doubtless added to his reputation, else
he would not have been talked about as a candidate for the presidency,
selected as a candidate for the vice-presidency, and chosen to that
position by Northern votes, as he was in 1824, when the election was
thrown into the House of Representatives, and the friends of Henry Clay
made Adams, instead of Jackson, President. Calhoun's popularity with all
parties resulted in his election as vice-president by a very large
popular vote. He deserved it. The day had not come for the ascendency of
mere politicians, and their division of the spoils of office.

The condition of the slaveholding States at this period was most
prosperous. The culture of cotton had become exceedingly lucrative. Rich
planters spent their summers at the North in luxurious independence. It
was the era of general "good feeling." No agitating questions had
arisen. Young men at the South sought education in the New England
colleges; manufacturing interests were in their infancy, and had not, as
yet, excited Southern jealousy. Commercial prosperity in New England was
the main object desired, although the war with Great Britain had proved
disastrous to it. Political influence seemed to centre in the Southern
States. These States had furnished four presidents out of five. The
great West had not arisen in its might; it had no great cities: but
Charleston and Boston were centres of culture and wealth, and on good
terms with each other, both equally free from agitating questions, and
both equally benignant to the institution of slavery, which the
Constitution was supposed to have made secure forever. The Adams
administration was notable for nothing but beginnings of the tariff
question and the protectionist Act of 1828, the growth of the Democratic
party, the final intensity of the presidential campaign of 1828, and the
election of Jackson, with Calhoun as Vice-president.

As the incumbent of this office for two terms, Mr. Calhoun did not make
a great mark in history. His office was one of dignity and not of power;
but during his vice-presidency important discussions took place in
Congress which placed him, as presiding officer of the Senate, in an
embarrassing position. He was between two fires, and gradually became
alienated from the two opposing parties to whom he owed his election. He
could go neither with Adams nor with Jackson on public measures, and
both interfered with his aspirations for the presidency. His personal
relations with Jackson, who had been his warm friend and supporter,
became strained after his second election as Vice-President. He took
part against Jackson in the President's undignified attempt to force his
cabinet to recognize the social position of Mrs. Eaton. Further, it was
divulged by Crawford, who had been Secretary of the Treasury in Monroe's
cabinet when Calhoun was Secretary of War, that the latter had in 1818
favored a censure of Jackson for his unauthorized seizure of Spanish
territory in the Florida campaign during the Seminole War; and this
increased the growing animosity. What had been an alienation between the
two highest officers of the government ripened into intense hatred,
which was fatal to the aspirations of Calhoun for the presidency; for no
man could be President against the overpowering influence of Jackson.
This was a bitter disappointment to Calhoun, for he had set his heart
on being the successor of Jackson in the presidential chair.

There were two subjects which had arisen to great importance during Mr.
Calhoun's terms of executive office which not only blasted his prospects
for the presidency, but separated him forever from his former friends
and allies.

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