This last sentence slipped from the pen unawares; but, ridiculous as it looks, it does actually express the position and vocation of the Federalists after the peace of 1815. Clay, Calhoun, Story, Adams, and the Republican majority in Congress, taught by the disasters of the war, as they supposed, had embraced the ideas of the old Federalist party, and were preparing to carry some of them to an extreme. The navy had no longer an enemy. The strict constructionists had dwindled to a few impracticables, headed by John Randolph. The younger Republicans were disposed to a liberal, if not to a latitudinarian construction of the Constitution. In short, they were Federalists and Hamiltonians, bank men, tariff men, internal-improvement men. Then was afforded to the country the curious spectacle of Federalists opposing the measures which had been among the rallying-cries of their party for twenty years. It was not in Daniel Webster's nature to be a leader; it was morally impossible for him to disengage himself from party ties. This exquisite and consummate artist in oratory, who could give such weighty and brilliant expression to the feelings of his hearers and the doctrines of his party, had less originating power, whether of intellect or of will, than any other man of equal eminence that ever lived. He adhered to the fag end of the old party, until it was absorbed, unavoidably, with scarcely an effort of its own, in Adams and Clay. From 1815 to 1825 he was in opposition, and in opposition to old Federalism revived; and, consequently, we believe that posterity will decide that his speeches of this period are the only ones relating to details of policy which have the slightest permanent value. In fact, his position in Congress, as a member of a very small band of Federalists who had no hope of regaining power, was the next thing to being independent, and he made an excellent use of his advantage.
That Bank of the United States, for example, of which, in 1832, he was the ablest defender, and for a renewal of which he strove for ten years, he voted against in 1816; and for reasons which neither he nor any other man ever refuted. His speeches criticising the various bank schemes of 1815 and 1816 were serviceable to the public, and made the bank, as finally established, less harmful than it might have been.
So of the tariff. On this subject, too, he always followed,—never led. So long as there was a Federal party, he, as a member of it, opposed Mr. Clay's protective, or (as Mr. Clay delighted to term it) "American system." When, in 1825, the few Federalists in the House voted for Mr. Adams, and were merged in the "conservative wing" of the Republican party, which became, in time, the Whig party, then, and from that time forward to the end of his life, he was a protectionist. His anti-protection speech of 1824 is wholly in the modern spirit, and takes precisely the ground since taken by Ricardo, John Stuart Mill, and others of the new school. It is so excellent a statement of the true policy of the United States with regard to protection, that we have often wondered it has been allowed to sleep so long in the tomb of his works. And, oh! from what evils might we have been spared,—nullification, surplus-revenue embarrassments, hot-bed manufactures, clothing three times its natural price,—if the protective legislation of Congress had been inspired by the Webster of 1824, instead of the Clay! Unimportant as this great speech may now seem, as it lies uncut in the third volume of its author's speeches, its unturned leaves sticking together, yet we can say of it, that the whole course of American history had been different if its counsels had been followed. The essence of the speech is contained in two of its phrases: "Freedom of trade, the general principle; restriction, the exception." Free trade, the object to be aimed at; protection, a temporary expedient. Free trade, the interest of all nations; protection, the occasional necessity of one. Free trade, the final and universal good; protection, the sometimes necessary evil. Free trade, as soon as possible and as complete as possible; protection, as little as possible and as short as possible. The speech was delivered in reply to Mr. Clay; and, viewed merely as a reply, it is difficult to conceive of one more triumphant. Mr. Webster was particularly happy in turning Mr. Clay's historical illustrations against him, especially those drawn from the history of the English silk manufacture, and the Spanish system of restriction and prohibition. Admitting fully that manufactures the most unsuited to the climate, soil, and genius of a country could be created by protection, he showed that such manufactures were not, upon the whole, and in the long run, a benefit to a country; and adduced, for an illustration, the very instance cited by Mr. Clay,—the silk manufacture of England,—which kept fifty thousand persons in misery, and necessitated the continuance of a kind of legislation which the intelligence of Great Britain had outgrown. Is not the following brief passage an almost exhaustive statement of the true American policy?
"I know it would be very easy to promote manufactures, at least for a time, but probably for a short time only, if we might act in disregard of other interests. We could cause a sudden transfer of capital and a violent change in the pursuits of men. We could exceedingly benefit some classes by these means. But what then becomes of the interests of others? The power of collecting revenue by duties on imports, and the habit of the government of collecting almost its whole revenue, in that mode, will enable us, without exceeding the bounds of moderation, to give great advantages to those classes of manufactures which we may think most useful to promote at home."
One of his happy retorts upon Mr. Clay was the following:—
"I will be so presumptuous as to take up a challenge which Mr. Speaker has thrown down. He has asked us, in a tone of interrogatory indicative of the feeling of anticipated triumph, to mention any country in which manufactures have flourished without the aid of prohibitory laws.... Sir, I am ready to answer this inquiry.
"There is a country, not undistinguished among the nations, in which the progress of manufactures has been more rapid than in any other, and yet unaided by prohibitions or unnatural restrictions. That country, the happiest which the sun shines on, is our own."
Again, Mr. Clay had made the rash remark that it would cost the nation, as a nation, nothing to convert our ore into iron. Mr. Webster's reply to this seems to us eminently worthy of consideration at the present moment, and at every moment when the tariff is a topic of debate.
"I think," said he, "it would cost us precisely what we can least afford, that is, great labor.... Of manual labor no nation has more than a certain quantity; nor can it be increased at will.... A most important question for every nation, as well as for every individual, to propose to itself, is, how it can best apply that quantity of labor which it is able to perform.... Now, with respect to the quantity of labor, as we all know, different nations are differently circumstanced. Some need, more than anything, work for hands; others require hands for work; and if we ourselves are not absolutely in the latter class, we are still, most fortunately, very near it."
The applicability of these observations to the present condition of affairs in the United States—labor very scarce, and protectionists clamoring to make it scarcer—must be apparent to every reader.
But this was the last of Mr. Webster's efforts in behalf of the freedom of trade. In the spring of 1825, when it devolved upon the House of Representatives to elect a President, the few Federalists remaining in the House became, for a few days, an important body. Mr. Webster had an hereditary love for the house of Adams; and the aged Jefferson himself had personally warned him against Andrew Jackson. Webster it was who, in an interview with Mr. Adams, obtained such assurances as determined the Federalists to give their vote for the New England candidate; and thus terminated the existence of the great party which Hamilton had founded, with which Washington had sympathized, which had ruled the country for twelve years, and maintained a vigorous and useful opposition for a quarter of a century. Daniel Webster was in opposition no longer. He was a defender of the administration of Adams and Clay, supported all their important measures, and voted for, nay, advocated, the Tariff Bill of 1828, which went far beyond that of 1824 in its protective provisions. Taunted with such a remarkable and sudden change of opinion, he said that, New England having been compelled by the act of 1824 to transfer a large part of her capital from commerce to manufactures, he was bound, as her representative, to demand the continuance of the system. Few persons, probably, who heard him give this reason for his conversion, believed it was the true one; and few will ever believe it who shall intimately know the transactions of that winter in Washington. But if it was the true reason, Mr. Webster, in giving it, ruled himself out of the rank of the Great,—who, in every age and land, lead, not follow, their generation. In his speech of 1824 he objects to the protective system on general principles, applicable to every case not clearly exceptional; and the further Congress was disposed to carry an erroneous system, the more was he bound to lift up his voice against it. It seems to us that, when he abandoned the convictions of his own mind and took service under Mr. Clay, he descended (to use the fine simile of the author of "Felix Holt") from the rank of heroes to that of the multitude for whom heroes fight. He was a protectionist, thenceforth, as long as he lived. If he was right in 1824, how wrong he was in 1846! In 1824 he pointed to the high wages of American mechanics as a proof that the protective system was unnecessary; and he might have quoted Adam Smith to show that, in 1770, wages in the Colonies were just as high, compared with wages in Europe, as in 1824. In 1846 he attributed high wages in America to the operation of the protective system. In 1824 free trade was the good, and restriction the evil; in 1846 restriction was the good, and free trade the evil.
Practical wisdom, indeed, was not in this man. He was not formed to guide, but to charm, impress, and rouse mankind. His advocacy of the Greek cause, in 1824, events have shown to be unwise; but his speech on this subject contains some passages so exceedingly fine, noble, and harmonious, that we do not believe they have ever been surpassed in extempore speech by any man but himself. The passage upon Public Opinion, for example, is always read with delight, even by those who can call to mind the greatest number of instances of its apparent untruth.
"The time has been, indeed, when fleets, and armies, and subsidies were the principal reliances, even in the best cause. But, happily for mankind, a great change has taken place in this respect. Moral causes come into consideration in proportion as the progress of knowledge is advanced; and the public opinion of the civilized world is rapidly gaining an ascendency over mere brutal force.... It may be silenced by military power, but it cannot be conquered. It is elastic, irrepressible, and invulnerable to the weapons of ordinary warfare. It is that impassible, unextinguishable enemy of mere violence and arbitrary rule, which, like Milton's angels,
"'Vital in every part,... Cannot, but by annihilating, die.'
"Until this be propitiated or satisfied, it is vain for power to talk either of triumphs or of repose. No matter what fields are desolated, what fortresses surrendered, what armies subdued, or what provinces overrun.... There is an enemy that still exists to check the glory of these triumphs. It follows the conqueror back to the very scene of his ovations; it calls upon him to take notice that Europe, though silent, is yet indignant; it shows him that the sceptre of his victory is a barren sceptre; that it shall confer neither joy nor honor; but shall moulder to dry ashes in his grasp. In the midst of his exultation, it pierces his ear with the cry of injured justice; it denounces against him the indignation of an enlightened and civilized age; it turns to bitterness the cup of his rejoicing, and wounds him with the sting which belongs to the consciousness of having outraged the opinion of mankind."—Works, Vol. III. pp. 77, 78.
Yes: if the conqueror bad the moral feeling which inspired this passage, and if the cry of injured justice could pierce the flattering din of office-seekers surrounding him. But, reading the paragraph as the expression of a hope of what may one day be, how grand and consoling it is! The information given in this fine oration respecting the condition of Greece and the history of her struggle for independence was provided for him by the industry of his friend, Edward Everett.
One of the minor triumphs of Mr. Webster's early Congressional life was his conquest of the heart of John Randolph. In the course of a debate on the sugar tax, in 1816, Mr. Webster had the very common fortune of offending the irascible member from Virginia, and Mr. Randolph, as his custom was, demanded an explanation of the offensive words. Explanation was refused by the member from Massachusetts; whereupon Mr. Randolph demanded "the satisfaction which his insulted feelings required." Mr. Webster's reply to this preposterous demand was everything that it ought to have been. He told Mr. Randolph that he had no right to an explanation, and that the temper and style of the demand were such as to forbid its being conceded as a matter of courtesy. He denied, too, the right of any man to call him to the field for what he might please to consider an insult to his feelings, although he should be "always prepared to repel in a suitable manner the aggression of any man who may presume upon such a refusal." The eccentric Virginian was so much pleased with Mr. Webster's bearing upon this occasion, that he manifested a particular regard for him, and pronounced him a very able man for a Yankee.
It was during these years that Daniel Webster became dear, beyond all other men of his time, to the people of New England. Removing to Boston in 1816, and remaining out of Congress for some years, he won the first place at the New England bar, and a place equal to the foremost at the bar of the Supreme Court of the United States. Not one of his legal arguments has been exactly reported, and some of the most important of them we possess merely in outline; but in such reports as we have, the weight and clearness of his mind are abundantly apparent. In almost every argument of his, there can be found digressions which relieve the strained attention of the bench, and please the unlearned hearer; and he had a happy way of suddenly crystallizing his argument into one luminous phrase, which often seemed to prove his case by merely stating it. Thus, in the Dartmouth College case, he made a rare display of learning (furnished him by associate counsel, he tells us); but his argument is concentrated in two of his simplest sentences:—1. The endowment of a college is private property; 2. The charter of a college is that which constitutes its endowment private property. The Supreme Court accepted these two propositions, and thus secured to every college in the country its right to its endowment. This seems too simple for argument, but it cost a prodigious and powerfully contested lawsuit to reduce the question to this simplicity; and it was Webster's large, calm, and discriminating glance which detected these two fundamental truths in the mountain mass of testimony, argument, and judicial decision. In arguing the great steamboat case, too, he displayed the same qualities of mind. New York having granted to Livingston and Fulton the exclusive right to navigate her waters by steamboats, certain citizens of New Jersey objected, and, after a fierce struggle upon the waters themselves, transferred the contest to the Supreme Court. Mr. Webster said: "The commerce of the United States, under the Constitution of 1787, is a unit," and "what we call the waters of the State of New York are, for the purposes of navigation and commerce, the waters of the United States"; therefore no State can grant exclusive privileges. The Supreme Court affirmed this to be the true doctrine, and thenceforth Captain Cornelius Vanderbilt ran his steamboat without feeling it necessary, on approaching New York, to station a lady at the helm and to hide himself in the hold. Along with this concentrating power, Mr. Webster possessed, as every school-boy knows, a fine talent for amplification and narrative. His narration of the murder of Captain White was almost enough of itself to hang a man.
But it was not his substantial services to his country which drew upon him the eyes of all New England, and made him dear to every son of the Pilgrims. In 1820, the Pilgrim Society of Plymouth celebrated the anniversary of the landing of their forefathers in America. At the dinner of the Society, that day, every man found beside his plate five kernels of corn, to remind him of the time when that was the daily allowance of the settlers, and it devolved upon Daniel Webster to show how worthy they were of better fare. His address on this anniversary is but an amplification of his Junior Fourth-of-July oration of 1800; but what an amplification! It differed from that youthful essay as the first flights of a young eagle, from branch to branch upon its native tree, differ from the sweep of his wings when he takes a continent in his flight, and swings from mountain range to mountain range. We are aware that eulogy is, of all the kinds of composition, the easiest to execute in a tolerable manner. What Mr. Everett calls "patriotic eloquence" should usually be left to persons who are in the gushing time of life; for when men address men, they should say something, clear up something, help forward something, accomplish something. It is not becoming in a full-grown man to utter melodious wind. Nevertheless, it can be truly said of this splendid and irresistible oration, that it carries that kind of composition as far as we can ever expect to see it carried, even in this its native land. What a triumphant joy it must have been to an audience, accustomed for three or four generations to regard preaching as the noblest work of man, keenly susceptible to all the excellences of uttered speech, and who now heard their plain old fathers and grandfathers praised in such massive and magnificent English! Nor can it be said that this speech says nothing. In 1820 it was still part of the industry of New England to fabricate certain articles required by slave-traders in their hellish business; and there were still descendants of the Pilgrims who were actually engaged in the traffic.
"If there be," exclaimed the orator,
"within the extent of our knowledge or influence any participation in this traffic, let us pledge ourselves here, upon the rock of Plymouth, to extirpate and destroy it. It is not fit that the land of the Pilgrims should bear the shame longer. I hear the sound of the hammer, I see the smoke of the furnaces where manacles and fetters are still forged for human limbs. I see the visages of those who by stealth and at midnight labor in this work of hell, foul and dark, as may become the artificers of such instruments of misery and torture. Let that spot be purified, or let it cease to be of New England."—Works, Vol. I. pp. 45, 46.
And he proceeds, in language still more energetic, to call upon his countrymen to purge their land of this iniquity. This oration, widely circulated through the press, gave the orator universal celebrity in the Northern States, and was one of the many causes which secured his continuance in the national councils.
Such was his popularity in Boston, that, in 1824, he was re-elected to Congress by 4,990 votes out of 5,000; and such was his celebrity in his profession, that his annual retainers from banks, insurance companies, and mercantile firms yielded an income that would have satisfied most lawyers even of great eminence.
Those were not the times of five-thousand-dollar fees. As late as 1819, as we see in Mr. Webster's books, he gave "advice" in important cases for twenty dollars; his regular retaining fee was fifty dollars; his "annual retainer," one hundred dollars; his whole charge for conducting a cause rarely exceeded five hundred dollars; and the income of a whole year averaged about twenty thousand dollars. Twenty years later, he has gained a larger sum than that by the trial of a single cause; but in 1820 such an income was immense, and probably not exceeded by that of any other American lawyer. Most lawyers in the United States, he once said, "live well, work hard, and die poor"; and this is particularly likely to be the case with lawyers who spend six months of the year in Congress.
Northern members of Congress, from the foundation of the government, have usually gratified their ambition only by the sacrifice of their interests. The Congress of the United States, modelled upon the Parliament of Great Britain, finds in the North no suitable class of men who can afford to be absent from their affairs half the year. We should naturally choose to be represented in Washington by men distinguished in their several spheres; but in the North, almost all such persons are so involved in business that they cannot accept a seat in Congress, except at the peril of their fortune; and this inconvenience is aggravated by the habits that prevail at the seat of government. In the case of a lawyer like Daniel Webster, who has a large practice in the Supreme Court, the difficulty is diminished, because he can usually attend the court without seriously neglecting his duties in Congress,—usually, but not always. There was one year in the Congressional life of Mr. Webster when he was kept out of the Supreme Court for four months by the high duty that devolved upon him of refuting Calhoun's nullification subtilties; but even in that year, his professional income was more than seven thousand dollars; and he ought by that time, after thirty years of most successful practice, to have been independent of his profession. He was not, however; and never would have been, if he had practised a century. Those habits of profusion, that reckless disregard of pecuniary considerations, of which we noticed indications in his early days, seemed to be part of his moral constitution. He never appeared to know how much money he had, nor how much he owed; and, what was worse, he never appeared to care. He was a profuse giver and a careless payer. It was far easier for him to send a hundred-dollar note in reply to a begging letter, than it was to discharge a long-standing account; and when he had wasted his resources in extravagant and demoralizing gifts, he deemed it a sufficient answer to a presented bill to ask his creditor how a man could pay money who had none.
It is not true, therefore, that the frequent embarrassments of his later years were due to the loss of practice by his attendance in Congress; because, in the years when his professional gains were smallest, his income was large enough for the wants of any reasonable man. Nevertheless, we cannot deny that when, in 1827, by his acceptance of a seat in the Senate, he gave himself permanently to public life, he made a sacrifice of his pecuniary interests which, for a man of such vast requirements and uncalculating habits, was very great.
But his reward was also very great. On that elevated theatre he soon found an opportunity for the display of his talents, which, while it honored and served his country, rendered him the foremost man in that part of it where such talents as his could be appreciated.
All wars of which we have any knowledge have consisted of two parts: first, a war of words; secondly, the conflict of arms. The war of words which issued in the late Rebellion began, in 1828, by the publication of Mr. Calhoun's first paper upon Nullification, called the South Carolina Exposition; and it ended in April, 1861, when President Lincoln issued his call for seventy-five thousand troops, which excited so much merriment at Montgomery. This was a period of thirty-three years, during which every person in the United States who could use either tongue or pen joined in the strife of words, and contributed his share either toward hastening or postponing the final appeal to the sword. Men fight with one another, says Dr. Franklin, because they have not sense enough to settle their disputes in any other way; and when once they have begun, never stop killing one another as long as they have money enough "to pay the butchers." So it appeared in our case. Of all the men who took part in this preliminary war of words, Daniel Webster was incomparably the ablest. He seemed charged with a message and a mission to the people of the United States; and almost everything that he said in his whole life of real value has reference to that message and that mission. The necessity of the Union of these States, the nature of the tie that binds them together, the means by which alone that tie can be kept strong,—this was what he came charged to impart to us; and when he had fully delivered this message, he had done his work. His numberless speeches upon the passing questions of the day,—tariff, Bank, currency, Sub-treasury, and the rest,—in which the partisan spoke rather than the man may have had their value at the time, but there is little in them of durable worth. Those of them which events have not refuted, time has rendered obsolete. No general principles are established in them which can be applied to new cases. Indeed, he used often to assert that there were no general principles in practical statesmanship, but that the government of nations is, and must be, a series of expedients. Several times, in his published works, can be found the assertion, that there is no such thing as a science of political economy, though he says he had "turned over" all the authors on that subject from Adam Smith to his own time. It is when he speaks of the Union and the Constitution, and when he is rousing the sentiment of nationality, that he utters, not, indeed, eternal truths, but truths necessary to the existence of the United States, and which can only become obsolete when the nation is no more.
The whole of his previous life had been an unconscious preparation for these great debates. It was one of the recollections of his childhood, that, in his eighth year, he had bought a handkerchief upon which was printed the Constitution of 1787, which he then read through; and while he was a farmer's boy at home, the great question of its acceptance or rejection had been decided. His father's party was the party for the Constitution, whose only regret concerning it was, that it was not so much of a constitution as they wished it to be. The Republicans dwelt upon its defects and dangers; the Federalists, upon its advantages and beauties: so that all that this receptive lad heard of it at his father's fireside was of its value and necessity. We see in his youthful orations that nothing in the history of the continent struck his imagination so powerfully as the spectacle of thirty-eight gentlemen meeting in a quiet city, and peacefully settling the terms of a national union between thirteen sovereign States, most of which gave up, voluntarily, what the sword alone was once supposed capable of extorting. In all his orations on days of national festivity or mourning, we observe that his weightiest eulogy falls upon those who were conspicuous in this great business. Because Hamilton aided in it, he revered his memory; because Madison was its best interpreter, he venerated his name and deferred absolutely to his judgment. It was clear to his mind that the President can only dismiss an officer of the government as he appoints him, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate; but he would not permit himself to think so against Mr. Madison's decision. His own triumphs at the bar—those upon which he plumed himself—-were all such as resulted from his lonely broodings over, and patient study of, the Constitution of his country. A native of one of the smallest of the States, to which the Union was an unmixed benefit and called for no sacrifice of pride, he grew up into nationality without having to pass through any probation of States' rights scruples. Indeed, it was as natural for a man of his calibre to be a national man as it is for his own Monadnock to be three thousand feet above the level of the sea.
The South Carolina Exposition of 1828 appeared to fall still-born from the press. Neither General Jackson nor any of his nearest friends seem to have been so much as aware of its existence; certainly they attached no importance to it. Colonel Benton assures us, that to him the Hayne debate, so far as it related to constitutional questions, seemed a mere oratorical display, without adequate cause or object; and we know that General Jackson, intimately allied with the Hayne family and strongly attached to Colonel Hayne himself, wished him success in the debate, and heard with regret that Mr. Webster was "demolishing" him. Far, indeed, was any one from supposing that a movement had been set on foot which was to end only with the total destruction of the "interest" sought to be protected by it. Far was any one from foreseeing that so poor and slight a thing as the Exposition was the beginning of forty years of strife. It is evident from the Banquo passage of Mr. Webster's principal speech, when, looking at Vice-President Calhoun, he reminded that ambitious man that, in joining the coalition which made Jackson President, he had only given Van Buren a push toward the Presidency,—"No son of theirs succeeding,"—it is evident, we say, from this passage, and from other covert allusions, that he understood the game of Nullification from the beginning, so far as its objects were personal. But there is no reason for supposing that he attached importance to it before that memorable afternoon in December, 1830, when he strolled from the Supreme Court into the Senate-chamber, and chanced to hear Colonel Hayne reviling New England, and repeating the doctrines of the South Carolina Exposition.
Every one knows the story of this first triumph of the United States over its enemies. Daniel Webster, as Mr. Everett records, appeared to be the only person in Washington who was entirely at his ease; and he was so remarkably unconcerned, that Mr. Everett feared he was not aware of the expectations of the public, and the urgent necessity of his exerting all his powers. Another friend mentions, that on the day before the delivery of the principal speech the orator lay down as usual, after dinner, upon a sofa, and soon was heard laughing to himself. Being asked what he was laughing at, he said he had just thought of a way to turn Colonel Hayne's quotation about Banquo's ghost against himself, and he was going to get up and make a note of it. This he did, and then resumed his nap.
Notwithstanding these appearances of indifference, he was fully roused to the importance of the occasion; and, indeed, we have the impression that only on this occasion, in his whole life, were all his powers in full activity and his entire mass of being in full glow. But even then the artist was apparent in all that he did, and particularly in the dress which he wore. At that time, in his forty-eighth year, his hair was still as black as an Indian's, and it lay in considerable masses about the spacious dome of his forehead. His form had neither the slenderness of his youth nor the elephantine magnitude of his later years; it was fully, but finely, developed, imposing and stately, yet not wanting in alertness and grace. No costume could have been better suited to it than his blue coat and glittering gilt buttons, his ample yellow waistcoat, his black trousers, and snowy cravat. It was in some degree, perhaps, owing to the elegance and daintiness of his dress that, while the New England men among his hearers were moved to tears, many Southern members, like Colonel Benton, regarded the speech merely as a Fourth-of-July oration delivered on the 6th of January. Benton assures us, however, that he soon discovered his error, for the Nullifiers were not to be put down by a speech, and soon revealed themselves in their true character, as "irreconcilable" foes of the Union. This was Daniel Webster's own word in speaking of that faction in 1830,—"irreconcilable."
After this transcendent effort,—perhaps the greatest of its kind ever made by man,—Daniel Webster had nothing to gain in the esteem of the Northern States. He was indisputably our foremost man, and in Massachusetts there was no one who could be said to be second to him in the regard of the people: he was a whole species in himself. In the subsequent winter of debate with Calhoun upon the same subject, he added many details to his argument, developed it in many directions, and accumulated a great body of constitutional reasoning; but so far as the people were concerned, the reply to Hayne sufficed. In all those debates we are struck with his colossal, his superfluous superiority to his opponents; and we wonder how it could have been that such a man should have thought it worth while to refute such puerilities. It was, however, abundantly worth while. The assailed Constitution needed such a defender. It was necessary that the patriotic feeling of the American people, which was destined to a trial so severe, should have an unshakable basis of intelligent conviction. It was necessary that all men should be made distinctly to see that the Constitution was not a "compact" to which the States "acceded," and from which they could secede, but the fundamental law, which the people had established and ordained, from which there could be no secession but by revolution. It was necessary that the country should be made to understand that Nullification and Secession were one and the same; and that to admit the first, promising to stop short at the second, was as though a man "should take the plunge of Niagara and cry out that he would stop half-way down." Mr. Webster's principal speech on this subject, delivered in 1832, has, and will ever have, with the people and the Courts of the United States, the authority of a judicial decision; and it might very properly be added to popular editions of the Constitution as an appendix. Into the creation of the feeling and opinion which fought out the late war for the Union a thousand and ten thousand causes entered; every man who had ever performed a patriotic action, and every man who ever from his heart had spoken a patriotic word, contributed to its production; but to no man, perhaps, were we more indebted for it than to the Daniel Webster of 1830 and 1832.
We cannot so highly commend his votes in 1832 as his speeches. General Jackson's mode of dealing with nullification seems to us the model for every government to follow which has to deal with discontented subjects:—1. To take care that the laws are obeyed; 2. To remove the real grounds of discontent. This was General Jackson's plan. This, also, was the aim of Mr. Clay's compromise. Mr. Webster objected to both, on the ground that nullification was rebellion, and that no legislation respecting the pretext for rebellion should be entertained until the rebellion was quelled. Thus he came out of the battle, dear to the thinking people of the country, but estranged from the three political powers,—Henry Clay and his friends, General Jackson and his friends, Calhoun and his friends; and though he soon lapsed again under the leadership of Mr. Clay, there was never again a cordial union between him and any interior circle of politicians who could have gratified his ambition. Deceived by the thunders of applause which greeted him wherever he went, and the intense adulation of his own immediate circle, he thought that he too could be an independent power in politics. Two wild vagaries seemed to have haunted him ever after: first, that a man could merit the Presidency; secondly, that a man could get the Presidency by meriting it.
From 1832 to the end of his life it appears to us that Daniel Webster was undergoing a process of deterioration, moral and mental. His material part gained upon his spiritual. Naturally inclined to indolence, and having an enormous capacity for physical enjoyment, a great hunter, fisherman, and farmer, a lover of good wine and good dinners, a most jovial companion, his physical desires and tastes were constantly strengthened by being keenly gratified, while his mind was fed chiefly upon past acquisitions. There is nothing in his later efforts which shows any intellectual advance, nothing from which we can infer that he had been browsing in forests before untrodden, or feeding in pastures new. He once said, at Marshfield, that, if he could live three lives in one, he would like to devote them all to study,—one to geology, one to astronomy, and one to classical literature. But it does not appear that he invigorated and refreshed the old age of his mind, by doing more than glance over the great works which treat of these subjects. A new language every ten years, or a new science vigorously pursued, seems necessary to preserve the freshness of the understanding, especially when the physical tastes are superabundantly nourished. He could praise Rufus Choate for reading a little Latin and Greek every day,—and this was better than nothing,—but he did not follow his example. There is an aged merchant in New York, who has kept his mind from growing old by devoting exactly twenty minutes every day to the reading of some abstruse book, as far removed from his necessary routine of thought as he could find. Goethe's advice to every one to read every day a short poem, recognizes the danger we all incur in taking systematic care of the body and letting the soul take care of itself. During the last ten years of Daniel Webster's life, he spent many a thousand dollars upon his library, and almost ceased to be an intellectual being.
His pecuniary habits demoralized him. It was wrong and mean in him to accept gifts of money from the people of Boston; it was wrong in them to submit to his merciless exactions. What need was there that their Senator should sometimes be a mendicant and sometimes a pauper? If he chose to maintain baronial state without a baron's income; if he chose to have two fancy farms of more than a thousand acres each; if he chose to keep two hundred prize cattle and seven hundred choice sheep for his pleasure; if he must have about his house lamas, deer, and all rare fowls; if his flower-garden must be one acre in extent, and his books worth thirty thousand dollars; if he found it pleasant to keep two or three yachts and a little fleet of smaller craft; if he could not refrain from sending money in answer to begging letters, and pleased himself by giving away to his black man money enough to buy a very good house; and if he could not avoid adding wings and rooms to his spacious mansion at Marshfield, and must needs keep open house there and have a dozen, guests at a time,—why should the solvent and careful business men of Boston have been taxed, or have taxed themselves, to pay any part of the expense?
Mr. Lanman, his secretary, gives us this curious and contradictory account of his pecuniary habits:—
"He made money with ease, and spent it without reflection. He had accounts with various banks, and men of all parties were always glad to accommodate him with loans, if he wanted them. He kept no record of his deposits, unless it were on slips of paper hidden in his pockets; these matters were generally left with his secretary. His notes were seldom or never regularly protested, and when they were, they caused him an immense deal of mental anxiety. When the writer has sometimes drawn a check for a couple of thousand dollars, he has not even looked at it, but packed it away in his pockets, like so much waste paper. During his long professional career, he earned money enough to make a dozen fortunes, but he spent it liberally, and gave it away to the poor by hundreds and thousands. Begging letters from women and unfortunate men were received by him almost daily, at certain periods; and one instance is remembered where, on six successive days, he sent remittances of fifty and one hundred dollars to people with whom he was entirely unacquainted. He was indeed careless, but strictly and religiously honest, in all his money matters. He knew not how to be otherwise. The last fee which he ever received for a single legal argument was $11,000....
"A sanctimonious lady once called upon Mr. Webster, in Washington, with a long and pitiful story about her misfortunes and poverty, and asked him for a donation of money to defray her expenses to her home in a Western city. He listened with all the patience he could manage, expressed his surprise that she should have called upon him for money, simply because he was an officer of the government, and that, too, when she was a total stranger to him, reprimanded her in very plain language for her improper conduct, and handed her a note of fifty dollars.
* * * * *
"He had called upon the cashier of the bank where he kept an account, for the purpose of getting a draft discounted, when that gentleman expressed some surprise, and casually inquired why he wanted so much money? 'To spend; to buy bread and meat,' replied Mr. Webster, a little annoyed at this speech.
"'But,' returned the cashier, 'you already have upon deposit in the bank no less than three thousand dollars, and I was only wondering why you wanted so much money,'
"This was indeed the truth, but Mr. Webster had forgotten it."
Mr. Lanman's assertion that Mr. Webster, with all this recklessness, was religiously honest, must have excited a grim smile upon the countenances of such of his Boston readers as had had his name upon their books. No man can be honest long who is careless in his expenditures.
It is evident from his letters, if we did not know it from other sources of information, that his carelessness with regard to the balancing of his books grew upon him as he advanced in life, and kept pace with the general deterioration of his character. In 1824, before lie had been degraded by the acceptance of pecuniary aid, and when he was still a solvent person, one of his nephews asked him for a loan. He replied:
"If you think you can do anything useful with a thousand dollars, you may have that sum in the spring, or sooner, if need be, on the following conditions:—1. You must give a note for it with reasonable security. 2. The interest must be payable annually, and must be paid at the day without fail. And so long as this continues to be done, the money not to be called for—the principal—under six months' notice. I am thus explicit with you, because you wish me to be so; and because also, having a little money, and but a little, I am resolved on keeping it."
This is sufficiently business-like. He had a little money then,—enough, as he intimates, for the economical maintenance of his family. During the land fever of 1835 and 1836, he lost so seriously by speculations in Western land, that he was saved from bankruptcy only by the aid of that mystical but efficient body whom he styled his "friends"; and from that time to the end of his life he was seldom at his ease. He earned immense occasional fees,—-two of twenty-five thousand dollars each; he received frequent gifts of money, as well as a regular stipend from an invested capital; but he expended so profusely, that he was sometimes at a loss for a hundred dollars to pay his hay-makers; and he died forty thousand dollars in debt.
The adulation of which he was the victim at almost every hour of his existence injured and deceived him. He was continually informed that he was the greatest of living men,—the "godlike Daniel"; and when he escaped even into the interior of his home, he found there persons who sincerely believed that making such speeches as his was the greatest of all possible human achievements. All men whose talents are of the kind which enable their possessor to give intense pleasure to great multitudes are liable to this misfortune; and especially in a new and busy country, little removed from the colonial state, where intellectual eminence is rare, and the number of persons who can enjoy it is exceedingly great. We are growing out of this provincial propensity to abandon ourselves to admiration of the pleasure-giving talents. The time is at hand, we trust, when we shall not be struck with wonder because a man can make a vigorous speech, or write a good novel, or play Hamlet decently, and when we shall be able to enjoy the talent without adoring the man. The talent is one thing, and the man another; the talent may be immense, and the man little; the speech powerful and wise, the speaker weak and foolish. Daniel Webster came at last to loathe this ceaseless incense, but it was when his heart was set upon homage of another kind, which he was destined never to enjoy.
Another powerful cause of his deterioration was the strange, strong, always increasing desire he had to be President. Any intelligent politician, outside of the circle of his own "friends," could have told him, and proved to him, that he had little more chance of being elected President than the most insignificant man in the Whig party. And the marvel is, that he himself should not have known it,—he who knew why, precisely why, every candidate had been nominated, from Madison to General Taylor. In the teeth of all the facts, he still cherished the amazing delusion that the Presidency of the United States, like the Premiership of England, is the natural and just reward of long and able public service. The Presidency, on the contrary, is not merely an accident, but it is an accident of the last moment. It is a game too difficult for mortal faculties to play, because some of the conditions of success are as uncertain as the winds, and as ungovernable. If dexterous playing could have availed, Douglas would have carried off the stakes, for he had an audacious and a mathematical mind; while the winning man in 1856 was a heavy player, devoid of skill, whose decisive advantage was that he had been out of the game for four years. Mr. Seward, too, was within an ace of winning, when an old quarrel between two New York editors swept his cards from the table.
No: the President of the United States is not prime minister, but chief magistrate, and he is subject to that law of nature which places at the head of regular governments more or less respectable Nobodies. In Europe this law of nature works through the hereditary principle, and in America through universal suffrage. In all probability, we shall usually elect a person of the non-committal species,—one who will have lived fifty or sixty years in the world without having formed an offensive conviction or uttered a striking word,—one who will have conducted his life as those popular periodicals are conducted, in which there are "no allusions to politics or religion." And may not this be part of the exquisite economy of nature, which ever strives to get into each place the smallest man that can fill it? How miserably out of place would be a man of active, originating, disinterested spirit, at the head of a strictly limited, constitutional government, such as ours is in time of peace, in which the best President is he who does the least? Imagine a live man thrust out over the bows of a ship, and compelled to stand as figure-head, lashed by the waves and winds during a four years' voyage, and expected to be pleased with his situation because he is gilt!
Daniel Webster so passionately desired the place, that he could never see how far he was from the possibility of getting it. He was not such timber as either Southern fire-eaters or Northern wire-pullers had any use for; and a melancholy sight it was, this man, once so stately, paying court to every passing Southerner, and personally begging delegates to vote for him. He was not made for that. An elephant does sometimes stand upon his head and play a barrel-organ, but every one who sees the sorry sight sees also that it was not the design of Nature that elephants should do such things.
A Marshfield elm may be for half a century in decay without exhibiting much outward change; and when, in some tempestuous night, half its bulk is torn away, the neighborhood notes with surprise that what seemed solid wood is dry and crumbling pith. During the last fifteen years of Daniel Webster's life, his wonderfully imposing form and his immense reputation concealed from the public the decay of his powers and the degeneration of his morals. At least, few said what perhaps many felt, that "he was not the man he had been." People went away from one of his ponderous and empty speeches disappointed, but not ill pleased to boast that they too had "heard Daniel Webster speak," and feeling very sure that he could be eloquent, though he had not been. We heard one of the last of his out-of-door speeches. It was near Philadelphia, in 1844, when he was "stumping the State" for Henry Clay, and when our youthful feelings were warmly with the object of his speech. What a disappointment! How poor and pompous and pointless it seemed! Nor could we resist the impression that he was playing a part, nor help saying to ourselves, as we turned to leave the scene, "This man is not sincere in this: he is a humbug." And when, some years later, we saw him present himself before a large audience in a state not far removed from intoxication, and mumble incoherence for ten minutes, and when, in the course of the evening, we saw him make a great show of approval whenever the clergy were complimented, the impression was renewed that the man had expended his sincerity, and that nothing was real to him any more except wine and office. And even then such were the might and majesty of his presence, that he seemed to fill and satisfy the people by merely sitting there in an arm-chair, like Jupiter, in a spacious yellow waistcoat with two bottles of Madeira under it.
All this gradual, unseen deterioration of mind and character was revealed to the country on the 7th of March, 1850. What a downfall was there! That shameful speech reads worse in 1867 than it did in 1850, and still exerts perverting power over timid and unformed minds. It was the very time for him to have broken finally with the "irreconcilable" faction, who, after having made President Tyler snub Daniel Webster from his dearly loved office of Secretary of State, had consummated the scheme which gave us Texas at the cost of war with Mexico, and California as one of the incidents of peace. California was not down in their programme; and now, while claiming the right to make four slave States out of Texas, they refused to admit California to freedom. Then was it that Daniel Webster of Massachusetts rose in the Senate of the United States and said in substance this: These fine Southern brethren of ours have now stolen all the land there is to steal. Let us, therefore, put no obstacle in the way of their peaceable enjoyment of the plunder.
And the spirit of the speech was worse even than its doctrine. He went down upon the knees of his soul, and paid base homage to his own and his country's irreconcilable foes. Who knew better than Daniel Webster that John C. Calhoun and his followers had first created and then systematically fomented the hostile feeling which then existed between the North and the South? How those men must have chuckled among themselves when they witnessed the willing degradation of the man who should have arraigned them before the country as the conscious enemies of its peace! How was it that no one laughed outright at such billing and cooing as this?
* * * * *
Mr. Webster.—"An honorable member [Calhoun], whose health does not allow him to be here to-day—"
A Senator,—"He is here."
Mr. Webster.—"I am very happy to hear that he is; may he long be here, and in the enjoyment of health to serve his country!"
Mr. Webster.—"The honorable member did not disguise his conduct or his motives."
Mr. Calhoun.—"Never, never."
Mr. Webster.—"What he means he is very apt to say."
Mr. Calhoun.—"Always, always."
Mr. Webster.—"And I honor him for it."
"I see an honorable member of this body [Mason of Virginia] paying me the honor of listening to my remarks; he brings to my mind, Sir, freshly and vividly, what I learned of his great ancestor, so much distinguished in his day and generation, so worthy to be succeeded by so worthy a grandson."
"An honorable member from Louisiana addressed us the other day on this subject. I suppose there is not a more amiable and worthy gentleman in this chamber, nor a gentleman who would be more slow to give offence to anybody, and he did not mean in his remarks to give offence. But what did he say? Why, Sir, he took pains to run a contrast between the slaves of the South and the laboring people of the North, giving the preference in all points of condition and comfort and happiness to the slaves."
In the course of this speech there is one most palpable contradiction. In the beginning of it, the orator mentioned the change of feeling and opinion that had occurred as to the institution of slavery,—"the North growing much more warm and strong against slavery, and the South growing much more warm and strong in its support." "Once," he said, "the most eminent men, and nearly all the conspicuous politicians of the South, held the same sentiments,—that slavery was an evil, a blight, a scourge, and a curse"; but now it is "a cherished institution in that quarter; no evil, no scourge, but a great religious, social, and moral blessing." He then asked how this change of opinion had been brought about, and thus answered the question: "I suppose, sir, this is owing to the rapid growth and sudden extension of the COTTON plantations in the South." And to make the statement more emphatic, he caused the word cotton to be printed in capitals in the authorized edition of his works. But later in the speech, when he came to add his ponderous condemnation to the odium in which the handful of Abolitionists were held,—the elite of the nation from Franklin's day to this,—then he attributed this remarkable change to their zealous efforts to awaken the nobler conscience of the country. After giving his own version of their proceedings, he said:
"Well, what was the result? The bonds of the slaves were bound more firmly than before, their rivets were more strongly fastened. Public opinion, which in Virginia had begun to be exhibited against slavery, and was opening out for the discussion of the question, drew back and shut itself up in its castle."
But all would not do. He bent the knee in vain. Vain too were his personal efforts, his Southern tour, his Astor House wooings,—the politicians would have none of him; and he had the cutting mortification of seeing himself set aside for a Winfield Scott.
Let us not, however, forget that on this occasion, though Daniel Webster appeared for the first time in his life as a leader, he was in reality still only a follower,—a follower, not of the public opinion of the North, but of the wishes of its capitalists. And probably many thousands of well-meaning men, not versed in the mysteries of politics, were secretly pleased to find themselves provided with an excuse for yielding once more to a faction, who had over us the immense advantage of having made up their minds to carry their point or fight. If his was the shame of this speech, ours was the guilt. He faithfully represented the portion of his constituents whose wine he drank, who helped him out with his notes, and who kept his atmosphere hazy with incense; and he faithfully represented, also, that larger number who wait till the wolf is at their door before arming against him, instead of meeting him afar off in the outskirts of the wood. Let us own it: the North yearned for peace in 1850,—peace at almost any price.
One of the most intimate of Mr. Webster's friends said, in a public address:
"It is true that he desired the highest political position in the country,—that he thought he had fairly earned a claim to that position. And I solemnly believe that because that claim was denied his days were shortened."
No enemy of the great orator ever uttered anything so severe against him as this, and we are inclined to think it an error. It was probably the strength of his desire for the Presidency that shortened his life, not the mere disappointment. When President Fillmore offered him the post of Secretary of State, in 1850, it appears to have been his preference, much as he loved office, to decline it. He longed for his beautiful Marshfield, on the shore of the ocean, his herds of noble cattle, his broad, productive fields, his yachts, his fishing, his rambles in the forests planted by his own hand, his homely chats with neighbors and beloved dependents. "Oh!" said he, "if I could have my own will, never, never would I leave Marshfield again!" But his "friends," interested and disinterested, told him it was a shorter step from the office of Secretary of State to that of President than from the Senate-chamber. He yielded, as he always did, and spent a long, hot summer in Washington, to the sore detriment of his health. And again, in 1852, after he had failed to receive the nomination for the Presidency, he was offered the place of Minister to England. His "friends" again advised against his acceptance. His letter to the President, declining the offer, presents him in a sorry light indeed.
"I have made up my mind to think no more about the. English mission. My principal reason is, that I think it would be regarded as a descent I have been accustomed to give instructions to ministers abroad, and not to receive them."
Accustomed! Yes: for two years! It is probable enough that his acceptance of office, and his adherence to it, hastened his death. Four months after the words were written which we have just quoted, he was no more.
His last days were such as his best friends could have wished them to be,—calm, dignified, affectionate, worthy of his lineage. His burial, too, was singularly becoming, impressive, and touching. We have been exceedingly struck with the account of it given by Mr. George S. Hillard, in his truly elegant and eloquent eulogy upon Mr. Webster, delivered in Faneuil Hall. In his last will, executed a few days before his death, Mr. Webster requested that he might be buried "without the least show or ostentation, but in a manner respectful to my neighbors, whose kindness has contributed so much to the happiness of me and mine." His wishes were obeyed; and he was buried more as the son of plain, brave Captain Ebenezer Webster, than as Secretary of State. "No coffin," said Mr. Hillard,
"concealed that majestic frame. In the open air, clad as when alive, he lay extended in seeming sleep, with no touch of disfeature upon his brow,—as noble an image of reposing strength as ever was seen upon earth. Around him was the landscape that he had loved, and above him was nothing but the dome of the covering heavens. The sunshine fell upon the dead man's face, and the breeze blew over it. A lover of Nature, he seemed to be gathered into her maternal arms, and to lie like a child upon a mother's lap. We felt, as we looked upon him, that death had never stricken down, at one blow, a greater sum of life. And whose heart did not swell when, from the honored and distinguished men there gathered together, six plain Marshfield farmers were called forth to carry the head of their neighbor to the grave. Slowly and sadly the vast multitude followed, in mourning silence, and he was laid down to rest among dear and kindred dust."
In surveying the life and works of this eminent and gifted man, we are continually struck with the evidences of his magnitude. He was, as we have said, a very large person. His brain was within a little of being one third larger than the average, and it was one of the largest three on record. His bodily frame, in all its parts, was on a majestic scale, and his presence was immense. He liked large things,—mountains, elms, great oaks, mighty bulls and oxen, wide fields, the ocean, the Union, and all things of magnitude. He liked great Rome far better than refined Greece, and revelled in the immense things of literature, such as Paradise Lost, and the Book of Job, Burke, Dr. Johnson, and the Sixth Book of the Aeneid. Homer he never cared much for,—nor, indeed, anything Greek. He hated, he loathed, the act of writing. Billiards, ten-pins, chess, draughts, whist, he never relished, though fond to excess of out-door pleasures, like hunting, fishing, yachting. He liked to be alone with great Nature,—alone in the giant woods or on the shores of the resounding sea,—alone all day with his gun, his dog, and his thoughts,—-alone in the morning, before any one was astir but himself, looking out upon the sea and the glorious sunrise. What a delicious picture of this large, healthy Son of Earth Mr. Lanman gives us, where he describes him coming into his bedroom, at sunrise, and startling him out of a deep sleep by shouting, "Awake, sluggard! and look upon this glorious scene, for the sky and the ocean are enveloped in flames!" He was akin to all large, slow things in nature. A herd of fine cattle gave him a keen, an inexhaustible enjoyment; but he never "tasted" a horse: he had no horse enthusiasm. In England he chiefly enjoyed these five things, the Tower of London, Westminster Abbey, Smithfield Cattle Market, English farming, and Sir Robert Peel. Sir Robert Peel he thought was "head and shoulders above any other man" he had ever met. He greatly excelled, too, in describing immense things. In speaking of the Pyramids, once, he asked,
"Who can inform us by what now unknown machines mass was thus aggregated, to mass, and quarry piled on quarry, till solid granite seemed to cover the earth and reach the skies."
His peculiar love of the Union of these States was partly due, perhaps, to this habit of his mind of dwelling with complacency on vastness. He felt that he wanted and required a continent to live in: his mind would have gasped for breath in New Hampshire.
But this enormous creature was not an exception to the law which renders giants harmless by seaming them with weakness, but for which the giants would possess the earth. If he had been completed throughout on the plan on which he was sketched, if he had been as able to originate as he was powerful to state, if he had possessed will proportioned to his strength, moral power equal to his moral feeling, intellect on a par with his genius, and principle worthy of his intellect, he would have subjugated mankind, and raised his country to a point from which it would have dropped when the tyrannizing influence was withdrawn. Every sphere of life has its peculiar temptations, which there is only one thing that can enable a man to resist,—a religious, i.e. a disinterested devotion to its duties. Daniel Webster was one of those who fell before the seductions of his place. He was not one of those who find in the happiness and prosperity of their country, and in the esteem of their fellow-citizens, their own sufficient and abundant reward for serving her. He pined for something lower, smaller,—something personal and vulgar. He had no religion,—not the least tincture of it; and he seemed at last, in his dealings with individuals, to have no conscience. What he called his religion had no effect whatever upon the conduct of his life; it made him go to church, talk piously, puff the clergy, and "patronize Providence,"—no more. He would accept retaining fees, and never look into the bundles of papers which accompanied them, in which were enclosed the hopes and the fortune of anxious households. He would receive gifts of money, and toss into his waste-paper basket the list of the givers, without having glanced at its contents; thus defrauding them of the only recompense in his power to grant, and the only one they wished. It shocked him if his secretary came to the dinner-table in a frock-coat, and he would himself appear drunk before three thousand people. And yet, such was the power of his genius, such was the charm of his manner, such the affectionateness of his nature, such the robust heartiness of his enjoyment of life, that honorable men who knew his faults best loved him to the last,—not in spite of them, but partly in consequence of them. What in another man they would have pronounced atrocious, appeared in him a kind of graceful rollicking helplessness to resist.
Such, as it seems to our very imperfect judgment, was Daniel Webster, one of the largest and one of the weakest of men, of admirable genius and deplorable character; who began life well and served his-country well and often, but held not out faithful to the end. American statesmen are called to a higher vocation than those of other countries, and there is nothing in the politics of America which can reward a man of eminent ability for public service. If such a person feels that his country's happiness and greatness will not be a satisfying recompense for anything he can do for her, let him, as he values his peace and soul's health, cling to the safe obscurity of private life.
JOHN C. CALHOUN
There were two ways of getting to South Carolina in Colonial times. The first immigrants, many of whom were men of capital, landed at Charleston, and, settling in the fertile low country along the coast, became prosperous planters of rice, indigo, and corn, before a single white inhabitant had found his way to the more salubrious upper country in the western part of the Province. The settlers of the upper country were plain, poorer people, who landed at Philadelphia or Baltimore, and travelled southward along the base of the Alleghanies to the inviting table-lands of the Carolinas. In the lower country, the estates were large, the slaves numerous, the white inhabitants few, idle, and profuse. The upper country was peopled by a sturdier race, who possessed farms of moderate extent, hewn out of the wilderness by their own strong arms, and tilled by themselves with the aid of few slaves. Between the upper and the lower country there was a waste region of sandy hills and rocky acclivities, uninhabited, almost uninhabitable, which rendered the two sections of one Province separate communities scarcely known to one another. Down almost to the beginning of the Revolutionary War, the farmers of the upper country were not represented in the Legislature of South Carolina, though they were then as numerous as the planters of the lower country. Between the people of the two sections there was little unity of feeling. The lordly planters of the lower country regarded their Western fellow-citizens as provincial or plebeian; the farmers of the upper country had some contempt for the planters as effeminate, aristocratic, and Tory. The Revolution abased the pride, lessened the wealth, and improved the politics of the planters; a revised Constitution, in 1790, gave preponderance to the up-country farmers in the popular branch of the Legislature; and thenceforth South Carolina was a sufficiently homogeneous commonwealth.
Looking merely to the public career of Calhoun, the special pleader of the Southern aristocracy, we should expect to find him born and reared among the planters of the low country. The Calhouns, on the contrary, were up-country people,—farmers, Whigs, Presbyterians, men of moderate means, who wielded the axe and held the plough with their own hands, until enabled to buy a few "new negroes," cheap and savage; called new, because fresh from Africa. A family party of them (parents, four sons, and a daughter) emigrated from the North of Ireland early in the last century, and settled first in Pennsylvania; then removed to Western Virginia; whence the defeat of Braddock, in 1755, drove them southward, and they found a permanent abode in the extreme west of South Carolina, then an unbroken wilderness. Of those four sons, Patrick Calhoun, the father of the Nullifier, was the youngest. He was six years old when the family left Ireland; twenty-nine, when they planted the "Calhoun Settlement" in Abbeville District, South Carolina.
Patrick Calhoun was a strong-headed, wrong-headed, very brave, honest, ignorant man. His whole life, almost, was a battle. When the Calhouns had been but five years in their forest home, the Cherokees attacked the settlement, destroyed it utterly, killed one half the men, and drove the rest to the lower country; whence they dared not return till the peace of 1763. Patrick Calhoun was elected to command the mounted rangers raised to protect the frontiers, a duty heroically performed by him. After the peace, the settlement enjoyed several years of tranquillity, during which Patrick Calhoun was married to Martha Caldwell, a native of Virginia, but the daughter of an Irish Presbyterian emigrant. During this peaceful interval, all the family prospered with the settlement which bore its name; and Patrick, who in his childhood had only learned to read and write, availed himself of such leisure as he had to increase his knowledge. Besides reading the books within his reach, which were few, he learned to survey land, and practised that vocation to advantage. He was especially fond of reading history to gather new proofs of the soundness of his political opinions, which were Whig to the uttermost. The war of the Revolution broke in upon the settlement, at length, and made deadly havoc there; for it was warred upon by three foes at once,—the British, the Tories, and the Cherokees. The Tories murdered in cold blood a brother of Patrick Calhoun's wife. Another of her brothers fell at Cowpens under thirty sabre-wounds. Another was taken prisoner and remained for nine months in close confinement at one of the British Andersonvilles of that day. Patrick Calhoun, in many a desperate encounter with the Indians, displayed singular coolness, courage, adroitness, and tenacity. On one memorable occasion, thirteen of his neighbors and himself maintained a forest fight for several hours with a force of Cherokees ten times their number. When seven of the white men had fallen, the rest made their escape. Returning three days after to bury their dead, they found upon the field the bodies of twenty-three Indian warriors. At another time, as his son used to relate, he had a very long combat with a chief noted for the certainty of his aim,—the Indian behind a tree, the white man behind a fallen log. Four times the wily Calhoun drew the Indian's fire by elevating his hat upon his ramrod. The chief, at last, could not refrain from looking to see the effect of his shot; when one of his shoulders was slightly exposed. On the instant, the white man's rifle sent a ball through it; the chief fled into the forest, and Patrick Calhoun. bore off as a trophy of the fight his own hat pierced with four bullets.
This Patrick Calhoun illustrates well the North-of-Ireland character; one peculiarity of which is the possession of will disproportioned to intellect. Hence a man of this race frequently appears to striking advantage in scenes which demand chiefly an exercise of will; while in other spheres, which make larger demands upon the understanding, the same man may be simply mischievous. We see this in the case of Andrew Jackson, who at New Orleans was glorious; at Washington almost wholly pernicious; and in the case of Andrew Johnson, who was eminently useful to his country in 1861, but obstructive and perilous to it in 1866. For these Scotch-Irishmen, though they are usually very honest men, and often right in their opinions, are an uninstructable race, who stick to a prejudice as tenaciously as to a principle, and really suppose they are battling for right and truth, when they are only wreaking a private vengeance or aiming at a personal advantage. Patrick Calhoun was the most radical of Democrats; one of your despisers of conventionality; an enemy of lawyers, thinking the common sense of mankind competent to decide what is right without their aid; a particular opponent of the arrogant pretensions of the low-country aristocrats. When the up-country people began to claim a voice in the government, long since due to their numbers, the planters, of course, opposed their demand. To establish their right to vote, Patrick Calhoun and a party of his neighbors, armed with rifles, marched across the State to within twenty-three miles of Charleston, and there voted in defiance of the plantation lords. Events like this led to the admission of members from the up-country; and Patrick Calhoun was the first to represent that section in the Legislature. It was entirely characteristic of him to vote against the adoption of the Federal Constitution, on the ground that it authorized other people to tax Carolinians; which he said was taxation without' representation. That was just like a narrow, cranky, opinionative, unmanageable Calhoun.
Devoid of imagination and of humor, a hard-headed, eager politician, he brought up his boy upon politics. This was sorry nourishment for a child's mind, but he had little else to give him. Gambling, hunting, whiskey, and politics were all there was to relieve the monotony of life in a Southern back settlement; and the best men naturally threw themselves upon politics. Calhoun told Miss Martineau that he could remember standing between his father's knees, when he was only five years old, and listening to political conversation. He told Duff Green that he had a distinct recollection of hearing his father say, when he was only nine, that that government is best which allows to each individual the largest liberty compatible with order and tranquillity, and that improvements in political science consist in throwing off needless restraints. It was a strange child that could remember such a remark. As Patrick Calhoun died in 1795, when his son was thirteen years old, the boy must have been very young when he heard it, even if he were mistaken as to the time. Whether Patrick Calhoun ever touched upon the subject of slavery in his conversations with his children, is not reported. We only know that, late in the career of Mr. Calhoun, he used to be taunted by his opponents in South Carolina with having once held that slavery was good and justifiable only so far as it was preparatory to freedom. He was accused of having committed the crime of saying, in a public speech, that slavery was like the "scaffolding" of an edifice, which, after having served its temporary purpose, would be taken down, of course. We presume he said this; because everything in his later speeches is flatly contradicted in those of his earlier public life. Patrick Calhoun was a man to give a reason for everything. He was an habitual theorizer and generalize!', without possessing the knowledge requisite for safe generalization. It is very probable that this apology for slavery was part of his son's slender inheritance.
John Caldwell Calhoun—born in 1782, the youngest but one in a family of five children—was eighteen years old before he had a thought of being anything but a farmer. His father had been dead five years. His only sister was married to that famous Mr. Waddell, clergyman and schoolmaster, whose academy in North Carolina was for so many years a great light in a dark place. One of his brothers was a clerk in a mercantile house at Charleston; another was settled on a farm near by; another was still a boy. His mother lived upon the paternal farm; and with her lived her son John, who ploughed, hunted, fished, and rode, in the manner of the farmers' sons in that country. At eighteen he could read, write, and cipher; he had read Rollin, Robertson, Voltaire's Charles XII., Brown's Essays, Captain Cook, and parts of Locke. This, according to his own account, was the sum of his knowledge, except that he had fully imbibed his father's decided republican opinions. He shared to some degree his father's prejudice, and the general prejudice of the upper country, against lawyers; although a cousin, John Ewing Calhoun, had risen high in that profession, had long served in the Legislature of South Carolina, and was about to be elected United States Senator on the Jeffersonian side. As late as May 1800, when he was past eighteen, preference and necessity appeared to fix him In the vocation of farmer. The family had never been rich. Indeed, the great Nullifier himself was a comparatively poor man all his life, the number of his slaves never much exceeding thirty; which is equivalent to a working force of fifteen hands or less.
In May, 1800, Calhoun's elder brother came home from Charleston to spend the summer, bringing with him his city notions. He awoke the dormant ambition of the youth, urged him to go to school and become a professional man. But how could he leave his mother alone on the farm? and how could the money be raised to pay for a seven years' education? His mother and his brother conferred upon these points, and satisfied him upon both; and in June, 1800, he made his way to the academy of his brother-in-law, Waddell, which was then in Columbia County, Georgia, fifty miles from the home of the Calhouns. In two years and a quarter from the day he first opened a Latin grammar, he entered the Junior Class of Yale College. This was quick work. Teachers, however, are aware that late beginners, who have spent their boyhood in growing, often stride past students who have passed theirs in stunting the growth of mind and body at school. Calhoun, late in life, often spoke of the immense advantage which Southern boys had over Northern in not going so early to school, and being so much on horseback and out of doors. He said one day, about the year 1845:
"At the North you overvalue intellect; at the South we rely upon character; and if ever there should be a collision that shall test the strength of the two sections, you will find that character is stronger than intellect, and will carry the day."
The prophecy has been fulfilled.
Timothy Dwight, Calvinist and Federalist, was President of Yale College during Calhoun's residence there, and Thomas Jefferson, Democrat and freethinker, was President of the United States. Yale was a stronghold of Federalism. A brother of the President of the College, in his Fourth-of-July oration delivered at New Haven four months after the inauguration of Jefferson and Burr, announced to the students and citizens, that "the great object" of those gentlemen and their adherents was "to destroy every trace of civilization in the world, and to force mankind back into a savage state." He also used the following language:
"We have now reached the consummation of democratic blessedness. We have a country governed by blockheads and knaves; the ties of marriage, with all its felicities, are severed and destroyed; our wives and daughters are thrown into the stews; our children are cast into the world from the breast forgotten; filial piety is extinguished; and our surnames, the only mark of distinction among families, are abolished. Can the imagination paint anything more dreadful this side hell?"
These remarkable statements, so far from surprising the virtuous people of New Haven, were accepted by them, it appears, as facts, and published with general approval. From what we know of President Dwight, we may conclude that he would regard his brother's oration as a pardonable flight of hyperbole, based on truth. He was a Federalist of the deepest dye.
Transferred to a scene where such opinions prevailed, it cost the young republican no great exertion either of his intellect or his firmness or his family pride to hold his ground. Of all known men, he had the most complete confidence in the infallibility of his own mind. He used to relate, that in the Senior year, when he was one of very few in a class of seventy who maintained republican opinions, President Dwight asked him, "What is the legitimate source of power?" "The people," answered the student. Dr. Dwight combated this opinion; Calhoun replied; and the whole hour of recitation was consumed in the debate. Dr. Dwight was so much struck with the ability displayed by the student, that he remarked to a friend that Calhoun had talent enough to be President of the United States, and that we should see him President in due time. In those innocent days, an observation of that nature was made of every young fellow who showed a little spirit and a turn for debate. Fathers did not then say to their promising offspring, Beware, my son, of self-seeking and shallow speaking, lest you should be consigned to the White House, and be devoured by office-seekers. People then regarded the Presidency as a kind of reward of merit, the first step toward which was to get "up head" in the spelling-class. There is reason to believe that young Calhoun took the prediction of the Doctor very seriously. He took everything seriously. He never made a joke in his life, and was totally destitute of the sense of humor. It is doubtful if he was ever capable of unbending so far as to play a game of football.
The ardent political discussions then in vogue had one effect which the late Mr. Buckle would have pronounced most salutary; they prevented Dr. Dwight's severe theology from taking hold of the minds of many students. Calhoun wholly escaped it. In his speeches we find, of course, the stock allusions of a religious nature with which all politicians essay to flatter their constituents; but he was never interested in matters theological. A century earlier, he might have been the Jonathan Edwards of the South, if there had been a South then. His was just the mind to have revelled in theological subtilties, and to have calmly, closely, unrelentingly argued nearly the whole human race into endless and hopeless perdition. His was just the nature to have contemplated his argument with complacency, and its consequences without emotion.
Graduating with credit in 1804, he repaired to the famous Law School at Litchfield in Connecticut, where he remained a year and a half, and won general esteem. Tradition reports him a diligent student and an admirable debater there. As to his moral conduct, that was always irreproachable. That is to say, he was at every period of his life continent, temperate, orderly, and out of debt. In 1806, being then twenty-four years of age, he returned to South Carolina, and, after studying a short time in a law office at Charleston, he went at last to his native Abbeville to complete his preparation for the bar. He was still a law student at that place when the event occurred which called him into public life.
June 22d, 1807, at noon, the United States frigate Chesapeake, thirty-eight guns, left her anchorage at Hampton Roads, and put to sea, bound for the Mediterranean. The United States being at peace with all the world, the Chesapeake was very far from being in proper man-of-war trim. Her decks were littered with furniture, baggage, stores, cables, and animals. The guns were loaded, but rammers, matches, wadding, cannon-balls, were all out of place, and not immediately accessible. The crew were merchant sailors and landsmen, all undrilled in the duties peculiar to an armed ship. There had been lying for some time at the same anchorage the British frigate Leopard, fifty guns; and this ship also put to sea at noon of the same day. The Leopard being in perfect order, and manned by a veteran crew, took the lead of the Chesapeake, and kept it until three in the afternoon, when she was a mile in advance. Then she wore round, came within speaking distance, lowered a boat, and sent a lieutenant on board the American ship. This officer bore a despatch from the admiral of the station, ordering any captain who should fall in with the Chesapeake to search her for deserters. The American commander replied that he knew of no deserters on board his ship, and could not permit a search to be made, his orders not authorizing the same. The lieutenant returned. As soon as he had got on board, and his boat was stowed away, the Leopard fired a full broadside into the American frigate. The American commodore, being totally unprepared for such an event, could not return the fire; and therefore, when his ship had received twenty-one shot in her hull, when her rigging was much cut up, when three of her crew were killed and eighteen wounded, the commodore himself among the latter, he had no choice but to lower his flag. Then the search was made, and four men, claimed as deserters, were taken; after which the Leopard continued her course, and the crippled Chesapeake returned to Hampton Roads. The American commander was sentenced by a court-martial to five years' suspension for going to sea in such a condition. The English government recalled the admiral who ordered, and deprived of his ship the captain who committed, this unparalleled outrage, but made no other reparation.
No words of ours could convey any adequate idea of the rage which this event excited in the people of the United States. For a time, the Federalists themselves were ready for war. There were meetings everywhere to denounce it, and especially in the Southern States, always more disposed than the Northern to begin the shedding of blood, and already the main reliance of the Republican party. Remote and rustic Abbeville, a very Republican district, was not silent on this occasion; and who so proper to draw and support the denunciatory resolutions as young Calhoun, the son of valiant Patrick, fresh from college, though now in his twenty-sixth year? The student performed this duty, as requested, and spoke so well that his neighbors at once concluded that he was the very man, lawyer as he was, to represent them in the Legislature, where for nearly thirty years his father had served them. At the next election, in a district noted for its aversion to lawyers, wherein no lawyer had ever been chosen to the Legislature, though many had been candidates, he was elected at the head of his ticket. His triumph was doubtless owing in a great degree to the paramount influence of his family. Still, even we, who knew him only in his gaunt and sad decline, can easily imagine that at twenty-six he must have been an engaging, attractive man. Like most of his race, he was rather slender, but very erect, with a good deal of dignity and some grace in his carriage and demeanor. His eyes were always remarkably fine and brilliant. He had a well-developed and strongly set nose, cheek-bones high, and cheeks rather sunken. His mouth was large, and could never have been a comely feature. His early portraits show his hair erect on his forehead, as we all remember it, unlike Jackson, whose hair at forty still fell low over his forehead. His voice could never have been melodious, but it was always powerful. At every period of his life, his manners, when in company with his inferiors in age or standing, were extremely agreeable, even fascinating. We have heard a well-known editor, who began life as a "page" in the Senate-chamber, say that there was no Senator whom the pages took such delight in serving as Mr. Calhoun. "Why?"—"Because he was so democratic."—"How democratic?"—"He was as polite to a page as to the President of the Senate, and as considerate of his feelings." We have heard another member of the press, whose first employment was to report the speeches of Clay, Webster, and Calhoun, bear similar testimony to the frank, engaging courtesy of his intercourse with the corps of reporters. It is fair, therefore, to conclude that his early popularity at home was due as much to his character and manners as to his father's name and the influence of his relatives.
He served two years in the Legislature, and in the intervals between the sessions practised law at Abbeville. At once he took a leading position in the Legislature. He had been in his seat but a few days when the Republican members, as the custom then was, met in caucus to nominate a President and Vice-President of the United States. For Mr. Madison the caucus was unanimous, but there was a difference with regard to the Vice-Presidency, then filled by the aged George Clinton of New York, who represented the anti-Virginian wing of the party in power. Mr. Calhoun, in a set speech, opposed the renomination of Governor Clinton, on the ground that in the imminency of a war with England the Republican party ought to present an unbroken front. He suggested the nomination of John Langdon of New Hampshire for the second office. At this late day we cannot determine whether this suggestion was original with Mr. Calhoun. We only know that the caucus affirmed it, and that the nomination was afterwards tendered to Mr. Langdon by the Republican party, and declined by him. Mr. Calhoun's speech on this occasion was the expression of Southern opinions as to the foreign policy of the country. The South was then nearly ready for war with England, while Northern Republicans still favored Mr. Jefferson's non-intercourse policy. In this instance, as in so many others, we find the Slave States, which used to plume themselves upon being the conservative element in an else unrestrainable democracy, ready for war first, though far from being the worst sufferers from England's piracy's. We should have had no war from 1782 to 1865, but for them. We also find Mr. Calhoun, in this his first utterance as a public man, the mouthpiece of his "section." He has been styled the most inconsistent of our statesmen; but beneath the palpable contradictions of his speeches, there is to be noticed a deeper consistency. Whatever opinion, whatever policy, he may have advocated, he always spoke the sense of what Mr. Sumner used to call the Southern oligarchy. If it changed, he changed. If he appeared sometimes to lead it, it was by leading it in the direction in which it wanted to go. He was doubtless as sincere in this as any great special pleader is in a cause in which all his powers are enlisted. Calhoun's mind was narrow and provincial. He could not have been the citizen of a large place. As a statesman he was naturally the advocate of something special and sectional, something not the whole.
Distinguished in the Legislature, he was elected, late in 1810, by a very great majority, to represent his district in Congress. In May, 1811, he was married to a second-cousin, Floride Calhoun, who brought a considerable accession to his slender estate. November 4, 1811, he took his seat in the House of Representatives. Thus, at the early age of twenty-nine, he was fairly launched into public life, with the advantage, usually enjoyed then by Southern members, of being independent in his circumstances. Though unknown to the country, his fame had preceded him to Washington; and the Speaker, Mr. Clay, gave him a place on the Committee on Foreign Relations. This Committee, considering that Congress had been summoned a month earlier than usual for the express purpose of dealing with foreign relations, was at once the most important and the most conspicuous committee of the House.
Mr. Calhoun's first session gave him national reputation, and made him a leader of the war party in Congress. We could perhaps say the leader, since Mr. Clay was not upon the floor. After surveying the novel scene around him for six weeks, he delivered his maiden speech,—a plain, forcible, not extraordinary argument in favor of preparing for war. It was prodigiously successful, so far as the reputation of the speaker was concerned. Members gathered round to congratulate the young orator; and Father Ritchie (if he was a father then) "hailed this young Carolinian as one of the master spirits who stamp their names upon the age in which they live." This speech contains one passage which savors of the "chivalric" taint, and indicates the provincial mind. In replying to the objection founded on the expenses of a war, he said:
"I enter my solemn protest against this low and 'calculating avarice' entering this hall of legislation. It is only fit for shops and counting-houses, and ought not to disgrace the seat of power by its squalid aspect. Whenever it touches sovereign power, the nation is ruined. It is too short-sighted to defend itself. It is a compromising spirit, always ready to yield a part to save the residue. It is too timid to have in itself the laws of self-preservation. Sovereign power is never safe but under the shield of honor."
This was thought very fine talk in those simple days among the simple Southern country members.
As the session progressed, Mr. Calhoun spoke frequently, and with greater effect. Wisely he never spoke. In his best efforts we see that something which we know not what to name, unless we call it Southernism. If it were allowable to use a slang expression, we should style the passages to which we refer effective bosh. The most telling passage in the most telling speech which he delivered at this session may serve to illustrate our meaning. Imagine these short, vigorous sentences uttered with great rapidity, in a loud, harsh voice, and with energy the most intense:—