Chapter 22


One memorable day in the year 1788,—the year in which Massachusetts ratified the Constitution,—a small boy of six, in the little New Hampshire village of Salisbury, made an important purchase. It was a cheap pocket handkerchief, upon which was printed, as was one of the customs years ago, the Constitution of the United States. And that small boy of six read and re-read that Constitution on his handkerchief until he knew it by heart.

Forty-two years later, in the Capitol at Washington, a very grand and impressive-looking man—the senator from Massachusetts—delivered a speech about the Constitution that electrified the world, made his name famous, and Saved the Union.

That small boy and that masterly man were one and the same person. His name was Daniel Webster; and from the purchase of that decorated handkerchief came, in time, the salvation of the Union.

For " Webster’s boy," as every one in Salisbury called young Daniel Webster, had early learned to study and to revere the Constitution that kept unbroken the Union which was dearer to him than life. And when, in 1830, the clouds gathered, and the action of South Carolina




threatened to weaken the Union or throw the States into civil war, when men were uncertain how far the Constitution might permit resistance to the central authority, or how sternly it could compel obedience to the will of the republic, then Daniel Webster spoke.

On the morning of the 26th of January, 1830, Mr. Bell of New Hampshire came to him, and said: "It is a critical moment, and it is time, it is high time, that the people of this country should know what this Constitution is."

"Then, sir," said Mr. Webster, "if that is so, by the blessing of Heaven, they shall learn this day, before the sun goes down, what I understand it to be."

That very day, in the Senate chamber in the Capitol, Daniel Webster told the people of the United States, in words the people have never forgotten. how the Constitution, which had made a weak American Confederacy into a nation of

freemen, denied the right of revolution, secession, or disunion. That Constitution, he said, created an indivisible union; and his assertion, so grandly stated, gained strength with time, became the favorite declamation of Amen can schoolboys, burned its way into the very heart and soul of all true Americans, inspired loyalty and created patriotism, and, thirty years after, when a greater danger came, a second time did Webster’s words save the Union from disruption and overthrow.



Daniel Webster was a child of New Hampshire, itself a child of Massachusetts. For, though its union with Massachusetts was broken in i68o, when~ it was declared a separate province with a governor of its own, New Hampshire always leaned heavily on the Old Bay colony, whose men had settled it and whose soldiers had defended it, and again and again it petitioned for union with Massachusetts,—that union which did not come until, as one of the thirteen colonies, New Hampshire boldly cast in its lot with Massachusetts, the organizer of revolution, of independence, and of union.

It was even so with Daniel Webster. For, although he made his reputation first as a New Hampshire lawyer, he achieved fame as a Massachusetts man. Removing from Portsmouth in June, i8r6, he became a citizen of Boston; and the old city honors the memory of America’s greatest orator and statesman by marking with a tablet the building now standing on the site of Daniel Webster’s home, while in Marshfield, in "the old colony," the broad acres of marsh and farmland within sound of the restless sea are still visited by patriotic pilgrims who seek the home of Webster.

For that two thousand acre farm in the village of Marshfield was counted by the great American as really his home. He delighted to be known as the "farmer of Marsh field," and even in the most engrossing political moves and successes of his eventful life his heart would turn toward his dearly loved seaside farm, with its broad fields and sturdy trees, its live stock and its crops, its strong, health-giving air, and the unending, inspiring rote of the sea.



But it was not as the "farmer of Marshfield" so much as the "Expounder of the Constitution" that the republic knew Daniel Webster. No other man explained or expounded it more clearly, none adhered to it more devotedly, believed in it more implicitly, or defended it more grandly. Its central thought—the integrity of the republic and the permanence of American nationality—was the one that gave force and direction to his life, lifted him to fame, and yet led to his downfall.

Daniel Webster earnestly desired to be President of the United States. But it was not this laudable ambition so much as his passionate desire for an undisturbed Union that worked his overthrow. For, laboring to preserve the Union inseparable, he was willing to concede too much to mischief-makers, to agree too readily to unsafe and impossible compromises, to stifle the warnings of his own conscience and the indignant demands of his countrymen. This led him to support, in 1850, the wicked Fugitive Slave Law, rather than lose to the Union the loyalty of the slave States. It was an unwise thing to do; for, instead of helping the Union, it hurt it; and it lost Webster the support of the liberty-loving men of the land and the following of the slavery-hating North, which had before so honored and idolized him.

That loss of popular favor killed him; and though men look now upon his course with calmer and clearer eyes, and hold him guiltless of selfish aims, the commonwealth has never ceased to mourn that the man who so grandly defended Massachusetts in 1830 should have so misjudged or ignored her in 1850.



And yet, the judgment of Webster and the judgment of his fellow-citizens were equally mistaken. History proves the first; those two splendid poems by Whittier, "Ichabod" and "The Lost Occasion," establish the second. Time, after all, is the surest test of sincerity.

But what schoolboy does not know that masterly defense of Massachusetts that opens Daniel Webster’s famous reply to Hayne, delivered in the Senate chamber at Washington on the 26th of January, 1830? Its words ring in our ears as grandly as they did in those of our fathers and grandfathers seventy years ago:

"Mr. President, I shall enter on no encomium upon Massachusetts. There she is! Behold her and judge for yourselves. There is her history; the world knows it by heart. The past, at least, is secure. There is Boston and Concord and Lexington and Bunker Hill,—and there they will remain forever. The bones of her sons, falling in the great struggle for independence, now lie mingled with the soil of every State from New England to Georgia; and there they will lie forever. And, sir, where American liberty raised its first voice, and where its youth was nurtured and sustained, there it still lives, in the strength of its manhood and full of its original spirit."

There is more in the same lofty strain. Every Massachusetts boy and girl—every American, young or old, in every part of our common country—should know by heart that splendid defense of the Bay State. For: it is a part, not of the story of Massachusetts alone, but of American history and American oratory,—the dignified, triumphant opening of what has beçp, called the "greatest speech since Demosthenes."



As a lawyer, as an orator, as a politician, as a statesman, as a diplomatist, as an American, Daniel Webster honored Massachusetts as her representative in Congress and the cabinet for nearly thirty years.

Historians tell us that the two greatest triumphs of his life were in oratory and diplomacy,—the matchless reply to Hayne in 1830, and his masterly treaty with Great Britain in 1842. The first saved the Union; the other freed the republic from foreign entanglements and encroachments. But these triumphs were but two items in the list of Daniel Webster’s services for Massachusetts and the republic.

He did much for Massachusetts; he did more for America. While he defended and protected the fisheries of Massachusetts, upon which so much of her prosperity depended, he settled the disputed questions

of national boundaries, and held America at peace with the world. While he made the two noble orations that celebrated the beginning and the completion of the monument on Bunker Hill, he inspired by his grander plea for an unbroken Union so passionate a patriotism that, ten years after his death, his words led the hosts of loyal America to rally in defense of the Union and the flag.

And that flag! How devoted was his loyalty to it, how enduring his love for it! For, as he lay dying, in his breezy farmhouse at Marshfield, he would look from his

window, every morning, to catch the flutter of the Stars and Stripes, where, according to his orders, the flag of the Union was to float from its staff until his last breath had passed.

"Let my last feeble and lingering glance," he had said in that splendid and immortal speech, "behold the gorgeous ensign of the republic, now known and honored throughout the earth, still full high advanced, not a stripe erased or polluted, not a single star obscured." And so it all happened just as he wished. And thus he died, a loyal son of the republic; thus he lay, guarded by the flag he loved; and one Massachusetts man, who had differed from him, but revered him, called him, as in the majesty of death, banked in flowers, he lay there on his lawn at Marshfield, dead, beneath the autumn



sky, the "grandest figure in Christendom since Charlemagne."

His faults forgotten, his virtues remembered, let every boy and girl in America be proud of the fame, and never indifferent to the labors of America's grandest statesman, Daniel Webster of Massachusetts.