Зображення сторінки
PDF
ePub

dence conduct us, through toils, fatigues, and dangers, to independence and peace. If piety be the rational exercise of the human soul, if religion be not a chimera, and if the vestiges of heavenly assistance are clearly traced in those events which mark the annals of our nation, it becomes us on this day, in consideration of the great things which have been done for us, to render the tribute of unfeigned thanks to that God who superintends the universe, and holds aloft the scale that weighs the destinies of nations.

“ The conclusion of the Revolutionary War did not accomplish the entire achievements of our countrymen. Their military character was then, indeed, sufficiently established; but the time was coming which should prove their political sagacity, their ability to govern themBelves.

“No sooner was peace restored with England, (the first grand article of which was the acknowledgment of our independence,) than the old system of Confederation, dictated at first by necessity, and adopted for the purposes of the moment, was found inadequate to the government of an extensive empire. Under a full conviction of this, we then saw the people of these States engaged in a transaction which is undoubtedly the greatest approximation towards human perfection the political world ever yet witnessed, and which, perhaps, will forever stand in the history of mankind without a parallel. A great republic, composed of different States, whose interest in all respects could not be perfectly compatible, then came deliberately forward, discarded one system of government, and adopted another, without the loss of one man's blood.

“ There is not a single government now existing in Europe which is not based in usurpation, and established, if established at all, by the sacrifice of thousands. But in the adoption of our present system of jurisprudence, we see the powers necessary for government voluntarily flowing from the people, their only proper origin, and directed to the public good, their only proper object.

“With peculiar propriety, we may now felicitate ourselves on that happy form of mixed government under which we live. The advantages resulting to the citizens of the Union are utterly incalculable, and the day when it was received by a majority of the States shall stand on the catalogue of American anniversaries second to none but the birthday of independence.

“ In consequence of the adoption of our present system of government, and the virtuous manner in which it has been administered by a Washington and an Adams, we are this day in the enjoyment of peace,

.

while war devastates Europe ! We can now sit down beneath the shadow of the olive, while her cities blaze, her streams run purple with blood, and her fields glitter with a forest of bayonets! The citizens of America can this day throng the temples of freedom, and renew their oaths of fealty to independence; while Holland, our once sister republic, is erased from the catalogue of nations; while Venice is destroyed, Italy ravaged, and Switzerland — the once happy, the once united, the once flourishing Switzerland - lies bleeding at every pore !”

He need not have been ashamed of this speech, despite the lumbering bombast of some of its sentences. All that made him estimable as a public man is contained in it, the sentiment of nationality, and a clear sense of the only means by which the United States can remain a nation ; namely, strict fidelity to the Constitution as interpreted by the authority itself creates, and modified in the way itself appoints. We have never read the production of a youth which was more prophetic of the man than this. It was young New England that spoke through him on that occasion ; and in all the best part of his life he never touched a strain which New England had not inspired, or could not reach.

His success at college giving him ascendency at home, he employed it for the benefit of his brother in a manner which few 3ons would have dared, and no son ought to attempt. His father, now advanced in years, infirm," an old man before his time" through hardship and toil, much in debt, depending chiefly upon his salary of four hundred dollars a year as Judge of the Court of Common Pleas, and heavily taxed to maintain Daniel in college, had seen all his other sons married and settled except Ezekiel, upon whom he leaned as the staff of his declining years, and the main dependence of his wife and two maiden daughters. Nevertheless, Daniel, after a whole night of consultation with his brother, urged the old man to send Ezekiel to college also. The fond and generous father replied, that he had but little property, and it would take all that little to carry another son through college to a profession ; but he lived only for his children, and, for his own part, he was willing to run the risk; but there was the mother and two unmarried sisters, to whom the risk was far moro serious. If they consented, he was willing. The mother said: “I have lived long in the world, and have been happy in my children. If Daniel and Ezekiel will promise to take care of me in my old age, I will consent to the sale of all our property at once, and they may enjoy the benefit of that which remains after our debts are paid." Upon hearing this, all the family, we are told, were dissolved in tears, and the old man gave his assent, This seems hard, — two stout and vigorous young men willing to risk their aged parents' home and dignity for such a purpose, or for any purpose! In the early days, however, there was a singular unity of feeling and interest in a good New England family, and there were opportunities for professional men which rendered the success of two such lads as these nearly certain, if they lived to establish themselves. Nevertheless, it was too much to ask, and more than Daniel Webster would have asked if he had been properly alive to the rights of others. Ezekiel shouldered his bundle, trudged off to school, where he lived and studied at the cost of one dollar a week, worked his way to the position of the second lawyer in New Hampshire, and would early have

gone to Congress but for his stanch, inflexible Federalism. Daniel Webster, schoolmaster and law-student, was assuredly one of the most interesting of characters. Pinched by poverty, as he tells us, till his very bones ached, eking out his income by a kind of labor that he always loathed (copying deeds), his shoes letting in, not water merely, but “ pebbles and stones," — father, brother, and himself sometimes all moneyless together, all dunned

the same time, and writing to one another for aid, - he was nevertheless as jovial a young fellow as any in New England. How merry and affectionate his letters to his young friends! He writes to one, soon after leaving college: “You will natu rally inquire how I prosper in the article of cash; finely, finely! I came here in January with a horse, watch, etc., and a few rascally counters in my pocket. Was soon obliged to sell my horse, and live on the proceeds. Stil! straitened for cash, I sold my watch, and made a shift to get home, where my friends supplied me with another horse and another watch. My horse is sold again, and my watch goes, I expect, this week; thus you see how I lay up cash.” How like him! To another college friends James Hervey Bingham, whom he calls, by turns,“ brother Jemmy,” “ Jemmy Hervey,” and “ Bingham,” he discourses thus “ Perhaps you thought, as I did, that a dozen dollars would slide out of the pocket in a Commencement jaunt much easier than hey would slide in again after you got home. That was the exict reason why I was not there. I flatter myself that none of my friends ever thought me greatly absorbed in the sin of avarice, yet I assure you, Jem, that in these days of poverty I look upon a round dollar with a great deal of complacency. These rascal dollars are so necessary to the comfort of life, that next to a fine wife they are most essential, and their acquisition an object of prime importance. O Bingham, how blessed it would be to retire with a decent, clever bag of Rixes to a pleasant country town, and follow one's own inclination without being shackled by the duties of a profession!” To the same friend, whom he now addresses as “ dear Squire,” he announces joyfully a wondrous piece of luck: “My expenses [to Albany) were all amply paid, and on my return I put my hand in my pocket and found one hundred and twenty dear delightfuls ! Is not that good luck ? And these dear delightfuls were, ’pon honor, all my own; yes, every dog of them !” To which we may add from another source, that they were straightway transferred to his father, to whom they were dear delightfuls indeed, for he was really getting to the end of his tether.

The schoolmaster lived, it appears, on the easiest terms with bis pupils, some of whom were older than himself. He tells a story of falling in with one of them on his journey to school, who was mounted “on the ugliest horse I ever saw or heard of, except Sancho Panza's pacer.” The schoolmaster having two good horses, the pupil mounted one of them, strapped his bag to his own forlorn animal and drove him before, where his odd gait and frequent stumblings kept them amused. At length, arriving at a deep and rapid river, “this satire on the animal creation, as if to revenge herself on us for our sarcasms, plunged into the river, then very high by the freshet, and was wafted down the current like a bag of oats! I could hardly sit on my horse for laughter. I am apt to laugh at the vexations of my friends. The fellow, who was of my own age, and my room-mate, half checked the current by oaths as big as lobsters, and the old Rosinante, who was all the while much at her ease, floated up among the willows far below on the opposite side of the river.” At the same time he was an innocent young man.

If he had any wild oats in his composition, they were not sown in the days of his youth. Expecting to pass his life as a country lawyer, having scarcely a premonition of his coming renown, we find him enjoying the simple country sports and indulging in the simple village ambitions. He tried once for the captaincy of a company of militia, and was not elected; he canvassed a whole regiment to get his brother the post of adjutant, and failed. At one time he came near abandoning the law, as too high and perilous for him, and settling down as schoolmaster and clerk of a court. The assurance of a certain six hundred dollars a year, a house, and a piece of land, with the prospect of the clerkship by and by, was so alluring to him that it required all the influence of his family and friends to make him reject the offer. Even then, in the flush and vigor of his youth, he was led. So was it always. He was never a leader, but always a follower. Nature made him very large, but so stinted him in propelling force, that it is doubtful if he had ever emerged from obscurity if his friends had not urged him on. His modesty in these innocent days is most touching to witness. After a long internal conflict, he resolved, in his twentieth year, to “ make one more trial” at mastering the law. “If I prosecute the profession, I pray God to fortify me against its temptations. To the wind I dismiss those light hopes of eminence which ambition inspired and vanity fostered. To be

honest, to be capable, to be faithful' to my client and my conscience, I earnestly hope will be my first endeavor.” How exceedingly astonished would these affectionate young friends have been, if they could have looked forward forty years, and seen the timid law-student Secretary of State, and his ardent young comrade a clerk in his department. They seemed equals in 1802 ; in 1845, they had gruwn so far apart, that the excellent Bingham writes to Webster as to a demigod,

« НазадПродовжити »