« ПретходнаНастави »
behind him. Indeed, it is known, in many ways, that, by those who were acquainted with him at this period of his life, he was already regarded as a marked man; and that, to the more sagacious of them, the honors of his subsequent career have not been unexpected.
Immediately after leaving college, he began the study of the law in the place of his nativity, with Mr. Thompson, soon afterwards a member of Congress; a gentleman who, from the elevation of his own character, was able to comprehend that of his pupil, and contribute to unfold its powers. But the res angusta domi pressed hard upon him. He was compelled to exert himself for his own support; and his professional studies were frequently interrupted and impaired by pursuits, which ended only in obtaining what was needful for his mere subsistence.
Circumstances connected with his condition and wants at this time, led him to Boston, and carried him, when there, into the office of Mr. Gore. This was, undoubtedly, one of the deciding circumstances of his life. Mr. Gore was a lawyer of eminence, and a gentleman, in the loftiest and most generous meaning of the word. His history was already connected with that of the country. He had been appointed district attorney of the United States for Massachusetts, by Washington; he had served in England as our commissioner under Jay's treaty; and he was afterwards governor of his native state, and its senator in Congress. His whole character, private, political, and professional, from its elevation,
purity, and dignity, was singularly fitted to influence a young man of quick and generous feelings, who already perceived within himself the impulse of talents and the stirrings of an ambition whose direction was yet to be determined. Mr. Webster felt, that it was well for him to be there; and Mr. Gore obtained an influence over his young mind, which the peculiarly kind and frank manners of the instructor permitted early to ripen into an intimacy and friendship that were interrupted only by death.
Mr. Webster finished the study of his profession in Boston, and was there admitted to the bar in 1805;--Mr. Gore, who presented him, venturing, at the time, to make a prediction to the court respecting his pupil's future eminence, which has been hardly more than fulfilled by all his present fame. At first, he began the practice of his profession in Boscawen, a small village adjacent to the place of his birth; but in 1807, he removed to Portsmouth, where, no doubt, he thought he was establishing himself for life.
As a young lawyer, about to lay the foundations for future success, his position could, perhaps, hardly have been rendered more fortunate and happy than it was now in Portsmouth. He rose rapidly. in general regard, and was, therefore, almost at once, ranked with the first in his profession in his native state. Of course, his associations and intercourse were with the first minds. And, happily for one like him, the presiding judge of the highest tribunal in New Hampshire was then Mr. Smith, afterwards governor of the state, whose native clearness of perception, acuteness, and
(7) power, united to faithful and accurate learning in his profession, and the soundest and most practical wisdom in the fulfilment of his duties on the bench, and in his intercourse with the bar, gave him naturally and necessarily great influence over its younger members. Mr. Webster, as the most prominent among them, came much in contact with him, and profited much from his sagacious foresight and wise and discriminating kindness
. He came, too, still more in contact with Mr. Mason, afterwards a senator. in Congress, and then and still the leading counsel in New-Hampshire. Mr. Mason was his senior by several years, but there was no other adversary capable of encountering him : and the intellect with which Mr. Webster was thus called to contend on equal terms was one of the highest order, of ample resources, and of the quickest penetration; whose original reach, firm grasp, and unsparing logic, left no safety to an adversary, but in a vigor, readiness, and skill
, which could never be taken unprepared or at disadvantage. It was a severe school, but there is little reason
doubt, Mr. Webster owes to its stern and rigid discipline much of that intellectual training and power, which render him, in his turn, so formidable an adversary. He owes to it, also, notwithstanding their uniform and daily opposition in court, the no less uniform personal friendship of Mr. Mason in private life.
It was in the midst, however, of this period, both of discipline and success as a lawyer, in New Hampshire, that he entered public life. In the government of his native state, we believe, he never took office of any kind; and his first political place, therefore, was in the thirteenth Congress of the United States. He was chosen in 1812, soon after the declaration of war; and as he was then but thirty years old, he must have been one of the youngest members of that important Congress. His position there was difficult, and he felt it to be so. He was opposed to the policy of the war; he represented a state earnestly opposed to it; and he had always, especially in the eloquent and powerful memorial from the great popular meeting in Rockingham, expressed himself fully and frankly on the whole subject. But he was now called into the councils of the government, which was carrying on the war itself. He felt it to be his duty, therefore, to make no factious opposition to the measures essential to maintain the dignity and honor of the country; to make no opposition for opposition's sake; though, at the same time, he felt it to be no less his duty, to take good heed that neither the constitution, nor the essential interests of the nation, were endangered or sacrificed-ne quid detrimenti respublica accipiat
. This, indeed, seems to have been his motto up to the time of the peace; and his tone in relation to it is always manly, bold, and decisive. When Mr. Monroe's bill for a sort of conscription was introduced, he joined with Mr. Eppés, and other friends of the administration, in defeating a project, which, except in a moment of great anxiety and excitement, would probably have found no defenders. But when, on the other hand, the bill for “encouraging
enlistments” was before the house, he held, in January 1814, the following strong and striking language, in which, now the passions of that stormy period are hushed, all will sympathize.
“ The humble aid which it would be in my power to render to measures of government, shall be given cheerfully, if government will pursue measures which I can conscientiously support. If, even now, failing in an honest and sincere attempt to procure a just and honourable peace, it will return to measures of defence and protection, such as reason, and common sense, and the public opinion, all call for, my vote shall not be withholden from the means. Give up your futile projects of invasion. Extinguish the fires that blaze on your inland frontiers. Establish perfect safety and defence there by adequate force. Let every man that sleeps on your soil sleep in security. Stop the blood that flows from the veins of unarmed yeomanry, and women and children. Give to the living time to bury and lament their dead, in the quietness of private sorrow. Having performed this work of beneficence and mercy on your inland border, turn, and look with the eye of justice and compassion, on your vast population along the coast. Unclench the iron grasp of your embargo. Take measures for that end before another sun sets upon you. With all the war of the enemy on your commerce, if you would cease to make war upon it yourselves, you would still have some commerce. That commerce would give you some revenue. Apply that revenue to the augmentation of your navy. That navy, in turn, will protect your commerce. Let it no longer be said, that not one ship of force, built by your hands since the war, yet floats upon the ocean. Turn the current of your efforts into the channel, which national sentiment has already worn broad and deep to receive it. A naval force, competent to defend your coast against considerable armaments, to convoy your trade, and perhaps raise the blockade of your rivers, is not a chimera. It may be realized. If, then, the war must continue, go to the ocean. If you are seriously contending for maritime rights, go to the theatre, where alone those rights can be defended. Thither every indication of your fortunes points you. There the united wishes and exertions of the nation will
Even our party divisions, acrimonious as they are, cease at the water's edge. They are lost in attachment to the national character, on the element where that character is made respectable. In protecting naval interests by naval means, you will arm yourselves with the whole power of national sentiment, and may command the whole abundance of the national resource. In time, you may be enabled to redress injuries in the place where they may be offered; and, if need be, to accompany your own flag throughout the world with the protection of your own cannon."* Speech, pp. 14, 15.
Later in the same Congress, the subject of the establishment and principles of a national bank came into discussion, and the finances of the country being then greatly embarrassed, this subject rose to paramount importance, and absorbed much of the attention of Congress up to the moment when the annunciation of peace put a period, for the time, to all such debates. On the whole
* These are the last words of the speech; and the sentiment they contain in favor of a navy and naval protection, has been maintained with great earnestness by Mr. Webster for nearly thirty years, on all public occasions. In an oration delivered July 4th, 1806, and printed at Concord, N. H., he says, an immense portion of our property is on the waves. Sixty or eighty thousand of our most useful citizens are there, and are entitled to such protection from the government as their case requires." In another oration, delivered in 1812, and printed at Portsmouth, he says, sufficient for the defence of our coasts and harbors, for the convoy of important branches of our trade, and sufficient, also, to give our enemies to understand, when they injure us, that they too are vulnerable, and that we have the power of retaliation as well as of defence, seems to be the plain, necessary, indispensable policy of the nation. It is the dictate of nature and common sense, that means of defence shall have relation to the danger." These doctrines in favor of a navy were extremely unwelcome to the nation when they were delivered; the first occasion referred to, being just before the imposition of the embargo, and the second, just before the capture of the Guerriere. How stands the national sentiment now? Who doubts the truth of what Mr. Webster could not utter in 1806 and 1812 without exciting ill-will to him. self?
matter of the bank and the currency, Congress was divided into three parties. First, those who were against a national bank under any form. These persons consisted chiefly of the remains
of the old party, which had originally opposed the establishment of the first bank in Washington's time, in 1791, and in 1811 had prevented the renewal of its charter. They were, however, generally, friends of the existing administration, whose position now called strongly for the creation of a new bank: and, therefore, while they usually voted on preliminary and incidental measures with the favorers of a bank, they voted, on the final passage of the bill, against it; so that it was much easier to defeat the whole of any one project, than to carry through any modification of it. Second, there was a party consisting almost entirely of friends of the administration, who wished for a bank, provided it were such a one as they thought would not only regulate the currency
of the country, and facilitate the operations of the government, but also afford present and important aid by heavy loans, which the bank was to be compelled to make, and to enable it to do which, it was to be relieved from the necessity of paying its notes in specie ;in other words, it was a party that wished to authorize and establish a paper currency for the whole country. The third party wished for a bank with a moderate capital, compelled always to redeem its notes with specie, and at liberty to judge for itself, when it would, and when it would not, make loans to the government.
The second party, of course, was the one that introduced into Congress the project for a bank at this time. The bill was originally presented to the Senate; and its main features were, that the bank should absorb a large amount of the depreciated public debt of the United States, and grant to the government heavy loans on the security of a similar debt to be created; that its capital should consist of fifty millions of dollars, of which five millions only were to be specie, and the rest depreciated government securities; and that the bank, when required, should lend the government thirty millions. At the time when this plan was brought forward, all the numerous state banks south of New England had refused to redeem their notes, or, as it was called “ to ears polite,” had “ suspended specie payments,” in consequence of which, their notes had fallen in value from 10 to 25 per cent., and specie, of course, had risen proportionally in value, and disappeared from circulation entirely. To afford the contemplated national bank any chance for carrying on its operations, or even for beginning them, it was to be authorized to suspend specie payments,” which meant, that it was to be authorized never to begin them; for, without this authority, their specie would be drained the moment their notes should be issued equal to its amount. On the other hand, all the taxes and revenues of the government were to be receivable in the paper of the bank, however much it might fall in value. In short, the whole scheme was one of those vast Serbonian bogs, where, from the days of Law's Mississippi Company, armies
whole of legislators and projectors have sunk, without leaving even a monument behind them to warn their followers of their fate.
We must not, however, be extravagantly astonished, that a project which we now know was in its nature so wild and dangerous, should have found favorers and advocates. The finances of the country were then in a critical, and even distressing position; and all men were anxious to devise some means to relieve them. A large part of the nation, too, sincerely entertained the chimerical notion, now universally exploded, that it was practicable to establish and maintain a safe and stable paper currency, even when not convertible into specie at the pleasure of the holder; and the example of England and its national bank was referred to with effect, though, from its history since, the same example could now be referred to with double effect on the other side of the discussion. After an earnest and able debate, then, the bill, on the whole, passed the Senate, and it was understood that a considerable majority of the House of Representatives was in its favor.
When brought there on the 9th of December, 1814, it excited a very animated discussion, which, with various interruptions from the forms and rules of the House, references to committees, and occasional adjournments, was continued till the 2d of January. In this protracted debate Mr. Webster took a conspicuous part; and his efforts, of which the speech now published is but an inconsiderable item, did much to avert the threatened evil, and to establish his reputation, not merely as an eloquent and powerful debater, which had already been settled in the previous session, but as a sagacious and sound statesman.
His principal opposition to the bill was made on the last day of its discussion. He then introduced a series of resolutions, bringing the bank proposed within the limits of the specie-paying principle, and taking off from it the restraints, which placed it too much within the power of the government to make it useful as a moneyed institution, either to the finances or to the commerce of the country. The objections to the plan then before Congress, and the disasters that would probably follow its adoption, he portrayed in the following strong language, which none, however, will now think to have been too strong.
“ The capital of the bank, then, will be five millions of specie, and forty-five mil. lions of government stocks. In other words, the bank will possess five millions of dollars, and the government will owe it forty-five millions. This debt from govern. ment, the bank is restrained from selling during the war, and government is excused from paying until it shall see fit
. The bank is also to be under obligation to loan government thirty millions of dollars on demand, to be repaid, not when the convenience or necessity of the bank may require, but when debts due to the bank, from government, are paid ; that is, when it shall be the good pleasure of government. This sum of thirty millions is to supply the necessities of government, and to supersede the occasion of other loans. This loan will doubtless be made on the first day of the ex. istence of the bank, because the public wants can admit of no delay. Its condition, then, will be, that it has five millions of specie, if it has been able to obtain so much, and a debt of seventy-five millions, no part of which it can either sell or call in, due to it from government.
“ The loan of thirty millions to government, can only be made by an immediate issue of bills to that amount. If these bills should return, the bank will not be able