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In the spring of 1807, Mr. Webster was admitted to the bar of the Superior Court of New Hampshire, and in the following autumn, relinquishing his practice to his brother Ezekiel, he removed to Portsmouth, and continued there in the practice of his profession during the greater part of nine years. “They were years of assiduous labor, and of unremitted devotion to the study and practice of law.” During this time his practice was an extensive but not a lucrative one. Though his energies were devoted almost exclusively to his profession, it never afforded him more than a bare livelihood.
From an early period, Mr. Webster evinced a decided inclination for politics. He was a frequent contributor to the newspapers, and occasionally took part in the discussions in the local meetings and conventions, which abounded in New Hampshire during the eventful period preceding the war of 1812. About that time he was chosen to represent his native State in the United States House of Representatives, and took his seat at the extra session in May 1813. On the tenth of the following June, he delivered his first speech in Congress, on a series of resolutions, submitted by himself, in relation to the repeal of the Berlin and Milan Decrees. The design of these resolutions was to “elicit information that might throw some light upon the proximate causes of the war, and enable the members best to judge the most proper manner of conducting it.” The speech was not reported, and is only knc vn from the imperfect sketches presented in cotemporaneous periodicals, and from the recollection of those who heard it. Chief Justice Marshall, writing to a friend, some time after its delivery, says, " At the time when this speech was delivered, I did not know Mr. Webster, but I was so much struck with it that I did not hesitate then to state, that Mr. Webster was a very able man, and would become one of the very first statesmen in America, and perhaps the very first.” This effort attracted great attention, and first made Mr. Webster known throughout the country. His arguments prevailed, and an elaborate report on the subject of the resolutions was presented to the Congress.
During the same session he made several other speeches, the ablest of which were upon the Increase of the Navy, the Repeal of the Embargo, and one, on an appeal from the Chair on a motion for the previous question. Of the two last Mr. Everett says:-"His speeches on these questions raised him to the front rank of debaters. He manifested upon his entrance into public life, that variety of knowledge, familiarity with the history and traditions of the government, and self-possession on the floor, which in most cases are acquired by time and long experience. They gained for him the reputation indicated by the well-known remark of Mr. Lowndes, that “the North had not his equal, nor the South his superior.” In the session of 1814–1815, Mr. Webster delivered a masterly speech on the re-charter of the United States Bank, in which he denounced it as a mere machine for making irredeemable paper. At the adjournment of Congress he returned to New Hampshire and resumed his attendance upon the courts.
In 1817 he established his residence in Boston, and for many years devoted himself almost altogether to his profession. His congressional career had won him a wide spread reputation, and his business increased very rapidly. During the autumn of this year he was engaged in the celebrated Dartmouth College case, and on its removal to the Supreme Court of the United States, in March; 1818, he there appeared and delivered his powerful exposition of constitutional law, which placed him in the front rank of the American bar. It is hardly necessary to refer to his practice from this period. In the Supreme Court of the United States as well as those of the several States, his career was a continual exhibition of the most gigantic powers and consequent successes. A detail of them would far exceed the limits of this sketch.
On the meeting of the Massachusetts convention, in 1820, held for the revision of the State Constitution, Mr. Webster took his seat in that body as a delegate from Boston. This was, perhaps, the ablest and most venerable public body ever assembled in New England; and during its session, Mr. Webster gained high distinction by several powerful speeches on most of the important points which came up for consideration. In the winter of the same year, he pronounced the oration at Plymouth, commemorative of the landing of the Pilgrims.
After serving for a brief period in the Massachusetts legislature, he was chosen to represent the city of Boston in the seventeenth Congress, and took his seat in December, 1823. He remained in the House of Representatives until 1826, at which time he was transferred to the Senate. Of his speeches, while in the lower House of Congress, that in favor of the Greeks, one on the Congress of Panama, and that on the Tariff, are the most important. In 1825 he delivered the address at the laying of the corner-stone of Bunker Hill monument, and during the summer of the year following he pronounced the eulogy in commemoration of the lives and services of John Adams and Thomas Jefferson; one of the most sublime and beautiful specimens of panegyrical eloquence in the English language.
Mr. Webster entered the Senate of the United States in January, 1828, and continued a member of that assembly until 1841. Of the many cratorical efforts made by him during this portion of his senatorial career, no one has gained more celebrity than the reply to Mr. Hayne, delivered during the debate on the resolution of Mr. Foot. That speech, together with that of Mr. Hayne, will be found among the selections of this work. In the summer of 1839 he visited Europe, where he met with the most distinguished consideration, in all places, and from all classes of citizens. On his return to America, he took an active part in the presidential election of 1840, and, on the elevation of General Harrison to the chief magistracy of the nation, he was called to the head of the State Department, where he remained until 1843. The settlement of the protracted and long disputed question of the northeastern boundary, by the Ashburton treaty, was the prominent feature of his secretaryship. Soon after the adjustment of this question, he resigned his office and returned to Massachusetts, from whence he was elected again to the Senate in 1845. In 1850, on the accession of President Fillmore, he was once more elected to the State Department, in the occupancy of which he died on the twenty-fourth of October, 1852.
Of the numerous tributes to his memory, and estimates of his public character and statesmanship, no one will have more interest to the reader than the following, by his friend and contemporary, Rufus Choate :—It was while Mr. Webster was ascending through the long gradations of the legal profession to its highest rank, that by a parallel series of display on a stage, and in parts totally distinct, by other studies, thoughts, and actions, he rose also to be at his death the first of American Statesmen. The last of the mighty rivals was dead before, and he stood alone. Give this aspect also of his greatness a passing glance. His public life began in May, 1813, in the House of Representatives in Congress, to which this State had elected him. It ended when he died. If you except the interval between his removal from New Hampshire and his election in Massachusetts, it was a public life of forty years. By what political morality, and by what enlarged patriotism, embracing the whole country, that life was guided, I shall consider hereafter. Let me now fix your attention rather on the magnitude and variety and actual value of the service. Consider that from the day he went upon the Committee of Foreign Relations, in 1813, in time of war, and more and more, the longer he lived and the higher he rose, he was a man whose great talents and devotion to public duty placed and kept him in a position of associated or sole command; command in the political connection to which he belonged, command in opposition, command in power; and appreciate the responsibilities which that implies, what care, what prudence, what mastery of the whole ground-exacting for the conduct of a party, as Gibbon says of Fox, abilities and civil discretion equal to the conduct of an empire. Consider the work he did in that life of forty years—the range of subjects investigated and discussed ; composing the whole theory and practice of our organic and administrative politics, foreign and domestic: the vast body of instructive thought he produced and put in possession of the country; how much he achieved in Congress as well as at the bar; to fix the true interpretation, as well as to impress the transcendent value of the constitution itself, as much altogether as any jurist or statesman since its adoption; how much to establish in the general mind the great doctrine that the government of the United States is a government proper, established by the people of the States, not a compact between sovereign communities,—that within its limits it is supreme, and that whether it is within its limits or not, in any given exertion of itself, is to be determined by the Supreme Court of the United States the ultimate arbiter in the last resort—from which there is no appeal but to revolu n; how much he did in the course of the discussions which grew out of the proposed mission to Panama, and, at a later day, out of the removal of the deposits, to place the executive department of the government on its true basis, and under its true limitations; to secure to that department all its just powers on the one hand, and on the other hand to vindicate to the legislative department, and especially to the Senate, all that belonged to them; to arrest the tendencies wbich he thought at one time threatened to substitute the government of a single will, of a single person of great force of character and boundless popularity, and of a numerical majority of the people, told by the head, without intermediate institutions of any kind, judicial or senatorial, in place of the elaborate system of checks and balances, by which the constitution aimed at a government of laws, and not of men ; how much, attracting less popular attention, but scarcely less important, to complete the great work which experience had shown to be left unfinished by the judiciary act of 1789, by providing for the punishment of all crimes against the United States; how much for securing a safe currency and a true financial system, not only by the promulgation of sound opinions, but by good specific measures adopted, or bad ones defeated; how much to develope the vast material resources of the country, and push forward the planting of the West-not troubled by any fear of exhausting old States-by a liberal policy of public lands, by vindicating the constitutional power of Congress to make or aid in making large classes of internal improvements, and by acting on that doctrine uniformly from 1813, whenever a road was to be built, or a rapid suppressed, or a canal to be opened, or a breakwater or a lighthouse set up above or below the flow of the tide, if so far beyond the ability of a single State, or of so wide utility to commerce or labor as to rise to the rank of a work general in its influences—another tie of union because another proof of the beneficence of union; how much to protect the vast mechanical and manufacturing interests of the country, a value of many hundreds of millions after having been lured into existence against his counsels, against his science of political economy, by a policy of artificial encouragement—from being sacrificed, and the pursuits and plans of large regions and communities broken up, and the acquired skill of the country squandered by a sudden and capricious withdrawal of the promise of the government; how much for the right performance of the most delicate and difficult of all tasks, the ordering of the foreign affairs of a nation, free, sensitive, self-conscious, recognising, it is true, public law and a morality of the State, binding on the conscience of the State, yet aspiring to power, eminence, and command, its whole frame filled full and all on fire with American feeling, sympathetic with liberty every where; how much for the right ordering of the foreign affairs of such a state-aiming in all its policy, from his speech on the Greek question in 1823, to his letters to M. Hulsemann in 1850, to occupy the high, plain, yet dizzy ground, which separates influence from intervention, to avow and promulgate warm, good will to humanity, wherever striving to be free, to inquire authentically into the history of its struggles, to take official and avowed pains to ascertain the moment when its success may be recognised, consistently, ever, with the great code that keeps the peace of the world, abstaining from every thing which shall give any nation a right under the law of nations to utter one word of complaint, still less to retaliate by war—the sympathy, but also the neutrality, of Washington; how much to compose with honor ia concurrence of difficulties with the first power in the world, which any thing less than the highest degree of discretion, firmness, ability, and means of commanding respect and confidence at home and abroad would inevitably have conducted to the last calamity—a disputed boundary line of many hundred miles, from St. Croix to the Rocky Mountains, which divided an exasperated and impracticable border population, enlisted the pride and affected the interests and controlled the politics of particular States, as well as pressed on the peace and honor of the nation, which the most popular administrations of the era of the quietest and best public feelings, the times of Monroe and of Jackson, could not adjust; which had grown so complicated with other topics of excitement that one false step, right or left, would have been a step down a precipice—this line settled for ever-the claim of England to search our ships for the suppression of the slave-trade silenced for ever, and a new engagement entered into by treaty, binding the national faith to contribute a specific naval force for putting an end to the great crime of man—the long practice of England to enter an American ship and impress from its crew, terminated
eck henceforth guarded sacredly and completely by the flag; how much, by profound discernment, by eloquent speech, by devoted life to strengthen the ties of Union, and breathe the fine and strong spirit of nationality through all our numbers; how
much most of all, last of all, after the war with Mexico, needless if his counsels had governed, had ended in so vast an acquisition of territory, in presenting to the two great antagonist sections of our country so vast an area to enter on, so imperial a prize to contend for, and the accursed fraternal strife had begun-how much then, when rising to the measure of a true, and difficult, and rare greatness, remembering that he had a country to save as well as a local constituency to gratify, laying all the wealth, all the hopes, of an illustrious life on the altar of a hazardous patriotism, he sought and won the more exceeding glory which now attends—which in the next age shall more conspicuously attend—his name who composes an agitated and saves a sinking land; recall this series of conduct and influences, study them carefully in their facts and results, the reading of years—and you attain to a true appreciation of this aspect of his greatness—his public character and life.*
ADDRESS AT BUNKER HILL.
MR. WEBSTER delivered this address at the should pass that portion of our existence, which laying of the corner-stone of the Bunker Hill God allows to men on earth. Monument, on the seventeenth of June, 1825.
We do not read even of the discovery of this continent, without feeling something of a per
sonal interest in the event; without being reThis uncounted multitude before me, and minded how much it has affected our own foraround me, proves the feeling which the occa- tunes, and our own existence. It is more imsion has excited. These thousands of human possible for us, therefore, than for others, to faces, glowing with sympathy and joy, and, contemplate with unaffected minds that intefrom the impulses of a common gratitude, resting, I may say, that most touching and turned reverently to heaven, in this spacious pathetic scene, when the great Discoverer of temple of the firmament, proclaim that the day, America stood on the deck of his shattered the place, and the purpose of our assembling bark, the shades of night falling on the sea, yet have made a deep impression on our hearts. no man sleeping; tossed on the billows of an
If, indeed, there be any thing in local associa- unknown ocean, yet the stronger billows of tion fit to affect the mind of man, we need not alternate hope and despair tossing his own strive to repress the emotions which agitate us troubled thoughts; extending forward his hahere. We are among the sepulchres of our rassed frame, straining westward his anxious fathers. We are on ground distinguished by and eager eyes, till heaven at last granted him their valor, their constancy, and the shedding a moment of rapture and ecstasy, in blessing of their blood. We are here, not to fix an un- his vision with the sight of the unknown world. certain date our annals, nor to draw into Nearer to our times, more closely connected notice an obscure and unknown spot. If our with our fates, and therefore still more interesthumble purpose had never been conceived, if ing to our feelings and affections, is the settlewe ourselves had never been born, the 17th of ment of our own country by colonists from June, 1775, would have been a day on which England. We cherish every memorial of these all subsequent history would have poured its worthy ancestors; we celebrate their patience light, and the eminence where we stand, a point and fortitude; we admire their daring enterof attraction to the eyes of successive genera- prise; we teach our children to venerate their tions. But we are Americans. We live in piety; and we are justly proud of being dewhat may be called the early age of this great scended from men who have set the world an continent; and we know that our posterity, example of founding civil institutions on the through all time, are here to suffer and enjoy great and united principles of human freedom the allotments of humanity. We see before us and human knowledge. To us, their children, a probable train of great events; we know that the story of their labors and sufferings can our own fortunes have been happily cast; and never be without its interest. We shall not it is natural, therefore, that we should be moved stand unmoved on the shore of Plymouth, while by the contemplation of occurrences which have the sea continues to wash it; nor will our guided our destiny before many of us were brethren, in another early and ancient colony, horn, and settled the condition in which we forget the place of its first
establishment, tili their river shall cease to flow by it. No vigor
of youth, no maturity of manhood, will lead * Discourse delivered before the Faculty, Students and the nation to forget the spots where its infancy Alumni of Dartmouth College, on the day preceding Com
was cradled and defended. mencement, July 27, 1853, commemorative of Daniel Web- But the great event, in the history of the ster, by Rufus Choate, page 40.
continent, which we are now met here to com
memorate ; that prodigy of modern times, at benefit, which has been conferred on our own once the wonder and the blessing of the world, land, and of the happy influences which have is the American Revolution. In & day of ex- been produced, by the same events, on the traordinary prosperity and happiness, of high general interests of mankind. We come, as national honor, distinction, and power, we are Americans, to mark a spot which must for ever brought together, in this place, by our love of be dear to us and our posterity. We wish, that country, by our admiration of exalted character, whosoever, in all coming time, shall turn his by our gratitude for signal services and patri- eye hither, may behold that the place is not unotic devotion.
distinguished where the first great battle of the The society, whose organ I am, was formed Revolution was fought. We wish that this for the purpose of rearing some honorable and structure may proclaim the magnitude and imdurable monument to the memory of the early portance of that event, to every class and every friends of American Independence. They have age. We wish that infancy inay learn the purthought, that for this object no time could be pose of its erection from maternal lips, and more propitious than the present prosperous that weary and vithered age may behold it. and peaceful period; that no place could claim and be solaced by the recollections which it preference over this memorable spot; and that suggests. We wish that labor may look up no day could be more auspicious to the under- here, and be proud, in the midst of its toil. taking, than the anniversary of the battle which We wish that, in those days of disaster, which, was here fought. The foundation of that monu- as they come on all nations, must be expected ment we have now laid. With solemnities to come on us a?sc, desponding patriotism may suited to the occasion, with prayers to Al- turn its eyes hitherward, and be assured that mighty God for his blessing, and in the midst the foundations of our national power still stand of this cloud of witnesses, we have begun the strong. We wish that this column, rising work. We trust it will be prosecuted, and that towards heaven among the pointed spires of so springing from a broad foundation, rising high many temples dedicated to God, may contribute in massive solidity and unadorned grandeur, it also to produce, in all minds, a pious feeling of may remain, as long as heaven permits the dependence and gratitude. We wish, finally, works of man to last, a fit emblem, both of the that the last object on the sight of him who events in memory of which it is raised, and of leaves his native shore, and the first to gladden the gratitude of those who have reared'it. his who revisits it, may be something which
We know, indeed, that the record of illustri. shall remind him of the liberty and the glory ous actions is most safely deposited in the uni- of his country. Let it rise, till it meet the sun versal remembrance of mankind. We know in his coming; let the earliest light of the mornthat if we could cause this structure to ascend, ing gild it, and parting day linger and play on not only till it reached the skies, but till it its summit. pierced them, its broad surfaces could still con- We live in a most extraordinary age. Events tain but part of that, which, in an age of know- so various and so important, that they might ledge, hath already been ead over the earth, crowd and distinguish centuries, are, in our and which history charges itself with making times, compressed within the compass of a single known to all future times. We know that no life. When has it happened that history has inscription on entablatures less broad than the had so much to record, in the same term of years, earth itself, can carry information of the events as since the 17th of June, 1775? Our own revowe commemorate, where it has not already lution, which, under other circumstances, might gone; and that no structure, which shall not itself have been expected to occasion a war of outlive the duration of letters and knowledge half a century, has been achieved ; twenty-four among men, can prolong the memorial. But sovereign and independent States erected ; and our object is, by this edifice to show our own a general government established over them, so deep sense of the value and importance of the safe, so wise, so free, so practical, that we might achievements of our ancestors; and, by pre- well wonder its establishment should have been senting this work of gratitude to the eye, to accomplished so soon, were it not for the greater keep alive similar sentiments, and to foster a wonder that it should have been established at constant regard for the principles of the Revo- all. Two or three millions of people have been lution. Human beings are composed not of augmented to twelve; and the great forests of reason only, but of imagination also, and senti- the West prostrated beneath the arm of successment; and that is neither wasted nor misap- ful industry; and the dwellers on the banks of plied which is appropriated to the purpose of the Ohio and the Mississippi, become the fellowgiving right direction to sentiments, and open- citizens and neighbors of those who cultivate ing proper springs of feeling in the heart. Let the hills of New England. We have a comit not be supposed that our object is to perpetu- merce, that leaves no sea unexplored ; navies, ate national hostility, or even to cherish a mers which take no law from superior force; revemilitary spirit. It is higher, purer, nobler. We nues, adequate to all the exigencies of governconsecrate our work to the spirit of national ment, almost without taxation; and peace with independence, and we wish that the light of all nations, founded on equal rights and mutual peace may rest upon it for ever. We rear a respect. memorial of our conviction of that unmeasured Europe, within the same period, has been