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OPENING OF THE NORTHERN RAILROAD TO LEBANON, N. H.
ON Wednesday, the 17th of November, 1847, the Northern Railroad was farther opened to Lebanon, in New Hampshire. This event was celebrated by a large number of persons who came from Boston for that purpose, and by a great concourse from the neighboring region. The train made a halt at South Franklin for the purpose of taking in Mr. Webster, then on a visit to his farm in that place. A collation had been prepared for the company at Lebanon. At this entertainment, a toast in honor of Mr. Webster was proposed by Charles T. Russell, Esq., of Boston, Chairman of the Committee of Arrangements, to which Mr. Webster responded as follows.
I wish, Sir, that the gentleman who has done me the honor to propose the toast just given had called upon some other person than myself to address the meeting, and had left me in the position of a listener merely. But I could not properly refrain from expressing my sincere thanks for the manner in which my name has been announced by the president, and received by the assembly. Thus called upon to speak, I cannot disregard the summons. Undoubtedly the present is a moment of great interest, and I now have to perform the pleasing duty of congratulating the directors and stockholders of this road upon the successful completion of their enterprise; and also the citizens residing in this part of the country upon the result which has been witnessed to-day, the entire accomplishment of this most important work. It is an undertaking not only important in itself, but also very important when regarded as a link in the great chain of railroads which is to connect the West with the sea-coast.
For myself, in considering the progress of railroad structures throughout the country, I have been, doubtless many other individuals have been, generally contented with admiring the enterprise manifested, the ingenuity displayed, the industry shown in carrying them forward to completion. But here, on this occasion, there is to me a matter of peculiar interest. Perhaps, and very possibly, this is because the road whose completion is now to be hailed runs not only through New Hampshire, my native State, but also through that part of New Hampshire in which I have a considerable personal interest. This is but natural, for the road passes through my own farm, my own New Hampshire home. This Northern Railroad is destined to be connected with two other roads of vast importance, each having Montreal for its end. The one will traverse Vermont, passing Montpelier, and proceeding along the valley of the Winooski to Lake Champlain, while the other will extend itself up the valley of the Passumpsic. Each, for the present, has its terminus at Montreal; so that the traveller from the Atlantic coast, arriving at Lebanon, might have a choice to make between the routes. This choice, perhaps, may occasionally be perplexing. The passenger from the coast to the St. Lawrence may not know on which line travel is best, or which is most convenient for his purposes. It may not improbably so happen, that the traveller will compromise the matter, deciding to go on by the one route, and return by the other. So far as I am concerned, both lines have my best wishes for their entire success. My friend, the presiding officer, has spoken of Burlington and Montreal as the termini of this road. But in point of fact, this is a mere link, a part of a line of land navigation, by steam, from Boston to Ogdensburg, and thence, by land and water, to the Great West. I do not exactly remember whether it was Mr. Gouverneur Morris or Mr. Clinton who said, with regard to the Erie Canal, that the object and aim of that undertaking were to “tap Lake Erie, and draw down its waters to New York harbor.” One or the other of these two great men it was, and the design has been carried out. It may not, perhaps, be proper for me to say, that the design of this road, with its extensions, is to tap the St. Lawrence, but it can be asserted, and with truth, that it was to relieve that noble river of a large portion of its great, rich, overwhelming burdens; and deliver its freight, or at least a great part of its freight, at the Atlantic shore, by a more safe, speedy, and cheap conveyance than any before available. That, I imagine, must be clear to all. Again, no one can fail to perceive how greatly instrumental this road, with its extension, will prove in bringing Ogdensburg near to Boston, — as near, indeed, as Buffalo now is to Albany. This connection between Ogdensburg and the capital of New England would open at once a new thoroughfare for the products of the West, an outlet hitherto untried, through which the commodities of Lake Superior and the other upper lakes may seek and reach the Atlantic by the way of Massachusetts Bay and its chief port. I will not undertake to compare the little city of Boston with the great city of New York, prečminent as New York is, among the cities of America, for her extended commerce and her facilities for its increase. The great city of our neighboring State towers above all rivals in respect to every advantage of commercial position. Let her enjoy all the benefit she can, let her claim all the credit she can from this circumstance. Neither envy nor malice, on my part, shall contribute to rob her of one of her well deserved laurels. But without any very great arrogance, or any very undue exhibition of local pride, we may say that Boston, with her adjacent towns, throughout all the neighboring shore from Hingham to Marblehead, - which extent of country, in effect, is but one seaport, certainly one so far as commercial and manufacturing industry is concerned,—is entitled to command some degree of respect from the whole confederation of our States. Standing, indeed, upon the summit of Bunker Hill, one can look around upon a territory, and a population, equal to that of New York and her immediate suburbs. In fact, from Boston to Newburyport it is all one city; and by the development of her own enterprise, Boston, with her environs, has made herself a rival not lightly to be contemned by any city of the country. I will for one not undertake to estimate the increased extent of her commerce when all the links in her chain of railroad communication shall be completed. There is another consideration which will commend itself to those who would contemplate the immediate future. It is this, that there will soon be an entire railroad line from New York, through New Haven, Hartford, and Springfield, not only to Bos
ton, but up the valleys of the Connecticut and Passumpsic, to Montreal. It is the impression of many, that land in New England is poor; and doubtless such is the fact with regard to a great portion of it. But throughout the whole United States I do not know of a richer or more beautiful valley, as a whole, than that of the Connecticut River. Parts of it are worth two hundred and fifty dollars an acre for the purpose of cultivation, and there is no land in the West worth half so much. I cannot say so much for the land of the Merrimack valley for cultivation, but that portion of the country is rich in water-power, rich in manufacturing industry, and rich in human energy and enterprise. These are its elements of wealth; and these elements will soon be developed, in a great measure by the means of railroad communication, to a surprising extent. The whole region of country along this line of road, a distance say of about one hundred and twenty miles, will, before our children have ceased to be active among the sons of men, be one of the richest portions of the whole world. Such, I really believe, is the destiny of the Merrimack valley. Rich, not in the fertility of the soil on its banks, but in its almost illimitable water-power, the energy and industry of its people, and the application of these elements to the improvement and extension of productive machinery. It may soon be said of this beautiful river, with even more truth than applied to the poet's glorious lines upon the Thames, –
“Though with those streams it no resemblance hold,
And now what is the particular cause of all the prosperity and wealth which I foresee in this valley 2 What is it that has chiselled down these Grafton rocks, and made this road which brings my own house so near to the home of my most distant New Hampshire hearer? It is popular industry; it is free labor. Probably there never was an undertaking which was more the result of popular feeling than this. I am told that there are fisteen hundred stockholders in the enterprise, the capital being two millions and a half. That single fact would serve to show the generally diffused interest felt by the people in its success. It is but three or four years since, when, having occasion to visit my farm at Franklin, I observed a line of shingles stretching across my fields. Asking my farmer what was the meaning of all this, I was answered, “It is the line of our railroad.” Our railroad! That is the way the people talked about it. I laughed at the idea at first; and, in conversation with a neighbor, inquired what in the world they wanted of a railroad there. “Why,” was the reply, “the people want a ride behind the iron horse, and that ride they will have.” This day they have had it. The result has proved, not that my friend was too sanguine, but that I was too incredulous. It is the spirit and influence of free labor, it is the indomitable industry of a free people, that has done all this. There is manifested in its accomplishment that without which the most fertile field by nature must remain for ever barren. Human sagacity, skill, and industry, the zealous determination to improve and profit by labor, have done it all. That determination has nowhere been more conspicuously displayed than here. New Hampshire, it is true, is no classic ground. She has no Virgil and no Eclogues. She has a stern climate and a stern soil. But her climate is fitted to invigorate men, and her soil is covered with the evidences of the comforts of individual and social life. As the traveller pursues his way along her roads, he sees all this. He sees those monuments of civilization and refinement, churches; he sees those marks of human progress, schoolhouses, with children clustering around their doors as thick as bees. And they are bees, except in one respect. The distinction is, that whereas the insect day after day returns to its home laden with the spoils of the field, the human creature is admitted to the hive but once. His mind is furnished with the stores of learning, he is allowed to drink his fill at the fountains of knowledge, his energies are trained in the paths of industry, and he is then sent out into the world, to acquire his own subsistence and help to promote the welfare of his kind. It is an extraordinary era in which we live. It is altogether new. The world has seen nothing like it before. I will not pretend, no one can pretend, to discern the end; but every body knows that the age is remarkable for scientific research into the heavens, the earth, and what is beneath the earth; and perhaps more remarkable still for the application of this scientific research to the pursuits of life. The ancients saw nothing like it.