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In the spring of 1846, a large number of the merchants and other citizens of Philadelphia proposed to offer to Mr. Webster a distinguished mark of their approbation of his political course. For this purpose it was determined to invite him to a public dinner, and the proposal was eagerly embraced by the most respectable members of the community, of all parties, professions, and pursuits in life. On the 25th of April a meeting of the subscribers was called to make the preliminary arrangements for the dinner, and a large committee was appointed for that purpose.
In the performance of their duty the following letter was addressed by the committee to Mr. Webster:
“ Philadelphia, April 27, 1846. “ DEAR SIR, – Your fellow-citizens of this city, desirous of expressing their friendly regard and admiration of your services to your coun. try, tender to you a public dinner, to be given at a time the most convenient to yourself.
Nearly all who offer this mark of esteem are men of business, re. moved from the party strifes of the country, though deeply interested and affected in all their relations by the action and agitation of party. With these
your name has long been associated as one of those whose ad. vice, whether heeded or not, whose abilities, whether successfully exerted or not, were always directed towards the advancement of their interests, and the promotion of their prosperity. They offer to you this token of respect, not only as an evidence of personal esteem, but as a mark of sincere and grateful feeling.
“ But, in this expression of regard, they will not limit themselves to what
may be considered as more peculiarly their own interests. As members of this great republic, they desire in this way to express their approbation and pride in those efforts that have multiplied and strengthened our ties with the family of nations ; that have increased and made more stable, as well as intimate, our own national sympathies; and
Abridged from the account contained in the Introduction to the original pamphlet edition of the following speech.
which, by extending your reputation, have given credit and fame to your country.
“ None cherish with more interest these, the lasting memorials that you have given of your patriotism and devotion to the welfare of your fellow-citizens, than those who now tender this token of their esteem. We have the honor to be, with the highest respect,
“ Your friends and fellow-citizens,
ISAAC R. DAVIS,
WILLIAM D. LEWIS,
JOHN H. MARTIN,
To this letter Mr. Webster made the following reply in acceptance of the invitation :
" Washington, May 1, 1846. “ GENTLEMEN, - I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of your communication of the 27th of April, inviting me to a public din. ner in Philadelphia.
“ The character of this invitation, as well as the friendly manner in which it is expressed, give it a peculiar claim on my regard, and render it indeed, on my part, not easy to be declined.
“ You describe those whom you represent, or who join you in this mark of respect, as men of business, removed from the party strifes of the country, though deeply affected and interested in all their relations by the action and agitation of party movements.'
“I deem it a high honor, Gentlemen, to be requested by such men to accept a mark of their esteem; and when my public duties shall allow, I will gladly meet you and your friends on such day as may suit your convenience.
“ We are in the midst of all the business of one of the most impor. tant sessions of Congress which have been held under the Constitution. During its continuance I shall hardly be able to leave the duties of my place, even for a few days; but after its conclusion, if you will allow me, I will confer with you upon the time for carrying your very respectful purpose into effect. “I am, Gentlemen, with entire regard,
6. Your obedient servant,
" DANIEL WEBSTER. " To Messrs. A. L. Elwyn, C. W. CHURCHMAN, D. S. Brown, and
other Gentlemen of the Committee."
Mr. Webster's duties at Washington prevented this invitation from taking immediate effect, and other causes of delay occurring, the dinner was postponed till the 2d of December, when it took place in the great
saloon of the Museum Building. Every arrangement was made to give the most imposing and agreeable effect to the festival. Preparation was made for the reception of a very large company, consisting of the subscribers to the dinner, and of guests particularly invited from the principal neighboring cities of the Union. The entertainment was of the most liberal description. The hall and the tables were richly and tastefully decorated. Wreaths, banners, arches, vases, and flowers, skilfully disposed, met the eye in every direction ; and before the speaking commenced, the galleries were filled with ladies.
The Hon. Samuel Breck presided at the table, and, after one or two patriotic sentiments, addressed the company as follows:
“Gentlemen,- I rise to propose a toast, expressive of the great esteem and honor in which we hold the illustrious guest whom we are assembled to welcome. It is cause for felicitation to have this opportunity to receive him, and to meet him at our festive board.
“ În Philadelphia, we have long been accustomed to follow him, with earnest attention, in his high vocations in the legislative hall and in the Cabinet; and have always seen him there exercising his great talents for the true interests of our wide-spread republic. And we, in common with the American people, have felt the influence of his wisdom and patriotism. In seasons of danger, he has been to us a living comforter; and more than once has restored this nation to serenity, security, and prosperity.
“In a career of more than thirty years of political agitation, he, with courageous constancy, unwavering integrity, and eminent ability, has carried out, as far as his agency could prevail, the true principles of the American system of government.
“For his numerous public services we owe him much, and we open our grateful hearts to him in thanks; we say to him, with feelings of profound respect and warm affection, that we are rejoiced
at his presence here, amid his Philadelphia friends, - his faithful Philadelphia friends and admirers.
“I offer you the health of
“DANIEL WEBSTER, - the faithful representative, the able negotiator, the fearless statesman, the eloquent Defender of the Constitution. His patriotic services demand our gratitude, his untarnished honor is the nation's property."
Mr. Breck, while making these remarks, was frequently interrupted by the cheers of the audience; and when at the close he introduced their distinguished guest, the most enthusiastic acclamations burst forth from the whole company. A considerable time elapsed before the excited feelings of the occasion were sufficiently subdued, to allow the voice of the orator to be heard in reply. When silence was at length restored, Mr. Webster delivered the following speech.
It seems proper to state, that, owing to the length of this speech, and the eagerness of the public to possess it without delay, it appears to have been written off from the reporter's notes with haste, and to have received very little, if any, revision from the author. It is evident that portions of it are presented in a fragmentary form.