S.A. Bent, comp. Familiar Short Sayings of Great Men. 1887.
[An American lawyer and statesman, often called “the expounder of the Constitution;” born at Salisbury, N.H., Jan. 18, 1782; educated at Dartmouth College; practised law in New Hampshire, and elected to Congress, 1812; removed to Boston 1816, and elected to Congress 1822, to the Senate 1828; secretary of state under Harrison, Tyler, and Fillmore; died Oct. 24, 1852.]
I mean to use my tongue in the courts, not my pen; to be an actor, not the register of other men’s actions.
Declining the clerkship of the court of common pleas of Hillsborough County, N.H., in 1807, contrary to the wishes of his father, who saw in the position the assurance of moderate maintenance. Of the emoluments of the profession, Webster said at a later time, “Most good lawyers live well, work hard, and die poor.”
Liberty and union, one and inseparable, now and forever!
The close of his celebrated reply to Hayne of South Carolina, one of the disciples of Calhoun, in the United States Senate, Jan. 26, 1830. In this speech, in which he annihilated the arguments in favor of a peaceable dissolution of the Union, Webster said of the history of Massachusetts in the Union, “The past, at least, is secure;” and again, “I thank God, that, if I am gifted with little of that spirit which is able to raise mortals to the skies, I have yet none, as I trust, of that other spirit which would drag angels down.”In a eulogy on Alexander Hamilton, March 10, 1831, Webster said, “He smote the rock of the national resources, and abundant streams of revenue gushed forth. He touched the dead corpse of public credit, and it sprang upon its feet.” Talleyrand said to George Ticknor, of Hamilton, “He divined Europe” (Il a deviné l’Europe).In an oration on laying the corner-stone of Bunker-hill Monument, June 17, 1825, Webster addressed the survivors of the battle: “Venerable men! you have come down to us from a former generation.” The words are said to have occurred to the orator as he caught two remarkably large trout on a fishing excursion, a short time before the delivery of the address.—Memorials of Daniel Webster, I. 15.He said of eloquence, “It comes, if it comes at all, like the outbreaking of a fountain from the earth.”When asked what was the most important thought that occupied his mind, Mr. Webster replied, “That of my individual responsibility to God.”Having offended the anti-slavery sentiment by his speech on the Compromise Measures, March 7, 1850, which caused the aldermen of Boston to refuse the use of Faneuil Hall to his friends for a public reception, he wrote: “I shall defer my visit to Faneuil Hall, the cradle of American liberty, until its doors shall fly open on golden hinges to lovers of Union as well as of Liberty.” He was thinking of Milton’s lines:—
“Heaven opened wideHer ever-during gates, harmonious sound,On golden hinges moving.”The aldermen having reversed their decision, the meeting was held; and Mr. Webster began his address with the simple but impressive words: “This is Faneuil Hall—open!”In a speech in the same hall, Sept. 30, 1842, he used an expression, the first words of which occur in “Rob Roy:” “In this sea of upturned faces there is something which excites me strangely, deeply, before I even begin to speak.”His last words were, “I still live.”The following sentences, written and signed by Mr. Webster, were placed by his desire upon the cenotaph which stands near the family vault wherein his body lies, at Marshfield, Mass.:—“‘Lord, I believe: help thou mine unbelief.’ Philosophical argument, especially that drawn from the vastness of the universe, in comparison with the apparent insignificance of this globe, has sometimes shaken my reason for the faith which is in me; but my heart has always assured and re-assured me that the gospel of Jesus Christ must be a divine reality. The Sermon on the Mount cannot be a merely human production. This belief enters into the very depths of my conscience. The whole history of man proves it.”Sydney Smith said of him, during his visit to England, “Daniel Webster struck me much like a steam-engine in trousers.” Of another American: “When Prescott comes to England, a Caspian Sea of soup awaits him.”
A national debt is a national blessing.
While this aphorism occurs in Webster’s reply to Hayne, it was not used in the sense in which it became familiar when the loans to carry on the war for the suppression of the Rebellion were issued by the United States Government, and subscriptions to them were solicited throughout the country. On the other hand, Webster impliedly denies the truth of the statement; for, having said in this speech that the national debt, while it continued, was a tie of common interest, and having noticed an excessive desire to pay it off by those who saw that while it lasted it was an objection to disunion, he continued, “The gentleman has not seen how to reply to this otherwise than by supposing me to have advanced the doctrine that a national debt is a national blessing.” Dean Swift remarks, on the subject of a national debt, “It is pleasant to observe how free the present age is in laying taxes on the next: ‘Future ages shall talk of this; this shall be famous to all posterity;’ whereas their time and thoughts will be taken up about present things, as ours are now.”
A nomination not fit to be made.
In a speech to his neighbors and friends, at Marshfield, Sept. 1, 1848, Webster thus characterized the nomination of Gen. Zachary Taylor for the Presidency. After declaring that “the sagacious, wise, far-seeing doctrine of availability” lay at the root of the whole matter, and saying that the nomination was one not fit to be made, he called Taylor a brave and honorable man, said that he should vote for him, and advised his friends to do the same. He was of a different opinion on this subject from George II., who once asserted that “any man is fit for any office that he can get.”That young Webster, when advised not to attempt the practice of the law, as the profession was overcrowded, replied, “There is always room at the top,” although not found in the biographies of the statesman, has the force of local tradition.But three days before he left the earth, said Theodore Parker in a sermon on Webster, Oct. 31, 1852, “too ill to visit them, his cattle, lowing, came to see their sick lord; and, as he stood in his door, his great oxen were driven up, that he might smell their healthy breath, and look his last on those broad, generous faces that were never false to him.” In May of that year, Webster said to Professor Silliman, “I have given my life to law and politics; law is uncertain, and politics are utterly vain.” Sydney Smith said of Webster when in England, “He is a small cathedral by himself;” and Carlyle had “not traced so much of silent Bersekir rage, that I remember of, in any man; as a logic-fencer, advocate, or parliamentary Hercules, one would be inclined to back him, at first sight, against all the extant world” (letter to Emerson, June 24, 1839). Carlyle wrote to Harriet Martineau (“Autobiography of Harriet Martineau,” i. 407), that he had rather read of Webster’s cavernous eyes, and arm under his coat-tail, than all the political speculation that a cut-and-dried system could suggest.