Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

opposition; and there was no possibility that any amendment to the Constitution could be ratified, which would represent either the growth of the Southern people in their ever-increasing belief that negro slavery was not only a good in itself, but a good which ought to be extended, or the growth of the Northern people in their everincreasing hostility both to slavery and its extension. Thus two principles, each organic in its nature, and demanding indefinite development, came into deadly conflict under the mechanical forms of a Constitution which was not organic. A considerable portion of the speeches in this volume is devoted to denunciations of violations of the Constitution perpetrated by Webster's political opponents. These violations, again, would seem to prove that written constitutions follow practically the same law of development which marks the progress of the unwritten. By a strained system of Congressional interpretation, the Constitution has been repeatedly compelled to yield to the necessities of the party dominant, for the time, in the government; and has, if we may believe Webster, been repeatedly changed without being constitutionally “amended.” The causes which led to the most terrible civil war recorded in history were silently working beneath the forms of the Constitution, — both parties, by the way, appealing to its provisions,—while Webster was idealizing it as the utmost which humanity could come to in the way of civil government. In 1848, when nearly all Europe was in insurrection against its rulers, he proudly said that our Constitution promised to be the oldest, as well as the best, in civilized states. Meanwhile the institution of negro slavery was undermining the whole fabric of the Union. The mo division between the South and North was widening into a division between the religion of the two sections. The Southern statesmen, economists, jurists, publicists, and ethical writers had adapted their opinions to the demands which the defenders of the institution of slavery imposed on the action of the human intellect and conscience; but it was rather startling to discover that the Christian religion, as taught in the Southern States, was a religion which had no vital connection with the Christianity taught in the Northern States. There is nothing more astounding, to a patient explorer of the causes which led to the final explosion, than this opposition of religions. The mere form of the dogmas common to the religion of both sections might be verbally identical; but a volume of sermons by a Southern doctor of divinity, as far as he touched on the matter of slavery, was as different from one published by his Northern brother, in the essential moral and humane elements of Christianity, as though they were divided from each other by a gulf as wide as that which yawns between a Druid priest and a Christian clergyman. The politicians of the South, whether they were the mouthpieces of the ideas and passions of their constituents, or were, as Webster probably thought, more or less responsible for their foolishness and bitterness, were ever eager to precipitate a conflict, which Webster was as eager to prevent, or at least to postpone. It was fortunate for the North, that the inevitable conflict did not come in 1850, when the free States were unprepared for it. Ten years of discussion and preparation were allowed; when the war broke out, it found the North in a position to meet and eventually to overcome the enemies of the Union; and the Constitution, not as it was, but as it is, now represents a form of government which promises to be permanent; for after passing through its baptism of fire and blood, the Constitution contains nothing which is not in harmony with any State government founded on the principle of equal rights which it guarantees, and is proof against all attacks but those which may proceed from the extremes of human folly and wickedness. But that, before the civil war, it was preserved so long under conditions which constantly threatened it with destruction, is due in a considerable degree to the circumstance that it found in Daniel Webster its poet as well as its “expounder.” - In conclusion it may be said that the style of Webster is pre-eminently distinguished by manliness. Nothing little, weak, whining, or sentimental can be detected in any page of the six volumes of his works. A certain strength and grandeur of personality is prominent in all his speeches. When he says “I,” or “my,” he never appears to indulge in the bravado of self-assertion, because the words are felt to express a positive, stalwart, almost colossal manhood, which had already been implied in the close-knit sentences in which he embodied his statements and arguments. He is an eminent instance of the power which character communicates to style. Though evidently proud, self-respecting, and high-spirited, he is ever above mere vanity and egotism. Whenever he gives emphasis to the personal pronoun the reader feels that he had as much earned the right to make his opinion an authority, as he had earned the right to use the words he employs to express his ideas and sentiments. Thus, in the celebrated Smith Will trial, his antagonist, Mr. Choate, quoted a decision of Lord Chancellor Camden. In his reply, Webster argued against its validity as though it were merely a proposition laid down by Mr. Choate. “But it is not mine, it is Lord Camden's,” was the instant retort. Webster paused for half a minute, and then, with his eye fixed on the presiding judge, he replied: “Lord Camden was a great judge; he is respected by every American, for he was on our side in the Revolution; but, may it please your honor, I differ from my Lord Camden.” There was hardly a lawyer in the United States who could have made such a statement without exposing himself to ridicule; but it did not seem at all ridiculous, when the “I” stood for Daniel Webster. In his early career as a lawyer, his mode of reasoning was such as to make him practically a thirteenth juror inthe panel ; when his fame was fully established, he contrived, in some mysterious way, to seat himself by the side of the judges on the bench, and appear to be consulting with them as a jurist, rather than addressing them as an advocate. The personality of the man

was always suppressed until there seemed to be need of asserting it; and then it was proudly pushed into prominence, though rarely passing beyond the limits which his acknowledged eminence as a statesman and lawyer did not justify him in asserting it. Among the selections in the present volume where his individuality becomes somewhat aggressive, and breaks loose from the restraints ordinarily self-imposed on it, may be mentioned his speech on his Reception at Boston (1842), his Marshfield Speech (1848), and his speech at his Reception at Buffalo (1851). Whatever may be thought of the course of argument pursued in these, they are at least thoroughly penetrated with a manly spirit, — a manliness somewhat haughty and defiant, but still consciously strong in its power to return blow for blow, from whatever quarter the assault may come. ' But the real intellectual and moral manliness of Webster underlies all his great orations and speeches, even those where the animating life which gives them the power to persuade, convince, and uplift the reader's mind, seems to be altogether impersonal; and this plain force of manhood, this sturdy grapple with every question that comes before his understanding for settlement, leads him contemptuously to reject all the meretricious aids and ornaments of mere rhetoric, and is prominent, among the many exceptional qualities of his large nature, which have given him a high position among the prose-writers of his country as a consummate master of English style.

THE GREAT ORATIONS AND SPEECHES

OF

DANIEL WEBSTER.

THE DARTMOUTH COLLEGE CASE.

ARGUMENT BEFORE THE SUPREME court of THE UNITED STATES, AT WASHINGTON, ON THE 10TH OF MARCH, 1818.

[THE action, The Trustees of Dartmouth College v. William H. Woodward, was commenced in the Court of Common Pleas, Grafton County, State of New Hampshire, February term, 1817. The declaration was trover for the books of record, original charter, common seal, and other corporate property of the College. The conversion was alleged to have been made on the 7th day of October, 1816. The proper pleas were filed, and by consent the cause was carried directly to the Superior Court of New Hampshire, by appeal, and entered at the May term, 1817. The general issue was pleaded by the defendant, and joined by the plaintiffs. The facts in the case were then agreed upon by the parties, and drawn up in the form of a special verdict, reciting the charter of the College and the acts of the legislature of the State, passed June and December, 1816, by which the said corporation of Dartmouth College was enlarged and improved, and the said charter amended. //The question made in the case was, whether those acts of the legislature were valid and binding upon the corporation, without their acceptance or assent, and not repugnant to the Constitution of the United States. If so, the verdict found for the defendant; otherwise, it found for the plaintiffs.

The cause was continued to the September term of the court in Rockingham County, where it was argued; and at the November term of the same year, in Grafton County, the opinion of the court was delivered by Chief Justice Richardson, in favor of the validity and constitutionality of the acts of the legislature; and judgment was accordingly entered for the defendant on the special verdict.

Thereupon a writ of error was sued out by the original plaintiffs, to remove the cause to the Supreme Court of the United States; where it was entered at the term of the court holden at Washington on the first Monday of February, 1818. The cause came on for argument on the 10th day of March, 1818, before all the judges. It was argued by Mr. Webster and Mr. Hopkinson for the plaintiffs in error, and by Mr. Holmes and the Attorney-General (Wirt) for the defendant in error. At the term of the court holden in February, 1819, the opinion of the judges was delivered by Chief Justice Marshall, declaring the acts of the legislature unconstitutional and invalid, and reversing the judgment of the State Court. The court, with the exception of Mr. Justice Duvall, were unaniInous. The following was the argument of Mr.

Webster for the plaintiffs in error.] o question isowhether the acts of the legislature of New Hampshire of the 27th of June, and of the 18th and 26th of December, 1816, are valid and binding on the plaintiffs, without their acceptance or assent.” ~ The charter of 1769 created and established a corporation, to consist of twelve persons, and no more; to be called the “Trustees of Dartmouth College.” The preamble to the charter recites, that it is granted on the application and request of the Rev. Eleazer Wheelock: That Dr. Wheelock, about the year 1754, established a charity school, at his own ex

[ocr errors]
« ZurückWeiter »