Webster, Daniel by Faye Huntington
A long time ago, not quite a century,
however, upon a New England farm, a
mischievous woodchuck was caught after much
time and patience had been expended. It was
the intention of the farmer's sons to put the
animal to death, but the younger boy's heart
was touched with pity; he begged that the
captive might go free. His brother objecting,
the case was carried to the father.
"Well, my boys," said the farmer, "there is
the prisoner; you shall be the counsel and plead
the case for and against his life and liberty,
while I will be the judge."
The older boy, whose name was Ezekiel,
opened the case. He urged the mischievous nature
of the animal, cited the great harm already
done, said that much time and strength had
been spent in securing him, and now, if he were
set free, he would only renew his depredations.
He also urged that it would be more difficult to
catch him again, for he would profit by this experience
and be more cunning in the future. It
was a long and practical argument, and the
proud father was apparently quite affected by
it. Then came the younger boy's turn. He
pleaded the right, of anything which God had
made, to life. He said that God furnished man
with food, and all they needed; could they not
spare this little creature who was not destructive,
and who had as much right to his share of
God's bounty as they had; could they not spare
to him the little food necessary to existence?
Should they in selfishness and cold-heartedness
take the life which they could not restore again,
and which God had given?
During this appeal tears started to the father's
eyes, and while the boy was in the midst of his
argument, not thinking that he had won the
case, the judge started from his chair, and, dashing
the tears away, exclaimed:
"Zeke! Zeke! you let that woodchuck go!"
This incident I have briefly written out for you
is told of the early life of the man who forty
years later made his celebrated speech in the Senate
Chamber in defence of the Constitution, which
ended with these memorable words, "Liberty and
union, now and forever, one and inseparable!"
Daniel Webster, the orator and statesman,
was born at Salisbury, N.H. The house in
which he first saw the light is, I think, still
standing, though not as it was originally; some
years ago it became the wing, or kitchen part of
a new house. The farm was rugged and not
very fertile; it is said that granite rocks visible
in every direction, gave an air of barrenness to
the scene. Among "wild bleak hills and rough
pastures," his boyhood was spent. His advantages
of education were limited. The family
library consisted of "a copy of Watts' Hymns,
a cheap pamphlet copy of Pope's Essay on Man,
and the Bible, from which he learned to read,
together with an occasional almanac."
He struggled with poverty through his college
days, and after graduating at Dartmouth, went
to Boston to study law. He is described as
"raw, awkward, shabby in dress, his rough
trousers ceasing a long distance above his feet."
After much discouragement he was entered in a
law office as a student. He was admitted to the
bar in 1805, and in 1808 he married Miss Grace
Fletcher. A pretty story is told of his engagement.
One day he was assisting the young lady
in disentangling a skein of silk; suddenly he
said: "Grace, cannot you help me tie a knot
that will never untie?" "I don't know, but I
can try," she said.
And they tied the knot, and the writer who
tells the story, says, "Though eighty years have
sped by, it lies before me to-day, time-colored,
it is true, but nevertheless still untied."
Mr. Webster was a member of Congress eight
years; was in the United States Senate nineteen
years, and a Cabinet officer five years. It is related
of him that he tore up his college diploma,
saving, "My industry may make me a great
man, but this parchment cannot." A classmate
says he was remarkable in college for three
things: steady habits of life, close application to
study, and the ability to mind his own business.
Is it any wonder that he became a great man?
There is much in the life and character of
Daniel Webster worthy of study, and many incidents
are related which illustrate his greatness.
One of the best things on record is this: at a
dinner party given in his honor, some one asked
him this question. "Mr. Webster, what was the
most important thought that ever occupied your
mind?" To this he replied, "The most important
thought that ever occupied my mind was the
thought of my individual responsibility to God."
Mr. Webster died in 1852. Thousands came
to attend the funeral, and amid the sorrowing
throng they laid him away in the family tomb
at Marshfield. Thirty years more passed, and
1882 had come. It was then one hundred years
since his birth, and again thousands upon thousands
came to honor the memory of this son of
New England. Men high in office—even the
President of the United States—military men,
scholars, judges, lawyers and ministers, men and
women of the city and from the hillsides and
from the valleys came to the sad, solemn celebration.
And a long procession moved amid the
tolling of bells, the booming of cannon, and the
low, solemn dirge played by military bands.