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.