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83 DANIEL WEBSTER
sun in heaven, may I not see him shining on the broken and dishonored fragments of a once glorious Union; on States dissevered, discordant, belligerent; on a land rent with civil feuds or drenched, it may be, in fraternal blood l Let their last feeble and lingering glance. rather, behold the gorgeous ensign of the republic, now known and honored throughout the earth, still full high advanced, its arms and trophies streaming in their original lustre, not a stripe erased or polluted, nor a single star obscured, bearing for its motto no such miserable interrogatory as, What is all this worth? nor those other words of delusion and folly, Liberty first and Union afterwards,—but everywhere, spread all over in characters of living light, blazing on all its ample folds, as they float over the sea and over the land, and in every wind under the whole heavens, that other sentiment, dear to every true American heart—Liberty and Union, now and forever, one and inseparable !
THE SECRET OF MURDER
[As an example of Webster’s forensic oratory we olfer a selection from his celebrated argument in the trial for murder of John K. Knapp. In the passage given he soars far above the dry level of legal oratory, and depicts the eflect of conscience on the mind of the murderer in sentences of thrilling intensity.]
He has done the murder. No eye has seen him, no ear has heard him. The secret is his own, and it is safe l I
Ah ! gentlemen, that was a dreadful mistake. Such a secret can be safe nowhere. The whole creation of God has neither nook nor corner where the guilty can bestow it and say it is safe. Not to speak of that eye which pierces through all disguises, and beholds everything as in the splendor of noon ; such secrets of guilt are never safe from detection, even by men. True it is, generally speaking, that “ murder will out.” True it is, that Providence hath so ordained and doth so govern things that those who break the great law of Heaven by shedding man’s blood seldom succeed in avoiding discovery. Especially, in a case exciting so much attention as this, discovery must come, and will come, sooner or later. A thousand eyes turn at once to explore every man, everything, every circumstance, connected with the time and place ; a thousand ears catch every whisper; a thousand excited minds intensely dwell on the scene, shedding all their light and ready to kindle the slightest circumstance into a blaze of discovery. Meantime the guilty soul cannot keep its own secret. It is false to itself; or, rather, it feels an irresistible impulse of conscience to be true to itself. It labors under its guilty possession, and knows not what to do with it. The human heart was not made for the residence of such an inhabitant. It finds itself preyed on by a torment,
Orators of the Civil War Period FOLLOWING the period which was so largely
dominated by the slavery controversy, and was
distinguished by a brilliant galaxy of Congressional and popular orators, came four years of war, the logical result of the slavery contest and the fiercest and most destructive conflict of recent times. This was followed by a decade of reconstruction, during which the warfare of opinion was as virulent in its way as had been that of the combat in the field. In all this was plentiful food for oratory. In the few ' years preceding the war, when the coming conflict impended over the land like a dark thunder cloud whose lightnings were for a while withheld, the voice of the orator was heard in the land, dealing stren-uously with the threatening issues which were soon to burst out in devastating storm, and after the war had ended and the thunder of the cannon was hushed, new and momentous questions arose. The States which had voted themselves out of the Union, and I . had failed to win independence by the sword, were ' left in an anomalous situation. That they must eventually be restored to the Union was, in the sentiment of the American people, a foregone conclusion, but the conditions of their restoration, the principles upon which reconstruction would be based, remained to be determined. The halls of Congress again became the arena of verbal tournaments, and stirring orations upon vital subjects of political expediency were once more the order of the day. The finest orations of the period under review, however, belong to the period preceding the shock of arms rather than to that which succeeded it.
HE two vital periods of American history, that in which the T people were struggling for independence and the formation of a stable Union, and that in which they were fighting for the preservation of this Union, were marked by two men of sublime altitude, as compared with their fellows,—Washington, the hero of the Revolution, and Lincoln, the presiding genius of the Civil War. These two men, whom future history is likely to place on pedestals equally high, and to regard with equal veneration, were men of different aspect and character. Washington was stately, dignified, 'a man sufficient unto himself, commanding the respect and admiration rather than the personal afi'ection, of the people. Lincoln was simple and approachable, a man full of “ the milk of human kindness,” one who, while 'he also was respected and admired, was loved as well. In truth, no other man ever reached the topmost summit of our political structure while remaining so near to- the hearts of the people as the simple-minded, great-souled, gentle-natured Abraham Lincoln, the earnest, honest, genial Father Abraham of slave and freemen alike.
Lincoln in the fullest sense began life at the bottom and climbed to the top. Where he got his genius it is not easy to say, but genius of a high and original type he possessed. He was one of those men whom the conditions of life, however adverse, could not keep down. Step by step his course was upward, until he rose from the ablest man of a neighborhood to the Republican leadership of his State, and from that to the highest position in the gift of the people of the United States.
' In 1858 took place that memorable contest for the Senatorship with Douglas to which he owed the national reputation which two