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86 DANIEL WEBSTER
people choose to maintain it as it is; while they are satisfied with it, and
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and vigilantly discharge the two great branches of our public trust— faithfully to preserve, and wisely to administer it.
. ...A ... Mr. President, I have thus stated the reasons of my dissent to the
* - .N. *doctrines which have been advanced and maintained. I am conscious of
having detained you and the Senate much too long. I was drawn into
88 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 | 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 2 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 . over the land, and in every wind under the wholyheavens, t;%t other sefitiment, dear to every true American heart—Li erty and Union, now
and forever, one and inseparable ! w
THE SECRET OF MURDER
[As an example of Webster's forensic oratory we offer 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 effect 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
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,
w DANIEL WEBSTER 89
which it dares not acknowledge to God or man. A vulture is devouring it, and it can ask no sympathy or assistance either from heaven or earth. The secret which the murderer possesses soon comes to possess him ; and, like the the spirits of which we read, it overcomes him, and leads him whithersoever it will. He feels it beating at his heart, rising to his throat, and demanding disclosure. He thinks the whole world sees it in his face, reads it in his eyes, and almost hears its workings in the very silence of his thoughts. It has become his master. It betrays his discretion, it breaks down his courage, it conquers his prudence. / When suspicions from without begin to embarrass him, and the net of circumstances to entangle him, the fatal secret struggles with still greater violence to burst forth. It must be confessed, it will be confessed ; there is no refuge from confession but suicide, and suicide is confession. [His argument closed with a most impressive appeal to the jury. In these words of weight and wisdom Duty stands before us in the grand proportions of the inexorable figure of Fate in the mythology of ancient Greece.] Gentlemen, your whole concern should be to do your duty, and leave consequences to take care of themselves. You will receive the law from the Court. Your verdict, it is true, may endanger the prisoner's life; but then, it is to save other lives. If the prisoner's guilt has been shown and proved, beyond all reasonable doubt, you will convict him. If such reasonable doubts of guilt still remain, you will acquit him. You are the judges of the whole case. You owe a duty to the public as well as to the prisoner at the bar. You cannot presume to be wiser than the law. Your duty is a plain, straightforward one. Doubtless, we would all judge him in mercy. Towards him, as an individual, the law inculcates no hostility; but towards him, if proved to be a murderer, the law and the oaths you have taken, and public justice, demand that you do your duty. With consciences satisfied with the discharge of duty, no consequences can harm you. There is no evil that we cannot either face or fly from, but the consciousness of duty disregarded. A sense of duty pursues us ever. It is omnipresent, like the Deity. If we take to ourselves the wings of the morning and dwell in the utmost parts of the seas, duty performed, or duty violated, is still with us, for our happiness, or our misery. If we say the darkness shall cover us, in the darkness as in the light our obligations are yet with us. We cannot escape their power nor fly from their presence. They are with us in this life, will be with us at its close ; and in that scene of inconceivable solemnity which lies yet farther onward, we shall still find ourselves surrounded by the consciousness of duty, to pain us wherever it has been violated, and to console us so far as God may have given us grace to perform it.
JOHN C. CALHOUN (1782-1850)
THE STATE RIGHTS’ LEADER
three stand decidedly above their fellows, Webster, Clay and Calhoun, all of them men of genius and orators of remarkable power. “The eloquence of Mr. Calhoun,” says Webster, “was part of his intellectual character. It grew out of the qualities of his mind. It was plain, strong, terse, condensed, concise; sometimes impassioned —still always severe. Rejecting ornament, not often seeking far for illustration, his power consisted in the plainness of his propositions, in the closeness of his logic, and in the earnestness and energy of his manner.” Born in the same year as Webster (1782), the one in South Carolina, the other in New Hampshire, these two men became prominent adversaries in Congress on the question of the stability of the Union, each of them devoting his highest powers to this question pro and con. Throughout his later career Calhoun continued a disunionist. One of the most ardent advocates for the institution of slavery, it was he who led in the agitation on this subject from 1835 to 1850.
0 F the parliamentary orators of the American “golden age"
SOUTH CAROLINA AND THE UNION [Among the effects of the South Carolina Nullification Ordinance of 1832 was a bill, commonly called the Force Bill, introduced into Congress in 1833, its purpose being to give the President special powers in the collection of the revenue. This measure called forth Mr. Calhoun's vigorous protest of the 15th and 16th of February, from which the following selections are made. Speaking of the Nullification Ordinance, he says:] It has been objected that the State has acted precipitately. What! precipitately after making a strenuous resistance for twelve years—by discussion here and in the other House of Congress; by essays in all forms; by resolutions, remonstrances, and protests on the part of her legislature ; and, finally, by attempting an appeal to the judicial power of the