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TO THE SECOND VOLUME.
It is now about five years, since the publishers of the present collection presented their fellow-citizens with the former volume of the Speeches and Forensic Arguments of Mr. Webster. It commanded the attention, which might have been anticipated from the reputation of the author; and the curiosity and interest thus excited were amply sustained, by the contents of the work. It is believed, that no volume has ever issued from the American press, better calculated to take a permanent hold of the public mind; to be regarded as a choice specimen of excellence in the various kinds of intellectual effort which it embraced ;—and to be consulted as a standard authority, on the great Political and Constitutional questions, which have agitated the public mind during the last twenty years. The estimation in which it was held from its appearance, may be safely inferred from the tenor of a very judicious and eloquent notice of it, in the eighteenth number of the American Quarterly Review; and the rapid sale of the edition has proved that the judgment of the critic was sanctioned by the reading community at large, not merely in this country, but in Europe. The critical journals of Great Britain have confirmed the estimate formed by his countrymen of Mr. Webster's professional and parliamentary talent, and have quoted his works as containing some of the best specimens of American forensic eloquence.*
The publishers now find themselves called upon for a second volume of the speeches and occasional addresses of Mr. Webster The five years since the appearance of the former volume have, as
• Quarterly Journal of Jurisprudence, for August, 1834.
is known to every one, been passed by Mr. Webster on the same elevated stage of public duty, on which he had before acquired a most enviable reputation. A series of the most important discussions in the Senate of the United States, in which he has borne a highly conspicuous part, has attracted the attention of the people throughout the Union. Those great Constitutional questions, which formed the theme of the closing speeches in the first volume, have been again the subject of strenuous contest, between the master minds of the country. Not inferior in interest to these are the speeches of Mr. Webster, contained in the present volume, in the financial controversy which has lately agitated, and still agitates, the country. Commencing with his argument in answer to the President's veto of the Bank bill, in 1832, down to the overwhelming refutation of the Protest, in 1834, they will all be found in the present volume. It contains also several other speeches, on subjects of less commanding interest, but characterized by the same high qualities. In addition to these parliamentary efforts, the publishers have introduced into the volume several occasional speeches, such as that delivered at a public dinner in New York, the address to the citizens of Pittsburgh, the eulogium on the character of Washington, the speech before the Convention at Worcester in 1832, with some others of a miscellaneous class.
The general aspect of the present collection will be found, in some degree, different from the former, in the range of topics. It was, at that time, the pleasing duty of the publishers, in preparing the first collection which had been made of the works of Mr. Webster, to introduce into it his admirable discourses at Plymouth, and Bunker Hill, that delivered on occasion of the death of Adams and Jefferson, and the law arguments which occupy a considerable space in the volume. The complexion of the present series is more uniform, as to topics and form of address, though infinitely rich and various in illustration, and in application to the fortunes of the Republic, of inappreciable interest. Every thing, or almost every thing, contained in the present volume, has been delivered by Mr. Webster, in the period which has elapsed since the former volume was published. It accordingly exhibits to us the action of his intellect, almost exclusively, on the great questions which have convulsed the country, in this highly momentous period of time.
It presents the operations of his mind, at the very meridian of its vigor, trained in the most strenuous exercises of the bar and the Senate-house, acting under the intensest excitement, and the responsibility of a commanding reputation already acquired, compelled, at every moment, not merely to struggle with the ablest competitors and opponents, but to equal himself, and sustaining at times upon his shoulders the weight of the almost severed Union. There is, perhaps, nothing, in the present volume, finished in a style so highly academic as the orations at Plymouth and Bunker Hill, unless we except the speech at the New York dinner, which is surpassed by nothing of the kind which Mr. Webster has ever produced. But the speech in reply to Mr. Calhoun, and the speech on the Protest, are like leaves of the Constitution. They are authorities rather than illustrations. While we are engaged in perusing them, every thing like mere discourse, however ingenious, forcible, or ornate, seems comparatively insipid.
At no period, it is believed, since the adoption of the Constitution, has either House of Congress contained a greater number of very eminent men, than the Senate of the United States for the last four years. At no period have questions so important been discussed, or principles so fundamental to the Government been maintained and contested. At no period has a succession so rapid of the most powerful and animated harangues commanded the attention of the people ; and the publishers think they may add, without being deemed unjust to his eminent contemporaries, that, among all the powerful voices with which the Senate-chamber has resounded, none has been heard, with such effect, by the great mass of the people throughout the country, as that of which the record, inadequate at best, is now offered to the reading world, in the following pages. That, in a country divided into parties, which are brought in powerful collision with each other, and led by the most accomplished and skilful champions, there should be great diversity in the judgments formed of distinguished men, is a matter of course. It is scarcely possible to form a perfectly candid estimate of the intellectual power, exerted in the defence of a cause which we greatly disapprove, and in the support of principles which we deem wholly false. There is, however, a meed of applause which men of discrimination and liberality never withhold
from a rival, and even an opponent. There is an impression produced by the exertions of commanding talent, even on the mind least prepossessed in favor of the individual by whom it is manisested, which is not easily mistaken. We presume, if those who, from every part of the country, have watched, with the greatest attention and interest, the splendid displays of power, eloquence, and statesmanship, which have been made in the Senate, were called
upon to designate the acknowledged leaders, that, after each one, according to his taste, opinions, and sectional prejudices, had named his favorite, it would be found that the second place was accorded to Mr. Webster, by all who did not claim for him the first; which a vast number, unquestionably, in every part of the country, would be found to do.
The position which Mr. Webster fills in the eyes of the country, by this general consent, is the more honorable to him, when it is recollected that it is the victory gained by talent, wholly unaided by those advantages of opportunity, which, to other men, have given official standing, influence, and political power. Mr. Webster came forward at a period when that ascendency, which New England possessed from the early settlement of the colonies, and which was strengthened by her agency in the great triumphs of the revolution, had passed away. Other portions of the country had grown up; the West was settled; the Virginian dynasty was in undisputed possession of the public favor; and new centres of political influence had been established, in which New England was allowed to have no share. Had he been a foreigner, barely naturalized, he would have come forward with less prejudice than as a New Englander of talent and promise. At the early age of thirty, and without preliminary training in the state assemblies, he rose at once, in the Congress of 1812, to an undisputed eminence; and it was said of him, even then, by one of the very few who could have disputed his rank, (Mr. Lowndes,)“that the North had not his equal, nor the South his superior.” What might not have been his career, had he sprung from the other side of the Potomac! He would have succeeded Mr. Monroe, as inevitably as sunrise succeeds the dawn, and would have been thought to sustain, with increased lustre, the line of the great men of Virginia.
It is not merely that Mr. Webster has forced his way to the exalted position which he occupies in the public mind, against the whole force of this prejudice, (the operation of which is unquestionably a subject of just complaint,) but he has also reared the fabric of his own reputation, without the fair and natural advantage of high official station. It is a somewhat singular fact, that, from the time Mr. Webster first crossed the threshold of public life, to the present hour, he has never owed any thing to executive favor, nor held of any body but the people. To many public men, Congress is the most advantageous theatre. Its action and reaction, its excitement, its collision, its public display, give the fullest scope to talent of the most popular cast. But it may be safely said of Mr. Webster, that even in the Senate of the United States, his powers are beyond his field. Brilliant as is his position, and unsurpassed as is his power, in the senatorial arena, no man can witness, and calmly analyze, the character of his efforts, without feeling that his intellect is above the contentious sphere of the mere partisan warfare, which is often waged, even there. It is impossible to repress the idea, that his largeness of view, his coolness, gravity, sagacity, power of investigation, and his dignified eloquence, could only act to their greatest advantage in a high executive sphere; in the conduct of arduous negotiations with foreign powers ; in disposing of great questions of public policy; comprehending within one grand survey the various interests of this mighty country ; infusing a lofty patriotism into the people, by public addresses, conceived and executed with real ability, essential force, and good sense, and exhibiting to foreign nations a noble specimen of the sovereignty of intellect. No person would hesitate to admit, that there is nothing preserved in the archives of the Government, from the days of Mr. Jefferson and Mr. Hamilton down, which is not equalled by the reports of the committees of which Mr. Webster has acted as chairman ; and that he would bring to any office known to the Constitution, and to any of its duties, a power, to say the least, never surpassed by any of the justly celebrated men who fill the highest places in our political history, and owe their fame to the opportunities of public appearance afforded by their station. We think it may be said, for instance, without injustice, of Mr. Jefferson, that, unless early placed in eminent station, by executive appointment, he would have filled a much narrower space in the public mind.