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brought forward his famous compromise bill. It provided for a gradual reduction of the tariff, to a standard that would be satisfactory to the south, at the same time that it would save the northern manufacturers from immediate ruin. It was ultimately passed; but the enemies of its originator were ungenerous enough to impute its proposition to motives of personal ambition, instead of pure and enlightened patriotism. As a specimen of the eloquence of this great American statesman, I shall give you the close of his defence against this charge.
“I have been accused of ambition in presenting this measure. Ambition, inordinate ambition! If I had thought of myself only, I should never have brought it forward. I know well the perils to which I expose myself; the risk of alienating faithful and valued friends, with but little prospect of making new ones, if any new ones could compensate for the loss of those whom we have long tried and loved, and the danger of honest misconception of both friends and foes. Ambition ! if I had listened to its soft and seducing whispers, if I had yielded myself to the dictates of a cool, calculating, and prudential policy, I should have stood still and unmoved. I might even have silently gazed on the raging storm, enjoyed its loudest thunders, and left those who are charged with the care of the vessel of state, to conduct it as they could.
I have been heretofore unjustly accused of ambition. Low, grovelling souls, who are utterly incapable of elevating themselves to the higher and nobler duties of pure patriotism,—beings, who, for ever keeping their own selfish aims in view, decide all public measures by their presumed influence on their own aggrandizement, judge me by the venal rule which they prescribe to themselves. I have given to the winds those false accusations, as I consign that which now impeaches my motives. I have no desire for office, not even the highest. The most exalted is but a prison, in which the incarcerated incumbent daily receives his cold, heartless visitants, marks his weary hours, and is cut off from the practical enjoyment of all the blessings of genuine freedom. I am no candidate for any office in the gift of the people of these states, united or separated. I never wish, never expect to be. Pass this bill, tranquillize the country, restore confidence and affection in the union, and I am willing to go home to Ashland, and renounce public life for ever. I should there find, in its groves, under its shades, on its lawns, amidst my flocks and herds, in the bosom of my family, sincerity and truth, attachment and fidelity, and gratitude, which I have not always found in the walks of public life. — Yes, I have ambition, but it is the ambition of being the humble instrument, in
the hands of Providence, of reconciling a divided people, once more to revive concord and harmony in a distracted land—the pleasing ambition of contemplating the glorious spectacle of a free, united, prosperous, and fraternal people.”
I have thus given you, at greater length than I could have wished, a comparative view of the three great cotemporaneous British and American orators and statesmen. The specimens of the style of each, which I have recited, are the most favorable and characteristic which I could find among their respective productions. I am an American, and can not perhaps divest myself of a feeling of partiality to my countrymen. I have done my best to be perfectly impartial in the comparison I have been led to institute between these great representatives of the eloquence of the old and new world, and I must confess, after the most deliberate examination, that I feel that my country has no reason to be ashamed of the result of the contrast. I believe that you will all agree with me in the conclusion, that there is one thing, at least, which has not degenerated in America—the power of thinking clearly, of reasoning conclusively, and of stirring up from the bottom the deep fountains of feeling in the human heart. I have been a student for more than a quarter of a century. I have read and
BURKE, FOX, AND PITT, ETC. pondered the most famous productions, both of ancient and modern times, and I give it as my settled conviction, that we have one among us, in this our day, whose eloquence, spoken and written, never has been surpassed. The orations of Demosthenes are finished and perfect in their kind. They are wrought out to the last degree of artistic finish and rhetorical symmetry. They come down to us in the most perfect language that humanity has ever elaborated. But, after all, they are limited in their effect upon the mind, by the narrow bounds which human knowledge had then attained, even in the most enlightened minds, and by a pervading tone of partisan and sectional politics. In Cicero we have the views of a more expanded philosophy, and a more enlarged and universal statesmanship, but diluted by wordiness, and tarnished by personal vanity. But we have one among us who has the clearness, the energy, and the condensation of the Greek, without his narrowness and artistic preciseness, and all the grandeur and broad information of the Roman, without his pomp and prolixity-and that man is Daniel Webster.
GENTLEMEN,—In obedience to your call, I appear before you to-day, to offer my contribution to the entertainment of your literary festival. The sight of these academic walls, the manifest enthusiasm of so many young men looking forth from these walks of study and accomplishment upon the world, where they hope to reap honor and success, most vividly recall to my memory the emotions which, at the most susceptible period of life, were roused in my bosom, when from the midst of embowering trees the spires of a university first rose upon my sight. There had trod the good and the great of former generations. There they had amassed those treasures and formed those habits of honorable exertion, all unconsciously it is true, which made them the lights of the succeeding age. The same path is open to all, and ignorance of the future, of which we so much complain, then at least stands our friend,
* An oration, delivered before the Literary Societies of Marshall College, 1842.