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whatever is determined shall rest only on the deep and sure foundations of truth, right, and law. And, finally, if we turn from the bench and the bar, to the audience which is collected around them, we shall find again much that is remarkable, and even imposing. We shall find, that, large as it is, it is gathered together from a city not populous, where every thing, even the resources of fashion, must have a direct dependence on
the operations of government; and where the senators themselves, and the representatives of foreign powers, no less than the crowds collected during the session of Congress, by the solicitations of an enlightened curiosity, or of a 'strenuous indolence, can, after all, discover no resort so full of a stirring interest and excitement, as that of the Supreme Court, into whose arena such practised and powerful gladiators daily descend, rejoicing in the combat. Taking it in all its connexions, then, we look upon this highest tribunal of the country, not only to be solemn and imposing in itself, but to be one of peculiar power over the reputations of these jurists and advocates, who appear before it, and who must necessarily feel themselves to be standing singularly in presence of the nation, represented there as it is, in almost every way, and by almost every class, from the fashion and beauty lounging on the sofas in the recesses of the court-room, up to the eager antagonists, who are impatiently waiting their time to contend for the mastery on some great interest or principle, and the judges who are ultimately to decide it.
Mr. Webster had already appeared once or twice before this tribunal ;- but not in any cause which had called seriously into action the powers of his mind. The case of Dartmouth College, however, was one that might well task the faculties of any man. That institution, founded originally by charter from the king of Great Britain, had been in successful operation nearly half a century, when, in 1816, the Legislature of New-Hampshire, from some movements in party politics, was induced, without the consent of the college, to annul its charter, and, by several acts, to give it a new incorporation and name. The trustees of the college resisted this interference; and, in 1817, commenced an action in the state courts, which was decided against them. A writ of error was then sued out by the original plaintiffs, to remove the cause, for its final adjudication, to the Supreme Court of the United States; and it came on there for argument in March, 1818.
The court-room was excessively crowded, not only with a large assemblage of the eminent lawyers of the Union, but with many of its leading statesmen,-drawn there no less by the importance of the cause, and the wide results that would follow its decision, than by the known eloquence of Mr. Hopkinson and Mr. Wirt, both of whom were engaged in it. Mr. Webster opened it, on behalf of the college. The question turned mainly on the point, whether the acts of the Legislature of New Hampshire, in relation to Dartmouth College, constituted a violation of a contract; for, if they did, then they were contrary to the Constitution of the United States. The principles involved, therefore, went to de
termine the extent to which a legislature can exercise authority over the chartered rights of all corporations; and this of course gave the case an importance at the time, and a value since, paramount to that of almost any other in the books. Mr. Webster's argument is given in this volume at p. 110, et seq.; that is, we have there the technical outline, the dry skeleton of it. But those who heard him, when it was originally delivered, still wonder how such dry bones could ever have lived with the power they there witnessed and felt. He opened his cause, as he always does, with perfect simplicity in the general statement of its facts ; and then went on to unfold the topics of his argument, in a lucid order, which made each position sustain every other. The logic and the law were rendered irresistible. But, as he advanced, his heart warmed to the subject and the occasion. Thoughts and feelings, that had grown old with his best affections, rose unbidden to his lips. He remembered that the institution he was defending, was the one where his own youth had been nurtured ; and the moral tenderness and beauty this gave to the grandeur of his thoughts; the sort of religious sensibility it imparted to his urgent appeals and demands for the stern fulfilment of what law and justice required, wrought up the whole audience to an extraordinary state of excitement. Many betrayed strong agitation ; many were dissolved in tears. When he ceased to speak, there was a perceptible interval before any one was willing to break the silence; and, when that vast crowd separated, not one person of the whole number doubted, that the young man who had that day so moved, astonished, and controlled them, had vindicated for himself a place at the side of the first jurists of the country.
From this period, therefore, Mr. Webster's attendance on the Supreme Court at Washington has been constantly secured by retainers, in the most important causes; and the circle of his professional business, which has been regularly enlarging, has not been exceeded, if it has been equalled, by that of any other lawyer who has ever appeared in the national forum. The volume before us contains, indeed, few traces of all this. It contains, however, two arguments upon constitutional questions of great interest and wide esults. One is the case of Gibbons vs. Ogden, in 1824, involving the question, how far a state has authority to grant the exclusive right of navigating the tide-waters within its territorial limits; refusing that right to all persons belonging to other states, as well as to its own citizens. This question struck, of course, at the great steam-boat monopoly granted by the state of New-York, from motives of public munificence, to Mr. Fulton, the admirable first mover of that national benefit, and Chancellor Livingston, its early and adventurous patron. The case was argued by Mr. Webster and Mr. Wirt against the monopoly, and by Mr. Oakley and Mr. Emmet for it; so that probably as much ability was brought into the discussion on each side, as has been called for by any single cause in our judicial annals. The result was, that the monopoly was declared to be unconstitutional ; and
thus another great national blessing was obtained, hardly less important than the original invention, that of throwing open the right of steam-navigation to the competition of the whole Union.
There were circumstances which gave uncommon interest to this cause, independently of its great constitutional importance, and the wide consequences involved in it. It had been litigated, during a series of years, in every form, in the state courts of NewYork, where the monopoly had triumphed over all opposition. And it need hardly be said, that the state courts of New-York have maintained as proud a reputation for learning, research, and talent, as any in the Union. What lawyer has not sat gladly at the feet of Chancellor Kent, and Chief Justice Spencer ? And what state, in relation to her jurisprudence, can so boldly say—
"Quæ regio in terris nostri non plena laboris ?” Mr. Webster's argument in the opening of this case,—which was closed with great power by the Attorney-General, Mr. Wirt,-furnishes, even in the meager outline still preserved, p. 170—184, a specimen of some of the characteristics of his mind. We here see his clearness and downright simplicity in stating facts; his acute suggestion and analysis of difficulties; his peculiar power of disentangling complicated propositions, and resolving them into elements so plain, as to be intelligible to the simplest minds; and his wariness not to be betrayed into untenable positions, or to spread his forces over useless ground. We see him, indeed, fortifying himself, as it were, strongly within the narrowest limits of his cause, concentrating his strength, and ready at any moment to enter, like a skilful general, at all the weak points of his adversary's position. This argument, therefore, especially as it was originally pronounced in court, we look upon, as a whole, to have been equally remarkable for depth and sagacity; for the choice and comprehensiveness of the topics; and for the power and tact exhibited in their discussion. Yet we are carried along so quietly by its deep current, that, like Partridge in Tom Jones, when he saw Ġarrick act Hamlet, all seems to us so spontaneous, so completely without effort, that we are convinced, nay, we feel sure, there is neither artifice nor mystery, extraordinary power nor genius, in the whole matter. But, to those who are familiar with Mr. Webster, and the workings of his mind, it is well known, that, in this very plainness; in this earnest pursuit of truth for truth's sake, and of the principles of law for the sake of right and justice, and in his obvious desire to reach them all by the most direct and simple means, is to be found no small part of the secret of his power. It is this, in fact, above every thing else, that makes him so prevalent with the jury; and, not only with the jury in court, but with the great jury of the whole people.
The same general remarks are applicable to his argument in the case of Ogden against Saunders, in 1827, which we notice now, out of the regular series of events, in order to finish at once the little we can say of his professional career as a lawyer. The case to which we now refer, involved the question of the constitution
ality of state insolvent laws, when they purported to absolve the party from the obligation of the contract, as well as from personal imprisonment, on execution. In a legal and constitutional point of view, this has always been thought one of Mr. Webster's ablest and most convincing arguments. With the court he was only half successful; there being a remarkable diversity of opinion among the judges. But, taken in connexion with the opinion of Chief Justice Marshall, delivered in the case, with which Mr. Webster's argument coincides, both in reasoning and in conclusion, it seems absolutely to have exhausted the whole range of the discussion on that side, and to furnish all that future inquirers can need to master the question.
But, during the years we have just passed over, Mr. Webster's success was not confined to the bar. In the year 1820–21, a convention of delegates was assembled in Boston, to revise the constitution of Massachusetts. As it was one of those primary assemblies, where no office disqualifies from membership, and as the occasion was one of the rarest importance, the talent and wisdom, the fortunes and authority of that commonwealth were, to a singular degree, collected in it. The venerable John Adams, then above eighty-five years old, represented his native village; Mr. Justice Story, of the Supreme Court of the United States, was a delegate from Salem ; Judge Davis, of the District Court of the United States, and the greater part of the judicial officers of the state, were there, as well as a large number of the leading members of the Massachusetts bar, and a still larger number of its wealthiest or most prominent land-holders and merchants. No assembly of equal dignity and talent was ever collected in that commonwealth. Mr. Webster was one of the delegates from Boston. What influence he exerted, or how beneficial, or how extensive it was, can be entirely known only there where it was put forth. But, if we may judge from the important committees on which he served; the prominent interests and individuals his duty called him occasionally to defend, to encounter, and to oppose; and the business-like air of his short remarks, which are scattered up and down through the whole volume of the “ Journal of Debates and Proceedings of this convention, published soon afterwards, we should be led to believe, that, though he was then but a newly adopted child of Massachusetts, he had already gained a degree of confidence, respect and authority, to which few in that ancient commonwealth could lay claim. The fruits of it all, in the present volume, are, a short speech on " Oaths of Office;" another on “ the removal of Judges upon the address of two-thirds of each branch of the Legislature," and a more ample and very powerful one on the “ Principle of representation in the Senate.” They are all strong and striking; and it would be easy to extract something from each, characteristic of its author; but we have not room, and must content ourselves with referring, for a specimen of the whole, to the remarks on the freeschools of New-England, from the speech in the Senate, which
we have already cited ; adding merely, that, to this remarkable speech of Mr. Webster, and to another of great beauty and force, by Mr. Justice Story, was ascribed, at the time, a change in the opinions and vote of the convention, which, considering the importance of the subject, and the long discussion it had undergone, was all but unprecedented.*
While this convention was still in session, a great anniversary came round at the north. The two hundredth year from the first landing of the Pilgrims at Plymouth, was completed on the 22d of December, 1820 ; and every man born in New-England, or in whose veins stirred a drop of New-England blood, felt that he had an interest in the event it recalled, and demanded its grateful celebration. Preparations, therefore, for its commemoration, on the spot where it occurred, were made long beforehand; and, by the sure indication of the public will, and at the special invitation of the Pilgrim Society, Mr. Webster was summoned as the man who should go to the Rock of Plymouth, and there so speak of the centuries past, as that the centuries to come should still receive and heed his words. Undoubtedly he amply fulfilled the expectations that waited on this great occasion. His address, which opens the present volume, is one of the gravest productions it contains. He seems to feel that the ground on which he stands is holy; and the deep moral sensibility, and even religious solemnity, which pervade many parts of this striking discourse, --where he seems to have collected the experience of all the past, in order to minister warning and encouragement to all the future,—is in perfect harmony with the scene and the occasion, and produced its appropriate effect on the multitude elected, even at that inclement season, from the body of the New England states, to offer up thanksgivings for their descent from the Pilgrim fathers. The effect, too, at the time, has been justified by a wider success since; and the multiplied editions of the printed discourse, while they have carried it into the farm-houses and hearts of the New-England yeomanry, are at the same time insuring its passage onward to the next generation, and the next, who may
be well satisfied, when the same jubilee comes round, if they can leave behind them monuments equally imposing, to mark the lapse and revolutions of
ages. It would not be difficult to select eloquent passages from this discourse. We prefer, however, to take one containing what was then a plain and adventurous prediction; but what is now passing into history before our very eyes. We allude to the remarks on the principle of the subdivision of property in France, as affecting the permanency of the French government, which Mr. Webster ventured to call in question, on the same general grounds, on which he undertook to prove the permanency of our own.
“A most interesting experiment of the effect of a subdivision of property on gov. ernment, is now making in Franee. It is understood, that the law regulating the * North American Review, 1821. Vol. xii. p. 342.