One of the five greatest senators in U.S. history, the State of New Hampshire placed his statue in the U.S. Capitol’s Statuary Hall. His career spanned almost four decades, serving as secretary of State for Presidents William Harrison, John Tyler and Millard Fillmore. His name was Daniel Webster, born Jan. 18, 1782.
From a New Hampshire farm, he attended Dartmouth College and became the highest paid attorney of his day. He fought the slave trade and negotiated the Webster-Ashburton Treaty, which set the nation’s Northeast boundary.
When South Carolina threatened nullification, he stated: “Liberty and Union, now and forever, one and inseparable!”
When asked what the most profound thought was that ever passed through his mind, Daniel Webster responded: “My accountability to God.”
At the age of 20, Daniel Webster served as the headmaster of Fryeburg Academy in Fryeburg, Maine, where he delivered a Fourth of July Oration in 1802: “If an angel should be winged from Heaven, on an errand of mercy to our country, the first accents that would glow on his lips would be, ‘Beware! Be cautious! You have everything to lose; nothing to gain.’ We live under the only government that ever existed which was framed by the unrestrained and deliberate consultations of the people. Miracles do not cluster. That which has happened but once in six thousand years cannot be expected to happen often. Such a government, once gone, might leave a void, to be filled, for ages, with revolution and tumult, riot and despotism.”
At the age of 70, just eight months before his death, Daniel Webster addressed the New York Historical Society, Feb. 23, 1852: “If we, and our posterity, shall be true to the Christian religion, if we and they shall live always in the fear of God, and shall respect his commandments, if we, and they, shall maintain just, moral sentiments, and such conscientious convictions of duty as shall control the heart and life, we may have the highest hopes of the future fortunes of our country. … It will have no Decline and Fall. It will go on prospering and to prosper.
“But, if we and our posterity reject religious instruction and authority, violate the rules of eternal justice, trifle with the injunctions of morality, and recklessly destroy the political constitution, which holds us together, no man can tell, how sudden a catastrophe may overwhelm us, that shall bury all our glory in profound obscurity. Should that catastrophe happen, let it have no history! Let the horrible narrative never be written!”
Daniel Webster continued: “We may trust, that Heaven will not forsake us, nor permit us to forsake ourselves. We must strengthen ourselves, and gird up our loins with new resolution; we must counsel each other; and, determined to sustain each other in the support of the Constitution, prepare to meet manfully … whatever of difficulty, or of danger … or of sacrifice, the Providence of God may call upon us to meet.
“Are we of this generation so derelict, have we so little of the blood of our revolutionary fathers coursing through our veins, that we cannot preserve, what they achieved?” he asked. “The world will cry out ‘shame’ upon us, if we show ourselves unworthy, to be the descendants of those great and illustrious men, who fought for their liberty, and secured it to their posterity, by the Constitution of the United States. … We have a great and wise Constitution. We have grown, flourished, and prospered under it, with a degree of rapidity, unequaled in the history of the world. Founded on the basis of equal civil rights, its provisions secure perfect equality and freedom; those who live under it are equal, and enjoy the same privileges.”
Daniel Webster added: “The Constitution has enemies, secret and professed. … They have hot heads and cold hearts. They are rash, reckless, and fierce for change, and with no affection for the existing institutions of their country. … Other enemies there are, more cool, and with more calculation. These have a deeper and more fixed and dangerous purpose. … There are those in the country, who profess, in their own words, even to hate the Constitution.
“Friends of the Constitution must rally and unite … act, with immovable firmness, like a band of brothers, with moderation and conciliation … looking only to the great object set before them, the preservation of the Constitution, bequeathed to them by their ancestors. They must gird up their loins for the work. It is a duty which they owe to these ancestors, and to the generations which are to succeed them.”
Daniel Webster concluded: “Gentlemen, I give my confidence, my countenance, my heart and hand, my entire co-operation to all good men … who are willing to stand by the Constitution. … I hardly know … the manner of our political death. … We shall die no lingering death. … An earthquake would shake the foundations of the globe, pull down the pillars of heaven, and bury us at once in endless darkness. Such may be the fate of this country and its institutions. May I never live, to see that day! May I not survive to hear any apocalyptic angel, crying through the heavens, with such a voice as announced the fall of Babylon, ‘Ἔπεσεν, ἔπεσεν, Αμερικη ἡ μεγάλη, καὶ ἐγένετο κατοικητήριον δαιμονίων, καὶ φυλακὴ παντὸς πνεύματος ἀκαθάρτου’ (Greek: ‘Is fallen, is fallen, America the Great has become a habitation of demons and a hold for every unclean spirit’).”
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