Alphonso Taft.

An oration on the life and public services of Daniel Webster, delivered December 18, 1852, upon request of the citizens of Cincinnati online

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Online LibraryAlphonso TaftAn oration on the life and public services of Daniel Webster, delivered December 18, 1852, upon request of the citizens of Cincinnati → online text (page 1 of 6)
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Tlpoii request of the Citizens of Cincinnati,




18 5 3.

Jan. -23



Cincinnati, December 24, 1852.
Alphonso Taft, Esq,

Dear Sir : — The undersigned, Committee of Arrangements, rep-
resenting their fellow citizens of Cincinnati, respectfully request, for publication,
a copy of the able and eloquent Oration, delivered by you, on the 18th instant,
upon the Life and Public Services of Daniel Webster.

Respectfully yours,


To Alphonso Taft, Esq.

Cincinnati, December 24, 1852.
Gentlemen : — Agreeably to your request, I herewith submit, for publication, a
copy of my Oration upon the Life and Public Services of Daniel Webster. I am
gratified to know that you regard it as worthy of being preserved, and read.
Yours, very respectfully,


To Nathaniel Wright, and others.


On the 24th of October 1852, the spmt of Daniel
Webster, which, for forty years, had exerted a high and
controlHug influence among men, took its fhght from our
world. How sad — how sorrowful — to know, that that
mighty mind, so long the pride and glory of our age and
country, and that heroic heart, which had so often stood
against the assaults of foes, and against the frowns of
friends, has been withdrawn from earth forever ! In the
full maturity of his intellect, before his powers had given
evidence of decay, while holding a post of the highest
trust and honor under the present administration of our
Government, his career has suddenly drawn to a close.

The public mind was not prepared for this event. So
long had the people of this country been accustomed to
look to him for opinions on public affairs, and so often
found him able to speak, in perilous national emergences,
the great word that gave guidance and deliverance to the
nation ; so steadily had the light of his great intellect
burned without flickering, and with increasing brilliancy,
that they felt sure of his life, for many years to come-
Calhoun had died, — but his declining health had prepared
the public to expect his departure. Clay had died, — but
Ms strength had yielded to advancing age, and his demise
was not unexpected.


But Webster is no more ! That clear and command-
ing voice will pour forth no more eloquence ! That
majestic form, that colossal head, those dark and solemn
eyes, those expressive lips, that God-like presence, we
shall see no more ! And we are now assembled, a por-
tion of the citizens of the West, to share with the citi-
zens of the North, and the South, and the East, in
doing honor to his memory. These funeral honors can-
not add to his fame, nor affect his present state of ex-
istence. He is beyond the reach of our praise, or our
censure. But to us, and to those who are to come after
us, they may be useful.

The fame of her illustrious benefactors, is among the
richest treasures of a nation, and as such is to be cher-
ished by the living generations of mo>n. What were an-
cient Greece, or Rome, in the hght of history, without the
renown of her heroes and statesmen, her poets and ora-
tors ? What were England herself, without the recorded
fame of her distinguished sons ? And vJiat can our own
country hope to be, if she fail to treasure up, for the
benefit of the present, and coming generations, the memo-
ries of her departed patriots, and orators, and statesmen,
and scholars. It is not, therefore, so much to exalt his
character, that we are assembled, as to elevate our own,
by lifting our eyes to behold that gi'eat example, illustra-
ted by a long and luminous career, which is now finished
by his death, and placed high in the heavens, to be seen
and admired by all men — like the bow that gilds the clouds,
and overarches the firmament.

When a public benefactor dies, it is right that the living
pause in their labors, to review his career, and contribute
their willing aid to perpetuate his virtues and his virtu-
ous deeds.

Of every great man, there is much that is not mortal-
His famous achievments, his recorded thoughts, and his
great example, live after him, in the memories of men,
and in history. Our Washington yet lives, by his exalted
character and illustrious deeds, which have fdled the
earth with his renown, and conferred substantial honor
and respectability upon his country. He lives, and will
live, in the enthusiastic veneration and regard of every
American ; while his great example will never cease to
instruct and to bless us, and all generations of American
citizens. All the distinguished Revolutionary patriots
who, though dead, yet speak to us by their courageous ex-
ample, will ever live, in the traditions and in the history
of their country. Still more fortunate are they, who,
with thoughts truly valuable, have been able to clothe
them in language so attractive, as to be read, not only by
their contemporaries, but by all posterity.

The thoughts of a great man thus preserved, triumph
over death and the grave, and render him more intimate-
ly known to posterity, than could his personal presence?
if he were permitted to rise from the grave, and meet
them fjice to flice.

In entering upon the duty of pronouncing the eulogy
of Mr. Webster, it is impossible to forget, that Clay and
Calhoun, who for more than thirty years, have divided
with him, the admiration and applause of the American
people, have but recently preceded him to the tomb.
Webster is the last of the three immortal names, that
have long stood on the American roll of fame, so higli
that the interval between them and all the other distin-
guished men of their time and country, has been wide
and well defined. They rose above all their contempora-


ries early in life, and retained their pre-eminence undis-
puted, to the end of it.

England had her Pitt, and Fox, and Burke, who gain-
ed a like ascendency, and maintained it for twenty years.
Justly proud is old England, of their fame ; and ever
cherished, is the memory of their deeds, their characters,
and their contests ; and she would suffer her navy to be
sunk, or any other disaster to befall her, as soon as she
would suffer the character and achievments of either of
these great men, to be blotted from her history. In
later times, she has had her Wellington, who has also
now gone down to his grave. The Duke was not
born to die. His name belongs to his country ; and no
treasures of silver or gold, could tempt her to forget the
hero of Waterloo.

Clay, Calhoun, and Webster belong to the historical
period, immediately succeeding that of the Revolutionary
heroes. That period has fcirnished many instances of
men who live in the memories of this, and will live in the
memories of all succeeding generations of men, by their
high services.

Jackson, the younger Adams, Harrison, Taylor, Mar-
shall, Story, Woodbury, Silas Wright, with a host of
others who have gone before Clay, Calhoun, and Web-
ster, have taken their places in the American firma-
ment, with Washington, the elder Adams, Jefferson,
Madison, Hamilton, and the other fixed stars of the con-
stellation of Revolutionary patriots and heroes.

A country that can lose a Clay and a Webster in one
year, and that has buried an Adams and a Jefferson in one
day, will not be pronounced, by the civilized world, barren
of genius, or unproductive of great and good men.

When Mr. Webster first took his place in Congress, as
a Representative from Now Hampshire, in ISI^, Mr.
Clay had been several years in the conncils of the nation,
and Mr. Calhoun had already served one term in Con-
gi'ess. Calhoun and Webster were of the same age, be-
ing both born in 1782. Clay was five years their senior.
Since that thirteenth Congress, these three have been
marked men. Although Mr. Webster, after four years of
service in Congress, retired to private life, and pursued
his professional practice for seven years, and was conse-
quently less before the public, yet he had already taken
his rank among men, along side of Clay and Calhoun ;
and after his return to Congress in 1823, they three have
had no rivals but themselves. Each has in turn shown
himself equal to any position under the Government.

They have shone ahke, in the halls of legislation, and
in the Cabinet ; and the influence of each of them has
been constantly felt throughout the country, to the day
of his death.

They have, each, towered high above the incumbents of
the Presidential office, for a quarter for a century, in the
qualifications which are supposed to fit men for that posi-
tion. They have, each of them, contributed largely to the
making of other men Presidents. They have, each of
them, aspired to the Presidency themselves; but neither
of them has attained to that honor, and but one of them,
has ever received the nomination of either of the great
political parties of the country.

Mr. Clay was the champion of the West. None ever
excelled him in the elements of character, which make
a man personally influential and popular, in a republican
Government. Bold, enterprising, of a surpassing elo-


quence, with a voice of the richest melody, of prodigious
compass, and ever obedient to his will, — he was endowed
with a towering genius, as well as a lofty ambition.

His style of oratory was clear, persuasive, and impas-
sioned, copious and felicitous in language, and enriched
with the ripe fruits of experience in public affairs. He
was singularly dextrous and happy, in all the arts of par-
liamentary debates. He was a man of undoubted patri-
otism, and of elevated and liberal statesmanship. He was
a man of national, and not of local views. He was truly
an American. He wrote with clearness, elegance, and
force ; and his diplomatic correspondence, when Secretary
of State, under Mr. Adams' administration, would do
honor to any government of any country. He was known
to be a man of high honor and great gallantry, possessing
the rare combination of a bold and imperious temper, with
political sagacity and practical wisdom. His early educa-
tion was such, as a poor boy, of true genius, with an in-
satiable thirst for knowledge, and an unconquerable am-
bition, in a free country, may obtain. Such opportunities
as occured, he improved. " Times and seasons happen to
all men," but few there are who improve them as did Henry
Clay. On coming to his majority, he was admitted to the
bar at Lexington, Kentucky, in 1797 — practised law with
the most brilliant success — at once became a favorite with
the people; — in 1803, had a seat in the Kentucky Legis-
lature, and stood foremost among the first; in 180G, was
elected to the Senate of the United States, to fill a
vacancy for one year, where he at once took a high rank,
and after fresh services in the State Legislature, was
elected to fill another vacancy in the United States Senate,
commencing in 1809. On the expiration of that term,


in 1811, he was elected to the House of lleprcsentativcs,
of which he was chosen speaker, the first day he took liis
seat in it; which position he continued to hokl, till in
1814, he was sent as one of the Commissioners to nego-
tiate the treaty of Ghent. Without attempting to follow
him through his long and illustrious career, it must
suffice for the present occasion, to say — of his great deeds,
are they not written in the book of tlie record of his
country, there to be known and read of ;dl men.

Mr. Calhoun was the champion of the South. He
came into Congress in the year 1811, having already dis-
tinguished himself in the Legislature of South Carolina.
Mr. Calhoun was endowed with great and original intel-
lectual power, and had the advantages of a thorough edu-
cation. He thought, with clearness and precision, and
expressed his thoughts, with masterly eloquence. His
style was remarkable for its condensation and force. Of a
high and unbending character, with an energy and activi-
ty that yielded to no opposition or discouragement, he
was too much under the influence of principle, and the
deductions of his powerful logic, to follow implicitly any
party. His career in Congress commenced and long con-
tinued, with the most liberal and national views. He was
in the Cabinet of Mr. Monroe, and was Vice President
under both John Quincy Adams and General Jackson.
Later in hfe, he became impressed with the idea, that the
General Government bore with unjust severity upon the
South. He became seriously concerned for the relative
political strength of the South, and this concern had a
powerful influence upon his destiny. On the two subjects
of the tariff and slavery, local influences, at length, gained
a controlling influence over him. But he was undoubtedly


sincere in liis opinions. He gave the strongest evidence
of his sincerity, when he abandoned the fair prospect,
which lay before him, of the Presidency, for his favorite
doctrines, resigning the high position he held, as Vice
President, in a popular administration, and placing him-
self in a hopeless minority. The doctrines of Nullification
and Secession resulted from his opinions on the high tariff ;
and the doctrine of Disunion, from his opinions on the
question of Slavery in the Territories, and on the general
idea of a balance of power, between the North and the

He regarded the South, as the weaker section of the
nation, and liable to be oppressed by the action of the
General Government, under the influence of the superior
weight of the Free States, and dependent for its safety, on
the preservation of the accustomed equilibrium of political
power in the Senate of the United States.

On entering Congress, Mr. Calhoun had at once as-
sumed a rank of extraordinary elevation and influence^
and rose rapidly to the summit of fame as a parliamentary
debater and statesman. In logical power, he was the supe-
rior of Mr. Clay, and the equal of Mr, Webster. His career
was in length equal to that of Mr. Webster, and of trans-
cendent brilliancy. He differed from Mr. Clay more than
from Mr. Webster, in his style of composition and oratory.
With less of ornament derived from the imagination than
Webster, he had the same compact logic. His speeches
were all earnest and eloquent. Without going far for
illustrations, his figures of rhetoric, and all his language?
were felicitous and captivating. He was in every sense a
truly great man. He was peculiar and original. We
shall not see his like again.


On the whole, while Mr. Calhoun was more sectional in
his opinions, than Mr. Clay or Mr. Webster ; he was per-
haps less a partizan, than either. Neither he, nor Web.
ster, however, could follow the behests of party with mucli
alacrity, where their own well reasoned judgment and
conscience did not go decidedly with them. Their con-
duct was very much controlled by principle, and the older
they became, the more difficulty they found, in submitting
to the dictation of party. This was a prominent reason,
why neither of them was nominated for the Presidency,
for which they were both so eminently qualified, and to
which they both ardently aspired. Mr. Clay, on the other
hand, while he took no sectional views, but comprehended
the entire country in his policy, was a strict adherent to
party organization, over which his promptness, energy^
and genius gave him a decided control.

Such were Mr. Webster's two great contemporaries,
who have for near forty years been associated with him in
the minds of mankind, and who with him have contributed
to the intellectual illumination of this western hemisphere.
God forbid, that one laurel should ever be plucked from
the head of either of these, his great rivals ; or that the
dust of detraction and envy should ever be allowed to soil
the splendor of their fame. In death, as in life, they all
belong to their country ; and their renown can no more
be spared, now that they are dead, than their services
could be dispensed with, while they were living. W^ebster
needs not the disparagement of any of his contemporaries.
In his life-time, he was too magnanimous to accept such
service from others, and his lofty spirit would spurn such
service now. I would gladly avoid all comparisons, which
might cause sensations not entirely pleasant to the friends


of either of these illustrious characters. I am conteni
with Webster as he was ; and will consent to borrow no
man's laurels, to adorn his brow.

Daniel Webster, was the son of Ebenezer Webster and
Abigail Eastman, and was born in that part of Salisbury
New Hampshire, now known as Franklin, on the 18tb
day of January, A. D. 1782, in the last year of the Revo-
lutionary War.

Ebenezer Webster, was a native of New Hampshire,
and is said to have been of Scotch descent. He was ;
large, erect, athletic man, with only such education as h(
acquired by himself, after having served out his appren-
ticeship to a farmer, who neglected to give him any op-
portunity at all, for school instruction. He was a good
man ; loved his family, and his conntry ; was laboriout
and exemplary, and shunned none of the hardships and
and dangers incident to a border life, in the times of the
French, and Revolutionary wars. He was a ranger, ir
the old French war, fighting under the British flag, against
the French, till the peace of 17G3, rising from a commor-
soldier, to the rank of a captain.

When the troubles arose between England and tht
American colonies, Captain Webster, with all his kindred,
espoused the cause of the colonies, with burning zeal.
He had the courage of a lion. " He commanded a com-
pany, at the battle of Bennington, under General Stark.
He was also at the battles of White Plains and Rhode
Island. On the night after Arnold deserted, at West
Point, Captain Webster was made officer of the guard oi
Washington himself, who calling him into his tent, and
pledging him a glass of wine, said : " If I can't trusi
you. Captain Webster, I can't trust any man."


After the war, Ebenezer Webster was elected to the
bench, and remained a Judge for many years, and until
his death, universally respected, both as a man and a

Ebenezer Webster's second wife, Abigal Ea Iman, was
a woman of superior mind, and possessed a force of char-
acter, which was felt throughout the circle in which she
moved. Proud of her two boys, Ezekiol and Daniel, and
ambitious that they should excel, she breathed into their
youthful breasts, aspirations, which "grew with their growth
and strengthened with their strength," till, from the
humblest condition, and the most unpromising and limited
prospects, they were raised by merit, to the first rank of
men, with prospects as wide as their country. No small
part of their success in life, was to be ascribed to the
elevated hopes, and early promptings, of that "excellent
mother." They received from her, both instruction and
rigorous discipline.

Aside from his mother's teachings, Daniel's opportuni-
ties for instraction were only such as were afforded by the
ordinary District or Common Schools, of that early day,
in the newer parts of New England. Imperfect, however,
as those schools were, a wilHng and vigorous mind could
make respectable progress in them ; especially, when there
was a fond and capable mother, at home, to aid and en-
courage him. It was, undoubtedly, the progress made by
the boy at home, and in those Primary Common Schools,
which awakened, in the mind of the father, the idea of
giving him better opportunities.

When he was fourteen years of age, his fiither took him
to Phillips Academy at Exeter, an institution of great and
continued usefulness, from that day to the present. Here,


he found himself in the midst of incitements to study,
with greater facihties for learning, than he had ever be-
fore known or imagined. The boys of our days, who
have been tenderly raised, and gone leisurely to school
from childhood, without any of the drudgery of labor,
can have no conception of the avidity with which young
Daniel Webster, who had spent the most of his days
since his childhood, at hard work on the farm, now devour-
ed the lessons that were set for him. He made rapid
progess ; but he was a modest boy, and found it quite
impossible to perform the exercise of declamation. He
committed to memory many pieces, but when his name
was actually called, he was paralyzed and could not rise
from his seat. This circumstance, Mr. Webster related
of himself in after life. How long it was, or how far he
had advanced in his studies, before he could summon
sufficient assurance, to speak in the presence of his in-
structors and his fellows, does not appear. That he did,
however, somehow overcome that infirmity, the world
has had good reason to know.

His going to Exeter, seems to have been designed,
as a preparation, not for college, but for school keep-
ing, in the winter seasons. He had not then aspired
to a college education ; he did not suppose it possible
for his father to incur so heavy an expense. Col-
lege privileges were, in those days, reserved for here
and there one, whose circumstances were pecuHarly
fortunate. In the first place, the father must be wealthy,
according to their primitive ideas of wealth ; and
in the next place, the boy must be elected, out of the
family, where there were more boys than one, for so high
a promotion. That more than one bo}^, out of any one

family, should be seat to college, was a contingency not
to be thought of. Here was Daniel, one of ten children
with quite a number of brothers, and a father wlio had
not been in school a day in his life, and who was under
the necessity of working hard to support his family. The
chance of his obtaining so great, so unconmion a privilege,
seemed to him so small, that he had never entertained
the idea for a moment. But that father, who had keenly
felt the want of an education lumself, and who had in
him a heart, large enough for a whole race of princes, de-
termined to do something for his boy, Daniel, who had
shown so much aptitude to learn.

After a few months' residence at Exeter, his father
came for him, and on their way home the subject of his
going to college was first mentioned to Daniel, by his
flither. The many anxious conferences, which had taken
place between the father and the mother on this great
question, deliberating how they should be able to meet
this large expense, with their narrow means, history has
not preserved. Mr. Webster says, in an autobiographical
memorandum of his boyhood:

" I remember the very hill we were ascending, through
deep snows, in a New England sleigh, when my father
made known this purpose to me. 1 could not speak.
How could he, I thought, with so large a family and in such
narrow circumstances, think of incurring so great an ex-
pense for me. A warm glow ran over me, and I laid my
head on my father's shoulder, and wept."

How deeply did he feel the importance of the propo-
sition of his flither ! He saw, that it would open to him?
the way to a new and more elevated sphere of action.
One great, if not the great element of success in his case,


was his thorough appreciation of a liberal education, as
well as of the cost and difficulty of obtaining it. If some
ingenious instructor of youth could discover a process of
intellectual discipline, by which young gentlemen could
be made to appreciate the privileges of a liberal educa-
tion, without being poor, he would be entitled to higher
honor, and a richer reward, than was he, who invented the
steam engine. The privileges of a classical and scientific

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Online LibraryAlphonso TaftAn oration on the life and public services of Daniel Webster, delivered December 18, 1852, upon request of the citizens of Cincinnati → online text (page 1 of 6)