Charles W. (Charles Wainwright) March.

Reminiscences of Congress online

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Entered according to Act of Congress, in the year 185), by
In the Clerk's Office of the District Court of the United States for the
Southern District of New York.


Stercot)/per and Printer^

201 William st.


It was the original design of the author to have given a
series of descriptive sketches of scenes and persons in
Congress, unconnected with any antecedents or relations of
the individuals introduced ; but, finding on examination of
what had been written that Mr. "Webster formed the prin-
cipal figure in each eSbrt of his pen, he concluded to give
the book a more personal character, and make it an
approximation to a biography. This change of design will
be detected in any, the most cursory, glance at the book;
there being a want of congruity or unity too easily dis-
cernible throughout.

The writer need not say that he has not attempted a
complete biography. It is diflScult, if not absolutely im-
possible, to write the life of the living. It is not merely
that friendship would be too partial, or enmity too censorious,


to present a true estimate of the character and conduct of
the person illustrated — the difficulty in obtaining correct
information is greater during the life of a person, para-
doxical as it may seem, than after his decease. When one
eminent in life has gone down to the grave, numbers come
forward with ambitious haste, some with letters, some with
anecdotes, some with facts illustrative of the character
and pursuits of the deceased, and of their relationship to
him. The grief we feel at the departure of a distinguished
friend is greatly mitigated by the public sympathy with our
loss, and we hasten to give that sympathy a proper direction.

Besides, of what we gain as authentic, we are obliged
to suppress a part ; if not from regard to the feelings of
the person, who is the subject of our memoir, yet from
regard to the feelings of others whose relations with him
might be ' affected unfavorably through our indiscreetness.
There are many things told, in the intimacy of friendship,
in ihe' abmcdun oi maidl intercourse, that it would be grossly
repreneii^' ■Vf^ii Hs radelicate to give publicity to.

The earlier part of Mr. Webster's life, rapidly sketched,
it was thought, would lend new interest to his public career ;
— we like to trace greatness, if possible, to its seminal
principle, and dwell upon its gradual development. The
writer of these pages might have given a fuller account of
this part of Mr. Webster's life, had he not been restrained


by the fear of subjecting himself to a suspicion of having
made too liberal use of the opportunities of private friend-
ship. What has been given he hopes will prove not un-

New York, July IStkj 1850.




Birthplace of Daniel Webster — His Early Studies — Admission to
the Bar, and Practice. ..... 1

Entrance into Congress — Maiden Speech — His Associates — Mr.
Clay, Mr. Calhoun — His Argument in the Dartmouth College
Case. ..... ^ .. 31


Remoral to Boston — Return to Congress — Speeches on the Greek
and Panama Questions. ..... 59


Introduction to the " Hayne Controversy" — Description of Parties
thereto. ....... 84

First Speech in Reply to Hayne— Col. Hayne's Retort. . 107

Second Speech in Reply to Hayne — Descriptive Narrative thereof 129



Continuation of the Hayne Debate — The General Opinion of Mr.
Webster's Effort — Its Merit as Contrasted with other Speeches. 152

Murder of Joseph White in Salem, Mass. — Mr. Webster's Argument. 170

The Nullification Controversy. .... 181

Various Speeches upon the Subject. , . . .201

Speech of Mr Calhoun — Reply of Mr. Webster. . , 224

Mr. Webster's Visit to the West— His Speeches on the Occasion 244


Removal of the Deposites— Gen. Jackson's Protest— Mr. Webster's
Reply 264



Daniel Webster was born on the 18th day of January,
1782, in the town of Salisbury, New Hampshire. His earliest
ancestor, of whom the family has any certain knowledge, was
Thomas Webster. He was settled in Hampton as early as
1636. The descent from him to Daniel Webster can be
found recorded in the Church and Town Records of Hamp-
ton, Kingston, (now East Kingston) and Salisbury.

The family came originally from Scotland, two centuries
ago and more. It is probable, however, from certain circum-
stances, that they tarried in England awhile, before emigrat-
ing to a new world. They did not bring over with them all
the distinguishing peculiarities of their countrymen ; the
Scottish accent had become a mere tradition, in the time of
Mr. Webster's father's father. The personal characteristics
of the family are strongly marked : light complexions, sandy-
hair in great profusion, bushy eyebrows, and slender rather
than broad frames attest the Teutonic and common origin of

the race. Dr. Noah Webster, — the compiler of the Diction-



aiy, — was, in personal appearance, the vera effigies of the

The uncles of Daniel Webster had the same characteristics.
They were fair-haired, and of rather slender form. His father,
however, was of a different physical organization. No two per-
sons could look like each other less than Ezekiel Webster —
the father of Daniel — and either of his brothers. They re-
sembled their father, who had the hereditary features and
form; but Ezekiel Webster had the black hair, eyes, and
complexion of his mother, whose maiden name was Bachelder.
She was a descendant of the Rev. Stephen Bachelder, a
man famous in his time, in the County of Rockingham, and
towns circumjacent. There are many persons now alive in
Kingston, who vdll tell you they have heard their fathers say,
she was a woman of uncommon strength of character, and
sterling sense. Daniel and his only brother of the whole
blood, Ezekiel, alone of the five sons of Ezekiel Webster, had
the Bachelder complexion ; the others ran off into the general
characteristics of the race.

Many persons in Kingston and Salisbury still live who re-
collect Ebenezer Webster well. They say his personal ap-
pearance was striking. He was tall and erect ; six feet in
height ; of a stalwart form, broad and full in the chest. His
complexion was swarthy, features large and prominent : with
a Roman nose, and eyes of a remarkable brilliancy. He had
a military air and carriage, — the result, perhaps, of his service
in the army. He enlisted, early in life, as a common soldier


in the Provincial troops, and during the war of '56 served
under Gen. Amherst, on the north-western frontier ; ac-
companying that commander in the invasion of Canada. He
attracted the attention and secured the good-will of his su-
perior officers, by his faithful and gallant conduct ; and before
the close of the war, rose from the ranks to a captaincy.
Peace between England and France soon following the capture
of Quebec and conquest of Canada, the Provincial troops were
disbanded, and returned to their homes.

Previous to the year 1763, the settlements in New Hamp-
shire had made little or no progress towards the interior of the
State, for more than half a century. The fitful irruptions of
the French from Canada and the more constant if not more
cruel assaults of their subsidized allies — the Indians — repressed
any movement inward, into the country. To defend what
they held, by a kind of cordon militaire of block-houses, was
all the frontier-men hoped.

The session of Canada, however, to England, by the Treaty
of Paris in 1763, removing the great obstacle to farther pro-
gress into the interior, the royal Governor of New Hampshire,
Benning Wentworth, began to make grants of townships
in the central part of the State. Col. Stevens with some other
persons about Kingston, — mostly retired soldiers, — obtained a
grant of the township of Salisbury, then called, from the prin-
cipal grantee, Stevens'-town. This town is situated exactly
at the head-waters of the Merrimac River : which river is
formed by the confluence of the Pemigiwasset and Winni-


piseogee. Under this grant, Ebenezor WcL:Lter obtained a lot
situate in the north part of the town. More adventurous than
others of the company who obtained grants, he cut his way
deeper into the wilderness, making the road he could not find.
Here, in 1764, he built a log-cabin and lighted his fire.
" The smoke of which," his son has since said on some public
occasion, " ascended nearer the North Star than that of any
of his majesty's New England subjects." His nearest civi-
lized neighbor in the North was at Montreal, hundreds of
miles off.

His first wife dying soon after his settlement at Salisbury,
Ebenezer Webster married Abigail Eastman of Salisbury,
a lady of Welsh extraction. She was the mother of
Daniel and Ezekiel ; and, like the mother of Greorge Canning,
was a woman of far more than ordinary intellect. She was
proud of, and ambitious for her sons ; and the distinction
they both afterwards achieved, may have been, in part,
at least, the result of her promptings. The mother knows
better than any one the mollia temjpora fandi. She knows
what are words in season ; when the mind is most ductile,
and most capable of impressions intended to be permanent.
If from our fathers we gain hardihood, mental or physical,
and worldly wisdom, in all its variety, it is our mother, with
her earnest, devoted, life-long love, that stimulates into healthy
activity, whatever of good lies dormant in the heart ; in-
spiring us to seek, if not for our own sake, for hers, honor-
able position, and an unecpalled name.


Ebcnezer Webster commemorated his second marriage, by
the erection of a frame-house, hard by the log cabin. He dug
a well near it, and planted an elm sapling. In this house, the
subject of our memoir was born. The house has long since
disappeared, from roof to foundation-stone. Nothing indi-
cates its sometime existence but a cellar mostly filled up by
stone and earth. But the well still remains, with water as
pure, as cool, as limpid, as when first turned to the light : and
will remain, in all probability, for ages, to refresh hereafter
the votaries of genius, who make their pilgrimage hither to
visit the cradle of one of her greatest sons. The elm that
shaded the boy still flourishes in vigorous leaf, and may have
an existence beyond its perishable nature. Like ^' the witch-
elm that guards St. Fillan's Spring," it may live in story, long
after leaf, and branch, and root have disappeared for ever.

It is a belief, I suspect almost universal, that natural
scenery has great power over the development of character,
moral and intellectual. That upon the impressionable mind
of infancy, scenes, whether remarkable for traditionary inte-
rest, sublimity, ruggedness, or loveliness, stamp sensations
of an indelible character ; awaken, if they do not create,
the poetic faculty. Burns, Byron, Burke, and Scott, are
claimed by their several biographers as conclusive illustrations
of the influence, picturesque nature exercises over the imagi-
nation and heart. The countless treasures of fancy and
beauty, the high and solemn thoughts, the poetic fervor and
luxuriant imagination which characterise, in a greater or less


degree, the productions of these extraordinary men may
have been suggested, or at least fully developed, by the
striking features of the scenery, in the midst of which their
earlier days were passed. The romantic localities of Ayr,
the wild and picturesque scenery of the Highlands near Balla-
trech, the rich, deep, and gorgeous views near by the old
castle of Kilcolman — once the favorite residence of the poet
Spenser — and the vicinity of Sandy Knowe, with its crags
and cliffs, its ruined towers, and " mountains lone," severally
the residences in early youth of Burns, Byron, Burke and
Scott, may have given rise to feelings, which, increasing with
earnest nourishment, till they became irrepressible from indul-
gence, found suitable expression afterwards in beautiful and
nervous diction ; in heroic verse, or glowing prose.

There is little softness or subdued expression in the features
of the landscape round about Mr. Webster's birth-place.
The bleak, harsh, stern hills, among which his cradle hung
high in the air, like the eyrie of an eagle, are all untamed,
untameable. But in their sadness, and deep but not voice-
less solemnity, they are suggestive of lonely musings and
thoughts original and lofty as themselves. They feed the
hungry mind with images noble, elevated, and partaking of
their own immortality. The laboring clouds in their vague
career, often rested on the summits of these hills, covering
them over as with a garment, so that they presented at times
to the belated traveller of the valleys, the appearance of tur-
baned giants. Their scarred faces attested the violence of


the tempests that ranged around them, and beat upon them.
In winter, which lasted half the year, snows of a prodigious
and dangerous depth covered the ground, obliterating every
landmark, and giving to all nature an aspect of desolate sub-
limity. While, sometimes, in spring, a sudden and vast thaw
would unloosen the embrace with which the snows held on to
the mountains, and precipitate them in fearful volume, with
the force and rush of the avalanche, into the valleys below ;
making of quiet streams mighty rivers, dangerous to ford or
even approach ; the crash of the pines in the woods, as they
were borne to the earth by the superincumbent mass of snow,
performing fit accompaniment to the scene.

In Mr. Webster's earliest youth an occurrence of such a na-
ture took place, which affected him deeply at the time, and
has dwelt in his memory ever since. There was a sudden and
extraordinary rise in the Merimac Eiver, in a spring thaw. A
deluge of rain for two whole days poured down upon the houses.
A mass of mingled water and snow rushed madly from the hills,
inundating the fields far and wide. The highways were broken
up, and rendered undistinguishable. There was no way for
neighbors to interchange visits of condolence or necessity,
save by boats, which came up to the very door-steps of the

Many things of value were swept away, even things of bulk.
A large barn, full fifty feet by twenty, crowded with hay and
grain, sheep, chickens and turkeys, sailed majestically down the
river, before the eyes of the astonished inhabitants ; who, no


little frightened, got ready to fly to the mountains, or construct
another Ark.

The roar of waters, as they rushed over precipices, casting
the foam and spray far above, the crashing of the forest-trees
as the storm broke through them, the immense sea everywhere
in range of the eye, the sublimity, even danger of the scene,
made an indelible impression upon the mind of the youthful

Occurrences and scenes like these excite the imaginative
faculty, furnish material for proper thought, call into existence
new emotions, give decision to character, and a purpose to ac-

It was the great desire of Ebenezer Webster to give his
children an education. A man of strong powers of mind
and much practical knowledge himself, he still had felt deeply
and often the want of early education, and wished to spare his
sons the mortification he had experienced. The schoolmaster
then was not abroad, at least had not visited Salisbury in his
travels. Small town-schools there were, it is true, and persons
superintending them called teachers — lucits a non hvccndo.
But these schools were not open half the year, and the school-
masters had no claim to the position but their incapacity for
anything else. Their qualification was their want of qualifica-
tion. Reading and writing were all they professed, and more
than they were able, to teach.

The school was migratory. When it was in the neighbor-
hood of the Webster residence, it was easy to attend ; but


when it was removed into another part of the town, or another
town, as was often the case, it was somewhat difficult. While
Mr. Webster was quite young, he was daily sent two miles and
a half or three miles to school, and, in the midst of winter, on
foot. For carriages or carriage-roads then " were not ;" and,
with the exception of an occasional ride on horseback, he
walked daily to school and back. If the school moved yet
farther off, into a town not contiguous, his father boarded him
out in a neighboring family. He was better provided with op-
portunities for obtaining whatever of instruction these schools
could impart than his elder brothers, partly because he evinced
early an irrepressible thirst for study and information, and
partly because his father thought that his constitution was
slender and somewhat frail — too much so for any robust occu-
pation. But Joe, his elder half-brother, who was somewhat
of a wag, used to say that " Dan was sent to school, in order
that he might know as much as the other boys."

Mr. Webster had no sooner learnt to read, than he showed
great eagerness for books. He devoured all he could lay hands
upon. When he was unable to obtain new ones, he read the
old ones over and over, till he had committed most of their
contents to memory. Books were then (as Dr. Johnson said
on some occasion) " like bread in a besieged town ; every man
might get a mouthful, but none a full meal." What were ob-
tained, were husbanded with care. Owing chiefly to the exer-
tions of Mr. Thompson, (the lawyer of the place,) of the cler-
gyman, and IMr. Webster's father, a very small circulating li-


brary was purchased. These institutions ahout this time re-
ceived an imj^etus from the zeal and labors of Dr. Belknap,
the celebrated historian of New Hampshire.

Among the few books of the library, I have heard Mr.
Webster say, he found the Spectator, and that he remembers
turning over the leaves of Addison's Criticism upon Chevy
Chase, for the sake of reading, connectedly, the ballad, the
verses of which Addison quotes from time to time, as subjects
of remark. " As Dr. Johnson said, in another case, the poet
was read, and the critic neglected. I could not understand
why it was necessary that the author of the Spectator should
take so great pains to prove that Chevy Chase was a good

The simple, but sublime story of Chevy Chase, would be no
indifferent test for the discovery of how much or how little of
the poetic faculty there might be in an individual. None but
those who had some poetic fervor could appreciate or even un-
derstand it : while those who felt its pathos, its beauty and
grandeur most, needs must have the deepest sensibilities. A
distinguished literary character has said that he would have
been prouder to have been its author than of all the productions
from which he derived his fame. Sir Philip Sydney said he
never read it but his heart was stirred within him as at the
sound of a trumpet.

Mr. "Webster was early very fond of poetry. He was not
satisfied with reading it merely, but committed a great deal to
memory. The whole Essay on Man he could recite verbatim


before he was fourteen years old. A habit of attentive exclusive
devotion to the subject before him, aided by a wonderful
memory, fixed everything deeply in his mind. It is this art,
or talent, or genius, that works the miracles we read and be-
hold. He had a great taste, too, for devotional poetry : Watts'
Psalms and Hymns he committed to memory, not as a re-
ligious task, but as a pleasure. Nor was he less fond of, or
less acquainted with, the sublime poetiy of the Bible. Evi-
dence of this is found everywhere in his works : for there is
scarcely a speech or production of his that does not contain
ideas or expressions, the types of which may be found in that

When he had attained his fourteenth year, his father took
an important and decisive step with him. On the 25th day
of May, 1796, Ebenezer Webster mounted his horse, put his
son on another and proceeded with him to Exeter. He there
placed him in Phillip's academy, then under the care of Dr.
Benjamin Abbot, its well-known and respected President.
The change was very great to a boy, who had never been from
home before, and who now found himself among some ninety
other boys, — a stranger among strangers, — all of whom had
probably seen more of the world, and assumed to know so
much more of it, than himself. But he was not long in re-
conciling himself to the change, and to his new duties. He
was immediately put to English grammar, writing and arith-
metic. A class-mate of his has informed me that he mastered
the principles and philosophy of the first, between May and


October of that year ; and that in the other studies he made
respectable progress ; in the autumn he commenced the study
of the Latin language ; his first exercises in which were re-
cited to Joseph Stevens Buckminster, who was acting (in
some college vacation, I think) as assistant to Dr. Abbott.

It may appear somewhat singular that the greatest orator
of modern times should have evinced in his boyhood the
strongest antipathy to public declamation. This fact, however,
is established by his own words, which have recently appeared
in print. " I believe," says Mr. Webster, " I made tolerable
progress in most branches, which I attended to, while in this
school ; but there was one thing I could not do. I could not
make a declamation. I could not speak before the school.
The kind and excellent Buckminster sought especially to per-
suade me to perform the exercise of declamation, like other
boys, but I could not do it. Many a piece did I commit to
memory, and recite and rehearse in my own room, over and
over again ; yet when the day came, when the school collected
to hear declamations, when my name was called, and I saw
all eyes turned to my seat, I could not raise myself from it.
Sometimes the instructors frowned, sometimes they smiled.
Mr. Buckminster always pressed and entreated, most winning-
ly, that I would venture. But I never could command suf-
ficient resolution." Such difl&dence of its own powers may be
natural to genius, nervously fearful of being unable to reach
that ideal which it proposes as the only full consummation of
its wishes. It is fortunate, however, for the age, fortunate for


all ages, that Mr. Webster by determined will and frequent
trial overcame this moral incapacity — as his great prototype,
the Grecian orator, subdued his physical defect.

He remained at the Exeter academy but a few months ;
accomplishing in these few months, however, the work of years
to some. In February, 1797, his father placed him under
the tuition of the Rev. Samuel Woods, in Boscawen ; of whom
his pupil always speaks in terms of affection and respect. He
boarded in his family ; and I have heard him say that Mr.
Woods' whole charge for instruction, board, &c., was but one
dollar jper week. W"e pay much dearer now for much less.

It was on their way to the house of Mr. Woods that his
father first opened to him his design of sending him to colle,o;e
— a purpose that seemed to him impossible to be fulfilled. It
was so much more extravagant than his most extravao-ant
hopes. It had never entertained his mind a moment. A col-
legiate education in those days was something of far greater
importance than in these, when the ability to command it is
so general. It made a marked man of thousands. It gave
the fortunate graduate at once position and influence ; and, if
not genius, or eminent ability, supplied or concealed the want
thereof. The alumnus surveyed life from an eminence, and
could aspire to its chiefest honors by a kind of prescriptive

Most grateful to his father for the prospect held out through

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Online LibraryCharles W. (Charles Wainwright) MarchReminiscences of Congress → online text (page 1 of 19)