James Baldwin.

Four Great Americans: Washington, Franklin, Webster, Lincoln A Book for Young Americans online

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hence with as much rapture as it was heard. It ought to be read at the
end of every century, and, indeed, at the end of every year, forever and

But this was only the first of many great addresses by Mr. Webster. In
1825, he delivered an oration at the laying of the cornerstone of the
Bunker Hill monument. Eighteen years later, when that monument was
finished, he delivered another. Many of Mr. Webster's admirers think
that these two orations are his masterpieces.

On July 4th, 1826, the United States had been independent just fifty
years. On that day there passed away two of the greatest men of the
country - John Adams and Thomas Jefferson.

Both were ex-presidents, and both had been leaders in the councils of
the nation. It was in memory of these two patriots that Daniel Webster
was called to deliver an oration in Faneuil Hall, Boston.

No other funeral oration has ever been delivered in any age or country
that was equal to this in eloquence. Like all his other discourses, it
was full of patriotic feeling.

"This lovely land," he said, "this glorious liberty, these benign
institutions, the dear purchase of our fathers, are ours; ours to enjoy,
ours to preserve, ours to transmit. Generations past and generations to
come hold us responsible for this sacred trust.

"Our fathers, from behind, admonish us with their anxious, paternal
voices; posterity calls out to us from the bosom of the future; the
world turns hither its solicitous eyes; all, all conjure us to act
wisely and faithfully in the relation which we sustain."

Most of his other great speeches were delivered in Congress, and are,
therefore, political in tone and subject.

Great as Daniel Webster was in politics and in law, it is as an orator
and patriot that his name will be longest remembered.

* * * * *


When Daniel Webster was forty years old, the people of Boston elected
him to represent them in Congress. They were so well pleased with all
that he did while there, that they re-elected him twice.

In June, 1827, the legislature of Massachusetts chose him to be United
States senator for a term of six years. He was at that time the most
famous man in Massachusetts, and his name was known and honored in
every state of the Union.

After that he was re-elected to the same place again and again; and for
more than twenty years he continued to be the distinguished senator from

I cannot now tell you of all his public services during the long period
that he sat in Congress. Indeed, there are some things that you would
find hard to understand until you have learned more about the history of
our country. But you will by-and-by read of them in the larger books
which you will study at school; and, no doubt, you will also read some
of his great addresses and orations.

It was in 1830 that he delivered the most famous of all his speeches in
the senate chamber of the United States. This speech is commonly called,
"The Reply to Hayne."

I shall not here try to explain the purport of Mr. Hayne's speeches - for
there were two of them. I shall not try to describe the circumstances
which led Mr. Webster to make his famous reply to them.

But I will quote Mr. Webster's closing sentences. Forty years ago the
school-boys all over the country were accustomed to memorize and declaim
these patriotic utterances.

"When my eyes shall be turned to behold, for the last time, the sun in
heaven, may I not see him shining on the broken and dishonored fragments
of a once glorious Union; on states dissevered, discordant, belligerent,
on a land rent with civil feuds, or drenched, it may be, in fraternal

"Let their last feeble and lingering glance rather behold the gorgeous
ensign of the republic, now known and honored throughout the earth,
still high advanced, its arms and trophies streaming in their original
lustre, not a stripe erased or polluted, not a single star obscured,
bearing for its motto no such miserable interrogatory, 'What is all this
worth?' nor those other words of delusion and folly, 'Liberty first and
Union afterwards;' but everywhere, spread all over in characters of
living light, blazing on all its folds, as they float over the land, and
in every wind under the whole heavens, that other sentiment, dear to
every American heart - Liberty and Union, now and forever, one and

In 1841, Daniel Webster resigned his seat in the senate. He did this in
order to become secretary of state in the cabinet of the newly elected
president, William Henry Harrison.

But President Harrison died on the 5th of April, after having held his
office just one month; and his place was taken by the vice-president,
John Tyler. Mr. Webster now felt that his position in the cabinet would
not be a pleasant one; but he continued to hold it for nearly two years.

His most important act as secretary of state was to conclude a treaty
with England which fixed the northeastern boundary of the United States.
This treaty is known in history as the Ashburton Treaty.

In 1843, Mr. Webster resigned his place in President Tyler's cabinet.
But he was not allowed to remain long in private life. Two years later
he was again elected to the United States senate.

About this time, Texas was annexed to the United States. But Mr. Webster
did not favor this, for he believed that such an act was contrary to the
Constitution of our country.

He did all that he could to keep our government from making war upon
Mexico. But after this war had been begun, he was a firm friend of the
soldiers who took part in it, and he did much to provide for their
safety and comfort.

Among these soldiers was Edward, the second son of Daniel Webster. He
became a major in the main division of the army, and died in the City of

* * * * *


Let us now go back a little way in our story, and learn something about
Mr. Webster's home and private life.

[Illustration: The Mansion Marshfield]

[Illustration: The Library]

[Illustration: The Tomb]

In 1831, Mr. Webster bought a large farm at Marshfield, in the
southeastern part of Massachusetts, not far from the sea.

He spent a great deal of money in improving this farm; and in the end it
was as fine a country seat as one might see anywhere in New England.

When he became tired with the many cares of his busy life, Mr. Webster
could always find rest and quiet days at Marshfield. He liked to dress
himself as a farmer, and stroll about the fields looking at the cattle
and at the growing crops.

"I had rather be here than in the senate," he would say.

But his life was clouded with many sorrows. Long before going to
Marshfield, his two eldest children were laid in the grave. Their mother
followed them just one year before Mr. Webster's first entry into the
United States senate.

In 1829, his brother Ezekiel died suddenly while speaking in court at
Concord. Ezekiel had never cared much for politics, but as a lawyer in
his native state, he had won many honors. His death came as a great
shock to everybody that knew him. To his brother it brought
overwhelming sorrow.

When Daniel Webster was nearly forty-eight years old, he married a
second wife. She was the daughter of a New York merchant, and her name
was Caroline Bayard Le Roy. She did much to lighten the disappointments
of his later life, and they lived together happily for more than twenty

In 1839, Mr. and Mrs. Webster made a short visit to England. The fame of
the great orator had gone before him, and he was everywhere received
with honor. The greatest men of the time were proud to meet him.

Henry Hallam, the historian, wrote of him: "Mr. Webster approaches as
nearly to the _beau ideal_ of a republican senator as any man that I
have ever seen in the course of my life."

Even the Queen invited him to dine with her; and she was much pleased
with his dignified ways and noble bearing.

And, indeed, his appearance was such as to win the respect of all who
saw him. When he walked the streets of London, people would stop and
wonder who the noble stranger was; and workingmen whispered to one
another: "There goes a king!"

* * * * *


Many people believed that Daniel Webster would finally be elected
president of the United States. And, indeed, there was no man in all
this country who was better fitted for that high position than he.

But it so happened that inferior men, who were willing to stoop to the
tricks of politics, always stepped in before him.

In the meanwhile the question of slavery was becoming, every day, more
and more important. It was the one subject which claimed everybody's

Should slavery be allowed in the territories?

There was great excitement all over the country. There were many hot
debates in Congress. It seemed as though the Union would be destroyed.

At last, the wiser and cooler-headed leaders in Congress said, "Let
each side give up a little to the other. Let us have a compromise."

On the 7th of March, 1850, Mr. Webster delivered a speech before the
senate. It was a speech in favor of compromise, in favor of

He thought that this was the only way to preserve the Union. And he was
willing to sacrifice everything for the Constitution and the Union.

He declared that all the ends he aimed at were for his country's good.

"I speak to-day for the preservation of the Union," he said. "Hear me
for my cause! I speak to-day out of a solicitous and anxious heart, for
the restoration to the country of that quiet and harmony, which make the
blessings of this Union so rich and so dear to us all."

He then went on to defend the law known as the Fugitive Slave Law. He
declared that this law was in accordance with the Constitution, and
hence it should be enforced according to its true meaning.

The speech was a great disappointment to his friends. They said that he
had deserted them; that he had gone over to their enemies; that he was
no longer a champion of freedom, but of slavery.

Those who had been his warmest supporters, now turned against him.

A few months after this, President Taylor died. The vice-president,
Millard Fillmore, then became president. Mr. Fillmore was in sympathy
with Daniel Webster, and soon gave him a seat in his cabinet as
secretary of state.

This was the second time that Mr. Webster had been called to fill this
high and honorable position. But, under President Fillmore, he did no
very great or important thing.

He was still the leading man in the Whig party; and he hoped, in 1852,
to be nominated for the presidency. But in this he was again

He was now an old man. He had had great successes in life; but he felt
that he had failed at the end of the race. His health was giving way.
He went home to Marshfield for the quiet and rest which he so much

In May, that same year, he was thrown from his carriage and severely
hurt. From this hurt he never recovered. He offered to resign his seat
in the cabinet, but Mr. Fillmore would not listen to this.

In September he became very feeble, and his friends knew that the end
was near. On the 24th of October, 1852, he died. He was nearly
seventy-one years old.

In every part of the land his death was sincerely mourned. Both friends
and enemies felt that a great man had fallen. They felt that this
country had lost its leading statesman, its noblest patriot, its
worthiest citizen.

Rufus Choate, who had succeeded him as the foremost lawyer in New
England, delivered a great oration upon his life and character. He said:

"Look in how manly a sort, in how high a moral tone, Mr. Webster
uniformly dealt with the mind of his country.

"Where do you find him flattering his countrymen, indirectly or
directly, for a vote? On what did he ever place himself but good
counsels and useful service?

"Who ever heard that voice cheering the people on to rapacity, to
injustice, to a vain and guilty glory?

"How anxiously, rather, did he prefer to teach, that by all possible
acquired sobriety of mind, by asking reverently of the past, by
obedience to the law, by habits of patient labor, by the cultivation of
the mind, by the fear and worship of God, we educate ourselves for the
future that is revealing."


[Illustration: _ABRAHAM LINCOLN_.]


* * * * *


Not far from Hodgensville, in Kentucky, there once lived a man whose
name was Thomas Lincoln. This man had built for himself a little log
cabin by the side of a brook, where there was an ever-flowing spring of

There was but one room in this cabin. On the side next to the brook
there was a low doorway; and at one end there was a large fireplace,
built of rough stones and clay.

The chimney was very broad at the bottom and narrow at the top. It was
made of clay, with flat stones and slender sticks laid around the
outside to keep it from falling apart.

In the wall, on one side of the fireplace, there was a square hole for a
window. But there was no glass in this window. In the summer it was
left open all the time. In cold weather a deerskin, or a piece of
coarse cloth, was hung over it to keep out the wind and the snow.

At night, or on stormy days, the skin of a bear was hung across the
doorway; for there was no door on hinges to be opened and shut.

There was no ceiling to the room. But the inmates of the cabin, by
looking up, could see the bare rafters and the rough roof-boards, which
Mr. Lincoln himself had split and hewn.

There was no floor, but only the bare ground that had been smoothed and
beaten until it was as level and hard as pavement.

For chairs there were only blocks of wood and a rude bench on one side
of the fireplace. The bed was a little platform of poles, on which were
spread the furry skins of wild animals, and a patchwork quilt of
homespun goods.

In this poor cabin, on the 12th of February, 1809, a baby boy was born.
There was already one child in the family - a girl, two years old, whose
name was Sarah.

The little boy grew and became strong like other babies, and his
parents named him Abraham, after his grandfather, who had been killed by
the Indians many years before.

When he was old enough to run about, he liked to play under the trees by
the cabin door. Sometimes he would go with his little sister into the
woods and watch the birds and the squirrels.

He had no playmates. He did not know the meaning of toys or playthings.
But he was a happy child and had many pleasant ways.

Thomas Lincoln, the father, was a kind-hearted man, very strong and
brave. Sometimes he would take the child on his knee and tell him
strange, true stories of the great forest, and of the Indians and the
fierce beasts that roamed among the woods and hills.

For Thomas Lincoln had always lived on the wild frontier; and he would
rather hunt deer and other game in the forest than do anything else.
Perhaps this is why he was so poor. Perhaps this is why he was content
to live in the little log cabin with so few of the comforts of life.

But Nancy Lincoln, the young mother, did not complain. She, too, had
grown up among the rude scenes of the backwoods. She had never known
better things.

And yet she was by nature refined and gentle; and people who knew her
said that she was very handsome. She was a model housekeeper, too; and
her poor log cabin was the neatest and best-kept house in all that

No woman could be busier than she. She knew how to spin and weave, and
she made all the clothing for her family.

She knew how to wield the ax and the hoe; and she could work on the farm
or in the garden when her help was needed.

She had also learned how to shoot with a rifle; and she could bring down
a deer or other wild game with as much ease as could her husband. And
when the game was brought home, she could dress it, she could cook the
flesh for food, and of the skins she could make clothing for her husband
and children.

There was still another thing that she could do - she could read; and she
read all the books that she could get hold of. She taught her husband
the letters of the alphabet; and she showed him how to write his name.
For Thomas Lincoln had never gone to school, and he had never learned
how to read.

As soon as little Abraham Lincoln was old enough to understand, his
mother read stories to him from the Bible. Then, while he was still very
young, she taught him to read the stories for himself.

The neighbors thought it a wonderful thing that so small a boy could
read. There were very few of them who could do as much. Few of them
thought it of any great use to learn how to read.

There were no school-houses in that part of Kentucky in those days, and
of course there were no public schools.

One winter a traveling schoolmaster came that way. He got leave to use a
cabin not far from Mr. Lincoln's, and gave notice that he would teach
school for two or three weeks. The people were too poor to pay him for
teaching longer.

The name of this schoolmaster was Zachariah Riney.

The young people for miles around flocked to the school. Most of them
were big boys and girls, and a few were grown up young men. The only
little child was Abraham Lincoln, and he was not yet five years old.

There was only one book studied at that school, and it was a
spelling-book. It had some easy reading lessons at the end, but these
were not to be read until after every word in the book had been spelled.

You can imagine how the big boys and girls felt when Abraham Lincoln
proved that he could spell and read better than any of them.

* * * * *


In the autumn, just after Abraham Lincoln was eight years old, his
parents left their Kentucky home and moved to Spencer county, in

It was not yet a year since Indiana had become a state. Land could be
bought very cheap, and Mr. Lincoln thought that he could make a good
living there for his family. He had heard also that game was plentiful
in the Indiana woods.

It was not more than seventy or eighty miles from the old home to the
new. But it seemed very far, indeed, and it was a good many days before
the travelers reached their journey's end. Over a part of the way there
was no road, and the movers had to cut a path for themselves through the
thick woods.

The boy, Abraham, was tall and very strong for his age. He already knew
how to handle an ax, and few men could shoot with a rifle better than
he. He was his father's helper in all kinds of work.

It was in November when the family came to the place which was to be
their future home. Winter was near at hand. There was no house, nor
shelter of any kind. What would become of the patient, tired mother, and
the gentle little sister, who had borne themselves so bravely during the
long, hard journey?

No sooner had the horses been loosed from the wagon than Abraham and
his father were at work with their axes. In a short time they had built
what they called a "camp."

This camp was but a rude shed, made of poles and thatched with leaves
and branches. It was enclosed on three sides, so that the chill winds or
the driving rains from the north and west could not enter. The fourth
side was left open, and in front of it a fire was built.

This fire was kept burning all the time. It warmed the interior of the
camp. A big iron kettle was hung over it by means of a chain and pole,
and in this kettle the fat bacon, the venison, the beans, and the corn
were boiled for the family's dinner and supper. In the hot ashes the
good mother baked luscious "corn dodgers," and sometimes, perhaps, a few

In one end of the camp were the few cooking utensils and little articles
of furniture which even the poorest house cannot do without. The rest of
the space was the family sitting-room and bed-room. The floor was
covered with leaves, and on these were spread the furry skins of deer
and bears, and other animals.

It was in this camp that the family spent their first winter in Indiana.
How very cold and dreary that winter must have been! Think of the stormy
nights, of the shrieking wind, of the snow and the sleet and the bitter
frost! It is not much wonder if, before the spring months came, the
mother's strength began to fail.

But it was a busy winter for Thomas Lincoln. Every day his ax was heard
in the woods. He was clearing the ground, so that in the spring it might
be planted with corn and vegetables.

He was hewing logs for his new house; for he had made up his mind, now,
to have something better than a cabin.

The woods were full of wild animals. It was easy for Abraham and his
father to kill plenty of game, and thus keep the family supplied with
fresh meat.

And Abraham, with chopping and hewing and hunting and trapping, was very
busy for a little boy. He had but little time to play; and, since he
had no playmates, we cannot know whether he even wanted to play.

With his mother, he read over and over the Bible stories which both of
them loved so well. And, during the cold, stormy days, when he could not
leave the camp, his mother taught him how to write.

In the spring the new house was raised. It was only a hewed log house,
with one room below and a loft above. But it was so much better than the
old cabin in Kentucky that it seemed like a palace.

The family had become so tired of living in the "camp," that they moved
into the new house before the floor was laid, or any door hung at the

Then came the plowing and the planting and the hoeing. Everybody was
busy from daylight to dark. There were so many trees and stumps that
there was but little room for the corn to grow.

The summer passed, and autumn came. Then the poor mother's strength gave
out. She could no longer go about her household duties. She had to
depend more and more upon the help that her children could give her.

At length she became too feeble to leave her bed. She called her boy to
her side. She put her arms about him and said: "Abraham, I am going away
from you, and you will never see me again. I know that you will always
be good and kind to your sister and father. Try to live as I have taught
you, and to love your heavenly Father."

On the 5th of October she fell asleep, never to wake again.

Under a big sycamore tree, half a mile from the house, the neighbors dug
the grave for the mother of Abraham Lincoln. And there they buried her
in silence and great sorrow.

There was no minister there to conduct religious services. In all that
new country there was no church; and no holy man could be found to speak
words of comfort and hope to the grieving ones around the grave.

But the boy, Abraham, remembered a traveling preacher, whom they had
known in Kentucky. The name of this preacher was David Elkin. If he
would only come!

And so, after all was over, the lad sat down and wrote a letter to David
Elkin. He was only a child nine years old, but he believed that the good
man would remember his poor mother, and come.

It was no easy task to write a letter. Paper and ink were not things of
common use, as they are with us. A pen had to be made from the quill of
a goose.

But at last the letter was finished and sent away. How it was carried I
do not know; for the mails were few and far between in those days, and
postage was very high. It is more than likely that some friend, who was
going into Kentucky, undertook to have it finally handed to the good

Months passed. The leaves were again on the trees. The wild flowers were
blossoming in the woods. At last the preacher came.

He had ridden a hundred miles on horseback; he had forded rivers, and
traveled through pathless woods; he had dared the dangers of the wild
forest: all in answer to the lad's beseeching letter.

He had no hope of reward, save that which is given to every man who does
his duty. He did not know that there would come a time when the greatest
preachers in the world would envy him his sad task.

And now the friends and neighbors gathered again under the great
sycamore tree. The funeral sermon was preached. Hymns were sung. A
prayer was offered. Words of comfort and sympathy were spoken.

From that time forward the mind of Abraham Lincoln was filled with a
high and noble purpose. In his earliest childhood his mother had taught
him to love truth and justice, to be honest and upright among men, and

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Online LibraryJames BaldwinFour Great Americans: Washington, Franklin, Webster, Lincoln A Book for Young Americans → online text (page 7 of 9)