| Builders of Our Country: Book II|
|by Gertrude van Duyn Southworth|
| A lively account of American history told through 31 biographies, beginning with Patrick Henry at the start of the Revolution and ending with Andrew Carnegie at the close of the 19th century. The biographies are so chosen as to acquaint the reader with the chief personages and events in our national life, by including many vivid pictures of each. Ages 10-12 |
AT SCHOOL AND COLLEGE
 ONE day, many many years ago, an eight-year-old
boy hurried into a New Hampshire village store. His
black eyes were bright, and he was eager, for he had come
to buy a coveted treasure.
On a past visit to the store the lad had seen a cotton
handkerchief on which was printed the new Constitution
of the Unitcd States. How
he had wanted this wonderful handkerchief! But it
takes money to buy things;
and for lack of the price the
treasure had been left behind,
while the boy went home to
save up the needed twenty-five cents.
At last he had succeeded
and, money in hand, had
come to buy the longed-for
copy of the Constitution. It
was from his printed cotton handkerchief that Daniel
Webster learned the Constitution
from end to end. Little did he think then that he
would ever be called the defender of that same Constitution.
 Daniel Webster was born in Salisbury,—now Franklin,
—New Hampshire, in 1782. He was the ninth of ten
children. From the very first he was a frail, sickly child,
for whom the neighbors foretold a short life.
Because of his ill health little was expected of him on
the farm, and he was allowed to roam at will over the hills
and through the meadows. His companion on these
rambles was an old soldier-sailor, who had deserted from
the British ranks to help the Americans fight for freedom.
And many thrilling tales did he pour into the willing ears
of his little listener.
Ebenezer Webster, Daniel's father, had fought in the
French and Indian and Revolutionary wars; and he, too,
often told Daniel about his adventures. The boy liked
to hear especially how his father had been on guard in
front of Washington's tent just after Arnold's treason,
and how the great general himself had come to Ebenezer
and said, "Captain Webster, I believe I can trust you."
Such stories filled Daniel with love for his country.
Reading was another pleasure of Daniel Webster's
boyhood. He read all the books he could get hold of,
time and again. As he had great power of expression,
people loved to hear him read; and teamsters, while they
rested their horses near his home, often called Webster's
boy to come out into the shade of the trees and read
Whenever he could, Daniel went to school. As he
learned easily and remembered well, he soon came to be
considered the brightest boy in his class. Once his
teacher promised a jackknife to the pupil who could
recite the greatest number of verses from the Bible.
When Daniel's turn came, he reeled off so many verses
that the master had to stop him. There was no question
as to who had won the knife.
 His talents were a delight to his father, who had had
little chance himself for study and appreciated what he
had missed. Knowing that Daniel's poor health would
prevent him from ever doing hard physical labor, Mr.
Webster determined to give the boy an education. Ezekiel,
who was two years older than Daniel, and strong and
robust, was to stay at home and help his father on the
farm. But Daniel was to be sent to school and, if possible,
This was a great undertaking in those days, especially
to people of small means. For the Websters it meant
much sacrifice on the part of the whole family. Not only
would the farm have to be mortgaged, but they would be
obliged to pinch and save in order to live. Still Ebenezer
Webster and his wife were willing to do without comforts,
that their boy might be educated.
Mr. Webster told Daniel about the plan and spoke
sadly of his own lack of schooling. Daniel was much
moved and never forgot his father's words. The next
spring Mr. Webster took the boy to Exeter Academy.
This was Daniel's first step in the outside world, and
it proved a bitter experience for him. The boys at
Exeter were mostly sons of wealthy parents. They were
well dressed and came from cultured homes, and they
laughed at Daniel's country clothes and manners. Such
treatment hurt the sensitive boy, but he had the good
sense not to resent it. Although he rose rapidly in his
classes, one thing he could not do. He could not face
these schoolboys and declaim. Much as he had read and
recited to teamsters, relatives, and friends, he invariably
failed completely whenever he was called upon to speak
before his schoolmates. Alone in his room, he would go
over and over what he wanted to say; but as soon as he
faced the boys, not a word could he utter. And yet in
 years to come, this lad was to be one of the greatest orators
of modern times.
When Daniel Webster had been nine months at
Exeter, his father took him to a Dr. Wood to be tutored.
On the way there, Mr. Webster told his son that a college
course was in store for him. Under Dr. Wood's tutorship,
he was ready to enter Dartmouth College before he was
During the first two years of life at college, Webster
was not the best student in his class. He was never a
scholar, in the true sense of the word; but he had the
reputation of being one. Webster himself said that it was
because he read so much and remembered so well what he
read, that he could talk with ease; and that when he came
to the end of his knowledge he was careful to stop and let
other people do the talking.
Everyone wondered at his eloquence. He had overcome the
bashfulness which made his life wretched at
Exeter, and now he delighted in nothing so much as holding
an audience spellbound by the music of his marvelous
During his first two rears in Dartmouth, Daniel
Webster often thought of his brother Ezekiel. He saw
the wide gulf that was beginning to yawn between him
and his stay-at-home brother; and his heart felt a great
pity. He knew his brother's talents to be equal to
his own, and he wanted Ezekiel, too, to have a college
But how was it to be done? The farm had already
been mortgaged, and how could he ask his father to
sacrifice himself still more? It seemed too much. How
ever, when Daniel went home on his vacation, he did ask
his father if in some way Ezekiel could not be sent to
 As all his other sons had now left home, Mr. Webster
realized that, in Ezekiel, he was sending away the prop
and stay of his last years. He gave his consent on condition
that the mother and daughters also were willing,
as they were the ones who would suffer most. They
proved as self-sacrificing as Mr. Webster. "I will trust
my boys," was all the mother had to say. And so it
was settled that Ezekiel should go to college.
Daniel was graduated from Dartmouth in 1801. That
summer he studied in a law office. But as he had offered
to do his share toward earning the money for Ezekiel's
education, he accepted a position to teach during the
At the close of the school year Daniel returned home
and again took up the study of law. He longed to go to
Boston to finish his law studies, but saw no way to do it.
Finally Ezekiel found a way, and they both went to
Daniel was fortunate enough to get into the office of
a famous lawyer who taught him many things besides
law. After being admitted to the bar in 1807, he went to
Boscawen, six miles from home, and opened a law office.
Here, before long, he had a fairly good practice.
When Ezekiel, too, was admitted to the bar, Daniel
turned his business over to his brother and moved to
IN Portsmouth, Webster practiced law and took an
active part in politics. Soon he was elected to Congress,
and took his seat there in May, 1813.
There were many noted men in the House at this time.
Among them were Henry Clay and John C. Calhoun. Both
 were statesmen and born debaters and orators. They
were leaders of the southern states; and, as Webster
became a northern leader, he was often opposed to them
on the great questions of the day.
A SESSION OF THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
IN THE DAYS OF WEBSTER AND CLAY.
One of these questions had to do with the tariff, or
duty, on certain imported goods. Mr. Clay, and at that
time the South, thought that there ought to be a tariff
on these articles to protect the growing American
industries. Webster did not agree with him and made several
speeches against the different tariff laws as they came up
from time to time.
But when the tariff bill of 1828 was before the House,
to the general surprise Webster changed about, and spoke
in favor of it and voted for it. The reason for his change
was that New England had, by this time, increased her
manufacturing and was now in a position to profit by a
 tariff that placed a tax on competing goods imported from
other countries. With New England it was simply a
matter of dollars and cents, not one of right and wrong.
And being a New England man, Webster changed his views
to accord with those of his home section.
By this time the South, too, had changed about, and
was bitterly opposed to the tariff bill of 1828; for she had
found that foreign goods were, on the whole, cheaper
than goods made in the North. However, the bill was
passed and became a law. As a result the enraged
southern people held mass meetings and declared the new tariff
a violation of the Constitution, claiming that Congress
had no power to impose duties except those necessary for
the expenses of the Government. South Carolina even
went so far as to say that the law would not be obeyed
and that, if force was used, she would withdraw from the
It was in January, 1830, that Senator Hayne of South
Carolina made his bitter attack on Massachusetts and on
Webster, and in the Senate of the United States declared
this southern doctrine—that any state has the right to
disobey the nation's laws.
Webster, now Massachusetts Senator, agreed to reply
to Hayne on the next day. He had only one night in
which to prepare what he had to say. But none knew the
Constitution better than he, for had he not been a close
student of it ever since his childhood days?
By the opening hour of the following day the great
crowd that had come to hear him packed the Senate
"It is a critical moment," said a friend; "and it is
time, it is high time that the people of this country should
know what this Constitution is."
"Then," answered Webster, "by the blessing of
 Heaven, they shall learn this day before the sun goes down
what I understand it to be."
His theme was "Nationality." His sole purpose was
to strengthen the claims of the Union; to put the Union
first and the State second. For four hours he held that
vast throng spellbound, while he set forth the meaning
of the Constitution. His whole life had been a
preparation for this moment. And his closing words, "Liberty
and union, now and forever, one and inseparable,"
inspired all loyal Americans with deeper devotion to the
Union. These words were put into text-books; schoolboys
used them in declamations, feeling their pride in the
Union increase as they made Webster's words their own.
Finally the time came when men were needed to preserve
the Union. Then it was that these boys, whose love for
their country had been fostered and kept alive by the
undying words of Webster, became the "Boys in Blue"
and fought to save the land they loved so well.
In his "Reply to Hayne" Daniel Webster reached his
highest point as a public speaker. More than his
eloquence was the influence of the man himself. Nature had
been most lavish with her gifts to him. His voice,
face, and form were perfectly suited to an orator. He
lacked but little of six feet. He had a swarthy
complexion and straight black hair. His head was large and
well shaped. His brow was high and broad. His
wonderful eyes were deVp set, black and glowing. But
perhaps his voice was the most remarkable of all. In
conversation, it was low and musical. In debate, it was
high and full, sometimes ringing out like a clarion and
then sinking to deep notes like the tones of an organ.
By his splendid defense of the Constitution, Daniel
Webster won a national fame which brought with it talk
of the Presidency. This high honor dangled before his
 eyes all the rest of his public life—a dream never to be
One reason why Webster failed to arouse general
enthusiasm as a Presidential candidate in 1852 was the
stand he had taken in regard to Clay's compromise two
This period in our history was a most critical one. On
the one side was the South anxious to extend slavery into
the new territory acquired through the Mexican War;
on the other side was the North with the feeling against
slaveholding constantly growing stronger. Between these
two came Henry Clay in 1850 with his great compromise,
which he thought would settle all the problems. One
term of his compromise was the enforcing of the fugitive
slave law, which ordered that all escaped slaves found in
the North must be returned to their masters.
Up to this time Webster had always been a foe to
compromise and to the extension of slavery, and he had
always spoken eloquently in behalf of the poor down
trodden slave. Now he rose in the Senate and declared
in favor of Clay's compromise, saving nothing at all about
the horrors of slavery and, worst of all, urging the carrying
out of the fugitive slave law.
It was a shock and disappointment to his friends in
the North that Daniel Webster should speak coldly and
calmly of sending the runaway slaves back to their owners.
This was hard to believe. Why did he do it?
Many said that his purpose was to preserve the Union
and that he had decided that this was the only way to do
it. Whatever his motive, many of his friends deserted him.
Through years of his long public career, Daniel Webster
had taken much pleasure in his country home at
Marshfield near the Massachusetts coast. It was to Marshfield
 that he came in disappointment over his failure to gain
the Presidency in 1852. And it was here that he died in
October of that
From his boyhood he had
loved the flag
with an intensity
with his years.
And now, when
he lay dying,
his eyes constantly looked through the whndow in the dark hours of
the night to a small boat anchored at the shore, for over
this boat were flying the stars and stripes, lighted by a
ship lantern on the mast.
WEBSTER'S HOUSE AT MARSHFIELD.
Daniel Webster was a true American citizen. His
chief desire was to see the nation great and glorious. He
wished only to procure the good of the whole country
and always strove with all the ardor and force of his great
soul to preserve the Union. For years he poured the
message of nationality into the ears of the people. He it
was who fostered and strengthened this spirit so that,
when the South seceded, the North had the courage to
perform her mighty task. This is the debt the American
people owe to Daniel Webster, and in this lies his
importance in the history of our country.
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