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Daniel Webster
by [?]

For the most part, people who live in cities are not moved by oratory; they are unsocial, unimaginative, unemotional. They see so much and hear so much that they cease to be impressed. When they come together in assemblages they are so apathetic that they fail to generate magnetism–there is no common soul to which the speaker can address himself. They are so cold that the orator never welds them into a mass. He may amuse them, but in a single hour to change the opinions of a lifetime is no longer possible in America. There are so many people, and so much business to transact, that emotional life plays only upon the surface–in it there is no depth. To possess depth you must commune with the Silences. No more do you find men and women coming for fifty miles, in wagons, to hear speakers discuss political issues; no more do you find campmeetings where the preacher strikes conviction home until thousands are on their knees crying to God for mercy.

Intelligence has increased; spirituality has declined, and as a people the warm emotions of our hearts are gone forever.

Oratory is a rustic product. The great orators have always been country-bred, and their appeal has been made to rural people. Those who live in a big place think they are bigger on that account. They acquire glibness of speech and polish of manner; but they purchase these things at a price. They lack the power to weigh mighty questions, the courage to formulate them, and the sturdy vitality to stand up and declare them in the face of opposition. Revolutions are fought by farmers and rail-splitters; these are the embattled men who fire the shots heard ’round the world.

When Daniel Webster’s father took up his residence in New Hampshire, his log cabin was the most northern one of the Colonies. Between him and Montreal lay an unbroken forest inhabited only by prowling Indians. Ebenezer Webster’s long rifle had sent cold lead into many a redskin; and the same rifle had done good service in fighting the British. Once, its owner stood guard before Washington’s Headquarters at Newburgh, and Washington came out and said, “Captain Webster, I can trust you!”

Ebenezer Webster would leave his home to carry a bag of corn on his back through the woods to the mill ten miles away to have it ground into meal, and his wife would be left alone with the children. On such occasions, Indians who never saw settlers’ cabins without having an itch to burn them, used sometimes to call, and the housewife would have to parley with these savages, “impressing them concerning the rights of property.”

So here was born Daniel Webster, in Seventeen Hundred Eighty-two, the second child of his mother. His father was then forty-three, and had already raised one brood, but his mother was only in her twenties. It seems that biting poverty and sore deprivation are about as good prenatal influences as a soul can well ask, provided there abides with the mother a noble discontent and a brave unrest.

However, it came near being overdone in Daniel Webster’s case, for the Mrs. Gamp who presided at his birth declared he could not live, and if he did, would “allus be a no-‘count.”

But he made a brave fight for breath, and his crossness and peevishness through the first years of his life were proof of vitality. He must have been a queer toddler when he wore dresses, with his immense head and deep-set black eyes and serious ways.

Being sickly, he was allowed to rule, and the big girls, his half-sisters, humored him, and his mother did the same. They taught him his letters when he was only a baby, and he himself said that he could not remember a time when he could not read the Bible.

When he grew older he did not have to bring in wood and do the chores–he was not strong enough, they said. Little Dan was of a like belief, and encouraged the idea on every occasion. He roamed the woods, fished, hunted, and read every scrap of print that came his way.