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record of the causes célèbres of no country or age will furnish either a more thrilling narrative, or a forensic effort of greater ability. A passage on the power of conscience will arrest the attention of the reader. There is nothing in the language superior to it. It was unquestionably owing to the legal skill and moral courage with which the case was conducted by Mr. Webster, that one of the foulest crimes ever committed was brought to condign punishment; and the nicest refinements of the law of evidence were made the means of working out the most important practical results. But it is time to return to the chronological series of events.
The Convention to revise the Constitution of Massachusetts. — John Adams a Dele
gate. – Mr. Webster's Share in its Proceedings. — Speeches on Oaths of Office, Basis of Senatorial Representation, and Independence of the Judiciary. — Centennial Anniversary at Plymouth on the 22d of December, 1820. — Discourse delivered by Mr. Webster. — Bunker Hill Monument, and Address by Mr. Webster on the Laying of the Corner-Stone, 17th of June, 1825. — Discourse on the Completion of the Monument, 17th of June, 1843. — Simultaneous Decease of Adams and Jefferson on the 4th of July, 1826. — Eulogy by Mr. Webster in Faneuil Hall. Address at the Laying of the Corner-Stone of the New Wing of the Capitol. Remarks on the Patriotic Discourses of Mr. Webster, and on the Character of his Eloquence in Efforts of this Class.
IN 1820, on the separation of Maine, a convention became necessary in Massachusetts to readjust the Senate; and the occasion was deemed a favorable one for a general revision of the constitution. The various towns in the Commonwealth were authorized by law to choose as many delegates as they were entitled to elect members to the House of Representatives; and a body was constituted containing much of the tal. ent, political experience, and weight of character of the State. Mr. Webster was chosen one of the delegates from Boston; and, with the exception of a few days' service, two or three years afterwards, in the Massachusetts House of Representatives,* this is the only occasion on which he ever filled any political office under the State government either of Massachusetts or New Hampshire.
The venerable John Adams, second President of the United States, was a delegate to this convention from Quincy. He was the author of the original draft of the State constitution in 1780, and although his advanced age (he was now eighty
Mr. Webster makes the following playful allusion to this circumstance in a speech at a public dinner in Syracuse (New York), in the month of May of the present year:
“It has so happened that all the public services which I have rendered in the world, in my day and generation, have been connected with the general gosernment. I think I ought to make an exception. I was ten days a member of the Massachusetts legislature, and I turned my thoughts to the search for some good object in which I could be useful in that position ; and, after much reflection, I introduced a bill which, with the general consent of both houses of the Massachusetts legislature, passed into a law, and is now a law of the State, which enacts that no man in the State shall catch trout in any other manner than in the old way, with an ordinary hook and line.”
six years old) made it impossible for him to take an active part in the proceedings of the convention, he received the honor of a unanimous election as president. .
He declined the appointment; and Chief Justice Parker was chosen in his place.
The convention of 1820 was no doubt as respectable a political body as ever assembled in Massachusetts; and it is no more than justice to Mr. Webster to say, that, although he had been but a few years a citizen of the Commonwealth, and was personally a stranger to most of his associates, he was among the most efficient members of the body. He was named chairman of the committee to whom the important subject of oaths and qualifications for office was referred, and of the special committee on that chapter of the constitution which relates to the “ University at Cambridge.” Besides taking a leading part in the discussion of most of the important subjects which were agitated in the convention, he was the authority most deferred to on questions of order, and in that way exercised a steady and powerful influence over the general course of its proceedings. It is believed that on this occasion the practice of considering business in committee of the whole body was for the first time adopted in Massachusetts; that mode of procedure never having obtained in the legislature of the State. The dignified and efficient manner in which the duties of the chair were performed by Mr. Webster, whenever he was called to occupy it, was matter of general remark. It has often been a subject of regret with those who witnessed the uncommon aptitude evinced by him on these, as on similar occasions at Washington, for the discharge of the duties of presiding officer of a deliberative assembly, that he was never, during his Congressional career, called to the important office of Speaker of the House of Representatives. Considering the relation of the House to the political condition of the country, there is no position under the government which bears more directly upon the general character of the public counsels. The place has occasionally, both in former times and recently, been filled with great ability; but it has more frequently happened that speakers have been chosen from considerations of political expediency, and without regard to personal qualifications and fitness for the office. The effect
has been highly prejudicial to the tone of the House, and its consequent estimation in the country. It has frequently happened that the decisions of the Speaker, as such, have commanded no respect. An appeal has been taken from them almost as a matter of course. The state of things is very different in the body most nearly resembling the houses of Congress. Such a thing as an appeal from the decision of the Speaker on a point of order is hardly known in the British House of Commons, and the disposition of all parties to acquiesce in, if not to support, the decisions of the chair, is one of the characteristic features of that assembly.
The proceedings of the Massachusetts convention were ably reported, from day to day, in the Boston Daily Advertiser; but a contemporary report usually implies much abridgment of the speeches. Much that was said by Mr. Webster, as by other prominent speakers, appeared but in a condensed form; and it is believed, that, even when reported at greatest length and with most care, it was without the advantage of personal revision by the speakers. The third volume of the present collection contains Mr. Webster's remarks on those provisions of the constitution which related to oaths of office and formed a kind of religious test, which Mr. Webster was disposed to abolish; a speech upon the basis of senatorial representation; and another upon the independence of the judiciary.
In the speech on the basis of the Senate, Mr. Webster defended the principle, which was incorporated into the original constitution, and is recognized by the liberal writers of greatest authority on government, that due regard should be had to property in establishing a basis of representation. He showed the connection between the security of republican liberty and this principle. He first called attention in this country to the fact, that this important principle was originally developed in Harrington's Oceana, a work much studied by our Revolutionary fathers. The practical consequence which Mr. Webster deduced from the principle was, that constitutional and legal provision ought to be made to produce the utmost possible diffusion and equality of property.
It is a melancholy instance of the injustice of party, that these views of Mr. Webster, which contain the philosophy of constitutional republicanism as distinct from a mere democracy of numbers, have, even down to the present day, served as the basis of a charge against him of anti-popular principles. Having observed in the speech referred to, “that it would seem to be the part of political wisdom to found government on property, and to establish such a distribution of property by the laws which regulate its transmission and alienation, as to interest the great majority of society in the protection of the government,” the former part of this sentence has often been quoted as a substantive rule in favor of a moneyed aristocracy, and the latter uncandidly suppressed. It is hardly necessary to observe, that the point at issue was the constitution of the senatorial districts on the basis of the valuation, and that it was never proposed by Mr. Webster, or by any body else, to apply the principle to individuals. The poor man in the rich senatorial district possessed as much political power as his wealthy neighbor. The principle, in fact, is but another form of that which gave the first impulse to the American Revolution, namely, that representation and taxation ought to go hand in hand.
While the Massachusetts convention was in session, Mr. Webster appeared before the public in another department of intellectual effort, and with the most distinguished success. It is hazardous for a person of great professional eminence to venture out of his sphere; perhaps the experiment has never before been so triumphantly made. In 1820, Mr. Webster was invited by the Pilgrim Society at Plymouth to deliver a discourse on the great anniversary of New England, the evermemorable 22d of December. Several circumstances contributed on this occasion to the interest of the day. The peaceful surrender by Massachusetts of a portion of her territory, greatly exceeding in magnitude that which she retained, in order to form the new State of Maine, was a pleasing exemplification of that prosperous multiplication of independent commonwealths within the limits of the Union, which forms one of the most distinctive features in our history. It was as much an alienation of territory from the local jurisdiction of Massachusetts, as if it had been ceded to Great Britain, and yet the alienation was cordially made. At this very time a controversy existed between the United States and England, relative to the conflicting title of the two governments to a very