Saturday, March 07, 2009

The Seventh of March

Today is the one hundred fifty ninth anniversary of Daniel Webster's Seventh of March Speech.

John C. Waugh sets the scene. On the morning of March 7, 1850, Isaac P. Walker, a Democrat from Wisconsin, was a concluding a speech, begun the day before, in support of the slave-free status of the territories wrested from Mexico. By noon, the Senate was "teeming" and "packed" with spectators in anticipation of the next speaker. "Every seat on the floor and in the gallery was occupied, every space where a human being could stand was filled."

Senator Walker graciously ceded the floor. "Mr. President," he said, "this vast audience has not assembled to hear me, and there is but one man, in my opinion, who can assemble such an audience. They expect to hear him, and I feel it to be my duty, as well as my pleasure, to give the floor to [him]."
Walker sat down and Daniel Webster began to rise. The sight of Webster rising on the floor of the Senate was one of the most riveting images in American politics. One observer explained, "the getting up of Daniel Webster was not a mere act; it was a process. . . . The beholder saw the most wonderful head that his vision ever rested on rising slowly in the air; he saw a lionlike countenance, with great, deep-set, luminous eyes, gazing at him with solemn majesty; in short, he saw the godlike Daniel getting on his feet, and his heart thrilled at the thought of what might be coming.

And then the godlike Daniel began:
Mr. President, - I wish to speak to-day, not as a Massachusetts man, nor as a Northern man, but as an American, and a member of the Senate of the United States. It is fortunate that there is a Senate of the United States; a body not yet moved from its propriety, not lost to a just sense of its own dignity and its own high responsibilities, and a body to which the country looks, with confidence, for wise, moderate, patriotic, and healing counsels.

It is not to be denied that we live in the midst of strong agitations, and are surrounded by very considerable dangers to our institutions and our government. The imprisoned winds are let loose. The East, the North, and the stormy South combine to throw the whole sea into commotion, to toss its billows to the skies, and disclose its profoundest depths.

I do not affect to regard myself, Mr. President, as holding, or as fit to hold, the helm in this combat with the political elements; but I have a duty to perform, and I mean to perform it with fidelity, not without a sense of existing dangers, but not without hope. I have a part to act, not for my own security or safety, for I am looking out for no fragment upon which to float away from the wreck, if wreck there must be, but for the good of the whole, and the preservation of all; and there is that which will keep me to my duty during this struggle, whether the sun and the stars shall appear, or shall not appear for many days.

I speak to-day for the preservation of the Union. "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 harmonious harmony which make the blessings of this Union so rich, and so dear to us all. These are the topics I propose to myself to discuss; these are the motives, and the sole motives, that influence me in the wish to communicate my opinions to the Senate and the country; and if I can do any thing, however little, for the promotion of these ends, I shall have accomplished all that I expect.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts with Thumbnails