EULOGY ON WASHINGTON
by Daniel Webster in honor of his centennial birthday delivered
at a public dinner in the city of
I rise, gentlemen, to propose to you the name of that great man, in commemoration of whose birth, and in honor of whose character and services, we have here assembled.
I am sure that I express a sentiment common to every one present, when I say that there is something more than ordinarily solemn and affecting in this occasion.
We are met to testify our regard for him whose name is intimately blended with whatever belongs most essentially to the prosperity, the liberty, the free institutions, and the renown of our country. That name was of power to rally a nation in the hour of thick-thronging public disasters and calamities; that name shone, amid the storm of war, a beacon light, to cheer and guide the country's friends; it flamed, too, like a meteor, to repel her foes. That name, in the days of peace, was a loadstone, attracting to itself a whole people's confidence, a whole people's love, and the whole world's respect. That name, descending with all time, spreading over the whole earth, and uttered in all the languages belonging to the tribes and races of men, will forever be pronounced with affectionate gratitude by every one in whose breast there shall arise an aspiration for human rights and human liberty.
We perform this grateful duty, gentlemen, at the expiration of a hundred years from his birth, near the place, so cherished and beloved by him, where his dust now reposes, and in the capital which bears his own immortal name.
All experience evinces that human
sentiments are strongly influenced by associations. The recurrence of
anniversaries, or of longer periods of time, naturally freshens the recollection,
and deepens the impression, of events with which they are historically
connected. Renowned places, also, have a power to awaken feeling, which all
acknowledge. No American can pass by the fields of Bunker Hill, Monmouth, or
But neither of these sources of emotion equals the power with which great moral examples affect the mind. When sublime virtues cease to be abstractions, when they become embodied in human character, and exemplified in human conduct, we should be false to our own nature, if we did not indulge in the spontaneous effusions of our gratitude and our admiration. A true lover of the virtue of patriotism delights to contemplate its purest models; and that love of country may be well suspected which affects to soar so high into the regions of sentiment as to be lost and absorbed in the abstract feeling, and becomes too elevated or too refined to glow with fervor in the commendation or the love of individual benefactors. All this is unnatural. It is as if one should be so enthusiastic a lover of poetry, as to care nothing for Homer or Milton; so passionately attached to eloquence as to be indifferent to Tully and Chatham; or such a devotee to the arts, in such an ecstasy with the elements of beauty, proportion and expression, as to regard the master-pieces of Raphael and Michael Angelo with coldness or contempt. We may be assured, gentlemen, that he who really loves the thing itself, loves its finest exhibitions. A true friend of his country loves her friends and benefactors, and thinks it no degradation to commend and commemorate them. The voluntary outpouring of the public feeling, made today, from the north to the south, and from the east to the west, proves this sentiment to be both just and natural. In the cities and in the villages, in the public temples and in the family circles, among all ages and sexes, gladdened voices today bespeak grateful hearts and a freshened recollection of the virtues of the Father of his Country. And it will be so, in all time to come, so long as public virtue is itself an object of regard. The ingenuous youth of America will hold up to themselves the bright model of Washington's example, and study to be what they behold; they will contemplate his character till all its virtues spread out and display themselves to their delighted vision; as the earliest astronomers, the shepherds on the plains of Babylon, gazed at the stars till they saw them form into clusters and constellations, overpowering at length the eyes of the beholders with the united blaze of a thousand lights.
Gentlemen, we are at the point of a century from the birth
If the prediction of the poet, uttered a few years before his birth, be true; if, indeed, it be designed by Providence that the grandest exhibition of human character and human affairs shall be made on this theater of the western world; if it be true that,
four first acts already past,
A fifth shall close the drama with the day;
Time's noblest offspring is the last;
how could this imposing, swelling, final scene be
appropriately opened, how could its intense interest be adequately sustained,
but by the introduction of just such a character as our
It was the extraordinary fortune of Washington,
that, having been entrusted, in revolutionary
times, with the supreme military command, and having fulfilled that trust, with
equal renown for wisdom and for valor, he should be placed at the head of the
first government in which an attempt was to be made, on a large scale, to rear
the fabric of social order on the basis of a written constitution and of a
purely representative principle. A government was to be established without a
throne, without an aristocracy, without castes, orders, or privileges; and this
government, instead of being a democracy, existing and acting within the walls
of a single city, was to be extended over a vast country, of different
climates, interests and habits, and of various sects
and sentiments of the Christian religion. The experiment certainly was entirely
new. A popular government of this extent, it was evident, could be framed only
by carrying into full effect the principle of representation or of delegated
power; and the world was to see whether society could, by the strength of this
principle, maintain its own peace and good government, carry forward its own
great interests, and conduct itself to political renown and glory. By the
I remarked, gentlemen, that the whole world was and is interested in the result of this experiment. And is it not so? Do we deceive ourselves, or is it true that at this moment the career which this government is running, is among the most attractive objects to the civilized world? Do we deceive ourselves, or is it true that at this moment that love of liberty and that understanding of its true principles which are flying over the whole earth, as on the wings of all the winds, are really and truly of American origin?
At the period of the birth of
Gentlemen, the spirit of human liberty and of free
government, nurtured and grown into strength and beauty in
Gentlemen, for the earth which we inhabit, and the whole circle of the sun, for all the unborn races of mankind, we seem to hold in our hands, for their weal or woe, the fate of this experiment. If we fail, who shall venture the repetition? If our example shall prove to be one, not of encouragement, but of terror, not fit to be imitated, but fit only to be shunned, where else shall the world look for free models. If this great Western Sun be struck out of the firmament, at what other fountain shall the lamp of liberty hereafter be lighted? What other orb shall emit a ray to glimmer, even, on the darkness of the world?
Gentlemen, there is no danger of our overrating or overstating the important part which we are now acting in human affairs. It should not flatter our personal self-respect, but it should reanimate our patriotic virtues, and inspire us with a deeper and more solemn sense, both of our privileges and of our duties. We cannot wish better for our country, nor for the world, than that the same spirit which influenced Washington may influence all who succeed him; and that the same blessing from above, which attended his efforts, may also attend theirs.
The principles of
In the first place, all his measures were right in intent. He stated the whole basis of his own great character, when he told the country, in the homely phrase of the proverb, that honesty is the best policy. One of the most striking things ever said of him is, that he changed mankind's ideas of political greatness. To commanding talents, and to success, the common elements of such greatness, he added a disregard of self, a spotlessness of motive, a steady submission to every public and private duty, which threw far into the shade the whole crowd of vulgar great. The object of his regard was the whole country. No part of it was enough to fill his enlarged patriotism. His love of glory, so far as that may be supposed to have influenced him at all, spurned everything short of general approbation. It would have been nothing to him, that his partisans or his favorites outnumbered, or outvoted, or outmanaged, or outclamored, those of other leaders. He had no favorites he rejected all partisanship; and, acting honestly for the universal good, he deserved what he has so richly enjoyed, the universal love.
His principle, it was, to act right, and to trust the people
for support; his principle, it was, not to follow the lead of sinister and
selfish ends, nor to rely on the little arts of party delusion to obtain public
sanction for such a course. Born for his country and for the world, he did not
give up to party what was meant for mankind. The consequence is, that his fame
is as durable as his principles, as lasting as truth and virtue themselves.
While the hundreds whom party excitement, and temporary circumstances, and
casual combinations, have raised into transient notoriety, sink again, like
thin bubbles, bursting and dissolving into the great ocean,
The maxims upon which
He regarded other nations only as they stood in political relations to us. With their internal affairs, their political parties and dissensions, he scrupulously abstained from all interference; and, on the other hand, he spiritedly repelled all such interference by others with us or our concerns. His sternest rebuke the most indignant measure of his whole administration was aimed against such an attempted interference. He felt it as an attempt to wound the national honor, and resented it accordingly.
The reiterated admonitions in his Farewell Address show his deep fears that foreign influence would insinuate itself into our counsels through the channels of domestic dissension, and obtain a sympathy with our own temporary parties. Against all such dangers, he most earnestly entreats the country to guard itself. He appeals to its patriotism, to its self-respect, to its own honor, to every consideration connected with its welfare and happiness, to resist, at the very beginning, all tendencies toward such connection of foreign interests with our own affairs. With a tone of earnestness nowhere else found, even in his last affectionate farewell advice to his countrymen, he says, Against the insidious wiles of foreign influence, (I conjure you to believe me, fellow-citizens,) the jealousy of a free people ought to be constantly awake; since history and experience prove that foreign influence is one of the most baneful foes of republican government.
Lastly, on the subject of foreign relations,
The domestic policy of
Among his earliest and most important duties was the organization of the government itself, the choice of his confidential advisers, and the various appointments to office. This duty, so important and delicate, when a whole government was to be organized, and all its offices for the first time filled, was yet not difficult to him; for he had no sinister ends to accomplish, no clamorous partisans to gratify, no pledges to redeem, no object to be regarded but simply the public good. It was a plain, straightforward matter a mere honest choice of good men for the public service.
His own singleness of purpose, his disinterested patriotism, were evinced by the selection of his first cabinet, and by the manner in which he filled the courts of justice, and other places of high trust He sought for men fit for offices; not for offices which might suit men. Above personal considerations, above local considerations, above party considerations, he felt that he could only discharge the sacred trust which the country had placed in his hands, by a diligent inquiry after real merit, and a conscientious preference of virtue and talent. The whole country was die field of his selection. He explored that whole field, looking wily for whatever it contained most worthy and distinguished. He was, indeed, most successful, and he deserved success for the purity of his motives, the liberality of his sentiments, and his enlarged and manly policy.
It should not be omitted, gentlemen, even in this slight reference to the general measures and general principles of the first president, that he saw and felt the full value and importance of the judicial department of the government. An upright and able administration of the laws he held to be alike indispensable to private happiness and public liberty. The temple of justice, in his judgment, was a sacred place, and he would profane and pollute it who should call any to minister in it, not spotless in character, not incorruptible in integrity, not competent by talent and learning, not a fit object of unhesitating trust.
Among other admonitions,
Finally, gentlemen, there was in the breast of
The extreme solicitude for the preservation of the Union, at all times manifested by him, shows not only the opinion he entertained of its importance, but his clear perception of those causes which were likely to spring up to endanger it, and which, if once they should overthrow the present system, would leave little hope of any future beneficial reunion. Of all the presumptions indulged by presumptuous man, that is one of the rashest which looks for repeated and favorable opportunities for the deliberate establishment of a united government over distinct and widely extended communities. Such a thing has happened once in human affairs, and 'but once; the event stands out as a prominent exception to all ordinary history; and unless we suppose ourselves running into an age of miracles, we may not expect its repetition.
Other misfortunes may be borne, or their effects overcome.
If disastrous war should sweep our commerce from the ocean, another generation
may renew it; if it exhaust our treasury, future
industry may replenish it; if it desolate and lay waste our fields, still,
under a new cultivation, they will grow green again, and ripen to future
harvests. It were but a trifle even if the walls of
yonder capitol were to crumble, if its lofty pillars should fall, and its
gorgeous decorations be all covered by the dust of the valley. All these might
be rebuilt. But who shall reconstruct the fabric of demolished government? Who
shall rear again the well proportioned columns of
constitutional liberty? Who shall frame together the skillful architecture
which unites national sovereignty with state rights, individual security, and
public prosperity? No, gentlemen, if these columns fall, they will be raised
not again. Like the Coliseum and the Parthenon, they will be destined to a
mournful, a melancholy immortality. Bitterer tears, however, will flow over
them, than were ever shed over the monuments of Roman or Grecian art; for they
will be the remnants of a more glorious edifice than
But, gentlemen, let us hope for better
things. Let us trust in that gracious Being who has hitherto held our country
as in the hollow of his hand. Let us trust to the virtue and the intelligence
of the people, and to the efficacy of religious obligation. Let us trust to the
Gentlemen, I propose The Memory of George Washington.
Source: The Speeches of Daniel Webster and Master-Pieces, by Rev. B. F. Tefft, p 247.