Famous Americans of Recent Times eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 523 pages of information about Famous Americans of Recent Times.
of death, and especially when the departed was a person who influenced his generation long and powerfully.  Usually it is only the last of these questions which mortals can answer with any certainty; but from the answer to that one we infer the answers to all the others.  As it is only the wise who learn, so it is only the good who improve.  When we see a man gaining upon his faults as he advances in life, when we find him more self-contained and cheerful, more learned and inquisitive, more just and considerate, more single-eyed and noble in his aims, at fifty than he was at forty, and at seventy than he was at fifty, we have the best reason perceptible by human eyes for concluding that he has been governed by right principles and good feelings.  We have a right to pronounce such a person good, and he is justified in believing us.

The three men most distinguished in public life during the last forty years in the United States were Henry Clay, John C. Calhoun, and Daniel Webster.  Henry Clay improved as he grew old.  He was a venerable, serene, and virtuous old man.  The impetuosity, restlessness, ambition, and love of display, and the detrimental habits of his earlier years, gave place to tranquillity, temperance, moderation, and a patriotism without the alloy of personal objects.  Disappointment had chastened, not soured him.  Public life enlarged, not narrowed him.  The city of Washington purified, not corrupted him.  He came there a gambler, a drinker, a profuse consumer of tobacco, and a turner of night into day.  He overcame the worst of those habits very early in his residence at the capital.  He came to Washington to exhibit his talents, he remained there to serve his country; nor of his country did he ever think the less, or serve her less zealously, because she denied him the honor he coveted for thirty years.  We cannot say this of Calhoun.  He degenerated frightfully during the last twenty years of his life.  His energy degenerated into intensity, and his patriotism narrowed into sectionalism.  He became unteachable, incapable of considering an opinion opposite to his own, or even a fact that did not favor it.  Exempt by his bodily constitution from all temptation to physical excesses, his body was worn out by the intense, unhealthy working of his mind.  False opinions falsely held and intolerantly maintained were the debauchery that sharpened the lines of his face, and converted his voice into a bark.  Peace, health, and growth early became impossible to him, for there was a canker in the heart of the man.  His once not dishonorable desire of the Presidency became at last an infuriate lust after it, which his natural sincerity compelled him to reveal even while wrathfully denying it.  He considered that he had been defrauded of the prize, and he had some reason for thinking so.  Some men avenge their wrongs by the pistol, others by invective; but the only weapons which this man could wield were abstract propositions.  From the hills of South Carolina he hurled paradoxes at General Jackson, and appealed from the dicta of Mrs. Eaton’s drawing-room to a hair-splitting theory of States’ Rights.  Fifteen hundred thousand armed men have since sprung up from those harmless-looking dragon’s teeth, so recklessly sown in the hot Southern soil.

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Famous Americans of Recent Times from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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