“The very first day of Mr. Webster’s arrival and taking his seat in the Senate,” Judge Story writes to Mr. Ticknor, “there was a process bill on its third reading, filled, as he thought, with inconvenient and mischievous provisions. He made, in a modest undertone, some inquiries, and, upon an answer being given, he expressed in a few words his doubts and fears. Immediately Mr. Tazewell from Virginia broke out upon him in a speech of two hours. Mr. Webster then moved an adjournment, and on the next day delivered a most masterly speech in reply, expounding the whole operation of the intended act in the clearest manner, so that a recommitment was carried almost without an effort. It was a triumph of the most gratifying nature, and taught his opponents the danger of provoking a trial of his strength, even when he was overwhelmed by calamity. In the labors of the court he has found it difficult to work himself up to high efforts; but occasionally he comes out with all his powers, and when he does, it is sure to attract a brilliant audience.”
It would be impossible to give a better picture than that presented by Judge Story of Mr. Webster’s appearance and conduct in the month immediately following the death of his wife. We can see how his talents, excited by the conflicts of the Senate and the court, struggled, sometimes successfully, sometimes in vain, with the sense of loss and sorrow which oppressed him.
He did not again come prominently forward in the Senate until the end of April, when he roused himself to prevent injustice. The bill for the relief of the surviving officers of the Revolution seemed on the point of being lost. The object of the measure appealed to Mr. Webster’s love for the past, to his imagination, and his patriotism. He entered into the debate, delivered the fine and dignified speech which is preserved in his works, and saved the bill.
A fortnight after this he made his famous speech on the tariff of 1828, a bill making extensive changes in the rates of duties imposed in 1816 and 1824. This speech marks an important change in Mr. Webster’s views and in his course as a statesman. He now gave up his position as the ablest opponent in the country of the protective policy, and went over to the support of the tariff and the “American system” of Mr. Clay. This change, in every way of great importance, subjected Mr. Webster to severe criticism both then and subsequently. It is, therefore, necessary to examine briefly his previous utterances on this question in order to reach a correct understanding of his motives in taking this important step and to appreciate his reasons for the adoption of a policy with which, after the year 1828, he was so closely identified.