THE STRUGGLE WITH JACKSON AND THE RISE OF THE WHIG PARTY.
In the year preceding the delivery of his great speech Mr. Webster had lost his brother Ezekiel by sudden death, and he had married for his second wife Miss Leroy of New York. The former event was a terrible grief to him, and taken in conjunction with the latter seemed to make a complete break with the past, and with its struggles and privations, its joys and successes. The slender girl whom he had married in Salisbury church and the beloved brother were both gone, and with them went those years of youth in which,—
had sighed deep, laughed free,
Starved, feasted, despaired, been happy.”
One cannot come to this dividing line in Mr. Webster’s life without regret. There was enough of brilliant achievement and substantial success in what had gone before to satisfy any man, and it had been honest, simple, and unaffected. A wider fame and a greater name lay before him, but with them came also ugly scandals, bitter personal attacks, an ambition which warped his nature, and finally a terrible mistake. One feels inclined to say of these later years, with the Roman lover:—
“Shut them in
With their triumphs and their glories and the rest,
Love is best.”
The home changed first, and then the public career. The reply which, as John Quincy Adams said, “utterly demolished the fabric of Hayne’s speech and left scarcely a wreck to be seen,” went straight home to the people of the North. It gave eloquent expression to the strong but undefined feeling in the popular mind. It found its way into every house and was read everywhere; it took its place in the school books, to be repeated by shrill boy voices, and became part of the literature and of the intellectual life of the country. In those solemn sentences men read the description of what the United States had come to be under the Constitution, and what American nationality meant in 1830. The leaders of the young war party in 1812 were the first to arouse the national sentiment, but no one struck the chord with such a master hand as Mr. Webster, or drew forth such long and deep vibrations. There is no single utterance in our history which has done so much by mere force of words to strengthen the love of nationality and implant it deeply in the popular heart, as the reply to Hayne.
Before the delivery of that speech Mr. Webster was a distinguished statesman, but the day after he awoke to a national fame which made all his other triumphs pale. Such fame brought with it, of course, as it always does in this country, talk of the presidency. The reply to Hayne made Mr. Webster a presidential candidate, and from that moment he was never free from the gnawing, haunting ambition to win the grand prize of American public life. There was a new force in his career, and in all the years to come the influence of that force must be reckoned and remembered.