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Remembering Daniel Webster in Portsmouth

Young_Daniel_WebsterNH HISTORY

Dear- Sir, —In answer to your request that I would furnish you with my reminiscences of Mr. Webster, I would say that I was more or less intimately acquainted with him from 1809 to the time of his death. (Continued below)

EDITOR’S NOTE: We stumbled onto this letter from an early colleague of Daniel Webster from his days in the NH House before he hit national prominence. The author is from Epping, NH and writing to George Ticknor the Boston publisher. It comes from the huge Writings and Speeches of Daniel Webster in 18 volumes edited by his son Fletcher Webster. The note includes an interesting comparison between Webster and local attorney Jeremiah Mason. -- JDR

MORE ON Webster in Portsmouth

1810 to 1812. The first notice which I find of Mr. Webster, in my journal, is under date of August, 1810: "Webster is a young man under thirty. As a speaker merely be is perhaps the best at the bar. His language is correct, his gestures good; and his delivery slow, articulate, and distinct. He excels in the statement of facts; but he is not thought to be a deep read lawyer. His manners are not pleasing — being haughty, cold, and overbearing."

Under date of August 12th, 1812, occurs the following notice. "The Judges of the Common Pleas are very unpopular. Daniel Webster said to me this afternoon ' They are too contemptible to be noticed — ignorant, indolent, vain. I trust them as they deserve, that is, as if they had no authority, and deserved no respect.' " These were a part of the same Judges whom, a year later, he and his political associates removed from office by an act which was, by many, considered unconstitutional, and which till its repeal in 1816, was one of the chief subjects of dispute between the two parties in New Hampshire. "

September 8th, 1812, Charles Cutts who was here a few days since informed me that at the meetings of the Washington Benevolent Society of Portsmouth, Daniel Webster regularly delivers political lectures to the Society; and that he is getting a great influence there."

This was during the war; Portsmouth was a Republican town, and Webster's exertions were indefatigable in bringing it over to his way of thinking. I may add here as a sample of the way in which his opponents spoke of him, that Dr. Goddard, who, next to Governor Langdon, was the leading Republican of Portsmouth, said to me about this time " Webster has talent equal to any office; but he is as malignant as Robespierre, and not less tyrannical."

Party feeling was at this time very strong and virulent; and in these party strifes, Mr. Webster's blows fell too fast and heavy not to inspire equal dread and resentment in his opponents. It must be admitted, too, that his manner at this time was like Wolsey's " lofty and sour to them that loved him not."

Judge Smith told me at the time that when he was first proposed for this office he declined it on the ground that he was poor and must attend to his business as a lawyer. This was at Exeter. The next day Judge Smith received a letter from him dated at N. Stratham, on his way down to Portsmouth, saying that on the whole he should not decline a seat if elected. " As to the law," he added, "I must attend to that too — but honor after all is worth more than money."

"The imprudent dog that he is !" said Smith afterwards, in relating the story," he does not know the value of money, and never will. No matter; he was born for something better than hoarding moneybags"

I afterwards heard at Washington a good story illustrative of his character in this respect. He and Mr. Jeremiah Mason carried their families with them; and boarding together kept a carriage between them. It was necessary to erect a small building to keep the carriage in; and at the close of the session, the landlord told Mr. Webster that the shed must be removed, as the room was wanted for other purposes in the summer.

"Well" said Webster, "remove it when you please. It is of no further use to us. If it is worth anything to you you are welcome to it." The landlord overwhelmed him with thanks for his liberality, and was about leaving the room, when it occurred to Mr. Webster that the building belonged in part to Mr. Mason. He therefore told the man to take Mr. Mason's orders on the subject.

"You may take down the shed," said the latter, "and sell the materials either at auction or private sale, and account to me for the proceeds. But this is no time to sell it to advantage, when everybody is selling out, at the close of the session. Wait awhile, till it will bring a fair price; and I will settle with you for it, next winter."

Here was a fair sample of Webster's carelessness and Mason's prudence; of Webster's liberality, and Mason's thrift. Webster thought nothing of a few old joists and boards, which having served his purpose, were to be thrown aside as worthless. Mason not only thought of what they were worth but when they could be sold to the best advantage. The anecdote is characteristic of the men; the one careless or indifferent in money matters; the other not mean or sordid but aware of his rights and attentive to his interests.

Mr. Webster removed to Boston in 1816; and I saw little of him for several years, though hearing frequently of the reputation he was acquiring, and his high standing at the bar. 

Excerpted from Reminiscences of Daniel Webster
By William Plumer to George Ticknor
From Epping, NH, April 2, 1863
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