By Charles W. Brewster
Editors Note: C.W. Brewster was a Portsmouth columnist in the mid-1800's. This article includes his opinions and may not reflect current research or current values.
See Also: Daniel Webster's Lost Portsmouth
DANIEL WEBSTER, in 1807, became a resident of Portsmouth, and looking upon this as his future location, he arranged for those domestic relations which make a residence a home; and in June 1808, was married to the tenderly beloved Grace Fletcher, who remained his partner for nineteen years. They occupied first the house now owned by Robert Gray in Vaughan street. In the fire of 1813, they were residents of a house on Pleasant street, in front of Richard Jenness's mansion. This house was burnt, and Mr. Webster suffered a heavy loss. He afterwards occupied the house next north of the residence of Charles H. Ladd, on High street. Mr. Webster's office was on the west side of Market street, over the store now occupied by Mr. Stavers.
Mr. Webster came not among us as a young lawyer.-- Though but twenty-five years of age, his noble form, his manly boldness and his maturity of mind, readily commanded the attention and respect of more advanced years. His influence was not only felt in the court-room, but as a citizen he was ever looked to for counsel; and to the calls of philanthropy no ear was ever more open or hand more free. Here were developed those peculiar qualifications which afterwards exhibited him as the statesman who would do honor to any nation. It was while residing here that his own State placed him in the council of the nation; and at a time, too, when the elements of politics were burning more fiercely than they have since. The confidence reposed in him was found not to be misplaced, and after serving one term he was re-elected. In 1816, after a residence in Portsmouth of nine years, he removed to Boston. After Mr. Webster left Portsmouth he visited this place several times, but only once had he a public reception. That was given on the 17th of May, 1844. It was on the occasion of the return of the New Hampshire delegates from the Baltimore Convention which nominated Henry Clay for the Presidency. The reception was given in Jefferson Hall. Here he met those of his old friends who had survived, and the greeting was cordial with the citizens of his former place of residence.
Twenty-eight years form a portion of time in which one generation gives place to another-the boy becomes the mančand manhood retires into the shade of years. His return at that period seemed to him almost a realization of Irving's fine conception of the change of scene which meets the eyes of one who had slept through an age. As the concourse gathered around him, he could see here and there a countenance with which he was once familiar-though time had furrowed the full cheek and age had blanched the dark locks upon which he used to look. This number, however, was so comparatively small, that he could not address them as his audience. "Your fathers-were my associates and my friends," was the expression prompted by the scene. His speech on that occasion was marked with much feeling and patriotic sentiment. It waa delivered in that slow, distinct and impresive manner, which enabled every one to understand and remember. Addressing the presiding officer of the meeting, (Hon. I. Bartlett,) he said:
"I hardly know whether personal or political friends in any other part of the country, could at this time have induced me, even briefly, to address them in a public manner. I have deemed it a duty incumbent on me to decline addressing public assemblies; for the business uf popular addresses seems to devolve more justly upon younger men who are coming forward among us, and on whom the responsibility of sustaining the purity of our political institutions must rest. Nevertheless, visiting as I do the town in which I spent many years of the most active portion of my life, when your fathers, occupying the places you now fill, were my associates and friends, I should do injustice to my feelings not to respond to the call that has now been made."
Mr. Webster here went into an extensive discussion of the politics of the day. He closed his address with this remark:
"The future is not within our power-no one knows what is assigned to his lot: human life is uncertain, human destiny is unknown-but we have a country which will be spared for future generations: human life is short, but institutions of government should be made to endure: the creatures of to-day may be of but small importance but this constitution of the greatest Republic in the world, extending over so vast a territory, from its effects on the prosperity and happiness of untold generations, has a value incalculable. However it may happen to us-however it may be with the events which are beyond our control-let us see to it that the basis of our free institutions, so long as left in our keeping, is sacredly preserved."
Mr. Webster here sat down, amidst the most hearty cheering.
On the evening of the day, Mr. Webster met at the Cameneum those of his old townsmen, their wives, their sons, and their daughters, who wished a social introduction. Here he stood, not as the statesman or the politician, but as the citizen, the neighbor, the old townsman, who after a long absence hnd returned to greet his friends. The scene was one of touching interest. The house was well filled. Much of the life which animated the meeting could not number in years his absence. Here and there the bright visage which met his eye reminded him of his fond and beautiful daughter, the first here to greet him as a father, who though long reposing in the tomb, was never buried from his thoughts. Here, too, were some of the intimate associates of the bosom companion of his early life, and the associations which arose from this circumstance were not among the least vivid in his recollection. In the senate-chamber he could contend with and unquailingly overcome the most powerful opponent; but no truly great man is so powerful as to overcome the tender sympathies of the heart. In one portion of his short and feeling address he said,-"The nine years of the most active portion of my life spent here, are treasured in my heart with my dearest, my most enduring recollections." It required not words to interpret what was passing in his mind; tears trickled down his cheek and checked his utterance. The imagination of the audience needed not much effort to see passing before him the long procession of his old associates in his various relations in society, who were now resuscitated. After a momentary pause, he went on, expressing in the most feeling manner his warm attachment to the institutions of his native State, and his gratitude for the good feelings which had ever been manifested toward him by our citizens.
After a social hour was spent in receiving and reciprocating the courtesies of those present, Mr. Webster retired amidst the cheers of the audience. This was Mr. Webster's last visit to Portsmouth; and the recollection of it should be preserved.
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