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Great Man Eloquent
To an emotional people, it is not the senator, not the corporation lawyer, not the secretary of state, but the poet’s Daniel Webster who still lives
December 1957 | Volume 9, Issue 1
What the rigid logicians tend to overlook is that emotionalism as a political instrument is not monolithic. It is divided into separate and antipodal branches, one of which relies on love, the other on hate as its chief agency. Hope is subsidiary to love as fear is to hate. The artists, as distinguished from the scientists, in government can be classified accordingly. If one relies on the emotions of hate and fear of the enemy, it is safe to classify him with Alcibiades; but if he relies on love of country and hope for the future, there you have Pericles.
There is not the slightest doubt on which side of the line Daniel Webster’s appeal to the emotions lay. He spoke as an American. He spoke for the future. He was extravagant, yes; he was turgid and bombastic, if you will. But his worst extravagance and bombast were never designed to foment hatred and fear, but always to stimulate love and pride. Therefore the people, greatly needing both, have looked with an indulgent eye on his faults and frailties and, because he spurred them in the direction of greatness, deemed him, and still deem him, a great man.
True, the eye with which they have regarded him is not only indulgent, but a little sardonic. When his last words were reported, folklore quickly invented an explanation of the utterance. People said that the physician remarked to an attendant when the end was obviously at hand, “If he is still living in an hour, give him brandy,” whereupon Daniel Webster with his dying breath murmured, “I still live.”
Never mind. Whom the American people love, they laugh at. It has always been so, and it will be so until the character of the nation is changed. If his spirit could return to observe what has come of the nation that he saved, it is easy to believe that it would be less impressed by the miraculous changes that have taken place than by the lack of any change in the common people’s love of and pride in their country. And seeing this lack of change the disembodied spirit could repeat, “I still live.”