|Daniel Webster in 1835, portrait by Francis Alexander, courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery.|
An 18-year-old country boy studying at Dartmouth College in 1800 was asked to give a speech at the Hanover, New Hampshire, Independence Day ceremonies. His words and his passionate delivery rocked the crowd, and the speech began his national career of service to the nation and summoning vivid language and performance, to in turn call people to action. Here is a bit of Daniel Webster's first public speech:
It becomes us, on whom the defence of our country will ere long devolve, this day, most seriously to reflect on the duties incumbent upon us. Our ancestors bravely snatched expiring liberty from the grasp of Britain, whose touch is poison... Shall we, their descendants, now basely disgrace our lineage, and pusillanimously disclaim the legacy bequeathed to us? Shall we pronounce the sad valediction to freedom, and immolate liberty on the altars our fathers have raised to her?
My second book in the Winds of Freedom series, This Ardent Flame, reveals how Vermonters took on this challenge after Webster betrayed their abolitionist goals, in forging the Compromise of 1850. It's fair to say that his legal maneuvering that year cost America dearly, in delaying the end of chattel slavery in the nation.
But the impact of giving speeches on the Fourth of July has been embraced by many another American leader. I reflect today on Abraham Lincoln's proclamation of war on behalf of the Union of American states -- which he gave on April 16, 1861, after Fort Sumter was seized by the Confederacy forces. Knowing the strands among the states were ever fragile, Lincoln deliberately called Congress to gather on July 4 to endorse his action.
In hindsight, it can feel like an intolerable delay, from April 16 to July 4. But Lincoln, portrayed by historian Doris Kearns Goodwin as a master in politics (giving, giving, and giving, until he'd call all to gather and get a task done), calculated that the patriotism of the Fourth of July would move the fragmented Congress to stand together. And he was exactly right.
The Ardent Flame was scheduled for autumn publication this year, but the COVID-19 pandemic has delayed the release until June 2021. Even so, I'm already grappling with book 3, Kindred Hearts, set in 1856 in "North Upton" (a pen name for North Danville, Vermont). In every page, in every shift of plot and character, is my own awareness that the nation was a mere five years from the war that would devastate it, far beyond any initial guesses. And I am walking with my protagonists, especially the teenagers, as they wake up to the cost of having deferred the abolition of slavery.
We, like they, are challenged to take action to address the damage done. It's a good thing to ponder on this 246th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. May God bless our efforts to unite this land and people in liberty and justice for all.
|This portrait by Joseph Alexander Ames, believed to also be of Webster, hangs a mere 6 miles from my writing desk, at the St. Johnsbury Athenaeum.|