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national mind, the course of legislative policy and judicial decision, the customs of the government, will in practice more or less affect the received meaning of the Constitution, and so become a part of the public law.
On the public men of this age, therefore, rests a responsibility of no ordinary kind. To the friends of rational liberty and popular happiness they cannot be regarded but as objects of deep and singular interest. Their course is all important to the State. The productions of such of them as incorporate their opinions and spirit, with the national literature and national politics, may be among the richest and best gifts of Providence to the land. The results of great powers and large experience in public affairs, committed to writing in any country and any age, can never be disregarded or neglected; but the lessons of civil and political wisdom, and the tone of social and patriotic feeling, expressed in the works of our own distinguished Statesmen of the present generation, are more emphatically important. They may be regarded strictly “ above all price,” the most precious and most sacred of the national treasures; as they will probably constitute the nearest approximation to a conservative principle in our political institutions, which our state of society admits.
Of this character, in an eminent degree, the publishers of this volume look upon the works of Mr. Webster; and having obtained his consent to their undertaking, they now present it to the community, in strong confidence that they are doing important service to the country.
Among individuals who have grown into distinction altogether under the existing Federal Government, it is not invidious to say, that few or none are more conspicuous. Endowed by nature with extraordinary powers, he has cultivated them in a
manner and to an extent, most propitious for his own fame, and for the honor and benefit of his country; presenting at once a splendid model of the character developed under our republican institutions, and an illustrious instance of the power of character, thus developed, to preserve and improve those institutions.
To an extent of practice and a degree of success in the profession of the Law, rarely equalled in any age or country; to experience in public affairs as great as his years allow; to singular powers of conception, habits of discrimination, and the faculty of popular reasoning such as renders his eloquence peculiar, and gives it in a great degree a character of its own ; to large and liberal views of things ; to a surprising familiarity with the features of our own domestic and foreign policy since the foundation of the government, and with the course of other governments,-to all these traits of Mr. WEBSTER's character and history, we are, by a coincidence as uncommon as it is admirable, permitted to add the most pure and honorable principle, all the domestic and social virtues, containing in themselves the only certain pledges of public good faith and love of country, and consecrating the man to the affections of his age and of posterity.
We look upon it as eminently fortunate, for the country and for mankind, that such a man has not merely left the impress of his mind on the professional and official transactions in which he has been engaged, but has already found occasion to secure a perpetual memorial of many of his opinions upon our history, institutions, and principal objects of legislation and jurisprudence; as well as a monument of his patriotic and humane sentiments, in the literature of his country. Of other individuals of splendid genius, and powerful influence in their day, death has left an impalpable shadow only, with posterity. Mr. WEBSTER, should he be cut off without another opportunity of exerting his powers for the benefit of the public or his friends, cannot thus pass from the memory of men.
He would still be to be seen, in the true features of his character, in those productions of his mind, which are already before the public.
In conclusion we may be permitted to add, that several of the speeches and addresses contained in this volume, possessing a character of more permanent and general interest, have been translated and published in most of the languages of Europe. And we are not without authority for saying, that they have been regarded, by men of enlightened judgments and cultivated taste, as fine examples of forensic and popular eloquence. In the language of one of the most eminent statesmen of England, some of these speeches have been read in that country, with “no less admiration of their eloquence, than satisfaction in the soundness and ability of their general views.” This tribute, coming as it does from those who are not apt to over-estimate the intellectual power or literary taste of our country, may be regarded by us, with an honest pride, as evidence of uncommon merit. As such, we offer this volume of Mr. WEBSTER's .speeches to our countrymen, in full considence that they will sustain the high reputation they have acquired for political wisdom and true eloquence.