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After deliberate examination, with the aid of the best lights I could obtain, I was well satisfied that our country, under all the circumstances of the case, had a right to take, and was bound in duty and interest to take a neutral position. Having taken it, I determined, as far as should depend upon me, to maintain it with moderation, perseverance, and firmness.
The considerations which respect the right to hold this conduct, it is not necessary on this occasion to detail. I will only observe, that, according to my understanding of the matter, that right, so far from being denied by any of the belligerant powers, has been virtually admitted by all.
The duty of holding a neutral conduct may be inferred, without any thing more, from the obligation which justice and humanity impose on every nation, in cases in which it is free to act, to maintain inviolate the relations of peace and amity towards other nations.
The inducements of interest, for observing that conduct, will best be referred to your own reflections and experience. With me a predominant motive has been to endeavour to gain time to our country to settle and mature its yet recent institutions, and to progress, without interruption, to that degree of strength and consistency, which is necessary to give it, humanly speaking, the command of its own fortunes.
Though in reviewing the incidents of my administration, I am unconscious of intentional error; I am nevertheless too sensible of my defects, not to think it probable that I may have committed many errors. Whatever they may be, I fervently beseech the Almighty to avert or mitigate the evils to which they may tend. I shall also carry with me the hope that my country will never cease to view them with indulgence; and that, after forty-five years of my life, dedicated to its service, with an upright zeal,
the faults of incompetent abilities will be consigned to oblivion, as myself must soon be to the mansions of rest.
Relying on its kindness in this as in other things, and actuated by that fervent love towards it which is so natural to a man, who views in it the native soil of himself and his progenitors for several generations; I anticipate, with pleasing expectation, that retreat, in which I promise myself to realize, without alloy, the sweet enjoyment of partaking, in the midst of my fellow citizens, the benign influence of good laws under a free government—the ever favourite object of my heart, and the happy reward, as I trust, of our mutual cares, labours, and dangers.
A DISCOURSE DELIVERED AT PLYMOUTH, DECEMBER
In commemoration of the first settlement of New
England. By DANIEL WEBSTER. We have come to this Rock, to record here our homage for our Pilgrim Fathers, our sympathy in their sufferings, our gratitude for their labours, our admiration of their virtues, our veneration for their piety, and our attachment to those principles of civil and religious liberty, which they encountered the dangers of the ocean, the storms of heaven, the violence of savages, disease, exile, and famine, to enjoy and to establish. And we would leave here, also, for the generations, which are rising up rapidly to fill our places, some proof that we have endeavoured to transmit the great inheritance unimpaired: that in our estimate of public principles and private virtue, in our veneration of religion and piety, in our
devotion to civil and religious liberty, in our regard to whatever advances human knowledge, or improves human happiness, we are not altogether unworthy of our origin. There is a local feeling connected with this occasion, too strong to be resisted; a sort of genius of the place, which inspires and awes us. We feel that we are on the spot, where the first scene of our history was laid ; where the hearths and altars of New England were first placed; where christianity, and civilization, and letters, made their first lodgment, in a vast extent of country, covered with a wilderness, and peopled by roving barbarians. We are here, at the season of the year at which the event took place. The imagination irresistibly and rapidly draws around us the principal features and the leading characters in the original scene. We cast our eyes abroad on the ocean, and we see where the little bark, with the interesting groupe upon its deck, made its slow progress to the shore. We look around us, and behold the hills and promontories, where the anxious eyes of our fathers first saw the places of habitation and of rest. We feel the cold which benumbed, and listen to the winds which pierced them. Beneath us is the Rock on which New England received the feet of the Pilgrims. We seem even to behold them, as they struggle with the elements, and with toilsome efforts, gain the shore. We listen to the chiefs in council; we see the unexampled exhibition of female fortitude and resignation; we lear the whisperings of youthful impatience, and we see, what a painter of our own has also represented by his pencil, chilled and shivering childhood houseless, but for a mother's arms. couchless, but for a mother's breast till our OWTI blood almost freezes. The mild dignity of Carver and of Bradford; the decisive and soldier-like air and manner of Standish; the devout Brewster; the enterprising Allerton; the general firmness and thoughtfulness of the whole band; their conscious
joy for dangers escaped ; their deep solicitude about dangers to come; their trust in heaven; their high religious faith, full of confidence and anticipation : all these seem to belong to the place, and to be present upon the occasion, to fill us with reverence and admiration.
They came hither from a land, to which they were never to return. Hither they had brought, and here they were to fix, their hopes, their attachments, and their objects. Some natural tears they shed, as they left the pleasant abodes of their fathers, and some emotions they suppressed, when the white cliffs of their native country, now seen for the last time, grew dim to their sight. They were acting, however, upon a resolution not to be changed. With whatever stifled regrets, with whatever occasional hesitation, with whatever appalling apprehensions, which might sometimes arise with force to shake the firmest purpose, they had yet committed themselves to heaven and the elements; and a thousand leagues of water were soon interposed to separate them forever from the region which gave them birth. A new existence awaited them here; and when they saw these shores, rough, cold, barbarous, and barren as then they were, they beheld their country. That mixed and strong feeling, which we call love of country, and which is, in general, never extinguished in the heart of man, grasped and embraced its proper object here. Whatever constitutes country, except the earth and the sun, all the moral causes of affection and attachment, which operate upon the heart, they had brought with them to their new abode. Here were now their families and their friends, their homes and their property. Before they reached the shore, they had established the elements of a social system, and at a much earlier
period had settled their forms of religious worship. At the moment of their landing, therefore, they possessed institutions of government and institutions of religion; and friends and families, and social and religious institutions, established by consent, founded on choice and preference, how nearly do these fill up our whole idea of country! The morning, that beamed on the first night of their repose, saw the Pilgrims already established in their country. There were political institutions, and civil liberty, and religious worship. Poetry has fancied nothing, in the wanderings of heroes, so distinct and characteristic. Here was man, indeed, unprotected, and unprovided for, on the shore of a rude and fearful wilderness; but it was politic, intelligent, and educated map. Every thing was civilized, but the physical world. Institutions, containing in substance all that ages had done for human government, were established in a forest. Cultivated mind was to act on uncultipated nature; and, more than all, a government and a country were to commence, with the very
first foundations laid under the divine light of the christian religion. Happy auspices of a happy futurity ! Who would wish that his country's existence had otherwise begun? Who would desire the power of going back to the ages of fable? Who would wish for other emblazoning of his country's heraldry, or other ornaments of her genealogy, than to be able to say, that her first existence was with intelligence, her first breath the inspirations of liberty, her first principle the truth of divine religion?
Having detained you so long with these observations, I must yet advert to another most interesting topic, the Free Schools. In this particular, NewEngland may be allowed to claim, I think, a merit of a peculiar character. She early adopted and has