Here’s a revelation: that melody, my favorite of the Easter hymns, is the work of Sir Arthur Sullivan. Yes, that Sullivan.
1. Oh, no! Not the National Review too! We are indeed surrounded by idiots…in this story about how Hispanic activists are pushing to keep former President Barack Obama’s name off a school building in Waukegan, Illinois because, you see, he enforced the law by deporting illegal immigrants—can’t have THAT!—the National Review writes, “The Waukegan Board of Education looks to rename two of its schools, Thomas Jefferson Middle School and Daniel Webster Middle School. The board formed renaming committees for the schools named after Jefferson, who owned slaves, and Webster, who supported slavery.”
This is how the American public gets stupid. Of course it’s beyond idiotic not to name a school after the man whose vision of a new nation and whose brilliant mission statement made our existence possible, not to mention the fact that his words planted the seeds that resulted in slavery’s eventual end in North America. Letting that pass for the nonce, however, Daniel Webster, the New England lawyer, U.S. Senator and member of multiple cabinets in the 19th Century did not “support slavery,” and saying he did is historical libel.
To the contrary, Webster was a lifetime opponent of slavery. In an 1837 speech he called slavery a “great moral, social, and political evil,” adding that he would vote against “any thing that shall extend the slavery of the African race on this continent, or add other slaveholding states to the Union.”
Webster, however, also did not want to see a civil war, or to have the Southern states leave the union over the slavery question. His most famous quote, “Liberty and Union, now and for ever, one and inseparable!” expressed his priorities. Webster was one of many patriots and brilliant figures of the time desperately seeking a way to keep the nation together while slavery was stressing its bonds. He supported several compromises to that end, including the much-criticized Compromise of 1850, which included the reviled Fugitive Slave Act. Those who condemn Webster now for his best efforts to avert war and mass secession are engaging in the worst kind of hindsight bias. What would be their brilliant solution to the situation faced by Senators in the 30 years before the Civil War?
My analysis has always been that Webster, Henry Clay and others successfully delayed the inevitable schism over slavery until, by good fortune or, as Abe liked to say, “providence,” got a President in office who had the guts and the skill to deal with the dilemma boldly and successfully. If the South had seceded under any of the Presidents after Jackson and before Lincoln, we would have two Americas on this continent today—or maybe just one, enslaved by Nazi Germany.
Daniel Webster did NOT “support slavery.” Show some damn respect.