Talk:Daniel Webster

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Miracles, the Constitution, and anarchy[edit]

Quotation of interest[edit]

Here's the quote I'm interested in, attributed to Daniel Webster, 1851; let's call this Quote 1A:

"Hold on, my friends, to the Constitution and to the Republic for which it stands. Miracles do not cluster and what has happened once in 6,000 years, may not happen again. Hold on to the Constitution, for if the American Constitution should fail, there will be anarchy throughout the world." (Emphasis added on key word.)

Google results: more than 70,000 on "American Constitution should fail".

Searching on "Constitution should fail, there will be anarchy"[edit]

In trying to track down the source, I searched on "Constitution should fail, there will be anarchy", and got nine results. Only two provided anything resembling a source. There was a citation for the quote on p. 44 of Our Humanist Heritage, by George Frater. The other was from page 16 of Resurgent: How Constitutional Conservatism Can Save America, by Ken Blackwell and Ken Klukowski. The authors said there that "Our friend Congressman Trent Franks of Arizona is fond of quoting Daniel Webster in speeches. One line from Webster that Congressman Franks often uses bears repeating here:" [followed by the quote]. I note that Congressman Franks began his Congressional service in January 2003, and that the other seven results are from after 2002.

I bought the Frater book. Endnote 43 reads, in its entirety: "The works of Daniel Webster edited in 6 vol. by Edward Everett, Boston: Little, Brown and company, 1853." No page number is cited.

That book is in the public domain; various editions of it show up in Google Books. But there are no results from that book when searching on the phrase "Constitution should fail, there will be anarchy".

Searching on "Miracles do not cluster"[edit]

I did another Google Books search, on the phrase "Miracles do not cluster". That yielded very different results. From The Granite monthly: a magazine of literature, history and state ...: Volume 5 - Page 7, 1882, came this (let's call this Quote 2A):

"We live under the only government that ever existed, which was formed by the deliberate consultations of the people. Miracles do not cluster. That which has happened but once in six thousand years, cannot be expected to happen often. Such a government, once destroyed, would have a void to be filled, perhaps for centuries, with evolution and tumult, riot and despotism."

That text is from an 1805 address in Concord, Massachusetts, by Daniel Webster, which is printed in its entirety by the magazine. There were other older results that contained the wording in Quote 2 (1882, 1900, etc.). There is an 1882 book that has a variant of this, in an oration it says was given in 1802, but never before published) (let's call this Quote 2B; it is something that Webster did say):

"We live under the only government that ever existed, which was formed by the deliberate consultations of the people. Miracles do not cluster. That which has happened but once in six thousand years, cannot be expected to happen often. Such a government, once destroyed, would have a void to be filled, perhaps for centuries, with evolution and tumult, riot and despotism."

As for results of this search that matched Quote 1A, there were again no versions prior to 2003.

Then there was this, from a 1999 book (let's call this Quote 2B), which differs only slightly from Quote 2A:

"We live under the only government that ever existed which was formed by the unrestrained and deliberate consultations of the people. Miracles do not cluster. That which has happened but once in six thousand years, cannot be expected to happen often. Such a government, once gone, might leave a void, to be filled, for ages, with revolution and tumult, riot and despotism."

The cited source for this was "M. E. Bradford, Original Intentions: On the Making and Ratification of the United States Constitution (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1993), p. xiii" I also bought that book. It turns out that the quotation is by the writer of the Foreword to the book, historian Forrest McDonald, rather than by Bradford. (The actual wording in the book is "six thousand" rather than "6,000", but that's primarily a formatting issue.) McDonald cited no source for the quotation.

The search also turned up this, the same words as Quote 1A, just rearranged (let's call this Quote 1B):

"Miracles do not cluster. Hold on, my friends, to the Constitution and to the Republic for which it stands - what has happened once in 6,000 years may not happen again. Hold on to the Constitution, for if the American Constitution should fail, there will be anarchy throughout the world."

Searching on "Hold on, my friends, to the Constitution"[edit]

I then did a search on "Hold on, my friends, to the Constitution". That turns up in this 1898 publication of the Bay State Monthly, and the wording is this (let's call this Quote 3):

Hold on, my friends, to the Constitution of your country and the government established under it. Leave evils which exist in some parts of the country, but which are beyond your control, to the all-wise direction of an over-ruling Providence. Perform those duties which are present, plain and positive. Respect the laws of your country."

That's from an 1851 letter from Daniel Webster to Dr. William B. Gooch of West Dennis, Massachusetts, which the Bay State Monthly printed in its entirety. I find the same letter quoted at length, or in full, in a number of older sources, several from 1862. It's interesting to note that the phrase "the Republic for which it stands" (present in quotes 1A and 1B but missing in quotes 2 and 3) is best known from its presence in The Pledge of Allegiance, written in 1892 (about 40 years after Webster died).

1960s and 1970s[edit]

The search in the prior section also found some variants of Quote 1A, from the 1960s and 1970s, that were not present in other search results:

  • Quote 1C (from The Bar, the publication of the Alabama State Bar, 1968, p. 243): Hold on, my friends, to the Constitution and to the Republic for which it stands. Miracles do not cluster and what has happened once in six thousand years may not happen again. Hold on to the Constitution, for if the Constitution should fall, there will be anarchy throughout the world." (emphasis added for the word changed from Quote 1A; also, the word "American" does not appear in front of the final "Constitution")

Searching on "if the Constitution should fall" do not turn up any similar results, probably due to the missing word "American"), but searching on "shall fall" turns up some quotes from President Ronald Reagan, variants of 1A, here, here, and here, for example. A similar quote is in a speech by Edwin Meese, a longtime associate of Ronald Reagan, part of a 1986 book (pamphlet?), The Great debate: interpreting our written Constitution, page 56.

  • Quote 1D (from Savings and Loan Annual 1963, p. 56 published by the United States Savings and Loan League, United States League of Savings Associations): Hold on, my friends, to the Constitution and to the Republic for which it stands. Miracles do not happen. What has happened once in six thousand years may not happen again. Hold on to the Constitution, for if [remainder of quotation not available from Google Books]." (emphasis added regarding changed wording)
  • And from Daughters of the American Revolution magazine, 1975, p. 109 (difference is not apparent, but probably is "fall" rather than "fail": "Hold on, my friends, to the Constitution of America and to the Republic for which it stands — miracles do not cluster; what has happened once in six thousand years may never happen again. ..." (fuller quote unavailable from Google Books)

And something yet different[edit]

In the New York Times Book Review, 1965, Arno Press, p. 65, is this (Quote 4):

"Hold on, my friends, to the Constitution of the United States of America and to the Republic for which it stands. Nothing shall ruin the country if the people themselves will undertake its safety, and nothing can save it if they leave that safety in any hands but their own", which the author (reviewer of the book from which this text is quoted) precedes with "he believes by Daniel Webster". So the quotation was apparently considered spurious. I could not find any other results when searching on "Nothing shall ruin the country if the people themselves", so the second half of this (spurious) quotation never caught on. I mention it only because of the "to the Republic for which it stands" phrase.

Summary[edit]

Here is the bogus (and widely cited) quotation 1A again, broken into thirds:

"Hold on, my friends, to the Constitution and to the Republic for which it stands.
"Miracles do not cluster and what has happened once in 6,000 years, may not happen again."
"Hold on to the Constitution, for if the American Constitution should fail, there will be anarchy throughout the world."

For the first third, Webster said something similar, but it was "Constitution of your country", not just "Constitution", and he said "the government established under it", not "the Republic for which it stands".

Hold on, my friends, to the Constitution of your country and the government established under it.

For the middle third, Webster did roughly that, though in a totally different place and time, and he said "cannot be expected to happen often" rather than "may not happen again".

Miracles do not cluster. That which has happened but once in six thousand years, cannot be expected to happen often.

The final third of quotation 1A begins by repeating the theme of holding onto the Constitution (from the first third of the quotation), and then again is a modification of something Webster did say (though so different that one could argue that the final third was simply made up):

Such a government, once destroyed, would have a void to be filled, perhaps for centuries, with evolution and tumult, riot and despotism.

But it is notable that Webster was speaking of the 'government of the United States, while quotation 1A (in both the first and third sentences) says "Constitution". Moreover, "fall" (not too far from Webster's wording, which was "destroyed") is changed to "fail", which may seem trivial, but is not - the Constitution might be seen to "fail", for example, if its original meanings (in the opinion of some people, at least) were no longer followed.

Webster was speaking, of course, about the threatening war between the North and South over tariffs, the expansion of slavery, and states rights in general, and he foresaw "centuries, with evolution and tumult, riot and despotism", should the United States cease to be united. In Webster's genuine quotation, it is not clear if this outcome would pertain only to the United States (that is, to most of North America), while the bogus quotation 1A foresees anarchy, and worldwide anarchy at that. It's worth noting that the United States during the first half of the 19th century was not in any way a world power, and so it would have been quite presumption (at that time) for Webster to project that the fall of the (young) Republic would have international repercussions, let alone worldwide anarchy.

John Broughton 21:04, 11 August 2011 (UTC); updated 01:11, 22 September 2011 (UTC); revised 15:05, 28 September 2011 (UTC)

Unsourced[edit]

  • The Administration asserts the right to fill the ranks of the regular army by compulsion...Is this, sir, consistent with the character of a free government? Is this civil liberty? Is this the real character of our Constitution? No sire, indeed it is not. The Constitution is libeled...Where is it written in the Constitution, in what article or section is it contained, that you may take children from their parents from their children, and compel them to fight the battles of any war in which the folly or the wickedness of government may engage it? Under what concealment has this power lain hidden which now for the first time comes forth, with a tremendous and bailful aspect, to trample down and destroy the dearest rights of personal liberty? Who will show me any Constitutional injunction which makes it the duty of the American people to surrender everything valuable in life, and even life itself, not when the safety of their country and its liberties may demand the sacrifice, but whenever the purposes of an ambitious and mischievous government may require it?
  • If religious books are not widely circulated among the masses in this country, I do not know what is going to become of us as a nation. If truth be not diffused, error will be; If God and His Word are not known and received, the devil and his works will gain the ascendancy, If the evangelical volume does not reach every hamlet, the pages of a corrupt and licentious literature will; If the power of the Gospel is not felt throughout the length and breadth of the land, anarchy and misrule, degradation and misery, corruption and darkness will reign without mitigation or end. (Earliest source, for a small part of this, is Essays, moral and religious, by Edward Thomson and Davis Wasgatt Clark, 1856, p. 213; the earliest version of the full wording appears to be in A dictionary of thoughts: being a cyclopedia of laconic quotations, 1891, p. 49).
  • The world is governed more by appearance than realities so that it is fully as necessary to seem to know something as to know it.
  • Falsehoods not only disagree with truths, but usually quarrel among themselves.
  • Wisdom begins at the end.
    • quoting from John Webster's 1613 play The Duchess of Malfi
    • Could it be that someone way back attributed it to merely "Webster" and then someone else assumed that this "Webster" is Daniel Webster instead of the correct John Webster, the English playwright.
  • Keep cool; anger is not an argument.