previous next

[71] and though he published two treatises which belong in the field of political theory, they were produced because of an immediate tangible condition and they were partly vitiated for permanent service because of their defence of a decaying institution which dimmed his own outlook on the world.

The first few decades of the century, if they produced no notable pieces of abstract political theory, gave alluring opportunity for oratory and offered also an unusual field for the jurist. The orator had big themes—democracy, slavery, free labour, expansion, states' rights, nationalism, as well as the well-worn subjects of banks and tariffs and lands and commerce. The jurist was called to the novel task of construing constitutions, of passing on the fundamental law of a federal republic, and more—the task of developing and adjusting a system of private law suited to the needs of a new people and a new country. In both of these fields of action and of thought the Americans did much; in oratory appeared Webster, Clay, Calhoun, Randolph, Choate, Benton, and John Quincy Adams, and others only less worthy of note; in jurisprudence, Marshall and Kent and Story and Wheaton, by judicial opinion or by written text, laid the foundations of American public and private law and ably performed a creative task such as rarely, if ever, before fell to the lot of the jurist.

Much of the oratory of the time was of a kind which appeals but little to the reader of the present day. The speeches that have come down to us are often diffuse and occasionally florid. Nothing else could be expected from the leaders of a nation which was full of eager life and was assured of its own high destiny, a nation in which a man to be a popular leader must have power in appealing to the multitude, uncritical in its attitude toward literary form, provided the speaker himself have vitality, assurance, and a plentiful store of winged words. This, it is true, is not altogether just, for Webster's diction was on the whole restrained and strong; Calhoun rarely declaimed; Clay and Benton and Adams were always earnest and did not merely toy with words; Everett's orations, polished and academic, never descended into the lower realms of commonplace word-juggling for applause. And yet it is probably right to say that most of the speaking of the time was affected by the fact that orators were appealing to a wide

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

hide Places (automatically extracted)

View a map of the most frequently mentioned places in this document.

Download Pleiades ancient places geospacial dataset for this text.

hide People (automatically extracted)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: