15
BLACK DAN IN DEPTH

According to the story which Samuel Griswold Goodrich heard, Webster attended a private party in Washington for the Mississippi Whig leader S. S. Prentiss around 1840. Late in the evening, after the wine had been flowing freely, William Preston of South Carolina stood up and proposed a toast to "Daniel Webster -- a Northern man with Southern principles." Webster hesitated, then struggled to his feet and replied saying, "Well sir, I was born in New Hampshire and therefore I am a Northern man. And if what other people say of us be true, it is equally true that I am a man of Southern principles. Sir, do I ever leave a heel-tap in my glass? Do I ever pay my debts? Don't I always prefer challenging a man who won't fight?" After developing the theme at length he sat down to the laughter and applause of the rest of the party.1

It is highly probable that this incident or something quite like it happened as reported. Webster was famous for his ability to make and respond to toasts in off-the-record gatherings among friends, and the negative side of his reputation which he was trying to burlesque at the party was developed in eleborate detail long before the abolitionists put the finishing touches to it after 1850. The prolonged and rancorous controversies of the Tyler years had so inflamed the rhetoric of his enemies and intensified public prejudice against him, that by 1845 Webster could no longer laugh them away in private. Everybody had heard about the accomplishments of the "Godlike man." From now on they would hear more and more about the alleged exploits of "Black Dan."

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