The American Whigs: An Anthology

By Daniel Walker Howe | Go to book overview

4
WHIG MYTH-MAKING

Rufus Choate


ILLUSTRATING NEW ENGLAND HISTORY

When he was a college student, Rufus Choate ( 1799- 1859) listened with awe to Daniel Webster's stirring courtroom performance in the celebrated Dartmouth College Case. Choate decided then to become a lawyer and ever after took the "Godlike Daniel" as his mentor. Some contemporaries thought Choate actually the greater advocate. Heroic orators like Webster and Choate raised the legal profession to such heights of influence that in the 1830s the French visitor de Tocqueville could call lawyers "the aristocracy of America." Choate lent his rhetorical powers to the cause of Whig politics as state legislator, congressman, and senator. He also lent them to the cause of Whig culture, as the following selection demonstrates.

There was a great deal of anxiety and self-consciousness in the early American republic regarding the creation of a native high culture to complete the achievement of independence. History and literature were regarded as helpful devices in fostering a sense of national identity. Choate addresses himself to both subjects here, linking them to his own cultural conservatism in his desire to foster a reverence for the past in a new society.

The history of the United States, from the planting of the several colonies out of which they have sprung, to the end of the war of the Revolution, is now as amply written, as accessible, and as authentic, as any other portion of the history of the world, and incomparably more so than an equal portion of the history of the origin and first ages of any other nation that ever existed. But there is one thing more which every lover of his country, and every lover of literature, would wish done for our early history. He would wish to see such a genius as Walter Scott, or rather a thousand such as he, undertake in earnest to

____________________

SOURCE. Rufus Choate, "The Importance of Illustrating New England History by a Series of Romances Like the Waverley Novels. Delivered at Salem, 1833." The Works of Rufus Choate with a Memoir of His Life, ed. Samuel Gilman Brown ( Boston, 1862), I, 319-346.

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