9
A GREAT SPEECH AT THE RIGHT TIME

Whatever Webster did, he did with style, and however trivial the event, there was usually someone to record it. " Webster was tremendously sick off Pt. Judith in our steamboat passage," Emerson wrote to his brother June 24, 1827. "He spouted like a whale and roared like a leviathan, yea outroared the steam engine and vomited as he wd. address the House." Despite his political disappointments, Webster's public reputation soared ever higher during the 1820s. This was partly because he cared very much about matters of reputation and consciously tried to shape his image when he could. It was also the product of historical circumstance. If we can understand how he stage- managed the first Bunker Hill celebration in 1825, why he sued his Boston Bramhin friend Theodore Lyman in 1828, and what the courtly South Carolinian, Robert Hayne did to enhance his national reputation in 1830, we can begin to understand why Daniel Webster emerged as one of the most celebrated Americans of his time and why perceptive observers like Emerson had an almost irresistible urge to portray him as a majestic figure no matter what he did.1

Webster was probably never happier or more successful than when he spoke at Bunker Hill in 1825. He was a trustee of the Bunker Hill Association, and when it was decided that the cornerstone of the monument should be laid on the fiftieth anniversary of the battle, his fellow trustees unanimously asked him to give the oration. Lafayette had agreed to be present for what promised to be one of the most impressive ceremonies in the history of the young Republic, and Webster had begun to think about his important

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