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college and university, for every academy and school, in the United States, endowed with property or possessed of chartered rights. It ought to be mentioned, to the credit of the State of New Hampshire, that she readily acquiesced in the decision of the Supreme Court of the United States, and made no attempt to sustain her recent legislation.
This celebrated cause, argued with such success before the highest tribunal in the country, established Mr Webster's position in the profession. It placed him at once with Emmett and Pinkney and Wirt, in the front rank of the American bar, and, though considerably the youngest of this illustrious group, on an equality with the most distinguished of them. He was henceforward retained in almost every considerable cause argued at Washington. No counsel in the United States has probably been engaged in a larger portion of the business brought before that tribunal. While Mr. Webster as a politician and a statesman has performed an amount of intellectual labor, as is abundantly shown in these volumes, sufficient to form the sole occupation of an active life, there is no doubt that his arguments to the court and his addresses to the jury in important suits at law would, if they had been reported like his political speeches, have filled a much greater space.
It would exceed the limits of this sketch to allude in detail to all the cases argued by Mr. Webster in the Supreme Court of the United States; still less would it be practicable to trace him through his labors in the State courts. We can barely mention a few of the more considerable causes. The case of Gibbons and Ogden, in 1824, is one of great celebrity. In this case the grant by the State of New York to the assignees of Fulton, of an exclusive right to navigate the rivers, harbors, and bays of New York by steam, was called in question, and was decided to be unconstitutional, after having been maintained by all the tribunals of that great and respectable State. The decision of this great case turned upon the principle, that the grant of such a monopoly of the right to enter a portion of the navigable waters of the Union was an encroachment, by the State, upon the power "to regulate commerce," — a power reserved by the Constitution to Congress, and in its nature exclusive. The cause was argued by Messrs. Webster and Wirt for the plaintiffs, and by Messrs. Oakley and Emmett for the defendants in error, — an array of talent worthy the magnitude of the interests at stake. The decision of the court was against the monopoly. Few cases in the annals of federal jurisprudence are of equal importance; none, perhaps, was ever argued with greater ability. In the course of his discussion, Mr. Webster said, with great felicity of illustration, that, by the establishment of the Constitution, the commerce of this whole country had become a unit, a form of expression used with approbation by Chief Justice Marshall in delivering the opinion of the court.
A very distinguished compliment was paid to Mr. Webster's argument in this case, a quarter of a century after its delivery, by Mr. Justice Wayne of the Supreme Court of the United States. On the occasion of Mr. Webster's visit to the South, in the spring of 1847, he was received with public honors, among other places, at Savannah. He was there addressed by Judge Wayne on behalf of his fellow-citizens. In the course of his remarks on that occasion, Judge Wayne alluded to Mr. Webster's line of argument in this case in the following manner: —
"From one of your constitutional suggestions, every man in the land has been more or less benefited. We allude to it with the greater pleasure, because it was in a controversy begun by a Georgian in behalf of the constitutional rights of the citizen. When the late Mr. Thomas Gibbons determined to put to hazard a large part of his fortune in testing the constitutionality of the laws of New York limiting the navigation of the waters of that State to steamers belonging to a company, his own interest was not so much concerned as the right of every citizen to use a coasting license upon the waters of the United States, in whatever way their vessels might be propelled. It was a sound view of the law, but not broad enough for the occasion. It is not unlikely that the case would have been decided upon it, if you had not insisted that it should be put upon the broader constitutional ground of commerce and navigation. The court felt the application and force of your reasoning, and it made a decision releasing every creek, and river, lake, bay, and harbor in our country from the interference of monopolies, which had already provoked unfriendly legislation between some of the States, and which would have been as little favorable to the interest of Fulton, as they were unworthy his genius."
The case of Ogden and Saunders, in 1827, brought in quese*
tion the right of a State to pass an insolvent law. It was of course a case of high constitutional law, belonging to the same general class with those just mentioned, and relating to the limit of the powers of the several States, in reference to matters confided by the Constitution to the general government. This cause was argued by Mr. Clay and Mr. David B. Ogden of New York for the plaintiffs, and by Mr. 'Webster and Mr. Henry Wheaton for the defendants in error. In his argument in this case, Mr. Webster maintained the entire unconstitutionality of State bankrupt laws. This was a step in advance of the doctrines laid down by the Supreme Court of the United States in the case of Sturges and Crowninshield, nor did the court on the present occasion incline to go further than they had done in that case. They were divided in opinion, but a majority of the judges held, that, although it was not competent to a State to pass a law discharging a debtor from the obligation of payment, they might pass a law to discharge him from imprisonment on personal execution. The Chief Justice and Judge Story were the minority of the court, and the opinion of the Chief Justice sustained the principle of Mr. Webster's argument, which is, in fact, usually regarded as not falling below his most successful forensic efforts. The manner in which he meets the argument in favor of a prospective State insolvent law, namely, that such a law cannot impair the obligation of a contract because it is a part of the contract, may be quoted as a specimen of the acutest dialectics brought in aid of the broadest views of constitutional law.
In the year 1836, Mr. Webster argued at Washington the great cause of the proprietors of Charles River Bridge. This well-remembered case was a suit in chancery commenced in the Supreme Court of Massachusetts, where the bill was dismissed by a decree pro forma, the members of that court being equally divided in opinion. A writ of error was taken to the Supreme Court of the United States, on the ground that the rights of the proprietors of Charles River Bridge under their charter had been violated by the legislature, in authorizing the erection of Warren Bridge. The cause was argued at Washington, in 1836, and, having been then held under advisement by the court for a year, was, upon difference of opinion among the judges, ordered to be again argued, which was done in 1837. This was another of the great constitutional cases argued by Mr. Webster before the Supreme Court of the United States. The abstract principles of the case were perhaps as clear as in those to which we have alluded; but there were practical difficulties, no doubt, in their application to restrain the right of a legislature to grant an act of incorporation, in the usual form, for the construction of a new bridge, on the ground of interference with some prior similar franchise. The opinion of the court, adverse to the complainants, was delivered by Chief Justice Taney. Mr. Justice McLean was clearly of opinion that the merits of the case were with the complainants, but that the Supreme Court of the United States had no jurisdiction over it. Mr. Justice Story dissented from the majority, and sustained the doctrines advanced by Mr. Webster in a very learned and powerfully reasoned opinion.
In 1839 the constitutional rights of the Bank of the United States (so called), which was incorporated by the State of Pennsylvania after the termination of the Congressional charter, were drawn in question by a case from the State of Alabama, in which the right of a corporation or a citizen in one State to perform any legal act in another was asserted by Mr. Webster, and his argument was sustained by the court. Not long afterwards the controversy between Massachusetts and Rhode Island relative to their boundary, a controversy running back to the earliest periods of their colonial history, was brought before the Supreme Court, at Washington, and argued by Mr. Webster for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.
In 1844 the important case relative to the validity of Mr. Girard's bequest of the greater part of his estate to the city of Philadelphia, for the foundation of a college for orphans, was argued by Mr. Webster before the Supreme Court, at Washington, for the heirs at law. One of the grounds on which the bequest was impeached by them was, the exclusion by the will of all ecclesiastics, missionaries, or ministers, of whatever sect, from all offices in the college, and even from admission within the premises as visitors. So impressive was Mr. Webster's argument upon the importance of making provision for religious instruction in all institutions for education, that a meeting of the citizens of Washington belonging to different religious denominations was held, at which a resolution was passed expressing the opinion entertained by the meeting of the great value of Mr. Webster's argument, "in demonstrating the vital importance of Christianity to the success of our free institutions, and that the general diffusion of that argument among the people of the United States is a matter of deep public interest." A committee of eight gentlemen of the different denominations of Christians in the city was appointed to wait upon Mr. Webster, and request him to prepare for the press the report of that portion of his argument in which this important topic is treated.
Tn the month of January, 1848, the great Rhode Island case was brought before the Supreme Court of the United States, and argued by Mr. Webster for the chartered government of the State, and against the insurrectionary government, to which an abortive attempt had been made to give the form of a constitution, by a pretended act of the popular will. The true principles of popular and constitutional government are explored with unsurpassed sagacity in this argument. Some copies of the report of it in a pamphlet form reached Europe during the memorable year of 1848, when the Continent was convulsed with revolutionary struggles from one end to the other. It was there regarded as a most seasonable and instructive commentary on the nature of constitutional obligations, and of the rights of the people to modify their institutions of government.
A large portion of the causes argued by Mr. Webster belong to the province of constitutional law, and have their origin in that partition of powers which exists between the State governments and the government of the United States, each clothed with sovereignty in its appropriate sphere, each subject to limitations resulting from its relations to the other, each possessing its legislative bodies, its judicial tribunals, its executive authorities, and consequently armed with the means of asserting its rights, and both combined into one great political system. In such a system it cannot but happen that questions of conflicting jurisdiction should arise. When we consider that the powers of these two orders of government are defined in written constitutions of recent date, and that all the direct precedents of administration must of necessity, at the oldest, be still more recent, we cannot but wonder