The Story of Daniel Webster

by James Baldwin

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Chapter II: The Youngest Son

Ebenezer Webster had several sons. But at the time that he was appointed judge there were only two at home. The older ones were grown up and were doing for themselves.

It was of the two at home that he was thinking when he said, "I am going to try to educate my boys."

Of the ten children in the family, the favorite was a black-haired, dark-skinned little fellow called Daniel. He was the youngest of all the boys; but there was one girl who was younger than he.

Daniel Webster was born on the 18th of January, 1782.

He was a puny child, very slender and weak; and the neighbors were fond of telling his mother that he could not live long. Perhaps this was one of the things that caused him to be favored and petted by his parents.

But there were other reasons why every one was attracted by him. There were other reasons why his brothers and sisters were always ready to do him a service.

He was an affectionate, loving child; and he was wonderfully bright and quick.

He was not strong enough to work on the farm like other boys. He spent much of his time playing in the woods or roaming among the hills.

And when he was not at play he was quite sure to be found in some quiet corner with a book in his hand. He afterwards said of himself: "In those boyish days there were two things that I dearly loved—reading and playing."

He could never tell how or when he had learned to read. Perhaps his mother had taught him when he was but a mere babe.

He was very young when he was first sent to school. The school-house was two or three miles away, but he did not mind the long walk through the woods and over the hills.

It was not a great while until he had learned all that his teacher was able to teach him; for he had a quick understanding, and he remembered everything that he read.

The people of the neighborhood never tired of talking about "Webster's boy," as they called him. All agreed that he was a wonderful child.

Some said that so wonderful a child was sure to die young. Others said that if he lived he would certainly become a very great man.

When the farmers, on their way to market, drove past Judge Webster's house, they were always glad if they could see the delicate boy, with his great dark eyes.

If it was near the hour of noon, they would stop their teams under the shady elms and ask him to come out and read to them. Then, while their horses rested and ate, they would sit round the boy and listen to his wonderful tones as he read page after page from the Bible.

There were no children's books in those times. Indeed, there were very few books to be had of any kind. But young Daniel Webster found nothing too hard to read.

"I read what I could get to read," he afterwards said; "I went to school when I could, and when not at school, was a farmer's youngest boy, not good for much for want of health and strength, but expected to do something."

One day the man who kept the little store in the village, showed him something that made his heart leap.

It was a cotton handkerchief with the Constitution of the United States printed on one side of it.

In those days people were talking a great deal about the Constitution, for it had just then come into force.

Daniel had never read it. When he saw the handkerchief he could not rest till he had made it his own.

He counted all his pennies, he borrowed a few from his brother Ezekiel. Then he hurried back to the store and bought the wished-for treasure. In a short time he knew everything in the Constitution, and could repeat whole sections of it from memory. We shall learn that, when he afterwards became one of the great men of this nation, he proved to be the Constitution's wisest friend and ablest defender.


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