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CONVENTION AT VALLEY FORGE.*
Two days after the foregoing speech was delivered at Philadelphia, Mr. Webster was invited to address a general convention of the Whigs of Chester and Montgomery Counties. The place appointed for the meeting was Valley Forge, a spot for ever famous in the annals of the Revolution, and still preserving the most interesting memorials of the dreadful winter of 1777-78. The information that Mr. Webster was expected to address the meeting had circulated widely throughout the neighboring townships, few of whose inhabitants had ever had an opportunity of hearing him. They accordingly assembled in great numbers, and of both sexes. The village was filled, at an early hour, by the multitude, which poured in from every quarter. Processions were formed, with banners, wreaths, and emblems appropriate to the Revolutionary associations of the place, and significant of the principles and feelings which belonged to the present occasion. A strong mounted escort was in attendance at the railway station; and at nine o'clock, A. M., the train arrived from Philadelphia, with Mr. Webster and a large number of political friends from that city.
After a short time passed in a survey of the interesting localities of the spot, especially the house in which General Washington's quarters were established during the winter of 1777 - 78, the convention was organized by the appointment of Hon. Jonathan Roberts as President. After a forcible address from the chair, on the general objects of the meeting, Mr. Webster was introduced to the company, and delivered the following speech.
Ladies And Gentlemen,— There is a mighty power in local association. All acknowledge it, and all feel it! Those places naturally inspire us with emotion, which, in the course of human history, have been connected with great and interesting events;
* Speech delivered at a great Convention of the Whigs of Chester and Montgomery Counties, in Pennsylvania, at Valley Forge, on the 3d of October, 1844.
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and this power over all ingenuous minds never ceases, until frequent visits familiarize the mind to the scenes.
There are in this vast multitude many who, like myself, never before stood on the spot where the Whig army of the Revolution, under the immediate command of their immortal leader, went through the privations, the sufferings, and the distress, of the winter of 1777 and 1778. The mention of Washington, the standing on the ground of his encampment, the act of looking around on the scenes which he and his officers and soldiers then beheld, cannot but carry us back, also, to the Revolution, and to one of its most distressing and darkest periods.
In September, the battle of Brandywine had been fought; in October, that of Germantown; and before Christmas, a little before the severity of winter set in, General Washington repaired to this spot, and put his army into huts for the winter. He had selected the position with great care, for the safety of his army, and with equal judgment, also, for the protection of as large a portion of the country as possible, the British troops being then in possession of Philadelphia.
We see, then, the Whig chief of the Whig army of the Revolution, as it were, before us. We see him surrounded by his military friends, distinguished not less for their social virtues than for their bravery in the field. Anthony Wayne was here, that great and good man. He was a native of the County of Chester, where his bones still rest. Green was here, and Knox, and Hamilton; and at that anxious moment, in order to keep alive the connection between the civil authority and the army, (for be it remembered now and at all times, that Washington and his army always acted in submission to the civil authority), a committee of Congress was here, Dana of Massachusetts, Gouverneur Morris, and that worthy gentleman, the especial favorite of Washington, who was afterwards President of your Commonwealth, General Reed.*
And now, Gentlemen, I could not depict, I could not describe, I could not trust my own feelings in attempting to describe, the horrible sufferings of that Whig army. Destitute of clothing, destitute of provisions, destitute of every thing but their trust in God, and faith in their immortal leader, they went through that winter. The grounds now around us, particularly the grounds contiguous to the hospital, are rich in Revolutionary dust. Every excavation, as often as the season returns, brings to the surface the bones of Revolutionary officers and soldiers, who perished by disease, brought on by want of food, want of clothing, want of every thing but that boundless sympathy and commiseration for sufferings which he could not alleviate, that filled the bleeding heart of their illustrious leader. Long after peace returned, General Washington declared, at his own table, that it was no exaggeration, it was the literal truth, that the march of the army from Whitemarsh, to take up their quarters at this place, could be tracked by the blood on the snow from the unshod feet of the soldiers.
* A very interesting letter from the Committee to the President of Congress, on the state of the army, written by General Reed, will be found in the Life and Correspondence of Joseph Reed, by his Grandson, William .13. Reed. Vol. I. p. 360 et scy.
It is impossible to recall the associations of such a place without deep and solemn reflection. And when we, as Whigs, professing the principles of that great Whig leader and that Whig army, come here to advocate and avow those principles to one another, and professing to exercise the political rights transmitted to us by them, for the security of that liberty which they fought to establish, let us bring ourselves to feel in harmony with the scenes of the past. Let us endeavor to sober and solemnize our minds. For, if I have any apprehension of the condition of things under which we have met here, it is one that ought to produce that effect upon us. I feel, and all should feel, that there is a calamity impending over us. If we would avert that impending calamity, it is only to be done by a serious and manly course. And by the blood of our fathers, which cries to us from this hallowed ground, by the memory of their many virtues and brilliant achievements, by the sad story of their intense sufferings, by the blessings of that blood-bought inheritance of liberty which they suffered and died to obtain for us, we are called upon to perform the important duty that lies before us in the present crisis, to perform that duty fearlessly, to perform it promptly, and to perform it effectually.
It is under this feeling, my friends, that I come here to-day; and it is under this feeling that I intend to speak plainly and manfully, as man should speak to man, at a moment like this, on the important duties which are incumbent on us all.
We are on the eve of a general election, in which the people are to choose a President and Vice-President of the United States. It is the great action of the citizen in carrying on his own plan of self-government. But the circumstances connected with this election render it peculiarly interesting, and of more importance than any former Presidential election. There are two candidates in the field, Mr. Clay of Kentucky, and Mr. Polk of Tennessee. I shall speak of them both with the respect to which their character and position entitle them; and at the same time with that freedom and candor which ought to be observed in discussing the merits of public men, especially those who are candidates for the highest office in the gift of the people.
Mr. Clay has been before the country for a long period, nearly forty years. Over thirty years he has taken a leading and highly important part in the public affairs of this country. He is acknowledged to be a man of singular and almost universal talent. He has had great experience in the administration of our public affairs in various departments. He has served for many years with wonderful judgment and ability, in both houses of Congress, of one of which he performed the arduous and difficult duties of its presiding officer, with unexampled skill and success. He has rendered most important services to his country of a diplomatic character, as the representative of this government in Europe, at one of the most trying periods of our history, and ably assisted to conduct to a satisfactory conclusion a very delicate and important negotiation. He has performed the duties of the department of state with ability and fidelity. He is a man of frankness and honor, of unquestioned talent and ability, and of a noble and generous bearing.
Mr. Polk is a much younger man than Mr. Clay. He is a very respectable gentleman in private life; he has been in Congress; was once Speaker of the House of Representatives of the United States, and once Governor of the State of Tennessee.
Such are the candidates before the country for its choice; and it will not be invidious to say, that, in point of character and talent, and general standing before the country and the world, there is no sort of comparison between the two men.
It is for the people to choose between them; and if they prefer one who is secondary to one who is first rate, such preferences can only be ascribed to one of two causes. If they prefer