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The stranger grinned, kind of happily, and shook his head. “The future’s not as you think it,” he said. “It’s dark. You have a great ambition, Mr. Webster.”
“I have,” said Dan’l firmly, for everybody knew he wanted to be President.
“It seems almost within your grasp,” said the stranger, “but you will not attain it. Lesser men will be made President and you will be passed over.”
“And if I am, I’ll still be Daniel Webster,” said Dan’l. “Say on.”
“You have two strong sons,” said the stranger shaking his head. “You look to found a line. But each will die in war and neither reach greatness.”
“Live or die, they are still my sons,” said Dan’l Webster. “Say on.”
“You have made great speeches,” said the stranger. “You will make more.”
“Ah, ” said Dan’l Webster.
“But the last great speech you make will turn many of your own against you,” said the stranger. “They will call you Ichabod; they will call you by other names. Even in New England some will say you have turned your coat and sold your country, and their voices will be loud against you until you die.”
“So it is an honest speech, it does not matter what men say,” said Dan’l Webster. Then he looked at the stranger and their glances locked.”One question,” he said. “I have fought for the Union all my life. Will I see that fight won against those who would tear it apart?”
“Not while you live,” said the stranger grimly, “but it will be won. And after you are dead, there are thousands who will fight for your cause, because of words that you spoke.”
“Why, then, you long-barreled, slab-sided, lantern-jawed, fortune-telling note shaver!” said Dan’l Webster, with a great roar of laughter, “be off with you to your own place before I put my mark on you! For, by the thirteen original colonies, I’d go to the Pit itself to save the Union!”
And with that he drew back his foot for a kick that would have stunned a horse. It was only the tip of his shoe that caught the stranger, but he went flying out the door with his collecting box under his arm.
~ “The Devil and Daniel Webster,” by Stephen Vincent Benet
How many schoolchildren today read this excellent little fiction, or learn that our forebears were men of honor and strength? As we stand today on the brink, how many politicians can say that they would go to the Pit itself to save the Union, and how many are guilty of tossing the Union into the Pit itself in order to justify their politics of destruction and power?