What came after the bayonet?

Let us thank God that we live in an age when something has influence besides the bayonet.

– Daniel Webster

As far as I can tell, the Daniel Webster who said that was an American politician who was born in the late eighteenth century and died shortly before the Civil War.  Webster was regarded in his time as a great speaker, and in one of his most famous speeches (‘Seventh of March’) Webster voiced his support for a law that required the recapture of runaway slaves.  This was key in the Compromise of 1850, an attempt to quell southern succession.

Needless to say, I’m not a fan.  What I think is notable is how, in such a bayonet-heavy time, he could trumpet such a noteworthy sentiment — and yet how it’s limited by his own sense of self.  It was relatively easy for someone as privileged as Webster to speak and expect his ideas to have influence.  And, certainly in that instance, Webster’s something ‘besides the bayonet’ speaks to ideas beyond what the bayonet represented: fear, power — often a shortcut to the worst of people.  From Wikipedia:

Conversely, Seventh of March has been criticized by (Henry Cabot) Lodge who contrasted the speech’s support of the 1850 compromise with his 1833 rejection of similar measures. “While he was brave and true and wise in 1833,” said Lodge, “in 1850 he was not only inconsistent, but that he erred deeply in policy and statesmanship” in his advocacy of a policy that “made war inevitable by encouraging slave-holders to believe that they could always obtain anything they wanted by a sufficient show of violence. “[32]

So Webster’s statement mostly makes me think of how the sentiment should be applicable in this day and age.  Something besides the gun (or anything gun-like in its use of fear and power) does have influence now, doesn’t it?

He who loves the bristle of bayonets only sees in the glitter what beforehand he feels in his heart.  It is avarice and hatred; it is that quivering lip, that cold, hating eye, which built magazines and powder-houses.

– Ralph Waldo Emerson


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