Proverbs 25:11 “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in pictures of silver.” (KJV)
Almost 200 years ago, American Daniel Webster delivered a speech about the status of the United States. Webster felt “that the present condition of the country [was] one of great peril and anxiety.”
In a sense, not much has changed except, one, thing.
Webster believed we would recover “as long as we are faithful to ourselves, to our country, and to our God.”
Unfortunately, that is no longer the case.
Daniel Webster (January 18, 1782 – October 24, 1852) was an American statesman, lawyer, and orator who represented New Hampshire and Massachusetts in the United States Congress and served as the 14th and 19th United States Secretary of State under Presidents William Henry Harrison, John Tyler, and Millard Fillmore. He was one of the most prominent and influential American politicians of the early 19th century, known for his powerful oratory and his defense of American nationalism and the Constitution. Judging from his words and actions, he strongly believed in Jesus Christ.
Webster was a leading figure in the Whig Party and a powerful advocate for economic and political modernization, including the development of infrastructure, the expansion of industry, and the promotion of education. He was also a staunch opponent of slavery and played a vital role in the debates over the Compromise of 1850, which sought to resolve the issue of slavery in the territories. Webster’s legacy as a statesman and orator has made him one of the most celebrated figures in American history, and his speeches and writings continue to be studied and admired by scholars and students of American politics and rhetoric.
The Whig Party was a political party in the United States that existed from the early 1830s to the mid-1850s. The party was formed in opposition to the policies of President Andrew Jackson and his Democratic Party, which many Whigs believed were a threat to the Constitution and the principles of American republicanism. The Whigs were a diverse coalition of politicians, including former National Republicans, Anti-Masonic Party members, and disaffected Democrats, who shared a commitment to economic and political modernization, a strong national government, and promoting American industry and commerce.
In addition to Daniel Webster, the party’s leaders included Henry Clay, and William Henry Harrison, who served as the party’s first and only president before his untimely death in 1841. The Whigs were a significant force in American politics during the 1840s. Still, the party began to fracture over the issue of slavery in the territories, with Northern and Southern Whigs taking different positions on the subject. The party ultimately collapsed in the mid-1850s, with many former Whigs joining the new Republican Party, which emerged in 1854 as a coalition of anti-slavery forces.
As a point of reference, all of this occurred shortly before the American Civil War, which was fought from April 12, 1861, to April 9, 1865.
Apples of Gold
Daniel Webster’s “Apples of Gold” speech was delivered on March 15, 1837, before the New York Historical Society, on “the present condition of the country.” He presents the principles of liberty in the Constitution as the “word fitly spoken” and as “apples of gold” and the Constitution itself as the “picture or frame of silver” that was crafted around it to protect and preserve those principles.
“Mr. President, – I shall take the occasion to offer you some remarks on the present condition of the country and the prospects before us. I do not propose to go into any detailed history of the past or to inquire very minutely what has been the course of public events. I shall look at things as they are and endeavor to present them in such a manner as to show what they indicate, and what they require.
I shall not, I trust, be misunderstood, when I say that the present condition of the country is one of great peril and anxiety. We have difficulties to encounter, and dangers to overcome, which require all the wisdom and patriotism of the country to meet and surmount. We have seen the Constitution trampled upon, and the laws disregarded, and we have seen the sacred rights of the people violated with impunity. We have seen the public faith betrayed, and the public treasure squandered, and we have seen the country involved in debt and embarrassment, from which it will require years of labor and economy to extricate ourselves.
But, sir, I do not despair. I believe that the people of this country are capable of meeting any emergency which may arise, and of surmounting any difficulty which may present itself. I believe that the principles of the Constitution are still dear to the hearts of the American people, and that they will be maintained and upheld, in spite of all the efforts of their enemies to destroy them.
The assertion of that principle, at that time, was the word, ‘fitly spoken’ which has proved an ‘apple of gold’ to us. The Union, and the Constitution, are the picture of silver, subsequently framed around it. The picture was made, not to conceal, or destroy the apple; but to adorn, and preserve it. The picture was made for the apple—not the apple for the picture.
We have seen, sir, that the Constitution is not a mere parchment barrier, to be broken down and trampled upon at the will of any faction or party. It is the great charter of our liberties, the safeguard of our rights, the shield of our prosperity. It is the bond of our Union, the foundation of our strength, the source of our greatness. We must maintain it, we must defend it against all assaults, we must cherish it as the apple of our eye, and guard it as the ark of our safety.
But, sir, we have other duties to perform, besides the mere preservation of the Constitution. We have a country to govern, a people to protect, interests to promote, and principles to maintain. We have a great mission to fulfill, a great destiny to accomplish, a great example to set before the world.
We must show that a republican government is not a mere experiment, a mere theory, a mere dream of the enthusiast or the philosopher. We must show that it is a practical reality, a living and breathing embodiment of the principles of justice, of liberty, and of order. We must show that it is capable of securing the happiness, the prosperity, and the freedom of a great and growing people.
But, sir, we have enemies to encounter, both at home and abroad. We have the enemies of the Constitution, who seek to destroy it, and the enemies of the Union, who seek to dissolve it. We have the enemies of liberty, who seek to enslave us, and the enemies of order, who seek to subvert us. We have the enemies of religion, who seek to banish it, and the enemies of morality, who seek to corrupt it.
Against all these enemies, sir, we must be prepared to do battle. We must be prepared to defend our principles, our institutions, and our country, with all the vigor and energy of our souls. We must be prepared to meet all emergencies, to encounter all dangers, to surmount all difficulties, and to triumph over all opposition.
But, sir, we must not rely upon our own strength alone. We must look to a higher power for aid and guidance. We must invoke the protection of that Almighty Being, who has hitherto watched over and preserved us, and who, we trust, will continue to watch over and preserve us, as long as we are faithful to ourselves, to our country, and to our God.”
One of Daniel Webster’s statues was recently graffitied, and efforts to remove it are still underway.
The world no longer acknowledges, much less is “faithful to our God.”
In judgment, God has responded in Romans 1:28, “And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them over to an unfit [reprobate] mind ….”
Daniel Webster is no longer with us. Nor are there many leaders who think like him. We are now, without question, a nation in “great peril and anxiety.”