Peter Harvey, Reminiscences and Anecdotes of Daniel Webster (pp.160-163)
Mr. Webster became Secretary of State under General Harrison, in 1841. They had no interview before he was appointed. It was done by correspondence; by an offer of the place on the part of General Harrison by letter, and acceptance by letter on that of Mr. Webster. They did not meet until eight or ten days previous to the inauguration. General Harrison arrived at Washington, from Cincinnati, about the time Mr. Webster arrived from Massachusetts. Mr. Webster was invited by Mr. Seaton, one of the editors of the “National Intelligencer,” and a very warm personal friend of his, to come to his house, as he would be more quiet there, and less exposed to intrusion than at a hotel; and to stay until he should get a house and move his family into it. He was constantly occupied with General Harrison on matters connected with the formation of the Cabinet, from early morning until the dinner hour, which was six o’clock. It seems that he had prepared an inaugural message for General Harrison. One day, among other arrangements, he suggested to the new President, in as delicate a way as he could, the fact that he had sketched an inaugural, knowing that General Harrison would be overwhelmed with calls and business after his election, and he himself having leisure to write. The General at once replied that it was not necessary; that he had prepared his own inaugural.
“Oh yes,” said he, ” I have got that all ready.”
“Will you allow me to take it home and read it to-night? ” asked Mr. Webster.
“Certainly,” the President replied;” and please to let me take yours.”
So they exchanged the documents; and the next morning, when they met, General Harrison said to Mr. Webster : —
“If I should read your inaugural instead of mine, everybody would know that you wrote it, and that I did not. Now, this is the only official paper which I propose to write, for I do not intend to interfere with my secretaries; but this is a sort of acknowledgment on my part to the American people of the great honor they have conferred upon me in elevating me to this high office; and although, of course, it is not so suitable as yours, still it is mine, and I propose to let the people have it just as I have written it. I must deliver my own instead of yours.”
Mr. Webster told me that he was a good deal annoyed; because the message was, according to his judgment and taste, so inappropriate. It entered largely into Roman history, and had a great deal to say about the States of antiquity and the Roman proconsuls, and various matters of that kind. Indeed, the word “proconsul” was repeated in it a great many times.
When he found that the President was bent upon using his own inaugural, Mr. Webster said that his desire was to modify it, and to get in some things that were not there, and get out some things that were there; for, as it then stood, he said, it had no more to do with the affairs of the American government and people than a chapter in the Koran. Mr. Webster suggested to General Harrison that he should like to put in some things, and General Harrison rather reluctantly consented to let him take it. Mr. Webster spent a portion of the next day in modifying the message. Mrs. Seaton remarked to him, when he came home rather late that day, that he looked fatigued and worried; but he replied that he was sorry that she had waited dinner for him.
“That is of no consequence at all, Mr. Webster,” said she; “but I am sorry to see you looking so worried and tired. I hope nothing has gone wrong. I really hope nothing has happened.”
“You would think that something had happened,” he replied, “if you knew what I have done. I have killed seventeen Roman proconsuls as dead as smelts, every one of them!”