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DEAR SIR, I do not know that I am acquainted with any sources of information, on the subject mentioned in your letter which are not probably known to you. We do not know as much of the first settlers of New' Hampshire as of those of Massachusetts. The two colonies came for different purposes and under different auspices. Dr. Belknap found out a greater part of what is to be learned of the New Hampshire settlers. He was a very thorough and diligent searcher among all the early legislative and judicial records of the province. Possibly some of the old families in Portsmouth may have valuable materials, but I doubt it. Mr. Adams, in his annals of Portsmouth, has been able to add but little to the stock of knowledge. Before the peace of Paris, 1763, the settlements in New Hampshire were very limited. Concord and Charlestown were the frontier. When, by that peace, the Indian hostilities were terminated, new settlements spread over the State. These settlers were most of them from Massachusetts and Connecticut. The original settlers, therefore, are only those who planted themselves on the Piscataqua, and its branches ; and I doubt whether there remain any unexplored sources affording information as to their early history. Your industry, however, will glean something, and the subject is a proper one for research and discussion.
It would give us much pleasure to see you here with your wife, and to receive a good visit from you. Your stops here are are all too short ; at least we think them so.
I am, my dear nephew, yours affectionately,
P. S. In regard to the moral character generally of our ancestors, the settlers of New England, my opinion is that they possessed all the Christian virtues but charity ; and they seem never to have doubted that they possessed that also. And nobody could accuse their system or their practice but of one vice, and that was religious hypocrisy, of which they had an infusion without ever being sensible of it.
It necessarily resulted from that disposition which they cherished, of subjecting men's external conduct, in all particulars, to the influence and government of express rule and precept, either of church or state. That always makes hypocrites and formalists ; it leads men to rely on mint and cummin. A man thought it an act of merit, if we may take the blue laws of Connecticut for authority, not to walk within ten feet of his wife in their way to church ; as some parents, nowadays, think it a merit to restrain their daughters from a village dance ; one is quite as sensible and as much to do with religion as the other. Indeed, it is the universal tendency of strong religious excitement, a tendency of our infirm nature, growing out of our weaknesses and our vices, to run into observances, and make a strong merit of external acts. Our excellent ancestors did not escape the influence of this propensity ; but they had so many high and pure virtues, that this spot should not give offence. They were a wonderful people. This very failing, of which I have spoken, leaned so much on the virtues of decision, sense of duty, and the feeling that will bear no compromise with what it thinks wrong, that I forgive it to them. The determined spirit with which they resisted every approach of what they thought evil, was itself a great virtue. Of itself it is harmless, but it leads, or may lead to evil." This was their answer, and perhaps there is something in it ; but then it may be said of almost everything. The vice of the argument, as an argument, is, that it proves too much. Eating, drinking, sleeping, conversation, are all equally under its condemnation. But though indefensible as a rule of conduct, some general consequences followed from the spirit which accompanied it, which consequences are extremely useful. It sharpened the sight for the discovery of political evils. The tea tax, for example, was not oppressive, as a tax ; it was too small for that. It was opposed on principle. " It led or might lead to other taxes." Our fathers acted on system ; and the inquiry with them was, not whether the thing was bearable but whether it was right. I verily believe, although I do not like Breeds rrli-ious matters, that creeds had something to do with the Revolution. In their religious controversies, the people of England had always been accustomed to stand on points; and when Lord North undertook to tax them, they stood on points also. It so happened, fortunately, that their opposition to North was a point on which they all united. But enough of this postscript.
- Daniel Webster
- Private Correspondence of Daniel Webster, Edited by Fletcher Webster, Volume I, 1857