Composing Someone

“The present generation should be provided with nice, comfortable, decent human heroes with nobility in their souls to look up to, follow, and enjoy.”
—Hendrik Willem Van Loon

Welcome to reading true stories about people. Welcome to biography. The purpose of this category is to witness the author falling in love with his subject and to impart that love to us readers. Biography keeps heroes alive for children, taking them through time and place to re-create a moment where we see living history. The best biography aligns facts with noble purpose and has no room for demeaning comments.

The selection I’ve chosen demonstrates writing with a noble purpose. Boy! How much we need this.

profiles-in-courageSource: Nate D. Sanders

“Profiles in Courage”
Daniel Webster
John F. Kennedy
Harper & Row, 1955

Never mind that the author became the 35th president of the United States, he is a superb writer. So well-constructed was this book that it won the Pulitzer. John Kennedy summarized eight American statesmen who had the moral courage to stand by their convictions, no matter the personal cost.

In this chapter, we meet one such man. The time was January 1850. The circumstances surrounded a political battle of slave versus free—a battle that impassioned those that were determined to win because it meant something more to them than their jobs. This was personal.

President Taylor asked Congress to admit California to the union as a free state, a decision that could tip the balance of slave states versus free. Henry Clay, Whig Senator of Kentucky, knew he must enlist the extraordinary oratory brilliance of Daniel Webster to win over Congress on his behalf because he was co-drafting with Senator Stephen Douglas of Illinois, a resolution that would become the Compromise of 1850.

It would be a law to preserve the Union and avert war.

Webster bitterly opposed slavery from his youth. But he feared that civil violence would only strengthen slavery and the preservation of the Union was dearer to him than his opposition of slavery. Yes, even before the first shot at Fort Sumter was fired, threats of succession pierced the public landscape.

March 7, 1850 was Webster’s date with destiny as he spoke before the Senate. What came next was his personal cause—as an American. He pleaded for the Union. Two years later, Daniel Webster lay dying. We hear John Kennedy’s narrative:
But to the very end he was true to his character, asking on his deathbed, “Wife, children, doctor, I trust on this occasion I have said nothing unworthy of Daniel Webster.” And to the end he had been true to the Union, and to his greatest act of courageous principle; for in his last words to the Senate, Webster had written his own epitaph:

“I shall stand by the Union… with absolute disregard of personal consequences. What are personal consequences… in comparison with the good or evil which may befall a great country in a crisis like this? Let the consequences be what they will, I am careless. No man can suffer too much, and no man can fall too soon, if he suffer or if he fall in defense of the liberties and Constitution of his country.”

 It is my hope that if this book is not familiar to you, it will soon be. Next time, we will visit modern biography for children. In the meantime, enjoy true stories.

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