South Carolina Lawyer
SC Lawyer, January 2008, #5.
Daniel Webster's Tribute to the Law And Legal Profession
South Carolina Lawyer January 2008 Daniel Webster's Tribute to the Law and Legal Profession
The Law: It has honored us, may we honor it.
- Daniel Webster, Esq., Speech to the Charleston Bar, May 10, 1847 Commentary by Thad H. Westbrook, Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough, LLPIn October 2006, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. visited our state to meet with members of the South Carolina Bar and law students in Charleston and Columbia. For any group of lawyers, it is an honor to host the Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. These visits are often accompanied by dinners and other festivities, which give lawyers unique opportunities to gain insight into the law and their profession. The scene was no different for the South Carolina Bar in 1847 when preeminent jurist Daniel Webster visited Charleston and Columbia as part of his "Southern Tour."
In antebellum America, Daniel Webster was known as the "Great Orator" of the U.S. Senate and was regarded by most as New England's greatest lawyer. Ironically, 17 years earlier, Webster gained his reputation as the Great Orator during the 1830 Nullification Debates against S.C. Senator Robert Hayne. As most people know, those debates focused on constitutional law theories largely developed by the Vice President of the United States - John C. Calhoun. Although Webster strongly opposed Vice President Calhoun and Senator Hayne on nullification issues, and would soon lead supporters of Clay's Compromise of 1850, he was warmly welcomed and praised in Charleston by Judge John Belton O'Neall, James L. Petigru, Henry A. Desaussure and many other prominent South Carolina jurists. Having argued and won landmark decisions in McCulloch v. Maryland and Gibbons v. Ogden, Webster was able to command overwhelming respect and praise in South Carolina despite his participation in divisive debates occurring between the northern and southern states. Of course, the members of the South Carolina Bar should be commended because, true to their profession, they respected Webster for his tremendous talent and wise counsel, despite their ideological differences.
On May 10, 1847, during Mr. Webster's visit to Charleston, he attended a formal dinner with several members of the South Carolina Bar and used that opportunity to provide an eloquent discourse on issues facing the legal profession in the United States. Webster's speech is best known for its conclusion, which includes the oft quoted tribute, "The Law: It has honored us, may we honor it." However, Webster's comments in Charleston included much more than his famous toast to the law. He also gave instructions on the virtues and importance of the legal profession that can easily be understood and appreciated by South Carolina's lawyers today. Webster focused on professionalism among lawyers, the importance of an independent judiciary, the need to protect the right to trial by jury and the legal profession's role in protecting liberty and advocating for those who cannot protect themselves. Although many things have changed about the legal profession since 1847 - most significantly the acceptance and increasing participation of women and minority lawyers - there are many issues expounded upon by Webster that still challenge lawyers today. Therefore, a significant portion of Webster's speech is reprinted below for...