extemporaneity

From Mr. Smith Goes to Washington:

PAGE BOY*: *Here you are Senator. Not a bad desk either. Daniel Webster used to use it.

JEFFERSON*: *Daniel Webster sat here? Holy Mackerel.

PAGE BOY*: *Give you something to shoot at, Senator. If you figure on doing any talking.

JEFFERSON*: *Oh, no. I’m just gonna sit around and listen.

PAGE BOY*: *That’s the way to get re-elected.

From Donald Ritchie, Press Gallery: Congress and the Washington Correspondents:

In the newly charged partisan atmosphere of Washington, a paper-thin line separated press reporting from promotion. As the Whig organ, the Intelligencer boosted Senator Daniel Webster’s national reputation by its handling of his celebrated reply to South Carolina Senator Robert Y. Hayne in 1830. Webster had personally invited Joseph Gales to report his speech, but the senator found Gales’s transcript devoid of emotional appeal. Since Webster had spoken only from notes, no other newspaper had published more than a brief summary of the speech. All waited for the Intelligencer‘s account. But Gales and Seaton delayed publication for an entire month while Webster revised his remarks. The famous reply to Hayne appeared in a form so heavily edited and rewritten that it bore little resemblance to the words Webster spoke in the Senate chamber. Reprinted extensively, the polished version became one of the most widely read speeches in congressional history, forever enshrining Daniel Webster as the Union’s most eloquent defender.

Not satisfied with re-editing after the fact, Webster seems to have devised a method of pre-editing. Writes Ritchie:

Webster diligently edited his speeches. The majesty of his voice and the strength of his arguments swayed his audiences, but they often heard him groping for the right word, trying out one synonym after another until he obtained the desired effect. One listener recalled Webster saying: “Why is it, Mr. Chairman, that there has gathered, congregated, this great number of inhabitants, dwellers, here; that these roads, avenues, routes of travel, highways, converge, meet, come together, here? Is it not because we have a sufficient, ample, safe, secure, convenient, commodious port, harbor, haven?” The senator removed all but the best before his words appeared in print.

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