Webster’s stump

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(HOST) Long before skiing and concerts attracted huge crowds to the Green Mountains, 15,000 people walked and rode by horse- back and wagon to a remote hilltop in Southern Vermont for a political rally. Commentator Alan Boye recently visited the spot himself.

(BOYE) I am walking across a small, flat meadow near a remote road in southern Vermont. The road zigzags up and over the Green Mountains. It climbs out of a lonely valley and then descends into another nearly uninhabited one on the other side. Except for the occasional call of a bird, the woods surrounding me are absolutely silent.

At the center of the open meadow, two or three softwood trees stand together like ghosts. Here and there are small boulders, half buried in the ground. I walk to one of them where there is a histor- ical marker.

It’s hard to imagine, but in 1840 about 15,000 people came to this isolated place. They came here by mule and by horse, on buggy and on foot in order to hear the famous orator Daniel Webster give a speech.

Webster, who had been a senator from Massachusetts, was known far and wide for his eloquent and oftentimes bombastic speeches. Webster had come to Vermont to speak at the Whig Party convention – held at this very spot – in order to support the party’s candidate for president, Benjamin Harrison.

I sit down next to the half-buried boulder. In the distance, I can see the wilderness of high, wooded hills. No one knows why the Whig party chose such an isolated place for its convention. Since the road was a popular stagecoach route, this place may have been picked because people from both sides of the Green Mountains could gather here. And gather they did. A log structure built to shelter the crowd was a hundred feet long and 50 feet wide.

The sunny, noonday light sparkles on the damp grass of the empty meadow. Near the boulder where I sit is a small fire pit. In the ashes are fragments of broken bottles. It appears that this is still a gathering place, but for people with a different agenda than presidential politics.

On that July afternoon in 1840, this meadow would have been packed with people talking politics. The noise would have been incredible: herds of horses, hundreds of kids, thousands of men and women talking and milling about. Finally, the vigorous, boom- ing voice of Daniel Webster rose above the din. His words rumbled over the distant hills and the crowd roared out its approval.

Today, I sit quietly at this famous spot and listen. A raven’s deep cackle comes from somewhere in the woods. That, and the “witchy-witchy-witchy” call of a nearby bird are the only sounds.

This is Alan Boye just walking the hills of Vermont.

Alan Boye teaches at Lyndon State College. He spoke from our studio at the Fairbanks Museum in St. Johnsbury.

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