Great words from a great movie, The Devil and Daniel Webster. A nineteenth-century New Hampshire farmer who makes a compact with Satan for economic success enlists Daniel Webster to extract him from his contract.
Gentlemen of the jury, tonight it is my privilege to address a group of men I’ve long been acquainted with in song and story, but men I had never hoped to see. My worthy opponent, Mister Scratch, called you Americans all. Mister Scratch is right. You were Americans all. Oh, what a heritage you were born to share. Gentlemen of the jury, I envy you, for you were present at the birth of a mighty union. It was given to you to hear those first cries of pain and behold the shining babe, born of blood and tears. You are called upon tonight to judge a man named Jabez Stone. What is his case? He’s accused of breach of contract. He made a deal to find a shortcut in his life, to get rich quickly, the same kind of a deal all of you once made. You, Benedict Arnold. I speak to you first because you are better known than the rest of your colleagues here. What a different song yours could have been. A friend of Washington and Lafayette, a soldier. General Arnold, you fought so gallantly for the American cause till – let me see, what was the date? – seventeen seventy-nine. That date, burned in your heart. The lure of gold made you betray that cause. And you, Simon Girty, now known to all as “Renegade” – a loathesome word – you also took that other way. And you, Walter Butler, what would you give for another chance to see the grasses grow in Cherry Valley without the stain of blood? I could go on and on and name you all but there’s no need of that. Why stir the wounds? I know they pain enough. You were fooled like Jabez Stone, fooled and trapped in your desire to rebel against your fate. Gentlemen of the jury, it is the eternal right of every man to raise his fist against his fate. But when he does, these are crossroads. You took the wrong turn. So did Jabez Stone. But he found it out in time. He’s here tonight to save his soul. Gentlemen of the jury, I ask you to give Jabez Stone another chance to walk upon this earth, among the trees, the growing corn, and the smell of grasses in the Spring. What would you all give for another chance to see those things you must all remember and often yearn to touch again? For you were all men once. Clean American air was in your lungs and you breathed it deeply. For it was free and blew across an earth you loved. These are common things I speak of, small things, but they are good things. Yet without your soul, they mean nothing. Without your soul, they sicken. Mister Scratch once told you that your soul meant nothing. And you believed him. And you lost your freedom. Freedom isn’t just a big word. It is the morning and the bread and the risen sun. It was for freedom we came to these shores in boats and ships. It was a long journey and a hard one and a bitter one. Yes, there is sadness in being a man… but it is a proud thing, too. And out of the suffering and the starvation and the wrong and the right, a new thing has come: a free man. And when the whips of the oppressors are broken and their names forgotten and destroyed, free men will be talking and walking under a free star. Yes, we have planted freedom in this earth like wheat. And we have said to the skies above us, “A man shall own his own soul… ” Now, here is this man. He is your brother. You were Americans all.[points to the Devil]
Daniel Webster: You can’t be on his side, the side of the oppressor. Let Jabez Stone keep his soul, a soul which doesn’t belong to him alone but to his family, his son, and his country. Gentlemen of the jury, don’t let this country go to the devil. Free Jabez Stone. God bless the United States and the men who made her free.
Based on a short story from the Saturday Evening Past in 1936.