Read the story and answer the questions that follow.
Daniel Webster’s First Case
Perhaps you have heard the name of Daniel Webster, one of the greatest lawyers who ever lived in our country. Someday you may read his speeches, and then you will learn how well he could speak before a judge when a man was tried for his life, or when any other great case was in court.
Here is a story about Daniel Webster’s first case. It was his very first, for Daniel was at this time only ten years old.
Daniel’s father was a poor farmer. Besides Daniel, he had an older son, Ezekiel. Both boys used to help him do farm work.
One day Ezekiel set a trap to catch a woodchuck, which for a long time had been stealing his breakfast from the Websters’ garden. At last he caught the woodchuck.
“Now,” cried Ezekiel, “We’ll kill the thief. You’ve done harm enough, Mr. Woodchuck, and now you shall die!”
Daniel, who had a kind heart, begged his brother not to kill the poor thing, but to take him into the woods and let him go. Ezekiel refused to do this. And so, as they could not agree, the two lads went to their father and asked him what should be done.
“Well,” said old Mr. Webster, “here is the prisoner. Let us try him for his life. Ezekiel, you shall be the lawyer against him. Daniel, you shall be the lawyer for him. You may both speak. I will be the judge”.
Ezekiel began. He spoke about the harm the woodchuck had done in the garden. He told how much time and trouble it took to catch him. He asked if the prisoner would not surely take to his bad habit again if they should let him go.
And he ended with these words: “The prisoner must die. And, to pay for the harm he has done, let us sell his skin!” Ezekiel spoke well, and old Mr. Webster seemed to think he was right.
Now he turned to his younger son and said, “I’ll hear now what you have to say, Daniel.” Daniel was very much afraid that his brother had won the case. But seeing the poor woodchuck trembling in his prison, the boy’s breast swelled with pity. Looking the judge full in the face with his deep black eyes, Daniel began.
“Ezekiel has spoken well, but he forgets some things. I say the woodchuck has the right to life, to food, and to freedom. God made him to live in the bright sunshine, in the free fields and woods.
“He is not like a cruel fox, for he kills nothing. He only eats a little of our corn, and I am sure we have plenty. Has he taken anything but the little food he needed to keep him alive? And is not that food as sweet to him as the food on Mother’s table is to us?
“You can’t say he has broken laws, as humans often do. He has only done what is in his nature to do. How, then, can you blame him? Look at the poor, trembling creature, and answer me this: How dare you take away that life that you can never give back again?” Daniel paused.
There were tears in his father’s eyes—tears that rolled down his sunburned cheeks. The plea for mercy had touched the old man’s heart. Forgetting that he was the “judge”, he started up, and cried in a loud voice, “Zeke, Zeke, you let that woodchuck go!” If ever you are temped to tease or hurt a poor creature, remember Daniel Webster’s first case. Think of his words of mercy, and “let the woodchuck go.