Though packed with incident and populated by memorable characters, “The Devil and Daniel Webster” may remind some readers of many of those greatest stories of the Bible that they knew all about before ever actually reading the stories on their own. Often, readers discover that those stories are much shorter and skimpier on the details than they ever imagined.
The narrative thrust of this tale concerns the estranged relationship that had always seem to exist between good luck and basically decent but damnably star-crossed New Hampshire farmer named Jabez Stone. Following a particularly grueling series of unfortunate events, Jabez literally bets the farm on the beating the devil. In exchange for a very sweet taste of unparalleled success and good luck, Jabez future custody of his soul over to the Prince of Darkness.
Every unpaid debt reaches its mandatory date of collection or else, however, and when that date approaches, the terror of eternal damnation finally takes on a shape he can recognize. Desperate to find some way out of his predicament using the only tools at his disposal he can conceive would be of any help—the rule of law that transformed American democracy from a daffy dream to a land where man has the right to trial by a jury of peers, Jabez seeks the counsel of Daniel Webster: Massachusetts Senator and America’s foremost lawyer.
The surprisingly quick surrender to Webster’s demand for a trial to be heard by an American judge and jury quickly dissipates in the coldness of the air that arrives with the jury that the devil has chosen. A jury that meets the requirements set forth by Webster, but which nonetheless has the instantaneous effect of removing nearly all the blood from the face of Jabez. The twelve men duly charged with deciding the fate of Jabez’s everlasting place in the afterlife represent America’s most wretched hive of scum and villainy to date.
With a jury such as never seen before comprising souls raised from hell who likely see no reason at all why should be the only ones to suffer and a prosecuting attorney such as never seen before—nothing less the devil himself…..well, with a jury such as never seen before, at any rate, Jabez is who is the devil himself---well, with a jury like that, Jabez becomes so disconsolate that just one look at one of them the juror is enough to require he be forcefully quieted and moved off to the corner by himself. Webster never lets his own insecurities and doubts take any more obvious form than a little bit more sweat on the brown.
And with good reason: his argument setting for Jabez’s case rises to a state of eloquence never witnessed in any courtroom and probably not even possible the floor of the U.S. Capitol. Webster’s strategy may seem like a risk: rather than attempt to sway through logic and facts, he attempts to emotionally manipulate a jury populated not just by cold-blooded killers, but men who enjoyed torturing their victims before watching them die. These are the empty souls to whom Webster directs voice that starts out barely above a whisper and takes its sweet time making almost no relevant point as he gradually heightens the volume and intensity. Before too long, Webster’s defense of Jabez has touched upon everything from the precious experience of tasting good food to American overcoming its shame of slavery and how Jabe personified the individual manifestation of that spirit desiring to make America just a little better and how his run of back luck had always denied him the opportunity to make good on that dream until one day a man offering great promises that would allow Jabez to do all the fine things he had ever wanted for his country made an offer that perhaps seemed too to be true, but Jabez could hardly be the one to blame for that.
After all, do you blame one who is eager to be honest and fruitful and do good for his community when it those very ambitions that makes him rip for being tricked? No, you don’t blame the person victim who has been bamboozled. You Blame the bamboozler, right? When the jury votes to acquit his client, Webster is so empowered that presses the devil into agreeing to leave New Hampshire alone from then until doomsday.