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Most farms have orchards, but unless they bear good fruit they "cumber the ground.” Improving fruit trees is neglected by many who cannot patiently wait for the growth of grafts, or new trees. This course will be pretty sure to hand down crabbed and unthrifty orchards to set "the children's teeth on edge, even to the third and fourth generation.” Some do not cultivate the best varieties of apples because they have heard that among these are shy-bearers. It is believed, however, that these trees, which “keep a Sabbath on alternate years," may, with proper care, be made to furnish fruit every season. To do this it is only necessary to place what all trees require - a peck of lime around the base of the tree early in the summer, and stable manures in the same manner during the fall, and then to be thoroughly dug in and covered up. Those who have practiced this have no barren trees, and do have those which bear abundantly.
No more grateful luxury can be offered the guest no article is more indispensable to the requirements of the table - and no crop promises a more "golden and ruddy” harvest, in purse and basket, than the fruit of the well-cultivated orchard. Eden is no longer to be lost, but rather won by a display of fruit.
His political activities and influence continued to grow, though he still looked on himself as an amateur or volunteer, and as far as one may judge, still had for his model his old friend Judge Harris - a man of affairs interested in politics only as a good citizen. But by 1848 he had become a member of the State Committee of the Whig Party and supported General Taylor with zeal and confidence. In June he wrote from Boston to a friend at home: “Depend upon it Old Taylor is bound to run like a prairie fire. I was at Faneuil Hall Friday night and never witnessed even there so large an assemblage or so much enthusiasm. All of the best men in Massachusetts will come in. None but the transcendentalists will stay out."
By 1850 he had become a man of weight in the local councils of the party. For a decade he had been contributing to the party papers, and always acceptably; now he was looked
to for authoritative statements of creed and practice. He had thoroughly found himself: he was a Webster Whig, a Free-Soil Whig, but no fanatic, in favor rather of compromise, reason, and accommodation.
The year 1851 was what is called an “off-year” in politics; there were no elections of importance, and though beneath the surface the issues and the candidates for the Presidential campaign of 1852 were being determined, this activity hardly stirred the public mind and had little interest for
any but those who were in the inner councils of the party. In this quietly prosperous year Morrill, who had now passed his fortieth birthday, took the long-premeditated step of marriage. His house, which he had begun in 1848 and had built under his own eye, on his own plans, was now finished and awaited the mistress whom he had long desired to install there.
In this, as in all the major decisions of his life, Morrill had moved with the serene judgment and deliberation that marked his nature. The social life that he had enjoyed had not been rich nor varied. In so far as it exceeded the experience of his brothers and sister and the neighbors in Strafford, he owed it largely to Judge Harris and his family. In this household, the sole representative that the village contained of the larger world, and the only one that had contacts with cities and books, men and affairs, Justin was a favorite from his childhood. That the Judge saw the promise of the boy goes without saying, and it is certainly more than a coincidence that the only time he ever spent away at school — a term at Thetford Academy and another at Randolph were the terms at which Judge Harris's daughters were enrolled among the students. Recalling those early days, Morrill wrote in 1835, “The daughters, Marcia and Janette, attended the village school until they were a dozen or more years of age, and then were sent, as I chanced to have been,
to Thetford Academy in 1824 and in 1825 to Randolph Academy where we were all introduced to General Lafayette as he passed through the State.”
The Harris household, of which Morrill was almost a member, not only in his boyhood, but, in consequence of his partnership with the Judge, throughout his entire career in business and until the Judge's death in 1855, was one of those ample, generous homes from which an old-fashioned, hearty hospitality radiated like sunshine. “The friends and acquaintances of the family,” to quote Morrill again, “grew to be large — the arrivals and departures almost rivaling a well-patronized hotel — and those who came and went were always greeted with good cheer. As Marcia and Janette became old enough to enter society, the 'Harris girls' as they were called, were for some years perhaps the ruling belles of the State. ... Janette (who was about two years younger than Morrill] was married to Portus Baxter, a man of marked character, one of nature's noblemen, who died here in Washington in 1868, leaving four sons with their mother."
The friendship of childhood was never broken. In 1882, when he had reached the highest point of influence and authority as Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, he wrote Mrs. Baxter acknowledging a remembrance of his seventy-second birthday and recalling their friendship which, he said, “has had a growth of more than half a century”; and added, “Let me thank you, amid all your cares, for bestowing a moment's attention upon the awkward boy you tried to teach how to dance in 1826.”
Many as were the reasons he already had for gratitude to that friendly household, another and a greater was added when he met there the lady who was to become his wife. Among the visitors to the Harrises in 1847 (?) was a distant connection, a Miss Ruth Barrell Swan of Easton, Massachusetts, then about twenty-seven, a slender, graceful, soft
voiced young woman whose serious gray eyes and Puritan charm made complete conquest of Morrill's heart. Miss Swan was the daughter of Dr. Caleb Swan, an honored and eminent physician, of Easton, Massachusetts. The courtship moved deliberately while Morrill built his house and further reduced his business interests until the 17th of September, 1851, when they were married at the bride's home in Massachusetts and came back to Strafford to settle.
While the happy pair were settling in their new home political conditions were growing more serious. The effects of the Clay Compromise of 1850 which defeated the famous Missouri Compromise of 1820 were seen to be at best dubious, if not positively ill. Designed to end and set at rest the disturbing questions of free or slave territory, among its earliest consequences was to split the Whigs into Compromise and anti-Compromise groups, which was almost to say into Southern and Northern Whigs — a cleavage full of menace for the future. The fact was, the blessed word “compromise” had lost its efficacy: it was no longer a word to conjure with. The slavery issue would not down, but loomed ever darker, and more ominous. It is significant of the esteem in which Morrill had come to be held that in this time of doubt and incertitude he should have been chosen by his party to represent them at the convention of 1852 to nominate a candidate for the Presidency.
This convention, which was held in Baltimore in June two weeks after the Democratic Convention in the same place which had nominated Franklin Pierce of New Hampshire - was in many respects notable. It was the last full convention of the Whig Party; for it was followed by the death within a few months of both the great leaders of the party, Clay and Webster, and within four years by the dissolution of the party itself. Webster was a candidate
before the convention, and the bitter disappointment which he met there undoubtedly hastened his end. Morrill's letter of June 13th to his wife gives a hint of the differences that divided the party and a glimpse of Webster:
All this ink of many shades comes out of one inkstand and it is strongly indicative of the different shades now prevailing in the Whig Party. Each section is struggling for its favorite with unwonted vigor and in some instances rather rancorously for the ultimate harmony of the party. I hope I shall be back on Saturday night, but there will be so many contested seats and other contested and more knotty questions that I despair of our convention being able to despatch business in less than a few days.
My position just at this moment made it the agreeable duty of the Secretary of State to invite me to dine yesterday at five o'clock. The courses were numerous and the cooking fully equal to that of Mrs. Morrill of Putnam. Webster was superb. Mrs. Webster the second, far better-looking than I had supposed; Miss Page, a niece from Boston, charming. The wine of all sorts very fair. But the greatest treat was to hear Webster talk at his own table unreservedly. He is graceful in all his movements and his information gathered from all directions and from every source immense and exact.
In spite of the fact that the Massachusetts delegation which presented his name was composed of eminent men and was headed by Rufus Choate, the most distinguished orator of his time save only the candidate himself, Webster received only twenty-nine votes out of two hundred and ninety-three. But, owing to the even balance between the other two candidates, President Fillmore, and General Scott, the Webster delegates for a long time held control. For five days the deadlock continued, the strain becoming intensified as it appeared that the division was sectional Fillmore's support coming all from the South, and Scott's all from the North. When the deadlock was at last broken and Scott nominated, it was a divided and disorganized party that went out to face inevitable defeat.