The Devil and Daniel Webster: Closing Argument to the Jury of the Damned

A scene from the classic movie, The Devil and Daniel Webster (1941), based upon the short story by Stephen Vincent Benet, in which Daniel Webster bests Satan in a jury trial to save the soul of New Hampshireman Jabez Stone.   In this scene Daniel Webster addresses a jury of the damned, all villains of American history.  I have always thought this speech one of the most eloquent statements of what it means to be an American.  Go here to read the passage in  Stephen Vincet Benet’s short story.  Below is the scene as written in the screenplay:

WEBSTER   Gentlemen of the jury — It is my privilege to   be addressing tonight a group of men I’ve long   been acquainted with in song and story, but men   I had never hoped to see.

He pauses. They stare back at him, eyes fixed, and Benedict Arnold starts to raise his head.     

  WEBSTER   My worthy opponent, Mr. Scratch, has called you  Americans all, and Mr. Scratch was right — you   were Americans all! Oh, what a heritage you   were born to share! Gentlemen of the jury, I   envy you! For you were there at the birth of a   mighty Union. It was given to you to hear those   first cries of pain — and to behold the   shining babe that was born of blood and tears.   Tonight, you are called upon to judge a man   named Jabez Stone. What is his case? He is  accused of breach of contract —  He made a   deal to find a short cut in his life — to get   rich quickly…. The same deal all of you once   made.    (a pause)   You, Benedict Arnold! … I speak to you first,   because you’re better known than all your other   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 — What was the date? Oh, yes — in 1779,   a date burned in your heart.

 Arnold bows his head again.      

WEBSTER   The lure of gold made you betray that cause. 

Another pause as his words sink in; then he whirls about and points at Simon Girty.    

WEBSTER   You, Simon Girty, now known to all as Renegade!   A loathsome word — you also took that other   way.   

(steps along the jury box) 

You, Walter Butler — What would you give to   have another chance to let the grasses grow in   Cherry Valley without the stain of blood? —   You, Captain Kidd, and you, Governor Dale — I   could go on and name you all, but there’s no need of that. Why stir the wounds? I know they pain enough.    (his voice rises)   All of you were fooled like Jabez Stone —   fooled and trapped in your desire to rebel against your fate. Gentlemen of the jury —   it’s the eternal right of man to raise his fist against his fate, but every time he does he stands at crossroads. You took the wrong turn and so did Jabez Stone.  But he found out in   time.  He is here tonight to save his soul.   Gentlemen of the jury, I ask that you give Jabez Stone another chance to walk upon the earth, among — the trees, the growing corn,   the smell of grass in spring — What would you   give for one more chance to see those things   that you must all remember and often long to   feel again? For you were all men once. Clean American air was in your lungs — you breathed it deep, 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 are nothing.   Without your soul they sicken. Mr. Scratch told you that your soul is nothing and you believed   him.  It has cost you your freedom. Freedom is not just a big word — it is the bread and the   morning and the risen sun. It was for freedom we came in boats and ships to these shores.  It has been a long journey, a hard one, a bitter one. There is sadness in being a man, but it is a proud thing, too.  Out of the suffering and the starvation, the wrong and the right, a new thing has come, a free man. When the whips of   the oppressors are broken, and their names forgotten and destroyed, free men will be walking and talking under a free star. Yes, we   have planted freedom here in this earth like wheat. We have said to the sky above us, “A man shall own his own soul.” Now — here is this   man — He is your brother! You are Americans   all, you cannot–    (pointing at the devil)   — take his side — the side of the oppressor.   Let Jabez Stone keep his soul — this soul   which doesn’t belong to him alone, which belongs to his son — his family — his   country. Gentlemen of the jury — don’t let this country go to the devil! Free Jabez   Stone! God save the United States and the men who have made her free! 

A long pause. The jury does not stir. Webster steps back, goes to the table and sits down, quietly. The pause holds for a moment longer, and then Hawthorne speaks:      

HAWTHORNE   The jury will consider its verdict.  

He hands the deed to the FOREMAN of the jury. They form a little circle and put their heads together. Jabez looks at them, the sweat of his agony in beads on his forehead. Scratch only smiles. Slowly the jury turns again and the foreman tears up the deed.      

HAWTHORNE   The jury finds for the defendant.  

A long-drawn crow of a cock is heard.

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Donald R. McClarey

Cradle Catholic. Active in the pro-life movement since 1973. Father of three and happily married for 35 years. Small town lawyer and amateur historian. Former president of the board of directors of the local crisis pregnancy center for a decade.


  1. Donald McClarey: The Devil and Daniel Webster is my favorite movie of all time. The devil stole a pie at the end and enjoyed his ill gotten pie. Every man can escape from the devil’s clutches because the devil is a liar and man has a finite mind and cannot give fully informed consent to a lie. The rational, immortal soul of each and every man is acknowedged and fought over to be free, a sovereignty American citizens are in joepardy of losing under HHS. May God bless you and yours.

  2. The Catholic Church does not hold a person’s soul liable for any sin committed while the person is possessed by the devil. Really, if it can be proved that “the devil made me do it” in a court of law, the person is found to be not guilty by reason of possession by the devil. Might this argument not be used to return petition for Divine Providence, protection and deliverance from the evil one, in the public square? These prayers are said for the common good. “And may Almighty God have mercy on your immortal soul” was said at one time by the judge after the verdict and at sentencing, to a condemned capital one murderer, as we’ll as the invocation to almighty God “to tell the Truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help me God” at the beginning of sworn testimony. What could be better for the common good? Returning the acknowledgment of the rational, immortal soul of each and every American citizen will staunch our nation’s descent into the hell fires of inhumanity, the propagation of LUST as love, homicide as charity and bestiality as tenderness, and the worst, tyranny as a desirable form of government.
    ATHEISM UNDONE BY TRUTH from http://www.rosaryvictory blogspot.com
    Madalyn Murray O’Hair, the self-proclaimed atheist sued to have all mankind’s First Amendment rights to FREEDOM subjugated to her lawsuit through her complaint that prayer to God, through Jesus Christ offended her son. An imperfect human nature, who is offended by perfection.
    If Madalyn Murray O’Hair was truly an atheist, she would have annihilated her own being. God, our Creator, made all things and KEEPS THEM IN EXISTENCE, therefore, Madalyn Murray O’Hair at some underlying level of consciousness, accepted God’s love for her and for her son. Madalyn Murray O’Hair spoke perjury in The United States Supreme Court, when, as an atheist she said: “I AM an atheist.” The atheist used God’s name: “I AM”, in vain and contradicted herself. Madalyn Murray O’Hair did not prove her case as perjurers never do.
    Madalyn Murray O’Hair did not have two witnesses to establish a judicial fact. Two atheists cannot bear the Truth into a court of law. Perjury does not count.
    Thank you Donald McClarey for The American Catholic

  3. It is the intent of Obama’s HHS mandate to remove from every person their sovereignty, to enslave the person’s soul to the dictates of the mandate. When one lays down with the devil, one wakes up in chains.

  4. iN MAYO V. SATAN: the court was wrong. All the Legion could fit on the head of a pin and all the space is left over. The court ought to have ordered an exorcism as the decision. The separation of Church and state are complementary.

  5. The Devil and Daniel Webster, is my favorite movie of all times because it is GOOD.

    THE TEN COMMANDMENTS uses the King James version of the Bible and ends up blaspheming God, by calling God a thing, a “that”. God’s name is “I AM WHO I AM”. WHO IS LIKE UNTO GOD. “WHO” denotes the PERSON OF GOD. The SUPREME SOVERIGN BEING’S NAME IS “I AM WHO I AM” not what is used in THE TEN COMMANDMENTS. The correlative pronoun “that” denotes things that are not persons.

    THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST is in a category all by itself.

    The rest are entertainment. I would like to see a movie entitled: Frankenstein goes in search of his soul.

  6. In The Lord’s Prayer we read: ”forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who sin against us”. Sinners and trespassers are addressed by “WHO”, but the Lord of heaven and earth is insulted by a correlative pronoun “that”. God’s name is “I AM WHO I AM”

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