When the first wrong was done to the first Indian, I was there. When the first slaver put out for the Congo, I stood on her deck. Am I not in your books and stories and beliefs, from the first settlements on? Am I not spoken of, still, in every church in New England? ‘Tis true the North claims me for a Southerner and the South for a Northerner, but I am neither. I am merely an honest American like yourself—and of the best descent—for, to tell the truth, Mr. Webster, though I don’t like to boast of it, my name is older in this country than yours.
-- Mr. Scratch, The Devil and Daniel Webster
The Devil and Daniel Webster makes a feint at confronting something deep and true about America's past and then quickly ignores that hurtful truth for a hopeful cry of "a man shall own his own soul" and "Don't let this country go to the devil." The truth is that the US has always been in step with the Devil. Stephen Vincent Benet knew that when he wrote the story, and when he adapted it for William Deterle's 1941 film.
But by the same turn, as evident by Webster's speech to the Jury -- a jury made of the "worst of Americans" though not a Confederate or slaver among them? -- we fight the Devil when we allow freedom to ring.
From Loving to Obergefell we overcome the Devil of our past and make America greater when we tear down bigoted laws.
From Brown to Roe to Lawrence we refuse to let this country go to the Devil when we distribute freedom out from the hands of a privileged few and take steps toward liberty and justice for all.
We recorded this November 5th. Somethings have changed since then. But then they haven't, have they?
As the film acknowledges, the devil's always been in power here.
As the film implores:
Don't be fooled like Jabez Stone.
Don't sell your soul.
Don't let this country go to the Devil.
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