Why does Stephen Benet set his story, "The Devil and Daniel Webster" in Cross Corners, New Hampshire?

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belarafon | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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"The Devil and Daniel Webster" is Stephen Benet's update of the classic short "The Devil and Tom Walker," by Washington Irving. Benet sets his story against the American Antebellum Period, and statesman Daniel Webster's successful service in the U.S. government.

In the story, a New Hampshire farmer angrily pledges his soul to the Devil, experiences success, and then tries to get out of the contract. He engages Daniel Webster to represent him in trial, and although the Devil picks many men of ill virtue to serve as judge and jury, Webster is ultimately successful with an appeal to their patriotism and national pride. In the famous ending of the story:

...they say that whenever the devil comes near Marshfield, even now, he gives it a wide berth. And he hasn't been seen in the state of New Hampshire from that day to this. I'm not talking about Massachusetts or Vermont.
(Benet, "The Devil and Daniel Webster, gutenberg.net.au)

Benet created the fictional town of Cross Corners in New Hampshire because of that state's very open nationalism. New Hampshire is famous for its "Old Yankee" pride; their state motto is "Live Free or Die!" and Daniel Webster really was a New Hampshire State Representative and a famed orator. Webster proclaims to the Devil: "...any hades we want to raise in this state, we can raise ourselves, without assistance from strangers." This refers to "raising hell," in more polite terms, and serves to showcase the independent nature of New Hampshire and its citizens. Webster's repudiation of the Devil, who wants to enact his own laws on Man, is bombastic; New Hampshire residents are so independent, they can break a contract with the Devil himself!


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