Entry in progress—B.P.
[This entry was assisted by research from Stephen Goranson of the American Dialect Society listserv and from the Quote Investigator.]
Wikipedia: Daniel Webster
Daniel Webster (January 18, 1782 – October 24, 1852) was a leading American senator and statesman during the era of the Second Party System. He was the outstanding spokesman for American nationalism with powerful oratory that made him a key Whig leader. He spoke for conservatives, and led the opposition to Democrat Andrew Jackson and his Democratic Party. He was a spokesman for modernization, banking, and industry, but not for the common people who composed the base of his opponents in Jacksonian Democracy. “He was a thoroughgoing elitist, and he reveled in it,” says biographer Robert Remini. During his 40 years in national politics, Webster served in the House of Representatives for 10 years (representing New Hampshire) and in the Senate for 19 years (representing Massachusetts), and was appointed the United States Secretary of State under three presidents.
(Oxford English Dictionary)
room at the top: opportunity to join an elite, the top ranks of a profession, etc.
1866 Bangor (Maine) Daily Whig & Courier 27 Feb. 3/4 When Daniel Webster was a young man about commencing the study of law, he was advised not to enter the legal profession, for it was already crowded. His reply was,—‘There is room enough at the top’.
a1871 A. Cary Poet. Wks. Alice & Phoebe Cary (1882) 274 Believe me there ‘s truth in the saying: ‘There always is room at the top’.
1900 W. James Let. 2 Apr. (1920) II. 121 Verily there is room at the top. S—— seems to be the only Britisher worth thinking of.
Christian duty to emigrants : a sermon delivered before the Boston Society for the Prevention of Pauperism, at the Old South Church in Boston, May 9, 1852
By Edward Everett Hale
Boston, MA: John Wilson & Son
But above those ranks of life are the fields of life into which a Christian system would lead up the armies of English emigration, without moving them from their native land. “There is (Pg. 14—ed) room higher up"*
*This remark is Mr. Webster’s, as I have heard it quoted, as if used by him in conversation. It seems to embody the whole theory of improvement in social order.
Prize Essays on Juvenile Delinquency
By House of Refuge (Philadelphia, Pa.)
Philadelpia, PA: Edward C. & John Biddle
Mr. Webster is said to have stated this great principle of true social reform in conversation once, when some one asked him if the profession of law were not crowded.
“I think not,” he said, “there is always room higher up.”
EDWARD E. HALE
Nov. 14, 1854
19 December 1857, Saturday Evening Gazette (Boston, MA), pg. 4, col. 3:
Daniel Webster was once asked by a young law student if there was any room in the legal profession for young men. “There is always room in the upper story of any profession for those who can reach it,” was the reply.
28 July 1860, Salem (MA) Observer, “Varieties,” pg. 4, col. 1:
A young man who was thinking of studying law, said to Daniel Webster:—
“Mr. Webster, I understand the profession of law is quite full, and that there are more lawyers than are needed; do you think there is any chance for me?”
“There is always room up the stairs,” was the reply—and as true as it was ingenious. Only a few persons reach the high places, and these are always in great demand—“there is room enough up the stairs.”
22 April 1871, The Ouchita Telegraph (Monroe, LA), pg. 4, col. 1:
THERE IS ROOM AT THE TOP.
They say the professions are crowded
By seekers for fame and for bread;
That the members are pushing each other
As close as their footsteps can tread.
But be not discouraged, my brother,
Nor suffer exertion to stop.
Though thousands are pressing around you,
There is plenty of room at the top.
Be true to thy love and thy country—
The dastard wins never a prize;
But the earnest are ever the victors,
And he who on justice relies,
Who win the good guerdon by labor,
Will garner sweet rest as his crop,
And find, as the hills sink behind him,
That there’s room enough at the top.
Oh! let not the evil disturb you,
There’s good enough if you but search it out.
Make pure thine own conscience, my brother,
Nor mind what the rest are about;
And whether your work may have fallen,
In sanctum, or office, or shop,
Remember the low grounds are crowded,
But there’s always room at the top.