Daniel Webster: Wikis


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Daniel Webster

Daguerreotype of Senator Webster circa 1847

In office
March 6, 1841 – May 8, 1843
President William Henry Harrison
John Tyler
Preceded by John Forsyth
Succeeded by Abel P. Upshur

In office
July 23, 1850 – October 24, 1852
President Millard Fillmore
Preceded by John M. Clayton
Succeeded by Edward Everett

In office
June 8, 1827 – February 22, 1841
Preceded by Elijah H. Mills
Succeeded by Rufus Choate
In office
March 4, 1845 – July 22, 1850
Preceded by Rufus Choate
Succeeded by Robert C. Winthrop

Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Massachusetts's 1st district
In office
March 4, 1823 – May 30, 1827
Preceded by Benjamin Gorham
Succeeded by Benjamin Gorham

In office
March 4, 1813 – March 3, 1817
Preceded by George Sullivan
Succeeded by Arthur Livermore

Born January 18, 1782(1782-01-18)
Salisbury, New Hampshire
Died October 24, 1852 (aged 70)
Marshfield, Massachusetts
Political party Federalist
National Republican
Spouse(s) Grace Fletcher Webster
Caroline LeRoy Webster
Alma mater Dartmouth College
Profession Politician, Lawyer
Religion Unitarian[1]

Daniel Webster (January 18, 1782 – October 24, 1852) was a leading American statesman during the nation's Antebellum Period. He first rose to regional prominence through his defense of New England shipping interests. His increasingly nationalistic views and the effectiveness with which he articulated them led Webster to become one of the most famous orators and influential Whig leaders of the Second Party System.

Daniel Webster was an attorney, and served as legal counsel in several cases that established important constitutional precedents that bolstered the authority of the Federal government. As Secretary of State, he negotiated the Webster-Ashburton Treaty that established the definitive eastern border between the United States and Canada. Primarily recognized for his Senate tenure, Webster was a key figure in the institution's "Golden days". So well-known was his skill as a Senator throughout this period that Webster became the northern member of a trio known as the "Great Triumvirate", with his colleagues Henry Clay from the west and John C. Calhoun from the south. His "Reply to Hayne" in 1830 was generally regarded as "the most eloquent speech ever delivered in Congress."[2]

As with Henry Clay, Webster's desire to see the Union preserved and conflict averted led him to search out compromises designed to stave off the sectionalism that threatened war between the North and South. Webster tried three times to achieve the Presidency; all three bids failed, the final one in part because of his compromises. Similarly, Webster's efforts to steer the nation away from civil war toward a definite peace ultimately proved futile. Despite this, Webster came to be esteemed for these efforts and was officially named by the U.S. Senate in 1957 as one of its five most outstanding members.[3]


Early life

Daniel was born on January 18, 1782, to Ebenezer and Abigail Webster (née Eastman) in Salisbury, New Hampshire, now part of the City of Franklin. There he and his nine siblings were raised on his parents' farm, a small parcel of land granted to his father. Daniel Webster's great-great-grandfather was Thomas Webster[4] (1631–1715), who was born in Ormesby St. Margaret, Norfolk, England and settled in New Hampshire. As Daniel was a "sickly child", his family indulged him, exempting him from the harsh rigors of 18th-century New England farm life.[5]

A circa 1940 woodcarving by the New Hampshire artist and craftsman Leo Malm depicting the house in Franklin, New Hampshire where Webster was born and raised along with his fourteen siblings.
Webster Hall, at Dartmouth College, houses the Rauner Special Collections Library, in which some of Webster's personal belongings and writings are held.
His birthplace in Salisbury, New Hampshire

Webster attended Phillips Exeter Academy, a preparatory school in Exeter, New Hampshire, before attending Dartmouth College. After he graduated from Dartmouth (Phi Beta Kappa), Webster was apprenticed to the lawyer Thomas W. Thompson. When his older brother's own quest for education put a financial strain on the family that consequently required Webster's support, Webster was forced to resign and become a schoolmaster — as young men often did then, when public education consisted largely of subsidies to local schoolmasters. In 1802 he served as the headmaster of the Fryeburg Academy, Maine, for the period of one year.[6] When his brother's education could no longer be sustained, Webster returned to his apprenticeship. He left New Hampshire and got employment in Boston under the prominent attorney Christopher Gore in 1804. Clerking for Gore — who was involved in international, national, and state politics — Webster educated himself on various political subjects and met New England politicians.[7]

In 1805 Webster was accepted into the bar and returned to New Hampshire to set up a practice in Boscawen, in part to be near his ailing father. During this time, Webster took a more active interest in politics. Raised by an ardently Federalist father and taught by a predominantly Federalist-leaning faculty at Dartmouth, Webster, like many New Englanders, supported Federalism. Accordingly, he accepted a number of minor local speaking engagements in support of Federalist causes and candidates.[8]

After his father's death in 1806, Webster handed over his practice to his older brother Ezekiel, who had by this time finished his schooling and been admitted to the bar. Webster then moved to the larger town of Portsmouth in 1807, and opened a practice there.[9] During this time the Napoleonic Wars began to affect Americans, as Britain began to forcibly impress American sailors into their Navy. President Thomas Jefferson retaliated with the Embargo Act of 1807, ceasing all trade to both Britain and France. New England was heavily reliant upon commerce with the two nations and the region vehemently opposed Jefferson's attempt at "peaceable coercion." Webster wrote an anonymous pamphlet attacking it.[10]

Eventually the trouble with England escalated into the War of 1812. That same year, Daniel Webster gave an address to the Washington Benevolent Society, an oration that proved critical to his career. The speech decried the war and the violation of New England's shipping rights that preceded it, but it also strongly denounced the extremism of those more radical among the unhappy New Englanders who were beginning to call for the region's secession from the Union.

The Washington oration was widely circulated and read throughout New Hampshire, and it led to Webster's 1812 selection to the Rockingham Convention, an assembly that sought to formally declare the state's grievances with President James Madison and the federal government. He was a member of the drafting committee and was chosen to compose the Rockingham Memorial to be sent to Madison. The report included much of the same tone and opinions held in the Washington Society address, except that, uncharacteristically for its chief architect, it alluded to the threat of secession saying, "If a separation of the states shall ever take place, it will be, on some occasion, when one portion of the country undertakes to control, to regulate, and to sacrifice the interest of another."[9]

"The administration asserts the right to fill the ranks of the regular army by compulsion.... Is this, sir, consistent with the character of a free government? Is this civil liberty? Is this the real character of our Constitution? No, sir, indeed it is not.... Where is it written in the Constitution, in what article or section is it contained, that you may take children from their parents, and parents from their children, and compel them to fight the battles of any war, in which the folly or the wickedness of government may engage it? Under what concealment has this power lain hidden, which now for the first time comes forth, with a tremendous and baleful aspect, to trample down and destroy the dearest rights of personal liberty?
Daniel Webster (December 9, 1814 House of Representatives Address)

Webster's efforts on behalf of New England Federalism, shipping interests, and war opposition resulted in his election to the House of Representatives in 1812, where he served two terms ending March 1817. He was an outspoken critic of the Madison administration and its wartime policies, denouncing its efforts at financing the war through paper money and opposing Secretary of War James Monroe's conscription proposal. Notable in his second term was his support of the reestablishment of a stable specie-based national bank; but he opposed the tariff of 1816 (which sought to protect the nation's manufacturing interests) and House Speaker Henry Clay's American System.

This opposition was in accordance with a number of his professed beliefs (and the majority of his constituents') including free trade, that the tariff's "great object was to raise revenue, not to foster manufacture," and that it was against "the true spirit of the Constitution" to give "excessive bounties or encouragements to one [industry] over another."[11][12]

After his second term, Webster did not seek a third, choosing his law practice instead. In an attempt to secure greater financial success for himself and his family (he had married Grace Fletcher in 1808, with whom he had four children), he moved his practice from Portsmouth to Boston.

Notable Supreme Court Cases

Webster had been highly regarded in New Hampshire since his days in Boscawen, and had been respected throughout the House during his service there. He came to national prominence, however, as counsel in a number of important Supreme Court cases.[5] These cases remain major precedents in the Constitutional jurisprudence of the United States.

In 1816, Webster was retained by the Federalist trustees of his alma mater, Dartmouth College, to represent them in their case against the newly elected New Hampshire Democratic-Republican state legislature. The legislature had passed new laws converting Dartmouth into a state institution, by changing the size of the college's trustee body and adding a further board of overseers, which they put into the hands of the state senate.[13] New Hampshire argued that they, as successor in sovereignty to George III, who had chartered Dartmouth, had the right to revise the charter.

"This, sir, is my case. It is the case not merely of that humble institution, it is the case of every college in our land... Sir, you may destroy this little institution; it is weak; it is in your hands! I know it is one of the lesser lights in the literary horizon of our country. You may put it out. But if you do so you must carry through your work! You must extinguish, one after another, all those greater lights of science which for more than a century have thrown their radiance over our land. It is, sir, as I have said, a small college. And yet there are those who love it!"

Daniel Webster (Dartmouth College v. Woodward)

Webster argued Dartmouth College v. Woodward to the Supreme Court (with significant aid from Jeremiah Mason and Jeremiah Smith), invoking Article I, section 10 of the Constitution (the Contract Clause) against the State. The Marshall court, continuing with its history of limiting states' rights and reaffirming the supremacy of the Constitutional protection of contract, ruled in favor of Webster and Dartmouth 3–1. This decided that corporations did not, as many then held, have to justify their privileges by acting in the public interest, but were independent of the states.[14]

Other notable appearances by Webster before the Supreme Court include his representation of James McCulloch in McCulloch v. Maryland (1819), the Cohens in Cohens v. Virginia (1821), and Thomas Gibbons in Gibbons v. Ogden (1824), cases similar to Dartmouth in the court's application of a broad interpretation of the Constitution and strengthening of the federal courts' power to constrain the states, which have since been used to justify wide powers for the federal government. Webster's handling of these cases made him one of the era's foremost constitutional lawyers, as well as one of the most highly paid.[15]

Webster's growing prominence as a constitutional lawyer led to his election as a delegate to the 1820 Massachusetts Constitutional Convention. There he spoke in opposition to universal suffrage (for men), on the Federalist grounds that power naturally follows property, and the vote should be limited accordingly; but the constitution was amended against his advice.[16] He also supported the (existing) districting of the State Senate so that each seat represented an equal amount of property.[17]

Webster's performance at the convention furthered his reputation. Joseph Story (also a delegate at the convention) wrote to Jeremiah Mason following the convention saying "Our friend Webster has gained a noble reputation. He was before known as a lawyer; but he has now secured the title of an eminent and enlightened statesman."[18] Webster also spoke at Plymouth commemorating the landing of the Pilgrims in 1620; his oration was widely circulated and read throughout New England. He was elected to the Eighteenth Congress in 1822, from Boston.

In his second term, Webster found Miles Bearden himself a leader of the fragmented House Federalists who had split following the failure of the secessionist-minded 1814 Hartford Convention that he avoided. Speaker Henry Clay made Webster chairman of the Judiciary Committee in an attempt to win his and the Federalists' support. His term of service in the House between 1822 and 1828 was marked by his legislative success at reforming the United States criminal code, and his failure at expanding the size of the Supreme Court. He largely supported the National Republican administration of John Quincy Adams, including Adams' candidacy in the highly contested election of 1824 and the administration's defense of treaty-sanctioned Creek Indian land rights against Georgia's expansionist claims.[19]

While a Representative, Webster continued accepting speaking engagements in New England, most notably his oration on the fiftieth anniversary of Bunker Hill (1825) and his eulogy on Adams and Jefferson (1826). With the support of a coalition of both Federalists and Republicans, Webster's record in the House and his celebrity as an orator led to his June 1827 election to the Senate from Massachusetts. His first wife, Grace, died in January 1828, and he married Caroline LeRoy in December 1829.


Webster Replying to Hayne by George P.A. Healy

When Webster returned to the Senate from his wife's funeral in March 1828, he found the chamber considering a new tariff bill that sought to increase the duties on foreign manufactured goods on top of the increases of 1816 and 1824, both of which Webster had opposed. Now, however, Webster changed his position to support a protective tariff. Explaining the change, Webster stated that after the failure of the rest of the nation to heed New England's objections in 1816 and 1824, "nothing was left to New England but to conform herself to the will of others," and now consequently being heavily invested in manufacturing, he would not now do them injury. It is the more blunt opinion of Justus D. Doenecke that Webster's support of the 1828 tariff was a result of "his new closeness to the rising mill-owning families of the region, the Lawrences and the Lowells."[9] Webster also gave greater approval to Clay's American System, a change that along with his modified view of the tariff brought him closer to Henry Clay.

The passage of the tariff brought increased sectional tensions to the U.S., tensions that were agitated by then Vice President John C. Calhoun's promulgation of his South Carolina Exposition and Protest. The exposition espoused the idea of nullification, a doctrine first articulated in the U.S. by Madison and Jefferson that held that states were sovereign entities and held ultimate authority over the limits of the power of the federal government, and could thus "nullify" any act of the central government it deemed unconstitutional. While for a time the tensions increased by Calhoun's exposition lay beneath the surface, they burst forth when South Carolina Senator Robert Young Hayne opened the 1830 Webster-Hayne debate.

An early daguerreotype of Daniel Webster

By 1830, Federal land policy had long been an issue. The National Republican administration had held land prices high. According to Adams' Secretary of the Treasury Richard Rush, this served to provide the federal government with an additional source of revenue, but also to discourage westward migration that tended to increase wages through the increased scarcity of labor.[20] Senator Hayne, in an effort to sway the west against the north and the tariff, seized upon a minor point in the land debate and accused the north of attempting to limit western expansion for their own benefit. As Vice President Calhoun was presiding officer over the Senate but could not address the Senate in business, James Schouler contended that Hayne was doing what Calhoun could not.[21]

The next day, Webster, feeling compelled to respond on New England's behalf, gave his first rebuttal to Hayne, highlighting what he saw as the virtues of the North's policies toward the west and claiming that restrictions on western expansion and growth were primarily the responsibility of southerners. Hayne in turn responded the following day, denouncing Webster's inconsistencies with regards to the American system and personally attacking Webster for his role in the so called "corrupt bargain" of 1824. The course of the debate strayed even further away from the initial matter of land sales with Hayne openly defending the "Carolina Doctrine" of nullification as being the doctrine of Jefferson and Madison.

When my eyes shall be turned to behold for the last time the sun in heaven, may I not see him shining on the broken and dishonored fragments of a once glorious Union; on States dissevered, discordant, belligerent; on a land rent with civil feuds, or drenched, it may be, in fraternal blood! Let their last feeble and lingering glance rather behold the gorgeous ensign of the republic... not a stripe erased or polluted, nor a single star obscured, bearing for its motto, no such miserable interrogatory as "What is all this worth?" nor those other words of delusion and folly, "Liberty first and Union afterwards"; but everywhere, spread all over in characters of living light, blazing on all its ample folds, as they float over the sea and over the land, and in every wind under the whole heavens, that other sentiment, dear to every true American heart,— Liberty and Union, now and for ever, one and inseparable!

Daniel Webster (Second Reply to Hayne)

On January 27, Webster gave his Second Reply to Hayne, in which Webster openly attacked Nullification, negatively contrasted South Carolina's response to the tariff with that of his native New England's response to the Embargo of 1807, rebutted Hayne's personal attacks against him, and famously concluded in defiance of nullification (which was later embodied in John C. Calhoun's declaration of "The Union; second to our liberty most dear!"), "Liberty and Union, now and for ever, one and inseparable!"

The so-called "Black Dan" portrait

While the debate's philosophical presentation of nullification and Webster's abstract fears of rebellion were brought into reality in 1832 when Calhoun's native South Carolina passed its Ordinance of Nullification, Webster supported President Andrew Jackson's sending of U.S. troops to the borders of South Carolina and the Force Bill, not Henry Clay's 1833 compromise that eventually defused the crisis. Webster thought Clay's concessions were dangerous and would only further embolden the south and legitimize its tactics. Especially unsettling was the resolution affirming that "the people of the several States composing these United States are united as parties to a constitutional compact, to which the people of each State acceded as a separate sovereign community." The usage of the word accede would, in his opinion, lead to the logical end of those states' right to secede.

At the same time however, Webster, like Clay, opposed the economic policies of Andrew Jackson, the most famous of those being Jackson's campaign against the Second Bank of the United States in 1832, an institution that held Webster on retainer as legal counsel and of whose Boston Branch he was the director. Clay, Webster, and a number of other former Federalists and National Republicans united as the Whig Party, in defense of the Bank against Jackson's intention to replace it. There was an economic panic in 1837, which converted Webster's heavy speculation in midwestern property into a personal debt from which Webster never recovered. His debt was exacerbated by his propensity for living "habitually beyond his means", lavishly furnishing his estate and giving away money with "reckless generosity and heedless profusion", in addition to indulging the smaller-scale "passions and appetites" of gambling and alcohol.[22]

Since I have arrived here [in Washington], I have had an application to be concerned, professionally, against the bank, which I have declined, of course, although I believe my retainer has not been renewed or refreshed as usual. If it be wished that my relation to the Bank should be continued, it may be well to send me the usual retainers.

Daniel Webster (A letter to officials at the bank)

In 1836, Webster was one of three Whig Party candidates to run for the office of President, but he only managed to gain the support of Massachusetts. This was the first of three unsuccessful attempts at gaining the presidency. In 1839, the Whig Party nominated William Henry Harrison for president. Webster was offered the vice presidency, but he declined.

As Secretary of State

Following his victory in 1840, President Harrison appointed Webster to the post of Secretary of State in 1841, a post he retained under President John Tyler after the death of Harrison a month after his inauguration. In September 1841, an internal division amongst the Whigs over the question of the National Bank caused all the Whigs (except Webster who was in Europe at the time) to resign from Tyler's cabinet. In 1842, he was the architect of the Webster-Ashburton Treaty, which resolved the Caroline Affair, established the definitive Eastern border between the United States and Canada (Maine and New Brunswick), and signaled a definite and lasting peace between the United States and Britain. Webster succumbed to Whig pressure in May 1842 and finally left the cabinet. Webster later served again as Secretary of State in President Millard Fillmore's administration from 1850 until 1852.

Later career and death

Daniel Webster: New England's choice for twelfth President of the United States

In 1845, he was re-elected to the Senate, where he opposed both the Texas Annexation and the resulting Mexican-American War for fear of its upsetting the delicate balance of slave and non-slave states. In the United States presidential election, 1848, he sought the Whig Party's nomination for the President but was beaten by the military hero Zachary Taylor. Webster was once again offered the Vice-Presidency, but he declined saying, "I do not propose to be buried until I am really dead and in my coffin."[23] The Whig ticket won the election; Taylor died 16 months later. This was the second time a President who offered Webster the chance to be Vice President died.

The Compromise of 1850 was the Congressional effort led by Henry Clay and Stephen Douglas to compromise the sectional disputes that seemed to be headed toward civil war. On March 7, 1850, Webster gave one of his most famous speeches, characterizing himself "not as a Massachusetts man, nor as a Northern man but as an American..." In it he gave his support to the compromise, which included the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850 that required federal officials to recapture and return runaway slaves.

Webster was bitterly attacked by abolitionists in New England who felt betrayed by his compromises. The Rev. Theodore Parker complained, "No living man has done so much to debauch the conscience of the nation." Horace Mann described him as being "a fallen star! Lucifer descending from Heaven!" James Russell Lowell called Webster "the most meanly and foolishly treacherous man I ever heard of."[24] Webster never recovered the popularity he lost in the aftermath of the Seventh of March speech.

I shall stand by the Union...with absolute disregard of personal consequences. What are personal consequences...in comparison with the good or evil which may befall a great country in a crisis like this?...Let the consequences be what they will.... No man can suffer too much, and no man can fall too soon, if he suffer or if he fall in defense of the liberties and constitution of his country.

Daniel Webster (July 17, 1850 address to the Senate)

Resigning the Senate under a cloud in 1850, he resumed his former position as Secretary of State in the cabinet of Whig President Millard Fillmore.

Notable in this second tenure was the increasingly strained relationship between the United States and the Austrian Empire in the aftermath of what was seen by Austria as American interference in its rebellious Kingdom of Hungary (see Hungarian Revolution of 1848). This was especially manifest in very warm welcome extended to the exiled Hungarian leader Lajos Kossuth in the US: his ship was greeted with a hundred-gun salute when it passed Jersey City and hundreds of thousands of people came to see him set foot in New York; heralded as the Hungarian Washington, he was given a congressional Banquet and received at the White House and the House of Representatives. Webster himself wanted Kossuth's help in the upcoming presidential election, and spoke of "seeing the American Republican model develop in Hungary", although President Fillmore apologised to the Austrian chargé d'affaires for what he explained was an individual unofficial opinion. However, as chief American diplomat, Webster did author the Hülsemann Letter, in which he defended what he believed to be America's right to take an active interest in the internal politics of Hungary, while still maintaining its neutrality.

Webster also advocated for the establishment of commercial relations with Japan, going so far as to draft the letter that was to be presented to the Emperor Kōmei on President Fillmore's behalf by Commodore Matthew Perry on his 1852 voyage to Asia.

As Secretary of State Webster continued to strongly uphold the Compromise of 1850 and specifically the Fugitive Slave Law. In early 1851, when the anti-slavery Liberty Party was due to hold its state convention at Syracuse, New York, Webster sternly warned that the law would be enforced even "here in Syracuse in the midst of the next Anti-Slavery Convention."[25]. Actually, during the conference William Henry, an escaped slave from Missouri resident at Syracuse, was duly arrested and was about to be sent back to his master - to which the abolitionists reacted by storming the jail and setting the fugitive slave free (see Jerry Rescue), motivated in part by the desire to defy Webster.

In 1852 he made his final campaign for the Presidency, again for the Whig nomination. Before and during the campaign a number of critics asserted that his support of the compromise was only an attempt to win southern support for his candidacy, "profound selfishness," in the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson. Though the Seventh of March speech was indeed warmly received throughout the south, the speech made him too polarizing a figure to receive the nomination and Webster was again defeated by a military hero, this time General Winfield Scott.

He died on October 24, 1852 at his home in Marshfield, Massachusetts, after falling from his horse and suffering a crushing blow to the head, complicated by cirrhosis of the liver, which resulted in a cerebral hemorrhage.[26]

His son, Fletcher Webster, went on to be a Union Colonel in the Civil War commanding the 12th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, but he was killed in action on August 29, 1862, during the Second Battle of Bull Run. Today a monument stands in his honor in Manassas, Virginia, as well as a regimental monument on Oak Hill at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.

Historical evaluations and legacy

Ralph Waldo Emerson, who had criticized Webster following the Seventh of March address, remarked in the immediate aftermath of his death that Webster was "the completest man", and that "nature had not in our days or not since Napoleon, cut out such a masterpiece." Others like Henry Cabot Lodge and John F. Kennedy noted Webster's vices, especially the perpetual debt against which he, as Lodge reports, employed "checks or notes for several thousand dollars in token of admiration" from his friends. "This was, of course, utterly wrong and demoralizing, but Mr. Webster came, after a time, to look upon such transactions as natural and proper. [...] He seems to have regarded the merchants and bankers of State Street very much as a feudal baron regarded his peasantry. It was their privilege and duty to support him, and he repaid them with an occasional magnificent compliment."[22]

Several historians suggest Webster failed to exercise leadership for any political issue or vision. Lodge describes (with the Rockingham Convention in mind) Webster's "susceptibility to outside influences which formed such an odd trait in the character of a man so imperious by nature. When acting alone, he spoke his own opinions. When in a situation where public opinion was concentrated against him, he submitted to modifications of his views with a curious and indolent indifference."[27] Similarly, Arthur Schlesinger cites Webster's letter requesting retainers for fighting for the Bank, one of his most inveterate causes; he then asks how the American people could "follow [Webster] through hell or high water when he would not lead unless someone made up a purse for him?"

He served the interest of the wealthy Boston merchants who elected and supported him, first for free trade, and later, when they had started manufacturing, for protection; both for the Union and for a compromise with the South in 1850. Schlesinger remarks that the real miracle of The Devil and Daniel Webster is not a soul sold to the devil, or the jury of ghostly traitors, but Webster speaking against the "sanctity of the contract".

Secession! Peaceable secession! Sir, your eyes and mine are never destined to see that miracle. The dismemberment of this vast country without convulsion! ... There can be no such thing as a peaceable secession. Peaceable secession is an utter impossibility...We could not separate the states by any such line if we were to draw it...

Daniel Webster (March 7, 1850 A Plea for Harmony and Peace)

Webster has garnered respect and admiration for his Seventh of March speech in defense of the 1850 compromise measures that helped to delay the Civil War. In Profiles in Courage, Kennedy called Webster's defense of the compromise, despite the risk to his presidential ambitions and the denunciations he faced from the north, one of the "greatest acts of courageous principle" in the history of the Senate. Conversely, Seventh of March has been criticized by Lodge who contrasted the speech's support of the 1850 compromise with his 1833 rejection of similar measures. "While he was brave and true and wise in 1833," said Lodge, "in 1850 he was not only inconsistent, but that he erred deeply in policy and statesmanship" in his advocacy of a policy that "made war inevitable by encouraging slave-holders to believe that they could always obtain anything they wanted by a sufficient show of violence."[28]

More widely agreed upon, notably by both Senator Lodge and President Kennedy, is Webster's skill as an orator, with Kennedy praising Webster's "ability to make alive and supreme the latent sense of oneness, of union, that all Americans felt but few could express."[29][30] Schlesinger, however, notes that he is also an example of the limitations of formal oratory: Congress heard Webster or Clay with admiration, but they rarely prevailed at the vote. Plainer speech and party solidarity were more effective, and Webster never approached Jackson's popular appeal.[31]

Commemorative measures

Portrait of Daniel Webster chosen by Senator Kennedy to adorn the Senate Reception Room.

Webster's legacy has been commemorated by numerous means:

Literature and film
Schools and colleges
  • Daniel Webster College in Nashua, New Hampshire.
  • A dormitory at Phillips Exeter Academy is named Webster Hall in honor of Daniel Webster, as is the fifth floor of Phillips Hall, which is known as the Daniel Webster Debate Room. It serves as the meeting spot for the Exeter Debate Team.
  • Daniel Webster Middle School (formerly Daniel Webster Junior High School) in West Los Angeles, California
  • Daniel Webster Middle School in Waukegan, Illinois
  • Daniel Webster Elementary School in Marshfield, Massachusetts
  • Daniel Webster Elementary School in Daly City, California
Postage stamps
  • His likeness appeared on a 10-cent U.S. postage stamp in 1890.
  • A 2-cent U.S. postage stamp in 1932 marked the 150th anniversary of his birth.
In Washington, D.C.
In New Hampshire
Other place names

See also


  1. ^ Cooke, George (1902). Unitarianism in America. Kessinger Publishing. p. 271. ISBN 1419192108. http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=NZt97oFb4EsC&pg=PA271&dq=%22daniel+webster%22+%22unitarian+universalism%22&as_brr=3. 
  2. ^ Allan Nevins, Ordeal of the Union" (1947) 1:288
  3. ^ United States Senate website at
  4. ^ "Family History and Genealogy Records". FamilySearch.org. http://www.familysearch.org/eng/default.asp. Retrieved 2009-08-05. 
  5. ^ a b "Daniel Webster." American Eras, Volume 5: The Reform Era and Eastern U.S. Development, 1815–1850. Gale Research, 1998. Student Resource Center. Thomson Gale. June 16, 2006.
  6. ^ Fryeburg Webster Centennial: Celebrating the Coming of Daniel Webster to Fryeburg 100 Years Ago. 1902]. [1]
  7. ^ Lodge (1883). Daniel Webster. pp. 12. 
  8. ^ Cheek, H. Lee, Jr. "Webster, Daniel." In Schultz, David, ed. Encyclopedia of American Law. New York: Facts On File, Inc., 2002. Facts On File, Inc. American History Online.
  9. ^ a b c "Daniel Webster." Discovering Biography. Online Edition. Gale, 2003. Student Resource Center. Thomson Gale. June 16, 2006
  10. ^ Norton (2005). A People & A Nation. pp. 228. 
  11. ^ "WEBSTER, DANIEL (1782–1852)". Encyclopedia Britannica, 11th Edition.. http://encyclopedia.jrank.org/WAT_WIL/WEBSTER_DANIEL_1782_1852_.html. Retrieved 2006-06-18. 
  12. ^ Lodge (1883). Daniel Webster. pp. 54. 
  13. ^ Baker, Thomas E. "Dartmouth College v. Woodward." In Schultz, David, ed. Encyclopedia of American Law. New York: Facts On File, Inc., 2002. Facts On File, Inc. American History Online.
  14. ^ O'Brien, Patrick K., gen. ed. "Dartmouth College case." Encyclopedia of World History. Copyright George Philip Limited. New York: Facts On File, Inc., 2000. Facts On File, Inc. World History Online. Schlesinger Age of Jackson. p. 324–5
  15. ^ Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved June 18, 2006, from Encyclopædia Britannica Premium Service: entry
  16. ^ Schlesinger (1945). The Age of Jackson. pp. 12–15. 
  17. ^ Lodge (1883). Daniel Webster. pp. 113. 
  18. ^ Lodge (1883). Daniel Webster. pp. 38. 
  19. ^ Lodge (1883). Daniel Webster. pp. 49. 
  20. ^ Schlesinger (1945). The Age of Jackson. pp. 347. 
  21. ^ Schouler, James (1891). History of the United States. New York: Dodd, Mead & Company. 
  22. ^ a b Lodge (1883). Daniel Webster. pp. 118. 
  23. ^ Binkley, Wilfred Ellsworth; Moos, Malcolm Charles (1949). A Grammar of American Politics: The National Government. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. p. 265. http://books.google.com/books?id=FVSFAAAAMAAJ&q=%22I+do+not+propose+to+be+buried+until+I+am+really+dead+and+in+my+coffin.%22. 
  24. ^ Kennedy (2004). Profiles in Courage. pp. 69–70. 
  25. ^ Fergus M. Bordewich. Bound for Canaan: The Underground Railroad and the War for the Soul of America. Amistad, 2005. p. 333. ISBN 978-0060524302
  26. ^ Remini, p. 761
  27. ^ Lodge (1883). Daniel Webster. pp. 18. 
  28. ^ Lodge (1883). Daniel Webster. pp. 103,105. 
  29. ^ Kennedy (2004). Profiles in Courage. pp. 58. 
  30. ^ Lodge (1883). Daniel Webster. pp. 66. 
  31. ^ Schlesinger (1945). The Age of Jackson. pp. 50–2. 
  32. ^ "The "Famous Five" Now the "Famous Seven"". Senate Historical Office. http://www.senate.gov/artandhistory/history/common/briefing/Famous_Five_Seven.htm. Retrieved 2006-10-26. 
  33. ^ "Webster Corners". Twp.webster.mi.us. 1992-09-09. http://www.twp.webster.mi.us/historyA.htm. Retrieved 2009-08-05. 
  34. ^ "Dan'l Webster Inn web site". Danlwebsterinn.com. http://danlwebsterinn.com/about_cape_cod_inn/hotel_history. Retrieved 2009-08-05. 


  • Bartlett, Irving H. (1978). Daniel Webster. 
  • Baxter, Maurice G. Daniel Webster and the Supreme Court (1966)
  • Brown, Thomas (1985). Politics and Statesmanship: Essays on the American Whig Party. 
  • Current, Richard Nelson. Daniel Webster and the Rise of National Conservatism (1955), short biography
  • Curtis, George Ticknor. Life of Daniel Webster (1870)
  • Formisano, Ronald P. (1983). The Transformation of Political Culture: Massachusetts Parties, 1790s–1840s. 
  • Hammond, Bray. Banks and Politics in America from the Revolution to the Civil War (1960), Pulitzer prize; the standard history. Pro-Bank
  • Holt, Michael F. (1999). The Rise and Fall of the American Whig Party: Jacksonian Politics and the Onset of the Civil War. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-505544-6. 
  • Kennedy, John F. (2004). Profiles In Courage. New York: Perennial Classics. ISBN 0-06-054439-2. 
  • Lodge, Henry Cabot. Daniel Webster (1883)
  • Allan Nevins, Ordeal of the Union: Fruits of Manifest Destiny, 1847–1852" (1947), highly detailed narrative of national politics.
  • Norton, Mary Beth (2005). A People & A Nation. New York: Houghton Mifflin Company. ISBN 0-618-37589-9. , college textbook
  • Ogg, Frederic Austin. Daniel Webster (1914)
  • Remini, Robert V. (1997). Daniel Webster. , the standard scholarly biography
  • Shade, William G. (1983). "The Second Party System". in Paul Kleppner, et al.. Evolution of American Electoral Systems. 
  • Smith, Craig R. "Daniel Webster's Epideictic Speaking: A Study in Emerging Whig Virtues" online

Primary sources

  • The works of Daniel Webster edited in 6 vol. by Edward Everett, Boston: Little, Brown and company, 1853. online edition
  • Howe, Daniel Walker (1973). The American Whigs: An Anthology. 
  • Wiltse, Charles M., Harold D. Moser, and Kenneth E. Shewmaker (Diplomatic papers), eds., The Papers of Daniel Webster, (1974–1989). Published for Dartmouth College by the University Press of New England. ser. 1. Correspondence: v. 1. 1798–1824. v. 2. 1825–1829. v. 3. 1830–1834. v. 4. 1835–1839. v. 5. 1840–1843. v. 6. 1844–1849. v. 7. 1850–1852—ser. 2. Legal papers: v. 1. The New Hampshire practice. v. 2. The Boston practice. v. 3. The federal practice (2 v.) -- ser. 3. Diplomatic papers: v. 1. 1841–1843. v. 2. 1850–1852—ser. 4. Speeches and formal writings: v. 1. 1800–1833. v. 2. 1834–1852.

External links

United States House of Representatives
Preceded by
George Sullivan
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from New Hampshire's At-large congressional district

March 4, 1813 – March 3, 1817
Served alongside: Bradbury Cilley, Samuel Smith, Charles Atherton, William Hale, Roger Vose and Jeduthun Wilcox
Succeeded by
Arthur Livermore
Preceded by
Benjamin Gorham
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Massachusetts's 1st congressional district

March 4, 1823 – May 30, 1827
Succeeded by
Benjamin Gorham
United States Senate
Preceded by
Elijah H. Mills
United States Senator (Class 1) from Massachusetts
June 8, 1827 – February 22, 1841
Served alongside: Nathaniel Silsbee, John Davis
Succeeded by
Rufus Choate
Preceded by
Rufus Choate
United States Senator (Class 1) from Massachusetts
March 4, 1845 – July 22, 1850
Served alongside: John Davis
Succeeded by
Robert C. Winthrop
Political offices
Preceded by
Samuel Smith
Chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Finance
Succeeded by
Silas Wright
New York
Preceded by
John Forsyth
United States Secretary of State
Served under: William Henry Harrison, John Tyler

March 6, 1841 – May 8, 1843
Succeeded by
Abel P. Upshur
Preceded by
John M. Clayton
United States Secretary of State
Served under: Millard Fillmore

July 23, 1850 – October 24, 1852
Succeeded by
Edward Everett
Party political offices
Preceded by
Whig Party presidential candidate
1836 (lost)(1)
Succeeded by
William Henry Harrison
Preceded by
Union Party presidential candidate
1852 (lost)(2)
Succeeded by
Notes and references
1. The Whig Party ran regional candidates in 1836. Webster ran in Massachusetts, William Henry Harrison ran in the Northern states, and Hugh Lawson White ran in the Southern states.
2. Daniel Webster died on October 25, 1852, one week before the election. However, his name remained on the ballot in Massachusetts and Georgia and he still managed to poll nearly seven thousand votes.


Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

There is nothing so powerful as truth — and often nothing so strange.

Daniel Webster (18 January 178225 October 1852) was a United States Senator and Secretary of State. Famed for his ability as an orator, Webster was one of the most important figures in the Second Party System from the 1820s to the 1850s.



It is my living sentiment, and by the blessing of God it shall be my dying sentiment — Independence now and Independence forever.
God grants liberty only to those who love it, and are always ready to guard and defend it.
Mind is the great lever of all things; human thought is the process by which human ends are ultimately answered.
  • It is, Sir, as I have said, a small college. And yet there are those who love it!
  • Whatever makes men good Christians, makes them good citizens.
    • Speech at Plymouth, MA (December 22, 1820)
  • Labor in this country is independent and proud. It has not to ask the patronage of capital, but capital solicits the aid of labor.
    • Speech (April 2, 1824)
  • It is my living sentiment, and by the blessing of God it shall be my dying sentiment — Independence now and Independence forever.
    • Discourse in Commemoration of Adams and Jefferson, Faneuil Hall, Boston (August 2, 1826)
  • Washington is in the clear upper sky.
    • Discourse in Commemoration of Adams and Jefferson, Faneuil Hall, Boston (August 2, 1826)
  • He smote the rock of the national resources, and abundant streams of revenue gushed forth. He touched the dead corpse of Public Credit, and it sprung upon its feet.
    • Speech on Hamilton (March 10, 1831)
  • On this question of principle, while actual suffering was yet afar off, they [the Colonies] raised their flag against a power to which, for purposes of foreign conquest and subjugation, Rome in the height of her glory is not to be compared — a power which has dotted over the surface of the whole globe with her possessions and military posts, whose morning drumbeat, following the sun, and keeping company with the hours, circles the earth with one continuous and unbroken strain of the martial airs of England.
    • Speech (May 7, 1834)
  • God grants liberty only to those who love it, and are always ready to guard and defend it.
    • Speech (June 3, 1834)
  • One country, one constitution, one destiny.
    • Speech (March 15, 1837)
  • There are persons who constantly clamor. They complain of oppression, speculation, and pernicious influence of wealth. They cry out loudly against all banks and corporations, and a means by which small capitalists become united in order to produce important and beneficial results. They carry on mad hostility against all established institutions. They would choke the fountain of industry and dry all streams.
    • Speech in the Senate (March 12, 1838)
  • When tillage begins, other arts follow. The farmers therefore are the founders of human civilization.
    • On Agriculture (January 13, 1840)
  • America has furnished to the world the character of Washington. And if our American institutions had done nothing else, that alone would have entitled them to the respect of mankind.
    • On the Completion of the Bunker Hill Monument (June 17, 1843)
  • Thank God! I — I also — am an American!
    • On the Completion of the Bunker Hill Monument (June 17, 1843)
  • Justice, sir, is the great interest of man on Earth. It is the ligament which holds civilized beings and civilized nations together.
    • On Mr. Justice Story (September 12, 1845)
  • Inconsistencies of opinion, arising from changes of circumstances, are often justifiable.
    • Speech (July 25 and 27, 1846)
  • Liberty exists in proportion to wholesome restraint.
    • Speech at the Charleston Bar Dinner (May 10, 1847)
  • The law: It has honored us; may we honor it.
    • Speech at the Charleston Bar Dinner (May 10, 1847)
  • I have read their platform, and though I think there are some unsound places in it, I can stand upon it pretty well. But I see nothing in it both new and valuable. "What is valuable is not new, and what is new is not valuable."
    • Speech at Marshfield, MA (September 1, 1848)
  • I was born an American; I will live an American; I shall die an American.
    • Speech (July 17, 1850)
  • Faneuil Hall, the cradle of American liberty.
    • Letter (April 1851)
  • Men hang out their signs indicative of their respective trades: shoemakers hang out a gigantic shoe; jewelers, a monster watch; and the dentist hangs out a gold tooth; but up in the mountains of New Hampshire, God Almighty has hung out a sign to show that there He makes men.
    • On the Old Man of the Mountain
  • The dignity of history consists in reciting events with truth and accuracy, and in presenting human agents and their actions in an interesting and instructive form. The first element in history, therefore, is truthfulness; and this truthfulness must be displayed in a concrete form.
  • I still live.
    • Last words (October 24, 1852)

Address on Laying of the Cornerstone of the Bunker Hill Monument (June 17, 1825)

  • We wish that this column, rising towards heaven among the pointed spires of so many temples dedicated to God, may contribute also to reproduce in all minds a pious feeling of dependence and gratitude. We wish, finally, that the last object to the sight of him who leaves his native shore, and the first to gladden his who revisits it, may be something which shall remind him of the liberty and the glory of his country.
  • Mind is the great lever of all things; human thought is the process by which human ends are ultimately answered.
  • Knowldege, in truth, is the great sun in the firmament. Life and power are scattered with all its beams.
  • Let our object be our country, our whole country, and nothing but our country.
  • Let us develop the resources of our land, call forth its powers, build up its institutions, promote all its great interestss, and see whether we also, in our day and generation, may not perform something worthy to be remembered.

Second Reply to Hayne (January 26-27, 1830)

  • The gentleman has not seen how to reply to this, otherwise than by supposing me to have advanced the doctrine that a national debt is a national blessing.
  • I shall enter on no encomium upon Massachusetts; she needs none. There she is. Behold her, and judge for yourselves. There is her history; the world knows it by heart. The past, at least, is secure. There is Boston, and Concord, and Lexington, and Bunker Hill; and there they will remain forever.
  • The people's government, made for the people, made by the people, and answerable to the people.
  • When my eyes shall be turned to behold for the last time the sun in heaven, may I not see him shining on the broken and dishonored fragments of a once glorious Union; on States dissevered, discordant, belligerent; on a land rent with civil feuds, or drenched, it may be, in fraternal blood! Let their last feeble and lingering glance rather behold the glorious ensign of the republic, now known and honored throughout the earth, still full high advanced, its arms and trophies streaming in the original lustre, not a stripe erased or polluted, nor a single star obscured, bearing for its motto, no such miserable interrogatory as 'What is all this worth?' nor those words of delusion and folly, 'Liberty first and Union afterward,'; but everywhere, spread over all the characters of living light, blazing on all its ample folds, as they float over the sea and over the land, and in every wind under the whole heavens, that other sentiment, dear to every true American heart, -- Liberty and Union, now and forever, one and inseparable!

Argument on the murder of Captain White (April 6, 1830)

  • There is no refuge from confession but suicide; and suicide is confession.
  • There is nothing so powerful as truth — and often nothing so strange.
  • Fearful concatenation of circumstances.
  • A sense of duty pursues us ever. It is omnipresent, like the Deity. If we take to ourselves the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, duty performed or duty violated is still with us, for our happiness or our misery. If we say the darkness shall cover us, in the darkness as in the light our obligations are yet with us.


  • Let us not be pygmies in a case that calls for men.
    • In reference to the Compromise of 1850
  • The Administration asserts the right to fill the ranks of the regular army by compulsion...Is this, sir, consistent with the character of a free government? Is this civil liberty? Is this the real character of our Constitution? No sire, indeed it is not. The Constitution is libeled...Where is it written in the Constitution, in what article or section is it contained, that you may take children from their parents from their children, and compel them to fight the battles of any war in which the folly or the wickedness of government may engage it? Under what concealment has this power lain hidden which now for the first time comes forth, with a tremendous and bailful aspect, to trample down and destroy the dearest rights of personal liberty? Who will show me any Constitutional injunction which makes it the duty of the American people to surrender everything valuable in life, and even life itself, not when the safety of their country and its liberties may demand the sacrifice, but whenever the purposes of an ambitious and mischievous government may require it?
  • If religious books are not widely circulated among the masses in this country, I do not know what is going to become of us as a nation. If truth be not diffused, error will be; If God and His Word are not known and received, the devil and his works will gain the ascendancy, If the evangelical volume does not reach every hamlet, the pages of a corrupt and licentious literature will; If the power of the Gospel is not felt throughout the length and breadth of the land, anarchy and misrule, degradation and misery, corruption and darkness will reign without mitigation or end.
  • The world is governed more by appearance than realities so that it is fully as necessary to seem to know something as to know it.
  • If there is anything in my thoughts or style to commend, the credit is due to my parents for instilling in me an early love of the Scriptures. If we abide by the principles taught in the Bible, our country will go on prospering and to prosper; but if we and our posterity neglect its instructions and authority, no man can tell how sudden a catastrophe may overwhelm us and bury all our glory in profound obscurity.

Quotes about Webster

  • It's a story they tell in the border country, where Massachusetts joins Vermont and New Hampshire.
    Yes, Dan'l Webster's dead — or, at least, they buried him. But every time there's a thunderstorm around Marshfield, they say you can hear his rolling voice in the hollows of the sky. And they say that if you go to his grave and speak loud and clear, "Dan'l Webster — Dan'l Webster!" the ground'll begin to shiver and the trees begin to shake. And after a while you'll hear a deep voice saying, "Neighbor, how stands the Union?" Then you better answer the Union stands as she stood, rock-bottomed and copper-sheathed, one and indivisible, or he's liable to rear right out of the ground. At least, that's what I was told when I was a youngster.

External links

Wikipedia has an article about:

Source material

Up to date as of January 22, 2010

From Wikisource

Daniel Webster
by Carl Schurz
Originally published in Harper's New Monthly Magazine, Vol. XCV, No. 570 (November, 1897), pp. 952-959. This text is from Frederic Bancroft, ed., Speeches, Correspondence and Political Papers of Carl Schurz, Volume V, New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1913, pp. 431-447.

Of the generation of American statesmen that followed those of the Revolutionary period few will live as long in the memory of the people, and none as long in the literature of the country, as Daniel Webster. His figure rises above the level of his time like a monument of colossal proportions. He was a child of the war of Independence, born in 1782. His father, a Puritan of stern and sterling character, had, as a backwoods farmer in New Hampshire, been an Indian fighter while New England had an Indian frontier, a soldier in the French war and a captain in the Revolutionary army. His high standing among his neighbors made him a judge of the local court. Ambitious for his children, he strained his scanty means to the utmost to give his son the best education within reach, first at Exeter Academy, then at Dartmouth College. From his earliest days Daniel was petted by good fortune. His seemingly delicate health, his genial nature and his promising looks put, in the family circle, everybody at his service, even at personal sacrifice; and such sacrifice by others he became gradually accustomed to expect, as a prince expects homage.

At the academy and the college he shone not by phenomenal precocity, but by rapid progress in the studies he liked — Latin, literature and history. He did not excel in the qualities of the genuine scholar — patient and thorough research and the eager pursuit of knowledge for its own sake; but he was a voracious reader, assimilating easily what he read by dint of a strong memory and of serious reflection, and soon developed the faculty of making the most of what he knew by clear, vigorous, affluent and impressive utterance. At an early age, too, he commanded attention by a singular charm of presence, to which his great dark eyes contributed not a little, and, notwithstanding his high animal spirits, by a striking dignity of carriage and demeanor — traits which gradually matured into that singularly imposing personality, the effect of which is described by his contemporaries in language almost extravagant, borrowing its similes from kings, cathedrals and mountain-peaks.

His conspicuous power of speech caused him, even during his college days, to be drawn upon for orations on the Fourth of July and other festive days. The same faculty, reenforced by his virtue of knowing what he knew, gave him, after he had gone through the usual course of law study, early successes at the bar, which soon carried him from the field of legal practice into political life. He inherited Federalism from his father, and naturally accepted it, because he was a conservative by instinct and temperament. Existing things had a prima facie claim upon his respect and support because they existed. He followed his party with fidelity, sometimes at the expense of his reason and logic, but without the narrow-mindedness of a proscriptive partisan spirit. In the excited discussions which preceded and accompanied the war of 1812 he took an active part as a public speaker and a pamphleteer. Something happened then, at the very beginning of his public career, that revealed in strong light the elements of strength as well as those of weakness in his nature. In a speech on the Fourth of July, 1812, at Portsmouth, New Hampshire, he set forth in vigorous language his opposition to the war policy of the Administration; but with equal emphasis he also declared that the remedy lay not in lawless resistance, but only in “the exercise of the constitutional right of suffrage” — a proposition then by no means popular with the extreme Federalists of New England. A few weeks later he was appointed by a local mass convention of Federalists to write an address on the same subject, which became widely known as the “Rockingham Memorial.” In it he set forth with signal force the complaints of his party, but, as to the remedy, he consented to give voice to the sense of the meeting by a thinly veiled threat of secession and a hint on the possibility of a dissolution of the Union. In the first case he expressed his own opinions as a statesman and a patriot; in the second he accepted the opinions of those around him as his own, and spoke with equal ability and vigor as the mouthpiece or attorney of others — a double character destined to reappear from time to time in his public life with puzzling effect.

New Hampshire sent him to Congress, where he took his seat in the House of Representatives in May, 1813. He soon won a place in the front rank of debaters, especially on questions of finance. But the two terms during which he represented a New Hampshire constituency were a mere prelude to his great political career. In 1817 he left Congress to give himself to his legal practice, which gained much in distinction and lucrativeness by his removal to Boston. He rose rapidly to National eminence as a practitioner in the Federal as well as the State tribunals. It was there that he won peculiar luster through his memorable argument in the famous Dartmouth College case before the Federal Supreme Court, which fascinated John Marshall on the bench, and moved to tears the thronged audience in the courtroom. It left Webster with no superior and with few rivals at the American bar. It may be questioned whether he was a great lawyer in the highest sense. There were others whose knowledge was larger and more thorough, and whose legal opinion carried greater authority. But hardly any of these surpassed him in the faculty of seizing with instinctive sureness of grasp the vital point of a cause, of endowing mere statement with the power of demonstration, of marshaling facts and arguments in massive array for concentric attack on the decisive point, of moving the feelings together with the understanding by appeals of singular magic and also of so assimilating and using the work of others as if it had been his own. Adding to all this the charm of that imposing personality which made every word falling from his lips sound as if it were entitled to far more than ordinary respect, he could not fail to win brilliant successes. He was engaged in many of the most important and celebrated cases of his time — some then celebrated and still remembered because of the part he played in them.

In Boston Webster found a thoroughly congenial home. Its history and traditions, its wealth and commercial activity, the high character of its citizenship, the academic atmosphere created by its institutions of learning, the refined tone of its social circles, the fame of its public men, made the Boston of that period, in the main attributes of civilized life, the foremost city in the United States. Boston society received Webster with open arms, and presently he became, in an almost unexampled measure, its idol. Together with the most distinguished personages of the State, among them the venerable John Adams, he was elected a member of the convention called to revise the State constitution, where, as the champion of conservative principles, he advocated and carried the proposition that the State senate should remain the representative of property. When, in 1820, the day arrived for the celebration of the two hundredth anniversary of the landing of the Pilgrims on Plymouth Rock, it was he whom the public voice designated as the orator of the day. The oration, with its historical picturesqueness, its richness of thought and reasoning, its broad sweep of contemplation and the noble and magnificent simplicity of its eloquence, was in itself an event. No literary production of the period in America achieved greater renown. From that time on Massachusetts loved to exhibit herself in his person on occasions of state, and, in preference to all others, Webster was her spokesman when she commemorated the great events of her history. As such he produced a series of addresses — at the laying of the corner-stone and, later, at the completion of the Bunker Hill monument, on the death of John Adams and of Thomas Jefferson and on other occasions — which his contemporaries acclaimed as ranking with the greatest oratorical achievements of antiquity.

Webster soon appeared in Congress again, first in 1823, in the House of Representatives, as the member from the Boston district, and a few years later in the Senate. Then began the most brilliant part of his political career. It was the period when the component elements of the old political parties, the Federalists and the Republicans, became intermingled, when old party issues vanished, and when new questions, or rather old questions in new shapes and relations, caused new groupings of men to be formed. In the confusion of the political and personal conflicts which characterized the so-called “era of good feeling,” and which immediately followed it, Webster became a supporter of the Administration of John Quincy Adams, and, as an old Federalist and conservative, was naturally attracted by that combination of political forces which subsequently organized itself as the Whig party.

In the House of Representatives he attracted the attention of the world abroad by a stinging philippic against the “Holy Alliance,” in a eulogy on the Greek revolution and by a sober exposition of the Monroe doctrine in a speech on the famous Panama mission. But his most remarkable achievement was an argument against Henry Clay's “American system,” tariff protection as a policy — the very policy which was destined to become the corner-stone of the Whig platform. Webster's free-trade speech — for so it may be called — summed up and amplified the views he had already expressed on previous occasions, in a presentation of fundamental principles so broad and clear, with a display of knowledge so rich and accurate and an analysis of facts and theories so keen and thorough, that it stands unsurpassed in our political literature, and may still serve as a text-book to students of economic science. But Clay's tariff was adopted nevertheless, and four years later Webster abandoned many of his own conclusions, on the ground that in the meantime New England, accepting protection as the established policy of the country, had invested much capital in manufacturing enterprises, the success of which depended upon the maintenance of the protective policy, and should therefore not be left in the lurch. For this reason he became a protectionist. This plea appeared again and again in his high-tariff speeches which followed; but he never attempted to deny or shake the broad principles so strongly set forth in his great argument of 1824.

Webster reached the highest point of his power and fame when, in 1830, he gave voice, as no one else could, to the National consciousness of the American people. Before the war of 1812 the Union had been looked upon by many thoughtful and patriotic Americans as an experiment — a promising one, indeed, but of uncertain issue. Whether it would be able to endure the strain of divergent local interests, feelings and aspirations, and whether its component parts would continue in the desire permanently to remain together in one political structure, were still matters of doubt and speculation. The results of the war of 1812 did much to inspire the American heart with a glow of pride in the great common country, with confident anticipations of its high destinies and with an instinctive feeling that the greatness of the country and the splendors of its destinies depended altogether upon the permanency of the Union. The original theory that the Constitution of the United States was a mere compact of partnership between independent and sovereign commonwealths, to be dissolved at will, whatever historical foundation it may have had, yielded to an overruling sentiment of a common nationality.

This sentiment was affronted by the nullification movement in South Carolina, which, under the guise of resistance to the high tariff of 1828, sought to erect a bulwark for slavery through the enforcement of the doctrine that a State by its sovereign action could overrule a Federal law, and might, as a last resort, legally withdraw from the “Federal compact.” Against this assumption Webster rose up in his might like Samson going forth against the Philistines. In his famous “Reply to Hayne” he struck down the doctrine of the legality of State resistance and of secession with blows so crushing, and maintained the supremacy of the Federal authority in its sphere and the indissolubility of the Union with an eloquence so grand and triumphant, that as his words went over the land the National heart bounded with joy, and broke out in enthusiastic acclamations. At that moment Webster stood before the world as the first of living Americans. Nor was this the mere sensation of a day. His “Liberty and Union, one and inseparable, now and forever!” remained the watchword of American patriotism, and still reverberated thirty years later in the thunders of the civil war. That glorious epoch continues to hold the first place among the monuments of American oratory.

In the contest against the nullification movement in South Carolina, Webster firmly maintained, against Henry Clay's compromise policy, that, wherever the National authority was lawlessly set at defiance, peace should never be purchased by concession to the challengers, and that it was time to “test the strength of the government.” He therefore sturdily supported President Jackson's “force bill,” although the Administration of that doughty warrior was otherwise most uncongenial to him. But when the compromise had actually been adopted, he dropped back into the party line behind Clay's leadership, which he thenceforth never again forsook. There was an element of indolence in his nature, which it needed strong impulses to overcome so as to set the vast machinery of his mind in full motion. Such an impulse was furnished again by Jackson's attack on the United States Bank, and by other somewhat autocratic financial measures. Webster opposed this policy in a series of speeches on currency and banking, which deserve very high rank in the literature of that branch of economics. They were not free from partisan bias in the specific application of those fundamental principles of which Webster had such a masterly grasp; but, notwithstanding this, his deep insight into the nature and conditions of credit, and his thorough study and profound judgment of the functions of banking, made him an invaluable teacher of the science of public finance. Nobody has ever depicted the vices and dangers inherent in an unsound currency, and the necessity of grounding the monetary system upon a firm basis of value, with greater force and more convincing lucidity.

But in spite of the brilliancy and strength of his efforts in opposing Jackson's willful and erratic policies, Webster never became the real leader of the Whig party. Although he was greatly the superior of Clay in wealth of knowledge, in depth of thought, in statesmanlike breadth of view, in solidity of reasoning power and in argumentative eloquence, he fell far behind him in those attributes which in contests for general leadership are apt to turn the scale — the spirit of initiative, force of will, that sincere self-confidence which extorts confidence from others, bold self-assertion in doubtful situations and constant alertness in watching and directing the details of political movements. Clay, therefore, remained the general leader of the Whig party, while Webster, with New England at his back, stood now by his side, now behind him, as in feudal times a great duke, rich in treasure and lands and retainers, himself of royal blood, may have stood now behind, now by the side of his king.

Unhappily for himself, Webster was not satisfied with the theater of action on which his abilities fitted him for the greatest service, and on which he achieved his highest renown. At a comparatively early period of his career he ardently wished to be sent as Minister to England, and he bore a grudge to John Quincy Adams for his failure to gratify that desire. Ever since his “Reply to Hayne” had made his name a household word in the country, an ungovernable longing possessed him to be President of the United States. The morbid craving commonly called “the Presidential fever” developed in him, as it became chronic, its most distressing forms, disordering his ambition, unsettling his judgment and warping his statesmanship. His imagination always saw the coveted prize within his grasp, which in reality it never was. He lacked the sort of popularity which, since the Administration of John Quincy Adams, seemed to be required for a Presidential candidacy. He travelled over the land, South and North and East and West, to manufacture it for himself, but in vain. The people looked at him with awe and listened to him with rapture and wonder, but as to the Presidency the fancy and favor of the politicians, as well as of the masses, obstinately ran to other men. So it was again and again. Clay, too, was unfortunate as a Presidential candidate. But he could have at least the nomination of his party so long as there appeared to be any hope for his election. Webster was denied even that. The vote for him in the party conventions was always distressingly small, usually confined to New England, or only a part of it. Yet he never ceased to hope against hope, and thus to invite more and more galling disappointments. To Henry Clay he could yield without humiliation; but when he saw his party prefer to himself, not once, but twice and three times, men of only military fame, without any political significance whatever, his mortification was so keen that, in the bitterness of his soul, he twice openly protested against the result. Worse than all this, he had to meet the fate — a fate not uncommon with chronic Presidential candidates — to see the most important and most questionable act of his last years attributed to his inordinate craving for the elusive prize.

The cause of this steady succession of failures may have been partly that the people found him too unlike themselves — too unfamiliar to the popular heart — and partly that the party managers shrunk from nominating him because they saw in him not only a giant, but a very vulnerable giant, who would not “wear well” as a candidate. They had, indeed, reason to fear the discussions to which in an excited canvass his private character would be subjected. Of his moral failings those relating to money were the most notorious and the most offensive to the moral sense of the plain people. In the course of his public life he became accustomed not only to the adulation but also to the material generosity of his followers. Great as his professional income was, his prodigality went far beyond his means, and the recklessness with which he borrowed and forgot to return betrayed an utter insensibility to pecuniary obligation. With the coolest nonchalance he spent the money of his friends and left to them his debts for payment. This habit increased as he grew older, and severely tested the endurance of his admirers. So grave a departure from the principles of common honesty could not fail to cast a dark shadow upon his character, and it is not strange that the cloud of distrust should have spread from his private to his public morals. The charge was made that he stood in the Senate advocating high tariff as the paid attorney of the manufacturers of New England. It was met by the answer that so great a man would not sell himself. This should have been enough. Nevertheless, his defenders were grievously embarrassed when the fact was pointed out that it was, after all, in great part the money of the rich manufacturers and bankers that stocked his farm, furnished his house, supplied his table and paid his bills. A man less great could hardly have long sustained himself in public life under such a burden of suspicion. That Daniel Webster did sustain himself is a striking proof of the strength of his prestige. But his moral failings cost him the noblest fruit of great service — an unbounded public confidence.

Although disappointed in his own expectations, he vigorously supported General Harrison for the Presidency in the campaign of 1840, and in 1841 was made Secretary of State. He remained in that office until he had concluded the famous Ashburton treaty, under the Administration of President Tyler, who turned against the Whig policies. After his resignation he was again elected to the Senate. Then a fateful crisis in his career approached.

The annexation of Texas, the Mexican war and the acquisition of territory on our southern and western border brought the slavery question sharply into the foreground. Webster had always, when occasion called for a demonstration of sentiment, denounced slavery as a great moral and political evil, and although affirming that under the Constitution it could not be touched by the action of the general government in the States in which it existed, declared himself against its extension. He had opposed the annexation of Texas, the war against Mexico and the enlargement of the republic by conquest. But while he did not abandon his position concerning slavery, his tone in maintaining it grew gradually milder. The impression gained ground that as a standing candidate for the Presidency he became more and more anxious to conciliate Southern opinion.

Then the day came that tried men's souls. The slave-power had favored war and conquest, hoping that the newly acquired territory would furnish more slave States and more Senators in its interest. That hope was cruelly dashed when California presented herself for admission into the Union with a State constitution excluding slavery from her soil. To the slave-power this was a stunning blow. It had fought for more slave States and conquered for more free States. The admission of California would hopelessly destroy the balance of power between freedom and slavery in the Senate. The country soon was ablaze with excitement. In the North the anti-slavery feeling ran high. The “fire-eaters” of the South, exasperated beyond measure by their disappointment, vociferously threatened to disrupt the Union. Henry Clay, true to his record, hoped to avert the danger by a compromise. He sought to reconcile the South to the inevitable admission of California by certain concessions to slavery, among them the ill-famed and ill-fated fugitive-slave law — a law offensive not only to anti-slavery sentiment, but also to the common impulses of humanity and to the pride of manhood.

Webster had to choose. The anti-slavery men of New England, and even many of his conservative friends, hoped and expected that he would again, as he had done in nullification times, proudly plant the Union flag in the face of a disunion threat, with a defiant refusal of concession to a rebellious spirit, and give voice to the moral sense of the North. But Webster chose otherwise. On the 7th of March, 1850, he spoke in the Senate. The whole country listened with bated breath. While denouncing secession and pleading for the Union in glowing periods, he spoke of slavery in regretful but almost apologetic accents, upbraided the abolitionists as mischievous marplots, earnestly advocated the compromise and commended that feature of it which was most odious to Northern sentiment — the fugitive-slave law.

From this “Seventh of March Speech” — by that name it has passed into history — Webster never recovered. It stood in too striking a contrast to the “Reply to Hayne.” There was, indeed, still the same lucid comprehensiveness of statement. The heavy battalions of argument marched with the same massive tread. But there was lacking that which had been the great inspiration of the “Reply to Hayne” — the triumphant consciousness of being right. The effect of the speech corresponded to its character. Southern men welcomed it as a sign of Northern submissiveness, but it did not go far enough to satisfy them. The impression it made upon the anti-slavery people of the North was painful in the extreme. They saw in it “the fall of an archangel.” Many of them denounced it as the treacherous bid of a Presidential candidate for Southern favor. Their reproaches varied from the indignant murmur to the shrillest note of execration. Persons less interested or excited looked up at the colossal figure of the old hero of “Liberty and Union” with a sort of bewildered dismay, as if something unnatural and portentous had happened to him. Even many of his stanchest adherents among the conservative Whigs stood at first stunned and perplexed, needing some time to gather themselves up for his defense.

This was not surprising. Henry Clay could plan and advocate the compromise of 1850 without loss of character. Although a man of anti-slavery instincts, he was himself a slaveholder representing a slaveholding community — a compromise in his very being; and compromise had always been the vital feature of his statesmanship. But Webster could not apologize for slavery, and in its behalf approve compromise and concession in the face of disunion threats, without turning his back upon the most illustrious feat of his public life. Injustice may have been done to him by the assailants of his motives, but it can hardly be denied that the evidence of circumstances stood glaringly against him. He himself was ill at ease. The virulent epithets and sneers with which he thenceforth aspersed anti-slavery principles and anti-slavery men, contrasting strangely with the stately decorum he had always cultivated in his public utterances, betrayed the bitterness of a troubled soul.

The 7th-of-March speech, and the series of addresses with which he sought to set right and fortify the position he had taken, helped greatly in inducing both political parties to accept the compromise of 1850, and also in checking, at least for the time being, the anti-slavery movement in the Northern States. But they could not kill that movement, nor could they prevent the coming of the final crisis. They did, however, render him acceptable to the slave-power when, after the death of General Taylor, President Fillmore made him Secretary of State. Once more he stirred the people's heart by a note addressed to the Chevalier Hülsemann, the Austrian chargé d'affaires, in which, defending the mission of a special agent to inquire into the state of the Hungarian insurrection, he proudly justified the conduct of the government, pointed exultingly to the greatness of the republic and vigorously vindicated the sympathies of the American people with every advance of free institutions the world over. The whole people applauded, and this was the last flash of popularity.

In 1852 his hope to attain the Whig nomination for the Presidency rose to the highest pitch, although his prospects were darker than ever. But he had reached the age of seventy; this was his last chance, and he clung to it with desperate eagerness. He firmly counted upon receiving in the Convention a large number of Southern votes; he received not one. His defeat could hardly have been more overwhelming. The nomination fell to General Scott. In the agony of his disappointment Webster advised his friends to vote for the Democratic candidate, Franklin Pierce. In 1848 he had declared General Taylor's nomination to be one “not fit to be made”; but, after all, he had supported it. Then he still saw a possibility for himself ahead. In 1852, the last hope having vanished, he punished his party for having refused him what he thought his due by openly declaring for the opposition. The reasons he gave for this extreme step were neither tenable nor even plausible. It was a wail of utter despair.

His health had for some time been failing, and the shock which his defeat gave him aggravated his ailment. On the morning of October 24, 1852, he died. Henry Clay's death had preceded his by four months. The month following saw the final discomfiture of the Whig party. The very effort of its chiefs to hold it together and to preserve the Union by concessions to slavery disrupted it so thoroughly that it could never again rally. Its very name soon disappeared. Less than two years after Webster's death the whole policy of compromise broke down in total collapse. Massachusetts herself had risen against it, and in Webster's seat in the Senate sat Charles Sumner, the very embodiment of the uncompromising anti-slavery conscience. The “irrepressible conflict” between freedom and slavery rudely swept aside all other politics and filled the stage. The thunder-clouds of the coming civil war loomed darkly above the horizon.

In the turmoils that followed, all of Webster's work sank into temporary oblivion, except his greatest and best. The echoes of the “Reply to Hayne” awoke again. “Liberty and Union, one and inseparable, now and forever!” became not merely the watchword of a party, but the battlecry of armed hosts. “I still live,” had been his last words on his death-bed. Indeed, he still lived in his noblest achievement, and thus he will long continue to live.

Over Webster's grave there was much heated dispute as to the place he would occupy in the history of his country. Many of those who had idolized him during his life extolled him still more after his death as the demigod whose greatness put all his motives and acts above criticism, and whose genius excused all human frailties. Others, still feeling the smart of the disappointment which that fatal 7th of March had given them, would see in him nothing but rare gifts and great opportunities prostituted by vulgar appetites and a selfish ambition. The present generation, remote from the struggles and passions of those days, will be more impartial in its judgment. Looking back upon the time in which he lived, it beholds his statuesque form towering with strange grandeur among his contemporaries — huge in his strength, and huge also in his weaknesses and faults; not, indeed, an originator of policies or measures, but a marvelous expounder of principles, laws and facts, who illumined every topic of public concern he touched with the light of a sovereign intelligence and vast knowledge; who by overpowering argument riveted around the Union unbreakable bonds of Constitutional doctrine; who awakened to new life and animated with invincible vigor the National spirit; who left to his countrymen and to the world invaluable lessons of statesmanship, right and patriotism, in language of grand simplicity and prodigiously forceful clearness; and who might stand as its greatest man in the political history of America had he been a master-character as he was a master-mind.

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Daniel Webster
File:DanielWebster ca1847 Whipple

Daguerreotype of Senator Webster circa 1847

In office
March 6, 1841 – May 8, 1843
President William Henry Harrison
John Tyler
Preceded by John Forsyth
Succeeded by Abel P. Upshur

In office
July 23, 1850 – October 24, 1852
President Millard Fillmore
Preceded by John M. Clayton
Succeeded by Edward Everett

In office
June 8, 1827 – February 22, 1841
Preceded by Elijah H. Mills
Succeeded by Rufus Choate
In office
March 4, 1845 – July 22, 1850
Preceded by Rufus Choate
Succeeded by Robert C. Winthrop

Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Massachusetts's 1st district
In office
March 4, 1823 – May 30, 1827
Preceded by Benjamin Gorham
Succeeded by Benjamin Gorham

Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from New Hampshire's At-large district
In office
March 4, 1813 – March 3, 1817
Preceded by George Sullivan
Succeeded by Arthur Livermore

Born January 18, 1782(1782-01-18)
Salisbury, New Hampshire
Died October 24, 1852 (aged 70)
Marshfield, Massachusetts
Political party Federalist
National Republican
Spouse Grace Fletcher Webster
Caroline LeRoy Webster
Alma mater Dartmouth College
Profession Politician, Lawyer
Religion Unitarian[1]
Signature File:Daniel Webster

Daniel Webster (January 18, 1782 – October 24, 1852) was an important American statesman. He first became famous because of his defense of New England shipping interests. In his life, he became more and more nationalistic, and convinced many people to become nationalists too. This made Webster one of the most famous orators and powerful Whig leaders of the Second Party System. Webster did not like slavery, but he thought it was more important for the Union (the United States) to stay together than anything else.

Webster became the northern member of a group known as the "Great Triumvirate". They included his colleagues Henry Clay from the west and John C. Calhoun from the south. His "Reply to Hayne" in 1830 was generally seen as "the most eloquent (powerful, fluent, well-spoken) speech ever delivered in Congress."[2] Webster tried to keep the nation from civil war, and make them have a firm peace. His efforts did not succeed, but he was still respected for them. He was officially named by the U.S. Senate in 1957 as one of its five best members.[3]

Early life

Daniel was born on January 18, 1782. His parents were Ebenezer and Abigail Webster (née Eastman) in Salisbury, New Hampshire, now part of the city of Franklin. He and his nine siblings grew up on his parents' farm. Daniel Webster's great-great-grandfather was Thomas Webster[4] (1631–1715). Thomas Webster was born in Ormesby St. Margaret, Norfolk, England and settled in New Hampshire. As Daniel was a "sickly (unhealthy) child", his family often let him have whatever he wanted. They also exempted (gave freedom from duty) him from working on the farm.[5]


  1. Cooke, George (1902). Unitarianism in America. Kessinger Publishing. p. 271. ISBN 1419192108. http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=NZt97oFb4EsC&pg=PA271&dq=%22daniel+webster%22+%22unitarian+universalism%22&as_brr=3. 
  2. Allan Nevins, Ordeal of the Union" (1947) 1:288
  3. "U.S. Senate: Art & History Home > People > Senators > The "Famous Five" Now the "Famous Nine"". senate.gov. http://www.senate.gov/artandhistory/history/common/briefing/Famous_Five_Seven.htm. Retrieved 28 May 2010. 
  4. "Family History and Genealogy Records". FamilySearch.org. http://www.familysearch.org/eng/default.asp. Retrieved 2009-08-05. 
  5. "Daniel Webster." American Eras, Volume 5: The Reform Era and Eastern U.S. Development, 1815–1850. Gale Research, 1998. Student Resource Center. Thomson Gale. June 16, 2006.


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