Daniel Webster

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Daniel Webster
Daniel Webster.jpg
14th and 19th United States Secretary of State
In office
July 23, 1850 – October 24, 1852
President Millard Fillmore
Preceded by John Clayton
Succeeded by Edward Everett
In office
March 6, 1841 – May 8, 1843
President William Henry Harrison
John Tyler
Preceded by John Forsyth
Succeeded by Abel Upshur
United States Senator
from Massachusetts
In office
March 4, 1845 – July 22, 1850
Preceded by Rufus Choate
Succeeded by Robert Winthrop
In office
June 8, 1827 – February 22, 1841
Preceded by Elijah Mills
Succeeded by Rufus Choate
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 4, 1817
Preceded by George Sullivan
Succeeded by Arthur Livermore
Personal details
Born (1782-01-18)January 18, 1782
Salisbury, New Hampshire, U.S.
Died Script error: The function "death_date_and_age" does not exist.
Marshfield, Massachusetts, U.S.
Political party Whig Party (1833–1852)
Other political
Federalist Party (before 1828)
National Republican Party (1828–1833)
Spouse(s) Grace Fletcher Webster
Caroline LeRoy Webster
Alma mater Dartmouth College
Profession Lawyer
Religion Disputed
Daniel Webster monument, Central Park, New York City, from the base: "Liberty and Union, Now and Forever, One and Inseparable".

Daniel Webster (January 18, 1782 – October 24, 1852) was a leading American senator and statesman during the era of the Second Party System, which was the political system in the United States from about 1828 to 1854, characterized by rapidly increasing voter interest and personal loyalty to parties. Webster 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.[1] During his 40 years in national politics, Webster served in the House of Representatives for eight years (representing New Hampshire and then Massachusetts) and in the Senate for 19 years (representing Massachusetts), and served as the United States Secretary of State under three presidents.

One of the highest-regarded courtroom lawyers of the era, Webster shaped several key U.S. Supreme Court cases that established important constitutional precedents that bolstered the authority of the federal government. As a diplomat he is best known for negotiating the Webster-Ashburton Treaty with Great Britain; it established the definitive eastern border between the United States and Canada. Chiefly recognized for his Senate tenure, Webster was a key figure in the institution's "Golden days". Webster was the Northern member of the "Great Triumvirate", with his colleagues Henry Clay from the West (Kentucky) and John C. Calhoun from the South (South Carolina). His "Reply to Hayne" in 1830 has been regarded as one of the greatest speeches in the senate's history.[2]

As with his fellow Whig Henry Clay, Webster wanted to see the Union preserved and civil war averted. They both worked for compromises to stave off the sectionalism that threatened war between the North and the South. Webster tried and failed three times to become President of the United States. In 1957, a Senate Committee selected Webster as one of the five greatest U.S. Senators with Henry Clay, John C. Calhoun, Robert La Follette, and Robert A. Taft.[3]

Early life

His birthplace in present-day Franklin, New Hampshire

Daniel Webster was born on January 18, 1782, in Salisbury, New Hampshire, the present-day city of Franklin. He was the son of Abigail (née Eastman) and Ebenezer Webster. He and his nine siblings grew up on their parents' farm, a small parcel of land granted to his father. His ancestors were among the early settlers of Salisbury.

Webster attended Phillips Exeter Academy, a preparatory school in Exeter, New Hampshire, before attending Dartmouth College. He was chosen Fourth of July orator in Hanover, the college town, in 1800, and in his speech appears the substance of the political principles for the development of which he is chiefly famous.[4] After he graduated from Dartmouth (Phi Beta Kappa), Webster was apprenticed to the lawyer Thomas W. Thompson in Salisbury. When his older brother Ezekiel's studies required Webster's support, the young man resigned from the law office and worked as a schoolteacher – as young men often did then, when public education consisted largely of subsidies to local schoolmasters. In 1802 Webster began as the headmaster of the Fryeburg Academy, Maine, where he served for one year.[5] When Ezekiel's education could no longer be sustained, Webster returned to his apprenticeship.

In 1804 he left New Hampshire and got a position in Boston under the prominent attorney Christopher Gore. Clerking for Gore – who was involved in international, national, and state politics – Webster learned about many legal and political subjects and met numerous New England politicians.[6] In 1805 Webster was admitted to the bar.

He returned to New Hampshire to set up a practice in Boscawen, in part to be near his ailing father. Webster became increasingly interested 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. He began to speak locally in support of Federalist causes and candidates.[7] After his father's death in 1806, Webster handed over his practice to his older brother Ezekiel, who had by this time been admitted to the bar.

Webster moved to the larger town of Portsmouth in 1807, and opened a practice.[8] During this time the Napoleonic Wars began to affect Americans, as Britain began to impress American sailors into their Navy. President Thomas Jefferson retaliated with the Embargo Act of 1807, stopping all trade to both Britain and France. As New England relied on commerce with the two nations, the region strongly opposed Jefferson's attempt at "peaceable coercion." Webster wrote an anonymous pamphlet attacking it.[9]

Webster Hall, at Dartmouth College, houses the Rauner Special Collections Library, which holds some of Webster's personal belongings and writings, including his beaver skin top hat and silk socks.

Eventually the trouble with England escalated into the War of 1812. That same year, Daniel Webster gave an address to the Washington Benevolent Society, a speech that proved critical to his career. The speech condemned 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 speech was widely circulated and read throughout New Hampshire, and it led to Webster's 1812 appointment to the Rockingham Convention, an assembly that sought to declare formally 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."[8]

Webster's efforts for 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 (in "one of [his] most eloquent efforts")[10] opposing Secretary of War James Monroe's conscription proposal.[10] 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 his professed beliefs and those of most 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.

Webster was elected a member of the American Antiquarian Society in 1814.[13] The society holds over two hundred items authored by or related to Webster, including various published items such as speeches, a small manuscript collection, and three oil paintings with Webster as the sitter.[14][15][16]

Constitutional lawyer

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"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 was hailed as the leading constitutional scholar of his generation and probably had more influence on the powerful Marshall Court than any other advocate had. Of the 223 cases he argued before the Supreme Court, he won about half of them. But, even more, Webster played an important role in eight of the most celebrated constitutional cases decided by the Court between 1801 and 1824. In many of these—particularly in Dartmouth College v. Woodward (1819) and Gibbons v. Ogden (1824)--the Supreme Court handed down decisions based largely on Webster's arguments. Marshall patterned some of his Court decisions after Webster's briefs, and Webster played a crucial role in helping many of the justices interpret matters of constitutional law. As a result, many people began calling him the Great Expounder of the Constitution.[17]

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.[18] 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.[19] New Hampshire argued that they, as successor in sovereignty to George III, who had chartered Dartmouth, had the right to revise the charter.

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.[20]

Daniel Webster represented the Second Bank of the United States both in the Congress and before the US Supreme Court as well serving as Director of its Boston branch on which he made out this $3,001.01 draft on July 24, 1824.

Other notable appearances by Webster before the Supreme Court include his representation of James McCulloch (as cashier at the Baltimore branch of the Second Bank of the United States) 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 leading constitutional lawyers, as well as one of the most highly paid.[21] 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.[22] He also supported the (existing) districting of the State Senate so that each seat represented an equal amount of property.[23]

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."[24] 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.[25]

While a Representative, Webster continued accepting speaking engagements in New England, most notably his oration on the fiftieth anniversary of the Battle of Bunker Hill (1825) where Lafayette laid the cornerstone of the new monument and his eulogies of John Adams and Thomas 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.


Daniel Webster
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."[8] 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. 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.[26] 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.[27]

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.

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!"

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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)

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 use of the word accede would, in his opinion, lead to the 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 (1816–1841) 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.[28]

In 1836, Webster was one of four Whig Party candidates to run for the office of President, but he managed to gain the support only 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 declined. Harrison died one month after his inauguration, meaning that if Webster had accepted the offer, he would have become president after all.

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 1843 and finally left the cabinet. Webster later served again as Secretary of State in President Millard Fillmore's administration from 1850 until his death in 1852.

Later career

Daniel Webster: New England's 1848 choice for 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."[29] The Whig ticket won the election; Taylor died 16 months after the inauguration. This was the second time a President who offered Webster the chance to be Vice President died. Once again, Webster would have become president.

Compromise of 1850

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, later called the Seventh of March speech, 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."[30] The abolitionist poet John Greenleaf Whittier characterized him as being "fiend goaded" in his poem Ichabod. Webster never recovered the loss of popularity he suffered in the aftermath of the Seventh of March speech.

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I shall stand by the Union...with absolute disregard of personal consequences. What are personal consequences...in comparison with the good or evil that 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.

"Jury nullification" took effect as local juries acquitted men accused of violating the Fugitive Slave law. As Secretary of State Webster was a key supporter of the law, which he had endorsed in his famous Seventh of March speech, he wanted high profile convictions. The jury nullifications ruined his presidential aspirations and his last-ditch efforts to find a compromise between North and South. Webster led the prosecution when defendants were accused of rescuing Shadrach Minkins in 1851 from Boston officials who intended to return Minkins to his owner; the juries convicted none of the men. Webster tried to enforce a law that was extremely unpopular in the North, and his Whig Party passed over him again when they chose a presidential nominee in 1852.[31]

State Department

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 the 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 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.".[32] Actually, during the conference William Henry, an escaped slave from Missouri and a resident of 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. Webster's speech, known as the "Syracuse Speech" was delivered from the second floor of the Courier Building.[33]:11-12

1852 election

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, he gained support only from New England and was a distant third behind General Winfield Scott, who received the nomination, and President Fillmore. The "Know-Nothings" put his name on the ballot without permission and he collected a few thousand votes, even though he died just before the election.[34]


Webster was married twice — first in 1808 to Grace, daughter of Rev. Elijah Fletcher, a New Hampshire clergyman. She died in 1828, leaving two sons, (Daniel) Fletcher, killed in the Civil War, and Edward, a major in the United States army, who died while serving in the Mexican–American War, and a daughter Julia, who married Samuel Appleton. A daughter, Grace, and a son, Charles, died young.[35] Webster's second wife was Caroline LeRoy, daughter of Herman Le Roy, a New York merchant.[36] He was married to her in December 1829 and she survived him, dying in 1882.


Webster 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.[37] He is buried in the "Old Winslow Burial Ground" section of the Winslow Cemetery, near Marshfield. A day before he died, his best friend Peter Harvey had come to visit him. Harvey had stated that Webster looked as if he were suffering. Webster told Harvey, "Be faithful friend, I shall be dead tomorrow."

His last words were: "I still live".

His son, Fletcher Webster, went on to serve as a Union Army infantry colonel in the Civil War that Webster tried to prevent. Fletcher Webster commanded the 12th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, and was killed in action on August 30, 1862, during the Second Battle of Bull Run.

Historical evaluations

Webster retains his high prestige in recent historiography. Baxter argues that his nationalistic view of the union as one and inseparable from liberty helped the union to triumph over the states-rights Confederacy, making it his greatest contribution.[38] However Bartlett, emphasizing Webster's private life, says his great oratorical achievements were in part undercut by his improvidence with money, his excessively opulent lifestyle, and his numerous conflict of interest situations.[39] Remini points out that Webster's historical orations taught Americans their history before textbooks were widely available.[40] Webster was godlike in his articulation of American nationalism, Remini agrees, but his negative traits ruined his presidential ambition. He lacked the necessary modesty and his overpowering desire for the White House, and his craving for money was unbecoming to a statesman of his caliber in a nation committed to republicanism and fearful of corruption.

"Godlike Dan" and "Black Dan"

1834 portrait by Francis Alexander

Webster's "Reply to Hayne" in 1830 was generally regarded as "the most eloquent speech ever delivered in Congress," and was a stock exercise for oratory students for 75 years.[2]

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."[28]

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 that 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."[41] Similarly, Arthur Schlesinger cites Webster's letter requesting retainers for fighting for the Bank, one of his most inveterate causes; he then asks how Webster could "expect the American people to follow him through hell or high water when he would not lead unless someone made up a purse for him?"[42]

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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."[43]

In 1851 Webster was elected an honorary member of the Massachusetts Society of the Cincinnati.

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."[44][45] 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.[46]

Religious views

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If we work upon marble, it will perish; if we work upon brass, time will efface it; if we rear temples, they will crumble to dust; but if we work on men's immortal minds, if we impress on them with high principles, the just fear of God and love for their fellow-men, we engrave on those tablets something which no time can efface, and which will brighten and brighten to all eternity.

Daniel Webster (May 22, 1852. Address delivered in Faneuil Hall.)

Conflicting opinions have been voiced as to his religion. The Unitarian Universalist Church, citing Unitarianism in America from 1902,[47] claim him as their own. Another source, the 1856 biography The American Statesman: The Life and Character of Daniel Webster,[48] proclaim him an avowed orthodox Trinitarian, baptized and raised in an Orthodox Congregational Church, and who died a member of the Episcopal Church. He is said to have expressed his belief in the Trinity; to a Unitarian who asked him how a man of his intellect could believe in the Trinity, he responded that it was because he believed though he did not "understand the arithmetic of heaven."

On U.S. Postage

Daniel Webster "Dartmouth Case" Issue of 1969

Few famous Americans other than US Presidents are ever honored on US Postage more than once or twice, as Daniel Webster has been. One of the perhaps not so famous things Webster was noted for was to introduce legislation to produce pre-paid adhesive postage stamps for the U.S. Post Office, the first of which were issued in 1847. The first Webster postage stamp, bearing only Webster's portrait, was not issued until April 12 of 1870, 18 years after his death. In all, Daniel Webster is honored on 14 different US Postage issues,[49] more than most US Presidents.[50][51]

Film and television

In the 1941 film The Devil and Daniel Webster (based on a short story), Webster was portrayed by Edward Arnold.

In the 2004 film Shortcut to Happiness, Webster was portrayed by Anthony Hopkins.

In the 2015 documentary film The Gettysburg Address, Webster is portrayed by actor Kevin Conway.


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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 a small four-year college located 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.
  • The special collections library at Dartmouth College, located prominently on the campus Green, is named Webster Hall.
  • Daniel Webster High School in Tulsa, Oklahoma
  • Daniel Webster Middle School (formerly Daniel Webster Junior High School) in West Los Angeles, California
  • Daniel Webster Middle School (formerly Daniel Webster Junior High School) in Waukegan, Illinois
  • Daniel Webster Elementary School in Daly City, California
  • Daniel Webster Elementary School in Dallas, Texas
  • Daniel Webster Elementary School in San Francisco, California
  • Daniel Webster Elementary School in Weehawken, New Jersey
  • Daniel Webster Magnet School in New Rochelle, New York
  • Daniel Webster Elementary School in his hometown of Marshfield, Massachusetts is named for him.

Webster Elementary School, in Marshfield, Webster County, Missouri is named for him.

Postage stamps
In Washington, D.C.
  • One of the two statues representing New Hampshire in the National Statuary Hall Collection in the United States Capitol.
  • In 1957 a senatorial committee chaired by then-Senator John F. Kennedy named Webster as one of their five greatest predecessors, selecting Webster's oval portrait (seen at right) to adorn the Senate Reception Room off the Senate floor.[52] In World War II, the United States liberty ship SS Daniel Webster was named in his honor.
  • Webster Hall houses the dormitory and school for the Senate Page Program in Washington, DC. He had appointed the first Senate Page in 1839.
In Massachusetts
In New Hampshire
In New York
Other place names

See also


  1. Robert Vincent Remini, Daniel Webster: the man and his time (1997) p. 352
  2. 2.0 2.1 Allan Nevins, Ordeal of the Union (1947) 1:288.
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  7. 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
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 "Daniel Webster." Discovering Biography. Online Edition. Gale, 2003. Student Resource Center. Thomson Gale. June 16, 2006
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  10. 10.0 10.1 Webster, Daniel (1814-12-09) On Conscription, reprinted in Left and Right: A Journal of Libertarian Thought (Autumn 1965)
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  13. American Antiquarian Society Members Directory
  14. AAS catalog search for Daniel Webster
  15. Daniel Webster Papers
  16. AAS portrait collection sitter index
  17. Remini (1999) pp 162, 208
  18. "Daniel Webster", in 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.
  19. 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.
  20. 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
  21. Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved June 18, 2006, from Encyclopædia Britannica Premium Service: entry
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  31. Gary Collison, "'This Flagitious Offense': Daniel Webster and the Shadrach Rescue Cases, 1851-1852," New England Quarterly Vol. 68, No. 4 (Dec., 1995), pp. 609-625 in JSTOR
  32. Fergus M. Bordewich. Bound for Canaan: The Underground Railroad and the War for the Soul of America. Amistad, 2005. p. 333. ISBN 978-0-06-052430-2
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  34. Ogg (1914) p 404, 407
  35. Remini 1999, p. 13.
  36. Remini 1999, p. 310.
  37. Remini, p. 761
  38. Maurice G. Baxter, One and Inseparable: Daniel Webster and the Union (1984)
  39. Irving H. Bartlett, Daniel Webster (1978)
  40. Remini, Webster, p 187
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  49. including the reprints of 1873, 1895 and 1896 -- Scott's US Stamp Catalogue
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  51. Scotts US Stamp Catalogue
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  • Bartlett, Irving H. Daniel Webster (1978) online edition
  • Baxter, Maurice G. "Webster, Daniel"; American National Biography Online Feb. 2000. online edition at academic libraries
  • Baxter, Maurice G. One and Inseparable: Daniel Webster and the Union. (1984).
  • Current, Richard Nelson. Daniel Webster and the Rise of National Conservatism (1955), short biography
  • Curtis, George Ticknor. Life of Daniel Webster (1870), useful for quotations online edition vol 1; online edition vol 2
  • Fuess, Claude M. Daniel Webster. (2 vols. 1930). scholarly biography
  • Ogg, Frederic Austin. Daniel Webster (1914) online edition, old scholarly biography
  • Peterson, Merrill D. The Great Triumvirate: Webster, Clay, and Calhoun (1983)
  • Remini, Robert V. Daniel Webster (1997), 796pp; the standard scholarly biography and the most important place to start excerpt and text search

Specialized scholarly studies

  • Arntson, Paul, and Craig R. Smith. "The Seventh of March Address: A Mediating Influence." Southern Speech Communication Journal 40 (Spring 1975): 288-301.
  • Bartlett, Irving H. "Daniel Webster as a Symbolic Hero. New England Quarterly 45 (December 1972): 484-507. in JSTOR
  • Baxter, Maurice G. Daniel Webster and the Supreme Court (1966)
  • Birkner, Michael. "Daniel Webster and the Crisis of Union, 1850. Historical New Hampshire 37 (Summer/Fall 1982): 151-73.
  • Brauer, Kinley J. "The Webster-Lawrence Feud: A Study in Politics and Ambitions." Historian 29 (November 1966): 34-59.
  • Brown, Thomas. "Daniel Webster: Conservative Whig. In Politics and Statesmanship: Essays on the American Whig Party, (1985) pp. 49–92. online
  • Carey, Robert Lincoln. Daniel Webster as an Economist. (1929). online edition
  • Dalzell, Robert F. Jr. Daniel Webster and the Trial of American Nationalism, 1843-1852. (1973).
  • Dubofsky, Melvyn. "Daniel Webster and the Whig Theory of Economic Growth: 1828-1848. New England Quarterly 42 (December 1969): 551-72. in JSTOR
  • Eisenstadt, Arthur A. "Daniel Webster and the Seventh of March. Southern Speech Journal 20 (Winter 1954): 136-47.
  • Fields, Wayne. "The Reply to Hayne: Daniel Webster and the Rhetoric of Stewardship." Political Theory 11 (February 1983): 5-28. in JSTOR
  • Foster, Herbert D. "Webster's Seventh of March Speech and the Secession Movement, 1850." American Historical Review 27 (January 1922): 245-70. in JSTOR
  • Formisano, Ronald P. The Transformation of Political Culture: Massachusetts Parties, 1790s-1840s (1983)
  • Holt, Michael F. The Rise and Fall of the American Whig Party: Jacksonian Politics and the Onset of the Civil War (1999), 1000pp comprehensive scholarly history
  • Howe, Daniel Walker. What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America, 1815-1848 (2007). 928pp; survey of the political history; Pulitzer Prize
  • Jones, Howard. To the Webster-Ashburton Treaty: A Study in Anglo-American Relations, 1783-1843. (1977). 251 pp.
  • Nathans, Sydney. Daniel Webster and Jacksonian Democracy. (1973).
  • Nathans, Sydney. "Daniel Webster, Massachusetts Man," New England Quarterly 39 (June 1966): 161-81. in JSTOR
  • Nevins, Allan. Ordeal of the Union: Fruits of Manifest Destiny, 1847-1852" (1947), highly detailed narrative of national politics.
  • Parish, Peter J. "Daniel Webster, New England, and the West. Journal of American History 54 (December 1967): 524-49. in JSTOR
  • Prince, Carl E., and Seth Taylor. "Daniel Webster, the Boston Associates, and the U.S. Government's Role in the Industrializing Process, 1815-1830." Journal of the Early Republic 2 (Fall 1982): 283-99. in JSTOR
  • Shade, William G. "The Second Party System" in Paul Kleppner ed., "Evolution of American Electoral Systems (1983)
  • Sheidley, Harlow W. "The Webster-Hayne Debate: Recasting New England's Sectionalism." New England Quarterly 1994 67(1): 5-29. in Jstor
  • Sheidley, Harlow W. "'Congress only can declare war' and 'the President is Commander in Chief': Daniel Webster and the War Power." Diplomatic History 12 (Fall 1988): 383-409.
  • Shewmaker, Kenneth E. "Forging the 'Great Chain': Daniel Webster and the Origins of American Foreign Policy toward East Asia and the Pacific, 1841-1852." Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society 129 (September 1985): 225-59.
  • Shewmaker, Kenneth E. ed. Daniel Webster: "The Completest Man. (1990), specialized studies by scholars
  • Simpson, Brooks D. "Daniel Webster and the Cult of the Constitution," Journal of American Culture' 15 (Spring 1992): 15-23. online in Blackwell Synergy
  • Smith, Craig R. "Daniel Webster's Epideictic Speaking: A Study in Emerging Whig Virtues" online edition
  • Smith, Craig R. Daniel Webster and the Oratory of Civil Religion. (2005) 300pp
  • Smith, Craig R. "Daniel Webster's July 17th Address: A Mediating Influence in the 1850 Compromise," Quarterly Journal of Speech 71 (August 1985): 349-61.
  • Smith, Craig R. Defender of the Union: The Oratory of Daniel Webster. (1989).
  • Szasz, Ferenc M. "Daniel Webster--Architect of America's 'Civil Religion'," Historical New Hampshire 34 (Fall/Winter 1979): 223-43.
  • Wilson, Major L. "Of Time and the Union: Webster and His Critics in the Crisis of 1850. Civil War History 14 (December 1968): 293-306. ch 1 of Wilson, Space, Time, and Freedom: The Quest for Nationality and the Irrepressible Conflict, 1815-1861 (1974) online edition

Primary sources

  • Select Speeches of Daniel Webster 1817-1845 edited by A. J. George, (1903) online at Project Gutenberg. Contains: Defence of the Kennistons; The Dartmouth College Case; First Settlement of New England; The Bunker Hill Monument; The Reply to Hayne; The Murder of Captain Joseph White; The Constitution Not a Compact Between Sovereign States; Speech at Saratoga; and Eulogy on Mr. Justice Story.
  • The works of Daniel Webster edited in 6 vol. by Edward Everett, Boston: Little, Brown and company, 1853. online edition
  • McIntyre, J.W., ed. The Writings and Speeches of Daniel Webster. 18 vols. (1903). vol 8 online
  • Tefft, B. F., ed. The Speeches of Daniel Webster and His Master-Pieces. Alta ed. Philadelphia, Penn.: Porter and Coates, 1854.
  • Van Tyne, Claude H., ed. The Letters of Daniel Webster, from Documents Owned Principally by the New Hampshire Historical Society (1902). online edition
  • Webster, Fletcher, ed. The Private Correspondence of Daniel Webster. 2 vols. 1857. online edition vol 1
  • 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 Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from New Hampshire's at-large congressional district

Succeeded by
Arthur Livermore
Preceded by Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Massachusetts's 1st congressional district

Succeeded by
Benjamin Gorham
United States Senate
Preceded by U.S. Senator (Class 1) from Massachusetts
Served alongside: Nathaniel Silsbee, John Davis
Succeeded by
Rufus Choate
Preceded by U.S. Senator (Class 1) from Massachusetts
Served alongside: John Davis
Succeeded by
Robert Winthrop
Political offices
Preceded by Chairperson of the Senate Committee on Finance
Succeeded by
Silas Wright
Preceded by U.S. Secretary of State
Served under: William Henry Harrison, John Tyler

Succeeded by
Abel Upshur
Preceded by U.S. Secretary of State
Served under: Millard Fillmore

Succeeded by
Edward Everett
  1. REDIRECT Template:United States representatives from Massachusetts

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