Born: January 18, 1782
Salisbury, New Hampshire
Died: October 24, 1852
American orator and lawyer
Daniel Webster, a notable public speaker and leading constitutional lawyer, was a major congressional spokesman for the Northern Whigs during his twenty years in the U.S. Senate.
Daniel Webster was born in Salisbury, New Hampshire, on January 18, 1782. His parents were Ebenezer, who worked as a tavern owner and a farmer and was also involved in politics, and his second wife, Abigail. While a child, Daniel earned the nickname "Black Dan" for his dark skin and black hair and eyes. The second youngest of ten children, Daniel developed a passion for reading and learning at a young age. His formal education began in 1796 when he started at Phillips Academy in Exeter. Then when he was fifteen, Daniel went on to Dartmouth College.
After graduating from Dartmouth, Daniel studied law and was admitted to the bar (an organization for lawyers) in 1805. He opened a law office in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, in 1807, where his success was immediate. He became a noted spokesman for the Federalists (a leading political party that believed in a strong federal government) through his addresses on patriotic occasions. In 1808 he married Grace Fletcher.
Early years in politics
Elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1813, Webster reenergized the Federalist minority with his attacks on the war policy of the Republicans, the opposing political party. Under his leadership the Federalists often successfully obstructed war measures. After the War of 1812, when American and British forces clashed over shipping rites, he called for the restructuring of the Bank of the United States, but he voted against the final bill, which he considered defective. As the representative of a region where shipping was basic to the economy, he voted against the protective tariff (tax).
Webster left politics for a while when he moved to Boston, Massachusetts. As a result of his success in pleading before the U.S. Supreme Court, Webster's fame as a lawyer grew, and soon his annual income rose to fifteen thousand dollars a year. In 1819 Webster secured a triumph in defending the Bank of the United States in McCulloch v. Maryland. On this occasion Supreme Court Chief Justice John Marshall drew from Webster's brief the belief that the power to tax is the power to destroy. In 1824 Webster was also successful on behalf of his clients in Gibbons v. Ogden.
When Webster returned to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1823, his speeches began to attract national attention. From 1825 to 1829 Webster was one of the most faithful backers of President John Quincy Adams (1767–1848), supporting federal internal improvements and supporting Adams in his conflict with Georgia over the removal of the Cherokee Indians.
When Webster was elected to the Senate in 1827, he made the first about-face in his career when he became a champion of the protective tariff. This shift reflected the growing importance of manufacturing in Massachusetts and his own close involvement with factory owners both as clients and as friends. It was largely due to his support that the "Tariff of Abominations" was passed in 1828. His first wife died shortly after he entered the Senate, and in 1829 he married Catherine Le Roy of New York City.
In January 1830 Webster electrified the nation by his speeches in response to the elaborate explanations of the Southern states' rights doctrines (teachings) made by Senator Robert Y. Hayne of South Carolina. In memorable phrases Webster exposed the weaknesses in Hayne's views and argued that the Constitution (the document that states the principles of the American government) and the Union rested upon the people and not upon the states. These speeches, delivered before crowded Senate galleries, defined the constitutional issues which disturbed the nation for nearly thirty years.
Webster was at the height of his powers in 1830. Regarded by others as one of the greatest orators (public speakers) of the day, he delivered his speeches with tremendous dramatic impact. Yet in spite of his emotional style and the passionate character of his speeches, he rarely sacrificed logic for effect. His striking appearance contributed to the forcefulness of his delivery. Tall, rather thin, and always clad in black, Webster's face was dominated by deep, luminous black eyes under craggy brows and a shock of black hair combed straight back.
In private Webster was more approachable. He was fond of gatherings and was a lively talker, although at times given to silent moods. His taste for luxury often led him to live beyond his means. While his admirers worshiped the "Godlike Daniel," his critics thought his constant need for money deprived him of his independence. During the Panic of 1837, a desperate financial crisis resulting from the expansion into western lands, he was in such desperate circumstances as a result of excessive investments in western lands that only loans from business friends saved him from ruin. Again, in 1844, when it seemed financial pressure might force him to leave the Senate, he permitted his friends to raise a fund to provide him with an income.
Webster was one of the leaders of the anti-Andrew Jackson (1767–1845) forces that came together in the Whig party, a political party which opposed Jackson's Democrats. Regardless, Webster did endorse President Jackson's stand during the nullification crisis in 1832, where several states threatened to leave the Union unless granted the right to "nullify," or make void, certain federal laws. In 1836 the Massachusetts Whigs named Webster as their presidential candidate, but in a field against other Whig candidates he polled only the electoral votes of Massachusetts. In recognition of his standing in the party and in gratitude for his support during the campaign, President William Henry Harrison (1773–1841) appointed him secretary of state in 1841. He continued in this post under John Tyler (1790–1862), who succeeded to the presidency when Harrison died a month after he was sworn in as president. Among other accomplishments, Webster sent Caleb Cushing (1800–1879) to the Orient (Far East) to establish commercial relations with China, although he was no longer in office when Cushing concluded the agreement. Late in 1843 Webster, feeling that he no longer enjoyed Tyler's confidence, gave in to Whig pressure and retired from office.
Webster, in spite of his disappointment at not receiving the presidential nomination in 1844, actively campaigned for Henry Clay (1777–1852), his rival within the party. On his return to the Senate in 1844, Webster opposed the annexation (acception into the Union) of Texas and as well as the expansionist policies that peaked in the war with Mexico (1846–48), when American forces clashed with Mexico over western lands. After the war he worked to remove slavery from the newly acquired territories which resulted in the Wilmot Proviso.
Although Northern businessmen agreed, the average citizen was outraged over Webster's speech of March 1850 in defense of the new Fugitive Slave Law, a law that provided for the return of escaped slaves. Webster again became secretary of state in July 1850, in Millard Fillmore's Cabinet. In 1852 he lost his last hope for the presidency when the Whigs passed over him in favor of General Winfield Scott (1786–1866), a former Democrat. Deeply outraged, he refused to support the party candidate. He died just before the election on October 24, 1852.
For More Information
Baxter, Maurice G. One and Inseparable: Daniel Webster and the Union. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1984.
Lodge, Henry Cabot. Daniel Webster. Boston: Houghton, Mifflin, 1883. Reprint, New York: Chelsea House, 1981.
Remini, Robert V. Daniel Webster: The Man and His Time. New York: W. W. Norton, 1997.
Daniel Webster (1782-1852), a notable orator and leading constitutional lawyer, was a major congressional spokesman for the Northern Whigs during his 20 years in the U.S. Senate.
Daniel Webster was born in Salisbury, N. H., on Jan. 18, 1782. After graduating from Dartmouth College, he studied law and was admitted to the bar in 1805. He opened a law office in Portsmouth, N. H., in 1807, where his success was immediate. He became a noted spokesman for the Federalist point of view through his addresses on patriotic occasions. In 1808 he married Grace Fletcher.
Early Years in Politics
Elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1813, Webster revitalized the Federalist minority with his vigorous attacks on the war policy of the Republicans. Under his leadership the Federalists (with the help of dissident Republicans) often successfully obstructed war measures. After the War of 1812 he advocated the rechartering of the Bank of the United States, but he voted against the final bill, whose provisions he considered inadequate. As the representative of a region where shipping was basic to the economy, he voted against the protective tariff.
Webster's congressional career ended temporarily in 1816, when he moved to Boston. As a result of his success in pleading before the U.S. Supreme Court, his fame as a lawyer grew, and soon his annual income rose to $15, 000 a year. In 1819 he experienced a notable victory for the trustees of Dartmouth College, who were seeking to prevent the state from converting the college into a state-supported institution. Chief Justice John Marshall's opinion in the Dartmouth College case was not so much colored by Webster's emotion-charged argument as by Marshall's determination to take the opportunity to further bolster the contract clause. A few weeks later Webster secured an even greater triumph in defending the Bank of the United States in McCulloch v. Maryland. On this occasion Marshall drew from Webster's brief the doctrine that the power to tax is the power to destroy. In 1824 Webster was also successful on behalf of his clients in Gibbons v. Ogden.
When Webster returned to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1823, his speeches in behalf of the popular cause of the Greek revolution attracted national attention. President James Monroe, however, was able to prevent the passage of Webster's resolutions announcing American sympathy for the rebels. From 1825 to 1829 Webster was one of the staunchest backers of President John Quincy Adams, endorsing Federal internal improvements and supporting Adams in his conflict with Georgia over the removal of the Cherokee Indians.
Upon his election to the Senate in 1827, Webster made the first about-face in his career when he became a proponent of the protective tariff. This shift reflected the growing importance of manufacturing in Massachusetts and his own close involvement with factory owners both as clients and as friends. It was largely due to his support that the "Tariff of Abominations" was passed in 1828. His first wife died shortly after he entered the Senate, and in 1829 he married Catherine Le Roy of New York.
In January 1830 Webster electrified the nation by his speeches in reply to the elaborate exposition of the Southern states'-rights doctrines made by John C. Calhoun's close friend Senator Robert Y. Hayne of South Carolina. In memorable phrases Webster exposed the weaknesses in Hayne's views and countered them with the argument that the Constitution and the Union rested upon the people and not upon the states. These speeches, delivered before crowded Senate galleries, defined the constitutional issues which agitated the nation until the Civil War.
Webster was at the height of his powers in 1830. Regarded by contemporaries as one of the greatest orators of the day, he delivered his speeches with tremendous dramatic impact. He modulated his voice, speaking at one moment in stentorian tones, the next in a whisper. Yet, in spite of his emotional style and the florid character of his oratory, he rarely sacrificed logic for effect. His striking appearance contributed to the forcefulness of his delivery: tall, rather gaunt, and always clad in black; his face was dominated by deep, luminous black eyes under craggy brows and a shock of black hair combed straight back. As he grew older, his figure remained erect, but his eyes seemed to be more cavernous and to burn with greater intensity.
In private Webster was less formidable. He was fond of convivial gatherings and was a lively talker, although at times given to silent moods. His taste for luxury often led him to live beyond his means. While his admirers worshiped the "Godlike Daniel, " his critics felt that his constant need for money deprived him of his independence. During the Panic of 1837, he was in such desperate circumstances as a result of excessive speculation in western lands that only loans from business friends saved him from ruin. Again, in 1844, when it seemed that financial pressure might force him to leave the Senate, he permitted his friends to raise a fund to provide him with a supplementary income.
Although Webster was one of the leaders of the anti-Jackson forces which coalesced in the Whig party, he un-hesitatingly endorsed President Andrew Jackson's stand during the nullification crisis in 1832. In 1836 the Massachusetts Whigs named Webster as their presidential candidate, but in a field against other Whig candidates he polled only the electoral votes of Massachusetts. In recognition of his standing in the party and in gratitude for his support during the campaign, President William Henry Harrison appointed him secretary of state in 1841. He continued in this post under John Tyler, who succeeded to the presidency when Harrison died a month after the inauguration. Webster was the only Whig to remain in the Cabinet after Tyler refused to approve the party program formulated by Henry Clay. Webster stayed on in the hope of using Tyler's influence to build up a following which would ensure his nomination as Tyler's successor. He won general approval for his skill in settling the Maine-Canada dispute in the Webster-Ashburton Treaty in 1843. This dispute had been a major source of Anglo-American tension for nearly a decade. He also sent Caleb Cushing to the Orient to establish commercial relations with China, although he was no longer in office when Cushing concluded the agreement. Late in 1843 Webster, feeling that he no longer enjoyed Tyler's confidence, yielded to Whig pressure and retired from office.
In spite of his disappointment at not receiving the presidential nomination in 1844, Webster actively campaigned for Henry Clay, his archival within the party. On his return to the Senate in 1844, Webster opposed the annexation of Texas and denounced the expansionist policies that culminated in the war with Mexico. After the war he worked to exclude slavery from the newly acquired territories and voted for the Wilmot Proviso. Yet, when confronted by the crisis precipitated by California's application for admission to the Union as a free state in 1849, he dismayed his constituents by supporting Clay's compromise.
Although Northern businessmen, desiring domestic tranquility, approved Webster's speech of March 1850 in defense of the new Fugitive Slave Law, the average citizen was outraged. Webster again became secretary of state in July 1850, in Millard Fillmore's Cabinet. In 1852 he lost his last hope for the presidency when the Whigs passed over him in favor of Gen. Winfield Scott, a former Democrat. Deeply outraged, he refused to support the party candidate. He died just before the election on Oct. 24, 1852.
Until the modern edition of Webster's correspondence under the editorship of Charles M. Wiltse appears, the old, inadequate editions must be used: The Private Correspondence of Daniel Webster, edited by Fletcher Webster (2 vols., 1857), and The Writings and Speeches of Daniel Webster, edited by J. W. Mclntyre (18 vols., 1903). The standard biography is Claude M. Fuess, Daniel Webster (2 vols., 1930). Richard N. Current, Daniel Webster and the Rise of National Conservatism (1955), is an excellent brief survey. Webster's important influence on American constitutional development is examined in Maurice G. Baxter, Daniel Webster and the Supreme Court (1966). □
Webster, Daniel (1782-1852)
Daniel Webster (1782-1852)
Lawyer and senator
Studious Youth. Daniel Webster was born in 1782 in New Hampshire. His father, Ebenezer, was uneducated but had risen to distinction in the militia during the American Revolution and hoped to give Daniel the education he never received. Webster was a sickly youth who avoided farm labor and devoted himself to studying. He attended several local schools and at fourteen went to Phillips Exeter Academy, then returned home and was educated by a private teacher until 1797 when he enrolled at Dartmouth College. He graduated near the top of his class and began studying law. He was admitted to the bar in Boston in 1805 and returned to Portsmouth in 1807. He married Grace Fletcher in May 1808 and spent the next decade creating a profitable legal practice.
Supreme Court. Webster was elected to two terms in Congress starting in 1812, as a Federalist opponent of the war with Britain. His national reputation did not arise until after the war, when he represented his alma mater before the United States Supreme Court in the Dartmouth College v. Woodward case in 1819. Webster defended the college’s charter against the New Hampshire legislature’s attempted revisions. As counsel for the college’s trustees, Webster argued that the school’s charter was a contract that could not be altered. According to legend, Webster brought Chief Justice John Marshall to tears with his appeal that Dartmouth was only a small school but dear to those associated with it. Marshall held that the charter was indeed a contract, free from unilateral amendment. Webster appeared before the Court in several other important cases, including McCulloch v. Maryland (1819) and Gibbons v. Ogden (1824).
“Liberty and Union.” Between 1819 and 1827 Webster served in a variety of political offices. He was a delegate to the Massachusetts constitutional convention in 1820, returned to Congress for two more terms starting in 1822, and continued to participate in public events such as the dedication of the Bunker Hill monument in 1825 that provided a spotlight for his remarkable oratory. In 1827 he was elected to the United States Senate, where in 1830 Webster distinguished himself in his debate with Robert Hayne of South Carolina as a leading defender of the Constitution and the Union. In response to South Carolina’s claim that it could nullify the federal tariff, Webster argued that sovereignty rested with the people, not the individual states. Nullification, Webster argued, was absurd; no state could nullify the laws of the land without provoking civil war. He ended with the plea “Liberty and Union, now and forever, one and inseparable,” and voted against the 1833 compromise tariff.
Whig Candidate. Though Webster sided with Democrat Andrew Jackson against nullification, his devotion to New England’s commercial interests led him naturally into the Whig Party. He voted for the recharter of the Second Bank of the United States, for which he also remained on retainer as a lawyer. Seeing in Jackson’s removal of federal deposits from the bank an issue that might lead him to the White House, Webster became one of three Whig presidential candidates in 1836. The strategy of running multiple candidates, intended to prevent anyone from receiving a majority of the electoral vote and to throw the election into the House, was unsuccessful. Martin Van Buren won, and Webster carried only the state of Massachusetts.
Compromise. After his defeat in 1836, Webster considered retiring from politics and rebuilding his lucrative law practice but was persuaded to remain in Washington. In 1840 he became William Henry Harrison’s secretary of state. He remained in the cabinet after Harrison’s death, even after every other Whig resigned in protest over President John Tyler’s veto of a new national bank. In 1842 he negotiated the Webster-Ashburton Treaty, fixing the northeastern boundary between the United States and Canada. He then resigned and returned to the Senate in time to oppose the annexation of Texas, the extension of slavery, and the Mexican-American War. In 1850, sensing that the Union was again threatened, he supported Henry Clay’s compromise with his famous “Seventh of March” address. Rising to speak, “not as a Massachusetts man, nor as a Northern man, but as an American,” Webster denounced both secession and abolition. The speech cemented his reputation as the era’s greatest orator, but his willingness to put abolition second to the Union offended many northern antislavery Whigs; the poet John Greenleaf Whittier called the address “A fallen angel’s pride of thought, still strong in chains.” Discredited, he returned to a cabinet position as Millard Fillmore’s secretary of state. He again aspired to the presidency but was rejected by the Whigs in 1852. The nomination would have been to no avail: he became seriously ill and died of cirrhosis of the liver on 24 October 1852.
Robert V. Remini, Daniel Webster: The Man and His Time (New York: Norton, 1997).
Daniel Webster was a nineteenth-century lawyer, representative, senator, secretary of state, and one of the great orators in U.S. history. A man of prodigious talent and great political ambition, Webster reversed himself on issues involving the economy and slavery in hopes of becoming president. As the greatest constitutional lawyer of his day, he helped shape the nationalist jurisprudence favored by Chief Justice john marshall.
Webster was born on January 18, 1782, in Salisbury, New Hampshire. He entered Dartmouth College when he was fifteen and graduated in 1801. He then studied law with an attorney in Boston before becoming a member of the New Hampshire bar in 1805. Webster moved to Portsmouth, New Hampshire in 1807 and quickly developed a legal association with the shipowners and merchants of the city. Webster became the spokesperson for the Portsmouth business community, who opposed the Jefferson administration's trade restrictions with Great Britain and France. His vehement denunciations of the trade embargo and the war of 1812 against Great Britain led to his election to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1812. He aligned himself with the pro-British federalist party and endorsed a strong national government.
"God grant liberty only to those who love it, and are always ready to guard and defend it."
Webster left Congress in 1817 and relocated to Boston where he emerged as an eminent attorney, specializing in constitutional law. His reputation increased when he became involved in three landmark cases. In the first, trustees of dartmouth college v. woodward, 17 U.S. (4 Wheat.) 518, 4 L. Ed. 629 (1819), Webster successfully defended his former college against the state of New Hampshire's attempt to disregard the corporate charter of the school and make it a public institution. The Court, with Chief Justice Marshall writing the opinion, ruled that a corporate charter was a contract that could not be impaired.
In that same year, Webster argued for the validity of the bank of the united states and against the right of a state to tax a federal institution in mcculloch v. maryland, 17 U.S. (4 Wheat.) 316, 4 L. Ed. 579. Again, Chief Justice Marshall agreed with Webster's nationalist philosophy, finding that the necessary and proper clause provided the basis for Congress's creation of a national bank and that "the government of the Union, though limited in its power, is supreme within its sphere of action."
Five years later, in gibbons v. ogden, 22 U.S. (9 Wheat.) 1, 6 L. Ed. 23 (1824), Webster argued against navigation monopolies granted by the state of New York to private individuals. Chief Justice Marshall and the Court sided with Webster, holding that the Constitution's commerce clause empowered Congress to regulate interstate commerce, establishing a precedent that had far-reaching effects in the economic expansion of the nineteenth century.
With these accomplishments to his credit, Webster returned to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1822, where he represented Massachusetts for the next five years. In the House he chaired the Judiciary Committee and opposed the 1824 tariff, believing that it would injure the merchant class. Following his election to the U.S. Senate in 1826, however, Webster made one of his famous reversals and embraced the need for a tariff. He endorsed the tariff of 1828.
Webster's skills as an orator were renowned. Oral arguments before the Supreme Court could last several days, requiring attorneys to have both mental and physical stamina. Webster excelled in oral argument but he was also famous for his public addresses. In 1826 he delivered addresses on the deaths of john adams and thomas jefferson. In 1830 he debated Senator Robert Y. Hayne of South Carolina, who favored a coalition between Western and Southern states to benefit both areas in tariffs and land prices. Webster opposed this sectionalism and denounced the doctrine of nullification, which upheld the right of a state to declare a federal law invalid within its boundaries. Webster's phrase "Liberty and Union, now and forever, one and inseparable!" came from the Hayne debate and helped cement his popularity in the North.
In 1836 Webster abandoned the Federalist Party and helped form the whig party, made up of groups opposed to President andrew jackson and the Democrats. He was considered for the Whig presidential nomination in 1836 but was defeated. In 1841 President william henry harrison appointed Webster secretary of state. When
Harrison died shortly after taking office, President john tyler asked Webster to remain at his post.
The Tyler administration was a troubled one, largely because Tyler was a Democrat with a cabinet of Whigs. His decision to reject a Whig measure establishing a new national bank caused a revolt in his cabinet, with most members resigning in protest. Webster alone remained to aid Tyler, motivated by the possibility of becoming his vice-presidential running mate in 1844. However, Tyler was not renominated. As secretary of state, Webster did negotiate the Webster-Ashburton Treaty, which established the boundary line for Maine.
Webster returned to the Senate in 1845, with his salary supplemented by a fund raised by Boston and New York businessmen. Critics charged that he had surrendered his political independence to manufacturing interests. As a senator he opposed the Mexican War and the acquisition of Texas. He opposed slavery but feared civil war. Because of this fear Webster supported the compromise of 1850. This act admitted California into the Union as a free state, gave the Utah and New Mexico territories the right to determine the slavery issue for themselves at the time of their admission to the Union, outlawed the slave trade in the District of Columbia, and gave the federal government the right to return fugitive slaves under the fugitive slave act (9 Stat. 462).
In 1850 President millard fillmore appointed Webster secretary of state. He used his influence to enforce the Compromise of 1850, especially the Fugitive Slave Act. Though the act was unpopular in the North, Webster sought to demonstrate to Southern politicians his determination to uphold the law. Aside from promoting national unity, Webster dreamed of a "Union" party that would help make him president in 1852. However, Webster died on October 24, 1852, at his farm in Marshfield, Massachusetts.
Remini, Robert V. 1997. Daniel Webster: The Man and His Time. New York: W.W. Norton & Co.
Waxman, Seth P. 2000. "In the Shadow of Daniel Webster." The Federal Lawyer 47 (November-December).
Daniel Webster, 1782–1852, American statesman, lawyer, and orator, b. Salisbury (now in Franklin), N.H.
He graduated (1801) from Dartmouth College, studied law, and, after an interval as a schoolmaster, was admitted (1805) to the bar. Webster practiced law at Boscawen and Portsmouth, N.H., and rapidly gravitated toward politics. As a Federalist and a defender of the New England shipping interests, he sat (1813–17) in the U.S. House of Representatives, where he opposed James Madison's administration, although he did not join forces with members of the Hartford Convention.
In 1816 he transferred his residence to Boston. Before he was returned (1822) to the House, Webster won fame as a lawyer, defending (1819) his alma mater in the Dartmouth College Case and the Bank of the United States in McCulloch v. Maryland. Again in Congress (1823–27), Webster began to gain repute as one of the greatest orators of his time; his brilliant speeches in the House were matched by his eloquent public addresses—notably the Plymouth address (1820), the Bunker Hill oration (1825), and the speech (1826) on the deaths of Thomas Jefferson and John Adams.
Senator and Secretary of State
As a U.S. Senator from Massachusetts (1827–41), he became a leading political figure of the United States. The dominant interest of his constituency had changed from shipping to industry, so Webster now abandoned his earlier free-trade views and supported the tariff of 1828. In the states' rights controversy that followed he took a strong pro-Union stand, defending the supremacy of the Union in the famous debate with Robert Y. Hayne in 1830. Although Webster supported President Jackson in the nullification crisis, he vehemently opposed him on most issues, especially those concerning financial policy.
Webster became a leader of the Whig party and in 1836 was put forward as a presidential candidate by the Whig groups in New England. However, he won only the electoral votes of Massachusetts. His prominence brought him into consideration in later presidential elections, but he never attained his ambition. After William Henry Harrison was elected (1840) President on the Whig ticket, Webster was appointed (1841) U.S. Secretary of State. Although every other cabinet officer resigned (1841) after John Tyler had succeeded to the presidency and had broken with the Whig leaders, Webster remained at his post until he had completed the settlement of the Webster-Ashburton Treaty (1843).
Again (1845–50) in the Senate, Webster opposed the annexation of Texas and war with Mexico and faced the rising tide of sectionalism with his customary stand: slavery was an evil, but disunion was a greater one. He steadily lost his following and was sorely disappointed when the Whig party nominated Zachary Taylor for President in 1848. Cherishing the preservation of the Union above his own popularity, Webster, in one of his most eloquent and reasoned speeches, backed the Compromise of 1850 and was reviled by antislavery groups in the North and by members of his own party. He served again (1850–52) as Secretary of State under President Millard Fillmore.
His writings were edited by J. W. McIntyre (18 vol., 1903). See biographies by G. T. Curtis (1869), C. M. Fuess (1930, repr. 1968), J. B. McMaster (1939), and R. N. Current (1955); N. D. Brown, Daniel Webster and the Politics of Availability (1969); R. F. Dalzell, Daniel Webster and the Trial of American Nationalism, 1843–1852 (1972); S. Nathans, Daniel Webster and Jacksonian Democracy (1973); F. M. Bordewich, America's Great Debate (2012). The diary kept by his second wife, C. L. R. Webster, was published as Mr. W. & I (1942).
Daniel Webster is one of the greatest lawyers, orators, and politicians in American history.
Webster was born on January 18, 1782, in modest circumstances in New Hampshire , but attended an excellent private school and graduated from Dartmouth College. He studied law and began a practice in 1805.
Federalist with a legal mind
Webster was a passionate member of the Federalist Party . In the early days of the United States, there was great debate about how much power the central (federal) government should have and how much power the states should have. Webster believed in a strong central government for the United States and felt that it was very important that the states be governed together.
Webster was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1813 but left in 1816 to practice law in Boston. A strong speaker, he quickly gained a reputation as one of the country's top legal minds. He pled many important cases before the U.S. Supreme Court.
States' rights argument
In 1827 Webster was elected to the U.S. Senate. He was a staunch supporter of the Tariff of 1828, also known as the Tariff of Abominations, an act that placed a high tax on goods coming into the United States from other countries. By making foreign goods less competitive, the act raised demand for goods produced in the industrial northeastern United States. But the tariff was hated by Southerners because it damaged the European market for the agricultural goods of the South.
In 1829 Vice President John C. Calhoun (1782–1850) led a states' rights argument against the tariff. He argued that the United States had not been formed directly by the people of the United States, but that it had been formed by the individual states, of which the people were citizens. According to Calhoun, it was the states, and not the federal government, that were supreme in power. Thus, when a state objected to a law passed by a majority in the federal government, that state had the right to nullify, or to make not valid, the law within its borders until three-quarters of the other states overruled its decision. At the time it was overruled, the state could choose to yield to the will of the other states, or to secede (withdraw) entirely from the Union .
A famous speech
In December 1829 U.S. senator Robert Hayne (1791–1839) of South Carolina brought up the states' rights argument in the Senate. Webster countered with an eloquent speech, imploring the Senate to protect the Union at all costs. He argued that the Constitution was a document drafted directly by the people and was the supreme authority in the land. His speech electrified the spectators that day and gained immediate attention in the press, drawing attention to the increasingly bitter debate between the North and South.
Webster remained a key figure in politics in the years leading up to the American Civil War (1861–65). He served as secretary of state under presidents William Henry Harrison (1773–1841; served 1841), John Tyler (1790–1862; served 1841–54), and Millard Fillmore (1850–1853; served 1850–53).
Webster generally supported bills that attempted to stop the expansion of slavery into new territory in the West, but he surprised his party more than once by supporting the proslavery forces, presumably to win more widespread political favor. He hoped to run for the presidency himself, but never received the nomination. Greatly disappointed about not receiving the nomination in 1852, he stopped supporting his party, the Whigs. He died in October that year.