WEbster, Daniel - History

WEbster, Daniel - History

Webster, Daniel

Orator, Politician


Daniel Webster was born on January 18, 1782, in Salisbury, New Hampshire. He attended Dartmouth College, going on to study law. After setting up a practice in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, he practiced law in Boston, Massachusetts. In 1813, he was elected to the US House of Representatives, serving until 1817. In 1819, he helped saved the charter of Dartmouth College when it was challenged in the Supreme Court case of Dartmouth College v. Woodward.

Webster is best remembered for his excellent oratorical skills, and his arguments influenced Chief Justice Marshall's constitutional views. Webster returned to the US House of Representatives from 1823 to 1827. In the House, he supported the general idea of having a strong central government; he took a strong state's rights position on some issues.

When he was elected to the Senate in 1827, Webster's basic platform promoted nationalism built upon prosperity from industrialization. He served in the US Senate until 1841, when he was appointed Secretary of State. Webster served as Secretary of State from 1841 to 1843, and again from 1850 to 1852; under Presidents Harrison, Tyler and Fillmore. He also ran for President, in 1836, 1840 and 1852: He lost all three times.

Webster died on October 24, 1852, in Marshfield, Massachusetts.

Webster's Dictionary

Webster's Dictionary is any of the dictionaries edited by Noah Webster in the early nineteenth century, and numerous related or unrelated dictionaries that have adopted the Webster's name. "Webster's" has become a genericized trademark in the U.S. for dictionaries of the English language, and is widely used in English dictionary titles. [1] Merriam-Webster is the corporate heir to Noah Webster's original works, which are in the public domain.


Daniel Webster was born on January 18, 1782, in Salisbury, New Hampshire, at a location within the present day city of Franklin. He was the son of Abigail (née Eastman) and Ebenezer Webster, a farmer and local official who served in the French and Indian War and the American Revolutionary War. Ebenezer's ancestor, the English-born Thomas Webster, had migrated to the United States around 1636. Ebenezer had three children from a previous marriage who survived to maturity, as well as five children from his marriage to Abigail Webster was the second-youngest of the eight siblings. [3] He was particularly close to his older brother, Ezekiel, who was born in 1780. [4] As a youth, he helped work the family farm but was frequently in poor health. With the encouragement of his parents and tutors, he often read works by authors such as Alexander Pope and Isaac Watts. [5]

In 1796, he attended Phillips Exeter Academy, a preparatory school in Exeter, New Hampshire. [6] After studying the classics and other subjects for several months under a clergyman, Webster was admitted to Dartmouth College in 1797. [7] During his time at Dartmouth, he managed the school newspaper and emerged as a strong public speaker. [8] 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 became famous. [9] Like his father, and like many other New England farmers, Webster was firmly devoted to the Federalist Party and favored a strong central government. [10] He graduated from Dartmouth in 1801 and was elected to the Phi Beta Kappa honor society. [11]

After graduating from Dartmouth, he apprenticed under Salisbury lawyer Thomas W. Thompson. [12] Though unenthusiastic about studying the law, he believed that becoming a lawyer would allow him to "live comfortably" and avoid the bouts of poverty that had afflicted his father. [13] In order to help support his brother Ezekiel's study at Dartmouth, Webster temporarily resigned from the law office to work as a schoolteacher at Fryeburg Academy in Maine. [14] In 1804, he obtained a position in Boston under the prominent attorney Christopher Gore. Clerking for Gore—who was involved in international, national, and state politics—he learned about many legal and political subjects and met numerous New England politicians. [15] He grew to love Boston, and, in 1805, was admitted to the bar. [16]

Immediately after winning admission to the bar, Webster set up a legal practice in Boscawen, New Hampshire. [17] He became increasingly involved in politics and began to speak locally in support of Federalist causes and candidates. [18] After his father's death in 1806, he handed over his practice to his brother, Ezekiel, and opened a new practice in the larger town of Portsmouth. [19] Over the decade-long period he lived in Portsmouth, he handled over 1700 cases, becoming one of the most prominent attorneys in New Hampshire. [20] Along with two other lawyers, he was appointed to revise the New Hampshire criminal code and devise regulations for state prisons. [21]

During this time the ongoing Napoleonic Wars began to more strongly affect Americans, as Britain attacked American shipping and impressed American sailors. 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 suffered from the embargo, and Webster wrote an anonymous pamphlet attacking Jefferson's policies. [22] He also campaigned for various Federalist candidates, including presidential candidate Charles C. Pinckney and gubernatorial candidate Jeremiah Smith. Although Jefferson's Democratic-Republican Party dominated national elections, the Federalist Party was competitive throughout the states of New England. [23] In 1812, the United States declared war against Britain, beginning the War of 1812. On July 4, 1812, Webster was invited to give a speech before the Washington Benevolent Society. His speech, which strongly attacked the war but warned against secession, was reprinted in newspapers throughout New England. [24]

After the speech, he was selected as a delegate to the Rockingham Convention, a local assembly that issued a report critical of Jefferson's Democratic-Republican successor, James Madison. [25] The Rockingham Memorial, which was largely written by Webster, challenged Madison's reasons for going to war, argued that France had been just as culpable for attacks against American shipping as the British had been, and raised the specter of secession. The Rockingham Memorial gained nationwide notoriety as a document exemplifying New England's opposition to the war. [26] After the convention, the state Federalist Party nominated him as a candidate for the House of Representatives. Though Madison won re-election in the 1812 presidential election, the Federalist-backed presidential candidate won New England, and Federalists swept the New Hampshire elections for the House of Representatives. [27]

First stint in the House, 1813–1817 Edit

By May 1813, when he arrived in the House of Representatives for the first time, the United States had seen numerous setbacks in the War of 1812. Nonetheless, Madison's Democratic-Republican Party dominated the Thirteenth Congress, controlling over three-fifths of the seats in the House of Representatives and over two-thirds of the seats in the Senate. [28] Webster continued to criticize the war and attacked effort to impose conscription, wartime taxes, and a new trade embargo. [29] He was appointed to a steering committee that coordinated Federalist actions in the House of Representatives and, by the end of the Thirteenth Congress, he had emerged as a respected speaker on the House floor. [30] In early 1815, the war came to an end after news of the signing of the Treaty of Ghent reached the United States. [31]

After the war, President Madison called for the establishment of the Second Bank of the United States (known as the "national bank"), the imposition of a protective tariff, and federally-financed public works. While Speaker of the House Henry Clay and Congressman John C. Calhoun worked to pass Madison's proposals, other Democratic-Republicans opposed these policies because they conflicted with the party's traditional commitment to a weaker federal government. [32] Webster favored a national bank in principle, but he voted against the bill that established the national bank because he believed that the bank should be required to remove paper banknotes issued by various state-charted banks from circulation. Before the national bank came into operation, he then led the passage of a bill that required all debts to the government to be paid in specie, Treasury notes, or notes issued by the national bank. [33] In the tariff debate, he occupied a middle ground he favored using tariff rates to protect domestic manufacturing, but did not want tariff rates to be so high that they would harm his home state's trading concerns. Though he took an active role in crafting the tariff bill, he ultimately missed the final vote on the Tariff of 1816. [34] Seeking more lucrative legal work, he began to strongly consider relocating to Boston or New York during his time in Congress. [35] In 1816, he declined to seek another term in the House of Representatives, instead establishing a new residence in Boston. In the 1816 elections, the Federalist Party suffered numerous defeats throughout the country and Democratic-Republican candidate James Monroe was elected president. [36]

Leading lawyer Edit

Daniel Webster (Dartmouth College v. Woodward)

Webster continued to practice law while serving in the House of Representatives, and he argued his first case before the Supreme Court of the United States in early 1814. [37] He had been highly regarded in New Hampshire since his days in Boscawen and was respected for his service in the House of Representatives, but he came to national prominence as counsel in a number of important Supreme Court cases. [38] Between 1814 and 1852, he argued at least one case in the vast majority of the sessions of the Supreme Court he served as counsel in a total of 223 cases, and won approximately half of those cases. [39] He also represented numerous clients outside of Supreme Court cases, including prominent individuals such as George Crowninshield, Francis Cabot Lowell, and John Jacob Astor. [40]

Though Congress was dominated by Democratic-Republicans, Chief Justice John Marshall ensured that the Federalist ideology retained a presence in the courts. Webster quickly became skilled at articulating arguments designed to appeal to Marshall and another influential Supreme Court justice, Joseph Story. [41] He played an important role in eight of the most celebrated constitutional cases decided by the Court between 1814 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 his arguments. Marshall's most famous declaration, "the power to tax is the power to destroy," in McCulloch v. Maryland (1819), was taken from Webster's presentation against the state of Maryland. As a result of his series of successes in Supreme Court cases, many people began calling him the "Great Expounder and Defender of the Constitution." [42] He would continue to argue cases before the Supreme Court after Marshall's death in 1835, but he generally found the Taney Court to be less receptive to his arguments. [43]

In Dartmouth College v. Woodward, Webster was retained by the Federalist trustees of his alma mater, Dartmouth College, 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. [44] He argued that the Constitution's Contract Clause prohibited the legislature from altering the college's board of trustees. 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 Dartmouth. The ruling set the important precedent 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. [45]

He remained politically active during his time out of Congress, serving as a presidential elector, meeting with officials like Secretary of War John C. Calhoun, and delivering a well-received speech that attacked high tariffs. [46] With the Federalists fading away as a national party, the period of Monroe's presidency came to be known as the "Era of Good Feelings" due to the lack of partisan conflict. [36] As the Federalists failed to field a candidate in the 1820 presidential election, Webster, acting in his capacity as a presidential elector, cast his vote for Monroe. [46] He was then elected as a delegate to the 1820 Massachusetts Constitutional Convention. There he spoke in opposition to suffrage for all regardless of property ownership, arguing that power naturally follows property, and the vote should be limited accordingly but the constitution was amended against his advice. [47] He also supported the (existing) districting of the state senate so that each seat represented an equal amount of property. [48] His performance at the convention furthered his reputation. In a letter to a mutual friend, Joseph Story wrote, "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." [49] In December 1820, he delivered an enthusiastically-received address commemorating the bicentennial of the landing of the Mayflower at Plymouth Rock. [50]

Second stint in the House, 1823–1827 Edit

At the behest of Federalist leaders and the business elite in Boston, Webster agreed to run for the United States House of Representatives in 1822. He won the election and returned to Congress in December 1823. [51] In recognition of his mastery of legal issues, Speaker of the House Henry Clay assigned him the chairmanship of the House Judiciary Committee. In that role, he tried to pass a bill that would relieve Supreme Court justices of having to travel to far-flung western districts, but his bill did not receive a vote in the House. [52] Seeking to re-establish his reputation for oratorical prowess on the floor of the House of Representatives, he gave a speech supporting the Greek cause in the Greek War of Independence. [53] In another speech, he attacked the bill imposing the Tariff of 1824, arguing that high tariff rates unfairly benefited manufacturing to the detriment of agriculture and commerce. [54] In a third speech, he defended the construction of internal improvements by the federal government, arguing that roads helped unite the nation both economically and in creating a "feeling truly national." [55] While a Representative, he continued accepting speaking engagements in New England, most notably his oration on the fiftieth anniversary of the Battle of Bunker Hill. [56] He also continued his legal work, though his government service required him to rely more on his law partners. [57]

In the 1824 United States presidential election, the Democratic-Republicans split among Clay, Calhoun, William H. Crawford, Andrew Jackson, and John Quincy Adams. [58] Despite their shared connection to Massachusetts, Webster had an uneasy relationship with Adams because the latter had left the Federalist Party earlier in his career [59] for his part, Adams detested him. [60] As no candidate won a majority of the electoral vote, the 1824 election was decided in a contingent election held by the House of Representatives. [a] Webster had remained neutral prior to the election, but he supported Adams in the contingent election, in large part because he viewed Jackson as completely unqualified to be president and Crawford had suffered a major stroke. [61] Along with Clay, he helped rally members of the House around Adams, and Adams was elected on the first ballot of the contingent election. [62]

In 1825, President Adams set off a partisan realignment by putting forward an ambitious domestic program, based on Clay's American System, that included a vast network of federally-funded infrastructure projects. States' rights Democratic-Republicans, including Senator Martin Van Buren and Vice President John C. Calhoun, strongly opposed the program and rallied around Jackson. While some Federalists gravitated to Jackson's camp, Webster became the leader of the pro-administration forces in the House of Representatives. [63] Supporters of Adams became known as National Republicans, while Jackson's followers coalesced into the Democratic Party. Like many Federalists, he did not immediately cast aside his partisan identity as a Federalist but embraced the American System and began to favor protective tariff rates. [64] Justus D. Doenecke indicates that his newfound support of protective tariffs was the result of "his new closeness to the rising mill-owning families of the region, the Lawrences and the Lowells." [25] He also backed the administration's defense of treaty-sanctioned Creek Indian land rights against Georgia's expansionist claims. [65]

Adams administration, 1827–1829 Edit

In 1827, the Massachusetts legislature elected him to the United States Senate. He was initially reluctant to leave the House of Representatives, where he had established seniority and a strong base of power, but ultimately accepted election to the Senate. [66] After a period of consideration, he voted for the Tariff of 1828, which raised tariff rates. [67] Prior to the 1828 presidential election, he worked with Clay to build the National Republican Party across the country. While Clay rallied support for the party in the West, he emerged as a leading National Republican in the Northeastern states. [68] Despite his efforts and those of Clay, Democratic candidate Andrew Jackson decisively defeated President Adams in the 1828 election. [69]

Jackson administration, 1829–1837 Edit

Second Reply to Hayne Edit

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

After Jackson took office, Webster opposed most of the measures favored by the new administration, including the Indian Removal Act and the establishment of the spoils system. [70] The Jackson administration suffered from factionalism between supporters of Secretary of State Van Buren and Vice President Calhoun, the latter of whom took a prominent role in propounding the doctrine of nullification. Calhoun held that the states had the power to "nullify" laws, and he and his allies sought to nullify the high tariff rates imposed by the Tariff of 1828 (which they referred to as the "Tariff of Abominations"). [71] During a debate over land policy in January 1830, South Carolina Senator Robert Y. Hayne, in an effort to sway the West against the North and the tariff, accused the North of attempting to limit Western expansion for their own benefit. Hayne served as a surrogate for Vice President Calhoun, who could not himself address the Senate on the issue due to his status as the Senate's presiding officer. [72] [ page needed ] Webster objected to the sectional attack on the North, but even more strongly objected to Hayne's pro-states' rights position. Speaking before the Senate, he articulated his belief in a "perpetual" union and attacked the institution of slavery, baiting Hayne into expounding on the doctrine of nullification on the Senate floor. [73]

Replying to his first speech, Hayne accused him of "making war upon the unoffending South," and he asserted that nullification was constitutional because the federal government was ultimately subservient to the states. [74] On January 27, Webster delivered his response, titled the Second Reply to Hayne. He held that the people, and not the states, held ultimate power, and the people had established the Constitution as the supreme law of the land. He further argued that the doctrine of nullification "approach[ed] absurdity," and, by denying power to the federal government, would effectively restore the balance of power established under the Articles of Confederation. He argued that nullification constituted treason against the United States, and would ultimately lead to civil war as state officials would call out the militia to resist federal laws and actions. He ended his speech with a call for "Liberty and Union, now and for ever, one and inseparable!" [75] The Second Reply to Hayne was reprinted thousands of times, and was favorably received throughout the country. In assessing the speech's impact and popularity, some contemporaries compared it to the Federalist Papers. [76] Three months after he delivered the Second Reply to Hayne, Calhoun openly broke with President Jackson when, in response to Jackson's toast of "Our Union, it be preserved," Calhoun replied, "The Union: Next to our liberty, the most dear." [77]

Bank War and 1832 election Edit

By 1830, he considered Clay to be the likely National Republican nominee in the 1832 United States presidential election, though he was skeptical that Clay would be able to defeat the Democratic nominee. [78] The establishment of the Anti-Masonic Party, a third party opposed to both Jackson and Clay, added a new factor into the election. Some Anti-Masonic leaders attempted to recruit him [b] to run for the presidency, but he ultimately declined to run for fear of alienating Clay and other National Republicans. [80] Instead, he undertook a subtle campaign to win the National Republican nomination, planning a tour of the Northeast and the Northwest His angling for the presidency marked the start of an ambivalent relationship between Clay and Webster. [81] Nonetheless, he urged Clay to accept election to the Senate, and the two convinced Nicholas Biddle, the president of the national bank, to apply for an early renewal of the national bank's charter. As Jackson had a long record of opposing the national bank, both hoped to make the national bank an issue in the 1832 presidential election. Clay was formally nominated by the National Republicans in December 1831, while Jackson was nominated for a second term in 1832. [82]

Biddle requested a renewal of the national bank's charter in January 1832, setting off what became known as the "Bank War." [83] With Clay focusing on a tariff bill, Webster became the unofficial leader of pro-national bank forces in the Senate. He helped ensure that Congress approved a renewal of the charter without making any major modifications, such as a provision that would allow states to prevent the national bank from establishing branches within their borders. [84] Congress approved the charter renewal, but, as was expected, Jackson vetoed the bill in July 1832 Jackson argued the bank was unconstitutional and served to "make the rich richer and the potent more powerful." On the Senate floor, Webster attacked the veto, arguing that only the judicial branch could judge a bill's constitutionality. [85] Afterward he supported Clay's presidential campaign and continued his efforts on behalf of the national bank, but Jackson was re-elected by a decisive margin. [86]

Nullification Crisis Edit

Though Congress replaced the "Tariff of Abominations" with the Tariff of 1832, Calhoun and his Nullifier allies remained dissatisfied with tariff rates. [87] Shortly after the 1832 presidential election, a South Carolina convention passed a resolution declaring the Tariff of 1832 to be "null, void, and no law" in South Carolina, marking the start of the Nullification Crisis. Hayne resigned from the Senate to become the governor of South Carolina, while Calhoun took Hayne's former seat in the Senate. In December 1832, Jackson issued the Proclamation to the People of South Carolina, warning that he would not allow South Carolina to defy federal law. Webster strongly approved of the Proclamation, telling an audience at Faneuil Hall that Jackson had articulated "the true principles of the Constitution," and that he would give the president "my entire and cordial support" in the crisis. [88] He strongly supported Jackson's proposed Force Bill, which would authorize the president to use force against states that attempted to obstruct federal law. At the same time, he opposed Clay's efforts to end the crisis by lowering tariff rates, as he believed that making concessions to Calhoun's forces would set a bad precedent. [89] After a spirited debate between himself and Calhoun, Congress passed the Force Bill in February 1833. Soon after, it passed the Tariff of 1833, the product of negotiations between Clay and Calhoun the bill called for the gradual lowering of tariffs over a ten-year period. Although they symbolically "nullified" the Force Bill, South Carolina leaders accepted the new tariff law, bringing an end to the Nullification Crisis. [90]

Rise of the Whig Party and 1836 candidacy Edit

As Calhoun drifted away from the Democratic Party and occasionally cooperated with the National Republicans to oppose Jackson, some contemporaries began to refer to Calhoun, Webster, and Clay as "the Great Triumvirate." [91] At the same time, Webster's alliance with Jackson in the Nullification Crisis caused some observers to wonder if he would join the Democratic Party or found a new party centered on their nationalistic vision. [92] Jackson's decision to remove government deposits from the national bank in late 1833 ended any possibility of a Webster-Jackson alliance and helped to solidify partisan lines. [93] As chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, Webster led the Senate's effort to prevent Jackson's secretary of the treasury, Roger Taney, from removing government deposits. [94] As the national bank's charter was due to expire in 1836, before the end of Jackson's term, he attempted to save the national bank through a compromise measure, but Democrats rejected his proposal. Ultimately, the Senate was unable to prevent the deposit removals or the expiration of the national bank's charter, but it did pass resolutions censuring Jackson and Taney. Webster's decision to vote for the censure resolution caused a permanent break with Jackson. [95]

In the aftermath of the battle over the national bank, Jackson's political opponents coalesced into the Whig Party. By taking a name rooted in American and British history, the Whigs implicitly criticized Jackson as a tyrannical executive. [96] Although National Republicans like Clay and Webster formed the core of the Whig Party, Anti-Masonic leaders like William H. Seward and states' rights Democrats like John Tyler also joined the new party. [97] The Whig Party proved more durable than the National Republican Party and, along with the Democrats, the Whigs became one of the two major parties of the Second Party System, which would extend into the 1850s. [98] By 1834, Webster supporters such as Caleb Cushing, Rufus Choate, Abbott Lawrence, and Edward Everett had begun preparing for his candidacy in the 1836 presidential election. [99] With Clay showing no indication of making another run, Webster hoped to become the main Whig candidate in the 1836 election, but General William Henry Harrison and Senator Hugh Lawson White retained strong support in the West and the South, respectively. Rather than uniting behind one presidential candidate, Whig leaders settled on a strategy of running multiple candidates in order to force a contingent election in the House of Representatives. [100]

He was nominated for president by the Massachusetts legislature, but Harrison won the backing of most Whigs outside of the South. Although his reputation as a national figure was far greater than that of Harrison, many Whigs hoped that Harrison's military record would allow him to replicate Jackson's 1832 victory. [101] Webster's chances also suffered from his lingering association with the Federalist Party, his close relationship with elite politicians and businessmen, and his lack of appeal among the broad populace Remini writes that the American public "admired and revered him but did not love or trust him." [102] With little support outside of his home state, he attempted to withdraw his presidential candidacy, but, to his eventual regret, Massachusetts Whig leaders convinced him to stay in the race. [103] Meanwhile, the 1835 Democratic National Convention nominated Van Buren, Jackson's preferred successor, for president. In the 1836 election, Van Buren won a majority of the popular and electoral vote, Harrison finished a distant second, and White carried two Southern states. Webster won only the electoral votes of Massachusetts. [104] Adding to his displeasure, he lost a major Supreme Court decision, Charles River Bridge v. Warren Bridge, shortly after the election. [105] [c]

Van Buren administration, 1837–1841 Edit

Shortly after Van Buren took office, a major economic downturn known as the Panic of 1837 began. Webster and his Whig allies blamed Jackson's policies, including the Specie Circular, for the panic, but a worldwide economic downturn was a major contributing factor. The panic hit the country hard and proved disastrous for Webster's personal finances. [108] With the help of Nicholas Biddle and other friendly bankers, Webster had gone into debt to engage in land speculation on a broad scale. [109] His debt was exacerbated by his propensity for 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. [110] The panic resulted in many creditors calling in their loans and, according to Remini, Webster would never emerge from debt after 1837. [111] Nonetheless, he remained focused on his political career. [108] While Whigs promoted the American System as the means for economic recovery, Van Buren's response to the panic focused on the practice of "strict economy and frugality." [112] Webster attacked Van Buren's proposals to address the economic crisis, including the establishment of an Independent Treasury system, [113] and he helped arrange for the rescinding of the Specie Circular. [114]

He entertained hopes of winning the Whig nomination in the 1840 United States presidential election, but ultimately declined to challenge Clay or Harrison, both of whom commanded broader support within the party. [115] He remained neutral between Clay and Harrison, instead departing for a trip to Europe, where he attended his daughter's wedding and befriended Alexander Baring, 1st Baron Ashburton. [116] While he was abroad, the 1839 Whig National Convention nominated Harrison for president. Although many Whigs favored a Harrison-Webster ticket, the convention instead nominated John Tyler of Virginia for vice president. [117] Webster served as a prominent campaign surrogate for Harrison in the 1840 election, although he disliked the party's new, popular style of campaigning that made use of songs and slogans like "Tippecanoe and Tyler too." [118] The Whigs enjoyed great success in the 1840 elections, as Harrison took a majority of the popular and electoral vote and the party won control of Congress. [119]

Harrison extensively consulted Webster and Clay regarding presidential appointments, and the two Whig leaders competed to place their supporters and allies in key positions. Harrison initially hoped that Webster would serve as secretary of the treasury in order to spearhead his economic program, but Webster instead became secretary of state, giving him oversight of foreign affairs. [120] Just one month after taking office, Harrison died from pneumonia, and was succeeded by John Tyler. Though Tyler and Webster strongly differed regarding ideology (Tyler was a devotee of states' rights) and personality, they initially enjoyed a strong working relationship, partly because each saw Clay as a rival for power in the Whig Party. [121] As Tyler, a former Democrat, had long been skeptical of the need for a national bank, Webster urged Whig congressmen to back a compromise bill put forward by Secretary of the Treasury Thomas Ewing which would have re-established the national bank but restricted its branching power. Congress rejected the compromise and instead passed Clay's bill, which was subsequently vetoed by Tyler. After Tyler vetoed another Whig bill, every Cabinet member except for Webster resigned, and a caucus of Whigs voted to expel Tyler from the party in September 1841. When Webster informed Tyler that he would not resign, Tyler responded, "give me your hand on that, and now I will say to you that Henry Clay is a doomed man." [122]

Facing a hostile Congress, Tyler and Webster turned their attention to foreign policy. [123] The administration put a new emphasis on American influence in the Pacific Ocean, reaching the first U.S. treaty with China, seeking to partition Oregon Country with Britain, and announcing that the United States would oppose any attempt to colonize the Hawaiian Islands. [124] The most pressing foreign policy issue involved relations with Britain, as the United States had nearly gone to war with Britain over the Caroline affair and a border conflict between Maine and Canada. [125] Seeking improved relations with the United States, British Prime Minister Robert Peel dispatched Lord Ashburton on a special mission to the United States. [126] After extensive negotiations, the United States and Britain reached the Webster–Ashburton Treaty, which clearly delineated Maine's northern border and other sections of the U.S.-Canada border that had been in dispute. [127] Senator Thomas Hart Benton led Senate opposition to the treaty, arguing that it "needlessly and shamelessly" relinquished American territory, but few others joined Benton in voting against the treaty, and it won ratification. [128]

After mid-1841, congressional Whigs continually pressured Webster to resign, and by early 1843, Tyler had also begun to pressure Webster to leave office. [129] As Tyler moved even farther away from Whig positions and began preparing a campaign for the Democratic nomination in the 1844 United States presidential election, Webster left office in May 1843. [130] With Webster gone, Tyler turned his attention to the annexation of the Republic of Texas. [131] Clay was nominated for president at the 1844 Whig National Convention, [132] while the Democrats spurned both Tyler and former President Van Buren in favor of James K. Polk, a protege of Andrew Jackson. [133] Webster's service in the Tyler administration had badly damaged his credibility among Whigs, but he began to rebuild old alliances within the party. [134] Tyler's attempts to annex Texas became the key issue in the 1844 election, and Webster came out strongly against annexation. He campaigned on behalf of Clay, telling one crowd, "I know of no great national constitutional question I know of no great interest of the country . in which there is any difference between the distinguished leader of the Whig Party and myself." [135] Despite Webster's campaigning, Polk defeated Clay in a close election. [136] The election of the expansionist Polk ensured the annexation of Texas, and annexation was completed after Polk took office. [137]

Polk administration, 1845–1849 Edit

Webster considered retiring from public office after the 1844 election, but he accepted election to the United States Senate in early 1845. [138] Webster sought to block the adoption of Polk's domestic policies, but Congress, controlled by Democrats, reduced tariff rates through the Walker tariff and re-established the Independent Treasury system. In May 1846, the Mexican–American War began after Congress, responding to a clash between U.S. and Mexican forces at the disputed Texas–Mexico border, declared war on Mexico. [139] During the war, Northern Whigs became increasingly split between "Conscience Whigs" like Charles Sumner, who strongly favored anti-slavery policies, and "Cotton Whigs" like Webster, who emphasized good relations with Southern leaders. [140] Webster had been a long-standing opponent of slavery in an 1837 speech he called slavery a "great moral, social, and political evil," and added that he would vote against "any thing that shall extend the slavery of the African race on this continent, or add other slaveholding states to the Union." [141] But, unlike his more strongly anti-slavery constituents, he did not believe that Congress should interfere with slavery in the states, and he placed less emphasis on preventing the spread of slavery into the territories. [142] Nonetheless, because Webster opposed the acquisition of Mexican territory (with the exception of San Francisco), he voted against the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, in which the United States acquired the Mexican Cession. [143]

General Zachary Taylor's success in the Mexican–American War drove him to the front ranks of Whig candidates in the 1848 United States presidential election. [144] As Taylor held unclear political positions and had never been publicly affiliated with the Whig Party, Clay and Webster each launched their own bids for the presidency, but opposition from the Conscience Whigs badly damaged Webster's standing. [145] On the first ballot of the 1848 Whig National Convention Webster finished a distant fourth behind Taylor, Clay, and General Winfield Scott. Taylor ultimately won the presidential nomination on the convention's third ballot, while Millard Fillmore of New York was selected as the party's vice presidential nominee. [146] After Webster declined the request of Conscience Whigs to lead a new, anti-slavery third party, Conscience Whigs and "Barnburner" Democrats launched the Free Soil Party and nominated a ticket consisting of former President Van Buren and Charles Francis Adams. Despite having previously stated that he would not support Taylor in the 1848 presidential campaign, Webster threw his backing behind Taylor. Ultimately, Taylor won the election, defeating both Van Buren and Democratic nominee Lewis Cass. [147]

Taylor administration, 1849–1850 Edit

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

Having only tepidly endorsed Taylor's campaign, Webster was excluded from the new administration's Cabinet and was not consulted on major appointments. [148] After the 1848 election, the fate of the territories acquired in the Mexican-American War became a major subject of debate in Congress, as Northern and Southern leaders quarreled over the extension of slavery. [149] In January 1850, Clay introduced a plan which combined the major subjects under discussion. His legislative package included the admission of California as a free state, the cession by Texas of some of its northern and western territorial claims in return for debt relief, the establishment of New Mexico and Utah territories, a ban on the importation of slaves into the District of Columbia for sale, and a more stringent fugitive slave law. [150] The plan faced opposition from strongly pro-slavery Southern leaders like Calhoun [151] and anti-slavery Northerners like William Seward and Salmon Chase. [152] President Taylor also opposed Clay's proposal, since he favored granting California statehood immediately and denied the legitimacy of Texas's claims over New Mexico. [153]

Clay had won Webster's backing for his proposal before presenting it to Congress, and Webster provided strong support for Clay's bill in the Senate. [154] In a speech that became known as the "Seventh of March" speech, Webster attacked Northerners and Southerners alike for stirring up tensions over slavery. He admonished Northerners for obstructing the return of fugitive slaves but attacked Southern leaders for openly contemplating secession. [155] After the speech, Webster was bitterly attacked by New England abolitionists. Theodore Parker complained, "No living man has done so much to debauch the conscience of the nation," while Horace Mann described Webster as "a fallen star! Lucifer descending from Heaven!" [156] In contrast to that view, James G. Blaine wrote a few decades later:

Mr. Webster had in his own lifetime seen the thirteen colonies grow into thirty powerful States. He had seen three millions of people, enfeebled and impoverished by a long struggle, increased eightfold in number, surrounded by all the comforts, charms, and securities of life. All this spoke to him of the Union and of its priceless blessings. He now heard its advantages discussed, its perpetuity doubted, its existence threatened. * * * * Mr. Webster felt that a generation had been born who were undervaluing their inheritance, and who might, by temerity, destroy it. Under motives inspired by these surroundings, he spoke for the preservation of the Union. [157]

The debate over Clay's compromise proposal continued into July 1850, when Taylor suddenly and unexpectedly died of an illness. [158]

Free History Studies: Daniel Webster

Now we come to a man who was great as both orator and thinker. Daniel Webster was born on a small farm in New Hampshire in 1782, the same year that his great opponent John C. Calhoun was born in South Carolina. He was a delicate child, so eager to learn that his father, a soldier of the Revolution, determined to send him to college. In 1797 he entered Dartmouth College, then a small, struggling institution, and was graduated four years later.

Like so many young men of the time, Webster taught school, but he also studied law, and in 1805 began to practice in a little village near his home. Soon he removed to Portsmouth, then a flourishing town, and in 1812 was elected to the United States House of Representatives, and was re-elected. During his second term he decided to move to Boston, where there were greater opportunities for a lawyer…. Soon after he removed to Boston the people began to speak of sending him to Congress from Massachusetts in 1822 he was again elected to the House of Representatives, and remained until he was elected to the Senate, in 1827. From that time until his death he was a member of the Senate or else Secretary of State nearly all the time.

[There was a] dissatisfaction of South Carolina over the tariff laws. One of the Senators for South Carolina, Robert Y. Hayne, made a speech in which he said that New England had always been unfair to the South and the West, and that the Union might be broken up if those sections were not better treated. He said also that the Union was simply an agreement between the states and that any state had a right to leave the Union or to refuse to obey unjust laws.

Senator Webster replied in a speech four hours long, in which he defended New England and declared that the Union could not be dissolved. His speech closed with the words: “Liberty and Union, now and forever, one and inseparable.” This famous speech, “The Reply to Hayne,” every schoolboy knows.

“Some American Statesmen,” The Book of Knowledge

Further Investigation

Daniel Webster
Biography from the History Channel.

The Farmer of Marshfield
Interesting biography from the Daniel Webster Estate and Heritage Center.

Daniel Webster Birthplace
Short brochure from New Hampshire Parks and Recreation that describes his home and home life.


Activity: Compare & Contrast
Resources for listing the advantages and disadvantages of Ezekiel going to college.

Trading Card Creator
Interactive at ReadWriteThink.org that can be used as an interesting way to summarize what is learned about Daniel Webster.


“The Story of Daniel Webster”
Biography by James Baldwin featured in Four Great Americans.

“Daniel Webster”
Chapter from 100 Stories From Our Own History by Lawton B. Evans that relates anecdotes about Daniel and Ezekiel among others.

“Daniel Webster”
A chapter from Builders of Our Country by Gertrude van Duyn Southworth.

Unit Studies & Lesson Plans

Vote for Me! Developing, Writing, and Evaluating Persuasive Speeches
Daniel Webster was a renowned orator. This lesson plan at ReadWriteThink.org aimed at primary-grade students is a start on developing speaking skills.

Printables & Notebooking Pages

United States Map
EduPlace.com map for locating New Hampshire.

Daniel Webster Notebooking Pages
Simple pages, including one for each author, for copywork, narrations, or wrapping up.

Enjoy the complete series:

Tagged With: History, Unit Studies
Published: April 29, 2014 · Last Modified: April 29, 2014

Dan'l Webster Inn History

Majestically set in the center of town, The Dan’l Webster Inn and Spa is a modern masterpiece in historic Sandwich Village. Incorporated in 1639, Sandwich is the oldest town on Cape Cod and one of the oldest towns in the United States, settled by European immigrants nearly 150 years before the American Revolution.

The Inn on this site has offered Cape Cod lodging in one form or another for more than 300 years. It was originally used as a parsonage for the Reverend Rowland Cotton and his wife, Elizabeth Saltonstall. Later it became home to the Reverend Fessenden who passed away at a young age leaving behind his wife and seven children. The home was then given to his family and a new home was purchased for Reverend Fessenden's successor.

The Fessenden family built an addition onto the home and operated the Cape Cod inn as the Fessenden Tavern from the mid 1700's until the 1800's. The Fessenden Tavern was known as the patriot headquarters during the Revolutionary period. The Newcomb Tavern, which was headquarters for the Tories, still stands on Grove Street, across from the Grist Mill. A short distance down the street, you can explore the old town cemetery, the final resting place for the Fessenden family.

In the early years of taverns, many unusual laws, that would be considered comical by today's standards, existed. For a time, tavern owners were only permitted to serve people from out of town because the town's people did not want any of the locals to be tempted by the evils of alcohol. Additionally, innkeepers were required to keep the tavern windows uncovered so that the town's people could easily see into the establishment to ensure that everyone inside was behaving properly.

Secretary of State

Four years later, Webster again sought the Whig nomination for president but lost to William Henry Harrison, who won the election of 1840. Harrison appointed Webster as his Secretary of State.

President Harrison died a month after taking office. As he was the first president to die in office, there was a controversy over presidential succession in which Webster participated. John Tyler, Harrison's vice president, asserted that he should become the next president, and the "Tyler Precedent" became accepted practice.

Webster was one of the cabinet officials who disagreed with this decision he felt that the presidential cabinet should share some of the presidential powers. After this controversy, Webster did not get along with Tyler, and he resigned from his post in 1843.

Background of Webster's Speech

In 1850, the United States seemed to be splitting apart. Things seemed to be going well in some regards: the country had concluded the Mexican War, a hero of that war, Zachary Taylor, was in the White House, and newly acquired territories meant the country reached from the Atlantic to the Pacific.

The nation's nagging problem, of course, was enslavement. There was a strong sentiment in the North against allowing enslavement to spread to new territories and new states. In the South, that concept was deeply offensive.

The dispute played out in the U.S. Senate. Three legends would be the major players: Henry Clay of Kentucky would represent the West John C. Calhoun of South Carolina represented the South, and Webster of Massachusetts would speak for the North.

In early March, John C. Calhoun, too frail to speak for himself, had a colleague read a speech in which he denounced the North. Webster would respond.

30c. Three Senatorial Giants: Clay, Calhoun and Webster

Henry Clay of Kentucky, John C. Calhoun of South Carolina, and Daniel Webster of Massachusetts dominated national politics from the end of the War of 1812 until their deaths in the early 1850s. Although none would ever be President, the collective impact they created in Congress was far greater than any President of the era, with the exception of Andrew Jackson. There was one issue that loomed over the nation throughout their time in power &mdash slavery. They were continuously successful in keeping peace in America by forging a series of compromises. The next generation's leaders were not.

The Gold Rush led to the rapid settlement of California which resulted in its imminent admission as the 31st state. Southerners recognized that there were few slaves in California because Mexico had prohibited slavery. Immediate admission would surely mean California would be the 16th free state, giving the non-slave-holding states an edge in the Senate. Already holding the House of Representatives, the free states could then dominate legislation.

Texas was claiming land that was part of New Mexico. As a slave state, any expansion of the boundaries of Texas would be opening new land to slavery. northerners were opposed. The north was also appalled at the ongoing practice of slavery in the nation's capital &mdash a practice the south was not willing to let go. The lines were drawn as the three Senatorial giants took the stage for the last critical time.

Henry Clay had brokered compromises before. When the Congress was divided in 1820 over the issue of slavery in the Louisiana Territory, Clay set forth the Missouri Compromise . When South Carolina nullified the tariff in 1832, Clay saved the day with the Compromise Tariff of 1833 . After 30 years in Congress and three unsuccessful attempts at the Presidency, Clay wanted badly to make good with yet another nation-saving deal. He put forth a set of eight proposals that he hoped would pass muster with his colleagues.

John Calhoun once said of Henry Clay (shown above), "I don't like Clay. He is a bad man, an imposter, a creator of wicked schemes. I wouldn't speak to him, but, by God, I love him!"

John C. Calhoun took to the floor next. Although sick and dying with consumption, he sat sternly in the Senate chamber, as his speech was read. The compromises would betray the south, he claimed. Northerners would have to agree to federal protection of slavery for the south to feel comfortable remaining in the Union. His words foreshadowed the very doom to the Union that would come within the decade.

Daniel Webster spoke three days after Calhoun's speech. With the nation's fate in the balance, he pleaded with northerners to accept southern demands, for the sake of Union. Withdrawing his former support for the Wilmot Proviso, he hoped to persuade enough of his colleagues to move closer to Clay's proposals. Although there was no immediate deal, his words echoed in the minds of the Congressmen as they debated into that hot summer.

By 1852, Clay, Calhoun, and Webster had all passed away. They left a rich legacy behind them. Clay of the West, Calhoun of the South, and Webster of the North loved and served their country greatly. The generation that followed produced no leader that could unite the country without the force of arms.

"Godlike Dan" and "Black Dan"

Whether people hated Webster or admired him--there was little middle ground-- everyone agreed on the majesty of his oratory, the immensity of his intellectual powers, and the primacy of his constitutional knowledge. He was the heroic champion of nationalism and modernization.

Although Webster's diplomatic record was good, his 29 years in Congress produced not one significant piece of legislation. Henry Clay and Stephen A. Douglas were the leaders in legislation, and he never tried to rival them. There is also evidence that Webster took bribes while in public office and sold diplomatic appointments for private gain, both taboos even by 19th standards of probity.

Webster indulged his extravagant tastes (he spent enormous sums on wine, boats, and improvements to his Marshfield estate). A poor money manager, he relied on wealthy friends for indefinite "loans" to sustain his spendthrift lifestyle, a phenomenon that led his enemies to call him "Black Dan." Historians have not found any positions that he adjusted to curry favor with his rich friends, who saw it their duty to see what they considered the greatest man of the era be able to stay in office--they called him "Godlike Dan." "Black Dan" had several mistresses, and drank excessively, but did not dramatically differ from other Senators in these regards.

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. [6]

The historic Daniel Webster farm, known as The Elms, located near Franklin, New Hampshire, was also the site of the New Hampshire Home for Orphans during 1871-1959. Threatened by development in 2004-05, the property was saved by last-minute efforts by the Webster Farm Preservation Association working with the Trust for Public Land.

The History

In 1840, Webster was named Secretary of State by President William Henry Harrison and it was in that capacity that he entertained Lord Alexander Ashburton at Marshfield and here they laid the groundwork for the Webster-Ashburton Treaty, which in 1842 set the boundary between Maine and Canada. As Secretary of State in 1852 Webster met with the British Minister Lord Compton, in Marshfield, to settle the dispute between the New England Fisheries and England an action he spoke of at Cherry Hill when he delivered his last public speech.

Daniel Webster was the “Farmer of Marshfield” and here he bred cattle, improved the soil and planted many species of trees from all over the world. Many of his trees still stand. The Great Linden Tree under which he was laid in state at the time of his death has been entered into the Book of Champion Trees as the Nation’s largest English Linden. It was Webster who introduced to the local farmers the use of fish and kelp as fertilizer and it was his agricultural causes that inspired the townspeople to organize what would become the Marshfield Fair.

When Webster died in 1852 he was Secretary of State, the only man to serve in that office under three presidents: William Henry Harrison, John Tyler and Millard Fillmore. He was known as the “Defender of the Constitution”, having tried successfully before the Supreme Court over 150 cases. Many of those cases set precedents that affect our lives to this very day, for example:

1818: The Dartmouth College Case insured forever the independence of allprivate and charitable institutions.

1819: McCullough vs. Maryland defined the limits of State and National power.


“It is wise for us to recur to the history of our ancestors. Those who do not look upon themselves as a link connecting the Past with the Future, do not perform their duty to the world.”

Daniel Webster, Plymouth, 1820

1824: Gibbon vs. Ogden set the precedents for the establishment of interstate and intrastate commerce which would effect not only the waterways of that era, but later the highways, railroads and airways in our lifetime.

The latter two cases firmly established the Supreme Court as the final interpreter of the Constitution. Webster’s stirring speeches in the Senate in 1830 and 1850 without a doubt postponed the Civil War each time, thus giving the North thirty years to build its industrial strength while the South remained agrarian. This devotion of Webster’s to the concept of “Liberty AND Union, now and forever, one and inseparable!” clearly changed the course of American History and the lives of everyone of us, even to this day.

Closer to Marshfield and its fishing industry, and all the New England Fisheries, Webster obtained, as Secretary of State, perpetual fishing rights off the Canada shores by fighting in 1852 for the continuance of an 1818 treaty which the British were threatening to dissolve. The rights of fishing the Grand Banks were secured for American fishermen by Daniel Webster. Remember that the next time you eat fish.

The original house burned in 1878 and was rebuilt by Webster’s daughter-in-law. On the front facade is the Webster coat of arms. It was to this house that President Chester A. Arthur came to honor Webster in 1882, the centennial of his birth. Many dignitaries have visited this place including Calvin Coolidge, governors, senators, and just plain folks who know Webster for the great patriot that he was.

The fact that the original house is gone makes no difference to the fact that this place, this land has played a significant role in the history of Marshfield and the Nation. Webster chose the Winslow Cemetery for his last resting place.

The Town of Marshfield considered this Thomas-Webster Place important enough to be the focal point of the Town Seal.

Watch the video: Daniel Webster