Webster, Daniel (1782-1852), American statesman, famed for his oratorical skills.
Daniel Webster American politician and lawyer Daniel Webster gained fame as one of the best-known orators of his time. Webster argued numerous cases before the Supreme Court, served in the Congress of the United States, and twice served as secretary of state (1841-1843 and 1850-1852). A vigorous advocate of a strong national government, Webster championed the continued unity of the United States in the pre-Civil War era.Hulton Deutsch
Webster was born on January 18, 1782, in Salisbury (now Franklin), New Hampshire, and educated at Dartmouth College. He studied law in Salisbury and Boston and was admitted to the bar in 1805. Two years later he established a law practice in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. There he became active in politics and joined the Federalist Party. As did many New Englanders, Webster resented the predominance of Virginians in the national government and opposed the War of 1812. From 1813 to 1817 he served in the U.S. House of Representatives and eloquently defended Federalist principles.
In 1816 Webster moved to Boston, and the following year he returned to the practice of law. Between 1817 and 1823 he won several famous constitutional cases before the U.S. Supreme Court, notably the Dartmouth College case (1819), which established the precedent that no legislature has the right to impair the obligations imposed by a contract, and McCulloch v. Maryland (1819), which denied the right of the states to tax an institution established by the federal government. Thereafter Webster was generally regarded as one of the leading lawyers of the country.
II AN ELOQUENT SPEAKER
Webster's eloquence as a speaker at public gatherings and in court established him as a great orator. Two of his best-known orations are the Plymouth speech (1820), commemorating the bicentennial of the landing of the Pilgrims and the Bunker Hill speech (1825), marking the 50th anniversary of the famous American Revolution battle.
Webster was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives from Boston in 1822 and to the U.S. Senate from Massachusetts in 1827. He had opposed legislation for a protective tariff in 1816 and did so again in 1824. Under the influence of expanding New England industrial interests, however, Webster abandoned his free-trade position. He supported the tariff of 1828 and become a protector of northern industrial interests on other issues as well.
In 1830 his eminence as an orator reached its culmination in his reply to the speech of Robert Young Hayne, senator from South Carolina, on the nature of the Union and the states' right of nullification. Webster successfully combated the theory of nullification and ably vindicated the nationalist view of the Union. In the controversy over the renewal of the charter of the United States Bank, Webster advocated renewal and opposed the financial policy of President Andrew Jackson in general. Many of the principles of sound finance developed in his speeches at this time were later incorporated in the Federal Reserve System.
III A POLITICAL LEADER
After the Whig Party was formed in 1834, Webster became one of its leaders, receiving the electoral vote of Massachusetts for President in 1836. In 1841 Webster was appointed secretary of state by President William Henry Harrison, a position he retained under President John Tyler. In that capacity he negotiated the Webster-Ashburton Treaty (1842), which settled the dispute with Britain over the boundary between the U.S. and Canada. He resigned from the cabinet in 1843.
In 1845 Webster reentered the Senate. He opposed the annexation of Texas and the war with Mexico. Although Webster was personally opposed to slavery, he believed first and foremost in the preservation of the Union. His last years in the Senate were devoted to efforts to maintain peace between the North and South by means of compromise. His last great speech was delivered on March 7, 1850, in support of the Compromise Measures of 1850. The speech aroused indignation in the North because of its concessions to slavery.
In 1850-52 Webster was secretary of state in the cabinet of President Millard Fillmore. The orator died at his home in Marshfield, Massachusetts, on October 24, 1852.