Daniel Webster


Daniel Webster was an extremely successful politician and lawyer during the Antebellum Period—he served in the House of Representatives for ten years, the Senate for nineteen, and as Secretary of State for three presidents, and he also appeared in several Supreme Court cases regarding the authority of the federal government. Born in New Hampshire, Daniel attended Dartmouth College before being apprenticed to lawyer Thomas W. Thompson, but he held this position for only a short time before he was forced to become a schoolteacher to lessen his family’s financial woes. He later returned to his apprenticeship, and in 1805 he was accepted into the bar and established a practice in Boscawen. Webster at this time also became more interested in politics, which would have an immense effect upon his future career.

Daniel Webster
After his father’s death, Webster left his former employment and moved to Portsmouth, where he opened a new practice. The situation between America and Britain was at that time a difficult one, and tensions soon erupted into the War of 1812. During this time, Daniel gave a rousing oratory that decried both the war and those wishing to secede from the Union. This speech led to him to be selected for the Rockingham Convention, an assembly that declared the state’s grievances with President James Madison, as well as elected to the House of Representatives in 1812, where he served two terms. While in the House, he supported the reestablishment of a national bank but opposed the tariff on 1816 and Henry Clay’s American System.

In addition to his work in politics, Webster was hailed as one of the best lawyers of his era, and he won nearly half of the 223 cases he took before the Supreme Court. He also played important roles in the eight crucial cases between 1801 and 1824, among them Dartmouth College v. Woodard in 1819 and Gibbons v. Ogden in 1824, which applied to varying interpretations of the Constitution. In 1820, he was chosen as a delegate in the Massachusetts Constitutional Convention, and two years later he was elected to the Eighteenth Congress. After the conclusion of his second term as Member of the House, Webster was elected to the Senate, where he changed his opinions on several policies that he earlier opposed. He also entered into the famous Webster-Hayne debate regarding limits on western expansion, which soon expanded into a nasty debacle that strayed far from the original argument of land sales. In 1836, Webster campaigned for the presidency, but he was ultimately unable to garner support. He was offered the vice presidency under William Henry Harrison in 1839, but he refused.

Following Harrison’s victory, the new president appointed Daniel Secretary of State, a position that he retained under President John Tyler after Harrison’s untimely death. In 1845, he was again elected to the Senate, where he was attacked by abolitionists for his support of the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850, which required that runaway slaves be returned to their masters. His popularity declined greatly, and he was never able to recover the loss. After the conclusion of his term, he served once more as Secretary, this time under Millard Fillmore. In 1852, he once more made a bud for the presidency, but he was defeated once more, and he passed away later that year after falling off his horse and suffering severe head trauma.

Key events during the life of Daniel Webster:

Served as headmaster of the Fryeburg Academy in Maine.
Moved to Portsmouth after the death of his father.
Married Grace Fletcher.
Delivered an address to the Washington Benevolent Society opposing the War of 1812.
  Selected for the Rockingham Convention.
Elected to the House of Representatives.
Elected to the Massachusetts Constitutional Convention.
Elected to the Eighteenth Congress.
Elected to the House of Representatives.
Elected to the Senate.
Death of Grace.
Married Caroline LeRoy.
Ran for president but failed to garner support.
Served as Secretary of State to William Henry Harrison and John Tyler.
Elected to the Senate.
Served as Secretary of State to Millard Fillmore.

Other Resources

Story Links
Book Links
Daniel Webster  in  Four Great Americans  by  James Baldwin
Lad Who Rode Sidesaddle  in  Fifty Famous People  by  James Baldwin
Webster and the Woodchuck  in  Thirty More Famous Stories Retold  by  James Baldwin
Daniel Webster and His Brother  in  Stories of Great Americans for Little Americans  by  Edward Eggleston
Daniel Webster  in  America First—100 Stories from Our History  by  Lawton B. Evans
Daniel Webster's Youth  in  Story of the Great Republic  by  H. A. Guerber
Daniel Webster  in  Heroes of Progress in America  by  Charles Morris
Home of Webster  in  American History Stories, Volume III  by  Mara L. Pratt
Daniel Webster  in  Builders of Our Country: Book II  by  Gertrude van Duyn Southworth

Image Links

Daniel Webster
 in Four Great Americans

Home of Daniel Webster
 in Four Great Americans

Daniel Webster
 in Thirty More Famous Stories Retold

Webster and the Poor Woman
 in Stories of Great Americans for Little Americans

Daniel Webster recites Bible verses
 in Story of the Great Republic
Daniel Webster
Daniel Webster
 in Back Matter

Webster, Clay, and Jackson
 in Heroes of Progress in America

Daniel Webster
 in Builders of Our Country: Book II

A Session of the House of Representatives in the days of Webster and Clay
 in Builders of Our Country: Book II

Short Biography
Charles Sumner Anti-slavery Senator from Massachusetts who was an imortant ally of Lincoln, and influential during the Reconstruction era.
William Henry Harrison War hero of Tippecanoe and the War of 1812, and briefly, President of the United States.
James Madison One of the chief authors of the Constitution and writer of the Federalist papers. Fourth President of the U.S.
Henry Clay Congressman and Speaker of the house of the mid-nineteenth century, associated with Webster and Calhoun.
John C. Calhoun Important Southern Statesman of the mid nineteenth century. Supported slavery and states rights.