Cyclopædia of Political Science, Political Economy, and the Political History of the United States

Edited by: Lalor, John J.
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New York: Maynard, Merrill, and Co.
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Includes articles by Frédéric Bastiat, Gustave de Molinari, Henry George, J. B. Say, Francis A. Walker, and more.
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WEBSTER, Daniel, was born at Salisbury, N. H., Jan. 18, 1782, and died at Marshfield, Mass., Oct. 24, 1852. He was graduated at Dartmouth in 1801, was admitted to the bar in 1805, and served as a federalist congressman from New Hampshire 1813-17. Removing to Boston in 1816, he served as congressman 1823-7, as United States senator 1827-41, as secretary of state 1841-3, as United States senator 1845-50, and as secretary of state from 1850 until his death. (See FEDERAL PARTY, II.; WHIG PARTY; FOOT'S RESOLUTION.)


—Webster's first great success was in the decision of the Dartmouth college case, in 1819, in which he established the principle that a charter granted by a state legislature was a contract, unalterable without consent of the corporation, unless the power of alteration was reserved in the charter. This success made him one of the foremost lawyers of the country; but it was not until 1830 that he became, by his speeches on Foot's resolutions, one of the recognized political leaders of the country. Northern men were exultant in the belief that their representative had overthrown Hayne, and thus indirectly Calhoun also. Southern writers have never admitted this, their reason apparently being that Webster, as well as Hayne, admitted the validity of the argument from authority, on which state sovereignty (see that title) mainly rests, and that he was unable to meet Hayne's, or (afterward) Calhoun's arguments from this source. No one, however, has ever disparaged the brilliancy and force of Webster's eloquence, and from that time he has been confessedly the foremost orator of America, or, as many have thought, of all time. His speeches have a massive directness which, backed by careful polish, extent and precision of knowledge, and power of repartee, made them almost irresistible, and made him an antagonist to be avoided rather than desired.


—A leader so distinguished had a right to think of the presidency, but from 1833 until 1852 this honor was always just beyond his reach. In 1836 he was nominated for the presidency by the Massachusetts legislature, and received fourteen electoral votes. In 1840 he had no chance against the candidacy of Harrison, as in 1848 he had none against the kindred nomination of Taylor, which latter Webster publicly declared to be "one not fit to be made"; the whig opposition to both these nominations had to be concentrated on Clay, and was then unsuccessful. In 1844, all Clay's other rivals being out of the way, Webster had been discredited with the whigs by his very creditable conduct in remaining in Tyler's cabinet to arrange the dangerous and disputed northeast boundary. (See MAINE.) As the convention of 1852 drew near, it was evident that Clay was out of the field, that southern whigs were suspicious of Seward's influence over Scott, and that Webster's chance was now or never. Under these circumstances his speech of March 7, 1850 (see COMPROMISES, V.) was delivered, which aroused such intense indignation in the north. It is difficult to see now why it should have done so, without taking into account the general northern wrath against slavery, which was just coming to the boiling point; and it is difficult to compare the speech itself with the general course of political oratory which had preceded it, without reaching the conclusion that the audience had changed rather than the orator, and that the veteran no longer represented the north. If it was the speech of a candidate, it was unsuccessful. The southern whigs, loudly as they had applauded Webster's speech, took Fillmore as their choice, and Webster had but about 30 of the 293 votes of the convention. His death followed closely upon this final failure.


—See Webster's Works (and Everett's life of Webster in volume I.); Webster's Private Correspondence; Tefft's Webster and his Master Pieces; Whipple's Great Speeches of Webster; Knapp's Life of Webster (1835); March's Reminiscences of Congress (1850); Lanman's Private Life of Webster (1856); Curtis' Life of Webster (1870); 1 Choate's Writings; 3, 4 Everett's Orations; 1 Whipple's Essays and Reviews; Parton's Famous Americans; Loring's Hundred Boston Orators; 6 Harper's Magazine; 31 North American Review, 474; 68 ib., 1; 75 ib., 84; 84 ib., 551.


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