Daniel Webster, A Character Sketch – By Elizabeth A. Reed

True Stories of Great Americans, Daniel Webster by Elizabeth A. ReedThis is a short book about the life of Daniel Webster. The book is designed to give you a quick glance at his life. This book was first published in 1899 although you can easily find reprints today. The character sketch of Webster found in this book is only 67 pages long. It should take about an hour to read.

After the character sketch, there are several fun anecdotes about Webster. What was interesting is that at the end of the book there are 58 sentences that are designed to be read by a group as a part of a school or club program studying the life of Webster.

Daniel Webster is from what I call the golden age of the United States Senate. I call it the golden age of the Senate because more Americans know about the careers of Webster, Henry Clay, and John Calhoun than they know about William Henry Harrison, John Tyler, James Polk, Zachary Taylor, Millard Fillmore, and Franklin Pierce.

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Daniel Webster was born in 1782. His father, Ebenezer Webster, was an officer in the Revolutionary War. On the day that Benedict Arnold’s treason was discovered, George Washington asked Ebenezer Webster to guard his tent because he trusted him.

In reading about the childhood of Daniel Webster, I see many similarities between him and James Madison. Neither boy really had any desire to work on the farm but instead desired to be focused upon their studies. While Madison loved to read and take copious notes, Webster loved to read out loud and he was known for his great oratory skills. It was said that even at a young age, men would stop by the side of the road to listen to Daniel Webster read the Psalms.

At age 30, Webster was elected to the 13th Congress for the state of New Hampshire. He quickly developed a reputation for being one of the strongest voices in defense of the Constitution. Webster was a strong supporter that the U.S. currency is backed by silver and gold. Webster served two terms in Congress and then moved to Boston in order to make a living as a lawyer.

However, Webster’s days as a lawyer were limited as the good people of Massachusetts decided that he needed to go back to Congress. He now had served in Congress representing two different states. At age 44, Webster became a Senator for the state of Massachusetts.

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Webster served as Secretary of State for three different presidents. He was initially invited to the position by William Henry Harrison. John Tyler asked Webster to stay on after the death of Harrison. Many years later, Millard Fillmore asked Webster to serve his country as Secretary of State once again.

Daniel Webster is on my short list of five of the most influential statesmen who never became president. However, while Webster may have never been president, it was not without effort on the part of his supporters.

Daniel Webster received votes at the Whig National Convention in both 1848 and 1852. In 1848, the Whig nomination went to Zachary Taylor, a war hero from the Mexican War. The Vice-Presidency was offered to Daniel Webster but he refused the position because he did not think it was proper to nominate a man for the office of the Presidency solely on his military record. Had Webster taken the position of Vice-President, he would have been elevated to the highest office in the land when Zachary Taylor died in office.

Daniel Webster was a great statesman. He was known across the nation for his oratory skills. Some of his notable speeches include his address delivered on the 200th anniversary of the landing of the Pilgrims, the laying of the cornerstone for Bunker Hill, the death of Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, and The Tariff Act of 1828 among many others. Of his 223 cases argued before the United States Supreme Court, his most famous case is Dartmouth College v. Woodward which dealt with the contract clause and private organizations.

Daniel Webster died in 1852 at the age of 70. As he was on his death bed, he would have his family raise the American flag upon the mast of his sailboat in the pond behind the house. He instructed them to illuminate the flag with a lantern so that during his sleepless nights, he could gaze upon the flag. Now that is what I call a true patriot.

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