Daniel Webster was born on January 18, 1782 in Salisbury, New Hampshire (now known as Franklin, New Hampshire). The Webster family had long-established roots in the United States, with his first ancestor migrating here in 1636, and his father, Ebenezer Webster, fighting in both the French and Indian War as well as the American Revolutionary War. Riddled with health issues as a youth, young Daniel Webster devoted his time to reading and studying rather than assisting his eight siblings and parents on the family farm. As a result of his devotion to literary and political works, Webster attended Phillips Exeter Academy in Exeter, New Hampshire, before attending Dartmouth College in 1797 at the age of 15. Upon graduation in 1801, Webster apprenticed for two separate attorneys and was eventually admitted to the bar in 1805.
Daniel Webster was an ardent, outspoken supporter of the Federalist Party, known as the nation’s first political party. The Federalist Party, led by Alexander Hamilton, called for a strong national government with a focus on promoting economic growth (by way of establishing a national bank, imposing strong tariffs to fund the Treasury, and supporting industrial development within the fledgling nation) as well as fostering a friendly relationship with Great Britain in opposition to Revolutionary France. Writing in strong opposition to President Thomas Jefferson’s Embargo Act of 1807, which halted trade to both Britain and France, Webster began gaining traction among Federalist supporters. As a result of his writings and speeches advocating Federalist policies and viewpoints, he was elected as a Federalist member of the U.S. House of Representatives from New Hampshire in 1813.
While serving in the House, Webster rose to prominence in the legal field. In fact, between 1814-1852, Webster argued at least one case per session of the Supreme Court, serving as counsel in a total of 223 Supreme Court cases, winning approximately half of these cases. He is credited as serving crucial roles in some of America’s most celebrated constitutional cases, including Dartmouth College v. Woodward (strengthened the Contracts Clause of the US Constitution and limited the power of States to interfere with private corporate charters), McCulloch v. Maryland (defined the Legislative Power of the U.S. Congress and how it related to State legislatures), and Gibbons v. Ogden (held that the power of Commerce to regulate interstate commerce under the Commerce Clause also gave them the power to regulate navigation). Recognizing his unrivaled legal skill and knowledge, Webster was appointed as the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee by House Speaker Henry Clay in 1823.
Urged by his supporters to seek higher office, Webster successfully ran for a Massachusetts seat in the United State Senate in 1827. He was appointed as the Secretary of State in 1841 by President William Harrison, but served the majority of this appointment under John Tyler, as Harrison died from pneumonia one month after taking office. Following a falling out with Tyler, Webster returned back to his Senator seat from 1845-1850 before being named Secretary of State for the second time by President Millard Fillmore, where he served from 1850-1852. Due to poor health, Webster was forced to leave his position in Fillmore’s cabinet. Who, you might ask, replaced him as Secretary of State? None other than the namesake of our City, Edward Everett!
Webster’s health quickly deteriorated once leaving office and returning to his estate in Marshfield, Massachusetts. He passed away on October 24, 1852 and is buried in the Winslow Cemetery near his estate. Perhaps sensing that his legacy would be one written about for years to come, Webster’s last words were: “I still live.” Daniel Webster’s name lives on not just in history books, but also in Everett, serving as the namesake of the Webster School.