Biography of Hon. Daniel Webster, LL.D.,
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Hon. Daniel Webster, LL.D. “With rarest gifts of heart and head From manliest stock inherited, New England’s stateliest type of man.” Born on January 18, 1782, in Salisbury, N.H., Daniel Webster was the younger son of Captain Ebenezer Webster by his second wife, Abigail Eastman. His father was a son of Ebenezer second, grandson of Ebenezer first, and great-grandson of Thomas Webster, of Ormsby, Norfolk County, England, who was an early settler in Hampton, N.H. Captain Ebenezer Webster is said to have inherited from his mother, Mrs. Susannah B. Webster, who was a descendant of the Rev. Stephen Bachiler and “a woman of uncommon strength of understanding,” some of his most prominent mental and physical traits. He has been characterized as a “perfect example of a strong-minded, unlettered man, of sound common-sense, correct judgment, and tenacious memory.” He commanded a company in the Revolution, and later in life was a Colonel in the State militia. A farmer by occupation, he also held the office of “side justice” in the Court of Common Pleas. By his first wife he had five children, namely: two that died young, Susannah, David, and Joseph; and by his second five, as follows: Mehitable, Abigail, Ezekiel, Daniel, and Sarah. In 1783 Captain Webster removed from the homestead where the early years of his married life had been spent to Elms Farm, as later known, in that part of the town of Salisbury, N.H., that is now Franklin, Merrimack County.
Physically frail, the young child Daniel here passed his time for the next few years mostly in healthful play, learning at home to read the Bible so early and easily that in after life he could never remember when and how he did it. He attended the district schools a number of terms; was nine months a pupil at Phillips Exeter Academy; studied under Dr. Wood at Boscawen, N.H., also a brief time with another tutor; and, entering Dartmouth College in 1797, was graduated in 1801. In 1800, a youth of eighteen in his Junior year, he delivered a Fourth of July oration at Hanover, N.H. Studying law at Salisbury and in the office of Christopher Gore in Boston, in the meantime earning money by teaching and by copying deeds in Fryeburg, Me., to help his brother Ezekiel defray college expenses, Mr. Webster was admitted to the bar in Boston in 1805. Returning to New Hampshire to be near his father, whose health was failing, he lived the life of a country lawyer in Boscawen, his practice extending over three counties. In 1807, his brother Ezekiel taking his place in Boscawen and assuming charge of the home farm, their father having died in 1806, he removed to Portsmouth, N.H., where he rapidly rose to prominence in his profession and in politics. 1812, he took his seat in the following May, his term ending March 4, 1817. He had changed his residence to Boston, Mass., in 1816; and there he devoted himself to his lucrative law practice till December, 1823, when he again became a member of Congress. He was chosen Senator in 1827, and from that time on till his death, which occurred at Marshfield, Mass., October 24, 1852, with short intervals of retirement, he served his country either in the Senate or in the Cabinet, easily “the first lawyer and the first statesman” in the land.
Mr. Webster had five children, all by his first wife, Grace Fletcher. The three who grew to maturity were: Colonel Fletcher, who was killed at the second battle of Bull Run in August, 1862; Julia, Mrs. Samuel A. Appleton, who died in April, 1848; and Major Edward, who died in Mexico in January, 1848. Mrs. Appleton left four children, the eldest a daughter Caroline, who married in 1871, for her second husband, Jerome Napoleon Bonaparte, of Baltimore, and is now a widow residing in Washington, D.C. Mr. Webster’s first wife died in January, 1828; and in December, 1829, he married Miss Caroline Le Roy, of New York, who survived him.
From a recent article in the Daily Mirror we glean some interesting particulars concerning “beautiful Grace Fletcher ,” of whom little has been written by the biographers of Mr. Webster. She was born in Hopkinton, N.H., in 1781, a daughter of the Rev. Elijah Fletcher. Her father died in 1786; and her mother married the Rev. Christopher Page, who succeeded him as pastor of the Congregational church at Hopkinton, but in 1789 removed to Pittsfield, N.H., where he remained till 1796, and where his son James W. was born. Grace Fletcher’s school days ended when she left Atkinson Academy at the age of eighteen. At the home of her sister Rebecca, wife of Judge Kelley, of Salisbury, she met Daniel Webster, then a rising young lawyer of Portsmouth. Acquaintance soon ripened into love; and they were married in Judge Kelley’s parlor, June 10, 1808. “They at once established and maintained for nine years a humble home at Portsmouth, winning the love and respect of all associates. Mrs. Webster, with her superior grace and beauty, inherited ability and intellectual accomplishments, was equal to all occasions, never discouraged, proud of her husband’s success, but not unduly clated. Queen at home or in the public drawing-room, she met the most distinguished men of the time.” She was much attached to the picturesque town of Pittsfield, and was accustomed to make long visits to her sister there, Mrs. White.
Mr. Webster retained to the last the love for farm life, which was doubtless born with him, but was mainly developed, it would seem, after his mental faculties had attained their growth and had long had full play. About two years after the death of his brother Ezekiel, in April, 1829, he became the owner of the old home place in Franklin; and to this he added by purchase other lands, so that Elms Farm came to be a valuable estate of about one thousand acres with many improvements. It was long under the management of a tenant farmer from Massachusetts, John Taylor by name, to whom Mr. Webster was wont to write directions like the following, which we quote from a letter in Mr. Lanman’s book on his Private Life, dated March 17, 1852 : “Whatever ground you sow or plant, see that it is in good condition. We want no pennyroyal crops…. Be sure to produce sufficient quantities of useful vegetables. A man may half support his family from a good garden.” In 1839 Mr. Webster, having sold his Boston, removed with his family to his estate of about two thousand acres in the town of Marshfield, Mass. There he freely and expensively indulged his agricultural tastes and his hospitality, and from both derived great enjoyment.
To return now to Mr. Webster’s public life. First, perhaps, among his memorable addresses should be named his “Reply to Hayne” in the Senate Chamber, January 26, 1830, which has been pronounced “next to the Constitution the most correct and complete exposition of the true powers and functions of the Federal government,” a speech “replete with eloquence and power, clear in statement, grand in language, irresistible in argument.” One of the grandest mementos in Faneuil Hall, Boston, is the painting by Healy, which reproduces the scene of that matchless eloquence. There is no questioning the fact, and it cannot be too strongly emphasized, that “Mr. Webster was thoroughly national,” with “no taint of sectionalism or narrow local prejudice about him.” As a diplomatist he rendered eminent service to the country, entitling him to honorable fame and lasting gratitude. Not to speak of his great forensic efforts and numerous forceful occasional speeches, his Bi-centennial Discourse at Plymouth, the two Bunker Hill Addresses and the Eulogy on Adams and Jefferson are recognized triumphs of American oratory. In his famous 7th of March speech, 1850, it has been said, “he broke from his past and closed his public career with a terrible mistake.” A more generous-minded critic argues that his course on that occasion was “consistent with his whole career in postponing all other considerations to the supreme need of saving the Union.” And Whittier, whose muse had earlier made bitter lamentation over departed glory, reviewing in the calm eventide of life the great conflict for Union and Liberty, which sad concessions had availed not to stay, recognizing Mr. Webster’s rich endowment, his power to call out the might of men in noble cause, offers gracious tribute to the sleeper by the “lonely northern sea, where long and low the marsh-lands spread”:-
“Wise men and strong we did not lack; But still, with memory turning back, In the dark hours we thought of thee, And thy lone grave beside the sea.
“But where thy native mountains bare Their foreheads to diviner air, Fit emblem of enduring fame, One lofty summit keeps thy name. For thee the cosmic forces did The rearing of that pyramid, The prescient ages shaping with Fire, flood, and frost thy monolith. Sunrise and sunset lay thereon With hands of light their benison, The stars of midnight pause to set Their jewels in its coronet. And evermore that mountain mass Seems climbing from the shadowy pass To light, as if to manifest Thy nobler self, thy life at best!”