Daniel Webster : the man and his time

by Robert Vincent Remini

Hardcover, 1997




New York : W.W. Norton & Co., c1997.


In this monumental new biography, Robert V. Remini gives us a full life of Webster from his birth, early schooling, and rapid rise as a lawyer and politician in New Hampshire to his equally successful career in Massachusetts where he moved in 1816. Remini treats both the man and his time as they tangle in issues such as westward expansion, growth of democracy, market revolution, slavery and abolitionism, the National Bank, and tariff issues. Webster's famous speeches are fully discussed as are his relations with the other two of the "great triumvirate", Henry Clay and John C. Calhoun. Throughout, Remini pays close attention to Webster's personal life - perhaps more than Webster would have liked - his relationships with family and friends, and his murky financial dealings with men of wealth and influence.… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member geoffreymeadows
Webster's life was lived at the very heart of American history for many decades. He was the central figure of pro-Constitutional and pro-national sentiments of his day. Especially in his Supreme Court arguments, he was central to American legal development. Other men, including some elected to the
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Presidency, were obviously more peripheral to our history than he.

He made mistakes, though. His failure to support Millard Fillmore at the 1852 Whig convention actually helped lead to war. Also, he could be cool and aloof to persons who could have helped him. He was not expressly a man of God, but he held God up even in the most trying times of his life. His drinking harmed him as much as did his outrageous finances.

I'm going to have to get his speeches (through inter-library loan) and read them. This book was a great introduction to them. All his greatest speeches and debates are revivified here.

His life, in its centrality and direction, has as much import now as it did then. He is still relevant, in part, because of all the state's rights talk these days and the virtual threat of nullification that some states have advocated recently - mostly in defense of coal, oil, and other big industry. Calls for cutting back on "big government" only make sense if this other hidden side of a "strong national government" can be seen as its balance.

He was pro-manufactures and continued to be throughout his life. His (almost too) close ties to Northern business helped the growth of industry in the U.S. and, ironically, probably increased the North's readiness for war against the South - a war he very early foresaw and deemed unconscionable. Had he been elected President, he was such a unique man that he may have been able to delay the war. Thankfully (in some sense), he never lived to see the war - he died in 1853. He was certainly a precursor to Lincoln.

A wonderful, if slightly slow-going, book. One well worth reading and thinking about.
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LibraryThing member zen_923
Took me a while to get through this book but it was very much worth it. I especially loved how the author would quote extensively Daniel Webster's own speeches in the Senate and before the Supreme Court. Highly recommended.


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