The Story of Daniel Webster

by James Baldwin

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Chapter X: Lawyer and Congressman

When Daniel Webster had been in Boscawen nearly two years, his father died. It was then decided that Ezekiel should come and take charge of the home farm, and care for their mother.

Ezekiel had not yet graduated from college, but he had read law and was hoping to be admitted to the bar. He was a man of much natural ability, and many people believed that he would some day become a very famous lawyer.

And so, in the autumn of 1807, Daniel gave up to his brother the law business which he had in Boscawen, and removed to the city of Portsmouth.

He was now twenty-five years old. In Portsmouth he would find plenty of work to do; it would be the very kind of work that he liked. He was now well started on the road towards greatness.

The very next year, he was married to Miss Grace Fletcher, the daughter of a minister in Hopkinton. The happy couple began housekeeping in a small, modest, wooden house, in Portsmouth; and there they lived, very plainly and without pretension, for several years.

Mr. Webster's office was "a common, ordinary-looking room, with less furniture and more books than common. He had a small inner room, opening from the larger, rather an unusual thing."

It was not long until the name of Daniel Webster was known all over New Hampshire. Those who were acquainted with him said that he was the smartest young lawyer in Portsmouth. They said that if he kept on in the way that he had started, there were great things in store for him.

The country people told wonderful stories about him. They said that he was as black as a coal—but of course they had never seen him. They believed that he could gain any case in court that he chose to manage—and in this they were about right.

There was another great lawyer in Portsmouth. His name was Jeremiah Mason, and he was much older than Mr. Webster. Indeed, he was already a famous man when Daniel first began the practice of law.

The young lawyer and the older one soon became warm friends; and yet they were often opposed to each other in the courts. Daniel was always obliged to do his best when Mr. Mason was against him. This caused him to be very careful. It no doubt made him become a better lawyer than he otherwise would have been.

While Webster was thus quietly practicing law in New Hampshire, trouble was brewing between the United States and England. The English were doing much to hinder American merchants from trading with foreign countries.

They claimed the right to search American vessels for seamen who had deserted from the British service. And it is said that American sailors were often dragged from their own vessels and forced to serve on board the English ships.

Matters kept getting worse and worse for several years. At last, in June, 1812, the United States declared war against England. Daniel Webster was opposed to this war, and he made several speeches against it. He said that, although we had doubtless suffered many wrongs, there was more cause for war with France than with England. And then, the United States had no navy, and hence was not ready to go to war with any nation.

Webster's influence in New Hampshire was so great that he persuaded many of the people of that state to think just as he thought on this subject. They nominated him as their representative in Congress; and when the time came, they elected him.

It was on the 24th of May, 1813, that he first took his seat in Congress. He was then thirty-one years old. In that same Congress there were two other young men who afterwards made their names famous in the history of their country. One was Henry Clay, of Kentucky. The other was John C. Calhoun, of South Carolina. Both were a little older than Webster; both had already made some mark in public life; and both were in favor of the war.

During his first year in Congress, Mr. Webster made some stirring speeches in support of his own opinions. In this way, as well by his skill in debate, he made himself known as a young man of more than common ability and promise.

Chief Justice Marshall, who was then at the head of the Supreme Court of the United States, said of him: "I have never seen a man of whose intellect I had a higher opinion."

In 1814, the war that had been going on so long came to an end. But now there were other subjects which claimed Mr. Webster's attention in Congress.

Then, as now, there were important questions regarding the money of the nation; and upon these questions there was great difference of opinion. Daniel Webster's speeches, in favor of a sound currency, did much to maintain the national credit and to save the country from bankruptcy.

The people of New Hampshire were so well pleased with the record which he made in Congress that, when his first term expired, they re-elected him for a second.


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