The Story of Daniel Webster

by James Baldwin

Previous Chapter Next Chapter

Chapter XI: The Dartmouth College Case

In 1816, before his second term in Congress had expired, Daniel Webster removed with his family to Boston. He had lived in Portsmouth nine years, and he now felt that he needed a wider field for the exercise of his talents.

He was now no longer the slender, delicate person that he had been in his boyhood and youth. He was a man of noble mien—a sturdy, dignified personage, who bore the marks of greatness upon him.

People said, "When Daniel Webster walked the streets of Boston, he made the buildings look small."

As soon as his term in Congress had expired, he began the practice of law in Boston.

For nearly seven years he devoted himself strictly to his profession. Of course, he at once took his place as the leading lawyer of New England. Indeed, he soon became known as the ablest counsellor and advocate in America. The best business of the country now came to him. His income was very large, amounting to more than $20,000 a year.

And during this time there was no harder worker than he. In fact, his natural genius could have done but little for him, had it not been for his untiring industry.

One of his first great victories in law was that which is known as the Dartmouth College case. The lawmakers of New Hampshire had attempted to pass a law to alter the charter of the college. By doing this they would endanger the usefulness and prosperity of that great school, in order to favor the selfish projects of its enemies.

Daniel Webster undertook to defend the college. The speech which he made before the Supreme Court of the United States was a masterly effort.

"Sir," he said, "you may destroy this little institution—it is weak, it is in your hands. I know it is one of the lesser lights in the literary horizon of our country. You may put it out.

"But if you do so, you must carry through your work! You must extinguish, one after another, all those greater lights of science which, for more than a century, have thrown their light over our land!"

He won the case; and this, more than anything else, helped to gain for him the reputation of being the ablest lawyer in the United States.


Return to the The Story of Daniel Webster Summary Return to the James Baldwin Library

© 2022