Monday, October 24, 2011

Daniel Webster

There are men, in all ages, who mean to exercise power usefully; but who mean to exercise it. They mean to govern well; but they mean to govern. They promise to be kind masters; but they mean to be masters.

From a 1837 speech.

Daniel Webster was born in New Hampshire in 1782, and was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives for the first of two terms when he was only 31.  He later moved to Massachusetts, where he was a two-term Congressman before being elevated to the U.S. Senate.  While serving his third term as a Senator, he was appointed Secretary of State in 1841.  After one more term in the Senate, he was appointed Secretary of State for a second time, and served in that capacity until he died on this date in 1852.

Webster was also the leading constitutional lawyer of his generation, appearing before the Supreme Court to argue eight major constitutional cases.  Stephen Vincent Benet wrote a famous short story ("The Devil and Daniel Webster") in which Webster persuaded a jury chosen by the devil to release his client, a hard-luck farmer, from a contract in which he agreed to sell his soul for seven years of prosperity.  

Despite the words quoted above, Webster also meant to exercise power, govern, and be a master -- he ran for President three times as a Whig, but never won the party's nomination.  He was offered the Vice-Presidency twice but declined both times, saying that "I do not propose to be buried until I am really dead and in my coffin."

Daniel Webster

No comments:

Post a Comment