Daniel Webster was born in 1782 in Salisbury, New Hampshire, to Ebenezer and Abigail Webster. Ebenezer, a farmer, strongly encouraged his son to pursue an education so that he would not have to endure the hardships of living as a farmer. With his father’s encouragement and sacrifice, Webster attended Dartmouth College and graduated in 1801.
After Dartmouth, Webster studied law, first with Thomas W. Thompson in Salisbury, New Hampshire, and then under Christopher Gore in Boston, Massachusetts. After passing the bar in 1805, Webster returned to his hometown of Boscawen, New Hampshire, and practiced law until his father’s death in 1806. Webster then practiced law in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and became very involved in the Federalist Party. In 1807 he was elected as a Representative for the State of New Hampshire, and he served in that position until 1916. During that time, Webster also argued cases before the Supreme Court. In the course of his career, Webster argued over 170 cases before the Supreme Court, an unparalleled number.
In 1816, Webster moved to Boston and started a law practice. He continued to argue cases before the Supreme Court, as well as the local courts in Massachusetts. During this time he argued one of his most famous cases, the Dartmouth College case in 1819. Webster argued for the college trustees against the State of New Hampshire, to keep the college a private rather than public entity. The Supreme Court’s decision in favor of Dartmouth College is historically important because it limits the control of state governments over corporate charters.
Webster was elected representative for Massachusetts in 1822 and served in that role until 1827 when he was elected as a senator for Massachusetts. Webster became an important member of the Senate and is known for several famous orations. In addition, Webster left a more physical legacy in the Senate Chambers -- Webster’s desk is unique among the desks in the Senate Chambers to this day because he refused to let his desk be modified along with the others in the 1830s.
After serving in the Senate for 15 years and running an unsuccessful campaign for the presidency in 1836, Webster was appointed Secretary of State by President Harrison in 1841. He continued as Secretary with Harrison’s successor, Tyler, until 1843. While Secretary of State, Webster’s greatest accomplishment was the Webster-Ashburton Treaty of 1842, which established the definitive border between the United States and Canada between Maine and New Brunswick and in the Great Lakes area. Webster was again elected to the Senate in 1845. He resigned in 1850 to be Secretary of State again, for Fillmore, until his death in 1852.
Webster married his first wife, Grace, in 1810 and they had five children: Daniel Fletcher, Grace Fletcher, Julia, Charles, and Edward. Grace died in 1828, and Webster married his second wife, Caroline, in 1829. Of his five children, only Daniel Fletcher outlived his father but was killed in 1862 in the Second Battle of Bull Run. Daniel Webster died on October 24, 1852.