- January 18, 1782 – Daniel Webster birth
“The most important thought that ever occupied my mind was that of my individual responsibility to God.”
– Daniel Webster
Life Sketch from The Other Eminent Men of Wilford WoodruffCopyright © Taken from the book: The Other Eminent Men of Wilford Woodruff. Special thanks to Vicki Jo Anderson. Please do not copy. American, Defender of the Constitution 1782-1852
Early LifeDaniel Webster, Defender and expounder of the constitution, was born in 1782, at the end of the Revolutionary War. His father was Colonel Ebenezer Webster who at eighteen enlisted in the Rodgers’ Rangers during the Frnech and Indian War. After the war, he moved his family to the remote frontier of New Hampshire. Although providing for his growing family was difficult on the poor farm land, Ebenezer’s colonial spirit thrived on the frontier. During a recess Ebenezer returned home and asked to be released from his bond. The people responded, releasing him to be a free representative. When the convention reconvened Ebenezer stood to make his yes vote, stateing: “I have followed the lead of Washington through seven years of war, and I have never been misled. His name is subscribed to this Constitution. He will not mislead us now. I shall vote for its adoption.'” His vote, along with other likeminded soldiers did much to bring about the adoption of the Constitution. All these events did not escape the keen observation of young Daniel Webster. His impressionable mind was being carefully shaped by Providence to prepare him for a later work–that of defending the Constitution. Daniel Webster’s mother was Ebenezer’s seocnd wife, Abagail Eastman, his first wife having died. There were five children at the time of this second marriage, and Abigail bore five more. Daniel was the ninth child. Like many other great men, Daniel entered this world with an exremely fragile body. So frail was this new little baby and the neighborhood women attending Mrs. Webster could only shake their heads and prophesy a short life for him. But Abigail Webster thought otherwise; she caugt him to her bosom, wept over the child, and resolved in her heart to do all that she could so that he might live. As a toddler, Daniel still could not sustain himself on his feeble legs. One day his father brought him in, carrying him in his arms, and said to his wife: “We must give him up; we never can raise this child.” Undeterred, Abigail once again took young Daniel in her arms and let her tears fall upon his cheeks. Then she did all she could to help him, even carrying him in her arms as she rode a saddled horse the long distance to the beach. There she worked his frail limbs in salt water, seeking to strengthem them. Her commitment to her son was great for she had great expectations of him. When Daniel was only ten years of age, she prophesied that he would become an eminent leader among men. Yers later, Daniel remember the work of his mtoher in his behalf and declared: “There was a mother for you!” With such perseverence on his parents’ part Daniel survived childhood. Referring to his childhood he wrote that, “here, in the meadow land by the river, with rough high hills hanging over, was the scene of my earliest recollections; or, as was said in another case, ‘Here I found myself.'” He played in the woods and fields, where he learned to love nature and to wonder at nature;s offspring. One day Daniel was mowing in the fields, but he didn’t do very well. His scythe would sometimes get stuck in the ground or over the top of the grain. He complained to his father that his scythe was not hung right. His father tried to help him arrange it so that it was would hang better, but had no success. He finally told Daniel to hung it on a branch, saying, “There, that’s just right.” His father laughed and told him to let it be. Daniel returned to his own outdoor pursuits. His companion in these pursuits was an old British sailor named Robert Wise. This elderly gentleman and his wife lived in a samll cottage on the edge of the Webster property. Wise would often carry young Webster on his back as they hiked through the forest, and he spent hours teaching the young boy the art of fishing. Wise also used these hourse to tell his young companion endless stories of the adventurous life he had in the wars in Europe as a sailor of Admiral Byng and Lord George Germaine, of Minden and Gibralter, of the yellow-haired Prince Ferdinand and of General Gace and Bunker Hill. He often told him of his own decision to leave the British lines and join the armies of Washinton. In freturn for his friend’s companionship, Daniel read the newspaper to him. Daniel wrote in his autobiography that he could not remember a time when he did not read, so early was he taught by his mother. Using the Bible as her text, she taught him to read. It was his mother who gave him his first copy of the sacred book. When a school was opened in their area, Daniel and his brother Ezekiel entered as advanced scholars. Master Tappan, the eacher of the school was amazed at Daniel’s mind, and he told the following story about him:
- One Saturday I held up a handsome new knife to the scholars and said that the boy who would commit to memory the greatest number of verses in the Bible by Monday morning, should have it. Many of the boys did well, but when it came to Daniel’s turn to recite, I found that he had committed so much that, after hearing him repeat some sixty or seventy verses, I was obliged to give up, he telling me that there were several chapters yet he had learned. Daniel got that jackknife.
- I remember [said Daniel Webster] the very hill which we were ascending, through deep snows, in a New England sleigh, when my father made known this promise to me I could not speak. How could he, I thought, with so large a family, and in such narrow circumstances, think of incurring so great an expanse for me? I warm glow ran all over me, and I laid my head of my father’s shoulder and wept.
- And when, from the long distance of a hundred years, they shall look back upon us, they shall know we possessed … gratitude for what out ancestors have done for our happiness…. Future generations we would hail you was you rise … to fill the places which we now fill…. We welcome you to the immeasurable blessings of rational existence, the immortal hope of Christianity, and the light of everlasting truth.
- If we work upon marble, it will perish; if we work upon brass, time will efface it; but if we work upon immortal minds, if we imbue them with principles, with love of others, we engrave on those tablets something which will brighten all eternity.
Senator, Leigslator, and Secretary of StateAs a senator, legislator, and secretary of state, Webster’s greatest triumph was the convincing of the Supreme Court and the people of the United States that the federal government was a union and not a league “Liberty and union,” he said, “now and forever, one and inseparable.” Daniel Webster gave all that he had in support of his country, including his son Edward, who died from sickness while serving in the Mexican War, and his only other son, Fletcher, who was killed at the second Battle of Bull Run. Not since the time of Washington’s death had the country mourned as deeply as they did over Webster’s death. At his request his grave bears his name and a scripture from the Bible, his first textbook, which read:
- “Lord, I believe, help thou my unbelief.”