ONE AND INSEPARABLE: Daniel Webster and the Union by Maurice G. Baxter

ONE AND INSEPARABLE: Daniel Webster and the Union

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KIRKUS REVIEW

The first full-scale biography of ""the god-like Daniel"" in a half-century--tending on occasion, like its subject, to go on a bit longer than really necessary, but authoritatively researched and mercifully lacking the hokey idol-worship of its predecessors. Baxter (History, Indiana U.) may do best in the first third of the book, which carries Webster out of rural New Hampshire (where he was born in 1782), through Dartmouth (where he whetted his appetite for material success and discovered his gift for public speaking), to Portsmouth (where he opened a law office and launched his political career in the Federalist party), and ultimately to Boston (where he settled down to a lucrative practice and growing fame as a patriotic orator). The remainder of Webster's public life is so well known as to be almost legendary: a decade in the House, two decades in the Senate, two appointments as Secretary of State, repeated attempts to get into the White House. As regards the big stories--Webster's switch from free trade to protectionism, his defense of the union against southern sectionalism, his alliance with Clay against Jackson, his controversial support for the Compromise of 1850--Baxter's treatment presents no surprises, and rather too many of the particulars. There are ample compensations for patience, however. Perhaps because he is the first Webster biographer to benefit from new materials turned up by the Webster papers project at Dartmouth (as well as author of Daniel Webster and the Supreme Court, 1966), Baxter has some important things to say about how the industrialization of the American economy influenced Webster's legal and constitutional thinking and the development of his legal practice. He also offers some well-chosen remarks on less familiar aspects of Webster's life--how much his wives contributed to his advancement, how much he relied on cronies for original ideas as well as money, how much he drank, how much he wanted to be even richer than he was. Not the last word on Webster, by any means, but certainly the best we have had in a long time.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1984
ISBN: 0674638212
Publisher: Harvard Univ. Press