Daniel Webster

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There is nothing so powerful as truth — and often nothing so strange.

Daniel Webster (18 January 178225 October 1852) was a United States Senator and Secretary of State. Famed for his ability as an orator, Webster was one of the most important figures in the Second Party System from the 1820s to the 1850s.


It is my living sentiment, and by the blessing of God it shall be my dying sentiment — Independence now and Independence forever.
God grants liberty only to those who love it, and are always ready to guard and defend it.
One country, one constitution, one destiny.
Mind is the great lever of all things; human thought is the process by which human ends are ultimately answered.
  • A strong impression that something must be done, is the origin of many bad measures.
    • Speech On the Bank of the United States, delivered in the House of Representatives of the United States, Jan. 2, 1815; reported in Speeches and Forensic Arguments (1848) by Daniel Webster, vol. 1, p. 225
  • Labor in this country is independent and proud. It has not to ask the patronage of capital, but capital solicits the aid of labor.
    • Speech (2 April 1824); reported in Edward Everett, ed., The Works of Daniel Webster (1851), volume iii, page 141
  • He smote the rock of the national resources, and abundant streams of revenue gushed forth. He touched the dead corpse of Public Credit, and it sprung upon its feet.
    • Speech on Hamilton (10 March 1831)
  • On this question of principle, while actual suffering was yet afar off, they [the Colonies] raised their flag against a power to which, for purposes of foreign conquest and subjugation, Rome in the height of her glory is not to be compared — a power which has dotted over the surface of the whole globe with her possessions and military posts, whose morning drumbeat, following the sun, and keeping company with the hours, circles the earth with one continuous and unbroken strain of the martial airs of England.
    • Speech (7 May 1834); reported in Edward Everett, ed., The Works of Daniel Webster (1851), page 110
  • God grants liberty only to those who love it, and are always ready to guard and defend it.
    • Speech (3 June 1834); reported in Edward Everett, ed., The Works of Daniel Webster (1851), volume iv, page 47
  • “What is an oath?” . . . [I]t is founded on a degree of consciousness that there is a Power above us that will reward our virtues or punish our vices. . . . [O]ur system of oaths in all our courts, by which we hold liberty and property and all our rights, are founded on or rest on Christianity and a religious belief.
    • Mr. Webster’s Speech in Defense of the Christian Ministry and in Favor of the Religious Instruction of the Young, Delivered in the Supreme Court of the United States, February 10, 1844, in the Case of Stephen Girard’s Will (Washington: Gales and Seaton, 1844), pp. 43, 51.
  • One country, one constitution, one destiny.
    • Speech (15 March 1837); reported in Edward Everett, ed., The Works of Daniel Webster (1851), page 349
  • There are persons who constantly clamor. They complain of oppression, speculation, and pernicious influence of wealth. They cry out loudly against all banks and corporations, and a means by which small capitalists become united in order to produce important and beneficial results. They carry on mad hostility against all established institutions. They would choke the fountain of industry and dry all streams.
    • Speech in the Senate (12 March 1838)
  • Sea of upturned faces.
    • Speech (30 September 1842); reported in Edward Everett, ed., The Works of Daniel Webster (1851), Vol. II, page 117
  • Justice, sir, is the great interest of man on Earth. It is the ligament which holds civilized beings and civilized nations together. Wherever her temple stands, and so long as it is duly honored, there is a foundation for social security, general happiness and the improvement and progress of our race.
    • On Mr. Justice Story (September 12, 1845); reported in Edward Everett, ed., The Works of Daniel Webster (1851), page 300
  • Inconsistencies of opinion, arising from changes of circumstances, are often justifiable.
    • Speech (July 25 and 27, 1846); reported in Edward Everett, ed., The Works of Daniel Webster (1851), Vol. V, p. 187
  • Liberty exists in proportion to wholesome restraint.
    • Speech at the Charleston Bar Dinner (May 10, 1847); reported in Edward Everett, ed., The Works of Daniel Webster (1851), Vol. II, p. 393
  • The law: It has honored us; may we honor it.
    • Speech at the Charleston Bar Dinner (May 10, 1847); reported in Edward Everett, ed., The Works of Daniel Webster (1851), Vol. II, p. 394
  • I have read their platform, and though I think there are some unsound places in it, I can stand upon it pretty well. But I see nothing in it both new and valuable. "What is valuable is not new, and what is new is not valuable."
    • Speech at Marshfield, Massachusetts (1 September 1848); reported in Edward Everett, ed., The Works of Daniel Webster (1851), p. 433
    • Confer Henry Brougham's "What is valuable is not new, and what is new is not valuable." (The Edinburgh Review, The Work of Thomas Young, c. 1802)
  • And now, Mr. President, instead of speaking of the possibility or utility of secession, instead of dwelling in these caverns of darkness, instead of groping with those ideas so full of all that is horrid and horrible, let us come out into the light of day; let us enjoy the fresh airs of Liberty and Union; let us cherish those hopes which belong to us; let us devote ourselves to those great objects that are fit for our consideration and our action; let us raise our conceptions to the magnitude and the importance of the duties that devolve upon us; let our comprehension be as broad as the country for which we act, our aspirations as high as its certain destiny; let us not be pygmies in a case that calls for men. Never did there devolve on any generation of men higher trusts than now devolve upon us for the preservation of this constitution, and the harmony and peace of all who are destined to live under it. Let us make our generation one of the strongest and the brightest links in that golden chain which is destined, I fondly believe, to grapple the people of all the states to this constitution, for ages to come.
    • Speech to the Senate In reference to the Slavery Compromise (7 March 1850)
  • I was born an American; I will live an American; I shall die an American!
    • Speech (July 17, 1850); reported in Edward Everett, ed., The Works of Daniel Webster (1851), p. 437
  • I shall defer my visit to Faneuil Hall, the cradle of American liberty, until its doors shall fly open on golden hinges to lovers of Union as well as lovers of liberty.
    • Letter (April 1851)
  • Men hang out their signs indicative of their respective trades: shoemakers hang out a gigantic shoe; jewelers, a monster watch; and the dentist hangs out a gold tooth; but up in the mountains of New Hampshire, God Almighty has hung out a sign to show that there He makes men.
    • On the Old Man of the Mountain
  • The dignity of history consists in reciting events with truth and accuracy, and in presenting human agents and their actions in an interesting and instructive form. The first element in history, therefore, is truthfulness; and this truthfulness must be displayed in a concrete form.
  • If we work upon marble, it will perish; if we work upon brass, time will efface it; if we rear temples, they will crumble to dust; but if we work on men's immortal minds, if we impress on them with high principles, the just fear of God and love for their fellow-men, we engrave on those tablets something which no time can efface, and which will brighten and brighten to all eternity.
    • Address Delivered by the Hon. Daniel Webster in Faneuil Hall (22 May 1852), at the Request of the City Council of Boston; City Document No. 31. Boston: J.H. Eastburn (1852)
  • I still live.
    • Last words (24 October 1852)
  • 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.
    • A speech delivered at Niblo’s Saloon, in New York, on the 15 of March, 1837.
    • The Works of Daniel Webster, Boston, Charles C. Little and James Brown, 1851, vol. 1, p. 358 [1].
  • If there be any thing in my style or thought to be commended, the credit is due to my kind parents in instilling into my mind an early love of the Scriptures.
    • Reported in Josiah Hotchkiss Gilbert, Dictionary of Burning Words of Brilliant Writers (1895), p. 33
  • We are in danger of being overwhelmed with irredeemable paper, mere paper, representing not gold nor silver; no, Sir, representing nothing but broken promises, bad faith, bankrupt corporations, cheated creditors, and a ruined people.
    • The Works of Daniel Webster (Boston, MA:Little, Brown, 1890), p. 413

Address on Laying the Cornerstone of the Bunker Hill Monument (1825)[edit]

Let our age be the age of improvement. In a day of peace, let us advance the arts of peace and the works of peace.
Address on Laying the Cornerstone of the Bunker Hill Monument (17 June 1825) Full text online
  • We wish that this column, rising towards heaven among the pointed spires of so many temples dedicated to God, may contribute also to produce, in all minds, a pious feeling of dependence and gratitude. We wish, finally, that the last object to the sight of him who leaves his native shore, and the first to gladden his who revisits it, may be something which shall remind him of the liberty and the glory of his country. Let it rise! let it rise, till it meet the sun in his coming; let the earliest light of the morning gild it, and the parting day linger and play on its summit!
    • p. 62
  • Venerable men! you have come down to us from a former generation. Heaven has bounteously lengthened out your lives, that you might behold this joyous day.
    • p. 64
  • Mind is the great lever of all things; human thought is the process by which human ends are ultimately answered; and the diffusion of knowledge, so astonishing in the last half-century, has rendered innumerable minds, variously gifted by nature, competent to be competitors or fellow-workers on the theatre of intellectual operation.
    • p. 71
  • The civilized world seems at last to be proceeding to the conviction of that fundamental and manifest truth, that the powers of government are but a trust, and that they cannot be lawfully exercised but for the good of the community. As knowledge is more and more extended, this conviction becomes more and more general. Knowledge, in truth, is the great sun in the firmament. Life and power are scattered with all its beams.
    • p. 74
  • If the true spark of religious and civil liberty be kindled, it will burn. Human agency cannot extinguish it. Like the earth's central fire, it may be smothered for a time; the ocean may overwhelm it; mountains may press it down; but its inherent and unconquerable force will heave both the ocean and the land, and at some time or other, in some place or other, the volcano will break out and flame up to heaven.
  • Our proper business is improvement. Let our age be the age of improvement. In a day of peace, let us advance the arts of peace and the works of peace. Let us develop the resources of our land, call forth its powers, build up its institutions, promote all its great interests, and see whether we also, in our day and generation, may not perform something worthy to be remembered.
    • The last sentence of this quote is incised in marble on the wall of the United States House of Representatives chamber, directly behind the Speaker's chair (with the word "develop" spelled with a final "e").
  • Let our object be, our country, our whole country, and nothing but our country. And, by the blessing of God, may that country itself become a vast and splendid monument, not of oppression and terror, but of Wisdom, of Peace, and of Liberty, upon which the world may gaze with admiration for ever!
    • p. 78

Discourse in Commemoration of Adams and Jefferson (1826)[edit]

Discourse in Commemoration of Adams and Jefferson, Faneuil Hall, Boston (2 August 1826)
  • Sink or swim, live or die, survive or perish, I give my hand and my heart to this vote.
  • It is my living sentiment, and by the blessing of God it shall be my dying sentiment,—Independence now and Independence forever.
    • p. 136
  • Although no sculptured marble should rise to their memory, nor engraved stone bear record of their deeds, yet will their remembrance be as lasting as the land they honored.
    • p. 146

Second Reply to Hayne (1830)[edit]

Second Reply to Hayne (26 - 27 January 1830) · Online extract · Webster's Reply (27 January 1830), as published in Gale & Seaton's Register of Debates in Congress, Vol. VI (1830), p. 58 · The Great Debate between Hayne and Webster : The Speech of Daniel Webster in reply to Robert Young Hayne edited by Lindsay Swift (2 February 1898)
  • The gentleman has not seen how to reply to this, otherwise than by supposing me to have advanced the doctrine that a national debt is a national blessing.
  • I shall enter on no encomium upon Massachusetts; she needs none. There she is. Behold her, and judge for yourselves. There is her history; the world knows it by heart. The past, at least, is secure. There is Boston, and Concord, and Lexington, and Bunker Hill; and there they will remain forever.
  • The people's government, made for the people, made by the people, and answerable to the people.
  • When my eyes shall be turned to behold for the last time the sun in heaven, may I not see him shining on the broken and dishonored fragments of a once glorious Union; on States dissevered, discordant, belligerent; on a land rent with civil feuds, or drenched, it may be, in fraternal blood! Let their last feeble and lingering glance rather behold the glorious ensign of the republic, now known and honored throughout the earth, still full high advanced, its arms and trophies streaming in the original lustre, not a stripe erased or polluted, nor a single star obscured, bearing for its motto, no such miserable interrogatory as 'What is all this worth?' nor those words of delusion and folly, 'Liberty first and Union afterward,'; but everywhere, spread over all the characters of living light, blazing on all its ample folds, as they float over the sea and over the land, and in every wind under the whole heavens, that other sentiment, dear to every true American heart, -- Liberty and Union, now and forever, one and inseparable!

Argument on the murder of Captain White (1830)[edit]

"Argument on the murder of Captain White" (6 April 1830), as reported in The Works of Daniel Webster (1851), edited by Edward Everett volume vi.
  • There is no refuge from confession but suicide; and suicide is confession.
  • Fearful concatenation of circumstances.
  • A sense of duty pursues us ever. It is omnipresent, like the Deity. If we take to ourselves the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, duty performed or duty violated is still with us, for our happiness or our misery. If we say the darkness shall cover us, in the darkness as in the light our obligations are yet with us.

On the Agriculture of England (1840)[edit]

On the Agriculture of England (13 January 1840)
  • An English farmer looks not merely to the present year's crop. He considers what will be the condition of the land when that crop is off; and what it will be fit for the next year. He studies to use his land so as not to abuse it. On the contrary, his aim is to get crop after crop, while still the land shall be growing better and better. If he should content himself with raising from the soil a large crop this year, and then leave it neglected and exhausted, he would starve. It is upon this fundamental idea of constant production without exhaustion, that the system of English cultivation, and, indeed, of all good cultivation, is founded. England is not original in this. Flanders, and perhaps Italy, have been her teachers.
  • Is it practicable, on the soil and in the climate of Massachusetts, to pursue a succession of crops? I cannot question it; and I have entire confidence in the improvements to our husbandry, and the other great advantages, which would accrue from judicious rotation of products. The capacities of the soil of Massachusetts are undoubted. One hundred bushels of corn to an acre have been repeatedly produced, and other crops in like abundance. But this will not effect the proper ends of a judicious and profitable agriculture, unless we can so manage our husbandry that, by a judicious and proper succession of the crops, land will not only be restored after an exhausting crop, but gradually enriched by cultivation.
  • Suppose that, by some new discovery, or some improved mode of culture, only one per cent could be added to the annual results of English cultivation; this, of itself, would materially affect the comfortable subsistence of millions of human beings.
  • Let us never forget that the cultivation of the earth is the most important labor of man. Man may be civilized, in some degree, without great progress in manufactures and with little commerce with his distant neighbors. But without the cultivation of the earth, he is, in all countries, a savage. Until he gives up the chase, and fixes himself in some place and seeks a living from the earth, he is a roaming barbarian. When tillage begins, other arts follow. The farmers, therefore, are the founders of human civilization.
    • p. 457

On the Completion of the Bunker Hill Monument (1843)[edit]

On the Completion of the Bunker Hill Monument (17 June 1843)
  • From the accession of Henry the Seventh to the breaking out of the civil wars, England enjoyed much greater exemption from war, foreign and domestic, than for a long period before, and during the controversy between the houses of York and Lancaster. These years of peace were favorable to commerce and the arts. Commerce and the arts augmented general and individual knowledge; and knowledge is the only fountain, both of the love and the principles of human liberty.
    • p. 93
  • From the time of its discovery, the Spanish government pushed forward its settlements in America, not only with vigor, but with eagerness.... The robbery and destruction of the native race was the achievement of standing armies, in the right of the king, and by his authority, fighting in his name, for the aggrandizement of his power and the extension of his prerogatives, with military ideas under arbitrary maxims, — a portion of that dreadful instrumentality by which a perfect despotism governs a people. As there was no liberty in Spain, how could liberty be transmitted to Spanish colonies?
  • Spain stooped on South America, like a vulture on its prey. Every thing was force. Territories were acquired by fire and sword. Cities were destroyed by fire and sword. Hundreds of thousands of human beings fell by fire and sword. Even conversion to Christianity was attempted by fire and sword.
  • Standing armies are the oppressive instruments for governing the people, in the hands of hereditary and arbitrary monarchs. A military republic, a government founded on mock elections and supported only by the sword, is a movement indeed, but a retrograde and disastrous movement, from the regular and old-fashioned monarchical systems. If men would enjoy the blessings of republican government, they must govern themselves by reason, by mutual counsel and consultation, by a sense and feeling of general interest, and by the acquiescence of the minority in the will of the majority, properly expressed; and, above all, the military must be kept, according to the language of our Bill of Rights, in strict subordination to the civil authority.
  • The Bible is a book of faith, and a book of doctrine, and a book of morals, and a book of religion, of especial revelation from God.
    • p. 102
  • America has furnished to Europe proof of the fact, that popular institutions, founded on equality and the principle of representation, are capable of maintaining governments, able to secure the rights of person, property, and reputation. America has proved that it is practicable to elevate the mass of mankind, — that portion which in Europe is called the laboring, or lower class, — to raise them to self-respect, to make them competent to act a part in the great right and great duty of self-government; and she has proved that this may be done by education and the diffusion of knowledge. America has furnished to the world the character of Washington! And if our American institutions had done nothing else, that alone would have entitled them to the respect of mankind.
    • p. 105
  • In our day and generation let us seek to raise and improve the moral sentiment, so that we may look, not for a degraded, but for an elevated and improved future.... And then, when honored and decrepit age shall lean against the base of this monument, and troops of ingenuous youth shall be gathered round it, and when the one shall speak to the other of its objects, the purposes of its construction, and the great and glorious events with which it is connected, there shall rise from every youthful breast the ejaculation, "Thank God, I — I also — am an American!"
    • p. 107


  • If we abide by the principles taught in the Bible, our country will go on prospering and to prosper; but if we and our posterity neglect its instructions and authority, no man can tell how sudden a catastrophe may overwhelm us and bury all our glory in profound obscurity.
    • First reported in the Annual Report of the Massachusetts Bible Society (1870), p. 27. This is actually a misquote combining phrases from different lines in an address delivered by Webster to the New York Historical Society on February 23, 1852.
  • Hold on, my friends, to the Constitution and to the Republic for which it stands. Miracles do not cluster and what has happened once in 6,000 years, may not happen again. Hold on to the Constitution, for if the American Constitution should fail, there will be anarchy throughout the world.
    • The earliest version of this seems to be from Savings and Loan Annual 1963, p. 56 published by the United States Savings and Loan League. Variants of it were quoted by President Ronald Reagan, here, here, and here, for example. A similar quote can be found in a speech by Edwin Meese, a longtime associate of Reagan, part of a 1986 book (pamphlet?), The Great debate: interpreting our written Constitution, page 56
    • Webster did say, in two different places and times, words that are similar enough to be the presumable basis of this misquote, though the phrase "the Republic for which it stands" is best known from its presence in The Pledge of Allegiance, written in 1892, about 40 years after Webster died. These are Webster's words:
      • Hold on, my friends, to the Constitution of your country and the government established under it. Leave evils which exist in some parts of the country, but which are beyond your control, to the all-wise direction of an over-ruling Providence. Perform those duties which are present, plain and positive. Respect the laws of your country." (1851 letter from Daniel Webster to Dr. William B. Gooch of West Dennis, Massachusetts, quoted in an 1898 publication of the Bay State Monthly)
      • We live under the only government that ever existed, which was formed by the deliberate consultations of the people. Miracles do not cluster. That which has happened but once in six thousand years, cannot be expected to happen often. Such a government, once destroyed, would have a void to be filled, perhaps for centuries, with evolution and tumult, riot and despotism. (From an 1882 book, which says it is printing an oration given by Webster in 1802; similar but not exactly the same wording can be found in The Granite monthly: a magazine of literature, history and state ...: Volume 5 - Page 7, 1882, which said that it was printing an 1805 address given by Webster in Concord, Massachusetts.) [That Webster would use similar wording in separate orations could be expected, of course.]
    • The misquote is notable for the emphasis on the Constitution rather the government of the United States; for using the word "fail" (sometimes, "fall"), rather than "destroyed", which opens up a line of argument that Webster was concerned about the Constitution being misinterpreted, in legal cases; and that worldwide anarchy could result from something happening in the United States, something fairly unthinkable in the first half of the 19th century, when the United States was in no way an important country in international matters.

Quotes about Webster[edit]

  • It's a story they tell in the border country, where Massachusetts joins Vermont and New Hampshire.
    Yes, Dan'l Webster's dead — or, at least, they buried him. But every time there's a thunderstorm around Marshfield, they say you can hear his rolling voice in the hollows of the sky. And they say that if you go to his grave and speak loud and clear, "Dan'l Webster — Dan'l Webster!" the ground'll begin to shiver and the trees begin to shake. And after a while you'll hear a deep voice saying, "Neighbor, how stands the Union?" Then you better answer the Union stands as she stood, rock-bottomed and copper-sheathed, one and indivisible, or he's liable to rear right out of the ground. At least, that's what I was told when I was a youngster.

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