Daniel Webster
1782 - 1852
For his contemporaries, Daniel Webster embodied the very spirit of the nation. As John Lothrop Motley said, "Thinking of America without Webster . . . seems like thinking of her without Niagara, or the Mississippi." Webster represented Massachusetts in Congress, argued before the Supreme Court, and eventually served as Secretary of State. But despite great effort over three decades of public life, Webster failed to become President. In 1830, in a famous debate with Robert Hayne, Webster supported the Union over the rights of the individual states. Twenty years later, he defended the Compromise of 1850, upholding slavery in the South in order to prevent secession, and eroding his support in Massachusetts and the nation. Ralph Waldo Emerson called him "a man of the past." But as Henry James remembered, for the first half of the nineteenth century, Webster "filled the sky of public life from pole to pole."

In one interview late in his life, Brady recalled Webster's docile temperament before the camera: "'Use me as the potter would the clay, Mr. Brady,' he said to me, and he was more than pleased with the result."

Mathew Brady Studio
Daguerreotype, circa 1849
14 x 11.4 cm (5 1/2 x 4 1/2 inches)
National Museum of American History,
Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.