1. Introduction
  2. The Road to Dartmouth
  3. Scholarly Pursuits
  4. Writings and Speeches
  5. Room and Board
  6. Friendships
  7. The United Fraternity
  8. Phi Beta Kappa
  9. The Dartmouth Gazette
  10. Political Activity
  11. Commencement
  12. Conclusion
  13. A Note on Sources

Daniel Webster and the Phi Beta Kappa
The Phi Beta Kappa is a national honors society that still exists to this day. Whereas in modern times the Phi Beta Kappa is an organization to which one is automatically admitted based upon certain academic requirements, in Webster's day it was an active society which pursued questions of political, ethical, and educational interest.

Webster was elected into Dartmouth's Alpha chapter of the Phi Beta Kappa on June 5, 1800. Several of his friends and classmates were elected at the same meeting, including James Hervey Bingham, Nathaniel Shattuck, Ephraim Simonds, and Aaron Loveland, who Webster shared a room with at one point.

June 5th

Society met, and, proceeding to the business of the meeting, Juniors, James H. Bingham, Charles Gilbert, Aaron Loveland, Thomas A. Merrill, Josiah Noyes, Nathaniel Shattuck, Ephraim Simonds, Caleb J. Tenney, and Daniel Webster, were elected as candidates for the honors of the PBK, after which the society adjourned to next Wednesday evening for the purposes of initiation.

Attest, James Dean, sec. pro tempore.

However, Webster was not initiated at the next meeting. Several of his peers, including Loveland, Simonds, and Bingham were. Why Webster was not immediately initiated is unknown. It is unlikely that the reason was particularly scandalous, especially considering that he had already been elected into the body; it may have been merely a conflict of schedules that kept Webster away from the June 12 meeting. The next meeting, owing to the absence of the President and "no business of importance appearing to occupy the minds of the brethren," was uneventful and was adjourned until the next week. However, there was no meeting on June 26. Finally, on July 3, 1800, the Phi Beta Kappa convened again and initiated Webster.

July 3rd

The Alpha convened, and attended to the initiation of Daniel Webster, to whom the approbation of the society had been before extended. Voted to omit the exercises till next week on thursday, to which time

ADJ. J. W. Brackett, Scry.

Beyond this, though, there is no record of Webster's having sought an elected position in the Alpha. However, after his graduation from Dartmouth, he was a frequent choice of his old chapter to return and speak, either as Orator or as a Poet. Unfortunately, due to Webster's schedule, these invitations had to be turned down more often than they were accepted.

However, Webster did have the pleasure of revisiting the Alpha during the summer of 1806. At that time, he gave an address entitled The State of Our Literature. This speech has been preserved.

The Alpha of N. H. assembled at Alden's hall.

Elected & initiated the Rev. G. Thomson. Judge Sherman was elected. Then made choice of Nathan Smith for president, Edmund Flagg, V. Pres, Th. A. Merrill, Orator, P. Carrigain, poet, B. D. Emerson, Corresponding Sec, E. Parker Secretary, [?] Register, John Bingham, Judge of composition, Benjamin Smith Treasurer.

After this the society proceeded to the meetinghouse, where an oration delivered by Daniel Webster Esq. returned to Wheelock's, took dinner and adjourned.

Also preserved has been a note written to George Ticknor regarding the address Webster delivered. There is humor and humility to this note, characteristics not often mentioned in discussions of the God-like Daniel.

This is poorly written. As far as I remember, I had hardly put pen to paper, when I left Boscawen, to deliver it. Much was written on the road, & many things were conned over & delivered which were never written at all. I have turned down two leaves, & marked too short passages. I find, on one of them, a good sound abuse of the Profs - which it may be prudent to omit.
Source: W&S v. 15 576

Webster's fame, particularly among Dartmouth circles, increased exponentially after the successful outcome of the Dartmouth College Case before the Supreme Court in 1819. Webster was able to attend the Alpha's anniversary meeting on August 19, 1819.

Besides the gratification afforded by Mr. Peabody's excellent oration, other circumstances combined to render this anniversary interesting. A large number of our most distinguished brothers met each other with mutual congratulations for the deliverance of our parent institution from the arbitrary interposition of legislative power; and while the number present seemed to give strength and respectibility to the Society, a lusture was thrown around it by the presence of him, who had so dexterously and successfully wielded the Aegis of the Law.

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