Contents:
  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

Political Activity
In his 1901 address honoring the centennial of Webster's commencement from Dartmouth College, Richardson raised an issue of interest to any Webster historian: "What instruction did Webster receive in legal and political studies?" Taken further, since Webster has been shown to engage in a tremendous amount of extra-curricular activity, what kind of political activity did Webster engage in?

There is ample evidence of a keen interest in political affairs, and this has its origins in Webster's youth. According to Feuss, the Webster household was one in which "love of country was instilled into the children with their daily food" (Feuss 27). Ebenezer was politically involved, and Daniel could not avoid tasting politics early on. "Daniel learned political history at town meetings, on election days, from the actors themselves." When Ebenezer encouraged Daniel to gain an education, he held up a Congressman as an example of someone who had made something of himself. "And always before him was the figure of George Washington, his father's hero, as the model of what a patriot ought to be" (27).

Included in the admiration of Washington that Ebenezer passed on to Daniel was an allegiance to the Federalist Party. Although Washington himself never belonged to a political party, his interests and ideas clearly coincided more with the Federalists than with the Democratic-Republicans. Among the earliest letters extant from Webster's College days is his letter to Moses Davis (Wiltse C:1 26) expressing his interest in the Dartmouth Gazette, which strongly favored the Federalist Party.

Letters to his brother Ezekiel and James Hervey Bingham indicate strong political interests. His February 5, 1800 letter to Bingham indicates a strong interest in and knowledge of political events in Europe (27). Apparant in this and other letters is a strong hatred of Napoleon. His April 25, 1800 letter to Ezekiel indicates an interest in local politics, as well as concern about the upcoming Presidential election. As that election drew nearer, he wrote to Bingham, on December 28, 1800, "Long are the faces of Hanoverians. Jefferson's Presidency which now seems certain, sets not very well on our stomachs. All the tonics of our political faculty cannot make it digest readily. Burr, too, nettles us more than any vegetable burr in our fields. However, what cannot be cured must be endured. So, friends Jefferson and Burr, we leave you for more pleasing subjects" (W&S v.17 84).

In July, 1799, he and several friends formed a politically motivated organization called the Federal Club. Its Constitution (Wiltse C:1 25-6) indicates that most of Webster's friends, who shared Webster's political leanings, were part of this organization. Although the Constitution makes no explicit mention of ideology, it does establish "professed friendship and unanimity" (25).

The only incident of on-campus political activity which Webster engaged in was the signing of an 1801 petition calling for the addition of a faculty member to direct the course of theological study at Dartmouth. This effort eventually took several years, and it is unknown whether or not it eventually had the desired effect.



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