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

Writings and Speeches
At Exeter, Webster was never able to make a public address. "I could not make a declamation. I could not speak before the school" (Lewis 10). This all changed at Dartmouth. By his Junior year, he was recognized as a premier orator not only by the College, but by the town of Hanover, which invited him to speak at the 1800 Independence Day celebration.

A combination of factors may have contributed to his growth and development as an orator. In addition to the coursework required by the College, there was, at the time, mandatory declamation. The Laws of 1796, still in effect in Webster's time, read as follows:

It shall be the duty of the student to study the languages, sciences & arts at the college... All the classes shall attend to composition and speaking as the authority may direct. Members of the classes in rotation shall declaim before the officers in the chapel on every Wednesday at two o'clock in the afternoon. And on the first Wednesday in every month the members of the Senior class shall hold forensic disputation in the chapel immediately after declamations" (qtd. in Foster 511).
Some of Webster's surviving speeches which are difficult to identify may be from these mandatory orations. Reverend Elihu Smith, writing in 1852, was highly complimentary of Webster's ability in regard to declamation. Said he, "He was in the habit of writing his own declamations for the stage, though not required to do so, by the laws of the college. He was accustomed to arrange his thoughts in his mind in his room or private walks, and put them upon paper just beofre the exercise was called for. When he was required to speak, at two o'clock, he would frequently begin to write after dinner; and when the bell rung, he would fold his paper, put it into his pocket, and go in and speak with great ease" (W&S vol. 17 46).

Another element which contributed to Webster's oratory was his membership in the United Fraternity. The primary activities of this organization were literary pursuits, debate, and oratory. Webster would excel in all of these, holding the positions of Inspector of Books in his Freshman year and Orator in his Junior year. One of his speeches was held in such high esteem that it was comitted to the record books of the United Fraternity. It was stolen a week later (Richardson in Hopkins 31).

A Hint to the Ambitious (1798/9)
This short poem is a warning against the dangers of ambition. Webster would clarify his position later on in his Dartmouth career in his Oration on Ambition.

Oration at Hanover, N.H. (July 4, 1800)

Webster's first notable public address, given in celebration of the Fourth of July. Webster was invited to address the public by the town of Hanover while still a Dartmouth student of only 18 years of age. Webster invokes the memory of George Washington, who had died earlier that year.

Oration on Ambition (October 6, 1800)

This address was prepared for the United Fraternity. In it, Webster describes the ubiquitous nature of ambition in the human spirit. He delineates its positive and negative uses by comparing the conquest-driven ambition of Ceasar to the virtue-guided ambition of Washington, who Webster idolized.

Would it be advantageous to the United States to extend their territories? (December 25, 1800)

Webster convincingly argues for the acquisition of the Floridas. He reasons that it is vital to United States interests that the U. S. have rights to the whole of the Mississippi river, predicting the reasons that would be used for the acquisition decades later.

Ought the Punishment of Death to be Abolished? (1801)

In this speech likely prepared for the United Fraternity, Webster defends the death penalty. His argument rests on the notion that society would be committing a greater injustice than murder, both to the criminal and to others, by not punishing by death the most heinous crimes of man.

On the Goodness of God (1801)

This is a rather lengthy speech given by Webster in 1801. It's origins are hazy, but it was likely given as part of the regular schedule of declamation required of the students. It includes a great deal of scientific information, reflecting Webster's studies under Nathan Smith.

Is Deception Ever Justifiable? (May 4, 1801)

This short composition borrows largely from arguments expounded in Aristotle's "Politics." As such, it is evidence not of Webster's capacity of reason, which is seen in other writings, but moreso of his ability to concentrate upon and commit to memory those things that he read.

Funeral Oration on Ephraim Simonds (August, 1801)

Given just before Webster's commencement to honor a fellow student and member of the class of 1801, Ephraim Simonds, who died on June 18, 1801.

The Influence of Opinion (August 25, 1801)

Although Webster did not have the opportunity to deliver the English Oratory at Commencement, he delivered this speech before the United Fraternity four days before his August 29 graduation.

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