Welcome to the first installment in the ongoing virtual exhibit, Daniel Webster: Dartmouth's Favorite Son. This term we are exploring Daniel Webster's experiences while he was a student at Dartmouth College. The material available detailing the years 1797-1801 is admittedly skimpy when compared to the countless volumes of documents relating to Webster's later years. It is the Dartmouth College Case which made Webster one of the foremost attorneys of his day, and yet the very association which led him to take up that case is frequently overlooked. Many Webster biographies tend to lump material about Webster's time at Dartmouth into a chapter detailing his early education and his studies at Exeter. We at Dartmouth tend to think that this part of Webster's early life ought to be cast in a somewhat different light.

It was at Dartmouth that Webster made friendships and associations that he would maintain throughout his life. It was at Dartmouth that Webster began to achieve fame as an Orator. It was at Dartmouth that Daniel Webster began to distinguish himself from those around him. Ebenezer Webster once remarked that Webster's mother believed that Daniel would either amount to "something or nothing." It was at Dartmouth that it became clear that Webster would amount to something. It was also at Dartmouth that Webster felt political frustration for the first time. The circumstances surrounding his failure to secure the English Oratory for the 1801 Commencement almost seem to mirror his life-long, ill-fated attempt to gain the Presidency. His reliance on faction, the confidence that both he and others placed in what seemed to be his inevitible success, and the failure that disturbed him so greatly are common to both events.

However, it is not this that we wish to dwell on. Daniel Webster embodied something that Dartmouth students believe to this day: Activities that take place outside of the classroom are at least as important as those that take place within the classroom. He may have failed to gain recognition from the faculty of the College, but he had the intense respect of his peers, as letters and reminiscences presented in this exhibit will show. He may not have been the top man, as far as the faculty was concerned, but his fellow students regarded him as their best man.

It is the intention of this exhibit to emphasize to the reader that it was here, at Dartmouth, that a great man began to flower into greatness. It was in the little town of Hanover that Webster gave his first public address, one whose patriotic strains and calls for Union foretell the themes that would dominate Webster's life. Webster walked the same paths and grounds as the students of today. As much as Webster's Dartmouth was different from the College of today, it still carried many of the same memories for Webster and the graduates of his time. Webster could never resist the opportunity to revisit his alma mater when circumstance allowed it. It was to Dartmouth that he came with his brother Ezekiel, class of 1805, following the death of his first wife. And although one is constantly struck with the reason and eloquence Webster commanded in a courtroom, it was the Peroration of the Dartmouth College Case which is infused with the greatest degree of raw emotion. There is no questioning what Webster felt for the College. And it is the same thing that students feel today.

Join us now in exploring the world of Daniel Webster, Class of 1801.



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