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Daniel Webster: The Man and His Time Hardcover – February 1, 1997

4.7 out of 5 stars 17 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

The life of Daniel Webster, eminent politician and statesman of the four decades preceding the Civil War, is here chronicled by a veteran biographer of the Jacksonian era (Andrew Jackson and the Course of American Democracy, 1833-1845, LJ 5/1/84). Called one of our five greatest senators and arguably America's finest orator by Remini, Webster also served three presidents as secretary of state and contributed to U.S. constitutional thought. His personal life was less successful: he was grieved by the early deaths of his children, and his inability to manage money led him into dubious financial stratagems. And he ended his career as a poignant antique crying for compromise to save the Union in an age that demanded slavery's final resolution. Remini's scholarship and style are flawless, and he introduces substantial new information?notably a new medical interpretation of Webster's death. It may be difficult to rouse public interest in a fat book about Webster, but this biography is strongly recommended for academic collections and larger public libraries.?Fritz Buckallew, Univ. of Central Oklahoma Lib., Edmond
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Kirkus Reviews

This massive biography leaves no stone unturned in portraying a familiar but little-studied antebellum figure, considered the young country's best orator. Veteran historian Remini (Henry Clay, 1991; The Life of Andrew Jackson, 1988; etc.) maintains a delicate balance between Webster's (17821852) two personas: ``the Godlike Daniel,'' so called for his brilliant public addresses and eulogies of heroes of the American Revolution, and ``Black Dan,'' a tag referring not only to his dark appearance but to his ruthless politicking and ferocious temper. Much of the study of Webster's public life is organized around the famous speeches that defined and shaped his career, including his dual eulogy of presidents John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, and his congressional address appealing for early recognition of Greek independence from the Ottoman Empire, which positioned the congressman and senator for later appointments as secretary of state. Black Dan is more evident in Remini's depiction of the statesman's private life. Besides being alcoholic, Webster had the terrible misfortune of outliving four of his five children, launching three abortive and embarrassing attempts to gain the presidency, and suffering endless financial problems. Remini quite deftly shows why he was known as ``the Great Expounder and Defender of the Constitution,'' depicting Webster as one of the earliest strict constructionists, a man who felt that the Constitution was the defining American document and that the preservation of the Union took precedence over all other policy considerations. Unfortunately, it is here that Webster's political clout was eventually devalued, as he refused to combat the Fugitive Slave Act and chose to accept House Speaker Henry Clay's Missouri Compromise, which perpetuated slavery and did nothing but guarantee the outbreak of war. Remini never properly indicts Webster for this moral lapse, nor does he explain why constitutional amendments to reverse the injustice were not considered. Though Remini's obvious admiration for Webster may sometimes cloud his view, a more complete and engrossing biography could not be produced. (photos, not seen) -- Copyright ©1997, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 800 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; 1st edition (February 1, 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393045528
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393045529
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 2.2 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.9 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #370,395 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By R. R. Costas Jr. on June 13, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Daniel Webster was a great man in every meaning of the word. He had great talents and love for his country and its constitution; and he had great flaws that were magnified by his greatness. One thing he didn't have was a great modern and objective biography. He now has one, thanks to Mr. Remini.

Along with Henry Clay, John Calhoun, Andrew Jackson, John Quincy Adams and other notables, Daniel Webster represented the generation of Americans to whom the Founder Fathers entrusted the nation they had fought for and created.

Webster took that responsibility very seriously and used his intellectual and oratorical powers to help shape the interpretation of our laws and constitution to the needs of our growing and expanding country. He was involved in many important Supreme Court cases, many in front of John Marshall, who is still considered by many to have been our best Chief Justice.

Webster's greatest fame is probably as an orator, mostly in both the House of Representatives and the Senate. Remini shows us that he wasn't necessarily a great legislator or floor leader in terms of moving important legislation. Henry Clay was the man to do that. However, Webster's rank as one of the country's top senators of all time is merited by the incredible ability he had to express what this nation stood for, what the constitution stood for and that the Union, above all, was what was most important. Several of his speeches, which he would edit carefully for publication, are still moving and were generally printed fully in the press and memorized by children.
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Format: Hardcover
The unfortunate result of the growing power and focus on the executive branch is that historians tend to focus on presidents as prime movers for american political development. Remini's biography of Daniel Webster proves paradigm deeply flawed, particularly in the early years of our nations history.
Webster, though never achieving the presidency, deserves great credit for setting the tone of american government and the supremacy of congress that survived through the 19th century. Remini does a tremendous job exploring the early 19th century and the issues this second generation of american leaders faced.
Recent great interest in the revolutionary generation hopefully will not eclipse the study of those, like Webster, who came next and solidified the nacient insitutions that the founders created. If the founders were the fathers of our government, than men like Webster was that government's teacher in primary school.
A wonderful read, if you are really interested in the topic.
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Format: Hardcover
This is a perfect book. Remini does an excellent job on Webster's great Supreme Court cases, not from a legal standpoint but from a personal standpoint. His chapters on Webster's great orations make Webster's words come alive. Webster was a flawed man--he drank to excess and could not handle money--but he had magnificent powers and this boook tells his life as well as it could be told, IMHO. A great, great work.
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Format: Hardcover
After reading this, I had not only a good sense of Webster, but that I had a good sense of the ante-bellum United States as it was built by the generation immediately following the revolutionary generation. The author clearly admires Webster, yet does not hide his flaws. The book takes a while to plow through, but it is a worthwhile immersion into an era in which public men could speak publicly, and move the public with -- not only the style of their oratory, but the thoughts behind it. Excellent, excellent reading, and a feast for thought.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Robert Remini brings us Daniel Webster as no one else can.... In order to paint such a perfect picture of a man that is as complex as Webster requires the knowledge of a true expert.

Remini gives us a very fair and well balanced portait of a man who was a contemporary of Henry Clay, Andrew Jackson, and John Calhoun (all of whom Remini has written authorative biographies on).

Make no mistake, Daniel Webster was a very complex man. One who was capable of pure genious but could also be unbelievably ignorant. His feud with Henry Clay probably cost both men the oppurtunity to be president. His ability to amass ungodly debts and then refuse to pay them is equally bizaar. However, this is the same man who argued many of the ground breaking case before the Supreme Court. He helped to stall the Civil War for 20 years by showing unflinching support to Andrew Jackson (Who was in the opposite political party) handling of the nullification crisis.

Remini shows us all of these sides with the rare ability to help us get into the mind of Webster. Remini understands the age and the politics of this era like no other... therefore, if you are interested in learning about the great Daniel Webster.... look no further!

However, as much as I enjoyed learning about Webster I admit you have to be motivated to read the entire book. While the politics of Webster's time were undoubtley the biggest of the time - it is hard for to finish all 800 pages when living in 2004. Make no mistake this is a great book... but even great books can be a bit dull.
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