At his farm in Marshfield, Massachusetts, on the morning of October 23, 1852, Daniel Webster announced that he would die sometime that night. At 2:37 A.M. on October 24 he fulfilled the prophecy. He left instructions to be buried "without the least show or ostentation but in a manner respectful to my neighbors." They laid him out underneath a tree in front of the house in his blue coat with gold buttons and a white neck cloth to set off the most famous head in America. A special train with more than fifty cars came down from Boston, and the procession of mourners in wagons, carriages, on horseback, and on foot filled the narrow country lanes for miles around. As the solemn crowd filed silently past the open coffin they could hear the painful lowing of the cattle penned up in the barns. Meanwhile the eulogies began to pour out across the country. Webster's intellectual power had been unrivaled in the history of the world, according to the New York Times. But there were other ways to make that point. One of "the greatest intellects," a cooler judgment went, "God ever let the Devil buy."1

No American in the first half of the nineteenth century was more visible to the American people than Daniel Webster. For forty years, from 1812 to his death in 1852, he played a dominant national role as lawyer, orator, congressman, senator, secretary of state, leader of two major parties, and perennially unsuccessful presidential candidate. It was his remarkable versatility as well as the length of his political career that helped keep him before the public mind. In an age of great orators, few of Webster's contemporaries challenged his pre-eminence. He was compared to other distinguished ora


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