20
THE LAST TIME AROUND

Although abolitionists were not worth worrying about, Webster took his troubles with the Whigs seriously. He made a clear distinction in his own mind between the "eminent man" and the "man in the most eminent position." Calhoun had been an eminent man; Clay was an eminent man, and so was Webster. But the Whig presidents all fell in the second category. Like Harrison and Taylor, they were carried into office on the wave of military glory, or like Tyler and Fillmore, fell into it by accident. Webster's last great ambition and the final major effort of his public life was to reverse this trend.1

Fallen irretrieveably in the eyes of the New England abolitionists, Daniel Webster was still a major power to most Americans. Easily the best-known and most experienced presidential possibility in the country, he was able to enhance his visibility by carrying out the duties of secretary of state. At the same time, he had left the Senate and did not need to act on traditionally partisan issues like the tariff. He was prominently identified with the compromise, which majority sentiment in all sections favored, and he could probably count on Fillmore's support.

Although he knew he needed strong Whig support, Webster no longer thought or acted along strict party lines. Ever since the Massachusetts election of 1850, which gave a narrow plurality to the Whigs and tipped the balance of power to a coalition of Free-Soilers and Democrats, his strategy had been to let the state fend for itself, Ordinarily, this would have meant keeping hands off in the fight for his own Senate seat between Winthrop, whom

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