Served 1841-1843; 1850-1852
Appointed by President William Henry Harrison
Continued in office under President John Tyler
Reappointed in 1850 by President Millard Fillmore
Although historians usually associate Daniel Webster with the politics of the “Great Triumvirate” (the other two were John C. Calhoun and Henry Clay) and the conservative legal principles he expounded in numerous court cases, he also demonstrated an expertise in foreign affairs that has likewise earned him a respected place in history. Two times Webster served as secretary of state, from March 5, 1841, to May 8, 1843, and from July 23, 1850, to his death on October 24, 1852. In both instances he advocated a strong foreign policy based on the law and property rights; recognized the intimate relationship between domestic and foreign affairs; opposed territorial expansion as divisive, injurious to the national interest, and conducive to war; sought to spread American commerce into the Pacific and East Asia; and resisted intervention in the internal concerns of other nations—unless the source of trouble directly affected the American interest. His most outstanding achievement was the Webster-Ashburton Treaty of 1842 with England, for it resolved many long-standing irritants between the nations and laid the basis for a midcentury rapprochement that permitted the United States to concentrate on westward expansion.
Webster came from a New England Puritan background that emphasized religious faith, hard work, responsibility, drive and ambition, personal loyalty, and patriotism to country. Born on January 18, 1782, on a frontier farm in Salisbury, New Hampshire, the young Webster was of frail health, but he attended Dart-mouth College, where he excelled in English, history, and philosophy. While studying law with a local attorney in Salisbury, he taught school to pay debts and to help a brother in college. Webster was admitted to the bar in Boston in 1805 after a clerkship under the prominent international lawyer, Christopher Gore. By Web-ster's 30th birthday, he was practicing law in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and had married Grace Fletcher in 1808, who would be with him for almost 20 years until her death.