THE GREAT COMPROMISE
According to the story, Daniel Webster never slept more than four hours a night after he spoke out in favor of the fugitive slave law. "His face showed it; he began to die that day and he knew it."1
This was what the abolitionist imagination would do to Webster's image. Perhaps a good way to begin as we approach this last great drama in his public life is to remind ourselves that the man who would soon be likened to a fallen god, who would inspire some of the most eloquent denunciations in the history of American literature, was even in these final years a remarkably vigorous, zestful, and versatile person.
During the months following Taylor's election, Webster does not seem to have taken any great interest in politics. He did not expect to be invited into Taylor's cabinet, and told friends that he would probably not serve if asked. As the tempo of his political life slowed down, his law practice increased. "I am overwhelmed with labor," he wrote in February, 1849, "obliged to study from 5 to eleven AM; be in court from eleven to three; and all the rest of the day in the senate till ten o'clock." This extraordinary work load was caused by a rush of clients making claims against the government for damages incurred during the recent war. As usual, he could not afford to turn them away.2
The issue which engrossed Webster during the spring of 1849 involved not policy but patronage. He wanted a lucrative appointment for Fletcher, preferably the post of United States district attorney in Boston. The job, however, had been promised to George Lunt, a Lawrence supporter. Web