Reflections on Daniel Webster, Sketch of His Life

Daniel Webster, born in Salisbury New Hampshire was one of 10 children, grew up in near poverty, yet was sent to Dartmouth College through the efforts of his father and his mentor, Reverend Samuel Wood. Writes Hudson, “The very idea,”says he,”thrilled my whole frame. I remember that I was quite overcome. The thing appeared to me so high, the expense and sacrifice it was to cost my father so great, I could only press his hand and shed tears.” (The Life of Webster- H.N. Hudson)

In August 1797, he entered Dartmouth and described his life there,”My college life,” says he, “was not an idle one. Besides the regular attendance on prescribed duties and studies, I read something of English History and English literature. Perhaps my reading was too miscellaneous. I even paid my board by superintending a little newspaper and making selections for it from books of literature and from the contemporary publications.”

Taking a second look at Webster’s father, Ebenezer- he was the neighborhood scholar, after spending most of his years as a soldier, then an officer of the Revolutionary War.

He is described as having a mind “strong and healthy by nature” (Hudson) and “had no higher aim in life than to educate his children to the utmost of his ability.”



To read and think about one of the greatest orators and statesmen of all time and to see the principles of leadership education in his background so evidently marked is one of the reasons I am so glad to have been able to read and study education philosophy related to home education.

Webster would go on to school himself in the law after paving the way for his younger brother to also go on to college. The drive and example of men such as these challenge methods in our days of assembly line models of “education”.

Imagine with me, also, the equation created when an officer of the Revolutionary War “had no higher aim in life than to educate his children to the utmost of his ability.” What drove Ebenezer Webster in his family life after his experiences, when he walked with his children by the wayside, while they ate together? Stunning.

John Adams once said,

images“I must study politics and war that my sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy. My sons ought to study mathematics and philosophy, geography, natural history, naval architecture, navigation, commerce, and agriculture, in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, music, architecture, statuary, tapestry, and porcelain.”

I often wonder what would our schools look like if we actually followed this modus  operandi? What if our young were taught law and discernment regarding the behaviors of elected officials as a first course?

I personally feel challenged by examples like these.

Key to all, finally is the care of a parent placing a student in the helpful guidance of a mentor who knows. Daniel Webster would have many, and for this, and his independent drive to learn, his country is still thankful, even  if only expressed in the typed expressions of one mother on a Monday morning in Modernity.



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