Daniel Webster and Me

Daniel Webster interests me. We even have some similarities. Part of my interest stems from the fact that Webster was once a member of the Grafton County Bar Association. I’m a current member of that association. Perhaps for that reason alone, I’m interested in Webster. I wonder aloud – how did someone from a relatively obscure county like Grafton County ever rise to such heights as Webster?

I’ve come to know that Daniel Webster was born in 1782 in Salisbury, New Hampshire. That’s about 30 miles down-the-road from where I was born. I’m impressed by the fact that Webster is a bit of a neighbor. Daniel Webster is a bit older than me. He is currently 232 years old. I am considerably younger. Webster attended Dartmouth College. I always wanted to attend Dartmouth but didn’t have the good fortune to go there. Nevertheless, I feel a bond with Webster. I know that he went to school in my back yard. Webster was admitted to the Bar in Boston in 1805 I was admitted to the Bar in Boston in 1973. That’s a 168 year difference. I’m thinking – that’s not such a big difference.

Daniel Webster tried criminal cases for a period of time. I’ve tried criminal cases myself. I’ve come to learn that Webster didn’t win all of the cases he tried. I’m no different. I’m specifically aware that in 1806, when Daniel Webster was but 24 years of age, Webster was assigned to help defend a man named Burnham. Mr. Burnham was accused of murdering two men while jailed at the Grafton County Jail. Obviously, Mr. Burnham was not a very gracious guest of our County. Clearly, Mr. Burnham needed someone like Webster to defend him. The Plymouth Historical Society quotes Webster’s account of the case: “Burnham had no witnesses. He could not bring good character to his aid, nor could we urge the plea of insanity on his behalf. … I made my first and only solitary argument of my whole life against capital punishment; and the proper time for a lawyer to urge this defense is when he is young and has no matters of fact or law upon which he can find a better defense.” I think I know where this is heading. Mr. Burnham was found guilty and was hanged in Haverhill. Happily none of my clients have been hanged so I count this difference with Webster as one of my most significant accomplishments.

Of all quotes attributable to Webster, there is one that stands out for me. Webster’s quoteused to hang near where the Old Man in the Mountain stood. It is a classic quote as it would make anyone who comes from New Hampshire proud of that fact. Although Webster was speaking of men, I feel certain that he felt the same way about New Hampshire women – it’s just the old man in the mountain was, well, a man. If the old man in the mountain had actually been the old woman in the mountain, Webster likely would have said the same thing about New Hampshire women.

Here is what Webster wrote: “Men hang out their signs indicative of their respective trades; shoe makers hang out a gigantic shoe; jewelers a monster watch, and the dentist hangs out a gold tooth; but up in the Mountains of New Hampshire, God Almighty has hung out a sign to show that there He makes men.”

Amen, Daniel.