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Webster, Daniel

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Significance: Webster, a skilled orator, argued numerous cases before the Supreme Court, supporting federalism and Congress's power to regulate commerce, and combating slavery.


Webster, an orator famous for his skills at argument before the Supreme Court, was born in New Hampshire. After being admitted to the bar in 1805, he practiced in his native state until 1816, when he moved to Boston to expand his career. He served as a member of Congress and the Senate as a Federalist representing his native state and served as secretary of state under William Henry Harrison, continuing in that position under John Tyler until completion of the Webster-Ashburton Treaty. His speeches on the deaths of Thomas Jefferson and John Adams and in favor of Unionism were widely lauded in an era rich in spoken eloquence. Webster argued 249 cases before the Supreme Court. He defended his alma mater against state regulation in Dartmouth College v. Woodward (1819) and the Bank of the United States in McCulloch v. Maryland (1819). He also argued for his Federalist principles in Gibbons v. Ogden (1824), supporting Congress's power to regulate commerce. He was credited with shaping the Court's doctrine on this key area of interpretation of the commerce clause. In Charles River Bridge v. Warren Bridge (1837), Webster argued unsuccessfully for the existence of an implied monopoly in a corporate charter. Webster met with less success arguing before the Roger Brooke Taney court than he did before the John Marshall court, most notably because Webster and Marshall had similar views on the broad application of federal power. Webster decried slavery as evil and disunion as a greater evil. He opposed the Mexican War and the annexation of Texas and argued in favor of the Compromise of 1850.