Daniel Webster: The Man and His Time

Robert Vincent Remini, Author W. W. Norton & Company $50 (796p) ISBN 978-0-393-04552-9
In 1846, an Alabama congressman lashed into Webster on the House floor as a man of ""two characters... as his interests or necessities demand--`the God-like Daniel,' and `Black Dan!' "" Remini, biographer of Henry Clay and Andrew Jackson, presents both Websters here, the politician of self-serving laxity in ethics and the spellbinding preacher of American national identity. The last influential Federalist in the tradition of the Founding Fathers, he watched a succession of lesser men occupy the White House. Revered but distrusted, Webster was, to Remini, the victim of his duality. In an era when speech-making was a national entertainment, he held crowds for hours, and his words, in print, became school texts. Yet he would never accept second place on a national ticket and watched two mediocre vice presidents (Tyler and Fillmore) succeed inferior presidents (Harrison and Taylor). Remini conjures up a man and statesman seemingly bigger than life who, especially when in debate with such senatorial peers as Clay and Calhoun, was a gladiator with words and ideas. Shortly before he died in 1852 at age 70, he asked an audience to applaud if it thought he had lived his life well. People ""applauded rapturously."" Remini remains admiring, but the thoroughness of his coverage requires withholding the rapture. Illustrations not seen by PW. (Oct.)
Reviewed on: 02/01/1978
Release date: 02/01/1978
Paperback - 820 pages - 978-0-393-31849-4
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