Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Book review - Daniel Webster.

Daniel Webster is a 352 page biography written by Henry Cabot Lodge. The copy I read was part of a larger set of biographies of American Statesmen and was printed in 1899. The original release of the book was in 1883.

Lodge is well known as a prolific biographer of famous persons, mostly from American history. This volume is the first I have read by him and I was interested to see if he could live up to his press. I must say that my initial impressions are mixed.

Mr. Lodge skims quickly over Mr. Webster's childhood and personal life. Most of what he concentrates on is Webster's political career. The book is well written but does drag a bit from time to time. It is obvious from the book that it was written with the memory of Mr. Webster still fresh in the national memory.

Mr. Lodge presents a mostly unvarnished portrait of his subject. He finds Webster's early political stands against compromise with the South to be admirable and credits him with laying the groundwork upon which the North rested in the course of the Civil War. While giving him credit for this and for his great intellect Mr. Lodge does not spare Mr. Webster criticism. In particular he finds fault with Webster's March of 1850 speech advocating compromise with the South.

Mr. Lodge skewers Mr. Webster for reversing his earlier stands on the issue of compromise. He states that the speech irreparably damaged Mr. Webster's reputation and legacy. That it may have. I found the criticism to be somewhat inconsistent on Mr. Lodge's part though. Early in the work he cites Mr. Webster's inconsistency as an evidence of his great mind, stating in part that consistency is "the bugbear of small minds..." Later in the book this inconsistency is pointed to as proof of flaws and moral failings in Mr. Webster's character. A reversal indeed.

All in all I found Daniel Webster to be an interesting read. Mr. Lodge presents a clear picture of Mr. Webster's political career. While I found the lack of personal details to be disappointing I still learned a lot from the book. It fills many gaps in the period between the Founding Fathers and the Civil War. An interesting read and one that anyone would be wise to take advantage of.

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