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Daniel Webster was unmatched in his extraordinary public speaking skills, which he turned to good effect while representing Massachusetts as a congressman and U.S. senator. An ardent champion of national unity, Webster concluded a debate over states’ rights in 1830 with the ringing words, “Liberty and Union, now and forever, one and inseparable.” This dramatic portrait, painted five years after that speech, captures the passionate style of Webster’s oratory.

Toward the end of his life, Webster grew increasingly worried that divisions over slavery would rip the nation apart. Convinced of the institution’s immorality, he quietly purchased the freedom of several individuals, including former First Lady Dolley Madison’s enslaved servant Paul Jennings. But in public life, Webster’s determination to prevent Southern states from seceding from the Union prompted him to defend the property rights of slaveholders, culminating in his support for the con-troversial Fugitive Slave Act of 1850.

Details

  • Title: Daniel Webster
  • Creator: Francis Alexander
  • Date Created: 1835
  • Physical Dimensions: w63.5 x h76.2 x d3.8 cm (Stretcher)
  • Type: Oil on canvas
  • Rights: National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; bequest of Mrs. John Hay Whitney
  • External Link: https://npg.si.edu/portraits
  • Classification: Painting

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