Friday, November 29, 2013

NaWiPoMo: Daniel Webster

Daniel Webster (1782 - 1840) was one of the founding members of the Liberal Party in the Northern Confederation, and served two noncontiguous terms as Governor of the Northern Confederation. He was the first major political leader in the Confederation of North America to be assassinated.

Webster was first elevated to the governorship of the N.C. in 1821 by the nascent Liberal Party. The Liberals at the time represented big business in the N.C., and supported high tariffs, aid to manufacturers in the form of subsidies, and laws making it easier to create private banks. Webster himself was a skillful politician and master manipulator who was able to gain passage of the Tariff of 1822, the Bank Bill of 1822, the Internal Improvements Bill of 1823, and the Harbors Act of 1823. Webster's crowning achievement during his first term was the creation of the Bank of the Northern Confederation, which was modeled on the Bank of England, with the power to manipulate the currency, usually to the advantage of the industrial class.

Webster's success led to the formation of a rival political party, the Conservative Party, representing the interests of farmers, urban workers, and small businessmen. They gained control of the Northern Confederation Council in 1825, and Webster was replaced as governor by Conservative leader Martin van Buren. The Conservatives' manipulation of the banking system was a major cause of the Depression of 1829, which brought the Liberals, and webster, back to power in 1831.

A financial crisis in London in late 1835 brought about the Panic of 1836, when a series of bank failures in New York City brought an end to the prosperity of the N.C. Unemployment rose in Massachusetts manufacturing centers, Pennsylvania foundries and mines, and the port cities of New York and Philadelphia. The growing hardship, combined with Webster's inability to instill confidence in the N.C., led to the rapid growth of a labor union called the Grand Consolidated Union. Franz Freund, the founder of the Consolidated, created a political party called the Laborers' Alliance which contested the 1839 N.C. elections. Although the Liberals suffered several defeats, Webster was able to win a new vote of confidence and remained in office.

Webster's victory was followed in August 1839 by the victory of Senator Miguel Huddleston's supporters in the 1839 Mexican elections. The Viceroy of the C.N.A., Sir Alexander Haven, persuaded Webster to represent the C.N.A. at Huddleston's inauguration as President of the United States of Mexico the following month. Webster's visit to the U.S.M. outraged abolitionists in the N.C., including the labor activist Matthew Hale.

The political deadlock in the N.C. Council and continued high unemployment led to a massive general strike in the N.C. in the summer of 1840. Several of the confederation's cities were dominated by mobs, as Webster lacked sufficient military strength to put them down. On 4 September 1840, Webster was stabbed by Hale as he walked home from the Hall of Justice. Webster died of his wounds three days later.

Sobel's sources for the political career of Daniel Webster are Webster's own The Program for Progress (New York, 1838); Andrew Shepard's The Northern Confederation in the Violent Years, 1835-1839 (New York, 1945); Sylvia Spinner's "Matthew Hale and the Assassination of Daniel Webster: A Contrast in Character" from Essays in Radical History' III (1954); James Ripley's The Webster Legacy: The Creation of an Industrial Commonwealth (New York, 1967); and Thomas Rivers' Daniel Webster and His Confederation (New York, 1970).

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