Daniel Webster (1792-1852) is one of the most prominent American lawyers of the 19th century and argued over 200 cases before the U.S. He made a significant opinion condemning the then-existing slavery system that we learn from Thoreau’s description.
More Notes: Henry David Thoreau
Webster saw slavery as a historical fact rather than a moral principle. He argued that the issue of its existence in the territories had been settled long ago when Congress prohibited slavery in the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 and divided regions into slave and free in the 1820 Missouri Compromise.
He believed that slavery, where it existed, could not be eradicated but could not take root in the southwest’s newly acquired agriculturally barren lands. Attacking radical abolitionists to boost his credibility with moderate southerners, Webster urged northerners to respect slavery in the South and assist in returning fugitive slaves to their owners. He joined Clay in warning that the Union could never be dismembered peacefully.
More Notes: Civil Disobedience
In termination, Asserting that slaveholders were entitled to the protection of their property, Webster called for stronger laws to capture runaway slaves. He urged senators to put the slavery issue aside for more important matters, such as tariff reform.