Haverhill Herald & Twin State Times

The Fugitive Slave Crisis: The Turning Point in Daniel Webster’s Senate Career

July 12, at 7:00 PM, marks an enlightening evening hosted by the Haverhill Historical Society. A free presentation will be held at Alumni Hall in Haverhill Corner, exploring one of the most significant turning points in American political history.

This event, “Forced Into Politics; Daniel Webster, Ralph Waldo Emerson and the Fugitive Slave Crisis,” is presented by Geoffrey R. Kirsch, a native of Concord, and is part of the NH Humanities program.

Daniel Webster, New Hampshire’s political prodigy, saw his highly celebrated Senate career spiral downwards following the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850. When Webster endorsed this contentious law as part of a compromise to prevent civil war, his supporters turned their backs on him.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, a former admirer of Webster, who saw him as “the conscience of the country,” charged Webster with lacking moral sentiment. He accused him of betraying the North for the South’s approval. Following the forceful return of two fugitives to slavery under federal protection in Boston, Emerson, along with many initially hesitant Northerners, adopted an abolitionist stance.

This presentation uses the reactions of Emerson and his contemporaries as a lens to examine Webster’s downfall. It raises poignant questions: Why did Webster support the Fugitive Slave Act, and why did it backfire? How does the surge in anti-slavery sentiment post-1850 parallel social justice activism in 2020? And how should we evaluate Webster’s legacy amidst our current politically charged times?

Join us at Alumni Hall in the scenic Haverhill Corner Historic District as we delve into these compelling questions and bring to life the pivotal moments that marked a dramatic shift in American politics.