Webster’s Obsession and the Creation of an American Culture
Webster started with defining the word "a" on 3 November 1807, when the Great Comet was still visible in the sky. For Webster, the dictionary was both a mental and physical exercise, where he was often pacing and writing while standing. Webster was among those whose life was changed by the Second Great Awakening; he became an involved Congregationalist (independent Protestantism), mostly due to a new pastor. Webster was going through a mid-life crisis, and being more religiously active helped Webster calm his inner turmoil as he worked on his revolutionary dictionary.
In 1812, Webster and his family headed to Amherst, Massachusetts, where he could keep working on his dictionary. Webster became very involved in Amherst, even helping establish Amherst College. Webster supported the Hartford Convention in late-1814, believing that the federal government had to be weakened. That was a significant change over the years for Webster, since he was very active for the Ratification of the Constitution in 1787-88. Webster wrote editorials for the first time in years, this time in favor of the convention in Hartford; his fellow state legislators were swayed, and voted 260-90 in passing a resolution supporting the upcoming convention.
On 15 December 1814, 26 delegates from 5 New England states met behind closed doors in Hartford . . . Webster wasn't a delegate since he wasn't classified as a "native" in Connecticut. The convention ultimately rejected secession (it was never seriously considered, only debated), and Webster, to his dying day, carried a torch for the Hartford Convention.
In the summer of 1822, Webster headed back to New Haven, where he had a small house built near Yale. It was during 1823 that Webster reached the letter "R" in his dictionary, and for him, the end of his long quest was in sight. While Webster's speller surpassed 5 million sold, his proposed complete dictionary remained an object of ridicule. By that point, Webster felt more connected to Europe that to America as a result of his "Word Work"; so much so that Webster traveled to Europe to continue to work on his dictionary (Webster also wanted access to rare books and scholars).
In late-1824, Webster was in Cambridge (north of London), accessing rare books and documents, and visiting with linguistic scholars, and by January 1825, Webster finished his dictionary. Webster actually tried to publish his compete dictionary in Britain, but found no interest among publishers. So, Webster went back to his original plan, which meant publishing his dictionary in the U.S. If Britain would have embraced Webster's dictionary, then it would have been very probable that Britain and America would speak the same kind of English.
Suddenly, Webster commanded respect from America's literati, who had long enjoyed mocking Webster's efforts. For Webster, permanent financial security and lionization were soon to follow, and Webster savored every drop of praise. On 29 October 1829, the 71 year-old Webster celebrated his 40th anniversary. Webster was happy family-wise, mostly because the entire family universe revolved around him (think of a 71 year-old Sheldon Cooper from the Big Bang Theory).
Despite his success, Webster was not at peace with himself, or the world. Webster was less peevish, but often seething. By 1829, Webster had reached a point where he actually looked down on the Average American; that Average American by 1829 had the right to vote, and had elected Andrew Jackson as President. Webster believed that the greatest evil in America was unchecked Democracy, which to him was the worst of all tyrannies . . . which led, in his opinion, to the greatest tyrant of all, President Jackson.
On 13 December 1830, Webster and his traveling companions arrived in Washington, D.C.
Webster was feted as a national treasure, and soon he received an invitation to dine at the White House on 28 December 1830. Webster was an "outsider" at the dinner which had over 30 Congressmen in attendance. Ironically, Webster was seated to the right of President Jackson, who was by far his least favorite person in America. But Webster kept his pique to himself concerning Jackson and the European cuisine that he absolutely detested (Webster even looked like Jackson, having been mistaken for Jackson many times in the past years).
On 3 January 1831, Webster gave a speech on the floor of the House of Representatives on the origin, history, and present state of the English language; Webster also stressed the importance of a new copyright bill. Webster's remarks were well-received, and the copyright bill became law soon after. Many members of Congress went so far as to endorse Webster's American Dictionary as the "Standard" dictionary. By 1832, Webster focused his efforts on rectifying errors in his dictionary instead of compiling/defining . . . he even claimed to have found flaws in the wording in the King James Bible. On 28 May 1843, Noah Webster died at the age of 84 from complications of pleurisy.