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|“Who taught millions to read but not one to sin
"Who taught millions to read but not one to sin." PORTRAIT OF NOAH WEBSTER, LL.D.
"Only two men have stood on the New World whose fame is so sure to last. Colum-
bus its discoverer, and Washington its savior, Webster is and will be its great teach-
er ; these three make our trinity of fame."
This eminent lexicographer was born at West Hartford, Connecticut, October
16, 1758. He entered Yale College in 1774, and graduating four years after, com-
menced the study of law, earning his support by school-teaching. In 1783, he
issued the first Spelling Book published in the United States ; he was the author
of an English Grammar, a History of the United States, and some minor treatises ;
but the great achievement of his life, that which will perpetuate his name, was his
American Dictionary of the English Language, which is now known as " Webster’s
American Quarto, Unabridged." He was connected with the newspaper press in
New York in 1793, subsequently he resided in Amherst, Massachusetts, and finally
settled in New Haven, Connecticut, representing the two latter places in the state
legislatures several years. Dr. Webster died after a short illness on the 28th of
May, 1843, in the eighty-fifth year of his age. He will long be remembered by
many as the youthful soldier, the thoughtful politician, the laborious lexicogra-
pher, and the Christian moralist " Who taught millions to read but not one to sin."
New Groups : A New Society
In the tale of Rip Van Winkle, old Rip awoke from a twenty-year magic slumber to a dramatically changed world. Like the character in Washington Irving's allegory, Americans at the turn of the nineteenth century awakened to what the French traveler and political philosopher Alexis de Tocqueville called "a world...quite new." Americans abandoned or modified old institutions as they transformed themselves from British subjects to republican citizens.
The old monarchical society of the pre-Revolutionary era bound people together in unequal, patriarchal relationships. Powerful individuals bestowed their patronage, or "friendship," upon those beneath them in the social and political hierarchy. As de Tocqueville observed, aristocratic societies linked "everybody, in one long chain, from peasant to King." American independence and the ensuing republican order dissolved this old system. De Tocqueville found in his travels through the United States in the 1830s that democracy had "br[oken] the chain and free[d] each link" of the old hierarchical system. In the same period, however, inequalities of wealth and condition persisted, as did that most unrepublican of institutions, chattel slavery. Americans confined the political promises of the Revolution mainly to white, propertied males. At the same time, by embracing the idea of equality, Americans repudiated many of the coercive and unequal relationships that had defined pre-Revolutionary society.
Having rejected a monarchical form of government and society, Americans turned to new sources of cultural and political unity. The Revolution, the new Federal and State constitutions and, most of all, George Washington, quickly became venerated icons of the new nation. The new American citizens, having rejected relationships based upon lineage and patriarchy, instead tirelessly banded together in countless associations, societies, and reform movements. The educational and linguistic theories of Noah Webster epitomized the ways in which Americans constructed a new, republican identity for themselves and their new nation.
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Noah Webster illustration from "A Sequel to Webster's Elem. Spelling Book: or A Speller & Definer"
| publisher George F. Cooledge
| author William Greenleaf Webster (1805-1869)
| date 1845
| location New York
| process/materials printed paper, ink
| item type Books/Textbook / Schoolbooks
| accession # #L00.023.frex