He graduated (1801) from Dartmouth College, studied law, and, after an interval as a schoolmaster, was admitted (1805) to the bar. Webster practiced law at Boscawen and Portsmouth, N.H., and rapidly gravitated toward politics. As a Federalist and a defender of the New England shipping interests, he sat (1813–17) in the U.S. House of Representatives, where he opposed James Madison's administration, although he did not join forces with members of the Hartford Convention.
In 1816 he transferred his residence to Boston. Before he was returned (1822) to the House, Webster won fame as a lawyer, defending (1819) his alma mater in the Dartmouth College Case and the Bank of the United States in McCulloch v. Maryland. Again in Congress (1823–27), Webster began to gain repute as one of the greatest orators of his time; his brilliant speeches in the House were matched by his eloquent public addresses—notably the Plymouth address (1820), the Bunker Hill oration (1825), and the speech (1826) on the deaths of Thomas Jefferson and John Adams.