National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; gift of William A. Ellis
Born West Hartford, Connecticut
A new nation required a new language. Or so thought the editor and writer Noah Webster, who devoted his lifetime to the idea of a specifically American language, one "as independent in literature as in politics." Webster began his project to create a unified national culture with his "blue-backed spellers" that standardized American spelling. He supplemented the speller with a grammar that relied not on abstract rules but on the observation of actual American usage. The work was an example of the pragmatism and rejection of traditional precedents that characterized American antebellum thinking in fields ranging from law to manufacturing. Webster's great task was the completion of his American Dictionary of the English Language (1828), a reference book whose title announces its intentions to create a lexicographic declaration of independence.
William A. Ellis, Bloomfield, New Jersey[ d. 1966]; gift 1967 of his estate to NPG.