Webster replying to hayne

The dominant historical opinion of the famous debate between Daniel Webster of Massachusetts and Robert Young Hayne of South Carolina which took place in the United States Senate in 1830 has long been that Webster defeated Hayne both as an orator and a statesman. According to the legend, Webster managed in the course of the debate to isolate the South, especially South Carolina, by discrediting her political principles of states’ rights, strict construction, and nullification, and exposing them as dangerous to the permanency of the Union. In addition, it is said that he imparted prestige and authority to the National Republican principles of implied powers, federal supremacy, and perpetual Union. From that moment onward, according to the legend, Americans increasingly saw the Constitution not as a compact among independent states but as a product of the people of the nation. Americans contemplated a national government not strictly limited by the Constitution but one empowered by it to promote national development and the public good. It is further claimed that Webster’s peroration with its paean to “Union and Liberty, now and forever, one and inseparable” captured the imagination of the people and engendered a new spirit of nationalism. This legend with its origins in the nineteenth century has remained unchallenged to this day and continues to be taken for granted by historians working in the antebellum period.[1]

Yet any thorough perusal of the documents of the time will reveal that the contemporary reaction to the debate was far different from the legend. To be sure there were those who saw in Webster’s orations both a personal and nationalistic triumph; yet there were at least as many who regarded Hayne as having defeated Webster and vindicated the true principles of the Constitution. Generally, national opinion was split along party lines. Opponents of the Jackson administration, those who generally called themselves National Republicans, championed Webster, while supporters of the administration, the Democratic Republicans, championed Hayne. There is little evidence that the debate persuaded large numbers of people to embrace the kind of national constitutionalism espoused by Webster. The chief effect seems to have been to further polarize opinion on the great political and constitutional disputes of the day.

The great debate began on December 29, 1829 when Senator Foot of Connecticut introduced a resolution of inquiry into whether it would be expedient to limit indefinitely the sale of public lands and to stop the surveys of new lands. Senator Thomas Hart Benton of Missouri rose the next day and denounced the resolution as yet another attempt by Eastern politicians to “check emigration to the western States.” Their hidden object he said was to “keep people in the East to work in the manufactories.”[2] When the Senate reconvened in January and the resolution was brought up for discussion Benton rose again and repeated his charge but this time he linked the policy of checking emigration to the West with the East’s support of the protective tariff. He described their mutual object as the enrichment of the business classes in the East by draining the wealth of the South and West. It was, he declared, “a most complex scheme of injustice, which taxes the South to injure the West, to pauperize the poor of the North.”[3] Benton seemed to be proposing an alliance between the Western and Southern states to overthrow these policies. As if responding to Benton’s call to arms, Robert Hayne rose the next day, 19 January 1830, and gave a short speech in which he called for a reduction in the tariff and a lowering of the prices of public lands sold to settlers. The current policies were oppressive, he said, for one impoverished the West, the other the South; only the East benefitted. He further argued that the proceeds from public land sales and import duties had created “an immense national Treasury” which he denounced as “a fund for corruption.” Its tendency, he charged, was to empower the national government by creating great interests dependent on thus leading to national “consolidation” and the prostration of the liberties of the states and the people.[4]

Daniel Webster rose the next day and announced that “some of the opinions expressed by the gentleman from South Carolina” had rankled and shocked him. He delivered his speech in the form of a point by point rebuttal of Hayne’s remarks; in addition he pointedly criticized Southern institutions and principles. He refrained from ever mentioning Senator Benton or the state of Missouri, even though it was Benton, not Hayne, who had assailed the East as the source of injurious policies directed against the West and South. Webster skillfully portrayed New England’s support for current government policies-the tariff, internal improvements, a large treasury fund, public land sales–as a selfless policy designed to promote the good of the whole nation. Far from being a source of corruption, he argued, a large public revenue helps build schools and universities, roads and canals. “Does education corrupt?,” he asked rhetorically of Hayne. Ridiculing Hayne’s expressed fears of the consolidation of national power, “that perpetual cry both of terror and delusion,” he argued that a common treasury fund, the public lands, and even the national debt, all tend to hold the people of the states together. By opposing these policies and by railing at the growing powers of the general government, he charged, the South is weakening the ties of Union and endangering a bright national future. “I know that there are some persons in the part of the country from which the honorable member comes, who habitually speak of the Union in terms of indifference, or even of disparagement. . . .They significantly declare, that it is time to calculate the value of the Union.[5] 

Significantly, Sen. Benton was the first to respond to Webster. Rising the same day, he claimed that in deliberately ignoring him and concentrating his fire on Hayne, Webster was trying to isolate the South and renew the alliance between the East and West that had led to the election of Adams in 1824. Claiming to speak for the West, Benton denounced Webster’s strategy as a self-interested maneuver to gratify the latter’s sectional constituency. The West would not be fooled, said Benton; for its people knew that it was the South that had long been its protector, not New England. “The West is now to be wooed into an alliance with the trainbands of New England federalism … for the oppression of Virginia and the South, and the subjugation of New England democracy !”[6] If Webster’s strategy was to isolate South Carolina and win back the West, it had received a blow in Benton’s rejection of it. Webster’s effort received another blow when the Richmond Enquirer, the most popular and widely circulated paper in Virginia, came out in support of Hayne and Benton. Their Washington correspondent wrote that Webster’s attack on the South and “proffered alliance” with the West was met by “Benton and Hayne, with a force, eloquence, and effect, rivaling any thing that we ever heard on that floor.”[7] The paper consistently supported Hayne throughout the debate. Historians have generally ignored Benton’s central role in the debate. His open praise for the South and denunciation of New England hardly fits the legend of Webster’s nationwide triumph over Hayne. This omission is serious, for Benton’s position as a rising power in Missouri (his rival, Senator David Barton, a Clay supporter, would be defeated for reelection two years later) indicates that Webster’s nationalistic oration had little appeal there.

A day after Webster’s speech, Hayne rose “to return the fire.” The floor and the galleries of the Senate were filled with spectators who had come to see Hayne defend himself, his principles, and his state. Hayne’s reply took the better part of two days. Obviously stung by Webster’s charge that South Carolina was insufficiently devoted to the Union, Hayne undertook an historical exegesis going back to the Revolution in which he defended her past service to the Union as selfless and heroic. He charged that it was New England’s Federalist and neo-Federalist leadership which had long been motivated by base self-interest in her political activity. He was careful to exempt, as did Benton the day before, what he termed “the democracy of New England” from his long indictment. By this term, he referred to the plain republicans of that section who had voted for Thomas Jefferson, supported the War of 1812, and had joined in the coalition to elect Andrew Jackson two years earlier. He asserted that the present day “national republicans,” to whose ranks Webster had claimed to belong in his speech the day before, were simply the Federalists of old, and as a party “(by whatever name distinguished) they have always been animated by the same principles, and have kept steadily in view a common object-the consolidation of the Government.”[8] In addition to failing to support the country when it was under attack by Great Britain in the late war, this party was now supporting divisive policies oppressive to the people of the South and the West, policies which were in truth driving the states apart and imperilling the duration of the Union. Turning Webster’s claim of his section’s devotion to the Union against him, Hayne asked whether the National Republicans “estimate the value of the Union at so low a price, that they will not make one effort [reducing the tariff] to bind the States together with the cords of affection.[9] Referring to Webster’s claim that his policies were a means to strengthen the Union, Hayne denied that “a pecuniary dependence on the Federal Government” was a legitimate means of “holding the States together.” Such policies would, he feared, spread an abject spirit of dependence among the people and ultimately destroy “every generous motive of attachment to the country.”[10] Launching into an exposition of republican constitutional theory, Hayne argued that the real friends of the Union were those who would “confine the Federal Government strictly within the limits prescribed by the constitution; who would preserve to the States and the People all powers not expressly delegated, who would make this a Federal and not a National Union, and who, administering the Gov’t, in a spirit of equal justice, would make it a blessing and not a curse.”[11] Defending what Webster had disparagingly termed the “Carolina doctrine,” Hayne claimed that his state had a right, basic to its reserved sovereignty, to declare a national law unconstitutional and to nullify its authority and application within the state. As Hayne explained it, the federal government would then either have to relent in its assertion of the disputed power or it would have to call a convention of the states to obtain a constitutional sanction for the power. Only if the federal government obtained such a sanction was the state obligated to submit to the law that they had regarded as unconstitutional. Hayne claimed that the right of nullification was part of the republican doctrine of 1798 as put forward in the Virginia and Kentucky resolutions. Hayne quoted from the latter resolution, which had been written by Thomas Jefferson, to support his contention that the national government was not the “exclusive or final judge of the extent of its own powers.” (Webster believed, as did Supreme Court Justices John Marshall and Joseph Story, that the Supreme Court was the exclusive arbiter of constitutional disputes between the national and the state governments.) Hayne denounced this doctrine as “utterly subversive of the sovereignty and independence of the States,” for if the latter are bound to submit to whatever the national government declares then there are no actual limits to national power and the states will eventually be reduced “to petty corporations” entirely at the mercy of national power. Hayne believed that the people of the states as parties to the constitutional compact were the final judges of all constitutional questions. He closed his speech by claiming that South Carolina’s recent conduct was moved by the purest of motives “an ardent love of liberty” which had always been part of the Southern character. Quoting Edmund Burke, he asked his audience “to pardon something to the spirit of liberty”[12]

Rising the next day, Webster delivered a long reply over two days. In addition to reiterating the main points in his first speech, Webster introduced the subject of slavery by way of drawing an invidious distinction between the rapid growth and prosperity of Ohio versus the sluggish development of Kentucky. He attributed this difference to Ohio’s status as a free state and Kentucky’s as a slave state. Ohio owed her good fortune in this regard, he claimed, to New England’s support for the Northwest Ordinance which had banned slavery north of the Ohio river.[13] Since historians have described Webster’s oration as a nationalistic triumph which isolated South Carolina in the Union, it is necessary to digress here to make two points. First, how can Webster’s oration be described as “national” when he deliberately insulted all of the states in which slavery was legal? Second, how effective can a strategy of isolating the South be when one deliberately insults a border state like Kentucky, an action likely to drive that state into alliance with the Deep South? Though Clay was not offended, Kentucky’s other senator was, and no doubt many of her people were also. Webster spent much of his speech on a long exposition of National Republican constitutionalism. He argued that the Constitution was not a social compact but a permanent government made by the people of the nation acting in a collective capacity, not by the states. He argued that the right of deciding constitutional disputes resided solely in the Supreme Court. Were the states to have a right to share in this authority through interposition or nullification the national government would be rendered nearly powerless, for with 24 different interpreters of its powers it would be incapable of acting. The national government would become at the mercy of the individual states just as was the old Confederal government, and it was this defect, he reminded the Senate, that it was the purpose of the new constitution to overcome. Therefore, such a doctrine could not be constitutional. He darkly warned that the actual attempt of any state to assert such an authority would be a form of rebellion. “I cannot conceive,” he said, “that there can be a middle course, between submission to the laws, when regularly pronounced constitutional, on the one hand, and open resistance, which is revolution or rebellion, on the other.”[14] Webster concluded his speech with a peroration directed at Hayne’s closing remarks in which he argued that the liberties of the people could be safeguarded only within the framework of the existing Union: “Liberty and Union, now and forever, one and inseparable.”[15] After Webster finished Hayne rose and spoke for about an hour in reply; Webster then rose for some brief final remarks. Yet the debate was by no means over. Benton had yet to finish his speech, and other senators would continue to rise for the next few months and give long orations on the sectional, historical, political, and constitutional issues raised by Benton, Hayne and Webster.

The national reaction to Webster’s oration from the opponents of the current Jackson administration was quite favorable. Most of them pronounced Webster the winner of the debate and were cheered by his apologia for National Republican constitutionalism. New Englanders of this party had the opinion that Webster had ably defended their region and severely struck the South. After reading it in the newspaper, the ex-president himself wrote that “it is defensive of himself and New England, but carries the war effectually into the enemy’s territory. … It demolishes the whole fabric of Hayne’s speech.” He remarked to Martin Van Buren that the debate was “the most important one that has taken place since the existence of the Government. The two doctrines are now before the nation.”[16]  Supreme Court Justice Joseph Story wrote his wife from Washington that Hayne had “went into an acrimonious and disparaging tirade against New England, which drew from Mr. Webster a very bold and powerful reply. . .. The last speech . . . was the ablest he ever delivered at any time in Congress. He subdued Mr. Hayne.'”[17] Persuaded of the great importance of the debate, Edward Everett of Massachusetts, an editor of the influential North American Review and a Webster supporter, wrote James Madison asking for his opinion on the constitutional questions that had been discussed. (Hayne had cited both Jefferson and Madison as the fathers of those principles now avowed by him, including the right of state nullification.) Madison wrote a long letter in reply in which with one exception (he admitted that the constitution was a compact among the states) he sided with Webster. He emphasized how important it was that the Supreme Court be the sole arbiter of constitutional disputes, its opinion being subject only to constitutional amendment. Everett published the full letter in the October, 1830 issue of the Review.[18] Of the New England senators, eleven out of twelve sided with Webster, many of them giving speeches in support of his position during the long debate.

The reaction from National Republicans in the West was not different from those in the East. Webster received a letter of praise from a man in Abingdon, Kentucky who congratulated him “for having prostrated . . . that mischievous nonsense called Carolina doctrine, and taught its arrogant supporter, a lesson of humility.” He received a similar letter from a “gentleman” in Knoxville, Tennessee who claimed that copies of the Senator’s speech were widely circulating among the “gentlemen” of that city, “ninetenths” of whom agreed with his constitutional argument.[19] In Kentucky, Henry Clay was warned repeatedly by Senator Josiah Johnston of Louisiana that Benton was attempting to forge an alliance between the West and the South against the East. They both agreed on the importance of circulating in the Western states speeches by Webster and other National Republicans to counteract the effect of the wide circulation of those of Benton and Hayne. Clay was comforted by what he termed Webster’s “triumph” over Hayne, as well as by the wide circulation of the former’s speeches, and by the late spring he assured Johnston that “the object of Col. Benton and Col. Haynes in detaching the West from N. England” had failed.[20] Not surprisingly, Johnston himself gave a speech in the Senate in which he defended New England and denied that Benton spoke for the West. In addition, David Barton, the senior senator from Missouri, gave a speech in the Senate defensive of New England and Webster; it included a blistering personal attack on Benton.

Historians have generally attributed the National Republican reaction cited above as being common to the nation as a whole, with the exception of South Carolina and other Deep South states. Yet the reaction to the debate among those of  all sections of the country who were generally supportive of the Jackson administration was overwhelmingly favorable toward Benton and Hayne and antagonistic toward Webster. It needs to be emphasized here that the Jackson movement was at this time a majority movement in the nation. Thus, not only was there no national consensus favoring Webster but the majority reaction was probably on the side of Hayne. Hayne had much support even in Webster’s own New England, especially in New Hampshire. Senator Levi Woodbury of New Hampshire gave a speech in which he claimed that the “democracy of the East,” those plain republicans who dissented from the political principles and constitutional doctrines of the “federal” party of his region, was on the side of Benton and Hayne. Woodbury thanked these two senators for their generous praise of the New England “democracy,” and he deplored Webster’s “assault on my friend upon the right [Hayne]” as well as his “taunts against the South.” Woodbury supported every point of Hayne’s speech with the single exception of the  right of state nullification. He argued that if the people of a state believed a federal law was unconstitutional they had only three legal remedies: the election of new senators and representatives, legislative remonstrance, and the calling of a national . convention.[21] Hayne received support also from the New Hampshire Patriot. This paper published a letter from a citizen of the state who had witnessed the debate. He praised Benton’s “splendid display of eloquence,” and Hayne’s successful rebuttal of “Webster’s tirade against the South.” He claimed that Hayne provided an “immense service to the republican cause,” and he hoped that both Benton and Hayne’s orations would be published “in all our republican papers to gladden the hearts of our Northern Democracy.”[22] The Democratic Republicans were at this time rapidly gaining strength in Woodbury’s state. Less than two months later their candidate, Harvey, was elected governor.[23] In Maine the Democratic-Republican state legislators ordered the publication and distribution of 2,000 pamphlets of Hayne’s speech; they also sent him a letter affirming his constitutional opinions and thanking him for his “defense of the democracy of New England.[24]

Hayne also received support for his principles from the Democratic Republicans of the Middle States. After listening to the debate a New York congressman sent an anonymous letter to the Richmond Enquirer in which he endorsed the political and constitutional positions taken by Benton and Hayne. He wrote that Benton had successfully exposed Webster’s claim of New England friendship for the West as a fraud, and he especially appreciated Hayne’s praise of Virginia as “the steady friend of state sovereignty and state rights-the sheet anchor of the Union, and the impassable barrier of Federal usurpation.” [25] An editorial in the New York Courier a month after the debate commented that Webster and Clay were conspiring to “make the General Government a powerful aristocracy, giving laws to the states, and controlling the industry of the people without regard to local interests or local habits.”[26] The Washington correspondent from the Philadelphia Gazette reported that “opinions as to the victory in this strife are of course as much divided as are the parties,” the opposition party siding with Webster, administration supporters with Hayne. He continued:

I do not think that Mr. Hayne completely overthrew Mr. Webster, but I am of decidedly the opinion that Mr. Webster did not overthrow Mr. Hayne. Mr. Hayne sustained the constitutional views which I firmly believe to be correct, and which are confessed to be correct by many who deny the South Carolina application of them, and he sustained them with a power of eloquence and force of argument which to me are perfectly conclusive. I cannot admit the justice of Mr. Webster’s reply, yet I can admire the force and ingenuity with which he urged them. He sustained his reputation well, but he has found a Southern rival who certainly goes beyond him in all the external requisites of an orator.[27]

In another dispatch a few days later, the correspondent offered an interpretation of the reason Webster in his first speech had chosen to ignore Benton and personally assail Hayne and his “southern principles,” even though it was Benton, not Hayne, who had pointedly charged the East with a long history of hostile measures directed toward the West. He conjectured that Hayne’s advocacy in his first speech of a liberal policy toward the Western lands had aroused apprehensions among the opponents of the Jackson administration of the prospect of a permanent alliance between the West and South; it was a prospect which caused them great fear, he wrote. Hence Webster, as the leader of the opposition in the Senate, determined to sabotage the alliance by isolating the South and winning over the West. Such a strategy, he concluded, explained “the violence of Mr. Webster’s assault upon General Hayne; [and] the fierceness with which he denounced the South, while he courted the West.”[28]

In Washington The United States Telegraph, considered to be the unofficial paper of the Jackson administration, openly sided with Benton and Hayne. (The Telegraph was edited by Duff Green who had been an influential Jackson supporter since 1824 and had served in Jackson’s first kitchen cabinet.) In an editorial, the newspaper declared that the central issue of the debate was the question of national versus state powers.

Mr. Webster contending, that the National Government was established by the People, who had imparted to it unlimited powers over the States, and the Constitution; Gen. Hayne, on the other hand, as did Mr. Madison and Mr. Jefferson in ’98, contending that the States are primitive sovereignties; that the National Government is derivative, with limited powers, restricted by the express provisions of the Constitution…. To say that the debate was ably conducted on both sides will not do justice to the talents of either of the gentlemen; but no republican can be at a loss to determine which had the better of the argument. The doctrine contended for by Gen. Hayne is too well understood, and too firmly established as the essential and fundamental distinction between the parties of this country, to be shaken by the concentrated talents of those who advocate a government of limited powers in time of war, and a government of unlimited powers in time of peace.[29]

The same article praised Benton’s vindication of the South against the charges levelled against her by Webster and praised his refutation of Webster’s claim that the East had always been the true friend of the West. Webster was angered by this editorial. On the floor of the Senate he denied that he had argued that the people had imparted to the national government “unlimited powers over the States and the Constitution.” He denounced the charge as a slander, and threatened that if Duff Green’s paper ever misrepresented him again he would introduce an unspecified measure of retaliation. He subsequently attempted to have Duff Green removed as printer to the Senate.[30]

The reaction from the West followed the pattern found in the rest of the country-the democratic republicans sided with Hayne, the national republicans with Webster. The gentlemen from Kentucky and Tennessee who each wrote Webster a letter of congratulation both admitted that the “Jackson men” of their communities were siding with Hayne.[31] On the 29 of January Benton rose in the Senate to continue the speech which he had begun before he yielded to the Webster/Hayne exchange. He began with effusive praise for Hayne’s oration. Hayne had enhanced his reputation as “an orator, a statesman, a patriot, and a gallant son of the South,” said Benton; “these days . . . will be an era in his Senatorial career which his friends and his country will mark and remember, and look back upon with pride and exaltation.”[32] Benton denounced Webster’s introduction of the slavery issue. It was, he said, another sordid attempt by a New England politician to exploit the slavery question to further his own political advantage. And with the single exception of the right of state nullification, Benton endorsed the whole Hayne’s constitutional argument. He warned that the doctrine of implied powers was rapidly expanding the scope of federal authority to dangerous levels. He denounced Webster’s doctrine which asserted an exclusive right for the Supreme Court to decide the constitutionality of federal laws as “a despotic power” which would lead ineluctably to “the annihilation of the States.”[33]

A few days later, Senator John Rowan of Kentucky, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, rose to “enter my solemn protest against some of the political doctrines advanced by the honorable gentleman from Massachusetts,” which he believed “strike at the root of all our free institutions, and lead directly to a consolidation of the Government.”[34] After rebuking Webster for his gratuitous slap at Kentucky and his introduction of the explosive issue of slavery, Rowan began a long exegesis into states’ rights’ constitutionalism. He concluded by endorsing the right of state nullification as absolutely essential for protecting the sovereignty of the states and checking the growth of federal power. The power ascribed for the Supreme Court by Webster, said Rowan, the exclusive right to interpret the Constitution, was an “irresponsible” power not intended by the framers of the Constitution and one wholly inconsistent with the American tradition of self-government. Such a power would lead ineluctably to “judicial tyranny” and unchecked federal usurpation. Arguing much as Thomas Jefferson did, that the “only security the people have for their liberty, their lives, and their property, is in the protecting power of the sovereignty of their respective States,” he insisted that the states are “duty-bound” to resist unconstitutional federal laws. He denied that such resistance would lead inevitably to civil war. In a case of actual nullification, the Congress and the Executive ought to relent and submit the question of the constitutionality of the disputed power to the people of the states-the ultimate arbiter of the Constitution.[35]This last point had been made by Hayne and was central to the states’ rights argument-the people of the states, not the Supreme Court, are the final arbiter of constitutional questions. Rowan went on in his speech to endorse the political positions taken by Hayne on the tariff, the public lands, the national debt, and the common treasury fund.[36]

Hayne received more support from two other Western senators—Felix Grundy of Tennessee and Edward Livingston of Louisiana. In a major Senate speech, Grundy supported the main lines of the constitutional argument that had been made so far by Hayne, Benton, Woodbury, and Rowan. Following Hayne and Rowan, Gundy affirmed the right of state nullification, although he emphasized that only a state convention specially called for the purpose, and not a state legislature, could nullify a federal law. He added that it should be resorted to only after legislative remonstrance and protest had failed. “Without that power,” he warned, “the States would be at the mercy of the general government, for Its construction of the Constitution would be the Constitution.” In the case of a nullified law, he insisted that “the general government would have no right to use force,” but must either relent or call a convention of the states to ask for an amendment sanctioning the power; for the “ultimate arbiter [of the Constitution] is the people of the Union, assembled by their deputies in Convention.”[37]  A month later Edward Livingston gave a speech which generally followed the lines of the one given by Levi Woodbury. Like Woodbury, Livingston generally supported the constitutional argument and political positions affirmed by Hayne (he condemned Webster’s doctrine of federal supremacy and called for a reduction in the tariff), yet he denied that there existed a state right to nullify federal law. On the whole, he endorsed the states’ rights’ positions articulated by Hayne, Benton, and others.[38]

The attentive reader will have noticed that the dominant historical opinion of the Webster/Hayne debate has generally followed the lines of the National Republican opinion. Historians for a long time have assumed that this party’s reaction was synonymous with the national reaction. It was not. There was no unanimous national reaction; there were partisan reactions. If there was a majority opinion, it probably sided with Hayne, not Webster; for the doctrines contended for by Hayne were held by the majority of the people at the time. The constitutional and political questions discussed in the Senate debate of 1830 would continue to divide the people of the American Union and remain unresolved for the next three decades. These questions would finally be resolved by civil war and the military conquest of those states whose people were loyal to those principles articulated by Robert Hayne. Although there were many people in the Northern states who were also loyal to these principles, they were in the minority. When the Southern states were disenfranchised, they lost their strongest ally and were thus effectively rendered powerless. The Northern politicians and historians gathered under the banner of the Republican Party were able to use their political ascendance both during and after the War to make their own legend of Webster’s triumph over Hayne into a national legend. Even though the doctrine of states’ rights had been defeated militarily and politically, it had to be historically discredited as well. Correct historical revisionism would help prevent the recrudescence of such ideas. Things had to be made safe for the new regime. Subsequent Americans historians have simply failed to question the resulting “official” interpretation of the first 75 years of the American Union. They have fallen into the trap of mistaking legend or myth for the truth of what really happened.

[1] Merrill Petterson writes that Webster’s speech “was a stunning personal triumph, of course. It was also a political triumph, for after the Second Reply to Hayne the East stood vindicated while the South, above all South Carolina, was thrown on the defensive. Finally, and most importantly, it was the triumph of an idea: the supremacy and permanency of the Union.” Merrill Petterson, The Great Triumvirate: Webster, Clay and Calhoun (New York: Oxford University Press, 1987), 177-78. Irving Bartlett writes that “Webster had made possible a new perception of America” [based on] the supremacy of the Constitution and the Union. … By believing in him, thousands of Americans inside New England and out could continue to believe in their own future and the future of their country.” Irving Bartlett, Daniel Webster (New York: Norton, 1978), 117, 120-21. Robert Remini devotes only one page of his three volume Jackson biography to this important debate; and he employs only one contemporary account. He gives the impression that Webster annihilated Hayne. Robert Remini, Andrew Jackson and the Course of American Freedom, 1822-1832 (New York: Harper & Row, 1981), 2: 233.

[2] Thomas Hart Benton, Remarks in the Senate, 30 December 1829, Register of Debates in Congress 6, no. 1 (Washington: Gales & Seaton, 1830), 4

[3] Thomas Hart Benton, Speech Delivered in the Senate, 18 January 1830, Register of Debates, 24.

[4] Robert Young Hayne, Speech Delivered in the Senate, 19 January 1830, Register of Debates, 4-8.

[5] Daniel Webster, Speech Delivered in the Senate, 20 January 1830, Register of Debates, 38.

[6] Thomas Hart Benton, Speech in the Senate, 20 January 1830, Register of Debates, 95,100

[7] The Richmond Enquirer, 28 January 1830.

[8] Robert Young Hayne, Speech in the Senate, 21 & 25 January 1830, Register of Debates, 49

[9] Ibid., 50.

[10] Ibid., 46.

[11] Ibid., 56.

[12] Ibid., 57-8.

[13] Daniel Webster, “Second Reply to Hayne,” Speech Delivered in the Senate, 26 & 27 January 1830, Works of Daniel Webster (Boston: Little & Brown, 1851), 3: 278.

[14] Ibid., 3: 320-21.

[15] Ibid., 3: 342.

[16] John Quincy Adams to Joseph Blunt, 4 March 1830, and remarks to Van Buren, Memoirs of John Quincy Adams ed. Charles Francis Adams (Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott, 1875), 8: 190-93, 200.

[17] Joseph Story to Mrs. Sarah Waldo Story, 29 January 1830, Life and Letters of Joseph Story, ed. William Wetmore Story (Boston: Little & Brown, 1851), II: 34.

[18] James Madison to Edward Everett, 28 August 1830, Writings of James Madison, ed. Gaillard Hunt (New York: G.P. Putnam, 1910), IX: 383-403.

[19] Benjamin Estill to Daniel Webster, 4 April 1830, Papers of Daniel Webster, ed. Charles M. Wiltse (Hanover, NH: University Press of New England, 1977), 3:49-50; Joseph Lanier Williams to Daniel Webster, 14 April 1830, Papers of Webster, 3: 52.

[20] Josiah S. Johnston to Henry Clay, 2 February 1830, 14 March 1830, and 29 April 1830, Papers of Henry Clay, ed. Robert Seager (Lexington, KY: University Press of Kentucky, 1984), 8:171-72, 181-82, 196; Henry Clay to Josiah S. Johnston, 27 February 1830, 9 May 1830, Papers of Clay, 8: 204-05.

[21] Levi Woodbury, Speech in the Senate, 23 February 1830, Public Lands, a collection of pamphlet editions, South Caroliniana Library (Charleston: A.E. Miller, 1830),11-13, 9-10.

[22] New Hampshire Patriot, quoted in The Richmond Enquirer, 11 Febuary 1830.

[23] The Richmond Enquirer, 19 March 1830.

[24] Theodore D. Jervey, Robert Young Hayne and His Times (New York: Decapo, 1970; reprint New York: Macmillan, 1909), 269-70.

[25] The Richmond Enquirer, 28 January 1830.

[26] The New York Courier, quoted in The Richmond Enquirer, 5 March 1830.

[27] Philadelphia Gazette, quoted in The Richmond Enquirer,11 February 1830.

[28] The Philadelphia Gazette, quoted in The Richmond Enquirer, 18 February 1830.

[29] The U.S. Telegraph, 28 January 1830.

[30] The U.S. Telegraph, 29 January 1830; The Richmond Enquirer termed Webster’s display a sign of “an irritable temper,” a “petty resentment,” and a threat to “the liberty of the press,” 2 February 1830.

[31] Estill to Webster, Williams to Webster, Papers of Webster, 3: 49-50; 52.

[32] Thomas Hart Benton, Speech in the Senate, 29 January 1830, Register of Debates, 102.

[33] Ibid.,112.

[34] John Rowan, Speech in the Senate, 4 & 8 February 1830, Register of Debates, 132.

[35] Ibid., 137-41.

[36] Ibid., 144-45.

[37] Felix Grundy, Speech in the Senate, 29 February 1830 (Washington: Duff Green, 1830), 7-8; reprinted in Public Lands.

[38] Edward Livingston, Speech in the Senate, 9 & 15 March 1830, Register of Debates, 264-66,270


H. A. Scott Trask

H.A. Scott Trask holds a Ph.D. in American History from the University of South Carolina and is an independent historian.

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