The Webster-Hayne Debates

January 19 - 27, 1830



1. Daniel Webster was graduated from Dartmouth , entered Congress in 1812, opposed the War of 1812, defended Federalist principles before Marshall 's court, was a senator from Massachusetts , and lost the Whig nomination for the presidency to William Henry Harrison in 1836 and 1840. At the Hartford Convention Webster had supported states' rights, but when New England shifted its economic base from trade to manufacturing he became a champion of the Tariff of 1828 and the Bank of the US and a defender of the Union .

2. One of the greatest debates in the history of the US Senate and the definitive statement of the national theory of union began as a dispute over a land policy. Senator Samuel Foote of Connecticut proposed a bill to limit the sale of government-held land in the west. Senator Thomas Hart Benton of Missouri, speaking for the pro-southern west, denounced it as a northern attempt to discourage migration so that laborers would have to stay in the east and work for low wages.

b. Senator Robert Hayne of South Carolina supported Benton and said, "The very life of our system is the independence of the states."
c. Senator Daniel Webster attacked the excesses of states' rights, and Hayne defended the doctrine of nullification.

3. Webster's National Theory of Union . He attacked:

a. the compact theory

1) The states could not interpret the constitutionality of acts of Congress. This was the prerogative of the Supreme Court as established in Marbury v. Madison (1803).
2) The Constitution was not a compact between the states. "We the people" created the Union . "It is the people's Constitution, the people's government, made by the people, and answerable to the people," Webster insisted.

b. secession

1) The preamble to the Constitution reads, "We the people in order to form a more perfect union...," more perfect, that is, than the one established by the Articles of Confederation . Article 13 stated that "The union of states shall be perpetual." Webster argued that it was absurd to think that the founders intended anything that would be the undoing of the government that they were forming.
2) commentary

a. Is ratification of the Constitution perpetual? What of the common practice of repeal?
b. Neither the Constitution nor any ruling by the Supreme Court before the Civil War condemned secession. Some southerners maintained that the omission was deliberate, that the founders left open this option.
c. Does secession destroy the Constitution or the US government? Some states wanted to leave, not overthrow, the government. Secession destroys the Union , not the Constitution.
d. Is secession treason, or is it based on the Declaration of Independence that said, "Whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it." Webster said that any attempt to dismember the Union is treason. Jackson, and later Lincoln, agreed.

c. nullification


1) When states are disadvantaged by an act of Congress they can seek satisfaction in the courts or the amendment process. They can try to repeal it or seek redress in elections. In conclusion Webster thundered, " Liberty and union, now and forever, one and inseparable." Citing other remedies was not a compelling argument that nullification was illegitimate.

4. The Jefferson Day Dinner ( April 13, 1830 )

a. Jackson had made no comment on the Webster-Hayne debates. He respected the rights of the states, and he believed that southerners had grounds to complain about the tariff.
b. Jackson raised his glass in a toast. "To our federal union. It must be preserved."
c. Calhoun followed with his toast. "To the union, next to our liberty, most dear. May we always remember that it can only be preserved by respecting the rights of the states."
d. This was a turning point for Calhoun.

1) Calhoun had already been seriously wounded in the Ladies' War.
2) Van Buren told Jackson that it was Calhoun, when he had been Secretary of War, who recommended that Jackson be court marshaled (1818). In the Seminole War Native Americans had been raiding settlements in Georgia and then retreating into the sanctuary of Spanish Florida. One day General Jackson chased them into Florida , burned down a couple of Spanish forts, expelled the Spanish governor, and arrested two Britishers for inciting the raids. He had one shot and the other hanged. Jackson had been outraged for being censured. He thought that he deserved a medal for a job well done.
3) Calhoun became more alienated from Jackson , less a national figure, and more a defender of the south. In 1832 Hayne resigned from the senate to run for governor, and Calhoun resigned the vice-presidency to lead the fight for the south on the floor of the senate.


 

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