The American Whigs: An Anthology

By Daniel Walker Howe | Go to book overview

1
THE ORIGINS OF POLITICAL AUTHORITY

Daniel Webster


SECOND REPLY TO HAYNE

Daniel Webster ( 1782-1853) was the greatest of Whig orators and second only to Clay in stature within the party. His forensic abilities as a lawyer and legislator have made him an American legend. Born in rural New England, Webster became the spokesman of urban business interests. From 1813 to 1817 he served in the House of Representatives, during which time he generally took states' rights and free trade positions. After he returned to Congress in 1823, however, Webster experienced a change of heart. Industry had begun to develop in New England, and in keeping with the new economic interests of his section he espoused the twin causes of nationalism and protectionism.

The Webster-Hayne debate, from which the next selection is taken, was one of the most dramatic confrontations in American political history. It began as an argument over federal land policy, but other sectional issues quickly surfaced, and soon the very nature of the Constitution was at issue. Senator Robert Hayne of South Carolina expounded the theory of state rights and nullification while its great formulator vice president John C. Calhoun looked on. Webster responded with a rival theory of the Constitution in which state nullification of federal laws was treason. So eloquently did Webster argue his case that his second reply to Hayne was recognized at once as a classic of American nationalism. For generations schoolchildren memorized the peroration.

There yet remains to be performed, Mr. President, by far the most grave and important duty, which I feel to be devolved on me by this occasion. It is to state, and to defend, what I conceive to be the true principles of the Constitution under which we are here assembled. I might well have desired that so weighty a task should have fallen into

____________________

SOURCE. Daniel Webster, "Second Speech on Foot's Resolution. Delivered in the Senate of the United States on the 26th of January, 1830." Works, 19th ed. ( Boston, 1885), III, 317-342.

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