After Calhoun died, Webster told the Senate that no matter how controversial his career had been, Calhoun's opinions would "now descend to posterity under the sanction of a great name," for he had lived long enough and performed well enough in public "to connect himself for all time to the records of his country" -- he had become "a historical character."
What Webster said about Calhoun can be said with even more confidence about himself. Calhoun had been a great man tied to slavery and sectionalism, ideas that had outlived their time. Webster identified himself with liberalism (liberty) and nationalism (Union) the two dominant tendencies in the nineteenth-century Western world. Whether or not his defense of the Union postponed the war is arguable. What is not arguable is that the war came as he predicted; secession was followed by bloodshed. Webster was spared the agony of peering into the bloody pit of civil war as he had prayed to be. Had he lived, his one consolation would have been that the presidency, which had so often eluded him, was in the hands of a man whose every action after 1860 would be based on a devotion to the same principles Webster had first articulated thirty years before.
Much of American history can be explained by the recurrent tensions between the Movement and the Establishment. The champions of the Movement, our most impressive reformers and radicals, have been dominated by the idealism of the Declaration of Independence, by the vision of America as a city on a hill in which everyone lives together in freedom, justice, and equality. They have found the main theme of American history to have been the corruption of this vision by an Establishment, which has remained