Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Who Won the Webster-Hayne Debate of 1830?


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]

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