|Date(s):||January 26, 1830 to January 27, 1830|
|Tag(s):||Sectional Crisis, Senate, Politics, Government, Debate|
|Course:||“Civil War and Reconstruction,” Juniata College|
On January 26 and 27, 1830, senators Robert Y. Hayne of South Carolina and Daniel Webster of Massachusetts got into a heated debate that captured many of the issues that threatened to tear the nation apart. The main issues involved the tariff and nullification. Two days prior to Webster’s reply, Hayne delivered a speech in Congress that attacked Webster by questioning his loyalty to the Constitution. In this speech, Hayne said that the South had "everything to lose and nothing to gain." He believed the tariff only sought "the protection of Northern shipping and New England seamen" while the South reaped no benefits. The audience expected Webster to deliver a reply, and he did not let them down. Webster began his reply by saying, “…It is, Sir, the people’s Constitution, the people’s government, made for the people, made by the people, and answerable to the people.” Throughout the course of this reply, Webster argued that the federal government provided everything for the country. He stated that the sectional conflict resulted from the claims of state’s rights since the state governments tried to insert themselves into the areas recognized as the purview of the federal government.
Sectional beliefs divided the Senate which emphasized the tensions between the North and the South. At this point, the southern states felt that the federal government violated their rights by imposing the tariff. Robert Hayne advocated for states’ rights. According to Harlow W. Sheidley, he also proposed the doctrine of nullification in which a state could nullify laws that they considered unconstitutional like the tariff. This served as a pretext to the Nullification Crisis that would cause South Carolina to threaten secession. In Webster’s reply to Hayne, he argued that the southern states secede since the Constitution applies to both the North and the South. This debate brought into question the limits of what the federal government could do.
Webster’s reply to Hayne revealed his sense of federalism. His counterargument suggests that he saw a common identity as a country, not just North and South. Clearly, Webster tried to promote federalism over sectionalism. In his reply to Hayne, he implicitly stated his belief that the Constitution created the framework of the federal government. Webster believed that the federal government had the right to handle any conflict between the state and federal governments over an issue not clarified in the Preamble of the US Constitution. This explains his opposition to nullification, which justifies why he argued that states such as South Carolina had no right to nullify the tariff. A century later, Senator Robert C. Byrd recognized that Webster knew how to appeal to a national audience during a time of governmental polarization. He also knew how to diffuse a situation by changing the subject. And because he possessed this knowledge, he decided to persuade people of the importance of a single democratic union. However, many southerners fully opposed these beliefs. Therefore, Daniel Webster’s reply to Hayne embodies the true sectional crisis that eventually leads to the American Civil War.