daniel_webster
Daniel Webster.

In 1830, Daniel Webster, Senator from Massachusetts, engaged in a heated debate with Robert Hayne, Senator from South Carolina, which touched on the political theory of federal and state sovereignty.

Senator Hayne “defended slavery and deplored the ‘false philanthropy’ that criticized both it and Indian Removal.” Daniel Walker Howe, What Hath God Wrought: Transformation of America, 1815-1848, 370. He continued, stating that Senator Webster had made a plea for unity of the states was carried with it a sectional bias toward the North. See id.

Then, in response, Webster made perhaps one of the best speeches in American history, particularly given the context of sectionalism emerging in American society:

“When my eyes shall be turned to behold for the last time the sun in heaven, may I not see him shining on the broken and dishonored fragments of a once glorious Union, on States dissevered, discordant, belligerent; on a land rent with civil feuds, or drenched, it may be, in fraternal blood! Let their last feeble and lingering glance rather behold the gorgeous ensign of the republic, now known and honored throughout the earth, still full high advanced, its arms and trophies streaming in their original lustre, not a stripe erased or polluted, nor a single star obscured, bearing for its motto, no such miserable interrogatory as ‘What is all this worth?’ nor those other words of delusion and folly, ‘Liberty first and Union afterwards’; but everywhere, spread all over in characters of living light blazing on all its ample folds, as they float over the sea and over the land, and in every wind under the whole heavens, that other sentiment, dear to every true American heart,—Liberty and Union, now and forever, one and inseparable!” Id. at 371 quoting “Second Reply to Hayne (Published Version),” Papers of Daniel Webster: Speeches and Formal Writings, ed. Charles M. Wiltse (Hanover, N.H., 1986), I, 347-48.

In perhaps one of the most eloquent speeches in all of American history, Webster had put forth the logic of saving the republic and staving off sectionalism. Even Abraham Lincoln would call it one of the best speeches delivered. See Daniel Walker Howe, What Hath God Wrought: Transformation of America, 1815-1848, 372.

Without question, by 1830, sectionalism had fully developed, pitting the North and South against each other in many respects. Webster and Hayne’s debate in the Senate had become prime evidence of this fact. America was putting itself on a path toward not just discord and belligerency but also separation.

In those moments, the power of communication is crucial. Webster, through his speech, would reach hundreds of thousands of Americans. See id. Webster was putting forth the best argument to be made for preservation of the Union, and in doing so, he was almost entirely discrediting the South’s argument that states’ rights somehow trumped the cohesiveness of the Union. These arguments would evolve over the next few decades, but the heart of them would remain the same, and that resulted in the Civil War.

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