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Webster-Hayne Debate


WEBSTER-HAYNE DEBATE. In the first years of Andrew Jackson's presidency, Senators Robert Y. Hayne of South Carolina and Thomas Hart Benton of Missouri shaped a potentially powerful Southern and Western alliance. At the level of partisan politics, Hayne supported the inexpensive sale of public lands for the West, and Benton supported low tariffs for the South. When Senator Samuel A. Foote of Connecticut proposed limiting the sale of public lands, Benton rose to denounce an eastern interest intent upon retarding the settlement of the West. Hayne spoke in support of Benton, adding that high prices for western lands threatened to create "a fund for corruption—fatal to the sovereignty and independence of the states." Webster then took the floor to deny Benton's claim and to criticize Hayne's states' rights views. Webster also pointed to slavery as the source of the South's woes.

Hayne took the floor again and offered an impassioned defense of slavery and a detailed explication of the theory—increasingly identified with Vice President John C. Calhoun—that states had the right to "interpose" themselves when the federal government threatened their rights. Webster's second reply to Hayne, in January 1830, became a famous defense of the federal union: "Liberty and Union, now and forever, one and inseparable."

Just beneath the surface of this debate lay the elements of the developing sectional crisis between North and South. In April, after Hayne defended states' rights in the principal speech at the annual Jefferson Day dinner in Washington, President Jackson offered the first "volunteer" toast and echoed Webster's nationalism: "Our Federal Union. It must be preserved." Vice President Calhoun offered the second toast and endorsed Hayne's defense of states' rights: "The Union—next to our liberty, the most dear." The alliance of the West and the South collapsed and Benton soon emerged as a leading opponent of Calhoun and Hayne and their doctrine of nullification.


Van Deusen, Glyndon G. The Jacksonian Era: 1828–1848. New York: Harper and Row, 1959.

Watson, Harry L. Liberty and Power: The Politics of Jacksonian America. New York: Farrar, Hill and Wang, 1990.

Louis S.Gerteis

See alsoNationalism ; Sectionalism ; States' Rights .

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