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conduct of the State which I have the honor to represent. When I find a gentleman of mature age and experience, of acknowledged talents and profound sagacity, pursuing a course like this, declining the contest offered from the West, and making war upon the unoffending South, I must believe, I am bound to believe, he has some object in view which he has not ventured to disclose. Mr. President, why is this 2 Has the gentleman discovered in former controversies with the gentleman from Missouri that he is overmatched by that Senator? And does he hope for an easy victory over a more feeble adversary 2 Has the gentleman's distempered fancy been disturbed by gloomy forebodings of “new alliances to be formed '' at which he hinted 2 Has the ghost of the murdered Coalition come back, like the ghost of Banquo, to “sear the eyeballs of the gentleman,” and will it not “down at his command 2 " Are dark visions of broken hopes, and honors lost forever, still floating before his heated imagination ? Sir, if it be his object to thrust me between the gentleman from Missouri and himself, in order to rescue the East from the contest it has provoked with the West, he shall not be gratified. Sir, I will not be dragged into the defence of my friend from Missouri. The South shall not be forced into a conflict not its own. The gentleman from Missouri is able to fight his own battles. The gallant West needs no aid from the South to repel any attack which may be made on them from any quarter. Let the gentleman from Massachusetts controvert the facts and arguments of the gentleman from Missouri, if he can—and if he win the victory, let him wear the honors; I shall not deprive him of his laurels. . . . . The gentleman from Massachusetts, in alluding to a remark of mine, that before any disposition could be made of the public lands, the national debt (for which they stand pledged) must be first paid, took occasion to intimate “that the extraordinary fervor which seems to exist in a certain quarter (meaning the South, sir) for the payment of the debt, arises from a disposition to weaken the ties which bind the people to the Union.” While the gentleman deals us this blow, he professes an ardent desire to see the debt speedily extinguished. He must excuse me, however, for feeling some distrust on that subject until I find this disposition manifested by something stronger than professions. . . . . Sir, as to the doctrine that the Federal Government is the exclusive judge of the extent as well as the limitations of its powers, it seems to me to be utterly subversive of the sovereignty and independence of the States. It makes but little difference, in my estimation, whether Congress or the Supreme Court are invested with this power. If the Federal Government, in all or any of its departments, is to prescribe the limits of
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its own authority, and the States are bound to submit to the decision, and are not to be allowed to examine and decide for themselves when the barriers of the Constitution shall be overleaped, this is practically “a Government without limitation of powers.” The States are at once reduced to mere petty corporations, and the people are entirely at your mercy. I have but one word more to add. In all the efforts that have been made by South Carolina to resist the unconstitutional laws which Congress has extended over them, she has kept steadily in view the preservation of the Union, by the only means by which she believes it can be long preserved, a firm, manly, and steady resistance against usurpation. The measures of the Federal Government have, it is true, prostrated her interests, and will soon involve the whole South in irretrievable ruin. But even this evil, great as it is, is not the chief ground of our complaints. It is the principle involved in the contest—a principle which, substituting the discretion of Congress for the limitations of the Constitution, brings the States and the people to the feet of the Federal Government, and leaves them nothing they can call their own. Sir, if the measures of the Federal Government were less oppressive, we should still strive against this usurpation. The South is acting on a principle she has always held sacred—resistance to unauthorized taxation. These, sir, are the principles which induced the immortal Hampden to resist the payment of a tax of twenty shillings. Would twenty shillings have ruined his fortune? No! but the payment of half twenty shillings, on the principle on which it was demanded, would have made him a slave. Sir, if in acting on these high motives, if animated by that ardent love of liberty which has always been the most prominent trait in the Southern character, we should be hurried beyond the bounds of a cold and calculating prudence, who is there with one noble and generous sentiment in his bosom, that would not be disposed, in the language of Burke, to exclaim, “You must pardon something to the spirit of liberty l’’
DANIEL WEBSTER (1782-1852)
N EVER was there witnessed in the Congress of the United States
a greater and more impressive scene than that of a memorable day in January, 1830, when Daniel Webster delivered his world-famed “Reply to Hayne.” Standing, a giant in debate, before the assembled Senate, he rent into fragments Hayne's neatly woven plea for disunion—fragments which no hand, however great its skill, could join together again.
Daniel Webster became prominent in three fields of effort, as lawyer, orator and statesman. He had won wide distinction for his legal powers before he entered Congress in 1804. There his fame was tenfold enhanced. Of his many speeches, the most famous were the Plymouth Rock address of 1820, the Bunker Hill oration of 1825, the Reply to Hayne in 1830, and the speech on Clay's Compromise Bill in 1850. This last, spoken little more than two years before his death, is regarded as one of the noblest efforts of his career.
“Of the effect of Mr. Webster's manner in many parts,” says Edward Everett, “it would be in vain to attempt to give any one not present the faintest idea. It has been my fortune to hear some of the ablest speeches of the greatest living orators, on both sides of the water, but I must confess I never heard anything which so completely realized my conception of what Demosthenes was when he delivered the oration for the Crown.”
Webster's speeches bear another relation to those of Demosthenes, they possess a living force, they are as great on the written page as they were on the rostrum. There is no waste of force, no feebleness of an anti-climax, in any of these great mental efforts, and their worth as literature is not less than was their value as oratory. The
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name of Webster will always live as one of the few supreme orators
of the world.
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States cherished greater harmony, both of principle and feeling, than Massachusetts and South Carolina. Would to God that harmony might again return 1 Shoulder to shoulder they went through the Revolution ; hand in hand they stood round the administration of Washington, and felt his own great arm lean on them for support. Unkind feeling, if it exist, alienation and distrust, are the growth, unnatural to such soils, of false principles since sown. They are weeds, the seeds of which that same great arm never scattered. Mr. President, I shall enter on no encomium upon Massachusetts— she needs none. There she is—behold her, and judge for yourselves. There is her history; the world knows it by heart. The past, at least, is secure. There is Boston, and Concord, and Lexington, and Bunker Hill— and there they will remain for ever. The bones of her sons, falling in the great struggle for Independence, now lie mingled with the soil of every State from New England to Georgia; and there they will lie forever. And, sir, where American Liberty raised its first voice, and where its youth was nurtured and sustained, there it still lives, in the strength of its manhood and full of its original spirit. If discord and disunion shall wound it, if party strife and blind ambition shall hawk at and tear it, if folly and madness—if uneasiness, under salutary and necessary restraint—shall succeed to separate it from that Union, by which alone its existence is made sure; it will stand, in the end, by the side of that cradle in which its infancy was rocked; it will stretch forth its arm, with whatever of vigor it may still retain, over the friends who gather round it; and it will fall at last, if fall it must, amidst the proudest monuments of its own glory, and on the very spot of its origin.
[The concluding portion of Mr. Webster's speech was in support of the United States Constitution. In it he vigorously denied the power of any State legislature to set aside a provision of the Constitution, or to annul an Act of Congress passed in accordance therewith. His peroration is one of the most magnificent examples of eloquence on record.]
Let it be remembered that the Constitution of the United States is not unalterable. It is to continue in its present form no longer than the people who established it shall choose to continue it. If they shall become convinced that they have made an injudicious or inexpedient partition and distribution of power between the State governments and the general government, they can alter that distribution at will.
If any thing be found in the national Constitution, either by original provision, or by subsequent interpretation, which ought not to be in it, the people know how to get rid of it. If any construction be established, unacceptable to them, so as to become, practically, a part of the Constitution, they will amend it, at their own sovereign pleasure; but while the