Historical: In January of 1830, Senator Foote of Connecticut introduced into the Senate a resolution regarding the sale of public lands. The subject of state rights being uppermost in their minds, the debaters wandered off into a discussion of the Constitution. Senator Robert Y. Hayne of South Carolina, in a brilliant speech set forth the doctrine of nullification, and Daniel Webster answered him in one of the greatest speeches ever delivered. This extract and the following are taken from this memorable debate, when for the first time the two opposing theories of the Constitution, the "state" and he "national," were clearly set forth.
By ROBERT HAYNE
I shall make no profession of zeal for the interests and honor of South Carolina. If there be one state in the Union that may challenge comparison with any other, for a uniform, zealous, ardent, and uncalculating devotion to the Union, that state is South Carolina. From the very commencement of the Revolution up to this hour, there is no sacrifice, however great, she has not cheerfully made, no service she has ever hesitated to perform. She has adhered to you in your prosperity; but in your adversity she has clung to you with more than filial affection. No matter what was the condition of her domestic affairs, though deprived of her resources, divided by parties, or surrounded with difficulties, the call of the country has been to her as the voice of God. Domestic discord ceased at the sound; every man became at once reconciled to his brethren, and the sons of Carolina were all seen crowding together to the temple, bringing gifts to the altar of their common country.
What was the conduct of the South during the Revolution? I honor New England for her conduct in that glorious struggle. But great as is the praise which belongs to her, I think at least equal honor is due the South. They espoused the quarrel of their brethren with a generous zeal which did not suffer them to stop to calculate their interest in the dispute. Favorites of the mother country, possessed of neither ships nor seamen to create a commercial rivalship, they might have found in their situation a guaranty that their trade would be forever fostered and protected by Great Britain. But, trampling on all considerations either of interest or of safety, they rushed into the conflict, and, fighting for principle, periled all in the sacred cause of freedom. Never were there exhibited in the history of the world higher examples of noble daring, dreadful suffering, and heroic endurance than by the Whigs of Carolina during the Revolution. The whole state, from the mountains to the sea, was overrun by an overwhelming force of the enemy. The fruits of industry perished on the spot where they were produced, or were consumed by the foe.
The "plains of Carolina" drank up the most precious blood of her citizens. Black and smoking ruins marked the places which had been the habitations of her children. Driven from their homes into the gloomy and almost impenetrable swamps, even there the spirit of liberty survived, and South Carolina, sustained by the example of her Sumters and her Marions, proved, by her conduct, that, though her soil might be overrun, the spirit of her people was invincible.
REPLY TO HAYNE
I shall not acknowledge that the honorable member goes before me in regard for whatever of distinguished talent or distinguished character South Carolina has produced. I claim part of the honor, I partake in the pride, of her great name. I claim them for countrymen, one and all. The Laurenses, the Rutledges, the Pinckneys, the Sumters, the Marions--Americans all--whose fame is no more to be hemmed in by state lines than their talents and patriotism were capable of being circumscribed within the same narrow limits. In their day and generation, they served and honored the country, and the whole country; and their renown is of the treasures of the whole country.
Mr. President, I shall enter upon 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 forever. The bones of her sons, fallen 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 and tear it; if folly and madness, if uneasiness under salutary and necessary restraint, shall succeed in separating 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 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.
I cannot persuade myself to relinquish this subject without expressing my deep conviction, that, since it respects nothing less than THE UNION OF THE STATES, it is of most vital and essential importance to the public happiness. I profess, sir, in my career hitherto, to have kept steadily in view the prosperity and honor of the whole country and the preservation of our federal Union. It is to that Union we owe our safety at home and our consideration and dignity abroad. It is to that Union that we are chiefly indebted for whatever makes us most proud of our country.
That Union we reached only by the discipline of our virtues in the severe school of adversity. It had its origin in the necessities of disordered finance, prostrate commerce, and ruined credit, Under its benign influences, these great interests immediately awoke, as from the dead, and sprang forth with newness of life.
Every year of its duration has teemed with fresh proofs of its utility and its blessings; and, although our territory has stretched out wider and wider, and our population spread farther and farther, they have not outrun its protection or its benefits. It has been to us a copious fountain of national, social, and personal happiness.
I have not allowed myself to look beyond the Union, to see what might lie hidden in the dark recess behind. I have not coolly weighed the chances of preserving liberty, when the bonds that unite us together shall be broken asunder. I have not accustomed myself to hang over the precipice of disunion, to see whether, with my short sight, I can fathom the depth of the abyss below; nor could I regard him as a safe counselor in the affairs of this government, whose thoughts should be mainly bent on considering, not how the Union should be best preserved, but how tolerable might be the condition of the people when it shall be broken up and destroyed.
While the Union lasts, we have high, exciting, gratifying prospects spread out before us, for us and our children. Beyond that, I seek not to penetrate the veil. God grant that, in my day, at least, that curtain may not rise,--that on my vision never may be opened what lies behind.
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 luster, 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 afterward"; 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!