(This is part II of The Nullification Crisis
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South Carolina leaders had proclaimed their dislke for the tariff, but they have postponed any action against the enforcement, awaiting with hope the election of 1828 in which the anti tariff John Calhoun was the Jacksonian candidate for vice president. There the issue stood until 1830, where the great Webster Hayne debate sharpened the lines between states rights' and the Union.
The immediate occasion for the debate, however, was the question of public lands. The federal government still owned immense tracks of unsettled land, and the issue of their fate elbowed its way onto center stage of sectional debate. Late in 1829 Senator Samuel A. Foot of Connecticut, an otherwise obscure figure, proposed the federal government restricted land sales in the West. When the Foot Resolution came before the Senate in 1830, Thomas Hart Benton of Missouri denounced it as a sectional attack designed to hamstring the settlement of the West so that the East might maintain its supply of cheap factory labor. Robert Y. Hayne of South Carolina took Benton's side. Hayne saw in the issue a chance to strenghthen the alliance of South and West reflected in the vote for Jackson. Perhaps by supporting a policy of cheap lands in the West, the southerners could gain Western support for lower tariffs. The government, said Hayne, endangered the union by imposing any policy that would cause a hardship on one section to the benefit of another. The use of public lands as a source of revenue to the central government would create "a fund of corruption-- fatal to the sovereignty and independence of the states."
Daniel Webster of Massachusetts rose to defend the East. Possessed a thunderous of voice and a theatrical flair, Webster was widely recognized as the nation's foremost orator and lawyer. Legend had it that he could out-argue the devil, and his striking physical prescence enhanced his rhetorical skills. Webster had the torso of a bull, and his huge head, with its craggy brows over hanging dark eyes, commanded attention. With the gallery hushed, Webster denied that the East had ever shown a restrictive policy towards the West. He then rebuked those southerners who, he said, "habitually speak of the Union in terms of indifference, or even of disparagement." Hayne had raised the false specter of "Consolidation!-- The perpetual cry, both of terror and delusion-- consolidation!" Webster had adroitly lured Hayne into defending states' right and upholding doctrine of nullification instead of pursuing a coalition of the West.
Hayne took the bait. Himself an accomplished speaker, he launched into a defense of the South Carolina Exposition, appealed to the example of Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions of 1798, and called attention to the Hartford Convention, in which the New Englanders had taken much the same position against majority measures as South Carolina did. The Union constituted a compact of the states, he argued, and the federal government, which was their "agent," could not be the judge of its own powers, else its powers would be unlimited. Rather, the states remained free to judge when their agent had overstepped the bounds of its constitutional authority. The right of the state interposition was "as full and complete as it was before the Constitution was formed."
In rebuttal to the state-compact theory, Webster defined a nationalistic view of the Constitution. From the beginning, he asserted, the American Revolution had been a crusade of the united colonies rather than of each separately. True sovereignty resided in the people as a whole, from whom both federal and state government acted as agents in their respective spheres. If a single state could nullify a law of the general government, then the Union would be a "rope of sand," a practical absurdity. Instead the Constitution had created a Supreme Court with the final jurisdiction on all questions of constitutionality. A state could neither nullify a federal law nor secede from the Union. The practical outcome of nullification would be a confrontation leading to the civil war.
Hayne may have had the better of the arguement historically in advancing the state-compact theory, but the Senate galleries and much of the country at large thrilled to the eloquence of "God like Daniel." Webster's closing statement became an American classic, reprinted to school texts and committed to memory by schoolchild orators: "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... Let their last feeble and lingering glance, rather, behold the gorgeous ensign of the republic... blazing on all its ample folds, as they float over the sea and over the land... Liberty and Union, now and forever, one and inseparable." In the practical world of coalition politics Webster had the better of the argument, for the Union and majority rule meant more to the westerners, including Jackson, than the abstractions of state soverignty and nullification. As for the public lands, the Foot Resolution was soon defeated anyway. And whatever one might argue about the origins of the Union, its evolution would more and more validate Webster's position.
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