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The Webster-Hayne Debate

, 184 pages

10 halftones

July 2018



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The Webster-Hayne Debate

Defining Nationhood in the Early American Republic


Two generations after the founding, Americans still disagreed on the nature of the Union. Was it a confederation of sovereign states or a nation headed by a central government? To South Carolina Senator Robert Y. Hayne and others of his mindset, only the vigilant protection of states’ rights could hold off an attack on the southern way of life, which was undergirded by slavery. Massachusetts Senator Daniel Webster, on the other hand, believed that the political and economic ascendancy of New England—and the nation—required a strong, activist national government.

In The Webster-Hayne Debate, Christopher Childers focuses on the sharp dispute that engaged Webster and Hayne in January 1830. During Senate discussion of western land policy, Childers explains, the senators’ exchanges grew first earnest and then heated, finally landing on the question of union—its nature and its value in a federal republic. Childers argues that both Webster and Hayne, and the factions they represented, saw the West as key to the success of their political plans and sought to cultivate western support for their ideas.

A short, accessible account of the conflict and the related issues it addressed, The Webster-Hayne Debate captures an important moment in the early republic. Ideal for use in college classrooms or for readers interested in American history, this book examines a pivotal moment and a critical problem in the history of US politics. It also shows how Americans grappled with the issues of nationalism, sectionalism, and the meaning of union itself—issues that still resonate today.

Christopher Childers is an assistant professor of history at Pittsburg State University. He is the author of The Failure of Popular Sovereignty: Slavery, Manifest Destiny, and the Radicalization of Southern Politics and the coauthor of The American South: A History.

"A well-argued and original book that carefully examines the famous Webster-Hayne debate. Childers makes an important historical argument. This will be a central book for years to come in the historiography of the early republic and the coming of the Civil War."

"Even more than a clear-eyed analysis of the spellbinding Senate debate over nullification and disunion, this book is a beautiful synthesis of the forces and personalities that commanded early American politics. Christopher Childers adroitly examines issues of western land sales, localism and nationalism, and the very character of the two-party system, marking a key moment in US history when political insiders trembled and North and South faced their respective demons."

"With analytical rigor and narrative skill, Christopher Childers takes us beyond the famous speeches delivered by Webster and Hayne to uncover the complex interplay of sectional interests and constitutional values during the crisis over nullification. This is a lucid treatment of an important topic."

"By setting the full context for the Webster-Hayne debate, Childers captures the complex and dynamic range of issues that roiled American politics in the 1820s, which was far from a quiet era. Building on this foundation to retell this clash with strong narrative detail, he conveys its full drama as well as its stakes."

"Christopher Childers's marvelous study clarifies the essence of the Webster-Hayne Debate and its importance in the sectional conflict."

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