The Webster-Hayne Debate

Alison Elliott and Angela Chang
Webster-Hayne Debate Painting
Webster-Hayne Debate Painting

The Webster-Hayne Debate was an unplanned series of debates in the Senate, ranging from January 19th to 27th in 1830. The debatens were primarily between Robert Hayne of South Carolina and Daniel Webster of Massachusetts, over whether or not to limit the sales of western lands.


The reasons for the debate began in late 1829, when Senator Samuel Augustus Foot of Connecticut proposed what is known as the Foot Resolution, which suggested the possibility of limiting western land sales. It was a question of whether or not the Western territories should be seen as public lands, or lands owned by the Federal government.

Hayne's Views

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As a senator of South Carolina, Robert Hayne strongly opposed the protective tariff, which subsidized transportation works, protected developing industries from overseas factories, and acted as a major source of Federal revenue. Hayne thought that the southerners could acquire support for lower tariffs if he endorsed purchasing inexpensive lands out west. He asserted that the only the union’s only motivation was to preserve the cheap labor supply of manufacturers that might otherwise be lured away by the beckoning opportunities of plentiful western lands. Hayne advocated for the individual rights of states. He believed that important matters, such as the sales of Western Lands, were domestic problems that were up to the governments of individual states to decide how to handle. Essentially, he believed that the hardship of the country was put on only a section so another region could benefit.

On January 19, 1830 Hayne began the debate. He argued that states, not the federal government, should control their lands and have the right to override certain federal laws when necessary. Hayne even at times employed Shakespearean allusions and famous English quotations when making his rebuttals.

Webster's Views

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Daniel Webster was Massachusetts’ leading representative in the Senate. Webster was a firm nationalist, and during the debate he responded to Hayne’s argument by criticizing the South’s willingness to abandon the Union for their own economic benefit. He argued that the North had always been the West’s greatest ally. Webster then broadened the ideas of the debate from conflicts over land, tariffs, and slavery, to nationalist ideas about the federal republic and the idea that America should be considered as one nation. He declared that states should strive to improve the standards of their country rather than pursue their own selfish interests. Webster countered the beliefs of Hayne by arguing that if just one state had the power to reject a federal law then the very idea of a Union would be nothing more than, in his words, "a rope of sand." Unlike Hayne, who did not support the power of the Supreme Court, Webster believed that the Supreme Court had the final authority on important matters.

Significance of the Debate

The debate revealed some of the basic regional tensions in the United States. Hayne believed in the independent rights of states while Webster argued that no state had the power to nullify a federal law or to secede from the union. Eventually, over 40,000 copies of Webster’s assertions were printed and read by a multitude of young Americans who would eventually be drawn into the Civil War, in which one of the issues was individual state rights. Webster’s words essentially inspired an innumerable amount of young men to keep the Union intact.

Works Referenced