Advantage in the great discussion lay partly with Hayne and partly with his brilliant antagonist. On the whole, the facts of history were on the side of Hayne. Webster attempted to argue from the intent of the framers of the Constitution and from early opinion concerning the nature of the Union; but a careful appraisal of the evidence hardly bears out his contentions. On economic matters also, notably the operation of the protective tariff, he trod uncertain ground. He realized this fact and as far as possible kept clear of economic discussion. The South had real grievances, and Webster was well enough aware that they could not be argued out of existence.
On the other hand, the Northerner was vastly superior to his opponent in his handling of the theoretical issues of constitutional law; and in his exposition of the practical difficulties that would attend the operation of the principle of nullification he employed a fund of argument that was simply unanswerable. The logic of the larger phases of the situation lay, too, with him. If the Union for which he pleaded was not the Union which the Fathers intended to establish or even that which actually existed in the days of Washington and the elder Adams, it was at all events the Union in which, by the close of the fourth decade under the Constitution, a majority of the people of the United States had come to believe. It was the Union of Henry Clay, of Andrew Jackson, of Abraham Lincoln. And the largest significance of Webster’s arguments in 1830 arises from the definiteness and force which they put into popular convictions that until then were vague and inarticulate—convictions which, as has been well said, “went on broadening and deepening until, thirty years afterward, they had a force sufficient to sustain the North and enable her to triumph in the terrible struggle which resulted in the preservation of national life.” It was the Second Reply to Hayne which, more than any other single event or utterance between 1789 and 1860, “compacted the States into a nation.”
TARIFF AND NULLIFICATION
It was more than brilliant oratory that had drawn to the Senate chamber the distinguished audiences faced by Webster and Hayne in the great debate of 1830. The issues discussed touched the vitality and permanence of the nation itself. Nullification was no mere abstraction of the senator from South Carolina. It was a principle which his State—and, for aught one could tell, his section—was about to put into action. Already, in 1830, the air was tense with the coming controversy.