Study Guide

Daniel Webster in Proclamation Regarding Nullification

By Andrew Jackson

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Daniel Webster

Daniel Webster made a name for himself by speaking his mind. He spent a significant chunk of his adulthood as a very successful constitutional lawyer, and lawyers need the gift of gab to be truly great. But who else does well with oratory skill? Politicians, that's who.

Webster made the natural transition from lawyer to politician right around the time of the Nullification Crisis. Webster had been a states' rights advocate early in his Congressional career, opposing the War of 1812 as a congressman from New Hampshire and even suggesting nullification. But in the Senate, he became a staunch nationalist who believed in a national bank, federal spending on things like roads and canals, and protective tariffs.

The nation was divided during the Nullification Crisis and so were the Houses of Congress. Between January 19-27, 1830, Webster (Massachusetts) and Robert Y. Hayne (South Carolina) got into it over South Carolina's Nully problem. What started out as a clash over western land sales wandered into tariffs and slavery ended up as a battle over states' rights vs. the Union. People packed the halls of Congress to hear the famous orator take it to Robert Hayne. The Union, Webster said, wasn't just some loose affiliation of sovereign states. It was:

[…] popular government, erected by the people; those who administer it responsible to the people; and itself capable of being amended and modified, just as the people may choose it should be. (Source)

It's been said that Webster's arguments were the most well-thought out and eloquently spoken words ever uttered in the houses of Congress. You can read the most famous of these speeches here and decide for yourself.

Webster supported Jackson throughout the whole nullification ordeal, even backing the decision to invade South Carolina if push came to shove. However, Webster hated just about everything else about the man and spent the remainder of his political career trying to dismantle Jackson's Democratic Party. He worked alongside Calhoun and Clay, creating the Whig Party to do just that.

Like Clay, Webster had become known as a great compromiser. He too played a prominent role in the creation of the Compromise of 1850 and believed in doing anything to keep the nation together. Unfortunately, this also included constructing the Fugitive Slave Act, earning him a ton of enemies among abolitionists. This move made him increasingly unpopular in the political scene in the last years of his life. He died in 1852.

Webster's oratorical skills were so legendary that in 1936, Stephen Vincent Benét published a short story called "The Devil and Daniel Webster" based on the Faust legend. When a desperate farmer sells his soul to the Devil in exchange for financial prosperity, things start spinning out of control. The farmer realizes the consequences of the deal and begs his friend Daniel Webster to appeal his case to the Devil.

Spoiler alert: Webster wins.

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