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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.

About the Author

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.

Endorsementss

"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."

- Orville Vernon Burton, Clemson University, author of The Age of Lincoln: A History

"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."

- Andrew Burstein, Louisiana State University, author of The Passions of Andrew Jackson

"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."

- Timothy S. Huebner, Rhodes College, author of Liberty and Union: The Civil War Era and American Constitutionalism

"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."

- Matthew Mason, Brigham Young University, author of Slavery and Politics in the Early American Republic

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

- David S. and Jeanne T. Heidler, authors of The Rise of Andrew Jackson: Myth, Manipulation, and the Making of Modern Politics

Reviewss

"In The Webster-Hayne Debate, Christopher Childers examines the context of the debate between Daniel Webster of Massachusetts and his Senate colleague Robert S. Hayne of South Carolina in January 1830... Readers will finish the book with a clear idea of the reason Webster's "Reply" became so influential in its own day. They will also better understand the debate's political context."

- Asaf Almog, University of Virginia - Western Historical Quarterly

"Christopher Childers's contribution to Johns Hopkins University Press's highly regarded Witness to History series reminds us that the [Webster-Hayne] debate remains a subject well worth considering, both for its oratorical power and, perhaps even more importantly, for what it reveals about the complex and intricately nuanced nature of the nation's Jacksonian political culture. The chief strength of Childers's work is its ability to provide readers with a sophisticated overview of the shifting political landscape that inspired this highly charged and symbolically rich exchange."

- Martin Hershock, University of Michigan–Dearborn - Journal of American History

"The Webster-Hayne Debate: Defining Nationhood in the Early American Republic is an excellent fit for the undergraduate classroom and will surely spark conversation about the relationship between the states and the Union... this work serves as an introduction to this pivotal moment and to the politics of early antebellum America."

- Thomas Blake Earle, Texas A&M University at Galveston - Journal of Southern History
Johns Hopkins University Press
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