Debating Slavery, 1830 - 1830
Who has more power, the Federal Government or the States? This basic question took on vast importance as arguments over slavery divided the nation. It also inspired one of the Senate's most famous debates.
Robert Y. Hayne of South Carolina presented the Southern viewpoint. He argued that states could ignore Federal laws that violated constitutional rights. “Liberty first, and Union afterwards,” Hayne proclaimed. Senator Daniel Webster of Massachusetts responded with a ringing defense of the Federal Government's power to establish policies benefiting all Americans. He concluded with the now immortal words, "Liberty and Union, now and forever, one and inseparable!" Webster's speech propelled him to the top rank of American statesmen and strengthened relations between the North and West—at the South's expense.
"Liberty and Union, now and forever, one and inseparable!"
— Senator Daniel Webster of Massachusetts, January 27, 1830
Votes and Vetoes: Defining Senate Powers 1834-1837 - 1834
The Senate gained new prominence in the 1830s as a result of its battle with President Andrew Jackson. Jackson's veto of an act to renew the charter of the Bank of the United States angered many members of Congress. When the President refused to comply with a Senate request for important documents related to bank operations, the Senate censured, or formally rebuked, him for assuming powers that he did not have under the Constitution. Jackson angrily rebuffed the Senate and dismissed its censure. Three years later, when Jackson's Democratic Party regained control of the Senate, the new majority voted to strike, or delete, the censure from the Senate Journal. Behind this debate lay a fierce struggle for power between Congress and the President over which branch would take the lead in shaping national policy.
For the Union: The Compromise of 1850 - 1850
Three great Senators dominated what has come to be called the Senate's "Golden Age of Oratory," from the 1830s to the 1850s. The legendary orator Daniel Webster of Massachusetts spoke for industrial New England. Henry Clay of Kentucky, the "Great Compromiser," represented the Western frontier. The Southerner John C. Calhoun of South Carolina defended states' rights and the institution of slavery. Yet all three represented the United States. Alternately feuding and cooperating, this "great triumvirate" helped forge major legislative agreements, culminating with the Compromise of 1850.
The compromise included the Fugitive Slave Act, which required Northern states to return escaped slaves to their owners. By supporting it, Webster defied his antislavery constituents in Massachusetts, sacrificing his political career. The Massachusetts Senator believed passionately that he should defend the interests of the whole nation.
"I wish to speak today, not as a Massachusetts man, nor as a Northern man, but as an American."
—Senator Daniel Webster of Massachusetts, March 7, 1850
"I owe a paramount allegiance to the whole Union—a subordinate one to my own State."
—Senator Henry Clay of Kentucky, July 22, 1850