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Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891.
Vols. IX–XI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 1861–1889

Senator Hayne and the Debate with Webster

By Thomas Hart Benton (1782–1858)

[From Thirty Years’ View; or, A History of the Working of the American Government for Thirty Years. 1854.]

HE had the great debate with Mr. Webster—a contest of many days, sustained to the last without losing its interest—(which bespoke fertility of resource, as well as ability in both speakers), and in which his adversary had the advantage of a more ripened intellect, an established national reputation, ample preparation, the choice of attack, and the goodness of the cause. Mr. Webster came into that field upon choice and deliberation, well feeling the grandeur of the occasion; and profoundly studying his part. He had observed, during the summer, the signs in South Carolina, and marked the proceedings of some public meetings unfriendly to the Union; and which he ran back to the incubation of Mr. Calhoun. He became the champion of the constitution and the Union, choosing his time and occasion, hanging his speech upon a disputed motion with which it had nothing to do, and which was immediately lost sight of in the blaze and expansion of a great national discussion: himself armed and equipped for the contest, glittering in the panoply of every species of parliamentary and forensic weapon—solid argument, playful wit, biting sarcasm, classic allusion…. The speech was at Mr. Calhoun, then presiding in the Senate, and without right to reply. Hayne became his sword and buckler, and had much use for the latter to cover his friend—hit by incessant blows—cut by many thrusts: but he understood too well the science of defence in wordy as well as military digladiation to confine himself to fending off. He returned, as well as received blows; but all conducted courteously; and stings when inflicted gently extracted on either side by delicate compliments. Each morning he returned reinvigorated to the contest, like Antæus refreshed, not from a fabulous contact with mother earth, but from a real communion with Mr. Calhoun! the actual subject of Mr. Webster’s attack: and from the well-stored arsenal of his powerful and subtle mind, he nightly drew auxiliary supplies. Friends relieved the combatants occasionally; but it was only to relieve; and the two principal figures remained prominent to the last. To speak of the issue would be superfluous; but there was much in the arduous struggle to console the younger senator. To cope with Webster, was a distinction: not to be crushed by him, was almost a victory: to rival him in copious and graceful elocution, was to establish an equality at a point which strikes the masses: and Hayne often had the crowded galleries with him. But, equal argument! that was impossible. The cause forbade it, far more than disparity of force; and reversed positions would have reversed the issue.