History Colloquium on the Webster-Hayne Debate with Benedictine College's Christopher Childers
The Kinder Institute hosted its second History Colloquium of the fall semester on Friday, October 16, 2015, with Benedictine College Assistant Professor of History Christopher Childers giving a talk on his current book project, which explores the origins and implications of the January 1830 Senate floor debate between Massachusetts’ Daniel Webster and South Carolina’s Robert Hayne. In providing an overview of the introduction to his new manuscript, Prof. Childers began not with the Debate itself, but with the “Foot Resolution,” a December 1829 proposal by Connecticut Senator Samuel Foot to suspend the sale of un-surveyed public land in the west. Beginning with Foot’s proposed legislation, he explained, reveals the degree to which considering sectional concerns over—and, moreover, sectional designs on manipulating—the present and future political capital of the Western states provides essential context for understanding the Webster-Hayne Debate.
For example, Prof. Childers pointed out how we see a swift alliance formed between western and southern politicians in the aftermath of the Foot Resolution. More specifically, after Missouri Senator Thomas Hart Benton aligned the west and south on the grounds of their respective opposition to land sale and tariff legislation, Hayne immediately followed suit, voicing his support for the western and his defense of the southern states in terms of how the tariff and land sale issues, along with the issue of internal improvements, reflected these sections’ shared subjection to (and shared need to join in resistance of) the oppressive tendencies of a federal government that catered to northeastern, manufacturing interests. Underscoring the growing instability of the time, however, Prof. Childers then noted how Webster attempted to capitalize on the fact that this alliance quickly began to weaken as a result of the implications of Hayne and Calhoun’s extreme, pro-nullification states’ rights politics on the west. In response to Hayne’s depiction of the west and south as common subjects of northern exploitation, Webster provided a counter-narrative in which, among other things: the biggest threat to the western states was the un-American, anti-Union ideology of pro-nullification southerners; the northeast was committed to an enlightened program of progressive land policy in the west (as evidenced by the Northwest Ordinance’s Massachusetts co-author, Nathan Dane); and the success and stability of Ohio were due to the state’s commitment to nationalism, while the struggles of Kentucky were attributable to its commitment to slavery.
Prof. Childers concluded by briefly examining a March 1830 speech, delivered by Louisiana Senator Edward Livingston, that unsuccessfully tried to tamp down sectional conflict by promoting an ideological middle ground between Webster’s ultra-nationalism and Hayne and Calhoun’s extreme states’ rights attitude.
Christopher Childers earned his Ph.D. in American History from Louisiana State University, where he received the Michael G. Miller Distinguished Dissertation Prize from the Department of History. He currently serves as Assistant Professor of History at Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas. Prof. Childers is the author of The Failure of Popular Sovereignty: Slavery, Manifest Destiny, and the Radicalization of Southern Politics (University Press of Kansas, 2012), and has published articles and book chapters in Civil War History, Kansas History: A Journal of the Central Plains, and The Enigmatic South: Toward the Civil War and Its Legacies.