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Daniel Webster

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Daniel Webster, the Defender and Expounder of the Constitution

Webster's magnificent reach of thought and profound reverence for the Union is best expressed in his speeches. The most famous one is his brilliant "Reply to Hayne."

Senator Hayne, of South Carolina, had delivered an able speech, in which he put the authority of the State before that of the Union, and said that the Constitution supported that doctrine. Webster, then a senator from Massachusetts, had but one night to prepare an answer. But he knew the Constitution by heart, for he had been a close student of it since the days of childhood, when he had learned it from the cotton handkerchief.

Senator Hayne's masterly speech caused many people to question whether even Daniel Webster could answer his arguments, and New England men especially, fearing the dangerous doctrine of State Rights, awaited anxiously the outcome. When, therefore, on the morning of January 26, 1830, Mr. Webster entered the Senate Chamber to utter that memorable reply, he found a crowd of eager men and women waiting to hear him.

"It is a critical moment," said a friend to Mr. Webster, "and it is time, it is high time, that the people of this country should know what this Constitution is."

"Then," said Webster, "by the blessing of Heaven they shall learn, this day, before the sun goes down what I understand it to be."

Nationality was Webster's theme, his sole purpose being to strengthen the claims of the Union. For four hours he held his audience spellbound while he set forth with convincing logic the meaning of the Constitution. The great orator won an overwhelming victory. Not only were many of his hearers in the Senate chamber that day convinced, but loyal Americans all over the country were inspired with more earnest devotion to the Union. His last words "Liberty and Union! one and inseparable, now and forever" electrified his countrymen and became a watchword of national progress.

Project Gutenberg's American Leaders and Heroes, by Wilbur Fisk Gordy Published 1907