Guest Essayist: Logan Beirne, Olin Scholar at Yale Law School and author of Blood of Tyrants: George Washington & the Forging of the Presidency

In this speech, U.S. Senator Daniel Webster strives to unify a deeply divided nation. Speaking “not as a Massachusetts man, nor as a Northern man, but as an American,” he pleads “for the preservation of the Union.”

He begins with a conciliatory tone in which he tries to view the issue of slavery from both perspectives. Careful not to scold the South for the practice, he argues that the fight stems from a “difference of opinion” among equally religious men. His concern is that neither side is convincing the other and the people are merely diverging in their views. Because this is a religious debate, he believes, people are apt to “think that nothing is good but what is perfect, and that there are no compromises or modifications to be made in consideration of difference of opinion.” Read more

Webster began representing Massachusetts in the U.S. Senate in 1813, and by the 1830s had attained a national reputation–in part as a result of his Senate debates with nullification proponent Senator Robert Hayne of South Carolina. Webster spent the final decade of his life attempting to avert the growing sectional divide, never wavering in his defense of the Union. In this speech he restated his longstanding conviction that “Peaceable secession is an utter impossibility.” He died two years later, in 1852, with the nation divided.

March 7, 1850

Mr. President:

I wish to speak today, not as a Massachusetts man, nor as a Northern man, but as an American, and a member of the Senate of the United States. Read more