Jacksonian Miscellanies, #18: May 13, 1997

"The News" in the Wake of the Hayne-Webster Debate

Copyright by the editor, Hal Morris, Secaucus, NJ 1997. Permission is granted to copy, but not for sale, nor in multiple copies, except by permission.

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This issue samples the press in February and March, 1830, when the hottest topic was the "Debate on the Public Lands", which has come to be known as the Hayne-Webster Debate. Many of the pieces below are accounts of, or commentary of, the debate. The rest give a sampling of the content of the newspapers as a whole.

The typical newspaper of 1830 was a weekly, had 4 pages, each with 1/3 - 1/4 the area of a standard newspaper sheet today. It was one sheet of paper, printed on both sides and folded in the center.

It was allied to some party, and might have been launched within the last couple of years with the help of regional party funds (there was essentially no such thing as a national party war-chest). This could mean that some well to do party mover, or a group of men of moderate means, found a printer of their political persuasion, contributed $500 to buy the press and type, and get started, and the party mover(s) beat the bushes for an initial list of subscribers.

The paper was delivered by mail to subscribers. There was normally no channel for the sale of single issues, except for a few large city papers.

The paper consisted of perhaps 1/4 or 1/3 parts highly partisan political news mingled with commentary, which bore the personal mark of the editor/printer. 1/4 or 1/3 parts were miscellany, mostly copied from other newspapers -- any editor subscribed to several newspapers to get news from around the country. This "miscellany" was a mixture of news, jokes, poetry, nonsense (the accounts of drunkards spontaneously bursting into flames furnished the topic of one of Mark Twain's pieces). The remaining 1/4 to 1/2 consisted of paid advertisements.

From The Berkshire Journal, February 11, 1830:

Column entitled "By Late Mails":

Alexandria, Jan 29. -- The Senate was crowded. -- its galleries, lobbies, and even its floor, full to oveflowing on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. The debate between two such distinguished men as Mr. Webster and Mr. Hayne -- the various circumstances attending the debate, and the wide range which it had taken, excited the attention and interest of the people. The subject actually before the Senate was a resulution having for its object the suspension of the survey of the public lands and the abolition of the office of Surveyor General. Upon this question, Mr. Hayne had taken occasion to express his views at large, as to the policy of the General Government, the degree of protection the Western settlers had received, and also the policy of the different sections of the Union. -- commenting upon the difference of the doctrines of the North and the South. Mr. Webster, in reply, contended that the Northern States had always been the friends of the West, and incidentally mentioned the blessings that had resulted from excluding slavery from Ohio, &c. This commenced the grand contest. On Monday, Mr. Hayne concluded his eloquent speech in reply to the last from Mr. Webster. He was impassioned, and even violent, in his manner. He took a rapid view of the history of parties, and denounced in strong terms, the federalists of 1812. He read extracts, to show that the party to which Mr. Webster had belonged, had then almost dissolved the Union. His attacks upon Mr. Webster were incessant. He also denounced, in the most indignant manner, the Tariff, and Internal Improvements, and contended that the states had a right to nullify those acts. I must do Mr. Hayne the justice to repeat, that he was eloquent, and that his speech was worthy of his reputation. Upon the conclusion of his speech, Mr Webster rose to speak, but gave way to a motion to adjourn. The next day, the anxious crowd had again assembled, and after a little preliminary business, he commenced. We do not wish to be extravagant; but we must say, this effort exceeded our highest expectations. For two days, Mr. Webster entertained a numerous audience; no weariness, no satiety was felt; but every man drank in with pleasure and delight the deep clear tone of his voice, unconscious of the progress of time. He was calm, collected and dignified. -- He showed that the shafts of his antagonist had fallen harmless at his feet. At times he was severe and sarcastic. His irony, pointed and delicate, penetrated at every thrust. The very weapons that had been used against him, he seized, and turned into instruments of attack upon his assailant. But the second day, in his argument upon the sonstitutional power of a State to nullify an act of Congress, he was eminently great. To use a figure of Mr. Hayne's he bore off upon his shoulders the pillars of the temple of ignorance and prejudice, and let the light of reason in upon the worshippers there. The peroration of his speech was more than eloquent -- it was sublime. The breathless attention of the audience, while it lasted, and the murmer of applause that involuntarily broke from almost every spectator, bor witness to the orator's power. His political opponents ceased for the moment to retain a hard thought against him, and bowed to the majesty of mind.

In the course of Mr. Webster's speech, with a magnanimity which redounds to his credit, he complemented the distinguished sons of Carolina, and yielded his tribute of admiration to the services of that patriotic State. A true American in principle and feeling, he said he knew no sectional feelings which could induce him to withhold praise from Genius wherever it might be found.

That this brilliant effort will have the effect of producing a better state of feeling throughout the country, we have no doubt. That it will elevate Mr. Webster still higher in the estimation of the public, is also equally certain; and, on all accounts, we are glad that an opportunity has been given him for saying exactly what he did say. -- Phoenix Gaz. (of Alexandria, VA., apparently).

Pittsfield Sun, March 11, 1830

We give our readers to-day a small portion of Mr. Webster's Speech. They will perceive that he has almost entirely evaded the material points of the Speech of Mr. Hayne. Such arguments -- yes, incontrovertible arguments -- as were urged by Mr. Hayne, Mr Webster thought did not come within his ken. The friends of Mr. Webster have endeavored to make out that he upset Mr. Hayne. Far from it! Mr. Hayne threw him upon his back, and there he lies, "looking up!" -- There is no person who will look upon both efforts with any other than a "jaundiced eye," but what must be constrained to say, that, for elegance of diction, force of argument, and depth of research, Mr. Haynes clearly surpasses him.

The Berkshire Journal, February 4, 1830

Mr. Webster concluded his most able and eloquent speech in the Senate yesterday. The evidence of its masterly character was written on the countenances of the whole Senate, and in the silent breathless attention with which it was received by a thousand auditors. As a constitutional argument, the close and vigorous reasoning of Mr. Webster on the assumption by the State of South Carolina of the right to resist the laws of the United States has never been excelled; and his contrast of the course which Massachusetts took, when writhing under the effects of the embargo law, she appealed to the Judiciary to test its constitutionality, with the course of South Carolina in menacing to bring the constitutionality of the tariff laws to a test of a more violent and less legal character, was appropriate and felicitous -- A great anxiety will naturally be felt to obtain a full report of this speech, and we hope to be able in a few days to gratify public expectation by laying it before the world [from the National Journal, Jan. 27].

We observe, by the Baltimore papers, that several members of Congress have visited that city on successive Saturdays, attracted by curiosity to see a sample of the Rail Road, of which over a mile in length is completed, in that vicinity. Our friends at Baltimore may have the compliment returned, by paying us a visit in a month or so from this time, when we will shew them a beautiful piece of our Canals into which the water is shortly to be let, in order that the river navigation (which has been suspended for some time during the work) may be resumed. We do not know the exact length of it, but it is the piece from the dam above the Little Falls to the site of the locks of the old Potomac Company's Canal. ... [National Intelligencer]

Manufacturing Corporations. A bill is now pending in the State Senate, on the subject of our Manufacturing Corporations. Next to the Railroad bill, we regard this as the most important subject, that has engaged the Legislative attention for many years. The object of this bill is, to define the general duties and powers of manufacturing corporations. It involves the deepest interests of a very extensive class of people all around the state: it directly effects an immense amount of capitol. In the emphatic language of Mr. Hastings, who presented and illustrated the bill, "the question to be settled by it is, whether the surplus capital of the money market of New England, shall be permanently invested here, or in other States." The remarks on this subject in the message of his Excellency, at the opening of the session, were forcible and conclusive.

The prominent feature of this bill is, to limit the liability for the corporate debts of the concern, to its corporate property, -- thus making each stockholder's liability commensurate with the amount of capital embarked. This is manifestly the true criterion. That an individual who happpens to own a portion of the stock of a company, -- perhaps the smallest imaginable portion ... should be personally liable for all the debts of the whole company, does not comport with justice nor common sense. Reason revolts at the very idea. -- Bost. Centinel.

Rail Way Bill. This bill has been continued before the house every day since our last. The subject, we presume, has been exhausted, and we did indulge the hope of announcing the decision of the House in this day's paper, but it was resumed yesterday morning, and again in the afternoon, on the question of striking out the enabling clause, and the House adjourned without coming to a decision. Such, however, is the importance of the measure, that it becomes us all to wait patiently for the result, ever hoping for success. -- Bost. Centinal. Jan 30.

From the Pittsfield Sun, March 18:

The first Monday of April approaches, and with it a task and a duty for the Democracy [ed.: i.e., the Democratic Party] of Massachusetts to perform. The present election of Governor and Senators involves interests which ought to be held dear by every person who has the best interests of the state at heart. It is well known that the expenses of this State are as large as they were when Main was a part of Massachusetts. -- If they were enough then, are they not too much now? Any person, who is not governed by a blind enthusiasm, must see that the hand of reform ought to be stretched out to save this State "from its enemies." In looking at its head, His Excellency Levi Lincoln, we see one great cause of this evil. He would not take the pruning knife -- neither would he recommend that the unneccessary branches of the governmental tree of Massachusetts should be taken off. On the other hand, we see him favoring every project calculated to retain the men and the measures, which must be acknowledged to sit like an incubus on the State. It is only by changing the men who now administer the government -- by placing a Hercules at its head, who will, with the aid of the People, sweep that mass of rubbish which has been collecting for years in this State into the "receptacle of things lost upon earth!" The people of this state have seen enough of Levi Lincoln, we should think, and the expenses attending his administration.

We give to-day another portion of Mr Webster's Speech. It was our intention to have concluded it -- but articles more calculated to interest our readers than his Speech, coming upon us, we believe we perform a much more acceptable duty by deferring its conclusions 'till our next. It is unneccessary for us to particularly comment upon his Speech -- it did not equal our expectations, and we believe it will not those of our readers. It will be recollected that Mr. Benton, of Missouri, replied to Mr. Webster, after Mr. Hayne had finished his argument. The following extract from his remarks will be in accordance, we imagine, with the feelings of every unprejudiced mind, after they have finished the perusal of Mr. W's Speech:

"Rhetoricians lay down two cases in which silence upon the adversaries' arguments, is the better part of eloquence; -- first; where they are too insignificant to merit any notice; secondly, where they are too well fortified to be overthrown. In such cases, it is recommended as the safest course, to pass them by without notice, and as if they had not been heard. I do not intimate which, or if either of these rules governed the conduct of the Senator from Massachusetts. I can very well conceive of a third, and a very different reason for this inattention -- a reason which was seen in the fullness of the occupation which the Senator from S. Carolina (Gen. Hayne) had given him. True, the Senator from Massachusetts tells us that he felt nothing of all that -- that the arrows did not pierce, and makes a question whether the arm of the Senator from S. Carolina was strong enough to spring the bow? This he repeated so many times, and with looks so well adjusted to the declamation, that we all must have been reminded of what we have read in ancient books, of the brave gladiator who receiving the fatal thrust, which starts the cry of "hoc habet" from the whole ampitheatre, instead of displaying his wound, and beseeching pity, collects himself over his centre of gravity, assumes a graceful attitude, dresses his face in smiles, bows to the ladies, and acts the unhurt hero, in the agonies of death.

But admitting that the arrows did not pierce: What then? Is it proof of the weakness of the arm that sprung the bow, or of the impenetrability of the substance that resisted the shaft? We read in books of the polished brass that resists, not only arrows, but the iron-headed javelins, thrown by gigantic heroes. But pierced, or not pierced, we have all witnessed one thing; we have seen the Senator from Massachusetts, occupy one whole day in picking those arrows out of his body; and to judge from the length and seriousness of the occupation he might be supposed to have been as stuck full of them as the poor fellow whose transfixed image on the 1st leaf of our annual almanacs attracts the commiseration of so many children. [Ed.: Anyone know what this refers to?].

Foolishness From the Berkshire Journal, Feb. _?_, 1830

From the Portland Courier.

Sam Patch. -- We deem a suitable notice of his life and death, both useful and proper. -- It will deter others from jumping from the same heights that Sam did: and in these times of political excitement, why may not politicians derive a useful moral from the same, and learn to jump with moderation?  They should be cautious of the cheerings and shoutings of warm partisans, for verily in politics, as well as in perpendicular heights, there are some jumps which are fatal.

Biography of Sam Patch

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