In Defense of the Union

4 02 2009

I’m currently reading American Lion, a biography of President Andrew Jackson.  It called to my attention one of the greatest speeches by one of the greatest orators America has ever seen.  Daniel Webster happened to pass by the Senate during a debate about South Carolina, nullification, and state’s rights.  The next day, he spoke in response to Robert Hayne, who had given a stirring and engaging defense of South Carolina’s inclination to propagate open disdain (if not outright rebellion) for the government, which had passed new tariff legislation lately that met with widespread disgust.  Anyway, I’ll spare you from further background information, as its better read in its context anyway.  While Webster disagreed with Jackson on almost everything, and quite vehemently, these two men were undoubtedly united in their thinking about the importance of keeping the union intact.

Webster closed his argument thusly:

I have not allowed myself, Sir, to look beyond the Union, to see what might lie hidden in the dark recess behind. I have not coolly weighed the chances of preserving liberty when the bonds that unite us together shall be broken asunder. I have not accustomed myself to hang over the precipice of disunion, to see whether, with my short sight, I can fathom the depth of the abyss below; nor could I regard him as a safe counselor in the affairs of this government, whose thoughts should be mainly bent on considering, not how the Union may be best preserved, but how tolerable might be the condition of the people when it should be broken up and destroyed. While the Union lasts, we have high, exciting, gratifying prospects spread out before us and our children. Beyond that I seek not to penetrate the veil. God grant that in my day, at least, that curtain may not rise! God grant that on my vision never may be opened what lies behind! When my eyes shall be turned to behold for the last time the sun in heaven, may I not see him shining on the broken and dishonored fragments of a once glorious Union; on States dissevered, discordant, belligerent; on a land rent with civil feuds, or drenched, it may be, in fraternal blood! Let their last feeble and lingering glance rather behold the gorgeous ensign of the republic, now known and honored throughout the earth, still full high advanced, its arms and trophies streaming in their original lustre, not a stripe erased or polluteddd, not a single star obscured, bearing for its motto, no such miserable interrogatory as “What is all this worth?” nor those other words of delusion and folly, “Liberty first and Union afterwards”; but everywhere, spread all over in characters of living light, placing on all its ample folds, as they float over the sea and over the land, and in every wind under the whole heavens, that other sentiment, dear to every true American heart, – Liberty and Union, now and for ever, one and inseparable!

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