Daniel Webster Urges Concessions

Daniel Webster Urges Concessions (1850)

On the anvil of congressional debate was forged the great Compromise of 1850. California was admitted as a free state; the fate of slavery in the rest of the Mexican Cession territory was left to the inhabitants. The major sop to the South was the enactment of a more stringent Fugitive Slave Law. As a concession to the North, the slave trade was abolished in the District of Columbia; as a concession to the South, slavery in the District was retained. Texas received $10 million for yielding a disputed chunk of its territory to New Mexico. Senator Daniel Webster's Seventh of March speech during these congressional debates emphasized concession, compromise, moderation, and Union. He attacked the abolitionists (see earlier, p. 3 73) and deplored the agitation over the extension of slavery to the territories. A slave economy was geographically impossible there, he felt, and no legislative body should reenact the law of God. Finally, he took sharp issue with Calhoun 's threat of secession. How good a prophet was Webster? Which of his arguments on the impracticability of peaceful secession probably carried the most weight in the North?

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 .... I speak today for the preservation of the Union. "Hear me for my cause." ...
Mr. President, I should much prefer to have heard, from every member on this floor, declarations of opinion that this Union should never be dissolved, than the declaration of opinion that in any case, under the pressure of circumstances, such a dissolution was possible. I hear with pain, and anguish, and distress, the word secession, especially when it falls from the lips of those who are eminently patriotic, and known to the country, and known all over the world, for their political services.
Secession! Peaceable secession! Sir, your eyes and mine are never destined to see that miracle. The dismemberment of this vast country without convulsion! The breaking up of the fountains of the great deep without ruffling the surface! Who is so foolish-! beg everybody's pardon-as to expect to see any such thing? …
There can be no such thing as a peaceable secession. Peaceable secession is an utter impossibility. Is the great Constitution under which we live here-covering this whole country-is it to be thawed and melted away by secession, as the snows on the mountain melt under the influence of a vernal sun-disappear almost unobserved, and die off? No, sir! No, sir! No, sir! I will not state what might produce the disruption of the states; but, sir, I see it as plainly as I see the sun in heaven-! See that disruption must produce such a war as I will not describe, in its twofold characters.
Peaceable secession! Peaceable secession! The concurrent agreement of all the members of this great Republic to separate! A voluntary separation, with alimony on one side and on the other! Why, what would be the result? Where is the line to be drawn? What states are to secede? -What is to remain American? What am I to be? - an American no long er? Where is the flag of the Republic to remain? Where is the eagle still to tower? or is he to cower, and shrink, and fall to the ground? …
Congressional Globe, 31st Congress, 1st session (March 7, 1850), pp. 276, 482-483.
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