I posted the two Dennis Miller cuts in response to a question in my classes on Thursday. We were discussing the Compromise of 1850 and the debate about sectionalism in antebellum America. In that discussion we were studying three of the giants of the Senate during the period leading to the Civil War. These were the statesmen who were trying to keep a lid on the boiling pot of sectionalism.
Henry Clay of Kentucky, was part of three major compromises. He is the consummate statesmen and probably the most important politician who was not president. In 1820, Missouri asked to come into the country as a slave state. At that time balance in Senatorial representation kept the peace between the north and the south. Recognizing the worry of one side or the other gaining the majority, Clay engineered the Missouri Compromise, whereby the southern border of Missouri, 36 degrees, 30', would be the dividing line between slave and free states. Additionally, when states were admitted, one slave state would be admitted along with one free state to maintain that balance. Clay was instrumental in the compromise that ended the Nullification Crisis of 1832-33, and the Compromise of 1850. All three of these included the element of secession. Clay recognized that this threatened the union and used his influence to compromise.
John C. Calhoun, southern activist, Senator, Vice President is another of the Senatorial Giants. He was a slaveholder and defended the institution. He also was a state's rights believer. In 1828, a tariff was passed on manufactured goods that landed with both feet on southern agrarians. Calhoun led the Nullification Crisis of 1832-33. In short, the "nullies" harkened back to the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions of 1798, written by James Madison and Thomas Jefferson respectively, in answer to the Alien and Sedition Acts, that made it illegal the criticize the government, in violation of the First Amendment. As Jefferson has said, "When people fear the government that's tyranny, when government fears the people that's liberty." The theory in those documents was that government existed solely to protect the rights of the people. When the government does not protects those rights, it is the right of the people to nullify, or refuse to obey, that law.
Calhoun was VP for John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson in successive administrations, 1824, 1828. He resigned to fight the Nullification fight. He believed in it that much. I don't in any way buy into his slavery fight. I do, however, believe that states have dealt away their rights and acquiesced their power to the federal government. That, Calhoun got right.
The third of the Senatorial Giants was Daniel Webster, of Massachusetts. The quote above is his made in the March 7th speech of 1850. The opening line of this speech says everything about what it means to be a statesman. Read the speech. I can't expound upon it.
What made me make this post was a question asked by one of my students in class yesterday. He asked "Do we have any of these giants in the congress today?" I really was kind of stunned by the question. Struggling for a reply took me a few seconds. He asked the question again. Several students chimed in. I have always wanted to remain objective in my classes and allow the students, after we explore all sides of an issue, to reach their own conclusion. In this instance I just turned and pointed to a quote I have posted on the wall with others in my classroom. It reads, "In politics, stupidity is not a handicap." Napoleon Bonaparte.
The student read it and said, "I guess not, huh?" I said, "Draw your own conclusions."
Most importantly, all three of these statesman recognized the need to put the union above their own personal agendas. They placed the priniciple of unionism above their own goals. They saved the union as much as Lincoln did. That's a discussion for another day.