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tv   QA Author Joel Richard Paul on Daniel Webster and the Birth of American...  CSPAN  January 9, 2023 6:02am-7:00am EST

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susan: joel richard paul, your new book is called daniel webster and the birth of american nationalism. joel: the start of our republic, we really did not have an idea of what it meant to be an american. craig her -- kerr famously wrote what is an american? at the start of our republic, people were virginians, they were new yorkers. they did not have a sense of what america meant. that was really just a concept, an idea but it wasn't a reality. they never really ventured much
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into other states. we have these competing ideas of nationalism that rose in our republic between the years of 1812, 1800 and 1840. there were various notions of what it meant to be an american. henry clay had this notion that we would create this infrastructure and the infrastructure would net the country together. that would create a sense of american nationality. john quincy adams thought it was the territory of the united states that defined us as americans. you had john c calhoun who really questioned the idea of america as one country and saw the country as a confederacy of state which helped to notify
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american law. then you have andrew jackson who comes to office with ideas about american nationality as defined by our race. he believed to be an american, you had to be european and african americans and indigenous people, mexicans were all excluded. excluded from american nationality. there are these competing ideas of nationalism. they push the idea that nationality for us is defined by the constitution. the constitution is the organic expression of the american people and the constitution made us all americans regardless of our race, our faith, what part of the country we live in. the book is basically the story of how he did that. >> daniel webster is in the
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subtitle but shouldn't readers expect a flawed biography of daniel webster in your pages? >> this is not a full biography of daniel webster. this notion of american nationalism began to crystallize. susan: today, nationalism can be a toxic concept. how do you feel about that as someone exploring the roots of american nationalism? joel: it was processed because of the american toxicity of american nationalism today, there will be talk about nationalism today as this being a white christian nation is so deeply offensive to the reality of who we are as people and i want to explore the history of how the ideas of nationalism were formed to remind people that in fact, we are a country of immigrants from a polyglot nation.
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that is what makes us unique and makes us strong. i hope that my book will give people a sense of -- that it is the constitution that made all of us americans regardless of where we came from. >> what adjective that describes the fifty-year time covered in your book? >> it was a very fractious time as you know. the country was on the one hand falling apart. the conflict between the free states and slave states made it very difficult to admit any of the new territory that had been acquired from the louisiana purchase and subsequently in the mexican-american war. it is an interesting time where we see these competing elements and at the same time that the country was kind of falling apart, our ideas of what it
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meant to be an american were coming together. >> you wrote an earlier book about the great chief justice john marshall. what interests you about those early republic years? question on marshall and daniel webster were closely associated. john marshall was the first chief justice of the united states. he formed the basic ideas we have about what the constitution means. the constitution was in urgent document before john marshall came along. john marshall read the constitution not as something that was dead but is something which was alive and something which was intended to be a vehicle for helping the country to move forward. daniel webster argued many other
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the great cases before john marshall and indeed, some of what john marshall wrote in his opinions was lifted from daniel webster's arguments before the court. these two men kind of formed a synergy about building a stronger national government based on this principle that the constitution was not merely a confederation but that the constitution was the organic expression of the will of the american people. >> as a scholar, what intrigues you about this across a couple hundred years of american history? >> i teach constitutional law at the university of california. they were largely formed during this time and it is interesting to me because the constitution is basically about the idea of
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the, of the role of the supreme court informing the constitution , it is based on the idea that all of us have some sense that the supreme court is acting as a legitimate body. it was john marshall kind of created the idea that the supreme court was a coequal branch of our government and how the court interpreted the constitution, that was the final word about what the constitution meant. i was interested about how he managed to form something from nothing. how he managed to invent an institution that today we treasure and that didn't really have that kind of power before john marshall became chief justice.
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>> since daniel webster is the true point of this tumultuous history, let's talk about him a little bit. when and where was he born? was from new he was the 10th child of a new hampshire farmer who was -- had a very modest living. daniel webster was sort of a sickly child. he was not very good at working on the farm but he showed signs of intelligence and his father encouraged that. and decided to send his son to phillips academy for his education. to do that, his father had to mortgage the farm. he sent his son to phillips academy and a few months into his education there, all of the boys are asked to stand up and to recite and john marshall froze, he could not stand up and recite. he simple he couldn't speak.
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he was removed from the phillips academy. he felt disgraced and humiliated by that experience. he was determined to overcome his fear of speaking. he set out to do that. he has a private tutor and he manages to develop a capacious memory. he is able to memorize 70 passages of the bible in a single weekend. he uses his memory as a way of giving him more confidence in his public speaking. then he goes off to dartmouth college and he is kind of a mediocre student except he has a strong ability to speak. he goes on to become an attorney in new hampshire and very early on, he gives a speech against
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the war in 1812 that is so well received by the audience that they basically decide -- he is one of the most outspoken opponents of the war of 1812. subsequent to that, he moves to boston and becomes an attorney there where there are more opportunities for a young lawyer. once again, he distinguishes himself by his public speaking. he gives a famous speech in plymouth, massachusetts where he denounces slavery. he is swept into office. he becomes famous as a supreme court advocate. he is known as the defender of the constitution.
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he runs for president four times over the course of 1812 to 1852. he really dominates american political life. the thing that really distinguish him was his extreme their capacity for public speaking. >> over the course of his public life, he belonged to three different parties. did he have a defining ideology that was consistent for those years? course he did. his defining ideology was his belief in the union and his opposition to slavery. those were the two dominant themes in his public life. he was known as the conscience of new england. he was a guy who stood up in congress and made public speeches in which he was clearly opposed.
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he personally purchased the freedom of various slaves who then joined his household servants. he tried various ways through his supreme court arguments to strengthen the arm of congress so that congress could eventually act to prevent crushing slavery. at the same time, he believed strongly in the union, he is most famously connected with one of his great speeches in which he said liberty and union are now and forever inseparable. he did not think that the union was free today, he knew that a third of our population was enslaved and his view was that
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the union was the vehicle for ending slavery. >> people today, the 21st century might not appreciate the importance of his speaking skills. i have a clip from a former senate historian now. all about webster and his speaking skills. it is brief, let us watch. >> people use to line up at dawn to get into the senate chamber to hear daniel webster speak. he had an eloquent manner about him and -- even if it wasn't the greatest speech they had ever heard, they could tell their children and grandchildren they heard the great daniel webster speak at one time. he could speak for days on an issue but they are somehow able to get to the nub of what the issue was and we remember him today not for the length of the speeches but for a telling phrase. i speak today not as another man, not as a messages man but as an american.
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>> the imprints of oratory in 19th-century america, what role did he play? twice we had no social media, no television. people made attending public speeches a kind of public outing, families would go and bring picnic lunches. they would say -- they would sit in the hot sun to litton -- to listen to these famous orbiters. among all of them, the most famous was daniel webster. daniel webster would get a speech and if you go up or five hours long. people were absolutely riveted by his work -- his words. probably the most famous incident ever recounted in the book involved the dedication, the monument at bunker hill. daniel webster was speaking at an occasion when the marquis de
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lafayette came back to the united states to celebrate the 58th anniversary of the battle of bunker hill and an audience of 40,000 bostonians are gathered on the hillside to hear daniel webster speak at this dedication and they had erected special seating for the ladies and overhead they had a tent -- a canopy to protect them from the hot sun. as daniel webster got up to speak, the crowd was so excited that people pushed forward and they knocked down the ceiling, it was huge to mold, the tent fell down on these women. women were lying flat on the ground, people were injured, running around and screaming. it was total bedlam. the marshal said to daniel webster, it is impossible to resume the ceremony. webster said nothing is impossible.
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he turned to the crowd and he said in his voice that he had, be silent and the crowd instantly stopped, they sat down and cleared away the tent, people resumed and returned to their seats. his speech continued. it was because of the powerful presence of this man, is enormously loud voice that was often compared to a church organ and the brilliance of his words and people would describe the series of being in one of his magnificent -- magnificent speeches as a kind of transformative experience. people would stagger out of the room after four hours of listening to this man. there were people in the audience who would transcribe all of his words and then republish them in all newspapers around the country.
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his speeches would sometimes get republican pamphlets as well. some of his speeches are 60 or 70 published pages, i have read them, they are long. the command of the english language was exceptional. his speech is like -- read like shakespeare. even in europe he was recognized as the greatest orator of his day. louis philippe invited him to come and dine with the king of france and had a giant portrait of webster addresse senate which now hangs in faneuil hall in boston. when he went to london on vacation, he was mobbed by all of the great political figures, royalty, writers of the day, all of them acknowledged him as the
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greatest orator of his day. his command of language was so exceptional that even people who never got the opportunity to hear him speak in person work by familiar with what he said. >> to ask questions about daniel webster. first of all, throughout the book, we learned that he is a difficult hero and had a number of devices. what were the vices? course he was overly fond of blind women and money. late in life, he became a drunk. he had a number of affairs and he was the subject of a lot of scandalous rumor, not all of which was true. he also took a fair amount of money from his constituents
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because he had a wild extravagant lifestyle. he had a huge arm in marshfield, massachusetts. he did not really -- to -- that did not limit his appetite. he would ask his constituents to give him money to support his lifestyle and some of those skilled -- some of the constituents had business with other governments. webster did their bidding. this was not as unusual as it might sound today. henry clay also took a lot of money from various constituents and did their bidding. it certainly made him a more complex hero in the story. >> he hungered for the presidency. why did it allude him? >> webster was known as god like
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daniel because of this exceptional voice he had. some people describe it as the voice of god. it was not godly in his personal life, he was sort of aloof, he was remote, he was sometimes compared to a statue. he was a figure of great respect but not a lot of affection. he did not like to slap people on the back, be friendly, he did not suffer fools gladly. he was controversial in the south because of his opposition to sit -- opposition to slavery. he tried to run with president with support from the north and west. the west had henry clay and andrew jackson and later william
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henry harrison and zachary taylor, all who were in the western states, he never really made it. he had an extraordinary claim as secretary of state. his words were so important that exhibits of his speeches were included in the readings that every school child in america read. everyone in america, there were something like 50 million copies available by 1850 in a population of -- ever get with the number was but significantly less than 50 million people. everybody who had an education, everybody who had read his readers, they were prepared -- they were required to stand up in school and there were
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excerpts of webster's speech extolling a reunion. it was that they really indoctrinated people in the ideas of nationalism that webster represented and that was the same generation that went on to fight in the civil war. people like abraham lincoln were transformed by webster passwords. >> how do we know that? >> we know in lincoln's case, he talked about the fact that webster was his role model as a speaker. when lincoln had his one term in congress, he was very excited to be invited to enjoy the breakfast club that webster had in his home on saturday mornings. he became a protege of webster, they were quick close. at least in the sense that
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lincoln admired webster. lincoln was nobody. webster vastly overshadowed lincoln. we know in lincoln's speeches that he lifted portions of webster's speeches. some are so well known as coming from webster that lincoln did not even have to attribute them to lincoln. lincoln did not have to attribute them to webster. lincoln stands up and says we are a government of the people by the people and for the people. no one in the audience has to be told that those are webster's words because everybody knows that from the readers they read in school. webster's influence was white broad and i think significant in preparing the country for the civil war. >> after five not consecutive
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terms in the u.s. house, daniel webster was elected to the senate in 1827, joined what became known as the great triumvirate of webster, clay and calhoun. i have another clip and this will be the only other one we show on the program. this was often referred to as the golden age of the senate. >> the historians have often referred to the 1820 to 1850 time as the golden age of the senate. i tend to reject that label for a variety of reasons. first of all, i can guarantee that dan webster, henry clay did not walk around the capital saying i am living in the golden age of the senate. they did not see it that way. they saw that as a noisy, dirty, cumbersome, difficult, contentious environment where they were trying to get their goals accomplished and their bills passed. it wasn't that different from
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what we have today. in that way, it is not necessary -- necessarily so golden. these people, webster, clay, calhoun, the people of this era were monumentally talented speech givers. daniel webster was famous for giving five hour after dinner speeches and mesmerizing his audiences. it is hard to imagine today. >> what do you think of her reaction? joel: i think it is always true as a historian that the age in which we are living in always feels like the most difficult time and the toxicity we have experienced from public life recently was very troubling. this is by no means unprecedented -- things were extremely violent
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andifficult for members of congress, we have to remember that charles sumner was caned. he was almost beaten to death on the floor of the senate. men threaten each other with guns in the house of representatives. you had tremendously passionate political speeches given by these people and tremendous divisions mostly over the issue of slavery but also on building, structure for the nation. these men were by no means god's . they did have a monument of capacity for public speaking that would outclass anything we have today.
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>> we have a bit more than 30 men slept in our hour-long conversation with you. i want to move into some of these big issues that are bottom of the country. let me start with expansion. during his 40 years, his debates about the extension of america from coast-to-coast, florida, texas, the oregon territory, california. would you describe webster's view -- was he in favor of this? this was really a debate about slavery. >> right. it was not initially a debate about slavery. the first great expansionist in our history was really john quincy adams. he died and said we ought to be a republic from ocean to ocean. he was the guy who envisioned that eventually we would take
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the frontier all the way to the coast of california. that was not about acquiring land for slavery. that was about his idea that the territory defined us as a nation and that somehow it was divinely intended for us to occupy this whole continent regard this of the people already there that we were pushing out of the way. we should not forget that when we talk about expansion, we were just talking about slavery, we were just talking about the indigenous tribes. webster believed that we have plenty of land with the original 13 colonies or by the 24 states that we had, we did not eat need
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anything more than that. webster was in opposition to the american war. as we expanded the territory, the issue was we were going to have free states or slave state added to the union when there were 24 states, there were 12 free states and 12 -- 12 slave state. the free states almost always had the majority because there were larger populations there. as we opened up the west, the population in the northeast began moving westward because the land in the northeast was less fertile then land was out west. there were more opportunities for people out west. more than to acquire. the population in the northeast began to shrink. the population in the northwest began to grow.
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this was a concern of webster and other northeastern politicians that did not want to lose their populations. with 12 free states and 12 slave states in the senate, you had some equilibrium between free and slave accuracy. when you started talking about acquiring states like missouri, that would have meant the slave states would have majority. there was this tit-for-tat negotiation that would take place to try to give the balance in the senate maintained. the truth is they dominated american government from the very beginning. if you think about it, of the american presidents before lincoln, everyone except john
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adams, john quincy adams to millard fillmore and james buchanan were slaveholders. only adam stood alone in opposing slavery before lincoln. of the supreme court justices, two thirds of them were slaveholders. most of the rest were also synthetics of the slaveholders. -- sympathetic of the slaveholders. this issue began to crystallize about the balance of free and slave states. >> why was the debate over tariffs which not only encompassed the 40 as we read about but -- you wrote about but
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what world did it have on the creation of american nationalism? >> we don't really think about ited states this way. when we formed the constitution, we created a nation by accident. they created enormous economic dislocations. tariff policy was always a hot issue.
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people like alexander hamilton argued for having a protectionist tariff to protect the growth of industries. the south which was primarily an exporter of rural products, for them, they did not want to have any kind of protectionist tariffs because it would change the cost of the manufacturing products they had from europe or that they bought from the north. in northern nist industries, they needed a protectionist tariff in order to compete with textile mills and britain which were much larger and much better established. the argument about tariffs
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engaged both the north and the south. then you have the west where henry clay made the argument there should be a grand bargain between the north and the west where the west would favor high tariffs to create additional revenues to help create more opportunities for westerners. these three regions of the country competed intensely over the question of tariff policy. >> related to that, the ongoing debate had gotten very challenging. it was the battle over the creation of the national bank which andrew jackson was heavily
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involved in. why was there such a contentious issue? >> this is difficult to explain in a short snip. i am trying -- i'm going to try to do my best. what you had in the early part of the public appointed -- up into the civil war, you had every state having state banks and the state banks issued their own banknotes which operate like truancy. if you bank at wells fargo, you got some wells fargo notes. it wasn't like a dollar from one bank was worth a dollar at another bank. this created all sorts of economic dislocations trying to figure out what something was worth. if you try to use your money from a south carolina bank to buy notes from massachusetts, how would a massachusetts bank
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value those notes? to become a bank in those days, all you needed was a printing press. there was no real bank regulation. he had a lot of fly-by-night operations, people just printing money that was potentially worthless. the idea of the national bank was to create one currency that could -- the national bank would create some kind of stability in the value of currency. that was part of the argument for the national bank. the hostility to the national bank arose because many republicans -- that is to say
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jeffersonian republicans -- lincoln republicans or democrats , andrew jackson democrats opposed the national banks because the national bank threat meant to create a stronger national government and they favored states rights over the national government. they also did not like the idea of big corporations. the second national bank of the united states was the largest corporation in the world in its day. it had $35 million of capital which at the time was a staggering sum of money. about what jeff bezos earns in about five minutes. the $35 million was -- people did not like the idea of the kind of economic power. it also meant the states would lose their control over their state banks and they did not want the competition for their
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state banks. for all of these reasons, there is this enormous hostility and at the national bank. on top of all of that, the fact that it is a national bank for a variety of reasons began foreclosing on a lot of farms and a lot of land back in the west and that made them even less popular. jackson who had no understanding of economics at all and who was inherently hostile to bankers and finance people and congress, generally and northeast urbanites, he was just determined to crush the national bank and that became one of the centerpieces of his administration. >> knowing that our time is short, throughout this entire time, the risk of separation was very real. the new england state was ready to succeed.
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the south was always on the verge of secession. the big crisis occurred in 1832, the nullification crisis. i wanted to get that on the record because back to daniel webster, it was the causation of his most famous speech, can you set the stage for us? >> sure. basically, south carolina and georgia both had problems with the national government. the worst case was they wanted to get the native american tribes pushed out of georgia's territory so that could be land for white people. in south carolina's case, it was opposition to the tariffs because southerners felt that it was -- it disfavored agricultural exports and drove up the cost to south carolinians. south carolina is presented by john c calhoun, he writes this
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diatribe where he says the states have the power to nullify federal law and that if the federal government doesn't like it, south carolina has the right to secede. at the time, john c calhoun is the vice president of the united states. senator hayne was a senator from south carolina who had a speech in which he accused the north of seeking to impoverish the south. daniel webster gets up and gives a reply to the senator. the second reply is the one that is most -- his most famous response. he gets up and basically he uses
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his response to center him to get senator hayne to make the argument that johnson calhoun has made in favor of nullification of secession. webster gets up and gives this incredibly powerful oration. where he famously says liberty and union now and forever were inseparable. it is the speech that made history for webster. it is this very powerful defense of the idea of union and a kind of reflection on the importance of our history, the promise that our constitution presented and
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the notion that the union itself is what makes us free and keeps us free. >> within 15 minutes left, i want to fast-forward to the closing act which is the compromise of 1850. he described a very dramatic scene. henry clay knocks on webster door late at night. what was he seeking? >> what happened in 1850 was california wanted to be added to the union. in 1849, everyone knows they discovered gold in california and it is important to admit california to the union for just that reason because spain, russia, britain, france, everybody wanted gold. so we had to take california but california would enter as a free state and that would upset the
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balance between the free states and the slave states. the slave states threatened to seed from the union if california was admitted as a free state and clay who is at this point very sickly, about to die in a few years, clay comes to webster's door in the middle of the snowstorm and says i have this idea for a compromise. he lays out this very collimated -- complicated compromise. the two critical part of the compromise are that in exchange for the south agreeing to allow california to enter the union as a free state, the north will agree to enforce the fugitive slave laws which had never been enforced. the law was based on the constitution which requires the states to return in the fugitive slaves.
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the court would never allow that to happen. as the underground railroad was becoming more successful and getting thousands of african-americans who were enslaved in the south free and brought to the north, southern slaveholders wanted to do something about this. that is what clay is proposing to do, to create a system whereby several magistrates would be appointed, not allowing state judges and state juries but a federal magistrate who could simply give an order with no due process at all that a specific african-american would be sent back to enslavement in the south. in order for this compromise to
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succeed, clay has to get the cooperation of webster because webster is the leading voice of new england. he is the guy who can persuade other northerners to go along and for webster, this is a real conflict. he has to decide between his loyalty to the union on one hand and his loyalty to the antislavery cause of the other. he knows it is a career enter because he knows if he endorses the slave laws, the massachusetts legislature is never going to send him back to the senate and his career is finished and politics. he decides it is more important to hold onto the union as the vehicle for ending slavery and he gives a speech march 7 of 1850 where he basically says the union is more important and we
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have to agree to enforce the fugitive slave laws and on that basis, enough senators agree that the law is passed and the union is saved for at least 10 years. >> the next step in his career was one i did not understand because then he resigned to become secretary of state and in that decision was responsible for enforcing the fugitive slave law. a law he had to swallow hard to accept. why would he have done that? quick the problem webster faced his he needed a graceful way to get out of the senate. he had served as secretary of state previously. he had established himself greatly in that role. he was the guy who basically defined the borders between the united states and canada.
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he agrees to take this as a way to get out of elected politics and joint administration. he thinks his time as secretary of state will somehow redeem him but the secretary of state's job in the united states was not dealing with foreign governors alone, secretary of state was more like a prime minister. he made -- he took care of the whole government except for the treasury department. in that capacity, he does what we now regard as the attorney general. he was the guy who ran all of the district attorneys, all of the enforcement of law all over the country. that was webster's responsibility. when a fugitive slave is arrested in boston, a mob forms that freeze this man from captivity and he escaped to canada.
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webster felt it was personally embarrassing to him and to the administration. this was really to honor the compromise that held the union together. >> would you say still doomed his chances? >> i think this is a little bit like the former president, the office again, webster is a guy who is not really a viable candidate. he cannot even get endorsed by his own state. he could not even get nominated
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but in his deluded thinking, he thought maybe there is some way i could win over southern support or question support or something. it was a fantasy, it was not a reality for webster at all. he was drinking very heavily at the time and he is a disaster as secretary of state, he is denied by all of his friends -- the world liberty and amount wrath of daniel webster is like the word love in the mouth of the courtesan. john henry greenleaf -- john greenleaf writes a poem in which he denounces webster and says the man is dead. webster had no friends at that point. he was just simply a lonely,
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desperate man. he dies two years later. >> as you explain the compromise of 1850 would not have passed without webster's support. i wrote down this quote from your book. the life of every great figure ends in tragedy but the particular tragedy of webster's life was also america's tragedy. what were you thinking? >> it is a tragedy that there was no solution. to the conflict between the north and the south. we were headed into the great conflict of the war. what webster did accomplish in the current's 1850 at this point -- in 1850, the country by no means was prepared to fight the civil war. if the south would have succeeded in 1850, you had millard fillmore in a room with abraham lincoln and millard fillmore was no abraham lincoln.
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he was completely out of his depth. the world was not overwhelmingly antislavery at that point yet either. what happened was because he had previously thought of slavery as something is, it was suddenly happening in your backyard, they saw african-americans in chains dragged onto slave ships. that radicalized the north. the antislavery vote in 1850 was just 10% of the country. by 1860, you had a republican. that shows how things changed. the other factor was that the war of 1850 was economically and militarily ahead of the south. the gap grew dramatically over
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the next 10 years. the north had all of the arms industry in the country by 1860. connecticut was the largest arms manufacturer. the south had for whatever reason closed all of the armories. the south did not have the weapons or the ammunition to fight in 1860. the north had everything. i believe we would not have won the civil war had it not been for that delay of 10 years. >> let's close our conversation with your thesis. your theory of went american national vision -- nationalism began to gel. while the union was falling apart during this time, american identity was taking shape. why don't you close by explaining how both of them could exist simultaneously.
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>> america was an abstraction at the beginning of our republic. by the beginning of 1850, america was no longer an abstraction. people began to feel -- they began to identify themselves as americans. at the same time, there was this political division. the way in which we identified ourselves was important. the southerners did not see themselves as being less american or not being americans. they thought they were taking with them the true idea of what it meant to be american.
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they had a government that very much looked like the national government. it is that fact that made it possible for the country to come back together again. you ultimately saw each other as americans. the way christian nationalism we hear so much about today is so completely un-american and contrary to this moment, the constitution made this one moment, the one moment that was fought over -- it has to remain the centerpiece of any american national
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identity today. >> indivisible, daniel webster and the breath of american nationalism. thank you for spending one hour with c-span. joel: thank you. >> all q&a programs are available on our website or as a podcast.
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