On March 7, 1850, Daniel Webster delivered his “Seventh of March” speech, entitled “The Constitution & The Union,” on the floor of the United States Senate. The speech argued in favor of the Compromise of 1850 and is considered one of the most consequential of the great orator’s career.
Famously beginning with the line, “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,” the speech and the Compromise it advocated were then and remain now controversial.
According to the U.S. Senate’s website:
Webster viewed slavery as a matter of historical reality rather than moral principle. He argued that the issue of its existence in the territories had been settled long ago when Congress prohibited slavery in the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 and divided regions into slave and free in the 1820 Missouri Compromise. He believed that slavery where it existed could not be eradicated but also that it could not take root in the newly acquired agriculturally barren lands of the southwest. Attacking radical abolitionists to boost his credibility with moderate southerners, Webster urged northerners to respect slavery in the South and to assist in the return of fugitive slaves to their owners. He joined Clay in warning that the Union could never be dismembered peacefully.
Webster immediately earned the praise of moderates throughout the country, while reaping the scorn of northern abolitionists who believed he had sold his soul to advocates of the South’s ‘peculiar institution’ in return for their support of his presidential candidacy.
The full text of the speech is available here.
How fortunate we are that such Demosthenic eloquence has not deserted our institutions as we debate the great issues of the present day: