Robert Young Hayne

United States senator Robert Young Hayne (1791-1839), a notable defender of the Southern states'-rights position, distinguished himself in the 1830 Senate debates on the nature of the Union.

Robert Hayne was born on a rice plantation in South Carolina on Nov. 10, 1791. He studied law and was admitted to the bar just before he was 21. In 1814 he was elected as a Jeffersonian Republican to the lower house of the South Carolina Legislature and 4 years later became its speaker. After serving as state attorney general for 2 years, he was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1822, with the backing of John C. Calhoun.

As senator, Hayne took a lead in opposing Federal efforts to increase the tariff. He attracted national attention and became the idol of the South when he joined Senator Thomas Hart Benton of Missouri in opposing a resolution to curtail the sale of western land. Hayne based his case on the argument that the Federal government lacked such power, for the territories were joint possessions of all the states. Any restriction on the sale of lands would be an infringement of the rights of citizens of the states.

Hayne's brilliant exposition of the states'-rights interpretation of the Union was forcefully challenged by Daniel Webster in 1830. In the course of their debates (waged for 2 weeks before crowded Senate galleries) the two men ranged over a vast number of topics: slavery, nullification, the basic character of the Constitution, and the objectives of the Hartford Convention of 1814. These speeches defined the arguments that would be repeated endlessly by Northern and Southern leaders until the Civil War.

Hayne withdrew from the Senate in 1832 to make way for John C. Calhoun, who had resigned from the U.S. vice presidency. Hayne next participated in South Carolina's nullification convention and then, as governor, prepared to resist if President Andrew Jackson used force to execute Federal laws. However, when a compromise tariff was proposed, Hayne promptly suspended action.

After one term as governor and one year as mayor of Charleston, Hayne concentrated on his business interests. He was an active promoter of the Louisville, Cincinnati, and Charleston Railroad Company, which sought to link Charleston to the major cities of the South and West. The Panic of 1837 curtailed development of the company, but the planned route was later used by the Southern Railway. Hayne died suddenly of a fever on Sept. 24, 1839.


Further Reading on Robert Young Hayne

Theodore Dehon Jervey, Robert Y. Hayne and His Times (1909), is the standard biography. There is good material on Hayne in Charles Maurice Wiltse, John C. Calhoun (3 vols., 1944-1951).

Additional Biography Sources

Jervey, Theodore D. (Theodore Dehon), b. 1859, Robert Y. Hayne and his time, New York: Da Capo Press, 1970, c1909.

Winthrop, Robert C. (Robert Charles), 1809-1894, Webster's reply to Hayne, and his general methods of preparation: R.C. Winthrop, 1893 or 1894.