Why Some Succeed While Others Fail: Robert Y. Hayne

The renowned debate on the doctrine of nullification in which he was one of the principals,—if it were the only act of his life, must make the name of Robert Y. Hayne forever illustrious. He was born in 1791, and admitted to the bar before he was twenty-one, having been educated in Charleston, South Carolina, his native State.

He volunteered early in the war of 1812 and rapidly rose to the position of Major-General, being considered one of the best disciplinarians in the South. As his old friend, Mr. Ehres, had been chosen to a seat in Congress, he succeeded to his large practice, and before he was twenty-two he had the most lucrative practice of any lawyer in his State.

He was elected to the South Carolina legislature as a member of the assembly of 1814, and as speaker of that body four years after taking his seat and soon was chosen Attorney General of the State. In every position young Haynes was placed he not only acquitted himself with credit but won for himself great esteem, and as soon as he was old enough to be elligible for United States Senator he was sent by his State to defend their interests at the national capitol.

Here he became a most aggressive opponent, culminating in “The battle of the giants,” the great debate on the interpretation of the constitution. Mr. Hayne’s speech on this occasion was heralded far and near, and it was classed by his supporters with the mightiest efforts of Burke or Pitt. Mr. Webster’s reply has been generally acknowledged the superior effort of the two; but certain it is that whatever may have been the tendency of the views espoused by him, Robert Y. Hayne was an honest and sincere defender of the doctrine of the State Rights, and was held in high esteem by his political opponents.

The obnoxious tariff laws passing, General Hayne was elected Governor of his State; the people feeling that they could place the helm of their ship in no safer hands during the trying ordeal they felt they were to pass through. In replying to President Jackson’s celebrated proclamation Hayne issued a counter-manifesto full of defiance. Happily the compromise of Mr. Clay postponed for thirty years the threatened civil war.

The evening of the close of that great debate at a presidential levee, Mr. Webster challenged Mr. Hayne to drink a glass of wine with him, saying, “General Hayne, I drink to your health, and hope that you may live a thousand years.” Hayne’s disposition is shown by his reply: “I shall not live a hundred if you make another such a speech.” If he felt there was merit in an individual he was quickest to admit it even when it might be to his own detriment, and when it is remembered that he was one of the first to compliment Webster on his great parliamentary success, his noble qualities are shown in their true colors.

After serving in the gubernatorial chair with great distinction he retired to become Mayor of Charleston. He now turned his attention especially to internal improvements, and soon became president of the Charleston, Louisville & Cincinnati Railway. This office he held at his death, which occurred in his fiftieth year, September 24th, 1841. There are many things in the character of General Hayne worthy of study.