In December of 1818, he was appointed South Carolina’s attorney general, serving until 1822. That year the legislature elected Hayne to the U.S. Senate over William Smith, a political rival of John C. Calhoun.
U.S. senator, governor. Hayne was born on November 10, 1791, in St. Paul’s Parish, Colleton District, to William Hayne and Elizabeth Peronneau. One of fourteen children, Hayne attended private school in Charleston but was unable to attend college because of his family’s poor financial situation. He studied law under Langdon Cheves, was admitted to the bar before turning twenty-one, and immediately began a lucrative practice. Marriages to two daughters of prominent Charleston families, Frances Henrietta Pinckney in 1813 and Rebecca Brewton Alston in 1820, greatly enhanced his wealth and social status.
Hayne served as a lieutenant in the Charleston Cadet Infantry during the War of 1812 and was later promoted to captain of the Charleston Riflemen. He was also appointed a quartermaster general of South Carolina in December 1814. Elected to the South Carolina House of Representatives in 1814, Hayne became Speaker in 1818. In December of that year, he was appointed South Carolina’s attorney general, serving until 1822. That year the legislature elected Hayne to the U.S. Senate over William Smith, a political rival of John C. Calhoun. During his first years in the Senate, Hayne supported a nationalist agenda. But as did other South Carolina politicians, he became an advocate for states’ rights in the late 1820s. Hayne believed that tariffs would lead to the domination of the North over the South, and of the federal government over the state governments. He emerged as one of the most eloquent tariff opponents in Congress.
The climax of Hayne’s senatorial career came after his reelection in 1828. In December 1829 Senator Samuel Foot of Connecticut introduced a measure to restrict the sale of public western lands. Hayne supported Senator Thomas Hart Benton of Missouri, contending that Foot’s proposal would restrict access to cheap western land and thereby create a dependent labor source for eastern manufacturers. Furthermore, restricted land sales would inflate prices and provide unnecessary revenue for the federal government, encouraging corruption and consolidation.
Senator Daniel Webster of Massachusetts countered that Hayne’s fear of consolidation and Benton’s belief in eastern malice toward the West were unfounded. Thus began an oratorical contest that forever linked Hayne and Webster. For two weeks in early 1830, the two senators clashed over western lands, slavery, the Constitution, and nullification. The Webster-Hayne debate concluded with Webster’s ringing endorsement of “Liberty and Union, now and forever, one and inseparable.” In contrast, Hayne espoused the radical states’ rights doctrine of nullification, believing that a state could prevent a federal law from being enforced within its borders. According to Hayne, the South would never allow “any interference, whatever, in their domestic concerns.” If the federal government ever attempted to do so, the southern states would consider themselves as “driven from the Union.”
In 1832, as the tariff crisis grew, Hayne turned his Senate seat over to John C. Calhoun, nullification’s architect, and was rewarded with the governor’s chair of South Carolina. When Congress passed another tariff in 1832, Hayne advocated a state nullification convention, then presided over the body which voided the tariff in South Carolina. In response to President Andrew Jackson’s “Proclamation to the People of South Carolina” and the Force Bill, Hayne called for ten thousand troops to defend the state from the federal government. However, when Henry Clay offered a compromise for ending the crisis, Hayne supported rescinding the nullification ordinance and served over the body which did so. After the Compromise of 1833 had been effected, Hayne finished his term working to reconcile nullification factions within South Carolina.
While serving as mayor of Charleston from 1835 to 1837, Hayne became interested in railroads as a means to expand trade and commerce in the port city. He proposed extending the existing railroad between Charleston and Hamburg through the Blue Ridge Mountains and into the Old Northwest, opening the states of Kentucky and Ohio as markets for the port of Charleston. Hayne gained support and the states of Tennessee, South Carolina, North Carolina, and Kentucky granted charters for the railroad. The Louisville, Cincinnati and Charleston Railroad Company was formed in 1836, and Hayne served as its first president. Despite a national depression and a loss of enthusiasm, he continued to push his plan, although his dream of a transmontane railroad never reached fruition. Attending a stockholders’ meeting in Asheville, North Carolina, Hayne contracted a fever and died there on September 24, 1839. His body was returned to Charleston and interred in St. Michael’s Churchyard.
Freehling, William W. Prelude to Civil War: The Nullification Controversy in South Carolina, 1816–1836. New York: Harper & Row, 1965.
Hayne, Paul Hamilton. Lives of Robert Young Hayne and Hugh Swinton Legare. Charleston, S.C.: Walker, Evans, and Cogswell, 1878.
Jervey, Theodore. Robert Y. Hayne and His Times. 1909. Reprint, New York: Da Capo, 1970.