« AnteriorContinuar »
A league, or confederacy, is but a subsisting or continuing treaty.
The gentleman's resolutions, then, affirm, in effect, that these twenty-four United States are held together only by a subsisting treaty, resting for its fulfilment and continuance on no inherent power of its own, but on the plighted faith of each State; or, in other words, that our Union is but a league ; and, as a consequence from this proposition, they further affirm that, as sovereigns are subject to no superior power, the States must decide, each for itself, of any alleged violation of the league; and if such violation be supposed to have occurred, each may adopt any mode or measure of redress which it shall think proper.
Other consequences naturally follow, too, from the main proposition. If a league between sovereign powers have no limitation as to the time of its duration, and contain nothing making it perpetual, it subsists only during the good pleasure of the parties, although no violation be complained of. If, in the opinion of either party, it be violated, such party may say that he will no longer fulfil its obligations on his part, but will consider the whole league or compact at an end, although it might be one of its stipulations that it should be perpetual. Upon this principle, the Congress of the United States, in 1798, declared null and void the treaty of alliance between the United States and France, though it professed to be a perpetual alliance.
If the violation of the league be accompanied with serious injuries, the suffering party, being sole judge of his own mode and measure of redress, has a right to indemnify himself by reprisals on the offending members of the league ; and reprisals, if the circumstances of the case require it, may be followed by direct, avowed, and public war.
The necessary import of the resolutions, therefore, is, that the United States are connected only by a league ; that it is in the good pleasure of every State to decide how long she will choose to remain a member of this league ; that any State may determine the extent of her own obligations under it, and accept or reject what shall be decided by the whole; that she may also determine whether her rights have been violated, what is the extent of the injury done her, and what mode and measure of redress her wrongs may make it fit and expedient for her to adopt. The result of the whole is, that any State may secede at pleasure; that any State may resist a law which she herself may choose to say exceeds the power of Congress; and that, as a sovereign power, she may redress her own grievances, by her own arm, at her own discretion : she may make reprisals ; she may cruise against the property of other members of the league ; she may authorize captures, and make open war.
If, Sir, this be our political condition, it is time the people of the United States understood it. Let us look for a moment to the practical consequences of these opinions. One State, holding an embargo law unconstitutional, may declare her opinion, and withdraw from the Union. She secedes. Another, forming and expressing the same judgment on a law laying duties on imports, may withdraw also. She secedes. And as, in her opinion, money has been taken out of the pockets of her citizens illegally, under pretence of this law, and as she has power to redress their wrongs, she may demand satisfaction; and, if refused, she may take it with a strong hand. The gentleman has himself pronounced the collection of duties, under existing laws, to be nothing but robbery. Robbers, of course, may be rightfully dispossessed of the fruits of their flagitious crimes; and, therefore, reprisals, impositions on the commerce of other States, foreign alliances against them, or open war, are all modes of redress justly open to the discretion and choice of South Carolina; for she is to judge of her own rights, and to seek satisfaction for her own wrongs, in her own way.
But, Sir, a third State is of opinion, not only that these laws of imposts are Constitutional, but that it is the absolute duty of Congress to pass and to maintain such laws; and that, by omitting to pass and maintain them, its Constitutional obligations would be grossly disregarded. She relinquished the power of protection, she might allege, and allege truly, herself, and gave it up to Congress, on the faith that Congress would exercise it. If Congress now refuse to exercise it, Congress does, as she may insist, break the condition of the grant, and thus manifestly violate the Constitution ; and for this violation of the Constitution, she may threaten to secede also. Virginia may secede, and hold the fortresses in the Chesapeake. The Western States may secede, and take to their own use the public lands. Louisiana may secede, if she choose, form a foreign alliance, and hold the mouth of the Mississippi. If one State may secede, ten may do so—twenty may do sotwenty-three may do so. Sir, as these secessions go on, one after another, what is to constitute the United States? Whose will be the army? Whose the navy? Who will pay the debts ? Who fulfil the public treaties? Who perform the Constitutional guaranties? Who govern this District and the Territories? Who retain the public property?
Mr. President, every man must see that these are all questions which can arise only after a revolution. They presuppose the breaking up of the Government. While the Constitution lasts, they are repressed ; they spring up to annoy and startle us only from its grave.
The Constitution does not provide for events which must be preceded by its own destruction. SecESSION, therefore, since it must
VOL. II. 22
bring these consequences with it, is REVOLUTIONARY. And NULLIFICATION is equally REVOLUTIONARY. What is revolution? Why, Sir, that is revolution, which overturns, or controls, or successfully resists, the existing public authority; that which arrests the exercise of the supreme power; that which introduces a new paramount authority into the rule of the State. Now, Sir, this is the precise object of nullification. It attempts to supersede the supreme legislative authority. It arrests the arm of the Executive Magistrate. It interrupts the exercise of the accustomed judicial power. Under the name of an ordinance, it declares null and void, within the State, all the revenue laws of the United States. Is not this revolutionary? Sir, so soon as this ordinance shall be carried into effect, a revolution will have commenced in South Carolina. She will have thrown off the authority to which her citizens have heretofore been subject. She will have declared her own opinions and her own will to be above the laws and above the power of those who are intrusted with their administration. If she makes good these declarations, she is revolutionized. As to her, it is as distinctly a change of the supreme power, as the American revolution of 1776. That revolution did not subvert government in all its forms. It did not subvert local laws and municipal administrations. It only threw off the dominion of a power claiming to be superior, and to have a right, in many important respects, to exercise legislative authority. Thinking this authority to have been usurped or abused, the American colonies, now the United States, bade it defiance, and freed themselves from it by means of a revolution. But that revolution left them with their own municipal laws still, and the forms of local government. If Carolina now shall effectually resist the laws of Congress; if she shall be her own judge, take her remedy into her own hands, obey the laws of the Union when she pleases, and disobey them when she pleases,—she will relieve herself from a paramount power as distinctly as the American colonies did the same thing in 1776. In other words, she will achieve, as to herself, a revolution.
But, Sir, while practical nullification in South Carolina would be, as to herself, actual and distinct revolution, its necessary tendency must also be to spread revolution, and to break up the Constitution, as to all the other States. It strikes a deadly blow at the vital principle of the whole Union. To allow State resistance to the laws of Congress to be rightful and proper, to admit nullification in some States, and yet not expect to see a dismemberment of the entire Government, appears to me the wildest illusion, and the most extravagant folly. The gentleman seems not conscious of the direction or the rapidity of his own course. The current of his opinions sweeps him along, he knows not whither. To begin with nullification, with the avowed intent, nevertheless, not
out asking the consent of the State Governments. This was the very power on which the new Constitution was to depend for all its ability to do good; and, without it, it can be no government, now or at any time. Yet, Sir, it is precisely against this power, so absolutely indispensable to the very being of the Government, that South Carolina directs her ordinance. She attacks the Government in its authority to raise revenue—the very main spring of the whole system ; and, if she succeed, every movement of that system must inevitably cease. It is of no avail that she declares that she does not resist the law as a revenue law, but as a law for protecting manufactures. It is a revenue law; it is the very law by force of which the revenue is collected ; if it be arrested in any State, the revenue ceases in that State ; it is, in a word, the sole reliance of the Government for the means of maintaining itself and performing its duties. .
Mr. President, the alleged right of a State to decide Constitutional questions for herself, necessarily leads to force, because other States must have the same right, and because different States will decide differently; and when these questions arise between States, if there be no superior power, they can be decided only by the law of force. On entering into the Union, the people of each State gave up a part of their own power to make laws for themselves, in consideration that, as to common objects, they should have a part in making laws for other States. In other words, the people of all the States agreed to create a common Government, to be conducted by common councils. Pennsylvania, for example, yielded the right of laying imposts in her own ports, in consideration that the new Government, in which she was to have a share, should possess the power of laying imposts in all the States. If South Carolina now refuses to submit to this power, she breaks the condition on which other States entered into the Union. She partakes of the common councils, and therein assists to bind others, while she refuses to be bound herself. It makes no difference in the case, whether she does all this without reason or pretext, or whether she sets up as a reason that, in her judgment, the acts complained of are unconstitutional. In the judgment of other States, they are not so. It is nothing to them that she offers some reason or some apology for her conduct, if it be one which they do not admit. It is not to be expected that any State will violate her duty without some plausible pretext. That would be too rash a defiance of the opinion of mankind. But if it be a pretext which lies in her own breast; if it be no more than an opinion which she says she has formed, how can other States be satisfied with this? How can they allow her to be judge of her own obligations? Or, if she may judge of her obligations, may they not judge of their rights also? May not the