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theorists. And who can say that it has failed ? Who can find substantial fault with its operation or its results? The great question is, whether we shall provide for the peaceable decision of cases of collision. Shall they be decided by law, or by force? Shall the decisions be decisions of peace, or decisions of war?
On the occasion which has given rise to this meeting, the proposition contended for, was, that every State, under certain supposed exigencies, and in certain supposed cases, might decide for itself, and act for itself, and oppose its own force to the execution of the laws. By what argument, do you imagine, Gentlemen, it was, that such a proposition was maintained? I should call it metaphysical, and subtle; but these terms would imply at least ingenuity, and some degree of plausibility ; whereas the argument appears to me plain assumption, mere perverse construction of plain language, in the body of the Constitution itself. As I understand it, when put forth in its revised and most authentic shape, it is this: that the Constitution provides tbat any amendments may be made to it, which shall be agreed to by three fourths of the States: there is, therefore, to be nothing in the Constitution to which three fourths of the States have not agreed. All this is true ; but then comes this inference, viz, that when one State denies the constitutionality of any law of Congress, she may arrest its execution as to herself, and keep it arrested, till the States can all be consulted, by their Conventions, and three fourths of them shall have decided that the law is Constitutional. Indeed, the inference is still stranger than this; for State Conventions have no authority to construe the Constitution, though they have authority to amend it; therefore the argument must prove, if it prove any thing, that when any one State denies that any particular power is included in the Constitution, it is to be considered as not included, and cannot be found there, till three fourths of the States agree to insert it. In short, the result of the whole is, that, though it requires three fourths of the States to insert any thing into the Constitution, yet any one State can strike any thing out of it. For the power to strike out, and the power of deciding, without appeal, upon the construction of what is already in, are substantially and practically the same.
And, Gentlemen, what a spectacle should we have exhibited under the actual operation of notions like these! At the very moment when our Government was quoted, praised, and commended all over the world; when the friends of Republican Liberty, every where, were gazing at it with delight, and were in perfect admiration at the harmony of its movements, one State steps forth, and, by the power of nullification, breaks up the whole system, and scatters the bright chain of the Union into as many sundered links as there are separate States !
Seeing the true grounds of the Constitution thus attacked, I
raised my voice in its favor, I must confess, with no preparation, or previous intention. I can hardly say that I embarked in the contest from a sense of duty. It was an instantaneous impulse of inclination, not acting against duty, I trust, but hardly waiting for its suggestions. I felt it to be a contest for the integrity of the Constitution; and I was ready to enter into it, not thinking, or caring, personally, how I might come out.
Gentlemen, I have true pleasure in saying that I trust the crisis has, in some ineasure, passed by. The doctrines of nullification have received a severe and stern rebuke from public opinion. The general reprobation of the country has been cast upon them. Recent expressions of the most numerous branch of the National Legislature are decisive and imposing. Every where, the general tone of public feeling is for the Constitution. While much will be yielded-every thing, almost, but the integrity of the Constitution, and the essential interests of the country—to the cause of mutual harmony, and mutual conciliation, no ground can be granted, not an inch, to menace, and bluster. Indeed, menace and bluster, and the putting forth of daring unconstitutional doctrines, are, at this very moment, the chief obstacles to mutual harmony, and satisfactory accommodation. Men cannot well reason, and confer, and take counsel together, about the discreet exercise of a power, with those who deny that any such power rightfully exists, and who threaten to blow up the whole Constitution, if they cannot otherwise get rid of its operation. It is matter of sincere gratification, Gentlemen, that the voice of this great State has been so clear and strong, and her vote all but unanimous, on the most interesting of these occasions, in the House of Representatives. Certainly such respect to the Union becomes New York. It is consistent with her interests and her character. That singularly-prosperous State—which now is, and is likely to continue to be, the greatest link in the chain of the Union—will ever be, it is to be hoped, the strongest link also. The great States which lie in her neighborhood agreed with her fully in this matter. Pennsylvania, I believe, was loyal to the Union, to a man; and Ohio raises her voice, like that of a lion, against whatsoever threatens disunion and dismemberment. This harmony of sentiment is truly gratifying. It is not to be gainsaid that the union of opinion, in this great central mass of our popuJation, on this momentous point of the Constitution, augurs well for our future prosperity and security.
I have said, Gentlemen, what I verily believe to be true—that there is no danger to the Union, from open and avowed attacks on its essential principles. Nothing is to be feared from those who will march up boldly to their own propositions, and tell us that they mean to annihilate powers exercised by Congress. But, certainly, there are dangers to the Constitution, and we ought not to shut our eyes to them. We know the importance of a firm and intelligent judiciary; but how shall we secure the continuance of a firm and intelligent judiciary? Gentlemen, the judiciary is in the appointment of the executive power. It cannot continue or renew itself. Its vacancies are to be filled in the ordinary modes of executive appointment. If the time shall ever come (which Heaven avert), when men shall be placed in the supreme tribunal of the country, who entertain opinions hostile to the just powers of the Constitution, we shall then be visited by an evil defying all remedy. Our case will be "past surgery." From that moment the Constitution is at an end. If they who are appointed to defend the castle shall betray it, wo betide those within! If I live to see that day come, I shall despair of the country. I shall be prepared to give it back to all its former afflictions, in the days of the confederation. I know no security, Gentlemen, against the possibility of this evil, but an awakened public vigilance. I know no safety, but in that state of public opinion, which shall lead it to rebuke and put down every attempt, either to gratify party, by judicial appointments, or to dilute the Constitution by creating a court which shall construe away its provisions. If members of Congress betray their trust, the people will find it out, before they are ruined. If the President should, at any time, violate his duty, his term of office is short, and popular elections may supply a seasonable remedy. But the judges of the Supreme Court possess, for very good reasons, an independent tenure of office. No election reaches them. If, with this tenure, they betray their trusts, Heaven save us! Let us hope for better results. The past, certaioly, may encourage us. Let us hope that we shall never see the time when there shall exist such an awkward posture of affairs, as that the Government shall be found in opposition to the Constitution, and when the guardians of the Union shall become its betrayers.
Gentlemen, our country stands, at the present time, on commanding ground. Older nations, with different systems of government, may be somewhat slow to acknowledge all that justly belongs to us. But we may feel, without vanity, that America is doing her part in the great work of improving human affairs. There are two principles, Gentlemen, strictly and purely American, which are now likely to overrun the civilized world. Indeed, they seem the necessary result of the progress of civilization and knowledge. These are, first, popular governments, restrained by written constitutions; and, secondly, universal education. Popular governments and general education, acting and re-acting, mutually producing and reproducing each other, are the mighty agencies which, in our days, appear to be exciting, stimulating, and changing civilized societies. Man, every where, is now found demand