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MeMoRANDUM.—The substance of the argument contained in the following pages was originally delivered as a Lecture to the students in the Law School of Harvard College, in the discharge of the regular duties of the author as Royall Professor of Law in that Institution.
The Editor of the North American Review, desirous of giving it a wider circulation, requested that the matter might be drawn up in the form of an Article adapted to that periodical; in consequence of which it was revised, and is published in the July number of the Review; extra copies being printed for the use of the students of the Law School who were desirous of its publication, and
of others who may feel an interest in the subject.
CAMBRIDGE, July 1, 1861.
THE RIGHT OF SECESSION.
“ Message OF PRESIDENT Davis."
Such is the title of a document which occupies more than four columns of the National Intelligencer of the 7th of May last. It is signed by Jefferson Davis, and purports to have been addressed to the “Gentlemen of the Congress ” of the Confederate States, convened by special summons at Montgomery, in the State of Alabama, on the 29th of April, being the second session of the Congress; and to have been prepared in the execution of the duties of the author as President of the Confederation. The reason for the special convocation of the body to which it is addressed is stated to be the “declaration of war made against this Confederacy by Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States, in his proclamation issued on the 15th day of the present month” (April); and in the paragraph which follows this statement the writer speaks of the occasion as “indeed an extraordinary one,” which justifies him “in a brief review of the relations heretofore existing between us and the States which now unite in warfare against us, and in a succinct statement of the events which have resulted in this warfare; to the end that mankind may pass intelligent and impartial judgment on its motives and objects.”
This document therefore must be regarded as an authoritative exposition of the views entertained by the leaders of
the Confederacy upon the subjects thus indicated. We extract that portion immediately following, which speaks of the former relations of the States.
“ During the war waged against Great Britain by her colonies on this continent, a common danger impelled them to close alliance and to the formation of a Confederation, by the terms of which the colonies, styling themselves States, entered severally into a firm league of friendship with each other for their common defence, the security of their liberties, and their mutual and general welfare, binding themselves to assist each other against all force offered to or attacks made upon them or any of them on account of religion, sovereignty, trade, or any other pretence whatever.'
" In order to guard against any misconstruction of their compact, the several States made explicit declaration, in a distinct article, that each State retains its sovereignty, freedom, and independence, and every power, jurisdiction, and right which is not by this Confederation expressly delegated to the United States in Congress assembled.'
“ Under this contract of alliance the war of the Revolution was successfully waged, and resulted in the treaty of peace with Great Britain in 1783, by the terms of which the several States were each by name recognized to be independent.
“The Articles of Confederation contained a clause whereby all alterations were prohibited, unless confirmed by the Legislatures of every State, after being agreed to by the Congress; and in obedience to this provision, under the resolution of Congress of the 21st February, 1787, the several States appointed delegates who attended a Conven
the sole and express purpose of revising the Articles of Confederation, and reporting to Congress and the several Legislatures such alterations and provisions therein as shall, when agreed to in Congress and confirmed by the States, render the Federal Constitution adequate to the exigencies of government and the preservation of the Union.'
“ It was by the delegates chosen by the several States, under the resolution just quoted, that the Constitution of the United States was framed in 1787, and submitted to the several States for ratification, as shown by the 7th article, which is in these words :
“‘The ratification of the Conventions of nine States shall be sufficient for the establishment of this Constitution BETweeN the States so ratifying the same.’ “I have italicized certain words in the quotations just made, for the purpose of attracting attention to the singular and marked caution with which the States endeavored, in every possible form, to exclude the idea that the separate and independent sovereignty of each State was merged into one common government and nation ; and the earnest desire they evinced to impress on the Constitution its true character, that of a compact BETweeN independent States. “The Constitution of 1787 having, however, omitted the clause already recited from the Articles of Confederation, which provided in explicit terms that each State retained its sovereignty and independence, some alarm was felt in the States, when invited to ratify the Constitution, lest this omission should be construed into an abandonment of their cherished principle, and they refused to be satisfied until amendments were added to the Constitution placing beyond any pretence of doubt the reservation by the States of all their sovereign rights and powers not expressly delegated to the United States by the Constitution. “Strange indeed must it appear to the impartial observer, but it is none the less true, that all these carefully worded clauses proved unavailing to prevent the rise and growth in the Northern States of a political school which has persistently claimed that the government thus formed was not a compact between States, but was in effect a National Government, set up above and over the States. An organization, created by the States to secure the blessings of liberty and independence against foreign aggression, has been gradually perverted into a machine for their control in their domestic affairs; the creature has been exalted above its creators; the principals have been made subordinate to the agent appointed by themselves.”
We copy also the “succinct statement of the events which have resulted in this warfare,”—in other words of the aggressions on the part of the Northern States and people, and of the grievances endured by the South, – and add what seems to be stated as the foundation and justification of the remedy for those grievances, all which is in these words: —
“The people of the Southern States, whose almost exclusive occupation was agriculture, early perceived a tendency in the Northern States to render the common government subservient to their own purposes, by imposing burdens on commerce as a protection to their manufacturing and shipping interests. Long and angry controversy grew out of these attempts, often successful, to benefit one section of the country at the expense of the other; and the danger of disruption arising from this cause was enhanced by the fact that the Northern population was increasing by immigration and other causes in a greater ratio than the population of the South. By degrees, as the Northern States gained preponderance in the National Congress, self-interest taught their people to yield ready assent to any plausible advocacy of their right as a majority to govern the minority without control: they learned to listen with impatience to the suggestions of any constitutional impediment to the exercise of their will; and so utterly have the principles of the Constitution been corrupted in the Northern mind, that in the inaugural address delivered by President Lincoln in March last he asserts, as an axiom which he plainly deems to be undeniable, that the theory of the Constitution requires that in all cases the majority shall govern ; and, in another memorable instance, the same Chief Magistrate did not hesitate to liken the relations between a State and the United States to those which exist between a county and the State in which it is situated and by which it is created. This is the lamentable and fundamental error on which rests the policy that has culminated in his declaration of war against these Confederate States.
“In addition to the long-continued and deep-seated resentment felt by the Southern States at the persistent abuse of the powers they had delegated to the Congress, for the purpose of enriching the manufacturing and shipping classes of the North at the expense of the South, there has existed for nearly half a century another subject of discord, involving interests of such transcendent magnitude as at all times to create the apprehension in the minds of many devoted lovers of the Union that its permanence was impossible.
“When the several States delegated certain powers to the United States Congress, a large portion of the laboring population consisted of African slaves imported into the colonies by the mother country. In twelve out of thirteen States negro slavery existed, and the right of