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day, but for their posterity,) she may therefore at pleasure secerle from the Union existing under that Constitution, is simply to beg the question. That question is not what was the theory or form of government existing in Virginia, before the Constitution, but what are the provisions of the Constitution which her people adopted and made their own? Does the Constitution of the United States permit or forbid the States to enter into a confederation ? Is it a mere loose partnership, which any of the parties can break up at pleasure, or is it a Constitution of government, delegating to Congress and prohibiting to the States most of the primal functions of a sovereign power ;-Peace, War, Commerce, Finance, Navy, Army, Mail, Mint; Executive, Legislative, and Judicial functions ? The States are not named in it; the word Sovereignty does not occur in it; the right of secession is as much ignored in it as the precession of the Equinoxes, and all the great prerogatives which characterize an independent member of the family of nations are by distinct grant conferred on Congress by the People of the United States and prohibited to the individual States of the Union. Is it not the height of absurdity to maintain that all these express grants and distinct prohibitions, and constitutional arrangements, may be set at nought by an individual State under the pretence that she was a sovereign State before she assented to or ratified them ; in other words, that an act is of no binding force because it was performed by an authorized and competent agent?
In fact, to deduce from the sovereignty of the States the right of seceding from the Union is the most stupendous non sequitur that was ever advanced in grave affairs. The only legitimate inference to be drawn from that sovereignty is precisely the reverse. If any one right can be predicated of a sovereign State, it is that of forming or adopting a frame of government. Sho may do it alone, or she may do it as a member of a Union. She may enter into a loose pact for ten years or till a partisan majority of a convention, goaded on by ambitious aspirants to power, shall vote in secret session to dissolve it; or she may, after grave deliberation and mature counsel, led by the wisest and most virtuous of the land, ratify and adopt a constitution of government, ordained and established not only for that generation, but their posterity, subject only to the inalienable right of revolution possessed by every political community.
What would be thought in private affairs of a man who should seriously claim the right to revoke a grant, in consequence of having an unqualified right to make it? A right to break a contract, because he had a right to enter into it? To what extent is it more rational on the part of a State to found the right to dissolve the Union on the competence of the parties to form it; the right to prostrate a government on the fact that it was constitutionally framed ?
PARALLEL CASES: IRELAND, SCOTLAND. But let us look at parallel cases, and they are by no means wanting. In the year 1800, a union was formed between England and Ireland. Ireland, before she entered into the union, was subject, indeed, to the English crown, but she had her own parliament, consisting of her own Lords and Commons, and enacting her own laws. In 1800 she entered into a constitutional union with England on the basis of articles of agreement, jointly accepted by the two parliaments.* The union was
* Annual Register, xill., p. 190
VIRGINIA VAINLY ATTEMPTS TO ESTABLISH A RESERVED RIGHT.
opposed at the time by a powerful minority in Ireland, and Mr. O'Connell succeeded, thirty years later, by ardent appeals to the sensibilities of the people, in producing an almost unanimous desire for its dissolution. He professed, however, although he had wrought his countrymen to the verge of rebellion, to aim at nothing but a constitutional repeal of the articles of union by the parliament of Great Britain. It never occurred even to his fervid imagination, that, because Ireland was an independent government when she entered into the union, it was competent for her at her discretion to secede from it. What would our English friends, who have learned from our Secessionists the “inherent right” of a disaffected State to secede from our Union, have thought, had Mr. O'Connell, in the paroxysms of his agitation, claimed the right on the part of Ireland, by her own act, to sever her union with England ?
Again, in 1706, Scotland and England formed a Constitutional Union. They also, though subject to the same monarch, were in other respects Sovereign and independent Kingdoms. They had each its separate parliament, courts of justice, laws, and established national church. Articles of union were established between them; but all the laws and statutes of either kingdom not contrary to these articles, remained in force.* A powerful minority in Scotland disapproved of the Union at the time. Nine years afterward an insurrection broke out in Scotland under a prince, who claimed to be the lawful, as he certainly was the lineal, heir to the throne. The rebellion was crushed, but the disaffection in which it had its origin was not wholly appeased. In thirty years more a second Scottish insurrection took place, and, as before, under the lead of the lineal heir to the crown. On neither occasion that I ever heard of, did it enter into the imagination of rebel or loyalist, that Scotland was acting under a reserved right as a sovereign kingdom, to secede from the Union, or that the movement was any thing less than an insurrection ; revolution if it succeeded; treason and rebellion if it failed. Neither do I recollect that, in less than a month after either insurrection broke out, any one of the friendly and neutral powers made haste, in anticipation even of the arrival of the ministers of the reigning sovereign, to announce that the rebels “would be recognized as bel. ligerents."
VIRGINIA VAINLY ATTEMPTS TO ESTABLISH A RESERVED RIGIIT. In fact, it is so plain, in the nature of things, that there can be no constitutional right to break up a government unless it is expressly provided for, that the politi. cians of the secession school are driven back, at every turn, to a reserved right. I have already shown that there is no such express reservation, and I have dwelt on the absurdity of getting by implication a reserved right to violate every express provision of a constitution. In this strait, Virginia, proverbially skilled in logical subtilties, has attempted to find an express reservation, not, of course, in the Constitution itself, where it does not exist, but in her original act of adhesion, or rather in the declaration of the “impressions” under which that act was adopted. The ratification itself of Virginia, was positive and unconditional. “We, the said delegates, in the name and behalf of the People of Virginia, do, by these presents, assent and ratify the Constitution recommended on the 17th day of September, 1787, by the Federal Convention, for the government of the United States, hereby announcing to all those whom it may concern, that the said Constitution is binding upon the said People, according to an authentic copy hereunto annexed. Done in Convention this 26th day of June, 1788.”.
* Rapin's History of England, vol. iv., p. 741-6.
This, as you perceive, is an absolute and unconditional ratification of the Constitution by the People of Virginia. An attempt, however, is made, by the late Convention in Virginia, in their ordinance of secession, to extract a reservation of a right to secede, out of the declaration contained in the preamble to the act of ratification. That preamble declares it to be an “impression ” of the people of Virginia, that the powers granted under the Constitution, being derived from the people of the United States, may be resumed BY THEM, whenever the same shall be perverted to their injury or oppression. The ordinance of sccession passed by the recent convention, purporting to cite this declaration, omits the words by them, that is, by the People of the United States, not by the people of any single State, thus arrogating to the people of Virginia alone what the Convention of 1788 claimed only, and that by way of “ impression,” for the People of the United States.
By this most grave omission of the vital words of the sentence, the Convention, I fear, intended to lead the incautious or the ignorant to the conclusion, that the Convention of 1788 asserted the right of an individual State to resume the powers granted in the Constitution to the General Government; a claim for which there is not the slightest foundation in Constitutional history. On the contrary, when the ill-omened doctrine of State nullification was sought to be sustained by the same argument in 1830, and the famous Virginia resolutions of 1798 were appealed to by Mr. Calhoun and his friends, as affording countenance to that doctrine, it was repeatedly and emphatically declared by Mr. Madison, the author of the resolutions, that they were intended to claim, not for an individual State, but for the United States, by whom the Constitution was ordained and established, the right of remedying its abuses by constitutional ways, such as united protest, repeal, or an amendment of the Constitution. * Incidentally to the discussion of nullification, he denied over and over again the right of peaceable secession; and this fact was well known to some of the members of the late Convention at Richmond. When the secrets of their assembly are laid open, no doubt it will appear that there were some faithful Abdiels to proclaim the fact. Oh, that the venerable sage, second to none of his patriot compeers in framing the Constitution, the equal associate of Hamilton in recommending it to the People; its great champion in the Virginia Convention of 1788, and its faithful vindicator in 1830, against the deleterious heresy of nullification, could have been spared to protect it, at the present day, from the still deadlier venom of Secession! But he is gone; the principles, the traditions, and the illustrious memories which gave to Virginia her name and her praise in the land, are no longer cherished; the work of Washington, and Madison, and Randolph, and Pendleton, and Marshall is repudiated, and nullifiers, precipitators, and seceders gather in secret conclave to destroy the Constitution, in the very building that holds the monumental statue of the Father of his Country!
THE VIRGINIA RESOLUTIONS OF 1798. Having had occasion to allude to the Virginia resolutions of 1798, I may observe that of these famous resolves, the subject of so much political romance, it is
• Maguire's Collection, p. 218.
THE VIRGINIA RESOLUTIONS OF 1798.
time that a little plain truth should be promulgated. The country, in 1798, was vehemently agitated by the struggles of the domestic parties, which about equally divided it, and these struggles were urged to unwonted and extreme bitterness, by the preparations made and making for a war with France. By an act of Congress, passed in the summer of that year, the President of the United States was clothed with power to send from the country any alien whom he might judge dangerous to the public peace and safety, or who should be concerned in any treasonable or secret machinations against the Government of the United States. This act was passed as a war measure; it was to be in force two years, and it expired by its own limitation on the 25th of June, 1800. War, it is true, had not been formally declared ; but hostilities on the ocean had taken place on both sides, and the army of the United States had been placed upon a war footing. The measure was certainly within the war power, and one which no prudent commander, even without the authority of a statute, would hesitate to execute in an urgent case within his own district. Congress thought fit to provide for and regulate its exercise by law.
Two or three weeks later (14th July, 1798) another law was enacted, making it penal to combine or conspire with intent to oppose any lawful measure of the Government of the United States, or to write, print, or publish any false and scandalous writing against the Government, either House of Congress, or the President of the United States. In prosecutions under this law, it was provided that the Truth might be pleaded in justification, and that the Jury should be judges of the law as well as of the fact. This law was by its own limitation to expire at the close of the then current Presidential term.
Such are the famous alien and sedition laws, passed under the Administration of that noble and true-hearted revolutionary patriot, John Adams, though not recommended by him officially or privately ; adjudged to be constitutional by the Supreme Court of the United States; distinctly approved by Washington, Patrick Henry, and Marshall; and, whatever else may be said of them, certainly preferable to the laws which, throughout the Seceding States, Judge Lynch would not fail to enforce at the lamp-post and tar-bucket against any person guilty of the offences against which these statutes were aimed.
It suited, however, the purposes of party at that time, to raise a formidable clamor against these laws. It was in vain that their Constitutionality was affirmed by the Judiciary of the United States. “Nothing,” said Washington, alluding to these laws, “ will produce the least change in the conduct of the leaders of the opposition to the measures of the General Government. They have points to carry from which no reasoning, no inconsistency of conduct, no absurdity can divert them.” Such, in the opinion of Washington, was the object for which the Legislatures of Virginia and Kentucky passed their famous resolutions of 1798, the former drafted by Mr. Madison, and the latter by Mr. Jefferson, and sent to a friend in Kentucky to be brought forward. These resolutions were transmitted to the other States for their concurrence. The replies from the States which made any response were referred the following year to committees in Virginia and Kentucky. In the Legislature of Virginia, an elaborate report was made by Mr. Madison, explaining and defending the resolutions; in Kentucky another resolve reaffirming those of the preceding year was drafted by Mr. Wilson Cary Nicholas, not by Mr. Jefferson, as stated by General McDuffie. Our respect for the dis
tinguished men who took the lead on this occasion, then ardently engaged in the warfare of politics, must not make us fear to tell the truth, that the simple object of the entire movement was to make “political capital ” for the approaching election, by holding up to the excited imaginations of the masses the Alien and Sedition laws, as an infraction of the Constitution, which threatened the overthrow of the liberties of the People. The resolutions maintained that, the States being parties to the Constitutional compact, in a case of deliberate, palpable, and dangerous exercise of powers not granted by the compact, the States have a right and are in duty bound to interpose for preventing the progress of the evil.
Such, in brief, was the main purport of the Virginia and Kentucky resolutions. The sort of interposition intended was left in studied obscurity. Not a word was dropped of secession from the Union. Mr. Nicholas's resolution in 1799 hinted at “ nullification” as the appropriate remedy for an unconstitutional law, but what was meant by the ill-sounding word was not explained. The words “ null, void, and of no effect,” contained in the original draft of the Virginia resolutions, were, on motion of John Taylor of Caroline, stricken from them, on their passage through the assembly; and Mr. Madison, in his report of 1799, carefully explains that no extra constitutional measures were intended. One of the Kentucky resolutions ends with an invitation to the States to unite in a petition to Congress to repeal the laws.
These resolutions were communicated, as I have said, to the other States for concurrence. From most of them no response was received; some adopted dissenting reports and resolutions; NOT ONE CONCURRED. But the resolutions did their work—all that they were intended or expected to do—by shaking the Adjoinistration. At the ensuing election, Mr. Jefferson, at whose instance the entire movement was made, was chosen President by a very small majority; Mr. Madison was placed at the head of his administration as Secretary of State ; the obnoxious laws expired by their own limitation ; not repealed by the dominant party, as Mr. Calhoun with strange inadvertence asserts; * and Mr. Jefferson proceeded to administer the Government upon constitutional principles quite as lax, to say the least, as those of his predecessors. If there was any marked departure in his general policy from the course hitherto pursued, it was that, having some theoretical prejudices against a navy, he allowed that branch of the service to languish. By no Administration have the powers of the General Government been more liberally construed—not to say further strained-sometimes beneficially, as in the acquisition of Louisiana, sometimes perniciously as in the embargo. The resolutions of 1798, and the metaphysics they inculcated, were surrendered to the cobwebs which habitually await the plausible exaggerations of the canvass after an election is decided. These resolutions of 1798 have been sometimes in Virginia waked from their slumbers at closely contested elections as a party cry; the report of the Hartford Convention, without citing them by name, borrows their language; but as representing in their modern interpretation any system on which the Government ever was or could be administered, they were buried in the same grave as the Laws which called them forth.
Unhappily during their transient vitality, like the butterfly which deposits its egg in the apple blossoms that have so lately filled our orchards with beauty and
* Mr. Calhoun's Discourse on the Constitution, p. 859.