The Great Speeches and Orations of Daniel Webster
Daniel Webster

Part 11 out of 25

gratifying prospects spread out before us, for us and our children.
Beyond that I seek not to penetrate the veil. God grant that, in my day,
at least, that curtain may not rise! God grant that on my vision never
may be opened what lies behind! When my eyes shall be turned to behold
for the last time the sun in heaven, may I not see him shining on the
broken and dishonored fragments of a once glorious Union; on States
dissevered, discordant, belligerent; on a land rent with civil feuds, or
drenched, it may be, in fraternal blood! Let their last feeble and
lingering glance rather behold the gorgeous ensign of the republic, now
known and honored throughout the earth, still full high advanced, its
arms and trophies streaming in their original lustre, not a stripe
erased or polluted, nor a single star obscured, bearing for its motto,
no such miserable interrogatory as "What is all this worth?" nor those
other words of delusion and folly, "Liberty first and Union afterwards";
but everywhere, spread all over in characters of living light, blazing
on all its ample folds, as they float over the sea and over the land,
and in every wind under the whole heavens, that other sentiment, dear to
every true American heart,--Liberty _and_ Union, now and for ever, one
and inseparable!

Mr. Hayne having rejoined to Mr. Webster, especially on the
constitutional question, Mr. Webster rose, and, in conclusion,

A few words, Mr. President, on this constitutional argument, which the
honorable gentleman has labored to reconstruct.

His argument consists of two propositions and an inference. His
propositions are,--

1. That the Constitution is a compact between the States.

2. That a compact between two, with authority reserved to one to
interpret its terms, would be a surrender to that one of all power

3. Therefore, (such is his inference,) the general government does not
possess the authority to construe its own powers.

Now, Sir, who does not see, without the aid of exposition or detection,
the utter confusion of ideas involved in this so elaborate and
systematic argument.

The Constitution, it is said, is a compact _between States_; the States,
then, and the States only, _are parties_ to the compact. How comes the
general government itself _a party_? Upon the honorable gentleman's
hypothesis, the general government is the result of the compact, the
creature of the compact, not one of the parties to it. Yet the argument,
as the gentleman has now stated it, makes the government itself one of
its own creators. It makes it a party to that compact to which it owes
its own existence.

For the purpose of erecting the Constitution on the basis of a compact,
the gentleman considers the States as parties to that compact; but as
soon as his compact is made, then he chooses to consider the general
government, which is the offspring of that compact, not its offspring,
but one of its parties; and so, being a party, without the power of
judging on the terms of compact. Pray, Sir, in what school is such
reasoning as this taught?

If the whole of the gentleman's main proposition were conceded to
him,--that is to say, if I admit, for the sake of the argument, that the
Constitution is a compact between States,--the inferences which he draws
from that proposition are warranted by no just reasoning. If the
Constitution be a compact between States, still that Constitution, or
that compact, has established a government, with certain powers; and
whether it be one of those powers, that it shall construe and interpret
for itself the terms of the compact, in doubtful cases, is a question
which can only be decided by looking to the compact, and inquiring what
provisions it contains on this point. Without any inconsistency with
natural reason, the government even thus created might be trusted with
this power of construction. The extent of its powers, therefore, must
still be sought for in the instrument itself.

If the old Confederation had contained a clause, declaring that
resolutions of the Congress should be the supreme law of the land, any
State law or constitution to the contrary notwithstanding, and that a
committee of Congress, or any other body created by it, should possess
judicial powers, extending to all cases arising under resolutions of
Congress, then the power of ultimate decision would have been vested in
Congress under the Confederation, although that Confederation was a
compact between States; and for this plain reason,--that it would have
been competent to the States, who alone were parties to the compact, to
agree who should decide in cases of dispute arising on the construction
of the compact.

For the same reason, Sir, if I were now to concede to the gentleman his
principal proposition, namely, that the Constitution is a compact
between States, the question would still be, What provision is made, in
this compact, to settle points of disputed construction, or contested
power, that shall come into controversy? And this question would still
be answered, and conclusively answered, by the Constitution itself.

While the gentleman is contending against construction, he himself is
setting up the most loose and dangerous construction. The Constitution
declares, that _the laws of Congress passed in pursuance of the
Constitution shall be the supreme law of the land_. No construction is
necessary here. It declares, also, with equal plainness and precision,
_that the judicial power of the United States shall extend to every case
arising under the laws of Congress_. This needs no construction. Here is
a law, then, which is declared to be supreme; and here is a power
established, which is to interpret that law. Now, Sir, how has the
gentleman met this? Suppose the Constitution to be a compact, yet here
are its terms; and how does the gentleman get rid of them? He cannot
argue the _seal off the bond_, nor the words out of the instrument. Here
they are; what answer does he give to them? None in the world, Sir,
except, that the effect of this would be to place the States in a
condition of inferiority; and that it results from the very nature of
things, there being no superior, that the parties must be their own
judges! Thus closely and cogently does the honorable gentleman reason on
the words of the Constitution. The gentleman says, if there be such a
power of final decision in the general government, he asks for the grant
of that power. Well, Sir, I show him the grant. I turn him to the very
words. I show him that the laws of Congress are made supreme; and that
the judicial power extends, by express words, to the interpretation of
these laws. Instead of answering this, he retreats into the general
reflection, that it must result _from the nature of things_, that the
States, being parties, must judge for themselves.

I have admitted, that, if the Constitution were to be considered as the
creature of the State governments, it might be modified, interpreted, or
construed according to their pleasure. But, even in that case, it would
be necessary that they should _agree_. One alone could not interpret it
conclusively; one alone could not construe it; one alone could not
modify it. Yet the gentleman's doctrine is, that Carolina alone may
construe and interpret that compact which equally binds all, and gives
equal rights to all.

So, then, Sir, even supposing the Constitution to be a compact between
the States, the gentleman's doctrine, nevertheless, is not maintainable;
because, first, the general government is not a party to that compact,
but a _government_ established by it, and vested by it with the powers
of trying and deciding doubtful questions; and secondly, because, if the
Constitution be regarded as a compact, not one State only, but all the
States, are parties to that compact, and one can have no right to fix
upon it her own peculiar construction.

So much, Sir, for the argument, even if the premises of the gentleman
were granted, or could be proved. But, Sir, the gentleman has failed to
maintain his leading proposition. He has not shown, it cannot be shown,
that the Constitution is a compact between State governments. The
Constitution itself, in its very front, refutes that idea; it declares
that it is ordained and established _by the people of the United
States_. So far from saying that it is established by the governments of
the several States, it does not even say that it is established by the
people _of the several States_; but it pronounces that it is established
by the people of the United States, in the aggregate. The gentleman
says, it must mean no more than the people of the several States.
Doubtless, the people of the several States, taken collectively,
constitute the people of the United States; but it is in this, their
collective capacity, it is as all the people of the United States, that
they establish the Constitution. So they declare; and words cannot be
plainer than the words used.

When the gentleman says the Constitution is a compact between the
States, he uses language exactly applicable to the old Confederation. He
speaks as if he were in Congress before 1789. He describes fully that
old state of things then existing. The Confederation was, in strictness,
a compact; the States, as States, were parties to it. We had no other
general government. But that was found insufficient, and inadequate to
the public exigencies. The people were not satisfied with it, and
undertook to establish a better. They undertook to form a general
government, which should stand on a new basis; not a confederacy, not a
league, not a compact between States, but a _Constitution_; a popular
government, founded in popular election, directly responsible to the
people themselves, and divided into branches with prescribed limits of
power, and prescribed duties. They ordained such a government, they gave
it the name of a _Constitution_, and therein they established a
distribution of powers between this, their general government, and their
several State governments. When they shall become dissatisfied with this
distribution, they can alter it. Their own power over their own
instrument remains. But until they shall alter it, it must stand as
their will, and is equally binding on the general government and on the

The gentleman, Sir, finds analogy where I see none. He likens it to the
case of a treaty, in which, there being no common superior, each party
must interpret for itself, under its own obligation of good faith. But
this is not a treaty, but a constitution of government, with powers to
execute itself, and fulfil its duties.

I admit, Sir, that this government is a government of checks and
balances; that is, the House of Representatives is a check on the
Senate, and the Senate is a check on the House, and the President a
check on both. But I cannot comprehend him, or, if I do, I totally
differ from him, when he applies the notion of checks and balances to
the interference of different governments. He argues, that, if we
transgress our constitutional limits, each State, as a State, has a
right to check us. Does he admit the converse of the proposition, that
we have a right to check the States? The gentleman's doctrines would
give us a strange jumble of authorities and powers, instead of
governments of separate and defined powers. It is the part of wisdom, I
think, to avoid this; and to keep the general government and the State
government each in its proper sphere, avoiding as carefully as possible
every kind of interference.

Finally, Sir, the honorable gentleman says, that the States will only
interfere, by their power, to preserve the Constitution. They will not
destroy it, they will not impair it; they will only save, they will only
preserve, they will only strengthen it! Ah! Sir, this is but the old
story. All regulated governments, all free governments, have been broken
by similar disinterested and well-disposed interference. It is the
common pretence. But I take leave of the subject.

[Footnote 1: Mr. Sprague.]

[Footnote 2: Mr. Calhoun, when this speech was made, was President of
the Senate, and Vice-President of the United States.]

[Footnote 3: Mr. Forsyth.]

[Footnote 4: Mr. McDuffie.]

[Footnote 5: The letter of the Federal Convention to the Congress of the
Confederation transmitting the plan of the Constitution.]

[Footnote 6: Mr. Hillhouse, of Connecticut.]



[On the 21st of January, 1833, Mr. Wilkins, chairman of the Judiciary
Committee of the Senate, introduced the bill further to provide for the
collection of duties. On the 22d day of the same month, Mr. Calhoun
submitted the following resolutions:--

"_Resolved_, That the people of the several States composing these
United States are united as parties to a constitutional compact, to
which the people of each State acceded as a separate govereign
community, each binding itself by its own particular ratification;
and that the union, of which the said compact is the bond, is a
union _between the States_ ratifying the same.

"_Resolved_, That the people of the several States thus united by
the constitutional compact, in forming that instrument, and in
creating a general government to carry into effect the objects for
which they were formed, delegated to that government, for that
purpose, certain definite powers, to be exercised jointly,
reserving, at the same time, each State to itself, the residuary
mass of powers, to be exercised by its own separate government; and
that whenever the general government assumes the exercise of powers
not delegated by the compact, its acts are unauthorized, and are of
no effect; and that the same government is not made the final judge
of the powers delegated to it, since that would make its
discretion, and not the Constitution, the measure of its powers;
but that, as in all other cases of compact among sovereign parties,
without any common judge, each has an equal right to judge for
itself, as well of the infraction as of the mode and measure of

"_Resolved_, That the assertions, that the people of these United
States, taken collectively as individuals, are now, or ever have
been, united on the principle of the social compact, and, as such,
are now formed into one nation or people, or that they have ever
been so united in any one stage of their political existence; that
the people of the several States composing the Union have not, as
members thereof, retained their sovereignty; that the allegiance of
their citizens has been transferred to the general government; that
they have parted with the right of punishing treason through their
respective State governments; and that they have not the right of
judging in the last resort as to the extent of the powers reserved,
and of consequence of those delegated,--are not only without
foundation in truth, but are contrary to the most certain and plain
historical facts, and the clearest deductions of reason; and that
all exercise of power on the part of the general government, or any
of its departments, claiming authority from such erroneous
assumptions, must of necessity be unconstitutional,--must tend,
directly and inevitably, to subvert the sovereignty of the States,
to destroy the federal character of the Union, and to rear on its
ruins a consolidated government, without constitutional check or
limitation, and which must necessarily terminate in the loss of
liberty itself."

On Saturday, the 16th of February, Mr. Calhoun spoke in opposition to
the bill, and in support of these resolutions. He was followed by Mr.
Webster in this speech.]

Mr. President,--The gentleman from South Carolina has admonished us to
be mindful of the opinions of those who shall come after us. We must
take our chance, Sir, as to the light in which posterity will regard us.
I do not decline its judgment, nor withhold myself from its scrutiny.
Feeling that I am performing my public duty with singleness of heart and
to the best of my ability, I fearlessly trust myself to the country, now
and hereafter, and leave both my motives and my character to its

The gentleman has terminated his speech in a tone of threat and defiance
towards this bill, even should it become a law of the land, altogether
unusual in the halls of Congress. But I shall not suffer myself to be
excited into warmth by his denunciation of the measure which I support.
Among the feelings which at this moment fill my breast, not the least
is that of regret at the position in which the gentleman has placed
himself. Sir, he does himself no justice. The cause which he has
espoused finds no basis in the Constitution, no succor from public
sympathy, no cheering from a patriotic community. He has no foothold on
which to stand while he might display the powers of his acknowledged
talents. Every thing beneath his feet is hollow and treacherous. He is
like a strong man struggling in a morass: every effort to extricate
himself only sinks him deeper and deeper. And I fear the resemblance may
be carried still farther; I fear that no friend can safely come to his
relief, that no one can approach near enough to hold out a helping hand,
without danger of going down himself, also, into the bottomless depths
of this Serbonian bog.

The honorable gentleman has declared, that on the decision of the
question now in debate may depend the cause of liberty itself. I am of
the same opinion; but then, Sir, the liberty which I think is staked on
the contest is not political liberty, in any general and undefined
character, but our own well-understood and long-enjoyed _American_

Sir, I love Liberty no less ardently than the gentleman himself, in
whatever form she may have appeared in the progress of human history. As
exhibited in the master states of antiquity, as breaking out again from
amidst the darkness of the Middle Ages, and beaming on the formation of
new communities in modern Europe, she has, always and everywhere, charms
for me. Yet, Sir, it is our own liberty, guarded by constitutions and
secured by union, it is that liberty which is our paternal inheritance,
it is our established, dear-bought, peculiar American liberty, to which
I am chiefly devoted, and the cause of which I now mean, to the utmost
of my power, to maintain and defend.

Mr. President, if I considered the constitutional question now before us
as doubtful as it is important, and if I supposed that its decision,
either in the Senate or by the country, was likely to be in any degree
influenced by the manner in which I might now discuss it, this would be
to me a moment of deep solicitude. Such a moment has once existed. There
has been a time, when, rising in this place, on the same question, I
felt, I must confess, that something for good or evil to the
Constitution of the country might depend on an effort of mine. But
circumstances are changed. Since that day, Sir, the public opinion has
become awakened to this great question; it has grasped it; it has
reasoned upon it, as becomes an intelligent and patriotic community, and
has settled it, or now seems in the progress of settling it, by an
authority which none can disobey, the authority of the people

I shall not, Mr. President, follow the gentleman, step by step, through
the course of his speech. Much of what he has said he has deemed
necessary to the just explanation and defence of his own political
character and conduct. On this I shall offer no comment. Much, too, has
consisted of philosophical remark upon the general nature of political
liberty, and the history of free institutions; and upon other topics, so
general in their nature as to possess, in my opinion, only a remote
bearing on the immediate subject of this debate.

But the gentleman's speech made some days ago, upon introducing his
resolutions, those resolutions themselves, and parts of the speech now
just concluded, may, I presume, be justly regarded as containing the
whole South Carolina doctrine. That doctrine it is my purpose now to
examine, and to compare it with the Constitution of the United States. I
shall not consent, Sir, to make any new constitution, or to establish
another form of government. I will not undertake to say what a
constitution for these United States ought to be. That question the
people have decided for themselves; and I shall take the instrument as
they have established it, and shall endeavor to maintain it, in its
plain sense and meaning, against opinions and notions which, in my
judgment, threaten its subversion.

The resolutions introduced by the gentleman were apparently drawn up
with care, and brought forward upon deliberation. I shall not be in
danger, therefore, of misunderstanding him, or those who agree with him,
if I proceed at once to these resolutions, and consider them as an
authentic statement of those opinions upon the great constitutional
question by which the recent proceedings in South Carolina are attempted
to be justified.

These resolutions are three in number.

The third seems intended to enumerate, and to deny, the several opinions
expressed in the President's proclamation, respecting the nature and
powers of this government. Of this third resolution, I purpose, at
present, to take no particular notice.

The first two resolutions of the honorable member affirm these
propositions, viz.:--

1. That the political system under which we live, and under which
Congress is now assembled, is a _compact_, to which the people of the
several States, as separate and sovereign communities, are _the

2. That these sovereign parties have a right to judge, each for itself,
of any alleged violation of the Constitution by Congress; and, in case
of such violation, to choose, each for itself, its own mode and measure
of redress.

It is true, Sir, that the honorable member calls this a "constitutional"
compact; but still he affirms it to be a compact between sovereign
States. What precise meaning, then, does he attach to the term
_constitutional_? When applied to compacts between sovereign States, the
term _constitutional_ affixes to the word _compact_ no definite idea.
Were we to hear of a constitutional league or treaty between England and
France, or a constitutional convention between Austria and Russia, we
should not understand what could be intended by such a league, such a
treaty, or such a convention. In these connections, the word is void of
all meaning; and yet, Sir, it is easy, quite easy, to see why the
honorable gentleman has used it in these resolutions. He cannot open the
book, and look upon our written frame of government, without seeing that
it is called a _constitution_. This may well be appalling to him. It
threatens his whole doctrine of compact, and its darling derivatives,
nullification and secession, with instant confutation. Because, if he
admits our instrument of government to be a _constitution_, then, for
that very reason, it is not a compact between sovereigns; a constitution
of government and a compact between sovereign powers being things
essentially unlike in their very natures, and incapable of ever being
the same. Yet the word _constitution_ is on the very front of the
instrument. He cannot overlook it. He seeks, therefore, to compromise
the matter, and to sink all the substantial sense of the word, while he
retains a resemblance of its sound. He introduces a new word of his own,
viz. _compact_, as importing the principal idea, and designed to play
the principal part, and degrades _constitution_ into an insignificant,
idle epithet, attached to _compact_. The whole then stands as a
"_constitutional compact_"! And in this way he hopes to pass off a
plausible gloss, as satisfying the words of the instrument. But he will
find himself disappointed. Sir, I must say to the honorable gentleman,
that, in our American political grammar, CONSTITUTION is a noun
substantive; it imports a distinct and clear idea of itself; and it is
not to lose its importance and dignity, it is not to be turned into a
poor, ambiguous, senseless, unmeaning adjective, for the purpose of
accommodating any new set of political notions. Sir, we reject his new
rules of syntax altogether. We will not give up our forms of political
speech to the grammarians of the school of nullification. By the
Constitution, we mean, not a "constitutional compact," but, simply and
directly, the Constitution, the fundamental law; and if there be one
word in the language which the people of the United States understand,
this is that word. We know no more of a constitutional compact between
sovereign powers, than we know of a _constitutional_ indenture of
copartnership, a _constitutional_ deed of conveyance, or a
_constitutional_ bill of exchange. But we know what the _Constitution_
is; we know what the plainly written fundamental law is; we know what
the bond of our Union and the security of our liberties is; and we mean
to maintain and to defend it, in its plain sense and unsophisticated

The sense of the gentleman's proposition, therefore, is not at all
affected, one way or the other, by the use of this word. That
proposition still is, that our system of government is but a _compact_
between the people of separate and sovereign States.

Was it Mirabeau, Mr. President, or some other master of the human
passions, who has told us that words are things? They are indeed things,
and things of mighty influence, not only in addresses to the passions
and high-wrought feelings of mankind, but in the discussion of legal and
political questions also; because a just conclusion is often avoided, or
a false one reached, by the adroit substitution of one phrase, or one
word, for another. Of this we have, I think, another example in the
resolutions before us.

The first resolution declares that the people of the several States
"_acceded_" to the Constitution, or to the constitutional compact, as it
is called. This word "accede," not found either in the Constitution
itself, or in the ratification of it by any one of the States, has been
chosen for use here, doubtless, not without a well-considered purpose.

The natural converse of _accession_ is _secession_; and, therefore, when
it is stated that the people of the States acceded to the Union, it may
be more plausibly argued that they may secede from it. If, in adopting
the Constitution, nothing was done but acceding to a compact, nothing
would seem necessary, in order to break it up, but to secede from the
same compact. But the term is wholly out of place. _Accession_, as a
word applied to political associations, implies coming into a league,
treaty, or confederacy, by one hitherto a stranger to it; and
_secession_ implies departing from such league or confederacy. The
people of the United States have used no such form of expression in
establishing the present government. They do not say that they _accede_
to a league, but they declare that they _ordain_ and _establish_ a
Constitution, Such are the very words of the instrument itself; and in
all the States, without an exception, the language used by their
conventions was, that they "_ratified the Constitution_"; some of them
employing the additional words "assented to" and "adopted," but all of
them "ratifying."

There is more importance than may, at first sight, appear, in the
introduction of this new word, by the honorable mover of these
resolutions. Its adoption and use are indispensable to maintain those
premises from which his main conclusion is to be afterwards drawn. But
before showing that, allow me to remark, that this phraseology tends to
keep out of sight the just view of a previous political history, as well
as to suggest wrong ideas as to what was actually done when the present
Constitution was agreed to. In 1789, and before this Constitution was
adopted, the United States had already been in a union, more or less
close, for fifteen years. At least as far back as the meeting of the
first Congress, in 1774, they had been in some measure, and for some
national purposes, united together. Before the Confederation of 1781,
they had declared independence jointly, and had carried on the war
jointly, both by sea and land; and this not as separate States, but as
one people. When, therefore, they formed that Confederation, and adopted
its articles as articles of perpetual union, they did not come together
for the first time; and therefore they did not speak of the States as
_acceding_ to the Confederation, although it was a league, and nothing
but a league, and rested on nothing but plighted faith for its
performance. Yet, even then, the States were not strangers to each
other; there was a bond of union already subsisting between them; they
were associated, united States; and the object of the Confederation was
to make a stronger and better bond of union. Their representatives
deliberated together on these proposed Articles of Confederation, and,
being authorized by their respective States, finally "_ratified and
confirmed_" them. Inasmuch as they were already in union, they did not
speak of _acceding_ to the new Articles of Confederation, but of
_ratifying and confirming_ them; and this language was not used
inadvertently, because, in the same instrument, _accession_ is used in
its proper sense, when applied to Canada, which was altogether a
stranger to the existing union. "Canada," says the eleventh article,
"_acceding_ to this Confederation, and joining in the measures of the
United States, shall be admitted into the Union."

Having thus used the terms _ratify_ and _confirm_, even in regard to the
old Confederation, it would have been strange indeed, if the people of
the United States, after its formation, and when they came to establish
the present Constitution, had spoken of the States, or the people of the
States, as _acceding_ to this Constitution. Such language would have
been ill-suited to the occasion. It would have implied an existing
separation or disunion among the States, such as never has existed since
1774. No such language, therefore, was used. The language actually
employed is, _adopt, ratify, ordain, establish_.

Therefore, Sir, since any State, before she can prove her right to
dissolve the Union, must show her authority to undo what has been done,
no State is at liberty to _secede_, on the ground that she and other
States have done nothing but _accede_. She must show that she has a
right to _reverse_ what has been _ordained_, to _unsettle_ and
_overthrow_ what has been _established_, to _reject_ what the people
have _adopted_, and to _break up_ what they have _ratified_; because
these are the terms which express the transactions which have actually
taken place. In other words, she must show her right to make a

If, Mr. President, in drawing these resolutions, the honorable member
had confined himself to the use of constitutional language, there would
have been a wide and awful _hiatus_ between his premises and his
conclusion. Leaving out the two words _compact_ and _accession_, which
are not constitutional modes of expression, and stating the matter
precisely as the truth is, his first resolution would have affirmed that
_the people of the several States ratified this Constitution, or form of
government_. These are the very words of South Carolina herself, in her
act of ratification. Let, then, his first resolution tell the exact
truth; let it state the fact precisely as it exists; let it say that the
people of the several States ratified a constitution, or form of
government, and then, Sir, what will become of his inference in his
second resolution, which is in these words, viz. "that, as in all other
cases of compact among sovereign parties, each has an equal right to
judge for itself, as well of the infraction as of the mode and measure
of redress"? It is obvious, is it not, Sir? that this conclusion
requires for its support quite other premises; it requires premises
which speak of _accession_ and of _compact_ between sovereign powers;
and, without such premises, it is altogether unmeaning.

Mr. President, if the honorable member will truly state what the people
did in forming this Constitution, and then state what they must do if
they would now undo what they then did, he will unavoidably state a case
of revolution. Let us see if it be not so. He must state, in the first
place, that the people of the several States adopted and ratified this
Constitution, or form of government; and, in the next place, he must
state that they have a right to undo this; that is to say, that they
have a right to discard the form of government which they have adopted,
and to break up the Constitution which they have ratified. Now, Sir,
this is neither more nor less than saying that they have a right to make
a revolution. To reject an established government, to break up a
political constitution, is revolution.

I deny that any man can state accurately what was done by the people, in
establishing the present Constitution, and then state accurately what
the people, or any part of them, must now do to get rid of its
obligations, without stating an undeniable case of the overthrow of
government. I admit, of course, that the people may, if they choose,
overthrow the government. But, then, that is revolution. The doctrine
now contended for is, that, by _nullification_, or _secession_, the
obligations and authority of the government may be set aside or
rejected, without revolution. But that is what I deny; and what I say
is, that no man can state the case with historical accuracy, and in
constitutional language, without showing that the honorable gentleman's
right, as asserted in his conclusion, is a revolutionary right merely;
that it does not and cannot exist under the Constitution, or agreeably
to the Constitution, but can come into existence only when the
Constitution is overthrown. This is the reason, Sir, which makes it
necessary to abandon the use of constitutional language for a new
vocabulary, and to substitute, in the place of plain historical facts, a
series of assumptions. This is the reason why it is necessary to give
new names to things, to speak of the Constitution, not as a
constitution, but as a compact, and of the ratifications by the people,
not as ratifications, but as acts of accession.

Sir, I intend to hold the gentleman to the written record. In the
discussion of a constitutional question, I intend to impose upon him the
restraints of constitutional language. The people have ordained a
Constitution; can they reject it without revolution? They have
established a form of government; can they overthrow it without
revolution? These are the true questions.

Allow me now, Mr. President, to inquire further into the extent of the
propositions contained in the resolutions, and their necessary

Where sovereign communities are parties, there is no essential
difference between a compact, a confederation, and a league. They all
equally rest on the plighted faith of the sovereign party. 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 judge, 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 resolution, 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 herself relinquished the power of protection, she might
allege, and allege truly, 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
so, twenty-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 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

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 to
proceed to secession, dismemberment, and general revolution, is as if
one were to take the plunge of Niagara, and cry out that he would stop
half-way down. In the one case, as in the other, the rash adventurer
must go to the bottom of the dark abyss below, were it not that that
abyss has no discovered bottom.

Nullification, if successful, arrests the power of the law, absolves
citizens from their duty, subverts the foundation both of protection and
obedience, dispenses with oaths and obligations of allegiance, and
elevates another authority to supreme command. Is not this revolution?
And it raises to supreme command four-and-twenty distinct powers, each
professing to be under a general government, and yet each setting its
laws at defiance at pleasure. Is not this anarchy, as well as
revolution? Sir, the Constitution of the United States was received as a
whole, and for the whole country. If it cannot stand altogether, it
cannot stand in parts; and if the laws cannot be executed everywhere,
they cannot long be executed anywhere. The gentleman very well knows
that all duties and imposts must be uniform throughout the country. He
knows that we cannot have one rule or one law for South Carolina, and
another for other States. He must see, therefore, and does see, and
every man sees, that the only alternative is a repeal of the laws
throughout the whole Union, or their execution in Carolina as well as
elsewhere. And this repeal is demanded because a single State interposes
her veto, and threatens resistance! The result of the gentleman's
opinion, or rather the very text of his doctrine, is, that no act of
Congress can bind all the States, the constitutionality of which is not
admitted by all; or, in other words, that no single State is bound,
against its own dissent, by a law of imposts. This is precisely the evil
experienced under the old Confederation, and for remedy of which this
Constitution was adopted. The leading object in establishing this
government, an object forced on the country by the condition of the
times and the absolute necessity of the law, was to give to Congress
power to lay and collect imposts _without the consent of particular
States_. The Revolutionary debt remained unpaid; the national treasury
was bankrupt; the country was destitute of credit; Congress issued its
requisitions on the States, and the States neglected them; there was no
power of coercion but war, Congress could not lay imposts, or other
taxes, by its own authority; the whole general government, therefore,
was little more than a name. The Articles of Confederation, as to
purposes of revenue and finance, were nearly a dead letter. The country
sought to escape from this condition, at once feeble and disgraceful, by
constituting a government which should have power, of itself, to lay
duties and taxes, and to pay the public debt, and provide for the
general welfare; and to lay these duties and taxes in all the States,
without 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 counsels. 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 on 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
counsels, 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
twenty-three entertain an opinion as well as the twenty-fourth? And if
it be their right, in their own opinion, as expressed in the common
council, to enforce the law against her, how is she to say that her
right and her opinion are to be every thing, and their right and their
opinion nothing?

Mr. President, if we are to receive the Constitution as the text, and
then to lay down in its margin the contradictory commentaries which have
been, and which maybe, made by different States, the whole page would be
a polyglot indeed. It would speak with as many tongues as the builders
of Babel, and in dialects as much confused, and mutually as
unintelligible. The very instance now before us presents a practical
illustration. The law of the last session is declared unconstitutional
in South Carolina, and obedience to it is refused. In other States, it
is admitted to be strictly constitutional. You walk over the limit of
its authority, therefore, when you pass a State line. On one side it is
law, on the other side a nullity; and yet it is passed by a common
government, having the same authority in all the States.

Such, Sir, are the inevitable results of this doctrine. Beginning with
the original error, that the Constitution of the United States is
nothing but a compact between sovereign States; asserting, in the next
step, that each State has a right to be its own sole judge of the extent
of its own obligations, and consequently of the constitutionality of
laws of Congress; and, in the next, that it may oppose whatever it sees
fit to declare unconstitutional, and that it decides for itself on the
mode and measure of redress,--the argument arrives at once at the
conclusion, that what a State dissents from, it may nullify; what it
opposes, it may oppose by force; what it decides for itself, it may
execute by its own power; and that, in short, it is itself supreme over
the legislation of Congress, and supreme over the decisions of the
national judicature; supreme over the constitution of the country,
supreme over the supreme law of the land. However it seeks to protect
itself against these plain inferences, by saying that an
unconstitutional law is no law, and that it only opposes such laws as
are unconstitutional, yet this does not in the slightest degree vary the
result; since it insists on deciding this question for itself; and, in
opposition to reason and argument, in opposition to practice and
experience, in opposition to the judgment of others, having an equal
right to judge, it says, only, "Such is my opinion, and my opinion shall
be my law, and I will support it by my own strong hand. I denounce the
law; I declare it unconstitutional; that is enough; it shall not be
executed. Men in arms are ready to resist its execution. An attempt to
enforce it shall cover the land with blood. Elsewhere it may be binding;
but here it is trampled underfoot."

This, Sir, is practical nullification.

And now, Sir, against all these theories and opinions, I maintain,--

1. That the Constitution of the United States is not a league,
confederacy, or compact between the people of the several States in
their sovereign capacities; but a government proper, founded on the
adoption of the people, and creating direct relations between itself and

2. That no State authority has power to dissolve these relations; that
nothing can dissolve them but revolution; and that, consequently, there
can be no such thing as secession without revolution.

3. That there is a supreme law, consisting of the Constitution of the
United States, and acts of Congress passed in pursuance of it, and
treaties; and that, in cases not capable of assuming the character of a
suit in law or equity, Congress must judge of, and finally interpret,
this supreme law so often as it has occasion to pass acts of
legislation; and in cases capable of assuming, and actually assuming,
the character of a suit, the Supreme Court of the United States is the
final interpreter.

4. That an attempt by a State to abrogate, annul, or nullify an act of
Congress, or to arrest its operation within her limits, on the ground
that, in her opinion, such law is unconstitutional, is a direct
usurpation on the just powers of the general government, and on the
equal rights of other States; a plain violation of the Constitution, and
a proceeding essentially revolutionary in its character and tendency.

Whether the Constitution be a compact between States in their sovereign
capacities, is a question which must be mainly argued from what is
contained in the instrument itself. We all agree that it is an
instrument which has been in some way clothed with power. We all admit
that it speaks with authority. The first question then is, What does it
say of itself? What does it purport to be? Does it style itself a
league, confederacy, or compact between sovereign States? It is to be
remembered, Sir, that the Constitution began to speak only after its
adoption. Until it was ratified by nine States, it was but a proposal,
the mere draught of an instrument. It was like a deed drawn, but not
executed. The Convention had framed it; sent it to Congress, then
sitting under the Confederation; Congress had transmitted it to the
State legislatures; and by these last it was laid before conventions of
the people in the several States. All this while it was inoperative
paper. It had received no stamp of authority, no sanction; it spoke no
language. But when ratified by the people in their respective
conventions, then it had a voice, and spoke authentically. Every word in
it had then received the sanction of the popular will, and was to be
received as the expression of that will. What the Constitution says of
itself, therefore, is as conclusive as what it says on any other point.
Does it call itself a "compact"? Certainly not. It uses the word
_compact_ but once, and that is when it declares that the States shall
enter into no compact. Does it call itself a "league," a "confederacy,"
a "subsisting treaty between the States"? Certainly not. There is not a
particle of such language in all its pages. But it declares itself a
CONSTITUTION. What is a _constitution_? Certainly not a league, compact,
or confederacy, but _a fundamental law_. That fundamental regulation
which determines the manner in which the public authority is to be
executed, is what forms the _constitution_ of a state. Those primary
rules which concern the body itself, and the very being of the political
society, the form of government, and the manner in which power is to be
exercised,--all, in a word, which form together the _constitution of a
state_,--these are the fundamental laws. This, Sir, is the language of
the public writers. But do we need to be informed, in this country, what
a _constitution_ is? Is it not an idea perfectly familiar, definite, and
well settled? We are at no loss to understand what is meant by the
constitution of one of the States; and the Constitution of the United
States speaks of itself as being an instrument of the same nature. It
says this _Constitution_ shall be the law of the land, any thing in any
State _constitution_ to the contrary notwithstanding. And it speaks of
itself, too, in plain contradistinction from a confederation; for it
says that all debts contracted, and all engagements entered into, by the
United States, shall be as valid under this _Constitution_ as under the
_Confederation_. It does not say, as valid under this _compact_, or this
league, or this confederation, as under the former confederation, but as
valid under this _Constitution_.

This, then, Sir, is declared to be a _constitution_. A constitution is
the fundamental law of the state; and this is expressly declared to be
the supreme law. It is as if the people had said, "We prescribe this
fundamental law," or "this supreme law," for they do say that they
establish this Constitution, and that it shall be the supreme law. They
say that they _ordain and establish_ it. Now, Sir, what is the common
application of these words? We do not speak of _ordaining_ leagues and
compacts. If this was intended to be a compact or league, and the States
to be parties to it, why was it not so said? Why is there found no one
expression in the whole instrument indicating such intent? The old
Confederation was expressly called a _league_, and into this league it
was declared that the States, as States, severally entered. Why was not
similar language used in the Constitution, if a similar intention had
existed? Why was it not said, "the States enter into this new league,"
"the States form this new confederation," or "the States agree to this
new compact"? Or why was it not said, in the language of the gentleman's
resolution, that the people of the several States acceded to this
compact in their sovereign capacities? What reason is there for
supposing that the framers of the Constitution rejected expressions
appropriate to their own meaning, and adopted others wholly at war with
that meaning?

Again, Sir, the Constitution speaks of that political system which is
established as "the government of the United States." Is it not doing
strange violence to language to call a league or a compact between
sovereign powers a _government_? The government of a state is that
organization in which the political power resides. It is the political
being created by the constitution or fundamental law. The broad and
clear difference between a government and a league or compact is, that a
government is a body politic; it has a will of its own; and it possesses
powers and faculties to execute its own purposes. Every compact looks to
some power to enforce its stipulations. Even in a compact between
sovereign communities, there always exists this ultimate reference to a
power to insure its execution; although, in such case, this power is but
the force of one party against the force of another; that is to say, the
power of war. But a _government_ executes its decisions by its own
supreme authority. Its use of force in compelling obedience to its own
enactments is not war. It contemplates no opposing party having a right
of resistance. It rests on its own power to enforce its own will; and
when it ceases to possess this power, it is no longer a government.

Mr. President, I concur so generally in the very able speech of the
gentleman from Virginia near me,[1] that it is not without diffidence
and regret that I venture to differ with him on any point. His opinions,
Sir, are redolent of the doctrines of a very distinguished school, for
which I have the highest regard, of whose doctrines I can say, what I
can also say of the gentleman's speech, that, while I concur in the
results, I must be permitted to hesitate about some of the premises. I
do not agree that the Constitution is a compact between States in their
sovereign capacities. I do not agree, that, in strictness of language,
it is a compact at all. But I do agree that it is founded on consent or
agreement, or on compact, if the gentleman prefers that word, and means
no more by it than voluntary consent or agreement. The Constitution,
Sir, is not a contract, but the result of a contract; meaning by
contract no more than assent. Founded on consent, it is a government
proper. Adopted by the agreement of the people of the United States,
when adopted, it has become a Constitution. The people have agreed to
make a Constitution; but when made, that Constitution becomes what its
name imports. It is no longer a mere agreement. Our laws, Sir, have
their foundation in the agreement or consent of the two houses of
Congress. We say, habitually, that one house proposes a bill, and the
other agrees to it; but the result of this agreement is not a compact,
but a law. The law, the statute, is not the agreement, but something
created by the agreement; and something which, when created, has a new
character, and acts by its own authority. So the Constitution of the
United States, founded in or on the consent of the people, may be said
to rest on compact or consent; but it is not itself the compact, but its
result. When the people agree to erect a government, and actually erect
it, the thing is done, and the agreement is at an end. The compact is
executed, and the end designed by it attained. Henceforth, the fruit of
the agreement exists, but the agreement itself is merged in its own
accomplishment; since there can be no longer a subsisting agreement or
compact _to form_ a constitution or government, after that constitution
or government has been actually formed and established.

It appears to me, Mr. President, that the plainest account of the
establishment of this government presents the most just and
philosophical view of its foundation. The people of the several States
had their separate State governments; and between the States there also
existed a Confederation. With this condition of things the people were
not satisfied, as the Confederation had been found not to fulfil its
intended objects. It was _proposed_, therefore, to erect a new, common
government, which should possess certain definite powers, such as
regarded the prosperity of the people of all the States, and to be
formed upon the general model of American constitutions. This proposal
was assented to, and an instrument was presented to the people of the
several States for their consideration. They approved it, and agreed to
adopt it, as a Constitution. They executed that agreement; they adopted
the Constitution as a Constitution, and henceforth it must stand as a
Constitution until it shall be altogether destroyed. Now, Sir, is not
this the truth of the whole matter? And is not all that we have heard of
compact between sovereign States the mere effect of a theoretical and
artificial mode of reasoning upon the subject? a mode of reasoning which
disregards plain facts for the sake of hypothesis?

Mr. President, the nature of sovereignty or sovereign power has been
extensively discussed by gentlemen on this occasion, as it generally is
when the origin of our government is debated. But I confess myself not
entirely satisfied with arguments and illustrations drawn from that
topic. The sovereignty of government is an idea belonging to the other
side of the Atlantic. No such thing is known in North America. Our
governments are all limited. In Europe, sovereignty is of feudal origin,
and imports no more than the state of the sovereign. It comprises his
rights, duties, exemptions, prerogatives, and powers. But with us, all
power is with the people. They alone are sovereign; and they erect what
governments they please, and confer on them such powers as they please.
None of these governments is sovereign, in the European sense of the
word, all being restrained by written constitutions. It seems to me,
therefore, that we only perplex ourselves when we attempt to explain the
relations existing between the general government and the several State
governments, according to those ideas of sovereignty which prevail under
systems essentially different from our own.

But, Sir, to return to the Constitution itself; let me inquire what it
relies upon for its own continuance and support. I hear it often
suggested, that the States, by refusing to appoint Senators and
Electors, might bring this government to an end. Perhaps that is true;
but the same may be said of the State governments themselves. Suppose
the legislature of a State, having the power to appoint the governor and
the judges, should omit that duty, would not the State government remain
unorganized? No doubt, all elective governments may be broken up by a
general abandonment, on the part of those intrusted with political
powers, of their appropriate duties. But one popular government has, in
this respect, as much security as another. The maintenance of this
Constitution does not depend on the plighted faith of the States, as
States, to support it; and this again shows that it is not a league. It
relies on individual duty and obligation.

The Constitution of the United States creates direct relations between
this government and individuals. This government may punish individuals
for treason, and all other crimes in the code, when committed against
the United States. It has power, also, to tax individuals, in any mode,
and to any extent; and it possesses the further power of demanding from
individuals military service. Nothing, certainly, can more clearly
distinguish a government from a confederation of states than the
possession of these powers. No closer relations can exist between
individuals and any government.

On the other hand, the government owes high and solemn duties to every
citizen of the country. It is bound to protect him in his most important
rights and interests. It makes war for his protection, and no other
government in the country can make war. It makes peace for his
protection, and no other government can make peace. It maintains armies
and navies for his defence and security, and no other government is
allowed to maintain them. He goes abroad beneath its flag, and carries
over all the earth a rational character imparted to him by this
government, and which no other government can impart. In whatever
relates to war, to peace, to commerce, he knows no other government. All
these, Sir, are connections as dear and as sacred as can bind
individuals to any government on earth. It is not, therefore, a compact
between States, but a government proper, operating directly upon
individuals, yielding to them protection on the one hand, and demanding
from them obedience on the other.

There is no language in the whole Constitution applicable to a
confederation of States. If the States be parties, as States, what are
their rights, and what their respective covenants and stipulations? And
where are their rights, covenants, and stipulations expressed? The
States engage for nothing, they promise nothing. In the Articles of
Confederation, they did make promises, and did enter into engagements,
and did plight the faith of each State for their fulfilment; but in the
Constitution there is nothing of that kind. The reason is, that, in the
Constitution, it is the _people_ who speak, and not the States. The
people ordain the Constitution, and therein address themselves to the
States, and to the legislatures of the States, in the language of
injunction and prohibition. The Constitution utters its behests in the
name and by authority of the people, and it does not exact from States
any plighted public faith to maintain it. On the contrary, it makes its
own preservation depend on individual duty and individual obligation.
Sir, the States cannot omit to appoint Senators and Electors. It is not
a matter resting in State discretion or State pleasure. The Constitution
has taken better care of its own preservation. It lays its hand on
individual conscience and individual duty. It incapacitates any man to
sit in the legislature of a State, who shall not first have taken his
solemn oath to support the Constitution of the United States. From the
obligation of this oath, no State power can discharge him. All the
members of all the State legislatures are as religiously bound to
support the Constitution of the United States as they are to support
their own State constitution. Nay, Sir, they are as solemnly sworn to
support it as we ourselves are, who are members of Congress.

No member of a State legislature can refuse to proceed, at the proper
time, to elect Senators to Congress, or to provide for the choice of
Electors of President and Vice-President, any more than the members of
this Senate can refuse, when the appointed day arrives, to meet the
members of the other house, to count the votes for those officers, and
ascertain who are chosen. In both cases, the duty binds, and with equal
strength, the conscience of the individual member, and it is imposed on
all by an oath in the same words. Let it then never be said, Sir, that
it is a matter of discretion with the States whether they will continue
the government, or break it up by refusing to appoint Senators and to
elect Electors. They have no discretion in the matter. The members of
their legislatures cannot avoid doing either, so often as the time
arrives, without a direct violation of their duty and their oaths; such
a violation as would break up any other government.

Looking still further to the provisions of the Constitution itself, in
order to learn its true character, we find its great apparent purpose
to be, to unite the people of all the States under one general
government, for certain definite objects, and, to the extent of this
union, to restrain the separate authority of the States. Congress only
can declare war; therefore, when one State is at war with a foreign
nation, all must be at war. The President and the Senate only can make
peace; when peace is made for one State, therefore, it must be made for

Can any thing be conceived more preposterous, than that any State should
have power to nullify the proceedings of the general government
respecting peace and war? When war is declared by a law of Congress, can
a single State nullify that law, and remain at peace? And yet she may
nullify that law as well as any other. If the President and Senate make
peace, may one State, nevertheless, continue the war? And yet, if she
can nullify a law, she may quite as well nullify a treaty.

The truth is, Mr. President, and no ingenuity of argument, no subtilty
of distinction can evade it, that, as to certain purposes, the people of
the United States are one people. They are one in making war, and one in
making peace; they are one in regulating commerce, and one in laying
duties of imposts. The very end and purpose of the Constitution was, to
make them one people in these particulars; and it has effectually
accomplished its object. All this is apparent on the face of the
Constitution itself. I have already said, Sir, that to obtain a power of
direct legislation over the people, especially in regard to imposts, was
always prominent as a reason for getting rid of the Confederation, and
forming a new Constitution. Among innumerable proofs of this, before the
assembling of the Convention, allow me to refer only to the report of
the committee of the old Congress, July, 1785.

But, Sir, let us go to the actual formation of the Constitution; let us
open the journal of the Convention itself, and we shall see that the
very first resolution which the Convention adopted was, "THAT A NATIONAL

This itself completely negatives all idea of league, and compact, and
confederation. Terms could not be chosen more fit to express an
intention to establish a national government, and to banish for ever all
notion of a compact between sovereign States.

This resolution was adopted on the 30th of May, 1787. Afterwards, the
style was altered, and, instead of being called a national government,
it was called the government of the United States; but the substance of
this resolution was retained, and was at tha head of that list of
resolutions which was afterwards sent to the committee who were to frame
the instrument.

It is true, there were gentlemen in the Convention, who were for
retaining the Confederation, and amending its Articles; but the majority
was against this, and was for a national government. Mr. Patterson's
propositions, which were for continuing the Articles of Confederation
with additional powers, were submitted to the Convention on the 15th of
June, and referred to the committee of the whole. The resolutions
forming the basis of a national government, which had once been agreed
to in the committee of the whole, and reported, were recommitted to the
same committee, on the same day. The Convention, then, in committee of
the whole, on the 19th of June, had both these plans before them; that
is to say, the plan of a confederacy, or compact, between States, and
the plan of a national government. Both these plans were considered and
debated, and the committee reported, "That they do not agree to the
propositions offered by the honorable Mr. Patterson, but that they again
submit the resolutions formerly reported." If, Sir, any historical fact
in the world be plain and undeniable, it is that the Convention
deliberated on the expediency of continuing the Confederation, with some
amendments, and rejected that scheme, and adopted the plan of a
national government, with a legislature, an executive, and a judiciary
of its own. They were asked to preserve the league; they rejected the
proposition. They were asked to continue the existing compact between
States; they rejected it. They rejected compact, league, and
confederation, and set themselves about framing the constitution of a
national government; and they accomplished what they undertook.

If men will open their eyes fairly to the lights of history, it is
impossible to be deceived on this point. The great object was to
supersede the Confederation by a regular government; because, under the
Confederation, Congress had power only to make requisitions on States;
and if States declined compliance, as they did, there was no remedy but
war against such delinquent States. It would seem, from Mr. Jefferson's
correspondence, in 1786 and 1787, that he was of opinion that even this
remedy ought to be tried. "There will be no money in the treasury," said
he, "till the confederacy shows its teeth"; and he suggests that a
single frigate would soon levy, on the commerce of a delinquent State,
the deficiency of its contribution. But this would be war; and it was
evident that a confederacy could not long hold together, which should be
at war with its members. The Constitution was adopted to avoid this
necessity. It was adopted that there might be a government which should
act directly on individuals, without borrowing aid from the State
governments. This is clear as light itself on the very face of the
provisions of the Constitution, and its whole history tends to the same
conclusion. Its framers gave this very reason for their work in the most
distinct terms. Allow me to quote but one or two proofs, out of
hundreds. That State, so small in territory, but so distinguished for
learning and talent, Connecticut, had sent to the general Convention,
among other members, Samuel Johnston and Oliver Ellsworth. The
Constitution having been framed, it was submitted to a convention of the
people of Connecticut for ratification on the part of that State; and
Mr. Johnston and Mr. Ellsworth were also members of this convention. On
the first day of the debates, being called on to explain the reasons
which led the Convention at Philadelphia to recommend such a
Constitution, after showing the insufficiency of the existing
confederacy, inasmuch as it applied to States, as States, Mr. Johnston
proceeded to say:--

"The Convention saw this imperfection in attempting to legislate
for States in their political capacity, that the coercion of law
can he exercised by nothing but a military force. They have,
therefore, gone upon entirely new ground. They have formed one new
nation out of the individual States. The Constitution vests in the
general legislature a power to make laws in matters of national
concern; to appoint judges to decide upon these laws; and to
appoint officers to carry them into execution. This excludes the
idea of an armed force. The power which is to enforce these laws is
to be a legal power, vested in proper magistrates. The force which
is to be employed is the energy of law; and this force is to
operate only upon individuals who fail in their duty to their
country. This is the peculiar glory of the Constitution, that it
depends upon the mild and equal energy of the magistracy for the
execution of the laws."

In the further course of the debate, Mr. Ellsworth said:--

"In republics it is a fundamental principle, that the majority
govern, and that the minority comply with the general voice. How
contrary, then, to republican principles, how humiliating, is our
present situation! A single State can rise up, and put a _veto_
upon the most important public measures. We have seen this actually
take place; a single State has controlled the general voice of the
Union; a minority, a very small minority, has governed us. So far
is this from being consistent with republican principles, that it
is, in effect, the worst species of monarchy.

"Hence we see how necessary for the Union is a coercive principle.
No man pretends the contrary. We all see and feel this necessity.
The only question is, Shall it be a coercion of law, or a coercion
of arms? There is no other possible alternative. Where will those
who oppose a coercion of law come out? Where will they end? A
necessary consequence of their principles is a war of the States
one against another. I am for coercion by law; that coercion which
acts only upon delinquent individuals. This Constitution does not
attempt to coerce sovereign bodies, States, in their political
capacity. No coercion is applicable to such bodies, but that of an
armed force. If we should attempt to execute the laws of the Union
by sending an armed force against a delinquent State, it would
involve the good and bad, the innocent and guilty, in the same
calamity. But this legal coercion singles out the guilty
individual, and punishes him for breaking the laws of the Union."

Indeed, Sir, if we look to all contemporary history, to the numbers of
the Federalist, to the debates in the conventions, to the publications
of friends and foes, they all agree, that a change had been made from a
confederacy of States to a different system; they all agree, that the
Convention had formed a Constitution for a national government. With
this result some were satisfied, and some were dissatisfied; but all
admitted that the thing had been done. In none of these various
productions and publications did any one intimate that the new
Constitution was but another compact between States in their sovereign
capacities. I do not find such an opinion advanced in a single instance.
Everywhere, the people were told that the old Confederation was to be
abandoned, and a new system to be tried; that a proper government was
proposed, to be founded in the name of the people, and to have a regular
organization of its own. Everywhere, the people were told that it was to
be a government with direct powers to make laws over individuals, and to
lay taxes and imposts without the consent of the States. Everywhere, it
was understood to be a popular Constitution. It came to the people for
their adoption, and was to rest on the same deep foundation as the State
constitutions themselves. Its most distinguished advocates, who had been
themselves members of the Convention, declared that the very object of
submitting the Constitution to the people was, to preclude the
possibility of its being regarded as a mere compact. "However gross a
heresy," say the writers of the Federalist, "it may be to maintain that
a party to a _compact_ has a right to revoke that _compact_, the
doctrine itself has had respectable advocates. The possibility of a
question of this nature proves the necessity of laying the foundations
of our national government deeper than in the mere sanction of delegated
authority. The fabric of American empire ought to rest on the solid

Such is the language, Sir, addressed to the people, while they yet had
the Constitution under consideration. The powers conferred on the new
government were perfectly well understood to be conferred, not by any
State, or the people of any State, but by the people of the United
States. Virginia is more explicit, perhaps, in this particular, than any
other State. Her convention, assembled to ratify the Constitution, "in
the name and behalf of the people of Virginia, declare and make known,
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."

Is this language which describes the formation of a compact between
States? or language describing the grant of powers to a new government,
by the whole people of the United States?

Among all the other ratifications, there is not one which speaks of the
Constitution as a compact between States. Those of Massachusetts and New
Hampshire express the transaction, in my opinion, with sufficient
accuracy. They recognize the Divine goodness "in affording THE PEOPLE OF
THE UNITED STATES an opportunity of entering into an explicit and solemn
compact with each other, _by assenting to and ratifying a new
Constitution_." You will observe, Sir, that it is the PEOPLE, and not
the States, who have entered into this compact; and it is the PEOPLE of
all the United States. These conventions, by this form of expression,
meant merely to say, that the people of the United States had, by the
blessing of Providence, enjoyed the opportunity of establishing a new
Constitution, _founded in the consent of the people_. This consent of
the people has been called, by European writers, the _social compact_;
and, in conformity to this common mode of expression, these conventions
speak of that assent, on which the new Constitution was to rest, as an
explicit and solemn compact, not which the States had entered into with
each other, but which the _people_ of the United States had entered

Finally, Sir, how can any man get over the words of the Constitution
THIS CONSTITUTION." These words must cease to be a part of the
Constitution, they must be obliterated from the parchment on which they
are written, before any human ingenuity or human argument can remove the
popular basis on which that Constitution rests, and turn the instrument
into a mere compact between sovereign States.

The second proposition, Sir, which I propose to maintain, is, that no
State authority can dissolve the relations subsisting between the
government of the United States and individuals; that nothing can
dissolve these relations but revolution; and that, therefore, there can
be no such thing as _secession_ without revolution. All this follows, as
it seems to me, as a just consequence, if it be first proved that the
Constitution of the United States is a government proper, owing
protection to individuals, and entitled to their obedience.

The people, Sir, in every State, live under two governments. They owe
obedience to both. These governments, though distinct, are not adverse.
Each has its separate sphere, and its peculiar powers and duties. It is
not a contest between two sovereigns for the same power, like the wars
of the rival houses in England; nor is it a dispute between a government
_de facto_ and a government _de jure_. It is the case of a division of
powers between two governments, made by the people, to whom both are
responsible. Neither can dispense with the duty which individuals owe to
the other; neither can call itself master of the other: the people are
masters of both. This division of power, it is true, is in a great
measure unknown in Europe. It is the peculiar system of America; and,
though new and singular, it is not incomprehensible. The State
constitutions are established by the people of the States. This
Constitution is established by the people of all the States. How, then,
can a State secede? How can a State undo what the whole people have
done? How can she absolve her citizens from their obedience to the laws
of the United States? How can she annul their obligations and oaths? How
can the members of her legislature renounce their own oaths? Sir,
secession, as a revolutionary right, is intelligible; as a right to be
proclaimed in the midst of civil commotions, and asserted at the head of
armies, I can understand it. But as a practical right, existing under
the Constitution, and in conformity with its provisions, it seems to me
to be nothing but a plain absurdity; for it supposes resistance to
government, under the authority of government itself; it supposes
dismemberment, without violating the principles of union; it supposes
opposition to law, without crime; it supposes the violation of oaths,
without responsibility; it supposes the total overthrow of government,
without revolution.

The Constitution, Sir, regards itself as perpetual and immortal. It
seeks to establish a union among the people of the States, which shall
last through all time. Or, if the common fate of things human must be
expected at some period to happen to it, yet that catastrophe is not

The instrument contains ample provisions for its amendment, at all
times; none for its abandonment, at any time. It declares that new
States may come into the Union, but it does not declare that old States
may go out. The Union is not a temporaly partnership of States. It is
the association of the people, under a constitution of government,
uniting their power, joining together their highest interests, cementing
their present enjoyments, and blending, in one indivisible mass, all
their hopes for the future. Whatsoever is steadfast in just political
principles; whatsoever is permanent in the structure of human society;
whatsoever there is which can derive an enduring character from being
founded on deep-laid principles of constitutional liberty and on the
broad foundations of the public will,--all these unite to entitle this
instrument to be regarded as a permanent constitution of government.

In the next place, Mr. President, I contend that there is a supreme law
of the land, consisting of the Constitution, acts of Congress passed in
pursuance of it, and the public treaties. This will not be denied,
because such are the very words of the Constitution. But I contend,
further, that it rightfully belongs to Congress, and to the courts of
the United States, to settle the construction of this supreme law, in
doubtful cases. This is denied; and here arises the great practical
question, _Who is to construe finally the Constitution of the United
States_? We all agree that the Constitution is the supreme law; but who
shall interpret that law? In our system of the division of powers
between different governments, controversies will necessarily sometimes
arise, respecting the extent of the powers of each. Who shall decide
these controversies? Does it rest with the general government, in all or
any of its departments, to exercise the office of final interpreter? Or
may each of the States, as well as the general government, claim this
right of ultimate decision? The practical result of this whole debate
turns on this point. The gentleman contends that each State may judge
for itself of any alleged violation of the Constitution, and may finally
decide for itself, and may execute its own decisions by its own power.
All the recent proceedings in South Carolina are founded on this claim
of right. Her convention has pronounced the revenue laws of the United
States unconstitutional; and this decision she does not allow any
authority of the United States to overrule or reverse. Of course she
rejects the authority of Congress, because the very object of the
ordinance is to reverse the decision of Congress; and she rejects, too,
the authority of the courts of the United States, because she expressly
prohibits all appeal to those courts. It is in order to sustain this
asserted right of being her own judge, that she pronounces the
Constitution of the United States to be but a compact, to which she is a
party, and a sovereign party. If this be established, then the inference
is supposed to follow, that, being sovereign, there is no power to
control her decision; and her own judgment on her own compact is, and
must be, conclusive.

I have already endeavored, Sir, to point out the practical consequences
of this doctrine, and to show how utterly inconsistent it is with all
ideas of regular government, and how soon its adoption would involve the
whole country in revolution and absolute anarchy. I hope it is easy now
to show, Sir, that a doctrine bringing such consequences with it is not
well founded; that it has nothing to stand on but theory and assumption;
and that it is refuted by plain and express constitutional provisions. I
think the government of the United States does possess, in its
appropriate departments, the authority of final decision on questions of
disputed power. I think it possesses this authority, both by necessary
implication and by express grant.

It will not be denied, Sir, that this authority naturally belongs to all
governments. They all exercise it from necessity, and as a consequence
of the exercise of other powers. The State governments themselves
possess it, except in that class of questions which may arise between
them and the general government, and in regard to which they have
surrendered it, as well by the nature of the case as by clear
constitutional provisions. In other and ordinary cases, whether a
particular law be in conformity to the constitution of the State is a
question which the State legislature or the State judiciary must
determine. We all know that these questions arise daily in the State
governments, and are decided by those governments; and I know no
government which does not exercise a similar power.

Upon general principles, then, the government of the United States
possesses this authority; and this would hardly be denied were it not
that there are other governments. But since there are State governments,
and since these, like other governments, ordinarily construe their own
powers, if the government of the United States construes its own powers
also, which construction is to prevail in the case of opposite
constructions? And again, as in the case now actually before us, the
State governments may undertake, not only to construe their own powers,
but to decide directly on the extent of the powers of Congress. Congress
has passed a law as being within its just powers; South Carolina denies
that this law is within its just powers, and insists that she has the
right so to decide this point, and that her decision is final. How are
these questions to be settled?

In my opinion, Sir, even if the Constitution of the United States had
made no express provision for such cases, it would yet be difficult to
maintain, that, in a Constitution existing over four-and-twenty States,
with equal authority over all, _one_ could claim a right of construing
it for the whole. This would seem a manifest impropriety; indeed, an
absurdity. If the Constitution is a government existing over all the
States, though with limited powers, it necessarily follows, that, to the
extent of those powers, it must be supreme. If it be not superior to the
authority of a particular State, it is not a national government. But as
it is a government, as it has a legislative power of its own, and a
judicial power coextensive with the legislative, the inference is
irresistible that this government, thus created _by_ the whole and _for_
the whole, must have an authority superior to that of the particular
government of any one part. Congress is the legislature of all the
people of the United States; the judiciary of the general government is
the judiciary of all the people of the United States. To hold,
therefore, that this legislature and this judiciary are subordinate in
authority to the legislature and judiciary of a single State, is doing
violence to all common sense, and overturning all established
principles. Congress must judge of the extent of its own powers so often
as it is called on to exercise them, or it cannot act at all; and it
must also act independent of State control, or it cannot act at all.

The right of State interposition strikes at the very foundation of the
legislative power of Congress. It possesses no effective legislative
power, if such right of State interposition exists; because it can pass
no law not subject to abrogation. It cannot make laws for the Union, if
any part of the Union may pronounce its enactments void and of no
effect. Its forms of legislation would be an idle ceremony, if, after
all, any one of four-and-twenty States might bid defiance to its
authority. Without express provision in the Constitution, therefore,
Sir, this whole question is necessarily decided by those provisions
which create a legislative power and a judicial power. If these exist in
a government intended for the whole, the inevitable consequence is, that
the laws of this legislative power and the decisions of this judicial
power must be binding on and over the whole. No man can form the
conception of a government existing over four-and-twenty States, with a
regular legislative and judicial power, and of the existence at the same
time of an authority, residing elsewhere, to resist, at pleasure or
discretion, the enactments and the decisions of such a government. I
maintain, therefore, Sir, that, from the nature of the case, and as an
inference wholly unavoidable, the acts of Congress and the decisions of
the national courts must be of higher authority than State laws and
State decisions. If this be not so, there is, there can be, no general

But, Mr. President, the Constitution has not left this cardinal point
without full and explicit provisions. First, as to the authority of
Congress. Having enumerated the specific powers conferred on Congress,
the Constitution adds, as a distinct and substantive clause, the
following, viz.: "To make all laws which shall be necessary and proper
for carrying into execution the foregoing powers, and all other powers
vested by this Constitution in the government of the United States, or
in any department or officer thereof." If this means any thing, it means
that Congress may judge of the true extent and just interpretation of
the specific powers granted to it, and may judge also of what is
necessary and proper for executing those powers. If Congress is to judge
of what is necessary for the execution of its powers, it must, of
necessity, judge of the extent and interpretation of those powers.

And in regard, Sir, to the judiciary, the Constitution is still more
express and emphatic. It declares that the judicial power shall extend
to all _cases_ in law or equity arising under the Constitution, laws of
the United States, and treaties; that there shall be _one_ Supreme
Court, and that this Supreme Court shall have appellate jurisdiction of
all these cases, subject to such exceptions as Congress may make. It is
impossible to escape from the generality of these words. If a case
arises under the Constitution, that is, if a case arises depending on
the construction of the Constitution, the judicial power of the United
States extends to it. It reaches _the case, the question_; it attaches
the power of the national judicature to the _case_ itself, in whatever
court it may arise or exist; and in this _case_ the Supreme Court has
appellate jurisdiction over all courts whatever. No language could
provide with more effect and precision than is here done, for subjecting
constitutional questions to the ultimate decision of the Supreme Court.
And, Sir, this is exactly what the Convention found it necessary to
provide for, and intended to provide for. It is, too, exactly what the
people were universally told was done when they adopted the
Constitution. One of the first resolutions adopted by the Convention was
in these words, viz.: "That the jurisdiction of the national judiciary
shall extend to cases which respect _the collection of the national
revenue_, and questions which involve the national peace and harmony."
Now, Sir, this either had no sensible meaning at all, or else it meant
that the jurisdiction of the national judiciary should extend to these
questions, _with a paramount authority_. It is not to be supposed that
the Convention intended that the power of the national judiciary should
extend to these questions, and that the power of the judicatures of the
States should also extend to them, _with equal power of final decision_.
This would be to defeat the whole object of the provision. There were
thirteen judicatures already in existence. The evil complained of, or
the danger to be guarded against, was contradiction and repugnance in
the decisions of these judicatures. If the framers of the Constitution
meant to create a fourteenth, and yet not to give it power to revise and
control the decisions of the existing thirteen, then they only intended
to augment the existing evil and the apprehended danger by increasing
still further the chances of discordant judgments. Why, Sir, has it
become a settled axiom in politics that every government must have a
judicial power coextensive with its legislative power? Certainly, there
is only this reason, namely, that the laws may receive a uniform
interpretation and a uniform execution. This object cannot be otherwise
attained. A statute is what it is judicially interpreted to be; and if
it be construed one way in New Hampshire, and another way in Georgia,
there is no uniform law. One supreme court, with appellate and final
jurisdiction, is the natural and only adequate means, in any government,
to secure this uniformity. The Convention saw all this clearly; and the
resolution which I have quoted, never afterwards rescinded, passed
through various modifications, till it finally received the form which
the article now bears in the Constitution.

It is undeniably true, then, that the framers of the Constitution
intended to create a national judicial power, which should be paramount
on national subjects. And after the Constitution was framed, and while
the whole country was engaged in discussing its merits, one of its most
distinguished advocates, Mr. Madison, told the people that it _was true,
that, in controversies relating to the boundary between the two
jurisdictions, the tribunal which is ultimately to decide is to be
established under the general government_. Mr. Martin, who had been a
member of the Convention, asserted the same thing to the legislature of
Maryland, and urged it as a reason for rejecting the Constitution. Mr.
Pinckney, himself also a leading member of the Convention, declared it
to the people of South Carolina. Everywhere it was admitted, by friends
and foes, that this power was in the Constitution. By some it was
thought dangerous, by most it was thought necessary; but by all it was
agreed to be a power actually contained in the instrument. The
Convention saw the absolute necessity of some control in the national
government over State laws. Different modes of establishing this control
were suggested and considered. At one time, it was proposed that the
laws of the States should, from time to time, be laid before Congress,
and that Congress should possess a negative over them. But this was
thought inexpedient and inadmissible; and in its place, and expressly as
a substitute for it, the existing provision was introduced; that is to
say, a provision by which the federal courts should have authority to
overrule such State laws as might be in manifest contravention of the
Constitution. The writers of the Federalist, in explaining the
Constitution, while it was yet pending before the people, and still
unadopted, give this account of the matter in terms, and assign this
reason for the article as it now stands. By this provision Congress
escaped the necessity of any revision of State laws, left the whole
sphere of State legislation quite untouched, and yet obtained a security
against any infringement of the constitutional power of the general
government. Indeed, Sir, allow me to ask again, if the national
judiciary was not to exercise a power of revision on constitutional
questions over the judicatures of the States, why was any national
judicature erected at all? Can any man give a sensible reason for having
a judicial power in this government, unless it be for the sake of
maintaining a uniformity of decision on questions arising under the
Constitution and laws of Congress, and insuring its execution? And does
not this very idea of uniformity necessarily imply that the construction
given by the national courts is to be the prevailing construction? How
else, Sir, is it possible that uniformity can be preserved?

Gentlemen appear to me, Sir, to look at but one side of the question.
They regard only the supposed danger of trusting a government with the
interpretation of its own powers. But will they view the question in its
other aspect? Will they show us how it is possible for a government to
get along with four-and-twenty interpreters of its laws and powers?
Gentlemen argue, too, as if, in these cases, the State would be always
right, and the general government always wrong. But suppose the
reverse,--suppose the State wrong (and, since they differ, some of them
must be wrong),--are the most important and essential operations of the
government to be embarrassed and arrested, because one State holds the
contrary opinion? Mr. President, every argument which refers the
constitutionality of acts of Congress to State decision appeals from the
majority to the minority; it appeals from the common interest to a
particular interest; from the counsels of all to the counsel of one; and
endeavors to supersede the judgment of the whole by the judgment of a

I think it is clear. Sir, that the Constitution, by express provision,
by definite and unequivocal words, as well as by necessary implication,
has constituted the Supreme Court of the United States the appellate
tribunal in all cases of a constitutional nature which assume the shape
of a suit, in law or equity. And I think I cannot do better than to
leave this part of the subject by reading the remarks made upon it in
the convention of Connecticut, by Mr. Ellsworth; a gentleman, Sir, who
has left behind him, on the records of the government of his country,
proofs of the clearest intelligence and of the deepest sagacity, as well
as of the utmost purity and integrity of character. "This Constitution,"
says he, "defines the extent of the powers of the general government. If
the general legislature should, at any time, overleap their limits, the
judicial department is a constitutional check. If the United States go
beyond their powers, if they make a law which the Constitution does not
authorize, it is void; and the judiciary power, the national judges,
who, to secure their impartiality, are to be made independent, will
declare it to be void. On the other hand, if the States go beyond their
limits, if they make a law which is a usurpation upon the general
government, the law is void; and upright, independent judges will
declare it to be so." Nor did this remain merely matter of private
opinion. In the very first session of the first Congress, with all these
well-known objects, both of the Convention and the people, full and
fresh in his mind, Mr. Ellsworth, as is generally understood, reported
the bill for the organization of the judicial department, and in that
bill made provision for the exercise of this appellate power of the
Supreme Court, in all the proper cases, in whatsoever court arising; and
this appellate power has now been exercised for more than forty years,
without interruption, and without doubt.

As to the cases, Sir, which do not come before the courts, those
political questions which terminate with the enactments of Congress, it
is of necessity that these should be ultimately decided by Congress
itself. Like other legislatures, it must be trusted with this power. The
members of Congress are chosen by the people, and they are answerable to
the people; like other public agents, they are bound by oath to support
the Constitution. These are the securities that they will not violate
their duty, nor transcend their powers. They are the same securities
that prevail in other popular governments; nor is it easy to see how
grants of power can be more safely guarded, without rendering them
nugatory. If the case cannot come before the courts, and if Congress be
not trusted with its decision, who shall decide it? The gentleman says,
each State is to decide it for herself. If so, then, as I have already
urged, what is law in one State is not law in another. Or, if the
resistance of one State compels an entire repeal of the law, then a
minority, and that a small one, governs the whole country.

Sir, those who espouse the doctrines of nullification reject, as it
seems to me, the first great principle of all republican liberty; that
is, that the majority _must_ govern. In matters of common concern, the
judgment of a majority _must_ stand as the judgment of the whole. This
is a law imposed on us by the absolute necessity of the case; and if we
do not act upon it, there is no possibility of maintaining any
government but despotism. We hear loud and repeated denunciations
against what is called _majority government_. It is declared, with much
warmth, that a majority government cannot be maintained in the United
States. What, then, do gentlemen wish? Do they wish to establish a
_minority_ government? Do they wish to subject the will of the many to
the will of the few? The honorable gentleman from South Carolina has
spoken of absolute majorities and majorities concurrent; language wholly
unknown to our Constitution, and to which it is not easy to affix
definite ideas. As far as I understand it, it would teach us that the
absolute majority may be found in Congress, but the majority concurrent
must be looked for in the States; that is to say, Sir, stripping the
matter of this novelty of phrase, that the dissent of one or more
States, as States, renders void the decision of a majority of Congress,
so far as that State is concerned. And so this doctrine, running but a
short career, like other dogmas of the day, terminates in nullification.

If this vehement invective against _majorities_ meant no more than that,
in the construction of government, it is wise to provide checks and
balances, so that there should be various limitations on the power of
the mere majority, it would only mean what the Constitution of the
United States has already abundantly provided. It is full of such checks
and balances. In its very organization, it adopts a broad and most
effective principle in restraint of the power of mere majorities. A
majority of the people elects the House of Representatives, but it does
not elect the Senate. The Senate is elected by the States, each State
having, in this respect, an equal power. No law, therefore, can pass,
without the assent of the representatives of the people, and a majority
of the representatives of the States also. A majority of the
representatives of the people must concur, and a majority of the States
must concur, in every act of Congress; and the President is elected on a
plan compounded of both these principles. But having composed one house
of representatives chosen by the people in each State, according to
their numbers, and the other of an equal number of members from every
State, whether larger or smaller, the Constitution gives to majorities
in these houses thus constituted the full and entire power of passing
laws, subject always to the constitutional restrictions and to the
approval of the President. To subject them to any other power is clear
usurpation. The majority of one house may be controlled by the majority
of the other; and both may be restrained by the President's negative.
These are checks and balances provided by the Constitution, existing in
the government itself, and wisely intended to secure deliberation and
caution in legislative proceedings. But to resist the will of the
majority in both houses, thus constitutionally exercised, to insist on
the lawfulness of interposition by an extraneous power; to claim the
right of defeating the will of Congress, by setting up against it the
will of a single State,--is neither more nor less, as it strikes me,
than a plain attempt to overthrow the government. The constituted
authorities of the United States are no longer a government, if they be
not masters of their own will; they are no longer a government, if an
external power may arrest their proceedings; they are no longer a
government, if acts passed by both houses, and approved by the
President, may be nullified by State vetoes or State ordinances. Does
any one suppose it could make any difference, as to the binding
authority of an act of Congress, and of the duty of a State to respect
it, whether it passed by a mere majority of both houses, or by three
fourths of each, or the unanimous vote of each? Within the limits and
restrictions of the Constitution, the government of the United States,
like all other populpr governments, acts by majorities. It can act no
otherwise. Whoever, therefore, denounces the government of majorities,
denounces the government of his own country, and denounces all free
governments. And whoever would restrain these majorities, while acting
within their constitutional limits, by an external power, whatever he
may intend, asserts principles which, if adopted, can lead to nothing
else than the destruction of the government itself.

Does not the gentleman perceive, Sir, how his argument against
majorities might here be retorted upon him? Does he not see how cogently
he might be asked, whether it be the character of nullification to
practise what it preaches? Look to South Carolina, at the present
moment. How far are the rights of minorities there respected? I confess,
Sir, I have not known, in peaceable times, the power of the majority
carried with a higher hand, or upheld with more relentless disregard of
the rights, feelings and principles of the minority;--a minority
embracing, as the gentleman himself will admit, a large portion of the
worth and respectability of the State;--a minority comprehending in its
numbers men who have been associated with him, and with us, in these
halls of legislation; men who have served their country at home and
honored it abroad; men who would cheerfully lay down their lives for
their native State, in any cause which they could regard as the cause of
honor and duty; men above fear, and above reproach, whose deepest grief
and distress spring from the conviction, that the present proceedings of
the State must ultimately reflect discredit upon her. How is this
minority, how are these men, regarded? They are enthralled and
disfranchised by ordinances and acts of legislation; subjected to tests
and oaths, incompatible, as they conscientiously think, with oaths
already taken, and obligations already assumed; they are proscribed and
denounced as recreants to duty and patriotism, and slaves to a foreign
power. Both the spirit which pursues them, and the positive measures
which emanate from that spirit, are harsh and proscriptive beyond all
precedent within my knowledge, except in periods of professed

It is not, Sir, one would think, for those who approve these proceedings
to complain of the power of majorities.

Mr. President, all popular governments rest on two principles, or two

First, That there is so far a common interest among those over whom the
government extends, as that it may provide for the defence, protection,
and good government of the whole, without injustice or oppression to
parts; and

Secondly, That the representatives of the people, and especially the
people themselves, are secure against general corruption, and may be
trusted, therefore, with the exercise of power.

Whoever argues against these principles argues against the
practicability of all free governments. And whoever admits these, must
admit, or cannot deny, that power is as safe in the hands of Congress as
in those of other representative bodies. Congress is not irresponsible.
Its members are agents of the people, elected by them, answerable to
them, and liable to be displaced or superseded, at their pleasure; and
they possess as fair a claim to the confidence of the people, while they
continue to deserve it, as any other public political agents.

If, then, Sir, the manifest intention of the Convention, and the
contemporary admission of both friends and foes, prove any thing; if the
plain text of the instrument itself, as well as the necessary
implication from other provisions, prove any thing; if the early
legislation of Congress, the course of judicial decisions, acquiesced in
by all the States for forty years, prove any thing,--then it is proved
that there is a supreme law, and a final interpreter.

My fourth and last proposition, Mr. President, was, that any attempt by
a State to abrogate or nullify acts of Congress is a usurpation on the
powers of the general government and on the equal rights of other
States, a violation of the Constitution, and a proceeding essentially
revolutionary. This is undoubtedly true, if the preceding propositions
be regarded as proved. If the government of the United States be trusted
with the duty, in any department, of declaring the extent of its own
powers, then a State ordinance, or act of legislation, authorizing
resistance to an act of Congress, on the alleged ground of its
unconstitutionally, is manifestly a usurpation upon its powers. If the
States have equal rights in matters concerning the whole, then for one
State to set up her judgment against the judgment of the rest, and to
insist on executing that judgment by force, is also a manifest
usurpation on the rights of other States. If the Constitution of the
United States be a government proper, with authority to pass laws, and
to give them a uniform interpretation and execution, then the
interposition of a State, to enforce her own construction, and to
resist, as to herself, that law which binds the other States, is a
violation of the Constitution.

If that be revolutionary which arrests the legislative, executive, and
judicial power of government, dispenses with existing oaths and
obligations of obedience, and elevates another power to supreme
dominion, then nullification is revolutionary. Or if that be
revolutionary the natural tendency and practical effect of which are to
break the Union into fragments, to sever all connection among the people
of the respective States, and to prostrate this general government in
the dust, then nullification is revolutionary.

Nullification, Sir, is as distinctly revolutionary as secession; but I
cannot say that the revolution which it seeks is one of so respectable a
character. Secession would, it is true, abandon the Constitution
altogether; but then it would profess to abandon it. Whatever other
inconsistencies it might run into, one, at least, it would avoid. It
would not belong to a government, while it rejected its authority. It
would not repel the burden, and continue to enjoy the benefits. It would
not aid in passing laws which others are to obey, and yet reject their
authority as to itself. It would not undertake to reconcile obedience to
public authority with an asserted right of command over that same
authority. It would not be in the government, and above the government,
at the same time. But though secession may be a more respectable mode of
attaining the object than nullification, it is not more truly
revolutionary. Each, and both, resist the constitutional authorities;
each, and both, would sever the Union and subvert the government.

Mr. President, having detained the Senate so long already, I will not
now examine at length the ordinance and laws of South Carolina. These
papers are well drawn for their purpose. Their authors understood their
own objects. They are called a peaceable remedy, and we have been told
that South Carolina, after all, intends nothing but a lawsuit. A very
few words, Sir, will show the nature of this peaceable remedy, and of
the lawsuit which South Carolina contemplates.

In the first place, the ordinance declares the law of last July, and all
other laws of the United States laying duties, to be absolutely null and
void, and makes it unlawful for the constituted authorities of the
United States to enforce the payment of such duties. It is therefore,
Sir, an indictable offence, at this moment, in South Carolina, for any
person to be concerned in collecting revenue under the laws of the
United States. It being declared, by what is considered a fundamental
law of the State, unlawful to collect these duties, an indictment lies,
of course, against any one concerned in such collection; and he is, on
general principles, liable to be punished by fine and imprisonment. The
terms, it is true, are, that it is unlawful "to enforce the payment of
duties"; but every custom-house officer enforces payment while he
detains the goods in order to obtain such payment. The ordinance,
therefore, reaches everybody concerned in the collection of the duties.

This is the first step in the prosecution of the peaceable remedy. The
second is more decisive. By the act commonly called the _replevin_ law,
any person whose goods are seized or detained by the collector for the
payment of duties may sue out a writ of replevin, and, by virtue of that
writ, the goods are to be restored to him. A writ of replevin is a writ
which the sheriff is bound to execute, and for the execution of which he
is bound to employ force, if necessary. He may call out the _posse_, and
must do so, if resistance be made. This _posse_ may be armed or unarmed.
It may come forth with military array, and under the lead of military
men. Whatever number of troops may be assembled in Charleston, they may
be summoned, with the governor, or commander-in-chief, at their head, to
come in aid of the sheriff. It is evident, then, Sir, that the whole
military power of the State is to be employed, if necessary, in
dispossessing the custom-house officers, and in seizing and holding the
goods, without paying the duties. This is the second step in the
peaceable remedy.

Sir, whatever pretences may be set up to the contrary, this is the
direct application of force, and of military force. It is unlawful, in
itself, to replevy goods in the custody of the collectors. But this
unlawful act is to be done, and it is to be done by power. Here is a
plain interposition, by physical force, to resist the laws of the Union.
The legal mode of collecting duties is to detain the goods till such
duties are paid or secured. But force comes, and overpowers the
collector and his assistants, and takes away the goods, leaving the
duties unpaid. There cannot be a clearer case of forcible resistance to
law. And it is provided that the goods thus seized shall be held against
any attempt to retake them, by the same force which seized them.

Having thus dispossessed the officers of the government of the goods,
without payment of duties, and seized and secured them by the strong arm
of the State, only one thing more remains to be done, and that is, to
cut off all possibility of legal redress; and that, too, is
accomplished, or thought to be accomplished. The ordinance declares,
_that all judicial proceedings, founded on the revenue laws_ (including,
of course, proceedings in the courts of the United States), _shall be
null and void_. This nullifies the judicial power of the United States.
Then comes the test-oath act. This requires all State judges and jurors
in the State courts to swear that they will execute the ordinance, and
all acts of the legislature passed in pursuance thereof. The ordinance
declares, that no appeal shall be allowed from the decision of the State
courts to the Supreme Court of the United States; and the replevin act
makes it an indictable offence for any clerk to furnish a copy of the
record, for the purpose of such appeal.

The two principal provisions on which South Carolina relies, to resist
the laws of the United States, and nullify the authority of this
government, are, therefore, these:--

1. A forcible seizure of goods, before duties are paid or secured, by
the power of the State, civil and military.

2. The taking away, by the most effectual means in her power, of all
legal redress in the courts of the United States; the confining of
judicial proceedings to her own State tribunals; and the compelling of
her judges and jurors of these her own courts to take an oath,
beforehand, that they will decide all cases according to the ordinance,
and the acts passed under it; that is, that they will decide the cause
one way. They do not swear to _try_ it, on its own merits; they only
swear to _decide_ it as nullification requires.

The character, Sir, of these provisions defies comment. Their object is
as plain as their means are extraordinary. They propose direct
resistance, by the whole power of the State, to laws of Congress, and
cut off, by methods deemed adequate, any redress by legal and judicial
authority. They arrest legislation, defy the executive, and banish the
judicial power of this government. They authorize and command acts to be
done, and done by force, both of numbers and of arms, which, if done,
and done by force, are clearly acts of rebellion and treason.

Such, Sir, are the laws of South Carolina; such, Sir, is the peaceable
remedy of nullification. Has not nullification reached, Sir, even thus
early, that point of direct and forcible resistance to law to which I
intimated, three years ago, it plainly tended?

And now, Mr. President, what is the reason for passing laws like these?
What are the oppressions experienced under the Union, calling for
measures which thus threaten to sever and destroy it? What invasions of
public liberty, what ruin to private happiness, what long list of rights
violated, or wrongs unredressed, is to justify to the country, to
posterity, and to the world, this assault upon the free Constitution of
the United States, this great and glorious work of our fathers? At this
very moment, Sir, the whole land smiles in peace, and rejoices in
plenty. A general and a high prosperity pervades the country; and,
judging by the common standard, by increase of population and wealth,
or judging by the opinions of that portion of her people not embarked in
these dangerous and desperate measures, this prosperity overspreads
South Carolina herself.


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