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States, and controlled their legislation. In fourteen of the Northern States, indeed, laws were enacted to prevent the execution of the law of Congress. These laws, as Mr. Webster himself, if living, would have said, were “distinctly treasonable.” They came directly into conflict with the law of Congress, and nullified the compact of the Constitution relative to fugitive slaves. What shall we say then? Was secession;:under such circumstances, treason? Was it rebellion Mr. Webster has, in one of his speeches, laid down a principle which never has been, and never can be, controverted. He says: do not hesitate to say and repeat, that if the Northern States refuse wilfully and deliberately to carry nto effect that part of the Constitution which respects the restoration of fugitive slaves, the South would be no longer bound to keep the compact. A bargain broken on one side is broken on all sides.” I have said, that this is a principle of truth and justice, which never has been, and never can be denied. It was, indeed, precisely the principle which governed the Convention of 1787 in withdrawing from the first compact between the States. I do not mean to say, however, that this great principle of truth and justice may not be practically denied.
In fact, the Northern power has not only claimed, but exercised, the right to trample the compact of the Constitution under foot; and, at the same time, to visit with fire, sword, desolation, and ruin, those who merely wished to withdraw from the broken thing, and let it alone:
According to the doctrine laid down by Story and Webster, if a compact between States assign no term for its continuance, then the States have a right to secede from it at pleasure.* This doctrine is, no doubt, perfectly true.
. But precisely such was the compact from which the Southern States wished to withdraw; no period was prescribed for its continuance. Yet the North, who had trampled it
* See Chapter II..
under foot, punished the South, with the most terrible of all wars; because she was pleased to regard secession as a violation of that “most sacred compact.”
No man, as we have seen, could well be more inconsistent on any subject, than “the great expounder" was in relation to the most important of all questions respecting the Constitution. It was, with him, either a compact between the States, or not a compact between the States, according to the exigencies of the occasion. He could be equally eloquent on both sides of the question. He complained, in 1850, that the South had changed her opinions on the subject of slavery. Might not the South complain, that he had no opinions, or at least no convictions, to change?. The man who really seeks the truth, and, when found; clings to it as the choicest treasure of his soul, may well leave his consistency to take care of itself. But the -man who seeks place, or power, or popularity more than the truth, should indeed have a good memory. The one may, and indeed will, sometimes change his opinions, but then, in the midst of all his changes, he will be ever true, like the needle, which only turns until it finds the pole. Whereas the other, in his variations, is like the weathercock, which shifts with the breeze of the passing hour, and never finds a point of permanent rest. Even the intellect of a Webster, where the moral man is deficient, can furnish no exemption from this law of retributive justice.
Mr. Webster's real opinion, however, seems to have been that the Constitution was a compact between the States. His great speech of 1833 may have convinced others; it certainly did not convince himself; for during the remainder of his life, he habitually and constantly spoke of the Constitution as the compact formed by the States. Especially after his race was nearly run, and, instead of the dazzling prize of the Presidency, he saw before him the darkness of the grave, and the still greater darkness that threatened his native land with ruin; he
raised the last solemn utterances of his mighty voice in behalf of “the compact of the Constitution;" declaring that as it had been “deliberately entered into by the States," so the States should religiously observe "all its stipulations."
The absurdities flowing from the Doctrine that the Constitution is not a Compact
between the States, but was made by the People of America as one Nation.
WHEN I come to consider “the sovereignty of the people,” about which so much has been said, we shall see
the fallacy of the position, which is everywhere assumed by Mr. Webster and his school, that “the aggregate community, the collected will of the people, is sovereign.”* We shall then see, that this doctrine is utterly without foundation in history, and without support from reason. On the contrary, it will then be rendered manifest, that the people of America have never existed as one nation, clothed with sovereign authority; an idea which has no foundation in fact, and which has grown out of the popular use of language and the passions of politicians. But, at present, I merely wish to point out a few of the absurdities flowing from this doctrine, that the Constitution was ordained by “the aggregate community, the collected will of the people” of America, acting as one sovereign political society. This argument alone, this reductio ad absurdum, is amply sufficient, unless I am greatly mistaken, to shatter that already shattered hypothesis.
Mr. Justice Story, quoting the Declaration of Independence, says:
"It is the right of the people, (plainly intending the majority of the people,) to alter, or to abolish it, and to institute a new government, laying its foundation on such principles, and organizing its powers in such forms,
Works, Vol. vi., page 222.
as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness." Now this is what is meant by the sovereignty of the people in America. But will any one contend, that the people of the United States, that is, a majority of them, may alter, or amend, the government of the Union? If they are, indeed, one people in the political sense of the word, then are they sovereign; and if as such they made the Constitution of the United States, then, according to all our American ideas and doctrines, they have the right to alter or amend that Constitution at their pleasure. Nay, more; they have the right to pull down the existing government, and to set up a new one in its place. But who will accept such a consequence? This right of sovereignty, if it
? exist, or if the one people exist to whom it naturally belongs, it is, according to the universally received doctrine of this continent, inherent and inalienable. No laws or constitutions can take it away, or abridge and limit its exercise. Who will say, then, that the people of the United States, "plainly meaning the majority of them," have such a right or authority? No one. Plainly and inevitably as this consequence flows from the fundamental position of Story and Webster, that the sovereign people of America ordained the Constitution, it will be avowed by no one, who has any reputation to lose, and who has the least respect for the reputation he possesses. Mr. Lincoln has avowed this consequence. But in this instance, as in many others, his logic has taken advantage of his want of information.
This consequence flows so naturally and so necessarily from the premises, that Mr.Justice Story has, in one place, inadvertently drawn it; or rather it has incidentally drawn itself. “The people of the United States," says he, “have a right to abolish, or alter the Constitution of the United States." | True, if they made it; but they did not make it, and therefore they have the right neither * Vol. i., Book iii., chap. iii. † Yol. i., Book iii., chap. iii.