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The Issue; or Point in Controversy.
It is conceded, both by Webster and Story, that if the Constitution is a compact to which the States are the parties, then the States have a right to secede from the Union at pleasure. Thus, says Webster, in stating the consequences of Mr. Calhoun's doctrine-"if a league between sovereign powers have no limitation as to the time of 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 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." In like manner Mr. Justice Story says —“The obvious deductions which may be, and, indeed, have been, drawn from considering the Constitution a compact between States, are that it operates as a mere treaty or convention between them, and has an obligatory force no longer than suits its pleasure or its consent continues, "* &c. Thus the great controversy is narrowed down to the single question—Is the Constitution a compact between the States? If so, then the right of secession is conceded, even by its most powerful and determined opponents; by
*"Commentaries on the Constitution," vol. iii, p. 287, first published in 1833.
the great jurist, as well as by “the great expounder" of the North.
The denial that the Constitution was a compact, is presented in every possible form, or variety of expression. We are told, that it was not made by the States, nor by the people of the States, but “by the people of the whole United States in the aggregate."* The States, we are assured, did not accede to the Constitution; it was ordained by the sovereign people of America as one nation. Echoing the bold assertion of Webster, Mr. Motley says, that “The States never acceded to the Constitution, and have no power to secede from it. It was ordained and established' over the States by a power superior to the States, by the people of the whole land in their aggregate capacityt." It was not made by the States, and it was not ratified by the States. It was, on the contrary, made and ordained by the people of America as one nation, and is, therefore, the constitution of a national government. Such is the doctrine which, in every mode of expression, is inculcated by the Storys, the Websters, and the Motleys of the North.
When we consider, in the simple light of history, the manner in which the Constitution of the United States was made, or framed, and afterwards ratified, such assertions seem' exceedingly wonderful, not to say inexplicable on the supposition that their authors were honest men. But who can measure the mysterious depths of party spirit, or the force of political passions in a democracy? I know something of that force; for, during the greater part of my life, I followed, with implicit confidence, those
I blind leaders of the blind, Mr. Justice Story and Daniel Webster. History will yet open the eyes of the world to the strange audacity of their assertions.
Ever since the Declaration of Independence, there have been two great political parties in the United States; the one, ning the American people as one nation, has laborunsolidate the Federal Union, while the other, attaching itself to the reserved rights of the States, has you wisted this tendency to consolidation in the pone power: Even under the old Articles of Confeder
* Webster. + Rebellion Record, vol. 1, p. 211.
Vista #betore the new Constitution was formed, these promenal opinions and parties existed. For, however pas hit it may seem, there were those who, even under
Apa Articles, considered “the States as Districts of peode composing one political society;"* or the "American His pupilo as forming one nation.”+ Nay, in the great ConPotion of 1787, by which the Constitution was formed, it ** boldly asserted by a leading member, “that we never were independent States, were not such now, and never could be, even on the principles of the Confederation. The States, and the advocates of them, were intoxicated with the idea of their sovereignty." I Now, if any aberration of the mind under the influence of political passions could seem strange to the student of history, it would be truly wonderful, that such an assertion could have been put forth under the Articles of Confederation which expressly declared that "each State" of the Union formed by them "retains its sovereignty, freedom, and independonce." The author of that assertion did not interpret, he flatly contradicted, the fundamental law of the government under which he lived and acted.
The above opinion or view of the old Articles of Confederation passed away with the passions to what it owed its birth. No one, at the present day, supposes that the old Articles moulded the States into “one political society,” or “nation,” leaving them merely “districts of people.” For since those Articles have passed away, and the struggle for power under them has ceased, all can clearly
* The Madison Papers, p. 987.
& Article 2.
see what they so plainly announced that “each state" of the confederation established by them retained “its sovereignty, freedom, and independence."
But the natures of men were not changed by changing the objects to which their political passions might attach themselves. Hence the same opposite tendencies arose under the new "Articles of Union,” as the Constitution of 1787 is habitually called by its authors, and produced the same conflicting parties. Each party had, of course, its extreme wing. There were those who, unduly depressing the States, identified their relations to the central power with that of so many counties to a state, or of individuals to an ordinary political community. On the other hand, there were those who, from an extreme jealousy of the central authority, resolved the States into their original independence, or into their condition under the Articles of Confederation. The watch-word of one party was the sovereignty of the Federal Union; and the watch-word of the other, was the sovereignty of the States.
It was in the Senate of the United States, in 1833, that these two theories of the Constitution stood face to face in the persons of those two intellectual giants-Webster and Calhoun—then engaged in the most memorable debate of the New World. It was then predicted, and events have since verified the prediction, that the destinies of America would hinge and turn on the principles of that great debate. The war of words then waged between the giants has since become a war of deeds and blood between the sections which they represented. Now the question is, on which side was right, truth, justice?
This is precisely the question which, in 1833, the great combatants submitted to the decision of after ages. As he drew toward the close of his speech, Mr. Calhoun reminded his great antagonist “that the principles he might advance would be subjected to the revision of posterity.”, “I do not decline its judgment," said Mr. Webster, in
rising to reply, "nor withhold myself from its scrutiny." - Mr. Webster's speech on this occasion is pronounced by his
learned biographer* the greatest intellectual effort of his life, and is represented as having annihilated every position assumed by Mr. Calhoun. But the combatants did not submit the controversy to the judgment of Mr. Everett; they submitted it to “the revision of posterity." History is the great tribunal to which they appealed; and history will settle the great issue between them, and between the two hostile sections of the Union.
It was in 1833, for the first time in the history of the country, that it was solemnly asserted and argued, that the Constitution of the United States was not a compact between the States. This new doctrine was simultaneously put forth, by Mr. Justice Story in his "Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States," and by Mr. Daniel Webster in "the greatest intellectual effort of his life,” that is, in his great speech in the Senate of the 16th of February, 1833. In order to show that the Constitution is not a compact between the States, the position is assumed, that it is not a compact at all. If it be a compact, say they, then the States had a right to secede. But it is not a compact; and hence secession is treason and rebellion. The great fundamental questions, then, on which the whole controversy hinges, are, first, Is the Constitution a compact? and, secondly, Is it a compact between the States ? These are the questions which shall and ought to be subjected to "the revision of posterity."
* Edward Everett.