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[81]

VIII. State rights—Nullification.


So long as the people of any State withheld their assent from the Federal Constitution, it was represented and reprobated by its adversaries as a scheme of absolute and undisguised consolidation. They pointed to its sweeping provisions, whereby all power with regard to war, to treaties, and to diplomatic or commercial intercourse with foreign nations, to the currency, to naturalization, to the support of armies, etc., etc., was expressly withdrawn from the States and concentrated in the Federal Government,1 as proof irresistible of the correctness of their position. The express inhibition of any alliance, compact, or treaty between two or more of the States, was even more conclusive on this head. They pointed to the fact, that the very preamble to this instrument proclaimed it the work of “the people of the United States,” and not a mere alliance or pact between the States themselves in their capacity of separate and sovereign political communities. Patrick Henry urged this latter objection with much force in the Virginia ratifying Convention.2 These cavilers were answered, frankly and firmly: “It is the work of ‘the people of the United States,’ as distinguished from the States in their primary and sovereign capacity; and why should not the fact be truly stated?” General Washington did not hesitate to assert, in his plain, earnest, practical way, that the end sought by the new framework was the “consolidation of ”

1

1. No State shall enter into any treaty, or confederation; grant letters of marque or reprisal; coin money; emit bills of credit; make any thing but gold and silver coin a tender in payment of debts; pass any bill of attainder, expost-facto law, or law impairing the obligation of contracts; or grant any title of nobility.

2. No State shall, without the consent of the Congress, lay any imposts or duties on imports or exports, except what may be absolutely necessary for executing its inspection laws; and the net produce of all duties and imposts laid by any State on imports or exports, shall be for the use of the treasury of the United States; and all such laws shall be subject to the revision and control of the Congress. No State shall, without the consent of Congress, lay any duty on tonnage, keep troops or ships of war in time of peace, enter into any agreement or compact with another State or with a foreign power, or engage in war unless actually invaded, or in such imminent danger as will not admit of delay. --The Constitution, Art. I., sec. 10.

2 In the Virginia Convention (Wednesday, June 4, 1788, and the day following) Mr. Henry spoke as follows:

That this is a consolidated government is demonstrably clear; and the danger of such a government is, to my mind, very striking. I have the highest veneration for those gentlemen [who formed the Constitution]; but, Sir, give me leave to demand, What right had they to say, We, the people? My political curiosity, exclusive of my anxious solicitude for the public welfare, leads me to ask, Who authorized them to say, We, the people, instead of We, the States? States are the characteristics and the soul of a confederation. If the States be not the agents of this compact, it must be one great, consolidated. national government, of the people of all the States. * * * I need not take much pains to show that the principles of this system are extremely pernicious, impolitic, and dangerous. --Elliot's Debates, vol. III., pp. 22, 44.

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