“I understood the gentleman to maintain, that, without revolution, without civil commotion, without rebellion, a remedy for supposed abuse and transgression of the powers of the General Government lies in a direct appeal to the interference of the State Governments.” Mr. Hayne here rose and said: “He did not contend for the mere right of revolution, but for the right of constitutional resistance. What he maintained was that, in case of a plain, palpable violation of the Constitution by the General Government, a State may interpose; and that this interposition is constitutional.” Mr. Webster resumed:--“So, Sir, I understood the gentleman, and am happy to find that I did not misunderstand him. What he contends for is, that it is constitutional to interrupt the administration of the Constitution itself, in the hands of those who are chosen and sworn to administer it, by the direct interference, in form of law, of the States, in virtue of their sovereign capacity. The inherent right of the people to reform their government, I do not deny; and they have another right, and that is, to resist unconstitutional laws, without overturning the government. It is no doctrine of mine that unconstitutional laws bind the people. The great question is, ‘Whose prerogative is it to decide on the constitutionality or unconstitutionality of the laws?’ On that, the main debate hinges. The proposition that, in case of a supposed violation of the Constitution by Congress, the States have a constitutional right to interfere and annul the law of Congress, is the proposition of the gentleman. I do not admit it. If the gentleman had intended no more than to assert the right of revolution for justifiable cause, he would have said only what all agree to. But I cannot conceive that there can be a middle course between submission to the laws, when regularly pronounced constitutional, on the one hand, and open resistance, which is revolution or rebellion, on the other. I say, the right of a State to annul a law of Congress cannot be maintained, but on the ground of the inalienable right of man to resist oppression; that is to say, upon the ground of revolution. I admit that there is an ultimate violent remedy, above the Constitution and in defiance of the Constitution, which may be resorted to when a revolution is to be justified. But I do not admit that, under the Constitution, and in conformity with it, there is any mode in which a State Government, as a member of the Union, can interfere and stop the progress of the general movement, by force of her own laws, under any circumstances whatever. * * * Sir, the human mind is so constituted that the merits of both sides of a controversy appear very clear, and very palpable, to those who respectively espouse them; and both sides usually grow clearer as the controversy advances. South Carolina sees unconstitutionality in the tariff; she sees oppression there also; and she sees danger. Pennsylvania, with a vision not less sharp, looks at the same tariff, and sees no such thing in it; she sees it all constitutional, all useful, all safe. the faith of South Carolina is strengthened by opposition, and she now not only sees, but resolves, that the tariff is palpably unconstitutional, oppressive, and dangerous; but Pennsylvania, not to be behind her neighbors, and equally willing to strengthen her own faith by a confident asseveration, resolves also, and gives to every ”
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1 The following extract is a fair specimen of the prevailing sentiment, at the time of the assembling of the “Hartford Convention,” of the South--including south Carolina--on the subject of Secession:
No man, no association of men, no State or set of States, has a right to withdraw itself from this Union, of its own account. The same power that knit us together can unknit. The same formality which formed the links of the Union is necessary to dissolve it. The majority of the States which formed the Union must consent to the withdrawal of any branch of it. Until that consent has been obtained, any attempt to dissolve the Union, or distract the efficacy of its laws, is treason--treason to all intents and purposes. --Richmond Enquirer, November 1, 1814.
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