previous next

[202] with another State; or engage in war, unless actually invaded, or in such imminent danger as will not admit of delay.

In every manner, therefore, the States are stripped of external sovereignty, which is, by the Constitution, vested in the Nation, represented by its National Government.

And not only so, but they are, in various respects, in a condition of dependence upon that government; as, for example, for a uniform coinage, for postal facilities, for an army and navy, for security against invasion and domestic violence, for the return of fugitives from service, and even for the guaranty of a republican form of government, if an attempt should be made to deprive them of it.

To speak of States as relatively sovereign, when thus situated as to foreign powers and as to each other, is a solecism seldom surpassed.

As to internal sovereignty, it is undoubtedly true that the States possess it in all matters of a local and domestic nature, except where prohibited by the Constitution of the United States; but beyond that they have not a single attribute of it. They may not coin money, lay imposts or duties on imports or exports, keep troops or ships of war in time of peace, emit bills of credit, declare any thing but gold and silver a tender in payment of debts, or pass a bill of attainder, an ex post facto law, or a law impairing the obligation of contracts; all of which are matters of domestic concern and cognizance.

Why cannot any State do any of all these enumerated acts of sovereignty, as to other nations, as to other States of the Union, and as to their own people? Simply and only, because the Constitution of the United States, speaking the voice and embodying the power of the Nation — including in the Nation every State--forbids it, and in doing so, declares the supremacy of the Nation over the individual States, even to the extent of controlling their government of their own people.

I repeat, therefore, the States are, externally, not sovereign at all, and are so internally, only as that Constitution does not declare otherwise. It matters not that their internal sovereignty is retained to a greater extent than it is surrendered or trammelled; the question is: have they surrendered, or has the Nation taken from them, any part of that sovereignty? If, in forming the Constitution, it took from them or restricted a single attribute of either branch of sovereignty, especially that purely domestic, it is their superior; if they voluntarily surrendered a single such attribute to it, or consented to a single such restriction, they themselves made it their superior. In either case they are not sovereign.

State pride rebels at the humiliation of the States, alleged to be involved in this doctrine; but there is no such humiliation in fact; for, have not the people of every State, in entering the Union, assented to this relative position of the States and the Nation? What is a State but a body of people who are a part of the Nation? And has not the Nation ordained the Constitution, which fixes the status of the General and State Governments? And have not the people of the States, with every opportunity of self-enlightenment, and without the slightest external pressure, by their most free and voluntary act in entering the Union, acknowledged the sovereignty of the Nation over every matter which the people, in forming the National Constitution, deemed it necessary, for the good of the whole, to control by the aggregate power of the Nation? Is any other view consistent with the Union of the people, which our fathers consummated, and which has remained unbroken till this time? If we are one people, as I have shown we are, shall not that people ordain in their Constitution, what the whole and what each part shall be and do, and what the whole and each part shall not be and not do? If not, what becomes of the fundamental principle of popular government, that the majority shall govern?

The radical and pernicious fallacy of the State Rights doctrine is, in claiming that the people inhabiting a defined portion of the National domain, on emerging from their condition of dependence on the National Government, and entering the Union as a State, instead of remaining, as they were, a part of the Nation, become, through their State organization, segregated from it, and exalted by the act of Congress admitting them as a State, to a position of sovereignty higher than that of the Nation. From this error flows, as a necessary consequence, the equally pernicious fallacy, that the constitutional supremacy of the National Government is something extraneous and antagonistic, imposed upon the States without their consent; when, in truth, it is the power which the people of the States have themselves created, and is therefore just as much their creature as the governments of their States. They established both, and both, in their respective spheres, are complete and predominant. While they remain in their several positions, there can be no collision between them. The only conflicts that have ever arisen between National and State authority, have resulted from claiming unconstitutional powers and rights for the States, not from aggressions upon the States by the General Government. The claim of State sovereignty has provoked them all, as it is at the bottom of the fearful strife now agitating the country; and permanent peace cannot be expected until that claim, as advanced in the South, is abandoned.

But while this claim of State sovereignty must be acknowledged by all candid men to be inconsistent with and subversive of the National Constitution, and at war with the first principles of the Union, it is boldly asserted that, aback of all constitutions, and above all written forms of government, there is a reserved power of State sovereignty, paramount to that of the Nation, in virtue of which any State may at any time cast off its obligations to the Union,

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

hide Places (automatically extracted)

View a map of the most frequently mentioned places in this document.

Download Pleiades ancient places geospacial dataset for this text.

hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: