This text is part of:
Table of Contents:
 day, but for their posterity,) she may therefore at pleasure secede from the Union existing under that Constitution, is simply to beg the question. That question is not what was the theory or form of government existing in Virginia, before the Constitution, but what are the provisions of the Constitution which her people adopted and made their own? Does the Constitution of the United States permit or forbid the States to enter into a confederation? Is it a mere loose partnership, which any of the parties can break up at pleasure, or is it a Constitution of government, delegating to Congress and prohibiting to the States most of the primal functions of a sovereign power ;--Peace, War, Commerce, Finance, Navy, Army, Mail, Mint; Executive, Legislative, and Judicial functions? The States are not named in it; the word Sovereignty does not occur in it; the right of secession is as much ignored in it as the precession of the Equinoxes, and all the great prerogatives which characterize an independent member of the family of nations are by distinct grant conferred on Congress by the People of the United States and prohibited to the individual States of the Union. Is it not the height of absurdity to maintain that all these express grants and distinct prohibitions, and constitutional arrangements, may be set at nought by an individual State under the pretence that she was a sovereign State before she assented to or ratified them; in other words, that an act is of no binding force because it was performed by an authorized and competent agent? In fact, to deduce from the sovereignty of the States the right of seceding from the Union is the most stupendous non sequitur that was ever advanced in grave affairs. The only legitimate inference to be drawn from that sovereignty is precisely the reverse. If any one right can be predicated of a sovereign State, it is that of forming or adopting a frame of government. She may do it alone, or she may do it as a member of a Union. She may enter into a loose pact for ten years or till a partisan majority of a convention, goaded on by ambitious aspirants to power, shall vote in secret session to dissolve it; or she may, after grave deliberation and mature counsel, led by the wisest and most virtuous of the land, ratify and adopt a constitution of government, ordained and established not only for that generation, but their posterity, subject only to the inalienable right of revolution possessed by every political community. What would be thought in private affairs of a man who should seriously claim the right to revoke a grant, in consequence of having an unqualified right to make it? A right to break a contract, because he had a right to enter into it? To what extent is it more rational on the part of a State to found the right to dissolve the Union on the competence of the parties to form it; the right to prostrate a government on the fact that it was constitutionally framed?
England and Ireland. Ireland, before she entered into the union, was subject, indeed, to the English crown, but she had her own parliament, consisting of her own Lords and Commons, and enacting her own laws. In 1800 she entered into a constitutional union with England on the basis of articles of agreement, jointly accepted by the two parliaments.1 The union was
1 Annual Register, XLII., p. 190
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.