previous next

[21] perfume — a gilded harmless moth, whose food is a dew drop, whose life is a midsummer's day — these resolutions, misconceived and perverted, proved, in the minds of ambitious and reckless politicians, the germ of a fatal heresy. The butterfly's egg is a microscopic speck, but as the fruit grows, the little speck gives life to a greedy and nauseous worm, that gnaws and bores to the heart of the apple, and renders it, though smooth and fair without, foul and bitter and rotten within. In like manner, the theoretical generalities of these resolutions, intending nothing in the minds of their authors but constitutional efforts to procure the repeal of obnoxious laws, matured in the minds of a later generation into the deadly paradoxes of 1830 and 1860-kindred products of the same soil, venenorum ferax;--the one asserting the monstrous absurdity that a State, though remaining in the Union, could by her single act nullify a law of Congress; the other teaching the still more preposterous doctrine, that a single State may nullify the Constitution. The first of these heresies failed to spread far beyond the latitude where it was engendered. In the Senate of the United States, the great acuteness of its inventor, (Mr. Calhoun,) then the Vice-President, and the accomplished rhetoric of its champion, (Mr. Hayne,) failed to raise it above the level of a plausible sophism. It sunk forever discredited beneath the sturdy common sense and indomitable will of Jackson, the mature wisdom of Livingston, the keen analysis of Clay, and the crushing logic of Webster.

Nor was this all: the venerable author of the Resolutions of 1798 and of the report of 1799 was still living in a green old age. His connection with those State papers and still more his large participation in the formation and adoption of the Constitution, entitled him, beyond all men living, to be consulted on the subject. No effort was spared by the Leaders of the Nullification school to draw from him even a qualified assent to their theories. But in vain. He not only refused to admit their soundness, but he devoted his time and energies for three laborious years to the preparation of essays and letters, of which the object was to demonstrate that his resolutions and report did not, and could not bear the Carolina interpretation. He earnestly maintained that the separate action of an individual State was not contemplated by them, and that they had in view nothing but the concerted action of the States to procure the repeal of unconstitutional laws or an amendment of the Constitution.1

With one such letter written with this intent, I was myself honored. It filled ten pages of the journal in which with his permission it was published. It unfolded the true theory of the Constitution and the meaning and design of the resolutions and exposed the false gloss attempted to be placed upon them by the Nullifiers, with a clearness and force of reasoning which defied refutation. None, to my knowledge, was ever attempted. The politicians of the Nullification and Secession school, as far as I am aware, have from that day to this made no attempt to grapple with Mr. Madison's letter of August, 1830.2 Mr. Calhoun certainly made no such attempt in the elaborate treatise composed by him, mainly for the purpose of expounding the doctrine of nullification. He claims the support of these resolutions, without adverting to the fact that his interpretation of them had been repudiated

1 A very considerable portion of the important volume containing a selection from the Madison papers, and printed “exclusively for private distribution” by J. C. McGuire, Esq., in 1853, is taken up with these letters and essays.

2 North American Review, vol. XXXI., p. 587.

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.

Visualize the most frequently mentioned Pleiades ancient places in this text.

Download Pleiades ancient places geospacial dataset for this text.

hide People (automatically extracted)
Sort people alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a person to search for him/her in this document.
Calhoun (2)
Webster (1)
J. C. McGuire (1)
Madison (1)
Livingston (1)
Jackson (1)
Hayne (1)
C. M. Clay (1)
hide Dates (automatically extracted)
Sort dates alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a date to search for it in this document.
1860 AD (1)
1853 AD (1)
August, 1830 AD (1)
1830 AD (1)
1799 AD (1)
1798 AD (1)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: