previous next

[9] members of Congress;--but even in making this express reservation, to operate for all posterity, she was willing to provide that, if the State Legislatures refuse or neglect to perform the duty, (which is precisely the case of the Seceding States at the present day,) then the General Government was, by this South Carolina amendment, expressly authorized to do it. South Carolina in 1788, by a sort of prophetic foresight, looked forward to the possibility that the States might “refuse or neglect” to cooperate in carrying on the Government, and admitted, in that case, that the General Government must go on, in spite of their delinquency.

I have dwelt on these points at some length, to show how futile is the attempt, by giving the name of “ordinance” to the act, by which South Carolina adopted the Constitution, and entered the Union, to gain a power to leave it by a subsequent ordinance of repeal.1

Is Secession a Constitutional right, or is it Revolution!

Whether the present unnatural civil war is waged by the South, in virtue of a supposed constitutional right to leave the Union at pleasure; or whether it is an exercise of the great and ultimate right of revolution, the existence of which no one denies, seems to be left in uncertainty by the leaders of the movement. Mr. Jefferson Davis, the President of the new confederacy, in his inaugural speech delivered on the 18th of February, declares that it is “an abuse of language” to call it “a revolution.” Mr. Vice-President Stephens, on the contrary, in a speech at Savannah, on the 21st of March, pronounces it “one of the greatest revolutions in the annals, of the world.” The question is of great magnitude as one of constitutional and public law; as one of morality it is of very little consequence whether the country is drenched in blood, in the exercise of a right claimed under the Constitution, or the right inherent in every community to revolt against an oppressive government, Unless the oppression is so extreme as to justify revolution, it would not justify the evil of breaking up a government, under an abstract constitutional right to do so.

Neither a granted nor a reserved right.

This assumed right of Secession rests upon the doctrine that the Union is a compact between Independent States, from which any one of them may withdraw at pleasure in virtue of its sovereignty. This imaginary right has been the subject of discussion for more than thirty years, having been originally suggested, though not at first much dwelt upon, in connection with the kindred claim of a right, on the part of an individual State, to “nullify” an Act of Congress. It would, of course, be impossible within the limits of the hour to review these elaborate discussions. I will only remark, on this occasion, that none of the premises from which this remarkable conclusion is drawn, are recognized in the Constitution, and that the right of Secession, though claimed to be a “reserved” right, is not expressly reserved in it. That instrument does not purport to be a “compact,” but a Constitution of Government. It appears, in its first sentence, not to have been entered into by the States, but to have been ordained and established by the People of the United States, for “themselves and their posterity.” The States are not named in it; nearly all the characteristic powers of sovereignty are expressly granted to the

1 See Appendix A.

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.

Sort places alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a place to search for it in this document.
South Carolina (South Carolina, United States) (3)
United States (United States) (1)
Savannah (Georgia, United States) (1)

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.
A. H. Stephens (1)
Jefferson Davis (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.
1788 AD (1)
March 21st (1)
February 18th (1)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: