chain of fortresses south of the great lakes and upon our own soil.
We were a confederacy.
We were sovereign States.
And these were the fruits of such a confederacy and of such sovereignty.
It was, until the immediate present, the darkest hour of our history.
But there were patriotic and sagacious men in those days, and their efforts at last rescued us from the condition of a confederacy.
The “Constitution of the United States
” was an organic law, enacted by the sovereign people of that whole territory which is commonly called in geographies and histories the United States of America
It was empowered to act directly, by its own legislative, judicial, and executive machinery, upon every individual in the country.
It could seize his property, it could take his life, for causes of which itself was the judge.
The States were distinctly prohibited from opposing its decrees or from exercising any of the great functions of sovereignty.
The Union alone was supreme, “any thing in the constitution and laws of the States to the contrary notwithstanding.”
Of what significance, then, was the title of “sovereign” States, arrogated in later days by communities which had voluntarily abdicated the most vital attributes of sovereignty?
But, indeed, the words “sovereign” and “sovereignty” are purely inapplicable to the American
In the Declaration of Independence
the provinces declare themselves “free and independent States,” but the men of those days knew that the word “sovereign” was a term of feudal origin.
When their connection with a time-honored feudal monarchy was abruptly severed, the word “sovereign” had no meaning for us. A sovereign is one who acknowledges no superior, who possesses the highest authority without control, who is supreme in power.
How could any one State of the United States
claim such characteristics at all, least of all after its inabitants, in their primary assemblies, had voted to submit themselves, without limitation of time, to a constitution which was declared supreme?
The only intelligible source of power in a country beginning its history de novo
after a revolution, in a land never subjected to military or feudal conquest, is the will of the people of the whole land as expressed by a majority.
At the present moment, unless the Southern
revolution shall prove successful, the United States Government is a fact, an established authority.
In the period between 1783 and 1787 we were in chaos.
In May of 1787 the convention met in Philadelphia
, and, after some months' deliberation, adopted, with unprecedented unanimity, the project of the great law, which, so soon as it should be accepted by the people, was to be known as the Constitution of the United States
It was not a compact.
Who ever heard of a compact to which there were no parties?
or who ever heard of a compact made by a single party with himself?
Yet the name of no State is mentioned in the whole document; the States themselves are only mentioned to receive commands or prohibitions, and the “people of the United States
” is the single party by whom alone the instrument is executed.
The Constitution was not drawn up by the States, it was not promulgated in the name of the States, it was not ratified by the States.
The States never acceded to it, and possess no power to secede from it. It “was ordained and established” over the States by a power superior to the States--by the people of the whole land in their aggregate capacity, acting through conventions of delegates expressly chosen for the purpose within each State, independently of the State Governments
, after the project had been framed.
There had always been two parties in the country during the brief but pregnant period between the abjuration of British authority and the adoption of the Constitution
There was a party advocating State rights and local self-government in its largest sense, and a party favoring a more consolidated and national government.
The National or Federal party triumphed in the adoption of the new government.
It was strenuously supported and bitterly opposed on exactly the same grounds.
Its friends and foes both agreed that it had put an end to the system of confederacy.
Whether it were an advantageous or a noxious change, all agreed that the thing had been done.
“In all our deliberations (says the letter accompanying and recommending the Constitution
to the people) we kept steadily in view that which appeared to us the greatest interest of every true American, the consolidation of our Union
, in which is involved our prosperity, safety, perhaps our national existence
.” --Journal of the Convention, 1
And an eloquent opponent denounced the project for this very same reason--
“That this is a consolidated Government (said Henry), is demonstrably <*>ar.
The language is ‘we, the people,’ instead of ‘we, the States.’
It must be one great, consolidated national Government of the people of all the States.”
And the Supreme Court of the United States
, after the Government
had been established, held this language in an important case, “Gibbons v. Ogden
“It has been said that the States were
sovereign, were completely independent, and were connected with each other by a league.
This is true.
But when these allied sovereignties converted their league into a Government, when they converted their Congress of Ambassadors into a Legislature, empowered to enact laws, the whole character in which the States appear underwent a change.”
There was never a disposition in any quarter, in the early days of our constitutional history, to deny this great fundamental principle of the Republic
“In the most elaborate expositions of the Constitution
by its friends (says Justice Story