its character as a permanent form
of government, as a fundamental law, as a supreme rule, which no State was at liberty to disregard, to suspend, or to annul, was constantly admitted and insisted upon.” --1 Story, 325.
The fears of its opponents, then, were that the new system would lead to a too strong, to an overcentralized Government.
The fears of its friends were that the central power of theory would prove inefficient to cope with the local or State forces, in practice.
The experience of the last thirty years, and the catastrophe of the present year, have shown which class of fears were the more reasonable.
Had the Union
thus established in 1787 been a confederacy, it might have been argued, with more or less plausibility, that the States which peaceably acceded to it might at pleasure peaceably secede from it. It is none the less true that such a proceeding would have stamped the members of the convention — Washington
, and their colleagues — with utter incompetence; for nothing can be historically more certain than that their object was to extricate us from the anarchy to which that principle had brought us.
“However gross a heresy it may be
(says the Federalist, recommending the new Constitution) to maintain that a party to a compact has a right to revoke that compact, the doctrine has had respectable advocates.
of such a question shows the necessity of laying the foundation of our national Government deeper than in the mere sanction of delegated authority.
The fabric of American empire ought to rest on the solid basis of the consent of the people.”
Certainly, the most venerated expounders of the Constitution
, Story, Webster
— were of opinion that the intention of the convention to establish a permanent, consolidated Government, a single commonwealth, had been completely successful.
“The great and fundamental defect of the Confederation of 1781, (says Chancellor Kent
,) which led to its eventual overthrow, was that, in imitation of all former confederacies, it carried the decrees of the Federal Council to the States in their sovereign capacity.
The great and incurable defect of all former Federal Governments, such as the Amphictyonic, Achaean, and Lycian Confederacies, and the Germanic, Helvetic, Hanseatic, and Dutch Republics, is that they were sovereignties over sovereignties
. The first effort to relieve the people of the country from this state of national degradation and ruin came from Virginia
The general convention afterwards met at Philadelphia
in May, 1787.
The plan was submitted to a convention of delegates chosen by the people at large in each State for assent and ratification.
Such a measure was laying the foundations of the fabric of our national polity where alone they ought to be laid,--on the broad consent of the people.” --1 Kent
It is true that the consent of the people was given by the inhabitants voting in
each State; but in what other conceivable way could the people of the whole country have voted?
“They assembled in the several States,” says Story; “but where else could they assemble?”
Secession is, in brief, the return to chaos from which we emerged three-quarters of a century since.
No logical sequence can be more perfect.
If one State has a right to secede to-day, asserting what it calls its sovereignty, another may, and probably will, do the same to-morrow, a third on the next day, and so on, until there are none left to secede from.
Granted the premises that each State may peaceably secede from the Union
, it follows that a county may peaceably secede from a State, and a town from a county, until there is nothing left but a horde of individuals all seceding from each other.
The theory that the people of a whole country in their aggregate capacity are supreme, is intelligible; and it has been a fact, also, in America
for 70 years. But it is impossible to show, if the people of a State be sovereign, that the people of a county, or of a village, and the individuals of the village, are not equally sovereign, and justified in “resuming their sovereignty” when their interests or their caprice seems to impel them.
The process of disintegration brings back the community to barbarism, precisely as its converse has built up commonwealths — whether empires, kingdoms, or republics — out of original barbarism.
Established authority, whatever the theory of its origin, is a fact.
It should never be lightly or capriciously overturned.
They who venture on the attempt should weigh well the responsibility that is upon them.
Above all they must expect to be arraigned for their deeds before the tribunal of the civilized world and of future ages — a court of last appeal, the code of which is based on the Divine principles of right and reason, which are dispassionate and eternal.
No man, on either side of the Atlantic
blood in his veins, will dispute the right of a people, or of any portion of a people to rise against oppression, to demand redress of grievances, and in case of denial of justice to take up arms to vindicate the sacred principle of liberty.
Few Englishmen or Americans
will deny that the source of government is the consent of the governed, or that every nation has the right to govern itself according to its will.
When the silent consent is changed to fierce
remonstrance, the revolution is impending.
The right of revolution is indisputable.
It is written on the whole record of our race.
British and American history is made up of rebellion and revolution.
Many of the crowned kings were rebels or usurpers; Hampden
, and Oliver Cromwell
, and Jefferson
, all were rebels.
It is no word of reproach; but these men all knew the work they had set themselves to do. They never called their rebellion “peaceable secession.”
They were sustained by the consciousness of