right when they overthrew established authority, but they meant to overthrow it. They meant rebellion, civil war, bloodshed, infinite suffering for themselves and their whole generation, for they accounted them welcome substitutes for insulted liberty and violated right.
There can be nothing plainer, then, than the American
right of revolution.
But then it should be called revolution.
“Secession, as a revolutionary right,” said Daniel Webster in the Senate nearly 30 years ago, in words that now sound prophetic,--
As a right to be proclaimed in the midst of civil commotions, and asserted at the head of armies
, I can understand it. But as a practical right, existing under the Constitution
, and in conformity with its provisions, it seems to be nothing but an absurdity, for it supposes resistance to Government under authority of Government itself; it supposes dismemberment without violating the principles of Union; it supposes opposition to law without crime; it supposes the violation of oaths without responsibility; it supposes the total overthrow of Government without revolution.”
The men who had conducted the American
people through a long and fearful revolution, were the founders of the new commonwealth which permanently superseded the subverted authority of the Crown.
They placed the foundations on the unbiassed, untrammelled consent of the people.
They were sick of leagues, of petty sovereignties, of Governments which could not govern a single individual.
The framers of the Constitution
, which has now endured three-quarters of a century, and under which the nation has made a material and intellectual progress never surpassed in history, were not such triflers as to be ignorant of the consequences of their own acts.
The Constitution which they offered and which the people adopted as its own, talked not of Sovereign States--spoke not the word confederacy.
In the very preamble to the instrument are inserted the vital words which show its character: “We, the people
of the United States
, to ensure a more perfect union, and to secure the blessings of liberty for ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution
Sic volo, sic jubeo
. It is the language of a Sovereign solemnly speaking to the world.
It is the promulgation of a great law, the norma agendi
of a new commonwealth.
It is no compact.
“A compact (says Blackstone
) is a promise proceeding from us. Law is a command directed to us. The language of a compact is, ‘We will or will not do this; that of a law is, Thou shalt or shalt not do it.’
” --(1 B. 38, 44, 45.)
And this is throughout the language of the Constitution. Congress shall do this; the President
shall do that; the States shall not exercise this or that power.
Witness, for example, the important clauses by which the “Sovereign” States are shorn of all the great attributes of sovereignty:--no State shall coin money, nor emit bills of credit, nor pass ex post facto
laws, nor laws impairing the obligations of contracts, nor maintain armies and navies, nor grant letters of marque, nor make compacts with other States, nor hold intercourse with foreign Powers, nor grant titles of nobility; and that most significant phrase, “this Contitution, and the laws made in pursuance thereof, shall be the supreme law of the land
Could language be more Imperial?
Could the claim to State “sovereignty” be more completely disposed of at a word?
How can that be sovereign, acknowledging no superior, supreme, which has voluntarily accepted a supreme law from something which it acknowledges as superior?
The Constitution is perpetual, not provisional or temporary.
It is made for all time--“for ourselves and our posterity.”
It is absolute within its sphere.
“This Constitution shall be the supreme law of the land, any thing in the Constitution
or laws of a State to the contrary notwithstanding.”
Of what value, then, is a law of a State declaring its connection with the Union
The Constitution remains supreme, and is bound to assert its supremacy till overpowered by force.
The use of force — of armies and navies of whatever strength — in order to compel obedience to the civil and constitutional authority, is not “wicked war,” is not civil war, is not war at all. So long as it exists, the Government
is obliged to put forth its strength when assailed.
The President, who has taken an oath before God and man to maintain the Constitution
and laws, is perjured if lie yields the Constitution
and laws to armed rebellion without a struggle.
He knows nothing of States.
Within the sphere of the United States Government he deals with individuals only, citizens of the great Republic in whatever portion of it they may happen to live.
He has no choice but to enforce the laws of the Republic
wherever they may be resisted.
When he is overpowered the Government
ceases to exist.
The Union is gone, and Massachusetts
, Rhode Island
, and Ohio
are as much separated from each other as they are from Georgia
Anarchy has returned upon us. The dismemberment of the Commonwealth
We are again in the chaos of 1785.
But it is sometimes asked why the Constitution
did not make a special provision against the right of secession.
How could it do so?
The people created a Constitution over the whole land, with certain defined, accurately enumerated powers, and among these were all the chief attributes of sovereignty.
It was forbidden to a State to coin money, to keep armies and navies, to make compacts with other States, to hold intercourse with foreign nations, to oppose the authority of Government.
To do any one of these things is to secede, for it would be physically impossible to