do any one of them without secession.
It would have been puerile for the Constitution
to say formally to each State, “Thou shalt not secede.”
The Constitution, being the supreme law, being perpetual, and having expressly forbidden to the States those acts without which secession is an impossibility, would have been wanting in dignity had it used such superfluous phraseology.
This Constitution is supreme, whatever laws a State may enact
, says the organic law. Was it necessary to add, “and no State shall enact a law of secession?”
To add to a great statute, in which the sovereign authority of the land declares its will, a phrase such as “and be it further enacted that the said law shall not be violated,” would scarcely seem to strengthen the statute.
It was accordingly enacted that new States might be admitted; but no permission was given for a State to secede.
Provisions were made for the amendment of the Constitution
from time to time, and it was intended that those provisions should be stringent.
A two-thirds vote in both Houses of Congress, and a ratification in three-quarters of the whole number of States, are conditions only to be complied with in grave emergencies.
But the Constitution
made no provision for its own dissolution, and, if it had done so, it would have been a proceeding quite without example in history.
A Constitution can only be subverted by revolution, or by foreign conquest of the land.
The revolution may be the result of a successful rebellion.
A peaceful revolution is also conceivable in the case of the United States
The same power which established the Constitution
, may justly destroy it. The people of the whole land may meet, by delegates, in a great national convention, as they did in 1787, and declare that the Constitution
no longer answers the purpose for which it was ordained; that it no longer can secure the blessings of liberty for the people in present and future generations, and that it is therefore forever abolished.
When that project has been submitted again to the people voting in their primary assemblies, not influenced by fraud or force, the revolution is lawfully accomplished, and the Union
is no more.
Such a proceeding is conceivable, although attended with innumerable difficulties and dangers.
But these are not so great as those of the civil war into which the action of the seceding States has plunged the country.
The division of the national domain and other property, the navigation and police of the great rivers, the arrangement and fortification of frontiers, the transit of the Isthmus, the mouth of the Mississippi
, the control of the Gulf of Mexico
, these are significant phrases which have an appalling sound; for there is not one of them that does not contain the seeds of war. In any separation, however accomplished, these difficulties must be dealt with, but there would seem less hope of arriving at a peaceful settlement of them now that the action of the seceding States has been so precipitate and lawless.
For a single State, one after another, to resume those functions of sovereignty which it had unconditionally abdicated when its people ratified the Constitution
of 1787, to seize forts, arsenals, custom-houses, post-offices, mints, and other valuable property of the Union
, paid for by the treasure of the Union
, was not the exercise of a legal function, but it was rebellion, treason, and plunder.
It is strange that Englishmen should find difficulty in understanding that the United States Government is a nation among the nations of the earth; a constituted authority, which may be overthrown by violence, as may be the fate of any state whether kingdom or republic, but which is false to the people if it does not its best to preserve them from the horrors of anarchy, even at the cost of blood.
The “United States
” happens to be a plural title, but the commonwealth thus designated is a unit,--“e pluribus unum
The Union alone is clothed with imperial attributes; the Union
alone is known and recognized in the family of nations; the Union
alone holds the purse and the sword, regulates foreign intercourse, imposes taxes on foreign commerce, makes war and concludes peace.
The armies, the navies, the militia, belong to the Union
alone, and the President
of all. No State can keep troops or fleets.
What man in the civilized world has not heard of the United States
What man in England
can tell the names of all the individual States?
And yet, with hardly a superficial examination of our history and our Constitution, men talk glibly about a confederacy, a compact, a co-partnership, and the right of a State to secede at pleasure, not knowing that, by admitting such loose phraseology and such imaginary rights, we should violate the first principles of our political organization, should fly in the face of our history, should trample under foot the teachings of Jay
, Story, and Webster
, and, accepting only the dogmas of Mr. Calhoun
as infallible, surrender forever our national laws and our national existence.
Englishmen themselves live in a united empire; but if the kingdom of Scotland
should secede, should seize all the national property, forts, arsenals, and public treasure on its soil, organize an army, send forth foreign Ministers to Louis Napoleon
, the Emperor
, and other Powers, issue invitations to all the pirates of the world to prey upon English commerce, screening their piracy from punishment by the banner of Scotland
, and should announce its intention of planting that flag upon Buckingham Palace, it is probable that a blow or two would be struck to defend the national honor and the national existence, without fear that the civil war would be denounced as wicked and fratricidal.
Yet it would be difficult to show that the State of Florida
, for example, a Spanish province, purchased for national purposes