by the destruction of the whole body politic of which they were vital parts.
Not only is the United Republic destroyed if the revolution prove successful; but, even if the people of the Free States
have the enthusiasm and sagacity to reconstruct their Union, and by a new national convention to re-ordain and re-establish the time-honored Constitution, still an immense territory is lost.
But the extent of that territory is not the principal element in the disaster.
The world is wide enough for all. It is the loss of the southern marine frontier which is fatal to the Republic
and the vast Louisiana territory
purchased by the Union
from foreign countries, and garnished with fortresses at the expense of the Union
, are fallen with all these improvements into the hands of a foreign and unfriendly Power.
Should the dire misfortune of a war with a great maritime nation, with England
for example, befall the Union
, its territory, hitherto almost impregnable, might now be open to fleets and armies acting in alliance with a hostile “Confederacy,” which has become possessed of an important part of the Union
's maritime line of defence.
Moreover, the Union
has 12,000 ships, numbering more than 5,000,000 tons, the far greater part of which belongs to the Free States
, and the vast commerce of the Mississippi
and the Gulf of Mexico
requires and must receive protection at every hazard.
Is it strange that the Union
should make a vigorous, just, and lawful effort to save itself from the chaos from which the Constitution
of 1787 rescued the country?
Who that has read and pondered the history of that dark period does not shudder at the prospect of its return?
But yesterday we were a State--the Great Republic--prosperous and powerful, with a flag known and honored all over the world.
Seventy years ago we were a helpless league of bankrupt and lawless petty sovereignties.
We had a currency so degraded that a leg of mutton was cheap at $1,000. The national debt, incurred in the War
of Independence, had hardly a nominal value, and was considered worthless.
The absence of law, order, and security for life and property was as absolute as could be well conceived in a civilized land.
Debts could not be collected, courts could enforce no decrees, insurrections could not be suppressed.
The army of the Confederacy
numbered eighty men
. From this condition the Constitution
That great law, reported by the general Convention of 1787, was ratified by the people of all the land voting in each State for a ratifying convention chosen expressly for that purpose.
It was promulgated in the name of the people: “We, the people of the United States
, in order to form a more perfect Union, and to secure the blessings of liberty for ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution.”
It was ratified by the people--not by the States
acting through their governments, legislative and executive, but by the people electing especial delegates within each State; and it is important to remember that in none of these ratifying conventions was any reserve made of a State's right to repeal the Union
, or to secede.
Many criticisms were offered in the various ratifying ordinances, many amendments suggested, but the acceptance of the Constitution
, the submission to the perpetual law, was in all cases absolute.
The language of Virginia
was most explicit on this point.
“The powers granted under the Constitution
, being derived from the people of the United States
, may be resumed by them
whenever the same shall be perverted to their injury or oppression.”
That the people of the United States
, expressing their will solemnly in national convention, are competent to undo the work of their ancestors, and are fully justified in so doing when the Constitution
shall be perverted to their injury and oppression, there is no man in the land that doubts.
This course has been already indicated as the only peaceful revolution possible; but such a proceeding is very different from the secession ordinance of a single State resuming its sovereignty of its own free will, and without consultation with the rest of the inhabitants of the country.
“There was no reservation (says Justice Story
) of any right on the part of any State to dissolve its connection, or to abrogate its dissent, or to suspend the operation of the Constitution
as to itself.”
And thus, when the ratifications had been made, a new commonwealth took its place among the nations of the earth.
The effects of the new Constitution were almost magical.
Order sprang out of chaos.
Law resumed its reign; debts were collected; life and property became secure; the national debt was funded and ultimately paid, principal and interest, to the uttermost farthing; the articles of the treaty of peace in 1783 were fulfilled, and Great Britain
, having an organized and united State to deal with, entered into a treaty of commerce and amity with us — the first and the best ever negotiated between the two nations.
Not the least noble of its articles (the 21st) provided that the acceptance by the citizens or subjects of either country of foreign letters of marque should be treated and punished as piracy
. Unfortunately, that article and several others were limited to 12 years, and were not subsequently renewed.
The debts due to British subjects were collected, and the British Government
at last surrendered the forts on our soil.
At last we were a nation, with a flag respected abroad and almost idolized at home as the symbol of union and coming greatness; and we entered upon a career of prosperity and progress never surpassed in history.
The autonomy of each State, according to which its domestic and interior affairs are subject to the domestic legislature and executive, was secured