by the reservation to each State of powers not expressly granted to the Union
by the Constitution
Supreme within its own orbit, which is traced from the same centre of popular power whence the wider circumference of the General Government
is described, the individual State is surrounded on all sides by that all-embracing circle.
The reserved and unnamed powers are many and important, but the State
is closely circumscribed.
Thus, a State is forbidden to alter its form of government.
“Thou shalt forever remain a republic,” says the United States Constitution
to each individual State.
A State is forbidden, above all, to pass any law conflicting with the United States Constitution
Moreover, every member of Congress, every member of a State legislature, every executive or judicial officer in the service of the Union
or of a separate State, is bound by solemn oath to maintain the United States Constitution
This alone would seem to settle the question of secession ordinances.
So long as the Constitution
endures, such an ordinance is merely the act of conspiring and combining individuals, with whom the General Government
When it falls in the struggle, and becomes powerless to cope with them, the Constitution
has been destroyed by violence.
Peaceful acquiescence in such combinations is perjury and treason on the part of the chief magistrate
of the country, for which he may be impeached and executed.
Yet men speak of Mr. Lincoln
as having plunged into wicked war. They censure him for not negotiating with envoys who came, not to settle grievances, but to demand recognition of the dismemberment of the Republic
which he has just sworn to maintain.
It is true that the ordinary daily and petty affairs of men come more immediately than larger matters under the cognizance of the State
governments, tending thus to foster local patriotism and local allegiance.
At the same time, as all controversies between citizens of different States come within the sphere of the Federal
courts, and as the manifold and conflicting currents of so rapid a national life as the American
can rarely be confined within narrow geographical boundaries, it follows that the Federal
courts, even for domestic purposes as well as foreign, are parts of the daily, visible functions of the body politic.
The Union is omnipresent.
The custom-house, the court-house, the arsenal, the village post-office, the muskets of the militia make the authority of the General Government
a constant fact.
Moreover, the restless, migratory character of the population, which rarely permits all the members of one family to remain denizens of any one State, has interlaced the States with each other and all with the Union
to such an extent that a painless excision of a portion of the whole nation is an impossibility.
To cut away the pound of flesh and draw no drop of blood surpasses human ingenuity.
Neither the opponents nor friends of the new Government in the first generation after its establishment held the doctrine of secession.
The States' right party and the Federal party disliked or cherished the Government
because of the general conviction that it was a constituted and centralized authority, permanent and indivisible, like that of any other organized nation.
Each party continued to favor or to oppose a strict construction of the instrument; but the doctrine of nullification and secession was a plant of later growth.
It was an accepted fact that the United States
was not a confederacy.
That word was never used in the Constitution
except once by way of prohibition
. We were a nation, not a copartnership, except indeed in the larger sense in which every nation may be considered a copartnership — a copartnership of the present with the past and with the future, To borrow the lofty language of Burke
“A State ought not to be considered as nothing better than a partnership agreement in a trade of pepper and coffee, calico or tobacco, or some other such low concern, to be taken up for a little temporary interest, and to be dissolved by the fancy of the parties.
It is to be looked upon with other reverence, because it is not a partnership in things subservient only to gross animal existence, of a temporary and perishable nature.
It is a partnership in all science, a partnership in all art, a partnership in every virtue and in all perfection, a partnership not only between those who are living, but between those who are living, those who are dead, and those who are to be born.”
And the simple phrase of the preamble to our Constitution is almost as pregnant:--“To secure the blessings of liberty to us and our posterity
But as the innumerable woes of disunion out of which we had been rescued by the Constitution
began to fade into the past, the allegiance to the Union
, in certain regions of the country, seemed rapidly to diminish.
It was reserved to the subtle genius of Mr. Calhoun
, one of the most logical, brilliant, and persuasive orators that ever lived, to embody once more, in a set of sounding sophisms, the main arguments which had been unsuccessfully used in a former generation to prevent the adoption of the Constitution
, and to exhibit them now as legitimate deductions from the Constitution
The memorable tariff controversy was the occasion in which the argument of State sovereignty was put forth in all its strength.
In regard to the dispute itself there can be no doubt that the South
was in the right and the North
in the wrong.
The production by an exaggerated tariff of a revenue so much over and above the wants of Government, that it was at last divided among the separate States, and foolishly squandered, was the most triumphant reduction ad absurdum
that the South
could have desired.
But it is none the less true that the nullification by a State legislature of a Federal law was a greater injury to the whole nation than a foolish tariff, long since repealed, had