During Mr. Buchanan
's administration, before the slave-holding States proposed to withdraw peaceably, rather than wait to be ‘expelled’ from the confederation, a State Disunion Convention met at Worcester, Massachusetts
It was composed of men who subsequently became the controlling element of the party which elected Mr. Lincoln President
and abolished slavery by force of arms.
They adopted the following platform:
, That the meeting of a State Disunion Convention, attended by men of various parties and affinities, gives occasion for a new statement of principles and a new platform of action.
, That the cardinal American principle is now, as always, liberty, while the prominent fact is now, as always, slavery.
, That the conflict between this principle of liberty and this fact of slavery has been the whole history of the nation for fifty years, while the only result of this conflict has thus far been to strengthen both parties, and prepare the way for a yet more desperate struggle
, That the fundamental difference between mere political agitation and the action we propose, is this, that the one requires the acquiescence of the slave power, and the other only its opposition.
, That the necessity for disunion is written in the whole existing character and condition of the two sections of the country, in their social organization, education, habits and laws; in the dangers of our white citizens in Kansas
, and of our colored ones in Boston
, in the wounds of Charles Sumner
and the laurels of his assailants, and no government on earth was ever strong enough to hold together such opposing forces.
, That this movement does not seek merely disunion, but the more perfect union of the free States by the ‘expulsion’ of the slave States from the confederation, in which they have ever been an element of discord, danger and disgrace.
, That it is not probable that the ultimate severance of the Union
will be an act of deliberation or discussion, but that a long period of deliberation and discussion must precede it, and this we meet to begin.
, That henceforward, instead of regarding it as an objection to any system of policy that it will lead to the separation of the States, we will proclaim that to be the highest of all recommendations and the grateful proof of statesmanship; and will support, politically and otherwise, such men and measures as appear to tend most to this result.
, That by the repeated confessions of Northern and Southern statesmen, ‘the existence of the Union
is the chief guarantee of slavery,’ and that the despots of the old world have everything to fear, and the slaves of the whole world everything to hope, from its destruction and the rise of a free Northern Republic.
, That the sooner the separation takes place the more peaceful it will be; but that peace or war is a secondary consideration in view of our present perils.
Slavery must be conquered, peacefully, if we can, forcibly, if we must.
Since that Convention met a quarter of a century has elapsed; since Calhoun
's death a third of a century.
A book has just been published in Boston
entitled ‘John C. Calhoun
,’ by Dr. H. von Holst
Every well-informed Southerner will rise from its perusal impressed with the ideas:
1. That its author has not been long enough in America
to overcome his European
predilection for autocratic rule and centralized despotism.
2. That coming here to better his condition, and finding the Union
haters of 1856-‘60 a controlling element of the party in power, he thought the shortest cut to better fortunes would be to secure their patronage by this post mortem
attack on their great opponent, Calhoun
3. That next after demolishing Calhoun
's great reputation for statesmanship, the chief object of this book is to justify and glorify the men of the Worcester Convention
and the Higher Law
, which they proclaimed.
By that Higher Law the Union
became a thing to be hated and destroyed—the Constitution
(to use Dr. von
's language)—‘nothing but a dead piece of parchment, not even able to resist the attacks of moth and mice’ (see page 295), ‘whenever it comes in conflict with their ‘wills’ or “convictions.”
On page 127 Dr. von Holst
The facts and the Constitution, which had been framed according to the facts, were at fault.
The founders of the Constitution had been under the necessity of admitting slavery into the Constitution, and the inevitable consequence was that conclusions, which were diametrically opposed to each other, could be logically deduced from it, by starting first from the fact that slavery was an acknowledged and protected institution, which, so faras the States were concerned, was out of the pale of the Federal jurisdiction, and then from the no less incontestable fact, that the determining principle of the Constitution was liberty, and that the spirit and whole life of the American people fully accorded with the Constitution in this respect.
The flaw in all the reasoning of Calhoun on the slavery question was, that he took no account whatever of the latter fact.
The logical consequence of this was, that his constitutional theories were of a nature which rendered the acquiescence of the North in them an utter impossibility. * * A compromise between antagonistic principles is, ab initio, an impossibility.
Page 344, he says: ‘For the first time Calhoun
directly asserted that if the North
would but follow his advice “discontent would cease, harmony and kind feelings between the sections be restored, and every apprehension of danger to the Union
be removed;” and he followed up this assertion by demanding what was, in the strictest sense of the word, impossible. * * The North could
not cease agitating the slavery question, because it could
not will it’ (the italics are von Host's)—‘that is to say, she could not will to change or annihilate her economical, moral and political convictions relative to slavery.
She could not will it, simply because they were convictions.’
Here, and all through the book, we have the argument, temper, spirit, and very nearly the exact language of the Worcester Resolutions
Where the latter speak of the ‘Cardinal American Principle,’ von Holst
uses the expression, ‘the determining principle of the Constitution
This is about the sum of the difference between them.
In the first extract above quoted, there is an effort to show that the clearly expressed and universally admitted provisions of the Constitution
are ‘nullified’ by its ‘determining principle.’
In the second we are boldly told that being opposed to, they should be ‘nullified’ by the sweet ‘wills’ or ‘convictions’
of the Worcester Union
To those who really love the Union
, as did Calhoun
, it may be some comfort to know that—their ‘wills’ or ‘convictions’ having prevailed over the Constitution
on the subject of slavery—this book indicates a willingness now to let the Union
stand, at least until some new conviction may arise (ex.
gr. on the Prohibition issue) to call for the expulsion from the confederation of those States that may oppose their ‘wills.’
was an ardent Union lover, and, among others, for the same reason that made the Worcester men such bitter Union haters; that is to say, because the Union
, as ordained by the Constitution
, was ‘the surest guarantee’ of the right of the Southern States
to work out the solution of the slavery problem for themselves, in their own time and way, without interference of the general Government, or the intermeddling of the Northern States
or their citizens.
He clung to the Constitution
for the same reason, among others, that made them denounce it as ‘a covenant with death and league with hell;’ that is to say, because it clearly guaranteed this right to the Southern States
He was the ablest, most watchful and inflexible opponent of the Higher Law
, which subordinated the Constitution
and the Union
to their ‘wills’ or ‘convictions.’
For twenty years, from 1831 to 1850, he was first among those who guarded the temple of his idol—the Union
as ordained by the Constitution
—against the incendiarism of those Erostrati.
For ten years after his death, his spirit hovered around that temple and protected it from the torch, with which they sought to achieve a fame as lasting as his who ‘fired the Ephesian dome.’
An antagonism so prolonged very naturally aroused much bitterness of feeling on the part of the Union
haters towards the Union
Love and hate are the master passions of the human heart.
Alas! that the latter is the more active, as Shakespeare
has so admirably illustrated by Shylock, in whom hate was stronger than avarice, and avarice stronger than love for his daughter.
But if Dr. von Holst
's idea was to achieve fame and fortune by pandering to that bitterness of feeling in 1882, he will surely be disappointed, if the manliness and magnanimity of the New England
character has not been greatly overestimated.
On page 1, Dr. von Holst
rolls up the curtain with a good deal of stage thunder, to display Calhoun
's ‘impure idol’ and ‘unholy cause’ with tragic effect.
On page 2 he says that ‘Calhoun
has no claims on the gratitude of his country.’
On page 7 he seeks to dwarf Calhoun
into ‘only an able politician, having many peers and even a considerable number of superiors.’
Page 10 he says: ‘He
began the practice of law;’ and sneeringly adds: ‘but it does not appear that the public were especially eager to avail themselves of his services as an attorney and counsellor, nor that he distinguished himself in any case of importance. * * He would undoubtedly never have become a great lawyer, because he was not objective enough to examine his premises with sufficient care,’ etc.
Page 16, speaking of Calhoun
's advocacy of the war of 1812, he says: ‘So the first act of Calhoun
on the national stage was to sound the war trumpet.
Henceforth incessant war, war to the bitter end, was to be his destiny to the last day of his life; though it was in later years to be waged, not against a foreign aggressor, but against internal adversaries, against the peace of the Union
, against the true welfare of his own section of the country’
Page 26, this calumny is repeated by a negative pregnant, when he says: ‘At this time (war of 1812), Calhoun
did not seek the satisfaction of his personal ambition at the expense of the Union
;’ thereby seeking to make the impression that at another time he did.
Page 33, he speaks of Calhoun
(interrogatively, it is true,) as ‘a young zealot, who did not know how to bridle his tongue, but on the gravest questions of the day babbled out the first thoughts that happened to flit through his giddy brain.’
Page 57, speaking of Calhoun
's admirers, he uses the qualifying adjective ‘blind,’ and adds, ‘if there still be any left.’
Page 142, he calls Calhoun
‘the fanatical champion of the ideas of the Middle Ages
His pet epithet, however, is ‘doctrinaire,’ which reminds us of Dr. Johnson
's encounter with the fishwoman of Billingsgate.
If von Holst
's unmeasured zeal in the service of the Worcester Convention Union
haters had stopped here, it had been quite as harmless, if not so funny, as the mathematical epithets with which Johnson
silenced the fishwoman.
But on page 233, speaking of Calhoun
's dispatch to Pakenham
of 18th April, 1844, he drops his favorite epithet ‘doctrinaire,’ for ‘Liar!’
died 31st March, 1850.
He had been in his grave over thirty years. His fame is part of the inheritance of the whole American people.
It is much to be regretted that such language concerning him should now appear in 1882 under so respectable an imprint as that of Houghton
& Co. In justice to them, we assume that in their extensive business, it is impossible for them personally to supervise all that comes from their press.
They are compelled to entrust much to others.
Let us see on what this charge of ‘lying’ rests.
The following is the extract from Calhoun
's dispatch to Pakenham
, quoted by von Holst
‘The United States
have heretofore declined to meet her (Texas
') wishes; but the time has now arrived when they can no longer refuse, consistently with their own security and peace, and the sacred obligation imposed by their Constitutional compact for mutual defense and protection. * * They are without responsibility for the state of things already adverted to, as the immediate cause of imposing on them, in self-defense, the obligation of adopting the measures they have.
They remained passive so long as the policy on the part of Great Britain
, which has led to its adoption, had no immediate bearing on their peace and safety.’
Dr. von Holst
's comment on this is as follows:
‘It may not be correct to apply, without modification, the code of private ethics to politics; but, however flexible political morality be, a lie is a lie, and Calhoun
knew that there was not a particle of truth in these assertions.
Almost eight years before, on May 23, 1836, as we have seen, he himself declared annexation to be necessary, and the first and foremost reason that he alleged for it was the interest which the Southern States
had in it, on account of their peculiar institution.
Two years later, his colleague, Mr. Preston
, had moved in the Senate, and Mr. Thompson
, of South Carolina
, had also moved in the House of Representatives, to declare annexation expedient.
Several State Legislatures, as those of Mississippi
, had agitated the question with hot zeal, unreservedly avowing that they did so “upon grounds somewhat local in their complexion, but of an import infinitely grave and interesting to the people who inhabit the southern portion of the Confederacy
In December, 1841, it was a public secret in the political circles of Washington
had again taken up the annexation project.
It had in fact never been abandoned, but only temporarily put off the order of the day, because, for various reasons, the time had not been deemed opportune.
But on October 16, 1843, more than two months before Lord Aberdeen's dispatch was written, and more than four months before it was delivered, Upshur
had made the formal proposition of annexation.
had any knowledge of the existence of this dispatch before he had consented to become the successor of Upshur
, we do not know; but that he would have accepted Tyler
's invitation and entered upon the office with exactly the same programme, if Lord Aberdeen's dispatch had never been written, nobody
has ever ventured to question.
It is, therefore, an incontestable fact that there was not a particle of truth in those allegations of the Secretary
, and that he was fully conscious of it. To pervert the truth in such a manner required indeed a bold front.’
Can the utmost charity suppose that Dr. von Holst
, who has undertaken to write a constitutional history of the United States
, does not know the difference between the United States
, on the one hand, and Calhoun
, the Legislatures of Mississippi
, and the whole South
on the other?
They were not ‘the United States
,’ neither individually nor collectively.
was not speaking of or for them, nor of what they had done or proposed.
Every schoolboy knows that ‘the United States
’ for years declined to meet Texas
' wish for annexation, though backed by all these potent influences, and the very facts stated by von Holst
, to prove that Calhoun
‘lied,’ proved that he stated the case with the utmost exactness of truth.
rested his defence of his government for proposing then to annex Texas
, after having so long declined, on ‘the state of things.’
The very paragraph selected for quotation by von Holst
What was that ‘state of things’?
The proximity of Texas
to the mouths of the Mississippi river
rendered its possession by so weak a power as Mexico
a constant menace to the trade of the whole Mississippi valley.
was too weak to prevent a strong power like Great Britain
as a point d'appui
, from which to attack New Orleans and annihilate the commerce of that great emporium of the Southern
and Western States, in case of another war. For this reason the acquisition of Texas
had long been deemed desirable by many American statesmen, including at one time even J. Q. Adams
In 1843 another war with Great Britain
had become not improbable, in view of the Oregon
and other complications.
Therefore, to our citizens in distant Oregon
, as well as to those in the Mississippi valley
, the annexation of Texas
had become desirable, because of its relation to New Orleans and the commerce of the Mississippi
, important elements of national power for the solution of the Oregon
and other questions.
It may well be doubted whether the Oregon
dispute could have been so easily settled if Captain Elliott
, ‘the man in the white hat,’ had been successful in the objects of his mission to Texas
; that is to say, in securing Texas
as a commercial dependency of Great Britain
, in abolishing slavery in Texas
, and in building up on our Southwestern border another Canada
(See speech of Senator Houston
, second session Twenty-ninth Congress, p. 459; also, remarks of Lords Brougham and Aberdeen
in House of Lords, in London Morning Chronicle
, August 19, 1843.) But the Union
haters of 1840-‘60, whose glasses Dr. von Holst
now wears, could only see from one side of the shield, and, in their impatience to abolish slavery, desired to see established on our Southwestern border an asylum for runaway negroes and hostile Indians
Dr. von Holst
himself declares that ‘an independent Texas
without slavery, and the permanent continuance of slavery in the Union
were irreconcilable’ (p. 237). He is also forced to admit that as the Constitution
was originally framed and then stood, ‘slavery was an acknowledged and protected institution.’
That once admitted, ‘the sacred obligation imposed by the Constitutional compact for mutual defence and protection,’ is unquestionable, except on Dr. von Holst
's idea that this obligation was nullified by ‘the determining principle’ of the Constitution
and subordinate to the ‘convictions’ of the Union
On this idea it might be admissible for Dr. von Holst
to contend that his view of the obligations of the Constitutional compact was correct and Calhoun
But to answer Calhoun
's argument, thirty years after his death, by calling him a liar — will that meet the approval of cultured New England
The very passage, selected for quotation by Dr. von Holst
, proves that Calhoun
rested his defence of the annexation of Texas
--not on the avowals of Lord Aberdeen's dispatch, but on ‘the state of things,’ one important element of which, though previously made known by the remarks of Lords Brougham and Aberdeen
in the House of Lords in August, 1843 (two months before Upshur
's ‘formal proposition of annexation’), was for the first time avowed in an official dispatch to this Government by Lord Aberdeen six months later.
Dr. von Holst
's disingenuous effort to make it appear that Calhoun
rested his defence on the avowals of Lord Aberdeen, and not on the state of things, and that Calhoun
, therefore, ‘lied,’ because the facts were known before the avowals were made, is a malus-puer-ility
which, if admissible in the heat and passion of an active canvass against a live candidate for office, would even then admit of but one defence, ‘that want of decency is want of sense.’
Speaking of the Tariff controversy of 1828-32, Dr. von Holst
says (page 98):
received the new tariff as a declaration that the protective system was “the settled policy of the country,” and on August 28, 1832, Calhoun
issued his third manifest (his letter to
), determined to have the die cast without delay. * * Thirty years later, the programme laid down in it was carried out, piece by piece, and the justification of the Southern
course was based, point by point, upon this argument.’
Now let us see if all of the last sentence, and so much of the first, as imputes to Calhoun
a ‘determination to have the die cast without delay,’ are not misrepresentations, which leave Dr. von Holst
's celebrated compatriot, the Baron von Munchausen
, far in the rear as a writer of fiction.
In that letter to Governor Hamilton
summed up his programme in the following remarkable words:
‘If the views presented be correct, it follows that, on the interposition of a State in favor of the reserved rights, it would be the duty of the general Government to abandon the contested power, or to apply to the States themselves, the source of all political authority, for the power in one of the two modes prescribed by the Constitution
If the case be a simple one, embracing a single power, and that in its nature easily adjusted, the more ready and appropriate mode would be an amendment in the ordinary form, upon the proposition of two-thirds of both Houses of Congress, to be ratified by three-fourths of the States; but, on the contrary, should the derangement of the system be great, embracing many points difficult to adjust, the States ought to be convened in a General Convention, the most august of all assemblies, representing the united sovereignty of the Confederate States
, and having power and authority to correct every error, and to repair every dilapidation or injury, whether caused by time or accident, or the conflicting movements of the bodies, which compose the system.
With institutions every way so fortunate, possessed of means so well calculated to prevent disorders, and so admirable to correct them, when they cannot be prevented, he who would prescribe for our political disease—disunion
on the one side, or coercion of a State in the assertion of its rights on the other—would deserve, and will receive
, the execrations of this and all future generations
's. Now what pieces, or piece, of this programme was carried out by the South
On what points, or point, of this argument was the justification of secession based in 1861?
said of secession, that he who would propose it ‘would deserve, and will receive, the execrations of this and all future generations.’
Could language be clearer, or condemnation of the programme of 1861 more emphatic?
Is it not time for the
‘blind admirers’ of the late Baron von Munchausen
, ‘if there still be any left,’ to look to his laurels.
So far from having been written with a ‘determination to have the die cast without delay,’ it seems to us, from our side of the shield, that no candid, fair-minded man, of ordinary intelligence, and acquainted with the history of those times, can read the letter to General Hamilton
without recognizing and admitting that next after combatting the secession programme, its chief object was delay—‘to allow time for further consideration and reflection.’
On page 82, von Holst
himself seems to have been aware of this, for he there quotes these very words of Calhoun
The truth is, that Calhoun
was fighting the secession programme in the only way in which it could then be fought successfully.
Two years before, 13th April, 1830, Jackson
had given his celebrated volunteer toast at the celebration of Jefferson
's birthday: ‘Our Federal Union; it must be preserved.’
But it was well understood then that this was aimed at nullification, not at secession.
ever denied the right of secession, his denunciation fell far short of the more emphatic language of Calhoun
In his celebrated proclamation against the South Carolina
Nullification Ordinance, he admitted that the right of ‘resisting unconstitutional acts’ was an ‘infeasible right,’ but denied that a State could, consistently with the Constitution
, ‘retain its place in the Union
’ and yet nullify its laws; that is to say, prohibit their execution within its limits, pending the reference to, and decision by, the States in Convention of the question of their constitutionality.
Hon. Alexander H. Stephens
, in his history of the United States
, page 347, quotes this passage from the Proclamation, and says:
‘By many who did not approve of the course of South Carolina
, the Proclamation, taken as a whole, was looked upon as amounting in substance to a denial of the right of secession on the part of any State for any cause whatever.
This was the view taken generally by the old Federalists and the extreme advocates of State Rights, but the President
afterwards maintained that an erroneous construction had been put upon those parts of the proclamation referred to, and in a full explanation he declared his adherence to the principles of Mr. Jefferson
as set forth in the Kentucky
resolutions of 1798 and 1799.’
The practical question then was and may hereafter again be, how and by what methods should this ‘indefeasible’ right of ‘resistance’ be exercised?
Shall it be by armed force within the Union
would be civil war; or should it be by withdrawing from the Union
The position taken in the Proclamation, that a ‘resisting’ State could not ‘retain its place in the Union
,’ would seem to indicate very clearly that General Jackson
regarded secession as the only proper remedy.
Later experience has shown that secession is but the precursor of war. In the broad glare of that experience, who will now deny that nullification, that is to say, the right of a State to say, Veto—I forbid—and to require the general government to refer the question to a Convention of all the States, is not the best and wisest, the most statesmanlike and patriotic method of exercising the ‘indefeasible right of resistance to unconstitutional acts.’
But in 1832 the right of secession was almost as universally admitted as that ‘the constitution recognized slavery as a fact which the States exclusively had the right to deal with.’
Men near to General Jackson
and recognized as his mouth-pieces, asserted the right of secession, but denied the right of nullification, because, they argued, a State could not be in
and out of
at the same time.
To these Calhoun
replied, in that same letter to Hamilton
, as follows:
‘There are many who acknowledge the right of a State to secede, but deny its right to nullify. * * The difficulty, it seems, is that a State cannot be in
and out of
at the same time.
This is, indeed, true, if applied to secession, the throwing off of the authority of the Union itself
. To nullify the Constitution
, if I may be pardoned a solecism, would, indeed, be tantamount to disunion, and, as applied to such an act, it would be true that a State could not be in and out of the Union
at the same time, but the act would be secession.
But to apply it to nullification, properly understood, the object of which, instead of resisting or diminishing the powers of the Union
, is to preserve them as they are, neither increased nor diminished, and thereby the Union
itself, (for the Union
may be as effectually destroyed by increasing as by diminishing its powers, by consolidation as by disunion itself), would be, I would say, had I not great respect for many who do thus apply it, egregious trifling with a grave and deeply important constitutional subject.’
In 1831-2 the protective system had been pushed to such extremes as to produce an almost universal sentiment in the staple or slaveholding states, that the Union
, established for the general welfare, had become a curse to them.
That sentiment had reached a point where, the right of secession being thus generally admitted, even
could not hope to control it, except upon the middle ground of nullification—the ground of the Virginia
Urging the people of South Carolina
to stand on this middle ground, rather than rush upon the extreme of secession, he said: ‘I see in the Union
, as ordained by the Constitution
, the means, if wisely used, not only of reconciling all diversities, but also the means, and the only effectual one
, of securing to us justice, peace, and security, at home and abroad, and with them that national power and renown, the love of which Providence
has implanted, for wise purposes, so deeply in the human heart, in all of which great objects every part of our country, widely extended and “ diversified as it is, has a common and identical interest.”
Is not this single sentence, taken from Calhoun
's address to the people of South Carolina
, July 26th, 1831, a complete refutation of all that Dr. von Holst
has scattered through his book about Calhoun
Of the fifty millions now living in the United States
few know what was meant by nullification, or have any idea of it, except as derived from the misrepresentations of such writers as von Holst
, though not its originator, was its ablest exponent.
Explaining it, he said:
‘So far from extreme danger, I hold that there never was a free State in which this great conservative principle, indispensable to all, was ever so safely lodged.
In others, when the co estates, representing the dissimilar and conflicting interests of the community, came into contact, the only alternative was compromise, submission, or force.
Not so in ours.
Should the general Government and a State come into conflict, we have a higher remedy.
The power which called the general Government into existence, which gave it all its authority, and can enlarge, contract, or abolish its powers at its pleasure, can be invoked.
The States themselves can be appealed to, three-fourths of which, in fact, form power, whose decrees are the Constitution
itself, and whose voice can silence all discontent.
The utmost extent, then, of the power
is that a State, acting in its sovereign capacity, as one of the parties to the constitutional compact, may compel the government created by that compact, to submit a question touching its infraction to the parties who created it.’
Speaking of how and when a State should exercise this high power, he said:
‘But the spirit of forbearance, as well as the nature of the right
itself, forbids a recourse to it, except in cases of dangerous infractions of the Constitution
, and then only in the last resort, when all reasonable hope of relief from the ordinary action of the Government
has failed; when, if the right to interpose did not exist, the alternative would be submission and oppression on one side, or resistance by force on the other.
That our system should afford, in such extreme cases, an intermediate point between these dire alternatives, by which the Government
may be brought to a pause, and thereby an interval obtained to compromise differences, or, if impracticable, be compelled to submit the question to a constitutional adjustment, through an appeal to the States themselves, is an evidence of its high wisdom; an element not, as is supposed by some, of weakness, but of strength; not of anarchy or revolution, but of peace and safety.
Its general recognition would, of itself, in a great measure, supersede the necessity for its exercise by impressing on the movements of the Government
that moderation and justice, so essential to harmony and peace in a country of such vast extent and diversity of interests as ours, and would, if controversy should come, turn the resentment of the aggrieved from the system to those who had abused its powers—a point all important—and cause them to seek redress, not in revolution or overthrow
, but in reformation It is in fact, properly understood, a substitute where the alternative would be force, tending to prevent or, if that fails, to correct peaceably the aberrations to which all systems are liable, and which, if permitted to accumulate without correction, must finally end in a general catastrophe.’
Such was nullification
as advocated by Calhoun
; this its ‘utmost extent’; no more.
Such were the arguments by which he sought to dissuade the staple States from secession in 1831-32.
His ‘impure idol’ was the Union
, as ordained by the Constitution
; his ‘unholy cause’ the preservation of that Union as our fathers framed it.
The distinctive features of his nullification and of the nullification of those whom Dr. von Holst
represents and seeks to defend by misrepresenting him, are:
1. His nullification was a temporary measure, analogous to the Presidential veto, to ‘allow time for further consideration and reflection,’ and for a constitutional decision of the question by the States in convention.
Their's was final and conclusive.
2. His nullification was applicable only to acts of the law-making power—their's to the Constitution
3. His nullification was to be exercised only in cases of dangerous infractions of the Constitution
, and then only in the last resort,
when all reasonable hope of relief by the ordinary action of the Government
had failed—their's whenever the Constitution
stands in the way of their ‘wills’ or ‘convictions.’
4. His nullification sought to preserve the Union
as ordained by the Constitution
, with powers neither increased nor diminished, unless done in the way prescribed by the Constitution
—their's seeks to make the Constitution
‘nothing but a dead piece of parchment, not even able to resist the attacks of moths and mice, with no magical force in it,’ etc. (See p 295.)
This last idea of Dr. von Holst
naturally springs from this other idea of his, that it was not intended that the Union
should remain as ordained by the Constitution
, because ‘where there is life there is development’ (see p. 79), or, in other words, that the Constitution
is subordinate, not only to individual ‘wills’ and ‘convictions,’ but also to individual notions of ‘development.’
We of the South
have inherited from our Revolutionary sires the ‘conviction’ that constitutional government is preferable to despotic sway, and that the very object of a Constitution is to prevent government being ‘developed’ into despotism.
It has become second nature with us to revere the Constitution
as the most precious legacy left us by those sires.
Hence the difficulty of our comprehending how Dr. von Holst
's ideas of ‘development’ can find acceptance in New England
To the doctrine that a State may compel the general Government to submit a question of its powers to all the States in convention, Dr. von Holst
makes this objection: that ‘thereby one fourth of the States would get the power to change the Constitution
How? Why? Because, forsooth, it requires three-fourths to make amendments!
To us of the South
, accustomed to treat constitutional questions with becoming seriousness, this looks like something more and worse than ‘egregious trifling.’
If it were true that, in the case supposed, one-fourth of the States would get the power to change the Constitution
at will, then all that Dr. von Holst
so flippantly says about ‘the Federal
legislation being turned into a balky machine more fatal to healthy political life than Juggernaut's car to the fanatical worshippers,’ might apply to the Constitution
itself and its framers, but not to those who accept it as it was framed.
But let Dr. von Holst
speak for himself.
‘Suppose—and the case might easily happen—that the Federal Government
exercises a power which has been actually granted to it
by the Constitution
, and that a State sees fit to veto the law; that the question, as must be the case, is submitted to all the States, and the objecting State is supported by one-fourth of the whole number.
Is any dialectician sharp enough to disprove the fact that in such case the Constitution
, though not a single letter is either added or erased, has been actually changed by one-fourth of the States, though that instrument expressly requires the consent of at least three-fourths to effect the slightest change?
Working in defense of the peculiar interests of the slaveholders with the lever of State sovereignty, Calhoun
thus begins to subvert the foundation of the whole fabric of the Constitution
The case here supposed is not a supposable case.
Because it could rarely, if ever, happen.
Secondly. Because the hypothesis dishonors one-fourth of the States.
But if such a case could happen, it would not ‘change the Constitution
’ one iota, and the assertion that it ‘would be actually changed,’ is simply untrue and absurd.
If one fourth of the States should refuse to abide by the decision of three fourths, that would not ‘change the Constitution
Their action would be an infraction of the Constitution
, and the case would be one of revolution or overthrow, not a ‘change’ of the Constitution
Replying to the more sensible objection that ‘a power of so high a nature might be abused by a State,’ Calhoun
‘I do not deny (that); but when I reflect that the States unanimously called the general Government into existence with all its powers, which they freely delegated on their part, under the conviction that their common peace, safety and prosperity required it, that they are bound together by a common origin and the recollection of common suffering and common triumph in the great and splendid achievement of their independence, and that the strongest feelings of our nature, and among them the love of national power and distinction, are on the side of the Union
, it does seem to me that the fear which would strip the States of their sovereignty, and degrade them to mere dependent corporations, lest they should abuse a right indispensable to the peaceable protection of their interests, which they reserved under their own peculiar guardianship, when they created the general Government, is unnatural and unreasonable.
If those who voluntarily created the system cannot be trusted to preserve it, who can?’
Speaking of the South Carolina
Exposition, Dr. von Holst
says: ‘Whether such a veto is to be an injunction against the execution
of the law throughout the Union
, or only in the individual State, * * * we do not learn from the Exposition.’
(See page 80.)
Now, the very essence of the doctrine of State sovereignty confines the jurisdiction of each State to its own territorial limits.
It is therefore impossible that Dr. von Holst
could be ignorant that this last statement is untrue.
How any man could dare write and publish such a von Munchausenism
in what he claims to be ‘serious history,’ we of the South
find it difficult to comprehend.
But it is perhaps not surprising that one who could do so would see no offence, but rather a compliment, in calling a great statesman, thirty years after his death ‘a liar.’—Ben. E. Green