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The constitution had its origin in the exercise of the right of secession from the former's federal compact, which existed between the States, although the articles of confederation expressly declared that the union established thereby was to be a ‘perpetual union.’ Nobody had the temerity to propose such a provision in the new constitution, nor does it contain a word which hints at the surrender of this then acknowledged and asserted right of secession from the former federal compact. A proposition to invest the federal government with power to coerce a recalcitrant State was made in the convention, but was overwhelmingly defeated, and this denial of power to compel a State to remain in the union was surely, for all practical purposes, an acknowledgment of its right to secede. Moreover, the conventions of several of the States, in their acts of ratification of the constitution, expressly reserved the right of the people of the State to reassume the powers delegated whenever they shall be perverted to their injury or such reassumption ‘should become necessary to their happiness.’

Numerous attempts were made in the convention to impress on the government instituted by the constitution the character of nationality, but everyone was overwhelmingly defeated, and the most solicitous care was taken at every point and in every step to preserve its character as a purely federal compact between sovereign and and independent States which retained their inherent sovereignty, and all the powers pertaining thereto, except the carefully limited functions which were expressly delegated to the federal government as a common agent.

But I must not allow myself to be drawn into further discussion of this great question. Fortunately, Jefferson Davis, aided by the exhaustive researches of Albert Taylor Bledsoe and of our distinguished and venerable fellow-citizen, B. J. Sage, has formulated the whole argument in his ‘Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government.’ I have recently re-read that matchless argument. It is comprised in the fifteen chapters of part II of that work, and embraces only 112 pages.

Speaking with all due temperance and strictly as a legal critic, I pronounce it one of the most powerful and masterly legal and constitutional arguments of which I have any knowledge in the English language. In logical arrangement, in lucidity of expression, in closeness of reasoning, in the amplitude and precision with which it marshals the facts and evidence, in the candor and force with which it states and refutes the assumptions and arguments of his opponents,

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B. J. Sage (1)
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