previous next
“ [133] rendering desperate the experiment which was to decide ultimately whether man is capable of self-government. The treason against human hope will signalize their epoch in future history as the counterpart of the medal of their predecessors.”

That “human hope” even now, before the entire generation is gone, whose noble deeds and consummate wisdom kindled it into ecstatic strength, is losing its fervor. Despair rather — sickening, frightful despair — is taking its place. The heart of the good and true men of the land, in every corner of this ocean-bound Republic, beats with trembling solicitude lest that hope is now and forever to be blasted. It fears, and it has reason to fear, that the fondly cherished experiment may now be ultimately decided; that it may now be proved that self-government is not within the capacity of man.

Let it be our purpose, as I know it is our ardent wish, to take counsel with our countrymen, our brothers, East, West, North and South, patriotism knows no latitudes, who, true to the teachings of a noble ancestry, cling as we do, with unfaltering attachment, to the Union they gave, and so commended to us, as the ark of our political safety. Who faithful to all, yes, to all the obligations which that Union imposes, or was intended to impose upon States and citizens, and to all the rights and the powers it confers on the united whole, are, with us, resolved, by prudent counsels, patriotic efforts, gratitude, reverence for the great dead, solicitude for the peace, happiness, honor of the living present, love for the countless generations that are to follow, and respect for the opinion of the world, already condemning us, even in anticipation, of our possible “treason against human hope,” are willing, anxious, resolved to sacrifice individual opinion, yield conflicting prejudices, frown down party plottings, stifle the grating voice of the demagogue, tread into nothingness the political partisan, drive into exile the designing traitor, and in an elevated and patriotic and fraternal spirit, resolve to amend what may be defective, define what may be, or esteemed to be doubtful, in the sacred charter of our liberty and the source of our present prosperity and power and worldwide fame, so as to extinguish the nations fears, electrify with delight unspeakable its patriotic heart, and place it upon a foundation so deep and impregnable that the most skeptical will pronounce the danger over, and the world see that this generation, like the last, is incapable of “treason against human hope,” and will never have a counterpart of the medal our ancestors left us, as their proudest boast, the emblem of their conviction that “man is capable of self-government,” and that with us it can only be successfully demonstrated, by preserving, in all its purity, “the unity of government which constitutes us one people,” and, with unsleeping vigilance, guarding it through all time as “a main pillar of the edifice of our real independence.”

And I have an abiding faith, if time is given for such a consultation, that all will be well, and American citizens everywhere, as in the days of our fathers, be brought to know and hail each other but as brothers — joint-heirs of a common inheritance of constitutional freedom, co-workers in the almost holy purpose of so using and maintaining it as to challenge the admiration and command the imitation of the world.

I have said, gentlemen, that its founders intended the Union to be perpetual. This is evident from the causes which induced it, and equally evident from the Constitution itself which accomplished it.

It is necessary, perhaps, to a just understanding of the difficulties which surround and embarrass us, that this should be clearly understood. And although the immediate occasion would not justify or admit of a full examination of the subject, you will, I hope, not think it amiss if I submit to you a few suggestions in regard to it. Before, and for nearly two years subsequent to the Declaration of Independence, the struggle was maintained by union alone. No Colony or State then dreamed of carrying it on, only by itself or for itself. Common danger — a common cause, and a common end, united them in that immortal conflict, as closely, practically, for a time, as the present Constitution unites us.

It was soon found, however, that that bond was not to be relied upon, and the articles of confederation, agreed upon by Congress in November, 1777, and ratified by every State in March, 1780, took its place.

The object of these was to render the Union. more secure, by vesting in the General Government the powers then deemed necessary to that end, and for its continuance forever. A few years' experience, however, demonstrated their defects. These, too, were found to be fatal to its wholesome operation and its perpetuity. What these were, your recollection will readily recall to you. The great, the leading one, you will remember, was that the principal powers were made to depend for their execution on the States as States. That this was destructive of the purpose, soon became evident. State pride, State policy, State prejudice, State rivalry, supposed conflicting interests, made some of the States oblivious to the obligations of their compact. It was but a compact. It was called in the third article a “league.” The thirteenth stipulated that it should “be inviolably observed by every State,” and that the Union “be perpetual.” But this was mere promise. No means were provided for its enforcement. Each State, as a State, retained its sovereignty, freedom, and independence, and every power, jurisdiction, and right not expressly delegated.

The whole constituted but a compact, a treaty, between the States, as such. No authority was given the Government to act directly upon the people. They, in each State, could only be effected by and through State sovereignty.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

hide Places (automatically extracted)

View a map of the most frequently mentioned places in this document.

Download Pleiades ancient places geospacial dataset for this text.

hide Dates (automatically extracted)
Sort dates alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a date to search for it in this document.
March, 1780 AD (1)
November, 1777 AD (1)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: