From the foundation of the Federal Government down to 1830, both the North and the South held the Constitution to be a compact between the States.
one of the great difficulties in arguing the question of the relative power of the States and of the Federal Government
, consists in the fact that the present generation has grown up under the shadow of the great Federal monster, and has been blinded by its giant proportions.
They see around them all the paraphernalia and power of a great government— its splendid capital, its armies, its fleets, its Chief Magistrate
, its legislature, and its judiciary—and they find it difficult to realize the fact, that all this grandeur is not self-created, but the offspring of the States.
When our late troubles were culminating, men were heard frequently to exclaim, with plaintive energy, ‘What!
have we no government capable of preserving itself?
Is our Government a mere rope of sand, that may be destroyed at the will of the States?’
These men seemed to think that there was but one government to be preserved, and that that was the Government
of the United States
Less than a century had elapsed since the adoption of the Constitution
, and the generation now on the theatre of events had seemingly forgotten, that the magnificent structure, which they contemplated with so much admiration, was but a creature of the States; that it had been made by them for their convenience, and necessarily held the tenure of its life at sufferance.
They lost sight of the fact that the State
governments, who were the creators of the Federal Government
, were the governments to be preserved, if there should be any antagonism between them and the Federal Government
; and that their services, as well as
their sympathies, belonged to the former in preference to the latter.
What with the teachings of Webster
and Story, and a host of satellites, the dazzling splendor of the Federal Government
, and the overshadowing and corrupting influences of its power, nearly a whole generation in the North
had grown up in ignorance of the true nature of the institutions, under which they lived.
This change in the education of the people had taken place since about the year 1830; for, up to that time, both of the great political parties of the country, the Whigs
as well as the Democrats, had been State-Rights in doctrine.
A very common error has prevailed on this subject.
It has been said, that the North
and the South
have always been widely separated in their views of the Constitution
; that the men of the North
have always been consolidationists, whilst the men of the South
have been secessionists.
Nothing can be farther from the truth.
Whilst the North
and the South
, from the very commencement of the Government
, have been at swords' points, on many questions of mere construction and policy,—the North
claiming that more ample powers had been granted the Federal Government
, than the South
was willing to concede,—there never was any material difference between them down to the year 1830, as to the true nature of their Government.
They all held it to be a federal compact, and the Northern
people were as jealous of the rights of their States under it, as the Southern
In proof of this, I have only to refer to a few of the wellknown facts of our political history.
penned the famous Kentucky Resolutions of ‘98 and ‘99.
The first of those resolutions is in these words: ‘Resolved
, That the several States comprising the United States of America
are not united on the principles of unlimited submission to their general Government; but that by a compact, under the style and title of the Constitution of the United States
, and of amendments thereto, they constitute a general Government for special purposes; and that whensoever the general Government assumes undelegated powers, its acts are unauthoritative, void and of no force; that to this compact each State acceded as a State, and is an integral party, its co-States forming, as to itself, the other party; that the government created by this compact
was not made the exclusive, or final judge of the extent of the powers delegated to itself, since that would have made its discretion, not the Constitution
, the measure of its powers, but that, as in all cases of compact among persons having no common judge, each party has an equal right to judge for itself, as well of infractions, as of the mode and measure of redress.’
It is unnecessary to quote the other resolution, as the above contains all that is sufficient for my purpose, which is to show that Mr. Jefferson
was a secessionist, and that with this record
he went before the American
people as a candidate for the Presidency, with the following results: In 1800 he beat his opponent, John Adams
, who represented the consolidationists of that day, by a majority of 8 votes in the Electoral College.
In 1804, being a candidate for re-election, he beat his opponent by the overwhelming majority of 162, to 14 votes.
In the Northern States
alone, Mr. Jefferson
received 85 votes, whilst in the same States his opponent received but 9.
This was a pretty considerable indorsement of secession by the Northern States
In 1808, Mr. Madison
, who penned the Virginia Resolutions
of ‘98, similar in tenor to the Kentucky Resolutions
, became a candidate for the Presidency, and beat his opponent by a vote of 122 to 47; the Northern
majority, though somewhat diminished, being still 50 to 39 votes.
was reelected in 1812, and in 1816, James Monroe
was elected President
by a vote of 183 to his opponent's 34; and more than one half of these 183 votes came from the Northern States
In 1820, Mr. Monroe
was re-elected over John Quincy Adams
, of Massachusetts
, by a majority of 231 votes to 13.
were also candidates, but these two latter received only 11 votes between them.
This last election is especially remarkable, as showing that there was no opposition to Jefferson
's doctrine of StateRights, since all
the candidates were of that creed.
The opposition had been so often defeated, and routed in former elections, that they had not strength enough left to put a candidate in the field.
John Quincy Adams
succeeded Mr. Monroe
, and his
State-Rights doctrines are well known.
He expressed them as follows: ‘The indissoluble link of union between the people of the several States of this confederated nation, is, after all, not in the right
, but in the heart
. If the day should ever come (may heaven avert it) when the affections of the people of these States shall be alienated from each other; when the fraternal spirit shall give way to cold indifference, or collision of interests shall fester into hatred
, the bands of political association will not long hold together parties, no longer attracted by the magnetism of conciliated interests, and kindly sympathies; and far better will it be for the people of the dis-united States to part in friendship with each other, than to be held together by constraint
. Then will be the time for reverting to the precedents, which occurred at the formation, and adoption of the Constitution
, to form again a more perfect union, by dissolving that which could no longer bind, and to leave the separated parts to be reunited by the law of political gravitation to the centre
succeeded Mr. Adams
in 1828, and was reelected in 1832.
It was during his administration that the heresy
was first promulgated by Mr. Webster
, that the Constitution
was not a compact between the States, but an instrument of government, ‘ordained, and established,’ by the people of the United States
, in the aggregate, as one nation.
With respect to the New England
States in particular, there is other and more pointed evidence, that they agreed with Mr. Jefferson
, and the South
down to the year 1830, on this question of State rights, than is implied in the Presidential elections above quoted.
, the leader of these States in intellect, and in energy, impatient of control herself, has always sought to control others.
This was, perhaps, but natural.
All mankind are prone to consult their own interests.
Selfishness, unfortunately, is one of the vices of our nature, which few are found capable of struggling against effectually.
The New England
people were largely imbued with the Puritan
Their religious doctrines gave them a gloomy asceticism of character, and an intolerance of other men's opinions quite remarkable.
In their earlier history as colonists, there is much in the way of uncharitableness and persecution, which a liberal mind could wish to see blotted
out. True to these characteristics, which I may almost call instincts, the New England
States have always been the most refractory States of the Union
As long as they were in a minority, and hopeless of the control of the Government
, they stood strictly on their State rights, in resisting such measures as were unpalatable to them, even to the extremity of threatening secession; and it was only when they saw that the tables were turned, and that it was possible for them to seize the reins of the Government
, that they abandoned their StateRights doctrines, and became consolidationists.
One of the first causes of the dissatisfaction of the New England
States with the General Government
was the purchase of Louisiana
, by Mr. Jefferson
, in 1803.
It arose out of their jealousy of the balance of power between the States.
The advantages to result to the United States
from the purchase of this territory were patent to every one.
It completed the continuity of our territory, from the head waters of the Mississippi
, to the sea, and unlocked the mouths of that great river.
saw in the purchase, nothing more than the creation of additional Southern States, to contest, with her, the future control of the Government
She could see no authority for it in the Constitution
, and she threatened, that if it were consummated, she would secede from the Union
Her Legislature passed the following resolution on the subject: ‘Resolved
, That the annexation of Louisiana
to the Union
, transcends the Constitutional power of the Government
of the United States
It formed a new Confederacy, to which the States [not the people of the United States
, in the aggregate] united by the former compact, are not bound to adhere.’
This purchase of Louisiana
rankled, for a long time, in the breast of New England
It was made, as we have seen, in 1803, and in 1811 the subject again came up for consideration; this time, in the shape of a bill before Congress for the admission of Louisiana
as a State.
One of the most able and influential members of Congress of that day from Massachusetts
was Mr. Josiah Quincy
In a speech on this bill, that gentlemen uttered the following declaration: ‘If this bill passes, it is my deliberate opinion that it is virtually a dissolution of the Union
; that it will free the States from their moral obligation, and as it will be the right of all, so it will
be the duty of some definitely to prepare for separation, amicably if they can, violently if they must.’
Time passed on, and the difficulties which led to our War of 1812, with Great Britain
, began to rise above the political horizon.
began to impress seamen from New England
merchant ships, and even went so far, at last, as to take some enlisted men from on board the United States
ship of war Chesapeake
was furious; she insisted that war should be declared forthwith against Great Britain
The Southern States, which had comparatively little interest in this matter, except so far as the federal honor was concerned, came generously to the rescue of the shipping States, and war was declared.
But the first burst of her passion having spent itself, Massachusetts
found that she had been indiscreet; her shipping began to suffer more than she had anticipated, and she began now to cry aloud as one in pain.
She denounced the war, and the Administration which was carrying it on; and not content with this, in connection with other New England
States, she organized a Convention, at Hartford, in Connecticut
, with a view to adopt some ulterior measures.
We find the following among the records of that Convention: ‘Events may prove, that the causes of our calamities are deep, and permanent.
They may be found to proceed not merely from blindness of prejudice, pride of opinion, violence of party spirit, or the confusion of the times; but they may be traced to implacable combinations, of individuals, or of States
, to monopolize office, and to trample, without remorse, upon the rights and interests of the commercial sections of the Union
Whenever it shall appear, that these causes are radical, and permanent, a separation by equitable arrangement, will be preferable to an alliance, by constraint, among nominal friends but real enemies, inflamed by mutual hatred, and jealousy, and inviting, by intestine divisions, contempt and aggressions from abroad
Having recorded this opinion of what should be the policy of the New England
States, in the category mentioned, the ‘Journal of the Convention
’ goes on to declare what it considers the right of the States, in the premises.
‘That acts of Congress, in violation of the Constitution
, are absolutely void, is an indisputable position.
It does not, however, consist with the respect, from a Confederate State
toward the General
Government, to fly to open resistance, upon every infraction of the Constitution
The mode, and the energy of the opposition should always conform to the nature of the violation, the intention of the authors, the extent of the evil inflicted, the determination manifested to persist in it, and the danger of delay.
But in case of deliberate, dangerous, and palpable infractions of the Constitution
, affecting the sovereignty of the State
, and liberties of the people, it is not only the right, but the duty
, of each State to interpose its authority
for their protection, in the manner best calculated to secure that end. When emergencies occur, which are either beyond the reach of judicial tribunals, or too pressing to admit of the delay incident to their forms, States
, which have no common umpire, must be their own judges
, and execute their own decisions
These proceedings took place in January, 1815.
A deputation was appointed to lay the complaints of New England
before the Federal Government
, and there is no predicting what might have occurred, if the delegates had not found, that peace had been declared, when they arrived at Washington
It thus appears, that from 1803-4 to 1815, New England
was constantly in the habit of speaking of the dissolution of the Union
—her leading men deducing this right from the nature of the compact between the States.
It is curious and instructive, and will well repay the perusal, to read the ‘Journal of the Hartford Convention,’ so replete is it with sound constitutional doctrine.
It abounds in such expressions as these: ‘The constitutional compact;’ ‘It must be the duty of the State
to watch over the rights reserved
, as of the United States
to exercise the powers which were delegated;
’ the right of conscription is ‘not delegated to Congress by the Constitution
, and the exercise of it would not be less dangerous to their liberties, than hostile to the sovereignty of the States
The odium which has justly fallen upon the Hartford Convention, has not been because of its doctrines, for these were as sound, as we have seen, as the Virginia
and Kentucky Resolutions of ‘98 and ‘99, but because it was a secret conclave, gotten together, in a time of war
, when the country was hard pressed by a foreign enemy; the war having, in fact, been undertaken for the benefit of the very shipping States which were threatening to dissolve the Union
on account of it.
Mr. John Quincy Adams
, the sixth President
of the United States
, himself, as is well known, a Massachusetts man, speaking of this dissatisfaction of the New England
States with the Federal Government
, says: ‘That their object was, and had been, for several years, a dissolution of the Union
and the establishment of a separate Confederation, he knew from unequivocal evidence, although not provable in a court of law; and that in case of a civil war, the aid of Great Britain
, to effect that purpose, would be assuredly resorted to, as it would be indispensably necessary to their design.’
See Mr. Adams
' letter of Dec. 30th, 1828, in reply to Harrison Gray Otis
We have thus seen, that for forty years, or from the foundation of the Federal Government
, to 1830, there was no material difference of opinion between the sections, as to the nature of the league or compact of government which they had formed.
There was this difference between the sections, however.
The South, during this entire period of forty years, had substantially controlled the Government
; not by force, it is true, of her own majorities, but with the aid of a few of the Northern States
She was the dominant or ruling power in the Government
During all this time, she conscientiously adhered to her convictions, and respected the rights of the minority, though she might have wielded her power, if she had been so inclined, to her own advantage.
Constitutions are made for the protection of minorities, and she scrupulously adhered to this idea.
Minorities naturally cling to the guarantees and defences provided for them in the fundamental law; it is only when they become strong, when they throw off their pupilage, and become majorities, that their principles and their virtues are really tested.
It is in politics, as in religion—the weaker party is always the tolerant party.
Did the North
follow this example set her by the South
No; the moment she became strong enough, she recanted all the doctrines under which she had sought shelter, tore the Constitution
into fragments, scattered it to the winds; and finally, when the South
threw herself on the defensive, as Massachusetts
had threatened to do, in 1803 and 1815, she subjugated her.
What was the powerful motive which thus induced the North
to overthrow the government which it had labored so
assiduously with the South
to establish, and which it had construed in common with the South
, for the period of forty years? It was the motive which generally influences human conduct; it was the same motive which Patrick Henry
had so clearly foreseen, when he warned the people of Virginia
against entering into the federal compact; telling them, that interested majorities never had, in the history of the world, and never would respect the rights of minorities.
The great ‘American System,’ as it has been called, had in the meantime arisen, championed by no less a personage than Henry Clay
In 1824, and again in 1828, oppressive tariffs had been enacted for the protection of New England
was manufacturing, the South
The effect of these tariffs was to shut out all foreign competition, and compel the Southern
consumer to pay two prices for all the textile fabrics he consumed, from the clothing of his negroes to his own broadcloth coats.
So oppressive, unjust, and unconstitutional were these acts considered, that South Carolina
nullified them in 1830.
Immediately all New England
was arrayed against South Carolina
An entire and rapid change took place in the political creed of that section.
orators and jurists rose up to proclaim that the Constitution
was not a compact between the States.
thundered in the Senate, and Story wrote his ‘Commentaries on the Constitution
These giants had a herculean task before them; nothing less than the falsifying of the whole political history of the country, for the previous forty years; but their barren and inhospitable section of the country had been touched by the enchanter's wand, and its rocky hills, and sterile fields, incapable of yielding even a scanty subsistence to its numerous population, were to become glad with the music of the spindle and the shuttle: and the giants undertook the task!
How well they have accomplished it, the reader will see, in the course of these pages, when, toward the conclusion of my narrative, he will be called upon to view the fragments of the grand old Constitution, which has been shattered, and which will lie in such mournful profusion around him; the monuments at once of the folly and crimes of a people, who have broken up a government—a free government—which might else have endured for centuries.