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the wound to the other. Insurrections in a State will rarely induce a National interposition, unless the number concerned in them bear some proportion to the friends of Government. It will be much better, that the violence in such cases, should be repressed by the superintending power, than that the majority should be left to maintain their cause by a bloody and obstinate contest. The existence of a right to interpose will generally prevent the necessity of exerting it.
$ 415. The next (the fifth) article, provides for the mode of making amendments to the Constitution. "The Congress, whenever two thirds of both Houses shall deem it necessary, shall propose amendments to this Constitution; or, on application of the Legislatures of two thirds of the several States, shall call a Convention for proposing amendments ; which, in either case, shall be valid, to all intents and purposes, as part of this Constitution, when ratified by the Legislatures of three fourths of the several States, or by conventions in three fourths thereof, as the one, or the other mode of ratification may be proposed by the Congress ; provided that no amendment, which may be made prior to the year one thousand eight hundred and eight, shall in any manner affect the first and fourth clauses in the ninth section of the first article ; and that no State, without its consent, shall be deprived of its equal suffrage in the Senate.”
§ 416. The importance of this power can scarcely be over estimated. It is obvious, that no human government can ever be perfect ; and it is impossible to foresee, or guard against all the exigencies, which may, in different ages, require changes in the powers and modes of operation of a government, to suit the necessities and interests of the people. A government, which has no mode prescribed for any changes, will, in the lapse of time, become utterly unfit for the nation. It will either degenerate into a despotism, or lead to a revolution, by its oppressive inequalities. It is wise, therefore, in every government, and especially in a republic, to provide peaceable means for altering and improving the structure, as time and experience shall show it necessary, for the public safety and
happiness. But, at the same time, it is equally important to guard against too easy and frequent changes ; to secure due deliberation and caution in making them ; and to follow experience, rather than speculation and theory. A government, which is always changing and changeable, is in a perpetual state of internal agitation, and incapable of any steady and permanent operations. It has a constant tendency to confusion and anarchy.
§ 417. In regard to the Constitution of the United States, it is confessedly a new experiment in the history of nations. Its framers were not bold or rash enough to believe, or to pronounce, it to be perfect. They made use of the best lights, which they possessed, to form and adjust its parts, and mould its materials. But they knew, that time might develope many defects in its arrangements, and many deficiencies in its powers. They desired, that it might be open to improvement ; and, under the guidance of the sober judgement and enlightened skill of the country, to be perpetually approaching nearer and nearer to perfection. It was obvious, too, that the means of amendment might avert, or at least have a tendency to avert, the most serious perils, to which confederated republics are liable, and by which all have hitherto been shipwrecked. They knew, that the besetting sin of republics is a restlessness of temperament, and a spirit of discontent at slight evils. They knew the pride and jealousy of state power in confederacies ; and they wished to disarm them of their potency, by providing a safe means to break the force, if not wholly to ward off the blows, which would, from time to time, under the garb of patriotism, or a love of the people, be aimed at the Constitution. They believed, that the power of amendment was, if one may so say, the safety-valve to let off all temporary effervescences and excitements; and the real effective instrument to control and adjust the movements of the machinery, when out of order, or in danger of self-destruction.
9 418. Upon the propriety of the power, in some form, there will probably be little controversy. The only question is, whether it is so arranged, as to accom
plish its objects in the safest mode ; safest for the stability of the Government; and safest for the rights and liberties of the people.
§ 419. The Constitution has adopted a middle course. It has provided for amendments being made ; the mode is easy ; and at the same time, it secures due deliberation, and caution. Congress may propose amendments, or a convention of the States. But, in any amendment proposed by Congress, two thirds of both Houses must concur ; and no convention can be called, except upon the application of two thirds of the States. When amendments are proposed in either way, the assent of three fourths of all the States is necessary to their ratification. And, certainly, it may be said with confidence, that if three fourths of the States are not satisfied with the necessity of any particular amendment, the evils, which it proposes to remedy, cannot be of any general or pressing nature. That the power of amendment is not, in its present form, impracticable, is proved by the fact, that twelve amendments have been already proposed and ratified.
$ 420. The proviso excludes the power of amendment, until the year 1808, of the clauses in the Constitution, which respects the importation and migration of slaves, and the apportionment of direct taxes. And as the equality of the Representation of the States in the Senate might be destroyed by an amendment, it is expressly declared, that no amendment shall deprive any State, without its consent, of its equal suffrage in that body.
Public Debt.— Supremacy of the Constitution, and Laws.
$ 421. The first clause of the sixth article is, “ All debts contracted, and engagements entered into, before the adoption of this Constitution, shall be as valid against the United States, under this Constitution, as under the Confederation.” This can scarcely be deemed more than a solemn declaration of what the public law of nations recognizes as a moral obligation, binding on all nations, notwithstanding any changes in their forms of Government. It was important, however, to clear away all possible doubts, and to satisfy and quiet the public creditors, who might fear, that their just claims upon the Confederation might be disregarded or denied.
§ 422. The next clause is, “This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States, which shall be made in pursuance thereof, and all treaties made, or which shall be made, under the authority of the United States, shall be the supreme law of the land. And the judges in every State shall be bound thereby, any thing in the Constitution, or laws of any State, to the contrary notwithstanding.” The propriety of this power results from the very nature of the Constitution. To establish a National Government, and to affirm, that it shall have certain powers ; and yet, that in the exercise of those powers it shall not be supreme, but controllable by any State in the Union, would be a solecism, so mischievous, and so indefensible, that the scheme could never be attributed to the framers of the Constitution, without manifestly impeaching their wisdom, as well as their good faith. The want of such an effective practical supremacy was a vital defect in the Confederation ; and furnished the most solid reason for abolishing it. It would be an idle mockery, to give powers to Congress, and yet at the same time to declare, that those powers might be suspended or annihilated, at the will of a single State ; that the will of twenty-five States should be surrendered to the will of one. A government of such a nature would be as unworthy of public confidence, as it would be incapable of affording public protection, or private happiness.
§ 423. In regard to treaties, there is equal reason, why they should be held, when made, to be the supreme law of the land. It is to be considered, that treaties constitute solemn compacts of binding obligation among nations ; and unless they are scrupulously obeyed, and enforced, no foreign nation would consent to negotiate
with us ; or if it did, any want of strict fidelity, on our part, in the discharge of the treaty stipulations, would be visited by reprisals, or by war. It is, therefore, indispensable, that they should have the obligation and force of a law, that they may be executed by the judicial power, and be obeyed like other laws. This will not prevent them from being cancelled, or abrogated, by the nation, upon grave and suitable occasions ; for it will not be disputed, that they are subject to the legislative power, and may be repealed, like other laws, at its pleasure ; or they may be varied by new treaties. Still, while they do subsist, they ought to have a positive binding efficacy, as laws, upon all the States, and all the citizens of the States. The peace of the nation, and its good faith, and moral dignity, indispensably require, that all State laws should be subjected to their supremacy. The difference between considering them as laws, and considering them as executory, or executed contracts, is exceedingly important in the actual administration of public justice. If they are supreme laws, courts of justice will enforce them directly in all cases, to which they can be judicially applied, in opposition to all State laws, as we all know was done in the case of the British debts, secured by the treaty of 1783, after the Constitution was adopted. If they are deemed but solemn compacts, promissory in their nature and obligation, courts of justice may be embarrassed in enforcing them, and may be compelled to leave the redress to be administered through other departments of the Government. It is notorious, that treaty stipulations (especially those of the treaty of peace of 1783) were grossly disregarded by the States under the Confederation. They were deemed by the States, not as laws, but like requisitions, of a mere moral obligation, and dependent upon the good will of the States for their execution. Congress, indeed, remonstrated against this construction, as unfounded in principle and justice. But their voice was not heard. Power and right were separated ; the argument was all on one side ; but the power was on the other. It was probably to obviate this very difficulty, that this clause was inserted in the Constitution;