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REPLY TO CALHOUN.
SPEECIT IN THE SENATE OF THE UNITED STATES, ON THE BILL FURTHER TO
PROVIDE FOR THE COLLECTION OF DUTIES ON IMPORTS,” ON THE 16TH DAY OF FEBRUARY, 1833.
The gentleman from South Carolina has admonished us to be mindful of the opinions of those who shall come after us. We must take our chance, sir, as to the light in which posterity will regard us. I do not decline its judgment, nor withhold myself from its scrutiny. Feeling that I am performing my public duty with singleness of heart and to the best of my ability, I fearlessly trust myself to the country, now and hereafter, and leave both my motives and my character to its decision.
The gentleman has terminated his speech in a tone of threat and defiance toward this bill, even should it become a law of the land, altogether unusual in the halls of congress. But I shall not suffer myself to be excited into warmth by this denunciation of the measure which I support. Among the feelings which at this moment fill my breast, not the least is that of regret at the position in which the gentleman has placed himself. Sir, he does himself no justice. The cause which he has espoused finds no basis in the constitution, no succor from public sympathy, no cheering from a patriotic community. He has no foothold on which to stand while he might display the powers of his acknowledged talents. Everything beneath his feet is hollow and treacherous. He is like a strong man struggling in a morass : every effort to extricate himself only sinks him deeper and deeper. And I fear the resemblance may be car. ried still further; I fear that no friend can safely come to his relief, that no one can approach near enough to hold out a help ing hand, without danger of going down himself, also, into the bottomless depths of this Serbonian bog.
The honorable gentleman has declared, that on the decision of the question now in debate may depend the cause of liberty itself. I am of the sanie opinion; but then, sir, the liberty which I think is staked on the contest is not political liberty, in any general and undefined character, but our own well-understood and long-enjoyed American liberty.
Sir, I love liberty no less ardently than the gentleman, in whatever form she may have appeared in the progress of human history.
As exhibited in the master states of antiquity, as breaking out again from amidst the darkness of the middle
ages, and beaming on the formation of new communities in modern Europe, she has always and everywhere, charms for me. Yet, sir, it is our own liberty, guarded by constitu tions and secured by union, it is that liberty which is our paternal inheritance, it is our established, dear-bought, peculiar American liberty to which I am chiefly devoted, and the cause of which I now mean, to the utmost of my power, to maintain and defend.
Mr. President, if I considered the constitutional question now before us as doubtful as it is important, and if I supposed that its decision, either in the senate or by the country, was likely to be in any degree influenced by the manner in which I might now discuss it, this would be to me a moment of deep solicitude. Such a moment has once existed. There has been 8 time, when, rising in this place, on the same question, I felt, I must confess, that something for good or evil to the constitution of the country might depend on an effort of mine. But circumstances are changed. Since that day, sir, the public opinion has become awakened to this great question; it has graspej it; it has reasoned upon it, as becomes an intelligent and patri otic community, and has settled it, or now seems in the pro
gress of settling it, by an authority which none can disobeythe authority of the people themselves.
I shall not, Mr. President, follow the gentleman, step by step, through the course of his speech. Much of what he has said he has deemed necessary to the just explanation and defense of his own political character and conduct. On this I shall offer no comment. Much, too, has consisted of philosophical remark upon the general nature of political liberty, and the history of free institutions; and upon other topics, so general in their nature as to possess, in my opinion, only a remote bearing on the immediate subject of the debate.
But the gentleman's speech made some days ago, upon introducing his resolutions, those resolutions themselves, and parts of the speech now just concluded, may, probably, be justly regarded as comprising the whole South Carolina doctrine. That doctrine it is my purpose now to examine, and to compare it with the constitution of the United States. I shall not consent, sir, to make any new constitution, or to establish another form of government. I will not undertake to say what a constitu. tion for these United States ought to be. That question the people have decided for themselves; and I shall take the instrument as they have established it, and shall endeavor to maintain it, in its plain sense and meaning, against opinions and notions which, in my judgment, threaten its subversion.
The resolutions introduced by the gentleman were apparently drawn up with care, and brought forward on delibera
I shall not be in danger, therefore, of misunderstanding him, or those who agree with him, if I proceed at once to these resolutions, and consider them as an authentic statement of those opinions upon the great constitutional question, by which the recent proceedings in South Carolina are attempted to be justified.
These resolutions are three in number.
several opinions expressed in the president's proclamation, respecting the nature and powers of this government. Of this third resolution, I purpose, at present, to take no particular notice.
The first two resolutions of the honorable member affirm these propositions, viz.:
1. That the political system under which we live, and under which congress is now assembled, is a compact, to which the people of the several states, as separate and sovereign communities, are the parties.
2. That these sovereign parties have a right to judge, each for itself, of any alleged violation of the constitution by congress; and, in case of such violation, to choose, each for itself, its own mode and measure of redress.
It is true, sir, that the honorable member calls this a stitutional” compact; but still he affirms it to be a compact be tween sovereign states. What precise meaning, then, does he attach to the term constitutional ? When applied to compacts between sovereign states, the term constitutional affixes to that word compact no definite idea. Were we to hear of a constitutional league or treaty between England and France, or a constitutional convention between Austria and Russia, we should not understand what could be intended by such a league, such a treaty, or such a convention. In these connections, the word is void of all meaning; and yet, sir, it is easy, quite easy, to see why the honorable gentleman has used it in these resolutions. He cannot open the book, and look upon our written frame of government, without seeing that it is called a constitution. This may well be appalling to him. It threatens his whole doctrine of compact, and its darling derivations, nullification and secession, with instant confutation. Because, if he admits our instrument of government to be a constitution, then, for that very reason, it is not a compact between sovereigns; a constitution of government and a compact between sovereign