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Tappan Pred, Assor,


Reply of Hon. William D. Kelley to George

Northrop, Esq.



Fellow-citizens.-I thank you for the good order you have preserved. If this discussion can be carried through, a great advance will have been made in, I think I may say, our civilization. If we can inaugurate a system by which the people of both, or of all parties, if there should be more than two in the canvass, shall come together and hear their representatives discuss the questions, the principles and the measures involved, a great improvement in our political machinery will certainly have been made; and I hope that every friend of mine will be as silent throughout the discussion as you have been during the speech you have heard. I am quite sure that those who differ from me in opinion will accord to me the same respectful treatment with which the suggestions of their representative have been received by my friends.

I agree, as does every member of the Administration party, with the first two propositions laid down by my distinguished competitor. I am here at his request; I will not say challenged by him, but invited, to meet you and discuss the issues of the day with him. I shall endeavor to do so fearlessly and in the spirit of a patriot, striving only to promote the welfare of my country and yours, the home of our prosperity.

My friend's first proposition is that the "Constitution of the United States, within its limitations, is the supreme law of the land, and the only bond of the Union of the States." As I have said, I accept this proposition. It governs the head of the Administration that I sustain. It controls the conduct of the members of the party to which I belong. I wish you, however, to mark a single phrase, not dropped, but reiterated, and dwelt upon by my competitor, which is utterly inconsistent with this, his leading proposition. I refer to the phrase "sovereign States." Sovereignty is supremacy. That which is sovereign is supreme; that which is sovereign governs and controls all within the sphere of its jurisdiction. The Constitution of that Nation known as the United States was, from the hour it went into effect, the supreme law of our whole land, and is now its supreme law, and the great issue testing by the American people on the battle-field to-day is, whether that Constitution shall be maintained as the supreme law of the land, or whether it shall be trampled under foot, and each State Constitution be recognized as the supreme law of whatever territory may lie within the limits of that State; the question is whether we have a country, and a Constitution which is the supreme law of that country, or whether the Constitution of the United States is idle words, and the supreme law of the land is to be found in conflicting instruments called the Constitutions of thirty-five "Sovereign States." Either the Constitution of the United States is sovereign, or it is waste paper; and if it is sovereign, then there can be no "Sovereign States" within the limits of the United States.

My friend's next proposition is (and I accept it, as every school-boy must), "that the only mode by which the Constitution can be altered or amended is prescribed by that instrument itself." This proposition expresses one of the cardinal doctrines of the party I have the honor to represent in this discussion. It is part of the faith of every member, because it is written legibly as type or the human hand can write it in the language of the Constitution.

Now, my fellow-citizens, as my competitor and I agree, and as you all agree, that the Constitution is the supreme law of the land, let us ask, what is the extent of that land? On the inauguration of James Buchanan's administration, it consisted of certain States and territories. Among the States were South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Florida, and Texas. Among the States were also Arkansas, Delaware, Kentucky, Maryland, Missouri, North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia; and there was the District of Columbia. These States and that District, in conjunction with the Northern States and our broad territories, made the land of which that Constitution was the supreme law. Yet during the administration of James Buchanan, there was an attempt made to rob that Constitution of its supremacy over all the States I have named and the District of Columbia, the capital of the country. On the eighth of February, 1861, and I wish you to bear in mind that Abraham Lincoln did not become President till the fourth of March, 1861, in utter disregard of the

Constitution of the United States, a Confederacy, consisting of South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Florida, and Texas, was organized in the city of Montgomery, in the State of Alabama; under articles known as the Constitution of the Confederate States of America, and on the next day those who had organized it proceeded to elect Jefferson Davis, of Mississippi, President of that Confederacy, and A. H. Stephens, of Georgia, Vice-President. My distinguished friend has put a list of questions to me, which I shall answer as I proceed. But I have to ask him to point me to the clause in the Constitution which authorizes the amendment which proposes thus to restrict its supremacy to less than half our country. Where in the scope of that instrument-by which one of its articles-by what clause of that article-were those men authorized so to amend our Constitution that it should not cover any one of the eight States embraced in the Confederacy? But again in a few days there appeared in council with the men who organized that Confederacy representatives from Arkansas, Kentucky, Missouri, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia, and they proposed to so further amend the supreme law of our country, that it should be no law at all over nearly a million of square miles of that country; and I again ask the gentlemen to point me under his two first propositions, to the provision of the Constitution under which those important amendments were made.

Whose country was it that these felonious conspirators undertook thus summarily to dispose of? Our ancestors acquired part of it by the right of settlement. They came pilgrims to an inhospitable coast. They made their homes among the savage Indians. They endured the tempest-tossing of the Atlantic in the little barks, called ships at that day, and they dotted the hard and rock-bound coast of that ocean from Plymouth Rock to Oglethorpe's community in Georgia. They and their posterity, and others like themselves, escaping from the despotisms of Europe, from poverty and want, came and settled this country. In the course of years they reduced the wilderness, they built the village, the town, the city; they reared the school-house, the church, the college; they made roads into the wilderness and followed them by settlements. They extended their boundaries and became a great people. When the mother-country undertook to control them improperly, they went to war in vindication of their rights, and during eight long years they sanctified that country to us by pouring out their taxes, their blood, their lives, alike upon the hills of hated New England and the plains of pestilent South Carolina. The sons of New England died everywhere in that war; and here on the soil of our own great State the men of the South and of New England fought together upon common territory belonging specially to neither. After eight years of war, and taxes, and death, liberty was achieved, and a Constitution framed, deliberately framed, in our own city; it was submitted to the people of the States, and one after another of those States adopted it; the Southern States, at least Georgia and South Carolina, coming in among the latest. It was, however, adopted by the people of all the States, and from that day it remained the supreme law of those States and all the territory belonging to them, and all the territory they might acquire. Subsequently to that, it was found that Spain held a province that might be dangerous to our peace. The American people-not the people of the Southern States still less the people of that province or of the adjoining States alone, but the American people, acting by the United States Government, with money paid out of the common treasure, bought Florida from Spain. The Emperor Napoleon held another territory, that which in part bounded the Gulf, and held the key to the great arterial river of our country, the Mississippi. While a foreign nation held the mouth of that river, the resources of the Northwest might at any time be crippled. That river was the outlet to the sea for the great and rapidly expanding Northwest. Through that river and over the Gulf of Mexico the products of the Mississippi valley and of the Northwest were to find their way to market; and over that river the articles imported into that extended region were to come; for in those days the railroad system was unknown. Thus, unless the United States possessed the full control of the outlet to the Mississippi the great Northwest might be shut out from the commercial world. Its produce could not be waggoned thousands of miles and over the Alleghany Mountains to the sea coast. Therefore the United States Government bought Louisiana from France as it seventeen years afterward bought Florida from Spain— the people of New England, Pennsylvania, New York, and every other Northern State paying their proportion for the purchase as well as those of South Carolina and Virginia. It was, you perceive, our property, my fellow-citizens, that those conspirators thus attempted to transfer to a foreign government. We, or our ancestors, bought it, our government being the agent in the purchase.

Again: there lay contiguous to Louisiana an empire equal to six of the largest States of the Union. It bounded the gulf whose freedom is so essential to the development of our country from the Sabine to the Del Norte. It had been wrested from a neighboring government, Mexico, by our own people, who had gone there and settled, and had come to be known as the State of Texas. We admitted that State into the Union, and that act led to war with Mexico. So that, though we had paid for it in money, by the assumption and extinguishment of its enormous debt, we paid for it again in the blood of our sons and brothers, shed on the fields of Mexico. The expenses of the Mexican war in blood and treasure were but part of the price the people of the Nation paid for Texas.

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