« AnteriorContinuar »
powers being things essentially unlike in their very natures, and incapable of ever being the same. Yet the word “constitution” is on the very front of the instrument. He cannot overlook it. He seeks, therefore, to compromise the matter, and to sink all the substantial sense of the word, while he retains a resemblance of its sound. He introduces a new word of his own, viz., “compact,” as importing the principal idea, and designed to play the princpal part, and degrades “constitution". into an insignificant, idle epithet, attached to "compact.” The whole then stands as a “constitutional compact!” And in this way he hopes to pass off a plausible gloss, as satisfying the words of the intrument. But he will find himself disappointed. Sir, I must say to the honorable gentlenian, that, in our American political grammar, constitution is a noun substantive; it imports a distinct and clear idea of itself; and it is not to lose its importance and dignity, it is not to be turned into a poor, ambiguous, senseless, unmeaning adjective, for the purpose of ac commodating any new set of political notions. Sir, we reject his new rules of syntax altogether. We will not give up our forms of political speech to the grammarians of the school of nullification. By the constitution, we mean, not a
66 constitutional compact,” but, simply and directly, the constitution, the fundamental law; and if there be one word in the language which the people of the United States understand, it is that word. We know no more of a constitutional compact between sovereign powers, than we know of a constitutional indenture of copartnership, a constitutional deed of conveyance, or a constitutional bill of exchange. But we know what the coNSTITUTION is; we know what the plainly written, fundamental law is; we know
what the bond of our union and the security of our liberties is; and we mean to maintain and to defend it, in its plain sense and unsophisticated meaning.
The sense of the gentleman's proposition, therefore, is not at all affected, one way or the other, by the use of this word. That proposition still is, that our system of government is but a compact between the people of separate and sovereign states.
Was it Mirabeau, Mr. President, or what other master of the human passions, who has told us that words are things? They are indeed things, and things of mighty influence, not only in addresses to the passions and high-wrought feelings of mankind, but in the discussion of legal and political questions also; because a just conclusion is often avoided, or a false one reached, by the adroit substitution of one phrase, or one word for another. Of this we have, I think, another example in the reso lutions before us.
The first resolution declares that the people of the several states “ acceded” to the constitution, or to the constitutional compact, as it is called. This word “accede,” not found either in the constitution itself, or in the ratification of it by any one of the states, has been chosen for us here, doubtless, not without a well-considered purpose.
The natural converse of ACCESSION IS SECESSION; and, therefore, when it is stated that the people of the states acceded to the Union, it may be more plausibly argued that they may secede from it. If, in adopting the constitution, nothing was done but acceding to a compact, nothing would seem necessary, in order to break it up, but to secede from the same compact. But the term is wholly out of place. Accession, as a word applied to political associations, implies coming into a league, treaty, or confederacy, by one hitherto a stranger to it; and secession implies departing from such league or confederacy. The people of the United States have used no such form of expression in establishing the present government. They do not say
that they ACCEDE to a league, but they declare that they ORDAIN and ESTABLISH a constitution. Such are the very words of the instrument itself; and in all the states, without an exception, the language used by their conventions was, that they
“ ratified the constitution;" some of them employing the additional words “ assented to” and “ adopted,” but all of them “ratifying." There is more importance than may, at first sight, appear, in the introduction of this new word by the honorable mover of these resolutions. Its adoption and use are indispensable to maintain those premises, from which his main conclusion is to be afterward drawn. But before showing that, allow me to remark, that this phraseology tends to keep out of sight the just view of a previous political history, as well as to suggest wrong ideas as to what was actually done when the present constitution was agreed to.
In 1789, and before this constitution was adopted, the United States had already been in a union, more or less close, for fifteen years. At least as far back as the meeting of the first congress, in 1774, they had been in some measure, and to some national purposes, united together. Before the confederation of 1781, they had declared independence jointly, and had carried on the war jointly, both by sea and land; and this not as separate states, but as one people. When, therefore, they formed that confederation, and adopted its articles as articles of perpetual union, they did not come together for the first time; and therefore they did not speak of the states as ceding” to the confederation, although it was a league, and nothing but a league, and rested on nothing but plighted faith for its performance. Yet, even then, the states were not strangers to each other; there was a bond of union already subsisting between them; they were associated, united states; and the object of the confederation was to make a stronger and better bond of union. Their representatives deliberated together on these proposed articles of confederation, and, being authorized by their respective states, finally “ratified and confirmed” them. Inasmuch as they were already in union, they did not speak of acceding to the new articles of confederation, but of ratifying and confirming them; and this language was not used
inadvertently, because, in the same instrunient, accession is used in its proper sense, when applied to Canada, which was alto gether a stranger to the existing union. “Canada," says the eleventh article, "on acceding to this confederation, and joining in the measures of the United States, shall be admitted into the Union.”
Having thus used the terms ratify and confirm, even in regard to the old confederation, it would have been strange indeed, if the people of the United States, after its formation, and when they came to establish the present constitution, had spoken of the states, or the people of the states, as acceding to this constitution. Such language would have been ill suited to the occasion. It would have implied an existing separation or disunion among the states, such as never has existed since 1774. No such language, therefore, was used. The language actually employed is, "adopt, ratify, ordain, establish."
Therefore, sir, since any state, before she can prove her right to dissolve the Union, must show her authority to undo what has been done, no state is at liberty to secede, on the ground that she and other states have done nothing but accede. She must show that she has a right to reverse what has been ordained, to unsettle and overthrow what has been established, to reject what the people have adopted, and to
what they have ratified; because these are the terms which express the transactions which have actually taken place. In other words, she must show her right to make a revolution.
If, Mr. President, in drawing these resolutions, the honorable member had confined himself to the use of constitutional language, there would have been a wide and awful hiatus between his premises and his conclusions. Leaving out the words “compact” and “accession,” which are not constitutional modes of expression, and stating the matter precisely as the truth is, his first resolution would have affirmed that “the people of the
several states ratified this constitution, or form of government." These are the very words of South Carolina herself, in her own act of ratification. Let, then, his first resolution tell the exact truth; let it state the fact precisely as it exists; let it say that the people of the several states ratified a constitution, or form of government; and then, sir, what will become of his inferer.ce in his second resolution, which is in these words, viz.,
that, as in all other cases of compact among sovereign parties, each has an equal right to judge for itself, as well of the infraction as of the mode and measure of redress ?" It is obvious, is it not, sir ? that this conclusion requires for its upport quite other premises; it requires premises which speak of “ accession ” and of “compact” between sovereign powers; and, without such premises, it is altogether unmeaning.
Mr. President, if the honorable member will truly state what the people did in forming this constitution, and then state what they must do if they would now undo what they then did, he will unavoidably state a case of revolution. Let us see if it be not so. He must state, in the first place, that the people of the several states adopted and ratified this constitution, or form of government; and, in the next place, he must state that they have a right to undo this; that is to say, that they have a right to discard the form of government which they have adopted, and to break up the constitution which they have ratified. Now, sir, this is neither more nor less than saying that they have a right to make a revolution. To reject an established government, to break up a political constitution, is revolution.
I deny that any man can state accurately what was done by the people, in establishing the present constitution, and then state accurately what the people, or any part of them, must now do to get rid of its obligations, without stating an undeniable case of the overthrow of government. I admit, of course, that the people may, if they choose, overthrow the government. But, then, that is revolution. The doctrine now con