Page images
[graphic][merged small]


(From the engraving by T. B. Welch after a daguerreotype by MM.Clees and Germon)

that the people are always spoken of in that sense. Thus, in the second section of the first article it is declared, that “the House of Representatives shall be composed of members chosen every second year, by the people of the several States.” To show that, in entering into this compact, the States acted in their sovereign capacity, and not merely as parts of one great community, what can be more conclusive than the historical fact that, when every State had consented to it except one, she was not held to be bound?

But, the gentleman insists that the tribunal provided by the constitution for the decision of controversies between the States and the Federal Government, is the Supreme Court. And here again I call for the authority on which the gentleman rests the assertion, that the Supreme Court has any jurisdiction whatever over questions of sovereignty between the States and the United States. When we look into the constitution we do not find it there. I put entirely out of view any act of Congress on the subject. We are not looking into laws, but the constitution.

It is clear that questions of sovereignty are not the proper subjects of judicial investigation. They are much too large, and of too delicate a nature, to be brought within the jurisdiction of a court of justice. ... When it is declared that the constitution, and laws of the United States made in pursuance thereof, shall be the supreme law of the land, it is manifest that no indication is given either as to the power of the Supreme Court to bind the States by its decisions, nor as to the course to be pursued in the event of laws being passed not in pursuance of the constitution..

If the Supreme Court of the United States can take cognizance of such a question, so can the Supreme Courts of the States. But, sir, can it be supposed for a moment, that, when the States proceeded to enter into the compact, called the constitution of the United

States, they could have designed, nay, that they could, under any circumstances, have consented to leave to a court to be created by the Federal Government, the power to decide, finally, on the extent of the powers of the latter, and the limitations on the powers of the former? If it had been designed to do so, it would have been so declared, and assuredly some provision would have been made to secure, as umpires, a tribunal somewhat differently constituted from that whose appropriate duties is the ordinary administration of justice. But to prove, as I think conclusively, that the Judiciary were not designated to act as umpires, it is only necessary to observe that, in a great majority of cases, that court could manifestly not take jurisdiction of the matters in dispute.

No doubt can exist, that, before the States entered into the compact, they possessed the right, to the fullest extent, of determining the limits of their own powersit is incident to all sovereignty. Now, have they given away that right, or agreed to limit or restrict it in any respect? Assuredly not. They have agreed that certain specific powers shall be exercised by the Federal Government; but the moment that government steps beyond the limits of its charter, the right of the States "to interpose for arresting the progress of the evil, and for maintaining, within their respective limits, the authorities, rights, and liberties, appertaining to them,” is as full and complete as it was before the constitution was formed. It was plenary then, and never having been surrendered, must be plenary now. But what then, asks the gentleman? A State is brought into collision with the United States, in relation to the exercise of unconstitutional powers: who is to decide between them? Sir, it is the common case of difference of opinion between sovereigns as to the true construction of a compact. Does such a difference of opinion necessarily produce war? No. And if not, among rival

nations, why should it do so among friendly States? In all such cases, some mode must be devised by mutual agreement, for settling the difficulty; and most happily for us, that mode is clearly indicated in the constitution itself, and results, indeed, from the very form and structure of the Government. The creating power is three-fourths of the States. By their decision, the parties to the compact have agreed to be bound, even to the extent of changing the entire form of the Government itself; and it follows, of necessity, that, in case of a deliberate and settled difference of opinion between the parties to the compact, as to the extent of the powers of either, resort must be had to their common superior(that power which may give any character to the constitution they may think proper) viz: three-fourths of the States.

But it has been asked, why not compel a State, objecting to the constitutionality of a law, to appeal to her sister States, by a proposition to amend the constitution? I answer, because such a course would, in the first instance, admit the exercise of an unconstitutional authority, which the States are not bound to submit to, even for a day, and because it would be absurd to suppose that any redress could ever be obtained by such an appeal, even if a State were at liberty to make it..

The gentleman has called upon us to carry out our scheme practically. Now, sir, if I am correct in my view of this matter, then it follows, of course, that the right of a State being established, the Federal Government is bound to acquiesce in a solemn decision of a State, acting in its sovereign capacity, at least so far as to make an appeal to the people for an amendment to the constitution. This solemn decision of a State (made either through its Legislature, or a convention, as may be supposed to be the proper organ of its sovereign will—a point I do not propose now to discuss)

binds the Federal Government, under the highest constitutional obligation, not to resort to any means of coercion against the citizens of the dissenting State. How, then, can any collision ensue between the Federal and State Governments, unless, indeed, the forme: should determine to enforce the law by unconstitutional means? What could the Federal Government do, in such a case? Resort, says the gentleman, to the courts of justice. Now, can any man believe that, in the face of a solemn decision of a State, that an act of Congress is “a gross, palpable, and deliberate violation of the constitution,” and the interposition of its sovereign authority to protect its citizens from the usurpation, that juries could be found ready merely to register the decrees of the Congress, wholly regardless of the unconstitutional character of their acts? Will the gentleman contend that juries are to be coerced to find verdicts at the point of the bayonet? ...

Sir, if Congress should ever attempt to enforce any such laws, they would put themselves so clearly in the wrong, that no one could doubt the right of the State to exert its protecting power. .


A few words, Mr. President, on this constitutional argument, which the honorable gentleman has labored to reconstruct.

His argument consists of two propositions, and an inference. His propositions are

1. That the Constitution is a compact between the States.

2. That a compact between two, with authority reserved to one to interpret its terms, would be a surrender to that one, of all power whatever. 3. Therefore, (such is his inference) the General

« PreviousContinue »