A Review of the Proclamation of President Jackson/V
This passage is in the same paragraph with, and follows immediately after that, which I have formerly quoted and commented upon. Nay, it is actually connected with it by the copulative conjunction "and," being separated from the former by a semi-colon only. The leading object of the first part of the paragraph, as I have already shewn, was to prove, that before Declaration of Independence, the People of all the revolted Colonies, had formed themselves into one nation, and had proclaimed the existence of this nation in that instrument, which was said to have been a joint act, executed by the parties jointly, and not the act of these parties severally. Scarcely did this first nation make its appearance, than as if touched by the want of a magician, it suddenly disappears, and in its stead, we have this new nation, not formed by the People, but be a solemn league of the several States, who by this league agreed, that they would, collectively, form one nation, for some purposes. The objects to be attained by the creation of the first nation, and the Authorities with which it was clothed to attain these objects, were not stated in the narrative of its birth, nevertheless it was an august body, the greatest of all human creations, a Nation constituted by the free will of its own People; and it belongs not to mortal man, to define either the objects or legitimate authorities of such a moral being.
But when this second nation is introduced, it is seen at once as a rickety monster, as an accountable being without free will, as a Sovereign without supremacy, as the pigmy creature of creator puny as itself; in a word, as a nation created for certain purposes only!
I wish the President had extended his argumentative narration of the rise and progress of the first Nation, and given at least a sketch of its decline and fall. I feel great interest in the fate of all nations, because, I believe that the light of not one of these Stars in the Constellation of human Society can be extinguished, except under direful and portentous circumstances, betokening the destruction of the whole galaxy.
Therefore, I sympathize very sincerely with the unhappy Greek, with the suffering and gallant Pole, and already feel anxiety for the fate of the industrious, frugal, honest, and brave Dutch. But when I am told of the existence of a Nation in this "my own, my native land," and that it was created by the only human authors who I acknowledge as having legitimate authority to create a Nation, its own People, quorum pars fui, I cannot but feel intense interest as to its fate. Did its authors become convinced, like some Philosophers of the olden time, that a People occupying a territory of vast extent, could not long exist in freedom, and in peace, as one Nation; because, unfeeling and interested majorities, would more probably oppress minorities, than any single despot; and therefore, sacrificing their ideas of splendid grandeur, to their love of liberty, destroy the work of their own hands, leaving no memorial to tell even that "Lyons was"; or did this new monster nation, raise its parricidal hand against the prior work of the authors of its own being, and bring to it an untimely end, to gratify its own lusts? If "History is Philosophy teaching by example," the narrative of the downfall of this first nation would doubtless furnish some useful lessons to statesmen of other times.
But it is lost, "and like the baseless fabric of a vision, has left not a wreck behind."
Then, lest us not deplore its unknown fate, but turn our attention to its successor.
The difference between the author of this Proclamation and myself, is radical and irreconcilable. He contents, that the inhabitants of these now United States are "one People." To prove this he asserts, that before the Declaration of Independence, they had formed themselves into "a nation" the existence of which was proclaimed in that act; and that afterwards, when the terms of this their first association (called now a confederation) "were reduced to form, it was in that of a solemn league of several States, by which they agreed, that they would collectively form one nation," for certain purposes which he expresses. On the other hand, I have contended, that these inhabitants are not now, nor ever were, one People, but always constituted several separate and distinct communities, which even in their colonial state, had long existed as such, and independent of each other.—That before the Declaration of Independence, these communities, impelled by a sense of common interest, and of common danger, associated themselves, not to form one nation, but by the agency of certain delegates selected by them respectively, to consult together, and to recommend to each other, the adoption of such plans, as might be thought to conduce most to he advancement of this common interest, and to security against this common danger.—That afterwards, accidental circumstances, beyond the control of those several communities, having deprived them of all regular government, they were severally constrained by the force of those circumstances, to form a new government, each for itself; and so to assume Sovereignty.—That in this situation, a decent respect for the opinions of mankind, induced them all to proclaim their new condition, and to justify what they had done; and that this was the sole cause and object of the Declaration of Independence, which so far from declaring that these communities were then "One Nation," declared expressly, that they were Free and Independent States. I contend further, that the original association of these several distinct and independent communities, did not invest the delegates deputed to represent them in the association, with sufficient authority to attain its purposes.—That under such circumstances, it was very soon discovered, that its objects could not be advanced, happily; therefore, it became desirable, to give body and being to this association, which, like the earth, "in the beginning, was without form."—That to reduce the association to form, by prescribing precisely its intended objects, and by bestowing upon it defined powers to attain these prescribed objects, it became necessary that the original parties to the association should enter into a Covenant with each other, for these ends; and that this Covenant is to be found in the Articles of Confederation.
It will be seen from this exposition, that I concur with the author of this Proclamation, when he says, that "when the terms of our confederation were reduced to form, it was in that of a solemn league of several States," except, that in order to make it accurate, I desire to amend this expression, by substituting association for confederation. Previously to the formation of this solemn league, the States were united by the vague and uncertain ties of a common interest and a common peril only. But in what this common interest consisted, or what this common danger might require, neither was or could be defined; and therefore, the connection to promote those general ends, being necessarily as indefinite as were its objects, their association was an Union, merely. It was this solemn league alone, which converted this general, simple and undefined association, into a particular confederation.—And here, I must remark, that although the author of this Proclamation, had announced in the former part of this very sentence, that we had proclaimed ourselves a Nation in the Declaration of Independence, yet when he comes now to give the character of this Nation, it turns out, and by his own acknowledgement too, to have been nothing more than a Confederacy. No man before this author, has ever considered these terms as convertible: but the new theory, which denies that these States every were sovereigns, can only be maintained by such a perversion of the well-settled meanings of words.
The quaintness and metaphysical formula, in which this annunciation is made, is well worthy of a passing remark. The Proclamation says, that "when the terms of our Confederation were reduced to form, it (that is to say the form) was in that of a solemn league." From this some casuist might infer, tha tthe purpose of this statement, was to affirm, tha tin substance we had been a Nation before, but when the terms of the existence of this Nation were reduced to form, this form was that of a solemn league; so that we still remained a Nation in fact, although but a Confederacy in form. As the author of this Proclamation however disdains to employ "metaphysical subtlety in pursuit of an impracticable theory," he surely could not have intended to draw himself, or to use any language which might justify another in drawing, that most subtle of all metaphysical distinctions, which seeks to distinguish the substance from the form under which it exists.
The new school of politicians must not, therefore, seek to derive any support for their doctrines, from this formula. Yet unless some such casuistry is employed, unless some distinction is taken between a nation and the form of its existence, it is impossible to conceive how by a solemn league of several States, said to have been intended to form their Confederation, they could have agreed, that they would collectively form one Nation.
The idea too of a Nation formed for certain purposes only, consisting of the same people who had previously formed themselves into a Nation for other purposes, and of the co-existence of these two Nations, is a conception, which as it seems to me, is truly worthy of the best scholar in the new French school of Eclecticism. I can conceive of one Nation, having two or twenty governments, designed for as many different purposes, and all held in due and orderly subjection, within their established spheres, by the will of the Nation which created and preserved them; but I freely confess, that the idea of one People divided into two Nations, surpasses my humble comprehension.
All this, however, is of little consequence, I admit, if the fact be as the President affirms it, that by their solemn league of Confederation, the several States who formed it, "agreed that they would form one Nation," whether collectively, or in any other way, whether for the purposes mentioned in the Proclamation, or for any other purpose whatever, is of no moment.
This fact can only be learned from the terms of the league itself, for fortunately, we are not to be again perplexed with any enquiry as to the character of the parties to this league, or as to the manner in which it was executed. It is conceded that the parties were several bodies politic called States, who not only did, but of necessity must, have entered into it, each for itself alone.
Let us now, then, examine this league.
The Articles of Confederation constitute an act so long, containing such a number of various provisions unconnected with each other, that it would be difficult to make any abstract of its contents, of such brevity as would suit this occasion. Nor is this necessary for my present purpose, which is merely to ascertain, whether it was the object of this instrument, to divest the States of their original sovereign character.
A reference to some few of these articles only, will furnish matter so conclusive upon this point, that it would be useless to press the examination further, to prove, that the President mistakes the object and character of this instrument as much, as I have already shewn, as he mistook the purpose and character of the Declaration of Independence.
The Act of Confederation was agreed to by the Delegates of the several States assembled in a general Congress, on the 15th of November, 1777, but, as these Delegates had no authority to bind their respective Constituents in this mode, Congress directed that the Articles should be submitted to the Legislatures of the different States, and if approved by them, they were advised, to authorize their delegates in Congress, to ratify the same, which, being done, the Compact should become conclusive. On the 9th of July, 1778, this act was actually ratified by eight States, and Congress having information, although not such as was regarded as official, that many of the other States had ratified, or would agree to ratify it, in the mode pointed out, and being urged to do so by the necessities of the country, promulgated it on that day.
The delegates of North Carolina and of Georgia were not present in Congress, when this promulgation was made, by arriving soon after, those of North Carolina ratified the act in behalf of that State, on the 21st of July, 1778, and those of Georgia three days afterwards, on the 24th of the same month.
The ratification on the part of New Jersey, did not take place until the 26th of the following November. Delaware did not ratify until February, 1779; and Maryland refused to ratify until 1781.—Her ratification completed the act; and on the 2d of March. 1781, Congress assembled under the new powers conferred upon it by this instrument. These facts of themselves are decisive to prove, that the Articles of Confederation were not designed to affect, in any way, the Sovereignty of the States, for otherwise, between July, 1778, and February, 1781, the Union would have been composed of parties connected by different bonds, and the Confederation (if it was such), would have been formed by States possessing different degrees of Sovereignty.
Both of which suppositions would be manifestly absurd.
But this matter shall not be permitted to rest upon inference merely, although that is a necessary inference, and is derived from the very strong facts which I have stated.
I will prove it incontestably, by the language of the Articles of Confederation themselves.—In the Caption of this act, it is entitled "Articles of Confederation and perpetual union between the States of New Hampshire," etc., etc., naming each of the States.—The first of these Articles, declares, that "the style (not the name) of this Confederacy shall be, The Untied States of America."—The second Article is in these words, "Each State retains its sovereignty, freedom, and independence, and every power, jurisdiction, and right, which is not by this Confederation expressly delegated to the United States in Congress assembled."—Now, until it can be shewn, that one may retain what he never had, this Article must be conclusive, to prove, that the States were free, sovereign, and independent, before this instrument was agreed upon. Should it be said, that, although then sovereign, the ratifying States intended to delegate a portion of their original Sovereignty by this act, the answer is, that while they thereby avowed an intention to delegate portions of their power, jurisdiction, and right to the United States in Congress assembled; in this very sentence they retain expressly all their Sovereignty, freedom, and independence. This must be very obvious, when it is observed, that the delegations of power, jurisdiction, and right were to be made, not to the Confederacy styled the United States of America, but to the representative of these United States in Congress assembled; which body, although a suitable assignee of such subjects, could never be considered, with any propriety, at least, as fit or capable to receive an assignment of the sovereignty, freedom, and independence of the several States, even if it could be imagined, that these States were willing to transfer the sacred deposit of their freedom to any body whatever.
I will not weary the reader by numerous other extracts from this instrument, which I could easily make, to prove the same thing, that, by the Articles of Confederation, the States, while transferring certain powers of government to the Congress thereby created, and retaining their sovereignty, freedom, and independence asserted their former possession of all these attributes of a State, in declaring that they would not part with them.—But I will here close the present number, reserving some few other remarks, which I purpose to make upon that part of the Proclamation, in which the powers enjoyed by the old Congress under the Articles of Confederation, is treated of, and, as I think, misrepresented.