A Review of the Proclamation of President Jackson/XIII
Norfolk, January 30, 1833.
A very careful examination of the late Proclamation presents to my view no other objection, there urged, to this right of secession, than such as I have already noticed.
The summary of its argument, and very nearly in its own words in this.—Each State has expressly parted with so many powers, as to constitute it jointly with the other States, a single nation. In becoming parts of a nation, the States surrendered many of their essential rights of sovereignty, and so were no longer sovereign; the allegiance of their citizens being; transferred to the government of the United States. But this government thereupon became their sovereign, because it can punish Treason, which is an offence against sovereignty, and sovereignty must reside with the power to punish it. Moreover, the Constitution of the United States forms a government. Every government has a sanction expressed or implied, therefore, a government has a right by the law of self-defence, to pass acts for punishing offences against its authority, unless that right is modified, restrained, or resumed by the constitutional act. In our system, although the right is modified in the case of Treason, yet authority is expressly given, to pass all laws necessary to carry the powers of government into effect.—Hence, no State of this Union may secede, because such secession would destroy the Unity of the Nation, any attempt to do which act, would be an offence against the sovereignty of the government, and might be properly punished at its own discretion.
In reply to this argument, I have already endeavoured to shew, that these States do not, and never did, constitute a single nation: but are, as they ever have been since they assumed to be States, free and sovereign States, not consolidated into one nation, but united only by a written covenant of Union, which we call the Constitution of the United States. That the government formed by this Constitution, so far from being a sovereign, is a mere creature of the will of these States, subject to amendment, and rightful destruction at their pleasure, endowed with but limited powers, that may be properly exerted for the attainment of enumerated objects only. And so far from possessing this natural right of self-defence, it is not even a party to the Covenant under which it exists, nor may rightfully exercise any one of its granted powers against any one of these States, its creators, although it may properly do so against their Citizens, when they are acting without the authority of their State, the only sovereign to whom they owe allegiance. That the union of the States thus resting upon a covenant entered into by every State with its co-States, when the terms of tins Covenant are supposed to be broken by any of them, as there is no common arbiter to decide between the parties, it is of necessity, that each State must judge for itself, and act as its own judgement may dictate.
If in the honest exercise of this judgement any sovereign State declares the covenant, broken by its co-States, and chooses to dissolve the Union thereby established, for this cause, she has the perfect right to do so; and this makes secession from the Union, as to that party only.
I will not repeat tbe arguments by which these several positions have been maintained, but will follow my conclusion to all its consequences.
When a sovereign State decides, that of the Covenant of Union which formerly bound her to her co-States, has been broken by them, and is therefore annulled as to herself, it is clear, that these her co-States, are not bound by her decision. They are then called upon to decide several questions, of a very different character, each for itself also.
The first of these involves their faith. Has that been broken as is averred? Should this be so, according to the honest conviction of any of the co-States, such State, as a moral and accountable being, is bound to acquiesce in the decision made by the first party, which is acknowledged to be right. But if acting under its accountability, it honestly believes, that its faith has not been violated as is averred, a second question is presented. Is it better, while repelling the charge of violated faith, to acquiesce in the determination of the first party to annul the covenant as to itself? This question also, each of the co-States must decide for themselves respectively.
The subject now becomes a matter of naked policy, which like every other question of mere expediency, must depend upon all the circumstances existing in the case. This question appertains to the Statesman, the mere theorist can neither comprehend, or hope to decide it, correctly; and, therefore, it would be very foreign to my present purpose.
But if after examining all the circumstances of the case, in all their different relations and probably effects, the co-States, whose covenant has been annulled, wrongfully as they may believe, determine nevertheless to acquiesce in the act vacating it as to the other party, the difference it at an end,—each party concurs, although for different reasons, in the same purpose, and no collision will take place between them.
Such was the course pursued by the States in 1788, when the old Articles of Confederation were annulled by the act of eleven of the States, who then seceded from the Union established thereby. And such has been the course pursued in very many other cases of Union and alliance that it would be tedious here to enumerate, but to which the recollection of every reader of history will at once recur. But if after a due examination of the subject in all its bearings the party of which I am now speaking, thinks itself unjustly aggrieved by the act of its co-State in annulling their mutual covenant, and seceding from the Union thereby established, and that it is expedient to push this difference to war, unquestionably it may wage war; and may so impose upon the other party the necessity of submitting to its dictation, or of defending itself by the same means.
Such a war, as to the party with whom alone it can commence, will differ from every other that has before occurred from the beginning to that day; because, even by the most complete success its avowed object can never be attained.
Independence, conquest, reparation of wrongs, security, punishment of indignity offered, may all be achieved by successful war; but victory can never make union, or repair the breach of its broken covenant. It behooves the Statesman, then, to deliberate well, before he makes a war for any unattainable object. Should the seceding party prove successful in the contest, it will so maintain its independence, and may then agree to enter into another Covenant of Union, "laying its foundations on such principles, and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness," but this will be a new covenant.—Should the other party prove successful, it may conquer the territory, exterminate its inhabitants, change all the institutions of the seceding States, nay, do whatever else it lists, and which is possible; for who shall give law to conquest?
But it cannot revive the old Covenant of Union. That is gone forever, and can no more be recalled than yesterday.
If the Victor, in his clemency, chooses to spare the lives of his conquered enemies, to permit them to enjoy their former religion, and laws, and civil institutions, nay, to occupy the conquered country still, he may win the thanks of the vanquished, and perhaps beget in them a sense of gratitude towards the generous chief who has been thus forbearing and kind to a fallen foe. But let none mistake the character of the sentiment so produced. It is loyalty not patriotism; and let those beware of the loyalty of the grateful Mameluke, who may wish thereafter to harm his kind conqueror.
A subdued people have ever been the great agents in subduing others.
Extinguish any one, even the smallest of these now sovereign States, and rely upon it, many others will soon share their fate. A majority may subdue a minority, probably. They can only do so however, by means of force, which must be guided by a man; and if their chief is prudent, the subdued minority will as certainly unite to make him a military despot, as the people of Rome proclaimed the power of a Dictator to escape from the thraldom of an overbearing and selfish Senate.
Will the Victors seek to avert this consequence, by proposing to admit the conquered State into their Union again? She must come if they say so, but the Union thereupon becomes, to all intents and purposes, a new covenant. The rights of the conquered State are then derived to her, under the gracious gift of her conquerors, and not from her own free and sovereign will.
The old Covenant of Union made and sustained by equal and independent States, gives place to one of a very different character, in which there can be no mutual confidence, because it rests no longer upon mutual consent. Many generations must pass away, before any subdued people ought to be trusted as a component part of the Union by which they have been subdued. A King may make conquests, and by many means may attach his conquered subjects to his person, and win their loyalty to his Crown; for his people are all subjects, and in his eyes, are all entitled to his protection alike. But you had as well insert some deadly poison into the veins of an animal, and expect it to live in health, as in a Representative Democracy, to admit immediately, the Representatives of a conquered people to become parts of its Union, and expect such a government to last long.
Then, the war waged to revive a broken covenant of Union, however successful may be its means, can never attain its avowed end. It may bring conquest, may make loyal subjects, or hollow-hearted pretended allies; but it cannot make real union. The union of free States can neither be made or preserved by force.
It is a solecism so to speak. Such a fanciful Union is consolidation in its most abhorrent form, wherein the majority, while it continues such, will wield not only their own powers, but those assigned to their subdued allies also.
I thank God, that in His infinite wisdom and mercy He has been pleased thus to ordain. The truths I have announced, ought and will teach moderation and forbearance to all who value the Union of these States, Each will look to the fearful consequences to itself, that may attend its own acts, and will abstain from pushing even admitted powers to oppression. The right of secession is the right of all; it may be claimed by one to-day and by another to-morrow, as each may find itself aggrieved. Its apprehended evils may be easily guarded against, by abstaining from exercising doubtful powers, or pressing legitimate powers until they become doubtful. The security of the Union is to be found in the common affections and common interests of the States, and not in the bayonets of its soldiery.
By such feelings alone was the Union first formed, by such sentiments alone has it been since maintained, and by such sentiments alone can it be preserved.
Once deny this right of secession when it is claimed, and prevent or punish its exercise by military force, and surely as night succeeds the day, our destiny as a free people is fulfilled. But what may be done if a State unmindful of her faith will secede from an union to support which her faith has been plighted? If she leaves any common obligation unsatisfied, which may be compensated by her, demand it, and if you can, enforce this demand. The War, if war shall be necessary to accomplish this end, is then rightful and just. It will have an object that may be attained, and when attained, it brings peace, the only legitimate end of every war.
But if she leaves no debt unpaid or any duty unfulfilled, or when she has made the compensation required, let her go and let her go in peace. If she is but a single State, she will soon learn in her wants, the value of the Union she has abandoned, and will speedily return, if the evils of its government are not intolerable. If there be many States, their right of secession will never be denied.
Should I pursue the subject, which this sentence suggests, I should tread upon the ground which belongs to the Statesman exclusively. It is the business of the theorist, to scan the nature of this government, and to deduce from thence its principles and its character.
It is the business of the patriot Statesman to apply these principles, and in their application, to adapt them to the circumstances of each particular case, so as to preserve this character. While he does so, he will but confirm the government in the con- duct of whose affairs be is called to assist. But if be seeks to pervert these principles, or to change this character, be is a Revolutionist, whether his schemes are designed to be perfected by the arts of persuasion, the strong hand of force, or by any other means.
One remark more and I have done. The author of this Proclamation, while speaking of this right of secession, says: "To call it a constitutional right, is confounding the meaning of terms: and can only be done through gross error, or to deceive those who are willing to assert a right, but would pause before they made a Revolution, or incur the penalties consequent on a failure."
I will say nothing of the spirit which dictated these declarations; whether the assertion of this right be a gross error, not this author but an enlightened world will judge; and as to the motives which prompt it, they, like those which produced the declarations I have quoted, can be understood by Him alone who can read the human heart. To His inspection mine are willingly submitted: but I utterly disclaim the authority of this self-sufficient personage, the President, to denounce me and all others, from his throne, as stupid fools or cowardly knaves, because we do not concur in his new political dogmas, but dare to think for ourselves. And what in the name of common sense, has the question of right to do with either his motives or mine? At last it will be found to turn upon what this author means by constitutional right, probably.
According to his idea, it would seem, that there are no constitutional rights but such as are granted by the Constitution; and, therefore, that the right of bearing arms, of peaceably assembling to consult about public affairs, of petitioning for a redress of grievances, are none of them constitutional rights, because no one of these is therein granted.
But according to my notion, every right, and every power too, not disparaged by any of the grants and prohibitions contained in the Constitution, are especially reserved therein, and so become constitutional rights and powers. The right of secession thus be- comes a constitutional right.
I once thought, that none of the present generation would see the day, when these States would become "a single nation," or the government established by them "a Sovereign," claiming like every other sovereign, the rights of "self-defence," "a transfer of the allegiance of the citizens," and brandishing the weapons of its asserted powers in their faces.
Recent events, I acknowledge, have much diminished my confidence in this belief. The same events have strengthened another opinion I have long entertained, that there exists no middle ground, between the Federal government established by the Constitution and that which will speedily succeed it, a simple, absolute, unmixed and hard military despotism.
So long as this Constitution can be preserved, this may be averted.
Then let the sovereign States who made it, guard well this ark of their political safety, which they know contains the Holy Covenant wherein is written the commandments of their law. Let each constantly cry aloud to every other and to all their servants, in the words of the inspired one, "nor do you prefer any other constitution of government before the laws now given to you."