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.
Sir, the gentleman has alluded to that portion of the militia of South Carolina with which I have the honor to be connected, and asked how they would act in the event of the nullification of the tariff law by the State of South Carolina' The tone of the gentleman, on this subject, did not seem to me as respectful as I could have desired. I hope, air, no imputation was intended.
[Mr. WEBSTER. "Not at all; just the reverse."] Well, sir, the gentleman asks what their leaders would be able to read to them out of Coke upon Littleton, or any other law book, to justify their enterprise? Sir, let me assure the gentleman that, whenever any attempt shall be made from any quarter, to enforce unconstitutional laws, clearly violating our essential rights, our leaders (whoever they may be) will not be found reading black letter from the musty pages of old law books. They will look to the constitution, and when called upon, by the sovereign authority of the State, to preserve ami protect the rights secured to them by the charter of their liberties, they will succeed in defending them, or "perish in the last ditch."
Sir, I will put the case home to the gentleman. Is there any violation of the constitutional rights of the States, and the liberties of the citizen, (sanctioned by Congress and the Supreme Court) which he would believe it to be the right and duty of a State to resist? Does he contend for the doctrine of "passive obedience and nonresistance?" Would he justify an open resistance to an act of Congress sanctioned by the courts, which should abolish the trial by jury, or destroy the freedom of religion, or the freedom of the press? Yes, sir, he would advocate resistance in such cases; and so would I, and so would all of us. But such resistance would, according to his doctrine, be revolution; it would be rebellion. According to my opinion, it would be just, legal, and constitutional resistance. The whole difference between us, then, consists in this. The gentleman would make force the only arbiter in all cases of collision between the States and the Federal Government. 1 would resort to a peaceful remedy, the interposition of the State to "arrest the progress of the evil," until such time as "a convention (assembled at the call of Congress, or two thirds of the States) shall decide to which they mean to give an authority claimed by two of their organs." Sir, I say with Mr. Jefferson, (whose words I have here borrowed) that "it is the peculiar wisdom and felicity of our constitution to have provided this peaceable appeal, where that of other nations" (and I may add that of the gentleman) " is at once to force."
The gentleman has made an eloquent appeal to our hearts in favor of union. Sir, I cordially respond to that appeal. I will yield to no gentleman here in sincere attachment to the Union,—but it is a Union founded on the Constitution, and not such a Union as that gentleman would give us, that is dear to my heart. If this is to become one great “consolidated government,” swallowing up the rights of the States, and the liberties of the citizen, “riding and ruling over the plundered ploughman, and beggared yeomanry,” the Union will not be worth preserving. Sir it is because South Carolina loves the Union, and would preserve it forever, that she is opposing now, while there is hope, those usurpations of the Federal Government, which, once established, will, sooner or later, tear this Union into fragments. The gentleman is for marching under a banner studded all over with stars, and bearing the inscription Liberty and Union. I had thought, sir, the gentleman would have borne a standard, displaying in its ample folds a brilliant sun, extending its golden rays from the centre to the extremities, in the brightness of whose beams, the “little stars hide their diminished heads.” Our’s, Sir, is the banner of the Constitution, the twenty-four stars are there in all their undiminished lustre, on it is inscribed, Liberty—the Constitution—Union. We offer up our fervent prayers to the Father of all mercies, that it may continue to wave for ages yet to come, over a free, a happy, and a united people.
Mr. WEBSTER now took the floor, in conclusion, and said: 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—
- That the constitution is a compact between the States.
- 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.
- Therefore, (such is his inference) the General Government does not possess the authority to construe its own powers.
Now, sir, who does not see, without the aid of exposition or detection, the utter confusion of ideas, involved in this, so elaborate and systematic argument'
The constitution, it is said, is a compact between States; the States, then, and the States only, are parties to the compact. How comes the General Government itself a party? Upon the honorable gentleman's hypothesis, the General Government is the result of the compact, the creature of the compact, not one of the parties to it. Yet the argument, as the gentleman has now stated it, makes the Government itself one of its own creators. It makes it a party to that compact to which it owes its own existence.
For the purpose of erecting the constitution on the basis of a compact, the gentleman considers the States as parties to that compact; but as soon as his compact is made, then he chooses to consider the General Government, which is the offspring of that compact, not its offspring, but one of its parties; and so, being a party, has not the power of judging on the terms of compact. Pray, sir, in what school is such reasoning as this taught?
If the whole of the gentleman's main proposition were conceded to him, that is to say—if I admit for the sake of the argument, that the constitution is a compact between States, the inferences which he draws from that proposition are warranted by no just reason. Because, if the constitution be a compact between States, still, that constitution, or that compact, has established a Government, with certain powers; and whether it be one of those powers, that it shall construe and interpret for itself the terms of the compact, in doubtful cases, can only be decided bylooking to the compact, and inquiring what provisions it contains on this point. Without any inconsistency with natural reason, the Government, even thus created, might be trusted with this power of construction. The extent of its powers, therefore, must still be sought for in the instrument itself.
If the old confederation had contained a clause, declaring that resolutions of the Congress should be the supreme law of the land, any State law or constitution to the contrary notwithstanding, and that a committee of Congress, or any other body created by it, should possess judicial powers, extending to all cases arising under resolutions of Congress, then the power of ultimate decision would have been vested in Congress, under the confederation, although that confederation was a compact between States* and for this plain reason, that it would have been competent to the States, who alone were parties to the compact, to agree who should decide in cases of dispute arising on the construction of the compact.
For the same reason, sir, if I were now to concede to the gentleman his principal propositions, viz. that the Constitution is a compact between States, the question would still be, what provision is made, in this compact, to settle