“The resolution has guarded against any misapprehension of its object, by expressly requiring for such an interposition ‘the case of a deliberate, palpable, and dangerous breach of the Constitution, by the exercise of powers not granted by it.’ It must be a case, not of a light and transient nature, but of a nature dangerous to the great purposes for which the Constitution was established.
“But the resolution has done more than guard against misconstruction, by expressly referring to cases of a deliberate, palpable and dangerous nature. It specifies the object of the interposition which it contemplates, to be solely that of arresting the progress of the evil of usurpation, and of maintaining the authorities, rights, and liberties appertaining to the States, as parties to the Constitution.
“From this view of the resolution, it would seem inconceivable that it can incur any just disapprobation from those, who, laying aside all momentary impressions, and recollecting the genuine source and object of the Federal Constitution, shall candidly and accurately interpret the meaning of the General Assembly. If the deliberate exercise of dangerous powers, palpably withdrew by the Constitution, could not justify the parties to it in interposing, even so far as to arrest the progress of the evil, and thereby to preserve the Constitution itself, as well as to provide for the safety of the parties to it, there would be an end to all relief from usurped power, and a direct subversion of the rights specified or recognized under all the State Constitutions, as well as a plain denial of the fundamental principles on which our Independence itself was declared.”
But, Sir, our authorities do not stop here—the State of Kentucky responded to Virginia, and on the 10th November, 1798, adopted those celebrated resolutions well known to have been penned by the author of the Declaration of American Independence. In those resolutions the Legislature of Kentucky declare, “that the government created by this compact was not made the exclusive or final judge of the extent of the powers delegated to itself: since that would have made its discretion, and not the Constitution, the measure of its powers; but that, as in all other cases of compact among parties having no common judge, each party has an equal right to judge for itself, as well of infractions, as of the mode and measure of redress.”
At the ensuing session of the Legislature, the subject was re-examined, and on the 14th November, 1790, the resolutions of the proceeding year were deliberately re-affirmed, and it was, among other things, solemnly declared: “That, if those who administer the General Government, be permitted to transgress the limits fixed by that compact, by a total disregard of the special delegations of power therein contained, an annihilation of the State Governments, and the erection, upon its ruins, of a general consolidated Government, will be the inevitable consequence. That the principles of construction contended for by sundry of the State Legislatures, that the General Government is the exclusive judge of the extent of the powers delegated to it, stop nothing short of despotism; since the discretion of those who administer the Government, and not the Constitution, would be the measure of their powers. That the several States who formed that instrument, being sovereign and independent, have the unquestionable right to judge of its construction, and that the nullification by those sovereignties, of all unauthorized acts, done under color of that instrument, is the rightful remedy.”
Time and experience confirmed Mr. Jefferson’s opinion, on this all important point. In the year 1821, he expressed himself in this emphatic manner: “It is a fatal heresy to suppose, that either our State Governments are superior to the Federal, or the Federal to the State; neither is authorized literally to decide, what belongs to itself, or its co-partner in government. In differences of opinion, between their different sets of public servants, the appeal is to neither, but to their employers, peaceably assembled, by their representatives in Convention.”
The opinions of Mr. Jefferson, on this subject, have been so repeatedly and solemnly expressed, that they may be said to have been among the most fixed and settled convictions of his mind. In the protest prepared by him, for the Legislature of Virginia, in December, 1825, in respect to the powers exercised by the Federal Government, in relation to the Tariff and Internal Improvement, which he declares to be “usurpations of the powers retained by the States,—mere interpolations into the compact, and direct infractions of it,”—he solemnly reasserts all the principles of the Virginia Resolutions of ’ 98—protests against “these acts of the federal branch of the government, as null and void, and declares that, although Virginia would consider a dissolution of the Union as among the greatest calamities that could befal them, yet it is not the greatest. There is yet one greater—submission to a government of unlimited powers. It is only when the hope of this shall become absolutely desperate, that further forbearance could not be indulged,” &c.
In his letter to Mr. Giles, written about the same time, he says.
“I see as you do, and with the deepest affliction, the rapid strides with which the federal branch of our Government is advancing towards the usurpation of all the rights reserved to the States, and the consolidation in itself of all powers, foreign and domestic, and that too by constructions which leave no limits to their powers, &c. Under the power to regulate commerce, they assume, indefinitely, that also over agriculture and manufactures, &c. Under the authority to establish Post Roads, they claim that of cutting down mountains for the construction of roads, and digging canals, &c. And what is our resource for the preservation of the Constitution? Reason and Argument?—You might as well reason and argue with the marble columns encircling them, &c. Are we then to stand to our arms, with the hot headed Georgian?” No: [and I say no and South Carolina has said no] “that must be the last resource. We must have patience and long endurance with our brethren, &c. and separate from our companions only when the sole alternatives left are a dissolution of our Union with them, or submission to a Government without limitation of powers. Between these two evils, when we must make a choice, there can be no hesitation.”
Such, Sir, are the high and imposing authorities in support of “the Carolina doctrines” which in fact, are the doctrines of the Virginia Resolutions of 1798.
Sir, at that day the whole country was divided on this very question. It formed the line of demarcation between the federal and republican parties, and the great political revolution which then took place turned upon the very question involved in these resolutions. That question was decided by the people, and by that decision the Constitution was, in the emphatic language of Mr. Jefferson, “saved at its last gasp.” I should suppose, Sir, it would require more self-respect than any gentleman here would be willing to assume, to treat lightly, doctrines derived from such high sources.—Resting on authority like this, I will ask gentlemen whether South Carolina has not manifested a high regard for the Union, when, under a tyranny ten times more grievous than the alien and sedition laws, she has hitherto gone no further than to petition, remonstrate, and solemnly protest against a series of measures which she believes to be wholly unconstitutional, and utterly destructive of her interests. Sir, South Carolina has not gone one step further than Mr. Jefferson himself was disposed to go, in relation to the very subject of our present complaints,—not a step further than