the States. Some authority must, therefore, necessarily exist, having the ultimate jurisdiction to fix and ascertain the interpretation of these grants, restrictions, and prohibitions. The Constitution has itself pointed out, ordained, and established that authority. How has it accomplished this great and essential end? By declaring, sir, that “the Constitution and the laws of the United States, made in pursuance thereof, shall be the supreme law of the land, any thing in the Constitution or laws of any State to the contrary notwithstanding.”
This, sir, was the first great step. By this, the supremacy of the Constitution and laws of the United States is declared. The People so will it. No State law is to be valid, which comes in conflict with the Constitution, or any law of the United States. But who shall decide this question of interference? To whom lies the last appeal? This, sir, the Constitution itself decides, also by declaring, “that the Judicial power shall extend to all cases arising under the Constitution and Laws of the United States.” These two provisions, sir, cover the whole ground. They are, in truth, the key-stone of the arch. With these, it is a Constitution; without them, it is a Confederacy. In pursuance of these clear and express provisions, Congress established, at its very first session, in the Judicial act, a mode for carrying them into full effect, and for bringing all questions of constitutional power to the final decision of the Supreme Court. It then, sir, became a Government. It then has the means of self-protection; and, but for this, it would, in all probability, have been now among things which are past. Having constituted the Government, and declared its powers, the People have further said, that since somebody must decide on the extent of these powers, the Government shall itself decide; subject, always, like other popular governments, to its responsibility to the People. And now, sir, I repeat, how is it that a State Legislature acquires any power to interfere? Who, or what, gives them the right to say to the People, “We, who are your agents and servants for one purpose, will undertake to decide, that your other agents and servants, appointed by you for another purpose, have transcended the authority you gave them!”? The reply would be, I think, not impertinent— “Who made you a judge over another’s servants? To their own masters they stand or fall.”
Sir, I deny this power of State Legislatures altogether. It cannot stand the test of examination. Gentlemen may say, that, in an extreme case, a State Government might protect the People from intolerable oppression. Sir, in such a case, the People might protect themselves, without the aid of the State Governments. Such a case warrants revolution. It must make, when it comes, a law for itself. A nullifying act of a State Legislature cannot alter the case, nor make resistance any more lawful. In maintaining these sentiments, sir, I am but asserting the rights of the People. I state what they have declared, and insist on their right to declare it. They have chosen to repose this power in the General Government, and I think it my duty to support it, like other constitutional powers.
For myself, sir, I do not admit the jurisdiction of South Carolina, or any other State, to prescribe my constitutional duty, or to settle, between me and the People, the validity of laws of Congress, for which I have voted. I decline her umpirage. I have not sworn to support the Constitution according to her construction of its clauses. I have not stipulated, by my oath of office, or otherwise, to come under any responsibility, except to the People, and those whom they have appointed to pass upon the question, whether laws, supported by my votes, conform to the Constitution of the country. And, sir, if we look to the general nature of the case, could any thing have been more preposterous, than to make a Government for the whole Union, and yet leave its powers subject, not to one interpretation, but to thirteen, or twenty-four, interpretations? Instead of one tribunal, established by all, responsible to all, with power to decide for all—shall constitutional questions be left to four and twenty popular bodies, each at liberty to decide for itself, and none bound to respect the decisions of others; and each at liberty, too, to give a new construction on every new election of its own members? Would any thing, with such a principle in it, or rather with such a destitution of all principle, be fit to be called a Government? No, sir. It should not be denominated a Constitution. It should be called, rather, a collection of topics, for everlasting controversy; heads of debate for a disputatious People. It would not be a Government. It would not be adequate to any practical good, nor fit for any country to live under. To avoid all possibility of being misunderstood, allow me to repeat again, in the fullest manner, that I claim no powers for the Government by forced or unfair construction. I admit, that it is a Government of strictly limited powers; of enumerated, specified, and particularised powers; and that whatsoever is not granted, is withheld. But notwithstanding all this, and however the grant of powers may be expressed, its limit and extent may yet, in some cases, admit of doubt; and the General Government would be good for nothing, it would be incapable of long existing, if some mode had not been provided, in which those doubts, as they should arise, might be peaceably, but authoritatively, solved.
And now, Mr. President, let me run the honorable gentleman’s doctrine a little into its practical application. Let us look at his probable modus operandi. If a thing can be done, an ingenious man can tell how it is to be done. Now, I wish to be informed how this State interference is to be put in practice, without violence, bloodshed, and rebellion. We will take the existing case of the Tariff law. South Carolina is said to have made up her opinion upon it. If we do not repeal it, (as we probably shall not,) she will then apply to the case the remedy of her doctrine. She will, we must suppose, pass a law of her Legislature, declaring the several acts of Congress, usually called the Tariff Laws, null and void, so far as they respect South Carolina, or the citizens thereof. So far, all is a paper transaction, and easy enough. But the collector at Charleston is collecting the duties imposed by these Tariff Laws—he, therefore, must be stopped. The Collector will seize the goods if the Tariff duties are not paid. The State authorities will undertake their rescue: the Marshal, with his posse, will come to the Collector’s aid, and here the contest begins. The militia of the State will be called out to sustain the nullifying act. They will march, sir, under a very gallant leader: for I believe the honorable member himself commands the militia of that part of the State. He will raise the nullifying act on his standard, and spread it out as his banner! It will have a preamble, bearing, that the Tariff Laws are palpable, deliberate, and dangerous violations of the Constitution! He will proceed, with this banner flying, to the Custom-house in Charleston:
“All the while, Sonorous metal blowing martial sounds.” Arrived at the custom-house, he will tell the Collector that he must collect no more duties under any of the Tariff laws. This, he will be somewhat puzzled to say, by the way, with a grave countenance, considering what hand South Carolina herself had in that of 1816. But, sir, the Collector would, probably, not desist at his bidding—here would ensue a pause: for they say, that a certain stillness precedes the tempest. Before this military array should fall on the custom-house, collector, clerks, and all, it is very probable some of those composing it, would request of their gallant commander-in-chief, to be informed a little upon the point of law; for they have, doubtless, a just respect for his opinions as a lawyer, as well as for his bravery as a soldier. They know he has read Blackstone and the Constitution, as well as Turrene and