« PreviousContinue »
the States can all be consulted by their conventions, and three fourths of them shall have decided that the law is constitutional. Indeed, the inference is still stranger than this : for State conventions have no authority to construe the Constitution, though they have authority to amend it; therefore the argument must prove, if it prove anything, that, when any one State denies that any particular power is included in the Constitution, it is to be considered as not included, and not to be found there till three fourths of the States agree to insert it. In short, the result of the whole is, that, though it requires three fourths of the States to insert anything in the Constitution, yet any one State can strike anything out of it. For the power to strike out, and the power of deciding, without appeal, upon the construction of what is already in, are substantially and practically the same. * . * , r - .
And, Gentlemen, what a spectacle should we have exhibited under the actual operation of notions like these At the very moment when our government was quoted, praised, and commended all over the world; when the friends of republican liberty everywhere were gazing at it with delight, and were in perfect admiration at the harmony of its movements, one State steps forth, and, by the power of nullification, breaks up the whole system, and scatters the bright chain of the Union into as many sundered links as there are separate States | -
Seeing the true grounds of the Constitution thus attacked, I raised my voice in its favour, I must confess, with no preparation or previous intention. I can hardly say that I embarked in the contest from a sense of duty. It was an instantaneous impulse of inclination, not acting against duty, I trust, but hardly waiting for its suggestions. I felt it to be a contest for the in: tegrity of the Constitution, and I was ready to enter into it, not thinking, or caring, personally, how I might come out.
Gentlemen, I have true pleasure in saying that I trust the crisis has in some measure passed by. The doctrines of nullification have received a severe and stern rebuke from public opinion. The general reprobation of the country has been cast upon them. Recent expressions of the most numerous branch of the national legislature are decisive and imposing. Everywhere, the general tone of public feeling is for the Constitution. While much will be yielded — everything, almost, but the integrity of the Constitution, and the essential interests of the country —to the cause of mutual harmony and mutual conciliation, no ground can be granted, not an inch, to menace and bluster. Indeed, menace and bluster, and the putting-forth of daring unconstitutional doctrines, are, at this very moment, the chief obstacles to mutual harmony and satisfactory accommodation. Men cannot well reason, and confer, and take counsel together, about the discreet exercise of a power, with those who deny that any such power rightfully exists, and who threaten to blow up the whole Constitution if they cannot otherwise get rid of its operation. It is matter of sincere gratification, Gentlemen, that the voice of this great State has been so clear and strong, and her vote all but unanimous, on the most interesting of these occasions, in the House of Representatives. Certainly, such respect to the Union becomes New York. It is consistent with her interests and her character. That singularly prosperous State — which now is, and is likely to continue to be, the greatest link in the chain of the Union — will ever be, it is to be hoped, the strongest link also. The great States which lie in her neighbourhood agreed with her fully in this matter. Pennsylvania, I believe, was loyal to the Union, to a man; and Ohio raises her voice, like that of a lion, against whatsoever threatens disunion and dismemberment. This harmony of sentiment is truly gratifying. It is not to be gainsaid, that the union of opinion in this great central mass of our population, on this momentous point of the Constitution, augurs well for our future prosperity and security. I have said, Gentlemen, what I verily believe to be true, that there is no danger to the Union from open and avowed attacks on its essential principles. Nothing is to be feared from those who will march up boldly to their own propositions, and tell us that they mean to annihilate powers exercised by Congress. But, certainly, there are dangers to the Constitution, and we ought not to shut our eyes to them. We know the importance of a firm and intelligent judiciary: but how shall we secure the continuance of a firm and intelligent judiciary 2 Gentlemen, the judiciary is in the appointment of the executive power. It cannot continue or renew itself. Its vacancies are to be filled in the ordinary modes of executive appointment. If the time shall ever come, (which Heaven avert l) when men shall be placed in the supreme tribunal of the country who entertain opinions hostile to the just powers of the Constitution, we shall then be visited by an evil defying all remedy. Our case will be past surgery. From that moment the Constitution is at an end. If they who are appointed to defend the castle shall betray it, woe betide those within If I live to see that day come, I shall despair of the country. I shall be prepared to give it back to all its former afflictions, in the days of the Confederation. I know no security against the possibility of this evil, but an awakened public vigilance. I know no safety, but in that state of public opinion which shall lead it to rebuke and put down every attempt, either to gratify party by judicial appointments,
or to dilute the Constitution by creating a court which shall construe away its provisions. If members of Congress betray their trust, the people will find it out before they are ruined. If the President should at any time violate his duty, his term of office is short, and popular elections may supply a seasonable remedy. But the judges of the Supreme Court possess, for very good reasons, an independent tenure of office. No election reaches them. If, with this tenure, they betray their trusts, Heaven save us! Let us hope for better results. The past, certainly, may encourage us. Let us hope that we shall never see the time when there shall exist such an awkward posture of affairs, as that the government shall be found in opposition to the Constitution, and when the guardians of the Union shall become its betrayers.
Gentlemen, our country stands, at the present time, on commanding ground. Older nations, with different systems of government, may be somewhat slow to acknowledge all that justly belongs to us. But we may feel without vanity, that America is doing her part in the great work of improving human affairs. There are two principles, Gentlemen, strictly and purely American, which are now likely to overrun the civilized world. Indeed, they seem the necessary result of the progress of civilization and knowledge. These are, first, popular governments, restrained by written constitutions; and, secondly, universal education. Popular governments and general education, acting and reacting, mutually producing and reproducing each other, are the mighty agencies which in our days appear to be exciting, stimulating, and changing civilized societies. Man, everywhere, is now found demanding a participation in government,-and he will not be refused ; and he demands knowledge as necessary to self-government. On the basis of these two principles, liberty and knowledge, our own American systems rest. Thus far we have not been disappointed in their results. Our existing institutions, raised on these foundations, have conferred on us almost unmixed happiness. Do we hope to better our condition by change? When we shall have nullified the present Constitution, what are we to receive in its place? As fathers, do we wish for our children better government or better laws? As members of society, as lovers of our country, is there any thing we can desire for it better than that, as ages and centuries roll over it, it may possess the same invaluable institutions which it now enjoys 2 For my part, Gentlemen, I can only say, that I desire to thank the beneficent Author of all good for being born where I was born, and when I was born ; that the portion of human existence allotted to me has been meted out to me in this goodly land, and at this interesting period. I rejoice that I have lived to see so much development of truth, so much progress of liberty, so much diffusion of virtue and happiness. And, through good report and evil report, it will be my consolation to be a citizen of a republic unequalled in the annals of the World for the freedom of its institutions, its high prosperity, and the prospects of good which yet lie before it. Our course, Gentlemen, is onward, straight onward, and forward. Let us not turn to the right hand nor to the left. Our path is marked out for us, clear, plain, bright, distinctly defined, like the milky way across the heavens. If we are true to our country, in our day and generation, and those who come after us shall be true to it also, assuredly, assuredly we shall elevate her to a pitch of prosperity and happiness, of honour and power, never yet; reached by any nation beneath the Sun.
PRESIDENTIAL NULLIFICATION.8 °
I NOW proceed, Sir, to a few remarks upon the President's constitutional objections to the bank; and I cannot forbear to say, in regard to them, that he appears to me to have assumed very extraordinary grounds of reasoning. He denies that the constitutionality of the bank is a settled question. If it be not, will it ever become so, or what disputed question ever can be settled 2
As early as 1791, after great deliberation, the first bank charter was passed by Congress, and approved by President Washington. It established an institution, resenbling, in all things now objected to, the present bank. That bank, like this, could take lands in payment of its debts; that charter, like the present, gave the States no power of taxation; it allowed foreigners to hold stock; it restrained Congress from creating other banks. It gave also exclusive privileges, and in
8 The pages which follow under this heading are from a speech delivered in the Senate, July 11, 1832, on President Jackson's Veto of the bill rechartering the Bank of the United States. That speech is, I think, a highly instructive and important passage in Webster’s great course of constitutional expositions; and I here reproduce what seem to me the main points of his argument. It is not easy to see how the President's reasonings in his veto message differ, in princi. ple, from the nullification doctrines of South Carolina; but there is this to be said of General Jackson, that he was too honest to see the nullification element in those reasonings, and at the same time too patriotic and too determined in character to tolerate any overt act of nullification in another.
all particulars it was, according to the doctrine of the message, as objectionable as that now existing. That bank continued twenty years. In 1816, the present institution was established, and has been ever since in full operation. Now, Sir, the question of the power of Congress to create such institutions has been contested in every manner known to our Constitution and laws. The forms of the government furnish no new mode in which to try this question. It has been discussed over and over again, in Congress; it has been argued and solemnly adjudged in the Supreme Court; every President, except the present, has considered it a settled question; many of the State legislatures have instructed their Senators to vote for the bank; the tribunals of the States, in every instance, have supTorted its constitutionality; and, beyond all doubt and dispute, the general public opinion of the country has at all times given, and does now give, its full sanction and approbation to the exercise of this power, as being a constitutional power. There has been no opinion questioning the power expressed or intimated, at any time, by either House of Congress, by any President, or by any respectable judicial tribunal. Now, Sir, if this practice of near forty years; if these repeated exercises of the power; if this solemn adjudication of the Supreme Court, with the concurrence and approbation of public opinion,-do not settle the question, how is any question ever to be settled, about which any one may choose to raise a doubt? But the President does not admit the authority of precedent. Sir, I have always found that those who habitually deny most vehemently the general force of precedent, and assert most strongly the supremacy of private opinion, are yet, of all men, most tenacious of that very authority of precedent, whenever it happens to be in their favour. I beg leave to ask, Sir, upon what ground, except that of precedent, and precedent alone, the President’s friends have placed his power of removal from office? No such power is given by the Constitution, in terms, nor anywhere intimated, throughout the whole of it; no paragraph or clause of that instrument recognizes such a power. To say the least, it is as questionable, and has been as often questioned, as the power of Congress to create a bank; and, enlightened by what has passed under our own observation, we now see that it is of all powers the most capable of flagrant abuse.” Now, Sir, I ask again, What becomes of this power, if
9 President Jackson, within the first two years of his administration, made not less than two thousand removals from office, all in favour of his party. Then it was that the government entered upon the custom of using the whole system -of federal offices as the bribes and rewards of political partisanship. Up to that time, the power of removal had been exercised only in a few extreme cases.