Page images

States, in that Union, which it is the unquestionable tendency of this very " Exposition and Protest" to break up and overthrow.

The doctrines clearly announced in it are, 1. That it is a most erroneous and dangerous proposition to maintain, that the Supreme Court of the United States has constitutional authority to decide on the extent of the powers of a state government; its decisions being final only when applied to the authorities of Departments of the General Government. 2. That “ universal experience” (lest we should seem to do the distinguished author injustice, we cite the very words)—that “ universal experience, " in all ages and countries, teaches, that power can only be met " by power, and not by reason and justice, and that all restrictions “ on authority, unsustained by an equal antagonist power, must “ for ever prove wholly insufficient in practice. Such,” he adds, “ also has been the decisive proof of our own short experience.” 3. That the right of judging and finally deciding on the extent of their own powers, is an essential attribute of sovereignty, of which the states are not and cannot be divested. 4. That power being divided between the General Government and the State Governments, it is impossible to deny to the states the right of deciding on the infraction of their own rights, and the proper remedy to be applied for the correction. 5. " But the existence," here we quote the very words again, lest it should seem incredible that such a position had been taken ;-“But the existence of " the right of judging of their powers, clearly established from the “sovereignty of the states, as clearly implies A VETO, OR CONTROL ON THE ACTION OF THE GENERAL GOVERNMENT, on contested points of authority; and this very control is the remedy which the constitution has provided to prevent the encroachment of the General Government on the reserved rights of the stutes.”, 6. The practical result of the foregoing doctrines is then stated in the following words :“ That there exists a case (the Tariff) which would justify the in" terposition of this state, and thereby compel the General Govern“ment to abandon an unconstitutional power, or to make an

appeal to the amending power to confer it by express grant, “ the committee does not in the least doubt, and they are equally “ clear in the existence of a necessity to justify its exercise, if the * General Government should continue to persist in its improper

assumption of powers belonging to the state ; which brings them " to the last point which they propose to consider-When would “ it be proper to exercise this high power ?"

Such was the condition of this momentous question, when, as the next step in the development of doctrines thus plainly tending to bring South Carolina into open hostility to the Union, it was thrust forward into the Senate of the United States by General Hayne, under cover of another subject, with which it had no proper connexion. Mr. Foot's résolution to inquire respecting the sales and the surveys of western lands, was the innocent cause of the whole conflict. It was introduced on the 29th of December, 1829; and was not then expected by its author, or, perhaps, by

anybody else, to excite much discussion, or lead to any very important results. When it was introduced Mr. Webster was absent from Washington. Two days afterwards he took his seat. The resolution had, indeed, called forth a few remarks, somewhat severe, the day after it was presented, and then had been postponed to the next Monday; but, apparently from want of interest in its fate, or from the pressure of more important business, it was not called up by the mover till January 13. From this time, a partial discussion began; but it lingered rather listlessly, and, in fact, really rose even to skirmishing only one day, until the 19th, when General Hayne, in a vehement and elaborate speech, attacked the N.E. states for what he considered their selfish opposition to the interests of the West; and endeavored to show that a natural sympathy existed between the southern and western states, upon §. distribution and sales of the public lands, which would necessarily make them a sort of natural allies. With this speech, of course, the war broke out.

w; it was delivering, Mr. Webster entered the Senate. He came from the Supreme Court of the United States; and the papers in his hands showed how far his thoughts were from the subjects and the tone, which now at once reached him. As soon as General Hayne sat down, he rose to reply; but Mr. Benton of Missouri, with many compliments to General Hayne, and apparently willing the Senate should have all the leisure necessary to consider and feel the effects of his speech, moved an adjournment. Mr. Webster good-naturedly consented. Of course, he had the floor the next day; and in a speech, which will not be forgotten by the present generation, poured out stores of knowledge long before accumulated, in relation to the history of the public lands and to the legislation concerning them; defending the policy of the government towards the new states; showing the dangerous tendency of the doctrines respecting the Constitution, current in South Carolina, and sanctioned by General Hayne; and repelling the general charges and reproaches cast on New-England, especially the charge of hostility to the West, which,--if there was meaning in words or acts, he proved to be distinctly applicable to the language and votes of the South Carolina delegation in the House of Representatives in 1825. The war was thus, at once, carried into the enemy's country.

The next day, January 21, it being well known that Mr. Webster had urgent business, which called him again into the Supreme Court of the United States, one of the members from Maryland moved an adjournment of the debate. It would, perhaps, have been only what is customary and courteous, if the request had been granted. But General Hayne objected. “The gentleman,” he said, “had discharged his weapon, and he (Mr. H.) wished for an opportunity to return the fire.” To which Mr. Webster having replied;—“I am ready to receive it; let the discussion go on;”—the debate was resumed. Mr. Benton then concluded some unimportant remarks he had begun the day before; and Mr. Hayne rose, and opened a speech, which occupied the Senate the remainder of that day, and the whole of the day following. It was a vigorous speech, embracing a great number of topics and grounds;–calling in question the fairness of New-England, the consistency of Mr. Webster, and the patriotism of the State of Massachusetts; and ending with a bold, acute, and elaborated exposition and defence of the doctrines now, for the first time, formally developed in Congress, and since well known by the name of the Doctrines of Nullification. The first part of the speech was caustic and personal; the latter part of it grave and argumentative; and the whole was delivered in presence of an audience, which any man might be proud to have collected to listen to him. Mr. Webster took notes during its delivery; and it was apparent to the crowd, which, for two days, had thronged the senatechamber, that he intended to reply. Indeed, on this point, he was permitted no choice. He had been assailed in a way, which called for an answer. When, therefore, the doors of the senatechamber were opened the next morning, the rush for admittance was unprecedented. Mr. Webster had the floor, and rose. The first division of his speech is in reply to parts and details of his adversary's personal assault, and is a happy, though severe specimen of the keenest spirit of genuine debate and retort;for Mr. Webster is one of those dangerous adversaries, who are never so formidable or so brilliant, as when they are most rudely pressed;—for then, as in the phosphorescence of the ocean, the degree of the violence urged, may always be taken as the measure of the brightness that is to follow. On the present occasion, his manner was cool, entirely self-possessed, and perfectly decided, and carried his irony as far as irony can go. There are portions of this first day's discussion, like the passage relating to the charge of sleeping on the speech, he had answered; the one in allusion to Banquo's ghost, which had been unhappily conjured up by his adversary; and the rejoinder respecting “one Nathan Dane of Beverly, in Massachusetts,”—which will not be forgotten. The very tones in which they were uttered, still vibrate in the ears of those who heard them. There are, also, other and graver portions of it, like those which respect the course of legislation in regard to the new states; the conduct of the North in regard to slavery, and the doctrine of internal improvements, which are in the most powerful style of parliamentary debate. As he approaches the conclusion of this first great division of his speech, he rises to the loftiest tone of national feeling, entirely above the dim, misty region of sectional or party passion and prejudice:- “The eulogium pronounced on the character of the state of South Carolina, by the

honorable gentleman, for her revolutionary and other merits, meets my hearty concurrence. I shall not acknowledge that the honorable member goes before me in

regard for whatever of distinguished talent, or distinguished character, South Carolina
has produced. I claim part of the honor, I partake in the pride, of her great names.
I claim them for countrymen, one and all. The Laurences, the Rutledges, the Pinck-
neys, the Sumpters, the Marions—Americans, all—whose fame is no more to be
hemmed in by state lines, than their talents and patriotism were capable of being
circumscribed within the same narrow Himits. In their day and generation, they
served and honored the country, and the whole country; and their renown is of the
treasures of the whole country. Him, whose honored name the gentleman himself
bears—does he esteem me less capable of gratitude for his patriotism, or sympathy
for his sufferings, than if his eyes had first opened upon the light of Massachusetts,
instead of South Carolina? Sir, does he suppose it in his power to exhibit a Carolina
name, so bright, as to produce envy in my bosom? No, Sir, increased gratification
and delight, rather. I thank God, that, if I am gifted with little of the spirit which
is able to raise mortals to the skies, I have yet none, as I trust, of that other spirit,
which would drag angels down. When I shall be found, Sir, in my place here, in
the Senate, or elsewhere, to sneer at public merit, because it happens to spring up
beyond the little limits of my own state, or neighborhood; when I refuse, for any such
cause, or for any cause, the homage due to American talent, to elevated patriotism, to
sincere devotion to liberty and the country; or, if I see an uncommon endowment of
Heaven—if I see extraordinary capacity and virtue in any son of the South—and if,
moved by local prejudice, or gangrened by state jealousy, I get up here to abate the
tithe of a hair from his just character and just fame, may my tongue cleave to the
roof of my mouth :
“Sir, let me recur to pleasing recollections—let me indulge in refreshing remem.
brance of the past—let me remind you that in early times, no states cherished
greater harmony, both of principle and feeling, than Massachusetts and South Caro-
lina. Would to God that harmony might again return! shoulder to shoulder they
went through the revolution-hand in hand they stood round the administration of
Washington, and felt his own great arm lean on them for support. Unkind feeling,
if it exist, alienation and distrust, are the growth, unnatural to such soils, of false
principles since sown. They are weeds, the seeds of which that same great arm

never scattered. *****

“Mr. President, I shall enter on no encomium upon Massachusetts—she needs none. There she is—behold her, and judge for yourselves. There is her history: the world knows it by heart. The past, at least, is secure. There is Boston, and Concord, and Lexington, and Bunker Hill—and there they will remain for ever. The bones of her sons, falling in the great struggle for independence, now lie mingled with the soil of every state, from New-England to Georgia; and there they will lie for ever. And, Sir, where American liberty raised its first voice, and where its youth was nurtured and sustained, there it still lives, in the strength of its manhood and full of its original spirit. If discord and disunion shall wound it—if party strife and blind ambition shall hawk at and tear it—if folly and madness—if uneasiness, under salutary and necessary restraint—shall succeed to separate it from that union, by which alone its existence is made sure, it will stand, in the end, by the side of that cradle in which its infancy was rocked: it will stretch forth its arm with whatever of vigor it may still retain, over the friends who gather round it; and it will fall at last, if fall it must, amidst the proudest monuments of its own glory, and on the very spot of its origin.” Pages 406, 407. -

The next day, Mr. Webster went into a grave and formal examination of the doctrines #. nullification, or the right of the state legislatures to interfere, whenever, in their judgment, the general government transcends its constitutional limits, and to arrest the operation of its laws. Four days had hardly elapsed, since this doctrine had been announced with an air of assured success in the Senate; and these four days had been filled with active debate and contest. Of course, here again, there had been neither time nor opportunity for especial preparation. Happily, too, there was no need of it. The fund, on which the demand was so triumphantly made, was equal to the draft, great and unexpected as it was. Mr. Webster's mind is full of constitutional law and

[ocr errors]

legislation. On all such subjects, he needs no forecast, no preparation, no brief;-and, on this occasion, he had none. He but uttered opinions and arguments, which had grown mature with his years and his judgment, and which were as familiar to him as household words. We have, therefore, no elaborate, documentary discussions,—no citation of books or authorities. It is with principles, great constitutional principles, he deals; and it is in plain, direct arguments, which all can understand, that he defends them. There is nothing technical, nothing abstruse, nothing indirect, either in the subject or its explanation. On the contrary, all is straight-forward—obvious—to the purpose. For instance, after stating the question at issue to be, “whose prerogative is it, to decide on the constitutionality or unconstitutionality of the laws?” he goes on:—

“This leads us to inquire into the origin of this government, and the source of its power. Whose agent is it? Is it the creature of the state iegislatures, or the creature of the people? If the government of the United States be the agent of the state governments, then they may control it, provided they can agree in the manner of controlling it; if it be the agent of the people, then the people alone can control it, restrain it, modify, or reform it. It is observable enough, that the doctrine for which the honorable gentleman contends, leads him to the necessity of maintaining, not only that this general government is the creature of the states, but that it is the creature of each of the states severally; so that each may assert the power, for itself, of determining whether it acts within the limits of its authority. It is the servant of four-and-twenty masters, of different wills and different purposes, and yet bound to obey all. This absurdity (for it seems no less) arises from a misconception as to the origin of this government and its true character. It is, Sir, the people's constitution, the people's government, made for the people,_made by the people, and answerable to the people. The people of the United States have declared that this constitution shall be the supreme law. We must either admit the proposition, or dispute their authority. The states are, unquestionably, sovereign, so far as their sovereignty is not affected by this supreme law. . But the state legislatures, as political bodies, however sovereign, are yet not sovereign over the people. So far as the people have given power to the general government, so far the grant is unquestionably good, and the government holds of the people, and not of the state governments. We are all agents of the same supreme power, the people—The general government and the state governments derive their authority from the same source. Neither can, in relation to the other, be called primary, though one is definite and restricted, and the other general and residuary. The national government possesses those powers which it can be shown the people have conferred on it, and no more. All the rest belongs to the state governments, or to the people themselves. So far as the people have restrained state sovereignty, by the expression of their will, in the constitution of the United States, so far, it must be admitted, state sovereignty is effectually controlled. I do not contend that it is, or ought to be controlled farther. The sentiment to which I have referred, propounds that state sovereignty is only to be controlled by its own “feeling of justice;' that is to say, it is not to be controlled at all; for one who is to follow his own feelings is under no legal control—Now, however men may think this ought to be, the fact is, that the people of the United States have chosen to impose control on state sovereignties. There are those, doubtless, who wish they had been left without restraint; but the constitution has ordered the matter differently. To make war, for instance, is an exercise of sovereignty; but the constitution declares that no state shall make war. To coin money is another exercise of sovereign power, but no state is at liberty to coin money. Again, the constitution says that no sovereign state shall be so sovereign as to make a treaty. These prohibitions, it must be confessed, are a control on the state sovereignty of South Carolina, as well as of the other states, which does not arise ‘from her own feelings of honorable justice." Such an opinion, therefore, is in defiance of the plainest provisions of the constitu. tion.” Pages 410,411.

« PreviousContinue »