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severe school of adversity. It has its origin in the necessities of disordered finance, prostrate commerce, and ruined credit. Under its benign influences these great interests immediately awoke, as from the dead, and sprang forth with newness of life. Every year of its duration has teemed with fresh proofs of its utility and its blessings; and although our territory has stretched out wider and wider, and our population spread farther and farther, they have not outrun its protection or its benefits. It has been to us all a copious fountain of national, social, and personal happiness.
I have not allowed myself, sir, to look beyond the Union, to see what might lie hidden in the dark recess behind. I have not coolly weighed the chances of preserving liberty when the bonds that unite us together shall be broken asunder. I have not accustomed myself to hang over the precipice of disunion, to see whether, with my short sight, I can fathom the depth of the abyss below; nor could I regard him as a safe counsellor in the affairs of this Government, whose thoughts should mainly be bent on considering, not how the Union may be preserved, but how tolerable might be the condition of the people when it should be broken up and destroyed. While the Union lasts we have high, exciting, gratifying prospects spread out before us, for us and our children. Beyond that I seek not to penetrate the veil. God grant that in my day, at least, that curtain may not rise! God grant that on my vision never may be opened what lies behind! When my eyes shall be turned to behold for the last time the sun in heaven, may I not see him shining on the broken and dishonored fragments of a once glorious Union - on States dissevered, discordant, belligerent; on a land rent with civil feuds, or drenched, it may be, in fraternal blood! Let their last feeble and lingering glance rather behold the gorgeous ensign of the Republic, now known and honored throughout the earth, still full high advanced, its arms and trophies streaming in their original lustre, not a stripe erased or polluted, not a single star obscured, bearing for its motto no such miserable interrogatory as “What is all this worth?” nor those other words of delusion and folly, “Liberty first and Union afterward"; but everywhere, spread all over in characters of living light, blazing on all its ample folds, as they float over the sea and over the land, and in every wind under the whole heavens, that other sentiment, dear to every true American heart Liberty and Union, now and forever, one and inseparable!
THE NATURE OF THE UNION 1
JOHN C. CALHOUN
Resolved, that the people of the several States composing these United States are united as parties to a constitutional compact, to which the people of each State acceded as a separate and sovereign community, each binding itself by its own particular ratification; and that the Union, of which the said compact is the bond, is a Union between the States ratifying the same.
Resolved, That the people of the several States thus united by the constitutional compact, in forming that instrument, and in creating a General Government to carry into effect the objects for which it was formed, delegated to that Government, for that purpose, certain definite powers, to be exercised jointly, reserving, at the same time, each State to itself, the residuary mass of powers, to be exercised by its own separate government; and that, whenever the General Government assumes the exercise of powers not delegated by the compact, its acts are unauthorized, void, and of no effect; and that the said Government is not made the final judge of the powers delegated to it, since that would make its discretion, and not the Constitution, the measure of its powers; but that, as in all other cases of compact among sovereign parties, without any common judge, each has an equal right to judge for itself, as well of the infraction, as of the mode and measure of redress.
Resolved, That the assertions that the people of these United States, taken collectively as individuals, are now, or ever have been, united on the principle of the social compact, and, as such, are now formed into one nation or people, or that they have ever been so united, in any one stage of their political existence; that the people of the several States composing the Union have not, as members thereof, retained their sovereignty; that the allegiance of their citizens has been transferred to the General Government;
1 From the reply of Calhoun to Webster, on the resolutions offered by the former respecting the rights of States; delivered in the Senate, February 26, 1833. Considered in its entirety, this was perhaps Calhoun's most powerful speech in defense of State sovereignty.
that they have parted with the right of punishing treason through their respective State Governments; and that they have not the right of judging, in the last resort, as to the extent of powers reserved, and, of consequence, of those delegated, are not only without foundation in truth, but are contrary to the most certain and plain historical facts, and the clearest deductions of reason; and that all exercise of power on the part of the General Government, or any of its departments, deriving authority from such erroneous assumptions, must of necessity be unconstitutional - must tend directly and inevitably to subvert the sovereignty of the States
to destroy the federal character of the Union, and to rear on its ruins a consolidated government, without constitutional check or limitation, which must necessarily terminate in the loss of liberty itself.
I WILL now return to the first resolution, to see how the issue stands between the Senator from Massachusetts [Webster] and myself. It contains three propositions. First, that the Constitution is a compact; second, that it was formed by the States, constituting distinct communities; and, lastly, that it is a subsisting and binding compact between the States. How do these three propositions now stand? The first, I trust, has been satisfactorily established; the second, the Senator has admitted, faintly, indeed, but still he has admitted it to be true. This admission is something. It is so much gained by discussion. Three years ago even this was a contested point. But I cannot say that I thank him for the admission: we owe it to the force of truth. The fact that these States were declared to be free and independent States at the time of their independence; that they were acknowledged to be so by Great Britain in the treaty which terminated the War of the Revolution, and secured their independence; that they were recognized in the same character in the old Articles of the Confederation; and, finally, that the present Constitution was formed by a convention of the several States — afterwards submitted to them for their respective ratifications, and was ratiñed by them separately,
each for itself, and each, by its own act, binding its citizens, - formed a body of facts too clear to be denied, and too strong to be resisted.
It now remains to consider the third and last proposition contained in the resolution — that it is a binding and a subsisting compact between the States. The Senator was not explicit on this point. I understood him, however, as asserting that, though formed by the States, the Constitution was not binding between the States as distinct communities, but between the American people in the ag gregate; who, in consequence of the adoption of the Constitution, according to the opinion of the Senator, became one people, at least to the extent of the delegated powers. This would, indeed, be a great change. All acknowledge that, previous to the adoption of the Constitution, the States constituted distinct and independent communities, in full possession of their sovereignty; and, surely, if the adoption of the Constitution was intended to effect the great and important change in their condition which the theory of the Senator supposes, some evidence of it ought to be found in the instrument itself. It professes to be a careful and full enumeration of all the powers which the States delegated, and of every modification of their political condition. The Senator said that he looked to the Constitution in order to ascertain its real character; and, surely, he ought to look to the same instrument in order to ascertain what changes were, in fact, made in the political condition of the States and the country. But, with the exception of “We, the people of the United States,” in the preamble, he has not pointed out a single indication in the Constitution, of the great change which, as he conceives, has been effected in this respect.
Now, sir, I intend to prove that the only argument on which the gentleman relies on this point, must utterly fail