« PreviousContinue »
public sympathy, no cheering from a patriotic community. He has no foothold on which to stand while he might display the powers of his acknowledged talents. Every thing beneath his feet is hollow and treacherous. He is like a strong man struggling in a morass: every effort to extricate himself only sinks him deeper and deeper. And I fear the resemblance may be carried still further ; I fear that no friend can safely come to his relief, that no one can approach near enough to hold out a helping hand, without danger of going down himself, also, into the bottomless depths of this Serbonian bog.
The honourable gentleman has declared that on the decision of the question now in debate may depend the cause of liberty itself. I am of the same opinion ; but then, Sir, the liberty which I think is staked on the contest is not political liberty, in any general and undefined character, but our own wellunderstood and long-enjoyed American liberty.
Sir, I love Liberty no less ardently than the gentleman himself, in whatever form she may have appeared in the progress of human history. As exhibited in the master States of antiq. uity, as breaking out again from amidst the darkness of the Middle Ages, and beaming on the formation of new communities in modern Europe, she has, always and everywhere, charms for me. Yet, Sir, it is our own liberty, guarded by constitutions and secured by union, it is that liberty which is our paternal inheritance, it is our established, dear-bought, peculiar American liberty, to which I am chiefly devoted, and the cause of which I now mean, to the utmost of my power, to maintain and defend.
SOUTH CAROLINA NULLIFICATION.
SIR, those who espouse the doctrines of nullification reject, as it seems to me, the first great principle of all republican lib. erty; that is, that the majority must govern. In matters of common concern, the judgment of a majority must stand as the judgment of the whole. This is a law imposed on us by the absolute necessity of the case ; and if we do not act upon it, there is no possibility of maintaining any government but despotism. We hear loud and repeated denunciations against what is called majority government. It is declared, with much warmth, that a majority government cannot be maintained in the United States. What, then, do gentlemen wish? Do they wish to establish a minority government? Do they wish to subject the will of the many to the will of the few? The honourable gentleman from South Carolina has spoken of absolute majorities and majorities concurrent; language wholly unknown to our Constitution, and to which it is not easy to affix definite ideas. As far as I understand it, it would teach us that the absolute majority may be found in Congress, but the majority concurrent must be looked for in the States; that is to say, Sir, stripping the matter of this novelty of phrase, that the dissent of one or more States, as States, renders void the decision of a majority of Congress, so far as that State is concerned. And so this doctrine, running but a short career, like other dogmas of the day, terminates in nullification.
If this vehement invective against majorities meant no more than that, in the construction of government, it is wise to provide checks and balances, so that there should be various limitations on the power of the mere majority, it would only mean what the Constitution of the United States has already abundantly provided. It is full of such checks and balances. In its very organization, it adopts a broad and most effectual principle in restraint of the power of mere majorities. A majority of the people elects the House of representatives, but it does not elect the Senate. The Senate is elected by the States, each State having, in this respect, an equal power. No law, therefore, can pass, without the assent of a majority of the representatives of the people, and a majority of the representatives of the States also. A majority of the representatives of the people and a majority of the States must concur, in every Act of Congress ; and the President is elected on a plan compounded of both these principles. But, having composed one House of representatives chosen by the people in each State, according to its numbers, and the other, of an equal number of members from every State, whether larger or smaller, the Constitution gives to majorities in these Houses, thus constituted, the full and entire power of passing laws, subject always to the constitutional restrictions, and to the approval of the President. To subject them to any other power is clear usurpation. The majority of one House may be controlled by the majority of the other; and both may be restrained by the President's gative. These are checks and balances provided by the Constitution, existing in the government itself, and wisely intended to secure deliberation and caution in legislative proceedings. But to resist the will of the majority in both Houses, thus constitutionally exercised ; to insist on the lawfulness of interposition by an extraneous power; to claim the right of defeating the will of Congress, by setting up against it the will of a single State, -- is neither more por less, as it strikes me, than a plain attempt to overthrow the
government. The constituted authorities of the United States are no longer a government, if they be not masters of their own will; they are no longer a government, if an external power may arrest their proceedings ; they are no longer à government, if Acts passed by both Houses, and approved by the President, may be nullified by State vetoes or State ordinances. Does any one suppose it could make any difference, as to the binding authority of an Act of Congress, and of the duty of a State to respect it, whether it passed by a mere majority of both Houses, or by three fourths of each, or the unanimous vote of each? Within the limits and restrictions of the Constitution, the government of the United States, like all other popular governments, acts by majorities. It can act no otherwise. Whoever, therefore, denounces the government of majorities, denounces the government of his own country, and denounces all free governments. And whoever would restrain these majorities, while acting within their constitutional limits, by an external power, whatever he may intend, asserts principles which, if adopted, can lead to nothing else than the destruction of the government itself.
Does not the gentleman perceive, Sir, how his argument against majorities might here be retorted upon him? Does he not see how cogently he might be asked, whether it be the character of nullification to practise what it preaches ? Look to South Carolina, at the present moment. How far are the rights of minorities there respected ? I confess, Sir, I have not known, in peaceable times, the power of the majority carried with a higher hand, or upheld with more relentless disregard of the rights, feelings, and principles of the minority ;-a minority embracing, as the gentleman himself will admit, a large portion of the worth and respectability of the State ; a minority comprehending in its numbers men who have been associated with him, and with us, in these halls of legislation; men who have served their country at home and honoured it abroad; men who would cheerfully lay down their lives for their native State, in any cause which they could regard as the cause of honour and duty ; men above fear, and above reproach ; whose deepest grief and distress spring from the conviction, that the present proceedings of the State must ultimately reflect discredit upon her. How is this minority, how are these men, regarded? They are enthralled and disfranchised by ordinances and Acts of legislation ; subjected to tests and oaths incompatible, as they conscientiously think, with oaths already taken, and obligations already assumed : they are proscribed and denounced, as recreants to duty and patriotism, and slaves to a foreign power. Both the spirit which pursues them, and the positive measures which emanate from that spirit, are harsh and proscriptive, beyond all precedent within my knowledge, except in periods of professed revolution.
It is not, Sir, one would think, for those who approve these proceedings to complain of the power of majorities.
Nullification, Sir, is as distinctly revolutionary as secession; but I cannot say that the revolution which it seeks is one of so respectable a character. Secession would, it is true, abandon the Constitution altogether; but then it would profess to abandon it. Whatever other inconsistencies it might run into, one, at least, it would avoid. It would not belong to a government, while it rejected its authority. It would not repel the burden, and continue to enjoy the benefits. It would not aid in passing laws which others are to obey, and yet reject their authority as to itself. It would not undertake to reconcile obedience to public authority with an asserted right of command that same authority. It would not be in the government, and above the government, at the same time. But though secession may be a more respectable mode of attaining the object than nullification, it is not more truly revolutionary. Each, and both, resist the constitutional authorities; each, and both, would sever the Union, and subvert the government.
Mr. President, I will not now examine, at length, the ordinance and laws of South Carolina. These papers are well drawn for their purpose. Their authors understood their own objects. They are called a peaceable remedý, and we have been told that South Carolina, after all, intends nothing but a lawsuit. A very few words, Sir, will show the nature of this peaceable remedy, and of the lawsuit which South Carolina contemplates.
In the first place, the ordinance declares the law of last July, and all other laws of the United States laying duties, to be absolutely null and void, and makes it unlawful for the constituted authorities of the United States to enforce the payment of such duties. It is therefore, Sir, an indictable offence, at this moment, in South Carolina, for any person to be concerned in collecting revenue under the laws of the United States. It being declared, by what is considered a fundamental law of the State, unlawful to collect these duties, an indictment lies, of course, against any one concerned in such collection; and he is, on general principles, liable to be punished by fine and imprisonment. The terms, it is true, are, that it is unlawful “to enforce the payment of duties"; but every custom-house offi. cer enforces payment while he detains the goods in order to obtain such payment. The ordinance, therefore, reaches everybody concerned in the collection of the duties.
This is the first step in the prosecution of the peaceable remedy. The second is more decisive. By the Act commonly called the replevin law, any person, whose goods are seized or detained by the collector for the payment of duties, may sue out a writ of replerin, and, by virtue of that writ, the goods are to be restored to him. A writ of replevin is a writ which the sheriff is bound to execute, and for the execution of which he is bound to employ force, if necessary. He may call out the posse, and must do so, if resistance be made. This posse may be armed or unarmed. It may come forth with military array, and under the lead of military men. Whatever number of troops may be assembled in Charleston, they may be summoned, with the governor, or commander-in-chief, at their head, to come in aid of the sheriff. It is evident, then, Sir, that the whole military power of the State is to be employed, whenever necessary, in dispossessing the custom-house officers, and in seizing and holding the goods, without paying the duties. This is the second step in the peaceable remedy.
Sir, whatever pretences may be set up to the contrary, this is the direct application of force, and of military force. It is un. lawful, in itself, to replevy goods in the custody of the collectors. But this unlawful act is to be done, and it is to be done by power. Here is a plain interposition, by physical force, to resist the laws of the Union. The legal mode of collecting duties is to detain the goods till such duties are paid or secured. But force comes, and overpowers the collector and his assistants, and takes away the goods, leaving the duties unpaid. There cannot be a clearer case of forcible resistance to law. And it is provided that the goods thus seized shall be held against any attempt to retake them, by the same force which seized them.
Having thus dispossessed the officers of the government of the goods, without payment of duties, and seized and secured them by the strong arm of the State, only one thing more remains to be done, and that is, to cut off all possibility of legal redress; and that, too, is accomplished, or thought to be accomplished. The ordinance declares that all judicial proceedings, founded on the revenue laws, (including, of course, proceedings in the courts of the United States,) shall be null and void. This nullifies the judicial power of the United States. Then comes the test-oath Act. This requires all State judges and jurors in the State courts to swear that they will execute the ordinance, and all Acts of the legislature passed in pursuance thereof. The ordinance declares that no appeal shall be allowed from the decision of the State courts to the Supreme Court of the United States; and the replevin Act makes it an indictable