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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 effective 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 the representatives of the people, and a majority of the representatives of the States also. A majority of the representatives of the people must concur, 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 their 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 negative. 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 nor 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 a 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 7 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 practice 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 honored 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 honor 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 inthralled 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. Mr. President, all popular governments rest on two principles, or two assumptions: First, That there is so far a common interest among those over whom the government extends, as that it may provide for the defence, protection, and good government of the whole, without injustice or oppression to parts; and Secondly, That the representatives of the people, and especially the people themselves, are secure against general corruption, and may be trusted, therefore, with the exercise of power. Whoever argues against these principles argues against the practicability of all free governments. And whoever admits these, must admit, or cannot deny, that power is as safe in the hands of Congress as in those of other representative bodies. Congress is not irresponsible. Its members are agents of the people, elected by them, answerable to them, and liable to be displaced or superseded, at their pleasure; and they possess as fair a claim to the confidence of the people, while they continue to deserve it, as any other public political agents. If then, sir, the manifest intention of the Convention, and the contemporary admission of both friends and foes, prove anything; if the plain text of the instrument itself, as well as the necessary implication from other provisions, prove anything; if the early legislation of Congress, the course of judicial decisions, acquiesced in by all the States for forty years, prove anything—then it is proved that there is a supreme law, and a final interpreter. My fourth and last proposition, Mr. President, was, that any attempt by a State to abrogate or nullify acts of Congress is a usurpation on the powers of the general government and on the equal rights of other States, a violation of the Constitution, and a proceeding essentially revolutionary. This is undoubtedly true, if the preceding propositions be regarded as proved. If the government of the United States be trusted with the duty, in any department, of declaring the extent of its own powers, then a State ordinance, or act of legislation, authorizing resistance to an act of Congress, on the alleged ground of its unconstitutionality, is manifestly a usurpation upon its powers. If the States have equal rights in matters concerning the whole, then for one State to set up her judgment against the judgment of the rest, and to insist on executing that judgment by force, is also a manifest usurpation on the rights of other States. If the Constitution of the United States be a government proper, with authority to pass laws, and to give them a uniform interpretation and execution, then the interposition of a State, to enforce her own construction, and to resist, as to herself, that law which binds the other States, is a violation of the Constitution. If that be revolutionary which arrests the legislative, executive, and judicial power of government, dispenses with existing oaths and obligations of obedience, and elevates another power to supreme dominion, then nullification is revolutionary. Or if that be revolutionary the natural tendency and practical effect of which are to break the Union into fragments, to sever all connection among the people of the respective States, and to prostrate this general government in the dust, then nullification is revolutionary. Nullification, sir, is as distinctly revolutionary as seces. sion; 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