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the different States were familiar with the doctrine of the Declaration of Independence, that Governments derive their just “powers from the consent of the governed,” and that “it is the right of the people to alter and abolish their Government, and to form a new one, laying its foundation on such principles, and organizing its powers in such a form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness.” The “right of the people” here spoken of generally, is applied, in that instrument, to the right of the people of the colonies respectively, who were about to “alter their former systems of government.” The very clause containing the Declaration recognizes the same fact: “We, therefore, the representatives of the United States of America, in Congress assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the name and by the authority of the good people of these colonies, solemnly declare that these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent States.” Each colony thus became an independent State. Thus each colony, acting for itself, but in concert with others, “altered its former system of government.” And in the very act of changing the Government from that of the old Confederation, which was established by “articles of perpetual union,” the several States recognized the right of “the people of the several States” to change the form of their government; inasmuch as by their delegates, and then by their people, they changed the government, making it binding if nine States consent to the union, leaving out the remaining four. If the people of the several nine States had the right to change the government, notwithstanding they had adopted the “articles of perpetual union,” then the four residuary States, namely, Virginia, New York, Thode Island, and North Carolina, would be left in an awkward position, and might have some reason to complain; but they could not deny the right. And it is not known to the present writer that they did deny the right. The two former soon acceded to the Union, but Rhode Island delayed until May, 1790, nearly three years, and North Carolina until November, more than three years. It should be added that these two States were not brought into the Union by coercion of any kind, but by conciliation.
2. After encountering a powerful opposition in the Conven. tion in Virginia, the Constitution was ratified with the implied recognition of the right of the people of that State to resume the powers granted under it. “We, the delegates of the people of Virginia, do, in the name and behalf of the people of Virginia, declare and make known, that powers granted under the Constitution, being derived from the people of the United States, may be resumed by them whensoever the same shall be perverted to their injury or oppression, and that every power not granted thereby remains with them and at their will,” &c.
In like manner the Convention of the State of New York assert the right of the people of New York to resume the powers granted under the Constitution. They “declare and make known, that the powers of government may be resumed by the people, whensoever it shall become necessary to their happiness; that every power, jurisdiction, and right, which is not by said Constitution clearly delegated to the Congress of the United States, or the Departments of the Government thereof, remains to the people of the several States, or to their respective State Governments to whom they have granted the same,” &c. The State of New York, or the people of the State, as a party to the compact, must judge when it shall be necessary to resume the powers granted. Without this recognition of the right of a State to resume the powers granted, there is no reason to believe that the Constitution would have been ratified by New York; as there was a very powerful opposition to the measure. This recognition seems to have been substituted for another proposition, namely, to expressly reserve the right to recede after five or six years. The Constitution, with this and other explanations, was ratified by a majority of only three.
Thode Island, also, expressly reserved the right to resume the powers granted. Thus three States, at least, not satisfied with the right which all the colonies were acknowledged to have, to alter their form of government, made a distinct declaration of that right, when they ratified the Constitution. In those times, when the word “people” was used in reference to the civil Government, it was understood to mean the people who acted by a Legislature, and Judges, and Governors of their own—the people of a State. In this sense it is used in the articles of Confederation, and in the Constitution, though in the latter it is also used for smaller bodies; but in no instance is it used for all the citizens of the United States taken collectively. Who were the people that ordained and established the Constitution of the United States? Evidently, the people of the several States, each State acting separately and for itself. The people of Massachusetts could not act for Virginia, but only for Massachusetts. The people of Virginia, when they claimed the right to resume the powers delegated, claimed that right for each of the States. 3. In the Convention which assembled in Philadelphia, May, 1787, the greatest difficulty arose from diversity of views in respect to State rights, though it did not, as afterwards, assume a sectional form. This will be noticed hereafter. 4. In respect to the “bargain” concerning navigation and the slave trade, it appears from the speech of General PINCRNEY, that the delegates of the Southern States were influenced by generous and patriotic considerations. 5. The Northern States declared in the Convention that they had but one motive to form a Constitution, and that was “commerce.” Iły the bargain they gained what they wanted. In accordance with this, Fisher AMEs, in the Massachusetts Convention, assembled to ratify the Constitution, said: “But we shall put every thing to hazard by rejecting the Constitution. We have great advantages with respect of navigation; and it is the general interest of the States that we should have them. But if we reject it, what security have we that we shall obtain them a second time against the local interests and prejudices of the other States?” 6. The Northern States have since gained more than all the advantages which they expected by the encouragement provided for their commerce and manufactures; especially since high tariffs have been established by Congress. 7. The Southern States lost whatever of advantages there was in the slave trade, after twenty years; but they gained the acknowledgment that slaves under the Constitution are property, being taxable or dutiable like other articles of property; that they shall be “delivered up” as property, by the nonslaveholding States; and that, in case of the insurrection of slaves, they shall be protected in their rights of property by aid, when necessary, from the non-slaveholding States. 8. In submitting to the rule of reckoning five slaves as equivalent to three whites in taxation and representation, the Southern States did not gain what it was expected they would gain in taxation, inasmuch as, with very few exceptions, Federal taxes have not been assessed in the States, as the expenses of the Federal Government have been supported chiefly by revenue from imports; while they have lost what they expected to lose in respect to representation, namely, two-fifths of the slaves, which are not reckoned as the basis of representation. 9. It should be added that in 1807, when the vote was taken in Congress to abolish the slave trade, the Southern States united with the Northern in passing that vote, which was nearly unanimous, showing that the power over the trade, which they gave up in the Constitution, they did not attempt to retain by Congressional action. Whether the Northern States have been careful not to abuse the power acquired by the “bargain,” respecting navigation laws and tariff laws, is a question not yet settled between the Northern and the Southern States. Whether Northern States have faithfully performed their obligations to “deliver up” fugitive slaves to their owners, is likewise a question between the two parties. An unprejudiced mind, acquainted with Congressional action for the last forty years, and with State legislation in passing personal liberty bills for the last ten years, can hardly fail to decide that the Northern States have abused their power in the one case, and have not been faithful in the other. 10. The Constitution was intended to secure to the Southern States the peaceable possession of their slaves; and had it not been supposed that it did so, it would never have been adopted by them. It made slavery a part of our national institutions, so far as we have any national institutions; and the Federal laws, and the decisions of the Federal judiciary, and the action of the Federal executive in treaties with Great Britain and otherwise, have recognized it as a national institution. That they have not enjoyed the peaceable possession of their slaves, events for the last forty years abundantly manifest. Northern politicians and editors have, for political purposes,
extensively insinuated into Northern minds hatred of slavery and slaveholders.
11. Covert or open attacks have been made upon slavery, from political considerations. Some fifteen or twenty years ago, when Northern petitions, signed by men, women, and children, and negroes, were flooding the floor of the lower House, as a leading Northern member of Congress, who afterwards was a member of a Presidential Cabinet, was coming out from a heated debate, he was asked by the present writer, an old college friend, “Will you inform me what is the real reason why Northern members encourage these petitions?” After considering for a moment, he said to me, “The real reason is, that the South will not let us have a tariff, and we touch them where they will feel it.”
12. The Constitution gives no authority to Congress to legislate in favor of morals and religion; these subjects are reserved for the action of the States. The Constitution treats slavery as a political matter only, and gives no authority to Congress to treat it in any other way.