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THE VIRGINIA RESOLUTIONS OF 1798. 19
set of resolutions for the Legislature of Kentucky, and Mr. Madison a set for that of Virginia. These resolutions represented the laws above mentioned, as an infraction of the Constitution, which threatened to destroy the liberties of the people; and they maintained “that in case of a deliberate, palpable, and dangerous exercise of powers not granted by the compact, the States which are parties thereto have a right, and are in duty bound, to interpose for arresting the evil,” etc. The resolutions were well calculated to inflame the people. They had much in them about “liberties,” and “rights,” and “delegated powers,” and “tame submission,” and the “absolute dominion of one man,” and “the sweeping away of barriers,” etc., etc. They answered their immediate purpose. At the next election one of the gentlemen was made President, and the other became his Secretary of State. Mr. Jefferson Davis and his associates now assert two things respecting these resolutions: first, that they contain the doctrines of sovereignty, secession, etc.; and secondly, that they have been generally approved by the people. Both assertions are without foundation. The Virginia Resolutions maintained that the Alien and Sedition Laws were unconstitutional, and they called upon the other States to concur with that Commonwealth in so declaring them: “and that the necessary and proper measures will be taken by each for coöperating with this State in maintaining unimpaired the authorities, rights, and liberties reserved to the States respectively and the people.” They speak of the right of the States “to interpose to arrest the evil.” But as to the manner of interposition they say nothing. These resolutions were communicated to the other States, and some of them passed resolutions expressing their dissent. Upon these, Mr. Madison made an elaborate report to the Virginia Legislature the next year, in which he stated what mode of interposition was intended. This consisted, in declaring the laws to be unconstitutional; in direct representations from the legislatures of the States to Congress, with a view to obtain a rescinding of the two offensive acts; in requesting their Senators in Congress to propose an amendment to the Constitution; and in the application by two-thirds of the States to Congress for a Convention to amend the Constitution. These are the several means intended by the resolutions of '98, as stated by Mr. Madison himself, their author, and which, as he says, “are strictly within the limits of the Constitution.” Thirty years afterward, the leaders of the Nullification School made great efforts to secure the assent of Mr. Madison to their theories. The efforts were wholly unsuccessful. He declared that the Carolina doctrine could not be found in the Virginia Resolutions; and especially in a letter dated August, 1830, addressed to Hon. Edward Everett, does he argue at length against the interpretation put upon them by Mr. Calhoun and
20 MR. MADISON's ExPOSITION OF THEM.
his followers. To the arguments of this letter, no attempt at refutation was made. “The politicians of the Nullification and Secession School, as far as I am aware,” says Mr. Everett, “have from that day to this made no attempt to grapple with Mr. Madison's letter of August, 1830. Mr. Calhoun certainly made no such attempt in the elaborate treatise composed by him, mainly for the purpose of expounding the doctrine of nullification. He claims the support of these resolutions, without adverting to the fact that his interpretation had been repudiated by their illus. trious author. He repeats his exploded paradoxes as confidently as if Mr. Madison himself had expired with the Alien and Sedition Laws, and left no testimony to the meaning of his resolutions; while at the present day, with equal confidence, the same resolutions are appealed to by the disciples of Mr. Calhoun as sustaining the doctrine of secession, in the face of the positive declaration, when that doctrine first began to be broached, that they will bear no such interpretation.” So much as to the meaning of the Virginia Resolutions. It is contended, also, that the American people have indorsed them uniformly. The proof is to be found in the election of Mr. Jefferson to the presidency, and in the occasional passage of similar resolutions by the legislatures of other States; from which Mr. Davis and others draw the inference, that these have been the doctrines of the political party by which the power of the General Government has for the most part been exercised. The proof is insufficient. Whatever may be the true meaning of these resolutions, the people of the United States have not indorsed them. They were passed in the Virginia Assembly by a vote of one hundred to sixty-three—less than two-thirds. Many of the best men in that State opposed them at the time, among them the illustrious Patrick Henry. Though opposed to some of the provisions of the Constitution, he insisted that we must abide by it, now that the people had adopted it. He said: “The late proceedings of the Virginia Assembly had filled him with apprehensions and alarm; that the State had quitted the sphere in which she had been placed by the Constitution; and, in daring to pronounce upon the validity of Federal laws, had gone out of her jurisdiction in a manner not warranted by any authority, and in the highest degree alarming to every considerate man.” Mr. Jefferson was, indeed, elected to the presidency at the ensuing election, but it was by a very small majority. Perhaps these resolutions had something to do with it, though it is probable he would have been elected had they never been adopted. But there is abundant proof that the resolutions were generally condemned. They were not only transmitted to the other States, but the General Assembly of Virginia did “solemnly appeal” to them to unite with her. Had the greater part of
PENNSYLVANIA IN 1809. 21
them done so, it would have shown unmistakably their approbation. But Virginia and her daughter, Kentucky, stood entirely alone. Not another State responded favorably to their “solemn appeal.” Of the thirteen other States, six made no response, and the other seven passed counter-resolutions strongly condemning the course of Virginia and Kentucky. This was the indorsement these resolutions received at the time ! But “Pennsylvania adopted similar resolutions at a subsequent period,” said Mr. McDuffie, in a speech in Congress, in the winter of 1829–30. She did so, and this is the history of the case. The Legislature of that State, early in the present century, had come into collision with the United States Court, and so passed a set of resolutions. The Kentucky Resolutions of '98 had asserted that the General Government “was not made the exclusive or final judge of the extent of the powers delegated to itself; since that would have made its discretion, and not the Constitution, the measure of its powers.” The Pennsylvania Legislature reasserted this doctrine, and said: “It is to be lamented that no provision is made in the Constitution for determining disputes between the General and State Governments, by an impartial tribunal, when such cases occur.” And it was accordingly “Resolved, That our Senators in Congress be instructed, and our Representatives requested, to use their influence to procure an amendment to the Constitution of the United States, that an impartial tribunal may be established, to determine disputes between the General and State Governments.” Pennsylvania did thus, in 1809, indorse the Virginia Resolutions; but how did the other States indorse her action? Nine States responded to her appeal, and all opposed her amendment. Among these was Virginia and Kentucky | Not a solitary State concurred with Pennsylvania. Virginia herself declared “that a tribunal is already provided by the Constitution of the United States, to wit: the Supreme Court, more eminently qualified, from their habits and duties, from the mode of their selection, and from the tenure of their offices, to decide the disputes aforesaid, in an enlightened and impartial manner, than any other which could be created.” And the preamble and resolutions, disapproving the amendment proposed by Pennsylvania, were adopted unanimously in both branches of the Virginia Legislature Pennsylvania, being a party to the contest, wanted the Supreme Court set aside and a new tribunal established; the other States, cool and impartial, knew and declared that no better tribunal could be formed. And Virginia, as if to efface every vestige of '98, decides unanimously against Pennsylvania. Ohio, in 1820, thinking herself aggrieved by the General Government, reaffirmed the Virginia Resolutions; but when the final decision was made in the Supreme Court, she quietly yielded to it, and gave up the contest. Thus it has been in all our history till the
22 HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES BEFORE 1789.
present rebellion. The aggrieved State has stood alone in its opposition to the General Government. The other States, like a board of arbitrators, have decided in favor of the Nation, and the aggrieved State has acquiesced in the decision. Thus would it have been now, had not South Carolina, without a shadow of foundation, alleged an interference with slavery on the part of the General Government as the reason for her action; and even with all the inflammatory appeals of the leaders, it is probable that a majority of the people of a number of the Southern States would have been found opposed to the action of South Carolina, had their real opinions been allowed any expression. So much for the Virginia Resolutions and their indorsement by the people of the United States. Having examined the Constitution, and the working of our Government under it, without finding any basis for the doctrine of State sovereignty, let us now glance at our history prior to the formation of the Constitution. Some, who deny any sovereignty to the States since the Constitution, seem to admit that they might have been sovereign before that time. And, universally, the advocates of the doctrine insist upon their sovereignty previous to the Constitution; and they do this with so much emphasis and assurance, that many, doubtless, have supposed such was the case. “No fact in our political history is more certain than that the thirteen colonies began the contest with Great Britain as distinct communities, and came out of it severally sovereign and independent States,” says one writer. Nothing can be wider from the truth. The same writer, from whom I have just quoted, says: “There is a theory that we are one nation—one consolidated people; and hence the ideas of the indissolubility of the Union.” It is not surprising that those who deny that we are a nation should hold to the sovereignty of the States. If the States were sovereign before the Constitution, when and how did they become so? Were they made so by the treaty of peace with Great Britain in 1783 * By the adoption of the articles of confederation in 1781? By the Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776? Or were they sovereign before that memorable declaration was made 7 It is difficult to ascertain the prevailing opinion of the advocates of State sovereignty, so loose and vague are their statements, though they assert, with abundant reiteration, that the States were sovereign. In September, 1774, delegates from twelve colonies met to consider their condition, and take measures to redress the grievances of the mother country. They admitted in a bill of rights which was adopted, that they were subject to Great Britain, but complained of her treatment. A second Congress convened in May of the next year—Georgia being still unrepresented—and they declared their object to be to secure their rights, and restore harmony with Great Britain. There is nothing here JULY 4, '76, THE NATIONAL BIRTHDAY. 23
that looks like any claim of sovereignty, State or National. In June, George Washington was elected to the command of the army, and he was commissioned on the 17th of that month. In the commission, the expression “United Colonies” was employed, and from that time was in common use. The chasm between the parties was growing wider, but all hope of harmony was not abandoned till July, 1776. From their first meeting, in September, 1774, the Colonies had acted in concert, with the exception of Georgia, whose delegates took their seats in Congress in September, 1775. And in their memorable Declaration of Independence they acted as a unit. The instrument itself commences with these words: “When, in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for ONE PEOPLE to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another,” etc. And in the concluding paragraph they “do, in the name and by the authority of the good people of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare that these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent States.” This fourth day of July, 1776, was the birthday of the Nation. The people, through their representatives, who acted expressly in their name and by their authority, declared themselves absolved from their allegiance to Great Britain. Before, the Colonies had acknowledged a common allegiance to the mother country, while they were independent of each other in their local concerns. Retaining the same indpendence as to local matters, they declared themselves absolved from their common allegiance to Great Britain; this was transferred to the nation which this very declaration called into existence. Here was the germ of a nation. Whether it could maintain itself was to be decided by the arbitrament of the sword. Should the people who had taken this bold step fail in the bloody struggle, they would never be known as a nation upon the page of history. Should they succeed, their national existence would bear date from the 4th of July, 1776. And from that day to this, official documents in this country have referred to the 4th of July, 1776, as well as to the beginning of the Christian era. The celebrated Ordinance for the North-west Territory was “Done by the United States, in Congress assembled, the 13th of July, in the year of our Lord 1787, and of their sovereignty and independence the twelfth.” So the first Constitution of Ohio was “Done in the year of Independence of the United States of America the twentyseventh.” And the same has been done by South Carolina in her official documents. Her Constitution of June 3, 1790—the first ever made in the name of her people—was in “the fourteenth year of the Independence of the United States of America.” And the ordinance of nullification, passed by a Convention in that State, March 18, 1833, was “done in Convention, etc., etc., in the fifty-seventh year of the sovereignty and