Page images


yet to attempt to strangle the healthy human mind in a net of logical deductions. The "X. Y. Z. fever," as Jefferson expressed it, had made the anti-Federalists fear that the vehicle would roll over them. This fear drove them, after a little hesitation, to resolve to throw themselves between the spokes of the wheels. Perhaps they might succeed in bringing it to a stand, and might even cause it to move backwards. But they did not conceal from themselves that they might be prostrated in the attempt, or that the spokes might possibly be broken. If this became probable, and the choice were left with them, they were disposed to allow the vehicle to go to pieces. In other words, they had yet to offer an exhaustive constitutional defense of nullification; but they conceived its last practical result as one of various contingencies.


If a minority of the states should insist on the exercise of the alleged right of nullification, and if the majority should claim with equal decision the unconstitutionality of that right, the minority could consider secession only as a question of expediency. The general government would either be obliged to concede that every law of congress should receive the tacit approval of each state before having any force there, or it would be compelled to enforce such laws under all circumstances, and to employ force for that end if necessary. But if the general government should attempt to enforce a nullified law, such action on its part would, according to the doctrine of nullification, be a breach of the pact which held the states together. The state in question was no longer legally bound by the pact. It would depend entirely on its judgment in any given case to accept the breach of the treaty under protest, or if the general government was willing, to agree to a compromise with a reservation as to the ultimate decision of the legal question, or, remaining for the time being in the Union, to repel force by force, or finally, to announce its withdrawal from the Union, dissolved by the breach of the contract.

A part of the anti-Federalists were of the opinion that in the case before us, it might well be expedient to employ force. Of this there is ample documentary evidence. But under what circumstances they intended to have recourse to force, and whether in such a contingency they thought of immediate secession, cannot be determined with any certainty on account of the vagueness of the language they employed.

Jefferson, as was his wont, wrote in terms chosen with the greatest caution. But they are unambiguous enough to establish this much, that he considered an appeal to the sword or secession justifiable under the circumstances mentioned above; and that he thought it possible that, sooner or later, he would declare the one or the other of these steps to be advisable or necessary. He writes to Madison, November 17, 1798: "I enclose you a draft of the Kentucky resolutions. I think we shall distinctly affirm all the important principles they contain, so as to hold to that ground in future, and leave the matter in such a train as that we may not be committed absolutely to push the matter to extremities, and yet may be free to push as far as events will render prudent." Nine days later he writes to J. Taylor: "For the present I should be for resolving the alien and sedition laws to be against the constitution, and merely void; and I would not do anything at this moment which would commit us further, but reserve ourselves to shape our future measures or no measures by the events which may happen."

He assumed precisely the same position a year later. He now chose even fewer expressions of indefinite meaning. It was in his opinion "essentially necessary" that the legislatures of Kentucky and Virginia should issue a reply to the states whose legislatures had declared against

[blocks in formation]



the resolutions of 1798 and 1799, "in order to avoid the inference of acquiescence." On the 5th of September, 1799, he sent Wilson C. Nicholas a draft of such a reply. The second paragraph reads as follows: "Making firm protestation against the precedent and principle and reserving the right to make this palpable violation of the federal compact the ground of doing in future whatever we might now rightfully do, should repetitions of these and other violations of the compact render it expedient." He also insisted that expression of warm attachment to the Union should be made, and added: "we are willing to sacrifice to this everything but the right of self-government in those important points which we have never yielded, and in which alone we see liberty, safety and happiness; that not at all disposed to make every measure of error or of wrong a cause of secession, we are willing to look on with indulgence, and to wait with patience, till those passions and delusions shall have passed over," etc.

Madison did not wish that the reservation in the second clause should be adopted in the answer. Jefferson wrote on this subject to Nicholas: "From this I recede readily, not only in deference to his [Madison's] judgment, but because as we should never think of separation but for repeated and enormous violations, so these when, they occur, will be cause enough of themselves." How it can be claimed, in view of all these utterances, that Jefferson did not recognize secession and, as the inevitable and logical consequence thereof, a resort to the sword as a constitutional right, in the interpretation of the constitution, it is difficult to understand.1


1 John Quincy Adams says in his eulogy on Madison: in the doctrines that the separate states have a right to interpose in cases of palpable infractions of the constitution by the government of the United States, and that the alien and sedition acts presented a case of such infraction, Mr. Jefferson considered them as absolutely null and void, and thought the state legislatures competens, not only to declare,

Nothing more can be granted to Jefferson's defenders than that he was sincere when he declared that he would resort to "extreme measures" only with great reluctance. The same may be said of the other leaders of the anti-Federalists, almost without exception. But it is a falsification of the truth of history to pretend that they were now thinking exclusively of the establishment of "principles." Washington was of opinion that the peace of Virginia and of the Union was, "hastening" towards "a dreadful crisis." So deeply was he penetrated by this conviction that he wrote a long letter to Patrick Henry imploring him to appear as a candidate for the legislature, in order to stem. the current which was threatening ruin, by the whole weight of his experience and popularity. The anti-Federalists, and their successors, the Republicans and the Democrats, have always asserted that he was ensnared by Hamilton and his associates, and terrified by phantoms conjured up only by their fancy and their inordinate desire to rule. This excuse is a poor compliment to pay; for although Washington was now on the brink of the grave, his perception was clear enough not to allow that to be argued away which was transpiring under his eyes. It was a fact that Virginia had not only dug the mine which she intended at some indefinite future time to use. She took thought for the morrow, and with busy hands carried the powder to it, even although she did not yet light the fuse.

Hamilton says in his very full letter to colonel Dayton, speaker of the house of representatives, on the situation of the Union generally, and especially on the Virginia and Kentucky resolutions: "The late attempt of Virginia and Kentucky to unite the state legislatures in a direct resist

but to make them so, to resist their execution within their respective borders by physical force, and to secede from the Union rather than submit to them, if attempted to be carried into execution by force."

1 Wash., Works, XI.. p. 391.


Ibid, XI., p. 387, etc.


ance to certain laws of the Union, can be considered in no other light than as an attempt to change the government. It is stated, in addition, that the opposition party in Virginia, the headquarters of the faction, have followed up the hostile declarations which are to be found in the resolutions of their general assembly, by an actual preparation of the means of supporting them by force; that they have taken means to put their militia on a more efficient footing; are preparing considerable arsenals and magazines, and (which is an unequivocal proof of how much they are in earnest) have gone so far as to lay new taxes on their citizens." He attaches full faith to these reports, and again, in January, 1800, declares it his conviction that the leaders in Virginia were ready to possess themselves of the government by force. Randall, Jefferson's biographer, passes over these charges in silence, although he publishes the letter to Dayton and discusses it minutely. It must remain undecided whether this silence is to be regarded as a confession, or whether it means that the person of the complainant makes all refutation superfluous. The reader must be satisfied with the declaration that from Hamilton's "programme" for the session of congress he will discover" whether it was Jefferson or his opponents who attempted to misstate them [party aims] to posterity."

When the state-rights party had long been in sure possession of power, a distinguished member of it from Virginia took care to let "posterity" know whether Ham



1 Ham., Works, VI., p. 384.


"The spirit of faction is abated nowhere. In Virginia it is more violent than ever. It seems demonstrated that the leaders there, who possess completely all the powers of the local government, are resolved to possess those of the national by the most dangerous combinations; and if they cannot effect this, to resort to the employment of physical force. The want of disposition in the people to second them will be the only preventive. It is believed that it will be an effectual one." Ham., Works, Vl., p. 416.

* Randall, Life of Jefferson, II., p. 458.

« PreviousContinue »