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argument on the two clauses of the Constitution which he called "the keystone of the arch," namely: that the Constitution and the laws made in pursuance of it were the
supreme law of the land," in spite of anything in the Constitution or laws of any state (Art. VI, par. 2); and the power of the Supreme Court of the United States should "extend to all cases . . . arising under the Constitution and laws of the Union" (Art. III, Sect. II, par. 1). Webster finds no room for state sovereignty beside this ⚫ sovereignty of the Union:
For myself, sir, I do not admit the competency of South Carolina, or any other State, to prescribe my constitutional duty; or to settle, between me and the people, the validity of laws of Congress, for which I have voted. I decline her umpirage. I have not sworn to support the Constitution according to her construction of its clauses. I have not stipulated by my oath of office or otherwise, to come under any responsibility, except to the people, and those whom they have appointed to pass upon the question, whether laws, supported by my votes, conform to the Constitution of the Country.1 And, sir, if we look to the general nature of the case, could anything have been more preposterous, than to make a government for the whole Union, and yet leave its powers subject, not to one interpretation, but to thirteen or twenty-four interpretations? Instead of one tribunal, established by all, responsible to all, with power to decide for all, shall constitutional questions be left to fourand-twenty popular bodies, each at liberty to decide for itself, and none bound to respect the decision of others; and each at
1 Webster refers to the Supreme Court. But the people "appointed" the Supreme Court only in the sense of accepting a constitution providing for the establishment of that body. The members of the Court are "appointed" by the president. Furthermore, the Constitution nowhere explicitly confers on the Court the power to decide whether laws "conform to the Constitution of the country." That power was assumed as a necessary part of its right to decide cases arising under the Constitution and laws of the United States.
liberty, too, to give a new construction on every new election of its own members? Would anything with such principle in it, or rather with such a destitution of all principle, be fit to be called a government? No, sir. It should not be denominated a Constitution. It should be called, rather, a collection of topics for everlasting controversy; heads of debate for a disputatious people. It would not be a government. It would not be adequate to any practical good, or fit for any country to live under....
I have not allowed myself, sir, to look beyond the Union, to see what might lie hidden in the dark recess behind. I have not coolly weighed the chances of preserving liberty when the bonds that unite us together shall be broken asunder. I have not' accustomed myself to hang over the precipice of disunion, to see whether, with my short sight, I can fathom the depth of the abyss below; nor could I regard him as a safe counsellor in the affairs of this government, whose thoughts should be mainly bent on considering, not how the Union may best be preserved, but how tolerable might be the condition of the people when it should be broken up and destroyed. While the Union lasts, we have high, exciting, gratifying prospects spread out before us, for us and our children. Beyond that I seek not to penetrate the veil. God grant that in my day, at least, that curtain may not rise! God grant that on my vision never may be opened what lies behind! When my eyes shall be turned to behold for the last time the sun in heaven, may I not see him shining on the broken and dishonored fragments of a once glorious Union; on States dissevered, discordant, belligerent; on a land rent with civil feuds, or drenched, it may be, in fraternal blood! Let their last feeble and lingering glance rather behold the gorgeous ensign of the republic, now known and honored throughout the earth, still full high advanced, its arms and trophies streaming in their original lustre, not a stripe erased or polluted, not a single star obscured, bearing for its motto no such miserable interrogatory as "What is all this worth?" nor those other words of delusion and folly, " Liberty first and Union afterwards"; but everywhere, spread all over in characters of living light, blazing on all its ample folds, as they float over the sea and over the land, and in every wind under the whole heavens, that other
sentiment, dear to every true American heart, Union, now and forever, one and inseparable!
- Liberty and
The agitation over the tariff and states' rights divided the state of South Carolina into the "Union" and "Nullification" parties. And when the legislature of 1831 authorized Governor Hamilton to call a convention of the people of the state to deliberate on their relation to the Union, both parties began an active campaign to win delegates. The Union party planned a grand program (procession, speeches, banquet) for July 4, 1831, at Charleston, "to celebrate the fifty-fifth anniversary of American independence." President Jackson was invited to speak at the banquet. His reply to the committee was as follows:
Washington City, June 14, 1831
It would afford me much pleasure, could I at the same time accept your invitation of the 5th instant and that with which I was before honored by the municipal authorities of Charleston. A necessary attention to the duties of my office must deprive me of the gratification I should have had in paying, under such circumstances, a visit to the State of which I feel a pride in calling myself a citizen by birth.
Could I accept your invitation, it would be with the hope that all parties — all the men of talent, exalted patriotism, and private worth, who have been divided in the manner you describe — might be found united before the altar of their country on the day set apart for the solemn celebration of its independence - independence which cannot exist without Union, and with it is eternal.
Every enlightened citizen must know that a separation, could it be effected, would begin with civil discord, and end in colonial dependence on a foreign power, and obliteration from the list of nations. But he should also see that high and sacred duties which must and will, at all hazards, be performed, present an insurmountable barrier to the success of any plan of disorganization,
by whatever patriotic name it may be decorated, or whatever high feelings may be arrayed for its support. ...
Knowing as I do the private worth and public virtues of distinguished citizens to whom declarations inconsistent with an attachment to this Union have been ascribed, I cannot but hope that, if accurately reported, they were the effect of momentary excitement, not deliberate design; and that such men can never have formed the project of pursuing a course of redress through any other than constitutional means; but if I am mistaken in this charitable hope, then in the language of the father of our country, I would conjure them to estimate properly "the immense value of your national Union to your collective and individual happiness"; to "cherish a cordial, habitual, and immovable attachment to it, accustoming yourselves to think and speak of it as the palladium of your political safety and prosperity, watching for its preservation with jealous anxiety; discountenancing whatever may suggest even a suspicion that it can, in any event, be abandoned; and indignantly frowning on the first dawning of every attempt to alienate any portion of our country from the rest, or to enfeeble the sacred ties which now link together the various parts."
The grave subjects introduced in your letter of invitation have drawn from me the frank exposition of opinions which I have neither interest nor inclination to conceal. . . .
I have the honor to be, with great respect, your humble and obedient servant, Andrew Jackson1
The Nullification party grew steadily stronger in South Carolina, and when Congress, in the tariff bill of 1832,
1 The toast to President Jackson at the dinner was : "He will fill the measure of his glory by preserving the Union without impairing the rights of the States." The bitterness to which partisanship can lead is shown in John Quincy Adams' entry in his diary on the occasion when the man who wrote the excellent letter above quoted was given an honorary degree at Harvard: "Myself an affectionate child of our alma mater, I would not be present to witness her disgrace in conferring her highest literary honors upon a barbarian who could not write a sentence of grammar and hardly could spell his name." - John Quincy Adams, Memoirs, Vol. IV, p. 5.
refused to abandon the doctrine of protection, Governor Hamilton, on the authorization of the legislature, called a convention to deal with the tariff laws. On November 24, 1832, the convention, by a vote of 136 to 26, passed the following ordinance :
Whereas the Congress of the United States, by various acts, purporting to be acts laying duties and imposts on foreign imports, but in reality intended for the protection of domestic manufactures . . . hath exceeded its just powers under the Constitution, which confers on it no authority to afford such protection, and hath violated the true meaning and intent of the Constitution, which provides for equality in imposing the burthens of taxation upon the several States and portions of the Confederacy. . . .
We, therefore, the people of the State of South Carolina, in Convention assembled, do declare and ordain . . . that the several acts and parts of acts of the Congress of the United States, purporting to be laws for the imposing of duties and imposts on the importation of foreign commodities . . . are unauthorized by the Constitution of the United States, and violate the true meaning and intent thereof, and are null, void, and no law, nor binding upon this State, its officers or citizens. . . .
And it is further ordained, that it shall not be lawful for any of the constituted authorities, whether of this State or of the United States, to enforce the payment of duties imposed by the said acts within the limits of this State. . . .
And it is further ordained, that all persons now holding any office of honor, profit, or trust, civil or military, under this State ... shall . . . take an oath well and truly to obey, execute, and enforce this ordinance, and such act or acts of the Legislature as may be passed in pursuance thereof. . . .
And we, the people of South Carolina, to the end that it may be fully understood by the Government of the United States, and the people of the co-States, that we are determined to maintain this, our ordinance and declaration, at every hazard, do further declare that we will not submit to the application of force,