Page images


superseded. It dates its origin with the Declaration of Independence. That act is styled,— “The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen United States of America." And here again, that there might be no doubt how these States would stand to each other in the new condition in which they were about to be placed, it concluded by declaring,-"that these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent States"; "and that, as free and independent States, they have full power to levy war, conclude peace, contract alliances, and to do all other acts and things which independent States may of right do." The "United States" is, then, the baptismal name of these States,- received at their birth; - by which they have ever since continued to call themselves; by which they have characterized their constitution, government and laws; and by which they are known to the rest of the world. The retention of the same style, throughout every stage of their existence, affords strong, if not conclusive evidence that the political relation between these States, under their present constitution and government, is substantially the same under the confederacy and revolutionary government; and what that relation was, we are not left to doubt; as they are declared expressly to be "free, independent and sovereign States." They, then, are now united, and have been, throughout, simply as confederated States. If it had been intended by the members of the convention which framed the present constitution and government, to make any essential change, either in the relation of the States to each other, or the basis of their union, they would, by retaining the style which designated them under the preceding governments, have practised a deception, utterly unworthy of their character, as sincere and honest men and patriots. It may, therefore, be fairly inferred, that, retaining the same style, they intended to attach to the expression," the United States," the same meaning, substantially, which it previously had; and, of course, in calling the present government,- "the federal government of these States," they meant by "federal," that they stood in the same relation to each other,— that their union rested, without material change, on the same basis,— as under the confederacy and the revolutionary government; and that federal, and confederated States, meant substantially the same thing. It follows, also, that the changes made by the present constitution were not in the foundation, but in the superstructure of the system.

We accordingly find, in confirmation of this conclusion, that the convention, in their letter to Congress, stating the reasons for the changes that had been made, refer only to the necessity which required a different "organization" of the government, without making any allusion whatever to any change in the relations of the States towards each other, or the basis of the system. They state that, "the friends of our country have long seen and desired, that the power of making war, peace, and treaties; that of levying money and regulating commerce, and the correspondent executive and judicial authorities, should be fully and effectually vested in the Government of the Union: but the impropriety of delegating such extensive trusts to one body of men is evident; hence results the necessity of a different organization." Comment is unnecessary.

We thus have the authority of the convention itself for asserting that the expression, "United States," has essentially the same meaning, when applied to the present constitution and government, as it had previously; and, of course, that the States have retained their separate existence, as independent and sovereign communities, in all the forms of political existence, through which they have passed. Such, indeed, is the literal import of the expression,-"the United States," and the sense in which it is ever used, when it is applied politically, I say, politically,— because it is often applied, geographically, to designate the portion of this continent occupied by the States composing the Union, including territories belonging to them. This application arose from the fact, that there was no appropriate term for that portion of this continent; and thus, not unnaturally, the name by which these States are politically designated, was employed to designate the region they occupy and possess. The distinction is important, and cannot be overlooked in discussing questions involving the character and nature of the government, without causing great confusion and dangerous misconceptions.

But as conclusive as these reasons are to prove that the government of the United States is federal, in contradistinction to national, it would seem, that they have not been sufficient to prevent the opposite opinion from being entertained. Indeed, this last seems to have become the prevailing one; if we may judge from the general use of the term " national," and the almost entire disuse of that of "federal." National is now commonly applied to "the general government of the Union,”

-and "the federal government of these States," and all that appertains to them or to the Union. It seems to be forgotten that the term was repudiated by the convention, after full consideration; and that it was carefully excluded from the constitution, and the letter laying it before Congress. Even those who know all this,- and, of course, how falsely the term is applied, have, for the most part, slided into its use without reflection. But there are not a few who so apply it, because they believe it to be a national government in fact; and among these are men of distinguished talents and standing, who have put forth all their powers of reason and eloquence, in support of the theory. The question involved is one of the first magnitude, and deserves to be investigated thoroughly in all its aspects. With this impression, I deem it proper,― clear and conclusive as I regard the reasons already assigned to prove its federal character,― to confirm them by historical references; and to repel the arguments adduced to prove it to be a national government. I shall begin with the formation and ratification of the constitution.

That the States, when they formed and ratified the constitution, were distinct, independent, and sovereign communities, has already been established. That the people of the several States, acting in their separate, independent, and sovereign character, adopted their separate State constitutions, is a fact uncontested and incontestable; but it is not more certain than that, acting in the same character, they ratified and adopted the constitution of the United States; with this difference only, that in making and adopting the one, they acted without concert or agreement; but, in the other, with concert in making, and mutual agreement in adopting it. That the delegates who constituted the convention which framed the constitution, were appointed by the several States, each on its own authority; that they voted in the convention by States; and that their votes were counted by States,— are recorded and unquestionable facts. So, also, the facts that the constitution, when framed, was submitted to the people of the several States for their respective ratification; that it was ratified by them, each for itself; and that it was binding on each, only in consequence of its being so ratified by it. Until then, it was but the plan of a constitution, without any binding force. It was the act of ratification which established it as a constitution between the States ratifying it; and only between them, on the •

condition that not less than nine of the then thirteen States should concur in the ratification; as is expressly provided by its seventh and last article. It is in the following words :) "The ratification of the conventions of nine States shall be sufficient for the establishment of this constitution between the States so ratifying the same.' If additional proof be needed to show that it was only binding between the States that ratified it, it may be found in the fact, that two States, North Carolina and Rhode Island, refused, at first, to ratify; and were, in consequence, regarded in the interval as foreign States, without obligation, on their parts, to respect it, or, on the part of their citizens, to obey it. Thus far, there can be no difference of opinion. The facts are too recent and too well established, and the provision of the constitution too explicit, to admit of doubt.

That the States, then, retained, after the ratification of the constitution, the distinct, independent, and sovereign character in which they formed and ratified it, is certain; unless they divested themselves of it by the act of ratification, or by some provision of the constitution. If they have not, the constitution must be federal, and not national; for it would have, in that case, every attribute necessary to constitute it federal, and not one to make it national. On the other hand, if they have divested themselves, then it would necessarily lose its federal character, and become national. Whether, then, the government is federal or national, is reduced to a single question; whether the act of ratification, of itself, or the constitution, by some one, or all of its provisions, did, or did not, divest the several States of their character of separate, independent, and sovereign communities, and merge them all in one great community or nation, called the American people?

Before entering on the consideration of this important question, it is proper to remark, that, on its decision, the character of the government, as well as the constitution, depends. The former must, necessarily, partake of the character of the latter, as it is but its agent, created by it, to carry its powers into effect. Accordingly, then, as the constitution is federal or national, so must the government be; and I shall, therefore, use them indiscriminately in discussing the subject.

Of all the questions which can arise under our system of government, this is by far the most important. It involves many others of great magnitude; and among them, that of the

allegiance of the citizen; or, in other words, the question to whom allegiance and obedience are ultimately due. What is the true relation between the two governments, that of the United States, and those of the several States? and what is the relation between the individuals respectively composing them? For it is clear, if the States still retain their sovereignty as separate and independent communities, the allegiance and obedience of the citizens of each would be due to their respective States; and that the government of the United States and those of the several States would stand as equals and co-ordinates in their respective spheres; and, instead of being united socially, their citizens would be politically connected through their respective States. On the contrary, if they have, by ratifying the constitution, divested themselves of their individuality and sovereignty, and merged themselves into one great community or nation, it is equally clear, that the sovereignty would reside in the whole,- or what is called the American people; and that allegiance and obedience would be due to them. Nor is it less so, that the government of the several States would, in such case, stand to that of the United States, in the relation of inferior and subordinate, to superior and paramount; and that the individuals of the several States, thus fused, as it were, into one general mass, would be united socially, and not politically. So great a change of condition would have involved a thorough and radical revolution, both socially and politically, a revolution much more radical, indeed, than that which followed the Declaration of Independence.

They who maintain that the ratification of the constitution effected so mighty a change, are bound to establish it by the most demonstrative proof. The presumption is strongly opposed to it. It has already been shown, that the authority of the convention which formed the constitution is clearly against it; and that the history of its ratification, instead of supplying evidence in its favor, furnishes strong testimony in opposition to it. To these, others may be added; and, among them, the presumption drawn from the history of these States, in all the stages of their existence down to the time of the ratification of the constitution. In all, they formed separate, and, as it respects each other, independent communities; and were ever remarkable for the tenacity with which they adhered to their rights as such. It constituted, during the whole period, one

« PreviousContinue »