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may be exerted. But for a State to resort to Secession, as a primary means of redressing a wrong, done by the usurpations of the other States, not only defeats its own object, but does injustice to the other States. Moreover, it ipso facto breaks the Union, and, therefore, is clearly, as I have before shown, not within the letter or spirit of the Virginia Resolutions. You would not adopt any of these modes, and I will now show you how you would proceed. You would begin by declaring the law unconstitutional, and, therefore, not obligatory. In other words, sir, you would nullify the law. Of course, you would stand precisely as you did before the law was passed, and therefore, you would not consider yourself as out of the Union, merely by this act of usurpation on the part of the Federal Government. You would proceed to elect your Representatives in Congress as heretofore, and direct them to take their seats in that body. If they were allowed to do so, the law would be thus virtually repealed, and all the wrong redressed. If they were not allowed to do so, you would still feel under no obligation to surrender your share in the Union; but you would appeal to the other States to say whether they would sanction this usurpation on the part of their common agent or not. If the other States should refuse to sanction the usurpation, you would be thus restored to your rights. Otherwise, you would determine for yourself, whether it would be best for you to remain in the Union, with the loss of part of your rights, or go out of the Union altogether. Now, sir, all these primary steps are, as you must in candour admit, precisely and strictly Nullification; but they are Nullification on a proper occasion, and asserted in a proper mode. There is not a State Rights man on earth, who can object to it as thus applied, as applied to such a case; and of course, as a doctrine, it is not wrong. Nullification and Secession are both rights; and the difference between them is simply this: Nullification proposes to preserve the Constitution, by annulling every act of the Federal Government, which the Constitution does not authorize; it proposes to preserve the Union, by annulling those usurpations in some mode which shall not withdraw the State from the Union, nor embarrass the regular action of the Government within the Constitution. Secession withdraws the State out of the reach of the usurped powers, when all other means of redress have failed. Nullification, therefore, is the primary right and the primary duty of the State; Secession is the ultimate right, when Nullification has failed.
This, sir, is Nullification, as I understand it, and as it is undoubtedly contemplated in the Resolutions of 1798. I should be glad to know what objection you can urge against it. Permit me now to examine its practical results, and to compare them with those of the opposite doctrine, as contended for by the President.
It is perfectly true, as the President contends, that if a State may declare one law to be unconstitutional, it may declare any and every other law to be so; and by the same rule, each State may, in the exercise of the same right, select a particular law or laws as unconstitutional, and thus utterly destroy the uniform operation of the system. But while this is certainly possible, it is in no degree probable, and cannot possibly occur, except in such a state of public feeling in regard to the Union, as would at all events, dissolve it by other means. If the States no longer wish to remain in Union, they will of course separate. But if they are really desirous to preserve the Union, their own interest affords a sufficient pledge that they will not endanger it by throwing themselves upon their reserved rights, except in extreme cases, which require it. If one State or two States, should be mad enough to do so, it cannot be imagined that such a number of them will do so as to afford any ground for the President's fears, or any application for the argument which he derives from them. The Government of the United States, is the mere agent of the States, for specified purposes, and it is inconceivable that the States who appointed that agent for their own use and advantage, would without cause, so embarrass its action, as to render its agency of no value. In practice therefore, this argument of the President is not entitled to any consideration. And even if it were otherwise, is it more consistent with principle, that the agent should control the constituent, or that the constituent should control the agent? These view of the subject, however, are worth nothing. We cannot judge of the practical operation of the Government, by any such extreme case. Human sagacity cannot foresee, nor human prudence provide for all possible contingencies; nor can human language define and limit every possible modification of social rights. Although Governments are primarily founded in distrust, yet there is, of necessity, some degree of confidence in all of them. The wisest statesmen can do no more than repose that confidence in the safest hands, while at the same time, he surrounds it with all practicable guards against abuse. If the States may abuse their reserved rights in the manner contemplated by the President, the Federal Government, on the other hand, may abuse its delegated rights. There is danger from both sides, and as we are compelled to confide in the one or the other, we have only to inquire, which is most worthy of our confidence. In the first place, as I have already remarked, the States cannot have any interest to abuse their reserved rights. Besides, the right for which they contend, is not a right of action at all, but merely a right to check unauthorised action, in the other party. The abuse of this right can be found in nothing but in the interposition of the State to check its own agent, in doing what it expressly authorized its own agent to do, for its own advantage. The right itself is indispensible to self-preservation, while the abuse of it is not to be contemplated as sufficiently probable, to found any argument against the right itself. On the other hand, the Federal government has a direct interest to enlarge its own powers, by encroaching on the rights of the States. The constituent can rarely, if ever, have an interest in contracting the powers of his agent, but prima facie, the agent always has an interest in making them greater. And when we reflect on the strong love which most men feel, for patronage and power, the influence of this interest upon the mere men who wield the Federal Government, (and who as to this argument, must be identified with it) affords much cause for distrust and fear. It is therefore much more probable that the Federal Government will abuse its power, than that the States will abuse theirs. And if we suppose a case of actual abuse on either hand, it will not be difficult to decide which is the greater evil. If a State should abuse its right of interposition by arresting the operation of a constitutional law, the worst that could come of it would be, to suspend the operation of the law for a time, as to that State, while it would have all its effects within the other States. This would certainly be unjust, but in most cases, would be attended with very little practical evil. In some cases, it is true, the consequences might be serious, such for instance, as might arise in a time of war; but it