Page:Southern Historical Society Papers volume 32.djvu/28

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
This page needs to be proofread.

16 Southern Historical Society Papers.

The view of the meaning of the constitutional compact taken by the then most rampant advocates of loose construction of the Con- stitution in the closing- years of the last century differed widely from the interpretation that their successors chose to adopt.

Dr. Johnson, of Connecticut, said in the Federal Convention : " The fact is the States do exist as so many political societies, and a government is to be formed for them in their political capacity, as well as for the individuals composing them. Does it not seem to follow that if the States, as such, are to exist, they must be armed with some power of self-defence ?" That means the right to se- cede. In the same debate Mr. Ellsworth said: "He turned his eyes, therefore, for the preservation of his rights to the State gov- ernments." Mr. Ellsworth and Mr. Sherman unite in saying : ' ' The powers vested in Congress go only to matters respecting the common interests of the Union and are specially defined, so that the particular States retain their sovereignty in other matters." Oliver Ellsworth further said : " The Constitution does not attempt to coerce sovereign bodies States in their political capacity."

Alexander Hamilton, the head and front of the Centralization party, himself says : " But how can this (military) force be exerted on the States collectively (against State authority ?) It is impossi- ble." Thus, and by like examples much too numerous to quote, we see the view of the limitation of the powers of the general gov- ernment taken by the fathers of the republic and agreed to by their supporters and constituents.

Before the first year of this century the tendency to consolidation became so apparent that two States, at least, passed resolutions as- sertive of their States' rights, and as these resolutions were without opposition or contradiction, they must have embodied the currently received doctrine of their time.


The declaration of Virginia, drawn up by Mr. Madison, sets forth : "That in case of a deliberate, palpable and dangerous exer- cise of powers not granted in said compact (the Constitution) the States who are parties thereto, have the right, and are in duty bound to interpose for arresting the progress of the evil, and for maintaining within their respective limits the authorities, rights and liberties appertaining to them."