State Documents on Federal Relations/16

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16. Extract from the Answer of the Senate, January, 1809.

Resolves of Massachusetts (1809), 231–235.

May it please Your Honour,


The people of New England perfectly understand the distinction between the Constitution and the Administration. They are as sincerely attached to the former as any section of the United States. They may be put under the ban of the empire, but they have no intention of abandoning the Union. And we have the pleasure explicitly to declare our full concurrence with your Honour, "that such suggestions are not less a libel upon the great body of the New England people, than on their patriotism."

As the government of the Union is a confederation of equal and independent states with limited powers, we agree with your Honour "that it is not unbecoming any member of the Union with firmness and moderation to question the justness or policy of measures while they are pending and ripening for adoption," and we learn with concern from your Honour, "that there are stages when questions"—without even excepting questions involving unalienable rights—"can be no longer open to controversy and opposition"—"stages when an end must be put to debate and a decision thence resulting be respected by its prompt and faithful execution, or government loses its existence and the people are ruined."  *  *  *  We owe it to ourselves and to the people distinctly to deny this doctrine, at once novel and pernicious.


We beg leave to observe, that those rights, which the people have not chosen to part with, should be exercised by them with delicacy—only in times of great danger—not with "distraction and confusion"—not to oppose the laws, but to prevent acts being respected as laws, which are unwarranted by the commission given to their rulers. On such occasions, passive submission, would, on the part of the people, be a breach of their allegiance, and on our part treachery and perjury. For the people are bound by their allegiance, and we are additionally bound by our oaths to support the Constitution of the State—and we are responsible to the people, and to our God, for the faithful execution of the trust.

But your Honour is pleased to observe, that "the union have their favorite projects—states, towns and individuals have theirs" and to inquire whether "thus jarring with augmented resentments we are to rush together in ruinous collisions."

Can it be necessary to remind your Honour that the aggressor is responsible for all the consequences, which you have been pleased so pathetically to describe? That the people have not sent us here to surrender their rights but to maintain and defend them?—and, that we have no authority to dispense with the duties thus solemnly imposed:


We most heartily concur with your Honour, "that there is a point in national sensibility, as in the feelings of men, where patience and submission end." And when that crisis shall arrive your Honour may rest assured that the people of New England "will (as you have been pleased to say) rally round the national constitution." But, Sir they will not "cling" to an administration which has brought them to the brink of destruction—they will not "keep their hold in the extremity of its exit," nor "sink with it into the frightful abyss." No, Sir! The people of Massachusetts will not willingly become the victims of fruitless experiment.