Sunday, May 03, 2009

Andrew Jackson's Proclamation Regarding Nullification 4: The Union is "coeval with our political existence"

Both Daniel Webster and Abraham Lincoln famously held that the Union was older than the Constitution. By way of a refresher, here they are:

Daniel Webster, February 16, 1833:
In 1789, and before this Constitution was adopted, the United States had already been in a union, more or less close, for fifteen years. At least as far back as the meeting of the first Congress, in 1774, they had been in some measure, and for some national purposes, united together. Before the Confederation of 1781, they had declared independence jointly, and had carried on the war jointly, both by sea and land; and this not as separate States, but as one people. When, therefore, they formed that Confederation, and adopted its articles as articles of perpetual union, they did not come together for the first time; and therefore they did not speak of the States as acceding to the Confederation, although it was a league, and nothing but a league, and rested on nothing but plighted faith for its performance. Yet, even then, the States were not strangers to each other; there was a bond of union already subsisting between them; they were associated, united States; and the object of the Confederation was to make a stronger and better bond of union. Their representatives deliberated together on these proposed Articles of Confederation, and, being authorized by their respective States, finally "ratified and confirmed" them. Inasmuch as they were already in union, they did not speak of acceding to the new Articles of Confederation, but of ratifying and confirming them; and this language was not used inadvertently, because, in the same instrument, accession is used in its proper sense, when applied to Canada, which was altogether a stranger to the existing union. "Canada," says the eleventh article, "acceding to this Confederation, and joining in the measures of the United States, shall be admitted into the Union."

Abraham Lincoln, March 4, 1861:
Descending from these general principles, we find the proposition that in legal contemplation the Union is perpetual confirmed by the history of the Union itself. The Union is much older than the Constitution. It was formed, in fact, by the Articles of Association in 1774. It was matured and continued by the Declaration of Independence in 1776. It was further matured, and the faith of all the then thirteen States expressly plighted and engaged that it should be perpetual, by the Articles of Confederation in 1778. And finally, in 1787, one of the declared objects for ordaining and establishing the Constitution was "to form a more perfect Union."

I mention this because one of the more remarkable aspects of Andrew Jackson’s December 10, 1832 Proclamation Regarding Nullification is that he anticipated them both:
[The South Carolina nullification ordinance has] for its object the destruction of the Union – that Union, which, coeval with our political existence, led our fathers, without any other ties to unite them than those of patriotism and common cause, through the sanguinary struggle to a glorious independence – that sacred Union, hitherto inviolate, which, perfected by our happy Constitution, has brought us, by the favor of Heaven, to a state of prosperity at home, and high consideration abroad, rarely, if ever, equaled in the history of nations.

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