Friday, July 23, 2010

Martin Van Buren's Report on Nullification: Introduction

As I believe I have mentioned before, many of Andrew Jackson's supporters were stunned and horrified when the president issued his December 10, 1832 Proclamation Regarding Nullification. Their core disagreement lay not with Old Hickory's conclusion – that nullification and secession were unconstitutional – nor even with the Proclamation's violent and threatening tone. What amazed and concerned them was the theory that seemed to underlie the document. Jackson came perilously close to espousing a consolidationist view of the Union that was anathema to proponents of states' rights – castigating the “compact theory” of the Constitution, underplaying the sovereignty of the states, and downplaying the limited and derivative nature of the powers of the general government. While a number of passages from the Proclamation might be cited, try this one:
This right to secede is deduced from the nature of the Constitution, which they say is a compact between sovereign States who have preserved their whole sovereignty, and therefore are subject to no superior; that because they made the compact, they can break it when in their opinion it has been departed from by the other States. Fallacious as this course of reasoning is, it enlists State pride, and finds advocates in the honest prejudices of those who have not studied the nature of our government sufficiently to see the radical error on which it rests.

The people of the United States formed the Constitution, acting through the State legislatures, in making the compact, to meet and discuss its provisions, and acting in separate conventions when they ratified those provisions; but the terms used in its construction show it to be a government in which the people of all the States collectively are represented. We are ONE PEOPLE in the choice of the President and Vice President. Here the States have no other agency than to direct the mode in which the vote shall be given. The candidates having the majority of all the votes are chosen. The electors of a majority of States may have given their votes for one candidate, and yet another may be chosen. The people, then, and not the States, are represented in the executive branch.

In the House of Representatives there is this difference, that the people of one State do not, as in the case of President and Vice President, all vote for all the members, each State electing only its own representatives. But this creates no material distinction. When chosen, they are all representatives of the United States, not representatives of the particular State from which they come. They are paid by the United States, not by the State; nor are they accountable to it for any act done in performance of their legislative functions; and however they may in practice, as it is their duty to do, consult and prefer the interests of their particular constituents when they come in conflict with any other partial or local interest, yet it is their first and highest duty, as representatives of the United States, to promote the general good.

The Constitution of the United States, then, forms a government, not a league, and whether it be formed by compact between the States, or in any other manner, its character is the same. It is a government in which all the people are represented, which operates directly on the people individually, not upon the States; they retained all the power they did not grant. But each State having expressly parted with so many powers as to constitute jointly with the other States a single nation, cannot from that period possess any right to secede, because such secession does not break a league, but destroys the unity of a nation, and any injury to that unity is not only a breach which would result from the contravention of a compact, but it is an offense against the whole Union. To say that any State may at pleasure secede from the Union, is to say that the United States are not a nation.
Among those who were unhappy with the president's Proclamation was none other than vice president-elect Martin Van Buren. The president's theories troubled him both because he thought they were wrong and because they spelled political trouble. Van Buren, the architect of the coalition between Jeffersonians of New York and Virginia that formed the basis of the Democratic party, understood that Jackson's reasoning would alienate many of the president's core supporters, particularly in the south – and kill Van Buren's chances of succeeding Jackson in 1836 in the bargain. More immediately, Van Buren was having trouble selling the Proclamation in his native New York, despite the president's insistent demands that his lieutenant demonstrate his loyalty by procuring legislative approval of the document.

Van Buren believed, moreover, that the president's consolidationist rhetoric was unnecessary – nullification and secession were not sanctioned by the Constitution under a compact theory that recognized the continuing sovereignty of the states and the delegated and indirect nature of federal power. To persuade the New York legislature to endorse at least Jackson's conclusions, Van Buren therefore, in the words of Richard E. Ellis in The Union at Risk: Jacksonian Democracy, States' Rights and the Nullification Crisis, “took upon himself the task of distinguishing the traditional and democratic states' rights interpretation of the Constitution from that of the nationalists' interpretation, which at the same time condemning nullification without allowing this distinction to become blurred as Jackson had done in the Proclamation.”

Prof. Ellis has characterized the document Van Buren produced – the Report on Nullification for the Joint Committee of the New York legislature – as “one of the most coherent and forceful documents to come out of the nullification crisis”:
In the process, Van Buren revealed not only his commitment to states' rights but also an understanding of constitutional-ideological considerations that went way beyond that of a merely clever politician artfully manipulating these arguments for self-interested purposes. In fact, it is not too much to say that the New York Report, drafted by Van Buren, is one of the most coherent and forceful documents to come out of the nullification crisis, a document whose importance for clearly stating the point of view of traditional states' rights Jacksonians has been too long overlooked by scholars.
With a recommendation like that, how could I not take a closer look at Van Buren's New York Report? And how could I not devote a blog post or two to what I found?

Van Buren's Report may be found beginning at page 133 of a valuable book entitled State Papers on Nullification, published in Boston at the direction of the Massachusetts legislature in 1834. In our next installment, we'll begin to dig into the text of the Report. In the meantime, however, for the convenience of those interested I have converted the text to Word and reproduced it below:



The right claimed by the State of South Carolina, to make void the laws of the United States within her territory, is so fully set forth in the Ordinance and Documents before the Legislature, and so well understood, that a precise statement, in this report, of its nature and extent, would be superfluous.

The Committee have considered the claim, thus set up, with the attention due to the high respectability of the source from which it emanated, and to the very grave consequences that would unavoidably result from its establishment; and they concur with the Governor in regarding it as a pretension, "not merely unauthorized by the Constitution of the United States, but fatally repugnant to all the objects for which it was framed."

The unfounded nature of the authority asserted by South Carolina, has been so clearly demonstrated in the Proclamation of the President of the United States, which has been published by order of the Legislature, and is now on its files; and is so fully confirmed by the concurring opinions of the people of every other State in the Union; that it cannot be necessary that the Committee should attempt to shed any additional light upon a subject, in respect to which, the argument may, with so much truth, be said to be exhausted.

The duty of the President to exercise the authority vested in him by the Constitution and laws of the United States; to enforce the latter in the State of South Carolina, notwithstanding the unjustifiable attempt on the part of that State to arrest the due execution thereof, is obvious and imperative. And the Committee are well satisfied that they represent truly the opinions of the Government and People of the State of New York, when they reciprocate the assurance given by the Governor, that in the performance of that great and responsible duty, by the exercise of necessary and proper means, the President may count on their support and co-operation.

With this brief statement of the principal matter referred to them, the Committee would prefer to leave the subject. Considered only with reference to the present aspect of the affair, it might not be strictly necessary to say more; and they deprecate too sincerely the asperities which usually grow out of diversities of opinion upon doctrinal points, not to be anxious to avoid them as far as it can properly be done. The more especially are they impressed with the propriety of such a course, in reference to the present posture of our public affairs, when the hearts and minds of our citizens should be exclusively directed to the measures best calculated to preserve the happy union of these States in the spirit of affection and brotherly love in which it was established. The Committee however, are too well advised of the desire of the Legislature that their opinion should be distinctly expressed upon some points of deep interest, growing out of the assumptions of right contained in the Ordinance of South Carolina, and the commentary of the President thereon in his recent Proclamation and Message, to feel themselves at liberty to exercise a discretion upon the subject.

In the performance of the duty assigned them, they will submit the dictates of their best judgment, in that spirit of liberality and forbearance which, under any circumstances, it would give them pleasure to cherish, but which, under those that now exist, they consider it a sacred duty to observe.

They believe that this duty cannot be better discharged than by a frank and explicit avowal of the principles which, in their opinion, ought to be applied to the construction of the Constitution of the United States, and to control in that respect the administration of the government established by it. They regard it the more important to do so, from the attempts which have been made to bring into discredit political principles which the people of this State have so long and so ardently cherished; and upon the maintenance of which, in all their purity, the Committee firmly believe the safety of our institutions, and the future welfare of the country, mainly depend. The reassertion of those principles at a period like the present, when there is reason to fear that they may suffer from misapprehension or misrepresentation, is, in the opinion of the Committee, a matter of paramount obligation.

There is no reasonable ground to doubt, that the great body of the American people are fervently attached to the Union of the States, and sincerely desirous that the partition and limitations of power intended to be established by the Federal Constitution, and the republican principle on which it rests, should be preserved inviolate. They have, however, greatly differed as to the most effectual and least exceptionable means, of effecting those objects; and as to the true source of the dangers to which our political system was exposed.

These differences arose in the Convention which framed the Constitution; attended every step of its formation and establishment, and have never ceased to exist. Consolidation on the one hand, tending to monarchy in the head, and on the other, anarchy, consequent upon the insubordination and resistance of the members, were the evils anticipated at its formation, and have ever since been dreaded by the respective parties.

A portion of the people believed, that unless great vigor was imparted to the Federal arm, it would not be able to sustain itself against the power and influence of the States, and effect the great objects which all desired to accomplish, through the agency of the Federal Government. Others supposed, that the natural tendency of the new system would be towards consolidation; and that unless the powers delegated to the government, thus created, were granted with a sparing hand, scrupulously and vigilantly guarded, and the remaining powers and sovereignty of the States amply protected; there would be reason to apprehend that the revolution of 1776 would be shorn of its honors and its benefits; and the consequence ultimately would be, a return to that form of government which had been thrown off at so much cost. No candid and intelligent observer can have failed to witness the enduring effects of these early differences, nor be ignorant of the unceasing influence they have exercised on public affairs. On every recurrence to the conflicting principles by which they were generated, we have seen on the one side, a strong inclination to yield, readily, to that construction and to that course of measures, which might best serve to strengthen the Federal Government, and extend the sphere of its action; a disposition which at all times, but with various success, has been resisted by those, who entertain different views, as to the best means of securing the efficacy and harmony, and of preserving the equilibrium and constant stability of the entire system. It is not the intention of the Committee to enter into a particular consideration of the reasons, by which these conflicting opinions are respectively sustained; nor to advert to them, farther than is necessary to the distinct and intelligible explanation of their own views, upon the subject referred to them.

The Committee are advocates for the reserved rights of the States, and a strict construction of the Constitution of the United States. Experience has, they think, fully demonstrated the wisdom of the determination of the Convention to commit to the Federal Government, the management of such concerns only, as appertain to the relations of the States with each other, and with foreign nations, and certain other matters particularly enumerated in the Constitution: leaving the great mass of the business of the people, relating as it does mainly to their domestic concerns, to the legislation of the States. They were wisely regarded as the safest depositories of the latter powers. This course was moreover due to the reserved sovereignty of the States, and required by an enlightened estimate of the dangers to the harmony of National Legislation, inseparable from the great diversity in the interests and conditions of the different States. A sincere adherence to this partition of legislation amongst the respective governments, and an honest and inflexible observance of the specifications and restrictions by which it was defined, in the sense designed by the Convention, and as understood by the people in the adoption of the Constitution, are in the best judgment of the Committee, indispensably necessary to its preservation.

Time, and the course of events, have solved the great problem that divided the Convention. It is now apparent that the tendency of the system is to encroachments by the Federal Government upon the reserved rights of the States, rather than to an unwillingness on the part of the States to submit to a full exercise of the powers which were intended to be delegated to the General Government. So manifest has this tendency been rendered to the people of the United States, that at several interesting eras in our history, they have been induced by the excesses to which it led, to rise in their strength, and drive from power, the agents employed in giving it effect. Such was their course in the memorable civil revolution of 1800: and the same sovereign remedy, upon the same impulse, and, it is hoped, with similar effect, was applied by the people in 1828. Whilst these scenes have passed before our eyes, and stand forth upon the page of our history, for our edification and security, not an instance has occurred in which the resistance of a single State, to the measures of the Federal Government, has excited sufficient sympathy or countenance from her sister States, to afford cause for a well grounded apprehension of detriment to the Union, by an improper combination amongst its members. Even at this critical emergency in our public affairs, when so much discredit is apprehended to the sacred cause of State rights from the excesses of South Carolina, the confidence of the Committee in the correctness of that cause is strengthened by the exemplary conduct of her sister States. When we witness the fervent zeal that pervades them all, and see so many who have the same cause of complaint as South Carolina, and who are equally solicitous for a redress of their grievances, rising superior to local interests, exhibiting to the world the most sublime spectacle of devoted patriotism, and throwing their great moral and physical weight into the scale of the Union, who can doubt that now, as in the late war, the federal arm, in the hour of its greatest peril, will be upheld by the State authorities? The Committee are cheered by this animating indication of fidelity, not merely because they see in it the unequivocal evidence of the safety of that Union which they so highly cherish, but on account of the favorable influence which the complete establishment of the principles to which they have avowed their attachment, is calculated to exercise on the future administration of this government. In "the support of the State governments in all their rights as the most competent administrators of our domestic concerns and the surest bulwarks against anti-republican tendencies: and the preservation of the general government in its whole constitutional vigor, as the sheet-anchor of our peace at home and safety abroad," the Committee recognize the highest duties of every public functionary; and in the encouragement derived from the approving voice of a virtuous and grateful people, the best security for their faithful performance.

Of the deeply interesting questions arising upon the Ordinance and other documents referred to the Committee, there is none of more immediate importance, than the claim which is advanced, that a single State has a right to withdraw herself, against the wishes of her co-States, from the Union, whenever, in her sole judgment, the acts of the Federal Government shall be such as to justify the step.

The Committee cannot approve this doctrine. Anxious as they are to sustain the sovereignty of the States in its full force, they do not feel it to be less their duty to "preserve," in the language of Mr. Jefferson, "the General Government, in its whole constitutional vigor." There is no conflict of duty between these sentiments; so far from it, that, in the opinion of the Committee, no man can be a good citizen, who is disloyal to either. No apprehension too alarming, can be entertained as to the injurious consequences which may result from the principles attempted to be established. The Committee have witnessed, with deep regret, that an impression has gone abroad, that the assertion of this right was embraced in the proceedings of the Legislatures of Virginia and Kentucky, in 1798 and 1799. Whatever authority there may be for the right of secession, it certainly cannot, in the opinion of the Committee, claim any from those proceedings. They took place at a very dark and portentous period in our history; when the encroachments of the Federal Government, and the general temper of the times had filled the hearts of many of our firmest patriots with alarm.

The respect of the people of this State, for those emanations of lofty and devoted patriotism, is at this day as great, and their devotion to the principles they inculcated, as sincere as it was in 1800. And the Committee cannot, as they conceive, render a more acceptable service to the Republic, than by separating them from a doctrine which, however sincerely it may be entertained by others, is rejected by our citizens, with a degree of unanimity heretofore unknown to political controversy. A very brief exposition of the nature and history of those proceedings, is all that is essential for that purpose. The portions of the Virginia Resolutions, upon the alien and sedition laws, (and there is not, in this respect, sufficient difference between them and those of Kentucky, to make the separate examination of each necessary) from which such a deduction is attempted to be made, are in the following words :

"That this Assembly doth explicitly and peremptorily declare, that it views the powers of the Federal Government, as resulting from the Compact, to which the States are parties, as limited by the plain sense and intention of the Instrument constituting that Compact; as no farther valid than they are authorized by the grants enumerated in that Compact; and that, in case of a deliberate, palpable and dangerous exercise of other powers, not granted by the said Compact, the States who are parties thereto, have a 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."

"That the good people of this Commonwealth, having ever felt, and continuing to feel the most sincere affection for their brethren of other States: the truest anxiety for establishing and perpetuating the union of all; and the most scrupulous fidelity to that Constitution which is the pledge of mutual friendship, and the instrument of mutual happiness; the General Assembly doth solemnly appeal to the like dispositions in the other States, in confidence that they will concur with this Commonwealth in declaring, as it does hereby declare, that the acts aforesaid are unconstitutional; and, that the necessary and proper measures will be taken by each, for co-operating with this State in maintaining unimpaired, the authorities, rights and liberties reserved in the States respectively, or to the people."

These resolutions were met by several of the State Legislatures to whom they had been communicated, by counter resolutions, protesting against them with much warmth, chiefly on the ground that the act of a State Legislature, declaring a law of the United States unconstitutional, was, in itself, an unconstitutional assumption of authority, and an unwarrantable interference with the exclusive jurisdiction of the Supreme Court of the United States: accompanied, in some instances, with severe denunciations against their disorganizing tendency.

The resolutions of the protesting States were, at a succeeding session of the Virginia Legislature, referred to and reported upon, at large, by a Committee of that body. Their report was written by Mr Madison, and led to a re-affirmance by Virginia, of the unconstitutionality of the alien and sedition laws, and a re-assertion of the doctrines of the original resolutions. This masterly exposition of the true principles of the Constitution, and of the abuses which had been practised under it, contributed more than any event, to that radical change in the public sentiment of the country, which was consummated by the election of Mr. Jefferson, and has, from that day to the present, been justly regarded as the genuine text book of political orthodoxy. The Committee do, unhesitatingly, and with great satisfaction, embrace this occasion to avow their decided approbation of its doctrines; and they feel, that they would be wanting in gratitude and duty, if they were not to express their conviction of the benefits which have been derived from their influence: of the extent to which, in their opinion, the future operations of our political institutions are dependent upon the continued respect and confidence of the people in them: as well as their unfeigned admiration of the unsurpassed disinterestedness and inflexible fidelity, with which those doctrines have, through evil and through good report, been sustained by that truly patriotic member of the confederacy.

That the judicial department of the Federal Government, was the exclusive expositor of the Constitution, in cases submitted to its judgment, in the last resort, was freely admitted. But, it was contended by that committee – “First, that there may be instances of usurped power, which the forms of the Constitution would never draw within the control of the judicial department: Secondly, that if the decision of the judiciary be raised above the authorities of the sovereign parties to the Constitution, the decisions of the other departments not carried by the forms of the Constitution before the Judiciary, must be equally authoritative and final with the decisions of that department. That the resolutions of the General Assembly, related to those great and extraordinary cases in which all the forms of the Constitution may prove ineffectual against infractions dangerous to the essential right of the parties to it. That the resort to the judiciary must necessarily be deemed the last, in relation to the authorities of the other departments of the Government: not in relation to the rights of the parties to the constitutional compact, from which the judicial as well as the other departments hold their delegated trusts. On any other hypothesis, the delegation of judicial power would annul the authority of the power delegating it; and the concurrence of this department with others in usurped powers, might subvert forever, and beyond the possible reach of any rightful remedy, the very Constitution which all were instituted to preserve." That "a declaration that proceedings of the Federal Government are not warranted by the Constitution, was a novelty neither among the citizens nor the Legislatures of the States;" — "nor could the declarations of either, whether affirming or denying the constitutionality of the measures of the Federal Government; or whether made before or after judicial decisions thereon, be deemed in any point of view an assumption of the office of a judge. The declarations in such cases are expressions of opinion, unaccompanied with other effect than what they may produce on opinion by exciting reflection. The expositions of the judiciary, on the other hand, are carried into immediate effect by force. The former may lead to a change in the legislative expression of the general will – possibly to a change in the opinion of the judiciary." Hence it was urged that there was no impropriety in the declaration by the Legislature that the alien and sedition laws were unconstitutional: nor was there any valid objection to the communication of that resolution to her sister States; nor in the invitation which was given to them to concur therein; nor in asking for the adoption of "necessary and proper measures by each, for co-operating with her in maintaining unimpaired the authorities, rights, and liberties reserved in the States respectively, or to the people."

But what were those measures which the Legislature of Virginia deemed "necessary and proper" to meet the exigency in the affairs of the country so truly alarming as that which then existed, and to which their proceedings had reference? Was it to oppose, by State authority, the regular administration of justice in any case in law or equity committed by the Constitution to the Federal Judiciary? Did they relate to resistance by a member of the confederacy, to the execution of the laws of the United States, passed in conformity to the provisions of the Constitution; or embrace the revocation by a State of the powers which had, with so much solemnity, and under such high penalties, been granted by the people of the respective States to the Federal Government? Far, very far from it. Anticipations of this character were entertained when those resolutions were under discussion in the Virginia Legislature, and they were consequently denounced as the harbinger of civil commotion. These denunciations were met and refuted by the advocates of the resolutions, not only after they had been submitted to the other States, but when they were first submitted to the Legislature of that State. They were introduced by John Taylor, of Caroline.

In reply to these predictions, he said, "Suppose a clashing of opinion should exist between Congress and the States, respecting the true limits of the constitutional territories, it was easy to see that if the right of decision had been vested in either party, that party deciding in the spirit and interest of party, would inevitably have swallowed up the other. The Constitution must not only have foreseen the possibility of such a clashing, but also the consequence of a preference on either side as to its construction; and out of this foresight must have arisen the fifth article, by which two-thirds of Congress may call upon the States for an explanation of any such controversy as the present, by way of amendment to the Constitution, and thus correct an erroneous construction of its own acts, by a minority of the States; whilst two-thirds of the States are also allowed to compel Congress to call a convention, in case so many should think an amendment necessary, for the purpose of checking the unconstitutional acts of that body. Thus, so far as Congress may have power, it might exert it to check the usurpations of a State, and so far as the States may possess it, an union of two-thirds in one opinion might effectually check the usurpations of Congress. And under this article of the Constitution, the incontrovertible principle before stated might become practically useful, otherwise no remedy did exist for the only case which could possibly destroy the Constitution, namely, an encroachment by Congress or the States upon the rights of the other. * * * * Mr. Taylor then proceeded to apply these observations to the threats of war, and the apprehension of civil commotion, towards which the resolutions were said to have a tendency. Are the republicans, said he, possessed of fleets and armies? If not, to what could they appeal for defence and support? To nothing except public opinion. If that should be against them, they must yield. * * * * How could the fifth article of the Constitution be brought into practical use, even upon the most flagrant usurpations? War or insurrection, therefore, could not happen," &c. * * * * "Such, however, he hoped would be the respect to public opinion, that he doubted not but that the two reprobated laws would be sacrificed, to quiet the apprehensions even of a single State, without the necessity of a convention or a mandate from three-fourths of the States, whenever it shall be admitted that the quiet and happiness of the people is the end and design of Government."

Similar sentiments were advanced by the other supporters of the resolutions. Mr. Mercer said "that force was never thought of by any one. The preservation of the Federal Constitution, the cement of the Union, with its original powers, was the object of the resolutions."

But all pretence for misapprehension or misconstruction upon this head is put at rest by the direct explanations of the Virginia Legislature, in the report which was made and received their sanction in the session of 1799; in which, in relation to the means referred to in the resolutions, and in answer to the objection that they might have been such as conflicted with the order and stability of the Union, they say, "In the example given by the State, of declaring the alien and sedition acts to be unconstitutional, and of communicating the declaration to the other States, no trace, of improper means has appeared. And if the other States had concurred in making a like declaration, supported too by the numerous applications flowing immediately from the people, it can scarcely be doubted, that these simple means would have been as sufficient as they are unexceptionable.

"It is no less certain that other means might have been employed which are strictly within the limits of the Constitution. The Legislatures of the States might have made a direct representation to Congress, with a view to obtain a rescinding of the two offensive acts; or they might have represented to their respective Senators in Congress their wish that two-thirds thereof would propose an explanatory amendment to the Constitution; or two-thirds of themselves, if such had been their option, might, by an application to Congress, have obtained a convention for the same object.

"These several means, though not equally eligible in themselves, nor probably to the States, were all constitutionally open for consideration. And if the General Assembly, after declaring the two acts to be unconstitutional, the first and most obvious proceeding on the subject, did not undertake to point out to the other States a choice among the farther measures that might become necessary and proper, the reserve will not be misconstrued by liberal minds into any culpable imputation."

Such was the understanding of the import and the intent of the resolutions by him who introduced them; by those who supported them; by the Committee to which they were at a subsequent session referred; and by the Legislature which adopted their exposition.

It is a matter of undoubted historical fact, that the Virginia resolutions were drawn up by Mr. Madison, and those of Kentucky by Mr. Jefferson.

In the dispensation of an all-wise Providence, Mr. Madison's useful and brilliant life has been prolonged to this late period of existence. He has borne his testimony against the justice of any of the inferences which the Committee have felt it their duty to repel; and they are unadvised of any act or declaration of Mr. Jefferson, who, in the confidence and affections of his fellow citizens, was only second to the Father of his Country, which conflicts with the known views of his great coadjutor. The Committee are well aware that the advocates of nullification have attempted to sustain that doctrine by expressions contained in an unpromulgated draft of the Kentucky resolutions found among his papers, in which is set forth the right of a State to nullify an act of Congress, passed in respect to a subject upon which its action is expressly inhibited, or upon which it had no authority to legislate at all. A suggestion which, if it were possible to make a paper so circumstanced whenever it may be found, the basis of so solemn an act, is clearly inapplicable to the case under consideration, inasmuch as it expressly declares, that for "an abuse of delegated power," (the most that could by possibility be made of the revenue laws) "the members of the General Government being chosen by the people, a change by the people would be the Constitutional remedy." But the published writings of that great man are replete with the evidences of his avowed opinions, inconsistent with the supposition that he believed in the right of a single State either to make constitutional resistance to the laws of the United States or to dissolve the Union by withdrawing herself from it, when in her sole judgment, the circumstances were sufficient to justify the act.

In a letter to Mr. Destutt Tracy, in January, 1811, he says, "Dangers of another kind might more reasonably be apprehended from this perfect and distinct organization, civil and military, of the States, to wit: that certain States from local and occasional discontents, might attempt to secede from the Union. This is certainly possible; and would be befriended by this regular organization. But it is not probable that local discontents can spread to such an extent as to be able to face the sound parts of so extensive a Union – and if ever they should reach the majority, they would then become the regular government, acquire ascendency in Congress, and be able to redress their own grievances by laws peaceably and constitutionally passed."

In a letter to Elbridge Gerry, of January, 1812, he uses these significant and emphatic expressions: – “What, then, does this English faction with you mean? Their newspapers say rebellion, and that they will not remain united with us, unless we will permit them to govern the majority. If this be their purpose, their anti-republican spirit, it ought to be met at once. But a government like ours should be slow in believing this, should put forth its whole might when necessary to suppress it, and promptly return to the paths of reconciliation. The extent of our country secures it, I hope, from the vindictive passions of the petty incorporations of Greece. I rather suspect that the principal office of the other seventeen States, will be to moderate and restrain the local excitement of our friends with you, linquish the rights which they acquired when they surrendered a portion of their sovereignty – consent to a dissolution, and endeavor to establish a new Government; or whether they will insist on the preservation of the Union as it is. Without the recognition of this right, the Union could not have existed to the present day. Strip the States of this right, and a system which but yesterday excited the respect and admiration of the world, must soon, very soon, serve only as an additional argument in the mouths of monarchists and absolutists against the capacity of man for self-government.

Let it not, however, be supposed that the Committee are the advocates of unconditional submission. Such are not their views. They concur fully in the sentiment, "that the authority of constitutions over governments, and of the sovereignty of the people over constitutions, are truths which are at all times necessary to be kept in mind." Or, in the language of our own State, "that the powers of Government may be re-assumed by the people, whenever it shall become necessary to their happiness." In respect to State governments, this control can be constitutionally exercised by a bare majority of the people; and in the Federal Government, by a specified number of the States. But this is not the only mode by which the people can redress intolerable grievances. There is another, which cannot be better described than has been done by Mr. Madison. "And in the event (says he) of the failure of every constitutional resort, and an accumulation of usurpations and abuses, rendering passive obedience and non-resistance a greater evil than resistance and revolution, there can remain but one resort, the last of all – an appeal from the cancelled obligations of the compact, to original rights and the law of self-preservation. This is the ultima ratio under all governments, whether consolidated, confederated, or a compound of both. And it cannot be doubted that a single member of the Union, in the extremity supposed, but in that only, would have a right, as an extra and ultra-constitutional right, to make the appeal."

It was to this species of separation, which God in his infinite mercy avert! that the Committee understand Mr. Jefferson as referring, when he alluded to the farther measure of redress which might be resorted to in extreme cases, and spoke of Virginia's “standing by her arms.” It was this great calamity that he sought to avoid, when he so eloquently and feelingly invoked his native State never to think of it, until the sole alternatives left, were a dissolution of the Union, or submission to a Government, without limitation or power.

The history given by the President, of the formation of our Government, has drawn forth conflicting opinions in respect to its accuracy; and lest the Committee might be regarded as having omitted any portion of their duties, they will, upon this subject, also, with deference to the views of others, but frankly state their own.

The character of our Government, so far as that is effected by the manner in which the Federal Constitution was framed and adopted, has been always a matter of more or less contention. Differences of opinion upon the subject, have been in some degree fostered by a seeming discrepancy between the preamble of the Constitution, and historical facts; and perhaps in a still greater degree, by the different senses in which the term “States,” is used by different persons. If we use that term, not merely as denoting particular sections of territory, nor as referring to the particular governments established and organized by the political societies within each, but as referring to the people composing those political societies, in their highest sovereign capacity (as the Committee think that in this respect the term should be used) it is incontrovertible, that the States must be regarded as parties to the compact. For it is well established, that, in that sense, the Constitution was submitted to the States; that in that sense, the States ratified it. This is the explanation which is given of the matter in the report to the Virginia Legislature, which has already received the sanction of the Committee. It is in this sense of the term “States,” that they form the constituency from which the Federal Constitution emanated, and it is by the States, acting either by their Legislatures, or in Convention, that any valid alterations of the instrument can alone by made. It is by so understanding the subject, that the preamble is reconciled with facts, and that it is a Constitution established by “the people of the United States,” not as one consolidated body, but as members of separate and independent communities, each acting for itself, without regard to their comparative numbers. It was in this form that the Constitution of the United States was established by the people of the different States, with the same solemnity that the Constitutions of the respective States were established; and, as the Committee have heretofore insisted, with the same binding force in respect to the powers which were intended to be delegated to the Federal Government. The effects which are likely to be produced by the adoption of either of the different versions of the Constitution, which have at different times been contended for, it is not the intention of the Committee to discuss. The positive provisions and restrictions of that instrument, could not be directly abrogated by the recognition of either. The comparative weight and influence which would be attached to the allegations and remonstrances of the States, in respect to the supposed infractions of the Compact, might, however, be very different, whether they are regarded as sovereign parties of the Compact, acting upon their reserved rights, or as forming only indiscriminate portions of the great body of the people of the United States, thus giving a preponderence to mere numbers, incompatible with the frame and design of the Federal Constitution.

The diversities of opinion which have arisen upon this subject, have been more or less injurious according to their influence in inclining or disinclining the minds of those who entertain them, to a faithful observance of the landmarks of authority between the respective Governments. Professions are easily made; and the best evidence of a correct appreciation of the nature and design of the system by a public agent, is to be found in the general bearing of his official acts. If his conduct be characterized by a desire to administer the Government upon the principles which his constituents have elected, and by a determination to repudiate the dangerous heresy, that the Constitution is to be interpreted, not by the well understood intentions of those who framed and those who adopted it, but by what can be made out of its words by ingenious interpretation; if he honestly believes that the people are the safest depository of power, and acts up to that belief, by evincing an unwillingness to exercise authority which was not intended to be granted, and which the States and the people might not, on open application, be willing to grant; if he has steadily opposed the adoption of all schemes, however magnificent and captivating, which are not warranted by the Constitution – which, from the inequality of their benefits and burthens, are calculated to sow discord where there should be union, and which are too frequently the offspring of that love of personal authority and aggrandizement which men in power find it so difficult to resist. If he has done all in his power to arrest the increase of monopolies, under all circumstances so adverse to public liberty, and the equal interests of the community. If his official career has been distinguished by unceasing assiduity to promote economy in the public expenditures, to relieve the people from all unnecessary burthens, and generally to preserve our republican system in that simplicity and purity which were intended for It – under which it has hitherto been so successful, by which it can alone be maintained; and on account of which it has, until this moment, stood in such enviable and glorious contrast with the corrupt systems of the old world. If such be the traces of his official course, and if in maintaining it he shall have impressed all mankind with the conviction that he regards as nothing, consequences which are merely personal to himself, when they come in contact with duty to his country, the people of the United States will not doubt his attachment to the true principles of that Constitution which he has so faithfully administered and so nobly supported. Such, the Committee take pride in saying, has been the official course of our present Chief Magistrate – a course by which, in the judgment of the people of this State, he has established for himself imperishable claims to their gratitude, respect, and confidence.

The Committee have thus explained their views upon the several delicate and deeply interesting questions before them, with that frankness which becomes the solemn occasion on which they act, and which should always characterize the movements of a sovereign State upon matters involving her relations with her sister States. In doing so, they have felt it to be their duty to vindicate and explain the political principles which are entertained by themselves, and, as they believe, by a majority of the good people of this State. In the performance of this act of justice and duty, they have endeavored to avoid all imputations upon the motives of those who may differ from them. The same independence and toleration which they claim for themselves, they are disposed to extend to others. Amidst the conflict of interest and feelings with which those, who are charged with the conduct of public affairs at this interesting crisis, are obliged to struggle, there is happily one opinion which has not yet met with a dissenting voice in all the land; and which it is fervently hoped, is too deeply implanted in the minds and hearts of the people to be ever eradicated. It is a thorough conviction, that anarchy, degradation, and interminable distress, will be, must be, the unavoidable results of a dissolution of the union of these States. Associated with this undeniable and undenied truth, and growing out of it, there are, we trust, two other sentiments of equal universality – a determination to maintain the Union at all hazards, and a willingness to make liberal concessions, nay sacrifices, for the preservation of peace and reciprocal good will amongst its members. Upon this great conservative platform, all sincere friends of the Union, all who honor and truly respect the parting admonitions of the Father of his country, all who prefer that country to their own ambitious views and personal aggrandizement, and who are disposed to give the Executive of the United States a cordial and efficient support, can meet, and act in concert to promote the greatest of all earthly objects. Here all may earn the enduring respect and confidence of the people, by an honorable sacrifice of personal and party feelings on the altar of their country's safety. We may differ as to the time, the manner, or the extent of the measures to be employed, whether of conciliation or coercion. It cannot be expected, at the present crisis, that honest and unprejudiced minds should all happen to arrive at the same conclusion. But such differences should not occasion heart burnings, much less resentments. Our fathers differed in like manner in the establishment of our Government; and it is in vain for us to hope for exemption from similar embarrassments; the causes which produced them have not yet ceased to operate; they have been planted by the hand of nature, and cannot be entirely removed by that of man. Those, to whose valor and disinterested patriotism we are indebted for this glorious system under which we have so long and so happily lived, overcame them by mutual concession and compromise. If every man looks only to his own interests, or every State to its own favorite policy, and insists upon them, this Union cannot be preserved. We must not deceive ourselves upon this point, or suffer others to deceive us. Our errors, in this respect, may lead to consequences which can never be recalled; and over which we and our posterity may have occasion to shed bitter tears of repentance; we must take higher counsel than that which is derived from our pockets or our passions; we must be just, and, if need be, generous; and the deep and overpowering attachment of the great mass of the people to the Union, the fidelity, energy, and fortitude of their character, directed by the illustrious man so providentially at the head of the Government, will carry us safely through the dangers which threaten our beloved country.

It remains only to reciprocate, as the Committee doubt not the two Houses will readily do, the magnanimous and enlightened sentiments expressed by the Governor, upon the subject which has caused the present embarrassments in our public affairs. Most cheerfully, therefore, do they respond to his declarations, which "disclaim for New York all desire to aggrandize herself at the expense of her sister States, or to pervert to local purposes, a system of government intended for the common benefit of all;" which assert her estimate of the value of the Union and her devotion to it; and which avow her willingness, if the operation of existing laws be adverse to those views, to consent to such a modification of them as will remove all just ground of complaint, and afford substantial relief to every real grievance. In these sentiments the committee recognize the best policy as well as the true glory of these States; a policy, "which cultivates peace and harmony by observing justice."

The opinion of this State in favor of the constitutional power of Congress, to afford encouragement and protection to domestic products, by the establishment for that object of suitable commercial regulations, has been too often declared to need repetition. Neither time nor circumstances have contributed to change its convictions, either of the existence or importance of this right. Without it, it would not be possible for the Federal Government to carry into effect one of the principal objects of its institution: and the United States would, in relation to our own exports, be left altogether at the mercy of foreign nations. The possession of the right, however, and the manner and extent of its exercise are very different matters. Whatever causes of serious apprehension for the stability of the Union may heretofore have arisen from this source, it appears to the Committee that they have been greatly lessened by the payment of the national debt, and the disposition of the Executive of the United States, and, as the Committee firmly believe, of the great body of the people, to make such a modification of the tariff as becomes by that event just and practicable. The repeated recommendations of the President to reduce the revenue to what is requisite to defray the expenses of the government, necessarily incurred within the pale of the Constitution, and under a strictly economical administration of our affairs, have been so distinctly and emphatically sanctioned by the people of this State, as to leave no room for doubt or cavil as to their cheerful acquiescence in the measure. Indeed, the Committee are yet to learn, that there is any man in this great community who advocates or would justify the collection of taxes from the people for any other purpose, and certainly not for the sole one of taking money from the pockets of one class of our people to put into those of another. All that is asked, is, that the amount of duties thus raised, and so expended, shall be levied in such a manner as to afford reasonable encouragement and protection to our own manufactures and other productions, to enable them to compete with similar articles, the manufacture or production of other countries. With such qualifications as may be necessary to prevent injustice, and to preserve inviolate that sound rule of legislation, which requires that all public burthens should be borne in a fair proportion to the ability of the contributors, and the extent of the security which they derive from the government. In other words, that too large a share of the public taxes be not imposed upon those articles of prime necessity to the poor, to the exoneration of articles of luxury, which are used only by the rich. And further, that the reduction of duties thus rendered practicable by the payment of the public debt, though ultimately certain, should not be sudden or capricious, but tempered to the condition of existing establishments – establishments which have grown up and been encouraged by our legislation, and whose claims to the favor and indulgence of the government and people are founded upon the public faith. To a claim so reasonable the Committee are unwilling to believe that the real friends of the Union any where can object. Men may resist to the uttermost the imposition of unreasonable burthens for the protection of articles, in the manufacture and production of which they are not immediately concerned. But, there are, surely, no American citizens who, exempt from such impositions, would not prefer to encourage those of their own country, in preference to the fruits of foreign labor.

It is not in behalf of New York, particularly, that these considerations are urged. For it is notorious that this State is not the principal seat of manufacturing establishments. But justice dictates the same course whatever and wherever be its application.

The rules by which this distribution and reduction of the public burthens are to be effected, must from the nature of things, be more or less arbitrary and uncertain. But if the subject be undertaken and prosecuted in good faith – if the tariff system be not made subservient to the purposes of personal ambition, nor to the cravings of individual cupidity, but treated as a matter of business, affecting deeply the private concerns of every man in every quarter of the Union, there is no doubt of the ability of Congress to adopt such rules as will be satisfactory to the nation.

That the bill of the last session will not reduce the revenue to the proposed standard is certain. The anticipated excess is estimated at between six and seven millions of dollars. Whether the late act should be permitted to go into operation with the intention of modifying the system at the next session of Congress; or whether the object in view shall be effected at the present session, by a law which, though passed now, shall have a gradual operation, is an important point in the difficult and deeply interesting question to be decided. The Committee are by no means insensible to the embarrassment arising from the existence of the Ordinance of the State of South Carolina, and regret that any such obstruction should have been thrown in the way of a regular expression of the public will. They could never advise any legislation by Congress under the dictation of any power; and they have very little fear, that any such will be desired by the Executive, or sanctioned by that body. It must, however, be borne in mind, that South Carolina is not the only State which considers herself injuriously affected by the existing law, and seeks relief from its operation; that there are many other States who are, in this respect, similarly circumstanced, whose alienation from the Union would be the greatest calamity that could befal us, but who have shown as much devotion to the Union, and have manifested as much repugnance to the measures of South Carolina as any. It is then for the justice and sound discretion of Congress to decide, whether, whilst all proper measures are adopted to maintain the laws of the United States in the State of South Carolina, in the same manner as if no such Ordinance had been passed, they may not without detriment to the honor and dignity of the Government, now act upon a matter which has been so specially and urgently submitted to them by the Executive. We may be assured that there is sufficient intelligence and virtue in the people to judge those greatly deprecated measures by themselves, uninfluenced by prejudices of any sort on the one hand, or by the cotemporaneous measures of the Government on the other. Nor is it a matter of slight importance to the people of this State to consider whether the acts of South Carolina ought to occasion a collection from them of about one million of dollars annually, a sum three times as large as is required for the entire expenses of our State Government, when the President informs us that it is not needed for the public service.

The duty of deciding upon these grave matters, rests, as has been justly observed by the Governor, so far as this State has a voice in the discussion, with those who represent us in the Congress of the United States. There, the Committee think, with a general expression of the sense of the Legislature, it ought and may with safety be left. It would, doubtless, be competent for the Legislature to give explicit advice and instruction to their representatives upon the subject; but from the obvious superiority in position of our representatives in Congress, to take a better view of the whole ground than that which is possessed by us, and from the great extent to which the question as to the most proper time for action, as well as the particular provisions which ought to be made, are dependent on facts and details, of which it is impossible that we can be as capable of judging as they are, the Committee think the Legislature will best consult their duty and the interests of all, by confining themselves, at this time, to the general expression of opinion which is now most respectfully proposed.

If by a faithful adherence to the principles here advanced in their behalf, the people of this State can contribute to the restoration and preservation of that fraternal affection in which the Union was originally founded, by which it was once cemented, and which is so essential to its preservation, it will be to them a source of much joy and deep gratitude to the Supreme Disposer of events, for the agency they have been permitted to exercise in effecting so great a good. But if, on the contrary, their well-meant efforts prove unavailing; if the offerings of peace and good will which have been freely and so sincerely tendered by them, in conjunction with their co-States who participate in the same sentiments, shall be rejected; if, in the providence of God, it be decreed that this Government and this happy Union, the affairs of which have been hitherto so successfully directed by it, are to be put to the final test, the Government and people of this State will meet the crisis with the sustaining consciousness, that they have done all that duty enjoined and honor permitted to avert the worst calamity that could befall the country.

About the illustration, entitled Democracy 1832, 1864:
Two scenes contrast Democratic presidential candidate of 1832 Andrew Jackson and 1864 George B. McClellan. McClellan is portrayed as weak and conciliatory toward the South, whereas his earlier counterpart's staunch preservation of the Union is applauded. In the left panel Jackson berates John C. Calhoun, leader of the Southern nullification effort of 1832. Jackson vows, "By the Eternal! this Union must and shall be preserved: A Traitor's doom to him who acts against it." Calhoun bows deeply in response, pleading, "Pardon! Pardon!" Three men in the background also bow. The South Carolinean Calhoun was a longtime exponent of Southern autonomy. On the right McClellan and running mate Pendleton kneel on the "Chicago Platform" before a standing Jefferson Davis. Davis addresses them, "Gentlemen, I am well pleased with what you ask for, you are men of sense, and to commence with I wish you to call back those fellows, Sherman, Grant and Sheridan also that old Seadog Farragut after that we will see further." The men mentioned are Union generals William T. Sherman, Ulysses S. Grant, and Philip H. Sheridan and Union admiral David G. Farragut. McClellan, who ran on a "peace at any price" plank, offers an olive branch to Davis, begging, "We should like to have Union and Peace dear Mr. Davis but if such is not your pleasure then please state your terms for a friendly separation." Pendleton, behind him, says, "Amen." At the far left a Confederate soldier comments, "Those Northern dogs how they whine!" Beside him another soldier gnaws a corn cob.


  1. Andrew Jackson never forgave Van Buren for what he saw as his treachery in this matter, although he kept his anger to himself for years. In 1840 he wrote to the New Hampshire Democratic boss Isaac Hill urging him to support the future "dark horse," James K. Polk, for the Democratic nomination in place of his former VP.

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