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have no constitution of general government, and are thrust back again to the days of the confederacy. Let me here say, sir, that if the gentleman's doctrine had been received and acted upon in New England, in the times of the embargo and non-intercourse, we should probably not now have been here. The government would very likely have gone to pieces, and crumbled into dust. No stronger case can ever arise than existed under those laws; no States can ever entertain a clearer conviction than the New England States then entertained ; and if they had been under the influence of that heresy of opinion, as I must call it, which the honorable member espouses, this Union would, in all probability, have been scattered to the four winds. I ask the gentleman, therefore, to apply his principles to that case; I ask him to come forth and declare, whether, in his opinion, the New England States would have been justified in interfering to break up the embargo system under the conscientious opinions which they held upon it? Had they a right to annul that law Does he admit, or deny ? If that which is thought palpably unconstitutional in South Carolina justifies that State in arresting the progress of the law, tell me, whether that which was thought palpably unconstitutional also in Massachusetts, would have justified her in doing the same thing? Sir, I deny the whole doctrine. It has not a foot of ground in the constitution to stand on. No public man of reputation ever advanced it in Massachusetts, in the warmest times, or could maintain himself upon it there at any time. I wish now, sir, to make a remark upon the Virginia resolutions of 1798. I cannot undertake to say how these resolutions were understood by those who passed them. Their language is not a little indefinite. In the case of the exercise by Congress, of a dangerous power, not granted to them, the resolutions assert the right, on the part of the State, to interfere, and arrest the progress of the evil. This is susceptible of more than one interpretation. It may mean no more than that the States may interfere by complaint and remonstance, or by proposing to the people an alteration of the Federal Constitution. This would all be quite unobjectionable ; or, it may be, that no more is meant than to assert the general right of revolution, as against all governments, in cases of intolerable oppression. This no one doubts; and this, in my opinion, is all that he who framed the resolutions could have meant by it: for I shall not readily believe, that he was ever of opinion that a State, under the constitution, and in conformity with it, could, upon the ground of her own opinion of its unconstitutionality, however clear and Palpable she might think the case, annul a law of Congress, so far as it should operate on herself, by her own legislative power. I must now beg to ask, sir, whence is this supposed right of the States derived ?—where
which they bestow on it.
do they find the power to interfere with the laws of the Union? Sir, the opinion which the honorable gentleman maintains is a notion, founded in a total misapprehension, in my judgment, of the origin of this government, and of the foundation on which it stands. I hold it to be a popular government, erected by the people; those who administer it, responsible to the people; and itself capable of being amended and modified, just as the people may choose it should be. It is as popular, just as truly emanating from the people, as the State governments. It is created for one purpose; the State governments for another. It has its own powers; they have theirs. There is no more authority with them to arrest the operation of a law of Congress, than with Congress to arrest the operation of their laws. We are here to administer a constitution emanating immediately from the people, and trusted by them to our administration. It is not the creature of the State governments. It is of no moment to the argument, that certain acts of the State legislatures are necessary to fill our seats in this body. That is not one of their original State powers, a part of the sovereignty of the State. It is a duty which the people, by the constitution itself have imposed on the State legislatures; and which they might have left to be performed elsewhere, if they had seen fit. So they have left the choice of President with electors; but all this does not affect the proposition, that this whole government, President, Senate, and House of Representatives, is a popular government. It leaves it still all its popular character. * The governor of a State (in some of the States) is chosen, not directly by the people, but by those who are chosen by the people, for the purpose of performing, among other duties, that of electing a governor. Is the government of the State, on that account, not a popular government? This government, sir, is the independent offspring of the popular will. It is not the creature of State legislatures; nay, more, if the whole truth must be told, the people brought it into existence, established it, and have hitherto supported it, for the very purpose, amongst others, of imposing certain salutary restraints on State sovereign
ties. The States cannot now make war; they
cannot contract alliances; they cannot make, each for itself, separate regulations of commerce;
they cannot lay imposts; they cannot coin mo
ney. If this constitution, sir, be the creature of ,
State legislatures, it must be admitted that it has obtained a strange control over the volitions of its creators. The people, then, sir, erected this government. They gave it a constitution, and in that constitution they have enumerated the powers They have made it a limited government. They have defined its authority. They have restrained it to the exercise of such powers as are granted; and all others, they declare, are reserved to the States, or the people. But, sir, they have not stopped
here. If they had, they would have accomplished but half their work. No definition can be so clear, as to avoid possibility of doubt; no limitation so precise, as to exclude all uncertainty. Who, then, shall construe this grant of the people 7 Who shall interpret their will, where it may be supposed they have left it doubtful? With whom do they repose this ultimate right of deciding on the powers of the government? Sir, they have settled all this in the fullest manner. They have left it, with the government itself, initsappropriate branches. Sir, the very chief end, the main design, for which the whole constitution was framed and adopted, was to establish a government that should not be obliged to act through State agency, or depend on State opinion and State discretion. The people had had quite enough of that kind of government, under the confederacy. Under that system, the legal action —the application of law to individuals—belonged exclusively to the States. Congress could only recommend—their acts were not of binding force, till the States had adopted and sanctioned them. Are we in that condition still ? Are we yet at the mercy of State discretion, and State construction ? Sir, if we are, then vain will be our attempt to maintain the constitution under which we sit. But, sir, the people have wisely provided, in the constitution itself, a proper, suitable mode and tribunal for settling questions of constitutional law. There are, in the constitution, grants of powers to Congress; and restrictions on these powers. There are, also, prohibitions on the States. Some authority must, therefore, necessarily exist, having the ultimate jurisdiction to fix and ascertain the interpretation of these grants, restrictions, and prohibitions. The constitution has itself pointed out, ordained, and established that authority. How has it accomplished this great and essential end ? By declaring, sir, that “the constitution and the laws of the United States, made in pursuance thereof, shall be the supreme law of the land, anything in the constitution or laws of any State to the contrary notwithstanding.” This, sir, was the first great step. By this the supremacy of the constitution and laws of the United States is declared. The people so will it. No State law is to be valid, which comes in conflict with the constitution, or any law of the United States passed in pursuance of it. But who shall decide this question of interference? To whom lies the last appeal? This, sir, the constitution itself decides, also, by declaring, “that the judicial power shall extend to all cases arising under the constitution and laws of the United States.” These two provisions, sir, cover the whole ground. ' They are, in truth, the keystone of the arch. With these, it is a constitution; without them, it is a confederacy. In pursuance of these clear and express provisions, Congress established, at its very first session, in the judicial act, a mode for carrying them into full effect, and for bring
ing all questions of constitutional power to the final decision of the supreme court. It then, sir, became a government. It then had the means of self-protection; and, but for this, it would, in all probability, have been now among things which are past. Having constituted the government, and declared its powers, the people have further said, that since somebody must decide on the extent of these powers, the government shall itself decide; subject, always, like other popular governments, to its responsibility to the people. And now, sir, I repeat, how is it that a State legislature acquires any power to interfere? Who, or what, gives them the right to say to the people, “We, who are your agents and servants for one purpose, will undertake to decide that your other agents and servants, appointed by you for another purpose have transcended the authority you gave them o; The reply would be, I think, not impertinent— “Who made you a judge over another's servants? To their own masters they stand or fall.”
_* Sir, I deny this power of State legislatures - .
altogether. It cannot stand the test of examination. Gentlemen may say, that in an extreme case, a State government might protect the people from intolerable oppression. Sir, in such a case, the people might protect themselves, without the aid of the State governments. Such a case warrants revolution. It must make, when it comes, a law for itself. A nullifying act of a State legislature cannot alter the case, nor make resistance any more lawful. In maintaining these sentiments, sir, I am but asserting the rights of the people. I state what they have declared, and insist on their right to declare it. They have chosen to repose this power in the general government, and I think it my duty to support it, like other constitutional powers. For myself, sir, I do not admit the jurisdiction of South Carolina, or any other State, to prescribe my constitutional duty; or to settl between me and the people, the validity of laws of Congress, for which I have voted. I decline her umpirage. I have not sworn to support the constitution according to her construction of its clauses. I have not stipulated, by my oath of office, or otherwise, to come under any responsibility, except to the people, and those whom they have appointed ..". upon the question, whether laws, suppo by my votes, conform to the constitution of the country. And, sir, if we look to the general nature of the case, could anything have been more preposterous, than to make a government for the whole Union, and yet leave its powers subject, not to one interpretation, but to thirteen, or twenty-four, interpretations? Instead of one tribunal, established by all, responsible to all, with power to decide for all—shall constitutional questions be left to four-and-twenty popular bodies, each at liberty to decide for itself, and none bound to respect the decisions of others; and each at liberty, too, to give a new construction on every new election of its own
members? Would any thing, with such a prin- collector that he must collect no more duties ciple in it, or rather with such a destitution of under any of the tariff'laws. This, he will be all principle, be fit to be called a government? somewhat puzzled to say, by the way, with a No, sir. It should not be denominated a con- grave countenance, considering what hand South stitution. It should be called, rather, a collec- Carolina, herself, had in that of 1816. But, sir, tion of topics, for everlasting controversy; the collector would, probably, not desist at his heads of debate for a disputatious people. It bidding. He would show him the law of Conwould not be a government. It would not be gress, the treasury instruction, and his own oath adequate to any practical good, nor fit for any of office. He would say, he should perform his country to live under. To avoid all possibility duty, come what might. Here would ensue of being misunderstood, allow me to repeat a pause: for they say that a certain stillness again, in the fullest manner, that I claim no precedes the tempest. The trumpeter would powers for the government by forced or unfair hold his breath awhile, and before all this miliconstruction. I admit that it is a government tary array should fall on the custom-house, colof strictly limited powers; of enumerated, speci- lector, clerks, and all, it is very probable some fied, and particularized powers; and that what of those composing it, would request of their soever is not granted, is withheld. But not- gallant commander-in-chief, to be informed a withstanding all this, and however the grant little upon the point of law; for they have, of powers may be expressed, its limit and extent doubtless, a just respect for his opinions as a may yet, in some cases, admit of doubt; and lawyer, as well as for his bravery as a soldier. the general government would be good for They know he has read Blackstone and the nothing, it would be incapable of long existing, constitution, as well as Turrene and Vauban. if some mode had not been provided, in which They would ask him, therefore, something conthose doubts, as they should arise, might be cerning their rights in this matter. They would peaceably, but authoritatively, solved.
inquire, whether it was not somewhat dangerAnd now, Mr. President, let me run the hon ous to resist a law of the United States. What orable gentleman's doctrine a little into its would be the nature of their offence, they would practical application. Let us look at his proba- wish to learn, if they, by military force and ble“ modus operandi.” If a thing can be done, array, resisted the execution in Carolina of a an ingenious man can tell how it is to be done. law of the United States, and it should turn out, Now, I wish to be informed, how this State after all, that the law was constitutional? Hé interference is to be put in practice without would answer, of course, treason. No lawyer violence, bloodshed, and rebellion. We will could give any other answer. John Fries, he take the existing case of the tariff law., South would tell them, had learned that some years Carolina is said to have made up her opinion ago. How, then, they would ask, do you proupon it. If we do not repeal it, (as we probably pose to defend us? We are not afraid of bullets, shall not,) she will then apply to the case the but treason has a way of taking people off, that remedy of her doctrine. She will, we must we do not much relish. How do you propose to suppose, pass a law of her legislature, declaring defend us? “Look at my floating banner,” he the several acts of Congress, usually called would reply; see there the nullirying law !” the tariff laws, null and void, so far as they Is it your opinion, gallant commander, they respect South Carolina, or the citizens thereof. would then say, that if we should be indicted So far, all is a paper transaction, and easy for treason, that same floating banner of yours enongh. But the collector at Charleston is col- would make a good plea in bar? “ South lecting the duties imposed by these tariff laws Carolina is a sovereign State,” he would reply. -he therefore must be stopped. The collector That is true—but would the judge admit our will seize the goods if the tariff duties are not plea? “ These tariff laws," he would repeat, paid. The State authorities will undertake their are unconstitutional, palpably, deliberately, rescue; the marshal, with his posse, will come dangerously.” That all may be so; but if the to the collector's aid, and here the contest be-tribunal should not happen to be of that opinion, gins. The militia of the State will be called shall we swing for it? We are ready to die for out to sustain the nullifying act. They will our country, but it is rather an awkward busimarch, sir, under a very gallant leader: for Iness, this dying without touching the ground ! believe the honorable member himself com- After all, that is a sort of hemp tax, worse than mands the militia of that part of the State. He any part of the tariff. will raise the nullifying act on his standard, and
Mr. President, the honorable gentleman spread it out as his banner! It will have a pre- would be in a dilemma, like that of another amble, bearing, That the tariff laws are palpaple, great general. He would have a knot before deliberate, and dangerous violations of the con- him which he could not untie. He must cut it stitution! He will proceed, with this banner with his sword. He must say to his followers, flying, to the custom-house in Charleston : defend yourselves with your bayonets; and this
is war-civil war. “ All the while,
Direct collision, therefore, between force and Sonorous metal, blowing martial sounds.” force, is the unavoidable result of that remedy for
the revision of unconstitutional laws which the Arrived at the custom-house, he will tell the gentleman contends for. It must happen in tho
very first case to which it is applied. Is not this the plain result? To resist, by force, the execution of a law, generally, is treason. Can the courts of the United States take notice of the indulgence of a State to commit treason? The common saying, that a State cannot commit treason herself, is nothing to the purpose. Can she authorize others to do it? If John Fries had produced an act of Pennsylvania, annulling the law of Congress, would it have helped his case? Talk about it as we will, these doctrines go the length of revolution. They are incompatible with any peaceable administration of the government. They lead directly to disunion and civil commotion; and, therefore, it is, that at their commencement, when they are first found to be maintained by respectable men, and in a tangible form, I enter my public protest against them all. The honorable gentleman argues, that if this government be the sole judge of the extent of its own powers, whether that right of judging be in Congress, or the Supreme Court, it equally subverts State sovereignty. This the gentleman sees, or thinks he sees, although he cannot perceive how the right of judging, in this matter, if left to the exercise of State legislatures, has any tendency to subvert the government of the Union. The gentleman's opinion may be, that the right ought not to have been lodged with the general government; he may like better such a constitution, as we should have under the right of State interference; but I ask him to meet me on the plain matter of fact; I ask him to meet me on the constitution itself; I ask him if the power is not found there— clearly and visibly found there? But, sir, what is this danger, and what the grounds of it? Let it be remembered, that the Constitution of the United States is not unalterable. It is to continue in its present form no longer than the people who established it shall choose to continue it. If they shall become convinced that they have made an injudicious or inexpedient partition and distribution of power, between the State governments and the general government, they can alter that distribution at will. If any thing be found in the national constitution, either by original provision, or subsequent interpretation, which ought not to be in it, the people know how to get rid of it. If any construction be established, unacceptable to them, so as to become, practically, a part of the constitution, they will amend it, at their own sovereign pleasure: but while the people choose to maintain it, as it is; while they are satisfied with it, and refuse to change it, who has given, or who can give, to the State legislatures a right to alter it, either by interference, construction, or otherwise? Gentlemen do not seem to recollect that the people have any power to do any thing for themselves; they imagine there is no safety for them, any longer than they are under the close guardianship of the State legislatures. Sir, the people have not
trusted their safety, in regard to the general constitution, to these hands. They have required other security, and taken other bonds. They have chosen to trust themselves, first, to the plain words of the instrument, and to such construction as the government itself, in doubtful cases, should put on its own powers, under their oaths of office, and subject to their responsibility to them: just as the people of a State trust their own State governments with a similar power. Secondly, they have reposed their trust in the efficacy of frequent elections, and in their own power to remove their own servants and agents, whenever they see cause. Thirdly, they have reposed trust in the judicial power, which, in order that it might be trustworthy, they have made as respectable, as disinterested, and as independent as was practicable. Fourthly, they have seen fit to rely, in case of necessity, or high expediency, on their known and admitted power, to alter or amend the constitution, peaceably and quietly, whenever experience shall point out defects or imerfections. And, finally, the people of the nited States have, at no time, in no way, directly or indirectly, authorized any State legislature to construe or interpret their high instrument of government; much less to interfere, by their own power, to arrest its course and operation. If, sir, the people, in these respects, had done otherwise than they have done, their constitution could neither have been preserved, nor would it have been worth preserving. And, if its plain provisions shall now be disregarded, and these new doctrines interpolated in it, it will become as feeble and helpless a being, as its enemies, whether early or more recent, could possibly desire. It will exist in every State, but as a poor dependent on State permission. It must borrow leave to be; and will be, no longer than State pleasure, or State discretion, sees fit to grant the indulgence, and to prolong its poor existence. But, sir, although there are fears, there are hopes also. The people have preserved this, their own chosen constitution, for forty years, and have seen their happiness, prosperity, and renown, grow with its growth, and strengthen with its strength. They are now, generally, strongly attached to it. Overthrown by direct assault, it cannot be; evaded, undermined, nullified, it will not be, if we, and those who shall succeed us here, as agents and representatives of the people, shall conscientiously and vigilantly discharge the two great branches of our public trust—faithfully to preserve, and wisely to administer it. Mr. President, I have thus stated the reasons of my dissent to the doctrines which have been advanced and maintained. I am conscious of having detained you and the Senate much too long. I was drawn into the debate, with no previous deliberation such as is suited to the discussion of so grave and important a subject. But it is a subject of which my heart is full, and I have not been willing to suppress the utterance of its spontaneous sentiments. I cannot, even now, persuade myself to relinquish it, without expressing, once more, my deep conviction, that, since it respects nothing less than the union of the States, it is of most vital and essential importance to the H. happiness. I profess, sir, in my career, hitherto, to have kept steadily in view the prosperity and honor of the whole country, and the preservation of our federal Union. It is to that Union we owe our safety at home, and our consideration and dignity abroad. It is to that Union that we are chiefly indebted for whatever makes us most proud of our country. That Union we reached only by the discipline of our virtues in the severe school of adversity. It had its origin in the necessities of disordered finance, prostrate commerce, and ruined credit. Under its benign influences, these great interests immediately awoke, as from the dead, and sprang forth with newness of life. Every year of its duration has teemed with fresh proofs of its utility and its blessings; and, although our territory has stretched out wider and wider, and our population spread farther and farther, they have not outrun its protection or its benefits. It has been to us all a copious fountain of national, social, and personal happiness. I have not allowed myself, sir, to look beyond the Union, to see what might lie hidden in the dark recess behind. I have not coolly weighed the chances of preserving liberty when the bonds that unite us together shall be broken asunder. I have not accustomed myself to hang over the precipice of disunion, to see whether, with my short
sight, I can fathom the depth of the abyss below ; nor could I regard him as a safe counsellor in the affairs of this government, whose thoughts should be mainly bent on considering, not how the Union should be best preserved, but how tolerable might be the condition of the people when it shall be broken up and destroyed. While the Union lasts, we have high, exciting, gratifying prospects spread out before us, for us and our children. Beyond that I seek not to penetrate the veil. God grant that, in my day, at least, that curtain may not rise. God grant, that on . vision never may be opened what lies behind. When my eyes shall be turned to behold, for the last time, the sun in heaven may I not see him shining on the broken and dishonored fragments of a once glorious Union; on States dissevered, discordant, belligerent; on a land rent with civil feuds, or drenched, it may be, in fraternal blood! Let their last feeble and lingering glance, rather behold the gorgeous ensign of the republic, now known and honored throughout the earth, still full high advanced, its arms and trophies streaming in their original lustre, not a stripe erased or polluted, nor a single star obscured—bearing for its motto, no such miserable interrogatory, as What is all this worth 2 Nor those other words of delusion and folly, Liberty first, and Union afterwards—but every where, spread all over in characters of living light, blazing on all its ample folds, as they float over the sea and over the land, and in every wind under the whole heavens, that other sentiment, dear to every true American heart—Liberty and Union, now and for ever, one and inseparable!
ARGUMENT IN KNAPP'S TRIAL.
The following argument was delivered by Mr. Webster, on the trial of John F. Knapp, for the murder of Joseph White, of Salem, in the county of Essex, Massachusetts; on the night of the sixth of April, 1830. *
I AM little accustomed, gentlemen, to the part
which I am now attempting to perform. Hardly more than once or twice, has it happened to me to be concerned, on the side of the government, in any criminal prosecution whatever; and never, until the present occasion, in any case affecting life. But I very much regret it should have been thought necessary to suggest to you, that I am
* Mr. White, a highly respectable and wealthy citizen of Salem, about eighty years of age, was found on the morning of the 7th of April, 1830, in his bed murdered, under such circumstances as to create a strong sensation in that town, and throughout the community.
Richard Crowninshield, George Crowninshield, Joseph J. Knapp, and John F. Knapp, were a few weeks after arrested on a charge of having perpetrated the murder, and committed for trial. Joseph J. Knapp, soon after, under the promise of favor from government, made a full confession of the crime, and the circumstances attending it. In a few days after this disclosure was made, Richard Crowninshield, who was supposed to have been the principal assassin, committed suicide.
A special session of the Supreme Court was ordered by
the Legislature, for the trial of the prisoners at Salem, in