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SHORT correspondence with Mr. Spence on
the question discussed in the sixth chapter of his work, “ The American Union,” “ Is Secession a Constitutional Right?” led me into a closer inquiry than I had originally intended. The result is seen in the following pages. If they have any merit, it is that I have studiously avoided originality of opinion. The question is essentially one for appeal to authority. What did the framers of the Constitution themselves mean, and how was that document understood by their contemporaries? Hence the profuseness of quotation from the letters, speeches, and works of the leading men of the Revolution.
I have referred to the Essays in the
Federalist as unquestionable authority. They were written by Hamilton, Madison, and Jay, for the express purpose of expounding and recommending the Constitution, just then fresh from the Convention, to their fellow-citizens. Distinguished by remarkable clearness, vigour, and earnestness, they must have had no small effect in the attainment of their object. They express the thoughts, not of partisans, but of patriots and statesmen, -of men who distinctly saw the critical position of their country, and who deeply felt their responsibility in urging the only means of rescue.
The main idea pervading the Federalist is Nationality. No word more frequently appears on its pages than this. With no less power than fidelity, its authors proved to their countrymen, how all efforts to attain to a genuine Nationality had hitherto been abortive; that a union of States can never make one People; that a Nation consists of individuals, and not of corporate bodies; and, that if they would enjoy the blessings of peace and prosperity at home, and respect and con
fidence abroad, every State must give up its claim to independent sovereignty in order to secure the consolidation of the Union.
I have freely availed myself of the opinions of Judge Story, in his lucid “ Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States," which are indeed founded upon the Federalist.
I have quoted also from Mr. Curtis's admirable “ History of the Constitution,” which contains an interesting account of the failure of the Confederation, and the labours of the Convention. A study of these questions would hardly be complete without a perusal of this work.
It was only while revising my proof sheets that the work of my fellow-townsman, Mr. Thomas Ellison, “Slavery and Secession,' fell into my hands. Had I received it sooner I should have been spared some labour in the search for information which that book contains, and probably should not have written at all. I take the liberty, however, of now recommending it as an able and impartial résumé
of the history of the Secession movement, more especially in connection with the head and front of offence in the Union, -Slavery.
I have waited patiently for some one better qualified than myself to come forward with a refutation of the great error of Mr. Spence's work, until that work has reached a fourth edition ; but I have waited in vain. if only to satisfy my own conscience, the word of truth must be spoken.
If any further apology be needed for requesting public attention to the question I have discussed, it may be found in the great importance of our not only entertaining the most friendly feelings towards a Nation with whom we carry on an extensive commercial intercourse, the limit of which, when Morill Tariffs are swept away among the follies of the past, it is difficult to conceive; but also of forming just opinions of the great political experiment of the government of a people entirely through their representatives, now being assayed on the American continent.