The American Republic
The United States
SOVEREIGNTY, under God, inheres in the organic people, or the people as the republic; and every organic people fixed to the soil, and politically independent of every other people, is a sovereign people, and, in the modern sense, an independent sovereign nation.
Sovereign states may unite in an alliance, league, or confederation, and mutually agree to exercise their sovereign powers or a portion of them in common, through a common organ or agency; but in this agreement they part with none of their sovereignty, and each remains a sovereign state or nation as before. The common organ or agency created by the convention is no state, is no nation, has no inherent sovereignty, and derives all its vitality and force from the persisting sovereignty of the states severally that have united in creating it. The agreement no more affects the sovereignty of the several states entering into it, than does the appointment of an agent affect the rights and powers of the principal. The creature takes nothing from the Creator, exhausts not, lessens not his creative energy, and it is only by his retaining and continuously exerting his creative power that the creature continues to exist.
An independent state or nation may, with or without its consent, lose its sovereignty, but only by being merged in or subjected to another. Independent sovereign states cannot by convention, or mutual agreement, form themselves into a single sovereign state or nation. The compact, or agreement, is made by sovereign states, and binds by virtue of the sovereign power of each of the contracting parties. To destroy that sovereign power would be to annul the compact, and render void the agreement. The agreement can be valid and binding only on condition that each of the contracting parties retains the sovereignty that rendered it competent to enter into the compact, and states that retain severally their sovereignty do not form a single sovereign state or nation. The states in convention cannot become a new and single sovereign state, unless they lose their several sovereignty, and merge it in the new sovereignty; but this they cannot do by agreement, because the moment the parties to the agreement cease to be sovereign, the agreement, on which alone depends the new sovereign state, is vacated, in like manner as a contract is vacated by the death of the contracting parties.
That a nation may voluntarily cede its sovereignty is frankly admitted, but it can cede it only to something or somebody actually existing, for to cede to nothing and not to cede is one and the same thing. They can part with their own sovereignty by merging themselves in another national existence, but not by merging themselves in nothing; and, till they have parted with their own sovereignty, the new sovereign state does not exist. A prince can abdicate his power, because by abdicating he simply gives back to the people the trust he had received from them; but a nation cannot, save by merging itself in another. An independent state not merged in another, or that is not subject to another, cannot cease to be a sovereign nation, even if it would.
That no sovereign state can be formed by agreement or compact has already been shown in the refutation of the theory of the origin of government in convention, or the so-called social compact. Sovereign states are as unable to form themselves into a single sovereign state by mutual compact as are the sovereign individuals imagined by Rousseau. The convention, either of sovereign states or of sovereign individuals, with the best will in the world, can form only a compact or agreement between sovereigns, and an agreement or compact, whatever its terms or conditions, is only an alliance, a league, or a confederation, whicli no one can pretend is a sovereign state, nation, or republic. The question, then, whether the United States are a single sovereign state or nation, or a confederacy of independent sovereign states, depends on the question whether the American people originally existed as one people or as several independent states. Mr. Jefferson maintains that before the convention of 1787 they existed as several independent sovereign states, but that since that convention, or the ratification of the constitution it proposed, they exist as one political people in regard to foreign nations, and several sovereign states in regard to their internal and domestic relations. Mr. Webster concedes that originally the States existed as severally sovereign states, but contends that by ratifying the constitution they have been made one sovereign political people, state, or nation, and that the General government is a supreme national government, though with a reservation in favor of State rights. But both are wrong. If the several States of the Union were severally sovereign states when they met in the convention, they are so now; and the constitution is only an agreement or compact between sovereigns, and the United States are, as Mr. Calhoun maintained, only a confederation of sovereign states, and not a single state or one political community.
But if the sovereignty persists in the States severally, any State, saving its faith, may, whenever it chooses to do so, withdraw from the Union, absolve its subjects from all obligation to the Federal authorities, and make it treason in them to adhere to the Federal government. Secession is, then, an incontestable right; not a right held under the constitution or derived from the convention, but a right held prior to it, independently of it, inherent in the State sovereignty, and inseparable from it. The State is bound by the constitution of the Union only while she is in it, and is one of the States united. In ratifying the constitution she did not part with her sovereignty, or with any portion of it, any more than France has parted with her sovereignty, and ceased to be an independent sovereign nation, by vesting the imperial power in Napoleon III. and his legitimate heirs male. The principal parts not with his power to his agent, for the agent is an agent only by virtue of the continued power of the principal. Napoleon is emperor by the will of the French people, and governs only by the authority of the French nation, which is as competent to revoke the powers it has conferred on him, when it judges proper, as it was to confer them. The Union exists and governs, if the States are sovereign, only by the will of the State, and she is as competent to revoke the powers she has delegated as she was to delegate them. The Union, as far as she is concerned, is her creation, and what she is competent to make she is competent to unmake.
In seceding or withdrawing from the Union a State may act very unwisely, very much against her own interests and the interests of the other members of the confederacy; but, if sovereign, she in doing so only exercises her unquestionable right. The other members may regret her action, both for her sake and their own, but they cannot accuse her or her citizens of disloyalty in seceding, nor of rebellion, if in obedience to her authority they defend their independence by force of arms against the Union. Neither she nor they, on the supposition, ever owed allegiance to the Union. Allegiance is due from the citizen to the sovereign state, but never from a sovereign state or from its citizens to any other sovereign state. While the State is in the Union the citizen owes obedience to the United States, but only because his State has, in ratifying the Federal constitution, enacted that it and all laws and treaties made under it shall be law within her territory. The repeal by the State of the act of ratification releases the citizen from the obligation even of obedience, and renders it criminal for him to yield it without her permission.
It avails nothing, on the hypothesis of the sovereignty of the States as distinguished from that of the United States, to appeal to the language or provisions of the Federal constitution. That constitutes the government, not the state or the sovereign. It is ordained by the sovereign, and if the States were severally independent and sovereign states, that sovereign is the States severally, not the States united. The constitution is law for the citizens of a State only so long as the State remains one of the United States. No matter, then, how clear and express the language, or stringent the provisions of the constitution, they bind only the citizens of the States that enact the constitution. The written constitution is simply a compact, and obliges only while the compact is continued by the States, each for itself. The sovereignty of the United States as a single or political people must be established before any thing in the constitution can be adduced as denying the right of secession.
That this doctrine would deprive the General government of all right to enforce the laws of the Union on a State that secedes, or the citizens thereof, is no doubt true; that it would weaken the central power and make the Union a simple voluntary association of states, no better than a rope of sand, is no less true; but what then? It is simply saying that a confederation is inferior to a nation, and that a federal government lacks many of the advantages of a national government. Confederacies are always weak in the centre, always lack unity, and are liable to be dissolved by the influence of local passions, prejudices, and interests. But if the United States are a confederation of states or nations, not a single nation or sovereign state, then there is no remedy.
If the Anglo-American colonies, when their independence of Great Britain was achieved and acknowledged, were severally sovereign states, it has never since been in their power to unite and form a single sovereign state, or to form themselves into one indivisible sovereign nation. They could unite only by mutual agreement, which gives only a confederation, in which each retains its own sovereignty, as two individuals, however closely united, retain each his own individuality. No sovereignty is of conventional origin, and none can emerge from the convention that did not enter it. Either the states are one sovereign people or they are not, If they are not, it is undoubtedly a great disadvantage; but a disadvantage that must be accepted, and submitted to without a murmur.
Whether the United States are one sovereign people or only a confederation is a question of very grave importance. If they are only a confederation of states – and if they ever were severally sovereign states, only a confederation they certainly are – state secession is an inalienable right, and the government has had no right to make war on the secessionists as rebels, or to treat them, when their military power is broken, as traitors, or disloyal persons. The honor of the government, and of the people who have sustained it, is then deeply compromised.
What then is the fact? Are the United States politically one people, nation, state, or republic, or are they simply independent sovereign states united in close and intimate alliance, league, or federation, by a mutual pact or agreement? Were the people of the United States who ordained and established the written constitution one people, or were they not? If they were not before ordaining and establishing the government, they are not now; for the adoption of the constitution did not and could not make them one. Whether they are one or many is then simply a question of fact, to be decided by the facts in the case, not by the theories of American statesmen, the opinion of jurists, or even by constitutional law itself. The old Articles of Confederation and the later Constitution can serve here only as historical documents. Constitutions and laws presuppose the existence of a national sovereign from which they emanate, and that ordains them, for they are the formal expression of a sovereign will. The nation must exist as an historical fact, prior to the possession or exercise of sovereign power, prior to the existence of written constitutions and laws of any kind, and its existence must be established before they can be recognized as having any legal force or vitality.
The existence of any nation, as an independent sovereign nation, is a purely historical fact, for its right to exist as such is in the simple fact that it does so exist. A nation de facto is a nation de jure, and when we have ascertained the fact, we have ascertained the right. There is no right in the case separate from the fact – only the fact must be really a fact. A people hitherto a part of another people, or subject to another sovereign, is not in fact a nation, because they have declared themselves independent, and have organized a government, and are engaged in what promises to be a successful struggle for independence. The struggle must be practically over; the former sovereign must have practically abandoned the effort to reduce them to submission, or to bring them back under his authority, and if he continues it, does it as a matter of mere form; the postulant must have proved his ability to maintain civil government, and to fulfil within and without the obligations which attach to every civilized nation, before it can be recognized as an independent sovereign nation; because before it is not a fact that it is a sovereign nation. The prior sovereign, when no longer willing or able to vindicate his right, has lost it, and no one is any longer bound to respect it, for humanity demands not martyrs to lost causes.
This doctrine may seem harsh, and untenable even, to those sickly philanthropists who are always weeping over extinct or oppressed nationalities; but nationality in modern civilization is a fact, not a right antecedent to the fact. The repugnance felt to this assertion arises chiefly from using the word nation sometimes in a strictly political sense, and sometimes in its original sense of tribe, and understanding by it not simply the body politic, but a certain relation of origin, family, kindred, blood, or race. But God has made of one blood, or race, all the nations of men; and, besides, no political rights are founded by the law of nature on relations of blood, kindred, or family. Under the patriarchal or tribal system, and, to some extent, under feudalism, these relations form the basis of government, but they are economical relations rather than civil or political, and, under Christian and modern civilization, are restricted to the household, are domestic relations, and enter not the state or body politic, except by way of reminiscence or abuse. They axe protected by the state, but do not found or constitute it. The vicissitudes of time, the revolutions of states and empires, migration, conquest, and intermixture of families and races, have rendered it impracticable, even if it were desirable, to distribute people into nations according to their relations of blood or descent.
There is no civilized nation now existing that has been developed from a common ancestor this side of Adam, and the most mixed are the most civilized. The nearer a nation approaches to a primitive people of pure unmixed blood, the farther removed it is from civilization. All civilized nations are political nations, and are founded in the fact, not on rights antecedent to the fact. A hundred or more lost nationalities went to form the Roman empire, and who can tell us how many layers of crushed nationalities, superposed one upon another, serve for the foundation of the present French, English, Russian, Austrian, or Spanish nationalities? What other title to independence and sovereignty, than the fact, can you plead in behalf of any European nation? Every one has absorbed and extinguished – no one can say how many – nationalities, that once had as good a right to be as it has, or can have. Whether those nationalities have been justly extinguished or not, is no question for the statesman; it is the secret of Providence. Failure in this world is not always a proof of wrong; nor success, of right. The good is sometimes overborne, and the bad sometimes triumphs; but it it is consoling, and even just, to believe that the good oftener triumphs than the bad.
In the political order, the fact, under God, precedes the law. The nation holds not from the law, but the law holds from the nation. Doubtless the courts of every civilized nation recognize and apply both the law of nature and the law of nations, but only on the ground that they are included, or are presumed to be included, in the national law, or jurisprudence. Doubtless, too, the nation holds from God, under the law of nature, but only by virtue of the fact that it is a nation; and when it is a nation dependent on no other, it holds from God all the rights and powers of any independent sovereign nation. There is no right behind the fact needed to legalize the fact, or to put the nation that is in fact a nation in possession of full national rights. In the case of a new nation, or people, lately an integral part of another people, or subject to another people, the right of the prior sovereign must be extinguished indeed, but the extinction of that right is necessary to complete the fact, which otherwise would be only an initial, inchoate fact, not a fait accompli. But that right ceases when its claimant, willingly or unwillingly, formally or virtually, abandons it; and he does so when he practically abandons the struggle, and shows no ability or intention of soon renewing it with any reasonable prospect of success.
The notion of right, independent of the fact as applied to sovereignty, is founded in error. Empty titles to states and kingdoms are of no validity. The sovereignty is, under God, in the nation, and the title and the possession are inseparable. The title of the PalÊologi to the Roman Empire of the East, of the king of Sicily, the king of Sardinia, or the king of Spain – for they are all claimants – to the kingdom of Jerusalem founded by Godfrey and his crusaders, of the Stuarts to the thrones of England, Ireland, and Scotland, or of the Bourbons to the throne of France, are vacated and not worth the parchment on which they are engrossed. The contrary opinion, so generally entertained, belongs to barbarism, not to civilization. It is in modern society a relic of feudalism, which places the state in the government, and makes the government a private estate – a private, and not a public right – a right to govern the public, not a right to govern held from or by the public.
The proprietor may be dispossessed in fact of his estate by violence, by illegal or unjust means, without losing his right, and another may usurp it, occupy it, and possess it in fact without acquiring any right or legal title to it.
The man who holds the legal title has the right to oust him and re-enter upon his estate whenever able to do so. Here, in the economical order, the fact and the right are distinguishable, and the actual occupant may be required to show his title-deeds. Holding sovereignty to be a private estate, the feudal lawyers very properly distinguish between governments de facto and governments de jure, and argue very logically that violent dispossession of a prince does not invalidate his title. But sovereignty, it has been shown, is not in the government, but in the state, and the state is inseparable from the public domain. The people organized and held by the domain or national territory, are, under God, the sovereign nation, and remain so as long as the nation subsists without subjection to another. The government, as distinguished from the state or nation, has only a delegated authority, governs only by a commission from the nation. The revocation of the commission vacates its title and extinguishes its rights. The nation is always sovereign, and every organic people fixed to the soil, and actually independent of every other, is a nation. There can then be no independent nation de facto that is not an independent nation de jure, nor de jure that is not de facto. The moment a people cease to be an independent nation in fact, they cease to be sovereign, and the moment they become in fact an independent nation, they are so of right. Hence in the political order the fact and the right are born and expire together; and when it is proved that a people are in fact an independent nation, there is no question to be asked as to their right to be such nation. in the case of the United States there is only the question of fact. If they are in fact one people they are so in right, whatever the opinions and theories of statesmen, or even the decisions of courts; for the courts hold from the national authority, and the theories and opinions of statesmen may be erroneous. Certain it is that the States in the American Union have never existed and acted as severally sovereign states. Prior to independence, they were colonies under the sovereignty of Great Britain, and since independence they have existed and acted only as states united. The colonists, before separation and independence, were British subjects, and whatever rights the colonies had they held by charter or concession from the British crown. The colonists never pretended to be other than British subjects, and the alleged ground of their complaint against the mother country was not that she had violated their natural rights as men, but their rights as British subjects – rights, as contended by the colonists, secured by the English constitution to all Englishmen or British subjects. The denial to them of these common rights of Englishmen they called tyranny, and they defended themselves in throwing off their allegiance to George III., on the ground that he had, in their regard, become a tyrant, and the tyranny of the prince absolves the subject from his allegiance.
In the Declaration of Independence they declared themselves independent states indeed, but not severally independent. The declaration was not made by the states severally, but by the states jointly, as the United States, They unitedly declared their independence; they carried on the war for independence, won it, and were acknowledged by foreign powers and by the mother country as the United States, not as severally independent sovereign states. Severally they have never exercised the full powers of sovereign states; they have had no flag – symbol of sovereignty – recognized by foreign powers, have made no foreign treaties, held no foreign relations, had no commerce foreign or interstate, coined no money, entered into no alliances or confederacies with foreign states or with one another, and in several respects have been more restricted in their powers in the Union than they were as British colonies.
Colonies are initial or inchoate states, and become complete states by declaring and winning their independence; and if the English colonies, now the United States, had separately declared and won their independence, they would unquestionably have become separately independent states, each invested by the law of nature with all the rights and powers of a sovereign nation. But they did not do this. They declared and won their independence jointly, and have since existed and exercised sovereignty only as states united, or the United States, that is, states sovereign in their union, but not in their separation. This is of itself decisive of the whole question.
But the colonists have not only never exercised the full powers of sovereignty save as citizens of states united, therefore as one people, but they were, so far as a people at all, one people even before independence. The colonies were all erected and endowed with their rights and powers by one and the same national authority, and the colonists were subjects of one and the same national sovereign. Mr. Quincy Adams, who almost alone among our prominent statesmen maintains the unity of the colonial people, adds indeed to their subjection to the same sovereign authority, community of origin, of language, manners, customs, and law. All these, except the last, or common law, may exist without national unity in the modern political sense of the term nation. The English common law was recognised by the colonial courts, and in force in all the colonies, not by virtue of colonial legislation, but by virtue of English authority, as expressed in English jurisprudence. The colonists were under the Common Law, because they were Englishmen, and subjects of the English sovereign. This proves that they were really one people with the English people, though existing in a state of colonial dependence, and not a separate people having nothing politically in common with them but in the accident of having the same royal person for their king. The union with the mother country was national, not personal, as was the union existing between England and Hanover, or that still existing between the empire of Austria, formerly Germany, and the kingdom of Hungary; and hence the British parliament claimed, and not illegally, the right to tax the colonies for the support of the empire, and to bind them in all cases whatsoever – a claim the colonies themselves admitted in principle by recognizing and observing the British navigation laws. The people of the several colonies being really one people before independence, in the sovereignty of the mother country, must be so still, unless they have since, by some valid act, divided themselves or been divided into separate and independent states.
The king, say the jurists, never dies, and the heralds cry, “The king is dead! L[ong l]ive the king!” Sovereignty never lapses, is never in abeyance, and the moment it ceases in one people it is renewed in another. The British sovereignty ceased in the colonies with independence, and the American took its place. Did the sovereignty, which before independence was in Great Britain, pass from Great Britain to the States severally, or to the States united? It might have passed to them severally, but did it? There is no question of law or antecedent right in the case, but a simple question of fact, and the fact is determined by determining who it was that assumed it, exercised it, and has continued to exercise it. As to this there is no doubt. The sovereignty as a fact has been assumed and exercised by the United States, the States united, and never by the States separately, or severally. Then as a fact the sovereignty that before independence was in Great Britain, passed on independence to the States united, and reappears in all its vigor in the United States, the only successor to Great Britain known to or recognized by the civilized world.
As the colonial people were, though distributed in distinct colonies, still one people, the people of the United States, though distributed into distinct and mutually independent States, are yet one sovereign people, therefore a sovereign state or nation, and not a simple league or confederacy of nations.
There is no doubt that all the powers exercised by the General Government, though embracing all foreign relations and all general interests and relations of all the States, might have been exercised by it under the authority of a mutual compact of the several States, and practically the difference between the compact theory and the national view would be very little, unless in cases like that of secession. On the supposition that the American people are one political people, the government would have the right to treat secession, in the sense in which the seceders understand it, as rebellion, and to suppress it by employing all the physical force at its command; but on the compact theory it would have no such right. But the question now under discussion turns simply on what has been and is the historical fact. Before the States could enter into the compact and delegate sovereign powers to the Union, they must have severally possessed them. It is historically certain that they did not possess them before independence; they did not obtain them by independence, for they did not severally succeed to the British sovereignty, to which they succeeded only as States united. When, then, and by what means did they or could they become severally sovereign States? The United States having succeeded to the British sovereignty in the Anglo-American colonies, they came into possession of full national sovereignty, and have alone held and exercised it ever since independence became a fact. The States severally succeeding only to the colonies, never held, and have never been competent to delegate sovereign powers.
The old Articles of Confederation, it is conceded, were framed on the assumption that the States are severally sovereign; but the several States, at the same time, were regarded as forming one nation, and, though divided into separate States, the people were regarded as one people. The Legislature of New York, as early as 1782, calls for an essential change in the Articles of Confederation, as proved to be inadequate to secure the peace, security, and prosperity of “the nation.” All the proceedings that preceded and led to the call of the convention of 1787 were based on the assumption that the people of the United States were one people. The States were called united, not confederated States, even in the very Articles of Confederation themselves, and officially the United States were called “the Union.” That the united colonies by independence became united States, and formed really one and only one people, was in the thought, the belief, the instinct of the great mass of the people. They acted as they existed through State as they had previously acted through colonial organization, for in throwing off the British authority there was no other organization through which they could act. The States, or people of the States, severally sent their delegates to the Congress of the United States, and these delegates adopted the rule of voting in Congress by States, a rule that might be revived without detriment to national unity. Nothing was more natural, then, than that Congress, composed of delegates elected or appointed by States, should draw up articles of confederation rather than articles of union, in order, if for no other reason, to conciliate the smaller States, and to prevent their jealousy of the larger States such as Virginia, Massachusetts, and Pennsylvania.
Moreover, the Articles of Confederation were drawn up and adopted during the transition from colonial dependence to national independence. Independence was declared in 1776, but it was not a fact till 1782, when the preliminary treaty acknowledging it was signed at Paris. Till then the United States were not an independent nation; they were only a people struggling to become an independent nation. Prior to that preliminary treaty, neither the Union nor the States severally were sovereign. The articles were agreed on in Congress in 1777, but they were not ratified by all the States till May, 1781, and in 1782 the movement was commenced in the Legislature of New York for their amendment. Till the organization under the constitution ordained by the people of the United States in 1787, and which went into operation in 1789, the United States had in reality only a provisional government and it was not till then that the national government was definitively organized, and the line of demarcation between the General government and the particular State governments was fixed.
The Confederation was an acknowledged failure, and was rejected by the American people, precisely because it was not in harmony with the unwritten or Providential constitution of the nation; and it was not in harmony with that constitution precisely because it recognized the States as severally sovereign, and substituted confederation for union. The failure of confederation and the success of union are ample proofs of the unity of the American nation. The instinct of unity rejected State sovereignty in 1787 as it did in 1861. The first and the last attempt to establish State sovereignty have failed, and the failure vindicates the fact that the sovereignty is in the States united, not in the States severally.