To Nicholas P. Trist
Montpellier, Decr 23, 1832.
I have received yours of the 19th, inclosing some of the South Carolina
papers. There are in one of them some interesting views of the doctrine of
secession; one that had occurred to me, and which for the first time I have
seen in print; namely that if one State can at will withdraw from the others,
the others can at will withdraw from her, and turn her, nolentem, volentem, out
of the union. Until of late, there is not a State that would have abhorred such
a doctrine more than South Carolina, or more dreaded an application of it to
herself. The same may be said of the doctrine of nullification, which she now
preaches as the only faith by which the Union can be saved.
I partake of the wonder that the men you name should view secession in
the light mentioned. The essential difference between a free Government and
Governments not free, is that the former is founded in compact, the parties to
which are mutually and equally bound by it. Neither of them therefore can have
a greater right to break off from the bargain, than the other or others have to
hold them to it. And certainly there is nothing in the Virginia resolutions of
— 98, adverse to this principle, which is that of common sense and common
justice. The fallacy which draws a different conclusion from them lies in
confounding a single party, with the parties to the
Constitutional compact of the United States. The latter having made the compact
may do what they will with it. The former as one only of the parties, owes
fidelity to it, till released by consent, or absolved by an intolerable abuse
of the power created. In the Virginia Resolutions and Report the plural
number, States , is in every instance used where reference is made
to the authority which presided over the Government. As I am now known to have
drawn those documents, I may say as I do with a distinct recollection, that the
distinction was intentional. It was in fact required by the course of reasoning
employed on the occasion. The Kentucky resolutions being less guarded have been
more easily perverted. The pretext for the liberty taken with those of Virginia
is the word respective , prefixed to the "rights" &c to be secured
within the States. Could the abuse of the expression have been foreseen or
suspected, the form of it would doubtless have been varied. But what can be
more consistent with common sense, than that all having the same rights &c.
should unite in contending for the security of them to each.
It is remarkable how closely the nullifiers who make the name of Mr
Jefferson the pedestal for their colossal heresy, shut their eyes and lips,
whenever his authority is ever so clearly and emphatically against them. You
have noticed what he says in his letters to Monroe & Carrington Pages 43
& 203, vol 2, with respect to the powers of the old Congress to coerce
delinquent States, and his reasons for preferring for the purpose a naval to a
military force, and moreover that it was not necessary to find a right to
coerce in the Federal Articles, that being inherent in the nature of a compact.
It is high time that the claim to secede at will should be put down by the
public opinion, and I shall be glad to see the task commenced by one who
understands the subject.
I know nothing of what is passing at Richmond, more than what is seen in
the newspapers. You were right in your foresight of the effect of the passages
in the late Proclamation. They have proved a leaven for much fermentation
there, and created an alarm against the danger of consolidation, balancing that
of disunion. I wish with you the Legislature may not seriously injure itself by
assuming the high character of mediator. They will certainly do so if they
forget that their real influence will be in the inverse ratio of a boastful
interposition of it.
If you can fix, and will name the day of your arrival at Orange Court
House, we will have a horse there for you, and if you have more baggage than
can be otherwise brought than on wheels, we will send such a vehicle for it.
Such is the state of the roads produced by the wagons hurrying flour to market,
that it may be impossible to send our carriage which would answer both