OF THE PERMANENCE OF THE UNION.
Quassata respublica multa perderet et ornamenta
dignitatis et præsidia stabilitatis suæ. Oratio pro
HAVING thus endeavoured
to delineate the general features of this peculiar and invaluable form of
government, we shall conclude with adverting to the principles of its
cohesion, and to the provisions it contains for its own duration and
The subject cannot perhaps be better introduced than by presenting in
its own words an emphatical clause in the Constitution.
The United States shall guarantee to every state in the Union a
republican form of government, shall protect each of them against
invasion, and on application of the legislature, or of the executive when
the legislature cannot be convened, against domestic violence.
The Union is an association of the people of republics; its preservation
is calculated to depend on the preservation of those republics. The people
of each pledge themselves to preserve that form of government in all. Thus
each becomes responsible to the rest, that no other form of government
shall prevail in it, and all are bound to preserve it in every one.
But the mere compact, without the power to enforce it, would be of
little value. Now this power can be no where so properly lodged, as in the
Union itself. Hence, the term guarantee, indicates that the United States
are authorized to oppose, and if possible, prevent every state in the
Union from relinquishing the republican form of government, and as
auxiliary means, they are expressly authorized and required to employ
their force on the application of the constituted authorities of each
state, "to repress domestic violence." If a faction
should attempt to subvert the government of a state for the purpose of
destroying its republican form, the paternal power of the Union could thus
be called forth to subdue it.
Yet it is not to be understood, that its interposition would be
justifiable, if the people of a state should determine to retire from the
Union, whether they adopted another or retained the same form of
government, or if they should, with the, express intention of seceding,
expunge the representative system from their code, and thereby
incapacitate themselves from concurring according to the mode now
prescribed, in the choice of certain public officers of the United States.
The principle of representation, although certainly the wisest and best,
is not essential to the being of a republic, but to continue a member of
the Union, it must be preserved, and therefore the guarantee must be so
construed. It depends on the state itself to retain or abolish the
principle of representation, because it depends on itself whether it will
continue a member of the Union. To deny this right would be inconsistent
with the principle on which all our political systems are founded, which
is, that the people have in all cases, a right to determine how they will
This right must be considered as an ingredient in the original
composition of the general government, which, though not expressed, was
mutually understood, and the doctrine heretofore presented to the reader
in regard to the indefeasible nature of personal allegiance, is so far
qualified in respect to allegiance to the United States. It was observed,
that it was competent for a state to make a compact with its citizens,
that the reciprocal obligations of protection and allegiance might cease
on certain events; and it was further observed, that allegiance would
necessarily cease on the dissolution of the society to which it was due.
The states, then, may wholly withdraw from the Union, but while they
continue, they must retain the character of representative republics.
Governments of dissimilar forms and principles cannot long maintain a
binding coalition. "Greece," says Montesquieu, "was undone
as soon as the king of Macedon obtained a seat in the amphyctionic
council." 1 It is probable,
however, that the disproportionate force as well as the monarchical form
of the new confederate had its share of influence in the event. But
whether the historical fact supports the theory or not, the principle in
respect to ourselves is unquestionable.
We have associated as republics. Possessing the power to form
monarchies, republics were preferred and instituted. The history of the
ancient, and the state of the present world, are before us. Of modern
republics, Venice, Florence, the United Provinces, Genoa, all but
Switzerland have disappeared. They have sunk beneath the power of
monarchy, impatient at beholding the existence, of any other form than its
own. An injured province of Turkey, recalling to its mind the illustrious
deeds of its ancestors, has ventured to resist its oppressors, and with a
revival of the name of Greece, a hope is entertained of the permanent
institution of another republic. But monarchy stands by with a jealous
aspect, and fearful lest its own power should be endangered by the revival
of the maxim, that sovereignty can ever reside in the people, affects a
cold neutrality, with the probable anticipation that it will induce to
barbarian success. Yet that gallant country, it is trusted, will
persevere. An enlightened people, disciplined through necessity, and
emboldened even by the gloom of its prospects, may accomplish what it
would not dare to hope. 2
This abstract principle, this aversion to the extension of republican
freedom, is now invigorated and enforced by an alliance avowedly for the
purpose of overpowering all efforts to relieve mankind from their
shackles. It is essentially and professedly the exaltation of monarchies
over republics, and even over every alteration in the forms of monarchy,
tending to acknowledge or secure the rights of the people. The existence
of such a combination warrants and requires that in some part of the
civilized world, the republican system should be able to defend itself.
But this would be imperfectly done, by the erection of separate,
independent, though contiguous governments. They must be collected into a
body, strong in proportion to the firmness of its union; respected and
feared in proportion to its strength. The principle on which alone the
Union is rendered valuable, and which alone can continue it, is the
preservation of the republican form.
In what manner this guaranty shall be effectuated is not explained, and
it presents a question of considerable nicety and importance.
Not a word in the Constitution is intended to be inoperative, and one so
significant as the present was not lightly inserted. The United States are
therefore bound to carry it into effect whenever the occasion arises, and
finding as we do, in the same clause, the engagement to protect each state
against domestic violence, which can only be by the arms of the Union, we
are assisted in a due construction of the means of enforcing the guaranty.
If the majority of the people of a state deliberately and peaceably
resolve to relinquish the republican form of government, they cease to be
members of the Union. If a faction, an inferior number, make such an
effort, and endeavour to enforce it by violence, the case provided for
will have arisen, and the Union is bound to employ its power to prevent
The power and duty of the United States to interfere with the particular
concerns of a state are not, however, limited to the violent efforts of a
party to alter its constitution. If from any other motives, or under any
other pretexts, the internal peace and order of the state are disturbed,
and its own powers are insufficient to suppress the commotion, it becomes
the duty of its proper government to apply to the Union for protection.
This is founded on the sound principle that those in whom the force of the
Union is vested, in diminution of the power formerly possessed by the
state, are bound to exercise it for the good of the whole, and upon the
obvious and direct interest that the whole possesses in the peace and
tranquillity of every part. At the same time it is properly provided, in
order that such interference may not wantonly or arbitrarily take place;
that it shall only be, on the request of the state authorities: otherwise
the self-government of the state might be encroached upon at the pleasure
of the Union, and a small state might fear or feel the effects of a
combination of larger states against it under colour of constitutional
authority; but it is manifest, that in every part of this excellent
system, there has been the utmost care to avoid encroachments on the
internal powers of the different states, whenever the general good did not
imperiously require it.
No form of application for this assistance is pointed out, nor has been
provided by any act of congress, but the natural course would be to apply
to the president, or officer for the time being, exercising his functions.
No occasional act of the legislature of the United States seems to be
necessary, where the duty of the president is pointed out by the
Constitution, and great injury might be sustained, if the power was not
In the instance of foreign invasion, the duty of immediate and
unsolicited protection is obvious, but the generic term invasion,
which is used without any qualification, may require a broader
If among the improbable events of future times, we shall see a state
forgetful of its obligation to refer its controversies with another state
to the judicial power of the Union, endeavour by force to redress its real
or imaginary wrongs, and actually invade the other state, we shall
perceive a case in which the supreme power of the Union may justly
interfere; perhaps we may say is bound to do so.
The invaded state, instead of relying merely on its own strength for
defence, and instead of gratifying its revenge by retaliation, may
prudently call for and gratefully receive the strong arm of the Union to
repel the invasion, and reduce the combatants to the equal level of
suitors in the high tribunal provided for them. In this course, the
political estimation of neither state could receive any degradation. The
decision of the controversy would only be regulated by the purest
principles of justice, and the party really injured, would be certain of
having the decree in its favour carried into effect. It rests with the
Union, and not with the states separately or individually, to increase the
number of its members. 3 The
admission of another state can only take place on its own application. We
have already seen, that in the formation of colonies under the
denomination of territories, the habit has been, to assure to them their
formation into states when the population should become sufficiently
large. On that event, the inhabitants acquire a right to assemble and form
a constitution for themselves, and the United States are considered as
bound to admit the new state into the Union, provided its form of
government be that of a representative republic. This is the only check or
control possessed by the United States in this respect.
If a measure so improbable should occur in the colony, as the adoption
of a monarchical government, it could not be received into the Union,
although it assumed the appellation of a state, but the guaranty of which
we have spoken, would not literally apply — the guaranty is intended
to secure republican institutions to states, and does not in terms extend
to colonies. As soon, however, as a state is formed out of a colony, and
admitted into the Union, it becomes the common concern to enforce the
continuance of the republican form. There can be no doubt, however, that
the new state may decline to apply for admission into the Union but it
does not seem equally clear, that if its form of government coincided with
the rules already mentioned, its admission could be refused. The
inhabitants emigrate from the United States, and foreigners are permitted
to settle, under the express or implied compact, that when the proper time
arrives, they shall become members of the great national community,
without being left to an exposed and unassisted independence, or compelled
to throw themselves into the arms of a foreign power. It would seem,
however, that the constitution adopted, ought to be submitted to the
consideration of congress, but it would not be necessary that this measure
should take place at the time of its formation, and it would be sufficient
if it were presented and approved at the time of its admission. The
practice of congress has not, however, corresponded with these positions,
no previous approbation of the constitution has been deemed necessary.
It must also be conceded, that the people of the new state retain the
same power to alter their constitution, that is enjoyed by the people of
the older states, and provided such alterations are not carried so far as
to extinguish the republican principle, their admission is not affected.
The secession of a state from the Union depends on the will of the
people of such state. The people alone as we have already seen, bold the
power to alter their constitution. The Constitution of the United States
is to a certain extent, incorporated into the constitutions or the several
states by the act of the people. The state legislatures have only to
perform certain organical operations in respect to it. To withdraw from
the Union comes not within the general scope of their delegated authority.
There must be an express pro- vision to that effect inserted in the state
constitutions. This is not at present the case with any of them, and it
would perhaps be impolitic to confide it to them. A matter so momentous,
ought not to be entrusted to those who would have it in their power to
exercise it lightly and precipitately upon sudden dissatisfaction, or
causeless jealousy, perhaps against the interests and the wishes of a
majority of their constituents.
But in any manner by which a secession is to take place, nothing is more
certain than that the act should be deliberate, clear, and unequivocal.
The perspicuity and solemnity of the original obligation require
correspondent qualities in its dissolution. The powers of the general
government cannot be defeated or impaired by an ambiguous or implied
secession on the part of the state, although a secession may perhaps be
conditional. The people of the state may have some reasons to complain in
respect to acts of the general government, they may in such cases invest
some of their own officers with the power of negotiation, and may declare
an absolute secession in case of their failure. Still, however, the
secession must in such case be distinctly and peremptorily declared to
take place on that event, and in such case — as in the case of an
unconditional secession, — the previous ligament with the Union,
would be legitimately and fairly destroyed. But in either case the people
is the only moving power.
A suggestion relative to this part of the subject has appeared in print,
which the author conceives to require notice.
It has been laid down that if all the states, or a majority of them,
refuse to elect senators, the legislative powers of the Union will be
Of the first of these supposed cases there can be no doubt. If one of
the necessary branches of legislation is wholly withdrawn, there can be no
further legislation, but if a part, although the greater part of either
branch should be withdrawn it would not affect the power of those who
In no part of the Constitution is a specific number of states required
for a legislative act. Under the articles of confederation the concurrence
of nine states was requisite for many purposes. If five states had
withdrawn from that Union, it would have been dissolved. In the present
Constitution there is no specification of numbers after the first
formation. It was foreseen that there would be a natural tendency to
increase the number of states with the increase of population then
anticipated and now so fully verified. It was also known, though it was
not avowed, that a state might withdraw itself The number would therefore
In no part of the Constitution is there a reference to any proportion of
the states, except in the two subjects of amendments, and of the choice of
president and vice-president.
In the first case, two-thirds or three-fourths of the several states is
the language used, and it signifies those proportions of the several
states that shall then form the Union.
In the second, there is a remarkable distinction between the choice of
president and vice president, in case of an equality of votes for either.
The house of representatives, voting by states, is to select one
of the three persons having the highest number, for president, a quorum
for this purpose shall consist of a member or members from two-thirds of
the states, and a majority of all the states shall be necessary for the
The senate not voting by states, but by their members individually,
as in all other cases, selects the vice president from the two persons
having the highest number on the list. A quorum for this purpose shall
consist of two-thirds of the whole number of senators, and a majority is
sufficient for the choice.
Now, if by the omission of the legislators of more than one third of the
states, there were no senators from such states, the question would arise
whether the quorum is predicated of the states represented, or of all the
states, whether represented or not.
The former opinion is most consistent with the general rule, that we
should always prefer a construction that will support, to one that has a
tendency to destroy an instrument or a system. Other causes than design on
the part of a state legislature, may be imagined to occasion some states
to be unrepresented in the senate at the moment.
It seems to be the safest, and is possibly the soundest construction, to
consider the quorum as intended to be composed of two-thirds of the then
But we may pursue the subject somewhat further.
To withdraw from the Union is a solemn, serious act. Whenever it may
appear expedient to the people of a state, it must be manifested in a
direct and unequivocal manner. If it is ever done indirectly, the people
must refuse to elect representatives, as well as to suffer their
legislature to re-appoint senators. The senator whose time had not yet
expired, must be forbidden to continue in the exercise of his functions.
But without plain, decisive measures of this nature, proceeding from the
only legitimate source, the people, the United States cannot consider
their legislative powers over such states suspended, nor their executive
or judicial powers any way impaired, and they would not be obliged to
desist from the collection of revenue within such state.
As to the remaining states among themselves, there is no opening for a
Secessions may reduce the number to the smallest integer admitting
combination. They would remain united under the same principles and
regulations among themselves that now apply to the whole. For a state
cannot be compelled by other states to withdraw from the Union, and
therefore, if two or more determine to remain united, although all the
others desert them, nothing can be discovered in the Constitution to
The consequences of an absolute secession cannot be mistaken, and they
would be serious and afflicting.
The seceding state, whatever might be its relative magnitude, would
speedily and distinctly feel the loss of the aid and countenance of the
Union. The Union losing a proportion of the national revenue, would be
entitled to demand from it a proportion of the national debt. It would be
entitled to treat the inhabitants and the commerce of the separated state,
as appertaining to a foreign country. In public treaties already made,
whether commercial or political, it could claim no participation, while
foreign powers would unwillingly calculate, and slowly transfer to it, any
portion of the respect and confidence borne towards the United States.
Evils more alarming may readily be perceived. The destruction of the
common hand would be unavoidably attended with more serious consequences
than the mere disunion of the parts.
Separation would produce jealousies and discord, which in time would
ripen into mutual hostilities, and while our country would be weakened by
internal war, foreign enemies would be encouraged to invade with the
flattering prospect of subduing in detail, those whom, collectively, they
would dread to encounter.
Such in ancient times was the fate of Greece, broken into numerous
independent republics. Rome, which pursued a contrary policy, and absorbed
all her territorial acquisitions in one great body, attained irresistible
But it may be objected, that Rome also has fallen. It is true; and such
is the history of man. Natural life and political existence alike give way
at the appointed measure of time, and the birth, decay, and extinction of
empires only serve to prove the tenuity and illusion of the deepest
schemes of the statesman, and the most elaborate theories of the
philosopher. Yet it is always our duty to inquire into, and establish
those plans and forms of civil association most conducive to present
happiness and long duration: the rest we must leave to Divine Providence,
which hitherto has so graciously smiled on the United States of America.
We may contemplate a dissolution of the Union in another light, more
disinterested but not less dignified, and consider whether we are not only
bound to ourselves but to the world in general, anxiously and faithfully
to preserve it.
The first example which has been exhibited of a perfect self-government,
successful beyond the warmest hopes of its, authors, ought never to be
withdrawn while the means of preserving it remain.
If in other countries, and particularly in Europe, a systematic
subversion of the political rights of man shall gradually overpower all
rational freedom, and endanger all political happiness, the failure of our
example should not be held up as a discouragement to the legitimate
opposition of the sufferers; if, on the other hand, an emancipated people
should seek a model on which to frame their own structure; our
Constitution, as permanent in its duration as it is sound and splendid in
its principles, should remain to be their guide.
In every aspect therefore which this great subject presents, we feel the
deepest impression of a sacred obligation to preserve the union of our
country; we feel our glory, our safety, and our happiness, involved in it;
we unite the interests of those who coldly calculate advantages with those
who glow with what is little short of filial affection; and we must resist
the attempt of its own citizens to destroy it, with the same feelings that
we should avert the dagger of the parricide.
This work cannot perhaps be better concluded than with a quotation from
the valedictory address of one whose character stamps inestimable value on
all that lie has uttered, and whose exhortations on this subject,
springing from the purest patriotism and the soundest wisdom, ought never
to be forgotten or neglected. 5
In this address Washington expressed himself as follows: —
"The name of American, which belongs to you in your
national capacity, must always exalt the just pride of patriotism, more
than any appellation derived from local discriminations. With slight
shades of difference, you have the same religion, manners, habits, and
political principles — you have in a common cause fought and
triumphed together; the independence and liberty you possess, are the work
of joint counsels, and joint efforts, of common dangers, sufferings, and
"But these considerations, however powerfully they address
themselves to your sensibility, are greatly outweighed by those which
apply more immediately to your interest. Here every portion of our country
finds the most commanding motives for carefully guarding and preserving
the union of the whole.
"The North in an unrestrained intercourse with the South,
protected by the equal laws of a common government, finds in the
productions of the latter, great additional resources of maritime and
commercial enterprise, and precious materials of manufacturing industry.
"The South, in the same intercourse, benefiting by the same
agency of the North, sees its agriculture grow and its commerce
expand. Turning partly into its own channels the seamen of the North,
it finds its particular navigation invigorated, and while it contributes
in different ways to nourish and increase the general mass of the national
navigation, it looks forward to the protection of a maritime strength, to
which itself is unequally adapted. The East in a like intercourse
with the West, already finds, and in the progressive improvement
of interior communications by land and water, will more and more find, a
valuable vent for the commodities which it brings from abroad or
manufactures at home. The West derives from the East
supplies requisite to its growth and comfort, and what is perhaps of still
greater consequence, it must of necessity owe the secure enjoyment
of indispensable outlets for its own productions, to the weight,
influence, and the future maritime strength of the Atlantic side of the
Union, directed by an indissoluble community of interest as one nation.
Any other tenure by which the West can hold this essential
advantage, whether derived from its own separate strength, or from an
apostate and unnatural connexion with any foreign power, must be
"While, then, every part of our country thus feels an immediate and
particular interest in union, all the parts combined cannot fail to find
in the united mass of means and efforts, greater strength, greater
resource, proportionably greater security from external danger, a less
frequent interruption of their peace by foreign nations, and what is of
inestimable value, they must derive from union an exemption from those
broils and wars between themselves which so frequently afflict
neighbouring countries, not tied together by the same government, which
their own rivalships alone would be sufficient to produce, but which
opposite foreign alliances, attachments, and intrigues, would stimulate
and embitter. Hence, likewise, they will avoid the necessity of those
overgrown military establishments, which, under any form of government are
inauspicious to liberty, and which are to be regarded as particularly
hostile to republican liberty. In this sense, it is that your union ought
to be considered as a main prop of your liberty, and that the love of the
one ought to endear to you the preservation of the other.
"These considerations speak a persuasive language to every
reflecting and virtuous mind, and exhibit the continuance of the Union as
a primary object of patriotic desire. Is there a doubt whether a common
government can embrace so large a sphere? Let experience solve it. To
listen to mere speculation in such a case were criminal. We are authorised
to hope that a proper organization of the whole, with the auxiliary agency
of governments for the respective subdivisions, will afford a happy issue
to the experiment. With such powerful and obvious motives to union,
affecting all parts of our country, while experience shall not have
demonstrated its impracticability, there will always be reason to distrust
the patriotism of those who in any quarter may endeavour to weaken its
1. Federalist, No. 43.
2. Since this passage was written,
the affairs of Greece have assumed somewhat of a different aspect. The
Turkish fleet has been accidentally destroyed by the combined powers, and
the French have landed a body of men, with an apparent intention to
promote the independence of this afflicted country.
3. There is, however, a restriction
on this point, which must be noticed. No state can be formed or erected
within the jurisdiction of any other state, nor can any state be formed by
the junction of two or more states or parts of states, without the consent
of the legislatures of the states concerned as well as of congress.
4. It is with great deference that
the author ventures to dissent from this part of the opinion of the
learned chief justice of the Supreme Court in the, case of Cohen v.
Virginia, 6 Wheaton, 390. it was not the point in controversy, and
seems to have been introduced in that flow of luminous discussion for
which he is so remarkable, by way of answer to part of the arguments of
counsel. Every thing that falls from such a quarter excites to reflection,
and the opinion having gone forth to the world; it seems a duty on him who
professes to take a general view of the Constitution, to notice whatever
may in his apprehension amount to the slightest error in principle.
5. Some doubts having been
entertained whether this address was not written by another hand, it is
due to the memory of this great man to mention, that by the researches of
The Pennsylvania Historical society, it has been fully ascertained that it
was the entire work of the president.
Next | Previous
| Contents | Text