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had concurred in the forming of the Constitution, consider the States as having been, from the time of the Declaration of Independence, until the adoption of the Constitution, distinct communities, entirely independent of each other.
This diversity of views, among individuals of equal talent and unsuspected integrity, will not appear very extraordinary, when it is recollected that during the period in question, the country was in a revolutionary state. Its condition was analogous to that of England during the interval between the overthrow of the arbitrary government of the Stuarts and the settlement of the Constitution in 1688; or that of France, between the destruction of the old monarchy in 1789, and the final sanction of the present charter, after the three great days of July 1830. In both the cases alluded to, it is well known, that political institutions, of various and opposite characters, rapidly succeeded each other, and that neither country could be said, with propriety, to possess a regular and settled government. They were in a state of transition from one form of political existence to another, and this was substantially the condition of the United States from the Declaration of Independence until the adoption of the Constitution. It was not only a natural, but, as the Committee conceive, a necessary result of this condition, that political events of different and even contradictory characters, should successively occur, and that individuals, as they have been led, by circumstances, to attach greater or less importance to one or another of these events, should draw different conclusions as the existing forms of government. On the one hand, the States acted, for many purposes, as distinct coinmunities, claiming to be politically independent of each oth
er; while, on the other hand, they organized a Union among themselves, with a Congress of Delegates at the head of it, who exercised most of the powers of a Gencral Government. It would, perhaps, be difficult to reconcile all the acts and powers of Congress and the State Governments at that time, with any consistent and precise political theory; and the failure of the experiment tends to confirm the opinion, that the elements which entered into the structure of the old confederacy, were incoherent and self-contradictory. The Committee are inclined to believe, as they have already remarked, that the future historian will consider the whole period in question as a revolutionary one, and the form of the government as unsettled and fluctuating, until it was finally fixed, for the first time, by the adoption of the present Constitution.
2. But the Committee deem it unnecessary to dwell upon this point, since, were it even admitted that the States, at the time when they formed the Constitution, were distinct communities, politically independent of each other, it would by no means follow, as the Convention of South Carolina appear to suppose, that they are still in that condition, and that the Union is a League or Confederacy of mutually and absolutely independent States. The rights and obligations of the parties to a contract, are determined by its nature and terms, and not by their condition previously to its conclusion. As respects the latter point, the only question is, were the parties legally, or in cases when they are not subject to a Common Government, morally capable of making such a contract? If this question be answered in the affirmative, the previous condition of the parties, in other respects, is immaterial; and in order to ascertain to
what the contract binds them, we have only to inquire what the contract is.
Now there can be no doubt, that independent States are morally as capable of forming themselves into a body politic, as independent individuals. A great proportion of the political societies which now exist, or of which we know the history, were constituted in this way. Hence, were it even admitted, that the States were distinct and independent communities at the time when they framed the Constitution, the fact would no more prove, that they are distinct and independent communi-, ties now, than the fact that the two parties to a contract of marriage were single before its conclusion goes to prove that they are single afterwards. If the States were, at the time when they framed the Constitution, as there cannot be a doubt, morally capable of forming a contract, involving the entire surrender of their political independence, it is quite apparent that, in order to ascertain their rights and obligations under the Constitution, we have to look exclusively to the nature and terms of that instrument, without regard to the mutual relations of the parties before they made it.
Reposing mainly, as has been said, for the justification of their proceedings, upon the argument that the States were independent at the time when the Constitution was adopted, and must therefore of course be independent now, the Convention has in a great measure lost sight of the course of reasoning which is proper to the subject, and have made but little effort to establish their doctrines, by reference either to the general nature of the Constitution, or to its specific provisions. Some considerations appertaining to this branch of the inquiry, are however to be found in their publications, and to them
the Committee will now very briefly direct their attention.
Of these considerations the most important is, that the General Government, created by the Constitution of the United States, is a Government invested with specific and limited powers, having no general and indefinite powers, excepting such as are necessary to carry the specified ones into effect, and that the powers not conferred upon the General Government are reserved to the States. This is, no doubt, true in fact : but that it was not intended in making this arrangement, to maintain the States in possession of an absolute political independence, with a right of judging for themselves when the General Government exceeds its powers, and annulling any acts involving such excess, is apparent, as well from other particular provisions of the Constitution, as from the general scope and purpose of that instrument.
1. In all cases the general purpose of a contract is one of the most important elements to be taken into view in ascertaining the rights and obligations resulting from it, because the general purpose controls, to a certain extent, the construction of all the particular provisions. It would be absurd to interpret any particular part of an instrument in such a way as would suppose in the parties an intention manifestly contrary to the general object of the whole ; as for example, to interpret one of the clauses in a contract of marriage in such a way as would suppose that it was the intention of the parties to remain single. Now it is quite apparent from the general scope and purpose of the Constitution of the United States, that it was not the intention of the parties who framed it, whether considered in their joint or individual capacity, to retain the character of absolute political independence. It is
one of that class of agreements commonly denominated social compacts, the principal object of which is to combine the parties forming them into one body politic, or political society, under a common Government. This is apparent on the face of the instrument. We, the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect Union, establish justice, ensure domestic tranquillity, provide for the common defence, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America. That such is the general scope of the instrument is not contested by the warmest advocates of the doctrines maintained by the Convention of South Carolina. But the precise object which the parties to a social compact have in view in forming themselves into one political society, is to terminate the relation of mutual independence which previously existed between them. If the contract contained a clause providing that the parties should retain their political independence, it would be self-contradictory; and to interpret a doubtful passage or particular provision in such a way as to attribute to the parties such an intention, would, as the Committee have remarked, involve the same absurdity as to interpret a clause in a marriage contract on the supposition that the parties intended to remain single. It is of the essence of a social compact or Constitution of Gov, ernment, that the parties to it surrender their absolute political independence, and become members of a society whose will is admitted to be the common law. To declare this will, agreeably to the forms prescribed in the Constitution,-in other words, to make and alter the laws as occasion may require, is the office of the Government. No individual or other member of the body politic can