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All profess to be content in the Union, if all constitutional rights can be maintained. Is it true, then, that any right, plainly written in the Constitution, has been denied ? I think not. Happily the human mind is so constituted that no party can reach to the audacity 230 of doing this. Think, if you can, of a single instance in which a plainly written provision of the Constitution has ever been denied. If, by the mere force of numbers, a majority should deprive a minority of any clearly written constitutional right, it might, in a moral point of 235 view, justify revolution — certainly would, if such right were a vital one. But such is not our case.
All the vital rights of minorities and of individuals are so plainly assured to them by affirmations and negations, guarantees and prohibitions, in the Constitution that 240 controversies never arise concerning them. But no organic law can ever be framed with a provision specifically applicable to every question which may occur in practical administration. No foresight can antici
. pate, nor any document of reasonable length contain, 245 express provisions for all possible questions. Shall fugitives from labor be surrendered by national or by state authority? The Constitution does not expressly say. May Congress prohibit slavery in the territories? The Constitution does not expressly say. Must Con- 250 gress protect slavery in the territories? The Constitution does not expressly say.
From questions of this class spring all our constitutional controversies, and we divide upon them into majorities and minorities. If the minority will not 253 acquiesce, the majority must, or the Government must
There is no other alternative ; for continuing the Government is acquiescence on one side or the
other. If a minority in such case will secede rather than acquiesce, they make a precedent which in turn 260 will divide and ruin them; for a minority of their own will secede from them whenever a majority refuses to be controlled by such minority. For instance, why may not any portion of a new confederacy, a year or two hence, arbitrarily secede again, precisely as por- 265 tions of the present Union now claim to secede from it? All who cherish disunion sentiments are now being educated to the exact temper of doing this.
Is there such perfect identity of interests among the states to compose a new Union as to produce harmony 270 only, and prevent renewed secession?
Plainly, the central idea of secession is the essence of anarchy. A majority held in restraint by constitutional checks and limitations, and always changing easily with deliberate changes of popular opinions and 275 sentiments, is the only true sovereign of a free people. Whoever rejects it does, of necessity, fly to anarchy or to despotism. Unanimity is impossible; the rule of a minority, as a permanent arrangement, is wholly inadmissible; so that, rejecting the majority principle, 280 anarchy or despotism in some form is all that is left.
I do not forget the position assumed by some, that constitutional questions are to be decided by the Supreme Court; nor do I deny that such decisions must be binding, in any case, upon the parties to a 285 suit, as to the object of that suit, while they are also entitled to very high respect and consideration in all parallel cases by all other departments of the Government. And while it is obviously possible that such decision may be erroneous in any given case, still the 290 evil effect following it, being limited to that particular
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case, can better be borne than could the evils of a different practice. At the same time the candid citizen must confess that, if the policy of the Government upon vital questions affecting the whole people is to 295 be irrevocably fixed by decisions of the Supreme Court the instant they are made in ordinary litigation between parties in personal actions, the people will have ceased to be their own rulers, having to that extent practically resigned their government into the hands of that emi- 300 nent tribunal. Nor is there in this view any assault upon the court or the judges. It is a duty from which they may not shrink to decide cases properly brought before them, and it is no fault of theirs if others seek to turn their decisions to political purposes. 305
One section of our country believes slavery is right, and ought to be extended, while the other believes it is wrong, and ought not to be extended. This is the only substantial dispute. The fugitive-slave clause of the Constitution, and the law for the suppression of the 310 foreign slave trade, are each as well enforced, perhaps, as any law can ever be in a community where the moral sense of the people imperfectly supports the law itself. The great body of the people abide by the dry legal obligation in both cases, and a few break over in each. 315 This, I think, cannot be perfectly cured; and it would be worse in both cases after the separation of the sections than before. The foreign slave trade, now imperfectly suppressed, would be ultimately revived without restriction in one section; while fugitive slaves, 320 now only partially surrendered, would not be surrendered at all by the other.
Physically speaking, we cannot separate. We cannot remove our respective sections from each other, nor
build an impassable wall between them. A husband 325 and wife may be divorced, and go out of the presence and beyond the reach of each other; but the different parts of our country cannot do this. They cannot but remain face to face, and intercourse, either amicable or hostile, must continue between them. Is it possible, 330 then, to make that intercourse more advantageous or more satisfactory after separation than before? Can aliens make treaties easier than friends can make laws? Can treaties be more faithfully enforced between aliens than laws can among friends ? Suppose you go 335 to war, you cannot fight always; and when, after much loss on both sides, and no gain on either, you cease fighting, the identical old questions as to terms of intercourse are again upon you.
This country with its institutions belongs to the 340 people who inhabit it. Whenever they shall grow weary of the existing Government they can exercise their constitutional right of amending it, or their revolutionary right to dismember or overtlırow it. I cannot be ignorant of the fact that many worthy and patriotic cit-345 izens are desirous of having the National Constitution amended. While I make no recommendation of amendments, I fully recognize the rightful authority of the people over the whole subject, to be exercised in either of the modes prescribed in the instrument itself; and I 350 should, under existing circumstances, favor rather than oppose a fair opportunity being afforded the people to act upon it. I will venture to add, that to me the convention mode seems preferable, in that it allows amendments to originate with the people themselves, instead 353 of only permitting them to take or reject propositions originated by others not especially chosen for the pur
pose, and which might not be precisely such as they would wish to either accept or refuse. I understand a proposed amendment to the Constitution — which 360 amendment, however, I have not seen - has passed Congress, to the effect that the Federal Government shall never interfere with the domestic institutions of the states, including that of persons held to service. To avoid misconstruction of what I have said, I depart 365 from my purpose not to speak of particular amendments, so far as to say that, holding such a provision to now be implied constitutional law, I have no objections to its being made express and irrevocable.
The chief magistrate derives all his authority from 370 the people, and they have conferred none upon him to fix terms for the separation of the states.
The people themselves can do this also if they choose; but the Executive, as such, has nothing to do with it. His duty is to administer the present Government, as it came to 375 his hands, and to transmit it, unimpaired by him, to his
Why should there not be a patient confidence in the ultimate justice of the people ? Is there any better or equal hope in the world ? In our present differences 380 is either party without faith of being in the right? If the Almighty Ruler of Nations, with His eternal truth and justice, be on your side of the North, or on yours of the South, that truth and that justice will surely prevail by the judgment of this great tribunal 385 of the American people.
By the frame of the Government under which we live, this same people have wisely given their public servants but little power for mischief; and have, with equal wisdom, provided for the return of that little to 390