Bangor Daily Union, November 13, 1860

The government of a State is but the agent of the people. Its powers, limitations and instructions are all contained in a written constitution. The people are the principal, and they alone possess the power "to alter, reform, or totally change" that constitution. In any controversy between the sovereign people, and their agent, the government, the people alone can be the final arbiter of differences. The simple statement of these propositions is sufficient to command for them the assent of all reflecting men. If the government of our State, then, shall undertake the usurpation of powers not delegated, and that usurpation shall be sanctioned by every department of the government, including the judiciary, we know where to look for our own remedy. We know where the principal, the creating and controlling power, is. When the sovereign people speak through convention, or otherwise, the government must hear and obey.

The government of the United States is but an agent, and as such, is likewise a creation, and the subject, of some controlling power. What and where is that power? The power that created this agent must be the power to control it. To suppose a government not answerable to any power, and the final judge of what powers it may or may not exercise under its constitution, is to suppose an irresponsible despotism.

We are not obliged to resort to speculations or theories to ascertain the origin of our National Government. We read it in history authenticated by public records and living witnesses. A convention of the thirteen original States met in Philadelphia in May, 1787, and on the 17th of September, in the same year, completed and published the present Constitution of the United States. According to the terms of the instrument itself, it was to remain a dead letter, a mere form of power without any vitality, until it should be adopted by the sovereign people of each of nine States, and was then to be the constitution of those States only which had adopted it. Each State was perfectly free to adopt or reject it at the will of the sovereign people of that State. On the 26th of July, 1788, it had been adopted by eleven States, and the government went into operation in April following; but it still had no force in Rhode Island and North Carolina, which had not then adopted it. Its adoption by eleven States gave it no force in the two States which had not adopted it. It could only become a vital force in those States by the sovereign act of their people acting separately and independently of each other and all others. Indeed, the government had been in full operation more than one year in the States which had adopted it before Rhode Island ratified it; still during that year the government had no more right and made no more attempt to exercise its powers in that smallest of the States, than it did in France.

The people of Virginia, by a sovereign act, made the Constitution of the United States their constitution in precisely the same sense and same manner in which they had previously made their State constitution their fundamental law. It became binding on the people of that State solely because of their own act, and not because of the act of New York, or of all the rest of the States. As we have already shown, the unanimous voice of the other twelve States could and did give the Constitution no authority in little Rhode Island.

The foregoing remarks contain an answer to the question who or what are the principal of which the Government of the United States is the agent. That principal is the sovereign people of each State, and not the people of all the States taken in the aggregate. That sovereign power in Maine, which makes and unmakes, alters, amends, and totally changes our State constitution, resides in a majority of the people of Maine, irrespective of their geographical position. Our State is divided into sixteen counties, and though every person in Penobscot, Piscataquis, Aroostook and Hancock counties, should vote in the negative on a constitutional question, whilst a majority of the people of the whole State, taken in the aggregate, should vote in the affirmative, yet the action of the majority would be binding on the people of the negative counties. Not so, however, in regard to the United States. Twenty of the largest States cannot impose a single constitutional obligation on any one, or all, of the remaining thirteen. No power can impose any obligations or restraints upon the citizens of a State save a government instituted and ordained by the sovereign people of that State. The citizen of a State is bound to obey a law passed in pursuance of the Constitution of the United States, not because it is a law of Congress, signed by the President, and sanctioned by the judiciary, but because the sovereign people of his State ordained and established that Constitution, and thereby commanded him to obey such law.

We say then that the creating, controlling power of the Government of the United States is the sovereign people of each State. The People of each State are the principal of which the Government of the United States is the agent. But as one principal may have many agents, so many principals may have one agent. The Government of the United States to-day is the agent of thirty-three principals, and the State of Maine has ordained two agents, the government of Maine and the Government of the United States.—In any controversy between an agent and his principal about the extent of the powers delegated to the agent, the difference must be decided in the manner prescribed by the principal. In any controversy between the sovereignty of a State and its agent, the Government of the United States, no department of the Government can be the final arbiter, but the difference must be settled in the manner prescribed by the sovereign people of the State, or they have their remedy in resuming their delegated powers. The sovereign people of South Carolina have prescribed in their United States Constitution that in any controversy between them and their agent, the General Government, the difference may be settled by the Conventions or Legislatures of three-fourths of all the States, and this mode of settlement is authoritative and binding on South Carolina only because her sovereign people have prescribed and ordained it.

And now for the practical conclusion of the whole matter.

A controversy has arisen between each one of the Southern States and the Government of the United States. That Government, in the hands of the Republican party, is about to claim to exercise a power, which the Southern States declare they have never delegated it, to wit, the power to abolish slavery in the territories. Let, then, a Convention of all the States be called at once in the manner prescribed in the fifth article of the Constitution. Let Congress do this instantly on its reassembling. Let there be no delay, else our glorious Union is gone, and gone forever. It is to be regretted that many of the Southern States have no confidence in this mode of settling the difference, and are about exercising the sovereign right of resuming their delegated powers. It may yet be in the power of the North, which has most wickedly and unjustifiably provoked this unhappy controversy, to save the Union. Let it at once and instantly abandon its proposed usurpation of powers not delegated.

The Union of Maine with South Carolina rests and depends for its continuance on the free consent and will of the sovereign people of each. When that consent and will is withdrawn on either part, their Union is gone, and no power exterior to the withdrawing can ever restore it. A sovereign State may be conquered and held as a subject province; but no aggregation of power can ever force or compel it to be a co-sovereign and co-equal member of the American Union.