Kenosha Democrat, January 11, 1861
In all human probability James Buchanan will be the last President of the United States. One of the sovereign states of the Union has already declared the compact broken, and her allegiance dissolved. There can be no longer any doubt that several other states are ready to-day to follow her example. All the balance of the slaveholding states are hastily preparing to do so. No greater mistake can be made by any one, than to suppose a people accustomed to political free agency, can be chained together with an iron fatalism, in the bonds of an unwilling confederacy. The very freedom claimed by every individual citizen, precludes the idea of compulsory association, as individuals, as communities, or as States. The very germ of liberty is the right of forming our own governments, enacting our own laws, and choosing our own political associates. The most valuable gift has lost its worth, if we are not free to reject it; and governmental protection is another name for tyrannical surveillance when forced on an unwilling people. The right of secession inheres to the people of every sovereign state. Governments were made by them, and can be unmade. Constitutions are adopted and repealed, by every free people. What any state by act or compact, has done; if it violate no vested right she may undo. The laws of one legislature, are repealable by the next with this single limitation. It has ever been the doctrine of the Democratic party that no generation can take from its successors by any act of legislation, the power to amend or repeal. This should be obvious to all. Without this right of each generation to pass on the question of its own rights and interests, there could be no progress in legislation, or in civilization. Deny this principle, and we are to-day the subjects of laws enacted a thousand years ago. The power to make laws, and establish governments, implies the power to unmake them; as the major proposition contains the minor. By this test the right of secession is maintained. South Carolina voted herself into the Union; she can vote herself out. The Constitution of the United States was ratified by several of the states, with this express understanding. This alone, would determine the right of secession. If eight of ten men agree to terms of partnership, and the other two state at the time of their agreement what they consider its terms and requirements are; if assented to by the others, this interpretation becomes a part of the compact. This right was ably vindicated by Mr. Nicholson of Virginia at the time of its ratification by that state. Many delegates were opposed to voting for the Constitution until all the other states had assented to this view of it. Mr. Nicholson contended this delay was unnecessary, for if Virginia adopted it on this condition, a refusal to recognize this interpretation would absolve her from all obligation to it. South Carolina took then precisely the same stand she does to-day for the rights of States. The celebrated Virginia and Kentucky, resolutions do but embody the same principle.
The framers of the constitution hoped, and no doubt expected the Union to be perpetual; but they confessed it could only be perpetuated by the cheerful obedience of a willing people. They expected a time to come when one or more of the States should determine to secede. The[y] refused to incorporate a clause in the constitution enabling Congress or the President to use force against a seceding state. They declared any state had an inherent right to secede at pleasure, and a forcible union would be an invasion of that right. Mr. Madison expressly stated that he was opposed to the use of any force to unite the states, or to keep them united. He said any attempt to use force would involve the country in civil war, and forever separate the states. This accounts for the lack of constitutional prohibition of secession.
It is a common maxim of law, that every right has a means of enforcement; and every wrong a remedy. By this rule the right of secession is undoubted. The Constitution provides no means of coercing a state in the Union; nor any punishment for secession. The postal and revenue laws of the United States cannot be practically enforced in South Carolina by means of her courts, or the District Court of the United States for that District. The constitution expressly provides that all trials for crime shall be by jury, and in the district where the offense was committed. How then can any prosecution be sustained against a citizen of South Carolina? Collection of customs is impossible also. If the people of any state are united in their opposition to the revenue laws of the government, they can successfully nullify such law in defiance of the United States authorities. This may be startling to many readers, but is unqualifiedly true. Every master of a vessel can demand the privilege of discharging his cargo in the port of Charleston. The United States cannot enforce the collection of customs there, nor inflict a penalty on those who resist it. Art. 9th, sec. 5th of the constitution expressly says:
"No preference shall be given by any regulation of commerce or revenue, to the ports of one state over those of another; nor shall vessels bound to or from one state, be obliged to enter, clear, or pay duties in another."
The founders of our government were constant secessionists. They not only claimed the right for themselves, but conceded it to others. They were not only secessionists in theory, but in practice. The old confederation between the states was especially declared perpetual by the instrument itself. Yet Jefferson, Madison, Monroe and the hosts of heroes and statesmen of that day seced'd from it. In the constitutional convention the delegates from dissatisfied states used this "binding clause" in the articles of confederation, as a threat to secure still greater admissions from other states; just as the republican party of the north now hold the "perpetual obligation" of our constitution over the heads of the south, as a means of intimidation. They were speedily disenchanted then; they will soon be so now. Brave men claimed the God-given right to govern themselves then; their sons will not be slow to demand it now. The men who threatened in that hour of national peril, were deemed no true friends to our country's welfare; and those who do so now, deserve a deeper measure of condemnation.