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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 If five states had withdrawn from that Union, it would have been dissolved.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 be variable.
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, aud a majority of all the states shall be necessary for the choice.
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 onethird of the states, there were nó 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 soundeșt construction, to consider the quorum as intended to be composed of two-thirds of the then existing senators,
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 doubt.
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 10
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 band 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 power.
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 he has uttered, and whose exhortations on this subject, springing from the purest patriot
ism and the soundest wisdom, ought never to be forgotten or neglected.*
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 patriot“ism, more than any appellation derived from local discrimi“ nations. 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 enterprize, 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 navi
* 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 lascertained that it was the entire work of the president,