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Formation of the Union By Albert Bushnell Hart Characters: 3571

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02

[Sidenote: The Constitution irregular.]

The third attempt to form an organic union was now successfully carried out. The irregular authority of the Continental Congress had been replaced by the legal but inefficient Confederation; to this was now to succeed an organized government, complete in all its departments, and well endowed with powers. How had this Constitution been adopted? What was the authority which had taken upon itself to diminish the powers of the States, and to disregard the clauses which required unanimous consent to amendments? Was the new Constitution an agreement between eleven States, or was it an instrument of government for the whole people? Upon this question depends the whole discussion about the nature of the Union and the right of secession.

[Sidenote: Compact theory.]

The first theory is that the Constitution was a compact made between sovereign States. Thus Hayne in 1830 declared that "Before the Constitution each state was an independent sovereignty, possessing all the rights and powers appertaining to independent nations…. After the Constitution was formed, they remained equally sovereign and independent as to all powers not expressly delegated to the federal government…. The true nature of the Federal Constitution, therefore, is … a compact to which the States are parties." The importance of the word "compact" is that it means an agreement which loses its force when any one of the parties ceases to observe it; a compact is little more than a treaty. Those who framed the Constitution appeared to consider it no compact; for on May 30, 1787, Mr. Randolph moved that "-no treaty or treaties among the whole or part of the States, as individual sovereignties, would be sufficient." In fact, the reason for the violent opposi

tion to the ratification of the Constitution was that when once ratified, the States could not withdraw from it.

[Sidenote: Constitution theory.]

Another view is presented by Webster in his reply to Hayne: "It is, sir, the people's Constitution, the people's government, made for the people, made by the people, and answerable to the people. The people of the United States have declared that this Constitution shall be the supreme law." It is plain that the Constitution does not rest simply upon the consent of the majority of the nation. No popular vote was taken or thought of; each act of ratification set forth that it proceeded from a convention of the people of a State.

[Sidenote: Basis of the Constitution.]

The real nature of the new Constitution appears in the light of the previous history of the country. The Articles of Confederation had been a compact. One of the principal reasons why the Confederation was weak was that there was no way of compelling the States to perform their duties. The new Constitution was meant to be stronger and more permanent. The Constitution was, then, not a compact, but an instrument of government similar in its origin to the constitutions of the States. The difference was that, by general agreement, it was not to take effect until it was shown that in at least nine States the people were willing to live under it. Whatever the defects of the Confederation, however humiliating its weakness to our national pride, it had performed an indispensable service; it had educated the American people to the point where they were willing to accept a permanent federal union. As the "Federalist" put it, "A nation without a national government is an awful spectacle."



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