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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Nullification
By John Quincy Adams (1767–1848)
 
From his Fourth of July Oration at Quincy, 1831

NULLIFICATION is the provocation to that brutal and foul contest of force, which has hitherto baffled all the efforts of the European and Southern American nations, to introduce among them constitutional governments of liberty and order. It strips us of that peculiar and unimitated characteristic of all our legislation—free debate; it makes the bayonet the arbiter of law; it has no argument but the thunderbolt. It were senseless to imagine that twenty-three States of the Union would suffer their laws to be trampled upon by the despotic mandate of one. The act of nullification would itself be null and void. Force must be called in to execute the law of the Union. Force must be applied by the nullifying State to resist its execution—
                  “Ate, hot from Hell,
Cries Havoc! and lets slip the dogs of war.”
  1
  The blood of brethren is shed by each other. The citizen of the nullifying State is a traitor to his country, by obedience to the law of his State; a traitor to his State, by obedience to the law of his country. The scaffold and the battle-field stream alternately with the blood of their victims. Let this agent but once intrude upon your deliberations, and Freedom will take her flight for heaven. The Declaration of Independence will become a philosophical dream, and uncontrolled, despotic sovereignties will trample with impunity, through a long career of after ages, at interminable or exterminating war with one another, upon the indefeasible and unalienable rights of man.  2
  The event of a conflict of arms, between the Union and one of its members, whether terminating in victory or defeat, would be but an alternative of calamity to all. In the holy records of antiquity, we have two examples of a confederation ruptured by the severance of its members; one of which resulted, after three desperate battles, in the extermination of the seceding tribe. And the victorious people, instead of exulting in shouts of triumph, “came to the House of God, and abode there till even before God; and lifted up their voices, and wept sore, and said,—O Lord God of Israel, why is this come to pass in Israel, that there should be to-day one tribe lacking in Israel?” The other was a successful example of resistance against tyrannical taxation, and severed forever the confederacy, the fragments forming separate kingdoms; and from that day, their history presents an unbroken series of disastrous alliances and exterminating wars—of assassinations, conspiracies, revolts, and rebellions, until both parts of the confederacy sunk in tributary servitude to the nations around them; till the countrymen of David and Solomon hung their harps upon the willows of Babylon, and were totally lost among the multitudes of the Chaldean and Assyrian monarchies, “the most despised portion of their slaves.”  3
  In these mournful memorials of their fate, we may behold the sure, too sure prognostication of our own, from the hour when force shall be substituted for deliberation in the settlement of our Constitutional questions. This is the deplorable alternative—the extirpation of the seceding member, or the never-ceasing struggle of two rival confederacies, ultimately bending the neck of both under the yoke of foreign domination, or the despotic sovereignty of a conqueror at home. May Heaven avert the omen! The destinies of not only our posterity, but of the human race, are at stake.  4
  Let no such melancholy forebodings intrude upon the festivities of this anniversary. Serene skies and balmy breezes are not congenial to the climate of freedom. Progressive improvement in the condition of man is apparently the purpose of a superintending Providence. That purpose will not be disappointed. In no delusion of national vanity, but with a feeling of profound gratitude to the God of our Fathers, let us indulge the cheering hope and belief, that our country and her people have been selected as instruments for preparing and maturing much of the good yet in reserve for the welfare and happiness of the human race. Much good has already been effected by the solemn proclamation of our principles, much more by the illustration of our example. The tempest which threatens desolation, may be destined only to purify the atmosphere. It is not in tranquil ease and enjoyment that the active energies of mankind are displayed. Toils and dangers are the trials of the soul. Doomed to the first by his sentence at the fall, man, by his submission, converts them into pleasures. The last are since the fall the condition of his existence. To see them in advance, to guard against them by all the suggestions of prudence, to meet them with the composure of unyielding resistance, and to abide with firm resignation the final dispensation of Him who rules the ball,—these are the dictates of philosophy—these are the precepts of religion—these are the principles and consolations of patriotism; these remain when all is lost—and of these is composed the spirit of independence—the spirit embodied in that beautiful personification of the poet, which may each of you, my countrymen, to the last hour of his life, apply to himself:—
  “Thy spirit, Independence, let me share,
  Lord of the lion heart and eagle eye!
Thy steps I follow, with my bosom bare,
  Nor heed the storm that howls along the sky.”
  5
  In the course of nature, the voice which now addresses you must soon cease to be heard upon earth. Life and all which it inherits, lose of their value as it draws toward its close. But for most of you, my friends and neighbors, long and many years of futurity are yet in store. May they be years of freedom—years of prosperity—years of happiness, ripening for immortality! But, were the breath which now gives utterance to my feelings, the last vital air I should draw, my expiring words to you and your children should be, INDEPENDENCE AND UNION FOREVER!  6
 
 
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