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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
State Rights
By John Caldwell Calhoun (1782–1850)
From the ‘Speech on the Admission of Michigan,’ 1837

IT has perhaps been too much my habit to look more to the future and less to the present than is wise; but such is the constitution of my mind that when I see before me the indications of causes calculated to effect important changes in our political condition, I am led irresistibly to trace them to their sources and follow them out in their consequences. Language has been held in this discussion which is clearly revolutionary in its character and tendency, and which warns us of the approach of the period when the struggle will be between the conservatives and the destructives. I understood the Senator from Pennsylvania [Mr. Buchanan] as holding language countenancing the principle that the will of a mere numerical majority is paramount to the authority of law and constitution. He did not indeed announce distinctly this principle, but it might fairly be inferred from what he said; for he told us the people of a State where the constitution gives the same weight to a smaller as to a greater number, might take the remedy into their own hands; meaning, as I understood him, that a mere majority might at their pleasure subvert the constitution and government of a State,—which he seemed to think was the essence of democracy. Our little State has a constitution that could not stand a day against such doctrines, and yet we glory in it as the best in the Union. It is a constitution which respects all the great interests of the State, giving to each a separate and distinct voice in the management of its political affairs, by means of which the feebler interests are protected against the preponderance of the stronger. We call our State a Republic—a Commonwealth, not a Democracy; and let me tell the Senator, it is a far more popular government than if it had been based on the simple principle of the numerical majority. It takes more voices to put the machine of government in motion than in those that the Senator would consider more popular. It represents all the interests of the State,—and is in fact the government of the people in the true sense of the term, and not that of the mere majority, or the dominant interests.  1
  I am not familiar with the constitution of Maryland, to which the Senator alluded, and cannot therefore speak of its structure with confidence; but I believe it to be somewhat similar in its character to our own. That it is a government not without its excellence, we need no better proof than the fact that though within the shadow of Executive influence, it has nobly and successfully resisted all the seductions by which a corrupt and artful Administration, with almost boundless patronage, has attempted to seduce her into its ranks.  2
  Looking then to the approaching struggle, I take my stand immovably. I am a conservative in its broadest and fullest sense, and such I shall ever remain, unless indeed the government shall become so corrupt and disordered that nothing short of revolution can reform it. I solemnly believe that our political system is, in its purity, not only the best that ever was formed, but the best possible that can be devised for us. It is the only one by which free States, so populous and wealthy, and occupying so vast an extent of territory, can preserve their liberty. Thus thinking, I cannot hope for a better. Having no hope of a better, I am a conservative; and because I am a conservative, I am a State Rights man. I believe that in the rights of the States are to be found the only effectual means of checking the overaction of this government; to resist its tendency to concentrate all power here, and to prevent a departure from the Constitution; or in case of one, to restore the government to its original simplicity and purity. State interposition, or to express it more fully, the right of a State to interpose her sovereign voice, as one of the parties to our constitutional compact, against the encroachments of this government, is the only means of sufficient potency to effect all this; and I am therefore its advocate. I rejoiced to hear the Senators from North Carolina [Mr. Brown], and from Pennsylvania [Mr. Buchanan], do us the justice to distinguish between nullification and the anarchical and revolutionary movements in Maryland and Pennsylvania. I know they did not intend it as a compliment; but I regard it as the highest. They are right. Day and night are not more different—more unlike in everything. They are unlike in their principles, their objects, and their consequences.  3
  I shall not stop to make good this assertion, as I might easily do. The occasion does not call for it. As a conservative and a State Rights man, or if you will have it, a nullifier, I have resisted and shall resist all encroachments on the Constitution—whether of this Government on the rights of the States, or the opposite:—whether of the Executive on Congress, or Congress on the Executive. My creed is to hold both governments, and all the departments of each, to their proper sphere, and to maintain the authority of the laws and the Constitution against all revolutionary movements. I believe the means which our system furnishes to preserve itself are ample, if fairly understood and applied; and I shall resort to them, however corrupt and disordered the times, so long as there is hope of reforming the government. The result is in the hands of the Disposer of events. It is my part to do my duty. Yet while I thus openly avow myself a conservative, God forbid I should ever deny the glorious right of rebellion and revolution. Should corruption and oppression become intolerable, and not otherwise be thrown off—if liberty must perish or the government be overthrown, I would not hesitate, at the hazard of life, to resort to revolution, and to tear down a corrupt government that could neither be reformed nor borne by freemen. But I trust in God things will never come to that pass. I trust never to see such fearful times; for fearful indeed they would be, if they should ever befall us. It is the last remedy, and not to be thought of till common-sense and the voice of mankind would justify the resort.  4
  Before I resume my seat, I feel called on to make a few brief remarks on a doctrine of fearful import which has been broached in the course of this debate: the right to repeal laws granting bank charters, and of course of railroads, turnpikes, and joint-stock companies. It is a doctrine of fearful import, and calculated to do infinite mischief. There are countless millions vested in such stocks, and it is a description of property of the most delicate character. To touch it is almost to destroy it. But while I enter my protest against all such doctrines, I have been greatly alarmed with the thoughtless precipitancy (not to use a stronger phrase) with which the most extensive and dangerous privileges have been granted of late. It can end in no good, and I fear may be the cause of convulsions hereafter. We already feel the effects on the currency, which no one competent of judging can fail to see is in an unsound condition. I must say (for truth compels me) I have ever distrusted the banking system, at least in its present form, both in this country and Great Britain. It will not stand the test of time; but I trust that all shocks or sudden revolutions may be avoided, and that it may gradually give way before some sounder and better regulated system of credit which the growing intelligence of the age may devise. That a better may be substituted I cannot doubt; but of what it shall consist, and how it shall finally supersede the present uncertain and fluctuating currency, time alone can determine. All that I can see is, that the present must, one day or another, come to an end or be greatly modified—if that indeed can save it from an entire overthrow. It has within itself the seeds of its own destruction.  5

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