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Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891.
Vols. IX–XI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 1861–1889

The South Carolina Doctrine

By Robert Young Hayne (1791–1839)

[Born in St. Paul’s Parish, Colleton District, S. C., 1791. Died at Ashville, N. C., 1839. Speech in the Debate with Webster, on Fool’s Resolution. U. S. Senate, 21 Jan., 1830.]

LITTLE did I expect to be called upon to meet such an argument as was yesterday urged by the gentleman from Massachusetts. Sir, I question no man’s opinions; I impeach no man’s motives; I charged no party, or State, or section of country with hostility to any other, but ventured, as I thought, in a becoming spirit, to put forth my own sentiments in relation to a great national question of public policy. Such was my course. The gentleman from Missouri (Mr. Benton), it is true, had charged upon the Eastern States an early and continued hostility toward the West, and referred to a number of historical facts and documents in support of that charge. Now, sir, how have these different arguments been met? The honorable gentleman from Massachusetts, after deliberating a whole night upon his course, comes into this chamber to vindicate New England; and instead of making up his issue with the gentleman from Missouri, on the charges which he had preferred, chooses to consider me as the author of those charges, and losing sight entirely of that gentleman, selects me as his adversary, and pours out all the phials of his mighty wrath upon my devoted head. Nor is he willing to stop there. He goes on to assail the institutions and policy of the South, and calls in question the principles and conduct of the State which I have the honor to represent. When I find a gentleman of mature age and experience, of acknowledged talents and profound sagacity, pursuing a course like this, declining the contest offered from the West, and making war upon the unoffending South, I must believe, I am bound to believe, he has some object in view which he has not ventured to disclose. Mr. President, why is this? Has the gentleman discovered in former controversies with the gentleman from Missouri, that he is overmatched by that senator? And does he hope for an easy victory over a more feeble adversary? Has the gentleman’s distempered fancy been disturbed by gloomy forebodings of “new alliances to be formed,” at which he hinted? Has the ghost of the murdered coalition come back, like the ghost of Banquo, to “sear the eyeballs” of the gentleman, and will not down at his bidding? Are dark visions of broken hopes, and honors lost forever, still floating before his heated imagination? Sir, if it be his object to thrust me between the gentleman from Missouri and himself, in order to rescue the East from the contest it has provoked with the West, he shall not be gratified. Sir, I will not be dragged into the defence of my friend from Missouri. The South shall not be forced into a conflict not its own. The gentleman from Missouri is able to fight his own battles. The gallant West needs no aid from the South to repel any attack which may be made upon them from any quarter. Let the gentleman from Massachusetts controvert the facts and arguments of the gentleman from Missouri, if he can—and if he win the victory, let him wear the honors; I shall not deprive him of his laurels….

Sir, any one acquainted with the history of parties in this country will recognize in the points now in dispute between the Senator from Massachusetts and myself the very grounds which have, from the beginning, divided the two great parties in this country, and which (call these parties by what names you will, and amalgamate them as you may) will divide them forever. The true distinction between those parties is laid down in a celebrated manifesto issued by the convention of the Federalists of Massachusetts, assembled in Boston, in February, 1824, on the occasion of organizing a party opposition to the re-election of Governor Eustis. The gentleman will recognize this as “the canonical book of political scripture;” and it instructs us that, when the American colonies redeemed themselves from British bondage, and became so many independent nations, they proposed to form a National Union (not a Federal Union, sir, but a NATIONAL UNION). Those who were in favor of a union of the States in this form became known by the name of Federalists; those who wanted no union of the States, or disliked the proposed form of union, became known by the name of Anti-Federalists. By means which need not be enumerated, the Anti-Federalists became (after the expiration of twelve years) our national rulers, and for a period of sixteen years, until the close of Mr. Madison’s administration in 1817, continued to exercise the exclusive direction of our public affairs. Here, sir, is the true history of the origin, rise, and progress of the party of National Republicans, who date back to the very origin of the Government, and who then, as now, chose to consider the Constitution as having created not a Federal, but a National, Union; who regarded “consolidation” as no evil, and who doubtless consider it “a consummation to be wished” to build up a great “central government,” “one and indivisible.” Sir, there have existed, in every age and every country, two distinct orders of men—the lovers of freedom and the devoted advocates of power.

The same great leading principles, modified only by the peculiarities of manners, habits, and institutions, divided parties in the ancient republics, animated the Whigs and Tories of Great Britain, distinguished in our own times the Liberals and Ultras of France, and may be traced even in the bloody struggles of unhappy Spain. Sir, when the gallant Riego, who devoted himself and all that he possessed to the liberties of his country, was dragged to the scaffold, followed by the tears and lamentations of every lover of freedom throughout the world, he perished amid the deafening cries of “Long live the absolute king!” The people whom I represent, Mr. President, are the descendants of those who brought with them to this country, as the most precious of their possessions, “an ardent love of liberty;” and while that shall be preserved, they will always be found manfully struggling against the consolidation of the Government as the worst of evils….

Who, then, Mr. President, are the true friends of the Union? Those who would confine the Federal Government strictly within the limits prescribed by the Constitution; who would preserve to the States and the people all powers not expressly delegated; who would make this a Federal and not a National Union, and who, administering the Government in a spirit of equal justice, would make it a blessing, and not a curse. And who are its enemies? Those who are in favor of consolidation; who are constantly stealing power from the States, and adding strength to the Federal Government; who, assuming an unwarrantable jurisdiction over the States and the people, undertake to regulate the whole industry and capital of the country. But, sir, of all descriptions of men, I consider those as the worst enemies of the Union, who sacrifice the equal rights which belong to every member of the confederacy to combinations of interested majorities for personal or political objects. But the gentleman apprehends no evil from the dependence of the States on the Federal Government; he can see no danger of corruption from the influence of money or patronage. Sir, I know that it is supposed to be a wise saying that “patronage is a source of weakness;” and in support of that maxim it has been said that “every ten appointments make a hundred enemies.” But I am rather inclined to think, with the eloquent and sagacious orator now reposing on his laurels on the banks of the Roanoke, that “the power of conferring favors creates a crowd of dependents;” he gave a forcible illustration of the truth of the remark, when he told us of the effect of holding up the savory morsel to the eager eyes of the hungry hounds gathered around his door. It mattered not whether the gift was bestowed on “Towzer” or “Sweetlips,” “Tray,” “Blanche,” or “Sweetheart;” while held in suspense, they were all governed by a nod, and when the morsel was bestowed, the expectation of the favors of to-morrow kept up the subjection of to-day.

The Senator from Massachusetts, in denouncing what he is pleased to call the Carolina doctrine, has attempted to throw ridicule upon the idea that a State has any constitutional remedy by the exercise of its sovereign authority, against “a gross, palpable, and deliberate violation of the Constitution.” He calls it “an idle” or “a ridiculous notion,” or something to that effect, and added, that it would make the Union a “mere rope of sand.” Now, sir, as the gentleman has not condescended to enter into any examination of the question, and has been satisfied with throwing the weight of his authority into the scale, I do not deem it necessary to do more than to throw into the opposite scale the authority on which South Carolina relies; and there, for the present, I am perfectly willing to leave the controversy. The South Carolina doctrine, that is to say, the doctrine contained in an exposition reported by a committee of the Legislature in December, 1828, and published by their authority, is the good old Republican doctrine of ’98—the doctrine of the celebrated “Virginia Resolutions” of that year, and of “Madison’s Report” of ’99. It will be recollected that the Legislature of Virginia, in December, ’98, took into consideration the alien and sedition laws, then considered by all Republicans as a gross violation of the Constitution of the United States, and on that day passed, among others, the following resolution:—

“The General Assembly doth explicitly and peremptorily declare, that it views the powers of the Federal Government, as resulting from the compact to which the States are parties, as limited by the plain sense and intention of the instrument constituting that compact, as no further valid than they are authorized by the grants enumerated in that compact; and that in case of a deliberate, palpable, and dangerous exercise of other powers not granted by the said compact, the States who are the parties thereto have the right, and are in duty bound, to interpose for arresting the progress of the evil, and for maintaining within their respective limits the authorities, rights, and liberties appertaining to them.”

In addition to the above resolution, the General Assembly of Virginia “appealed to the other States, in the confidence that they would concur with that commonwealth, that the acts aforesaid (the alien and sedition laws) are unconstitutional, and that the necessary and proper measures would be taken by each for co-operating with Virginia in maintaining unimpaired the authorities, rights, and liberties reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”…

Sir, at that day the whole country was divided on this very question. It formed the line of demarcation between the Federal and Republican parties; and the great political revolution which then took place turned upon the very questions involved in these resolutions. That question was decided by the people, and by that decision the Constitution was, in the emphatic language of Mr. Jefferson, “saved at its last gasp.” I should suppose, sir, it would require more self-respect than any gentleman here would be willing to assume, to treat lightly doctrines derived from such high sources. Resting on authority like this, I will ask, gentlemen, whether South Carolina has not manifested a high regard for the Union, when, under a tyranny ten times more grievous than the alien and sedition laws, she has hitherto gone no further than to petition, remonstrate, and to solemnly protest against a series of measures which she believes to be wholly unconstitutional and utterly destructive of her interests. Sir, South Carolina has not gone one step further than Mr. Jefferson himself was disposed to go, in relation to the present subject of our present complaints—not a step further than the statesmen from New England were disposed to go under similar circumstances; no further than the Senator from Massachusetts himself once considered as within “the limits of a constitutional opposition.” The doctrine that it is the right of a State to judge of the violations of the Constitution on the part of the Federal Government, and to protect her citizens from the operations of unconstitutional laws, was held by the enlightened citizens of Boston, who assembled in Faneuil Hall, on the 25th of January, 1809. They state, in that celebrated memorial, that “they looked only to the State Legislature, which was competent to devise relief against the unconstitutional acts of the General Government. That your power (say they) is adequate to that object, is evident from the organization of the confederacy.”…

Thus it will be seen, Mr. President, that the South Carolina doctrine is the Republican doctrine of ’98,—that it was promulgated by the fathers of the faith,—that it was maintained by Virginia and Kentucky in the worst of times,—that it constituted the very pivot on which the political revolution of that day turned,—that it embraces the very principles, the triumph of which, at that time, saved the Constitution at its last gasp, and which New England statesmen were not unwilling to adopt when they believed themselves to be the victims of unconstitutional legislation. Sir, as to the doctrine that the Federal Government is the exclusive judge of the extent as well as the limitations of its power, it seems to me to be utterly subversive of the sovereignty and independence of the States. It makes but little difference, in my estimation, whether Congress or the Supreme Court are invested with this power. If the Federal Government, in all, or any, of its departments, is to prescribe the limits of its own authority, and the States are bound to submit to the decision, and are not to be allowed to examine and decide for themselves when the barriers of the Constitution shall be overleaped, this is practically “a government without limitation of powers.” The States are at once reduced to mere petty corporations, and the people are entirely at your mercy. I have but one word more to add. In all the efforts that have been made by South Carolina to resist the unconstitutional laws which Congress has extended over them, she has kept steadily in view the preservation of the Union, by the only means by which she believes it can be long preserved—a firm, manly, and steady resistance against usurpation. The measures of the Federal Government have, it is true, prostrated her interests, and will soon involve the whole South in irretrievable ruin. But even this evil, great as it is, is not the chief ground of our complaints. It is the principle involved in the contest—a principle which, substituting the discretion of Congress for the limitations of the Constitution, brings the States and the people to the feet of the Federal Government, and leaves them nothing they can call their own. Sir, if the measures of the Federal Government were less oppressive, we should still strive against this usurpation. The South is acting on a principle she has always held sacred—resistance to unauthorized taxation. These, sir, are the principles which induced the immortal Hampden to resist the payment of a tax of twenty shillings. Would twenty shillings have ruined his fortune? No! but the payment of half of twenty shillings, on the principle on which it was demanded, would have made him a slave. Sir, if acting on these high motives—if animated by that ardent love of liberty which has always been the most prominent trait in the Southern character, we would be hurried beyond the bounds of a cold and calculating prudence; who is there, with one noble and generous sentiment in his bosom, who would not be disposed, in the language of Burke, to exclaim, “You must pardon something to the spirit of liberty?”