Chapter XVIII: Future Condition Of Three Races—Part VIII
It is difficult to imagine a durable union of a people which is rich and strong with one which is poor and weak, even if it were proved that the strength and wealth of the one are not the causes of the weakness and poverty of the other. But union is still more difficult to maintain at a time at which one party is losing strength, and the other is gaining it. This rapid and disproportionate increase of certain States threatens the independence of the others. New York might perhaps succeed, with its 2,000,000 of inhabitants and its forty representatives, in dictating to the other States in Congress. But even if the more powerful States make no attempt to bear down the lesser ones, the danger still exists; for there is almost as much in the possibility of the act as in the act itself. The weak generally mistrust the justice and the reason of the strong. The States which increase less rapidly than the others look upon those which are more favored by fortune with envy and suspicion. Hence arise the deep-seated uneasiness and ill-defined agitation which are observable in the South, and which form so striking a contrast to the confidence and prosperity which are common to other parts of the Union. I am inclined to think that the hostile measures taken by the Southern provinces upon a recent occasion are attributable to no other cause. The inhabitants of the Southern States are, of all the Americans, those who are most interested in the maintenance of the Union; they would assuredly suffer most from being left to themselves; and yet they are the only citizens who threaten to break the tie of confederation. But it is easy to perceive that the South, which has given four Presidents, Washington, Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe, to the Union, which perceives that it is losing its federal influence, and that the number of its representatives in Congress is diminishing from year to year, whilst those of the Northern and Western States are increasing; the South, which is peopled with ardent and irascible beings, is becoming more and more irritated and alarmed. The citizens reflect upon their present position and remember their past influence, with the melancholy uneasiness of men who suspect oppression: if they discover a law of the Union which is not unequivocally favorable to their interests, they protest against it as an abuse of force; and if their ardent remonstrances are not listened to, they threaten to quit an association which loads them with burdens whilst it deprives them of their due profits. “The tariff,” said the inhabitants of Carolina in 1832, “enriches the North, and ruins the South; for if this were not the case, to what can we attribute the continually increasing power and wealth of the North, with its inclement skies and arid soil; whilst the South, which may be styled the garden of America, is rapidly declining?” *q
[ See the report of its committee to the Convention which proclaimed the nullification of the tariff in South Carolina.]
If the changes which I have described were gradual, so that each generation at least might have time to disappear with the order of things under which it had lived, the danger would be less; but the progress of society in America is precipitate, and almost revolutionary. The same citizen may have lived to see his State take the lead in the Union, and afterwards become powerless in the federal assemblies; and an Anglo-American republic has been known to grow as rapidly as a man passing from birth and infancy to maturity in the course of thirty years. It must not be imagined, however, that the States which lose their preponderance, also lose their population or their riches: no stop is put to their prosperity, and they even go on to increase more rapidly than any kingdom in Europe. *r But they believe themselves to be impoverished because their wealth does not augment as rapidly as that of their neighbors; any they think that their power is lost, because they suddenly come into collision with a power greater than their own: *s thus they are more hurt in their feelings and their passions than in their interests. But this is amply sufficient to endanger the maintenance of the Union. If kings and peoples had only had their true interests in view ever since the beginning of the world, the name of war would scarcely be known among mankind.
[ The population of a country assuredly constitutes the first element of its wealth. In the ten years (1820-1830) during which Virginia lost two of its representatives in Congress, its population increased in the proportion of 13.7 per cent.; that of Carolina in the proportion of fifteen per cent.; and that of Georgia, 15.5 per cent. (See the “American Almanac,” 1832, p. 162) But the population of Russia, which increases more rapidly than that of any other European country, only augments in ten years at the rate of 9.5 per cent.; in France, at the rate of seven per cent.; and in Europe in general, at the rate of 4.7 per cent. (See “Malte Brun,” vol. vi. p. 95)]
[ It must be admitted, however, that the depreciation which has taken place in the value of tobacco, during the last fifty years, has notably diminished the opulence of the Southern planters: but this circumstance is as independent of the will of their Northern brethren as it is of their own.]
Thus the prosperity of the United States is the source of the most serious dangers that threaten them, since it tends to create in some of the confederate States that over-excitement which accompanies a rapid increase of fortune; and to awaken in others those feelings of envy, mistrust, and regret which usually attend upon the loss of it. The Americans contemplate this extraordinary and hasty progress with exultation; but they would be wiser to consider it with sorrow and alarm. The Americans of the United States must inevitably become one of the greatest nations in the world; their offset will cover almost the whole of North America; the continent which they inhabit is their dominion, and it cannot escape them. What urges them to take possession of it so soon? Riches, power, and renown cannot fail to be theirs at some future time, but they rush upon their fortune as if but a moment remained for them to make it their own.
I think that I have demonstrated that the existence of the present confederation depends entirely on the continued assent of all the confederates; and, starting from this principle, I have inquired into the causes which may induce the several States to separate from the others. The Union may, however, perish in two different ways: one of the confederate States may choose to retire from the compact, and so forcibly to sever the federal tie; and it is to this supposition that most of the remarks that I have made apply: or the authority of the Federal Government may be progressively entrenched on by the simultaneous tendency of the united republics to resume their independence. The central power, successively stripped of all its prerogatives, and reduced to impotence by tacit consent, would become incompetent to fulfil its purpose; and the second Union would perish, like the first, by a sort of senile inaptitude. The gradual weakening of the federal tie, which may finally lead to the dissolution of the Union, is a distinct circumstance, that may produce a variety of minor consequences before it operates so violent a change. The confederation might still subsist, although its Government were reduced to such a degree of inanition as to paralyze the nation, to cause internal anarchy, and to check the general prosperity of the country.
After having investigated the causes which may induce the Anglo-Americans to disunite, it is important to inquire whether, if the Union continues to subsist, their Government will extend or contract its sphere of action, and whether it will become more energetic or more weak.
The Americans are evidently disposed to look upon their future condition with alarm. They perceive that in most of the nations of the world the exercise of the rights of sovereignty tends to fall under the control of a few individuals, and they are dismayed by the idea that such will also be the case in their own country. Even the statesmen feel, or affect to feel, these fears; for, in America, centralization is by no means popular, and there is no surer means of courting the majority than by inveighing against the encroachments of the central power. The Americans do not perceive that the countries in which this alarming tendency to centralization exists are inhabited by a single people; whilst the fact of the Union being composed of different confederate communities is sufficient to baffle all the inferences which might be drawn from analogous circumstances. I confess that I am inclined to consider the fears of a great number of Americans as purely imaginary; and far from participating in their dread of the consolidation of power in the hands of the Union, I think that the Federal Government is visibly losing strength.
To prove this assertion I shall not have recourse to any remote occurrences, but to circumstances which I have myself witnessed, and which belong to our own time.
An attentive examination of what is going on in the United States will easily convince us that two opposite tendencies exist in that country, like two distinct currents flowing in contrary directions in the same channel. The Union has now existed for forty-five years, and in the course of that time a vast number of provincial prejudices, which were at first hostile to its power, have died away. The patriotic feeling which attached each of the Americans to his own native State is become less exclusive; and the different parts of the Union have become more intimately connected the better they have become acquainted with each other. The post, *t that great instrument of intellectual intercourse, now reaches into the backwoods; and steamboats have established daily means of communication between the different points of the coast. An inland navigation of unexampled rapidity conveys commodities up and down the rivers of the country. *u And to these facilities of nature and art may be added those restless cravings, that busy-mindedness, and love of pelf, which are constantly urging the American into active life, and bringing him into contact with his fellow-citizens. He crosses the country in every direction; he visits all the various populations of the land; and there is not a province in France in which the natives are so well known to each other as the 13,000,000 of men who cover the territory of the United States.
[ In 1832, the district of Michigan, which only contains 31,639 inhabitants, and is still an almost unexplored wilderness, possessed 940 miles of mail-roads. The territory of Arkansas, which is still more uncultivated, was already intersected by 1,938 miles of mail-roads. (See the report of the General Post Office, November 30, 1833.) The postage of newspapers alone in the whole Union amounted to $254,796.]
[ In the course of ten years, from 1821 to 1831, 271 steamboats have been launched upon the rivers which water the valley of the Mississippi alone. In 1829 259 steamboats existed in the United States. (See Legislative Documents, No. 140, p. 274.)]
But whilst the Americans intermingle, they grow in resemblance of each other; the differences resulting from their climate, their origin, and their institutions, diminish; and they all draw nearer and nearer to the common type. Every year, thousands of men leave the North to settle in different parts of the Union: they bring with them their faith, their opinions, and their manners; and as they are more enlighthned than the men amongst whom they are about to dwell, they soon rise to the head of affairs, and they adapt society to their own advantage. This continual emigration of the North to the South is peculiarly favorable to the fusion of all the different provincial characters into one national character. The civilization of the North appears to be the common standard, to which the whole nation will one day be assimilated.
The commercial ties which unite the confederate States are strengthened by the increasing manufactures of the Americans; and the union which began to exist in their opinions, gradually forms a part of their habits: the course of time has swept away the bugbear thoughts which haunted the imaginations of the citizens in 1789. The federal power is not become oppressive; it has not destroyed the independence of the States; it has not subjected the confederates to monarchial institutions; and the Union has not rendered the lesser States dependent upon the larger ones; but the confederation has continued to increase in population, in wealth, and in power. I am therefore convinced that the natural obstacles to the continuance of the American Union are not so powerful at the present time as they were in 1789; and that the enemies of the Union are not so numerous.
Nevertheless, a careful examination of the history of the United States for the last forty-five years will readily convince us that the federal power is declining; nor is it difficult to explain the causes of this phenomenon. *v When the Constitution of 1789 was promulgated, the nation was a prey to anarchy; the Union, which succeeded this confusion, excited much dread and much animosity; but it was warmly supported because it satisfied an imperious want. Thus, although it was more attacked than it is now, the federal power soon reached the maximum of its authority, as is usually the case with a government which triumphs after having braced its strength by the struggle. At that time the interpretation of the Constitution seemed to extend, rather than to repress, the federal sovereignty; and the Union offered, in several respects, the appearance of a single and undivided people, directed in its foreign and internal policy by a single Government. But to attain this point the people had risen, to a certain extent, above itself.
[ [Since 1861 the movement is certainly in the opposite direction, and the federal power has largely increased, and tends to further increase.]]
The Constitution had not destroyed the distinct sovereignty of the States; and all communities, of whatever nature they may be, are impelled by a secret propensity to assert their independence. This propensity is still more decided in a country like America, in which every village forms a sort of republic accustomed to conduct its own affairs. It therefore cost the States an effort to submit to the federal supremacy; and all efforts, however successful they may be, necessarily subside with the causes in which they originated.
As the Federal Government consolidated its authority, America resumed its rank amongst the nations, peace returned to its frontiers, and public credit was restored; confusion was succeeded by a fixed state of things, which was favorable to the full and free exercise of industrious enterprise. It was this very prosperity which made the Americans forget the cause to which it was attributable; and when once the danger was passed, the energy and the patriotism which had enabled them to brave it disappeared from amongst them. No sooner were they delivered from the cares which oppressed them, than they easily returned to their ordinary habits, and gave themselves up without resistance to their natural inclinations. When a powerful Government no longer appeared to be necessary, they once more began to think it irksome. The Union encouraged a general prosperity, and the States were not inclined to abandon the Union; but they desired to render the action of the power which represented that body as light as possible. The general principle of Union was adopted, but in every minor detail there was an actual tendency to independence. The principle of confederation was every day more easily admitted, and more rarely applied; so that the Federal Government brought about its own decline, whilst it was creating order and peace.
As soon as this tendency of public opinion began to be manifested externally, the leaders of parties, who live by the passions of the people, began to work it to their own advantage. The position of the Federal Government then became exceedingly critical. Its enemies were in possession of the popular favor; and they obtained the right of conducting its policy by pledging themselves to lessen its influence. From that time forwards the Government of the Union has invariably been obliged to recede, as often as it has attempted to enter the lists with the governments of the States. And whenever an interpretation of the terms of the Federal Constitution has been called for, that interpretation has most frequently been opposed to the Union, and favorable to the States.
The Constitution invested the Federal Government with the right of providing for the interests of the nation; and it had been held that no other authority was so fit to superintend the “internal improvements” which affected the prosperity of the whole Union; such, for instance, as the cutting of canals. But the States were alarmed at a power, distinct from their own, which could thus dispose of a portion of their territory; and they were afraid that the central Government would, by this means, acquire a formidable extent of patronage within their own confines, and exercise a degree of influence which they intended to reserve exclusively to their own agents. The Democratic party, which has constantly been opposed to the increase of the federal authority, then accused the Congress of usurpation, and the Chief Magistrate of ambition. The central Government was intimidated by the opposition; and it soon acknowledged its error, promising exactly to confine its influence for the future within the circle which was prescribed to it.
The Constitution confers upon the Union the right of treating with foreign nations. The Indian tribes, which border upon the frontiers of the United States, had usually been regarded in this light. As long as these savages consented to retire before the civilized settlers, the federal right was not contested: but as soon as an Indian tribe attempted to fix its dwelling upon a given spot, the adjacent States claimed possession of the lands and the rights of sovereignty over the natives. The central Government soon recognized both these claims; and after it had concluded treaties with the Indians as independent nations, it gave them up as subjects to the legislative tyranny of the States. *w
[ See in the Legislative Documents, already quoted in speaking of the Indians, the letter of the President of the United States to the Cherokees, his correspondence on this subject with his agents, and his messages to Congress.]
Some of the States which had been founded upon the coast of the Atlantic, extended indefinitely to the West, into wild regions where no European had ever penetrated. The States whose confines were irrevocably fixed, looked with a jealous eye upon the unbounded regions which the future would enable their neighbors to explore. The latter then agreed, with a view to conciliate the others, and to facilitate the act of union, to lay down their own boundaries, and to abandon all the territory which lay beyond those limits to the confederation at large. *x Thenceforward the Federal Government became the owner of all the uncultivated lands which lie beyond the borders of the thirteen States first confederated. It was invested with the right of parcelling and selling them, and the sums derived from this source were exclusively reserved to the public treasure of the Union, in order to furnish supplies for purchasing tracts of country from the Indians, for opening roads to the remote settlements, and for accelerating the increase of civilization as much as possible. New States have, however, been formed in the course of time, in the midst of those wilds which were formerly ceded by the inhabitants of the shores of the Atlantic. Congress has gone on to sell, for the profit of the nation at large, the uncultivated lands which those new States contained. But the latter at length asserted that, as they were now fully constituted, they ought to enjoy the exclusive right of converting the produce of these sales to their own use. As their remonstrances became more and more threatening, Congress thought fit to deprive the Union of a portion of the privileges which it had hitherto enjoyed; and at the end of 1832 it passed a law by which the greatest part of the revenue derived from the sale of lands was made over to the new western republics, although the lands themselves were not ceded to them. *y
[ The first act of session was made by the State of New York in 1780; Virginia, Massachusetts, Connecticut, South and North Carolina, followed this example at different times, and lastly, the act of cession of Georgia was made as recently as 1802.]
[ It is true that the President refused his assent to this law; but he completely adopted it in principle. (See Message of December 8, 1833.)]
The slightest observation in the United States enables one to appreciate the advantages which the country derives from the bank. These advantages are of several kinds, but one of them is peculiarly striking to the stranger. The banknotes of the United States are taken upon the borders of the desert for the same value as at Philadelphia, where the bank conducts its operations. *z
[ The present Bank of the United States was established in 1816, with a capital of $35,000,000; its charter expires in 1836. Last year Congress passed a law to renew it, but the President put his veto upon the bill. The struggle is still going on with great violence on either side, and the speedy fall of the bank may easily be foreseen. [It was soon afterwards extinguished by General Jackson.]]
The Bank of the United States is nevertheless the object of great animosity. Its directors have proclaimed their hostility to the President: and they are accused, not without some show of probability, of having abused their influence to thwart his election. The President therefore attacks the establishment which they represent with all the warmth of personal enmity; and he is encouraged in the pursuit of his revenge by the conviction that he is supported by the secret propensities of the majority. The bank may be regarded as the great monetary tie of the Union, just as Congress is the great legislative tie; and the same passions which tend to render the States independent of the central power, contribute to the overthrow of the bank.
The Bank of the United States always holds a great number of the notes issued by the provincial banks, which it can at any time oblige them to convert into cash. It has itself nothing to fear from a similar demand, as the extent of its resources enables it to meet all claims. But the existence of the provincial banks is thus threatened, and their operations are restricted, since they are only able to issue a quantity of notes duly proportioned to their capital. They submit with impatience to this salutary control. The newspapers which they have bought over, and the President, whose interest renders him their instrument, attack the bank with the greatest vehemence. They rouse the local passions and the blind democratic instinct of the country to aid their cause; and they assert that the bank directors form a permanent aristocratic body, whose influence must ultimately be felt in the Government, and must affect those principles of equality upon which society rests in America.
The contest between the bank and its opponents is only an incident in the great struggle which is going on in America between the provinces and the central power; between the spirit of democratic independence and the spirit of gradation and subordination. I do not mean that the enemies of the bank are identically the same individuals who, on other points, attack the Federal Government; but I assert that the attacks directed against the bank of the United States originate in the same propensities which militate against the Federal Government; and that the very numerous opponents of the former afford a deplorable symptom of the decreasing support of the latter.
The Union has never displayed so much weakness as in the celebrated question of the tariff. *a The wars of the French Revolution and of 1812 had created manufacturing establishments in the North of the Union, by cutting off all free communication between America and Europe. When peace was concluded, and the channel of intercourse reopened by which the produce of Europe was transmitted to the New World, the Americans thought fit to establish a system of import duties, for the twofold purpose of protecting their incipient manufactures and of paying off the amount of the debt contracted during the war. The Southern States, which have no manufactures to encourage, and which are exclusively agricultural, soon complained of this measure. Such were the simple facts, and I do not pretend to examine in this place whether their complaints were well founded or unjust.
[ See principally for the details of this affair, the Legislative Documents, 22d Congress, 2d Session, No. 30.]
As early as the year 1820, South Carolina declared, in a petition to Congress, that the tariff was “unconstitutional, oppressive, and unjust.” And the States of Georgia, Virginia, North Carolina, Alabama, and Mississippi subsequently remonstrated against it with more or less vigor. But Congress, far from lending an ear to these complaints, raised the scale of tariff duties in the years 1824 and 1828, and recognized anew the principle on which it was founded. A doctrine was then proclaimed, or rather revived, in the South, which took the name of Nullification.
I have shown in the proper place that the object of the Federal Constitution was not to form a league, but to create a national government. The Americans of the United States form a sole and undivided people, in all the cases which are specified by that Constitution; and upon these points the will of the nation is expressed, as it is in all constitutional nations, by the voice of the majority. When the majority has pronounced its decision, it is the duty of the minority to submit. Such is the sound legal doctrine, and the only one which agrees with the text of the Constitution, and the known intention of those who framed it.
The partisans of Nullification in the South maintain, on the contrary, that the intention of the Americans in uniting was not to reduce themselves to the condition of one and the same people; that they meant to constitute a league of independent States; and that each State, consequently retains its entire sovereignty, if not de facto, at least de jure; and has the right of putting its own construction upon the laws of Congress, and of suspending their execution within the limits of its own territory, if they are held to be unconstitutional and unjust.
The entire doctrine of Nullification is comprised in a sentence uttered by Vice-President Calhoun, the head of that party in the South, before the Senate of the United States, in the year 1833: could: “The Constitution is a compact to which the States were parties in their sovereign capacity; now, whenever a compact is entered into by parties which acknowledge no tribunal above their authority to decide in the last resort, each of them has a right to judge for itself in relation to the nature, extent, and obligations of the instrument.” It is evident that a similar doctrine destroys the very basis of the Federal Constitution, and brings back all the evils of the old confederation, from which the Americans were supposed to have had a safe deliverance.
When South Carolina perceived that Congress turned a deaf ear to its remonstrances, it threatened to apply the doctrine of nullification to the federal tariff bill. Congress persisted in its former system; and at length the storm broke out. In the course of 1832 the citizens of South Carolina, *b named a national Convention, to consult upon the extraordinary measures which they were called upon to take; and on November 24th of the same year this Convention promulgated a law, under the form of a decree, which annulled the federal law of the tariff, forbade the levy of the imposts which that law commands, and refused to recognize the appeal which might be made to the federal courts of law. *c This decree was only to be put in execution in the ensuing month of February, and it was intimated, that if Congress modified the tariff before that period, South Carolina might be induced to proceed no further with her menaces; and a vague desire was afterwards expressed of submitting the question to an extraordinary assembly of all the confederate States.
[ That is to say, the majority of the people; for the opposite party, called the Union party, always formed a very strong and active minority. Carolina may contain about 47,000 electors; 30,000 were in favor of nullification, and 17,000 opposed to it.]
[ This decree was preceded by a report of the committee by which it was framed, containing the explanation of the motives and object of the law. The following passage occurs in it, p. 34:—”When the rights reserved by the Constitution to the different States are deliberately violated, it is the duty and the right of those States to interfere, in order to check the progress of the evil; to resist usurpation, and to maintain, within their respective limits, those powers and privileges which belong to them as independent sovereign States. If they were destitute of this right, they would not be sovereign. South Carolina declares that she acknowledges no tribunal upon earth above her authority. She has indeed entered into a solemn compact of union with the other States; but she demands, and will exercise, the right of putting her own construction upon it; and when this compact is violated by her sister States, and by the Government which they have created, she is determined to avail herself of the unquestionable right of judging what is the extent of the infraction, and what are the measures best fitted to obtain justice.”]