Government Without Limitation of Powers

Robert Young Hayne of South Carolina
Senate, January 25 1830

Sir, as to the doctrine that the Federal Government is the exclusive judge of the extent, as well as the limitations, of its powers, 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 that 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 twenty shillings, on the principle on which it was demanded, would have made him a slave. Sir, if, in 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 should be hurried beyond the bounds of a cold and calculating prudence, who is there with one noble and generous sentiment in his bosom that would not be disposed, in the language of Burke, to exclaim: "You must pardon something to the spirit of liberty!"


Great Debates in American History, Volume Five, pages 45-46
Current Literature Publishing Company, New York, 1913