The Majority Must Govern

Henry Clay of Kentucky
Senate, February 2 1832

With respect to this Union, Mr. President, the truth cannot be too generally proclaimed nor too strongly inculcated that it is necessary to the whole and to all the parts - necessary to those parts, indeed, in different degrees, but vitally necessary to each; and that threats to disturb or dissolve it, coming from any of the parts, would be quite as indiscreet and improper as would be threats from the residue to exclude those parts from the pale of its benefits.

The great principle which lies at the foundation of all free government is that the majority must govern; from which there is or can be no appeal but to the sword. That majority ought to govern wisely, equitably, moderately, and constitutionally, but govern it must, subject only to that terrible appeal. If ever one or several States being a minority can, by menacing a dissolution of the Union, succeed in forming an abandonment of great measures deemed essential to the interests and prosperity of the whole, the Union, from that moment, is practically gone. It may linger on in form and name, but its vital spirit has fled forever!

Entertaining these deliberate opinions, I would entreat the patriotic people of South Carolina - the land of Marion, Sumter, and Pickens; of Rutledge, Laurens, the Pinckneys, and Lowndes; of living and present names which I would mention if they were not living or present - to pause, solemnly pause! and contemplate the frightful precipice which lies directly before them. To retreat may be painful and mortifying to their gallantry and pride, but it is to retreat to the Union, to safety, and to those brethren with whom, or with whose ancestors, they, or their ancestors, have won on fields of glory imperishable renown. To advance is to rush on certain and inevitable disgrace and destruction.


Great Debates in American History, Volume Five, pages 75-76
Current Literature Publishing Company, New York, 1913