A Contest Between Power and Liberty

John Caldwell Calhoun of South Carolina

We have now sufficient experience to ascertain that the tendency to conflict in this action is between Southern and other sections. The latter, having a decided majority, must habitually be possessed of the powers of the Government, both in this and in the other House; and, being governed by that instinctive love of power so natural to the human breast, they must become the advocates of the power of Government, and in the same degree opposed to the limitations; while the other and weaker section is as necessarily thrown on the side of the limitations. In one word, the one section is the natural guardian of the delegated powers, and the other of the reserved; and the struggle on the side of the former will be to enlarge the powers, while that on the opposite side will be to restrain them within their constitutional limits.

The contest will, in fact, be a contest between power and liberty, and such he considered the present; a contest in which the weaker section, with its peculiar labor, productions, and situation, has at stake all that can be dear to freemen. Should they be able to maintain in their full vigor their reserved rights, liberty and prosperity will be their portion; but if they yield, and permit the stronger interest to consolidate within itself all the powers of the Government, then will its fate be more wretched than that of the aborigines whom they have expelled, or of their slaves.

In this great struggle between the delegated and reserved powers, so far from repining that his lot and that of those whom he represented is cast on the side of the latter, he rejoiced that such is the fact; for though we participate in but few of the advantages of the government, we are compensated, and more than compensated, in not being so much exposed to its corruption. Nor did he repine that the duty, so difficult to be discharged, as the defence of the reserved powers against, apparently, such fearful odds, had been assigned to them. To discharge successfully this high duty requires the highest qualities, moral and intellectual; and, should you perform it with a zeal and ability in proportion to its magnitude, instead of being mere planters, our section will become distinguished for its patriots and statesmen. But, on the other hand, if we prove unworthy of this high destiny, if we yield to the steady encroachment of power, the severest and most debasing calamity and corruption will overspread the land.


Thirty Years' View by Thomas Hart Benton, page 336
D. Appleton and Company, New York, 1889