Anarchy and Revolution

Daniel Webster of Massachusetts

Nullification, if successful, arrests the power of the law, absolves citizens from their duty, subverts the foundation both of protection and obedience, dispenses with oaths and obligations of allegiance, and elevates another authority to supreme command. Is not this revolution? And it raises to supreme command four-and-twenty distinct powers, each professing to be under a general government, and yet each setting its laws at defiance at pleasure. Is not this anarchy, as well as revolution?

Sir, the Constitution of the United States was received as a whole, and for the whole country. If it cannot stand altogether it cannot stand in parts; and if the laws cannot be executed everywhere they cannot long be executed anywhere. The gentleman very well knows that all duties and imposts must be uniform throughout the country. He knows that we cannot have one rule or one law for South Carolina, and another for other States. He must see, therefore, and does see - every man sees - that the only alternative is a repeal of the laws throughout the whole Union, or their execution in Carolina as well as elsewhere. And this repeal is demanded because a single State interposes her veto and threatens resistance!

The result of the gentleman's opinions, or, rather, the very text of his doctrine, is, that no act of Congress can bind all the States, the constitutionality of which is not admitted by all; or, in other words, that no single State is bound, against its own dissent, by a law of imposts. This was precisely the evil experienced under the old Confederation, and for remedy of which this Constitution was adopted. The articles of confederation, as to purposes of revenue and finance, were nearly a dead letter. The country sought to escape from this condition, at once feeble and disgraceful, by constituting a Government which should have power of itself to lay duties and taxes, and to pay the public debt, and provide for the general welfare; and to lay these duties and taxes in all the States without asking the consent of the State governments.

This was the very power on which the new Constitution was to depend for all its ability to do good; and, without it, it can be no Government, now or at any time. Yet, sir, it is precisely against this power, so absolutely indispensable to the very being of the Government, that South Carolina directs her ordinance. She attacks the Government in its authority to raise revenue, the very mainspring of the whole system; and, if she succeed, every movement of that system must inevitably cease.


Great Debates in American History, Volume Five, page 100
Current Literature Publishing Company, New York, 1913