Editor’s Note: This 1830 speech from Whitemarsh B. Seabrook shows that South Carolina’s commitment to the original Constitution was not solely based on arguments against slavery.

Mr. Chairman—I am not aware that I ever attempted to address you with feelings like those which now influence me. The momentous character of the controversy between this state and the federal government, the consequences likely to grow out of it,added to the high responsibility devolving upon us all, are well calculated to fill the mind with deep and serious impressions.

There was a time, and it has but recently passed, when liberty with its manifold blessings, was practically enjoyed by every citizen of these United States. Then, the promotion of sectional interests, or the indulgence in sectional prejudices, had not been engrafted on the stock of Congressional improvidence. Then, the principles involved in our revolutionary struggle, constituted the polar star of legislative action. Every class successfully pursued its vocation. Joy and activity resounded through the land, and the star spangled banner adorned every sea and every port. How altered is our condition How changed the political scene on which the eye of patriotism could fondly rest I The sweet and general calm which once prevailed, has been broken and interrupted. The kind and brotherly feelings which at one time animated every bosom, have been transformed into individual distrust, jealousy, and dislike. Professions and pursuits are arrayed in opposition—nay, members of the same calling withhold from each other the right hand of fellowship. State is in opposition to State, and frightful disorder stalks exultingly abroad. Whence this alarming ebullition of the public mind? The answer is not heard. The sanctuary of the constitution has been invaded and the will of our fathers sacrilegiously filched ; and the deed has been committed too, by the very sentinels to whom a generous and a confiding people had entrusted the precious relic. Power, unchecked and irresponsible, now reigns, and the beacon light of ’98 is about to be extinguished, perhaps forever. Whilst the standard of political fanaticism points to the division of the spoils of property, the banner of false philanthropy is raised on high as if inviting to acts of horror and of darkness. The immediate cause then of the. general commotion is, the violation of the federal compact. This is the box of Pandora from which have issued the appalling ills under which the south now labours. The constitution of the United States is our safeguard—it is the shield of our protection—it is, in fine, the sacred bequest of the patriots of the revolution. Deface it—rob it of a single line, and it were well had the Union never existed. On what condition did South Carolina subscribe to the confederacy? Whatever it was, her honor, which has never been sullied, if not her interest, commands her to abide by it. In the ratification of South Carolina, dated the 23d of May, 1788, this emphatic language is used: “ This Convention doth also declare, that no section or paragraph of the said constitution, warrants a construction that the states do not retain every power not expressly relinquished by them, and vested in the general government of the Union.” Is it within the compass of language to convey a more definite meaning, or to express a less ambiguous phrase? At that time, South Carolina was not only a wealthy and highly prosperous state, but the character of the population, as now, was peculiar. Satisfied that her pecuniary ability, the happiness of her people, or the security of their property, could not be augmented by an association with the several states; whatever were the eminent advantages she had reason to anticipate from the Union, it became her imperative duty to exact every security which parchment could afford. In this feeling other states participated. The object of each was to prevent, if possible, the assumption of undelegated trusts, by the central authority. They wisely judged that, as Congress was to be authorised, not only to promote the general welfare, but to make all laws which should be necessary and proper for carrying into execution their enumerated powers, that body, incited by avarice or ambitition, might transcend its constitutional limits. To the condition prescribed by South Carolina, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire, the first Congress, at its first session, assented; and in the caption to the amendments to the constitution, proposed for the ratification of the states, it was declared that, ‘‘‘The Conventions of a number of the states having at the time of their adopting the constitution, expressed a desire, in order to prevent misconstruction or abuse of its powers, that further declaratory and restrictive clauses should be added; and as extending the ground of public confidence in the government, will best insure the benificent ends of its institution.” Resolved, among other amendments, “That the powers not delegated to the United States by the constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the stares respectively or to the people.” This is the compact which Rutledge, and Butler, and the Pinckneys subscribed in behalf of the then free, sovereign and independent state of South Carolina. Here is the bond which has been so insultingly mutilated by the grasping rapacity of an interested majority.

I will now ask you, Mr. Chairman, nay, I will propound the interrogatory even to him who lives and moves in the very atmosphere of consolidation, to point out a line or word in that compact to which South Carolina has not religiously adhered. In times of difficulty and peril, she has never stopped to inquire whether her co-partners needed her assistance; whether her resources could legally be demanded, or whether the arm of government was pressing heavily upon her. No; I thank God, that on her altars sacrifices for the good of our common country have never ceased to be offered freely, if not with avidity. With the devoted feeling of Rome, in the days of her pride and glory, she has ever viewed an injury to one state, as an injury to the whole national community. Shall I now portray the character of our adversary? Shall I tell you, Mr. Chairman, of our wrongs and of a freeman’s duty? No. With the history of our wrongs every tyro in politics is conversant. The poisonous grasp of usurpation all have felt. In relation to myself, however, I am constrained to declare, that if the colonies were justifiable in resisting the parliamentary aggressions of Great Britain, the states are now called on by the sacred charter which connects them with the Union, as well ashy the imperishable dictates of self-preservation, to arrest the career of usurpation which has disgraced the American Congress, and converted it into a loathsome despotism. What then are the federal edicts of which South Carolina has so long and so justly complained? The two most prominent are the prohibitory policy and the system of internal improvement. On these subjects of fruitful controversy, I shall say but little. Every parish in the state, not once, but repeatedly, has declared its opinion of their unconstitutionality and oppressiveness. The Legislature has on three occasions, and with an unanimity rarely equaled on questions of high political import, responded to the voice of the people, it would therefore be an unprofitable consumption of time, and an unwarrantable trespass on the patience of the Committee, to meet a conceded point. Moreover, it is of but little moment to inquire to what extent South Carolina is taxed by the tariff—whether the average of duties on imports be 45 percent, or whether, by the system of internal improvement, she be a sufferer to the amount of $10,000,000, or $1,000,000 only. This is not the true question at issue. Our complaints are based not so much on the unjust exercise of power, as on the arbitrary assumption of power.

The ground on which this state now proudly stands is, not that millions are annually wrested from her, and then distributed among those whose interest it is to receive her tribute, but it is that her sovereignty is invaded. She denies the right to Congress to assail the sanctuary of private interest, to force labor and capital from their natural channels, or to do any other act not particularly stated in the compact. The contest therefore, in which South Carolina is now engaged, is not a struggle for dollars and cents, but the nobler contest for the preservation of the constitution itself. It is, in short, principle for which she combats. On the result depends state independence, and with it life, liberty, and property. In this view, a more momentous question was never agitated by a deliberative body. Let us approach it, sir, with a conscious rectitude of our intentions. Let us remember, that in the presence of Him, from whom no secrets are hid, we have sworn to protect and defend the constitution of this State and that of the United States.

The first attempt at assumption by Great Britain, in relation to her American colonies, was the famous stamp act of 1765. How was the arbitrary statute received? By “a peremptory denial, that the inhabitants of the colonies were bound to yield obedience to any law or ordinance whatever, designed to impose any Tax whatever upon them, other than the laws or ordinances of their general assemblies.” To enforce this declaration, emanating from, and fora while sustained alone by Virginia, the most determined measures were resorted to. “If,” said the patriots of that day, “Parliament have a right to levy the stamp duties, they may, by the same authority, lay on us imposts, excises, and other taxes, without end, till their rapacity is satisfied, or our abilities are exhausted. We cannot, at future elections, displace these men who so lavishly grant away our property–Their seats and their power are independent of us, and will rest with their generosity, where to stop, in transferring the expenses of government from their own to our shoulders.” Here is a faithful expose of the situation of the Southern States at this time. They cannot eject from office the men who have been instrumental in creating the grievance of which we complain. “Their seats and their power are independent of us.” Shall we appeal to public opinion? That has been done, and public opinion is against us. Shall we, by argument, by remonstrance, or by protest, endeavor to satisfy our opponents of the necessity of a change of policy?— Each expedient has been tried, and each has signally failed. Our ancestors, be it remembered, were the subjects of a consolidated government.—The colonies were integral parts of the British empire; yet, a nominal tax created the revolution. How stands our relation to the federal government, and that of South Carolina to the same power? We, the citizens of this state, owe no substantive, inherent allegiance to the government of the United States. Our allegiance is consequent on the membership of South Carolina to the confederacy, created by compact, and to which independent sovereignties alone are parties. Need I say, that the world has sanctioned the justness of our colonial veto—and shall the principles for which the southern states are now contending, be deemed less worthy of a timely and efficient support?

Having thus endeavored, briefly, to show the true character of our controversy with the general government, several questions of grave import present themselves. Has South Carolina a constitutional right to arrest any law of Congress which she might consider a violation of the compact? Ought she, in reference to the tariff, now to attempt the exercise of that right without the certainty of the cooperation of the southern states? What is “the mode and measure of redress,” to which it would be expedient to resort? Avoiding for the present the discussion of the point embraced in the first interrogatory, as unnecessary to a correct decision on the bill under consideration, I proceed to an examination of the position, that South Carolina, alone and unaided, cannot successfully stay the encroachments of the federal government. A preliminary observation, however, it is necessary I should offer. There are many politicians avowedly in favor of sustaining, at every peril, the sovereignty of the states, but whose principles, when pushed to their legitimate extent, are in direct repugnance to their declaration. I am, says one, for South Carolina, right or wrong: but mark the qualification, it would be madness in her to resist alone. Prudence advises the seeking of aid, and when obtained, forward to move, and leave the consequences to God. The inference deducible from this proposition is, that our aim should be to intimidate the authorities at Washington, by an imposing exhibition of physical power; but, in the event of disappointment on this head, to be able to oppose force to force. On whom then should rest the charge of disunion, civil war, and blood? Let the tongue proclaim it at the solemn bar of conscience. In our contest for principle, we need no other arms than the arms of invincible truth and justice. Now, South Carolina either can, or cannot constitutionally exercise her veto upon an unwarrantable congressional mandate. If she can, the federal government cannot legitimately interpose its authority. If she cannot, will the concurrence of the whole south make that right, which was wrong in reference to South Carolina alone? Can numbers change the character of a principle?— Numbers may affect the expediency of a measure, but can never alter a fundamental truth.

In 1828, the Legislature of this state adopted the following resolution, viz:—”That the measures to be pursued consequent on the perseverance in this system, (the tariff) are purely questions of expediency and not of allegiance; and that for the purpose of ascertaining the opinion and inviting the co-operation of other states, a copy of these and the resolutions heretofore adopted by this Legislature, be transmitted to the Governors of the several states, with a request that they be laid before the several Legislatures, to determine on such ulterior measures as they may think the occasion demands.” Can words be more explicit?— Is it desired that we should again urge upon our neighbors the necessity of a combined effort? Do they not understand their rights? Are they willing to bow submissively at the bidding of consolidation? Shall we send missionaries to preach political homilies to them? No, sir! South Carolina must assume a nobler and a more dignified stand. She must write her cause on the broad concave of heaven, and with the constitution for her guide, and the spirit of ’76 to aid her, let her fearlessly do her duty.

To the invitation of South Carolina, the states of Virginia, Georgia, Alabama,and Mississippi, have responded. They concur, as to the unconstitutionality and gross injustice of the prohibitory policy. They distinctly affirm, in the language of the Virginia report, that “the proceedings of the Legislature of South Carolina announce and sustain their opinions; opinions, which rest on truth and reason: which they can discern no cause to relinquish; but which they are ready to defend and sustain, as involving the most essential interests of their commonwealths.” These states, be it remembered, sir, are allied to us by the strong and imperishable ties of interest, policy, and feeling; as well as by the endearing cement of not only laboring in the same vocation, but owning the same peculiar property. Hence, in any contingency involving the safety of South Carolina, there could be no neutrality on the part of the plantation states. Whence arise the evils which so unceasingly assail us and them? Is there any natural affinity between the northern and southern sections of this vast empire? A moral and political relation exists between them. The federal compact created it, and that only, administered in its purity, can preserve it. There is no disguising the truth, that the interests of South Carolina and Georgia, are not the interests of Connecticut and Rhode Island. It is the policy of the south, as well as the dictate of an elevated philosophy, that the industry of our citizens should be like the air which they breathe, free and unshackled. On the contrary, the principles of Say, Smith and Ricardo, are discarded as political heresies, whenever a loom is erected, or a manufactory rears its imposing front. With France, Great Britain and Germany, the plantation states profitably exchange the productions of their labor. The manufactures of one, are repaid by the raw materials of the other. The tariff portion of our national, community, on the other hand, raises nothing of which those European powers are in want. The agricultural productions of both parties are, in general, the same. Each seeks the same markets, and each pursues the same line of industry. Every consideration, therefore, that can address itself to the well-being and perpetuity of our domestic institutions, prompts the whole south to exist as an unit—as one great sovereignty, indivisable and unchangeable.

Permit me now, Mr. Chairman, to reply briefly to the prominent objections which arc known to exist against any movement of South Carolina at this time. And, first, it is said, that a change is gradually taking place in the public mind favorable to the cause we advocate. The following powerful agents have been assiduously engaged for at least two years in practically demonstrating the baneful tendency of the “American system,” yet, to us, hope is as distant as though it had never existed. First, the extensive and distressing failures of the manufacturers. Secondly, the loss incurred by the farmers in the middle states, who were deluded into a belief, that the tariff act of 1828, would open new and endless avenues to wealth. Thirdly, the serious injury inflicted on commerce and navigation. Fourthly, but of a different and less effective character, one or two ably edited periodicals, and a few well conducted newspapers. Lastly, the declaration and protests of five states, that the prohibitory policy is destructive to their labor and capital, and not warranted by the federal compact. The concentrated energies of these various agents operating directly or negatively in behalf of the free trade system, have, it would now seem, produced no other effect, than a more unyielding determination in the majority, to rivet their chains on the patient and unresisting slave-holder.

If it be inquired, what causes have brought about this afflicting state of things? I answer, first, the constant, unremitted and zealous exertions of the press. Secondly, when an impetus is given to industry in any pursuit whereby a larger profit than usual is confidently to be anticipated, capital will seek that channel—speculations will commence, and that enviable virtue, prudence, will for a season be neglected. Hence the true cause of the failures in 1828. To profit immediately by the bounty which it was the design of the law of that year to dispense, business was done with unusual precipitancy; and at an expense, too, which no calculations had reached. Men distinguished for caution and circumspection, invested their entire capital in buildings and machinery; and although ruin was ultimately their fate, yet others were thereby enabled advantageously to embark in the new enterprise. Establishments that cost from 50 or 100,000 dollars, have recently been purchased at much less than one half of their original value. They are now owned by individuals of limited fortunes, and I speak advisedly, when I assert, that there is not one under the operation of a solid capital, that does not realize from 10 to 25 per cent. The current opinion, therefore, that the manufacturers are engaged in an unprofitable businesses a fallacy. It is opposed to existing facts, to recent history, and to common sense. The tariff states never were in a more prosperous condition; and that their prosperity is mainly to be ascribed to the tribute which they annually receive from the southern yeoman, needs no metaphysical reasoning to substantiate. Thirdly, the opinion of the president of the United States, openly expressed on more than one occasion, of the constitutionality of the tariff laws. I shall not speak of the influence of the federal executive. It is well known. It has been felt on every occasion where its exercise was attempted. In truth, it is inseperable from the organic structure of the confederacy. The tariff states, with, I believe, two exceptions, are now clamorous for his re-election; and that his sentiments on the prohibitory policy is the true ground of their favoritism, recent events abundantly testify. Fourthly, successfully to prosecute their pseudo-philanthropic schemes, the followers of Wilberforce in this country have lately added their moral and numerical power to the tariff and internal improvement parties. The avowed design of the reformers is emancipation. At their head stands the Chief Justice of the United, States, aided by the talents and prudence of Charles Fenton Mercer, of Virginia, and other late distinguished converts to the Clay system of exclusion. Fifthly, the apathy of the southern states, and the failure of South Carolina in 1828, to discharge the solemn obligation she owed to herself as a sovereign and high spirited community. If at the onset of our difficulties, the example of Virginia in 1765, or of Virginia and Kentucky in 1798 and ’99, had been followed, the political horizon would soon have exhibited its usual calmness and serenity. But, unfortunately, perhaps, for the cause of liberty, the sentinel on the watch-tower slept, and the monster consolidation planted his foot on the threshold of our sacred political edifice. One encroachment followed another in such rapid succession that, ere the mind could bring its powers to bear on the topics of inquiry, the deed was consummated; and the usurper, firmly seated on the throne, now smiles triumphantly at the pigmy doings of its supposed imbecile opponents.

In 1828, the eyes of the union were instinctively turned towards us. We had spoken much and often; and our people were then in a state 0f unparalleled excitement. A strong and magnanimous effort was made; but divided in her councils, South-Carolina could only hope for better and more auspicious times. I then thought the question of resistance was forever yielded, and so thought our adversaries. At this very moment they erect their security on our weakness; and it remains for us to determine whether they have built their house on a rock or on a sandy foundation. Lastly, from physical, as well as moral causes, it is susceptible of proof, that the restrictive system never will be voluntarily abandoned. Comparatively, the soil of the northern section of the confederacy is poor and incapable of producing any very valuable commodities. From this consideration, added to the density of their population, the industry of the people is wonderfully exerted, and capital is perpetually seeking new channels for investment. Of the many millions lent to the general government from its first organization by citizens of the United States, perhaps three-fourths have been advanced by the tariff states: and for the most obvious reason— the certainty of a larger return than could be realized from agriculture or commerce. The wealth of these communities is relative, not positive. All of them, including the great state of New-York, are measurably dependent on southern industry for their prosperity. Of the whole amount of national exports, their contributions are about one-third. A few of them do not export enough of domestic products to defray the expenses of their civil list. In fine, it may almost be said, that the anomalous spectacle is exhibited of a government based on the purest principles ever devised by the wisdom and foresight of political reformers, supporting a large portion of its population by annual drafts on the public treasury; or in other words, that a grand pauper system exists, differing in this only from the legitimate rule, that the disbursements are allowed not to needy individuals, but to sovereign and chivalrous commonwealths. The federal government, influenced, doubtless, by prudential considerations, have ever looked with tenderness on that section of the union. The laws concerning navigation, commerce, the fisheries, manufactures, internal improvements, &c. &c. put this matter beyond dispute. Even the embargo and nonintercourse acts, and finally the war owed their origin to the necessity of protecting the fruits of eastern labor. From what source was drawn the funds to accomplish these important and patriotic objects? The answer in part may be found in the statistical fact, that South Carolina alone exports more of native commodities than the whole of New England; yet, strange as it may appear, Massachusetts imports more than South Carolina. To make amends for the sterility of their soil, and an unfavorable geographical location, it would appear, as if those states are determined so to extend the doctrine of implication as to enable their party in Congress to rule steadily and triumphantly. They well know that every exercise of constructive power, under their plastic management, relatively augments their political strength. An essential item in their new fangled system of philosophy is to diminish the power of the south; either positively, by such means as the tariff and colonization society; or, negatively, by refusing their assent to any measure or project calculated to enlarge the sphere of our authority. For this reason, and not from its unconstitutionality, they resisted the purchase of Louisiana. .For a like motive they are now opposed to the acquisition of Texas. Against their will, except to us on a degrading condition, Missouri was admitted into the Union. They denied to Georgia the right of jurisdiction over her own territory. To the principles involved in Foot’s resolutions, as illustrated by southern statesmen, they could not subscribe. The scheme of distributing the surplus revenue among the members of the confederacy, meets their decided approbation. They encourage and sustain the establishment of colonization and abolition societies. Why all this? Let avarice and ambition answer. Although the states are deeply interested in the preservation of the union, yet all are not equally so. From the confederacy arise the rapidly increasing wealth and general prosperity of the tariff states. To augment and perpetuate both, depends as much on the assumption of undelegated powers by Congress, as on the existence of the federal compact. Let the doctrine of implication, as practically enforced by the general government be annulled, and the Elysian fields on which they have been wont to riot, will, as if by the wand of an enchantress, be converted into barren heaths. The hand of covetousness may still continue to grasp instinctively the fruits of southern industry, but where substance was, “ airy nothing” will be found. The reasons here assigned, why the tariff states favor the augmentation of power by Congress will ever exercise an operative agency; so long as the admonitions of nature are heeded.

We are told, however, Mr. Chairman, to pause in our endeavors to bring back the government to its original design—to wait awhile and all will be well. How long shall we wait?—One, two, or twenty years? I have never heard an answer to this question. The idea of waiting must be based on the belief of a change in public sentiment favorable to the cause of state sovereignty. This, I have endeavored to shew, is a miserable fallacy. During the late war high duties on imports were imposed to raise a revenue commensurate with the exigencies of the country. In the attainment of this end, manufacturies were incidentally established and supported. On the restoration of peace, it was conceded that the duties should be diminished; and the majority, influenced by the most exalted motives, determined that it should be done gradually. In this feeling, South Carolina participated. The act was worthy of her magnanimity, but fatal, perhaps, to her peace. When the period arrived, prescribed by the act of 1816, for a further modification of the tariff, grant us another boon—wait a little longer—constituted an appeal from the interests of the manufacturer to the sympathy of the nation. In 1820, from the vast amount invested in manufacturing establishments, to be traced of course to the great profits of that branch of industry; from the accession to the numerical force of the tariff party; and from other causes already adverted to, the manufacturers demanded as a right, what before they had asked as a kindness. Could this have happened, if the south had not been swerved from its line of duty by the siren song of wait awhile. In 1824, 840,000,000 were added to the capital devoted to the furtherance of the “American system.” Then, instead of companies, or even sections of large communities, embarking in the new enterprise, so rich was the prize which the legislation of Congress had created, that entire states, in utter dereliction of their most sacred immunities, suddenly presented themselves as champions. A kind of delirium seized the public mind, and the desolating bill of that year passed the national councils by a majority of three votes. The excitement among the tariffites steadily increased, until in the consummation of its wildness and extravagance, it gave birth to that child of many fathers, the bill of abominations as it has been happily styled. A majority of sixteen proclaimed the triumph of our opponents. Since that memorable epoch, the indignation of the southern states has been strong and decided. There exists not a Carolinian who denies the existence of our grievances, and the imperitive necessity of redressing them; still that appalling sound—that infantile cry which pierces and harrows the very soul as if in mockery of our complaints, still lingers on the car with its timid and unconsoling accents. To conclude this afflictive summary, it is now notorious, that on every question of principle there is an unyielding majority in Congress against the free trade party of at least thirty votes.

Again: the president’s veto on the Maysville road bill, will, eventually, it is gravely urged, restore the harmony of the Union. I freely admit the important benefits that must flow from this decisive and independent act of the federal executive. For a while he has checked the passion for appropriating the national funds for sectional purposes. That during his administration too, an economical disbursement of the public treasure may be relied on, is true; but that it will be competent for him to limit the annual appropriations to the express wants of the country is not susceptible of proof. If, in the language of Mr. Clay, the efforts of Congress should be directed by one act to collect the public revenue, and by another to distribute it, will it be a difficult matter to suggest an hundred subjects inviting the aid of the national treasury? At the late session of Congress the sum appropriated for internal improvements was inconsiderable; yet, the whole revenue of the government was pledged for some object or other. There are, therefore, strong reasons for believing, that although the president’s timely interposition has arrested for a season one exercise of lawless power; still, the nation will not be a gainer in a pecuniary view. But apart from this consideration. If the recommendation accompanying General Jackson’s veto message be adopted by Congress, it needs not the spirit of prophecy to predict the infliction of a heavier curse on the union than the one which now assails it. That this scheme is likely to form a part of the Congressional code, the public voice-gives fearful forebodings. What will be its practical operation? The concentration of all power in the hands of the federal government. Annually participating in the largess of Congress, will soon beget a feeling adverse, if not ruinous, to the independence and sovereignty of the elementary portions of this confederacy. The states, as a few of them now do, will refuse to tax their own citizens; and if the amount they may respectively receive be insufficient for their purposes, they may and will combine to enlarge their income.—In what mode? By the imposition of higher duties on imported articles. It is in fine, the most effectual devise which the inventive faculty of man can offer, to perpetuate the tariff policy. Shall I speak of its corrupting moral influence ? Of first mulcting the honest yeoman to bribe him afterwards by returning a pittance of his own money? Or, if scattering with a lavish prodigality the gold of one state among the avaricious paupers of another? Look too at its obvious injustice and incompatibility with the bond of union. South Carolina, that exports more of native products than the states of Hartford Convention memory, will receive nine parts, and value of domestic commodities will receive fourteen parts, and Louisiana whose exports in that year equaled the sum of $10,103,342, only three parts. The seven southern states, whose united wealth, as estimated by their average annual shipments of the produce of their soil, is two thirds of that of the Union, will receive fifty-eight parts, and the other members of this mighty league, to the number of seventeen, will have a right to demand one hundred and fifty-five parts. If we dare ask by what authority this splendid scheme of robbery is to be accomplished, the cold and repulsive answer is returned, that the power is incidental to an authorized trust; or in other words, that Congress has aright to promote the general welfare. I solemnly declare, that as ruinous as are the systems of the tariff and internal improvement, I would rather that South Carolina should submit to their operation, than to this accursed project, which, if put into practice, will sap the very foundation on which the superstructure of our government is erected.

Another objection to immediate action on the part of this state, results from the belief founded on what transpired at the last session of Congress, that the prohibitory policy may be successfully attacked in detail. ‘Tis true, that by that policy, the duties on certain articles were considerably reduced. It is also probable that by perseverance in that line of management the tax on other articles may be diminished; but is there the slightest ground on which to build a hope, that the tariff will be at all modified in relation to those activities for which the southern states exchange their staple commodities? The duties on molasses, salt and teas affected seriously the eastern states. It was a part of the American system which bore heavily upon them. By these modifications, their situation has been meliorated. It has hence lessened their hostility to the system itself.— Over the south, on the contrary, the sword of Damocles still hangs by a hair. So far too from the modifications alluded to bringing us friends, they have increased the number of our opponents abroad, and operated as a sedative on a few of our friends at home. The duties of which we chiefly complain are those on cotton and woollen goods and hardware; as for these, we exchange our cotton, rice and tobacco. Repeal the tax on every article, save on those just enumerated, and the tariff will still constitute a power, of sufficient force to sweep the land with the besom of destruction. On the other hand, let the protection on those commodities be withdrawn, and the system will then be more properly American; for comparatively, it will press with equal force on every part of the union: and this consideration alone by destroying the inequality on which the policy is supported, will of itself, without any extraordinary effort on the part of its assailants, consign it to oblivion. It must be apparent, that if the Tariff had borne equally heavy on the states, it would long since have been repealed. It would be repugnant to every principle of reason and common sense to infertile continuance of any legislative measure, which, in its operation, was universally injurious. It is therefore the uncontested fact, that it does contribute to augment the prosperity of the larger portion of the confederacy, that the restrictive system is sustained, in despite of the protest and solemn warnings of the southern community. To keep South Carolina in a state of delusion, attempts may be made at the ensuing session of Congress, to mitigate the severity of the act of 1828. For as long as the tax on a single article can be reduced, prudence, it is said, should admonish us to forbear. Let this mode of attack on the out-posts be carried on for a few years, and if the citadel be not then reached, I venture to prophesy, that interest will force South Carolina into the ranks of Mr. Clay. It would be easy at this time for Congress to allow a drawback on cotton bagging, and the next year, to repeal the duties on nutmegs and other spices. In the mean time, the capital of our citizens from sheer necessity, would be diverted from the cotton culture to the establishment of looms and workshops. Thus, while the strength of our opponents would in no wise be diminished, that of this state would be materially impaired.

Again: the extinguishment of the public debt is much relied on as a panacea for our wrongs. Should no unforeseen contingency occur, it is believed, that event will take place in four years: Then, no cogent reason will exist for a perseverance in the high duty system. The avowed object of the acts of 1824 and ’28 was, the encouragement of domestic industry, without the slightest reference to the payment of the national debt. On the contrary the most decided advocates of the tariff policy are the most lukewarm in relation to this interesting subject. I verily believe, when the period arrives at which the federal government shall have discharged its pecuniary obligations, that the people will demand a reduction of taxes: but the character of those taxes, as well as the extent to which they might be diminished, will depend on the majority—on that majority whose deeds are visible in the desolation around us; and whose interest it will be to expunge from the statute book only those parts, which, in their enforcement, are known to be injurious to themselves, or unnecessary for their wants.

At the late session of Congress, Mr. Benton submitted a project by which the nation was to be relieved of $12,000,000. It bore an imposing aspect, and was well calculated to mislead the judgment of the unskilful politician. To us its enactment would have been inexcusable mockery. The Missouri statesman knew, that for the south essentially to be benefitted, the duties on those articles for which we exchange our staple commodities, must be greatly reduced. To effect this, however, he was aware, would be to plant a poignard in the bosom of the tariff itself; for, without those specific duties it could not endure for a day. It is not improbable that on some future occasion, a bill in substance like that of Mr. Benton’s may become the law of the land; and, although as consumers we should participate in the benefits arising therefrom; yet, in relation to the true tendency of the entire American system our grievances would be unredressed. The momentous interrogatory now presents itself, if the effects of the prohibitory policy be as pernicious as I have represented them—if an interested and corrupt faction have practically nullified the sacred character of our liberties, what course is it meet that South Carolina should pursue? As a preliminary step, let the whole subject of our unfortunate collision with the general government be referred to our citizens in convention. They created the constitution of this state, and aided to establish that of the United States.

The people of South Carolina, therefore, so far as they are concerned, are the proper judge to determine whether the federal compact has been violated or not. The 1st clause of the llth article of our state constitution is in the following vords, viz—”No convention of the people shall be called, unless by the concurrence of two thirds of both branches of the whole representation.” It is apparent on the very face of this article, that the framers of the Constitution deemed it impolitic to consult the people, except on extraordinary occasions; and, as confirmatory of their will, that those occasions should be indicated by the most decided and unequivocal sense of the body politic. From this position results a peculiarly important inference, that whatever may be the decision of such a tribunal, it would emphatically be the voice of the state; and, as such, would be respected at home and abroad. “All power is originally vested in the people; and all free governments are founded on their authority, and are instituted for their peace, safety and happiness.” If, therefore, we, the deputed guardians of the “peace, safety and happiness” of our constituents, believe that danger is at hand, and that it cannot be averted by legislative enactments; we would be traitors to our trust not instantly and openly to proclaim it. Are we afraid to trust our masters? If, in convention, they were to adopt the supposed hazardous measure of nullification, would it not be the act of a body, armed with power by the highest human authority? To whom would that body be amenable? The sovereignty of a stranger? The mandate of a foreign tribunal? No! despotism, in its wildest aberrations, would not venture to hazard that assertion. Mr. Chairman, let gentlemen urge what plea they may—let them put the subject in every light human ingenuity can devise, it is fear, in all its nakedness and deformity, which compels many of our politicians so strenuously to resist the call of a convention. In effect, they declare, that on the absorbing subject of our federal relations, the knowledge of the citizens of South Carolina is vague and indefinite, and their judgments weak and unsound. Impelled by this consideration, and influenced too by the finest feelings of the human heart, they would prevent the contemplated elemental meeting of the people; believing, that they may cut their own throats. Thus, if these are our opinions, do we aim a blow at the foundation principle of the government. With but few exceptions, conventions have been held in every state in the union, not once, but repeatedly. In no instance have they ever exhibited a revolutionary feeling,or a disposition to moot questions not embraced in the sphere of their delegated trusts. They were designed to check the wanderings of power, to prevent the collision of variant interests, and to keep the political machine in steady and harmonious action. In fine, they constitute the very essence of the conservative principle of our institutions. They are therefore extraordinary but peaceful assemblages; and, as must ever be the case, have been composed of the learning, patriotism, and weight of personal character in our commonwealth. Hence, the federal and state governments wisely provide for the call of conventions.

There are many forcible reasons why this constitutional provision of South Carolina should now be carried into effect. The opinion has obtained abroad, that this state cannot be goaded into further resistance : and that the excitement which prevails among her citizens is limited to a slender minority. This readily accounts for the taunts, jeers and insults which have been so lavishly bestowed on our public men, as well as for the contemptuous manner in which our remonstrances have been received.—

Let however a convention meet, and other and more discreet feelings will soon be indulged. Conventions, our opponents are aware, were not de signed for ordinary purposes; and should one assemble after the bloody scenes which have been depicted to our affrighted imaginations, they will then know and be able to appreciate the acuteness and universality of our political disease. Now, our complaints constitute the theme of merriment —our resolution for unceasing resistance, treated as the vaunting of madmen. And is there not reason for their faith? Have not a few of our own presses grossly misrepresented the views of the dominant party in this state? Have they not deceived the people of the United States as regards the force and extent of the public sentiment of South Carolina on federal usurpations ? Are not letter writers at this time secretly engaged in the treacherous task of poisoning the mind of the president, in relation to our cause and its advocates? Although I would not assemble the people in their highest sovereign capacity solely to elicit a more faithful exponent of the public will, yet, that that result would ensue from a convention, is indisputable. Another consideration forcibly suggests itself. It has been generally conceded, though I do not myself admit the correctness of the position, that the Legislature has gone as far as it can constitutionally go. It has petitioned,remonstrated and protested against the existence and maintenance of the restrictive system; and further, it has solicited the co-operation of the anti-tariff states, with a view to such “ulterior measures” as the exigency of the crisis imperiously demands. Shall South Carolina now be silent? Shall she patiently await the decision of time, or by some unequivocal testimonial, shew the undivided and steadfast determination of a sovereign and high-minded people. A convention would be a forward movement—it would remove a serious impediment in the way of a practical exposition of our principles.

All acknowledge the great insecurity of our property. The value of our estates no one knows. This results solely from the distracted state of the public mind. It is vitally important, therefore, if the welfare of South Carolina be consulted, that the matter at issue should be speedily adjusted. Hitherto, it is believed, the subject of our differences with the federal government, has been coram non judice. After our citizens in their primary assemblies shall have settled the question of constitutionality, then, our courts of justice would be competent to afford them ample and entire protection. Should, however, those tribunals be inadequate to the attainment of that end, it will be for the Legislature to determine on “the mode and measure of redress.” The expediency of this course, it is said, is admitted and would be conclusive, if gentlemen were satisfied, that the deliberations of a convention could be confined to certain specific, definite points. The novel question therefore arises. Is a convention illimitable? The government under which we live is, in many respects, essentially different from that of any political association ever instituted. It is emphatically a representative democracy; that is, the people do by delegation what, in a simple republic, they would do in person. Let it be remembered too that lawful government is an emanation of the fundamental law, by which the people restrain themselves from any direct agency in the administration of their own affairs. A convention therefore is no more the people than the Legislature. The latter is charged with, certain general duties to be fulfilled pursuant to the original written compact of the society by which it is expressly limited—the former is an extraordinary meeting of the community by representation, to accomplish a specific purpose. As the Legislature calls it into being, in obedience to a constitutional provision, it is obviously a creature of the constitution itself, and can in no sense be paramount to that instrument.

Again, suppose these high authorities to be in existence at the same time. Has the one, from its peculiar political attributes, the right to modify or destroy the privileges and immunities of the other? No! Because the people at the establishment of the government invested the Legislature with the sole power of altering their, constitutional charter. An attempt by any other tribunal to effect that object would be revolutionary; and when the lever of revolution pervades the body politic, the interposition of a convention is not necessary to inflame it to madness. One parish might secede, and if others obeyed the same impulse, the reign of terror would succeed the administration of law. But such a disruption of our political ties would betray the existence of feelings, in which God in his mercy hath not yet permitted us to indulge. A convention to form a constitution is obviously and necessarily illimitable; but the instant the transfer of sovereignty is consummated, it becomes, by its own act, a responsible tribunal. It may change its will, but that must be done in the mode prescribed by the original compact. If, therefore, in relation to the immediate topic of inquiry, the people do meet in their primary assemblies, they will meet under the constitution. May they not refuse to send delegates? True. And may they not refuse to be represented on this floor? As the Legislature then are alone competent to originate a legitimate convention, can they not specify the time of its meeting and the purpose for which it is called. Must they not go further, and designate the number and qualifications of the members ? These specifications are essential to the organization and efficiency of a convention; but are they not restrictions of a positive character? Where then shall the restrictions end? I answer, precisely at the point where limitations would be unnecessary. To invest a convention consequently with its commission, is the peculiar duty of the legislative department of the government. These views are confirmed by the historical fact, that every convention that has hitherto assembled in the states was called for a special object and under express limitations. It is therefore an untenable position, so far as experience testifies, that the moment a convention is called “society is resolved into its original elements.” It is practically and theoretically false. The convention and Legislature of Virginia were in session at tile same time. The members of one were, in many instances, members of the other. The Governor, Judges, of whom one was of the Supreme Court of the U. S., and several of the representatives to Congress, held seats in the former. At that time was the complex machinery of the government for a moment arrested or even deranged? When the state conventions assembled to ratify the federal constitution, did it occur to any political empiric that the state governments were ipso facto dissolved? That the people of the union were in a state of civil society, and not bound by any human tribunal? If this be true, the federal constitution is not constitutionally amendable. With such a construction, the article in that instrument, as well as the one in our state constitution, concerning convention, is a deceptive and dangerous provision, and should never be enforced, as a dissolution of the union would be inevitable. Moreover, the 5th article of the constitution of the United States provides, “that no amendment (proposed by a convention) which may be made prior to the year 1808, shall in any manner affect the first and fourth clauses in the 9th section of the first article; and that no state, without its consent, shall be deprived of its equal suffrage in the senate.” These are positive restrictions on a federal convention. I am, therefore, Mr. Chairman, led to conclude, that the theory and practice of our institutions favor decidedly the position I have advanced,—that a contrary belief would prevent the amending of the constitution of the United States, and hence crush forever the hope of any melioration of our condition. Suppose Congress were to submit the constitutionality of the tariff act of 1828 to a federal convention. Would South Carolina refuse to send delegates, and urge as a plea the illimitable powers of such an assembly? In that event, the most favorable opportunity which ardent patriotism could desire, to relieve our citizens from the bane of unjust legislation, would be lost; for fear a mightier evil, may be ript up from the womb of a diseased body, that no one has seen or knows to exist.

But, sir, if all I have said be erroneous, there is still one guarantee against the improvident and suicidal deliberations of a convention, which the sanctity of parchment could never offer. I mean the intelligence of a high minded people, and their unbending devotion to the sacred cause of their country. Under the guardianship of these elevated sureties, the rights of every section of the state are as secure as the existence of the people themselves.

I have thus, Mr. Chairman, discharged a painful but necessary duty. The sober dictates of my judgment, I have unfolded. The indignation of my feelings have not been concealed. The crisis, sir, is portentous. On the Legislature depends primarily the safety of South-Carolina. In their hands is her honor—her character—her liberty. Pause, and I fear it will be the pause of death. I say, then, in the language of him whose breath has long been hushed by the mandate of death, “catch the favorable moment, seize it with avidity and firmness; for it may be lost never to be regained.” Is it not a truly humiliating spectacle to see the citizens of a sovereign state begging for their rights?—humbly entreating their self-constituted masters to be merciful in their exactions? Good God! Is it come to this that the mere agent of the states, should dare to assume the imperious prerogative of not merely waiving over them the banner of its supremacy, but of laughing to scorn even the exercise of the right to speak of their liberties? Sir, the veriest menial on earth—the humblest thing that moves in the shape of man, can entreat his Lord to spare him the earnings of his industry. Yet, this poor privilege, enjoyed by the degraded vassals of the most tyrannical governments, has been denied to the people of South-Carolina. At the last session of Congress, Mr. McDuffie, in obedience to the expressed wish of the Legislature of this state, submitted a proposition, sanctioned by the decision of a standing committee of the house of representatives, which looked merely to a prospective modification of the restrictive system. How was it met? In a spirit of friendship and conciliation? No. Even the clemency of the British parliament, on a similar occasion, was withheld. The gag law silenced all complaints. At a subsequent period, to effect his purpose, your representative was obliged to resort to an expedient, which shews experimentally the slender tenure by which our rights are held. Yes, it is indeed, true! to such a height have your wrongs been carried—so remorseless are your oppressors, that to be heard at all, on the subject of your grievances, the uprightness’ of the statesman must bend to the wiles of the tactician. From the federal Legislature then, do you still expect justice ? Is this the source from which you hope to draw the consolation of some future good. Dispel the illusion! The vulture that preys on your vitals will never relax its grasp until its appetite is appeased, or there is nothing more on which it can feed.

Unfortunate Carolina !—Unhappy and divided state! Where, sir, are her enemies ? Look to the west, and there you will see them—Go to the cast, and there you will find them—Ask for them at the north, and thousands will respond, here, there, every where ! Can the sick mind always find relief at home? Is it universally true, that in our own domicils—at our own fire-sides, the heart can freely disclose its sorrows? No, sir! it dare not. If it speak above the low whispers of the solitary anchorite, it is suspected. If but a patriotic feeling escape it, treason and blood unfurl their dark and sombre standards. Among the foes of our state there is no contrariety or opinion. With them a concentrated movement necessarily results from congeniality of thought and of disposition. Would to Heaven this could be said of the friends of Carolina: then would the palmetto send forth new shoots of gladness—then indeed would the sun of our prosperity again shine with meridian lustre. Mr. Chairman, every effort hitherto made in this state to maintain our constitutional rights, or to expose the true principles of the federal compact, has been branded with some opprobrious epithet. Suggest what measures you please, if there but a squinting towards a fixed determination to uphold them, your motives are impugned and your attestations derided. This exhibits a spirit unlike that which animated the bosoms of our fathers. In its every feature the impress of consolidation is visibly stamped. If the states cannot protect themselves–if they cannot for a season arrest the career of usurpation, I should be glad to learn what states’ rights mean. A right without the means to preserve it is no right at all; and it is wanton mockery so to stile it. At that dark and gloomy period when Virginia stood alone and received undismayed the assaults of the satellites of power, she was accused, as South Carolina now is, of a design to subvert the union. Did experience justify the allegation? Let her history—let the elevated rank she proudly occupies in the confederacy-above all, let the political principles she has invariably inculcated and sustained, bear to the world her answer.

Mr. Chairman, the situation of the country at this time is distressingly ominous. It cannot long continue so. On one side we behold a majority of states bent on the prosecution of measures, which they deem essential to their prosperity. On the other, many states alarmed at the existence of a power, with as much authority, but with infinitely less sympathy than ever swayed the bosom of any tyrant of antiquity. On the one side, we see poverty aiming at political aggrandizement—on the other, wealth without the ability to enjoy it. There, is ambition, incited by avarice—here, ambition too, but it is the ambition to preserve, unimpaired, the fruits of honest industry. There, is self-interest, directed by false philanthropy—here, a laudable jealousy, striving to check the wanderings of enthusiasm. With one, might constitutes right—with the other, the letter of the constitution is the standard of obedience. These elements are too dissimilar ever long to move in the same sphere. God grant, sir! that the hopes of our afflicted people may be realized—that the prayers of the righteous for the safety of our beloved country, may not ascend to Heaven in vain.

Abbeville Institute


  • Billy P says:

    Thank you for sharing this. What an incredibly well-written and presented argument for South Carolina by Mr. Seabrook so long ago.
    A few of my favorite quotes from it below and a couple of comments:
    “The vulture that preys on your vitals will never relax its grasp until its appetite is appeased, or there is nothing more on which it can feed.”
    Without a doubt, the devourer, the federal government, continues to work against the wishes of the people. Wide open borders, purposeful cultural and racial replacement (genocide), foreign debt that can never be repaid, never-ending and unpopular wars, financial and wealth destruction…. Lincoln’s “lost cause”, his beloved union, drunk on its own centralized power, is falling.
    “A right without the means to preserve it is no right at all; and it is wanton mockery so to stile it.”
    Most these days do not know what it took to secure those rights, and most would give them up like sheep to the slaughter for “security”, exactly what Ben Franklin warned against. Too many these days are woefully ignorant of history, or ignorant in general, to appreciate their rights – and too weak and fearful of tyrannical authorities to stand up for them.
    “With one, might constitutes right—with the other, the letter of the constitution is the standard of obedience. These elements are too dissimilar ever long to move in the same sphere.”
    And this is the true cause of Lincoln’s unconstitutional war some 30 years after these words were spoken. Lincoln’s invasion of a sovereign state, his assaults against habeas corpus, his jailing of thousands of people who disagreed with him, just to name a few of his atrocities….this is what caused the war. Secession, after going through all necessary legal steps, was not war. What a disgrace to the south and its defenders to degrade that conflict against the federal invader to a single subject, a legal matter that could be handled without arms and would have been better resolved with a natural course. Patrick Cleburne certainly spoke about this and predicted how the memory of our ancestors would be treated.
    “Might constitutes right” ….has successfully translated well beyond our borders. General Lee rightly feared that the US would become “aggressive abroad and despotic at home.” And like Cleburne, he was right. From arming or funding corrupt governments overseas, and hamstringing our GG grandkids with more debt, the federal government never disappoints.
    Deo Vindice.

    • William Quinton Platt III says:

      Yes sir. But this time, people have to be willfully ignorant…this internet is changing the world.

  • Dr. Mark Holowchak says:

    Eloquently expressed, persuasively and cogently argued, and a behind the lofty and moving prose, the assertion of states’ rights. Such prose is indicative of a copious and well-ordered mind. Why do we not demand such things of today’s politicians?

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