CHAPTER 7|Document 27
James Madison, OutlineSept. 1829Writings 9:351--57
The compound Govt of the U. S. is without a model, and to be explained by itself, not by similitudes or analogies. The terms Union, Federal, National not to be applied to it without the qualifications peculiar to the system. The English Govt is in a great measure sui generis, and the terms Monarchy used by those who look at the executive head only, and Commonwealth, by those looking at the representative member chiefly, are inapplicable in a strict sense.
A fundamental error lies in supposing the State Governments to be the parties to the Constitutional compact from which the Govt. of the U. S. results.
It is a like error that makes the General Govt and the State governments the parties to the compact, as stated in the 4th. letter of "Algernon Sidney," [Judge Roane]. They may be parties in a judicial controversy, but are not so in relation to the original constitutional compact.
In No. XI of "Retrospects," [by Govr. Giles], in the Richmond Enquirer of Sept. 8, 1829, Mr. Jefferson is misconstrued, or rather mistated, as making the State Govts. & the Govt of the U. S. foreign to each other; the evident meaning, or rather the express language of Mr. J, being "the States are foreign to each other, in the portions of sovereignty not granted, as they were in the entire sovereignty before the grant," and not that the State Govts. and the Govt. of the U. S. are foreign to each other. As the State Govts. participate in appointing the Functionaries of the Genl. Govt. it can no more be said that they are altogether foreign to each other, than that the people of a State & its Govt. are foreign.
The real parties to the constl. compact of the U. S. are the States--that is, the people thereof respectively in their sovereign character, and they alone, so declared in the Resolutions of 98, and so explained in the Report of 99. In these Resolutions as originally proposed, the word alone, wch. guarded agst. error on this point, was struck out, [see printed debates of 98] and led to misconceptions & misreasonings concerning the true character of the pol: system, and to the idea that it was a compact between the Govts. of the States and the Govt. of the U. S. an idea promoted by the familiar one applied to Govts. independent of the people, particularly the British, of [?] a compact between the monarch & his subjects, pledging protection on one side & allegiance on the other.
The plain fact of the case is that the Constitution of the U. S. was created by the people composing the respective States, who alone had the right; that they organized the Govt. into Legis. Ex. & Judicy. departs. delegating thereto certain portions of power to be exercised over the whole, and reserving the other portions to themselves respectively. As these distinct portions of power were to be exercised by the General Govt. & by the State Govts; by each within limited spheres; and as of course controversies concerning the boundaries of their power wd. happen, it was provided that they should be decided by the Supreme Court of the U. S. so constituted as to be as impartial as it could be made by the mode of appointment & responsibility for the Judges.
Is there then no remedy for usurpations in which the Supreme Ct. of the U. S. concur? Yes: constitutional remedies such as have been found effectual; particularly in the case of alien & sedition laws, and such as will in all cases be effectual, whilst the responsibility of the Genl. Govt to its constituents continues:--Remonstrances & instructions--recurring elections & impeachments; amendt. of Const. as provided by itself & exemplified in the 11th article limiting the suability of the States.
These are resources of the States agst. the Genl. Govt.: resulting from the relations of the States to that Govt.: whilst no corresponding controul exists in the relations of the Genl. to the individual Govts. all of whose functionaries are independent of the United States in their appt. and responsibility.
Finally should all the constitutional remedies fail, and the usurpations of the Genl. Govt. become so intolerable as absolutely to forbid a longer passive obedience & nonresistance, a resort to the original rights of the parties becomes justifiable; and redress may be sought by shaking off the yoke, as of right, might be done by part of an individual State in a like case; or even by a single citizen, could he effect it, if deprived of rights absolutely essential to his safety & happiness. In the defect of their ability to resist, the individual citizen may seek relief in expatriation or voluntary exile1 a resort not within the reach of large portions of the community.
In all the views that may be taken of questions between the State Govts. & the Genl. Govt. the awful consequences of a final rupture & dissolution of the Union shd. never for a moment be lost sight of. Such a prospect must be deprecated, must be shuddered at by every friend to his country, to liberty, to the happiness of man. For, in the event of a dissolution of the Union, an impossibility of ever renewing it is brought home to every mind by the difficulties encountered in establishing it. The propensity of all communities to divide when not pressed into a unity by external danger, is a truth well understood. There is no instance of a people inhabiting even a small island, if remote from foreign danger, and sometimes in spite of that pressure, who are not divided into alien, rival, hostile tribes. The happy Union of these States is a wonder; their Constn. a miracle; their example the hope of Liberty throughout the world. Woe to the ambition that would meditate the destruction of either!
1 See letter to N. P. Trist; and see also the distinction between an expatriating individual withdrawing only his person and moveable effects, and the withdrawal of a State mutilating the domain of the Union. [Madison's note.]
The Founders' Constitution
Volume 1, Chapter 7, Document 27
The University of Chicago Press
The Writings of James Madison. Edited by Gaillard Hunt. 9 vols. New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1900--1910. See also: Federalist
Easy to print version.