On the Nature of the U. S. Constitution

“The Union was formed by the voluntary agreement of the States; and in uniting together they have not forfeited their nationality, nor have they been reduced to the condition of one and the same people. If one of the States choose to withdraw from the compact, it would be difficult to disprove its right of doing so, and the Federal Government would have no means of maintaining its claims directly either by force or right.”

— Alexis de Tocqueville
Democracy in America (1835)


“The indissoluble link of the union between the people of the several states of this confederated nation is, after all, not in the right but in the heart. If the day should ever come (may Heaven avert it!) when the affections of the people of these States shall be alienated from each other; when the fraternal spirit shall give way to cold indifference, or collision of interests shall fester into hatred, the bands of political associations will not long hold together parties no longer attracted by the magnetism of conciliated interests and kindly sympathies; to part in friendship from each other, than to be held together by constraint. Then will be the time for reverting to the precedents which occurred at the formation and adoption of the Constitution, to form again a more perfect Union by dissolving that which could no longer bind, and to leave the separated parts to be reunited by the law of political gravitation to the center.”

— John Quincy Adams
The Jubilee of the Constitution (1839)


“There is not, as with us, a government only and its subjects to be regarded; but a number of Governments, of States having each a separate and substantive, and even independent existence . . . and each having a legislature of its own, with laws differing from those of the other States. It is plainly impossible to consider the Constitution which professes to govern this Union, this Federacy of States, as any thing other than a treaty.”

— Lord Henry Brougham
Political Philosophy (1849)


“I readily and, I trust, feelingly acknowledge the duty incumbent on us all as men and citizens, and as among the highest and holiest of our duties, to provide for those who, in the mysterious order of Providence, are subject to want and to disease of body or mind; but I can not find any authority in the Constitution for making the Federal Government the great almoner of public charity throughout the United States. To do so would, in my judgment, be contrary to the letter and spirit of the Constitution and subversive of the whole theory upon which the Union of these States is founded. . . . With this aim and to this end the fathers of the Republic framed the Constitution, in and by which the independent and sovereign States united themselves for certain specified objects and purposes, and for those only, leaving all [other] powers . . . with the States.”

— Franklin Pierce
Veto Message, Land-Grant Bill for Indigent Insane Persons (1854)


“For no counterfactual proposition about the founding is more certain than that if New York, Virginia, and Rhode Island (the three states that claimed the right of secession in their ordinances of ratification) had been told that they were not and had never been sovereign political societies and that once in the Union they could not withdraw, there would have been no Union [in the first place].”

— Donald W. Livingston
Philosophical Melancholy and Delirium (1998)