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Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891.
Vols. IX–XI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 1861–1889

An Early View of State-Rights

By Luther Martin (1748–1826)

[Born in New Brunswick, N. J. Died in New York, N. Y. Information delivered to the Legislature of Maryland, etc. 1788.]

I WAS of opinion that the States considered as States, in their political capacity, are the members of a federal government; that the States in their political capacity, or as sovereignties, are entitled, and only entitled originally to agree upon the form of, and submit themselves to, a federal government, and afterward by mutual consent to dissolve or alter it: That everything which relates to the formation, the dissolution, or the alteration of a federal government over States equally free, sovereign, and independent, is the peculiar province of the States in their sovereign or political capacity, in the same manner as what relates to forming alliances or treaties of peace, amity, or commerce, and that the people at large in their individual capacity, have no more right to interfere in the one case than in the other: That according to these principles, we originally acted in forming our confederation; it was the States as States, by their representatives in Congress, that formed the articles of confederation; it was the States as States, by their legislatures, who ratified those articles, and it was there established and provided, that the States as States, that is, by their legislatures, should agree to any alterations that should hereafter be proposed in the federal government, before they should be binding—and any alterations agreed to in any other manner cannot release the States from the obligation they are under to each other by virtue of the original articles of confederation. The people of the different States never made any objection to the manner in which the articles of confederation were formed or ratified, or to the mode by which alterations were to be made in that government—with the rights of their respective States they wished not to interfere. Nor do I believe the people, in their individual capacity, would ever have expected or desired to have been appealed to on the present occasion, in violation of the rights of their respective States, if the favorers of the proposed constitution, imagining they had a better chance of forcing it to be adopted by a hasty appeal to the people at large (who could not be so good judges of the dangerous consequence), had not insisted upon this mode. Nor do these positions in the least interfere with the principle, that all power originates from the people, because when once the people have exercised their power, in establishing and forming themselves into a State government, it never devolves back to them, nor have they a right to resume or again to exercise that power until such events take place as will amount to a dissolution of their State government:—And it is an established principle, that a dissolution or alteration of a federal government doth not dissolve the State governments which compose it. It was also my opinion, that upon principles of sound policy, the agreement or disagreement to the proposed system, ought to have been by the State legislatures, in which case, let the event have been what it would, there would have been but little prospect of the public peace being disturbed thereby—Whereas, the attempt to force down this system, although Congress and the respective State legislatures should disapprove, by appealing to the people, and to procure its establishment in a manner totally unconstitutional, has a tendency to set the State governments and their subjects at variance with each other—to lessen the obligations of government—to weaken the bands of society—to introduce anarchy and confusion—and to light the torch of discord and civil war throughout this continent. All these considerations weighed with me most forcibly against giving my assent to the mode by which it is resolved that this system is to be ratified, and were urged by me in opposition to the measure.

I have now, sir, in discharge of the duty I owe to this House, given such information as hath occurred to me, which I consider most material for them to know; and you will easily perceive from this detail, that a great portion of that time, which ought to have been devoted calmly and impartially to consider what alterations in our federal government would be most likely to procure and preserve the happiness of the Union, was employed in a violent struggle on the one side to obtain all power and dominion in their own hands, and on the other to prevent it; and that the aggrandizement of particular States, and particular individuals, appears to have been much more the subject sought after than the welfare of our country.

The interest of this State, not confined merely to itself, abstracted from all others, but considered relatively, as far as was consistent with the common interest of the other States, I thought it my duty to pursue according to the best opinion I could form of it.

When I took my seat in the convention, I found them attempting to bring forward a system, which I was sure never had entered into the contemplation of those I had the honor to represent, and which, upon the fullest consideration, I considered not only injurious to the interest and rights of this State, but also incompatible with the political happiness and freedom of the States in general; from that time until my business compelled me to leave the convention, I gave it every possible opposition in every stage of its progression. I opposed the system there with the same explicit frankness with which I have here given you a history of our proceedings, and an account of my own conduct, which in a particular manner I consider you as having a right to know—while there I endeavored to act as became a freeman, and the delegate of a free State. Should my conduct obtain the approbation of those who appointed me, I will not deny it would afford me satisfaction; but to me that approbation was at most no more than a secondary consideration—my first was to deserve it; left to myself to act according to the best of my discretion, my conduct should have been the same, had I been even sure your censure would have been my only reward, since I hold it sacredly my duty to dash the cup of poison, if possible, from the hand of a State, or an individual, however anxious the one or the other might be to swallow it.