At the Pennsylvania Convention, Robert Whitehill rose to speak about the proposed Constitution including—and perhaps especially—its biggest flaw. To Whitehill, despite the fact that the country’s learned people devised the Constitution, “the defect is in the system itself,—there lies the evil which. no argument can palliate, no sophistry can disguise.” The Constitution, as it was written, “must eventually annihilate the independent sovereignty of the several states” given the power that the Constitution allotted to the federal government.
The Deep South’s animating of a Second American Revolution, by seceding from the Union and laying the foundation for an operational Confederate government, forced the North to either suppress the South’s uprising or craft a resolution. The likelihood of war would deter any widespread northern suppression, leaving the question: What compromise could the North propose that appeased the South and put both sections of the country on a path of coexistence? While variations of this question had been posed in the years leading up to 1860, at no prior point were states seceding from the Union en masse to form a rival government. Read more
Answers to Mason’s “Objections”: “Marcus” [James Iredell] IV
Norfolk and Portsmouth Journal (Virginia), March 12, 1788
Following are excerpts from James Iredell’s responses to George Mason’s “Objections” to the Constitution:
“VIIIth. Objection. ‘Under their own construction of the general clause at the end of the enumerated powers, the Congress may grant monopolies in trade and commerce, constitute new crimes, inflict unusual and severe punishments, and extend their power as far as they shall think proper Read more
In the 15 years leading up to the Civil War, a wide variety of theories emerged for how the federal government should deal with slavery expanding, or not expanding, into the territories acquired by the United States.
Since the outbreak of the Civil War and continuing to the present day, the role of slavery in splitting America has been hotly debated. One may wonder whether there was merely a correlation between slavery and the Civil War or whether slavery was the cause. Investigating the nuances of the issue of slavery reveals that the Civil War resulted from sectionalism and slavery, which were practically synonymous.
In 1848, when word spread to America that a revolution was breaking out in France, President James Polk wrote: “The great principles of popular sovereignty which were proclaimed in 1776 by the immortal author of our Declaration of Independence, seem now to be in the course of rapid development throughout the world.” James Knox Polk to Richard Rush, April 18, 1848, quoted in Michael Morrison, “American Reactions to European Revolutions, 1848-1852,” Civil War History 49 (June 2003): 117.
Following William Henry Harrison’s death just a month into his presidency in 1841, John Tyler rose to the presidency, in the first instance of a president dying while holding the office. See Daniel Walker Howe, What Hath God Wrought: Transformation of America, 1815-1848, 589.
John Marshall, perhaps the greatest Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, died on July 6, 1835. As his life was coming to a close, he wrote Joseph Story, “I yield slowly and reluctantly to the conviction that our constitution cannot last.” Daniel Walker Howe, What Hath God Wrought: Transformation of America, 1815-1848, 439 quoting John Marshall to Joseph Story, Sept. 22, 1832, quoted in Kent Newmyer, John Marshall and the Heroic Age of the Supreme Court (Baton Rouge, 2001), 386.
In the midst of President Andrew Jackson’s presidency, white supremacy was becoming a prominent principle in American society, facilitating confrontation between whites and blacks but also between whites and Native Americans. Just months into Jackson’s first term, David Walker published a controversial and incendiary pamphlet: An Appeal to the Colored Citizens of the World, But in Particular, and Very Expressly, to Those of the United States of America. Read more
John Calhoun, by 1831, had alienated himself from President Andrew Jackson, and he wanted to “head off talk of secession,” and on July 26, 1831, he published his “Fort Hill Address” in a South Carolina newspaper. Daniel Walker Howe, What Hath God Wrought: Transformation of America, 1815-1848, 399.