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excludes the idea of an armed force. The power which is to enforce these laws is to be a legal power, vested in proper magistrates. The force which is to be employed is the energy of law; and this force is to operate only upon individuals who fail in their duty to their country. This is the peculiar glory of the Constitution, that it depends upon the mild and equal energy of the magistracy for the execution of the laws.
In the further course of the debate, Mr. Ellsworth said :
“In republics, it is a fundamental principle, that the majority govern, and that the minority comply with the general voice. How contrary, then, to republican principles, how humiliating, is our present situation! A single State can rise up, and put a veto upon the most important public measures. We have seen this actually take place; a single State has controlled the general voice of the Union; a minority, a very small minority, has governed us. So far is this from being consistent with republican principles, that it is, in effect, the worst species of monarchy.
“Hence we see how necessary for the Union is a coercive principle. No man pretends the contrary. We all see and feel this necessity. The only question is, Shall it be a coercion of law, or a coercion of arms? There is no other possible alternative. Where will those who oppose a coercion of law come out? Where will they end? A necessary consequence of their principles is a war of the States one against another. I am for coercion by law; that coercion which acts only upon delinquent individuals. This Constitution does not attempt to coerce sovereign bodies, States, in their political capacity. No coercion is applicable to such bodies, but that of an armed force. should attempt to execute the laws of the Union by sending an armed force against a delinquent State, it would involve
the good and bad, the innocent and guilty, in the same calamity. But this legal coercion singles out the guilty individual, and punishes him for breaking the laws of the Union.”
Mr. Webster further contended that
it rightfully belongs to Congress and to the courts of the United States to settle the construction of this supreme law in doubtful cases. This is denied; and here arises the great practical question, Who is to construe finally the Constitution of the United States? We all agree that the Constitution is the supreme law, but who shall interpret that law? In our system of the division of powers between different governments, controversies will necessarily sometimes arise respecting the extent of the powers of each. Who shall decide these controversies? Does it rest with the general government, in all or any of its departments, to exercise the office of final interpreter? Or may each of the States, as well as the general government, claim this right of ultimate decision?
The Constitution had not “left this cardinal point without full and explicit provision.” It was
express and emphatic. It declares that the judicial power shall extend to all cases in law or equity arising under the Constitution, laws of the United States, and treaties; that there shall be one Supreme Court, and that this Supreme Court shall have appellate jurisdiction of all these cases, subject to such exceptions as Congress may make. It is impossible to escape from the generality of these words. If a case arises under the Constitution, that is, if a case arises depending on the construction of the Constitution, the judicial power of the United States extends to it. It reaches the case, the question; it attaches the power of the national judicature to the case itself, in whatever court it may arise or exist; and in this case the Supreme Court has appellate jurisdiction over all courts whatever. No language could provide with more effect and precision than is here done, for subjecting constitutional questions to the ultimate decision of the Supreme Court. And, Sir, this is exactly what the Convention found it necessary to provide for, and intended to provide for. It is, too, exactly what the people were universally told was done when they adopted the Constitution.
There were, said Webster, thirteen judicatures already in existence.
The evil complained of, or the danger to be guarded against, was contradiction and repugnance in the decisions of these judicatures. It was undeniably true that the framers of the Constitution intended to create a national judicial power, which should be paramount on national subjects. And after the Constitution was framed, and while the whole country was engaged in discussing its merits, one of its most distinguished advocates, Mr. Madison, told the people that it was true, that, in controversies relating to the boundary between the two jurisdictions, the tribunal which is ultimately to decide is to be established under the general government. Mr. Martin, who had been a member of the Convention, asserted the same thing to the legislature of Maryland, and urged it as a reason for rejecting the Constitution. Mr. Pinckney, himself also a leading member of the Convention, declared it to the people of South Carolina. Everywhere it was admitted, by friends and foes, that this power was in the Constitution. By some it was thought dangerous, by most it was thought necessary; but by all it was agreed to be a power actually contained in the instrument. The Convention saw the absolute necessity of some control in the national government over State laws. Different modes of establishing this control were suggested and considered. At one time, it was proposed that the laws of the States should, from time to time, be laid before Congress, and that Congress should possess a negative over them. But this was thought inexpedient and inadmissible; and in its place, and expressly as a substitute for it, the existing provision was introduced; that is to say, a provision by which the federal courts should have authority to overrule such State laws as might be in manifest contravention of the Constitution. The writers of the Federalist, in explaining the Constitution, while it was yet pending before the people, and still unadopted, give this account of the matter in terms, and assign this reason for the article as it now stands. By this provision Congress escaped the necessity of any revision of State laws, left the whole sphere of State legislation quite untouched, and yet obtained a security against any infringement of the constitutional power of the general government. Indeed, Sir, allow me to ask again, if the national judiciary was not to exercise a power of revision on constitutional questions over the judicatures of the States, why was any national judicature erected at all? Can any man give a sensible reason for having a judicial power in this government, unless it be for the sake of maintaining a uniformity of decision on questions arising under the Constitution and laws of Congress, and insuring its execution? And does not this very idea of uniformity necessarily imply that the construction given by the national courts is to be the prevailing construction? How else, Sir, is it possible that uniformity can be preserved?
I think (said Webster] that I cannot do better than to leave this part of the subject by reading the remarks made upon it in the Convention of Connecticut, by Mr. Ellsworth; a gentleman, Sir, who has left behind him, on the records of the government of his country, proofs of the clearest intelligence and of the deepest sagacity, as well as of the utmost purity and integrity of character. “This Constitution,” says he, defines the extent of the powers of the general government. If the general legislature should, at any time, overleap their limits, the judicial department is a constitutional check. If the United States go beyond their powers, if they make a law which the Constitution does not authorize, it is void; and the judiciary power, the national judges, who, to secure their impartiality, are to be made independent, will declare it to be void. On the other hand, if the States go beyond their limits, if they make a law which is a usurpation upon the general government, the law is void; and upright, independent judges will declare it to be so." Nor did this remain merely matter of private opinion. In the very first session of the first Congress, with all these well-known objects, both of the Convention and the people, full and fresh in his mind, Mr. Ellsworth, as is generally understood, reported the bill for the organization of the judicial department, and in that bill made provision for the exercise of this appellate power of the Supreme Court, in all the proper cases, in whatsoever court arising; and this appellate power has now been exercised for more than forty years, without interruption, and without doubt.