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New York James Fenimore Cooper

New York

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This is the celebrated clause in which the Constitution is said to recognize slavery. To our view the clause is perfectly immaterial in this sense, making the simple provision that so long as a State shall choose to keep a portion of her people in this subordinate condition, she shall enjoy only this limited degree of representation. To us, it appears to be a concession made to freedom, and not to slavery. There is no obligation, unless self-imposed, to admit any but a minority of her whites to the enjoyment of political power, aristocracy being, in truth, more closely assimilated to republicanism than democracy. Republicanism means the sovereignty of public THINGS instead of that of PERSONS; or the representation of the COMMON interests, in lieu of those of a monarch. There is no common principle of popular sway recognized in the Constitution. In the government of the several States monarchy is denounced, but democracy is nowhere proclaimed or insisted on. Marked differences in the degrees of popular control existed in the country in 1789; and though time is lessening them, are still to be found among us.

The close consideration of all these facts, we feel persuaded will give a coloring to some of the most important interests of the country, differing essentially from those that have been loosely adopted in the conflicts of parties, and many heresies appear to us to have crept into the political creed of the Republic, purely from the struggles of faction. When men have a specific and important purpose in view, it is but natural they should bend most of its collateral connections to the support of their own objects. We conceive that the Constitution has thus been largely misinterpreted, and they who live at the epoch of the renowned "equilibrium" and of the "rights of the people of the Sovereign States," will have seen memorable examples of the truth of this position.

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The first popular error, then, that we shall venture to assail, is that connected with the prevalent notion of the sovereignty of the States. We do not believe that the several States of this Union are, in any legitimate meaning of the term, sovereign at all. We are fully aware that this will be regarded as a bold, and possibly as a presuming proposition, but we shall endeavor to work it out with such means as we may have at command.

We lay down the following premises as too indisputable to need any arguments to sustain them: viz., the authority which formed the present Constitution of the United States had the legal power to do so. That authority was in the Government of the States, respectively, and not in their people in the popular signification, but through their people in the political meaning of the term, and what was then done must be regarded as acts connected with the composition and nature of governments, and of no minor or different interests of human affairs.

It being admitted, that the power which formed the government, was legitimate, we obtain one of the purest compacts for the organization of human society that probably ever existed. The ancient allegiance, under which the Colonies had grown up to importance, had been extinguished by solemn treaty, and the States met in Convention, sustained by all the law they had and backed in every instance by institutions that were more or less popular. The history of the world cannot, probably, furnish another instance of the settlement of the fundamental compact of a great nation under circumstances of so much obvious justice. This gives unusual solemnity and authority to the Constitution of 1787, and invests it with additional claims to our admiration and respect.

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New York
James Fenimore Cooper

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