The Tragic Conflict: The Civil War and Reconstruction

By William B. Hesseltine | Go to book overview

6
Constitutional View of the War

Alexander H. Stephens

MR. STEPHENS. We have now, gentlemen, gone through with the preliminary questions; we have taken that historical review, which was necessary and essential for a correct understanding of the nature and character of the Government of the United States, from a violation of the organic principles of which, as I stated in the outset, the war had its origin. We have seen from this review that ours is a Federal Government. In other words, we have seen that it is a Government formed by a Convention, a Fœdus, or Compact between distinct, separate, and sovereign States. We have seen that this Federal or Conventional Government, so formed, possesses inherently no power whatever. All its powers are held by delegation only, and by delegation from separate States. These powers are all enumerated and all limited to specific objects in the Constitution. Even the highest sovereign power it is permitted to exercise -- the war power, for instance -- is held by it by delegation only. Sovereignty itself -- the great source of all political power -- under the system, still resides where it did before the Compact was entered into, that is, in the States severally, or with the people of the several States respectively. By the Compact, the sovereign powers to be exercised by the Federal Head were not surrendered by the States -- were not alienated or parted with by them. They were delegated only. The States by voluntary engagements agree only to abstain from their exercise themselves, and to confer this exercise by delegation upon common agents under the Convention, for the better security of the great objects aimed at by the formation of the Compact, which was the regulation of their external and inter-State affairs.

Our system, taken together, we have seen, is a peculiar one. The world never saw its like before. It has no prototype in any of all the previous Confederations, or Federal Republics, of which we have any account. It is neither a Staaten-bund exactly, nor a Bundesstaat, according to the classification of Federal Republics by the German Publicists. It differs from their

ALEXANDER H. STEPHENS, A Constitutional View of the Late War Between the States..., 2 vols. ( Philadelphia, 1868), Vol. 2, Colloquy, xiii.

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