The Dangers of the Union

By Wheaton, Henry; Pfander, James E. | Constitutional Commentary, Summer 1995 | Go to article overview

The Dangers of the Union

Wheaton, Henry, Pfander, James E., Constitutional Commentary

From May to August 1821, Henry Wheaton published The Dangers of the Union, a series of eight essays defending the Supreme Court and Chief Justice John Marshall's then recent decision in Cohens v. Virginia.(1) Wheaton's essays appeared under the pseudonym "A Federalist of 1789"(2) and have been a subject of some interest to students of the Marshall Court. Professor G. Edward White, for example, features the Wheaton essays in his discussion of the pamphlet wars that broke out in the wake of the Cohens decision.(3) As Professor White notes,(4) the Wheaton essays sought in part to counter such "Richmond Junto" critics of the Marshall Court as Spencer Roane,(5) whose essays under the pen-name Algernon Sidney advocated a compact theory of the Union much at odds with the national vision of the Chief Justice.(6)

The Wheaton essays, reprinted here in their entirety in this and the next issue, deserve wider circulation. Of interest to historians, the essays also shed light on a variety of contemporary issues in federal jurisdiction. For Wheaton not only offers a cogent defense of the assertion of jurisdiction in Cohens, he also offers a fairly detailed account of Article III and the Eleventh Amendment. Of particular importance to federal courts scholars, Wheaton appears to have accepted a two-tier theory of federal judicial power similar to that advocated by Justice Joseph Story in Martin v. Hunter's Lessee.(7) Wheaton also reads the Eleventh Amendment, much like modern diversity theorists, as curtailing only those suits and proceedings against state parties in which federal jurisdiction depends on the alignment of the parties.(8)

Historians have treated Wheaton's work as virtually an official defense of Cohens;(9) certainly Wheaton's position as the Court's reporter at the time the essays appeared and his close relationship with Marshall and Story lends strength to such an interpretation.(10) But Wheaton's analysis deserves notice on its own terms as well. He was a well-known legal scholar and advocate: he played an important role in amending New York's constitution; he was frequently mentioned as a possible nominee to the Court; and he published two works (Elements of International Law (1836) and The History of the Law of Nations in Europe and America (1845)) that quickly became classics in their field.

The Wheaton essays also demonstrate that the nature of constitutional government and the obligation of the states to accept federal definition of the scope of federal power were issues much on the mind of the day's political thinkers. To be sure, at the time Wheaton wrote, Congress had pasted over the slavery crisis with the Missouri Compromise of 1820. Yet Wheaton plainly understood that issues of state sovereignty would recur, and repeatedly emphasized throughout the essays that accepting the position of the Court's critics would mean the end of the Union. Ironically enough, the man who would later become the nation's leading apostle of interposition--John C. Calhoun--believed Cohens to have been rightly decided at the time and joined with Wheaton in developing strategies to republish Wheaton's defense of national authority.(11)

Editor's Note:

The first four essays appear in this issue; the remaining four essays will appear in the next issue. Professor Pfander has retained the somewhat anachronistic spellings and modest misquotations in Wheaton's original essays. He has, however, corrected typographical errors and has also altered punctuation where the original was unduly confusing. Wheaton's footnotes appear as they did in the original with asterisks; Professor Pfander's explanatory footnotes have been numbered.

No. 1. (The American, May 8, 1821)

Whoever has reflected upon the public transactions of this country since the war of the revolution, must be convinced that we have degenerated in public virtue. Professions of patriotism, indeed, abound in the present time; but that disinterested love of country which marked our first efforts against the parent state is almost extinguished, or is smothered by the intrigues of corrupt faction. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • A full archive of books and articles related to this one
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Cite this article

Cited article

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)


1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25,

Cited article

The Dangers of the Union


Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25,

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

    Already a member? Log in now.