From an editorial in the New York Times, November 10, 1860. The Times quotes James Madison on the topic of secession:
The Southern Disunionist journals are laying great stress on their assumed right to secede. They are very fond of asserting that this is only a partnership of States from which any one member may secede at will.
They forget, apparently, that this very question was raised and decided before the adoption of the Constitution. New-York was unwilling to accept that instrument and join the Union which it created, unless she could terminate her connection with it at pleasure. Her proposal was to join for five or six years, with the right then to withdraw if she desired.
ALEXANDER HAMILTON was inclined to favor the compromise, and wrote to MADISON in regard to it from Poughkeepsie July, 1788, in these terms:
“You will understand that the only qualification will be the reservation of a right to recede, in case our amendments have not been decided upon, in one of the modes pointed out by the Constitution, within a certain number of years, perhaps five or seven. If this can, in the first instance, be admitted as a ratification, I do not fear any further consequences. Congress will, I presume, recommend certain amendments to render the structure of the Government more secure. This will satisfy the more considerate and honest opposers of the Constitution, and with the aid of them will break up the party.
Yours, affectionately, A. HAMILTON,”
And here is MADISON’s reply:
NEW-YORK, Sunday evening.
MY DEAR SIR: Yours of yesterday is this instant at hand, and I have but a few minutes to answer it. I am sorry that your situation obliges you to listen to propositions of the nature you describe. My opinion is that a reservation of a right to withdraw, if amendments be not decided on under the form of the Constitution within a certain time, is a conditional ratification: that it does not make New-York a member of the new Union, and consequently that she should not be received on that plan.
Compacts must be reciprocal; this principle would not in such case be preserved. The Constitution requires an adoption in toto and FOREVER. It has been so adopted by the other States. An adoption for a limited time would be as defective as an adoption of some of the articles only. In short, any condition whatever must vitiate the ratification. What the new Congress, by virtue of the power to admit new States, may be able and disposed to do in such a case, I do not inquire, and I suppose that is not the material point at present. I have not a moment to add more than my fervent wishes for your success and happiness. The idea of reserving the right to withdraw was started at Richmond, and considered as a conditional ratification, which was itself abandoned — worse than rejection.
Yours, JAMES MADISON.