Travels of State Sovereignty
From Patrick Henry’s speech "Against the Federal Constitution," Virginia’s constitutional ratification debate, 1788:
Patrick Henry adopts the language of individual liberty in defense of the sovereignty of the state of Virginia.
The question turns, sir, on that poor little thing—the expression, We, the people, instead of the states, of America. I need not take much pains to show that the principles of this system are extremely pernicious, impolitic, and dangerous. Is this a monarchy, like England—a compact between prince and people, with checks on the former to secure the liberty of the latter? Is this a confederacy, like Holland—an association of a number of independent states, each of which retains its individual sovereignty? It is not a democracy, wherein the people retain all their rights securely. Had these principles been adhered to, we should not have been brought to this alarming transition, from a confederacy to a consolidated government. … Here is a resolution as radical as that which separated us from Great Britain. It is radical in this transition; our rights and privileges are endangered, and the sovereignty of the states will be relinquished: and cannot we plainly see that this is actually the case?…
In the same speech, Patrick Henry invokes a clause in the Virginia Declaration of Rights declaring the right of the "majority of the community" to "reform, alter, or abolish" failed government and raises the spectre of a Federal government that tramples on the rights of the states.
My great objection to this government is, that it does not leave us the means of defending our rights, or of waging war against tyrants. It is urged by some gentlemen, that this new plan will bring us an acquisition of strength—an army, and the militia of the states. This is an idea extremely ridiculous: gentlemen cannot be in earnest. This acquisition will trample on our fallen liberty. Let my beloved Americans guard against that fatal lethargy that has pervaded the universe. Have we the means of resisting disciplined armies, when our only defence, the militia, is put into the hands of Congress? … Did you ever read of any revolution in a nation, brought about by the punishment of those in power, inflicted by those who had no power at all? … A standing army we shall have … to execute the execrable commands of tyranny; and how are you to punish them? … You will find all the strength of this country in the hands of your enemies; their garrisons will naturally be the strongest places in the counrty. Your militia is given up to Congress, also, in another part of this plan: they will therefore act as they think proper: all power will be in their own possession…