Political Sovereignty Resides in the People, Delegated to Representatives, Ordained by God (1853)

To the sovereign power in the State are delegated of God the awful prerogatives of the sword.  The sword is lawfully drawn in defence of sovereignty itself, when invaded, and also to enforce obedience, or to restrain and punish transgressors of civil law.  The sword is rightfully used as a terror to evil doers, and a defense of those who do well in political or civil affairs.

In the free white men of our State is vested her sovereignty.  These sovereigns have ordained two civil governments, the Federal and the State.  To the former they have delegated certain sovereign powers of legislation, and some judicial powers of an exclusive and supreme authority, in questions and affairs pertaining to civil law and equity.  But they have delegated to neither government - Federal or State - their own, sovereign and supreme political dominion.  If they are not as free in annulling or modifying their Federal as their State constitution of government, it is simply because of their own compact with other sovereign States or peoples; whereby they have agreed that it shall not be changed except upon certain conditions; a bond in no way inconsistent with the political supremacy of the sovereign people in South Carolina.

These civil governments - Federal and State - are thus clothed by the sovereign power in this State, with legislative powers; and all the laws they pass, in civil affairs, within their legitimate jurisdiction, are, by divine as well as human authority, binding; morally, as well as legally, obligatory.

The Son of God paid tribute to Caesar, and suffered death by the sentence of his tribunal; the two highest proofs possible, of voluntary submission to the divine authority, in obedience to the civil magistracy.

The prerogative of making civil law, though potentially and remotely in the sovereign people, yet actually, legally, and for the time being, is vested in the legislatures.

Under our political system, then, the representative is not bound in his legislative functions, by any instructions from his constituents, except such as are written down in the constitutions.  If he were, he would not be a representative legislator, in the place and stead of the people, to make laws for them to obey, but he would be their mere factor or agent, to declare their sovereign will, and himself without any moral responsibility in legislation, which, for a legislator, is an absurdity.

Our legislatures, then, are the powers that be, that are ordained of God, and their enactments - as civil laws - are, by His word, made morally binding.

The personal influence of electors from their power at the ballot-box is incidental, and does not impugn the legal and moral rights, powers and responsibilities of our legislators to make and ordain our civil law.  And they are bound by the command of Him whose kingdom ruleth over all, to use their high powers in truth, wisdom, justice, equity, mercy and honor, as "God's ministers in this very thing."

The political right of sovereignty to draw the sword in its own defence, is also a moral right, and may become a moral duty.  This is not what is called "the right of revolution," which, under certain circumstances, is supposed to justify the violent resistance of subjects to sovereign authority, with the view of subverting it, which, if capable of moral justification at all, must be so on very different principles of moral and political law, from those which maintain the moral right of sovereigns, to vindicate their political dominion with the sword.

It belongs, then, to the sovereign people, in their political capacity, to determine cases of usurpation, and also cases of abuse of delegated power, as well as the time, mode and measure of redress.

The Federal Government has no legislative power in South Carolina, but that which has been freely delegated by the sovereign people of the State.

So far as the Constitution partakes of the nature of a treaty, political differences concerning the powers or actions of the Federal Government can only be legitimately settled by the parties themselves; the States or the people of the States, in their sovereign character, and in the mode provided by the Constitution.

The Federal Government, being itself no party to the Constitution, but its mere creature, has no power to determine upon the political rights of States, or the people; though in all civil cases, "cases of law and equity," the Supreme Court is the final tribunal between the parties.

The subject, in whom sovereign, political dominion inheres, being man, and the objects of that power, the bodies of men and their civil and temporal affairs, the government is, in its own nature, profane, ungodly.  In this kingdom the will of man is supreme, and the word of man the law.  It is, however, sanctified to believers by the word of God, which makes its enactments binding on the conscience.

The subjects of civil government are not, in that character, responsible for the rectitude of its laws, whether wise or unwise; their only duty is to hear and obey them, and that "not only for wrath but also for conscience sake."

In their political character, however, the free men of this State have the moral responsibility for the settled and permanent character of its legislation.  Hence it appears that the civil government has no legitimate jurisdiction in religion, and to interfere in any authoritative way with it, is to usurp His spiritual prerogative, "Whose kingdom ruleth over all."

The badges of civil dominion, the purple of the Caesar, the ermine of his judges, the sword of his soldier, the staff of his constable, all the regal insignia of his office, have, in the State, an authoritative and divine significance.  From the head of the body politic to the soles of the feet, the sacred unction of the King of kings, perfumes and sanctifies the whole and every member.  How different such emblems that indicate the officers of divine human authority, to whom we are bound to submit, as serving God and not man; how different from the puerile, vain and senseless gewgaws and garish trappings of man's own voluntary fooleries, which can have no legal or moral, no divine or human significance of authority, truth, wisdom or virtue.

J. C. Coit, A Discourse upon Governments, Divine and Human, prepared by appointment of the Presbytery of Harmony (1853), pp. 36-39.