"During the weeks following the  election, [Northern newspaper] editors of all parties assumed that secession as a constitutional right was not in question . . . . On the contrary, the southern claim to a right of peaceable withdrawal was countenanced out of reverence for the natural law principle of government by consent of the governed."
~ Howard Cecil Perkins, editor, Northern Editorials on Secession, p. 10
The first several generations of Americans understood that the Declaration of Independence was the ultimate states’ rights document. The citizens of the states would delegate certain powers to a central government in their Constitution, and these powers (mostly for national defense and foreign policy purposes) would hopefully be exercised for the benefit of the citizens of the "free and independent" states, as they are called in the Declaration.