This section is from the book "The Constitutional Law Of The United States", by Westel Woodbury Willoughby. Also available from Amazon: Constitutional Law.
It has at times been suggested that the States might, if they should so choose, destroy the Federal Government by a refusal to select Presidential Electors, Representatives to Congress and Senators. In the case of Representatives, should the States refuse to take action, their election could, as we have seen, be directly undertaken by the Federal Government. As regards Senators and Presidential Electors, however, the Federal Government could not itself undertake their election, and it is difficult to suggest legal means by which state action could be compelled. In Cohens v. Virginia,39 Barbour, arguing in behalf of the position which had been taken by Virginia, declared: "Whenever the States shall be determined to destroy the Federal Government, they will not find it necessary to act, and to act in violation of the Constitution. They can quietly accomplish the purpose by not acting. Upon the state legislatures it depends to appoint the Senators and Presidential Electors, or to provide for their election. Let them merely not act in these particulars, the executive department and part of the legislature ceases to exist, and the Federal Government thus perishes by a sin of omission not of commission." To this position Webster alluded in his speech in reply to Calhoun, and endeavored to minimize its importance from the States' Eights standpoint. "I hear it often suggested," he said, "that the States, by refusing to appoint Senators and Electors, might bring this government to an end. Perhaps this is true; but the same may be said of the state governments themselves. Suppose the legislature of a State, having the power to appoint the governor and the judges, should omit that duty, would not the state government remain unorganized? No doubt, all elective governments may be broken up by a general abandonment on the part of those entrusted with political powers, of their appropriate duties." Moreover, as a matter of fact, as Webster went on to show, in a certain very important sense the federal Constitution relies, for the maintenance of the government which it establishes, upon the plighted faith not of the States, as States, but upon the several oaths of its individual citizens, in that all members of a state legislature are obliged, as a condition precedent to their taking their seats, to swear to support the federal Constitution, and from the obligation of this oath no state power can discharge them. Thus, says Webster, "no member of a state legislature can refuse to proceed at the proper time to elect Senators to Congress, or to provide for the choice of Electors of President and Vice-President, any more than the members of this body [Senate] can refuse, when the appointed day arrives, to meet the members of the other House, to count the votes for those officers, and to ascertain who are chosen. In both cases, the duty binds, and with equal strength, the conscience of the individual member, and it is imposed on all by an oath in the very same words. Let it then never be said, Sir, that it is a matter of discretion with the States whether they will continue the government, or break it. up by refusing to appoint Senators and Electors. They have no discretion in the matter. The members of the legislatures cannot avoid doing either, so often as the time arrives, without a direct violation of their duty and their oaths; such a violation as would break up any other government."
38 U. S. Dist. Atty. Rose, in American Political Science Review, I, 41, in an article entitled "Negro Suffrage: The Constitutional Point of View."
39 6 Wh. 264; 5 L. ed. 257.
The correctness of the reasoning of "Webster may be granted, and yet the fact remains that however great a moral obligation there may be upon the individual members of the several state governments to take such action as is necessary to equip the Federal Government with the officials necessary for its' operation, there exists no legal means, by an issue of mandamus or otherwise, to compel such action when refused.