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This work appears to have been written poration, capable of acting as an individwith an honest intention, and bears evi- ual person. dent marks of talent and serious study. But our present purpose is not to critIt contains many first views on the con- icise this little work itself; we have institution of the United States, clearly, troduced it simply as an occasion for though not vividly expressed, but appears offering some remarks on the subject of to us to err in its general theory of gov- the presidential or executive veto—a ernment, by overlooking the fact, that subject we should be happy to see disthe necessity of government does not cussed more generally than it has been, grow wholly out of the depravity of in a calm philosophic spirit, from the human nature, and that government point of view of the statesman, rather than is not restricted in its functions merely from that of the demagogue or the parto the repression of violence, or the tisan. unjust encroachments of one man upon There is, and as long as human nature the rights of another. The maintenance remains as it is there will be, under popof justice, or the repression and redress ular governments; a strong tendency in the of wrongs, is, no doubt, a chief func- party that comes into power to exaggerate tion of government; but government has, the intrinsic importance of the constitubeyond this, a positive mission to per- tional provisions to which it owes its sucform, positive benefits to confer, or cess, and also, in the party frequently un
, secure, which in no sense grow out of successful, to depreciate or unreasonably the wickedness of men, and which would oppose those provisions which have be the same whatever the intelligence thwarted its wishes. We like that and virtue of individuals. Man is by his which aids us; we are hostile to that essential nature a social being, and de- which defeats us. The men who can mands society; and society demands look beyond the passions of the moment social as well as individual labors. These and judge of the merits of an institulabors have for their end not merely the tion by its average results, are alnegative, but the positive benefit of the ways and everywhere comparatively entire community, and cannot be per- few; the great majority look neither formed without government, or an organ- before nor after: they fix their eyes on ization by which society is made a cor- the present; what favors that is for them
* The Plan of the American Union, and the Structure of its Government Explained and Defended. By JAMES WILLIAMS. Baltimore : Sherwood & Co. 1848. 12mo. pp. 168. VOL. IV. NO. II. NEW SERIES,
good-good in all times and places, and modified.
modified. Yet who is prepared to say under all circumstances; what here and that the time may not even soon come now impedes or thwarts them is bad—can when they will find the executive veto never be of service to them, must always their best, perhaps their only, safeguard work against them, and should nowhere against measures which in their judgment and under no circumstances be tolerated would be ruinous to the country ? for a moment. Constitutions are designed The tendency, when we are disapto maintain a fixed and permanent rule, pointed or defeated by some constituand, if they answer their purpose, must tional provision, to complain of the Connot unfrequently control popular wishes stitution itself, and to propose an amendand tendencies, and often restrain the ma- ment which suits our wishes for the mojority, preventing them, for a time at least, ment, is strengthened and apparently justi
a from adopting measures which they are fied by certain false notions as to the origin persuaded are for the interests of the of constitutions and as to the rights of country. Hence we must always expect majorities, which have become, or are under popular governments a party that becoming, quite prevalent in our country will be dissatisfied with the Constitution, as well as in some others. It was prenow with this provision, and now with tended by some men in the last century, that, and ready to agitate for its amend who then passed for philosophers, that ment, alteration, or total suppression. to make a constitution is the easiest thing
It can hardly as yet be forgotten, that, in the world, that nothing is simpler or under the administration of General Jack- more feasible than for a people without son, the constitution of the Senate of the a government, or as if in a state of nature, United States was the object of virulent to come together in person or by delegates attacks from the Democratic party of the and give themselves any constitution they time. That party denounced the Senate please, and provide for its wise and beas the aristocratic branch of the govern- neficent practical operation. They put ment, as repugnant to the genius of free forth the most extravagant follies on the institutions, and demanded its essential excellence and perfectibility of human modification, because, just then, it hap- nature, and virtually deified the people. pened not to be for them. Yet that They disdained, indeed, to believe in God, party to-day find the Senate a purely blasphemously alleging that they " had democratic institution, and their chief never seen him at the end of their telereliance to prevent the administration scopes ;” but they did not hesitate to transfrom adopting a policy to which they are fer to the people all the essential attriopposed; for they happen to have a butes of Deity, and to fall down and majority of Senators on their side. They worship them as a divinity. The people no longer denounce it as aristocratic, and could remedy all evils; the people could no longer demand that its constitution be make no mistakes ; the people could do modified. On the other hand, it is re- no wrong; and we had only to clear the membered that, in consequence of the use way for the free, full and immediate exand abuse of the executive veto by pression of the popular will, in order to General Jackson and some of his successors have a perfect civil constitution, and a wise to defeat important measures which had re- and just administration. Hence, there ceived the sanction of a majority of Con- need be no hesitancy before overthrowing gress, many in the Whig party who were existing institutions, breaking up establishstrongly in favor of these measures, be- ed order, or in trusting to the unchecked will lieving them to be really demanded by the of the people for a wise remodelling of industry and business of the country, took the State, or the reconstruction of society. up the opinion that the veto power was anti- In consequence of the prevalence of such republican, exceedingly liable to be abus- a pleasant theory, all power of change ed, and in its abuse throwing such undue was removed, all prudence in experimentinfluence into the hands of the Executive ing or innovating rendered superfluous ; as to endanger our free institutions, and all attachment to old institutions or to therefore a constitutional provision that a long-established order appeared foolish, should be either abolished or essentially if not wicked; nothing in heaven or on
earth was to be henceforth sacred or compatible with everything like estab-
large class of our politicians, seldom acInto this silly and impious doctrine the customed to look beneath the surface, or fathers of our republic did not fall. They to trace facts to their principles, conclude were no vague theorizers, no'mad vision that the majority have a natural right to aries ; they were plain, practical men, who govern, and that whatever tends to hinder looked at realities, and dealt with things the free and full expression of their will as they found them. But this doctrine, is contrary to natural law, and smells of which has for the last sixty years con- usurpation. They are scandalized when vulsed all Europe, overturned thrones, they find the Constitution opposing a displaced dynasties, and left few things barrier to the will of the majority, standing, except despotism on one side and call out with all their force, from and the mob on the other, has found the very top of their lungs, for its its way amongst us also, and spread amendment. Is it not the essential its subtle poison through our own com- principle of all republicanism, say they, munity. Our people, in large numbers, that the majority must govern ? What forget that constitutions are generated, then can be more anti-republican, more not made, and that no constitution can really undemocratic, than to uphold a draw up and impose a constitution which constitution that hinders the majority from shall be really a constitution, unless its doing whatever they please ? But these essential principles are already, through sage politicians would do well to rememProvidence, established in the wants, the ber, that the right of the majority to rule habits, the usages, the manners and cus- is a civil, not a natural right, and exists toms of the people for whom it is in only by virtue of positive law. Anterior tended ; that the constitution can never to civil society, or under the law of nature, be arbitrarily imposed, but must always all men are equal, respectively independgrow out of the pre-existing elements of ent, and no one has any authority over the national life; and that when once another. Each is independent of all, and formed it is to be henceforth modified only all of each; and both majorities and miaccording to its own internal law, through norities are inconceivable.
Civil society the most urgent necessity, with the must be constituted before you can even greatest delicacy, and the most consum- conceive the existence of a political mate wisdom and prudence. Hence they majority or minority, and when it is cease to regard the Constitution as sacred, constituted, neither has any rights but and look upon it as a thing that may be those the law confers. Deriving their exchanged with as much facility, and almost istence and their rights from the civil for as slight reasons, as a gentleman constitution, it is absurd to pretend changes the fashion of his coat, or a lady that the majority are, or can be, dethe make of her bonnet. To change it, prived of any of their natural rights by is not only the easiest but the safest any constitutional provision. If then a thing in the world. Consequently, the given constitutional provision should reidea of submitting to a present inconven- strain the majority, prevent them from ience, of suffering a constitutional provi- making their will prevail
, that is no just sion which restrains their will or thwarts cause of complaint, for no law is broken, their present wishes, rarely occurs to no right is violated ; and when no law is them; and whenever things do not go to broken and no right violated, no injustice their mind they clamor for a change is done. in the Constitution. The danger of this It is necessary to set aside these false nostate of the public mind needs not to be tions, or pretensions, of modern Radicals pointed out to the statesman. It is in- | and Socialists, which are revolutionary in