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No. XX.

AUGUST, 1849.


THIS work appears to have been written | with an honest intention, and bears evident marks of talent and serious study. It contains many first views on the constitution of the United States, clearly, though not vividly expressed, but appears to us to err in its general theory of government, by overlooking the fact, that the necessity of government does not grow wholly out of the depravity of human nature, and that government is not restricted in its functions merely to the repression of violence, or the unjust encroachments of one man upon the rights of another. The maintenance of justice, or the repression and redress of wrongs, is, no doubt, a chief function of government; but government has, beyond this, a positive mission to perform, positive benefits to confer, or secure, which in no sense grow out of the wickedness of men, and which would be the same whatever the intelligence and virtue of individuals. Man is by his essential nature a social being, and demands society; and society demands social as well as individual labors. These labors have for their end not merely the negative, but the positive benefit of the entire community, and cannot be performed without government, or an organization by which society is made a cor

poration, capable of acting as an individual person.

But our present purpose is not to criticise this little work itself; we have introduced it simply as an occasion for offering some remarks on the subject of the presidential or executive veto-a subject we should be happy to see discussed more generally than it has been, in a calm philosophic spirit, from the point of view of the statesman, rather than from that of the demagogue or the partisan.


There is, and as long as human nature remains às it is there will be, under popular governments; a strong tendency in the party that comes into power to exaggerate the intrinsic importance of the constitutional provisions to which it owes its success, and also, in the party frequently unsuccessful, to depreciate or unreasonably oppose those provisions which have thwarted its wishes. We like which aids us; we are hostile to that which defeats us. The men who can look beyond the passions of the moment and judge of the merits of an institution by its average results, are always and everywhere comparatively few; the great majority look neither before nor after: they fix their eyes on 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.



good-good in all times and places, and | under all circumstances; what here and now impedes or thwarts them is bad--can never be of service to them, must always work against them, and should nowhere and under no circumstances be tolerated for a moment. Constitutions are designed to maintain a fixed and permanent rule, and, if they answer their purpose, must not unfrequently control popular wishes and tendencies, and often restrain the majority, preventing them, for a time at least, from adopting measures which they are persuaded are for the interests of the country. Hence we must always expect under popular governments a party that will be dissatisfied with the Constitution, now with this provision, and now with that, and ready to agitate for its amendment, alteration, or total suppression.

It can hardly as yet be forgotten, that, under the administration of General Jackson, the constitution of the Senate of the United States was the object of virulent attacks from the Democratic party of the time. That party denounced the Senate as the aristocratic branch of the government, as repugnant to the genius of free institutions, and demanded its essential modification, because, just then, it happened not to be for them. Yet that party to-day find the Senate a purely democratic institution, and their chief reliance to prevent the administration from adopting a policy to which they are opposed; for they happen to have a majority of Senators on their side. They no longer denounce it as aristocratic, and no longer demand that its constitution be modified. On the other hand, it is remembered that, in consequence of the use and abuse of the executive veto by General Jackson and some of his successors to defeat important measures which had received the sanction of a majority of Congress, many in the Whig party who were strongly in favor of these measures, believing them to be really demanded by the industry and business of the country, took up the opinion that the veto power was antirepublican, exceedingly liable to be abused, and in its abuse throwing such undue influence into the hands of the Executive as to endanger our free institutions, and therefore a constitutional provision that should be either abolished or essentially


Yet who is prepared to say that the time may not even soon come when they will find the executive veto their best, perhaps their only, safeguard against measures which in their judgment would be ruinous to the country?

The tendency, when we are disappointed or defeated by some constitutional provision, to complain of the Constitution itself, and to propose an amendment which suits our wishes for the moment, is strengthened and apparently justified by certain false notions as to the origin of constitutions and as to the rights of majorities, which have become, or are becoming, quite prevalent in our country as well as in some others. It was pretended by some men in the last century, who then passed for philosophers, that to make a constitution is the easiest thing in the world, that nothing is simpler or more feasible than for a people without a government, or as if in a state of nature, to come together in person or by delegates and give themselves any constitution they please, and provide for its wise and beneficent practical operation. They put forth the most extravagant follies on the excellence and perfectibility of human nature, and virtually deified the people. They disdained, indeed, to believe in God, blasphemously alleging that they "had never seen him at the end of their telescopes;" but they did not hesitate to transfer to the people all the essential attributes of Deity, and to fall down and worship them as a divinity. The people could remedy all evils; the people could make no mistakes; the people could do no wrong; and we had only to clear the way for the free, full and immediate expression of the popular will, in order to have a perfect civil constitution, and a wise and just administration. Hence, there need be no hesitancy before overthrowing existing institutions, breaking up established order, or in trusting to the unchecked will of the people for a wise remodelling of the State, or the reconstruction of society.

In consequence of the prevalence of such a pleasant theory, all power of change was removed, all prudence in experimenting or innovating rendered superfluous; all attachment to old institutions or to a long-established order appeared foolish, if not wicked; nothing in heaven or on

earth was to be henceforth sacred or inviolable but the will of the multitudethat is, the will of the demagogues who could manage the multitude and we were

to surrender ourselves to that will with as much confidence, and with as little reserve, as the saint reposes on the will of God.

Into this silly and impious doctrine the fathers of our republic did not fall. They were no vague theorizers, no mad visionaries; they were plain, practical men, who looked at realities, and dealt with things as they found them. But this doctrine, which has for the last sixty years convulsed all Europe, overturned thrones, displaced dynasties, and left few things standing, except despotism on one side and the mob on the other, has found its way amongst us also, and spread its subtle poison through our own community. Our people, in large numbers, forget that constitutions are generated, not made, and that no constitution can draw up and impose a constitution which shall be really a constitution, unless its essential principles are already, through Providence, established in the wants, the habits, the usages, the manners and customs of the people for whom it is intended; that the constitution can never be arbitrarily imposed, but must always grow out of the pre-existing elements of the national life; and that when once formed it is to be henceforth modified only according to its own internal law, through the most urgent necessity, with the greatest delicacy, and the most consummate wisdom and prudence. Hence they cease to regard the Constitution as sacred, and look upon it as a thing that may be changed with as much facility, and almost for as slight reasons, as a gentleman changes the fashion of his coat, or a lady the make of her bonnet. To change it, is not only the easiest but the safest thing in the world. Consequently, the idea of submitting to a present inconvenience, of suffering a constitutional provision which restrains their will or thwarts their present wishes, rarely occurs to them; and whenever things do not go to their mind they clamor for a change in the Constitution. The danger of this state of the public mind needs not to be pointed out to the statesman. It is in

compatible with everything like established order, with everything permanent or stable in government, and keeps everything unsettled and fluctuating.

From the fact that, under our political order, the greater number of questions are determined by the will of the majority, a large class of our politicians, seldom accustomed to look beneath the surface, or to trace facts to their principles, conclude that the majority have a natural right to govern, and that whatever tends to hinder the free and full expression of their will is contrary to natural law, and smells of usurpation. They are scandalized when they find the Constitution opposing a barrier to the will of the majority, and call out with all their force, from the very top of their lungs, for its amendment. Is it not the essential principle of all republicanism, say they, that the majority must govern? What then can be more anti-republican, more really undemocratic, than to uphold a constitution that hinders the majority from doing whatever they please? But these sage politicians would do well to remember, that the right of the majority to rule is a civil, not a natural right, and exists only by virtue of positive law. Anterior to civil society, or under the law of nature, all men are equal, respectively independent, and no one has any authority over another. Each is independent of all, and all of each; and both majorities and minorities are inconceivable. Civil society must be constituted before you can even conceive the existence of a political majority or minority, and when it is constituted, neither has any rights but those the law confers. Deriving their existence and their rights from the civil constitution, it is absurd to pretend that the majority are, or can be, deprived of any of their natural rights by any constitutional provision. If then a given constitutional provision should restrain the majority, prevent them from making their will prevail, that is no just cause of complaint, for no law is broken, no right is violated; and when no law is broken and no right violated, no injustice is done.

It is necessary to set aside these false notions, or pretensions, of modern Radicals and Socialists, which are revolutionary in

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