Page images

are a great feature of that system, a mo- country, much need not be said. Our elementous feature. And their importance ments were very simple. Peculiarities in it depends upon their relative magni- indeed there were, that claimed attention tude and weight of influence as compared and accommodation, and received it. I with the head government. It is this that will mention two or three. makes them such a capital check upon One of importance was, the diversity of that government, according to the record condition among men in the matter of proed opinions of the early patriots. And perty; as to which, there was a triple would it be nothing to these vast subdivi- alternative at the option of the lawgivers. sions of the commonwealth to find them. They could give official eligibility, and the selves reduced suddenly, or by unmarked right of choice among candidates for pubdegrees, to the dimensions of mere counties lic stations, to the wealthy alone, a small in the general scale ?—lost sight of, one part of the community ; to the whole popuby one, like individuals in a mob? lar mass, the majority of whom had no

True, indeed, the nation as a whole is thing to bind them to the country, or to our own, and we are apt to be fond par- attest their personal fitness for meddling takers of its glory whencesoever derived; in its affairs; or to a middle class or applauding when its armies conquer, and classes of society, greatly more numerous making every expansion of its sway a than the former, greatly less so than the matter of personal triumph.

latter, and who would be likely to act All which, however, is but a commen with a reasonable sympathy at once for tary on the views I have urged ; a living rich and poor, tempering matters imparannotation upon the text of our danger. tially between them. The option was easily It shows to a marvel how war and terri- determined, and determined as it ought to torial acquisition build up the pile of poli- be. A low property qualification was antical supremacy; exalting the head, not only nexed to the right of suffrage, and a someto the disparagement, but often, generally what higher one to that of being admitted perhaps, with the blind concurrence of the to the trusts at its disposal. members.

The prevailing religion of the country Let us not deceive ourselves. The fa- may be given as another instance. There thers had no part in this infatuation of the were various sects of Protestant Christians. popular mind. They saw that it was ne- Their differences were for the most part cessary for the members to maintain their formal. It would not do to set up one relative standing, and there is nothing above the rest, and yet as Christians they truer or more vital in our case. Extension must not be overlooked, for their religious of territory is increase of power in the head sentiments ar interests were very dear to gorernment. How can it fail to be so ? them. The patriarchs went therefore for Money is said to be power. Double the the substance of things, and let forms national domain, and, other things being alone. To atheism, too rare to have any equal, you double the pecuniary means of claims, and too detestable for gratuitous the federal administration. Business is favor, they gave no countenance whatpower. By enlarging the jurisdiction of ever; and they looked with stern dislike office, you multiply subjects and occasions upon ecclesiastical connections, under of official action. Patronage is power; whatever guise of Christian seeming, that and what a swarm of appointments must drew off the allegiance and the love of the inevitably gather upon every new hive of people from their own land and institutions. the national apiary. Fame, worship, is General Christianity, untrammeled with power, and we are witnesses against our such connections, was deemed essential to selves, that men are prone to honor | high and pure citizenship; and this became worldly greatness and prosperity, with the religion of the government and of the very little care of discrimination as to laws. points of justice, points of prudence, points There was in the country a settled popuof law itself, connected with the magnifi- lar aversion to privileged orders. We had cence of a nation's exploits.

felt the weight of such burdens, and it Of the original adaplation of the govern- was impossible we should submit our ment to the actual state of things in the backs to them again. Instead of that,

the universal demand was, absolute equal- | the condition of those states when the ity of legal rights. The principle had convention of '87 were at work upon their grown to a passion among us, and would great task. The law or custom of that not be put off with evasions ; it must be servitude was strictly local. There were gratified with direct concessions ; it must other states near by, into which its victims be explicitly provided for. Seeing this, might easily escape, where the pure comand feeling it too, the fathers readily con- mon law made slavery impossible. Thus formed. And thus a third social element circumstanced, the people of the slave was taken into the account of the govern- localities, in giving up to the new central ment.

government their right of control over Shall I refer to African slivery, as yet their relations and intercourse with the a further fact in the existing state of things, neighboring states, demanded a guaranty that could not be overlooked, and could against the snapping interposition of the not be prevented from blemishing the civil officers of those states to deprive arrangements of the time with a provision them of their runaway slaves. And they concerning it.

were strenuous in this. There was indeed Here, however, that which was done no getting on with the great project of the was done by painful compromise, and to time, perhaps no guarding against frequent surmount an otherwise insuperable diffi- breaches of the peace, without some paciculty in the concoction of the federal fying arrangement on the subject. The scheme.

required guaranty was accordingly given. It is said in certain quarters, that the And it was a guaranty of a purely negative federal Constitution sanclions slavery and character; not an act of favor or approval prolecis it. The language is too broad. in any form, but of simple non-interference The constitutions of the slave states them- or standing aloof. selves go not so far. Not one of them If a state had a law to hang men, as protects slavery by any positive means, they used to do in England, for horse-theft, not one of them sanctions it, further than would it be a sanction of the severity of by the odious prohibition of legislative that law should a sister state, for peace' emancipation that disgraces some of them. sake, and to avoid continual broils, deny

As to the federal charter, the only herself the right of harboring fugitives clause that gives color to the pretense from its penalty ? in question, is the last paragraph of the Slavery indeed is against the general second section, article fourth, which pro- law of the country. Out of the place vides, " that no person held to service or of the local custom or statute, where labor in one state under the laws thereof, its chains are, it cannot exist; there is no and escaping into another, shall in conse- place for it, no air for it to breathe. Mr. quence of any law or regulation therein Benton is right; it cannot legally, and I be discharged from such service or labor, will say constitutionally, be introduced but shall be delivered up, on claim of the where it is not. A statute of Congress, party to whom such service or labor may that should purport to legalize it in a free be due.” In fewer words, no person held territory, would be void by natural law, to service by the law of one state, shall by God's law, and might be so declared have his obligation of service disannulled judicially without danger of mistake. Even by the law of another state into which he English authorities may be cited for the may have run away from his master. Of position that an act of highest legislation, slaves, or slave law, as such, not a syllable if against natural right, is null. Holt and is said. No protection certainly, and no Hobart, both of them great names (the sanction, in terms. Nor is there any by former, one of the very greatest) in Engimplication, unless the bar against officious lish judicature, held this opinion.* Think meddling in cases of elopement can be of this, in reference to a polity that makes tortured into such a meaning, which is the legislature omnipotent. It were strange quite beyond the power of fair criticism. indeed if American morals were less legal,

The truth lies upon the surface. The existence of involuntary servitude in some * Wood. Lect. p. 62. Hob. R. 87. 12 Mod. of the states, was a social and civil fact in 678.

less fundamental, than English, on such a vention. Meanwhile seventeen new states point.

have been ushered into the Union ; some But after all, what had the paternal from the original domain of the country ; lawgivers to do with any point of that some from territories newly acquired by kind? Could they not abstain from med treaty; and one, a full-grown foreign comdling with runaway slaves without becom- monwealth, lugged in bodily, by legislative ing abettors of slavery? Were they not sleight of hand, a mysterious method of free to stand aside, and leave a turbid “annexation.” In numbers of these states stream to run clear by itself if it would ? of increase, (Kentucky, Tennessee, LouisiHow could their forbearance draw upon ana, Mississippi, and I know not how many them the reproach of puddling the waters more,) the renewing process, in one or both of the land, especially when it was plainly of its forms, has been plied with due acimpossible to obstruct those waters but at tivity, and is going bravely on from year the hazard of a desolating overflow? to year, a la mode.

Such then was the government in its Not only so, but in several of the conorigin; a government which few travel- stitutions lately formed, provision is made lers have equately understood, and for calling conventions, at stated intervals, which the most eminent foreign writers (if agreeable to the electors for the time have spoken of with surprising inaccuracy: being) to brood anew and periodically Little wonder, perhaps, when it is consid over the life elements of the republic. By ered that blunders greater still have found the last constitution of New York, the perpetrators among ourselves. Yet the people are to be invited to this pastime founders of the system knew thoroughly every twentieth year; by that of Indiana, what they were about. And they left every twelfth year; by that of New Hamptheir work, as I conceive, in a very intel- shire, every seventh. In other states, things ligible shape, with strong characteristic have not yet come to this pass, but in all marks upon every part of it. Such too as there are methods duly settled for making they left it, they intended and expected it progress in the work of reform, and in all to continue. The general absence from it there is an incessant hammering at the of all machinery of change, shows this. fundamental laws. So that besides an

In which respect, however, their views immensity of work already done in this have been disappointed. Changes not a field of human adventure, preparations are few, and not inconsiderable, have been matured for going vigorously forward with made already in their system. Nay, it the business in time to come. Mutation has been subjected to a law of change, a has become indeed the order of the day. principle that allows it no rest; I will add, It is our policy, our rule. Not content no prospect of rest, till either a political with going ahead personally, we have inheaven, or at worst, a grave

is found. fused the go-ahead principle (do not smile, of the thirteen primary States, New it is a portentous truth,) into the very Hampshire has wholly remodelled her foundations of the republic. constitution twice since the first organiz- But the changes actually made in our ing act; Connecticut and Rhode Island, polity, what are they? Let us ponder once each ; New York, twice ; New Jer- them a little, that we may the better sey, once; Pennsylvania, twice; Delaware, judge of the direction of our course, and once; Virginia, once; South Carolina, what we are coming to. once; and Georgia, twice. Fourleen Beginning with the State economies, I Thorough renovations in ten Stales. Be- am afraid it will appear that nearly the sides which there have been partial chan-whole line of conservative arrangements, ges, called amendments, in Massachusetts, so conspicuous in the first platform, has Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, North been erased. Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, at suc- Take the important instance of the cessive periods, and with very material property qualification, once indispensable effects. The federal compact itself has to candidates for the upper stations of been repeatedly amended, (always I think public life, but which is now not only in for the worse, though never put entirely general dispensed with, but cried out into the furnace of a second national con- | against as aristocratic and injurious. New

no one

son of

Hampshire, Rhode Island, Connecticut, It is now a habit. Having begun with Delaware, Virginia, North Carolina, South poisoning the people, they poison the Carolina, and Georgia-eight of the ori- government in due course, and thus reginal thirteen States--maintain, it is true, quite the favor unworthily gained from à more or less relaxed adherence to the their constituents with substantial injury: platform doctrine; but in the other five As might be expected (because in of those thirteen, and in all the States keeping with this utter abandonment of since added to the Union, that doctrine is the original terms of official eligibility) we quite obsolete. Twenty-two out of thirty, have made a further sacrifice of principle near three to one, have opened the temple to the democracy of members by a greatly of government to all comers ;

widened distribution of the right of sufis excluded whom the people can be frage. Nearly all the States are here of cajoled to let in.

one mind.

Connecticut, Rhode Island, Religion too has been dropped from its Virginia, and the Carolinas-five of the connection with the subject, save in North first thirteen-make still a feeble effort to Carolina and Mississippi. And the result hold on upon the property qualification of is, that, excepting a reduced standard of the electorships ; and some few others age and residence, (circumstances of mere talk fondly about taxpaying, as if working time and place,) every man, so far as con- on the highways, which every renegade stitutional law is concer

cerned, is now fit for must do, could fit men, or denote their every office.

fitness, for a sacred, moral, and intellectual Here then is a great change. A check trust; but, in plain English, the electoral upon the franchise of elections has been character of the country goes now upon taken away, with the effect of probably a all fours ; and, beyond the five States just twenty-fold enlargement of its range of mentioned, every man is a voter-every objects. Were all voters virtuous, intelli- biped who can call himself a gent, discreet; could they be all expected Adam, and who, being one-and-twenty to use their power cautiously, and for the years old, has the merit (to some a rare best, there might be little danger, and and strange one) of having resided “one some positive advantage in this extended whole year” continuously under a parliberty of choice. But who will found an ticular State government, and from ten argument on such a postulate ? The two days to six months (there is a tasteful general indications of respectability that variety here) within the county where he are entitled to perhaps most weight in claims his privilege, is a competent chooser forming a hasty opinion of a candidate are of governors, senators, and members of property and a fair profession of Chris- assembly; the legal presumption from tian belief. Such evidences ought not to these premises being, as it seems, not only be slighted. But they are out of date. that he is a person of integrity and paOur confidence in the people now-a-days triotic sentiments, but a judge of what does not allow us to question their ability assemblymen and senators, and goverto decide on men's characters by instinct. nors ought to be, as well in understanding Religion and property are therefore of no as in politics and morals. In all which, account. And the most hopeful candi- say of it whatever else you will, we have date for office, (I need not stop to ac- departed utterly from the paternal paths knowledge the occasional exception of a -deserted utterly the paternal policy: great or good man, paradventure both,

Putting then together the subject of the advanced to public life for his merit's class or kind of persons sake alone,) is the one who has least to whom public officers are to be chosen, and lose by electioneering baseness; with the subject of the class or kind of persons nothing at stake in the country, and no to be entrusted with the selection of them, disquieting scruples of conscience to em- the change our polity has undergone in barrass his proceedings. Men who want

Men who want the conservative principles upon which its office to live upon become demagogues organization was formerly kept up, its from a kind of necessity; and when working taken care of, its agencies visittheir acts succeed, they carry the proflied, its powers watched, regulated, disgacy of the hustings into office with them. armed of mischievous tendencies, made

from among

effectual to the general welfare, amounts ever grade? Our public men, generally, to revolution. Everything is altered are they of the same stamp as of old ? turned topsyturvy.

I was lately present in a State convenAnd it is impossible to shut our eyes to tion, and heard some of the debates. I the fact that this alteration is, in spirit, was stunned with the town-meeting rhetfrom republicanism towards democracy; oric of little men, getting warm, getting that is to say, from the best of free furious indeed, upon matters which were governments towards the worst-cutting to me as “ the great globe” to a fly upon away the checks and braces of the sys- its surface. The great body of assessors tem, and putting everything at the dis- were tradesmen, ploughmen, men of every posal of an unbridled popular will. calling but that which might have fitted

Have we looked well to our social ele- them for the place they were in. I had ments in deciding on this change? Have not sat long before a person of very humwe considered what was due to the great ble stature accosted me.

It was a person interests that pay our taxes, and sustain I had known for many years as a very most others of our government bur- good getter-up of picture-frames, and who dens? Have we made sure, or jeopard- had spent his life in a garret, plying dilied, the future, tranquillity of the public gently the usual stucco and gold-leaf of mind—the future stability of the public that species of manufacture; a man, inpeace ?

deed, whose very face was to my mind a If I mistake not, the immediate conse- picture-frame. “Ah! my old friend,” quences are already manifest in a lessened said I, ”“ what are you doing here ?I aggregate of high character and talents am a member of the house," said he ; and among the agencies of public life. Men with that returned to his seat of grave dewill form their own estimates. Invidious liberation, to serve the nonce as a framer as the subject is, I have no difficulty in of political commonwealths. A considerdeclaring mine.

able change of artisanship it seemed to The same electors, it will be remem- me; and one that indicated very pointedbered, who choose the ordinary legisla- ly, as I thought, the chronology of what tures, choose also the yet higher function- was going forward. aries by whom the active trade of con- These conclaves of reform are now, like stitution-making is carried on.

everything else in the political world, got Is it not curious to see how these two up (the idiom is not the less pertinent for classes of agents push their different kinds being vulgar) by universal suffrage. And of business at one and the same moment ? they are got up too often to be much con-the statute-men working, as I may say, sidered of by the multitude. The game of within the edifice of the Constitution, the constitutional chess-board is become while the architects of reform are pulling so common an affair that the majority of it down, or_laying strong hand upon it, men prepare for it with very

small concern outside ? It reminds me of the screw about the fitness of the agents employed. method of removing buildings in New It seems as if everybody were held statesYork; where huge structures of brick and man enough for such a business. mortar are daily sent upon their travels by And if fundamental lawgiving has arthe magicians of improvement, while the rived at this pass, if the great job-work of inmates, as if nothing strange were hap- constitutional reform is deemed within the pening, cook their dinner at the kitchen competency of men educated in the hands hearth, and eat it in the parlor.

only, and not in the head, what is likely Such cool philosophy may have merit to be the popular standard of judgment in it; but I am afraid there is less forti- as to the talents and qualities required for tude of reason than callousness of famil. regulating ordinary matters? We have iarity in the exhibition; and I would ask no occasion to speculate about it; we have political observers, who have lived long all seen, and may see again next winter, enough to make the comparison the ques- if we live so long. tion imports, whether merit, of some Another source of bad influence from other kinds, is not apt to be scarcer than which some of the State economies are it ever was in our State councils of what | suffering, as I think, both absolutely and

« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »