« ΠροηγούμενηΣυνέχεια »
every man was bound to learn how to take care of himself, and might therefore feel himself to be as good as his neighbors. Those who could not do this, were regarded as not competent for the high responsibilities of citizenship, and were left to subside into the condition of personal dependence upon those who could take care of them. It is a natural result of such a state of society, beginning with equality and adopting such a policy to perpetuate equality, that to this day you may find whole school districts in the "Old Colony," in which every boy of an entire generation grows up competent to be master of a ship. Let such Democracy be judged by its fruits.
These ideas, incorporated with the first settlement, pervaded more or less perfectly all the New England colonies. Land for all, education for all, and suffrage for all who showed a competency to take care of themselves, was the original provision of American Democracy for its own self-perpetuation. And although it must be confessed that much of the specific legislation of the colonies tallies badly with our modern ideas of just laws for our modern condition of society, it is also true that the legislation of our fathers was never intentionally unjust or oppressive; that it appears far less unequal when judged in the light of their circumstances, and that it contained in itself the seeds of all needful ameliorations, as their necessity should become manifest. The changes which have taken place, have all been voluntary and powerful, and have generally taken place on the demand of minorities, by the full and cordial assent of dominant majorities. No other governments can show such a history of voluntary reforms, nor exhibit such fruits in the production of successive generations of self-reliant men.
These Mayflower principles,—of which the cardinal one is, that the state is for the individual and not the individual for the state; and that government is by the will of the people, and not the people only choosing their governors between one set and another,—these principles had to contend with many adverse influences and changes of society in the progress of the colonies; but they formed the dominant elements of society which all the true master-ininds of the country took as the basis of their political counsels and plans. They pervaded all the colonies. In every one of them there occurred controversies and struggles in which parties were driven back to these first principles for a standing-ground. Duane and Clinton, Jay and Hamilton, in New York; Franklin and Read, Dickinson and Rodney, in Pennsylvania ; Jefferson, Wythe, and Patrick Henry, in Virginia; all the real leaders of the revolution out of New England, were as fully grounded in these principles as Putnam and Truinbull in Connecticut, or Hawley, Quincy and the Adamses in Massachusetts. The opening paragraphs of the Declaration of Independence are the instant and spontaneous utterance of a community to which these principles were so natural as to be almost unthought. Like the man who spoke prose all his life without knowing it, those men talked forth the principles of American Democracy, while hardly conscious of the breadth and scope of their utterance.
No man can study the history of the Declaration of Independence, its antecedents and its consequences, especially comparing the character and positions of those who urged it onward and of those who cautiously held back from its adoption, and then observing the manner of its reception among the people, without becoming impressed with the conviction that it was a genuine emanation of the popular will. Patrick Henry and Samuel Adams were not demagogues leading the people blindfold, but were sagacious students of the people, or rather, they were themselves sympathizing members of the popular mass, who knew the people's will by the instinct of their own. Thousands of patriotic citizens supported the revolution after it was begun, whose cautious apprehensions of consequences, or their conscientious reverence for constituted authority, prevented them from taking a forward part in its incipient stages. And thousands of others, who never convinced themselves either of the justice or the expediency of the revolution, prudently held their peace when they found they were overruled, and so acquiesced in what they could not help, comforting themselves with the hope that, after a while, they might again obtain a government almost as good as that which they had lost.
The revolution was accomplished; the will of the people triumphed; the principle was established that government derived its just authority from the consent of the governed, who must be their own judges in the last resort, both as to the kind of government they would establish, and as to the degree and continuance of mal-administration which would make it, in any given case, “the right and duty of the people to change that government” by an original and extra-constitutional movement, or a revolution. The right of revolution, by the people, for just cause, is therefore a cardinal doctrine of American Democracy. But now that the new republic has been admitted to a place among the family of nations, it must meet the responsibilities of its position, and for this purpose it must have
a government. It does not concern other nations, what the form may be; but a government de facto must be presented and maintained. Hence the Convention of 1787, the delegates of the states specially and solemnly appointed to devise a proper form of government for the United States.
Those who have contemplated the condition of the country at that juncture, will be impressed with the great change in the tone of the public mind. At the revolution, men risked everything, and had prepared themselves to abide the issue, even should it bring them to the rebel's scaffold. No one of them took up arms, or furnished supplies, or shared in the councils of the Colonies, without the full consciousness that such might be his doom, if the revolution failed. But now that they have succeeded, and have secured this fine country, with all its advantages and all its promise, the precious value of all that they have saved and won rises before their minds, and they become chiefly anxious to conserve and perpetuate their possessions, as the inheritance of their children. Each man's separate interest fills his thoughts. Calculation, caution, and anxious care, take the place of daring courage and self-sacrificing public spirit. The Declaration of Independence was the child of courage and Patriotism; the Constitution was the child of Caution and Fear. The body of the people knew very well how to fight for their liberties; they were not so sure that they knew all about administering the complicated details of government in a manner worthy of the character of a great nation, which they expected to be. They therefore deferred to the men of learning and wisdom, who understood history, and possessed the knowledge of books. The people made the revolution, and the sages made the government. The great wonder is, that the first was so wise, and that the second was so popular. But each has its idiosyncrasy, which must be kept in view if we would understand its operations.
The animus of the Constitution is seen in the arguments of its defenders. Their greatest anxiety seemed to be, to prove that their frame of government was stable, and safe from the fluctuations of the popular will. In other words, the framers of the constitution thought it important to interpose “checks and balances," as they deliberately phrased it, but in plainer terms, obstructions to prevent the popular will from acting too directly on the government. In the then state of public opinion and of political philosophy in the world, it seemed necessary to be able to assure other countries that there was something in the government besides the will of the people, some mysterious quality or power, on which the world might rely to
men of het ekpanner Histering in they wepeople the child of
give stability to our institutions and binding force to our trea. ties. The importance attached to this quality, and the prominence given to it in the defenses of the new constitution, gave the name of Federalists to that class of citizens who were then in the ascendant. Those whose jealousy was excited by the eagerness of this advocacy, and who were willing even to reject the Constitution rather than run the risk of establishing a gov. ernment thus removed from the control of the people's will, took the name of Republicans even they not daring to take the dreaded name of Democrats. The result has proved that both were wrong in a degree; the Federalists found that their strong government was obliged to be Democratically administered; and the Republicans found that a little patience and perseverance would enable them to carry out the popular will through the forms of the constitution, far better than they could hope to do by a revolution—that intelligent votes are better than barricades.
The constitution of 1787, was undoubtedly the wisest frame of government ever devised by man; and the government then established has undergone less change in the succeeding sixtyseven years, than any other then upon the earth. Its wisdom and its success entitle it to be thoroughly studied by those who love to look into the causes of the events in history. Its practical working has taught lessons which were unknown either to its framers or their opponents. The best possible attestation to the soundness of its theory is the constancy and smoothness of its movement. Other governments have grown to the shape of the body they shielded, and therefore have fitted easily; but ours was devised and framed entire, by the wisdom of its authors, and yet has proved itself to be admirably adapted to the spirit of the people. No plan of government was ever devised by men, so fitted for the people it was designed for, as to be accepted voluntarily without force or fraud, and kept in operation so long without even a plot against it. And yet it was not perfect. Its framers did not pretend to consider it perfect, and therefore they added a provision by which it could be amended-through the ordinary operation of political action. Doubtless, this open door for amendments has been the chiet reason why so few amendments have been proposed.
Colonel Benton has shown that most of the amendments already made were rendered necessary to remove the obstacles which the Constitution had interposed against the too direct control of the people's will. One of the most important was the change in the mode of election of the President of the United States. The continuance of a Board of Electors in each state
was thought to be an admirable devise, to soften our too intense democracy. Says our author, “ The opinion prevailed in the convention, that the mass of the people would not be sufficiently informed, discreet, and temperate, to exercise with advantage so great a privilege as that of choosing the chief magistrate of a great republic." p. 27. And therefore electors were interposed, who, in theory, vote for the men they themselves think most proper to be chosen. But, practically, the . electors have always voted according to the known will of their constituents. The only attempts to defeat the known will of the people, or a majority, have been when the election has gone into the House of Representatives—the necessities of the case bringing this trust into the hands of representatives who were chosen one whole year, and mostly two years, before the presidential election, and who therefore represent the will of the past, and not that of the present.
The complicated arrangement for the choice of a president seems to have been intended first of all to give the election to the people, acting by states. By conceding to the state legislatures the entire power to regulate the mode of election, even to the extent of assuming to the legislatures themselves the appointment of the entire board of electors for their several states, it has recognized the principle that no regard is to be paid to minorities in sections of states. The choice of electors by districts would have the effect of dividing the political power of the state, and even of neutralizing it. Under circumstances easily supposable, it would carry the weight of a state into the scale opposite to the choice of a majority-as on the supposition of one party having large majorities in a few districts, which might be overborne by the representatives of a greater number of districts chosen by small majorities.* This evil is enhanced where there are three or more parties in the field, and where the election is determined by a plurality, as it is in most of the states. In such a case, the vote of the state might be given by the smallest party, carrying the districts most evenly divided. The judgment of the people in all the
* Suppose a state entitled to five electors, each representing a district of 10,000 voters, making 50,000 in all, with only two presidential candidates in the field. The party having a minority in the state might be so distributed as to allow the majority to choose only two electors, giving each a majority of 2000. This would take 12,000 votes, while the minority might elect their candidates in three districts by majorities of only two hundred each, requiring but 15,300 votes, which with their minority of 8,000 in the other two districts, would make only 23,300 to outweigh the 26,700 votes of the majority. The states will never consent to put their political power at such a hazard.
+ Suppose such a state as above, having 50,000 voters, divided into three parties, A., B. and O., in the proportion of 18,000, 17,000, and 15,000, and to