Εικόνες σελίδας
Ηλεκτρ. έκδοση

other places. Nothing exists analogous to the foregoing city code, except the former postage system, that now is generally execrated, and mainly for the feature in which the analogy resides, namely, for making the incidental private benefit to individuals in employing the post-office a means of extorting from them all the expense of the mail system, thereby enabling the public to use it free of expense for all the lavish purposes of all the departments of the Government; just as the incidental private benefit to a man in living on a paved street is made the pretext for extorting from him all the expense of the pavement, which is thereafter to be used, free of expense, by the community, with all the vehicles they may choose.

City assessments which produce these results are founded on a clause that exists in city charters, directing the expense of civic improvements to be assessed on the real estate benefitted thereby, and on every piece of real estate in proportion to its respective benefit. The provision contains a pernicious fallacy, in assuming that the benefit is only lucal; that it is confined to real estate, and that the local benefit is always pecuniarily equal to the cost of the improvement; while, practically, the filling up in front of a lot may cost a thousand dollars, and the lot subsequently be not saleable for half the money. Such inequalities, varying in degree, attend every improvement, and always to the impoverishment of the land-holder, because no improvement is worth to any given lot more than its utility to the person who resides on the lot; but the improvement is not graduated to subserve his use alone, but it is made sufficiently extensive in dimensions for the public at large, and sufficiently elegant to gratify the public taste.

But were civic improvements to become a general charge on the city, we may be told that a constant strug

gle would ensue for the location, as we see in Congress when rivers are to be improved, and in our Legislature when a penitentiary is to be constructed. Such struggles are, however, only for location, not for the construction of useless works. So in cities, the struggle would not be for useless improvements while the eyes of an interested community were gazing on the fraudful advocates. And, as an additional guard, every city should be limited in its annual expenditures to a given sum, to be annually ascertained by the vote of the people, as is now practised in country towns; or, if the sum is to be determined by the Legislature, it should be so small a per centage on the taxable property within the city as to leave no range for extravagance. Utica is limited now to an annual general tax of eight thousand dollars; but the power to burden by special tax is unlimited. This feature alone of our charter shows glaringly the inherent protective tendency of a common liability, and the inherent licentious tendency of withdrawing such protection from any portion of the community; hence the cogency of the crafty maxim, "divide and conquer;" for every whole can command justice by controlling at elections, and by remodelling, if necessary, the charter ; but the especially oppressed can appeal only to sympathy and abstract justice, while the principle that afflicts them (special taxation for public improvements) bribes all the rest of the community to stifle sympathy and disregard justice. Even a knowledge by every man, that he may in turn suffer a like oppression, moves but feebly where the impending evil is contingent and may be remote ; hence usually municipal legislators are left to an undisturbed control over the land-holders whom they may choose to victimize, while others look on with the philosophic calmness that is proverbial to men in the contemplation of

others' woes. The evil is fast detracting from the value of city property every where, while in places that are not vigorous in prosperity, real estate in many localities is worse than valueless; still, so few men are much affected by abstract considerations, that special grievances are the last to find redress. The great source of hope consists in the possibility that the evil may fall within the correction of some wholesome general principles that the coming State Convention may think proper to adopt ; as, for instance :*

First; That no land shall be compulsorily taken for any street, rail-road, canal, public highway, or other purpose, without full compensation to the owner for his land, and damage, irrespective of any benefit that may accrue to him or his remaining property by reason of the use to which the land is to be appropriated.

Secondly; That no person or property shall be compul. sorily assessed or taxed for any object, except ratably in common with all the persons or property within the community who shall order the tax or assessment.


In monarchies, all official powers are deemed emana. tions from the monarch, and therefore to be dispensed by his agency; hence, when our States and Nation began to form Constitutions, the absence of the kingly power required the origination of some new principle by which offices should be filled. The people occupied the throne of the monarch, but for them to exercise his appointing pre

• The first of the above clauses is now become the usual mode of assessment that the Legislature directe, when private property is to be taken for any public use.

rogatives, was too sudden a transition towards Democracy to find favor with the framers of our early governments. In the Convention which formed the United States Con. stitution, the people were freely characterized as too ignorant, and easily deluded, to vote in the selection of their immediate representative, the President, till by a process like the rectification of impure whiskey, their wishes were strained through a body of special electors. The inventors of this system little imagined that these wise special electors would almost immediately degenerate into mere automatons, to parrot only what the people should predetermine, and thus at their solemn meetings to enact a solemn farce; well watched also, to prevent the enacting of anything but a farce. The distrust thus avowed of the popular will has been gradually subsiding, till the people, like a minor king, are approaching the period when all regencies must end, and the appointing power be assumed by them as the rightful sovereign. Already in Mississippi every office is elective, from the highest judicial to the lowest executive, the whole people electing officers whose functions embrace the State, while local officers are elected by the respective localities.

Our early statesmen, by looking too intently on the intellectual defects of the people as an appointing power, looked not intently enough on the moral defects of individuals for such a duty. Experience has made us wiser. In the dead level of our actual equality, pride almost starves for something to feed on; hence all offices that can confer honor are ravenously sought; and when the offices confer emolument also, two of the fiercest of passions, avarice and ambition, become united, and their conjoint assaults make sad havoc with the abstract good intentions of the unpractised men, whom our institutions suddenly invest with

executive patronage, to say nothing of the personal temptations which beset a man when he can, by a legal exercise of his powers, exalt in wealth and station his kinsmen and adherents. The ablest Chancellor our country has produced,* and whose artlessness and purity were as eminent as his professional researches were profound, was still unable to refrain from bestowing on his brother the lucrative office of Register. He was only following the bad precedent of his predecessor, and foreshadowing in nearly all his suc. cessors a like practice, till such offices in all our courts are become a sort of sailors' snug harbor for valetudinary judges and their dependents. We may admit that our judges of law and equity have conferred on the country as much honor as the country has conferred on them, and given in righteous judgments more than an equivalent for their salaries. We may admit also, that a kinsman may discharge, as well as a stranger, the duties of his office; let, therefore, the recording angel blot out such records from Heaven's chancery, but to us the recollection may be permitted, as establishing the inherent unfitness of any man for the distribution of public honors and emoluments.

Our first Constitution sought a guarantee against the Governor's selfishness, by subjecting his appointments to the approval of four senators. This soon became unsatisfactory, and a constitutional amendment gave the four senators an appointing power conjointly with the Governor. Admonished, however, by numerous appointments founded on no public propriety, our present Constitution restored the appointing power to the Governor alone, but subjected it to the ratification of the Senate ; and, to further purify the source of honor, withdrew many appointments from the Executive, and scattered them to the Legislature and

# Chancellor Kent.

« ΠροηγούμενηΣυνέχεια »