Графични страници
PDF файл
ePub

modities might soon become equal to the demand. In the rapid growth of this country the difficulties which are appalling to one generation, disappear in the next. So that it seems unnecessary to resort to the untried expedient recommended by Mr. Jefferson.

[ocr errors][merged small][merged small]
[merged small][ocr errors][merged small]

Mr. Jefferson's views of the Constitution of Virginia. Letter to Mr.

Kercheval. Distribution of power. Supposed wisdom of ancestors. Periodical revisions of the Constitution. The subsequent Constitution of Virginia compared with his views. Independence of the Judiciary. County Courts. Amendments of the Constitution. Public Debts. The right of representation for Slaves. Letter to Mr. Adams. System of Morals. Efforts to improve Education in Virginia. Central College. Legislative measures. Location of the University. Letter to Mr. Adams. Spanish America. Letter to Mr. Gallatin. Power to make Roads and Canals considered. Construction of the power to lay Taxes.

1815-1817.

Ever since the adoption of the constitution of Virginia, in 1776, there had been opposition to it, which had been incurred by the objections urged against it by Mr. Jefferson in his notes. One of the strongest grounds of complaint was the inequality of representation which it sanctioned, as every county in the state was represented by two members, while the population of some was ten times as great as that of others; and the small counties lay chiefly in the tidewater district. There had been repeated efforts to call a convention to revise this instrument, but the power which was complained of had been sufficient to defeat a measure by which that power would certainly be abridged. But in 1816, the western counties having been disappointed in obtaining charters for certain banks which had come into existence during the war, after the chartered banks suspended cash payments, and thinking that the measure would have succeeded if they had had their just weight in the legislature, they invited a convention of delegates for the purpose of taking measures to bring about a revision of the constitution. Mr. Jefferson, who had always, on principle, favoured this step, gave it his hearty support, and forgetting his party feelings on this occasion, or rather conceiving that they should have no influence in choosing the two deputies to the proposed convention at Staunton, voted for one federalist and one republican. His example was followed by most of the other voters.

While this project was in agitation, a gentleman from one of the western counties, Mr. Kercheval, sent him a pamphlet on the subject, and asked his views on a new constitution. He replied to this letter at great length, and may

be

supposed to have here given his deliberate opinion of what a state constitution ought to be.

He states his objections to the inequality of representation, to the restriction of the right of suffrage to freeholders, and to the independence of the judiciary. To correct these obvious defects, he says, “ it is only necessary to lay down true principles and to adhere to them inflexibly." That the truc foundation of republican government is," the equal right of every citizen, in his person and property, and in their management;" and that every provision should be tested by this principle.

According to this test, he thinks the right of suffrage should be extended to “every man who fights or pays.” The legislature should be chosen at short intervals. The number of its members reduced. The executive to be chosen by the people, also for short terms. The council should be abolished, which serves as a screen from responsibility. The judges should also be elected. This has been tried in Connecticut, where they are chosen every six months, and rarely changed. If from rooted prejudice they cannot be

so chosen, they should be removable on the concurrence of the legislative and executive branches. Nomination to office should be transferred to the executive from the legisture, where it produces intrigue, a corrupt barter of votes, and destroys responsibility by dividing it among a multitude:

For the county administrations, he recommends his favourite scheme of a division into wards. Each ward to choose its own justice, constable, a military company, a patrol, a school, one or more jurors, to have the care of their own poor, and their own portion of the public roads, and to take the votes of its inhabitants in all public elections. Ile thinks that these duties would then be better done than they are now, and that “ by making every citizen an acting member of the government, and in the offices nearest and most interesting to him, we would attach him by his strongest feelings to the independence of his country, and its repub. lican constitution.” The justices thus chosen were to constitute the county court.

“ These wards," he says, “correspond to the townships in New England,* the vital principle of their government, and the wisest invention ever devised by the wit of man.” There would then be a distribution of civil power, according to the following scale : 1. The general government for all concerns, foreign and federal. 2. That of the state for those general concerns which relate exclusively to our own citizens. 3. The county republics for the duties and concerns of the county. 4. The ward republics for the small but numerous and interesting concerns of the neighbourhood. His last provision is, periodical amendments to the constitution.

* The wards proposed by Mr. Jefferson no otherwise resemble the townships of New England, than that both are small subdivisions of a county; but the functions of the two, and consequently, their intluence, are entirely different. The power of each township extends only to its public roads and its poor, for which purpose, one or, at most, two meetings in the year are sufficient; whereas, in Mr. Jefferson's system, each ward would have, in addition, the right to elect its judicial and militia officers, to have charge of its public school, its police, and to take the votes at all public elections whatever. This would so add to the number of their meetings, and infuse so much more of interest and feeling in them, as to make them quite another thing, even supposing the several duties assigned these little communities were likely, in other respects, to be as well executed as they are in the modes now prevalent.

He is earnest in warning against the mischiefs of a public debt, which would eventually bring our people to labour sixteen hours a day; and he emphatically declares that we must make our election between economy and liberty, or profusion and servitude.

He adverts to a very common fallacy, in ascribing to those who have lived before us that superiority of wisdom which is given by age and experience; and there is the more merit in his observations, because the prepossessions of age are generally in favour of times that are past. “ Some men," he says,

“ look at constitutions with sanctimonious reverence, and deem them like the ark of the covenant, too sacred to be touched. They ascribe to the men of the preceding age a wisdom more than human, and suppose what they did to be beyond amendment. I knew that age well. I belonged to it, and laboured with it. It deserved well of its country. It : was very like the present, but without the experience of the present; and forty years of experience in government is worth a century of book reading; this they would say of themselves, were they to rise from the dead. I am certainly not an advocate for frequent and untried changes in laws and consti-, tutions. I think moderate imperfections had better be borne with ; because, when once known, we accommodate ourselves to them, and find practical means of correcting their ill effects. But I know also that laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened ; as new discoveries are made, new truths disclosed, and manners and opinions change with the change of circumstances, institutions must

« ПредишнаНапред »