Графични страници
PDF файл
ePub

value of the time. In the depression of business which followed the French and Indian war there was a universal demand for the retrenchmemt of expenditures, which took the form, as it commonly does in such cases, of a reduction of official salaries. They cut them all down, including the salaries of the parsons, which were made payable no longer in tobacco, unless it were reckoned at 2 pence a pound.

As long as that was about the value of tobacco, everybody was satisfied, including the parsons, until tobacco rose considerably, when they began to see the difference and raised a clamor so loud that it finally reached the ears of the Bishop of London, who induced the King to veto that act of the legislative assembly of Virginia. The parsons took the position that the act having been vetoed it became void, and, being duly advised by counsel, they began actions to recover the salaries due them and withheld without authority of law. The judges, who were appointees of the Crown, very promptly and, from a superficial legal standpoint, very properly decided that the King having retoed the act it was void, and all proceedings taken by virtue of it without legal effect, and that therefore the parsons had the right to recover. But having no jurisdiction at common law to render a verdict sounding in damages, they took a test case and sent it to the jury to determine the amount of the recovery.

At this point there appears upon the scene a strange and now almost fabulous figure, the most marvelous popular orator who ever spoke our tongue, Patrick Henry, a young Virginia lawyer, with his first important case in court. Tradition relates that he was awkward and ungainly in his appearance, and at first halting and lame in his speech, but that as he warmed with his theme he rose to a splendid level of eloquence, and when he had finished had made for his name an immortal place in the legends of patriotism and liberty. What he said also is fortunately preserved. He denied the right of the English Crown to reto an act of the colonial assembly in a matter in which the colony alone was concerned. “When the King of England,” said he, “in the interest of a privileged class, interposes the royal veto against an act of the assembly of Virginia in a matter relating exclusively to the affairs of the colony, he ceases to be a father of his people and degenerates into a tyrant who has forfeited all rights to obedience." **

There is the second half of the American Revolution in one sentence; and that Virginia jury, which patiently listened to the instructions of the court, quietly filed out into its retiring room without food or drink, water alone excepted, and immediately came back with a verdict for the plaintiff, assessing his damages at i cent, was far gone along the main road to the independence of the United States.

It was in the midst of little occurrences like these that we must seek the original draft of the Declaration of the Fourth of Juy, and nowhere among the colonies was this spirit of manly resistance more universal than among the people of the province of Maryland, where the CARROLLS and the HANSONS had for years given the weight of their names and the influence of their fortunes to the aspirations of the community toward a larger and a truer national life.

That aspiration found its first expression in an outburst against wrongs no longer tolerable; but if the grievances of the colonies had been the only cause of the Revolution, or even its most important motive, the opportunity was never lacking to settle the dispute on the basis of a full concession of all American claims. In fact, long before the war was over every objectionable act of Parliament had been repealed and every reasonable complaint redressed, so that it may be properly said that underlying all the abuses against which our fathers protested, and deeper than all the blunders of the King's ministers in dealing with men of their own race, lay the profound and intuitive purpose of the people to create a government of their own and to take into their own keeping

the principles of civil liberty, which were already a part of their inheritance.

The ideal which for more than a generation had filled all American hearts was realized in a measure when CHARLES CARROLL of Carrollton put his name down on the solemn parchment, in a larger measure when John HANSON, five years later, took his seat as President of the United States in Congress assembled, and in full measure at length when Washington, a deputy from Virginia, assumed the chair as president of the Convention which framed the Constitution.

For unless a government had been organized out of the chaos which followed Yorktown the war for independence would have enslaved the country and not made it free. These three charters, the Declaration, the Articles of Confederation, and the Constitution, have come to us scarred but not disfigured by the battles of more than a hundred years. The Articles of Confederation, whatever their defects, served their purpose while the war lasted, and though they illustrate the difficulty of founding governments and waging war at the same time, they stand as sufficient witness of that constructive genius which belongs to the English-speaking race.

The Constitution of the United States remains, in the words of Mr. Gladstone, "the most wonderful work ever struck off at a given time by the brain and purpose of man," while the Declaration of Independence, interpreted as it ought to be in the light' of our national history, is still the most priceless treasure in the political riches of the world. The Revolutionary government fell, under the enlightened criticism of the men who organized it, leaving John HANSON, its first President, so completely covered up in the débris that it required an act of the legislature of Maryland more than a hundred years afterwards to rescue his name from oblivion; while the Constitution which followed it had to lean awkwardly on the Farewell Address of Washington, the unrivaled common sense of Chief Justice Marshall, and the colossal intellect of Daniel Webster, until in the fullness of time the sword of Ulysses S. Grant gave it a fixed relation to the course of human events. [Applause in the galleries.] For in the last analysis the Army of the Potomac was the convention of 1787 under the head of “unfinished business.”

Over every field gathered the patriots of the Pevolution, for history must associate with the men who laid the foundations of the Republic in blessed comradeship forever with the unnumbered hosts of the volunteer army which answered the summons of Abraham Lincoln for the defense of the national life.

It can not be more important to be born than it is to live. The Constitution of the United States had hardly been ordained before a school of politics grew up which began to teach that any part of the country, when it so desired, could work the total wreck of our institutions by the simple expedient of withdrawing from any further participation in them. The doctrine, common to all sections, was an heirloom of the colonial period. In such a harness the colonies had gone through a century of Indian warfare and had sealed with their blood the independence of their country. It has sometimes been said that the doctrine of State sovereignty was the last desperate refuge of the slave power in America. On the contrary, it was the original fortress of public liberty in the United States. Our ancestors were only slowly habituated to look for the protection of their rights beyond the State which they could control to the nation which they could not control, and which they were only touched in a distant and unsatisfactory way.

That is exactly what Mr. Jefferson meant, in the days of the embargo, when he said: “I felt the foundations of the Government shaking under my feet by the New England townships." For, indeed, it was possible for an upheaval of local passion, or prejudice, or interest, to shake the foundations of the Government, during that long period when political factions were accustomed to enforce their decrees by secret hostility and even

open conspiracy against the national life. It remained for a later, and I soberly believe a better, generation to measure without despair the chaos of civil strife, to walk into it, to fight the way of the people through it, to lift up a spotless flag above it, and in the midst of the flame and the smoke of battle to renew the covenant of blood made by our fathers, that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

After nearly a century of doubt and uncertainty some things, at least, have been made secure. Not very long ago one of our most honored university presidents was reported to have said that unless certain poorly defined ideas of his own in' relation to the industrial life of our times prevail, within twenty-five years an emperor will be seated in the chair of Washington, while even in the Senate of the United States, the anxiety, sometimes real and sometimes pretended, has grown familiar by repetition, that the Government established by our fathers has broken away from its moorings and is now adrift upon high seas, headed toward the rocks, nobody knows where.

We ought to keep company with no such opinions. They belong to the blackness of the darkness of a past generation. From 1865 forward to eternity, whatever else happens, the American Republic shall live-live to answer the accusers of the people, live to vindicate the faith of our fathers, live to send forth the light of civil liberty to races not yet grown to the stature of freedom, and to nations yet unborn.

And not only has the Constitution of the United States had to contend with influences always adverse and sometimes malevolent in their hostility, but the Declaration of Independence has passed through vicissitudes hardly less perilous to its moral integrity. Mr. Jefferson originally wrote, “All men are created equal and independent." He then struck out the words “and independent,” leaving our sublime political dogma standing nakedly there, “All men are created equal.”

By that he did not inean that everybody comes into this

« ПредишнаНапред »