Графични страници
PDF файл

The interpretation of the self-evident truths proclaimed, was drawn from a heathen, and not from a Christian criterion: the authority of Christianity is scarcely recognized in our Constitutions, and was perhaps but little contemplated by the framers : the only revelation of principles by which the oppressive corruptions of the world can be dissolved, was utterly disregarded. An infusion of some of the ordinances of Judaism, repealed by Christ, was indeed mingled with the laws of some of the States; but when our revolutionary patriots felt the injustice of the feudal maxims, under which they suffered, and desired to throw off these venerated oppressions from their shoulders, they looked back to the fascinating republics of Greeco and Rome, for guidance to the security of their asserted rights. This delusion still continues; it pervades the public mind; for it is fostered by the influence of our leading statesmen, brought up under the dazzling impressions of classical tuition.

But these ancient republics had no true conception of political liberty ; their ideas of it were only the abrogation of all prerogative from birth or fortune, and the participation of the people at large in the creation and maintenance of government. The reservation of independent right to the citizen; the exemption of the individual from all unnecessary rule of the community--the only conditions of true political freedom----were never dreamed of. The dignity of man, as such, and the comforts of domestic and social relations, were alike sacrificed to public policy: patriotism was the paramount virtue; and the grandeur of the State was upheld by the submersion of the interests of humanity. That men were created "equal," was perceived; but not that they had “inalienable rights.” No! they were closely cemented portions of the republican temple ; passive particles of the popular vortex which carried them unresistingly along. Plain is the misnomer to call this " liberty : " the avowed despotism of hereditary sovereigns can never be more rigorous, more irresponsible, more irresistible, than the overwhelming tyranny of ephemeral chiefs, sustained by an admiring and deluded majority. Surely the truth of this proposition can no longer be disputed in this our self-lauded time and country we have mournful experience of this calamity; and yet its demonstrable origin is hidden from our eyes. We yet believe

that the institutions of our revolutionary fathers were the ne plus ultra of wisdom; and the evils inevitably consequent upon them, which we endure, are but temporary perversions.

That all men are created equal, and endowed with inalienable rights, are not self-evident propositions, for they have been ignored in all ages; and are yet unacknowledged by the greater part of mankind. In their true legitimate sense, they are yet discerned but by few. Our fathers came to them by a reasoning forced upon them by the circumstances of their case. Smarting under wrongs imposed upon them by the combined aristocracy and hierarchy of the parent land, they sought a general principle, which should obliterate permanent political distinctions, founded on birth, rank, or affluence; and by the language in which they declared this principle, they probably intended no more than an assertion of the innate equality of all political right among men; and this coinciding with the sentiments of the republics of antiquity, the institutions they formed were founded upon their example. They were however providentially led to a language, which truly comprises a deeper, juster, and more felicitous import; providentially, for the keen reforming spirit of the advancing age, discovering the unforeseen conformity of these alleged political axioms with the principles of the Gospel, will make them the basis of a peaceful revolution, far more radical and beneficent than that of our revolutionary patriots ; which shall throw off the heavier incubus they deemed essential to government, as they threw off the lighter one imposed by the throne of Britain.

Had our patriot fathers gathered the truths they called “selfevident," from the pages of the New Testament, interpreted them by the instructions of Christ, and cherished them in his spirit, the Constitutions they would have formed upon them would have been much more worthy of our reverence and obedi

The accumulated corruptions of tyrannical ages would have been shatterred to fragments, in the explosion they made of the divine right of kings, priests and nobles. This error was again providential, for the measure would have been premature; the age was not prepared for it. To have caused a political fabric to emerge at once from a chaos of prescriptive impositions, cleansed from their stains and imbued with Chris


tian justice, would have been an achievement too vast for human wisdom; and its purity would have been invisible to eyes not yet awakened from the torpor of servitude. The time has perhaps now arrived when the true principles of Christian policy should be laid open to the eyes of our countrymen. Political government is a necessary evil. That it is an

evil will be acknowledged by every clear-sighted philanthropist; that it is a necessity, will be held by every statesman, who, contemplating the selfish and disorderly passions of many men, sees in it the only refuge from violence, injury and wrong. That it has ever fully accomplished this, its professed object, will hardly be asserted by any intelligent observer. In view of its universal oppressions, such a one would not go far beyond the truth who should assert that in every nation it has only transferred the injury and wrong from individual to governmental action; for protection is everywhere given at the cost of liberty, and often of right: Eminent politicians hold that partial abrogation of human freedom is demanded for human safety; but a far greater part is usually taken than is requisite for this purpose ; and this is ever inadequate, as the most vigorous governments do not succeed in suppressing all the evils they are constituted to remedy.

But in truth, even this principle is not sincerely acted upon. In the formation of governments, the strength of the government, and not the safety of the citizen, has been the invariable object of solicitude. It is true that in our several Constitutions, provisions are made to protect individuals from illegal exercise of power,

in the administrators of the government, but none whatever to shield them from the tyranny of the laws themselves; and scarcely any to avert the oppression of a barbarous jurisdiction, originally formed to sustain the prerogatives of sovereigns, never assented to by the people, and yet having all the force of law. The legislation and jurisdiction of the United States are indeed expressly limited, but those of the States are only restricted by the grant to the general government; no reservation of political power is made in either to individual citizens.

Obvious and undeniable as is this fact, still the cry by which we delude ourselves and impose on foreign nations, is, that ours

is a government of the people; is sustained, regulated, and

may be changed by the people, and it is intended to be understood, that this people” is a majority of persons in the nation acting as individuals, but in concert and uniformity. The circumstance is overlooked, that with the diversity of human sentiments, no such accordance is possible; and no laws could be made by any such supposed concert, on unexpected subjects of a legislation, which is not permitted to the people; for they are only allowed to elect by vote the persons who are to frame and execute the laws. Even in the exercise of this power they are not free ; for, as if every citizen voted for the true representative of his opinions, no majority could be found, and consequently no laws enacted ; every citizen is under the necessity of voting for the nominee of his party leaders, whether preferred or not, for the sake of union. Except in some test issue of opposing parties, the voter cannot know the opinion of his candidate, on many of the objects for which he will be called to legislate ; nor can these representatives know the views of but a small portion of their constituents, on the laws they enact. It is probable that many of the laws made by Congress would not meet the full concurrence of but a small part of the people throughout the country, if their opinions could be separately and privately ascertained. It is a glaring fallacy to call this a self-government of the people by representation.

If, however, our government were truly one of a majority of the people by representation, it would still have failed to give security to the individual rights prefacing the Declaration of Independence ; for the legislation of the majority thus supposed to be represented, has no limits imposed upon it in favor of individual rights, or those of the minority who may dissent from such legislation, in any measures they may deem it expedient to enact. The democratic theory is that the majority of voters must have all rule; and when we consider that in all republican countries this majority is necessarily led by a few, we perceive that this democratic maxim is as fatal to individual freedom, as the autocracy of a despot. The common notion that a majority may be safely trusted not to make or permit any laws to oppress themselves as individuals, supposes a higher degree of popular intelligence and individual independence than anywhere exists; and the history of all countries, and none more than our own, fully disproves the fact.

Another consideration showing the failure of our republican institutions to secure the rights declared in our Declaration of Independence, is, that whatever may be the influence of the popular mind in shaping the laws made by its supposed representatives, these laws do in fact form but a minor part of the authority by which the people are governed. The action of legislation comes, for the most part, but indirectly and remotely on the people. Executive power indeed presses upon them, in conformity to the laws; but only on extraordinary occasions ; and sometimes with a severity which the laws do not contemplate. In the regulation of individual concerns, which government has usurped, and wherever private rights are invaded, the decision of all questions and the enforcement of all law rests with the judiciary. This is the power which comes in perpetual contact with the people, and which constitutes almost the whole of the government to them. But this branch of the government has never been revolutionized. No provision was made by our fathers to limit judicial action to the Constitutions and laws; and voluminous and perplexing as these laws often are as they cover but a small part of the judicial maxims considered as “settled,”-in far the greater proportion of cases, individual rights are determined and protected by what is termed “common law”-on which there is no legislation. If this common law is understood to mean a rational sense of justice in every intelligent mind, no better authority could be adduced for every private judgment; but unhappily no other common law is discernible by our judges, than the decisions established in the kingdom from which we seceded, which being overruled or influenced by regal authority, and designed chiefly for the security of governmental power, are but little suited to the principles on which our Revolution proceeded. We indeed exult in Magna Charta, and the trial by jury, called the bulwarks of British liberty ; but whatever advance of freedom these regulations may be on former royal supremacy, examination will show them to be as far behind the principles of our Revolution.

While therefore we boast of popular self-government, we are yet for


« ПредишнаНапред »