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IN addition to “an infinite capacity for taking pains,” a Macaulay-like memory, the precision of a lawyer and dialectician, the enthusiasm born of a profound reverence for the Federal Constitution, a close intimacy with many of our greatest statesmen, lawyers, and judges, Mr. George Ticknor Curtis possessed the power of taking broad historical and philosophical views, in a true judicial temper, and of expressing them with remarkable force and clearness. The gravity, sincerity, precision, directness, and simplicity of his diction—scarcely modern—and his exhaustive knowledge of his noble subject, pre-eminently qualified him for writing the History of the Constitution of the United States, a history which appeals to the general reader and intelligent citizen as well as to the professional student of public affairs and Constitutional Law. In 1854, Mr. Curtis's “History of the Constitution of the United States” first appeared—in two volumes. It at once became a standard “authority,” and a worthy companion to “Story on the Constitution,” and has been often cited with respect and approval by the Supreme Court; and all publicists have conceded its fairness and trustworthiness, although some of them have not been able to agree with its conclusions on every point of theory or of interpretation. In 1889, he issued a revised edition in one volume, and announced, as in preparation, a second volume in continuation of the work originally published. The prospectus said: “The first volume of this work contains the whole of Mr. Curtis's ‘History of the Origin, Formation, and Adoption of the Constitution of the United States, with Notices of its Principal Framers, which was first published by this house more than thirty years ago. The first volume of the new book has its separate Index. The author has carefully revised his former work on the formation and adoption of the Constitution. “The second volume, now in preparation, will have its own Index, and will be divided into fourteen chapters. The author explains in his Preface his reason for grouping together in these several chapters the topics to which they relate, instead of giving the Constitutional History of the United States in a strictly chronological order. “The period covered by the second volume is from the adoption of the Constitution to the close of the Civil War—three quarters of a century. In fact, the volume embraces the Constitutional History of the country for about a century, since it describes all the changes that have followed the Civil War or that accompanied it, as well as those which preceded it. The following are some of the topics treated in the second volume: History of Opinion and Belief concerning the Nature of the Constitution; the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions of 1798; the Federalists of New England and the Hartford Convention; Nullification, how distinguished from Secession; Webster and Calhoun, as Representatives of Opposite Theories; Renunciation of the Constitution by the Early Founders of the Anti-Slavery Societies; the History of Secession; the South Carolina Ordinance; Why Secession is Revolution; True Justification of the Federal Government in the Prosecution of the Civil War; Views of the Friends and Opponents of the Constitution at the time of its Adoption Concurred in Regard to its Nature; Hamilton as a Representative of the former, Patrick Henry of the latter; their Respective Opinions of the Necessity for a Bill of Rights; Necessity of Organic Laws to Supply the Machinery of the New Government; Mode of Choosing the President; his Constitutional Functions; ‘Counting’ the Electoral Votes; Washington's Acceptance of the First Presidency; Earliest Precedent of ‘Counting’ the Electoral Vote; Inauguration of the President and Vice-President; Power of Removal from Office; President's Salary; Question of a Title for the President; the Ten Amendments of the Constitution adopted in 1789–91; Why they were Demanded, and why they were Proposed; the First Revenue Law of the United States; How far “Protection' was deemed Obligatory; Organization of the Judicial and Executive Departments; Executive Interpretations of the Constitution during Washington's Administration; Admission of New States; History and Purpose of the Territorial Clause; Rise, Progress, and Consequences of the Anti-Slavery Agitation; Counter Pro-Slavery Tendencies; Causes of the Civil War and its True Issues; Constitutional Doctrines of President Lincoln's Administration; Close of the War; ‘Reconstruction’ of the Southern States; the New Amendments, whether they were in Accordance with the Amending Power; Limitations of that Power; Judicial Interpretations of the New Amendments; How the Constitution was Left when the War was Ended and a Final Settlement of its Issues had been Reached; Conclusions to be Drawn Respecting the Permanency of our Present Political Institutions. “A more detailed description of the contents of the second volume cannot be given in this circular. It is believed that every important event and topic in the Constitutional History of the United States since the adoption of the Constitution has been considered, impartially and fairly. “In this labor the writer has been occupied for twenty years, aiming to condense into one volume the Constitutional History of the country for the first century of its present government, and distinguishing Constitutional History from Constitutional Law.” Mr. Curtis's death on the 28th day of March, 1894, was very sudden, although he had entered the eighty-second year of a life made illustrious by many contributions to the permanent literature of his country in the fields of Law, Biography, and History. Among his papers was found a large quantity of manuscript relating to the proposed second volume, for the publication of which he had contracted with Harper & Brothers. When the family of Mr. Curtis—believing that I was familiar with his modes of thought and expression, as well through long personal acquaintance as through the study of his notable biographies of Daniel Webster, Benjamin R. Curtis, and James Buchanan, and of his other writings—made a suggestion to that effect, the publishers placed the manuscript in my hands, in order that it might be prepared for publication. Of course I have endeavored to perform this grateful duty with entire fidelity to the views of the author, and have not felt at liberty to make any substantial change in, or addition to, the text. In the somewhat confused mass of manuscript were found, more or less complete, thirteen of the chapters referred to in the prospectus; and also some disjecta membra relating to the other proposed chapters; there were also many notes and memoranda. I have, therefore, aside from the preparation of the Appendix, as an apparatus for students, and sundry notes duly identified, attempted but little more than editorial work—supplying omissions, verifying dates, names, and citations, and correcting errors of copyists, slips of the pen, and the like—and, so far as I could, putting the posthumous material in condition for publication.
The merit of the author will excuse the incompleteness of some of the chapters—thirteen of them are complete as far as they go; in two or three some announced topics were not reached when the manuscript abruptly ended.
The character and style of the first volume are so well known that I see no occasion in a Preface to the second volume to differentiate Mr. Curtis's views and methods from those of other writers on the same subject, or to comment upon them.
The Appendix contains some detached writings of Mr. Curtis, cognate to the main work; also a number of important historical documents considered in Wols. I. and II., and an annotated copy of the Constitution; and a short Bibliographic list, some notes, etc., by the editor. Vol. II. has its own Index.
Although this volume lacks the great advantage of its author's final revision and finishing touch, I am well persuaded that it will be found to be a not unworthy companion to the first volume, and a welcome addition to the literature of our Federal Constitution—Charta mazima, lua libertatis praeclara.
J. C. C.
SUMMIT, N. J., August, 1896.