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ny—it would be better to change them by introducing other manners and other customs.” A certain adaptation indeed, must exist between the laws of any people and its manners—that is, between its laws and its habits and modes of thinking and acting in the various domestic, social and political relations of life; and if, in some small degree, its laws may be made subservient to the salutary purpose of restraining or correcting the baneful excesses of its manners, so on the other hand, those manners will react, with a far more powerful control, upon its positive and legal institutions. In the most arbitrary governments, even where the property and the life of the miserable subject may be dependent upon the ungoverned caprice of the reigning despot, he will seldom dare a sudden subversion of the general customs of his people. What odious excesses of fury, for example, what inhuman acts of tyranny, where daily and habitually committed by the czars of Russia? Whose life or liberty, among their wide spread subjects, was for a moment safe? And yet the body of the people, with such scenes continually transacting before them, remained uninoved and quiescent. But when in a moment of puerile caprice, one of its most powerful monarchs descended to the regulation of the costume of his servile people—when, by an imperial ukase, he sought to determine the length of the beard they might be permitted to wear, the whole empire was convulsed! The throne itself, though placed apparently upon a rock, was shaken to its centre. The offence was expiated only by the life of the powerful autocrat.
If the illustration be deemed a strong one, there are not wanting multitudes of others in the history of every nation, which go clearly to demonstrate tie important fact, that the general manners and habits of a people are more powerful than its laws; that they form the substratum upon which its system of laws is, and must be built.
* * * * “Quid leges sine moribus, Vance proficient 4"
If, in governments purely despotic, the manners and customs of the people are of so transcendent power, what may be said of their far more powerful influence in governments founded alone on public opinion ?—in governments where the only sanction of the law is in public opinion; where the judge, and the public officer of every grade, is sustained in his authority, almost alone by public opinion;–in governments where, among all the influences that regulate the operations of society, that same public opinion can alone claim an equality and community of power with the established manners and customs of the nation, and which alone, while it is itself reacted upon, may nevertheless claim some power to remodel and change them But abating much
from the force to which these considerations may be entitled, admitting even that there is a self-sustaining power in the law, adequate to the high purpose of subverting, by slow degrees, even the established manners and customs of a people, it remains to consider, how far laws of this character consist well with the spirit of the constitution and the fundamental institutions of our country 7 A most eminent and philosophical statesman, in speaking of the great and absorbing commercial interests of Great Britain, remarks, that every regulation of trade is, in itself, a restriction of a previously existing and natural right; and thence deduces the maxim that none should be established but such as some extraordinary and preponderating motive may render indispensable. If this proposition be sound. (and of that not a doubt probably will exist) how much more emphatically does it apply to those laws which enter into the individual concerns and domestic economy of the citizen? No prudent legislator would consent to pass laws of this description, how much soever the exigency may seem to recommend them, unless they can be made fully effectual to subserve the purposes intended by them. But to subserve such purposes, they must necessarily contain much detail, and provide severe penalties. They must go forth fully armed. Now would laws so restrictive of natural right, harmonize with the free institutions of our country? Must the length of our coats, the sashion of our whiskers, the temper of our drinks, and the quality of our food, be indeed prescribed for us; (for, if the legislature may dictate in respect to the one, so may they as regards the other,) and, as the appropriate, and perhaps necessary accompaniments of such laws, are our individual affairs to be inquired into, and our domestic circles invaded by appointed officers of police 1 That honest pride of personal independence which so eminently and happily characterizes the American citizen, would surely remonstrate against such efforts of nower. And the genius of a well regulated liberty, unless stimulated to instant revolt, would shrink dismayed and appalled before these insignia of despotism Your committee, discarding from their consideration, for the moment, the specified evil, the existence of which has led to this application, looking at the original principles upon which all sumptuary laws must be founded, so offensive to civil liberty— considering their obnoxious tendencies and the dangerous methods, so open to abuse, by which they are usually enforced—your committee have arrived at the conclusion already indicated at the commencement of this report; which conclusion is, that in the opinion of your committee, it is not expedient, at this time, nor until a more decisive demonstration of the public will, to
repeal the “license law,” (so called) nor to devise at present any legislative prohibition against the use of inebriating liquors. But, although they have felt compelled, by a sense of duty, to report adversely to the prayer of the memorial, they nevertheless avail themselves of the occasion to express their unqualified respect for the motives which have led to its presentation—motives which have for their high aim the suppression of a vice against which the most severe and penal laws have heretofore, in other countries, been passed in vain—a vice which indiscriminately assails the poor and the rich, the learned and the unlearned; and against which neither intelligence, nor character, nor genius, nor public honors, have heretofore been found to interpose a sufficient barrier. But your committee have the satisfaction to discover in the very application itself, so numerously signed, signal evidence that the evil complained of, and which they fondly believe was never in a great degree prevalent among us, has already begun to decrease. They perceive in it, that public opinion, the only adequate corrective, is in earnest aroused, and that its resistless efforts are directed to its extermination. Stimulated as that public opinion is and must be, by the examples of good men, by the labors of voluntary associations, by the powerful efforts of the pulpit, and especially by the unceasing vigilance and benignant influences of maternal affection, (so efficacious in forming the principles, the habits and the character of after life,) its progress will be onward, until in the end, by the blessings of Providence, success shall have crowned its efforts.
Report of the Committee on State Affairs upon the petition of Thos. Comfort, and others.
The committee on state affairs, to whom was referred the memorial of Thomas Comfort, and others, have, according to the order of the Senate, had the same under consideration.
The memorialists advance the well founded opinion, that the stability of our institutions, and the perpetuity of our systems of government, depend chiefly, (and it would have been correct to say entirely) upon the virtue, morality and intelligence of our citizens; and hence, they inser, that as the guardians, for the time being,of the public welfare, it becomes the duty of this legislature to provide against, and so far as may be possible, to suppress every practice which may be demoralizing in its influences, or which may in any wise tend to superinduce a contempt for the law or lessen that salutary veneration for the precepts and institutions of
our holy religion, which has hitherto prevailed. Assuming this view, as the basis of their application, they next advert to a practice which they suppose the agents of this state have established, of running the cars of the state upon the state railroads on Sundays; and of transacting every variety of business incidental to that operation, without discrimination, on that as well as on any other day. Deprecating a practice offensive to the spirit of our statutory cnactments, and to the probable wishes and to the moral sentiment of the community, and so grossly in violation of the injunctions of revealed religion, the memorialists pray that effectual measures may be taken to suppress it, and to prevent its recurrence. Such is the tenor of the memorial. Its reasoning seems to your committee, sound and conclusive. The moral sentiment which it breathes is pure, and is entitled to the unqualified respect of this legislature. “Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity,” says the Father of his Country, in his farewell address “religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of patriotism who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of men and citizens. The mere politician, equally with the pious man, ought to respect and to cherish them. A volume would not trace all their connections with private and public felicity.” Such, on this head, were the sentiments of Washington. It has long been received as an axiom in political philosophy, that virtue constitutes the vital principle of all free governments. But all experience also warrants the assertion, that national virtue cannot long endure, unless grounded upon religion—unless strengthened, sustained and invigorated by religious principles, by a deep sense of religious responsibility. Whatsoever, then, shakes the essential principles of religion, undermines that national virtue; civil liberty is soon turned into licentiousness, and the republic is destroyed The forms of freedom may, indeed, for a time survive, but they remain as a shadow and a mockery—the substance is gone ! But we may not by statutory enactments, attempt to establish a religion—we may not even attempt to vary the principles or the forms of that we find established; that would be interfering with the rights of conscience and the freedom of opinion, which the constitution forbids. But there is another, and perhaps a stronger reason; it would be assuming to do that, which the body of the people of the nation has reserved to itself to do—that is, to fashion its own habits of thinking and acting in individual and social life.
Your committee have recently had occasion to advance the proposition, “that the manners of a people, (that is, those customs and habits of thought and action, which practically control the conduct and intercourse of men in society,) are more powersul than its positive laws;” for that those are established by the whole body of the nation, and can in general be changed, only by slow degrees, and by that power only which establishes them. But the positive laws of a community are but the temporary and perhaps arbitrary dictates of that small number of men, with whom, for the time being, the law-making power may be lodged; they may be made to-day, and varied or revoked to-morrow. Salutary laws then, will follow the manners of a nation, being grounded upon and having reference to them as they exist: sometimes, indeed, checking their dangerous excesses, and by cautious and well tempered provisions, restraining their baneful irregularities. But this should be the general limit of the law-making power. To undertake to subvert them suddenly by an act of legislation, would be as vain as it would prove dangerous. The true province then, of the law is, to protect and enforce the existing customs of the body of the nation, and if those customs and habits of thought and action, partake happily of a religious character, it becomes the emphatic duty of the law-making power to respect and sustain them; making them, to the utmost practicable extent, subservient to the public safety and the public happiness.
Such are the principles, and such the sanctions upon which your existing laws are founded, which regard the observance of the Sabbath—an institution, which, whether it be regarded as of divine origin, and therefore entitled to observance, or, as an institution conducive in a high degree to the comfort of man, and the prosperity and happiness of society, is most assuredly entitled to be cherished and supported by the public authorities, and by all who have the public good at heart. If, then, in contravention of the sentiments herein expressed, as well as in violation of the spirit of our laws, the agents of this state or any of them, should, without any peculiar exigency to require it, have adopted and continued the practice of running the cars upon the railroads of this state on Sundays, and without discrimination, as on any other day, and of transacting on that day all the business incident to that operation as on any other day, your committee cannot hesitate to say, that such a practice ought to receive the decided disapprobation of the Senate, and that its continuance ought to be forthwith prohibited by law.
Your committee, therefore, in accordance with these views, have prepared a bill, which, with this report, they respectfully submit for the consideration of the senate.