« ZurückWeiter »
I have considered the constitution and its amendments as one instrument; and therefore I have not generally distinguished the provisions of the former from those of the latter. A reference to the text will show the sources whence my positions are derived. The student should make himself familiar with it. This work is only intended to facilitate its study, and to give a general view of it to those who do not wish to go farther. I believe that the text and the works of its able commentators, will be studied with more ease after reading this little tract than they would be without it.
I bave, as much as possible, used the words and phraseology of the constitution in stating its contents; but the reader will easily perceive that it was not always in my power so to do consistently with the arrangement which I have adopted. But I have never knowingly, at least, varied from the exact sense.
Such is the plan I have pursued, and which I submit to the candour and indulgence of my readers.
Having thus explained the design of this essay, and the method which I have followed, I hope I shall be excused, if I subjoin a few reflections, which an attentive study of our constitution and forty-five years' experience under it, have suggested to me. It will be remembered that I write principally for youth, that they may be enabled, when they grow up to manhood,
to avoid the errors which experience has shown us to be the most dangerous to the permanency of our Union.
The duration of empires has been considered by statesmen and patriots in all countries and in all ages, as the most important object to which the policy of nations should be directed. Esto perpetua, was the last fervent wish of the excellent Father Paul, on behalf of bis beloved Venice. It was also the last wish of our illustri. ous Washington. It breathes through every line of his admirable Farewell Address to the people of the United States. Therefore, the first and last wish of every good citizen, is or ought to be the perpetuity of our Union. It has not yet lasted half a century; and during that short period, it has sustained many shocks that have endangered its existence. Those dangers have been surmounted by the good sense and the virtue of the people; but the political, like the natural body, is not immortal, and it will sink at last, if efficient means are not taken to prevent the recurrence of those disorders, which gradually weaken it, and must at last operate its dissolution.
The cause of those disorders is chiefly to be traced to the too great prevalence of party spirit. I admit that parties, when kept within moderate bounds, are a wholesome ingredient in a free community; but they are a deadly poison, when carried to excess; particularly when they are not so much founded on the difference of political opinions, as on a blind attachment to popular leaders. The Roman republic was near
her fall, when parties came to be distinguished by the names of Sylla and Marius, and of Cæsar and Pompey. Those leaders usurped all the power, and were followed by a succession of tyrants. In the bright days of our commonwealth, we never heard of Washingtonmen, nor of Adams, Jefferson or Madison-men. The true republican citizen is neither of Paul nor of Apollos;* he is no man's man; he is his country's man and his own man. No man, however great or illustrious, should be identified with virtues or with principles. It leads in religion to idolatry, and in politics to submission to despotism.
Among the evil consequences which follow from party spirit carried to excess, is a lamentable fluctua. tion in the maxims and policy of the government. These suddenly change, as one party obtains the ascendancy over the other, and foreigners, as well as citizens, do not know any more what to rely on. The decrees of legislative assemblies, the decisions of supreme tribunals, a long acquiescence in those decrees and decisions; all those things are set at nought to serve the views of party leaders. The country must be again agitated with questions which were believed to be at rest, to be agitated again when the opposite party shall have acquired the supremacy. It is impossible, that amidst such frequent changes, a country should long continue to be happy at home and respectable abroad.
* 1 Cor. 1. xii.
The mischievous effects of a mutable policy in a republic, are well depicted in the 62d number of the Federalist. “Those," says the eloquent writer, “would fill a volume. It forfeits the respect and confidence of other nations, lays us open to their intrigues, and make us a prey to those who have an interest in speculating on our fluctuating councils and embarrassed affairs. At home it destroys confidence in our government, kills the spirit of enterprise, which no longer knows on what to rely; and what is most deplorable is that diminution of reverence and attachment which steals into the hearts of the people, towards a political system which betrays so many marks of infirmity, and disappoints so many of their flattering hopes. No government, any more than an individual, will be long respected, without being truly respectable, nor be truly respectable without order and stability.”
I have abridged this admirable passage, and recommend to the reader to turn to the original, which will well repay his trouble. I regret to be obliged to say that we have experienced more than once this fluctuation of policy, and that at this moment we are again in danger of suffering from its baneful effects. Questions have been and are still agitated that make us tremble for the stability of our institutions.
Standing as I do, unconnected with any party, I have not hesitated, when occasion has offered, to ex
press my opinion freely on some of those points. On one particularly, the renewed discussion of which, after a long acquiescence, agitates the country from one end to the other, I have thought it my duty, as a constitutional writer, to be clear and explicit. I allude to the subject of a National Bank. Its constitutionality I have long considered as settled by the competent authorities, and acquiesced in by the people at large; of its expediency I am fully convinced. I consider it necessary under our form of government not only to regulate the currency, chiefly consisting of bills of credit, issued under the authority of twenty-four different states, but also to preserve a due equality among those states. As the subject, to my knowledge, has not yet been presented in this last point of view, I hope I shall be excused if I explain myself somewhat more at large
One of the objects of our constitution is to maintain equality among the states, as that of the state constitutions is to preserve it among the individuals that compose them. With this view, no doubt, the senate has been established, and republican forms of government are mutually guaranteed. The principle of equality which these imply is not less necessary among United or confederated states than among individual citizens. These United States are advancing in power and riches to an astonishing, but not in an equal degree. The constitution was intended to be so organized that no