Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

single state and no combination of states should acquire an undue ascendancy over the rest. There is a tendency to that effect in all confederated states. It is well known that, in former times, Holland possessed such an ascendancy in the confederation of the United Netherlands, and the Canton of Berne in that of Switzerland. At this day Austria predominates in confederated Germany, and her will is the law of the less powerful states; the struggles of Athens and Sparta for the supremacy over the republics of Greece, and the bloody wars to which they gave rise, can never be forgotten. The same danger threatens us unless ambitious states are prevented from rising above the others. Our states are, with few exceptions, nearly equal in territory; but there is a great difference in their means of acquiring riches, and that difference arises from certain natural advantages. Riches give influence and influence leads to power. The means by which it may be acquired are sufficiently obvious. Money is the great engine by which such a purpose is usually effected, and there is no knowing what might not be done by a monied institution, with a large capital, wielded by a great, rich and ambitious state. The bank of Amsterdam did not contribute a little to the ascendancy of Holland over the states of the Dutch Union. A State Bank may produce the same effect among us, unless it be checked by the financial power of the nation. In what form, or under what modifications and restrictions a National Bank should be established to prevent its becoming danger

ous to the creating power or to the country, it is not my business to consider. A wise and prudent legislation is all that is required for that purpose.

I have, in like manner, ventured to express my opinion on some minor points, and have abstained from the consideration of others. I have said nothing on the questions which have been lately stirred, and which happily appear now to be at rest. I have not inquired whether a state can secede from the Union, or of its own authority declare an act of congress null and void. I feared lest the shade of Washington should frown

upon me.*

Neither have I said anything respecting the question so often agitated, whether the constitution should be construed strictly or liberally? All I have to say on this subject is that I think it should be construed fairly and honestly, always keeping in view the objects for which it was made.

On a general view of the instrument and a retrospection of the events that have taken place since it has been in operation, I have come to the conclusion, that there is no danger of our Union's degenerating into a consolidated government over this extensive country, and consequently of its destroying the exist

* See Washington's Farewell Address in the Appendix.

ence of the states, as independent communities within the limits to them prescribed; there is much more danger, on the contrary, of a dissolution of that admirable Union, the pride of our land and the envy of all the world besides. The organization of the general government, and the powers which the states have reserved to themselves, are not only sufficient to secure the independent existence of the latter, but recent events have shown that they are even possessed of the means to make themselves formidable to those who might attempt to encroach upon their constitutional rights. What has been done by a single state, when nothing more than a doubtful local interest was in question, shows what might be done by a combination of states, if more serious disturbances should take place.

I have shown in this essay, that the general government cannot be conveniently administered in all its details, without the aid of the state authorities. This I have called the auxiliary system, which is one of the foundations on which our Union rests. Take that foundation away, and the whole machine will be disorganized. An attempt on the part of congress to exercise all its powers by means of its own officers, spread like locusts in swarms through our land, would unavoidably fail. Its security depends on its being formidable abroad, strong and respected at home, but felt as little as possible by the individual citizens. The moment it shall attempt to grasp at more, a dissolution of the

Union will be at hand. It is, no doubt, under this impression that congress have confided to the state courts the power of naturalization and other judicial powers, that they have avoided laying direct taxes, except in cases of great necessity, and in collecting them the state assessments have been generally adopted as a basis of computation. An excise law once produced an insurrection in Pennsylvania; the like has not been attempted ever since. These powers, undoubtedly, are vested in the national government; but not to be rashly or wantonly used. Upon the whole, a mutual dependence exists between the Union and the states, without which the former cannot be preserved. When differences have arisen between the general and the state governments, conciliation has been found the most effectual means of settling them. The constitution itself is the result of compromise, and is best preserved by the same means by which it has been obtained. May heaven avert for many ages, the fatal period when our differences shall have to be settled by brutal force! Between powers so nicely balanced, a collision is ever to be dreaded.

An intelligent foreigner, after perusing these sheets, made the following remark: "Your constitution was made for a virtuous people; but it will not suit any other." Let us, then, continue to be virtuous, and we may hope to be long united, happy and free

With these few observations, I submit this little work to the impartial public. I have endeavoured to give a view of the constitution as I understand it, without regard to party opinions, and much less to party interests: these are transient; but truth and reason are eternal. I have written for the rising generation; I have spoken to them the language which I firmly believe they or their descendants will one day hear from posterity.

« ZurückWeiter »