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It is peace and prosperity, not war and adversity, that are most dangerous to à republic. With the exception of the insignificant and inconclusive war with England, from 1812 to 1815, we have had nothing deserving the name of war since the Revolution. Had a war broken out between the United States and some foreign power before the commencement of the present rebellion, it would most probably have saved us from internal strife. It is to faction and disunion a republic is most likely to become a prey,
in period of peace and prosperity, and foreign war hushes the voice of faction and unites the people. Even this civil war will have a salutary effect upon the country, by giving a mortal blow to the corruption which has grown so strong from impunity, owing to the facility which the institutions and resources of the country present for making money, and to the general eagerness of competitors in the race. If the struggle with rebellion should be crowned with success, as the developments of the campaign now indicate, the Union will be cemented more firmly than ever, and a new and a long lease of national life will be guaranteed to the republic. But if a dissolution should be the result of the war, and that two confederacies should be established instead of one, American democracy would not thereby be ended, but only the territorial extent of the United States diminished. The free States and the territories, which lie west of them, comprise an area measuring half of Europe. Democracy is not overthrown, but a particular form of it called in question. Our present Federal system differs in some important respects from every other which preceded it in the history of the world. It was regarded at the time it was adopted, by some of the ablest and wisest men of the period, as “ an experiment," an experiment not merely to determine whether universal suffrage and the largest liberty are compatible with order and a strong central government, but to ascertain whether two systems of civilization could exist in harmony in the same republic. Had the population been entirely homogeneous, and had no conflicting interests existed, depending upon climate and geographical lines, the task of forming a constitution would have been easy to men, who so thoroughly understood and so devotedly championed the principles of human liberty. But this was not the case, and a different constitution was adopted from that which otherwise would have emanated from the signers of the Declaration of Independ
ence. It was founded on compromise. Its authors did not assume that it was perfect. Far from it, they knew its defects, but it was the best they could have made under all the circumstances, and it cost not a single drop of human blood. George Washington, the president of the convention that adopted the Constitution, thus writes of it immediately after the completion of the work :*
“The various and opposite interests which were to be conciliated, the local prejudices which were to be subdued, the diversity of opinions and sentiments which were to be reconciled, and, in fine, the sacrifices which were necessary to be made, on all sides, for the general welfare, combined to make it a work of so intricate and difficult a nature, that I think it is much to be wondered at, that anything could have been produced with such unanimity, as the Constitution proposed.” “I do most firinly believe that, in the aggregate, it is the best constitution that can be obtained at this epoch; and that this, or a dissolution of the Union,t awaits our choice, and is the only alternative before us."
Again in 1790, after all the States had ratified the Constitution, and he had become first President of the United States : “ The establishment of our new government seemed to be the last great experiment for promoting human happiness by a reasonable compact in civil society. It was to be, in the first instance, in a considerable degree, a government of accommodation, as well as a government of laws.”
The Constitution of which the “Father of his Country" thus speaks is not like the laws of the Medes and Persians, which altered not. It makes provision for its own amendment, and, since its adoption, twelve amendments have been actually made, and a thirteenth was proposed at the Second Session of the Eleventh Congress, but, not having been ratified by a sufficient number of the States, it did not become a part of the fundamental law. Congress, whenever twothirds of both Houses deem it necessary, is enjoined to
propose further amendments, or, on application of the Legislatures of two thirds of the several States, to call a convertion for proposing amendments, which, in either case, shall be valid, to all intents and purposes, as part of the Constitution, when ratified by the Legislatures of three fourths of the several States, or by conventions in three fourths thereof, as the
See Sparks' Life of Washington.
† This expression shows that “the Union" existed before the present Constitution, under another, which did not work well. It may be found necessary to introduce new changes, to preserve the Union.
one or other mode of ratification may be proposed by Congress. Had Congress, two years, or even fourteen months, ago, in the spirit of Washington's letter, proposed such amendments as would have loosed the Gordian knot of the vexed question which has agitated the country for the last few years, the Union might now be intact, and civil war still unknown to this once happy land. It is now too late to solve the difficulty in this peaceful manner. But when the contest of the sword is terminated, there is no reason why the Constitution should not be amended so as to harmonize with the altered circumstances of the country. There is only one limitation to amendments, and that is, that “no State, without its consent, shall be deprived of its equal suffrage in the Senate.”
It was not in a day that the English Constitution was formed. It is the growth of centuries-now a little and then a little, and most of it at the expense of sanguinary wars. The American Constitution is also of slow growth; for, though it was put together by the labors of a single Convention, in less than four months, its principles and provisions were the fruits of the experience of many generations, and in good part it already existed in the constitutions and laws of the Colonies. Indeed, the Constitution of 1787 contains only two or three improvements upon the “ Articles of Confederation,” adopted ten years before-improvements which time pointed out as necessary. The American system is, like the oak, of slow growth, but of great strength. It does not date from the war of the Revolution, nor from the Declaration of Independence, nor from the adoption of the present Constitution. It is coeval with the foundation of the Colonies. It is the democratic element of Anglo-Saxon institutions, segregated and transplanted in the New World, without being choked by an overmastering growth of aristocracy. The English acorn has found here a more congenial soil and climate than its own, and has become indigenous, producing a tree of goodly stature and of wide-spreading branches. It is the growth of nearly two hundred and fifty years. No sooner had the Pilgrims landed, in 1620, than they adopted a brief Constitution, which was a basis of liberty, or Magna Charta, upon which the lofty superstructure was afterwards raised. In the year 1641, the General Assembly of Rhode Island unanimously declared that the government of the Colony was a democracy, and that the
power was vested in the body of free citizens, who alone had the right to make the laws and watch their execution.* “In the laws of Connecticut, as well as in all those of New England,” says M. De Tocqueville, “ we find the germ and gradual development of that township independence, which is the life and mainspring of American liberty at the present
At the period of the first migrations, the parish systemthat fruitful root of free institutions—was deeply embedded in the habits of the English, and with it the doctrine of the sovereignty of the people had been introduced even into the bosom of the monarchy of the House of Tudor.
Thus the English parish became at the North the American township, while at the South it still retains its old name. It is the basis of our whole political system. Here the people are the only source of power, and the popular action is immediate and direct. The county organization is the next story in the edifice; then follows the State, and the Federal Government is the capstone which surmounts and binds the whole.
Even the idea of the confederation of all the colonies, which was realized in the Revolution, and afterwards carried out into “ a more perfect Union," originated with the Puritans. As early as 1643, only twenty-three years after the arrival of the Mayflower, a confederation of the colonies of New England was formed for offence and defence, leaving to each its own government, while the common affairs of the league were managed by a congress, consisting of two commissioners from each community. These were the colonies of Plymouth, Massachusetts, Connecticut and New Haven. They declared their confederation to be perpetual, and styled it « The United Colonies of New England.” Here is, evidently, the germ of the “ Articles of Confederation” of all the Colonies in 1777, also declared to be “perpetual,” and of the Constitution of the United States in 1787.
It will be perceived that the confederacy which existed for about half a century was not a government, but a league, and as such was a good model. But the defects in the system, for the purposes of general government, were: 1st. The want of a central executive, to act upon the whole. 2d. The want of a general judiciary, to adjudicate between
the several members, or between any of the members and the whole confederacy. 3d. The want of a general power to obtain credit or emit money.
It is worthy of remark, that the last provision in this league shows that it never entered into the heads of people then, that it was competent for one party to a compact to make itself a judge of its own breaches of it; on the contrary, it was provided that such breaches should be judged of by the pther members of the confederacy. It was reserved for a much later period of history, and for an effort of political ingenuity, to devise a mode by which a party to a contract can at once make itself judge of its own violations of it and nullify at pleasure its provisions.
This league of the United Colonies, though inefficient for the purposes of an independent general government, was, nevertheless, the first step to it; and it was only overlooked by the mother country in consequence of her civil wars at home. But James II. subsequently annulled both it and the charters together, and this led to a more extensive combination, in which the other colonies participated. A convention to form a general league took place at Albany, in 1722. But a more general and memorable convention was held at the same place in 1754, consisting of commissioners from all the New England colonies, and from the provinces of New York, Pennsylvania and Maryland. It was called at the instance of the government of England, and although the object of the ministry in proposing it was, to facilitate the negotiation of treaties with the Indians, the colonial legislatures who promptly acceded to the proposal entertained more extensive views. Two of the colonies expressly instructed their delegates to enter into articles of confederation with the other colonies, for their general security in time of peace as well as in war; and one of the first acts of the commissioners was a unanimous resolution that " a union of the colonies was absolutely necessary for their preservation.” After rejecting several proposals for the division of the colonies into separate confederacies, they agreed to a plan of federal government for the whole, consisting of a president-general, to be appointed by the crown, and a general legislative council, to meet once in every year, and to be composed of delegates chosen triennially by the provincial assemblies. This celebrated plan of union was drawn up by Doctor Franklin, who attended as a delegate from Pennsylvania, and is to be found in