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their infant Republic, has been seen standing in ever-during ver. dure, — broken by no blast of adversity, withered by no heat of prosperity, still striking its roots deeper and deeper in the storm, still listing its branches higher and higher in the sunshine! But an unfilial hand is now raised against it. Sir, Massachusetts will cease to be Massachusetts, if the policy of her existing ad. ministration shall be permanently sustained. Her name may be left, her place on the map may be unaltered, her territory may be unchanged, and the monuments of the noble deeds of her Fathers may still stand thick on her hills and plains; but if such a policy is to prevail in her councils, her glory will be a merely historical glory; her honor will belong only to the records of the past! She will cease to be that Massachusetts which we have so long loved and respected; that Massachusetts which has been pronounced “the Model State" by foreign travellers; that Mas. sachusetts, which has extorted the homage of an ill-disguised envy, even from those few of her sister States, from whom she has failed in winning the tribute of admiration and affection!
Let us, then, redeem her, before it is too late. Let us rescue her, while she is still worthy of being rescued. Let us resolve to place her once more in a position, in which she may be true to herself, true to her own character and her own children, and true to the whole country! Let us restore her now to a con. dition, which shall not only give assurance that her own Constitution shall be maintained, her own credit vindicated, her own honor upheld, but that a majority of her citizens shall be in readiness, when the great National line shall be again formed in May next, to march with unbroken ranks to their old place under the old Whig banner, and to do battle under whatever commander may be selected to lead us on to victory!
THE RIGHT OF PETITION.
A SPEECH DELIVERED IN THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES OF THE UNI
TED STATES, JANUARY 23, 1844.
MR. SPEAKER, —
It seems to have been the fortune of this House to be employed, during no inconsiderable part of the time since the present session commenced, in discussing what are called first principles. For eight or ten days, not long since gone by, we were occupied with the consideration of that great writ of personal liberty, the Habeas Corpus. And, in the course of that discussion, doctrines were advanced, in some quarters of the House, to my mind not a little strange and startling, and upon which I desired at the time to have made soine comments But, in common with many other gentlemen better entitled to a hearing, I attempted in vain to obtain the floor for that pur. pose. We have now been engaged, during the morning hour of many days, in a debate on a second great principle of civil liberty, — the Right of Petition. And upon this subject opi. nions have been expressed, and positions maintained, which are even more extraordinary and more startling; and from which I am glad of an opportunity to declare my utter dissent.
The idea, that the right of petition does not imply the right of having a petition received! The doctrine, that the right of the people to apply to the government for redress of grievances does not involve any obligation on the part of the government to heed, or even hear, that application! The position which has been seriously maintained here, that all that was ever intended by the right of petition, was the right of individuals or of assemblies to prepare and sign a paper, setting forth the grievances
under which they are suffering, and the redress which they seek; and that it was no part of that intention to secure to that paper any consideration or entertainment whatever from those to whom it is addressed! Why, Sir, these doctrines seem to me about as reasonable as it would be to contend, that the privilege of the writ of Habeas Corpus implies no obligation on the part of the officer to whom it is directed to regard or obey the writ, and no duty on the part of the government to execute or enforce it; but that it is only designed to secure to an imprisoned citizen the satisfaction of having the writ itself, duly signed and attested, to amuse himself with in his solitary confinement, — to meditate upon by day, or to put under his pillow to dream upon by night! They seem to me about as reasonable as it would be to maintain, that the freedom of the press extends only to the freedom of the mechanical enginery of the press; that it was only intended to secure the rights of individual printers to compose, set up, and strike off, such matter as might be agreeable to them; but that it does not reach to the privilege of publishing or circulating that matter after it is struck off! In a word, Mr. Speaker, if the right of petition is really nothing more than it has been represented to be by some of the honorable members who have preceded me in this debate, it is, in my judgment, as poor a pretence, as miserable a mockery, as empty and unmeaning and worthless an abstraction, as was ever dignified by a swelling name or a high-sounding title; and the sooner it is expunged from the roll of civil liberty, the sooner it ceases to hold out to the ear a promise only to be broken to the hope, the sooner will the people understand what rights they really do possess.
But, Sir, I desire to proceed with this subject a little more methodically, and to notice with something more of precision and exactness the arguments which have been adduced in favor of these doctrines.
The question before the House is, whether the rule, which has obtained a most odious notoriety, in many quarters of the coun. try, under the name of the twenty-first rule, and which has lost nothing of its offensiveness by recently assuming the alias of the twenty-third rule, sliall remain as one of the permanent rules and orders of the present Congress. This is the question plainly
presented in the instructions which have been moved by the
Sir, I utterly deny the existence of any such right on our part. I hold it to be inconsistent with the relations we sustain to our constituents. I hold it to be unwarranted by any thing either in the reason or the history of parliamentary proceedings. I hold it to be in direct conflict with the spirit and intent of ex. press provisions of the Constitution. And I hold it, also, to be subversive of original, inherent, and inalienable rights of the people.
The honorable member from Tennessee, (Mr. A. V. Brown,) in justifying this rule, a few mornings ago, drew an analogy from the relations of parent and child; and, in the application of this analogy, this House was made to play the part of the parent, and the people were left to sustain the character of the
child! It was a good illustration, Sir, of the sort of reasoning by which this rule must be defended, if it is to be defended at all. But this House does not stand in loco parentis to the people of the United States. We are not their parents, masters, or guardians. We are sent here to ascertain their wishes; to carry out their will; to do their work. And for us to undertake to limit their liberty to address us, or abridge their privilege of being beard here, on any subjects on which they may choose to be heard, is to reverse entirely our relative positions. It is the representative instructing the constituent; the agent prescribing terms to his principal; the servant imposing conditions on the master!
I shall be told that individual petitioners are not the people; and that the rights of the signers of petitions, few or many, are not to be confounded with the rights of the people at large. There would be some fitness and some force in this suggestion, if we were considering the reception of a single petition, or of any ascertained number of petitions. But where is the limit to this rule? Where is the limit to the principle of this rule ? Why, Sir, this rule excludes, practically and daily, thousands and hundreds of thousands of petitioners. It denies a hearing, practically and daily, to whole States — sovereign States - speaking through the resolutions of their Legislatures. The Journals, I think, will show that the resolutions of four or five States have been thrust back into the faces of their repre. sentatives on this floor, in a single hour of a single morning. And if as many States as were arrayed here the other day on the subject of General Jackson's fine, — seventeen, I think, could come to a common opinion on any point connected with any one of the subjects enumerated in this rule, — nay, if all the States in the Union, or all the people of all the States, could come, as they ought to come, and as I believe that one day or other they will come, to the conclusion, that whatever may be done with the institution of slavery in the District of Columbia, the slave trade here shall be no more tolerated, but that this metropolis of the American Republic shall be purged from the pollu. tion of an inhuman and abominable traffic, — this rule is broad enough, and general enough, to deny a hearing to them all! In principle, then, this rule goes the full length of asserting the