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MISTAKEN' VIEWS OF THE UNITED STATES GOVERNMENT.
It has been very correctly said that “ to make a government the blessing it ought to be to a whole people, it is necessary, in framing it, to resolve the benevolence of its general scope into two specific aims—one, the present case of men's rights under it; the other, its own preservation, as material to their future safety ;" and that the latter “is by far the most difficult part of the business.” This is undoubtedly a truism which was fully realized by the framers of our Constitution. They were however equal to the task before them, and established a government having the aims before stated in view, and possessing all the requisite powers to secure the present rights of its citizens, and to preserve and maintain its vigor with a view to their future safety. Discarding the three forms of political organizations of which it was then supposed all human governments were either pure specimens or mixtures, they adopted neither a democratical, aristocratical, nor monarchial form, but contrived a scheme of their own, materially different from them all, and called it Republican.
Foreigners, even the most learned among them, do not seem to comprebend, however, its distinctive characteristics and peculiar features, and therefore hastily jump to the conclusion that it is a Democracy. Even the learned De Tocqueville seems every where to assume it as a recognized and indisputable fact, and Lord Brougham not only ventures so far. as to state it to be so, but applies to it the epithet by which it is usual to distinguish the technical form of government known by that name. The truth is, however, otherwise ; and it is, perhaps, owing more to this error and misconception of the true character of our government, on the part of foreigners, than all other causes combined, that they come to this country with the views they do, as to the nature and operations of our institutions, and claim for themselves, as a right, what native born citizens have hitherto conceded as a privilege, but never as a right.
Many features of the Federal Constitution may be referred to, as negativing all idea, on the part of its framers, of establishing an unlimited and uprestrained Democratic government, into which those illumined with the ideas of European revolutionists, who have sought a refuge in this country, would now convert it. As the discussions in the Convention, and the conclusions at which the framers arrived, abundantly show, no such ideas were then entertained, like those now promulgated by the socalled Free German Association. We demand! say these foreign agra. rians
1. Universal suffrage.
5. The right of the people to recall their representatives (cashier them) at their pleasure.
6. The right of the people to change the Constitution when they like. 7. All law-suits to be conducted without expense.
8. A department of the government to be set up for the protection of immigration.
9. A reduced term of acquiring citizenship.
15. The supporting of the emancipation exertions of Cassius M. Clay by Congressional laws.
16. Abolition of the Christian system of punishment, and the introduction of the human amelioration system.
17. Abolition of capital punishment.
In view of these misapprehensions, it may not be out of place to make an inquiry into the peculiar characteristics of our government, and to show wherein foreigners, and but too many natives, misapprehend its scope and power. It is not a democracy, as they suppose, subject to every fickle change and caprice of the people, without constitutional restraints, balances and counterbalances, and incapable of keeping to any course but that of the popular current, however momentarily erroneous. As is very forcibly remarked by Mr. Warner, in an article in the Ameri. can Review of May, 1849, " the fathers of the country never dreamed of such a thing; and though we are not at present just what they meant us to be, we are still no democrats in the form and theory of our system. At the polls, no doubt, and in the newspapers, an unscrupulous man will say any thing to gain his purpose. In this way democracy has become a word of cant among our own citizens ; and so would diabolism, if the people loved to hear it.” But “to call the government a democracy, is either to mistake or slander it. To call the people democrats, or to profess, with fawning eant, to be democrats at their service, is to make them objects either of insult or cajolery. The truth appears to be, that to a very great extent the popular origin and working of our institutions has involved men's minds in a confusion of ideas as to the name and character they belong to. And as misapprehension here is mischievous, drawing practice after it, perverting the views of our too frequent constitutional conventions, and so putting every thing at hazard, the cloud must, if God permit, be dissipated, and the clear, benignant sky of the country's morning brought back."
Our system is Republican, as contradistinguished from Democracy, or, to adopt the language of Mr. Madison, in The Federalist, it is "a government in which the scheme of representation takes place.” It follows, therefore, that it is, unlike a democracy, one of delegated powers ; and, though like it, free and of the same character in the popularity of its aims and general scope, the difference between them is very great. Democracy is one of the simplest forms of government, and has a polity which trusts no one and respects no body, but the people at large, making every man, without regard to qualifications or character, a ruler for the whole; while a Republic is complicated in its organization, all its measures being taken by means of delegated power, and the people standing aloof from its acts, content with a supremacy over these, and their agents, by influence only, through public opinion and the ballot box. A nice and just machinery was therefore requisite; checks, balances and braces were necessary ; moral causes were to be foreseen and countervailed, and moral influences to be anticipated ; every organic weakness had to be searched out in advance; a guard to be set upon every point of probable exposure; and the force of every dangerous tendency measured and neutralized before events developed its existence.
It was a herculean undertaking on the part of the revolutionary statesmen. See what they had to do. Much of it is succinctly set forth by Mr. Warner in the article of the American Review, already quoted from.
In the first place, there was wanting a vast agency mechanism for ends of ordinary government. And things must be so managed as to bring into the service of the country a variety of personal qualities and talents. There must be men for making laws, men fór seeing laws executed, men for judging in detail of common justice between party and party, men of all sorts of ministerial labor in aid of the more prominent functions of political life. In some of the walks of duty, great abilities were necessary, in some professional skill; a measure of undoubted character for principles in all.
How was the selection to be made ? There was one point of difficulty. To some extent, the people might be supposed competent to choose their own agents. This was eminently true in reference to the legislative and chief executive functions; involving services which, though of vast importance, were not of a kind to call for much technical knowledge or specific preparation, so that the leading business of the government, and that upon which all else depended more or less, might be safely organized in the way the general liberty required, namely, by votes sufficiently numerous to express the
popular sentiment of the country. Had it not been so, the republican scheme must have altogether failed as impracticable. But legislation was no mystery of art, and the people could not well be mistaken in the kind of evidence by which the fitness of a legislative agent should be indicated. High standing for integrity, good sense and acquire. ments, with some experience in affairs, was all they wanted. So also, the executive function (apart from its judicial subdivision) could be judged of in a general way by everybody. And these are the parts of the system where it was especially momentous that the people should be as closely and sensibly present as possible. But in descending from hence to other branches of the public service, such as the courts, particular bureaus, &c., the case became harder for the common mind to manage. It was not enough that candidates for such places were well reported of. There was to be a special adaptation of the men to the offices, a fitness of artificial skill, concerning which the multitude were scarce capable of forming an intelligent opinion. It would, therefore, be safer as to stations of that sort, to entrust the appointing power with persons of eminence in the government, who from their position might be expected to exert it more cautiously and discreetly than the people could. And, fortunately, there was nothing in the economy of the public liberty that was likely to take harm from such an arrangement.
Still, beyond the question how far it was best to organize the public service by popular vote, how far by substituted agencies (no inconsiderable question by itself), ulterior matters were to be attended to. There was danger of bad men coming into office through ignorance or incaution on the people's part, or by the arts of deceivers; and there was danger of men becoming bad under the perverting influence of office, after their elevation to it. How were evils like these to be guarded against ?
One expedient was that of dividing public power into several parts, called jurisdictions, and setting these in counterpoise against each other. Hence the well known legislative, executive, and judicial departments of government, each under separate charge, and fenced, as far as practicable, against encroachment from the rest. The early constitutions lay great stress upon this.
Another expedient was the territorial division of the country into States, counties and townships; or rather the making use of these divisions (they existed already) to distrie bute the dispatch of public business over a wide surface, and so to prevent a plethora of the central system, and keep down the fever of the head by drawing off as much as possible of the elements of active power into the extremities.
Other securities of a personal nature were added to these; such as age, residence, property, religion, and the like; required partly in candidates for office; partly in electors, more or less in both. Nor does it need much knowledge of human history to determine that all the guards and cautions which the case admitted of, were not likely to be more than enough.
But, in the second place, the sovereignty of the polls was also to be looked after.
And here the first inquiry would naturally be directed to the proper vesting of this all-important power. Who should have it? From whom should it be withheld ? For observe, it belonged of right to nobody, save as the Constitution should give it, being a mere functionary power to be held, not for the special emolument of individuals, but in trust for the commonwealth. Who, then, in matter of safety and prudence, should have it, and who not? Women and children were of course out of the question. It is incompatible with female delicacy to join the scramble of an electoral contest. And as for children, they could not understand the thing at all; their votes would be no better than a lottery. So that two-thirds, three-fifths of the entire community, are thus set aside at once.
Would it do to clothe fresh-landed aliens with a suffrage of this kind ? How much better than children could they understand the use of it? Or what stake have they in the country that could be supposed to give them a proper sense of concern in the con. sequences ?
Finally, are there not native citizens in abundance to whom such a franchise cannot be prudently confided ?-men without virtue, without intelligence, without property, without patriotic attachment, without anything to bind them to the country, or fit them for a voice in its affairs?
It is difficult, you will say, to apply tests. It is, indeed. But it is harder still to preserve free institutions without them. Our antipathy to tests is apt to become morbido In some forms they are odious things, but in some they are necessary. So, at least, the fathers thought; nor has their judgment in the matter fallen yet into quite universal disrepute.
I conclude, in the third place, with one suggestion more. The fathers had to suit their measures to the social and civil elements of the land they were providing for. What were those elements ? Different classes of men, distinguished from each other, not in rank or privilege, but in education, refinement, property, habits and pursuits. Was there not something due to such peculiarities—to each and every one of them in particular? Would it do to frame the government with a view to the rich only, or the educated and refined? Would it do to frame it in utter neglect of these portions of the general mass of citizens, as if their existence where unknown? Government is moral power in the hands of a few over the many. The balance of physical force is with the governed. Supposing, then, the people to be free, the political system must in prudence be so fashioned as to please them, lest their physical force should not be quiet under it. And how, as a whole, are they to be pleased and satisfied, unless their prominent diversities of character, business and condition, are all taken into view, and made something of in the economy of the Constitution?
Let us illustrate in the article of wealth or property. Some men are very rich, some poor, and some in middle circumstances. Would it be wise to take no note of this in framing a government for all ? Would it be safe? Suppose numbers disregarded, and wealth made a test of admissibility to every kind of office whatsoever ; is it likely the poor and middle orders of society would be satisfied? Or if property were disregarded, on the other hand, and not only the right of suffrage, but office too, in all its grades and forms, thrown indiscriminately to the multitude, would this be satisfactory to the more opulent classes ? There might, in one case or the other, be no sudden outbreak of impatience, but there would certainly be a leaven of discontent in the body-politic, calculated to put it in a ferment by and by. All this should be avoided ; and with reasonable care it may be. What is easier than to make some offices accessible to all ranks, and confine others to men of good estates? Or, if you wish a property qualification to be general and uniform, let it be adjusted to the notion of a medium between rich and poor. As regards the franchise, there is no convenient alternative but to try for such a medium. For, since the men who have nothing are always more numerous than the rich, and often compose a majority of the whole people; if you make the suffrage universal, you annihilate the influence of property; while, on the other hand, if you give the poorer classes no vote, you annihilate the influence of numbers. Now, you should do neither of these things. Take the world as it is. Let those who pay the taxes, and bear the chief burdens of the State, have an influence directly proportioned to their use