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independence. But when the waste lands shall be nearly occupied, and the people become crowded together in cities, then the period of trial will come. It is only fifty-three years since Washington was first elected President. The government has since become more and more democratic, and time and events must prove whether it can last.
But the foundation of the British constitution is laid deep, in a monarchy of more than a thousand years' duration. We trace it in the customs of our Saxon ancestors; in their Wittenagemote, or national council, in the wise laws of Alfred, in the charters obtained from our monarchs, in the concessions made by Charles I. to Parliament. It withstood the rude shock of civil war and usurpation. The monarchy was again restored; and at length, in the year 1688, that ever memorable and glorious æra of our history, the government was clearly, solemnly, and wisely defined and settled on the solid and lasting basis of our protestant religion and our ancient liberties.*
Thus the British constitution was not the contrivance of a congress, or assembly of politicians, at any given period. It has grown like the stately oak, to which it has often been compared, firmly rooted in the native soil, where it flourishes with venerable beauty and the strength of years. It has been matured, as the character of a man ripens and improves by education and experience, to wisdom and virtue. It has been perfected by various trials and successes, by the mutual conflicts and concessions of the several estates of the realm, during which errors and abuses have been corrected, the best checks against tyranny and violence, and the strongest safeguards of liberty have been established. “Our ancestors," as Burke beautifully observes, “ by the modesty as well as by the energy of their minds, went on insensibly drawing this constitution nearer and nearer to its perfection, by never departing from its fundamental principles, nor introducing any amendment, which had not a subsisting root in the laws, constitution, and usages of the kingdom.”
* King William's first declaration stated, “that he had nothing before his eyes in this undertaking, but the preservation of the protestant religion, and the securing to the nation the free enjoyment of their laws, rights, and liberties, under a just and legal government." See also the Bill of Rights.
Hence the people of England will not destroy their constitution, until the lofty spirit of their ancestors shall have fled, and their characteristic love of justice, order, and freedom, their respect for religion, morality, and law, shall have disappeared in turbulent folly and base degeneracy. Together bave the British character and the British constitution flourished, and together only will they perish.
OF AMERICAN CONSTITUTION.
Close resemblance between the municipal and provincial
institutions of England and America - Outline of the American constitution - The federal government of the United States-If at the æra of the French Revolution and of the new constitution of America, Great Britain had been a republic, could she have preserved her freedom ?
On the wise and equitable principle, that concerns in which individuals and communities are immediately interested, are best conducted by themselves, the business of parishes, towns, and cities, is managed in England, in vestries, in petty sessions, in quarter sessions, chosen by and from among the people. From the great public works of our commercial cities, to the repairs of a parish road or sewer,—from the highest to the lowest offences within the range of local jurisdiction, matters relating to the prosperity, convenience, security, health, and morals of particular neighbourhoods, are placed under the direction of individuals and corporate bodies appointed and residing there.
In the United States the same admirable system exists, with variations as to the details, which it would be tedious to mention.
In the smaller towns of the northern states, the inhabitants choose annually “ Select men,” from three to nine in number, in whom the municipal authority is chiefly vested. They usually act on their own responsibility, carrying out principles previously recognized by the majority. But when any thing unusual is to be done, or if ten citizens demand a town meeting, the select men must summon it. In the smaller towns there are some deviations from this system : the larger ones have a mayor and corporation. Besides the select men, there are nineteen principal officers in a town, annually elected, and most of whom have salaries.
From England the Americans have adopted the office of justice of the peace. They have sessions and also grand juries, coininissioners for turnpikes and sewers, and other county and parish officers. In the southern states the power of the local authorities in the towns is more limited, and in the counties it is greater. Between this part of the institutions of England and those of America, there is a near family resemblance.
“Facies non omnibus una :
In both countries the state leaves the conduct of local affairs to local officers, who are amenable to the courts of law for the neglect or abuse of their authority. These municipal and provincial institutions are strongholds of liberty, and nurseries of patriotic feeling.
They are invaluable privileges, whose good effects are manifest in the unfettered activity which prevails in this country.
Even in undertakings of great magnitude, which are rather national than merely local, as railways, the legislature gives full scope to individual enterprize, interfering only for the protection of vested rights and
interests, and for the public advantage. “I have visited," says M. De Tocqueville, “ the two nations in which the system of provincial liberty has been most perfectly established, and I have listened to the opinions of different parties in those countries. In America I met with men who secretly aspired to destroy the democratic institutions of the union; in England I found others who openly attacked the aristocracy; but I know of no one who does not regard provincial independence as a great benefit. In both countries I have heard a thousand different causes assigned for the evils of the state; but among these the local system was never mentioned. I have heard citizens attribute the power and prosperity of their country to a variety of causes; but they all placed the advantages of local institutions in the foremost rank.”
Thus, in common with the Americans, we possess, beyond all other nations, liberty in those concerns that come within the range of personal and daily experience. Where arbitrary interference would most injure our prosperity, where the chains of servitude would gall us the most,—where liberty, in short, is most essential—there Englishmen are happily and essentially free.
Each state of the union has a senate and a house of representatives. Pennsylvania originally committed the whole legislative power to one representative body, a plan which was at first approved by Benjamin Frank. lin, as more consistent with his favourite dogma of the people's sovereignty. Experience soon convinced the Pennsylvanians of their error, and they were obliged to follow the example of New England and of Old England likewise.
The members of both branches of the state legislatures are elected in the same manner, and by the same citizens: the senators, usually for a period of two or three years, and the representatives for one year only.