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I will now proceed to ask, Sir, whether we have not seen, and whether we do not at this moment see, the advantage and benefit of giving security to property, by this and all other reasonable and just provisions. The constitution has stood on its present basis forty years. Let me ask, What State has been more distinguished for wise and wholesome legislation ? I speak, Sir, without the partiality of a native, and also without intending the compliment of a stranger; and I ask, What example have we had of better legislation ? No violent measures affecting property have been attempted. Stop laws, suspension laws, tender laws, all the tribe of these arbitrary and tyrannical interferences between creditor and debtor, which, wheresoever practised, generally end in the ruin of both, are strangers to our statute-book. An upright and intelligent judiciary has come in aid of wholesome legislation; and general security for public and private rights has been the result. I do not say that this is peculiar, I do not say that others have not done as well. It is enough that, in these respects, we shall be satisfied that we are not behind our neighbors. No doubt, Sir, there are benefits of every kind, and of great value, in an organization of government, both in legislative and judicial administration, which well secures the rights of property; and we should find it so, by unfortunate experience, should that character be lost. There are millions of personal property now in this Commonwealth which are easily transferable, and would be instantly transferred elsewhere, if any doubt existed of its entire security. I do not know how much of this stability of government, and of the general respect for it, may be fairly imputed to this particular mode of organizing the Senate. It has, no doubt, had some effect. It indicates a respect for the rights of property, and may have operated on opinion as well as upon measures. Now to strike out and obliterate it, as it seems to me, would be in high degree unwise and improper.
As to the right of apportioning senators upon this principle, I do not understand how there can be a question about it. All government is a modification of general principles and general truths, with a view to practical utility. Personal liberty, for instance, is a clear right, and is to be provided for; but it is not a clearer right than the right of property, though it may be more important. It is, therefore, entitled to protection. But property
is also to be protected; and when it is remembered how great a portion of the people of this State possess property, I cannot understand how its protection or its influence is hostile to their rights and privileges. For these reasons, Sir, I am in favor of maintaining that check, in the constitution of the legislature, which has so long existed there.
I understand the gentleman from Worcester * to be in favor of a check, but it seems to me he would place it in the wrong house. Besides, the sort of check he proposes appears to me to be of a novel nature, as a balance in government. poses to choose the senators according to the number of inhabitants; and to choose representatives, not according to that number, but in proportions greatly unequal in the town corporations. It has been stated to result from computation, and I do not understand it to be denied, that, on his system, a majority of the representatives will be chosen by towns not containing one third part of the whole population of the State. I would beg to ask, Sir, on what principle this can stand; especially in the judgment of those who regard population as the only just basis of representation. But, Sir, I have a preliminary objection to this system; which is, that it reverses all our common notions, and constitutes the popular house upon anti-popular principles. We are to have a popular Senate of thirty-six members, and we are to place the check of the system in a House of Representatives of two hundred and fifty members! All money bills are to originate in the House, yet the House is not to be the popular branch. It is to exceed the Senate, seven or eight to one, in point of numbers, yet the Senate is to be chosen on the popular principle, and the House on some other principle.
It is necessary here, Sir, to consider the manner of electing representatives in this Commonwealth, as heretofore practised, the necessity which exists of reducing the present number of representatives, and the propositions which have been submitted for that purpose.
Representation by towns or townships (as they might have been originally more properly called) is peculiar to New England. It has existed, however, since the first settlement of the country. These local districts are so small, and of such unequal population, that if every town is to have one representative, and larger towns as many more as their population, compared with the smallest town, would numerically entitle them to, a very numerous body must be the consequence, in any large State. Five hundred members, I understand, may now be constitutionally elected to the House of Representatives; the very statement of which number shows the necessity of reduction. I agree, Sir, that this is a very difficult subject. Here are three hundred towns all possessing the right of representation; and representation by towns is an ancient habit of the people. For one, I am disposed to preserve this mode, so far as may be practicable. There is always an advantage in making the revisions of the fundamental law, which circumstances may render necessary, in a manner which does no violence to ancient habits and established rules. I prefer, therefore, a representation by towns, even though it should necessarily be somewhat numerous, to a division of the State into new districts, the parts of which might have little natural connection or little actual intercourse with one another. But I ground my opinion in this respect on fitness and expediency, and the sentiments of the people; not on absolute right. The town corporations, simply as such, cannot be said to have any right to representation ; except so far as the constitution creates such right. And this I apprehend to be the fallacy of the argument of the honorable member from Worcester. He contends, that the smallest town has a right to its representative. This is true; but the largest town (Boston) has a right also to fifty. These rights are precisely equal. They stand on the same ground, that is, on the provisions of the existing constitution. The honorable member thinks it quite just to reduce the right of the large town from fifty to ten, and yet that there is no power to affect the right of the small town, either by uniting it with another small town for the choice of a representative, or otherwise. I do not assent to that opinion. If it be right to take away half or three fourths of the representation of the large towns, it cannot be right to leave that of the small towns undiminished. The report of the committee proposes that these small towns shall elect a member every other year, half of them sending one year, and half the next; or else that two small towns shall unite and send one member every year. There is something apparently irregular and anomalous in sending a member every other year; yet, perhaps, it is no great departure from former habits; because these small towns, being by the present constitution compelled to pay their own members, have not ordinarily sent them oftener, on the average, than once in two years.
* Mr. Lincoln.
The honorable member from Worcester founds his argument on the right of town corporations, as such, to be represented in the legislature. If he only mean that right which the constitution at present secures, his observation is true, while the constitution remains unaltered. But if he intend to say that such right exists prior to the constitution, and independent of it, I ask, Whence is it derived ? Representation of the people has heretofore been by towns, because such a mode has been thought convenient. Still it has been the representation of the people. It is no corporate right, to partake in the sovereign power and form part of the legislature. To establish this right, as a corporate right, the gentleman has enumerated the duties of the town corporation; such as the maintenance of public worship, public schools, and public highways; and insists that the performance of these duties gives the town a right to a representative in the legislature. But I would ask, Sir, what possible ground there is for this argument. The burden of these duties falls not on any corporate funds belonging to the towns, but on the people, under assessments made on them individually, in their town meetings. As distinct from their individual inhabitants, the towns have no interest in these affairs. These duties are imposed by general laws; they are to be performed by the people, and if the people are represented in the making of these laws, the object is answered, whether they should be represented in one mode or another.
But, farther, Sir, are these municipal duties rendered to the State, or are they not rather performed by the people of the towns for their own benefit? The general treasury derives no supplies from all these contributions. If the towns maintain religious instruction, it is for the benefit of their own inhabitants; if they support schools, it is for the education of the children of their inhabitants; and if they maintain roads and bridges, it is also for their own convenience. And therefore, Sir, although I repeat that for reasons of expediency I am in favor of maintaining town representation, as far as it can be done with a proper regard to equality of representation, I entirely disagree to the
notion, that every town has a right, which an alteration of the constitution cannot divest, if the general good require such alteration, to have a representative in the legislature.
The honorable member has declared that we are about to disfranchise corporations, and destroy chartered rights. He pronounces this system of representation an outrage, and declares that we are forging chains and fetters for the people of Massachusetts. “ Chains and fetters !” This convention of delegates, chosen by the people within this month, and going back to the people, divested of all power, within another month, yet occupying their span of time here, in forging chains and fetters for themselves and their constituents! " Chains and fetters!”
“ A popular assembly of four hundred men combining to fabricate these manacles for the people, and nobody but the honorable member from Worcester with sagacity enough to detect the horrible conspiracy, or honesty enough to disclose it! " Chains and fetters!” An assembly most variously composed, - men of all professions and all parties, of different ages, habits, and associations, — all freely and recently chosen by their towns and districts; yet this assembly, in one short month, contriving to fetter and enslave itself and its constituents! Sir, there are some things too extravagant for the ornament and decoration of oratory; some things too excessive, even for the fictions of poetry; and I am persuaded that a little reflection would satisfy the honorable member, that, when he speaks of this assembly as committing outrages on the rights of the people, and as forging chains and fetters for their subjugation, he does as great injustice to his own character as a correct and manly debater, as he does to the motives and the intelligence of
I do not doubt, Sir, that some inequality exists, in the mode of representatives proposed by the committee. A precise and exact equality is not attainable, in any mode. Look to the gentleman's own proposition. By that, Essex, with twenty thousand inhabitants more than Worcester, would have twenty representatives less. Suffolk, which, according to numbers, would be entitled to twenty, would have, if I mistake not, eight or nine only. Whatever else, Sir, this proposition may be a specimen of, it is hardly a specimen of equality. As to the House of Representatives, my view of the subject is this. Under the present constitution,