Imágenes de páginas

wearing out, or if the primum mobile has been wasting, - if external influences that at first affected it are exhausted, or are acting with less and still lessening force,- if experience has revealed any imperfect adjustments, from which, through the incessant friction, a derangement of the whole motion may ultimately ensue,

no facts can be matter for more solicitous concern than these. Was there, at the origin of these institutions, a generally diffused public virtue, which caused them at first to act beneficially, but which they in their turn have corrupted, or have failed to preserve ? Were the principles of the Constitution at first applied by the citizen, in the discharge of his public functions, with an integrity, which the very successes it insured have at length depraved ? Have majorities and demagogues been learning to elude the obstacles, piled up by the wisdom of the fathers to turn them back in their mad way towards the overthrow of justice and order ? Have the conditions of public life failed to obtain for the public the most competent servants ? Has office, from any cause, fallen into meaner bands, and has the standard of character and of qualification among public men been sensibly lowered ? If these, or like tendencies have been developed in any dangerous degree, the retrospect of so long a time will afford some advantage for detecting them.

We do not propose at present to discuss a subject, which, treated at large, and with a due comprehension of its relations, would be treated to such excellent purpose at this period of our national history, when we are old enough to be taught by experience, and not too old to learn. One manifest sign of the times is indicated in the title of Mr. Butler's Address. No man knows better than he, what would have been the horror of the framers of the Constitution, could they have been told, that in fifty years' time, the government they were setting up

with such carefully framed safeguards against what they called democracy would be itself called a democracy by one of its own highest officers. How would the whole hierarchy of the liberal faith have cried out with one voice against such a misnomer of their doctrine. * If Mr. Butler chooses to defend his use of the word by a philological argument, we have no more to say. No doubt the government of the United States is, strictly speaking, a government of the people. The people are the one source of all power ; no officer, in any department of administration, holds his commission except, at some remove, from them ; nobody would be so witless as to pretend that there is any monarchical or aristocratic element in our constitutions. But use settles the meaning of words ; and the word democracy has, we conceive, been so long employed to denote a government, — if government it can be called, — in which the mass of a people works without check its momentary will, that there is a violence in applying it to a form of authority devised to avert its peculiar tendencies of evil ; and, if it is bad taste in the successive parties to underbid each other by the use of such phraseology, it is much worse in Mr. Butler, possessing as he does, a degree of sense and knowledge, to which party leaders in general make no pretension.

* Mr. Randolph said, “ Madison Papers," p. 758,)“In tracing these evils to their origin, every man had found it in the turbulence and follies of democracy; that some check, therefore, was to be sought for against this tendency of our governments ;” Mr. Madison (Ibid., p. 806), “Where a majority are united by a common sentiment, and have an opportunity, the

But this only by the way. Mr. Butler, like the other writers we have quoted, finds abundant cause of satisfaction in the results of the experiment of the Constitution. Having referred to the anxieties of the time preceding its adoption, he thus goes on ;

“ These apprehensions are at length dispelled ; a Constitution, remedying the defects of the confederation and fully adequate to all the purposes of a paternal and efficient national government, is agreed on ; submitted to the people of the several States ; finally approved by them ; and put in complete and useful operation; and all without bloodshed, violence, or confusion.

“Representative Democracy, in the United States, has now received its last, its crowning developement. In the internal policy of the several States, and over a confederacy such as the world has never seen, it dispenses the blessings of peace, liberty, and justice. To foreign nations it displays itself in forms which command universal respect. To philosophers and statesmen, it presents new subjects of study and reflection ;

rights of the minor party become insecure ; in a republican government, the majority, if united, have always an opportunity ; the only remedy is,” &c. Mr. Gerry (Ibid., p. 1603) spoke of democracy as “the worst, he thought, of all political evils.” In short, as Hamilton observed," the members most tenacious of republicanism were as loud as any in declaiming against the vices of democracy."

and to down-trodden man, in every quarter of the globe, it hangs out a banner of hope, a signal of deliverance.

“ The great experiment has been gloriously successful. The United States, in every stage of their career ; in peace and in war ; in the arts of social life ; in political science ; in knowledge, and morals, and religion ; have vindicated the wisdom, the safety, the beneficence of Representative Government, founded on the broadest basis of Democratic Liberty.”

Butler's Address, pp. 15, 16.

Proceeding to “inquire into the causes which have given to democratic institutions in the United States this unexampled success," he finds the most prominent to be three in number, the first of which is, “the adaptation of the people to such institutions"; and the particulars of this adaptation he discerns in two things, namely, the character of the people in respect to intelligence and virtue, and their experience, since the foundation of the colonies, in the exercise of selfgovernment.

To the adaptation of the people to their institutions, in these all-important particulars, no doubt the success of the experiment has been mainly due, though, as to the first point, the inquiry, how far the experience of the past would authorize an augury for the future, would raise another question of fact altogether too comprehensive for us now to entertain. On the other hand, there has certainly been proved to be some want of adaptation on the part of the tastes and preferences of the people, to the theory of their government, such as has actually availed, in some particulars, to prevent that theory from being wrought out in practice.

The most considerable example of this is found in the arrangements for the selection of the head of the government. It was the sense of the statesmen of the day, both in the convention which framed the Constitution and in the State conventions which adopted it, that the right choice was of that extreme importance, — while, on the other hand, it would so enlist popular passion, and be attended with such dangers of turbulence, and even of revolution, that it could not be trusted to popular assemblies, but must be devolved on some select body, whose patriotism and judgment the people might trust, from time to time, to make the right selection. When the suggestion was made of the suitableness of a choice directly by the people, it was accompanied with expressions,

not only of the extreme distrust which it was destined to meet, but even of the great uncertainty of the mover's own mind respecting it. “ Mr. Wilson said, he was almost unwilling to declare the mode which he wished to take place, being apprehensive that it might appear chimerical ; he would say, however, at least, that in theory he was for an election by the people.” *

“ Mr. Mason favored the idea, but thought it impracticable ; he wished, however, that Mr. Wilson might have time to digest it into his own form”; † and, this done, he afterwards characterized it as a proposal “ that an act, which ought to be performed by those who know most of eminent characters and qualifications, should be performed by those who know least.”! Mr. Gerry said, "the popular mode of electing the chief magistrate would certainly be the worst of all; if he should be so elected, and should do his duty, he would be turned out for it." At any rate, it found the least favor of all, and almost every other possible method was thought of instead. An election by the federal legislature, or by the higher branch of it, or by individuals taken from it by lot, or by the State legislatures, or by the State executives, - all these were expedients successively proposed and discussed, to avoid the dreaded dangers of a popular choice. The plan finally adopted, of choosing by colleges of electors, to be appointed specially for that purpose in the several States, was regarded with a favor scarcely bestowed on any other provision of the Constitution. Says the “Federalist” on this point ;

“ The mode of appointment of the chief magistrate of the United States, is almost the only part of the system, of any consequence, which has escaped without severe censure, or which has received the slightest mark of approbation from its opponents. The most plausible of these, who has appeared in print, has even deigned to admit, that the election of the president is pretty well guarded. I venture somewhat further, and hesitate not to affirm, that, if the manner of it be not perfect, it is at least excellent. It unites in an eminent degree all the advantages, the union of which was to be wished for.

“ It was desirable, that the sense of the people should operate in the choice of the person to whom so important a trust was to be confided. This end will be answered by committing the right of making it, not to any preëstablished body, but to men chosen by the people for the special purpose, and at the particular conjuncture.

* See the Madison Papers, p. 766. Ibid., p. 768.

§ Ibid., p. 1149.

# Ibid., p. 1208.

It was equally desirable, that the immediate election should be made by men most capable of analyzing the qualities adapted to the station ; and acting under circumstances favorable to deliberation, and to a judicious combination of all the reasons and inducements that were proper to govern their choice. A small number of persons, selected by their fellow-citizens from the general mass, will be most likely to possess the information and discernment requisite to so complicated an investigation.

“ It was also peculiarly desirable to afford as little opportunity as possible to tumult and disorder. This evil was not least to be dreaded in the election of a magistrate, who was to have so important an agency in the administration of the government. But the precautions, which have been so happily concerted in the system under consideration, promise an effectual security against this mischief. The choice of several, to form an intermediate body of electors, will be much less apt to convulse the community with any extraordinary or violent movements, than the choice of one, who was himself to be the final object of the public wishes. And as the electors, chosen in each State, are to assemble and vote in the State in which they are chosen, this detached and divided situation will expose them much less to heats and ferments, that might be communicated from them to the people, than if they were all to be convened at one time, in one place.” Federalist, pp. 424, 425.

“ This process of election affords a moral certainty, that the office of president will seldom fall to the lot of any man who is not in an eminent degree endowed with the requisite qualifications. Talents for low intrigue, and the little arts of popularity, may alone suffice to elevate a man to the first honors of a single State ; but it will require other talents, and a different kind of merit, to establish him in the esteem and confidence of the whole Union, or of so considerable a portion of it, as would be necessary to make him a successful candidate for the distinguished office of president of the United States." Ibid., p. 427.

The people were to choose men of such integrity and wisdom, as to be fit to be trusted with the august office of choosing a president ; and then the president would be judiciously selected, and without the inconvenience of popular agitation, and the danger of popular tumults. Such was the theory. What has been the practice ? Let the mass-meetings, the processions, the song-singings of the recent elec

« AnteriorContinuar »