Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

his view? Is it the wild beast of Plato ? Is it " the armed rhinoceros or the Hyrcan tiger?" In more respectful language he simply calls it "the legislative lion;" but yet, seeming to know its nature, as Falstaff knew the true Prince, by instinct, he paints it beforehand with the pencil of a master. “But, after all,” says he, “what does it signify that men should have a written Constitution, containing unequivocal provisions and limitations?

The legislative lion will not be entangled in the meshes ef a logical net. Legislation will always make the power which it wishes to exercise, unless it be so arranged as to contain within itself the sufficient check. Attempts to restrain it from outrage, by other means, will only render it the more outrageous. The idea of binding legislators by oaths is puerile. Having sworn to exercise the powers granted, according to their true intent and meaning, they will, when they feel a desire to go further, avoid the shame, if not the guilt of perjury, by swearing the true intent and meaning to be, according to their comprehension, that which suits their purpose. Here, in one sentence, we have the whole history of the Northern power in advance; with all its hypocrisy, violation of oaths, and sovereign contempt of its most solemn compacts and engagements. Is it any wonder, then, that the writer should have looked forward, with such sad foreboding, “ to the catastrophe of the tragico-comical drama,” † in the earliest stages of which he himself had acted so conspicuous a part?

* "Life and Writings of Governor Morris," vol. iii., p. 323. † Ibid., p. 203.

*

CHAPTER VIII.

The Constitution of 1787 a Compact between the States.- The Facts of the Case.

In discussing the question of the preceding chapters, whether the Constitution was a compact, I introduced much matter which incidentally showed that it was a compact between the States. In like manner, I shall, in proving that the States are the parties to the Constitution, produce much additional evidence that it is a compact. In order to show that the States are the parties to the constitutional compact, let us consider-1. The facts of the case; 2. The language of the Constitution itself; and 3. The views of Hamilton, Madison, Morris, and other framers of the Constitution; and 4. The absurdities flowing from the doctrine that the Constitution is not a compact between the States, but was ordained by the people of America as one nation.

1. The facts of the case. "It appears to me,” says Mr. Webster, "that the plainest account of the establishment of this government presents the most just and philosophical view of its foundation.” True, very true. There is, indeed, no proposition in the celebrated speech of Mr. Webster, nor in any other speech, more true than this; and besides, it goes directly to the point. For the great question which Mr. Webster has undertaken to discuss relates not so much to the superstructure of the government as to “its foundation.”

This is the question: How was the Constitution made or ordained, and on what does it rest? Bearing this in mind, let us proceed to consider, first, his plain account of the establishment of the government of the United States, and then the arguments in favor of his position.

First, let us consider, item by item, his plain account. “The people of the several States," says he, “had their separate governments, and between the States there also existed a Confederation." True. “With this condition of things the people were not satisfied, as the Confederation had been found not to fulfil its intended objects. It was proposed, therefore, to erect a new common government, which should possess certain definite powers, such as regarded the property of the people of all the States, and to be formed upon the general model of American Constitutions." This is not so plain. It seems. partly true and partly false. We are told that the people had discovered the defects of the Confederation, and were consequently not satisfied with it. Alexander Hamilton, a contemporary witness, tells a very different story. "Men of intelligence," says he, "discovered the feebleness of the structure” of the Confederation; “but the great body of the people, too much engrossed with their distresses to contemplate any but the immediate causes of them, were ignorant of the defects of their Constitution."*

It was only “when the dangers of the war were removed," and the "men of intelligence" could be heard, that the people saw “what they had suffered, and what they had yet to suffer from a feeble form of government.”+

“There was no need of discerning men,” as Hamilton truly said, “to convince the people of their unhappy condition.” But they did need to be instructed respecting the causes of their misery. So far was the great body of the people from having discerned for themselves the causes of their troubles that Mr. Madison ascribes his ability to make this discovery to his peculiar situation. “Having

* Works, vol. ii., p. 445. +Ibid.

[ocr errors]

*

[ocr errors]

served as a member of Congress,” says he, "through the period between March, 1780, and the arrival of peace, in 1783, I had become intimately acquainted w th the public distresses, and the causes of them.” Thus enlightened, and, under the dreadful aspect of affairs, “sympathizing in the alarm of the friends of free government at the threatened danger of an abortive result to the great, and perhaps last, experiment in its favor," Mr. Madison could not be “insensible to the obligation to aid as far as he could in averting the calamity."* Hence he acceded to the desire of his fellow-citizens of the county, and became a member of the legislature of Virginia, “hoping," as he declared, “that he might there best contribute to inculcate the critical posture to which the revolutionary cause waş reduced, and the merit of a leading agency of the state in bringing about a rescue of the Union, and the blessings of liberty staked on it, from an impending catastrophe."

It thus appears that the first step which, in the end, led to a change of the Federal Government, was not a popu. lar movement; it did not originate with the people; it sprang from the brain of James Madison, and manifested itself in the action of the legislature of Virginia. But what was this action? Was it to change the form of the Federal Government? Far from it. The resolution of the Virginia legislature, drawn up by Mr. Madison, and introduced by Mr. Tyler, † merely appoints commissioners to meet such commissioners as may be appointed by the other States, "to take into consideration the trade of the United States," and "to consider how far a uniform system in their commercial regulations may be necessary to their * Madison Papers, p. 693.

† The resolution was introduced by Mr. Tyler, rather than its author, because, “having never served in Congress," he "had more the ear of the house than those whose services there exposed them to an imputable bias." Madison Papers, p. 696. So great was the jealousy of the Federal Congress in those days.

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

common interest and permanent harmony.” It suggests no change whatever in the Federal government, except in so far as this may be implied in a uniform system of commercial regulations.

This resolution, as every one knows, led to the Annapolis Convention, which took the next great step towards the formation of the new Constitution. Nor was this a popular movement. It originated in the brain of Alexander Hamilton. In the address of that convention, he says, “That the express terms of the power to your commissioners supposing a deputation from all the States, and having for its object the trade and commerce of the United States, your commissioners did not conceive it advisable to proceed on the business of their mission under the circumstances of so partial and defective a representation.". The address then proceeds to recommend "a general meeting of the States in a future Convention,” with powers extending to "other objects than those of commerce." "They are the more naturally led to this conclusion," say the

. Convention, "as in their reflections on the subject they have been induced to think that the power of regulating trade is of such comprehensive extent, and will enter so far into the grand system of the Federal government, that to give it efficacy, and to obviate questions and doubts concerning its precise nature and limits, may require a correspondent adjustment in other parts of the Federal system."

“That there are important defects in the system of the Federal Government," continues the address, "is acknowledged by the acts of those States which have concurred in the present meeting. That the defects, upon a closer examination, may be found greater and more numerous than even these acts imply, is at least so far probable, from the embarrassment which characterizes the present state of our national affairs, foreign and domestic, as may reasonably be supposed to merit a deliberate and candid

« ZurückWeiter »