Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

With respect to the part of the amendment relative to tbe exclusion of witnesses, he would observe—that when brought forward they were to be interrogated and catechised as to their articles of faith. If it was not held to he correct, they were excluded. This was calculated to produce falsehood and hypocrisy. Indeed if suffered to prevail, hypocrisy and lies would become die chief qualifications fora witness. And yet in a city, large enough in its population for a state, you have a Jew for a sheriff. As the law now is, he is guiltv of blasphemy every time he enters the synagogue. Suppose a Musselman reads tbe Koran for hit edification; he is guilty of blasphemy! He wished for freedom of conscience. Where that existed, true religion would flourish. But where such punishments were inflicted, commiseration would be excited for the accused, and execration for the ministers of the law. If judges undertake to support religion by the arm of the law, it will be brought into abhorrence aud contempt.

Chancellor Kent said that the gentleman from Delaware (Mr. Root) had not stated correctly the decision of the supreme court which lie arraigned. The court had never declared or adjudged that Christianity was a religion established by law. They had only decided that to revile the author of Christianity in a blasphemous manner, and with a malicious intent, was an offence against public morals, and indictable. The case to which the gentleman referred, arose in the county of Washington, in 1311. A person was indicted in that county for having uttered in a wanton manner, and with a malicious disposition, in the presence and hearing of divers people, that Jetus Christ was a baitard and hit mother a whore. He was found guilty by a jury at the Oyer and Terminer, and the cause was removed into the supreme court, and the question submitted to the court was, whether the uttering of these words, in the manner and with the intent and disposition charged, was not a misdemeanor? He had tbe honour at that time to be chief justice of that court; and after argument and consideration, the court, consisting besides himself of judges Thompson, Spencer, Van Ness, and Yates, unanimously decided that the indictment was good, and the conviction valid in law.

This is the true state of the case. The court considered those blasphemous words, uttered with such an intent, as a breach of public morals, and an offence against public decency. They wore indictable on «he same principle as the act of wantonly going naked, or committing impure and indecent acts in the public streets. It was not because Christianity was established by law, but because Christianity was in fact the religion of this country, the rule of our faith and practice, and the basis of the public morals. Such blasphemy was an outrage upon public decorum, and if sanctioned by our tribunals would shock the moral sense of the country, and degrade our character as a Christian people.

The authors of our constitution never meant to extirpate Christianity, more than they meant to extirpate public decency. It is in a degree recognized by the statute for the observance of the Lord's Day, and for the mode of administering oaths. The reasons of the judgment are in print, and before the public, and to them he referred. The court never intended to interfere with any religious creeds or sects, or with religious discussions. They meant to preserve, so far as it came within their cognizance, the morals of the country, which rested on Christianity as the foundation. They meant to apply the principles of common law against blasphemy, which they did 'not believe the constitution ever meant to abolish. Are we not a Christian people? Do not ninety-nine hundrcdths of our fellow citizens hold the general truths of the Bible to be dear and sacred - To attack them with ribaldry and malice, in the presence of those very believers, must, and ought, to be a serious public offence. It disturbs, and annoys, and offends, and shocks, and corrupts the public taste. The common law, aa applied to correct such profanity, is the application of common reason and natural justice to tlie security of the peace and good order of society. Tbe supreme court is likewise charged by the gentleman from Delaware, (Mr. Root,) with rejecting the testimony of witnesses who had no religious belief. I do not know to what case the gentleman alludes. The act concerning oaths contained the. only test or belief ever required of a witness, which was. tliat he helieved in the existence of a supreme hcinzf, and a future stale of rewards and punishments. He was persuaded that the court had never gone further in their inquiries of a witness. He had no knowledge of any case calling for such animadversion. This was all that the courts had done, as far as he knew, to check atheists and hlasphemers: and could this Convention possihly think that the gentleman's amendment to the constitution was wanting to give them further protection? We should endanger the security of life, liherty, and property, and the comfort and happiness of our families.

Mr. Tompkms was satisfied that the gentleman from Delaware had misapprehended the decision of the court. They had never undertaken to uphold, hy the anthority of law, any particular sect; hut they had interposed, and rightfully interposed, as the guardians of the puhlic morals, to suppress those outrages on puhlic opinion and puhlic feeling, which would otherwise reduce the community to a state of harharism, corrupt its purity, and dehate the mind. Mr. T. was not on the hench at the time the decision alluded to took place, hut he fully accorded in the opinions that were advanced; and he could not hear the calumnies that had gone forth against the judiciary on that suhject., without regret and reprohation. No man of generous mind—no man who regarded puhlic sentiment, or that delicacy of feeling, which lies at the foundation of moral purity, could defend such an outrage on puhlic morals, or say that the decision was unmerited or unjust. If a man were to go naked in the streets, he might claim his right to do so, hy the law of nature; hut every man who had a suitahle regard to decency or morals, would rejoice in hringing him tu punishment.

Gen. Root then read the case referred to.

Mr. Brtggs supported the amendmeut, which was opposed hy Mr. Young ;—when the usual hour of adjournment having passed, the committee rose and reported, and the Convention adjourned.

^ THURSDAY, OCTOBER 18, 182I.

Prayer hy the Rev. Dr. Chester.

The President took the chair at the usual hour, and the journals ofyesterday were read and approved.

THE LEGISLATIVE DEPARTMENT.

The Convention resolved itself into a committee of the whole on the unfinished husiness of yesterday—Air. Van Buren in the chair.

The amendment offered yesterday hy Mr. Root was withdrawn, and another offered, omitting part of the first, and altering the phraseology of the other part, to read as follows: "It shall not he declared or adjudged that any particular religion is the law of the land."

The question was taken thereon without dehate, and decided in the affirmative, as follows:

AYES—Messrs. Barlow, Briggs, Brinkerhoff, Carpenter, Carver, Case. D. Clark, Collins, Cramer, Day, Dodge, Duhois, Dyckman, Eastwood, Fenton. Ferris, Frost, Hogehoom, Howe, Humphrey, Hunt, Jones, Kent, Lansing, A. Livingston, P. R. Livingston, M'Call, Millikin, Moore, Nelson, Park, Pike, President, Price, Pumpelly, Reeve, Richards, Root, Rose, Rosehrugh, Boss. N. Sanford, Schenck, Seaman, Scely, Sharpe, Sheldon, I. Smith, Steele, Swift. Tathnadge, Taylor, Townley, Tripp, Van Fleet, Van Horue, Verhryck, Ward. A. Wehster, E. Wehster, Wheeler, Wooster, Yates, Young—62.

NOES—Messrs. Bacon, Beckwith, Breesc. Bncl, Burroughs, Child, Clyde, Duer, Fish, Hees, Hunter, Huntington, Hurd, Jay, Lefferts, Piteher, Rlitoelander, Rogers, Russell, R. Smith, I. Sutherland, Sylvester, J. R. Van Rensselaer, S. Van Rensselaer, Wendover,Wheeler—'2V.'

Cjuncellor Kent assigned the reasons, which induced him to vote hi favour of the amendment. It was perfectly harmless, and might be a security. 4\o judge would thiak of making any particular religion a part of the law of the land. He repeated that if he were to decide to-morrow, in a case similar to tlie one referred to by the gentleman from Delaware, he should give such a decision as had been read in debate yesterday.

Gen. Root offered the following amendment, that " no witness shall be questioned as to his religious faith."

Col. Young said if by religious faith, were meant a belief iu a Supreme Being-, and in future rewards and punishments, he should oppose it. The testimony of the atheist and infidel, ought not to bo placed upon an equality with ulliers, as he could feel no responsibility'

i ii • --l • • i.on Kent fully concurred in the sentiments of the gentleman from Saratoga, (Mr. Young.) Why should a witness be sworn on a book in which he did not believe—in the name of the ever living God, in whose existence he bad no faith—with refercnc« to a future retribution, which he treated as a dream? What was the testimony of such a witness worth? The oath was mockery, and the evidence ought not to be admitted.

Mb. Bbicos was in favour of the amendment, and replied to the gentleman from Albany, (Mr. Kent.) It was impossible to ascertain who were atheists, and who not. In this age of light and knowledge, he regretted to sec such narrow views entertained; we should be above such prejudices, and acton the broad principles of liberty.

Go. Root said his object in offering this amendment, was, in some measure, lo purify the morals of the people, and the incorrect practice of our courts. He was anxious to adopt some plan by which they might be prohibited from making tneo hypocrites and liars. This was a kind of judicial farce, which had beeu played off upon mankind long enough; that a jury should be told that this or that man is not to be believed, because he docs not think as they may believe, wit h regard to future rewards and punishments. By this method, men of voracity sire frequently rejected, aud the man who has no scruples against twearing lo the prejudice of his neighbour, being prepared lo answer the questions, which may be putlo him, is considered a good witness. Thus a man win) has no religion at all, who feels not the force of any moral obligation, will make a good witness in our courts; but if he feels a regard for truth, and has a sense of his responsibility to his great Creator and Redeemer, then he must lie rejected. He must agree to some particular tenets, otherwise he is excludf J ficin being a witness, or the jury arc informed, that he is an incredible witness, aud bis testimony is not to be bclie^d. When a man is questioned by a court as to his belief, if he comes with a lie in his mouth, he will not hesitate to answer in such a manner as will entitle him to the privilege of testifying; tiod he may then proceed lo swear his neighbour out of his life, liberty, and proper!r. *Mr. K. said he had heard of atheists, but he had never seen any, and he did nut believe he ever should; and if there were such men, he should hot consider it a wise or certain test to take their own word for it ;—it should be determined by some person other than the one suspected. If a man is ques1tioned, whether he believes in a Supreme Being, he will always answer in the affirmative. Ask him whether he believes in a state of future rewards and punishments, his answer is, yes,; if he is a Univcrsalist, he will say he believes there has been a great atonement made for all men. Then he is excluded as not being competent to tell the truth: but if he is an unprincipled fellow, who has no regard for any moral obligation whatever, he has only to answer yes, to these judicial interrogations, and he becomes a good witness. It was enough to fill one with horror, to sec a child catechised in a court of justice, as was the practice; if he has learnt at school, so that he can repeat the catechism arranged by the assembly of divines at Westminster, he is then prepared to swear just as he has been instructed to swear. Mr. Root remarked, (hat a paper had been put into his hand the morning before, relating the circumstances attending a trial at a circuit in this state, which were as follows:— A witness was first asked if he believed iii a Supreme Being, to which he answered in the affirmative. The next question was, whether he believed tlif Bihle was the work of inspiration; his reply was, that he did not know that it was any more so than any other hook. The jury were charged to lay aside hi* testimony, and the party was therehy deprived of this evidence, which would have heen admitted as good, if he had only heen a hypocrite or a liar.

Mr. Root wished that all men might he religious; hat not hypocrites and liars, for there was enough of them in all conscience.

Thk Chancellor made a few remarks, in which he treated the language of the gentleman from Delaware, in relation to the judiciary, as unworthy of notice. The anonymous calumnies of a newspaper had heen cited as anthority; and such slanders he should not he at the trouhle to refute.

The question on the motion of Gen. Root, was then taken hy ayes and noes, and decided in the negative as follows:

NOES—Messrs. Bacon, Becktvith, Breese, Brinkerhoff, Bucl, Burroughs, Carpenter, Carver, Case, Child, D. Clark, R. Clarke, Clyde, Collins, Crmmer, Day, Dodge, Duhoi-j, Uuer, Dyckman, F.astwood, Edwards, Fairlie, Fentou, Ferris, Fish, Frost, Hallock, Hees, Hogehoorn, Hunt, Hunter, Huntington, Hurd, Jay, Jones, Kent, Kin^-, Knowles, Lansing, Lefferts, A. Livingston, P. R. Livingston, M'Call, Millikin, Moore, Nelson, Panlding, Pike, Piteher, President, Pumpelly, Radelifi", Reeve, Rhinelander, Richards, Rogers, Rose, Roschrugh, Ross, Russell, Sage, Sanders, N. Sanford, Seaman, Sccly, Sharpe, Sheldon, I. Smith, R. Smith, Starkweather, Steele, I. Sutherland, Swift, Sylvester, Tallmadge, Taylor, Townley, Townsend, Tripp, Van Home, J. R. Van Rensselaer, S. Van Rensselaer, Van Vechten, Verhryck. Ward, A. Wehster, E. Wehster, Wendover, Wheatoo, Wheeler, N. Williams, Wooster, Yates, YoHng;—9-1.

AYES.—Messrs. Briggs, Howe, Humphrey, Park, Price, Root, Schenck, Van Fleet.—8.

Mr. Radclikf moved to !trike out " ministry," and to insert the words, "minister of the gospel." Carried.

The section, as amended, was then adopted.

The sixth section, relative to the creation of new counties, was then read. Mr. Radclikf, Chairman of the committee, explained. Mr. Dodgk was opposed to-it: he thought it should he left to the legislature. Mr. Jav, from tire committee, made a few explanatory remarks, when the question on the section was taken and lost.

The seventh section was read, and passed as reported.

Tite question, next in order, n as stated to he the amendment of Mr. Baconen the suhject of senatorial districts.

Mr. Bacos proposed two modifniitions of his amendment, which were as follows:

In the second section of the report, strike out11 seventeen," in the first line, and insert " as many districts as there are senators;" and strike out the rest of the section after the word, " districts," in the second line, and insert, so that the whole section will read as follows:

That the sta'e shall he divided into as many districts as there are senators to he eleced. That each district shall elect one senator, exrept that the county of New-York, together with the counties of Kings and Richmond, compose one district, and elect three senators, shall he composed of contiguous territory, and shall conform ac near as may he to eounly lines, and he la d off, and the senators apportioned hy the present legislature at their next session, according to the numher of free inhahitants, excluding aliens pcrsons of colour not taxed, panpers, ami convicts, in ench district, which apportionment shall continue until a census of ilie inhahitants of the state shall he taken, as hereinafter directed, unless altered hy the first legisla'ure winch ihall he elected after such apportionment, who may if they see cause, alter such districts, inil re-apportion the senators on the principles here'h hefore provided for, and such last mentioned apportionment shall then contmue unul the next census."

Mr. Dt:1rsaid, there were fewer ohjections to the plan proposed hy the gentleman from Columhia (Mr. Williams) than he had supposed, hefore he had given it a more thorough examination. He, however, helieved, that a multiplication of districts would diminish the importance of the senate. We were, in his opinion, carrying our innovations too far; and if we went on in this way, we should jeopardize the whole of the amendments, and form a constitution ■which would he rejected hy the people. He replied to the arguments that had heen advanced in favour of a suhdivision and multiplication of districts. He was opposed to the amendment offered hy the gentleman from Oneida, (Mr. Bacon,) and in favour of that proposed hy Mr. Tallmadge, which he wished might he referred to a select committee.

Gen. Tallmadge feared, that the Convention was spreading its lahours too wide; hut he was warranted in the helief, that a different arrangement of senatorial districts was among the alterations anticipated hy the people, and which would meet their approhation, if a plan could he devised, in which there were less evils than in the one contained in our present constitution. This heing correct, we have only to proceed in our deliherations, and produce the plan which we shall consider hest adapted to the principles of our government and the happiness of the people. With these considerations to guide him, he hoped he should he indulged in making a few remarks upon this suhject.

The report of the select committee, together with the amendment offered hy the gentleman from Oneida, (Mr. Bacon,) had hoth heen laid hefore the Convention; and likewise the proposition of the gentleman from Columhia, (Mr. E. Williams) applicahe to the plan suggested hy the gentleman from Oneida. He would proceed to examine these two plans, and contrast them hefore the committee, that they might he the hetter prepared to judge of their relative merits or demerits. He had no hesitation to say, that he had once heen predisposed in favour of thirty-two districts ; hut on an investigation of the suhject, he was satisfied that it was impracticahle to accomplish it consistently with the principles of equal representation, and it was inconsistent with the true spirit of our government, from which he felt himself hound not to depart.

He, therefore, felt it a duty to oppose the report of the committee, as not heing caleulated to effect the great ohject for which they were striving—to hring home the elected to a knowledge of the elector. His mind was fixed upon eight districts. Let us, in the first place, examine the report of the committee, that we may know the grounds upon which it ought to he rejected, if rejected at all; and here it would he no more than justice to remark, that to the committee who made this report no imputation of carelessness or inattention could he alleged: their works proved to the contrary. A preliminary ohjection to this report was, that there would not he, upon the plan recommended, an equal representation in each and every district. Contrast the following

[merged small][graphic][graphic][merged small][merged small][ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small][graphic][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small][graphic][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors]
« ZurückWeiter »