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AMERICAN versuS BRITISH CONSTITUTION.
and elderly members, the tables and papers, and the object of the assembly, strikingly resembled the celebrated picture of “ The Declaration of Independence," the great historical record of the political birth of the United States. Towards the close of the day the revised Constitution was signed by all the delegates present, the will of the majority being the law binding on all; and in this altered state it would have to be submitted to the people at large, whose votes would be taken upon it at a future period, when, if the majority approved of the amendments made, it would become the lawful Constitution of the State of Pennsylvania, and, as such, would be recognised by all the other states of the Union.
By such a proceeding as this, the sovereignty of the people is not merely acknowledged as a constitutional principle, but this principle is carried out so fully in practice, that by this sovereignty alone it is determined what shall and what shall not be the Constitution itself. Yet, so far from turbulence and disorder being, as some would pretend, the unavoidable result of purely Democratic assemblies, I may state that I never saw any proceedings more grave, more solemn, or more dignified than the last day's sitting of the Convention of Philadelphia.
The contrast which this certainty and definiteness of constitutions in America offers, to the vagueness of everything connected with the Constitution in England, is strikingly in favour of the former. Having no written Constitution for our guide like these states of the Union, there is nothing fixed or tangible for us to refer to; and, accordingly, every man makes of our unwritten and undefined Constitution whatever he pleases. Hence it happens that, in almost every great change proposed in our laws, one party contends that the change is unconstitutional, while the other as warmly insists that it is in perfect harmony with constitutional principles. Twenty times, at least, within the last twenty years, it has been solemnly asserted, that if certain acts of Parliament were passed into laws, they would be the grossest violations of the British Constitution, which, after such laws, would indeed be utterly annihilated and gone ! Yet, though such acts have become laws, our often-destroyed Constitution still survives them all. In the same manner, when changes are proposed, in the nature of a revision of this Constitution, as far as one can understand it, the Whig and Conservative legislators, as guardians of this “glorious uncertainty," unite their voices against all“ organic change,'' and indulge in predictions that, if once the principle be admitted that organic changes are either desirable or practicable, a revolution is begun, and anarchy and destruction must inevitably follow! To all this the most complete answer is, the tranquil history of an American Convention, called by the people, conducted by the people, its proceedings ratified by the people, its avowed and sanctioned object being to effect organic changes in the Constitution, not such as the rust of ages and the accumulated errors of centuries may have occasioned, as with us, but such as the ex. perience of a few years only may have shown to be necessary; and all this carried on, from its opening to its close, without a tenth part of the excitement or disorder which occurs in some single nights in the organic-change-resisting House of Commons of England.
In the evening we attended a very splendid entertainment, called a Temperance Festival, got up in honour of my arrival in Philadelphia, and intended to give me a public welcome in America. I pass over the flattering correspondence, resolutions, and invitations which preceded this meeting. But I see no reason why some account should not be given of the festival itself, which, though avowedly held to do honour to myself, and thus to recognise and reward my labours in the cause of temperance reform, was also intended to effect the double object of advocating its great principles, and giving a public proof to the world that it is really practicable to entertain a large assembly, not merely agreeably, but in a merry, joyous, and convivial manner, without the least use of stimulating drinks; a fact which many had declared to be impossible, and which few would believe without such a demonstration as this.
To combine ample accommodation with elegance, the Arch-street Theatre was taken for this occasion. The stage was thrown open, and tastefully decorated on all sides, the 'pit was boarded over on a level with the stage, and the boxes and galleries were left in their usual condition. An excellent band of music was in attendance; ample refreshments, of great elegance and variety, were provided, and every preparation was made for an imposing as well as agreeable fête. Before we arrived, indeed, the popularity of the entertainment had reached so high, that, though the price of admission was a dollar each, 2000 tickets were freely sold, and on the last day the tickets went up to a premium of ten dollars each, and even at that price none at last could be obtained, so that many hundreds were excluded
for want of room. Of the meeting itself, as I was the prominent object of it, and principal speaker of the evening, I shall not give a description, but I will transfer from the columns of the three leading papers of Philadelphia the opinions entertained by their conductors, whose partialities would have no probable bias in our favour. The following is from the United States Gazette of February 23d :
“ The demonstration in favour of the cause of temperance last evening was far more extensive and imposing than its most sanguine friends had ventured to anticipate. The whole extent of the theatre in Archstreet, where the festival was held, was crowded in every part. The pit, floored over as on the occasion of the firemen's ball, was thronged with a dense mass, filling the entire area between the dress circle, and extending back to the extreme extent of the stage, which was tastefully adorned with appropriate scenery. The boxes were also crowded in every direction, and it is estimated that there were not less than two thousand persons assembled within the walls of the building.
“ The exercises of the evening were commenced with music from a superior band, after which prayer was made by the Rev. Mr. Chambers. Then followed the reading of letters from different distinguished individuals, who, though ardent friends of the cause, were unable to grace it with their presence upon this interesting occasion. When these were completed, Mr. Buckingham, an ex-member of the British Parliament, and the great advocate of temperance principles, was introduced to the audience, by whom he was received with the most decided demonstrations of a hearty and cordial welcome.
“ Mr. Buckingham addressed the audience in a strain of surpassing eloquence, such as we have rarely heard equalled, for nearly two hours, and was listened to throughout with the most flattering attention. He dwelt with much emphasis on the importance of temperance in promoting the prosperity and happiness of mankind, adverting to the crime and misery, the beggared victims and ruined families, resulting from intemperance, and bringing forward, in the course of his address, an immense amount and variety of statistical evidence, going to furnish strong, if not conclusive data, on which to form some estimate of the loss sustained by the fires, shipwrecks, and other casualties originating in the use of intoxicating liquors.
“Mr. Buckingham mentioned, in support of this portion of his argument, that, while officiating as chairman of a committee appointed by the House of Commons in England to make investigations on this subject, he had estimated the loss positively sustained by the people of Great Britain at one sixth part of its entire productive industry, which one sixth portion would amount to 50,000,000 pounds sterling, or 250,000,000 of dollars. But the loss in time, health, and in other causes not enumerated, but proceeding and arising directly from intemperance, would swell this amount to a much more enormous extent. In conclusion, he adverted in pointed terms to the exceedingly beneficial effects of temperance, speaking, he said, from his own actual experience and the ample testimony of his friends. His allusions to Washington, upon whose birthday this great festival was held, were received with the most deafening and enthusiastic applause.
“A number of resolutions were offered in the course of the evening, supported in able addresses from several gentlemen, among whom we noticed Edward C. Delavan, Esq., of New York, and Christian Keener, Esq., of Baltimore. Other resolutions and addresses were delivered
by several of our own townsmen, which the lateness of the hour to which the exercises extended prevents our making any particular mention of. A variety of music was interspersed throughout the evening, and the ladies were served with refreshments, of which the supply was abundant. Altogether, this great festival was one which the friends of temperance will have reason to congratulate themselves upon.”
This was the testimony borne to the character of the meeting on the morning after it was held. It was apprehended, however, that on the succeeding day something of a different nature might appear; for here, as everywhere else, large interests are at war with the temperance reformation; and all who make, or sell, or consume intoxicating drinks, may be looked upon as the natural enemies of temperance societies; and their influence over the press might, we thought, be sufficient to enlist at least one paper in their cause. But no champion appeared for them. On the following day, February 24th, this was the editorial article of the Pennsylvanian :
“ The Temperance Festival at the Arch-street Theatre on Thursday evening was truly a brilliant affair, and, we should think, must have far exceeded even the expectations of those who were most active in getting up an entertainment in every respect so novel. At least we can say, for our own part, that on entering we were much surprised at observ. ing the appearance presented by the theatre, which was never before graced by the presence of so large an audience. Not only were the first and second rows of boxes completely filled with ladies and gentlemen, but the numerous benches upon the extensive area obtained by flooring over the pit and the stage was likewise literally crowded, from the front to the back of the house, and many were obliged to content themselves with the standing-room of the avenues left for entering and retiring. The concourse of ladies was very great; and, altogether, independent of the purpose of the assemblage, it was well worth the visit to see the unusual and elegant aspect offered by the theatre on the occasion.
“ The officers of the meeting occupied an elevated stand under the proscenium, from which position Mr. Buckingham, the celebrated lecturer, addressed the company. He spoke upward of two hours, and it has rarely been our fortune to hear an address which gave more satisfaction, or more completely riveted the attention. As a speaker, he possesses remarkable ease, fluency, and readiness, combined with a gracesul, unaffected manner, which invests his subject with additional interest, and immediately enlists the feelings of the hearer. His address was characterized by great variety. The occasional statistical detail was relieved by the fervent appeal and the pertinent anecdote, and again the speaker would indulge in a humorous delineation of the difficulties which beset his path, especially in the British House of Commons, when setting forth as a pioneer in the cause of total abstinence. The sketches of scenes of this nature were dashed off with a vividness and graphic force, and, at the same time, with a freedom from all appearance of straining at effect, which rendered them truly delightful, and elicited, as indeed the speech did throughout, the most enthusiastic applause. It is a difficult matter to fix the attention of a large and mixed audience for any length of time, especially when, as in a theatre, their restless
ness does not subject them to observation ; and it must have been truly gratifying to Mr. Buckingham to see his perfect success in this respect. The only feeling among his hearers when he had concluded was that of regret that his remarks were not extended to a greater length. With such advocates, the cause he has espoused cannot fail in making rapid progress.
" At the conclusion of Mr. Buckingh m's speech, refreshments were served from the long table, which extended the whole length of the theatre, and at intervals afterward, ice-creams, &c., continued to be handed round. Several other speeches were likewise delivered, which, however, coming so late in the evening, might have been curtailed with ad. vantage, especially in those instances where the zeal of the speaker was his only title to attention.
“ It was about eleven o'clock when the Festival was brought to a conclusion, the adjournment being preceded by a few words from Mr. Buckingham; and all who were present seemed to leave the house highly gratified with the occurrences of the evening. Mr. Buckingham, at least, has every reason to felicitate himself upon the effect of his first public appearance among the Philadelphians.”
A third paper, the Pennsylvania Herald, contained a still longer article than any of its contemporaries. The following, which is but a small portion of the whole, will show the concurrent opinions of the Philadelphia press :
“The Temperance Festival at the Arch-street Theatre, on Thursday evening last, must have surpassed the expectations even of the most sanguine friends of the cause. Never did the theatre present a more imposing, more brilliant, or more gratifying appearance. The pit, which had been floored over, was completely occupied by the vast assemblage. The boxes were also thronged, and the tout ensemble was calculated to send a thrill of delight to every bosom, and reanimate the energies of every friend of the cause. It is estimated that not less than 2000 persons could have been present. Among these, citizens of every class and condition of life, and a large proportion of the fairer and gentler sex, who, by their presence, gave an additional charm, and lent a more refined sanction to the scene. The dress circle was particularly brilliant. Headdresses of the most tasteful character gave effect to youth and beauty of no common mould, while mother and daughter, father and son, sat beside each other, all apparently gratified, and deeply interested in the progress of the exercises. As early as seven o'clock in the evening the whole company had assembled; and, while order, decorum, and propriety reigned throughout, no spectator could have gazed coldly upon the animated scene, or have reflected with other than benevolent feelings upon the elevated objects of that festival.
“Mr. Buckingham concluded his most eloquent, diversified, powerful, and convincing address by expressing in warm and affectionate terms his grateful and heartfelt acknowledgments for the high honour which had been conferred upon him in this . City of Brotherly Love.' Mr. B. sat down amid the warmest demonstrations of applause.
“The company were then addressed by Mr. E. C. Delavan, of NewYork, Mr. C. Keener, of Baltimore, Matthew Carey, Esq., of Philadel. phia, the Rev. Mr. Chambers, and the Rev. Mr. Hunt. Their narks were characteristic and appropriate, and frequently elicited the liveliest acclamations. The festival throughout cannot but be considered as one of the most gratifying expositions of public sentiment, and one in which every philanthropist musi seel no ordinary degree of interest.”