« ZurückWeiter »
there results this appalling consequence-that the whole government of the State of Rhode Island, from the Revolution up to the 31 of May, 1842, has been a sheer, a downright, a blasphemous usurpation. Yes, sir, a usurpation; for after the Revolution was accomplished, the charter was dead. The declaration of American independence took place, and the Revolution followed; everything that was British-every vestige of British power and authority perished. It was entirely cut off from the face of this coutinent. How, then, has this form of government continued to exist? It could only be in this way: At the time when the Revolution closed, it is probable that the number of those having rights confirmed to them by the charter amounted to a majority of the population, and they were willing that the charter should stand, that they might enjoy the benefits of freeholders, and be the lords and masters of the increasing multitudes by whom the Stale became speedily populated. There is one peculiarity about this state of things, to which an American cannot close his eyes—that it is an exact inversion of our political institutions. It leaves it in the power of the legislature to declare who shall have the privilege of voting; and, consequently, they may pass a law excluding every one but themselves-perpetulating to themselves and to their descendants the privilege, and excluding all others.
The sovereignty is thus vested in the agent, and not in the principal-in the representatives of the people, and not in the people themselves.
Well, sir, under these circumstances, what did the people of Rhode Island gain by the Revolution? They thought they were struggling to exchange British anthority for the rights of civil liberty. Yet we see the great body of the people—three-fifths, at least, of the entire population-being disfranchised, lesi to the remaiuing two fifths the power of governing. But we have seen that the people have regenerated the Government-have thrown off this usurpation inder which they have so long been deprived of their rights; and I will here ask, by what authority, under this charter, (if it does exist,) do Senators from that State occupy places upon this floor? Does the charter authorize the State to elect Senators to the Congress of the United States? Sir, does the charter authorize a convention of the peo. ple of Rhode Island to incorporate that State into the body of the American republic? I presume not, sir. By what authority, then, did they act, when they became a constituent part of this Union? Was it under that charter, granted more than a century before the Revolution--was it by virtue of that charter, under which the majority of the inhabitants were disfranchised, that that State took refuge, like a tempest tost vessel, and became safely moored in the harbor of the republic? Do you bring the charler into the federal constitution with you? No, sir; the people of the State of Rhode Island adopted, in solemn convention assembled, the federal constiturion-the vital, eleinentary principle of civil liberty. It was recognised by all parties. Without this, the State could not have become a member of the Union, because the constitution requires that this shall be done, This was not the work of a party; it was effcted by the fathers of the Revolution, who laid down the fundaniental law of civil liberty-men whose veins were draived of their life blood in procuring that independence and the enjoyment of that civil liberty for their descendants. What did that convention do? They declared "that there are certain natural rights of which men, when they form a social coinpact, cannot deprive or divest their posterity; among which are the enjoyment of life and liberty, with the means of acquiring, possessing, and protecting property, and pursuing
and obtaining happiness and safety :" " that all power is naturally vested in, and consequently derived from, the people ; that magistrates, therefore, are their trustees and agents, and at all times amenable to them :" "that the powers of government may be reassumed by the people, whensoever it shall become necessary to their happiness."
Never was there a declaration stronger or more comprehensive than this made by the sovereign people of the State of Rhode Island. Well, sir, what have they subsequently done? Why, as soon as they got snugly established as a part of the Union, the governor and conipany of the prov. ince effected the resumption of the sovereigniy, because there was not popular power enough around them to resist. They resumed the sovereigoty, meting ont to the people as much right and as much wrong as those sovereign legislators thought proper to mete out. Instead of having their own duties prescribed to them, they assumed the right to prescribe to the people—their lords and masters—how much liberty they should enjoy. Sir, the President of the United States, it seenis, is now called upon to sus. tain this charter of a British monarch. John Tyler is called on to act as Charles II of England would have done, in ensorcing this charier-by force of arms. Who ever before heard of an appeal to an American President to support British authority? And I say again, if he has the right to call in the aid of an armed force to sustain that anthority, the independence of this country does not exist. Such a proceeding might be tolerated in Can. ada; but, in relation to one of the States of this Union, the supposition is es ridiculous as it is odious. The President declares that he feels himself bound, and that it is his duty, to employ an armed force, if it becomes ne. cessary, in order to enforce obedience to this usurpation, which has been for half a century in existence in Rhode Island; he will march an armed force of American citizens into that State, in martial array, to shoot down the people, in order to sustain that charter, which it was the main object of the Revolution to destroy. Let him try it! let him try it! The President is a man, and but a man; he is an officer of the Government, and but an officer.
The power which constitutes the President rests neither with this body nor its friends; it possesses a moral force which is superior to either. Let the President undertake to march an army into Rhode Island, to put down the liberties of the people at the point of the bayonet, and he will have done a deed of which his posterity will be ashamed--of which the nation will be ashamed. But, though he threatens to do it, and stands officially pledged to do it, I tell him (as I have told him face to face) that the American people will not permit him to do it. Here is what will test the question, (holding up a placard.] This I look upou as the first flash of indignation from the enraged brow of an angry people; and I warn the President to take notice of the lightning's flash, as being ihe forerunner of a storm that will cover him with deep disgrace.
Yes, sir, this is a Government of principle, sustained by the sense of the people; and the man who rashly undertakes to put down popular liberty in this couniry will meet with signal disconfiture. In connexion with my honorable colleague, I have the honor of representing one of the great and glorious States of this Union ; and, sir, I can assure you that I speak the feelings of the great body of the people, acting only under the pro ptings of a bold and heroic magnanimity, when I say ibat they would be roused
that they would rally as one man in defence of our glorious liberties, whether invaded by foreign or domestic foes.
I now offer a resolution, which will test the sense of this body upon the vitality of our whole system. I have introduced into it nothing but what has been prompted by a natural impulse of patriotism-nothing but will be responded to by the whole body of my countrymen. Had the Senate acted upon the resolution when it was first offered, the President would have retracted; he would not now have stood pledged; the Government of the people wonld have gone on; the rights of all would have been protected by the votes of all.
Mr. Preston rose to a point of order. He had refrained from interrupting the Senator for a long time, though he had, from the beginning, transcend ed not only the rules, but the ordinary license of debate.
Mr. Allen would save the Senator from the necessity of proceeding any further, by informing him that he had riven to his point of order just in the right time, for he (Mr. Allen) had not another word to say, except to submit his resolutions, as follows:
Resolved, That it is the right of the people of Rhode Island to establish for themselves a constitutional republican form of State government, and in any particular to alter or modify it, provided its form be left republican.
Resolved, That it is not the right of the Federal Government to interfere in any manner with the people, to prevent or discourage their so doing ; but that, on the contrary, it is the duty of the Federal Government to guaranty to them, as a State, such republican form of State government, when so established, altered, or modified.
Mr. Simmons observed that he had a few remarks to make in answer to what had fallen from the Senator from Ohio.
Mr. Preston asked if the whole thing had not been irregular, and inquired what was the question before the Senate.
T'he Chair explained that, in strictness, the question was whether the Senator from Rhode Island should proceed. The Senator from Ohio hav. ing gone beyond the mere explanation allowed on the introduction of a resolution, without having been called to order, the Senate could, by general consent, permit the Senator from Rhode Island to proceed.
Mr. King observed that in all ordinary cases, great latitude of debate was allowed; but there were cases in which great inconvenience might arice. When he had voted to take up the resolution, it was under an expectation that the Senator from Ohio would have modified it; aud had it been taken up, the resolutions now offered, and the remarks accompanying them, would not have been offered. But all this having occurred, it seemed now as if discussion could not be restrained. It was obvious that such dis. cussion could hardly be kept from excitement. He would, however, suggest to the Senate the obvious propriety of approaching this subject with calmness and moderation.
Mr. Calhoun observed that his vote against taking up the original resoJutjun showed that he had no desire to see the subject agitated in the Senate, as long as it was possible the affairs of Rhode Island would be settled by the people themselves; but it was inipossible now to prevent discussion. He hoped it would be permitted to go on, and that the resolutions would be allowed to be presented, and that a day would be appointed for taking them up for debate. He made a motion to that effect.
Mr. Preston concurred with the Senator from South Carolina, (Mr. Ca?
houn,] that the time was come for discussion. He thought the time had come when it was necessary to lay down the principles on which the action of this Government is to be conducted in its relations with the States. He therefore seconded the motion of the Senator from South Carolina to have the resolutions printed, and a day appointed for their discussion.
Mr. Tallmadge had listened to the Senator from Ohio for some time with surprise--the Senate having refused to take up the original resolution. The discussion had been forced upon the Senate quite irregularly; but, as it was permitted to go so far, he would move that the Senator from Rhode Island be permitted to go on; and then, if no one else offered such a motion, he would move to lay the resolutions on the table.
Mr. Allen explained, that when he had experienced a determination on the part of the majority of the Senate to suppress the expression of opinion on the part of the minority, he had taken advantage of a rule of the Senate which justified him in pursuing the course he did. If gentlemen were forced into discussion, it was the consequence of an arbitrary attempt to suppress a free expression of opinion, dictated by a sense of public duty.
Here a general disposition was manifested to allow Mr. Simmons to proceed; and the point of order being withdrawnMr. Simmons made his acknowledgments to Senators who had interposed to obtain him a hearing in reply to the Senator from Ohio. The remarks of that Senator had not excited in him any other feelings than those of surprise. The Senator had proceeded on the assumption that all constitutional law and rule of government should be in writing. Whence did he derive this notion ? Not from the country of our origin. With respect to the constitution of Rhode Island, which the Senator from Ohio characterized as dead, and all action under it as blasphemous usurpation, he (Mr. S.) would say that it is—no matter what it may or may not be- the constitution of Rhode Island; and it was not competent for any other State 10 dictate to that State what its constitution should be. He denied that the charter of its government was such as it had been described by its opponents. The charter fully recognises the form of altering it. The legislature has frequently acted upon that form, and called conventions. li did so when it called the convention which ratified the federal constitution. The people of Rhode Island knew what they were about when they adopt ed that constitution. Where else were the elemenis of civil and religious liberty to be found, which had always actuated Rhode Island, but in that charter-the first ever obtained in these colonies? It was these cherished principles of liberty which bound it to the hearts of those who now wished io cherish it. It is contended that the legislature is supported by a minority of the people. This he denied. He maintained there was always a majority entitled to franchise, as large as in any other State. Some regulation was necessary with regard to qualifications of suffrage.
The people of Rhode Island, through their legislature, had fixed their own rules, and no other State or power had any right to interfere. In those rules the State of Rhode Island asked for some particular evidence of the attachment of a citizen to their State, and to the district of his residence, before it granted the franchise. Does not every other State, in some form or other, require the same?. They say that, in order to give evidence of this attachment, the citizen must purchase a home to the amount of one hundred and thirty four dollars. The very first act of his own life was to vest the savings of his minority in the purchase of property to entitle him
to this right. It was property which he prized above all others, and which would be the last he should ever part with. This pride gave a peculiar home-feeling and attachment to the people of Rhode Island. But such is the regard which the legislature has for popular rights, that, whenever a number of the people constituting a majority have proposed a change, it has been accorded. On the application of ihose men who, a year ago, asked the legislature for an extension of rights, the legislature called a convention, at which they had their request accorded. But, instead of patiently waiting till the change was consummated, these men got together and attempted to revolutionize the government; they presented to everybody and anybody their new constitution, without the slightest guard against fraud. It is now the boast of some who signed that constitution, that they did so sixteen or eighteen times. Notwithstanding all this, the convention anthorized by the legislature went on and extended the right of suffrage as far as had been required; but the opposite party voted it down with as much energy as if it was to deprive them of suffrage, instead of to increase it. All that the government of Rhode Island requires is, that whatever change may be desired by a large portion of the people may be effected by law, and according to law.
When the Senator from Ohio was reading the declaration of the people of Rhode Island, with regard to the sovereign rights of the people, he (Mr. S.) was in hopes the Senator would have read further, and shown what was the sense of Rhode Island as to what was due to its government. It says that the powers of government may be resumed by the people when necessary; and that any power not delegated to the General Government or Congress, remains with the people or their respective legislatures. He would ask the honorable Senator, where was the power of Congress to de. clare that any form of government shall be the government of Rhode Island? As to the powers of the legislature of that State not being defined by a written constitution, he would say they were defined in the bill of righits. He would ask the honorable Senator if, instead of Rhode Island being governe:d by an anti-republican government, it was not the most republican government in the Union ? for the people every six months elect their representatives, who are thus checked by the people twice as often as the representatives of any other State. The usage of that people, with respect to many of their institutions, is as republican as in any country in the world. But whether the government of Rhode Island derives its rights from a written constitution or not, he (Mr. S.) denied the right of this Gov. ernment to dictate to that State what form of government it shall have. He regretted that any disposition should exist to goad on, by handbills, or letters, or other means, any portion of the people of Rhode Island to butcher their fellow-citizens. He said of such men, when he heard of these handbills and letters, that they had no children-no hearts. He had been un. expectedly called up on the present occasion, and was not prepared to do justice to the subject. He enumerated many of the most distinguished patriots of Rhode Island, who had been first and foremost in the struggle for independence, and asked, had not its government been first and fore. most on every occasion in evincing a determination to maintain public liberty? He characterized as a new fangled doctrine that which asserted that the charter of government on which Rhode Island had prospered for two hundred years, had been for fifty years a dead letter, and that all action on it had been blasphemous and damnable usurpation. He maintained that