RIGHTS OF MAN, Being an Answer to Mr. Burke's Attack on the French Revolution
Used with the permission of the Online Library of Liberty
PREFACE TO THE ENGLISH EDITION.
From the part Mr. Burke took in the American Revolution, it was natural that I should consider him a friend to mankind; and as our acquaintance commenced on that ground, it would have been more agreeable to me to have had cause to continue in that opinion than to change it.
At the time Mr. Burke made his violent speech last winter in the English Parliament against the French Revolution and the National Assembly, I was in Paris, and had written to him but a short time before to inform him how prosperously matters were going on.1 Soon after this I saw his advertisement of the Pamphlet he intended to publish: As the attack was to be made in a language but little studied, and less understood in France, and as everything suffers by translation, I promised some of the friends of the Revolution in that country that whenever Mr. Burke's Pamphlet came forth, I would answer it. This appeared to me the more necessary to be done, when I saw the flagrant misrepresentations which Mr. Burke's Pamphlet contains; and that while it is an outrageous abuse on the French Revolution, and the principles of Liberty, it is an imposition on the rest of the world.
I am the more astonished and disappointed at this conduct in Mr. Burke, as (from the circumstances I am going to mention) I had formed other expectations.
I had seen enough of the miseries of war, to wish it might never more have existence in the world, and that some other mode might be found out to settle the differences that should occasionally arise in the neighbourhood of nations. This certainly might be done it Courts were disposed to set honestly about it, or if countries were enlightened enough not to be made the dupes of Courts. The people of America had been bred up in the same prejudices against France, which at that time characterised the people of England; but experience and an acquaintance with the French Nation have most effectually shown to the Americans the falsehood of those prejudices; and I do not believe that a more cordial and confidential intercourse exists between any two countries than between America and France.
When I came to France, in the spring of 1787, the Archbishop of Thoulouse was then Minister, and at that time highly esteemed. I became much acquainted with the private Secretary of that Minister, a man of an enlarged benevolent heart; and found, that his sentiments and my own perfectly agreed with respect to the madness of war, and the wretched impolicy of two nations, like England and France, continually worrying each other, to no other end than that of a mutual increase of burdens and taxes. That I might be assured I had not misunderstood him, nor he me, I put the substance of our opinions into writing and sent it to him; subjoining a request, that if I should see among the people of England, any disposition to cultivate a better understanding between the two nations than had hitherto prevailed, how far I might be authorised to say that the same disposition prevailed on the part of France? He answered me by letter in the most unreserved manner, and that not for himself only, but for the Minister, with whose knowledge the letter was declared to be written.
I put this letter into the hands of Mr. Burke almost three years ago, and left it with him, where it still remains; hoping, and at the same time naturally expecting, from the opinion I had conceived of him, that he would find some opportunity of making good use of it, for the purpose of removing those errors and prejudices which two neighbouring nations, from the want of knowing each other, had entertained, to the injury of both.
When the French Revolution broke out, it certainly afforded to Mr. Burke an opportunity of doing some good, had he been disposed to it; instead of which, no sooner did he see the old prejudices wearing away, than he immediately began sowing the seeds of a new inveteracy, as if he were afraid that England and France would cease to be enemies. That there are men in all countries who get their living by war, and by keeping up the quarrels of Nations, is as shocking as it is true; but when those who are concerned in the government of a country, make it their study to sow discord and cultivate prejudices between Nations, it becomes the more unpardonable.
With respect to a paragraph in this work alluding to Mr. Burke's having a pension, the report has been some time in circulation, at least two months; and as a person is often the last to hear what concerns him the most to know, I have mentioned it, that Mr. Burke may have an opportunity of contradicting the rumour, if he thinks proper.
RIGHTS OF MAN.
Among the incivilities by which nations or individuals provoke and irritate each other, Mr. Burke's pamphlet on the French Revolution is an extraordinary instance. Neither the people of France, nor the National Assembly, were troubling themselves about the affairs of England, or the English Parliament; and that Mr. Burke should commence an unprovoked attack upon them, both in Parliament and in public, is a conduct that cannot be pardoned on the score of manners, nor justified on that of policy.
There is scarcely an epithet of abuse to be found in the English language, with which Mr. Burke has not loaded the French Nation and the National Assembly. Everything which rancour, prejudice, ignorance or knowledge could suggest, is poured forth in the copious fury of near four hundred pages. In the strain and on the plan Mr. Burke was writing, he might have written on to as many thousands. When the tongue or the pen is let loose in a phrenzy of passion, it is the man, and not the subject, that becomes exhausted.
Hitherto Mr. Burke has been mistaken and disappointed in the opinions he had formed of the affairs of France; but such is the ingenuity of his hope, or the malignancy of his despair, that it furnishes him with new pretences to go on. There was a time when it was impossible to make Mr. Burke believe there would be any Revolution in France. His opinion then was, that the French had neither spirit to undertake it nor fortitude to support it; and now that there is one, he seeks an escape by condemning it.
Not sufficiently content with abusing the National Assembly, a great part of his work is taken up with abusing Dr. Price (one of the best-hearted men that lives)1 and the two societies in England known by the name of the Revolution society and the Society for Constitutional Information.
Dr. Price had preached a sermon on the 4th of November, 1789, being the anniversary of what is called in England the Revolution, which took place 1688. Mr. Burke, speaking of this sermon, says: “The political Divine proceeds dogmatically to assert, that by the principles of the Revolution, the people of England have acquired three fundamental rights.
- 1. To choose our own governors.
- 2. To cashier them for misconduct.
- 3. To frame a government for ourselves.”
Dr. Price does not say that the right to do these things exists in this or in that person, or in this or in that description of persons, but that it exists in the whole; that it is a right resident in the nation. Mr. Burke, on the contrary, denies that such a right exists in the nation, either in whole or in part, or that it exists anywhere; and, what is still more strange and marvellous, he says: “that the people of England utterly disclaim such a right, and that they will resist the practical assertion of it with their lives and fortunes.” That men should take up arms and spend their lives and fortunes, not to maintain their rights, but to maintain they have not rights, is an entirely new species of discovery, and suited to the paradoxical genius of Mr. Burke.
The method which Mr. Burke takes to prove that the people of England have no such rights, and that such rights do not now exist in the nation, either in whole or in part, or anywhere at all, is of the same marvellous and monstrous kind with what he has already said; for his arguments are that the persons, or the generation of persons, in whom they did exist, are dead, and with them the right is dead also. To prove this, he quotes a declaration made by Parliament about a hundred years ago, to William and Mary, in these words: “The Lords Spiritual and Temporal, and Commons, do, in the name of the people aforesaid” (meaning the people of England then living) “most humbly and faithfully submit themselves, their heirs and posterities, for EVER.” He quotes a clause of another Act of Parliament made in the same reign, the terms of which he says, “bind us” (meaning the people of their day), “our heirs and our posterity, to them, their heirs and posterity, to the end of time.”
Mr. Burke conceives his point sufficiently established by producing those clauses, which he enforces by saying that they exclude the right of the nation for ever. And not yet content with making such declarations, repeated over and over again, he farther says, “that if the people of England possessed such a right before the Revolution” (which he acknowledges to have been the case, not only in England, but throughout Europe, at an early period), “yet that the English Nation did, at the time of the Revolution, most solemnly renounce and abdicate it, for themselves, and for all their posterity, for ever.“
As Mr. Burke occasionally applies the poison drawn from his horrid principles, not only to the English nation, but to the French Revolution and the National Assembly, and charges that august, illuminated and illuminating body of men with the epithet of usurpers, I shall, sans cérémonie, place another system of principles in opposition to his.
The English Parliament of 1688 did a certain thing, which, for themselves and their constituents, they had a right to do, and which it appeared right should be done. But, in addition to this right, which they possessed by delegation, they set up another right by assumption, that of binding and controlling posterity to the end of time. The case, therefore, divides itself into two parts; the right which they possessed by delegation, and the right which they set up by assumption. The first is admitted; but with respect to the second, I reply—
There never did, there never will, and there never can, exist a Parliament, or any description of men, or any generation of men, in any country, possessed of the right or the power of binding and controuling posterity to the “end of time,” or of commanding for ever how the world shall be governed, or who shall govern it; and therefore all such clauses, acts or declarations by which the makers of them attempt to do what they have neither the right nor the power to do, nor the power to execute, are in themselves null and void. Every age and generation must be as free to act for itself in all cases as the age and generations which preceded it. The vanity and presumption of governing beyond the grave is the most ridiculous and insolent of all tyrannies. Man has no property in man; neither has any generation a property in the generations which are to follow. The Parliament or the people of 1688, or of any other period, had no more right to dispose of the people of the present day, or to bind or to control them in any shape whatever, than the parliament or the people of the present day have to dispose of, bind or control those who are to live a hundred or a thousand years hence. Every generation is, and must be, competent to all the purposes which its occasions require. It is the living, and not the dead, that are to be accommodated. When man ceases to be, his power and his wants cease with him; and having no longer any participation in the concerns of this world, he has no longer any authority in directing who shall be its governors, or how its government shall be organised, or how administered.
I am not contending for nor against any form of government, nor for nor against any party, here or elsewhere. That which a whole nation chooses to do it has a right to do. Mr. Burke says, No. Where, then, does the right exist? I am contending for the rights of the living, and against their being willed away and controuled and contracted for by the manuscript assumed authority of the dead, and Mr. Burke is contending for the authority of the dead over the rights and freedom of the living. There was a time when kings disposed of their crowns by will upon their death-beds, and consigned the people, like beasts of the field, to whatever successor they appointed. This is now so exploded as scarcely to be remembered, and so monstrous as hardly to be believed. But the Parliamentary clauses upon which Mr. Burke builds his political church are of the same nature.
The laws of every country must be analogous to some common principle. In England no parent or master, nor all the authority of Parliament, omnipotent as it has called itself, can bind or control the personal freedom even of an individual beyond the age of twenty-one years. On what ground of right, then, could the Parliament of 1688, or any other Parliament, bind all posterity for ever?
Those who have quitted the world, and those who have not yet arrived at it, are as remote from each other as the utmost stretch of mortal imagination can conceive. What possible obligation, then, can exist between them—what rule or principle can be laid down that of two nonentities, the one out of existence and the other not in, and who never can meet in this world, the one should controul the other to the end of time?
In England it is said that money cannot be taken out of the pockets of the people without their consent. But who authorised, or who could authorise, the Parliament of 1688 to control and take away the freedom of posterity (who were not in existence to give or to withhold their consent), and limit and confine their right of acting in certain cases for ever?
A greater absurdity cannot present itself to the understanding of man than what Mr. Burke offers to his readers. He tells them, and he tells the world to come, that a certain body of men who existed a hundred years ago made a law, and that there does not now exist in the nation, nor ever will, nor ever can, a power to alter it. Under how many subtilties or absurdities has the divine right to govern been imposed on the credulity of mankind? Mr. Burke has discovered a new one, and he has shortened his journey to Rome by appealing to the power of this infallible Parliament of former days, and he produces what it has done as of divine authority, for that power must certainly be more than human which no human power to the end of time can alter.
But Mr. Burke has done some service—not to his cause, but to his country—by bringing those clauses into public view. They serve to demonstrate how necessary it is at all times to watch against the attempted encroachment of power, and to prevent its running to excess. It is somewhat extraordinary that the offence for which James II. was expelled, that of setting up power by assumption, should be re-acted, under another shape and form, by the Parliament that expelled him. It shews that the Rights of Man were but imperfectly understood at the Revolution, for certain it is that the right which that Parliament set up by assumption (for by delegation it had not, and could not have it, because none could give it) over the persons and freedom of posterity for ever was of the same tyrannical unfounded kind which James attempted to set up over the Parliament and the nation, and for which he was expelled. The only difference is (for in principle they differ not) that the one was an usurper over the living, and the other over the unborn; and as the one has no better authority to stand upon than the other, both of them must be equally null and void, and of no effect.
From what, or from whence, does Mr. Burke prove the right of any human power to bind posterity for ever? He has produced his clauses, but he must produce also his proofs that such a right existed, and shew how it existed. If it ever existed it must now exist, for whatever appertains to the nature of man cannot be annihilated by man. It is the nature of man to die, and he will continue to die as long as he continues to be born. But Mr. Burke has set up a sort of political Adam, in whom all posterity are bound for ever. He must, therefore, prove that his Adam possessed such a power, or such a right.
The weaker any cord is, the less will it bear to be stretched, and the worse is the policy to stretch it, unless it is intended to break it. Had anyone proposed the overthrow of Mr. Burke's positions, he would have proceeded as Mr. Burke has done. He would have magnified the authorities, on purpose to have called the right of them into question; and the instant the question of right was started, the authorities must have been given up.
It requires but a very small glance of thought to perceive that altho’ laws made in one generation often continue in force through succeeding generations, yet they continue to derive their force from the consent of the living. A law not repealed continues in force, not because it cannot be repealed, but because it is not repealed; and the non-repealing passes for consent.
But Mr. Burke's clauses have not even this qualification in their favor. They become null, by attempting to become immortal. The nature of them precludes consent. They destroy the right which they might have, by grounding it on a right which they cannot have. Immortal power is not a human right, and therefore cannot be a right of Parliament. The Parliament of 1688 might as well have passed an act to have authorised themselves to live for ever, as to make their authority live for ever. All, therefore, that can be said of those clauses is that they are a formality of words, of as much import as if those who used them had addressed a congratulation to themselves, and in the oriental style of antiquity had said: O Parliament, live for ever!
The circumstances of the world are continually changing, and the opinions of men change also; and as government is for the living, and not for the dead, it is the living only that has any right in it. That which may be thought right and found convenient in one age may be thought wrong and found inconvenient in another. In such cases, who is to decide, the living or the dead?
As almost one hundred pages of Mr. Burke's book are employed upon these clauses, it will consequently follow that if the clauses themselves, so far as they set up an assumed usurped dominion over posterity for ever, are unauthoritative, and in their nature null and void; that all his voluminous inferences, and declamation drawn therefrom, or founded thereon, are null and void also; and on this ground I rest the matter.
We now come more particularly to the affairs of France. Mr. Burke's book has the appearance of being written as instruction to the French nation: but if I may permit myself the use of an extravagant metaphor, suited to the extravagance of the case, it is darkness attempting to illuminate light.
While I am writing this there are accidentally before me some proposals for a declaration of rights by the Marquis de la Fayette (I ask his pardon for using his former address, and do it only for distinction's sake) to the National Assembly, on the 11th of July, 1789, three days before the taking of the Bastille, and I cannot but remark with astonishment how opposite the sources are from which that gentleman and Mr. Burke draw their principles. Instead of referring to musty records and mouldy parchments to prove that the rights of the living are lost, “renounced and abdicated for ever,” by those who are now no more, as Mr. Burke has done, M. de la Fayette applies to the living world, and emphatically says: “Call to mind the sentiments which nature has engraved on the heart of every citizen, and which take a new force when they are solemnly recognised by all:—For a nation to love liberty, it is sufficient that she knows it; and to be free, it is sufficient that she wills it.” How dry, barren, and obscure is the source from which Mr. Burke Labors! and how ineffectual, though gay with flowers, are all his declamation and his arguments compared with these clear, concise, and soul-animating sentiments! Few and short as they are, they lead on to a vast field of generous and manly thinking, and do not finish, like Mr. Burke's periods, with music in the ear, and nothing in the heart.
As I have introduced M. de la Fayette, I will take the liberty of adding an anecdote respecting his farewell address to the Congress of America in 1783, and which occurred fresh to my mind, when I saw Mr. Burke's thundering attack on the French Revolution. M. de la Fayette went to America at the early period of the war, and continued a volunteer in her service to the end. His conduct through the whole of that enterprise is one of the most extraordinary that is to be found in the history of a young man, scarcely then twenty years of age. Situated in a country that was like the lap of sensual pleasure, and with the means of enjoying it, how few are there to be found who would exchange such a scene for the woods and wildernesses of America, and pass the flowery years of youth in unprofitable danger and hardship! but such is the fact. When the war ended, and he was on the point of taking his final departure, he presented himself to Congress, and contemplating in his affectionate farewel the Revolution he had seen, expressed himself in these words: “May this great monument raised to liberty serve as a lesson to the oppressor, and an example to the oppressed!” When this address came to the hands of Dr. Franklin, who was then in France, he applied to Count Vergennes to have it inserted in the French Gazette, but never could obtain his consent. The fact was that Count Vergennes was an aristocratical despot at home, and dreaded the example of the American Revolution in France, as certain other persons now dread the example of the French Revolution in England, and Mr. Burke's tribute of fear (for in this light his book must be considered) runs parallel with Count Vergennes’ refusal. But to return more particularly to his work.
“We have seen,” says Mr. Burke, “the French rebel against a mild and lawful monarch, with more fury, outrage, and insult, than any people has been known to rise against the most illegal usurper, or the most sanguinary tyrant.” This is one among a thousand other instances, in which Mr. Burke shows that he is ignorant of the springs and principles of the French Revolution.
It was not against Louis XVIth but against the despotic principles of the Government, that the nation revolted. These principles had not their origin in him, but in the original establishment, many centuries back: and they were become too deeply rooted to be removed, and the Augean stables of parasites and plunderers too abominably filthy to be cleansed by anything short of a complete and universal Revolution. When it becomes necessary to do anything, the whole heart and soul should go into the measure, or not attempt it. That crisis was then arrived, and there remained no choice but to act with determined vigor, or not to act at all. The king was known to be the friend of the nation, and this circumstance was favorable to the enterprise. Perhaps no man bred up in the style of an absolute king, ever possessed a heart so little disposed to the exercise of that species of power as the present King of France. But the principles of the Government itself still remained the same. The Monarch and the Monarchy were distinct and separate things; and it was against the established despotism of the latter, and not against the person or principles of the former, that the revolt commenced, and the Revolution has been carried.
Mr. Burke does not attend to the distinction between men and principles, and, therefore, he does not see that a revolt may take place against the despotism of the latter, while there lies no charge of despotism against the former.
The natural moderation of Louis XVIth contributed nothing to alter the hereditary despotism of the monarchy. All the tyrannies of former reigns, acted under that hereditary despotism, were still liable to be revived in the hands of a successor. It was not the respite of a reign that would satisfy France, enlightened as she was then become. A casual discontinuance of the practice of despotism, is not a discontinuance of its principles: the former depends on the virtue of the individual who is in immediate possession of the power; the latter, on the virtue and fortitude of the nation. In the case of Charles Ist and James IInd of England, the revolt was against the personal despotism of the men; whereas in France, it was against the hereditary despotism of the established Government. But men who can consign over the rights of posterity for ever on the authority of a mouldy parchment, like Mr. Burke, are not qualified to judge of this Revolution. It takes in a field too vast for their views to explore, and proceeds with a mightiness of reason they cannot keep pace with.
But there are many points of view in which this Revolution may be considered. When despotism has established itself for ages in a country, as in France, it is not in the person of the king only that it resides. It has the appearance of being so in show, and in nominal authority; but it is not so in practice and in fact. It has its standard everywhere. Every office and department has its despotism, founded upon custom and usage. Every place has its Bastille, and every Bastille its despot. The original hereditary despotism resident in the person of the king, divides and sub-divides itself into a thousand shapes and forms, till at last the whole of it is acted by deputation. This was the case in France; and against this species of despotism, proceeding on through an endless labyrinth of office till the source of it is scarcely perceptible, there is no mode of redress. It strengthens itself by assuming the appearance of duty, and tyrannises under the pretence of obeying.
When a man reflects on the condition which France was in from the nature of her government, he will see other causes for revolt than those which immediately connect themselves with the person or character of Louis XVI. There were, if I may so express it, a thousand despotisms to be reformed in France, which had grown up under the hereditary despotism of the monarchy, and became so rooted as to be in a great measure independent of it. Between the Monarchy, the Parliament, and the Church there was a rivalship of despotism; besides the feudal despotism operating locally, and the ministerial despotism operating everywhere. But Mr. Burke, by considering the king as the only possible object of a revolt, speaks as if France was a village, in which everything that passed must be known to its commanding officer, and no oppression could be acted but what he could immediately controul. Mr. Burke might have been in the Bastille his whole life, as well under Louis XVI as Louis XIV., and neither the one nor the other have known that such a man as Burke existed. The despotic principles of the government were the same in both reigns, though the dispositions of the men were as remote as tyranny and benevolence.
What Mr. Burke considers as a reproach to the French Revolution (that of bringing it forward under a reign more mild than the preceding ones) is one of its highest honors. The Revolutions that have taken place in other European countries, have been excited by personal hatred. The rage was against the man, and he became the victim. But, in the instance of France we see a Revolution generated in the rational contemplation of the Rights of Man, and distinguishing from the beginning between persons and principles.
But Mr. Burke appears to have no idea of principles when he is contemplating Governments. “Ten years ago,” says he, “I could have felicitated France on her having a Government without inquiring what the nature of that Government was, or how it was administered.” Is this the language of a rational man? Is it the language of a heart feeling as it ought to feel for the rights and happiness of the human race? On this ground, Mr. Burke must compliment all the Governments in the world, while the victims who suffer under them, whether sold into slavery, or tortured out of existence, are wholly forgotten. It is power, and not principles, that Mr. Burke venerates; and under this abominable depravity he is disqualified to judge between them. Thus much for his opinion as to the occasions of the French Revolution. I now proceed to other considerations.
I know a place in America called Point-no-Point, because as you proceed along the shore, gay and flowery as Mr. Burke's language, it continually recedes and presents itself at a distance before you; but when you have got as far as you can go, there is no point at all. Just thus it is with Mr. Burke's three hundred and sixty-six pages. It is therefore difficult to reply to him. But as the points he wishes to establish may be inferred from what he abuses, it is in his paradoxes that we must look for his arguments.
As to the tragic paintings by which Mr. Burke has outraged his own imagination, and seeks to work upon that of his readers, they are very well calculated for theatrical representation, where facts are manufactured for the sake of show, and accommodated to produce, through the weakness of sympathy, a weeping effect. But Mr. Burke should recollect that he is writing history, and not plays, and that his readers will expect truth, and not the spouting rant of high-toned exclamation.
When we see a man dramatically lamenting in a publication intended to be believed that “The age of chivalry is gone! that The glory of Europe is extinguished for ever! that The unbought grace of life (if anyone knows what it is), the cheap defence of nations, the nurse of manly sentiment and heroic enterprise is gone! “and all this because the Quixot age of chivalry nonsense is gone, what opinion can we form of his judgment, or what regard can we pay to his facts? In the rhapsody of his imagination he has discovered a world of wind mills, and his sorrows are that there are no Quixots to attack them. But if the age of aristocracy, like that of chivalry, should fall (and they had originally some connection) Mr. Burke, the trumpeter of the Order, may continue his parody to the end, and finish with exclaiming: “Othello's occupation's gone!”
Notwithstanding Mr. Burke's horrid paintings, when the French Revolution is compared with the Revolutions of other countries, the astonishment will be that it is marked with so few sacrifices; but this astonishment will cease when we reflect that principles, and not persons, were the meditated objects of destruction. The mind of the nation was acted upon by a higher stimulus than what the consideration of persons could inspire, and sought a higher conquest than could be produced by the downfall of an enemy. Among the few who fell there do not appear to be any that were intentionally singled out. They all of them had their fate in the circumstances of the moment, and were not pursued with that long, cold-blooded unabated revenge which pursued the unfortunate Scotch in the affair of 1745.
Through the whole of Mr. Burke's book I do not observe that the Bastille is mentioned more than once, and that with a kind of implication as if he were sorry it was pulled down, and wished it were built up again. “We have rebuilt Newgate,” says he, “and tenanted the mansion; and we have prisons almost as strong as the Bastille for those who dare to libel the queens of France.”∗ As to what a madman like the person called Lord G[eorge] G[ordon] might say, and to whom Newgate is rather a bedlam than a prison, it is unworthy a rational consideration. It was a madman that libelled, and that is sufficient apology; and it afforded an opportunity for confining him, which was the thing that was wished for. But certain it is that Mr. Burke, who does not call himself a madman (whatever other people may do), has libelled in the most unprovoked manner, and in the grossest style of the most vulgar abuse, the whole representative authority of France, and yet Mr. Burke takes his seat in the British House of Commons! From his violence and his grief, his silence on some points and his excess on others, it is difficult not to believe that Mr. Burke is sorry, extremely sorry, that arbitrary power, the power of the Pope and the Bastille, are pulled down.
Not one glance of compassion, not one commiserating reflexion that I can find throughout his book, has he bestowed on those who lingered out the most wretched of lives, a life without hope in the most miserable of prisons. It is painful to behold a man employing his talents to corrupt himself. Nature has been kinder to Mr. Burke than he is to her. He is not affected by the reality of distress touching his heart, but by the showy resemblance of it striking his imagination. He pities the plumage, but forgets the dying bird. Accustomed to kiss the aristocratical hand that hath purloined him from himself, he degenerates into a composition of art, and the genuine soul of nature forsakes him. His hero or his heroine must be a tragedy-victim expiring in show, and not the real prisoner of misery, sliding into death in the silence of a dungeon.
As Mr. Burke has passed over the whole transaction of the Bastille (and his silence is nothing in his favor), and has entertained his readers with reflections on supposed facts distorted into real falsehoods, I will give, since he has not, some account of the circumstances which preceded that transaction. They will serve to shew that less mischief could scarcely have accompanied such an event when considered with the treacherous and hostile aggravations of the enemies of the Revolution.
The mind can hardly picture to itself a more tremendous scene than what the city of Paris exhibited at the time of taking the Bastille, and for two days before and after, nor perceive the possibility of its quieting so soon. At a distance this transaction has appeared only as an act of heroism standing on itself, and the close political connection it had with the Revolution is lost in the brilliancy of the achievement. But we are to consider it as the strength of the parties brought man to man, and contending for the issue. The Bastille was to be either the prize or the prison of the assailants. The downfall of it included the idea of the downfall of despotism, and this compounded image was become as figuratively united as Bunyan's Doubting Castle and Giant Despair.1
The National Assembly, before and at the time of taking the Bastille, was sitting at Versailles, twelve miles distant from Paris. About a week before the rising of the Parisians, and their taking the Bastille, it was discovered that a plot was forming, at the head of which was the Count d'Artois, the king's youngest brother, for demolishing the National Assembly, seizing its members, and thereby crushing, by a coup de main, all hopes and prospects of forming a free government. For the sake of humanity, as well as freedom, it is well this plan did not succeed. Examples are not wanting to show how dreadfully vindictive and cruel are all old governments, when they are successful against what they call a revolt.
This plan must have been some time in contemplation; because, in order to carry it into execution, it was necessary to collect a large military force round Paris, and cut off the communication between that city and the National Assembly at Versailles. The troops destined for this service were chiefly the foreign troops in the pay of France, and who, for this particular purpose, were drawn from the distant provinces where they were then stationed. When they were collected to the amount of between twenty-five and thirty thousand, it was judged time to put the plan into execution. The ministry who were then in office, and who were friendly to the Revolution, were instantly dismissed and a new ministry formed of those who had concerted the project, among whom was Count de Broglio, and to his share was given the command of those troops. The character of this man as described to me in a letter which I communicated to Mr. Burke before he began to write his book, and from an authority which Mr. Burke well knows was good, was that of “a high-flying aristocrat, cool, and capable of every mischief.”
While these matters were agitating the National Assembly stood in the most perilous and critical situation that a body of men can be supposed to act in. They were the devoted victims, and they knew it. They had the hearts and wishes of their country on their side, but military authority they had none. The guards of Broglio surrounded the hall where the Assembly sat, ready, at the word of command, to seize their persons, as had been done the year before to the Parliament of Paris. Had the National Assembly deserted their trust, or had they exhibited signs of weakness or fear, their enemies had been encouraged and their country depressed. When the situation they stood in, the cause they were engaged in, and the crisis then ready to burst, which should determine their personal and political fate and that of their country, and probably of Europe, are taken into one view, none but a heart callous with prejudice or corrupted by dependence can avoid interesting itself in their success.
The Archbishop of Vienne was at this time President of the National Assembly—a person too old to undergo the scene that a few days or a few hours might bring forth. A man of more activity and bolder fortitude was necessary, and the National Assembly chose (under the form of a Vice-President, for the Presidency still resided in the Archbishop) M. de la Fayette; and this is the only instance of a Vice-President being chosen. It was at the moment that this storm was pending (July 11th) that a declaration of rights was brought forward by M. de la Fayette, and is the same which is alluded to in p. [282.] It was hastily drawn up, and makes only a part of the more extensive declaration of rights agreed upon and adopted afterwards by the National Assembly. The particular reason for bringing it forward at this moment (M. de la Fayette has since informed me) was that, if the National Assembly should fall in the threatened destruction that then surrounded it, some trace of its principles might have the chance of surviving the wreck.
Everything now was drawing to a crisis. The event was freedom or slavery. On one side, an army of nearly thirty thousand men; on the other, an unarmed body of citizens—for the citizens of Paris, on whom the National Assembly must then immediately depend, were as unarmed and as undisciplined as the citizens of London are now. The French guards had given strong symptoms of their being attached to the national cause; but their numbers were small, not a tenth part of the force that Broglio commanded, and their officers were in the interest of Broglio.
Matters being now ripe for execution, the new ministry made their appearance in office. The reader will carry in his mind that the Bastille was taken the 14th July; the point of time I am now speaking of is the 12th. Immediately on the news of the change of ministry reaching Paris, in the afternoon, all the playhouses and places of entertainment, shops and houses, were shut up. The change of ministry was considered as the prelude of hostilities, and the opinion was rightly founded.
The foreign troops began to advance towards the city. The Prince de Lambesc, who commanded a body of German cavalry, approached by the Place of Lewis XV., which connects itself with some of the streets. In his march, he insulted and struck an old man with a sword. The French are remarkable for their respect to old age; and the insolence with which it appeared to be done, uniting with the general fermentation they were in, produced a powerful effect, and a cry of “To arms! to arms!” spread itself in a moment over the city.
Arms they had none, nor scarcely anyone who knew the use of them; but desperate resolution, when every hope is at stake, supplies, for a while, the want of arms. Near where the Prince de Lambesc was drawn up, were large piles of stones collected for building the new bridge, and with these the people attacked the cavalry. A party of French guards upon hearing the firing, rushed from their quarters and joined the people; and night coming on, the cavalry retreated.
The streets of Paris, being narrow, are favorable for defence, and the loftiness of the houses, consisting of many stories, from which great annoyance might be given, secured them against nocturnal enterprises; and the night was spent in providing themselves with every sort of weapon they could make or procure: guns, swords, blacksmiths’ hammers, carpenters’ axes, iron crows, pikes, halberts, pitchforks, spits, clubs, etc., etc. The incredible numbers in which they assembled the next morning, and the still more incredible resolution they exhibited, embarrassed and astonished their enemies. Little did the new ministry expect such a salute. Accustomed to slavery themselves, they had no idea that liberty was capable of such inspiration, or that a body of unarmed citizens would dare to face the military force of thirty thousand men. Every moment of this day was employed in collecting arms, concerting plans, and arranging themselves into the best order which such an instantaneous movement could afford. Broglio continued lying round the city, but made no further advances this day, and the succeeding night passed with as much tranquility as such a scene could possibly produce.
But defence only was not the object of the citizens. They had a cause at stake, on which depended their freedom or their slavery. They every moment expected an attack, or to hear of one made on the National Assembly; and in such a situation, the most prompt measures are sometimes the best. The object that now presented itself was the Bastille; and the éclat of carrying such a fortress in the face of such an army, could not fail to strike terror into the new ministry, who had scarcely yet had time to meet. By some intercepted correspondence this morning, it was discovered that the Mayor of Paris, M. Deffleseslles, who appeared to be in the interest of the citizens, was betraying them; and from this discovery, there remained no doubt that Broglio would reinforce the Bastille the ensuing evening. It was therefore necessary to attack it that day; but before this could be done, it was first necessary to procure a better supply of arms than they were then possessed of.
There was, adjoining to the city a large magazine of arms deposited at the Hospital of the Invalids, which the citizens summoned to surrender; and as the place was neither defensible, nor attempted much defence, they soon succeeded. Thus supplied, they marched to attack the Bastille; a vast mixed multitude of all ages, and of all degrees, armed with all sorts of weapons. Imagination would fail in describing to itself the appearance of such a procession, and of the anxiety of the events which a few hours or a few minutes might produce. What plans the ministry were forming, were as unknown to the people within the city, as what the citizens were doing was unknown to the ministry; and what movements Broglio might make for the support or relief of the place, were to the citizens equally as unknown. All was mystery and hazard.
That the Bastille was attacked with an enthusiasm of heroism, such only as the highest animation of liberty could inspire, and carried in the space of a few hours, is an event which the world is fully possessed of. I am not undertaking the detail of the attack, but bringing into view the conspiracy against the nation which provoked it, and which fell with the Bastille. The prison to which the new ministry were dooming the National Assembly, in addition to its being the high altar and castle of despotism, became the proper object to begin with. This enterprise broke up the new ministry, who began now to fly from the ruin they had prepared for others. The troops of Broglio dispersed, and himself fled also.
Mr. Burke has spoken a great deal about plots, but he has never once spoken of this plot against the National Assembly, and the liberties of the nation; and that he might not, he has passed over all the circumstances that might throw it in his way. The exiles who have fled from France, whose case he so much interests himself in, and from whom he has had his lesson, fled in consequence of the miscarriage of this plot. No plot was formed against them; they were plotting against others; and those who fell, met, not unjustly, the punishment they were preparing to execute. But will Mr. Burke say, that if this plot, contrived with the subtilty of an ambuscade, had succeeded, the successful party would have restrained their wrath so soon? Let the history of all governments answer the question.
Whom has the National Assembly brought to the scaffold? None. They were themselves the devoted victims of this plot, and they have not retaliated; why, then, are they charged with revenge they have not acted? In the tremendous breaking forth of a whole people, in which all degrees, tempers and characters are confounded, delivering themselves, by a miracle of exertion, from the destruction meditated against them, is it to be expected that nothing will happen? When men are sore with the sense of oppressions, and menaced with the prospects of new ones, is the calmness of philosophy or the palsy of insensibility to be looked for? Mr. Burke exclaims against outrage; yet the greatest is that which himself has committed. His book is a volume of outrage, not apologised for by the impulse of a moment, but cherished through a space of ten months; yet Mr. Burke had no provocatiòn—no life, no interest, at stake.
More of the citizens fell in this struggle than of their opponents: but four or five persons were seized by the populace, and instantly put to death; the Governor of the Bastille, and the Mayor of Paris, who was detected in the act of betraying them; and afterwards Foulon, one of the new ministry, and Berthier, his son-in-law, who had accepted the office of intendant of Paris. Their heads were struck upon spikes, and carried about the city; and it is upon this mode of punishment that Mr. Burke builds a great part of his tragic scene. Let us therefore examine how men came by the idea of punishing in this manner.
They learn it from the governments they live under; and retaliate the punishments they have been accustomed to behold. The heads stuck upon spikes, which remained for years upon Temple Bar, differed nothing in the horror of the scene from those carried about upon spikes at Paris; yet this was done by the English Government. It may perhaps be said that it signifies nothing to a man what is done to him after he is dead; but it signifies much to the living; it either tortures their feelings or hardens their hearts, and in either case it instructs them how to punish when power falls into their hands.
Lay then the axe to the root, and teach governments humanity. It is their sanguinary punishments which corrupt mankind. In England the punishment in certain cases is by hanging, drawing and quartering; the heart of the sufferer is cut out and help up to the view of the populace. In France, under the former Government, the punishments were not less barbarous. Who does not remember the execution of Damien, torn to pieces by horses? The effect of those cruel spectacles exhibited to the populace is to destroy tenderness or excite revenge; and by the base and false idea of governing men by terror, instead of reason, they become precedents. It is over the lowest class of mankind that government by terror is intended to operate, and it is on them that it operates to the worst effect. They have sense enough to feel they are the objects aimed at; and they inflict in their turn the examples of terror they have been instructed to practise.
There is in all European countries a large class of people of that description, which in England is called the “mob.” Of this class were those who committed the burnings and devastations in London in 1780, and of this class were those who carried the heads upon spikes in Paris. Foulon and Berthier were taken up in the country, and sent to Paris, to undergo their examination at the Hotel de Ville; for the National Assembly, immediately on the new ministry coming into office, passed a decree, which they communicated to the King and Cabinet, that they (the National Assembly) would hold the ministry, of which Foulon was one, responsible for the measures they were advising and pursuing; but the mob, incensed at the appearance of Foulon and Berthier, tore them from their conductors before they were carried to the Hotel de Ville, and executed them on the spot. Why then does Mr. Burke charge outrages of this kind on a whole people? As well may he charge the riots and outrages of 1780 on all the people of London, or those in Ireland on all his countrymen.
But everything we see or hear offensive to our feelings and derogatory to the human character should lead to other reflections than those of reproach. Even the beings who commit them have some claim to our consideration. How then is it that such vast classes of mankind as are distinguished by the appellation of the vulgar, or the ignorant mob, are so numerous in all old countries? The instant we ask ourselves this question, reflection feels an answer. They rise, as an unavoidable consequence, out of the ill construction of all old governments in Europe, England included with the rest. It is by distortedly exalting some men, that others are distortedly debased, till the whole is out of nature. A vast mass of mankind are degradedly thrown into the back-ground of the human picture, to bring forward, with greater glare, the puppet-show of state and aristocracy. In the commencement of a revolution, those men are rather the followers of the camp than of the standard of liberty, and have yet to be instructed how to reverence it.
I give to Mr. Burke all his theatrical exaggerations for facts, and I then ask him if they do not establish the certainty of what I here lay down? Admitting them to be true, they show the necessity of the French Revolution, as much as any one thing he could have asserted. These outrages were not the effect of the principles of the Revolution, but of the degraded mind that existed before the Revolution, and which the Revolution is calculated to reform. Place them then to their proper cause, and take the reproach of them to your own side.
It is the honour of the National Assembly and the city of Paris that, during such a tremendous scene of arms and confusion, beyond the controul of all authority, they have been able, by the influence of example and exhortation, to restrain so much. Never were more pains taken to instruct and enlighten mankind, and to make them see that their interest consisted in their virtue, and not in their revenge, than have been displayed in the Revolution of France. I now proceed to make some remarks on Mr. Burke's account of the expedition to Versailles, October the 5th and 6th.
I can consider Mr. Burke's book in scarcely any other light than a dramatic performance; and he must, I think, have considered it in the same light himself, by the poetical liberties he has taken of omitting some facts, distorting others, and making the whole machinery bend to produce a stage effect. Of this kind in his account of the expedition to Versailles. He begins this account by omitting the only facts which as causes as known to be true; everything beyond these is conjecture, even in Paris; and he then works up a tale accommodated to his own passions and prejudices.
It is to be observed throughout Mr. Burke's book that he never speaks of plots against the Revolution; and it is from those plots that all the mischiefs have arisen. It suits his purpose to exhibit the consequences without their causes. It is one of the arts of the drama to do so. If the crimes of men were exhibited with their sufferings, stage effect would sometimes be lost, and the audience would be inclined to approve where it was intended they should commiserate.
After all the investigations that have been made into this intricate affair (the expedition to Versailles), it still remains enveloped in all that kind of mystery which ever accompanies events produced more from a concurrence of awkward circumstances than from fixed design. While the characters of men are forming, as is always the case in revolutions, there is a reciprocal suspicion, and a disposition to misinterpret each other; and even parties directly opposite in principle will sometimes concur in pushing forward the same movement with very different views, and with the hopes of its producing very different consequences. A great deal of this may be discovered in this embarrassed affair, and yet the issue of the whole was what nobody had in view.
The only things certainly known are that considerable uneasiness was at this time exited at Paris by the delay of the King in not sanctioning and forwarding the decrees of the National Assembly, particularly that of the Declaration of the Rights of Man, and the decrees of the fourth of August, which contained the foundation principles on which the constitution was to be erected. The kindest, and perhaps the fairest conjecture upon this matter is, that some of the ministers intended to make remarks and observations upon certain parts of them before they were finally sanctioned and sent to the provinces; but be this as it may, the enemies of the Revolution derived hope from the delay, and the friends of the Revolution uneasiness.
During this state of suspense, the Garde du Corps, which was composed as such regiments generally are, of persons much connected with the Court, gave an entertainment at Versailles (October 1) to some foreign regiments then arrived; and when the entertainment was at the height, on a signal given, the Garde du Corps tore the national cockade from their hats, trampled it under foot, and replaced it with a counter-cockade prepared for the purpose. An indignity of this kind amounted to defiance. It was like declaring war; and if men will give challenges they must expect consequences. But all this Mr. Burke has carefully kept out of sight. He begins his account by saying: “History will record that on the morning of the 6th October, 1789, the King and Queen of France, after a day of confusion, alarm, dismay, and slaughter, lay down under the pledged security of public faith to indulge nature in a few hours of respite, and troubled melancholy repose.” This is neither the sober stile of history, nor the intention of it. It leaves everything to be guessed at and mistaken. One would at least think there had been a battle; and a battle there probably would have been had it not been for the moderating prudence of those whom Mr. Burke involves in his censures. By his keeping the Garde du Corps out of sight Mr. Burke has afforded himself the dramatic licence of putting the King and Queen in their places, as if the object of the expedition was against them. But to return to my account—
This conduct of the Garde du Corps, as might well be expected, alarmed and enraged the Parisians. The colors of the cause, and the cause itself, were become too united to mistake the intention of the insult, and the Parisians were determined to call the Garde du Corps to an account. There was certainly nothing of the cowardice of assassination in marching in the face of the day to demand satisfaction, if such a phrase may be used, of a body of armed men who had voluntarily given defiance. But the circumstance which serves to throw this affair into embarrassment is, that the enemies of the Revolution appear to have encouraged it as well as its friends. The one hoped to prevent a civil war by checking it in time, and the other to make one. The hopes of those opposed to the Revolution rested in making the King of their party, and getting him from Versailles to Metz, where they expected to collect a force and set up a standard. We have, therefore, two different objects presenting themselves at the same time, and to be accomplished by the same means: the one to chastise the Garde du Corps, which was the object of the Parisians; the other to render the confusion of such a scene an inducement to the King to set off for Metz.
On the 5th of October a very numerous body of women, and men in the disguise of women, collected round the Hotel de Ville or town-hall at Paris, and set off for Versailles. Their professed object was the Garde du Corps; but prudent men readily recollect that mischief is more easily begun than ended; and this impressed itself with the more force from the suspicions already stated, and the irregularity of such a cavalcade. As soon, therefore, as a sufficient force could be collected, M. de la Fayette, by orders from the civil authority of Paris, set off after them at the head of twenty thousand of the Paris militia. The Revolution could derive no benefit from confusion, and its opposers might. By an amiable and spirited manner of address he had hitherto been fortunate in calming disquietudes, and in this he was extraordinarily successful; to frustrate, therefore, the hopes of those who might seek to improve this scene into a sort of justifiable necessity for the King's quitting Versailles and withdrawing to Metz, and to prevent at the same time the consequences that might ensue between the Garde du Corps and this phalanx of men and women, he forwarded expresses to the King, that he was on his march to Versailles, by the orders of the civil authority of Paris, for the purpose of peace and protection, expressing at the same time the necessity of restraining the Garde du Corps from firing upon the people.∗
He arrived at Versailles between ten and eleven at night. The Garde du Corps was drawn up, and the people had arrived some time before, but everything had remained suspended. Wisdom and policy now consisted in changing a scene of danger into a happy event. M. de la Fayette became the mediator between the enraged parties; and the King, to remove the uneasiness which had arisen from the delay already stated, sent for the President of the National Assembly, and signed the Declaration of the Rights of Man, and such other parts of the constitution as were in readiness.
It was now about one in the morning. Everything appeared to be composed, and a general congratulation took place. By the beat of a drum a proclamation was made that the citizens of Versailles would give the hospitality of their houses to their fellow-citizens of Paris. Those who could not be accommodated in this manner remained in the streets, or took up their quarters in the churches; and at two o’clock the King and Queen retired.
In this state matters passed till the break of day, when a fresh disturbance arose from the censurable conduct of some of both parties, for such characters there will be in all such scenes. One of the Garde du Corps appeared at one of the windows of the palace, and the people who had remained during the night in the streets accosted him with reviling and provocative language. Instead of retiring, as in such a case prudence would have dictated, he presented his musket, fired, and killed one of the Paris militia. The peace being thus broken, the people rushed into the palace in quest of the offender. They attacked the quarters of the Garde de Corps within the palace, and pursued them throughout the avenues of it, and to the apartments of the King. On this tumult, not the Queen only, as Mr. Burke has represented it, but every person in the palace, was awakened and alarmed; and M. de la Fayette had a second time to interpose between the parties, the event of which was that the Garde du Corps put on the national cockade, and the matter ended as by oblivion, after the loss of two or three lives.
During the latter part of the time in which this confusion was acting, the King and Queen were in public at the balcony, and neither of them concealed for safety's sake, as Mr. Burke insinuates. Matters being thus appeased, and tranquility restored, a general acclamation broke forth of Le Roi à Paris—Le Roi à Paris—The King to Paris. It was the shout of peace, and immediately accepted on the part of the King. By this measure all future projects of trapanning the King to Metz, and setting up the standard opposition to the constitution, were prevented, and the suspicions extinguished. The King and his family reached Paris in the evening, and were congratulated on their arrival by M. Bailly, the Mayor of Paris, in the name of the citizens. Mr. Burke, who throughout his book confounds things, persons, and principles, as in his remarks on M. Bailly's address, confounded time also. He censures M. Bailly for calling it “un bon jour,” a good day. Mr. Burke should have informed himself that this scene took up the space of two days, the day on which it began with every appearance of danger and mischief, and the day on which it terminated without the mischiefs that threatened; and that it is to this peaceful termination that M. Bailly alludes, and to the arrival of the King at Paris. Not less than three hundred thousand persons arranged themselves in the procession from Versailles to Paris, and not an act of molestation was committed during the whole march.
Mr. Burke on the authority of M. Lally Tollendal, a deserter from the National Assembly, says, that on entering Paris, the people shouted “Tous les évèques à la lanterne.” All Bishops to be hanged at the lanthorn or lamp-posts. It is surprising that nobody could hear this but Lally Tollendal, and that nobody should believe it but Mr. Burke. It has not the least connexion with any part of the transaction, and is totally foreign to every circumstance of it. The Bishops had never been introduced before into any scene of Mr. Burke's drama: why then are they, all at once, and altogether, tout à coup, et tous ensemble, introduced now? Mr. Burke brings forward his Bishops and his lanthorn-like figures in a magic lanthorn, and raises his scenes by contrast instead of connection. But it serves to show, with the rest of his book what little credit ought to be given where even probability is set at defiance, for the purpose of defaming; and with this reflexion, instead of a soliloquy in praise of chivalry, as Mr. Burke has done, I close the account of the expedition to Versailles.∗
I have now to follow Mr. Burke through a pathless wilderness of rhapsodies, and a sort of descant upon governments, in which he asserts whatever he pleases, on the presumption of its being believed, without offering either evidence or reasons for so doing.
Before anything can be reasoned upon to a conclusion, certain facts, principles, or data, to reason from, must be established, admitted, or denied. Mr. Burke with his usual outrage, abused the Declaration of the Rights of Man, published by the National Assembly of France, as the basis on which the constitution of France is built. This he calls “paltry and blurred sheets of paper about the rights or man.” Does Mr. Burke mean to deny that man has any rights? If he does, then he must mean that there are no such things as rights anywhere, and that he has none himself: for who is there in the world but man? But if Mr. Burke means to admit that man has rights, the question then will be What are those rights, and how man came by them originally?
The error of those who reason by precedents drawn from antiquity, respecting the rights of man, is that they do not go far enough into antiquity. They do not go the whole way. They stop in some of the intermediate stages of an hundred or a thousand years, and produce what was then done, as a rule for the present day. This is no authority at all. If we travel still farther into antiquity, we shall find a direct contrary opinion and practice prevailing; and if antiquity is to be authority, a thousand such authorities may be produced, successively contradicting each other; but if we proceed on, we shall at last come out right; we shall come to the time when man came from the hand of his Maker. What was he then? Man. Man was his high and only title, and a higher cannot be given him. But of titles I shall speak hereafter.
We are now got at the origin of man, and at the origin of his rights. As to the manner in which the world has been governed from that day to this, it is no farther any concern of ours than to make a proper use of the errors or the improvements which the history of it presents. Those who lived a hundred or a thousand years ago, were then moderns, as we are now. They had their ancients, and those ancients had others, and we also shall be ancients in our turn. If the mere name of antiquity is to govern in the affairs of life, the people who are to live an hundred or a thousand years hence, may as well take us for a precedent, as we make a precedent of those who lived an hundred or a thousand years ago. The fact is, that portions of antiquity, by proving everything, establish nothing. It is authority against authority all the way, till we come to the divine origin of the rights of man at the creation. Here our enquiries find a resting-place, and our reason finds a home. If a dispute about the rights of man had arisen at the distance of an hundred years from the creation, it is to this source of authority they must have referred, and it is to this same source of authority that we must now refer.
Though I mean not to touch upon any sectarian principle of religion, yet it may be worth observing, that the genealogy of Christ is traced to Adam. Why then not trace the rights of man to the creation of man? I will answer the question. Because there have been upstart governments, thrusting themselves between, and presumptuously working to un-make man.
If any generation of men ever possessed the right of dictating the mode by which the world should be governed for ever, it was the first generation that existed; and if that generation did it not, no succeeding generation can show any authority for doing it, nor can set any up. The illuminating and divine principle of the equal rights of man (for it has its origin from the Maker of man) relates, not only to the living individuals, but to generations of men succeeding each other. Every generation is equal in rights to generations which preceded it, by the same rule that every individual is born equal in rights with his contemporary.
Every history of the creation, and every traditionary account, whether from the lettered or unlettered world, however they may vary in their opinion or belief of certain particulars, all agree in establishing one point, the unity of man; by which I mean that men are all of one degree, and consequently that all men are born equal, and with equal natural right, in the same manner as if posterity had been continued by creation instead of generation, the latter being the only mode by which the former is carried forward; and consequently every child born into the world must be considered as deriving its existence from God. The world is as new to him as it was to the first man that existed, and his natural right in it is of the same kind.
The Mosaic account of the creation, whether taken as divine authority or merely historical, is full to this point the unity or equality of man. The expression admits of no controversy. “And God said, Let us make man in our own image. In the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.” The distinction of sexes is pointed out, but no other distinction is even implied. If this be not divine authority, it is at least historical authority, and shews that the equality of man, so far from being a modern doctrine, is the oldest upon record.
It is also to be observed that all the religions known in the world are founded, so far as they relate to man, on the unity of man, as being all of one degree. Whether in heaven or in hell, or in whatever state man may be supposed to exist hereafter, the good and the bad are the only distinctions. Nay, even the laws of governments are obliged to slide into this principle, by making degrees to consist in crimes and not in persons.
It is one of the greatest of all truths, and of the highest advantage to cultivate. By considering man in this light, and by instructing him to consider himself in this light, it places him in a close connection with all his duties, whether to his Creator or to the creation, of which he is a part; and it is only when he forgets his origin, or, to use a more fashionable phrase, his birth and family, that he becomes dissolute. It is not among the least of the evils of the present existing governments in all parts of Europe that man, considered as man, is thrown back to a vast distance from his Maker, and the artificial chasm filled up with a succession of barriers, or sort of turnpike gates, through which he has to pass. I will quote Mr. Burke's catalogue of barriers that he has set up between man and his Maker. Putting himself in the character of a herald, he says: “We fear God—we look with awe to kings—with affection to Parliaments—with duty to magistrates—with reverence to priests, and with respect to nobility.” Mr. Burke has forgotten to put in “chivalry.” He has also forgotten to put in Peter.
The duty of man is not a wilderness of turnpike gates, through which he is to pass by tickets from one to the other. It is plain and simple, and consists but of two points. His duty to God, which every man must feel; and with respect to his neighbor, to do as he would be done by. If those to whom power is delegated do well, they will be respected: if not, they will be despised; and with regard to those to whom no power is delegated, but who assume it, the rational world can know nothing of them.
Hitherto we have spoken only (and that but in part) of the natural rights of man. We have now to consider the civil rights of man, and to show how the one originates from the other. Man did not enter into society to become worse than he was before, nor to have fewer rights than he had before, but to have those rights better secured. His natural rights are the foundation of all his civil rights. But in order to pursue this distinction with more precision, it will be necessary to mark the different qualities of natural and civil rights.
A few words will explain this. Natural rights are those which appertain to man in right of his existence. Of this kind are all the intellectual rights, or rights of the mind, and also all those rights of acting as an individual for his own comfort and happiness, which are not injurious to the natural rights of others. Civil rights are those which appertain to man in right of his being a member of society. Every civil right has for its foundation some natural right pre-existing in the individual, but to the enjoyment of which his individual power is not, in all cases, sufficiently competent. Of this kind are all those which relate to security and protection.
From this short review it will be easy to distinguish between that class of natural rights which man retains after entering into society and those which he throws into the common stock as a member of society.
The natural rights which he retains are all those in which the power to execute is as perfect in the individual as the right itself. Among this class, as is before mentioned, are all the intellectual rights, or rights of the mind; consequently religion is one of those rights. The natural rights which are not retained, are all those in which, though the right is perfect in the individual, the power to execute them is defective. They answer not his purpose. A man, by natural right, has a right to judge in his own cause; and so far as the right of the mind is concerned, he never surrenders it. But what availeth it him to judge, if he has not power to redress? He therefore deposits this right in the common stock of society, and takes the arm of society, of which he is a part, in preference and in addition to his own. Society grants him nothing. Every man is a proprietor in society, and draws on the capital as a matter of right.
From these premises two or three certain conclusions will follow:
First, That every civil right grows out of a natural right; or, in other words, is a natural right exchanged.
Secondly, That civil power properly considered as such is made up of the aggregate of that class of the natural rights of man, which becomes defective in the individual in point of power, and answers not his purpose, but when collected to a focus becomes competent to the purpose of every one.
Thirdly, That the power produced from the aggregate of natural rights, imperfect in power in the individual, cannot be applied to invade the natural rights which are retained in the individual, and in which the power to execute is as perfect as the right itself.
We have now, in a few words, traced man from a natural individual to a member of society, and shewn, or endeavoured to shew, the quality of the natural rights retained, and of those which are exchanged for civil rights. Let us now apply these principles to governments.
In casting our eyes over the world; it is extremely easy to distinguish the governments which have arisen out of society, or out of the social compact, from those which have not; but to place this in a clearer light than what a single glance may afford, it will be proper to take a review of the several sources from which governments have arisen and on which they have been founded.
They may be all comprehended under three heads. First, Superstition. Secondly, Power. Thirdly, the common interest of society and the common rights of man.
The first was a government of priestcraft, the second of conquerors, and the third of reason.
When a set of artful men pretended, through the medium of oracles, to hold intercourse with the Deity, as familiarly as they now march up the back-stairs in European courts, the world was completely under the government of superstition. The oracles were consulted, and whatever they were made to say became the law; and this sort of government lasted as long as this sort of superstition lasted.
After these a race of conquerors arose, whose government, like that of William the Conqueror, was founded in power, and the sword assumed the name of a sceptre. Governments thus established last as long as the power to support them lasts; but that they might avail themselves of every engine in their favour, they united fraud to force, and set up an idol which they called Divine Right, and which, in imitation of the Pope, who affects to be spiritual and temporal, and in contradiction to the Founder of the Christian religion, twisted itself afterwards into an idol of another shape, called Church and State. The key of St. Peter and the key of the Treasury became quartered on one another, and the wondering cheated multitude worshipped the invention.
When I contemplate the natural dignity of man, when I feel (for Nature has not been kind enough to me to blunt my feelings) for the honour and happiness of its character, I become irritated at the attempt to govern mankind by force and fraud, as if they were all knaves and fools, and can scarcely avoid disgust at those who are thus imposed upon.
We have now to review the governments which arise out of society, in contradistinction to those which arose out of superstition and conquest.
It has been thought a considerable advance towards establishing the principles of Freedom to say that Government is a compact between those who govern and those who are governed; but this cannot be true, because it is putting the effect before the cause; for as man must have existed before governments existed, there necessarily was a time when governments did not exist, and consequently there could originally exist no governors to form such a compact with.
The fact therefore must be that the individuals themselves, each in his own personal and sovereign right, entered into a compact with each other to produce a government: and this is the only mode in which governments have a right to arise, and the only principle on which they have a right to exist.
To possess ourselves of a clear idea of what government is, or ought to be, we must trace it to its origin. In doing this we shall easily discover that governments must have arisen either out of the people or over the people. Mr. Burke has made no distinction. He investigates nothing to its source, and therefore he confounds everything; but he has signified his intention of undertaking, at some future opportunity, a comparison between the constitution of England and France. As he thus renders it a subject of controversy by throwing the gauntlet, I take him upon his own ground. It is in high challenges that high truths have the right of appearing; and I accept it with the more readiness because it affords me, at the same time, an opportunity of pursuing the subject with respect to governments arising out of society.
But it will be first necessary to define what is meant by a Constitution. It is not sufficient that we adopt the word; we must fix also a standard signification to it.
A constitution is not a thing in name only, but in fact. It has not an ideal, but a real existence; and wherever it cannot be produced in a visible form, there is none. A constitution is a thing antecedent to a government, and a government is only the creature of a constitution. The constitution of a country is not the act of its government, but of the people constituting its government. It is the body of elements, to which you can refer, and quote article by article; and which contains the principles on which the government shall be established, the manner in which it shall be organised, the powers it shall have, the mode of elections, the duration of Parliaments, or by what other name such bodies may be called; the powers which the executive part of the government shall have; and in fine, everything that relates to the complete organization of a civil government, and the principles on which it shall act, and by which it shall be bound. A constitution, therefore, is to a government what the laws made afterwards by that government are to a court of judicature. The court of judicature does not make the laws, neither can it alter them; it only acts in conformity to the laws made: and the government is in like manner governed by the constitution.
Can, then, Mr. Burke produce the English Constitution? If he cannot, we may fairly conclude that though it has been so much talked about, no such thing as a constitution exists, or ever did exist, and consequently that the people have yet a constitution to form.
Mr. Burke will not, I presume, deny the position I have already advanced—namely, that governments arise either out of the people or over the people. The English Government is one of those which arose out of a conquest, and not out of society, and consequently it arose over the people; and though it has been much modified from the opportunity of circumstances since the time of William the Conqueror, the country has never yet regenerated itself, and is therefore without a constitution.
I readily perceive the reason why Mr. Burke declined going into the comparison between the English and French constitutions, because he could not but perceive, when he sat down to the task, that no such a thing as a constitution existed on his side the question. His book is certainly bulky enough to have contained all he could say on this subject, and it would have been the best manner in which people could have judged of their separate merits. Why then has he declined the only thing that was worth while to write upon? It was the strongest ground he could take, if the advantages were on his side, but the weakest if they were not; and his declining to take it is either a sign that he could not possess it or could not maintain it.
Mr. Burke said, in a speech last winter in Parliament, “that when the National Assembly first met in three Orders (the Tiers Etats, the Clergy, and the Noblesse), France had then a good constitution.” This shews, among numerous other instances, that Mr. Burke does not understand what a constitution is. The persons so met were not a constitution, but a convention, to make a constitution.
The present National Assembly of France is, strictly speaking, the personal social compact. The members of it are the delegates of the nation in its original character; future assemblies will be the delegates of the nation in its organised character. The authority of the present Assembly is different from what the authority of future Assemblies will be. The authority of the present one is to form a constitution; the authority of future assemblies will be to legislate according to the principles and forms prescribed in that constitution; and if experience should hereafter shew that alterations, amendments, or additions are necessary, the constitution will point out the mode by which such things shall be done, and not leave it to the discretionary power of the future government.
A government on the principles on which constitutional governments arising out of society are established, cannot have the right of altering itself. If it had, it would be arbitrary. It might make itself what it pleased; and wherever such a right is set up, it shows there is no constitution. The act by which the English Parliament empowered itself to sit seven years, shows there is no constitution in England. It might, by the same self-authority, have sat any great number of years, or for life. The bill which the present Mr Pitt brought into Parliament some years ago, to reform Parliament, was on the same erroneous principle. The right of reform is in the nation in its original character, and the constitutional method would be by a general convention elected for the purpose. There is, moreover, a paradox in the idea of vitiated bodies reforming themselves.
From these preliminaries I proceed to draw some comparisons. I have already spoken of the declaration of rights; and as I mean to be as concise as possible, I shall proceed to other parts of the French Constitution.
The constitution of France says, that every man who pays a tax of sixty sous per annum (2s. 6d. English) is an elector. What article will Mr. Burke place against this? Can anything be more limited, and at the same time more capricious, than the qualification of electors is in England? Limited—because not one man in an hundred (I speak much within compass) is admitted to vote. Capricious—because the lowest character that can be supposed to exist, and who has not so much as the visible means of an honest livelihood, is an elector in some places: while in other places, the man who pays very large taxes, and has a known fair character, and the farmer who rents to the amount of three or four hundred pounds a year, with a property on that farm to three or four times that amount, is not admitted to be an elector. Everything is out of nature, as Mr. Burke says on another occasion, in this strange chaos, and all sorts of follies are blended with all sorts of crimes. William the Conqueror and his descendants parcelled out the country in this manner, and bribed some parts of it by what they call charters to hold the other parts of it the better subjected to their will. This is the reason why so many of those charters abound in Cornwall; the people were averse to the Government established at the Conquest, and the towns were garrisoned and bribed to enslave the country. All the old charters are the badges of this conquest, and it is from this source that the capriciousness of election arises.
The French Constitution says, that the number of representatives for any place shall be in a ratio to the number of taxable inhabitants or electors. What article will Mr. Burke place against this? The county of York, which contains nearly a million of souls, sends two county members; and so does the county of Rutland, which contains not an hundredth part of that number. The town of Old Sarum, which contains not three houses, sends two members; and the town of Manchester, which contains upward of sixty thousand souls, is not admitted to send any. Is there any principle in these things?1 Is there anything by which you can trace the marks of freedom, or discover those of wisdom? No wonder then Mr. Burke has declined the comparison, and endeavoured to lead his readers from the point by a wild, unsystematical display of paradoxical rhapsodies.
The French Constitution says that the National Assembly shall be elected every two years. What article will Mr. Burke place against this? Why, that the nation has no right at all in the case; that the government is perfectly arbitrary with respect to this point; and he can quote for his authority the precedent of a former Parliament.
The French Constitution says there shall be no game laws, that the farmer on whose lands wild game shall be found (for it is by the produce of his lands they are fed) shall have a right to what he can take; that there shall be no monopolies of any kind—that all trades shall be free and every man free to follow any occupation by which he can procure an honest livelihood, and in any place, town, or city throughout the nation. What will Mr. Burke say to this? In England, game is made the property of those at whose expense it is not fed; and with respect to monopolies, the country is cut up into monopolies. Every chartered town is an aristocratical monopoly in itself, and the qualification of electors proceeds out of those chartered monopolies. Is this freedom? Is this what Mr. Burke means by a constitution?
In these chartered monopolies, a man coming from another part of the country is hunted from them as if he were a foreign enemy. An Englishman is not free of his own country; every one of those places presents a barrier in his way, and tells him he is not a freeman—that he has no rights. Within these monopolies are other monopolies. In a city, such for instance as Bath, which contains between twenty and thirty thousand inhabitants, the right of electing representatives to Parliament is monopolised by about thirty-one persons. And within these monopolies are still others. A man even of the same town, whose parents were not in circumstances to give him an occupation, is debarred, in many cases, from the natural right of acquiring one, be his genius or industry what it may.
Are these things examples to hold out to a country regenerating itself from slavery, like France? Certainly they are not, and certain am I, that when the people of England come to reflect upon them they will, like France, annihilate those badges of ancient oppression, those traces of a conquered nation. Had Mr. Burke possessed talents similar to the author of “On the Wealth of Nations,” he would have comprehended all the parts which enter into, and, by assemblage, form a constitution. He would have reasoned from minutiæ to magnitude. It is not from his prejudices only, but from the disorderly cast of his genius, that he is unfitted for the subject he writes upon. Even his genius is without a constitution. It is a genius at random, and not a genius constituted. But he must say something. He has therefore mounted in the air like a balloon, to draw the eyes of the multitude from the ground they stand upon.
Much is to be learned from the French Constitution. Conquest and tyranny transplanted themselves with William the Conqueror from Normandy into England, and the country is yet disfigured with the marks. May, then, the example of all France contribute to regenerate the freedom which a province of it destroyed!
The French Constitution says that to preserve the national representation from being corrupt no member of the National Assembly shall be an officer of the government, a placeman or a pensioner. What will Mr. Burke place against this? I will whisper his answer; Loaves and Fishes. Ah! this government of loaves and fishes has more mischief in it than people have yet reflected on. The National Assembly has made the discovery, and it holds out the example to the world. Had governments agreed to quarrel on purpose to fleece their countries by taxes, they could not have succeeded better than they have done.
Everything in the English government appears to me the reverse of what it ought to be, and of what it is said to be.1 The Parliament, imperfectly and capriciously elected as it is, is nevertheless supposed to hold the national purse in trust for the nation; but in the manner in which an English Parliament is constructed it is like a man being both mortgagor and mortgagee, and in the case of misapplication of trust it is the criminal sitting in judgment upon himself. If those who vote the supplies are the same persons who receive the supplies when voted, and are to account for the expenditure of those supplies to those who voted them, it is themselves accountable to themselves, and the Comedy of Errors concludes with the pantomime of Hush. Neither the Ministerial party nor the Opposition will touch upon this case. The national purse is the common hack which each mounts upon. It is like what the country people call “Ride and tie—you ride a little way, and then I.”∗ They order these things better in France.
The French Constitution says that the right of war and peace is in the nation. Where else should it reside but in those who are to pay the expense?
In England this right is said to reside in a metaphor shown at the Tower for sixpence or a shilling a piece: so are the lions; and it would be a step nearer to reason to say it resided in them, for any inanimate metaphor is no more than a hat or a cap. We can all see the absurdity of worshipping Aaron's molten calf, or Nebuchadnezzar's golden image; but why do men continue to practise themselves the absurdities they despise in others?
It may with reason be said that in the manner the English nation is represented it signifies not where the right resides, whether in the Crown or in the Parliament. War is the common harvest of all those who participate in the division and expenditure of public money, in all countries. It is the art of conquering at home; the object of it is an increase of revenue; and as revenue cannot be increased without taxes, a pretence must be made for expenditure. In reviewing the history of the English Government, its wars and its taxes, a bystander, not blinded by prejudice nor warped by interest, would declare that taxes were not raised to carry on wars, but that wars were raised to carry on taxes.
Mr. Burke, as a member of the House of Commons, is a part of the English Government; and though he professes himself an enemy to war, he abuses the French Constitution, which seeks to explode it. He holds up the English Government as a model, in all its parts, to France; but he should first know the remarks which the French make upon it. They contend in favor of their own, that the portion of liberty enjoyed in England is just enough to enslave a country more productively than by despotism, and that as the real object of all despotism is revenue, a government so formed obtains more than it could do either by direct despotism, or in a full state of freedom, and is, therefore on the ground of interest, opposed to both. They account also for the readiness which always appears in such governments for engaging in wars by remarking on the different motives which produced them. In despotic governments wars are the effect of pride; but in those governments in which they become the means of taxation, they acquire thereby a more permanent promptitude.
The French Constitution, therefore, to provide against both these evils, has taken away the power of declaring war from kings and ministers, and placed the right where the expence must fall.
When the question of the right of war and peace was agitating in the National Assembly, the people of England appeared to be much interested in the event, and highly to applaud the decision. As a principle it applies as much to one country as another. William the Conqueror, as a conqueror, held this power of war and peace in himself, and his descendants have ever since claimed it under him as a right.
Although Mr. Burke has asserted the right of the Parliament at the Revolution to bind and controul the nation and posterity for ever, he denies at the same time that the Parliament or the nation had any right to alter what he calls the succession of the crown in anything but in part, or by a sort of modification. By his taking this ground he throws the case back to the Norman Conquest, and by thus running a line of succession springing from William the Conqueror to the present day, he makes it necessary to enquire who and what William the Conqueror was, and where he came from, and into the origin, history and nature of what are called prerogatives. Everything must have had a beginning, and the fog of time and antiquity should be penetrated to discover it. Let, then, Mr. Burke bring forward his William of Normandy, for it is to this origin that his argument goes. It also unfortunately happens, in running this line of succession, that another line parallel thereto presents itself, which is that if the succession runs in the line of the conquest, the nation runs in the line of being conquered, and it ought to rescue itself from this reproach.
But it will perhaps be said that tho’ the power of declaring war descends in the heritage of the conquest, it is held in check by the right of Parliament to withhold the supplies. It will always happen when a thing is originally wrong that amendments do not make it right, and it oftens happens that they do as much mischief one way as good the other, and such is the case here, for if the one rashly declares war as a matter of right, and the other peremptorily withholds the supplies as a matter of right, the remedy becomes as bad, or worse, than the disease. The one forces the nation to a combat, and the other ties its hands; but the more probable issue is that the contest will end in a collusion between the parties, and be made a screen to both.
On this question of war, three things are to be considered. First, the right of declaring it: secondly, the expense of supporting it: thirdly, the mode of conducting it after it is declared. The French constitution places the right where the expense must fall, and this union can only be in the nation. The mode of conducting it after it is declared, it consigns to the executive department. Were this the case in all countries, we should hear but little more of wars.
Before I proceed to consider other parts of the French Constitution, and by way of relieving the fatigue of argument, I will introduce an anecdote which I had from Dr. Franklin.
While the Doctor resided in France as Minister from America, during the war, he had numerous proposals made to him by projectors of every country and of every kind, who wished to go to the land that floweth with milk and honey, America; and among the rest, there was one who offered himself to be king. He introduced his proposal to the Doctor by letter, which is now in the hands of M. Beaumarchais, of Paris—stating, first, that as the Americans had dismissed or sent away∗ their King, that they would want another. Secondly, that himself was a Norman. Thirdly, that he was of a more ancient family than the Dukes of Normandy, and of a more honorable descent, his line having never been bastardised. Fourthly, that there was already a precedent in England of kings coming out of Normandy, and on these grounds he rested his offer, enjoining that the Doctor would forward it to America. But as the Doctor neither did this, nor yet sent him an answer, the projector wrote a second letter, in which he did not, it is true, threaten to go over and conquer America, but only with great dignity proposed that if his offer was not accepted, an acknowledgment of about £30,000 might be made to him for his generosity! Now, as all arguments respecting succession must necessarily connect that succession with some beginning, Mr. Burke's arguments on this subject go to show that there is no English origin of kings, and that they are descendants of the Norman line in right of the Conquest. It may, therefore, be of service to his doctrine to make this story known, and to inform him, that in case of that natural extinction to which all mortality is subject, Kings may again be had from Normandy, on more reasonable terms than William the Conqueror; and consequently, that the good people of England, at the revolution of 1688, might have done much better, had such a generous Norman as this known their wants, and they had known his. The chivalric character which Mr. Burke so much admires, is certainly much easier to make a bargain with than a hard dealing Dutchman. But to return to the matters of the constitution—
The French Constitution says, There shall be no titles; and, of consequence, all that class of equivocal generation which in some countries is called “aristocracy” and in others “nobility,” is done away, and the peer is exalted into the Man.
Titles are but nick-names, and every nickname is a title. The thing is perfectly harmless in itself, but it marks a sort of foppery in the human character, which degrades it. It reduces man into the diminutive of man in things which are great, and the counterfeit of women in things which are little. It talks about its fine blue ribbon like a girl, and shows its new garter like a child. A certain writer, of some antiquity, says: “When I was a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things.”
It is, properly, from the elevated mind of France that the folly of titles has fallen. It has outgrown the baby clothes of Count and Duke, and breeched itself in manhood. France has not levelled, it has exalted. It has put down the dwarf, to set up the man. The punyism of a senseless word like Duke, Count or Earl has ceased to please. Even those who possessed them have disowned the gibberish, and as they outgrew the rickets, have despised the rattle. The genuine mind of man, thirsting for its native home, society contemns the gewgaws that separate him from it. Titles are like circles drawn by the magician's wand, to contract the sphere of man's felicity. He lives immured within the Bastille of a word, and surveys at a distance the envied life of man.
Is it, then, any wonder that titles should fall in France? Is it not a greater wonder that they should be kept up anywhere? What are they? What is their worth, and “what is their amount?” When we think or speak of a Judge or a General, we associate with it the ideas of office and character; we think of gravity in one and bravery in the other; but when we use the word merely as a title, no ideas associate with it. Through all the vocabulary of Adam there is not such an animal as a Duke or a Count; neither can we connect any certain ideas with the words. Whether they mean strength or weakness, wisdom or folly, a child or a man, or the rider or the horse, is all equivocal. What respect then can be paid to that which describes nothing, and which means nothing? Imagination has given figure and character to centaurs, satyrs, and down to all the fairy tribe; but titles baffle even the powers of fancy, and are a chimerical non-descript.
But this is not all. If a whole country is disposed to hold them in contempt, all their value is gone, and none will own them. It is common opinion only that makes them anything, or nothing, or worse than nothing. There is no occasion to take titles away, for they take themselves away when society concurs to ridicule them. This species of imaginary consequence has visibly declined in every part of Europe, and it hastens to its exit as the world of reason continues to rise. There was a time when the lowest class of what are called nobility was more thought of than the highest is now, and when a man in armour riding throughout Christendom in quest of adventures was more stared at than a modern Duke. The world has seen this folly fall, and it has fallen by being laughed at, and the farce of titles will follow its fate. The patriots of France have discovered in good time that rank and dignity in society must take a new ground. The old one has fallen through. It must now take the substantial ground of character, instead of the chimerical ground of titles; and they have brought their titles to the altar, and made of them a burnt-offering to Reason.
If no mischief had annexed itself to the folly of titles they would not have been worth a serious and formal destruction such as the National Assembly have decreed them; and this makes it necessary to enquire farther into the nature and character of aristocracy.
That, then, which is called aristocracy in some countries and nobility in others arose out of the governments founded upon conquest. It was originally a military order for the purpose of supporting military government (for such were all governments founded in conquest); and to keep up a succession of this order for the purpose for which it was established, all the younger branches of those families were disinherited and the law of primogenitureship set up.
The nature and character of aristocracy shows itself to us in this law. It is the law against every other law of nature, and Nature herself calls for its destruction. Establish family justice, and aristocracy falls. By the aristocratical law of primogenitureship, in a family of six children five are exposed. Aristocracy has never more than one child. The rest are begotten to be devoured. They are thrown to the cannibal for prey, and the natural parent prepares the unnatural repast.
As everything which is out of nature in man affects, more or less, the interest of society, so does this. All the children which the aristocracy disowns (which are all except the eldest) are, in general, cast like orphans on a parish, to be provided for by the public, but at a greater charge. Unnecessary offices and places in governments and courts are created at the expense of the public to maintain them.
With what kind of parental reflexions can the father or mother contemplate their younger offspring? By nature they are children, and by marriage they are heirs; but by aristocracy they are bastards and orphans. They are the flesh and blood of their parents in the one line, and nothing akin to them in the other. To restore, therefore, parents to their children, and children to their parents—relations to each other, and man to society—and to exterminate the monster aristocracy, root and branch—the French Constitution has destroyed the law of Primogenitureship. Here then lies the monster; and Mr. Burke, if he pleases, may write its epitaph.
Hitherto we have considered aristocracy chiefly in one point of view. We have now to consider it in another. But whether we view it before or behind, or sideways, or any way else, domestically or publicly, it is still a monster.
In France aristocracy had one feature less in its countenance than what it has in some other countries. It did not compose a body of hereditary legislators. It was not “a corporation of aristocracy,” for such I have heard M. de la Fayette describe an English House of Peers. Let us then examine the grounds upon which the French Constitution has resolved against having such a House in France.
Because, in the first place, as is already mentioned, aristocracy is kept up by family tyranny and injustice.
Secondly. Because there is an unnatural unfitness in an aristocracy to be legislators for a nation. Their ideas of distributive justice are corrupted at the very source. They begin life by trampling on all their younger brothers and sisters, and relations of every kind, and are taught and educated so to do. With what ideas of justice or honor can that man enter a house of legislation, who absorbs in his own person the inheritance of a whole family of children or doles out to them some pitiful portion with the insolence of a gift?
Thirdly. Because the idea of hereditary legislators is as inconsistent as that of hereditary judges, or hereditary juries; and as absurd as an hereditary mathematician, or an hereditary wise man; and as ridiculous as an hereditary poet laureate.
Fourthly. Because a body of men, holding themselves accountable to nobody, ought not to be trusted by anybody.
Fifthly. Because it is continuing the uncivilised principle of governments founded in conquest, and the base idea of man having property in man, and governing him by personal right.
Sixthly. Because aristocracy has a tendency to deteriorate the human species. By the universal economy of nature it is known, and by the instance of the Jews it is proved, that the human species has a tendency to degenerate, in any small number of persons, when separated from the general stock of society, and inter-marrying constantly with each other. It defeats even its pretended end, and becomes in time the opposite of what is noble in man. Mr. Burke talks of nobility; let him show what it is. The greatest characters the world have known have arisen on the democratic floor. Aristocracy has not been able to keep a proportionate pace with democracy. The artificial NOBLE shrinks into a dwarf before the NOBLE of Nature; and in the few instances of those (for there are some in all countries) in whom nature, as by a miracle, has survived in aristocracy, THOSE MEN DESPISE IT.—But it is time to proceed to a new subject.
The French constitution has reformed the condition of the clergy. It has raised the income of the lower and middle classes, and taken from the higher. None are now less than twelve hundred livres, (fifty pounds sterling) nor any higher than two or three thousand pounds. What will Mr. Burke place against this? Hear what he says.
He says: “That the people of England can see without pain or grudging, an archbishop precede a duke; they can see a Bishop of Durham, or a Bishop of Winchester in possession of £10,000 a-year; and cannot see why it is in worse hands than estates to a like amount, in the hands of this earl or that squire.” And Mr. Burke offers this as an example to France.
As to the first part, whether the archbishop precedes the duke, or the duke the bishop, it is, I believe, to the people in general, somewhat like Sternhold and Hopkins, or Hopkins and Sternhold; you may put which you please first; and as I confess that I do not understand the merits of this case, I will not contest it with Mr. Burke.
But with respect to the latter, I have something to say. Mr. Burke has not put the case right. The comparison is out of order, by being put between the bishop and the earl or the squire. It ought to be put between the bishop and the curate, and then it will stand thus:—”The people of England can see without pain or grudging, a Bishop of Durham, or a Bishop of Winchester, in possession of ten thousand pounds a-year, and a curate on thirty or forty pounds a-year, or less.” No, sir, they certainly do not see those things without great pain or grudging. It is a case that applies itself to every man's sense of justice, and is one among many that calls aloud for a constitution.
In France the cry of “the church! the church!” was repeated as often as in Mr. Burke's book, and as loudly as when the Dissenters’ Bill was before the English Parliament; but the generality of the French clergy were not to be deceived by this cry any longer. They knew that whatever the pretence might be, it was they who were one of the principal objects of it. It was the cry of the high beneficed clergy, to prevent any regulation of income taking place between those of ten thousand pounds a-year and the parish priest. They therefore joined their case to those of every other oppressed class of men, and by this union obtained redress.
The French Constitution has abolished tythes, that source of perpetual discontent between the tythe-holder and the parishioner. When land is held on tythe, it is in the condition of an estate held between two parties; the one receiving one-tenth, and the other nine-tenths of the produce: and consequently, on principles of equity, if the estate can be improved, and made to produce by that improvement double or treble what it did before, or in any other ratio, the expense of such improvement ought to be borne in like proportion between the parties who are to share the produce. But this is not the case in tythes: the farmer bears the whole expense, and the tythe-holder takes a tenth of the improvement, in addition to the original tenth, and by this means gets the value of two-tenths instead of one. This is another case that calls for a constitution.
The French Constitution hath abolished or renounced Toleration and Intolerance also, and hath established Universal Right of Conscience.
Toleration is not the opposite of Intolerance, but is the counterfeit of it. Both are despotisms. The one assumes to itself the right of withholding Liberty of Conscience, and the other of granting it. The one is the Pope armed with fire and faggot, and the other is the Pope selling or granting indulgences. The former is church and state, and the latter is church and traffic.
But Toleration may be viewed in a much stronger light. Man worships not himself, but his Maker; and the liberty of conscience which he claims is not for the service of himself, but of his God. In this case, therefore, we must necessarily have the associated idea of two things; the mortal who renders the worship, and the Immortal Being who is worshipped. Toleration, therefore, places itself, not between man and man, nor between church and church, nor between one denomination of religion and another, but between God and man; between the being who worships, and the Being who is worshipped; and by the same act of assumed authority which it tolerates man to pay his worship, it presumptuously and blasphemously sets itself up to tolerate the Almighty to receive it.
Were a bill brought into any Parliament, entitled, “An Act to tolerate or grant liberty to the Almighty to receive the worship of a Jew or a Turk,” or “to prohibit the Almighty from receiving it,” all men would startle and call it blasphemy. There would be an uproar. The presumption of toleration in religious matters would then present itself unmasked; but the presumption is not the less because the name of “Man” only appears to those laws, for the associated idea of the worshipper and the worshipped cannot be separated. Who then art thou, vain dust and ashes! by whatever name thou art called, whether a King, a Bishop, a Church, or a State, a Parliament, or anything else, that obtrudest thine insignificance between the soul of man and its Maker? Mind thine own concerns. If he believes not as thou believest, it is a proof that thou believest not as he believes, and there is no earthly power can determine between you.
With respect to what are called denominations of religion, if every one is left to judge of its own religion, there is no such thing as a religion that is wrong; but if they are to judge of each other's religion, there is no such thing as a religion that is right; and therefore all the world is right, or all the world is wrong. But with respect to religion itself, without regard to names, and as directing itself from the universal family of mankind to the Divine object of all adoration, it is man bringing to his Maker the fruits of his heart; and though those fruits may differ from each other like the fruits of the earth, the grateful tribute of every one is accepted.
A Bishop of Durham, or a Bishop of Winchester, or the archbishop who heads the dukes, will not refuse a tythe-sheaf of wheat because it is not a cock of hay, nor a cock of hay because it is not a sheaf of wheat; nor a pig, because it is neither one nor the other; but these same persons, under the figure of an established church, will not permit their Maker to receive the varied tythes of man's devotion.
One of the continual choruses of Mr. Burke's book is “Church and State.” He does not mean some one particular church, or some one particular state, but any church and state; and he uses the term as a general figure to hold forth the political doctrine of always uniting the church with the state in every country, and he censures the National Assembly for not having done this in France. Let us bestow a few thoughts on this subject.
All religions are in their nature kind and benign, and united with principles of morality. They could not have made proselytes at first by professing anything that was vicious, cruel, persecuting, or immoral. Like everything else, they had their beginning; and they proceeded by persuasion, exhortation, and example. How then is it that they lose their native mildness, and become morose and intolerant?
It proceeds from the connection which Mr. Burke recommends. By engendering the church with the state, a sort of mule-animal, capable only of destroying, and not of breeding up, is produced, called the Church established by Law. It is a stranger, even from its birth, to any parent mother, on whom it is begotten, and whom in time it kicks out and destroys.
The inquisition in Spain does not proceed from the religion originally professed, but from this mule-animal, engendered between the church and the state. The burnings in Smithfield proceeded from the same heterogeneous production; and it was the regeneration of this strange animal in England afterwards, that renewed rancour and irreligion among the inhabitants, and that drove the people called Quakers and Dissenters to America. Persecution is not an original feature in any religion; but it is alway the strongly-marked feature of all law-religions, or religions established by law. Take away the law-establishment, and every religion re-assumes its original benignity. In America, a catholic priest is a good citizen, a good character, and a good neighbour; an episcopalian minister is of the same description: and this proceeds independently of the men, from there being no law-establishment in America.1
If also we view this matter in a temporal sense, we shall see the ill-effects it has had on the prosperity of nations. The union of church and state has impoverished Spain. The revoking the edict of Nantes drove the silk manufacture from that country into England; and church and state are now driving the cotton manufacture from England to America and France. Let then Mr. Burke continue to preach his antipolitical doctrine of Church and State. It will do some good. The National Assembly will not follow his advice, but will benefit by his folly. It was by observing the ill effects of it in England, that America has been warned against it; and it is by experiencing them in France, that the National Assembly have abolished it, and, like America, have established UNIVERSAL RIGHT OF CONSCIENCE, AND UNIVERSAL RIGHT OF CITIZENSHIP.∗
I will here cease the comparison with respect to the principles of the French constitution, and conclude this part of the subject with a few observations on the organization of the formal parts of the French and English governments.
The executive power in each country is in the hands of a person stiled the King; but the French constitution distinguishes between the King and the Sovereign: It considers the station of King as official, and places Sovereignty in the nation.
The representatives of the nation, who compose the National Assembly, and who are the legislative power, originate in and from the people by election, as an inherent right in the people.—In England it is otherwise; and this arises from the original establishment of what is called its monarchy; for as by the conquest all the rights of the people or the nation were absorbed into the hands of the Conqueror, and who added the title of King to that of Conqueror, those same matters which in France are now held as rights in the people, or in the nation, are held in England as grants from what is called the crown. The Parliament in England, in both its branches, was erected by patents from the descendants of the conqueror. The House of Commons did not originate as a matter of right in the people to delegate or elect, but as a grant or boon.
By the French Constitution the nation is always named before the king. The third article of the declaration of rights says: “The nation is essentially the source (or fountain) of all sovereignty.” Mr. Burke argues that in England a king is the fountain—that he is the fountain of all honor. But as this idea is evidently descended from the conquest I shall make no other remark upon it, than that it is the nature of conquest to turn everything upside down; and as Mr. Burke will not be refused the privilege of speaking twice, and as there are but two parts in the figure, the fountain and the spout, he will be right the second time.
The French Constitution puts the legislative before the executive, the law before the king; la loi, le roi. This also is in the natural order of things, because laws must have existence before they can have execution.
A king in France does not, in addressing himself to the National Assembly, say, “My Assembly,” similar to the phrase used in England of my “Parliament”; neither can he use it consistently with the constitution, nor could it be admitted. There may be propriety in the use of it in England, because as is before mentioned, both Houses of Parliament originated from what is called the crown by patent or boon—and not from the inherent rights of the people, as the National Assembly does in France, and whose name designates its origin.
The President of the National Assembly does not ask the King to grant to the Assembly liberty of speech, as is the case with the English House of Commons. The constitutional dignity of the National Assembly cannot debase itself. Speech is, in the first place, one of the natural rights of man always retained; and with respect to the National Assembly the use of it is their duty, and the nation is their authority. They were elected by the greatest body of men exercising the right of election the European world ever saw. They sprung not from the filth of rotten boroughs, nor are they the vassal representatives of aristocratical ones. Feeling the proper dignity of their character they support it. Their Parliamentary language, whether for or against a question, is free, bold and manly, and extends to all the parts and circumstances of the case. If any matter or subject respecting the executive department or the person who presides in it (the king) comes before them it is debated on with the spirit of men, and in the language of gentlemen; and their answer or their address is returned in the same style. They stand not aloof with the gaping vacuity of vulgar ignorance, nor bend with the cringe of sycophantic insignificance. The graceful pride of truth knows no extremes, and preserves, in every latitude of life, the right-angled character of man.
Let us now look to the other side of the question. In the addresses of the English Parliaments to their kings we see neither the intrepid spirit of the old Parliaments of France, nor the serene dignity of the present National Assembly; neither do we see in them anything of the stile of English manners, which border somewhat on bluntness. Since then they are neither of foreign extraction, nor naturally of English production, their origin must be sought for elsewhere, and that origin is the Norman Conquest. They are evidently of the vassalage class of manners, and emphatically mark the prostrate distance that exists in no other condition of men than between the conqueror and the conquered. That this vassalage idea and stile of speaking was not got rid of even at the Revolution of 1688, is evident from the declaration of Parliament to William and Mary in these words: “We do most humbly and faithfully submit ourselves, our heirs and posterities, for ever.” Submission is wholly a vassalage term, repugnant to the dignity of freedom, and an echo of the language used at the Conquest.
As the estimation of all things is by comparison, the Revolution of 1688, however from circumstances it may have been exalted beyond its value, will find its level. It is already on the wane, eclipsed by the enlarging orb of reason, and the luminous revolutions of America and France. In less than another century it will go, as well as Mr. Burke's labors, “to the family vault of all the Capulets.” Mankind will then scarcely believe that a country calling itself free would send to Holland for a man, and clothe him with power on purpose to put themselves in fear of him, and give him almost a million sterling a year for leave to submit themselves and their posterity, like bondmen and bondwomen, for ever.
But there is a truth that ought to be made known; I have had the opportunity of seeing it; which is, that notwithstanding appearances, there is not any description of men that despise monarchy so much as courtiers. But they well know, that if it were seen by others, as it is seen by them, the juggle could not be kept up; they are in the condition of men who get their living by a show, and to whom the folly of that show is so familiar that they ridicule it; but were the audience to be made as wise in this respect as themselves, there would be an end to the show and the profits with it. The difference between a republican and a courtier with respect to monarchy, is that the one opposes monarchy, believing it to be something; and the other laughs at it, knowing it to be nothing.
As I used sometimes to correspond with Mr. Burke believing him then to be a man of sounder principles than his book shows him to be, I wrote to him last winter from Paris, and gave him an account how prosperously matters were going on. Among other subjects in that letter, I referred to the happy situation the National Assembly were placed in; that they had taken ground on which their moral duty and their political interest were united. They have not to hold out a language which they do not themselves believe, for the fraudulent purpose of making others believe it. Their station requires no artifice to support it, and can only be maintained by enlightening mankind. It is not their interest to cherish ignorance, but to dispel it. They are not in the case of a ministerial or an opposition party in England, who, though they are opposed, are still united to keep up the common mystery. The National Assembly must throw open a magazine of light. It must show man the proper character of man; and the nearer it can bring him to that standard, the stronger the National Assembly becomes.
In contemplating the French Constitution, we see in it a rational order of things. The principles harmonise with the forms, and both with their origin. It may perhaps be said as an excuse for bad forms, that they are nothing more than forms; but this is a mistake. Forms grow out of principles, and operate to continue the principles they grow from. It is impossible to practise a bad form on anything but a bad principle. It cannot be ingrafted on a good one; and wherever the forms in any government are bad, it is a certain indication that the principles are bad also.
I will here finally close this subject. I began it by remarking that Mr. Burke had voluntarily declined going into a comparison of the English and French Constitutions. He apologises (in page 241) for not doing it, by saying that he had not time. Mr. Burke's book was upwards of eight months in hand, and is extended to a volume of three hundred and sixty-six pages. As his omission does injury to his cause, his apology makes it worse; and men on the English side of the water will begin to consider, whether there is not some radical defect in what is called the English constitution, that made it necessary for Mr. Burke to suppress the comparison, to avoid bringing it into view.
As Mr. Burke has not written on constitutions so neither has he written on the French Revolution. He gives no account of its commencement or its progress. He only expresses his wonder. “It looks,” says he, “to me, as if I were in a great crisis, not of the affairs of France alone, but of all Europe, perhaps of more than Europe. All circumstances taken together, the French Revolution is the most astonishing that has hitherto happened in the world.”
As wise men are astonished at foolish things, and other people at wise ones, I know not on which ground to account for Mr. Burke's astonishment; but certain it is, that he does not understand the French Revolution. It has apparently burst forth like a creation from a chaos, but it is no more than the consequence of a mental revolution priorily existing in France. The mind of the nation had changed beforehand, and the new order of things has naturally followed the new order of thoughts. I will here, as concisely as I can, trace out the growth of the French Revolution, and mark the circumstances that have contributed to produce it.
The despotism of Louis XIV., united with the gaiety of his Court, and the gaudy ostentation of his character, had so humbled, and at the same time so fascinated the mind of France, that the people appeared to have lost all sense of their own dignity, in contemplating that of their Grand Monarch; and the whole reign of Louis XV., remarkable only for weakness and effeminacy, made no other alteration than that of spreading a sort of lethargy over the nation, from which it shewed no disposition to rise.
The only signs which appeared of the spirit of Liberty during those periods, are to be found in the writings of the French philosophers. Montesquieu, President of the Parliament of Bordeaux, went as far as a writer under a despotic government could well proceed; and being obliged to divide himself between principle and prudence, his mind often appears under a veil, and we ought to give him credit for more than he has expressed.
Voltaire, who was both the flatterer and the satirist of despotism, took another line. His force lay in exposing and ridiculing the superstitions which priest-craft, united with state-craft, had interwoven with governments. It was not from the purity of his principles, or his love of mankind (for satire and philanthropy are not naturally concordant), but from his strong capacity of seeing folly in its true shape, and his irresistible propensity to expose it, that he made those attacks. They were, however, as formidable as if the motive had been virtuous; and he merits the thanks rather than the esteem of mankind.
On the contrary, we find in the writings of Rousseau, and the Abbé Raynal, a loveliness of sentiment in favor of liberty, that excites respect, and elevates the human faculties; but having raised this animation, they do not direct its operation, and leave the mind in love with an object, without describing the means of possessing it.
The writings of Quesnay, Turgot, and the friends of those authors, are of the serious kind; but they labored under the same disadvantage with Montesquieu; their writings abound with moral maxims of government, but are rather directed to œconomise and reform the administration of the government, than the government itself.
But all those writings and many others had their weight; and by the different manner in which they treated the subject of government, Montesquieu by his judgment and knowledge of laws, Voltaire by his wit, Rousseau and Raynal by their animation, and Quesnay and Turgot by their moral maxims and systems of œconomy, readers of every class met with something to their taste, and a spirit of political inquiry began to diffuse itself through the nation at the time the dispute between England and the then colonies of America broke out.
In the war which France afterwards engaged in, it is very well known that the nation appeared to be before-hand with the French ministry. Each of them had its view; but those views were directed to different objects; the one sought liberty, and the other retaliation on England. The French officers and soldiers who after this went to America, were eventually placed in the school of Freedom, and learned the practice as well as the principles of it by heart.
As it was impossible to separate the military events which took place in America from the principles of the American Revolution, the publication of those events in France necessarily connected themselves with the principles which produced them. Many of the facts were in themselves principles; such as the declaration of American Independence, and the treaty of alliance between France and America, which recognised the natural rights of man, and justified resistance to oppression.
The then Minister of France, Count Vergennes, was not the friend of America; and it is both justice and gratitude to say, that it was the Queen of France who gave the cause of America a fashion at the French Court. Count Vergennes was the personal and social friend of Dr. Franklin; and the Doctor had obtained, by his sensible gracefulness, a sort of influence over him; but with respect to principles Count Vergennes was a despot.
The situation of Dr. Franklin, as Minister from America to France, should be taken into the chain of circumstances. The diplomatic character is of itself the narrowest sphere of society that man can act in. It forbids intercourse by the reciprocity of suspicion; and a diplomatic is a sort of unconnected atom, continually repelling and repelled. But this was not the case with Dr. Franklin. He was not the diplomatic of a Court, but of MAN. His character as a philosopher had been long established, and his circle of society in France was universal.
Count Vergennes resisted for a considerable time the publication in France of American constitutions, translated into the French language: but even in this he was obliged to give way to public opinion, and a sort of propriety in admitting to appear what he had undertaken to defend. The American constitutions were to liberty what a grammar is to language: they define its parts of speech, and practically construct them into syntax.
The peculiar situation of the then Marquis de la Fayette is another link in the great chain. He served in America as an American officer under a commission of Congress, and by the universality of his acquaintance was in close friendship with the civil government of America, as well as with the military line. He spoke the language of the country, entered into the discussions on the principles of government, and was always a welcome friend at any election.
When the war closed, a vast reinforcement to the cause of Liberty spread itself over France, by the return of the French officers and soldiers. A knowledge of the practice was then joined to the theory; and all that was wanting to give it real existence was opportunity. Man cannot, properly speaking, make circumstances for his purpose, but he always has it in his power to improve them when they occur, and this was the case in France.
M. Neckar was displaced in May, 1781; and by the ill-management of the finances afterwards, and particularly during the extravagant administration of M. Calonne, the revenue of France, which was nearly twenty-four millions sterling per year, was become unequal to the expenditure, not because the revenue had decreased, but because the expenses had increased; and this was a circumstance which the nation laid hold of to bring forward a Revolution. The English Minister, Mr. Pitt, has frequently alluded to the state of the French finances in his budgets, without understanding the subject. Had the French Parliaments been as ready to register edicts for new taxes as an English Parliament is to grant them, there had been no derangement in the finances, nor yet any Revolution; but this will better explain itself as I proceed.
It will be necessary here to show how taxes were formerly raised in France. The King, or rather the Court or Ministry acting under the use of that name, framed the edicts for taxes at their own discretion, and sent them to the Parliaments to be registered; for until they were registered by the Parliaments they were not operative. Disputes had long existed between the Court and the Parliaments with respect to the extent of the Parliament's authority on this head. The Court insisted that the authority of Parliaments went no farther than to remonstrate or show reasons against the tax, reserving to itself the right of determining whether the reasons were well or ill-founded; and in consequence thereof, either to withdraw the edict as a matter of choice, or to order it to be enregistered as a matter of authority. The Parliaments on their part insisted that they had not only a right to remonstrate, but to reject; and on this ground they were always supported by the nation.
But to return to the order of my narrative. M. Calonne wanted money: and as he knew the sturdy disposition of the Parliaments with respect to new taxes, he ingeniously sought either to approach them by a more gentle means than that of direct authority, or to get over their heads by a manœuvre; and for this purpose he revived the project of assembling a body of men from the several provinces, under the style of an “Assembly of the Notables,” or men of note, who met in 1787, and who were either to recommend taxes to the Parliaments, or to act as a Parliament themselves. An Assembly under this name had been called in 1617.
As we are to view this as the first practical step towards the Revolution, it will be proper to enter into some particulars respecting it. The Assembly of the Notables has in some places been mistaken for the States-General, but was wholly a different body, the States-General being always by election. The persons who composed the Assembly of the Notables were all nominated by the king, and consisted of one hundred and forty members. But as M. Calonne could not depend upon a majority of this Assembly in his favor, he very ingeniously arranged them in such a manner as to make forty-four a majority of one hundred and forty; to effect this he disposed of them into seven separate committees, of twenty members each. Every general question was to be decided, not by a majority of persons, but by a majority of committees; and as eleven votes would make a majority in a committee, and four committees a majority of seven, M. Calonne had good reason to conclude that as forty-four would determine any general question he could not be outvoted. But all his plans deceived him, and in the event became his overthrow.
The then Marquis de la Fayette was placed in the second committee, of which the Count D'Artois was president, and as money matters were the object, it naturally brought into view every circumstance connected with it. M. de la Fayette made a verbal charge against Calonne for selling crown lands to the amount of two millions of livres, in a manner that appeared to be unknown to the king. The Count D'Artois (as if to intimidate, for the Bastille was then in being) asked the Marquis if he would render the charge in writing? He replied that he would. The Count D'Artois did not demand it, but brought a message from the king to that purport. M. de la Fayette then delivered in his charge in writing, to be given to the king, undertaking to support it. No farther proceedings were had upon this affair, but M. Calonne was soon after dismissed by the King and set off to England.
As M. de la Fayette, from the experience of what he had seen in America, was better acquainted with the science of civil government than the generality of the members who composed the Assembly of the Notables could then be, the burnt of the business fell considerably to his share. The plan of those who had a constitution in view was to contend with the Court on the ground of taxes, and some of them openly professed their object. Disputes frequently arose between Count D'Artois and M. de la Fayette upon various subjects. With respect to the arrears already incurred the latter proposed to remedy them by accommodating the expenses to the revenue instead of the revenue to the expenses; and as objects of reform he proposed to abolish the Bastille and all the State prisons throughout the nation (the keeping of which was attended with great expense), and to suppress Letters de Cachet; but those matters were not then much attended to, and with respect to Lettres de Cachet, a majority of the Nobles appeared to be in favour of them.
On the subject of supplying the Treasury by new taxes the Assembly declined taking the matter on themselves, concurring in the opinion that they had not authority. In a debate on this subject M. de la Fayette said that raising money by taxes could only be done by a National Assembly, freely elected by the people, and acting as their representatives. Do you mean, said the Count D'Artois, the States-General? M. de la Fayette replied that he did. Will you, said the Count D'Artois, sign what you say to be given to the king? The other replied that he would not only do this but that he would go farther, and say that the effectual mode would be for the king to agree to the establishment of a constitution.
As one of the plans had thus failed, that of getting the Assembly to act as a Parliament, the other came into view, that of recommending. On this subject the Assembly agreed to recommend two new taxes to be enregistered by the Parliament: the one a stamp-tax and the other a territorial tax, or sort of land-tax. The two have been estimated at about five millions sterling per annum. We have now to turn our attention to the Parliaments, on whom the business was again devolving.
The Archbishop of Thoulouse (since Archbishop of Sens, and now a Cardinal), was appointed to the administration of the finances soon after the dismission of Calonne. He was also made Prime Minister, an office that did not always exist in France. When this office did not exist, the chief of each of the principal departments transacted business immediately with the King, but when a Prime Minister was appointed they did business only with him. The Archbishop arrived to more state-authority than any minister since the Duke de Choiseul, and the nation was strongly disposed in his favor; but by a line of conduct scarcely to be accounted for he perverted every opportunity, turned out a despot, and sunk into disgrace, and a Cardinal.
The Assembly of the Notables having broken up, the minister sent the edicts for the two new taxes recommended by the Assembly to the Parliaments to be enregistered. They of course came first before the Parliament of Paris, who returned for answer: “that with such a revenue as the nation then supported the name of taxes ought not to be mentioned but for the purpose of reducing them”; and threw both the edicts out.∗
On this refusal the Parliament was ordered to Versailles, where, in the usual form, the King held what under the old government was called a Bed of Justice; and the two edicts were enregistered in presence of the Parliament by an order of State, in the manner mentioned, p. 337. On this the Parliament immediately returned to Paris, renewed their session in form, and ordered the enregistering to be struck out, declaring that everything done at Versailles was illegal. All the members of the Parliament were then served with Lettres de Cachet, and exiled to Trois; but as they continued as inflexible in exile as before, and as vengeance did not supply the place of taxes, they were after a short time recalled to Paris.
The edicts were again tendered to them, and the Count D'Artois undertook to act as representative of the King. For this purpose he came from Versailles to Paris, in a train of procession; and the Parliament were assembled to receive him. But show and parade had lost their influence in France; and whatever ideas of importance he might set off with, he had to return with those of mortification and disappointment. On alighting from his carriage to ascend the steps of the Parliament House, the crowd (which was numerously collected) threw out trite expressions, saying: “This is Monsieur D'Artois, who wants more of our money to spend.” The marked disapprobation which he saw impressed him with apprehensions, and the word Aux armes! (To arms!) was given out by the officer of the guard who attended him. It was so loudly vociferated, that it echoed through the avenues of the house, and produced a temporary confusion. I was then standing in one of the apartments through which he had to pass, and could not avoid reflecting how wretched was the condition of a disrespected man.∗
After this a new subject took place: In the various debates and contests which arose between the Court and the Parliaments on the subject of taxes, the Parliament of Paris at last declared that although it had been customary for Parliaments to enregister edicts for taxes as a matter of convenience, the right belonged only to the States-General; and that, therefore, the Parliament could no longer with propriety continue to debate on what it had not authority to act. The King after this came to Paris and held a meeting with the Parliament, in which he continued from ten in the morning till about six in the evening, and, in a manner that appeared to proceed from him as if unconsulted upon with the Cabinet or Ministry, gave his word to the Parliament that the States-General should be convened.
But after this another scene arose, on a ground different from all the former. The Minister and the Cabinet were averse to calling the States-General. They well knew that if the States-General were assembled, themselves must fall; and as the King had not mentioned any time, they hit on a project calculated to elude, without appearing to oppose.
For this purpose, the Court set about making a sort of constitution itself. It was principally the work of M. Lamoignon, the Keeper of the Seals, who afterwards shot himself. This new arrangement consisted in establishing a body under the name of a Cour Plénière, or Full Court, in which were invested all the powers that the Government might have occasion to make use of. The persons composing this Court were to be nominated by the King; the contended right of taxation was given up on the part of the King, and a new criminal code of laws and law proceedings was substituted in the room of the former. The thing, in many points, contained better principles than those upon which the Government had hitherto been administered; but with respect to the Cour Plénière, it was no other than a medium through which despotism was to pass, without appearing to act directly from itself.
The Cabinet had high expectations from their new contrivance. The persons who were to compose the Cour Plénière, were already nominated; and as it was necessary to carry a fair appearance, many of the best characters in the nation were appointed among the number. It was to commence on May 8, 1788; but an opposition arose to it on two grounds—the one as to principle, the other as to form.
On the ground of Principle it was contended that Government had not a right to alter itself, and that if the practice was once admitted it would grow into a principle and be made a precedent for any future alterations the Government might wish to establish: that the right of altering the Government was a national right, and not a right of Government. And on the ground of form it was contended that the Cour Plénière, was nothing more than a larger Cabinet.
The then Duke de la Rouchefoucault, Luxembourg, De Noailles, and many others, refused to accept the nomination, and strenuously opposed the whole plan. When the edict for establishing this new court was sent to the Parliaments to be enregistered and put into execution, they resisted also. The Parliament of Paris not only refused, but denied the authority; and the contest renewed itself between the Parliament and the Cabinet more strongly than ever. While the Parliament were sitting in debate on this subject, the Ministry ordered a regiment of soldiers to surround the House and form a blockade. The members sent out for beds and provisions, and lived as in a besieged citadel: and as this had no effect, the commanding officer was ordered to enter the Parliament House and seize them, which he did, and some of the principal members were shut up in different prisons. About the same time a deputation of persons arrived from the province of Brittany to remonstrate against the establishment of the Cour Plénière, and those the archbishop sent to the Bastille. But the spirit of the nation was not to be overcome, and it was so fully sensible of the strong ground it had taken—that of withholding taxes—that it contented itself with keeping up a sort of quiet resistance, which effectually overthrew all the plans at that time formed against it. The project of the Cour Plénière, was at last obliged to be given up, and the Prime Minister not long afterwards followed its fate, and M. Neckar was recalled into office.
The attempt to establish the Cour Plénière, had an effect upon the nation which itself did not perceive. It was a sort of new form of government that insensibly served to put the old one out of sight and to unhinge it from the superstitious authority of antiquity. It was Government dethroning Government; and the old one, by attempting to make a new one, made a chasm.
The failure of this scheme renewed the subject of convening the States-General; and this gave rise to a new series of politics. There was no settled form for convening the States-General: all that it positively meant was a deputation from what was then called the Clergy, the Noblesse, and the Commons; but their numbers or their proportions had not been always the same. They had been convened only on extraordinary occasions, the last of which was in 1614; their numbers were then in equal proportions, and they voted by orders.
It could not well escape the sagacity of M. Neckar, that the mode of 1614 would answer neither the purpose of the then government nor of the nation. As matters were at that time circumstanced it would have been too contentious to agree upon anything. The debates would have been endless upon privileges and exemptions, in which neither the wants of the Government nor the wishes of the nation for a Constitution would have been attended to. But as he did not chuse to take the decision upon himself, he summoned again the Assembly of the Notables and referred it to them. This body was in general interested in the decision, being chiefly of aristocracy and high-paid clergy, and they decided in favor of the mode of 1614. This decision was against the sense of the Nation, and also against the wishes of the Court; for the aristocracy opposed itself to both and contended for privileges independent of either. The subject was then taken up by the Parliament, who recommended that the number of the Commons should be equal to the other two: and they should all sit in one house and vote in one body. The number finally determined on was 1,200; 600 to be chosen by the Commons (and this was less than their proportion ought to have been when their worth and consequence is considered on a national scale), 300 by the Clergy, and 300 by the Aristocracy; but with respect to the mode of assembling themselves, whether together or apart, or the manner in which they should vote, those matters were referred.∗
The election that followed, was not a contested election, but an animated one. The candidates were not men, but principles. Societies were formed in Paris, and committees of correspondence and communication established throughout the nation, for the purpose of enlightening the people, and explaining to them the principles of civil government; and so orderly was the election conducted, that it did not give rise even to the rumor of tumult.
The States-General were to meet at Versailles in April 1789, but did not assemble till May. They situated themselves in three separate chambers, or rather the Clergy and Aristocracy withdrew each into a separate chamber. The majority of the Aristocracy claimed what they called the privilege of voting as a separate body, and of giving their consent or their negative in that manner; and many of the bishops and the high-beneficed clergy claimed the same privilege on the part of their Order.
The Tiers Etat (as they were then called) disowned any knowledge of artificial orders and artificial privileges; and they were not only resolute on this point, but somewhat disdainful. They began to consider the Aristocracy as a kind of fungus growing out of the corruption of society, that could not be admitted even as a branch of it; and from the disposition the Aristocracy has shown by upholding Lettres de Cachet, and in sundry other instances, it was manifest that no constitution could be formed by admitting men in any other character than as National Men.
After various altercations on this head, the Tiers Etat or Commons (as they were then called) declared themselves (on a motion made for that purpose by the Abbé Sieyes) “The Representative of the Nation; and that the two Orders could be considered but as deputies of corporations, and could only have a deliberate voice when they assembled in a national character with the national representatives. “This proceeding extinguished the style of Etats Génèraux, or States-General, and erected it into the style it now bears, that of L'Assemblée Nationale, or National Assembly.
This motion was not made in a precipitate manner. It was the result of cool deliberation, and concerned between the national representatives and the patriotic members of the two chambers, who saw into the folly, mischief, and injustice of artificial privileged distinctions. It was become evident, that no constitution, worthy of being called by that name, could be established on anything less than a national ground. The Aristocracy had hitherto opposed the despotism of the Court, and affected the language of patriotism; but it opposed it as its rival (as the English Barons opposed King John), and it now opposed the nation from the same motives.
On carrying this motion, the national representatives, as had been concerted, sent an invitation to the two chambers, to unite with them in a national character, and proceed to business. A majority of the clergy, chiefly of the parish priests; withdrew from the clerical chamber, and joined the nation; and forty-five from the other chamber joined in like manner. There is a sort of secret history belonging to this last circumstance, which is necessary to its explanation; it was not judged prudent that all the patriotic members of the chamber styling itself the Nobles, should quit it at once; and in consequence of this arrangement, they drew off by degrees, always leaving some, as well to reason the case, as to watch the suspected. In a little time the numbers increased from forty-five to eighty, and soon after to a greater number; which, with the majority of the clergy, and the whole of the national representatives, put the malcontents in a very diminutive condition.
The King, who, very different from the general class called by that name, is a man of a good heart, shewed himself disposed to recommend a union of the three chambers, on the ground the National Assembly had taken; but the malcontents exerted themselves to prevent it, and began now to have another project in view. Their numbers consisted of a majority of the aristocratical chamber, and the minority of the clerical chamber, chiefly of bishops and high-beneficed clergy; and these men were determined to put everything to issue, as well by strength as by stratagem. They had no objection to a constitution; but it must be such a one as themselves should dictate, and suited to their own views and particular situations. On the other hand, the Nation disowned knowing anything of them but as citizens, and was determined to shut out all such up-start pretensions. The more aristocracy appeared, the more it was despised; there was a visible imbecility and want of intellects in the majority, a sort of je ne sais quoi, that while it affected to be more than citizen, was less than man. It lost ground from contempt more than from hatred; and was rather jeered at as an ass, than dreaded as a lion. This is the general character of aristocracy, or what are called Nobles or Nobility, or rather No-ability, in all countries.
The plan of the mal-contents consisted now of two things; either to deliberate and vote by chambers (or orders), more especially on all questions respecting a Constitution (by which the aristocratical chamber would have had a negative on any article of the Constitution); or, in case they could not accomplish this object, to overthrow the National Assembly entirely.
To effect one or other of these objects they began to cultivate a friendship with the despotism they had hitherto attempted to rival, and the Count D'Artois became their chief. The king (who has since declared himself deceived into their measures) held, according to the old form, a Bed of Justice, in which he accorded to the deliberation and vote par tête (by head) upon several subjects; but reserved the deliberation and vote upon all questions respecting a constitution to the three chambers separately. This declaration of the king was made against the advice of M. Neckar, who now began to perceive that he was growing out of fashion at Court, and that another minister was in contemplation.
As the form of sitting in separate chambers was yet apparently kept up, though essentially destroyed, the national representatives immediately after this declaration of the King resorted to their own chambers to consult on a protest against it; and the minority of the chamber (calling itself the Nobles), who had joined the national cause, retired to a private house to consult in like manner. The mal-contents had by this time concerted their measures with the court, which the Count D'Artois undertook to conduct; and as they saw from the discontent which the declaration excited, and the opposition making against it, that they could not obtain a control over the intended constitution by a separate vote, they prepared themselves for their final object—that of conspiring against the National Assembly, and overthrowing it.
The next morning the door of the chamber of the National Assembly was shut against them, and guarded by troops; and the members were refused admittance. On this they withdrew to a tennis-ground in the neighborhood of Versailles, as the most convenient place they could find, and, after renewing their session, took an oath never to separate from each other, under any circumstance whatever, death excepted, until they had established a constitution. As the experiment of shutting up the house had no other effect than that of producing a closer connection in the members, it was opened again the next day, and the public business recommenced in the usual place.
We are now to have in view the forming of the new ministry, which was to accomplish the overthrow of the National Assembly. But as force would be necessary, orders were issued to assemble thirty thousand troops, the command of which was given to Broglio, one of the intended new ministry, who was recalled from the country for this purpose. But as some management was necessary to keep this plan concealed till the moment it should be ready for execution, it is to this policy that a declaration made by Count D'Artois must be attributed, and which is here proper to be introduced.
It could not but occur while the mal-contents continued to resort to their chambers separate from the National Assembly, more jealousy would be excited than if they were mixed with it, and that the plot might be suspected. But as they had taken their ground, and now wanted a pretence for quitting it, it was necessary that one should be devised. This was effectually accomplished by a declaration made by the Count D'Artois: “That if they took not a part in the National Assembly, the life of the king would be endangered” on which they quitted their chambers, and mixed with the Assembly, in one body.
At the time this declaration was made, it was generally treated as a piece of absurdity in Count D'Artois calculated merely to relieve the outstanding members of the two chambers from the diminutive situation they were put in; and if nothing more had followed, this conclusion would have been good. But as things best explain themselves by their events, this apparent union was only a cover to the machinations which were secretly going on; and the declaration accommodated itself to answer that purpose. In a little time the National Assembly found itself surrounded by troops, and thousands more were daily arriving. On this a very strong declaration was made by the National Assembly to the King, remonstrating on the impropriety of the measure, and demanding the reason. The King, who was not in the secret of this business, as himself afterwards declared, gave substantially for answer, that he had no other object in view than to preserve the public tranquility, which appeared to be much disturbed.
But in a few days from this time the plot unravelled itself. M. Neckar and the ministry were displaced, and a new one formed of the enemies of the Revolution; and Broglio, with between twenty-five and thirty thousand foreign troops, was arrived to support them. The mask was now thrown off, and matters were come to a crisis. The event was that in a space of three days the new ministry and their abettors found it prudent to fly the nation; the Bastille was taken, and Broglio and his foreign troops dispersed, as is already related in the former part of this work.
There are some curious circumstances in the history of this short-lived ministry, and this short-lived attempt at a counter-revolution. The Palace of Versailles, where the court was sitting, was not more than four hundred yards distant from the hall where the National Assembly was sitting. The two places were at this moment like the separate headquarters of two combatant armies; yet the Court was as perfectly ignorant of the information which had arrived from Paris to the National Assembly, as if it had resided at an hundred miles distance. The then Marquis de la Fayette, who (as has been already mentioned) was chosen to preside in the National Assembly on this particular occasion, named by order of the Assembly three successive deputations to the king, on the day and up to the evening on which the Bastille was taken, to inform and confer with him on the state of affairs; but the ministry, who knew not so much as that it was attacked, precluded all communication, and were solacing themselves how dextrously they had succeeded; but in a few hours the accounts arrived so thick and fast that they had to start from their desks and run. Some set off in one disguise, and some in another, and none in their own character. Their anxiety now was to outride the news, lest they should be stopt, which, though it flew fast, flew not so fast as themselves.
It is worth remarking that the National Assembly neither pursued those fugitive conspirators, nor took any notice of them, nor sought to retaliate in any shape whatever. Occupied with establishing a constitution founded on the Rights of Man and the Authority of the People, the only authority on which Government has a right to exist in any country, the National Assembly felt none of those mean passions which mark the character of impertinent governments, founding themselves on their own authority, or on the absurdity of hereditary succession. It is the faculty of the human mind to become what it contemplates, and to act in unison with its object.
The conspiracy being thus dispersed, one of the first works of the National Assembly, instead of vindictive proclamations, as has been the case with other governments, was to publish a declaration of the Rights of Man, as the basis on which the new constitution was to be built, and which is here subjoined:
DECLARATION OF THE RIGHTS OF MAN AND CITIZENS,
by the national assembly of france.
“The Representatives of the people of France, formed into a National Assembly, considering that ignorance, neglect, or contempt of human rights, are the sole causes of public misfortunes and corruptions of Government, have resolved to set forth in a solemn declaration, these natural, imprescriptible, and inalienable rights: that this declaration being constantly present to the minds of the members of the body social, they may be forever kept attentive to their rights and their duties; that the acts of the legislative and executive powers of Government, being capable of being every moment compared with the end of political institutions, may be more respected; and also, that the future claims of the citizens, being directed by simple and incontestible principles, may always tend to the maintenance of the Constitution, and the general happiness.
For these reasons the National Assembly doth recognise and declare, in the presence of the Supreme Being, and with the hope of his blessing and favor, the following sacred rights of men and of citizens:
- I.Men are born, and always continue, free and equal in respect of their rights. Civil distinctions, therefore, can be founded only on public utility.
- II.The end of all political associations is the preservation of the natural and imprescriptible rights of man; and these rights are liberty, property, security, and resistance of oppression.
- III.The nation is essentially the source of all sovereignty; nor can any INDIVIDUAL, or ANY BODY OF MEN, be entitled to any authority which is not expressly derived from it.
- IV. Political Liberty consists in the power of doing whatever does not injure another. The exercise of the natural rights of every man, has no other limits than those which are necessary to secure to every other man the free exercise of the same rights; and these limits are determinable only by the law.
- V. The law ought to prohibit only actions hurtful to society. What is not prohibited by the law should not be hindered; nor should anyone be compelled to that which the law does not require.
- IV. The law is an expression of the will of the community. All citizens have a right to concur, either personally or by their representatives, in its formation. It should be the same to all, whether it protects or punishes; and all being equal in its sight, are equally eligible to all honors, places, and employments, according to their different abilities, without any other distinction than that created by their virtues and talents.
- VI. No man should be accused, arrested, or held in confinement, except in cases determined by the law, and according to the forms which it has prescribed. All who promote, solicit, execute, or cause to be executed, arbitrary orders, ought to be punished, and every citizen called upon, or apprehended by virtue of the law, ought immediately to obey, and renders himself culpable by resistance.
- VII. The law ought to impose no other penalties but such as are absolutely and evidently necessary; and no one ought to be punished, but in virtue of a law promulgated before the offence, and legally applied.
- IX. Every man being presumed innocent till he has been convicted, whenever his detention becomes indispensable, all rigor to him, more than is necessary to secure his person, ought to be provided against by the law.
- X. No man ought to be molested on account of his opinions, not even on account of his religious opinions, provided his avowal of them does not disturb the public order established by the law.
- XI. The unrestrained communication of thoughts and opinions being one of the most precious rights of man, every citizen may speak, write and publish freely, provided he is responsible for the abuse of this liberty, in cases determined by the law.
- XII. A public force being necessary to give security to the rights of men and of citizens, that force is instituted for the benefit of the community and not for the particular benefit of the persons to whom it is intrusted.
- XIII. A common contribution being necessary for the support of the public force, and for defraying the other expenses of government, it ought to be divided equally among the members of the community, according to their abilities.
- XIV. Every citizen has a right, either by himself or his representative, to a free voice in determining the necessity of public contributions, the appropriation of them, and their amount, mode of assessment, and duration.
- XV. Every community has a right to demand of all its agents an account of their conduct.
- XVI. Every community in which a separation of powers and a security of rights is not provided for, wants a constitution.
- XVII. The right to property being inviolable and sacred, no one ought to be deprived of it, except in cases of evident public necessity, legally ascertained, and on condition of a previous just indemnity.’”
OBSERVATIONS ON THE DECLARATION OF RIGHTS.
The first three articles comprehend in general terms the whole of a Declaration of Rights, all the succeeding articles either originate from them or follow as elucidations. The 4th, 5th, and 6th define more particularly what is only generally expressed in the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd.
The 7th, 8th, 9th, 10th, and 11th articles are declaratory of principles upon which laws shall be constructed, conformable to rights already declared. But it is questioned by some very good people in France, as well as in other countries, whether the 10th article sufficiently guarantees the right it is intended to accord with; besides which it takes off from the divine dignity of religion, and weakens its operative force upon the mind, to make it a subject of human laws. It then presents itself to man like light intercepted by a cloudy medium, in which the source of it is obscured from his sight, and he sees nothing to reverence in the dusky ray.∗
The remaining articles, beginning with the twelfth, are substantially contained in the principles of the preceding articles; but in the particular situation in which France then was, having to undo what was wrong, as well as to set up what was right, it was proper to be more particular then what in another condition of things would be necessary.
While the Declaration of Rights was before the National Assembly some of its members remarked that if a declaration of rights were published it should be accompanied by a Declaration of Duties. The observation discovered a mind that reflected, and it only erred by not reflecting far enough. A Declaration of Rights is, by reciprocity, a Declaration of Duties also. Whatever is my right as a man is also the right of another; and it becomes my duty to guarantee as well as to possess.
The first three articles are the basis of Liberty, as well individual as national; nor can any country be called free whose government does not take its beginning from the principles they contain, and continue to preserve them pure; and the whole of the Declaration of Rights is of more value to the world, and will do more good, than all the laws and statutes that have yet been promulgated.
In the declaratory exordium which prefaces the Declaration of Rights we see the solemn and majestic spectacle of a nation opening its commission, under the auspices of its Creator, to establish a Government, a scene so new, and so transcendantly unequalled by anything in the European world, that the name of a Revolution is diminutive of its character, and it rises into a Regeneration of man. What are the present Governments of Europe but a scene of iniquity and oppression? What is that of England? Do not its own inhabitants say it is a market where every man has his price, and where corruption is common traffic at the expense of a deluded people? No wonder, then, that the French Revolution is traduced. Had it confined itself merely to the destruction of flagrant despotism perhaps Mr. Burke and some others had been silent. Their cry now is, “It has gone too far”—that is, it has gone too far for them. It stares corruption in the face, and the venal tribe are all alarmed. Their fear discovers itself in their outrage, and they are but publishing the groans of a wounded vice. But from such opposition the French Revolution, instead of suffering, receives an homage. The more it is struck the more sparks it will emit; and the fear is it will not be struck enough. It has nothing to dread from attacks: truth has given it an establishment, and time will record it with a name as lasting as his own.
Having now traced the progress of the French Revolution through most of its principal stages, from its commencement to the taking of the Bastille, and its establishment by the Declaration of Rights, I will close the subject with the energetic apostrophe of M. de la Fayette—”May this great monument, raised to Liberty, serve as a lesson to the oppressor, and an example to the oppressed!”∗
To prevent interrupting the argument in the preceding part of this work, or the narrative that follows it, I reserved some observations to be thrown together in a Miscellaneous Chapter; by which variety might not be censured for confusion. Mr. Burke's book is all Miscellany. His intention was to make an attack on the French Revolution; but instead of proceeding with an orderly arrangement, he has stormed it with a mob of ideas tumbling over and destroying one another.
But this confusion and contradiction in Mr. Burke's Book is easily accounted for.—When a man in a wrong cause attempts to steer his course by anything else than some polar truth or principle, he is sure to be lost. It is beyond the compass of his capacity to keep all the parts of an argument together, and make them unite in one issue, by any other means than having this guide always in view. Neither memory nor invention will supply the want of it. The former fails him, and the latter betrays him.
Notwithstanding the nonsense, for it deserves no better name, that Mr. Burke has asserted about hereditary rights, and hereditary succession, and that a Nation has not a right to form a Government of itself; it happened to fall in his way to give some account of what Government is. “Government, “says he, “is a contrivance of human wisdom.“
Admitting that government is a contrivance of human wisdom, it must necessarily follow, that hereditary succession, and hereditary rights (as they are called,) can make no part of it, because it is impossible to make wisdom hereditary; and on the other hand, that cannot be a wise contrivance, which in its operation may commit the government of a nation to the wisdom of an idiot. The ground which Mr. Burke now takes is fatal to every part of his cause. The argument changes from hereditary rights to hereditary wisdom; and the question is, Who is the wisest man? He must now shew that every one in the line of hereditary succession was a Solomon, or his title is not good to be a king. What a stroke has Mr. Burke now made! To use a sailor's phrase, he has swabbed the deck, and scarcely left a name legible in the list of Kings; and he has mowed down and thinned the House of Peers, with a scythe as formidable as Death and Time.
But Mr. Burke appears to have been aware of this retort; and he has taken care to guard against it, by making government to be not only a contrivance of human wisdom, but a monopoly of wisdom. He puts the nation as fools on one side, and places his government of wisdom, all wise men of Gotham, on the other side; and he then proclaims, and says that “Men have a RIGHT that their WANTS should be provided for by this wisdom. “Having thus made proclamation, he next proceeds to explain to them what their wants are, and also what their rights are. In this he has succeeded dextrously, for he makes their wants to be a want of wisdom; but as this is cold comfort, he then informs them, that they have a right (not to any of the wisdom) but to be governed by it; and in order to impress them with a solemn reverence for this monopoly-government of wisdom, and of its vast capacity for all purposes, possible or impossible, right or wrong, he proceeds with astrological mysterious importance, to tell to them its powers in these words: “The rights of men in government are their advantages; and these are often in balance between differences of good; and in compromises sometimes between good and evil, and sometimes between evil and evil. Political reason is a computing principle; adding—subtracting—multiplying—and dividing, morally and not metaphysically or mathematically, true moral denominations.”
As the wondering audience, whom Mr. Burke supposes himself talking to, may not understand all this learned jargon, I will undertake to be its interpreter. The meaning, then, good people, of all this, is: That government is governed by no principle whatever; that it can make evil good, or good evil, just as it pleases. In short, that government is arbitrary power.
But there are some things which Mr. Burke has forgotten. First, he has not shewn where the wisdom originally came from: and secondly, he has not shewn by what authority it first began to act. In the manner he introduces the matter, it is either government stealing wisdom, or wisdom stealing government. It is without an origin, and its powers without authority. In short, it is usurpation.
Whether it be from a sense of shame, or from a consciousness of some radical defect in a government necessary to be kept out of sight, or from both, or from any other cause, I undertake not to determine, but so it is, that a monarchical reasoner never traces government to its source, or from its source. It is one of the shibboleths by which he may be known. A thousand years hence, those who shall live in America or France, will look back with contemplative pride on the origin of their government, and say, This was the work of our glorious ancestors! But what can a monarchical talker say? What has he to exult in? Alas he has nothing. A certain something forbids him to look back to a beginning, lest some robber, or some Robin Hood, should rise from the long obscurity of time and say, I am the origin. Hard as Mr. Burke labored at the Regency Bill and Hereditary Succession two years ago, and much as he dived for precedents, he still had not boldness enough to bring up William of Normandy, and say, There is the head of the list! There is the fountain of honor! the son of a prostitute, and the plunderer of the English nation.
The opinions of men with respect to government are changing fast in all countries. The Revolutions of America and France have thrown a beam of light over the world, which reaches into man. The enormous expense of governments has provoked people to think, by making them feel; and when once the veil begins to rend, it admits not of repair. Ignorance is of a peculiar nature: once dispelled, it is impossible to re-establish it. It is not originally a thing of itself, but is only the absence of knowledge; and though man may be kept ignorant, he cannot be made ignorant. The mind, in discovering truth, acts in the same manner as it acts through the eye in discovering objects; when once any object has been seen, it is impossible to put the mind back to the same condition it was in before it saw it. Those who talk of a counter-revolution in France, show how little they understand of man. There does not exist in the compass of language an arrangement of words to express so much as the means of effecting a counter-revolution. The means must be an obliteration of knowledge; and it has never yet been discovered how to make man unknow his knowledge, or unthink his thoughts.
Mr. Burke is laboring in vain to stop the progress of knowledge; and it comes with the worse grace from him, as there is a certain transaction known in the city which renders him suspected of being a pensioner in a fictitious name. This may account for some strange doctrine he has advanced in his book, which though he points it at the Revolution Society, is effectually directed against the whole nation.
“The King of England,” says he, “holds his crown (for it does not belong to the Nation, according to Mr. Burke) in contempt of the choice of the Revolution Society, who have not a single vote for a king among them either individually or collectively; and his Majesty's heirs each in their time and order, will come to the Crown with the same contempt of their choice, with which his Majesty has succeeded to that which he now wears.”
As to who is King in England or elsewhere, or whether there is any King at all, or whether the people choose a Cherokee chief, or a Hessian hussar for a King, it is not a matter that I trouble myself about—be that to themselves; but with respect to the doctrine, so far as it relates to the Rights of Men and Nations, it is as abominable as anything ever uttered in the most enslaved country under heaven. Whether it sounds worse to my ear, by not being accustomed to hear such despotism, than what it does to the ear of another person, I am not so well a judge of; but of its abominable principle I am at no loss to judge.
It is not the Revolution Society that Mr. Burke means; it is the Nation, as well in its original as in its representative character; and he has taken care to make himself understood, by saying that they have not a vote either collectively or individually. The Revolution Society is composed of citizens of all denominations, and of members of both the Houses of parliament; and consequently, if there is not a right to a vote in any of the characters, there can be no right to any either in the nation or in its Parliament. This ought to be a caution to every country how it imports foreign families to be kings. It is somewhat curious to observe, that although the people of England had been in the habit of talking about kings, it is always a Foreign House of Kings; hating Foreigners yet governed by them.—It is now the House of Brunswick, one of the petty tribes of Germany.
It has hitherto been the practice of the English Parliaments to regulate what was called the succession (taking it for granted that the Nation then continued to accord to the form of annexing a monarchical branch of its government; for without this the Parliament could not have had authority to have sent either to Holland or to Hanover, or to impose a king upon the nation against its will.) And this must be the utmost limit to which Parliament can go upon this case; but the right of the Nation goes to the whole case, because it has the right of changing its whole form of government. The right of a Parliament is only a right in trust, a right by delegation, and that but from a very small part of the Nation; and one of its Houses has not even this. But the right of the Nation is an original right, as universal as taxation. The nation is the paymaster of everything, and everything must conform to its general will.
I remember taking notice of a speech in what is called the English House of Peers, by the then Earl of Shelburne, and I think it was at the time he was Minister, which is applicable to this case. I do not directly charge my memory with every particular; but the words and the purport, as nearly as I remember, were these: “That the form of a Government was a matter wholly at the will of the Nation at all times, that if it chose a monarchical form, it had a right to have it so; and if it afterwards chose to be a Republic, it had a right to be a Republic, and to say to a King, ’We have no longer any occasion for you.’“
When Mr. Burke says that “His Majesty's heirs and successors, each in their time and order, will come to the crown with the same contempt of their choice with which His Majesty had succeeded to that he wears,” it is saying too much even to the humblest individual in the country; part of whose daily labor goes towards making up the million sterling a-year, which the country gives the person it styles a king. Government with insolence is despotism; but when contempt is added it becomes worse; and to pay for contempt is the excess of slavery. This species of government comes from Germany; and reminds me of what one of the Brunswick soldiers told me, who was taken prisoner by the Americans in the late war: “Ah!” said he, “America is a fine free country, it is worth the people's fighting for; I know the difference by knowing my own: in my country, if the prince says eat straw, we eat straw.” God help that country, thought I, be it England or elsewhere, whose liberties are to be protected by German principles of government, and Princes of Brunswick!
As Mr. Burke sometimes speaks of England, sometimes of France, and sometimes of the world, and of government in general, it is difficult to answer his book without apparently meeting him on the same ground. Although principles of Government are general subjects, it is next to impossible, in many cases, to separate them from the idea of place and circumstance, and the more so when circumstances are put for arguments, which is frequently the case with Mr. Burke.
In the former part of his book, addressing himself to the people of France, he says: “No experience has taught us (meaning the English), that in any other course or method than that of a hereditary crown, can our liberties be regularly perpetuated and preserved sacred as our hereditary right. “I ask Mr. Burke, who is to take them away? M. de la Fayette, in speaking to France, says: “For a Nation to be free, it is sufficient that she wills it. “But Mr. Burke represents England as wanting capacity to take care of itself, and that its liberties must be taken care of by a King holding it in “contempt.” If England is sunk to this, it is preparing itself to eat straw, as in Hanover, or in Brunswick. But besides the folly of the declaration, it happens that the facts are all against Mr. Burke. It was by the government being hereditary, that the liberties of the people were endangered. Charles I. and James II. are instances of this truth; yet neither of them went so far as to hold the Nation in contempt.
As it is sometimes of advantage to the people of one country to hear what those of other countries have to say respecting it, it is possible that the people of France may learn something from Mr. Burke's book, and that the people of England may also learn something from the answers it will occasion. When Nations fall out about freedom, a wide field of debate is opened. The argument commences with the rights of war, without its evils, and as knowledge is the object contended for, the party that sustains the defeat obtains the prize.
Mr. Burke talks about what he calls an hereditary crown, as if it were some production of Nature; or as if, like Time, it had a power to operate, not only independently, but in spite of man; or as if it were a thing or a subject universally consented to. Alas! it has none of those properties, but is the reverse of them all. It is a thing in imagination, the propriety of which is more than doubted, and the legality of which in a few years will be denied.
But, to arrange this matter in a clearer view than what general expression can convey, it will be necessary to state the distinct heads under which (what is called) an hereditary crown, or more properly speaking, an hereditary succession to the Government of a Nation, can be considered; which are,
First, The right of a particular Family to establish itself.
Secondly, The right of a Nation to establish a particular Family.
With respect to the first of these heads, that of a Family establishing itself with hereditary powers on its own authority, and independent of the consent of a Nation, all men will concur in calling it despotism; and it would be trespassing on their understanding to attempt to prove it.
But the second head, that of a Nation establishing a particular Family with hereditary powers, does not present itself as despotism on the first reflexion; but if men will permit a second reflexion to take place, and carry that reflexion forward but one remove out of their own persons to that of their offspring, they will then see that hereditary succession becomes in its consequences the same despotism to others, which they reprobated for themselves. It operates to preclude the consent of the succeeding generations; and the preclusion of consent is despotism. When the person who at any time shall be in possession of a Government, or those who stand in succession to him, shall say to a Nation, I hold this power in “contempt” of you, it signifies not on what authority he pretends to say it. It is no relief, but an aggravation to a person in slavery, to reflect that he was sold by his parent; and as that which heightens the criminality of an act cannot be produced to prove the legality of it, hereditary succession cannot be established as a legal thing.
In order to arrive at a more perfect decision on this head, it will be proper to consider the generation which undertakes to establish a Family with hereditary powers, apart and separate from the generations which are to follow; and also to consider the character in which the first generation acts with respect to succeeding generations.
The generation which first selects a person, and puts him at the head of its Government, either with the title of King, or any other distinction, acts on its own choice, be it wise or foolish, as a free agent for itself. The person so set up is not hereditary, but selected and appointed; and the generation who sets him up, does not live under a hereditary government, but under a government of its own choice and establishment. Were the generation who sets him up, and the person so set up, to live for ever, it never could become hereditary succession; and of consequence hereditary succession can only follow on the death of the first parties.
As, therefore, hereditary succession is out of the question with respect to the first generation, we have now to consider the character in which that generation acts with respect to the commencing generation, and to all succeeding ones.
It assumes a character, to which it has neither right nor title. It changes itself from a Legislator to a Testator, and effects to make its Will, which is to have operation after the demise of the makers, to bequeath the Government; and it not only attempts to bequeath, but to establish on the succeeding generation, a new and different form of Government under which itself lived. Itself, as already observed, lived not under a hereditary Government but under a Government of its own choice and establishment; and it now attempts, by virtue of a will and testament (and which it has not authority to make), to take from the commencing generation, and all future ones, the rights and free agency by which itself acted.
But, exclusive of the right which any generation has to act collectively as a testator, the objects to which it applies itself in this case, are not within the compass of any law, or of any will or testament.
The rights of men in society, are neither devisable or transferable, nor annihilable, but are descendable only, and it is not in the power of any generation to intercept finally, and cut off the descent. If the present generation, or any other, are disposed to be slaves, it does not lessen the right of the succeeding generation to be free. Wrongs cannot have a legal descent. When Mr. Burke attempts to maintain that the English nation did at the Revolution of 1688, most solemnly renounce and abdicate their rights for themselves, and for all their posterity forever, he speaks a language that merits not reply, and which can only excite contempt for his prostitute principles, or pity for his ignorance.
In whatever light hereditary succession, as growing out of the will and testament of some former generation, presents itself, it is an absurdity. A cannot make a will to take from B the property of B, and give it to C; yet this is the manner in which (what is called) hereditary succession by law operates. A certain former generation made a will, to take away the rights of the commencing generation, and all future ones, and convey those rights to a third person, who afterwards comes forward, and tells them, in Mr. Burke's language, that they have no rights, that their rights are already bequeathed to him and that he will govern in contempt of them. From such principles, and such ignorance, good Lord deliver the world!
But, after all, what is this metaphor called a crown, or rather what is monarchy? Is it a thing, or is it a name or is it a fraud? Is it a “contrivance of human wisdom,” or of human craft to obtain money from a nation under specious pretences? Is it a thing necessary to a nation? If it is, in what does that necessity consist, what service does it perform, what is its business, and what are its merits? Does the virtue consist in the metaphor, or in the man? Doth the goldsmith that makes the crown, make the virtue also? Doth it operate like Fortunatus's wishing-cap, or Harlequin's wooden sword? Doth it make a man a conjurer? In fine, what is it? It appears to be something going much out of fashion, falling into ridicule, and rejected in some countries, both as unnecessary and expensive. In America it is considered as an absurdity; and in France it has so far declined, that the goodness of the man, and the respect for his personal character, are the only things that preserve the appearance of its existence.
If government be what Mr. Burke describes it, “a contrivance of human wisdom,” I might ask him, if wisdom was at such a low ebb in England, that it was become necessary to import it from Holland and from Hanover? But I will do the country the justice to say, that was not the case; and even if it was, it mistook the cargo. The wisdom of every country, when properly exerted, is sufficient for all its purposes; and there could exist no more real occasion in England to have sent for a Dutch Stadtholder, or a German Elector, than there was in America to have done a similar thing. If a country does not understand its own affairs, how is a foreigner to understand them, who knows neither its laws, its manners, nor its language? If there existed a man so transcendently wise above all others, that his wisdom was necessary to instruct a nation, some reason might be offered for monarchy; but when we cast our eyes about a country, and observe how every part understands its own affairs; and when we look around the world, and see that of all men in it, the race of kings are the most insignificant in capacity, our reason cannot fail to ask us—What are those men kept for?
If there is anything in monarchy which we people of America do not understand, I wish Mr. Burke would be so kind as to inform us. I see in America, a government extending over a country ten times as large as England, and conducted with regularity, for a fortieth part of the expense which Government costs in England. If I ask a man in America if he wants a King, he retorts, and asks me if I take him for an ideot? How is it that this difference happens? are we more or less wise than others? I see in America the generality of people living in a style of plenty unknown in monarchical countries; and I see that the principle of its government, which is that of the equal Rights of Man, is making a rapid progress in the world.
If monarchy is a useless thing, why is it kept up anywhere? and if a necessary thing, how can it be dispensed with? That civil government is necessary, all civilised nations will agree; but civil government is republican government. All that part of the government of England which begins with the office of constable, and proceeds through the department of magistrate, quarter-sessions, and general assize, including trial by jury, is republican government. Nothing of monarchy appears in any part of it, except in the name which William the Conqueror imposed upon the English, that of obliging them to call him “Their Sovereign Lord the King.”
It is easy to conceive that a band of interested men, such as Placemen, Pensioners, Lords of the bed-chamber, Lords of the kitchen, Lords of the necessary-house, and the Lord knows what besides, can find as many reasons for monarchy as their salaries, paid at the expence of the country, amount to; but if I ask the farmer, the manufacturer, the merchant, the tradesman, and down through all the occupations of life to the common laborer, what service monarchy is to him? he can give me no answer. If I ask him what monarchy is, he believes it is something like a sinecure.
Notwithstanding the taxes of England amount to almost seventeen millions a year, said to be for the expences of Government, it is still evident that the sense of the Nation is left to govern itself, and does govern itself, by magistrates and juries, almost at its own charge, on republican principles, exclusive of the expence of taxes. The salaries of the judges are almost the only charge that is paid out of the revenue. Considering that all the internal government is executed by the people, the taxes of England ought to be the lightest of any nation in Europe; instead of which, they are the contrary. As this cannot be accounted for on the score of civil government, the subject necessarily extends itself to the monarchical part.
When the people of England sent for George the First (and it would puzzle a wiser man than Mr. Burke to discover for what he could be wanted, or what service he could render), they ought at least to have conditioned for the abandonment of Hanover. Besides the endless German intrigues that must follow from a German Elector being King of England, there is a natural impossibility of uniting in the same person the principles of Freedom and the principles of Despotism, or as it is usually called in England Arbitrary Power. A German Elector is in his electorate a despot; how then could it be expected that he should be attached to principles of liberty in one country, while his interest in another was to be supported by despotism? The union cannot exist; and it might easily have been foreseen that German Electors would make German Kings, or in Mr. Burke's words, would assume government with “contempt.” The English have been in the habit of considering a King of England only in the character in which he appears to them; whereas the same person, while the connection lasts, has a home-seat in another country, the interest of which is different to their own, and the principles of the governments in opposition to each other. To such a person England will appear as a town-residence, and the Electorate as the estate. The English may wish, as I believe they do, success to the principles of liberty in France, or in Germany; but a German Elector trembles for the fate of despotism in his electorate; and the Duchy of Mecklenburgh, where the present Queen's family governs, is under the same wretched state of arbitrary power, and the people in slavish vassalage.
There never was a time when it became the English to watch continental intrigues more circumspectly than at the present moment, and to distinguish the politics of the Electorate from the politics of the Nation. The Revolution of France has entirely changed the ground with respect to England and France, as nations; but the German despots, with Prussia at their head, are combining against liberty; and the fondness of Mr. Pitt for office, and the interest which all his family connections have obtained, do not give sufficient security against this intrigue.
As everything which passes in the world becomes matter for history, I will now quit this subject, and take a concise review of the state of parties and politics in England, as Mr. Burke has done in France.
Whether the present reign commenced with contempt, I leave to Mr. Burke: certain, however, it is, that it had strongly that appearance. The animosity of the English nation, it is very well remembered, ran high; and, had the true principles of Liberty been as well understood then as they now promise to be, it is probable the Nation would not have patiently submitted to so much. George the First and Second were sensible of a rival in the remains of the Stuarts; and as they could not but consider themselves as standing on their good behaviour, they had prudence to keep their German principles of government to themselves; but as the Stuart family wore away, the prudence became less necessary.
The contest between rights, and what were called prerogatives, continued to heat the nation till some time after the conclusion of the American War, when all at once it fell a calm—Execration exchanged itself for applause, and Court popularity sprung up like a mushroom in a night.
To account for this sudden transition, it is proper to observe that there are two distinct species of popularity; the one excited by merit, and the other by resentment. As the Nation had formed itself into two parties, and each was extolling the merits of its parliamentary champions for and against prerogative, nothing could operate to give a more general shock than an immediate coalition of the champions themselves.1 The partisans of each being thus suddenly left in the lurch, and mutually heated with disgust at the measure, felt no other relief than uniting in a common execration against both. A higher stimulus of resentment being thus excited than what the contest on prerogatives occasioned, the nation quitted all former objects of rights and wrongs, and sought only that of gratification. The indignation at the Coalition so effectually superseded the indignation against the Court as to extinguish it; and without any change of principles on the part of the Court, the same people who had reprobated its despotism united with it to revenge themselves on the Coalition Parliament. The case was not, which they liked best, but which they hated most; and the least hated passed for love. The dissolution of the Coalition Parliament, as it afforded the means of gratifying the resentment of the Nation, could not fail to be popular; and from hence arose the popularity of the Court.
Transitions of this kind exhibit a Nation under the government of temper, instead of a fixed and steady principle; and having once committed itself, however rashly, it feels itself urged along to justify by continuance its first proceeding. Measures which at other times it would censure it now approves, and acts persuasion upon itself to suffocate its judgment.
On the return of a new Parliament, the new Minister, Mr. Pitt, found himself in a secure majority; and the Nation gave him credit, not out of regard to himself, but because it had resolved to do it out of resentment to another. He introduced himself to public notice by a proposed Reform of Parliament, which in its operation would have amounted to a public justification of corruption. The Nation was to be at the expence of buying up the rotten boroughs, whereas it ought to punish the persons who deal in the traffic.
Passing over the two bubbles of the Dutch business and the million a-year to sink the national debt, the matter which most presents itself, is the affair of the Regency. Never, in the course of my observation, was delusion more successfully acted, nor a nation more completely deceived. But, to make this appear, it will be necessary to go over the circumstances.
Mr. Fox had stated in the House of Commons, that the Prince of Wales, as heir in succession, had a right in himself to assume the Government. This was opposed by Mr. Pitt; and, so far as the opposition was confined to the doctrine, it was just. But the principles which Mr. Pitt maintained on the contrary side were as bad, or worse in their extent, than those of Mr. Fox; because they went to establish an aristocracy over the nation, and over the small representation it has in the House of Commons.1
Whether the English form of Government be good or bad, is not in this case the question; but, taking it as it stands, without regard to its merits or demerits, Mr. Pitt was farther from the point than Mr. Fox.
It is supposed to consist of three parts:—while therefore the Nation is disposed to continue this form, the parts have a national standing, independent of each other, and are not the creatures of each other. Had Mr. Fox passed through Parliament, and said that the person alluded to claimed on the ground of the Nation, Mr. Pitt must then have contended what he called the right of the Parliament against the right of the Nation.
By the appearance which the contest made, Mr. Fox took the hereditary ground, and Mr. Pitt the Parliamentary ground; but the fact is, they both took hereditary ground, and Mr. Pitt took the worst of the two.
What is called the Parliament is made up of two Houses, one of which is more hereditary, and more beyond the controul of the Nation than what the Crown (as it is called) is supposed to be. It is an hereditary aristocracy, assuming and asserting indefeasible, irrevocable, rights and authority, wholly independent of the Nation. Where, then, was the merited popularity of exalting this hereditary power over another hereditary power less independent of the Nation than what itself assumed to be, and of absorbing the rights of the Nation into a House over which it has neither election nor controul?
The general impulse of the Nation was right; but it acted without reflection. It approved the opposition made to the right set up by Mr. Fox, without perceiving that Mr. Pitt was supporting another indefeasible right more remote from the Nation, in opposition to it.
With respect to the House of Commons, it is elected but by a small part of the Nation; but were the election as universal as taxation, which it ought to be, it would still be only the organ of the Nation, and cannot possess inherent rights.—When the National Assembly of France resolves a matter, the resolve is made in right of the Nation; but Mr. Pitt, on all national questions, so far as they refer to the House of Commons, absorbs the rights of the Nation into the organ, and makes the organ into a Nation, and the Nation itself into a cypher.
In a few words, the question on the Regency was a question of a million a-year, which is appropriated to the executive department: and Mr. Pitt could not possess himself of any management of this sum, without setting up the supremacy of Parliament; and when this was accomplished, it was indifferent who should be Regent, as he must be Regent at his own cost. Among the curiosities which this contentious debate afforded, was that of making the Great Seal into a King, the affixing of which to an act was to be royal authority. If, therefore, Royal Authority is a Great Seal, it consequently is in itself nothing; and a good Constitution would be of infinitely more value to the Nation than what the three Nominal Powers, as they now stand, are worth.
The continual use of the word Constitution in the English Parliament shews there is none; and that the whole is merely a form of government without a Constitution, and constituting itself with what powers it pleases. If there were a Constitution, it certainly could be referred to; and the debate on any constitutional point would terminate by producing the Constitution. One member says this is Constitution, and another says that is Constitution—To-day it is one thing; and to-morrow something else—while the maintaining of the debate proves there is none. Constitution is now the cant word of Parliament, tuning itself to the ear of the Nation. Formerly it was the universal supremacy of Parliament—the omnipotence of Parliament: But since the progress of Liberty in France, those phrases have a despotic harshness in their note; and the English Parliament have catched the fashion from the National Assembly, but without the substance, of speaking of Constitution.
As the present generation of the people in England did not make the Government, they are not accountable for any of its defects; but, that sooner or later, it must come into their hands to undergo a constitutional reformation, is as certain as that the same thing has happened in France. If France, with a revenue of nearly twenty-four millions sterling, with an extent of rich and fertile country above four times larger than England, with a population of twenty-four millions of inhabitants to support taxation, with upwards of ninety millions sterling of gold and silver circulating in the nation, and with a debt less than the present debt of England—still found it necessary, from whatever cause, to come to a settlement of its affairs, it solves the problem of funding for both countries.
It is out of the question to say how long what is called the English constitution has lasted, and to argue from thence how long it is to last; the question is, how long can the funding system last? It is a thing but of modern invention, and has not yet continued beyond the life of a man; yet in that short space it has so far accumulated, that, together with the current expenses, it requires an amount of taxes at least equal to the whole landed rental of the nation in acres to defray the annual expenditure. That a government could not have always gone on by the same system which has been followed for the last seventy years, must be evident to every man; and for the same reason it cannot always go on.
The funding system is not money; neither is it, properly speaking, credit. It, in effect, creates upon paper the sum which it appears to borrow, and lays on a tax to keep the imaginary capital alive by the payment of interest and sends the annuity to market, to be sold for paper already in circulation. If any credit is given, it is to the disposition of the people to pay the tax, and not to the government, which lays it on. When this disposition expires, what is supposed to be the credit of Government expires with it. The instance of France under the former Government shews that it is impossible to compel the payment of taxes by force, when a whole nation is determined to take its stand upon that ground.
Mr. Burke, in his review of the finances of France, states the quantity of gold and silver in France, at about eighty-eight millions sterling. In doing this, he has, I presume, divided by the difference of exchange, instead of the standard of twenty-four livres to a pound sterling; for M. Neckar's statement, from which Mr. Burke's is taken, is two thousand two hundred millions of livres, which is upwards of ninety-one millions and a half sterling.
M. Neckar in France, and Mr. George Chalmers at the Office of Trade and Plantation in England, of which Lord Hawkesbury is president, published nearly about the same time (1786) an account of the quantity of money in each nation, from the returns of the Mint of each Nation. Mr. Chalmers, from the returns of the English Mint at the Tower of London, states the quantity of money in England, including Scotland and Ireland, to be twenty millions sterling.∗
M. Neckar† says that the amount of money in France, recoined from the old coin which was called in, was two thousand five hundred millions of livres (upwards of one hundred and four millions sterling); and, after deducting for waste, and what may be in the West Indies and other possible circumstances, states the circulation quantity at home to be ninety-one millions and a half sterling; but, taking it as Mr. Burke has put it, it is sixty-eight millions more than the national quantity in England.
That the quantity of money in France cannot be under this sum, may at once be seen from the state of the French Revenue, without referring to the records of the French Mint for proofs. The revenue of France, prior to the Revolution, was nearly twenty-four millions sterling; and as paper had then no existence in France the whole revenue was collected upon gold and silver; and it would have been impossible to have collected such a quantity of revenue upon a less national quantity than M. Neckar has stated. Before the establishment of paper in England, the revenue was about a fourth part of the national amount of gold and silver, as may be known by referring to the revenue prior to King William, and the quantity of money stated to be in the nation at that time, which was nearly as much as it is now.
It can be of no real service to a nation, to impose upon itself, or to permit itself to be imposed upon; but the prejudices of some, and the imposition of others, have always represented France as a nation possessing but little money—whereas the quantity is not only more than four times what the quantity is in England, but is considerably greater on a proportion of numbers. To account for this deficiency on the part of England, some reference should be had to the English system of funding. It operates to multiply paper, and to substitute it in the room of money, in various shapes; and the more paper is multiplied, the more opportunities are offered to export the specie; and it admits of a possibility (by extending it to small notes) of increasing paper till there is no money left.
I know this is not a pleasant subject to English readers; but the matters I am going to mention, are so important in themselves, as to require the attention of men interested in money transactions of a public nature. There is a circumstance stated by M. Neckar, in his treatise on the administration of the finances, which has never been attended to in England, but which forms the only basis whereon to estimate the quantity of money (gold and silver) which ought to be in every nation in Europe, to preserve a relative proportion with other nations.
Lisbon and Cadiz are the two ports into which (money) gold and silver from South America are imported, and which afterwards divide and spread themselves over Europe by means of commerce, and increase the quantity of money in all parts of Europe. If, therefore, the amount of the annual importation into Europe can be known, and the relative proportion of the foreign commerce of the several nations by which it can be distributed can be ascertained, they give a rule sufficiently true, to ascertain the quantity of money which ought to be found in any nation, at any given time.
M. Neckar shews from the registers of Lisbon and Cadiz, that the importation of gold and silver into Europe, is five millions sterling annually. He has not taken it on a single year, but on an average of fifteen succeeding years, from 1763 to 1777, both inclusive; in which time, the amount was one thousand eight hundred million livres, which is seventy-five millions sterling.∗
From the commencement of the Hanover succession in 1714 to the time Mr. Chalmers published, is seventy-two years; and the quantity imported into Europe, in that time, would be three hundred and sixty millions sterling.
If the foreign commerce of Great Britain be stated at a sixth part of what the whole foreign commerce of Europe amounts to (which is probably an inferior estimation to what the gentlemen at the Exchange would allow) the proportion which Britain should draw by commerce of this sum, to keep herself on a proportion with the rest of Europe, would be also a sixth part which is sixty millions sterling; and if the same allowance for waste and accident be made for England which M. Neckar makes for France, the quantity remaining after these deductions would be fifty-two millions; and this sum ought to have been in the nation (at the time Mr. Chalmers published), in addition to the sum which was in the nation at the commencement of the Hanover succession, and to have made in the whole at least sixty-six millions sterling; instead of which there were but twenty millions, which is forty-six millions below its proportionate quantity.
As the quantity of gold and silver imported into Lisbon and Cadiz is more exactly ascertained than that of any commodity imported into England, and as the quantity of money coined at the Tower of London is still more positively known, the leading facts do not admit of controversy. Either, therefore, the commerce of England is unproductive of profit, or the gold and silver which it brings in leak continually away by unseen means at the average rate of about three-quarters of a million a year, which, in the course of seventy-two years, accounts for the deficiency; and its absence is supplied by paper.∗
The Revolution of France is attended with many novel circumstances, not only in the political sphere, but in the circle of money transactions. Among others, it shows that a government may be in a state of insolvency and a nation rich. So far as the fact is confined to the late Government of France, it was insolvent; because the nation would no longer support its extravagance, and therefore it could no longer support itself—but with respect to the nation all the means existed. A government may be said to be insolvent every time it applies to the nation to discharge its arrears. The insolvency of the late Government of France and the present Government of England differed in no other respect than as the dispositions of the people differ. The people of France refused their aid to the old Government; and the people of England submit to taxation without inquiry. What is called the Crown in England has been insolvent several times; the last of which, publicly known, was in May, 1777, when it applied to the nation to discharge upwards of £600,000 private debts, which otherwise it could not pay.
It was the error of Mr. Pitt, Mr. Burke, and all those who were unacquainted with the affairs of France to confound the French nation with the French Government. The French nation, in effect, endeavoured to render the late Government insolvent for the purpose of taking government into its own hands: and it reserved its means for the support of the new Government. In a country of such vast extent and population as France the natural means cannot be wanting, and the political means appear the instant the nation is disposed to permit them. When Mr. Burke, in a speech last winter in the British Parliament, “cast his eyes over the map of Europe, and saw a chasm that once was France,” he talked like a dreamer of dreams. The same natural France existed as before, and all the natural means existed with it. The only chasm was that which the extinction of despotism had left, and which was to be filled up with a Constitution more formidable in resources than the power which had expired.
Although the French Nation rendered the late Government insolvent, it did not permit the insolvency to act towards the creditors; and the creditors, considering the Nation as the real pay-master, and the Government only as the agent, rested themselves on the nation, in preference to the Government. This appears greatly to disturb Mr. Burke, as the precedent is fatal to the policy by which governments have supposed themselves secure. They have contracted debts, with a view of attaching what is called the monied interest of a Nation to their support; but the example in France shews that the permanent security of the creditor is in the Nation, and not in the Government; and that in all possible revolutions that may happen in Governments, the means are always with the Nation, and the Nation always in existence. Mr. Burke argues that the creditors ought to have abided the fate of the Government which they trusted; but the National Assembly considered them as the creditors of the Nation, and not of the Government—of the master, and not of the steward.
Notwithstanding the late government could not discharge the current expenses, the present government has paid off a great part of the capital. This has been accomplished by two means; the one by lessening the expenses of government, and the other by the sale of the monastic and ecclesiastical landed estates. The devotees and penitent debauchees, extortioners and misers of former days, to ensure themselves a better world than that they were about to leave, had bequeathed immense property in trust to the priesthood for pious uses; and the priesthood kept it for themselves. The National Assembly has ordered it to be sold for the good of the whole nation, and the priesthood to be decently provided for.
In consequence of the revolution, the annual interest of the debt of France will be reduced at least six millions sterling, by paying off upwards of one hundred millions of the capital; which, with lessening the former expenses of government at least three millions, will place France in a situation worthy the imitation of Europe.
Upon a whole review of the subject, how vast is the contrast! While Mr. Burke has been talking of a general bankruptcy in France, the National Assembly has been paying off the capital of its debt; and while taxes have increased near a million a year in England, they have lowered several millions a year in France. Not a word has either Mr. Burke or Mr. Pitt said about the French affairs, or the state of the French finances, in the present Session of Parliament. The subject begins to be too well understood, and imposition serves no longer.
There is a general enigma running through the whole of Mr. Burke's book. He writes in a rage against the National Assembly; but what is he enraged about? If his assertions were as true as they are groundless, and that France by her Revolution, had annihilated her power, and become what he calls a chasm, it might excite the grief of a Frenchman (considering himself as a national man), and provoke his rage against the National Assembly; but why should it excite the rage of Mr. Burke? Alas! it is not the nation of France that Mr. Burke means, but the Court; and every Court in Europe, dreading the same fate, is in mourning. He writes neither in the character of a Frenchman nor an Englishman, but in the fawning character of that creature known in all countries, and a friend to none—a courtier. Whether it be the Court of Versailles, or the Court of St. James, or Carlton-House, or the Court in expectation, signifies not; for the caterpillar principle of all Courts and Courtiers are alike. They form a common policy throughout Europe, detached and separate from the interest of Nations: and while they appear to quarrel, they agree to plunder. Nothing can be more terrible to a Court or Courtier than the Revolution of France. That which is a blessing to Nations is bitterness to them: and as their existence depends on the duplicity of a country, they tremble at the approach of principles, and dread the precedent that threatens their overthrow.
Reason and Ignorance, the opposites of each other, influence the great bulk of mankind. If either of these can be rendered sufficiently extensive in a country, the machinery of Government goes easily on. Reason obeys itself; and Ignorance submits to whatever is dictated to it.
The two modes of the Government which prevail in the world, are, first, Government by election and representation: Secondly, Government by hereditary succession. The former is generally known by the name of republic; the latter by that of monarchy and aristocracy.
Those two distinct and opposite forms, erect themselves on the two distinct and opposite bases of Reason and Ignorance.—As the exercise of Government requires talents and abilities, and as talents and abilities cannot have hereditary descent, it is evident that hereditary succession requires a belief from man to which his reason cannot subscribe, and which can only be established upon his ignorance; and the more ignorant any country is, the better it is fitted for this species of Government.
On the contrary, Government, in a well-constituted republic, requires no belief from man beyond what his reason can give. He sees the rationale of the whole system, its origin and its operation; and as it is best supported when best understood, the human faculties act with boldness, and acquire, under this form of government, a gigantic manliness.
As, therefore, each of those forms acts on a different base, the one moving freely by the aid of reason, the other by ignorance; we have next to consider, what it is that gives motion to that species of Government which is called mixed Government, or, as it is sometimes ludicrously stiled, a Government of this, that and t’other.
The moving power in this species of Government, is of necessity, Corruption. However imperfect election and representation may be in mixed Governments, they still give exercise to a greater portion of reason than is convenient to the hereditary Part; and therefore it becomes necessary to buy the reason up. A mixed Government is an imperfect everything, cementing and soldering the discordant parts together by corruption, to act as a whole. Mr. Burke appears highly disgusted that France, since she had resolved on a revolution, did not adopt what he calls “A British Constitution“; and the regretful manner in which he expresses himself on this occasion implies a suspicion that the British Constitution needed something to keep its defects in countenance.
In mixed Governments there is no responsibility: the parts cover each other till responsibility is lost; and the corruption which moves the machine, contrives at the same time its own escape. When it is laid down as a maxim, that a King can do no wrong, it places him in a state of similar security with that of ideots and persons insane, and responsibility is out of the question with respect to himself. It then descends upon the Minister, who shelters himself under a majority in Parliament, which, by places, pensions, and corruption, he can always command; and that majority justifies itself by the same authority with which it protects the Minister. In this rotatory motion, responsibility is thrown off from the parts, and from the whole.
When there is a Part in a Government which can do no wrong, it implies that it does nothing; and is only the machine of another power, by whose advice and direction it acts. What is supposed to be the King in the mixed Governments, is the Cabinet; and as the Cabinet is always a part of the Parliament, and the members justifying in one character what they advise and act in another, a mixed Government becomes a continual enigma; entailing upon a country by the quantity of corruption necessary to solder the parts, the expence of supporting all the forms of government at once, and finally resolving itself into a Government by Committee; in which the advisers, the actors, the approvers, the justifiers, the persons responsible, and the persons not responsible, are the same persons.
By this pantomimical contrivance, and change of scene and character, the parts help each other out in matters which neither of them singly would assume to act. When money is to be obtained, the mass of variety apparently dissolves, and a profusion of parliamentary praises passes between the parts. Each admires with astonishment, the wisdom, the liberality, the disinterestedness of the other: and all of them breathe a pitying sigh at the burthens of the Nation.
But in a well-constituted republic, nothing of this soldering, praising, and pitying, can take place; the representation being equal throughout the country, and compleat in itself, however it may be arranged into legislative and executive, they have all one and the same natural source. The parts are not foreigners to each other, like democracy, aristocracy, and monarchy. As there are no discordant distinctions, there is nothing to corrupt by compromise, nor confound by contrivance. Public measures appeal of themselves to the understanding of the Nation, and, resting on their own merits, disown any flattering applications to vanity. The continual whine of lamenting the burden of taxes, however successfully it may be practised in mixed Governments, is inconsistent with the sense and spirit of a republic. If taxes are necessary, they are of course advantageous; but if they require an apology, the apology itself implies an impeachment. Why, then, is man thus imposed upon, or why does he impose upon himself?
When men are spoken of as kings and subjects, or when Government is mentioned under the distinct and combined heads of monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy, what is it that reasoning man is to understand by the terms? If there really existed in the world two or more distinct and separate elements of human power, we should then see the several origins to which those terms would descriptively apply; but as there is but one species of man, there can be but one element of human power; and that element is man himself. Monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy, are but creatures of imagination; and a thousand such may be contrived as well as three.
From the Revolutions of America and France, and the symptoms that have appeared in other countries, it is evident that the opinion of the world is changing with respect to systems of Government, and that revolutions are not within the compass of political calculations. The progress of time and circumstances, which men assign to the accomplishment of great changes, is too mechanical to measure the force of the mind, and the rapidity of reflection, by which revolutions are generated: All the old governments have received a shock from those that already appear, and which were once more improbable, and are a greater subject of wonder, than a general revolution in Europe would be now.
When we survey the wretched condition of man, under the monarchical and hereditary systems of Government, dragged from his home by one power, or driven by another, and impoverished by taxes more than by enemies, it becomes evident that those systems are bad, and that a general revolution in the principle and construction of Governments is necessary.
What is government more than the management of the affairs of a Nation? It is not, and from its nature cannot be, the property of any particular man or family, but of the whole community, at whose expence it is supported; and though by force and contrivance it has been usurped into an inheritance, the usurpation cannot alter the right of things. Sovereignty, as a matter of right, appertains to the Nation only, and not to any individual; and a Nation has at all times an inherent indefeasible right to abolish any form of Government it finds inconvenient, and to establish such as accords with its interest, disposition and happiness. The romantic and barbarous distinction of men into Kings and subjects, though it may suit the condition of courtiers, cannot that of citizens; and is exploded by the principle upon which Governments are now founded. Every citizen is a member of the Sovereignty, and, as such, can acknowledge no personal subjection; and his obedience can be only to the laws.
When men think of what Government is, they must necessarily suppose it to possess a knowledge of all the objects and matters upon which its authority is to be exercised. In this view of Government, the republican system, as established by America and France, operates to embrace the whole of a Nation; and the knowledge necessary to the interest of all the parts, is to be found in the center, which the parts by representation form: But the old Governments are on a construction that excludes knowledge as well as happiness; Government by Monks, who knew nothing of the world beyond the walls of a Convent, is as consistent as government by Kings.
What were formerly called Revolutions, were little more than a change of persons, or an alteration of local circumstances. They rose and fell like things of course, and had nothing in their existence or their fate that could influence beyond the spot that produced them. But what we now see in the world, from the Revolutions of America and France, are a renovation of the natural order of things, a system of principles as universal as truth and the existence of man, and combining moral with political happiness and national prosperity.
- “I.Men are born, and always continue, free and equal in respect of their rights. Civil distinctions, therefore, can be founded only on public utility.
- “II.The end of all political associations is the preservation of the natural and imprescriptible rights of man; and these rights are liberty, property, security, and resistance of oppression.
- “III.The nation is essentially the source of all sovereignty; nor can any INDIVIDUAL, or ANY BODY OF MEN, be entitled to any authority which is not expressly derived from it.“
In these principles, there is nothing to throw a Nation into confusion by inflaming ambition. They are calculated to call forth wisdom and abilities, and to exercise them for the public good, and not for the emolument of aggrandisement of particular descriptions of men or families. Monarchical sovereignty, the enemy of mankind, and the source of misery, is abolished; and the sovereignty itself is restored to its natural and original place, the Nation. Were this the case throughout Europe, the cause of wars would be taken away.
It is attributed to Henry the Fourth of France, a man of enlarged and benevolent heart, that he proposed, about the year 1610, a plan for abolishing war in Europe. The plan consisted in constituting an European Congress, or as the French authors stile it, a Pacific Republic; by appointing delegates from the several Nations who were to act as a Court of arbitration in any disputes that might arise between nation and nation.
Had such a plan been adopted at the time it was proposed, the taxes of England and France, as two of the parties, would have been at least ten millions sterling annually to each Nation less than they were at the commencement of the French Revolution.
To conceive a cause why such a plan has not been adopted (and that instead of a Congress for the purpose of preventing war, it has been called only to terminate a war, after a fruitless expence of several years) it will be necessary to consider the interest of Governments as a distinct interest to that of Nations.
Whatever is the cause of taxes to a Nation, becomes also the means of revenue to Government. Every war terminates with an addition of taxes, and consequently with an addition of revenue; and in any event of war, in the manner they are now commenced and concluded, the power and interest of Governments are increased. War, therefore, from its productiveness, as it easily furnishes the pretence of necessity for taxes and appointments to places and offices, becomes a principal part of the system of old Governments; and to establish any mode to abolish war, however advantageous it might be to Nations, would be to take from such Government the most lucrative of its branches. The frivolous matters upon which war is made, shew the disposition and avidity of Governments to uphold the system of war, and betray the motives upon which they act.
Why are not Republics plunged into war, but because the nature of their Government does not admit of an interest distinct from that of the Nation? Even Holland, though an ill-constructed Republic, and with a commerce extending over the world, existed nearly a century without war: and the instant the form of Government was changed in France, the republican principles of peace and domestic prosperity and œconomy arose with the new Government; and the same consequences would follow the cause in other Nations.
As war is the system of Government on the old construction, the animosity which Nations reciprocally entertain, is nothing more than what the policy of their Governments excites to keep up the spirit of the system. Each Government accuses the other of perfidy, intrigue, and ambition, as a means of heating the imagination of their respective Nations, and incensing them to hostilities. Man is not the enemy of man, but through the medium of a false system of Government. Instead, therefore, of exclaiming against the ambition of Kings, the exclamation should be directed against the principle of such Governments; and instead of seeking to reform the individual, the wisdom of a Nation should apply itself to reform the system.
Whether the forms and maxims of Governments which are still in practice, were adapted to the condition of the world at the period they were established, is not in this case the question. The older they are, the less correspondence can they have with the present state of things. Time, and change of circumstances and opinions, have the same progressive effect in rendering modes of Government obsolete as they have upon customs and manners.—Agriculture, commerce, manufactures, and the tranquil arts, by which the prosperity of Nations is best promoted, require a different system of Government, and a different species of knowledge to direct its operations, than what might have been required in the former condition of the world.
As it is not difficult to perceive, from the enlightened state of mankind, that hereditary Governments are verging to their decline, and that Revolutions on the broad basis of national sovereignty and Government by representation, are making their way in Europe, it would be an act of wisdom to anticipate their approach, and produce Revolutions by reason and accommodation, rather than commit them to the issue of convulsions.
From what we now see, nothing of reform in the political world ought to be held improbable. It is an age of Revolutions, in which everything may be looked for. The intrigue of Courts, by which the system of war is kept up, may provoke a confederation of Nations to abolish it: and an European Congress to patronise the progress of free Government, and promote the civilisation of Nations with each other, is an event nearer in probability, than once were the revolutions and alliance of France and America.
My efforts to discover this letter have failed. The following is from Croly's “Life of Burke”. “Among his [Paine's] earliest missives was a letter [from Paris] to Burke, whom he eagerly urged to introduce Revolution into England, by its established name of Reform.” Burke threw back the temptation, or the insult, at once. ’Do you really imagine, Mr. Paine,’ was his reply, 'that the constitution of this kingdom requires such innovations, or could exist with them, or that any reflecting man would seriously engage in them? You are aware than I have, all my life, opposed such schemes of reform, because I know them not to be Reform.’ Paine, however, continued his ill-received correspondence; and whether from the delight of molesting Burke, or the expectation of making him a convert to a side which had the grand charm for the conviction of his own profligate heart, plunder; he sent him narratives of the rapidly recurring triumphs of democracy. In one of those he stated that the Reformers had already determined on the total overthrow of the [French] monarchy, etc.” This letter is said by the reverend biographer to have been written “exactly three days before the storming of the Bastille.”—Editor.
Part I., translated by F. Soulès, was published in Paris in May, 1791. This Preface has not appeared in any American edition, but a translation was given in Carlile's edition, 1819. The present translation is from the original French. F. Lanthenas translated Parts I. and II. in 1792.—Editor.
[∗]The main and uniform maxim of the judges is, the greater the truth the greater the libel.—Author.
Richard Price, D.D., F.R.S., died April 19, 1791.
[∗]Since writing the above, two other places occur in Mr. Burke's pamphlet in which the name of the Bastille is mentioned, but in the same manner. In the one he introduces it in a sort of obscure question, and asks: “Will any ministers who now serve such a king, with but a decent appearance of respect, cordially obey the orders of those whom but the other day, in his name, they had committed to the Bastille?” In the other the taking it is mentioned as implying criminality in the French guards, who assisted in demolishing it. “They have not,” says he, “forgot the taking the king's castles at Paris.” This is Mr. Burke, who pretends to write on constitutional freedom.—Author.
In the French edition this allusion is explained in a footnote.—Editor.
[∗]I am warranted in asserting this, as I had it personally from M. de la Fayette, with whom I lived in habits of friendship for fourteen years.—Author.
[∗]An account of the expedition to Versailles may be seen in No. 13 of the Revolution de Paris containing the events from the 3rd to the 10th of October, 1789.—Author.
The English rotten borough system was quoted in the United States Constitutional Convention, 1787, as precedent for the disproportionate representation embodied in the Senate. But the new Constitution in America had been little studied in 1791 by Paine, and, fortunately for this argument, less by his opponents. In a modern English edition Paine's text is invaded by the anachronism: “It is admitted that all this is altered, but there is much to be done yet, before we have a fair representation of the people.”—Editor.
In Jordan's addition, which superseded Johnson's (of which only a few copies obtained circulation) this sentence begins, “Many things, etc.” But Burke, in his “Appeal,” was careful to quote the original sentence.—Editor.
[∗]It is a practice in some parts of the country, when two travellers have but one horse, which, like the national purse, will not carry double, that the one mounts and rides two or three miles ahead, and then ties the horse to a gate and walks on. When the second traveller arrives he takes the horse, rides on, and passes his companion a mile or two, and ties again, and so on—Ride and tie.—Author.
[∗]The word he used was renvoyé, dismissed or sent away.—Author.
But on his return to America, after writing the “Age of Reason,” Paine learned by sad experience that the disestablishment of a church does not imply the disestablishment of Dogmas or of Intolerance.—Editor.
[∗]When in any country we see extraordinary circumstances taking place, they naturally lead any man who has a talent for observation and investigation, to enquire into the causes. The manufacturers of Manchester, Birmingham, and Sheffield, are the principal manufacturers in England. From whence did this arise? A little observation will explain the case. The principal, and the generality of the inhabitants of those places, are not of what is called in England, the church established by law: and they, or their fathers, (for it is within but a few years) withdrew from the persecution of the chartered towns, where test-laws more particularly operate, and established a sort of asylum for themselves in those places. It was the only asylum that then offered, for the rest of Europe was worse.—But the case is now changing. France and America bid all comers welcome, and initiate them into all the rights of citizenship. Policy and interest, therefore, will, but perhaps too late, dictate in England, what reason and justice could not. Those manufacturers are withdrawing, and arising in other places. There is now erecting in Passey, three miles from Paris, a large cotton manufactory, and several are already erected in America. Soon after the rejecting the Bill for repealing the test-law, one of the richest manufacturers in England said in my hearing, “England, Sir, is not a country for a dissenter to live in,—we must go to France.” These are truths, and it is doing justice to both parties to tell them. It is chiefly the dissenters that have carried English manufactures to the height they are now at, and the same men have it in their power to carry them away; and though those manufactures would afterwards continue in those places, the foreign market will be lost. There frequently appear in the London Gazette, extracts from certain acts to prevent machines and persons, as far as they can extend to persons, from going out of the country. It appears from these that the ill effects of the test-laws and church-establishment begin to be much suspected; but the remedy of force can never supply the remedy of reason. In the progress of less than a century, all the unrepresented part of England, of all denominations, which is at least an hundred times the most numerous, may begin to feel the necessity of a constitution, and then all those matters will come regularly before them.—Author.
[∗]When the English Minister, Mr. Pitt, mentions the French finances again in the English Parliament, it would be well that he noticed this as an example—Author.
[∗]See Note, page 356.
[∗]Mr. Burke, (and I must take the liberty of telling him that he is very unacquainted with French affairs,) speaking upon this subject, says, “The first thing that struck me in calling the States-General, was a great departure from the ancient course;”—and he soon after says, “From the moment I read the list, I saw distinctly, and very nearly as it has happened, all that was to follow.”—Mr. Burke certainly did not see all that was to follow. I endeavoured to impress him, as well before as after the States-General met, that there would be a revolution; but was not able to make him see it, neither would he believe it. How then he could distinctly see all the parts, when the whole was out of sight, is beyond my comprehension. And with respect to the “departure from the ancient course,” besides the natural weakness of the remark, it shews that he is unacquainted with circumstances. The departure was necessary, from the experience had upon it, that the ancient course was a bad one. The States-General of 1614 were called at the commencement of the civil war in the minority of Louis XIII.; but by the class of arranging them by orders, they increased the confusion they were called to compose. The author of L’Intrigue du Cabinet, (Intrigue of the Cabinet,) who wrote before any revolution was thought of in France, speaking of the States-General of 1614, says, “They held the public in suspense five months; and by the questions agitated therein, and the heat with which they were put, it appears that the great (les grands) thought more to satisfy their particular passions, than to procure the goods of the nation; and the whole time passed away in altercations, ceremonies and parade.” L’Intrigue du Cabinet, vol. i. p. 329.—Author.
[∗]There is a single idea, which, if it strikes rightly upon the mind, either in a legal or a religious sense, will prevent any man or any body of men, or any government, from going wrong on the subject of religion; which is, that before any human institutions of government were known in the world, there existed, if I may so express it, a compact between God and man, from the beginning of time: and that as the relation and condition which man in his individual person stands in towards his Maker cannot be changed by any human laws or human authority, that religious devotion, which is a part of this compact, cannot so much as be made a subject or human laws; and that all laws must conform themselves to this prior existing compact, and not assume to make the compact conform to the laws, which, besides being human, are subsequent thereto. The first act of man, when he looked around and saw himself a creature which he did not make, and a world furnished for his reception, must have been devotion; and devotion must ever continue sacred to every individual man, as it appears right to him; and governments do mischief by interfering.—Author.
Edmund Randolph, first Attorney-General of the United States, writing to Madison (Feb. 29, 1788) remarks concerning the new constitution's Art. VI. Sect. 3: “Does not this exception as to a religious test imply that the Congress, by the general words, had power over religion?”—Editor.
[∗]See page 18 of this work—N. B. Since the taking of the Bastille, the occurrences have been published: but the matters recorded in this narrative, are prior to that period; and some of them, as may be easily seen, can be but very little known.—Author.
Note: The Editor regrets that the following passage, which should have been inserted after the eighth line on page 341, was omitted:
He endeavoured to impress the Parliament by great words, and opened his authority by saying, “The King, our Lord and Master.” The Parliament received him very coolly, and with their usual determination not to register the taxes: and in this manner the interview ended.
Fox and Lord North, with whom Burke also had united, though he and Fox had once proposed to impeach North.—Editor.
George III. having become insane (1788), Pitt held, against Fox and Burke, that the Prince of Wales had no more right than any private individual to reign unless chosen by the two Houses of Parliament. No doubt Paine regarded this as virtually making over to the Peers a providential opportunity for a representative election.—Editor.
[∗]See “Estimate of the Comparative Strength of the Great Britain,” by G. Chalmers.—Author.
[†]See “Administration of the Finances of France,” vol. iii. by M. Neckar.—Author.
[∗]“Administration of the Finances of France,” vol. iii.—Author.
[∗]Whether the English commerce does not bring in money, or whether the government sends it out after it is brought in, is a matter which the parties concerned can best explain; but that the deficiency exists, is not in the power of either to disprove. While Dr. Price, Mr. Eden, (now Auckland,) Mr. Chalmers, and others, were debating whether the quantity of money in England was greater or less than at the Revolution, the circumstance was not adverted to, that since the Revolution, there cannot have been less than four hundred millions sterling imported into Europe; and therefore the quantity in England ought at least to have been four times greater than it was at the Revolution, to be on a proportion with Europe. What England is now doing by paper, is what she would have been able to do by solid money, if gold and silver had come into the nation in the proportion it ought, or had not been sent out; and she is endeavoring to restore by paper, the balance she has lost by money. It is certain, that the gold and silver which arrive annually in the register-ships to Spain and Portugal, do not remain in those countries. Taking the value half in gold and half in silver, it is about four hundred tons annually; and from the number of ships and galloons employed in the trade of bringing those metals from South-America to Portugal and Spain, the quantity sufficiently proves itself, without referring to the registers.
In the situation England now is, it is impossible she can increase in money. High taxes not only lessen the property of the individuals, but they lessen also the money capital of the nation, by inducing smuggling, which can only be carried on by gold and silver. By the politics which the British Government have carried on with the Inland Powers of Germany and the Continent, it has made an enemy of all the Maritime Powers, and is therefore obliged to keep up a large navy; but though the navy is built in England, the naval stores must be purchased from abroad, and that from countries where the greatest part must be paid for in gold and silver. Some fallacious rumours have been set afloat in England to induce a belief in money, and, among others, that of the French refugees bringing great quantities. The idea is ridiculous. The general part of the money in France is silver; and it would take upwards of twenty of the largest broad wheel wagons, with ten horses each, to remove one million sterling of silver. Is it then to be supposed, that a few people fleeing on horse-back or in post-chaises, in a secret manner, and having the French Custom-House to pass, and the sea to cross, could bring even a sufficiency for their own expences?
When millions of money are spoken of, it should be recollected, that such sums can only accumulate in a country by slow degrees, and a long procession of time. The most frugal system that England could now adopt, would not recover in a century the balance she has lost in money since the commencement of the Hanover succession. She is seventy millions behind France, and she must be in some considerable proportion behind every country in Europe, because the returns of the English mint do not shew an increase of money, while the registers of Lisbon and Cadiz shew an European increase of between three and four hundred millions sterling.—Author.
The Jubilee of the Constitution: A Discourse
John Quincy Adams
Delivered on April 30, 1839
50th Anniversary of George Washington's Presidential Inauguration
When in the epic fable of the first of Roman Poets, the Goddess mother of Æneas delivers to him the celestial armor, with which he is to triumph over his enemy, and to lay the foundations of Imperial Rome, he is represented as gazing with intense but confused delight on the crested helm that vomits golden fires -
- "His hands the fatal sword and corslet hold,
One keen with temper'd steel - one stiff with gold.
He shakes the pointed spear, and longs to try
The plated cuishes on his manly thigh;
But most admires the shield's mysterious mould,
And Roman triumphs rising on the gold" -
For on that shield the heavenly smith had wrought the anticipated history of Roman glory, from the days of Æneas down to the reign of Augustus Caesar, contemporaneous with the Poet himself.
FELLOW-CITIZENS AND BRETHREN, ASSOCIATES OF THE NEW YORK HISTORICAL SOCIETY -
Would it be an unlicensed trespass of the imagination to conceive, that on the night preceding the day of which you now commemorate the fiftieth anniversary - on the night preceding that thirtieth of April, one thousand seven hundred and eighty-nine, when from the balcony of your city-hall, the chancellor of the state of New York, administered to George Washington the solemn oath, faithfully to execute the office of President of the United States, and to the best of his ability, to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States - that in the visions of the night, the guardian angel of the Father of our country had appeared before him, in the venerated form of his mother, and, to cheer and encourage him in the performance of the momentous and solemn duties that he was about to assume, had delivered to him a suit of celestial armor - a helmet, consisting of the principles of piety, of justice, of honor, of benevolence with which from his earliest infancy he had hitherto walked through life, in the presence of all his brethren - a spear, studded with the self-evident truths of the Declaration of Independence - a sword, the same with which he had led the armies of his country through the war of freedom, to the summit of the triumphal arch of independence - a corslet and cuishes of long experience and habitual intercourse in peace and war with the world of mankind, his contemporaries of the human race, in all their stages of civilization - and last of all, the Constitution of the United States, a SHIELD embossed by heavenly hands, with the future history of his country.
Yes, gentlemen! on that shield, the CONSTITUTION OF THE UNITED STATES was sculptured (by forms unseen, and in characters then invisible to mortal eye,) the predestined and prophetic history of the one confederated people of the North American Union.
They had been the settlers of thirteen separate and distinct English colonies, along the margin of the shore of the North American continent contiguously situated, but chartered by adventurers of characters variously diversified, including sectarians, religious and political, of all the classes which for the two preceding centuries had agitated and divided the people of the British islands - and with them were intermingled the descendants of Hollanders, Swedes, Germans, and French fugitives from the persecution of the revoker of the Edict of Nantes.
In the bosoms of this People, thus heterogeneously composed, there was burning, kindled at different furnaces, but all furnaces of affliction, one clear, steady flame of LIBERTY. Bold and daring enterprise, stubborn endurance of privation, unflinching intrepidity in facing danger, and inflexible adherence to conscientious principle, had steeled to energetic and unyielding hardihood the characters of the primitive settlers of all these Colonies. Since that time two or three generations of men had passed away - but they had increased and multiplied with unexampled rapidity; and the land itself had been the recent theatre of a ferocious and bloody seven years' war between the two most powerful and most civilized nations of Europe, contending for the possession of this continent.
Of that strife the victorious combatant had been Britain. She had conquered the provinces of France. She had expelled her rival totally from the continent over which, bounding herself by the Mississippi, she was thenceforth to hold divided empire only with Spain. She had acquired undisputed control over the Indian tribes, still tenanting the forests unexplored by the European man. She had established an uncontested monopoly of the commerce of all her colonies. But forgetting all the warnings of preceding ages - forgetting the lessons written in the blood of her own children, through centuries of departed time, she undertook to tax the people of the colonies without their consent.
Resistance, instantaneous, unconcerted, sympathetic, inflexible resistance like an electric shock startled and roused the people of all the English colonies on this continent.
This was the first signal of the North American Union. The struggle was for chartered rights - for English liberties - for the cause of Algernon Sidney and John Hambden - for trial by jury - the Habeas Corpus and Magna Charta.
But the English lawyers had decided that Parliament was omnipotent - and Parliament in their omnipotence, instead of trial by jury and the Habeas Corpus enacted admiralty courts in England to try Americans for offenses charged against them as committed in America - instead of the privileges of Magna Charta, nullified the charter itself of Massachusetts Bay; shut up the port of Boston; sent armies and navies to keep the peace, and teach the colonies that John Hambden was a rebel, and Algernon Sidney a traitor.
English liberties had failed them. From the omnipotence of Parliament the colonists appealed to the rights of man and the omnipotence of the God of battles. Union! Union! was the instinctive and simultaneous cry throughout the land. Their Congress, assembled at Philadelphia, once - twice had petitioned the king; had remonstrated to Parliament; had addressed the people of Britain, for the rights of Englishmen - in vain. Fleets and armies, the blood of Lexington, and the fires of Charlestown and Falmouth, had been the answer to petition, remonstrance and address.
Independence was declared. The colonies were transformed into States. Their inhabitants were proclaimed to be one people, renouncing all allegiance to the British crown; all co-patriotism with the British nation; all claims to chartered rights as Englishmen. Thenceforth their charter was the Declaration of Independence. Their rights, the natural rights of mankind. Their government, such as should be instituted by themselves, under the solemn mutual pledges of perpetual union, founded on the self-evident truths proclaimed in the Declaration.
The Declaration of Independence was issued, in the excruciating agonies of a civil war, and by that war independence was to be maintained. Six long years it raged with unabated fury, and the Union was yet no more than a mutual pledge of faith, and a mutual participation of common sufferings and common dangers.
The omnipotence of the British Parliament was vanquished. The independence of the United States of America, was not granted, but recognized. The nation had "assumed among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station, to which the laws of nature, and of nature's God, entitled it" - but the one, united people, had yet NO GOVERNMENT.
In the enthusiasm of their first spontaneous, unstipulated, unpremeditated union, they had flattered themselves that no general government would be required. As separate states they were all agreed that they should constitute and govern themselves. The revolution under which they were gasping for life, the war which was carrying desolation into all their dwellings, and mourning into every family, had been kindled by the abuse of power - the power of government. An invincible repugnance to the delegation of power, had thus been generated, by the very course of events which had rendered it necessary; and the more indispensable it became, the more awakened was the jealousy and the more intense was the distrust by which it was to be circumscribed.
They relaxed their union into a league of friendship between sovereign and independent states. They constituted a Congress, with powers co-extensive with the nation, but so hedged and hemmed in with restrictions, that the limitation seemed to be the general rule, and the grant the occasional exception. The articles of confederation, subjected to philosophical analysis, seem to be little more than an enumeration of the functions of a national government which the congress constituted by the instrument was not authorized to perform. There was avowedly no executive power.
The nation fell into an atrophy. The Union languished to the point of death. A torpid numbness seized upon all its faculties. A chilling cold indifference crept from its extremities to the center. The system was about to dissolve in its own imbecility - impotence in negotiation abroad - domestic insurrection at home, were on the point of bearing to a dishonorable grave the proclamation of a government founded on the rights of man, when a convention of delegates from eleven of the thirteen states, with George Washington at their head, sent forth to the people, an act to be made their own, speaking in their name and in the first person, thus: "We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, ensure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty, to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America."
This act was the complement to the Declaration of Independence; founded upon the same principles, carrying them out into practical execution, and forming with it, one entire system of national government. The Declaration was a manifesto to the world of mankind, to justify the one confederated people, for the violent and voluntary severance of the ties of their allegiance, for the renunciation of their country, and for assuming a station themselves, among the potentates of the world - a self-constituted sovereign - a self-constituted country.
In the history of the human race this had never been done before. Monarchs had been dethroned for tyranny - kingdoms converted into republics, and revolted provinces had assumed the attributes of sovereign power. In the history of England itself, within one century and a half before the day of the Declaration of Independence, one lawful king had been brought to the block, and another expelled, with all his posterity, from his own kingdom, and a collateral dynasty had ascended his throne. But the former of these revolutions had by the deliberate and final sentence of the nation itself, been pronounced a rebellion, and the rightful heir of the executed king had been restored to the crown. In the latter, at the first onset, the royal recreant had fled - he was held to have abdicated the crown, and it was placed upon the heads of his daughter and of her husband, the prime leader of the conspiracy against him. In these events there had been much controversy upon the platform of English liberties - upon the customs of the ancient Britons; the laws of Alfred, the Witenagamote of the Anglo-Saxons, and the Great Charter of Runnymede with all its numberless confirmations. But the actors of those times had never ascended to the first foundation of civil society among men, nor had any revolutionary system of government been rested upon them.
The motive for the Declaration of Independence was on its face an,owed to be "a decent respect for the opinions of mankind." Its purpose to declare the causes which impelled the people of the English colonies on the continent of North America, to separate themselves from the political community of the British nation. They declare only, the causes of their separation, but they announce at the same time their assumption of the separate and equal station to which the laws of nature and of nature's God entitle them, among the powers of the earth.
Thus their first movement is to recognize and appeal to the laws of nature and to nature's God, for their right to assume the attributes of sovereign power as an independent nation.
The causes of their necessary separation, for they begin and end by declaring it necessary, alleged in the Declaration, are all founded on the same laws of nature and of nature's God - and hence as preliminary to the enumeration of the causes of separation, they set forth as self-evident truths, the rights of individual man, by the laws of nature and of nature's God, to life, to liberty, to the pursuit of happiness. That all men are created equal. That to secure the rights of life, liberty and the pursuits of happiness, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. AU this is by the laws of nature and of nature's God, and of course presupposes the existence of a God, the moral ruler of the universe, and a rule of right and wrong, of just and unjust, binding upon man, preceding all institutions of human society and of government. It avers, also, that governments are instituted to secure these rights of nature and of nature's God, and that whenever any form of government becomes destructive of those ends, it is the right of THE PEOPLE to alter, or to abolish it, and to institute a new government - to throw off a government degenerating into despotism, and to provide new guards for their future security. They proceed then to say that such was then the situation of the Colonies, and such the necessity which constrained them to alter their former systems of government.
Then follows the enumeration of the acts of tyranny by which the king, parliament, and people of Great Britain, had perverted the powers to the destruction of the ends of government, over the Colonies, and the consequent necessity constraining the Colonies to the separation.
In conclusion, the Representatives of the United States of America, in general Congress assembled, appealing to the Supreme judge of the world for the rectitude of their intentions, do, in the name and by the authority of the good people of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare that these United Colonies, are, and of right ought to be, free and independent States; that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British crown; and that all political connection between them and the state of Great Britain, is, and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as free and independent States, they have full power to levy war, conclude peace, contract alliances, establish commerce, and to do all other acts and things which independent States may of right do. The appeal to the Supreme judge of the world, and the rule of right and wrong as paramount events to the power of independent States, are here again repeated in the very act of constituting a new sovereign community.
It is not immaterial to remark, that the Signers of the Declaration, though qualifying themselves as the Representatives of the United States of America, in general Congress assembled, yet issue the Declaration, in the name and by the authority of the good people of the Colonies - and that they declare, not each of the separate Colonies, but the United Colonies, free and independent States. The whole people declared the Colonies in their united condition, of RIGHT, free and independent States.
The dissolution of allegiance to the British crown, the severance of the Colonies from the British empire, and their actual existence as Independent States, thus declared of right, were definitively established in fact, by war and peace. The independence of each separate State had never been declared of right. It never existed in fact. Upon the principles of the Declaration of Independence, the dissolution of the ties of allegiance, the assumption of sovereign power, and the institution of civil government, are all acts of transcendent authority, which the people alone are competent to perform - and accordingly, it is in the name and by the authority of the people, that two of these acts - the dissolution of allegiance, with the severance from the British empire, and the declaration of the United Colonies, as free and independent States, were performed by that instrument.
But there still remained the last and crowning act, which the People of the Union alone were competent to perform - the institution of civil government, for that compound nation, the United States of America.
At this day it cannot but strike us as extraordinary, that it does not appear to have occurred to any one member of that assembly, which had laid down in terms so clear, so explicit, so unequivocal, the foundation of alt just government, in the imprescriptible rights of man, and the transcendent sovereignty of the people, and who in those principles, had set forth their only personal Vindication from the charges of rebellion against their king, and of treason to their country, that their last crowning act was still to be performed upon the same principles. That is, the institution, by the people of the United States, of a civil government, to guard and protect and defend them all. On the contrary, that same assembly which issued the Declaration of independence, instead of continuing to act in the name, and by the authority of the good people of the United States, had immediately after the appointment of the committee to prepare the Declaration, appointed another committee, of one member from each Colony, to prepare and digest the form of confederation, to be entered into between the Colonies.
That committee reported on the 12th of July, eight days after the Declaration of independence had been issued, a draft of articles of confederation between the Colonies. This draft was prepared by John Dickinson, then a delegate from Pennsylvania, who voted against the Declaration of Independence, and never signed it - having been superseded by a new election of delegates from that State, eight days after his draft was reported.
There was thus no congeniality of principle between the Declaration of Independence and the Articles of Confederation. The foundation of the former were a superintending Providence - the rights of man, and the constituent revolutionary power of the people. That of the latter was the sovereignty of organized power, and the independence of the separate or disunited States. The fabric of the Declaration and that of the Confederation, were each consistent with its own foundation, but they could not form one consistent symmetrical edifice. They were the productions of different minds and of adverse passions - one, ascending for the foundation of human government to the laws of nature and of God, written upon the heart of man - the other, resting upon the basis of human institutions, and prescriptive law and colonial charters. The comer stone of the one was right - that of the other was power.
The work of the founders of our Independence was thus but half done. Absorbed in that more than Herculean task of maintaining that independence and its principles, by one of the most cruel wars that ever glutted the furies with human woe, they marched undaunted and steadfast through that fiery ordeal, and consistent in their principles to the end, concluded, as an acknowledged sovereignty of the United States, proclaimed by their people in 1776, a peace with that same monarch, whose sovereignty over them they had abjured in obedience to the laws of nature and of nature's God.
But for these United States, they had formed no Constitution. Instead of resorting to the source of all constituted power, they had wasted their time, their talents, and their persevering, untiring toils, in erecting and roofing and buttressing a frail and temporary shed to shelter the nation from the storm, or rather a mere baseless scaffolding on which to stand, when they should raise the marble palace of the people, to stand the test of time.
Five years were consumed by Congress and the State Legislatures, in debating and altercating and adjusting these Articles of Confederation. The first of which was: -
"Each State retains its sovereignty, freedom and independence, and every power, jurisdiction, and right, which is not by this confederation expressly delegated to the United States in Congress assembled."
Observe the departure from the language, and the consequent contrast of principles, with those of the Declaration of independence.
Each state RETAINS its sovereignty, etc. - where did each State get the sovereignty which it retains? In the Declaration of Independence, the delegates of the Colonies in Congress assembled, in the name and by the authority of the good people of the Colonies, declare, not each Colony, but the United Colonies, in fact, and of right, not sovereign, but free and independent States. And why did they make this declaration in the name and by the authority of the one people of all the Colonies? Because by the principles before laid down in the Declaration, the people, and the people alone, as the rightful source of all legitimate government, were competent to dissolve the bands of subjection of all the Colonies to the nation of Great Britain, and to constitute them free and independent States. Now the people of the Colonies, speaking by their delegates in Congress, had not declared each Colony a sovereign, free and independent State - nor had the people of each Colony so declared the Colony itself, nor could they so declare it, because each was already bound in union with all the rest; a union formed de facto, by the spontaneous revolutionary movement of the whole people, and organized by the meeting of the first Congress, in 1774, a year and ten months before the Declaration of Independence.
Where, then, did each State get the sovereignty, freedom and independence, which the articles of confederation declare it retains? - not from the whole people of the whole union - not from the Declaration of Independence - not from the people of the state itself. It was assumed by agreement between the legislatures of the several States, and their delegates in Congress, without authority from or consultation of the people at all.
In the Declaration of Independence, the enacting and constituent party dispensing and delegating sovereign power, is the whole people of the United Colonies. The recipient party, invested with power, is the United Colonies, declared United States.
In the articles of confederation, this order of agency is inverted. Each state is the constituent and enacting party, and the United States in Congress assembled, the recipient of delegated power - and that power, delegated with such a penurious and carking hand, that it had more the aspect of a revocation of the Declaration of independence than an instrument to carry it into effect.
It well deserves the judicious inquiry of an American statesman, at this time, how this involuntary and unconscious usurpation upon the rights of the people of the United States, originated and was pursued to its consummation.
In July, 1775, soon after the meeting of the second revolutionary Congress, and a year before the Declaration of Independence, Dr. Franklin had submitted to their consideration, a sketch of articles of confederation between the colonies, to continue until their reconciliation with Great Britain, and in failure of that event, to be perpetual.
The third article of that project provided "that each colony shall enjoy and retain as much as it may think fit, of its own present laws, customs, rights, privileges, and peculiar jurisdictions within its own limits; and may amend its own constitution, as shall seem best to its own assembly or convention." Here was and could be no assertion of sovereignty.
This plan appears to have been never discussed in Congress. But when, on the 7th of June, 1776, the resolution of independence was offered and postponed, another resolution was submitted and carried for the appointment of a committee of one member from each colony, to prepare and digest a form of a confederation.
The third article of the draft reported by that committee, was in these words: -
"Each colony shall retain as much of its present laws, rights, and customs, as it may think fit, and reserve to itself the sole and exclusive regulation and government of its internal police, in all matters that shall not interfere with the articles of this confederation."
The first article had declared the names of the confederacy to be the United States of America.
By the second, the colonies "unite themselves, so as never to be divided by any act whatever," and entered into a firm league of friendship with each other.
From the 12th of July to the 20th of August, 1776, the report of the committee was debated almost daily, in a committee of the whole house, and they reported to Congress a new draft, the first article of which retained the name of the confederacy.
The second left out the warm-hearted Union, so as never to be divided by any act whatever, and only severally entered into a firm league of friendship for special purposes. By the third, "Each state reserves to itself the sole and exclusive regulations and government of its internal police in all matters that shall not interfere with the Articles of this Confederation."
The gradual relaxation of the fervid spirit of union which had quickened every sentence of the Declaration of Independence, is apparent in these changes of phraseology and omission.
The articles reported by the committee of the whole were laid aside on the 20th of August, 1776, and were not resumed till the 7th of April, 1777.
They were then taken up, and pertinaciously and acrimoniously debated two or three times a week till the 15th of November, 1777, when they were adopted by Congress in a new and revised draft.
And here the reversal of the fundamental principles of the Declaration of Independence was complete, and the symptoms of disunion proportionally aggravated. The first article instead of the name declared the style of the confederacy to be the United States of America. Even in this change of a single word, there was the spirit of disunion; a name being appropriately applied to the unity, and a style to the plurality of the aggregate body.
An alteration still more significant was the inversion in the order of the second and third articles. In all the former drafts, in the sketch presented by Dr. Franklin in 1775, in the draft reported by the select committee in July, 1776, and in that reported after full debate by the committee of the whole house to Congress, on the 20th of August, 1776, the union had been constituted in the second article, and the reservation of separate rights not interfering with the articles of the confederation, had been made in the third.
But now the reservation of separate rights came first in order, appeared as the second article, and instead of being confined to internal police, and all matters that shall not interfere with the articles of this confederation, was transformed into a direct assertion of sovereignty, not in the people of each state, but in each state. And thus it was that each state had acquired that sovereignty, which the third article, now made the second, declared it retained. It was a power usurped upon the people, by the joint agency of the state legislatures and of their delegates in Congress, without any authority from the people whatever. And with this assertion of sovereignty, each state retained also every power, jurisdiction and right, not by the confederation expressly delegated to the United States in Congress assembled. And then came limping on in the third article, degraded from its place as the second, the firm league of friendship of these several states with each other, for their common defence, the security of their liberties, and their mutual and general welfare.
In the debates upon these articles of confederation, between the 7th of October, and the 17th of November, the conflict of interests and of principles between the people of the whole Union, and each of the states, was strongly marked. The first question was upon the mode of voting in Congress.
It was moved that in determining questions, each state should have one vote for every fifty thousand white inhabitants.
That each state should have a right to send one delegate to Congress for every thirty thousand of its inhabitants - each delegate to have one vote.
That the quantum of representation of each state should be computed by numbers proportioned to its contribution of money or tax laid and paid into the public treasury.
These propositions, all looking to a representation proportional to numbers or to taxation, that is, to persons or property, were all rejected, and it was resolved that in determining questions each state should have one vote.
Then came the question of the common charges and expenses. The first proposition was that they should be proportioned to the number of inhabitants of each state. Then to the value of all property, excepting household goods and wearing apparel, both of which were rejected, and the proposition was fixed according to the quantity of land granted and surveyed, with the estimated improvements thereon.
But the great and insurmountable difficulty, left altogether unadjusted by these articles of confederation, was to ascertain the boundaries of each of these sovereign states. It was proposed that these boundaries should be ascertained by them; for which purpose the state Legislatures should lay before Congress a description of the territorial lands of each of their respective states, and a summary of the grants, treaties, and proofs, upon which they were claimed or established.
It was moved that the United States, in Congress assembled, should have the sole and exclusive right and power to ascertain and fix the western boundary of such states as claimed to the South sea; and to dispose of all land beyond the boundary so ascertained, for the benefit of the United States.
And that the United States in Congress assembled, should have the sole and exclusive right and power to ascertain and fix the western boundary of such states, as claimed to the Mississippi or South sea, and to lay out the land beyond the boundary so ascertained, into separate and independent states, from time to time, as the numbers and circumstances of the people might require.
All these propositions were rejected, and the articles of confederation were sent forth to the sovereign, free and independent states for ratification, without defining or ascertaining the limits of any one of them; while some of them claimed to the South sea, and others were cramped up within a surface of less than fifteen hundred square miles.
It is further remarkable that in the progress of these debates, the institution of an executive council, which in all the previous drafts had been proposed, was struck out, and instead of it was substituted a helpless and imbecile committee of the states, never but once attempted to be carried into execution, and then speedily dissolved in its own weakness.
Such was the system, elaborated with great, persevering, and anxious deliberation; animated with the most ardent patriotism; put together with eminent ability and untiring industry, but vitiated by a defect in the general principle - in the departure from the self-evident truths of the Declaration of Independence; the natural rights of man, and the exclusive, sovereign, constituent right of the people.
The result corresponded with this elementary error. The plan of confederacy was sent forth to the state Legislatures with an eloquent and pathetic letter, pointing out the difficulties and delays which had attended its formation, urging them candidly to review the difficulty of combining in one general system the various sentiments and interests of a continent divided into so many sovereign and independent communities. Assuring them that the plan proposed was the best which could be adapted to the circumstances of all, and that alone which afforded any tolerable prospect of general ratification; and urging its immediate adoption in the following deeply affecting and impressive admonition: -
"We have reason to regret the time which has elapsed in preparing this plan for consideration. With additional solicitude we look forward to that which must be necessarily spent before it can be ratified. Every motive loudly calls upon us to hasten its conclusion.
"More than any other consideration, it will confound our foreign enemies, defeat the flagitious practices of the disaffected, strengthen and confirm our friends, support our public credit, restore the value of our money, enable us to maintain our fleets and armies, and add weight and respect to our councils at home, and to our treaties abroad.
"In short, this salutary measure can no longer be deferred. It seems essential to our very existence as a free people; and without it we may soon be constrained to bid adieu to independence, to liberty and safety - blessings which from the justice of our cause, and the favor of our Almighty Creator, visibly manifested in our protection, we have reason to expect, if in an humble dependence on his divine providence, we strenuously exert the means which are placed in our power."
In this solemn, urgent, and emphatic manner, and with these flattering and sanguine anticipations of the blessings to be showered upon their country by this cumbrous and complicated confederacy of sovereign and independent states, was this instrument transmitted to the state Legislatures; and so anxious were the framers of it for the sanction of the states at the earliest possible moment, that it was recommended to the executive of each of the states to whom it was addressed, if the Legislature was not assembled at the time of its reception, to convene them without delay.
Not such however was the disposition of the several state Legislatures. Each of them was governed as it naturally and necessarily must be by the interests and opinions predominating within the state itself. Not one of them was satisfied with the articles as they had been prepared in Congress. Every state Legislature found something objectionable in them. They combined the enormous inconsistency of an equal representation in Congress of states most unequal in extent and population, and an imposition of all charges, and expenses of the whole, proportioned to the extent and value of the settled and cultivated lands in each. A still more vital defect of the instrument was that it left the questions of the limits of the several states and in whom was the property of the unsettled crown-lands, not only unadjusted, but wholly unnoticed.
The form of ratification proposed by Congress, was that each of the state Legislatures should authorize their delegates in Congress to subscribe the Articles; and in their impatience for a speedy conclusion, two motions were made to recommend that the states should enjoin upon their delegates invested with this authority, to attend Congress for that purpose, on or before the then ensuing first of May or tenth of March.
These however did not prevail. This extreme anxiety for the prompt and decisive action of the states, upon this organization of the confederacy, was the result of that same ardent and confiding patriotism so unforeseeing, and yet so sincere, which could flatter itself with the belief that this nerveless and rickety league of friendship between sovereign, independent, disunited states, could confound the foreign enemies of the Union, defeat the practices of the disaffected, support the credit of the country, restore the value of their depreciating money, enable them to maintain fleets and armies, and add weight and respect to their counsels at home, and to their treaties abroad.
This fervid patriotism, and all these glowing anticipations were doomed to total disappointment. Seven months passed away, and on the 22nd of June, 1778, Congress proceeded to consider the objections of the states to the articles of confederation. Those of Maryland were first discussed and rejected. Those of Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and South Carolina, followed, and all shared the same fate. No objections were presented by New Hampshire or Virginia. Delaware and North Carolina had no representation then present, and Georgia only one member in attendance.
On the 9th of July, 1778, the Articles were signed by the delegates of New Hampshire, Massachusetts bay, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia and South Carolina.
The delegates from New Jersey, Delaware and Maryland, informed Congress that they had not yet received powers to ratify and sign. North Carolina and Georgia were not represented - and the ratification of New York was conditional that all the other states should ratify.
The delegates from North Carolina signed the Articles on the 21st of July, 1778. Those of Georgia on the 24th of the same month. Those of New Jersey on the 26th of November, 1778. Those of Delaware on the 22nd of February, and 5th of May, 1779 - but Maryland held out to the last and positively refused the ratification, until the question of the conflicting claims of the Union, and of the separate states to the property of the crown- lands should be adjusted. This was finally accomplished by cessions from the claiming states to the United States, of the unsettled lands, for the benefit of the whole Union.
Is it not strange again that it appears not to have been perceived by any one at that time that the whole of this controversy arose out of a departure from the principles of the Declaration of Independence, and the substitution of state sovereignty instead of the constituent sovereignty of the people, as the foundation of the Revolution and of the Union. The war from the beginning had been, and yet was, a revolutionary popular war. The colonial governments never had possessed or pretended to claim sovereign power. Many of them had not even yet constituted themselves as independent States. The Declaration of independence proclaims the natural rights of man, and the constituent power of the people to be the only sources of legitimate government. State sovereignty is a mere argument of power, without regard to right - a mere reproduction of the omnipotence of the British parliament in another form, and therefore not only inconsistent with, but directly in opposition to, the principles of the Declaration of independence.
The cessions of the claiming states of the crown lands to the Union, originated the territorial system, and eventuated in the ordinance for the government of the North Western Territory. It also removed the insuperable objection of the State of Maryland to the articles of confederation, and her delegates signed them on the 1st of March, 1781, four years and four months after they had been submitted by Congress to the sovereign states, with a solemn averment that they could no longer be deferred; that they seemed essential to the very existence of the Union as a free people; and that without them they might be constrained to bid adieu to independence, to liberty, and safety.
But the dispute relating to the jurisdiction and property of the crown lands, was only one of a multitude of stumbling blocks which were perpetually crossing the path of the new nation, in the collisions between the principles of the Declaration of independence and the sovereignty of the separate states. In the adjustment of that, both the systems were substantially set aside. For the claiming states, by the cessions themselves, abandoned their pretensions, so far as that interest was concerned, to the rights of independent state sovereignty, and the Congress of the confederation by an enactment of the ordinance for the government of the North Western Territory, assumed an authority which had not been delegated to them, either by the constituent sovereign people, or by the separate sovereign states.
The articles of confederation had withheld from Congress, the power of regulating the commerce of the Union, and of levying money by taxation upon the people; yet they were authorized to make war and conclude peace - to contract debts and bind the nation by treaties of commerce. The war was raging in its most inveterate fury, and to defray its indispensable charges and expenses, the only power of Congress was to issue requisitions to the states, which their sovereign power complied with, or disregarded, or rejected, according to their sovereign will and pleasure.
So seldom had this been to furnish the required supplies, that even before the first ratification of the articles of confederation, on the 3rd of February, 1781, it had been resolved that it be recommended to the several states, as indispensably necessary, that they vest a power in Congress, to levy for the use of the United States, a duty of five percent ad valorem, at the time and place of importation, upon all foreign goods, wares, and merchandise of foreign growth and manufactures, imported after the 1st of May, 1781; also a like duty upon all prize-goods, to be appropriated to the discharge of the principal and interest of the debts contracted on the faith of the United States, for the support of war.
Indispensably necessary! But according to the principles of the Declaration of independence, the state legislatures themselves had no authority to confer this power upon Congress. It was taxation - one of the powers which the people alone are competent to bestow, - and which their servants, the state legislatures, if they possessed it themselves, had no right to delegate to any other body.
Upon the principles of state sovereignty - power without right, this authority might have been conferred upon Congress by the state legislatures, and several of them did enact laws for bestowing it. But by the articles of confederation, no alteration of them could be effected without the consent of aft the states, and Rhode island, the smallest state in the Union, inflexibly held out in the refusal to grant the indispensably necessary power. Virginia granted and soon repealed it. Congress issued bills of credit as long as they had any credit; but all the states did the same till their bottomless paper depreciated to a thousand for one, and then vanished by a universal refusal to receive it. Congress issued four successive requisitions upon the states, for their respective quotas to pay the debts and current expenses of the Union. Not one of the states paid one half the amount of its contribution. Congress borrowed money in France, in Spain, in Holland, and obtained it there when they could not raise a dollar at home, and they were compelled to resort to new loans to pay the interest upon those that had preceded.
Under the pressure of all these distresses, the cause of independence was triumphant. Peace came. The United States of America were recognized as free and independent, and as one People took the station to which the laws of nature and of nature's God entitled them among the powers of the earth. But their confederacy of sovereign states was as incompetent to govern them in peace as it had been to conduct them in war. The first popular impulse to union had carried them through the war. As that popular impulse died away, the confederation had supplied its place with hope and promise, the total disappointment of which, though discovered before the peace, was providentially not permitted to prevent its conclusion.
Peace came. The heroic leader of the revolutionary armies surrendered his commission. The armies were disbanded, but they were not paid. Mutiny was suppressed; but not until Congress had been surrounded by armed men, demanding justice, and appealed in vain for protection to the sovereign state within whose jurisdiction they were sitting. A single frigate, the remnant of a gallant navy, which had richly shared the glories, and deeply suffered the calamities of the war, was dismantled and sold. The expenses of the nation were reduced to the minimum of a peace establishment, and yet the nation was not relieved. The nation wanted a government founded on the principles of the Declaration of Independence - a government constituted by the people.
The commerce, navigation, and fisheries of the nation, had been annihilated by the war. But as a civilized nation cannot exist without commerce, an illicit trade with the enemy had sprung up towards the close of the war, highly injurious to the common cause, but which Congress had not the power to suppress. The same causes had given rise to another practice not less pernicious and immoral, by which privateersmen ransomed the prizes captured from the enemy at sea - that is, by releasing the captured vessel for a contribution taken in bills upon the owner of the prize, which were punctually paid, thereby converting the trade of the privateer into a species of gambling piracy.
These practices ceased with the peace. But the commerce of the United States, for want of a regulating power, was left at the mercy of foreign and rival traders. Britain immediately took advantage of this weakness, declined entering into any commercial treaty with us, which Congress had proposed, and brought to bear upon the American trade all the weight of her navigation laws. Massachusetts and Virginia made the experiment of counteracting laws, the only effect of which was to exclude a little remnant of their trade from their own ports, and to transfer it to the ports of neighboring states.
On the 18th of April, 1783, Congress renewed the demands upon the states, for authority to levy an impost duty, specific on sundry articles of importation, and five per cent ad valorem on others, to raise not quite one million of dollars, or about two fifths of the annual interest accruing upon the public debt; and that the states should themselves establish some system for supplying the public treasury with funds, for the punctual payment of the other three fifths of the annual interest; and also, for an alteration in the articles of confederation, changing the proportional rule of contribution of the states, from the surface of settled land to the numbers of population.
And on the 30th of April, 1784, Congress recommended to the state legislatures to vest the United States in Congress assembled, for the term of fifteen years, with powers to prohibit importations of merchandise in foreign vessels of nations with whom the United States had no treaties of commerce, and to prohibit foreigners, unless authorized by treaty, from importing into the United States, merchandise, other than the produce or manufacture of their own country. In other words, to enact a navigation law.
None of these indispensably necessary powers were ever conferred by the state legislatures upon the Congress of the confederation; and well was it that they never were. The system itself was radically defective. Its incurable disease was ail apostasy from the principles of the Declaration of independence. A substitution of separate state sovereignties, in the place of the constituent sovereignty of the people, as the basis of the confederate Union.
But in this Congress of the confederation, the master minds of James Madison and Alexander Hamilton, were constantly engaged through the closing years of the Revolutionary War, and those of peace which immediately succeeded. That of John Jay was associated with them shortly after the peace, in the capacity of Secretary to the Congress for Foreign Affairs. The incompetency of the articles of confederation for the management of the affairs of the Union at home and abroad, was demonstrated to them by the painful and mortifying experience of every day. Washington, though in retirement, was brooding over the cruel injustice suffered by his associates in arms, the warriors of the Revolution; over the prostration of the public credit and the faith of the nation, in the neglect to provide for the payment even of the interest upon the public debt; over the disappointed hopes of the friends of freedom; in the language of the address from Congress to the States of the 18th of April, 1783 - "the pride and.boast of America, that the rights for which she contended were the rights of human nature."
At his residence of Mount Vernon, in March, 1785, the first idea was started of a revisal of the articles of confederation, by an organization of means differing from that of a compact between the state Legislatures and their own delegates in Congress. A convention of delegates from the state Legislatures, independent of the Congress itself, was the expedient which presented itself for effecting the purpose, and an augmentation of the powers of Congress for the regulation of commerce, as the object for which this assembly was to be convened. In January, 1786, the proposal was made and adopted in the Legislature of Virginia, and communicated to the other state Legislatures.
The Convention was held at Annapolis, in September of that year. It was attended by delegates from only five of the central states, who on comparing their restricted powers, with the glaring and universally acknowledged defects of the confederation, reported only a recommendation for the assemblage of another convention of delegates to meet at Philadelphia, in May, 1787, from all the states and with enlarged powers.
The Constitution of the United States was the work of this Convention. But in its construction the Convention immediately perceived that they must retrace their steps, and fall back from a league of friendship between sovereign states, to the constituent sovereignty of the people, from power to right - from the irresponsible despotism of state sovereignty, to the self-evident truths of the Declaration of Independence. In that instrument, the right to institute and to alter governments among men was ascribed exclusively to the people - the ends of government were declared to be to secure the natural rights of man: and that when the government degenerates from the promotion to the destruction of that end, the right and the duty accrues to the people, to dissolve this degenerate government and to institute another. The Signers of the Declaration further averred, that the one people of the United Colonies were then precisely in that situation - with a government degenerated into tyranny, and called upon by the laws of nature and of nature's God, to dissolve that government and to institute another.Men in the name and by the authority of the good people of the Colonies, they pronounced the dissolution of their allegiance to the king, and their eternal separation from the nation of Great Britain - and declared the United Colonies independent States. And here as the representatives of the one people they had stopped. They did not require the confirmation of this Act, for the power to make the Declaration had already been conferred upon them by the people; delegating the power, indeed, separately in the separate colonies, not by colonial authority, but by the spontaneous revolutionary movement of the people in them all.
From the day of that Declaration, the constituent power of the people had never been called into action. A confederacy had been substituted in the place of a government; and state sovereignty had usurped the constituent sovereignty of the people.
The Convention assembled at Philadelphia had themselves no direct authority from the people. Their authority was all derived from the state legislatures. But they had the articles of confederation before them, and they saw and felt the wretched condition into which they had brought the whole people, and that the Union itself was in the agonies of death. They soon perceived that the indispensably needed powers were such as no state government; no combination of them was by the principles of the Declaration of Independence competent to bestow. They could emanate only from the people. A highly respectable portion of the assembly, still clinging to the confederacy of states, proposed as a substitute for the Constitution, a mere revival of the articles of confederation, with a grant of additional powers to the Congress. Their plan was respectfully and thoroughly discussed, but the want of a government and of the sanction of the people to the delegation of powers, happily prevailed. A Constitution for the people, and the distribution of legislative, executive, and judicial powers, was prepared. It announced itself as the work of the people themselves; and as this was unquestionably a power assumed by the Convention, not delegated to them by the people, they religiously confined it to a simple power to propose, and carefully provided that it should be no more than a proposal until sanctioned by the confederation Congress, by the state Legislatures, and by the people of the several states, in conventions specially assembled, by authority of their Legislatures, for the single purpose of examining and passing upon it.
And thus was consummated the work, commenced by the Declaration of Independence. A work in which the people of the North American Union, acting under the deepest sense of responsibility to the Supreme Ruler of the universe, had achieved the most transcendent act of power, that social man in his mortal condition can perform. Even that of dissolving the ties of allegiance which he is bound to his country - of renouncing that country itself - of demolishing its government, of instituting another government, and of making for himself another country in its stead.
And on that day, of which you now commemorate the fiftieth anniversary - on that 30th day of April, one thousand seven hundred and eighty-nine, was this mighty revolution, not only in the affairs of our own country, but in the principles of government over civilized man, accomplished.
The revolution itself was a work of thirteen years - and had never been completed until that day. The Declaration of independence and the Constitution of the United States, are parts of one consistent whole, founded upon one and the same theory of government, then new, not as a theory, for it had been working itself into the mind of man for many ages, and been especially expounded in the writings of Locke, but had never before been adopted by a great nation in practice.
There are yet, even at this day, many speculative objections to this theory. Even in our own country, there are still philosophers who deny the principles asserted in the Declaration, as self-evident truths - who deny the natural equality and inalienable rights of man - who deny that the people are the only legitimate source of power - who deny that all just powers of government are derived from the consent of the governed. Neither your time, nor perhaps the cheerful nature of this occasion, permit me here to enter upon the examination of this anti-revolutionary theory, which arrays state sovereignty against the constituent sovereignty of the people, and distorts the Constitution of the United States into a league of friendship between confederate corporations. I speak to matters of fact. There is the Declaration of Independence, and there is the Constitution of the United States - let them speak for themselves. The grossly immoral and dishonest doctrine of despotic state sovereignty, the exclusive judge of its own obligations, and responsible to no power on earth or in heaven, for the violation of them, is not there. The Declaration says it is not in me. The Constitution says it is not in me.
The confederacy of sovereign states has made itself known by its fruits; but there is one observation so creditable to our revolutionary fathers, that it ought never to be overlooked. The defects of the confederacy were vices of the institution, and not of the men by whom it was administered. The jealousy of delegated power pervaded every part of the articles of confederacy, and indeed, almost all the separate constitutions. The prevailing principle of every provision made under the influence of this distrusting maxim, was that the same power should not long be intrusted to the same hands - but it never extended to the exclusion of any person from office, after a designate term of service in another. One of the articles of confederation had interdicted every person from holding the office of a member of Congress more than three years in six. But any member excluded by the expiration of his limited term of service in Congress, was eligible to any other station in the legislative, executive, or judicial departments of his state, or to any office, civil or military, within the general jurisdiction of Congress.
In point of fact, the great measures by which the revolution was commenced, conducted, and concluded, were devised and prosecuted by a very few leading minds, animated by one pervading, predominating spirit. The object of the Revolution was the transformation of thirteen dependent and oppressed English colonies, into one nation of thirteen confederated states. It was as the late Mr. Madison remarked to Miss Martineau, an undertaking to do that which had always before been believed impossible. In the progress to its accomplishment, obstacles almost numberless, and difficulties apparently insurmountable, obstructed every step of the way. That in the dissolution and re-institution of the social compact, by men marching over an untrodden path to the very fountains of human government, great and dangerous errors should have been committed, is but an acknowledgement that the builders of the new edifice were fallible men. But at the head of the convention that formed the Constitution, was George Washington, the leader of the armies of the Revolution - among its prominent members were Benjamin Franklin and Roger Sherman, two of the members of that memorable committee who had reported the Declaration of Independence - and its other members without exception, were statesmen who had served in the councils of the Union, throughout the Revolutionary struggle, or warriors who had contended with the enemy upon the field.
The Signers of the Declaration of independence themselves, were the persons who had first fallen into the error of believing that a confederacy of independent states would serve as a substitute for the repudiated government of Great Britain. Experience had demonstrated their mistake, and the condition of the country was a shriek of terror at its awful magnitude. They did retrace their steps - not to extinguish the federative feature in which their union had been formed: nothing could be wider from their intention - but to restore the order of things conformably to the principles of the Declaration of Independence, and as they had been arranged in the first plans for a confederation. To make the people of the Union the constituent body, and the reservation of the rights of the states subordinate to the Constitution. Hence the delegation of power was not from each state retaining its sovereignty, and all rights not expressly delegated by the states, but from the people of each and of all the states, to the United States in Congress assembled, representing at once the whole people and all the states of the Union.
They retained the federative feature pre-eminently in the constitution of the Senate, and in the complication of its great powers, legislative, executive, and judicial-making that body a participant in all the great departments of constituted power. They preserved the federative principle and combined it with the constituent power of the people in the mode of electing the President of the United States, whether by the electoral colleges, or by the House of Representatives voting by states. They preserved it even in the constitution of the House, the popular branch of the Legislature, by giving separate delegations to the people of each state. But they expressly made the Constitution and constitutional laws of the United States paramount not only to the laws, but to the constitutions of the separate states inconsistent with them.
I have traced step by step, in minute and tedious detail, the departure from the principles of the Declaration of Independence, in the process of organizing the confederation - the disastrous and lamentable consequences of that departure, and the admirable temper and spirit, with which the Convention at Philadelphia returned to those principles in the preparation and composition of the Constitution of the United States. That this work was still imperfect, candor will compel us all to admit, though in specifying its imperfections, the purest minds and the most patriotic hearts differ widely from each other in their conclusions. Distrustful as it becomes me to be of my own judgment, but authorized by the experience of a full half century, during which I have been variously and almost uninterruptedly engaged in both branches of the Legislature, and in the executive departments of this government, and released, by my own rapid approach to the closing scene of life, from all possible influence of personal interest or ambition, I may perhaps be permitted to remark, that the omission of a clear and explicit Declaration of Rights, was a great defect in the Constitution as presented by the Convention to the people, and that it has been imperfectly remedied by the ten Articles of amendment proposed by the first Congress under the Constitution, and now incorporated with it. A Declaration of Rights would have marked in a more emphatic manner the return from the derivative sovereignty of the states, to the constituent sovereignty of the people for the basis of the federal Union, than was done by the words, "We the people of the United States," in the preamble to the Constitution. A Declaration of Rights, also, systematically drawn up, as a part of the Constitution, and adapted to it with the consummate skill displayed in the consistent adjustment of its mighty powers, would have made it more complete in its unity, and in its symmetry, than it now appears, an elegant edifice, but encumbered with superadditions, not always in keeping with the general character of the building itself.
A Declaration of Rights, reserved by the constituent body, the people, might and probably would have prevented many delicate and dangerous questions of conflicting jurisdictions which have arisen, and may yet arise between the general and the separate state governments. The rights reserved by the people would have been exclusively their own rights, and they would have been protected from the encroachments not only of the general government, but of the disunited states.
And this is the day of your commemoration. The day when the Revolution of independence being completed, and the new confederation Republic announced to the world, as the United States of America, constituted and organized under a government founded on the principles of the Declaration of Independence, was to hold her course along the lapse of time among the civilized potentates of the earth.
From this point of departure we have looked back to the origin of the Union; to the conflict of war by which the severance from the mother-country, and the release from the thraldom of a trans-Atlantic monarch, were effected, and to the more arduous and gradual progression by which the new government had been constructed to take the place of that which had been cast off and demolished.
The first object of the people, declared by the Constitution as their motive for its establishment, to form a more Perfect Union, had been attained by the establishment of the Constitution itself; but this was yet to be demonstrated by its practical operation in the establishment of justice, in the ensurance of domestic tranquility, in the provision for the common defence, in the promotion of the general welfare, and in securing the blessings of liberty to the people themselves, the authors of the Constitution, and to their posterity.
These are the great and transcendental objects of all legitimate government. The primary purposes of all human association. For these purposes the confederation had been instituted, and had signally failed for their attainment. How far have they been attained under this new national organization?
It has abided the trial of time. This day fifty years have passed away since the first impulse was given to the wheels of this political machine. The generation by which it was constructed, has passed away. Not one member of the Convention who gave this Constitution to their country, survives. They have enjoyed its blessings so far as they were secured by their labors. They have been gathered to their fathers. That posterity for whom they toiled, not less anxiously than for themselves, has arisen to occupy their places, and is rapidly passing away in its turn. A third generation, unborn upon the day which you commemorate, forms a vast majority of the assembly who now honor me with their attention. Your city which then numbered scarcely thirty thousand inhabitants, now counts its numbers by hundreds of thousands. Your state, then numbering less than double the population of your city as this day, now tells its children by millions. The thirteen primitive states of the revolution, painfully rallied by this constitution to the fold from which the impotence and dis-uniting character of the confederacy, was already leading them astray, now reinforced by an equal number of younger sisters, and all swarming with an active, industrious, and hardy population, have penetrated from the Atlantic to the Rocky Mountains, and opened a paradise upon the wilds watered by the father of the floods. The Union, which at the first census, ordained by this Constitution, returned a people of less than four millions of souls; at the next census, already commanded by law, the semi-centural enumeration since that day, is about to exhibit a return of seventeen millions. Never since the first assemblage of men in social union, has there been such a scene of continued prosperity recorded upon the annals of time.
How much of this prosperity is justly attributable to the Constitution, then first put upon its trial, may perhaps be differently estimated by speculative minds. Never was a form of government so obstinately, so pertinaciously contested before its establishment - and never was human foresight and sagacity more disconcerted and refuted by the event, than those of the opposers of the Constitution. On the other hand its results have surpassed the most sanguine anticipations of its friends. Neither Washington, nor Madison, nor Hamilton, dared to hope that this new experiment of government would so triumphantly accomplish the purposes which the confederation had so utterly failed to effect. Washington - far from anticipating the paint of glory which his administration of this government was to entwine around his brow, transcending the laurel of his then unrivalled military renown, in the interval between the 4th of March, when the meeting of the first Congress had been summoned, and the 14th of April, when he received from them the notification of his election as President of the United States, thus unbosomed to his friend Knox the forebodings of his anxious and agitated mind. "I feel," wrote he, "for those members of the new Congress, who hitherto have given an unavailing attendance at the theatre of action, For myself, the delay may be compared to a reprieve, for in confidence I tell you, (with the world it would obtain little credit,) that my movements to the chair of government will be accompanied by feelings not unlike those of a culprit who is going to the place of his execution. So unwilling am I, in the evening of life, nearly consumed in public cares, to quit a peaceful abode for an ocean of difficulties, without that competency of political skill, abilities, and inclination, which are necessary to manage the helm. I am sensible that I am embarking the voice of the people and a good name of my own, on this voyage, but what returns can be made of them, Heaven alone can foretell. Integrity and firmness are all I can promise: these, be the voyage long or short, shall never forsake me, although I may be deserted by all men: for of the consolations which are to be derived from them, under any circumstances, the world cannot deprive me."
One of the most indubitable tests of the merit of human institutions for the government of men, is the length of time which they endure; but so fluctuating is the character of nations and of ages, as well as of individuals, that in the history of mankind before our own age, this durability of human governments has been exclusively confined to those founded upon conquests and hereditary power. In summing up the character of William the Conqueror, the Scottish historian, Hume, remarks, that "though he rendered himself infinitely odious to his English subjects, he transmitted his power to his posterity, and the throne is still filled by his descendants; a proof," says the historian, "that the foundations which he laid, were firm and solid, and that amidst all his violence, while he seemed only to gratify the present passion, he had still an eye toward futurity."
The descendant from William the Conqueror, who filled the throne of Britain when the Scottish historian made this remark, was the person whom his American subjects, to whom he had rendered himself odious, unseated from that portion of his throne which ruled over them; and in discarding him they had demolished the throne itself for ever. They had resolved for themselves and their posterity, never again to be ruled by thrones. The Declaration of Independence had promulgated principles of government, subversive of all unlimited sovereignty and all hereditary power. Principles, in consistency with which no conqueror could establish by violence a throne to be trodden by himself and by his posterity, for a space of eight hundred years. The foundations of government laid by those who had burnt by fire and scattered to the winds of Heaven, the ashes of this conqueror's throne, were human rights, responsibility to God, and the consent of the people. Upon these principles, the Constitution of the United States had been formed, was now organized, and about to be carried into execution, to abide the test of time. The first element of its longevity was undoubtedly to be found in itself - but we may, without superstition or fanaticism, believe that a superintending Providence had adapted to the character and principles of this institution, those of the man by whom it was to be first administered. To fill a throne was neither his ambition nor his vocation. He had no descendants to whom a throne could have been transmitted, had it existed. He was placed by the unanimous voice of his country, at the head of that government which they had substituted for a throne, and his eye looking to futurity, was intent upon securing to after ages, not a throne for a seat to his own descendants, but an immoveable seat upon which the descendants of his country might sit in peace, and freedom, and happiness, if so it please Heaven, to the end of time.
That to the accomplishment of this task he looked forward with a searching eye, and even an over-anxious heart, will not be surprising to any who understands his character, or is capable of comprehending the magnitude and difficulty of the task itself.
There are incidental to the character of man two qualities, both developed by his intercourse with his fellow-creatures, and both belonging to the immortal part of his nature; of elements apparently so opposed and inconsistent with each other, as to be irreconcilable together; but yet indispensable in their union to constitute the highest excellence of the human character. They are the spirit of command, and the spirit of meekness. They have been exemplified in the purity of ideal perfection, only once in the history of mankind, and that was in the mortal life of the Savior of the world. It would seem to have been exhibited on earth by his supernatural character, as a model to teach mortal man, to what sublime elevation his nature is capable of ascending. They had been displayed, though not in the same perfection by the preceding legislator of the children of Israel; -
- "That Shepherd, who first taught the chosen seed
In the beginning, how the heavens and earth
Rose out of Chaos;"
but so little were they known, or conceived of in the antiquity of profane history, that in the poems of Homer, that unrivalled delineator of human character in the heroic ages, there is no attempt to introduce them in the person of any one of his performers, human or divine. In the poem of his Roman imitator and rival, a feeble exemplification of them is shadowed forth in the inconsistent composition of the pious Æneas; but history, ancient or modem, had never exhibited in the real life of man, an example in which those two properties were so happily blended together, as they were in the person of George Washington. These properties belong rather to the moral than the intellectual nature of man. They are not infrequently found in minds little cultivated by science, but they require for the exercise of that mutual control which guards them from degenerating into arrogance or weakness, the guidance of a sound judgment, and the regulation of a profound sense of responsibility to a higher Power. It was this adaptation of the character of Washington to that of the institution over the composition of which lie had presided, as he was now called to preside over its administration, which constituted one of the most favorable omens of it: eventful stability and success.
But this institution was republican, and even democratic. And here not to be misunderstood, I mean by democratic, a government, the administration of which must always be rendered comfortable to that predominating public opinion, which even in the ages of heathen antiquity, was denominated the queen of the world: and by republican I mean a government reposing, not upon the virtues or the powers of any one man - not upon that honor, which Montesquieu lays down as the fundamental principle of monarchy - far less upon that fear which he pronounces the basis of despotism; but upon that virtue which he, a noble of aristocratic peerage, and the subject of an absolute monarch, boldly proclaims as a fundamental principle of republican government. The Constitution of the United States was republican and democratic - but the experience of all former ages had shown that of all human governments, democracy was the most unstable, fluctuating and short-lived; and it was obvious that if virtue - the virtue of the people, was the foundation of republican government, the stability and duration of the government must depend upon the stability and duration of the virtue by which it is sustained.
Now the virtue which had been infused into the Constitution of the United States, and was to give to its vital existence, the stability and duration to which it was destined, was no other than the concretion of those abstract principles which had been first proclaimed in the Declaration of Independence - namely, the self-evident truths of the natural and unalienable rights of man, of the indefeasible constituent and dissolvent sovereignty of the people, always subordinate to a rule of right and wrong, and always responsible to the Supreme Ruler of the universe for the rightful exercise of that sovereign, constituent, and dissolvent power.
This was the platform upon which the Constitution of the United States had been erected. Its VIRTUES, its republican character, consisted in its conformity to the principles proclaimed in the Declaration of Independence, and as its administration must necessarily be always pliable to the fluctuating varieties of public opinion; its stability and duration by a Re overruling and irresistible necessity, was to depend upon the stability and duration in the hearts and minds of the people of that virtue, or in other words, of those principles, proclaimed in the Declaration of Independence, and embodied in the Constitution of the United States.
With these considerations, we shall be better able to comprehend the feelings of repugnance, of pain, of anguish, of fearful forebodings, with which Washington had consented to be placed at the head of this new and untried experiment to consolidate the people of the thirteen then disunited states into one confederated and permanent happy Union. For his own integrity and firmness he could answer; and these were sufficient to redeem his own personal responsibility - but he was embarking on this ocean of difficulty a good name already achieved by toils, and dangers, and services unparalleled in human history - surpassing in actual value the richest diadem upon earth, and more precious in his estimation than the throne of the universal globe, had it been offered as an alternative to his choice.
He knew the result would not depend upon him. His reliance was upon the good providence of Heaven. He foresaw that he might be deserted by all mankind. The Constitution itself had been extorted from the grinding necessity of a reluctant nation. The people only of eleven of the thirteen primitive states had sanctioned it by their adoption. A stubborn, unyielding resistance against its adoption had manifested itself in some of the most powerful states in the Union, and when overpowered by small majorities in their conventions, had struggled in some instances successfully, to recover their ascendancy by electing to both Houses of Congress members who had signalized themselves in opposition to the adoption of the Constitution. A sullen, embittered, exasperated spirit was boiling in the bosoms of the defeated, then styled anti-Federal party, whose rallying cry was state rights - state sovereignty - state independence. To this standard no small number even of the ardent and distinguished patriots of the Revolution had attached themselves with partial affection. State sovereignty - unlimited state sovereignty, amenable not to the authority of the Union, but only to the people of the disunited state itself, had, with the left-handed wisdom characteristic of faction, assumed the mask of liberty, pranked herself out in the garb of patriotism, and courted the popular favor in each state by appeals to their separate independence - affecting to style themselves exclusively Republicans, and stigmatizing the Federalists, and even Washington himself their head, as monarchists and tories.
On the other hand, no small number of the Federalists, sickened by the wretched and ignominious failure of the Articles of Confederation to fulfil the promise of the Revolution; provoked at once and discouraged by the violence and rancor of the opposition against their strenuous and toilsome endeavors to raise their country from her state of prostration; chafed and goaded by the misrepresentations of their motives, and the reproaches of their adversaries, and imputing to them in turn, deliberate and settled purposes to dissolve the Union, and resort to anarchy for the repair of ruined fortunes - distrusted even the efficacy of the Constitution itself, and with a weakened confidence in the virtue of the people, were inclining to the opinion, that the only practicable substitute for it would be a government of greater energy than that presented by the Convention. There were among them numerous warm and sincere admirers of the British Constitution; disposed to confide rather to the inherent strength of the government than to the self-evident truths of the Declaration of independence, for the preservation of the rights of property and perhaps of persons - and with these discordant feelings and antagonizing opinions, were intermingled on both sides individual interests and ambitions, counteracting each other as in the conduct and management of human affairs they always have and always will - not without a silent and secret mixture of collateral motives and impulses, from the domestic intercourse of society, for which the legislator is not competent to provide, and the effect of which not intuition itself can foresee.
The same calm, but anxious and even distrusting contemplation of the prospect before him, and of the difficulties and dangers which he was destined to encounter in his new career, followed him after he received the nnunciation of his election, and the summons to repair to his post. The moment of his departure from the residence of his retirement, was thus recorded in his diary: "About ten o'clock I bade adieu to Mount Vernon, to private life, and to domestic felicity; and with a mind oppressed with more anxious and painful sensations, than I have words to express, set out for New York - with the best disposition to render service to my country in obedience to its call, but with less hope of answering its expectations."
His progress from Mount Vernon to New York, was one triumphal procession. At Alexandria, at Georgetown, at Philadelphia, at Trenton, at Brunswick, at the borders of the state of New Jersey, at Elizabethtown Point, he was surrounded, addressed, escorted, by crowds of his grateful, confiding, hoping, affectionate fellow-citizens, of all classes, of both sexes, of every age and condition, showering upon him in every variety of form demonstrations of the most enthusiastic attachment. Corporations of magistrates addressed him in strains of pious, patriotic, and fervid eloquence. The soldiers of their country, in the prime of life, in the pride and pomp of war, but in the circumstance of honorable peace, preceded him as a guard of ornament and of glory. At his passage over the Schuylkill bridge, a crown of unfading laurel was unconsciously to himself, dropped by a blooming boy from a thickly laurelled arch upon his head. At Trenton, he was welcomed by a band of aged matrons commemorating his noble defence of them, thirteen years before on that spot, at the turning tide of the War of Independence - while their virgin daughters strewed the path before him with flowers, and chanting a song like that of Miriam, hailed him as their protector, who had been the defender of their mothers. A committee of Congress met him on his approach to the Point, where a richly ornamented barge of thirteen oars, manned by thirteen branch pilots of your own harbor, prepared by your forefathers, then the inhabitants of your bright-starred city, was in waiting to receive him. In this barge he embarked. But the bosom of the waters around her, as she swept along, was as populous as had been the shores. The garish streamers floated upon the gale-songs of enchantment resounded from boat to boat, intermingled with the clashing of cymbals, with the echoing of horns, with the warbling of the flute, and the mellowing tones of the clarinet, weakened, but softened as if into distance, by the murmur of the breeze and the measured dashing of the waters from the oars, till on reaching your city!..... but let his own diary record the emotions of his soul: "The display of boats," - I quote from his biographer, the lamented late Chief Justice Marshall, - "which attended and joined on this occasion, some with vocal, and others with instrumental music on board, the decorations of the ships, the roar of cannon, and the loud acclamations of the people, which rent the sky as I passed along the wharves, filled my mind with sensations as PAINFUL (contemplating the reverse of this scene, which may be the case after all my labors to do good) as they were pleasing."
How delightful is it, my beloved countrymen, on this festive day of jubilee, commemorating that day so pregnant with your weal or woe, and with that of your children's children, how delightful is it at the distance of fifty years from that day of promised blessings and of anticipated disappointments, to reflect that all the fairest visions of hope were to be more than realized, and all the apprehensions of wary prudence and self- distrusting wisdom more than dissipated and dispelled.
Yes, my countrymen, we have survived to this day of jubilee, and the only regret which shades the sober certainty of waking bliss, with which he who now addresses you, turns back the retrospective eye upon the long career between that time and the present, is the imperfection of his power to delineate with a pencil of phosphorus, the contrast between the national condition of your forefathers at that day, as it had been allotted to them by the articles of confederation, and your present state of associated existence, as it has been shaped and modified by the Constitution of the United States, administered by twenty-five biennial Congresses, and eight Presidents of the United States.
By the adoption and organization of the Constitution of the United States, these principles had been settled: -
1. That the affairs of the people of the United States were thenceforth to be administered, not by a confederacy, or mere league of friendship between the sovereign states, but by a government, distributed into the three great departments - legislative, judicial, and executive.
2. That the powers of government should be limited to concerns interesting to the whole people, leaving the internal administration of each state, in peace, to its own constitution and laws, provided that they should be republican, and interfering with them as little as should be necessary in war.
3. That the legislative power of this government should be divided between two assemblies, one representing directly the people of the separate states; and the other their legislatures.
4. That the executive power of this government should be vested in one person chosen for four years, with certain qualifications of age and nativity, re-eligible without limitation, and invested with a qualified negative upon the enactment of the laws.
5. That the judicial power should consist of tribunals inferior and supreme, to be instituted and organized by Congress, but to be composed of persons holding their offices during good behavior, that is, removable only by impeachment.
The organization and constitution of the subordinate executive departments, were also left to the discretionary power of Congress.
But the exact limits of legislative, judicial, and executive power, have never been defined, and the distinction between them is so little understood without reference to certain theories of government, or to specific institutions, that a very intelligent, well-informed and learned foreigner, with whom I once conversed, upon my using the words executive power, said to me, "I suppose by the executive power, you mean the power that MAKES the laws." . . .. Nor is this mistake altogether unexampled, even among ourselves; examples might be adduced in our history, national and confederate, in which the incumbents both of judicial and executive offices have mistaken themselves for the power that makes the laws - as on the other hand examples yet more frequent might be cited of legislators, and even legislatures, who have mistaken themselves to be judges, or executives supreme.
The legislative, judicial, and executive powers, like the prismatic colors of the rainbow, are entirely separate and distinct; but they melt so imperceptibly into each other that no human eye can discern the exact boundary line between them. The broad features of distinction between them are perceptible to all; but perhaps neither of them can be practically exercised without occasional encroachment upon the borders of its neighbor. The Constitution of the United States has not pretended to confine either of the great departments of its government exclusively within its own limits. Both the senate and the house of representatives possess, and occasionally exercise, both judicial and executive powers, and the president has at all times a qualified negative upon legislation, and a judicial power of remission.
To complete the organization of the government by the institution of the chief executive departments and the establishment of judicial courts, was among the first duties of Congress. The constitution had provided that all the public functionaries of the Union, not only of the general but of all the state governments, should be under oath or affirmation for its support. The homage of religious faith was thus superadded to all the obligations of temporal law, to give it strength; and this confirmation of an appeal to the responsibilities of a future omnipotent judge, was in exact conformity with the whole tenor of the Declaration of Independence guarded against abusive extension by a further provision, that no religious test should ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States. The first act of the Congress, therefore, was to regulate and administer the oaths thus required by the Constitution.
The Constitution had already "formed a more perfect union" of the people of the United States; but it was not yet consummated or completed. The people of Rhode Island had taken no part in the formation of the Constitution, and refused their sanction to it. They had virtually seceded from the Union. North Carolina had been represented in the Convention at Philadelphia, but her people had refused to ratify their constitutional act.
Recent events in our history, to which I wish to make no unnecessary allusion, but to which the rising generation of our country cannot and ought not to close their eyes, have brought again into discussion questions, which, at the period to which we are now reverting, were of the deepest and most vital interest to the continued existence of the Union itself. The question whether any one state of the Union had the right to secede from the confederacy at her pleasure, was then practically solved. The question of the right of the people of any one state, to nullify within her borders any legislative act of the general government, was involved in that of the right of secession, without, however, that most obnoxious feature of the modem doctrine of nullification and secession - the violation of the plighted faith of the nullifying or seceding state.
Rhode Island had not only neglected to comply with the requisitions of the confederation - Congress to supply the funds necessary to fulfil the public engagements: but she alone had refused to invest the Congress with powers indispensable for raising such supplies. She had refused to join in the united effort to revivify the suspended animation of the confederacy, and she still defied the warning of her sister states, that if she persevered in this exercise of her sovereignty and independence, they would leave her alone in her glory, and take up their march in united column without her. North Carolina, not more remiss than her sister states in the fulfillment of her obligations, after joining them in the attempt to draw the bonds of union closer together by a new compact, still refused to ratify it, though recommended by the signature of her own delegates and under a similar admonition. Rhode Island and North Carolina still held back. The Union and Washington marched without them. Their right to secede was not contested. No unfriendly step to injure was taken; no irritating measure to provoke them was proposed. The door was left open for them to return, whenever the proud and wayward spirit of state sovereignty should give way to the attractions of clearer sighted self-interest and kindred sympathies. In the first acts of Congress they were treated as foreigners, but with reservations to them of the power to resume the national privileges with the national character, and when within two years they did return, without invitation or repulsion, they were received with open arms.
The questions of secession, or of resistance under state authority, against the execution of the laws of the Union within any state, can never again be presented under circumstances so favorable to the pretensions of the separate state, as they were at the organization of the Constitution of the United States. At that time Rhode Island and North Carolina might justly have pleaded, that their sister states were bound to them by a compact into which they had voluntarily entered, with stipulations that it should undergo no alteration but by unanimous consent. That the Constitution was a confederate Union founded upon principles totally different, and to which not only they were at liberty to refuse their assent, but which all the other states combined, could not without a breach of their own faith establish among themselves, without the free consent of all the partners to the prior contract. That the confederation could not otherwise be dissolved, and that by adhering to it, they were only performing their own engagements with good faith, and claiming their own unquestionable rights.
The justification of the people of the eleven states, which had adopted the Constitution of the United States, and of that provision of the Constitution itself, which had prescribed that the ratification of nine states should suffice to absolve them from the bonds of the old confederation, and to establish the new Government as between themselves, was found in the principles of the Declaration of Independence. The confederation had failed to answer the purposes for which governments are instituted among men. Its powers or its impotence operated to the destruction of those ends, which it is the object of government to promote. The people, therefore - who had made it their own only by their acquiescence - acting under their responsibility to the Supreme Ruler of the universe, absolved themselves from the bonds of the old confederation, and bound themselves by the new and closer ties of the Constitution. In performing that act, they had felt the duty of obtaining the co-operation to it, of a majority of the whole people, by requiring the concurrence of majorities in nine out of thirteen states, and they had neither prepared nor proposed any measure of compulsion, to draw the people of any of the possibly dissenting states into the new partnership, against their will. They passed upon the old confederation the same sentence, which they had pronounced in dissolving their connection with the British nation, and they pledged their faith to each other anew, to a far closer and more intimate connection.
It is admitted, it was admitted then, that the people of Rhode Island, and of North Carolina, were free to reject the new Constitution; but not that they could justly claim the continuance of the old Confederation. The law of political necessity, expounded by the judgment of the sovereign constituent people, responsible only to God, had abolished that. The people of Rhode Island, and of North Carolina, might dissent from the more perfect union, but they must acquiesce in the necessity of the separation.
Of that separation they soon felt the inconvenience to themselves, and rejoined the company from which they had strayed. The number of the primitive States has since doubled, by voluntary, and earnest applications for admission. It has often been granted as a privilege and a favor. Sometimes delayed beyond the time when it was justly due - and never declined by any one State entitled to demand it.
Yet the boundary line between the constitutional authority of the General Government, and that of the separate States, was not drawn in colors so distinct and clear, as to have escaped diversities of opinion, and grave and protracted controversy. While the people of distant lands, of foreign races, and of other tongues, have solicited admittance to the North American Union, and have been denied, more than once have serious and alarming collisions of conflicting jurisdiction arisen between the General Government, and those of the separate states, threatening the dissolution of the Union itself. The right of a single state, or of several of the states in combination together, to secede from the Union, the right of a single state, without seceding from the Union, to declare an act of the General Congress, a law of the United States, null and void, within the borders of that state, have both been at various times, and in different sections of the Union, directly asserted, fervently controverted, and attempted to be carried into execution. It once accomplished a change of the administration of the General Government, and then was laid aside. It has occasionally wasted itself in abortive projects of new confederacies, and has recently proceeded to the extremity of assembling a Convention of the people of one state in the Union, to declare a law of the United States unconstitutional, null, and void. But the law was nevertheless executed; and in this, as in other instances, a temporary turbulent resistance against the lawful powers of Congress, under the banners of State sovereignty, and State rights, is now terminating in a more devoted adherence and willing subserviency to the authority of the Union.
This has been the result of the working of the Institution, and although now, as heretofore, it has been effected by means and in a manner so unforeseen and unexpected, as to baffle all human penetration, and to take reflection itself by surprise; yet the uniformity of the result often repeated by the experience of half a century, has demonstrated the vast superiority of the Constitution of the United States over the Confederation, as a system of Government to control the temporary passions of the people, the permanent curb of their own interest.
In the calm hours of self-possession, the right of a State to nullify an act of Congress, is too absurd for argument, and too odious for discussion. The right of a state to secede from the Union, is equally disowned by the principles of the Declaration of Independence. Nations acknowledge no judge between them upon earth, and their Governments from necessity, must in their intercourse with each other decide when the failure of one party to a contract to perform its obligations, absolves the other from the reciprocal fulfillment of his own. But this last of earthly powers is not necessary to the freedom or independence of states, connected together by the immediate action of the people, of whom they consist. To the people alone is there reserved, as well the dissolving, as the constituent power, and that power can be exercised by them only under the tie of conscience, binding them to the retributive justice of Heaven.
With these qualifications, we may admit the same right as vested in the people of every state in the Union, with reference to the General Government, which was exercised by the people of the United Colonies, with reference to the Supreme head of the British empire, of which they formed a part - and under these limitations, have the people of each state in the Union a right to secede from the confederated Union itself.
Thus stands the RIGHT. But the indissoluble link of union between the people of the several states of this confederated nation, is after all, not in the right, but in the heart. If the day should ever come, (may Heaven avert it,) when the affections of the people of these states shall be alienated from each other; when the fraternal spirit shall give away to cold indifference, or collisions of interest shall fester into hatred, the bands of political association will not long hold together parties no longer attracted by the magnetism of conciliated interests and kindly sympathies; and far better will it be for the people of the disunited states, to part in friendship from each other, than to be held together by constraint. Then will be the time for reverting to the precedents which occurred at the formation and adoption of the Constitution, to form again a more perfect union, by dissolving that which could no longer bind, and to leave the separated parts to be reunited by the law of political gravitation to the center.
While the Constitution was thus accomplishing the first object declared by the people as their motive for ordaining it, by forming a more perfect union, it became the joint and co-ordinate duty of the legislative and executive departments, to provide for the second of those objects, which involved within itself all the rest, and indeed all the purposes of government. For justice, defined by the Institutes of Justinian, as the constant and perpetual will of securing to every one his right, includes the whole duty of man in the social institutions of society, toward his neighbor.
To the establishment of this JUSTICE, the joint and harmonious co-operation of the legislative and executive departments was required, and it was one of the providential incidents of the time, that this zealous and hearty co-operation had been secured, by that overruling and universal popularity with which the Chief Magistrate was inducted into his most arduous and responsible office.
It has perhaps never been duly remarked, that under the Constitution of the United States the powers of the executive department explicitly and emphatically concentrated in one person, are vastly more extensive and complicated than those of the legislative. The language of the instrument, in conferring legislative authority is, "All legislative powers herein granted, shall be vested in a Congress of the United States, which shall consist of a Senate and House of Representatives." But the executive trust it committed in unrestricted terms: "THE executive power shall be vested in a President of the United States of America." The legislative powers of Congress are, therefore, limited to specific grants contained in the Constitution itself, all restricted on one side by the power of internal legislation within the separate States, and on the other, by the laws of nations, otherwise and more properly called the rights of war and peace, consisting of all the rules of intercourse between independent nations. These are not subject to the legislative authority of any one nation, and they are, therefore, not included within the powers of Congress. But the executive power vested in the President of the United States, confers upon him the power, and enjoins upon him the duty, of fulfilling all the duties and of exacting all the rights of the nation in her intercourse with all the other nations of the earth. The powers of declaring war, of regulating commerce, of defining and punishing piracies and felonies committed on the high seas, and offenses AGAINST THE LAW OF NATIONS, are among the special grants to Congress, but over that law itself, thus expressly recognized and all-comprehensive as it is, Congress has no alterative power. While the power of executing it, is conferred in unlimited terms upon the President of the United States.
The exercise of this more than dictatorial power is indeed controlled, first, by the participation of the Senate in the conclusion of treaties and appointments to office. Secondly, by the reservation of the discretionary power of the House of Representatives, to refuse the supplies necessary for the executive action. And thirdly, by the power reserved to the house to impeach the President for maladministration, and to the senate to try that impeachment, and sentence him to removal and to disqualification for official station for ever. These are great and salutary checks upon the abusive application of the granted power. But the power is not the less granted.
And herein was the greatest and most pernicious deficiency of the articles of confederation, most effectively supplied. The Congress of the confederation had no executive power. They could contract, but they could not perform. Hence it was impossible for them to establish justice in the intercourse of the nation with foreign states. They could neither exact the justice due to the country, nor fulfil the duties of justice to others, and this was the reason assigned by the British government for declining to regulate the commerce between the two countries by treaty.
The establishment of justice in the intercourse between the nation and foreign powers, was thus pre-eminently committed to the custody of one man, but that man was George Washington.
How far the establishment of justice, by the administration of the affairs of the nation, abroad and at home, was accomplished by the Constitution of the United States, can be estimated only by a review of the history of fifty years. For this, neither the time nor the limits within which this discourse must be circumscribed, will permit more than a rapid and imperfect summary.
The relations of the United States with the other powers of the world, were then slight and of trifling importance, in comparison with what they were destined to become. In their colonial state their commercial intercourse had been restricted almost exclusively to the mother-country's. Their political relations were only those of a subordinate dependence of a great empire.
The Declaration of Independence recognized the European law of nations, as practiced among Christian nations, to be that by which they considered themselves bound, and of which they claimed the rights. This system is founded upon the principle, that the state of nature between men and between nations, is a state of peace. But there was a Mahometan law of nations, which considered the state of nature as a state of war - an Asiatic law of nations, which excluded all foreigners from admission within the territories of the state - a colonial law of nations, which excluded all foreigners from admission within the colonies - and a savage Indian law of nations, by which the Indian tribes within the bounds of the United States, were under their protection, though in a condition of undefined dependence upon the governments of the separate states. With all these different communities, the relations of the United States were from the time when they had become an independent nation, variously modified according to the operation of those various laws. It was the purpose of the Constitution of the United States to establish justice over them all.
The commercial and political relations of the Union with the Christian European nations, were principally with Great Britain, France, and Spain, and considerably with the Netherlands and Portugal. With all these there was peace; but with Britain and Spain, controversies involving the deepest interests and the very existence of the nation, were fermenting, and negotiations of the most humiliating character were pending, from which the helpless imbecility of the confederation afforded no prospect of relief. With the other European states there was scarcely any intercourse. The Baltic was an unknown sea to our navigators, and all the rich and classical regions of the Mediterranean were interdicted to the commercial enterprise of our merchants, and the dauntless skill of our mariners, by the Mahometan merciless warfare of the Barbary powers. Scarcely had the peace of our independence been concluded, when three of our merchant-vessels had been captured by the corsairs of Algiers, and their crews, citizens of the Union, had been pining for years in slavery, appealing to their country for redemption, in vain. Nor was this all. By the operation of this state of things, all the shores of the Black sea, of the whole Mediterranean, of the islands on the African coast, of the southern ports of France, of all Spain and of Portugal, were closed against our commerce, as if they had been hermetically sealed; while Britain, everywhere our rival and competitor was counteracting by every stimulant within her power every attempt on our part to compound by tribute with the Barbarian for peace.
Great Britain had also excluded us from all commerce in our own vessels with her colonies, and France, notwithstanding her alliance with us during the war, had after the conclusion of the peace adopted the same policy. She was jealous of our aggrandizement, fearful of our principles, linked with Spain in the project of debarring us from the navigation of the Mississippi, and settled in the determination to shackle us in the development of the gigantic powers which, with insidious sagacity, she foresaw might be abused.
Notwithstanding all these discouragements, the inextinguishable spirit of freedom, which had carried your forefathers through the exterminating war of the Revolution, was yet unsuppressed. At the very time when the nerveless confederacy could neither protect nor redeem their sailors from Algerian captivity, the floating city of the Taho beheld the stripes and stars of the Union, opening to the breeze from a schooner of thirty tons, and inquired where was the ship of which that frail fabric was doubtless the tender. The Southern ocean was stiff vexed with the harpoons of their whalemen; but Britain excluded their oil, by prohibitory duties and the navigation act, from her markets, and the more indulgent liberality of France would consent to the illumination of her cities by the quakers of Nantucket, only upon condition that they should forsake their native island, and become the naturalized denizens of Dunkirk.
In the same year, when the Convention at Philadelphia was occupied in preparing the Constitution of the United States for the consideration of the people, two vessels, called the Columbia and the Washington, fitted out by a company of merchants at Boston, sailed upon a voyage combining the circumnavigation of the globe, discovery upon the shores of the Pacific ocean, and the trade with the savages of the Sandwich islands, and with the celestial empire of China, all in one undertaking. The result of this voyage was the discovery of the Columbia river, so named from the ship which first entered within her capes, since unjustly confounded with the fabulous Oregon or river of the West, but really securing to the United States the right of prior discovery, and laying the foundation of the right of extension of our territory from the Atlantic to the Pacific ocean.
All this however was but the development of national character in the form of private enterprise. The foreign affairs of the Union when President Washington assumed the administration of the executive power, were in a state of chaos, out of which an orderly and harmonious world was to be educed.
In conferring the executive power upon the President of the United States, the Constitution had left its subordinate organization partly to the discretion of Congress. It had spoken of heads and chief officers of the executive departments, but without defining their offices, or prescribing their functions. Under the Revolutionary Congress, the executive power, such as it was , had been exercised by committees of their own body. Under the confederation Congress, by Secretaries of Foreign Affairs and of War, and successively by a single financier, and by a board of Commissioners of the Treasury.
The first Constitutional Congress, in the true spirit of the Constitution itself, instituted three executive departments, each with a single head, under the denomination of Secretaries of Foreign Affairs, of the Treasury, and of War. There was no Home Department, a deficiency which has not yet been supplied - but on reconsideration, the first Congress at their first session, combined the duties of the Home Department with those of Foreign Affairs, by substituting a Department and Secretary of State in the place of a Department and Secretary of Foreign Affairs. There was no navy - not so much as a barge - and of course no Navy Department, or Secretary of the Navy. That was to be created, and the Department was instituted in the second year of the succeeding administration.
In the interval, until the organization of the new departments, the Secretaries of Foreign Affairs and of War, of the confederation Congress, continued by order of President Washington to execute the duties of their respective offices.
During the first Congress also, the judiciary Department was organized by the establishment of a Supreme Circuit, and District Courts. The Ordinance for the government of the Northwestern Territory was adapted to the newly constituted Government, as was the establishment of the Post Office.
In the erection of the Executive Departments a question arose, and Has debated with great earnestness and pertinacity, in both houses of Congress, the decision upon which, in perfect conformity with the spirit of the Constitution, settled the character of that instrument as it has continued to this day. The Constitution had prescribed that the President should nominate, and by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, should appoint, all the officers of the United States, with the exception that Congress might by law vest the appointment of such inferior officers as they should think proper in the President alone, in the courts of law, or in the heads of departments. The Constitution had also provided, that the President should commission all the officers of the United States - and that the judges both of the supreme and inferior courts should hold their offices during good behavior. But it had prescribed no term of duration to executive offices, civil or military, nor how, nor by whom, nor for what, they should be removable from office. The institution of the first Executive Department gave rise to that question. After a long and able discussion, it was ultimately settled, that by the investment of the executive power in the President, and the duty imposed upon him to take care that the laws should be faithfully executed, the discretionary power of removing au subordinate executive offices must necessarily be vested in him; and the law was accordingly so expressed. It must be admitted that this, like all other discretionary powers, is susceptible of great abuse - but while exercised as it always must be, under the powerful influence of public opinion, its abuse cannot be so pernicious to the welfare of the community, as would be a tenure of ministerial office, independent of the superior, responsible for its faithful execution.
Another, and perhaps a still more important character was given by President Washington to the government of the United States. In all their relations with foreign powers, by the principle which lie assumed, and the example which he set to his successors, of referring the ministers from foreign powers, to the head of the Department of State, for all direct negotiations with which they might be charged by their governments.
The Count de Moustier happened at that time to be the Minister of France to the United States. He had been appointed by the unfortunate Louis XVI, in the last days of his absolute power. A spark, emitted from the self-evident truths of the Declaration of independence, had fallen into the powder-magazine of monarchy, and inexpressibly terrible was the explosion about to ensue. Among the last evidences of the anti-republican spirit of the Bourbon dynasty, was an effort of this plenipotentiary minister to degrade the Chief Magistrate of the newly constituted Republic to an official level with himself, a minister of the second rank, commissioned by an European king. Immediately after the inauguration of President Washington, the Count de Moustier addressed a note directly to him, requesting a personal interview. On receiving for answer that the Secretary for Foreign Affairs was the officer with whom his official communications should still be held, he persisted in his application for a personal conference with the President, who uniting firmness of purpose with undeviating courtesy of forms, indulgently granted his request. He received the Count in a private interview, and listened for an hour to an argument, fortified by a confidential private letter which the royal envoy had the assurance to deliver to him, in which, under the base pretension of a supposed unfriendly disposition of the Secretary of Foreign Affairs towards France, he urged the adoption of a practice of direct inter-communication between the President of the United States and himself, in all his diplomatic negotiations, without the intervention of any third person whomsoever.
With a perfect preservation of patience and of good humor, the President answered his reasoning and referred him again for his future official transactions to the Secretary of Foreign Affairs, who, he assured him, entertained no feelings towards France but such as would render entire justice to her rights and her representative. The Count de Moustier fell back into his proper station, and very soon after was recalled by his master, and had his place supplied by the representative of another shade in the transition of France from an arbitrary monarchy to a portentious and short-lived nominal democracy.
The pretension that the President of die United States was to be considered by the ministers of foreign nations, not as the chief magistrate of the country, but as ranking as a minister of state, subordinate to the sovereign in European governments, was not confined to the Count de Moustier. It was afterward reproduced in still more offensive form, by the first minister from France in her republican transformation. It was then again repelled and finally withdrawn. Since then the President of the United States, in their intercourse with foreign nations represents them as their chief, and the ministers of foreign powers negotiate with the Secretary of State under his direction, and instructions.
At the same time, President Washington fully understood that by the investment of the executive power, he was authorized to enter directly into negotiation with foreign nations, formally or informally, through the department of State, or by agents privately accredited by himself at his discretion. The state of the public relations of Great Britain was then such as rendered it proper for him to resume the political intercourse with her government, in the direct, personal, and informal, rather than the regular official manner. Shortly after the conclusion of the peace of independence, the confederation-Congress had appointed a minister plenipotentiary to Great Britain, and had authorized a treaty of commerce on the most liberal terms, to be negotiated with her. The minister had been graciously received; but mutual reproaches, too well founded on both sides, of a failure to fulfil the stipulations of the treaty of peace, had left a rankling of animosity on both sides. The British government had declined to conclude a commercial treaty, while the engagements of the treaty of peace remained unfulfilled; and the impotence of the confederation-Congress disabled them from the fulfillment of the stipulations on our part - particularly with regard to debts, the payment of which had been suspended by the Revolutionary mar. After a fruitless mission of three years, the minister of the United States had returned home, and no minister from Great Britain had been accredited to the Congress in return. Immediately after the close of the first session of the first constitutional Congress, during which the judicial department of the government had been organized, and John Jay, the Secretary of Foreign Affairs to the preceding Congress, appointed Chief justice of the United States, and before Thomas Jefferson, appointed Secretary of State in his absence, had repaired to his post, President Washington, on the 13th of October, 1789, wrote two letters to Gouverneur Morris, then in France, but recently before, a member of the Philadelphia Convention which had formed the Constitution, and at an earlier date, a member of the confederation-Congress. One of these letters was to serve him as a credential to hold conferences with the cabinet ministry of Great Britain, and the other a letter of instructions upon the topics to be discussed with them.
The glance of a moment at the relative position of the two countries at that time, will disclose to an attentive observer the peculiar propriety of the mode adopted by President Washington, and of the selection of the agent for entering upon this negotiation. It will serve also to illustrate the wisdom of the extensive grant of the executive power in the Constitution of the United States, to a single hand. The self-respect of the nation would have been humiliated in the eyes of the world, by the public and formal appointment of a second minister, after the return home of the first, without the reciprocation of courtesy by the appointment of a minister from Great Britain to the United States. There was no diplomatic intercourse between the two countries; yet there were great interests involving the peace between them, and urgently calling for adjustment. The commercial intercourse between them was very considerable; but for want of a countervailing power of regulation on our part, it was left at the mercy of the orders of the British king in council, the predominating spirit of which influenced by the loyalist refugees of the Revolution, was envious, acrimonious, and vindictive. The forts on the Canadian lakes, the keys to our western territories, and the stimulants to savage warfare, were withheld, in violation of the treaty of peace, while by the institution of the judicial courts of the Union, the door was open for the recovery of British debts, and the pretext for the detention of the posts was removed. It was necessary to advise the British government of the change which had been effected in our national institutions, and of the duty of the new government to exact justice from foreign nations, while ready to dispense it on the part of the nation to them. Yet, as peace was of all external blessings, that of which our country at that juncture most needed the continuance, it was a dictate of prudence to take no hasty public step which might commit the honor of the country and complicate the entanglement from which she was to be extricated.
Mr. Morris was a distinguished citizen of the United States, already in Europe well known in England, where he had relatives in the royal service. He had been an active member of the Convention which had formed the Constitution - a secret mission committed to him would attract no premature public notice by any personal movement on his part, and whatever the result of it might be, the government of the United States itself would be uncommitted in the eyes of the world, and free to pursue such further course, as justice might require, and policy might recommend.
Mr. Morris executed his trust with faithfulness and ability. In personal conference with the Duke of Leeds, then the British Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, and with William Pitt, first Lord of the Treasury and Chancellor of the Exchequer, and by correspondence with the former, he made known to the British government the feelings, purposes, and expectations of the newly organized government of the United States with regard to Great Britain - and he ascertained the dispositions, the doubts and the reluctances of the British cabinet toward the United States. They still declined the negotiation of a treaty of commerce. They parried, by counter- complaint of the non-execution of the treaty of peace, the demand for the surrender of the western posts - but they promised, with no small hesitation, some supercilious courtesy and awkward apologies for delay, the appointment of a Minister to the United States.
This negotiation occupied more than one year of time - and in February, 1791, just before the expiration of the first Constitutional Congress, President Washington communicated to the Senate in secret session the fact of its existence, and the correspondence by which it had been conducted. In the Message transmitting these documents to the Senate, he said: "I have thought it proper to give you this information, as it might at some time have influence on matters under your consideration."
While the negotiation was in progress, a controversy respecting the northeastern boundary of the United States bordering upon the British provinces, then confined to the question of what river had been intended in the treaty of peace, by the name of the St. Croix, was kindling a border war, and complicating the difficulties to be adjusted by negotiation.
In the summer of 1791, the promised Minister Plenipotentiary from Great Britain to the United States, was sent in the person of Mr. George Hammond, who had been the secretary to David Hartley, in the negotiation of the definitive treaty of peace in 1783. Mr. Hammond however had only powers to negotiate, but not to conclude - to complain, but not to adjust - to receive propositions, but not to accept them. With him a full discussion was had of all the causes of complaint subsisting between the parties. In the meantime a change had come over the whole political system of Europe. The principles proclaimed in the Declaration of Independence, as at the foundation of all lawful government, had been sapping the foundations of all the governments founded on the unlimited sovereignty of force - the absolute monarchy of France was crumbling into ruin; a wild and ferocious anarchy, under the banners of unbridled Democracy was taking its place, and between the furies of this frantic multitude, and the agonies of immemorial despotism, a war of desolation and destruction was sweeping over the whole continent of Europe. In this war all the sympathies of the American people were on the side of France and of freedom, but the freedom of France was not of the genuine breed. A phantom of more than gigantic form had assumed the mask and the garb of freedom, and substituted for the principles of the Declaration of Independence, anarchy within and conquest without. The revolution of the whole world was her war-cry, and the overthrow of all established governments her avowed purpose.
Under the impulses of this fiend, France had plunged into war with all Europe, and murdered her king, his queen, his sister, and numberless of his subjects and partisans, with or without the forms of law, by the butchery of mock tribunals, or the daggers of a blood-thirsty rabble. In this death-struggle between inveterate abuse and hurly-burly innovation, it is perhaps impossible even now to say which party had been the first aggressor; but France had been first invaded by the combined forces of Austria and Prussia, and under banners of liberty, Equality, Fraternity, had become an armed nation to expel them from her borders. The partialities of the American people still sympathized with France. They saw that her cause was the cause of national independence. They believed her professions of liberty, equality, and fraternity; and when the same Convention which had declared France a republic, and deposed and put to death her king, declared mar against the kings of Great Britain and Spain, shocked as they were at the merciless extermination of their ancient great and good ally, they still favored at heart the cause of France, especially when in conflict under the three-colored banners of liberty, equality, fraternity, with their ancient common enemy of the Revolutionary war, the British king, and with their more recent, but scarcely less obnoxious foe, the king of Spain.
At the breaking out of this war, Washington and his administration, and with them, the Constitution, and peace and existence of the Union, were brought into a new, critical, and most perilous position. From the very day of his inauguration, notwithstanding his unparalleled personal popularity, a great, active, and powerful opposition to his administration had arisen, consisting at first almost universally of the party which had opposed the adoption of the Constitution itself - then known by the name of anti-federalists. The most plausible and the most popular of all the objections to the Constitution, had been the accumulation of power in the office of the President. His exercise of those powers was watched with a jealous and suspicious eye - trifles lighter than air in his personal deportment and his domestic establishment, were treasured up, and doled out in whispers and surmises, that he was affecting the state, and adopting the forms of a monarchy, and when this war between the new-born republic of France, and our old tyrant, George the Third, blazed out, the party opposed to Washington's administration, seized upon it, to embarrass and counteract his policy, by arraying the passions of the people, their ardent love of liberty, the generous feeling of their national gratitude, their still rankling resentments against the beldame step-mother Britain, and their soreness under the prevaricating chicanery of Spain, at once in favor of France and against Washington.
The treaty of alliance with France, of 6th February, 1778, had stipulated, on the part of the United States, a guarantee to the king of France of the possessions of the crown of France in America - and one of the first incidents of the war of republican France with Britain, was a British expedition against the French colonies in the West Indies.
By the laws of nations, the duty of the United States in this war was neutrality - and their rights were those of neutrality. Their unquestionable policy and their vital interest was also neutrality. But the maintenance of the rights, depended upon the strict performance of the duties of neutrality.
A grave question immediately presented itself, whether the guarantee of the French possessions in America to the king and crown of France in 1778, was so binding upon the United States, as to require them to make good that guarantee to the French republic by joining her in the war against Great Britain.
The neutrality of the United States was in the most imminent danger. The war between France and Britain, and Spain and the Netherlands, was a maritime war. In the spasms of the Revolutionary convulsion, the new republic had sent to the United States an incendiary minister, with a formal declaration, that they did not claim the execution of the guarantee in the treaty of 1778, but stocked with commissions for a military expedition against the Spanish territories on our western borders, and for privateers to be fitted out in our ports, and to cruise against all the nations with which France was at war.
All the daring enterprise, the unscrupulous ambition, the rapacious avarice floating in the atmosphere of this Union, were gathering to a head, and enlisting in this cause of republican France. ne commissions for the military expedition against Louisiana, were distributed with so little secrecy, that the whole conspiracy was soon detected, exposed, and defeated. But the privateering commissions were accepted in many of our seaports, and citizens of the United States sallied forth from their harbors, under the shelter of neutrality, in vessels, built, armed, equipped, and owned there, against the defenseless commerce of friendly nations, and returned in three days, laden with their spoils, under the uniform of the French republic, her three-colored cockade, and her watchwords of liberty, equality, and fraternity - transformed into French citizens, by the plenipotentiary diploma, and disposing of their plunder under the usurped jurisdiction of a French republican consul.
At this crisis Washington submitted to his confidential advisers, the heads of the Executive Departments, a series of questions, involving the permanent system of policy, to be pursued for the preservation of the peace, and the fulfillment of the duties of the nation in this new and difficult position. The measure immediately contemplated by him as urgently required, was the issuing a proclamation declaring the neutrality of the United States in the war, just kindled in Europe; but the obligation of the treaties with France, and particularly that of the guarantee, were specially involved in the propriety and the particular purport of the proclamation. On this occasion, a radical difference of opinion equally dividing the four members of the administration, not upon the expediency of the proclamation, but upon the contingent obligation of the guarantee, aggravated intensely the embarrassments and difficulties which the temperance, the fortitude, and the good fortune of Washington were destined to encounter and to surmount.
The conduct of Great Britain, the leading party to the war with republican France, served only to multiply and to sharpen the obstructions with which his path was beset, and the perplexities of his situation. In the origin of the war, the first fountains of human society had been disturbed and poisoned. The French Convention had issued a decree, stimulating the people of all the countries around her to rebellion against their own governments, with a promise of the support of France. They had threatened an invasion of England, in the name of liberty, equality, and fraternity, to fraternize with the people of the British islands in a revolt against their king; and strange and incredible as it may sound in your ears, there were elements within the bosoms of the British islands, of no inconsiderable magnitude, prepared to join and assist the threatened invader in this unhallowed purpose. A decree of the National Convention had forbidden their armies to make any prisoners in battle with their foes, or in other words to give quarters to the vanquished in arms. The mass of the British nation was exasperated to madness; and their government deliberately determined, that such an enemy was not entitled to the ordinary mitigations of war: that France had put herself out of the pale of civilized nations, and that no commerce of neutral nations with her was to be tolerated. Besides and yet more unjustifiable than this, from the very commencement of the war, the British government had indulged their naval officers in the outrageous and atrocious practice of impressing men from the vessels of the United States upon the high seas - claiming it against the principles of her own Constitution no less than against the principles of the Declaration of independence, as a right with regard to her own subjects, and leaving the question of fact, whether the impressed seaman was or was not a British subject, to the irresponsible discretion or caprice of every midshipman in her navy. The practice was not less provoking, than the pretension was insolent and unjust. The capture by a naval armament from Great Britain, of several French islands in the West Indies, gave occasion to another conflict of belligerent pretensions and neutral rights. During the peace that followed the war of the American Revolution, France under the usual maxims of European Colonial policy, had confined the commerce of her American possessions to herself. When the war came, her own merchant-vessels were excluded by the British maritime supremacy from the navigation of the ocean. The French islands were then opened to the neutral commerce, and hence it was that the French Executive council forbore to claim that guarantee stipulated by the treaty of 1778 - aware that the neutral commerce of the United States would be more useful to the islands, than any assistance that we could give for their defence against Great Britain by war. Upon the opening of the islands, numerous vessels of the United States crowded into their ports, for the enjoyment not only of a profitable direct trade, but to be freighted for the direct commerce between the Colonies and France herself. The commanders of the British maritime expedition broke up this trade, and captured every vessel engaged in it upon which they could lay their hands, whether in ports which surrendered to their arms, or upon the high seas.
The temperature of the public mind in calm and quiet times, is like the climate of the lofty table-lands of the equator, a perpetual spring. Such are the times in which we live, and were it not for the distant vision of a Chimborazo with eternal sunshine over its head, and eternal frost upon its brow, or of a neighboring tna or Vesuvius bursting from time to time with subterranean fires, and pouring down from their summits floods of liquid lava, to spread ruin and destruction over the vales below, elementary snows and boiling water-courses would be objects scarcely within the limits of human conception. At such times, imagination in her wildest vagaries can scarcely conceive the transformations of temper, the obliquities of intellect, the perversions of moral principle effected by junctures of high and general excitement. Many of you, gentlemen, have known the Republican plenipotentiary of whom I have here spoken, settled down into a plain Republican farmer of your own state, of placid humor, of peaceable demeanor, addicted to profound contemplation, passing a long life in philosophical retirement, devising ingenious mechanical inventions, far from all the successive convulsions of his native land, and closing a useful career as a citizen of this his adopted country. Who of you could imagine, that this was the same man, who at the period which I am recalling to your memory, was a Phaeton, grasping at the reins of the chariot of the Sun to set the world on fire. Who could imagine, that coming with words of liberty, equality, fraternity, of generous friendship and disinterested benevolence upon his lips, he had brought with him like Albaroni, a torch to set fire to all the mines. His correspondence with the government of Washington, is recorded upon the annals of our country. Our time will admit but of a transient allusion to it. You remember the frank and dignified candor with which he was received by Washington himself; the warmhearted enthusiasm with which, as the representative of the new sister Republic, he was welcomed by the people; and the wanton, lascivious courtship of the faction opposed to Washington - congenial spirits to the cannibals, then in the name of Democracy ruling in France - blistering him up into open defiance, and an appeal against Washington himself, TO THE PEOPLE.
His recall was at length demanded. His violence was turning the current of popular opinion here against his country. The party which had despatched him from France was annihilated. The heads of his patrons had passed under the edge of the guillotine. Their successors disavowed his conduct and recalled him. In self-vindication he published his instructions, disclosing the secrets both of monarchical and republican France, dampers to the affectionate gratitude of the American people, and he renounced his country for ever.
The party opposed to the administration of Washington, saw nothing in France but the republic of liberty, equality, and fraternity. Like the mass of the French people themselves, they followed with obsequious approbation every resolution by which an armed detachment of Democracy from the Faubourg Saint Antoine, swept away one set of rulers after another, and smothered them in their own blood. The Brissotine, the Dantonian, the Robespierrian factions crowded each other to the guillotine with the fury of uncaged tigers, and the accession of a popular chieftain to the summit of power was the signal of his proscription and murder by that national razor. At every exhibition of this horrid scene, the Parisian rabble shouted applause, and clapped their hands for joy - and every shout and every clapping of hands was re-echoed from these western shores of the Atlantic, by the opposition to the administration of Washington. With this wilfully blind devotion to France, was necessarily associated, a bitter and malignant hatred of Britain, inflamed by the wrongs which she was inflicting upon our commerce and seamen, and ulcerated by the tone of her negotiator here in the discussion of the long standing mutual complaints, which he had yet not been authorized by his government to compromise or to settle.
In the spring of the year 1794, the sixth year of Washington's administration, this congregating mass of evil humors was drawing to a head. The national feeling against Britain was irritated to the highest pitch of excitement. Resolutions looking and tending directly to war, were introduced and pending in the House of Representatives of the United States, and that war in all human probability would have been fatal to the fame of Washington, and to the independence of the Union and the freedom of his country. At that moment he fixed his eyes, with calm and considerate firmness at once upon James Monroe, as a messenger of peace, of conciliation, and of friendship to the Republic of France; and upon John Jay, as an envoy extraordinary, bearer of the same disposition, and interpreter of the same spirit to Great Britain. They were despatched at the same time with instructions concerted in one system, and diversified to meet the exigencies of the two respective missions.
Mr. Monroe was at that time a member of the Senate of the United States, from Virginia - a soldier of the Revolution, in the service of which he had passed from youth to manhood with distinguished honor. Personally attached to Washington, he had been a moderate opponent to the adoption of the Constitution, and although adverse to some of the leading measures of the administration, and partially favorable to the cause of France, the confidence of Washington in his abilities and in his personal integrity made his political propensities rather a recommendation, than an objection to his appointment.
Mr. Jay was then Chief justice of the United States. And how shall I dare to speak to YOU of a native of your own state, and one of the brightest ornaments not only of your state, but of his country, and of human nature. At the dam of manhood he had been one of the delegates from the people of New York, at the first continental Congress of 1774. In the course of the Revolutionary War, he had been successively President of Congress, one of their ministers in Europe - one of the negotiators of the preliminary and definitive treaties of peace, and Secretary of Foreign Affairs to the Confederation Congress, till the transition to the constitutional government, and at the organization of the judicial tribunals of the Union, was placed with the unanimous sanction of the public voice, at their head. With this thickening crowd of honors gathering around him as he trod the path of life, he possessed with a perfectly self-controlled ambition, a fervently pious, meek and quiet, but firm and determined spirit. As one of the authors of the Federalist, and by official and personal influence as.Secretary of Foreign Affairs, and as a most respected citizen of New York, he had contributed essentially to the adoption of the Constitution: and his administration of the highly responsible office of chief justice, had given universal satisfaction to the friends of Washington's administration, and to all who desired the practical operation of the Constitution conformably to the spirit in which it had been ordained by the people. He had no European partialities, and least of all for England; but he was for dispensing equal justice to all mankind, and he felt the necessity of peace for the stability of the Constitution, and the preservation of the Union.
His negotiation terminated in a treaty, the ratification of which brought on the severest trial, which the character of Washington and the fortunes of our nation have ever passed through. No period of the war of independence, no other emergency of our history since its close, not even the ordeal of establishing the Constitution of the United States itself, has convulsed to its inmost fibers, the political association of the North American people, with such excruciating agonies as the consummation and fulfillment of this great national composition of the conflicting rights, interests and pretensions of our country and of Great Britain. The party strife in which it originated and to which it gave birth is not yet appeased. From this trial, Washington himself, his fame, the peace, union and prosperity of his country, have issued triumphant and secure. But it prepared the my for the reversal of some of the principles of his administration, and for the introduction of another and widely different system six years after, in the person of Thomas Jefferson.
The treaty concluded by Mr. Jay, with the exception of one article, which the British government readily consented to relinquish, was ratified. The peace, the union, the prosperity, the freedom of the nation, were secured; but revolutionary France and the opposition to Washington's administration, were defeated, disconcerted, disabled, but not subdued. The rabble government of the faubourg St. Antoine was passing away. The atheism of the strumpet goddess of reason, had already yielded to a solemn decree of the national Convention, proposed by Robespierre himself, in the name of the people of France, acknowledging - the existence of a God! a worm of the dust, recognizing as a co-ordinate power - the Creator of all worlds. The counter revolution had advanced a step further. A constitutional republic, with a legislature in two branches, and a plural executive, had succeeded to the despotism of a single assembly, with a jacobin club executive. France had now a five-headed executive Directory, and a new union of church and state, with a new theo-philanthropic religion, halfway between simple Deism and Christianity. And republican France had now another element in her composition. A youthful soldier by the name of Napoleon Bonaparte, who by the election of the whole people of France, with the help of his holiness the Pope, and the iron crown of Lombardy, was destined at no distant day to restore the Christian calendar and Sabbath for the godless decimal division of time of Fabre d'Eglantine, and to ascend a double carpeted throne of emperor and king. Through all these varying phases of the French Revolution, the party opposed to Washington's administration still clung in affection and in policy to France, and when by the election of Mr. Jefferson as President of the United States, that party came into power, it was precisely the moment when Napoleon at the head of his brave grenadiers had expelled the two legislative councils from their halls, had turned out the theo-philanthropic Directory from their palace; and under the very republican name of first of three consuls, was marching with fixed eye and steady step to the consulate for life, to the hereditary imperial throne, and to the kingdom of the iron crown. To all those transmutations the pure republicanism of Jefferson was to accommodate itself without blench and without discarding his partiality for France. Nor was it to fail of its reward, in the acquisition of Louisiana - a measure, not embraced or foreseen by the administration of Washington, accomplished by a flagrant violation of the Constitution, but sanctioned by the acquiescence of the people, and if not eventually leading to the dissolution of the Union, shaped by the healing and beneficent hand of Providence from a portentous evil into a national blessing.
The consequences of that revolution in our Union (for it was nothing less) are not yet fully developed - far otherwise. But whether for weal or woe - for the permanent aggrandizement, or the final ruin of our confederated nation, it belongs to the memory of Jefferson, and not to that of Washington or his administration. Hitherto it has exhibited its fairest side. It has enlarged our borders and given us the whole valley of the Mississippi. The pernicious and corrupting example of an undissembled admitted prostration of the Constitution - the more concealed, but not less real displacement of the internal sectional balance of power - have not yet borne their fruits. Upon the opening of Pandora's box, Hope was left behind. Hitherto no seed of deadly aconite has generated into pestilential poison. Let us rejoice at the past and hope for the future. But in leaving to the judgment of aftertime, the ultimate decision of that which we see as yet but in part, and through a glass darkly, let us look back to the principles of Washington and his administration, and to the unbroken faith of the Constitution, for the source of that prosperity which no variation of seasons can wither, and that happiness which no reverse of fortune can turn into bitter disappointment.
The ratification of Mr. Jay's treaty was the establishment of justice in our national intercourse with Great Britain. But it was deeply resented by all the parties which successively wielded the power of France. Victorious in the midst of all their internal convulsions over all the continent of Europe, they were unable to cope with the naval power of Britain upon the sea. Although Mr. Jay's treaty had expressly reserved all the obligations of the United States in previously existing treaties with other nations; France complained, that it had conceded the long-contested principle of protecting the cargo of an enemy with the flag of the friend - that it had enlarged the list of articles of contraband; and even while claiming the exemption of provisions from that list, had by stipulating the payment for them when taken, admitted by implication the right of taking them. A long and irritating discussion of these complaints ensued between the American Secretary of State, and the successive Plenipotentiaries of France, and between the French Ministers of Foreign Affairs, and Mr. Monroe. The opposition to Washington's administration, strengthened by the unpopularity of Mr. Jay's treaty, had acquired an ascendancy in the House of Representatives; countenanced and justified every reproach of France; and made a persevering and desperate effort to refuse the means and the supplies for carrying the treaty into execution, even after it had been ratified.
After a long and doubtful struggle, in the course of which the documents of the negotiation, called for by the House of Representatives, were refused by Washington, the House by a bare majority voted the supplies. The treaty was carried faithfully into execution, and justice was established in the relations between the United States and Great Britain.
The last act of the confederation Congress had been to refer over to the new government the negotiations with Spain, especially for the free navigation of the Mississippi. These were immediately taken up, and transferred from the seat of government of the United States to Spain. Two commissioners were appointed to negotiate with the Spanish government at Madrid, who prepared the my for the treaty of San Lorenzo, concluded on the 27th of October, 1795, by Thomas Pinckney, Minister Plenipotentiary from the United States, and the Prince of the Peace, then the Minister of Spain for Foreign Affairs. This treaty secured to the people of the United States, the free navigation of the Mississippi, and a port of deposit at New Orleans - and politically considered as a part of the comprehensive system of Washington's policy, was at once a sequel to the treaty of 19th November, with Great Britain, and a precursor to the treaty for the acquisition of Louisiana with France.
In the accomplishment of these objects, the principal agent of the nation had been the Executive power, vested in Washington as President of the United States. But the justice for the establishment of which the Constitution of the United States had been ordained, was required at home as well as abroad, and for this it was the peculiar province of the Legislature to provide.
The first attention due from that body was to the public creditors of the country, and the first measure to be adopted was the raising of a revenue to satisfy their righteous claims. On the 8th of April, immediately after the organization of the two Houses, and before the President of the United States had been notified of his election, Mr. Madison introduced into the committee of the whole House of Representatives a proposition for levying duties of impost. The remarks with which he submitted this proposal, so explicitly indicative of this purpose of establishing justice, that I cannot forbear to repeat the first sentences of them in his own words: -
- "I take the liberty, Mr. Chairman," said he, "at this early stage of the business, to introduce to the committee a subject which appears to me to be of the greatest magnitude; a subject, Sir, that requires our first attention, and our united exertions.
"No gentleman here can be unacquainted with the numerous claims upon our justice; nor with the impotency which prevented the late Congress of the United States, from carrying into effect the dictates of gratitude and policy.
"The Union by the establishment of a more effective government, having recovered from the state of imbecility that heretofore prevented a performance of its duty, ought in its first act to revive those principles of honor and honesty, that have too long lain dormant.
"The deficiency in our treasury has been too notorious to make it necessary for me to animadvert upon that subject. Let us content ourselves with endeavoring to remedy the evil. To do this, a national revenue must be obtained; but the system must be such a one, that, while it secures the object of revenue, it shall not be oppressive to our constituents. Happy it is for us that such a system is within our power; for I apprehend, that both these objects may be obtained from an impost on articles imported into the United States."
And thus was laid the foundation of the revenues of the Union; and with them the means of paying their debts and of providing for their common defence and general welfare. The act of Congress framed upon this proposal, received the sanction of Washington on the 4th of July, in the first year of his administration. It stands the second on the statute book of the United States, immediately after that which binds all the officers of the Union to the support of the Constitution, by the solemnities of an appeal to God, and declares in a brief preamble, the necessity of its enactment, "for the support of government, for the discharge of the debts of the United States, and the encouragement and protection of manufactures."
With the act for laying duties of impost, there was associated another, imposing duties of tonnage on ships, in which to encourage the shipping and shipbuilding interest, a double discrimination was made between ships built in the United States and belonging to their citizens, ships built in the United States, belonging to foreigners, and ships foreign built and owned. The duty upon the first of these classes being six, on the second thirty, and on the third fifty cents a ton. The same discriminating principle favorable to the navigation of the United States, was observed in every part of the Act for levying duties of impost.
An Act for regulating the collection of these duties, with the establishment of ports of entry and delivery, and for the appointment of officers of the customs throughout the United States: an Act for the establishment and support of light-houses, beacons, buoys, and public piers; and an Act for regulating the coasting-trade, completed the system for raising a revenue.
Thus the organization of the government, conformably to the new constitution, and to give it practical operation, was effected at the first session of the first Constitutional Congress, between the 4th of March, and the 29th of September, 1789. A comprehensive and efficient system of revenue - a graduation of judicial tribunals, inferior and supreme - the Departments of State, of the Treasury, and of War - a temporary establishment of the Post Office, provisions for the negotiation of treaties with the Indian tribes; for the adaptation to the new order of things, of the ordinance for the government of the northwestern Territory, and of the shadow of a military establishment then existing; for fixing the compensation of the President and Vice President, the members of Congress, and of all the officers of the United States, judicial and executive - and for the payment of invalid pensions, were all effected within that time. Twelve Amendments to the Constitution, to serve as a substitute for the omission of a Declaration of Rights, were agreed to by a majority of two thirds of the members present of both Houses, and transmitted to the Legislatures of the several states - ten of those Amendments were adopted by three fourths of the state Legislatures, and became parts of the Constitution - only two other Amendments have since obtained the same sanction. An Act of appropriation for the service of the year 1789, amounting to six hundred and thirty-nine thousand dollars, with twenty thousand more for negotiating Indian treaties, defrayed all the expenses of the year; and if compared with the thirty-six millions and upward, appropriated at the session of Congress recently expired, for the service of the year 1839, may give a pregnant exemplification in the science of political economy, of the contrast between the day of small things, and the present: an inversion of the microscope might present a comparison between the results of the former and the latter appropriations, not so much to the advantage of the present day.
But at the close of the first session, there was yet much to be done for the establishment of justice at home and abroad. On the 29th of September, 1789, Congress adjourned, to meet again on the 4th of January, 1790. That second session continued until the 12th of August of that year. The institution of the Departments of State and of the Treasury, were among the latest acts of the first session, and on the 11th of September, Alexander Hamilton had been appointed Secretary of the Treasury; and on the 26th of the same month, Thomas Jefferson was appointed Secretary of State. Henry Knox, the Secretary of War to the confederation Congress when it expired, was reappointed to the same office, adapted to the new Constitution.
The Secretaries of State and of the Treasury, both possessing minds of the highest order of intellect; both animated with a lofty spirit of patriotism, both distinguished for pre-eminent services in the Revolution - Jefferson, the author of the Declaration of Independence - Hamilton, almost entitled to be called jointly with Madison, the author of the Constitution itself, both spurred to the rowels by rival and antagonist ambition, were the representatives and leading champions of two widely different theories of government. The Constitution itself was not altogether satisfactory to either of those theories, Jefferson, bred from childhood to the search and contemplation of abstract rights, dwelling with a sort of parental partiality upon the self-evident truths of the Declaration of Independence, and heated by recent communion with the popular leaders and doctrines of revolutionary France, in the convulsive struggles to demolish her monarchy, had disapproved the Constitution for its supposed tendency to monarchy, and for its omission of a Declaration of Rights, and finally acquiesced in its adoption upon a promise of amendments. Hamilton, prompted by a natural temper aspiring to military renown - nurtured to a spirit of subordination by distinguished military service in the Revolutionary War, and disgusted with the dishonest imbecility of the confederacy of sovereign states, of which he had suffered the mortifying experience, had inclined to a government higher toned than that of the Constitution, to which he had however cheerfully acceded - and which he had most ably advocated as the principal author of the Federalist, and in the state Convention of New York. But the whole drift and scope of his papers in the Federalist was directed to sustain the position, that a government at least as energetic as that provided by the Constitution, was indispensable to the salvation of the Union - the inference is clearly deducible from this form of expression, and from the tenor of all his argument, that he believed a still stronger government necessary. His opinions thus inclined to the doctrine of implied powers; and to a liberal construction of all the grants of power in the Constitution. These prepossessions, so discordant in themselves, and fortified on both sides with so much genius and talent, soon manifested themselves in the cabinet councils, with so much vehemence and pertinacity, as made it impossible for Washington, as he designed, to hold an even balance between them.
On the 21st of September, 1789, upon the report of a committee on a memorial and petition of certain of the public creditors in the state of Pennsylvania, two Resolutions were adopted by the House of Representatives, without debate or opposition.
1. That this house consider an adequate provision for the support of public credit, as a matter of high importance to the national honor and prosperity.
2. That the Secretary of the Treasury be directed to prepare a plan for that purpose, and to report the same to the House at its next meeting.
Accordingly on the 14th of January, 1790, a plan for the support of public credit was reported by Mr. Hamilton to the House, and was followed by others proposing the establishment of a national bank and a mint; and upon manufactures, \kith a review of the operation of the revenue, and collection and navigation Acts of the preceding session - all reports of consummate ability, and proposing measures for the restoration of the public credit, the funding of the public debt, and the management of the revenue, which were adopted by Congress almost without alteration, and constituted altogether a system for the fulfillment of the nation's obligations, and the final discharge of the debt of the Revolution, which has been carried into complete execution, and immortalized the name of Hamilton, as a statesman of high and permanent reputation, and among the first financiers of his age.
But in the consummation of these plans, questions of great difficulty, not only in politics but in morals, and questions not less controvertible of constitutional power, were necessarily involved. It is deeply to be lamented that the complete success of Mr. Hamilton's plans; the restoration through them of the honor of the country, and the discharge to the last dollar of her debt, have not to this day definitively settled all these questions. In the long-protracted controversies which grew out of Mr. Hamilton's funding system, the efforts to discriminate between the public creditors of different classes, the violent opposition to the assumption of the state debts, and the strain of strict construction, denying the power of Congress to establish a national bank, by the same party which afterward by Acts of Congress, purchased a foreign realm, with its people, governed them for years with the rod of Spanish colonial despotism, parcelled the land out in states, and admitted them au to the Union, were all as I believed morally and politically wrong. The discrimination between the public creditors, and the assumption of the state debts, were questions which once settled could not again recur; but the power of Congress to establish a bank as a regulation of commerce, and appendage to the power of borrowing money and regulating its value, an instrument for the management of the reverses and for effecting the receipts and expenditures of the nation, has unfortunately become a foot-ball of contention between parties, and mingling itself with the baneful spirit of unlimited separate state sovereignty, even now hangs as a dark cloud over the future destiny of the Union. That cloud will pass away. The advice of empirics, administering the bane for the antidote, will give way to the surgery of sober reason; and exemption from debt, and superfluity of revenue, shall no longer by the financiering economy of the executive head, be felt as a public calamity.
The establishment of the funding system of Mr. Hamilton, and especially the incorporation of the bank, operated like enchantment for the restoration of the public credit; repaired the ruined fortunes of the public creditors, and was equivalent to the creation of many millions of capital, available for the encouragement of industry and the active exertions of enterprise. His reputation rose proportionably in the public estimation. But his principles thus developed brought him in the cabinet of Washington, immediately into conflict with those of the Secretary of State, and in the house of representatives, with those of Mr. Madison, his late friend and associate in the composition of the Federalist, and in framing and erecting the admirable fabric of the Constitution. Mr. Madison was the intimate, confidential, and devoted friend of Mr. Jefferson, and the mutual influence of these two mighty minds upon each other, is a phenomenon, like the invisible and mysterious movements of the magnet in the physical world, and in which the sagacity of the future historian may discover the solution of much of our national history not otherwise easily accountable.
The system of strict construction of state rights, and of federative preponderance in the councils of the nation, become thus substitutes for the opposition to the Constitution itself, and elements of vehement opposition to the administration, of Washington, of which the funding system thence forward formed a vital part. At the head of this opposition Mr. Jefferson was in the cabinet, and Mr. Madison in the house of representatives.
This opposition soon assumed the shape of a rival system of administration, preparing for the advancement of Mr. Jefferson to the succession of the Presidency, and thoroughly organized to the accomplishment of that purpose. It was conducted with more address, with more constant watchfulness of the fluctuations of public opinion, and more pliable self-accommodation to them than the administration itself. It began with a studious and cautious preservation of deference to the character and reputation of Washington himself, never wholly abandoned by Mr. Jefferson, always retained by Mr. Madison, but soon exchanged by some of their partisans in Congress for hostility ill-disguised, and by many of the public journals and popular meetings, for the most furious assaults upon his reputation, and the most violent denunciations, not only of his policy, but of his personal character.
Mr. Jefferson was in the meantime fortifying his own reputation, and raising himself in the estimation of his countrymen, by a series of reports to the President, and to both houses of Congress, upon weights and measures, upon the fisheries, upon the commerce of the Mediterranean sea, upon the commercial intercourse with the European nations, and afterward by a correspondence with the ministers of Britain, and of France and of Spain, with an exhibition of genius, of learning, and of transcendent talent, certainly not inferior, perhaps surpassing that of Hamilton himself. The two systems, however, were so radically incompatible with each other, that Washington was, after many painful efforts to reconcile them together, compelled reluctantly to choose between them. He decided in the main for that of Hamilton, and soon after the unanimous re-election of Washington to the Presidency, Mr. Jefferson refired from the administration, to Monticello, and ostensibly to private life.
Within a year afterward, Hamilton also retired, as did Washington himself at the close of his presidential term. He declined a second re-election. The opposition to his administration, under the auspices of Mr. Jefferson, had acquired a head, which in the course of four years more, might have broken it down, as it was broken down in the hands of his successor.
When Solon, by the appointment of the people of Athens, had formed, and prevailed upon them to adopt a code of fundamental laws, the best that they would bear, he went into voluntary banishment for ten years, to save his system from the batteries of rival statesmen working upon popular passions and prejudices excited against his person. In eight years of a turbulent and tempestuous administration, Washington had settled upon firm foundations the practical execution of the Constitution of the United States. In the midst of the most appalling obstacles, through the bitterest internal dissensions, and the most formidable combinations of foreign antipathies and cabals, he had subdued all opposition to the Constitution itself; had averted all dangers of European war; had redeemed the captive children of his country from Algiers; had reduced by chastisement and conciliated by kindness, the most hostile of the Indian tribes; had restored the credit of the nation, and redeemed their reputation of fidelity to the performance of their obligations; had provided for the total extinguishment of the public debt; had settled the Union upon the immovable foundation of principle, and had drawn around his head for the admiration and emulation of after times, a brighter blaze of glory than had ever encircled the brow of hero or statesman, patriot or sage.
The administration of Washington fixed the character of the Constitution of the United States, as a practical system of government, which it retains to this day. Upon his retirement, its great antagonist, Mr. Jefferson, came into the government again, as Vice President of the United States, and four years after, succeeded to the Presidency itself. But the funding system and the bank were established. The peace with both the great belligerent powers of Europe was secured. The disuniting doctrines of unlimited separate state sovereignty were laid aside. Louisiana, by a stretch of power in Congress, far beyond the highest tone of Hamilton, was annexed to the Union - and although dry-docks, and gun-boats, and embargoes, and commercial restrictions, still refused the protection of the national arm to commerce, and although an overweening love of peace, and a reliance upon reason as a weapon of defence against foreign aggression, eventuated in a disastrous though glorious mar with the gigantic power of Britain, the Constitution as construed by Washington, still proved an effective government for the country.
And such it has still proved, through every successive change of administration it has undergone. Of these, it becomes not me to speak in detail. Nor were it possible, without too great a trespass upon your time. The example of Washington, of retiring from the Presidency after a double term of four years, was followed by Mr. Jefferson, against the urgent solicitations of several state Legislatures. This second example of voluntary self- chastened ambition, by the decided approbation of public opinion, has been held obligatory upon their successors, and has become a tacit subsidiary Constitutional law. If not entirely satisfactory to the nation, it is rather by its admitting one re-election, than by its interdicting a second. Every change of a President of the United States, has exhibited some variety of policy from that of his predecessor. In more than one case, the change has extended to political and even to moral principle; but the policy of the country has been fashioned far more by the influences of public opinion, and the prevailing humors in the two Houses of Congress, than by the judgment, the will, or the principles of the President of the United States. The President himself is no more than a representative of public opinion at the time of his election; and as public opinion is subject to great and frequent fluctuations, he must accommodate his policy to them; or the people will speedily give him a successor; or either House of Congress will effectually control his power. It is thus, and in no other sense that the Constitution of the United States is democratic - for the government of our country, instead of a Democracy the most simple, is the most complicated government on the face of the globe. From the immense extent of our territory, the difference of manners, habits, opinions, and above all, the clashing interests of the North, South, East, and West, public opinion formed by the combination of numerous aggregates, becomes itself a problem of compound arithmetic, which nothing but the result of the popular elections can solve.
It has been my purpose, Fellow-Citizens, in this discourse to show:-
1. That this Union was formed by a spontaneous movement of the people of thirteen English Colonies; all subjects of the King of Great Britain - bound to him in allegiance, and to the British empire as their country. That the first object of this Union,was united resistance against oppression, and to obtain from the government of their country redress of their wrongs.
2. That failing in this object, their petitions having been spurned, and the oppressions of which they complained, aggravated beyond endurance, their Delegates in Congress, in their name and by their authority, issued the Declaration of Independence - proclaiming them to the world as one people, absolving them from their ties and oaths of allegiance to their king and country - renouncing that country; declared the UNITED Colonies, Independent States, and announcing that this ONE PEOPLE of thirteen united independent states, by that act, assumed among the powers of the earth, that separate and equal station to which the laws of nature and of nature's God entitled them.
3. That in justification of themselves for this act of transcendent power, they proclaimed the principles upon which they held all lawful government upon earth to be founded - which principles were, the natural, unalienable, imprescriptible rights of man, specifying among them, life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness - that the institution of government is to secure to men in society the possession of those rights: that the institution, dissolution, and reinstitution of government, belong exclusively to THE PEOPLE under a moral responsibility to the Supreme Ruler of the universe; and that all the just powers of government are derived from the consent of the governed.
4. That under this proclamation of principles, the dissolution of allegiance to the British king, and the compatriot connection with the people of the British empire, were accomplished; and the one people of the United States of America, became one separate sovereign independent power, assuming an equal station among the nations of the earth.
5. That this one people did not immediately institute a government for themselves. But instead of it, their delegates in Congress, by authority from their separate state legislatures, without voice or consultation of the people, instituted a mere confederacy.
6. That this confederacy totally departed from the principles of the Declaration of independence, and substituted instead of the constituent power of the people, an assumed sovereignty of each separate state, as the source of all its authority.
7. That as a primitive source of power, this separate state sovereignty,was not only a departure from the principles of the Declaration of Independence, but directly contrary to, and utterly incompatible with them.
8. That the tree was made known by its fruits. That after five years wasted in its preparation, the confederation dragged out a miserable existence of eight years more, and expired like a candle in the socket, having brought the union itself to the verge of dissolution.
9. That the Constitution of the United States was a return to the principles of the Declaration of independence, and the exclusive constituent power of the people. That it was the work of the ONE PEOPLE of the United States; and that those United States, though doubled in numbers, still constitute as a nation, but ONE PEOPLE.
10. That this Constitution, making due allowance for the imperfections and errors incident to all human affairs, has under all the vicissitudes and changes of war and peace, been administered upon those same principles, during a career of fifty years.
11. That its fruits have been, still making allowance for human imperfection, a more perfect union, established justice, domestic tranquility, provision for the common defence, promotion of the general welfare, and the enjoyment of the blessings of liberty by the constituent people, and their posterity to the present day.
And now the future is all before us, and Providence our guide.
When the children of Israel, after forty years of wanderings in the wilderness, were about to enter upon the promised land, their leader, Moses, who was not permitted to cross the Jordan with them, just before his removal from among them, commanded that when the Lord their God should have brought them into the land, they should put the curse upon Mount Ebal, and the blessing upon Mount Gerizim. This injunction was faithfully fulfilled by his successor Joshua. Immediately after they had taken possession of the land, Joshua built an altar to the Lord, of whole stones, upon Mount Ebal. And there he wrote upon the stones a copy of the law of Moses, which he had written in the presence of the children of Israel: and all Israel, and their elders and officers, and their judges, stood on the two sides of the ark of the covenant, home by the priests and Levites, six tribes over against Mount Gerizim, and six over against Mount Ebal. And he read all the words of the law, the blessings and cursings, according to all that was written in the book of the law.
Fellow-citizens, the ark of your covenant is the Declaration of independence. Your Mount Ebal, is the confederacy of separate state sovereignties, and your Mount Gerizim is the Constitution of the United States. In that scene of tremendous and awful solemnity, narrated in the Holy Scriptures, there is not a curse pronounced against the people, upon Mount Ebal, not a blessing promised them upon Mount Gerizim, which your posterity may not suffer or enjoy, from your and their adherence to, or departure from, the principles of the Declaration of Independence, practically interwoven in the Constitution of the United States. Lay up these principles, then, in your hearts, and in your souls - bind them for signs upon your hands, that they may be as frontlets between your eyes - teach them to your children, speaking of them when sitting in your houses, when walking by the way, when lying down and when rising up - write them upon the doorplates of your houses, and upon your gates - cling to them as to the issues of life - adhere to them as to the cords of your eternal salvation. So may your children's children at the next return of this day of jubilee, after a full century of experience under your national Constitution, celebrate it again in the full enjoyment of all the blessings recognized by you in the commemoration of this day, and of all the blessings promised to the children of Israel upon Mount Gerizim, as the reward of obedience to the law of God.
Printed with permission from the Lonang Institute.