« ZurückWeiter »
contest, so far as it affords the means of estimating the number of persons arrayed on the opposite sides, we ask again, whether it is even conceivable, that the majority of 14,000, alleged to have been obtained for the “ People's Constitution,” in December, 1841, was any thing more than a base and shameless fraud ?
We here close our historical sketch of this remarkable contest, which we have endeavoured to render as succinct and faithful as possible, having made no statements, as is believed, but those which are admitted on both sides, and which are universally known to be true.
With this purpose in view, we have relied as much for authority on the speeches and letters of Mr. Dorr and his friends, as on the publications of their opponents. All the pamphlets and published letters and speeches, which grew out of this controversy, are very interesting, and most of them, on either side, are written with great ability. Those which are mentioned at the head of this article, form but a small portion of the number that we have examined, for the subject was one of paramount importance, and, sooner or later, it engaged nearly all the legal and literary talent in the State. Mr. Goddard handles the question with the taste and elegance of the scholar, and the perspicuity of statement and force of reasoning which are characteristic of a well disciplined mind. A great amount of historical and legal information is brought to bear upon it by Judge Pitman, and while his appeals to the good sense and patriotism of his fellow citizens show great sincerity and depth of feeling, his argument manifests the impartiality, the comprehensiveness of view, the vigorous logic, and the other high qualities of intellect that are developed and strengthened by long experience on the bench of justice. Mr. Whipple's pamphlet is a masterly display of forensic talent, and is worthy of his high reputation as the head of the Rhode Island bar. Leaving the authorities and the facts: to be cited and applied by others, he goes directly to the abstract subject of dispute, and builds upon it an argument at once compact, sweeping, nervous, and unanswerable, while he fairly riddles the showy pretences and thin sophistry of his opponents. Of Judge Durfee's “Charge to the Grand Jury,” we can only say, that it exhibits broad and generous views of the first principles of political science, and of the great truths on which the whole theory of government and
social life is founded, and that these principles and truths are made to bear with irresistible force on the case in hand.
On the other side, nearly the whole weight of the argument rests on the shoulders of Mr. Dorr, and it must be admitted, that he sustains the burden with great gallantry and steadiness. His intellect is acute, but not comprehensive ; his argument is logical, but not convincing, for the premises are unsound. He displays an amount of talent and information, that leads one to doubt his sincerity in the foolish and wicked cause in which he embarked, notwithstanding the pertinacity with which he clung to it under every kind of discouragement and defeat. His writings and actions show a mind of good natural endowments and tolerable cultivation, great argumentative power, considerable tact and executive ability in the conduct of affairs, much ambition guided by little principle, and an indomitable obstinacy of character, that fitted him in an eminent degree to be the leader of a faction, and the manager of a protracted contest.
He had, at least, one coadjutor out of his native State, whose name we are sorry to see connected with such a cause. It is a source of deep regret and mortification, that one who had long sustained an unspotted character in the most elevated judicial station in Massachusetts, and who had recently been appointed to the Chief Magistracy, should so far.be blinded by his political opinions and aspirations, as to appear, in some measure, as the defender of revolt in a neighbouring State, as a volunteer in a revolutionary contest with which he had nothing to do, and as the advocate of doctrines that sap the very foundations of government and social order, which the best and most honorable portion of his life had been devoted to sustaining and building up. It is true, that, when Governor Morton addressed his published letter to the “clambake gathering" at Medbury Grove, the civil war in Rhode Island was ended. But this only makes the matter
The principles of the persons whom he addressed were then manifest, for they had been fully illustrated by their actions. They had joined in the attack on the arsenal at Providence, they had shouldered arms in the insurgent camp at Chepachet; and, in both instances, they had been defeated by the established authorities of the State, supported by the great body of the peaceable and well informed inhabitants, and acting under the direct sanction of the legal triVOL. LVIII. - No. 123.
bunals and of the President of the United States. No matter how undecided the language, no matter how cautious or ambiguous was the expression of opinion, in a letter addressed to such an assembly, convened with such ends in view ; for it cannot be denied, that the purpose of this “ gathering ” was to keep up the excitement and the spirit of revolt against the established government of Rhode Island. To notice such an assembly at all, except in the way of indignant censure, was to praise it ; to sanction any of its principles, under such circumstances, was to adopt the whole. Governor Morton now enjoys the bad eminence of being, so far as we know, the only person in the United States, that has ever held high judicial office, who has in any way lent the sanction of his name to the proceedings of the insurgent party of Rhode Island. We freely admit, — though the fact hardly palliates at all the conduct or the motives of the writer, — that the language of this letter is temperate, and the principles defended in it generally sound, though perverted and sophistical in their application.
We cannot say as much for another pamphlet in favor of the Suffrage party, the title of which is quoted at the head of this article. We think " the Boston bar” has good ground of action for libel against the person who publishes such a performance, while claiming to be a member of” that very respectable body. Its character may be inferred from the contemptible fling on the title-page at Dr. Wayland, who is there styled, by implication, with about as much wit as good manners, a "doctor of despotism." It is a paltry production, written with a very pert and self-satisfied air, abounding in flippant assumptions, but indicating a total incapacity, either of comprehending the questions at issue, or of advancing a single argument having a direct and cogent bearing upon them. In compassion to the writer, it may be thrown back, without further notice, into the anonymous kennel where it belongs.
We have not left ourselves much space for an argument on the Rhode Island question. In truth, hardly any argument is needed ; for it is difficult to put the question into any form, so that the mere statement of it shall not involve an entire refutation of the doctrines of the Suffrage party. Fortunately, there is no room for controversy about the manner of statement, or the meaning of the words in which it is con
veyed ; for the practice of the party has furnished a full and intelligible commentary upon their doctrines. Their theory of government is written out, not merely in words, but in deeds, so that he who runs may read it. We have told the story, and there is, consequently, no difficulty in getting at the point in dispute. The question is, whether any number of persons may, at any time, come together, and without observing any of the forms of law, declare that they are " the people,” or a majority of the people, and, as such, proceed to destroy the whole fabric of the existing government, and in its place create laws and establish a constitution, which shall be binding on the whole population of the State ? Are they entitled to assume, that they are 14,000 in number, and, without furnishing any evidence even of this fact, go on at once to form a government which shall be obligatory on 108,000 souls? We say, “ without furnishing any evidence even of this fact,” for the actual returns have never been seen or summed up except by some half a dozen members of the Suffrage. association or convention, nor have they been attested on oath, nor verified in any way. Who authorized fourteen individuals to act for the hundred and eight, of whom they were a part, and to make laws which should be binding on the whole, not only without the expressed consent of their fellows, but in spite of their earnest and repeated protest ? It is impossible to answer this question, except by admitting the fundamental fact, which lies at the origin, not only of all government, but of all society, — that the state, or, in other words, the people, under any circumstances, even at a revolutionary period, is a kind of corporation, an organized body politic, a unit, acting only through established forms, by its legally appointed agents. Of course, this admission would be fatal to all the pretensions of the Suffrage party
The constitution of Massachusetts was ratified and made binding upon posterity, because it was approved, says Mr. J. Q. Adams, “ by more than two thirds of about 15,000 persons who voted upon it, out of a population of 350,000, or one vote for every thirty-five souls.” But who doubts the popular origin and character of our government ? These 15,000 persons, having complied with all legal requisitions, and acting upon a subject on which they were specially empowered at the time to act, passed a fundamental law, which will be binding on them and their posterity for all future time, or until it shall be repealed in as formal a manner as it was enacted. Who pretends, that fifteen, or even twenty, thousand persons, of any class or character, might now come together, at their own instance only, without being specially delegated or authorized for such a purpose, and at once put a statute of their own formation in the place of this law ? Even if a vast majority of the whole population of the State should become discontented with the constitution and desire to change it, they could not effect their purpose except by compliance with the established forms, – by manifesting their wishes in the appointed way, and waiting the appointed time (which, in this case, is at least two years), for their wishes to be carried into effect.
It is true, that our institutions repeatedly recognize the right of the majority to rule. But what majority? And how far, or how absolutely, can they rule ? Only the majority in formally constituted bodies, recognized and appointed by the fundamental laws of the State, and acting within prescribed bounds upon regularly defined matters committed to their charge by these laws. Thus, the constitution permits a majority of the legislature to make laws, though only upon specified subjects, and within specified limits. number of men cannot band themselves together, forcibly unite themselves to the legally appointed legislators, and then, because they constitute a majority of the whole united body, pass such laws as they see fit. Such majorities are only unauthorized mobs, and so far as they usurp the functions of legislation or government, all persons participating in their acts are liable to the penalties of treason. is precisely similar with the constituted body of electors, who are authorized or deputed, so to speak, to represent the whole body politic, to act for it and to bind it by their acts, though they never form more than a fifth part of the whole number of individuals who are thus bound. They are empowered to elect the members of the legislature and the officers of the executive department, and this right of election is their sole and peculiar prerogative. A number of minors, paupers, convicts, individuals not paying taxes, or persons otherwise disqualified by the constitution, may not come together to usurp the privileges and functions of these electors, and because they constitute the major part of the aggregate