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thus irregularly formed, proceed to exercise all the powers of the primitive body, and to make their acts obligatory upon the whole State. To do this is not only to violate the particular constitution established in that State, but to pull down the whole fabric of society and government. If they attempt it, their acts are not binding upon a single person, out of their own number, in the whole community. Members of the reputed minority, — nay, even women and children, — would at once have a perfect right to refuse obedience. Yet this is precisely the Rhode Island case, and these are the pretensions of the Suffrage party.
Again, it is not true, either in the theory or the practice of our institutions, that the majority, even in legally constituted bodies, can rule in all cases, this very power of forming new constitutions, or amending old ones, being one of the admitted exceptions. Thus, the constitution of the United States cannot be amended or repealed by the will of a mere majority. A concurrence of two thirds in both houses of Congress, or of the legislatures of two thirds of the several States, is necessary before an amendment can even
proposed ; and then it must be ratified by not less than three fourths of the States, before it becomes a part of the instrument. Owing to the inequality in size and population of the several States, the disproportion between the majority and minority, in certain cases,
must be very great, before an amendment can be adopted. We find, from a calculation founded on the last census, that in a case affecting the interests of the smaller States, so that they would be united in opposition to the measure, an amendment of the constitution might be defeated by less than one twelfth part of the whole population of the country. In other words, if eleven twelfths of the people of the United States should attempt to alter the constitution, they could rightfully be defeated by the remaining twelfth ; or if they attempted to carry through the measure with a high hand, after the manner of Dorr and his associates, Rhode Island herself would be the first to protest against the act, as a gross usurpation of the powers of government, and a violation of compact. And what inequality in the elective franchise or the ratio of representation had the Suffrage party to complain of, as great as that which now exists in the Senate of the United States, in which Rhode Island, with a population of less than a hundred and nine thousand, has as
many members as New York, with her two and a half millions of inhabitants ! The disproportion in this case is nearly as one to twenty-five, and a majority of twelve to one would have no right to restore the equality.
Is it said, that the constitution of the United States offers a peculiar case, being instituted for a limited purpose by special compact, and not designed to cover the whole ground, or to answer all the ends, of an entire frame of government ? Let us look, then, at the constitutions of the individual States, and find how far they can be moulded at will by a mere majority of the people. It is almost superfluous to say, at the outset, that in no one instance is a power over the instrument accorded to any other persons than the qualified voters, whom it points out and describes. While all admit, either expressly or by obvious implication, the right of “ the people ” to change their forms of government, they proceed immediately to prescribe the manner and the time of effecting any change, the class of individuals by whom alone it can be accomplished, what proportion of this favored number, who alone are recognized as “ the people,” must concur in the desire for an alteration, and under what conditions only it can be effected. In no case, can a change be made with the same facility with which new officers are appointed at the annual elections ; that is, by the vote of a mere majority, taking immediate effect. Always some delay, giving time for more experience and more mature consideration, or a vote much greater than that of a mere majority, affording clearer evidence that the change is generally desired, is necessary, before the fundamental law of the State can be modified in the slightest degree.
We have no room even for the briefest abstract of the provisions of all the State constitutions on this important point. We can give only a few instances to show how distinctly the supposed absolute power of the majority in this respect is denied, or with what important restrictions it is hampered. In Maine, two thirds of both houses of the legislature must deem an alteration necessary, before the people can act upon the constitution at all ; and then a majority of the qualified voters must sanction this decided expression of opinion on the part of the legislature, before the change can be effected. In Massachusetts, a change must first be desired by a majority of the Senators and by two thirds of the Representatives ; the proposed amendment must then lie over for a year, and be approved by an equally preponderating vote of the next legislature ; then it may be submitted to the qualified voters, and if ratified by a majority of their voices, it goes into effect. In Connecticut, a majority of the representatives may propose an amendment, which must be referred to the next General Assembly, and there be approved by two thirds of each house ; it may then be laid before the people, and become a part of the constitution, if sanctioned by a majority of the ordinary voters. In New York, the provision is the same as in Connecticut, except that a majority of both houses, instead of the representatives only, must be in favor of it, before the amendment can be first proposed. In South Carolina, the people have no power to act directly upon the constitution; an amendment must be agreed to by two thirds of both branches of the legislature, be then referred to the succeeding year, and, if again approved by a like vote of two thirds, it goes into effect. In Ohio, if two thirds of the General Assembly think it necessary to alter the constitution, they may require the voters at the next general election to declare whether they are desirous of holding a convention for this purpose; if a majority of the voters are in favor of it, the next General Assembly may call a convention, by which alterations can be made.
It is useless to go further. The instances here given are taken at random, and are enough to show what is the general tenor of the State constitutions in this important respect. In all, the doctrine that a mere majority of the people may alter the constitution at any time, as they see fit, is emphatically rejected. · In all, the previous action of the legislature is needed — usually a greatly preponderating vote in both branches — and in most cases, much delay is necessary, however pressing may be the emergency, or however general the desire for a change. Contrast these wise provisions. with the theory and practice of the Suffrage party in Rhode Island, where a mere assemblage of individuals, who were not even qualified voters, and who acted not only without the consent of the legislature, but in spite of the direct refusal of that body to have any part in the matter, so that it even disavowed and prohibited all their proceedings, undertook of their own authority to throw down the government that had been established for nearly two hundred years, and to put another of their own formation in its place. Will it be believed, that the defenders of such proceedings cite from the State constitutions, and the writers on constitutional law, repeated declarations, that “ the people ” have a right to make and alter their own forms of government, without saying a word of the explanation that immediately follows, which shows who are understood to be “the people,” and what forms, what organs, and what majorities are necessary to enable them to exercise this right ? They fasten on the abstract expression of a right, without uttering a syllable about the manner in which the use of this privilege is immediately defined and limited.
Is it said, that the charter did not authorize the legislature to make, from time to time, such changes in the form of government as might appear expedient? We answer by a prompt denial of the fact. Among the powers expressly granted to the General Assembly by this instrument is the following : “to make, ordain, constitute, or repeal such laws, statutes, orders, and ordinances, forms, and ceremonies of government and magistracy, as to them shall seem meet for the good and welfare of the said company.” Power more unlimited, or language more comprehensive, could hardly be devised. Besides, as we have seen, the power to determine or alter the elective franchise was confessedly in the hands of the legislature alone, and was repeatedly exercised by them, so that this body, by a simple enactment, without touching the fundamental law of the State, might, at any time, have redressed almost the only grievance of which the Suffrage party complained. This party, therefore, by their violent proceedings, not only usurped the functions of the founders of a new State, but actually assumed the exclusive prerogatives and duties of their own legislators for the time being
Is it said, that the limitations on the right of suffrage in Rhode Island were anti-republican, and at variance with the genius of our institutions. We might answer, that this is a disputed point, and that to determine it was exclusively the province of the legislature. But we are willing to go further, and to show that universal suffrage does not now exist, and never has existed, in any State of this union ; that there are greater or less restrictions of the elective franchise
in them all ; that the qualifications of a voter in Rhode Island were not much higher than in several other States ; and that it is absurd to attempt to found a distinction in principle upon a mere difference in degree. Again, we have neither time nor space for an analysis of all the State constitutions ; but we find in Mr. Hazard's “Report,” made in 1829, a brief summary of their provisions in this respect, which was probably correct at the time the Report was made, and which is quite enough to establish all that is here advanced.
“Of the twenty-four States already embraced in the Union, Virginia and Rhode Island require a freehold qualification for voters. Connecticut requires a freehold of seven pounds yearly value, or the payment of taxes, or one year's service in the militia, (unless excused,) and that the voters shall have gained a settlement in the State ; and, turning to the laws of that State to ascertain what the applicant has to do to gain a settlement, we find, that if he comes from a sister State, he must reside at least one year in the town in Connecticut where he is to gain his settlement, and must be possessed, in his own right, in fee, of real estate in that State of the value of three hundred and thirty-four dollars, free of incumbrance, the deed of which shall have been one year on record ; and without such substantial recommendation, he gains no settlement, unless especially favored by the authority of the town. Maryland requires a freehold of fifty acres, or property to the amount of thirty pounds. North Carolina requires a freehold of fifty acres to vote for senators ; the payment of taxes to vote for county members; and a freehold to vote for town representatives. South Carolina, a freehold of fifty acres, or payment of taxes. Tennessee, a freehold in the county where the vote is given, unless the voter is resident there. New Jersey requires fifty pounds proclamation money, clear estate. New York requires that the voter shall pay taxes, (unless exempted,) or serve in the militia, (unless excused,) or be assessed to labor on the highway ; in which case, he must be three years an inhabitant of the State, and one year of the town or county where he votes. Mississippi requires payment of taxes or enrolment in the militia. Seven other States, namely, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Ohio, Georgia, and Louisiana, require only the payment of taxes as evidence of property. The remaining seven, namely, Maine, Vermont, Kentucky, Illinois, Alabama, Indiana, and Missouri require no property qualification, nor any equivalent or substitute. The constitutions of all the States, except three, expressly exclude females. In two of those three, they are excluded by