Abbildungen der Seite

all this (the severe trials of the Revolution). But, without any national pride, or any fastidious national antipathies, I cannot believe, from anything I have seen or read, that any other people are capable of it. In other nations, a revolution will be only an exchange of one absolute government for another.


Elective governments not only give full scope to the hopes of all men, but afford continual temptations to aspire; and we have already seen very bold and daring strokes of a determined and desperate ambition."*

In the many instances of failure in the attempts during the last sixty years to establish constitutional government in communities where there was not "intellect, information, and integrity enough to be depended upon through severe trials,"† may be read the confirmation to a great extent of the above prognostications. In France, in particular, the destruction of all faith, to so great an extent, among the educated classes, the consequent want of confidence between man and man, the rash surrender of sound sense to plausible theories, the sweeping away of everything from the land but a poor and unenlightened peasantry, have, in the period that has elapsed since the first revolution, brought about the all but literal fulfilment of the prophecy of Burke, uttered in 1790, 'that if the present project of a republic should fail, all securities for a moderate freedom fail along with it; all the direct restraints which mitigate despotism are removed; insomuch that if monarchy should ever again obtain an entire ascendency in France, under this or any other dynasty, it will probably be, if not voluntarily tempered at setting out, by the wise and virtuous counsels of the prince, the


* Letters and Essays, by Richard Sharp, M.P., London, 1834, p. 98.

+ Ibid., p. 99.

most complete arbitrary power that has ever appeared on earth."

The experience of "elective government" in the country of Washington, of John Adams, of Madison, of Hamilton, and of the other great men of the Revolution, has, as we have seen, been already sufficient to justify their own misgivings, to the extent, at the very least, of having afforded proof of the fact that both the basis of the Constitution which they founded, and its practical workings, are altered since their day in many important particulars, and both in the direction of pure democracy, in exchange for that stable system of balanced powers which was the object of their aspirations and struggles.

The experience of the world, from the very birth-day of ancient freedom, through the period of its heroic manhood in the old republics, and up to this present hour, proves that political institutions, to be firm, just, equal, beneficent, and enduring, must be "not a creation, but a growth;" that they require many elements of food and nurture for their sound development; and that the overpredominance of one leads to disease and decay.

[ocr errors]

This over-predominance has been encouraged in modern times by such notions as "confiding in the instincts of humanity;" "trusting to the principles of society in their action upon the nature and conduct of man;" "having an unlimited confidence in the human mind; "trusting implicitly to the innate sense of what is best for the interest of the individual and the community;" "submitting cheerfully to what may be the declared will of the mass of the people, because it is their will; and because, if wrong, they will soon find it out, and take a better

* Burke's Reflections on the Revolution in France, pp. 303-4, vol. iv. of edit. of 1853.

course" all omitting to take any sufficient account of human passions, and of their continual tendency (up to this period of the world at least) to sway human action, in opposition to all the efforts of the most enlightened reason, though strengthened, it may be, with all the panoply of faith. Such notions were well designated by the authors of the "Federalist" as "idle theories, which amuse with promises of exemption from the imperfections, the weaknesses, and the evils incident to society -" deceitful dreams of a golden age," from which it was time to awake to the practical maxim that they were "yet remote from the happy empire of perfect wisdom and perfect virtue."*

[ocr errors]

"Representative bodies," says Mr. Jay, in a letter to Washington, in 1786, "will ever be faithful copies of their originals, and generally exhibit a chequered assemblage of virtue and vice, of abilities and weakness. The mass of men are neither wise nor good; and the virtue, like the other resources of a country, can only be drawn to a point by strong circumstances ably managed, or a strong government ably administered."†


In the collection of "Letters of Eminent Men to George Washington," lately published by Professor Jared Sparks, is one from Mr. Jay to Washington, from which I extract

*Federalist, No. 6.

+ Story, vol. iv. p. 136. Edit. of 1833.

Correspondence of the American Revolution. By Professor Jared Sparks. Boston, 1853. 4 vols.

the following passage, as bearing upon the subject of the previous note, and as illustrative of the difficulties that beset the course of the statesmen of America, in their transition from the Confederation, which had so signally failed, to the Constitution; and of their fluctuations of mind before they could determine how to adjust the powers of the new government they were engaged in forming.


"New York, January 7, 1787. "Dear Sir,-They who regard the public good with more attention and attachment than they do mere personal concerns, must feel and confess the force of such sentiments as are expressed in your letter to me.

The situation of affairs calls not only for reflection and prudence, but for exertion. What is to be done? is a common question, but it is a question not easy to


"Would the giving any further degree of power to Congress do the business? I am inclined to think it would not." Mr. Jay proceeds to give his reasons for this opinion, founded on the selfishness and corruption already exhibited in that Assembly, and the tendencies of large assemblies to misunderstand or neglect the obligations of character, honour, and dignity;" and he then proposes a more distinct division of the powers of the Constitution into legislative, executive, and judicial.

He then adds :

"Shall we have a king? Not, in my opinion, while other expedients remain untried. Might we not have a Governor-General, limited in his prerogatives and duration? Might not Congress be divided into an Upper and a Lower House; the former appointed for life, the latter

annually; and let the Governor-General (to preserve the balance), with the advice of a Council, formed, for that purpose, of the great judicial officers, have a negative on their acts? Our Government should, in some degree, be suited to our manners and circumstances; and they, you know, are not strictly democratical." *

The whole scope of the learned work of John Adams,† (afterwards the second President of the Republic) written in the same year as the above letter (1787), is to prove, that no system of Constitutional Government can be just or durable that does not guard against the over-predominance of any one of its elements. And he illustrates this principle by passing in review, in the most masterly manner, the Governments of all the ancient and modern Republics, of which classical or recent writers have left descriptions.

He expresses his entire agreement with the principle laid down by Macchiavelli, in his remarkable letter to Leo X., on a scheme of reform for the State of Florence, in which he says, "Those who model a commonwealth must take such provisions as may gratify three sorts of men, the high, the middle sort, and the low." Of this Mr. Adams speaks as "this great truth, this eternal principle, without the knowledge of which every speculation upon government must be imperfect, and every scheme of a commonwealth essentially defective." §

* Vol. iv. p. 153.

The Defence of the American Constitutions. London, 1794, 3 vols.

"Coloro che ordinano una Republica debbono dare luogo a tre qualità de uomini, che sono in tutte le città, cioè primi, mezzani, ed ultimi.”—Macchiavelli's Works, vol. v. p. 246. [Dare luogo, “assign a place to," not "gratify."]

§ Vol. ii. p. 242.

« ZurückWeiter »