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overwhelming, as any inflicted by the desolating march of a conqueror, or the sudden devastations of a flood.
But an error of an opposite character, and quite as mischievous in its tendency, is, the common notion, that government is a matter of great simplicity ; that its principles are so clear, that they are little liable to mistake; that the fabric can be erected by persons of ordinary skill; and that, when once erected upon correct principles, it will stand without assistance,
By its own weight made steadfast and immovable.” This is the besetting delusion (I had almost said the besetting sin) in all popular governments. It sometimes takes its rise in that enthusiasm, which ingenuous minds are apt to indulge in regard to human perfectibility. But it is more generally propagated by demagogues, as the easiest method of winning popular favor, by appeals, which flatter popular prejudices, and thus enable them better to accomplish their own sinister designs. If there be any truth, which a large survey of human experience justifies us in asserting, it is, that, in proportion as a government is free, it must be complicated. Simplicity belongs to those only, where one will governs all ; where one mind directs, and all others obey ; where few arrangements are required, because no checks to power are allowed; where law is not a science, but a mandate to be followed, and not to be discussed; where it is not a rule for permanent action, but a capricious and arbitrary dictate of the hour.
But passing from these general considerations, (upon which it is, at present, unnecessary to enlarge,) I propose to bring the subject immediately home to our own business and bosoms, by examining the importance and utility of the science of government to Americans, with reference to their own political institutions. And I do not hesitate to affirm, not only that a knowledge of the true principles of government is important and useful to Americans, but that it is absolutely indispensable, to carry on the government of their choice, and to transmit it to their posterity.
In the first place, what are the great objects of all free governments? They are, the protection and preservation of the personal rights, the private property, and the public liberties of the whole people. Without accomplishing these ends, the government may, indeed, be called free, but it is a mere mockery, and a vain, fantastic shadow. If the person of any individual is not secure from assaults and injuries; if his reputation is not preserved from gross and malicious calumny ; if he may not speak his own opinions with a manly frankness; if he may be imprisoned without just cause, and deprived of all freedom in his choice of occupations and pursuits; it will be idle to talk of his liberty to breathe the air, or to bathe in the public stream, or to give utterance to articulate language. If the earnings of his industry may be appropriated, and his property may be taken away, at the mere will of rulers, or the clamors of a mob, it can afford little consolation to him, that he has already derived happiness from the accumulation of wealth, or that he has the present pride of an ample inheritance; that his farm is not yet confiscated, his house has not yet ceased to be bis castle, and his children are not yet reduced to beggary. If his public liberties, as a man and a citizen, bis right to vote, his right to hold office, his right to worship God according to the dictates of his own conscience, bis equality with all others, who are his fellow-citizens ; if these are at the mercy of the neighbouring demagogue, or the popular idol of the day ;— of what consequence is it to him, that he is permitted to taste of sweets, which may be wantonly dashed from his lips at the next moment, or to possess privileges, which are felt more in their loss, even, than in their possession ? Life, liberty, and property stand upon equal grounds in the just estimate of freemen; and one becomes almost worthless without the security of the others. How, then, are these rights to be established and preserved ? The answer is, by constitutions of government, wisely framed and vigilantly enforced ; by laws and institutions, deliberately examined and steadily administered ; by tribunals of justice above fear, and beyond reproach, whose duty it shall be to protect the weak against the strong, to guard the unwary against the cunning, and to punish the insolence of office, and the spirit of encroachment and wanton injury. It needs scarcely be said, how much wisdom, talents, discretion, and virtue are indispensable for such great purposes.
In the next place, the people have taken upon themselves, in our free form of government, the responsibility of accomplishing all these ends ; the protection and preservation of personal rights, of property, and public liberty. Is it quite certain, that we shall successfully accomplish such a vast undertaking? Is any considerate man bold enough to venture such an assertion ? Is not our government itself a new experiment in the history of the world? Has not every other republic, with all the wisdom, and splendor, and wealth, and power, with which it has been favored, perished, and perished by its own hands, through the might of its own factions ? These are inquiries, which may not be suppressed or
evaded. They must be met, and deliberately weighed. They press upon the minds of thousands, who are most interested in our destiny, as patriots and statesinen. They are not disposed of by a few fine flourishes of rhetoric, or by a blind and boasting confidence. They involve the hopes and the happiness of our whole posterity ; and we must meditate on them, if we would save either ourselves or them. One of the first lessons of wisdom is to understand our dangers ; and, when we understand them, we may then be prepared to meet the duties and difficulties of our position.
In the next place, we have chosen for ourselves the most complicated frame of republican government, which was ever offered to the world. We have endeavoured to reconcile the apparent anomaly of distinct sovereignties, each independent of the other in its own operations, and yet each in full action within the same territory. The national government, within the scope of its delegated powers, is, beyond all doubt, supreme and uncontrollable ; and the state governinents are equally so, within the scope of their exclusive powers. But there is a vast variety of cases, in which the powers of each are concurrent with those of the other; and it is almost impossible to ascertain with precision, where the lines of separation between them begin and end. No rulers on earth are called to a more difficult and delicate task than our own, in attempting to define and limit thein. If any collision shall liappen, it can scarcely be at a single point only. It will touch, or it will trench, upon jealousies, interests, prejudices, and political arrangements, infinitely ramified throughout the whole extent of the Union. The adjustments, therefore, to be made from time to time, to avoid such collisions, and to carry on the general system of movements, require a degree of forecast, caution, skill, and patient investigation, which nothing but long habits of reflection, and the most mature experience, can supply.
In the interpretation of constitutional questions alone, a vast field is
open for discussion and argument. The text, indeed, is singularly brief and expressive. But that very brevity becomes of itself a source of obscurity; and that very expressiveness, while it gives prominence to the leading objects, leaves an ample space of debatable ground, upon which the champions of all opinions may contend, with alternate victory and defeat. Nay, the very habits of free inquiry, to which all our institutions conduct us, if they do not urge us, at least incite us, to a perpetual renewal of the contest. So that many minds are unwilling to admit any thing to be settled ;
and the text remains with them a doubtful oracle, speaking with a double meaning, and open to glosses of the most contradictory character. How much sobriety of judgment, solid learning, historical research, and political sagacity are required for such critical inquiries! Party leaders may, indeed, despatch the matter in a few short and pointed sentences, in popular appeals to the passions and prejudices of the day, or in harangues, in which eloquence may exhaust itself in studied alarms, or in bold denunciations. But statesmen will approach it with a reverent regard. They will meditate upon consequences with a slow and hesitating assent. They will weigh well their own responsibility, when they decide for all posterity. They will feel, that a wound inflicted upon the constitution, if it does not bring on an immediate gangrene, may yet introduce a lingering disease, which will weaken its vital organs, and ultimately destroy them.
But it is not in the examination and solution of constitutional questions alone, that great abilities, and a thorough mastery of the principles of government, are required of American statesmen. The ordinary course of legislation, in the national councils, is full of intricate and perplexing duties. It is not every man, who can make an animated address at a popular meeting, or run through the common places of party declamation at the hustings, with a fluent elocution and a steady presence, who is qualified for a seat in the national legislature. The interests of four and twenty states are there represented, and are there to be scrupulously weighed and protected.
Look, but for a moment, over the vast extent of our country; the varieties of its climates, productions, and pursuits ; its local peculiarities and institutions; its untiring enterprise, and inexhaustible industry. Look to the ever changing character of agriculture; the sugar, cotton, and rice of the South; the wheat, corn, and tobacco of the Middle States; and the stubborn, but thrifty growth of the North, yielding to culture, what seems almost denied to climate. Look to the busy haunts of our manufactures, rising on a thousand hills, and sheltered in a thousand valleys, and fed by a thousand streams. Every where they are instinct with life, and noisy or noiseless industry, and pouring forth their products to every market with an unceasing flow, which gathers, as it goes. Look to the reaches of our foreign commerce through every region of the globe. It floats on the burning breezes of Africa ; it braves the stormy seas of the Arctic regions. It glides with a bounding
speed on the weary coasts and broad streams of Southern America. It doubles the Capes of the Indies, and meets the trade-winds and monsoons in the very regions of their birth. It gathers its treasures from the deep soundings of the Banks of Newfoundland. It follows the seal in his secret visits to the lonely islands of the Southern Pacific. It startles the whale on his majestic march through every latitude, from the hither Atlantic to the seas of Japan. The sun shines not on the region, where its flag has not saluted the first beams of the morning. It sets not, where its last lingering rays have not played on the caps of its masts. And then, again, look to the reaches of our internal commerce along the various inlets, and bays, and ports of the seaboard, through the vast and almost interminable rivers and valleys of the West; on the broad and restless lakes, through the deep prairies, and up the steeps of the Rocky Mountains, and onward to the far Ocean, which washes the darkened shores of two continents. Look, I say, to these extensive yet connected interests, and who but must admit, that to understand their intricate relations and dependencies, to gather up even the fragments of that knowledge, which it is necessary to possess, in order (I will not say to guide, and direct them, but) not to mar and destroy them, there must be years of
patient, thorough, and laborious research into the true principles, and policy, and objects of government.
But it is not to rulers and statesmen alone, that the science of government is important and useful. It is equally indispensable for every American citizen, to enable him to exercise his own rights, to protect his own interests, and to secure the public liberties and the just operations of public authority. A republic, by the stitution of its government, requires, on the part of the people, more vigilance and constant exertion than all others. The American republic, above all others, demands from every citizen unceasing vigilance and exertion ; since we have deliberately dispensed with every guard against danger or ruin, except the intelligence and virtue of the people themselves. It is founded on the basis, that the people have wisdom enough to frame their own system of government, and public spirit enough to preserve it; that they cannot be cheated out of their liberties; and that they will not submit to have them taken from them by force. We have silently assumed the fundamental truth, that, as it never can be the interest of the majority of the people to prostrate their own political equality and happiness, so they never can be seduced by flattery or corruption,