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NOT E S.
NOTE I. (TO CHAPTER VIII.) *
The authors of the “Federalist” (Mr. Madison, Mr. Hamilton, and Mr. Jay), speaking the opinion of the most enlightened men of their time, asked themselves, when entering upon the great enterprise of framing a constitution, “ whether societies of men are really capable or not of establishing good government by reflection and choice ?" whether it is within the power of human wisdom at once to strike out a political system which shall combine the elements of freedom and authority in the measure required to satisfy the highest purposes of civil society? They believed themselves capable of that effort. They at the same time believed themselves to be the only people, not then free, who were capable of it. President John Adams, writing to the late Mr. Richard Sharp, in the year 1811, thus expresses himself on that subject :
“ The people of America, from their singular situation, education,t occupations, and character, have gone through
* I have placed these Notes in the order in wnich they may be read continuously, instead of in the order of the Chapters to which they refer.
+ In municipal self-government, as well as political ; the former being the essential school for the latter.
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,” t 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,
most complete arbitrary power that has ever appeared on
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.
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." *
“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."
NOTE II. (TO CHAPTER VIII.)
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.
# 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
“ John Jay TO WASHINGTON.
“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 senti. ments 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