« PředchozíPokračovat »
forgotten that she is, a sovereign State, and as such is ever jealously on the watch against any interference or dictation from without in any shape. No amount of agitation in the rest of the United States, or in any part of the world whatsoever, against anything that concerns her internal policy, can have any effect in compelling her against her will to alter that policy; and the greater the agitation directed against her, the more obstinately will she resist all movement until she can exercise her own discretion in taking the initiative with calmness and in her own way. To adopt a less sturdy course would, they think, be to renounce their Saxon descent and character; some will add perhaps even more than that, for, judging from those I met with, there is scarcely one of the sons of the old southern States who hesitates to tell you that they have not got some of the best blood of England in them for nothing. They will remind you that the movement in New York and Pennsylvania, which ended in abolishing slavery in those States, in 1819, began within themselves, as had been the case before in New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Vermont, and Ohio. They will point to Virginia and Kentucky, where, years ago, measures for continuing or granting facilities for emancipation were all but carried ; and to Maryland, where, as well as in Virginia and Kentucky, it is notorious that the value of the land would be trebled were the slaves which taint their soil, and repel the labour and capital of the north, gradually set free by Acts of their Legislatures. They will remind you, that those movements, which were so nearly being successful in the two States above-named, were spontaneous, and emanated from themselves ; and that they were checked in mid career, and further progress made for a time impossible, by the irritation of feeling produced by the attacks, the taunts, and the interference of the Abolitionists. But much as they resent the interference of their fellow-countrymen, still more do they resent ours, when obtruded upon them in a spirit of superiority, and as if we had a right to take them to task.
There is a spirit, however, in which they will thank you if you will enter upon this great question with them. Sit down with them, and count the cost. Look at the appalling subject in all its vast and complicated bearings. Feel for them, as you cannot fail to do, at the hideous problem that lies before them. Feel with them at their stupendous difficulties. Aid them with the whole stretch of your mind and the whole force of your ability, as you would a brother. Point out every “lane of open water” that may seem to lead through that worse than polar agglomeration. Consider with them what expedients may smooth the way for, what palliatives may mitigate, the crisis. Suggest the little that may have been good in the experience of your own country, and recall to mind the wiser counsels that were neglected and the hopeful opportunities that were lost. Be humble in your anticipations of being a useful counsellor, in the recollection of your own errors. Believe that those on whom the heavy weight of the solution must press day and night must know something about it, and of the times and seasons when to take it in hand. Soften down the asperities you may before have had a hand in causing; help to bury them in oblivion; encourage the opening of a new page, and the commencement of action from a new starting-point. Let it henceforward be a question not of general reasoning and declamation, but of practical detail. Bend all the energies of
your mind upon that; and implore an All-wise Providence to look with compassion upon the past, and to bless the efforts for a better future. *
* The first disturbances, produced by the measures of the Abolitionists, took place in New York, in 1834. In 1835, lawless proceedings against persons belonging, or supposed to belong, to that party, occurred in Baltimore, New Orleans, and in the States of Mississippi and Missouri. In 1837, President Van Buren, the first who in his public addresses adverted to the question of slavery, expressed his determination “to resist the slightest interference with it in the States where it exists." The continued agitation of the subject, and the efforts of the Abolitionists to facilitate the escape of slaves, produced, in 1850, the Fugitive Slave Law, which has given tenfold bitterness to the feelings of the north, and roused the south to declare that its repeal will be followed by a dissolution of the Union. How is it possible, until these feelings are quieted on both sides, that any real and vigorous efforts can be made even in those slave States which once manifested a desire to lead the way in the further progress of abolition ? .
In two at least of them the current has now completely turned. Kentucky, in 1850, by a vote of 71,563 for, and 20,302 against; Maryland, in 1851, and Virginia in 1851, by a vote of 75,748 for, and 11,060 against, adopted ultra-democratic constitutions (every free white male of 21 years of age, resident from six months to two years, having a vote); yet, in the two last, the General Assembly is altogether restricted from emancipating. In Kentucky, the consent of the owner is required, or the payment of a full equivalent, and the removal of those emancipated from the State, the latter provision adding greatly to the cost and difficulties. I take the above figures from “The American Almanack” (Boston), a very useful compilation, to which I am much indebted.
The expression in the text (p. 298), that the Constitution of the United States is commonly asserted in that country to be, in popular phrase, “the best in the world,” is too well supported by every-day facts to need any justification; but, perhaps, a few instances, showing that the expression has been countenanced by high authorities, may not be without their value.
President Munroe, in his “Message" of 1826, speaks of the institutions of the United States as “the happiest the world ever knew."
President Harrison, in his Address of 1841, describes their institutions as “far exceeding in excellence those of any other people.”
President Filmore, in his “ Message" of 1852, asserts that their Constitution, “though not perfect, is, doubtless, the best that was ever formed."
A very useful little volume on “ The Constitution of the United States," with a “ descriptive account of the State Papers and other Public Documents” relating to it, by Mr. W. Hickey,* has now reached its fourth edition. Prefixed to it are copies of several resolutions of the Senate, ordering the purchase and distribution of upwards of 24,000 copies of this work. In the “Introductory Remarks,” p. xxxiv, Mr. Hickey, speaking of the President and the members of the two Houses of Congress, uses the following words :“ The intrinsic dignity of whose official character, in a
* Philadelphia, 1851.
moral point of view, transcends that of every other legislative assembly, in so much as our Constitution excels that of every other human government.”
I am far from referring to it as a matter of complaint that the citizens of the United States should think and speak of their Constitution as “the best in the world." I only wish to guard myself against being thought in the least degree to have exceeded the strict truth, in alleging that such is their claim, not to say, boast; and that they therefore challenge all legitimate criticism, and every fair exposition of facts which show how far their present practice and experience under that Constitution corresponds with its letter and spirit.
Very different was the language of Washington in speaking of that document, when, in a letter to the President of the Congress,* he recommended its acceptance.
His words are, “ that it is liable to as few exceptions as could reasonably have been expected, we hope and believe."
To the same effect, also, are his sentiments in the extract given last in this note.
The wisdom of the truly great men who framed the Constitution was too enlarged not to include the attribute of humility, under the consciousness of human imperfections; and their knowledge was too comprehensive and real, not to show them difficulties and dangers on the vast field of political science, which lie beyond the horizon of inferior minds. Therefore-in the same sober spirit as his great predecessor—the second President of the Republic, John Adams, in his inaugural address,t speaks of the Constitution “as an experiment;" “ better adapted,"
* September 17, 1787.
+ March 4, 1797.