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being useful impels me, at this interesting moment, to forego this pleasure; to call you from this tender scene; to remind you that you are the citizens of a free state; to bid you rejoice with Roman pride, that those you love have done their duty; to exhort you to crown the glorious work they have begun; for, alas! my friends, though they have nobly performed the part assigned them, the work is still unfinished, and much remains for us to do. It may not, therefore, be improper, amidst the congratulations I make you on this day—this day, distinguished, in the annals of fame, for the triumph of freedom and the birth of nations, to inquire how far it has been productive of the advantages we might reasonably have expected, and where they have fallen short of our expectations.
To investigate the causes that have conduced to our disappointment, two objects demand our attention; our internal and federal governments: either, to those who are disposed to view only the gloomy side of the picture, will afford sufficient matter for censure, and too much cause of uneasiness. Many desponding spirits, misled by their reflections, have ceased to rejoice in independence, and to doubt whether it is to be considered as a blessing. God forbid that there should be any such among us. For, whatever may be the pressure of our present evils, they will cease to operate, when we resolve to remove them; the remedy is within our reach, and I have sufficient confidence in our fortitude to hope that it will be applied.
Let those, however, who know not the value of our present situation, contrast it with the state of servitude, to which we should have been reduced, had we patiently submitted to the yoke of Britain. She had long since seen our ease with envy, and our strength with jealousy. Loaded with debt, she wished to share that affluence, which she attributed to her protection, rather than to our industry. Tenacious of her supposed supremacy, she could not be indifferent to those increasing numbers which threatened its subversion. Avarice and timidity concurred in framing a system of despotism, which, but for our resistance, would have reduced us to the vilest subjection. Having resisted, accommodation was vain; pretences would not have been wanting to ruin those that had been active in opposition. Disputes among ourselves would have been encouraged ; and advantages derived from our disunion, would have enabled her ultimately to attain her object. No alternative was left, but independence, or abject submission. We have chosen as became a wise and generous people. Let slaves or cowards disapprove the choice.
Our constitutions are formed to insure the happiness of a virtuous nation. They guard against the tumult and confusion of unwieldy popular assemblies, while they yield to every citizen his due share of power. They preserve the administration of justice pure and unbiassed, by the independence of the judges. They prevent abuses in the execution of the laws, by committing the care of enforcing them to magistrates, who have no share in making, nor voice in expounding them. In these circumstances, they excel the boasted. models of Greece, or Rome, and those of all other nations, in having precisely marked out the power of the government, and the rights of the people. With us the law is written: no party can justify their errors under former abuses or doubtful precedents.
With these constitutions,' I shall be asked, how it has happened, that the evils, hinted at, continue to exist? I shall endeavor to answer this inquiry, since my object in treating of this subject is to impress upon you the obligations we are under as citizens, as men whose past services entitle us to some weight in the community, zealously to unite in promoting a constitutional reform of every abuse, that affects the government.
Our constitutions being purely democratic, the people are sovereign and absolute. The faults of absolute governments are to be charged to the sovereign : in ours, they must be traced back to the people.
If our executive has sufficient energy, if the judicial is competent to the administration of justice, if our legislative is so formed as that no law can pass without due deliberation, all the ends of government are answered, so far as they depend upon the constitution. If still it falls short of expectation, the evils must be sought in the administration: and since every person, concerned in that, is either mediately or immediately chosen by the people, they may change it at pleasure. What can be devised more perfect than that constitution, which puts in the power of those, who experience the effects of a maladministration, to prevent their continuance; not by mad, tumultuous and irregular acts, as in the ancient republics, but by such as are cool, deliberate and constitutional? If they still exist, they must be charged to the negligence of the people, who, after violent agitation, have sunk into such a state of torpor and indifference with respect to government, as to be careless into what hands they trust their dearest rights. When we choose an agent to manage our private affairs, an executor to distribute our estate, we are solicitous about the integrity and abilities of those we entrust: we consult our friends: we make the choice after due deliberation. Is it not astonishing, that, when we are to elect men, whose power extends to our liberty, our property and our lives, we should be so totally indifferent, that not one in ten of us tenders his vote? Can it be thought, that an enlightened people believe the science of government level to the meanest capacity—that experience, application and education are unnecessary to those who are to frame laws for the government of the state? And yet, are instances wanting in which these have been proscribed and their place supplied by those insidious arts, which have rendered them suspected? Are past services the passport to future honors ? ,
Or, have you yourselves, gentlemen, escaped the general obloquy? Are you not calumniated by those you deem unworthy of your society? Are you
not even shunned by some who should wear with pride and pleasure this badge of former services ?
You have learned in the school of adversity to appreciate characters. You are not formed, whoever may direct, to promote measures you disapprove. Men, used to command and to obey, are sensible of the value of government, and will not consent to its debasement. Your services entitle you to the respect and favor of a grateful people. Envy and the ambition of the unworthy, concur to rob you of the rank
To these causes, we owe the cloud that obscures our internal governments.
But let us not despair : the sun of science is beginning to rise; and, as new light breaks in upon the minds of our fellow-citizens, that cloud will be dispelled.
Having observed, that our internal constitutions are adequate to the purposes for which they were formed, and that the inconveniences, we have some time felt under them, were imputable to causes which it was in our power to remove, I might perhaps add, that the continuance of those evils, is a proof of the happiness these governments impart; since, had they not been more than balanced by advantages, they would have pressed with such weight, as to have compelled the people to apply the remedy, the constitution affords. But, when I turn my eyes to the other great object of a patriot's attention, our federal government, I confess to you, my friends, I sicken at the sight. Nothing presents itself to my view, but a nerveless council, united by imaginary ties, brooding over ideal decrees, which caprice, or fancy, is, at pleasure, to annul, or execute! I see trade languish ; public credit expire ; and that glory, which is not less necessary to the prosperity of a nation, than reputation to individuals, a victim to opprobrium and disgrace. Here, my friends, you are particularly interested; for, I believe, I should do little justice to the motives that induced you to brave the dangers and hardships of a ten years' war,
if I supposed you had nothing more in view, than humble peace and ignominious obscurity. Brave souls are influenced by nobler motives; and, I persuade myself, that the rank and glory of the nation, you have established, were among the strongest that nerved your arms, and invigorated your hearts. Let us not, then, my friends, loose sight of this splendid object; having pursued it through fields of blood, let us not relinquish the chase, when nothing is necessary to its attainment, but union, firmness and temperate deliberation.
In times of extreme danger, whoever has the courage to seize the helm, may command the ship : each mariner, distrusting his own skill, is ready to repose upon that of others. Congress, not attending to this reflection, were misled by the implicit respect, that, during the war, was paid to their recom mendations; and without looking forward to times, when the circumstances, which made the basis of their authority, should no longer exist, they formed a constitution only adapted to such circumstances. Weak in itself, a variety of causes have conspired to render it weaker. Some states have totally neglected their representation in Congress; while some others have been inattentive, in their choice of delegates, to those qualities, which are essential to the support of its reputation : objects of some moment, where authority is founded on opinion only. To these, I am sorry, gentlemen, to add a third, which operates with peculiar force in some states : the love of power, of which the least worthy are always the most tenacious. To deal out a portion of it to Congress, would be to share that which some, among those who are elected by popular favor, already find too little for their own ambition. To preserve it, rulers of free states practise a lesson they have received from eastern tyrants; and, as these, to preserve the succession, put out the eyes of all, that may approach the seat of power, so those strive to blind the people, whose discernment, they fear, may expel them from it.