Page images
PDF
EPUB
[ocr errors][merged small][ocr errors][ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

on themselves and upon the annals of their country, Alexander Hamilton is justly held the foremost. His name and lineage commend him to the favor of the country in whose capital it is my honor to stand to-day, and, in the country of his choice and citizenship, his reputation is cherished, and his memory is enbalmed in the grateful hearts of a people who received from him service, in council and field, second to none of her sons, for Washington was the “Father of his Country.”

The debt of the United States to Scotland for the men of virtue and ability she has contributed in the establishment and maintenance of good government under Republican institutions is happily great, but no other single benefit known to me has outweighed in value the presence in that country, at the crucial period of its existence, of Alexander Hamilton.

So impressed was Hamilton with the necessity of separating the great departments of power that he devoted four of his most careful essays to an examination of the question, and the demonstration of the fatal results to liberty of permitting a union of the three great branches of executive, legislative, and judicial powers in the same hands.

“ No political truth,” said he, “ is of greater political value or is stamped with the authority of more enlightened patrons of liberty than that on which this objection is founded. The accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive, and judiciary in the same hands, whether of one or a few or many, and whether hereditary, self-appointed, or elective, may justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny.

The preservation of liberty requires that the three great departments of power should be separate and distinct."

“ There can be no liberty,” said Montesquieu, “ where the legislative and executive powers are united in the same person or body of magistrates."

You will, I believe, agree with me in holding the rapid growth and development of the United States to be the most remarkable page in the history of civilized mankind. The echoes of the savage war-whoop, the crack of the rifle, the sound of the settler's axe, and crash of the falling timber had scarcely died away when, behold, a continental civilization presented

*

itself. One flag waving from the Atlantic to the Pacific shores, and from the frozen ocean and the Canadian line to the Gulfs of California and Mexico, over the homes of nearly seventy millions of self-governing, vigorous, and intelligent people, sanguine of the future, and animated with the best results of the world's progress in the scale of civilization. Yet little more than a century has rolled by since, breathless, bleeding, clad in ragged homespun, but radiant with solemn triumph –

“ Rough, poor, content, ungovernably bold;

War in each breast, and freedom on each brow!"

their ancestors, emerging from an unequal contest, gathered themselves together as a family of Republics, united under a single independent government, stepped into the family of nations, and calmly took their place at the council table of the world's powers.

This marvelous progress can only be adequately accounted for by the freedom permitted to the units of that population, to each individual citizen, without surrender of conscience, to enjoy the admitted right to accomplish his own manhood, to be fully himself; to select the suitable occupation for which instinctively he felt himself to be competent, and upon which he embarked with the energy born of hope and confidence.

Sanguine temperaments were not repressed and chilled by the narrower and colder aphorisms of older and more calculating prudence, por was humble birth an invidious bar, nor did they feel the galling fetters of military conscription, nor the weight of plutocratic inequality; but with energies unrestrained, selfconscious, self-reliant, self-determined, and morally responsible, they pressed forward, each in his own field of enterprise, to gather the harvests of his own industry, and enjoy them beneath his own vine and fig tree, " with none to make him afraid.”

The main springs of these active exertions were indefatigable persistence, sincere conviction, enthusiasm, and hope, which are all, and are only, individual qualities and characteristics of the social unit, the free man. And with these subtracted, and the sense of personal responsibility disregarded, no substitute can be found.

In the plan of those who founded American society, the right of man to self-development was held to be essential, primordial, and inviolable, with the single limitation that he should not infringe the rights of others.

The government he was expected to support was not intended to enrich or support him; but its powers, limited, and delegated in trust, and always terminable, were never to be exercised to create unequal privileges or trammel his lawful efforts to contract and labor for his self-advancement. He was to be protected against violence and injustice from without and within, and to contribute equally to the common defense and general welfare of the community of which he was an integral part.

And this is the central idea, the dominating purpose and intent of the governmental systems of the English-speaking peoples.

No proclamation of their liberties from Magna Charta on this side of the Atlantic, to the Colonial Declaration of Independence on the other side, or the written constitution that followed it, was a mere recital of measures or a dry catalogue of statutes, but each and all were vitalized by the eternal principles that make and keep men free, and were laid down with stern and clear significance, not for a day, but for all time, principles of daily life and action, to which the changing forms and conditions of society as it progressed would be adjusted and guarded at every point, and shining like a golden thread through every sentence was the liberty of the individual.

Well might Lord Chatham declare, with noble earnestness, those three words in rude Latin, "Nullus liber homo,were more to him than all the elegancy of the classics. I cannot resist, here and now, recalling to you those words.

“No freeman shall be taken, imprisoned, disseized, outlawed, banished, or in any way destroyed, nor will we proceed against or prosecute him, except by the lawful judgment of his peers, and the law of the land. To no one will we sell, to none will we deny or defer right or justice.

“Wherefore we will and firmly charge that the English Church be free, and that all men in our kingdom have and hold the aforesaid liberties freely, quietly, fully, and wholly, to them and their heirs in all things and places for ever.

“ Given in the meadow which is called as is aforesaid Runnymede, between Windsor and Staines, on the 15th day of June, 1215."

Nearly six centuries had gone by, and the re-assertion of these rights had been many times made necessary amid the stormy vicissitudes of these kingdoms, and British liberty had been successfully upheld. And these same key-notes of liberty were again sounded in the hearts of men of the same race, who had gone beyond the great ocean to find new homes, and open in the wilderness a broader breathing space for thought and freedom, and the hour struck for them to claim local self-government and independence, and, as the Master-singer Tennyson has sung:

“What wonder if in noble heat

Those men thine arms withstood,
Re-taught the lesson thou had'st taught,
And in thy spirit with thee fought,
Who sprang from English blood.

( Whatever harmonies of law

The growing world assume,
Thy work is thine- the single note
From that deep chord which Hampden smote
Will vibrate to the doom."

The greatest bulwark of freedom is the doctrine of limitation upon human authority, and that the essential personal rights are beyond the jurisdiction of the community; as my countryman Webster said, " There are fireside rights that must never be permitted to be drawn into question.”

Personal conscience is marked in every line of the Declaration of Independence by the American colonists, and each man of them sifted his own heart to find reasons to justify the result. They appealed to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of their intentions, and in reliance upon His protection they mutually pledged their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor to secure the great ends for which government was ordained, life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. These were all such appeals as individuals alone could make, and could alone carry such declarations into effect.

Independence achieved, they proceeded to secure their per

sonal liberty under a well ordered and carefully guarded fundamental law. Under the Roman civil law the ruler was not subject to its provisions, but not so the common law of England, which was an American birthright. For as Coke put it, “ This Magna Charta will bave no fellow."

And but the other day the Supreme Court of the United States, by the voice of one of its most distinguished members, now no more(Mr. Justice Miller), repeated this great principle:

“No man in this country is so high that he is above the law. No officer of the law may set that law at defiance with impunity. All the officers of the Government, from the highest to the lowest, are creatures of the law, and are bound to obey it.

“ It is the only supreme power in our system of government, and every man who, by accepting office, participates in its functions, is only the more strongly bound to submit to that supremacy, and to observe the limitations which it imposes upon the exercise of the authority which it gives."

And in 1787, when the constitution of the United States was framed, into it were built the principles of Magna Charta, delegating certain and essential powers to the Congress. The exercise of those reserved was inhibited. The Congress was forbidden to prohibit the free exercise of religion, or require any religious test as a qualification to any office or public trust, or to prohibit the right of the people peaceably to assemble, or to infringe their right to keep and bear arms, and to be secure in their persons, papers and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures; nor should any one be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself; nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor should private property be taken for public use without just compensation.

Speedy and public trial before an impartial jury, information of the nature of the accusation, and being confronted by witnesses against him, and have compulsory process to obtain witnesses in his favor, and have the assistance of counsel for his defense, were all expressly secured.

The chief claims of those clericals who, in other eras of history, had sought to establish and enforce absolute power, had

2

V

2

VOL. XXX.

« PreviousContinue »