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lightened the "fathers" at Philadelphia. In Europe this view of the case has been generally accepted as correct. Much eloquence has been lavished in laudation of the "isolated fact in history," that thirteen states, loosely bound together as one confederate body, did not see in the sword the only engine to weld together their political machinery, which was falling to pieces, but met in peaceful consultation and agreed to transform a confederacy of states into a federal state of masterly construction. In America this is an inexhaustible theme for Fourth-of-July orations, and in Europe it is only too frequently used as a text for doctrinarian politico-moral discussions. With history, however, it has nothing to do. The historical fact is that "the constitution had been extorted from the grinding necessity of a reluctant people."


1 This is not a mere idle phrase; it is one of the standing formulas in which the self-complacency and pride of a people who esteem themselves special objects of the care of the Ruler of the Universe, find expression We reproduce one illustration of this, out of a whole multitude: In the North American Review (1862, I., p. 160) we read: "Such a government we regard as more than the expression of calm wisdom and lofty patriotism. It has its distinctively providential element. It was God's saving gift to a distracted and imperiled people. It was his creative fiat over a weltering chaos: 'Let a nation be born in a day.'"




"Mr. Cobb the other night said it [the government of the Union] had proven a failure. A failure in what? Why, we are the admiration of the civilized world, and present the brightest hopes of mankind.1 No, there is no failure of this government yet." In these words Alexander H. Stephens expressed his judgment concerning the constitution and the political history of the Union, on the eve of the four years' civil war. Four weeks later he accepted the position of vice-president of the Confederate States, a position which he retained until the close of the war. A few years after the restoration of the Union, he published a comprehensive treatise, which is at once an emphatic reiteration and explication of that declaration, and a justification of the rebellion, as well as of his personal participation in it.

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1 By "government" is not here meant the administration of the time, but the whole system of government created and established by the constitution.

* Governor Hamilton, of South Carolina, one of the most distinguished incitors of the nullification movement, said, after his nomination as president of the convention of 1832, which issued the celebrated nullification ordinance: "Our present circumstances are a commentary on the safety and beauty of our constitution. In other countries we should render ourselves obnoxious to the charge of an attempt to disturb and change the very elements of government. Here all goes on with tranquillity, and with the harmony of the spheres themselves." Niles' Register, XLIII., p. 219.

A Constitutional View of the late War between the States. 2 vols.


Only a thorough study of American history can solve the enigma how a man of so much acuteness as a thinker, and of so much intelligence, one who has spent his whole life in the study of political questions, could honestly say that his views and his actions were in complete harmony.

Stephens is not an isolated example of this phenomenon. The whole American people, until late in the civil war, were entangled in the error which lies in this contradiction, and according to all appearances it will be a long time before they will free themselves from it entirely.

It devolved upon the Federalists, to whose efforts it is due that a constitution with the capacity to live was substituted for the articles of confederation, to put this constitution in operation. Scarcely had they so far accomplished this as to make the people fully conscious of the good results of the change, when the government passed out of their hands into those of their opponents, to continue in them. unchallenged for many years. The anti-Federalists had changed their mode of warfare in a degree proportionate to the change for the better which had taken place in every department of practical life. With increasing vehemence they accused the Federalists of having done violence to the constitution in order to accomplish their own ruinous designs. But their unmeasured denunciation of the constitution itself became gradually less frequent and less severe. It was not long before they directly accused the Federalists of traitorous attacks upon it. On the other hand, all the horrible shapes which they had conjured up during the debates of 1787 and 1788 had now disappeared. And even before they came into power they had ceased to find fault with the constitution. It became their chosen standard in the battle they were waging with all the energy of fanaticism against their opponents.

It is possible for us to trace the earliest beginnings of the worship of the constitution. At first it was looked upon as the best possible constitution for the United States.


By degrees it came to be universally considered as a masterpiece, applicable to every country. This was preached with so much unanimity and honest conviction, although internal quarrels were raging all the time, that the propagandism of the new faith reached even to Europe. In the United States this conviction grows steadily stronger, although parties not only differ concerning the advisability of certain practical provisions of the constitution, but have been from the first diametrically opposed to one another in their understanding of the principles on which it is founded. From the close of the century, that is, from the time when the opposing principles assumed a fixed form, the constitution has been the political Bible of the people. The child sucked in with his mother's milk the conviction that this was the light in which he should regard it. The paternal sic credo, stat fides mea pro ratione, was a guaranty for the rightfulness of this conviction. What should be deduced from the constitution, in the future, was quite another matter. The wilder the war of tongues, the louder the cry of the constitution was raised on every side, and the more energetically did every one swear not to deviate from it, even by a hair's breadth. For four years the people of the United States tore one another to pieces in the most frightful civil war recorded in history, each camp thinking, in the best of faith, that it was following the standard of the constitution. The time will come when it will be difficult to conceive how even Europe, which it did not concern, could, in view of the seventyfive years of contest over it, have so universally and so emphatically united in the non-critical laudations the constitution has received.

To rightly estimate the degree of unconditional admiration of which it was the object, and to what an extent this admiration influenced the political thought of the country, it must be remembered that it was by no means confined to the great masses of the people. The constitution has found


many learned and intelligent commentators; but they have all considered its excellence to be an undoubted and universally admitted fact. What should have been only the result of their investigation, they made the premises of their arguments. And these arguments have been confined to the interpretation and to the bearings of the separate provisions of the constitution. Much ingenuity has been spent in showing how its several provisions might be harmonized with one another and with the peculiar ideas of their authors on the nature and purpose of the general government. There has been no attempt as yet to consider the several provisions as parts of a whole, or to subject the whole to an objective critical examination in the light of history. The abler commentators, like Story, have now and then been forced upon conclusions from which it is but one step to such a course of treatment. But they have never carried out their chain of thought to that extent. They always break off at the decisive point, and proceed to the next question.1


1Stili less has been accomplished in this direction by the strikingly small number of European writers who have treated of the United States. They content themselves as a rule with showing the excellence of the several constitutional provisions in an intelligent manner, and in a general way. Even De Tocqueville's much-esteemed book is of this char-`, acter, so far as it treats of the constitution at all. Through the whole work there runs a vein of doctrinarianism and vagueness which is exceedingly misleading to superficial minds. The whole treatise proves that De Tocqueville had never thoroughly studied American history; and hence it is that it bears so very different a character from his masterly works on French history. It is apparent from every chapter of his book, that he built essentially upon what he saw, or thought he saw, during his comparatively short stay in America, and especially upon what Americans told him. Spite of this, however, his extraordinary endowments permitted him to cast many a profound glance into American affairs and into the spirit of the people. But history has shown that many of the most important points escaped him altogether, and that in others his judgment was exceedingly erroneous. His work should therefore be perused with great caution. It is of no importance that the Americans are lavish in praise of it. It is cleverly written, and his judgment is on the whole so favorable, that it must seduce Ameri



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