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This is not the place to go into a thorough investigation of the causes which led all classes of the people to a veneration for the constitution, that bore at once the character of an esteem which did much good and of a most ruinous idolatry in which the idol worshiped was themselves. We must confine ourselves here to two points which contributed largely to this effect, for the reason that they seem necessary to the understanding of what follows.
The origin of the constitution and the first years in which it did so much for the good of the people by producing a radical change in the unhappy situation of affairs after the war, were contemporaneous with the adoption or invention of political or party principles. The political reasoning of the school which gave tone to the time started out with the assumption that the individual was a monad floating through the universe and governed by independent laws inherent in himself, not a member of a given society into which he was born. The consequence was, that certain principles resulting from this mode of reasoning were substituted for actual facts, as a foundation for the social and economic condition which it was sought to bring about. As the basis of these principles was discovered in human nature, they were necessarily declared to be unchangeable and applicable to all times and to every people. Their tendency therefore was, on the one hand, to destroy the existing state of things; for any title not in harmony with these principles was a fraud and a usurpation and was denounced as a weak and damnable species of commerce with the injustice of a thousand years. But on the other hand, to adopt this philosophy would be to declare stagnation the natural condi
cans so long as they have so little of objectivity in judging themselves. But even among them other and different views are sometimes heard. Thus The Nation, a very ably edited weekly journal, says, Oct. 17, 1872, p. 251, in an article on Francis Lieber: "He could not, and would not if he could, write a brilliant, superficial [!] and attractive work like De Tocqueville's Democracy in America.'"
CANONIZING THE CONSTITUTION.
tion of all social and political order. If the principles were to be unchangeable, incapable of refinement and progress, there would be no possibility of development, for principles are only the quintessence of the aggregate intellectual and moral knowledge of a people or of the age, reduced to the simplest formula.
We have already seen that even in America, at the outbreak of the Revolution, the soil was prepared for a sys-7 tem of politics based on absolute principles. The French Revolution caused the seed to germinate here more rapidly and luxuriantly than in any other part of the western civilized world. Men played now with systems as they had formerly with foot balls, said Chauncey Goodrich.' The desire to carry out these principles immediately with all their practical consequences-so far as such a desire was observable in the United States at all-was soon given up in many respects. But for this very reason the principles became more universal and assumed the shape of theoretical truths. They became the creed of the public which every lover of freedom, and especially every republican, was obliged to profess. Hence it was obvious that thefathers" must have been either their earliest advocates or their originators. That a great many of the founders of the republic, partly through their own experience and partly in consequence of the excesses of the French Revolution, recognized the deceptive and dangerous vagueness of these political dogmas, had no effect on the a priori convictions of the masses of the people. Even the small minority of the more intelligent could not completely free themselves from them.
But it did not stop here. The more the war of the Revolution and the struggle to transform the Union so that it might live, became things of the past, the thinner the long line of able combatants in the internal and external strug
'Gibbs, Wolcott, I., p. 130.
gle for national existence grew, the more dazzling became the light in which the people viewed that whole epoch and its representatives. It mattered not how many or how great the short-comings which sober criticism or blind party-spirit had discovered in all these personages-Washington to a certain extent excepted the "fathers" of the republic were considered as an isolated historical phenomenon of purity of motive and political wisdom. But they had embodied the sum total of their political thought and political experience in the constitution. The latter was, therefore, the culmination of the "storm and stress" period of the young republic, and these absolute political principles were to be considered as its firmest foundation. Both causes co-operated to engrave the constitution on the minds. of the people, and it gradually assumed there the character of perfection.1
The second element which contributed to lift the constitution as a whole above the level of criticism is based on deeper causes. Their effects have been farther reaching and of longer duration.
It is impossible to even hastily turn over the pages of the debates of congress without being struck by a very important circumstance, to be found in the history of no other constitutional state. Up to the year 1861, there were but few important laws of a general character proposed which, while under discussion, were not attacked as unconstitutional by the minority. The arguments are scarcely ever confined to the worth or worthlessness of the law itself. The opposition in an extraordinarily large number of instances starts out with the question of constitutionality. The expediency or inexpediency of the law is a secondary question, and is touched upon only as a confirmation of that first decisive objection.
Pomeroy (An Introduction to the Constitutional Law of the United States, p. 102) writes, in 1870: "Our fathers, by an almost divine prescience, struck the golden mean."
We need not here examine how honest these chronic constitutional scruples of the minority for the time being were. It is sufficient to mention the fact that for over seventy years all parties have followed these tactics when they found themselves on the side of the opposition. bearing, therefore, of all the general provisions of the constitution, and even of its separate terms, was, in the course of time, determined in the most opposite senses. There were a number of persons in every congress observant enough to notice this fact. But they never followed up the question far enough to ascertain whether this phenomenon was not to be accounted for in part by a fundamental defect in the constitution itself. This would not have been the case, were it not that their thought on the matter was under some heavy pressure from without.
As the country became more democratic, men distinguished in politics became less and less the political leaders of the people. They, indeed, apparently claimed that position, but in fact they went along with the stream, concerned only to swim at the head. Men really independent in thought or action by degrees appeared more rarely in congress and among politicians outside of it.2 The idea of representation lost its original and only
We read in an article in the Nation, Nov. 7th, 1872, (No. 384, p. 300): "In spite of its supposed [!] precision, and its subjection to judicial construction, our constitution has always been indirectly made to serve the turn of that sort of legislation which its friends call progressive and its enemies call revolutionary, quite as effectively as though congress had the omnipotence of parliament. The theory of latent powers to carry out those granted has been found elastic enough to satisfy almost any party demands in time of peace, to say nothing of its enormous extensions in time of war." Since the end of the civil war admissions
of this nature are found more frequently, a happy sign of progress towards a clearer judgment among thinking people.
Hamilton, as early as 1800, writes to King: "In the two houses of congress we have a decided majority. But the dread of unpopularity is likely to paralyze it." Hamilton, Works, VI., p. 416.
justifiable character, and was prostituted to this, that representatives should be the mere mouthpieces of their immediate constituents.1 In particulars it was necessary to leave them sufficient room, but the unripe political notions, the preconceived opinions, the vague instincts, the arbitrary sympathies and antipathies of the majority of these constituents, became the sub-structure of their labors. From the beginning of Washington's administration, Jefferson's adherents preached that the maxim vox populi, vox dei was a theoretical truth applicable under all circumstances. By degrees it became the actual rule of politicians, until finally it would have been considered not only folly, but a crime against the spirit of republican institutions, to defend one's own dissenting opinion against the vox populi, once it had pronounced with any degree of definiteness on a given proposition. Idealistic doctrinarianism and demagogism had begun the work; the moral cowardice and pusillanimous self-interest of politicians continued it, until finally it seldom occurred that even morally strong and independent thinkers approached questions of the nature mentioned above in a skeptical spirit, or that they considered them as questions at all. The tendency to the creation of political dogmas kept pace with the development of democracy.
At the head of all these dogmas-those of natural rights and the social contract in part excepted-stood the supremacy of the constitution. Only a few, like Macon of North Carolina, whose independence savored of affectation, ventured to preserve the tone in which they had spoken in
1 This tendency was very evident, even in the debates of Nov., 1791, when the proportion of representatives was fixed. See especially the speech of Page, of Virginia. Benton's Abridgment of the Debates of Congress, I., p. 325. The same may be said of the debate on the assumption by the Union of the debts contracted by the states during the revolutionary war. Benton, I., passim.