« PrejšnjaNaprej »
was when the government was first set in motion by its provisions, and no part of it can fall into neglect or decay while that government continues to exist.
The Constitution of the United States was the means by which republican liberty was saved from the consequences of impending anarchy; it secured that liberty to posterity, and it left it to depend on their fidelity to the Union. It is morally certain that the formation of some general government, stronger and more efficient than any which had existed since the independence of the States had been declared, had become necessary to the continued existence of the Confederacy. It is equally certain, that, without the preservation of the Union, a condition of things must at once have ensued, out of which wars between the various provinces of America must have grown.
The alternatives, therefore, that presented themselves to the generation by whom the Constitution was established, were either to devise a system of republican government that would answer the great purposes of a lasting union, or to resort to something in the nature of monarchy. With the latter, the institutions of the States must have been sooner or later crushed ; - for they must either have crumbled
away in the new combinations and fearful convul sions that would have preceded the establishment of such a power, or else they must have fallen speedily after its triumph had been settled. With the former alternative, the preservation of the States, and of all the needful institutions which marked their separate existence, though a difficult, was yet a possible result.
To this preservation of the separate States we owe that power of minute local administration, which is so prominent and important a feature of our American liberty. To this we are indebted for those principles of self-government which place their own interests in the hands of the people of every distinct community, and which enable them, by means of their own laws, to defend their own particular institutions against encroachments from without.
Finally, the Constitution of the United States made the people of these several provinces one nation, and gave them a standing among the nations of the world. Let any man compare the condition of this country at the peace of 1783, and during the four years which followed that event, with its present position, and he will see that he must look to some other cause than its merely natural and
material resources to account for the proud elevation which it has now reached.
He will see a people ascending, in the comparatively short period of seventy years, from an attitude in which scarcely any nation thought it worth while to treat with them, to a place among the four principal powers of the globe. He will see a nation, once of so little account and so little strength that the corsairs of the Mediterranean could prey unchecked upon its defenceless merchantmen, now opening to their commerce, by its overawing diplomacy and influence, an ancient empire, on the opposite side of the earth we inhabit, which has for countless ages been firmly closed against the whole world. He will first see a collection of thirteen feeble republics on the eastern coast of North America, inflicting upon each other the manifold injuries of rival and hostile legislation; and then again he will behold them grown to be a powerful confederacy of more than thirty States, stretching from the Atlantic to the Pacific, with all their commercial interests blended and harmonized by one superintending legislature, and protected by one central and preponderating power. He will see a people who had at first achieved nothing but independence, and had contributed nothing to the cause of free government
but the example of their determination to enjoy it, founding institutions to which mankind may look for hope, for encouragement and light. He will see the arts of peace — commerce, agriculture, manufactures, jurisprudence, letters — now languishing beneath a civil polity inadequate and incompetent, and now expanding through a continent with an energy and force unexampled in the history of our race, — subduing the farthest recesses of nature, and filling the wilderness with the beneficent fruits of civilization and Christianity.
Surveying all this, - looking back to the period which is removed from him only by the span of one mortal life, and looking around and before him, he will see, that among the causes of this unequalled growth stands prominent and decisive, far over all other human agencies, the great code of civil government which the fathers of our republic wrought out from the very perils by which they were surrounded.
It is for the purpose of tracing the history of the period in which those perils were encountered and overcome, that I have written this work. But in doing it, I have sought to write as an American. For it is, I trust, impossible to study the history of the Constitution which has made us what we are,
by making us one nation, without feeling how unworthy of the subject — how unworthy of the dignity of History — would be any attempt to claim more than their just share of merit and renown for names or places endeared to us by local feeling or traditionary attachment. Historical writing that is not just, that is not impartial, that is not fearless, - looking beyond the interests of neighborhood, the claims of party, or the solicitations of pride, - is worse than useless to mankind.
Boston, July, 1854.