Slike strani
PDF
ePub

inferior in importance to that of any of its found ers during the preceding period.

Mr. Webster had for a long time the intention of writing a work which should display the remarkable state of affairs under whose influence the Constitution was first brought into practical application; and this design he relinquished only when all the remaining plans of his life were surrendered with the solemn and religious resignation that marked its close. It was known to him that I had begun to labor upon another branch of the same subject. In the spring of 1852 I wrote to him to explain the plan of my work, and to ask him for a copy of some remarks made by his father in the Convention of New Hampshire when · the Constitution was ratified by that State. ceived from him the following answer.

I re

“WASHINGTON, March 7th, [1852]. “ MY DEAR SIR,

“I will try to find for you my father's speech, as it was collected from tradition and published some years ago. If I live to see warm weather in Marshfield, I shall be glad to see you beneath its shades, and to talk of your book.

“ You are probably aware that I have meditated the writing of something upon the History of the Constitution and the Administration of Washing

ton. I have the plan of such a work pretty definitely arranged, but whether I shall ever be able to execute it I cannot say:— 'the wills above be done.' “ Yours most truly,

“DANL. WEBSTER."

Regarding this kind and gracious intimation as a wish not to be anticipated in any part of the field which he had marked out for himself, I replied, that if, when I should have the pleasure of seeing him, my work should seem to involve any material part of the subject which he had comprehended within his own plan, I should of course relinquish it at once. When, however, the period of that summer's leisure arrived, and brought with it, to his watchful observation, so many tokens that “ the night cometh,” he seemed anxious to impress upon me the importance of the task I had undertuken, and to remove any obstacle to its fulfilment that he might have suggested. Being with him alone, on an occasion when his physician, after a long consultation, had just left him, he said to me, with an earnestness and solemnity that can never be described or forgotten: “You have a future; I have none. You are writing a History of the Constitution. You will write that work; I shall not.

Go on, by all means, and you shall have every aid that I can give you."

The event of which these words were ominous was then only four weeks distant. Many times, during those short remaining weeks, I sought “the shades of Marshfield"; but now it was for the offices and duties, not for the advantages, of friendship; — and no part of my work was ever submitted to him to whose approbation, sympathy, and aid I had so long looked forward, as to its most important stimulus and its most appropriate reward.

But the solemn injunction which I had received became to me an ever-present admonition, and gave me — if I may make such a profession — the needful fidelity to my great subject. Whatever thought of the manner in which it has been treated, a consciousness that the impartial spirit of History has guided me will remain, after every ordeal of criticism shall have been passed.

And here, while memories of the earlier as well as of the later lost crowd upon me with my theme, I cannot but think of him, jurist and magistrate, friend of my younger as well as riper years, who was called from all human sympathies before I had conceived the undertaking which I have now

may be

completed. Fortunate shall I be, if to those in whom his blood flows united with mine I can transmit a work that may be permitted to stand near that noble Commentary, which is known and honored wherever the Constitution of the United States bears sway.

The plan of this work is easily explained. The first volume embraces the Constitutional History of the United States from the commencement of the Revolution to the assembling of the Convention of 1787, together with some notices of the principal members of that body. The second volume is devoted to the description of the process of forming the Constitution, in which I have mainly followed, of course, the ample Record of the Debates preserved by Mr. Madison, and the official Journal of the proceedings.?

1 In citing the “ Madison Pa- ject of this work. In this relapers, " I have constantly referred tion, I may suggest the desirato the edition contained in the bleness of a new and carefully refifth (supplementary) volume of vised edition of the Journals the Mr. Jonathan Elliot's " Debates,” old Congress ;

an enterprise that &c., because it is more accessible should be the care of the national to general readers. The accuracy government. A great magazine of of that publication, and its full materials for our national history, and admirable Index, make it a from the first Continental Congress very important volume to be con to the adoption of the Constitution, sulted in connection with the sub exists in those Journals.

[merged small][ocr errors]

The period of our history from the commence ment of the Revolution to the beginning of Washington's administration is the period when our State and national institutions were formed. With the events of the Revolution, its causes, its prog ress, its military history, and its results, the people of this country have long been familiar. But the constitutional history of the United States has not been written, and few persons have made them. selves accurately acquainted with its details. How the Constitution of the United States came to be formed; from what circumstances it arose; what its relations were to institutions previously existing in the country; what necessities it satisfied; and what was its adaptation to the situation of these States, — are all points of the gravest importance to the American people, and all of them require to be distinctly stated for their permanent welfare.

For the history of this Constitution is not like the history of a monarchy, in which some things are obsolete, while some are of present importance. The Constitution of the United States is a living code, for the perpetuation of a system of free government, which the people of each succeeding generation must administer for themselves. Every line of it is as operative and as binding to-day as it

« PrejšnjaNaprej »