Imágenes de páginas

currency, in payment of debts, were generally, if not universally, prevalent ; * * laws authorising the delivery of any sort of property, however unproductive or undesirable, in payment of debts, upon an arbitrary or friendly appraisement,” and several other laws of the same nature. “ In the rear of these came the systems of general insolvent laws, some of which were of a permanent nature,” and others “had so few guards against frauds of every kind by the debtor, that in practice they amounted to an absolute discharge of any debt, without anything more than a nominal dividend


and sometimes even that vain mockery was dispensed with.”* “The local tribunals were obliged to obey the legislative will; and in the few instances in which it was resisted, the independence of the judges was sacrificed to the temper of the times.”+ These descriptions, and much more to the same effect, apply to the period of the Revolutionary Government, and the confederation, between 1774 and 1789. The power to sanction such departures

+ $ 487.

* $ 487.

from honesty and justice has, by the Constitution of the United States, been taken away from the legislatures of the individual States, in some of the above particulars. The events, however, of only a few years ago, in regard to the “repudiation” of their debts by many of the States, show that there is no security against the recurrence of such aberrations from principle, among communities where the numerical majority has the controlling power, and is able, under the pressure of some temporary suffering, or some excited feeling, to overbear all that is honourable and enlightened among their fellow-citizens. A notorious instance of the inability of the legislature and of the executive of a State to cause the law to be enforced when resisted by popular clamour, has, for the last twenty-seven years, continued to be exhibited by the great and populous State of New York, almost within sight of the Houses of Legislature, in the case of the forcible occupation of the large estates of a portion of the Van Ransalaer family by the tenantry, who refuse either to pay rent

or to give up their occupation. They are sufficiently numerous to have been able to elect the local officers, without whose aid the law cannot be enforced. Those newspapers of the State which possess any sense of the public interest and dignity, frequently call for either the vindication of the law by an adequate employment of the public force, or a satisfactory compromise between the parties; but hitherto without effect; and this great scandal still exhibits, in the twenty-seventh year of its existence, one of those “defects of justice” which the Constitution of the United States has no power to interfere with, but which could never occur under institutions which give due place and weight to the portion of the community incapable of submitting to such a stain. *

Another object of the United States Constitution, was, according to the preamble, “ to

* A decision has recently been given in the Supreme Court of the State of New York, adverse to the claims of the Van Ransalaer family; but its justice, after so long a period of years, is much disputed; and the present determination of the point does not excuse the flagrant and successful resistance to the law as it stood.

insure domestic tranquillity,” or in the words of the “Federalist” upon that portion of the Constitution, “to guard one part of society against the injustice of the other part,” if their peace, safety, or interests should be threatened by an adverse party or faction. The danger of the whole power of the State falling into the hands of a faction is one to which pure republican governments are especially exposed. “If a majority be united by a common interest, the rights of a minority will be insecure.” * It was a main object with the framers of the Constitution to devise means for protecting the rights of minorities ; or rather, what is more effectual, for enabling minorities to protect themselves. These means, which are comparatively weak in the more purely republican governments of the individual States, are, in the “compound republic” of the United States, to use the expression of one of the able writers of the “ Federalist,” sought for, by placing power in the hands of so many parts, interests,

* Federalist, No. 10.

[ocr errors]

and classes of citizens, “that the rights of individuals, or of the minority, will be in little danger from interested combinations of the majority.” This is precisely the same principle which has always been so conspicuous in the British Constitution, and which has always insured a full hearing to every interest however small, and however apparently at variance, in its instincts and sympathies, with the great majority of influential opinions in the State. It is this which justly gives it its air of true and liberal freedom; which makes every man who lives under it, feel that he possesses in himself, and in those united with him, a guarantee against oppression. On this point there is no difference of principle between our Constitution and that of the United States. The difference is only in the modes of attaining the same end. We look to the independent powers of our ancient or modern corporations, to the distinct and peculiar powers and privileges of our church and universities, to our hereditary and independent House of Lords, to the fair re

« AnteriorContinuar »