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parties to a subsisting confederacy, under which they might be regarded in the same light as the individuals composing the social compact; or whether they were to be looked upon as so many aggregates of individuals for whose personal rights and interests provision was to be made, as if they composed a nation already united, it was believed by the majority that no safe and durable government could be formed, if the democratic element were to be excluded. Pure democracies had undoubtedly been attended with inconveniences. But how could peace and real freedom be preserved, under the republican form, if half a million of people dwelling in one political division of the country possessed only the same suffrage in the enactment of laws as sixty thousand people dwelling in another division? Leave out of view the theory which taught that the States alone, regarded as members of an existing compact, must be considered as the parties to the new system, as they had been to the old, and it would be found that the political equality of the free citizens of the United States could be made a source of that energy and strength so much needed and as yet so little known. With it was connected the idea and the practicability of legislation that would reach and control individuals. Without it, there could be only a system of coercion of the States, whose opposition would be invited, rather than repressed, upon all occasions of importance. Abandon the necessary principle of governing by a democratic majority, said George Mason, and if the
government proceeds to taxation, the States will oppose its powers.1
On the other hand, the minority, insisting on a rigid construction of their powers, and planting themselves upon the nature of the compact already formed between the States, contended that these separate and sovereign communities had distinct governments already vested with the whole political power of their respective populations, and therefore that they could not, consistently with the truth of their situation, act as if the whole or any considerable part of that power could be transferred by the people themselves to another government. They said, that whatever power was to be conferred on a central or general government must be granted by the States, as political corporations, and that therefore the principle of the Union could not be changed, whatever addition it might be expedient to make to its authority. They said, that, even if this theory were not strictly true, the smaller States could not safely unite with the larger upon any other; and especially that they could not surrender their liberties to the keeping of a majority of the people inhabiting all the States, for such a power would inevitably destroy the State constitutions. They were willing, they said, to enlarge the powers of the federal government; willing to provide for it the means of compelling obedience to its laws; willing to hazard much for the general welfare. But they could not consent to place the very existence of their local 1 Yates's Minutes, Elliot, I. 433.
governments, with all their capacity to protect the distinct interests of the people, and all their peculiar fitness for the administration of local concerns, at the mercy of great communities, whose policy might overshadow and whose power might destroy them.
To the claim of political equality as between a citizen of the largest and a citizen of the smallest State in the Union, they opposed the doctrine, that in his own State every citizen is equal with every other, and holds such rights and liberties, and so much political power, as the State may see fit to bestow upon him; but that, when separate States enter into political relations with each other for their common benefit, it is among the States themselves that the equality must prevail, because States can only be parties to a compact upon a footing of natural equality, just as individuals are supposed to enter society with equal natural rights. This doctrine, they said, was especially necessary to be applied between States of very unequal magnitudes. If applied, it would render unnecessary the division of the legislative body into two chambers; would dispense with any but a supreme judicial tribunal; and would admit of a ratification by the States in Congress, without raising the hazardous and doubtful question of a direct resort to the people, whose power to act independently of their State governments was by some strenuously denied.
These, in substance, were the principles now brought into direct collision, urged under a great variety of forms, and recurring upon the successive
details of the Constitution, as its formation proceeded, and pressed with equal earnestness and equally firm convictions of duty on both sides. I confess that it does not seem to me important, if it be practicable, to decide which party was theoretically correct. A great deal of the reasoning on both sides was speculative, and it is not easy to deny some of the chief propositions which were maintained on the one side and the other. We are too apt, perhaps, to judge of the real soundness of the opinions held by opposite parties to the first compromise of the Constitution, by the subsequent history and success of the government, and by the views and feelings which we entertain of that history and that success. Whereas, in truth, if we place ourselves at the point where the framers of the Constitution stood at the time we are examining, we shall find that, with the exception of the influence due to one or two governing facts of previous history, it was theoretically as correct to contend for a purely federal as for a purely national government. Almost everything depends upon the object towards which they were to reason; and therefore the premises were in a considerable degree open to an arbitrary choice. If the object was to establish a government, against the exercise of whose legitimate powers State legislation could not possibly be exerted, some higher authority than that of the State governments must be resorted to; and the reasoning which tended to prove the existence of that authority and the practicability of invoking it, and the danger of any other kind of government,
comes logically and consistently in support of the great purpose to be attained. If, however, from an honest fear for the safety of local interests, the purpose was to have a government that would not seriously diminish the powers of the States, but would leave them with always unimpaired sovereignties, capable of resisting the measures of the central power, then the States were certainly competent and sufficient to the formation of such a system, and the reasoning which placed them in the light of parties to a social compact was theoretically true. On the one side, it was believed that a government formed by the States upon the principle of federal equality would be destructive of the powers of the general government, whatever those powers might be. On the other side, it was considered that the principle of governing by a democratic majority of the people of all the States would make those powers too formidable for the safety of the State constitutions. According to the force we may assign to the one or the other tendency, the reasoning on either side will appear to us to be almost equally correct.
But there were, as I have said, one or two facts of previous history, which gave the advocates of a national government a great advantage over their opponents, and went far towards settling the real merits of the two opposite systems. A federal system had been tried, and had broken down in complete prostration of all the appropriate energies and functions of government. The advocates of the opposite system, therefore, could point to all the fail