Слике страница

of English and French statesmen. That Constitution is yet younger than this Chamber of Commerce, and is still, after one hundred and twenty-five years, standing upon its feet. [Applause.]

Twenty-five years ago it was my privilege, as a young member of the Philadelphia bar, to take part in the Centennial Celebration of the adoption of this wonderful document. It was no local celebration. The entire country participated in it with unusual patriotic fervor. The President of the United States was there; the Chief Justice and associate Justices of our highest tribunal were there. Members of the Senate, distinguished legislators, reverend prelates, the Cardinal Archbishop of Baltimore, the Bishop of New York of the Episcopal Church, distinguished educators, Governors of States, great representatives of Army and Navy, one and all made their pious pilgrimage to the historic mother city of the country in order to attest their allegiance to that marvelous document. It is significant that, on that occasion, the greatest English statesman then living, MR. GLADSTONE, repeated the remark which he had made years before, and which has, perhaps, been more quoted with reference to the Constitution than any other. He stated in a formal letter to the Philadelphia committee that, after years of further deliberation, he still felt that, as the English Constitution was the most subtle organism in the evolution of history, the American Constitution was the greatest work ever struck off by the brain and purpose of man at a given time. That event was celebrated by a great industrial parade which faintly fore-shadowed that extraordinary industrial progress which was made possible, in part at least, by the stable institutions of the Constitution. The military of the United States, with gallant Phil SHERIDAN at its head, paraded down the highways of Philadelphia to celebrate the same event, and many gatherings were had in which many speeches were made.

A few years ago—and this is the point of this perhaps superfluous reference to an event twenty-five years past, I took the pains to reread the memorial volume embodying all that was then said. I read all that was said by the highest officials of the state, by representatives of every class in America, and certainly by the most distinguished leaders of American thought of that generation, and the fact that struck me first was that there was at that time an unbounded optimism as to the future of the Constitution. There was no suggestion whatever that ahead could be any troubled waters. There was a due appreciation of the storms of the past which centered around that Constitution. It had survived the vagaries that followed the French Revolution. It had survived the period of nullification in the middle of the 19th century. It had even survived what was perhaps the most cataclysmic civil war in the history of any free government. And yet in spite of all the trials of that one hundred years, one and all, President, ('hief Justice and the humblest speaker, spoke in one unbroken note of optimism. Our troubles were past. Ahead of the ship of state were only smooth waters, a secure haven of permanence and stability.

The other and not less noteworthy feature of all those addresses was the note of implicit confidence in the Constitution in its details and in all its parts. There was not an intimation at that time that any portion of that Constitution could have been profitably amended. On the contrary, they seem to have had faith in its infallibility, and it is to that generation of Americans which many of us are perhaps contributing, that generation which believed firmly, as the Mussulman believes in his Koran, that by an act of supreme wisdom, by surpass. ing sagacity or by divine aid, that body of buman intelligence secured a constitution by which no nation could have possibly been more ennobled.

What a change has come over the spirit of our country in the brief twenty-five years.

Where there was abundant optimism as to the future of the Constitution, there is now, I might say with just reason, great pessimism. Where there was implicit faith in the wisdom of that document as a whole, there are to-day changes advocated, not merely in minor details, but in the very fundamentals of the Constitution. And what is of more significance, and what should perhaps be brought home earnestly to this gathering of representative men in the metropolis of the republic, is, that it is not merely an isolated expression of challenge and defiance to that for which America has stood for one hundred and twenty-five years, but that there is on the part of large bodies of our citizens a profound feeling of distrust in the very working plan of our government.

To show that I am not talking idly, and not raising a mare's nest for your delectation, let me in the first place briefly recall to you an avowed platform of one party for which more than eight hundred thousand Americans voted last November, one in fifteen of the electorate of the country. It advocated the abolition of the election of Senators by legislatures, the abolition of the power of veto by the President, the abolition of life tenure for the courts. It advocated the initiative, the referendum and recall. It advocated the governmental monopolization of every natural source of wealth. It advocated even more—the collective ownership of all lands whatever,

You say that was but the Socialistic party with 'nine hundred thousand votes. Now let us take the solemn declaration, the opening sentence, of the first platform of a party which polled over four million of votes, and which ranks to-day, at least in numbers, as the second political party of the country. That party advocated, in the language of the opening clause: “Such alterations in the fundamental laws as shall insure the representative character of the government, including nation wide primaries, direct election of United States Senators, the initiative, referendum and recall." Let me quote again : “A more easy and expeditious method of amending the Federal Constitution."

I do not wish, however, to limit my remarks to any one party, and if I seem in any respect, in this frank discussion of a current problem to offend against the proprieties, let me say I can never speak unless I speak openly and directly. If I try to speak otherwise my speech will be full of that "viscosity” to wbich the Mayor referred last night. (Laughter.]

Let me then take not only one of the oldest States of the Union, but the commonwealth in which the Constitution was framed—the State of Pennsylvania-and read this plank from the platform of another of the larger parties to which I referred, namely, the Republican party of Pennsylvania. It said: “We believe that when an act passed under the police powers of the State is held unconstitutional, the people, after an interval for deliberation, shall have the power to declare whether the act is or is not in accordance with their ideas of social justice and shall or shall not become a law.”

In other words, the judicial recall in its most absolute form.

Now, please understand me, gentlemen, in the little time that I can present my thought: I do not quarrel for one moment with the advocacy by one man, or any set of men, of any party, with the advocacy of changes in what I may call the non-essentials of the Constitution. I have never believed, and do not believe, that the Constitution is a perfect instrument. I would not attribute to the fathers an infallibility which they never would have claimed for themselves. Nothing would be more clear to those who have read, like Senator Root, those proceedings in Philadelphia during that four months' session of 1787 than to see how profoundly distrustful WASHINGTON, and JEFFERSON, and Madison, and HAMILTON and all of them were as to the progressive fruits of their labors. Mr. BANCROFT says, in a flight of rhetoric, that when the great work was done the members were awe struck as to the result of their labors, regarding it as more noble than any they could possibly anticipate. The fact is that none of them were really satisfied with it. Of the fifty-five members of that convention, sixteen had left before the final results, and gone in disgust to their homes. Of the remaining thirty-nine, few or any were willing to append or subscribe their names to the instrument. It was only the compelling personality of one man, GEORGE WASHINGTON, that secured the necessary signatures, without which, conceivably, the states never would have adopted this marvelous Constitution—that great lion hearted leader of the people, the President of the Convention, the man of few words and of mighty deeds, who, on that morning, before the final session opened, moved among the delegates and begged them, in his quiet and masterful way, not to invite anarchy by refusing to subscribe their names to the document. Another personality leading to its adoption was the sage of the Revolution, certainly the wisest man in all the varied attainments of that century-BENJAMIN FRANKLIN, who rose with inimitable witty speech and dispersed the asperities of the moment, allayed all resentment, and brought the men into a salutory frame of mind by the saying that the older he grew—and he was the wisest of his time—the more he distrusted his own infallibility. And then he reminded them how the Protestant, STEELE, had dedicated a work to the Pope in Rome in which he said to the Holy Father that the only difference between the Catholic Church and the Church of England was that one was always in the right and the other was never in the wrong. [Laughter.]

So, with these remarks, which allayed the positiveness and dogmatism of that convention, he persuaded the delegates to step to the desk and register the thirty-nine signatures out of the fifty-five. [Applause.)

Now those men would have been the last if they were here to-night, to have claimed, infallibility for what they did. And certainly blind adherence to mere traditions is a form of intellectual slavery that must be unworthy of any free people, especially in a matter as vital as the Constitution which must be, as JEFFERSON said, for the living and not for the dead. When the American people cease to debate the true interpretation of their fundamental law, when they cease to adapt the judicial decisions, or, if need be, the constitutional amendments, to the changing needs of the most progressive people in the world, then the Constitution will lose its vitality, and, although the oldest of all similar instruments, it will necessarily perish.

But, gentlemen, is it not a different thing from discussing changes in the non-essentials of the Constitution, to pass a broad challenge to the very essentials of the Constitution, to that which makes its character, to that without which it would cease to be? [Applause.] What are they? What are the four pillars upon which the whole edifice leans? Representative government, the dual sovereignty of state and nation, constitutional limitations, and an independent judiciary.

Take any of these characteristic features out of your Constitution and it would fall, like a pack of cards. [Applause.] Destroy even one of these pillars, and the whole noble splendid fabric would fall and, like the Parthenon, become simply an object of melancholy interest. [Applause.]

It is a most noteworthy fact, as contrasted with the spirit of twenty-five years ago, to which I have alluded, that the present assault on the Constitution is an assault on all four of those main pillars of the Constitution. Representative government? Why, our fathers never believed in any other. You speak to me of the New England town meeting, but even in New England they never had a town meeting except in a mere village, and in any town, even as early as 1635, of more than 5000 inhabitants, they substituted representatives called “Selectmen.” The fact is that the Constitution, from its first note to the last, voices the negation of any direct government by the people, and the selection of the Senate, the selection of the President, the selection of the judiciary, were, by one method and another, put in the hands of chosen representatives. Yet there were then only 3,000,000 of people. Now, when we have become ninety millions, we have a party of four million voters advocating the submitting of great questions of state to the fleeting caprice of a passing majority. [Applause.]

The dual sovereignty of the state and nation is itself menaced not so much without the government, as within the government. I think Senator Root would agree with me—Senator Root is a great constitutional lawyer—that there is no more alarming feature than the fact that with the centripetal influences of steam and electricity, and the greater complexity of our life, there is manifest a disposition on the part of the legislative branch of the government to see federal powers, granted for one purpose, used to accomplish other purposes which were never delegated to the federal government at all. Only one example of this is the recent newspaper censorship in which the Federal power is used deliberately 10 censor the free press of our country.

Constitutional limitations? Gentlemen, if there was one principle that our country stord for when the Coustitution was framed, and to which the pissing challenge of the day is mainly directed, it is this, that our people never believed in an unbridled majority rule but in a majority rule within narrow constitutional limits, and no further. They had no reason to be enamored of the tyranny of majorities. They had felt that tyranny, and the very laws the colonists complained of had been passed legally and under the forms of law by a najority of Parliame:it. They never believed that the oil of anointing which was once supposed to sanctify the head of a monarch had fallen upon the multitudinous tongie of the people. They accepted these great constitutional limitations, and they said to the passing majority “ you can go thus far but no farther.” Yet the spirit of to-day, “let the people rule,” is the negation of any such thing as restraint over the majority, and it is a complete assertion that whatever the majority of the party may determine, it shall be inflicted upon the minority. [Applause.]

The independence of the judiciary? Let me say just one word as to that, the fourth and last pillar of this device, the one of which WEBSTER said “ If it were once destroyed there would be no constitution and there would be no government.” It is the one at which the main challenge is levelled. Have you ever stopped to think what the history of this country would have been if JEFFERSON, MADISON and HAMILTON hail adopted as a part of the Constitution the judicial recall? In 1823, the Supreme Court delivered its great opinion in Gibbons versus Ogden, in which they struck down the law of the State of New York which sou:ht to give to ROBERT FULTon and his successors an absolute monoply of all transportation on the Hudson River. In vain would have been our docks and all the discussion of the problems of the New York Harbor, if there ever could have been a monopoly of this great noble tidal stream as it flows from the Adirondacks to the sea. Moreover, that great decision, not only prevented a monopoly on the Hudson, but it dedicated the channels of interstate trade for all time to the freedom of commerce. Yet, if there had been a judicial recall in that time, can you doubt that the states, with their natural jealous desire to obtain exclusive control over the rivers that flowed through them, would have recalled Jons MARSILALL's decision ? Or when that same court decided the Dartmouth College case, and gave that stability to corporate rights without which any great measure of industrial growth of this country would never have been, do you doubt for one moment, that the people at that time, with primitive ideas of economics and industrial promise, and with an unnatural hatred of the corporation, a beneficient instrumentality

« ПретходнаНастави »