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will do it reverence. If the call of the Convention were not already amply vindicated, if there were doubt anywhere of its expediency, the remarkable concurrence of all sides in condemning the existing representative system shows that we have not come together without
The orders of the day have been filled with various plans to meet the exigency. Most of these aimed to preserve the corporate representation of towns; some of them, at least one from the venerable gentleman from Taunton [Mr. MORTON], and another from the venerable gentleman from Boston [Mr. HALE], favored an opposite system, hitherto untried among us, and proposed to divide the State into districts. The question has been between these hostile propositions; and that is the question which I propose to consider, in the light of history and abstract principle, as also with reference to présent exigencies. I shall speak, first, of the origin and nature of the Representative System, and its proper character under American institutions; and, secondly, I shall endeavor to indicate the principles which may conduct us to a practical conclusion in the present debate. Entering upon this service at so late a stage of the discussion, I feel like a tardy gleaner in a well-traversed field; but I shall proceed.
I BEGIN with the Origin and Nature of the Representative System. This is an invention of modern times. In antiquity there were republics and democracies, but there was no Representative System. Rulers were chosen by the people, as in many Commonwealths; senators were designated by the king or by the censors, as in Rome; ambassadors or legates were sent to a Federal Council, as to the Assembly of the Amphictyons ; but in no ancient state was any body of men ever constituted by the people to represent them in the administration of their internal affairs. In Athens, the people met in public assembly, and directly acted for themselves on all questions, foreign or domestic. This was possible there, as the State was small, and the Assembly seldom exceeded five thousand citizens, — a large town-meeting, or mass-meeting, we might call it, — not inaptly termed "that fierce democratie” of Athens.
But where the territory was extensive, and the population scattered and numerous, there could be no assembly of the whole body of citizens. To meet this precise difficulty the Representative System was devised. By a machinery so obvious that we are astonished it was not employed in the ancient Commonwealths, the people, though scattered and numerous, are gathered, by their chosen representatives, into a small and deliberative assembly, where, without tumult or rashness, they consider and determine all questions which concern them. In every representative body, properly constituted, the people are practically present.
Nothing is invented and perfected at the same time; and this system is no exception to the rule. In England, where it reached its earliest. vigor, it has been, and still is, anomalous in character. The existing divisions of the country, composed of boroughs, cities, and counties, were summoned by the king's writ to send representatives, with little regard to equality of any kind, whether of population, taxation, or territory. Their existence as corporate units was the prevailing title. The irregular operation of the system, increasing with lapse of time, provoked a cry for Parliamentary Reform, which, after a struggle of more than fifty years, ending in a debate that occupied the House of Commons more than fifty days, was finally carried; but, though many abuses and inequalities were removed, yet the anomalous representation by counties, cities, and boroughs still continued. And this, Sir, is the English system.
Pass now to the American system. I say American system, ---- for to our country belongs the honor of first giving to the world the idea of a system which, discarding corporate representation, founded itself absolutely on equality. Let us acknowledge with gratitude that from England have come five great and ever memorable institutions, by which Liberty is secured : I mean the Trial by Jury,- the writ of Habeas Corpus, -the Representative System, — the Rules and Orders of Debate, ---and, lastly, that benign principle which pronounces that its air is too pure for a slave to breathe : perhaps the five most important political establishments of modern times. This glory cannot be taken from the mother country. But America has added to the Representative System another principle, without which it is incomplete, and which, in the course of events, is destined, I cannot doubt, to find acceptance wherever the Representative System is employed: I mean the principle of equality.
Here in Massachusetts, home of the ideas out of which sprang the Revolution, this principle had its earliest expression. And it is not a little curious that this very expression was suggested by the two evils of which we now complain, — namely, a practical inequality of representation, and a too numerous House.
In the earliest days of the Colony, while the number of freemen was small and gathered in one neighborhood, there was no occasion for any representative body. All could then meet in public assembly, as at ancient Athens; in fact, they did so meet, and in this way discharged the duties of legislation. But as the freemen became scattered and numerous, it was found grievous to compel the personal attendance of the whole body, and, as a substitute, the towns were empowered, in 1634, to assemble in General Court by deputies. Here was the establishment of the Representative System in Massachusetts, which has continued, without interruption, down to our day. The size of the House and the relative representation of towns have varied at different times; but the great principle of representation, by which a substitute is provided for the whole body of the people, has constantly been preserved. Still a feeling has long prevailed that the system had not yet received its final form, while, with more or less precision, has been discerned that principle of equality which is essential to its completeness.
Among the acts of the first General Court of the Revolution was one passed in the summer of 1775, after the Battle of Bunker Hill, "declaratory of the right of the towns and districts to elect and depute a representative or representatives to serve for and represent them in the General Court." By this act all provisions of previous acts denying to certain towns and districts the right of sending a representative were declared null and void, and every town containing thirty qualified voters was authorized to send one. The immediate consequence was the two evils to which I have already referred, — namely, inequality of representation, and a too numerous House: but the whole number of representatives which aroused the complaints of that day was three hundred and five.
1 Hutchinson, History of Massachusetts, Vol. I. pp 30, 39. Charters and General Laws of the Colony and Province of Massachusetts Bay, Appendix, p. 713. Records of the Governor and Company of the Massachusetts Bay, Vol. I. pp. 116 118.
These grievances were the occasion of a Convention of delegates from the towns of Essex County, at Ipswich, April 25, 1776, where was adopted a Memorial, afterwards presented and enforced at the bar of the House by John Lowell. In this remarkable document occurs the first development, if not the first proclamation, of the principle of equality in representation. Here, Sir, is the fountain and origin of an idea full of strength, beauty, and truth. Listen to the words of these Revolutionary fathers.
“If this representation is equal, it is perfect; as far as it deviates from this equality, so far it is imperfect, and approaches to that state of slavery; and the want of a just weight in representation is an evil nearly akin to being totally destitute of it. An inequality of representation has been justly esteemed the cause which has in a great degree sapped the foundation of the once admired, but now tottering, fabric of the British Empire; and we fear, that, if a different mode of representation from the present is not adopted in this Colony, our Constitution will not continue to that late period of time which the glowing heart of every true American now anticipates.
“We cannot realize that your Honors, our wise political fathers, have adverted to the present inequality of representation in this Colony, to the growth of the evil, or to the fatal consequences which will probably ensue from the continuance of it.
i Charters and General Laws of Massachusetts Bay, Appendix, pp. 796, 797.