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State into districts would be a change, in conformity with abstract principles, which would interfere with existing opinions, habitudes, and prejudices of the towns, all of which must be respected. A change so important in character cannot be advantageously made, unless supported by the permanent feelings and convictions of the people. Institutions are formed from within, not from without. They spring from custom and popular faith, silently operating with internal power, not from the imposed will of a lawgiver. And our present duty here, at least on this question, may be in some measure satisfied, if we aid this growth.
Two great schools of jurisprudence for a while divided the learned mind of Germany,-- one known as the Historic, the other as the Didactic. The question between them was similar to that now before the Convention. The first regarded all laws and institutions as the growth of custom, under constant influences of history; the other insisted upon positive legislation, giving to them a form in conformity with abstract reason. It is clear that both were in a measure right. No lawgiver or statesman can disregard either history or abstract reason. He must contemplate both. He will faithfully study the Past, and will recognize its treasures and traditions; but, with equal fidelity, he will set his face towards the Future, where all institutions will at last be in harmony with truth.
I have been encouraged to believe in the practicability of the District System by its conformity with reason, and by seeing how naturally it went into operation under the Constitution of the United States. But there is a difference between that case and the present. A new Government was then founded, with new powers, applicable to a broad expanse of country; but the Constitution of Massachusetts was little more than a continuation of preëxisting usages and institutions, with all dependence upon royalty removed. This distinction may help us now. If the country were absolutely new, without embarrassment from existing corporate rights, - claims I would rather call them, - it might easily be arranged according to the most approved theory, as Philadelphia is said to have been originally laid out on the model of the German city which its great founder had seen in his travels. But to bring our existing system into symmetry, and to lay it out anew, would seem to be a task — at least I am reluctantly led to this conclusion by what I have heard here not unlike that of rebuilding Boston, and of shaping its compact mass of crooked streets into the regular rectangular forms of the city of Penn. And yet this is not impossible. With each day, by demolishing ancient houses and widening ancient ways, changes are made which tend to this result.
Sir, we must recognize the existing condition of things, remedy.all practical grievances so far as possible, and set our faces towards the true system. We must act in the Present, but be mindful also of the Future. There are proper occasions for compromise, as most certainly there are rights beyond compromise. But the Representative System is an expedient or device for ascertaining the popular will, and, though well satisfied that this can be best founded on numbers, I would not venture to say, in the present light of political science, that the right of each man to an equal representation, according to the Rule of Three, and without regard to existing institutions or controlling usages, is of that inherent and lofty character — like the God-given right to life or liberty — which admits of no compromise.
1 Julius, Nordamerikas Sittliche Zustände, Band I. p. 92.
Several grievances exist, which will be removed by the proposed amendments. There is one which I had hoped would disappear, but which is the necessary incident of corporate representation : I mean the unwieldy size of the House.
It is generally said that a small body is more open to bribery and corruption than a large body ; but, on the other hand, I have heard it asserted that the larger is more exposed than the smaller. I put this consideration aside. My objection to a large House is, that it is inconvenient for the despatch of public business. There is a famous saying of Cardinal de Retz, that every assembly of more than one hundred is a mob; and Lord Chesterfield applied the same term to the
ritish House of Commons. At the present time that body has nominally six hundred and fifty-four members. It is called by Lord Brougham "preposterously large”; but a quorum for business is forty only; and it is only on rare occasions of political importance that its benches are completely occupied. The House of Lords, nominally, has four hundred and fifty-nine members; but a quorum in this body consists of three only;1 and much of its business is transacted in a very thin attendance.
The experience of Congress, as also of other States, points to a reduction of our present number. Indeed, for many years this was a general desire through the State. In the earliest Colonial days every town was allowed three deputies; but in five years the number, on reaching thirty-three, was reduced to two for each. At a later day, in 1694, a great contest in the House was decided by a vote of twenty-six against twentyfour. In the agitating period between 1762 and 1773, covering the controversies which heralded the Revolution, the House consisted, on an average, of one hundred and twenty members; and only on one occasion the magnitude of the interest is reported by Hutchinson to have drawn together so many as one hundred and thirteen. At the last session of the Provincial Legislature, in May, 1774, when the Revolutionary conflict was at hand, the complete returns of the Journal show one hundred and forty. In 1776 there was a House of three hundred and five; but this “ enormous and very unwieldy size,” according to the language of the time, was assigned as a reason for a new Constitution. I regret that we cannot profit by this experience. A House of two hundred and fifty, or, since we are accustomed to large congregations, of three hundred at most, would be an improvement on the present system.
1 According to the old rule, Tres faciunt collegium.
There are two proposed improvements which I hail with satisfaction: one relates to the small towns, and the other to the cities. The small towns will have a more constant representation; and. this of itself is an
1 Records of the Governor and Company of the Massachusetts Bay, Vol. I.
pp. 118, 250, 254.
The House for many years numbered upwards of five hundred members, -- in 1835, '36, and '37 swelling to the truly “enormous and unwieldy size" of 615, 619, and 635; and even under the greatly reduced apportionment established by the Amendment of 1840, the numbers in the two years (1851 and 1852) preceding the present Convention were no less than 396 and 402. See Gifford and Stowe's Manual for the General Court, (Boston, 1860,)
approach to the true principle of representation, which should be constant as well as equal. The cities will be divided into districts, and this I regard of twofold importance: first, as the beginning of a true system ; and, secondly, as reducing the power which the cities, by the large number of their representatives, chosen by general ticket, now exercise.
A respected gentleman, now in my eye, has reminded me that in boyhood his attention was arrested in this House by what was called “the Boston seat,” reserved exclusively for the Boston members, who sat together on cushions, while other members were left to such accommodation as they could find on bare benches. This discrimination ceased long ago. But it seems to me that this reserved and cushioned seat is typical of another discrimination, which Boston, in common with the cities, still enjoys. Sir, in voting for forty-four representatives, the elector in Boston exercises a representative power far exceeding that of electors in the country; and the majority which rules Boston and determines the whole delegation exercises a representative power transcending far that of any similar number in the Commonwealth. This is apparent on the bare statement, as forty-four sticks are stronger in one compact bundle than when single or in small parcels. Thus, while other counties are divided, the delegation from Boston is united. In all political contests, it is like the well-knit Macedonian phalanx, or the iron front of the Roman legion, in comparison with the disconnected individual warriors against whom they were engaged. This abuse will be removed; and here is the beginning, I had almost said the inauguration, of a true electoral equality in our Commonwealth.