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to the pen of this illustrious citizen we are indebted primarily both for the Declaration of Rights and the Form of the Constitution.1
It is not difficult to trace most, if not all, of the ideas and provisions of our Preamble and Declaration of Rights to their primitive sources. The Preamble, where the body politic is founded on the fiction of the Social Compact, was doubtless inspired by the writings of Sidney and Locke, and by the English discussions at the period of the Revolution of 1688, when this questionable theory did good service in response to the assumptions of Filmer, and as a shield against arbitrary power. Of different provisions in the Bill of Rights, some are in the very words of Magna Charta, - others are derived from the ancient Common Law, the Petition of Right, and the Bill of Rights of 1688, — while, of the thirty Articles composing it, no less than nineteen, either wholly or in part, may be found substantially in the Virginia Bill of Rights: but these again are in great part derived from the earlier fountains.
And now, Sir, you have before you for revision and amendment this early work of our fathers. I do not stop to consider its peculiar merits. With satisfaction I might point to special safeguards by which our rights have been protected against usurpation, whether executive, legislative, or judicial. With pride I might dwell on those words which banished Slavery from our soil, and rendered the Declaration of Independence here with us a living letter. But the hour does not require or admit any such service. You have a practical duty, which I seek to promote; and I now take leave of the whole subject, with the simple remark, that a document proceeding from such a pen, drawn from such sources, with such an origin in all respects, speaking so early for Human Rights, and now for more than threescore years and ten a household word to the people of Massachusetts, should be touched by the Convention only with exceeding care.
1 Observations on the Reconstruction of Government in Massachusetts during the Revolution: Works of John Adams, Vol. IV. pp. 215, 216.
2 Namely, Articles 1, 2, 4-10, 12 – 18, 20, 26, 30. The Virginia Bill of Rights consists of sixteen Articles, three of which (the 5th, 6th, and 8th) are divided in the Massachusetts Declaration, constituting respectively the substance of Articles 30 and 8, 9 and 10, 12 and 13.
FINGER-POINT FROM PLYMOUTH ROCK.
SPEECH AT THE PLYMOUTH FESTIVAL IN COMMEMORATION OF THE
EMBARKATION OF THE PILGRIMS, AUGUST 1, 1853.
THE President, Richard Warren, Esq., said they had already been delighted with the words of a distinguished member of the Senate of the United States [Mr. EVERETT.] They were favored with the presence of another; and he would give as a sentiment :
The Senate of the United States, — The concentrated light of the stars of the Union.
In his reply, Mr. Sumner attempted to obtain a hearing for the Antislavery cause and the Party of Freedom. In picturing the English Puritans he had in mind our Antislavery Puritans, who, like their prototypes, were at first “Separatists,” and then “Independents." The abuse showered on each was the same. Though nothing is said directly on present affairs, they were clearly discerned behind the Puritan veil. Such was the sensibility in certain quarters, that it was objected to as out of place. Others were pleased with its fidelity. Among the latter was the poet John G. Whittier, who wrote at the time: “Its-tone and bearing are unmistakable, and yet unobjectionable.
. . When I read the toast which called thee up, I confess I could see very little appropriateness in it; in fact, it seemed to me a very unpromising text, and I almost feared to read the sermon. joyed it all the better for iny misgivings.”
R. PRESIDENT, – You bid me speak for the
Senate of the United States. But I know well that there is another voice here, of classical eloquence, which might more fitly render this service. As one of the humblest members of that body, and associated with the public councils for a brief period only, I should prefer that my distinguished colleague [Mr. EVERETT], whose fame is linked with a long political life, should speak for it. And there is yet another here [Mr. HALE], who, though not at this moment a member of the Senate, has, throughout an active and brilliant career, marked by a rare combination of ability, eloquence, and good-humor, so identified himself with the Senate in the public mind that he might well speak for it always, and when he speaks, all are pleased to listen. But, Sir, you have ordered it otherwise.
From the tears and trials at Delft Haven, from the deck of the Mayflower, from the landing on Plymouth Rock, to the Senate of the United States is a mighty contrast, covering whole spaces of history, hardly less than from the wolf that suckled Romulus and Remus to that Roman Senate which on curule chairs swayed Italy and the world. From these obscure beginnings of poverty and weakness, which you now piously commemorate, and on which all our minds naturally rest to-day, you bid us leap to that marble Capitol, where thirty-one powerful republics, bound in common fellowship and welfare, are gathered together in legislative body, constituting One Government, which, stretching from ocean to ocean, and counting millions of people beneath its majestic rule, surpasses far in wealth and might any government of the Old World when the little band of Pilgrims left it, and now promises to be a clasp between Europe and Asia, bringing the most distant places near together, so that there shall be no more Orient or Occident. It were interesting to dwell on the stages of this grand procession; but it is enough, on this occasion, merely to glance at them and pass on.
Sir, it is the Pilgrims that we commemorate to-day,
not the Senate. For this moment, at least, let us tread under foot all pride of empire, all exultation in our manifold triumphs of industry, science, literature, with all the crowding anticipations of the vast untold Future, that we may reverently bow before the Forefathers. The day is theirs. In the contemplation of their virtue we derive a lesson which, like truth, may judge us sternly, but, if we can really follow it, like truth, shall make us free. For myself, I accept the admonition of the day. It may teach us all, though few in numbers or alone, never, by word or act, to swerve from those primal principles of duty, which, from the landing on Plymouth Rock, have been the life of Massachusetts. Let me briefly unfold the lesson, though to the discerning soul it unfolds itself.
Few persons in history have suffered more from contemporary misrepresentation, abuse, and persecution, than the English Puritans. At first a small body, they were regarded with indifference and contempt. But by degrees they grew in numbers, and drew into their company education, intelligence, and even rank. Reformers in all ages have had little of blessing from the world they sought to serve.
But the Puritans were not disheartened. Still they persevered. The obnoxious laws of conformity they vowed to withstand, till, in the fervid language of the time, “they be sent back to the darkness from whence they came.” Through them the spirit of modern Freedom made itself potently felt, in great warfare with Authority, in Church, in Literature, and in State, — in other words, for religious, intellectual, and political emancipation. The Puritans primarily aimed at religious freedom: for this they contended in Parliament, under Elizabeth and James; for this