Слике страница

the local institutions and all the small divisions with an energy and general prosperity that never could have been developed under a strongly-controlling central power.

Under the Saxon principle, the masses of the people flourish. They are free, and, therefore, the arbiters of their own destiny. Their very freedom imparts an ambition and an enterprise, which are never seen where the Norman principle of centralized power prevails.

We see this illustrated in the Saxon and Norman periods of English history. When the Norman conqueror subjugated England, and his arms were every. where victorious, he had a still greater difficulty to encounter in forcing his centralized system upon the necks of those who had been long accustomed to the liberty of local independence.

This struggle was to blot out all those numerous statė, county, and shire lines, within which the poorest man found some guarantee of justice, liberty, and prosperity.

Submissive uniformity is the first demand of a tyrant. Every man within the range of his authority must be reduced to his own habits of thinking and ways of living

William, the Norman conqueror of England, began the business of crushing out the local free institutions of the country, by introducing, for the administration of justice, an office unknown to the Saxon-the office of " Chief Justiciar,” as he was called.

On this subject the biographer of the English chief. justices says : “ The office of Chief-Justice, or ChiefJusticiar, was introduced into England by William the Conqueror from Normandy, where it had long existed. The functions of such an officer ill accorded with the

notions of our Anglo-Saxon ancestors, who had a great antipathy to centralization, and prided themselves upon enjoying the rights and the advantages of self-govern. ment."

The Norman principle of an all-controlling centralized power is incompatible with the freedom and prosperity of the masses.

And yet we hear well-meaning people of the present time, with astonishing blindness, declare that they " are tired of living in a State—they want to live in a COUNTRY.”

They want a stronger central government, than this one built upon the principle of local or state independence by our forefathers. Alas ! they have not counted the cost. They have not studied that painfulest period of history, in which this very thing they now sigh for transpired in England, when local self-government, intrenched in Saxon love of liberty, was all crushed out by the victorious Norman centralizing despotism.

The result of the triumph of this Norman principle was the establishment of unheard of despotism in England, which you all know reduced the masses to a state of villienage, serfdom, or slavery.

William the Conqueror ruled them with a rod of iron. “He disposed as absolutely of the lives and fortunes of his conquered subjects as any Eastern monarch. He forbid them on pain of death both fire and candles in their houses after eight o'clock, Whether he did this to prevent them from mceting by night to discuss their wrongs, or only to try, by this odd and whimsical prohibition, how far it was possible for one man to extend his power over his fellow-creatures, it is impossible to tell.”

But this we know, that the centralized consolidated power of the government was too strong, too high, and too far off to be reached by the people, and they were all crushed together beneath an unrelenting despotism.

But for all this, Saxonism in England, though cast down, was not destroyed. The love of independence, of local self-government, was so much a part of the Anglo-Saxon mind, that even the weight of centralized Normanism could never crush it out.

And, to this day, this Saxon characteristic is seen in England, not only in the number, but also in the diversity of local institutions. It has been truly said that no country on earth presents so great a variety of customs and local usages as England. “ Habits, manners—the tenure of land, rules of inheritance, displays of free variety in local institutions, are there, to this day, strongly contrasted with the servile uniformity which Norman tyranny everywhere seeks to establish. Usages and customs which appertain to the North of England are totally unknown in the South. The men of Kent, or of Cornwall, or of Wales, bear slight resemblance to each other.”

The cities and towns of England thus have a variety of municipal power and privilege, resting on authority

immemorial usage,” which the Crown cannot and dare not meddle with.

Voltaire says : “ The English are the only people upon earth who have been able to prescribe limits to the power of their kings by resisting them.”

The English history of the Habeas Corpus fully justifies this remark of the French historian.

As long ago as 1215 the British Barons assembled in arms at Runnymede, on the banks of the Thames, and compelled their tyrant, King John, to grant the great charter of the liberties of England, the forty-fifth section of which declared that “no freeman shall be taken, imprisoned, or in any way injured, unless by the legal judgment of his peers, and by the laws of the land."


The same Magna Charta declares that “ by the law, both the king and all his subjects shall be ruled.”

The last chapter of this immortal charter provides that if the king, or any one acting in his name, shall do anything by which the laws shall be disregarded, “it shall be held of no force or effect.”

During the six centuries and a half that have elapsed since that day, no English king has dared to violate the habeas corpus then wrung from the throne by the Saxon love of liberty

In all the revolutions through which the English monarchy has passed amidst all the convulsions of its dynastic changes, its civil conflicts and foreign wars, the people of England have never been seduced nor driven from the preservation of that time-honored monument of their liberties.

Although the right of habeas corpus was declared three hundred years before the discovery of America, it has found its way into almost every authoritative declaration of human rights that has been drafted in the English language since.

Made in 1215, it was confirmed in 1297 by King Edward the First. It was guaranteed by the Statute of Treasons in 1350, in the reign of Edward the Third.

It was reaffirmed in 1627 by the Petition of Rights in the third year of Charles the First, and was defined and reaffirmed by the great Habeas Corpus Act of 1672, in the thirty-first year of Charles the Second ; and again reasserted in the Bill of Rights in 1689, when William and Mary were called to the British throne, made vacant by the forced abdication of James the Second, who lost his crown by attempting to suspend the habeas corpus, and to subvert the liberties of the people.

From that time to the present no occupant of the

British throne has dared to suspend this great rightthis immortal monument of Saxon liberty.

There are also in England, at the present day, many other monuments of the old Saxon love of liberty which the throne must not meddle with.

The local independence, the municipal rights of the counties and cities, are beyond the reach of the crown, and the crown dare not interfere with them.

This fact is happily illustrated in a ceremony which takes place in London every time a new monarch succeeds to the throne. The royal procession approaches the city to pass through the old gate of Temple Bar, The gate is locked. A member of the royal party raps for entrance. The mayor of the city, who is stationed upon the inside, inquires " Who is there ?” The reply is, “ His Majesty the King wishes to pass this gate.” "The mayor then steps forth, and presents the great key of the gate, which signifies that it is by the permission of the people of London that even the king is allowed

to pass.

I was in England just after the legislature of the State of New York struck down the municipal rights of the city by taking from it the appointment and control of its own police ; and I witnessed the unbounded astonishment of the people of Great Britain that the people of the city of New York submitted so readily to this kind of Norman despotism.

It was often said in my hearing, that if the Queen of England were to attempt such an interference with the municipal rights of the cities, it would cost her her throne.

We have no doubt it would. King James the Second was forced to abdicate for a scarcely less trespass upon the domain of local popular rights.

[ocr errors]
« ПретходнаНастави »