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ing duties, and that we should exercise whatever of forecast and sagacity we possess, in endeavoring to discern what is, or what may be, yet before us.
On the 3d of March next, fifty-six years will have expired since we began our national character and existence under the present Constitution of the United States. In the lapse of that period, we have gone through fourteen Presidential elections, and have chosen eight-and-twenty successive Congresses of the United States. Of these fourteen Presidential elections, twelve have been effected by the popular vote, according to the provisions of the Constitution; and two have taken place, in pursuance of other constitutional provisions, by the House of Representatives in Congress, and in default of an election in the primary mode by the people of the Union. These several elections have all been legal and regular. Every successive incumbent of the Presidential office has been acknowledged, in succession, to be rightfully in possession of that office. All these elections have been conducted without violence or disorder, without the interference of an armed force, and by the regular, peaceable, constitutional exertion of the public will.
In my estimation, Gentlemen, this is a fact of the highest importance to us, and of great interest and importance to the whole civilized world; because it proves that a republican government is capable of existing over a great country, of various interests, connections, associations, and pursuits; that it has a possible permanence; that it may be continued and exercise its functions. For such a government has existed, has continued itself, has exercised its functions, as I have said, for more than half a century; and that half-century, be it always remembered, has been a marked period in history, - for during its progress fierce wars have afflicted the nations of Europe, and revolutions, without parallel for convulsion and violence, have shaken the dynasties of the elder world.
It is true, therefore, that on a great area there has existed, during this period, a republican and popular form of government. Its officers have been renewed during this period, by the choice of the people, and the succession of power has been as peaceable and regular as in any of the established monarchies or dy. nasties of the ancient world.
In the second place, our history proves, that not only is such
a republican government capable of continuance, and, as we hope, of perpetuity, but it is capable also of exercising all the functions and all the powers necessary to an efficient government, and of performing all the duties requisite to the protection and defence of the country, and to the advancement of the prosperity of the people.
In the third place, our history shows, that the government established by this Constitution, though spread over a vast territory, when administered by wise and good men, and supported by a virtuous community, is in its tendency a salutary government; that its general tendency is to act for the good of the people; and that, therefore, as parental and guardian in its character, as exercising its functions for the common weal, it attaches to itself a sentiment of general support and approbation.
And finally, our history proves that such a system may exist, with all the necessary attributes of government, with all the powers of salutary administration; and exist, at the same time, with the perfect safety of popular liberty and of private rights; - because, in this respect, looking back over the half-century which has passed, we may somewhat proudly challenge the world, including the most advanced and enlightened nations of Europe, to show that there is anywhere on the face of the earth a government which provides greater security for private right, for life and property, and greater security for popular, public liberty, than have been maintained in these United States.
Now, as I have said, it appears to me, that, in reviewing the past, we may congratulate ourselves that we have set this great example, not only to our posterity, but to the whole civilized world, - an example which the world has desired to see, which all the lovers of civil liberty and all who are friendly to popular government have anxiously sought to behold.
You know, fellow-citizens, that it has been a current opinion with those who speculate upon the subject, that republican forms of government are adapted only to the affairs of small countries. A distinguished English philosopher, writing some sixty or seventy years ago, observed that the truth of this opinion was about to be brought to the test of experiment; and that this great experiment was to be made in America. If that distinguished writer had lived to the present time, if he had reviewed with us the occurrences and incidents of the last fifty years, if he
could be here to-day and see with what order and quiet and intelligence great public questions are discussed by the great body of the people, he would have said, and he would have rejoiced to be able to say, that the great experiment had succeeded in America.
Now, Gentlemen, there are two propositions which it is my purpose to submit to you, and in support of which I shall offer such remarks as I may be able to make, and you may be able to hear, in the vast concourse assembled on this occasion.
The first is, that, if this government, under which we shall have lived fifty-six years on the third day of March next, has fully and fairly, to the satisfaction of all men, and to the admiration of the world, fulfilled the objects designed by it, then it is our interest, if we value our happiness or the happiness of those who are to come after us, to support that constitution and government.
And, in the second place, if the success of this Constitution, for the period I have mentioned, be fairly referable to the adoption and practice of any great system of measures, which we can comprehend, which we can understand, of which we have had experience, then I say, if we love the Constitution, and if we mean to defend and transmit it to our children, our plain duty is, as far as in us lies, to pursue the same system of public measures, and to adhere to all, and each, and every one, of those great principles.
The question then, is, Gentlemen, Has the Constitution of the United States fulfilled the objects for which it was established ?
To the intelligible understanding of this question, and the rendering a satisfactory answer, we must first look back to the period of its adoption, and ascertain what were its objects. To what great end, for what significant and especial purpose, did our fathers adopt the Constitution of the general government?
Now, Gentlemen, however commonplace it may be, it is vastly important that we should never fail, on these occasions, to bear in mind the condition of the country while it yet consisted of individual States, united only by the loose bands of the old confederacy. The Revolutionary war, and its termination, by the peace of 1783, made the thirteen States independent States; but it left them with feeble powers, conferred for certain purposes, and to be exercised under certain conditions. They formed one government to no purpose, and with no object. They had no com
mon revenue, no common commerce, no common nationality. A man could call himself a citizen of New York, a citizen of Massachusetts, a citizen of Georgia; but no man with any emphasis, and certainly not in any particular which makes us proud so to call ourselves, could call himself, anywhere on the face of the earth, an American citizen; because there was no unity, no identity, no specific idea, attached to that term, now so glorious throughout the habitable world.
The war left the States embarrassed, with a disordered trade, with every variety of custom-house regulation, and involved in debt. The country called for a general Congress. The debts of the Revolution pressed heavily upon it. All the States were indebted, all were overwhelmed with a depreciated paper money; there was no unity of action, no general concert, in short, no " perfect union” among the States. Especially did this variety exist in reference to the intercourse which each State had with its neighbors and with foreign states. It constituted not only variety, but contradiction. There was a state of things in this respect which Mr. Madison, with his clear perception and patriotic regard for the best interests of the American people, did not hesitate to call a wonderful anarchy of trade.”
It was under these circumstances that the formation of the Constitution of the United States entered into the conception and purposes of the wise men of those days. They entertained that conception; they sought to accomplish that purpose. This was no easy purpose to accomplish with thirteen independent States, each jealous of its liberties and its rights, and sufficiently prone to think highly of its local advantages and powers. Yet the wisdom and patriotism, and general devotion to the interests of the whole, felt everywhere, pervading all classes, in the end accomplished that object of almost supreme importance.
Let us now look a little more closely into this matter, and inquire something more definitely into the objects for which the Constitution was formed. It was, for certain purposes, to make us one people, though surely not for all purposes; and the extent to which it was desired and designed that the people of all the States should be one people, and the government over these people should be one government, is expressed in a document of the most authentic character, I mean the letter addressed to the Congress of the Confederation by the Convention which formed
the Constitution. That letter, written on behalf of the Convention, and having the great name of Washington subscribed to it, says:
“ The friends of our country have long seen and desired, that the power of making war, peace, and treaties, that of levying money and regulating commerce, and the correspondent executive and judicial authorities, should be fully and effectually vested in the general government of the Union.”
We see here, then, that the object of this Constitution was to make the people of the United States one people, and to place them under one government, in regard to every thing respecting their relation to foreign states and the aspect in which the nations of the world were to regard them. It was not an amalgamation of the whole people under one government; not an extinguishment of the State sovereignties. That would have been an extinction, not a union, of existing States. There was no pressing necessity, therefore, for making the local institutions of the several States approach each other in any closer affinity. As governments existed, each within its own territory, for all purposes of territorial supremacy and power, in a word, for all State purposes, it was no matter what variety the States should have in these respects, and it was left to their own discretion. And it is the very beauty of our system, as I conceive, that the Federal and the State governments are kept thus distinct; that local legislation is left to the local authorities, and the general legislation is given to the general government.
This I take to be the true idea and definition of those purposes for which the general government, under the present Constitution, was organized and established. Indeed, Gentlemen, a most authoritative, a perfectly authoritative, declaration of the objects of the people of the United States in forming a Constitution, is contained in that instrument itself, on its very face. There the words stand, an everlasting record of the intentions and purposes of those who framed it. It says it is established “in order to form a more perfect union.” They, the people, framed the Constitution of the United States, for their “more perfect union,” — to “establish justice, insure domestic tranquillity, provide for the common defence, and promote the general welfare," and, finally,“ to secure the blessings of liberty” to them