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FUNDAMENTAL PRINCIPLES

FRANK ORREN LOWDEN

These last few years have been crowded with big events. Thrones have crumbled, dynasties have fallen, new nations have been born, and the map of Europe has been redrawn. It is a period of mighty ferment. Old faiths are being challenged; ideas that had become axiomatic are being questioned; new and strange doctrines are in the air.

If it is a period of promise, it is also a time of peril. For we are likely to reject the old simply because it is old and to embrace the new simply because it is new. Therein our danger lies with reference to our own form of government.

Government is a problem which has always vexed mankind. How to reconcile the liberties of the individual with a government of sufficient energy to guarantee an orderly progress of society is a question which has engaged the attention of the thinkers of the centuries. This was the question which the revolutionary fathers had to answer. The colonists had won their independence in the War of the Revolution. At the same time they had won the admiration of the world. They at first believed that, freed from the English yoke, happiness, contentment, and prosperity would surely be theirs. They soon learned, however, that it was not enough to be free from foreign rule. They must establish, to take its place, a government of their own, with power sufficient to protect the liberties they had won.

The confederation had failed. Confusion reigned. Jealousies

between the new states were rampant. Disorder was the rule. The fruits of the Revolution seemed turning to ashes upon their lips. At this juncture, the Constitutional Convention met in Independence Hall. Measured by the results achieved, this was the most remarkable meeting of free men in the history of government. The Constitution they framed has been, in some sense, the model of every free government since formed. The framers of the new constitution were as familiar with the history of the governments of the past as we are today. They knew the story of Sparta, and of Athens, of Carthage, of Venice, and of Rome. They had seen these democracies, one after another, fail. Alexander Hamilton said:

Such democracies have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention; have ever been found incompatible with personal security or the rights of property, and have in general been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths.

For centuries a democracy had been regarded by the statesmen of the world as nothing more than a beautiful dream. In the light of history, therefore, the framers of the Constitution went about to devise some form of government which should avoid at the same time the autocracy of the despot and the turbulence of the mob. They appreciated the merits of democracy but they saw its limitations. They were familiar, of course, with the town meetings of New England as established by the Plymouth Colony. Such meetings gave perfect expression to the democratic principle in government. They saw, too, that, in less than twenty years after its settlement, the Plymouth Colony had so expanded that delegates were selected from the several communities to represent the inhabitants. They saw that representative government must supplant a pure democracy the moment the community has become so large that all its members can not conveniently meet and discuss together the questions pertaining to their welfare. This idea of representative government was not an invention of the Pilgrim Fathers, but was borrowed from England.

England evolved this new principle in government before the Norman conquest. Speaking of the evolution of this principle, John Fiske says: “It was one of the greatest steps ever taken in the political history of mankind.' Indeed, so important does he conceive it to be that he assigns the failure of the great political systems of Greece and Rome to its absence. He concludes:

And we have seen how largely both these political failures were due to the absence of the principle of representation from the public life of Greece and Rome. The chief problem of civilization, from the political point of view, has always been how to secure concerted action among men on a great scale without sacrificing local independence. The ancient history of Europe shows that it is not possible to solve this problem without the aid of the principle of representation. Greece, until overcome by external force, sacredly maintained local self-government, but in securing permanent concert of action it was conspicuously unsuccessful. Rome secured concert of action on a gigantic scale, and transformed the thousand unconnected tribes and cities it conquered into an organized European world, but in doing this it went far towards extinguishing local self-government. The advent of the Teutons upon the scene seems therefore to have been necessary, if only to supply the indispensable element without which the dilemma of civilization could not be surmounted.

And so the Fathers made the principle of representative government the corner stone of the new Republic. Representative government is only the application to government of that principle which men have found by experience beneficial in other important affairs of life. Government daily becomes a more and more difficult and complex thing. Just as the citizen selects someone skilled in the law to represent him in a lawsuit, or someone skilled in medicine if his child is ill, so he ought to be permitted to select someone to represent him in his government. The representative can, if he so desires, keep in touch with the needs and real interests of those he represents. In intelligence and character, he is usually far above the average of his constituency. He has the great advantage of listening to and participating in debates upon any important question of policy. He has the privilege of proposing amendment if he favors the principle of a bill but objects to it in form. Therefore he has infinitely better opportunity to act intelligently and well than his constituents possibly can have. If the people are unable wisely to select from their own number one who will represent them honestly and faithfully, what possible chance have they to legislate wisely themselves? Upon questions of government, all know how unsafe it is to act upon first impressions. The representative, giving all his time to the consideration of public questions, has an opportunity to correct his impressions where they are wrong. The people have not time for the study necessary to the understanding of these questions. But their representative may come before the people to discuss with them the mooted question in all its bearings. He thus becomes an educational force. Indeed the self-respecting representative will seek to lead his constituents to correct conclusions upon questions of governmental policy, and will not be content to be a mere automatic register of hastily formed popular will.

Representative government is found wanting by some as in some mysterious way encroaching on the rights of the people. Just the opposite is true. If the citizen were not permitted to employ a lawyer or a physician, would he not complain of the loss of his rights? So, if he be not permitted to govern through a representative of his own choosing, but must govern himself directly, is he not equally suffering a diminution of liberty of action?

The Fathers saw, too, that a government extending over a vast territory could not endure unless it had vitality in all its parts. They knew that the greatest empire of history had fallen into ruin because of the gradual concentration of all power in Rome, with resulting atrophy in its remote members. They therefore wisely provided for the preservation of the several states, thus guaranteeing the continuance of local selfgovernment. They created in fact “an indissoluble union of indestructible States." Having adopted the federal principle, they followed it to its logical end. They gave to the general government only such powers as were necessary to that government when acting for all in matters concerning all the people of all the states. All other powers of government were reserved to the states. Not only were the people represented in the national congress, but also the states themselves, for the upper house was composed exclusively of representatives of the states.

The federal principle in government had never been employed on so large a scale before. That it eminently succeeded in securing the rights and liberties of the people in even the remotest parts of the Union, no student of history will deny. It remained, however, to be proved whether a government so founded upon the federal principle possessed the vigor to preserve itself. This was the supreme issue in the Civil War. It is often said that this war was fought over slavery. This is not true. Slavery, it is true, precipitated the conflict; but the real issue was the preservation of the Union. Lincoln himself said in his first inaugural address: “I have no purpose directly or indirectly to interfere with the institution of slavery where it exists. I believe I have no lawful right to do so and I have no inclination to do so.” Lincoln hated slavery, but greater than his hatred of slavery was his love of the Union. He accepted battle not to free the slave, but to save the Union. With sad heart but with steadfast courage, he faced the greatest war the world had ever seen to keep the flag of that

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