« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »
see the President, by the exercise of the veto power, defeating the will of both houses, expressed by large majorities, thus exercising a constitutional prerogative which no king of England has ventured to use for two centuries.
The reason of this is, that the executive and Senate are representative powers in our system. The President is elected by the whole people. He, in one sense, more directly represents the whole people than the lower house of Congress. The Presi. dent is not, like an hereditary king, without any popular constituency. The whole people are his constituents. To them be takes his appeal from the decision of both houses when he exercises the veto power. The Senate is also a representative body. It represents the States—a great power in our system. A senator is not like a member of the House of Lords, without a constituency. The people of his State are his constituents; and so long as his State sustains him he stands firm against the will and power of the lower house, even though that body speak the voice of a vast majority of the whole people. So long as a senator from Massachusetts or Rhode Island or Delaware or Carolina is in harmony with his State, it matters little to him how great a majority may be against him elsewhere.
There is another thing in the very constitution of the Senate that gives that body a weight in our legislative system even greater than that of the lower house. Senators are elected by the legislatures of the States from the whole body of their citi.
The men thus chosen are generally of mature age, experience, and ability. They are seldom without great local influence and support. All this being universally recognized, gives to senators a' manifest superiority over the younger and less experienced members of the lower house, and great weight in public opinion. A senator is not, like an English peer, the "accident of an accident"-an hereditary legislator, possibly without fitness for his high duties, and therefore often an object of popular contempt. Moreover, a member of the Senate is not placed illogically in a representative legislature, as is a born legislator. He is indirectly chosen by the people of the State to which he belongs.
There is another view in which, it seems to me, our govern
ment is more stable and far less exposed to danger from popular caprice and violence than that of Great Britain. I refer to the ways and means by which the Constitutions of both countries may be altered, amended, or subverted. The Parliament of England is supreme. It may change its own Constitution by a simple act of legislation. It may, in the same way, change the dynasty or the line of descent of the crown. In a word, it can, by its supreme power, alter and reconstruct the whole fabric of government. Now, if the House of Commons is practically the Parliament of England, what is to prevent that body, at its own pleasure, from amending or changing the Constitution itself?
Wbat is the present menace, in both Europe and America, of established governments, institutions, rights, dignities, and properties? Is it not from the dreaded proletariat, in the not distant future, that thougbtful men apprehend danger to rights of property and to social order? From this cause Macaulay predicts the downfall of our institutions. In his letter to Mr. Randall he says:
“I never wrote or uttered a word indicating an opinion that the supreme authority in a state ought to be intrusted to the majority of citizens, told by the head; in other words, to the poorest and most ignorant part of society.
Your fate I believe to be certain, though it is deferred by a physical cause. As long as you have a boundless extent of fertile and unoccupied land, your laboring population will be far more at ease than the laboring population of the old world. But the time will come when New England will be as thickly peopled as old England. Wages will be low, and will fluctuate as much with you as with us. Then your institutions will be fairly brought to the test. Distress everywhere makes the laborer mutinous and discontented, and inclines him to listen with eagerness to agitators who tell him that it is a monstrous iniquity that one man should have a million, while another cannot get a full meal. ... It is quite plain that your government will never be able to restrain a distressed and discontented minority. For with you a majority is the government, and has the rich, who are always a minority, absolutely at its mercy. ... There will be, 1 fear, spoliation. The spoliation will increase the distress. The distress will produce fresh spoliation. There is nothing to stop you. Your constitution is all sail and no anchor.”
Again he argues :
“Here [England) the sufferers are not the rulers. The supreme power is in the hands of a numerous class indeed, but select; of an educated class; of a class which is, and knows itself to be, deeply interested in the security of property and the maintenance of order.”
Macaulay's reasoning to show the superiority of British institutions is based mainly upon the fact of universal suffrage in the United States. But since the letter to Randall was written the franchise has been so extended in England as to be now almost universal; and who that has observed the progress of radicalism in that country can entertain a doubt that the right of suffrage will, at no distant time, become universal there, as it is in the United States ?
Meanwhile we are comparatively safe, by reason of many countervailing causes which tend here to mitigate popular discontent. There is, in this country, a freer division and much wider diffusion of property than in England. We have no primogeniture, no odious church rates, no titled aristocracy, no royal families pensioned upon the tax-payers, no privileged classes, comparatively no land monopoly; all of which existing in England, and being most odious to the proletariat, tend to foster discontent among the masses. It has been said that every holder in the English funds is a friend to the existing order of things. With how much stronger reason may we affirm that every owner of land in the United States will be a supporter of the existing order among us; and almost our entire rural population, forming a great majority of the whole people, are, directly or indirectly, interested in the ownership of land. This, indeed, I regard as the great bulwark of our institutions against those anarchic tendencies which exist principally in the towns and cities. Moreover, I emphatically deny the assertion that our government is “all sail and no anchor.” I maintain, on the contrary, that while the causes of discontent in England are greatly more numerous and flagrant than in our country, her government is, in its actual working, though not in theory, more directly exposed to the power and control of the populace than is that of the United States.
It is not, I think, from revolutionary violence that the greatest danger to our institutions is to be apprehended. If the misguided proletariat shall be able to take possession of the law. making power by means of universal suffrage, they will be under no necessity of resorting to revolution. Men hesitate long before they resort to forcible revolution in order to effect desired changes, because they know that in a violent revolution there are “ blows to take as well as blows to give." But when the discontented classes find that they can achieve their proposed innovations without force, by means within the forms of law, they are apt, with less hesitation, to undertake civic revolutions.
Suppose the toiling masses in England should get complete possession and control of the House of Commons, what would prevent them from subverting existing institutions and invad. ing property rights through the forms of law, thus, perhaps, compelling the few to put themselves in the attitude of resistance and rebellion in self-defense? This, rather than resort to forcible revolution, is the real danger to be apprehended in England. Unorganized masses of men without leaders are, in civic as in military affairs, powerless. But when the masses, armed with universal suffrage, shall learn the secret of their strength, and acquire organization and leadership, they may do their will with the ballot rather than the bullet.
But, it may be asked, may not the same results flow from the same causes, in the course of time, under our constitutional forms? May not the progress of democratic opinion in due time sweep away all barriers to the will of the majority and subject life, liberty, and property to the unrestrained and capricious will of the multitude ? May not the proletariat, here as elsewhere, in time seize upon the government, change its form by amendment, and work their will upon society, under the semblance of legal forms? No doubt this is possible under our constitutional forms as it is under those of Great Britain ; but what I maintain is, that it would be infinitely more difficult for discontented and evil-disposed majorities to work their will under our American Constitution than it would be to achieve the same result within the forms of English law; in a word, that our system is far more conservative than that of Great Britain.
It would not by any means be sufficient, under our system, for the discontented elements of the population to get possession of the House of Representatives, or indeed of both houses, in order to change, amend, or subvert the federal Constitution. They would be compelled, in order to take the initiatory step to an amendment or change of the Constitution, to secure a majority
of two-thirds in both houses of Congress or two-thirds of all the States of the Union. But then the two-thirds of both houses of Congress, if that method should be adopted, could not change or alter the Constitution in the smallest particular. All the two houses could do by a two-thirds majority would be to propose amendments to the several States, and the amendments so proposed could be embodied in the Constitution only when ratified by the legislatures or conventions of three-fourths of the States.
The otter method of changing or amending the Constitution is still more complex and difficult. Suppose it be adopted, then Congress must wait until an application is made by the legislatures of two-thirds of the States to call a convention for
proposing amendments; and if a convention, so called by Congress at the instance and request of the legislatures of two-thirds of the States, should propose amendments, such proposed amendments would have no legal effect whatever until ratified by the legislatures of three-fourths of the States, or by conventions in threefourths of them called for that purpose.
Lastly, without the assent of every State of the Union the equal suffrage of the States in the Senate cannot be impaired by any mode of constitutional amendment. While the English Parliament could, by a simple act of legislation, abolish the House of Lords, and thus entirely displace that conservative branch of the law-making power, there is no power whatever, under the federal Constitution, to deprive the States of their equal suffrage in the Senate without the consent of every State in the Union. This amounts, practically, to an absolute denial of the right to abolish the Senate or change its organization, and it cannot be done without an act of revolution unless every State assents to the change. Thus it is evident that the Constitution itself would render it impracticable for the lawless and discontented elements of society to change the fundamental law by means of a majority ever so great, or even by a vote of the two houses of Congress.
Again, in the judicial system ordained by the Constitution of the United States we have another conservative power unknown to the British Constitution. The Supreme Court of the United States stands in the way of the demagogue, the malcon. tent, the anarchist, and the reckless agitator. That court is