«THE JUBILEE OF THE CONSTITUTION A DISCOURSE Delivered at the Request of THE NEW YORK HISTORICAL SOCIETY, in the City of New York, on Tuesday, the ...»
THE JUBILEE OF THE CONSTITUTION
Delivered at the Request of
THE NEW YORK HISTORICAL SOCIETY,
in the City of New York,
on Tuesday, the 30th of April, 1839;
Being the Fiftieth Anniversary
INAUGURATION OF GEORGE WASHINGTON
PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES,
on Thursday, the 30th of April, 1789.
Serit arbores, quae alteri seculo prosint - * * quid spectans, nisi etiam postera secula ad se
pertinere? Ergo arbores seret diligens agricola, quarum adspiciet baccam ipse nunquam:
vir magnus leges, instituta, rempublicam non seret?
Cicero, Tusc. Quaest.I ________________________________________
JOHN QUINCY ADAMSAccessed at http://www.lonang.com/exlibris/misc/1839-jub.htm.
Entered according to Act of Congress, in the year 1839, by JOSEPH BLUNT, For the New York Historical Society, In the District Court of the Southern District of New York.
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------When in the epic fable of the first of Roman Poets, the Goddess mother of Æneas delivers to him the celestial armor, with which he is to triumph over his enemy, and to lay the foundations of Imperial Rome, he is represented as gazing with intense but confused delight on the crested helm that vomits golden fires His hands the fatal sword and corslet hold, One keen with temper'd steel - one stiff with gold.
He shakes the pointed spear, and longs to try The plated cuishes on his manly thigh;
But most admires the shield's mysterious mould, And Roman triumphs rising on the gold" For on that shield the heavenly smith had wrought the anticipated history of Roman glory, from the days of Æneas down to the reign of Augustus Caesar, contemporaneous with the Poet himself.
FELLOW-CITIZENS AND BRETHREN, ASSOCIATES OF THE NEW YORKHISTORICAL SOCIETY Would it be an unlicensed trespass of the imagination to conceive, that on the night preceding the day of which you now commemorate the fiftieth anniversary - on the night preceding that thirtieth of April, one thousand seven hundred and eighty-nine, when from the balcony of your city-hall, the chancellor of the state of New York, administered to George Washington the solemn oath, faithfully to execute the office of President of the United States, and to the best of his ability, to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States - that in the visions of the night, the guardian angel of the Father of our country had appeared before him, in the venerated form of his mother, and, to cheer and encourage him in the performance of the momentous and solemn duties that he was about to assume, had delivered to him a suit of celestial armor - a helmet, consisting of the principles of piety, of justice, of honor, of benevolence with which from his earliest infancy he had hitherto walked through life, in the presence of all his brethren
- a spear, studded with the self-evident truths of the Declaration of Independence - a sword, the same with which he had led the armies of his country through the war of freedom, to the summit of the triumphal arch of independence - a corslet and cuishes of long experience and habitual intercourse in peace and war with the world of mankind, his contemporaries of the human race, in all their stages of civilization - and last of all, the Constitution of the United States, a SHIELD embossed by heavenly hands, with the future history of his country.
Yes, gentlemen! on that shield, the CONSTITUTION OF THE UNITED STATES was sculptured (by forms unseen, and in characters then invisible to mortal eye,) the predestined and prophetic history of the one confederated people of the North American Union.
They had been the settlers of thirteen separate and distinct English colonies, along the margin of the shore of the North American continent contiguously situated, but chartered by adventurers of characters variously diversified, including sectarians, religious and political, of all the classes which for the two preceding centuries had agitated and divided the people of the British islands - and with them were intermingled the descendants of Hollanders, Swedes, Germans, and French fugitives from the persecution of the revoker of the Edict of Nantes.
In the bosoms of this People, thus heterogeneously composed, there was burning, kindled at different furnaces, but all furnaces of affliction, one clear, steady flame of LIBERTY.
Bold and daring enterprise, stubborn endurance of privation, unflinching intrepidity in facing danger, and inflexible adherence to conscientious principle, had steeled to energetic and unyielding hardihood the characters of the primitive settlers of all these Colonies. Since that time two or three generations of men had passed away - but they had increased and multiplied with unexampled rapidity; and the land itself had been the recent theatre of a ferocious and bloody seven years' war between the two most powerful and most civilized nations of Europe, contending for the possession of this continent.
Of that strife the victorious combatant had been Britain. She had conquered the provinces of France. She had expelled her rival totally from the continent over which, bounding herself by the Mississippi, she was thenceforth to hold divided empire only with Spain.
She had acquired undisputed control over the Indian tribes, still tenanting the forests unexplored by the European man. She had established an uncontested monopoly of the commerce of all her colonies. But forgetting all the warnings of preceding ages forgetting the lessons written in the blood of her own children, through centuries of departed time, she undertook to tax the people of the colonies without their consent.
Resistance, instantaneous, unconcerted, sympathetic, inflexible resistance like an electric shock startled and roused the people of all the English colonies on this continent.
This was the first signal of the North American Union. The struggle was for chartered rights - for English liberties - for the cause of Algernon Sidney and John Hambden - for trial by jury - the Habeas Corpus and Magna Charta.
But the English lawyers had decided that Parliament was omnipotent - and Parliament in their omnipotence, instead of trial by jury and the Habeas Corpus enacted admiralty courts in England to try Americans for offenses charged against them as committed in America - instead of the privileges of Magna Charta, nullified the charter itself of Massachusetts Bay; shut up the port of Boston; sent armies and navies to keep the peace, and teach the colonies that John Hambden was a rebel, and Algernon Sidney a traitor.
English liberties had failed them. From the omnipotence of Parliament the colonists appealed to the rights of man and the omnipotence of the God of battles. Union! Union!
was the instinctive and simultaneous cry throughout the land. Their Congress, assembled at Philadelphia, once - twice had petitioned the king; had remonstrated to Parliament; had addressed the people of Britain, for the rights of Englishmen - in vain. Fleets and armies, the blood of Lexington, and the fires of Charlestown and Falmouth, had been the answer to petition, remonstrance and address.
Independence was declared. The colonies were transformed into States. Their inhabitants were proclaimed to be one people, renouncing all allegiance to the British crown; all copatriotism with the British nation; all claims to chartered rights as Englishmen.
Thenceforth their charter was the Declaration of Independence. Their rights, the natural rights of mankind. Their government, such as should be instituted by themselves, under the solemn mutual pledges of perpetual union, founded on the self-evident truths proclaimed in the Declaration.
The Declaration of Independence was issued, in the excruciating agonies of a civil war, and by that war independence was to be maintained. Six long years it raged with unabated fury, and the Union was yet no more than a mutual pledge of faith, and a mutual participation of common sufferings and common dangers.
The omnipotence of the British Parliament was vanquished. The independence of the United States of America, was not granted, but recognized. The nation had "assumed among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station, to which the laws of nature, and of nature's God, entitled it" - but the one, united people, had yet NO GOVERNMENT.
In the enthusiasm of their first spontaneous, unstipulated, unpremeditated union, they had flattered themselves that no general government would be required. As separate states they were all agreed that they should constitute and govern themselves. The revolution under which they were gasping for life, the war which was carrying desolation into all their dwellings, and mourning into every family, had been kindled by the abuse of power
- the power of government. An invincible repugnance to the delegation of power, had thus been generated, by the very course of events which had rendered it necessary; and the more indispensable it became, the more awakened was the jealousy and the more intense was the distrust by which it was to be circumscribed.
They relaxed their union into a league of friendship between sovereign and independent states. They constituted a Congress, with powers co-extensive with the nation, but so hedged and hemmed in with restrictions, that the limitation seemed to be the general rule, and the grant the occasional exception. The articles of confederation, subjected to philosophical analysis, seem to be little more than an enumeration of the functions of a national government which the congress constituted by the instrument was not authorized to perform. There was avowedly no executive power.
The nation fell into an atrophy. The Union languished to the point of death. A torpid numbness seized upon all its faculties. A chilling cold indifference crept from its extremities to the center. The system was about to dissolve in its own imbecility impotence in negotiation abroad - domestic insurrection at home, were on the point of bearing to a dishonorable grave the proclamation of a government founded on the rights of man, when a convention of delegates from eleven of the thirteen states, with George Washington at their head, sent forth to the people, an act to be made their own, speaking in their name and in the first person, thus: "We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, ensure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty, to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America."
This act was the complement to the Declaration of Independence; founded upon the same principles, carrying them out into practical execution, and forming with it, one entire system of national government. The Declaration was a manifesto to the world of mankind, to justify the one confederated people, for the violent and voluntary severance of the ties of their allegiance, for the renunciation of their country, and for assuming a station themselves, among the potentates of the world - a self-constituted sovereign - a self-constituted country.
In the history of the human race this had never been done before. Monarchs had been dethroned for tyranny - kingdoms converted into republics, and revolted provinces had assumed the attributes of sovereign power. In the history of England itself, within one century and a half before the day of the Declaration of Independence, one lawful king had been brought to the block, and another expelled, with all his posterity, from his own kingdom, and a collateral dynasty had ascended his throne. But the former of these revolutions had by the deliberate and final sentence of the nation itself, been pronounced a rebellion, and the rightful heir of the executed king had been restored to the crown. In the latter, at the first onset, the royal recreant had fled - he was held to have abdicated the crown, and it was placed upon the heads of his daughter and of her husband, the prime leader of the conspiracy against him. In these events there had been much controversy upon the platform of English liberties - upon the customs of the ancient Britons; the laws of Alfred, the Witenagamote of the Anglo-Saxons, and the Great Charter of Runnymede with all its numberless confirmations. But the actors of those times had never ascended to the first foundation of civil society among men, nor had any revolutionary system of government been rested upon them.
The motive for the Declaration of Independence was on its face avowed to be "a decent respect for the opinions of mankind." Its purpose to declare the causes which impelled the people of the English colonies on the continent of North America, to separate themselves from the political community of the British nation. They declare only, the causes of their separation, but they announce at the same time their assumption of the separate and equal station to which the laws of nature and of nature's God entitle them, among the powers of the earth.
Thus their first movement is to recognize and appeal to the laws of nature and to nature's God, for their right to assume the attributes of sovereign power as an independent nation.
The causes of their necessary separation, for they begin and end by declaring it necessary, alleged in the Declaration, are all founded on the same laws of nature and of nature's God