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and yet it may, when there is need, put forth its strength, — and who can stand against the might of the unfettered wind !

The strength of our constitutional government must reside in its gentleness, and in the opportunity which is given by its gentleness, for passion to calm down, and stubbornness to melt away, and the wanderer to return, and that which is right and best to become manifest to all men. It must reside in its patient forbearance while that is possible, and in its cautious mildness as far as that is possible; in its power, derived from this very gentleness, of adaptedness to every exigency; and, therefore, of adequacy to any exigency which may call upon it, either to bring into action its whole irresistible might, or to take any other course which a comprehensive and clear-sighted wisdom may approve.

Nor is our constitution a fetter imposed by the past upon the present and the future, fixed and crystallized into forms which may be broken but cannot change. The exact opposite of this is the truth. It is a living organism. It invites and provides for change. It desires all changes, in all time, which shall make it ever more able to perform its great functions. But it carefully provides that these changes shall come only as a common demand, shall be matured by a common deliberation, and rest on a common consent; common, not universal, for that it is too wise to require or to expect.






We might trace back to the very beginning of history, the series of events which led to the formation of our constitution. We can only glance at this series now. Let us begin with the inquiry, what the best government must be; and the answer should be, in one word, self-government. On this topic, as on so many others, we may be helped by remembering that as a nation is composed of men, it cannot contain any other elements of national character than those which are contributed by the men of the nation. And when we look at men individually, and from the study of human character reach certain definite laws and conclusions concerning human life in the individual, we may well hope that these laws and conclusions will throw some light upon similar questions as they exist in reference to a nation.

The best definition or description of a republican constitutional government may be found in the often-quoted words of President Lincoln. It is a government “ of the people, by the people, for the people.” But these words are often used with an ignorance or disregard of their exact and most important meaning; for they are used as if government “of” the people and government "by” the people meant the same thing. There can be no greater mistake. Government of the people means that the people shall be governed; as really and effectually governed as under any form of government. But never oppressively or tyrannically, because they are governed by themselves. They govern themselves, for and in their own best interests. And if they are not governed, if they do not govern themselves, those interests are disregarded and defeated. For what is the best government for an individual ? If I put the question in another shape, — if I ask whether he is best governed who is surrendered to his own fantasies and proclivities and lusts, and exasperates all these by utter unrestraint, and makes no reference to right or wrong, or the law of God or the law of man, the question answers itself. I am describing a man who has done all that he can do to become only a wild beast. Better were it for him that some arm of power should hold him, some fear restrain him, some irresistible command control him, and all these influences compel him to decent conduct. Then, it might at least be possible that his lusts and follies, hecause they were repressed, would be enfeebled. If so, it might again be possible that the severity of external control could be safely relaxed; that some acknowledgment of law, some thought of right, would begin to exert a power within him, and thereby facilitate the entrance of yet better thoughts and higher motives, and that this advancing and ascending progress might go on, until a control from within accepted and welcomed a control from without as a necessary help. And the consummation of all this would come when the law of truth, of right, and of instructed conscience was all the law he needed, all the law he felt; and this law put him at ease with the system of law prevailing all around him, and the man stood and lived in perfect peace with the law and perfect peace with himself.

This is but an ideal picture; far from the reality existing in the best of us. It is, however, a picture of that last result towards which we are led by all moral improvement, all elevation of motive, all recognition of the authority of right, and all confirmation of our love of goodness.

I cannot but think that the history of the past and the condition of the present lead to the conclusion that a law and method of progress, somewhat analogous at least, prevail in the growth of nations. History is but the biography of man; and the lessons which are taught by the life of mankind cannot be altogether remote and diverse from those we may gather from the lives of men.

To see how the progress of mankind has accorded with these principles, we must go far back towards the beginning; and it is of course impossible to give more than the most cursory glance at the evidence which the pages of history offer. But even this glance will show us that while government was known only as unmitigated despotism in the Eastern and ancient world, it received important modifications as it passed through Greece; and that the despotism of the central power of the vast empire of Rome was accompanied with a singular amount of freedom and self-government in the cities and boroughs and lesser provinces into which the Roman empire was divided. In this way some preparation was made for the feudal system, which was, in theory, a government of laws and not of men, for it assigned his own place and his own rights to every man. And so the possibility of deliverance from a wholly external control, from a power which was over him and against him, instead of one which was accepted by him as his own and as self-imposed, grew from age to age.

A few centuries ago, four great discoveries, or rather the bringing within reach and use of four things known but neglected before, came near together and distinguished that period from any other in history. One of these was the mariner's compass; and it guided Columbus to America. The discovery of this continent was another. Gunpowder, the third, made the subjection of this continent easy and rapid. And the press, which was the fourth discovery, diffused among expecting nations the tidings of this new world, and spread widely a knowledge of the advantages which it offered; and this soon brought to our shores the beginning of a new population. This grew up under the fostering and needed care of the parent races, until the colony was strong enough to become a State.

Something like this had often happened before. History is full of stories of successful colonization, and of young nations which cast off dependence when they were strong enough to break their fetters. But something else happened now that never occurred before. In all previous instances where colonies grew into States, they became substantially what their parents were. When the new shoot was rooted, it was the old tree again, with more or less unimportant change from soil or climate or position. Not so here. Our colonial fathers were at first subjects of a king, as all the inhabitants of carth, with few and slight exceptions, under some form or name, were and always had been. But when our fathers ceased to be subjects of their king, they founded States without a king; and in this simple fact they indicated, and the wiser among them saw. the dawn of a new day in the life of mankind.

This new world, thus and then discovered, was near enough to the old world to receive colonists with no more hinderance and difficulty than were useful to sift out the weak from the strong, that the seed of a new nation might have due vitality. Far enough from the old world to prevent an immediate and controlling influence from stretching across the waters and causing the future to be but a repetition of the past; far enough to permit the germs of nations planted here to grow up into the great possibility which awaited them. And then the hour came, and the last word of God's providence in human government was uttered when he said to a great nation, “Go forth, be free, and GOVERN YOURSELVES.”

The great question for this country is, shall we be deaf to this word ? In the infinite future there may be and will be vast changes and infinite improvements. These will lessen, or remedy, or prevent many evils which we already discern, and many more which we do not yet discern, in our republican institutions; and whatever good has yet come, or may now be hoped for from these institutions, will be increased a thousand fold, as they are changed for the better. But the nations will never again regard as the only possible or desirable government, that of a power distinct from the people, and deriving no force and no life from their consent and voluntary recognition. The work we have begun will not be suppressed and extinguished. It will live, and it will grow into the fulness of its stature; and that it may live and

grow, the wants, the deficiencies, and the errors of any age will be disclosed by whatever lessons may be necessary to teach them, and will be remedied by whatever means are then found best for that purpose. For the period in the progress of mankind has been reached when a government was to be formed, which should possess, and in time of need be able to exert, the force of the nation for national purposes, and the combined power of its component parts for all those purposes which embrace the interests of all, and yet leave each of those parts, States, cities, families, and individuals, in the utmost possible freedom to enjoy the blessing and discharge the duty of self-government. When before, where else, has this ever been the design of government ?

The colonies, from their beginning, exercised a large amount some more and some less — of self-government. They knew that this must be so, and in some cases provided for it. A noticeable instance of this occurred among the founders of the colony of Plymonth in New England. The “ Mayflower” dropped her anchor in the roadstead of what is now Provincetown, on Cape Cod, Nov. 11, 1620. A journal of their proceedings says:

“This day, before we came to harbor, observing some not well affected to unity and concord, but gave some appearance of faction, it was thought good there should be an association and agreement, that we should combine together in one body, and to submit to such government and governors as we should by common consent agree to make and choose, and set our hands to this that follows, word for word.” The following instrument was prepared and signed :

“In the name of God, amen. We, whose names are underwritten, the loyal subjects of our dread sovereign lord, King James, by the grace of God, of Great Britain, France, and Ireland King, Defender of the Faith, &c., having undertaken, for the glory of God, and advancement of the Christian faith, and honor of our king and country, a voyage to plant the first colony in the northern parts of Virginia, do by these presents, solemnly and mutually, in the prcsence of God and one of another, covenant and combine ourselves together into a civil body politic, for our better ordering and preservation, and furtherance of the ends aforesaid ; and by virtue hereof to enact, constitute, and frame such just and equal laws, ordinances, acts, constitutions, and offices, from time to time, as shall be thought most meet and convenient for the general good of the colony; unto which we promise all due submission and obedience. In witness whereof we have hereunder subscribed our names, at Cape Cod, the 11th of November, in the year of the reign of our sovereign lord, King James, of England, France, and Ireland the eighteenth, and of Scotland the fifty-fourth, Anno Domini 1620.”

This may be called the first written constitution; forced, as it were, upon our fathers, by the compulsion of circumstances. It contains the essential principles of all republican constitutions. In all the colonies, through all their history, there was some conflict, and in some of the colonies an almost constant conflict, between their efforts at self-government and the royal authority, which, in the hands of its agents and officials, sought to control them. They became little republics; or it is more accurate to say that, by the experiences and the discipline they passed through for more than a century, they were trained to become republics.

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