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Bays, “ may be crushed, and another elevated on its ruins, by systematically perverting the power of taxation and disbursement, for the purpose of aggrandizing or building up one portion of the community at the expense of the other.” May be. But has not the most relentless despot an interest in the prosperity of his subject's ? And can one interest be crushed without manifest and immediate injury to all the others ? Mr. Calhoun says: That this fell power to crush important interests will be used, is exactly as certain as that it can be.
All this would be unintelligible to our foreign philosopher, but American citizens know very well what it means. Through this fine lattice-work fence they discern the shining countenance of the colored person.
But now, what remedy ? Mr. Calhoun approaches this part of the subject with the due acknowledgment of its difficulty. The remedy, of course, is Nullification ; but he is far from using a word so familiar. There is but one mode, he remarks, by which the majority of the whole people can be prevented from oppressing the minority, or portions of the minority, and that is this: “By taking the sense of each interest or portion of the community, which may be unequally and injuriously affected by the action of the government, separately, through its own majority, or in some other way by which its voice can be expressed; and to require the consent of each interest, either to put or to keep the government in motion.” And this can only be done by such an “organism” as will “ give to each division or interest either a concurrent voice in making and executing the laws or a veto on their execution."
This is perfectly intelligible when read by the light of the history of 1833. But no human being unacquainted with that history could gather Mr. Calhoun's meaning. Our studious foreigner would suppose by the word “interest,” that the author meant the manufacturing interest, the commercial and agricultural interests, and that each of these should have its little congress concurring in or vetoing the acts of the Congress sitting at Washington. We, however, know that Mr. Calhoun meant that South Carolina should have the power to nullify acts of Congress
and give law to the Union. He does not tell us Low South Carolina's tyrant Majority is to be kept within bounds; but only how that majority is to control the majority of the whole country, He has driven his problem into a corner, and there he leaves it.
Having thus arrived at the conclusion, that a law, to be binding on all “interests,” i. e. on all the States of the Union, must be coucurred in by all, he proceeds to answer the obvious objection, that “interests” so antagonistic could never be brought to unanimous agreement. He thinks this would present no difficulty, and adduces some instances of unanimity to illustrate his point.
First, trial by jury. Here are twelve men, of different character and calibre, shut up in a room to agree upon a verdict, in a cause upon which able men have argued upon opposite sides. How unlikely that they should be able to agree unanimously! Yet they generally do, and that speedily. Why is this? Because, answers Mr. Calhoun, they go into their room knowing that nothing short of unanimity will answer; and consequently every man is disposed to agree with his fellows, and, if he cannot agree, to compromise. “Not at all.” The chief reason why juries generally agree is, that they are not interested in the matter in dispute. The law of justice is so plainly written in the human heart, that the fair thing is usually obvious to disinterested minds, or can be made so. It is interest, it is rivalry, that blinds us to what is right; and Mr. Calhoun's problem is to render
antagonistic” interests unanimous. We cannot, therefore, acrept this illustration as a case in point.
Secondly, Poland. Poland is not the country which an American would naturally visit to gain political wisdom. Mr. Calhoun, however, repairs thither, and brings home the fact, that in the turbulent Diet of that unhappy kingdom every member had an absolute veto upon every measure. Nay, more: no king could be elected without the unanimous vote of an assembly of one hundred and fifty thousand persons. Yet Poland lasted two centuries! The history of those two centuries is a sufficient comment upon Mr Calhoun's system, to say nothing of the final catastrophe, which Mr. Calhoun confesses was owing to “the extreme to which the principle was carried.” A sound principle cannot be carried to an unsafe extreme; it is impossible for a man to be too right. If it is right for South Carolina to control and nullify the United States, it is right for any one man in South Carolina to control and nullify South Carolina. One of the tests of a system is to ascertain where it will carry us if it is pushed to the uttermost extreme. Mr. Calhoun gave his countrymen this valuable information when he cited the lamentable case of Poland.
From Poland the author descends to the Six Nations, the fed. eral council of which was composed of forty-two members, each of whom had an absolute veto upon every measure.
Nevertheless, this confederacy, he says, became the most powerful and the most united of all the Indian nations. He omits to add, that it was the facility with which this council could be wielded by the French and English in turn, that hastened the grinding of the Six Nations to pieces between those two millstones.
Rome is Mr. Calhoun's next illustration. The Tribunus Plebis, he observes, had a veto upon the passage of all laws and upon the execution of all laws, and thus prevented the oppression of the plebeians by the patricians. To show the inapplicability of this example to the principle in question, to show by what steps this tribunal, long useful and efficient, gradually absorbed the power of the government, and became itself, first oppressive, and then an instrument in the overthrow of the constitution, would be to write a history of Rome. Niebuhr is accessible to the public, and Niebuhr knew more of the Tribunus Plebis than Mr. Calhoun. We cannot find in Niebuhr anything to justify the author's aim to constitute patrician Carolina the Tribunus Plebis of the United States.
Lastly, England. England, too, has that safeguard of liberty 'an organism by which the voice of each order or class is taken through its appropriate organ, and which requires the concurring voice of all to constitute that of the whole community.” These orders are King, Lords, and Commons. They must all concur in every law, each having a veto upon the action of the two others. The government of the United States is also so arranged that the President and the two Houses of Congress must concur in every enactment; but then they all represent the same order or interest, the people of the United States. The English gove ernment, says Mr. Calhoun, is so exquisitely constituted, that the greater the revenues of the government, the more stable it is ; because those revenues, being chiefly expended upon the lords and gentlemen, render them exceedingly averse to any radical change. Mr. Calhoun does not mention that the majority of the people of England are not represented in the government at all Perhaps, however, the following passage, in a previous part of the work, was designed to meet their case:
“ It is a great and dangerous error to suppose that all people are equally entitled to liberty. It is a reward to be earned, not a blessing to be gratuitously lavished on all alike;- a reward reserved for the intelligent, the patriotic, the virtuous, and deserving; and not a boon to be bestowed on a people too ignorant, degraded, and vicious to be capable either of appreciating or of enjoying it.”
Mr. Calhoun does not tell us who is to bestow this precious boon. He afterwards remarks, that the progress of a people rising” to the point of civilization which entitles them to freedom, is “necessarily slow.” How very slow, then, it must be, when the means of civilization are forbidden to them by law !
With his remarks upon England, Mr. Calhoun terminates his discussion of the theory of government. Let us grant all that he claims for it, and see to what it conducts us. Observe that his grand position is, that a “numerical majority,” like all other sovereign powers, will certainly tyrannize if it can. His remedy for this is, that a local majority, the majority of each State, shall have a veto upon the acts of the majority of the whole country. But he omits to tell us how that local majority is to be kept within bounds. According to his reasoning, South Carolina should have a veto upon acts of Congress. Very well; then each county of South Carolina should have a veto upon the acts of the State Legislature; each town should have a veto upon the behests of the county; and each voter upon the decisions of the town. Mr. Calhour's argument, therefore, amounts to this : that one voter in South Carolina should have the constitutional right to nullify
an act of Congress, and no law should be binding which has not received the assent of every citizen.
Having completed the theoretical part of his subject, the author proceeds to the practical. In his first essay he describes the “organism ” that is requisite for the preservation of liberty; and in his second, he endeavors to show that the United States is precisely such an organism, since the Constitution, rightly interpreted, does confér upon South Carolina the right to veto the decrees of the numerical majority. Mr. Calhoun's understanding appears to much better advantage in this second discourse, which contains the substance of all his numerous speeches on nullification. It is marvellous how this morbid and intense mind had brooded over a single subject, and how it had subjugated all history and all law to its single purpose. But we cannot follow Mr. Calhoun through the tortuous mazes of his second essay; nor, if we could, should we be able to draw readers after us. only say this : Let it be granted that there are two ways in which the Constitution can be fairly interpreted ;- one, the Websterian method; the other, that of Mr. Calhoun. On one of these interpretations the Constitution will work, and on the other it will not. We prefer the interpretation that is practicable, and leave the other party to the enjoyment of their argument. Nations cannot be governed upon principles so recondite and refined, that not one citizen in a hundred will so much as follow a mere statement of them. The fundamental law must be as plain as the ten commandments, - as plain as the four celebrated propositions in which Mr. Webster put the substance of his speeches in reply to Mr. Calhoun's ingenious defence of his conduct in 1833.
The author concludes his essay by a prophetic glance at the future. He remarks, that with regard to the future of the United States, as then governed, only one thing could be predicted with absolute certainty, and that was, that the Republic could not last. It might lapse into a monarchy, or it might be dismembered, — no man could say which; but that one of these things would happen was entirely certain. The rotation-in-offico system, as introdnced by General Jackson, and sanctioned by his subservient Congress, had rendered the Presidential office a prize