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on a question relative to the extension of the elective franchise in England, (the principle which certainly lies at the basis of representative government,) the example of the United States, instead of being held up for imitation in this respect, as has generally been the case, on the subject of popular reforms, was referred to as showing not the advantages but the evils of an enlarged suffrage. It was emphatically asserted or plainly intimated by the person who took the lead in the debate, (Earl Grey,) the son of the distinguished author of the bill for the Reform of Parliament, whose family traditions therefore might be expected to be strongly on the side of popular right, that, in the United States, since the Revolutionary period, and by the undue extension of the right of suffrage, our elections have become a mockery, our legislatures venal, our courts tainted with party spirit, our laws 'cobwebs, which the rich and poor alike break through, and the country, and the government in all its branches, given over to corruption, violence, and a general disregard of public morality.
If these opinions are well founded, then certainly we labor under a great delusion in celebrating the National Anniversary. Instead of joyous chimes and merry peals, responding to the triumphant salvos which ushered in the day, the Fourth of July ought rather to be commemorated by funeral bells, and minute-guns, and dead marches ; and we, instead of assembling in this festal hall to congratulate each other on its happy return, should have been better found in sackcloth and ashes in the house of penitence and prayer.
I believe that I shall not wander from the line of remark appropriate to the occasion, if I invite you to join me in a hasty inquiry, whether these charges and intimations are well founded; whether we have thus degenerated from the standard of the Revolutionary age; whether the salutary checks of our system formerly existing have, as is alleged, been swept away, and our experiment of elective self-government has consequently become a failure ; whether, in a word, the great design of Providence, to which I have alluded, in the discovery, settlement, political independence, and national growth of the United States, has been prematurely arrested by our perversity; or whether, on the contrary, that design is not, — with those vicissitudes, and drawbacks, and human infirmities of character, and uncertainties of fortune, which beset alike the individual man and the societies of men, in the old world and the new, — in a train of satisfactory, hopeful, nay, triumphant and glorious fulfilment.
And in the first place I will say that, in my judgment, great delicacy ought to be observed and much caution practised in these disparaging commentaries on the constitution, laws, and administrations of friendly
I must say
states; and especially on the part of British and American statesmen in their comments on the systems of their two countries, between which there is a more intimate connection of national sympathy than between any two other nations. that, as a matter both of taste and expediency, these specific arraignments of a foreign friendly country had better be left to the public press.
Without wishing to put any limit to free discussion, or to proscribe any expression of the patriotic complacency with which the citizens of one country are apt to assert the superiority of their own systems over those of all others, it appears to me that pungent criticisms on the constitutions and laws of foreign states, and their practical operation, supported by direct personal allusions to those called to administer them, are nearly as much out of place on the part of the legislative as of the executive branch of a
On the part of the latter, they would be resented as an intolerable insult; they cannot be deemed less than offensive on the part of the former.
If there were no other objection to this practice, it would be sufficient, that its direct tendency is to recrimination ; a warfare of reciprocal disparagement, on the part of conspicuous members of the legislatures of friendly states. It is plain that a parliamentary warfare of this kind must greatly increase
the difficulty of carrying on the diplomatic discussions, which necessarily occur between states whose commercial and territorial interests touch and clash at so many points; and the war of words is but too well adapted to prepare the public mind for more deplorable struggles.
Let me further also remark, that the suggestion which I propose to combat, viz. that the experiment of self-government on the basis of an extensive electoral franchise is substantially a failure in the United States, and that the country has entered upon a course of rapid degeneracy since the days of Washington, is not only one of great antecedent improbability, but it is one which, it might be expected, our brethren in England would be slow to admit. The mass of the population was originally of British origin, and the additional elements, of which it is made up, are from the other most intelligent and improvable races of Europe. The settlers of this Continent have been providentially conducted to it, or have grown up upon it, within a comparatively recent and highly enlightened period, namely, the last two hundred and fifty years. Much of it they found lying in a state of nature, with no time-honored abuses to eradicate ; abounding in most of the physical conditions of prosperous existence, and with few drawbacks but those necessarily incident to new countries, or inseparable from human imperfection. Even the hardships they encountered, severe as they were, were well calculated to promote the growth of the manly virtues. In this great and promising field of social progress, they have planted, in the main, those political institutions, which have approved themselves in the experience of modern Europe and especially of England, as most favorable to the prosperity of a state ; — free representative governments;
written constitutions and laws, greatly modelled upon hers, especially the trial by jury; a free and a cheap, and consequently all-pervading press ; — responsibility of the ruler to the people ; liberal provision for popular education, and very general voluntary and bountiful expenditure for the support of religion. If under these circumstances, the People of America, springing from such a stock, and trained in such a school, have failed to work out a satisfactory and a hopeful result ; and especially if within the last sixty years (for that is the distinct allegation) and consequently since, from the increase of numbers, wealth, and national power, all the social forces of the country have, for good or evil, been in higher action than ever before, there has been such marked deterioration that we are now fit to be held up, not as a model to be imitated, but as an example to be shunned, - not for the credit but for the discredit of popular institutions, then, indeed, the case must be admitted to be a strange phenomenon in human