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ise of this power difficult, and by investing it with an imposing solemnity, changes may be effected in parts of the system without subverting the whole of it, and without materially affecting the stability of the government. The greater number of revolutions proceed from the growth of abuses, until they become no longer tolerable, when the impulse which produces resistance, being uncontrollable, involves the nation in anarchy and sanguinary commotions. In this country abuses can hardly be carried so far as to require revolutions for their redress. Familiar with self-government, the people exercise the power which they possess, of remodeling their constitutions. The constitution yields to the popular will, which renders it of vital importance that a mode should be fixed, by which public opinion can be deliberately formed and its expression distinctly understood.
Unfortunately, the constitution of Pennsylvania contains no provision for its alteration, by which amendments can be made in the parts requiring theni, without throwing the whole instrument open to discussion. Had such a regulation existed, the precise points for consideration would be presented to our view, and we should not have been in our present situation, without the means of ascertaining to what extent attempts will be made to remodel the system. Great dissatisfaction has for many years existed with regard to some of its powers, but in the determination to submit it to a convention, the various opinions have become so mingled and confounded, that it would be impracticable, if it were requisite, to ascertain the motives which have swayed the people in their decision. Some ire in favour of a convention in hopes of procuring one alteration, some another, so that it is the union of opinions, adverse ipon all subjects except the desire of a change, that has finally, after the exertions of many years, produced the present result. It ought, however, to be remarked, that for a long time an opinion has prevailed, perhaps among a large majority of the people, that the patronage of the executive is too extensive, ind it is probable that nothing has prevented an alteration of he constitution in that respect, but the well founded apprehension, that advantage would be taken of the opportunity, to subvert some valuable regulations which it contains. Its revision has undoubtedly been procrastinated by the want of a proper mode of making amendments
. The period has at length arrived, when all who desire a change, although essentially differing as to what it shall be, have united their strength. After an existence of forty-five years, the constitution of Pennsylvania is to be laid in the political workshop, to be remodeled by the artificers who may chance to be selected for that purpose. The convention will be unshackled by any supposed expression
VOL. XIX.-No. 37.
of public opinion, upon the nature of the amendments to be proposed. If the right were claimed to instruct the members, the difficulty of ascertaining the sentiments of the people in any other manner than by their consent or refusal to sanction the proceedings of the convention, in the manner pointed out by act of assembly, would prevent its operation. The delegates will, it is hoped, approach the subject with the calmness and deliberation which its importance demands. Any attempt to connect it with party controversies must have a pernicious effect. Deeply affecting the welfare of the whole commonwealth, and of generations to come, local and temporary feelings and interests should yield to more extensive considerations and nobler views.
The act of assembly of the 14th of April, 1835, provides for “ascertaining the sense of the citizens of this commonwealth, on the expediency of calling a convention of delegates, to be elected by the people, with authority to submit amendments of the state constitution to a vote of the people, for their ratification or rejection, and with no other or greater powers whatsoever.” The people at the last election decided in favour of calling the convention. Although the powers of the convention are said to be limited, yet it is apparent that they are in no other manner restricted, than by the reservation of the right to the people of rejecting the amendments which may be proposed. This certainly is an important provision, and one which, although not entirely satisfactory, may guard against much mischief. The convention will no doubt see the propriety of providing a mode by which amendments can in future be made, without giving the wide scope for cavil which is now possessed. This, as was before suggested, can advantageously be done by designating, in the act of assembly submitting to the people the question whether a convention shall be called, the sections of the constitution to be proposed for consideration. Clauses in the constitution relating to the whole or a part of the executive powers, the organisation of the judiciary, the official tenure, . the organisation of either the senate or house of representatives, the election or duration in office of justices of the peace, the pardoning power, or any other branches of the constitution, might be designated by the assembly as fit subjects for the consideration of a convention. The sense of the people might thus be obtained, whether a convention should be asseinbled to consider the expediency of revising any part of the constitution, without placing the whole in jeopardy. The concurrence of two thirds of each branch of the legislature should be required to the passage of any law, designed to throw the constitution or any part of it open to investigation. If the difficulty of obtaining two thirds be alleged, it should be taken into consi
deration, that the subject is one of vast importance, and that no attempt to change the fundamental law, solemnly ratified, should be encouraged, without a very decided expression of public opinion on the expediency of submitting it to the people for examination.
The present plan of submitting the amendments to the people for their confirmation, may guard against violent and improbable abuses of their power by the convention, but it does not essentially aid in producing a satisfactory result. The people must accept or reject the amendments as they are presented to them. It will be then too late for modification. The popularity of a part may secure the adoption of the whole, even when the wisdom of such a course may be questionable. Besides, in the consideration of them, other subjects may be involved, calculated to inflame or delude the public mind. Party spirit, that bane of republics, may exercise a powerful sway in wielding the right of suffrage. It is therefore important, on all future occasions, to secure the right of amendment in such a manner that the constitution may be shielded from improper innovations, and the objectionable parts of it alone be presented to the consideration of the people. This can readily be done, without declaring in advance what the amendment should be, or, by forestalling public opinion, restrict the convention from the fullest enquiry, or the most extensive opportunity of framing such clauses to be afterwards submitted to the people, as their wisdom may ascertain to be correct. Our present contests are of a peaceful character. But it is impossible to determine what will be the condition of the community a very few years hence. The growth of the state in wealth and population is immensely rapid. The convention will be conscious that the constitution, as amended by them, will probably control millions of people. Before another convention shall be assembled, the population will have advanced with gigantic strides. It is therefore of vast importance, that in all that is now done, reference should not merely be had to the existing condition of affairs, but, looking through the vista of time, ample provision should be made for futurity. It is certainly practicable to frame a system of government which will be as well adapted to a population of ten as of two millions. But contingencies cannot be anticipated; man is capricious. Those who come after us may not concur with us in opinion. Alterations may be desired, either from the new light which experience may shed upon the system, or from those mutations in human affairs, which alter the condition and sentiments of men, and require a corresponding change in the powers of government. We know not how many civil commotions may be averted by prescribing a salutary rule with
regard to future amendments, or how extensively the constitution may be shielded from violent assaults or the inroads of error.
The people, when acting in masses, are unfortunately too easily misled by feeling, or imposed upon by the artifices of demagogues. Untried expedients have often more charms for the multitude than sober realities. Sometimes a good system will seem to operate harshly or unjustly, when the grievances proceed from other causes, which no constitutional provision can relieve. The very objectionable clause may be the means of resisting the progress of the injury, or of alleviating the severity of its operation. Levying taxes, for example, may be at the same time the most beneficent, and the most unpopular, act of the government. The credit, the security, and the prosperity of the country, often depend upon its prompt exercise. Yet whilst a public debt, or some other cause for raising money exists, the demagogue may delude the people with the hope of getting rid of their
burthens, by the subversion of the constitution. If the simple proposition were made, whether a convention should be called to consider the propriety of revising the constitution, as regards the power to lay taxes, with the avowed object of destroying the power, it is altogether absurd to suppose that a measure which would subvert the government could be adopted. But the very odium produced by the exercise of that power, might be successfully used by the advocates of other amendments in procuring a convention, in which their favourite theories, or interested projects, would acquire force, by seeming to have the support of public opinion. How much more satisfactory would it have been if the act of assembly, submitting the question of convention to the people, had designated the clauses of the constitution proposed for consideration ? Whether the legislature possessed authority thus to restrict the subject, it is not now necessary to consider, but it strikes us that the same sovereign power of the people, which can direct a convention to be called to revise the whole, could have limited its authority to the consideration of a part.
The contrary doctrine has, however, been adopted, and it is to be hoped that the convention will make a judicious provision for all future occasions. The peaceable assemblage of the representatives of the people to frame systems of government, is peculiar to our country. We should cherish a proper sense of our happy condition. If we look to other nations, we see similar acts performed either by military power, or attended with sanguinary commotions. The whole government of a free state is subjected to revision with less excitement than that which is produced by the election of a member of the British house of commons. With such an example before us, we
would seem to have no cause to apprehend danger. But a consciousness of security is not unfrequently the prelude to imminent peril, if not to the most serious disasters. No people ever preserved their freedom long, without continual watchfulness. We have seen too many instances of the instability of human affairs, to repose unlimited confidence in any system, however wise, or in any people, however judicious. Commotions have disturbed the peace of society, and the wildest infatuation has sometimes gained the ascendency in the most rational and best organised communities. Should they arise under less favourable circumstances for the preservation of social order, it is impossible to anticipate the extent to which they may be carried, or the permanent effect which may be produced by the prostration of the powers of the government. The alteration of a constitution is a critical period in the existence of a state. The present calm and deliberate manner in which it is conducted, ought not to deter the convention from making provision for those calamities which sooner or later befal all free states.
It has already been remarked that the executive power of appointment has been the chief source of dissatisfaction. Few, if any officers in this country, have been so extensively clothed with authority. There are conditions in which nations are placed, that require the extensive concentration of powers in the executive for their security. It may become necessary for them to abandon a portion of their local or individual rights, and submit to the numerous abuses and disadvantages of a great central power, that their national independence may be preserved from foreign aggression, and their social peace protected from violation, by desperate internal factions. In such cases, extensive executive patronage may strengthen the government, and enable it, by its immense influence, to wield all the resources of the community for its preservation. The executive then, in a measure, becomes identified with the state, and the love of country becomes synonymous with loyalty to the chieftain who rules it. The contiguity of rival nations requiring constant preparation for hostilities, and rendering peace at all times precarious, is the fruitful source of the increase of executive power. Wherever these causes do not exist, extensive patronage in the executive is detrimental to the public service. By creating a host of dependents, its corrupting influence may affect the morals of the people, and the pure administration of the constitution, if it do not lead to more fatal consequences. The people are perhaps too vigilant and intelligent to justify fears for the cause of freedom, and our rights are too well protected by the federal constitution, to be wantonly assailed; but as we cannot dive into futurity, it is the part of