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Message of De Witt Clinton to the Legislature of the State of
New-York, January, 1825. G. F. Hopkins. New-York. 1825. pp. 25.
The restoration of Governor Clinton to the chief magistracy of New York, has occurred under the existence of circumstances unparalleled in the history of the state. Three years ago he abandoned the gubernatorial chair, hopeless of reelection, and laboring under a weight of unpopularity, of which his powerful mind, distinguished services, and conspicuous character, could afford no alleviation. Only nine months have elapsed since he was hurled from the only public trust which he continued to hold, and which he exercised without personal emolument, in a spirit of jealousy worthy of the proscriptions of ancient democracies. He is now recommencing the labors of administration under the auspices of a majority of nearly twenty thousand of his fellow citizens. It may seem difficult to account for these changes without resorting to the anti-republican reproach of popular mobility, and of ascribing to the population of New-York a character of instability, which does not belong with equal justice, and in equal degree, to the other members of the confederacy. But, it is to be remembered, that questions touching the very principles which lie at the foundation of our social system, have been discussed with extraordinary interest and passion; that the feelings of the whole people have been roused and agitated; and that the decision of these questions in hostility to the great doctrine of popular supremacy, has diffused throughout the community a spirit of unexampled excitement. It is not within the scope of our purpose to examine these questions; but it may be fairly concluded that the excitement to which their agitation has given rise, has had a powerful influence in elevating Governor Clinton again to the chief magistracy of the state. With these causes, others of an auxiliary nature have co-operated ; and among the most effective of these may be ranked a sense of gratitude, however tardy, for his distinguished merits as a public benefactor, and a feeling of indignation and resentment on account of the political persecution with which he has been pursued to the very verge of domestic retirement.
The great physical power of New York as a member of the union, the vast economical improvements which she has framed and executed at home, her prodigious resources, and the distinguished men who have for several years figured in Vol. II. No. XI..
the different departments of her government, have given her an elevation of ground which has exposed her to the observation and criticism of surrounding states. The tribute of attention has been paid undivided to her, which was shared by Virginia and Massachusetts in the early days of our confederacy. Under such circumstances, an artificial prominence and interest have been communicated to the minutest features of her policy, whether national or domestic, which would not have attached to subjects of greater intrinsic importance in a state of inferior note and power. The fate of her public men has been marked, the course of her legislation has been followed and observed, her political augurs have been consulted, and the feelings of approbation, censure, and excitement of various kinds, which were felt within her limits, have been accompanied by corresponding emotions without.
The elevated position of New York, and the conspicuous part which Governor Clinton has acted in her public concerns, have rendered every stage and vicissitude of his career objects of general interest and notoriety throughout the union. His retirement from the government of the state, his ejection from the canal commission, and his late triumphant restoration
have been noted in the most distant sections of the country, and have, in each case, called into action the sentiments of applause and condemnation, gratification and disappointment, according to the particular tempers, prejudices and interests of different observers. It was to be expected that much interest would be felt to know in what manner he would treat, on the occasion of resuming the administration of New-York, the various topics which would naturally fall under his observation, and those especially with which his individual reputation has been in some degree connected. And it is upon the manner in which this interest has been satisfied, that we found the first, and perhaps the most trifling objection to his message, viz. :-that the discussion of most of the topics is carried to an extent, and prosecuted with a degree of minuteness, which give the whole message the air of a labored defence of measures with which he was previously identified. But without a reference to any personal relation of this nature, we conceive that a more general discussion, boldly delineating the outward forms of each subject, and leaving the details to be added by others, would have been in more strict accord with the character and duties of his station, without diminishing the utility of the message as a vehicle of intelligence between the executive and deliberative departments of power.
This criticism may perhaps seem fasti
ed and the sta of soc
dious; but we believe its justice will be admitted, when the message of Governor Clinton is put in comparison with the unrivalled inaugural speech of Mr. Jefferson; a paper, by the bye, to which, as a standard, it is almost invidious to bring any production of the same species. Upon every sentence of the latter a page of commentary might be written, and yet every part is clear, lucid and explicit. Governor Clinton, on the contrary, leaves nothing to be supplied, uniting in his own labors the combined effects of text and commentary. If this result could have been secured consistently with a due regard to brevity and precision, the union would have been a beauty and not a blemish ; but it has been followed by the inevitable consequence of giving his message a compass which almost puts it out of the reach of any but men of leisure.
The tone in which the Governor has discussed the leading topics of popular interest, as the choice of electors by the people, and the operation of our political and social institutions, does bim credit as a writer, a statesman, and a philanthropist. The style of these portions of his message is manly, spirited, and impressive; bis views are sound and republican, and he advocates with distinguished firmness and enthusiasm that general extension of political privileges, enlightened and sustained by general intelligence, upon which, not only the stability of our government, but the moral improvement of society essentially depends. We cannot refrain from presenting an entire paragraph on one of these topics.
“ In thus improving our social institutions, it is pleasing to contemplate their benign influence on individual happiness and general prosperity; and to feel assured that a republican government may be transmitted in full purity and vigor to the remotest period of time. Even the troubled democracies of Greece and Italy, with all their deprecated vices, were preferable to the hateful tyrannies that surrounded them. The former were sometimes relieved by ennobling virtues; but the latter were always engulpbed in hopeless debasement. Now that the representative system is well understood, and its capacity to unite liberty and power by federal combinations has been successfully tried, it will be our own fault if its duration prove not as permanent as its blessings are inestimable. In all governments, whether republican or monarchical, free or despotic, cupi. dity and ambition will address themselves to the sovereign authority for gratification. In free states, these applications will of course be made to the people, who confer either directly or indirectly the bonors and emoluments of office; and hence the excitements which arise from the operation of these passions, as well as from real differences of opinion. But with all these evils, republics still exhibit a decided superiority. Their agitations and attendant mischiefs are more diffused and more feeble. And the people who feel their influence have, generally speaking, no inducement to act wrong. It is their interest, as well as their duty, to select meritorious officers, and to establish a wholesome administration. The vices of faction, intrigue, falsehood, dissimulation and corruption, are
rendered more intensely profligate by their concentration round the per. son of the monarch. His interest, and that of his favorites, too often becomes distinct from that of the community, and the general welfare is merged in personal gratifications. A republican government is certainly wost congenial with the nature, most propitious to the welfare, and most conducive to the dignity of our species. Man becomes degraded in pro. portion as he loses the right of self-government. Every effort ought there. fore to be made to fortify our free institutions: and the great bulwark of security is to be found in education-the culture of the heart and the head-the diffusion of knowledge, piety and morality. A virtuous and enlightened man can never submit to degradation; and a virtuous and enlightened people will never breathe in the atmosphere of slavery. Upon education we must therefore rely for the purity, the preservation, and the perpetuation of republican government. In this sacred cause we cannot exercise too much liberality. It is identified with our best interests in this world, and with our best destinies in the world to come.”
We should have been glad to present a succinct view of the canal policy of the state as marked out by the Governor, ex. hibiting the progress that has been made, and the objects that remain to be accomplished; but we have found it impossible to abridge in such a manner as to leave the interest and accuracy of the view unimpaired. We, therefore, limit ourselves, before passing to other objects, to saying that the Erie canal,a work which has no parallel in vastness of extent and importance of benefit, the labor of a single state, planned and executed by her own citizens, is on the eve of completion ; and that the proceeds of the work, with the other public sources of revenue, are so considerable as to render it certain, that the debts contracted by the state in its execution, amounting at this time to nearly eight millions of dollars, will (to use the language of Governor Clinton)“ be speedily satisfied without resorting to taxation, without discontinuing one effort for similar improvements, and without staying the dispensing hand of government in favor of the great departments of educa. tion, literature and science, or the cardinal interests of productive industry.”
We now arrive at a position which is of vast importance as connected with the permanency of our political institutions, and as involving an alteration in the fundamental charter, by which our popular rights and privileges are secured. We propose to examine it at large, and shall, as introductory to the discussion, state the proposition itself at full length.
“ Natural justice prescribes that po man should be a judge in his own cause, and that between contending sovereignties, neither should pronounce the law of the case. A new tribunal ought to be constituted, to decide upon the power of the national and state governments, and to keep them within legitimate boundaries. I know of none that can be formed with a character so. imposing, with a responsibility so imperative, and
thoriti, a first principle in government that the legislative au
with a position so dignified as the Senate of the United States. Composed of the most distinguished and talented men of the several states ; its decisions would be formed with integrity and ability, and received with respectful acquiescence.' As a co-ordinate branch of Congress, and as a component part of the executive power, it would be a safe guardian of the just authority of the national government, and as a representation of the states with a periodical change of members, it would be their natural and efficient protector against unconstitutional invasions. In these suggestions, I have not the most distant intention of violating the habitual respect which I entertain for the supreme judiciary of the union."
In stating several considerations, by which the measure above recommended is opposed, the question may be elucidated by laying down, in a preliminary view, some familiar principles of government.
It thority should be dependent, so as to subject those who exercise it, to the influence of all the personal and local interests of those by whom it is delegated. By this means, where the will of the constituent is carried into effect by the representative, the general voice and interest of the majority are sure to form the basis of every legislative enactment. With a view to this end, the formation of laws should be opened to every influence which the political, geographical, party or industrious divisions of society can supply. But the public will, as executed by legislative provisions, must be applied exclusively to the decision of questions of interest, and not to the decision of questions of law.
It is also a principle in government that the judicial authority should be independent. It is charged with the construction of the written constitutions and laws of the land, and with the application of their principles, as derived from a consideration of the terms of those constitutions and laws, to particular questions of right arising under them. From the decision of such questions every bias of interest or prejudice should be carefully excluded. The utility or inconvenience of a law, as proclaimed by public sentiment, should have no influence upon the authority which adjudges its application; it is a subject only for the legislative or enacting authority. Questions of interest, unrestrained by law, should be controlled by the public voice. Questions of law should be independent both of considerations of interest, and of the influence of the public voice.' The latter should, therefore, be referred for a decision to bodies so constituted as to be free from every influence of interest and prejudice. : The legislative and judicial authorities, then, depend upon principles directly at'variance in their character and tendency.