ePub 版

pendence forever!” and expired. At almost the same hour, on that same fiftieth anniversary of national independence, the Virginian patriot who draughted the Declaration, who was Vice-President under Adams, and President after him, — Thomas Jefferson, — also died. Another fifty years have gone, the hundredth anniversary of the Declaration of Independence has come, and the work they did stands, — stands broader, firmer, more appreciated and honored, than in their day. The words in which Mr. Webster commemorated Adams and Jefferson have gathered force in these past fifty years : “ No age will come in which the American Revolution will appear less than it is, — one of the greatest events in human history; no age will come in which it shall cease to be seen and felt on either continent, that a mighty step, a great advance, not only in American affairs, but in human affairs, was made on the 4th of July, 1776.” 1

In the century that has passed since that day, the United States have gone through every experience possible to a nation, save that of being conquered and held by a foreign power; the voluntary abandonment of one form of government — the Confederation of 1777–81 - for another, - the Constitution of 1788;3 severe financial crises, from the Continental currency of the Revolution down to the “greenbacks” of the civil war; two great foreign wars, — that of 1812 with Great Britain, in which the United States won renown as a naval power, and that of 1845 with Mexico, in which the United States acquired an immense reach of territory from Texas to the Pacific Ocean; the violence of political parties, especially in the strifes over the currency, the tariff, and slavery; the corruption of the civil service, and the degeneracy of public officers; the formidable rebellion of 1861, with the four years of civil war that followed it; the assassination of one President, and the attempt to impeach another; the amendment of the Constitution, so that newly-emancipated slaves were admitted to vote, and made eligible to office on

1 Oration on Adams and Jefferson: Works, vol. i. 116.

2 The Articles of Confederation were adopted by Congress 15th November, 1777, but not finally ratified by the Colonies until March, 1781.

5 The Constitution was reported to Congress Sept. 28, 1787, and in the course of 1788 was so far ratified by States as to go into operation March 4, 1789.

[ocr errors]

the basis of universal suffrage; an enormous public debt created by the war, and the spirit of speculation and extravagance that the war had fostered; the reconstruction of disordered States, and the reviving of their industry in face of hostile factions and races; and, worst of all, a medley of foreign immigration, with its ignorance and impudence, its priestcraft and pauperism, its radicalism and rationalism, its sensuality and its superstition: all these manifold tests and perils have the United States gone through successfully, triumphantly, in their first century of national life, though at each phase of excitement, each approach of danger, the prophets of evil gave warning of the dissolution of the Union, the subversion of the republic.

Of late, European critics have invented for the United States a new danger, or rather have revived a peril that was thought imminent in the early days of independence. Those political owls of the Old World that cling to the shades of the middle ages, with that air of superlative wisdom which this particular species of owl knows so well to put on, now sing, “ To-who with your republic: you'll come to a monarchy at last." But, as I listen to these oracles of night, I ask, “Do you, then, threaten us with a monarchy as a calamity ? or do you wish that we should become monarchists in order to re-assure you of your position and principles by the failure of ours ?” To all such prophets and counsellors I would say, " Ponder the lessons of the century, and if you yourselves would not,

Like the owl by day,

If he arise, be mocked and wondered at," then learn from Americans to be so well satisfied of the excellence and stability of your own government, that, without either boasting or envy, you can leave other people to be satisfied with theirs. I do not advocate a republic for you, nor recommend it as a panacea for your social evils. The fundamental doctrine of American republicanism is, that every people should have such government as best pleases itself; and, if a monarchy best pleases you, that is no affair of ours." To our Prussian critics especially, I am wont to say, “I can but congratu

as best pleasevery people shotrine of a

yearsisional una foundent reputo what their hist, and, ivit

late you upon having the best reigning house of modern history, and the best sovereign, surrounded with the ablest ministry, of the present stage; and having these, with two constitutions, two parliaments, and universal suffrage to boot, I beg you to be so far content as to look calmly upon a great, free, happy people beyond the sea, and, without prejudices or prophecies, to study their history with a view to ascertain why they are what they are.” Here is an organic, independent republic, a hundred years old, resting upon a foundation of local self-government and provisional union that had stood for a hundred and fifty years before. This national life is to be studied in the moral and social forces that shaped it into being; in the ethical and political truths upon which it established itself as a self-contained and independent power; and in the political forms through which it has developed its freedom, its unity, and its strength. The nascent forces of the nation I have considered in the previous Lecture : in this we are to study its basis of ethical and political truths; and, in the next, the forms of its political development. The remaining Lectures of the series will be given to the fruits of this national life under the several modes of political, social, industrial, educational, and religious activity.

The ethical and political doctrines upon which the government of the United States is founded were put forth in the Declaration of Independence as “self-evident truths,” and concern the essential and inalienable rights of men, the source and the functions of government, and the right of revolution. In judging of this document, one should keep in mind that it is a “ declaration” of political principles, and not a dissertation on political philosophy defining and defending those principles. The Congress that published independence knew they were doing a great act, and gave the reasons for that act, — not the reasons of the reasons. The rhetoric, indeed, is open to criticism, as somewhat too strained and declamatory for a state paper ; but judged by the oratory of the British Parliament of the same period, and by the then prevailing tone of literature, it was less faulty for its purpose than it may seem to our severer taste; and, besides, some extravagance of expression may be pardoned to men who were defying

a superior power at the peril of their lives." Yet theirs was no vaporing pronunciamento: the Declaration has the vehemence of truth and strength. It begins by recognize ing the comity of nations, and appeals to that high court of international equity by which the claims and doings of each individual people must be judged, - the aggregate opinion of the civilized world. Without waiting for the prestige of success, or seeking the recognition of separate powers, the United States declared themselves a nation, and put themselves before the court of nations upon the merits of their cause, with facts, truths, rights, addressed to the common consciousness of mankind. The existence of a nation being determined by certain natural laws or causes under a superintending Providence, they set forth the evidence that no premature or wilful outbreak, but

ence. “When, in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth the separate and equal station to which the laws of nature and of nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel

1 In some points, Congress improved the draught as prepared by Jefferson. For “ inherent and inalienable rights” they substituted “ certain inalienable rights.” After the phrase, “Let facts be submitted to a candil world,” they struck out the boastful statement, “ for the truth of which we pledge a faith yet unsullied by falsehood.• While the document was under criticism, Franklin relieve the sensitiveness of Jefferson by this story: “When I was a journeyman printer, one of my companions, an apprenticed hatter, having served out his time, was about to open shop for himself. His first concern was to have a handsome signboard with a proper inscription. He composed it in these worils,

John Thompson. Hatter. makes and sells Hats for ready Money, with a figure of a hat subjoined. But he thought he would submit it to his friends for their amendments. The first he showed it to thought the word 'hatter'tantologous, because followed by the words 'makes hats,' which showed he waz a hatter. It was struck out. The next observed that the word 'makes' might as well be omitted, because his customers would not care who made the hats: if good, and to their mind, they would buy, by whomsoever maile. He struck it out. A third said he thought the words 'for ready money' were useless, as it was not the custom of the place to sell on credit: every one who purchased expected to pay. They were parted with; and the inscription now stood, John Thompson sells hats.' 'Sells hats,' says his next friend: 'why, nobody will expect you to give them away. What, then, is the use of that word?'It was stricken out; and hats followed, the rather as there was one painted on the board. So his inscription was ultimately reduced to John Thompson, with the figure of a liat siibjoined."

After all, it would not make a bad figure if the Declaration were Thomas Jefferson and a liberty-cap!

with my pridelected by of men varchy and whoever

them to the separation ;” and to this end they say, “Let facts be submitted to a candid world.” Here was no secret conspiracy, aiming to get control of power by treachery and assassination; no coup d'état, trusting to audacity and surprise for its success; no mob of adventurers, threatening slaughter and death to whoever should oppose them, and carrying anarchy and destruction in their path; but a body of men trained in the service of the State, selected by their countrymen for their intelligence, prudence, and experience, addressed themselves with the calmness of truth, the earnestness of conviction, the confidence of right, to the common sense and the common conscience of their age, and to the tribunal of history. With all their lofty notions of popular rights and national independence, the American revolutionists did not feel at liberty to disturb the peace and order of the world, without openly justifying their proceeding before the world. They did not utter a cry for help; for they meant to help themselves. They did not appeal for moral support; for they found support in the justice of their cause. But, deeming themselves and their cause worthy of respect, instead of suing for admission into the family of nations, they at once took their “ equal station among the powers of the earth," with a Declaration exhibiting for their pedigree the inalienable rights of man, for their patent the laws of nature and of God, and for their bearings independence supported by justice, and already baptized with fire and blood. With the perfect consciousness of “ the rectitude of their intentions,” the authors of the Declaration appealed “ to the Supreme Judge of the world,” and, “ with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence,” staked life, fortune, honor, upon their cause.

The Declaration, as I have said, is not a dissertation on political science; yet it is grounded in a philosophy of man and of government that shows its authors to have been well trained in the logic of thinking and of expression ; and it even opens with a syllogism, the conclusion of which is inevitable, if the premises of the first and middle terms be admitted as self-evident truths. In the first Lecture it was shown that the Revolution originated in a con

« 上一頁繼續 »