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Entered according to Act of Congress, in the year 1864, by
GEORGE W. CARLETON, In the Clerk's Office of the District Court of the United States for the Southern Distriot
of New York.
If an excep
It is said never to be diplomatic, seldom courteous or civil, and not always safe, to call things by their right names. tion is anywhere to be found to this suggestion of policy, it should surely exempt the discussion of the wide-spread and destructive opinions which seem now to govern the American people.
The spectacle of an admirable system of laws shamelessly overridden, or wantonly administered, is surely an occasion for plain speech.
This work is submitted in the hope that an examination of its contents may lead to a better understanding of the principles and structure of the States and the Union, and to a higher appreciation of the duties and obligations of the people in the maintenance of a free system of laws.
I have discussed at some length the leading doctrines of Free Government as they have been developed by the Anglo-American race, and have given a sketch of their progress through the struggles of the Great Charter, the Petition of Right, the Bill of Rights, up to the adoption of the Federal Constitution.
These great events teach us the important lesson that Experience is the only safe guide in the creation and maintenance of free institutions. These institutions embrace not alone the mere theory of Free Government, but the practical enforcement of its principles in all the affairs of life. Accuracy and completeness of form, in other words, are valueless without perfect fidelity to the law on the part of the people and the public administration. All this is exhibited by our English ancestors in a light so clear as to sink opposing theories to the level of fiction. In the struggle of 1628, no man did more to build up the free system of English laws than that great and honest statesman, Sir Edward Coke. He is found, nevertheless, to admit the right of royal dispensation—the right
of the king to dispense, in certain cases, with the laws of the state. That was the light in which a great majority of the people, at the time, viewed their own and the legitimate authority of the crown. Subsequent experience and observation disclosed the necessity of making the law supreme, in all cases.
This principle of political progress is just as applicable to us as it was to our progenitors. It is illustrated with. peculiar force in the history of the American States which, with rare exceptions, have ever maintained a free system of laws. Descending from this platform of freedom to the practical life of the Union—to the ex. ercise of power more remote from its source—we find even the ancient prerogative of royal dispensation not only revived, but so extended as to set aside both the laws and the Federal Constitution.
I have sought to present a clear view of the great Experiments in Free Government, of England and America. The various subjects discussed have, to some extent, a separate interest, but their general connection is obvious. It is apparent, in going over so much ground, that many of the lights and shadows of political history and many subjects of the greatest practical importance, at the present day, must be passed over without that minute pencilling and investigation which their merits claim. History and biography are so closely united, that he who undertakes to separate them, runs some risk of making his work lifeless and practically valueless. This is especially the case in reviewing the great subject of Free Government, which necessarily embraces the biography of many of the highest and noblest men of history, as it too often involves the sacrifice of their lives and estates. I have not altogether neglected the narration of such personal incidents; though, I confess, I have not dealt as largely in them as I could have wished.
In that portion of the work devoted to English and American political history, I have drawn freely upon cotemporaneous writers, and have used their reflections, with some necessary modifications of the text, with and without special credit, as would best carry out my design.
NEW YORK, October, 1864.