Sidebilder
PDF
ePub

à court of justice, a sheriff, and a prison; but have properly speaking no political existence, as being without a representative assembly of any kind. There are, however, considerable differences in these respects between New England and other parts of the Confederation. The activity and perfection of the local authorities diminish towards the south. Magisterial power is stronger; electoral influence somewhat decreases. Administration also passes from the townships to the county; which thus becomes central and intermediate between government and its subjects.

The legislative power of each state is well known, as consisting of two houses; that of the Senate being generally elected for a longer term than that of the representatives. The executive is one supreme magistrate, with the title of governor, a suspensive veto, and the command of all military forces. His period of office is short, usually for one or two years. He can often do much good, but rarely any positive mischief. He is the mere mouth and arm of a political machine, being able to exercise very

little will of his own. It must be borne in mind that local administration is not centralized in the United States, although there is great general centralization of the government. All citizens have the right of indicting public functionaries before the ordinary tribunals. By political jurisdiction is understood that temporary right of pronouncing a legal decision, with which a political body may be invested. This, however, becomes a most powerful instrument in the hands of a majority, perhaps in consequence of the very great mildness with which it is exercised. In truth the genius of George Washington still pervades the entire Confederation; that is, as to the administration of the laws. As to legislation, or the making those laws, the spirit of Jefferson appears paramount. The people reign: the people obey; they originate the system which governs themselves; and that too, not with long intervals of uniformity, during which matters go on like clockwork,—but they modify the machine almost biennially. The federal constitution just turns upon the division of authority between it and the several states. They form the rule, with all their various powers, both numerous and indefinite: the Union is the exception, with its delegated powers, laid down with jealousy and preciseness, and to be principally exercised on external objects, such as war, peace, negociation, and foreign commerce. Taxation also remains of necessity amongst its prerogatives. As it was foreseen that in practice, questions would arise about the exact limits of this exceptional authority, a high federal court was erected to maintain the balance between the two rival elements of the constitution. The chief justice of this supreme court may remind us of the Ephors of Lacedæmon, or the Justiza of Aragon. He sits as the Minos of America. To strengthen the potency of

the states, and enlarge the distinct independency of each, is the darling object of the democrats, who number in their ranks nearly nineteen twentieths of their fellow countrymen. On the other hand, to put a bridle upon that potency, and yoke the states together in something like obedience to a central executive, is and was the purpose of the federalists, now almost attenuated to a shadow, bewailing its fate amidst the groves of Mount Vernon ! Legislation, as is well known, remains with the Senate and House of Representatives assembled in the metropolis. The former is nominated by the legislators of each state ; thus being elected by an elected body; and retaining office for six years. Here, therefore, the principle of the independence of the states prevails, Delaware or any other small member of the Union being on a par with the largest. In the latter chamber, the sovereignty of the collected nation predominates; the number of representatives for each state being proportioned to the population ; New York having thereby forty times the influence of Delaware ; and the representatives being chosen only for two years. The senate, however, not only cooperates in the work of legislation, but also tries those political offences which the other house submits to its decision. It further acts as a grand executive council; since the treaties concluded, or the appointments made by the President must receive its ratification, before they can become valid. The President is chosen for four years, and may be re-elected for a second term. To appoint him, a special electoral college is created. Every state names the same number of electors as it sends to congress; although it is after all a majority of the states, and not of the members, which decides the question. Rhode island, for instance, gives but a single suffrage in the matter : yet New York itself does no more; her forty representatives voting in solido. Neither is there any convocation of the electors to any particular place. The several votes, when decided on in twentyfour different cities, are transmitted under seal, before a given day, to the President of the Senate, who opens them and counts them in the presence of both chambers at Washington. If none of the candidates have a majority, the House of Representatives then proceeds to elect; being bound to fix upon one of the three candidates possessing the highest numbers. This mode, although obviously by no means complete, has certainly smoothed away all those obstacles which are not inherent in the elective

process. The Chief Justice of the Supreme Federal court is assisted by six colleagues, constituting perhaps the most august judiciary in the world,

• The peace, the prosperity, and the very existence of the Union, are vested in the hands of these seven judges. Without their active cooperation, the constitution would be a dead letter : the executive

appeals to them for assistance against the encroachments of the legislative powers : the legislature demands their protection from the designs of the executive: they defend the Union from the disobedience of the states, and the states from the exaggerated claims of the Union : they protect the public interest against the interests of private citizens, and the conservative spirit of order against the fleeting innovations of democracy. Their power is enormous, but it is clothed in the authority of public opinion. They are the all-powerful guardians of a people, which respects law: but they would be impotent against popular neglect or popular contempt. The force of public opinion is the most intractable of agents, because its exact limits cannot be defined; and it is not less dangerous to exceed, than to remain below the boundary prescribed.'—Vol. i. pp. 175—176.

M. de Tocqueville then proceeds to show that in America, the subjects of the Union are not states but private citizens; that the national government levies a tax not upon the members of the Confederation, but upon the inhabitants. He points out the advantages of federacy, as well as its special utility where it is now in operation. Circumstances have there favored it. Maine and Georgia, separated by a thousand miles, seem more naturally united beyond the Atlantic, than are Normandy and Brittany on this side of it. Their civilization is identical in its origin, opinions, and habits. Their constitution, indeed, allows them to carry on great wars, whenever necessary, whilst Providence has placed them in a geographical position, which will probably render such enterprises at least infrequent. Their parties moreover in politics may be compared to souls without bodies. They contend, like the shadowy images of poetical antiquity, with transcendental fury, yet without bloodshed. Spectators, unaccustomed to the fray, look on with horror, anticipating broken bones, or indiscriminate massacre; when lo ! the bottle bursts, some official, painted by his supporters as an angel from heaven, or by his opponents as a fiend from hell, is seated, rejected, or re-elected; and then all the fuss evaporates ceu fumus in auras. There is happily no aristocracy, nor can there ever be one, according to our author, in those felicitous realms. Plenty of individuals hate the democracy around them : but that very abhorrence is a secretum pectore vulnus. They would fain see judges in monstrous wigs of powdered horsehair,-beadles in three-cornered bats and liveries turned up with scarlet,--and above all, carriages blazing with coronets, or covered with the other fopperies of heraldry. But these trifes are pined for in vain. Common sense governs many millions of well fed, well clothed, well lodged, and well educated men, women, and children. Faults enough there are, indeed as plentiful and as black as blackberries. Despairing exclusives detest, but they endure. Nay, in some cases, they even do more; for it is a profound remark, that next to hating

their enemies, men are most inclined to flatter them. Meanwhile onward roll the wheels of the busy world. There are neither drawing-rooms, birthday-illuminations, nor right-honorable menials, nor bedizened knights of the Thistle, the Bath, or the Garter. The executive of the United States glories in being a limited monarch, both as to his official existence, as well as the prerogatives and splendors of his situation. His majesty wears plain garments and clean linen, like ail other people. His throne is often a three-legged high stool in an enormous room, with active clerks about him, who personally do their duties for their salaries. The honors of an arm-chair may be enjoyed by him, with as great (but no greater) a degree of dignity than any father of a large family may enjoy them, throughout territories as extensive as the old Roman Empire. His official revenues never reach £6000 per annum; his pen may be stuck behind his ear, without a lord of the bedchamber fainting at his side; and General Jackson, we have heard, would frequently help himself, from the horny snuff-box of an operative, to a pinch of companionship and excitability.

There are many points we are compelled to pass over, such as, the liberty of the press, and the rights of associations; the arbitrary power sometimes witnessed under the control of democracy; the instability of cabinets; and the economy or profuseness of popular governments. The following may serve for a sort of summary :

“We must first understand what the purport of society, and the aim of

government, is held to be. If it be your intention to confer a certain elevation upon the human mind, and to teach it to regard the things of this world with generous feelings; to inspire men with a scorn of mere temporal advantage; to give birth to living convictions, and to keep alive the spirit of honorable devotedness; if you hold it to be a good thing to refine the habits, to embellish the manners, to cultivate the arts of a nation, and to promote the love of poetry, of beauty, and of renown; if you would constitute a people not unfitted to act with power upon all other nations; nor unprepared for those high enterprises, which, whatever be the result of its efforts, will leave a name for ever famous in time ;-if you believe such to be the principal object of society, you must avoid the government of democracy, which would be a very uncertain guide to the end you have in view.

* But if you hold it to be expedient to direct the moral and intellectual activity of man to the production of comfort, and to the acquirement of the necessaries of life ; if a clear understanding be more profitable to men than genius; if your object be not to stimulate the virtues of heroism, but to create habits of peace; if you had rather witness vices than crimes, and are content to meet with fewer noble deeds, provided offences be diminished in the same proportion ; if instead of living in a brilliant state of society, you are contented to have prospe

rity around you ; if, in short, you are of opinion, that the principal object of a government is not to confer the greatest possible share of power and of glory upon the body of the nation, but to ensure the greatest degree of enjoyment, and the least degree of misery to each of the indi. viduals who compose it,-if such be your desires, you can have no surer means of satisfying them, than by equalizing the conditions of men, and establishing democratic institutions.

• But if the time be past, at which such a choice was possible, and if some superhuman power impel us towards one or the other of these two governments, without consulting our wishes, let us at least endeavour to make the best of that which is allotted to us; and let us so inquire into its good and its evil propensities, as to be able to foster the former and repress the latter to the utmost.'—Vol. ii. pp. 76–77.

Amongst these latter, no one is more conspicuous than the tyranny of a majority ; with regard to which, however, it must not be confounded with arbitrary power. For the real difference we must refer our readers to the original work. Our author has shown, that democratic republics are liable to perish from a misuse of their power; whilst it is also apparent that in America the legal profession constitutes one of the main counterpoises against such a catastrophe there. Yet another still greater lies in the diffusion of spiritual influence. There is no country in the whole world,' observes M. de Tocqueville, 'in which the Christian religion re*tains a greater empire over the souls of men,' vol, ji. p. 144, and it should be recollected that he is a Catholic, as well as an eyewitness and a philosopher. He correctly attributes this state of things, under God, to its proper cause, namely, the absence of any alliance between Church and State. He does not hesitate to affirm that throughout the Union, he never met with an individual, whether of the clergy or laity, who was not clear in his own mind upon this point. His ideas are, and those of the great mass of pious persons there agree with them, that when religion contracts an alliance of this nature, it commits the same error as a man who should sacrifice his future to his present welfare; and in obtaining a power to which it has no claim, it risks that authority which is ' rightfully its own. When religion founds its empire upon the desire of immortality living in the human breast, it may aspire to universal dominion; but when it connects itself with a govern'ment, it must necessarily adopt maxims which are only applicable to . certain nations. Thus, in forming an alliance with a political

power, religion augments its authority over a few, and forfeits the • hope of reigning over all,' p. 152.

Diffusiveness is at present the most prominent characteristic of American civilization. Westward the great tide of emigration is flowing, where solitudes are pierced, which never before could have known the vestiges, and energies of man.

No sooner has the pioneer arrived upon the spot selected, than he fells a few

[ocr errors]
« ForrigeFortsett »