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efit, not for subjects of speculative reasoning, merely. The best authority, for the support of a particular principle or provision in government, is experience; and, of all experience, our own, if it have been long enough to give the principle a fair trial, should be most decisive. This provision has existed for forty years, and while so many gentlemen contend that it is wrong in theory, no one has shown that it has been either injurious or inconvenient in practice. No one pretends, that it has caused a bad law to be enacted, or a good one to be rejected. To call on us, then, to strike out this provision, because we should be able to find no authority for it in any book on government, would seem to be like requiring a mechanic to abandon the use of an implement, which had always answered all the purposes designed by it, because he could find no model of it in the patent office.
But, sir, I take the principle to be well established, by writers of the greatest authority. In the first place, those who have treated. of natural law, have maintained, as a principle of that law, that as far as the object of society is the protection of something in which the members possess unequal shares, it is just, that the weight of each person in the common councils should bear a relation and proportion to his interest. Such is the sentiment of Grotius, and he refers, in support of it, to several institutions among the ancient states.
Those authors who have written more particularly on the subject of political institutions, have, many of them, maintained similar sentiments.-Not, indeed, that every man's power should be in exact proportion to his property, but that, in a general sense, and in a general form, property, as such, should have its weight and influence in political arrangement. Montesquieu speaks with approbation of the early Roman regulation, made by Servius Tullius, by which the people were distributed into classes, according to their property, and the public burdens apportioned to each individual according to the degree of power which he possessed in the government. By which regulation, he observes, some bore with the greatness of their tax because of their proportionable participation in power and credit; others consoled themselves for the smallness of their power and credit, by the smallness of their tax. One of the most ingenious of political writers, is Mr. Harrington; an author not now read so much as he deserves. It is his leading object, in his Oceana, to prove, that power naturally and necessarily follows property. He maintains that a government, founded on property, is legitimately founded; and that a government founded on the disregard of property, is founded in injustice, and can only be maintained by military force. "If one man," says he, " be sole landlord, like the grand signior, his empire is absolute. If a few possess the land, this makes the Gothic or Feudal constitution. If the whole people be landlords, then is it a commonwealth." "It is strange," says Mr. Pope, in one of his recorded conversations, "that Harrington should be the first man to find out so evident and demonstrable a truth as that, of property being the true basis and measure of power." In truth, he was not the first. The idea is as old as political science itself. It may be found in Aristotle, Lord Bacon, Sir Walter Raleigh, and other writers.
rington seems, however, to be the first writer who has illustrated and expanded the principle, and given to it the effect and prominence which justly belong to it.
To this sentiment, sir, I entirely agree. It seems to me to be plain, that in the absence of military force, political power naturally and necessarily goes into the hands which hold the property. In my judgment, therefore, a republican form of government rests, not more on political constitutions, than on those laws which regulate the descent and transmission of property.-Governments like ours could not have been maintained, where property was holden according to the principles of the feudal system; nor, on the other hand, could the feudal constitution possibly exist with us. Our New England ancestors brought hither no great capitals, from Europe; and if they had, there was nothing productive in which they could have been invested. They left behind them the whole feudal system of the other continent. They broke away, at once, from that system of military service established in the dark ages, and which continues, down even to the present time, more or less to affect the condition of property all over Europe. They came to a new country. There were, as yet, no lands yielding rent, and no tenants rendering service. The whole soil was unreclaimed from barbarism. They were themselves, either from their original condition or from the necessity of their common interest, nearly on a general level, in respect to property. Their situation demanded a parcelling out and division of the lands; and it may be fairly said, that this necessary act fixed the future frame and form of their government. The character of their political institutions was determined by the fundamental laws respecting property. The laws rendered estates divisible, among sons, and daughters. The right of primogeniture, at first limited, and curtailed, was afterwards abolished. The property was all freehold. The entailment of estates, long trusts, and the other processses for fettering and tying up inheritances, were not applicable to the condition of society, and seldom made use of. On the contrary, alienation of the land was every way facilitated, even to the subjecting of it to every species of debt. The establishment of public registries, and the simplicity of our forms of conveyance, have greatly facilitated the change of real estate from one proprietor to another. The consequence of all these causes has been, a great subdivision of the soil, and a great equality of condition; the true basis, most certainly, of a popular government.-"If the people," says Harrington, "hold three parts in four of the territory, it is plain there can neither be any single person nor nobility able to dispute the government with them; in this case, therefore, except force be interposed, they govern themselves.
The history of other nations may teach us, how favorable to public liberty is the division of the soil into small freeholds; and a system of laws, of which the tendency is, without violence or injustice, to produce and to preserve a degree of equality of property. It has been estimated, if I mistake not, that about the time of Henry the VII, four fifths of the land, in England, was holden by the great barons, and ecclesiastics. The effects of a growing commerce soon afterwards began to break in on this state of things, and before the
revolution, in 1688, a vast change had been wrought. It is probable, perhaps, that for the last half century, the process of subdivision, in England, has been retarded, if not reversed; that the great weight of taxation has compelled many of the lesser freeholders to dispose of their estates, and to seek employment in the army and navy, in the professions of civil life, in commerce, or in the colonies. The effect of this on the British constitution cannot but be most unfavorable. A few large estates grow larger; but the number of those who have no estates also increases; and there may be danger, lest the inequality of property become so great, that those who possess it may be dispossessed by force. In other words, that the government may be overturned.
A most interesting experiment of the effect of a subdivision of property, on government, is now making in France. It is understood, that the law regulating the transmission of property, in that country, now divides it, real and personal, among all the children, equally, both sons and daughters; and that there is, also, a very great restraint on the power of making dispositions of property by will. It has been supposed, that the effect of this might probably be, in time, to break up the soil into such small subdivisions, that the proprietors would be too poor to resist the encroachments of executive power. I think far otherwise. What is lost in individual wealth, will be more than gained in numbers, in intelligence, and in a sympathy of sentiment. If, indeed, only one or a few landholders were to resist the crown, like the barons of England, they must of course be great and powerful landholders, with multitudes of retainers, to promise success. But if the proprietors of a given extent of territory are summoned to resistance, there is no reason to believe that such resistance would be less forcible, or less successful, because the number of such proprietors should be great. Each would perceive his own importance, and his own interest, and would feel that natural elevation of character which the consciousness of property inspires. A common sentiment would unite all, and numbers would not only add strength, but excite enthusiasm. It is true, that France possesses a vast military force, under the direction of an hereditary executive government; and military power, it is possible, may overthrow any government. It is in vain, however, in this period of the world, to look for security against military power, to the arm of the great landholders. That notion is derived from a state of things long since past; a state in which a feudal baron, with his retainers, might stand against the sovereign, who was himself but the greatest baron, and his retainers. But at present, what could the richest landholder do, against one regiment of disciplined troops? Other securities, therefore, against the prevalence of military power must be provided. Happily for us, we are not so situated as that any purpose of national defence requires, ordinarily and constantly, such a military force as might seriously endanger our liberties.
In respect, however, sir, to the recent law of succession in France, to which I have alluded, I would, presumptuously perhaps, hazard a conjecture, that if the government do not change the law, the law, in half a century, will change the government; and that this change will be, not in favor of the power of the crown, as some European
writers have supposed, but against it. Those writers only reason upon what they think correct general principles, in relation to this subject. They acknowledge a want of experience. Here, we have had that experience; and we know, that a multitude of small proprietors, acting with intelligence, and that enthusiasm which a common cause inspires, constitute not only a formidable, but an invincible power.
The true principle of a free and popular government would seem to be, so to construct it as to give to all, or at least to a very great majority, an interest in its preservation. To found it, as other things are founded, on men's interest. The stability of government requires, that those who desire its continuance should be more powerful than those who desire its dissolution. This power, of course, is not always to be measured by mere numbers.-Education, wealth, talents, are all parts and elements of the general aggregate of power; but numbers nevertheless constitute, ordinarily, the most important consideration, unless indeed there be a military force in the hands of the few, by which they can control the many. In this country we have actual existing systems of government, in the protection of which it would seem a great majority, both in numbers and in other means of power and influence, must see their interest. But this state of things is not brought about merely by written political constitutions, or the mere manner of organizing the government; but also by the laws which regulate the descent and transmission of property. The freest government, if it could exist, would not be long acceptable, if the tendency of the laws were to create a rapid accumulation of property in few hands, and to render the great mass of the population dependent and pennyless. In such a case, the popular power must break in upon the rights of property, or else the influence of property must limit and control the exercise of popular power.-Universal suffrage, for example, could not long exist in a community, where there was great inequality of property. The holders of estates would be obliged, in such case, either in some way to restrain the right of suffrage, or else such right of suffrage would, ere long, divide the property. In the nature of things, those who have not property, and see their neighbours possess much more than they think them to need, cannot be favorable to laws made for the protection of property. When this class becomes numerous, it grows clamorous. It looks on property as its prey and plunder, and is naturally ready, at all times, for violence and revolution.
It would scem then to be the part of political wisdom to found government on property; and to establish such distribution of property, by the laws which regulate its transmission and alienation, as to interest the great majority of society in the protection of the government. This is, I imagine, the true theory and the actual practice of our republican institutions. With property divided, as we have it, no other government than that of a republic could be maintained, even were we foolish enough to desire it. There is reason, therefore, to expect a long continuance of our systems. Party and passion, doubtless, may prevail at times, and much temporary mischief be done. Even modes and forms may be changed, and perhaps for the worse. But a great revolution, in regard to prop
erty, must take place, before our governments can be moved from their republican basis, unless they be violently struck off by military power. The people possess the property, more emphatically than it could ever be said of the people of any other country, and they can have no interest to overturn a government which protects that property by equal laws.
If the nature of our institutions be to found government on property, and that it should look to those who hold property for its protection, it is entirely just that property should have its due weight and consideration, in political arrangements. Life, and personal liberty, are, no doubt, to be protected by law; but property is also to be protected by law, and is the fund out of which the means for protecting life and liberty are usually furnished. We have no experience that teaches us that any other rights are safe, where property is not safe. Confiscation and plunder, are generally in revolutionary commotions not far before banishment, imprisonment, and death. It would be monstrous to give even the name of government, to any association in which the rights of property should not be competently secured. The disastrous revolutions which the world has witnessed, those political thunderstorms and earthquakes which have overthrown the pillars of society, from their very deepest foundations, have been revolutions against property.-Since the honorable member from Quincy (President Adams) has alluded, on this occasion, to the history of the ancient states, it would be presumption in me to dwell upon it. It may be truly said, however, I think, that Rome herself is an example of the mischievous influence of the popular power, when disconnected with property, and in a corrupt age. It is true, the arm of Cæsar prostrated her liberty; but Cæsar found his support within her very walls. Those who were profligate and necessitous, and factious and desperate, and capable therefore of being influenced by bribes and largesses, which were distributed with the utmost prodigality, outnumbered, and out voted, in the tribes and centuries, the substantial, sober, prudent and faithful citizens. Property was in the hands of one description of men, and power in those of another; and the balance of the constitution was destroyed. Let it never be forgotten, that it was the popular magistrates, elevated to office where the bad outnumbered the good,where those who had no stake in the commonwealth, by clamor, and noise, and numbers, drowned the voice of those who had,-that laid the neck of Rome at the feet of her conqueror. When Cæsar, manifesting a disposition to march his army into Italy, approached that little stream, which has become so memorable, from its association with his character and conduct, a decree was proposed in the senate, declaring him a public enemy, if he did not disband his troops. To this decree the popular tribunes, the sworn protectors of the people, interposed their negative; and thus opened the high road of Italy, and the gates of Rome herself, to the approach of her conqueror.
The English revolution of 1688 was a revolution in favor of property, as well as of other rights. It was brought about by the men of property, for their security; and our own immortal revolution was undertaken, not to shake or plunder property, but to protect it. The acts of which the country complained, were such as violated rights of property. An immense majority of all those who had an interest