« PreviousContinue »
in the soil, were in favor of the revolution; and they carried it through, looking to its results for the security of their possessions. It was the property of the frugal yeomanry of New England, hard earned, but freely given, that enabled her to act her proper part, and perform her full duty, in achieving the independence of the country.
I would not be thought, Mr. Chairman, to be among those who underrate the value of military service. My heart beats, I trust, as responsive as any one's, to a soldier's claim for honor and renown. It has ever been my opinion, however, that while celebrating the military achievements of our countrymen, in the revolutionary contest, we have not always done equal justice to the merits, and the sufferings, of those, who sustained, on their property, and on their means of subsistence, the great burden of the war. Any one, who has had occasion to be acquainted with the records of the New England towns, knows well how to estimate those merits, and those sufferings. Nobler records of patriotism exist nowhere. Nowhere can there be found higher proofs of a spirit, that was ready to hazard all, to pledge all, to sacrifice all, in the cause of the country. Instances were not unfrequent, in which small freeholders parted with their last hoof, and the last measure of corn from their granaries, to supply provision for the troops, and hire service for the ranks. The voice of Oris and of ADAMS in Faneuil Hall, found its full and true echo, in the little councils of the interior towns; and if within the Continental Congress patriotism shone more conspicuously, it did not there exist more truly, nor burn more fervently; it did not render the day more anxious, or the night more sleepless; it sent up no more ardent prayer to God, for succour; and it put forth in no greater degree, the fullness of its effort and the energy of its whole soul, and spirit, in the common cause, than it did in the small assemblies of the towns. I cannot, therefore, sir, agree that it is in favor of society, or in favor of the people, to constitute government, with an entire disregard to those who bear the public burdens in times of great exigency.-This question has been argued, as if it were proposed only to give an advantage to a few rich men. I do not so understand it. I consider it as giving property, generally, a representation in the Senate, both because it is just that it should have such representation, and because it is a convenient mode of providing that check, which the constitution of the legislature requires. I do not say that such check might not be found in some other provision; but this is the provision already established, and it is, in my opinion, a just and proper one.
I will beg leave to ask, sir, whether property may not be said to deserve this portion of respect and power in the government? It pays, at this moment, I think, five sixths of all the public taxes;one sixth only being raised on persons. Not only, sir, do these taxes support those burdens which all governments require, but we have, in New England, from early times holden property to be subject to another great public use; I mean the support of SCHOOLS.
In this particular we may be allowed to claim a merit of a very high and peculiar character. This commonwealth, with other of the New England states, early adopted, and has constantly maintained the principle, that it is the undoubted right, and the bounden duty
of government, to provide for the instruction of all youth. That which is elsewhere left to chance, or to charity, we secure by law. For the purpose of public instruction, we hold every man subject to taxation, in proportion to his property, and we look not to the question, whether he, himself, have or have not children to be benefited by the education for which he pays. We regard it as a wise and liberal system of police, by which property, and life, and the peace of society are secured. We seek to prevent, in some measure, the extension of the penal code, by inspiring a salutary and conservative principle of virtue, and of knowledge, in an early age. We hope to excite a feeling of respectability, and a sense of character, by enlarging the capacity, and increasing the sphere of intellectual enjoyment. By general instruction, we seek, as far as possible, to purify the whole moral atmosphere; to keep good sentiments uppermost, and to turn the strong current of feeling and opinion, as well as the censures of the law, and the denunciations of religion, against immorality and crime. We hope for a security, beyond the law, and above the law, in the prevalence of enlightened and well principled moral sentiment. We hope to continue and to prolong the time, when, in the villages and farm houses of New England, there may be undisturbed sleep, within unbarred doors. And knowing that our government rests directly on the public will, that we may preserve it, we endeavour to give a safe and proper direction to that public will. We do not, indeed, expect all men to be philosophers, or statesmen; but we confidently trust, and our expectation of the duration of our system of government rests on that trust, that by the diffusion of general knowledge, and good and virtuous sentiments, the political fabric may be secure, as well against open violence and overthrow, as against the slow but sure undermining of licentiousness.
We know, sir, that at the present time an attempt is making in the English Parliament to provide by law for the education of the poor, and that a gentleman of distinguished character, (Mr. Brougham) has taken the lead, in presenting a plan to government for carrying that purpose into effect. And yet, although the representatives of the three kingdoms listened to him with astonishment as well as delight, we hear no principles with which we ourselves have not been familiar from youth; we see nothing in the plan, but an approach towards that system which has been established, in this state, for more than a century and a half. It is said, that in England, not more than one child in fifteen, possesses the means of being taught to read and write; in Wales, one in twenty; in France, until lately, when some improvement was made, not more than one in thirty-five. Now, sir, it is hardly too strong to say, that in this state, every child possesses such means. It would be difficult to find an instance to the contrary, unless where it was owing to the negligence of the parentand in truth the means are actually used and enjoyed by nearly every one. A youth of fifteen, of either sex, who cannot both read and write, is very unfrequently to be found. How many such can any member of this convention remember to have met with in ten years? Sir, who can make this comparison, or contemplate this spectacle, without delight, and a feeling of just pride? And yet, sir, what is it but the property of the rich, devoted, by law, to the education of
the poor, which has produced this state of things? Does any history show property more beneficently applied? Did any government ever subject the property of those who have estates, to a burden, for a purpose more favorable to the poor, or more useful to the whole community? Sir, property and the power which the law exercises over it, for the purpose of instruction, is the basis of the system. It is entitled to the respect and protection of government, because, in a very vital respect, it aids and sustains government. The honorable member from Worcester, in contending for the admission of the mere popular principle in all branches of the government, told us, that our system rested on the intelligence of the community. He told us truly. But allow me, sir, to ask the honorable gentleman, what, but property, supplies the means of that intelligence? What living fountain feeds this ever-flowing, ever-refreshing, ever-fertilizing stream, of public instruction and intelligence? If we take away from the towns the power of assessing taxes on property, will the school houses remain open? If we deny to the poor, the benefit which they now derive from the property of the rich, will their children remain on their forms, or will they not, rather, be in the streets, in idleness and in vice?
I might ask again, sir, how is it with religious instruction? Do not the towns and parishes, raise money, by vote of the majority, assessed on property, for the maintenance of religious worship? Are not the poor, as well as the rich benefited by the means of attending on public worship, and do they not, equally with the rich, possess a voice and vote, in the choice of the minister, and in all other parish concerns? Does any man, sir, wish to try the experiment, of striking out of the constitution the regard which it has hitherto maintained for property, and of foregoing also, the extraordinary benefit which society among us, for near two centuries, has derived, from laying the burden of religious and literary instruction of all classes upon property? Does any man wish to see those only worshipping God, who are able to build churches and maintain ministers for themselves; and those children only educated, whose parents possess the means of educating them? Sir, it is as unwise as it is unjust, to make property an object of jealousy. Instead of being, in any just sense, a popular course, such a course would be most injurious and destructive to the best interests of the people. The nature of our laws sufficiently secures us against any dangerous accumulations; and, used and diffused as we have it, the whole operation of property is in the highest degree useful, both to the rich and to the poor. I rejoice, sir, that every man in this community may call all property his own, so far as he has occasion for it, to furnish for himself and his children the blessings of religious instruction and the elements of knowledge. This celestial, and this earthly light, he is entitled to by the fundamental laws. It is every poor man's undoubted birthright, it is the great blessing which this constitution has secured to him, it is his solace in life, and it may well be his consolation in death, that his country stands pledged, by the faith which it has plighted to all its citizens, to protect his children from ignorance, barbarism and vice.
I will now proceed to ask, sir, whether we have not seen, and
whether we do not at this moment see, the advantage and benefit of giving security to property, by this and all other reasonable and just provisions? The constitution has stood, on its present basis, forty years. Let me ask, what state has been more distinguished for wise and wholesome legislation? I speak, sir, without the partiality of a native, and also without intending the compliment of a stranger; and I ask, what example have we had of better legislation? No violent measures affecting property, have been attempted.-Stop laws, suspension laws, tender laws, all the tribe of these arbitrary and tyrannical interferences between creditor and debtor, which, wheresoever practised, generally end in the ruin of both, are strangers to our statute book. An upright and intelligent judiciary has come in aid of wholesome iegislation; and general security, for public and private rights, has been the result. I do not say that this is peculiar-I do not say that others have not done as well. It is enough, that in these respects we shall be satisfied that we are not behind our neighbours. No doubt, sir, there are benefits of every kind, and of great value, in possessing a character of government, both in legislative and judicial administration, which secures well the rights of property; and we should find it so, by unfortunate experience, should that character be lost. There are millions of personal property, now in this commonwealth, which are easily transferable, and would be instantly transferred elsewhere, if any doubt existed of its entire security. I do not know how much of this stability of government, and of the general respect for it, may be fairly imputed to this particular mode of organizing the senate. It has, no doubt, had some effect-It has shown a respect for the rights of property, and may have operated on opinion, as well as upon measures. Now, to strike out and obliterate it, as it seems to me, would be in a high degree unwise and improper.
As to the right of apportioning senators upon this principle, I do not understand how there can be a question about it. All government is a modification of general principles, and general truths, with a view to practical utility. Personal liberty, for instance, is a clear right, and is to be provided for; but it is not a clearer right than the right of property, though it may be more important. It is therefore entitled to protection. But property is also to be protected; and when it is remembered, how great a portion of the people of this state possess property, I cannot understand how its protection or its influence is hostile to their rights and privileges.
For these reasons, sir, I am in favor of maintaining that check, in the constitution of the legislature, which has so long existed there.
I understand the gentleman from Worcester, (Mr. Lincoln) to be in favor of a check, but it seems to me he would place it in the wrong House. Besides, the sort of check he proposes, appears to me to be of a novel nature, as a balance in government. He proposes to choose the senators according to the number of inhabitants; and to choose representatives, not according to that number, but in proportions greatly unequal in the town coporations. It has been stated to result from computation, and I do not understand it is denied, that, on his system, a majority of the representatives will be chosen by towns not containing one third part of the whole population
of the state. I would beg to ask, sir, on what principle this can stand; especially in the judgment of those who regard population as the only just basis of representation? But sir, I have a preliminary objection to this system; which is, that it reverses all our common notions, and constitutes the popular House upon anti-popular principles. We are to have a popular Senate of thirty-six members, and we are to place the check of the system in a House of Representatives of two hundred and fifty members! All money bills are to originate in the House, yet the House is not to be the popular branch. It is to exceed the Senate, seven or eight to one, in point of numbers yet the Senate is to be chosen on the popular principle, and the House on some other principle.
It is necessary here, sir, to consider the manner of electing representatives in this commonwealth, as heretofore practised, the necessity which exists of reducing the present number of representatives, and the propositions which have been submitted for that purpose. Representation by towns or townships, (as they might have been originally more properly called) is peculiar to New England. It has existed however, since the first settlement of the country. These local districts are so small, and of such unequal population, that if every town is to have one representative, and larger towns as many more as their population, compared with the smallest town, would numerically entitle them to, a very numerous body must be the consequence, in any large state. Five hundred members, I understand, may now be constitutionally elected to the House of Representatives; the very statement of which number shows the necessity of reduction. I agree, sir, that this is a very difficult subject. Here are three hundred towns, all possessing the right of representation; and representation by towns, is an ancient habit of the people. For one, I am disposed to preserve this mode, so far as may be practicable. There is always an advantage in making the revisions, which circumstances may render necessary, in a manner which does no violence to ancient habits and established rules. I prefer therefore, a representation by towns, even though it should necessarily be somewhat numerous, to a division of the state into new districts, the parts of which might have little natural connexion or little actual intercourse with one another. But I ground my opinion in this respect on fitness and expediency, and the sentiments of the people; not on absolute right. The town corporations, simply as such, cannot be said to have any right to representation; except so far as the constitution creates such right. And this I apprehend to be the fallacy of the argument of the honorable member from Worcester. He contends, that the smallest town has a right to its representative. This is true; but the largest town (Boston) has a right also to fifty. These rights are precisely equal. They stand on the same ground, that is, on the provisions of the existing constitution. The honorable member thinks it quite just to reduce the right of the large town from fifty to ten, and yet, that there is no power to affect the right of the small town; either by uniting it with another small town for the choice of a representative, or otherwise. But I do not assent to that opinion. If it be right to take away half, or three fourths of the representation of the large