Page images
PDF
EPUB
[ocr errors]

upon us lest we should. It was partly for this purpose they were established, and I trust that when properly called on they will dare to act. I know this doctrine is unpleasant. I know it is more popular to appeal to the public opinion, that equivocal, transient being, which exists no where and every where. But if ever the occasion calls for it, I trust that the supreme court will not neglect doing the great mischief of saving this constitution, which can be done much better by the deliberations, than by resorting to what are called revolutionary measures.

The honourable member from North Carolina, sore pressed by the delicate situation in which he is placed, thinks he has discovered a new argument in favour of the vote which he is instructed to give. As far as I can enter into his ideas, and trace their progress, he seems to have assumed the position which was to be proved, and then searched through the constitution; not to discover whether the legislature have the right contended for, but whether, admitting them to possess it, there may not be something which might comport with that idea. I shall state the honourable member's argument, as I understand it, and if mistaken, pray to be corrected. He read to us that clause which relates to impeachment, and comparing it with that which fixes the tenure of judicial office, has observed that this clause must relate solely to a removal by the executive power; whose right to remove, though not indeed any where mentioned in the constitution, has been admitted in a practice founded on legislative construction.

That as the tenure of the office is during good behaviour, and as the clause respecting impeachment, does not specify misbehaviour, there is evidently a cause of removal, which cannot be reached by impeachment, and of course (the executive not being permitted to remove) the right must necessarily devolve on the legislature. Is this the honour

able member's argument? If it be, the reply is very simple. Misbehaviour is not a term known in our law. The idea is expressed by the word misdemeanor; which word is in the clause quoted respecting impeachments. Taking therefore the two together, and speaking plain old English, the constitution says: “ The judges shall hold their offices so long as they shall demean themselves well, but if they shall misdemean, if they shall on impeachment be convicted of misdemeanor, they shall be removed.” Thus, sir, the honourable member will find that the one clause is just as broad as the other. He will see, therefore, that the legislature can assume no right from the deficiency of either, and will find that this clause which he relied on goes, if rightly understood, to the confirmation of our doctrine.

Is there a member of this house, who can lay his hand on his heart and say, that, consistently with the plain words of our constitution, we have a right to repeal this law? I believe not. And if we undertake to construe this constitution to our purposes, and say that the public opinion is to be our judge, there is an end to all constitutions. To what will not this dangerous doctrine lead? Should it to-day be the popular wish to destroy the first magistrate, you can destroy him. And should he to-morrow be able to conciliate to him the popular will, and lead them to wish for your destruction, it is easily effected. Adopt this principle, and the whim of the moment will not only be the law, but the constitution of our country.

The gentleman from Virginia has mentioned a great nation brought to the feet of one of her servants. But why is she in that situation? Is it not because popular opinion was called on to decide every thing, until those who wore bayonets decided for all the rest. Our situation is peculiar. At present our national compact can prevent a state from acting hostilely towards the general interest. But let

this compact be destroyed and each state becomes instantaneously vested with absolute sovereignty. Is there no instance of a similar situation to be found in history? Look at the states of Greece. They were once in a condition not unlike to that in which we should then stand. They treated the recommendations of their Amphyctionic council (which was more a meeting of ambassadors than a legislative assembly) as we did the resolutions of the old congress. Are we wise? so were they. Are we valiant? They also were brave. Have we one common language, and are we united under one head? In this also there is a strong resemblance. But by their divisions, they became at first victims of the ambition of Philip, and were at length swallowed up in the Roman empire. Are we to form an exception to the general principles of human nature, and to all the examples of history? And are the maxims of experience to become false, when applied to our fate?

Some, indeed, flatter themselves, that our destiny will be like that of Rome. Such, indeed, it might be, if we had the same wise, but vile, aristocracy under whose guidance they became the masters of the world. But we have not that strong aristocratic arm, which can seize a wretched citizen, scourged almost to death by a remorseless creditor, turn him into the ranks, and bid him, as a soldier, bear our eagle in triumph round the globe. I hope to God we shall never have such an abominable institution. But what, I ask, will be the situation of these states (organised as they now are) if, by the dissolution of our national compact, they be left to themselves? What is the probable result? We shall either be the victims of foreign intrigue, and split into factions, fall under the domination of a foreign power, or else after the misery and torment of civil war, become the subjects of an usurping military despot. What but this compact! What but this specific part of it, can save us from ruin? The judicial power, that fortress of the constitution, is now to

be overturned. Yes, with honest Ajax, I would not only throw a shield before it, I would build around it a wall of brass. But I am too weak to defend the rampart against the host of assailants. I must call to my assistance their good sense, their patriotism, and their virtue. Do not, gentlemen, suffer the rage of passion to drive reason from her seat. If this law be indeed bad, let us join to remedy the defects. Has it been passed in a manner which wounded your pride or roused your resentment? Have, I conjure you, the magnanimity to pardon that offence. I intreat, I implore you, to sacrifice those angry passions to the interests of our country. Pour out this pride of opinion on the altar of patriotism. Let it be an expiatory libation for the weal of America. Do not, for God's sake, do not suffer that pride to plunge us all into the abyss of ruin. Indeed, indeed, it will be but of little, very little avail, whether one opinion or the other be right or wrong; it will heal no wounds, it will pay no debts, it will rebuild no ravaged towns. Do not rely on that popular will which has brought us frail beings into political existence? That opinion is but a changeable thing. It will soon change. This very measure will change it. You will be deceived. Do not, I beseech you, in reliance on a foundation so frail, commit the dignity, the harmony, the existence of our nation to the wild wind. Trust not your treasure to the waves. Throw not your compass and your charts into the ocean. Do not believe that its billows will wast you into port. Indeed, indeed, you will be deceived. Oh! cast not away this only anchor of our safety. I have seen its progress. I know the difficulties through which it was obtained. I stand in the presence of Almighty God, and of the world. I declare to you, that if you lose this character, never! no never! will you get another. We are now, perhaps, arrived at the parting point. Here, even hére, we stand on the brink of fate. Pause--pause-for heaven's sake pause.

89

SPEECH OF MR. RUTLEDGE

ON THE JUDICIARY ESTABLISHMENT.

I HAVE kept my seat, Mr. Chairman, until this late stage of the debate, under a hope that the arguments of gentlemen who advocate the passing of this bill, would convince me it is not unconstitutional; but after having listened most attentively to them for many days, I find the deep impression made upon my mind, that it attacks the very vitals of our constitution, has been fortified and extended instead of being dismissed.

It is not necessary, sir, for me to call to your recollection what was the situation of America anterior to the formation of the present government. Our state governments had proved to be mere ropes of sand. Experience had shown the confederation to be miserably defective in all its parts. Those evil times, when anarchy and jealousy distracted our state governments, and clashing interests threatened to break our federal union, called all America upon its legs. The people of this nation summoned their wisest and best men to meet in convention, to form a constitution which should promote the lasting welfare of our country, and secure the liberties their valour and wisdom had won.

The difficulty of the task was fully equal to its importance. In reviewing the histories of other republics, the 'convention saw that like the splendid shows of a magic lantern, they had appeared and disappeared in almost the same, moment of time; as had been observed by a cele. brated writer, they rose like a rocket, and fell like the stick. Although their existence had every where been VOL. II.

M

« PreviousContinue »