The American Republic
Constitution of Government
THE Constitution is twofold: the constitution of the state or nation, and the constitution of the government. The constitution of the government is, or is held to be, the work of the nation itself; the constitution of the state, or the people of the state, is, in its origin at least, providential, given by God himself, operating through historical events or natural causes, The one originates in law, the other in historical fact. The nation must exist, and exist as a political community, before it can give itself a constitution; and no state, any more than an individual, can exist without a constitution of some sort.
The distinction between the providential constitution of the people and the constitution of the government, is not always made. The illustrious Count de Maistre, one of the ablest political philosophers who wrote in the last century, or the first quarter of the present, in his work on the Generative Principle of Political Constitutions, maintains that constitutions are generated, not made, and excludes all human agency from their formation and growth. Disgusted with French Jacobinism, from which he and his king and country had suffered so much, and deeply wedded to monarchy in both church and state, he had the temerity to maintain that God creates expressly royal families for the government of nations, and that it is idle for a nation to expect a good government without a king who has descended from one of those divinely created royal families. It was with some such thought, most likely, that a French journalist, writing home from the United States, congratulated the American people on having a Bonaparte in their army, so that when their democracy failed, as in a few years it was sure to do, they would have a descendant of a royal house to be their king or emperor. Alas! the Bonaparte has left us, and besides, he was not the descendant of a royal house, and was, like the present Emperor of the French, a decided parvenu. Still, the Emperor of the French, if only a parvenu, bears himself right imperially among sovereigns, and has no peer among any of the descendants of the old royal families of Europe.
There is a truth, however, in De Maistre’s doctrine that constitutions are generated, or developed, not created de novo, or made all at once. But nothing is more true than that a nation can alter its constitution by its own deliberate and voluntary action, and many nations have done so, and sometimes for the better, as well as for the worse. If the constitution once given is fixed and unalterable, it must be wholly divine, and contain no human element, and the people have and can have no hand in their own government – the fundamental objection to the theocratic constitution of society. To assume it is to transfer to civil society, founded by the ordinary providence of God, the constitution of the church, founded by his gracious or supernatural providence, and to maintain that the divine sovereignty governs in civil society immediately and supernaturally, as in the spiritual society. But such is not the fact. God governs the nation by the nation itself, through its own reason and free-will. De Maistre is right only as to the constitution the nation starts with, and as to the control which that constitution necessarily exerts over the constitutional changes the nation can successfully introduce.
The disciples of Jean Jacques Rousseau recognize no providential constitution, and call the written instrument drawn up by a convention of sovereign individuals the constitution, and the only constitution, both of the people and the government. Prior to its adoption there is no government, no state, no political community or authority. Antecedently to it the people are an inorganic mass, simply individuals, without any political or national solidarity. These individuals, they suppose, come together in their own native right and might, organize themselves into a political community, give themselves a constitution, and draw up and vote rules for their government, as a number of individuals might meet in a public hall and resolve themselves into a temperance society or a debating club. This might do very well if the state were, like the temperance society or debating club, a simple voluntary association, which men are free to join or not as they please, and which they are bound to obey no farther and no longer than suits their convenience. But the state is a power, a sovereignty; speaks to all within its jurisdiction with an imperative voice; commands, and may use physical force to compel obedience, when not voluntarily yielded. Men are born its subjects, and no one can withdraw from it without its express or tacit permission, unless for causes that would justify resistance to its authority. The right of subjects to denationalize or expatriate themselves, except to escape a tyranny or an oppression which would forfeit the rights of power and warrant forcible resistance to it, does not exist, any more than the right of foreigners to become citizens, unless by the consent and authorization of the sovereign; for the citizen or subject belongs to the state, and is bound to it.
The solidarity of the individuals composing the population of a territory or country under one political head is a truth; but “the solidarity of peoples,” irrespective of the government or political authority of their respective countries, so eloquently preached a few years since by the Hungarian Kossuth, is not only a falsehood, but a falsehood destructive of all government and of all political organization. Kossuth’s doctrine supposes the people, or the populations of all countries, are, irrespective of their governments, bound together in solido, each for all and all for each, and therefore not only free, but bound, wherever they find a population struggling nominally for liberty against its government, to rush with arms in their hands to its assistance – a doctrine clearly incompatible with any recognition of political authority or territorial rights. Peoples or nations commune with each other only through the national authorities, and when the state proclaims neutrality or non-intervention, all its subjects are bound to be neutral, and to abstain from all intervention on either side. There may be, and indeed there is, a solidarity, more or less distinctly recognized, of Christian nations, but of the populations with and through their governments, not without them. Still more strict is the solidarity of all the individuals of one and the same, nation. These are all bound together, all for each and each for all. The individual is born into society and under the government, and without the authority of the government, which represents all and each, he cannot release himself from his obligations. The state is then by no means a voluntary association. Every one born or adopted into it is bound to it, and cannot without its permission withdraw from it, unless, as just said, it is manifest that he can have under it no protection for his natural rights as a man, more especially for his rights of conscience. This is Vattel’s doctrine, and the dictate of common sense.
The constitution drawn up, ordained, and established by a nation for itself is a law – the organic or fundamental law, if you will, but a law, and is and must be the act of the sovereign power. That sovereign power must exist before it can act, and it cannot exist, if vested in the people or nation, without a constitution, or without some sort of political organization of the people or nation. There must, then, be for every state or nation a constitution anterior to the constitution which the nation gives itself, and from which the one it gives itself derives all its vitality and legal force.
Logic and historical facts are here, as elsewhere, coincident, for creation and providence are simply the expression of the Supreme Logic, the Logos, by whom all things are made. Nations have originated in various ways, but history records no instance of a nation existing as an inorganic mass organizing itself into a political community. Every nation, at its first appearance above the horizon, is found to have an organization of some sort. This is evident from the only ways in which history shows us nations originating. These ways are: 1. The union of families in the tribe. 2. The union of tribes in the nation. 3, The migration of families, tribes, or nations in search of new settlements. 4. Colonization, military, agricultural, commercial, industrial, religious, or penal. 5. War and conquest. 6. The revolt, separation, and independence of provinces, 7. The intermingling of the conquerors and conquered, and by amalgamation forming a new people. These are all the ways known to history, and in none of these ways does a people, absolutely destitute of all organization, constitute itself a state, and institute and carry on civil government.
The family, the tribe, the colony are, if incomplete, yet incipient states, or inchoate nations, with an organization, individuality, and a centre of social life of their own. The families and tribes that migrate in search of new settlements carry with them their family and tribal organizations, and retain it for a long time. The Celtic tribes retained it in Gaul till broken up by the Roman conquest, under CÊsar Augustus; in Ireland, till the middle of the seventeenth century; and in Scotland, till the middle of the eighteenth. It subsists still in the hordes of Tartary, the Arabs of the Desert, and the Berbers or Kabyles of Africa.
Colonies, of whatever description, have been founded, if not by, at least under, the authority of the mother country, whose political constitution, laws, manners, and customs they carry with them. They receive from the parent state a political organization, which, though subordinate, yet constitutes them embryonic states, with a unity, individuality, and centre of public life in themselves, and which, when they are detached and recognized as independent, render them complete states. War and conquest effect great national changes, but do not, strictly speaking, create new states. They simply extend and consolidate the power of the conquering state.
Provinces revolt and become independent states or nations, but only when they have previously existed as such, and have retained the tradition of their old constitution and independence; or when the administration has erected them into real though dependent political communities. A portion of the people of a state not so erected or organized, that has in no sense had a distinct political existence of its own, has never separated from the national body and formed a new and independent nation. It cannot revolt; it may rise up against the government, and either revolutionize and take possession of the state, or be put down by the government as an insurrection. The amalgamation of the conquering and the conquered forms a new people, and modifies the institutions of both, but does not necessarily form a new nation or political community. The English of to-day are very different from both the Normans and the Saxons, or Dano-Saxons, of the time of Richard Cúur de Lion, but they constitute the same state or political community. England is still England.
The Roman empire, conquered by the Northern barbarians, has been cut up into several separate and independent nations, but because its several provinces had, prior to their conquest by the Roman arms, been independent nations or tribes, and more especially because the conquerors themselves were divided into several distinct nations or confederacies. If the barbarians had been united in a single nation or state, the Roman empire most likely would have changed masters, indeed, but have retained its unity and its constitution, for the Germanic nations that finally seated themselves on its ruins had no wish to destroy its name or nationality, for they were themselves more than half Romanized before conquering Rome. But the new nations into which the empire has been divided have never been, at any moment, without political or governmental organization, continued from the constitution of the conquering tribe or nation, modified more or less by what was retained from the empire.
It is not pretended that the constitutions of states cannot be altered, or that every people starts with a constitution fully developed, as would seem to be the doctrine of De Maistre, The constitution of the family is rather economical than political, and the tribe is far from being a fully developed state. Strictly speaking, the state, the modern equivalent for the city of the Greeks and Romans, was not fully formed till men began to build and live in cities, and became fixed to a national territory. But in the first place, the eldest born of the human race, we are told, built a city, and even in cities we find traces of the family and tribal organization long after their municipal existence – in Athens down to the Macedonian conquest, and in Rome down to the establishment of the Empire; and, in the second place, the pastoral nations, though they have not precisely the city or state organization, yet have a national organization, and obey a national authority. Strictly speaking, no pastoral nation has a civil or political constitution, but they have what in our modern tongues can be expressed by no other term. The feudal rÈgime, which was in full vigor even in Europe from the tenth to the close of the fourteenth century, had nothing to do with cities, and really recognized no state proper; yet who hesitates to speak of it as a civil or political system, though a very imperfect one?
The civil order, as it now exists, was not fully developed in the early ages. For a long time the national organizations bore unmistakable traces of having been developed from the patriarchal, and modelled from the family or tribe, as they do still in all the non-Christian world. Religion itself, before the Incarnation, bore traces of the same organization. Even with the Jews, religion was transmitted and diffused, not as under Christianity by conversion, but by natural generation or family adoption. With all the Gentile tribes or nations, it was the same. At first the father was both priest and king, and when the two offices were separated, the priests formed a distinct and hereditary class or caste, rejected by Christianity, which, as we have seen, admits priests only after the order of Melchisedech. The Jews had the synagogue, and preserved the primitive revelation in its purity and integrity; but the Greeks and Romans, more fully than any other ancient nations, preserved or developed the political order that best conforms to the Christian religion; and Christianity, it is worthy of remark, followed in the track of the Roman armies, and it gains a permanent establishment only where was planted, or where it is able to plant, the GrÊco-Roman civilization. The GrÊco-Roman republics were hardly less a schoolmaster to bring the world to Christ in the civil order, than the Jewish nation was to bring it to Him in the spiritual order, or in faith and worship. In the Christian order nothing is by hereditary descent, but every thing is by election of grace. The Christian dispensation is ideological, palingenesiac, and the whole order, prior to the Incarnation, was initial, genesiac, and continued by natural generation, as it is still in all nations and tribes outside of Christendom. No non-Christian people is a civilized people, and, in. deed, the human race seems not anywhere, prior to the Incarnation, to have attained to its majority: and it is, perhaps, because the race were not prepared for it, that the Word was not sooner incarnated. He came only in the fulness of time, when the world was ready to receive him.
The providential constitution is, in fact, that with which the nation is born, and is, as long as the nation exists, the real living and efficient constitution of the state. It is the source of the vitality of the state, that which controls or governs its action, and determines its destiny.
The constitution which a nation is said to give itself, is never the constitution of the state, but is the law ordained by the state for the government instituted under it. Thomas Paine would admit nothing to be the constitution but a written document which he could fold up and put in his pocket, or file away in a pigeon-hole. The AbbÈ SieyËs pronounced politics a science which he had finished, and he was ready to turn you out constitutions to order, with no other defect than that they had, as Carlyle wittily says, no feet, and could not go. Many in the last century, and some, perhaps, in the present, for folly as well as wisdom has her heirs, confounded the written instrument with the constitution itself. No constitution can be written on paper or engrossed on parchment. What the convention may agree upon, draw up, and the people ratify by their votes, is no constitution, for it is extrinsic to the nation, not inherent and living in it – is, at best, legislative instead of constitutive. The famous Magna Charta drawn up by Cardinal Langton, and wrung from John Lackland by the English barons at Runnymede, was no constitution of England till long after the date of its concession, and even then was no constitution of the state, but a set of restrictions on power. The constitution is the intrinsic or inherent and actual constitution of the people or political community itself; that which makes the nation what it is, and distinguishes it from every other nation, and varies as nations themselves vary from one another.
The constitution of the state is not a theory, nor is it drawn up and established in accordance with any preconceived theory. What is theoretic in a constitution is unreal. The constitutions conceived by philosophers in their closets are constitutions only of Utopia or Dreamland. This world is not governed by abstractions, for abstractions are nullities. Only the concrete is real, and only the real or actual has vitality or force. The French people adopted constitution after constitution of the most approved pattern, and amid bonfires, beating of drums, sound of trumpets, roar of musketry, and thunder of artillery, swore, no doubt, sincerely as well as enthusiastically, to observe them, but all to no effect; for they had no authority for the nation, no hold on its affections, and formed no element of its life. The English are great constitution-mongers – for other nations. They fancy that a constitution fashioned after their own will fit any nation that can be persuaded, wheedled, or bullied into trying it on; but, unhappily, all that have tried it on have found it only an embarrassment or encumbrance. The doctor might as well attempt to give an individual a new constitution, or the constitution of another man, as the statesman to give a nation any other constitution than that which it has, and with which it is born.
The whole history of Europe, since the fall of the Roman empire, proves this thesis. The barbarian conquest of Rome introduced into the nations founded on the site of the empire, a double constitution – the barbaric and the civil – the Germanic and the Roman in the West, and the Tartaric or Turkish and the GrÊco-Roman in the East. The key to all modern history is in the mutual struggles of these two constitutions and the interests respectively associated with them, which created two societies on the same territory, and, for the most part, under the same national denomination. The barbaric was the constitution of the conquerors; they had the power, the government, rank, wealth, and fashion, were reÎnforced down to the tenth century by fresh hordes of barbarians, and had even brought the external ecclesiastical society to a very great extent into harmony with itself. The Pope became a feudal sovereign, and the bishops and mitred abbots feudal princes and barons. Yet, after eight hundred years of fierce struggle, the Roman constitution got the upper hand; and the barbaric constitution, as far as it could not be assimilated to the Roman, was eliminated. The original Empire of the West is now as thoroughly Roman in its constitution, its laws, and its civilization, as it ever was under any of its Christian emperors before the barbarian conquest.
The same process is going on in the East, though it has not advanced so far, having begun there several centuries later, and the GrÊco-Roman constitution was far feebler there than in the West at the epoch of the conquest. The Germanic tribes that conquered the West had long had close relations with the empire, had served as its allies, and even in its armies, and were partially Romanized. Most of their chiefs had received a Roman culture; and their early conversion to the Christian faith facilitated the revival and permanence of the old Roman constitution. In the East it was different. The conquerors had no touch of Roman civilization, and, followers of the Prophet, they were animated with an intense hatred, which, after the conquest, was changed into a superb contempt, of Christians and Romans, They had their civil constitution in the Koran; and the Koran, in its principles, doctrines, and spirit, is exclusive, and profoundly intolerant. The GrÊco- Roman constitution was always much weaker in the East, and had far greater obstacles to overcome there than in the West; yet it has survived the shock of the conquest. Throughout the limits of the ancient Empire of the East, the barbaric constitution has received and is daily receiving rude blows, and, but as reÎnforced by barbarians lying outside of the boundaries of that empire, would be no longer able to sustain itself. The Greek or Christian populations of the empire are no longer in danger of being exterminated or absorbed by the Mohammedan state or population. They are the only living and progressive people of the Ottoman Empire, and their complete success in absorbing or expelling the Turk is only a question of time. They will, in all present probability, reÎstablish a Christian and Roman East in much less time from the fall of Constantinople in 1453, than it took the West from the fall of Rome in 476 to put an end to the feudal or barbaric constitution founded by its Germanic invaders.
Indeed, the Roman constitution, laws, and civilization not only gain the mastery in the nations seated within the limits of the old Roman Empire, but extend their power throughout the whole civilized world. The GrÊco-Roman civilization is, in fact, the only civilization now recognized, and nations are accounted civilized only in proportion as they are Romanized and Christianized. The Roman law, as found in the Institutes, Pandects, and Novellas of Justinian, or the Corpus Legis Civilis, is the basis of the law and jurisprudence of all Christendom, The GrÊco-Roman civilization, called not improperly Christian civilization, is the only progressive civilization. The old feudal system remains in England little more than an empty name. The king is only the first magistrate of the kingdom, and the House of Lords is only an hereditary senate. Austria is hard at work in the Roman direction, and finds her chief obstacle to success in Hungary, with the Magyars whose feudalism retains almost the full vigor of the Middle Ages. Russia is moving in the same direction; and Prussia and the smaller Germanic states obey the same impulse. Indeed, Rome has survived the conquest – has conquered her conquerors, and now invades every region from which they came. The Roman Empire may be said to be acknowledged and obeyed in lands lying far beyond the farthest limits reached by the Roman eagles, and to be more truly the mistress of the world than under Augustas, Trajan, or the Antonines. Nothing can stand before the Christian and Romanized nations, and all pagandom and Mohammedom combined are too weak to resist their onward march.
All modern European revolutions result only in reviving the Roman Empire, whatever the motives, interests, passions, or theories that initiate them. The French Revolution of the last century and that of the present prove it. France, let people say what they will, stands at the head of the European civilized world, and displays en grand all its good and all its bad tendencies. When she moves, Europe moves; when she has a vertigo, all European nations are dizzy; when she recovers her health, her equilibrium, and good sense, others become sedate, steady, and reasonable. She is the head, nay, rather, the heart of Christendom – the head is at Rome – through which circulates the pure and impure blood of the nations. It is in vain Great Britain, Germany, or Russia disputes with her the hegemony of European civilization. They are forced to yield to her at last, to be content to revolve around her as the centre of the political system that masters them. The reason is, France is more completely and sincerely Roman than any other nation. The revolutions that have shaken the world have resulted in eliminating the barbaric elements she had retained, and clearing away all obstacles to the complete triumph of Imperial Rome. Napoleon III. is for France what Augustus was for Rome. The revolutions in Spain and Italy have only swept away the relics of the barbaric constitution, and aided the revival of Roman imperialism, In no country do the revolutionists succeed in establishing their own theories; CÊsar remains master of the field. Even in the United States, a revolution undertaken in favor of the barbaric system has resulted in the destruction of what remained of that system – in sweeping away the last relics of disintegrating feudalism, and in the complete establishment of the GrÊco-Roman system, with important improvements, in the New World.
The Roman system is republican, in the broad sense of the term, because under it power is never an estate, never the private property of the ruler, but, in whose hands soever vested, is held as a trust to be exercised for the public good. As it existed under the CÊsars, and is revived in modern times, whether under the imperial or the democratic form, it, no doubt, tends to centralism, to the concentration of all the powers and forces of the state in one central government, from which all local authorities and institutions emanate. Wise men oppose it as affording no guaranties to individual liberty against the abuses of power. This it may not do, but the remedy is not in feudalism. The feudal lord holds his authority as an estate, and has over the people under him all the power of CÊsar and all the rights of the proprietor, He, indeed, has a guaranty against his liege-lord, sometimes a more effective guaranty than his liege-lord has against him; but against his centralized power his vassals and serfs have only the guaranty that a slave has against his owner.
Feudalism is alike hostile to the freedom of public authority and of the people. It is essentially a disintegrating element in the nation. It breaks the unity and individuality of the state, embarrasses the sovereign, and guards against the abuse of public authority by overpowering and suppressing it. Every feudal lord is a more thorough despot in his own domain than CÊsar ever was or could be in the empire; and the monarch, even if strong enough, is yet not competent to intervene between him and his people, any more than the General government in the United States was to intervene between the negro slave and his master. The great vassals of the crown singly, or, if not singly, in combination – and they could always combine in the interest of their order – were too strong for the king, or to be brought under any public authority, and could issue from their fortified castles and rob and plunder to their hearts' content, with none to call them to an account. Under the most thoroughly centralized government there is far more liberty for the people, and a far greater security for person and property, except in the case of the feudal nobles themselves, than was even dreamed of while the feudal rÈgime was ill full vigor. Nobles were themselves free, it is conceded, but not the people. The king was too weak, too restricted in his action by the feudal constitution to reach them, and the higher clergy were ex officio sovereigns, princes, barons, or feudal lords, and were led by their private interests to act with the feudal nobility, save when that nobility threatened the temporalities of the church. The only reliance, under God, left in feudal times to the poor people was in the lower ranks of the clergy, especially of the regular clergy. All the great German emperors in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, who saw the evils of feudalism, and attempted to break it up and revive imperial Rome, became involved in quarrels with the chiefs of the religious society, and failed, because the interest of the Popes, as feudal sovereigns and Italian princes, and the interests of the dignified clergy, were for the time bound up with the feudal society, though their Roman culture and civilization made them at heart hostile to it. The student of history, however strong his filial affection towards the visible head of the church, cannot help admiring the grandeur of the political views of Frederic the Second, the greatest and last of the Hohenstaufen, or refrain from dropping a tear over his sad failure. He had great faults as a man, but he had rare genius as a statesman; and it is some consolation to know that he died a Christian death, in charity with all men, after having received the last sacraments of his religion.
The Popes, under the circumstances, were no doubt justified in the policy they pursued, for the Suabian emperors failed to respect the acknowledged rights of the church, and to remember their own incompetency in spirituals; but evidently their political views and aims were liberal, far-reaching, and worthy of admiration.
Their success, If it could have been effected without lesion to the church, would have set Europe forward some two or three hundred years, and probably saved it from the schisms of the fourteenth and sixteenth centuries. But it is easy to be wise after the event. The fact is, that during the period when feudalism was in full vigor, the king was merely a shadow; the people found their only consolation in religion, and their chief protectors in the monks, who mingled with them, saw their sufferings, and sympathized with them, consoled them, carried their cause to the castle before the feudal lord and lady, and did, thank God, do something to keep alive religious sentiments and convictions in the bosom of the feudal society itself. Whatever opinions may be formed of the monastic orders in relation to the present, this much is certain, that they were the chief civilizers of Europe, and the chief agents in delivering European society from feudal barbarism.
The aristocracy have been claimed as the natural allies of the throne, but history proves them to be its natural enemies, whenever it cannot be used in their service, and kings do not consent to be their ministers and to do their bidding. A. political aristocracy has at heart only the interests of its order, and pursues no line of policy but the extension or preservation of its privileges. Having little to gain and much to lose, it opposes every political change that would either strengthen the crown or elevate the people. The nobility in the French Revolution were the first to desert both the king and the kingdom, and kings have always found their readiest and firmest allies in the people. The people in Europe have no such bitter feelings towards royalty as they have towards the feudal nobility – for kings have never so grievously oppressed them. In Rome the patrician order opposed alike the emperor and the people, except when they, as chivalric nobles sometimes will do, turned courtiers or demagogues. They were the people of Rome and the provinces that sustained the emperors, and they were the emperors who sustained the people, and gave to the provincials the privileges of Roman citizens.
Guaranties against excessive centralism are certainly needed, but the statesman will not seek them in the feudal organization of society – in a political aristocracy, whether founded on birth or private wealth, nor in a privileged class of any sort. Better trust CÊsar than Brutus, or even Cato. Nor will he seek them in the antagonism of interests intended to neutralize or balance each other, as in the English constitution. This was the great error of Mr. Calhoun. No man saw more clearly than Mr. Calhoun the utter worthlessness of simple paper constitutions, on which Mr. Jefferson placed such implicit reliance, or that the real constitution is in the state itself, in the manner in which the people themselves are organised; but his reliance was in constituting, as powers in the state, the several popular interests that exist, and pitting them against each other – the famous system of checks and balances of English statesmen. He was led to this, because he distrusted power, and was more intent on guarding against its abuses than on providing for its free, vigorous, and healthy action, going on the principle that “that is the best government which governs least.” But, if the opposing interests could be made to balance one another perfectly, the result would be an equilibrium, in which power would be brought to a stand-still; and if not, the stronger would succeed and swallow up all the rest. The theory of checks and balances is admirable if the object be to trammel power, and to have as little power in the government as possible; but it is a theory which is born from passions engendered by the struggle against despotism or arbitrary power, not from a calm and philosophical appreciation of government itself. The English have not succeeded in establishing their theory, for, after all, their constitution does not work so well as they pretend. The landed interest controls at one time, and the mercantile and manufacturing interest at another. They do not perfectly balance one another, and it is not difficult to see that the mercantile and manufacturing interest, combined with the moneyed interest, is henceforth to predominate. The aim of the real statesman is to organize all the interests and forces of the state dialectically, so that they shall unite to add to its strength, and work together harmoniously for the common good.