« AnteriorContinuar »
Art. I.—The Resources of the United States of America; or, a View of the Agricultural, Commercial, Financial, Political, Literary, Moral, and Religious Character of the American People. By John Bristed, Counsellor at Law, Author of ' The, Resources of the British Empire.' New York, March, 1818. 8vo. pp. 505. [ORE than half a century has elapsed since the commencement of those disputes between England and her North American colonies which finally terminated in their disunion. The events which followed the separation have contradicted the expectations of the enlightened statesmen of England and the shrewd and calculating politicians of America; who alike supposed that the prosperity of Great Britain was dependent upon the increase and the continued submission of her transatlantic dominions.
It now appears to those who are not so intimately acquainted with the views and feelings commonly entertained in England from the passing of the Stamp Act in 1765 to the beginning of the revolutionary war in 1775 as to make allowance for them, that a kind gf infatuation must have possessed their countrymen and their governors; they would not otherwise have expected, that a country like North America, at such a distance from the seat of power— with habits and prejudices averse from any but corporation governments—without an ecclesiastical establishment, or an order of nobility—could, when its population and wealth should be considerably increased, continue in subjection to the country that peopled it. Thinking men had, indeed, looked forward to a time when a separation would of necessity take place, but that period was considered so distant, and the means by which it might be brought about so doubtful, that scarcely any one had viewed it as an event likely to happen within his own time, and had therefore never turned his attention to its practical effects. It is useless now to speculate on what might have been the consequence, if the English government had voluntarily renounced its controul over North America, and left the people to construct the edifice of a civil constitution fgr themselves. Fortunately, perhaps, for the United States, the bustle of military employment, which allowed no leisure for political speculation, induced them to continue their civil institutions as they found them; hence few deviations were made from, Vol. xxi. No. x Li. 'A their their' established political and judicial forms and principles but such as were dictated by necessity; and from the declaration of their Independence in 1776 to its final establishment in 1783, the new government became so blended with their former institutions, that they could scarcely have been separated except by some great internal convulsion.
In tracing the causes which have forwarded the prosperity of North America, we shall find the foundation of them all to be laid in the English constitution and the English laws. In a country the far greater portion of whose population is planted in hamlets and villages, and whose employment is chiefly the cultivation of the soil, the security of persons and property is the most essential ingredient in public prosperity. The laws of England are the best foundation for this security, and these, throughout the United States, have regulated the decisions of their courts of justice. The trial by jury, the gratuitous administration of inferior and local law by justices of the peace, the unbought police by sheriffs, coroners, and constables, are all derived from similar institutions of the parent state, and are adhered to with a strictness, which their practical effect on both countries fully justifies.
The Legislature is composed of a few (principally from Virginia and Maryland) whose hereditary property and family connections create an influence; of some who are elected into it on account of supposed talents, or merits; and of too many others, because they have flattered the lowest passions of the populace, or intrigued with their voluble leaders. The landed proprietors are the most considerable, the lawyers the most prominent, but there is a sufficient number of other descriptions to make the whole a pretty fair representation of the mind and knowledge of the community.
The Senate, or upper house, is the concentration of the aristocracy of the state-governments which it represents. These governments are checks on the superabundant influence of the executive power, and the Senate has, occasionally, been found highly useful in calming and suspending the will of the people when clamorous to their own injury.*
The two Houses, thus constituted, though they may sometimes suffer themselves to be led away by the abstract reasonings of
* A late American senator, Governeur Morris, in a debate on the judiciary law, when' one of his opponents had been urging as an argument the popularity of the repeal, thus expressed himself, ' Examine the annals of history—look into the records of time— see what has been the ruin of every republic—the vile love of popularity—why are we here ?—to save the people from their most dangerous enemy, to save them from themselves.—What caused the ruin of the republics of Greece and Rome?—Demagogues, who by flattery gained the aid of the people to establish despotism.' From these obvious truths the Americans revolted, and Mr. Morris was never after elected to any jublic station.
theorists, theorists, and the violence of party spirit, yet in their ordinary proceedings, and in those local and domestic regulations which are of most importance to the rights of property, are considerably influenced by habit and by regard for former usages. The courts of law and the houses of legislature are open to public observation, the national accounts are fully displayed, and an unlicensed press gives free circulation to the opinions and the reasonings of opposite parties.
The federal constitution of the United States was formed before the impression made on the minds of its framers by their own invectives against monarchy had been corrected by cool reflection; and before they had discovered the absolute necessity that the executive government should be armed with extensive power. Washington and some others felt this necessity, and endeavoured to confer on the President such powers as are required by the ruler of a great country; but the state-governments and the popular party were actuated by jealousy, and such fetters were imposed on the executive as tended to weaken and injure it. During the latter part of the short war with this country, such serious altercations had commenced with some of the most considerable of the state-governments, as threatened to dissolve the Union, and to leave to each the business of conducting its own defence. Mr- Hopkinson, a distinguished member of congress, in giving his approbation to the treaty of peace with England, said,
'The federal government was at the last gasp of existence. But six months longer, and it was no more. Yes, Sir, trust me, that but for this providential peace, you and I would not be here listening to proud declamations on the glory of the war; we should have heard nothing of a congress at this time, but as a thing that once was; we should have had no profound plottings about a next president; no anxious longings for federal offices; the general government would have dissolved into its original elements; its power would have returned to the states from which it was derived. Does not every body remember that all the great states, and, I believe, the small ones too, were preparing for this state of things, and organizing their own means for their own defence?'
As the election of President is an exhibition of the relative strength of parties, and as the party which obtained the preponderance about sixteen or seventeen years ago wishes to perpetuate its power, it is found necessary to confine almost the whole patronage of the executive government to those who will support that party: by strictly adhering to this system, the future choice of president will continue, as it has lately been, the work of a few individual members of Congress, who, in an assembly, or, as it is termed in their dialect, a caucus, dictate, under the appearance of
A 2 a recoma recommendation, what person shall be chosen to fill the office. The president thus becomes dependent on his party; and provided the suitor for office be supported by them, his morals, his talents, and his knowledge are secondary considerations. Practical illustrations of the evils arising from this dependence may be found in many of the most important offices of the government of the United States.
Towards the close of the American war, the discontent and disappointment arising from it strengthened the internal factions in England, and, as usual, they assumed the character of reformers. Many of them, like their successors of the present day, were full of idle theories and impracticable expedients, among which was that of excluding all officers of government from the legislature. The Americans had been taught to consider those factions as their friends; and, as such, they looked up to them as oracles of political wisdom: they conceived it possible, in their simplicity, to construct a frame of government, in which no common feelings should exist between the legislative and the executive power, and in which the remunerations for services to the public should be less than could be gained by the application of talent and assiduity to any other object. This hopeful plan they have reduced, in some measure, to practice; and Mr. Bristed, an avowed republican, shall tell us with what effect. We should receive with hesitation, the evidence of one who venerated the principle of any legitimate European government; and after all, perhaps, scarcely give that implicit credit to it, which we are bound to yield to this gentleman, who, whilst his facts show the evil of these projects, labours by his reasonings to approve them. Our doubts would arise from disbelieving the possibility of such communities existing, even for the very short period that America has been independent, without a greater degree of confusion than has hitherto appeared; for we join in the opinion of our author, though we cannot applaud his imagery, 'that the United States are now revolutionary, and contain within them the seeds of those sudden changes which scatter upon the wings of ruin all the labours and products of past experience, and mock the hopes of all human expectation.'
After noticing that some of the judges are appointed in one manner, some in another, he says,
'Throughout the separate states, whatever may be the mode of appointing or the official tenure of the supreme judges, the justices and judges of the Common Pleas and other inferior courts are generally appointed during pleasure,and receive their income from the fees of office; whence litigation is grievously encouraged among the poorer classes of the community, and a horrible perversion of justice corrupts the whole body of »he commonwealth. ..-'... j
. . i ... 'The
'The laws of this country generally favour the debtor at the expense •f the creditor, and so far encourage dishonesty. The number of insolvents, in every state, is prodigious and continually increasing. They very seldom pay any part of their debts, but get discharged by the state insolvent acts with great facility, secrete what property they please for their own use, without the creditors being able to touch a single stiver. There is no bankrupt law in the United States, and no appeal in these matters to the federal courts; whence in every state the insolvent acts operate as a general jail delivery of all debtors, and a permanent scheme by which creditors are defrauded of their property. The British merchants and manufacturers who have trusted our people doubtless un derstand this.'*
Among the numerous institutions to which England is in debted for its comforts, its security, and its prosperity, we cannot but consider our courts of law to be the most prominent. There is a peculiar character of dignity attached to our judges, which gives them a respectability, almost allied to religious veneration. The nature of their education which requires a considerable degree of seclusion, and their stations which forbid them from being foremost in the circles of even innocent levity, have a tendency to raise their characters, and to inspire a confidence in their decisions, which must be unknown to the people of America. We hear of one of their judges appearing on the bench with a countenance battered in a boxing-match; of another shot because he had approached to attack his neighbour with pistols in his bosom and a concealed dagger; of some engaged in duels as principals and seconds, and of others posted as cowards for declining such contests. In the management of elections, in the fraud of substituting one set of ballots for another, on which the success of the candidate often depends, the judges are the most adroit actors.
If our judges were chosen by the populace, they must court that populace; if they were appointed for a short period, or were removable by the will of a popular and local assembly, they would be deprived of that independence which, as much as their learning, gives weight and character to their judgments. If, as in America, a man could not fill the office of judge after he had attained the age of sixty,
* ' In a single city,' (New York) the author assures us that 'more than six thousand of its inhabitants were declnred insolvent in one year.' We could not have believed this alarming fact on less authority than that of Mr. Bristed, who, from his professional knowledge, must be accurately acquainted with the numbers.
'America (he says) has profited in more ways than one by British capital; that is to By, has grown rich, not merely by the amount and length of credit which the merchants of Britain have given her, but also by her own numberless insolvents having made it a point of conscience never to pay a single stiver to a British creditor. From the peace of 1783 to 1789, the British manufacturers did not receive one third of the value of all the goods, which they sold to their American customers; and since the peace of 1815, up to the present hour, they have not received one-fourth. This horrible piracy upon British property is supported if not created by our system of state insolvent laws.'
A 3 this