Page images






Brazil a propos:

Independencia ou Morte!

Profunda supra nos altitudo temporis veniet, pauca ingenia caput exserent, et in idem quandoque silentium abitura oblivioni, resistent, ac se diu vindicabunt.-Senecæ Epistol. xxi.


I must ever maintain that this principle is an invaluable one— namely: To construct every biographical study upon the preserved declarations, speeches, public documents, and other utterances of the subject himself.

Take the highest example: The religious inquirer is desirous to learn something of the Christian religion. Very well; shall I advise him to read the writings of the school men, the books of this cardinal or archdeacon, or of that canon? Not at all; all I could say would be to exhort him to collate and study the sayings of Christ himself, from the first, "Let it be so for this time," uttered on the banks of the Jordan, to the divine catastrophe of the Cross, on the bluff back of Jerusalem: "My God! my God! why hast Thou forsaken me !

[ocr errors]

Thus by studying his parables, sermons, beatitudes, commands, might the sincere inquirer become informed with the vivida vis


animi of Christ himself, as a Seedsman of Stars, sown broadcast throughout the heavenly field of exhortation.

Without irreverence, and as the less to the great, even to the Greatest, we may adopt a similar method in pursuing our study of the ingenious few among men. Tried by such a test, I am satisfied that Martin Van Buren was one of the most accurate and comprehensive of our statesmen. The fashionable thirst for historical dramatization and histrionic effects has distorted his character into a romance. Andrew Jackson, we are to believe, was after all only "an uneducated Indian fighter"-only a puppet-a great blind Samson, led hither and thither by children, and stalking spectres of men otherwise unknown to history. His proclamation (1833) was written by Livingston or Kendall; the whole scheme of his Administration, with the overwhelming mass. of the American people behind it, was, after all, only an intrigue of Martin Van Buren. As for Van Buren himself, he was an "accident". -a political fox, trimmer, intriguant, spoilsman-anything but a philosopher and statesman!

Says Professor Summer: "Chance plays a great role.

Van Buren illustrated all these cases."

But our learned professor, more familiar perhaps with astrology than with "common-sense-ology" (Charles Reade), is much too credulous if he believes that chance has ever elevated mediocrity to the Presidential chair of as great a Republic as ours. Whether we consider the earlier Presidents, such as Adams and Monroe, or the later ones, such as Lincoln and Cleveland, the theory of chance, as the architect of their fame, must be abandoned. Chance-greatness belongs to romance. There are no accidental great men. "To secure a paragraph in general history," said Napoleon, "a man must Do a great deal! The deep waves of time wash over us; the few men of genius lift up their heads, and, when about to depart into the common silence of oblivion, they resist and vindicate their claim to immortality. Thus declares the philosopher: "Ac se diu vindicabunt!" So let it

be with Van Buren.

In opposition to all their phantasmagoria of history, I oppose, first, the opinion of George Bancroft, weighed against whom our fashionable biographers are in the balance-as peacock-feathers to a wedge of gold:

[merged small][ocr errors][merged small][ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][ocr errors][ocr errors]

"The characteristics of Van Buren as a statesman were a firm reliance on principle, and in the darkest hour, a bright and invigorating hopefulness.

"When thoughtful leaders of his party were appalled, Van Buren knew how to dispel apprehension by his serene presence and addresses. Few statesmen have relied less on patronage, and few public men were ever more free from personal intrigue. This I know from his friends, and have had opportunity to observe. . . "His course was that of a statesman devoted to principle and studying the lessons of experience. Hence, as a statesman, he was a pupil of the public mind of his time, deciding questions as they arose, in favor of liberty.

"The private life of Van Buren was unblemished and unblamed. In youth he opposed the old United States Bank and its substitute, the Bank of America. With consistency and vigilance he resisted the encroachments of the banking power, and with early and almost solitary sagacity, predicted the evil consequences of the prevailing system of corporate banks. In the Senate of New York and of the United States he led the way in abolishing imprisonment for debt; he opposed the spirit of monopoly in all its forms, and would never become a share-holder in a corporation established by the Legislature of which he was a member. He assisted to overthrow property restrictions on the elective franchise, and to achieve for the people of New York general suffrage. As President he was the first to recommend grants of pre-emption rights to settlers. By his especial direction a public ordinance secured to the laborers on public works opportunity for due domestic enjoyment and repose. Those who knew him longest and most intimately used to challenge his most inveterate opponents to point to one instance in his political career of more than thirty years, where the conflict was between the assumptions of the few and the rights of the many-between the pretensions of privilege and the just liberties of the masses-in which he was not found sustaining the latter and battling for human rights.”

Secondly. Let us adopt our own true method, and recur to Van Buren's own utterances.

In the debate upon the Panama Mission, in the United States Senate (1826), Mr. Van Buren, in speaking of our duty as exem


plar to the Spanish American Republics, said that we should. teach them "above all that sine qua non to the existence of all republican government, fidelity to a written constitution."

In June, 1826, the celebrated "Panama Mission" was organized by the Administration in pursuance of an invitation extended to the United States by Peru, Chili, Colombia, Mexico and the Central American States, to meet in a Congress of American Nations at Panama to form a treaty of friendship and perpetual alliance. President Adams appointed two commissioners. These appointments were nominated by Executive authority simply, and a debate sprang up in the Senate upon confirming them, which was finally, on a test vote, carried by a small majority, although the actual appointee, Mr. Joel R. Poinsett, was afterwards confirmed. without serious opposition (1827). "After all," remarks Mr. Benton, "the whole conception of the Panama Congress was an abortion!

[ocr errors]

Mr. Van Buren offered a resolution, which was adopted by the Senate, that the debate should be conducted with open doors, subject to the opinion of the President as to whether publicity would be prejudicial to existing negotiations. The President, while declining to give his opinion, so discouraged an open debate that the Senate relinquished the idea, and contented itself with its publication after it was over.

It was in this debate that Van Buren uttered the sentiment that the most important lesson to the Spanish American Republics would be to teach them to respect the inviolable sanctity of written constitutions. The sentiment of Van Buren would seem to be this: As faith is the corner-stone of religion, so good faith is the cardinal and vital principle of both domestic civil government and international policies. Constitutions; treaties-shall these be obeyed and observed, or overthrown and violated? Upon these issues depends the progress of mankind.

Let us consider, therefore, that, in the American sense, a written constitution is a rule of organic action, distributing and limiting the functions of the government, as distinguished from the people, who are the ultimate depositaries of power.

If we should have a State organized under a written republican constitution, the citizens whereof were capable of self-restraint,

[ocr errors][merged small][ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][ocr errors][merged small][merged small]

and willing to abide by the supreme law, we should have Frée Government. ́.

Such, in the main, is the constitution of the United States of the North American Union. O, happy constitution! O, sweet and blessed country!

"Where Sovereign Law sits Empress, crowning good, repressing ill."

[ocr errors]

Fidelity to a written constitution : Let us suppose that this epitome of political wisdom had been carried into effect by our sister Republics of South and Central America, what would have been their prosperity as compared with their present condition?

One of these Republics has recently attracted deep interest by a sudden change of system, from the Empire to the Republic. I refer to the United States of Brazil. The magnitude of the problem of South American civilization begins to dawn upon us, when we reflect that Brazil alone is as large as our own Confederacy, if we omit that frigid ward of the sisterhood—Alaska-latest in genesis, least in importance.

The history of Brazil has been in many respects so extraordinary, that, for our present purpose, I may select her as illustrating the thesis which we have adopted from Van Buren. Up to 1889 (November 15th), Brazil was nominally an Empire; in reality she was an aristocracy very similar in essential form to that proposed for our own Republic by Alexander Hamilton, as outlined by him in the debate on the adoption of the Federal Constitution, the 19th of June, 1787. This system, as described by a historian of Brazil, consisted of a National Legislature composed of two parliamentary bodies-" a Senate whose members, elected for life, are chosen by and represent the separate provinces; and a Chamber of Deputies whose members, elected for a term of four years, are chosen by and represent separate districts." "The government is essentially parliamentary. Cabinets come into power and go out according to the support they get in the Chamber of Deputies. No Cabinet undertakes to exist without a good working majority in that body. The Cabinet ministers sit and speak in each body. Depending as it does for its existence on the will of the popular branch of the Legislature, the administration is necessarily influenced very much by public opinion, and is in


« PreviousContinue »