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against wrongs; and has been perverted into a sword to attack the rights of others—to cause a grievance, instead of the means of redressing grievances, as in the case of abolition petitions. The Senator from Ohio (Mr. Tappan) has viewed this subject in its proper light, and has taken a truly patriotic and constitutional stand in refusing to present these firebrands, for which I heartily thank him, in the name of my State. Had the Senator from Kentucky followed the example, he would have rendered inestimable service to the country.
[Mr. Tallmadge said that his views of the right of petition had been submitted heretofore, but he could not permit the remarks of the Senator from South Carolina to pass without remark. The Senator had said that we had derived this right of petition from England anterior to our struggle with that country, and that it had been superseded, and rendered of trivial importance, by the right of suffrage. It had been always considered a matter of the highest importance, both before the Revolution and since that event—from the first struggle of liberty in this country down to the present time. In proof of this he referred to the sentiments on the subject which pervaded all the public meetings immediately previous to and during the Revolution, and which were expressed in their resolutions and reports. With the same object, also, he referred to that amendment to the constitution which guards the right, and prohibits Congress from doing any thing to abridge it. This was one of the amendments, the adoption of which was made by New-York an express condition antecedent to her ratification of the constitution; which event was principally to be ascribed to the talents and eloquence of Alexander Hamilton, who was described on this floor the other day as being a man of only second-rate abilities, and an imitator. The right of petition went behind the constitution. The citizen has a right to petition even for that which Congress is prohibited by the constitution from granting. They may petition for an alteration of the constitution, so that you may be enabled to grant it to them. His views on abolition were not changed; but he sa and said four years ago, if they had not resisted the right of petition, there would have been infinitely less of abolition than had been.)
MR. Calhoun. The Senator who has just taken his seat, has assigned a very sensible reason why our ancestors, who framed the constitution, placed so high a value on the right of petition. It performed a prominent part in the contest leading to the Revolution. Then we were subject colonies, and, as far as the Government of Great Britain was concerned, had no other mode of being heard but by petition. We had no representation in Parliament. But the case is different now. Our Government, in every department, is under popular control. The people have a right to speak directly to their public functionaries; and it is absurd to say, under this changed condition, that the right is as important as it was then, when it was our only weapon,-and that the right is so sacred as to be without limitation. I ask the Senator whether he is ready to carry out his theory of the right. I put these questions to him : Would he present a petition that vilified this body, or any of the individuals of which it is composed ? or would he present a petition to legalize murder ? I wish an answer to these questions.
[Mr. TallmaDGE. The Senator asks, would I present a petition that would vilify this body. I tell him I would not. Self-defence would prevent me. As to a petition to abolish the Christian religion, I do not think there would be much harm in the presentation, if he could have it presented to a committee of which the Senator would be chairman.]
MR. CALHOUN. Will the Senator go home and tell his constituents that he is ready to present a petition to abolish Christianity? If so, and I do not mistake their character, they would soon abolish him and his right of petition. But he has acknowledged that the right has limitation. He would not present one vilifying this body or its meinbers, because self-defence would not permit it. Bui
hy not receive it, and put it down by a report, as he proposes in the case of Christianity ? Again : is the principle of self-defence limited to this body? Is not the defence of religion, morals, the constitution, and the character and rights of your constituents and the State you represent, as important as that of the defence of ourselves ? And why not meet the one at least as promptly and indignantly as the other? Why not close the door, on the principle of self-defence, equally against all ? It is useless to attempt concealment. The presentation of these incendiary petitions is itself an infraction of the constitution. All acknowledge—the Senator himself—that the property, which they are presented here to destroy, is guaranteed by the constitution. Now, I ask, if we have the right under the constitution to hold the property (which none question), have we not also the right to hold it under the same sacred instrument in peace and quiet? Is it not a direct infraction, then, of the constitution, to present petitions here, in the common council of the Union, and to us, the agents appointed to carry its provisions into effect, and to guard the rights it secures, the professed aim of which is to destroy the property guaranteed by the instrument ? There can be but one answer to these questions on the part of those who present such petitions ; that the right of such petition is higher and more sacred than the constitution and our oaths to preserve and to defend it. To such monstrous results does the doctrine lead.
Sir, I understand this whole question. The great mass of both parties to the North are opposed to abolition : the Democrats almost exclusively; the Whigs less so. Very few are to be found in the ranks of the former; but many in those of the latter. The only importance that the abolitionists have, is to be found in the fact, that their weight may be felt in elections; and this is no small advantage. The one party is unwilling to lose their weight, but, at the same time, unwilling to be blended with them on the main question ; and hence is made this false, absurd, unconstitutional, and dangerous collateral issue on the right of petition. Here is the whole secret. They are willing to play tne political game at our hazard and that of the constitution and the Union, for the sake of victory at the elections. But to show still more clearly how little foundation there is in the character of our Government for the extravagant importance attached to this right, I ask the Senator what is the true relation between the Government and the people, according to our American conception ? Which is principal and which agent ? which the master and which the servant ? which the sovereign and which the subject ? There can be no answer. We are but the agents—the servants.
We are not the sovereign. The sovereignty resides in the people of the States. How little applicable, then, is this boasted right of petition, under our system, to political questions? Who ever heard of the principal petitioning his agent—of the master, his servant-or of the sovereign, his subject ? The very essence of a petition implies a request from an inferior to a superior. It is not, in fact, a natural growth of our system. It was copied from the British Bill of Rights, and grew up among a people whose representation was very imperfect, and where the sovereignty of the people was not recognized at all. And yet even there, this right so much insisted on here, as being boundless as space, was restricted from the beginning, by the very men who adopted it in the British system, in the very manner which has been done in the other branch, this session ; and to an extent far beyond. The two Houses of Parliament have again and again passed resolutions against receiving petitions even to repeal taxes ; and this, those who formed our constitution well knew, and yet adopted the provision almost identically contained in the British Bill of Rights, without guarding against the practice under it. Is not the conclusion irresistible, that they did not deem it inconsistent with the right of "the citizens peaceably to assemble and petition for a redress of grievance,” as secured in the Constitution ? The thing is clear. It is time that the truth should be known, and this cant about petition, not to redress the grievances of the petitioners, but to create a grievance elsewhere, be put down.
[After some discussion, in which Messrs. Brown, Tallmadge, Buchanan, Webster, Smith, and Clay took part, Mr. Calhoun rejoined :-)
I rise to say that I have heard the remarks of the Senator who has just concluded (Mr. Clay) with deep regret. I make no impeachment of motive, but am compelled to say that what he has said, and the course he so strongly recommends in regard to these petitions, are calculated, especially at this moment, to do much harm. If we should have the folly to adopt it, to receive these slanderous and incendiary petitions, to take jurisdiction over the subject, and to argue the case with their authors, as the Senator advises, it would, in the end, prove fatal to us.
I know this question to the bottom. I have viewed it under every possible aspect. There is no safety but in prompt, determined, and uncompromising defence of our rights—to meet the danger on the frontier. There all rights are strongest, and more especially this. The moral is like the physical world. Nature has incrusted the exterior of all organic life, for its safety. Let that be broken through, and it is all weakness within. So in the moral and political world. It is on the extreme limits of right that all wrong and encroachments are the most sensibly felt and easily resisted. I have acted on this principle throughout, in this great contest. I took my lessons from the patriots of the Revolution. They met wrong promptly, and defended right against the first encroachment. To sit here, and hear ourselves and constituents, and their rights and institutions (essential to their safety), assailed from day to day—denounced by every epithet calculated to degrade and render us odious; and to meet all this in silence, or, still worse, to reason with the foul slanderers, would eventually destroy every feeling of pride and dignity,