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dence, "their right," "their duty to throw off the government." That there is also under our free institutions, a method, originating in profound wisdom, whereby the people can exercise the natural right of changing government, without opposition from the existing government, and therefore without resort to force, has been proved by abundant experience. But this method was discarded in Rhode Island. The justification of the proceedings in that state, is not founded on either of these truly American doctrines. In asserting, therefore, the dangerous nature of the principles by which they are justified, we do not oppose any principles which are universally recognized among us. We maintain and cherish the principles of the declaration of independence; they furnish the authority for overthrowing by force an oppressive government. And we have a still higher respect, if any thing, for that wonderful expedient of political wisdom, by which the existing government is pledged against resistance; and thus that natural right, laid down by our forefathers at the Revolution, can be exercised in peace. These are not what we object to, but we do object to a principle that, under the pretense of being legal and peaceful, seduces its followers into measures which otherwise they would never take, and thus leads them on step by step to inevitable war.

What, then, are these principles? They are, first, that the majority of the people of any state, has a legal right, which may be exercised at any time, to change its constitution, and as a consequence its executive, its legislature, and its laws, without regard to the existing government and laws; and second, that the whole people are under a corresponding legal obligation to obey the new constitution, officers and laws, all obligations and oaths to the former government at once ceasing. This latter principle, it is obvious, follows

as a necessary inference from the former, since a legal right to command implies a legal obligation to obey. If it should so happen in any state, (to give an illustration of these principles,) that an actual minority should elect a governor, the majority could immediately get rid of him in a legal way, by assembling on the authority of this right of revolution, either in mass or by delegates, and framing a new constitution and under it electing a new governor, who would be the legal chief magis trate to whom civil obedience is due, while through the silent operation of law, the former becomes at once guilty of treason, if he remains longer in office.

We fear the statement may appear to some incredible; we will therefore give these doctrines in the language of a writer who has most ably maintained them. Supposing a constitution made by the whole people, according to which the elective franchise is restricted to a portion of the people, he asks, “"could such a restriction be removed by a majority of the whole people afterwards? Is the consent thus given, really or by implication, to a constitution revocable, and can the exercise of the sovereignty be resumed at any time by the whole people, without the consent of the parties to whom the power may have been confided, or to use a legal expression, without the consent of the grantees? Can it be resumed without a revolution? After a constitution is once adopted, by which an electoral body is established smaller than the whole people, does there still remain a legal right to change that constitution in a manner not provided by the constitution itself, and without the consent of the elec toral body?" These questions are answered in the affirmative. We have italicised a few words to draw attention to the main points. A

* Democratic Review, July, 1842.

legal right thus broad in its operations, and to be exercised in defiance of law, will appear strange to our readers, and they may doubt the obvious meaning of this pas sage. But the writer fairly embraces the entire consequences of this principle; for he answers the objection, "where will all this lead? may you at any time take a census of all this body of persons," that is, of the people," and if you can procure the consent of a majority of them to any scheme, does such scheme, ipso facto, become the law of the land?" he answers this objection, of its leading to extremes, by admitting it. "For," he says, "if the people should choose to act in an irregular manner, it cannot be helped." And that is the logical answer; but why call it "an irregular manner?" Can the fact of a majority's favoring any measure, be ascertained in a more certain, and therefore in a more regular manner than by a census? Is the writer startled at his own conclusions? It is just to subjoin his second reply, which is, "that the people of this country never will act in that manner as long as they are fit for freedom." But we would like to ask, in case any people should degenerate and become unfit for freedom, and as a consequence should act in this "irregular manner," whether there would be a legal obligation of obedience? We suppose in his opinion there would be, since "there is," as he says, "no help for it." We are not now upon the argument, but we think there must be a strong presumption against a legal right which binds us to acquiesce peaceably in "any scheme," which may be formed by a people "unfit for freedom." It may occur to some that this writer must after all mean the right of revolution by force. It is true some other advocates on the same side have made no discrimination, but the present writer is by far too good a reasoner to confound

things so different. He says expressly, "there is another right, a right above all human law, a right of resistance to law, a right of rev olution." "It must never be con founded with the right at first considered. That was a legal right—a right of the majority to change their government in their own way and at their own time." We thus have before us, the doctrine of the legal right of revolution and in the language of an able advocate. The corresponding legal obligation of obedience, follows of course, and we find the same writer drawing the conclusion with perfect consistency, from the principles which he had laid down, that "if a majority of the people of Rhode Island ratified the people's constitution,' it is the true and real organic law of the state." We might here refer to the letter of Governor Hubbard, where the same doctrine is maintained, but it is unnecessary, the more especially as the doctrine seems to have been borrowed from the writer already quoted, while the distinctions upon which the whole argument depends, have been entirely disregarded.

We will now give a statement of the proceedings which these principles are brought forward to justify. We shall not go into a minute detail; it will be sufficient to mention only those circumstances, which bring clearly before us the points in issue.

A large number of the inhabitants of Rhode Island meet in a mass assembly at Providence and determine upon calling a convention to form a constitution for the state. This was on the fifth of July, 1841. Delegates are elected; the convention convenes and frames a constitution, and in December the constitution is ratified by the unanimous voice of those who voted upon its adoption. An election of officers and of a legislature, took place on the eighteenth of April, 1842, and on the third of May, at Providence, a government was organized in the state

of Rhode Island. This organization was supported by a body of about five hundred troops-the friends of these movements having previously commenced a military enrollment and made preparations to maintain, if necessary, the new constitution by force. On the other hand, the existing government opposed these measures at every step. It denied the validity of the constitution, by resolving at the January session in 1842, "that all the acts done for the purpose of imposing upon this state a constitution are an assumption of the powers of government, in violation of the rights of the existing government and of the rights of the people at large;" and, at an extra session in March, enacted a law declaring all meetings for the election of town, county or state officers, illegal and void, and making it penal to preside at such meeting, or to have any official connection with them, or to signify a willingness to accept of any office by virtue of such election, while the actual acceptance and exercise of any such office is pronounced to be treason against the state. After the elections were held, it made several arrests under this law, and at length resisted with the whole military power of the state, the attempt to maintain by force the new organization of government.

Such are the facts. The only point now in dispute is, was this constitution legally made and ratified. If it was, then it is to be admitted that all the subsequent proceedings were legal; that the elections were neither illegal nor void; that those who accepted of the offices to which they were elected, instead of being guilty of treason, were only exercising their constitutional rights, and the military movements were not rebellious, but in support of a just government. Then, too, it follows, that the government which continued to exercise power was a usurpation, and that the

whole military force of the state was in open rebellion against a legitimate government. On the other hand, if the constitution was not legally made and ratified, then it follows-but we will not say at present what does follow.

We turn now to the argument. Had that portion of the people who made and ratified this constitution a "legal right" to do it? It seems to us that the very statement of the proposition, that there is a legal right of forming a constitution independent of the existing government and law, is enough to refute it. The idea of law is one that can be mistaken for no other. It is clear and distinct by itself. The same may be said of the idea of government. Every body knows what law is, and what government is. These ideas therefore may be taken, since they are universally known and acknowledged, as the groundwork of our reasoning. Now we say no man can reflect distinctly upon what law and government are, without seeing that law must proceed from government. A legal right, then, is a right with which law is at least in some way connected. It may not be that law has conferred it, it may only control its exercise; at any rate, and this is enough for the argument, it holds some relation to law, and law proceeds from government. A legal right to form a constitution for a state, therefore, must be a right connected in some way with the law of the government of that state. But the making and ratification of this constitution was without law, and they who were engaged in those proceedings did in those acts renounce the legal authority of the state.

We do not say they had no right-they may have had the right of revolution-but let the measure be properly named, let not an act which discards law, support itself by the authority of law. It may be a right, but not a legal right. For that exists under law and govern

ment. But the very parties in these proceedings would insist, that the chartered government and laws had nothing to do with their constitution. To talk of a legal right under these circumstances, is to talk inconsistently; a legal right founded on no law, a right with law and at the same time without law, seems to us a downright absurdity. The truth is, there are but two ways in which the people can exercise the natural and inalienable right of abolishing and changing government; one, with the government peacefully, and the other, against government by force. And those inhabitants of Rhode Island, who have chosen the latter course, cannot now alter the nature of the transaction by applying to it the language of law and peace.

Again, a legal right can be enforced in a court of justice; and it has been suggested that the validity of this legal right of revolution, be tried in the Supreme Court of the United States. Here there would be a law-suit between two governments claiming to exercise authority over the same state. For, it is not a suit between two sets of officers, claiming under the same government, but between the whole people of Rhode Island, living under the one government, and the whole people of Rhode Island, living under the other government. We are not versed in the forms of law, but we doubt a little, whether the same man can sue himself, or be both plaintiff and defendant in the same suit. But passing by this, let the case come on; the new government claims to have been established by the authority of a legal right, by law. But by what law? By the law of the existing government? No. By the law of the new? No; that did not exist so as to make a law for its own creation. What law then? None. View this position as we will, it involves an absurdity. Nor is it mere cavil at words. The proposition that there is a legal right Vol. I.


to change a government, which is not the right of revolution by force, nor the right retained under government, and exercised with its coöperation, cannot be stated in any language, which will not express an absurdity, for the ideas themselves are incompatible with one another.

It may be thought we have given too strict an interpretation to the term "legal right." We confess we have seen no definition of that sort of legal right, which is independent of law and government. But we have given to the words, the only meaning they can have and express the ideas always designated by them. And moreover we have taken them in the only sense, which is relevant to the point to be proved. For, leaving out of view the peaceful change of government through its own coöperation, and also the violent change against the resistance of the government, what is left but this inconsistency, the legal right of forcible revolution? If it be said the meaning is this, it is a universally admitted truth or principle among us, a kind of common law, that it is the right of the people to form a constitution against an existing government, then we ask, what is the nature of this right? Is it the right of revolution against government by force, or with government by law? If it is either of these, it is not the right brought forward by those whose opinions we are refuting. If it is not either of these, what is it but this third kind of a right which is called a "legal right." So that the above statement comes exactly to the same thing and has no advantage over the other form of expression, except it is less open and fair. The fault is not in the words, but in the ideas. The writers on that side, undertook too hard a task when they tried to make out civil war to be a legal remedy.

We think the inconsistency, inherent in any statement of these principles, enough to overthrow them.

But yet we will examine the argu- happiness. That to secure these ments in their support. We will rights, governments are instituted repeat the position to be proved, among men, deriving their just powthat there is a legal right of revolu ers from the consent of the governtion, against the existing govern- ed; that whenever any form of ment, which is distinct from the government becomes destructive of right of revolution by force. Eve- these ends, it is the right of the peory American citizen glories in the ple to alter or abolish it, and to inlatter, though he knows the exercise stitute a new government, laying its of it is attended with solemn con- foundation on such principles, and sequences, since it lays the oppo- organizing its powers in such form, sing party under no obligation peace- as to them shall seem most likely ably to yield to it. But that there to effect their safety and happiness." is a right of revolution against gov-"It is their right." But what right? ernment, which brings an obliga-A legal right? A right, which tion upon the opposing party to sub- made the resistance of England, a mit to it-an obligation too, of a legal instead of a moral wrong? legal nature, the violation of which Or, rather is it not, in the words of may be treason itself-this is the the writer whose arguments we issue. Is there a legal obligation are reviewing, "a right above all binding upon our citizens to acqui- human law-a right of resistance esce in any scheme to which a sin- to law a right of revolution?" gle individual, or a body of individ. The declaration of independence is uals united in a party, without au professedly a justification to the thority of law and government, world, out of a decent respect to might, by canvassing the state, pro- the opinions of mankind, of this cure the consent of a majority of country's taking that station among the people? and does such a scheme the nations of the earth, to which become law, so as to make resist the laws of nature and of nature's ance to it rebellion? or would the God entitle her. It undertakes to charge of rebellion be upon those show that the laws of nature and of who get up the scheme against gov- nature's God did entitle the people ernment? In the case a majority of to act as they were then doingthe people of Connecticut should in throwing off an oppressive governthis way abolish the town bounda- ment by force. What is the first ries, and change the present ratio position? That man-not a body of representatives, would that act of of men, but man individually-has the majority impose a legal obliga from God the right of life, liberty, tion upon the rest of the state to and the pursuit of happiness, and yield to it? and would resistance that this right, this right derived on their part be rebellion? from nature's God, cannot be justly taken from him. Then, the relation of government to this right is stated and asserted to be that of security. This brings on the con. clusion, that when government becomes destructive of this end, it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it; that is, the people may, in the exercise of right-and of what right but that which is the subject of discourse?-alter or abolish it. Is it not certain that the right here spoken of, is the above men

Such is the doctrine, for the support of which is alledged the authority of the declaration of independence, and of the declaration of rights in the constitutions of the several states. The declaration of independence lays down the follow ing doctrines: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of

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