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dence, “their right,” “their duty to as a necessary inference from the
We We fear the statement may apmaintain and cherish the principles pear to some incredible; we will of the declaration of independence; therefore give these doctrines in the they furnish the authority for over- language of a writer* who has most throwing by force an oppressive ably maintained them. Supposing government. And we a still a constitution made by the whole higher respect, if any thing, for that people, according to which the elecwonderful expedient of political wis- tive franchise is restricted to a pordom, by which the existing govern- tion of the people, he asks, " could ment is pledged against resistance; such a restriction be removed by a and thus that naiural right, laid down majority of the whole people afterby our forefathers at the Revolution, wards? Is the consent thus given, can be exercised in peace. These really or by implication, to a constiare not what we object to, but we do tution revocable, and can the exerobject to a principle that, under the cise of the sovereignty be resumed pretense of being legal and peaceful, at any time by the whole people, seduces its followers into measures without the consent of the parties to which otherwise they would never whom the power may have been take, and thus leads them on step confided, or to use a legal expresby step to inevitable war.
sion, without the consent of the What, then, are these principles ? grantees? Can it be resumed withThey are, first, that the majority of out a revolution ? After a constithe people of any state, has a legal tution is once adopted, by which an right, which may be exercised at electoral body is established smaller any time, to change its constitution, than the whole people, does there and as a consequence its executive, still remain a legal right to change its legislature, and its laws, without that constitution in a manner not regard to the existing government provided by the constitution itself, and laws; and second, that the whole and without the consent of the elecpeople are under a corresponding toral body?” These questions are legal obligation to obey the new con- answered in the affirmative. We stitution, officers and laws, all obli- have italicised a few words to draw gations and oaths to the former gov- attention to the main points. A ernment at once ceasing. This latter principle, it is obvious, follows * Democratic Review, July, 1842.
legal right thus broad in its ope- things so different. He says ex. rations, and to be exercised in defi. pressly, " there is another right, a ance of law, will appear strange right above all human law, a right to our readers, and they may doubt of resistance to law, a right of rev. the obvious meaning of this pas. olution.” “ It must never be consage. But the writer fairly embraces founded with the right at first conthe entire consequences of this prin- sidered. That was a legal right—a ciple; for he answers the objection, right of the majority to change their " where will all this lead ? may you government in their own way and at at any time take a census of all this their own time.” We thus have bebody of persons,” that is, of the fore us, the doctrine of the legal people, " and if you can procure the right of revolution and in the lanconsent of a majority of them to any guage of an able advocate. The scheme, does such scheme, ipso corresponding legal obligation of facto, become the law of the land ?" obedience, follows of course, and he answers this objection, of its lead- we find the same writer drawing the ing to extremes, by admitting it. conclusion with perfect consistency, * For," he says, “if the people from the principles which he had should choose to act in an irregular laid down, that “if a majority of the manner, it cannot be helped.” And people of Rhode Island ratified the that is the logical answer; but why people's constitution,' it is the true call it "an irregular manner?" and real organic law of the state.” Can the fact of a majority's favoring We might here refer to the letter any measure, be ascertained in a of Governor Hubbard, where the more certain, and therefore in a same doctrine is maintained, but it more regular manner than by a is unnecessary, the more especially census? Is the writer startled at as the doctrine seems to have been his own conclusions ? It is just to borrowed from the writer already subjoin his second reply, which is, quoted, while the distinctions upon " that the people of this country which the whole argument depends, never will act in that manner as have been entirely disregarded. long as they are fit for freedom.” We will now give a statement of But we would like to ask, in case the proceedings which these princi. any people should degenerate and ples are brought forward to justify. become unfit for freedom, and as a We shall not go into a minute detail; consequence should act in this “ir- it will be sufficient to mention only regular manner," whether there those circumstances, which bring would be a legal obligation of obe clearly before us the points in issue. dience? We suppose in his opin- A large number of the inhabitants ion there would be, since “there is," of Rhode Island meet in a mass as.
no help for it.” We sembly at Providence and determine are not now upon the argument, but upon calling a convention to form a we think there must be a strong constitution for the state. This was presumption against a legal right on the fifth of July, 1841. Dele. which binds us to acquiesce peace- gates are elected; the convention ably in “any scheme,” which may convenes and frames a constitution, be formed by a people “unfit for and in December the constitution is freedom.” It may occur to some ratified by the unanimous voice of that this writer must after all mean those who voted upon its adoption. the right of revolution by force. It An election of officers and of a leis true some other advocates on the gislature, took place on the eighsame side have made no discrimina- teenth of April, 1842, and on the tion, but the present writer is by far third of May, at Providence, a govtoo good a reasoner to confound ernment was organized in the state
as he says,
of Rhode Island. This organization whole military force of the state was supported by a body of about was in open rebellion against a lefive hundred troops—the friends of gitimate government. On the other these movements having previously hand, if the constitution was not commenced a military enrollment legally made and ratified, then it and made preparations to maintain, follows—but we will not say at presif necessary, the new constitution ent what does follow. by force. On the other hand, the We turn now to the argument. existing government opposed these Had that portion of the people who measures at every step. It denied made and ratified this constitution the validity of the constitution, by “ legal right” to do it? It seems resolving at the January session in to us that the very statement of the 1842, “ that all the acis done for the proposition, that there is a legal right purpose of imposing upon this state of forming a constitution indepena constitution are an assumption of dent of the existing government and
of government, in viola- law, is enough to refute it. The tion of the rights of the existing idea of law is one that can be misgovernment and of the rights of the taken for no other. It is clear and people at large;" and, at an extra distinct by itself. The same may session in March, enacted a law de- be said of the idea of government. claring all meetings for the election Every body knows what law is, and of town, county or state officers, what government is. These ideas illegal and void, and making it penal therefore may be taken, since they to preside at such meeting, or to are universally known and acknowhave any official connection with ledged, as the groundwork of our them, or to signify a willingness to reasoning. Now we say no man accept of any office by virtue of can reflect distinctly upon what law such election, while the actual ac- and government are, without seeing ceptance and exercise of any such that law must proceed from govern. office is pronounced to be treason ment. A legal right, then, is a right against the state. After the elec. with which law is at least in some tions were held, it made several ar- way connected. It may not be that rests under this law, and at length law has conferred it, it may only resisted with the whole military control its exercise; at any rate, and power of the state, the attempt to this is enough for the argument, it maintain by force the new organiza- holds some relation to la and law tion of government.
proceeds from government. A leSuch are the facts. The only gal right to form a constitution for point now in dispute is, was this a state, therefore, must be a right constitution legally made and rati- connected in some way with the fied. If it was, then it is to be ad. law of the government of that state. mitted that all the subsequent pro. But the making and ratification of ceedings were legal; that the elec- this constitution was without law, tions were neither illegal nor void; and they who were engaged in those , that those who accepted of the offi- proceedings did in those acts reces to which they were elected, nounce the legal authority of the instead of being guilty of trcason, state. We do not say they had no were only exercising their constitu- right—they may have had the right tional rights, and the military move- of revolution-but let the measure ments were not rebellious, but in sup- be properly named, let not an act port of a just government. Then, which discards law, support itself too, it follows, that the government by the authority of law. It which continued to exercise power a right, but not a legal right. For
a usurpation, and that the that exists under law and govern
ment. But the very parties in these to change a government, which is proceedings would insist, that the not the right of revolution by force, chartered government and laws had nor the right retained under governnothing to do with their constitution. ment, and exercised with its coöpeTo talk of a legal right under these ration, cannot be stated in any lancircumstances, is to talk inconsis. guage, which will not express an tently; a legal right founded on no absurdity, for the ideas themselves law, a right with law and at the are incompatible with one another. same time without law, seems to us It may be thought we have given a downright absurdity. The truth too strict an interpretation to the is, there are but two ways in which term “legal right." We confess the people can exercise the natural we have seen no definition of that and inalienable right of abolishing sort of legal right, which is indepenand changing government; one, with dent of law and government. But the government peacefully, and the we have given to the words, the onother, against government by force. ly meaning they can have and exAnd those inhabitants of Rhode Isl. press the ideas always designated by and, who have chosen the latter them. And moreover we have tacourse, cannot now alter the nature ken them in the only sense, which is of the transaction by applying to it relevant to the point to be proved. the language of law and peace. For, leaving out of view the peaceful
Again, a legal right can be enforc- change of government through its ed in a court of justice ; and it has own coöperation, and also the viobeen suggested that the validity of lent change against the resistance of this legal right of revolution, be tried the government, what is left but this in the Supreme Court of the Uni. inconsistency, the legal right of forted States. Here there would be a cible revolution ? If it be said the law-suit between two governments meaning is this, it is a universally claiming to exercise authority over admitted truth or principle among the same state. For, it is not a suit us, a kind of common law, that it is between two sets of officers, claim- the right of the people to form a coning under the same government, stitution against an existing governbut between the whole people of ment, then we ask, what is the nature Rhode Island, living under the one of this right? Is it the right of revgovernment, and the whole people olution against government by force, of Rhode Island, living under the or with government by law? If it other government. We are not vers. is either of these, it is not the right ed in the forms of law, but we doubt brought forward by those whose a little, whether the same man can opinions we are refuting. If it is sue himself, or be both plaintiff not either of these, what is it but and defendant in the same suit. this third kind of a right which is But passing by this, let the case called a "legal right.” So that the come on; the new government above statement comes exactly to claims to have been established by the same thing and has no advantage the authority of a legal right, by over the other form of expression, law. But by what law? By the except it is less open and fair. The law of the existing government? fault is not in the words, but in the No. By the law of the new ? No; ideas. The writers on that side, that did not exist so as to make a undertook too hard a task when they law for its own creation. What law tried to make out civil war to be a then? None. View this position legal remedy. as we will, it involves an absurdity. We think the inconsistency, inheNor is it mere cavil at words. The rent in any statement of these prinproposition that there is a legal right_ciples, enough to overthrow them. Vol. I.
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. Even 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 gova, “ 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 gove 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 Such is the doctrine, for the sup- taken from him. Then, the relaport of which is alledged the au- tion of government to this right is thority of the declaration of inde- stated and asserted to be that of pendence, and of the declaration of security. This brings on the con. rights in the constitutions of the sev- clusion, that when government be. eral states. The declaration of in- comes destructive of this end, it is dependence lays down the follow the right of the people to alter or ing doctrines : “ We hold these abolish it; that is, the people may, truths to be self-evident, that all men in the exercise of right-and of are created equal; that they are en. what right but that which is the subdowed by their Creator with certain ject of discourse ?-alter or abolish unalienable rights; that among these it. Is it not certain that the right are life, liberty, and the pursuit of here spoken of, is the above men.