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time and peace to carry it forward to almost any point of ad vancement.
In the next place, I take it for granted that the policy of this country, springing from the nature of our government and the spirit of all our institutions, is, so far as it respects the interesting questions which agitate the present age, on the side of liberal and enlightened sentiments. The age is extraordinary; the spirit that actuates it is peculiar and marked ; and our own relation to the times we live in, and to the questions which interest them, is equally marked and peculiar. We are placed, by our good fortune and the wisdom and valor of our ances tors, in a condition in which we can act no obscure part. Be it for honor, or be it for dishonor, whatever we do is not likely to escape the observation of the world. As one of the free states among the nations, as a great and rapidly rising republic, it would be impossible for us, if we were so disposed, to prevent our principles, our sentiments, and our example from producing some effect upon the opinions and hopes of society throughout the civilized world. It rests probably with ourselves to determine whether the influence of these shall be salutary or pernicious.
It cannot be denied that the great political question of this age is that between absolute and regulated governments. The substance of the controversy is whether society shall have any part in its own government. Whether the form of government shall be that of limited monarchy, with more or less mixture of hereditary power, or wholly elective or representative, may perhaps be considered as subordinate. The main controversy is between that absolute rule, which, while it promises to govern well, means, nevertheless, to govern without control, and that regulated or constitutional system which restrains sovereign discretion, and asserts that society may claim as matter of right some effective power in the establishment of the laws which are to regulate it. The spirit of the times sets with a
most powerful current in favor of these last-mentioned opinions. It is opposed, however, whenever and wherever it shows itself, by certain of the great potentates of Europe; and it is opposed on grounds as applicable in one civilized nation as in another, and which would justify such opposition in relation to the United States, as well as in relation to any other state or nation, if time and circumstance should render such opposition expedient.
What part it becomes this country to take on a question of this sort, so far as it is called upon to take any part, cannot be doubtful. Our side of this question is settled for us, even without our own volition. Our history, our situation, our character, necessarily decide our position and our course, before we have even time to ask whether we have an option. Our place is on the side of free institutions. From the earliest settlement of these states, their inhabitants were accustomed, in a greater or less degree, to the enjoyment of the powers of self-government; and for the last half-century they have sustained systems of government entirely representative, yielding to themselves the greatest possible prosperity, and not leaving them without distinction and respect among the nations of the earth. This system we are not likely to abandon; and while we shall no farther recommend its adoption to other nations, in whole or in part, than it may recommend itself by its visible influence on our own growth and prosperity, we are, nevertheless, interested to resist the establishment of doctrines which deny the legality of its foundations. We stand as an equal among nations, claiming the full benefit of the established international law; and it is our duty to oppose, from the earliest to the latest moment, any innovations upon that code which shall bring into doubt or question our own equal and independent rights.
I will now, Mr. Chairman, advert to those pretensions put forth by the allied sovereigns of continental Europe, which seem to me calculated, if unresisted, to bring into disrepute the prin
ciples of our government, and, indeed, to be wholly incompati ble with any degree of national independence. I do not intro duce these considerations for the sake of topics. I am not about to declaim against crowned heads, nor to quarrel with any country for preferring a form of government different from our own. The
power of choice that we exercise for ourselves, I am quite willing to leave also to others. But it appears to me that the pretensions of which I have spoken are wholly inconsistent with the independence of nations generally, without regard to the question whether their governments be absolute, monarchical and limited, or purely popular and representative. I have a most deep and thorough conviction, that a new era has arisen in the world, that new and dangerous combinations are taking place, promulgating doctrines and fraught with consequences wholly subversive in their tendency of the public law of nations and of the general liberties of mankind. Whether this be so, or not, is the question which I now propose to examine, upon such grounds of information as the common and public means of knowledge disclose.
Everybody knows that, since the final restoration of the Bourbons to the throne of France, the continental powers
have entered into sundry alliances, which have been made public, and have held several meetings or congresses, at which the principles of their political conduct have been declared. These things must necessarily have an effect upon the international law of the states of the world. If that effect be good, and according to the principles of that law, they deserve to be applauded. If, on the contrary, their effect and tendency be most dangerous, their principles wholly inadmissible, their pretensions such as would abolish every degree of national independence, then they are to be resisted.
I begin, Mr. Chairman, by drawing your attention to the treaty concluded at Paris in September, 1815, between Russia, Prussia, and Austria, commonly called the Holy Alliance. This singular alliance appears to have originated with the emperor of Russia; for we are informed that a draft of it was exhibited by him, personally, to a plenipotentiary of one of the great powers of Europe, before it was presented to the other sovereigns who ultimately signed it. This instrument professes nothing, certainly, which is not extremely commendable and praiseworthy. It promises only that the contracting parties, both in relation to other states, and in regard to their own sub-. jects, will observe the rules of justice and christianity. In confirmation of these promises, it makes the most solemn and devout religious invocations. Now, although such an alliance is a novelty in European history, the world seems to have re. ceived this treaty, upon its first promulgation, with general charity. It was commonly understood as little or nothing more than an expression of thanks for the successful termination of the momentous contest in which those sovereigns had been engaged. It still seems somewhat unaccountable, however, that these good resolutions should require to be confirmed by treaty. Who doubted that these august sovereigns would treat each other with justice, and rule their own subjects in mercy? And what necessity was there for a solemn stipulation by treaty, to insure the performance of that which is no more than the ordinary duty of every government? It would hardly be admitted by these sovereigns, that by this compact they suppose themselves bound to introduce an entire change, or any change, in the course of their own conduct. Nothing substantially new, tainly, can be supposed to have been intended. What principle, or what practice, therefore, called for this solemn declaration of the intention of the parties to observe the rules of religion and justice ?
It is not a little remarkable, that a writer of reputation upon the public law, described, many years ago, not inaccurately, the character of this alliance. I allude to Puffendorf. useless," says he,“ to frame any pacts or leagues, barely for the
66 It seems
defense and support of universal peace ; for by such a league nothing is superadded to the obligation of natural law, and no agreement is made for the performance of anything which the parties were not previously bound to perform; nor is the original obligation rendered firmer or stronger by such an addition. Men of any tolerable culture and civilization might well
be ashamed of entering into any such compact, the conditions . of which imply only that the parties concerned shall not offend in any clear point of duty. Besides, we should be guilty of great irreverence towards God, should we suppose that his injunctions had not already laid a sufficient obligation upon us to act justly, unless we ourselves voluntarily consented to the same engagement; as if our obligation to obey his will de pended upon our own pleasure. If one engage to serve another, he does not set it down expressly and particularly among the terms and conditions of the bargain, that he will not betray nor murder him, nor pillage nor burn his house. For the same reason, that would be a dishonorable engagement, in which men should bind themselves to act properly and decently, and not break the peace.”
Such were the sentiments of that eminent writer. How nearly he had anticipated the case of the Holy Alliance will appear from comparing his observations with the preamble to that alliance, which is as follows:
“ In the name of the most holy and indivisible Trinity, their majesties the emperor of Austria, the king of Prussia, and the emperor of Russia," — “solemnly declare that the present act has no other object than to publish, in the face of the whole world, their fixed resolution, both in the administration of their respective states, and in their political relations with every other government, to take for their sole guide the precepts of that holy religion, namely, the precepts of justice, christianity, charity, and peace, which, far from being applicable only to private concerns, must have an immediate influence on the councils of