“. . . Another cause of modern progress has been the wider use, if not the discovery, of gunpowder. This erected a barrier most effectual against those irruptions by barbarians which previously brought such devastation on much of ancient learning, as well as civilization. A people cannot long succeed with the arrow against the rifle and cannon; nor, without the resources of civilized life,– to say nothing of its skill,–either manufacture or buy sufficient gunpowder and fire- arms for a long contest. Hence, since their extensive use, not a single instance is remembered, where a permanent conquest has been achieved by savages over the civilized. No longer, as in early ages, do Goths, Huns, Tartars, Turks and Moors, sweep into ruin the arts and monuments of more polished life, and often bury in exile, when not extirpating, the whole mass of a conquered nation. On the contrary, it is now the unlettered races, in both hemispheres, which recede or perish before the superior weapons of modern discovery. And it is Rome, though in her decline politically, that, since the invention of gunpowder, has helped to civilize both Asia and America, as well as Europe, rather than fearing to be overrun again by the hordes of new Alarics and Attilas. We can hardly measure our progress in security from this cause, unless we look back to former dangers, and reflect that the whole civilized world has now become exempt from the hazard and the disasters of permanent subjugation by any barbarian power whatever, whether issuing from the tent of a Cossack, or bending a bow in some of the gorges of the Rocky Mountains, or hurling a spear on the banks of the Niger. Above all this, when contests now happen between rude and civilized nations, as they are won by the latter, it follows that civilization, instead of being retarded or extinguished, is fortunately diffused wider. Cultivated victors spare the vanquished; and guided by more humane principles of national law, strive to introduce new means of livelihood, [Pg. 81] superior education and morality, better legislation, and thus, in the end, often bring to the conquered numerous blessings, rather than extirpation, or curses. Every improvement in the instruments of war tends likewise to increase the superiority of civilization, and lessen the probability of frequent hostilities; and the percussion powder, revolving fire-arms, the Paixhan cannon and more scientific evolutions of troops, as well as the invention of gunpowder itself, all contribute, in the end, to diminish the waste of human life.
It is contended, also, by some, and not without plausibility, that the introduction of fire-arms has assisted much to elevate the lower classes, making their military services equally efficient with those of the feudal nobility, and has thus helped to pave the way earlier to the abolition of serfism, and all that menial dependence of the many on the few which characterized previous ages. Connected with this is another memorable proof of the progress of society to a higher and better condition. It is, that cruelty of all kinds has been gradually lessening.
The practical education and views of our fathers in all things led them also to devise new provisions, new guards, and new inducements for the preservation of the rights they established. Their history shows that, unlike many other reformers, they did not deem it sufficient to proclaim equality merely on parchment, or only in some organic law or charter, like a constitution; but they carried, gradually though firmly, in substance though not in exact form or with abstract and mathematical precision, the general principle of equality into common legislation and the usages of the social system, so as to secure what they had sought diligently, and to prevent the stone they had with great toil rolled to the summit from rushing back, as too often has been the case, and crushing, in an unguarded moment, the political labors of years.
To notice a few more of the particular consequences from this policy, it may be added that the tenure and distribution of property of intestates were in time rendered equal; and this alone struck deep and wide the roots of great uniformity of condition into our whole social system. The feudalities, unequal inheritances, and mortmains of monarchy, in respect to landed property, were also slowly abolished, breaking up with them most of the overgrown proprietary estates, and large possessions of every kind, and introducing almost universal freeholds and fee simples, so that every citizen could feel and be, in some degree, lord of the soil. The creation of exclusive privileges and monopolies of all kinds was discountenanced in theory, though not always sufficiently in practice. But, in progress of time, the use- [Pg. 158] ful substitute has begun to spread, which is more congenial to the intelligence of the present age and to the preservation of equality of rights, to permit and protect joint associations for useful objects and under salutary restrictions, but seldom to make them exclusive. The elective franchise was also by degrees conferred on man himself, rather than the soil or estate he owned. Property as well as person was protected, but not made a new power or independent dominion in the State. The aristocracy of mere money, as well as the aristocracy of birth, was, in time, equally renounced in theory; and the progress of these improvements in changing many antiquated notions and abolishing certain remains of monarchial privileges or analogies, like the growth of the human frame, was wisely gradual, and in accordance with the acquisition of new authority, and the greater experience and intelligence of the community, and not so quick as to blind with sudden or excessive light, or to bewilder the weak, or to break down the unpracticed with the excessive weight of unusual power and responsibility. The administration of laws and the enjoyment of equal freedom were not at once rashly conferred on infants in years or acquirements–on the incapable, the convict and the slave; but the dispensation of justice was allowed to be aided by all who were qualified to be jurors; legislation intrusted to and perfected by all who were educated and represented in it; arms allowed to be in the hands of all who had anything to defend, and all the laws like the shell of the marine animal, formed not to suit others, or by others, such as the inheritable Lycurguses or Solons of a monarchy, but to suit as well those who needed the laws as those the laws were destined to protect. Pursuing the analogy, they were thus afterwards changed with ease, as the growth and necessities of the community demanded. Thus have we wisely, but therefore slowly and in clear cases, moulded most of our legislation to suit the rights of our people, and the nature of their social condition.
Led by the sympathies in favor of our species usually attendant on intelligence and virtue widely diffused, the public have sought reform and improvement with such commendable zeal and generosity, that even the lowest have not been overlooked. The real pauper, from infirmity of body or mind, has been not only maintained by law, but, when capable, has been furnished with useful instruction, to enlarge his faculties and elevate his soul. Imprisonment for debt has also been generally abolished; humane and relief societies multiplied; asylums and hospitals for the insane, as well as sick, liberally established; and an eagerness evinced, by means of similar institutions, to pour intelligence, if not sound, even into the deaf; letters, if not light, into the blind; and language, if not speech, into the dumb. The penal code has been stripped of most of its Draco principles;–abandoning sanguinary floggings, pillories, and tortures, as well as barbarous executions, it has become almost universally one of comparative mildness, as well as of reformation. Beyond the spirit of the age [Pg. 159] elsewhere, and far outstripping its progress in these respects in all other countries, the greatest efforts have been made to prevent, rather than severely to punish, the largest class of crimes; and to rely more on the schoolmaster, the spelling-book, and the Bible, for safety or improvement, than on the stocks, or the whipping-post or the prison.
When man has thus been carefully educated to his political position, and all around him is in just keeping with it, the barriers of advancement are soon prostrated, and he becomes, in fact and in theory, the only monarch of the soil, the only author of his own laws, the sole arbiter, in most respects, of his own destiny. Then it is that he possesses every motive, human and Divine, to act, not with rashness, precipitancy, folly, or wickedness. The ballot-box is then the sovereign remedy for most political evils, instead of mobs, or riots, or revolution. The conflicts of opinion and interest are there, for a time, adjusted; injustice, extravagances and excesses, defeated or chastened; and the differences of tastes or desires–the inevitable strifes of liberty and independence–are, for an allotted season, either softened or compromised, so far as regards their political operation, by the conclusive, though often mixed decision of the majority. Defeat, as well as occasional victory, come so often and unexpectedly, that the whole habit of the country is to bear both with moderation, if not philosophic resignation, and to rely on another trial at the polls, in due time, for the correction of any former errors, rather than on a resort to force. If the decisions there in regard to men and measures, produced by intrigue or temporary excitement, look sometimes like caprice, and prove to be real injuries to the voters themselves, as well as to others, they are usually soon reversed, on fuller information. For, as Lord Mansfield (no strong friend of popular rights) once conceded, “the people are almost always in the right. The great may sometimes be in the wrong, but the great body of the people are always in the right.” Revolution or rebellion, which, in extreme cases ever will and must be exercised by those suffering under flagrant oppression, hopeless and irremediable in any other mode, is the extreme medicine, to be applied only in those extreme cases, and is not to become with impunity daily food. Indeed, when the supposed sufferer helps both to make and administer the laws, and, if dissatisfied with the decisions of the majority, can generally withdraw, if, after repeated peaceable trials, unable to change them, there is little apology for an appeal to any demoralizing and disorganizing measures. Having a country and a government of his own to be saved, he is generally ready to sink or swim with their political destinies. But, if irregularities occur, under the deep impulses of an over-sensitive love of liberty, or a sudden delusion as to facts and principles, the true policy of our system is, and always has been, to indulge in leniency, if not forgiveness, and to seek future reformation by additional teaching in both letters and morals, rather than by inexorable severity. A reasoning, enlightened, and moral population, are to be managed rather by reason than force; [Pg. 160] and, under all disappointments and disasters, possess an inherent recuperative energy that prevents either despair or ruin. In such a population there is a vis medicatrix which will sustain the state against very violent shocks, and restore its institutions to a condition of safety or stability, after subtle encroachments or great indiscretion in departures from sound principles. Constitutions as well as laws, once deliberately established, are not thus in practice fickle as the breeze. But the disposition is wisely cherished, and very prevalent in our annals, to alter only what is manifestly wrong, and with great pertinacity to abide by whatever is found, after due experiment, not in a great degree prejudicial to the common weal, or to individual liberty and enterprise. While properly making all things in theory liable to change, as greater experience and information might require, our ancestors, since the Revolution, have dealt with caution and delicacy in legislation for the transactions of real life, and seldom entered into too minute and vexatious details, or countenanced very sudden innovations. They well knew that “the world had been governed too much,” and that it was more secure, and often more advantageous, to stand by tried laws and institutions, though in some respects defective, than to embark constantly on doubtful schemes of supposed improvement in anything and everything which restlessness, rashness or ambition, passion or ignorance, might feel disposed to hazard. Hence, they bore various oppressions, and much rank injustice, long as they were bearable and any hope was left of peaceable redress, previous to their resort to forcible resistance; and hence, the strongest reliance can always be since placed on the permanency of our institutions and laws, so long as they confer in any reasonable degree the benefits anticipated from them. Their maxims and practice have always been to advance, but to advance cautiously, festina lente. It is true our people have generally sought liberty in all things, so far as consistent with the preservation of the social system in safe operation; and that they have trusted for protection much more to the better restraints of good education and sound morals, than to frequent changes or great severity in their laws. It is also true that, in doubtful exigencies, their general bearing has always been in favor of increasing liberty; but still it has not been liberty independent of law, or opposed to it, but liberty in conformity to law. They have sought the law of liberty, rather than the liberty to dispense with the law.
The freedom of the press, for instance, however perverted at times, or occasionally lowered in its legitimate influence by groundless and indiscriminate animadversions, was, at an early day, fully established here, unchecked except by being made legally subject to punishment for flagrant wrongs.
From Milton’s “speech for the liberty of unlicensed printing,” published about the time many of our fathers emigrated hither, to the expiration of the celebrated sedition law, as well as since, the idea has ” grown with our growth,” that a still more effective remedy to pre- Pg. 161] vent the licentiousness of the press, or the tongue through the press, is rather to be found in public intelligence and sound morals, than in the prison, or the pillory, or in personal violence inflicted thoughtlessly on its indiscreet conductors. However, then, we may lament its occasional prostitution,— mingled, it is admitted, with many excellences, —and however we may regret the manifold abuses of free discussion and liberty of speech as well as of the press, yet they all rest on imperishable principles. Experience shows that real merit lives down most calumnies, and that time so far destroys or corrects the evils, whether of the press or the tongue, that of all the dunces who assailed the Popes, Chathams, or Burkes, of former days, their slanders and themselves have mostly sunk into one common oblivion, except as preserved by the unnecessary notice of those they vilified.
True liberty here in anything never can be the mere Gothic license of irregularity or violence. The numerous examples of history, as well as ordinary intelligence and plain common sense, teach us that such a liberty is more full of disasters, more ruinous to the cause of uniformity in rights, security of person or property, orderly happiness, and prosperous greatness, than a tyranny the most miserable, partial, and bloody. Such a liberty lays the axe at the root of society itself, and renders everything a prey to the inequality and injustice of mere brute force, ignorant passion, or unbridled wickedness. If anything called law then.remains, “lust will become a law, and envy will become a law, and covetousness and ambition will become laws.” But the liberty sanctioned by our fathers, and pervading all our institutions, is the liberty created and sustained not only by law, but that kind of law which, with calmness and sound deliberation, is previously promulgated, by an enlightened public will, to be the true rule of right; and of the pure spirit of which, in the eloquent description of Hooker, ” no less can be acknowledged than that her seat is the bosom of God, her voice the harmony of the world.” It is the liberty, not to trample on the rights of the weak and the poor, any more than to assail and undermine those of the strong or the rich; but the liberty, even fastidious or scrupulous, to enjoy those rights as fully by the one class as the other, both under the shield of legal protection, but neither under monopolies, and both equally invulnerable under the broad panoply of sacred constitutions, wholesome statutes, and upright as well as intelligent judicial tribunals. Nor is liberty considered here, as it often is abroad, to consist properly in opposition to the existing government,— a government in most countries imposed on the people at large, no less than on the wretched, by conquest, doubtful inheritance, or force and usurpation,— but it is evinced rather by a support of the useful operations of that government here, which all have virtually united in devising and profiting by. As little is liberty displayed here by a bitter dislike to the laws, on the ground that ” the world is not one’s friend, nor the world’s law; ” because the law here is usually the friend, the child, the ally of all, as all who are qualified help to [Pg. 162] make the law, all repose under its shelter, and most people duly appreciate the benefit of enforcing it. Hence, as a general truth, every eye here is vigilant, and every hand armed, to detect and punish ordinary offences, as well as to expose official misdemeanors; and the pride, ambition, interest and duty, of the whole community, are arrayed on the side of order, and in support of their own constitutions and laws. Nor ought they ever to grant the liberty to oppress any one class, party, or sect, but the liberty to all of them of enjoying freedom of speech and discussion within the limits before mentioned, and of obtaining immunity from oppression, and redress for injury, through the established legal channels. Not, in their private capacity, to be their own avengers, and redress wrongs either of person or property, punish crimes, make and unmake laws, constitutions, or appointments to office; but to do them all in the respective methods, regular, public, and constitutional, which equality, justice, sound knowledge, sound morals, and all the lessons and admonitions of history, point out as salutary and safe : that is, through the jury, on the magistrate’s bench, in authorized conventions, legislative assemblies, at the ballot-box or the polls, and in proper executive stations. Liberty thus regulated and enforced becomes the champion rather than antagonist of the law, and the strongest bulwark of social order. Fortunate people, happy country, if all the teachings of its history, in these respects, are not lost upon us and our posterity! While the blind instincts of an uneducated or a vicious population often hurry them into sedition, refractory insubordination, and every species of lawless violence, the informed mind and strong moral sense of the great mass among us make them conscious that, however sophistry may elsewhere disguise the great truth, or false systems of policy may delude or degrade the lower classes, and then subject them to endure tamely humiliation from their fellow-mortals, or inflame them into madness and forcible vengeance against oppression, the just rule of conduct is always the same in public as in private affairs, and that in the end it is as ruinous to one as the other to have the right known, and yet the wrong pursued. They are aware that, if the population are habituated to think and act, even in politics alone, as mere Cossacks, serving, whether individuals, corporations, or parties, solely because the pay is highest, and the labor and danger are supposed to be least,— and if such mercenaries ever inquire into what is right, and knowledge in them, as in other cases, becomes power,— still, without sound morals as its director and restraint, it becomes but the power of the blinded Cyclops in his cave, useless to himself, and harmless to his enemies. Or, if, like Samson’s, destructive to his enemies, it is, at the same time, equally destructive to its possessor,— crushing himself, ere long, with them, under the ruins of the overturned pillars of the social edifice.
But, while meditating upon our own astonishing progress as developed in history, and discriminating with care the origin alike of our [Pg. 163] perils and securities as a people, does it not behoove us to weigh well the importance of our present position? Not our position merely with regard to foreign powers. From them we have, by an early start and rapid progress in the cause of equal rights, long ceased to fear much injury, or to hope for very essential aid, in our further efforts for the thorough improvement of the condition of society in all that is useful or commendable. Nor our position,— however the true causes may be distorted or denied,— our elevated position, in prosperity and honorable estimation, both at home and abroad. But it is our position. so highly responsible, as the only country where the growth of selfgovernment seems fully to have ripened, and to have become a model or example to other nations; or, as the case may prove, their scoff and scorn.
To falter here, and now, would, therefore, probably be to cause the experiment of such a government to fail forever. It is not sufficient, in this position, to loathe servitude, or to love liberty with all the enthusiasm of Plutarch’s heroes. We must be warned by our history how to maintain liberty; how to grasp the substance rather than the shadow; to disregard rhetorical flourishes, unless accompanied by deeds; not to be cajoled by holiday finery, or pledges enough to carpet the polls, where integrity and burning zeal do not exist to redeem them,— nor to permit ill-vaulting ambition to volunteer and vaunt its professions of ability as well as willingness to serve the people against > their own government,— any more than demagogues, in a rougher mood, with a view to rob you, sacrilegiously, of those principles, or undermine, with insidious pretensions, those equal institutions, which your fathers bled to secure. Nor does time reform, however frequent in this position, and under those institutions, scarcely ever consist in violence, or what usually amounts to revolution, the sacred right of which, by force or rebellion, in extreme cases of oppression, being seldom necessary to be exercised here, because reform is one of the original elements of those institutions, and one of their great, peaceable, and prescribed objects. However the timid, then, may fear, or the wealthy denounce its progress, it is the principal safety-valve of our system, rather than an explosion to endanger or destroy it. We should also weigh well our delicate position as the sole country whither the discontented in all others resort freely, and, while conforming to the laws, abide securely,— and whither the tide of emigration, whether for good or evil, seems each year setting with increased force.
When we reflect on these circumstances, with several others, which leisure does not permit me to enumerate, and when we advert to some of the occurrences in our social and political condition, within the few last years, appearing worse, it is feared, than the slight irregularities and outbreaks of great freedom on such periodical excitements as elections,—and looking rather, in some cases, like more grave departures from legal subordination, and attended, as they have been, on different occasions, and in different quarters, by no feeble indications of obliquity [Pg. 164] of principle in morals as well as politics, evinced by violent aggressions, not only on person and property, but the rights of conscience and of free discussion,— while we see all this, what does our delicate and peculiar position teach, as to the perils of American liberty? What warning spirit breathes from those events? What inferences should philosophy and our sober judgments draw from their history?
Is it not manifest that the danger now to be guarded against is one arising rather from too little than too much control on the part of the government,— too little rather than too much reverence for the constitution, the supremacy of the laws, and the sacredness of personal rights, as well as those of property,— and, if not an undue homage to mere wealth, still, too great presumptuousness from the enjoyment of such unexampled prosperity? Looking higher and deeper, is there not seen, also, too much indifference beginning to be entertained in some quarters with regard to the perpetuity of the Union? — that political marriage of the States, upon which, like that of our first parents, “all heaven and happy constellations shed their selectest influence.” Does there not exist too great an apathy respecting our imperative and lofty duty not to disappoint, in any way, the aspirations and the confidence of the patriot or the philanthropist, in every country directed towards us, for the conservation of all the best hopes of the human race? Suspecting, then, some such evil tendencies, feeling such doubts, and fearing such dangers, what do our annals point out as the true republican remedy to check them? Not, we trust, a revival, in substance any more than in form, of the stronger arm of monarchial power which praceded the Revolution. By no means. Not, in any crisis, rushing for preservation from outrage, or for rescue from anarchy and licentiousness, to stronger systems of government — to what, it is hoped, we all deprecate and dread, in unnecessary restraints on individual liberty, and more arbitrary establishments, under the pretence of aids, though, in reality, often the most dangerous weapons wielded by the arm of civil power. Never, never! Nor yet a change in our codes of law, harshly increasing their severity, conferring unequal privileges or perpetuating exclusive powers, at the expense of the birthright and liberties of others. Nor an elevation of property and its possessors to greater dominion over the rights of persons, when its strides have already been so colossal, and its influence so overwhelming.
Neither ought we to indulge in despondency, however apprehensive, with the great blind bard of modern times, that, in some respects, we ” have fallen on evil days and evil tongues,”— and however conscious that, as a people, we are not entirely free from foibles, errors and crime, in this erring world, and have not been able to reach every excellence as a nation, or to mature every political security of which our constitutions are susceptible, in the brief period of about half a century.
On the contrary, it behooves us to look our perils and difficulties, [Pg. 165] such as they are, in the face. Then, with the exercise of candor, calmness and fortitude, being able to comprehend fully their character and extent, let us profit by the teachings of almost every page in our annals, that any defects under our existing system have resulted more from the manner of administering it than from its substance or form. We less need new laws, new institutions, or new powers, than we need, on all occasions, at all times, and in all places, the requisite intelligence concerning the true spirit of our present ones,— the high moral courage under every hazard, and against every offender, to execute with fidelity the authority already possessed,— and the manly independence to abandon all supineness, irresolution, vacillation and time-serving pusillanimity, and enforce our present mild system with that uniformity and steady vigor throughout which alone can supply the place of the greater severity of less free institutions. To arm and encourage us in renewed efforts to accomplish everything on this subject which is desirable, our history constantly points her finger to a most efficient resource, and, indeed, to the only elixir to secure a long life to any popular government, in increased attention to useful education and sound morals, with the wise description of equal measures and just practices they inculcate on every leaf of recorded time. Before their alliance, the spirit of misrule will always in time stand rebuked, and those who worship at the shrine of unhallowed ambition must quail. Storms in the political atmosphere may occasionally happen, by the encroachments of usurpers, the corruptions or intrigues of demagogues, or in the expiring agonies of faction, or by the sudden fury of popular frenzy; but, with the restraints and salutary influences of the allies before described, these storms will purify as healthfully as they often do in the physical world, and cause the tree of liberty, instead of falling, to strike its roots deeper. In this struggle, the enlightened and moral possess also a power auxiliary and strong in the spirit of the age, which is not only with them, but onward, in everything to ameliorate or improve. When the struggle assumes the form of a contest with power in all its subtlety, or with undermining and corrupting wealth, as it sometimes may, rather than with turbulence, sedition or open aggression, by the needy and desperate, it will be indispensable to employ still greater vigilance,— to cherish earnestness of purpose, resoluteness in conduct,— to apply hard and constant blows to real abuses, rather than milk-and-water remedies, and encourage not only bold, free and original thinking, but determined action. In such a cause, our fathers were men whose hearts were not accustomed to fail them through fear, however formidable the obstacles. Some of them were companions of Cromwell, and imbued deeply with his spirit and iron decision of character, in whatever they deemed right. ” If Pope, and Spaniard, and devil (said he), all set themselves against us, though they should compass us about as bees, as it is in the eighteenth Psalm, yet in the name of the Lord we will destroy them.” We are not, it is trusted, such degenerate descendants, as to prove recreant, [Pg. 166] and fail to defend, with gallantry and firmness as unflinching, all which we have either derived from them, or since added to the rich inheritance.
New means and energies can yearly be brought to bear on the further enlightening of the public mind. Self-interest, respectability in society, official rank, wealth, superior enjoyment, are all held out as the rewards of increased intelligence and good conduct. The untaught in letters, as well as the poor in estate, cannot long close their eyes or their judgments to those great truths of daily occurrence in our history. They cannot but feel that the laws, when duly executed, insure these desirable ends in a manner even more striking to themselves and children, drudges and serfs as they may once have been, than to the learned, wealthy, or great. They see the humblest log-cabin rendered as secure a castle as the palace; and the laborer in the lowest walks of life as quickly entitled to the benefit of a habeas corpus, when imprisoned without warrant of law, as the highest “in power, and assured of as full and ready redress for personal violence, and of indemnity as ample for injury to character or damage to property. Not a particle of his estate, though but a single ewe-lamb in the western wilderness, or the most sterile acre on the White Mountains, can be taken away with impunity, though by the most powerful, without the voluntary consent of the indigent owner; nor even be set apart for public purposes, without the same necessities, and the same just compensation awarded, as in case of the greatest.
To any man thus situated, anything agrarian about property would be as ruinous, looking to the prosperity of himself and to his family in future, as it would be to the wealthy now. Political and civil rights being made equal, it becomes much better, no less for the poor but well-informed and enterprising, than for the cause of society and virtue at large, as well as the present safety of the rich, that the future acquisitions of property, power and honor, should all generally be rendered proportionate to the future industry, good conduct, and improved talents, of every individual.
Thus labor and capital here are made to have but one true interest, and to find that ” self love and social are the same.”
The scourges of avarice, in its too great voracity for wealth or capital, will always be the irregular depredations on it of labor, if left badly paid or badly taught; and the true blessings of labor will be its honest and timely acquisitions of capital, if made able to learn and practise its appropriate duties as well as rights. Then, though steadfast and zealous in resisting the seductions of power, the timidities of sloth, the effeminacy of luxury, and the mercenary, sordid spirit of mere gain, the working classes will, at the same time, be careful to shape and crowd forward all their claims in subjection to order, and in the safe channels of law and well-regulated liberty.
It would hardly be necessary, before this assembly, to advance any further arguments deduced from our history in proof of the peculiar importance, or indeed vitality, of sound morals as well as sound education, in such a government as ours, at all times, and more especially in periods of increased peril. They, indeed, always constitute a power higher than the law itself, and possess a healthy vigor much beyond the law. Nor, under our admirable system, does the promotion of morality require any, as mere citizens, to aid it, through political favor to the cause of any particular creed of religion, however deep may be our individual convictions of its truth or importance beyond all the world can give or the world take away. Our public associations for purposes of government now wisely relate to secular concerns alone.
Surely, any of us can be the worthy descendants of the Puritans, without being, after the increased lights of two hundred more years, puritanical in the indulgence of bigotry, or in placing any reliance on the dangerous, and, it is hoped, exploded union of church and state for public security.
On the contrary, the progress of temperance, the improvement in household comforts, the wider diffusion of knowledge as well as of competency in property, and the association, so intimate and radical, between enlarged intelligence and the growth of moral worth, and even religious principle, with the advantages all mutually confer and receive, constitute our safest dependence, and exhibit a characteristic striking and highly creditable to our whole country, as well as in some degree to the present age. If constantly reinforced by those exertions of the enlightened, the virtuous, and the talented, which they can well spare, and which duty, honor, and safety demand, they seem to encourage strong hopes that the arm of the law will not hereafter be so often palsied by any moral indifference among the people at. large, or in any quarter, as to its strength to guide as well as hold the helm.
At such a crisis, therefore, and in such a cause, yielding to neither consternation or despair, may we not all profit by the vehement exhortations of Cicero to Atticus : “If you are asleep, awake; if you are standing, move; if you are moving, run; if you are running, fly.”
All these considerations warn us,— the grave-stones of almost every former republic warn us,— that a high standard of moral rectitude, as well as of intelligence, is quite as indispensable to communities in their public doings as to individuals, if they would escape from either degeneracy or disgrace….
“The dragon’s teeth of oppression, which had been by England, started up armed men everywhere; men accustomed the rifle from the cradle; restrained by no game laws from a chase; claiming a natural, afterwards a constitutional right to keep and bear arms….”
[Writings of Levi Woodbury, LL.: D. Political, Judicial and Literary. Now First Selected And Arranged. In Three Volumes. Vol. III.–Literary. Boston: Little, Brown And Company. 1852.]
Levi Woodbury, Serving on the U.S. Supreme Court from 1845 until his death in 1851
Levi Woodbury was born on December 22, 1789, in Francestown, New Hampshire. He was graduated from Dartmouth College in 1809, read law, and attended Tapping Reeve Law School. He was admitted to the bar in 1812 and practiced law in Francestown and nearby Portsmouth, New Hampshire. In 1816, Woodbury was appointed Clerk of the State Senate, and after one year he was placed on the New Hampshire Superior Court, where he served until 1823, when he was elected Governor of New Hampshire. In 1825, Woodbury was elected to the New Hampshire House of Representatives and became Speaker. Later the same year the State Legislature elected him to the United States Senate, where he served until 1831. President Andrew Jackson appointed Woodbury Secretary of the Navy in 1831. Three years later, the President appointed him Secretary of the Treasury, where he served until 1841 when he was again elected to the United States Senate. President James K. Polk nominated Woodbury to the Supreme Court of the United States on September 20, 1845. The Senate confirmed the appointment on September 23, 1845, making him the first Associate Justice to have attended a law school. Woodbury served on the Supreme Court for five years and died on September 4, 1851, at the age of sixty-one.–The Supreme Court Historical Society