“If the present Assembly pass an act, and declare it shall be irrevocable by subsequent assemblies, the declaration is merely void, and the act repealable, as other acts are. So far, and no farther authorized, they [the first Virginia convention] organized the government by the ordinance entitled a Constitution or form of government It pretends to no higher authority than the other ordinances of the same session; it does not say that it shall be perpetual; that it shall be unalterable by other legislatures; that it shall be transcendent above the powers of those who they knew would have equal power with themselves. Not only the silence of the instrument is a proof they thought it would be alterable, but their own practice also; for this very convention, meeting as a House of Delegates in General Assembly with the Senate in the autumn of that year, passed acts of assembly in contradiction to their ordinance of government; and every assembly from that time to this has done the same. I am safe, therefore, in the position that the Constitution itself is alterable by the ordinary legislature. Though this opinion seems founded on the first elements of common sense, yet is the contrary maintained by some persons. First, because, say they, the conventions were vested with every power necessary to make effectual opposition to Great Britain. But to complete this argument, they must go on. and say further, that effectual opposition could not be made to Great Britain without establishing a form of government perpetual and unalterable by the Legislature; which is not true. An opposition which at some time or other was to come to an end. could not need a perpetual constitution to carry it on; and a government amendable as its defects should be discovered, was as likely to make effectual resistance, as one that should be unalterably wrong. Besides, the assemblies were as much vested with all powers requisite for resistance as the Conventions were. If, therefore, these powers included that of modelling the form of government in the one case, they did so in the other. The assemblies then as well a~ the conventions may model the government: that is, they may alter the ordinance of government. Second, they urge, that if the convention had meant that this instrument should be alterable, as their other ordinances were, they would have called it an ordinance; but they have called it a constitution, which, ex vi termini, means ” an act above the power of the ordinary legislature.” I answer that constitutio, constitutum, statutum, lex, are convertible terms. * * * Thirdly. But, say they, the people have acquiesced, and this has given it an authority superior to the laws. It is true that the people did not rebel against it; and was that a time for the people to rise in rebellion? Should a prudent acquiescence, at a critical time, be construed into a confirmation of every illegal thing done during that period? Besides, why should they rebel? At an annual election they had chosen delegates for the year, to exercise the ordinary powers of legislation, and to manage the great contest in which they were engaged. These delegates thought the contest would be best managed by an organized government. They, therefore, among others, passed an ordinance of government. They did not presume to call it perpetual and unalterable. They well knew they had no power to make it so; that our choice of them had been for no such purpose, and at a time when we could have no such purpose in contemplation. Had an unalterable form of government been meditated, perhaps we should have chosen a different set of people. There was no cause, then, for the people to rise in rebellion. But to what dangerous lengths will this argument lead? Did the acquiescence of the Colonies under the various acts of power exercised by Great Britain in our infant state, confirm these acts, and so far invest them with the authority of the people as to render them unalterable, and our present resistance wrong? On every unauthoritative exercise of power by the legislature must the people rise in rebellion, or their silence be construed into a surrender of that power to them? If so, how many rebellions should we have had already? One certainly for every session of assembly. The other States in the Union have been of opinion that to render a form of government unalterable by ordinary acts of Assembly, the people must delegate persons with special powers. They have accordingly chosen special conventions to form and fix their governments. The individuals then who maintain the contrary opinion in this country, should have the modesty to suppose it possible that they may be wrong, and the rest of America right. But if there be only a possibility of their being wrong, if only a plausible doubt remains of the validity of the ordinance of government, is it not better to remove that doubt by placing it on a bottom which none will dispute? If they be right we shall only have the unnecessary trouble of meeting once in convention. If they be wrong, they expose us to the hazard of having no fundamental rights at all. True it is. this is no time for deliberating on forms of government. While an enemy is within our bowels, the first object is to expel him. But when this shall be done, when peace shall be established, and leisure given us for intrenching within good forms the rights for which we have bled, let no man be found indolent enough to decline a little more trouble for placing them beyond the reach of question.” —Thomas Jefferson Notes On Virginia, viii, 364. Ford Ed., iii, 226. (1782.) See Virginia, Conventions.
“If a Nation expects to be ignorant and free in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be…if we are to guard against ignorance and remain free, it is the responsibility of every American to be informed.”
~ Attributed to Thomas Jefferson I haven’t found where he said or wrote it yet
WARNINGS FOR THE FUTURE! An Oration By Honorable Andrew Shuman, Delivered At LERA, Friend of Lincoln and Former Republican Governor of Illinois, July 4, 1876.
Fellow-citizens,—I greet you with patriotic congratulation. The circuit of the first century of the American Republic is this day accomplished, and fortunate we who are living witnesses of the great consummation. Fortunate we who are citizens of a country so free, so blessed, so progressive, so glowing with auspicious auguries for the future.
Hail illustrious day! commemorating the birth of a nation of free men, indexing from year to year, through 100 years, a national history abounding with conspicuous achievements of human bravery, genius and government, and now marking the dawn of a new century of national life. Hail illustrious day! now crowned with a diadem of an hundred precious jewels, shining like a circle of suns in the boundless firmament of Time!
The occasion is an appropriate one, not only for congratulation, but also for retrospection and thoughtful forecast.
We can felicitate ourselves that the past is secure; its wars have been fought and won; its labors have been performed and their fruits gathered; all its trials have been survived, all its dead are buried, and all its events, activities and achievements are embalmed in those indubitable evidences of our national growth and greatness which are visible all around us and all over our favored land; it is a century of completed history, the incidents of which are quite too familiar to us to need recapitulation. These lessons, and the instruction we have derived from our national experience, are irrepressibly suggestive, and ought to serve us to excellent purpose as practical guides. We can avoid the rocks upon which other ships of State have foundered, and steer clear of others which wisdom, a trustworthy pilot, discerns in the billowy sea of civil government.
Looking first on the bright side, then, we see much to encourage us hopefully to anticipate the continued advancement of our country, and the stability of our republican form of government, with its free institutions and its power, under popular support, to maintain its integrity. The fact that the Republic has survived all the trials, perils and embarrassments of an hundred years—having been neither crippled by misfortune nor spoiled by prosperity—is itself the most inspiring evidence that it possesses the elements of national endurance and permanency. Other new nations have in the meantime arisen and disappeared, while old ones have dissolved and vanished from the map of the world. Only a few which existed when ours was born are greater to-day than they were then, and none of them—not one—has in any respect progressed as ours has in the elements of civilization and real greatness and power. England and Germany and Russia alone, of all the older nations, are stronger and greater now than they were a century ago. France has been twice humbled and dismembered; Italy and Spain and Austria have each had their national vicissitudes and disasters, by which their progress has been retarded, their glory tarnished, and their territory contracted. Turkey, besotted with licentiousness and crazed with a fanaticism that is as stubborn as it is stupid, is still the “sick man” of Europe, and becomes sicker continually, his miserable and useless life being spared only because his neighbors, each coveting his possessions, are afraid to go to war with each other over the question as to which of them shall secure the largest and best part of his territory and navigable waters. The other and smaller nationalities of Europe are likewise spared only as a matter of prudence and discretion by the greater powers, the jealousy of these of each other being the only guaranty those have of continued life. Crossing over to Africa and Asia, we find that their ancient nations are standing still, decaying, or being gradually absorbed by foreign conquest, the only exceptions being China and Japan, the former of which merely vegetates, as she has vegetated for centuries, behind her stone wall of exclusiveness, and the latter of which has of late given hopeful signs of a progressive impulse by her admiration of our modern system of popular education and the importation of foreign machinery of agriculture, manufacture and transportation. As regards the South American and Central American nationalities, they are as unstable as the weather in March, and as unprogressive as their long-smothered volcanoes. Brazil is the solitary exception, but it is questionable whether even her progressive tendencies of the current epoch will outlive her present wise and liberal ruler, to whose good sense she owes her tranquility and prosperity. Our neighbor Republic of Mexico, of whom we have so often and so anxiously expected much, but been always disappointed, is but little better off to-day than when she was a dependency of Spain, and, unless her government should hereafter more successfully than of late years demonstrate its ability to compel her marauding free-booters to cease their depredatory incursions across the border, it is merely a question of time when the American eagle will pounce down upon her and mercifully spread the stars and stripes all over her mountains and plains.
And this leads us to the consideration of that first manifested symptom of a decline in the patriotism of a free people—indifference to political duty on the part of good citizens—a symptom which bodes no good to a Republic, the successful maintenance of which is entirely dependent upon the faithful exercise of the elective franchise by its men of intelligence; honesty and public spirit. It is a fact to which we cannot shut our eyes, that this is the most alarming cause of apprehension now existent in this country—this growing indifference to the most vital duty of citizenship by the very class of men who have the most at stake in the honorable and efficient management of our public affairs—the men of property, conscience and thoughtfulness. It is the neglect of this class of men to which most of our political evils are attributable. They too often stand aloof from active participation in the work and duty of politics, and it follows, as a matter of course, that selfish and unprincipled men, by means of those methods and appliances which the professional politician knows so well how to employ, are left to manage affairs, not for the public welfare, but for the subservience of individual interests and the gratification of unworthy ambitions. Thus the powers of unconscionable greed and unreasoning ignorance, the one becoming the hired servant of the other, usurp the reins of government, which should never for an instant be intrusted out of the control of the sober minded, intelligent, tax-paying, patriotic portion of the community. And thus it is that corrupt rings and venality in office become possible, and that one designing man or a few sharpers in politics so often succeed in fastening themselves upon, the public treasury, like leeches, sucking themselves full and fat at the people’s expense. Wherever and whenever in this country corruption creeps into our legislative bodies and into our public offices, the so-called “good citizens,” who naturally become disgusted and indignant at the disgraceful results, are generally responsible, not because of their own acts, but because of their inexcusable non-action at the proper time, when they might have prevented bad men from worming themselves into positions which should never be given to any but good men. It is an established theorem in our modern political philosophy, that official representatives and agents usually reflect the average intelligence and morality of their immediate constituents—that is, those who by their votes elect them. Now, we are aware that, in almost every town, district, or city in this country, the majority of the population is fairly intelligent, honorable, and patriotic. This being so, when corrupt or unworthy men are elected to office, it only proves that a majority of those entitled to the elective franchise virtually disfranchised themselves, either by failing to take an active part in the primary caucuses, at which better candidates could have been selected, or by neglecting to do their duty as electors at the polls, where better men could have been elected.
Happily, of late there have been evidences of a general re-awakening to the importance of all good citizens taking an active part in politics. They are just discovering the sad truth that while they have been politically asleep, dreaming pleasant dreams of security, wakeful plunderers have been despoiling their treasures; that they have too long left to others the performance of duties which can never safely be intrusted to proxies; and now, appalled and indignant, they have arisen and gone to work with the one grand purpose of making up for lost time. Such popular awakenings and uprisings are sublime and salutary. Their effect upon the body politic is similar to that of a rushing torrent through a long-stagnating pool of water, cleansing and purifying it. But what if the rushing torrent should never come? What if the waters of the stagnant pool should be left undisturbed, to thicken with accumulated putridity, to breed malarial vapors, and contaminate all the air around it with noxious offensiveness, without ever receiving a purifying visitation from the heaven or the earth! Would not the ardent midsummer sun, angered at the poisoner of his medium of radiation, bring the power of his irresistible shafts to bear upon it, evaporating and dispersing in noisome atoms, drying up its foul bed, and covering it over with a crop of the rankest weeds? It is fortunate for our Republic that the. mass of intelligent, patriotic citizens do occasionally, even though spasmodically, wake up to the necessity of cleansing and purifying the stagnating pool of politics; but what if, at some period in the coming century, they should neglect to awaken from one of their sleeps of apathy and indifference, and the foul stagnation should be left to thicken and putrify, without ever receiving a cleansing visitation from the heaven or the earth! Would not the sun of Destiny, angered at the noisome offense, evaporate its elements, and rill its place upon the earth with rankest weeds? This—this my fellow countrymen, is the most solemn danger to our national future—-this possibility that, at some time, those of the people who have the most direct interest in the proper and honorable administration of public affairs will fall into such a deep stupor of political indifference that they will awaken, if ever at all, only to see their Republic in irretrievable ruins, and themselves the helpless slaves of an usurper or a conqueror! If there is one warning that should be sounded abroad over all this free and broad land, more loudly and emphatically than all others, it is this: If they would preserve their liberties and maintain their national integrity, let all citizens of intelligence and patriotic feeling participate actively and earnestly in all political movements, hold in check the over-presumptuous, ever selfish arts and devices of demagogism, and keep the reins of government, both local and general, in their own strong hands.
All the American people ought to be active politicians. They ought to study political principles, systems and economies, and the science of statesmanship, with the same interest with which in the schools they study mathematics and the practical sciences. In a Republic, where the individual interests and personal liberty of every man are dependent upon the efficient administration of the government, politics is as much a part of the citizen’s business as is the pursuit by which he earns his daily bread. Taxation, protection of individual and popular rights, and private as well as public security are matters of politics, and therefore of vital concern to every man. The citizens are the sovereigns—they, in their aggregate capacity, are the possessors and rulers of the land. To understand how to rule wisely should be their ambition, and this they cannot understand unless they study politics, familiarizing themselves with the principles of Government, the spirit and letter of the organic laws, and the causes and effects of political action. Unless the mass of intelligent citizens do become politicians, we will be governed by an oligarchy, consisting of an irresponsible class of men, who will make politics their business—they will be the governing class—and class government in a Republic would in time degenerate into as obnoxious and burdensome a system as would be an absolute dictatorship, towards which it would gradually tend, and in which, if permitted to have uninterrupted sway, it would ultimately culminate.
Other dangers there are in our pathway into the now veiled future, which are equally deserving of sober thought. Among these is that aggressive phase in our human nature—we will call it unreasoning selfishness—which tends to the assumption of excessive license on the one hand and to bigoted intolerance on the other. I mean that repulsive, anti-republican manifestation of supreme self-assertion which, in one extreme, develops itself in communism, and, in the other, in persecution for opinion’s sake. These, if suffered to gain power, would in time eventuate in legalized piracy and plunder on the one hand, or legalized tyranny on the other, both being equally in conflict with the spirit and harmonious existence of popular government. Being a heterogeneous people, with a variety of tastes, creeds, customs, prejudices and interests, we must, if we would continue to live together in peace and harmony, be exceedingly tolerant towards each other in matters of opinion, and exceedingly respectful of each other’s personal rights and prerogatives as citizens who stand on an equality under the law.
Then, too, we must carefully cherish our peculiar system of free schools and guard it against encroachment from sectarian agencies or other influences which would seek to transform it into an instrumentality of bigotry, factious ambition, social disorder or political mischief. More depends upon our schools, their faithful maintenance and their efficient management, for the future of this Republic, than upon all other agencies and influences combined. Popular intelligence is the rock upon which our national structure rests, and so long as the youth of each generation—the poor man’s as well as the rich man’s children—shall freely enjoy the advantages of liberal education, the nation will have its strongest possible guaranty of continued life, and popular liberty an impregnable safeguard.
In conclusion, it may reasonably be anticipated by the patriotic citizen of this grand Republic whose peculiar privilege it is this day to witness the close of the first and the dawning of a second century of national existence, that there will be a glorious future as there has been a glorious past; that our posterity will be as faithful to their sacred trust as we have been and as our forefathers have been; that those who will follow us as the possessors of this priceless inheritance of national blessings, will .appreciate it as we do—that they will be thoughtful patriots, true and faithful citizens, moral and intelligent men. Let us, in the earnestness of our patriotic devotion, in the fulness of our hopeful and trustful hearts, pray to Him who is the Supreme Ruler of Nations that they maybe so, and that centuries after our poor dust shall have mingled with that of the patriots, the heroes, and the statesmen of America’s eventful history, the Republic of the United States, free and independent, will still maintain, with ever-increasing luster, its proud place among the nations of the earth.See also: The Consequence of Bad Legal Precedent in American Legislation Wide Spread And Growing Corruption In The Public Service Of The States And Nation The Betrayal Of ‘We The American People’ Our Nation! Our Birthright! Open Letter to ALL Politicians and Bureaucrats, we’re coming for you DANIEL WEBSTER AND OUR AMERICAN FLAG THE COST OF POPULAR LIBERTY by Brooks Adams July 4th 1876 AMERICAN CITIZENSHIP! by Colonel Henry A. Gildersleve July 4th 1876 NYC A RESUME OF AMERICAN HISTORY by Lawrence A. Gobright , Esq., (1816-1881) AMERICA OUR SUCCESS OUR FUTURE! by John P. Gulliver July 4th 1876 NYC BENEFITS OF THE REPUBLICAN EXPERIMENT IN AMERICA by Thomas G. Alvord 1810- 1897 THE SOURCE AND SECURITY OF AMERICAN FREEDOM AND PROGRESS by Courtlandt Parker 1876