Imágenes de páginas

are the advocates for expelling a large number of their fellow-citizens, unheard, untried; or, if they cannot effect this, are for disfranchising them in the face of the constitution, without the judgment of their peers, and contrary to the law of the land."

Inspired by those old words of Magna Charta, which to men of English blood carry more weight than a thousand vague and frothy declamations about natural rights, Hamilton proceeds to show the dangers of such acts of arbitrary power. "Nothing is more common," he says, "than for a free people, in times of heat and violence, to gratify momentary passions by letting into the government principles and precedents which afterwards prove fatal to themselves. Of this kind is the doctrine of disqualification, disfranchisement, and banishment, by acts of the Legislature. The dangerous consequences of this power are manifest. If the Legislature can disfranchise any number of citizens at pleasure, by general descriptions, it may soon confine all the votes to a small number of partisans, and establish an aristocracy or an oligarchy; if it may banish at discretion all those whom particular circumstances render obnoxious, without hearing or trial, no man can be safe, nor know when he may be the innocent

victim of a prevailing faction. The name of liberty applied to such a government would be a mockery of common sense."

Having proved that the scheme proposed was in direct violation of the treaty, he goes on to ask :— “Can we do by act of the Legislature what the treaty disables us from doing by due course of law? This would be to imitate the Roman general, who, having promised Antiochus to restore half his vessels, caused them to be sawed in two before their delivery; or the Platæans, who, having promised the Thebans to restore their prisoners, had them first put to death, and returned them dead. Such fraudulent subterfuges are justly considered more odious than an open and avowed violation of treaty."

He then considers the supremacy of Congress on the subject, the danger of retaliatory acts on the part of England, and the impolicy of measures which tend to keep alive the seeds of perpetual discord. With regard to an argument which had been-used on the other side, that the artisans were interested in excluding the Tories, because they might introduce an injurious competition in their several trades, he replies with a knowledge of

principles not very common in his time:"There is a certain proportion or level in all the departments of industry. It is folly to think to raise any of them, and keep them long above their natural height. By attempting to do it, the economy of the political machine is disturbed, and, till things return to their proper state, the society at large suffers. The only object of concern with an industrious artisan is, that there may be plenty of money in the community, and a brisk commerce to give it activity and circulation. All attempts at profit, through the medium of monopoly or violence, will be as fallacious as they are culpable."

The pamphlet closes with a passage which every free nation should be ready to lay to heart, and which the United States might still study with great advantage to themselves and to the world:

"Were the people of America with one voice to ask :-What shall we do to perpetuate our liberties and secure our happiness? The answer would be: Govern well! and you have nothing to fear either from internal disaffection or external hostility. Abuse not the power you possess, and you need never apprehend its diminution or loss. But if you make a wanton use of it; if you

furnish another example, that despotism may debase the government of the many as well as of the few; you, like all others that have acted the same part, will experience that licentiousness is the forerunner of slavery.

"How wise was the policy of Augustus, who, after conquering his enemies, when the papers of Brutus were brought to him, which would have disclosed all his secret associates, immediately ordered them to be burnt. He would not even know his enemies, that they might cease to hate when they had nothing to fear. How laudable was the example of Elizabeth, who, when she was transferred from the prison to the throne, fell upon her knees, and, thanking heaven for the deliverance it had granted her from her bloody persecutors, dismissed her resentment. The reigns of these two sovereigns are among the most illustrious in history. Their moderation gave a stability to their government which nothing else could have effected. This was the secret of uniting all parties.

"These sentiments are delivered to you in the frankness of conscious integrity, by one who feels that solicitude for the good of the community which the zealots whose opinions he encounters

profess; by one who pursues not, as they do, the honours or emoluments of his country; by one who has had too deep a share in the common exertions of this revolution to be willing to see its fruits blasted by the violence of rash or unprincipled men, without at least protesting against their designs; by one who, though he has had in the course of the revolution a very confidential share in the public councils, civil and military, and has as often, at least, met danger in the common cause as any of those who now assume to be the guardians of the public liberty-asks no other reward of his countrymen, than to be heard without prejudice for their own interest."

The tone of these last few lines may, perhaps, remind the reader of the close of Burke's Reflections on the French Revolution; but they were certainly written some six years before the appearance of that celebrated essay.

The pamphlet and its author were at once attacked by various writers, and amongst others by a Mr. Isaac Ledyard, under the name of Mentor. To this Hamilton replied in a second letter by Phocion, which finally demolished the arguments of his opponents. The eloquent and solemn warning

« AnteriorContinuar »