[Sources of Government.]

President Woolsey has forcibly remarked that states and forms of government have had mainly two sources of origin. They have either "slowly built themselves up for ages, finding support in historical causes, and in past political habits"; or, they have been "the artificial results of political theory." England presents the most conspicuous modern example of the former class; while France, since the Revolution, may be regarded as the chief modern example of the latter. And as it was with England, our mother-country, so it has been, and is, with us. It is true that the organism of the United States was the immediate result of revolution, and is founded upon a constitution that is written and fixed, or only with great pains and difficulty modified. Yet, if we search further and deeper for the materials of which our national fabric has been constructed, we shall easily recognize that our freedom, like that of England, has really "broadened slowly down from precedent to precedent."

[Gradual Growth of the American System.]

The growth towards American independence did not begin, the seeds of it were not sown, either at Bunker's Hill or at Philadelphia. Indeed the growth had then reached the period of fruitfulness. The progression towards an independent nation, and a free nation, began at Plymouth and at Jamestown. The Constitution only made articulate the spirit which had been growing for more than a century, and it still left an unwritten law set up by custom, habit, and characteristics most aptly nourished to the ends reached in 1776, 1787, and 1789. While our written constitution was made, we still retained the common law of England as the basis of our own, and, like England, proceeded gradually to build upon this broad foundation the superstructure of statute.

[Origin of the Government.]

If, therefore, the origin of our government was in one respect revolutionary, it was not revolutionary as being sudden, accidental, and without preparation. The revolution was, in fact, almost formal in a political sense. The same people, the same traditions remained, and the same growth went on. There was a new bond, binding the colonies together, and holding them the more sturdily to purposes already formed and undertaken. Yet it was certain that a new government, starting forth, as ours did, at a period when political theories of diverse and contradictory import were engaged in a very active struggle in Europe, would meet with unusual difficulties, and be beset with grave dangers from the outset.

[The Contest of Diverse Political Ideas.]

We note, therefore, in the very body which framed the constitution, the rise of the contest out of which have come the most momentous changes which our polity has since undergone. Happily for us, we have had to witness no sudden and startling alterations in the form or spirit of our institutions. What changes have occurred - and some have occurred of very high and grave importance - have come gradually, have been foreseen. The victories of parties in this country have never been by coups d'etat. They have been won by light of day, with banners flying and trumpets sounding. We have not been subject to that dread of sudden calamity, of a bean-stalk growth of anarchy in a night, which haunts the French to this day, and which makes both kings and peoples in continental Europe sensitive to every untoward rumor.

[Political Changes.]

Of all the political changes which the United States have undergone during the ninety-nine years of our national career, the most conspicuous, perhaps, is that which has tended to increase the powers of the central government, and diminish those of the several States. The contest between those who believed in a strong central power and those who jealously defended the largest share of independence for the several States compatible with the bond of federation, began in the Constitutional Convention; and the instrument which was there framed, after long discussion and many perils, was really a compromise between these two principles. On the one hand, the equality and dignity of the States were conceded in the structure of the Senate, in the division of the electoral votes by States, and in the "reserved rights" of the States, which have been so often and so strenuously insisted upon since.

[Early Political Parties.]

On the other, the words of the Constitution throughout imply that the United States constitute more than a league - a nation; and the money power was lodged in the lower house of Congress, elected by the people of the nation, according to their population. The opposing ideas regarding the powers of the States and of the government, respectively, gave rise to the two first political parties, the Federalist and the Republican; and these have had as successors parties which have fought the same battle over and over again. The later Whigs and Republicans, on the one hand, and the Democrats, on the other, have usually been the champions, respectively, of a strong central government, and of State rights. The older Democrats insisted on a strict construction of the Constitution, and opposed the undertaking of internal improvements and the maintenance of a national bank by the general government; and for the first sixty years of this century the State rights principle prevailed in national policy with little interruption.

[Rights of the States.]

[Tendency towards Centralization.]

It happened that the social institution and evil of slavery, which had become confined to the Southern States, needed the defence of the doctrine of State rights for its continuance. Nullification, in 1833, and secession, in 1861, were the ultimate conclusions of that doctrine, practically applied for the purpose of sustaining the system of human bondage. A State had a right, it was said, to break her "compact" with the Union; and the Southern States, following in the line of this doctrine, did attempt to secede in order to maintain slavery. The war which followed was the rock upon which the doctrine of State rights split. The tide at once turned towards a strong central government. Extraordinary powers, civil, military, and financial, were exercised to put down the rebellion; and some of these powers, once assumed by the general government, have been continued to this day. They have been greatly strengthened by the enormous patronage which has accumulated in the hands of the Executive; by the army of office-holders which, scattered through the land, is subject to the influence of the central power.

[Results of Emancipation.]

[The Fifteenth Amendment.]

Connected with this change are some other changes, scarcely less important. One of these is the establishment, throughout the Union, of universal male suffrage. The emancipation of the slaves wrought a social and economic change the final results of which are still problematical. It also introduced a new political element, by endowing millions of ignorant men with electoral rights for their own protection. Gradually yet steadily through our political history, restrictions upon the suffrage have been swept away. At first, not only was there a property qualification in many of the States, but foreigners and negroes were in some of them altogether excluded from the polls. The fifteenth amendment to the Constitution crowned the edifice of universal suffrage in the United States; and the floodgates, once open, can never be shut again. A set of men once armed with the vote cannot be deprived of it: and all the efforts of Know-nothing movements will probably be vain, whether directed against the freedman, the Chinaman, or the European emigrant. The only way to meet the evils which accompany universal suffrage is by paths of education, and the creation of a pure and sincere public spirit.

[The Political Changes Gradual.]

[Changes Effected by the Civil War.]

It may be said, then, of the few great political changes which have come over the spirit of our body politic, that they have been, like the English revolutions, gradual, and, if on one occasion violent, at least long contemplated and foreshadowed. On questions of commercial finance, we are still where we were half a century ago. The antagonistic principles of a protective tariff and of free trade are still struggling for the mastery. The greatest changes - that produced on the government in aggrandizing it at the expense of the States, and that produced on the South by freeing and enfranchising the blacks - were brought about by the civil war. The evil results which have flowed from them, mingled with great good, are evident in many ways. Is it too much to hope that, a generation hence, those of us who survive will look back gratefully upon a survival of the good only wrought by these changes; and upon a completed reform of the civil service, a purified government and Congress, a people no longer eager to grow suddenly rich by wild speculation, but content with the moderate prosperity attained by steady enterprise and wholesome trade; and a South educated and reconciled, with its civil and political freedom assured by its own enforcement of equal law?