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approbation of any thing but his cause, to wit, extension of sufl'rage; for that was all in his proceedings we really approved.
But, after Mr. Dorr's failure, it came out that the limitation of suffrage to a freehold qualification was not a provision of the charter, but an act of the legislature. This changed the whole aspect of the case ; for now it could no longer be pretended that there was no legal authority in the State competent to extend the elective franchise to all to whom it could be advisable to extend it. We saw that we had reasoned from false premises, and had therefore come to false conclusions. And when we met with a very able pamphlet on the subject by the Hon. Elisha R. Potter, at present a member of Congress from Rhode Island, we found that we could not, without belying our own cherished convictions, any longer countenance, in any form or manner, the proceedings of the Suffrage Party. Since then, we have expressed, on various occasions, our dissent from them, and in some essays on the Origin and Ground of Government, published in the Democratic Review, in the summer and fall of 1843, we discussed the whole doctrine involved in them with as much thoroughness as seemed to us necessary.
We have made these personal explanations, because our course in regard to the Suffrage movement in Rhode Island has been much misrepresented, and adduced as another instance of our fickleness and frequent changes of doctrine and position; and because it has been made the occasion of bringing us, to no inconsiderable extent, under the ban of our own party. We have no apology to offer, and nothing of which to accuse ourselves, but that of relying on the representations made of the charter by our Suffrage friends, instead of consulting the charter itself. Had we taken the proper pains to inform ourselves of its real character, in the first instance, we should have never for a moment seemed to occupy any other position in regard to the Suffrage movement than we do now; for our principles have undergone no change, and we had expressed, had even written out
and published, the same doctrines as applicable to the case before, that we have since, as any one may satisfy himself by consulting Mr. Potter's pamphlet to which we have already alluded.
On one point, however, the controversy growing out of the Rhode Island Suffrage movement has led us to reflect more than we had previously done, and on which our views, if not changed, have at least become clearer and more definite. We refer to what is called the sacred right of revolution. · We believe the political sovereignty, under the spiritual sovereignty of Christ, which has always a visible embodiment and organ on earth, resides in the body of the nation. We say nation instead of people, because the term is less ambiguous. The term nation conveys always the idea of a corporation, an organic body; while the word people may mean only a numerical collection of individuals. A nation never exists without a legal constitution of some sort, written or unwritten, and some legal forms or modes for collecting the national sense. Now, since the nation has a corporate existence by virtue of the fact that it is a nation, it possesses in itself the supreme political power, which commissions all the officers of government, and to which they are responsible. When these officers, or what is called the government, betray their trust, break the fundamental laws of the nation, whether those laws are written on parchment, or in the customs of the people existing from time immemorial, the nation, acting in accordance with these laws or customs, may iinmake the administrators of the government, commission new ones, and institute new guaranties against abuses, and even by force of arms, if necessary. So far as this is a right of revolution, we are advocates of that right, but no farther. But so long as the legitimate administrators of the government observe the national laws, and administer the government in accordance with them, honestly, and with a single eye to the maintenance of justice, we hold all resistance to the civil anthority to be criminal. A revolution, for the mere purpose of changing the form of the government, of
substituting one form of government for another, as monarchy for aristocracy, or democracy for monarchy, or vice versâ, we hold to be never justifiable. The authorities must themselves transgress the national laws, and put themselves thus out of the protection of the law, before the citizen or subject can have the right to resist them. We may resist tyrants and usurpers, but never the lawful magistrate in the lawful discharge of his official functions.
The principles here laid down will justify the colonists in their separation from Great Britain, but not Mr. Dorr in his attempted revolution in Rhode Island. Our fathers took up arms to resist an aggression on their constitutional and chartered rights. They contended, not that the British government had invaded or failed to secure certain assumed abstract rights of man, but their rights as recognized by the British Constitution and the colonial charters. It is against George the Third as a tyrant, as violating the national laws, that they profess to take up arms; not against the king in the legal exercise of his constitutional prerogative. But the Suffrage Party planted themselves on no national law of Rhode Island, written or unwritten; they alleged, and could allege, no transgression, on the part of the Charter government, of any public law, no usurpation, no act of tyranny. They simply alleged that the Charter government did not correspond to their notions of the best possible form of government, did not secure what they regarded as the abstract rights of man ; and they took up arms, not to expel a tyrant or usurper, but to establish a new form of government, more conformable 10 their notions of abstract truth and justice.
Here is a broad difference between the Suffrage men and the patriots of the Revolution, which the author of the work before us has failed to recognize, and which would have prevented her, had she recognized it, from placing the heroes of Federal Hill and Chepachet on the same line with the heroes of Saratoga and Yorktown. The former were, view them in what light you
VOL. I. NO. IV.
will, rebels against legitimate authority ; but the latter were resisting aggression, and vindicating the violated majesty of the laws. The Suffrage men may have meant well, and they may have incurred no great share of moral guilt; for to moral guilt there must be a guilty moral intent, or, what is the same thing, a culpable ignorance. But they were politically rebels, and could be treated only as such by a government that respected itself, and resolved to discharge its legal functions.
We regard this question as one of vital importance in our country. The laws have, with us, their chief support in public opinion. Let that opinion become unsound or corrupt, and the laws lose their force, and we are without protection. If the doctrine once obtain among us, that legal authority may be set aside for the purpose of making the government conform to our abstract theories of human rights, there is no foreseeing the lawlessness and anarchy which will ensue. The symptoms are already threatening; and recent riots and mobs, and, worse than all, the delay and hesitancy of authority in using force for their suppression, and the very extensive doubts which obtain as to the rightfulness of resorting to force at all, are to us really not a little alarming. We are, we own, sensitive on this subject; when we reflect that we have recently come to entertain a faith extremely odious to the great majority of our countrymen, and when we see associations formed expressly for its suppression, its adherents shot down by an armed mob in the streets, and its consecrated churches in flames, while the rabble, not composed altogether of those commonly meant by the lower classes, look on and shout, we feel more and more the necessity of rebuking the mobocratic spirit, in whatever form it may manifest itself, and more and more the necessity of inculcating a reverence for law, and strict obedience to the lawful magistrate in the discharge of his lawful duties. We cannot afford, in this country, to insist on “the sacred right of insurrection," for we shall, if we do, have bands of insurgents ere long in every town, village, and hamlet, in the land. Whatever we may think of
Mr. Dorr and his friends personally, we cannot approve their measures, or defend their doctrines, without a terrible hazard to the country, to all security of peace, life, property, and conscience.
As to the proceedings of the Law and Order Party in Rhode Island, we are far from believing that they are in all cases defensible. We are glad that that party has succeeded ; but it is evident now that it magnified the real danger, and was less calm and collected than it might have been. We think the friends of the government suffered themselves to be exasperated beyond measure, and to practise, in some instances, cruelties which were as cowardly as they were uncalled for. But we must say for the people of Rhode Island of both parties, that in general they came as near making war on Christian principles as could be expected. They seem to have had a generous disposition to do as little harm as possible to their friends and neighbours. Still, we wish the friends of the government had shown a little more consideration to the prisoners taken at Chepachet after the war was over, and, as they had shown much tenderness of heart during the battle, that they had continued to show the same in the flush of victory. They must have known that the Suffrage men, women, and children, however mistaken or deluded, were not really criminally disposed, and would not have espoused the cause they did, had they felt that it was morally wrong.
But making all abatements for the panic and the momentary cruelty, we doubt whether, upon the whole, we ought not to say that the Algerines, as they are called, conducted with singular moderation and leniency, under the circumstances. We cannot wholly approve all their doings, but we do not think that they are deserving any great severity of censure. It seems to us, that, since the panic subsided, - perhaps not an unreasonable panic, — they have been disposed to let off the offenders as easily as possible. The convictions and punishments have been very few; and we believe that there has been no one, charged only with a political offence,