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acceptation, is a rule prescribed for future conduct, not a legislative interference with existing rights. The framers of the constitution would hardly have given the appellation of law to violent invasions of individual right, or individual property, by acts of legislative power. Although, doubtless, such acts full within this prohibition, yet they are prohibited also by general principles, and by the constitutions of the States, and, therefore, further provision against such acta was not so necessary as against other mischiefs.
'.i. The most conclusive argument, perhaps, arises from the connexion in which the clause stands. The words of the prohibition, so far as it applies to civil rights, or rights of property, are, "that no State shall coin money, emit bills of credit, make anything but gold and silver coin a tender in the payment of debts, or pass any law impairing the obligation of contracts." The prohibition of attainders, and ex post facto laws, refer entirely to criminal proceedings, and, therefore, should be considered us standing by themselves; but the other parts of the prohibition are connected by the subject mutter, and ought, therefore, to be construed together. Taking the words thus together, according to their natural connexion, how is it possible to give a more limited construction to the term "contracts," in the last branch of the sentence, than to the word "debts," m that immediately preceding? Can a State make anything but gold and silver a tender in payment of future debts? This nobody pretends. But what ground is there for a distinction? No State shall make anything but gold and silver a tender in the payment of debts, nor pass any law impairing the obligation of contracts. Now, by what reasoning is it made out that the debts here spoken of, are any debts, either existing or future; but that the contracts spoken of are subsisting contracts only? Such a distinction seems to us wholly arbitrary. We see no ground for it. Suppose the article, where it uses the word debts, had used the word contracts. The sense would have been the same then, as it now is; but the identity of terms would have made the nature of the distinction nf,w contended for somewhat more obvious. Thus altered, the clause would read, that no State should make anything but gold and silver a tonder in discharge of contracts, nor pass any law impairing the obligation of contracts; yet the first of those expressions would have b*.en held to apply to all contracts, and the last to subsisting contracts only. This shows the consequence of what is now contended for in a strong light. It is certain that the substitution of the word contracts, for debts, would not alter the sense; and an argument that could not be sustained if such substitution were made, cannot be sustained now. We maintain, therefore, that if tender laws may not be made for future debts, neither can bankrupt laws be made for future contracts. All the arguments used here may be applied with equal force to tender laws for future debts. It may be said, for instance, that when it speaks of debts, the constitution means existing debts, and not mere possibilities of future debt; that the object was to preserve vested rights; and that if a man, after a tender law had passed, had contracted a debt, the manner in which that tender law authorised that debt to be discharged, became part of the contract, and that the whole debt, or whole obligation was thua qualified by the pre-existing law, and was no more than a contract to deliver so much paper money, or of whatever other article which might be made a tender, as the original bargain expressed. Arguments of this sort will not be found wanting in favor of tender laws, if the Court yield to similar arguments in favor of bankrupt laws.
These several prohibitions of the constitution stand in the same paragraph; they have the same purpose, and were introduced for the same object; they are expressed in words of similar import, in grammar, and in sense; they are subject to the same construction, and, we think, no reason has yet been given for imposing an important restriction on one part of them, which does not equally show, that the same restriction might be imposed also on the other part.
We have already endeavoured to maintain, that one great political object, intended by the constitution, would be defeated, if this construction were allowed to prevail. As an object of political regulation, it was not important to prevent the States from passing bankrupt laws applicable to present debts, while the power was left to tlii'iii in regard to future debts; nor was it at all important, in a political point of view, to prohibit tender laws as to future debts, while it was yet left to the States to pass laws for the discharge of such debts, which, after all, are little different, in principle, from tender laws. Look at the law before the Court in this view. It provides that if the debtor will surrender, offer, or lender to trustees, for the benefit of his creditors, all his estate and effects, he sh'all be discharged from all his debts. If it had authorised a tender of anything but money to any one creditor, though it were of a value equal to the debt, and thereupon provided for a discharge, it would have been clearly invalid. Yet it is maintained to be good, merely because it is made for all creditors, and seeks a discharge from all debts; although the thing tendered may not be equivalent to a shilling in the pound of those debts. This shows, again, very cleurly how the constitution has failed of its purpose, if, having in terms prohibited ail tender laws, and taken so much pains to establish a uniform medium of payment, it has yet left the States the power of discharging debts, as they may see fit, without any payment at all.
To recapitulate what has been said, we maintain; first, that the constitution, by its grants to Congress, and its prohibitions on the States, has sought to establish one uniform standard of value, or medium of payment. Second, that, by like means, it has endeavoured to provide for one uniform mode of discharging debts, when they are to be discharged without payment. Third, that these objects are connected, and that the first loses much of its importance, if the last, also, be not accomplished. Fourth, that rending the grant to Congress and the prohibition on the States together, the inference is strong that th« constitution intended to confer an exclusive power to pass bankrupt laws on Congress. Fifth, that the prohibition, in the tenth section, reaches to all contracts existing or future, in the same way as the other prohibition in the same section extends to all debit existing or future. Sixthly, and that, upon any other construction, one great political object of the constitution will fail of its accomplishment.
15 THE CONVENTION OF DELEGATES CHOSEN TO REVISE THE CON8TITITION OF MASSACHUSETTS, UPON THE RESOLUTION RELATIVE TO OATHS OF OFFICE. 1821.
It is obvious that the principal alteration, proposed by the first resolution, is the omission of the declaration of belief in the Christian religion, as a qualification for office, in the cases of the governor, lieutenant governor, counsellors, and members of the legislature. I shall content myself on. this occasion with staling, shortly and generally, the sentiments of the select committee, as I understand them, on the subject of this resolution. Two questions naturally present themselves. In the first place; have the people a right, if m their judgment the security of their government and its due administration demand it, to require a declaration of belief in the Christian religion, as a qualification or condition of office! On this question, a majority of the committee held a decided opinion. They thought tho people hod such a right. By the fundamental principle of popular and elective governments, all otiice is in the free gift of the people. They may grant, or they may withhold it at pleasure;— and if it be for them, and them only, to decide whether they will grant office, it is for them to decide, also, on what terms, and with what conditions, they will grunt it. Nothing is more unfounded than the notion that any man has a right to an office. This must depend on the choice of others, and consequently upon the opinions of others, in relation to his fitness and qualification for office. No man ran be said to have a right to that, which others may withhold from hun at pleasure. There are certain rights, no doubt, which the whole people, or the government as representing the whole people, owe to each individual, in return for that obedience and personal service, and proportionate contributions to the public burdens, which each individual owes to the government. These rights are stated with sufficient accuracy, in the tenth article of the Bill of Rights, in this constitution. "Kach individual in society has a right to be protected by it in the enjoyment of his life, liberty, and property, according to the standing laws." Here is no right of office enumerated; no right of governing others, or of bearing rule in the state. All hestowment of office remaining in the discretion of the people, they have of course a right to regulate it, by any rules which they may deem expedient. Hence the people, by their constitution, prescribe certain qualifications for office, respecting age, property, residence, &C. But if office, merely as such, were a right, which each individual under the social compact was entitled to claim, all these qualifications would be indefensible. The acknowledged rights are not subject, and ought not to be subject, to any such limitation. The right of being protected, in life, liberty, and estate, is due to all, and cannot be justly denied to any, whatever be their age, property, or residence in the state. These qualifications, then, can onlv be made requisite as qualifications for office, on the ground that office is not what any man can demand, as matter of right, but rests in the confidence and good will of those who are to bestow it. In short, it seems to me too plain to be questioned, that the right of office is a matter of discretion, and option, and can never be claimed by any man, on the ground of obligation. It would seem to follow, then, that those who confer office may annex any such conditions to it as they think proper. If they prefer one man to another, they may act on that preference. If they regard certain personal qualifications, they may act accordingly, and ground of complaint is given to nobody. Between two candidates, otherwise equally qualified, the people at an election, may decide in favor of one because he is a Christian, and against the other because he is not. They may repeat this preference at the next election, on the same ground, and may continue it from year to year. Now, if the people may, without injustice, act upon this preference, and from a sole regard to this qualification, and refuse in any instance to depart from it, they have an equally clear right to prescribe this qualification, beforehand, as a rule for their future government. If they may do it, they may agree to do it. If they deem it necessary, they may so say, beforehand. If the public will may require this''flnalification, at every election as it occurs, the public will may declare itself beforehand; and make such qualification a standing requisite. That cannot be an unjust rule, the compliance with which, in every case, would be right. This qualification has nothing to do with any man's consciencc. If he dislike the condition, he may decline the office; in like manner as if he dislike the salary, the rank, or anything else which the law attaches to it. However clear the right may be, (and I can hardly suppose any gentleman will dispute it,) the expediency of retaining the declaration is a more difficult question. It is said not to be necessary, because, in this commonwealth, ninety-nine out of every hundred of the inhabitants profess to believe in the Christian religion. It is sufficiently certain, therefore, that persons of this description, and none others, will ordinarily be chosen to places of public trust. There is as much security, it is said, on this subject, as the necessity of the case requires. And as there is a sort of opprobium—a marking out, for observation and censorious remark, a single individual, or a very few individuals, who may not be able to make the declaration,—it is an act, if not of injustice, yet of unkindness, and of unnecessary rigor, to call on such individuals to make the declaration. There is also another class of objections, which have been stated. It has been said, that there are many very devout and serious persons—persons who esteem the Christian religion to be above all price—to whom, nevertheless, the terms of this declaration seem somewhat too strong and intense. They seem, to these persons, to require the declaration of th^t faith which is deemed essential to personal salvation; and therefore not at all fit to be adopted, by those who profess a belief in Christianity merely, in a more popular and general sense. It certainly appears to me, that this is a mistaken interpretation of the terms; that they imply only a general assent to the truth of the Christian revelation, and, at most, to the supernatural occurrences which establish its authenticity. There may, however, and there appears to be, conscience in this objection; and all conscience ought to be respected. I was not aware, before I attended the discussions in the committee, of the extent to which this objection prevailed. There is one other consideration to which I will allude, although it was not urged in committee. It is this. This qualificaton is made applicable only to the executive and the members of the legislature.— It would not be easy, perhaps, to say why it should not be extended to the judiciary, if it were thought necessary for any office. There can be no office, in which the sense of religious responsibility is more necessary, than in that of a judge; especially of those judges who pass, in the last resort, on the lives, liberty and property of every man. There may be among legislators, strong passions and bad passions. There may be party heats and personal bitterness. But legislation is in its nature general: laws usually affect the whole society; and if mischievous or unjust, the whole society is alarmed, and seeks their repeal. The judiciary power, on the other hand, acts directly on individuals. The injured may suffer, without »Mnpathy or the hope of redress. The last hope of the innocent, nnder accusation, and in distress, is in the integrity of his judges. If this fail, all fails; and there is no remedy, on this side the bar of Heaven.—Of all places, therefore, there is none which so imperatively demands, that he who occupies it should be under the fear of God, and above all other fear, as the situation of a judge.—For these reasons, perhaps, it might be thought, that the constitution has not gone far euough, if the provisions already in it were deemed necessary to the public security. I believe I have stated the substance of the reasons which appeared to have weight with the committee. For my own part, finding this declaration in the constitution, and hearing of no practical evil resulting from it, I should have been willing to retain it, unless considerable objection had been expressed to it. If others were satisfied with it, I should be. I do not conttder it, however, essential to retain it, as tjiere is another part of the constitution which recognises, in the fullest manner, the benefits which civil society derives from those Christian institutions which cherish piety, morality and religion. I am conscious, that we should not strike out of the constitution all recognition of the Christian religion. I am desirous, in so solemn a transaction as the establishment of a constitution, that we should keep in it an expression of oar respect and attachment to Christianity;—not, indeed, to any of its peculiar forms, but to its general principles.