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It is customary to say that republics can not exist without public virtue. There is much truth in this saying, which, also, is applicable to monarchies; but, by a careful study of the history of both, it will be perceived that the causes of the downfall of republics in particular, are principally owing to their imperfect organization in regard to three entirely material, and constantly varying subjects, namely: Population, Size of State, and its subdivisions, and Public Business, and not exactly to a too great deficiency of public virtue alone, because men, on an average, are the same, at the time when they set up republics, and when they suffer them to become monarchized. The difference is that, at the first epoch, population, size, and business, were adequate to the republican, and at the latter period to the monarchical form of government. It is, however, true and obvious, from all we see and read, that public virtue is, with us, at a low ebb. Why is this? We have schools for all, innumerable churches, religious meetings and publications, colleges and academies in all towns and cities, books in all houses, and newspapers showering upon us in clouds; pushed on by a noble zeal for improvement, we organize universities, scientific associations, tract societies, reading-rooms, libraries, one after another; still, the inestimable principles and durable advantages of honesty and justice to communities, and individuals composing them, seem to be lost sight of, and hence, public corruption is constantly increasing. Why, we ask again,
is this? It is further true, that a state institution is either the most powerful social agent, to promote the sense of honesty and justice, the mother of public virtue, or the most effective machinery to sow the seed of vice, from which spring up public corruption, broadcast over the land. History tells of bad and good states, of their bad and good influences upon the public morals, characters, and inclinations of men. A close observer may discern, in this regard, a great difference even between our own states, although all are republics. Now, when we can not deny that our society, although in the full possession of the most abundant moral and intellectual means for the general improvement of which ever an age could boast, from day to day is degenerating, we must necessarily come to the conclusion that our political institutions, generally speaking, are working in the wrong direction, and therefore need reforming.
This conclusion has been virtually admitted by the legislature of the largest state in the Union, that of New York, when resolving, without a dissenting vote, to take the sense of the people on the amending of the constitution at the next November election. The press has been teeming with loud complaints of public corruption, and a deficient administration of justice, in fact, a failure of the state institution itself. This resolve of the legislature should, therefore, have not taken it, or the citizens, by surprise. A glance at the commercial crisis, the effects of which are still felt all over the world, and the role which the banks and judiciary of the empire state played in it - at the legislative encroachments upon the simplest, clearest, and most sacred municipal rights of towns — at the defective management of the public works -at the overpowering influence of the lobbies on the legislature — at the increase of public debt, taxes, crime, and mobism
- at the delay, confusion, and corruption, in the judicial procedures at the abuse of the executive pardoning power— at the defective workings of the jury- at the insecurity of life and property; a mere glance, we say, at these crying evils, comprised
by the words “public corruption,” necessarily more acutely felt by the legislators themselves than others, because more directly evident to them, was sufficient to determine them at once, without waiting for renewed newspaper discussions, to resort to the revision of the constitution, perhaps involving an overhauling of the whole state machinery.
The voting upon the amending of the constitution, at this period of our state history, is, therefore, a most important act of the people, because it depends upon it to restore the sullied honor of our noble form of government, and to check, in a large measure, the onward course of public corruption. We will succeed if we go earnestly to work, with a thorough knowledge of the causes of the evil and the way to remove them.
To afford, now, to each voter, to each family, an easy opportunity to inform themselves thoroughly of those causes and remedies, and the paramount necessity of amending their present constitution, is the aim of this book.
This, so we thought, could not be done better than by a comprehensive explanation and critical discussion of the American system of governing, as it originally is, that is, of the federal constitution, the ruling guide for the management of the national public business, and of the state constitution, under revision, serving as a guide for the management of the municipal public business, with regard to the prevalent practice in both Congress and state.
Almost simultaneously with the legislature of New York, that of Maryland resolved to take the sense of the people upon the amending their constitution of 1851. The vote, soon after cast, was against a change. Both have introduced an elective judiciary; from both states come loud complaints of a defective administration of justice! These are significant signs on the political horizon. If we have exposed and explained them frankly as we find them, we did not intend to reflect upon any man; no, but merely to show what defects, especially, in the municipal social
organization, have been instrumental to produce the complainedof results. We hope, therefore, that this book, written as it is from mere patriotic motives, will meet a patriotic welcome, and recommend itself to the candid and generous notice of the press.
Besides a critical examination of these constitutions, the reader will find in this book general instructive remarks on the nature and organization of the public business, and some important public documents, partly in connection with our political fabric and that of Europe: among others, “Washington's Farewell Address,” contrasted with Macchiavelli's celebrated book, Prince.”
By the crisis," the publication of this book has been delayed, which will account for some remarks on the last congressional election and other political events of the time, when the letters in the first part were written. It is hoped that it will find favor with the readers of all parties, impossible as it is to please all men, even when aiming at nothing but truth, i. e., the exposition of great principles and “sound doctrine.” The words “sound doctrine" taken from Paul's first letter to Timothy, induce us to respectfully solicit the particular attention of all Christian ministers to this book. Its leading idea that the state is set up exclusively for the realization of justice (the main source of public virtue), has been clearly enunciated by Paul, the great propagator of Christianity, and real founder of our Christian institutions. Moreover this idea has been strictly followed up by the framers of our federal constitution, as shown in the book; it has been further recognised and carried out by those who achieved the separation of the state and church; but it has been, in the course of time, lost sight of by Congress and states, and thus become the cause of most of the public corruption and decline of public virtue complained of. This to prove, in order to show how to stem the dangerous current, is one of the main objects of the book. But here it will meet opposition, and even condemnation, from many sides. But time will prove that Paul and the framers of the
federal constitution, and those who achieved the separation of church and state, were right.
The members of the judiciary, who are in the habit of drawing wisdom from the classical fountains, will remember the line of Virgil
“Discite justitiam moniti, et non temnere Divos !”
We wish they may please consider this book as an humble common-sense appeal to renewed exertions for the creation of a dignified, independent, American judiciary, based upon an indigenous American common law, emanating from and in harmony with the great principle of self-government, and therefore in many respects different from the law ideas commonly prevalent in subject society.
To the rising generation the book has been dedicated, and therefore written in familiar letter style, because those who are just entering into actual citizen life will have to finish the work of a great political reform, which stern necessity is forcing upon
This book is, as its title indicates, particularly devoted to the great municipal interest of society. It appears before the public under similar circumstances which called forth the Federalist, then working for the abrogation of the unsatisfactory articles of confederation and the adoption of the present excellent federal constitution.
The municipalist advocates the alteration of the present constitution of the state of New York, and its replacement by one more suitable to the urgency of the times.
Before we conclude these prefacial lines we owe to the ladies a few words of apology, for having so often in our letters invited them to listen to our political discussions. We belong to those who are convinced that the career of a republic is of a doubtful duration if the whole population is not penetrated with a suffcient knowledge of its public affairs, to prevent them from coming