Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 20.djvu/281

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269
EDITOR'S TABLE.

gave origin to a new nation. Yet the revolt was against the freest constitutional government in the world, and the communities that rose against the mother-country had been nurtured in the spirit of independence under British influence and British institutions. The justifying principle of the war was simply that the people on the spot, knowing their own circumstances and wants, could govern themselves better than they could be governed through agents by a people three thousand miles away. In reconstituting the government, various things deemed useless or injurious—hereditary monarchy, hereditary aristocracy, and. a state Church—were lopped away as excrescences. But the constitution of the English law-making body was imitated, and the old common law of England, with its recognitions and guarantees of personal rights, and its machinery of justice, to which the people were accustomed, remained in substantial force. The bulwarks of civil liberty were a heritage from the parent country. In the declaration of political independence there was an affirmation of the natural and equal rights of all men. But it was little more than a "rhetorical flourish," as its reduction to living practice was scarcely thought of. There was a servile class stripped of all rights who sorely needed the benefit of this pretentious declaration, but it did not get it. In fact, the insurgent colonies were nothing less than slave holding and slave-trading communities, and, when they deliberately proceeded to form a Constitution, human slavery was fortified in its provisions, and the foreign slave-trade was guaranteed for twenty years.

But if the Constitution of the new government left a weak and defenseless class a prey to its oppressors, was nothing gained for the superior race? Much, undoubtedly. There was a relief from monarchical, aristocratic, and hierarchical burdens, a simplification of political machinery, and an experiment in the direction of popular self-government. There was a transference of power into the hands of the people more complete than ever before. It was the boldest venture in representative government that had ever been made; yet, if we are to trust the official Yorktown orator, after the retrospect of a century, the problem is not yet solved, and we can not look forward to the next hundred years without profound solicitude.

But there was one grand stroke for the promotion of human liberty made in organizing the republic, the far-reaching consequences of which were neither appreciated by those who made it nor are they yet well comprehended by our people. We here refer to the liberty of commercial transactions, to the establishment of absolute free trade between the citizens of all the States of our political Union. An immense step was here taken in the progress of liberty. All the liberties—liberty of conscience, liberty of thought and speech, and liberty of exchange—have been slow growths; but no one has grown so slowly or against such resistance, or is still so immature, as that full liberty of action that is involved in the free exchange of property. It is here, in oppressive exactions upon exchange, that the most grinding tyranny takes effect; upon this point rapacious government is the first to fasten and the last to let go. Men may think and say what they like, and go where they like, but, if they can not dispose, unhindered, of the property which they have produced, and which is their own, their liberty is a delusion. Great progress has unquestionably been made in modern times in freeing exchange from its burdens, and all that had been gained was secured by the organic law of the new republic. It was decreed that Americans within the national limits shall be let alone—shall enjoy immunity from vexatious trade