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Proceedings and Debates of the 1850 Constitutional Convention
Volume 101, Volume 2, Debates 481   View pdf image
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al bounds, the action of the legislative and exec-
utive departments.
in speaking of popular feeling, a piece of in-
structive history occurs to my mind illustrative
of the difficulty of ascertaining what this feeling
is; and of the facility of mistake upon the sub-
ject. Allison, in his History of Europe, says,
that of the one hundred thousand spectators who
silently consented to the death of Louis XVI,
there were not one hundred who would, not most
willingly, have saved him from destruction. This
illustrates the idea which I have endeavored to
urge—that what .is often I regarded as popular
opinion, is a factitious affair; the mere clamor of
a few prominent and mischievous individuals. I
do not mean to say that Louis XVI did not vio-
late his duties; he may have deserved expulsion :
so far as my argument is concerned, he may have
deserved capital punishment; but what I say is,
he was in fact murdered, and that the notion of
submitting his case to trial and the verdict of a
whole people, was a mockery of justice, and a
false assumption of popular sentiment. Robes-
pierre was taken, as the embodiment of public
opinion; and yet when Tallien, impelled by the
knowledge that his own execution had been de-
creed in conclave, ventured in full convention to
denounce that monster in human form, that per-
sonation of all that is fiendish; and to seize him
as a traitor—what was the result ? Why, Robes-
pierre was hurried to the same guillotine, from
which he had caused rivers of blood to flow; and
beheaded amidst thundering shouts of applause,
from the thousands whose homes had been made
desolate, without the sympathy of one earthly
being. Sir, nothing is more dangerous, than to
assume readily what is the popular sentiment;
and there is nothing, in the condition of this
country, to make mistake, on this subject, impos-
sible. The people of France, and especially of
Paris, were in the possession of means not inferi-
or to those of other nations, for the cultivation of
their intellectual and moral as well as political
capabilities. They considered themselves in ad-
vance of the rest of the world. I may be per-
mitted to give, in proof of this, a conversation I
had with a very distinguished man, who was an
actor in the scenes of the French Revolution; a
man, whose memory is, as it should be, and as I
hope ever will be, very dear to every American ;
a man to whom, in his own country, the honor
and distinction to which he was justly entitled
were never rendered, only in consequence of the
dread and jealousy of Bonaparte. On the memo-
rable occasion of the visit: of La Fayette to this
country, some five and twenty years since, by the
invitation of the Congress of the United States,
it was the good fortune of my friend, who sits
before me, (Mr. Howard,) and myself, to be the
Committee appointed by our Legislature to at-
tend upon him, during his visit to Annapolis as
the guest of this State. In the conversation
which occurred in the stage, on our return to
Washington, allusion was made to the political
schools in Germany, where, I supposed, many
young men after receiving sound notions of free
institutions, would inculcate them, to an extent
greater perhaps than they had obtained in any
other part of Europe. The old patriot answered
with marked spirit and promptness:—" No, Sir,
'tis in France, that the large body of enlightened
men best understand the true principles of ration-
al, civil and political liberty, and there the first
successful effort will be made to introduce a go-
vernment, securing to men their proper lights. "
Yet, in France were exhibited the scenes we
have reviewed.
But, Sir, we need not go abroad to find instances
of popular delusion. What do we witness at
this moment—pausing around us—amongst our
own fellow-citizens, on American soil, by Amer-
ican people? What are we deploring as an awful
calamity? What makes us tremble for the very
existence of our institutions and all the inestima-
ble blessings involved in their perpetuity? Is it
not the delusion, the excitement, the frenzy, the
madness of our people' Not of this one, that, or
the other, but of immense masses, whole com-
munities, rushing with an impetuosity that seems
to defy resistance, not only to their own destruc-
tion, but to the destruction of that stupendous
fabric which has cost so much blood and so much
anxious toil and care to construct and preserve?
What is abolitionism doing, at this moment? Do
we not know what has been passing in Boston,
in Springfield, and in various other places, and
what is still passing in the North? Are we justi-
fied in assuming that scenes of a like character,
though doubtless from different motives, will
never he enacted in Maryland? Are we more
enlightened—or better educated—or more deeply
versed in the science of government? Until fa-
naticism deranged those men, they had as just
conceptions as we have, of political, moral, and
religious obligations; the love of liberty, and the
love of law, were as as deeply inscribed upon
their minds and hearts as upon ours; patriotism
flourished and was cherished no where, mure
than in the old Bay State, and around Faneuil
Hall; and yet, in despite of all, a phrenzied im-
pulse has made havoc of every sense of duty,
they owe to their country, and its laws. Yes,
Sir, they were true men and will be so again.
This madness cannot last. No, Sir, no. We
have not yet so sinned, as a nation, as to deserve
the curse of ruin, the curse of disunion, it is
an impeachment of the great attributes of mercy
and of justice which belong to the Deity, to say
or to think so. It is a condition, not of idiotcy
but of lunacy; and a lucid interval will recur, a
long and lasting interval, I hops. But upon the
theory of an "independent judge dependant upon
the people"—how would it work in the interim?
Fortunately for the county, we have had a
Sprague, a Woodbury, a Nelson, a Grier, and
other such firm and faithful men, independent of
all popular clamor; holding their "commissions
during good behaviour," who standing on the
rock of real independence, have fearlessly upposed
the storm. This you could never rationally ex-
pect from one, who depended, far his official life
and character, upon popular favor. Such a man
would have trembled and quailed before the in-
furiated mob, as a captive slave before his mas-

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Proceedings and Debates of the 1850 Constitutional Convention
Volume 101, Volume 2, Debates 481   View pdf image
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