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rocks and hills be again exalted between us and Albany, the valleys again be made low, the straight be made crooked and the plain places rough; is there a man in the Commonwealth who would take the responsibility of the act, in order to cancel the few millions of State bonds which have been issued to pay for them? Until such a man be found, let us hear no more of these absurd and hypocritical lamentations over the loans and liabilities of Massachusetts.
I had intended, Mr. Chairman, to allude to other parts of the Governor's Message, and to other features of the policy of his supporters. I had proposed, especially, to allude to that assault which was made, at the last session of the Legislature, upon the independence of the judiciary by the unconstitutional act which was so rashly adopted for reducing the salary of the judges. I wished, also, to have borne my humble testimony to the characters and qualifications of our candidates for Governor and Lieutenant-Governor, - GEORGE N. BRIGGS and John REED, — men with whom it has been my privilege and my pride to be associated in the Councils of the Nation, and for whom I entertain the most profound respect, as well as the warmest personal regard. But there will be opportunities hereafter. Other gentlemen are present to address this meeting, and I hasten to make way for them. Let me not conclude, however, without a closing word of appeal. It has been quite too common, I am aware, for politicians to call every thing a crisis, and the phrase has almost passed into a byword. But critical periods in the history of Commonwealths do nevertheless occur, and it would be a fatal delusion, if we did not feel and realize that such a period has now arrived in the history of Massachusetts. This old Commonwealth of ours has hitherto occupied a proud and lofty position in the eyes of the world. It has exercised an influence, not easily to be exaggerated, on the destinies of the nation. There has been a stability about her institutions, a steadiness in the character of her people, a consistency in her political course, an unyielding devotion to the cause of liberty and law, which have given her a name and a praise in all the land. Yes, the old Pine Tree, from the earliest day in which our Fathers transplanted it to these shores, and adopted it as the emblem of their infant Republic, has been seen standing in ever-during verdure, - broken by no blast of adversity, withered by no heat of prosperity, still striking its roots deeper and deeper in the storm, still lifting its branches higher and higher in the sunshine! But an unfilial hand is now raised against it. Sir, Massachusetts will cease to be Massachusetts, if the policy of her existing administration shall be permanently sustained. Her name may be left, her place on the map may be unaltered, her territory may be unchanged, and the monuments of the noble deeds of her fathers may still stand thick on her hills and plains; but if such a policy is to prevail in her councils, her glory will be a merely historical glory; her honor will belong only to the records of the past! She will cease to be that Massachusetts which we have so long loved and respected; that Massachusetts which has been pronounced “the Model State” by foreign travellers; that Massachusetts, which has extorted the homage of an ill-disguised envy, even from those few of her sister States, from whom she has failed in winning the tribute of admiration and affection!
Let us, then, redeem her, before it is too late. Let us rescue her, while she is still worthy of being rescued. Let us resolve to place her once more in a position, in which she may be true to herself, true to her own character and her own children, and true to the whole country! Let us restore her now to a condition, which shall not only give assurance that her own Constitution shall be maintained, her own credit vindicated, her own honor upheld, but that a majority of her citizens shall be in readiness, when the great National line shall be again formed in May next, to march with unbroken ranks to their old place under the old Whig banner, and to do battle under whatever commander may be selected to lead us on to victory!
THE RIGHT OF PETITION.
A SPEECH DELIVERED IN THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES OF THE UNI
TED STATES, JANUARY 23, 1844.
It seems to have been the fortune of this House to be employed, during no inconsiderable part of the time since the present session commenced, in discussing what are called first principles. For eight or ten days, not long since gone by, we were occupied with the consideration of that great writ of personal liberty, the Habeas Corpus. And, in the course of that discussion, doctrines were advanced, in some quarters of the House, to my mind not a little strange and startling, and upon
which I desired at the time to have made some comments But, in common with many other gentlemen better entitled to a hearing, I attempted in vain to obtain the floor for that purpose. We have now been engaged, during the morning hour of many days, in a debate on a second great principle of civil liberty, — the Right of Petition. And upon this subject opinions have been expressed, and positions maintained, which are even more extraordinary and more startling; and from which I am glad of an opportunity to declare my utter dissent.
The idea, that the right of petition does not imply the right of having a petition received! The doctrine, that the right of the people to apply to the government for redress of grievances does not involve any obligation on the part of the government to heed, or even hear, that application! The position which has been seriously maintained here, that all that was ever intended by the right of petition, was the right of individuals or of assemblies to prepare and sign a paper, setting forth the grievances under which they are suffering, and the redress which they seek; and that it was no part of that intention to secure to that paper any consideration or entertainment whatever from those to whom it is addressed! Why, Sir, these doctrines seem to me about as reasonable as it would be to contend, that the privilege of the writ of Habeas Corpus implies no obligation on the part of the officer to whom it is directed to regard or obey the writ, and no duty on the part of the government to execute or enforce it; but that it is only designed to secure to an imprisoned citizen the satisfaction of having the writ itself, duly signed and attested, to amuse himself with in his solitary confinement, — to meditate upon by day, or to put under his pillow to dream upon by night! They seem to me about as reasonable as it would be to maintain, that the freedom of the press extends only to the freedom of the mechanical enginery of the press; that it was only intended to secure the rights of individual printers to compose, set up, and strike off, such matter as might be agreeable to them ; but that it does not reach to the privilege of publishing or circulating that matter after it is struck off! In a word, Mr. Speaker, if the right of petition is really nothing more than it has been represented to be by some of the honorable members who have preceded me in this debate, it is, in my judgment, as poor a pretence, as miserable a mockery, as empty and unmeaning and worthless an abstraction, as was ever dignified by a swelling name or a high-sounding title; and the sooner it is expunged from the roll of civil liberty, the sooner it ceases to hold out to the ear a promise only to be broken to the hope, the sooner will the people understand what rights they really do possess.
But, Sir, I desire to proceed with this subject a little more methodically, and to notice with something more of precision and exactness the arguments which have been adduced in favor of these doctrines.
The question before the House is, whether the rule, which has obtained a most odious notoriety, in many quarters of the country, under the name of the twenty-first rule, and which has lost nothing of its offensiveness by recently assuming the alias of the twenty-third rule, shall remain as one of the permanent rules and orders of the present Congress. This is the question plainly présented in the instructions which have been moved by the honorable member from Georgia (Mr. Black;) and this is the question no less plainly involved in the simple motion to recommit the report. And what is this rule? It is a rule providing that no petitions, resolutions, memorials, or other papers, on certain enumerated subjects, shall be received by this House, or entertained in any way whatever. Now, Sir, I care not what those enumerated subjects are. I hold it entirely unimportant to this argument to state them. Whatever they may be, the principle of the rule is, in my judgment, the same. If this House may declare to-day that it will receive no petitions on one class of subjects, it may to-morrow declare that it will receive no petitions on another class of subjects; and, on the third day, it may refuse to receive any petitions at all. The real inquiry is, have we a right to prescribe to those who have sent us here on what particular subjects their prayers shall be heard in these halls? Is it within our prerogative to say to the people of the United States — “ Gentlemen, you may assemble together in what numbers you please, to consult upon what you may choose to consider your grievances; you may sign your petitions individually or collectively; you may adopt resolutions in your primary meetings, or in your legislative assemblies; but if those petitions or resolutions contain any allusion to this, that, or the other topic, we will not receive them, or entertain them in any way whatever ?"
Sir, I utterly deny the existence of any such right on our part. I hold it to be inconsistent with the relations we sustain to our constituents. I hold it to be unwarranted by any thing either in the reason or the history of parliamentary proceedings. I hold it to be in direct conflict with the spirit and intent of express provisions of the Constitution. And I hold it, also, to be subversive of original, inherent, and inalienable rights of the people.
The honorable member from Tennessee, (Mr. A. V. Brown,) in justifying this rule, a few mornings ago, drew an analogy from the relations of parent and child; and, in the application of this analogy, this House was made to play the part of the parent, and the people were left to sustain the character of the