Henry Cabot Lodge.

The Constitution and its makers: an address delivered before the Literary and Historical Association of North Carolina at Raleigh, N.C., November 28, 1911 online

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62d Congress) SENATE (Document

2d Session \ \ No. 122






RALEIGH, N. 0., NOVEMBER 28, 1911





DEC 20 1933


December 5, 1911. — Ordered to be printed



Mr. Lodge said:

Before this society and on such an occasion to speak on any subject
not connected with the history of our common country would hardly
be possible and would certainly not be fitting. I have, therefore,
chosen a subject which touches the history of the Un ; ted States at
every point. I shall try to set before you some of the results of a
great work in which your State and mine alike took part a century
and a quarter ago and which possesses an interest and an importance
as deep and as living to-day as at the moment of its inception. I
shall touch upon some present questions, but I shall speak without
the remotest reference to politics or parties, for my subject tran-
scends both. I shall speak as a student of our history with reverence
for the past and with a profound faith in the future. In a word, I
shall speak simply as an American who loves his country "now and
forever, one and inseparable."

A little less than twenty-five years ago great crowds thronged the
streets of Philadelphia. Men and women were there from all parts
of the United States; the city was resplendent with waving flags
and brilliant with all the decorations which ingenuity could suggest,
while the mights were made bright by illuminations which shone on
every building. Great processions passed along the streets, headed
by troops from the thirteen original States, marching in unusual
order, with Delaware at the head, because that little State had been
the first to accept the great instrument of government which now,
having attained its hundredth year, was celebrated in the city of its
birth. Behind the famous hall where independence was declared an
immense crowd listened to commemorative speakers, and the Presi-
dent of the United States, a Democrat, honored the occasion with
his presence and his words.

Two years later, in 1889, the same scenes were repeated in New
York. Again the cannon thundered and again flags waved above
the heads of the multitude gathered in the streets, through which
marched a long procession, both military and civil, headed as before
by the representatives of the original thirteen States. Again, at a
great banquet, addresses were delivered and once more the President
of the United States, this time a Republican, honored the occasion
by his presence, and in the name of all the people of the country
praised the great work of our ancestors.

In Philadelphia we celebrated the one hundredth anniversary of the
formation of the Constitution of the United States. In New York
we commemorated the one hundredth anniversary of the inaugura-
tion of the Government which that Constitution had brought into
being. Through all the rejoicings of those days, in every spoken and
in every written word, ran one unbroken strain of praise for the
great instrument and of gratitude to the men who, in the exercise of


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the highest wisdom, had framed it and brought it forth. All men
recalled that it had made a nation from thirteen jarring States;
that it had proved in its interpretation flexible to meet new conditions
and strong to withstand injustice and wrong; that it had survived
the shock of civil war; and that under it liberty had been pro-
tected and order maintained. The paean of praiso rose up from
all parts of tins broad land unmarred by a discordant note. Every-
one agreed with Gladstone's famous declaration, that the Consti-
tution of the United States was the greatest political instrument
ever struck off on a single occasion by the minds of men. We
seemed, indeed, by all wethen said and did to justify those foreign
critics who reproached us for our blind reverence for our Constitu-
tion and our almost superstitious belief in its absolute wisdom and
unexampled perfections.

Those celebrations of the framing of the Constitution and of the
inauguration of the Government have been almost forgotten. More
than twenty vears have come and gone since the cheers of the crowds
which then filled the streets of New York and Philadelphia— since
the reverberations of the cannon and the eloquent voices of the
orators died away into silence. And with those years, not very many
aftor all, a change seems to have come in the spirit which at that time
pervaded the American people from the President down to the hum-
blest citizen in the land. Instead of the universal chorus of praise and
gratitude to the framers of the Constitution the air is now rent with
harsh voices of criticism and attack, while the vast mass of the
American people, still believing in their Constitution and their Gov-
ernment, look on and listen, bewildered and confused, dumb thus
far from mere surnrise, and deafened by the discordant outcry so
suddenly raised against that which they have always reverenced and
held in honor. Many excellent persons believe apparently that
beneficent results can be attained by certain proposed alterations
in the Constitution, often, I venture to think, without examina-
tion of the history and theory of government and without measuring
the extent or weighing the meaning of the changes which are urged
upon us. But it is also true that everyone who is in distress, or in
debt, or discontented, now assails the Constitution, merely because
such is the present passion. Every reformer of other people's mis-
deeds—all of that numerous class which is ever seeking to promote
virtue at somebody else's expense — pause in their labors to point
out the supposed shortcomings of our National Charter. Every
raw demagogue, every noisy agitator, incapable of connected thought
and seeking his own advancement by the easy method of appealing
to envy, malice, and all uncharitablcness— those unlovely qualities
in human nature which so readily seek for gratification under the
mask of high sounding and noble attributes— all such people now
lift their hands to tear down or remake the Constitution. In House
and Senate one can hoar attacks upon it at any time and listen to
men deriding its framers and their work. No longer are we criti-
cised by outsiders for having a superstitious reverence for our Con-
stitution. Quite recently I read an article by an English member
of Parliament (Mr. L. T. Ilobhouse), a Liberal, I believe, with
Socialist proclivities, who said that this reproach of an undue yenera-
Jion for the Constitution ought no longer to be brought against us,
because beneficent and progressive spirits were already beginning to


pull it to pieces and were seeking to modernize it in conformity with
the clamor of the moment. All this is quite new in our history.
We have as a people deeply reverenced our Constitution. We have
realized what it has accomplished and what protection it has given
to ordered freedom and individual liberty. Even the Abolitionists,
when they denounced the Constitution for the shelter which it afforded
to slavery, did not deny its success in other directions, and their
hostility to the Constitution was one of the most deadly weapons used
against them.

The enmity to the Constitution and the attacks upon it which
have developed in the last few years present a situation of the utmost
gravity. If allowed to continue without answer, they may mislead
public opinion and produce the most baneful results. The people
of the United States may come to believe that all these attacks are,
in a measure at least, true. And therefore if they are not true,
their falsity ought to be shown. Beside the question of the main-
tenance or destruction of the Constitution of the United States all
other questions of law and policy sink into utter insignificance. In
its presence party lines should disappear and all sectional differ-
ences melt away like the early mists of dawn before the rising sun.
The Constitution is our fundamental law. Upon its provisions rests
the entire fabric of our institutions. It is the oldest of written con-
stitutions. It has served as a model for many nations, both in the
Old World and in the New. It has disappointed the expectations
of those who opposed it, convinced those who doubted, and won
a success beyond the most glowing hopes of those who put faith in
it. Such a work is not to be lightly cast down or set aside, or, which
would be still worse, remade by crude thinkers and by men who
live only to serve and flatter in their own interest the emotion of the
moment. We should approach the great subject as our ancestors
approached it — simply as Americans with a deep sense of its seri-
ousness and with a clear determination to deal with it only upon full
knowledge and after the most mature and calm reflection. The time
has come to do this, not only here and now, but everywhere through-
out the country.

Let us first consider who the men were who made the Constitution
and under what conditions they worked. Then let us determine
exactly what they meant to do — a most vital point, for much of the
discussion to which we have been treated thus far has proceeded
upon a complete misapprehension of the purpose and intent of the
framers of the Constitution. Finally, let us bring their work and
their purposes to the bar of judgment, so that we may decide whether
they have failed, whether in their theory of government they were
right or wrong then and now, or whether their work has stood the
test of time, is broad based on eternal principles of justice, and, if rent
or mangled or destroyed, would not in its ruin bring disaster and
woes inestimable upon the people who shall wreck their great inher-
itance and, like

The base Indian, throw a pearl away,
Richer than all his tribe.

First, then, of the men who met in Philadelphia in May, 1787, with
doubts and fears oppressing them, but with calm, high courage and
with a noble aspiration to save their country from the miseries which
threatened it, to lead it out from the wilderness of distractions in


which it was wandering blind and helpless, into the light, so that the
chaos, hateful alike toGod and men, might be ended and order put in
its place. It is the fashion just now to speak of the framers of the
Constitution as worthy, able, and patriotic persons whom we are proud
to have embalmed in our history, but toward whom no enlightened
man would now think of turning seriously for either guidance or
instruction, so thoroughly has everything been altered and so much
has intelligence advanced. It is commonly said that they dealt
wisely and well with the problems of their day, but that of course
they knew nothing of those which confront us, and that it would be
worse than folly to be in any degree governed by the opinions of
men who lived under such wholly different conditions. It seems to
me that this view leaves something to be desired and is not wholly
correct or complete. I certainly do not think that all wisdom died
with our fathers, but I am quite sure that it was not born yesterday.
I fully realize that in saying even this I show myself to be what is
called old fashioned, and I know that a study of history, which has
been one of the pursuits of my life, tends to make a man give more
weight to the teachings of the past than it is now thought they
deserve. Yet, after all allowance is made, I can not but feel that
there is something to be learned from the men who established the
Government of the United States, and that their opinions, the result
of much and deep reflection, are not without value, even to the wisest
among us.

On questions of this character, I think, their ideas and conclusions
are not lightly to be put aside; for, after all, however much we may
now gently patronize them as good old patriots long since laid in
their honored graves, they were none the less very remarkable men,
who would have been eminent in any period of history and might
even, if alive now, attain to distinction. Let us glance over the list
of delegates to the Constitutional Convention m Philadelphia in
1787. I find, to begin with, that their average age was 43, which is
not an extreme senectitude, and the ages range from Franklin, who
was 81, to John Francis Mercer, of Virginia, who was 28. Among
the older men who were conspicuous in the convention were Frank-
lin, with his more than 80 years; Washington, who was 55; Roger
Sherman, who was 66; and Mason and Wythe, of Virginia, who were
both 61. But when I looked to see who were the most active forces
in that convention, I found that the New Jersey plan was brought
forward by William Paterson, who was 42; that the Virginia plan
was proposed by Edmund Randolph, who was 34; while Charles
Pinckney, of South Carolina, whose plan played a large part in the
making of the Constitution, was only 29. The greatest single argu-
ment, perhaps, which was made in the convention was that of Ham-
ilton, who was 30. The man who contributed more, possibly, than
any other to the daily labors of the convention and who followed
every detail was Madison, who was 36. The Connecticut compro-
mise was very largely the work of Ellsworth, who was 42; and the
committee on style, which made the final draft, was headed by
Gouverneur Morris, who was 35. Let us note, then, at the outset
that youth and energy, abounding hope, and the sympathy for the
new times stretching forward into the great and uncharted future,
as well as high ability, were conspicuous among the men who framed
the Constitution of the United States.


Their presiding officer was Washington, one of the great men of all
time, who had led the country through seven years of war, and of
whom it has been said by an English historian that "no nobler figure
ever stood in the forefront of a nation's life." Next comes Franklin,
the great man of science, the great diplomatist, the great statesman
and politician, the great writer; one of the most brilliant intellects of
the eighteenth century, who in his long life had known cities and men
as few others have ever known them. There was Hamilton, one of
the greatest constructive minds that modern statesmanship has to
show, to whose writings German statesmen turned when they were
forming their Empire forty years ago and about whom in these later
days books are written in England, because Englishmen find in the
principal author of the Federalist the great exponent of the doctrines
of successful federation. There, too, was Madison, statesman and law-
maker, wise, astute, careful, destined to be, under the Government
which he was helping to make, Secretary of State and President.
Roger Sherman was there, sagacious, able, experienced- one of the
leaders of the Revolution and a signer of the Declaration of Inde-
pendence, as he was of the Constitution. Great lawyers were present
m Philadelphia in that memorable summer of 1787, such men as
Ellsworth and Wilson and Mason and Wythe. It was, in a word, a
very remarkable body which assembled to frame a constitution for
the United States. Its members were men of the world, men of
affairs, soldiers, lawyers, statesmen, diplomatists, versed in history,
widely accomplished, deeply familiar with human nature. I think
that without an undue or slavish reverence for the past or for the
men of a former generation, we may fairly say that in patriotism and
in intellect, in knowledge, experience, and calmness of judgment, these
framers of the Constitution compare not unfavorably with those
prophets and thinkers of to-day who decry the work of 1787, would
seek to make it over with all modern improvements, and who with
unconscious humor declare that they are engaged in the restoration
of popular government.

That phrase is in itself suggestive. That which has never existed
can not do restored. If popular government is to be restored in the
United States it must have prevailed under the Constitution as it is,
and yet those, who just now are so devoured by anxiety for the rights of
the people, propose to effect the restoration they demand by changing
the very Constitution under which popular government is admitted
by their own words to have existed. I will point out presently the
origin of this confusion of thought. It is enough to say now that for
more than a century no one questioned that the government of the
Constitution was in the fullest sense a popular government. In 1863
Lincoln, in one of the greatest speeches ever uttered by man, declared
that he was engaged in trying to save government by the people.
Nearly thirty years later, when we celebrated the one hundredth
anniversary of the Constitution, the universal opinion was still the
same. All men then agreed that the Government which had passed
through the fires of civil war was a popular government. Indeed,
this novel idea of the loss of popular government which it is proposed
to restore by mangling the Constitution under which it has existed
for more than a century is very new; in fact, hardly ten years old.

This first conception of our Constitution as an instrument of popu-
lar government, so long held unquestioned, was derived from the


framers of the Constitution themselves. They knew perfectly well
that they were founding a government which was to be popular in the
broadest sense. The theory now sedulously propagated, that these
creat men did not know what they were about, or wore pretending to
do one thing whilo they really did another, is one of the most fantastic
delusions with which" agitators have ever attempted to mislead or
perplex the public mind. The makers of the Constitution may have
been right or they may have been wrong m the principles upon which
thev acted or in the work they accomplished, but they knew pre-
cisely what they meant to do and why they did it. No man in history
ever faced facts with a clearer gaze than George Washington, and when,
after the adjournment of the convention he said, "We have raised a
standard to which the good and wise can repair; the event is in the
hands of God," he labored under no misapprehension as to the char-
acter of the great instrument where his name led all the rest.

It is the fashion to say that since then great changes have occurred
and wholly new conditions have arisen of winch the men of 1787 could
by no possibility have had any knowledge or anticipation. This is
quite true. They could not have foreseen the application of steam
to transportation, or of electricity to communication, which have
wrought greater changes in human environment than anythmg which
has happened to man since those dim, prehistoric, unrecorded days
when some one discovered the control of fire, invented the wheel, and
devised the signs for language, masterpieces of intelligence with
winch even the marvels of the last century can not stand comparison.
The men of the Constitution could as little have foreseen what the
efTects of steam and electricity would be as they could have anticipated
the social and economic effects of these great inventions or the rapid
seizure of the resources of nature through the advances of science and
the vast fortunes and combinations of capital which have thus been
engendered. Could they, however, with prophetic gaze have beheld
in a mirror of the future all these new forces at work, so powerful as
to affect the very environment of human life, even then they would
not, I think, have altered materially the Constitution which they
were slowly and painfully perfecting. They would have kept on
their way, Because they would have seen plainly what is now too often
overlooked and misunderstood, that all the perplexing and difficult
problems born of these inventions and of the changes, both social
and economic, which have followed were subjects to be dealt with by
laws as the questions arose, and laws and policies were not their busi-
ness. They were not making laws to regulate or to affect either
social or economic conditions. Their work was not only higher but
far different. They were laying down certain great principles upon
which a government was to be built and by which laws and policies
were to be tested as gold is tested by a touchstone.

Upon the work in which they were engaged social and economic
changes or alterations in international relations and political condi-
tions'^ no matter how profound or unforeseen — and none could have
been more profound or more unforeseen than those which have
actually taken place — had little bearing or effect. They were framing
a government, and human nature was the one great and controlling
element in their problem. Human nature, with its strength and its
weakness, its passions and emotions so often dominating its reason,
its selfish desires and its nobler aspirations, was the same then as now.


There is no factor so constant in human affairs as human nature
itsc?lf and in its essential attributes it is the same to-day as it was
among the builders of the Pyramids. As to the principles of govern-
ment winch the framers of the Constitution wished to adapt to that
portion of human nature which had gained a foothold on the North
American Continent there was little to be discovered. There is no
greater fallacy than to suppose that new and fundamental principles
of government are constantly to be invented and wrought out. Laws
change and must change with the march of humanity across the cen-
turies as it alteration finds in the conditions about it, but fundamental
principles and theories of government are all extremely old. The very
words in which we must express ourselves when we speak of forms of
government are all ancient. Let me recall a few facts winch every
schoolboy knows and which anyone can obtain by indulging in that
too much neglected exercise of examining a dictionary. Anarchy,
for example, is the Greek word "rule" or "command" with the alpha
privative in the form of "an" prefixed, and means the state of a people
without government. Monarchy is the rule of one; oligarchy is the
rule of a few. We can not state what our own Government is with-
out using the word "democracy," winch is merely the Greek word
A-qfioKparzta and means popular government or the rule of the people.
Aristocracy, ideally as Aristotle had it, is the rule of the best, but
even in those days it meant in practice the rule of the best-born or
nobles. Plutocracy is the rule of the rich; autocracy, self-derived
power — the unlimited authority of a single person. Ochlocracy is
the rule of the multitude, for winch we have tried to substitute the
hideous compound "mobocracy." As with the words, so with the
things of winch the words are the symbol; the people who invented the
one had already devised the other. The words all carry us back to
Greece, and all these various forms of government were well known to
the Greeks and had been analyzed and discussed by them with a bril-
liancy, a keenness, and an intellectual power which have never been
surpassed. If you will read The Republic and The Laws of Plato and j
supplement that study by an equally careful examination of what ]
Aristotle has to say on government you will find that those great ■
minds have not only influenced human thought from that time to
this, but that there is little winch they left unsaid. It is the fashion, i
for example, to speak of socialism as if it were something new, a rath-
ant discovery of our own time which is to wipe away all tears. The
truth is that it is very old, as old in essence as human nature, for it
appeals to the strong desire in every man to get something for nothing
and to have someone else bear his burdens and do his work for him.
As a system it is amply discussed by Plato, who, in The Republic,
urges measures which go to great extremes in tins direction. In the
fourth century of our era a faction called the Circumcellions were
active as socialists and caused great trouble within the weakening
Empire of Rome. The real difficulty historically with the theories of
socialism is not that they are new, but that they are very, very old,
and wherever they have been put in practical operation on a large
scale they have resulted in disorder, retrogression, and in the arrest of

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Online LibraryHenry Cabot LodgeThe Constitution and its makers: an address delivered before the Literary and Historical Association of North Carolina at Raleigh, N.C., November 28, 1911 → online text (page 1 of 4)