Jesse Johnson Finley.

Speech of Hon. Jesse J. Finley, of Florida, in the United States House of representatives, January 11th, 1877 online

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Online LibraryJesse Johnson FinleySpeech of Hon. Jesse J. Finley, of Florida, in the United States House of representatives, January 11th, 1877 → online text (page 1 of 2)
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• .-hoii thP FPfteral Government be arrested in its progress,
SmcI" °u"„til ."reaches comple te co..»olia»t.o„.

Mr. FWLEY. Mr. Clmh-man, a men.ber of ''f b°<ly, and rep.osen^

observations on tlte state of the Umon Government which

Tf tViPPp ever was a lunctnre in the histoiy oi uie vjtuvcim
dema'i^iecHhoughtfnlionsiderationaucl deliberate and w,se achon, .t

'' Tha'; our Government has reached a crisis in its existence can no
Ic^t be dil^red, a crisis fraught with more d-.g- to the .ntegrU^,
of Snr political institutions than any winch has hitheito ma.kul its

*''wter I take a careful survey of the present P«li««'l «<'";';'';" "/
thecountrv when I witness the anxiety and unrest winch "yw per-
V de°hc public mind ; when I attentively consider the ">•';■"' fj^, "
de cie wd,ich have marked the administrative P«l'<^y »* .•''|,^:"™ "j
ment for everal years past, I must co.ifess that my mmd is hUed w h
di sing fears and gl'oo„,'y forebodings. It ,s mdeed « ;™^^»^^1 ^

l4!i:;\ ule':rall\:S" W-iti-slmysterJously forewarn of
'^ wti'l now have to say shall be said -Uhout passion and ^

the land are tilled with apprehension and ^^-^'^1''}^'%^^^^^^^^^
institutions, and when, if ever, partisan yf"^"';.^^^^^V^^,;4""l,tro ed.
in the presence of the dangers by which the nation 1. ^^^^^^^^P' ^^^ ^^

When our comnio.i habitation is on hre let "^ J «* ^^ ^ ssmok '
insane folly of continuing our family controversies until its smokin,
rafters shall come tumbling about our heads

It is indeed true that the body-politic is ^^^^^^ f},^,';', .^ V^'^fali i!
helDless Yielding of attenuated age to the inexorable demands otflta
St4; it if rather the -^^^^y strr^^between .e and ^^^

onviction that^e have now reached a 111 o^ru.^^hi^ In
nothing but the invisible power and omnipotent ^^^ ^^%^ ^^..^" ^^m.
otic public opinion can save our institutions tromafeaihil and com

Dlete overthrow. . ^ , ,..., iwwi T •nwvvpi-

^ If I am asked by whom this saving power is to be ap . o,h I a i^^ei
that it can only be'done by our brethren ot the North and W^^^^
nrcspecUvecrf.Ly. I say o.r brethren of the ^^^^^^^^!^^'^^,^,
c^use, in the present state of party stnfe, the t^outbein States occupy


a position so anomalous that they can scarcely "hazard an opinion with-
out increasing and intensifying sectional jealousy to a decree wliich
might again consolidate public opinion, both K"orth and South, upon
the basis of se(;tional antagonism— that dangerous rock whic^-lrTias
already well liigh wrecked our noble ship of state, kaving h^'in siicb
a shattered condition that a repetition of the shoclc -w^l'd certainly
cause her to go down in the seethiiig waters oY an angry sea.

If I may be pardoned for pursuing the simile a moment lonijer, I
venture to affirm what every considenite man in thocH)nntry will admit,
and that is, that our sldp of state, which has so nobly survived all the
vicissitudes of a whole century's voyage, is now, in 'the very hour in
which I am speaking, driven hy the"' most fearful tempest she has ever
encountered head on to a rock-bound coast, with every timber strained,
and every mast and beam cpiivering, and unless the nopular sentiment of
the N"orth and Northwest (which can alone control tJie helm) shall speed-
dy " 'bout ship," and draw out into an open and smooth sea, the noble
craft npi-.i whicn is freigiited the hopes of republican freedom through-
out the world must inevitahly perish.

Representatives this rock-bound coast is centralized power.
If I am asked how this popular opinion of which I have spoken can
be aroused in time to deliver us from the peril in which we now stand,
I unhesitatingly reply : Let some leading statesmen of both [.arties in
each wmg of this (^apitol, who come from the North and Northwest,
and have the ear of their people, throw wide their hearts and minds to
the divine inspirations of patriotism, and first raising themselves up to
the exalted heights of a sublime love of country, let them appeal to
their people in the name of republican and constitutional government,
and they will " draw all men after them; " and to the honor of having
once saved the Union let them add the imperishable o-|„ry of presers^-
ing the very life of our Constitution and of re-establishing the totter-
ing foundations of our Government.

A careful observer cannot fail to perceive that there is in our Gov-
ernment a conflict l)etween two antagonizing principles which are
fiercely contending for the mastery. Upon its result will depend the
continued existence of our political institutions. It is a conflict be-
tween a manitest tendency to centralism on the one side and constitu-
tional government on the other. It is the conflict of two opposing
principles, between which there can be no compromise. For the con-
cession of any constitiit onal guarantee would imperil our institutions,
Willie to abandon ourselves to the policy of proirressive innovation
would, in the end, accomplish the complete overthrow of our whole
system of government.

I need not tell the intelligent representatives of the American people
of the various steps which have been taken in the direction of an un-
authorized central power. They stand forever recorded in our politi-
cal liistory and will readily occur to all who have carefullv studie.l the
theory and practice of the Government. I forbear to men'tion or dwell
upon theni lu delail, because, from my localilv, and that of the con-
stituency I represent, J cannot do so without the risk of imparting
fresh irritation to that sclh.nal sensiijveiiess which all good men, both
^orthaiid South, should In; so anxious to allav. But I implore my .
countrymen t.. bniy il.e bitter memories of the past, and calmlv con-
sider and pon.Ie,- ll,e cv.mts „f the last ten years, mrA one for himself,
and 11, tli<. hg,t nl sound constitutional interpretation determine for
iiimselt wheihcr iii.leed it be true that we are drifting into the vortex
01 a dangerous central [luwer.


In this solemn juncture, when, in the opinion of many of our wisest
statesmen, the very life of constitutional government is [)ut at peril,
the helpless and exhausted South calls upon the patriotic people of the
North and Northwest, without regard to part'i, to come to the rescue not
of the South alone, but of the whole country ; for rest assured, that
whatever may have been our past I'elations and antagonisms, nov; when
our common heritage is in danger of being wrested from us, you may
truly exclaim that the cause of any one State is " the cause of us all."

I a[)peal to you to-day, and ask if you can contemplate the danger to
wliich we are alike exposed with feelings of indifterence? I implore
you to rise from the death of apathy to a life of i)atriotism, and re-
member that " at certain moments, in certain phices, in certain shades,
to sleep is to die." Then will you not arouse yourselves to active and
earnest effort to restore the Government to a purely constitutional ad-
ministratio!! ? Not to do so would be a crime against yourselves. It
would be an unatonable sin against all the generations to come after
you. I speak to my countrymen to-da}' without regard to party. I
speak to tlie Representatives of the nation. I speak to the whole
American people. I here proclaim that we are not only debtors to the
present, but that we owe a solemn duty to the future. What our fore-
fatliers, achieced in 1776 the men of 1876 must preserve. If neglected,
it will entail upon our children for all time to come a heritage of woe.
It will hll all the coming ages with the fruitless wailing of a cruslied
and down-trodden, people.

I will now look into this subject somewhat, promising, however, to
avoid even the appearance of party bias or sectional prejudice.

When the philosophy of our Government is carefully studied, it will
be seen to be a system o( distributed pnoers between the different depart-
ments thereof It will also be seen tliat these departments have been
so incorporated into the general system, and endowed with such func-
tions, as to enable them to act as checks upon each other; and hence,
among the earlier statesmen of our country, it was called a system of
"checks and balances." In this distribution all the powers of Govern-
ment are vested by the Constitution in the legislative, executive, and
judicial departments, and that instrument has, with rare precision and
certainty, assigned to each its a[>propriate functions, and has wisely
guarded the whole by expressly forbidding the exercise b\' any one of
them of the powers assigned to either of the others.

It will be further seen that all the powers not conferred on the Gen-
etieral Government by the Constitution, and not " prohibited to the
States, are reserved to tlie States respectively, or to the [leople." Here
we liave the various departments o'f the National Government acting
as checks the one upon the other, while the General and State Govern-
ments are alike checks upon each other. It is in this admirable distri-
bution of power between the different departments of the General Gov-
ernment, and between the General and State Governments, that we
find the wisdom, beaut}', and strength of our system. While it is com-
plex it is also simple, and when its theory is rightlj' understood no prac-
tical solecism will be found in this declarntion. It will be found to be
complex in its machitiery, but at the same time simple in its operation.
It will be found to be the only feasible system by which absolute power
can be avoided and at the same time civil liberty preserved. As a
a system of government it is the wonder of the ages, and if not per-
verted or destroyed it will in less than a century become the model
upon whicii all the governments of the world will be molded. The in-
spirations of popular government have already entered into the hearts



„f ,l,e masses in Europe, and if we shall illustrate by »»[„^^^^7;ff *»'


woud disajust the halanee ot P0^«'- "'"'^'f'^tT- ,,;! hetrue would

fo,"f whi :tn thet;'ldenin1; whirl of partisan Vo^^^^^^^^:^

'''ir,';u"s?ats^::,!'the trusted mariners placed on the ^^P's l-kont

lix- tt ^ tisn,:^n?^ zx ^^^:^^^^^
5,,il': =ti::d'=l;:^e;;l.:^ :,^':::^^t^^:d ft^i tM^

G*;vernn,™t, a„d%vhieh may finally culminate n, nsnrpat.on, that the

^"I'd^n^t'heHev: I'l'S' the^'.S":"' ci.ief Executive has ever for a mo-
n, nfc Z'el.Tplal^l a -«», A*., Nay, I go '•-;ll- ^^^ f c a,., jai
Id., not believe he would desire to do so even il the way xvcie t.m ly

"ltX''p^esrtday'"any President would be rash indee.l to attempt
totl , th • ." of Nap.ion III. He would find l'"-" JP - ^'>-
the power of a nation's resistance whu-h no man, not even

Wa.hin,..,u l-'-^'If.;; ;,';-',-';';' ;^;,f' '1^' ■, ^e true that the day for

su h tl.inis ha. not passed by ]-^l^^<^.^^^^-'^'T7^^:'^^^
Fnrone ami our sister republic of Mexico, it is also true that tie ciay

; s^ ye Ze in the United States tor such a ^^^-^S -^^}^^^l

mv(>r It is that we may take timely warning, and prevent it m the

t c tlK T la^ ventn'red, althon.h almost unknown as an act^e

;;u:;::i\.;:.t l,. tl.e pnu-eedin.s of this body t^ nuse my voice m solemn

warning to my conntryn.en both North and ^<'nth

In a government like ours, where popular '^''''''''^f^l^J':^^,^^^^
not watch too sedulously, and, I will add, too jealoasly, the !M'>'^'^\
7Usoni. admini:.ra{ion ; and in this coimection I beg to say Uui f
Hk. emplovn.-nf ..f the military ar.n ot the Government, ot late >eai.,

in any of the States is unanthorized by the Constitution, snch employ-
ment is in the direction of consolidated power, and has an ahirming
tendency to dictatorial rule. Such a tendency is manifestly dangerous
to our institutions, and should be promptly and efiectually arrested by
the people at the ballot box. This is the more essential to our safety,
because in our Government a precedent once set and repeated soon sol-
idifies itself into the potential force of an organic law.

What I mean, if possible, to impress up -n the minds of my country-
men is, that although President Grant might and doubtless would fol-
low the illustrious example of Cincinnatus'aud repudiate the dictator-
ship, still as a natural outgrowth of unauthorizeci military power it may
be that at some time not very far in the future some Servilius Geminus
may rise up in our country and seize the reins of dictatorial rule, and
we'may find the history of the Eoman republic repeated in our own.

We value and regard our institutions of government as being emi-
nently wise and benign in themselves ; and indeed they are, but even
if they were less so the spirit of the second century of our national life
is opposed to any radiciil change in their organic form, wdiether such
change is eftected by formal amendments to the Constitution or by pre-
cedents which have been sanctified by continued use. At this very
moment the great national heart, so long silent, is throbbing in audible
pulsation and is ready to articulate in deep and unmistakable tones its
demand for peace, Uuion, and the Constitution as it is.

What we need in the United States is stability in the organic forms
of our Government, unvarying obedience to organic law, and just such
frequent changes in our rulers as may be necessary to secure honest,
economical, and etficient administration.

In this nineteenth century the voice of civilization demands peace in-
stead of revolution, and pleads for stability in all governments which
do really and substantially secure to citizens and subjects the enjoy-
ment of life, liberty, and property.

Our own Government, if wisely and honestly administered, is abund-
antly adequate to this great and salutary end ; and we shall become of
all the nations on "earth the most reprobate if we either p<)llute or break
down the sacred alters which our fathers erected to constitutional free-
dom one hundred years ago.

That something'is wrong in the working of the government machin-
ery must, I think, be apparent to all wdio will take the pains to observe
its operations. It will be seen that there is derangement somewhere,
in so'me of its parts ; that its regularity and harmony of movement have
been disturbed This must be patent to all intelligent and unpreju-
diced minds. And ].erhaps no better proof of this can be found than is
presented in the known fact that the patriotic and thoughtful statesmen
of the entire country are at this moment oppressed with perplexity of
mind and anxious foreboding on account of the events that are now
transpiring around us.

It must be apparent to all that the great balance-wheel in the ma-
chinery of government has been thrown from its axis, and unless it is
speedily replaced and re-adjusted it must and will result in fearful col-
lision, and in the ultimate destruction of a system which in times past
has performed its functions with a certainty and precision that has not
only secured the confidence of our own people, but has excited the
wonder and challenged the admiration of the world. In the very na-
ture of our political system, involving as it does both national and
State organization, it is indispensable, in order to insure its harmoni-
ous working, that each shall be confined within its own appropriate


and constitutional sphere. This delicate and difficult task was sons^ht
to be accom|)lisl)ed by the sages who framed the Constitution. That
the sj'stem has from time to time been drawn within tlie influence of
disturbing causes has been owing more to administrative mismanage-
ment than to any inherent defect.

The sphere in which both the national and State governments were
intended to move is accurately and expressly defined in the tenth
amendment of the Federal Constitution, and clearly means that the
General Government may exercise such powers onlj- as are delegated
to it, and that the States may only exercise such powers as are not del-
egated to the United States and as are not prohibited to the States by
the Constitution. Tbe language of the Constitution in this connection
is so clear and so free from all ambiguity that there would seem to be
no room for doubt as to the intention of its framers ; and the only
chance for misinterpretation would be in determining with certaint}''
what merely implied powers the General Government may, under the
Constitution, rightfully claim to exercise. These questions of construc-
tion have often arisen since the f)undation of the Government; and as
the executive and legislative departments have from time to time as-
sumed to decide them one way or the other, the executive and legisla-
tive policy of the country has been made to fluctuate. Bnt hitherto
an appeal to the judicial power of the Government has aftorded the
onh' authorative solution of doubtful constitutional questions. That
there should be some. tril)unal clothed with the power to detern\ine
whether executive or legislative action has transcended tlie limitations
of Constitution was absolutely necessary to prevent usurpations which
might be utterly subversive of our entire system of government.

The question of greatest difflculty was, where this important and deli-
cate power might be most safel}- lodged.

Knowing, as they did, the imperfection of all human systems, and
knowing too that ultimate power couhl not be vested in any man or
body of men, whose detei'minations would be infdlil)ly correct, the
framers of the C(Uistitution lodged it in tlie Federal judiciary as a co-
ordinate branch of the Government; and, in order to secure impartial
action on their part, they were clothed with the life tenure in oflice,
and thus made independent of the other co-ordinate branches of the
Government. AVhatever objection has been or may be urged against
this a|>propriation of power, it is, I believe, generally conceded that it
was the best and safest that could be devised, and it may here be added
that the interpretations of the Constitution given by this high and
august tribunal have rarely been brought in question.

Whether the Constitution thus interpreted has been disregarded
by either ol" the other de[)artments of the Government is certainly a
question which the j>cople may as a matter of r'ajht, and should as a mat-
ter of ditfi/, inquii'e into.

As in the natural world changes are ever taking place, so it may bo
said of all human institutions, that they are continually liable to trans-
mutations, and fi('<ii)ently by such slow and gradual processes as scarcely
to be j)erceptil)le at any given nunnent of ol>servalion. This is especially
so in rej)ublics, and hence the importance of sleejdess vigilance on the
part ol" the j)eople, who are the acknowledged source of jiolitical power
in a government such as ours. It is their duty to examine and scrutin-
ize evcrj/ act of ererjj achninistration of the Government. To do this in a
spirit of fairness, and with the sole purpose of presering the integrity
of our institutions, is what patriotism demands of every American citizen.

If the f )Undations of republican liberty have been weakened by


either corrupt or unwise administration, I implore my countrymen
■without delay to inquire into the nature and extent of the evil, and
thou2:htfully and wisely to consider of, and a})))ly the hest and most
pi-actieal means of removiniJ^ or lessening it. lint, in our anxiety to
restore the Government toil, healthful state let us not be rash or in-
considerate in clioosing the methods to be used for that purpose.
Above (ill, hi vs seek a peaceful escape from all the dangers ichich rnay, either
now or hcreafier, threaten om institutions.

Neither section of our country can stand the strain of another civil
•war, the diresi of all cahmiilics. Let us trust to public opinion, which
will assuredly o])en up >1 e wny to a peaceful solution of all our troub-
les, for in republics ]iubiic' opinion is more powerful than the sword, and
if relied on, will sooner or later overthrow all conspirators against the
constitution. Let us then trust in that; and if hereafter rash and am-
bitious men shall assail the Constitution, thetime will have come when,
in the language of Victor Hugo, it, "in spite of all conspirators against
the constitution, and mysteriously to them, before the invisible resist-
ance of the moral sentiment, before the invisible force of progress ac-
complished, before the formidable and mysterious refusal of an entire
century, will arise at the North and the South, at the East and the
West around tyrants, and tell them No!" and all conspirators against
the Constitution of the United States will find that it is safer to play
■with the lightning and the fierce thunderbolts of heaven than to trifle
■with a deceived and outi-aged people.

If the public opinion and moral sentiment of the nation cannot pre-
serve tlie purity of the ballot, and the integritj of our institutions, then
I proclaim our experiment in government a failure — for it is a govern-
ment of consent and not of force — the idea of a government main-
tained by armed force is opposed to all our political theories. If ever we
shall reach this point, we shall find that a radical change in the theory
of our system will become inevitable, and we shall be compelled to
adopt some other form of government. In that event (which I pray
may never occur) it would be wise to meet the inevitable and respond to
its demands by efi'ecting the transition by peaceful and bloodless
methods. But I have an abiding faith in abetter destiny. Let us vin-
dicate before the worhl the excellence of our political institutions by
kee]:)ing as we can, the theory and practice of our Government in per-
fect harmony and agreement.

It has been said by De Tocqneville, the great political philosopher,
that " France was the first to throw into the world, amid the thunders
of her first revolution, dogmas which have subsequently become the
regenerating principles of all modern societies, which has been the
glory and most precious portion of her history." So it may be justly
said of the United States that it was her glory, amid the thunders of
her first revolution, to seize upon those dogmas and make a practical
application of them, so as to illustrate to all the nations of the earth
the possibility of successful popular government; and this has become
" the most precious portion of our history." And as De Tocqneville
said of France, so it may be as truly said of the United States at this
time, that it is " these very principles which our example at the present
day is depriving of force. The a[)plication which we seem to make of
them, in our own case, leads the world to dcnibt their truth. Europe,
which is watching us, begins to ask if we were right or wrong. She
asks if it is true, what we have so often atfirmed, that we are leading
the nations of the earth toward a happier and ukh-c pros[)erous future,
or whether we are not drugging them down after us into moral degra-

^ • ThU P-entlemen, is what causes me most grief, iu

t':;^:"'™ which t' .?roS„g to the .oM. H no* only uyares

us Z it injure, on,; P-fH''- J,'' r'artm's tVom the trne theory of

i fear we ure making '1'" S'^ .""" 'T' '"we have wan-lereel very far

o„r Governn.ent It - t<?„';,':J«', ..fz ■ dnhn'tration. We seen,, for

out into the w,lde,;ness ot i^";" " .^°" A „„, safety for our Govern-
atin,eatleast tol,aveto,got™^ a^^^ ony ^^^^ >^^^.^^ ^_^^

nient is in tl,e Union of the Oo,,^t"tii^^ ^^^^^ ^^^^

l„,e equality of tl,e States. ]';l.^l'^XvZvy\nA the muhiplieation
in p.-<> "'■■tion to the expa,>^on o om tein .y ^^^..^^ ^^^^^.^^,^

of States, with the divei-s.ty 1 letots Ml ^.^^ ^^^^^^^^

remote regions, the l>reservat,o,i o u mty an i j^^ observance
more clifBeult; a,,aiet usreme,T,be n "- Jh^.^^ establishing them
of the Constitution is the only T"^^'""; , teri-itory spans a cou-

°pon sure and lastiiig fonndat.ous To-d^> om t^,^^^ ^^ J^ J^^^^, ^^ ^^^^

t/nent. With one foot rest,, g «^ ^^<-^„^,'^'':„,e nations of the earth
Pacific, our Government sa„d= 'o, th an o ^^^^ ^^^^^ ^^ ^^^^^^

in all the grand of « ^"•"^J.";'; „,,,. Let us by ou>; ex-


Online LibraryJesse Johnson FinleySpeech of Hon. Jesse J. Finley, of Florida, in the United States House of representatives, January 11th, 1877 → online text (page 1 of 2)