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Page:Harvard Law Review Volume 2.djvu/361

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WRITTEN AND PRESCRIPTIVE CONSTITUTIONS. 343

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manifest. If we insist upon perfect laws, and will have no others, we shall never have any at all ; we shall be left to battle for perfection in a condition of hopeless anarchy. Bad as the com- promise was in some aspects, we shall do well to remember that the constitution was the imperative need of the hour, and that to its establishment was due the fact that slavery in the States was at last brought within reach of the power that could strike the fatal blow. A great statesman, given by New York to the Union, once said : *' I early learned from Jefferson that in politics we must do what we can ; not what we would." It was a wise saying. In government we must strive for what is best, but we must be content to put up with something less than perfection. The golden rule appeals to the heart and the conscience of the individual man, but it cannot be incorporated in legislation to be enforced by magistrates and the police. And even if it could be, there would be many things in government to which it could have little or no application ; things which concern public policy only, and in respect to which the rules of morality and right give little or no guidance.

No people, however highly endowed in other respects, ever rose above the state of barbarism, unless it possessed the organizing faculty, the genius for law and settled institutions, the willingness to submit to rule, and a perception of its necessity. It was because he had these that the brutal Saxon has in time developed into the law-respecting and law-abiding Englishman and Ameri- can. Without them he would have been as savage now as he was when we first hear of him. It has been humorously said, but with substantial truth, that if a chance meeting of Americans were to take place in a desert, they would immediately organize and hold an election. The election would mean order and security. Let one of their animals be stolen, and a lynch court would be organized, and perhaps a hanging take place. This, in a sense, would be lawless ; but it might be the first step in a process of evolution that in time would give established courts and eminent jurists to a great commonwealth. The lynch court that gives us rude justice, when no other is possible, is infinitely preferable to no court at all. Americans have not inaptly been called the Romans of the modern world, because of their instinct for political construction, and for laying broad and deep the founda- tions of governmental structure. Possibly there may be discovered