Open main menu

Page:Harvard Law Review Volume 2.djvu/372

This page needs to be proofread.

3 54 ^^^ YARD LA W RB VIE W.

will of the people ; it expressed the best thought of the day ; it was agreed dpon and put in force because it was found to be excellent. And surely, in changing things excellent in govern- ment, no maxim of statesmanship can be wiser than to make haste slowly. The constitution stands before the people as an emblem of strength and stability, and it begets in them a conservative habit of thought and of action which of itself is invaluable. But what, in respect to the constitution, is more conservative even than any express provisions or single feature is the fact that it is adapted to the needs and sentiments of the country, and the people arc content with it. This is not only more important to the country, but is infinitely more valuable in giving confidence and security in our intercourse with other nations than great fleets or powerful armies. Matthew Arnold, after his visit among us, in his criticism of what he found here, said : " The more I saw of America, the more I found myself led to treat institutions with increased respect. Until I went to the United States I had never seen a people with institutions which seemed expressly and thoroughly suited to it ; I had not properly appreciated the benefits proceeding from this cause." To look farther for the secret of the superior merit of Amer- ican institutions is needless ; they spring from national thoughts, sentiments, and impulses, and are therefore more expressly adapted to the people and their needs than are those of any other country. It is because of this that they give content and the blessings which content promotes. When institutions are thus the outgrowth of national thought and expressive of the national judgment, all right-minded people in their daily life and conduct are habitually in harmony with them. The difference between enforcing a law which is but the expression of the common thought, or, on the other hand, enforcing one which, however reasonable in itself abstractly considered, the common thought has not yet appro- priated and become habituated to, is so obvious that we need not pause to comment upon it. To the citizen it is the difference between freedom and oppression.

In what is so far said I have treated the constitution as being, while it stands, the final test of Haw and right. But when any written instrument is to be applied to a great variety of subjects, most of which were not present to the minds of the framers in drafting it, there are likely to arise many troublesome questions in regard to its application. In the decision of such questions