Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 22.djvu/719

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EDITOR'S TABLE.

It was far otherwise in tins country. Slavery created by law was unquestionably recognized and protected by the American Constitution. Yet there were provisions in the instrument which, if liberally and humanely interpreted, would have destroyed it. The Constitution, however, was construed literally, verbally, and technically, and no question was permitted to be raised in regard to the principles of justice which should underlie all such charters, and which were profusely declared in its preamble to pervade the American Constitution. The written Constitution thus, in fact, became the bulwark of slavery, and was accordingly denounced by the passionate reformers as "a league with death and a covenant with hell." To go behind the literal constitutional provisions for the protection of slavery was denounced as virtual treason. The question of abstract right and wrong was held to be irrelevant and impertinent; the slave system was legal, and therefore not to be meddled with. Henry Clay laid down the American formula upon the subject in the Senate of the United States in 1838, in the following words: "What the law declares to be property is property." This was the lawyer's view, and it was also the people's view; and it was this triumph of law over right that maintained slavery until, American civilization proving unequal to the contest, it was ended at last by the barbarism of war.

Equally marked has been the contrast of the English and American policies on the question of the rights of authors to property in their works. We have referred to this before, but our people can not be reminded of it too often. The question is one of no little perplexity, but very easily befogged, and it is well fitted to test statesmanship and national character.

It had been long felt in England that arrangements upon the subject of copyright, both national and international, were imperfect, and there was a growing demand for their amendment. The government understood its duty in the matter, and a few years ago a parliamentary commission was appointed to sift the whole subject, to report upon the deficiency of existing legislation, and what practical measures of improvement are demanded. The commission was ably constituted, and made a deliberate and exhaustive investigation, summoning before it the weightiest men both at home and abroad, and patiently taking their testimony, whatever its bearing or import. The report recognized the question as one of national importance, and as involving grave state obligations. There was no quibbling or paltering about the rights of authors. The sophistries of crotchety witnesses were brushed aside, and it was broadly affirmed as a matter of radical justice that when a man produces a book by his labor he has a right to property in it which the government is imperatively bound to protect. The subject, moreover, was lifted out of the sordid sphere of mere political expediency, which dominates so widely in international intercourse. The temptation was sore to reduce it to the trading basis of reciprocity, but this temptation was firmly resisted. It was felt that, whether America will grant copyright or not, the course of England is clear. In the report made by the commissioners in 1878, they say: "It has been suggested to us that this country would be justified in taking steps of a retaliatory character, with a view of enforcing, incidentally, that protection from the United States which we accord to them. This might be done by withdrawing from the Americans the privilege of copyright on first publication in this country. We have, however, come to the conclusion that it is advisable that our law should be based on correct principles, irrespective of the opinions or policy of other nations. We admit the pro-