Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

itself to it, and that it cannot now be eradicated, without leaving a wound. Failing to consider that all members of the community are not equally enlightened, and that both mental and moral reform must, in the nature of things, precede positive human law, they look to no other means of securing their projected reforms, than the coercive power of statutory enactment. It must be admitted that men of these and kindred views have deeply engraven their spirit upon modern legislation. Probably few persons become members of either our state or national assemblies, who are entirely without the impression that there are evils in existing law, which it is their mission to remove. Associated with this is a frequent ambition to connect their own names with some public measure. To the ill considered experiments to which such impressions and this ambition prompt, many of the evils of our present legislation are to be attributed.

From the view which we have submitted of the influences which find their way into all legislative bodies, especially into those which reflect the popular sense, the transition is easy to the faults and imperfections which American legislation exhibits. We have already alluded to some, and have reserved to ourselves only time to mention a few others. The intelligent observer must be impressed with the conviction that American legislation is excessive. The most artificial state of society is not the best. That community is most prosperous, as well as most free, which is permitted to pursue its course of industry, untrammeled by any rules other than those which are neces. sary for its protection and harmony. The prescription of any new rule of action, necessarily produces temporary friction in the machinery of society, and instead of promoting immediate harmony, tends to foster litigation. Skillful legislation will therefore be sparing. Its province is not to construct, but to develop. The lawgiver should be an assistant, not a despot. As society advances, new complications will arise. Legislation should disembarrass them, and prevent their continuing obstacles to further improvement. When an old custom has lost its vitality and become an useless form, it may be exscinded When forms are needed for the application of acknowleged

VOL. XVIII.

principles, it is the province of legislation to supply them. When crime assumes new phases, or overleaps existing barriers, the lawgiver should provide for its repression. When an additional stimulus is needed to whatever is useful or noble, it should be supplied. Whatsoever is more than this cometh of evil. He that is familiar with the labors of judicial tribunals must have observed how immensely the complications of society are multiplied by modern legislation, and how numerous are the disturbances to which it gives rise. There is eminent wisdom in the old saying, “few rules and those inflexible.” How wide has been the departure from this maxim, in these days, the size of our statute books will show.

Nor is it alone in its excesses, that legislation needs reform. It is not sufficiently intelligent. There is very much in the material of which legislators, in this country, are made, that tends to inconsiderate and ill advised action. We have said that legislation is a science, and yet, by most of those who frame it, it has never been made the subject of study. In England, there is, what is called, a political education. There is a pro. fession of statesmanship. Not a few devote their lives to the attainment of a knowledge of national history, not merely of the biographies of eminent men which fill so large a place in all written history, but of the whole course of executive and legislative proceeding. To them political economy is not a sealed volume. They illuminate themselves with the lights of past experience. They observe the growth of legal principles, and mark the effect upon society of each new development. Nor are they ignorant of the existing state of the law, of its defects, and of the mischiefs, if any, which need a remedy. Knowing alike the law and the facts which require legislative interposition, they are not insensible to the derangement which even a slight alteration may cause in a great system of rules for municipal conduct, and they are able to foresee it. Such men are cautious. When they enter Parliament, if they bring with them integrity, they bring safety. We have no such class of men in this country. Here men are born legislators. While there is a general appreciation of the value and the necessity of a preparatory education for a theologian-for a medical practitioner—for one whose province it is to administer the laws, or even for an artist, its importance to the lawgiver is not practically felt. Yet in his relation to the welfare of society he is behind no one, unless it be the teacher of religion.

We cannot but think that in this American scholars are in fault. Here is a department of science which they overlook. Too often themselves indisposed to enter a legislative body, they do not devote to the true principles of useful legislation that thought which their importance to the general welfare demands, and consequently they have little influence with those who are active agents in making the laws. Cultivated intellect and thorough knowledge do not contribute their share to the municipal regulation of the community. It is doubtless due to the general intelligence of our people, that our written law is not more crude than it is. But were it made a subject of general study ; did legislation, equally with other sciences, command the devotion of educated men, we should be delivered from a multitude of evils. We should not, often, as now, find in our statute books an enactment working widely different effects from those which its framers anticipated—deranging what no one ever desired to disturb, and imposing the necessity of other legislation to remove mischiefs introduced by itself. We should no more be subjected to the trial of illusory theories, and ill digested experiments, so many of which now end in failure, and during their continuance work social disaster. We should have a clearer expression of the legislative sense, with a consequent diminution of the necessity to resort to courts of law, and a decrease of the number of cases of individual hardship.

In this age of wonderful mental activity, when science is in a state of rapid progression in this utilitarian age, when universal knowledge pays her tribute to the common weal-it should not be that the science of legislation alone is regarded as unworthy of the study of educated men. Young ambition is often eager to assume its duties and to share its honors. It would be a nobler ainbition to aspire to fitness to discharge its duties well.

ARTICLE III.-DENOMINATIONAL COLLEGES.

Fourteenth Annual Report of the Society for Promoting

Collegiate and Theological Education at the West. Address on the Mutual Coöperation of Different Denomina

tions, in the support of Christian Colleges.

We owe our readers an apology for the phrase which we liare placed at the head of this Article. We confess it is not exactly classical. The word “denominational ” is of recent American origin; and we remember the time when the combination of this word with Colleges would have seemed harsh, if not quite unintelligible. But changes in ideas and institutions compel changes in words; and Americans are not neces. sarily to be charged with relapsing into barbarism, if they do make changes in the English language, corresponding to the novel ideas and social combinations, which have originated on this side of the Atlantic.

Diversity of religious denomination has increased so rapidly within the last quarter of a century, and has become so important an element in American society, that there is an imperative necessity of an adjective expressive of it. The word “sectarian " might be supposed to meet this want; but it always implies more or less of censure, and for that reason men are not fond of applying it to themselves and their party. They are apt to flatter themselves that though much attached to the religious denomination to which they belong, they are still not sectarians. They feel, therefore, the need of a word which will describe zeal for a denomination, as they like to call it, without any implication of a narrow and sectarian spirit. For this purpose, evidently, the word “denominational” was coined, and has obtained currency; and we shall profit nothing by protesting against its use, for it meets a widely felt want.

The phrase, “Denominational Colleges," is also the product of comparatively recent changes in the minds of the American people. It is within the memory of men yet not far from the meridian of life, that the thought had scarcely been entertained by any mind that a College should be in any sense the representative of a sect, or that such Colleges as Princeton, and Columbia, and Yale, were not suitable for the education of any American youth, whatever might be the religious views of his parents.

But it is supposed the world is growing wiser. Many now regard it as an established law of society, that no College can flourish unless its very life is intertwined with that of some religious denomination ; and that conversely no denomination, or, as persons entertaining such views, would generally prefer to say, no church, can be expected to prosper without a system of Colleges forming a part of its organic life.

The process by which these ideas have taken possession of the popular mind is quite marvelous. They are not the result of any new light which has been thrown upon the subject by discussion, or by discovery, or by the experience of educators. They are the direct products of that multiplication of sects, and that vast increase of the sectarian spirit which have so strangely characterized the last half century of our history. Men full of zeal for their religious denomination, and ambitious of its aggrandizement, have discovered that Colleges are instruments of power, and have therefore eagerly seized upon them, and sought to wield them with as much efficiency as possible, for denominational purposes. “ Furor arma minis trat."

It seems to us, therefore, quite time to pause in our career, and inquire whither all this is tending. What is to be the result of an order of things which is new, we say, not within the memory of our fathers, but of ourselves; which has been inaugurated with the rashness and hot haste of sectarian zeal, rather than with the considerateness and sober reflection which the magnitude of the interests involved clearly calls for; and which is already, with an arrogance not very pardonable, representing itself as the normal condition of society, and not

« AnteriorContinuar »