Amid the varied experiments of the ages the human mind is more and more settling itself in favor of mixed forms of government, in which the rights of the people and the limitations of authority are set down in fixed constitutions, taking the direct rule from the multitude, but still holding the rulers accountable to the people. Such were more or less the forms under which the founders of our commonwealth were tutored.
A REPUBLICAN STATE.
But they went a degree further than the precedents before them. They believed the safest depository of power to be with the people themselves, under constitutions ordained by those intending to live under them and administered by persons of their own choice. “Where the laws rule, and the people are a party to those laws,” was believed to be the true ideal and realization of civil liberty—the way “to support power in reverence with the people, and to secure the people from the abuse of power, that they may be free by their just obedience, and the magistrates honorable for their just administration.”
And with these ideas, “with reverence to God and good conscience to men,” the first General Assembly in 1682 enacted a common code of sixty-one laws, in which the foundation-stones of the civil and criminal jurisprudence of this broad commonwealth were laid, and a style of government ordained so reasonable, moderate, just, and equal in its provisions that no one yet has found just cause to deny the wisdom and beneficence of its structure, whilst Montesquieu pronounces it “an instance unparalleled in the world’s history of the foundation of a great state laid in peace, justice, and equality.”
THE LAST TWO HUNDRED YEARS.
Two hundred years have gone by since this completed organization of our noble commonwealth. Her free and liberal principles then still remained in large measure to be learned by some of the other American colonies. From the very start she was the chief conservator of what was to be the model for all this grand Union of free States—a character which she has never lost in all the history of our national existence. Six generations of stalwart freemen has she reared beneath her shielding care to people her own vast territory and that of many other States, no one of which has ever failed in truthfulness to the great principles in which she was born. Always more solid than noisy, and more reserved than obtrusive, she has ever served as the great balance-wheel in the mighty engine of our national organization. Her life, commingled with other lives attempered to her own, now pulsates from ocean to ocean and from the frozen lakes to the warm Gulf waters, all glad and glorious in the unity and sunshine of constitutional government in the hands of a free people. With her population drawn from all nationalities to learn from her lips the sacred lessons of independent self-rule, she has sent it forth as freely to the westward to build co-equal States in the beauty of her own image, whilst four millions of her children still abide in growing happiness under her maternal care. Verily, it was the spirit of prophecy which said, two hundred years ago, “God will bless that ground.”