In assuming the office of Chief Magistrate, it becomes my duty, in accordance with usage, to indicate the policy which will govern me in the execution of this great trust.
I should do great injustice to my own feelings, did I not express my grateful sense of the regard and confidence shown me by my fellow citizens in the late election. Conscious of many deficiencies, and diffident of being able always to meet the expectations of the people, I shall promise nothing but a faithful endeavor to promote their interests, and ask nothing in return but confidence in the purity of my motives and purposes.
Before alluding to matters of local concern, the posture of national affairs renders it proper that I should express frankly certain views upon the great questions of public policy now pending before the country. They have been formed after much anxious reflection, and seem to me worthy of the consideration of all good citizens, without distinction of party. There is nothing which all of us have more at heart than the prosperity and true glory of our country, and the perpetuity of our free institutions; and those questions which relate most nearly to these great objects, demand our first and most earnest attention. It is not to be disguised that we have arrived at a critical period of our country's history, and that the capacity of the people for maintaining a constitutional government is being subjected to a severer test than ever before.
We ought to approach the consideration of the issues before us with charity for each other's opinions, mindful of our obligations as citizens of a common country; anxious, each and all, to maintain the Federal Constitution inviolate, and to preserve the Federal Union in the spirit of our fathers.
Whatever our party relations may be, our interests are inseparable, and our motives and objects should be identical. Political parties will exist in every country that is free; yet party spirit, when carried to excess, is the bane of republican governments and constantly endangers their stability. Blind prejudice for or against party names disqualifies men for the duties of good citizenship, because it paralyzes their judgements upon political questions. All parties, at some period of their career, commit errors, and infallibility cannot be predicated of any man or body of men. No party can justly claim a monopoly of patriotism or intelligence. The mass of all parties are sincere in their convictions, and honestly desire the real welfare of their country. Aspersion of motives and abusive epithets provoke recrimination, produce alienation and bitterness of feeling, and ought to be condemned by all good citizens.
At the time my predecessor was inaugurated, a gigantic civil war was in progress, which taxed the whole energies of the country. The people of the Southern States had rebelled against the authority of the Federal Government, and, instead of relying for redress of alleged grievances upon peaceful means, undertook to assert their independence by force of arms. After an arduous struggle of four years, the war was terminated by the complete triumph of the national forces and the suppression of the rebellion. Those in arms against the national authority surrendered without any conditions other than such as were agreed upon by the Generals in the field.
The right of secession claimed to exist by a portion of the people of the Southern States, was never recognized by the people of the Northern States, and has been extinguished finally and forever by the result of the war. Indeed, it cannot seem otherwise than strange that any persons could be found to advocate a doctrine so destructive of the ends of a federal government. A right of revolution exists always when oppression is practiced for which there is no other adequate redress; but the right of any member of the Union to withdraw at pleasure, and thereby extinguish federal authority over its citizens, could never be recognized without assenting to the practical repeal of the Constitution and the abolition of the Federal-Government. No government existing by so frail a tenure could command respect at home or abroad. Such a doctrine needs no discussion before the people of California, for it has been expressly repudiated here by all political parties.
Not only has the war put an end to any claim of such right, but slavery also—the great subject of contention between the North and the South—has perished in the struggle, and can never, in any form, be revived. The object of the war upon our part being avowedly the enforcement of the laws and the preservation of the Union, it is a remarkable fact that, although the war was successfully closed two years and a half ago, the Union is, apparently, no nearer restoration to-day than in the spring of eighteen hundred and sixty-five. The reasons for this fact, and the effect of the policy pursued by Congress, I propose briefly to examine.
In order to arrive at correct conclusions on this subject, there must be a disposition to lay aside preconceived opinions, and, in a spirit of candid inquiry, to aim at forming a correct judgment as to what policy will promote the highest good of the whole people. This is the duty of every citizen, for upon the right solution of the questions involved may depend the preservation of the Union and the Government.
The love of country is justly extolled as one of the noblest feelings of the human breast. In the mind of every American this feeling is strengthened not merely by a contemplation of the greatness of his country, its territorial extent and unexampled resources and progress, but by an appreciation of the beneficent system of government framed by the wisdom of our fathers, and which has been for more than three quarters of a century the admiration of the world.
No standard of valuation could express the worth of our free institutions, and language could hardly give an adequate idea of the sacrifices by which these institutions were purchased. Their excellence consists mainly in two elements: first, that they afford to the people the free choice of their rulers; and second, that under our system the powers of government are defined and limited by written Constitutions.
The forms of government which prevail in Europe are chiefly monarchical. The defect in such forms frequently consists not merely in the lack of popular choice, but in lack of restraint upon the power of the monarch—unlimited power in the hands of a king; in other words, as absolute monarchy is a despotism which may be mild or cruel, according to the qualities and character of the sovereign. There is no intelligent reader of history who is not aware that an unlimited democratic government is more objectionable and dangerous than an absolute monarchy. It is a familiar saying, that one tyrant is preferable to a multitude. The object of checks and limitations under a republican government is to protect the minority from oppression by the majority.
It is stated by all intelligent writers that there is more danger of overthrow of free governments by legislative usurpations than by any other cause. The reason is obvious. The very number of the legislative body destroys all sense of individual guilt or responsibility. The temporary majority claim to represent the will of the people, and under the leadership of extreme men, are prone to oppressive measures against the minority. The people are sometimes carried away by excitement and passion, and misled by designing politicians. They rarely fail, however, upon reflection, to see the right and correct their error.
The safety of our institutions consists in the virtue and good sense of the mass of the people, which will prevent them from pursuing any pernicious policy if they have sufficient time for reflection before the mischief becomes irreparable.
One object of constitutional limitation is to secure this time for passion to cool and for reason to prevail over prejudice. If, however, either the Legislature or Executive disregard the limits upon their power fixed by the people in the organic law, the whole virtue of our system is gone and what we supposed to be a constitutional republic becomes the mere tyranny of a majority. Such a government would be the worst form of despotism, and hence the vital importance of confining the Legislature and Congress within the sphere of their constitutional powers. Upon this depends everything valuable in our institutions—the protection of our lives and property, and the security of our liberties. These fundamental principles cannot be too often repeated, or too deeply impressed upon the popular mind and heart.
It has of late been common to deride all appeals to the Constitution, and to speak of the powers of Congress as though Congress were the creator of the Constitution, instead of being its creature. Such sentiments tend to the destruction of the Government, for what is the framework of government but the Constitution? It is not the President, nor Congress, nor the Supreme Court, nor all combined. It is the written Constitution, adopted by the people as the organic law. Those who advocate the doctrine that Congress can override the Constitution, or act "outside of the Constitution," or under the plea of necessity exercise powers not granted by that instrument, are aiding to establish a principle that will destroy whatever is sacred and valuable in our free institutions. Legions of armed foes could never accomplish so much to destroy this admirable framework of government which we have inherited from our fathers, and which we hope to transmit as a priceless legacy to our children.
In a strict adherence to the organic law is our only safety. There are certain personal rights secured by it for which we have no other guarantee whatever. One is the right to be tried by a jury for alleged criminal offences, which has justly been termed an inestimable right. It has from time immemorial been regarded as the palladium of civil liberty. Without it there is no security for a fair and impartial trial. The privilege of the writ of habeas corpus is another of those rights which affords a security against illegal imprisonment. This has been the boast of every lover of liberty in England and this country for centuries. The security of private dwellings against unreasonable search, the right to be protected against prosecutions for capital or infamous crimes, except upon presentment of a grand jury, the freedom of the press, and the subordination of the military to the civil authority, are also guaranteed by the fundamental law. These rights are as precious as life itself. Without them, life to a freeman would be of little value. Tens of thousands in all ages have preferred torture and death to a surrender of those personal rights which are so dear to the heart of every American. The only security for them, however, is to be found in the provisions of the Constitution, and in the determination of the people that those provisions shall be respected by their public servants in Congress and in all departments of the Government. It is useful to recur to elementary principles like these, which in times of excited passion are in danger of being lost sight of and undervalued; and no legislation which cannot stand the test of these principles ought to be countenanced for a moment by the people.
It has always been a political and legal axiom that the Federal Government is one of enumerated and delegated powers. It can exercise no powers except those expressly conferred, and such incidental ones as are necessary to the proper exercise of the powers granted. All powers not thus granted are reserved to the States or to the people. The powers delegated to the Federal Government are for certain specific purposes. The State Governments exercise all powers not prohibited to them by the State or Federal Constitution. The result is, that the several States have exclusive control of their local and domestic concerns, while certain enumerated national powers are intrusted to the Federal Government. Upon no other basis could our system permanently exist, for it would be idle to expect a Legislature, in a Capital three thousand miles distant, to legislate intelligently upon the local interests of the people of California. Upon local affairs, exclusive State authority, and upon national affairs, exclusive Federal authority, as defined and expressed in the Constitution, are the only conditions compatible with the perpetuity of the Union. A consolidated republic, with legislative power exercised at a distant Capital, would become odious to the people, and would fall to pieces by its own weight. A strict construction of the Federal Constitution, instead of weakening, strengthens the Union. The opposite construction leads to profligate legislation, to interference with the domestic affairs of the States, and tends to alienate the affections of the people.
The late war was waged on our part to enforce the authority of the Federal Government in the Southern States and prevent the disruption of the Union, and not to destroy the liberties of any portion of the people, or create a negro empire on our southern border. At the commencement of the war Congress made a formal declaration of its object in a resolution that "the war was not waged on our part in any spirit of oppression, nor in any spirit of conquest or subjugation, nor for the purpose of overthrowing or interfering with the rights or established institutions of those States, but to defend and maintain the supremacy of the Constitution and preserve the Union, with all the dignity, equality, and rights of the several States unimpaired."
This solemn pledge and declaration of the object of the war was repeated by the executive and legislative departments on various occasions, and cannot be violated without a breach of public faith and a stain upon our national honor.
In our diplomatic correspondence with foreign powers, it was declared explicitly that the suppression of the insurrection would leave the insurgent States with all their rights intact. An unvarying series of acts and declarations by the Executive and Congress, from the outbreak of the war to the present time, all proceed upon the hypothesis that the ten Southern States are not out of the Union, but States within the Union and within the pale of the Constitution. Their separate State existence was recognized in the adoption of the Constitutional Amendment abolishing slavery; in official intercourse with the other States and the General Government; in the appointment, and confirmation of judicial and other officers for them, and in the universal admission that they must be counted in determining whether the amendments last proposed have been adopted by a sufficient number of States.
The Acts of Congress admitting such of them as came into the Union subsequently to the adoption of the Federal Constitution stand unrepealed and irrepealable; some of them are of the original thirteen which achieved independence and organized the government.
Part of their sovereignty was delegated to the Federal Government for certain national purposes, but their existence as States cannot be destroyed by any lawful or constitutional authority. We fought throughout the war on the side of the Government for the principle that their ordinances of secession were void, and that they were still subject to the Constitution and laws, and we establish our doctrine by the success of our arms.
If our doctrine was correct, and our declarations were true, we were not waging a war of conquest, but one for the maintenance of the Constitution and the enforcement of the laws.
Either they were and are in the Union as States, and their citizens bound to obey the Constitution, and entitled to protection under it, or they were and are out of the Union, and their people not bound to obey the Constitution, and not entitled to protection under it. If we admit this latter proposition, we admit that we have been waging a war of conquest for dominion, and not a war to maintain the Constitution and preserve the Union. Such an admission would dishonor us in our estimation and in that of the civilized world. The very acts of Congress which seek to ignore and extinguish the State Governments, recognize existence by authorizing, in certain contingencies, Department Commanders to remove executive, legislative, and judicial officers of those States, and detail military officers to assume the functions of the persons so removed.
The reconstruction policy of Congress is embodied in several distinct measures, the principal ones of which are what are termed the Military Reconstruction Bills, one passed March second, eighteen hundred and sixty-seven, one passed March twenty-third, eighteen hundred and sixty-seven, and one passed July, eighteen hundred and sixty-seven, two years after the war had ended.
These enactments assume that ten of the Southern States are conquered territory, and proceed to divide them into five military districts, each under the command of a military officer not below the grade of Brigadier-General. They abolish in effect the right of trial by jury, and make the accused subject to trial by military commissions; they prohibit any interference by the State authorities, thereby abolishing the writ of habeas corpus; they ignore presentment by grand juries; they tacitly permit the suppression of public journals by military orders, and allow no appeal from military sentence except in capital cases, to the clemency of the President. They assume the control of the elective franchise, which the Constitution vests exclusively in the States; and after disfranchising a large class of the white population, confer the right of suffrage upon all negroes over twenty-one, without regard to qualifications for its intelligent exercise.
This is briefly the nature of the reconstruction policy of Congress. It takes from the white people of ten States their constitutional rights, and leaves them subject to military rule; and disfranchises enough white men to give the political control to a mass of negroes just emancipated and almost as ignorant of political duties as the beasts of the field.
In these measures Congress commits the solecism of legislating martial law; that is, under a constitutional government, in a period of profound peace, the national legislature enacts that in ten States of the Union there shall be no law but the will of the Department Commander, and that the political power in those States shall be given to the negroes, who can thereby control their domestic administration and send to Congress negro senators and representatives, to assist in making laws to govern the white people of the North. Thus, the reconstruction policy of Congress is the subversion of all civil government under military rule, the abolition of those personal rights guaranteed by the Constitution and held sacred since the Government was formed, the subjection of the white population of the Southern States, men, women and children, to the domination of a mass of ignorant negroes just freed from slavery.
This policy sweeps away in ten States all safeguards of personal liberty, trial by jury, writ of habeas corpus, and security of private dwellings, and leaves every civil officer, executive, legislative, and judicial, to hold his position at the pleasure of the military.
It then confers the elective franchise on the blacks, and provides a system which gives them (though actually a minority) a voting majority over the whites, making those States, negro States; introducing the negro into federal office, and giving him power to participate in federal legislation. That any white man could be found on this continent to sanction a policy so subversive of rational liberty, and in the end so fatal to the Union and the Government, is a subject of unceasing astonishment.
These measures are a violation of the fundamental principles of the Constitution and of liberty; of every dictate of sound policy; of every sentiment of humanity and of christianity; and are a disgrace to our country and to the age in which we live. In using this strong condemnatory language I am not insensible to the fact that thousands of good men appear to approve of the measures of Congress, nor do I presume to sit in judgment on their motives. Many of them, doubtless, are unconsciously influenced by the passions and resentments of the war, and in their anxiety to guard against an imaginary danger, sanction principles the tendency of which is subversive of republican institutions.
Others have accepted the representations of partizan leaders and presses without examining and judging for themselves.
I entreat all such to pause and ask themselves what good can possibly result from this policy, and where will it end? Do we indeed wish to enslave and degrade our fellow citizens of the southern States? Was it for this that we expended so lavishly our blood and treasure to preserve the Union? Neither our gallant soldiers nor the northern people ever cherished any design to oppress the southern people, nor to erect another St. Domingo on our southern border. A policy which has led the white population of ten States of the Union to consider the necessity of exiling themselves from the soil in which sleeps the dust of their kindred for generations, and which is hallowed by the patriotic deeds of an heroic ancestry and the associations of childhood and youth, is not a policy which ought to be adopted by a magnanimous and christian people; and this is proposed not against aliens, but against our own countrymen, bone of our bone, and flesh of our flesh, sons of sires who fought side by side with our own in the revolution, sons of patriots and statesman who assisted to establish the foundations of the Government, and to whom we are in part indebted for the very liberties we now enjoy.
It is insisted by those who argue in favor of the reconstruction measures, that the southern people rebelled, and that rebels ought not to possess political rights or franchises; that the disloyal whites cannot be trusted, and that, therefore, the control should be given to the blacks. The answer to this is plain. No man or class of men, under our form of government, can be deprived of rights or punished for crime except after a fair trial and conviction. We cannot overthrow republican government and civil liberty at the South without inflicting a fatal wound on our own liberties. We must trust the white people of those States with the right of self-government, unless we mean to abandon republican institutions altogether. Besides, it is not true that there is any disposition among the people of those States to repeat the experiment of secession. Their young men have been slaughtered, their country laid waste, and they left destitute of most of the comforts, and in some localities, of the very necessaries of life. The cry for bread has come to us from their famishing households. They have in good faith submitted to the results of the war, and disclaim all idea of secession or of resistance to federal authority. Their right to be represented in Congress is an absolute right, guaranteed to them by the Constitution.
Citizens can be legally tried and punished for treason or for any other crime, but States cannot be deprived of representation without revolutionizing the Government. We have fought against the principle of secession, and have established the doctrine that no State can withdraw from the Union. These States are not out of the Union, unless we falsify all our professions during the war; and if they are in the Union, their representatives are entitled to admission to Congress. A congressional majority may choose to think their political opponents disloyal, and, on that ground, attempt to exclude them from Congress, but it is evident that the Government could never long be administered in such a spirit or upon such principles.
One man may think every one a traitor who is opposed to permitting negroes or Chinamen to hold office or sit on juries. Another may think every man disloyal who is opposed to forcing negro suffrage upon all the states, in defiance of the Constitution. The late proceedings of Congress in the case of the representatives from Kentucky, illustrate the principle involved. The people of a State which has never seceded or rebelled, which furnished about as large a proportion of soldiers, and performed as much service, and suffered more loss for the Government than any northern State of equal population, by a decisive majority elected representatives to Congress who were refused seats by the dominant party, though no contestants appeared.
This proceeding was both an indignity and a wrong to the people of Kentucky, and a precedent full of evil import to every other State. It is not the right of a majority in Congress to dictate to the people of a State what representatives the latter shall elect, so long as those chosen have the qualifications prescribed in the Constitution. Beyond these, the people who elect are the exclusive judges; otherwise, the right of representation would be of little worth. Democratic representatives might be excluded this year, and republican representatives the next. Vermont and Massachusetts have no more right to prescribe tests of loyalty for representatives from Kentucky and California, than Kentucky and California have for Vermont and Massachusetts.
If, during the war of eighteen hundred and twelve, the representatives from Massachusetts had been denied admission to Congress for opposition to the war, or at a later period, on account of legislation nullifying the fugitive slave law, that State would have had just ground of complaint. The fear of southern representatives is groundless. What is there in the crushed and subdued people of the southern States, with their slaves emancipated, which should excite any fear on the part of a powerful and victorious Government? It is inconceivable that any person should seriously apprehend resistance to federal authority for a generation to come, if the people of those States are not goaded to desperation by wanton persecution and oppression.
Had their representatives been admitted to Congress in December, eighteen hundred and sixty-five, quiet and harmony would have been restored long before this time, and industry would have revived there. Population and capital would have flowed in from the North and Europe, but neither population nor capital will trust themselves where civil rights exist only at the pleasure of the military, and the negro has political control.
The policy of Congress adds to the burdens of taxation by keeping on foot a large military force at the South, with the expensive machinery of Freedmen's Bureaus, and impairs public and private credit by creating a feeling of insecurity and apprehension for the future.
The policy or propriety of admitting the blacks to the right of suffrage belongs to each State to determine for itself. Had Congress been able to control this subject, both negro and Chinese suffrage would probably have been forced upon the people of California against the will of the vast majority. Ignorance of the effects of such legislation would have inflicted upon us evils absolutely intolerable.
So far as California is concerned, the people of this State have expressed their opposition both to negro and Chinese suffrage. It is a question not of inalienable right, but simply of expediency. The question is, whether it will be for the greatest good of the greatest number to confine the elective franchise to the whites, or to extend it to the negroes and Chinese. A portion of those persons in this State who favor negro suffrage hesitate to advocate Chinese suffrage, but the congressional policy makes no distinction.
On the contrary, that policy proposes to ignore all discrimination in political privileges, founded on race or color. Indeed, there is no line that can be drawn, unless suffrage is confined to the white population. If it is a question of justice, as some assert, and justice requires the ballot to be given to the negro, then it equally requires the ballot to be given to the Chinaman. If the negro requires the ballot to protect himself, as others assert, then the Asiatic needs it to protect himself. There is however, no truth in either statement. No principle of justice is involved any more than in the case of females or minors, or foreigners not naturalized. Nor does the negro need the ballot to protect himself any more than either of the other classes referred to; on the contrary, it is for the good of both of those races that the elective franchise should be confined to the whites. The aid of Africans and Asiatics would be an evil, and not a benefit. It would introduce the antipathy of race into our political contests, and lead to strife and bloodshed. The opposition to giving the negro and Asiatic the ballot is not based upon prejudice or ill will against those races, but upon a conviction of the evils which would result to the whole country from corrupting the source of political power with elements so impure.
It is not a sound reason for conferring the elective franchise upon negroes if it were true that they need more protection. Upon this theory, the more helpless and ignorant the negro is the more propriety there would be in admitting him to the ballot box and making him a legislator and a sovereign. Our free institutions rest upon the virtue and intelligence of the people, and upon these qualities is based the only hope of their preservation; but this doctrine of negro suffrage, so persistently advocated by senators and representatives in Congress, proposes as a basis for republican institutions, brutal ignorance and barbarism. So far from the ballot protecting the negroes, it would eventuate in their destruction. The effort to give it to them by military force has already created a feeling of hostility between them and the white population of the South. These inferior races have their civil rights, as all good men desire they should have. They can sue and defend in the courts; acquire and possess property; they have entire freedom of person, and can pursue any lawful occupation for a livelihood; but they will never, with the consent of the people of this State, either vote or hold office.
The foregoing views upon national affairs will, I trust, be received in the spirit by which they are prompted. The lives of individuals are brief when compared with those of nations like ours. But a few years, and we who are now bearing the responsibilities of American citizenship will have passed away, leaving to our successors a legacy of constitutional freedom, or a spirit of lawlessness and disregard of constitutional obligations which will lead to revolution and anarchy. We have a common country, whose past glories are our joint heritage, and whose destiny in the future, whether of glory or of shame, is the destiny of ourselves and of our children. Let us treat our southern countrymen with that spirit of charity and kindness which is our especial duty, considering that we are fully as liable to err as any other of our fellow men. The subject of immigration and labor has engaged much attention in this State since the first organization of a State Government. Our distance from the sources of emigration, and the expense and difficulty of reaching California from the East and Europe, have prevented the increase of our laboring population as rapidly as was anticipated and desired, but while the increase of population will expedite the development of the resources of the State, it would not be wise statesmanship, in my judgment, to invite an immigration of Chinese or any other Asiatic race. Those races are confessedly inferior in all high and noble qualities to the American and European. It is the dictate of wisdom to seek the best material to populate a country. This course is for the highest good of the present and future generations.
No man is worthy of the name of patriot or statesman who countenances a policy which is opposed to the interests of the free white laboring and industrial classes. They constitute the body of the people; they sustain our free institutions; they carry forward our great public enterprises; they dig our canals, they build our railroads, cultivate our fields, explore the recesses of the earth in search of the precious metals; they fight our battles in war. It was their stubborn valor and self-sacrificing patriotism which in the late war saved the Government from destruction. Their welfare ought to be guarded with jealous care by statesmen and legislators, for it is upon them that we must rely for the preservation of the Government. An additional influx of Chinese to compete with white laboring men in all industrial departments, ought to be discouraged by all lawful means. For the sake of some supposed advantage of cheap labor, such influx would inflict a curse upon posterity for all time. It would tend to discourage that immigration of white laborers from Europe and the Eastern States which is our great need and desire. It would be a short-sighted and selfish policy on the part of men of capital.
The completion of the Pacific Railroad will afford the laboring people of Europe and the Eastern States an opportunity to remove to this coast expeditiously, at a moderate cost, and they will flock hither if the avenues of labor are not filled by Mongolians. The lack of labor will then cease to be seriously felt. What we desire for the permanent benefit of California is a population of white men, who will make this State their home, bring up families here, and meet the responsibilities and discharge the duties of freemen. We ought not to desire an effete population of Asiatics for a free State like ours.
It is urged that this class of immigration should be permitted upon philanthropic grounds; but history and experience show that it is not the dictate of true philanthrophy, or of sound policy, to locate together in one community races so radically dissimilar in physical, mental, and moral constitution, as the Caucasian and African, or Mongolian. The attempt to mix these races is in contravention of natural laws. For mutual good, they should be allowed to remain separated in location. Observation proves that neither social virtue nor public order, neither christian civilization nor true progress is promoted by mingling these races in one community. Commercial intercourse will be mutually beneficial, but all attempts to make a national composite of such elements will be disastrous.
The passage of a law making eight hours a legal day's labor, in the absence of special contract, has been demanded with great unanimity by the working classes, and a distinct pledge was given by both parties in the late canvass that such a law should be enacted. This pledge will doubtless be redeemed without delay.
The present Registry Law contains some unjust discriminations against naturalized citizens, confers too much power upon Boards of Registration, and is obscure in some of its provisions. No means should be neglected to insure the purity of the ballot-box, for that is the fountain of all political power; and, therefore, a Registry Law, just and simple in its provisions—one which would not disfranchise legal voters—would be acceptable to all classes. The objectionable features of the present law can doubtless be obviated by amendment.
The party which came into power in the late election gave to the people pledges of economy and retrenchment in public expenditure. The burdens of taxation press heavily upon the shoulders of the industrial classes. That those burdens have been unnecessarily increased by a vicious financial system adopted during the war, and by an unwise and oppressive revenue system, there is little doubt; but as these matters appertain to federal legislation, I shall not now discuss the defects our present financial and revenue systems. Indeed, the large debt contracted during the war, with our State, county, and municipal indebtedness, would make taxation burdensome with any revenue system that might be devised, and render it imperatively necessary that those entrusted with executive and legislative authority should steadfastly oppose any addition to our State indebtedness and any increase of the public burdens. No measure tending to add to the burdens of the tax-payers ought to receive the sanction of the Executive or Legislature. On the contrary, it is to be hoped that the Legislature will, by a short and economical session, make a large reduction in the public expenditure during the current fiscal year.
It is very certain, also, that if it were ever proper to donate public funds to corporations or to individuals, the present would be no time for such generosity. The public revenues should be sacredly devoted to the necessary expenses of the Government and to the reduction of the State debt. If the Executive or Legislature choose to make donations out of their private funds, they have a right to do so; but they are the mere agents of the people, and have no moral right to give away the money of their constituents, except in aid of certain great charities, which are the proper objects of public benefaction. Even in reference to these, when the State is largely in debt, the maxim of being just before being generous, ought to suggest prudence in giving. On this subject I may be allowed to express my regret that the amendments to section twenty-six of Article IV of the Constitution, which were passed in eighteen hundred and sixty-two, restricting in certain particulars the powers of the Legislature, failed to obtain the requisite number of votes in the Legislature of eighteen hundred and sixty-three. Those amendments, in substance, if adopted, would be a step in advance toward a more sound and rational theory of legislation. The danger now and always is, not that we shall have too many checks upon legislative power, but that we shall have too few. The necessary objects of legislation are not numerous. It will be evident to any person, upon inspection of our volumes of session laws, that three fourths of those volumes, and more than three fourths of the time consumed at each session, have been occupied by special legislation not conducive to the public interests. Franchises instead of being granted by the Legislature, should be controlled by the local authorities under such provisions in reference to public competition, and such limitation as to duration, as would subserve the interests of the public. All other objects aimed at by special enactment should be attained by general laws. The general statutes of the State are in great need of revision, and a commission for this purpose would not involve burdensome expenditure, and would, if properly constituted, be of great service to the State. Such a commission, however, to be useful, should be composed of able lawyers, selected without reference to political opinions, or to any consideration except their fitness for this responsible duty.
Frequent official changes, in many instances, especially in judicial offices, have been found by experience to be detrimental to the public interests.
The opinion has been gaining ground that the desirable quality of independence in the judiciary will be best secured by substituting for the present system that which formerly existed, of appointing Judges to hold office during good behavior. Experience has satisfied most intelligent observers that the election of Judges by popular vote, for even so long a period as ten years, renders the judiciary too subject to be influenced by partisan clamor, and tends to destroy that firmness and independence so desirable upon the bench. The present system has the further effect of rendering the ablest lawyers indisposed to surrender their professional business for a judicial office, when the latter position is subject to expiration after a few years, and then to the contingencies of nominating conventions and political contests.
The reformation of our present defective State Prison system, and the organization of a State University, are objects of great public importance, the attainment of which I should be glad to facilitate in any way within my power.
In conclusion, I have only to add, that in the discharge of my official duties I shall hope for the aid and support of all good citizens, trusting for guidance and direction to that Divine Providence who holds the destinies of nations as of individuals in His sovereign control. It is only by obedience to His laws, and reverence for His authority, that private citizens and public officers can expect permanent happiness and success in either public or private life.