Page images

might be the degree of importance to be attached to it: in his endeavors to arrive at pure truth, he was always earnest and conscientious. Patient and unremitting in his researches, he yielded the results to which his mind honestly conducted him, only to researches equally patient and unremitting, and to the evident superiority of truth. Hence he was sometimes deemed unduly pertinacious, in that he could not be induced to surrender his own deep convictions to the first, and oftentimes mistaken impressions of others.

Previously to the establishment, within a short period, of numerous law schools in various parts of the country, it is known that Mr. Bliss's office was very much resorted to by students, and the care which he took in their education, is equally well known. The public employments, in which he was engaged, which occupied a large share of his time, together with the precarious state of his health, necessarily withdrew his attention almost entirely from the business of instruction, during the last few years of his life. The pains which he took in guiding the early studies of his pupils, and in imbuing their minds with sound views of the law, and with honorable and manly principles of practice, were unremitting, and worthy of his own high character. He was the first instructer, it is believed, in Massachusetts, who furnished his pupils a regular and systematic course of lectures upon the various titles of the law. The learning, embodied in these lectures, affords ample testimony of the extent of his acquirements, and of his profound legal talents. The work, though left in a somewhat unfinished state, might very readily be prepared for the press; and it probably would have been already, had it not been anticipated very recently, by two publications of sinilar character, by eminent living jurists.

A favorable specimen of Mr. Bliss's style of writing and mode of reasoning, has heretofore been presented to the readers of this journal, in the elaborate review of 'Jackson on Real Actions,' contained in the second number. Without alluding at all to the point in issue between the learned controvertists, it may be sufficient to say, that Mr. Bliss was probably one of the very few lawyers, in or out of Massachusetts, who could have written such a review of a work, which itself, perhaps, could hardly have come from any other pen than that of its distinguished author. To most lawyers, the intricate and abstruse learning of both is very much a hidden mystery.

Mr. Bliss has contributed largely to the history of the practice of the law in bis native state, by a published address, originally delivered to the members of the bar, in the Hampshire Circuit. In this address, he has also portrayed the characters of many of the distinguished lawyers during, and since the Revolution. The care and accuracy with which he conducted his researches, and the simplicity with which he arranged and disposed of his materials, are happily exemplified in this address, as they also are in another printed discourse, upon an interesting occasion, commemorative of the early settlement and history of his native town.

Profound as were the attainments of Mr. Bliss in the science of the law, bis attention was very far from being confined exclusively to his chosen profession. To his intimate friends it is well known, that theological studies occupied quite a large share of his time and thoughts. These studies were happily adapted to the peculiar character of his mind. The love of investigation had here free scope; and he gladly seized every suitable opportunity to indulge himself in this diversion from his ordinary pursuits. Religious principles were early implanted in his mind, and his impressions concerning the importance of regulating the heart and the life by the precepts of Christianity, were so deeply fixed, that, whilst in college, he made a public profession of his attachment to that system of religious belief, to which he afterwards uniformly adhered. It was the crowning excellence of his character, that he was a devout and consistent Christian.

To all the various topics, of pervading interest, connected with the legislation and politics of the times, bis attention was steadily directed; and to the consideration of them, he brought the contributions of his vigorous intellect. Upon all such subjects, he formed his opinions in the spirit of entire independence. When deliberately formed, they were not easily surrendered; for he maintained them firmly, fearlessly, and honestly.

Mr. Bliss was a man of uncommon simplicity of character, and singleness of purpose; he was, in the legitimate meaning of the terms, modest and unassuming; for with all his great attainments, he never manifested a sense of his own superiority. In all the relations of life, public and private, he was faithful, devoted, philanthropic. He was, upon all occasions, ready to do his duty, whatever might be the consequences; and he



possessed, and uniformly maintained, a stern integrity, which all felt and acknowledged, to be his distinguishing characteristic.

By steady and well-directed exertions, and a diligent and unwavering devotedness to the business and studies of the profession of his choice, he achieved an eminence, which all may envy, but which few can attain, except by the same means. His example, therefore, we may safely commend to the young, who are panting to acquire a name and character, that shall be enduring and unspotted.


Whether representatives are bound by the instructions of their constituents, is a question which is much discussed in this country. The obligation of such instructions is often asserted in strong language in the newspapers and at popular meetings; and to deny it, is sometimes denounced as a political heresy of the most serious character. The nature of our institutions evidently gives this question a deeper interest in this country, than in any other.

The opinion of Burke on this subject, as delivered in his celebrated speech to the electors of Bristol, is probably familiar to our readers. In a few sentences, but sentences rich with argument and wisdom, he attacks and refutes the popular doctrine upon the right of instruction. This speech appears to be the basis of the greater part of what has since been written on the same side of the question. Indeed, the correctness of his conclusions is so manifest, that we should hardly think it necessary to enter upon the discussion, if the opposite opinion had not found numerous and zealous supporters in the United States.

In considering this question, it should be always borne in mind that those who deny the right of constituents to give binding instructions to their representatives, admit in the fullest manner their right to meet and express their opinions. It is hardly necessary to say that the representative ought to listen with respectful attention to the advice of the body of men by whom he has been chosen; all that is denied, is, that he is under any obligation to vote in conformity to their wishes.

This right of instruction, if it exist in this country, must arise

out of the provisions of the constitution, or be a necessary consequence of the relation of representative and constituent, or be established by long usage.

It cannot be denied that some of our state constitutions assert this right in express terms. Whether this provision means instructions by which the representative is to be bound, seems to us doubtful. The earliest provision which we have found upon this subject is in the constitution of North Carolina, which passed December 18, 1776. The declaration of rights in this instrument asserts, That the people have a right to assemble together, to consult for the common good, to instruct their representatives, and to apply to the legislature for a redress of grievances.' Since that time, the same provision, a little amplified, has been inserted in the constitutions of Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, and Tennessee. The only variation worth noticing is, that in these constitutions, the right to assemble which is claimed, is qualified by the expression, 'in an orderly and peaceable manner, or something equivalent. The addition, however, is of no consequence in our present inquiry. Several of the other state constitutions, which contain the remainder of the provision, omit the claim of right to instruct representatives. It seems to us that this right to instruct, whatever it may be, is reserved to any meeting of any number of individuals. This is evident from taking the whole article together. The right reserved is for the people, meaning obviously any portion of the people, to assemble together, for any one of three purposes mentioned, namely, to consult for the common good, to instruct representatives, and to petition for a redress of grievances. The right reserved is not for the citizens of any representative district to assemble to instruct their representative, but for any meeting of citizens to instruct representatives. If it be attempted to confine this right to the meeting of the voters of a particular district, then we must say that no meeting to consult for the common good, or to petition for a redress of grievances, is authorized, except a regular meeting of the voters in a district which is entitled to choose a representative. Few, we believe, would contend for such a limitation on public meetings.

Another reason for doubting whether the right to instruct representatives which is asserted for the people, means any thing more than a right to advise them, is, that no one of these

constitutions provides any mode in which instructions are to be given. The provision, according to our construction of it, is clear, and effect is easily given to it; but to suppose the right to instruct means the right to bind the representative's vote, renders the provision obscure, and difficult to be carried into operation. If the constitution of any state designed to give the persons choosing a representative a power to direct his votes whenever they thought fit, it would have provided how the meeting should be held, how the instruction should be communicated to the representative; and would also have declared that if he refused to execute it, he should lose his seat, and, at any rate, that the will of his constituents should be counted as a vote, notwithstanding the contrary opinion of the agent.

Waving, however, the construction of the provision in the state constitutions, we shall only inquire as to instructions to representatives in Congress, though nearly the same arguments will apply in all the states in which the constitutions do not expressly declare a right of instructing representatives.

The constitution of the United States does not give any authority to constituents on this subject, in express terms. And such an authority is not only, not implied in any of its provisions; but, on the contrary, cannot be reconciled either with the letter or the spirit of that instrument. The constitution says, 'All legislative powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States, which shall consist of a senate and house of representatives. If any power of directing legislation remained with any other body of citizens, it would have been specified in this place; for is representatives are subject to the direction of the voters of the respective districts in which they are chosen, and the senators to the directions of the legislatures of their respective states, it is evident that all legislative powers are not vested in Congress, since there are other bodies which can control Congress. The grant of legislative power to Congress commences with these words, “The Congress shall have power,' and then specifies certain subjects of legislation. This provision is entirely inconsistent with the idea of any exterior force which is to direct the proceedings of Congress. The senators and representatives are also required to be bound by oath or affirmation to support the constitution. This surely is because they are the persons on whom alone the responsibility of the legislation of the United States depends.

« PreviousContinue »