Saturday, July 26, 2008

Opinions of Governor Shelby and Colonel A. Bowman, [1825]



From the Reporter.

We lay before our readers with great pleasure the following correspondence between Col. Bowman and Governor Shelby, two old soldiers of the revolution, on the reorganizing act and other measures of the Legislature. They both think that the constitution has been violated. The opinions of such men are surely worth something, and ought to have some influence with those of less experience, who have hastily adopted the false doctrines of the young politicians of the present day. We rejoice that these patriots of the revolution still live to serve their country.

From Col. Bowman to Gov. Shelby.

Fayette county, June 14th, 1825.

Dear Col.--Although age and infirmity almost disable me from writing, yet I cannot forbear addressing a few lines to you on the interesting occasion which caused my last visit to our county town. Yes, La Fayette has been with us. I met and accompanied our beloved friend to Lexington, where he was received with every demonstration of joy. The feelings of a great multitude appeared highly excited, yet all seemed to be actuated by one sentiment, which was, to render honor to the brave and patriotic La Fayette, a hero of our revolution. You who know so well how to appreciate the services of this venerated soldier, can imagine what my feelings were, on again meeting and taking him by the hand. I cannot describe them--I enjoyed with him a day and night of mental pleasure, the next day he left us perhaps forever.

After returning to my peaceful home, I was led back to contemplate the scenes of our youth--our revolution, the causes that produced it, and above all, its happy termination. We fought for, and gained that which is set forth in the Declaration of Independence, and for the permanent security of those blessings, we formed constitutional governments, which are governments of written laws, attested by the virtue of the nation, and the whole transactions sealed with the most precious blood of our country.

You, my dear Colonel, have largely participated in the administration of our state government, of course are better acquainted with its details than myself; however, I cannot refrain from expressing my great surprise at the doctrines of some of our young politicians. They appear strange to me perhaps from their novelty. There are also some laws passed by the legislature, that appear to me partial in their effects, and if so, are unjust. I cannot see how a government like ours, that is bottomed on right and justice, can, in pursuance of those principles, bestow favours on some at the direct expense of others, and those too from whom they take, have as much right to solicit and receive favour, as those selected as the proper objects of the country's bounty. In fine, the governments are not authorized to take from one to give to another. I may be wrong, but this seems to me to be the practical operation of some of our late laws.

Although I have not long to remain the subject of any human laws, yet my dear friend, I cannot but feel much solicitude on the subject of my country's good. The great mass of society, whose prosperity and happiness depend mainly on the honest administration of all the departments of the government, must, like me, feel much solicitude at this time. It appears that men of reputed talents differ on the subject of the late act of assembly, that puts down one Court of Appeals, and at the same time erects another.

I have read our constitution over and over--I have rigidly taxed my memory, and from the best of my recollection, from the time of the formation of American Constitutions and termination of the Revolutionary War, I never heard till now such opinions on the subject of the Judiciary as I have lately read in some of our newspapers. I do consider the power exerted by the legislature, in the erection of a new Court of Appeals, an unwarrantable usurpation, and that it is fraught with the utmost danger, and if persisted in, must eventuate in the destructirn of constitutional liberty. I hope you will favour me with your opinion on these subjects. I gave my feeble aid to Gen. Washington, the father of our country, in the wars that secured its independence, and am willing to adopt the sentiments given in his Farewell Address as my political creed: "It is important that the habits of thinking in a free country should inspire caution in those entrusted with its administration, to confine themselves within their respective constitutional spheres, avoiding, in the exercise of the powers of one department to encroach upon another; the spirit of encroachment tends to consolidate the powers of all the departments in one, and thus to create a despotism. A just estimate of that love of power and proneness to abuse it, which predominates in the human heart, is sufficient to satisfy us of the truth of this position. The necessity of reciprocal checks in the exercise of political power, by dividing and distributing it into different depositories, and constituting each the guardian of the public weal, has been evinced by the experiments, ancient and modern, some of them in our country, and under our own eyes. To preserve them must be as necessary as to establish them. If in the opinion of the people, the distribution or modification of the constitutional powers be in any particular wrong, let it be corrected by an amendment in the way which the constitution designates--but let there be no change by usurpation; for though this in one instance may be the instrument of good, it is the customary means by which free governments are destroyed. The precedent must always greatly overbalance in permanent evil, any partial or transient benefit, which the use can at any time yield."

I hope the eve of your life may be as tranquil as it has been long and useful to our common country.


Gov. Shelby's Answer.

Traveller's Rest, 20th June, 1825.

My Dear Sir.--Your favour of the 14th inst. has been received, in which you mention the visit of Gen. La Fayette to Lexington, and the great pleasure you derived from once more meeting with him. There is a sympathy existing between old men who had braved danger together in early life, that none others feel. I would certainly have paid my respects to him at some point on his tour through our State, but my advanced age and infirm condition made it impracticable.

In taking a review of our country up to the present time, you express great surprize at the novelty of the doctrines of some of our "Young Politicians," (as you please to style them,) and of that particularly which places the Court of Appeals, an equal and co-ordinate department, under the thumb of the Legislature--and you hope that I will favour you with my opinions on these subjects.

The policy pursued for several years past, in establishing the Commonwealth Bank and the Relief system generally, is proved by its enervating effects upon our country, independently of its unconstitutionality, to be the child of folly and inexperience. It has always appeared to me, sir, that Kentucky stood less in need of relief than any other portion of the Union--individual industry, perseverance and economy, were all that were necessary to extricate us from our difficulties, and to make us one of the most independent communities on the face of the globe. But the interference of the Legislature has paralyzed the exertions of the people, and effected an entire destruction of all confidence between man and man. Although this system was sanctioned by the will of the majority of the Legislature, that did not justify it--the constitution must be but a shadow if it be made to yield to the will of each impassioned majority; and those essential principles of a free government, equality, liberty of conscience, the freedom of the press, the trial by jury, the inviolability of contracts, etc. etc. for which we fought and bled, must cease to be our pride and boast.

The constitution is express as to the course to be pursued, and the majority required to remove a judge; and I have never entertained a doubt, but that the act of the last Legislature, creating a new Court of Appeals, was unconstitutional. The constitution prescribes the landmarks or boundaries of Legislative power, and it is a fundamental principle, that controled by it the will of the majority properly ascertained is the law of the land. But to attempt to enforce a legislative enactment contrary to the constitution, is treason against the State.

Obliged as I am to employ an emanuensis (from a paralysis of my right arm) I have given you, sir, but my naked opinions without entering into a detailed argument in support of them. I have been long endeavouring to withdraw myself from all cares and considerations of a public nature, circumscribed as I am by the limits of my farm, which alone yields me any satisfaction.

With much respect,
I remain, your friend,


YOU have before you the opinions of Governor Shelby and Col. Bowman. Compare them with those of the Young Stump Orators who are endeavoring to inculcate their visionary notions and wild theories of government. Contrast the plain common sense doctrines of Shelby and Bowman with the artful sophistry of the New Court Candidates, and you will feel indignant at the bare-faced attempts of these candidates to mislead you. Of Governor Shelby it is unnecessary to speak. You all know his worth--you all appreciate his talents, his patriotism and disinterested services. Col. Bowman like Col. Shelby, is one of the heroes of the Revolution; he was the friend and companion of La Fayette; the citizens of Fayette county, for thirty years have known his merit as a neighbour and the steadiness of his principles as a Democratic Republican.

The lessons of experience and the results of a long life of virtuous and successful exertion, should be heeded. The opinions of age covered with honours, and sanctified by vast services and uninterrupted confidence, should be almost oracular.

My countrymen, let me implore you to pause for one moment and listen to these men of other times. Standing on the confines of eternity, and surveying the great scenes in which they have acted, and the great results which they have aided in achieving--the battles they have fought--the sufferings they have endured--the triumphs they have won--the freedom and happiness they have helped to establish--they behold the reward of their labours torn from their children--and warn you that you stand on the brink of a precipice, ready to make havoc of all that you should cherish and revere.

Who can resist the solemnity of this appeal? Who can withstand this awful invocation? These men have no private ends to accomplish--no unhallowed ambition to gratify--no faction to support--no offices to secure--no rivals to traduce and ruin--no rancorous passions to indulge. They stand disconnected as it were with time and earth, recalled to it by the impending desolation of their cherished country.

Listen to their admonitions, retrace their lives, contemplate their characters and services, and then ask yourselves, is it these men, and such as these, who are branded by the organs of a desperate faction, as the enemies of liberty and republicanism? as federalists--aristocrats--royalists--oppressors of the poor--advocates of Judicial corruption and supremacy? Is it these men, and such as these, on whom every epithet of contempt is heaped--and by whom? Look around you on the exclusive patriots of Relief and Whiggism, and then contrast them with the men they labour to degrade, and answer who are the most worthy to be believed and trusted?

Fellow-Citizens, the crisis is one of danger and terror. All is not well, when the voice of enlightened experience warns you to beware! Listen to that voice and save yourselves the remorse of deliberate individual and national degredation.



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