Chapter 6

We have seen that a sort of constitution had been formed; or rather government constituted; for the Captain had been chosen Governor, and the blind lawyer appointed chief justice. A sense of self-preservation had led to this. For it had been found, that in a situation of things approaching to a state of nature, the weak were a prey to the strong, and oftentimes, among the strong, there was much wrong done, not being sufficiently afraid of each other, when the corporal powers were nearly equal; and, until it had been ascertained which had the mastery, much maiming had prevailed. It had been customary for individuals so leagued together, to defend themselves; and there was much gouging and biting on both sides, when a contest of the few had arisen. Settlement against settlement was pitted; and district against district, oftentimes with much battery, and blood-shed. Calling out for help was usual amongst the combatants, and it was accounted dishonourable not to interfere, by those not engaged.

An honest man walking home one evening, and, whether from intemperance or sleep, nodding as he walked, which being mistaken by a ram for a menace, he was butted, as the phrase is, and overthrown, calling out, “is there none of the down county boys here?” This may serve to give an image of the state of society at this period. It will serve still more to illustrate this, when I relate the following anecdote. A lawyer, or at least one who called himself such, of small stature, and delicate structure of body, being applied to by a client, who having no money, but being of a strong body, offered to do all his fighting for him; that is, for the petti-fogger. That will not do, said the wary advocate; for you may not be at hand always to protect me, from an insult, much less from assault; but if you will permit me on some occasion to overpower and beat yourself, that is, to seem to do it, as your prowess is incontestible, it will secure me ever after; for no one will molest me. It was agreed; and a sham battle being fought, the advocate, as was agreed upon, got the better. But the whole coming out in due time, when the laws began to be established, the bruiser, as he had been called, prosecuted the advocate; who pleaded son assault demense, and relying on the maxim, volenti non fit injuria, he was acquitted; and on the civil action, no damages were found against him.

It was on this principle, and in this state of things, that the Captain had been elected governor. For, coming to the settlement, attended by his posse, Will Watlin, Tom the Tinker, Harum Scarum, and O’Fin the Irishman, a damp was struck upon the hearts of the insurgents in different places, which the people seeing, recurred to this new power for safety. Will Watlin having pulled up a grub, and entering the town, called it a switch, as I have seen represented on the stage in some dramatic composition; the people thinking that if it was a switch, what would his baton or cudgel be? O’Fin the Irishman had, in fact, entered with a log on his shoulder, which he called his shilelah, and threatened death and destruction to all that came his way. Harum Scarum had a branch of an oak tree, which he trailed after him; and Tom the Tinker approached with a club, which he called his hammer. It was much larger than the club of Herculus is painted, and though he had not the strength to wield it with equal ease; yet, poised upon his right shoulder, it had the appearance of a weapon that would do much execution. Teague, the bog-trotter, though with great difficulty, drew after him a piece of a pine log, which he said he had been tired wielding, and knocking down people with. The Captain had a staff, not as large as a weaver’s beam, but far surpassing the size of a common walking stick. From these appearances, there had been no resistance made; and in due time the country thought it advisable to put themselves under the protection of persons whose object it seemed to be to keep the peace, and maintain the laws. The Captain had been chosen Governor. But in writing the chapter of the last book of this work, I had run over a great space without entering into the detail, or minutiae of events.-For that, and no other reason, it may appear to want verisimilitude of incidents to support the probability of the narrative.

“Premiere de Rois etoit un soldat hereux,”

Says Voltaire: and though it may be disputed whether knowledge is power, yet no one can deny, but that wattles and hearts of oak have a great tendency to procure submission.

But the Captain himself was uneasy under this usurped authority; and the people began to talk of his resembling Bonaparte. There were those who threw out hints that he had an understanding with that emperor. It was much agitated in beer-houses, whether he was not under French influence. He denied it, and stood to it, that he had no correspondence with the tyrant. Is it possible, said he, that I could have much attachment to Bonaparte, who has no attachment to me? For I am well persuaded that he has never heard of me; nor can he possibly regard what government, or kind of government, I have over a few ragamuffins assembled, or rather scattered, in a distant quarter of the globe. It is true, I did happen, coming along, to speak a few words of French, at least they told me it was French, which I had got from a parlez vous, a carrier, that spoke a certain lingo to his horses; because being used to his vocabulary, they understood no other language; but it was in the most perfect simplicity of mind; and I am not sure that it was French that I did speak; or rather that he spoke; for what I said was in imitation of certain sounds, rather than words of his, as I could catch them from the rapidity of his pronunciation. But why need there be a noise made about it? I am ready to lay down my oak stick, which has been the badge of my government, whenever any one of you chooses.--Let it be laid down-and with that he flung it across a potato patch as far as he could throw it. Now, there it is, said he, and you are a free people: but what are you the better for that; was it not to keep you from having broken heads that I took up the government? You talk of Bonaparte usurping the government -what government did he usurp? Had not the people of France found out that there was no government, and could be none short of a despotism? The constitution of 1791 had given way: that of 1793, had gone to the tomb of the Capulets. Was there not one of 1795? If so, it had also gone. The only two of the directory that had any talents, or integrity, Barthelemi, and Carnot were deported to Cayenne. The better part of the council of 500, and of the council of ancients, I mean the best men of these bodies, were carted in iron cages to the sea shore, and sent off in frigates. Could there be said to be any freedom at this time? What was it that induced Abbe Sieyes, and other wise men who had been tired of making constitutions, to send for Bonaparte to Egypt to take the helm of the state vessel? For, pursuing the figure, when the vessel is at the mercy of the waves, tost and ready to run upon the breakers, is it usurpation to take the helm, and steer her in safety? Comparing small things with great, myself to Bonaparte, did I usurp any authority, when you yourselves called upon me, being at loggerheads, to take the government? But as I have more concern for you, than you have for yourselves, I will retain it a little, with a view to preserve order and regularity among you until you get a constitution, if by that means you can secure your liberty.

This speech being ended, it was agreed to consider of a constitution.

It was debated in the beer-houses, whether a despotism was not the best; or the continuance of the present constitution. But it was carried nemine contradicente, that something new should be adopted. It was agitated how a republican government should begin. Doubtless, it was answered, by a convention of the people. It was asked, how should that convention be brought about? It was answered, in the same mode, and by the same means, as what is called a camp-meeting: this is a gathering of fanatics, of which we have seen examples in almost all parts of the United States. But would there not be danger of the same tumblings, and jumpings, and contortions of body, and agitations of mind, as at those congregations? No: because the female part of the society would be excluded. These are not only convulsionists, but the cause of convulsions, and ecstacy of vision. Keep these away and the meeting might be kept sober, unless indeed spirituous liquor was introduced. And when serious business was on the carpet, this might be excluded, allowing a few days of intemperance, in the manner of the ancient Germans, before the council had begun.

It was agreed that a general warning should be given to meet under bushes, and tree-tops, by such a day, not in conclave or divan, but in a general convention of the people, to deliberate on the frame of a constitution. But were they all to convene, every male, of whatever age, embracing infantia, which ends at the age of seven years; Pueritia, which terminates at 14; Adolescentia, which lasts until that of twenty-one years; or juventus, which may be considered as ending at the age of thirty-five; or the virilis aetas, which is complete at twenty-eight, and lasts the whole life of man? Senium, or old age, commences at fifty-seven. Was this age to be excluded by reason of imbecility, from the deliberations of perfect men?

Another question arose, was every man that wore a head, tag, rag, and bob-tail, to assemble and have a vote? In contemplation of law, at the formation of our republic, it must be so. And though, in fact, it never was the case, yet the principle stands immovable, and all must be supposed to have a voice. “We, the people,” admits of no exclusion. But are people to be admitted that have no understanding? Who can undertake to say of another that he wants sense? Intelligence cannot be weighed by the pound or ounce, or measured by the ell or the perch. Who is to make the selection from the mass? It was agreed, therefore, that all who chose to meet, should convene. Advertisements to this effect were put in the gazette, having a journal or public paper in town; and cards and hand-bills were affixed upon trees and barn doors, and chalked upon fence rails, and those who could not write, proclaimed with the voice, the general assembling of the people.

The day came, and the hills were covered. Those upon the low grounds shouted up to their superiors on the hills; and the hills vociferated to those below. But great confusion ensued, by interruption and discussion. Some order became necessary, and the reducing the multitude to a smaller compass; but this could not be done, until a part wearied out, and wanting food, departed to their homes. There were but about a score of persons remaining when the next day appeared.

Having taken some refreshment of food, these set about the business. But half asleep, they were incompetent, and had to take a nap before they could renew the task which they had undertaken. It was not debated, whether these present could be considered as representing those that were absent. This was plain; for all had had an opportunity, and might have attended if they would.

The question was now agitated, should they have a constitution? Upon this there was a diversity of voices. Said an honest fellow, what have we to do with a constitution? Why form one? Will we stick to a constitution, when we have made it? A constitution is like a nose of wax; it is twisted by the party that is predominant. It might not, however, be unadvisable to have some outline of a constitution; some groove within which to move, some shape and form of the machine of government. If the people cannot all convene, or if they do convene, cannot act without confusion, as the late experiment had abundantly evinced, it would be necessary to have some means of reducing them to a narrower compass. Let there be primary assemblies, meetings of the people in particular districts, and let these elect and send representatives to a secondary. Let these secondary assemblies select from among themselves, and depute to an ultimate body, who shall from time to time meet and frame laws. Judicial officers must exist distinct from the legislature; executive distinct from both. Who shall appoint these officers, and in what manner shall it be done, must require some designation, or rule laid down. The nature of the government itself must be determined on; at least some name must be given it, whether it shall be called a republican government, or an aristocracy, or monarchy.