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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 72

Chapter II. — The New Constitution

page 7

Chapter II.

The New Constitution.

My sudden elevation to the exalted office of Lord Protector displeased me as much as it seemed to give general satisfaction.

"What mockery," I thought to myself, that the triumphs of Democracy should end in a Dictatorship; and I, above all men, to be Dictator!"

How often had I not inveighed against Monarchical institutions and "one-man worship" of any kind, as being of the essence of despotism. And how often had I not wished to be absolute Monarch for a few hours only, so that I might have power to resign for myself, heirs, and successors, and make Monarchical rule impossible for all future times. My wishes were now fulfilled, and now was my opportunity to redeem my promise.

My first thought was to jump up, and, in virtue of my new office, declare the Republic for all future time. The next moment I hesitated. How is a Republic possible with such discordant elements, trained for centuries in a school inimical to Republican institutions? No! that would mean a return to confusion. My first duty was to make of the people Republicans. If I should succeed in this, then the Republic would follow as a matter of course.

"A speech! A speech!" shouted the impatient masses. There was no escape, and but little time for reflection. I had boasted that I could establish happiness, prosperity, and, above all things, unanimity: and this promise must be made good. I rose and said:

"I am willing to be your servant and manage the affairs of State for you, but not as a Tzar of Russia. To this end it is not enough that you invest me with power to act; you must also define my duties. In other words, you must frame a Constitution of which I am to be the executor."

Shouts of approbation came from all sides. They actually were all agreed.

"A Constitution"—"Frame one"—"Suggest one," and so forth, came from the crowd.

"There is no need to frame one, as the only Constitution worthy of the name and worthy of a Democracy is indelibly page 8 written in every heart. See whether I am speaking the truth-whether your hearts will respond. You all desire to be [unclear: fr] Is that so?"

There never was a more hearty response made by a crowd than the one with which these words were greeted.

"Well then," I continued, our Constitution will be very brief and one with the wording of which you are already familiar though not with its spirit. It runs as follows:

"'Every individual to have equal and inalienable rights to life liberty, and the pursuit of happiness!"

Again all agreed, and cheered lustily.

"This, then, shall be our Constitution, and all the law there is or shall be. It clearly defines the rights and duties of every, citizen, and at the same time marks out the duties Which you have delegated to me."

This last sentence was received in profound silence. I saw that it was not quite clear to them how these few words could have all the meaning I attributed to them. Therefore, without appearing to notice their embarrassment, I continued:

"If all have an equal right to life, liberty, and the pursuits of happiness, then it is clear that no one must be interfered with in the exercise of this right. Therefore, while free to do as you please, you must allow equal liberty to every one of your neighbors."

"Hear, hear," from all sides.

"So that your duties consist in respecting these rights of your neighbors. And my duty consists in guarding these rights, and to secure them, without exception, to every individual member of the State."

Once more I had the assembly with me.

"This Constitution shall not only be our only and valid law but the touchstone of right and wrong. Any enactment of the Executive, or any private act, by whomsoever committed, that runs counter to this Constitution, shall be deemed an offense, not to be tolerated. This shall be my first official proclamation. My second is, that all men shall have free access to all the opportunities of Nature, and that because without such access to the sources of Nature the pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness is impossible. My third proclamation prohibits, as a matter d course, any person or persons to take from any other person or persons the fruits of their exertions under any pretense what ever, except it be the voluntary gift of him to whom such things rightfully belong. Therefore, from this hour I abolish all taxes whatever, direct or indirect."

This announcement created surprise and a good deal of dissatisfaction.

"You can't govern a State without revenue," came from all sides.

page 9

"No," I replied. "But the State is not without revenue. For, inasmuch as the opportunities of Nature belong to all alike; and inasmuch as, in the nature of things, these opportunities cannot be enjoyed by several at the same time"

"Speak plain!" "We do not understand your riddles," and like protests reached me from several sides at the same time.

"Well, then," I said, "what are called 'the opportunities of Nature' consist in soil, climate, locality, water, etc., in short, the forces of Nature, all of which appertain to land. But the same locality cannot, obviously, be occupied by more than one person or family. Such person or family, therefore, in order to secure to them the harvest of their labors, would have to have the monopoly of such locality. But inasmuch as thereby they enjoy a monopoly of such lands, each occupier would have to pay to the community whatever natural advantages accrue to him from such exclusive possession."

"This is very confusing," remonstrated several.

"Plainly then it means this, that all former taxes are abolished, and in their stead is substituted a tax on land-values, irrespective of improvements, at the rate of twenty shillings in the pound. This tax, belonging to the community, will be used for communal purposes. All former contracts, unless conflicting with our Constitution, shall be respected as heretofore; and no one to be disturbed in his present possessions. This is all for the present."

This announcement produced general dissatisfaction, and the crowd became very noisy.

"What! Tax the poor farmer, and allow the capitalist to escape?"

"And allow the workers to be ground down by the rich?"

"Not even a property or income tax?"

These and many other objections were raised, to reply to which, amid such a tumult, was clearly out of the question. I had to make use, therefore, of the authority with which I had been invested. After the noise had somewhat subsided I said:

"You have imposed upon me the duty to secure to all equal rights and equal duties. This is, to my mind, the only way in which this can be done. If I am wrong, the remedy lies in your own hands. Anyone who can show that he does not possess the liberties guaranteed to him by the Constitution shall have his grievance removed. For this purpose I shall now retire into my office and listen, one by one, to all those who have cause to complain."

Whereupon I left the platform, followed by the surging crowd.