Page images

the following words; "In all cases affecting ambassadors, other public ministers, and consuls, and those in which a State shall be a party, the Supreme Court shall have original jurisdiction."

We conceive, also, that a foreign state or sovereign may easily be placed in such a condition as to prosecute these claims. It is incident to the sovereign power, that it should be able to make itself the owner of such claims. The rules as to the purchase and sale of rights of action, which affect individuals, are not applicable to the sovereign. The law presumes, that the government of a country will not be guilty of champerty or maintenance. Under the common law, the king might take an assignment of a debt, and sue therefor in his own name. And we have no doubt, that the same law exists in all countries. It seems to follow, then, that, if the sovereign should take an assignment of a claim, and sue therefor in the court of a foreign country, the comity and respect due to the foreign sovereign would necessarily prevent the court from inquiring into the causes and motives of the assignment; especially in a country where the common law exists, which makes all debts negotiable between the sovereign and a subject or citizen. And if this motive were inquired into, it would appear, that the foreign sovereign had taken the assignment merely to discharge a duty to his subjects by affording to them a remedy for a supposed wrong. Certainly it would not be a subject of complaint or regret on our part, that this course should be taken, and that the foreign sovereign should submit the question to the decision of our own highest tribunal, instead of resorting directly to negotiation. In the event of such a thing becoming necessary, we should look upon an application to the Supreme Court of the United States as not only practicable, but desirable; and we should feel thankful for the existence of that principle in the public law, and that wise provision in our own Constitution, which enable us to ask foreigners to seek for justice in that

* It has sometimes been suggested, in answer to the view taken by us, that the Judiciary Act has so limited the jurisdiction of the courts of the United States, that an indorsee or assignee of a chose in action cannot sue in those courts, unless the assignor or indorser could himself sue therein; but that limitation has reference only to suits in the Circuit and District Courts. It does not touch the original jurisdiction of the Supreme Court, which is conferred by the Constitution, and is not within the control of Congress.

high tribunal which was created to establish it; a tribunal known to the world as elevated far above all State biases and prejudices; whose members come together from the North and the South, from the East and the West, across distances wider than half of Europe, and listen to sovereign States, as they contest their claims to territory and jurisdiction; a tribunal which sits in judgment on the acts of the legislature of the nation, and decrees them to be valid or void; a tribunal which is our own ark of safety, and to which offended Europe may come confidently, and obtain such justice as war and reprisals never gave, and never can give.

We have now presented our views of this important subject. We fear, that intelligent men throughout the country have hitherto scarcely done their duty in regard to it. They have looked upon it as interesting only those States who are embarrassed by debts, and those which have taken false steps to escape from them. They have thought it a matter of national concern, only because it affects our character as a people. But they must no longer forget, that the rights of every honest man are violated by an unjust act of the government under which he lives. It has been thought to be one of the advantages of a free government, that the individual is not merged in the state; that each citizen is regarded and cared for, not merely because important to the state, but for the sake of his own welfare and happiness. For him, as a man, laws are enacted; for him rights exist; for him remedies are provided. He stands, before all tribunals, capable of claiming whatever is just. He means not to identify himself with any class, or community, or corporation. As a citizen, he has all the rights which can be had; and, among those rights, he has eminently that of requiring the government, of which he is a constituent part, to do nothing which shall stain his honor, or shock his sense of justice, or lessen his patriotism, or deprive him of his share of the glory of his country; and if any public act does this, he has as much right to feel aggrieved, as if his personal liberty were infringed. It is true, he walks abroad unharmed in his person; but a violent constraint has been put upon his love of justice. It is true, his house and land are untouched; but his country's glory, for which he would at any time have sacrificed them, has been squandered and lost. He still has a country; but that which made it lovely in his eyes has been defaced and destroyed.

Let every honest man, then, take care to do what in him lies to protect himself from this great wrong, and never rest, until the faith of his country has been redeemed, and its honor secured from reproach.

ART. VI. History of the Conquest of Mexico, with a Preliminary View of the Ancient Mexican Civilization, and the Life of the Conqueror, Hernando Cortés. By WILLIAM H. PRESCOTT, Author of the "History of Ferdinand and Isabella." New York: Harper & Brothers. 1843. 3 vols. 8vo. pp. 488, 480, and 524.

MR. PRESCOTT has given proof of moral courage, as well as literary industry, by the publication of a new and elaborate historical work, before the applause with which his history of Ferdinand and Isabella was received has "died into an echo." An author's former self is his own worst enemy, and the great success of a first literary enterprise is likely to paralyze rather than stimulate a highly sensitive nature, which fears censure more than it courts praise. A mind of this class shrinks from making a second effort, from a consciousness of the standard by which it will be tried, and of the comparison to which it will be subjected. He has more to lose and less to gain. The second book must be better than the first, in order to be considered as good; as the son of a great man must be a greater man than his father, to be esteemed equal to him. Mr. Prescott shows himself to be possessed of a mind of manly temper, in thus submitting to the judgment of the public a new work of essentially the same character as that which has given him so high a rank among the historians of the age. He has not been content to slumber upon his laurels, but has been toiling in those fields of research in which new ones are to be gathered, with as much ardor and industry as if his first crown were yet to be won. We are glad to see, that, in his case, the "noble rage" of the scholar is not chilled by the morbid fear of putting in peril the reputation which has been already gained, and that he does not let his armor rust ingloriously on the wall, because he has gained one victory.

ters; and now, in the space of five

The brilliant success of the "History of the Reign of Ferdinand and Isabella," and the high excellences of matter and style by which that success is vindicated, are sources of just pride to Mr. Prescott's countrymen. When that work was noticed in our Journal, it was spoken of as the production of a "scholar heretofore unheard-of in the world of letyears, it has become a world-renowned book. It rose, at once, with no doubtful pause or anxious suspense, but at a single bound, to the highest point of public favor, and there it has calmly rested and is likely to rest. Besides numerous editions in America and England, it has been republished in Paris, translated into German under the superintendence of the celebrated historian Von Raumer, also into Italian, and twice into Spanish. The two Spanish translations are now in the course of publication. It has taken the rank of a classic in our language, and in the emulous favor with which it has been received on each side of the Atlantic may be read an assurance of the unbiased judgment of posterity.

It was an element in the success of this elaborate and finished history, that it took the world by surprise. No previous efforts had heralded its way, and told the public what they might expect. We may apply, without exaggeration, to its author what Byron said of himself; that he awoke one morning and found himself famous. It has been Mr. Prescott's good fortune, that the patient temper of his mind has been in harmonious relation with the circumstances of his position. No restless impatience of spirit has disturbed the tranquil progress of his researches, and no stern necessity has compelled him to present their results in a crude and imperfect state. He fixed his eye upon a distant point; to this he took the instant way, and approached it steadily, though slowly, allowing nothing to divert him to the right hand or the left. He was willing to bide his time; and while others were winning name and praise by cheaper efforts, he wrought in tranquil silence, disturbed by no feverish appetite for ephemeral notoriety, till the hour came when the last touches had been given to his work, and he could dismiss it from his hands with the calm assurance, that, whatever might be its fate, he had at least labored conscientiously to make it worthy of success. His history was the finished result of long years of golden leisure, wisely em

ployed; of patient reflection and indefatigable study, devoted to one object. It was the natural growth of the author's mind, with the healthy sap of life circulating through it; and not one of those rickety manufactures which betray at a glance the haste with which they have been put together at the bidding of some contracting publisher, whose favor is bread and whose frown is want. In one moment, the ample harvest of all his industry and all his patience was secured, and the long accumulating arrears of fame were discharged by the rich shower of "golden opinions" which was poured into his lap.

The subject of the present work, the conquest of Mexico by the Spaniards, is deficient in moral grandeur and interest. We read the narrative with far different feelings from those with which we follow the changing events of a struggle like that of the revolt of the Netherlands, or our own Revolution, in which the noblest endowments of mind and the highest qualities of character are displayed in asserting and maintaining a great and vital principle. There is nothing here that kindles the cheek and suffuses the eye with a proud sense of the divine elements which were mingled with the dust from which man was formed. It is a tale of blood and horror. It is the melancholy record of an exterminating war, waged against an unoffending people, with robber-like rapacity and ruffian cruelty, in which the superior advantages of civilization, science, and discipline are found linked with the lowest and basest of passions, and all our sympathies are enlisted in behalf of the heathen and the savage. As a historical theme, it is in some respects obviously inferior to the reign of Ferdinand and Isabella, with which it is so naturally connected, as a progressive step in the increase of that vast colonial empire, the foundations of which were laid by the genius of Columbus. We no longer observe, from the historian's point of view, the stately march of European history and politics, the growth of modern government and civilization, and the successive events by which Providence has been for centuries educating the great human family. The stage is contracted, and the actors have less of port and majesty. The page does not sparkle with names which bring with them long trains of association, nor does the canvass glow with such life-like portraits of men illustri

« PreviousContinue »