Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States (1833)

by Joseph L. Story




I ask the favour of dedicating this work to you. I know not, to whom it could with so much propriety be dedicated, as to one, whose youth was engaged in the arduous enterprises of the Revolution; whose manhood assisted in framing and supporting the national Constitution; and whose maturer years have been devoted to the task of unfolding its powers, and illustrating its principles. When, indeed, I look back upon your judicial labours during a period of thirty-two years, it is difficult to suppress astonishment at their extent and variety, and at the exact learning, the profound reasoning, and the solid principles, which they every where display. Other Judges have attained an elevated reputation by similar labours in a single department of jurisprudence. But in one department, (it needs scarcely be said, that I allude to that of constitutional law,) the common consent of your countrymen has admitted you to stand without a rival. Posterity will assuredly confirm by its deliberate award, what the present age has approved, as an act of undisputed justice. Your expositions of constitutional law enjoy a rare and extraordinary authority. They constitute a monument of fame far beyond the ordinary memorials of political and military glory. They are destined to enlighten, instruct, and convince future generations; and can scarcely perish but with the memory of the constitution itself. They are the victories of a mind accustomed to grapple with difficulties, capable of unfolding the most comprehensive truths with masculine simplicity, and severe logic, and prompt to dissipate the illusions of ingenious doubt, and subtle argument, and impassioned eloquence. They remind us of some mighty river of our own country, which, gathering in its course the contributions of many tributary streams, pours at last its own current into the ocean, deep, clear, and irresistible.

But I confess, that I dwell with even more pleasure upon the entirety of a life adorned by consistent principles, and filled up in the discharge of virtuous duty; where there is nothing to regret, and nothing to conceal; no friendships broken; no confidence betrayed; no timid surrenders to popular clamour; no eager reaches for popular favour. Who does not listen with conscious pride to the truth, that the disciple, the friend, the biographer of Washington, still lives, the uncompromising advocate of his principles?

I am but too sensible, that to some minds the time may not seem yet to have arrived, when language, like this, however true, should meet the eyes or the public. May the period be yet far distant, when praise shall speak out with that fullness of utterance, which belongs to the sanctity of the grave. But I know not, that in the course of providence the privilege will be allowed me hereafter, to declare, in any suitable form my deep sense of the obligations, which the jurisprudence of my country owes to your labours, or which I have been for twenty-one years a witness, and in some humble measure a companion. And if any apology should be required for my present freedom, may I not say, that at your age all reserve may well be spared, since all your labours must soon belong exclusively to history?

Allow me to add, that I have a desire (will it be deemed presumptuous?) to record upon these pages the memory of a friendship, which has for so many years been to me a source of inexpressible satisfaction; and which, I indulge the hope, may continue to accompany and cheer me to the close of life. I am with the highest respect, affectionately your servant,

January, 1833.