The Hard Years: A Look at Contemporary America and American Institutions

By Eugene J. McCarthy | Go to book overview

32
Five Systems of Justice

We are approaching the two hun. dreth anniversary of a year in which several meetings of significance were held. The participants were not exactly law-and-order men, nor did they consider themselves members of a silent majority. As a consequence of their meetings, the Dec-

laration of Independence was written and made public. It asserted that all men are created equal and that they have unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

The men who drafted that document were not engaged in a rhetorical exercise; they were not detached political philosophers. They were practical politicians who were playing for keeps. Their property, their reputations, and their lives were on the line. But they had principles. They had a policy designed to realize those principles and then a program -- first the Revolution and then the Constitution -- to carry out the policy.

Nearly two hundred years later, we are called upon to assess how far we have come toward the goals and ideals which the Declaration and the Constitution set for our country.

By 1912 we had come from George Washington to Richard Nixon, from John Adams to Spiro Agnew, from Alexander Hamilton to John Connally, and from Edmund Randolph to John Mitchell. We should ask some questions about what happened along the way and how much progress of that kind the country can stand.

The record on liberty and justice suggests that we have a long way to go. The ancient Romans were more honest than we. They admitted that they had two systems of justice. We say that we have one, but in fact we do not. We have at least five different systems of justice.

First is the ideal one, the one we like to talk about. This is the one in which constitutional guarantees are recognized; due process

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