Justice Noah Swayne on How Institutions Aren’t Enough – Apologies to Acemoglu, Robinson, et al

Justice Swayne in Trist v. Child (1874):

The foundation of a republic is the virtue of its citizens. They are at once sovereigns and subjects. As the foundation is undermined, the structure is weakened. When it is destroyed, the fabric must fall. Such is the voice of universal history. The theory of our government is, that all public stations are trusts, and that those clothed with them are to be animated in the discharge of their duties solely by considerations of right, justice, and the public good. They are never to descend to a lower plane. But there is a correlative duty resting upon the citizen. In his intercourse with those in authority, whether executive or legislative, touching the performance of their functions, he is bound to exhibit truth, frankness, and integrity. Any departure from the line of rectitude in such cases, is not only bad in morals, but involves a public wrong. No people can have any higher public interest, except the preservation of their liberties, than integrity in the administration of their government in all its departments.

The agreement in the present case was for the sale of the influence and exertions of the lobby agent to bring about the passage of a law for the payment of a private claim, without reference to its merits, by means which, if not corrupt, were illegitimate, and considered in connection with the pecuniary interest of the agent at stake, contrary to the plainest principles of public policy. No one has a right, in such circumstances, to put himself in a position of temptation to do what is regarded as so pernicious in its character. The law forbids the inchoate step, and puts the seal of its reprobation upon the undertaking.

If any of the great corporations of the country were to hire adventurers who make market of themselves in this way, to procure the passage of a general law with a view to the promotion of their private interests, the moral sense of every right-minded man would instinctively denounce the employer and employed as steeped in corruption, and the employment as infamous [emphasis added].

For more on this theme, see de Tocqueville here.

HT: Luigi Zingales.

One thought on “Justice Noah Swayne on How Institutions Aren’t Enough – Apologies to Acemoglu, Robinson, et al

  1. One of the problems in America today is that of a corrupt judiciary. Too bad,in today’s day and age,Justices like Justice Swayne are few and far between. It has been the Supreme Court’s decision in numerous cases that has allowed the Constitution and the Rule of Law to be so twisted that it bares little resemblance to the Founding Fathers original intent. You couldn’t have the corrupt tax and monetary system,among other things, in place in America to further the Welfare/Warfare State without the acquiescence of the Judicial System. Because of this, today’s Americans have to live with the consequences,both intended and unintended, that have arisen because of judicial misconduct in the past. History has shown that the guardians of the Law have aided and abetted the releasing of the chains that bind men down to the Constitution. What a pity.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s