Another recent event illustrates clearly, to Americans
at least, this baseless and now meaningless institution, which nevertheless so dazzles many.
The claims to the Lauderdale peerage, in regard to which several of our own lawyers have been summoned to testify, rests wholly on the question whether the heir to a certain English title was legally married in New York at the close of the last century to a woman who had borne him several children without marriage.
If the final union was legal, it legalized these children; and Major Maitland
, who is descended from one of these, is an English peer; if otherwise, he is not; and on this point Mr. Phelps
and Senator Edmunds
give opposite opinions.
Now it is obvious that this tardy decision cannot affect in the slightest degree the personal qualities, mental, moral, or physical, of Major Maitland
He is what he is, in all these respects, whether he is a lord or not; and yet in one case he is entitled by birth to legislate in what is still called the. “Upper house” of the British Empire
, and to have the enormous social precedence implied in a title; while in the other case he loses it. There could hardly be a better reductio ad absurdum
of the whole system of hereditary rank.
It is true that the old French theory that the blood of a nobleman was chemically distinct from that of a plebeian has pretty well disappeared from