Sidor som bilder
PDF
ePub

royal patronage on letters and arts, and find our consolation in the political benefits of our free system. It may be doubted, however, whether this view be not entirely false. A crown is in itself a strip of velvet set with jewels; the dignity which it imparts and the honor with which it is invested, depend on the numbers, resources, and the intelligence of the people who permit it to be worn. The crown of the late emperor of Hayti, is said to have been one of the most brilliant in the world; and Theodore of Corsica, while confined for debt in the Fleet in London, sat on as high a throne as the king of England. Since then the power and influence of the crown are really in the people, it seems preposterous to say, that what increases the importance of the people can diminish the effect of that, which proceeds from them, depends upon them, and reverts to them. Sovereignty, in all its truth and efficacy, exists here, as much as ever it did at London, at Paris, at Rome, or at Susa. It exists, it is true, in an equal proportionate diffusion; a part of it belongs to the humblest citizen. The error seems to be in confounding the idea of sovereignty, with the quality of an individual sovereign. Wheresoever Providence gathers into a nation the tribes of men, there a social life, with its energies and functions, is conferred; and this social life is sovereignty. By the healthful action of our representative system, it is made to pervade the empire hike the air; to reach the farthest, descend to the lowest, and bind the distant together; it is made not only to co-operate with the successful and assist the prosperous, but to cheer the remote, “to remember the forgotten, to attend to the neglected, to visit the forsaken.' Before the rising of our republic in the world, the faculties of men have had but one weary pilgrimage to perform-to travel up to court. By an improvement on the Jewish polity, which enjoined on the nation a visit thrice a year to the holy city; the great, the munificent, the enlightened states of the ancient and modern world have required a constant resi

dence on the chosen spot. Provincial has become another term for inferior and rude; and unpolite, which once meant only rural, has got to signify, in all our languages, something little better than barbarous. But since, in the nature of things, a small part only of the population of a large state can, by physical possibility, be crowded within the walls of a city, and there receive the genial beams of metropolitan favor, it follows that the great mass of men are cut off from the operation of some of the strongest excitements to exertion. It is rightfully urged then, as a great advantage of our system, that the excitements of society go down as low as its burdens, and search out and bring forward whatsoever of ability and zeal are comprehended within the limits of the land. This is but the beginning of the benefit, or rather it is not yet the benefit. It is the effect of this diffusion of privileges that is precious. Capacity and opportunity, the twin sisters, who can scarce subsist but with each other, are now brought together. The people who are to choose, and from whose number are to be chosen, by their neighbors, the highest offices of state, infallibly feel an impulse to mental activity; they read, think, and compare; they found village schools, they collect social libraries, they prepare their children for the higher establishments of education. The world, I think, has been abused on the tendency of institutions perfectly popular. From the ill-organized states of antiquity, terrific examples of license and popular misrule are quoted, to prove that man requires to be protected from himself, without asking who is to protect him from the protector, himself also a man. While from the very first settlement of America to the present day, the most prominent trait of our character has been to cherish and diffuse the means of education. The village schoolhouse, and the village church, are the monuments, which the American people have erected to their freedom; to read, and write, and think, are the licentious practices, which have characterized our democracy.

But it will be urged, perhaps, that, though the effect of our institutions be to excite the intellect of the nation, they excite it too much in a political direction; that the division and subdivision of the country into states and districts, and the equal diffusion throughout them of political privileges and powers, whatever favorable effect in other ways they may produce, are attended by this evil,—that they kindle a political ambition, where it would not and ought not be felt; and particularly that they are unfriendly in their operation on literature, as they call the aspiring youth, from the patient and laborious vigils of the student, to plunge prematurely into the conflicts of the forum. It may, however, be doubted, whether there be any foundation whatever for a charge like this; and whether the fact, so far as it is one, that the talent and ambition of the country incline, at present, to a political course, be not owing to causes wholly unconnected, with the free character of our institutions. It need not be said that the administration of the government of a country, whether it be liberal or despotic, is the first thing to be provided for. Some persons must be employed in making and administering the laws, before any other interest can receive attention. Our fathers, the pilgrims, before they left the vessel, in which for five months they had been tossed on the ocean, before setting foot on the new world of their desire, drew up a simple constitution of government. As this is the first care in the order of nature, it ever retains its paramount importance. Society must be preserved in its constituted forms, or there is no safety for life, no security for property, no permanence for any institution civil, moral or religious. The first efforts then of social men are of necessity political. Apart from every call of ambition, honorable or selfish, of interest enlarged or mercenary, the care of the government is the first care of a civilized community. In the early stages of social progress, where there is little property and a scanty population, the whole strength of the soVOL. V.

35

ciety must be employed in its support and defence. Though we are constantly receding from these stages we have not wholly left them. Even our rapidly increasing population is and will for some time remain small, compared with the space over which it is diffused; and this, with the total absence of large hereditary fortunes, will create a demand for political services, on the one hand, and a necessity of rendering them on the other. There is then no ground for ascribing the political tendency of the talent and activity of this country, to an imagined incompatibility of popular institutions with the profound cultivation of letters. Suppose our government were changed to-morrow; that the five points of a stronger government were introduced, a hereditary sovereign, an order of nobility, an established church, a standing army, and a vigilant police; and that these should take place of that admirable system, which now, like the genial air, pervades all, supports all, cheers all, and is nowhere seen. Suppose this change made, and other circumstances to remain the same; our population no more dense, our boundaries as wide, and the accumulation of private wealth no more abundant. Would there, in the new state of things, be less interest in politics ? By the terms of the supposition, the leading class of the community, the nobles, are to be politicians by birth. By the nature of the case, a large portion of the remainder, who gain their livelihood by their industry and talents, would be engrossed, not indeed in the free political competition, which now prevails, but in pursuing the interests of rival court factions. One class only, the peasantry, would remain, which would take less interest in politics than the corresponding class in a free state; or rather, this is a new class, which invariably comes in with a strong government; and no one can seriously think the cause of science and literature would be promoted, by substituting an European peasantry, in the place of, perhaps, the most substantial tincorrupted population on earth, the American yeomanry. Moreover, the evil in question is with us a self-correcting evil. If the career of politics be more open, and the temptation to crowd it stronger, competition will spring up, numbers will engage in the pursuit; the less able, the less industrious, the less ambitious must retire, and leave the race to the swift and the battle to the strong. But in hereditary governments no such remedy exists. One class of society, by the nature of its position, must be rulers, magis. trates or politicians. Weak or strong, willing or unwilling, they must play the game, though they, as well as the people, pay the bitter forfeit. The obnoxious king can seldom shake off the empoisoned purple ; he must wear the crown of thorns, till it is struck off at the scaffold; and the same artificial necessity has obliged generations of nobles, in all the old states of Europe, to toil and bleed for a

Power too great to keep or to resign.

Where the compulsion stops short of these afflicting extremities, still, under the governments in question, a large portion of the community is unavoidably destined to the calling of the courtier, the soldier, the party retainer; to a life of service, intrigue and court attendance; and thousands, and those the prominent individuals in society, are brought up to look on a livelihood gained by private industry as base; on study as the pedant's trade, on labor as the badge of slavery. I look in vain in institutions like these, for any thing essentially favorable to intellectual progress. On the contrary, while they must draw away the talent and ambition of the country, quite as much as popular institutions can do it, into pursuits foreign from the culture of the intellect, they necessarily doom to obscurity no small part of the mental energy of the land. For that mental energy has been equally diffused by sterner levellers than ever marched in the van of a Revolution; the nature of man and the Providence of

« FöregåendeFortsätt »