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nucleus round which the local interests, passions, rights, and duties, collected and clung. It gave scope to the activity of a real political life, most thoroughly democratic and republican. The colonies still recognised the supremacy of the mother-country; monarchy was still the law of the state; but the republic was already established in every township.
"The towns named their own magistrates of every kind, rated themselves, and levied their own taxes. In the parish of New England the law of representation was not adopted, but the affairs of the community were discussed, as at Athens, in the market-place, by a general assembly
of the citizens.
"In studying the laws which were promulgated at this first era of the American republics, it is impossible not to be struck by the remarkable acquaintance with the science of government, and the advanced theory of legislation which they display. The ideas there formed of the duties of society towards its members are evidently much loftier and more comprehensive than those of the European legislators at that time: obligations were there imposed which were elsewhere slighted. In the states of New England, from the first, the condition of the poor was provided for; strict measures were taken for the maintenance of roads, and surveyors were appointed to attend to them; registers were established in every parish, in which the results of public deliberations, and the births, deaths, and marriages of the citizens were entered; clerks were directed to keep these registers; officers were charged with the administration of vacant inheritances, and with the arbitration of litigated landmarks; and many others were created, whose chief functions were the maintenance of public order in the community. The law enters into a thousand useful provisions for a number of social wants which are at present very inadequately felt in France.
"But it is by the attention it pays to public education that the original character of American civilisation is at once placed in the clearest light. 'It being,' says the law, one chief project of Satan to keep men from the knowledge of the Scripture by persuading from the use of tongues, to the end that learning may not be buried in the graves of our fore-fathers, in church and commonwealth, the Lord assisting our endeavours,' &c. Here follow clauses establishing schools in every township, and obliging the inhabitants, under pain of heavy fines, to support them. Schools of a superior kind were founded in the same manner in the more populous districts. The municipal authorities were bound to enforce the sending of children to school by their parents; they were empowered to inflict fines upon all who refused compliance; and in cases of continued resistance, society assumed the place of the parent, took possession of the child, and deprived the father of those natural rights which he used to so bad a purpose. The reader will undoubtedly have remarked the preamble of these enactments: in America, religion is the road to knowledge, and the observance of the divine laws leads man to civil freedom.*
"In the bosom of this obscure democracy, which had as yet brought forth neither generals, nor philosophers, nor authors, a man might stand up in the face of a free people, and pronounce the following fine definition of liberty.†
"Nor would I have you to mistake in the point of your own liberty.
*In the year 1630, ten years after the foundation of Plymouth, the inhabitants of Massachusetts devoted £400 sterling to the establishment of the University of Cambridge.
"Mather's Magnalia Christi Americana, vol. ii, p. 13. This speech was made by Winthrop."
There is a liberty of corrupt nature, which is affected both by men and beasts, to do what they list; and this liberty is inconsistent with authority, impatient of all restraint; by this liberty sumus omnes deteriores: 'tis the grand enemy of truth and peace, and all the ordinances of God are bent against it. But there is a civil, a moral, a federal liberty, which is the proper end and object of authority; it is a liberty for that only which is just and good: for this liberty you are to stand with the hazard of your very lives, and whatsoever crosses it, is not authority, but a distemper thereof. This liberty is maintained in a way of subjection to authority; and the authority set over you will, in all administrations for your good, be quietly submitted unto by all but such as have a disposition to shake off the yoke and lose their true liberty, by their murmuring at the honour and power of authority.'
"The remarks I have made will suffice to display the character of Anglo-American civilisation in its true light. It is the result (and this should be constantly present to the mind) of two distinct elements, which in other places have been in frequent hostility, but which in America have been admirably incorporated and combined with one another. I allude to the spirit of Religion, and the spirit of Liberty."
One of the finest generalisations of Madame de Staël, because better founded than most of those broad divisions which were so congenial to her turn of thought, is that in which she separates the philosophical progress of the human race into four periods: "the heroic era, which was at the foundation of civilisation; patriotism, which constituted the glory of antiquity; chivalry, which was the armed religion of Europe; and the love of liberty, which commenced with the reformation." The early history of this country exhibits very remarkably the difference between the second and the last of these epochs. The most enlightened ancient clung with inconceivable tenacity to his own country; liberty with him was rather an incident than a principle; when deprived of it he either fell on his own sword, lingered within the scent of his assassins, (Cicero was stabbed in his litter, reading Euripides,) or retreated, backwards, with his eye on the capitol, hoping for a signal to return on any terms. The palladium of an ancient colony was always a gross material image-a portion, as it were, of their native soil, generally snatched from the absolute destruction of their former homes. Their liberties were always ruined before they emigrated--they never emigrated to escape ruin. The love of liberty, on the contrary, particularly of religious liberty, teaches men that the rights of property, however well secured, are valueless without a guarantee for the rights of conscience, and, converting an instinct into a virtue, sustains by the purity of its aims the weakness of its enterprises. Antiquity had great names, but "ne'er a Roman of them all," had the Atlantic been bridged, could have pushed a colony beyond the pillars of Hercules. There was an element wanting which we have since found in the pilgrims and in William Penn. This is our answer to those who fling
in our path the story of the ancient republics. We have derived our vitality (and we look the same way for our strength and cohesion) from a principle unknown to them. The warrant of our hope lies in no presumed change in human nature, but in a proved and apparent elevation and expansion in the ends and methods of human existence.
The equality of condition in the United States, an equality coeval with the settlement of the country, and a natural result of the tenets of the early colonists, is traced by M. de Tocque ville through the abolition of the ancient laws of primogeniture and entail, to which, indeed, he seems too much disposed to look rather as a cause than a consequence. If the township system (a system, by the way, confined in its political characteristics almost wholly to New England) was of the nature and importance which it is represented still to possess, it must have been a very effectual leveller, and have operated imperceptibly to neutralise the old law of descents. But any one who will take the trouble to look at the little freeholds of Connecticut and Massachusetts, must perceive that the division of the soil began long before the repeal of the laws in question. The point has, in fact, long since been reached, at which division ceased. New England cannot feed her existing population, and yearly throws off a large surplus into the west. This, however, is not very material. Cause or consequence, all barriers in restraint of the free alienation of land, have long ago been broken down. Posterity is no party to an American bargain and sale. Equality of condition and fortune, as well as of rights, is as nearly established as the difference of intellectual power and the chapter of accidents will admit. This is certainly the object, and the very desirable object, of republican institutions. It needs no remedy. There is among us another point of equality, however, that of acquirement, which presents to every stranger a dead level of intellectual uniformity. Like one of our own prairies, the eye looks over it in vain for an elevation. This fact, and the reasons for it, can hardly be supposed to have escaped so accurate an observer as M. de Tocqueville.
"I do not believe that there is a country in the world where, in proportion to the population, there are so few uninstructed, and at the same time so few learned individuals. Primary instruction is within the reach of every body: superior instruction is scarcely to be obtained by any. This is not surprising; it is in fact the necessary consequence of what we have advanced above. Almost all the Americans are in easy circumstances, and can therefore obtain the first elements of human knowledge.
"In America there are comparatively few who are rich enough to live without a profession. Every profession requires an apprenticeship, which limits the time of instruction to the early years of life. At fifteen they enter upon their calling, (dans une carrière,) and thus their educa
tion ends at the age when ours begins. Whatever is done afterwards, is with a view to some special and lucrative object; a science is taken up as a matter of business, and the only branch of it which is attended to, is such as admits of an immediate practical application.
"In America most of the rich men were formerly poor: most of those who now enjoy leisure were absorbed in business during their youth; the consequence of which is, that when they might have had a taste for study, they had no time for it, and when the time is at their disposal they have no longer the inclination.
"There is no class, then, in America in which the taste for intellectual pleasures is transmitted with hereditary fortune and leisure, and by which the labours of the intellect are held in honour. Accordingly there is an equal want of the desire and the power of application to these objects.
A middling standard is fixed in America for human knowledge. All approach as near to it as they can; some as they rise, others as they descend. Of course, an immense multitude of persons are to be found who entertain the same number of ideas on religion, history, science, political economy, legislation, and government. The gifts of intellect proceed directly from God, and man cannot prevent their unequal distribution. But in consequence of the state of things which we have here represented, it happens that, although the capacities of men are widely different, as the Creator has doubtless intended they should be, they are submitted to the same method of treatment.
"America, then, exhibits in her social state a most extraordinary phenomenon. Men are there seen on a greater equality in point of fortune and intellect, or, in other words, more equal in their strength, than in any other country of the world, or in any age of which history has preserved the remembrance."
It may not be very flattering to our national vanity to be told that this mediocrity of acquirement is one of the inevitable evils of our form of government, and that, so long as that is preserved, it is in vain to hope to see literary or scientific men sufficiently numerous to form a class in American society. It is an evil therefore under which we must be contented to exist, and for which we must seek an indemnity in the improvement of the whole mass, the exaltation of the general level. Yet in point of mere pecuniary interest, it is scarcely possible to calculate the loss which we suffer for want of a better estimate of learned men, and, in consequence of the indifference which is displayed by legislative bodies to the interests of science. Our local and minor history slides by us without a record. Scarce an effort is made, on any liberal scale, to explore the geological resources of many portions of a country peculiarly rich in minerals. Agriculture, as a science, is really in a worse condition than it was in the days of Columella. The sword is every day half unsheathed, to settle questions of boundary. All efforts fail (the last efforts which should fail in a commercial nation,) to establish a national observatory; and the arts of fortification and engineering, so far as they depend on national patronage, are threatened with neglect and extinc
tion. The doubt about the power to foster the sciences, arises more from want of inclination than of ability; and that want of inclination is unhappily an inherent and radical defect, not a mere temporary incident. It is folly to shut our own eyes to it, and then believe that it is not visible to others.
Having alluded to equality of condition, we must, before leaving the topic, be permitted to go a little deeper into it, in order to correct one of M. de Tocqueville's most serious errors.
The declared law of American politics, which here is fairly and clearly written down, but which in most other countries is a palimpsest, whose original text has been obscured and nearly obliterated by the valueless traditions of each passing generation, is the sovereignty of the people. This law once established, equality of political rights, with its oldest offspring, universal suffrage, and an approximation to equality of social condition, follow of course. This approximation, but for the accidental existence among us of the black population, would have become still closer. It seems a rule of Providence, that the Spartans shall always have their Helots. Equality of condition, thus tempered, seems so natural a consequence of political equality, that it is not felt as an evil, though foreigners cannot comprehend it. The territorial superiority of the great southern landholders, coupled, as it was, with the existence of African slaves, affected, perhaps, in some degree, their political influence; but socially, the distinction was not between the rich and poor white, but between the white and the negro. Besides, they never possessed superior political rights---the freehold qualification, even in Virginia, being always attainable, as it was not of great value. As to the few families on the Hudson, they were not numerous enough to form a class. When M. de Tocqueville, therefore, talks of the aristocratic element in this country, and endeavours to trace it even now, he hunts a shadow. There is no such element. In fact he acknowledges that, at the breaking out of the revolution, all the weight of the rich proprietors was thrown into the popular scale. The loyalists were insignificant in point of numbers. The assertion that a class exists, hostile to the political doctrines of the country, is founded on an inference from an assumption. The assumption is, that the two parties which formerly divided the country had different opinions with regard to the fundamental law, of which we have recently spoken; whereas, they differed merely in the inode of applying it. The inference is, that the unsuccessful one of those parties, comprising, as the author affects to believe, the rich, who live retired from public life, now forms a distinct disaffected political body.
"When the democratic party," says our author, "obtained power, they immediately assumed the exclusive direction of affairs, and have ever