Page images

mind fretted into delirium by appeals from legislation and decision to extraordinary and revolutionary remedies. The laws which ought to recognise no power between their functionaries and their objects, are paralysed by the din and turmoil with which they are surrounded, and they are subverted, or at least turned aside, by the intervention of illegitimate influences. Public men legislate and live in America in the arena, where they are exposed not merely to the swords of their fellow gladiators, but to the fang and the claw of more obscure antagonists. Nigro bellua nil negat magistro. The pack fastens at the signal of the huntsman. Fame goes for nothing, honour for nothing, the sufferings and services of a long life for nothing. An exalted intellect is too high by the head. Are not all men equal? Why not bring it, in the slang of coparcenary, into hotchpot? It is aristocratical to know too much, as it is to have too much. This is the mere old ostracism of greatness and virtue-the same which banished Aristides and poisoned Socrates. With us it may not kill, but it may make life not worth the keeping.

The rewards of public service--honest and honourable service-ought to lie elsewhere than in a man's own bosom. A good conscience is a good defence, but the state is not to be thanked for it; that brazen wall is not built at the public charge. We may talk of living down calumny, but who wants such a foul fiend dogging his heels through the whole summer of his existence? The statesman who in a past age went from the cabinet to the scaffold, at least walked through a court of justice on his way, and the next generation raised a monument to his memory-happier in that than he who, in our times, meets no responsible accuser and awaits not even tardy and posthumous renown. Martyrdom has always had its charms. It is a great ennobler. But that war which cuts away reputation by piecemeal, and fights with the file instead of the sword, leaves its adversary nothing with which to combat while he is on the stagenothing to hope for when he quits it. We deprecate, in every view, the spirit of unfairness, of misrepresentation, of low imputation, which pervades our American politics. The limits between truth and falsehood are utterly confounded and obliterated by it. It respects no standard of judgment; it yields to no weight of evidence; it stops at no aggravation of injustice. It is terrorism aided by the press instead of the guillotine, accompanied by political proscription and followed by the extremes of distrust or adulation. The next and sure consequence, if the mischief is not abated, will be practical terrorism. Flash and Squib have already begun to write letters, intimating that houses may be burned and that legislators are mortal. Sejanus ducitur

unco; the idol of a year ago has already had the rope around the neck of his straw representative--Cæsar and Brutus have become apt parallels.

Shall we be told that all this is mere harmless effervescence -the work of a few of those unquiet spirits whose passion has in every age and state outrun their judgment? We are sorry to believe that the evil is more diffused and more alarming. It lies in a disposition to bring every act and every character to the immediate test of popular judgment; in a real repeal of the representative system;-legislation by a show of hands in the Agora, or the tribunitial veto on the Mons Sacer. Muskets have been the usual instruments of dictation to representative' pertinacity. Cromwell and Bonaparte found out their efficacy; but clubs are equally serviceable to enforce attention or punish disobedience. Our legislators are fast descending into clerks, with their amen written down for them. Pledges beforehand and instructions after, will soon leave them the choice of parrots between the favourite phrases of a present or a recent master-a glorious alternative between nunc and nuper. Senatorial service is becoming coeval with that of the bodies it represents. The majority shifts with the weathercock, and six years dwindle into one. Fortune plays her game with the conscript fathers of the republic, adroitly juggling them in and out with a shake of her wings;

"Ludum insolentem ludere pertinax,
Transmutat incertos honores,

Nunc mihi, nunc alii benigna."

What is the object of a deposit of power if it is to be thus instantly resumed? Why is the grave farce of election periodically acted to be made of none avail? Is it not apparent to the dimmest vision that there can be neither stability nor strength where the plain provisions of the fundamental law are thus evaded for selfish and temporary purposes? If the people so please let them abrogate their constitution, and boldly and manfully make another with all manner of provisions for popular protection. If any branch of the government is too strong or too long-lived, they have a mode of shearing its locks, and of curtailing its existence. But this sapping and mining, these side winds which blow in gusts and flaws, this continual dropping which, by little and little, wears away the cornerstone of their edifice, are all mischievous and miserable alternatives. Plain men are mystified by jargon until they lose all confidence in the catechism of their political rights. They are taught to believe that they are cheated by every exercise of function which does not emanate from their own express 47

VOL. XIX.-NO. 38.

and immediate dictation. Like honest Nick Bottom, they must play all the parts. So be it, if so it must be. But let us have no more pretence about the matter. Let the people know honestly and fairly what they are to do. Their constitution is half a century old. The French had half a dozen in one-tenth of that period, running through every variety of pyramid and column, with checks, counter-checks and balances; classes, colleges, synods and senates, fresh minted for each new holiday. If Americans are for similar experiments, like good republicans, we go with them-nay, we will put in at the grand receiving-shop, with our model, founded on no silly practical compromise, like our once glorious, now (always under favour of the conditional if) obsolete old charter, but redolent of abstract rights and beautiful theories of the social compact, or of some antecedent antediluvian era,

"Ere the base laws of servitude began,

When wild in woods the noble savage ran."

Yet are we, after all, for the established order of things, because it is order. Possibly a change may make it better; probably it will make it worse. We are for the constitution of 1787, without the commentary of 1798, or any other gloss or scholium whensoever concocted, save, it may be, that contemporary one, which, as it preceded the refinements and inventions of modern party, and as its authors were subsequently sundered by political division, claims, as it has received, uniform respect. We are for a president for four years, a senate for six years, a house of representatives for two years, a judiciary dum bene se gesserit, if for no better reason, at least for this, that so runs the compact under which most of us have been born. We go with Publicola rather than with Pericles. We are opposed to a whispering-gallery by which every popular breath may be conveyed to the capitol-there is always a slave at one end of such a contrivance and a tyrant at the other. We are opposed to all manner of devices and machinery for bringing a great and variable influence from the polls, where it has established its just and legitimate dominion, into the senate house, where, by the constitution, it has neither seat nor voice. If it can come properly there, the speaker's hammer and the wand of the sergeant-at-arms are gross violations of the rights of the galleries. The banks of the Tiber are cheated of their echoes-lawful tributes, as the case may be, to patriotism or apostacy. Once enter on this career (is it not already entered on?) and where are we to stop? Threaten the timid, instruct the scrupulous, defame the bold, and legislators here at home will become in time as very machines as

the members of the national assembly surrounded by six thousand dictators in their hall at Versailles. We cast no imputation upon those who carry their notions of constituent rights to this extreme, but we beg them to reflect upon the tendency of their doctrines, and to ask themselves in what principle they differ from the advocates of a simple democracy. If they can show a distinction we shall be happy to see and welcome it— if they admit the resemblance, we will venture to tell them that such is not the form of government to which any citizen of the United States has vowed allegiance. We have an oath in heaven" of a different description, and we will not be mansworn. Much as we may defer to their opinions, we cannot espouse them. They are too radical for the institutions under which we live. They may be Athenian, (and that is not a name to be ashamed of,) but they are not American.

Revolution does not always consist in drums and trumpetsthe fortress that has withstood a siege has been undermined by the waters of its own ditch. A sack or a bow-string, a pliant minister or a corrupt jury, have done as much for prerogative as Janissaries or Prætorians. Man's innate love of power eats silently like a mildew into the paper bulwarks which in a moment of magnanimity or prostration he may have set up against it. The self-imposed restraint to which he submits, resembles that of stage-captives-the chains are fastened on with straps. We are by nature revolutionary; first (for when history discovered our species it was in subjection at least, if not in slavery) towards freedom; then back again towards its opposite. The former tendency is the result of instinct, of hope and of moral knowledge; the latter of despondency-we had almost said, of despair. It is a vibration between the aspirations and the experience of humanity. The problem is, as indeed it is in most other cases, political or moral, to rest at the middle point-the point of safety and repose. Past ages have carried the pendulum so far to the side of experience that we may well fear the wide sweep of its return towards the region of hope and trial. If it does not swing too far, it may rise too rapidly. To what extent we can trust ourselves beyond the gravitating point is not now the question. We seem to have no suspicion that we can become giddy under any circumstances, but may we not go too fast?"In all free nations," said the Drapier, more than a hundred years ago, "I take the definition of law to be, the will of the majority of those who have the property in land.'" That maxim was superseded by the Draconic code of the French revolution, for even in America nobody thought of disputing it until the events of that struggle in a few short years obliterated half the old axioms of politics. The principle, however, is repealed, (it

matters not how or when,) so far as America is concerned,* and on most philosophic grounds. It would be absurd, where the developement of the national energies and the support of the national character owe to commerce, manufactures and the application of mechanical labour, as much as to agriculture, that the possessor of a few acres of mountain or moor-of "forty pounds a year" in corn or cabbages, should be the exclusive law-maker. Dry goods, a lap-stone, or a ship-carpenter's hammer, are as legitimate parents of the franchise as Gonzalo's "long heath or brown furze." But we stop there, and stand on our reserved rights. If property in land is not a qualification, neither is property of any sort, nor that mother of property and influence in a free republic, educated intellect, to be a disqualification. We recognize no privilege of poverty, -we would as soon submit to the privilege of peerage.

When a war against property unites the majority of the physical and moral force of a country, it is generally a war against abuses too-it is revolution. Such it was in France, and we are not prepared to say that in the outset, while motives were pure, many an honest patriot might not well have contemplated a division of property as an inevitable precursor of reform. It was indeed a wretched alternative most wretchedly settled. But here a war against property would be what a great statesman calls "Jacobinism by establishment;" a mere strife for gain without even the excuse of a pretended virtue; a mad agrarianism ending in its own suicide; a bloody and circuitous hunt after that which lies at every man's door. Yet have the inflammatory harangues and paragraphs of some designers with purposes to answer, and some dupes with no purposes at all-mere echoes from the mountains-half excited it. Every popular mutiny against the laws, we care not if it takes the shape of a mob in the streets, or the more peaceful guise of a private society, the moment it invades the right of the capitalist to enjoy his means, or the right of the operative to. gain a livelihood, makes war upon property. It matters little whether banded men rebel at once with arms in their hands, or whether they form a conspiracy to effect illegal purposes in silence. The tendency and end of their measures are the same. Perhaps the latter method is the more dangerous one, inasmuch as the order of society is undermined, and its life corrupted, before the evil is felt. Open and furious riot enlists only the very daring and the very desperate, and soon spends itself by its own violence; but a combination proceeding under specious forms, with regulated action, for a definite and alluring end, appeals

* Under the charter of Charles II. to Rhode Island, the freehold qualification is still requisite.

« PreviousContinue »