Federalist Fisher Ames sends a draft treatise to a friend for review, in which he addresses the dangers he sees to the liberty of Americans. It remains unpublished until just after his death.
That government certainly deserves no honest man’s love or support, which, from the very laws of its being, carries terrour and danger to the virtuous, and arms the vicious with authority and power.
WRITTEN IN THE BEGINNING OF THE YEAR 1805
Now first published .
—Part I—Part III—
As the boastful pretensions of the democratick system cannot be too minutely exposed, another consideration must be given to the subject.
That government certainly deserves no honest man’s love or support, which, from the very laws of its being, carries terrour and danger to the virtuous, and arms the vicious with authority and power. The essence and, in the opinion of many thousands not yet cured of their delusions, the excellence of democracy is, that it invests every citizen with an equal proportion of power. A state consisting of a million of citizens has a million sovereigns, each of whom detests all other sovereignty but his own. This very boast implies as much of the spirit of turbulence and insubordination, as the utmost energy of any known regular government, even the most rigid, could keep in restraint. It also implies a state of agitation, that is justly terrible to all who love their ease, and of instability, that quenches the last hope of those who would transmit their liberty to posterity. Waving any further pursuit of these reflections, let it be resumed, that, if every man of the million has his ratable share of power in the community, then, instead of restraining the vicious, they also are armed with power, for they take their part: as they are citizens, this cannot be refused them. Now, as they have an interest in preventing the execution of the laws, which, in fact, is the apparent common interest of their whole class, their union will happen of course. The very first moment that they do unite, which it is ten thousand to one will happen before the form of the democracy is agreed upon, and while its plausible constitution is framing, that moment they form a faction, and the pretended efficacy of the democratick system, which is to operate by the power of opinion and persuasion, comes to an end. For an imperium in imperio exists; there is a state within the state, a combination interested and active in hindering the will of the majority from being obeyed.
But the vicious, we shall be told, are very few in such an honest nation as the American. How many of our states did, in fact, pass laws to obstruct the lawful operation of the treaty of peace in 1783? and were the virtuous men of those states the framers and advocates of those laws? What shall we denominate the oligarchy that sways the authority of Virginia? Who is ignorant, that the ruling power have an interest to oppose justice to creditors? Surely, after these facts are remembered, no man will say, the faction of the vicious is a chimera of the writer’s brain; nor, admitting it to be real, will he deny, that it has proved itself potent.
It is not however the faction of debtors only, that is to be expected to arise under a democracy. Every bad passion that dreads restraint from the laws will seek impunity and indulgence in faction. The associates will not come together in cold blood. They will not, like their federal adversaries, yawn over the contemplation of their cause, and shrink from the claim of its necessary perils and sacrifices. They will do all that can possibly be done, and they will attempt more. They will begin early, persevere long, ask no respite for themselves, and are sure to triumph, if their enemies take any. Suppose at first their numbers to be exceedingly few, their efforts will for that reason be so much the greater. They will call themselves the people; they will in their name arraign every act of government as wicked and weak; they will oblige the rulers to stand for ever on the defensive, as culprits at the bar of an offended publick With a venal press at command, concealing their number and their infamy, is it to be doubted, that the ignorant will soon or late unite with the vicious? Their union is inevitable; and, when united, those allies are powerful enough to strike terrour into the hearts of the firmest rulers. It is in vain, it is indeed childish to say, that an enlightened people will understand their own affairs, and thus the acts of a faction will be baffled. No people on earth are or can be so enlightened, as to the details of political affairs. To studybpoliticks, so as to know correctly the force of the reasons for a large part of the publick measures, would stop the labour of the plough and the hammer; and how are these million of students to have access to the means of information?
When it is thus apparent, that the vicious will have as many opportunities as inducements to inflame and deceive, it results from the nature of democracy, that the ignorant will join, and the ambitious will lead their combination. Who, then, will deny, that the vicious are armed with power, and the virtuous exposed to persecution and peril?
If a sense of their danger compel these latter, at length, to unite also in self-defence, it will be late, probably, too late, without means to animate and cement their union, and with no hope beyond that of protracting, for a short time, the certain catastrophe of their destruction, which, in fact, no democracy has ever yet failed to accomplish.
If, then, all this is to happen, not from accident, not, as the shallow or base demagogues pretend, from the management of monarchists or aristocrats, but from the principles of democracy itself, as we have attempted to demonstrate, ought we not to consider democracy as the worst of all governments, or, if there be a worse, as the certain forerunner of that? What other form of civil rule among men so irresistibly tends to free vice from restraint, and to subject virtue to persecution?
The common supposition is, and it is ever assumed as the basis of argument, that in a democracy the laws have only to command individuals, who yield a willing and conscientious obedience; and who would be destitute of the force to resist, if they should lack the disposition to submit. But this supposition, which so constantly triumphs in the newspapers, utterly fails in the trial, in our republick, which we do not denominate a democracy. To collect the tax on Virginia coaches, we have had to exert all the judicial power of the nation; and after that had prevailed, popularity was found a greater treasure than money, and the carriage tax was repealed. The tax on whiskey was enforced by an army, and no sooner had its receipts begun to reimburse the charges of government, and, in some measure, to equalise the Northern and Southern burdens, but the law is annulled.
With the example of two rebellions against our revenue laws, it cannot be denied, that our republick claims the submission, not merely of weak individuals, but of powerful combinations, of those whom distance, numbers, and enthusiasm embolden to deride its authority and defy its arms. A faction is a sort of empire within the empire, which acts by its own magistrates and laws, and prosecutes interests not only unlike, but destructive to those of the nation. The federalists are accused of attempting to impart too much energy to the administration, and of stripping, with too much severity, all such combinations of their assumed importance. Hence it is ridiculously absurd to denominate the federalists, the admirers and disciples of Washington, a faction.
But we shall be told, in defiance both of fact and good sense, that factions will not exist, or will be impotent, if they do; for the majority have a right to govern, and certainly will govern by their representatives. Let their right be admitted, but they certainly will not govern, in either of two cases, both fairly supposeable, and likely, nay sure to happen in succession: that a section of country, a combination, party, or faction, call it what you will, shall prove daring and potent enough to obstruct the laws and to exempt itself from their operation; or, growing bolder with impunity and success, finally by art, deceit, and perseverance to force its chiefs into power, and thus, instead of submitting to the government, to bring the government into submission to a faction. Then the forms and the names of a republick will be used, and used more ostentatiously than ever; but its principles will be abused, and its ramparts and defences laid flat to the ground.
There are many, who, believing that a pen-full of ink can impart a deathless energy to a constitution, and having seen, with pride and joy, two or three skins of parchment added, like new walls about a fortress, to our own, will be filled with astonishment, and say, is not our legislature divided? our executive single? our judiciary independent?, Have we not amendments and bills of rights, excelling all compositions in prose? Where, then, can our danger lie? Our government, so we read, is constructed in such a manner as to defend itself, and the people. We have the greatest political security, for we have adopted the soundest principles.
To most grown children, therefore, the existence of faction will seem chimerical. Yet did any free state ever exist without the most painful and protracted conflicts with this foe? or expire any otherwise than by his triumph? The spring is not more genial to the grain and fruits than to insects and vermin. The same sun that decks the fields with flowers, thaws out the serpent in the fen, and concocts his poison. Surely, we are not the people to contest this position. Our present liberty was born into the world under the knife of this assassin, and now limps a cripple from his violence.
As soon as such a faction is known to subsist in force, we shall be told, the people may, and because they may, they surely will rally to discomfit and punish the conspirators. If the whole people in a body are to do this as often as it may be necessary, then it seems our political plan is to carry on our government by successive, or rather incessant revolutions. When the people deliberate and act in person, laying aside the plain truth, that it is impossible they should, all delegated authority is at an end: the representatives would be nothing in the presence of their assembled constituents. Thus falls or stops the machine of a regular government. Thus a faction, hostile to the government, would ensure their success by the very remedy that is supposed effectual to disappoint their designs.
Men of a just way of thinking will be ready to renounce the opinions we have been considering, and to admit, that liberty is lost, where faction domineers; that some security must be provided against its attacks; and that no elective government can be secure or orderly, unless it be invested by the constitution itself with the means of self-defence. It is enough for the people to approve the lawful use of them. And this for a free government must be the easiest thing in the world.
Now, the contrary of this last opinion is the truth. By a free government this difficulty is nearly or quite insuperable; for the audaciousness and profligacy of faction is ever in proportion to the liberty of the political constitution. In a tyranny individuals are nothing. Conscious of their nothingness, the spirit of liberty is torpid or extinct. But in a free state there is, necessarily, a great mass of power left in the hands of the citizens, with the spirit to use and the desire to augment it. Hence will proceed an infinity of clubs and associations, for purposes often laudable or harmless, but not unfrequently actions. It is obvious, that the combination of some hundreds or thousands for political ends will produce a great aggregate stock or mass of power. As by combining they greatly augment their power, for that very reason they will combine; and, as magistrates would seldom like to devolve their authority upon volunteers, who might offer to play the magistrate in their stead, there is almost nothing left for a band of combined citizens to do, but to discredit and obstruct the government and laws. The possession of power by the magistrate is not so sure to produce respect as to kindle envy; and to the envious it is a gratification to humble those who are exalted. But the ambitious find the publick discontent a passport to office—then they must breed or inflame discontent. We have the example before our eyes.
Is it not evident, then, that a free government must exert a great deal more power to obtain obedience from an extensive combination or faction, than would be necessary to extort it from a much larger number of uncombined individuals? If the regular government has that degree of power, which, let it be noted, the jealousy of a free people often inclines them to withhold; and if it should exercise its power with promptness and spirit, a supposition not a little improbable, for such governments frequently have more strength than firmness, then the faction may be, for that time, repressed and kept from doing mischief. It will, however, instantly change its pretexts and its means, and renew the contest with more art and caution, and with the advantage of all the discontents, which every consierable popular agitation is sure to multiply and to embitter. This immortal enemy, whom it is possible to bind, though only for a time, and in flaxen chains, but not to kill; who may be baffled, but cannot be disarmed; who is never weakened by defeat, nor discouraged by disappointment, again tries and wears out the strength of the government and the temper of the people. It is a game which the factious will never be weary of playing, because they play for an empire, yet on their own part hazard nothing. If they fail, they lose only their ticket, and say, draw your lottery again; if they win, as in the end they must and will, if the constitution has not provided within, or unless the people will bring, which they will not long, from without, some energy to hinder their success, it will be complete; for conquering parties never content themselves with half the fruits of victory. Their power once obtained can be and will be confirmed by nothing but the terrour or weakness of the real people. Justice will shrink from the bench, and tremble at her own bar.
As property is the object of the great mass of every faction, the rules that keep it sacred will be annulled, or so far shaken, as to bring enough of it within the grasp of the dominant party to reward their partisans with booty. But the chieftains, thirsting only for dominion, will search for the means of extending or establishing it. They will, of course, innovate, till the vestiges of private right, and of restraints on publick authority, are effaced; until the real people are stripped of all privilege and influence, and become even more abject and spiritless than weak. The many may be deluded, but the success of a faction is ever the victory of a few; and the power of the few can be supported by nothing but force. This catastrophe is fatal.
The people, it will be thought, will see their errour, and return. But there is no return to liberty. What the fire of faction does not destroy, it will debase. Those, who have once tasted of the cup of sovereignty, will be unfitted to be subjects; and those, who have not, will scarcely form a wish beyond the unmolested ignominy of slaves.
But will those who scorn to live at all, unless they can live free, will these noble spirits abandon the pubiick cause? Will they not break their chains on the heads of their oppressors? Suppose they attempt it, then we have a civil war; and when political diseases require the sword, the remedy will kill. Tyrants may be dethroned, and usurpers expelled and punished; but the sword, once drawn, cannot be sheathed. Whoever holds it, must rule by it; and that rule, though victory should give it to the best men and the honestest cause, cannot be liberty. Though painted as a goddess, she is mortal, and her spirit, once severed by the sword, can be evoked no more from the shades.
Is this catastrophe too distant to be viewed, or too improbable to be dreaded? I should not think it so formidably near as I do, if in the short interval of impending fate, in which alone it can be of any use to be active, the heart of every honest man in the nation, or even in New-England, was penetrated with the anxiety that oppresses my own. Then the subversion of the public liberty would at least be delayed, if it could not be prevented. Her maladies might be palliated, if not cured. She might long drag on the life of an invalid, instead of soon suffering the death of a martyr.
The soft, timid sons of luxury love liberty as well as it is possible they should, to love pleasure better. They desire to sleep in security, and to enjoy protection, without being molested to give it. While all, who are not devoted to pleasure, are eager in the pursuit of wealth, how will it be possible to rouse such a spirit of liberty, as can alone secure, or prolong its possession? For if in the extraordinary perils of the republick, the citizens will not kindle with a more than ordinary, with a heroick flame, its cause will be abandoned without effort, and lost beyond redemption. But if the faithful votaries of liberty, uncertain what counsels to follow, should, for the present, withhold their exertions, will they not at least bestow their attention? Will they not fix it, with an unusual intensity of thought, upon the scene; and will they not fortify their nerves to contemplate a prospect that is shaded with horrour, and already flashes with tempest?
If the positions laid down as theory could be denied, the brief history of the federal administration would establish them. It was first confided to the truest, and purest patriot that ever lived. It succeeded a period, dismal and dark, and, like the morning sun, lighted up a sudden splendour, that was gratuitous, for it consumed nothing, but its genial rays cherished the powers of vegetation, while they displayed its exuberance. There was no example, scarcely a pretence of oppression; yet faction, basking in those rays, and sucking venom from the ground, even then cried out, “O sun, I tell thee, how I hate thy beams.” Faction was organized sooner than the government.
If the most urgent publick reasons could ever silence or satisfy the spirit of faction, the adoption of the new constitution would have been prompt and unanimous. The government of a great nation had barely revenue enough to buy stationary for its clerks, or to pay the salary of the door-keeper. Publick faith and publick force were equally out of the question, for as it respected either authority or resources, the corporation of a college, or the missionary society were greater potentates than congress. Our federal government had not merely fallen into imbecility and, of course, into contempt, but the oligarchical factions in the large states had actually made great advances in the usurpation of its powers. The king of New-York levied imposts on Jersey and Connecticut; and the nobles of Virginia bore with impatience their tributary dependence on Baltimore and Philadelphia. Our discontents were fermenting into civil war; and that would have multiplied and exasperated our discontents.
Impending publick evils, so obvious and so near, happily roused all the patriotism of the country; but they roused its ambition too. The great state chieftains found the sovereign power unoccupied, and, like the lieutenants of Alexander, each employed intrigue, and would soon have employed force, to erect his province into a separate monarchy or aristocracy. Popular republican names would, indeed, have been used, but in the struggles of ambition they would have been used only to cloak usurpation and tyranny. How late, and with what sourness and reluctance did New-York and Virginia renounce the hopes of aggrandizement, which their antifederal leaders had so passionately cherished ! The opposition to the adoption of the federal constitution was not a controversy about principles; it was a struggle for power. In the great states, the ruling party, with that sagacity which too often accompanies inordinate ambition, instantly discerned, that, if the new government should go into operation with all the energy that its letter and spirit would authorize, they must cease to rule—still worse, they must submit to be ruled, nay, worst of all, they must be ruled by their equals, a condition of real wretchedness and supposed disgrace, which our impatient tyrants anticipated with instinctive and unspeakable horrour.
To prevent this dreaded result of the new constitution, which, by securing a real legal equality to all the citizens, would bring them down to an equality, their earliest care was to bind the ties of their factious union more closely together; and by combining their influence and exerting the utmost malignity of their art, to render the new government odious and suspected by the people. Thus, conceived in jealousy and born in weakness and dissension, they hoped to see it sink, like its predecessor, the confederation, into contempt. Hence it was, that in every great state a faction arose with the fiercest hostility to the federal constitution, and active in devising and pursuing every scheme, however unwarrantable or audacious, that would obstruct the establishment of any power in the state superiour to its own.
It is undeniably true, therefore, that faction was organized sooner than the new government. We are not to charge this event to the accidental rivalships or disgusts of leading men, but to the operation of the invariable principles that preside over human actions and political affairs. Power had slipped out of the feeble hands of the old congress; and the world’s power, like its wealth, can never lie one moment without a possessor. The states had instantly succeeded to the vacant sovereignty; and the leading men in the great states, for the small ones were inactive from a sense of their insignificance, engrossed their authority. Where the executive authority was single, the governour, as, for instance, in New-York, felt his brow encircled with a diadem; but in those states where the governour, is a mere cypher, the men who influenced the assembly governed the state, and there an oligarchy established itself. When has it been seen in the world, that the possession of sovereign power was regarded with indifference, or resigned without effort? If all that is ambition in the heart of man had slept in America, till the era of the new constitution, the events of that period would not merely have awakened it into life, but have quickened it into all the agitations of frenzy.
Then commenced an active struggle for power. Faction resolved, that the new government should not exist at all, or, if that could not be prevented, that it should exist without energy. Accordingly, the presses of that time teemed with calumny and invective. Before the new government had done any thing, there was nothing oppressive or tyrannical which it was not accused of meditating; and when it began its operations, there was nothing wise or fit that it was not charged with neglecting; nothing right or beneficial that it did, but from an insidious design to delude and betray the people. The cry of usurpation and oppression was louder then, when all was prosperous and beneficent, than it has been since, when the judiciary is violently abolished, the judges dragged to the culprit’s bar, the constitution changed to prevent a change of rulers, and the path plainly marked out and already half travelled over for the ambition of those rulers to reign in contempt of the people’s votes and on the ruins of their liberty.
He is certainly a political novice or a hypocrite, who will pretend, that the antifederal opposition to the government is to be ascribed to the concern of the people for their liberties, rather than to the profligate ambition of their demagogues, eager for power, and suddenly alarmed by the imminent danger of losing it; demagogues, who, leading lives like Clodius, and with the maxims of Cato in their mouths, cherishing principles like Catiline, have acted steadily on a plan of usurpation like Cesar. Their labour for twelve years was to inflame and deceive; and their recompense, for the last four, has been to degrade and betray.
Any person who considers the instability of all authority, that is not only derived from the multitude, but wanes or increases with the ever changing phases of their levity and caprice, will pronounce, that the federal government was from the first, and from its very nature and organization, fated to sink under the rivalship of its state competitors for dominion. Virginia has never been more federal than it was, when, from considerations of policy, and, perhaps, in the hope of future success from its intrigues, it adopted the new constitution; for it has never desisted from obstructing its measures and urging every scheme that would reduce it back again to the imbecility of the old confederation. To the dismay of every true patriot, these arts have at length fatally succeeded; and our system of government now differs very little from what it would have been, if the impost proposed by the old congress had been granted, and the new federal constitution had never been adopted by the states. In that case, the states being left to their natural inequality, the small states would have been, as they now are, nothing, and Virginia, potent in herself, more potent by her influence and intrigues, and uncontrolled by a superiour federal head, would, of course, have been every thing. Baltimore, like Antium, and Philadelphia, like Capua, would have bowed their proud necks to a new Roman yoke. If any of her more powerful neighbours had resisted her dominion, she would have spread her factions into their bosoms, and, like the Marsi and the Samnites, they would, at last, though, perhaps, somewhat the later for their valour, have graced the pomp of her triumphs, and afterwards assisted to maintain the terrour of her arms.
So far as state opposition was concerned, it does not appear, that it has been overcome in any of the great states by the mild and successful operation of the federal government. But if states had not been its rivals, yet the matchless industry and close combination of the factious individuals who guided the antifederal presses would, in the end, though, perhaps, not so soon as it has been accomplished by the help of Virginia, have disarmed and prostrated the federal government. We have the experience of France before our eyes to prove, that, with such a city as Paris, it is utterly impossible to support a free republican system. A profligate press has more authority than morals; and a faction will possess more energy than magistrates or laws.
On evidence thus lamentably clear, I found my opinion, that the federalists can never again become the dominant party; in other words, the publick reason and virtue cannot be again, as in our first twelve years, and never will be again the governing power, till our government has passed through its revolutionary changes. Every faction that may happen to rule will pursue but two objects, its vengeance on the fallen party, and the security of its own power against any new one that may rise to contest it. As to the glory that wise rulers partake, when they obtain it for their nation, no person of understanding will suppose, that the gaudy, ephemeral insects, that bask and flutter no longer than while the sun of popularity shines without a cloud, will either possess the means or feel the passion for it. What have the Condorcets and Rolands of to-day to hope or to enjoy from the personal reputation or publick happiness of to-morrow? Their objects are all selfish, all temporary. Mr. Jefferson’s letters to Mazzei or Paine, his connexion with Callender, or his mean condescensions to France and Spain, will add nothing- to the weight of his disgrace with the party that shall supplant him. To be their enemy will be disgrace enough, and so far a refuge for his fame, as it will stop all curiosity and inquiry into particulars. Every party that has fallen in France has been overwhelmed with infamy, but without proofs or discrimination. If time and truth have furnished any materials for the vindication of the ex-rulers, there has, nevertheless, been no instance of the return of the publick to pity, or of the injured to power. The revolution has no retrograde steps. Its course is onward from the patriots and statesmen to the hypocrites and cowards, and onward still through successive committees of ruffians, till some one ruffian happens to be a hero. Then chance no longer has a power over events, for this last inevitably becomes an emperour.
The restoration of the federalists to their merited influence in the government supposes two things, the slumber or extinction of faction, and the efficacy of publick morals. It supposes an interval of calm, when reason will dare to speak, and prejudice itself will incline to hear. Then, it is still hoped by many, Nova progenies cæo demittitur alto, the genuine publick voice would call wisdom into power; and the love of country, which is the morality of politicks, would guard and maintain its authority.
Are not these the visions that delight a poet’s fancy, but will never revisit the statesman’s eyes? When will faction sleep? Not till its labours of vengeance and ambition are over. Faction, we know, is the twin brother of our liberty, and born first; and, as we are told in the fable of Castor and Pollux, the only one of the two that is immortal. As long as there is a faction in full force, and possessed of the government too, the publick will and the publick reason must have power to compel, as well as to convince, or they will convince without reforming. Bad men, who rise by intrigue, may be dispossessed by worse men, who rise over their heads by deeper intrigue; but what has the publick reason to do, but to deplore its silence or to polish its chains? This last we find is now the case in France. All the talent of that country is employed to illustrate the virtues and exploits of that chief, who has made a nation happy by putting an end to the agitations of what they called their liberty, and who naturally enough insist, that they enjoy more glory than any other people, because they are more terrible to all.
The publick reason, therefore, is so little in a condition to re-establish the federal cause, that it will not long maintain its own. Do we not see our giddy multitude celebrate with joy the triumphs of a party over some essential articles of our constitution, and recently over one integral and independent branch of our government? When our Roland falls, our Danton will be greeted with as loud a peal and as splendid a triumph. If federalism could by a miracle resume the reins of power, unless political virtue and pure morals should return also, those reins would soon drop or be snatched from its hands.
By political virtue is meant that love of country diffused through the society and ardent in each individual, that would dispose, or rather impel every one to do or suffer much for his country, and permit no one to do any thing against it. The Romans sustained the hardships and dangers of military service, which fell not, as amongst modern nations, on the dregs of society, but, till the time of Marius, exclusively on the flower of the middle and noble classes. They sustained them, nevertheless, both with constancy and alacrity, because the excellence of life, every Roman thought, was glory, and the excellence of each man’s glory lay in its redounding to the splendour and extent of the empire of Rome.
Is there any resemblance in all this to the habits and passions that predominate in America? Are not our people wholly engrossed by the pursuit of wealth and pleasure? Though grouped together into a society, the propensities of the individual still prevail; and if the nation discovers the rudiments of any character, they are yet to be developed. In forming it, have we not ground to fear, that the sour, dissocial, malignant spirit of our politicks will continue to find more to dread and hate in party, than to love and reverence in our country? What foundation can there be for that political virtue to rest upon, while the virtue of the society is proscribed, and its vice lays an exclusive claim to emolument and honour? And as long as faction governs, it must look to all that is vice in the state for its force, and to all that is virtue for its plunder. It is not merely the choice of faction, though, no doubt, base agents are to be preferred for base purposes, but it is its necessity also, to keep men of true worth depressed by keeping the turbulent and worthless contented.
How, then, can love of country take root and grow in a soil, from which every valuable plant has thus been plucked up and thrown away as a weed? How can we forbear to identify the government with the country? and how is it possible, that we should at the same time lavish all the ardour of our affection, and yet withhold every emotion either of confidence or esteem? It is said, that in republicks majorities invariably oppress minorities. Can there be any real patriotism in a state, which is thus filled with those who exercise and those who suffer tyranny? But how much less reason has any man to love that country, in which the voice of the majority is counterfeited, or the vicious, ignorant, and needy are the instruments, and the wise and worthy are the victims of oppression?
When we talk of patriotism as the theme of declamation, it is not very material, that we should know with any precision what we mean. It is a subject on which hypocrisy will seem to ignorance to be eloquent, because all of it will be received and well received as flattery. If, however, we search for a principle or sentiment, general and powerful enough to produce national effects, capable of making a people act with constancy, or suffer with fortitude, is there any thing in our situation that could have produced, or that can cherish it? The straggling settlements of the Southern part of the union, which now is the governing part, have been formed by emigrants from almost every nation of Europe. Safe in their solitudes alike from the annoyance of enemies and of government, it is infinitely more probable, that they will sink into barbarism than rise to the dignity of national sentiment and character. Patriotism, to be a powerful or steady principle of action, must be deeply imbued by education and strongly impressed both by the policy of the government and the course of events. To love our country with ardour, we must often have some fears for its safety; our affection will be exalted in its distress; and our self-esteem will glow on the contemplation of its glory. It is only by such diversified and incessant exercise, that the sentiment can become strong in the individual, or be diffused over the nation.
But how can that nation have any such affinities, any sense of patriotism, whose capacious wilderness receives and separates from each other the successive troops of emigrants from all other nations, men who remain ignorant, or learn only from the newspapers, that they are countrymen, who think it their right to be exempted from all tax, restraint, or control, and, of course, that they have nothing to do with or for their country, but to make rulers for it, who, after they are made, are to have, nothing to do with their makers—a country too, which they are sure will not be invaded, and cannot be enslaved? Are not the wandering Tartars or Indian hunters at least as susceptible of patriotism as these stragglers in our Western forests, and infinitely fonder of glory? It is difficult to conceive of a country, which, from the manner of its settlement, or the manifest tendencies of its politicks is more destitute or more incapable of being inspired with political virtue.
What foundation remains, then, for the hopes of those who expect to see the federalists again invested with power?
Shall we be told, that, if the nation is not animated with publick spirit, the individuals are at least fitted to be good citizens by the purity of their morals? But what are morals without restraints? and how will merely voluntary restraints be maintained? How long will sovereigns, as the people are made to fancy they are, insist more upon checks than prerogatives? Ask Mr. *** and judge Chase.
Besides, in political reasoning it is generally overlooked, that, if the existence of morals should encourage a people to prefer a democratick system, the operation of that system is sure to destroy their morals. Power in such a society cannot long have any regular control; and, without control, it is itself a vice. Is there in human affairs an occasion of profligacy more shameless or more contagious than a general election? Every spring gives birth and gives wings to this epidemick mischief. Then begins a sort of tillage, that turns up to the sun and air the most noxious weeds in the kindliest soil; or to speak still more seriously, it is a mortal pestilence, that begins with rottenness in the marrow. A democratick society will soon find its morals the incumbrance of its race, the surly companion of its licentious joys. It will encourage its demagogues to impeach and persecute the magistracy, till it is no longer disquieted. In a word, there will not be morals without justice; and though justice might possibly support a democracy, yet a democracy cannot possibly support justice.
Rome was never weary of making laws for that end, and failed. France has had nearly as many laws as soldiers, yet never had justice or liberty for one day. Nevertheless, there can be no doubt, that the ruling faction has often desired to perpetuate its authority by establishing justice. The difiiculties, however, lie in the nature of the thing; for in democratick states there are ever more volunteers to destroy than to build; and nothing that is restraint can be erected, without being odious, nor maintained, if it is. Justice her self must be built on a loose foundation, and every villain’s hand is, of course, busy to pluck out the underpinning. Instead of being the awful power that is to control the popular passions, she descends from the height of her temple, and becomes the cruel and vindictive instrument of them.
Federalism was, therefore, manifestly founded on a mistake, on the supposed existence of sufficient political virtue, and on the permanency and authority of the publick morals.
The party now in power committed no such mistake. They acted on the knowledge of what men actually are, not what they ought to be. Instead of enlightening the popular understanding, their business was to bewilder it. They knew, that the vicious, on whom society makes war, would join them in their attack upon government. They inflamed the ignorant; they flattered the vain; they offered novelty to the restless; and promised plunder to the base. The envious were assured, that the great should fall; and the ambitious, that they should become great. The federal power, propped by nothing but opinion, fell, not because it deserved its fall, but because its principles of action were more exalted and pure than the people could support.
It is now undeniable, that the federal administration was blameless. It has stood the scrutiny of time, and passed unharmed through the ordeal of its enemies. With all the evidence of its conduct in their possession, and with servile majorities at their command, it has not been in their power, much as they desired it, to fix any reproach on their predecessors.
It is the opinion of a few, but a very groundless opinion, that the cause of order will be re-established by the splitting of the reigning jacobins; or, if that should not take place soon, the union will be divided, and the Northern confederacy compelled to provide for its own liberty. Why, it is said, should we expect, that the union of the bad will be perfect, when that of the Washington party, though liberty and property were at stake, has been broken? And why should it be supposed, that the Northern states, who possess so prodigious a preponderance of white population, of industry, commerce, and civilization over the Southern, will remain subject to Virginia? Popular delusion cannot last, and as soon as the opposition of the federalists ceases to be feared, the conquerors will divide into new factions, and either the federalists will be called again into power, or the union will be severed into two empires.
By some attention to the nature of a democracy, both these conjectures, at least so far as they support any hopes of the publick liberty, will be discredited.
There is no society without jacobins; no free society without a formidable host of them; and no democracy, whose powers they will not usurp, nor whose liberties, if it be not absurd to suppose a democracy can have any, they will not destroy. A nation must be exceedingly well educated, in which the ignorant and the credulous are few. Athens, with all its wonderful taste and literature, poured them into her popular assemblies by thousands. It is by no means certain, that a nation, composed wholly of scholars and philosophers, would contain less presumption, political ignorance, levity, and extravagance than another state, peopled by tradesmen, farmers, and men of business, without a metaphysician or speculatist among them. The opulent in Holland were the friends of those French who subdued their country, and enslaved them. It was the well-dressed, the learned, or, at least, the conceited mob of France that did infinitely more than the mere rabble of Paris, to overturn the throne of the Bourbons. The multitude were made giddy with projects of innovation, before they were armed with pikes to enforce them.
As there is nothing really excellent in our governments, that is not novel in point of institution, and which faction has not represented as old in abuse, the natural vanity, presumption, and restlessness of the human heart have, from the first, afforded the strength of a host to the jacobins of our country. The ambitious desperadoes are the natural leaders of this host.
Now, though such leaders may have many occasions of jealousy and discord with one another, especially in the division of power and booty, is it not absurd to suppose, that any set of them will endeavour to restore both to the right owners? Do we expect a self-denying ordinance from the sons of violence and rapine? Are not those remarkably inconsistent with themselves, who say, our republican system is a government of justice and order, that was freely adopted in peace, subsists by morals, and whose office it is to ask counsel of the wise and to give protection to the good, yet who console themselves in the storms of the state with the fond hope, that order will spring out of confusion, because innovators Avill grow weary of change, and the ambitious will contend about their spoil. Then we are to have a new system exactly like the old one, from the fortuitous concourse of atoms, from the crash and jumble of all that is precious or sacred in the state. It is said, the popular hopes and fears are the gales that impel the political vessel. Can any disappointment of such hopes be greater than their folly?
It is true, the men now in power may not be united together by patriotism, or by any principle of faith or integrity. It is also true, that they have not, and cannot easily have, a military force to awe the people into submission. But on the other hand, they have no need of an army; there is no army to oppose them. They are held together by the ties, and made irresistible by the influence of party. With the advantage of acting as the government, who can oppose them? Not the federalists, who neither have any force, nor any object to employ it for, if they had. Not any subdivision of their own faction, because the opposers, if they prevail, will become the government, so much the less liable to be opposed for their recent victory; and if the new sect should fail, they will be nothing. The conquerors will take care, that an unsuccessful resistance shall strengthen their domination.
Thus it seems, in every event of the division of the ruling party, the friends of true liberty have nothing to hope. Tyrants may thus be often changed, but the tyranny will remain.
[ End Part II. ] [To Part I.]
[ ☞ To Part III. ]
Courtesy of Democratic Thinker