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- The American Republic - 2/49 -
constitution of the American state, as I have done in my Review for October, 1863, and January and October, 1864.
I maintain, after Mr. Senator Sumner, one of the most philosophic and accomplished living American statesmen, that "State secession is State suicide," but modify the opinion I too hastily expressed that the political death of a State dissolves civil society within its territory and abrogates all rights held under it, and accept the doctrine that the laws in force at the time of secession remain in force till superseded or abrogated by competent authority, and also that, till the State is revived and restored as a State in the Union, the only authority, under the American system, competent to supersede or abrogate them is the United States, not Congress, far less the Executive. The error of the Government is not in recognizing the territorial laws as surviving secession but in counting a State that has seceded as still a State in the Union, with the right to be counted as one of the United States in amending the Constitution. Such State goes out of the Union, but comes under it.
I have endeavored throughout to refer my particular political views; to their general principles, and to show that the general principles asserted have their origin and ground in the great, universal, and unchanging principles of the universe itself. Hence, I have labored to show the scientific relations of political to theological principles, the real principles of all science, as of all reality. An atheist, I have said, may be a politician; but if there were no God, there could be no politics. This may offend the sciolists of the age, but I must follow science where it leads, and cannot be arrested by those who mistake their darkness for light.
I write throughout as a Christian, because I am a Christian; as a Catholic, because all Christian principles, nay, all real principles are catholic, and there is nothing sectarian either in nature or revelation. I am a Catholic by God's grace and great goodness, and must write as I am. I could not write otherwise if I would, and would not if I could. I have not obtruded my religion, and have referred to it only where my argument demanded it; but I have had neither the weakness nor the bad taste to seek to conceal or disguise it. I could never have written my book without the knowledge I have, as a Catholic, of Catholic theology, and my acquaintance, slight as it is, with the great fathers and doctors of the church, the great masters of all that is solid or permanent in modern thought, either with Catholics or non-Catholics.
Moreover, though I write for all Americans, without distinction of sect or party, I have had more especially in view the people of my own religious communion. It is no discredit to a man in the United States at the present day to be a firm, sincere, and devout Catholic. The old sectarian prejudice may remain with a few, "whose eyes," as Emerson says, "are in their hind-head, not in their fore-head;" but the American people are not at heart sectarian, and the nothingarianism so prevalent among them only marks their state of transition from sectarian opinions to positive Catholic faith. At any rate, it can no longer be denied that Catholics are an integral, living, and growing element in the American population, quite too numerous, too wealthy, and too influential to be ignored. They have played too conspicuous a part in the late troubles of the country, and poured out too freely and too much of their richest and noblest blood in defence of the unity of the nation and the integrity of its domain, for that. Catholics henceforth must be treated as standing, in all respects, on a footing of equality with any other class of American citizens, and their views of political science, or of any other science, be counted of equal importance, and listened to with equal attention.
I have no fears that my book will be neglected because avowedly by a Catholic author, and from a Catholic publishing house. They who are not Catholics will read it, and it will enter into the current of American literature, if it is one they must read in order to be up with the living and growing thought of the age. If it is not a book of that sort, it is not worth reading by any one.
Furthermore, I am ambitious, even in my old age, and I wish to exert an influence on the future of my country, for which I have made, or, rather, my family have made, some sacrifices, and which I tenderly love. Now, I believe that he who can exert the most influence on our Catholic population, especially in giving tone and direction to our Catholic youth, will exert the most influence in forming the character and shaping the future destiny of the American Republic. Ambition and patriotism alike, as well as my own Catholic faith and sympathies, induce me to address myself primarily to Catholics. I quarrel with none of the sects; I honor virtue wherever I see it, and accept truth wherever I find it; but, in my belief, no sect is destined to a long life, or a permanent possession. I engage in no controversy with any one not of my religion, for, if the positive, affirmative truth is brought out and placed in a clear light before the public, whatever is sectarian in any of the sects will disappear as the morning mists before the rising sun.
I expect the most intelligent and satisfactory appreciation of my book from the thinking and educated classes among Catholics; but I speak to my countrymen at large. I could not personally serve my country in the field: my habits as well as my infirmities prevented, to say nothing of my age; but I have endeavored in this humble work to add my contribution, small though it may be, to political science, and to discharge, as far as I am able, my debt of loyalty and patriotism. I would the book were more of a book, more worthy of my countrymen, and a more weighty proof of the love I beat them, and with which I have written it. All I can say is, that it is an honest book, a sincere book, and contains my best thoughts on the subjects treated. If well received, I shall be grateful; if neglected, I shall endeavor to practise resignation, as I have so often done.
O. A. BROWNSON.
ELIZABETH, N. J., September 16, 1865.
The ancients summed up the whole of human wisdom in the maxim, Know Thyself, and certainly there is for an individual no more important as there is no more difficult knowledge, than knowledge of himself, whence he comes, whither he goes, what he is, what he is for, what he can do, what he ought to do, and what are his means of doing it.
Nations are only individuals on a larger scale. They have a life, an individuality, a reason, a conscience, and instincts of their own, and have the same general laws of development and growth, and, perhaps, of decay, as the individual man. Equally important, and no less difficult than for the individual, is it for a nation to know itself, understand its own existence, its own powers and faculties, rights and duties, constitution, instincts, tendencies, and destiny. A nation has a spiritual as well as a material, a moral as well as a physical existence, and is subjected to internal as well as external conditions of health and virtue, greatness and grandeur, which it must in some measure understand and observe, or become weak and infirm, stunted in its growth, and end in premature decay and death.
Among nations, no one has more need of full knowledge of itself than the United States, and no one has hitherto had less. It has hardly had a distinct consciousness of its own national existence, and has lived the irreflective life of the child, with no severe trial, till the recent rebellion, to throw it back on itself and compel it to reflect on its own constitution, its own separate existence, individuality, tendencies, and end. The defection of the slaveholding States, and the fearful struggle that has followed for national unity and integrity, have brought it at once to a distinct recognition of itself, and forced it to pass from thoughtless, careless, heedless, reckless adolescence to grave and reflecting manhood. The nation has been suddenly compelled to study itself, and henceforth must act from reflection, understanding, science, statesmanship, not from instinct, impulse, passion, or caprice, knowing well what it does, and wherefore it does it. The change which four years of civil war have wrought in the nation is great, and is sure to give it the seriousness, the gravity, the dignity, the manliness it has heretofore lacked.
Though the nation has been brought to a consciousness of its own existence, it has not, even yet, attained to a full and clear understanding of its own national constitution. Its vision is still obscured by the floating mists of its earlier morning, and its judgment rendered indistinct and indecisive by the wild theories and fancies of its childhood. The national mind has been quickened, the national heart has been opened, the national disposition prepared, but there remains the important work of dissipating the mists that still linger, of brushing away these wild theories and fancies, and of enabling it to form a clear and intelligent judgment of itself, and a true and just appreciation of its own constitution tendencies,--and destiny; or, in other words, of enabling the nation to understand its own idea, and the means of its actualization in space and time.
Every living nation has an idea given it by Providence to realize, and whose realization is its special work, mission, or destiny. Every nation is, in some sense, a chosen people of God. The Jews were the chosen people of God, through whom the primitive traditions were to be preserved in their purity and integrity, and the Messiah was to come. The Greeks were the chosen people of God, for the development and realization of the beautiful or the divine splendor in art, and of the true in science and philosophy; and the Romans, for the development of the state, law, and jurisprudence. The great despotic nations of Asia were never properly nations; or if they were nations with a mission, they proved false to it--, and count for nothing in the progressive development of the human race. History has not recorded their mission, and as far as they are known they have contributed only to the abnormal development or corruption of religion and civilization. Despotism is barbaric and abnormal.
The United States, or the American Republic, has a mission, and is chosen of God for the realization of a great idea. It has been chosen not only to continue the work assigned to Greece and
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