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- The American Republic - 20/49 -


lady, and did, thank God, do something to keep alive religious sentiments and convictions in the bosom of the feudal society itself. Whatever opinions may be formed of the monastic orders in relation to the present, this much is certain, that they were the chief civilizers of Europe, and the chief agents in delivering European society from feudal barbarism.

The aristocracy have been claimed as the natural allies of the throne, but history proves them to be its natural enemies, whenever it cannot be used in their service, and kings do not consent to be their ministers and to do their bidding. A political aristocracy has at heart only the interests of its order, and pursues no line of policy but the extension or preservation of its privileges. Having little to gain and much to lose, it opposes every political change that would either strengthen the crown or elevate the people. The nobility in the French Revolution were the first to desert both the king and the kingdom, and kings have always found their readiest and firmest allies in the people. The people in Europe have no such bitter feelings towards royalty as they have towards the feudal nobility--for kings have never so grievously oppressed them. In Rome the patrician order opposed alike the emperor and the people, except when they, as chivalric nobles sometimes will do, turned courtiers or demagogues. They were the people of Rome and the provinces that sustained the emperors, and they were the emperors who sustained the people, and gave to the provincials the privileges of Roman citizens.

Guaranties against excessive centralism are certainly needed, but the statesman will not seek them in the feudal organization of society--in a political aristocracy, whether founded on birth or private wealth, nor in a privileged class of any sort. Better trust Caesar than Brutus, or even Cato. Nor will he seek them in the antagonism of interests intended to neutralize or balance each other, as in the English constitution. This was the great error of Mr. Calhoun. No man saw more clearly than Mr. Calhoun the utter worthlessness of simple paper constitutions, on which Mr. Jefferson placed such implicit reliance, or that the real constitution is in the state itself, in the manner in which the people themselves are organized; but his reliance was in constituting, as powers in the state, the several popular interests that exist, and pitting them against each other--the famous system of checks and balances of English states men. He was led to this, because be distrusted power, and was more intention guarding against its abuses than on providing for its free, vigorous, and healthy action, going on the principle that "that is the best government which governs least." But, if the opposing interests could be made to balance one another perfectly, the result would be an equilibrium, in which power would be brought to a stand-still; and if not, the stronger would succeed and swallow up all the rest. The theory of checks and balances is admirable if the object be to trammel power, and to have as little power in the government as possible; but it is a theory which is born from passions engendered by the struggle against despotism or arbitrary power, not from a calm and philosophical appreciation of government itself. The English have not succeeded in establishing their theory, for, after all, their constitution does not work so well as they pretend. The landed interest controls at one time, and the mercantile and manufacturing interest at another. They do not perfectly balance one another, and it is not difficult to see that the mercantile and manufacturing interest, combined with the moneyed interest, is henceforth to predominate. The aim of the real statesman is to organize all the interests and forces of the state dialectically, so that they shall unite to add to its strength, and work together harmoniously for the common good.

CHAPTER VIII.

CONSTITUTION OF GOVERNMENT-CONCLUDED.

Though the constitution of the people is congenital, like the constitution of an individual, and cannot be radically changed without the destruction of the state, it must not be supposed that it is wholly withdrawn from the action of the reason and free-will of the nation, nor from that of individual statesmen. All created things are subject to the law of development, and may be developed either in a good sense or in a bad; that is, may be either completed or corrupted. All the possibilities of the national constitution are given originally in the birth of the nation, as all the possibilities of mankind were given in the first man. The germ must be given in the original constitution. But in all constitutions there is more than one element, and the several elements maybe developed pari passu, or unequally, one having the ascendency and suppressing the rest. In the original constitution of Rome the patrician element was dominant, showing that the patriarchal organization of society still retained no little force. The king was only the presiding officer of the senate and the leader of the army in war. His civil functions corresponded very nearly to those of a mayor of the city of New York, where all the effective power is in the aldermen, common council, and heads of departments. Except in name he was little else than a pageant. The kings, no doubt, labored to develop and extend the royal element of the constitution. This was natural; and it was equally natural that they should be resisted by the patricians. Hence when the Tarquins, or Etruscan dynasty, undertook to be kings in fact as well as in name, and seemed likely to succeed, the patricians expelled them, and supplied their place by two consuls annually elected. Here was a modification, but no real change of the constitution. The effective Power, as before, remained in the senate.

But there was from early times a plebeian element in the population of the city, though forming at first no part of the political people. Their origin is not very certain, nor their original position in the city. Historians give different accounts of them. But that they should, as they increased in numbers, wealth, and importance, demand admission into the political society, religious or solemn marriage, a voice in the government, and the faculty of holding civil and military offices, was only in the order of regular development. At first the patricians fought them, and, failing to subdue them by force, effected a compromise, and bought up their leaders. The concession which followed of the tribunitial veto was only a further development. By that veto the plebeians gained no initiative, no positive power, indeed, but their tribunes, by interposing it, could stop the proceedings of the government. They could not propose the measures they liked, but they could prevent the legal adoption of measures they disliked--a faculty Mr. Calhoun asserted for the several States of the American Union in his doctrine of nullification, or State veto, as he called it. It was simply an obstructive power.

But from a power to obstruct legislative action to the power to originate or propose it, and force the senate to adopt it through fear of the veto of measures the patricians had at heart, was only a still further development. This gained, the exclusively patrician constitution had disappeared, and Marius, the head of a great plebeian house, could be elected consul and the plebeians in turn threaten to become predominant, which Sylla or Sulla, as dictator, seeing, tried in vain to prevent. The dictator was provided for in the original constitution. Retain the dictatorship for a time, strengthen the plebeian element by ruthless proscriptions of patricians and by recruits from the provinces, unite the tribunitial, pontifical, and military powers in the imperator designated by the army, all elements existing in the constitution from an early day, and already developed in the Roman state, and you have the imperial constitution, which retained to the last the senate and consuls, though with less and less practical power. These changes are very great, but are none of them radical, dating from the recognition of the plebs as pertaining to the Roman people. They are normal developments, not corruptions, and the transition from the consular republic to the imperial was unquestionably a real social and political progress. And yet the Roman people, had they chosen, could have given a different direction to the developments of their constitution. There was Providence in the course of events, but no fatalism.

Sulla was a true patrician, a blind partisan of the past. He sought to arrest the plebeian development led by Marius, and to restore the exclusively patrician government. But it was too late. His proscriptions, confiscations, butcheries, unheard-of cruelties which anticipated and surpassed those of the French Revolution of 1793, availed nothing. The Marian or plebeian movement, apparently checked for a moment, resumed its march with renewed vigor under Julius, and triumphed at Pharsalia. In vain Cicero, only accidentally associated with the patrician party, which distrusted him--in vain Cicero declaims, Cato scolds, or parades his impractical virtues, Brutus and Cassius seize the assassin's dagger, and strike to the earth "the foremost man of all the world;" the plebeian cause moves on with resistless force, triumphs anew at Philippi, and young Octavius avenges the murder of his uncle, and proves to the world that the assassination of a ruler is a blunder as well as a crime. In vain does Mark Antony desert the movement, rally Egypt and the barbaric East, and seek to transfer the seat of empire from the Tiber to the banks of the Nile or the Orontes; plebeian and imperial Rome wins a final victory at Actium, and definitively secures the empire of the civilized world to the West.

Thus far the developments were normal, and advanced civilization. But Rome still retained the barbaric element of slavery in her bosom, and had conquered more barbaric nations than she had assimilated. These nations she at first governed as tributary states, with their own constitutions and national chiefs; afterwards as Roman provinces, by her own proconsuls and prefects. When the emperors threw open the gates of the city to the provincials, and conceded them the rights and privileges of Roman citizens, they introduced not only a foreign element into the state, destitute of Roman patriotism, but the barbaric and despotic elements retained by the conquered nations as yet only partially assimilated. These elements became germs of anti-republican developments, rather of corruptions, and prepared the downfall of the empire. Doubtless these corruptions might have been arrested, and would have been, if Roman patriotism had survived the changes effected in the Roman population by the concession of Roman citizenship to provincials; but it did not, and they were favored as time went on by the emperors themselves, and more especially by Dioclesian, a real barbarian, who hated Rome, and by Constantine, surnamed the Great, a real despot, who converted the empire from a republican to a despotic empire. Rome fell from the force of barbarism developed from within, far more than from the force of the barbarians hovering on her frontiers and invading her provinces.


The American Republic - 20/49

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