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- The American Republic - 40/49 -


CHAPTER XIV.

POLITICAL TENDENCIES.

The most marked political tendency of the American people has been, since 1825, to interpret their government as a pure and simple democracy, and to shift it from a territorial to a purely popular basis, or from the people as the state, inseparably united to the national territory or domain, to the people as simply population, either as individuals or as the race. Their tendency has unconsciously, therefore, been to change their constitution from a republican to a despotic, or from a civilized to a barbaric constitution.

The American constitution is democratic, in the sense that the people are sovereign that all laws and public acts run in their name; that the rulers are elected by them, and are responsible to them; but they are the people territorially constituted and fixed to the soil, constituting what Mr. Disraeli, with more propriety perhaps than he thinks, calls a "territorial democracy." To this territorial democracy, the real American democracy, stand opposed two other democracies--the one personal and the other humanitarian--each alike hostile to civilization, and tending to destroy the state, and capable of sustaining government only on principles common to all despotisms.

In every man there is a natural craving for personal freedom and unrestrained action--a strong desire to be himself, not another--to be his own master, to go when and where he pleases, to do what he chooses, to take what he wants, wherever he can find it, and to keep what he takes. It is strong in all nomadic tribes, who are at once pastoral and predatory, and is seldom weak in our bold frontier-men, too often real "border ruffians." It takes different forms in different stages of social development, but it everywhere identifies liberty with power. Restricted in its enjoyment to one man, it makes him chief, chief of the family, the tribe, or the nation; extended in its enjoyment to the few, it founds an aristocracy, creates a nobility--for nobleman meant originally only freeman, as it does his own consent, express or constructive. This is the so-called Jeffersonian democracy, in which government has no powers but such as it derives from the consent of the governed, and is personal democracy or pure individualism philosophically considered, pure egoism, which says, "I am God." Under this sort of democracy, based on popular, or rather individual sovereignty, expressed by politicians when they call the electoral people, half seriously, half mockingly, "the sovereigns," there obviously can be no state, no social rights or civil authority; there can be only a voluntary association, league, alliance, or confederation, in which individuals may freely act together as long as they find it pleasant, convenient, or useful, but from which they may separate or secede whenever they find it for their interest or their pleasure to do so. State sovereignty and secession are based on the same democratic principle applied to the several States of the Union instead of individuals.

The tendency to this sort of democracy has been strong in large sections of the American people from the first, and has been greatly strengthened by the general acceptance of the theory that government originates in compact. The full realization of this tendency, which, happily, is impracticable save in theory, would be to render every man independent alike of every other man and of society, with full right and power to make his own will prevail. This tendency was strongest in the slaveholding States, and especially, in those States, in the slaveholding class, the American imitation of the feudal nobility of mediaeval Europe; and on this side the war just ended was, in its most general expression, a war in defence of personal democracy or the sovereignty of the people individually, against the humanitarian democracy, represented by the abolitionists, and the territorial democracy, represented by the Government. This personal democracy has been signally defeated in the defeat of the late confederacy, and can hardly again become strong enough to be dangerous.

But the humanitarian democracy, which scorns all geographical lines, effaces all in individualities, and professes to plant itself on humanity alone, has acquired by the war new strength, and is not without menace to our future. The solidarity of the race, which is the condition of all human life, founds, as we have seen, society, and creates what are called social rights, the, rights alike of society in regard to individuals, and of individuals in regard to society. Territorial divisions or circumscriptions found particular societies, states, or nations; yet as the race is one and all its members live by communion with God through it and by communion one with another, these particular states or nations are never absolutely independent of each other but, bound together by the solidarity of the race, so that there is a real solidarity of nations as well as of individuals--the truth underlying Kossuth's famous declaration of the solidarity of peoples."

The solidarity of nations is the basis of international law, binding on every particular nation, and which every civilized nation recognizes and enforces on its own subjects or citizens through its own courts as an integral part of its own municipal or national law.

The personal or individual right is therefore restricted by the rights of society, and the rights of the particular society or nation are limited by international law, or the rights of universal society--the truth the ex-governor of Hungary overlooked. The grand error of Gentilism was in denying the unity and therefore the solidarity of the race, involved in its denial or misconception of the unity of God. It therefore was never able to assign any solid basis to international law, and gave it only a conventional or customary authority, thus leaving the jus gentium, which it recognized in deed, without any real foundation in the constitution of things, or authority in the real world. Its real basis is in the solidarity of the race, which has its basis in the unity of God, not the dead or abstract unity asserted by the old Eleatics, the Neo-Platonists, or the modern Unitarians, but the living unity consisting in the threefold relation in the Divine Essence, of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, as asserted by Christian revelation, and believed, more or less intelligently, by all Christendom.

The tendency in the Southern States has been to overlook the social basis of the state, or the rights of society founded on the solidarity of the race, and to make all rights and powers personal, or individual; and as only the white race has been able to assert and maintain its personal freedom, only men of that race are held to have the right to be free. Hence the people of those States felt no scruple in holding the black or colored race as slaves. Liberty, said they, is the right only of those who have the ability to assert and maintain it. Let the negro prove that he has this ability by asserting and maintaining his freedom, and he will prove his right to be free, and that it is a gross outrage, a manifest injustice, to enslave him; but, till then, let him be my servant, which is best for him and for me. Why ask me to free him? I shall by doing so only change the form of his servitude. Why appeal to me! Am I my brother's keeper? Nay, is he my brother? Is this negro, more like an ape or a baboon than a human being, of the same race with myself? I believe it not. But in some instances, at least, my dear slaveholder, your slave is literally your brother, and sometimes even your son, born of your own daughter. The tendency of the Southern democrat was to deny the unity of the race, as well as all obligations of society to protect the weak and helpless, and therefore all true civil society.

At the North there has been, and is even yet, an opposite tendency--a tendency to exaggerate the social element, to overlook the territorial basis of the state, and to disregard the rights of individuals. This tendency has been and is strong in the people called abolitionists. The American abolitionist is so engrossed with the unity that he loses the solidarity of the race, which supposes unity of race and multiplicity of individuals; and falls to see any thing legitimate and authoritative in geographical divisions or territorial circumscriptions. Back of these, back of individuals, he sees humanity, superior to individuals, superior to states, governments, and laws, and holds that he may trample on them all or give them to the winds at the call of humanity or "the higher law." The principle on which he acts is as indefensible as the personal or egoistical democracy of the slaveholders and their sympathizers. Were his socialistic tendency to become exclusive and realized, it would found in the name of humanity a complete social despotism, which, proving impracticable from its very generality, would break up in anarchy, in which might makes right, as in the slaveholder's democracy.

The abolitionists, in supporting themselves on humanity in its generality, regardless of individual and territorial rights, can recognize no state, no civil authority, and therefore are as much out of the order of civilization, and as much in that of barbarism, as is the slaveholder himself. Wendell Phillips is as far removed from true Christian civilization as was John C. Calhoun, and William Lloyd Garrison is as much of a barbarian and despot in principle and tendency as Jefferson Davis. Hence the great body of the people in the non-slaveholding States, wedded to American democracy as they were and are could never, as much as they detested slavery, be induced to make common cause with the abolitionists, and their apparent union in the late civil war was accidental, simply owing to the fact that for the time the social democracy and the territorial coincides or had the same enemy. The great body of the loyal people instinctively felt that pure socialism is as incompatible with American democracy as pure individualism; and the abolitionists are well aware that slavery has been abolished, not for humanitarian or socialistic reasons but really for reasons of state, in order to save the territorial democracy. The territorial democracy would not unite to eliminate even so barbaric an element as slavery, till the rebellion gave them the constitutional right to abolish it; and even then so scrupulous were they, that they demanded a constitutional amendment, so as to be able to make clean work of it, without any blow to individual or State rights.

The abolitionists were right in opposing slavery, but not in demanding its abolition on humanitarian or socialistic grounds. Slavery is really a barbaric element, and is in direct antagonism to American civilization. The whole force of the national life opposes it, and must finally eliminate it, or become itself extinct and it is no mean proof of their utter want of sympathy with all the living forces of modern civilization, that the leading men of the South and their prominent friends at the North really persuaded themselves that with cotton, rice, and tobacco,


The American Republic - 40/49

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