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DEMOCRACY AND LIBERTY.
BY O, A. BROWNSON.
with OUR democratic brethren are upon the whole a fine set of fellows, and rarely fail to take whatever turns up with great good humor; otherwise we should expect to lose our ears, if not our head, for the many severe things we intend in the course of our essay to say to them and about them. We shall try them severely; for we intend to run athwart many of their fondly cherished prejudices, and to controvert not a few of their favorite axioms; but we trust they will be able to survive the trial, and to come forth as pure and as bright as they have from that which the Whigs gave them in 1840.
Mentioning this 1840, we must say that it marks an epoch in our-we speak personally, not for the Democratic Review-political and social doctrines. The famous election of that year wrought a much greater revolution in us than in the Government; and we confess, here on the threshold, that since then we that is the writer of this-have pretty much ceased to speak of, or to confide in, the "intelligence of the people." The people, the sovereign people, the sovereigns, as our friend Governor Hubbard calls them, during that campaign presented but a sorry sight. Truth had no beauty, sound argument no weight, patriotism no influence. They who had devoted their lives to the cause of their country, of truth, justice, liberty, humanity, were looked upon as enemies of the people, and were unable to make themselves heard amid the maddened and maddening hurrahs of the drunken mob that went for "Tippecanoe, and Tyler too." It was a sorry sight, to see the poor fellows rolling huge balls, and dragging log cabins at the bidding of the demagogues, who were surprised to find how easily the enthusiasm of the people could be excited by hard cider and doggerel rhymes. And we confess that we could hardly forbear exclaiming, in vexation and contempt, Well, after all, nature will out; the poor devils, if we but let them alone, will make cat
tle of themselves, and why should we waste our time and substance in trying to hinder them from making themselves cattle?"
An instructive year, that 1840, to all who have sense enough to read it aright. What happened then may happen again, if not in the same form, in some other form equally foolish, and equally pernicious; and, therefore, if we wish to secure to ourselves and our posterity the blessings of freedom and good gov ernment, we must procure stronger guaranties than popular suffrage and popular virtue and intelligence. We for one frankly confess,-and we care not who knows it,-that what we saw during the presidential election of 1840, shook, nay, gave to the winds, all our remaining confidence in the popular democratic doctrines-not measures-of the day; and we confess, furthermore, that we have seen nothing in the conduct of either party since, that has tended to restore it. During the extra session of Congress in the summer of 1841, the Democratic delegations in both Houses behaved nobly, and acquitted themselves like men; they won the victory for their country, as well as lasting honor and gratitude for themselves from the wise and good everywhere; but our friends seem to have been more successful in gaining the victory than in securing its fruits. The rapid and overwhelming successes which have followed in the State elections, seem to have intoxicated the whole Democratic party, and unless God sends us some sudden and severe rebuke, there is great danger that we shall go into power again in 1845, without hav ing been in the least instructed by defeat, or purified by adversity. Adver sity is easy to bear; it is prosperity that tries the man. But enough of this.
From the fact that popular suffrage, and popular virtue and intelligence, have proved, and are likely to prove, insufficient to secure the blessings of
freedom and good government, it must not be inferred that popular suffrage is an evil, and should therefore be abandoned; much less that popular forms of government have proved a failure, and that we should therefore go back to aristocracy or to monarchy. We draw for ourselves no such inference. We have lost no confidence in nor love for popular institutions. The struggle for democratic forms of government, has, moreover, been too long and too severe, has enlisted too many of the wise and the good, and been consecrated by too many prayers, sufferings, and sacrifices, to permit us, even if our confidence of ultimate success were altogether less than it really is, to think even for one moment of ceasing to continue it. Humanity never does, and never should, retrace her steps. Her course is onward through the ages. In this career, we have left aristocracy and monarchy behind us; and there let them remain, now and for ever. We may encounter both hunger and thirst in the wilderness; let us trust that the God of our fathers will rain manna upon us, and make water gush from the rock, if need be, rather than like the foolish Israelites sigh to return to the "flesh pots of Egypt," for we can return to them only by returning to the slavery from which we have just escaped. No: our faces are forward; the promised land is before us; and let the command run along our ranks, Forward, march!
We assure our democratic brethren, then, in the old world as well as in the new, that if we have words of rebuke for them, we have no words of consolation or of hope for their enemies. Thank God, we are neither traitors nor deserters; we stand by our colors, and will live or die, fighting for the good old cause, the CAUSE OF THE PEOPLE. But if our General made an unsuccessful attack yesterday, and was repulsed with heavy loss, and all in consequence of not choosing the best position, or of not taking the necessary precautions for covering his troops from the enemies' battery, we hope we may in the council held to-day, without any dereliction from duty, advise that the attack be renewed under an officer better skilled to conduct it, or at least that it be renewed from a more advantageous position. We see in the fact that De
mocracy has hitherto failed, no reason for deserting its standard, but of seeking to recruit its forces; or, without a figure, we see in our ill success hitherto, simply the necessity of obtaining new and stronger guaranties than popular suffrage can offer, even though coupled with popular intelligence. We would not, we cannot dispense with popular suffrage and intelligence, and we pray our readers to remember this; but they are not alone sufficient, and we must have something else in addition to them, or we shall fail to secure those results from the practical working of the Government, which every true-hearted democrat is laboring with all his might to secure.
We have not erred in laboring to extend popular suffrage,-though thus far its extension has operated almost exclusively in favor of the business classes, or rather of the money power,-but in relying on it as alone sufficient. There is not a tithe of that virtue in the ballot-box which we, in our Fourth of July orations and caucus speeches, are in the habit of ascribing to it. The virtue we have been accustomed to ascribe to it, we have claimed for it on the ground that the people always know what is right, and will always act up to their knowledge. That is to say, suffrage rests for its basis, as a guaranty of freedom and good government, on the assumed intelligence and virtue of the people. Its grand maxim is, "The people can do no wrong." Now, this may be very beautiful in theory, but when we come to practice, this virtue and intelligence of the people is all a humbug. We beg pardon of the sovereign people for the treasonable speech; but it is true, true as Holy Writ, and there is neither wisdom nor virtue in pretending to the contrary. Perhaps, however, our remark is not quite true, in the sense in which it will be taken, without a word or two by way of explanation.
To the explanation, then. We are in this country, we democrats and all, most incorrigible aristocrats. We are always using the word people in its European sense, as designating the unprivileged many, in distinction from the privileged few. But this sense of the word is with us really inadmissi ble. We, we the literary, the refined,
the wealthy, the fashionable, we are people as well as our poorer and more coarsely mannered and clad neighbors. We are all people in this country, the merchant, the banker, the broker, the manufacturer, the lawyer, the doctor, the office-holder, the office-seeker, the scholar, and the gentleman, no less than the farmer, the mechanic, and the factory operative. We do not well to forget this. For ourselves, we always remember it, and therefore when we speak slightingly of the intelligence and virtue of the people, it is of the whole people, not of any particular class; in a sense which includes necessarily us who speak as well as those to whom we speak. When, then, we call what is usually said about the virtue and intelligence of the people all a humbug, we do not use the word in its European sense, and mean to speak disparagingly of the intelligence of plebeians as distinguished from patricians, of the "baseborn" as distinguished from the "wellborn;" for the distinctions here implied do not exist in this country, and should not be recognized even in our speech. When it comes to classes, we confess that we rely as much on the intelligence of proletaries as on the virtue and intelligence of capitalists, and would trust our mechanics as quick and as far as we would our merchants and manufac
There is, if we did but know it, arrant aristocracy in this talk which we hear, and quite too frequently in our own ranks, about the virtue and intelligence of the people. Who are we who praise, in this way, the people? Are we ourselves people? And when we so praise them, do we feel our selves below them, and looking up to them with reverence? Or do we feel that we are above them, and with great self-complacency, condescending to pat them on the shoulder, and say, "after all, my fine fellows, you are by no means such fools as your betters sometimes think." If we were in England, where there is a recognized, hereditary aristocracy, and where the word people is used to designate all who do not belong to the nobility or privileged class, we could understand and even accept what is said about the virtue, intelligence, and capacity of the people; for there it would be appro
priate and true. There it would simply mean that the unprivileged classes the commons-are as able to manage the affairs of the government, and as worthy of confidence, as are the nobility, they who are born legislators; which we hold to be a great and glorious truth, worthy and needing to be preached, even to martyrdom, in every country in which the law recog nizes a privileged class. But here it has no meaning, or one altogether inappropriate; and, because inappropriate, false and pernicious. Το praise the people here for their virtue and intelligence is either to show that we feel ourselves above them, and praise them solely because we wish to use them; or it is simply praising ourselves, boasting of our own virtue, intelligence, and capacity. The people should beware of the honeyed voices perpetually sounding their praise. He who in a monarchy will flatter the monarch, or in an aristocracy will fawn round the great, will in a democracy flatter the people; and he who will flatter the people in a democracy, would in an aristocracy fawn round the great, and in a monarchy, flatter the monarch. The demagogue is the courtier adapting himself to circumstances. And yet, flattery is so sweet, that he who can scream loudest in praise of the sovereign people, and whose con
science does not stick even at the blasphemy of "Vox populi est vox Dei," will be pretty sure of receiving the largest share of their confidence and favor,--another proof of their virtue, intelligence, and capacity!
One thing, by the way, we must own,-the people will bear with more equanimity to be told of their faults than will other sovereigns, or we ourselves should be drawn and quartered for our reiterated treason. But, if they would only lay our treason to heart, and profit by it, we would willingly consent to be drawn and quartered. But alas! we may speak, and our good-natured sovereign will merely smile, call for his coffee and pantoufles, sip the beverage, throw himself back in his easy-chair, and-doze. It is a virtue to commend him, and whoso does not, he disregards. Whoever among us expresses any want of confidence in the people, notwithstanding their apparent forbearance, is supposed
to be their enemy, and is sure to be read out of the Democratic Party; or to be laid up on the shelf, till some difficulty occurs in which his strong sense and stern integrity become indispensable. But after all, what is the ground of this confidence in the people? A strong party is springing up among us, which builds entirely upon this confidence, and says that if the people were only left to themselves they would always do right; and that all the mischief arises from our attempting to govern the people, and to prevent them from having their own way. Hence, say they, let us have as little government as possible, or rather let us have no government. "All we want government for," said Dr. Channing one day to the writer, "is simply to undo what government has done." If the people are worthy of all the confidence demanded, why not yield it? Why not rely on the people? Why seek to bind them by constitutions, and to control them by laws, which in the last resort the military may be called in to enforce? If the people always know the right, and always act up to their intelligence, government is a great absurdity. But we do not find our friends generally confiding in the people to this extent, though the doctrine they preach goes thus far. As much as they confide in the people, they do not feel willing to leave them to vote in their own way. We have our caucuses, and various and complicated machinery, without which we feel very sure that the people would not vote at all, or if voting, not on our side. In a majority of cases, we are so afraid that the people will not vote, or not vote aright, that we, through committees, caucuses, conventions, nominations, party usages, &c., so do up all the work, that the voting becomes a mere form, almost a farce, yet we preach confidence in the people!
land? What need of swords, pistols, bowie knives, jails, penitentiaries, pains, penalties, laws, judges, and executioners ? What need of schools, churches, teachers, preachers, prophets, and rulers? Nobody is so mad as really to pretend that nothing among us is wrong. Let alone private life, go merely into public life, enter the halls of justice and legislation-is all right here? No: everybody complains; everybody finds somewhat to condemn; some one thing, some another. And yet who has done this of which everybody is complaining? The people. What hear we from every quarter, but denunciations of this or that measure of public policy; of the profligacy of the Government, or of its administration? And after all who is in fault? Whose is the government? The people's. The people are sovereign, and of course the government and its administration, the laws and their execution, are just what the people will they should be. Is it not strange, if the people always perceive the right, and perceiving, always do it, that nevertheless where they are supreme, and whatever is done, is done by them, there yet should be so much wrong done?
But touching the intelligence of our American people, we would ask with still more emphasis, Where have they shown it? Was it in the presidential campaign of 1840? Have they shown it in the several States in contracting abroad some two hundred millions of dollars or more of State and corporation debts? Have they shown it in introducing, extending and sustaining almost from their infancy the ruinous system of paper money? Do they show it by advocating the falsely-socalled American system-the "protective policy," thereby crippling commerce, and enslaving the operative, for the very questionable benefit of a few manufacturing capitalists? Do they show it in their insane support of the immense system of corporations which spread over the country like a vast net-work, and which, flooding the mar ket with stock, gives to a few individuals who have contrived to maintain their credit, the means of controlling and laying under contribution the whole industrial activity of the country? Have they shown it, in their very ge
neral condemnation of the only measure which would separate the revenues of the government from the general business operations of individuals, and secure to the government that financial independence, without which it ceases to be government, and becomes merely an instrument in the hands of one portion of the community for plundering the other? We demand of the statesmen who publicly boast, that during their whole continuance in office, "they have made it their duty to ascertain and bow to the will of the people;"we demand of them, wherein they find this infallible popular intelligence on which they bid us rely? The people, we shall be told, rejected the elder Adams, elected and sustained Mr. Jefferson. Be it so, and yet, will any one tell us, wherein the policy of Mr. Jefferson, so far as it bore on the practical relations of the people, and their everyday business interests, differed essentially from that of Mr. Adams? They rejected the old Federal theory of government, it is true, and adopted the Democratic; but it may be a very serious question, whether the latter theory, as the people understand it, is so much in advance of the former as we some times imagine. We shall be told that the people sustained General Jackson in his anti-bank policy; but it was General Jackson and not his policy; for they refused to sustain his successor who pursued with singular consistency and firmness the same policy; and they would have sustained a new bank, had not Mr. Biddle's bank failed at the very moment it did, spreading alarm and distress through the land. Nine tenths of our business men even now fancy that we can add to the wealth of the country by increasing the paper circulation, and attribute the present embarrassments of the country to the want of confidence, when in fact these embarrassments have resulted almost solely from an excess of confidence: and can be relieved, not by any increase of confidence, but of that which gives to confidence a solid basis--solid capital.
In fact, no measure of public policy can be proposed, so absurd or so wicked but it shall find popular support. What could be a more bare-faced violation of the Constitution, more profligate, or more absurd as a measure of
public policy, than the act of Congress distributing the proceeds of the sales of the public lands among the several States? And yet where has it aroused any popular indignation? How many of even the Democratic States have had the virtue to fling back the bribe that was offered them? Has New York? Pennsylvania? Ohio? Illinois? Missouri? Mississippi? Georgia? Virginia? Maine? We recollect now, out of all the Democratic States, only three-South Carolina, Alabama, and New Hampshire-that have had the virtue to refuse to receive their portion of the spoils. A good democrat introduced resolutions into the Massachusetts Legislature declaring the act unconstitutional, and that the State ought not to accept its portion of the money; but he was induced by his own party, while agreeing with him in the unconstitutionality of the act, to amend his resolutions so as to leave out the clause which required the State to refuse to receive money unconstitutionally distributed. And what is remarkable, the amendment was proposed and urged by one of the most influential members of the party in the Legislature, and who has been regarded for years as the leader of the ultra or radical portion of the Democratic party in the State. So little popular opposition has this measure encountered, a measure which would have been, we make no doubt, cheerfully acquiesced in by a large majority of the people, as the settled policy of the country, had it not been defeated by the presidential veto.
We might go even further, and venture to predict that the assumption of the State Debts by the Federal Govern ment, all unconstitutional and wicked as such assumption would be, will yet be adopted. There are so many stockholders both at home and abroad, interested in its adoption, that it must come at last, unless Providence interpose in our behalf. The people,-we mean the mass of the people, of the constituencies,-are now, we fear, prepared for it, and nothing but the virtue of a few public men now delays it. If it be ultimately defeated, it will be through the influence of these few patriotic individuals; perhaps, nay, most likely, by the executive veto. The merchants to a considerable extent will sustain the measure, because it is one