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The following, which I take from a recent American paper,
is a somewhat curious instance of an opposite complaint-opposite in terms, but the same in substancewhich shows how naturally men are disposed to be dissatisfied with laws imposed upon them summarily by narrow majorities, and which they may hope shortly, by some equally narrow majority, to repeal.
Ohio, JULY, 1853. “One hundred and eighty-five thousand electors in this State of Ohio have (by their differences and divisions) chosen to be governed by one hundred and seventy thousand for some years past. The minority have ridden rough-sbod over the majority, fettering them robbing them by unequal taxes,” &c., &c.
I observe, also, in the American papers, complaints that the “Maine Law," as it is called, forbidding the sale of spirituous liquors, except under certain circumstances, is being forced upon the people of some States by small majorities, in spite of a strong reluctance to it on the part of minorities, on the ground, among others, that such a law exceeds the true province of legislation. In the State of New York, this law passed the Senate by a majority of four only.
In Rhode Island it was carried, but the democratic majority is said to have appointed officers hostile to the law, who prevent its being executed. “In Boston, its effect is defeated by the number of licences granted. The new Legislature, chosen in November, 1852, sustained the law. An attempt to repeal it failed, and a bill to make it more stringent failed also ; in the House of Representatives the numbers were equal, and it was lost in the Senate by one vote.”
The particular law now exciting the disapproval of large minorities, yet forced upon them in opposition, as they
think, to all sound precedent, is of comparatively little importance, except as illustrating the principle, which may be at present contemplated at work on a far larger scale and on vital points, in the rapid advance of pure democracy, even in the older States, over the old mixed and balanced principles of constitutional government, with all the consequences of internal and external policy therein involved. This change must be all the more painful to the party opposing it, because brought about in many instances by narrow majorities and within a short space of time. It may be submitted to, under the conclusion that it is, in that country, a part of “ a general and inevitable law” of social and political change ; but it is not the less discordant to all the feelings, habits, and opinions hitherto recognised as the foundation of their government, and as giving it its title to the respect and confidence of the world. Its ulterior consequences are beyond the ken of the present generation. They might be calculated with somewhat more confidence were not the problem complicated by the continual addition to the population of the United States of such large numbers of the worst subjects of European Governmentsmen bringing with them the most embittered feelings, and the most false and pernicious theories of politics and social life. The actual spread of ultra-democracy in the United States contradicts the theory, and has falsified the expectation, that these importations of extravagant opinion and perverted principle will be absorbed and neutralised by the sounder elements with which they mix. They find too many congenial ingredients, to which they but add a new vigour. It must be many years yet before any one can presume to say which is the most probable-acquiescence in this ultra-democratic predominance, or resistance. M. De Tocqueville has already said that “if the free institutions of America are to be destroyed, it will be owing to
the tyranny of majorities, driving minorities to desperation."* The resource of minorities under such circumstances has ever been, through all periods of history, one only—the surrender of their own liberties to some one man, capable of defending them against a greater oppression; and the easy and natural steps by which, in pure democracies, this transition takes place, has been lately described with philosophical accuracy by Dr. Lieber, Professor of History and of Political Philosophy and Economy in the State College of South Carolina, in his work “On Civil Liberty and Self-Government.”+ Professor Lieber says truly “ That the multitude are necessarily led by a few, or by one; and thus we meet in history with the invariable result that virtually one man rules where the absolute
power of the people is believed to exist. After a short interval, that one person openly assumes all power, sometimes observing certain forms of having the power of the people passed over to him. The people have already been familiar with the idea of absolutism; they have been accustomed to believe that wherever the public power resides it is absolute and complete; so that it does not appear strange to them that the new monarch should possess the unlimited power which actually resided in the people or was considered to have belonged to them. There is but one step from the all-powerful people' (the peuple tout-puissant'), if indeed it amounts to a step, to an emperor all powerful.”! And he intimates that the changes that have actually occurred in history, from democracies, to absolutism in the hands of one man, are attributable to the fact that the people “consciously or instinctively"
* De la Démocratie en Amérique, vol. ii. ch. 7. + London, 1853, p. 331. I Page 330.
surrendered their liberties, “ because the ancient institutions had become oppressive."
NOTE IV. (TO CHAPTER XIII.)
There is no circumstance which is more directly preparing the way for the transition above-mentioned (from ultra-democratic tyranny, to absolutism in the hands of one man) than the growing habit of external aggression, and the wide-spread anxiety among the democratic party in the United States to take a part in the affairs of Europe. It is superfluous to refer to the solemn warnings bequeathed by Washington, and by all the great men of the revolution, on this momentous subject. From the moment that the fellow-countrymen of Washington act in opposition to that advice, they will have passed a turning-point in their history, beyond which they will have before them “sea without shore." The authors of the Federalist," seeing in the possi
“ bility of internal war between the individual States the great danger to liberty, employed all their reason and eloquence in softening down the causes of difference, and in pointing out the inevitable consequences should hostilities unfortunately arise. Their arguments apply with even greater force to the consequences which would ensue from their involving themselves with foreign powers by an aggressive policy, which those powers would feel compelled to resist. The paper, No. 8, attributed to General Hamilton, urges that war, or the apprehension of war, which requires a state of constant preparation, infallibly produces the necessity for standing armies; that States having recourse to them, and to “a more regular and effective system of defence by disciplined troops and by fortifications,” must at the same time “ strengthen the executive arm of Government; in doing which their Constitutions would acquire a progressive direction towards monarchy. It is of the nature of war to increase the executive at the expense of the legislative authority."*
“ But in a country where the perpetual menacings of danger oblige the Government to be always prepared to repel it, her armies must be numerous enough for instant defence. The continual necessity for his services enhances the importance of the soldier, and proportionably degrades the condition of the citizen. The military state becomes elevated above the civil.”+
General Hamilton distinguishes the case of Great Britain from that of the military powers on the Continent, and shows that our insular situation and the spirit of our government expose us to no such danger. But if it be true, in the words of Mr. Justice Story, that “the best talents and the best virtues are driven from office by intrigue or corruption, or by the violence of the press and of party;" if the complaints so often uttered in the United States, that men of cultivation, of high principle, and mature wisdom are more and more indisposed to the duties of political life, are well founded, then must the tendency increase to select military men for office, if for no other reason, at least for this, that they will have had more experience in affairs, and know how to govern men. And the necessity of being governed, will, irrespective of the aspirations after conquest and a military name, be more and more pressing upon the people of the United States,
* Page 43.
+ Page 45.