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In the region where we expect to maintain ourselves, we have no fear that the first one of our flights will be impeded by party network or popular breezes. The study of politics, which Lord Brougham represents as so attractive, is, in this country deprived of half its legitimate interest, and even of its natural field of inquiry, because there is among us no question of the fundamental principles of government. We are so imbued with the liberty of republicanism, and so much accustomed to its operation, that it has come to be regarded as an element of human nature, like liberty of thought or conscience. Our institutions are so firmly fixed in the traditions, habits, and opinions of the whole nation, that any other form of government seems like a violation of our social instincts, and as the necessary accompaniment of force and fear.
Because these institutions exhibit only one fundamental political idea in operation, we are in haste to conclude that there is no foundation in reason for any other, and no field for its exercise. In this our happy condition, not only our annals are likely to be tiresome, but our politics are certainly so. There is neither temptation nor opportunity to diversify them by the study of different forms or principles of government, when only one is possible. The most important measures are considered in regard to their consequences, more or less immediate, and hardly at all in relation to the principles of government which they indicate, or in which they originated. In Europe it is all different; there, all political principles are in conflict; there is as much variety in their development and application, and the question of superiority between them is still as vital and undecided, as among the towns of Greece, when Aristotle described their hundred constitutions. It is impossible to withhold the imagination from the contemplation of remote and original principles of society and government, when they are constantly appealed to in support or attack of political measures, and when they are sufficiently alive to preside over the composition of parties.
All the necessary elements of any of the principal forms of government exist in society, and a favorable chance may, at any moment, set either of them in operation. There is none of them which is not particularly adapted to make head
against some of the evils that oppress European society. Aristocracy is insolent and defiant; but it is energetic and compact, and is still a power over the people. Democracy is encroaching and dangerous; but it is strong in numbers, and it has abuses to assail which deserve no quarter; while despotism is a still harbor of retreat, which offers a shelter not unacceptable to many from the storms of life. When all these elements are fermenting, political speculation becomes interesting, vigorous, and profound; but its most devoted admirer would hardly think it worth paying such a price. It is vain to suppose that our country is to be forever out of the reach of vicissitude, and the experience of the rest of the world without any application to ourselves. When the impending alteration of our foreign policy has brought us into close connection with other nations, it will be necessary for us to know something about their condition, and upon what elements their governments repose, and what sort of opposition they have to contend with ; as we act upon them, they will be sure to react upon us. The human heart, which has been hitherto so variable, has not exhausted all its variety. As long as government, at the best, is so imperfect an instrument for the establishment of the right, which is the ultimate object of human effort, it is to be expected that changes will be made in it and experiments tried. The business of government, however carried on, does not satisfy our best impulses and affections, or fulfil the destiny of the highest order of minds. These desire neither to govern nor to be governed. Their spirit demands unlimited expansion; and although the field which government opens to the exercise of their powers is wide, it cannot fill the place in the soul of God, duty, or art. They are never entirely at peace with government, because they continually struggle and rebel against its limitations; nor can the society in which they are disquieted, be ever at peace. On the other hand, the first desire of the people is for justice between man and man. While this is secured to them, they are satisfied with the form of government through which it is administrated; as justice is a gift of that character which can be accepted from any hand. Popular caprice or oppression is not a whit more palatable than royal. It is proper for us to
remember, that, as long as the Institutes and the Code remain not only monuments of imperial power, but also the highest expression of practical morality which mankind has been found capable of producing, there is an argument in favor of that constitution of government and society out of which they arose, and evidence of its adaptation to indestructible elements of human nature. And the establishment, among a population taken from our own bosom, of the oldest forgotten form of absolutism — the sacerdotal — as among the Mormons at the Salt Lake, and its eminent success in promoting at least their material prosperity, and in a situation which promises the experiment a full trial — ought to make us aware of capacities not provided for in our government, and tendencies which it cannot satisfy. It appears to us to indicate the possibility of future changes in our political condition not usually contemplated.
Our first difficulty, however, proceeds from an opposite tendency. The unrestricted influence of the single political idea of representative democracy naturally exposes it to exaggeration; and we apprehend that a confusion is gaining ground among us in regard to the true relations of government and people. That government is instituted for the sake of the people, that it is responsible to them, and that they exercise a rightful control over it, are the cardinal points of our system. But it is a step further to suppose that the distinction between them can be obliterated, and their parts and characters interchanged or blended into one. Yet something like this appears to be the drift of the popular theories and the tendency of opinion. · We are mistaken if the constitutions of some of the States of this Union have not been remodelled under the idea that the more immediately the whole body of the people can be admitted into the administration of the government, the better will be the provision, and the greater the certainty, that it is to be conducted to the general advantage. With this view, offices are multiplied, and the terms are shortened; means are taken to make them be regarded more and more as sources of livelihood or profit, and less and less in the light of duty or honor; and, generally, the business of government is put on a level, as far as possible,
with all ordinary avocations. As to the term of office, we shall have more to say in the sequel ; but the idea that government is to be absorbed and lost in the body of the people, and merged in the common pursuits of industry and trade, we believe to be fraught with mischief, and shall undertake to expose it. It is less an idea, we are aware, than a tendency, which we have to oppose; because the principle which we rely on in our opposition is so plain that, whenever expressed, there is no inclination to question it. But since the disposition we refer to works unsuspected beneath its protection, we shall express our views at some length.
Our principle is this ; - that under any form of government, in all circumstances, the action and functions of the government and the people are universally, invariably, and necessarily distinct and different. At any moment of time, there is always a government and a people; and however rapidly the persons composing the government are changed, or in whatever manner appointed, as long as it exists in their hands, they are in vested with a certain authority over the people inherent in the nature of the office. Whether the power is forcibly assumed or voluntarily conferred, it is parted with by the people. The formalities under which it is exercised, however important with respect to the objects which a government is capable of accomplishing, do not affect this inherent quality any more than they do the extent of the power exerted; and it is evident that all degrees of slavery and freedom may exist under all sorts of constitutions. All government is a public corporation, formed by all, or submitted to by all, for the accomplishment of objects in which all are more or less interested. The objects vary, it is true; but they vary according to the means and powers which the government has at its disposal. It is a favorite fancy of ours, that government, which is now so fragmentary and disjointed all over the world, one thing here and another there, was everywhere, in the beginning, as it is still in communities which have continued in the stage of infancy, the evidence and the first exertion of the social instinct of mankind, and included, as yet undistinguishable, all the elements of power and influence which men possess in and over each other; and that it was sustained by all
the means that could be made to affect the feelings of a common nature. The spirit and form of religion, the exigencies of morality and custom, music and poetry, and all the offshoots of the infant imagination, were within the province, and the legitimate instruments, of the only apparent system of connection among men. Influence of every sort was called by the same name, and great natures ruled by divine authority. Government has been gradually despoiled of portions of its power, as different associations and relations have grown up in the progress of civilization; and it has been found that many subjects, originally grouped together under the ægis of governmental authority, are better provided for, if left to the operation of voluntary and moral combinations and motives. Indeed, it would almost seem as if the extent to which this process has been carried is a measure of the progress of civilization and the advancement of a people, and that that is the ideal of a government, which, if not the most restricted in its functions, still allows the greatest latitude of moral and voluntary coöperation in relation to subjects which fall within such influences. The independence of nations upon their political organization, in regard to these subjects, is very various, and does not practically appear to depend very much upon its forms. And for our part, we do not see how a government, which finds itself in possession of power over them, is called upon to resign it or can help exercising it.
But there is one system of means by which the power of all governments is exerted, — by physical pains and penalties; and there is one object which these are calculated to accomplish, - the protection of persons and property. Whatever other business a government may have to do, this one object, therefore, is common to them all. And although our own government is by no means destitute of moral authority beyond this, yet the machinery by which it acts peculiarly confirms and adapts it to this single purpose, for which it is found to be singularly efficient. But is not its action the same in kind and substance, so far as this matter is concerned, as that of the governments which are called by another name? Is the effect different, so far as the object is obtained, in both, upon either that class of the community which is protected in