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strikes down at a blow every defence, and urges its will, and has its way, without a chance of moderation.
If it be said that the people know what they want, and what is most to their interest, and have a perfect right, in a government of their own forming, to control all its movements—it is the mere stating of a self-evident proposition. So put, no one can deny it. To the people all must surrender. But when we come to the details, and practical illustration, and exercise, of this overwhelming proposition, it may be denied altogether ; for the people, from the broad and towering elevation that one sense of the word gives them, sink, in the present instance, into a majority-to a mere numerical superiority, and are then in no way entitled to substitute their strength for the reason of the rest, or play the tyrant because they hold the power. The right of a majority to act for others is not a natural, but a conceded right; and, in the act of concession, the minority yield no more and no farther than is necessary for tranquillity. Their rights remain the same as ever; they only submit, but in no way throw their liberties to be trampled on by a majority. A majority, in the theory of government, is a mental preponderance, not a physical; and, in practice, it is as well, although untrue, to assume that the greater mass of matter carries the larger amount of mind. No country has as yet shown it to be so ; still the principle is the safest, if not the only, one on which the fabric of men's freedom can be erected. But when it is carried into the higher affairs of government, and the councils of the nation are disturbed with it, its falsity and its danger are manifested; for where intellect is concerned, and wisdom and experience, one man may possess more of each than all the majorities or multititudes that ever existed. If it were possible to procure a Bacon or a Newton, would not the efforts of their minds be worth more than the whole concentrated force of those of an entire nation ? If men were convinced of this, or their vanity would acknowledge the fact, a majority would no longer be miscalled the people, and a minority might be considered as equally a part of the nation, though their welfare is committed to the integrity and wisdom of others. It is asked, in the usual wild way with which many important things are treated, whether the people should be checked in the management of their affairs; whether they should not dictate to those whom they employ? If, as we have said, by people is meant the nation, there can be no hesitation in answering the questions ; but, if the word is used in its common meaning, then we reply that the people should be checked in the management of their affairs; and they should not dictate to those they employ. Not to do the one, is destroy all government; to do the other, leads to the same consequence. For what were legislatures constructed, or courts of law, or any of
those formal fabrics that every nation has used to transact its business, but to stand between the people and all interference with affairs which they are not competent to perform; to keep them from meddling with things which they could not conduct well for themselves; to guide and guard their interests, and yet stand aloof from their immediate influence and direct interference? If it be asked whether they should not be controlled by public opinion, the affirmative is ready. But public opinion is not popular opinion or popular feeling of the first, all institutions are the creatures; of the last, they are the barriers, and set up as a defence against their violence. Public opinion is the moral sense of a people, or, to avoid a word whose use is perverted, the moral sense of the most enlightened. It can have no other meaning, and is, therefore, neither found in the acclamations of a majority, nor the cries of a mob. In a country where a people undertake, as in this, to govern themselves, these checks are not only of the highest importance, but should be most jealously guarded and preserved. They present the only mode of saving us from the anarchy of caprice and extremes, to which large bodies of men are liable. It is not possible, it is in truth a mere vision, to suppose that we can always act on the solid foundation of principle, or that, as Mr. Jefferson asserts, a revolution every twenty years is practicable or desirable-to return upon our steps, and amend all our errors, and bring experience to bear upon our future. A revolution is a convulsion -a stirring of all the social elements; and not a mere change of policy, or calm retrospect of the past ; and no country could go through one without the utmost hazard. These institutions are founded on principles which have not varied, and cannot vary. They are the strong positions chosen for the defence of these principles, and, if respected, are able to do away with the necessity of revolution, though hardly to protect them when it commences. Our situation is very different from that of an old country, where nearly all is the creation of a distant past, and where modifications and concessions must be continually made to nieet the more improved condition of the popular mind. Here, our whole structure is built upon a broad basis of liberty; and no time will be able to make it more liberal.
The only difficulty is to hold to the intentions of its framers, and full their design, in preserving it free from the vices which, to all appearance, are ready to consume their vitals. This right of instruction is founded, moreover, on a false and dangerous assumption that the people are infallible. There is nothing to prove it—not a tittle of recorded evidence in its favour; and the phantoms of Greece and Rome rise before us to deny it. No one man, even of the greatest powers, and who has passed a life in the study and pursuit of a subject, is allowed to be infallible,
and what gives to the genius of a multitude infallibility beyond that of an individual ? There is no such thing this side of heaven ; it is no more than the cant which is used by young and inexperienced aspirants to the affections of a party, to grace their eloquence. A king, by a fiction of law, is said not to be capable of doing wrong ; but he has his ministers who are responsible for his conduct, and must, with their lives, answer for his errors. Who is responsible for the wrong committed by a large mass? Who can call them to account? Who took upon themselves the crimes, the blood-thirsty butcheries, of the French revolution ? Was it all right? or was it not a miserable, revolting manifestation of the excesses to which passion may lead men ? It was human nature, maddened and exasperated. Human nature requires to be controlled, then. No-neither man nor men are infallible ; they are only irresponsible. Their crimes are only for the retributive justice of the Being who made them-on earth they have no judge.
But this sacred infallibility involves the mischievous absurdity that every fleeting and transient feeling is the studied judgment of men's minds. That the inconveniences which nations must at times suffer--the positions into which they are often thrown by their errors, or circumstances over which they have no control-instead of being endured with patience, and remedied by exertion, are occasions when every thing must give way to the momentary exasperation, and be surrendered to the appeals and cries of mobs or factions. This is a necessary part of the rule of infallibity, for who that grants it to the people, can take it from them upon occasion, or define where it ends ? and what institutions can bear up against it—more especially those which are popular in their form, and are most liable to those excitements, and the least able to subdue them? The only form in which this doctrine is in the slightest degree true, is when an entire nation is convinced of the badness of its situation, and undertakes to correct it, as was the case when the convention met to consider the state of the country, and framed the present constitution of the United States. Here the “ vox populi” and the “vox dei” were in harmony. The wisdom of a nation met in council. There was no hurried action from fear, as there was no spirit of dictation abroad—no popular fury, or factious desperation ; but men's minds were allowed to act freely, and employ calmly all their strength and experience. It may be asked, when or how it can be decided what is the desire of a nation as distinguished from that of a majority? The question cannot well be replied to in words; it is answered, at the time when the issue occurs, by general feeling and consent. No one can mistake it, any more than a man can mistake the sensations produced by disease, from those of good health ; although it
would defy him to draw the line between the two conditions. But such occasions, when the conviction is universal that the body politic is disordered, are extremely few in history. Men are seldom brought to that unanimity, for there must be an universal sense of danger to cause this feeling of the necessity of unanimous action. Without this pervading sentiment of danger to bring the minds of men to their real condition, and brace them to its duties, nothing could make them forego the perversity and pride of opinion, the wilfulness and waywardness of vice and passion, the fierce struggles for power among individuals and factions, and, what is equally baneful, the settled calm of indolence and indifference—all of which are at work in the bowels of every nation, wasting and undermining its energies and principles, and preparing them for destruction. It is probable that a natiorial council like that of the convention of 1786, could only be brought together in the youth of a people. Defects are then more quickly felt, and the first obstacles in the movements of a new government may be more readily removed than after time has sanctioned and established them. They are not as yet the vices of a system ; but only errors in conduct, and want of experience. Even now, though still young, it would be extremely difficult, if it were not impossible, for a national convention to meet and decide calmly and impartially upon the changes and alterations of the constitution. Party feelings would glow too generally in the bosoms of its members, and party objects would be too violently striven for, to allow the more generous impulses of patriotism a full and uninterrupted control. At bottom, there might be with the larger portion, or with every member, a sincere love of country; but they would be selected by parties, and, when met together for great objects, with the eyes of a nation and a world upon them, it is difficult to conceive any other idea than that they would follow out the views of those parties. The excitability of men's passions would be moved almost imperceptibly to themselves, perhaps against their wishes and intentions, at the array of opposition. The floor of national consultation would become the pit of controversy. Mutual dislike and suspicion-a doubt as to men's motives—the dread of losing the advantage, or the desire of securing it—and the whole force of the various base and conflicting emotions that govern men, would come out, even at the hazard of their country's honour. A body of that sort would unfortunately be framed by parties ; its members would be party leaders; and, unless the nation bestirred itself, the amendments to the constitution would not be those of wisdom, but of faction. Another fifty years under the influences by which we are now governed, and a return to the noble simplicity with which we started, will be utterly hopeless. A change has gone over the
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spirits of the people. The enjoyment of great prosperity—the increase of wealth-the immense numbers of foreigners who have made this country their home-have, to a very considerable degree, revolutionized the old republican disposition, and seem to be sweeping away its vestiges. The sternness, and pride, and manly self-devotion that either really were the attributes of the men of the revolution, or which we, in the strength of our affection and respect, love to consider as theirs, do not, to say the least, lie so open as to be readily perceived. We would not take upon ourselves to declare that they did not exist. This would be too severe and off-hand a denunciation of the nation. But we may say, that these beautiful points in national character, these assurances of a high destiny, are, to all appearance, buried under the prejudices and passions of party, and consuming all true dignity and worth in the violence and heat of its incessant action. A crisis might and probably would call up unexpected energies. Every hill and valley might be vocal with the voice of patriotism, and every rock throw back, and stream carry with it, the shouts of freemen. If this were so, then the parties which now divide and distract the country in their struggles for power, their leaders and their objects, would be cast into utter confusion, and the people would array themselves under men who are now obscure, whose lives are inglorious--though their hearts burn with a love for their countrywhose aims are modest, whose desires are moderate, but who possess the concentrated fortitude that carries men through every trial and every hazard. There are such—we cannot resist the thought that there are such-who would support the republic in its vicissitudes, and come forth, when danger called them, to bear it on through all danger. But they do not lie upon the surface of society; nor are they represented in the demagogue or the partisan. They interest themselves in the welfare of their country, but do not press forward from the proud humility of their privacy or their poverty, to grasp at the profits or the spoils of office. They wish all happiness to their country, and labour to promote it; but they do not conceive that it is brought about by convulsing her with factious strife. They hold to principles, well aware that the voyage of nations is over the sea of difficulty, but that with these they may ride in triumph, and that, however severe present misfortune may be, the result will show their stability and excellence.
There is no doubt a substratum of virtue among every people. It is impossible to suppose a nation with which the prevailing feeling would not be a thorough and sincere love of country. This is a natural and irrepressible instinct. But its value would be dependent on the character of the people—and this again on many and various circumstances. The blind feeling