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healthful waters to flow; and, like the river from the temple, seen by the prophet, we were to see the stream of virtue gush from our sanctuary, widening and deepening as it flowed, bearing on its banks, trees of every shade, and healing every wilderness through which it passed, and sweetening the dead sea of human nature, with which its drops should mingle. I can just remember the enthusiasm of that visionary day.
From these dreams, natural to our situation, we are now pretty well awakened; and we are in danger of an opposite extreme; and that is, losing sight of the real advantages of our condition. Because liberty, in the form in which we have secured it, is not worth everything, we are prone to consider it worth nothing. We are now in danger of being defeated by our own despair.
It has often been said, that a republic is practicable, if you can make the people virtuous and intelligent. But this is a loose remark; there is a class of people, which, judging on the ordinary grounds of probability, you can never expect to be virtuous. The temptations of their condition are such, as to overcome, in the average amount of cases, the average degree of human virtue. I allude to the highest and the lowest, the very rich and the very poor. These are the bane of a republic; and all its regulations should go to discourage their existence. The first are corrupted by luxury and idleness, and long for nothing so much, as to loll away their existence amidst the pleasures of
a court. They must secretly be enemies to republicanism; all their instincts are against it. The latter are debased by ignorance; they move by impulse; they are the prey of demagogues; and are so sunk in misery, that any revolution becomes agreeable to them. Now both these classes are multiplying on us, faster than I could wish. We shall preserve our republic no longer than we can continue a healthful majority of the middle class. You are aware, to preserve a forest, of which all the parts shall move in the breeze and feel the sun, the trees must be nearly as possible of a height.
I consider our country as having passed over the important line, which separates rational liberty from that excess of the principle, which may lead to selfdestruction. In Massachusetts, the step was taken without noise; and no man seemed to appreciate its importance. But it is taken; and nothing now remains, but to regret it; for, in our land, there is no recession from popular privileges. In Massachusetts, previous to the last convention, two hundred dollars in property, was required, to constitute a man a voter. This, you will say, was a restriction little enough. Now, suffrage is universal. Every man, not a pauper, finds his way to the polls. This, taken in connection with the rapid manner in which the increasing inequalities in wealth crowd down numbers into the lowest rank, and the rapid influx of foreigners among us, draws a dark cloud over our prospects. I some
times imagine I can hear the thunders of revolution roaring around the tomb of freedom.
The truth is, nine tenths of the questions which we debate and settle in our halls of legislation and town-meetings, are questions of property. The voter ought to know something of the nature of property; of its value; and he ought to know this from experience. He ought not to be an adventurer, hanging loose on society, with nothing at stake. He ought to give this proof and pledge of his being a good citizen, that he has earned something for himself. How shall a man know how to manage the interests of a town, or state, or whole nation, who cannot provide for his own household? When such men become the majority, we have reached the precipice, and nothing remains, but to plunge into the waves below.
Here, then, my friend, has been our great mistake. Universal suffrage, already, makes our vessel rock on the waves, and may prove its ruin. When it is said that virtue and intelligence, in a republic, are necessary to its existence, it must mean that we hope to preserve them within a certain circle; within the political sphere; among those whose knowledge and virtue prompt them to effort; and raise them to some degree of property. To think to make those intelligent and virtuous, who are above or below this sphere, would be contrary to all experience; and will, in the end, I fear, be found to be romance and ruin.
Still, I would not be too hasty in anticipating the
result. There are a great many things to be considered on the other side. Liberty is woven into our habits from the parish caucus to the highest legislature, we are a debating people. There is land enough; and if some are always sinking to abject poverty, others are always rising to fill the ranks of the precious middle class. We have schools, and colleges, and books, and newspapers, in abundance. The means of popular knowledge lie on the ground around us, as the manna did around the camp of Israel. And, lastly, the present is a trying day. We have hardly yet recovered from the giddiness of independence; nor consolidated our imported population with the old into one consistent mass. We wait with hope and anxiety, for the revelations of time.
As to your own country and condition, all I should say to your warm radicals, could I be admitted to whisper in their ear, would be compressed in the old, plain proverb-Keep in the frying-pan. All governments are a choice of evils; and no form, is worth the price of a revolution.
Ask me what makes one keep, and one bestow?
Pope's Moral Essays, Epistle III., line 163-167.
In the long winter evenings which we were accustomed to spend over my grandfather's fire, I have often heard him tell the story of the family of the Packwells; and as it illustrates the alternation of wealth and poverty in the same household in New England, I beg leave briefly to repeat it.
Old David Packwell was a man who blew a fisherman's horn through the roads of Bundleborough, for nearly sixty years. It was his custom to run in debt for the necessaries of life, and for one article more necessary than all the rest-rum- —as long as any one would trust him. Then he would go out on the