The Superiority of Moral Power Over Political Power

 Adin Ballou


Anti-Slavery Bugle of New Lisbon, Ohio, June 20, 1845, page 1, photocopy in editor’s possession. Adin Ballou (1803-1890) was an American clergyman, pacifist, abolitionist, and president (1841-1851) of the utopian community, Hopedale.

What is moral power? The power which operates on the affections, passions, reason, and moral sentiment of mankind, and thereby controls them without physical force. It comprehends every description of influence, which, without applying or threatening to apply physical coercion, tends to determine the will, conduct and character of human beings.

What is political power? The power of the State, body politic, or civil government, operating under the forms of law, and compelling or threatening to compel subjection to its requirements by physical force. It comprehends every description of influence founded on the authority of the State which either applies or threatens to apply physical coercion.
Taking these two powers, as they exist in this country, and as they are available to philanthropists and moral reformers, let us contrast them. We affirm that moral power is superior.

1. In respect to their general objects.
It is the object of moral power to regenerate public sentiment—to superinduce a right public opinion and WILL in the great mass of the people. It is the object of political power to overawe and coerce by penal laws, delinquent and refractory individuals. —Moral power converts the majority to righteousness in spite of ten thousand difficulties. Political power expresses the new public will in the form of laws, and by physical force, applied or threatened, overawes the minority and coerces the unwilling few into apparent subjection. Moral power does ninety-nine one-hundredths of the work, and political power, in its official robes, with a half-unsheathed sword at its side, follows after, claiming all the credit. Which is superior?

2. In respect to the numbers who exercise them, moral power is superior.
Moral power is exercised by every human being, in a greater or lesser degree, and is reflected from every created thing. It is vested in the patriarch and the new born babe; in the prince and the beggar; in the philosopher and the idiot…. Moral power is everywhere, in all things. It is exercised by, or at least reflected from, the innumerable hosts of human nature.
But political power is exercised by only a handful of human beings. It is vested, nominally, in the voting citizens, and exercised by their cho¬sen representatives in the several departments of government. And who are the voting citizens? Exclude all females, all minors under twenty-one years of age, all paupers and persons under guardianship, all slaves, all unnaturalized foreigners, and many others for want of the requisite property qualification. The residue will be voting citizens, amounting to less than ONE FOURTH of the whole nation. Deduct from these the sick, helpless, indifferent, and scrupulously conscientious against voting, and the average proportion of actual voters to the mass, will be as one to six, or more likely, as one to ten. Of these, there must be a majority to determine any important issue. The party constituting the majority furnishes nearly all the offices of government, and is itself managed in all its principal doings by a subtle few behind the curtain. The whole political power in this country is virtually in the hands of less than one fiftieth part of the people. A bushel of wheat in a mountain of straw and chaff.

3. In respect to the prominent details of their operation, moral power is superior.
Moral power unites male and female in marriage, multiplies human beings, subdues the earth, increases wealth, forms neighborhoods, and builds cities. Political power takes the census, levies taxes, trains soldiers to do its fighting, and assumes the office of protecting the people. Moral power educates the people, intellectually, religiously, morally, socially, and industrially. Political power tickles their ambition, uses up their faculties, consumes their substance, and punishes a few of their grosser crimes….

4. In respect to their instrumentalities, moral power is superior.
Look at the number and efficiency of those influences which moral power is every where employing to enlighten and improve mankind. Though many of them are sadly perverted, and need to be rightly directed, yet from their peculiar nature, endless variety, and universal activity, they are capable of producing stupendous results. There is Religion…. Next comes education … and literature … and the influence of woman…. Such are the instrumentalities of moral power…. In the face of all this, let political power look up and present its vaunted resources: Oh! Its swords, its muskets, its cannons, its powder and ball, … its prisons; … its courts; … its congresses, …! all crying like the daughters of the horse leech, give! give! office and salary! Mighty, as the political power is, in physical force and money; terrible as it is sometimes in vengeance, what is it compared to moral power?…

5. In respect to priority and independence of action moral power is superior.
Moral power is natural, spontaneous, and independent in its action. It originates ideas, feelings, sentiments and changes of human conduct. It not only operates without but against political power; and obliges political power to conform to its dictates. As an illustration, look at the rise and triumph of the Christian religion. It had no political power. It was a babe in a manger. Political power slew fourteen thousand innocents to make sure of its destruction. But it survived and grew up to maturity…. What important change was ever brought about for the public good by political power alone? It originates no such changes. It never thinks of making any such changes, till moral power has suggested them, and prepared the public mind to acquiesce in them! Political power is artificial, mechanical, and incapable of doing anything good, without the creative, preparative, and sustaining influence of moral power.

6. In respect to their freedom and elasticity moral power is superior.
Moral power is not restricted to times, plans [?], and set forms. It is not confined to certain classes of persons, within certain lines of latitude and longitude, nor to particular cases of conduct and character…. It is at home everywhere, among all human beings, at all times and places. Not so with political power. It is restricted on every side by Constitutions, laws, regulations, precedents, formalities, and usages….

7. In serious other respects moral power is superior.
Moral power operates through all its multiform processes, and accomplishes its magnificent results with little show, and at its own expense. Political power puts on its robes, sounds a trumpet, and parades its machinery before the public eye, at the expense of the public. It taxes them as heavily as they will bear, compels them to pay …, and takes care to secure to itself an ample remuneration…. They who are fortunate enough to keep clear of political power are fortunate indeed.
Again. Moral power, being unostentatious and disinterested, exerts a purifying and ennobling influence on the character of its votaries…. But political power has the contrary tendency. It generally renders its devotees more selfish, corrupt, hollow-hearted and tyrannical. Many a decently good man has gone into the labyrinth of politics, and held office to his own moral ruin. And where is there one that ever came out more fit for the kingdom of heaven; unless driven by disgust from its sorceries? It requires no ordinary virtue to maintain one’s moral integrity against the seductions of political power.
Finally. Moral power has devised and accomplished nearly all the good that has been done among mankind since the foundation of the world. It has discovered, invented, and perfected, all manner of improvements—mechanical, chemical, intellectual, social, moral and religious…. It has done most of these mighty works in poverty and solitude, with little or no countenance from political power or its worshippers, and not unfrequently in spite of their most deadly opposition. On the other hand, political power seldom patronizes the benefactors of their race till they are quite able to take care of themselves. It generally starves, crucifies, or stones them, and afterwards erects monuments to their memories….

Next: The Illegality, Immorality and Violence of All Political Action by Robert LeFevre

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