Letter Seven

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    Letter VII        June 3, 1843


SIR: Having, by your liberal permission, said so much publicly on the above subject, it will be required that I should bring my observations to some practical point, and probably to a conclusion. Supposing any light to have been thrown on the subject, and a conviction to have been produced that the present forceful order of things is inconsistent with the principles we know and acknowledge to be true, the question will naturally arise, “what are we to do?” As the religious teacher would answer when such a question is put on the deepest ground, so I reply “do nothing.” – Whenever events turn out unhappily we have to adopt this course. It is the best medicine, whether the mind or the body, the Church or the State, be sick. Sometimes there may be some obnoxious result of human activity in the way, which human activity may remove, but generally human passivity is the preferable principle. In this case, at all events, there can be no hesitation in presenting the medicine of passivity. – “Leave it alone,” is our best treatment. Like all our enemies, State oppression will die of itself if we meddle not with it. If there be a voter in the land who knows not how to take moral care of himself and family, I am sure the State will not help him in that respect; so that he gains nothing by contact with it. So far as he does know how to exercise such moral provision, let him do it with all diligence, and in that act acquire more ability. Let every one expend his energies within doors, and, by moral means perfect domestic and family order. No argument is required to show that if this were done in every house, no State legislation, and scarcely any township legislation would remain to be done. But the remark will be made that every house and every person is not thus morally regulated; so that it is absolutely necessary to introduce the influence force. Does, then, this introduction of force pleasantly and effectually settle the matter? Indeed not; it is just seconding the immoral beginning, and multiplying it exceedingly. Now, I submit that this is the true way of looking at the [matter.] The bad subjects of the State are amongst our neighbors, they are very few, one in five hundred perhaps originally, whom our injudicious treatment augments fourfold; whereas if we met them at once on moral grounds we could manage at a much smaller cost, with a very much better result. – Why should we make this public and congregative noise about such an event as a robbery or a quarrel? If a person should fall into the river we all run to help him out, and not a man of us but would be glad to lose the whole day in his restoration. We should do so singly with joy, and never think of calling a town meeting to debate the subject. Why not then when a neighbor has fallen by bad education, or unhappy organization, into the flood of immorality, should we not willingly and spontaneously make the same sacrifices to help him out? By so much as the soul is more precious than the body we should fly to submit still greater offerings.

This is the very pith and heart of the subject. If the evil elements in society were thus encountered at their sources there would be no occupation left for the constable, the jailer and the executioner. Much cheaper too such a system would be. Men appear to think they are gainers by making these public officers to do the business which privately and properly belongs to themselves. Individually some of the wealthiest persons may be money gainers by this arrangement. But morally and sentimentally they are great losers. And taking the whole of society into consideration, the fact becomes very clear that it is a losing plan. For, besides the cost of managing the original wayward members of society, there is added to it the vast expenditure for the extraneous machinery of judges, prisons, chaplains, and the host of unloving instruments. And all this is because there are a few bad boys in the town, or a few bad men in the State. If not on this account, why at all is the machinery of State government kept in existence? The good, it is confessed, require no such coercive control. They in fact, however, erect this machinery, they sustain it, and what they have now is to say to each other is, “why friends and neighbors, should we prolong this incongruous state of things which we have made? We made it, and we can unmake it. Let us try if we cannot work out something better suited to the present condition of mankind.”

When the North American republic was founded, it was an established axiom in the world, that governors and governed were two distinct races amongst men, one of which was born to submit to the other, just as is now held to be the case as to blacks and whites. But a successful experiment for above sixty years has demonstrated a different principle, and we have advanced a good way into the truth that governor and governed may be one. This is proved as far as the whole mass is concerned. Now we have to prove the same fact in every individual. We have to show that one hat can at one moment cover both these characters. Instances not a few can be found amongst our private acquaintance of persons who withdraw as much as possible from interference in political affairs of any kind. These are generally the highest moral beings which society contains. – Which is in fact the reason why they shrink from inter-meddling with affairs of State, necessarily as they are of an immoral tendency. We must do our best to let this sort of mind be multiplied until it spread all over the land; and the government of force be left to die off at leisure, superseded by the government of love and sound sense.

Were a true parent unfortunately to have a child of decidedly vicious organization, would he, for the purpose of being rid of such a trouble, thrust him forth into the street to be derided and hooted by other boys, or would he wish to foist him upon his neighbors? Would he not rather, both in love for his boy and his country, endeavor to the utmost to reform his character and elevate his sentiments? Very much like this is the picture of society. The criminals are our malorganized brethren. And let it be continually remembered that it is on account of these, on account of a comparatively few, unfortunate near relations, that we commit such a series of unprincipled, costly, and destructive actions. On what poor pretences may a vast superstructure of actuality be erected. Would it not be a preferable plan for every town to set its own criminals to work in the fields, or the shop, before they have grown into desperate characters, instead of passing them through state trials and state prisons? If it is yet premature to expect every separate family to ensure the moral conduct of its own members, it would be some little amendment of our present system to let each group of families take upon itself its own responsibilities. If each township in Massachusetts having, by the absence of state interference, no other resource than its own moral influence against any immoral influence there might be, we should I believe have in respect to all the grosser crimes a power of two hundred or three hundred to one individual. All the crimes which the present rough unparental state of society can take cognizance of, do not amount to so much as that. Then, at the same time, those refined offences, the quiet frauds and deceptions which a brute law cannot touch, would be more directly reached than they are now, because such a moral preventive court of justice barely recognized at present, would exist in full force and vigor.

Thought, kindly, loveful thought, I am sure will soon engender an improved state of things. As to any hope for human advancement based on the present order of brute force, it is quite absurd. It has been tried in every conceivable shape, and has failed; and it must fail. The representative system altogether is worn out. Cunning as well as force is insufficient now to help humanity one step forward. It is the third principle alone in which rational hope abides. We must begin with confidence in the inherent goodness in humanity; and so beginning we shall be sustained. Love, love only can rule men efficiently now. Commanding talents, like commanding force, must be laid at the feet of the benign nature in man. We live for this or we live for nothing. At last we want to come round to this point; and I suppose that all the struggles of the day, miltiform as they appear to be, have for their common centre, the empire of love on earth. Reform, abolition, social projects, church, state, prisons, aye even war must pretend to support the reign of peace and love on earth. The debateable points refer only to the best and shortest way of ensuring the triumph of goodness. The direct and immediate object in these letters has been of a very humble, and you may say very limited kind. – I have merely sought to show what an obstacle to true progress the State now is, and how easily it could be set aside or avoided. Easy as it is however, it will be needful for some persons to experience some inconvenience, or worse, in order to clear the ground of the incumbrance.

As Mr. Alcott’s declining to contribute his poll assessment and consequent imprisonment originated these letters, I may not inaptly close by reference to further personal matters, related as they are throughout to the common weal.

The assessor of this town, (Concord) has recently applied for an inventory of the contents of my pocket and other effects, in order that I may be taxed to pay soldiery, jailers, and other slaves, in whom I have no faith. I have of course declined any voluntary participation in the system, and having replied in the spirit of these letters, and referred to them, I await the consequences.

In the mean time, it is needful to inform you that the season has arrived for laying down the pen and taking up the hoe.

Many of your readers are aware that my sojourn in this country has had reference throughout to a connection with the land as the outward basis of all the holy and wholesome existence; and in unity with Mr. Bronson Alcott, and other friends, many persons have looked forward to the commencement of a state of things some steps in advance of the present, though possibly not comprehending all that is ideally living in the mind. Such a commencement appears not to be practicable. An estate of nearly one hundred acres is devoted to this purpose; if not totally free from all relation to property; yet approaching as nearly as circumstances will permit. It is remotely, though not distantly situated; and as no house is owned, but one is merely lent for a short time, you will perceive that for a party whose capital is exhausted in obtaining the freedom of restoring, subduing and using a piece of God’s earth, there is plenty of work to be done, besides this of writing which we have so long enjoyed together.

The press, is undoubtedly a mighty engine for the enlightenment and reformation of men, but yet it is only an instrument; and I think every one feels that there is something to be done greater and mightier than printing or lecturing in order to [raise] man’s elevation. The press and the platform do but furnish faint echoes of a reality which must move mankind in a deeper manner than to a change of opinion, or to a scientific knowledge. The heart of man must be touched; and this cannot be by appeals to his head. No intellectual effort can go deep enough now nor at any other time in fact to secure the real wants and purposes of humanity. Whether or not that which I design to do is that real deed which I have faith it is, time, zeal and perserverance must help to show. In the mean time you will oblige by forwarding your papers or other favors to this place instead of Concord as heretofore. And believe me, dear sir, in action as in speech, still, one with you in the great enterprise of man’s redemption, and consecration to all good.

C.L.
Harvard, Mass.

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