Letter Six

[ Intro ] – [ I ] – [ II ] – [ III ] – [ IV ] – [ V ] – [ VI ] – [ VII ]


    Letter VI        May 17, 1843

SIR: Cleansed, purified, refined – polished to the highest degree – the democratic form of government which we have set up; still that it is final, none can imagine. Misfortunes at least, if not crimes it has, as well as merits. – Yes, republicanism is not without a parallel to monarchy, in that particular of being not wholly virtuous. Practically, doubtless, democracy representative, which differs little from monarchy representative, is a much better working machine than monarchy absolute. But, few countries now lie in this degrading plight, if ever they did, for it is difficult to conceive of the absolute rule of one mind uninfluenced by an action from without. The real apprehension lies against aristocracy. This is the monster of longest life and most alarming nature. He takes all shapes, and finds a home in all places. When driven from one den, he flies to another. No longer duke, or count, or baron, he can become president, merchant, banker. When castle or chateau no more can enshrine him, a back parlor, or counting house will serve. When his patronage of chivalry and art is exposed as the cover of self aggrandisement, straightway he is transformed to a patron of science and manufacture. As the baronial hall crumbles to dust, the huge, grim factory rises to a greater height. And who shall say which is the weightier curse? The foundation of chivalry had its glitter and show animal freedom and valorous death; factory feudalism boasts its glitter and profits, intellectual eminence and national benefit. Both alike succeed in subjugating the people, who in some degree always suffer, and the best of positions are yet in danger.

It is interesting, to say the least of it, to trace the workings of the representative system of government in one particular, namely, its success in doing those things which absolute monarchy durst not venture upon from fear of offending the people. Those tamperings with the currency, the loans and the stock jobbing which royal Louis and his ministers found too hazardous a venture, reformed parliaments have since done over and over again at their ease, and democratic legislators are now beginning to do. It is the symptom of a wise people not to be deceived by forms and names. Every one can now see the disgrace, the baseness, the folly of spilling his blood and that of his fellow creatures, in a battle which may decide whether this man shall marry that woman, a little more territory be allowed to that man’s rule, or a few more people be of that man’s religious opinions. But we do not yet recognize the wickedness, the inhumanity, of sacrificing both the animal and mental powers of men and women in the pursuit of ends as foreign to the ends of true human destiny as the objects of national war. The poor plebian soldier when he survived the general slaughter, and escaped with his maimed body, had little more than scars to show for his share of the profits; the advantage, if any, was all secured by the monarch and aristocrats, who thus gambled with men as though they were cards. So it is with our poor factory operatives, they toil, they have their limbs deformed or mutilated; mind and body, though by a slower process, are despoiled and degraded, and they have little to produce for their share of the advantages, which still belong to the aristocrats. Aristocrats, moreover, of wealth, not of family or title; and aristocrats of wealth are universally admitted to be the most tyrannous. A man who has worked his way up from poverty to riches against a contending world, fancies it is in the power of every one else to do the same; not knowing that the processes which to him were agreeable enough are utterly repugnant to conscientious souls. It is not a new idea to assert the disqualifying power of riches for a superior state of existence. This, then, is a most fatal circumstance operating against our present democratic institutions. We have succeeded in shutting out that obvious, glaring delusion of the worship of a titled family as the representation of the divine power on earth; but in its place we have an undividualized, unnamed, joint stock tyrant, who is personally secure from attacks and sheltered from danger, and still more continuous and potent than the aristocrat of blood.

It is against this undying power that the individual man has to strive. On the two arms of the social lever these two forces are placed, and of course the chances for keeping the balance even are very small. On one side stands this grand representative combination of organized thought, feeling, prejudice, and on the other, the interior energy in one person. The great mass, potent in its antiquity, in its stagnation, in its pre-possession, against the individual, having only freshness of thought and hopeful aspiration to sustain him. It seems, after all, [impossible] to invent a system more fatal to human growth than this of representative government. There is possibly in it the means of preventing the great mass of the population from falling below a certain average of wealth, intelligence, or morals. I say possible, for it is by no means yet certain that we are saved from excessive poverty, ignorance, or crime. But that there is a sort of cast iron pattern work in it by which the individual character is very much confined in the upward moral tendencies is quite manifest. The quality of sameness in the North American republic is observable by the most superficial. Social, moral, temperamental identity, is more remarkable than that of language. – In no other part of the world perhaps, is so much space occupied by so many people, with so great similarity in nature. For often taking into account all the vari[e]ties in religion, in politics, in occupation, this remark still remains. These vari[e]ties are but model, and the substratum remains unchanged.

At this fact one cannot marvel. It was rational enough for a people who had emerged by combined exertions from a state of provoking and galling thraldom to make an effort to render permanent the forms of that successful combination. It is a sort of gratitude to means, rather than to principles, which induces men to sanctify mere institutions. But the time has arrived for a fresh appeal to principle; yet not more now than ever; for a recurrence to principle is proper at all times. Until men have better plans placed clearly before them they are bound by a law in their nature to hold fast to such as they have. This representative plan was the people’s choice; no better one is yet apparent to them, and if any uncomfortable results now fall upon them, they attribute these to the imperfect working of the machinery; and not to the unsuitability of the machine as a whole. Under these circumstances their hope rests in the bettering of the system, in some further polishing or improvement as it is called. But we must require the public to exercise a keener and broader sight. The vision must not be bounded by the objects lying closely about us, but must be extended to new scenes. – The sight must become an insight. I have just had the pleasure of communing with an English friend who passed the greater part of last year in Appensell, Switzerland. This canton is not republic, but a pure democracy. – The government is not representative, but all the males above 18 years of age may, and the greater part actually do, vote on all questions brought before the assembled canton, of which the population amounts to 40,000 persons. – They choose their Landemann, Councillors and other officers, whom they pay by small salaries of about one hundred dollars each; and in this manner for 400 hundred years they have found it practicable to pass permanent and temporary laws, and to carry on all needful functions of government. At the death of a proprietor, his property is divided equally amongst the children, whether he make a will or not. Even in this defective self government, in comparatively great ignorance, they have managed to be tolerably happy for ages, and what may be the strangest of all facts to republican eyes, they have neither poor house nor prison in this extensive population of 40,000 souls.

Such facts as these, withheld from popular observation equally by aristocratic conservatism and republican radicalism, serve at least to show how far the principles of self government can be carried without our having resort to delegation or representation or being men by deputy. Of course, however, this does not carry the whole length of relief from the forceful government. And moreover, except for the few hours the canton is actually assembled, the people are obliged to act by delegation through a constantly existing executive, to which also the best contrived republic is obliged to resort. – This again, therefore, is only a half way contrivance, and is far behind that instant and ever present government which we should enjoy were the supremacy of the family, the true authority of man to be duly acknowledged. It affords demonstration that North American townships or counties, to the extent of 40,000 persons, might carry on with wisdom, steadiness, economy, and vigor, all, and more than all the purposes for which the town or county now is or ever need be convened. Such a system would relieve us from a representative legislature, and only leave us a representative executive. And from the salaries paid in this instance there is ample reason to believe that this executive is almost a nominal one, and that every man is nearly as much a daily administrator of the law as an annual maker of it. Lightly must it sit upon their shoulders as a national burden if such are the salaries. Small must be its brute power if there are no prisons. Moderate must it be in family intrusion when it leaves education unfettered. In fact the government is identical with the people, and therefore there can be for them no objection to it.

As fast as individuals in this district arrive at an intuition of real human worth and dignity they of course cease to participate in this humble and modest mockery of humanity; as men do in the more costly and ostentatious mockeries in this land. We have here a partial answer to the question, How would a voluntary government be practicable? We see here how easy it is to accomplish all that is now deemed necessary for the people to do congregatively. And when from that quantity of business we deduct whatsoever is not absolutely required to be done collectively but may be done at home, we begin to see with what facility this cumberous state-machinery might be dispensed with.

Why is it that we prolong its crime-breeding existence? Have we no faith in man? No faith in goodness in man? Is there no other or no better principle in the human soul than that of dark and brutal fear which alone can be tamed, not subdued, by dark and brutal force? Force! Force in all things! No freedom! No spontane[i]ty! Always, you must! Never, you may. The wild red man, the wilder Hottentot, could not maintain a system more subversive of humanity. Could we for a moment delude ourselves into the supposition that the present forceful system of government accomplishes all that it assumes to accomplish, still on such terms it would scarcely be worth acceptance. To protect humanity at the price of humanity is poor commerce. To secure serenity enough for love to speak a word by the suppression of all love as a process, profits us little indeed. This is no exaggeration of the facts. Not those alone who are called wicked, but those who are admitted to be only unfortunate are treated harshly. Society treats lunatics very little better than it does criminals, though there is now arising a sensibility of this error. We may even see it declared in the common newspapers that the cash expenditures for the prosecution and punishment of criminals is so great that the end scarcely counterbalances the means, and that cheaper modes of regulating humanity could easily be devised. This regards the money only. But when we bring into the account the wear and tear of the superior human feelings, civilization must be declared a bankrupt.

In the most serious and true sense I think that the present mode of civilization is bankrupt. Really it breaks down. It does not, cannot, fulfill its engagements. It cannot meet its creditors’ claims, nor will it ever. It has been tried and trusted long enough, and in all decency should now give up business. Are we so barren of invention, so unfertile of thought, so bound to imitation, that, wincing daily as we do, we cannot project and act out a better scheme than we now suffer under? Certainly we are ever making the attempt; but not in a direction in which success can be hoped. New results cannot be attained without new modes or new causes. The results we want are not only new, but in many respects the very opposite of those which now prevail. It is not likely therefore that we shall reach such opposite place by travelling the old road, although that road may be mended, and drained and smoothed to the utmost practicable extent. Our present road, our present principle, is that of force. Force in every mode of it. People are forced to support the government in the first instance, and when it is thus sustained by force, it exercises all its functions by force. Love is never put into it. Cunning, as much as you like. – Intrigue, finesse, overreaching, from one end to the other; from the capture of a poor thief by the constable to the election of president; through all the gradations of trade, art, and profession, as much wit, sharpness, and physical force as you will, but no kindness, no neighborly consideration, no love at all is needed.

I can hardly be required here to enter into any statement to show how contrary all the processes of political government are to those divine principles which as a christian community it is obvious we are acquainted with. Reflections of this kind are too readily suggested in every bosom to render any verbal appeal requisite. I would however venture to put a question as to a point of time. I would ask when we are to set about realizing these sentiments which for so many centuries we have been verbally uttering. Since the church has thrown off its unworthy connexion with the state, men have been no less assid[u]ously praying, in words, that “God’s will may be done on earth as it is in heaven;” and the most orthodox do continually declare in various ways that a more holy state of existence upon earth is to be realized. Yet with a mental belief of this kind, and an espousal of doctrines to this effect, no one actually sets about the work which he declares is so close to his heart. Nay, so curious are the facts, so possible is it for the mind to attempt the reconciliation of irreconcileable things, that our legislators begin their daily work with a form of christian prayer. Then see what kind of work immediately succeeds this prayer; look at the state of mind of the various parties, scan the ill tempers which grow up in debate, hear the unfriendly words and unkind insinuations which are constantly interwoven in the proceedings, and let us say whether this is a way in which there is any rational probability that human beings can be aided in upward progress.

There cannot be two opinions on this point. It behooves us therefore as christians, as philanthropists, aye, even as selfish beings of any sound discrimination to turn our backs upon this forceful and representative system. It is destructive of manhood, of individual largeness and integrity, or love and neighborly feeling. – Men cannot expand to their full size of intellectual or moral being so long as it continues. – One person, now and then, shines out a brilliant monstrosity while the greater number must necessarily shrink into fractions of men, at whose expense the man of renown is manufactured. A renown too as ephemeral as it is worthless. How many individuals have dissipated all their energies, have worn away their very being by coming in contact with this merciless millstone of politics! With how many promiseful young men is this now the case? – For a season perhaps it is the misfortune of every one to fall into this delusion of imagining that human good is to be served by political means. How delusive it is. I trust many are now beginning to see a system based on force and skill cannot accomplish any real moral purpose. Moral ends can only be attained by moral means. Brute force is not moral, cunning not morality. Wit indeed may be used under the guidance of the moral sense, but never can morals descend to brute physical force; and without this force the fabric of modern governments falls at once to the ground.

There was a period, scarcely yet gone by, when pedantic school-masters asserted that to keep children in order without flogging was impossible. Yet we see this once visionary idea brought out to daily practice. “Men are but children of a larger growth,” and are as easily to be kept in order by kindness as force. – Nay, easier, for force never secures order; it merely suppresses the appearance of disorder. It covers the sores of society and heals them not.

Yours in better government,

Concord, Mass.

[ Intro ] – [ I ] – [ II ] – [ III ] – [ IV ] – [ V ] – [ VI ] – [ VII ]

Scroll to Top