The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 4
Lecture XVII. Different Forms of Government
Lecture XVII. Different Forms of Government.
Despotism the best form of government in a rude state of society—Mixed form of government—Interests of the many sacrificed under despotic and oligarchical governments, to those of the few—Bad effects of hereditary artificial rank in, its existing shape—Rational pride of ancestry, and true nobility of nature—Arguments in favour of hereditary rank considered: (1.) That it presents objects of respect to the people, and accustoms them to deference and obedience; (2.) That it establishes a refined and . polished class, who, by their example, improve the multitude; (3.) That there is a natural and universal admiration of it, proving it to be beneficial—Bad effects of entails, and of exclusive privileges and distinctions enjoyed by individuals or classes—Forcible abolition of hereditary nobility, entails, and monopolies, reprobated—Political aspect of the United States—Tendency of the mixed form of government to promote unfairly the interests of the dominant class—This exemplified in the laws of Britain, particularly those relating to the militia and the impressment of seamen—Democratic form of government—Adapted only to a state of society in which morality and intelligence have made great and general advancement—Greek and Roman republics no exception—Character of these republics—Small Italian republics of the middle ages—Swiss republics, particularly that of Bern—Democracy in the United States—No probability that the present civilized countries of Europe will ever become barbarous—Or that the United States will fall asunder or lose their freedom—Tendency of governments to become more democratic in proportion as the people become more intelligent and moral—Groundless fears that ignorant masses of the people will gain the ascendency.
In my last Lecture I endeavoured to expound the difference between the independence and the freedom of .nations, and to trace the causes of each. I endeavoured to shew that a higher degree of moral and intellectual attainments in the people is necessary to freedom, than to mere independence.
The next topic to which I advert is the different forms of government. Phrenology enables us to arrive at clear conceptions on this subject.
The animal organs are the largest, the most powerful, and (when man is uncultivated) also the most active, in the brain; and all of them aim at selfish ends. As long, therefore, as any nation continues destitute of education, and not devoted to industrious pursuits calculated to exercise the moral and intellectual faculties, it consists of hordes of human beings in whom the animal propensities pre-dominate, and who, in consequence, are ready to embark under any bold and energetic leader, in any enterprise that promises gratification to individual interests and passions, however immoral, or detrimental to the community at large. I history is one great record of the truth of this remark. The only mode of preserving public tranquillity, and any semblance of law, in such a state of :society, is for one man, or a small number of individuals, superior to the rest in vigour, sagacity, and decision, to seize on the reins of government, and to rule despotically.
Men in this condition are animals possessing the human form and human intelligence, but not yet the human morality, which alone causes individuals to love justice and become a law unto themselves. If the best and wisest of men were requested to devise a government for a nation of selfish and ferocious beings, possessed of intellect sufficient to foresee consequences, but not inspired with the love of justice, he would at once say that it must be one of great energy; vigorous to repress, and prompt to punish; otherwise there would be no tranquillity. A despotism, therefore, naturally springs up in a page 96 very rude and barbarous country, and is the form of government best adapted to its circumstances.
The despot rules in the full spirit of the selfish system, He punishes through caprice, as often as from justice; and he rewards through favouritism, more frequently than from perception of real merit; but in doing so, he acts on the principles generally prevalent in his community. If he be enlightened, just, and beneficent, he may do great service to his people, by instructing and civilizing them; but as a general rule, he will be found acting, like themselves, on the purely selfish principle, obstructing their moral and intellectual improvement, whenever he discovers that their enlightenment will prove fatal to his own authority.
When a nation has become partially civilized, and instructed in the arts of industry, wealth is created; and a class arises, whose moral and intellectual faculties, developed by education, and stimulated by the love of property, desire to observe the dictates of morality towards their fellow-men, and to enjoy the advantages of just government themselves; a class which would not join a leader to trample the nation at large under foot, but would rather, by their wealth and intelligence, assist the people to expel a tyrant, and establish the supremacy of equitable laws. But the superior men who constitute this class, find themselves associated with a mass of uneducated and pennyless individuals, who compose the great body of the people. This was the condition of Great Britain, during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and it is partially so in the present times. The kind of government adapted to a nation composed of such elements, is obviously one which shall combine the force and energy of the despot, necessary to repress and punish all attempts at individual supremacy and domination, and at the same time enforce order and justice, with a due regard to the general welfare. A mixed form of government, like the British, in which great executive power is committed to the king, but in which the enlightened classes, through their representatives in Parliament, enact the laws, and also control the executive, by granting or withholding the public supplies, is the natural result of this state of society.
The great benefit, I have said, of freedom, is, that it tends to promote the general welfare; whereas all other forms of government, whether despotic, under one supreme prince, or oligarchical, under a limited number of nobles, tend to the sacrifice of the interests of the many to the advantage of the few. In all ages and countries this has been the case, and in our own mixed form of government the evil also exists.
In ancient Rome, in which the patricians or nobles ruled the state, there was a law prohibiting the intermarriage of patricians and plebeians; that is, of the nobles and the people. In Rome, besides, all places of trust, power, and influence, were confined to the patricians, and a plebeian could not, for many ages, aspire to the honours of the consulship. In France, before the Revolution, only nobles could obtain military rank. In Hindostan, and in some Roman Catholic countries, the priests prohibit the people at large from freely reading their scriptures or sacred books. In short, the genius of selfishness tramples on justice, and grasps at advantages for itself; it is everywhere, and at all times, the same, whether appearing in an individual or in a class, in a political body or a religious corporation.
In a former lecture I endeavoured to point out that a hereditary nobility, protected by law in the possession of political power and exclusive privileges, without regard to individual qualities and attainments, is an infringement of the natural laws, and produces evil to the community, not only by the abuses of power which it commits, but by the misdirection which it gives to the sentiment of ambition in the public mind. I now remark, that the existence of a noble or privileged class is one of the characteristic features of a mixed form of government, like that of Britain, and is the natural result of a portion of the people having far outstript the mass in wealth, intelligence, and refinement; and it may be expected to endure as long as the great inequality in these particulars, on which it is founded, exists.
The mixed form of government itself obviously arises when a numerous class has considerably preceded the mass of the people in intelligence and moral attainments; and it exhibits the spectacle of that class becoming the sole depositaries of political power. The upper portion, or nobles, exercise the function of legislators directly in their own persons, and the inferior portion do so by means of representatives, leaving no political influence whatever to the majority of the people. It is the genius of this form of government to confer privileges on classes; and hence the highest members of the ruling body easily induced the king to bestow on them the character of nobility, and the right of hereditary legislation; but as the great principle of doing to another as we would wish another to do to us, leads, in its general application, to the removal of all distinctions not founded on real superiority, the existence of this class becomes, in course of time, an obstacle to general improvement. There is one principle, however, equally clearly taught, both by Christianity and by the doctrine of the supremacy of the moral sentiments,—that that only beneficial manner of producing a moral equality, is by improving and raising up the lower, and not by pulling down the higher classes, possessed of superior attainments. As long, therefore, as the class of nobles are superior in intellect, moral qualities, and education, to the great body of the people, their superiority is real; and they would maintain this superiority, although they possessed neither titles nor exclusive privileges. This has long been the state of Britain, and is so, to a considerable extent, still. In a former lecture, I pointed out that hereditary rank and superiority is in opposition to nature, unless the organic laws are obeyed, and that then .statutes are not needed to transmit property and honour to posterity. Those who transmit high moral, intellectual, and physical qualities to their offspring, confer on them the stamp of Nature's nobility, and they need no other.
When the Creator bestowed on us Veneration, prompting us to reverence high qualities and attainments, and Love of Approbation, desiring distinction for ourselves, He must have intended that these faculties, in selecting their objects, should be guided by reason, morality, and religion; yet the creation of artificial, and especially hereditary rank, which shall enable its possessor, independently of his mental qualities, to assume superiority over, and take precedence of, other men, even when these are more virtuous, more learned, more useful, and more highly accomplished than himself, is in direct opposition to this maxim, and must, therefore, manifestly be an abuse. The grand argument by which it is defended is, that, by presenting objects of established respect and consideration to the people, we accustom them to the practice of deference and obedience, and thereby promote the tranquillity of the state. It is argued also, that, by instituting a class of nobles a branch of society is formed which will cultivate, as their especial province, taste, refinement, and all the elegancies of life, and improve the inferior members of the social body by their example. It is further maintained, that such a class is natural, and page 97 has existed in almost all countries, and must therefore be advantageous. In a certain state of society, these reasons have some weight; but my position is, that, when the general body of the people become enlightened, these advantages disappear, and a hereditary nobility becomes a positive evil.
I beg leave, however, to state, that I do not propose to abolish hereditary and artificial rank by violence, and against the will of its possessors. The grand principle which I have advocated in these lectures, that all real improvement must proceed from the supremacy of the moral and intellectual faculties, forbids such a project. My aim is, to render nobles ashamed of hereditary titles, decorations, and privileges, which testify nothing in favour of their merit; and I regard this as undoubtedly practicable, in the course of a few generations, merely by enlightening their superior faculties. If you trace the forms in which Self-Esteem and Love of Approbation seek gratification in different stages of social improvement, and observe how these approach nearer and nearer to reason, in proportion as society becomes enlightened, you will not consider this idea chimerical. In the "Constitution of Man," I have remarked, that the tattooed skin, and nose transfixed with ornamental bones, are profoundly respected and greatly prized by the savage. These are the external signs of his consequence,—the outward symbols by which his Self-Esteem and Love of Approbation demand and receive the homage of inferior men. But a very limited advance in civilization destroys the illusion. It is seen that these are mere physical ornaments, which bespeak nothing but the vanity of the wearer; they are, therefore, ridiculed and laid aside.
Ascending to a more refined yet still barbarous age, you find that the marks of distinction formerly prized in our own country, were a full-bottomed wig and cocked hat, ruffles at the wrists, a laced waistcoat, and buckles in the shoes. A century ago, when a man thus attired appeared in any assembly of the common people, place was given to his rank, and respect was paid to his dignity, as if he had been of a superior nature. But when, in the progress of enlightenment, it was discovered that these outward testimonials of greatness, were merely the workmanship of barbers and tailors, men who enjoyed any real mental superiority, who were distinguished by refinement of manners, and the other qualities of a true gentleman, became ashamed of them, and preferred to wear plain yet elegant attire, and to trust to their own manners and the discrimination of the public, for being recognised as of superior rank, and being treated accordingly; and they have been completely successful. A gentleman in the trappings of the year 1700, appearing in our streets now would be regarded as insane, or as facetiously disporting himself in order to win a wager.
The progress of reason which has swept away tattooed skins, bone ornaments in the nose, full-bottomed wigs, and laced waistcoats, will one day extinguish orders of knighthood, coronets, and all the other artificial means by which men at present attempt to support their claims to respect and consideration, apart from their personal qualities and virtues. They will be recognised by the wearers as well as by the public, as devices useful only to the unworthy. An advanced education and civilization will render men acute observers of the real elements of greatness, and profound admirers of them, but equally intolerant of tinsel impositions.
The greatest danger to which the British nobility is at present exposed, is that which arises from their own imperfect education. While the middle classes have been reforming their schools, colleges, and universities, and rendering them vehicles, to a greater or less extent, of useful knowledge, based on science and the laws of nature; and, while the working classes have been pursuing the same course of instructive and elevating study in works of cheap literature, the high aristocracy has been clinging to Greek, Latin, History, and Mathematics, as the staple of their instruction, and been fairly left behind. In the extensive and important discussions of social interests which lately agitated the country,* the ignorance of the titled aristocracy concerning the natural laws which regulate manufactures, agriculture, capital, and commerce, and which, as legislators of a commercial country, they were bound to understand, became the subject of universal remark; while the magnitude of their antiquated prejudices, and their general incapacity for comprehensive, profound, and logical reasoning, struck their own educated friends and admirers with dismay. The causes of this inferiority are to be found in the low state of education in the schools of Eton and Westminster, and in the universities of Oxford and Cambridge, in which the aristocracy are trained. Mr Lyell, in his Travels in America, says, "after the year 1839, we may consider three-fourths of the sciences still nominally taught at Oxford to have been virtually exiled from the university. The class-rooms of the professors were, some of them entirely, others nearly deserted. Chemistry and Botany attracted, between the years 1840 and 1844, from three to seven students; Geometry, Astronomy, and Experimental Philosophy, scarcely more; Mineralogy and Geology, still taught by the same professor who, fifteen years before, had attracted crowded audiences, from ten to twelve; Political Economy still fewer; even Ancient History and Poetry scarcely commanded an audience; and, strange to say, in a country with whose destinies those of India are so closely bound up, the first of Asiatic scholars gave lectures to one or two pupils; and these might have been absent, had not the cherished hope of a Boden scholarship for Sanscrit induced them to attend." During his last course, the professor of Geology lectured to an audience of three! If this state of education of the aristocracy continues, no ghost is needed to predict their downfal. The enlarged and enlightened understandings of the middle and lower classes cannot worship moral and intellectual phantoms, however large their possessions, and ancient their lineage. Their extinction is decreed, and neither violence nor revolution will be needed to accomplish it. Only leave them to themselves to pursue their present course of education, and in half a century they will be no more!
* The subject was Free Trade and Abolition of the Corn-Laws, March 1846.
If you conceive nobles and individuals of high rank and remote ancestry animated by such motives, and setting such examples before their inferiors, what a powerful impulse would be given to improvement, compared with that which flows from the present state of opinion, when men, overlooking the real elements of greatness, worship the external symbols of vanity, and elevate mediocrity, if sufficiently rich, to the station which should be held only by the most able, virtuous, and accomplished!
We are now prepared to answer the arguments by which hereditary rank and artificial nobility are defended, as advantageous in the present state of Britain. The first is that their existence presents objects of respect to the common people, and accustoms them to the practice of deference and obedience. I reply, that the common people respected the decorations of rank,—the wig, the ruffles, and the waistcoats, of the last century,—only while they were deplorably ignorant; and, in like manner, they will regard, with deference and awe, ancient titles apart from merit, only while they continue in the same condition. The moment they become sufficiently enlightened and independent in their moral and intellectual judgments to arrive at sound conclusions, they will cease to admire hereditary rank without high qualities. It is therefore neither moral, safe, nor advantageous, to resort to means for cultivating the respectful feelings of the people, that will not bear the investigation of enlightened reason;—the end in view cannot be attained by such a method.
The secondary defence of hereditary nobility is, that, by instituting it, you establish a separate class dedicated to refinement, taste, and elegance, who by their example will improve the inferior orders. The answer is, that all these qualities are essential elements in Nature's nobility, and that after a certain stage of social enlightenment has been reached, they will be assiduously cultivated for their own sake, and for the distinction which they will confer; and that therefore, patents of nobility, to preserve individuals who lack these high attainments in their minds, in possession of the outward advantages generally attending them, are not necessary for social welfare. I am a strong advocate for refinement, and clearly perceive that the higher classes possess much more of it than the middle and lower ranks; and, viewing it as one important element in a truly excellent and noble character, I am anxious to see it prized, and more generally cultivated, by the lower grades. But the best way to bring about this result, is to dissipate the essentially vulgar illusion, that descent, title, or any artificial or accidental circumstance, can produce it, or can exclude any individual from attaining it; and thereby induce all to esteem it for its own sake, and to respect those only who really possess it.
The third argument in favour of hereditary and artificial rank is, that the admiration of it is natural, and has existed in all ages and countries, and that it must, therefore, be beneficial. I have already explained, that the faculties of Veneration, Self-Esteem, and Love of Approbation, are all natural, and that one of their tendencies is to respect and esteem ancient descent and superior qualities. The only difference between the admirers of things as they are and myself, consists in this,—that they present artificial objects to which these faculties may be directed, and which objects, when examined by reason, are found to be unworthy of enlightened regard; whereas, I propose to have them directed only according to reason, to objects pleasing at once to the understanding, to the moral sentiments, and to these faculties themselves; and beneficial to society.
At present, it is the interest of artificial nobles to keep the people ignorant, rude, and superstitious; because men in such a condition are best fitted to worship idols; and, accordingly, the agricultural labourers, who are placed by Providence directly under the influence of the landed aristocracy, have, as a class, been most thoroughly neglected. While the lords of the soil have been wallowing in luxury, they, the instruments of their wealth and power, have been allowed to pine in abject poverty and ignorance. And the most purely aristocratic, unintellectual, and poorly gifted among peers, have always been the greatest opponents of the emancipation, education, and elevation of the people; while, on the contrary, all the truly noble minds born among the aristocracy,—those on whom Nature has set the stamp of moral as well as intellectual greatness,—have been their friends and willing benefactors. If there were no nobility except that of Nature, her nobles would be prompted by interest as well as inclination, to promote the improvement and elevation of all classes, because they would feel that their own rank, happiness, and usefulness, depended on having a cultivated, discriminating, moral, and intellectual community for their associates and admirers.
I have dwelt on this subject longer than some of you may consider to have been necessary; but the same principles have a wide application. They lead us to the conclusion, that hereditary entails, as constituted in Scotland, ought also to be abolished. In England, an entail is limited to the lives of the heirs in existence at the time when it is executed; but in Scotland it may extend to perpetuity, if heirs exist so long. In this country an entail is a deed in law executed by the proprietor of an estate, by which he calls a certain series of heirs, without limitation, to enjoyment of the rents, or produce, or possession of the land, but without allowing to any one of them a right of property in itself. None of them can sell the estate, or burden it with debt, beyond his own lifetime, or give it to a different order of heirs from that pointed out in the deed of entail. If, for example, the property be destined to heirs-male, the present possessor may have a daughter, who is the apple of his eye and the treasure of his heart, and no male relation nearer than a tenth cousin, and this cousin may be a profligate of the most disgraceful description; but the law is blind—the daughter cannot inherit one acre of the vast domain, and the remote and unworthy male heir will take it all. This, however, is comparatively the least of the evils attending entails. Their existence maintains in an artificial rank, and in possession of great wealth and influence, individuals who, by their natural qualities, ought to stand at the bottom of the scale, and who, like the hereditary nobility, operate as idols on the minds of the aspiring and rising of the middle and lower ranks, leading them to an insensate worship of aristocracy.
Many persons may imagine that this is a small social evil, affecting only the individuals who give way to it, and who, they suppose, are not numerous. But it appears to me to be of greater magnitude, and to lead to more extensive consequences. It supports, by the sanction of the law, the erroneous principle of preserving social greatness and influence to individuals, independently of their natural qualities; which tends directly to encourage all classes to over-look or undervalue natural excellence, and to strive page 99 only to attain wealth, and to preserve it in their families, by the aid of legal technicalities, against the law of God, and the welfare of their fellow-men. This averting of the general mind from the real principles of social improvement, and giving it a false direction, appears to be the worst evil attending all artificial systems for preserving family distinctions.* The class which is thus supported, has many powerful motives for improvement withdrawn from it: it leans upon crutches, and rarely exercises its native strength; and, as a natural consequence, it looks with an indifferent, if not a hostile eye, on all its inferiors who are labouring to attain that excellence which itself despises. A great deal of the lukewarmness, if not positive aversion, manifested by some of the higher ranks, to the instruction and refinement of the people, may be traced to the consciousness that their own pretensions rest, to a great extent, on an artificial basis, and on illusions which must inevitably yield before an advanced and generally diffused civilization.
The same arguments which I have now employed against artificial rank and entails, apply to all exclusive privileges and distinctions conferred by law on individuals or classes, independently of their merits. The social institutions of every country in Europe have been tarnished, more or less by such abuses. In France, before the Revolution, every class of the people except the lowest, had its exclusive privileges, and every town and department its selfish rights of monopoly or exemption, which were maintained with all the blind avidity usually displayed by an unenlightened selfishness. The Revolution swept these away, and made all France and all Frenchmen equal in their rights and privileges, to the great advantage of the whole nation. In our own country, the spirit of reform is busy extinguishing similar marks of barbarism, but they are still clung to with great affection by the true adherents of the individual interest system.
The brief limits of this course prevent me from entering into farther details on this subject; but I again beg of you not to misunderstand me. He who should go forth from this hall, and report that the great object of my lectures on Moral Philosophy was to recommend the abolition by force of hereditary nobility, entails, and monopolies, would do me injustice. The real object of this course has been, to shew that men must obey the laws of God before they can be happy—that one of these laws is, that we should love our neighbours as ourselves, or in other words, that individual enjoyment is inseparably connected with, and dependent on, social welfare; that, to promote the general welfare, it is necessary to render all the members of the community alive to its improvement, and to withdraw from them all artificial means of propping up their individual fortunes and rank, independently of virtue; that hereditary titles, entails, and other exclusive privileges of classes and individuals, are the fortifications in which the selfish principle entrenches itself, in order to resist and obstruct general improvement, and that, on this account, they should be undermined and destroyed. I have endeavoured to shew that the classes who now imagine themselves to be benefited by them, would actually profit by their abolition, by being directed into the true paths of happiness and virtue; and I propose, by enlightening their understandings, and elevating the standards of public approbation, to induce a voluntary surrender of these distinctions, and not a forcible abrogation of them. Ages may elapse before these results will be accomplished, but so did many centuries intervene between the painted skins and the laced coat; and so did generations pass away between the embroidered waistcoats and our own age; yet our day has come, and so will a brighter day arrive, although we may be long removed from the scene before it dawns.
Since the foregoing remarks were written, I have lived for twenty months in the United States of North America, where no hereditary nobility, no privileged classes, and no entails exist. It is impossible not to perceive that, in their absence, the higher faculties of the mind have a freer field of action. At the same time, truth compels me to remark, that as they were abolished in the United States by a sudden exercise of power, and as a system of equality was introduced as the result of a successful revolution, and did not arise spontaneously from the cultivation of the public mind and the development of the moral and intellectual faculties of the people, the democracy of the United States does not present all that enlightenment of the understanding, that high-minded love of the beneficial and the just, that refinement of manners, and that well-regulated self-control, which constitute the most valuable fruits of political freedom. In the United States the selfish faculties appear to me to be as active and as blind as in Britain. The political institutions of the country are in advance of the mental cultivation of the mass of the people; and the most cheering consideration for the philanthropist, in the prospect of the future, is the fact, that these institutions having given supreme power to the people, of which there is no possibility of depriving them, it is equally the interest and the duty of men of all ranks and conditions to concur in elevating them in the scale of moral, religious, and intellectual improvement, so as, in time, to render them worthy of their high calling among nations. Much remains to be accomplished.
* By a strange coincidence, while this sheet is in the press, the following advertisement has appeared in the newspapers:—"A meeting of the proprietors of entailed estates in Scotland, for the purpose of considering the great national evils connected with the law of entail, and the propriety of an immediate application to the Legislature thereupon, is hereby requested to be held on Thursday, the 12th day of March, within the Hopetoun Rooms, Queen Street, Edinburgh, at one o'clock. (Signed) Breadalbane; D. Baird, Bart.; James Boswell, Bart.; W. D. Gillon of Wallhouse; W. Mackenzie of Muirton.—Edinburgh, 3d March 1846." Let us wish this effort every success!
* These selfish, erroneous, and prejudicial principles of legislation are now disavowed by Mr Cobden, and all the enlightened leaders of the manufacturing and mercantile classes. 1846.?
If the operative classes had had a voice in Parliament proportionate to their numbers, there is no doubt that this would have been the rule; and if so, it would have rendered the militia system so intolerably burdensome to the middle and higher classes, that its existence would have been brief, and means might perhaps have been discovered for bringing the last French war to a more speedy termination.
In the British army, the law allows a wounded officer a gratuity corresponding to the severity of his injury; while it not only provides no immediate compensation to the wounded common soldier, but actually charges him with hospital expenses during his cure. In virtue of a war-office order, when a soldier is received into a military hospital, 10d. a-day at home, and 9d. a-day on foreign service, is deducted from his pay while he continues a patient, and no exception is made in cases of wounds received in battle. See "Explanatory directions for the information and guidance of Pay-masters and others; War-Office, 20th Nov. 1830 § 283, 284.
It is argued that impressment of seamen is indispensable to the defence of the country; but no such necessity exists, if justice were done to sailors. Let the country recompense equitably their services and these will not be withheld.
The great argument in my mind for abolishing impressment, is, that when seamen must be enticed by high wages and good treatment to enter into ships of war, it will be necessary for naval officers to become just, intelligent, and kind, because it will only be by such qualities that crews will be retained and authority preserved over them. Sailors themselves, by being well treated, will be improved. War will be softened in its horrors, when waged by men thus civilized; and I hope that the additional costliness of it, on such a system, will tend to induce the public generally to put an end to it altogether.
If I am right in these views, the mixed form of government is one adapted to a particular stage of civilization, that in which an intelligent class co-exists with an ignorant mass; but it is not the perfection of human institutions.
The next form of government presented to our consideration is the democratic, or that in which political power is deposited exclusively in the people, and by them delegated to magistrates, chosen, for a longer or shorter period, by themselves.
If the world be really governed by God on the principle of the supremacy of the moral and intellectual faculties, our social miseries must arise from individuals and classes pursuing their separate interests, regardless of those of the rest of the community; and, in this view, the sooner all ranks enjoy political power, the sooner will legislation assume a truly moral character, and benefit the entire nation. But keeping in view the other principle which I have endeavoured to expound—that men are incapable of steadily pursuing moral and just objects, until their moral and intellectual faculties have been well trained and enlightened—you will perceive that no nation can become fit for a republican form of government, until all classes of the people have been adequately and nearly equally instructed. The ancient republics of Greece and Rome form no exceptions to this rule. They were confined to a very small territory, and the citizens of each republic were for many ages within reach of personal communication with each other, so that there existed some degree of equality of intelligence among them. Whenever their boundaries became extensive, their free government ceased, and was superseded by despotism. But these ancient republics never were moral institutions. Their freedom, so far as it existed, resulted from the equal balance of selfishness and power in the different classes of the community; or from the rivalry of their different orators and leaders, who destroyed each other, as they respectively attempted to usurp an undue share of authority. The people in their assemblies, and the senators in their senates, were often guilty of the most unjust and unprincipled tyranny against individuals; and altogether, the Roasted liberties of Greece and Rome appear only as the concessions of equally matched combatants, always withdrawn when equality in the power Of aggression and resistence ceased to exist. The reason of this is obvious. In those states, there was no true religion, no moral training, no printing-presses, and no science of nature. The great mass of the people were ignorant; and experiences teaches us that although a people, enjoying large brains and active temperaments, situate in a fine climate, but destitute of moral and intellectual training, may have been ingenious and acute, yet that they must have been turbulent and immoral; and such these ancients really were. Their monuments and records which have reached us, are the works of a few distinguished men who arose among them, and who certainly displayed high genius in the fine arts, in literature, and eloquence; but these were the educated and the talented few. From the very necessity of their circumstances, without science, and without printed books, the mass of the people must have been profoundly ignorant, the slaves of the animal propensities. Their domestic habits, as well as their public conduct, shew that this was the case. The popular religion of the ancient nations was a mass of revolting absurdities and superstitions. Their wives were reduced to the condition of mere domestic drudges, and the hours of recreation of the men were devoted to concubines. Their public entertainments were sanguinary combats, in which ferocious men put each other to death, or in which wild animals tore each other to pieces. All labour was performed by slaves, whom they treated in the cruelest manner. They pursued war and conquest as their national occupations, and in their public acts they occasionally banished or condemned to death their best and most upright citizens. These are facts, which we read of in the histories of Greece and Rome. They exhibit the vigorous ascendency of the animal propensities, and the feeble power of the moral sentiments, as clearly as if we saw the barbarian crowds standing before us in all their prowess and ferocity.page 101
In the middle ages, a number of small republics sprang up in Italy, and we are dazzled by representations of their wealth, magnificence, and freedom. One observation applies to them all. They exhibited the dominion of an oligarchy over the people, and the ruling classes practised the most disgraceful tyranny, wherever they were not restrained by fear of each other. Most of them ultimately fell before the power of the larger monarchies, and are now extinct.
Switzerland presents a brighter prospect. As it was the first country in Europe which acquired freedom, so has it longest preserved the blessing. The moral and intellectual qualities of the people, which I described in my last lecture, fitted them for free governments, and the Swiss nation constituted itself into a congeries of republics, acting in federation, but each independent in its internal administration. In the course of time, power fell into the hands of an aristocratic class there, as in Italy, but the native qualities of the Swiss mind seem to have warded off the consequences which in other countries generally ensued. "The members of the Sovereign Council of Bern," we are told,* "were elected for life, and every ten years there was an election to supply the vacancies that had occurred during that period. The councillors themselves were the electors; and as old families became extinct, and as it was a rule that there should not be less than eighty families having members in the great council, vacancies were supplied from new families of burghers. Still, the number of families in whose hands the government was vested was comparatively small; and several unsuccessful attempts were made, in the course of the eighteenth century, to alter this state of things, and to reinstate the assemblies of the body of the burghers. The discontent, however, was far from general, and it did not extend to the country population. The administration was conducted in an orderly, unostentatious, and economical manner; the taxes were few and light. 'It would be difficult,' says the historian Muller, 'to find in the history of the world a commonwealth which, for so long a period, has been so wisely administered as that of Bern. In other aristocracies, the subjects were kept in darkness, poverty, and barbarism; factions were encouraged amongst them, while justice winked at crime or took bribes; and this was the case in the dependencies of Venice. But the people of Bern stood, with regard to their patricians, rather in the relation of clients towards their patrons, than in that of subjects towards their sovereigns.' Zschokke, a later Swiss historian, speaking of Bern, and other aristocracies of Switzerland, says, 'They acted like scrupulous guardians. The magistrates, even the highest amongst them, received small salaries; fortunes were made only in foreign service, or in the common bailiwicks of the subject districts. Although the laws were defective and trials secret, the love of justice prevailed in the country; power wisely respected the rights of the humblest freeman. In the principal towns, especially the Protestant ones, wealth fostered science and the fine arts. Bern opened fine roads, raised public buildings, fostered agriculture in its fine territory, relieved those districts that were visited by storms or inundations, founded establishments for the weak and the helpless, and yet contrived to accumulate considerable sums in its treasury. But the old patriotism of the Swiss slumbered; it was replaced by selfishness, and the mind remained stationary; the various cantons were estranged from each other; instruction spread in the towns, but coarseness and ignorance prevailed in the country.' The consequence of all this was, that when the storm came from abroad, it found the Swiss unprepared to face it. The French republic, in its career of aggression, did not respect the neutrality of Switzerland," but seized upon its territory and treasures, and inflicted on it the greatest calamities. In 1815, an aristocratical constitution was given to Bern, under the sanction of the allied powers who dethroned Napoleon; but in 1830, the canton of Bern, and several others, again changed their government, and became democratic republics. "The new constitution has now (1835) been in force for more than three years; notwithstanding some heart-burnings and party ebullitions, things appear to be settling into a regular system, and no act of violence or open bloodshed has accompanied the change."
This account of Bern appears remarkable, when compared with the history of other republics, the ruling factions of which, when allowed the privilege of self-election, life-tenures of office, and freedom from responsibility, invariably became selfish and unprincipled tyrants, converting the laws into engines of oppression, and the revenues of the state into sources of private gain. I can account for the superiority of the Swiss only by the larger endowment of the moral and reflecting organs in their brains, which seems to have been a characteristic feature in the people from a very remote period, and which still continues. The Swiss skulls in the pos-session of the Phrenological Society, present higher developments of the moral and intellectual organs than those of any other of the continental nations which I have seen. The Germans, who are originally the same people, in many districts, resemble them; but they vary much in different places. The Swiss brain, I may also notice, is not equally favourably developed in all the cantons. In Bern, Geneva, and Zurich, the combinations are the best; at least this struck me in travelling through the country.
I introduce these remarks, to direct your attention to the fact, that the development of the brain is a most important element in judging of the adaptation of any particular people for any particular form of government; a principle which is entirely lost sight of by those philosophers who believe that all men are naturally equal in their dispositions and intellectual capacities, and that a free government is equally suited to all.
The conclusion which I draw in regard to the republican form of government is, that no people is fit for it in whom the moral and intellectual organs are not largely developed, and in whom also they are not generally and extensively cultivated. The reason is clear. The propensities being all selfish, any talented leader, who will address himself strongly to the interests and prejudices of an ignorant people, will carry their suffrages to any scheme which ho may propose, and he will speedily render himself a dictator and them slaves. If there be a numerous dominant class equally talented and enlightened, the individuals among them will keep each other in check, but they will rule as an oligarchy, in the spirit of a class, and trample the people under their feet. Thus it appears, that, by the ordination of Providence, the people have no alternative but to acquire virtue and knowledge; to embrace large, liberal, and enlightened views; and to pursue moral and beneficial objects,—or to suffer oppression. This is another of the proofs that the moral government of the world is based on the principle of the supremacy of the moral sentiments and intellect; for, turn where we will, we find suffering linked with selfishness, and enjoyment with benevolence and justice, in public as well as in private affairs.
* Penny Cyclopædia, article Bern vol. [unclear: iv].
[The foregoing observations were written before I had visited the United States, and were founded on such information as I had then obtained from communications with individuals who had lived in them, and from books. After enjoying the advantages of personal observation, I allow these remarks to remain, as essentially correct; but I find that I have over-estimated the attainments of the mass of the people in the United States. The machinery for education which they have instituted, and which they support by taxation, or voluntary contribution, is great and valuable, and rather exceeds than falls short of my preconceived opinions: but the quality and quantity of the education dispensed by it, are far inferior to what I had imagined. The things taught, and the modes of teaching, in the public or common schools which educate the people, are greatly inferior to what are found in the improved schools of Britain. While, therefore, I retain the observation, "that the people generally understand the great principles of morals, political economy, and government, better than the uneducated classes of Britain," I must add the qualification that the difference between the two, is only like that between moonlight* and the light of the stars. In regard to the scientific principles of morals, political economy, and government, especially of the first and the second, the people of the United States appear to me to be greatly in the dark. At the same time, there are many enlightened philanthropists among them, who see and deplore this ignorance, and are labouring assiduously, and I have no doubt successfully, to remove it. The impulse towards a higher education is, at this time, strong and energetic; and as the Americans are a practical people, I anticipate a great and rapid improvement. In Massachusetts, the Hon. Horace Mann is devoting the whole powers of his great and enlightened mind to the advancement of the common schools, and he is ably and zealously seconded by the Government and enlightened coadjutors. The results cannot fail to be highly advantageous. The people of the United States owe it to themselves, and to the cause of freedom all over the world, to exhibit the spectacle of a refined, enlightened, moral, and intellectual democracy. Every male above twenty-one years of age among them, claims to be a sovereign. He is, therefore, bound to be a gentleman. The great cause of the extravagance and apparent unsteadiness of democracy in the United States, appears to me to be referrible to the extreme youth, and consequent excitability and want of experience of the majority of their voters. The population doubles itself by natural increase every twenty-five years, and hence the proportion of the young to the aged is much greater than in European countries. The franchise is enjoyed at the age of 21, and the majority of their voters are under 35, so that the country is governed to a great extent by the passion, rashness, and inexperience, instead of by the wisdom and virtue of its people.]
The history of the world has shewn nations degenerating, and losing the independence and freedom which they once possessed, and it is prophesied that America will lose her freedom, and become a kingdom in the course of years; or, that her states will fall asunder and destroy each other. It is supposed also, that the civilised nations of Europe will become corrupt, and, through excessive refinement, sink into effeminacy, and proceed from effeminacy to ignorance, from ignorance to barbarism, and thence to dissolution. This has been the fate of the great nations of antiquity; and it is argued that, as there is nothing new under the sun, what has been, will be, and that the ultimate destruction of European civilization is certain; while it is admitted that freedom, art, and science, may flourish in some other region of the globe. The principle in philosophy, that similar causes, in similar circumstances, produce similar effects, admits of no exception; and if modern Europe and the United States of America were in the same condition in which the monarchies and republics of the ancient world existed, I should at once subscribe to the conclusion. But in the ancient governments, the mass of the people, owing to the want of printing, never were educated or civilized; and even the attainments of the ruling classes were extremely limited. They had literature and the fine arts, but they had no sound morality, no pure religion, little science, and very few of the useful arts which have resulted from science. The national greatness of those ages, therefore, was not the growth of the common mind, but arose from the genius of a few individuals, aided by accidental circumstances. It was like the dominion of France in our own day, when the military talents of Napoleon extended her sway from Naples to Moscow, and from Lisbon to Vienna; but which, resting on no superiority in the French people over the people of the conquered nations, was dissolved in a day, even under the eye of the commanding genius who had raised it.
* An American gentleman, who is much interested in his country's welfare, on reading this passage remarked, "You may say moonlight when the moon is in the first quarter."
For the same reasons, I do not anticipate the dissolution of the union of the States of North America, or that they will lose their freedom. They are advancing in knowledge and morality; and whenever the conviction becomes general, that the interests of the whole States are in harmony, which they undoubtedly are, the miserable attempts to foster the industry of one at the expense of another will be given up, and they may live in amity, and flourish long, the boast of the world, so far as natural causes of dissolution are concerned. This expectation is founded on the hope that they will give a real education to their people; an education which shall render them conversant with the great principles of morals and political economy; so that they may know that there is a power above themselves, that of nature and nature's God, whose laws they must obey before they can be prosperous and happy. I assume, also, that means will be found to expunge the blot and pestilence of slavery from their free institutions. It is a canker which will consume the vitals of the Union, if it be not in time eradicated. These expectations may appear to some to be bold and chimerical; but truth's triumphs have no limits; and justice, when once recognised as a rule of action, which it emphatically is in the institutions of the United States, cannot be arrested midway in its career.
The greatest dangers to the institutions of the United States are now impending over them. The people are young, prosperous, rapidly increasing, and still very imperfectly instructed. The natural consequence is, that they are rash, impetuous, boastful, and ambitious, ready to rush into contests with other nations about real or imaginary interests. Their institutions are calculated to prevent and remove causes of quarrel among themselves, but provide no adequate barriers to their encroachments on other nations. The extension of their territory may render their bonds of union too feeble to hold them together, and ambition may ruin a fabric which, under the guidance of morality and reason, might endure for ever. Their only chance of salvation lies in the success of their efforts to train and instruct a rising generation in virtue and knowledge. A cheering sign of improvement is presented in the superior works that are now prepared for the instruction of the people in the United States. "The School Library," published in Boston under the sanction and by authority of the Board of Education of the State of Massachusetts, contains volumes replete with instruction, and characterized by good taste. The State of New York, likewise, has established a fund for supplying schools with good libraries. Private individuals, also, are contributing important works to the education of the people. Among these, I have recently seen one that was much wanted, and is now admirably supplied by E. P. Hurlbut, Esq., namely, a work on "Civil Offices and Political Ethics." The "Ethics" are obviously founded on the new philosophy.
From the principles now laid down, it follows that the tendency of all governments, in modern times, is to become more democratic in proportion as the people become more intelligent and moral. Since 1831, our own government has been much mare under the influence of the people, than at any previous period of our history. Those who feel alarm at the march of democracy read history without the lights of philosophy. They have their minds filled with the barbarous democracies of Greece and Rome, and of the French Revolution, and tremble at the anticipated rule of an ignorant rabble in Britain. On the other hand, the only democracy which I anticipate, to be capable of gaining the ascendency here, will be that of civilized and enlightened, of moral, and refined men; and if the principles which I have expounded be correct, that the higher sentiments and intellect are intended by Nature to govern, it will be morally impossible that while an enlightened and an ignorant class coexist, as in Britain, the ignorant can rule. The British aristocracy, by neglecting their own education, may become relatively ignorant, in comparison with the middle classes, and their influence may then decay; but should this happen, it would still be an example of the intelligence of the country bearing the chief sway. In France, the dominion of the ferocious democrats was short-lived: the superior class gradually recovered their authority, and the reign of terror never was restored. In the ancient democracies, there was no enlightened class comparable with that of Britain. I regard, therefore, the fears of those who apprehend that the still ignorant and rude masses of our country will gain political power, and introduce anarchy, as equally unfounded with the terror that the rivers will some day flow upwards, and spread the waters of the ocean over the valleys and the mountains. The laws of the moral are as stable as those of the physical world; both may be shaken for a time by storms or convulsions, but the great elements of order remain for ever untouched, and after the clearing of the atmosphere they are seen in all their original symmetry and beauty. The result which I anticipate is, that education, religion, and the knowledge of the natural laws, will in time extend over all classes of the community, till the conviction shall become general, that the Creator has rendered all our interests and enjoyments compatible: and that then all classes will voluntarily abandon exclusive privileges, unjust pretensions to superiority, and tie love of selfish dominion,—and establish a social condition in which homage will be paid only to virtue, knowledge, and utility, and in which a pure Christian equality, in so far as human nature is capable if realizing it, embodying the principle of doing to others as we would wish others to do unto us, will universally prevail. These days may be very distant; but causes leading to their approach appear to me to exist, and to be already in operation; and I hope that, in giving expression to these anticipations, I am stating the deductions of a sound philosophy, and not uttering the mere inspirations of a warm imagination. At all events, this theory, which places independence, freedom, public prosperity and individual happiness, on the basis of religion, morality, and intelligence, is ennobling in itself, and cannot possibly do harm. Indeed, it can scarcity disappoint us; because, however far mankind may stop short of the results which I have anticpated, and for the realization of which I allow centuries of time, it is certain that every step which they shall advance in this career will lead then nearer to happiness, while by no other path can they attain to permanent prosperity and power.