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IV

CHARACTER OF DEMOCRACY

IN THE UNITED STATES

82

83

84

CHARACTER OF
DEMOCRACY IN THE

UNITED STATES

EY
VERYTHING apprises us of the fact that

we are not the same nation now that we were when the government was formed. In looking back to that time, the impression is inevitable that we started with sundry wrong ideas about ourselves. We deemed ourselves rank democrats, whereas we were in fact only progressive Englishmen. Turn the leaves of that sage manual of constitutional interpretation and advocacy, the Federalist, and note the perverse tendency of its writers to refer to Greece and Rome for precedents,—that Greece and Rome which haunted all our earlier and even some of our more mature years. Recall, too, that familiar story of Daniel Webster which tells of his coming home exhausted from an interview with the first President-elect Harrison, whose Secretary of State he was to be, and explaining that he had been obliged in the

course of the conference, which concerned the inaugural address about to be delivered, to kill nine Roman consuls whom it had been the intention of the good conqueror of Tippecanoe publicly to take into office with him. The truth is that we long imagined ourselves related in some unexplained way to all ancient republicans. Strangely enough, too, we at the same time accepted the quite incompatible theory that we were related also to the French philosophical radicals. We claimed kinship with democrats everywhere, -with all democrats. We can now scarcely realize the atmosphere of such thoughts. We are no longer wont to refer to the ancients or to the French for sanction of what we do. We have had abundant experience of our own by which to reckon.

"Hardly any fact in history,” says Mr. Bagehot, writing about the middle of the century, "is so incredible as that forty and a few years ago England was ruled by Mr. Perceval. It seems almost the same as being ruled by the Record newspaper.” (Mr. Bagehot would now probably say the Standard newspaper.) “He had the same poorness of thought, the same petty conservatism, the same dark and narrow superstition.” The mere fact of such a premier being endured shows how deeply the whole national spirit and interest was absorbed in the contest with Napoleon, how little we

understood the sort of man who should regulate its conduct,-'in the crisis of Europe,' as Sydney Smith said, 'he safely brought the Curates' Salaries Improvement Bill to a hearing;' and it still more shows the horror of all innovation which the recent events of French history had impressed on our wealthy and comfortable classes. They were afraid of catching revolution, as old women of catching cold. Sir Archibald Alison to this day holds that revolution is an infectious disease, beginning no one knows how, and going on no one knows where. There is but one rule of escape, explains the great historian: 'Stay still; don't move; do what you have been accustomed to do; and consult your grandmother on everything."

Almost equally incredible to us is the ardor of revolution that filled the world in those first days of our national life,—the fact that one of the rulers of the world's mind in that generation was Rousseau, the apostle of all that is fanciful, unreal, and misleading in politics. To be ruled by him was like taking an account of life from Mr. Rider Haggard. And yet there is still much sympathy in this timid world for the dull people who felt safe in the hands of Mr. Perceval, and, happily, much sympathy also, though little justification, for such as caught a generous elevation of spirit from the speculative enthusiasm of Rousseau.

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