Obrázky stránek
PDF
ePub

which may and do exist in independence of it, and exist in much greater clearness, and in a much greater degree of abstract perfection ; but this abstract perfection is their practical defect. By having a right to everything, they want everything. Government is a contrivance of human wisdom to provide for human wants. Men have a right that these wants should be provided for by this wisdom. Among these wants is to be reckoned the want, out of civil society, of a sufficient restraint upon their passions. Society requires not only that the passions of individuals should be subjected, but that even in the mass and body, as well as in the individuals, the inclinations of men should frequently be thwarted, their will controlled, and their passions brought into subjection. This can only be done by a power out of themselves, and not, in the exercise of its function, subject to that will and to those passions which it is its office to bridle and subdue. In this sense the restraints on men, as well as their liberties, are to be reckoned among their rights. But as the liberties and the restrictions vary with mes and circumstances, and admit of infinite modifications, they cannot be settled upon any abstract rule; and nothing is so foolish as to discuss them upon that principle.

“The moment you abate anything from the full rights of men, each to govern himself, and suffer any artificial positive limitation upon those rights, from that moment the whole organisation of government becomes a matter of convenience. This it is which makes the Constitution of a State, and the due distribution of its powers, a matter of the most delicate and complicated skill. It requires a deep knowledge of human nature and human necessities, and of the things which facilitate or obstruct the various ends which are to be pursued by the mechanism of civil institutions.

“Nor is it a short experience that can instruct us in that practical science; because the real effects of moral causes are not always immediate, but that which, in the first instance, is prejudicial, may be excellent in its remoter operation, and its excellence may arise even from the ill effects it produces in the beginning. The reverse also happens; and very plausible schemes, with very pleasing commencements, have often shameful and lamentable conclusions. In States there are often some obscure and often latent causes, things that appear at first view of little moment, on which a very great part of its prosperity or adversity may most essentially depend."*

Sir James Mackintosh, in the maturity of his great powers, gave his full adherence to the principles established in this profound and comprehensive exposition of the foundation of political government. Speaking of those abstract rights above adverted to, he says, that “such remote principles shed too faint a light to guide us on our path, and can seldom be directly applied with any advantage in human affairs." He proceeds to describe representation as originating only in usage, that usage giving birth to maxims which guide our judgment in each particular case, and which grow with the experience of their fitness and value. “These," he affirms, “constitute the principles of the British Constitution, as distinguished, on the one hand, from abstract notions of government, and, on the other, from the provisions of law or the course of practice. Civil knowledge,' says Bacon, 'is of all other the most immersed in matter, and the hardliest reduced to axioms;' and in political, as well as all other knowledge, the middle principles alone are solid, orderly, and fruitful.'”+

* Reflections on the Revolution in France. Burke's Works, Edit. of 1852, (Rivington,) pp. 198, 201.

+ Sir James Mackintosh's Works, vol. iii. p. 574,"Edit. of 1846.

NOTE XI. (See pages 99 and 273.)

Much more might be said beyond what I have thought it necessary to introduce in the pages above referred to, on the subject of the representation in the Slave States, the franchise of the free coloured people in the northern States, and the small amount of the actual participation of the latter in the political rights and privileges of their fellow-citizens. I, however, designedly abstain from the subject of slavery altogether. I greatly respect the motives of those persons, many of them of high position and great influence in this country, who think, and are supported in that opinion by many persons in the United States, that the continual expression of the opinion of this country and of Europe generally on the question of slavery, aids what is called the Abolition Party, and therefore hastens the time when slavery will be no more. I have the strongest conviction, founded on what I know to be the opinions of many of the best, the ablest, the most far-seeing, and most benevolent persons in the United States,-founded, also, on the facts of the history of this question, and on what is passing at the present time, -that this is an error.

It is impossible that any amount of reasoning, any amount of vituperation, can add a feather's weight to the already almost overwhelming sense of difficulty and danger which presses upon the thoughts of every

individual statesman or man of intellect and cultivation in the United States, be he slave-holder or not, when he gives his mind to a calm survey of what is impending over his country in

Q

relation to that momentous question. Less than thirty years hence there will probably be nearly 6,000,000 slaves to be dealt with instead of 3,200,000,* with all the added difficulties arising from increased intelligence and means of combination, which it will be impossible to shut out. The general vituperation launched at the system passes by the heads of those who will tell you that they live among their slaves as a father among his children; that they trust unhesitatingly to their care their property, their persons, and those of their wives, their grown-up daughters, and their infants ; and it is laughed at by the hardened reprobates who profit by the worse features of the system, and its occasional dreadful incidents. Harrowing descriptions, lofty denunciations, elaborate arguments, are not needed by the one, and are scoffed at by the other. But they are something more, and something worse, than not needed.

Of the many agreeable sensations, and unexpected and most gratifying convictions with which I was impressed during my visit to the United States in 1851, one of the most unexpected and most gratifying was that of finding how deep, how sincere, and how general was the natural feeling of kindliness, of respect, and affection, of all persons of any amount of culture and information, towards the parent country. The hostile and irritating criticisms of the press on both sides the water; the social and political theories, so opposed to ours, under which they live ; the remembrance of all they had suffered from our impolicy, our arrogance, and our injustice, in the last cen

* The present rate of increase of the slave population, according to the census of 1850, is 28.05 per cent in ten years. In the previous ten years, from 1830 to 1840, the rate of increase was only 23.8 per cent.

tury, and our unhappy collisions in the early part of this, have not been able to sever the ties of those natural affections which bind them to their birthplace, and to the sources of all they deem most precious in their inheritance from the past. Towards everything which, in this country, we are accustomed to regard with respect, I found all such persons in that country disposed to look with an equal respect, and as ready to derive from them the improving influences which we believe them capable of diffusing through the great body of society. Approached, therefore, in the spirit of mutual respect, of brotherly kindness, of friendly openness and frankness, there is no subject on which an American of any cultivation is not most ready to enter, with a disposition to look at and consider it from the point of view in which it is regarded in England. His sympathies are already with us; we have but to acknowledge and to respond to them. The violent and unscrupulous portion of the press in his country (the worst being conducted or inspired by renegades from ours,) may, and doubtless does, produce a very different state of feeling and opinion in the numerical mass; but the expanded hearts and minds of the educated, the reflecting, the cultivated, in their various degrees, are untrammelled by any such unworthy influences, and meet us fully half-way in any demonstrations of genuine respect and fraternal recognition. But in equal measure do their spirits revolt against assumption. And all the more keenly, in proportion to their desire to be understood aright, do they feel the unkind criticism, the over-coloured description, or the repelling sneer.

The effects of these latter upon the less cultivated are to stimulate to undue assumption on their part, and to produce that exaggerated degree of self-assertion, from the

« PředchozíPokračovat »