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particular enactments, so that each statute in the code shall represent a Fact in the Universe ; a point of thought in God; so, indeed, that Legislation shall be divine in the same sense that a true system of Astronomy is divine — or the Christian Religion - the word corresponding to a fact. Men of this party in New England have more Ideas than precedents, are spontaneous more than logical ; have intuitions rather than intellectual convictions arrived at by the process of reasoning. They think it is not philosophical to take a young scoundrel and shut him up with a party of old ones for his amendment; not philosophical to leave children with no culture, intellectual, moral, or religious, exposed to the temptations of a high and corrupt civilization, and then when they go astray — as such barbarians need must in such temptations - to hang them by the
neck for the example's sake. They doubt if war is a more philosophical mode of getting justice between two nations, than blows to settle a quarrel between two men. In either case they do not see how it follows that he who can strike the hardest blows is always in the right. In short, they think that judicial murder, which is hanging, and national murder, which is war, are not more philosophical than homicide, which one man commits on his own private account.
Theological sects are always the last to feel any popular movement. Yet all of them, from the Episcopalians to the Quakers, have each a philosophical party, which bids fair to outgrow the party which rests on precedent and usage, to overshadow and destroy it. The Catholic Church itself, though far astern of all the sects in regard to the great movements of the age, shares this spirit, and abroad if not here is well nigh rent asunder by the potent medicine which this new Daniel of Philosophy has put into its mouth. Everywhere in the American churches there are signs of a tendency to drop all that rests merely on tradition and hearsay, to cling only to such facts as bide the test of critical search, and such doctrines as can be verified in human consciousness here and today. Doctors of divinity destroy the faith they once preached.
True, there are antagonistic tendencies, for soon as one pole is developed the other appears; objections are made to Philosophy, the old cry is raised — "Infidelity,” “Denial,”
“ Free thinking.” It is said that philosophy will corrupt the young men, will spoil the old ones, and deceive the very Elect. “ Authority and Tradition,” say some, are all we need consult; “Reason must be put down, or she will soon ask ter
rible questions." There is good cause for these men warring against Reason and Philosophy; it is purely in self-defence. But this counsel and that cry come from those quarters before mentioned, where the men of past ages have their place, where the forgotten is re-collected, the obsolete preserved, and the useless held in esteem. The counsel is not dangerous ; the bird of night who overstays his hour is only troublesome to himself, and was never known to hurt a dovelet or a mouseling after sunrise. In the night only is the owl destructive. Some of those who thus cry out against this tendency are excellent men in their way, and highly useful, valua conveyancers of opinions. So long as there are men who take opinions as real estate, “to have and to hold for themselves and their heirs for ever,” why should there not be such conveyancers of opinions as well as of land? And as it is not the duty of the latter functionary to ascertain the quality or the value of the land, but only its metes and bounds, its appurtenances and the title thereto; to see if the grantor is regularly seized and possessed thereof and has good right to convey and devise the same, and to make sure that the whole conveyance is regularly made out, — so is it with these conveyancers of opinion; so should it be, and they are valuable men. good thing to know that we hold under Scotus, and Ramus, and Albertus Magnus, who were regularly seized of this or that opinion. It gives an absurdity the dignity of a Relic. Sometimes these worthies who thus oppose Reason and her kin seem to have a good deal in them, and when one examines he finds more than he looked for. They are like a nest of boxes from Hingham or Nuremburg, you open one and behold another; that, and lo! a third. So you go on opening and opening, and finding and finding, till at last you come to the heart of the matter, and then you find a box that is very little, and entirely empty.
It is a
Yet with all this tendency, and it is now so strong that it cannot be put down, nor even howled down, much as it may be howled over - there is a lamentable Want of First Principles well known and established; we have rejected the Authority of Tradition, but not yet accepted the Authority of Truth and Justice. We will not be treated as striplings, and are not old enough to go alone as men. Accordingly, nothing seems fixed. There is a perpetual see-sawing of opposite principles. Somebody said Ministers ought to be ordained on horseback, because they are to remain so short a time in one place. It would be as emblematic to inaugurate American Politicians by swearing them on a weathercock. The great men of the land have as many turns in their course as the Euripus or the Missouri. Even the Facts given in the spiritual nature of man are called in question. An eminent Unitarian divine regards the existence of God as a matter of opinion, thinks it cannot be demonstrated, and publicly declares that it is “not a certainty.” Some American Protestants no longer take the Bible as the standard of ultimate appeal, yet venture not to set up in that place Reason, Conscience, the Soul getting help of God; others, who affect to accept the Scripture as the last authority, yet when questioned as to their belief in the miraculous and divine birth of Jesus of Nazareth are found unable to say Yes or No, not having made up their minds.
In Politics it is not yet decided whether it is best to leave men to buy where they can buy cheapest, and sell where they can sell dearest, or to restrict that matter.
It was a clear case to our fathers in '76 that all men were “ created equal,” each with “Unalienable Rights.” That seemed so clear that reasoning would not make it appear more reasonable ; it was taken for granted, as a self-evident proposition. The whole nation said so. Now it is no strange thing to find it said that negroes are not “ created equal” in Unalienable Rights with white men. Nay, in the Senate of the United States a famous man declares all this talk a dangerous mistake. The practical decision of the nation looks the same way. So to make our theory accord with our practice, we ought to recommit the Declaration to the hands which drafted that great State Paper, and instruct Mr. Jefferson to amend the document, and declare that “all men are created equal, and endowed by their Creator with certain Unalienable Rights if born of white mothers; but if not, not."
In this lack of first principles it is not settled in the popular consciousness that there is such a thing as an Absolute Right, a great Law of God, which we are to keep come what will come. So the nation is not upright but goes stooping. Hence in private affairs Law takes the place of Conscience, and in public, Might of Right. So the Bankrupt pays his shilling in the pound and gets his discharge, but afterwards becoming rich does not think of paying the other nineteen shillings. Ile will tell you the Law is his conscience; if that be satisfied, so is he. But you will yet find him letting money at one or two per cent. a month, contrary to law; and then he will tell you that paying a debt is a matter of law, while letting money is only a matter of conscience. So he rides either indifferently
now the public hack, and now his own private nag, according as it serves his turn.
So a rich state borrows money and "repudiates" the debt, satisfying its political conscience, as the bankrupt his commercial conscience, with the notion that there is no Absolute Right; that Expediency is the only Justice, and that King People can do no wrong. No calm voice of indignation cries out from the pulpit and the press and the heart of the people, to shame the repudiators into decent morals — because it is not settled in the popular mind that there is any Absolute Right. Then because we are strong and the Mexicans weak, because we want their land for a slave-pasture and they can not keep us out of it, we think that is reason enough for waging an infamous war of plunder. Grave men do not ask about " the natural justice" of such an undertaking, only about its cost. Have we not seen an American Congress vote a plain lie, with only sixteen dissenting voices in the whole body; has not the head of the nation continually repeated that lie, and do not both parties, even at this day, sustain the vote?
Now and then there rises up an honest man, with a great Christian heart in his bosom, and sets free a score or two of slaves inherited from his father; watches over and tends them in their new-found freedom : or another, who, when legally released from payment of his debts, restores the uttermost farthing. We talk of this and praise it, as an extraordinary thing. Indeed it is so; Justice is an unusual thing, and such men deserve the honor they thus win. But such praise shows that such honesty is a rare honesty. The northern man, born on the battle-ground of freedom, goes to the south and becomes the most tyrannical of slave-drivers. The son of the Puritan, bred up in austere ways, is sent to Congress to stand
, up for Truth and Right, but he turns out a “ doughface," and betrays the Duty he went to serve. Yet he does not lose his place, for every doughfaced representative has a doughfaced constituency to back him.
It is a great mischief that comes from lacking First Principles, and the worst part of it comes from lacking first principles in Morals. Thereby our eyes are holden so that we see not the great social evils all about us. We attempt to justify Slavery, even to do it in the name of Jesus Christ. The Whig
party of the North loves Slavery; the Democratic party does not even seek to conceal its affection therefor. A great politician declares the Mexican war wicked, and then urges men to go and fight it; he thinks a famous general not fit to be nominated for President, but then invites men to elect him. Politics are national morals, the morals of Thomas and Jeremiah, multiplied by millions. But it is not decided yet that Honesty is the best Policy for a politician ; it is thought that the Best Policy is honesty, at least as near it as the times will allow. Many politicians seem undecided how to turn, and so sit on the fence between Honesty and Dishonesty. Mr. Facing. both-Ways is a popular politician in America just now, sitting on the fence between Honesty and Dishonesty, and, like the blank leaf between the Old and New Testaments, belonging to neither dispensation. It is a little amusing to a trifler to hear a man's fitness for the Presidency defended on the ground that he has no definite convictions or ideas!
There was once a man who said he always told a lie when it would serve his special turn. "T is a pity he went to his own place long ago. He seemed born for a party politician in America. He would have had a large party, for he made a great many converts before he died, and left a numerous kindred busy in the editing of newspapers, writing addresses for the people, and passing “resolutions.”
It must strike a stranger as a little odd that a republic should have a slave-holder for President five sixths of the time, and most of the important offices be monopolized by other slave-holders—a little surprising that all the pulpits and most of the presses should be in favor of Slavery, at least not against it. But such is the fact. Every body knows the character of the American government for some years past, and of the American parties in politics. “Like master, like man,” used to be a true proverb in old England, and Like people, like ruler, is a true proverb in America - true now. Did a decided people ever choose doughfaces; a people that loved God and man choose representatives that cared for neither Truth nor Justice ? Now and then, for dust gets in the brightest eyes; but did they ever choose such men continually? The people are always fairly represented; our representatives do actually re-present us, and in more senses than they are paid for. Congress and the Cabinet are only two thermometers hung up in the capital, to show the temperature of the national morals.