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almost an exclusive claim to be called free, should endure to behold thousands of human beings pining in servitude, even in its very bosom. But America is not stationary in improvement; she has already done much to abolish this evil, and in process of time, there seems little doubt that it will be entirely removed. In the administration of the law more particularly, the resemblance between the two countries, even after a disjunction of half a century, is remarkable. It might have been expected, that on the establishment of a separate dominion, the Americans would have endeavoured to free themselves from the intricate meshes of our English law, and to have substituted a system of intelligible and simple jurisprudence.* The evil consequences of their mistake, in neglecting this opportunity, are, however, at length apparent; for bulky and voluminous as are the records of our own law, the legal authorities of America far exceed them. Up to the period of the Revolution, the decisions of the English courts are considered as binding authorities, and from that time they are allowed to be quoted as illustrations, though not as authorities. Our legal text-writers also are re-pub
The American Criminal Code forms an exception to these observations.
lished with regularity on the other side of the Atlantic. In addition to these foreign authorities, the body of their domestic law is immense. The statutes and the reports of cases decided by the tribunals of the separate states, form a collection of no ordinary magnitude, while the general statutes of the United States extend over the whole Union. It is evident, however, that this evil cannot be of very long continuance, and that its very extent will be the means of its extinction.
But the closest resemblance between the two countries, may be traced in their literature; and this feature of similarity will, in all probability, continue to be the most durable. The government of a state may be subverted in a day, but it requires a long course of years to effect any change in the intellectual condition of a people. Literature is the most stable of all things; in its strength alone the triumphs of kings and conquerors have survived. Crowns are shattered, and palaces are wasted into dust, and the record of them is only found in the lines of the Historian. The intellect of Tacitus has survived the golden House of Nero. This is the victory of mind over matter, which gives to the imperishable part of man an immortality even upon earth. The true glory of a nation,
therefore, must ever consist in the progress its inhabitants have made in intellectual pursuits. But America has hitherto scarcely had an opportunity of developing her faculties as an independent nation. She has not yet, nor could she have, acquired a literature of her own. Still, even at the commencement of her separation from the mothercountry, the foundation of a national literature was no doubt laid; but whether the superstructure shall surpass, or equal our own venerable fabric, will long remain a matter of doubt. All that we can at present do, is to conjecture what changes the political state, and the national character of America, as far as it has been developed, are likely to produce.
It is not intended in this place to enter into the much-debated question, to what causes the literary characters of nations are to be attributed; it will be sufficient to notice some of the most powerful circumstances which affect the intellectual condition of the United States. A liberal form of government has been asserted by many philosophical writers on this subject, to be necessary to the progress of letters. This opinion, however, must be taken with some qualification, for otherwise, as a celebrated Italian author has remarked, we assert
a sophism which is confuted by public experience. If it be true that the most illustrious periods of intellectual excellence, have been equally distinguished by the political servitude of the people, how can this fact be reconciled with the opinion that there is an inseparable connexion between freedom and literature? Perhaps the truth may be found to be, that a free form of government is necessary to the creation and progress of intellectual pursuits, but that when once firmly established in the affections of a people, they are capable of being forced to perfection by the cherishing influence which the accidental patronage and encouragement of a powerful sovereign can so well bestow. The mind of Rome was formed and moulded in the time of the Republic, but it expanded into its full beauty, as the ancient spirit of freedom expired. Upon a slight examination, this will be found to be the natural consequence of the change. Under a popular or a liberal form of government, the minds of the citizens find a healthful employment in political discussions, and a never-failing source of interest in contending for their individual share of power. By these means the intellect is rendered acute and powerful. On the establishment, however, of a despotic sovereignty, all the energy and force of
mind which a state of freedom had engendered and nourished, must be either suffered to lie dormant, or must be exerted upon different objects. The lighter pursuits of literature will then naturally engage the attention of men; the mind will seek that stimulus in elegant amusements, which it formerly found in graver avocations, and the ruling power of the state will gladly encourage such occupations as tend to divert into a harmless and useful channel, that force of intellect, from which, if properly exerted, tyrannical governments have so much to dread.
So far, therefore, as the form of government exerts an influence over the intellectual condition of a people, the inhabitants of the United States have every thing in their favour. Literature amongst them is yet in its infancy, at least a national literature; and it would be impossible that it should ever increase and strengthen in the absence of that high and liberal habit of thought which freedom alone can inspire. Were America at present in a state of servitude and debasement, from either foreign or domestic oppression, it would be vain to expect from her the creation of a national literature, which is the product only of free. and enlightened minds. What may be the effec of