« AnkstesnisTęsti »
origin, form of government, ecclesiastical and other institutions. Very different ideas prevailed in Georgia and New Hampshire. Looked at carelessly, they seem only divergent, but, when studied carefully, it seems as if there was a regular plan, and as if the whole was calculated to bring about the present result. No doubt, there was such a concatenation of part with part, only the plan lay in God, not in the mind of Oglethorpe and Captain Smith, of Carver and Roger Williams.
Considering this history as an organic whole, to treat it philosophically, it seems to us it is necessary to describe the material theatre on which this historic drama is to be acted out; to describe the American continent, telling of its extent and peculiarities in general, its soil, climate, and natural productions, and its condition at the time when the white men first landed on its shores; this, of course, comprises a description of the inhabitants at that time in possession of its soil.
Then, the historian is to tell us of the men who came here to found this empire; of their origin, their character, and their history in general. He is to tell the external causes which brought them here, or the motives which impelled them; and the ideas which they brought, as well as those which sprung up under their new circumstances. Next, he is to show speculatively by the idea, and practically by the facts, how these ideas worked under the new conditions of the people; how they acted on circumstances and circumstances on them, and what institutions came thereof. The historian very poorly performs his duty who merely relates the succession of rulers, the increase or diminution of wealth and numbers, the coming on of wars, and the termination thereof, the rise of great men, with their decline and fall, and the presence of institutions, without telling of the ideas they represented. Showing the continual growth of the ideas which create the institutions, is little more than the work of an annalist or chronicler.
If a great idea appears in human affairs, founding new institutions and overturning the old, it is part of the work of a philosophical historian to give us the story of this idea; to refer it back to its origin in the permanent nature of man, or the accidents of his development; to show the various attempts to make the thought a thing, and the idea a fact. Such is the case in American history: political institutions were set a agoing here radically unlike any others in the world. True, we may find points of agreement between the American and various European governments. The trial by jury dates far back beyond the “ gray goose " code, and has its origin in remote antiquity ; the habeas corpus is, doubtless, of English origin, and its history may be read in Hallam, and elsewhere ; the notion of delegates to represent corporations, or republics, may have originated with the early Christians, who sent their ministers and other servants (or masters) to some provincial synod; the idea of individual liberty, the sacredness of the person before the state may be traced to the wilds of Germany, long before the time of Christ. We know how much of American freedom may be found in Sir John Fortescue's Laudation of the laws of England, or in the books of Moses, if we will; but, yet, the American government, in nation, state, and town, is an original thing. The parts are old, many of them, but the whole is the most original thing that can be found in the political history of the world, for many an age. Almost every special and true moral precept of the New Testament may be found in some heathen or Hebrew writer before Jesus, but, yet, spite of that, Christianity was an original form of Religion, as much so as the statue of a goddess, which a Grecian sculptor gathered by a grand exlecticism from five hundred Spartan maids, corrected by the ideal in his own creative and critical mind.
You trace the secret cause of the American institutions far off in the history of mankind. Here, it is a dim sentiment in the breast of the German in the Hercynian forest ; then again it burns in the bosom of the Christian, and he tells the world that God is no respecter of persons, that Jew and Gentile are alike to Him. But it leads, at first, to no political consequences ; even its ecclesiastical results are trifling, and its social consequences at first of small moment. It could not make St. Paul hostile to personal Roman slavery. In the Middle Ages, you trace the path of this idea. Sometimes it goes over the mountain side, and is seen amid the works of great men, but commonly it winds along in the low valleys of human life ; a little path, known only to the people, and worn by their feet, not knowing whither it leads them; a by-path for the vassal, not the highway which the baron and prelate took care to have in order. The record of its existence is found in the song of the peasant or in the popular proverb; in some fabulous legend of unhistorical times,– times that never were,- or in the predictions of days to come. This idea has not a place in the pulpit of the minster; but in the silent cell of the devout
mystic it has its dwelling-place, and gladdens his enraptured heart as a vision of the kingdom of heaven.
Now it waxes mighty, and contends against the oppression of tyrannical men, less in the state than in the church. Fast as it becomes an idea, men organize it as well as they can, now in little convents or monasteries, then in trading companies; then in guilds of mechanics ; in cities and small states, as in Italy and the Low Countries, in Switzerland, and the Hanse towns. At length this impulse - it was hardly an idea puts all Europe into commotion. Men call for spiritual freedom. Under the guidance of that great spirit who stands as the water-shed between the Middle Ages and modern times, feeling the contradictions of a divided age, under Martin Luther, men break the yoke of ecclesiastical tyranny they have borne so long. Liberty of conscience was all mankind called for, but for that time they must put up with liberty of conscience limited on the divine side by the Bible, on the human side by the king. Strait and oppressive limits both proved to be, bonds that approached nearer and threatened to crush the struggling soul. Still men were not satisfied; they wanted political liberty as well as spiritual, and of spiritual much more than they got. How rapidly the idea of a free state got abroad over Europe. Bodinus, in his Republic; Thomas More, in his Utopia ; Bacon, in his new Atlantis,- very undemocratic men at the best — are witnesses to the power of this demand. The sentiment had long been in men's hearts,- it was now rapidly becoming an idea. Kings and priests told men the less liberty they had the better; if they tried to go alone, they would certainly fall. Was it not better to sit on the hearth of the king, their head under the apron of the church, than thus try to walk in the open air? There was good and bad scripture for such a course,- and of precedents the world was full. But men would not be satisfied; the king's hearth was warm, and the motherly apron of the church made the head easy and comfortable, but there was a divine soul in man which would break out into all sorts of peasant wars, of Jack Cade’s rebellions, of Runymedes, and the like. At length, the idea gets so fully set forth, as an idea, and so widely spread abroad by fanatics, and amongst sober men, that the chief question is, Where shall the idea first become a fact? Shall it be in Germany, where the ecclesiastical Reformation began and succeeded most ? No, the feudal system had taken deep root in the Teutonic soil, and could not be pulled up for some ages to come; the Reformation had affected thought in all departments, in Germany, but politics suffered little change, and by that little it does not appear that the people were directly gainers, to any considerable degree. Could it be in France? There was a body of enlightened men taking the lead in European science and literature, but there was no intelligence in the people. They seemed subjects of authority, not subjects of Reason, and, though they now and then gave indication of the sentiment for freedom, which has since become so mighty in that nation, yet then no idea of it swept through the land, stirring the tree-tops, and agitating the grass and the very dust. In France, there was a gorgeous court; a wealthy king; nobles, rich, famous, and of long-renowned descent ; there were soldiers with genius and skill; merchants and artists, and clergymen, from Abbé Jean to Cardinal Richelieu, but there was no people to appreciate or desire freedom. In Spain, no one would think of free institutions; the mind of the nation, chained by the state and palsied by the church, had only life enough left for the mere external things, for gold and sugar; even her European possessions she could not hold against the vigor of Protestant Dutchmen. Italy had given lessons in commerce, arts, literature, religion, and politics to all the rest of Europe. In the Dark Ages, she had kept the holy fire of science and of literature, covered in the ashes of her old renown, and when occasion offered raked the embers, with her garment fanning them to a flame, and sent little sparkles thereof to Scotland, Ireland, England, and to all the north. While despotism laid his iron rod on all the north of Europe, and the centre too, little commonwealths sprung up at practical Venice, at prudent Pisa, and at haughty Florence, as a poet calls them; green gardens were they in a snowy world, filled with many a precious plant. But these, too, had declined. Art, literature, science, “la bella scienza,” the sweet art of poesy, had flourished there, but the nature of liberty craved another soil. The Reformation, which winnowed the nations with a rough wind, did not separate the wheat from the chaff in Italy. The priests were too powerful; the people too indolent; the chaff is so thick, and dry withal, that the poor wheat can germinate but slowly.
“Ay! down to the dust with them, slaves as they are,” might well be said of Italy in the end of the sixteenth century. Other vineyards she had helped to plant, but her own she had
not kept. The last service she did mankind was, perhaps, the greatest: she showed them a new and savage world beyond the fabled island of Atlantis in the West. Columbus and Amerigo, Verrazani and the Cabots were pioneers of freedom for mankind. When Columbus turned his bark's head to the West, he little knew that he was leading the nations to universal democracy ; but so it seems now.
The new idea must come across the water to make its fortune. To escape the persecution of the dragon with seven heads and ten horns, the man-child must flee with his mother into the wilderness and there sojourn, said our fathers, giving a "private interpretation ” to a dark “prophecy;" at any rate, the American" earth helped the woman.” Here, three thousand miles from their native land, out of the reach of old aristocratic institutions, the new nation could unfold its sentiment to an idea, could develop the idea into institutions; and, trying the experiment on a small scale at first, prepare to found a great empire on the American idea that all men are created equal, and endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, and that it is the business of a government to preserve for each man the perfect enjoyment of all these natural rights, on the sole condition that he does the corresponding duties.
There are two great periods of human history. In the one, men seek to establish unity of action, and form the individuals into tribes and states. This is commonly done to the loss of personal freedom : the state subdues the citizen, and he becomes the subject merely. In religion, the ante-christian forms represent this phase of men's affairs, and, in politics, it is indicated by aristocracies, monarchies, and despotisms. Then comes the second great period of history, in which men seek for personal freedom. In religion, this is represented by Christianity, not the Christianity of the Catholics or the Protestants, but the absolute religion of human nature ; in politics, by a democracy, the government of all, for all, and by all. The settlers of America, in coming here, mainly escaped from the institutions of the former period of history; the institutions which once helped mankind, but at length hindered them. They brought with them the sentiments and ideas of the same period, imperfectly formed, and such helps and institutions as had previously come out of their sentiments and ideas. They came from a nation more vigorous in the arts of peace than any which the world had seen before. They came from that nation in the time of its greatest spiritual vigor. They brought with