Abbildungen der Seite

cribes these qualities to the majority. He exclaims against conforming to the will of a majority, “ So help me God, I do not mean to follow the will of a majority ; I hope never to follow it, always to set it at naught." In the light of American

” politics we judge this character of baseness to be erroneously imputed to the majority as such. Not only the many who in England feel their unity and common cause in their misfortunes or wrongs, but any class of society, the lords, the knights of the shire, and the burgesses of the town, when similarly placed, have also exhibited folly and brutality, and have violated the public order to overthrow oppression or opposition. Why then has immorality been affixed to the multitude as an essential and permanent quality? It is because the many have nowhere, except in America, ever been allowed in an organized capacity to display any other traits. As a preacher, Mr. Maurice is, of course, predisposed to divide the world into good and bad, and classify mankind on ethical principles ; and on no other ground can we account for his horror of a majority. He appears to think it impossible for the majority ever to be right and the minority wrong, else he would not have committed himself to a rule which in practice might easily involve him in the greatest immorality.

With such sentimentality is naturally associated an opposition to utilitarian ideas of morality; and, accordingly, our anthor goes on to say, “ And for that expression about the 'greatest happiness of the greatest number. I do not under

' stand it. I have no measure of it. I cannot tell what happiness is, or how it is to be distributed among the greatest numher, or how the greatest number is to be ascertained.” If Mr. Maurice could do all this, if he could understand and measure and discover all that this maxim demands, he would surpass all the prophets and lawgivers whose instructions have blessed mankind. But it is obvious that he does not understand how the maxim is meant to be applied, for he adds, “ If it could be put to the vote of the greatest number what they would have for happiness, I have no security that they would not decide for something profoundly low and swinish.” This method of ascertaining the greatest good is not implied in the utilitarian's maxim ; nor, on the other hand, is it the object of

[ocr errors]

democratic gorernments to consult the majority as an oracle. The will of the majority and the good of the majority are confounded neither by the democrat nor by the utilitarian. Would Mr. Maurice contend that the will and judgment of a monarch are always right? Of course not; but would he deny then, that, imperfect as it is, the monarch's legal exercise of his will and judgment is the best policy for the state ? Majorities are only the monarchs of democracies, not their prophets.

The course of politics in America has been, on the whole, so much smoother than in Europe, real grievances and imperfections of government so much sooner remedied, and measures of reform so much more thoroughly and promptly tried, that political theories have had less opportunity to gain the character of moral or religious causes by a rankling repression in the moral consciousness. Governmental institutions have, therefore, gained with us more and more the character of expediences. Our revolutionary maxims are not held with such worshipful zeal that we cannot see in the course of our history the solid grounds of utility which have been the real though unseen motives of our political career.

That the actual causes of historical events should be sought for, not merely in the reasons assigned for them by the agents through whom they are brought to pass, or in the political creed which is given in justification of them as political measures, but should also be sought for in the special conditions and necessities by which the political society of the time finds itself constrained, is a proposition so obviously evident, when stated, that we do not conceive it to stand in need of any proof. Communities, like individuals, act from many motives, but assign as the reasons of their actions such considerations as are calculated to give dignity and moral weight to them.

It is natural and proper that motives should stand in our practical philosophies in the order of their moral dignity, whatever may be the order of their practical efficiency. Active benevolence is justly claimed, for example, as the motive of a beneficent action, though this may have been dependent also on some less dignified motive, – on some selfish impulse of tempo

rary convenience. If, therefore, in history we seek for political causes in the conveniences and expediences of society, as well as in its declarations of political principles, it is because the efficient causes of its action are not always or exclusively moral.

The more prominent or moral motives of political action assume a utilitarian character or a sentimental one, according as the action is in pursuance of conservative or of revolutionary measures. Revolutionary ethics always appeal to moral sentiment, and in the announcement of first principles are likely to put out of sight or to subordinate unduly the occasions which bring these principles to notice and secure for them the requisite attention. The discovery or the first clear appreciation of a principle of action is much more likely to be regarded as an inspiration, than as an historical effect of social antecedents; since it is by its force as a sentiment that a principle is efficacious at times when its force as a rule of expediency depends on the logic of events.

It is therefore only when a policy is in the course of a peaceful and normal development in human affairs that its foundation in the actual necessities and conveniences of society becomes prominent, or even distinctly apparent. In the storm of revolutionary passions, morality takes refuge in those sentiments to which religious and revolutionary ethics have ascribed the validity of its precepts. Utility becomes a mean consideration, and is impotent against the violence of passion; but its maxims are secured, in the absence of calm reason, by the force of moral feeling. Hence it is that revolutions bequeath maxiins and first principles clothed in wit and eloquence, rather than in rational discussions or scientific explanations of political measures. In later times, in pursuance of these measures, men come to regard them more and more in the light of expedients, and to refer their validity and the conditions of their application to those exigencies of society which were their real though unseen origin.

The principle of universal suffrage, and the more general doctrines that the governed have a right to a voice in the administration of public affairs, and that just governments only exist by the consent of the governed, are maxims for which utilitarian reasons exist, though they are often regarded as first principles, sanctioned by a sense of justice or by enlightened moral sentiment. But those who regard them as fundamental trutlis see clearly that they have never attained to that dignity in the practical workings of our political institutions. Any limitations of these principles, save by equally fundamental considerations of justice or necessity, are properly regarded as offences, if they have in truth the character which revolutionary ethics claim for them. Those who hold that the right of suffrage rests immediately on a moral basis urge consistently that the suffrage should be extended, not only to all male citizens, but also to women, and to whoever in fact is morally and mentally competent to exercise the function; and these theorists also appeal consistently to the professions of political faith with which our history and political documents abound. But if we waive the reasons assigned by our Revolutionary statesmen, and interpret their wisdom by their acts in relation to the exigencies of their times, we shall find in these a sufficient justification of the existing extension of the suffrage, and reasons also for its further extension, with proper limitations, without the necessity of adınitting the doctrine which would condemn our present short-comings as moral offences.

The non-existence of a governing class sufficiently self-conscious and united, and sufficiently powerful in its command of the moral and physical forces necessary to keep in subjection other classes of society, is the condition either of social anarchy, or else of the intervention of that enlightened, public-spirited good-sense and capacity for self-government which our forefathers showed in their Colonial history.

This capacity for self-government in every class of citizens, and a command of the last resort, the war power, by small communities in their militia organizations, which were first required for self-defence against hostile neighbors in the border life of new settlements, and, more than all, the fact that few representatives of the governing class were among the earlier settlers, and soon lost whatever prestige they may have brought from the mother country, these facts were the conditions which made democracy a feasible scheme of government in America. But these conditions were compelled to assume a new aspect when the Colonies began their quarrel with the mother country. The possibility of such a form of government, or even its actual existence, was powerless against the moral force of prescriptive rights and long-sanctioned usages, when fairly brought in conflict with them. These conditions required a moral force sufficiently powerful to cope with the sentiments of loyalty and respect for the past. The right of self-government in every class of citizens, and the right to use the war power which they actually possessed, and, above all, the rightful equality of all citizens before the law, had to be asserted, not merely as desirable political results, which the Colonists had substantially realized, but as morally binding principles, to which all mankind owed obedience. And this was a fair issue; for so long as conservatism and prescription rely on sentiment, so long must revolutionists be prophets. To “Thus saith the law,” the only answer is,“ Thus saith the Lord.” The divine right of the people exists so long as the divine right of kings has any power in the world. The utilitarian grounds by which both rights might be justified under their proper conditions, and by the philosophical historian, were not inspiring considerations, and required calmer thought than passion per


The success of the Colonists in arms secured the conditions of the existence of democracy in America, which had come to be regarded, however, by the dominant party with the feelings that the Revolution engendered, that is, in the light of moral principles. The demonstrated capacity for self-government in the American people was interpreted as a right to self-government in all classes of mankind; but this principle was not consistently carried out, as we have said. What was really pursued were the two ends, to abolish a governing class proper, or one whose interests could be opposed permanently and systematically to the interests of the governed, and to incorporate into the body politic every possible class whose interest might be dangerously opposed to good order and the stability of the government. American politics sought to shun two opposito dangers, — dangers to the governed from the supremacy of any class, and dangers to the government by the exclusion of any class which might have sufficient unity, self-conscious power, and independent interest to attempt the same kind of revolution which the Colonists had themselves sanctioned, and which other American republics have repeated without end.

« ZurückWeiter »