Monday, July 29, 2013

Ferguson: The Case for War

Adam Ferguson, a member of the Republic of Letters and the distinguished author of Essay on the History of Civil Society (1767), supported the determination of the British government to repress the rebellion of the American colonies. His short speech in the House of Lords, in 1775, distills the basis of the government's policy. 

* * *

That gentlemen should differ about some particular points of colony government, as, for example, how far it was expedient or inexpedient to tax America, considering how much that question was involved in difficulty, and how much could be plausibly said on the one side or the other, was not much to be wondered at: but it was matter of no small surprise to him, that they were still likely to differ in opinion, when the question was no longer confined to taxation, or to any particular exercise of the authority of Great Britain, but extended to the very being of the sovereignty itself, and to those rights of which this kingdom had been in possession ever since the existence of the colonies. The honourable magistrate who spoke last had said, that the congress had declared they did not aim at independence. They certainly had done so in general terms: but how did their particular claims correspond to this general assertion? He was afraid, if these were examined, it would appear that the pretensions of the congress went the length of a total exemption from the power and authority of parliament.

They had declared in the most express terms, that parliament had no right to intermeddle with their provisions for the support of civil government, or the administration of justice. Their language was, that while parliament pursued its plan of civil government within its own jurisdiction, they insisted upon pursuing theirs without molestation, plainly claiming an authority in each of the colony assemblies, exclusive of that parliament. An exclusive right of legislation in all matters of internal policy had been, in the most express terms, asserted by them, and not only the late acts of parliament more particularly complained of, but every other which touched upon the internal polity of the colonies, had been treated by them as unjust encroachments of parliament upon the rights of a legislature as independent as itself.

In military matters, their pretensions were equally extravagant. They expressly denied that Great Britain had a right to keep a single soldier in the whole extensive continent of America, without the consent of the legislature of that colony where the troops were kept. With regard to revenue, had not a declaration been made. in words intelligible to all mankind, that America never would be taxed by parliament, unless they refused to contribute their proportion to the common expences of the state? They even knew, that any reasonable sum would be accepted of; but they would not gratify this country so far as to say that they would contribute a single shilling. The only particular in which they seemed inclined to admit the authority of parliament was in what related to the regulation of their trade: even with regard to that, they expressed themselves with a sufficient degree of caution; but in every thing else they asserted an absolute independence on parliament.

In what manner things had been brought to that unhappy dilemma, did not seem the proper object of their present enquiry. The present object was to remedy the evil. Were he to give his opinion upon that subject, he should be apt to say, that no ministry, since the time of the Stamp-Act, had been altogether free of blame: but he should at the same time add, that, perhaps more than any ministry, those had been to blame, who, not satisfied with expressing their disapprobation of particular measures, had argued, both within and without doors, against the authority of the supreme legislature itself; who, from an excess of zeal in support of America, seemed too much to forget the interest of the mother-country; and, from an apprehension lest the colonies should be ruled with too heavy a hand, seemed inclined to adopt measures which had a tendency to exempt them from the dominion of Great Britain altogether, and to erect them into so many sovereign independent states.

But instead of investigating the causes of the evil, it was more material now to consider what was proper to be done to remedy it, and in this he saw but one choice, either to support with vigour the authority of Great Britain, or to abandon America altogether. Some speculative men have said, and published their opinions to the world, that it would be no such fatal stroke to Britain as is generally imagined, were America to be abandoned altogether: he had not opinion enough of his own foresight to say with certainty what the consequence would be, but so much benefit had he reaped from these speculations as to hope that the prosperity of Great Britain would not be desperate even were such an event to happen. But who would be bold enough to advise such a measure? and who could, with certainty, answer for the effects of it? If no person would, what remained, but that they should exert every nerve to reduce their rebellious subjects to obedience? After they had reduced them, and convinced them of their inability to resist the power of this country, then, and not till then, would be the time to shew them all possible indulgence. Any further concession now would be considered as extorted from them by their fears, not as the voluntary effect of their favour.

But can this country reduce them to obedience, or must the contest be given up for want of power? If it must, there is no help for it: but, at least, let us put it to the trial; for his own part, he could not entertain a doubt of it; he did, indeed, see that those were mistaken who said the Americans would not fight: but those were at least, as much mistaken, if there were any such, who would entertain a doubt of their being reduced by a proper exertion of the power of Great-Britain. As he could not doubt of the strength of Great Britain to reduce them, so he hoped if that strength was exerted it would be done effectually. If a force is sent to America, both prudence and humanity required that it should be such a one as, humanly speaking, would carry its point. The error hitherto had been to have too small a force there; to continue the same error still, was to protract the horrors of a civil war. He did not mean merely that such a force should be sent as would be sufficient to beat their opponents; it ought to be such a one as would deprive them of all idea of resistance.

* * *

Parliamentary History of England, XV: 737-40, October 26, 1775, House of Lords.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Burke: On The Disutility of Force

Edmund Burke’s speech on conciliation with America is probably the greatest oration ever delivered in the English parliament. Given on March 22, 1775 in the House of Commons, it was a tour de force and an instant classic. Elsewhere I have excerpted the passages in his address explicating the sources of American freedom. Here he gives his main proposition of peace and answers the hardliners who wanted a showdown with refractory colonies. He unfolds a perceptive argument showing the disutility of force as a means of keeping the colonies subservient, urges a return to the “salutary neglect” governing American policy until 1763, and gives a profound exposition of the nature of Britain's imperial constitution. Only a British constitution that recognized colonial freedom, he argued, could keep the colonists within the empire.
 * * *

The PROPOSITION is peace. Not peace through the medium of war; not peace to be hunted through the labyrinth of intricate and endless negotiations; not peace to arise out of universal discord, fomented from principle, in all parts of the Empire; not peace to depend on the juridical determination of perplexing questions, or the precise marking the shadowy boundaries of a complex government. It is simple peace, sought in its natural course and its ordinary haunts. It is peace sought in the spirit of peace, and laid in principles purely pacific. I propose, by removing the ground of the difference, and by restoring the former unsuspecting confidence of the Colonies in the mother country, to give permanent satisfaction to your people; and, far from a scheme of ruling by discord, to reconcile them to each other in the same act, and by the bond of the very same interest, which reconciles them to British government.

My idea is nothing more. Refined policy ever has been the parent of confusion, and ever will be so long as the world endures. Plain good intention, which is as easily discovered at the first view as fraud is surely detected at last, is (let me say) of no mean force in the government of mankind. Genuine simplicity of heart is a healing and cementing principle. My plan, therefore, being formed upon the most simple grounds imaginable, may disappoint some people when they hear it. It has nothing to recommend it to the pruriency of curious ears. There is nothing at all new and captivating in it. It has nothing of the splendor of the project which has been lately laid upon your table by the noble lord in the blue ribbon [Lord North]. It does not propose to fill your lobby with squabbling colony agents, who will require the interposition of your mace at every instant to keep the peace among them. It does not institute a magnificent auction of finance, where captivated provinces come to general ransom by bidding against each other, until you knock down the hammer, and determine a proportion of payments beyond all the powers of algebra to equalize and settle.

* * *

Burke goes on to describe the growth in American population, trade, and agriculture, arguing that it shows that England ought not “to trifle with so large a mass of the interests and feelings of the human race. You could at no time do so without guilt; and, be assured, you will not do it long with impunity.” The growth in American agricultural output meant that the old world had increasingly been fed by the new: “The scarcity which you have felt would have been a desolating famine, if this child of your old age, with a true filial piety, with a Roman charity, had not put the full breast of its youthful exuberance to the mouth of its exhausted parent.” All this before descanting on the exploits of New England fishermen:

Pray, sir, what in the world is equal to it? Pass by the other parts, and look at the manner in which the people of New England have of late carried on the whale fishery. While we follow them among the tumbling mountains of ice, and behold them penetrating into the deepest frozen recesses of Hudson’s Bay and Davis’ Straits—while we are looking for them beneath the arctic circle, we hear that they have pierced into the opposite region of polar cold—that they are at the antipodes, and engaged under the frozen Serpent of the south. Falkland Island, which seemed too remote and romantic an object for the grasp of national ambition, is but a stage and resting-place in the progress of their victorious industry.
Nor is the equinoctial heat more discouraging to them than the accumulated winter of both the poles. We know that while some of them draw the line, and strike the harpoon on the coast of Africa, others run the longitude, and pursue their gigantic game along the coast of Brazil. No sea but what is vexed by their fisheries. No climate that is not witness to their toils. Neither the perseverance of Holland, nor the activity of France, nor the dexterous and firm sagacity of English enterprise, ever carried this most perilous mode of hard industry to the extent to which it has been pushed by this recent people—a people who are still, as it were, but in the gristle, and not yet hardened into the bone of manhood. When I contemplate these things—when I know that the Colonies in general owe little or nothing to any care of ours, and that they are not squeezed into this happy form by the constraints of watchful and suspicious government, but that, through a wise and salutary neglect, a generous nature has been suffered to take her own way to perfection—when I reflect upon these effects—when I see how profitable they have been to us, I feel all the pride of power sink, and all presumption in the wisdom of human contrivances melt and die away within me. My rigor relents. I pardon something to the spirit of liberty.
I am sensible, sir, that all which I have asserted in my detail is admitted in the gross; but that quite a different conclusion is drawn from it. America, gentlemen say, is a noble object. It is an object well worth fighting for. Certainly it is, if fighting a people be the best way of gaining them.
First, sir, permit me to observe, that the use of force alone is but temporary. It may subdue for a moment, but it does not remove the necessity of subduing again; and a nation is not governed which is perpetually to be conquered.
My next objection is its uncertainty. Terror is not always the effect of force; and an armament is not a victory. If you do not succeed, you are without resource; for, conciliation failing, force remains; but, force failing, no further hope of reconciliation is left. Power and authority are sometimes bought by kindness but they can never be begged as alms by an impoverished and defeated violence.
A further objection to force is, that you impair the object by your very endeavors to preserve it. The thing you fought for is not the thing which you recover; but depreciated, sunk, wasted, and consumed in the contest. Nothing less will content me than whole America. I do not choose to consume its strength along with our own, because in all parts it is the British strength that I consume. I do not choose to be caught by a foreign enemy at the end of this exhausting conflict, and still less in the midst of it. I may escape; but I can make no insurance against such an event. Let me add, that I do not choose wholly to break the American spirit, because it is the spirit that has made the country.
These, sir, are my reasons for not entertaining that high opinion of untried force, by which many gentlemen, for whose sentiments in other particulars I have great respect, seem to be so greatly captivated.

* * *

Burke subsequently explores the sources of American’s love of freedom (see here), buttressing his view that changing the temper and character of the colonies was impossible:

We can not, I fear, falsify the pedigree of this fierce people, and persuade them that they are not sprung from a nation in whose veins the blood of freedom circulates. The language in which they would hear you tell them this tale would detect the imposition. Your speech would betray you. An Englishman is the unfittest person on earth to argue another Englishman into slavery.

I think it is nearly as little in our power to change their republican religion as their free descent; or to substitute the Roman Catholic as a penalty, or the Church of England as an improvement. The mode of inquisition and dragooning is going out of fashion in the Old World, and I should not confide much to their efficacy in the new. The education of the Americans is also on the same unalterable bottom with their religion. You can not persuade them to burn their books of curious science; to banish their lawyers from their courts of law; or to quench the lights of their assemblies, by refusing to choose those persons who are best read in their privileges. It would be no less impracticable to think of wholly annihilating the popular assemblies in which these lawyers sit. The army, by which we must govern in their place, would be far more chargeable to us; not quite so effectual; and perhaps, in the end, fully as difficult to be kept in obedience.

But let us suppose all these moral difficulties got over. The ocean remains. You can not pump this dry; and as long as it continues in its present bed, so long all the causes which weaken authority by distance will continue.
“Ye gods! annihilate but space and time,
And make two lovers happy!”
was a pious and passionate prayer, but just as reasonable as many of these serious wishes of very grave and solemn politicians. If, then, sir, it seems almost desperate to think of any alternative course for changing the moral causes (and not quite easy to remove the natural) which produce the prejudices irreconcilable to the late exercise of our authority, but that the spirit infallibly will continue, and, continuing, will produce such effects as now embarrass us, the second mode under consideration is to prosecute that spirit in its overt acts as criminal.

At this proposition I must pause a moment. The thing seems a great deal too big for my ideas of jurisprudence. It should seem, to my way of conceiving such matters, that there is a very wide difference in reason and policy between the mode of proceeding on the irregular conduct of scattered individuals, or even of bands of men, who disturb order within the State, and the civil dissensions which may, from time to time, on great questions, agitate the several communities which compose a great empire. It looks to me to be narrow and pedantic to apply the ordinary ideas of criminal justice to this great public contest. I do not know the method of drawing up an indictment against a whole people. I can not insult and ridicule the feelings of millions of my fellow creatures, as Sir Edward Coke insulted one excellent individual at the bar. I am not ripe to pass sentence on the gravest public bodies, intrusted with magistracies of great authority and dignity, and charged with the safety of their fellow citizens, upon the very same title that I am. I really think that, for wise men, this is not judicious; for sober men, not decent; for minds tinctured with humanity, not mild and merciful.

Perhaps, sir, I am mistaken in my idea of an empire, as distinguished from a single state or kingdom. But my idea of it is this: that an empire is the aggregate of many states, under one common head, whether this head be a monarch or a presiding republic. It does, in such constitutions, frequently happen (and nothing but the dismal, cold, dead uniformity of servitude can prevent its happening) that the subordinate parts have many local privileges and immunities. Between these privileges and the supreme common authority, the line may be extremely nice. Of course, disputes—often, too, very bitter disputes, and much ill blood, will arise. But, tho every privilege is an exemption, in the case, from the ordinary exercise of the supreme authority, it is no denial of it. The claim of a privilege seems rather, ex vi termini, to imply a superior power; for to talk of the privileges of a state or of a person who has no superior, is hardly any better than speaking nonsense.

Now, in such unfortunate quarrels among the component parts of a great political union of communities, I can scarcely conceive anything more completely imprudent than for the head of the Empire to insist that, if any privilege is pleaded against his will or his acts, that his whole authority is denied; instantly to proclaim rebellion, to beat to arms, and to put the offending Provinces under the ban. Will not this, sir, very soon teach the Provinces to make no distinctions on their part? Will it not teach them that the government against which a claim of liberty is tantamount to high treason, is a government to which submission is equivalent to slavery? It may not always be quite convenient to impress dependent communities with such an idea.

We are, indeed, in all disputes with the Colonies, by the necessity of things, the judge. It is true, sir; but I confess that the character of judge in my own cause is a thing that frightens me. Instead of filling me with pride, I am exceedingly humbled by it. I can not proceed with a stern, assured, judicial confidence, until I find myself in something more like a judicial character. I must have these hesitations as long as I am compelled to recollect that, in my little reading upon such contests as these, the sense of mankind has at least as often decided against the superior as the subordinate power. Sir, let me add, too, that the opinion of my having some abstract right in my favor would not put me much at my ease in passing sentence, unless I could be sure that there were no rights which in their exercise under certain circumstances, were not the most odious of all wrongs, and the most vexatious of all injustice. Sir, these considerations have great weight with me, when I find things so circumstanced that I see the same party at once a civil litigant against me in point of right and a culprit before me: while I sit as criminal judge on acts of his whose moral quality is to be decided on upon the merits of that very litigation. Men are every now and then put, by the complexity of human affairs, into strange situations; but justice is the same, let the judge be in what situation he will.

In this situation, let us seriously and coolly ponder. What is it we have got by all our menaces, which have been many and ferocious? What advantage have we derived from the penal laws we have passed, and which, for the time, have been severe and numerous? What advances have we made toward our object by the sending of a force which, by land and sea, is no contemptible strength? Has the disorder abated? Nothing less. When I see things in this situation, after such confident hopes, bold promises, and active exertions, I can not, for my life, avoid a suspicion that the plan itself is not correctly right.

If, then, the removal of the causes of this spirit of American liberty be, for the greater part, or rather entirely, impracticable; if the ideas of criminal process be inapplicable, or, if applicable, are in the highest degree inexpedient, what way yet remains? No way is open but the third and last—to comply with the American spirit as necessary, or, if you please, to submit to it as a necessary evil.

If we adopt this mode, if we mean to conciliate and concede, let us see, of what nature the concessions ought to be. To ascertain the nature of our concession, we must look at their complaint. The Colonies complain that they have not the characteristic mark and seal of British freedom. They complain that they are taxed in Parliament in which they are not represented. If you mean to satisfy them at all, you must satisfy them with regard to this complaint. If you mean to please any people, you must give them the boon which they ask; not what you may think better for them, but of a kind totally different. Such an act may be a wise regulation, but is no concession, whereas our present theme is the mode of giving satisfaction.

The question with me is, not whether you have a right to render your people miserable, but whether it is not your interest to make them happy. It is not what a lawyer tells me I may do, but what humanity, reason, and justice tell me I ought to do. Is a politic act the worse for being a generous one? Is no concession proper but that which is made from your want of right to keep what you grant? Or does it lessen the grace or dignity of relaxing in the exercise of an odious claim, because you have your evidence-room full of titles, and your magazines stuffed with arms to enforce them?

Such is steadfastly my opinion of the absolute necessity of keeping up the concord of this Empire by a unity of spirit, tho in a diversity of operations, that, if I were sure the Colonists had, at their leaving this country, sealed a regular compact of servitude; that they had solemnly abjured all the rights of citizens; that they had made a vow to renounce all ideas of liberty for them and their posterity to all generations, yet I should hold myself obliged to conform to the temper I found universally prevalent in my own day, and to govern two millions of men, impatient of servitude, on the principles of freedom. I am not determining a point of law. I am restoring tranquillity, and the general character and situation of a people must determine what sort of government is fitted for them. That point nothing else can or ought to determine.

My idea, therefore, without considering whether we yield as matter of right, or grant as matter of favor, is to admit the people of our Colonies into an interest in the Constitution, and, by recording that admission in the journals of Parliament, to give them as strong an assurance as the nature of the thing will admit, that we mean for ever to adhere to that solemn declaration of systematic indulgence. . . .

* * *

Burke explores the ways and means of settling the revenue question and reducing other causes of asperity. Then comes his rousing conclusion. 

My hold of the Colonies is in the close affection which grows from common names, from kindred blood, from similar privileges, and equal protection. These are ties which, tho light as air, are as strong as links of iron. Let the Colonies always keep the idea of their civil rights associated with your government; they will cling and grapple to you, and no force under heaven will be of power to tear them from their allegiance. But let it be once understood that your government may be one thing, and their privileges another; that these two things may exist without any mutual relation; the cement is gone; the cohesion is loosened; and everything hastens to decay and dissolution.

As long as you have the wisdom to keep the sovereign authority of this country as the sanctuary of liberty, the sacred temple consecrated to our common faith; wherever the chosen race and sons of England worship Freedom, they will turn their faces toward you. The more they multiply, the more friends you will have. The more ardently they love liberty, the more perfect will be their obedience. Slavery they can have anywhere. It is a weed that grows in every soil. They may have it from Spain; they may have it from Prussia; but, until you become lost to all feeling of your true interest and your natural dignity, freedom they can have from none but you. This is the commodity of price, of which you have the monopoly. This is the true Act of Navigation, which binds to you the commerce of the Colonies, and through them secures to you the wealth of the world. Deny them this participation of freedom, and you break that sole bond which originally made, and must still preserve, the unity of the Empire. Do not entertain so weak an imagination as that your registers and your bonds, your affidavits and your sufferances, your cockets and your clearances, are what form the great securities of your commerce. Do not dream that your letters of office, and your instructions, and your suspending clauses, are the things that hold together the great contexture of this mysterious whole. These things do not make your government. Dead instruments, passive tools as they are, it is the spirit of the English communion that gives all their life and efficacy to them. It is the spirit of the English Constitution, which, infused through the mighty mass, pervades, feeds, unites, invigorates, vivifies every part of the empire, even down to the minutest member.

All this, I know well enough, will sound wild and chimerical to the profane herd of those vulgar and mechanical politicians, who have no place among us; a sort of people who think that nothing exists but what is gross and material, and who, therefore, far from being qualified to be directors of the great movement of empire, are not fit to turn a wheel in the machine. But to men truly initiated and rightly taught, these ruling and master principles, which, in the opinion of such men as I have mentioned, have no substantial existence, are in truth everything and all in all. Magnanimity in politics is not seldom the truest wisdom; and a great empire and little minds go ill together. If we are conscious of our situation, and glow with zeal to fill our place as becomes our station and ourselves, we ought to auspicate all our public proceeding on America with the old warning of the Church, sursum corda! We ought to elevate our minds to the greatness of that trust to which the order of Providence has called us. By adverting to the dignity of this high calling, our ancestors have turned a savage wilderness into a glorious empire, and have made the most extensive and the only honorable conquests not by destroying, but by promoting, the wealth, the number, the happiness of the human race. Let us get an American revenue as we have got an American empire. English privileges have made it all that it is; English privileges alone will make it all that it can be.

Edmund Burke, On Conciliation with America, March 22, 1775, William Jennings Bryan, ed., The World's Greatest Orations, Vol VI.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

The Lincoln Legend

This evocation of the extraordinary contrasts in the life and character of Abraham Lincoln comes from Carl Schurz. Schurz was himself a grand figure in American history. He arrived in this country fleeing persecution in his native Germany, a casualty of Europe's failed bid for liberal principles in 1848; for the next six decades he was a commanding and beneficent intellectual force in the nation's debates. The following passage comes at the end of his beautiful short book on Lincoln, first published in The Atlantic Monthly in 1891.

* * *

To the younger generation Abraham Lincoln has already become a half-mythical figure, which, in the haze of historic distance, grows to more and more heroic proportions, but also loses in distinctness of outline and feature.  This is indeed the common lot of popular heroes; but the Lincoln legend will be more than ordinarily apt to become fanciful, as his individuality, assembling seemingly incongruous qualities and forces in a character at the same time grand and most lovable, was so unique, and his character so abounding in startling contrasts.  As the state of society in which Abraham Lincoln grew up passes away, the world will read with increasing wonder of the man who, not only of the humblest origin, but remaining the simplest and more unpretending of citizens, was raised to a position of power unprecedented in our history; who was the gentlest and most peace-loving of mortals, unable to see any creature suffer without a pang in his own breast, and suddenly found himself called to conduct the greatest and bloodiest of our wars; who wielded the power of government when stern resolution and relentless force were the order of the day, and then won and ruled the popular mind and heart by the tender sympathies of his nature; who was a cautious conservative by temperament and mental habit, and led the most sudden and sweeping social revolution of our time; who, preserving his homely speech and rustic manner even in the most conspicuous position of that period, drew upon himself the scoffs of political society, and then thrilled the soul of mankind with utterances of wonderful beauty and grandeur; who, in his heart the best friend of the defeated South, was murdered because a crazy fanatic took him for its most cruel enemy; who, while in power, was beyond measure lampooned and maligned by sectional passion and an excited party spirit, and around whose bier friend and foe gathered to praise him -- which they have since never ceased to do -- as one of the greatest of Americans and the best of men.        

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

The Causes of the French Revolution

The following extract comes from Edward Everett’s 1834 eulogy of Lafayette, the French aristocrat  who won the trust of General Washington during the War of the American Revolution, and whose valiant contributions to the cause were celebrated in his triumphal tour of the United States in 1824 and 1825. Everett, one of the most respected orators of the age and the quintessential voice of New England Whiggism, gives in passing a penetrating judgment of the causes of the French Revolution and its relationship to the revolution in America.  
 * * *

At length the mighty crisis came on.  The French revolution draws near, -- that stupendous event of which it is impossible to be silent, -- next to impossible to speak.  Louis XV. once said to  a courtier, "This French monarchy is fourteen hundred years old; it cannot last long."  Such was the terrific sentiment which, even in the bosom of his base pleasures, stole into the conscience of the modern Sardanapalus.  But in that mysterious and bewildering chain of connection which binds together the fortunes of states and of men, the last convulsive effort of this worn-out and decrepit monarchy, in which the spasmodic remains of her strength were exhausted, and her finances plunged into irretrievable confusion, was the American alliance.  This corrupt and feeble despotism, trembling on the verge of an abyss, towards which time and events were urging it, is made to hold out a strong and helping hand to assist the rising republic into the family of nations.  The generous spirits whom she sent to lead her armies to the triumphs of republicanism in America, came back to demand for their own country, and to assert on their own soil, those political privileges for which they had been contending in America.  The process of argument was short.  If this plan of government, administered by responsible agents, is good for America, it is good for France.  If our brethren in the United States will not submit to power assumed by men not accountable for its abuse, why should we?  If we have done wisely and well in going to shed our blood for this constitutional liberty beyond the Atlantic, let us be ready to shed it in the same great cause, for our fathers, for our friends, for ourselves, in our native land.  Is it possible to find, I will not say a sound and sufficient answer to this argument, but an answer which would be thought sound and sufficient by the majority of ardent tempers and inquisitive minds?

The atrocious, the unexampled, the ungodly abuses of the reign of terror have made the very name of the French revolution hateful to mankind.  The blood chills, the flesh creeps, the hair stands on end, at the recital of its horrors; and no slight degree of the odium they occasion is unavoidably reflected on all who had any agency in bringing it on.  The subsequent events in Europe have also involved the French revolution in a deep political unpopularity.  It is unpopular in Great Britain, in the rest of Europe, in America, in France itself; and not a little of the unpopularity falls on every one whose name is prominently connected with it.  All this is prejudice, -- natural prejudice, if you please, -- but still prejudice.  The French Revolution was the work of sheer necessity.  It began in the act of the court, casting about in despair for the means of facing the frightful dilapidation of the finances.  Louis XV. was right; the monarchy could not go on.  The revolution was inevitable as fate.

I go farther.  Penetrated as I am to heart-sickness when I peruse the tale of its atrocities, I do not scruple to declare, that the French revolution, as it existed in the purposes of Lafayette and his associates, and while it obeyed their impulse, and so long as it was controlled by them, was, notwithstanding the melancholy excesses which stained even its early stages, a work of righteous reform; that justice, humanity, and religion demanded it.  I maintain this with some reluctance, because it is a matter in respect to which all are not of one mind, and I would not willingly say any thing on this occasion which could awaken a single discordant feeling.  But I speak from a sense of duty; and, standing as I do over the grave of Lafayette, I may not, if my feeble voice can prevent it, allow the fame of one of the purest men that ever lived to be sacrificed to a prejudice; to be overwhelmed with the odium of abuses which he did not foresee, which, if he had foreseen, he could not have averted, and with which he had himself no personal connection, but as their victim.  It is for this reason I maintain that the French revolution, as conceived by Lafayette, was a work of righteous reform.  Read the history of France, from the revocation of the edict of Nantes downwards.  Reflect upon the scandalous influence which dictated that inhuman decree to the dotage of Louis XIV., a decree which cost France as much blood as flowed under the guillotine.  Trace the shameful annals of the regency, and the annals, not less shameful, of Louis XV.  Consider the overgrown wealth and dissoluteness of the clergy, and the arrogance and corruption of the nobility, possessing together a vast proportion of the property, and bearing no part of the burdens of the state.  Recollect the abuses of the law, -- high judicial places venal in the market, -- warrants of arrest issued to the number of one hundred and fifty thousand in the single reign of Louis XV., often-times in blank, to court favorites, to be filled up with what names, for what prisons, for what times they pleased.  Add to this oppression of the peasantry by iniquitous taxes that have become proverbial in the history of misgovernment, and the outlawry of one twenty-fourth part of the population of Protestants, who were forbidden to leave the kingdom, subject to be shot if they crossed the frontier, but deprived of the protection of the government at home, their contracts annulled, their children declared illegitimate, and their ministers -- who might venture in dark forests and dreary caverns, to conduct their prohibited devotions -- doomed to the scaffold.  As late as 1745, two Protestant ministers were executed in France for performing their sacred functions.  Could men bear these things in a country like France, a reading, inquiring country, with the success of the American revolution before their eyes, and at the close of the eighteenth century?  Can any man who has Anglo-Saxon blood in his veins hesitate for an answer?  Did not England shake off less abuses than these a century and a half before?  Had not a paltry unconstitutional tax, neither in amount nor in principle be named with the taille or the gabelle, just put the continent of America in a flame?  and was it possible that the young officers of the French army should come back to their native land, from the war of political emancipation waged on this continent, and sit down contented under the old abuses at home?  It was not possible.  The revolution was as inevitable as fate, and the only question was, by whose agency was it brought on.



Monday, July 8, 2013

A Feast for the Mind

From William Wirt, Eulogy of John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, 1826

* * *

What a feast for the mind may we not expect from the published letters of these excellent men! They were both masters in this way, though somewhat contrasted. Mr. Adams, plain, nervous, and emphatic, the thought couched in the fewest and strongest words, and striking with a kind of epigrammatic force.  Mr. Jefferson, flowing with easy and careless melody, the language at the same time pruned of every redundant word, and giving the thought with the happiest precision, the aptest words dropping unbidden and unsought into their places, as if they had fallen from the skies; and so beautiful, so felicitous, as to fill the mind with a succession of delightful surprises, while the judgement is, at the same time, made captive by the closely compacted energy of the argument.  Mr. Jefferson's style is so easy and harmonious, as to have led the superficial readers to remark, that he was deficient in strength: as if ruggedness and abruptness were essential to strength.  Mr. Jefferson's strength was inherent in the thoughts and conceptions, though hidden by the light and graceful vestments which he threw over them.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

On the Death of Madison

From a eulogy by James Barbour after the death of James Madison in 1836.  It initially appeared in the December 12, 1836 issue of Niles Weekly Register.

* * *

In thus meeting together to offer our homage to the exceeding worth of our departed friend, while we do justice to our own feelings, and to the memory of the dead, we follow the custom which prevailed when the Father of his Country died -- a custom that obtained in the best times of ancient manners: for the free states of old were accustomed thus to commemorate the funeral of their patriots and sages.  It is a good custom, that should be cherished by freemen.  It is the award of posterity sitting in judgement on the actions and the life of a distinguished citizen who has finished his course.  While honorable to the dead, it is an incentive to the living.  Who is he, solicitous for posthumous fame, that darling object of ingenuous minds, that will not be impelled onward in his virtuous course by the honors every where offered to the memory of Madison?  It is a terror likewise to the wicked.  What great criminal is so hardened in his iniquity that will not tremble when, in anticipation, he sees posterity passing on his crimes, and, instead of honor, reproach awaiting his memory?

Besides, the life of a good and great man, when fairly delineated and committed to history, will survive when the pyramids of Egypt shall have passed away: it will stand forever a lofty beacon amid the vicissitudes and the wastes of time.  Athens and Rome, the master states of antiquity, where liberty once delighted to dwell, for two thousand years have been doomed to ignorance, to superstition, and to worse than Egyptian bondage; yet the lives of their great worthies, shining with an undiminished lustre, after this long and fearful eclipse, warmed the bosoms of modern patriots, by whose efforts have been regained the jewel of inestimable value, so long lost to the world.

And if, in fulfillment of that stern decree which denounces decay and death on all human things -- a decree before which Babylon and Jerusalem, Athens and Rome, and all that was illustrious in antiquity, have crumbled into dust -- if it be irreversible to all, and American be doomed to travel through the ages of bondage, let us indulge the consolatory hope that the life of Madison, triumphing over the injuries of time, may become a pillar of light by which some future patriot may reconduct his countrymen to their lost inheritance. . .

* * *

Let me invoke the reflection of the admirers of military renown, by contrasting the acts, and their effects on the condition of the world, of the greatest captain of ancient or modern times, Napoleon, with our Madison's.  Of the former it has been said, "the earthquake voice of victory was the breath of his nostrils."  This colossus of power, of ambition, and of crime, having crushed the liberties of his country, placed one foot on the pillars of Hercules, and sought to stretch the other to the arctic pole: his scepter was the besom of desolation: the pedestal of his fame was composed of the carcasses of three millions of his kind, cemented with the blood of his victims, and bedewed with the tears of their widows and orphans: his ministry seemed to be that of a ruthless instrument of vengeance to chastise and humble a guilty world.  But mark his end!  His mad ambition devoted his country to the horrors of conquest, in part by barbarous hordes who lived beyond civilization: he himself was precipitated to the dust.  He is deserted by the multitude, the sycophant of success, whose morality teaches that while misfortune can furnish no excuse, victory, no matter how obtained, is not required to give an account of her actions.  Thus abandoned, he becomes an outlaw of the civilized world, and dies a wretched captive in one of Afric's distant isles, loaded with the execrations of the widows and orphans which his ambition had made, and with the curses of a world; while Madison, disinterestedly devoting every fibre of his heart, and every attribute of his mind, to the cause of liberty, and the happiness of his kind -- leading a nation through the hitherto untrodden paths of political science, like another Moses conducting his countrymen through the wilderness to the land of the promise -- laying the foundations of a constitution, which, if his example and his counsels prevail, will, with the blessing of God, be immortal -- finally departing in peace, when every hill and every valley of this vast republic resound with the benedictions on his name, and one universal voice proclaims him the benefactor of his kind.  Behold the contrast!  And yet, if Napoleon had continued successful, the subjects of the extraordinary delusion I am encountering would have required the sculptor and the poet to exhaust their art in perpetuating his name, while they would have suffered Madison's to go down to the grave unwept, unhonored, and unsung.