Benson John Lossing.

Harper's encyclopdia of United States history from 458 A.D. to 1905 (Volume 3) online

. (page 12 of 76)
Online LibraryBenson John LossingHarper's encyclopdia of United States history from 458 A.D. to 1905 (Volume 3) → online text (page 12 of 76)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


quickness of insight. When practised, not ing-house principles, the favor easily won
by small communities, but by wide na- for such views among our own people is
tions, democracy, far from being a crude very significant. It means self-reliance in
form of government, is possible only government. It gives voice to the emi-
among peoples of the highest and steadi- nently modern democratic feeling that
est political habit. It is the heritage of government is no hidden cult, to be left
races purged alike of hasty barbaric pas- to a few specially prepared individuals,
sions and of patient servility to rulers, but a common, every-day concern of life,
and schooled in temperate common counsel, even if the biggest such concern. It is
It is an institution of political noonday, this self-confidence, in many cases mis-
not of the half-light of political dawn, taken, no doubt, which is gradually
It can never be made to sit easily or safely spreading among other peoples, less justi-
on first generations, but strengthens fied in it than are our own.

73



DEMOCRACY IN THE UNITED STATES, CHARACTER OF

One cannot help marvelling that facts by neighbors, by peoples not only homo-
so obvious as these should have escaped geneous, but characterized within by the
the perception of some of the sagest existence among their members of a quick
thinkers and most thorough historical sympathy and easy neighborly knowl-
scholars of our day. Yet so it is. Sir edge of each other. Not foreseeing steam
Henry Maine, even, the great interpreter and electricity or the diffusion of news
to Englishmen of the historical forces and knowledge which we have witnessed,
operative in law and social institutions, our fathers were right in thinking it im-
has utterly failed, in his plausible work possible for the government which they
on Popular Government, to distinguish had founded to spread without strain or
the democracy, or rather the popular break over the whole of the continent,
government, of the English race, which Were not California now as near neighbor
is bred by slow circumstance and founded to the Atlantic States as Massachusetts
upon habit, from the democracy of other then was to New York, national self-gov-
peoples, which is bred by discontent and ernment on our present scale would as-
founded upon revolution. He has missed suredly hardly be possible, or conceivable
that most obvious teaching of events, that even. Modern science, scarcely less than
successful democracy differs from unsuc- our pliancy and steadiness in political
cessful in being a product of history habit, may be said to have created the
a product of forces not suddenly become United States of to-day,
operative, but slowly working upon whole Upon some aspects of this growth it is
peoples for generations together. The very pleasant to dwell, and very profit-
level of democracy is the level of every- able. It is significant of a strength which
day habit, the level of common national it is inspiring to contemplate. The ad-
experiences, and lies far below the eleva- vantages of bigness accompanied by
tions of ecstasy to which the revolutionist abounding life are many and invaluable,
climbs. It is impossible among us to hatch in a
jjj corner any plot which will affect more
than a corner. With life everywhere

While there can be no doubt about the throughout the continent, it is impossi-

derivation of our government from habit ble to seize illicit power over the whole

rather than from doctrine, from English people by seizing any central offices. To

experience rather than from European hold Washington would be as useless to

thought; while it is evident that our in- a usurper as to hold Duluth. Self-gov-

stitutions were originally but products of ernment cannot be usurped,
a long, unbroken, unperverted constitu- A French writer has said that the au-

tional history; and certain that we shall tocratic ascendency of Andrew Jackson

preserve our institutions in their integrity illustrated anew the long - credited ten-

and efficiency only so long as we keep dency of democracies to give themselves

true in our practice to the traditions from over to one hero. The country is older

which our first strength was derived, now than it was w T hen Andrew Jackson

there is, nevertheless, little doubt that delighted in his power, and few can be-

the forces peculiar to the new civilization lieve that it would again approve or ap-

of our day, and not only these, but also plaud childish arrogance and ignorant

the restless forces of European democratic arbitrariness like his; but even in his

thought and anarchic turbulence brought case, striking and ominous as it was, it

to us in such alarming volume by immi- must not be overlooked that lie was suf-

gration, have deeply affected and may fered only to strain the Constitution, not

deeply modify the forms and habits of to break it. He held his office by order-

our politics. ly election ; he exercised its functions

All vital governments and by vital within the letter of the law; he could
governments I mean those which have silence not one word of hostile criticism;
life in their outlying members as well and, his second term expired, he passed
as life in their heads all systems in into private life as harmlessly as did
which self-government lives and retains James Monroe. A nation that can quiet-
its self-possession, must be governments ly reabsorb a vast victorious army is no

74



DEMOCRACY IN THE UNITED STATES, CHARACTER OF



more safely free and healthy than is a
nation that could reabsorb such a Presi
dent as Andrew Jackson, sending him
into seclusion at the Hermitage to live
without power, and die almost forgotten.

A huge, stalwart body politic like
ours, with quick life in every individual
town and county, is apt, too, to have
the strength of variety of judgment.
Thoughts which in one quarter kindle en
thusiasm may in another meet coolness
or arouse antagonism. Events which are
fuel to the passions of one section may
be but as a passing wind to another sec
tion. No single moment of indiscretion,
surely, can easily betray the whole coun
try at once. There will be entire popula
tions still cool, self-possessed, unaffect
ed. Generous emotions sometimes sweep
whole peoples, but, happily, evil passions,
sinister views, base purposes, do not and
cannot. Sedition cannot surge through
the hearts of a wakeful nation as patriot
ism can. In such organisms poisons dif
fuse themselves slowly; only healthful
life has unbroken course. The sweep of
agitations set afoot for purposes unfamil
iar or uncongenial to the customary pop
ular thought is broken by a thousand ob
stacles. It may be easy to reawaken old
enthusiasms, but it must be infinitely
hard to create new ones, and impossible
to surprise a whole people into unpre
meditated action.

It is well to give full weight to these
great advantages of our big and strenu
ous and yet familiar way of conducting
affairs; but it is imperative at the same
time to make very plain the influences
which are pointing towards changes in
our politics changes which threaten loss
of organic wholeness and soundness. The
union of strength with bigness depends
upon the maintenance of character, and
it is just the character of the nation
which is being most deeply affected and
modified by the enormous immigration
which, year after year, pours into the
country from Europe. Our own tem
perate blood, schooled to self-possession
and to the measured conduct of self-gov
ernment, is receiving a constant infusion
and yearly experiencing a partial corrup
tion of foreign blood. Our own equable
habits have been crossed with the fever
ish humors of the restless Old World.



We are unquestionably facing an ever-in
creasing difficulty of self-command with
ever-deteriorating materials, possibly with
degenerating fibre. We have so far suc
ceeded in retaining

" Some sense of duty, something of a faith,
Some reverence for the laws ourselves have

made,
Some patient force to change them when

we will,
Some civic manhood firm against the

crowd ;"

But we must reckon our power to con
tinue to do so with a people made up of
" minds cast in every mould of race
minds inheriting every bias of environ
ment, warped by the diverse histories of
a score of different nations, warmed or
chilled, closed or expanded, by almost
every climate on the globe."

What was true of our early circum
stances is not true of our present. We
are not now simply carrying out under
normal conditions the principles and
habits of English constitutional history.
Our lasks of construction are not done.
We have not simply to conduct, but also
to preserve and freshly adjust our gov
ernment. Europe has sent her habits
to us, and she has sent also her politi
cal philosophy, a philosophy which has
never been purged by the cold bath of
practical politics. The communion which
we did not have at first with her heated
and mistaken ambitions, with her radi
cal, speculative habit in politics, with her
readiness to experiment in forms of gov
ernment, we may possibly have to enter
into now that we are receiving her popu
lations. Not only printing and steam
and electricity have gotten hold of us to
expand our English civilization, but also
those general, and yet to us alien, forces
of democracy of which mention has al
ready been made; and these are apt to
tell disastrously upon our Saxon habits in
government.

IV

It is thus that we are brought to our
fourth and last point. We have noted
( 1 ) the general forces of democracy which
have been sapping old forms of govern
ment in all parts of the world; (2) the
error of supposing ourselves indebted to
those forces for the creation of our gov-



75



DEMOCRACY IN THE UNITED STATES, CHARACTER OF

ernment, or in any way connected with ards, not policies. Questions of govern-
them in our origins; and (3) the effect ment are infinitely complex questions, and
they have nevertheless had upon us as no multitude can of themselves form clear-
parts of the general influences of the age, cut, comprehensive, consistent conclusions
as well as by reason of our vast immigra- touching them. Yet without such conclu-
tion from Europe. What, now, are the sions, without single and prompt purposes,
new problems which have been prepared government cannot be carried on. Neither
for our solution by reason of our growth legislation nor administration can be done
and of the effects of immigration? They at the ballot-box. The people can only
may require as much political capac- accept the governing act of representa-
ity for their proper solution as any that tives. But the size of the modern de-
confronted the architects of our govern- mocracy necessitates the exercise of per-
ment. suasive power by dominant minds in the

These problems are chiefly problems of shaping of popular judgments in a very

organization and leadership. Were the different way from that in which it was

nation homogeneous, were it composed exercised in former times. " It is said

simply of later generations of the same by eminent censors of the press," said Mr.

stock by which our institutions were Bright on one occasion in the House of

planted, few adjustments of the old ma- Commons, " that this debate will yield

chinery of our politics would, perhaps, about thirty hours of talk, and will end

be necessary to meet the exigencies of in no result. I have observed that all

growth. But every added element of va- great questions in this country require

riety, particularly every added element thirty hours of talk many times repeat-

of foreign variety, complicates even the ed before they are settled. There is much

simpler questions of politics. The dan- shower and much sunshine between the

gers attending that variety which is hete- sowing of the seed and the reaping of the

rogeneity in so vast an organism as ours harvest, but the harvest is generally reap-

are, of course, the dangers of disintegra- ed after all." So it must be in all self-

tion nothing less; and it is unwise to governing nations of to-day. They are

think these dangers remote and merely not a single audience within sound of an

contingent because they are not as yet orator s voice, but a thousand audiences.

very menacing. We are conscious of one- Their actions do not spring from a single

ness as a nation, of vitality, of strength, thrill of feeling, but from slow conclu-

of progress; but are we often conscious of sions following upon much talk. The talk

common thought in the concrete things of must gradually percolate through the

national policy? Does not our legislation whole mass. It cannot be sent straight

wear the features of a vast conglomerate? through them so that they are electrified

Are we conscious of any national leader- as the pulse is stirred by the call of a

ship? Are we not, rather, dimly aware trumpet. A score of platforms in every

of being pulled in a score of directions neighborhood must ring with the insistent

by a score of crossing influences, a multi- voice of controversy; and for a few hun-

tude of contending forces? dreds who hear what is said by the public

This vast and miscellaneous democracy speakers, many thousands must read of
of ours must be led; its giant faculties the matter in the newspapers, discuss it
must be schooled and directed. Leader- interjectionally at the breakfast - table,
ship cannot belong to the multitude; desultorily in the street-cars, laconically
masses of men cannot be self - directed, on the streets, dogmatically at dinner ;
neither can groups of communities. We all this with a certain advantage, of
speak of the sovereignty of the people, course. Through so many stages of con-
but that sovereignty, we know very well, sideration passion cannot possibly hold
is of a peculiar sort; quite unlike the out. It gets chilled by over-exposure. It
sovereignty of a king or of a small, easily finds the modern popular state organized
concerting group of confident men. It for giving and hearing counsel in such a
is judicial merely, not creative. It passes way that those who give it must be care-
judgment or gives sanction, but it can- ful that it is such counsel as will wear
not direct or suggest. It furnishes stand- well. Those who hear it handle and ex-

76



DEMOCRACY IN THE UNITED STATES, CHARACTER OF



amine it enough to tent its wearing quali
ties to the utmost. All this, however,
when looked at from another point of
view, but illustrates an inlinite difficulty
of achieving energy and organization.
There is a certain peril almost of disinte
gration attending such phenomena.

Every one now knows familiarly enough
how we accomplished the wide aggre
gations of self-government characteristic
of the modern time, how we have articu
lated governments as vast and yet as
whole as continents like our own. The
instrumentality has been representation,
of which the ancient world knew nothing,
and lacking which it always lacked nation
al integration. Because of representation
and the railroads to carry representatives
to distant capitals, we have been able to
rear colossal structures like the govern
ment of the United States as easily as the
ancients gave political organization to a
city; and our great building is as stout
as was their little one.

But not until recently have we been
able to see the full effects of thus send
ing men to legislate for us at capitals dis
tant the breadth of a continent. It makes
the leaders of our politics, many of them,
mere names to our consciousness instead
of real persons whom we have seen and
heard, and whom we know. We have to
accept rumors concerning them, we have
to know them through the variously col
ored accounts of others ; we can seldom
test our impressions of their sincerity by
standing with them face to face. Here
certainly the ancient pocket republics had
much the advantage of us: in them citi
zens and leaders were always neighbors;
they stood constantly in each other s pres
ence. Every Athenian knew Themisto-
cles s manner, and gait, and address, and
felt directly the just influence of Aris-
tides. No Athenian of a later period need
ed to be toM of the vanities and fop
peries of Alcibiades, any more than the
elder generation needed to have described
to them the personality of Pericles.

Our separation from our leaders is the
greater peril, because democratic govern
ment more than any other needs organiza
tion in order to escape disintegration ; and
it can have organization only by full
knowledge of its leaders and full confi
dence in them. Just because it is a vast



body to be persuaded, it must know its
persuaders; in order to be elective, it
must always have choice of men who are
impersonated policies. Just because none
but the finest mental batteries, with pure
metals and unadulterated acids, can send
a current through so huge and yet so rare
a medium as democratic opinion, it is the
more necessary to look to the excellence
of these instrumentalities. There is no per
manent place in democratic leadership
except for him who " hath clean hands
and a pure heart." If other men come
temporarily into power among us, it is
because \ve cut our leadership up into
so many small parts, and do not subject
any one man to the purifying influences
of centred responsibility. Never before
was consistent leadership so necessary;
never before was it necessary to concert
measures over areas so vast, to adjust
laws to so many interests, to make a com
pact and intelligible unit out of so many
fractions, to maintain a central and domi
nant force where there are so many
forces.

It is a noteworthy fact that the admira
tion for our institutions which has during
the past few years so suddenly grown to
large proportions among publicists abroad
is almost all of it directed to the restraints
we have effected upon the action of gov
ernment. Sir Henry Maine thought our
federal Constitution an admirable reser
voir, in which the mighty waters of de
mocracy are held at rest, kept back from
free destructive course. Lord Rosebery
has wondering praise for the security of
our Senate against usurpation of its func
tions by the House of Representatives.
Mr. Goldwin Smith supposes the saving
act of organization for a democracy to
be the drafting and adoption of a written
constitution. Thus it is always the static,
never the dynamic, forces of our govern
ment which are praised. The greater part
of our foreign admirers find our success
to consist in the achievement of stable
safeguards against hasty or retrogressive
action: we are asked to believe that we
have succeeded because we have taken Sir
Archibald Alison s advice, and have resist
ed the infection of revolution by staying
quite still.

But, after all, progress is motion, gov
ernment is action. The waters of democ-



DEMOCRACY IN THE UNITED STATES DEMOCRATIC PARTY

racy are useless in their reservoirs unless We shall not again have a true national

they may be used to drive the wheels of life until we compact it by such legisla-

policy and administration. Though we tive leadership as other nations have. But

be the most law-abiding and law-directed once thus compacted and embodied, our

nation in the world, law has not yet nationality is safe.

attained to such efficacy among us as to Democratic Clubs. The opposition

frame, or adjust, or administer itself, party to Washington formed many clubs

It may restrain, but it cannot lead us; or societies to express sympathy with

and I believe that unless we concentrate France and the principles of the French

legislative leadership leadership, that is, Revolution in 1793 and 1794. They

in progressive policy unless we give leave passed out of existence about the end of

to our nationality and practice to it by the 18th century. See GENEST, EDMOND

such concentration, we shall sooner or later CHARLES: DEMOCRATIC SOCIETIES.

suffer something like national paralysis in Democratic Party. For the origin and

the face of emergencies. We have no one early development of the party, see the

in Congress who stands for the nation, article REPUBLICAN PARTY. Its main

Each man stands but for his part of the tenets were strict construction of the

nation; and so management and combina- Constitution and opposition to extension

tion, which may be effected in the dark, of the federal powers. Jefferson, Madi-

are given the place that should be held son, and Monroe were members of the then

by centred and responsible leadership, dominant party, and under the last-named

which would of necessity work in the President party lines for a short time

focus of the national gaze. disappeared in the so-called "era of

What is the valuable element in mon- good feeling." Soon afterwards the

archy which causes men constantly to turn Democrats came under the leadership of

to it as to an ideal form of government, Jackson, and were opposed to the Na-

could it but be kept pure and wise? It tional Republicans and Whigs. Jackson s

is its cohesion, its readiness and power to successor, Van Buren, was a Democrat. A

act, its abounding loyalty to certain con- Whig interval (1841-45) ensued. Then

crete things, to certain visible persons, its followed the Democratic administration

concerted organization, its perfect model of Polk, succeeded (1849-53) by another

of progressive order. Democracy abounds Whig administration. Pierce and Bu-

with vitality; but how shall it combine chanan were the last Presidents elected

with its other elements of life and by the party for a long period. In the

strength this power of the governments general confusion caused by the increas-

that know their own minds and their own ing prominence of slavery the Democrats

aims? We have not yet reached the age at first profited, while the Whigs disap-

when government may be made imper- peared. In the Civil War many "war

sonal. Democrats " acted temporarily with the

The only way in which we can preserve Republicans. McClellan, though defeated,
our nationality in its integrity and its received a large popular vote in 1804.
old-time originative force in the face of Seymour in 1868, Greeley in 1872 were de-
growth and imported change is by concen- feated. In 1876 the Democrats came near
trating it; by putting leaders forward, success (see ELECTORAL COMMISSION;
vested with abundant authority in the HAYES, RUTHERFORD BURCHARD; TILDEN,
conception and execution of policy. There SAMUEL JONES). The House was now
is plenty of the old vitality in our na- frequently Democratic, but the Presidency
tional character to tell, if we will but was again taken by their competitors in
give it leave. Give it leave, and it will 1880. In 1884 they succeeded in a close
the more impress and mould those who campaign. The two wings of the party,
come to us from abroad. I believe that revenue reform and protectionist, long re-
we have not made enough of leadership. fused to work together. Under the leader
ship of Morrison, Carlisle, and Cleveland,

To^ o^ U^VterTelf m .n^ tariff reform beeame the dominating issue.

And those who live as models for the mass Defeated in 1888, the Democrats gained

Are singly of more value than they all." a sweeping victory in 1890, and in 1892

78



DEMOCRATIC SOCIETIES



regained control of all departments, only
to lose all again in 1896, when the party
allowed itself to be diverted from its orig
inal principles by the Populists and sil
ver men. In 1900 the same elements con
trolled it, with the addition of the Anti-
Expansionists. In both 1896 and 1900 it
lost its national ticket. See BRYAN,
WILLIAM JENNINGS.

Democratic Societies. In imitation of
the Jacobin clubs in Paris, members of



tificate of every member, in which he was
commended to the good offices of every
similar society in the Union. The in
formed and thoughtful citizens saw scarce
ly any resemblance between French and
American democracy. The former as
sumed the aspect of violence in every
form, while the latter was calm, just, and
peaceful. A pamphlet was published in
1796 in which the difference is delineated
by an engraving called The Contrast. It




THE CONTRAST.



the Republican party, at about the time
when Genet arrived from France, formed
secret associations, which they called
" Democratic societies." Their ideas and
feelings were almost wholly French, and
a large proportion of their membership
consisted of French people. They were
disloyal to the government of the United
States, and sought to control the politics
of the Union. They seem to have been
inspired with the fanaticism which at that
time controlled France. They vigorously



Online LibraryBenson John LossingHarper's encyclopdia of United States history from 458 A.D. to 1905 (Volume 3) → online text (page 12 of 76)