Frederic May Holland.

Liberty in the nineteenth century online

. (page 1 of 16)
Online LibraryFrederic May HollandLiberty in the nineteenth century → online text (page 1 of 16)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

Produced by David Widger


By Frederic May Holland




THIS book is a result of having studied the development of political
and religious liberty for forty years. How well I have selected
my authorities the reader can judge. I will merely say that I have
mentioned no writer whom I have not studied carefully. The sun-dial has
been so far my model that victories in the cause of freedom are more
prominent than defeats in the pages that follow. It did not seem
necessary to give much space to familiar authors, though I should have
liked to do justice to Buckle, George Eliot, and Swinburne.

I regret that I have been unable to tell at any adequate length how the
Republic which was proclaimed at Paris in 1870 has survived longer than
any other government set up in France during the century. Its enemies
have been voted down repeatedly everywhere; the schools have been made
free from ecclesiastical control; and the hostility of the clergy has
been suppressed by the Pope. The French are still too fond of military
glory, and too ignorant of the value of personal liberty and local
self-government; but rapid advance in freedom is already possible under
the Constitution of 1884. Not only France, but also Great Britain,
Canada, and Australia, give proof that the time has gone by when
Americans had any right to claim, as they did in my boyhood, to be the
only people able to govern themselves.

If any nation can maintain a free press, just laws, and elections of
local magistrates, it ought to enjoy these rights, however slight may
be its fitness for becoming a real republic; and the suppression of such
rights by Cromwell and Napoleon cannot be pardoned consistently by any
friend to liberty. Napoleon's chief guilt, as I must here mention,
was in ordering the expulsion from office by soldiers, in 1797, of
representatives of the people who were striving to maintain liberty at
home and establish peace abroad. If there were any necessity for his
usurpation two years later, it was largely of his own making. Despotism
had already been made tolerable, however, even during the first
Republic, by the national fondness for war. This is according to a
principle which is taught by Herbert Spencer, and which is illustrated
in the following pages by many instances from the history of France
and other nations. The horrors of the Reign of Terror may be explained,
though not excused, by the greatness of the danger from invaders as well
as rebels. And there were very few cases of punishing differences merely
about religion by the guillotine.

I have also tried to show how the centralising tendencies of a
government are strengthened by the wish of its citizens to gain private
advantages by state aid. John Stuart Mill and Herbert Spencer have
published timely warnings against the danger of checking the development
of individual energy and ability by meddlesome laws. Whether the power
of the government ought to be reduced to the narrow limits proposed by
these great thinkers, is a question which has been discussed at some
length in my last chapter. It is there suggested that such a reduction
would be much more practicable in the case of national than of local
governments. It is not likely to be made anywhere at present; but
it might be well for reformers to try to restrict the operations of
governments according to the following rule: nothing to be undertaken by
a national government which can be done as well by municipalities; and
nothing to be attempted by either a local or central government which
can be done as well by private citizens, acting singly or in voluntary
associations. This rule would justify towns and cities in taking such
care of roads, streets, and schools as is not sanctioned by Spencer; but
it would leave municipalities free to decide the question whether
they ought to carry on gas- and water-works, electric roads, and other
enterprises according to the merits of each special case. Here in
America internal improvements seem to be the proper charge of the State,
rather than of the nation; but whether the former has any right to
enforce Sunday laws, and the latter to impose protective tariffs, are
questions which I have taken the liberty of discussing thoroughly.
Herbert Spencer should not be held responsible for any opinions not
printed plainly as his. Most of the instances of the working of Sunday
statutes were taken from a religious newspaper entitled The American
Sentinel. Among very recent cases are these. A Georgian was sentenced on
May 16, 1899, to pay a fine of twenty dollars or spend six months in the
chain-gang for working on his farm. That same month a clergyman was
arrested in Mississippi, merely for taking a little exercise with a hoe
in his garden. In 1898, a farmer in the State of New York was arrested
for picking a few apples from one of his own trees. The total number of
Sabbath-breakers arrested that year in New York City is estimated at a
thousand; and there were nearly four thousand arrests for Sunday trading
in England and Wales in 1897.

The principle of giving each citizen every opportunity of development
compatible with the general welfare, is so plainly irreconcilable with
Socialism, that I have thought it well to give several instances of the
fact that a man seldom does his best work except for his own benefit and
that of his family. Even the exceptionally energetic and conscientious
founders of New England did not raise food enough until it was agreed
that "They should set corne, every man for his own particular." Another
difficulty in the way of state Socialism is that the requisite number
of competent managers could not be found after the abolition of the
competitive system. It is that which brings forward men of unusual
ability and energy, though scarcely in sufficient numbers. Socialism
would increase the demand, but lessen the supply. Spencer calls it "the
coming slavery." It might better be called a slavery which is becoming
obsolete. Our existing system of industry certainly needs improvement;
but this will have to be made by following the laws of social science.
Their action has done much during the present century to improve the
condition of the poor; and we may trust that it will do more hereafter.
The nineteenth might be called the philanthropic century, if that title
did not belong also to the eighteenth.

The latter has the peculiar merit of doing so much to abolish
persecution that there have been comparatively few instances during the
period covered by this book. Much more has been done during the last
hundred years to extend political than religious liberty; but I have not
neglected to mention the most active champions of the great principle,
that human rights ought not to be affected by individual differences
about theology. If there is too little agitation at present for
this principle in the United States, it is largely on account of an
unfortunate occurrence of which I have written at some length in the
last chapter but one. Here I had the valuable assistance of Francis E.
Abbot, Ph.D., author of _Scientific Theism_, and Benjamin F. Underwood.
If the words, "militant liberals," had been used in this chapter, they
would express my meaning more plainly than the term "aggressive."

The least pleasant part of my work has been the pointing out defects in
a system of philosophy, ethics, and theology which I once delighted to
honour. As valuable results may have been reached by the metaphysical
method as by the scientific; but if the latter is right the former
is certainly wrong. When we find so consistent and warmhearted a
Transcendentalist as Miss Cobbe placing pantheism and scepticism among
"the greatest of sins" (see her _Religious Duty_, pp. 19, 65, and 100),
we may suspect that this philosophy aggravated Carlyle's natural
bitterness against opponents. There has been comparatively little
intolerance among American intuitionalists, thanks to the genial
influence of Emerson.

F. M. H.

August, 1899.



I. France had been freed by the Revolution from many ghosts of kingly,
feudal, and priestly privileges; but she was still the prey of the most
deadly of vampires, - military glory. The followers of this fatal guide
had driven the party of peace and liberty from power by force and fraud,
and found a ruler after their own hearts in the conqueror who, in 1804,
became the Emperor Napoleon.

Thus was established what some metaphysicians suppose to be the best
form of government, - an enlightened despotism. The autocrat knew that he
had risen to power as the most popular champion of political equality;
and he gave this democratic principle such additional authority that it
has continued supreme in France. Her sons are still equals before the
law, owners of the land they till, exempt from taxes levied for the
benefit of any privileged class, and free to choose their own career and
mode of worship. This is due in great part to the usurper who reduced
representative government to an empty shell, and who centralised the
administration of schools, police, streets, roads, and bridges, and all
other local concerns even more completely than had ever been done before
the Revolution.

He knew the real needs of France well enough to give her peace with all
her enemies; but scarcely had he signed the last treaty when he took
possession of Switzerland, and continued to annex territory, in defiance
of the protests of the British ministers that he was making peace
impossible. War was declared by them in 1803 and kept up against him
for eleven years continuously, with occasional assistance from Russia,
Austria, Prussia, Spain, and other countries. This was a period of
great glory for France, but also of great suffering. Her boundaries were
enlarged; but her most patriotic citizens were slaughtered in foreign
lands; her shipping was swept away by British cruisers; her people
were hindered in obtaining American grain, British cloth, and other
necessaries of life, in exchange for wine, silk, lace, and other
luxuries; the Emperor could not supervise the prefects who managed,
or mismanaged, all internal interests, and who were responsible to him
alone; freedom of the press was prohibited; and all the arts of peace

This was the price which France paid for Auster-litz, Jena, and other
famous victories over Russia, Austria, and Prussia, which in 1807
brought peace with every enemy but England, and made Napoleon master,
either directly through his prefects, or indirectly through tributary
kings, not only of France but of the Netherlands, Denmark, Switzerland,
Spain, Venice with the rest of Italy, and about three-fourths of
Germany, including one-half of what had formerly been Prussian
territory. Eight years from the usurpation in 1799 brought him to his
zenith: eight years later, he was at Saint Helena.

His German, Swiss, and Italian subjects gained political equality, and
also the permanent advantage of the code which bears his name. It had
really been made by his lawyers, on foundations laid by the Convention.
Throughout his dominions, Jew, Catholic, and Protestant became equals
before the law. The fact that these reforms survived his authority
proves that they could have been established without it. They were
unavoidable results of the eighteenth century.

How little he was influenced by philanthropy is shown by his driving
into exile a statesman named Stein, who had abolished serfdom in
Prussia, and made it equally possible for the members of all classes
to buy land and choose occupations. The establishment of the Empire had
been preceded by the revival of slavery in several colonies where it
had been abolished by the Convention. It was for helping the Haytians
preserve their independence by heroic resistance, that Toussaint was
sent by Napoleon to die in prison. The conquered nations in Europe were
handed over from one master to another, without being even invited to
consent; but what was still more oppressive was inability to exchange
their own products for cloth and hardware from England, grain from the
United States, coffee and sugar from the West Indies, and many other
articles whose lack was keenly felt. This trouble was largely due to the
blockade kept up by British Ships; but Napoleon was so ignorant of the
advantage of commerce to both parties engaged in it as to suppose he
could conquer England by a plan which really injured only himself and
his subjects. He forbade all importation from Great Britain and her
colonies wherever he had power or even influence; and many of the
prohibited goods were taken from merchants and destroyed without
compensation. Germany suffered also from having her manufactures
forbidden to compete with the French. The latter asked in vain for
freer trade, and were told by Napoleon that he understood their business
better than they did. Countless outrages on prominent individuals helped
the growth of disaffection.

II. The British ministry retaliated against Napoleon's attack on the
right to trade freely, with a success which led to a great outrage on
individual liberty in the United States. The war with Europe gave much
of the world's commerce to American ships; but they were forbidden
by Great Britain, in 1806, to trade with some of their best customers
unless they stopped to pay tribute in her ports. The seizures for
disobedience increased the anger which had been long felt against
the British for impressing sailors on board of American ships. Three
thousand citizens of the United States had been forced into a hostile
navy before the refusal of our frigate, _Chesapeake_, in 1807, to submit
to a search brought on a bloody contest.

Napoleon was then at the height of his power; and Great Britain was
fighting against him single-handed. It was an unusually good time for
declaring a war which soon proved inevitable in defence of merchants'
and sailors' rights. Jefferson preferred to violate those rights
himself, as had been done by the Federalists in 1794, and Congress aided
him in forbidding American ships to sail for foreign ports. This embargo
was so plainly unnecessary that every captain who was able to get out
of New York harbour did so at once without caring what crew, cargo, or
papers he had on board. Fifty million dollars' worth of shipping was
kept idle for more than a year; a hundred thousand sailors and mechanics
were thrown out of work; farms and plantations ceased to be profitable;
clothing and tools became ruinously dear; thirteen hundred New Yorkers,
who had been ruined by the embargo, were imprisoned for debt; and laws
for protection against creditors were passed by the Southern and Western
States. No one gained by the embargo except the smugglers; and attempts
to suppress them called out dangerous manifestations of popular
discontent. No one suffered less than the British merchants.

III. Meantime, Napoleon took the first step towards ruin in placing his
brother on the throne of Spain. The Spaniards had borne patiently the
loss of ships, commerce, and colonies; but this fresh wrong stirred up
insurrection. The new King was brought to Madrid by French troops; but
not a single Spaniard would enter his service; and he was soon obliged
to leave the city. He said to his brother, "Your glory will be wrecked
in Spain"; but Napoleon kept on sending in armies, whose victories made
him hated, but not obeyed. He offered to abolish feudal privileges, the
inquisition, and the tariffs which separated province from province. The
only result was to make reform odious to a people which cared much more
for nationality than progress. The clergy encouraged the peasants to
keep up a guerilla war, in which his veterans perished ignominiously;
and British auxiliaries won victories which made Wellington famous.

Austria took advantage of the situation to try to reconquer the lost
provinces. The Tyrolese had been made subjects of the King of Bavaria;
but they rose at the call of Hofer, and gained glorious victories over
French and Bavarian soldiers. Other defeats were suffered by Napoleon;
but he soon succeeded in forcing Austria to grant him, not only much
more of her territory, but the hand of a young princess, who had never
thought of him but with abhorrence. This involved his divorce from the
loving Josephine. He pleaded desire for a son who might succeed him; but
he was not likely to live until any child who might be born after this
would be old enough to keep together an empire whose basis was conquest.

The Austrian princess had been demanded before Napoleon's application
for a Russian one had been answered decisively; his plans for restoring
Poland had given additional offence to the Czar; and the welfare of
Russia demanded freedom to use the products of her forests, fields, and
mines in buying British goods. This right was insisted upon by the Czar;
and Napoleon had only abuse for the friends who warned him that defeat
in Russia would call all Germany to arms against him. He was already so
unpopular at Paris, that he had to remove with his Court.

The enormous army with which he invaded Russia might easily have taken
possession of her Polish provinces, where the people were friendly.
He preferred to march a thousand miles, through a hostile and barren
country, to Moscow. The city was set on fire at his arrival; but he
wasted so much time there, that winter helped the Russians turn
his retreat into a rout. Hundreds of thousands of soldiers perished

The Prussians flew to arms; and Austria demanded restoration of her
provinces. He replied that he should not yield an inch, and cared
nothing for the loss of a million lives. He was driven out of Germany by
"the Battle of the Nations," which was won at Leipsic, in October,
1813, by zealous cooperation of the Russians with Prussians, Austrians,
Bavarians, and other Germans.

One result was described by saying that "The Dutch have taken Holland."
Need of a strong government in time of war had given a power almost
monarchical to the successors of that Prince of Orange who had saved
his republic from Philip II. One of these princes was driven out by
a democratic rebellion in 1787, but restored by a Prussian army. The
French Revolution enabled Holland to return to republicanism; but
alliance with the Directory meant continual spoliation; and there were
grievous conscriptions under Napoleon, whose rule was extremely
unpopular in a nation which lived by commerce. When the Dutch heard of
his defeat at Leipsic, they rose against him without waiting for
auxiliaries; and the French garrisons were soon driven out by the help
of soldiers from Russia, Prussia, and England. The rulers of these
countries sanctioned the desire of the Orange faction to make the prince
a king. The people were not consulted, but were reconciled by a
constitution, under which there was a legislature with some power, local
self-government, freedom of worship, political equality, and liberty in

Napoleon might have remained emperor; but he refused to make any
concessions, and kept on fighting until his generals abandoned him, and
his deposition was voted by the Senate. The people would not rise for
him, as they had done for the Republic; and the Parisians refused to
cry "Vive l'Empereur" as he returned from Elba, to be overthrown at
Waterloo. Three million Frenchmen perished in his wars; and he left
France smaller than he found her. His restrictions on commerce were
removed so suddenly as to destroy the industries which he had tried to
foster; and the proportion of paupers to the population was three times
as great as in 1880.

France was still desirous that the press should be free, and that
taxation should be controlled by representatives of the people. Louis
XVIII. had to promise that he would respect these rights which his
predecessors had violated. Toleration continued; and the peasants kept
the property and equality which the Revolution had given them, and which
no sovereign could take away.

Napoleon is the most famous of generals; but his greatness as a
statesman would have been plainer if he had not undertaken so many showy
enterprises which had little chance of success. He failed signally in
founding a dynasty, in making France the greatest of manufacturers, and
in giving her an invincible navy, though he might have gained the first
of these objects by peace, and the last by free trade. He could not even
leave to his successor the territory which had been conquered by the
Revolution. Yet these were his dearest purposes, except the wild dream
of humbling England. Was he the greatest of architects, every one of
whose colossal structures fell under their own weight before they could
be used? Greater is he who builds what lasts for ages.

Napoleon made the twenty years ending with 1815 more glorious than any
later period, and much more wretched. Western Europe was afflicted by
bloody wars, and impoverished by restrictions on commerce. If his reign
had been peaceable, he might have deprived France much more completely
of what liberty she had enjoyed under the Directory. Every despot,
however enlightened and benevolent, must necessarily interfere so much
with the liberty of his subjects as to hinder their making themselves
happy. France and Germany lost nothing in freedom and gained much in
prosperity by his defeat; for it gave the world many years of peace.
What he brought of political and religious equality to Prussia,
Western Germany, and Switzerland survived him; for it was part of his
inheritance from the Revolution which he closed treacherously. France
had received her legacy without his help; and she retained much of it in
spite of his interference. His victories over hereditary monarchs were
so suggestive that books about him are still prohibited in Russia; but
no people lost much by his overthrow except the Italians.

IV. Waterloo might have been called a "of the Nations" as well as
Leipsic; but the best fighting was under the British flag. The English
had suffered much from Napoleon, in spite of his never succeeding in
making an invasion. The worst injury he did was in forcing them to
remain in that absorption in war which had checked the growth of
toleration, democracy, and prosperity in 1793. George III. was
personally popular; but his weak, unprincipled successor was merely a
figurehead. Two-thirds of the members of the House of Commons in 1815
had been appointed by the Ministry, or by some nobleman, and most of
the others owned or rented some pocket-borough almost destitute of
inhabitants. The House of Lords was overwhelmingly opposed to government
by the people; and no Tories were more consistent than those sons or
protégés of noblemen, the bishops. The successors of the apostles had
no sympathy with the struggle of the Cross against the Crescent in lands
where Paul had preached. They helped to vote down propagation of the
Gospel in India, as well as enfranchisement of Roman Catholics, and
mitigation of laws which punished pilfering with death. They tried in
vain to save the slave-trade from prohibition; and most of the clerical
and lay members of both Houses were in league to keep the tax on
importation of wheat heavy enough to give them large incomes from their
real estate.

This tariff and the depreciation of currency made food excessively dear.
The country labourer was often unable to earn more than the price of a
loaf a day. Employers agreed on wages so low that the peasants had to
ask continually for parochial relief, and could not afford to go out of
the parish to seek higher pay. Their degradation was increased by
their almost universal illiteracy; and their misdemeanours, especially
poaching, were punished cruelly; for the rural magistrate was either the
squire or his ally, the parson. There was little chance of justice for
the poor against the rich; the rural labourer could seldom improve his
position; and the bad harvests of 1816, 1817, and 1818 helped to make
him worse off than ever before or since.

The operatives had higher wages, but suffered under the friction of an
industrial revolution, which has done more than any political convulsion
for human happiness. The factory had been enabled by the invention of
the steam-engine and other machines, shortly before 1800, to take the
place of the cottages in making cloth. British goods were in great
demand abroad during the war, and had to be carried in British ships.
Improved roads and canals led merchants and manufacturers to opulence.
The rich grew richer, as has usually been the case; but there were some

1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16

Online LibraryFrederic May HollandLiberty in the nineteenth century → online text (page 1 of 16)