The Continental Monthly, Vol. 4, No. 5, November, 1863 online

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[4] Assises de la haute cour.

[5] La chevalerie du royaume.

[6] Bourgeois.

[7] Cours de la chaine.

[8] Cour de la fonde, - fonde signifying the place, probably, where
traders came together.

[9] 'Lettres du Sepulcre.'




Dear Sir: I address you in your quality of President of the Society for
the Diffusion of Political Knowledge, and with reference to your speech
and your letter to Mr. Crosby, published in the tracts issued by your
Society. I should have done so sooner but that I hoped Mr. Crosby would
himself have taken the matter in hand; and though it is somewhat late in
the day, I venture to recall the public attention to what you have put
forth, both because in a general view it is never too late to expose
error on matters of fundamental importance, and because, in this case,
there are some special reasons why it should be done, arising from your
personal position. If you were a mere hackneyed party politician, I
should not think it worth while to take any public notice of what you
have said.

I should be glad to confine myself strictly to the question of the truth
or error of what you have advanced, apart from its bearings on yourself
personally; but as most of what you have put forth is in the way of
vindicating your loyalty and justifying your conduct at this time, I
shall have to consider also its validity for your purpose. This is a
necessity of the case which I have not made. Before proceeding to your
letter to Mr. Crosby, I shall first consider some matters in your

In a crisis such as this, when the clutch of the wickedest rebellion the
world ever saw is grappling the throat of the national existence, you
are openly in opposition to the action of the Government, and
apparently in sympathy with the rebels. Yet you claim to be loyal, and
you vindicate your claim in a very remarkable way. Loyalty with you is
fidelity to the sovereign. That sovereign is the people. To that
sovereign you profess to bear true allegiance, and therefore your
loyalty is not to be impeached, however much you may oppose yourself to
the action of the authorities constituted by the sovereign. A singular
sort of loyalty; very much of a piece, some may say, with the religion
of the man who disobeys the bidding of those whom God bids him obey,
because of his profound reverence for the supreme authority of God!

You, of course, deny this. You make the issue that the action of the
constituted authorities is contrary to the will of the sovereign - is, in
fact, the exercise of usurped powers. You propose to appeal directly to
the sovereign for the determination of this issue; that is, you propose
to bring the sovereign to be of the same mind with you, if you can. 'We
mean,' you say, 'to use our rights of free discussion, and to look for
the answer to our appeal to the ballot box.' And you ask, 'Is it
disloyalty to appeal to the sovereign, or to exercise that portion of
the sovereign power which of right belongs to us, as part of the

Now, there is certainly nothing necessarily disloyal in making and
discussing before the people the issue you make, any more than there is
anything necessarily villanous in a man's availing himself of his
extreme legal rights before the courts: whether it be so in fact or not,
depends on the circumstances, on the spirit, purpose, and effect of the
thing. But there is a great deal of nonsense (pardon me) in calling this
an exercise of _that portion of the sovereign power which of right
belongs to you as part of the people_ - nonsense which, if it were merely
nonsense, and as palpable to everybody as it is to those who are
accustomed to correct thinking and accurate expression on the subject,
it would not be worth while to expose; but which, being taken for sound
sense (as it is very likely to be by many of the people among whom you
have undertaken to diffuse political knowledge), becomes very pernicious
nonsense, that ought not to be suffered to pass.

A portion of the sovereign power belonging to you and your associates as
individuals! The sovereignty of the nation split up into fractional
shares - each of you possessing (say) one thirty-millionth part of the
integral unit, and possessing it, of course, exclusively and therefore
separately, if you are to exercise it individually, even in the way of
clubbing your respective shares as you propose! Heard ever any one the
like? Why, you might as well say that each individual in the nation
possesses the entire sovereign power. As well say thirty million whole
sovereigns, as thirty million fractional sovereigns. Equal falsehood,
equal absurdity, either way.

Political sovereignty is as incapable of division as it is of forfeiture
or of alienation. It is the right and power which society - considered as
the state - has to do whatever is necessary to its existence and welfare.
It resides in the whole people as one body politic. It is not an
attribute of individuals. Individual rulers are sometimes called
sovereigns; but they cannot be such in the strict and just sense of the
term. It is simply impossible that any individual should possess in
himself the inherent, indefeasible, inalienable, and inviolable right
and power to govern a nation; and it is no less impossible that you and
your associates, in your separate capacity as individuals, should
possess any 'portion' of it, and therefore none 'of right belongs' to

I do not deny your 'rights of free discussion.' But I deny that they are
sovereign rights, and that the exercise of them is an exercise of
sovereign power. They are individual, personal rights, and that of
itself determines the absurdity of calling them sovereign.

Besides, in point of fact, they are rights which are practically valid
for you only in the will of the sovereign. Whether they are in their
nature primordial or prescriptive rights, makes no difference as to this
point. The will of the sovereign is the only effectual guarantee of the
natural rights of individuals, and the only source of their political
rights. The sovereign recognizes the former, confers the latter, and
secures both. There is not a particle of political right or power
possessed or exercised by any individual in the nation which is not
derived by grant from the sovereign power. A certain number of
individuals in the nation have, for instance, the right of voting at the
primary elections and for the determination of certain questions
submitted to a popular vote. This is a delegated right, granted only to
a certain number of individuals, not as sovereigns or parcel sovereigns,
but as subjects of the state, acting, for certain definite purposes, and
within certain prescribed limits, as agents of the sovereign power.

So with all other political powers exercised in the nation - whether
legislative, judicial, or executive; whether exercised by individuals or
by constituted bodies: all stand in the will of the sovereign power; all
are derived and delegated powers - ministerial, and not imperial.

* * * * *

It is easy now to see the pernicious influence which your doctrine about
the sovereign rights of individuals must have upon the unreflecting
masses who accept it as sound sense, and particularly upon those of them
who vote at the primary elections.

In the first place, it generates a false and practically mischievous
notion of their relation to the other constituted authorities of the
state. You are yourself an example in point.

You ask whether it is a mistake or an exaggeration in you to 'say that
presidents, and governors, and all the departments of State or Federal
machinery, are all subordinate to the people?'

It is certainly neither a mistake nor an exaggeration to say so,
provided by the people you understand the whole people, in their
sovereign capacity as one body politic. But it is an egregious mistake,
an absurd and mischievous falsehood, to say so, if by the people be
understood those who vote in the primary elections - whether the
concurring majority of them or all of them. The people who vote are not
_the_ sovereign people. In their capacity of voters they are - in common
with all the other functionaries of the Government - co├Ârdinate parts of
the indivisible organism of the State. The legislative, judicial, and
executive functionaries of the Government - constituted directly or
indirectly through the ministerial agency of their votes - when thus
constituted, hold their powers not _from_ the voters, but _through_ them
_from_ the sovereign; and to that sovereign alone are they responsible
for the exercise of them. They are, therefore, not 'subordinate' to the
voters, either in the sense of deriving their powers from them, or in
the sense of being accountable to them, and there is no other sense of
the term that is not futile here. They are subordinate in both these
respects to the sovereign power of the nation; but so, too, are the
voters themselves; and the former no more than the latter.

But those who accept your instructions are not likely so to understand
this. They are not likely to be wiser than their teachers, and cannot
perhaps be so safely trusted with the dangerous edge tools of false
doctrine. You tell them that all Government officials, in all
departments, are subordinate to the sovereign people; and they are sure
to understand it that they, the voters, are the sovereign people, and
that all the constituted authorities are subordinate to them in point
of power - hold their powers from them alone, and are responsible to them
alone - while they themselves hold their powers from themselves, and are
responsible only to themselves. Hence (and you yourself have in this
speech set them the example) we hear them talking of themselves as the
'masters,' and Government officials as their 'servants,' just as though
both alike were not servants of one and the same sovereign master, whose
right and power it is - within the sphere of the state, and for the just
ends of the state - to control every individual in the nation. There is a
world of mischief in the use of such words among the ignorant and
unreflecting, and demagogues well know how to avail themselves of the
power it gives them.

The pernicious tendency of your doctrine about the sovereign power and
sovereign rights of individuals is seen in another and more general
point of view.

Political sovereignty - residing, as we have seen it does, in the whole
people as the state, or as one body politic - is not an absolute
sovereignty. It is limited to the just ends of the state - the
maintenance of social justice and the general security and welfare.
There is no sovereignty to do wrong. The state is so far a moral person
that its sovereignty cannot rightfully be exercised from mere will,
arbitrary caprice, or passion; but only dutifully, in just ways, and for
its proper ends.

But the people whom you teach to consider as themselves individually
possessed of a portion of the sovereign power, and (as they will think)
so far sovereigns, have mostly no other idea of sovereignty than the
absolute right to have their own will and way in any way. Regarding
their political rights as their own, inherent, personal possession and
property, and not as public trusts, they are not likely to feel
themselves limited in the manner of exercising them by any sense of duty
to the state. The stronger this false notion of rights, the feebler the
sense of moral obligation in the exercise of them. Woe to the people to
whom rights are everything and duties nothing, or to whom the standing
for their own rights is the highest and most sacred political duty!
Among such a people, in times of high excitement, springs up a political
fanaticism far less respectable in its origin, and far more dangerous to
the public welfare, than the philanthropic fanaticism which you denounce
in language so nearly bordering on fanatic violence.

I am sorry to have been obliged to insist at such length upon the
simplest elements of political science and the theory of our Government.
But you have made it needful. You have put forth notions radically false
and practically mischievous on fundamental questions; and you have done
it in the way most calculated to impose on the minds of the ignorant and
unthinking - by quietly assuming their truth. One wonders to see you
apparently so unconscious of the utter contradiction between that which
you take for granted and that which, in the general consent of
respectable writers and thinkers, is held to be settled beyond debate.
There is one at least among your associates (if I mistake not) who would
be ashamed to stand godfather to your assumptions in regard to
sovereignty and sovereign rights.

It is important for one who is so fond as you are of making
distinctions, to see to it that they are just and valid. It is of
immense moment that one who builds so much on words should rest his
structure on the solid foundation of a correct and exact conception of
them. Words are often things, and sometimes things of tremendous
consequence, and none more so than those which enter into the grounding
principles, of politics. No theoretical error but works practical
mischief. No one should be more aware of this than he who undertakes the
'diffusion of political knowledge' among the people of this country.
The false notions on sovereignty and sovereign rights which you have put
forth, are precisely the ones to take root and bear evil fruit among the
least instructed and least thoughtful, the most passionate and
unscrupulous of our people. In short, it is among the lowest and worst
elements of our social life - among the sort of persons that swelled the
majorities in the Sixth Ward of Sodom - that you win find your most
numerous disciples and readiest coadjutors in your bad work of opposing
the constituted authorities of the state; and this at a time when every
good man and true patriot should think much more of duties than of
rights, and be more willing to forego personal rights for his country's
good, than by factious assertion of them to weaken the arm of public
power struggling to save the national existence.

I shall go on in another letter to consider your utterances on the
distinction between the Government and the Administration, and your
special pleas for hostility to the constituted authorities.



Dear Sir: I now proceed to consider your letter to Mr. Crosby, which I
cannot help regarding as fitted to excite sentiments of mortification as
well as grief in the minds of all intelligent men and good patriots who
in time past have known and honored you. What such as have not known or
cared for you will be apt to think, I shall not undertake to say.

One of Mr. Crosby's questions was this: 'What appears to you the
sufficient reason for a Christian citizen to ally himself with others
for the extreme and radical purpose of undermining and paralyzing the
power of the Government at a crisis when unanimity of support is plainly
essential not only to the welfare but to the very life of the nation?'

This is a plain question, and one may well wonder how it was possible
for you to suppose that you were fairly meeting it and effectually
rebutting the charge it implies by raising the distinction you make
between the Government and the Administration. The sense in which Mr.
Crosby used the word Government is perfectly obvious; and if he had a
right to use it in that sense - as he undoubtedly had - it seems to me it
was for you to answer it in its plain meaning; to answer the question he
asked, and not another, which he did not ask. But you preferred to go
into critical analysis and to make sharp distinctions of words. Let us
look at the work you have made of it.

You tell Mr. Crosby that he has 'fallen into the prevalent error of
confounding the Government with the Administration of the Government,'
and that 'they are not the same.' Now, they _are_ the same, when both
words are used to signify the same thing.

You say that 'the word government has, indeed, two meanings.' Webster
gives a round dozen. In its political applications it has four. You add,
'In order to relieve the subject from ambiguity' - though there is in
this case no ambiguity to relieve - 'that the ordinary meaning of
government in free countries is that form of fundamental rules and
principles by which a nation or state is governed,' etc. No doubt this
is one of the meanings of the word. No doubt government, considered with
reference to its quality or the manner of its constitution, does often
signify a system of polity, a determinate organization and distribution
of the supreme powers of the state. But this is not its '_ordinary_'
meaning - either in the sense of its being the most correct and proper,
or the most frequent use of the term. The other meaning to which you
refer - that which makes it 'synonymous with the administration of
public affairs' - is equally legitimate, and a great deal more frequent.
The word not only '_sometimes_' has this meaning, but has it, I presume
to say, ten times oftener than it has what you call its 'ordinary
meaning,' and for the sufficient reason that there is occasion to speak
ten times of Government as an actual exercise of the supreme powers
where there is to speak of it once as an abstract system of polity.

But you say that when the word is used in 'a meaning synonymous with
administration of public affairs, then '_the Government_' is
metonymically used for _administration_, and should not be confounded
with the original and true signification of the term _Administration_,
which means the _persons collectively_ who are intrusted with the
execution of the laws, and with the superintendence of public affairs.'

Pardon me, but this strikes me as a singular combination of futilities
and falsities. In the first place, when the word government is used
synonymously with administration, to signify in a general way the
conduct of public affairs, there is nothing 'metonymical' in the case:
one word is not rhetorically put for the other; either word may be
rightfully used to signify the same thing, that is, they are so far
forth simply synonymous terms. In the next place, what in the world do
you mean by saying that the '_original and true_' signification of the
term administration is the _persons collectively_ who are intrusted with
the execution of the laws, and with the superintendence of public
affairs? It is one of the meanings of the word indeed, and so a 'true'
one - though no more true than its other authorized meanings, but it is
not the 'original' one; on the contrary, it is secondary and derived.
And finally, what earthly warrant have you for talking of 'confusion'
being made when the _Government_ is used to signify 'the persons
collectively' by whom public affairs are conducted? It is just as
correct to use the word Government in this sense, as it is to use the
word Administration. Both words are rightfully so used; and you would
here, I suppose, be in no error in saying 'metonymically' used, if you
have a fancy for that epithet: _Administration_ is 'metonymically' _put
for_ the official persons and acts of the persons who have the direction
of national affairs, and _Government_ is just _as often_ 'metonymically'
put for the same persons and acts - and with _equal right_; for it is
authorized by established usage, which is the supreme law of language.
By what right, then, do you assume to limit the term government to
signifying a 'form of fundamental rules and principles,' or at least to
insist that when used synonymously with administration, it shall _not_
be used to signify the 'persons collectively' by whom the affairs of the
nation are conducted; and when Mr. Crosby uses it - as he obviously
does - in that sense, to talk to him of 'error and confusion?' When Lord
Russell spoke the other day in the British Parliament of 'awaiting an
explanation from the American Government' in the matter of the Peterhof,
and when the London _Times_ spoke of 'the Government at Washington being
anxious,' you might as properly have taken them to task for the 'error'
and 'confusion' of talking as if our 'form of fundamental rules and
principles' could give an explanation, or feel disturbed in mind. Mr.
Crosby had a perfect right to use the word in the sense in which he
obviously did use it. He fell, therefore, into no 'error.' He
'confounded' nothing; he did not identify different things, nor
wrongfully put one thing for another.

In short, your distinction between the Government and the Administration
falls away into a sheer, absurd futility. And well if it escape a
harsher judgment; for when you go about to make irrelevant distinctions
in a plain case, where there is none to be made, and tax your
correspondent (no matter in what soft phrase) with errors and
confusions when he was guilty of none - it will go nigh to be thought by
many an unworthy subterfuge, serving no other purpose than the
fallacious one of shifting the question, and misleading dull minds.

Of the same sort is what you further say in support of this futile
distinction. You talk of the Administration being '_utterly destroyed_
without affecting the health of the Government,' of the Government
'remaining intact, unscathed, while the Administration is _swept out of
existence_;' and you say 'every change of Administration, at every
election, exemplifies this great truth'!

By Government, I suppose you here unconsciously mean something different
from what you had before defined as its 'ordinary meaning,' for you
would hardly talk of the 'life' and 'health' of an abstract scheme of
polity, of a set of 'rules and principles.' I take it, therefore, that
you mean, or ought to mean, a living, acting something. Now imagine a
Government without an Administration, with its Administration 'utterly
destroyed,' 'swept out of existence.' How long afterward would it
continue to exist? One day? One hour? One moment? No; the 'life' of a
Government implies the perpetual, uninterrupted exercise of the supreme
powers of the state, and that depends upon the undying official life of
living administrative functionaries; and therefore to say, as you do,
that the Administration is 'utterly destroyed,' 'swept out of
existence,' every time new members are elected to fill the place of
those whose term of office has run out, is an absurd exaggeration of
language, and certainly serves no good purpose, but only affords to
those who are capable of being deceived by it a fallacious show of
support to a distinction which I have proved to be irrelevant and futile
in this case.

It seems to me it is not for you to talk about 'the prejudices and
befogged intellects' of those who are unable to see 'in the light' of
your notable 'explication' that 'opposition to the Administration' - such
as you now make - 'is not opposition to the Government.' And your
pretension 'to rally in support of the Government,' and to 'uphold and
strengthen' it, by such opposition, will, I am afraid, be looked upon by
intelligent men and good patriots as absurd and impudent to the last
degree-an outrage, in fact, on language and on common sense.

* * * * *

But enough for your verbal distinctions - a great deal too much, indeed,
were it not that if you can put forth such things in good faith, it is
to be presumed that there may be others of easy faith enough, through
disloyal predisposition of feeling, to take them as sound and valid, and
so find comfort in error and an evil course.

To come now to the real merits of the case. You denounce the
Administration, and seek to stir up popular disaffection to it, not for
heartlessness, hesitation, and feebleness in prosecuting the war, but
precisely for whatever of earnestness, promptitude, and energy it
displays - not, in short, for what it does not do, but for what it does
do, in striking down the rebellion. It is vain for you to justify your
conduct by professions of allegiance to the sovereign people and loyalty
to the Government. Why, it is the great will of the sovereign people (to
whom you profess such faithful allegiance) that the Government (to which
you profess such devoted loyalty) should be saved from destruction by
crushing to utter extinction the armed rebellion that seeks its
overthrow. And the Administration - and I may include Congress, since the
action of that body is also the object of your denunciation - is the
organ of the sovereign people, carrying out its sovereign will in all
the acts you denounce. I do not say that the conduct of affairs has been

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Online LibraryVariousThe Continental Monthly, Vol. 4, No. 5, November, 1863 → online text (page 6 of 20)