James Fenimore Cooper.

The Monikins online

. (page 26 of 34)
Online LibraryJames Fenimore CooperThe Monikins → online text (page 26 of 34)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


had sworn to throw the mate overboard if he did not instantly relinquish
all ambitious projects of this nature, he found that the Tangents were
off. Supposing they had gone to some other vessel, the captain allowed
himself to be soothed, and all went on smoothly again.

From this time until we anchored in the bay of Bivouac, the tranquillity
and discipline of the Walrus were undisturbed. I improved the occasion
to study the constitution of Leaplow, of which the judge had a copy,
and to glean such information from my companions as I believed might
be useful in my future career. I thought how pleasant it would be for a
foreigner to teach the Leaplowers their own laws, and to explain to them
the application of their own principles! Little, however, was to be
got from the judge, who was just then too much occupied with some
calculations concerning the chances of the little wheel, with which he
had been furnished by a leading man of one of the nominating committees.

I now questioned the brigadier touching that peculiar usage of his
country which rendered Leaphigh opinions concerning the Leaplow
institutions, society, and manners of so much value in the market of the
latter. To this I got but an indifferent answer, except it was to say,
that his countrymen, having cleared the interests connected with the
subjects from the rubbish of time, and set everything at work, on
the philosophical basis of reason and common sense, were exceedingly
desirous of knowing what other people thought of the success of the
experiment.

"I expect to see a nation of sages, I can assure you, brigadier; one
in which even the very children are profoundly instructed in the great
truths of your system; and, as to the monikinas, I am not without dread
of bringing my theoretical ignorance in collision with their great
practical knowledge of the principles of your government."

"They are early fed on political pap."

"No doubt, sir, no doubt. How different must they be from the females of
other countries! Deeply imbued with the great distinctive principles
of your system, devoted to the education of their children in the same
sublime truths, and indefatigable in their discrimination, among the
meanest of their households!"

"Hum!"

"Now, sir, even in England, a country which I trust is not the most
debased on earth, you will find women, beautiful, intellectual,
accomplished and patriotic, who limit their knowledge of these
fundamental points to a zeal for a clique, and the whole of whose
eloquence on great national questions is bounded by a few heartfelt
wishes for the downfall of their opponents; - "

"It is very much so at Stunnin'tun, too, if truth must be spoken,"
remarked Noah, who had been a listener.

"Who, instead of instructing the young suckers that cling to their sides
in just notions of general social distinctions, nurture their young
antipathies with pettish philippics against some luckless chief of the
adverse party; - "

"Tis pretty much the same at Stunnin'tun, as I live!"

"Who rarely study the great lessons of history in order to point out to
the future statesmen and heroes of the empire the beacons of crime, the
incentives for public virtue, or the charters of their liberties; but
who are indefatigable in echoing the cry of the hour, however false or
vulgar, and who humanize their attentive offspring by softly expressed
wishes that Mr. Canning, or some other frustrator of the designs of
their friends, were fairly hanged!"

"Stunnin'tun, all over!"

"Beings that are angels in form - soft, gentle, refined, and tearful
as the evening with its dews, when there is a question of humanity or
suffering; but who seem strangely transformed into she-tigers, whenever
any but those of whom they can approve attain to power; and who, instead
of entwining their soft arms around their husbands and brothers, to
restrain them from the hot strife of opinions, cheer them on by their
encouragement and throw dirt with the volubility and wit of fish-women."

"Miss Poke, to the backbone!"

"In short, sir, I expect to see an entirely different state of things at
Leaplow. There, when a political adversary is bespattered with mud,
your gentle monikinas, doubtless, appease anger by mild soothings of
philosophy, tempering zeal by wisdom, and regulating error by apt and
unanswerable quotations from that great charter which is based on the
eternal and immutable principles of right."

"Well, Sir John, if you speak in this elocutionary manner in the house,"
cried the delighted Noah, "I shall be shy of answering. I doubt, now, if
the brigadier himself could repeat all you have just said."

"I have forgotten to inquire, Mr. Downright, a little about your Leaplow
constituency. The suffrage is, beyond question, confined to those
members of society who possess a 'social stake.'"

"Certainly, Sir John, They who live and breathe."

"Surely none vote but those who possess the money, and houses, and lands
of the country?"

"Sir, you are altogether in error; all vote who possess ears, and eyes,
and noses, and bobs, and lives, and hopes, and wishes, and feelings, and
wants. Wants we conceive to be a much truer test of political fidelity,
than possessions."

"This is novel doctrine, indeed! but it is in direct hostility to the
social-stake system."

"You were never more right, Sir John, as respects your own theory,
or never more wrong as respects the truth. In Leaplow we contend - and
contend justly - that there is no broader or bolder fallacy than to
say that a representation of mere effects, whether in houses, lands,
merchandise, or money, is a security for a good government. Property
is affected by measures; and the more a monikin has, the greater is the
bribe to induce him to consult his own interests, although it should be
at the expense of those of everybody else."

"But, sir, the interest of the community is composed of the aggregate of
these interests."

"Your pardon, Sir John; nothing is composed of it, but the aggregate
of the interests of a class. If your government is instituted for their
benefit only, your social-stake system is all well enough; but if the
object be the general good, you have no choice but to trust its custody
to the general keeping. Let us suppose two men - since you happen to be
a man, and not a monikin - let us suppose two men perfectly equal in
morals, intelligence, public virtue and patriotism, one of whom shall be
rich and the other shall have nothing. A crisis arrives in the affairs
of their common country, and both are called upon to exercise their
franchise, on a question - as almost all great questions must - that
unavoidably will have some influence on property generally. Which would
give the most impartial vote - he who, of necessity, must be swayed by
his personal interest, or he who has no inducement of the sort to go
astray?"

"Certainly he who has nothing to influence him to go wrong. But the
question is not fairly put - "

"Your pardon, Sir John - it is put fairly as an abstract question, and
one that is to prove a principle. I am glad to hear you say that a man
would be apt to decide in this manner; for it shows his identity with
a monikin. We hold that all of us are apt to think most of ourselves on
such occasions."

"My dear brigadier, do not mistake sophistry for reason. Surely, if
power belonged only to the poor - and the poor, or the comparatively
poor, always compose the mass - they would exercise it in a way to strip
the rich of their possessions."

"We think not, in Leaplow. Cases might exist, in which such a state of
things would occur under a reaction; but reactions imply abuses, and are
not to be quoted to maintain a principle. He who was drunk yesterday,
may need an unnatural stimulus to-day; while he who is uniformly
temperate preserves his proper tone of body without recourse to a remedy
so dangerous. Such an experiment, under a strong provocation, might
possibly be made; but it could scarcely be made twice among any people,
and not even once among a people that submits in season to a just
division of its authority, since it is obviously destructive of a
leading principle of civilization. According to our monikin histories,
all the attacks upon property have been produced by property's grasping
at more than fairly belongs to its immunities. If you make political
power a concomitant of property, both may go together, certainly; but if
kept separate, the danger to the latter will never exceed the danger
in which it is put daily by the arts of the money-getters, who are, in
truth, the greatest foes of property, as it belongs to others."

I remembered Sir Joseph Job, and could not but admit that the brigadier
had, at least, some truth on his side.

"But do you deny that the sentiment of property elevates the mind,
ennobles, and purifies?"

"Sir, I do not pretend to determine what may be the fact among men,
but we hold among monikins, that 'the love of money is the root of all
evil.'"

"How, sir, do you account the education which is a consequence of
property as nothing?"

"If you mean, my dear Sir John, that which property is most apt to
teach, we hold it to be selfishness; but if you mean that he who has
money, as a rule, will also have in formation to guide him aright, I
must answer, that experience, which is worth a thousand theories, tells
us differently. We find that on questions which are purely between those
who have, and those who have not, the HAVES are commonly united, and we
think this would be the fact if they were as unschooled as bears; but
on all other questions, they certainly do great discredit to education,
unless you admit that there are in every case TWO rights; for, with
us, the most highly educated generally take the two extremes of
every argument. I state this to be the fact with monikins, you will
remember - doubtless, educated men agree much better."

"But, my good brigadier, if your position about the greater impartiality
and independence of the elector who is not influenced by his private
interests be true, a country would do well to submit its elections to a
body of foreign umpires."

"It would indeed, Sir John, if it were certain these foreign umpires
would not abuse the power to their own particular advantage, if they
could have the feelings and sentiments which ennoble and purify a nation
far more than money, and if it were possible they could thoroughly
understand the character, habits, wants, and resources of another
people. As things are, therefore, we believe it is wisest to trust our
own elections to ourselves - not to a portion of ourselves, but to all of
ourselves."

"Immigrants included," put in the captain.

"Why, we do carry the principle well out in the case of gentlemen like
yourselves," returned the brigadier, politely, "but liberality is a
virtue. As a principle, Sir John, your idea of referring the choice
of our representatives to strangers has more merit than you probably
imagine, though, certainly, impracticable, for the reasons already
given. When we seek justice, we commonly look out for some impartial
judge. Such a judge is unattainable, however, in the matter of the
interests of a state, for the simple reason that power of this sort,
permanently wielded, would be perverted on a principle which, after
a most scrupulous analysis, we have been compelled to admit is
incorporated with the very monikin nature - viz., selfishness. I make
no manner of doubt that you men, however, are altogether superior to an
influence so unworthy?"

Here I could only borrow the use of the brigadier's "Hum!"

"Having ascertained that it would not do to submit the control of
our affairs to utter strangers, or to those whose interests are not
identified with our own, we set about seeing what could be done with
a selection from among ourselves. Here we were again met by that same
obstinate principle of selfishness; and we were finally driven to take
shelter in the experiment of intrusting the interests of all to the
management of all."

"And, sir, are these the opinions of Leaphigh?"

"Very far from it. The difference between Leaphigh and Leaplow is just
this: the Leaphighers, being an ancient people, with a thousand vested
interests, are induced, as time improves the mind, to seek reasons
for their facts; while we Leaplowers, being unshackled by any such
restraints, have been able to make an effort to form our facts on our
reasons."

"Why do you, then, so much prize Leaphigh opinions on Leaplow facts?"

"Why does every little monikin believe his own father and mother to be
just the two wisest, best, most virtuous, and discreetest old monikins
in the whole world, until time, opportunity, and experience show him his
error?"

"Do you make no exceptions, then, in your franchise, but admit every
citizen who, as you say, has a nose, ears, bob, and wants, to the
exercise of the suffrage?"

"Perhaps we are less scrupulous on this head than we ought to be, since
we do not make ignorance and want of character bars to the privilege.
Qualifications beyond mere birth and existence may be useful, but they
are badly chosen when they are brought to the test of purely material
possessions. This practice has arisen in the world from the fact that
they who had property had power, and not because they ought to have it."

"My dear brigadier, this is flying in the face of all experience."

"For the reason just given, and because all experience has hitherto
commenced at the wrong end. Society should be constructed as you erect a
house; not from the roof down, but from the foundation upwards."

"Admitting, however, that your house has been badly constructed at
first, in repairing it, would you tear away the walls at random, at the
risk of bringing all down about your ears?"

"I would first see that sufficient props were reared, and then proceed
with vigor, though always with caution. Courage in such an experiment
is less to be dreaded than timidity. Half the evils of life, social,
personal and political, are as much the effects of moral cowardice as of
fraud."

I then told the brigadier, that as his countrymen rejected the
inducements of property in the selection of the political base of their
social compact, I expected to find a capital substitute in virtue.

"I have always heard that virtue is the great essential of a free
people, and doubtless you Leaplowers are perfect models in this
important particular?"

The brigadier smiled before he answered me, first looking about to the
right and left, as if to regale himself with the odor of perfection.

"Many theories have been broached on these subjects," he replied, "in
which there has been some confusion between cause and effect. Virtue is
no more a cause of freedom, except as it is connected with intelligence,
than vice is a cause of slavery. Both may be consequences, but it is not
easy to say how either is necessarily a cause. There is a homely saying
among us monikins, which is quite to the point in this matter: 'Set a
rogue to catch a rogue.' Now, the essence of a free government is to
be found in the responsibility of its agents. He who governs without
responsibility is a master, while he who discharges the duties of a
functionary under a practical responsibility is a servant. This is the
only true test of governments, let them be mystified as they may
in other respects. Responsibility to the mass of the nation is the
criterion of freedom. Now responsibility is the SUBSTITUTE for virtue in
a politician, as discipline is the substitute for courage in a soldier.
An army of brave monikins without discipline, would be very apt to be
worsted by an army of monikins of less natural spirit, with discipline.
So a corps of originally virtuous politicians, without responsibility,
would be very apt to do more selfish, lawless, and profligate acts,
than a corps of less virtue, who were kept rigidly under the rod of
responsibility. Unrestrained power is a great corrupter of virtue, of
itself; while the liabilities of a restrained authority are very apt to
keep it in check. At least, such is the fact with us monikins - men very
possibly get along better."

"Let me tell you, Mr. Downright, you are now uttering opinions that are
diametrically opposed to those of the world, which considers virtue an
indispensable ingredient in a republic."

"The world - meaning always the monikin world - knows very little about
real political liberty, except as a theory. We of Leaplow are, in
effect, the only people who have had much to do with it, and I am now
telling you what is the result of my own observation, in my own country.
If monikins were purely virtuous, there would be no necessity for
government at all; but, being what they are, we think it wisest to set
them to watch each other."

"But yours is self-government, which implies self-restraint; and
self-restraint is but another word for virtue."

"If the merit of our system depended on self-government, in your
signification, or on self-restraint, in any signification, it would not
be worth the trouble of this argument, Sir John Goldencalf. This is one
of those balmy fallacies with which ill-judging moralists endeavor to
stimulate monikins to good deeds. Our government is based on a directly
opposite principle; that of watching and restraining each other, instead
of trusting to our ability to restrain ourselves. It is the want of
responsibility, and not of constant and active presence, which infers
virtue and self-control. No one would willingly lay legal restraints
on himself in anything, while all are very happy to restrain their
neighbors. This refers to the positive and necessary rules of
intercourse, and the establishment of rights; as to mere morality, laws
do very little towards enforcing its ordinances. Morals usually come
of instruction; and when all have political power, instruction is a
security that all desire."

"But when all vote, all may wish to abuse their trust to their own
especial advantage, and a political chaos will be the consequence."

"Such a result is impossible, except as especial advantage is identified
with general advantage. A community can no more buy itself in this
manner, than a monikin can eat himself, let him be as ravenous as
he will. Admitting that all are rogues, necessity would compel a
compromise."

"You make out a plausible theory, and I have little doubt that I shall
find you the wisest, the most logical, the discreetest, and the most
consistent community I have yet visited. But another word: how is
it that our friend the judge gave such equivocal instructions to
his charge; and why, in particular, did he lay so much stress on the
employment of means, which gave the lie flatly to all you have told me?"

Brigadier Downright hereupon stroked his chin, and observed that he
thought there might possibly be a shift of wind; and he also wondered
(quite audibly), when we should make the land. I afterwards persuaded
him to allow that a monikin was but a monikin, after all, whether he had
the advantages of universal suffrage, or lived under a despot.




CHAPTER XXIV. AN ARRIVAL - AN ELECTION - ARCHITECTURE - A ROLLING-PIN, AND
PATRIOTISM OF THE MOST APPROVED WATER.


In due time the coast of Leaplow made its appearance, close under our
larboard bow. So sudden was our arrival in this novel and extraordinary
country, that we were very near running on it, before we got a glimpse
of its shores. The seamanship of Captain Poke, however, stood us in
hand; and, by the aid of a very clever pilot, we were soon safely moored
in the harbor of Bivouac. In this happy land, there was no registration,
no passports, "no nothin'" - as Mr. Poke pointedly expressed it. The
formalities were soon observed, although I had occasion to remark, how
much easier, after all, it is to get along in this world with vice than
with virtue. A bribe offered to a custom-house officer was refused;
and the only trouble I had, on the occasion, arose from this awkward
obtrusion of a conscience. However, the difficulty was overcome, though
not quite as easily as if douceurs had happened to be in fashion; and we
were permitted to land with all our necessary effects.

The city of Bivouac presented a singular aspect as I first put foot
within its hallowed streets. The houses were all covered with large
placards, which, at first, I took to be lists of the wares to be vended,
for the place is notoriously commercial; but which, on examination, I
soon discovered were merely electioneering handbills. The reader will
figure to himself my pleasure and surprise, on reading the first that
offered. It ran as follows:

"HORIZONTAL NOMINATION.

"Horizontal-Systematic-Indoctrinated-Republicans: Attention!

"Your sacred rights are in danger; your dearest liberties are menaced;
your wives and children are on the point of dissolution; the infamous
and unconstitutional position that the sun gives light by day, and the
moon by night, is openly and impudently propagated, and now is the only
occasion that will probably ever offer to arrest an error so pregnant
with deception and domestic evils. We present to your notice a suitable
defender of all those near and dear interests, in the person of,

"JOHN GOLDENCALF,

"the known patriot, the approved legislator, the profound philosopher,
the incorruptible statesman. To our adopted fellow-citizens we need
not recommend Mr. Goldencalf, for he is truly one of themselves; to the
native citizens we will only say, 'Try him, and you will be more than
satisfied.'"

I found this placard of great use, for it gave me the first information
I had yet had of the duty I was expected to perform in the coming
session of the great council; which was merely to demonstrate that the
moon gave light by day, and that the sun gave light by night. Of course,
I immediately set about, in my own mind, hunting up the proper arguments
by which this grave political hypothesis was to be properly maintained.
The next placard was in favor of,

"NOAH POKE,"

"the experienced navigator, who will conduct the ship of state into
the haven of prosperity - the practical astronomer who knows by frequent
observations, that lunars are not to be got in the dark."

"Perpendiculars, be plumb, and lay your enemies on their backs!"

After this I fell in with -

"THE HONORABLE ROBERT SMUT,"

"is confidently recommended to all their fellow-citizens by the
nominating committee of the Anti-Approved-Sublimated-Politico-Tangents,
as the real gentleman, a ripe scholar, [Footnote: I afterwards found
this was a common phrase in Leaplow, being uniformly applied to every
monikin who wore spectacles.] an enlightened politician, and a sound
Democrat."

"But I should fill the manuscript with nothing else, were I to record
a tithe of the commendations and abuse that were heaped on us all, by a
community to whom, as yet, we were absolutely strangers. A single sample
of the latter will suffice."

"AFFIDAVIT."

"Personally appeared before me, John Equity, justice of the peace, Peter
Veracious, etc., etc., who, being duly sworn upon the Holy Evangelists,
doth depose and say, viz.: That he was intimately acquainted with one
John Goldencalf in his native country, and that he is personally knowing
to the fact that he, the said John Goldencalf, has three wives, seven
illegitimate children, is moreover a bankrupt without character, and
that he was obliged to emigrate in consequence of having stolen a
sheep."

"Sworn, etc."

"(Signed,) PETER VERACIOUS."

I naturally felt a little indignant at this impudent statement, and was
about to call upon the first passer-by for the address of Mr. Veracious,
when the skirts of my skin were seized by one of the Horizontal
nominating committee, and I was covered with congratulations on my being
happily elected. Success is an admirable plaster for all wounds, and I
really forgot to have the affair of the sheep and of the illegitimate
children inquired into; although I still protest, that had fortune been
less propitious, the rascal who promulgated this calumny would have been
made to smart for his temerity. In less than five minutes it was the
turn of Captain Poke. He, too, was congratulated in due form; for, as
it appeared, the "immigrant interest," as Noah termed it, had actually
carried a candidate on each of the two great opposing tickets. Thus
far, all was well; for, after sharing his mess so long, I had not the
smallest objection to sit in the Leaplow parliament with the worthy
sealer; but our mutual surprise, and I believe I might add, indignation,
were a good deal excited, by shortly encountering a walking notice,



Online LibraryJames Fenimore CooperThe Monikins → online text (page 26 of 34)