James Fenimore Cooper.

Works (Volume 17) online

. (page 27 of 35)
Online LibraryJames Fenimore CooperWorks (Volume 17) → online text (page 27 of 35)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


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 keep
ing. 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 fran
chise, 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 ?"



i THE MONIKINS. 375

"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 prin
ciple. 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 sti
mulus to-day; while he who is uniformly tempe
rate preserves his proper tone of body without
recourse to a remedy so dangerous. Such an ex
periment, under a strong provocation, might possi
bly 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 sepa
rate, the danger to the latter will never exceed the
danger in which it is put daily by the arts of the



876 THE MCWIKINS.

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 proper
ty elevates the mind, ennobles, and purifies ?"

" Sir, I do not pretend to determine what may
be the fact among men, but we hold among moni-
kins, 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 pro
perty is most apt to teach, we hold it to be selfish
ness; but if you mean that he who has money, as a
rule, will also have information 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 com
monly 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 edu
cation, unless you admit that there are, in every
case, two rights ; for, with us, the most highly edu
cated generally take the two extremes of every
argument. I state this to be the fact with moni-
kins, 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 inte
rests, be true, a country would do well to submit
'ts elections to a body of foreign umpires."

" It would indeed, Sir John, if it were certain
these foreign umpires would not abuse the power



THE MONIKINS. 377

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 an
other 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 our
selves."

" Immigrunts 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, certain
ly, 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, per
manently wielded, would be perverted on a prin
ciple 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 Briga
dier'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
32*



378 THE MONIKINS.

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 Leaphigh-
ers, 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 re
straints, 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 ex
perience 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 igno
rance 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 pos
sessions. 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



THE MONIKINS. 379

a house ; not from the roof down, but from the
foundation upward."

" Admitting, however, that your house has been
badiy 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 selec
tion 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 Leap-
lowers are perfect models in this important parti
cular?"

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 con
nected with intelligence, than vice is a cause of sla
very. 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 govern
ment 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 ser



38C THE MONIKINS

vant. This is the only true test of governments,
let them be mistified as they may in other respects.
Responsibility to the mass of the nation is the cri
terion of freedom. Now responsibility is the sub
stitute 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 origi
nally 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 au
thority are very apt to keep it in check. At least,
such is the fact with us monikins men very pos
sibly 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 liber
ty, 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-re



THE MOMKINS.

straint, 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 its constant and active
presence, which infers virtue and self-control. No
one would willingly lay legal restraints on himself,
in any thing, while all are very happy to restrain
their neighbors. This refers to the positive and
necessary rules of intercourse, and the establish
ment of rights; as to mere morality, laws do very
little towards enforcing its ordinances. Morals
usually come of instruction; and when all have poli
tical power, instruction is a security that all desire."

" But when all vote, all may wish to abuse their
trust to their own especial ad'vantage, and a poli
tical chaos would 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 rave
nous as he will. Admitting that all are rogues,
necessity would compel a compromise."

" You make out a plausible theory, and I have
Lttle doubt that I shall find you the wisest, the
most logical, the discreetest, and the most consist
ent community I have yet visited. But another
word : How is it that our friend the Judge gave
such very equivocal instructions to his charge;
and why, in particular, did he lay so much stress
on the employment of means, which give the lie
flatly to all you have here told me 1"

Brigadier Downright hereupon stroked his chin,



382 TUB MONIKINS.

and observed that ho thought there might possibly
be a shift of wind ; and he also wondered quite
audibly, when we should make the land. I after
wards persuaded him to allow that a monikin was
but a monikin, after all, whether he had the advan
tages 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.

I* due time the coast of Leaplow made its
appearance, close under our larboard bow. So
sudden was our arrival in this novel and extraor
dinary 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
soon or as easily as if douceurs had happened to
be in fashion ; and we were permitted to land with
all ouv necessary effects.



THE MOM KINS. 383

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 read
ing the first that offered. It ran as follows :

HORIZONTAL NOMINATION.

Horizontal-Systematic-Endoctrinated-Republicans, Attention !
Your sacred rights are in danger ; your dearest liberties are
menaced ; your wives and children are on the point of disso
lution; 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 these near and dear interests, in the
person of

JOHN GOLDENCALF,

The known patriot, the approved legislator, the profound phi
losopher, 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 demon
strate that the moon gave light by day, and that
the sun gave light by night. Of course, I imme
diately set about, in my own mind, hunting up
the proper arguments by which this grave political



384 THE MONIK1NS.

nypothesis was to be properly maintained. The
next placard was in favor of

NOAH POKE,

The experienced navigator, who will conduct the ship ct"
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

LJ 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,* 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 com
munity to whom, as yet, we were absolutely stran
gers. A single sample of the latter shall suffice

AFFIDAVIT.

Personally appeared before me, John Equity, Justice of the
Peace, Peter Veracious, &c. &c., who, being duly sworn
upon the Holy Evangelists, doth depose and say, viz. That he
was intimately acquainted with one John Goldencalf in hia
native country, and that he is personally knowing to the fact
that he, the said John Goldencalf, has three wives, seven
[Legitimate children, is moreover a bankrupt without charac
ter, and that he was obliged to emigrate in consequence of
having stolen a sheep.

Sworn, &c.

(Signed,) PETER VERACIOUS.

* I afterwards found this was a common phrase in Leaplow,
being uniformly applied to evcrv monikin who wore spectacle*



THE MOMKIXS. 385

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 co
vered 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
ess 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 "immigrunt
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, which
contained a programme of the proceedings to be
observed at the " Reception of the Honorable Ro
bert Smut."

It would seem that the Horizontals and the Per
pendiculars had made so many spurious and mis-
tified ballots, in order to propitiate the Tangents,
and to cheat each other, that this young blackguard
actually stood at the head of the poll! a political
phenomenon, as I subsequently discovered, how
ever, by no means of rare occurrence in the Leap-
low history of the periodical selection of the wisest
and best.

There was certainly an accumulation of interest
on arriving in a strange land, to find oneself both
33



3S6 THE MOJflKINS.

extolled and vituperated on most of the corners I
its capital, and to be elected to its parliament, all in
me same day. Still, I did not permit myself to be
either so much elated or so much depressed, as
not to have all my eyes about me, in order to
get as correctly as possible, and as quickly as pos
sible, some insight into the characters, tastes, habits,
wishes and wants of my constituents,

I have already declared that it is my intention
to dwell chiefly on the moral excellencies and
peculiarities of the people of the monikin world.
Still I could not walk through the streets of Bi
vouac without observing a few physical usages,
that I shall mention, because they have an evident
connexion with the state of society, and the histo
rical recollections of this interesting portion of the
polar region.

In the first place, I remarked that all sorts of
quadrupeds are just as much at home in the pro
menades of the town, as the inhabitants themselves,
a fact that I make no doubt has some very proper
connexion with that principle of equal rights, on
which the institutions of the country are established.
In the second place, I could not but see that their
dwellings are constructed on the very minimum
of base, propping each other, as emblematic of the
mutual support obtained by the republican system,
and seeking their development in height, for the
want of breadth ; a singularity of customs that I
did not hesitate at once to refer to a usage of
living in trees, at an epocha not very remote. In
the third place, I noted, instead of entering their
dwellings near the ground, like men, and indeed
like most other unfledged animals, that they ascend
by means of external steps, to an aperture about
half-way between the roof and the earth, where,
having obtained admission, they go up or down



THE MONIKINS. 387

within the ouilding, as occasion requires. This
usage, I made no question, was preserved from
the period, and that, too, no distant one, when the
savage condition of the country induced them to
seek protection against the ravages of wild beasts,
by having recourse to ladders, which were drawn
up after the family, into the top of the tree, as the
sun sunk beneath the horizon. These steps or lad
ders are generally made of some white material,
in order that they may, even now, be found in the
dark, should the danger be urgent ; although I do
not know that Bivouac is a more disorderly or
unsafe town than another, in the present day. But
habits linger in the usages of a people, and are
often found to exist as fashions,long after the motive
of their origin has ceased and been forgotten. As
a proof of this, many of the dwellings of Bivouac
have still enormous iron chevauz-de-frise before
the doors, and near the base of the stone-ladders ;
a practice unquestionably taken from the original,
unsophisticated, domestic defences of this wary
and enterprising race. Among a great many of
these chevaux-de-frise, I remarked certain iron
images, that resemble the kings of chess-men,
and which I took, at first, to be symbols of the cal
culating qualities of the owners of the mansions, a
species of republican heraldry ; but which the Bri
gadier told me, on inquiry, were no more than a
fashion that had descended from the custom of
having stuffed images before the doors, in the
early days of the settlement, to frighten away the
beasts at night, precisely as we station scare
crows in a corn-field. Two of these well-padded
sentinels, with a stick stuck up in a firelock-atti
tude, he assured me, had often been known to main
tain a siege of a week, against a she-bear and a
numerous family of hungry cubs, in the old^r



388 THE MOMKINS.

ntnes; and, now that the danger was gone, he
presumed the families. which had caused these
iron monuments to be erected, had done so to re
cord some marvellous risks of this nature, from
which their forefathers had escaped by means of
so ingenious an expedient.

Everything in Bivouac bears the impress of the
sublime principle of the institutions. The houses
of the private citizens, for instance, overtop the
roofs of all the public edifices, to show that the
public is merely a servant of the citizen. Even
the churches have this peculiarity, proving that
the road lo heaven is not independent of the popu
lar will. The great Hall of Justice, an edifice of
which the Bivouackers are exceedingly proud, is
constructed in the same recumbent style, the archi
tect, with a view to protect himself from the
imputation of believing that the firmament was
within reach of his hand, having taken the precau
tion to run up a wooden finger-board from the
centre of the building, which points to the place
where, according to the notions of all other people,
the ridge of the roof itself should have been raised.
So very apparent was this peculiarity, Noah ob
served that it seemed to him as if the whole
" 'arth" had been rolled down by a great political



Online LibraryJames Fenimore CooperWorks (Volume 17) → online text (page 27 of 35)