« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »
escape from it would, in fact, have proved us more than human.Every man in this country is dependent for his position upon public opinion. There is no exception. But in most other countries, there are many exceptions. In the first place, there is the class of nobles who hold their place by birth. In the next place, the clergy generally are presented to their livings, and are not dependent on the popular voice. Then there are a multitude of minor situations and offices, for which their incumbents are indebted, not to election, but to appointment. Even wealth, I think, holds a more independent position abroad than it does with us. This may be thought a surprising opinion; because it is constantly said, that where hereditary distinctions do not exist, wealth is apt to take their place, and to be more eagerly sought. It may be more eagerly sought; and yet it may have a less independent power when it is gained. Abroad, wealth shines by the reflected light of an opulent aristocracy. The possession of it is thus associated with the highest titles to respect and deference; and it is able, as an undoubted matter of fact, to command a deference and observance, which it never receives with us. It can speak to its dependants and agents there, as it does not here; and as, I trust, it never will. One of the most painful aspects of society abroad, is the cringing and fawning of so many worthy and intelligent men at the feet of rank and opulence.
But we, in this country, have our own dangers. And the greatest of all dangers here, as I conceive, is that of general pusillanimity, of moral cowardice, of losing a proper and manly independence of character. I think that I see something of this in our very manners, in the hesitation, the indirectness, the cautious and circuitous modes of speech, the eyo asking assent before the tongue can finish its sentence. I think that in other countries you oftener meet with men, who stand manfully and boldly up, and deliver their opinion without asking or caring what you or others think about it. It may sometimes be rough and harsh; but, at any rate, it is independent. "Observe, too, in how many relations, political, religious, and social, a man is liable to find bondage instead of freedom. If he wants office he must attach himself to a party, and then his eyes must be sealed in blindness, and his lips in silence, towards all the faults of his party. He may have his eyes open, and he may see much to condemn, but he must say nothing. If he edits paper, his choice is often between bondage and beggary; that may actually be the choice, though he does not know it; he may be so complete a slave that he does not feel the chain; his passions may be so enlisted in the cause of his party, as to blind his discrimination, and destroy all comprehension and capability of independence. So it may be with the religious partisan. He knows, perhaps, that there are errors in his adopted creed, faults in his seet, fanaticism and extravagance in some of its measures. See if you get him to speak of them; see if you can get him to breathe a whisper of doubt. No, he is always believing. He has a convenient phrase that covers up all difficulties in his creed; lo believes it " for substance of doctrine;" or, if he is a layman, perhaps lo does not believe it at all. What, then, is his conclusion? Why, he has friends who do believe it; and he does not wish to offend them. And so he goes on, listening to what he does not believe; outwardly acquiescing, inwardly remonstrating; the slave of fear or fashion, never daring, not once in his life daring, to speak out and openly the thought
that is in him. Nay, he sees men suffering under the weight of public reprobation, for the open espousal of the very opinions he holds, and he has never the generosity or manliness to say, I think so too. Nay, more; by the course he pursues, he is made to cast his stone, or he holds it in his hand at least, and lets another arm apply the force necessary to cast it at the very men who are suffering a sort of martyrdom for his own faith!
I am not now advocating any particular opinions; I am only advocating a manly freedom in the expression of those opinions, which a man does entertain. And if those opinions are unpopular, I hold that, in this country, there is so much the more need of an open and independent expression of them. Look at the case most seriously, I beseech you. What is ever to correct the faults of society, if nobody lifts his voice against them; if everybody goes on openly doing what everybody privately complains of; if all shrink behind the faint-hearted apology, that it would be over-bold in them to attempt any reform? What is to rebuke political time-serving, religious fanaticism, or social folly, if no one has the independence to protest against them? Look at it in a larger view. What barrier is there against the universal despotism of public opinion in this country, but individual freedom? Who is to stand up against it here, but the possessor of that lofty independence? There is no king, no sultan, no noble, no privileged class, nobody else to stand against it. If you yield this point, if you are for ever making compromises, if all men do this, if the entire policy of private life here is to escape opposition and reproach, everything will be swept beneath the popular wave. There will be no individuality, no hardihood, no high and stern resolve, no self-subsistence, no fearless dignity, no glorious manhood of mind, left among us. The holy heritage of our fathers' virtues will be trodden under foot, by their unworthy children. They feared not to stand up against kings, and nobles, and parliament, and people. Better did they account it, that their lonely bark should sweep the wide sea in freedom; happier were they, when their sail swelled to the storm of winter, than to be slaves in palaces of ease. Sweeter to their ear was the music of the gale that shrieked in their broken cordage, than the voice at home that said, Submit, and you shall have rest.' And when they reached this wild shore and built their altar, and knelt upon the frozen snow and the flinty rock to worship, they built that altar to freedom, to individual freedom, to freedom of conscience and opinion: and their noble prayer was, that their children might be thus free. Let their sons remember the prayer of their extremity, and the great bequest which their magnanimity has left us. Let them beware how they become entangled again in the yoke of bondage. Let the minis. ters at God's altar, let the guardians of the press, let all sober and thinking men, speak the thought that is in them. It is better to speak honest error than to suppress conscious truth. Smothered error is more dangerous than that which flames and burns out. But do I speak of danger? I know of but one thing safe in the universe, and that is truth; and I know of but one way to truth for an individual mind, and that is, unfettered thought; and I know but one path for the multitude to truth, and that is, thought freely expressed. Make of truth itself an altar of slavery, and guard it about with a mysterious shrine ; bind thought as a victim upon it, and let the passions of the prejudiced mul.
titude minister fuel, and you sacrifice upon that accursed altar the hopes of the world.
Why is it, in fact, that the tone of morality in the high places of society is so lax and complaisant, but for want of the independent and indignant rebuke of society? There is reproach enough poured upon the drunkenness, debauchery, and dishonesty of the poor man. The good people who go to him can speak plainly-ay, very plainly—of his evil ways. Why is it, then, that fashionable vice is able to hold
up head, and sometimes to occupy the front ranks of society? It is, because respectable persons, of hesitating and compromising virtue, keep it in countenance. It is, because timid woman stretches out her hand to the man whom she knows to be the deadliest enemy of morality and of her sex, while she turns a cold eye upon the victims he has ruined. It is, because there is nobody to speak plainly in cases like these. And do you think that society is ever to be regenerated or purified under the influence of these unjust and pusillanimous compromises? I tell you never.
So long as vice is suffered to be fashionable and respectable, so long as men are bold to condemn it only when it is clothed in rags, there will never be any radical improvement. You may multiply Temperance Societies, and Moral Reform Societies; you may pile up statute books of laws against gambling and dishonesty; but so long as the timid homages of the fair and honoured are paid to splendid iniquity, it will be all in vain. So long will it be felt, that the voice of the world is not against the sinner, but against the sinner's garb. And so long, every weapon of association, and every baton of office, will be but a missile feather against the Leviathan that is wallowing in the low marshes and stagnant pools of society.
Would that the world were changed, we say: but how is it to be changed? Would that the evils and vices of society were done away: but how are they to be done away? Whence is the power to come? I answer: One fearless voice—that of Luther-broke up the spiritual despotism of centuries: one fearless voice in England—that of Hampden-shook the throne of corruption to its base. Any one human arm, lifted up in indignant rebuke, is clothed by the power of God with allconquering might. The popular mind ever wants leaders. The people want that some one should interpret the voice that is in them—should speak the commanding word that marshals the hosts of society to the work of reform. If there shall be no such voices in this country, no lofty seers, no stern prophets ; if all shall basely seek to lose themselves in the multitude, then shall the sluggish wave of mean mediocrity and slavish acquiescence roll over the land, giving birth to broods of serpents and reptiles; and it shall only fatten the soil for some other and future empire, of more generous freedom, and more magnanimous virtue. So sunk the glorious land of Grecian liberty, when nothing but cowering flattery would suit the people ; temples, and statues, and thrones went down, bemired and trodden under the feet of its “ fierce ” and flattered “ democracies;" and the vision of Plato's republic lingers only as a bright dream upon its beautiful shores. If that vision, or any part of it, is ever to be realized here, there must be a genial confidence and warmth breathed into the soul of the people; there must be a noble simplicity and self-respect free from all base discontents; and there must be a lofty magnanimity free from all time-serving and slayish fear.
GALATIANS v. 1 : “ And be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage."
In the close of my last discourse, I considered the tendency of a controlling, public opinion to abridge private and personal independence. The subject appears to me of such importance, that I am induced to resume the discussion of it. The general effect of public opinion, otherwise sufficiently great, is increased, I believe, to an unsuspected extent, by the principle of association: and it is this which I wish particularly to consider in the present discourse.
I have lately ventured to say, that the great danger to our national character is, that of wanting personal, individual independence-independence of mind; and I have once, in another form of communication to the public, expressed the opinion, that, " there is less private and social freedom in America than there is in Europe."
A striking confirmation of these views I have lately met with, in the intelligent French traveller, de Tocqueville; a man remarkably qualified by previous study, by singular candour, and by a thorough investigation of the subject, to write on this country. “I am not acquainted, he says, " with any country, in which there is so little true independence of mind, and so little freedom of discussion, as in America. The authority of a king," he continues, " is purely physical; it controls the actions of the subject, without subduing his private will; but the majority in America is invested with a power which is physical and moral at the same time; it acts upon the will, as well as upon the actions of men, and represses, not only all contest, but all controversy."
Though the result is too strongly expressed, especially in the last clause of this passage, yet the tendency is unquestionable ; and it being so, I hold that public opinion is more than sufficiently strong, without any artificial aids or arrangements, to give it greater power. That the majority shall rule, is the chosen and comprehensive principle that lies at the foundation of our political institutions. Under such an administration of things, there is no reason to fear that public opinion will be too weak; that majorities will be too timid and scrupulous. On the contrary, the danger is, that individuals will lose all courage and independence; that all individual opinion will be merged in prevailing opinion; that intellect and virtue together will sink to an all-levelling tameness and mediocrity. The danger, I repeat, however little it may have been anticipated or suspected is, that the very principle of our freedom-the rule of majorities—will “entangle us again with the yoke of bondage." In such circumstances I insist, that all artificial aids and arrangements, which give force to public opinion, are to be looked upon with jealousy, and that their efforts are to be guarded against, on the part of individuals, with strenuous resistance; and by artificial arrangements, I mean all those parties, sects, and associations, whose tendency it is to invade or abridge personal freedom.
But it is necessary, before I proceed farther, to say something definitely of the principle of association; to say, in other words, how far and for what reasons it is to be resisted or restrained.
That principle has had, in this country, a most extraordinary development. It is the very country of parties, sects, and societies. But to consider the latter particularly, as being most remarkable: it would seem as if nothing could be done in this country but by societies; and wo to the man, claiming any place among the good men of the country, who thinks to escape them! Wo to him, who thought to stand apart and aloof, and to go to his grave, quietly and alone! Some society will be certain to find and ferret him out, and bring him into the great trained bands of benevolence, that are spreading themselves over the country.
It would be curious, if not useful, to inquire into the causes of this singular social movement of the country. It arises in part, doubtless, from the popular character of our institutions. It has been the fashion abroad, for governments to do everything for the people. It is the ten. dency of our political forms to make the people do everything for themselves. Besides, the pervading intellectual activity of this country leads the people to take an interest in everything that is going forward, which is not found to an equal extent in any other. This interest, perhaps, naturally expresses itself in associations; since associated action is obviously more powerful than any other mode of operation. But I am inclined to think, that the very trait of national character on which I have lately commented, has had something to do with the multiplicity of our associations. They enable the individual to shrink from responsibility, and to lose himself in the crowd: they are convenient entrenchments to shelter the timid and faint-hearted. If a man wishes to advocate or advance an unpopular measure, and has not moral strength enough to stand alone, a society offers to him the very resource he wants; then there is a body of associates to lean upon, and to divide with him the risk and opprobrium.
And yet I do not deny that societies have their use; and I am inclined to say, that it is in this very emergency that they have their use and scope. An unpopular opinion or doctrine may well gather its friends about it, if it has any; an aggrieved minority may well associate for its own defence. It is the very policy of our social condition to give to remonstrance, strength; but the same policy requires that the principle of association should be limited by that consideration. If this were a proper subject for legislation, and the power of enacting such a rule were given me, I would cause every association, whose object it is to operate upon public opinion, to die the moment it reached the point of predominant influence; success should dissolve it. Public opinion wants no such aid to make it strong; it is too strong already.
But we must further distinguish. There are societies whose main purpose is to produce an effect upon public opinion. Such were the Anti-masonic, and are now, the Temperance and Abolition Societies; and such are all political associations and parties. Upon all such com