Self-Government/Strong Government a Danger to Liberty/Principle of Freedom/Experimentalism not Radicalism/Thoughts on American Literature
THE CHARACTER and design of the work of which the first number is here offered to the public are intended to be shadowed forth in its name, the United States Magazine and Democratic Review. It has had its origin in a deep conviction of the necessity of such a work, at the present critical stage of our national progress, for the advocacy of that high and holy democratic principle which was designed to be the fundamental element of the new social and political system created by the American experiment; for the vindication of that principle from the charges daily brought against it, of responsibility for every evil result growing out, in truth, of adventitious circumstances, and the adverse elements unhappily combined with it in our institutions; for its purification from those corruptions and those hostile influences by which we see its beneficent and glorious tend encies, to no slight extent, perverted and paralyzed; for the illustration of truth, which we see perpetually darkened and confused by the arts of wily error; for the protection of those great interests, not alone of our country, but of humanity, looking forward through countless ages of the future, which we believe to be vitally committed with the cause of American Democracy. This is, in broad terms, the main motive in which this undertaking has had its origin; this is the object towards which, in all its departments, more or less directly, its efforts will tend.
There is a great deal of mutual misunderstanding between our parties; but in truth, there does not exist in the people, with reference to its great masses, that irreconcilable hostility of opinions and leading principles which would be the natural inference from the violence of the party warfare in which we are perpetually engaged. There does exist, it is true, an essential opposition of principles, proceeding from opposite points of departure, between the respective political creeds or systems of our two great parties, the Democratic and the Whig; but we feel well assured that the great body of the latter party, those who supply their leaders and leading interests with their votes, do not rightly understand the questions at issue in their true popular bearings; and that, if these could but be exhibited in their proper lights to their sound minds and honest hearts, they would soon be found ranged, by the hundreds of thousands, under the broad and bright folds of our democratic banner.
So many false ideas have insensibly attached themselves to the term "democracy," as connected with our party politics, that we deem it necessary here, at the outset, to make a full and free pro fession of the cardinal principles of political faith on which we take our stand; principles to which we are devoted with an unwavering force of conviction and earnestness of enthusiasm which, ever since they were first presented to our minds, have constantly grown and strengthened by contemplation of them and of the incalculable capabilities of social improvement of which they contain the germs.
We believe, then, in the principle of democratic republicanism, in its strongest and purest sense. We have an abiding confidence in the virtue, intelligence, and full capacity for self-government, of the great mass of our people, our industrious, honest, manly, intelligent millions of freemen.
We are opposed to all self-styled "wholesome restraints" on the free action of the popular opinion and will, other than those which have for their sole object the prevention of precipitate legislation. This latter object is to be attained by the expedient of the division of power, and by causing all legislation to pass through the ordeal of successive forms; to be sifted through the discussions of co”rdinate legislative branches with mutual suspensive veto powers. Yet all should be dependent with equal directness and promptness on the influence of public opinion; the popular will should be equally the animating and moving spirit of them all, and ought never to find in any of its own creatures a self-imposed power, capable, when misused either by corrupt ambition or honest error, of resisting itself and defeating its own determined object. We cannot, therefore, look with an eye of favor on any such forms of representation as, by length of tenure of delegated power, tend to weaken that universal and unre laxing responsibility to the vigilance of public opinion which is the true conservative principle of our institutions.
The great question here occurs, which is of vast importance to this country (Was it not once near dissolving the Union, and plunging it into the abyss of civil war?), of the relative rights of majorities and minorities. Though we go for the republican principle of the supremacy of the will of the majority, we acknowledge, in general, a strong sympathy with minorities and consider that their rights have a high moral claim on the respect and justice of majorities) a claim not always fairly recognized in practice by the latter, in the full sway of power, when flushed with triumph and impelled by strong interests. This has ever been the point of the democratic cause most open to assault and most difficult to defend. This difficulty does not arise from any intrinsic weakness. The democratic theory is perfect and harmonious in all its parts; and if this point is not so self-evidently clear as the rest is generally, in all candid discussion, conceded to be, it is because of certain false principles of government which have, in all practical experiments of the theory, been interwoven with the democratic portions of the system, being borrowed from the example of anti-democratic systems of government. We shall always be willing to meet this question frankly and fairly. The great argument against pure democracy, drawn from this source, is this:
Though the main object with reference to which all social institutions ought to be modelled is undeniably, as stated by the democrat, "the greatest good of the greatest number," yet it by no means follows that the greatest number always rightly understands its own greatest good~Highly pernicious error has often possessed the minds of nearly a whole nation; while the philosopher in his closet, and an enlightened few about him, powerless against the overwhelming current of popular prejudice and excitement, have alone possessed the truth, which the next generation may perhaps recognize and practice, though its author, now sainted, has probably, in his own time, been its martyr. The original adoption of the truth would have saved perhaps oceans of blood and mountains of misery and crime. How much stronger, then, the case against the absolute supremacy of the opinion and will of the majority, when its numerical preponderance is, as often happens, comparatively small. And if the larger proportion of the more wealthy and cultivated classes of the society are found on the side of the minority, the disinterested observer may well be excused if he hesitate long before he awards the judgment, in a difficult and complicated question, in favor of the mere numerical argument. Majorities are often as liable to error of opinion, and not always free from a similar proneness to selfish abuse of power, as minorities; and a vast amount of injustice may often be perpetrated, and consequent general social injury be done, before the evil reaches that extreme at which it rights itself by revolution, moral or physical.
We have here, we believe, correctly stated the anti-democratic side of the argument on this point. It is not to be denied that it possesses something more than plausibility. It has certainly been the instrument of more injury to the cause of the democratic principle than all the bayonets and cannon that have ever been arrayed in support of it against that principle. The inference from it is that the popular opinion and will must not be trusted with the supreme and absolute direction of the general interests; that it must be subjected to the "conservative checks" of minority interests, and to the regulation of the "more enlightened wisdom" of the "better classes," and those to whom the possession of a property "test of merit" gives what they term "a stake in the community." And here we find ourselves in the face of the great stronghold of the anti-democratic, or aristocratic, principle.
It is not our purpose, in this place, to carry out the discussion of this question. The general scope and tendency of the present work are designed to be directed towards the refutation of this sophistical reasoning and inference. It will be sufficient here to allude to the leading ideas by which they are met by the advocate of the pure democratic cause.
In the first place, the greatest number are more likely, at least, as a general rule, to understand and follow their own greatest good, than is the minority
In the second, a minority is much more likely to abuse power for the promotion of its own selfish interests, at the expense of the majority of numbers, the substantial and producing mass of the nation, than the latter is to oppress unjustly the former. The social evil is also, in that case, proportionately greater. This is abundantly proved by the history of all aristocratic interests that have existed, in various degrees and modifications, in the world. A majority cannot subsist upon a minority; while the natural, and in fact uniform, tendency of a minority entrusted with governmental authority is to surround itself with wealth, splendor, and power, at the expense of the producing mass, creating and perpetuating those artificial social distinctions which violate the natural equality of rights of the human race and at the same time offend and degrade the true dignity of human nature.
In the third place, there does not naturally exist any such original superiority of a minority class above the great mass of a community in intelligence and competence for the duties of government, even putting out of view its constant tendency to abuse from selfish motives, and the safer honesty of the mass. The general diffusion of education, the facility of access to every species of knowledge important to the great interests of the community, the freedom of the press, whose very licentiousness cannot materially impair its permanent value, in this country at least, !make the pretensions of those self-styled "better classes" to the sole possession of the requisite intelligence for the management of public affairs too absurd to be entitled to any other treatment than an honest, manly contempt. As far as superior knowledge and talent confer on their possessor a natural charter of privilege to control his associates and exert an influence on the direction of the general affairs of the community, the free and natural action of that privilege is best secured by a perfectly free democratic system which will abolish all artificial distinctions, and, preventing the accumulation of any social obstacles to advancement, will permit the free development of every germ of talent, wherever it may chance to exist, whether on the proud mountain summit, in the humble valley, or by the wayside of common life.
But the question is not yet satisfactorily answered, how the relation between majorities and minorities, in the frequent case of a collision of sentiments and particular interests, is to be so adjusted as to secure a mutual respect of rights, to preserve harmony and good will, and save society from the malum extremum discordia, from being as a house divided against itself, and thus to afford free scope to that competition, discussion, and mutual moral influence which cannot but result, in the end, in the ascendancy of the truth and in "the greatest good of the greatest number." On the one side, it has only been shown that the absolute government of the majority does not always afford a perfect guarantee against the misuse of its numerical power over the weakness of the minority. On the other, it has been shown that this chance of misuse is, as a general rule, far less than in the opposite relation of the ascendancy of a minority; and that the evils attendant upon it are infinitely less, in every point of view, in the one case than the other. But this is not yet a complete or satisfactory solution of the problem. Have we but a choice of evils? Is there, then, such a radical deficiency in the moral elements implanted by its Creator in human society that no other alternative can be devised by which both evils shall be avoided, and a result attained more analogous to the beautiful and glorious harmony of the rest of his creation?
It were scarcely consistent with a true and living faith in the existence and attributes of that Creator, so to believe; and such is not the democratic belief. The reason of the plausibility with which appeal may be made to the experience of so many republics to sustain this argument against democratic institutions is that the true theory of national self-government has been hitherto but imperfectly understood; bad principles have been mixed up with the good; and the republican government has been administered on ideas and in a spirit borrowed from the strong governments of the other forms; and to the corruptions and manifold evils which have never failed, in the course of time, to evolve themselves out of these seeds of destruction is ascribable the eventual failure of those experiments, and the consequent doubt and discredit which have attached themselves to the democratic principles on which they were, in the outset, mainly based.
It is under the word government that the subtle danger lurks. Understood as a central consolidated power, managing and directing the various general interests of the society, all government is evil, and the parent of evil.) A strong and active democratic government, in the common sense of the term, is an evil, differing only in degree and mode of operation, and not in nature, from a strong despotism. This difference is certainly vast, yet, inasmuch as these strong governmental powers must be wielded by human agents, even as the powers of the despotism, it is, after all, only a difference in degree; and the tendency to demoralization and tyranny is the same, though the development of the evil results is much more gradual and slow in the one case than in the other. Hence the demagogue; hence the faction; hence the mob; hence the violence, licentiousness, and instability; hence the ambitious struggles of parties and their leaders for power; hence the abuses of that power by majorities and their leaders; hence the indirect oppressions of the general by partial interests; hence (fearful symptom) the demoralization of the great men of the nation, and of the nation itself, proceeding, unless checked in time by the more healthy and patriotic portion of the mind of the nation rallying itself to reform the principles and sources of the evil, gradually to that point of maturity at which relief from the tumult of moral and physical confusion is to be found only under the shelter of an energetic armed despotism.
The best government is that which governs least. No human depositories can, with safety, be trusted with the power of legislation upon the general interests of society so as to operate directly or indirectly on the industry and property of the community. Such power must be perpetually liable to the most pernicious abuse, from the natural imperfection, both in wisdom of judgment and purity of purpose, of all human legislation, exposed constantly to the pressure of partial interests; interests which, at the same time that they are essentially selfish and tyrannical, are ever vigilant, persevering, and subtle in all the arts of deception and corruption. In fact, the whole history of human society and government may be safely appealed to, in evidence that the abuse of such power a thousandfold more than overbalances its beneficial use. Legislation has been the fruitful parent of nine-tenths of all the evil, moral and physical, by which mankind has been afflicted since the creation of the world, and by which human nature has been self-degraded, fettered, and oppressed. Government should have as little as possible to do with the general business and interests of the people. If it once undertake these functions as its rightful province of action, it is impossible to say to it "Thus far shalt thou go, and no farther." It will be impossible to confine it to the public interests of the com~nonwealth. It will be perpetually tampering with private interests, and sending forth seeds of corruption which will result in the demoralization of the society. Its domestic action should be confined to the administration of justice, for the protection of the natural equal rights of the citizen and the preservation of social order.
In all other respects, the voluntary principle, the principle of freedom, suggested to us by the analogy of the divine government of the Creator, and already recognized by us with perfect success in the great social interest of religion, affords the true golden rule" which is alone abundantly competent to work out the best possible general result of order and happiness from that chaos of characters, ideas, motives, and interests: human society. Afford but the single nucleus of a system of administration of justice between man and man and, under the sure operation of this principle, the floating atoms will distribute and combine themselves, as we see in the beautiful natural process of crystallization, into a far more perfect and harmonious result than if the government, with it's "fostering hand," undertake to disturb, under the plea of directing, the process. The natural laws which will establish themselves and find their own level are the best walking hand in hand with the sister spirit of laws. The same hand was the Author of the moral, as of the physical world; and we feel clear and strong in the assurance that we cannot err in trusting, in the former, to the same fundamental principles of spontaneous action and self-regulation which produce the beautiful order of the latter.
This is then, we consider, the true theory of government the one simple result towards which the political science of the world is gradually tending, after all the long and varied experience by which it will have dearly earned the great secret, the elixir of political life. This is the fundamental principle of the philosophy of democracy, to furnish a system of administration of justice, and then leave all the business and interests of society to themselves, to free competition and association; in a word, to the voluntary principle;...
It is borrowed from the example of the perfect self-government of the physical universe, being written in letters of light on every page of the great bible of Nature. It contains the idea of full and fearless faith in the providence of the Creator. It is essentially involved in Christianity, of which it has been well said that its pervading spirit of democratic equality among men is its highest fact and one of its most radiant internal evidences of the divinity of its origin. It is the essence and the one general result of the science of political economy. And this principle alone, we will add, affords a satisfactory and perfect solution of the great problem, otherwise unsolved, of the relative rights of majorities and minorities.
This principle, therefore, constitutes our point of departure. It has never yet received any other than a very partial and imperfect application to practice among men, all human society having been hither to perpetually chained down to the ground by myriads of lilliputian fetters of artificial government and prescription. Nor are we yet prepared for its full adoption in this country. Far, very far indeed, from it; yet is our gradual tendency toward it clear and sure. How many generations may yet be required before our theory and practice of government shall be sifted and analyzed down to the lowest point of simplicity consistent with the preservation of some degree of national organization, no one can presume to prophesy. But that we are on the path toward that great result, to which mankind is to be guided down the long vista of future years by the democratic principle, walking hand in hand with the sister spirit of Christianity, we feel a faith as implicit as that with which we believe in any other great moral truth.
This is all generalization, and therefore, though necessary, probably dull. We have endeavored to state the theory of the Jeffersonian democracy, to which we profess allegiance, in its abstract essence, however unpopular it appears to be, in these latter days, to "theorize." These are the original ideas of American democracy; and we would not give much for that "practical knowledge" which is ignorant of, and affects to disregard, the essential and abstract principles which really constitute the animating soul of what were else lifeless and naught. The application of these ideas to practice in our political affairs is obvious and simple. Penetrated with a perfect faith in their eternal truth, we can never hesitate as to the direction to which, in every practical case arising, they must point with the certainty of the magnetized needle; and we have no desire to shrink from the responsibility, at the outset, of a frank avowal of them in the broadest general language.
But having done so, we will not be further misunderstood, and we hope not misrepresented, as to immediate practical views. We deem it scarcely necessary to say that we are opposed to all precipitate radical changes in social institutions. Adopting Nature as the best guide, we cannot disregard the lesson which she teaches when she accomplishes her most mighty results of the good and beautiful by the silent and slow operation of great principles, without the convulsions of too rapid action. Festina lente is an invaluable precept, if it be not abused. On the other hand, that specious sophistry ought to be no less watchfully guarded against, by which old evils always struggle to perpetuate themselves by appealing to our veneration for the wisdom of our fathers to our inert love of present tranquility, and our natural apprehension of possible danger from the untried and unknown....
We are not afraid of that much dreaded phrase, "untried experiment," which looms so fearfully before the eyes of some of our most worthy and valued friends. The whole history of the progress hitherto made by humanity, in every respect of social amelioration, but a series of experiments. The American Revolution was the greatest of experiments, and one of which it is not easy at this day to appreciate the gigantic boldness. Every step in the onward march of improvement by the human race is an experiment; and the present is most emphatically an age of experiments. The eye of man looks forward; and as he is carried onward by the progress of time and truth, he is far more likely to stumble and stray if he turn his face backward, and keep his looks fixed on the thoughts and things of the past. We feel safe under the banner of the democratic principle, which is borne onward by an unseen hand of Providence, to lead our race toward the high destinies of which every human soul contains the God-implanted germ; and of the advent of whichÄ certain, however distantÄa dim prophetic presentiment has existed, in one form or another, among all nations in all ages. We are willing to make every reform in our institutions that may be commanded by the test of the earnestness due to the gravity of the principle. democratic principle, to democratize them, but only so rapidly as shall appear, to the most cautious wisdom, consistent with a due regard to the existing development of public opinion and to the perma nence of the progress made. Every instance in which the action of government can be simplified, and one of the hundred giant arms curtailed, with which it now stretches around its fatal protecting grasp over almost all the various interests of society, to substitute the truly healthful action of the free voluntary principle, every instance in which the operation of the public opinion and will, fairly signified, can be brought to bear more directly upon the action of delegated powers, we would regard as so much gained for the true interest of the society and of mankind at large. In this path we cannot go wrong; it is only necessary to be cautious not to go too fast.
Such is, then, our democracy. It of course places us in the school of the strictest construction of the Constitution; and in that appears to be involved a full committal of opinion on all the great political questions which now agitate the public mind, and to which we deem it unnecessary here to advert in detail. One necessary inference from the views expressed above is that we consider the preservation of the present ascendancy of the Democratic party as of great, if not vital, importance to the future destinies of this holy cause. Most of its leading members we know to possess all the qualifications that should entitle men to the confidence and attachment of their country; and the arduous functions of the executive department of the Government are administered with an efficiency, and a strictness and purity of principle, which, considering their nature, extent, and complexity, are indeed remarkable. And even without a particular knowledge of the men, the principle alone would still of necessity attach us to that party. The acquisition of the vast influence of the executive department by the present opposition principles, we could not look upon but as a staggering blow to the cause of democracy, and all the high interests committed with it; from which it would take a long and indefinite period of years to recover, even if the loss of time in national progress would not, in that event, have to be reckoned by generations! We shall therefore, while devoting ourselves to preserve and improve the purity of our democratic institutions, labor to sustain the present Democratic administration, by fair appeal to argument, with all the earnestness due to the gravity of the principles and interests involved.
We are admonished by the prescribed limits of this introductory article, to curtail various topics of interest to which we had intended to allude in it. The important subject of national literature cannot, however, be passed without a slight notice.
What is the cause, is sometimes asked among the disciples of the democratic school of political philosophy, of that extensive anti-democratic corruption of sentiment in some portions of our people, especially in the young mind of the nation, which is certainly so just a subject of surprise and alarm? It has lately been a topic of news paper remark that nineteen-twentieths of the youth of one of the colleges of Virginia were opposed to the democratic principles. The very exaggeration is good evidence of the lamentable truth; and it is well known that a very large proportion of the young men who annually leave our colleges carry with them a decided anti-popular bias, to swell the ranks of that large majority of the "better classes" already ranged on that side, and to exercise the influence of their cultivated talents in a cause at variance with the genius of our country, the spirit of the age, the best interests and true dignity of humanity, and the highest truths of the science of political morals.
And yet the democratic cause is one which not only ought to engage the whole mind of the American nation, without any serious division of its energies, to carry forward the noble mission entrusted to her of going before the nations of the world as the representative of the democratic principle and as the constant living exemplar of its results, but which ought peculiarly to commend itself to the generosity of youth, its ardent aspirations after the good and beautiful, its liberal and unselfish freedom from narrow prejudices of interest.
For Democracy is the cause of Humanity. It has faith in human nature. It believes in its essential equality and fundamental goodness. It respects, with a solemn reverence to which the proudest artificial institutions and distinctions of society have no claim, the human soul. It is the cause of philanthropy. Its object is to emancipate the mind of the mass of men from the degrading and disheartening fetters of social distinctions and advantages; to bid it walk abroad through the free creation in its own majesty; to war against all fraud, oppression, and violence; by striking at their root, to reform all the infinitely varied human misery which has grown out of the old and false ideas by which the world has been so long misgoverned; to dismiss the hireling soldier; to spike the cannon, and bury the bayonet; to burn the gibbet, and open the debtor's dungeon to substitute harmony and mutual respect for the jealousies and discord now subsisting between different classes of society, as the consequence of their artificial classification. It is the cause of Christianity, to which a slight allusion has been already made, to be more fully developed hereafter. And that portion of the peculiar friends and ministers of religion who now, we regret to say, cast the weight of their social influence against the cause of democracy, under the false prejudice of an affinity between it and infidelity ( No longer, in this century, the case, and which, in the last, was but a consequence of the overgrown abuses of religion found, by the reforming spirit that then awakened in Europe, in league with despotism), understand but little either its true spirit, or that of their own faith. It is, moreover, a cheerful creed, a creed of high hope and universal love, noble and ennobling; while all others, which imply a distrust of mankind, and of the natural moral principles infused into it by its Creator, for its own self-development and self-regulation, are as gloomy and selfish, in the tone of the moral sentiment which pervades them, as they are degrading in their prac tical tendency, and absurd in rheory, when examined by the light of original principles.
Then whence this remarkable phenomenon of the young mind of our country so deeply tainted with anti-democratic sentiment; a state of things lamentable in itself, and portentous of incalculable future evil?
Various partial causes may be enumerated in explanation of it; among which we may refer to the following: In the first place, the possession of the executive power, as it exists in our system, is, in one point of view, a great disadvantage to the principles of that ascendant party. The Administration occupies a position of defense; the Opposition, of attack. The former is by far the more arduous task. The lines of fortification to be maintained against the never relaxing onsets from every direction, are so extensive and exposed, that a perpetual vigilance and devotion to duty barely suffice to keep the enemy at bay. The attacking cause, ardent, restless, ingenious, is far more attractive to the imagination of youth than that of the defense. It is, moreover, difficult, if not impossible, to preserve a perfect purity from abuse and corruption throughout all the countless ramifications of the action of such an executive system as ours, however stern may be the integrity and high the patriotism of the presiding spirit which, from its head, animates the whole. Local abuses in the management of party affairs are the necessary consequence of the long possession of the ascendancy. The vast official patronage of the executive department is a weight and clog under which it is not easy to bear up. This must lay any administration open to perpetual assault at great disadvantage; and especially if the great party campaign present at any time such a phase as may render it necessary to put forth, to the full limits of constitutional right, the energies of the executive department, to resist the accumulated pressure of attack, bearing along in its train evils, to avert which almost any means would seem justifiable. This we have seen, in a remarkable manner, the case during the two terms of the late administration. Our natural jealousy of power affords a string to which, when played upon by the bold and skilful hands that are never found wanting, the very spirit of democratic freedom never fails to respond; and many are confused by sophistry and clamor, and carried away by the power of eloquence,divine,even though misused, to array themselves against their own best and most honest friends, under leaders, in truth, the worst enemies of the American principles for which they believe themselves contending.
In the second place, we may refer to a cause which we look upon with deep pain as one of the worst fruits of the evil principles to which allusion has already been made above as existing in our system: the demoralization of many of the great men of the nation) How many of these master-spirits of their day, to whom their country had long been accustomed to look with generous affection as her hope and pride, have we not seen seduced from the path of their early promise by the intrigues of party and the allurements of ambition, in the pursuit of that too dazzling prize, and too corrupting both in the prospect and the possession, the presidential office!
The influence of such men, especially on the minds of the young, commanding by their intellectual power, misleading by their eloquence, and fascinating by the natural sympathy which attaches itself to greatness still proud in its "fallen estate," produces certainly a powerful effect in our party contests.
We might also refer to the fact that the anti-democratic cause possesses at least two-thirds of the press of the country, and that portion of it which is best supported by talent and the resources of capital, under the commercial patronage of our cities. To the strong influence that cities, where wealth accumulates, where luxury gradually unfolds its corrupting tendencies, where aristocratic habits and social classifications form and strengthen themselves, where the congregation of men stimulates and exaggerates all ideas,Äto the influence that cities exert upon the country, no inconsiderable effect is to be ascribed. From the influence of the mercantile classes, too, extensively antidemocratic, on the young men of the professions, especially that of the law, creating an insensible bias, from the dependence of the latter mainly on the patronage of the former, these young men becoming again each the center of a small sphere of social influence; from that of the religious ministry, silently and insensibly exerted, from the false prejudice slightly touched upon above; from these and some other minor influences, on which we cannot here pause, a vast and active power on public opinion is perpetually in operation. And it is only astonishing that the Democratic party should be able to bear up against them all so successfully as we in fact witness. This is to be ascribed, under that Providence whose unseen hand we recognize in all human affairs, only to the sterling honesty and good sense of the great industrious mass of our people, its instinctive perception of, and yearning after, the democratic truth, and the unwavering generosity of its support of those public servants whom it has once tried well and long, and with whom it has once acknowledged the genuine sympathy of common sentiments and a common cause. Yet still the democratic principle can do little more than hold its own. The moral energies of the national mind are, to a great extent, paralyzed by division; and instead of bearing forward the ark of democratic truth, entrusted to us as a chosen people, towards the glorious destiny of its future, we must fain be content, if we can but stem with it the perpetual tide of attack which would bear it backward towards the ideas and habits of past dark ages.
But a more potent influence than any yet noticed is that of our national literature. Or rather we have no national literature. We depend almost wholly on Europe, and particularly England, to think and write for us, or at least to furnish materials and models after which we shall mold our own humble attempts. We have a considerable number of writers; but not in that consists a national literature. The vital principle of an American national literature must be democracy . Our mind is enslaved to the past and present literature of England. Rich and glorious as is that vast collection of intellectual treasure, it would have been far better for us had we been separated from it by the ocean of a difference of language, as we are from the country itself by our sublime Atlantic. Our mind would then have been compelled to think for itself and to express itself, and its animating spirit would have been our democracy. As it now is, we are cowed by the mind of England. We follow feebly and afar in the splendid track of a literature molded on the whole, notwithstanding a number of noble exceptions, by the ideas and feelings of an utterly anti-democratic social system. We give back but a dim reflection, a faint echo of the expression of the English mind. No one will misunderstand us as disparaging the literature of our mother language; far from it. We appreciate it with a profound veneration and gratitude, and would use it, without abusing it by utterly submitting our own minds to it; but we look upon it, as we do upon the political system of the country, as a something magnificent, venerable, splendid, and powerful, and containing a considerable infusion of the true principle; yet the one no more suitable to be adopted as our own, or as a model for slavish imitation, than the other. In the spirit of her literature we can never hope to rival England. She is immeasurably in advance of us, and is rich with ever active energies, and resources of literary habits and capital, so to speak, which mock our humble attempts at imitation. But we should not follow in her wake; a radi ant path invites us forward in another direction. We have a principle, an informing soul, of our own, our democracy, though we allow it to languish uncultivated; this must be the animating spirit of our literature, if, indeed, we would have a national American literature. There is an immense field open to us, if we would but enter it boldly and cultivate it as our own. All history has to be rewritten; political science and the whole scope of all moral truth have to be considered and illustrated in the light of the democratic principle. All old subjects of thought and all new questions arising, connected more or less directly with human existence, have to be taken up again and reexamined in this point of view. We ought to exert a powerful moral influence on Europe, and yet we are entirely unfelt; and as it is only by its literature that one nation can utter itself and make itself known to the rest of the world, we are really entirely unknown. In the present general fermentation of popular ideas in Europe, turning the public thoughts naturally to the great democracy across the Atlantic, the voice of America might be made to produce a powerful and beneficial effect on the development of truth; but as it is, American writings are never translated, because they almost always prove to be a diluted and tardy second edition of English thought.
The anti-democratic character of our literature, then, is a main cause of the evil of which we complain; and this is both a mutual cause and effect, constantly acting and reacting. Our "better educated classes" drink in an anti-democratic habit of feeling and thinking from the copious, and it must be confessed delicious, fountain of the literature of England; they give the same spirit to our own, in which we have little or nothing that is truly democratic and American. Hence this tone of sentiment of our literary institutions and of our learned professions, poisoning at the spring the young mind of our people.
If the United States Magazine and Democratic Review shall be able, by the influence of example and the most liberal encouragement, to contribute in any degree towards the remedy of this evil, as of the other evils in our institutions which may need reform, by vindicating the true glory and greatness of the democratic principle, by infusing it into our literature, and by rallying the mind of the nation from the state of torpor and even of demoralization in which so large a proportion of it is sunk, one of the main objects of its establishment will have been achieved.