I call myself a democrat. I will be asked, what is a democracy? I take my definition from a speech put into the mouth of Pericles, by Thucydides. It is to the Athenian people. This our government is called a democracy, because, in the administration, it hath respect, not to a few, but to the multitude: a democracy; wherein, though there be an equality amongst all men, in point of law, for their private controversies; yet in conferring of dignities one man is preferred before another to a public charge; and that, according to the reputation, not of his power, but of his virtue; and is not put back through the poverty, or the obscurity of his person, as long as he can do service to the commonwealth. And we live not only free in the administration of the state; but also, one with another, void of jealousy towards each other in our daily course of life; not offended at any man for following his own humour, nor casting on any man censure or sour looks, which though they be no punishment, yet they grieve: so that conversing one with another, for the private, without offence, we stand chiefly in fear to transgress against the public; and are able always to be obedient to those that govern, and to the laws; and principally to such laws, as are written for punishment against injury; aud such unwritten as bring undeniable shame to the transgressor. Hobs translation of Thucydides.
This definition or description, of a practical democracy, is drawn from real life. It is in the mouth of Pericles, a man of business; a sapient statesman; who had been bred and born in a demacracy; versed in its affairs, and knew its errors, and its excellencies. On thing is remarkable, that a particular excellence which he notices, is the freedom of opinion. Where a government is founded on opinion, it is of the essence of its preservation, that opinion be free. It is not enough that no inquisition exists; that no lettre de cachet can isue; but that no man shall attempt to frown another out of his excercise of private judgment. Is it democracy to denounce a man in a paper, because he thinks differently on a measure of government with the editor? It is tyranny; and the man who can do this without reason, or moderation, is a tyrant, and would suppress the right of private judgment, if he had the power. I distinguish between stricture, and abuse. All depends upon the manner, and the toleration. A man is not always a deserter from just politics, because he cannot agree with me in opinion, on a particular subject. Mutual toleration and forbearance in our sentiments, with regard to the legality, or expedience of measures, is the soul of democracy. It is that which distinguishes it from despotism, as polite manners the fine gentelman in polished life; in civilized society. In a despotic country, it is the boot, or the thumb screw, or the cord, that brings a man to reason; at least the wheel and the pulley, are used for this purpose. What better in a republic where a man is this day a patriot, and the next day a traitor, at the whim of him who bestows the appellation? In the livid dens of despotism, state prisons are the seminaries of submissive citizens. In a democracy, shall terror issue from lamp-black, and patriotism be put down, under the name of opposition? When a man frowns upon me because I have dissented from him in opinion, on a political matter, I discover clearly the grade of his political standing, and democratic improvement. He is no democrat, say I; as another would say, he is no gentleman.
But it will be said, are not your democrats, all noisy, vociferous, intolerant and of a persecuting spirit? I say such are not democrats; they are spurious, and usurp the name In a government founded on opinion, nothing ought to be a reproach, that is the exercise of private judgment. It is subversive of the essence of liberty. A frown is the shadow of force, and he that uses the one would have recourse to the other.
These observations allude to what is practical in democracy and cannot be established or prohibited by the laws; but constitute the manners which a democratic government inculcates, and is calculated to produce; and it will be observable, that there is a great deal of this among the body of the people, who have been accustomed to liberty. It is chiefly amongst the young in the world or young in the country, that the contrary spirit shows itself. I am amongst those who carry my ideas in favour of the naturalization of foreigners, perhaps too far. I am for exercising the rights of hospitality to them, to all extent at once; making them citizens, and giving them the right of suffrage, and even office, the moment they set a foot upon the shore. For I cannot see on what ground, we can justify a refusal. But I do not mean to discuss this point at present, I introduce it to show that I am liberal in my notions, with regard to the priveleges of foreigners. But I admit, that it takes some time to give them correct ideas of the limits of liberty. It is, I believe, a saying of the Grand Pensionary, De Wit of Holland, that it takes a man half an age to enjoy liberty, before he can know how to use it. Nevertheless, I cannot see the inexpediency of admitting to a vote, the emigrant that comes amongst us, the first day he presents himself. He will be instructed by those that have been here before him. He must take his ticket from some one.--Is the ocean afraid of the rivers? Even when the come turbid with the swell of the mountains? The sea clarrifies, or they are lost in it. Who complains, out at sea, of a spring flood muddying the waters? This ought to be a lesson, at the same time, to emigrants, that they use their liberty, so as not abusing it. It is a strange thing to see a man come in the other day undertake to set all right; and to denounce men of age and high standing, as guilty of defection. But what good is there in this world without an alloy of evil? What exercise of right without abuse? If I am wrong it is the excess of liberality.
But I find another principle in the oration of Pericles, in the justness of which, I am more confident. That is, the equal right of office to all the citizens. As the greater contains the less, this involves the right of vote. The only qualification of which I can have any idea, as justifiable, is that of age; and I should have no objection to see this restricted to a greater age than that of 21,--say 45 years. At this time men cease to be fit for the militia, or other ministerial services. Let them then become legislators; and have the right of vote in making laws, or chusing those that represent in making them. This would take off a great deal of wild-fire in our elections, and it would keep away vain young men from our public councils.
What absurdity does the idea of a qualification of property involve! It unhinges the ideas of the ancient republicans; that it was honourable to have enriched the republic, and to remain poor themselves. To be wise a man must be rich. No, but to be honest, he must have an estate. But in geting this estate, he may have been a rogue. In general, he must, in some measure, have neglected the improvement of his mind, At least, it does not follow, that in proportion as a man is poor, he is not to be trusted. They are frequently the most generous souls who have amassed little wealth; on the contrary, the most ignoble, who have acquired great property. The man that has set his heart on riches, is lost to benevolence, and public spirit. In the possession of office, he is thinking of what can be made by it. Nothing can be great, says the critic Longinus, or the stoic philosopher Epictetes, I forget which, the contempt of which is great. It is great to despise riches. These cannot therefore be great.
But how can we measure the value of property, and fix the criterian? Shall it be real property, a freehold? is my acre worth more than yours? Shall I have but an equal right; What are the drawbacks upon my estate? My debts and credits? It is the surplus that makes my property, even in the case of the substantial fund of freehold. But property is not the only stake. Person and character, are stakes. Every man that has a head has a stake. There is no proportioning it. In what is impracticable we can have no election. It is therefore an excellent principle of our excellent constitution, that all men have an equal right of suffrage, and an equal right of office.
I should not like to live in a republic where a man must be worth so much, to have equal rights; even could it be ascertained what I am worth; which, as I have said, is impracticable. How many men have I passed in life, less industrious than myself, and yet richer. They have had better luck, as we express it; or they have been more selfish, and kept what they got. Can a man that is looking at the stars, mind what is under his feet? We read of most of the great statesmen of antiquity, and virtuous heroes, that they were poor. It is no uncommon thing to find it added, that they themselves were buried, or there children educated at the public expence. The love of science; and the love of the public, is at variance with attention to private emolument. Shall it then be disreputable in a republic to be poor? Shall it operate as a crime and disqualify from the noblest function in society, the enacting laws? But I enlarge upon this only to show that I am, in my way of thinking, a democrat.
But it is not so much, in the extension of the right of suffrage, as in a delicate and just use of it, that the democratic character consists. Will you see a democrat practice unfairness in an election! Go upon the ground to canvass for himself, unless in the case of a ministerial office; and even in this, with great caution, and forbearance? Will you see a democrat, substitute, or change a ticket; much less introduce and obtain a vote for an unqualified individual? no real democrat was ever capable of this. It is with the aristocracy that these arts are practiced. They count it robbery to be stinted at an equal vote; and think it no injustice to make themselves whole by taking a plurality by whatever means in their power. This is all a usurpation of the sovereign authority; and in some republics has been punished with death. I own it is a misdemeanour; at least a disgrace; and no real democrat will Pe guilty of it.
In countries where the government is a fraud upon the people, and the right of suffrage where it even pratially exists, is but a name; it may be thought innocent to deceive, and to slur our votes. For it is a buying and selling throughout. The candidate buys the vote, and has in the mean time sold himself. He is oftentimes purchased, and paid in advance, and bribes with a part of the money that he gets. Not so in this heaven of liberty, where other stars glitter, where other suns and moons arise; this beautiful world of liberty, in these states. Perdition on the man that saps its foundation with intention; forgiveness, but reformation of error, to him who destroys it by mistake. And yet these last are more to be dreaded than the former. At least as much; because the error of opinion is equally fatal, though originating from a different principle of the mind, and oftentimes founded in virtue.
Who ever saw a democrat keep an open house at an election for a place in the legislative boby? They are poor, says an aristocrat. They are poor because they are honest, says a democrat. At least, being poor, they are honest. I have seen open houses kept in a republic; and private friendship, or personal safety has sometimes stood in the way of my endeavors to bring the persons to account. But disapprobation, and a portion of contempt has invariably attached itself to the transaction. What man can set the world right? The greatest self-denial is obliged to yield sometimes to personal considerations. Hence it is, that I have often been silent when I saw fraud, and unfairness before my eyes. Fraud in elections, is at the root of all wickedness in the government of a republic. A man of just pride would scorn the meanness of succeeding by a trick; a man of proper sense would know, that in the nature of things, no good can come of elevation obtained by such means. Success by fraud. will never prosper. All men despise cheating at cards, or other games. He is turned out of company that is found guilty of it. And shall we restrain our indignation, or can we withhold our contempt when an individual is found cheating, not at a game of chance or skill amongst idle men, but in the serious business of real life, and the disposition of our lives, characters and fortunes? I pledge myself no democrat is guilty of this; at the least those guilty of it are not democrats. They are not true brothers; real masons. They have been made at a false lodge; and will not be acknowledged. Thus it must be seen, I found democracy in virtue; that is, in truth, honour, justice, integrity, reason, moderation; civility, but firmness and fortitude in the supprt of right; quarter to error of poinion; and the aberrations of the heart; but death to ambition, and the vain desire of honour, witout just pretension; and death to all knavery, and meditated hostility to the rights of men.
Digressing a little, or rather returning to what I have said on the first point, the right of naturalization, I admit that emigrants, come when they will are likely to be in opposition to the existing government, or rather, administration. This depends upon natural principles.-The governments of Europe are most of them oppressive, and it is oppression that drives, in most instances, the inhabitant from amongst them. The poor, or the most enterprising, are those that emigrate. They have been in the habit of thinking of a reform in the state of things in that country from which they come; it is natural for them to think that a little touch of their hand may be still necessary here. Did you ever know a new physician called in, that would not be disposed to alter the prescription, or add to it? What occasion for him, if there was not something to be added, or retrenchment made? Or how can he show himself, but in changing the medicines, or the regimen? Extremes beget extremes in opinions, as well as in conduct. The extreme of government, where he has been, leads to licentiousness in his ideas of liberty, now where he is.
Besides it is in this revolution of administration, if he is an ambitious man, that he finds his best chance of ascending. He is therefore a demagogue before he becomes a patriot. I equiesce, therefore, in the policy of our constitution, and our laws, who prescribe a kind of mental quarantine to the foreigner though I incline to the generosity of these who think it unnecessary, and that such a great body of people have nothing to fear from the annual influx of a few characters, that may for some time, carry with them more sail than ballast. We had half Europe with us, in our revolution. We had all Ireland, the officers of government excepted, and even some of these. I therefore do not like to see an Irishman obliged to perform a quarantine of the intellect. I think it contributes to sour his temper, and to fix a prejudice against the administration, under which the limitation has been introduced. However, this may be more splendid in theory than safe in experience, and I submit to the policy that has been adopted until the constituted authorities shall think proper to regulate it otherwise. In the mean time, if this book should be read by any foreigner of high parts and spirit. I would recommend it to him to suspend his judgment upon men and things, until he has examined well the ground upon which he stands; to repress ambition and the desire of office, until unsought, it comes to him, during which time he may have become qualified to descharge it; and will have had an opportunity of finding out what he will finally discover, that the best men are the most moderate.
Intemperance of mind or manner in a foreigner, gives colour to the imputation, that all are incendiaries. It becomes, therefore a matter of discretion, and just prudence on his part, to be cautious in coming forward to take a lead in politics, until he has well examined the field of controversy. But because foreigners may abuse the privilege, I would not exclude them by a law, did the matter rest on first principles. I should think myself justifiable in excluding from my society, and the government I had formed, the inhabitants of another planet, could they come from thence; because I do not know the kind of nature they are of; but men of this earth, of similar forms, and of like passions with ourselves, what have I to fear from them? What right have we to exclude them? We are not born for ourselves; nor did we atchieve the revolution for ourselves only. We fought the cause of all mankind, and the good and great of all mankind wished well to us in the contest. With what anxiety did we look to Europe, for assistance. We derived the assistance even from the good will of nations. --It is an advantage to have a popular cause in a war. Have we a right to shut ourselves up in our shell, and call the society we have formed ours own exclusively? Suppose we had a right to the government exclusively, have we a right to the soil? That is ours, subject to the right of all mankind. Pre-occupancy can give a right but to a small portion of the soil to any individual. To as much only as is reasonably necessary for his subsistence. All the remainder is a surplus, and liable to be claimed by the emigrant. If he cannot get his right under the great charter of nature, without comming within the sphere of our government, and we hinder him to establish a society himself within ours, why abridge him even for a moment, of the rights, immunities, and privileges of that which we have instituted? But I had not meant to keep up this subject, though I have inadvertently fallen into it. I shall drop it here, and go into the sequel of this important history.